November 4th

A lot of attention has been given here in Europe to the US presidential election 2008. According to some recent polls 78% of the French, 72% of the Germans and 68% of the Spanish would like to see Obama in office. Some European pro Obama “voters” see him as a welcome change from Bush, others are looking to America as an example of true democracy (how many black presidential candidates have we had in Europe?) and still others think he would usher in a new era of Transatlantic friendship and cooperation.

What do our readers think? First of all, who will be the next US president? What would it really mean for Europe to see Obama victorious? And what about McCain? Surely he must have something to offer us as well?

And, as a bonus question, are there countries in Europe that are ready for a black, or immigrant, PM or president?

Personally, I have no real answers to these questions. The only thing I am worried about is this:

Oh, and check this out. (hat tip Sargasso)

Qatar: It’s Where the Money Comes From

Karl Marx said that ideology is part of the social superstructure, merely a decorative overlay on the brutal truth of the economic base. Millian liberalism was really just an expression of the pounding steam engines, Jacquard looms and downtrodden apprentices of 1840s Manchester, just as absolutism had been built on the assumption that society would always consist of peasants and landlords.

But what does it tell us about the chief proponents of “Eurabia” that a healthy chunk of their money comes from, well, Arabia? We don’t need to spend too much time flogging this sack of horseshit; Randy McDonald has already debunked it with rapier sharpness in this post at Demography Matters, following up on his classic 2004-vintage spanking of Mark Steyn. The short version is that there are not enough Muslims, the ones who are in Europe are progressively exhibiting more European demography, the countries whose demography is most worrying attract large numbers of non-Muslim immigrants, and not all European countries’ demography is anything like the same.

The Nation‘s Kathryn Joyce takes a look at the politics of Eurabia; nobody should be surprised that it’s pretty ugly. Essentially, there’s a gaggle of thinktanks/campaign groups/whatever closely connected to the Mormons and Senator Sam Brownback, and specifically to their extreme “quiverfull” wing, which advocates having absurdly (8+ kids) large families. It looks a lot like an effort both to find a new market for their politics in central Europe (Kazcynski’s Poland was Target One) and also to gin up a foreign-policy scare that would energise their base in support of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Well, that went well.

It’s also amusing that Joyce describes their view of Poland as “the anti-Sweden”. I don’t know to what extent this is a true misrepresentation, but it’s worth pointing out that they’ve placed their strategic bridgehead on the wrong side of the Baltic. It’s as if the Normandy landings had taken place somewhere on the coast of Portugal or Ireland. In yet another cracking DM post, this time by “AFOE Principal Investigator” Edward Hugh, we learn that Sweden is the last place in Europe that needs to worry. Well, except for France. Poland, on the other hand, is solidly in their problem group of countries with very low total-fertility rates (the data is here (XLS)). France? Sweden? You can almost hear the authoritarian personalities creak and groan with the cognitive dissonance. Of course, there’s a very good reason why they didn’t go to either France or Sweden, which is that they would have been laughed out of town.

But what especially amuses me is this:

The result is the spread of US culture-war tactics across the globe, from the Czech Republic to Qatar–where right-wing Mormon activist and WCF co-founder Richard Wilkins has found enough common cause with Muslim fundamentalists to build the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development.

Doha? As in Qatar? Yes. Unless you’re in the oil or natural gas business, there’s one reason to locate a new institution – especially a profoundly subsidy-dependent one like a thinktank – in Qatar, which is that the sheikh is probably paying for it. Marx would have understood what’s going on here – nothing happens without the means of production, after all. Money, not Coke – it’s the real thing. But what would he have made of the World Council of Families?

And you thought I was joking…

Ha. You thought this was an exercise in strategic trolling. Think again; the French Navy’s helicopter carrier Jeanne d’Arc pulled into New York on the 28th for a port call, and to deliver a consignment of books for schools in New Orleans. (French ones, naturally.) Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani’s primary campaign took a misstep when he badly misjudged his core constituency

«Un sondage montre que 67 % des Américains pensent que le pays est sur la mauvaise voie…», annonce Rudolph Giuliani à une centaine de supporteurs réunis dans un petit restaurant de Hampton, dans le New Hampshire. Costume noir rayé, cravate rouge, l’ex-maire de New York en campagne pour la Maison Blanche balaie d’un regard contrarié la foule trop éparse. «Connaissez-vous un autre pays qui soit plus mal en point que ça ?» «La France !» lance un militant arborant un macaron «Rudy for president», aussitôt approuvé par l’assistance. «Pas du tout !» bondit Giuliani. «Nicolas Sarkozy a écrit un livre excellent sur son programme, qu’il met en œuvre en ce moment», rétorque-t-il à son auditoire un peu confondu.

I’m not sure which is funnier – Giuliani trying to push France as an example to his war-crazed freedom fries base (this is the guy who hired Dan Senor and Norman Podhoretz, mark) or the notion that Sarko is still new, revolutionary or exciting.

I spent enough time on this blog trying to dispel the myth of “Sarkozy, France’s Margaret Thatcher” that iit’s wearying to repeat any of it; but essentially all the media beyond France, and much of it within France, got him completely, embarrassingly wrong. Rather than offering a dramatic ideological break, Sarko is much better understood as a Blair or Berlusconi figure; heavily reliant on a dominant media owner (his own media for Berlusconi; Murdoch’s for Blair; Lagardere and the wave of late-Chirac appointments at France Televisions for Sarkozy), wrapping a fundamentally conservative message in the cult of newness and business style. Security, property prices, and TV.

It’s like Chirac with more caffeine. This is unlikely to change much; the long-awaited ruck with the Left over special pension provisions has resulted in the issue being punted to tripartite negotiations with business and the unions, and the flagship economic policy (introducing mortgage tax relief) was derailed by the courts. Although it’s still theoretically on the agenda, nobody is now expecting a property boom any time soon.

What Sarko is probably worrying about is more that his fiscal boost came before the credit crisis; €15bn of tax cuts that fell precisely the wrong side of the cycle.

What’s left of France

Ezra Klein is having a bit of fun with Rudy Giuliani’s assertion that the U.S. “will be to the left of France” if the American electorate is “not careful” and doesn’t elect him:

We could elect Dennis Kucinich and 10 more Democratic senators and we wouldn’t get anywhere near France. France is a country where the rightwing reformer won’t touch the 35-hour workweek, where all sorts of powerful politicians call themselves socialists, where there’s over a month of legally mandated vacation and unlimited sick days.

Well, France is also a country where insulting the flag is a criminal offense, where the level of opposition to affirmative action would delight any card-carrying Republican, where about 20% of the student body attend religious schools (double the American percentage) and where capital income is much less heavily taxed than in the U.S. (see this pdf).

Not that I’m defending Giuliani’s idiotic statement, mind you. Especially one in which he equates caution with voting for his crazy self. But the idea that France is some sort of liberal wet dream doesn’t jibe well with the facts either. Continue reading

The Disunited States: America’s Collapse?

Gideon Rachman of the FT gives a sound thrashing to Mark Steyn and the other participants in a conference on “The Collapse of Europe” somewhere in Florida California. It’s always good to see the racist buffoon Steyn getting fisked, but there’s a deeper point here. What if it was the United States that was threatened by “collapse”?

After all, it is a society that faces some grave problems. Oil-intensity of GDP is surpassed only by China among industrialised economies, meaning that the US has a lot of distance to make up on its competitors on the way towards sustainability. The long-term population shift into Florida and the South-West was famously the result of air conditioning, which doesn’t look such a cracking idea any more. The Western states have always had problems with water, which so far have been coped with. Will they always be, especially with reduced snowpack in the Rockies hitting water supply and hydroelectric generation?

The economy, meanwhile, faces gargantuan twin deficits and a dollar sustained by the conditional support of the People’s Bank of China. In the event of a devaluation, how quickly can resources shift into exporting and import-competing sectors? Gigantic sums – hundreds of billions of dollars – are projected to be necessary to restore the US Army after it finally leaves Iraq.

But perhaps the most worrying feature is the increasingly vicious political polarisation, and its corollary, the increasing efforts each side of the partisan divide makes to withdraw into its own version of reality. We mentioned the re-direction of resources into the tradable sector of the economy, but will those resources be available in a nation of creationist “science” fairs? Solutions like this one aren’t for duffers. More importantly, the same distinction late Pentagon strategists like Thomas Barnett make between the “integrated core” and the “nonintegrating gap” was making itself plain in the US. (What else, after all, does the famous and prescient “United States of Canada/Jesusland” map illustrate?) Can a society include Intel ISEF and the Christian Soda Volcano show without tearing itself apart?

Similarly, exactly the same trends were making themselves felt demographically as in Europe, with a low birth rate among the existing population being masked by immigration, which is bitterly – and violently – resented by some sections of society. Perhaps they realise that, in the long run, immigration only strengthens the remaining outward-looking sections of society. US publicists boasted that Muslim immigrants to the United States were “more integrated” than in Europe, but on closer inspection this simply meant that nothing bad had happened yet.

These problems tested the constitutional fabric to the limit – consider the ugly confrontation between Alberto Gonzales and Thomas Comey by John Ashcroft’s hospital bed. Comey found it necessary to have his FBI security detail ordered to resist Gonzales’s Secret Service guards by force if necessary. By 2007, was it already too late for the United States to avoid its second Civil War? Even though the outbreak of violence on the California-Nevada line was unexpected, the forces that led to it had been around for years, and it is a truism that nobody ever realises it is happening to them until it happens. Hence the scenes of people going about their business as foreign nationals were evacuated on the EU amphibious assault ships.

It is certainly no more ridiculous than “Eurabia.”