US election results – the aftermath

I was sufficiently busy last few weeks that I never got to comment on Obama’s election victory. While the margin of victory was tight at the national vote level (50.6% to 47.8% according to the beeb), at the electoral college level, Obama romped home (332 to 206), as Romney failed to capture any of the big “swing states” necessary to ensure victory.

Romney’s defeat, despite wall to wall propaganda by his right wing attack dogs in the many Murdoch controlled news outlets (Young-turks video on that and here’s a video of Fox News reacting to Obama’s victory), can be blamed on a number of things. Many of these I highlighted in previous posts.

Firstly, dismissing 47% of Americans as dependent on welfare handouts is hardly up there as a strategy for winning friends and influencing people. Naturally many of that 47% (who contrary to Romney actually have jobs and work damn hard to keep them) were probably not terribly impressed by this. Also as Obama pointed out, one is elected president of all Americans, not just the ones who voted for you, or indeed the small elite (whom Romney was giving his speech too) who bankroll you’re campaign.

Indeed if we’re going to talk about “welfare” recipients Romney would be well advised to note how many of America’s largest corporations (including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon) are heavily dependant of government contracts with money from Uncle Sam being either their largest source of revenue, or in some cases, their only one!

Similarly many Republican leaning states are heavily dependant on “welfare” from the US federal government, taking in much more money from the US treasury than its citizens pay out in taxes (full list of such balances can be found here). republicans may have this vision of themselves as “rugged individualists”, but the reality is they are “welfare queens” dependant on government hand outs, as for every dollar they spend on taxes, their state gets back much more from Uncle Sam (e.g. $1.84 in the case of Palin’s home state of Alaska…big government stay on our backs!)

Let Detroit Go Bankrupt
The above is the title of an open-ed piece Romney wrote regarding the bailout of GM. While we can debate in another post whether he was right or wrong, again from a political point of view it was electorate suicide. These 4 words almost certainly cost Romney the key swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio. They also suggested he would opt for the sort of harsh austerity measures that are strangling the European, and increasingly the UK economy.

Stormy politics
As I mentioned in a prior post, hurricane Sandy may have succeeded in taking the term “floating voter” to a whole new level! Obama, unlike Bush (with Katrina), handled the crisis professionally and came across well, even earning the admiration of an number of Republican governors in the process.

But also perhaps, there is the fact that it brought home the realities of climate change, which will inevitably mean hurricanes like this become more frequent occurrences. But while Obama and the democrats are solidly behind taking action on climate change, the Republicans are like King Canute, literally in the case of North Carolina, believing that if they ignore climate change the problem will just go away. More Republicans believe in demonic possession than climate change. Now while personally I reckon that Romney was always faking it when he claimed he was sceptical of climate change (I think he was saying that more because its what his party base would want to hear him say) the fact is that its hardly very “presidential” to be denying a threat to the nation, when flood waters are literally creeping across the White House lawn.

I would point to two crucial swing states in this regard Florida and Colorado. Of all the surprises last week, it was Romney’s failure to capture either of these states that surprised most.

Obama’s margin of victory in 2008 in Florida was marginal and in his first term he did what no previous President has dared do and cut the space budget (Florida being the state worse hit by this decision). Putting aside the rights and wrongs of this cut (another day’s post), most commentators assumed that by doing this he had probably guaranteed that he would loose Florida come election day, especially given how the Republicans went to great lengths to woo the sunshine state, even to the point of holding their convention there (of course, another hurricane screwed up that plan!…is god dropping a hint?)

But in the end I suspect, bitter memories of past hurricane strikes persuaded enough Floridians to vote for the guy who got his science from folks with PhD’s, rather than the guy who got his science from Rush Limbaugh and Lord Monckton.

Colorado, happens to be the base of many leading members of the Tea Party movement and the religious right. It is also home to many large military bases, and Obama’s deficit reduction plans mean cuts in military spending, particularly to inland bases that are surplus to post cold war requirements. Again, the assumption was it would surely go for Romney. But instead the sliver state went for Obama. This may have something to do with the massive drought that afflicted the US mid west this summer . I would note that droughts of this nature in the Mid West are consistent with climate change predictions.

Mind the gap
Also while Republicans might think that “real men don’t use wind turbines” they don’t seem to realise that renewable technology is a major employer and a growth industry. While they often scoff at how much of the renewables manufacturing is based out of China (forgetting for a minute how much of everything else, is also made in China….or that the oil comes from the Middle East!). They often forget that prior to G. W. Bush’s reign of error, the US led the world in renewable’s technology, but he conceded America’s lead to Germany and China (whose economies are hardly in poor state of health as a result, contrary to the arguments against renewables you often hear).

In previous times Americans worried about the “bomber gap” or “missile gap”. In this day and age some worry about an “energy gap” where by the Chinese (and many other countries in Europe & Asia) are racing ahead of the US in terms of their ability to manufacture energy systems (nuclear, renewable and fossil fuel based) and the underlying technology to make them work.

Inevitably the failure of Republicans to appropriate these trends cost them votes, likely in many key industrial (or post-industrial) swing states. Even NY mayor (and prominent Republican) Mike Bloomberg took a pop at Romney over climate change.

The Cameron Gambit?
In the wake of this defeat, a number of Republican commentators have lamented the need for the party to emerge a sort of “David Cameron” like solution. Brit’s may recall how after becoming leader David Cameron went through that whole phase of hugging huddies, visiting the ice caps and crying at the sight of melting icebergs, or promising that the NHS would be “safe” under the Tories. He even put a tree on the Conservative party logo….a tree that little yellow lib dem bird took to nesting in!

Now we’ll suspend discussion as to whether or not Cameron was sincere in those statements till another day (personally, I think he lied through his teeth!). But this is basically the sort of gambit they are talking about for the GOP. That they should elect a leader who will accept that 10,000’s of climate scientists are unlikely to be wrong. A candidate who will accept that while he may have some moral misgivings about abortion or gay marriage, its not the job of uncle Sam to be going into American’s bedrooms and telling them how to behave. A candidate for that matter who accepts that the world is billions of years old and the evolution is real! There are many obvious candidates within the GOP appropriate for this job, ranging from Rudolph Giuliani, John Huntsman or again, Mike Bloomberg.

The Lunatics take over the Asylum
However, I would comment that the problem here is that such candidates stand little chance of being elected by an increasingly lunatic and out of touch Republican party. Two decades of Fox News propaganda hasn’t so much created a lunatic fringe within Republicanism, but a lunatic mainstream (otherwise known as the Tea Party and the Religious Right).

For these fanatics, Romney was a huge compromise in itself. As I pointed out during the primaries, they attacked Romney for being “too left wing” and of all things being able to speak French (badly) which made him too much of a dork to ever be a Republican president. Inevitably, the end result is that until the Republicans get their house in order, i.e. kick out the extremists, there is little chance of a more moderate candidate getting elected.

I therefore see two possible futures for Republicanism, one a reformation, in which the party essentially purges itself of the Tea party fanatics, notably the so-called “Paulestinians” who are largely in any event, more a fifth column of the Libertarian Party. Given these Tea partiers disregard for Republican party rules (as I previously commented on) and democratic principles, this won’t be difficult to accomplish. However, it would probably have the effect of splitting the conservative movement in two. Although for lefties like me that would have the advantage of all but guaranteeing another democratic president (Hilary Clinton anyone?) in 2016.

The other possibility is that the lunatics storm the barricades and take over the asylum. They win the shouting match in the next four years and elect a true nut job (Palin, Bachmann, Rand Paul, take you’re pick) as presidential candidate. Now the chances of such a candidate ultimately getting elected president are slim (my experience of Americans is that the majority of them aren’t crazy and are sensible enough not to vote for a person who will effectively destroy the country), but the danger for the world is that sooner or later they’ll succeed and the consequences for the rest of the world are not good….as in WWIII!

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Women Bishops

Could someone help me out here, the Church of England allows women priests, the current head of the church is a woman (a German pensioner by the name of Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg Gotha). The current archbishop of Canterbury and the outgoing one both support the idea of women bishops. But some in the church seem to think, heaven forbid if a woman ever became a bishop! :no:

To say this defies logic is to understate the issue. Of course it also underlines the point that there is a large element within any church, or groups of conservatives in general who are essentially allergic to change. They automatically assume that any form of change, be it accepting the earth being round, Darwin’s theory of evolution or anthropogenic climate change is automatically bad and puts us on a slippery slope downwards. And as a result they will literally opposite any proposal put forward.

Why I didn’t vote

Mega busy the last few weeks so didn’t post much….

Last Thursday we had an “election” of sorts, in which we were asked by government to vote for police and crime commissioners. This mirrors a similar policy in the US where in some parts of the country people vote for everything, sheriff, chief prosecutor, Mayor of Wastila Alaska, you name it.

However, I choose not to vote, partially because I was up the walls busy at the time, but also because of the real reason behind this election. The truth is that the main reason for these elections wasn’t a sudden conversion to democracy of the Tories. No it was more an exercise in blame allocation.

The Tories know that the next round of cuts they are planning will hit police forces hard. Naturally they’d rather have someone else take the decision as to what parts of local police budgets to cut and deal with the laying off of rank and file officers. This mirrors the situation in councils, where the Tories are leaving the dirty business of closing down nursing homes and putting grannies on the street to councils, rather than they doing the job themselves.

Ultimately the fatal flaw in the office of these new police commissioners is that the government still holds the purse strings, it still decides how much money the police services get. In short, being made one of these new commissioners is pretty much the equivalent of being made a Mighty Morph Power Ranger, you get a cool job title and a nice uniform, but no real powers.

It is also no secret that the Tories have ambitions to privatise police service, which would produce some juicy contracts for their buddies in private security firms (like G4S, who indeed have been bidding to run a number of privately build police stations).

And as if to further my point that the Tories actually care little about the deficit (the truth is, they are more interested in cutting public services that they don’t benefit from), they spent £75m on this exercise (about £20 quid per cast ballot by my calc).

Indeed, given the mess that we otherwise call the rail service (which as I’ve pointed out before costs more to subsidize in its private form than back under public ownership), the water companies or indeed the fiasco at the Olympics (where G4S security staff couldn’t be bothered to show up for work…do you really want to be relying on these people when fighting off an attacker!) where the army and police had to be drafted in, it is inevitable that a privatised police force would cost the country far more than it saves.

None of the above

The Tories position leading up to this election was “everyone should vote, for you have only yourselves to blame if some Daily-mail reading bigot from our party ends up in charge of you’re local cop shop”.

Unfortunately, they failed to realise that there was another option – none of the above. Consider that the turn out in these elections was between 10-20% (15% nationally, one of the lowest turn out rates in an election….ever! with a rate of spoiled ballot papers ten times the normal rate). This means that some commissioners narrowly elected may have a mandate from as little as 5-10% of the electorate. Joe Stalin and Saddam could claim a more “populist” democratic mandate than this. Indeed it is telling that quite a number of these jobs went to independent candidates, not the mainstream parties.

I would argue that the real winner of this election was those who voted with their feet. While there does seem to be some appetite for more local democracy, clearly such posts need to come with some real powers.

Storm over the Atlantic

I’ve purposely avoided commenting on the impending election in the US. This is largely because, as I’ve previously discussed, a combination of a corporate dominated media, special interest corruption and partisan politics has made it all but impossible for any US president of either party to bring about any meaningful change. Washington is a snake pit of vying political factions who seem to care little about the rest of the country.

Mitt Romney’s main proposal is to try and solve the US deficit problem by cutting public spending. Unfortunately, as I discussed at length before, performing the sort of cuts that would produce a meaningful deficit reduction would upset way too many apple carts in Republican voting states (many of which receive more money from Uncle Sam than they pay in taxes…big government stay on our back!). And his corporate pay masters would be none too pleased either, as many US multinationals count uncle Sam as not only their best customer but their only one!

Instead he’ll make a few cosmetic cuts to welfare which will cause enormous hardship the countries poorest people (still reeling from Bush’s depression), but will be insufficient to actually reduce the US deficit, indeed the experience from Europe is that such cuts will in all likelihood increase the deficit due to the chilling effect it will place on the economy (depressing consumer spending and ultimately tax receipts).

Of course Obama’s proposal’s are equally unlikely to succeed. Many on the left claim that Obamacare is way too weak. Indeed it bares a striking resemblance to a health bill Romney himself introduced in Massachusetts state (and as Obamacare is actually scheduled to be revenue neutral, Romney cutting it, which might not be legal, will not achieve anything as far as deficit reductions go). While Obama favours the “right” sort of cuts (to the military or various special interests), he will also need tax increases to balance the books and it seems highly unlikely that he’ll push through such legislation. While he went into office with a majority in both houses he squandered his first term and didn’t act with the right sort of urgency to get the legislation he clearly favours pushed through.

Stormy politics

Of course it is strange that climate change has not, until a few days ago, figured much in the campaign. As the climate blogger Peter Sinclair has been pointing out, climate change should be at the top of the political agenda in the US. This year saw one of the worse droughts on record in the Mid West, which has pushed up food prices. The recent impact of hurricane Sandy is still being counted (best guess, $60 Billion!).

Now while we cannot blame either events on climate change alone, certainly the predictions of scientists is that as the planet warms droughts in the Midwestern United States should become more frequent, indeed as I previously discussed in a prior post, in the worse case scenario, the whole Mid west could eventually dry out and become a desert (as it was on previous occasions that the planet was warmer than today). Warmer waters in the Atlantic and higher sea levels will make for larger and more devastating storms coming ashore.

A few days ago, the Mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, a prominent Republican and one time presidential candidate himself, all but endorsed Obama, largely citing the fact that at least Obama has something resembling a policy as regards dealing with climate change while Romney and many Republicans don’t believe in it (one struggles to understand how that is possible!).

This mirrors a similar situation in Germany in 2002, where the right wing challenger Edmund Stoiber was all but assured of victory. However, a series of storms and floods which hit the country wrong footed him. The media mentioned “climate change” and he mumbled something about “natural variation”. Unfortunately for him it turned out the Germans preferred to have a Chancellor (they re-elected a previously on the ropes Schroeder) who gets his advice on science from these guys in lab coats and things called “textbooks” not from the back pages of Der Spiegel or supermarket tabloids.

But it seems unlikely a similar situation will occur in the US, as the penny has simply not dropped with many Americans. More Republicans think demonic possession is real than climate change! They think they can negotiate their way out of climate change, or that the problem will simply go away if they ignore it for long enough. But of course, nature doesn’t negotiate and its a force we cannot ignore. Similarly, China will only negotiate as regards US debts up to a point. After that they will simply demand they’re money back and refuse the US any further credit.

The last war president?

So even if Romney can side step Hurricane Sandy and the inconvenient truth it leaves in its wake and still makes it into the white house, the chances are, something will come up during his presidency that will call into question the “default” strategy of most prior Republican presidents – make lots of speeches about “self starters” smaller government, etc., cut welfare spending….but otherwise spend money like a sailor on shore leave to the benefit of you’re rich buddies while passing oppressive laws that lead to yet more “big government”!

Romney might well get away with this, but I doubt it, as unfortunately the US is still reeling from Bush “junior” reign of error. Of course historically, Republican presidents have always had a get out of jail free card to use when they make a mess of the economy and run up a massive deficit (having been elected to cut it, not increase it). They go bomb some hapless third world country and go to the polls as a “victorious” war president. It worked for Bush (junior), Reagan and Nixon to name but a few.

However, Romney will struggle to apply this option as GW Bush spent most of the US treasury paying for his two wars and further the whole furore over the WMD’s that weren’t, means he also spent what remains of America’s post-cold war political capital.

The world we now live in is dominated economically not by the US or Europe but the so called BRIC‘s (Brazil, Russia, India, China). So if for example Romney tries to deflect attention from a flat lining economy by bombing Iran (either directly or via his proxy, Israel) he will likely find that some of the BRIC’s, notably Russia and China, taking steps to stop him, especially if this campaign of bombing threatens the supply of oil vital to their economies. They could easily bring America to heel either by threatening to cut off America’s line of credit, bringing in a trade embargo or China threatening to sell some of its $3 trillion dollars worth of US currency reserves (causing a run on the dollar and a collapse of the American economy). Or they could intervene through covert military means by giving the Iranians the sort of hardware needed (such as the Russian S-300 SA system or its Chinese copy) to shoot down American or Israeli jets, or take out a few US warships in the Gulf of Hormuz.

Indeed in some respects the worse case scenario for Romney in the event of war with Iran is to win. The Iranians might be so spooked by this loss and the BRIC’s so worried about loosing control of oil supplies, that they Iranians accept an offer from say China or Russia to station fighter aircraft in an Iranian airbase – meaning the outcome for the US of such a war is that they will now be facing off against another super power in the event of any future war in the region!

If there is one thing American’s need to realise it is that while they have a great country, they don’t rule the world and they can’t hide from either their own problems nor the world’s. As a country America needs to wake up and smell….. the stinky ruins of New York, and confront its problems.

Jim certainly did fix it for the Beeb

One cannot of course ignore the whole Jimmy Saville madness. I have this vision of a young James Murdoch (who just got re-appointed to the BSkyB board) writing to Jimmy Saville asking if he could fix it for him to rob the Beeb of the moral high ground just when his father’s empire was on the ropes. In many respects he succeeded.

Not that this gets the Beeb board of gov’s off the hook or nothin! But clearly the tabloids are going wall to wall on the Saville scandal for a very good reason, the more they talk about him and how bad the BBC was, the less they have to consider their own awful failings on phone hacking…or indeed why they didn’t break the story on Saville themselves!

The Tory cuts in action, as seen on TV

I caught the back end of a programme on BBC the other day “the year the town hall shrank”, which examined the effects of the Tory cuts on Stoke on Trend. Now while the Tory’s like to talk with glee about “taking away benefits” they have this stereotyped view that everyone on benefits is under twenty, dresses in a tracksuit and drinks buckfast all day rather than working.

However, the reality is that the bulk of people on benefits are there for a reason, i.e. because they are elderly or infirm, have a disability or are otherwise disadvantaged and need help and care. Old grannies being chucked out of care homes I suspect doesn’t quite fit with what you read in the Daily Mail or Telegraph. But this is the stark reality of the Tory cuts, that they are creating hardship for those in society most vulnerable.

Then there was the issue of day care centre’s for kids. While I have no kids and one could argue I should be against council spending on them, unlike the Tories I recognize that they help keep the wee’ins out from under parents feet, allowing said parents to go to work, earn a wage and pay taxes. By cutting such centre’s, you force said parents into unemployment. Again hardly fits in with the rhetoric you hear from Tory’s.

I have long accused the Tory‘s and their lib dem allies of being completely out of touch with the real world, and this programme merely crystallises that fact. Yes, some councils over stretched themselves in the good times, but I challenge any supporter of the Tory’s to morally justify these cuts.

The Force, George, but not as we know it

I haven’t been blogging for a while, as I’ve been mega busy workwise. Anyway, one of the stories this week was the purchase of Lucasfilm (the company behind Star Wars) from TcF by Disney with the view to making more Star Wars films.

While this has sent some Star Wars fans into euphoria about another trilogy of films, others do worry. Will Star Wars be star wars without George Lucas at the helm? Although he is penciled in as a “creative consultant” it is unclear what direction the new films will take the Star Wars franchise.

Some fans may well hope that the films take on the post-Endor story line as covered in the Timothy Zahn novels (Thrawn Trilogy or the Dark Empire novels). Already, I suspect some fans are speculating about who will play Mara Jade (Luke Skywalkers future missus). However, these novels are probably a little too dark for the Disney company and younger audiences, so its possible they may try and reboot the franchise with a new film. That will probably be not to the liking of fans, no more than the whole business of Stallone taking his helmet off in Judge Dredd. Alienating the fans could easily kill the franchise.

Also there is the commercialism. Many fans felt that Lucasfilm overplayed that with the new films way too much (or indeed with Return of the Jedi). Indeed interesting aside, Fox had such little faith in star wars that they signed over most of the merchandising rights to Lucas….was this the same exec who cancelled Star Trek by any chance?

Star wars fans, as I mentioned in a prior post (Hans and Silent Darth Strike back), were also none too pleased with the editing of the original series to make them more commercially pleasing. Naturally, we can assume that this will apply doubly to a Disney film.

In the future Star Wars film will Luke skywalker be using GE brand lightsabres and eating Soylent Green in Mc Donald’s?

I sense great danger ahead!