A Bit About Austria, and an Assortment of Some Especially Abominable Arseholes ...
We've not met (anything like even nearly), every individual example of evil, perverted extremist who ever existed.
Nor have we yet had the pleasure of encountering all this earth's Austrians. Even if we had, it would be seriously stupid to say something as silly as "They're all the sodding same." However, we can certainly say in all sincerity (and with our hands on our hearts) that, so far, we're still to meet one who we felt we could easily 'take to'.
Austria, still hobbled by its history
The country's old xenophobia has raised its head again. We can hardly be surprised
Its tourist board will tell you that, as will the headlines on the infrequent occasions when the Alpine republic grabs global attention. One of those rare occasions happened this weekend: Austria's far-right parties scooped up 29 per cent of the votes between them in a general election, pushing them ahead of the conservative People's Party, and only just behind the Social Democrats.
The last time Austria was in the news was in April when Josef Fritzl was arrested for imprisoning his own daughter in a cellar and fathering her seven children. While it would be absurd to connect the horrifying Fritzl case directly to Austria's troubled politics, the fact that Fritzl blamed his behaviour on his harsh upbringing under the Third Reich shows that the country remains hobbled by its history
"First of all, I won’t repeat the mistake that I regret enormously, and that is, after we were able to help the Afghan freedom fighters and drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, we basically washed our hands of the region. And the result over time was the Taliban, Al Qaida, and a lot of the difficulties we are facing today. So we can’t ignore those lessons of history."
Those “freedom fighters” were of course the mujaheddin in Afghanistan waging jihad against the Soviets, including one Osama bin Laden and one Zayman Al Zawahiri. We backed and funded them–sort of. We didn’t “create bin Laden,” as some have alleged. But we certainly supported the factions fighting alongside him, factions every bit as militantly Islamic as bin Laden–as even the State Department concedes.
The reason it didn't register is that I've grown so used to Republicans referring to terrorists like the Nicaragua's Contras and Angola's UNITA as "freedom fighters". Apparently, all the reporters in the mainstream media also became inured to the Republicans' doublespeak, because I haven't seen anything about this in mainstream outlets. But you can bet that we would have heard about it if Obama had called bin Laden a "freedom fighter", however indirectly.
And while we're on the subject ... of photography that is ... for those with the time and/or slightest interest, here's a few photos we took on our most recent Turkish trip at the start of this September.
How the Swedes saved their economy, and what Americans can learn from them
Bo Lundgren, whose plan to bail out Sweden's banks is often credited with saving the nation's economy
The New York Times has an interesting article on the approach taken by Sweden when faced with a banking crisis like the one that now faces the United States. The amount of money involved was similar to Bush's proposal -- Sweden committed 4% of its GDP while Bush's $700 billion package would be 5% of the US GDP -- but Sweden forced the banks themselves to share some of the cost:
Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government.
That strategy held banks responsible and turned the government into an owner. When distressed assets were sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies as well.
“If I go into a bank,” said Bo Lundgren, who was Sweden’s finance minister at the time, “I’d rather get equity so that there is some upside for the taxpayer.”
Sweden spent 4 percent of its gross domestic product, but the final cost to Sweden ended up being less than 2 percent of its G.D.P. Some officials say they believe it was closer to zero, depending on how certain rates of return are calculated.
Exacting a penalty from bank shareholders had an additional benefit: many financial institutions that had been pleading for government money decided that they'd rather do without a taxpayer-financed bailout:
Sweden told its banks to write down their losses promptly before coming to the state for recapitalization. Facing its own problem later in the decade, Japan made the mistake of dragging this process out, delaying a solution for years.
Then came the imperative to bleed shareholders first. Mr. Lundgren recalls a conversation with Peter Wallenberg, at the time chairman of SEB, Sweden’s largest bank. Mr. Wallenberg, the scion of the country’s most famous family and steward of large chunks of its economy, heard that there would be no sacred cows.
The Wallenbergs turned around and arranged a recapitalization on their own, obviating the need for a bailout. SEB turned a profit the following year, 1993.
“For every krona we put into the bank, we wanted the same influence,” Mr. Lundgren said. “That ensured that we did not have to go into certain banks at all.”
By the end of the crisis, the Swedish government had seized a vast portion of the banking sector, and the agency had mostly fulfilled its hard-nosed mandate to drain share capital before injecting cash. When markets stabilized, the Swedish state then reaped the benefits by taking the banks public again.
Soon after the plan was announced, the Swedish government found that international confidence returned more quickly than expected, easing pressure on its currency and bringing money back into the country.
Naturally, a Swedish-style bailout is not being seriously considered by either congress or the Bush administration.
Portland Police took a waterfront Lady Godiva down a notch this week.
They were getting calls about a nude inline skater whizzing past tourists and rush-hour commuters.
But you can do that in Oregon, where occasional nude bike rides draw police only for crowd control and shows featuring live sex acts are protected as free speech.
The skater, Gennifer Moss, aka Earth Friend Gen, asked organizers for permission this summer to skate naked in the city of Ashland's Fourth of July parade. She didn't get it.
Police here told her to tone it down after construction workers complained.
Moss donned a string bikini bottom for the nonce and skated on.
Police say most callers are concerned about her safety.
I have to say, it's great to live in a state where, when a woman skates nude at busy waterfront park, most of the calls to the police are from people who are worried about her safety. And what's wrong with those construction workers?
Also, I feel compelled to point out that the nudists in Oregon are a lot more attractive than the nudist in Vermont.
You can see more of Gen at her MySpace page. Well, not really, since I selected the most revealing photo she has. But you can learn more about her earth-friendly philosophy and check out some marginally less revealing photos and videos.
=========================================== Before hitting the link to read the rest of the relevant rant-post, see if you can guess who spouted all that truly presidential stuff. It shouldn't be too difficult.
It seems that McCain is now dodging the press instead of sitting down with them for one of his famous "straight talk" sessions:
Reporters traveling with John McCain are slightly miffed that the senator hasn't had any face time with them in, well, a month and three days (but who's counting?).
So, when Straight Talk Air departed Tampa today, a dozen reporters chanted, "Bring Mac back! Bring Mac back!"
The chanting lasted under a minute as staffers in the business cabin smiled and then promptly closed the curtain between business and coach.
That's not surprising, given the fact that McCain can't seem to open his mouth without revealing colossal ignorance. In the most recent episode, McCain revealed that he doesn't know where Spain is, and has no idea who its prime minister is:
During an interview in Miami earlier this week with Spanish-language station Union Radio, a reporter asked McCain whether, if elected, he would receive Spanish president Zapatero in the White House. McCain answered, "Honestly, I have to analyze our relationships, situations and priorities, but I can assure you that I will establish closer relationships with our friends, and I will stand up to those who want to harm the United States."
The question about Zapatero came after a series of questions on how McCain sees relations with Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba. He said he would not speak to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez "without any sort of preconditions, as Senator Obama has said he would," and said Chávez was "depriving his people of their democratic rights." He judged Bolivia's Evo Morales as "very similar" and also condemned Cuba's Raúl Castro. When the questioner said, "Now let's talk of Spain" and asked whether he'd invite Zapatero, McCain responded with a vague statement that he would meet "with those leaders who are our friends" and then cited Mexican President Felipe Calderón as an example. The questioner tried several more times to steer the Senator back to a clear answer on Spain, but McCain never directly addressed the nation, saying, "What I would say is that my record is that of someone who has worked in a friendly atmosphere with those who are our friends and faced up to those who aren't."
That's the level of ignorance I would have expected of Bush, back before he was president. And Bush was thought of as a foreign policy lightweight. Keep in mind, foreign policy is supposed to be the thing that McCain is good at.But it got worse. Here's the follow-up by Jonathan Stein of the leftist magazine Mother Jones:
McCain said in June that Zapatero, the president of Spain, would be welcome at his White House. This bolsters my argument that McCain didn't intend to give Spain the cold shoulder in the Spanish-language radio interview. He simply didn't know what was going on.
Of course, the McCain campaign had to respond to this situation and they couldn't say, "Our candidate misheard the interviewer or misunderstood what was going on, so let's just forget this little senior moment, shall we?" So they claimed that McCain intentionally refused to sit down with Zapatero, who is a socialist:
"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview," the Senator's foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann told the Washington Post.
Okay, that's insane. Lumping Spain — a member of NATO and thus a country we are bound to defend militarily in the event of crisis — in with Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea is clearly crazy. And it's a position, apparently, John McCain didn't endorse as recently as June. So we know what's going on here, right? The campaign put out a self-serving, cover-your-ass statement and John McCain is old but not so militaristic he wants to sever ties with one of our oldest allies. Everyone clear?
Right. It's insane that McCain would try to cover his gaffe by pretending that the Spanish government is hostile to the US, and lump them in with the government of Venezuela. But how is it that a leftist magazine like Mother Jones is lumping Spain in with North Korea and Iran? And why aren't they castigating McCain for trying to equate Cuba with Venezuela and Bolivia? For the record, Cuba is a communist dictatorship. Venezuela and Bolivia are democratic countries that are hated by Bush and McCain because they've turned away from the very economic policies that ruined the American economy.
But the derangement didn't end there. Andrew Sullivan misfired in his attack on McCain. Sullivan ignored the McCain campaign's obvious lie about having misgivings about meeting with the leader of our NATO ally, and he ignored McCain's silly attempt to smear the leaders of Venezuela and Bolivia. Instead, he took a swipe at McCain for referring to Zapatero as president, rather than as prime minister. But even the official site of La Moncloa (Spain's version of the White House) refers to Zapatero as the "Presidente del Gobierno", or "President of the Government". As it turns out, Zapatero functions as a prime minister (king Juan Carlos I is the head of state) but is referred to as president.
I guess the silly season of politics is indeed upon us.
2008 Beijing Paralympic Games: Bravo Brave Brits - and all.
Since we've always believed, super-strongly, that these amazing heroes and heroines never ever receive anything remotely like the amount of publicity and praise they so richly deserve, we want you all to click here.
Recent events have led to a rise in anti-American sentiment in Pakistan
You have to wonder how much military conflict there can be between two allies before they become enemies. Just yesterday, Pakistani units fired at American helicopters when they crossed the border from Afghanistan:
Pakistani security officials said on Monday that troops had fired on U.S. military helicopters and forced them to turn back to Afghanistan. According to the security officials, the incident took place near Angor Adda, a village in the tribal region of South Waziristan where officials have said U.S. commandos in helicopters raided a suspected al Qaeda and Taliban camp earlier this month.
"The U.S. choppers came into Pakistan by just 100 to 150 meters at Angor Adda. Even then our troops did not spare them, opened fire on them and they turned away," said one security official.
While Angor Adda villagers and officials supported that account, the U.S. and Pakistani military denied the report.
Pakistani and American officials have to deny that incidents like this take place, because neither side wants to go to war. But it's unlikely that villagers and Pakistani security forces would conspire to fabricate an incident like this, and hard to see how war can be avoided if Pakistani and American soldiers begin killing one another. Tensions between the two countries have become inflamed recently, thanks to Bush's new policy of allowing Special Forces units to conduct raids against suspected Taliban strongholds inside Pakistan, without the permission of the Pakistani government.
This comes at a time when Bush is telling his commanders in Afghanistan that he can only fulfill half of their recent request for more troops, so you might think that Bush would do everything possible to avoid starting yet another war with either Iran or Pakistan. But instead, he seems to be doing everything he can to antagonize those countries. General Jeffrey Schloesser, the commander of American forces on the Afghan/Pakistani frontier, threatened to start "a new kind of war" if Pakistan continues to allow militants to cross to and from Afghanistan. And he's been taking steps toward a blockade of Iran, in what some analysts say is an attempt to lock his successor into an aggressive anti-Iranian policy.
So to recap, Bush is telling his commanders that we don't have enough troops to fulfill their requests. But at the same time, he's engaging in increasingly hostile and provocative actions directed at Iran and Pakistan. That doesn't seem very smart, when you consider the fact that Iran is as large, in terms of both area and population, as Iraq and Afghanistan put together. And Pakistan is the world's 6th most populous country, with 172 million inhabitants. And Pakistan has nuclear weapons.
So this is foreign policy during the Bush era. And John McCain is promising more of the same.
Sarah Palin's Personally Picked People, Old School Pals' Pay Packets, Pretty Hefty Perks, etc, etc ...
We're sure you can guess how we "see" the sort of stuff that follows.
We wonder how the rest of America and the wider world sees it?
We bet you can guess.
WASILLA, Alaska —
Gov. Sarah Palin lives by the maxim that all politics is local, not to mention personal.
So when there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, she appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency.
Ms. Havemeister was one of at least five schoolmates Ms. Palin hired, often at salaries far exceeding their private sector wages.
Yep, that's John McCain, saying that Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani aren't qualified to be president because they served as governor of Massachusetts and mayor of New York City "for a short time." Joe Sudbay points out that Massachusetts has 10 times the population of Alaska, and New York City has 1,000 times more people than Wasilla. Meanwhile, Sam Stein reminds us that both Romney and Giuliani served longer than Palin did. Stein also points out that Palin's interview with Charles Gibson only served to reinforce McCain's assessment of her qualifications:
For critics, Palin's interview with ABC on Thursday evening was an apt demonstration of the criticisms McCain raised about mayors and governors back in October. In her first interview since being tapped as McCain's vice president, Palin showed, in some respects, the limitations of her foreign policy capacity. Time's Joe Klein wrote, "A joke... This woman clearly has no idea what she's talking about. What an embarrassment." Unable to define the Bush Doctrine and contradicting McCain on Pakistan, she acknowledged that she had only visited a handful of countries and never met with another world leader. Then, it was her turn to ridicule the lengthy Washington resume that defines McCain.
"Charlie, again, we've got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time," she said to the ABC host. "It is for no more politics as usual and somebody's big, fat resume maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment, where, yes, they've had opportunities to meet heads of state."
For Democrats, the revelation that McCain doesn't think Palin is qualified to be president is a cause for both joy and apprehension. On the one hand, McCain has given the Obama campaign an unexpected gift. But Rachel Maddow expressed concern about he fact that this very big gaffe was discovered more than a week after Palin's selection, and it was discovered by the media, not by the Obama campaign. It's time for the Obama team to step up its opposition research.
Right now, you Brits might be wondering why McCain has a slight lead over Obama in national polls. McCain's recently said that Iran was training al Qaeda operatives (a charge he immediately withdrew), he's said that he doesn't understand economics, he's running on a platform of continuing the policies of the most unpopular president in modern history, and he's nominated a running mate who is clearly unqualified to take over as president, should that become necessary.
Meanwhile, Obama picked a running mate who is one of the most experienced and respected senators in America, he's demonstrated brilliance in his thinking and a firm grasp of the issues, he's a former constitutional law professor, and he's pushing for a change from the disastrous policies of George Bush.
Being abroad again, and all, we're sorta semi out 'of the loop' (US and UK wise) of late, but we're still managing to periodically peruse some of our best blogger buddies' blogs; one of them belonging to another old(ish) Brit, named R.J. Adams.
For what it's worth, R.J. has lived in the US for some several years now.
Here's one of said old pal's latest posts. This one certainly struck a chord with us. Perhaps it will, or rather should, with you too.
Particularly if you're one of our loyal, friendly American readers.
Looks Like The Queen Has Abdicated
If ever any political party deserved to lose an election, it has to be the Democrats in 2008. If ever any Democratic politician needed to prove their worthiness to the party, it’s Hillary Clinton now her race for the presidential nomination has ended.
Where is Hillary Clinton? At a time when her party needs her more than ever, it appears Clinton has taken a vacation. Does this indicate a serious case of sour grapes?
September 11, 2001, came during the year I lived in Australia, and on that day I was helping my brother paint his house. Even now I feel pangs of guilt when I remember seeing the surreal, agonizing spectacle of the two smoking towers on my brother's television.
It doesn't make any sense, since I would have been in Arizona, thousands of miles from New York, if I had stayed in the US. But there it is: the feeling people say they get when they return to work from a vacation and find that during their absence, a co-worker died in an accident. A vague feeling that you should have been there and taken part in the grim lottery.
Sometimes, when I think of the people who were murdered that day, I feel a great weight of sadness. And sometimes I go to Legacy.com and read brief profiles of the dead. I find that grieving for a few individuals is more cathartic than gnashing my teeth for the faceless 3,000. Here's a few of the profiles I reviewed last night:
Vote, Vote, Vote For This Old Brit : The Man With The Experience
Ladies and gentlemen.
Forget, Mrs Palin. Forget, Mr McCain. In fact, forget 'em all.
Today, we're talking turkey. Not only that, but at absolutely no extra charge, we're talking the turkey to you direct from Turkey -- live. (As is often our wont).
We've decided we want to proudly present ourselves as the prime candidate(s)for the position(s) of ... erm ... anything and everything. Anywhere, any time, for whatever, whoever, whenever, however, etc, such like, and so on.
'Cos we're the one(s) with "the experience".
Right! And you know, it makes sense.
Take a quick peek at the map. Does our record speak for itself? Does our experience? Does our expertise? Does our know how? Our understanding?
Believe us. You'd better bloody believe it does.
See what we're saying? See where we're at? Again?
See where we're coming from? Stuck slap bang right in the midst of "everything".
It's hard to think of a person with less experience than Palin who would bring more baggage to the ticket
It's now clear that picking Sarah Palin as a running mate was a monumental error. Here are some pros and cons:
1) By picking Palin, McCain energizes the whacko fringe of his party. Obama could have accomplished the same thing by picking Cindy Sheehan or Gavin Newsom (Newsom is mayor of San Francisco, a city with five times as many people as Alaska), but Obama decided that it was more prudent to pursue moderate and independent voters.
2) Palin's craziness goes beyond her positions on the issues. She fired Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan when Monegan refused to fire a state trooper who divorced Palin's sister. When she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin asked the town librarian about removing objectionable books, then tried to fire the librarian when she refused to consider a book ban. I can remember when Palin's supporters were calling Hillary Clinton a ball-breaking Nazi because she fired some staffers from the White House travel office over alleged financial improprieties (the travel office director was later indicted for embezzlement, but acquitted). She's called the Iraq war "a task that is from God," and said that building a natural gas pipeline in Alaska was "God's will."