Friday, December 28, 2012

Zuma and the un-African dog owners, on a more serious note.

Image from City Press.

It is sometimes unfortunate where what could be construed as a proper message gets destroyed by someone who a) is likely trying to whip up a bit of hype (which makes me ponder how election campaigns in 2014 are going to work out) and b) knows how the media (the world media, to be fair) clings to what makes a pretty headline. For example: "Pet dogs not for blacks - Zuma".

While we, including myself, spent the day ridiculing the president's remarks (and his spokesman's absurd statement of explanation), there are huge messages that were mixed up in the fray. Two of them stand out for me.

Firstly, while many people were quick to jump on quotes in Zuma's story such as "Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white," and spokesman Mac Maharaj's "the essential message from the President was the need to decolonise the African mind post-liberation," there is a very real phenomenon in South Africa, and the world, of the hangover from bastard regimes such as apartheid. Contrary to unpopular belief, elections in 1994 didn't solve the problems that beset South Africa after a fat dose of colonialism and 40-odd years of not only lawful segregation, but a institutionalised dehumanisation. White privilege (or douchebaggery, as some indirectly refer to it) is a very real thing, and its place in the head of most people - on both ends of the privilege - is common. While I am in no way an anthropologist, and am wary of suggesting solutions to anyone, a mere walk around South Africa, or a glance at many newspapers, will offer multiple examples of the effects of racism of  which many people on the good end are not aware. When Maharaj wrote about "decolonis(ing) the African mind", he was quoting Nigerian author Chinweizu who authored The West and the Rest of Us, a book arguing against western models of governance and living (and denoting exploitation of Africa and Africans, amongst others) in places that were not western. Zuma clumsily (I use the word in its loosest sense) alluded to this concept in terms of culture: ie, playing into models which suit westernism (or in South Africa's case, white-ism, where there is, of course, significant overlap) at the expense of one's own culture. Somehow he bastardised it into a conversation about what is African vs un-African (a bizarre and incredibly distasteful concept - more on this later), how people treating their pets determines their culture (and indirectly the value of that culture), and some ridiculous and non-existent commonality of African culture (FYI: there are more than a billion people on the continent).

Zuma (and Maharaj) haemorrhaging this topic during his speech on Thursday shouldn't invalidate it as a real issue. Whether you are prepared to accept that there is still a significant hangover from apartheid or not (and sometimes government makes it incredibly hard to do so) a large portion of its effects is intangible. It is not just the crappy infrastructure in the Eastern Cape, or the endless pit into which we throw our youth during what other countries consider school age. It is mightily present in the day-to-day interactions among races (and cultures and sub-cultures and genders and so on) all over the place. White privilege (and the benefits therein), and conversely black (in the Biko sense) disadvantage (and the inherent hindrance), exists. In some ways this extrapolates into a social system whereby the beneficiaries of apartheid are not forced into confronting their own conditioning, and, in a nutshell, the lack of privilege experienced by those on the receiving end is complicit in this; ie the "colonisation of the mind".

Discussion over this concept, of which I really don't feel entitled to take part, shouldn't be canned because of the wackery enunciated by the president on Thursday.

Secondly, I worry there is going to be some mini culture war in the general election in 2014. A raft of by-elections since local elections in 2011 has indicated the ANC could hurt the next time the nation goes to the polls. Not terribly I would suppose, but that two-thirds majority is definitely on the line. I clumsily tried to denote my concerns about this on one or other social network earlier, but I then came across a superb blog post by @siyandawrites on Twitter, who explained this concept far better than I could ever have. (The emphasis is mine)

Zuma used the one word that I am physically incapable of ignoring. In his defence of his anti-pet-dog sentiments, he uttered the word, “un-African.”

Nothing infuriates me more than the use of that word. It drives me particularly insane when its speaker is very obviously using it as a means of shaming Africans out of their right to self-determination.

It makes me even angrier because it is almost always used to persecute the African middle-class. Very rarely are the poor in Africa accused of behaving in an un-African manner. It’s almost as if some people believe that the African, like some sort of religious servant, must stay in his most deprived form in order to retain dignity in his identity. Which is a notion that I regard ridiculous at its best and at its worst, utterly dangerous to the African psyche.

I can’t believe it is five-to-2013 and we’re still hell-bent on keeping African culture in 1605. How is it that African leaders are still allowed to equate walking your dog to lightening your skin?

[some text omitted]

So what is this about?

This is about using shame to police a part of the South African population that the ANC is quickly losing touch with—the African middle-class. By ridiculing them for choosing to lead a lifestyle outside of the confines of the poverty and often-oppressive 18th century principles that he defines to be ‘African’, the ANC president may be aiming to shame them back to the party that all the ‘die-hard Africans’ cling to like a life-raft in ice-water.

And there you have it. Culture war is likely an over-statement (I live in America, for goodness sake), but Zuma's speech today indicates there will be some of this sort of electioneering leading up to 2014.

And both of these points were lost in the great noise from this morning.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Statement: In response to Zuma attacking our pets

To whom it may concern,

It is with the greatest reprehension that me and other white people read about President Zuma's criticisms of "abelungu abamnyama", which we can tell has something to do with us because it says "lungu". And the clarification from Mr Mac Maharaj.

From what we understand, and it is obvious, is that President Zuma thinks we love our pets more than people, and we should not do this because it goes against ubuntu - a concept with which we became familiar during the Soccer World Cup in 2010 (weirdly though, not during the Rugby World Cup in 1995 which was the previous occasion on which we shared stadiums with black folks, the brave Blou Bulle supporters in Soweto notwithstanding).

It is highly prejudicial for President Zuma to say pet dogs are not for black people when across South African suburbia we have been getting our staff to look after family pets for generations.

If President Zuma thinks "We cannot have compassion for animals if we do not have compassion for children and the elderly", then how does he explain how South Africa has united behind solutions to stop rhino poaching?

It does not matter if we are black, white or green: our love for our animals and walking them and taking them to the vet is as African as Mango Groove, Charlize Theron or Mzoli's.

We are grateful that Independent Newspapers spoke to the SPCA to clarify the comments, as the organisation obviously had the best understanding of what President Zuma was trying to explain.

Inquiries: 17737
Simon Williamson

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Bantu In My Bathroom - so far

(image from PanMacMillan)

I am currently reading Eusebius McKaiser's A Bantu In My Bathroom, and am absolutely enthralled. There are two specific parts of the book thus far (I am only halfway through) that have really dug into my head, which I thought I would spend a few words on. 

(If McKaiser or anyone involved in the publishing or creation of the book wants me to take down the parts I recite here, please let me know and I will happily do so.)

The first part of McKaiser's book deals with race, a naturally significant concept in South Africa. While the issue raises hackles in South Africa faster than a cat being prospectively thrown into a pool, there are some excellent points he makes; you have likely heard them before but there is one in particular that combats the constant criticisms of the constant dialogue of race we speak about as South Africans. And he offers a healthy perspective:

"We'd better get over our fear of the language of race, and talk. There is no reason why the language of race should logically lead to racism. I can recognise which of my friends are black, coloured or white without using that recognition as a reason to be racist. We should stop blaming racialism for our racism. It is a bit like blaming your sexism on the fact that you can see women and men look different. Racism's the enemy. The language of race, and seeing differences in each other, is not the enemy" - A Bantu In My Bathroom, page 79. 

I have lived in the UK and currently live in the US (in Chicago, nogal, a very racially divided city), where race, racism, racialism and so on are a non-topics. They don't get discussed a) because people don't like speaking about racism, particularly when they're on the good end of it, and b) because of the easy, yet mistaken, notion that speaking about racism doesn't fix it. It is unhealthy to not acknowledge race at all as it is, quite frankly, a very large part of who many of us are. Not acknowledging race, and therefore never speaking about it, is to deny many truths about many people. Forgoing any talk of race under any circumstances because of holistic belief that to achieve a non-racial society is to live under the illusion that races aren't different is nonsensical. "Fear of the language of race, and talk" limits our ability to grapple with the exact issues. 


On page 41, chapter three entitled "Cape Town's dirty coloured secrets", McKaiser begins with a story about how he was accosted by two beggars as he walked along Long Street whom he described thus: 

"They looked about twenty, or perhaps slightly older, but with the bodies of eight-year-olds, and certainly not taller. They were incredibly persistent as they begged for money, running in front of me blocking my path. They looked and behaved like feral animals. I felt a mixture of emotions: anger, annoyance, sadness." - A Bantu In My Bathroom, page 41.

McKaiser then goes on to explain how he told this story to a liberal white friend of his who took exception to his use of the word "feral" to describe the two aforementioned men - in the book McKaiser says he cut the argument short and later said "And my white liberal acquaintance can go to hell as far as I am concerned." 

Sadly, this story didn't strike me because of the recollection of who populates the streets of Cape Town. Although I only lived in the city for a year I am well acquainted with such experiences, which are replicated far too often (of course, in Johannesburg, where I spent most of my life). But when I read this story I too initially took exception to the word "feral" to describe people - a word, for me, that dehumanises humans. What McKaiser went on to explain really got my thought machine ticking:

"But for the guy who was disgusted by my description, coloureds are objects of academic study: for him, only unemotive language will do. He humanises the bergies (beggars) of Cape Town with language. I choose language that bears witness to the stripping away of their humanity" - A Bantu In My Bathroom, page 43. 

And this made a fundamental point for me. I grew up in the completely out-of-touch English South African liberal bubble and have spent the last eight or so years learning how much of South Africa (and the world) exists outside my scope: a hell of a lot. I am aware that the glass through which I view the rest of the country shows me a remarkably different picture to many other people - in this case, McKaiser, but an experience that is replicated plethorically. This was a reminder of just how often it occurs. 

I am enjoying the book immensely, and I, thus far, at least, recommend you put it in many Christmas stockings this festive season. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Conspiracy theories - maybe not so conspiratorial.

Image from

There is a theory floating around that Senate Republicans are so against the nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice because they want Senator John Kerry (of Massachusetts) to be picked instead. Why? Because this will trigger a special election in Massachusetts which they think Republican Senator Scott Brown might win (Brown lost his seat in the recent election to Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren).

Up until now I haven't really bought into this theory because Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, along with their new recruit, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte (who has replaced Joe Lieberman in their triumvirate) are a combination of bitter and difficult (McCain), hawkish (Graham) and inexperienced (Ayotte). They are blaming Rice for going on TV and reporting the views of her administration relating to the 11 September attack in Benghazi, in which four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed. These views turned out to be incorrect, but Rice claims this was the intelligence available at the time - which is actually a pretty reasonable excuse as the correct story broke before the election. 

But yesterday usually reliably intelligent and reasonable Senator Susan Collins of Maine (who serves as ranking member on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) met with Rice. 

Politico reports:
Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, accused Rice of playing a “political role” during the height of the presidential election, making the rounds on the Sunday shows and reciting administration talking points just days after the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The administration’s response to the incursion, Collins said, had an “eerie echo” of the 1998 bombings of two embassies in Africa, which occurred under Rice’s watch when she was an assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Bill Clinton administration.

“Those bombings in 1998 resulted in the loss of life of 12 Americans as well as many other foreign nationals, and 4,000 people were injured,” Collins said.

A spokeswoman for Rice declined to comment Wednesday on the criticism by Collins. The Maine senator said she would not join other GOP colleagues who have vowed to hold up her nomination. But that doesn’t mean she would vote for Rice if she is nominated, Collins said.

“I would need to have additional information before I could support her nomination,” she said. “There is much to be learned and I think it would be premature for me to reach that judgment now.”

Not only is Collins spearing Rice's nomination for doing what Rice's boss told her to, she is bringing up  something that happened 14 years ago when Rice was "an assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Bill Clinton administration", which bears virtually zero relevance to the attack in Benghazi. In 1998 a series of bombs exploded at US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, and Osama Bin Laden was found to have planned it all. Let's contextualise that quickly: Condoleezza Rice was a United States National Security Advisor to President George W Bush when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001 - did that disqualify her from being Bush's second Secretary of State from 2005?

Not for Susan Collins. Lookie here - she backed the appointment of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State in 2005, saying "She has both the professional experience and the personal integrity to be a strong Secretary of State." Hmmm, there's a yawning double standard here from someone who is usually a solid voice of reason.

Which lends credence to the theory that Republicans are trying to do little more than get Kerry into the Secretary of State post to force a special election in Massachusetts. Incidentally, the Democrat most likely to contest that hypothetical election is state attorney general Martha Coakely (who lost to Brown in the special election in 2010 after Ted Kennedy died).

According to Foreign Policy, should Kerry be picked by Obama, next in line Senator from California Barbara Boxer will pass the chairpersonship onto third in line, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, whose favourite bug bear is Iran - he is likely to be rougher when it comes to sanctions on Iran than the Obama administration, and will be in a position to push for such things, which suit the hawkish folks on the Republican side of the table somewhat.

There is considerable Republican benefit to Kerry getting a position in Obama's cabinet, and Rice being sacrificed for it.

UPDATE: I am watching Rachel Maddow from last night on DVR who makes this point too. For the record I wrote this before I saw her show (which I usually watch when I eat lunch the day after it is broadcast). 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why the term "fiscal cliff" is irresponsible.

Image from

Due to terminology, as far as we know, if Congress doesn't work out a deal to fix up the US' federal deficit by 31 December -when we reach the "fiscal cliff" - the world will end. What nonsense. The "cliff" connotes everything will go belly-up if we reach 31 December with no deal - this is very untrue.

In fact, if no deal is struck, when you wake from your stonking New Year hangover on 1 January, nothing will have changed. The first time people will notice anything different is when they are paid for days worked in January, and they will pay a slightly higher tax rate as the Bush tax cuts would have expired. While this isn't awesome, it can be fixed retroactively: in other words, if a deal is reached in January, you will pay less tax in February to make up for it, and a similar amount of money remains running around the economy. Some folks, particularly those earning a lot, will only notice a tax increase when they file before the annual April deadline. 

Desirable? No. A "cliff"? Hardly. 

The other aspect of this whole scenario is the automatic budget cuts of $1.2-trillion. This money doesn't all vanish on 1 January 2012. These budget cuts are phased in over ten years, and even without an agreement the bean-counters and decision makers in government can soften the blow using stuff like logic and common sense. 

Again, undesirable. But hardly earth-shattering. 

Calling this a "fiscal cliff" has the very real potential of spooking the markets, and then the "cliff" will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Responsible reporting would have indicated that Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's term for this is incorrect. Should Congress not come up with a deal before 31 December (which today's talking points on cable news seem to point to), there is very little to really stuff with the economy in the short term.

Unless, of course, we think it is all going to. 

Incidentally, ignore the pontificating by House and Senate members about whose fault this is. Creating this 31 December deadline was passed by Congress in August 2011 to force negotiations (269-161 in the House and 74-26 in the Senate). 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wondering why Republicans are willing to compromise?

Image via Politico, thanks be. 

Democrats are pretty powerful in these "fiscal cliff" (it isn't a cliff at all, and is irresponsible media reporting to call it such, but we'll get to that later today or tomorrow) negotiations, and there is a very simple reason - they are using Republicans' own tax mantra against them.

Democrat Rep. Jerold Nadler (NY-8 - actually where I used to live in Manhattan) described it aptly on Up With Chris Hayes two weeks ago. It is well known that Barack Obama favours the Bush tax cuts expiring for income above $250,000 per year, and his stance in these "fiscal cliff" negotiations has not wavered from this point. 

Well, on 1 January, ALL of the Bush tax cuts will expire for everyone (that's part of the "fiscal cliff"). If Democrats are prepared to play chicken, they could wait it out, let the tax cuts expire for everyone, and then introduce a bill to continue the Bush tax cuts for all income up to $250,000. 

And dare the Republicans to vote against a tax deduction. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Being against gay marriage is not a conservative position

Image from egnorance.blogspot,com

For the purposes of this blog post, let's use the word "civil union" describe the relationships between homosexual couples that are ratified by law. Quite frankly, although the government may use the word "marriage" when it comes to describing the equivalent between an man and a woman, it is essentially a civil union anyway - you get a new set of civil rules that go along with being wed. Marriage, essentially, has more to do with what Jesus, Allah or any of those boys have to say about it. Civil law is dictated by government, not anyone's particular deity (in many cases).

Plus, we only use the term "civil union" in laws about gays to keep straight people calm. States/countries where there are proper civil unions? Pretty much the same thing as where there is marriage. 

The gay marriage we want is civil. Gay marriage is not about coming into your church and taking it over, it is about the civil benefits the government gives citizens when they decide to tie the knot. 

It would include such things (these are American examples):
- joint tax returns
- taxed as a couple, not two individuals (and at a lower rate)
- next of kin (and therefore inheritance - plus you pay more in death taxes if there is no official next of kin. Where there is no gay marriage, there is no spouse, even if the couple has been together for 30 years.)
- being regarded as family (officially) entitling one to visit the other in hospital
- mutual benefits: spouse can be a dependent when it comes to medical aid/healthcare plans, work benefits, in pension plans and so on
- immigration (as the foreign half of a couple in the US, I can verify this is blatantly discriminatory)
- joint filing of bankruptcy
- custodial rights to children (and, incidentally, joint adoption) (note: this assumes that gay couples are already permitted to adopt children - legalising gay marriage and gay couples adopting are different things)
- protection against domestic violence
- Spousal privilege (spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other in court)
and so on

None of these mess with anyone's religious convictions whatsoever. These are solely civil benefits and were not passed down from Heaven or Nirvana. They came from the desk of the governor (or in South Africa's case, the President). 

Forcing people to pay higher tax rates, or not be allowed next-of-kin laws, or to visit each other in hospital purely because their genitals match: none of this is because of conservative ideals, or threats to religious freedom. It is because people dont like gays. 

Being against these civil rights is not a conservative position. It is a bigoted position. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Your grannies are going to hurt you, Republicans

This is an example of an old voter. Thank you to

Republicans face a problem in 2016 - this has been well documented thus far. The electorate is now full of brown people, which makes lacing a campaign with racial dog-whistles to hustle up old white people much trickier than before. Plausibly, the next person to sit atop the Democratic Party will also be a white folk (Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Martin O'Malley etc.) which means that whole Muslo-foreign-brown-person-birth-certificate-no-that's-not-a-real-birth-certificate argument will work even less successfully in 2016 than it did in 2012.

While those demographics are a-changin', so is one core Republican constituency: old people. The Baby Boomers started turning 65 last year, and there are bucketloads of them. There are going to be more people older than 65 in America than ever before, and they vote in numbers, in any weather, and they lean Republican. 56% of them voted for Mitt Romney; assuming Obama won the other 44%, that's a 12-point gap. In American politics that's a solid win.

"Yay,"I hear you cry, "that's great news for Republicans - our very own growing demographic!" No, according to some reports I looked at (and I am open to argument here as I am no anthropologist), the bloc of +65s, while growing, is not growing fast enough to counter-act the increase in groups favouring Democrats. However, it is a MASSIVE bloc within the Republican Party: ie. primaries that pick the presidential candidate (and others, of course). 

The coalition that makes up the Democratic voter coalition - brown people, young people, vagina-d people, gay people, poor people - by virtue of its existence kind of leans toward immigration rights, same-sex marriage (although this is hardly universally popular), liberalism, atheism and agnosticism*, a belief that there is a role for government in improving the country, and so on. 

As per the New York Times:
Beyond political parties, [young and old people] have different views on many of the biggest questions before the country. The young not only favor gay marriage and school funding more strongly; they are also notably less religious, more positive toward immigrants, less hostile to Social Security cuts and military cuts and more optimistic about the country’s future. They are both more open to change and more confident that life in the United States will remain good.

Old people tend to vote conservatively, particularly on immigration. Take, for example, this year's election result in the state of Arizona - Romney won 67% of the votes by people aged over 65. This is the state where immigration is the hottest political topic - the home of the "papers please" law which would have enabled police to request the papers of anyone who seemed to be there illegally (eg. because of brown skin or a funny accent). Romney openly backed Arizona's plethora of restrictive immigration laws this year and two-thirds of old people went along with him. To be clear, the presidential candidate for Republicans in 2008, John McCain, who has previously backed paths to immigration reform, finished the election then with 11 points less amongst this age group than Romney did - McCain is from Arizona!

Old people tend to make up a fat portion (50% to 70% over those older than 50, depending on which state you are in) of the vote in Republican primaries - and candidates with strong anti-immigration messages will therefore likely have a strong platform on which to stand. It is likely that the elderly will support such measures.

A quick count tells me 21 states have open primaries (anyone can vote) to elect party presidential candidates, plus California and Louisiana which have another kind of system, which means 27 states (plus some other territories) do not (which means only registered Republican Party members, and sometimes independents) can vote). In other words, old people, and their concerns, will be hugely influential in 27 closed state primaries. But this influence will not help them in the general elections.

If the elderly's influence on the Republican primary process continues to grow, the party runs a serious risk of selecting an unelectable presidential candidate. Again.

And the party will pay dearly for only waking up in 2012 to the changing country they wish to run. 

A friend of mine on Twitter, @shans, points out: "Perhaps just a matter of wording, but wouldn't say D. coalition "by nature of its existence" leans atheist/agnostic. Brown people and poor people are generally MORE religious than the gen pop. Not sure about women... And Pew which does most reliable research on religious trends says women more religious than men." She is quite right. In my clumsily worded paragraph above I used the phrase "atheism and agnosticism" in a list of characteristics of the Democratic voting coalition. I intended it to reference the young people who are part of this voting bloc, as well as the acceptability of secular legislation, but I referenced it awfully. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Obama "gifts" - what Romney nonsense

Image courtesy of

Turns out Mitt Romney's 47% comments he made a few months ago are really what he thinks. On Thursday Romney decided that the reason Barack Obama won the election was because he gave "gifts" to certain parts of the electorate and compelled them to vote for him. 

As per the New York Times:
With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift,” Mr. Romney said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.

And as per ABC:
"[Obama] gave [Hispanics] a big gift on immigration with the DREAM Act amnesty program, which was obviously very, very popular with Hispanic voters, and then number two was Obamacare," Romney said. 

 Romney said that "Obamacare was massive" for "any lower-income Hispanic family … For the Hispanic household, my guess is [median income] is lower than that, maybe it's forty thousand a year. For a home earning let's say thirty thousand a year, free health care, which is worth about ten thousand dollars a year, I mean is massive, it's huge.

Let's take a run through:

College loans: In March 2010 Obama signed legislation which halved the interest rates payable on student loans. In mid-term elections in the November following that legislation, Democrats were shellshacked - absolutely hammered. In fact Republicans won their greatest ever portion of the House of Representatives, and reduced Democrats' majority in the Senate. Elections at the state-level all swung towards Republicans, and what happened to the youth vote after this magical gift they receives from the Muslo-communist president? They just didn't even bother coming out to vote: young voters (ages 18-25) made up 18% of the electorate in 2008 and only 9% in 2010. If you want to compare midterms to midterms, the youth vote turnout was 13% down in 2010 when compared to 2006. So this "gift" didn't get the socialism-seeking youth to the polls in 2010. It is unlikely this would have changed in two years.

Obamacare: Same story. This "gift" of Obamacare? Well it was largely the reason Democrats were so pummeled in 2010. Remember how this was going to be hung around the president's neck? It is also worth differentiating between policy and bribery. The USA has a massive problem in that a fat percentage of its population has no health insurance, which means in a best case scenario injuries or sickness plunge them into debt, and in a worst-case scenario they are prevented from seeing a doctor. Voting to maintain such a policy is not at all the same thing as getting a freebie. Many people who can affordd healthcare voted Democrat. Romney admits poor families would have to spend a third of their income on healthcare - but fails to explain that Obamacare isn't just a freebie - one would need to fulfill many criteria to receive government-backed healthcare. Also, if this was such a massive vote-getting gift, then why did Romney, who blueprinted Obamacare with a state-wide plan for Massachusetts when he was governor, leave office after only one term with upside-down favourability numbers? (39% approve, 59% disapprove, according to SurveyUSA). Was it because the idea of the vote-bribing gift of "free healthcare" is hokum? Yes.

Free contraceptives: This is a made up idea. Obama's push is for contraceptives and other birth control measures to be covered under healthcare plans. Healthcare plans you PAY for.

Dream Act Amnesty Programme: Romney actually has a point with this one. Obama pinched momentum which was being led by Republican Senator Marco Rubio (FL) who was pushing for a DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) to pass through the Senate. Basically, this said the children of illegal immigrants who were brought to the USA through no fault of their own have a path to US citizenship. It was likely Rubio's attempt at passing an updated piece of legislation (which was originally authored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT)) would have failed, but nonetheless Obama authorised a policy directive (note: this was NOT an exrcutive order) which gave some minors a path to citizenship. Now, would it have been a gift if Rubio had done it? Or only if Obama did? I don't think Romney was really clear on that point.

Not only are Romney's grape sour, they are incorrect. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You lost on this stuff, Ohio.

Image pinched from Addictinginfo.

The 2012 election was extremely significant because it is the first time Democrats really threw their weight around on social issues, and they won. Gay marriage, Roe vs Wade (abortion) and such things have been historically bankable issues for Republicans, even as recently as 2004 when George W Bush's anti-gay marriage stance was vehement, and his campaign bashed John Kerry for not being.

This year Democrats went hell-for-leather on women's health and reproductive rights (including Planned Parenthood) and same-sex marriage (adopted in the Democrat manifesto for the first time). 

This Democrat administration forced coverage of birth control in healthcare plans - in America the government forcing you to do something is, quite frankly, a huge fucking deal. The exemption for religious institutions notwithstanding, this was a big block on which to lay one's reproductive organ months before an election. And it worked. Planned Parenthood, a countrywide provider of women's health services (which include abortion) was used as a club by Republicans - and, amusingly, by The Onion - and it failed. The organisation was thoroughly backed by President Barack Obama who mentioned it specifically in adverts. And it came through the election with a fair endorsement from a majority of the electorate. 

The lesson: Democrats kind of own this territory now. While a plurality of Americans still don't believe in the premise of abortion, they don't believe in outlawing it absolutely (even in Mississippi!). Same-sex marriage has a long way to go, but holds momentum - endorsed by the current government and three states. (A fourth state, Minnesota, voted down a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but during the election control of the state legislature was won by Democrats. Expect a gay marriage bill to raise its head during this congress.) 

One would think it would be worth thinking about how to reframe this issues if one was on the losing side. But no. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Ohio House committee approves bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

Ho hum. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Battering Susan Rice

Image courtesy of Fox News.

Republicans have decided that they are going to pan US Ambassador to the United Nations due to her statements after the 11 September in Benghazi, Libya, which killed US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens and three other staffers.

Rice claimed the weekend afterwards that the attack was due to a protest over anti-Muslim video, which spilled into an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. She is also likely to be Obama's next Secretary of State, as Hillary Clinton is virtually certain to step down from the role. Important: Rice has said repeatedly that she was reporting on intelligence that was given to her at the time. The White House said much the same thing. What we know now is very different to what anyone knew then. 

While Rice may seem an easy target it is worth pointing out that she would actually be a pretty consensus candidate to take up the role of Secretary of State. She was one of the top critics of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi before he ultimately met the sharp end of a bullet, and she supported and assisted in the implementation of the no-fly zone and other military intervention (along with arming rebels who, incidentally, decided not to give the weapons back).

While the Obama administration has been criticised for not doing everything Israel tells it to, Rice has spent time courting Israel and voters in the USA who feel strongly about the USA's relationship with Israel. If the last election was anything to go by, Jewish Americans backed the Obama administration's foreign policy (although there was a slight increase for Republicans compared to the 2008 election) towards Israel. Rice also spent day after day, hour after hour, attempting to ensure Palestine's bid for sovereignty at the United Nations did not pass. In fact, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations gave Rice its annual National Service Award in 2011.

When it comes to Iran, Rice is on record saying, "We will take no option off the table to ensure that (Iran) does not acquire a nuclear weapon, including a military option."

Quite frankly, Rice doesn't screw about. When South Africa chaired the United Nations Security Council in January of this year its main item on the agenda was having the African Union play a greater role in dealing with crises in Africa, which Rice agreed to in principle and then immediately said the UNSC would not be answerable to anyone. Rice is also part of an administration which ended the Iraq war and has firm plans to withdraw from the war in Afghanistan - both of which are approved by the US public, according to polls.

While Republicans may string up Rice - an easy target after Benghazi - they may end up missing out on a Secretary of State whose ideas manage to cross the aisle moreso than other candidates.

This nonsense talk of secession

Image courtesy of The Atlantic. 

You may have seen talk of citizens in one or more US states moving to have their state secede from the union now that the awful Muslo-Commie, Indo-Kenyan Barack Obama won re-election last week. 

Well don't take it seriously. Constitutionally, it can't happen. And last time states successfully seceded they were beaten and re-attached in the Civil War - you can see a nice sum up of it in an upcoming film.

But let's just say a state like Texas - which is the state current news reports are mentioning even though this nonsense is taking place in forty states since Tuesday last week - decides to secede. 

Think about how tits-up it would go:

The federal government would have a problem with secession. It would likely shut down all of Texas' federal facilities. So goodbye interstate highways. It would also likely slap all kinds of trade sanctions in Texas so goodbye businesses. No one is going anywhere or earning any money. The Texan dollar would be valued akin to the Iranian rial. 

And while Governor Rick Perry lambasts the federal government and all its tax-and-spend policies, Texas still rakes in a fat portion of federal greenery. Goodbye to that.

Texas also wouldn't have an army - no one could get on the blower to the National Guard if the federal government decides it will take Texas back forcefully. If the USA didn't want the state back Mexico would likely pick it up, merely by marching in. 

Secession would suck for everyone, especially those who attempt to secede, which is why anyone with half a brain won't go for it

*Note: To be clear I was using Texas merely as an example.

EDIT: (Wednesday 14 November 14:45PM CT): It was pointed out to me that the petition in Texas for secession had 70,000 votes. Which sounds like a lot until you click there are 25-million people in the state.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Don't panic if you're a Democrat, or get overconfident if you're a Republican

Tonight Mitt Romney will open up a significant lead if election results come in relative to when the polls close in any particular state. 

At 19:00 EST (02:00 SAST) Indiana and Kentucky's polls will close, and both states will go for Romney. The electoral college score at this point will be Democrats 0, Republicans 19.

The next set will be Alabama, Georgia Florida, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia

Let's assume Romney wins Florida where he is up. He could also take New Hampshire He will definitely win Alabama and South Carolina. I would put Virginia in Obama's column. So at this point we're at Democrats 16 EC votes, Republicans 86. 

Half an hour later polls close in North Carolina, West Virginia and Ohio. Romney looks set to win the first two, and Obama Ohio. EC votes: Democrats 34, Republicans 106. 

The next set is massive: Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. None of these is a swing state (Pennsylvania is on a good day but I doubt today is one of them). They will all fall predictably. At this point the electoral college will stand at Democrats 171 Republicans 190. 

Republicans will then receive a boost from Arkansas which closes next, adding six electoral votes: Democrats 171, Republicans 196. 

Following that polls will close in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Wyoming. I am going to assume Colorado falls Democrat which would leave us at Democrats 205, Republicans 223. 

After this Obama's dominance on the west coast, including the giant state of California with its 55 electoral college votes kicks in.

So if you're a Democrat, don't panic. If you're a Republican, don't be overconfident. 

Monday, November 05, 2012

What is Romney doing in Pennsylvania?

This post has been updated.

Romney is going to be speaking at a rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania later today, for which he is receiving an immense amount of flak; Pennsylvania has not voted for a Republican since 1988 (for George HW Bush). 

Romney deserves criticism for only starting to play in this somewhat blue state within the last week, as he is seeking out a route to 270 electoral votes that doesn't include Ohio. There was always a chance Democrats could take Ohio and Romney was never more than three percentage points ahead since receiving the Republican nomination. 

Western Pennsylvania is prone to voting Republican. Pennsylvania, in a very facile way, has a hugely Democrat presence in congressional districts in Philadelphia, and this needs to be counterbalanced by Republicans elsewhere. Western Pennsylvania, where you will find Pittsburgh, is prone to voting conservatively. If Romney is going to find himself a decent-sized bloc of voters somewhere in Pennsylvania, it will be in Pittsburgh. 

Had Romney spent 10% of the time he spend in Ohio somewhere in western Pennsylvania, there was a remote chance he could flip this state. I have spent time in Crawford County, about 90 minutes north of Pittsburgh, and it is a Republican stronghold. 

Pennsylvania may have voted Democrat for the last five elections, but it is not a sure thing every time folks go to the polls. Romney left it way too late to even have a chance of exploiting any chance he may have had. And there was a chance - for goodness sake this is the state that sent Rick Santorum to the Senate twice, and whose junior Senator is Republican Pat Toomey. 

The chance was remote, but it is quite evident Romney never took it seriously anyway. One week of advertising and one campaign rally do not any kind of effort make.

Update: 15:25, 5 November: there is, of course, an arguable explanation that Romney has excess cash to spend, and hotly contested media markets in the usually swing states are full. I live near some swing districts in Chicago and there is political advertising flat out, virtually every advert during every advertising break. 

No one is talking about Virginia or Florida

For the last few weeks the media has banged on about Ohio non-stop, as both campaigns have pretty much based themselves there. 

But let me be quite clear: if Mitt Romney loses Florida he has lost the election. Obama can virtually bank on 247 electoral college votes. Florida's 28 votes will put him above the electoral victory margin of 270. And it Florida will be one of the first states to close its polls and begin to announce results. If Obama wins it, you can switch off and go to bed. 

Virginia's 13 electoral college votes have also bene overlooked. Polling in the state, much like in Ohio, has been tight but with Obama up in most polls. Should Virginia vote for Romney, according to my predictions, Romney will be within 22 electoral college votes of 270 - meaning he would only need to flip a minimum of two states to win: Ohio and New Hampshire could do it. 

So yes, the focus on Ohio is warranted. But overlooking the states which will publish preliminary results early, Florida and Virginia, is total folly. 

Incidentally, this is what I think will happen:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

US troops must remain in Afghanistan

I watched an episode of The Practice many years ago where a lawyer argued that the United States army was obliged to finish its mission in any particular country it decided to wage war in, for the same reason that a doctor faces tricky legal territory if he or she stops at the scene of an accident. 

In both instances, the illusion of taking care of the problem implicitly indicates that no one else needs to come in and take charge. In other words, if you do decide to involve yourself in something, make sure you finish the job. 

This philosophy is very apt for the debate raging across US media at the moment about pulling American troops out of Afghanistan. We can argue until we're blue in the face about whether the Yanks should or shouldn't have gone in (I personally believe this war was far more justifiable than war in Iraq, but both would have been best avoided), but the fact is that US troops are there. This mission is soon to enter its eleventh year. There isn't any going backwards. Currently Afghanistan is somewhat unstable, with a government that is still battling/negotiating with the Taliban with a leader who doesn't exert effective authority (for more reasons that just his own weaknesses). 

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has many faults (his lackadaisical attitude towards corruption and absolute hatred of women's rights being examples) including a lack of control over what is going on in his own country. The presence of the American army is assisting him in keeping violence to the level at which it currently finds itself (which is lower that it could be, believe it or not). 

Recent events, the Afghan public's violent reaction to US troops burning copies of the Quran, and an expected violent reaction to a rogue US soldier systematically putting bullets into 16 civilians, have seen calls increase for the US to get out of Afghanistan. But while this is tempting, the US is responsible for the mission it decided to undertake in Afghanistan, and cannot just pack up and go. While it is terrible that the military is in more danger should it remain in the country, Afghan civilians are even more at risk from militants within the country should the soldiers (who are not shooting the people they are supposed to be defending) depart. 

The US is under obligation to remain in Afghanistan until the country has been stabilised. Interior movements and the (outside) possibility of help from other countries will have been dampened by the entry of the USA and allies. 

While hauling the troops home would suit the foreign military, it would not suit Afghans. 

The US began this war and is obliged to leave a peaceful country when it departs. Packing up and leaving now would plunge Afghanistan into something worse than anarchy. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

News roundup 7 March

Spain may close its embassy in Syria and fly its ambassador home, according to foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo on Tuesday. Whether the Spanish government can afford the flights from Damascus to Madrid should be established by the finance ministry within the coming days, once it obtains permission from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Two journalists at the British newspaper The Sun have apparently attempted suicide as the pressure of a wholly legal investigation into dodgy dealings at the paper increases. Luckily the investigation isn’t taking place dictated by The Sun’s ethical standards, or we’d already know what was in their garbage, how they looked with out a shirt on while on the beach, would see their name in capital letters on the page next to a naked woman with huge tits, would be declared guilty while an investigation was going on, would have “friends” declaring that they always were a bit dodgy, and would have an encampment of photographers outside their houses.  Sometimes the shoe doesn’t fit on the other foot.

Scientists have a new explanation for how the Titanic may have sunk back nearly 100 years ago. Although we all know that the unsinkable vessel hit an iceberg and then sank, braniacs believe the moon was responsible for an increase in iceberg obstacles on that particular sea highway. Coincidentally, our sources inform us that the man in the moon will also be responsible for coughing up the R300-billion for Transnet infrastructure upgrades announced by President Jacob Zuma in February.

Three of the four American Republican presidential candidates competed to be the most forceful aggressor on Iran, and its suspected nuclear weapons facilities. To be clear, there is as much proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme as there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That’s zero. Zilch. Nil. Our sources within the Republican Party claim that Mitt Romney wants to attack Iran because its trees are a similar height to Israel’s and he wants to protect Prime Minister Beebee Netanyahu’s timber industry. Rick Santorum advises a pre-emptive strike before Iranians possibly become illegal immigrants, and Newt Gingrich would attack Iran until it began limping, then Syria until its economy got sick, and then something young and hot like South Sudan or East Timor.

The USA will take action against India at the World Trade Organization over a ban of poultry and egg imports which India claims are necessary to prevent avian flu. US trade representative Ron Kirk said, “The United States is the world's leader in agricultural safety and we are confident that the WTO will confirm that India's ban is unjustified.” Our sources tell us that the Indian government is already in touch with Oprah Winfrey. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What is genuine?

Susan Rice on her first trip to Israel, "I will never forget my first visit to Israel, when I was just 14 years old.... We had the extraordinary experience of flying on one of the very first flights from Tel Aviv to Cairo, just around the time of Camp David. On that same trip, we went to Yad Vashem, we floated in the Dead Sea, we walked the lanes of the Old City, climbed Masada, and picked fruit at a kibbutz. I learned by heart the words of the sacred prayer, the Sh’ma. And since that first wonderful visit, my admiration for Israel has grown ever stronger."

Romney on his home state of Michigan, "I love this state [Michigan]. It seems right here. The trees are the right height here. I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes. There's just something very special here. The Great Lakes, but also all the little inland lakes that dots the parts of Michigan. I love cars. I grew up totally in love with cars."

Romney could use some tips from the US ambassador to the UN about being genuine, methinks. 

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Stop worrying about Ohio

Mitt Romney, having been dragged through the washers over Michigan, is now being told he needs to win Ohio or else the world will end. Santorum is supposed to be the big dangerman because he is from neighbouring Pennsylvania and is all about the blue collar works in the “rust belt”.

Ohio seems important because it is a swing state in the general election. It is vitally important in the general because, as I have mentioned before, only about 12 states are contested in a general election. Some states tend to always vote one way or another. Republicans will not win Massachusetts or California. Democrats will not win Mississippi or Oklahoma. That’s just how it goes. Ohio is one of the states that changes its mind every so often, so you’ll see a huge effort in this state by both parties leading into November.

However, claiming Romney needs to win it in the primary to secure it in the general election is untrue. Although Ohio is an open primary (anyone can vote in it, as opposed to having to register with the party in some other states) it will be a small amount of Republicans who vote on the day. The amount of voters in a primary is always smaller than the number of voters in an election. Now, believe you me, the voters who vote Republican on primary day will almost certainly be voting Republican on election day, in spite of who wins the nomination. In other words, if Rick Santorum wins Ohio, but Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, the probability of Ohio falling Democrat or Republican remains pretty much the same.

Let’s look at an example: In the 2008 Democrat primaries, Barack Obama lost the nomination race in five major swing states and still went on to win them in the general election. Michigan, Florida, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and ---> *OHIO*<--- all preferred Hillary Clinton over Obama. But all five states were carried by Democrats.

Also, it’s not as though Romney hasn’t beaten the rest in a major swing state before during this nomination process. He won Florida – remember the state that was so important in handing George Bush 43 the election in 2000? Florida will have 29 electoral votes in the 2012 election, ten more than Ohio. It is a VITAL state to win in a general, and by current media analysis it should factor into the same “need to win” as Ohio. Florida has voted for the winner of the general election in every vote since 1964, with the exception of 1992. Ohio has voted along with the winning party in every election since 1964. So outside one election result, Florida is as determinative as Ohio.

An aside from my point of view, Romney’s biggest danger on Super Tuesday is not Rick Santorum. It is Newt Gringrich who is polling very competitively in southern states: Georgia (Gingrich’s home state), Oklahoma and Tennessee all go a-voting on Tuesday 6 March, with those three boasting 177 delegates between them. Getting drilled in all of the southern states, which is quite plausible, would hurt Romney far more than dropping Ohio.