No Bar On Roseanne`s Presidential Campaign…

 John Curran 

Image © monterey media

Mitt Romney`s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention illustrates how far American politics has descended into pastiche as an excitable audience intermittently bellowed “USA”, as if spectators at a sports event urged on by a candidate inanely smiling like a second rate chat show host. This was pantomime politics; the audience occasionally hissing in unison, an organised response in this era of stage managed politics. Given the circumstances it seems natural to send in the clowns, or at least a comedian, so enter Roseanne Barr, who is campaigning to become President of the United States on a socialist and anti-war policy plank predicated on the notion that a woman`s place is in the White House.

Barr, the most serious comedian in this Presidential race resurrected her political challenge after failing to win the Green Party nomination; she is now running for the Peace and Freedom Party on a Barr/Sheehan ticket. `Roseanne for President` is no joke and she is no court jester, refusing to apologise for proposing a radical agenda. Socialism, she reminds us, is not an agenda to merely help out Wall Street, it is time she argues that public money found its way into the pocket of Joe/Joan `six-pack` on Main Street.

Much of the attention concerning the Barr/Sheehan campaign has focussed on their proposal to legalise marijuana, but the platform covers an array of issues concerning domestic and foreign policy and constitutional change. For example the party is calling for Ballot Access in all 50 states.

Barr employs her energy and intelligence to good effect and her considerable wit is less rapier and more akin to a weapon of mass destruction. Highly articulate and quick on her feet she surely would be a match for anyone in debate. She is running a shrewd campaign, the Peace and Freedom party are appealing to national sentiment urging prospective voters to be an American and not an American`t. The campaign website is sophisticated, Roseanne knows how to communicate to the masses and she gets her message across clearly, concisely and of course, with humour.

There is a strand of isolationism running through the ticket, natural given the anti-war stance this party takes. But the Peace and Freedom Party has an international outlook, the campaign website gives pride of place to the terrible incident recently in Marikana, South Africa, “Where forty- five mineworkers were killed in what the South African press called a bloodbath that recalls the worst massacres of the apartheid epoch.”  Lest we forget, these workers were killed campaigning for improvements in wages and conditions in a British owned enterprise. It is unlikely that any of the leading Presidential candidates will give prominence in their campaign literature as Barr/Sheehan have to the massacre on the 16 of August.  Read more of this post

First US Presidential Debate Review: A Worrying Night for Obama

Daniel Crump 

Image © yeimaya

Last night saw the first of a series of US Presidential debates between Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. Deciding who the winner is in any political debate is not exactly straightforward, but speaking objectively, Romney certainly put in the most convincing performance by generally coming across as more enthusiastic and prepared. What was clear about this debate, particularly for the neutrals and swinging voters among us, was that Americans are genuinely being presented with a clear choice in November. That popular observation that US politics is becoming so centralised that one cannot tell the difference between Democrat and Republican anymore, just isn’t ringing true this time around.

This was clear from the very start. Round one of the debates focused on Domestic issues, with questions on jobs, the deficit, healthcare and the role of government on the table. Unsurprisingly, the two men differed in their opinions about what is causing America’s slow recovery from one of the deepest recessions this side of the Second World War. Obama was keen to point out that the problems were started by the Bush administration, although he was careful not to use his predecessor’s name directly. There was one occasion where the Governor did acknowledge the role that Bush had played in building the US deficit, but decided to focus more on the fact that Obama has had four years in which to bring it down, and has failed.

The candidates genuinely disagree about the methods with which to eliminate the federal debt, and this is where we got our first good old fashioned Left/Right mini-debate. Obama prefers a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts, asking the top earners in America to pay a little more in order to protect the programs that ordinary Americans depend upon. Governor Romney would bring down the deficit predominantly through spending cuts. In a debate that focused so heavily on sticking up for the middle class, one would assume that Obama’s plan would have come across as the most sensible. In fact, Romney did an excellent job of explaining why raising taxes on the top 3% of business in America actually punishes the firms that hire the majority of Americans, thus threatening jobs at a time of weak economic recovery. Obama clearly wanted to use this section of the debate to portray Romney as a President for the very wealthy, and the incumbent seemed a tad shaken when his plan didn’t appear to follow through. It was always going to be crucial for Romney to come across as the more ‘pro-business’ candidate in this debate, and on the point of tax revenue, he seemed to do this with ease.  Read more of this post

Afghanistan: Will it Survive After the USA Withdrawal?

Alex Clackson 

Image © DVIDSHUB

As the United States plans to leave Afghanistan in 2014, two main questions arise. Firstly, have the USA managed to achieve any substantial goals in increasing security and stability and in the last ten years and secondly will Afghanistan be able to survive after the occupation of the country comes to an end in 2014?

Unfortunately the answer to both questions is no. While the Taliban and other terrorist organization activity is low at the moment, it is only a matter of time before they make a return after the USA has pulled out from Afghanistan. The question here though is political, not military. It is a question of depriving the Taliban of their most powerful weapon, which is the claim that they are defending Afghanistan and their enemies are non-Muslim foreigners. A swift withdrawal of Coalition forces from the front line would be a very painful test for the Afghan military, though they would be free to choose their battles. The central problem with President Obama’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan has always been his deadline. The Taliban claim that we have the watches, but they have the time. And the President has already compromised our war effort(s) by setting deadlines for troop withdrawals that are unconnected to the end state his strategy seeks to achieve.

But the reason why Afghanistan may be heading toward anarchy is not simply due to the Afghan National Army’s lack of military preparedness to fight an insurgency without foreign support. Rather, some of the most challenging problems that the government must face once the U.S. leaves will be economic. Today, the United States and its allies provide the government of Afghanistan with the vast majority of its operating budget. American taxpayers have not only built up schools, hospitals, government ministries, and the Afghan National Army and police force; they have also paid the salaries of those who man these institutions. Further, U.S. military and foreign assistance operations in Afghanistan support many thousands of soldiers, foreign aid workers, and contractors, who pump millions of dollars into the local economy.  Read more of this post

U.S: The Divided Nation

Christian DeFeo 

Image © lumierefl

The town which I come from is like many others in America: it lies just outside a big city, the streets are aligned in near perfect grids, and there is a small downtown area which features a bank and a grocery store.  Churches of varying denominations are in abundance.  The Stars and Stripes flutters over red brick public school buildings, a striking sight on a clear summer’s day.

Looking at the tidy lawns and the carefully painted exteriors of the homes in my town, it is relatively easy to think that this is a prosperous country.  There is an air of quiet affluence that accompanies being house-proud.    On a bright June afternoon, Obama’s America seems a good place to be, particularly in contrast to the depressing images of homelessness, dereliction and unemployment which scar much of Britain and Europe.  Surely, then, Americans should be grateful for their relative good fortune and surely they wish to re-elect the President.

However, go to the next town and the picture changes: in less than a quarter mile along a main thoroughfare, I counted no less than 5 large stores and office buildings that had lost previous occupiers and now were either for sale or rent.  Other stores promise big bargains or state they’re going into liquidation.  The windows of the empty shops are dirty; inside, bills which will never be paid lay scattered along the dusty floors along with brightly coloured junk mail.  This America is bankrupt, broken and clearly dissatisfied.  If this is Obama’s America, then it surely won’t be his for long.

How can the two be reconciled?  When one speaks of either economic despair or boom there is an assumption that its effects are broadly uniform, and exceptions, such as the continuing London property boom are just that, exceptional.  What is striking about America’s economic recovery, however, is how patchy it is: indeed, it is its motif.

As statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show, states which are prospering sit side-by-side with those which are suffering.  For example, Texas’ economy grew 3.3% in 2011 while next door in New Mexico, growth was just 0.2%.  North Dakota’s economy grew a staggering 7.6%; this is largely due to its tapping into natural gas resources.  Its neighbour, South Dakota, grew at a measly 0.8%.  As my former home town and its neighbour illustrate further, this patchiness extends to a micro level: towns which thrive and suffer live in close proximity.  While the overall economy may grow, this strange mosaic prevents an overall impression of well-being from taking root.  Read more of this post

Supreme Court upholds Obamacare: a key victory in election year

Francis Pitt 

Image © roberthuffstutter

The United States Supreme Court has upheld President Obama’s flagship healthcare bill, a decision that has given the Democratic Party’s incumbent a boost as he looks towards November’s presidential election showdown with Mitt Romney.

The legislation, which has polarised opinion in America, will now ensure that millions of Americans, who previously would not have be able to access healthcare, will now be able to do what so many in other Western countries take for granted.

Within minutes of the announcement, Twitter was buzzing with reaction. Many Republicans were not happy with the decision of America’s highest court.  Missouri Congressman, Todd Akin tweeted, “Since its inception I have fought against the adoption of #Obamacare. We must defund and repeal all of it.” Other tweeters were also not happy with the ruling: “There is only one guaranteed way to get rid of Obamacare: President Romney taking the oath on January 20th, 2013.”

The decision was a close run thing, with the court ruling by 5-4 in favour of the bill. The decision was carried by Chief Justice, John Roberts (a Conservative) who himself voted in favour.  Justice Roberts gave his reaction to the decision to not strike down the Bill and in particular the penalty for not getting insured, which many Americans saw as a tax: “The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

Despite the ruling the issue is far from over. Many Americans are still against the mere thought of a universal system similar to those in Europe, or their neighbours, Canada. They see it as an attack on their personal freedom and as something that could potentially lead to the eroding of American society as they know it. The darling of the Tea Party Right, Sarah Palin added her disgust at the ruling by tweeting, “Obama lied to the American people again. He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.”  Read more of this post

Obama vs. Romney: the world is watching

Daniel Crump 

Image © Rivarix

Matters of foreign policy do not tend to be first on the list of a voter’s priorities coming up to an election, especially in times of economic turmoil. When US voters go to the polls in November they will be asking themselves when unemployment is going to fall, whether the health care system will continue to be of benefit to them and how much money they will have in their pockets once they retire. Perhaps, then, the sensible move on the part of the contenders is to downplay talk of foreign issues and concentrate on the economy.

However, history has taught us that many a presidency has come to be defined by a set of decisions related to manoeuvrings on the world stage. Kennedy’s record was arguably saved from the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs by his firmness during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What respect George Bush Sr. may have lost in failing to capture Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, he made up for with his role in German Unification in the early 90’s.

Are we asking the right question?

In the run up to November’s vote, it is perhaps unhelpful to ask whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would best serve the US’s interests on the world stage. The question people ought to be asking is whether a first term president is preferable to one in his second term. This is the case for two main reasons. Firstly, a President’s first term in office has always been more about dealing with the footprint left by the previous administration than about imposing his own foreign policy vision. Secondly, foreign policy is by nature reactionary. No matter how concise a doctrine exists at the outset, there are certain events that one can simply not prepare for.

To argue the first case, we need only go back four years when Obama officially inherited two wars from George Bush Jr. It was clear, despite his commendable desire to ease tensions with Iran, that his Middle Eastern policy was going to be dictated by how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played out. It is certainly no secret that Iranian involvement in the Iraq War was one of the biggest obstacles the President was going to have to overcome if peace between Tehran and Washington was reachable. U.S officials insist that the training of Militant Shiite groups in Iraq by Iranian forces has been a huge challenge for the US army. Iran is said to view Iraq as a potential buffer zone from any future invasion, most likely by the US’s main ally, Israel. Similarly, George Bush’s unavoidable presence in Afghanistan was always going to make Obama’s relationship with Islamabad one on permanent knife edge.  Read more of this post

Gay marriage takes one more step forward

Dominic Turner

Image © Fritz Leiss

When President Obama yesterday announced his support for gay marriage he made an important and symbolic gesture, not merely of his own ‘evolution‘ on the issue, but of the Western world. It goes without saying that Obama, in trademark timidity, waited until the polls indicated that gay marriage was supported by a majority of Americans, and that even whilst he is personally comfortable with gay marriage, he is bringing forth no legislation to make it a reality. Nevertheless, yesterday marked a historic moment in the Gay rights movement.

I am not gay, and neither are any members of my immediate family. I have many friends and members of my extended family who are, but the issue of gay rights has never affected me personally. But the struggle for equality of all peoples is not a cause to be fought by only those who are affected. Good white men and women marched with their black brothers and sisters to end segregation and apartheid in the 20th Century. Gay rights are fundamentally civil rights and another articulation of the cause for equality.

Here in Britain we have come a long way since the 1980′s and the despicable s.28 Local Government Act, which outlawed the supposed “promotion” (and by that they meant discussion) of homosexuality in schools. Civil Partnerships now allow gay couples to enter into the legal equivalent of mariage. The Human Rights act has been used to allow the same rights of succession in housing for gay couples. One of the most encouraging aspects of the last decade is the leadership of the Conservative Party’s support Civil Parternships, and gay rights. But the hesitation from the lunatic fringe of the Tory Party to recognize gay marriage reveals, at its heart, a regressive and dogmatic conservatism. Civil Partnerships but not Marriage? Those who hold this counter intuitive position march under the same ideological banner that sustained segregation. Seperate but equal. Read more of this post

Are you with U.S or against US?

Daniel Crump 

Image © eltiempo.com

Some may view the behaviour of the US secret service agents this week in Colombia as a further sign of the growing discontent between the US and the rest of Latin America. The sheer audacity of these professional individuals, tasked with securing the safety of President Obama, carries with it an ugly reminder of the disrespect that characterised US attitudes towards Latin Americans in a period of time thought to be long resigned to history.

A recurring theme at this year’s Organisation of American States (OAS) was the ever- growing divide between North and South America, ranging from issues such as the British claim over the Falkland Islands, to the de-criminalisation of the drugs trade. This is in line with the economic dissociation that has seen the decline of US influence in the region and the gains made by China as a result. Chile and Peru, along with Brazil, the economic powerhouse of the continent, now have closer trading links with the Chinese than the US, with Colombia and Argentina likely to follow suit. Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think-tank stated in a pre-summit report that ‘”Most countries of the region view the United States as less and less relevant to their needs and with declining capacity to propose and carry out strategies to deal with the issues that most concern them.”

For instance, South American leaders argue that the legalisation of drugs would put a large dent in the profits made by the trade and help to reduce drug related violence that has crippled South American economies and deprived them of much needed foreign investment. Predictably, any hopes of US enthusiasm for the policy were soon dashed, but Obama did concede that the United States is the region’s biggest consumer of illegal drugs and has a responsibility to reduce demand.

Also, on the 30th anniversary of the conflict, Argentina’s request for a negotiation of the Falkland Island’s sovereignty from Britain was supported by a handful of leaders including Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro who said ‘there should be no colonial possessions in our America’. Again, the US opposed this sentiment.

Perhaps most significant of all was the debate surrounding the makeup of the organisation itself. Rather unsurprisingly, Cuba was ostracised from proceedings as it has been since the birth of the OAS. A more surprising development was the Bolivian President Eva Morales’s claim that this ought to be the last OAS summit without Cuba. Latin America is largely united in their opposition to the US trade embargo of Cuba, and the absence of Castro provoked Ecuador to boycott the summit altogether. Read more of this post

For Afghanistan, Apologies are not enough

Dominic Turner

Image © U.S. Army

Last month saw a spate of terrorist atrocities in Afghanistan, a reaction to the unintentional burning of the Quran by American soldiers. I have no reason to cast aspersion on the claims this affront was entirely accidental. It seems it was, President Obama has apologised for the burning, and for this incident it should suffice. But the touch paper for this carnage was not lit merely by the destruction of Islam’s Holy book, however sacrosanct that is. The horror that has engulfed Afghanistan for the last ten years rises out of the fertile, festering swamp that we have created through occupying that land for over a decade. And for that, there is no apology great enough.

Make no mistake, these acts of extreme violence are obscene. But like all resistance to occupations, they are a cathartic endeavour against forces of aggression as we saw in India and Vietnam in the 20th century. It is hard enough for our own Government to cling to some far-fetched justification for the decade long occupation of Afghanistan.  Just think how hard it is for the Afghan people, 92% of them who do not even know of the events of September 11th. How would you react if an invading army occupied your country, flattened your town, and killed your family? This is without even considering the fact that the United States armed and funded Osama Bin Laden and the Mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, leaving the forces that they organised in power to slaughter and rape tens of thousands of civilians, a period that ‘Human Rights Watch’ characterises as the “worst period in Afghan history”.

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