Playing Chicken And Rooster With Hungary

Tension surrounding the application of a series of so-called “unorthodox policies” by Hungary’s Fidesz government has certainly been rising in recent days. While Washington has been reasonably quiet as govenment emissary Tamas Fellegi meets with top IMF officials, Brussels has seen a veritable avalance of official statements and policy initiatives. Despite constant rumours that an agreement with the IMF is near, I find it pretty implausible that any deal can be reached without some kind of EU assent.  At the present time this assent is unlikely to be forthcoming, and indeed the “ante” has been pushed up and up. The latest example here is the fact that Brussels has given the Hungarian administration till next Tuesday to do something about altering the country’s new constitution or face the prospect of legal action, and possible suspension from the EU under article 7 of the EU Treaty. Budapest on the other hand has been full of conciliating words, but the key point is we have yet to see anything meaningful in terms of action. Continue reading

International Talk Like a Berlin Parliamentarian Day

With further proof that a five-party system is much more fun for analysts than for candidates or for governance, city-state elections in Berlin put out the previous coalition, returned the personally well-liked mayor, decimated a party that was a long-time kingmaker in West Germany, and put members of the Pirate Party into a German state legislature for the first time. Just in time for pirates’ international holiday.

Klaus “und das ist auch gut soWowereit (Social Democrat, SPD) will continue to serve as Mayor of Berlin, a post he has held since June 2001. The Free Democrats, who played a crucial role in the three-party system of West Germany, appear to have polled less than 2% in this election. In 2006 they won more than 7% of the vote and gained 12 seats; they will have none in the coming parliament.

The Left Party, post-communists and often prominent in Berlin, lost four seats and can no longer serve as a junior coalition partner to the Social Democrats. The Greens thought they might win the mayoralty, after gaining their first state premiership earlier this year in Baden-Württemburg. Though they gained 4.5% and six seats, they will at best be a junior coalition partner. The SPD may also choose to govern with the Christian Democrats (CDU). In the past, this would have been called a grand coalition, but with the second-place CDU polling just 5% more than the third-place Greens (and indeed none of the parties pulling in more than 30% of the vote), it’s hardly a sweeping coalition. Look for a Red-Green government, but with the SPD clearly in the driver’s seat because it has other options.

And then there are the Pirates. Their success in this election is, first, a reminder of electoral volatility at the state level. Anyone remember the Schill Party? Second, it’s a sign that the Greens have a generational problem. Post-materialist voters have tended to be Green voters, but the issues that drew people to the Greens 25 and 30 years ago aren’t as salient now. I’d like to see some polling on how many Pirate voters are first-time voters; I’m willing to bet it’s a high percentage. Third, it may be a signal that the FDP is well and truly toast in Berlin. The kind of discourse about freedom that the Pirates have embraced is something that the FDP could have taken up, but has proven too hidebound to do. Fourth, the Berlin tech-computer scene is engaged, experienced and has both a long history and a deep bench. The city is the home of the Chaos Computer Club and the first location for Blinkenlights, among many other highlights. There’s a big natural constituency for the Pirates, and they turned out. Fifth, digital issues and a diffuse sense of protest can motivate nearly 10% of an urban electorate. That’s enough to tip some more elections. Arrrr.

Collapsing Case Against Strauss-Kahn?

The New York Times talks to its sources in the NY Police Department and prosecutor’s office and reports:

The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.

Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.

More key phrases include “repeatedly lied” to investigators, “issues involving the asylum application,” and “possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.”
Continue reading

Desert dialectic

Rowan Williams:

[we have seen a] quiet resurgence of the seductive language of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor”.

Iain Duncan Smith:

With respect to the Archbishop of Canterbury I have never ever spoken about the deserving or undeserving poor. I don’t believe in that concept. All I say is that the system itself has created an undeserving group, that’s what it has created.”

I’m struggling to understand what IDS is saying here. One way we might read him is this: nothing intrinsic to a population group makes that group undeserving; welfare allocation on its own – and nothing else – determines desert. But this takes away desert as a justification for policy: people are going to be getting pie – or not – just because IDS says so. Imagine if this were the stance with respect to taxes: George Osborne says the top rate is going to go up to 60%, well … because, that’s why. And when it does, you’ll deserve it. Or how about this: low Conservative tax rates have created a deserving group: the low taxed. You wonderful people, you.

In response, IDS might say: yes, of course our policies need to be justified, but that justification needn’t have anything to do with who gets what. When I say that welfare recipients are ‘undeserving’, I’m only saying that people oughtn’t to receive welfare because welfare has bad consequences. It has bad consequences if fifty people receive it or if fifty million people receive it. But what are the bad consequences of welfare? Here, IDS might say that when people choose welfare instead of work, they become apathetic and unhappy: welfare erodes self-esteem just as cigarettes erode your lungs. But someone making this sort of argument has to face the possibility that all kinds of unearned wealth have similar bad effects. Inherited wealth, for instance, or windfall profit. And that’s not a place any respectable Tory wants to go. But perhaps IDS can steer the discussion away from such difficult topics by arguing that welfare is bad because it, uniquely, has bad consequences for everyone. Our over-generous handouts are making the public debt unmanageable, and we won’t be caring about who gets what if the entire country goes under. However, if welfare is rejected for a reason like that, then it’s open for people to argue that welfare should be increased as and when things change for the better. Who knows what the future will bring. Take Alaska’s Permanent Fund, for instance. The Alaskans never saw that coming. Yet somehow I seriously doubt that IDS envisages a future of share and share alike, should the nation be so lucky as to run into big patch of oil, or something.

So what else could IDS say when it comes to explaining his position on welfare? All that’s left – it seems – is an argument that appeals to justice. That is, it’s simply unjust that some people get benefit when they’ve never had any intention of working: the responsible people lose out; they’ve lived carefully, they’ve never been slackers, they’ve carried the load. But then Rowan Williams’s accusation sticks.

It’s Azerbaijan

Winning Eurovision 2011. Apparently the AFOE crew was too sober to liveblog the festivities. In any event, one member of the collective has already observed, “That’ll put off any war over Nagorno-Karabakh for at least a year.”

Eurovision previously at the Fistful:

2009 Slightly depressing follow-up relevant to this year’s winners.
2008
2007 Bonus 2007
2006
2005
2004

Thoughts? Or is Eurovision simply beyond thought?

Oh My

Removed from a Paris-bound plane.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, was removed from a Paris-bound flight on Saturday afternoon minutes before takeoff after a New York City hotel housekeeper accused him of sexual assault, the police said. …

Strauss-Kahn was being questioned after a 32-year-old chambermaid complained that a naked Strauss-Kahn sexually attacked her in his Manhattan hotel room, the police said. The maid, who said she broke free, suffered minor injuries, police said.

The NYPD expects to bring formal charges Sunday morning, New York time.

After Osama

Juan Cole sets the stage:

Usama Bin Laden was a violent product of the Cold War and the Age of Dictators in the Greater Middle East. He passed from the scene at a time when the dictators are falling or trying to avoid falling in the wake of a startling set of largely peaceful mass movements demanding greater democracy and greater social equity. Bin Laden dismissed parliamentary democracy, for which so many Tunisians and Egyptians yearn, as a man-made and fallible system of government, and advocated a return to the medieval Muslim caliphate (a combination of pope and emperor) instead. Only a tiny fringe of Muslims wants such a theocratic dictatorship. The masses who rose up this spring mainly spoke of “nation,” the “people,” “liberty” and “democracy,” all keywords toward which Bin Laden was utterly dismissive. The notorious terrorist turned to techniques of fear-mongering and mass murder to attain his goals in the belief that these methods were the only means by which the Secret Police States of the greater Middle East could be overturned.

I’ve got to think the European militaries will be done with Afghanistan about as fast as is practicable. How much civic and NGO engagement remains afterward is an open question. The Schröder government in Germany may have said that the country’s security began in the Hindu Kush, but surely there are ways to secure Germany without soldiers in Afghanistan.

European support for new democratic governments in the Arab world will not be simple, given troubled colonial histories in some places and populist worries about Islam in others. Nevertheless, Europe has much to offer in both managing transitions and models of pluralist democracies that remain true to their varied national and religious backgrounds.