Since I live-blogged a darts match, I'm in no position to chuck rocks, but can I just point out that the Guardian is live-blogging Jeff Stelling's debut as presenter of Countdown*. New media; new rules I guess. As a friend says "This makes me happy!" And so it should.
*Note to American readers: a long-running tea-time letters and numbers quiz show popular with pensioners, students and the bedridden.
Lord knows, we all blunder from time to time. Still, this is pretty impressive:
Journalists, of course, are very fond of demanding accountability from their subjects but, quite conveniently if also naturally, reject any suggestion that they be held to such standards themselves. I can't, off hand, think of a pundit fired for being wrong all the time. It certainly doesn't happen often. That's not to suggest that the Times should divest themselves of Mr Kaletsky's services, but readers should probably not treat his pronouncements any more seriously than they would the horoscopes. I dare say this applies to other economics "experts" too.
[Hat-tip: Private Eye]
I suppose it must have seemed a neat idea at the time, but Dan Drezner is absolutely correct: Bono's debut column for the New York Times is simply gibberish*. I guess one of the perks of celebrity is being able to find a publisher for nonsense that would, quite correctly, be rejected out of hand were it submitted by an average hack. Like Dan, I've no idea what point Bono is trying to make beyond a) he knew Frank Sinatra and b) people like Sinatra's songs.
*And that's after it was edited. Did no-one at the NYT pause to ask "Hang on, why are we printing this tripe?" Or did they say: "This will be great blog-fodder..."
Sometimes Scottish politics is far too exciting for its own good...
No wonder the Scottish parliament's dealings are, quite reasonably, characterised as "Hamster Wars".
A friend of mine, once armed with impeccable progressive credentials, recently came out s a Conservative - much to the bemusement of his family and many of his friends. With Neill's permission, here's the explanation he published on his Facebook page. Sure, this is just one person's story, but I wonder how many other people might have come to similar conclusions after 12 years of Labour government. Anyway, I think this a pretty persuasive critique of Labour in power:
Needless to say, I pretty much agree with all of this. Lord knows, the Tories will disappoint us in the future, but for now that's less important than defeating the current government.
Granted, no-one in their right mind would choose Michelle Malkin as a political standard-bearer. Or gate-keeper for that matter. Nonetheless, there is the awkward fact that she's extremely popular amongst a certain class of American conservative. I've already suggested that organisations such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform are just as much a part of the conservative problem as they are likely to contribute to any solution. Frighteningly Michelle Malkin agrees with me; thankfully her reasoning is different. The problem with Grover Norquist, you see, is that he's insufficiently right-wing. No, really.
Which brings us back to Grover Norquist and the unpleasant realities that these strategists and rebranding gurus and RNC candidates don’t want to talk about.
Party power player Norquist and the ATR propose to help fix the GOP’s problems.
Norquist is part of the problem.
Awe-inspiring in a way. Also, of course, insane.
I doubt many Nationalists would welcome the comparison but facts are stubborn things and the fact is that the SNP and Mr Rove have quite a bit in common. Just as Rove orchestrated campaigns in 2002 and 2004 that portrayed the Democratic party as being, in some odd sense, fundamentally unpatriotic (principally for the crime of not being Republicans) so the SNP's default presumption is that any opposition to any of their policies is somehow an attack on Scotland itself. They are the only patriots in town. No-one else really has the country's best interests at heart. How can they, after all, when they're in thrall to a "foreign" power (ie, Britain)?
Thus, for instance, when Ian Gray suggests that the Nationalists economic policies aren't all they might be, Finance Minister John Swinney dismisses such criticism as "ill-advised and ill-informed".
In other words, it's impossible to oppose the SNP without also opposing Scotland, or the idea of Scotland. For sure, the Nationalists talk about an open, inclusive, civic nationalism, but the manner in which they seek to stifle debate by playing the flag card suggests a rather narrower, pinched definition of patriotism...
[Via Scottish Unionist.]
Peggy Noonan is perhaps my favourite American political columnist. She's on good form today, not least because she takes some time to make a point this blog has long favoured:
During the postspeech coverage, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell spoke to a journalist about how presidents get advice and information. Mitchell noted that people often mean to speak hard truths but then "they walk into the Oval Office and get tongue tied." She was referring to the awe with which we view the presidency, the White House, and the famous office with no corners in which presidents so often feel cornered.
Here is an idea for everyone in Washington: Get over it. It's distorting the system. This week we saw the past four presidents standing in the Oval Office for a photo-op on the afternoon of their private lunch. As you looked at the pictures afterward you had to think: How flawed were they? How many were a success?
Did you notice how they all leaned away from Jimmy Carter, the official Cootieman of former presidents? It was like high-school students to the new girl: "You can't sit here, we're the Most Popular table."
The Founders, who were awed by the presidency and who made it a point, the early ones, to speak in their inaugural addresses of how unworthy they felt, would be astonished and confounded by the over-awe with which we view presidents now. We treat them as if they are the Grand Imperial Czar of the Peacock Throne, and we their 'umble servants. It's no good, and vaguely un-American. Right now patriotism requires more than the usual candor. It requires speaking truthfully and constructively to a president who is a man, and just a man. We hire them, we fire them, they come back for photo-ops. They're not magic.
True enough. But as Noonan must know - having been a speechwriter* for Ronald Reagan and being, more generally, a smart cookie - any hope that the pundits might treat the President as a mere flesh-and-bones mortal might as well be abandoned right now. There's a new Priest-King in town and he shall be called Hope. Not that Republicans can complain, given their sanctification of the late, blessed Ronnie. And of course it's been this way for a while: remember how George W came to power determined to "restore honour and dignity to the office" of the Presidency, speaking of it as though it were a throne that had been insulted - and sullied - by its previous occupant...
People talk about how cynical Washington is. I've never been quite convinced by that. In some respects and at least some of the time it's the least cynical, mushiest, most sentimental city in America, (I mean political-media Washington, not the city of born-and-bred Washingtonians) full of folk who earnestly want to believe. It's not that tough to impress official and semi-offical Washington; thankfully the general public are made of sterner, tougher stuff.
*She wrote the famous, and brilliant, Boys of Point du Hoc speech.
UPDATE: Of course to understand the Monarchical Presidency you should really purchase Gene Healy's excellent book, The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power .Even better, if you do so via that link I receive a tiny commission, thanks to the wonders of Amazon Associates. (Ditto for anything purchased via the Amazon button on the right.)
Mickey Kaus digs up an NYT article ($ needed for full access) from 1981 comparing the manufacturing of Ford Escorts at plants in Germany and at Halewood on Merseyside. It is, as you might expect, exceedingly grisly stuff:
For their part, the workers at Halewood maintained in recent interviews that shop conditions at Saarlouis were unsafe. ''If that was in England, I'd stop the job immediately,'' said Stephen Broadhead, the ''convenor'' at the body plant, who has visited the German plant twice. ''It was such a violation of our health and safety regulations we couldn't live with it.'' Nonetheless, the Saarlouis plant has the lowest injury record in Ford's entire Europe subsidiary...
Such differences are found to pervade the two plants. In May, the workers at Halewood went on strike for 11 days because they contended that four men could not produce 60.2 transaxle assemblies an hour, as the company and the German experience suggested they could. Five months later, the four men are still assembling about 55 an hour. ...
Granted, this was a Liverpudlian factory but it's still a fine example of the way we were: Basket-Case Britain. Times have changed and largely for the better - even if Nissan has just announced job losses at its Sunderland plant.. Admittedly, a cynic might say that we solved some of these problems by essentially getting rid of our manufacturing sector. But something had to be done...
Many, many, many. If the GOP increasingly suffers from a suffocating orthodoxy, the libertarian movement (if that's not an oxymoron) is amusingly/alarmingly/pedictably/irrelevently heterodox. As Brian Doherty explains:
Then again, since libertarianism is as much a sensibility as anything else, it's scarcely surprising it should be such a divided house.
UPDATE: Dave Weigel has a characteristically good - and entertaining! - review of "a thrilling and dispiriting year for libertarian politics" under the never-out-of-fashion headline Where Did It All Go Wrong?
At a recent debate, every single one of the candidates hoping to be the nest chairman of the Republican National Committee named Ronald Reagan as their favourite Republican president. In one sense this is hardly surprising, given the extent to which the Cult of Reagan - or more precisely, the Cult of the Idea of Reagan - has come to define the Republican party; still, Kevin Drum wonders why no-one dare stick their neck out and admit to admiring some other GOP luminary.
As Kevin notes, it is striking how many Republican presidents have been expelled from the Conservative canon. Eisenhower, Ford and George HW Bush are viewed with suspicion as "Republicans in Name Only," Nixon was a closet liberal too and, like Harding, a crook to boot. Teddy Roosevelt, for all that many Republicans admire his muscular brio, scarcely fits the modern conservative ideal and it remains, sadly, rather infra dig to admit an admiration for Calvin Coolidge. So Reagan it is and must be.
But the Cult of Reagan actually helps explain the mess the Republican movement finds itself in. It used to be that it was the left that specialised in writing dissenters out of the movement; these days, in America at least, that's become a conservative trait. The RNC debate was illuminating in this respect: in addition to passing the Reagan litmus tests candidates were asked how many guns they own. And that was more or less it. Tick those boxes and you're a proper Republican; waver on either question and you're subject to suspicion.
It's this sort of blinkered thinking, this elevation of ideology above the messy business of winning elections that has helped condemn the GOP to minority status. A two party system in a nation of 300m people demands that each party be a broad church. Reagan recognised this; his successors seem to have forgotten it.
Like Thatcherism in Britain, the Reagan revolution began as an internal insurgency that caught the party grandees by surprise. Neither was really supposed to win but desperate times demanded desperate measures. If external crisis and malaise helped them win the leadership against the odds, then subsequently they were fortunate in their enemies: Carter and Callaghan first, then Mondale and Foot. In each case, Thatcher and Reagan were looking to a revived future as their opponents seemed stuck in a dismal, best-forgotten past.
But it is an iron truth of politics that prolonged success sows the seeds of future downfall. Revolutions run out of steam. They cannot be permanent. More damagingly still, what begins as an unorthodox and surprisingly successful approach calcifies into a stubborn orthodoxy that brooks no dissent, even as times and circumstances change. The path to power is built upon compromise and flexibility: Thatcher always knew what she wanted to do, but she was also aware, in her early years, of how limited her room for manoevre was - not least because not everyone in her cabinet was on board. If progress was slower than she liked, it was also steadier than when, after 1987, she reigned supreme and hubris began to take its fatal grip. Similarly, Reagan was a vastly more adaptable President than current conservative folklore might have you believe.
In that sense, then. the troubles of Republicanism now and of the Tories in the last 15 years, were built upon their previous successes. The difficulty is that the second (or third) generation is rarely as talented or adaptable as the trailblazers who won power in the first place. Instead of finding fresh ideas and solutions, they inherit positions and prejudices that, because they worked once before, are assumed to be eternal truths rather than particular answers to particular problems at a particular time.
And because they're seen as eternal truths, any deviation from them is grounds for heresy. Thus, for instance, the Club for Growth would, it sometimes seems, rather see a Democrt in Congress than a "bad" Republican. Fair enough, they've got their wish and the GOP is a minority party in both houses of Congress. It's not all the Club for Growth's fault, of course, but the narrowness of their (fiscal) vision is parallelled by other forces within contemporary conservatism that have left the party older and whiter and more religious than America as a whole. In other words, the GOP is increasingly out of step with a changing America.
Witness, for instance, the party's hostility to gay marriage. That plays well with the base, but it's not something that's likely to endear it to the political future. It's a symbolic issue in some ways, but each year plenty of voters who agree with the GOP die while plenty more who don't are added to the electoral roll.
Style matters too. The Tory position on Europe in the 1990s (and on immigration and crime more recently) was more popular with the electorate than were Labour's policies, but the stridency and, to many, the ugly tone in which the Tories expressed themselves turned many voters off. Similarly, the GOP position on, say, immigration is not without its supporters but the manner in which a position is expressed matters almost as much as the position itself. And the GOP has seemed bitter and parochial - qualities with which the electorate is unlikely to wish to associate itself.
Another example? The Terri Schiavo affair: millions of Americans might have been conflicted as to what they felt in what was a horrid, ugly affair. But they knew they didn't like the spectacle of Congressional Republicans stomping all over the case in hob-nailed boots, abandoning any notion of Congressional restraint, let alone respect for States' Rights and due process. The party that says the other mob always want to interfere abandoned all pretence to principle to interfere itself. Voters can spot hypocrisy and while they may sometimes forgive it if its purusued with a modicum of subtlety or on grounds of expediency, more often they dislike it intensely when it seems a flagrant breach of promise or purpose.
Similarly, there's not too much wrong with wanting to cut taxes, but John McCain's tax plan was absurdly tilted towards the already-wealthy. Yes, the richest contribute an enormous percentage of federal income tax receipts, but "ordinary" working families - those struggling with increasing health insurance bills or rising college costs - could reasonably ask when exactly it was that the Republican party stopped caring about them.
Ironically, George W Bush seemed to recognise this. The talk of "compassionate conservatism" and of an "ownership society" (the latter entirely familiar to Britishers who remember the glory days of Thatcherism) was an effort to recast Republicanism in a fresher, more contemporary mold. Alas, neither really amounted to much, killed by the administration's carelessness, the swamping impact of 9/11 and Karl Rove's determination to bet the farm on militarism and wedge issues - a strategy that could only move the GOP away from the centre-ground. Such a strategy is fine for winning elections, but less useful for governing. Apart from anything else, abandoning the centre gifts an opportunity to the opposition; just as importantly it's only sustainable in good times or when everything goes well. When the worm turns, you find yourself excluded from the centrist-mainstream. Suddenly politics can seem a lonely, scary place.
Thatcher found this out for herself and it took her party 15 years to recover; so too the GOP today. Comparisons between British and American politics are rarely exact of course, but in each case we see (or saw) a narrowing vision of what conservatism ought to be. Instead of an orchestra of conservatism you have a string quartet: still capable of pretty music, of course, but less versatile, less popular and with fewer tunes to play.
But, as I say, the Idea of Reagan has overtaken the Reaganite reality. Consequently Republicans seem to have misconstrued the premises upon which they based their decision to sanctify Reagan in the first-place. The god they worship is not the god who actually existed. The apparent simplicity of the GOP mantra - strong national defence, tax cuts and, er, that's it - becomes a liability when the party faces an intelligent, charismatic, adaptable opponent who seems better prepared to meet the complex challenges of a complex world right now, not the challenges that faced the United States nearly 30 years ago.
All of which is to say, presumptiously for a furriner perhaps, that the GOP has an awful lot of work to do before it's likely to be ready for government again. Of course, in time the Democrats may over-reach themselves too, but no-one should assume that will happen in just four or even eight years.
Because, you know, when the public tires of the old tunes, it's time to learn some new ones. And I rather doubt whether that old-time Reagan religion is going to be enough.
UPDATE: Unseen by me, Mark Thompson was labouring in these same vineyards a couple of days ago.
Further proof that the British economy remains better placed than any other to weather this turbulent, tempest-ridden economic sea: the Bank of England cuts interest rates to 1.5%, the lowest rate in more than 300 years. Obviously that's a tribute to the government. Meanwhile, the government prepares to print some more money. This too demonstrates the extent to which the government has everything in hand.
I don't think you need to be an economist to sense that this mob - Brown and Darling, that is - are making it up as they go along.
Tough times on the Emerald Isle: Dell is closing it's largest non-US manufacturing plant. This is not good news.
Established in Ireland in 1990, Dell employed more than 4,500 staff in Ireland at its height and is the country’s biggest exporter and second largest company.
It accounts for approximately 5 per cent of Irish GDP and last year contributed €140m to the south western economy in wages alone.
UPDATE: Should have realised this myself, but as Tim Worstall says, these figures seem very fishy. Not the number of jobs, the other ones. 5% of GDP? Hmmm. Anyway, it still ain't good news and, given how much Ireland has relied upon American inward investment in IT and electronics, this seems likely to be a harbinger of further gloomy news ahead.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were defenders.
What's this, you ask? Just a map of the pair's wanderings on the moon, superimposed onto a football (soccer) pitch. As best one can tell the Moon XI liked to attack down the right-wing, forcing the intrepid astronauts to play a rugged, hoofing, defensive game. Aldrin never made it out of the Earthlings' half, while Armstrong only ventured a single foray towards the opposition penalty area. Of course, we were playing away from home and it always takes some time to acclimatise to, let alone deal with, the intimidating atmosphere at Moon Park.