Austria, in a first, allows 16-year-old voters

Austria will make history in the European Union on Sunday by becoming the first member of the 27-nation bloc to give 16-year-olds a voice in national elections.

Following the collapse in July of the governing coalition between the center-left Social Democrats and the center-right People’s Party, 10 parties have said they want to govern the Alpine republic. But only about half have a realistic chance of making it into Parliament, where 183 seats are up for grabs.

With a tight race predicted at the top, the two main parties are flirting with first-time voters and – to some extent – making an effort to cater to a younger crowd.

Experts say…teenagers will not have much of an impact Sunday.

“The 2008 parliamentary elections are predominantly going to be decided by people over the age of 50,” said Ferdinand Karlhofer, head of the University of Innsbruck political science department…

Giving 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote may improve the balance between the generations. But the core of the messages from the parties focuses more on middle-aged and elderly voters, he said.

Still, political parties in the West like to sound as if they’re young and hip. It impresses the thirty-plus crowd who hate like hell to admit they’re heading towards middle age. For that matter, I imagine the pols like to impress themselves with their avant-garde shucking and jiving.

Except the conservatives, of course.

A pampered generation not so spoiled


AFP/Getty Images

Li Xueguang spent much of the summer standing in a Beijing square between historic towers, her blue Olympic-volunteer polo shirt a magnet for tourists in need of a map or translation.

“When I see someone go away happy, I feel proud,” said Li, a 23-year-old graduate student in chemical engineering whose “job” ended last week. “We’re not looking for a reward.”

China’s pampered, 20-something “little emperors” surprised the nation with their hard work during the Olympic Games and the earthquake that killed an estimated 87,500 people in May, showing that they may, after all, be capable of leading China to superpower status instead of just to the mall.

Since the 1980s, China’s rapidly developing economy and policies limiting many families to one child created a generation of 200 million young men and women with unprecedented wealth and opportunities. In a nation with a tradition of conformity and a recent history of political radicalism, the “balinghou” broke with both, spawning visions of adults obsessed with money, unable to stay married and negligent in caring for aging parents.

Given another 10 to 15 years, the country will be in their hands,” said Chen Xingdong, chief China economist at BNP Paribas in Beijing. “Are they perfect? No, but actually they are far better than people’s original perspective.”

Worthwhile article. This happens to be a personal area of study – and the article confirms what I’ve learned from lengthier, heavier tomes.

The premise is simple enough and goes back to Deng Xiaoping: maintain, don’t turn your back on socialist ideals for your nation – earn and learn how to do this in a national and global market economy.

Now, that’s pretty much shrinking several volumes of [fortunately] mostly readable non-fiction from British diplomats who spent decades in the Far East. The kind of dedication to knowledge in service to diplomacy we haven’t touched in the U.S. since the 1930’s and 40’s. Something else we might consider getting back to in the 21st Century.

Got an idea to help change the world? Google says, “Here’s $10 million”

Got an idea that could change the world, or at least help a lot of people? Google wants to hear from you — and it will pay as much as $10 million to make your idea a reality.

To help celebrate its 10th birthday, the ambitious Internet giant is launching an initiative to solicit, and bankroll, fresh ideas that it believes could have broad and beneficial impact on people’s lives.

Called Project 10^100 (pronounced “10 to the 100th”), Google’s initiative will seek input from the public and a panel of judges in choosing up to five winning ideas, to be announced in February.

“These ideas can be big or small, technology-driven or brilliantly simple — but they need to have impact,” Google said in a news release. “We know there are countless brilliant ideas that need funding and support to come to fruition.”

Uh, you can submit more than one idea if you like.

CNG-powered Toyota Camry Hybrid concept-ready

Toyota announced plans to show off a CNG Camry Hybrid concept at the LA Auto Show in November. For those not in the exclusive “T. Boone Pickens Fan Club,” CNG stands for “Compressed Natural Gas.” Press release follows:

In 1999 Toyota marketed a CNG-powered four-cylinder Camry to fleet customers in California. However, in an era of relatively cheap gasoline, customers were not attracted to a vehicle that required special refueling techniques and a limited refueling infrastructure and the program was discontinued a year later. Currently, there are only about 1,000 CNG refueling stations nationwide, with less than half open to the public.

The benefits of CNG are currently being amplified by rapidly changing market conditions and an increase in consumer environmental awareness. At the same time its drawbacks are being mitigated by a growing awareness that advanced technologies will require investment in appropriate infrastructure. The U.S. CNG pipeline system is an approximately 1.8 million mile network and expanding.

“Natural gas,” adds Miller, “and an expanded retail-friendly CNG infrastructure could be seen as a model for future hydrogen infrastructure.”

As the crew at Jalopnik said, “Lazy Americans wouldn’t have to learn a new term for ‘filling up the gas tank’.”

Where I live, we already have a local filling station selling CNG for the equivalent of $2.30 gallon.

Bad News for the Bailout

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill seem determined to work together to pass a bill that will get the credit markets churning again. But will they do it this week, as some had hoped just a few days ago? Don’t count on it.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, says his office has gotten “close to zero” calls in support of the $700 billion plan proposed by the administration. He doubts it’ll happen immediately either. “I don’t think it has to be a week” he says. “If we do it right, then we need to take as long as it needs.”

“The secretary and the administration need to know that what they have sent to us is not acceptable,” says Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn. The committee’s top Republican, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, says he’s concerned about its cost and whether it will even work.

In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”

What!

I was inclined on 1st hearing to give Paulson and Bernanke the benefit of a doubt. The longer I reflect, the more time I spend investigating, evaluating, I think this is a bill with no real benefit to working people.

Speaking to friends in banking IT, those working in solvent banks accustomed to living by the rules – they said the credit “squeeze” lasted about 24 hours. Fact is, they can proceed on the assets they have. Which is what they’re supposed to be able to do.

BTW, I went to congress.org to express my opposition to the bailout – and that number is running at 91%…

Thanks, Justin

Hot dogs outside ballpark cause bomb scare


Terrorist “person-of-interest”

After a bomb scare at the Philadelphia Phillies’ ballpark, authorities pointed the finger at a fuzzy green suspect — The Phillie Phanatic.

Hours before the Phillies-Atlanta Braves’ game on Wednesday night, a film crew shot a commercial of the mascot shooting heavily wrapped hot dogs from a launcher.

But someone inadvertently left three of the duct taped hot dogs outside the ballpark, sparking security fears. Stadium employees were evacuated and the bomb squad was called in.

Only after the packages were blown up did authorities realize they’d just exploded some sausages.

The terrorists have won.

British nuclear sell-off to the French almost complete

Less than two months after British Energy shareholders walked away from an earlier deal, EDF has bagged the UK nuclear power generator in a £12.4bn deal.

The deal also completes the line-up of participants in a nuclear race that will lead to the creation of two essentially new branches of Britain’s nuclear industry.

One is needed to clean up the mess left behind after half a century of nuclear weapons and energy production.

The other is getting ready to build an entirely new generation of at least eight nuclear reactors, after the government gave the go-ahead for the rebirth of the nuclear industry early this year.

And if British Energy is eventually sold to EDF, both clean-up and new-build will be dominated by large French companies, which are themselves controlled by the French state.

[A short while later, the deal was finalized.]

Such a prospect has alarmed critics who question whether it makes sense to transfer this much control from the British to the French government, though there are also many who insist it is not only eminently acceptable but also hugely desirable.

This is a bit longer than the usual product from the BBC. It’s worth an extra chuckle considering the Brits are upset over having to rely on the French – while we in the United States have sold the farm to the Japanese.

It’s been decades since I worked in the nuclear power industry and my comments remain as predictable as ever. Cut out the tons of welfare dedicated to the laziest segment of capitalism. Provide a requisite measure of science-based oversight – and actually practice it – and we can be in business like never before.

The French, Chinese and Japanese, of course, are already running past us like we’re standing still. As are the Brits. And the Vegetarian Left both sides of the pond are clueless.

Have your solar panels gone missing? Check the Internet

Solar power, with its promise of emissions-free renewable energy, boasts a growing number of fans. Some of them, it turns out, are thieves…

Police departments in California – the biggest market for solar power, with more than 33,000 installations – are seeing a rash of such burglaries, though nobody compiles overall statistics.

Investigators do not believe the thieves are acting out of concern for their carbon footprints. [No kidding!] Rather, the authorities assume that many panels make their way to unwitting homeowners, sometimes via the Internet.

In Contra Costa County, detectives accustomed to handling thefts of copper began to notice solar panels disappearing in the past six months, according to Jimmy Lee, a spokesman for the county sheriff’s office.

“We were surprised and kind of caught off-guard” by the solar panel thefts, said Lee, who recommends that people engrave their driver’s license numbers onto their panels for better identification.

In Europe, where the solar industry is well established, thievery is entrenched, and measures to ward it off have become standard, including alarm systems and hard-to-unscrew panels.

I like the engraving idea. Include your social security number and we can add identity theft to the whole process.

Russia backs off from cooperating with U.S. on Iran

Russia has announced that it will not participate in a meeting with the United States this week to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, the most significant indication yet of how Russia’s war with Georgia has spoiled relations regarding other security issues.

Moscow’s move apparently scuttled the meeting. The Foreign Ministry issued a biting statement that criticized remarks last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who declared that Russia had taken “a dark turn” away from democracy and respect for international norms.

“We would very much like Washington, in the end, to make up its mind what kind of relations they want with Moscow,” a ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko, said in the statement. “If they want to punish Russia, that is one thing. If they agree that we have common interests that need to be jointly advanced, then that’s another…”
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