Oh come on America…

Come on America, you’re not going to fall for this are you? What Obama has failed to do is down to your bipartisan political system that puts block after block in the way of getting anything like serious change. And if you believe that Romney is going to do anything spectacular in getting the country back to work you are frankly deluded.
Oh, and you’re whinging about $3.90 for a gallon of gas. We have to pay out $10. Count yourselves lucky.

CNN Political Ticker

(CNN) – The New York Daily News and Long Island’s Newsday endorsed Republican nominee Mitt Romney for president, switching from their 2008 pick of then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

In an article published in the newspaper’s opinion section Sunday, the Daily News’ editorial board dissected the nation’s economic hardships down to the dollars and cents of an increasingly expensive subway ride to a $3.90 average for a gallon of gasoline.

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The will of God?

Those of you on the Eastern Seaboard counting the cost and cleaning up after Sandy might wonder exactly what motivates people like this guy:

http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/10/29/1104901/anti-gay-preacher-blames-hurricane-sandy-on-homosexuality-and-marriage-equality/?mobile=nc

It seems that Pastor McTernan is keen to draw links between Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina using a mixture of ancient numerology and personal prejudice.  The following is (for me anyway) the bigotted heart of his argument:

“Twenty-one years breaks down to 7 x 3, which is a significant number with God. Three is perfection as the Godhead is three in one while seven is perfection.

It appears that God gave America 21 years to repent of interfering with His prophetic plan for Israel; however, it has gotten worse under all the presidents and especially Obama. Obama is 100 percent behind the Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem. Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!”

As with most of these fundy End-Times apocalypse watchers, everything revolves around Israel, although that is a separate issue.  The real problem for me is the Old Testament style retributive spin he puts on our planet’s weather.  The idea that God, in His capacity as Universe CEO issued a memo along the lines of  ‘Those pervs down there don’t seem to be getting the message – time for another wake-up call’ is distasteful to say the least.

In my case it was the impossibility of squaring the existence of evil with the existence of God which lost me what little religious faith I had.  These days, a few years spent teaching Religious Studies has left me thinking differently.  Evil committed by humans against other humans (moral evil) is one thing.  We’ve all got this freewill thing and if God intervened to stop every bad action then we’d be little more than robots.  It’s the destruction wrought by the environment (natural evil) that’s the problem.  In fact, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 sort of got people thinking about this whole thing far more harshly than they had been before.

When normal, faithful Christians are celebrating All-Saints Day (1 November) and their city falls apart around their ears then one can’t blame them for feeling just a bit miffed.  What the earthquake began the tsunami racing in from the Atlantic finished.  At least 8.5 on the Richter scale most seismologists reckon.  With thousands dead, the questions began.  Why would a supposedly loving God allow so much destruction to happen on a day when people were worshipping Him?  That question resonated massively with the philosophers of the Enlightenment and proved a major boost to the growth of European atheism.

The 2004 tsunami was Lisbon writ large – at least 230,000 dead across fourteen countries.  The same question asked again – and not just by Christians either.  Is there an answer?  Well, yes – but it’s not one most religious people want to hear.  If we can act according to our natures then why shouldn’t the planet?  Natural disasters are the price we pay for living on a geologically active planet and hence one that can support life at all.  No consolation to those who lose loved ones and property at the hands of flood, earthquake etc. but possibly the best answer we’re likely to get.

Flip-flopping Mittens

A quick trawl through the news sites for the past twenty-four hours reveals that although Obama kicked Romney’s ass in the last debate, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mittens might just swing it in November.

Please no…  The man will say anything to get elected.  Yes, Ok – in that he is probably no better than most politicians.  After all, you can be the best possible candidate in existence but your policies mean sweet FA unless you’re in power and able to at least try to put them into effect.  That said, Romney has quite the track record of trying to be all things to all people.

Surely the American electorate will see through that.. won’t they?

Election 2012 – Romney or Obama 5

As promised, it’s time to look at the foreign policy angle.  Stripping away the hype and the partisan commentry, just where do these two stand?  Romney details two main issues he believes need dealing with if the USA is to remain at the top of the world economically and militarily.  One he describes as challenging the jihadists and the other as competing with Asia.  Alongside this, he has gone on record as saying Russia is America’s biggest geopolitical threat today. (ABC News 11 September 2012).

As for Obama, his policies (dubbed the Obama Doctrine by Washington Post Columnist EJ Dionne), can best be described as deployment of American power tempered by practical realism and self-awareness.  Which means what exactly?  Well, looking back to 2009, it meant rebuilding America’s often tarnished international reputation, normalising relations with Russia with a view towards further nuclear weapons reductions, working  more closely with China on regional and global issues and striving for peace in the Middle East.  However, the thing about Obama is that he’s also had to temper noble aspirations for a better world with a healthy dose of pragmatism.  To Republicans that makes him a phony – to his apologists it simply means that in the mix of global events since 2009, pragmatism has had to dominate.  Politicians can say what they like to get your vote – they may believe they can make it happen too.  Then reality in the shape of domestic criticism, vested interests, lobby groups and Murphy’s Law interferes.

I would reckon that the same holds true whichever country you’re the leader of.  America though is more under the spotlight than most and POTUS more than most other world leaders is going to have his every utterance and action analysed to the nth degree.  Hence, compromise becomes weakness and inability to deliver quickly incompetance.  In the end, people stop asking about your foreign policy strategy and start accusing you of simply responsding to events.  Assuming that whoever ends up back in the Oval Office in November will be affected by the same constraints, which of the two contenders is going to be better for a) America and b) the rest of the world?

a)  Well, I’m not American, so anything I say here is purely speculation.  Of the two, Obama is most on the back foot as regards foreign policy.  Republicans are gunning for him after the recent attacks on US embassies in the Middle East.  They regard his approach to the Syria situation as weak and are suspicious of his cooler attitude towards Israel.  Does Romney have anything better to offer?  Doesn’t look that way.  Romney accuses Obama of presiding over an American geopolitical decline and not being tough enough on Iran.  He also promises that Republican foreign policy in a Romney administration will mean ‘never having to apologise for America’.  Did he really mean that last bit to sound quite so strident?

Or is he quite happy with the image of America as the arrogant bully enforcing its will on the rest of the world right or wrong? Or is America de facto right, regardless of any external moral standards?  That attitude got Palestinian kids dancing with joy at the sight of 9/11 footage and to be honest I found it hard to blame them.  When the high school bully gets hospitalised it’s hard for his victims to feel sympathy.  No, Obama isn’t perfect, but he’s better than the alternative.  I want someone in the Oval Office who understands that the USA is not the sole arbiter of world power and who understands the psyche of people like the Russians and the Chinese.  I especially want someone who is willing to say to both Iran AND Israel thus far and no further.

Solving our many political and economic problems as a planet cannot be done by one nation acting as top dog.  Even the Chinese don’t really believe that.  A closer partnership between Russia, China and the USA could achieve much without a serious diminishing of influence for any of them.  America still has a lot to offer the world and still has a lot to do, but not as the sole  economic, moral and military force .  The following excerpt from an essay by Obama puts it pretty concisely:

“After Iraq, we may be tempted to turn inward. That would be a mistake. The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew. We must bring the war to a responsible end and then renew our leadership — military, diplomatic, moral — to confront new threats and capitalize on new opportunities. America cannot meet this century’s challenges alone; the world cannot meet them without America.”

Election 2012 – Romney or Obama? 4

Mitt’s campaign thus far has been all about the politics of success.  The guy running a national company who started it in his garage.  The office worker who wanted to be his own boss, struck out on his own and founded a multi-million dollar concern through sheer grit, determination and bloody-minded refusal to give up.  These people epitomise the Republican understanding of the American Dream – decide what you want to do and get the hell out there and do it.  Don’t ask for help – help yourself.  I’m not wholly opposed to this attitude – in fact I think it’s a damned good one in most circumstances.  Trouble is, this is 2012 – not 1812.  The self-reliant stand on your own two feet thing worked on the frontier. It still does work mostly, but is less likely to in a world where we’re not members of down home frontier communities but citizens of a global economy and hence subject to forces we cannot hope to control.  What do you say to the 55 year old who’s just been laid off after the construction company he worked for went into receivership?  A year later he’s still jobless and the bank’s foreclosed on his house.  He’s too expensive for most of the people hiring and too old (in the eyes of others) to retrain.  It’s people like that, at the mercy of economic forces beyond their control, for whom Romney offers little.

So what about Obama?  The most vitriolic attacks on his policies tend to come from the far-right of the Republican Party and the Tea Party, but as I said in an earlier post those guys are on a different wavelength entirely and best dealt with separately.  That said, their influence has spread way beyond their particular political demographic and can be seen in the pronouncements of some otherwise mainstream political figures.  (For that reason they can’t simply be written off as nutjobs, but I’ll talk about that in a later post).  Thing is, when you look for balanced criticism of Obama’s policies you have a tough job finding any.  When you check out the background to the website/blog it turns out the writer either thinks Obama’s a saint or that he’s the Antichrist in person – there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.  Good old polarised American politics again?

Certainly, Obama has not delivered on his 2008 election policies.  A comparison of recessions and recoveries since 1945 shows that America’s climb out of recession has been much slower than Obama promised (See http://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/one-year-later-another-look-at-obamanomics-vs-reaganomics/)

Even allowing for the fact that the 2007-09 recession can’t be blamed on Obama, surely America’s slow recovery can?  The responses I’m reading again depend on the political persuasion of the writer, but the following point can’t be denied.

Economists Polack and Schott of Yale University point to the high levels of state and local job losses that accompanied the period 2008-11.  Yes, the private sector has played its part – 4.5 million jobs is a pretty good showing (I wish to God they’d pull something like that off over here in the UK).  However, this has been negated by massive public sector job cuts.  Obama’s American Jobs Act of 2011 might have taken the sting out of this process, but it was blocked by a Republican filibuster.  The money to fund it was apparently due to come from partially limiting access to tax deductions for families earning over $250000 a year.  Since that was seen as penalising the successful it was a non-starter.

It would be simplistic to say that Obama has failed because the refusal of the American political class to work together hasn’t allowed him to succeed, but there’s a lot of truth in it.  Whilst Republicans and Democrats misrepresent, stereotype and abuse each other the American economy is unlikely to get much better.  At least, that’s the picture we’re getting over here…

Next up – Foreign policy

Election 2012 – Romney or Obama? 2

An old friend who moved to the States six years ago and now lives in Birmingham Alabama tells me (and I quote), that with an economy breathing out of its ass as badly as theirs is, Romney ought to be able to ‘snowboard the landslide wave’.  Outside the real diehards of the GOP, I wonder how many Republicans really see him doing that?  (I’ll deal with the Tea Party another time – those guys operate on a totally different wavelength).  Obama may not have cleared up the economic mess but it’s important to realise that it wasn’t his party that caused it.  Obama’s been struggling with the aftermath of eight years of Dubya.  Minimal regulation allowed the banks to go crazy and start gambling with other people’s cash.  On top of that, the regulatory agencies who could have helped put a brake on this were starved of the money, manpower and resources necessary to make a difference.  Romney knows all this, but he and his GOP backers seem unable to step beyond the usual adversarial two party politics to come up with a credible solution.  It’s far easier to throw obstructionism, lies and innuendo at Obama (the so-called ‘birther’ issue for example) and hope enough of it sticks.  And I thought UK politics was adversarial…

My Alabaman contact tells me that however much Obama may have screwed up, it’s difficult to see how he could have succeeded.  In fact, no other president since Roosevelt has taken office in economic conditions quite so dire.  FDR got three goes at the Oval Office and a world war to assist in revitalising the economy.  Neither Obama nor his successor will get the former and as for the latter – well, it’s kind of hard to revitalise mounds of irradiated rubble…

Which brings me nicely to foreign policy.  ‘Do what we want or we’ll send in the troops’ no longer really qualifies Mitt.  Neither does giving Israel an unequivocal guarantee of US support or promising to build that Polish based anti-missile ‘shield’.  Russia may indeed be America’s top geo-political rival as Romney recently asserted, but his stance on Russia is way too strident for us Euros to feel anything other than nervous about it.  ‘Everything we try and do globally they try and oppose’ says Mitt, citing Russian ‘obstructionism’ on the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian Civil War.  Hmm – the logistic support provided by Moscow for the allied intervention in Afghanistan seems, amongst other things, to have slipped his mind.

The world has too many problems for America to adopt a confrontational foreign policy – unless of course it has no choice.  Obama seems to understand the need for dialogue better than Romney and while I don’t doubt that he’ll use force if he has to it is far more likely to be as a last resort.  In addition, Obabma knows that America no longer has the resources to play world policeman on its own.  China and Russia possess the geopolitical connections to do things America cannot – dialogue with them is essential if the world is to get through the next century or so in one piece.

Next up – Redistribution – is it really a dirty word?

Election 2012 – Romney or Obama?

I guess for most Americans this is a bit of a no-brainer, even if you don’t vote at all – like 36% of the electorate in 2008.  Over in Europe the picture seems pretty clear too.  That said, over here words like ‘liberal’ and ‘socialist’ tend to be used slightly differently to how they are Stateside – to put it mildly.  Hearing Obama’s policies referred to as ‘socialist’ makes me wince – but then what I’d call ‘socialist’ most Americans would probably label communist, so I guess there’s a major difference of perspective at work here.  Have they just become general purpose snarl words for the neo-cons and Fox News to fling at people who don’t agree with them?

Be that as it may, the choice from this side of the Atlantic seems to come down to either a moderate liberal redistributive programme or a fiscally neo-conservative one.  OK, that massively over-simplifies the issue  but hey this is a blog post not an economic treatise so you’ll need to cut me some slack…;)  Romney et al seem to be saying that cutting government spending is going to instill confidence and generate economic recovery as the private sector steps into the breech.  That doesn’t appear to have happened – not in America and certainly not here in the UK where a far harsher level of austerity measures have been implemented.

Obama proposes a more Keynesian economic approach, as advocated by US economists Stiglitz and Krugman – although no Democrat President since Roosevelt has seriously attempted to follow this path.  Personally I don’t think the US two party system allows them to but there you go.  Increased regulation of finance and public spending plus equality raising measures such as greater access to healthcare are all on the list of possible measures.

Foreign policy is a whole new can of worms and since I don’t want to make this too long , I’ll deal with it another time.  Domestically I guess this comes down to two different visions for America.  One claims to be fighting against a tyranny of equality.  The other looks to balance the virtues of hard work and self reliance with compassion and assrts that the true test of greatness in a state is how it deals with its least fortunate and those least able to help themselves.  Mitt Romney essentially dismissed all those Americans too poor to pay income tax as losers, thus making clear to me what his take on the ‘American dream’ really is.

That’s all for now.