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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On this day in 1956

2ème RPC paratroopers patrol in Port Said. Oct...

2ème RPC paratroopers patrol in Port Said. October 1956 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British and French troops landed in the Suez Canal Zone as part of Operation Musketeer.  Objective:  recapture the Suez Canal from nasty old Nasser and show that where cheap oil was concerned there was nothing we wouldn’t do.  Cynical? Me?

Ok, perhaps just a little bit.  The Suez Crisis of 1956 isn’t something Britain comes out from smelling of roses.  The problem with secret plots and protocols is that when revealed (and they often are) you look like a lying ****.  You definitely do if you’ve lied to Parliament as well.  The Soviets might have been stamping on the Hungarians, but that didn’t mean they’d taken their eye off the global ball.

US President Eisenhower realised that the combined British/French/Israeli action had seriously destablised the region – Soviet support for Nasser meant a real liklihood of Russian intervention if the situation wasn’t sorted and soon.  Solution?  Simple – remind the Brits that they owed the USA a lot of money and threaten to collapse their currency if they failed to stop pretending they had an Empire.  British PM Eden then compounded matters by arranging a ceasefire without letting his French and Israeli allies know.  OK, he was probably panicking but it made an already bad situation look even worse.

It certainly did to the French – ‘perfide Albion’ didn’t even start to cover it. It didn’t lead to de Gaulle taking France out of NATO but it was certainly a contributory factor in that decision.

Voting and Virginity – what’s the issue?

This post is by way of an appeal to all Americans out there in the blogosphere.  Some of you seem to have your collective knickers in a twist of the latest Obama campaign video:


The following are just two examples of the ‘anti’ reaction:

“The more we talk about it in this campaign, the more insulting it is to women,” (Kellyanne Conway – Republican strategist,  on CNN’sPiers Morgan Tonight.”

“As a woman I am extremely offended. The Obama administration has devolved women  to nothing more than a set of reproductive organs with needy, government  dependency,” she continued. “This ad is inappropriate because it is sexualizing  the voting process. This isn’t an ad the average family would want their  daughters to see.”  (Lauren Thompsen – research analyst for the Media Research Center)

…and that’s without the righteous indignation of the Christian fundies.

So… just what is so degrading/demeaning/appalling about this video?  Does it justify the level of outrage being broadcast about it?  A young woman uses a bit of gentle double entendre to kill two birds with one stone – your first sexual encounter and your first time voting are equally important rites of passage.  What the hell is the problem?

Your first time should be with someone you care about…  Shock horror – depraved and twisted lust from the nethermost pit… (sighs)

Your first adult vote should be for someone likely to address your personal concerns….Sounds like common sense to me.

As for the outrage against this add – feels like prissy, meally-mouthed sanctimoniousness to me.

On this day in 1962

… the Cuban Missile Crisis was in full swing.  The US blockade of Cuba was in place, but that morning it was revealed that work on the intermediate range balistic missile (IRBM) sites was still continuing, intelligence later backed up by the CIA.  President Kennedy’s response was to issue Security Action Memorrandum 199.  This authorised the loading of nuclear weapons onto aircraft under the command of SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) – these aircraft would be among the first to deliver airstrikes on the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile, in an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council the US ambassador to the UN Adelai Stevenson challenged his Soviet counterpart Zorin to confirm the existence of the missiles, something Zorin steadfastly refused to do.

Of course, we simply peered into the abyss that October fifty years ago – for a lengthy but plausible account of how it might all have gone wrong check out:


English: Adlai Stevenson II shows aerial photo...

English: Adlai Stevenson II shows aerial photos of Russian missiles in Cuba to the United Nations Security Council in the presence of USSR ambassador Valerian Zorin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Magna Carta – is great the same as important?

David Cameron‘s recent performance on the David Letterman Late Show got me thinking about the Magna Carta and its historical relevance.  Whether or not Dave deliberately fluffed his answer so as to appear more a man of the people and not just another Old Etonian/Oxford toff (as asserted by Boris Johnson), doesn’t really matter.  The Great Charter of 1215 has a central place in the list of crucial events in British and world history.  Typically it is held up as one of the first ever codifications of freedom and democracy.  In the USA it is referred to as one of the pieces of inspiration for resisting the rule of George III and a foundation for the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Later politicians and leaders waxed lyrical over it and, suggest some contemporary authors, elevated it into something it was never intended to be.

So, if later generations have reinterpreted Magna Carta to suit their own perceptions of what democracy and individual freedom ought to mean, where have they gone wrong?  Well to start with, the 63 clauses that made up the original document related specifically to the barons and not to the common people.  England in 1215 was still organised along feudal lines.  Landless serfs in particular owned nothing and owed everything to their feudal overlord.  Magna Carta was certainly not about extending their rights and privileges.  Society was starting to become more stratified, but that process was in its very early stages.  Furthermore, out of the 63 clauses, only three have not been repealed or fallen into disuse.

The most quoted clause is: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him.
Except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

The key point here is ‘free man’.  While freemen were growing in numbers the majority of the non-noble population of England were landless serfs.  Magna Carta offered them little or nothing.  So why the fuss?  Possibly because Magna Carta remained influential andan inspiration to others and did indeed lead to some serious societal and political change.  For that alone it deserves its position.  At the same time the adulation needs to be tempered with realism – at the time Magna Carta was issued it was intended to be a quick fix solution to an unprecedented set of circumstances.

It’s often forgotten that King John was furious at what the barons were making him sign up to and within the year had persuaded the Pope to annul it.  The only thing that ensured its survival was John’s death soon afterwards and the fact that his son, Henry was a boy.  The council of barons that ran England during Henry’s minority ensured that the Charter survived and became part of the first English legal statutes issued in 1297.

So what are we left with – an obsolete piece of early medieval legislation?  I doubt it.  One of the most important legacies of Magna Carta was the idea that kings were not above the law and had to govern within in it.  Later English monarchs who forgot this (Richard II and Charles I for instance) did so at their peril.

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