Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Okay, enough about the Netherlands.

It's tough to decide whether regulatory burdens hinder business profitability; surely, some are unnecessary and costly. But Eliot Spitzer doesn't think so with regard to the recent reforms following Enron, and I too am inclined to think that more accountability alone is not the reason for business' lack of success. He points to businesses that he helped reform as New York Attorney General, which are now enjoying success. Whether that is directly related to the reforms is not clear, but it does disprove the idea that the reforms he is after will destroy businesses. See the FT's article about governor-elect Spitzer's recent statements about accountability regulations here.

After a long time of floundering through this book by Ian Buruma about Theo van Gogh I finally finished. Finished means that I gave up, because I had a hard time getting through Buruma's romanticized view of anyone and anything connected with the Netherlands. He says he left the country as a young adult because he found it boring, but he never stops pointing out how amazing it is that he PLAYED ON THE PLAYGROUND with people who stayed in their home country and became a part of that small elite which is the Amsterdam intelligentsia. I, on the other hand, am not impressed by the fact that whatever famous writer pushed him off the swings at age 4. His book lacks structure and it also lacks authority; Being from the Netherlands, he actually approaches the subject with more prejudice than the average journalist who is interested in a new topic and goes at it with an open mind. The book makes many fine points, and I won't discount the book completely. But the low point of the book was when he indicated that Mohammed Bouyeri's ideas (the guy who killed Van Gogh) :
"also have a deeply European provenance, to be found in the right-wing politics of the 1930s as well as in a long left-wing tradition of anti-Americanism."
Oh please, the murderer's ideas have zero provenance, because he is not an intellectual like you.
I do appreciate what Buruma is trying to do, to describe for his English-speaking audience what the political and social realities of the Netherlands are right now. But in doing so, he over-intellectualizes and romanticizes the whole thing. Like this sentence about a soccer game in Rotterdam:
"Like all carnivals, this patriotic feast, with shades of a Breughel painting, was a fantasy..."
His descriptions of Ayaan Hirsi Ali seem tinged with Buruma's love of her looks, and they show me that actually Ali fails to represent anyone in her tirades and provocations. And isn't that what elected politicians are supposed to do, instead of going on personal crusades?
His dismissal of Geert Wilders is interesting, seeing as how Wilders won lots of votes in the last election; obviously he is so fixated on Amsterdam in this book that the situation in the rest of the country is incomprehensible to him.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Here is the final breakdown of the elections in the Netherlands. The PvdA is the big loser in the whole scheme of things, losing lots of votes to SP. But it doesn't mean that SP will necessarily be in the governing coalition.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

See nos.nl for the final results of the Dutch election, but as of now (the polls closed an hour and a half ago) SP has gotten 25 seats, PvdA 33, CDA 40, and VVD 22, along with the Animal Party - 2 seats, Geert Wilders' party 8 seats, and Christian Union 7 seats. What will the coalition be? Christen Unie seems to play a critical role in the formation of a coalition, like D66 in 2003. Pim Fortuyn's party LPF did not win any seats and Een.nl also came up empty. It looks like the Netherlands is exhibiting a polarization not unlike what we have seen in the United States recently.

I wanna know what happened to the PvdA! Why the drop in the last few weeks? The pension idea did Wouter Bos in in the beginning of polling, but he took it back; so what was the bombshell in the last few weeks? I totally missed it if there was one. I am waiting for analysis from the Dutchies to my inbox....... ;)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The latest polls on the Dutch elections tomorrow are on the Volkskrant website. These polls show some large discrepancies: in one, left party SP has 22% of the vote, and in another, it has 32% of the vote (!). And as this rises, the labor party PvdA loses voters as they see the possibility for a left coalition rather than a moderate government come more and more into view. I think the 32% is exaggerated, but even so, it is amazing considering how many people thought that SP's strong performance in the recent local elections was a fluke and could not translate into national voting patterns.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ouch! Political party funding in Europe definitely needs a closer look, as the secret 14 million GBP loan received by Labour before the last election and the current investigation into peerages show.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Royal wins the Socialist "primary" in France! Next year the French will all be drinking Pineau de Charentes to celebrate her victory! (now if we could only get a woman in to the same spot in the U.S.)

Grzegorz and Pawel have even participated in the strange annual night time rituals that the Pineaux de Charentes sponsor in Brussels every year....
I like the tasting part the best.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It is a surprise to many that corruption factored as the most important issue for why people voted the way they did last week. The pundits have been saying that Iraq was the biggest issue for voters, and it was quite big; but considering how east-and-west coasters are so out of touch with the majority of voters, it's no big surprise that they got this one wrong. (see break down of the biggest issues for voters here, even if there is a conservative bias).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sometimes you just have to get to the root of the problem. Some are complaining that the the European Court of Auditors' refusal to give a positive Declaration of Assurance (DAS) for EU spending is giving the EU a bad reputation.

Yes, it is, isn't it.

But the whiners (those in the member states) have got it wrong. The Court will give a positive DAS if it is earned. And if member states are not going to take some responsibility for spending, then they will continue to have that DAS hanging over their heads --- until they do take responsibility.
With the Democratic victory in the House and Senate will come a slew of investigations, inquiries, and probably countless hours of testimony about what really happened in relation to just about everything: torture at Guantanamo, fraud and waste in Iraq, how the federal government failed to assist Katrina victims in a timely manner and many many more. And the Republicans' inability to hold the federal government's actions to account will be remembered; see this NYT editorial. However, NYT seems to think they will stay away from investigating how we got to Iraq in the first place.

Democrats are also going to save from certain doom the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (and I have to concede, it is nice that Senator Lieberman is a cosponsor of this bill). The work of this Special Inspector has been so little publicized, enough so that James Baker could contend the other day (see earlier post) that little abuse by the big guys like Halliburton and Bechtel had been found; in fact, the Special Inspector has found abuses and has brought to justice those guilty of bribery and shoddy constructions.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Working as an official checker and recap checker at the elections yesterday was really interesting. Working with a Republican checker, my job was actually quite important, and especially as a recap checker, I was responsible for taking down and signing off on the results as they were read off the back of the voting machines after the polls closed. In true Greenwich form, at least one person arrived in horse-riding gear to vote.

Seeing the results as they came off the back of the machines also showed me how popular Jodi Rell, now governor-elect, was in the district, as well as senator-elect Joe Lieberman. House of Representatives incumbant Christopher Shays was also very popular in the district (District 11 in Greenwich) -- he won over Democrat Diane Farrell narrowly. Lamont didn't do very well there, but Republican candidate for senate Alan Schlesinger did horribly, despite the large number of Republican voters in that district.

I think Schlesinger's poor performance throughout the campaign in Connecticut shows how the Republicans in Washington were willing to neglect lost causes in traditionally Democratic states. This is exactly what has been the Democrats' downfall in past elections, and Howard Dean was determined to change that with his 50 state strategy this time around. I think it worked; we are now talking about MONTANA as a pickup for the Democrats. And other Republican strongholds were met with great campaigns from Democrats, causing many Republican campaigns to be on the defensive until Election Day.

It was a long day, but overall I was impressed with the quality of people working at the polls. (My sister had a different experience in district 10).

Monday, November 06, 2006

Americans view their country's corruption level about the same as the Belgians do of their country. IHT article on Iraq and the US.
Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index was published today. As expected, Iraq is in second to last place, and Americans believe their country is more corrupt than last year. Scandals seem to have taken their toll in Israel as well.

"Countries with a significant worsening in perceived levels of corruption include: Brazil, Cuba, Israel, Jordan, Laos, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and the United States. Countries with a significant improvement in perceived levels of corruption include: Algeria, Czech Republic, India, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Paraguay, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uruguay."
Wouter's Angels

I hope that this is not a real commercial for the Dutch PvdA party, but I am afraid it is. Jan Peter Balkenende giving money intended to care for pensioners to George Bush instead in a secret deal? Oh, so that's why the Netherlands can't pay for pensions and why opponent Wouter Bos has to suggest that some pensioners give up some of their hard earned benefits. All that nonsense about ageing populations is just a cover up for the conspiracy, right?

Here is the video for the debate between Balkenende and Bos that took place a few days ago.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I put the link to the BeMEP game on the right because I thought it would be a cool thing. Like a model UN for students to put themselves in the shoes of a member of the European Parliament. (If it doesn't include at least 15 coffee breaks a day I will be disappointed; I will be similarly saddened if there are no villas constructed from the per diems collected by MEPs just for showing up at work.) (P.P.S.- one of my favorite quotes, Woody Allen, 90% of life is showing up.)

Well, after looking at this cute game, it seems that I can't play with the other kids: Only Europeans are allowed into the secret cabal that is the European Parliament, and they do this by playing a kind of supranational Dungeons and Dragons.

Way to leave me and everyone else out who has been itching to appreciate the European system!

I shall be expecting the nagging complaints about how nobody in the rest of the world gives the EU the respect it deserves....right .......about ...............now.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Trouble in Taiwan over President's embezzlement case.
It's definitely showing that I read Gawker too much. I read the following article by David Langlieb about the Polish residents of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and immediately wanted to nominate the author to the Douchebag Hall of Fame (DHOF). The Sun had something to say about it, but I am just amazed at his delusional sense of white-man's burden, although I didn't think that was possible in relation to other white people (the Polish who live in Greenpoint Brooklyn). If you're not making me laugh, Langlieb, you're making me cry. I get that it's supposed to be super clever, but it really wasn't; hence my literalist interpretation of all the things you wrote. Sorry if this makes me seem naive.

Let's break this article down.
Let's start at the end.

"I dream of a Greenpoint where Banana Republic is open all night, where groceries
are ordered over the Internet, and where the churches are converted to mixed-use
parking facilities. Mine is a Greenpoint of the future, sensitive to the desires
of its residents who so desperately need a racquet club and driving

Langlieb is just a yuppie, and if given the chance, would yuppify the whole world; he just hasn't learned to be ashamed of it yet and to hide his ambitions to homogenize one of the last real ethnic enclaves of which Greenpoint is a great example. Go back to New Jersey if you want to go to Banana Republic--they are already ubiquitous as it is. (and do you really need to shop at Banana Republic at 3 in the morning?)

Second, he wants to raise his children "amidst lawyers and investment bankers." Well, Langlieb obviously cares nothing about giving his kids any moral values. Of course, these kids would learn their sense of commitment to social improvement (read: eugenics) from their dear old gentrifying dad.

Third, this guy has a classic case of martyr complex.

"Sure, I could move to SoHo or the Upper East Side like some of my fellow
Haverford graduates who care only about themselves. But those places have
already been saved and they don’t need my help. "

I am so glad SOMEONE around here has taken it upon his shoulders (it is a burden, isn't it?) to single-handedly push all those nasty Polish people out of Greenpoint so that everything can be in your language for God's sake. (“some of the signs aren’t even in English”)

"While the community has several problems, most of them come back to the high
density of Polish people infesting its rowhouses."