Saturday, January 05, 2008


Cold news by now, but I'd wager it is still worth it to devote a small post to the caucus held on January 3rd in the Hawkeye State. As a European I have had some trouble discerning a caucus from a primary. The word caucus seems to have its origin in the old Indian Algonquin language, where it was used to describe a gathering of tribal chiefs. Its modern equivalent is, according to a rather dull definition I read somewhere, "a process of political party members gathering to make policy decisions and to select candidates."

So the most obvious result is that Iowa designated Obama and Huckabee as frontrunners on the Democratic and Republican side respectively.

And here is a table with the results:

At first I was puzzled by the vote numbers, not sure how to interpret them. I knew that around 240,000 democratic voters had shown up, was I to read "931" for Obama as "93,100" perhaps? At first sight, the number of votes on the Democratic side thus recalculated might yield something in the neighborhood of 240,000. It didn't quite, however. By contrast, the number of votes on the Rep side seemed to make sense, since the combined total is 103,048, and this jibed with the fact that more than two democratic voters showed up for one republican. Notice, btw, how relative it all is: judging by the massive media coverage, one would conclude that the Iowa Caucus is a political event of the first order. While in fact, barely 360,000 people cast a vote!

But back to the vote calculation. After some rummaging on the web I found out that for the Democrats in Iowa, the votes were allotted according to a rather complicated system, whereby - as far as I can tell - supporters in every voting precinct first flock to a stand representing the candidate of their choosing. To determine the vote of a Democratic candidate, the precinct's chairman then multiplies the number of people at a certain stand with the number of candidates, then divides it by the number of eligible voters. Effective votes only start from a minimum of 15% of the dem voters present. Example: If 150 people show up to a caucus that is to elect four or more delegates, a candidate must get at least 25 people (15% of 150) in his or her corner. If a candidate has 25 caucus-goers, then following the formula, 25 x 4/150 = 0.67 percent, which is rounded up to one, and so the candidate wins one delegate.

I'm not sure I fully understand this weird system, but then I have never understood lefty logic. By contrast, determining the Republican vote is as clear as crystal. It is just a "straw poll". The republican voters cast a paper with the name of their candidate in a box and all votes are counted. The delegates are appointed by percentages.

Not really having paid attention to the polls predicting the Iowa turnout, I can't tell in how far they were correct. It doesn't matter: Obama won for the Dem side, Huckabee on the Rep side. What amazes me most for the Democrats is that Clinton is not even 2nd! Indeed, she comes in AFTER Edwards, be it only by a small margin, and from my point of view, THAT is the big surprise. So, contrary to some experts who claim that the field for the Democrats has narrowed down to two candidates, I'd wager that's far from certain. With regards to Huckabee's surprising jump, I guess that has a lot to do with the sociological profile of Hawkeyers. AFAIK, it's a state with the economy centered mainly around agriculture, even though there is a large section of the working population employed in manufacturing (but then it's agriculture-related manufacturing: tractor construction, meat processing etc). I guess in such an environment - Iowa's part of the "corn belt", isn't it? - with few large urbane concentrations, there's more voters for whom social conservatism is an issue, see also the punishment Giuliani received. As for Romney, he still performed strong, and seemed quite satisfied with his "silver".

But apart from concluding who is definitely out - Dodd, Biden, Hunter - perhaps we should not jump too fast to conclusions - as The Times Online notes:

But history urges caution. Since the US parties adopted primaries as their preferred system for selecting candidates 40 years ago, there have been 13 contests in which there has been a genuine competition for the Republican or Democratic nomination – that is, excluding those times when an incumbent president seeking reelection was unopposed.

In those 13 races, only one winner in Iowa has gone on to win the presidency the following November – George W. Bush in 2000. If Iowa were half as important as everybody thinks it is, we would have celebrated the presidencies of Walter Mondale, Richard Gephardt, Tom Harkin and Bob Dole, all proud winners of the caucuses here, who went on to greater or lesser obscurity thereafter.

Over to the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, but, first, the Wyoming caucus. That's tomorrow, Sunday!


Tuesday, January 01, 2008


DowneastBlog wishes the well-meaning part of its readership a Very Happy and Successful 2008 - whether you hail from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, Zeta Reticuli or whatever!!! Thanks for being with us, we'll try to make it somewhat more entertaining!!! Suggestions are always welcome!


Sunday, December 30, 2007


On December 13, the Lisbon Treaty was signed. Many say it's just that dreaded EU Constitution in disguise. It is not. For one thing, whereas the Constitution attempted to replace the earlier treaties and start "anew", so to say, the current treaty "merely" amends the existing key treaties of Rome (which established the European Community 50 years ago) and Maastricht (Treaty on European Union, 1992). Also, although that's rather cosmetics, any reference to (or declamation of) symbols defining a European superstate, like an EU flag, a hymn and a motto, is scrapped. Here are the key points:

1.) The European Union acquires International Judicial Accountability.

Strange though it may seem, until now the European Union did not exist as
such in the international judicial field. The Lisbon Treaty will change
that (one of the consequences will be that it can be charged by the
ICC in The Hague for, say, war crimes!)

2.) Simpler decision procedures.

Until now, decision making in the EU was, to put it simply, a mess... The EU Commission e.g. (its day-to-day "government"), could not simply take decisions with regards to foreign policy or justice and security. This was only true where the previous treaties had explicitly stated the EU stood above the member states, like agriculture and competition. Similarly, the European Parliament did not have a say in everything either. Often it found itself in only an advising capacity without the power to actually block the Commission's decisions. Try to imagine that the US federal government could only take nationwide measures in a limited number of fields, or that Congress' power was severely hamstrung.

All this will change after Lisbon. In theory, only one decision procedure remains: the EU commission proposes a decision, a bill or a policy, and the EP (and the minister councils) votes about it. One important domain remains the exception: foreign policy. The Commission still cannot "overrule" its member states with regards to foreign policy.

3.) An ever bigger grasp on European lawmaking

Simultaneously, the EU will now be responsible for a host of other domains on which it can implement EU-wide laws: energy, health, civil protection, climate change, public services, space travel, humanitarian aid, tourism, administrative cooperation.

4.) National parliaments get "alarm-bell procedure".

In order to limit the power of the EU Commission, the 27 member states will get a so-called "Alarm Bell Procedure" which they can invoke if they think the Commission exceeds its authority. In such a case, the EU Parliament must decide whether an EU decision must be annulled.

5.) A new way to "weigh" the votes.

Until now, every member state had a number of votes, and not everyone was pleased with the way the votes were attributed to the respective states. For instance, of the 345 votes to be allotted, Germany, with a population of roughly 80 million, had 29. Spain and Poland, with a population of around 40 million, had 27 votes each. The Treaty Of Lisbon determines that in the future (from 2014 on) 55% of the member states, representing a total of 65% of the European population, will be necessary for a decision. It comes at no surprise that the Poles fought fiercely to keep the present system, to no avail however.

6.) The power of the EP enlarges.

See also 2. The European Parliament will finally have a say in ALL decisions, including the EU's budget. In addition, the maximum number of seats in the EP is 750 plus the chairman from 2009 on (currently there are 785 members).

7.) A slimmer EU Commission

Until now, the Commission - the EU's "day to day government" - counted one "minister" per member state. With 27 member states and more to come, this has already proved to be far too many. From November 1, 2014 on, the EU Commission will be composed of a number of ministers (commissioners) corresponding with 2/3 of the member states. It is clear that the biggest member states will always have commissioners. The smaller ones will get commissioners following implementation of a rotating system.

8.) A European President.

The most visible measure. Instead of the grossly ineffective rotating "presidency" of the EU - every member state had the presidency for six months - Lisbon makes sure there will be ONE European President, to be chosen by an outfit called the European Council with a simple majority.

9.) A solidarity clause

Lisbon states that all member states must offer help to each other in case of, e.g., a terrorist attack or energy deficiencies.

10.) The Symbols

Important to note is that where the European Constituion established a flag, hymn and currency as the official symbols of the EU, this statement was omitted in the Treaty of Lisbon. Still, in a separate, unrelated agreement, sixteen member states recognized them.

11. Petition.

Also very important, if at least ONE MILLION EU citizens from a significan number of member states think that there should be a European law, they can ask the Commission to do so.

And there you have it. I must repeat once again, that I think it's a very sorry thing that the very concept of a United States of Europe is sabled down and again by Europes self-proclaimed "true" rightwing ideologues and parties. One finds this demeaning attitude in VB's programme as well as in the writings of TBJ's Daniel Hannan(himself a Europarliamentarian) and Paul Belien, amongst others. Sadly, the Euroskepticals are to be found exclusively on Europes Right. They fail to make the essential distinction between a tool and he who uses it, between the car and its driver. Like Don Quixote fighting windmills, the European Right figths the concept of a European Union, not those who steer it in the wrong direction. And I'm sorry to see this attitude is all too eager replicated across the ocean, where US rightwing commentators simply echo what is loudly proclaimed over here. A much more realistic attitude would be to accept that the European Union IS, and that the process which led to it cannot be reversed.

It is a political, economic and financial integration movement of which the logical outcome CAN ONLY BE a supranational state, and THIS DOESN'T HAVE TO BE BAD. From a purely ideological point of view, the Right's reluctance towards a USE makes sense: further integration will mean an even heavier European state apparatus, while the shift of responsibilities towards the "higher" level will not lead - at least not immediately - to slimmer national administrations. Still, this is a downside we have to accept, for the disadvantage is to a large degree offset by the gains that will be made. After all, from a purely financial POV, the costs of EU bureaucracy have been paid back many times over by the economic impetus Europe enjoyed as a result of the common market.

And of course, a unified Europe will be much more able to finetune a common policy with regards to critical domains in an increasingly complex world. A common foreign policy e.g., not the cacophony of 27 countries playing more or less cavalier seul. A common policy which tackles the immigration problem in a rational and smart way e.g., unlike the poor show seen now.

I remember that several years ago, the main objection of one of the founders of this blog, Kerry D., to more EU integration , was that an EU under the aegis of a prominent anti-American country would be a bad thing for the US. And she mentioned France and Chirac, which at the time certainly had a ring of self-evidence. But... first of all, dominance of one country has now become impossible, exactly because of the increased integration and the influx of more countries. And secondly, one must trust that a Europe still subscribing, theoretically at least, to the same core values that are held in such high esteem across the Atlantic, will still be a reliable partner to the United States of America even if it has morphed into the... United States of Europe. Think of it as the political equivalent of Adam Smith's invisible hand... but one one condition.

And that condition is that Europes rightwingers should STOP BICKERING and whining over lost sovereignty. They should STOP LAMENTING the coming into being of the "EUSSR", because damn right that is what it will turn into, IF they prefer to stick on the sidelines and let the Left determine where to go with Europe. Since they cannot stop the process, they might as well get on board and GRAB THAT STEERING WHEEL, because naturally, the Left adores the concept of a superstate, for obvious reasons. A chance to indeed turn the USE into the EUSSR and once again try what their idelogical confreres tried in other big geopolical blocks, the USSR and China, under the motto "We just had bad luck over there, but this time it will work!". Europes rightwing parties and ideologues should formulate a strategy whereby whatever power they possess, be it in their national governments or in the EU Commission and the European Parliament itself, should be used to keep the USE "mean and lean", focused on its key policies: defense, justice, the common currency, finance, foreign policy, science, space exploration. The way it is now, the Euro right resembles more the proverbial barking dogs who see the caravan pass. Unfortunately, they seem not to realize what direction the fellas sitting on the camels are taking the caravan.

And last but not least a question for the Americans themselves: would YOU like to go back to the days before the US Constituion made a True Union of a hodgepodge of mini-states acting on themselves? The days when Pennsylavania, Connecticut, Virginia, Massachusetts and what not all had a petty army and navy of their own, when each of them had a self-important ambassador in Louis XVI's Paris, when each of them issued its own quasi-worthless currency? You may rant and rant against "Washington" and its meddling in the states' affairs, the very way the Euro right is now ranting against "Brussels", but can you imagine an America toppling the Taliban one month after 9/11 if it had had to reach a decision between 51 states first? Would California and Massachusetts still have supported bombing Kabul after one week? Would they even have supported deposing of Mullah Omar in the first place at all? SWould they not have suggested talking to him first???

Europe finds itself in the same situation now; Actually, precisely the reason for the lackluster support in the WOT thus far is because of the EU's lack of a common Foreign Policy. There is but one caveat I see: apart from grabbing the EU's steering wheel from the Left, Europes Right must first put its house in order. Europes Right must rediscover what it means to be "Right" again. As little government as possible. Promoting indivualism and self-reliance. Emphasizing the virtues of fending for yourself, of determining your own future, of a sound labor ethic. Open economies, free markets. Make Capitalism a fashionable word again. Respect our heritage, reinstate the importance of the Family as the Cornerstone of Society. Instill in our youths a Respect also, or even especially, for our judeo-christian roots and the quintessential, ultimately benign role our christian religion has played over the centuries.

If Europes Right can do that, become truly "Right" again, AND have its say in Europes integration process, then a USE will, and can, do good for its citizens. Then a USE does not need to be a nightmare for the USA. To the contrary: it could be the beginning of a Grand Transatlantic Alliance. It is up to Europes Right which course they prefer.