USA

Another 4 years

With academics and a lot of other things consuming my time, I’ve spent less time caring about the 2012 US elections. Myself aside, international support for Obama doesn’t seem to be significantly lower than in 2008. If the world were the electorate, it seems likely that Obama would have been elected in a much greater landslide.

But though the results are the same, 2008 and 2012 differ in one massive way: The reason. In 2008, there was genuine support and enthusiasm for Obama internationally. This was reflected by his overseas trips that did much to help Obama build up his brand. 4 years on, it was understandable given the domestic situation that Obama would be less focused on foreign affairs. But it was also notable that direct support and enthusiasm for Obama was much lower. It wasn’t that people didn’t want Obama to win, but rather than they were less likely to support him directly. The 2012 support stemmed more from a general dislike of the Republican candidate, or candidates.

This might well have been the unfortunate result of Obama’s own doing. His rock-star status and breath-of-fresh-air-appeal in 2008 created some very high expectations of how he would perform. Once in the White House, reality struck, limiting his capacity to do many of the things had argued for. The Arab Spring, the rising tensions in Asia and Europe’s slow disintegration probably didn’t help the case.

As it stands, though non-Americans are happy for Obama’s re-election, there is doubtlessly less enthusiasm for his presidency. Not that it really matters, given that the events on the ground are forcing Obama to ‘pivot’ to domestic issues.

The unfortunate reality of guns in America

For those who have been reading my blog for a while, they’ll recognise many posts like this. Ones where I liberally and happily refer readers to China.org.

Harvey Dzodin

For starters, I am in favor of a comprehensive ban on guns, which is what the majority of sane countries have. Though this would be ideal if it could be implemented in America, I am at my wits end to see how it might actually become a reality. My unfortuante conclusion is that it is unlikely at best, and impossible at worst. The specific context of the USA just makes it very difficult to achieve this ends.

Harvey Dzodin, “a senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-president of ABC Television in New York” hits the nail on the head with his short but very accurate analysis titled ‘Little hope for gun control in US‘. Not the most heart warming title, but very realistic. Just goes to show, sometimes Chinese commentaries can be just as good if not better than American ones.

Even if President Barack Obama, defying history and against overwhelming political odds, succeeds in fulfilling the wishes of the advocates of gun control, which, among other things, would require getting Congress to re-institute the assault weapons ban, imposing a prohibition on magazines holding more than 10 rounds, closing the gaping loophole that allows 40 percent of all gun sales to be free from registration or background checks to eliminate criminals or the mentally ill, and optimizing the abysmal information-sharing systems among various jurisdictions. And even if in this era of budgetary restraint, he can get Congress to expend hundreds of millions of dollars on mental health, gun safety education and the rest. The reality is little would change. Simply because of the prevalence of guns in the US, the attitudes of most gun-rights proponents, and the terror of single-issue politics.

The US is being buried under firearms. According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2009 there were 310 million guns registered in private hands in the US: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. While “only” 40 percent of Americans own guns, this is just about one for each man, woman and child in the US, twice the figure in 1968, the year Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. Although some paranoids worry that the government will confiscate some or all guns, this is as unlikely to happen. So these guns will continue to wreak havoc for decades to come. Don’t even think about a voluntary buy-back program such as Australia tried. Assuming that each surrendered weapon was bought back for $100 on average, recovering just 10 percent would cost $3.1 billion.

Visit http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2012-12/25/content_27507560.htm for the full article.

The demise of democracy: Part 1 (USA)

For the past half century, democracy has been the political ideology. The cold war saw a concerted effort to promote democracy, led by the USA. Since then, more and more countries have moved towards some form of democracy as the specter of communism was beat back. The idea of everyone’s opinion being considered in an equal and fair manner, without prejudice, captured the imagination of millions around the world. The recent spate of political upheaval in Arab stats, dubbed the Arab Spring, was heralded as the dawning of true democracy in the Middle East. But reality presents a far more murky picture, one where democracy’s success and future are both called into question. Here’s an examination of where democracy stands across the world.

THE WEST (USA)

One of the biggest proponents of democracy, the US itself has found its political system mired in partisan deadlock in recent times. Ever since Newt Gingrich’s political blockade against Bill Clinton, both Republicans and Democrats have used their time as the opposition to do just that – opposing virtually everything that comes their way. The filibuster has been used endlessly in the Senate, and often for entirely trivial matters. Most recently, the House of Representatives has become the new place of gridlock with dozens of bills stuck in committees and a sizable collection of party-line votes.

The long list of unapproved nominations to various government positions is another case in point. Both Bush and Obama have had difficulty getting nominees approved. Many commentators have rued the over politicization of judicial appointments. It’s not that nominees are outright rejected (ignoring the question of competence or capacity), a vast number of them are simply never voted on. It is telling that mistrust in the US political system is at new heights. Disapproval of Congress, supposedly the US home of democratic representation, is at an all time high with nearly 80%# disapproving of Congress’s work.

Ideologically, more and more voters class themselves as independents; but ironically, the number of independent senators and representatives is dwindling, both in terms of ideology and party affiliation. Indeed, the emergency of the Tea Party has pushed the Republican party further to the right, unseating many moderates in the process.

While one could legitimately argue that this is all just a part of the democratic process, one can’t but help question whether democracy remains the undisputed king of all political systems.

Next time: The West (Europe)

Unlegislative Behaviour

The Atlantic recently reported on what they called bad behaviour of legislators in New Hampshire citing verbal abuse and name calling. That’s certainly not desirable or acceptable. But the funniest thing for me was when The Atlantic compared it to fights seen in the Taiwanese legislature.

Honestly? They are on a totally different scale. See for yourself.


Bipartisan Sex Scandals

In the US, Republicans and Democrats regularly claim to be bipartisan and blame the other side for a lack of progress. Sadly, it is hard to find many examples of true bipartisanship, but if you were ever to find one, sex scandals by elected officials must surely be one of them.

Democrats had Congressman David Wu (Oregon) resign for a reported ‘unwanted sexual encounter’ with an 18 year old girl. Earlier, there was Antony Weiner for his ‘I’m not sure the photos are of my underwear and crotch’ episode. Bill Clinton and John Edward also automatically come to mind.

But Republicans have had their fair share of scandals. Congressman Christopher Lee (New York) sent shirt-less photos of himself on Craigslist while Governor Mark Stamford (South Carolina) disappeared for lengthy ‘hikes’ before they caused him to resign.

It’s a sad sign of the US Political System when one of the only true instances of bipartisanship is the number of sex scandals on both sides of the aisle.

Obama and the American Jobs Act

I’m a big fan of Obama’s latest attempt to gain the higher ground – The American Jobs Act. It is certainly a far cry from the caving and conceding he did on a large scale in previous negotiations with Republicans.

Let’s face it. Republicans just aren’t going to agree with Obama. It’s commendable that he has tried, offered compromise, even considered major entitlement changes, (although many of us consider it one to many tries) to get Republicans to agree to a compromise. He’s be rebuffed time and time again.

Thankfully, he’s finally grown a backbone and had the balls to challenge the Republicans. Polls show that a majority of voters agree with many of his proposals. So he’s got the public vote. Of course, that doesn’t make things sail through a Republican controlled House, but that should give him a good enough reason to stand his ground.

Touching entitlements might be opposed, but Republicans are going to be pushing for it anyways so they can just look bad. Raising taxes on high-income individuals is a political no-brainer and economically smart. Just as Boehner was trying to bin the idea of any tax increases, Obama dared to threaten to “veto any bill that takes one dime from the Medicare benefits seniors rely on without asking the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share.” Go Obama!

The American Jobs Act largely contains good ideas. Now we just need Obama to stand behind his own proposals and not to capitulate the next time Republicans show-up.