Saturday, June 2, 2007

Public appearances

An objection comes by Email to Redfellow Hovel, from Our American Cousin [the estimable OAC], complaining about recent changes in the public face of Malcolm Redfellow revivus. By the way, OAC's mention of how Labor Day came about is worth the effort, and was previously unknown to Malcolm.

Yes, Malcolm has been messing with the decor: for one who was previously a major purchaser of Dulux Magnolia emulsion, this is not a good sign. The trouble is that, since the ousting of the elves, there has been minimal techno-nous around the Hovel. So, he is trying again.

The Obama delusion (and clean hands)

In passing, Malcolm also noted OAC's rubbishing of the liberal hope lavished on Obama. Malcolm does not want to intrude on a domestic quarrel, but accepts the point. Neither of the Democratic Party front-runners, big-hitters and wallet-clutchers has the making for a radical change in direction. Now, Malcolm is too old in the tooth to expect a popular revolution, or even a Roosevelt-liberalism. It would be nice, though, to see a new President capable and honest enough to break with the cronyism and cartel-politics of the past. Malcolm suspects (hopes, begs, even prays) that the Big Issues of this minute (Iraq, especially) could well be warmed-over pizza by Labor Day, 2008.

The Economist this week (free access this weekend, if one suffers the pop-up ad) takes a rake along the same row of weeds, specifically on the topic of Democrats and health care:

How do you devise a health-care plan that is sensible and centrist, yet also stands out from the rest? That is the question faced by all the Democratic candidates for the presidency. Health care is second only to the war in Iraq among voters' concerns, so everyone with an eye on the White House wants a winning answer.

The three front-runners—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards—have all promised to control costs and provide coverage for the 47m Americans without health insurance. All three have eschewed radical change. Instead, they are jostling over the centre ground: how to tweak America's predominantly private health-care system.

The Economist evaluation seems to put

  • John Edwards first:
Not unlike reforms already under way in Massachusetts and California, Mr Edwards's scheme promises an overhaul of insurance markets, subsidies to help poorer people pay their premiums and a legal requirement that everyone should buy health insurance.
  • Hills in second place:
Mrs Clinton offers a litany of well-known, but sensible, savings, such as shifting to electronic records, concentrating more on preventive medicine, improving the management of chronic diseases, and creating a “best practices institute” to set guidelines for optimal care. In all, she claims, $120 billion a year could be wrung out of the health system, money that could be used to pay for broader coverage.
  • but Obama playing catch-up:

The Obama path to universal coverage is a paler version of Mr Edwards's. It promises insurance-market reform, including the creation of a National Health Insurance Exchange...

Like Mr Edwards's, the Obama plan would levy a tax on firms that do not provide health cover. It would also demand an infusion of federal cash, to be paid for, yes, by rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Mr Obama's aides claim the price tag would be around $65 billion a year, though other health experts think it would be higher.

The big difference is that Mr Obama, unlike Mr Edwards, would not force people to buy health insurance. Only children would have to be covered. That soft-pedalling may please the unions, some of which dislike the idea of compelling workers to buy insurance. But it makes his plan both less efficient and less effective.

Beyond assuring decent health-care for its citizens (surely a baseline requirement of any democratic government), it ought to be a major campaign issue to clean up government. Which is why Malcolm is wondering whether such a change can come from the Democrats. The main item in this week's Economist American coverage is an appraisal of John McCain. It is, in the main, a negation of McCain's chances of being nominated, but it provides this provocative thought:
Mr McCain's last big problem is his long-standing record as a reformer. The only thing that this pugnacious man likes attacking more than Democratic vested interests is Republican vested interests. Mr McCain has used his prominent position, as a perpetual presidential candidate and chairman of three Senate committees, to savage big chunks of the Republican establishment: conservative influence-peddlers such as the televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (whom he has labelled evil); Republican interest-groups such as big defence companies; and a campaign-finance system skewed to benefit incumbents, many of them Republicans.
The article points out that McCain was instrumental in the deserved humiliation of Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay.

In short, McCain has been as effective an opposition as anyone. His pro-war politics and conservatism may stick in the craw, but at least on one issue his instincts are commendable. When the mark of a coming saviour is the size of his or her war-chest, can we expect such frankness from the Democrats?

The shortest honeymoon on record?
Martyn Turner illustrates that today's Irish Times has obviously decided its urinary position is not from under canvas. Apart from almost a whole broadsheet page profiling Conor Maguire, the Senior Counsel representing the people's Bertie at the Mahon tribunal (and so spot-lighting that little local difficulty), there is a handful of articles all pouring something onto the Ahern "victory".

Kathy Sheridan gets pride of place on the front of the Review section: "The people have spoken ... but what have they said?" A lot of the froth is derived from Ivan Yates's focus-group politics:
It was Yates who pinpointed Breakfast Roll Man as the election winner, the one who turned to Fianna Fáil when the chips were down. Breakfast Roll Man, according to Yates, is aged 20-45, a blue-collar worker in a factory or a building site, "a self-employed electrician or Del Boy ... and the one thing he has learned is to look after himself. He likes Sky Sports, likes to drink — and now drinks pints and wine at home, likes that his wife/mot/partner can go shopping and not wreck his head if she spends too much. And he wants the kids to do better than him."
The bush has been well and truly beaten about before Sheridan gets to the point, based in part on the Times own exit poll:
Health was by far the dominant issue at 45 per cent, crime next at 25 per cent, and managing the economy at 23 per cent. Bush-fire issues such as the cost-of-living (18 per cent), education (15 per cent), environment (13 per cent) and housing (10 per cent) played second fiddle.
If that's the major premise in this syllogism, the minor is lurking unease, with a surprising synthesis:
Nearly 300,000 people work in the construction sector, about 12 per cent of the workforce. About eight days before polling, says Yates, an independent construction consultant, Jerome Casey, forecast a house price drop of 5 per cent this year and 10 per cent in 2008. Breakfast Roll Man saw it coming with his own eyes...
For the record, Yates is predicting a "landslide" for Fine Gael in 2011 or 2012.
Reinforcement comes from the (non-subscription) front page's lead:
Leading bank says growth will drop to 3%
Rising interest rates and debt cited as factors.
Redundancies are up by 8%, year on year: more are due as Dell (the second largest employer in the Republic, and representing 4% of all exports) slims down, as does Eircom and the food sector.

And the Times hasn't finished there. On the Opinion&Analysis page, Michael Casey, "former chief economist of the Central Bank and board member of the International Monetary Fund" is wheeled out to announce:
When it came to economics and fiscal matters, the electorate was sold a pup.
It was ever thus.

Nor should we neglect the benighted English in this traipsing round the political dung-hill.

And a reptilian crap-merchant

The Tories have not had a good week (heh, heh). The grammar schools thing will not go away (it's not a Clause Four moment, but will it be Cameron's EEC issue?):
senior Conservatives warned that the row was making the party look chaotic and potentially elitist and was damaging relations with activists. Even Mr Cameron's staunchest supporters are baffled by the way an apparently uncontroversial speech on a long-standing Tory policy could spark a 17-day row, infighting and a frontbench resignation.
And now there's a new director of communications (or some similar big-sounding title).
Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, ... was an appointment which took both Westminster and Fleet Street by surprise. And it was quickly hailed as being an inspired move, or a high-risk appointment, in almost equal measure.

Max Clifford, who has not spoken to Coulson since a much-publicised spat several years ago, said that he would find the move from newspaper journalism to public relations to be an enormous challenge, requiring skills which even the best tabloid editors may not possess. "Winning friends and influencing people is going to be harder than he thinks," predicted Clifford. "Especially as he will be working for Cameron, who is a PR man desperately trying to re-invent himself as a politician."

Lest we forget: Coulson left the News of the World in the wake of the royal-bugger [mobile phone messages, dearie, not what you're thinking] business, in which one journalist was jugged for four months, and all the rest knew nuffin'.

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