24 September 2005

Rita floods NOLA

Water pours into Ninth Ward
Hurricane Rita-driven winds pushed floodwaters from the Industrial Canal into the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and Chalmette as water topped a section of the levee that was under repair, Secretary of Transportation and Development Johnny Bradberry said Friday.

Bradberry said the flooding was waist-deep near the levee.

He said there have not been any reports of flooding in other parts of the area, such near the 17th Street Canal or the London Avenue Canal, two troublespots during Hurricane Katrina.

This is really, really bad because it looks as if the floodwall system itself may be flawed.

Experts Say Faulty Levees Caused Much of Flooding
Louisiana's top hurricane experts have rejected the official explanations for the floodwall collapses that inundated much of New Orleans, concluding that Hurricane Katrina's storm surges were much smaller than authorities have suggested and that the city's flood- protection system should have kept most of the city dry.The Army Corps of Engineers has said that Katrina was just too massive for a system that was not intended to protect the city from a storm greater than a Category 3 hurricane, and that the floodwall failures near Lake Pontchartrain were caused by extraordinary surges that overtopped the walls.
Workers repair a section of the levee at the 17th Street Canal, which breached and caused flooding.

But with the help of complex computer models and stark visual evidence, scientists and engineers at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center have concluded that Katrina's surges did not come close to overtopping those barriers. That would make faulty design, inadequate construction or some combination of the two the likely cause of the breaching of the floodwalls along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals -- and the flooding of most of New Orleans.

Meanwhile back at the fort the White House was insisting they'd be much more focused on Rita, not they weren't focused on Katrina, but...

White House Briefing: Reporters Wonder About President's New 'Focus' on Hurricanes
Q So the lessons learned from Katrina will be applied in the case of Rita?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of Katrina, that was a storm that was unprecedented in size and scope and devastation. It is something that we want to make sure all the lessons possible are learned, and we want to make sure that we know exactly what worked and what didn't work. And that's why we are working closely with Congress as they move forward on their investigation. That's why the President has tasked his Homeland Security Council to make sure that there is a comprehensive review of the preparedness and response relating to Katrina, so we're doing that.

Now, in terms of Rita, I just talked about the steps that we're taking. And we're going to make sure that we are doing everything we can to have the strongest possible coordination with state and local governments as we prepared and respond to Hurricane Rita.

Q Well, Scott, continuing with what Steve said, how is what you're doing for Rita different from what you did from Katrina?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. A couple of things -- one, the President is focused on making sure we have the strongest possible coordination with state and local governments in the path of Hurricane Rita. We hope Rita is not devastating, but we must be prepared for the worst. Coordination at all levels needs to be seamless, or as seamless as possible, and that's what we're working to do.

Homeland Security and FEMA officials are working closely with state and local governments so that resources can be targeted where they are most needed. They are redoubling efforts to make sure we have a full understanding of what the needs are so that we can make sure that those needs are met. And I went through several steps that were already taken to address these issues.

Q So that's -- you think that that's going to be an improvement over what was done in Katrina?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, in terms of Katrina, we're still focused on the immediate needs of the people in the region and working to make sure that they are getting back up on their feet, that we're moving forward on the recovery, that we're moving forward on the rebuilding to help people rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities. We are determined to learn the lessons of Katrina, and that's why we have been assessing what's been working and what hasn't been working and taking steps to address those issues. That's why we're also working closely with Congress, and the President is committed to making sure that there's a thorough investigation so that we can learn those lessons.

Q Well, can you distinguish what you're doing differently?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I just talked to you about where the President's focus is and what we are doing. We want to make sure that we're --

Q And these are things you didn't do in Katrina?

MR. McCLELLAN: We want to make sure that we are better prepared and better positioned to respond to Hurricane Rita and that's what we're doing. That's why I outlined the several steps that we are taking. And that's why I just told you that the President is focused on making sure that we have the strongest possible coordination with state and local officials, and that we have --

Q Which you didn't have before, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- as seamless as possible coordination with state and local officials.

Q In other words, better than the last time?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just answered that question, Bill.

Q No, not really.

And someone forgot to evacuate the poor. And someone forgot a million people in cars need quite a lot of petrol.

the supposed evils of PR

The Australian media, which barely noticed the New Zealand election, seems to have reached a firm consensus view that the election shows that proportional representation is a messy and undesirable business that leads to hung parliament, ineffective government, and other evils. Sadly for them, we can test the hypothesis. New Zealand elects 69 of the 122 MPs by first past the post in single member districts. We can count them and come up a suitably butch, Anglo and decisive result.

  • Labour Party - votes 40.60%, electorate MPs 31
  • National Party - votes 39.76%, electorate MPs 31
  • New Zealand First Party - 5.86%, electorate MPs 0
  • Green Party - votes 5.09%, electorate MPs 0
  • Mâori Party - 1.95%, electorate MPs 4
  • United Future New Zealand - 2.74%, electorate MPs 1
  • ACT New Zealand - 1.52% electorate MPs 1
  • Jim Anderton's Progressive - 1.21%, electorate MPs 1

You'd have a parliament of 69, neither major party would have a majority, and they'd be negotiating a coalition.

Martin Stabe has done the same calculation for Germany.

Germany: don't blame proportional representation
Only half of the Bundestag owes its seats to state party lists and proportional representation. The other half of the chamber are actually British-style constituency MPs. A quick glance at the official results released by the Federal Returning Officer shows that an entirely first-past-the-post election would have led to more or less the same outcome.

If we simply ignore the half of the Bundestag that is elected by PR, and concentrate on the 299 MdBs elected by direktmandat (ie, the first-past-the-post constituency MPs), the composition of the new Bundestag would look like this:

SPD: 145 seats
CDU: 105 seats
CSU: 44 seats
Greens: 1 seat
Left: 3 seats
FDP: 0 seats

I guess you could argue that the fact of PR makes people vote differently, but that argument actually gives the game away. Since people are obviously freer to decide their vote under PR, it follows that more decisive systems are actually not decisive at all. Blair got 35.3% of the popular vote and 55.2% of seats. Clark got 40.6% of the popular vote and a 40.9% of the seats.

There's a whole separate argument about the political effects of SMD, suggesting that it encourages winner-take-all no-compromise results, but I'll go there another time. Our hairy-chested media analysts tend to confirm the theory when they insst that PR parliaments are weak-kneed and lily-livered on economic reform.

20 September 2005

north/south red/red grand coalition

In praise of ...
Uncertainty reinforces the Churchillian view of democracy as being the worst form of government apart from all the others. In the meantime, the obvious answer to the problem would be for Germany's SPD party to form a grand coalition with New Zealand's Labour and rule both countries - New Zealand did once rejoice in a 19th-century nickname as 'the Prussia of the Pacific'.

What did they call us in the the 19th century? The Pacific's Bavaria? Burgundy? Champagne? And what was so Prussian about New Zealand?

mainchance chancellor

New election looms as Greens reject Merkel
He [Joschka Fischer, the Green leader] told the Guardian: 'Can you really see Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber [the leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU] sitting round the table in dreadlocks? This is more our style. It's impossible. I don't see that.'

On issues such as atomic energy, taxation, social policy and Turkey's membership of the European Union, the conservatives and the Greens had nothing in common, he added.

Both Mrs Merkel and Mr Schr�der failed to win an outright majority for their parties in Sunday's election, which Mrs Merkel had been widely expected to win. Her CDU party got just 35.2% of the vote - one of its worst results ever, and far less than opinion polls had predicted. Mr Schr�oeder's Social Democrats won 34.3% of the vote.

Mrs Merkel's coalition partner, the FDP, won 9.9%, with the Greens on 8.1% and the recently formed Left party on 8.7%. Under Germany's constitution, the country's new parliament has to elect a new chancellor when it meets next month. But with Mrs Merkel unable to command a majority in the Bundestag, she is unlikely to win in a secret ballot of MPs.

After three rounds of voting, the country's president, Horst Koehler, could then invite her to form a minority centre-right government. But he is unlikely to invoke this option, which would almost certainly lead to the new government's swift demise and further humiliation for an already weakened Mrs Merkel. Instead, constitutional experts believe, Mr Koehler will dissolve parliament.

Until this happens, Mr Schroeder will carry on as chancellor until Germans go to the polls again, probably in January.Asked who was likely to win the face-off between Mr Schroeder and Mrs Merkel, Nils Diederich, a professor of political science at Berlin's Free University, said he had his money on the chancellor: 'There is now a poker game going on, with Schroeder playing for very high stakes. The reason he was so relaxed on election night is that he knows he is now in a favourable position.'

It's getting more and more obvious why Joschka Fischer is widely regarded as the only German politico who spaks with any fire or wit.

President Koehler does not have a lot of choice about a new election. The Basic Law says:

Article 63 (Election and appointment of the Federal Chancellor)
(1) The Federal Chancellor is elected, without debate, by the Bundestag on the proposal of the Federal President.

(2) The person obtaining the votes of the majority of the members of the Bundestag is elected. The persons elected must be appointed by the Federal President.

(3) If the person proposed is not elected, the Bundestag may elect within fourteen days of the ballot a Federal Chancellor by more than one-half of its members.

(4) If there is no election within this period, a new ballot shall take place without delay in which the person obtaining the largest number of votes is elected. If the person elected obtained the votes of the majority of the members of the Bundestag the Federal President must appoint him within Seven days of the election. If the person elected did not receive this majority, the Federal President must within even days either appoint him or dissolve the Bundestag

The conservatives simply do not have the numbers to elect Angela Merkel. If the SPD/Green combination can get the support of either the FDP or the Left they can elect Gerhard Schoeder.

All in all, this seems to be somewhat of a trend, although the neoliberal right did better in New Zealand and much, much worse in Norway.

Dresden votes on 1 October. The new Bundestag meets to elect a chancellor (with 14 days to do it) on 10 October.

Radio Australia casts its pods on the waters

Pacific Beat now has a podcast. Asia Pacific has been available for a while. They're both excellent programs, but somehow I was never listening to the radio at the right time. Podcasting has changed that.

not seeing the rain for the trees

Tropical Deforestation Affects Rainfall In The U.S. And Around The Globe
Now, a new study is offering insight into the long-term impacts of these changes, particularly the effects of large-scale deforestation in tropical regions on the global climate. Researchers from Duke University, Durham, N.C., analyzed multiple years of data using the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies General Circulation Computer Model (GCM) and Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) to produce several climate simulations. Their research found that deforestation in different areas of the globe affects rainfall patterns over a considerable region.

Deforestation in the Amazon region of South America (Amazonia) influences rainfall from Mexico to Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico. Similarly, deforesting lands in Central Africa affects precipitation in the upper and lower U.S Midwest, while deforestation in Southeast Asia was found to alter rainfall in China and the Balkan Peninsula. It is important to note that such changes primarily occur in certain seasons and that the combination of deforestation in these areas enhances rain in one region while reducing it in another.

This finding contradicts earlier research suggesting deforestation would result in a reduction in precipitation and increase in temperature in the Amazon basin, but carry no detectable impact on the global water cycle.

I guess the Howard government will all breathe a collective sigh of relef that Amazonia's deforestation only impacts the Americas. And the Bush administration can always stop the impact of deforestation by invading Guyana or something.

Dresden gets to decide

German Election: Will Dresden Decide Germany's Next Chancellor?
In truth, it is the complicated permutations of the German electoral system that have turned Dresden into such a hot button area. Although only one representative will actually be elected in the district, Germany's 'second vote' system -- in which individuals vote for a party they want to see in parliament -- could produce three extra parliamentary seats for Dresden. These are known as 'overhang' seats and are created to reflect more accurately and more democratically a party's true support. And it is these seats that are being eyed by the politicians. The current breakdown of seats in parliament is SPD 222, CDU 225. So those three seats could make a big difference and transform Dresden into the German kingmaker.


Indeed, there are already murmurings of a new Dresden "poker game" in which the Left Party might be convinced to encourage its voters to vote for the SPD. Its own candidate, Katja Kipping, is already assured a parliamentary seat due to the second vote system. So that leaves the party and its voters free to maneuver.

The Dresden electorate has one deputy and last time the CDU won it with 33.8% of the vote. That could change if, for instance the Left Party or the Greens asked their people to vote SPD. The electorate will also, effectively generate 1 or more extra deputies through its list votes. A huge turnout for the SPD or the Left could feasibly generate a third seat. It's where a whole lot of bets break down and the great weakness of MMP, using first past the post to elect district MPs, suddenly comes into play.

I am beginning to suspect the new Bundestag may play out without electing a chancellor. If they cannot do that within a fixed time the Federal President has to dissolve them and call another election.

19 September 2005

German election result

Live News Blog: The Latest News on Germany's Parliamentary Elections
Public broadcaster ZDF and Forschungsgruppe Wahlen have released their first exit poll:

CDU - 37%
SPD - 33%
FDP - 10.5%
Greens - 8 %
Left Party/PDS - 8%

In Germany only the lower house, the Bundestag is elected. Voting is by MMP as in New Zealand. The system was developed in postwar Germany as a reaction to the 'excessive' proportional representation in the Weimar Republic. The makers of the German constitution believed Hitler's rise was partly explained by the instability caused by a multiplicity of small parties in the Reichstag. I suspect it had more to with roughly 1/6 the of MPs being communists and anther 1/6 being rightists. If you're trying to find half the deputies and 1/3 of them are unacceptable life gets tough. You end up with the President appointing chancellors by decree, which is what Hindenburg resorted to with the results we now know.

The Bundeswahlleiter still has no official results up.

The BBC has a rundown on the German parties. That exit poll would leave the CDU/ThisFPD with 47% of seats where they need 51%. The SPD/Greens have 41%. How the Left/PDS will jump between abstaining and supporting the SPD/Greens is literally anybody's guess. This is a much messier result than New Zealand, especially when the CDU went into the campaign with a 20% lead.

Live News Blog: The Latest News on Germany's Parliamentary Elections
(6:32 p.m.) Cheers for SPD-chairman Franz M�unterfering, but otherwise restrained reactions in the Willy-Brandt House at the SPD's election party. With the weak results for their own party, the members are calculating that the crisis won't run too deep. Cheers break out whenever a new low number gets reported for CDU/CSU. 'The Union has lost,' is the tenor among the party faithful. And: more and more people are talking eagerly about a 'stoplight' (Red-Green-Yellow between the Social Democrats, Greens and FDP) coalition.'

A CDU/FPD coalition would have been a black-yellow government. There is some chance of a black/red grand coalition, which would translate into Australian terms as a Howard/Beasley government. Who says contemporary politics lacks colour?

The Bundeswahlleiter is still strangely silent.

Der Bundeswahlleiter:
WIESBADEN/BERLIN - As reported by the Federal Returning Officer, 41.9 percent of the persons entitled to vote have exercised their voting right until 2 p.m. (CEST) at today's Bundestag election. The votes cast by postal voters have not been included yet.The Federal Returning Officer has ascertained voter participation in co-operation with the Land returning officers on a representative basis for the entire Federal Republic of Germany.In the 2002 Bundestag elections, voter participation until 2 p.m. was 42.8 percent; total voter participation was 79.1 percent.The Federal Returning Officer asks all persons entitled to vote who have not voted yet to exercise their right to vote. The polling stations will be open until 6 p.m.

There are seat projections floating round the international and German media, but they're all based on exit polls at this stage. The CDU is now speaking about a black/red grand coalition with some enthusiasm. Deutsche Welle has a live radio feed.

Live News Blog: The Latest News on Germany's Parliamentary Elections

(6:48 p.m.) The head of the Free Democratic Party, Guido Westerwelle, sees his party as the 'victor of the day.'

The FDP is saying they will not join a stoplight coalition with the SPD and Greens. They plan on heading for opposition if the black/yellow coalition does not get an absolute majority.

From Deutsche Welle's audio feed at 7:44 local time. Schroeder just claimed victory. Merkel, the CDU candidate for chancellor, claimed victory at 7:01 pm German time.

Pope Stimulates Election Betting
Germany isn't exactly known as a den of gambling addicts, but after betting and winning that native son Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger be elected to the seat of Peter, more Germans than ever have been drawn to gambling on this Sunday's federal elections.

Well, it's an ill wind... The pope's brother confirmed that His Holiness, still enrolled in Bavaria, will not vote in this particular conclave.

Live News Blog: The Latest News on Germany's Parliamentary Elections
(7:26 p.m.) Despite his party's poor showing, Chancellor Gerhard Schr�der of the Social Democrats told party supporters Sunday night that he should remain chancellor. 'I feel this validates ... that in the next four years, the country will have a stabile government under my leadership.'

Schroeder and Merkel are both now saying they will negotiate with everyone except the Left/PDS.

The Results feed from the Bundeswahlleiter is interesting because the show the CSU, a Bavarian regional party usually counted as part of the CDU, as a separate party and they also show shifts in support from the last election. Yahoo has a self-updating version. Schroeder is using the alleged separateness of the CSU to claim the SPD as the alrgt party and threfore the legitimate candidate for the chancery.

Essentially, this election marks the failure of MMP. It was designed to avoid the Weimar problem of finding a majority government from only 2/3 of the deputies. The Left Party is held together by opposition to globalisation and economic change. In a sense it is an exact analogue to One Nation, although its formal positioning is left-wing rather than right-wing. Their polices are about as realistic as One Nation's were. All other parties refuse to negotiate with the Left Party, an amalgam of former SDP members and East German ex-communists. This means that today's Germany faces the Weimar problem all over again - finding a majority government from 90% of the deputes. The results would have been quite different under STV, but I'll go into that in more detail in another post.

The Vote in Germany: Preliminary Results Show Schr�der, Merkel Stalemate
Sunday's results are not yet final. The results from 220,000 voters in Dresden will not be known for another two weeks -- votes that could be vital for the final outcome. Last week, far-right candidate Kerstin Lorenz of National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) died of a stroke while giving a campaign speech, meaning that ballots there had to be reprinted and the vote delayed until Oct. 2.

Why do I feel the people of Dresden will see an amazing level of plitical camapigning in the next few days?

A lot of it is now only historical (except in Dresden) but Deutsche Welle has an English language election podcast.