Today is election day in Albania. I spent some time digging around to try and come up with some useful coverage, but I didn’t do very well. They’re obviously aware that almost nobody speaks Albanian, and there are at least four English-language Albanian news sites, but unfortunately all of them are paywalled. Struggling with GoogleTranslate on some other sites, I couldn’t really find much which said what the issues are; the most recent stories are about measures to protect the integrity of the poll, with at least four parties being accused of widespread vote-buying and the Interior Minister threatening severe punishment for anyone doing anything illegal with regard to the election.
However, I did manage to establish that 140 people will be elected to their unicameral parliament on a party-list proportional system in 12 regions. There are three main parties, the Socialists (PS), the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI), and the Democrats (DP). The SMI was formed by someone who broke away from the PS, but I can’t work out what the differences are between them. There is also a new center party, LIBRA, which just about figures in the polls. (GoogleTranslate manages to render their name variously as Libra, Libya and BOOKS) This piece reports on the opinion polls from 1st June and has some information about what the voters think the issues are; subsequent articles tracking the polls have consisted effectively of updates only and are unenlightening beyond there having not been much movement over the course of the campaign.
Compared to the 2013 elections, the SP and PD have increased their votes. PS 43%, PD 36%. So PS has increased by 1%, while PD has increased by almost 6 points. But what has marked a surge and can be considered a surprise is the SMI. So the SMI has received 12%, which means it has marked a big increase compared to the 2013 elections. Another surprise is Libya, which competes for the first time in an election process. Other parties are below the threshold. Commenting on the polls, survey expert Antonio Noto said that interestingly, he is comparisons with the 2013 elections, where PS has increased by 1.7%, while DP with 6 points. The SMI, according to him, is growing at the national level by 1.5 points. For Libra, he says we can not make comparisons that he was not in the election. While all other parties are below the threshold.
Questions addressed to the respondents: today in Albania live well PS voters answered 66.7%, DP 23: 0% while SMI 32.4%. While questioning that in Albania is “bad”, potential PS voters have responded to 26.3, DP 72.4% and SMI 50.6%. While Antonio Notto explains that determining whether to live well or badly is related to the parties. SP voters say they live well, while DP voters say they live poorly. So it is not an answer that relates to social conditions but to political representation. Analyst Artur Zheji commenting on this said that these results are similar to those that knocked Berisha’s government four years ago. “In 2013, the results of the response to unemployment and corruption are more or less the same as now. Precisely, the response to dissatisfaction and corruption, dropped Berisha’s government and caused the wheel we saw. Meanwhile, with the same index as compared to 2013-2017, then the Rama government should fall. Meanwhile, the answer is; We are better off. We are not worse, “he said. Also the survey expert Afrim Krasniqi emphasized that the trend is not positive for the Socialist Party. “The number of left-wingers who think they are going worse is bigger than the number of DP citizens that things go better.
This is interesting. Second, with the SMI, one thinks that things are going wrong with 50% and when compared to the past 4 years, they almost say the same. It is practically a comfortable position for the third political party, “Krasniqi said. Meanwhile, on the question of what are the three emergent problems that require solutions in Albania, respondents think that unemployment is the main problem with 67%, corruption by 36.3%, and salaries and pensions by 34.7%. Other problems that affect Albanians are the economic crisis, health service, poverty. But in spite of that, Albanians think they live better than four years ago. While Antoini Noto said the electoral campaign has just started, the data we give will not be the data of June 25, but the start of the electoral campaign. “It’s a picture today, dated May 31. There are two surveys, one at the national level. There are 2002 people asked to belong to different ages and gender, but also to different social strata. 52% of respondents are women. The second survey is just for Tirana. 1000 people were asked. The surveys were conducted on May 29 and 30, 2017, “he stressed.
I have also found a piece in the English-language version of the Luxemburger Wort, which appears to be AFP’s:
Albania votes in parliamentary elections on Sunday with hopes that a long tradition of polling fraud, violence, and disputed results will come to an end and propel the country towards EU membership.
The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama, 52, appears to have just a slight advantage over the centre-right Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha, 43, according to opinion polls
….Although Basha, an admirer of US President Donald Trump, has officially led the Democrats for four years, his predecessor Sali Berisha, a former Albanian president and premier, remains a powerful and unifying figure on the right.
His party had threatened to boycott the election until a month ago, raising concerns about the vote being unfree and unfair. Although the two sides struck a deal, with the Democrats given key ministerial posts in the run-up to the vote, the rhetoric remains lively.
“Edi Rama has supported a handful of people who… got their hands on the economy, and a handful of criminals who seized power and made Albania a drugstore,” Basha said, referring to Albania’s illicit but lucrative cannabis trade.
Rama retorted that Basha “is an opposition leader who is not ready for the challenge of governing the country”.
On the campaign trail, he lampooned his rival for lacking experience, calling him “a watermelon that one must open to see if it is ripe or not”.
“Everyone is good for something, but Luli (Basha’s nickname) is only good for putting people to sleep,” the premier joked.
Polls will be open from 7am until 7pm CET under the eye of 3,000 election observers, including 300 foreigners.
So that fulfils the request made in last week’s comments at Daily Kos.
With no other elections going on right now, it’s time to get back to European coverage of POUTS and related matters. Beginning with a piece by Moisés Naím:
It is still too early to evaluate the presidency of Donald Trump. However, thanks to his behavior, the results of his management and his constant self-promotion, some things are already clear. For example, there are certain ideas that were commonly accepted before Trump’s arrival in power. No longer.
Truth: Trump, his spokespeople and his allies in the media and social networks (including Vladimir Putin) have shown that for them there are no incontrovertible facts and data. There is no such thing as “the truth”. Any statement, scientific data and even visual evidence such as, for example, photos showing the size of the crowd on the day of the inauguration of the new president can be questioned.
Directing a big company teaches how to run a government: This is a zombie idea: we believed it dead but every so often it revives. It is the belief that to be a good ruler helps to have been a successful entrepreneur.
The US president is the most powerful man in the world. Trump will prove that this is not so. Of course this president has at his disposal enormous resources and thousands of officials — including the best-armed military mankind has ever known. But the forces that limit their performances are equally enormous – if not even more powerful. These limitations to presidential power are domestic and foreign, legal and bureaucratic, political and economic. Despite being one of the presidents with the most pronounced imperial temperament, few of his orders are becoming realities.
The longevity of a democracy protects it from corruption and nepotism. In failing democracies, Congress, judges, or other State institutions fail to prevent a venal president from using the prerogatives of office for the benefit of his private business. Or name their relatives in important public positions for which they are not qualified. To a greater or lesser extent this happens everywhere. In African and Latin American countries these abuses become frequent and extreme, while in the United States or the United Kingdom they are comparatively less serious. Until now.
Political apathy The Trump Government will make it painfully clear to millions of Americans that elections have very concrete consequences on their lives.
Europeans find American healthcare debates very weird, especially when they’re about making a poor and inadequate system even worse. Thorsten Schröder’s piece is entitled “Wholly beyond reality”:
Repeal Obamacare , Obamacare, became the core task of the party.
Now the opportunity is there: The Conservatives represent the majority in the House of Representatives, in the Senate and one of theirs is President. But the draft law, which Senate spokesman Mitch McConnell presented after weeks of secrecy , shows above all one thing: with their old promise, the Republicans themselves have pushed themselves into a corner and thereby are ever further removed from the political will of the citizens. The anger for Obama blinded the party. Because it still regards the fight against the hated Affordable Care Act as a top priority and has to win at all costs, while the rest of the US has long since turned away.
Despite all the reality checks , the conservatives in the congress have gotten into the old plan. The fact that they are now planning to replace Obamacare is only due to public pressure, which was not to be ignored in Washington. If it were up to most Republicans, they would remove Obamacare without compensation, leaving the decision about life and death to market forces. Now they are desperately trying a law that creates the balancing act between their own ideal and the annoying reality. Their ultimate goal seems to be that what comes out in the end does not bear the signature of former President Obama.
… The conservatives do not care about the well-being of their electorate, but are looking at the chance to destroy Obama’s success.
…A defeat for the Republicans would be desirable. Not because of political satisfaction, but because the party would then be forced to wake up at last – and to work with the Democrats to improve the status quo. Even liberals have now seen that the system of Obama is full of holes: the premiums are too high, the costs for insurers in many places hardly bearable, choice in some states hardly exists because the providers withdraw from the market. A return to a world before 2009 is not a solution. Instead of Trumpcare, America needs an improved Obamacare. If the Republicans do not learn that now, then hopefully by the next election.
Exposing splits in the Republican Party is always mildly amusing. Alexandra Endres looks at a Republican group’s scheme for tackling climate change:
Republican politicians in the US are not generally known as friends of an ambitious climate policy. But that just seems to change. For months now, a group that is close to the Republicans, called the Climate Leadership Council, is working on its own, a conservative climate protection plan.
Among the most important members of the initiative, the two Republican granders George Shultz , holders of various ministries under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and James Baker , who was under Reagan Finance and George Bush Senior Foreign Minister, and Henry Paulson , Finance Minister under George W. Bush.
[T]he plan of the Climate Leadership Council is intended to protect the climate, while allowing the market to expand freely within clear limits. This fits better into the conservative worldview. Its authors do not call their proposal a climate protection plan – framing is important – but a carbon dividend plan.
First, the state levies a tax on emissions, initially at $ 40 per ton of CO2. Fossil energy would be more expensive, climate-damaging behavior punished….
the second step in the plan – the state would have to return the entire revenue from the tax back to its citizens. “With a tax of $ 40 on each ton, a family of four will get about $ 2,000 in the first year,” the two economists Martin Feldstein and Gregory Mankiw, formerly advising Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush,
In order to protect domestic companies in the competition, the economists suggest climate imbalances on carbon-intensive imports and discounts for US exporters. This is the third step. As soon as the model runs, older climate change rules from the Obama era would be handled: step four and final.
In the New York Times, Feldstein and Mankiw praised the advantages of their proposal in the highest tones: not only climate protection, but also investment security for companies and thus economic growth. Those 70 percent of US citizens who earn less than the richer rest would profit, they write. That would be about 223 million people.
The power in the White House, however, still has other. Trump’s Energy Minister Rick Perry said a few days ago that carbon dioxide is not the most important cause of climate change ; Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, would like to put the scientific knowledge on climate change to a complete discussion – and the president himself seems to follow their line. That is why it will probably be years before the idea of a carbon dividend has realistic prospects for winning majorities in the congress.
Killing Obama’s rules is one of POUTS’s objectives, but that hasn’t stopped him coming up with his own great ideas — such as making the Great Wall of Trump out of solar panels. Matthias Auer considers this brilliant concept:
We’re talking about the southern frontier,” Donald Trump said at an event before supporters in Iowa. “A lot of sun, a lot of heat – we think about constructing the wall as a solar energy that produces energy and pays for itself.” The higher the wall, which is supposed to keep illegal immigrants and drug traffickers from Mexico, “Trump said visibly enthusiastically,” A great show, right? It was my idea. “
Element Energy, a solar company based in Portland, estimates that a 1,000-mile-long wall would produce around 2,657 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, which could currently be sold at around 106 million dollars. At a construction cost of ten billion, the Wall therefore will take a hundred years to recoup its costs.
But even these values are still optimistic. They ignorea number of expensive secondary conditions: the concept of a solar panel with vertical panels is rather unconventional. It is estimated that the efficiency of the panels would drop by half as a result of the vertical installation. In addition, the solar panels would have to be oriented towards the south, ie Mexico. An answer to the question of how the Americans are to clean, maintain and repair their panels cost-effectively on this side of the border wall is still pending.
It is also open to anyone who is supposed to buy the electricity (we speak of electricity for up to 220,000 US households). Just two percent of US citizens live within a 40-mile radius to the Mexican border. They have little need for extra power. In order to find enough customers in the USA, Trump would have to lay long, expensive power lines. According to a study by the British “Institution of Engineering Technology” every mile of transmission line would come to about 8.8 million dollars.
Really thought out, however, the impact does not work. For Trump, he also opens another ideological flank: China produces almost all solar panels worldwide. One can be curious how the “America First” president will sell his voters this windfall to the economic rival.
We now move on to considering Cuba, in the company of Massimo Cavallini:
“In six months, or six years, or whenever it is, Cuba will be free . And when it is, the people of the island will say that the transition began here, in this theater, with a president who has done what must be done to restore freedom in the island of Cuba … “.
It was Marco Rubio , Senator of Florida – yes, that Rubio Rubio, who in the course of Republican primaries, Donald Trump had systematically humiliated by defining little Marco , – to pronounce these wise words, charged with a “historical” consciousness And of hope so pompous in form, as well as pathetically molded in substance.
Donald Trump … has found himself at ease in this atmosphere of unconditional adulation, even enlightened in a climate of generalized ecstasy, from the “happy birthday, Mr. president” (Trump has Reached its 71 years just a few days ago) sung by the whole theater. And it has been in this vaguely North Korean climate that the newly elected president has replied, doing what he knows best. That is, lying . More precisely: giving the most sclerotic part of the Cuban exile the lie which, from him, the latter waited. “The memorandum I came up with – said Trump to applause – is the total cancellation of the bad agreement with the Cuban government.
In essence, Trump’s “new” policy towards Cuba starts from a premise that testifies to an extraordinary ignorance of the Cuban reality…
All that Trump offered last Friday in the jubilant atmosphere of “Manuel Artime” theater is just, when one looks at the facts, a change of rhetorical tones , a verbal return to the past . And this has made everyone happy. Himself, with the illusion of having destroyed another piece of the ” Obama’s legacy “. And the relics of the Cuban exile, ready as all the old descendants to rejoice in this sort of return to the childhood of their anti-Christianism (someone calls it a rebellion).
The problem is that, in politics, words count . And, though piously ridiculous, this return to the past inevitably announces difficult times (and perhaps the end of a hopeless hope) especially for those new sectors of Cuban society that were very marginally and slowly loosening the noose of Castrarian totalitarianism.
Last Friday, history – the story Barack Obama had been trying to set off – made Cuba take a step back . And it was a bad day (another “nasty” bad day) for everyone. For Cuba, the United States and the world.
As we’ve mentioned the ex-POTUS, let’s see what he’s been up to. Frauke Steffens has the goods:
A bodyguard is at the door, hundreds of people block the street, they cheer and take photos. This is how the former American President Barack Obama gets a coffee to take home, for example in February in New York.
Many Americans love Obama , and they don’t begrudge him the fun he is having in his “afterlife”. Whether he is photographed in a tuxedo or khaki shorts, his fans call him and his wife Michelle fashion icons on social networks. They also rejoice when Obama plays golf or with billionaire Richard Branson on the yachting holiday – because he deserved it. Obama can hardly do anything wrong. His popularity is 63 percent approval. The formerly most powerful man in the world does not have to make any unpopular decisions – and he and his wife Michelle look extremely good in photos.
“Nobody in history has managed being a pensioner better,” cheered the otherwise not particularly human-friendly celebrity blog “TMZ”. In the south of Los Angeles, we are discussing whether to name a road to Obama during his lifetime. And the American Association for the Advancement of Science lists nine newly discovered creatures named after Obama – including colorful fish and a bird, but also spiders and worms. Anyway, Theodore Roosevelt only got to seven.
In his role as a former president Obama did not want to interfere with the day-to-day political debates. Instead, he wanted to participate in long-term change processes, he said. To this end, he founded a foundation. In Chicago, where he used to live, an entire Obama center is to be built, with a library, sports and youth facilities. The center is to be located on the South Side. There are many African Americans where the successes of the black American middle class have not grown in recent decades – they suffer from poverty and violence. Obama’s center will mainly help young people. It is to cost up to 380 million dollars, financed partly by public money, which promises a renewal of the area. It is to be inaugurated in 2021.
After becoming aware of the latest bill, Obama decided to attack on his Facebook page. The Republican Bill provides tax relief for high earners, but at the same time higher contributions and self-participation for people who can not pay much. These plans, according to Obama, meant a “massive redistribution to the top”. The Senate now has to step back and understand what is really at stake, he wrote in a long statement. He has never attacked the present government so concretely and clearly.
It is about Obama’s political heritage, but probably not about the most important part of it. For he does not need to make much effort to protect his most lasting legacy: that there has been a black president at all.
Some tragedies, such as terrorist incidents and mass shootings, tend to produce op-eds which are roughly the same as they were after the last one. The Grenfell Tower fire in London, though, prompts some more general thoughts from Fintan O’Toole:
To understand why government in both the United States and the United Kingdom is in such an abysmal state consider the connection between two political utterances. One is very famous, because it brilliantly encapsulates an entire political philosophy in a single, easily grasped sentence. The other is an obscure but quite typical exercise in ministerial verbiage. But one is the offspring of the other, and between them they trace the path towards anarchy in the Anglo-American world.
The first utterance is one of the best-known lines delivered by that consummate performer Ronald Reagan as US president, in August 1986: “I think you all know that I’ve always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
The second is the Conservative minister of state for housing and planning in the UK, Brandon Lewis, explaining in 2014 why he would not make sprinkler systems compulsory in high-rise housing developments: “It is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively.”
Reagan’s line was funny, folksy and supremely effective – all the qualities for which neoliberals continue to adore him. But it leads, among other places, to the blackened cage of Grenfell Tower that Ed Vulliamy memorably called, in the Observer, “the outrageous crematorium on the skyline” of west London.
It was a clever, insidious sneer at the very idea of public service: to be “here to help” is to be at best a well-meaning bungler. Government does not enable: it interferes. Regulation is redefined as molestation. Public service is a public nuisance. The freedom to live in squalor or to make money from those who do so is the ultimate value.
Never mind either that the neoliberal sneering at the idea of government being “here to help” was as hypocritical as a pious lecher. Right-wingers who venerate Reagan’s mockery don’t care to notice that in the very same speech he goes on to say that “America’s farmers should know that our commitment to helping them is unshakable”.
Tanks and bombs are always “here to help” when neoliberals decide that a foreign regime needs to be changed. Government is “here to help” when banks want to be bailed out with public money or when oligarchs need subsidies. Being here to help is only wrong when “here” is wherever ordinary citizens are struggling to make decent lives for themselves and their kids.
The sneering is no less effective for being so two-faced. Its acid has been corroding democracy in the anglophone world for decades. When government being “here to help” is a contemptible thing you end up with the grotesque reality that, even after a disaster, nobody from government really is there to help.
The right has played with the fire of anarchy, and now both the UK and the US are anarchic states, one in the grip of idiocy, the other of self-destructive fantasy.
Here’s another piece prompted by the fire — very indirectly, because it’s Brian Beacom’s reflection on journalism prompted by a BBC interview of Britain’s worst-ever prime minister.
You could almost see Emily Maitlis’s fingerprints on Theresa May’s face after the stinging Friday night slap was administered. Across the country viewers cheered, some were stunned. At the very least, a very curious eyebrow was raised.
We’re speaking figuratively of course of Maitlis’s Newsnight interview in the wake of the Kensington fire tragedy, but the moment made its mark.
The usual deference given to PMs went out the window faster than a disturbed burglar. Rarely has the nation seen a journalist attack a senior politician armed not just with a list of demanding questions but a searing contempt.
Maitlis pushed relentlessly for answers; “Where were you for two days? Why didn’t you speak to the locals? Where was the army? When will people be re-housed?” All valid questions, which were deaf-eared, TM returning time and time again to her press release line.
Then came the stinger. “They shouted coward at you when you left St Clements, Prime Minister.”
This wasn’t a question; it was a public shaming. And while it was not the expected comment it was apposite; Maitlis’s question refracted popular feeling.
Theresa May may well have felt major grief at the news of the Grenfell fire but she didn’t show it.
Maitlis clearly picked up on this. You could see anger, frustration in her face. But it didn’t mean she wasn’t doing her job. Her voice was representational. If anything, she could have gone further and demanded; “Prime Minister, why do you refuse to answer the questions I’m putting to you and in effect worsening your position?”
Maitlis’s questioning was laced with emotion, but it was measured. Her questions distilled a nation’s anger, gave it an outlet. She was uncompromising and ultimately the result was revealing.
And you could argue it was necessary. This is an era of fake news. The media is constantly be harangued by politicians, in an attempt to shape and control, to set the agenda, to set parameters for discussion. To get the answers, the journalist has to pull out all the stops, even if the result is an unleashing of raw emotion.
French writer Marguerite Duras once declared; “Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist.” Maitlis is a moralist. And as such, the face slap was well deserved.
Here is yet another piece prompted by the fire which goes even further afield. Robert Fisk compares May’s remarks with those of Middle Eastern despots:
Could there be anything more ridiculous than hearing Maajid Nawaz, one of the founders of Quilliam – which boasts that it is the world’s first “counter-extremist” organisation – suggesting that extremists in the UK are trying to provoke “civil war”? He says that Isis has declared this as its aim – which is true – but why is Nawaz repeating it all again? It’s good publicity for Isis, unfortunately. It’s also good publicity for the Quilliam Foundation whose “think tank” – how I hate those words – is churning out this stuff.
Inevitably, the Grenfell fire – many of whose victims were Muslims – has become part of the “terror” story, which is just what a MailOnline report did last week. Had most of the fire victims been non-Muslims, I don’t believe this bit of dodgy “conflation” would have been made. On the other hand, it could well be argued that Lady May might have met the victims if they had not been “angry” Muslims. And after the van attack in Finsbury Park, we had to endure Corbyn’s psychobabble about how we must “reach out” to the “pain and stress” of victims.
I’m not sure how you “reach out” to “stress” – though Jeremy seems to think it’s about hugging people. In fact, responding to “terror” – of the Islamist, fascist or fiery variety – is a difficult one for political leaders, especially when one of them – the unsympathetic lady – may soon be out of a job and the other one is busy trying to create “unity” even if he hasn’t been terribly successful in doing it in his own party.
In the Middle East, we’re always suspicious when a local dictator talks about “unity” – wahda in Arabic – because it usually means he’s in trouble. Calls for national unity in Tunisia and Egypt preceded the fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak. Autocrats often try to cement this “unity” with stifling praise for their security forces who protect their “nation” from “foreign plots”. This has faint parallels with the UK today.
All politicians praise the police – whose failure to protect the public often becomes buried in applause for their courage – and Isis certainly fits the “plots” bit, although Cardiff hardly counts as “foreign”. Other parallels are troublingly closer to the mark. The countries which talk most about “unity” – President-Field Marshal al-Sissi in Egypt today, for example – are often those facing Islamist violence. Or nations which have substantial minorities of different faiths. Think Lebanon. Or Syria. Or Iraq. All three endured or are enduring civil wars of the kind which Mr Nawaz is waffling on about.
And “justice”, of course, is exactly what many Arab demonstrators were demanding in the Arab revolutions. Justice, needless to say, was not what the dictators intended them to have – nor did the West, which insisted on claiming that protestors wanted “democracy”. And in London, after the fire, one thing which, I suspect, irked those who demonstrated on the streets was that their original demands for fire-risk-free homes had been largely ignored in an environment in which the poor, the unemployed or Muslim refugees had long been vilified on social media – thus making their warnings unworthy of serious attention. This was the “injustice” they suffered from.
And “injustice” in the Middle East – by us and our satrap dictators and our sale of billions of dollars of weapons to them and our invasion of Iraq and our bombings – has helped to create Isis. It is justice – home and abroad – that Maajid Nawaz and his chums should be discussing. But I guess a UK civil war gets more hits right now.
One doesn’t have to perform many mental contortions to translate the specifics of the Grenfell fire in that piece to, say, Katrina, Ferguson or Flint — as O’Toole pointed out, callous, self-serving responses by government are equally likely in the UK and the USA.
That’s your lot for this week. Have as pleasant a day as you can manage.
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