“God fortsättning” in the New Year — that’s doubtful…

In Sweden, my old home country, we used to say “God fortsättning” after the holidays — “good continuation” in the New Year. That’s not an expression you hear in America, which is perhaps as well, particularly in these times of the financial cliff, the debt ceiling, and the political disharmony in Washington.

Yes, the cliff was avoided but at what price? Was it worth it?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently wondered if the deal was a “Pyrrhic victory,” a tactical victory that could pave the way for a major defeat later this year. Yes, the victory was tactical in the sense that the Republicans in Congress for the first time since 1993 voted for a tax increase. But what else? It did nothing to resolve the country’s major economic problems, the debt, budget deficit, unemployment. The settlement contained no new stimulus money to invest in the woefully neglected infrastructure or to create new jobs. Remember, the U.S. still has almost eight percent unemployment. Last Friday’s figure of 155,000 new jobs during December was certainly acceptable, but not more. Many more jobs are needed, every month, to seriously tackle the unemployment crisis.

In the deal, President Obama had to give up on his campaign pledge to raise taxes for everyone earning more than 250,000 dollars per year. Instead, the limit was set at 450,000 dollars, meaning than less than one percent of American tax payers will see their taxes increase. Those are not middle class figures. These are high income earners, who will now be exempted from paying their fair share at the same time as more revenues are needed but when Americans are paying less in income tax than the populations of other developed countries. As Stephan Richter pointed out in The Globalist:

“In all the other countries that come to mind, protecting such levels of income is the sole preserve of conservative parties. In the United States, it is a matter of bipartisan consensus.”

Yes, America IS different from Europe –it’s certainly more conservative. In America, taxes are toxic in a way they don’t seem to be in Europe, maybe because Europeans feel that they get something for their taxes, like universal health care, good public transportation, and affordable education all the way through college?

Washington is also similar to Brussels, if you read The Economist, which called the cliff deal an “abject failure” — “Washington’s pattern of dysfunction is disturbingly similar to the euro zone’s.”

But Europe has also made progress, averted disaster and come together around the euro, as Floyd Norris recently wrote in the New York Times, wondering: “Will the United States follow the European path in 2013? Let’s hope so.”

That’s not likely to happen. With the debt ceiling crisis and the resolution of the automatic spending cuts looming in a couple of months, the Republicans seem primed for revenge after the cliff deal, which could make the cliff deal negotiations come to seem like child’s play.

“Good continuation…” well, the New Year actually doesn’t look that good.

Advertisements

Will President Obama finally take on the gun lobby?

”We’ll see what happens. Obama still has to do something other than speak”, writes Amy Davidsons today on her blog ”Close Read” in The New Yorker.  Exactly!

ObamainNewtownBut President Obama’s speech last night to the grieving citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, was not like his speeches in Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; or Fort Hood, Texas — scenes of previous mass killings during his first term as president – it went further, maybe even a lot further. And it had a different tone, more impatient, sadder, but also more full of resolve, and — more political.

We can’t tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,”  he said and promised something he had not previously promised during his four years in the White House:

 ”In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

These sentences have resulted in the new hope that Obama, for the first time — finally, is ready to take on America’s culture of weapons and the country’s laws on weapons, or lack of laws. Can the tragedy in Newtown become the ”the tipping point?” We don’t know, but the pressures on the president to do something and fight for what he seems to believe in — to fight the “good fight” — even if that fight does not produce a victory against the gun lobby and its many supporters in Congress, have increased rapidly and markedly since Newtown.

What he can propose is well illustrated on the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog.” But the fight won’t be easy, regardless of strategy and proposals. There are no simple solutions, because the fight concerns a key issue for the American society. It’s about the “god Gun,”  as the historian Garry Wills writes on the New York Review of Books’ blog, which:

  • Has the power to destroy the reasoning process.
  • Has the power to turn all our politicians as a class into invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine.
  • Has the power to distort our constitutional thinking. It says that the right to “bear arms,” a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any every madman can indulge his “religion” of slaughter.

Enough, Mr. President!

Yes, our hearts are broken, as President Obama said the other day about the senseless mass murder of 28 people in Newtown, Connecticut.

The sentiments of his emotional statement were surely shared by many, many, across the nation. But, for many, including me, his words were not enough. We wanted to hear something more  — indignation, anger, impatience, in addition to the sorrow, over what America’s gun culture is doing to this country, that too many people have died for no reason at all, and that something must be done about it – finally, now!

But we did not hear this from the President, who gave no indication that he is now prepared to break his four-year-long silence on guns and gun control — during his entire first term. His one sentence that “we are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” was far too general and vague for many, like New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, maybe the nation’s leading gun control proponent:

“We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership. Not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today.”

David Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor:

“Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown “as a parent,” and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises—a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.“

In the days since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the voices of “enough” are heard more and more. Mass shootings and mass killings are now part of everyday life in America. The magazine Mother Jones reports that there have been 62 such mass murders in the last 30 years. We know them: Columbine, Oak Creek, Aurora, Tucson, Blacksburg, and now Newtown. This year, alone, almost one hundred people have died in this madness.

Still, little has happened. Not even the near death of Congress woman Gabby Giffords resulted in any political action. On the contrary, it easier than ever to buy a gun, including assault weapons, as the ban between 1994 and 2004 on those weapons was lifted in 2004. And you can now carry concealed weapons in schools and bars, on trains and in the National Parks.

Could the 28 deaths in Newtown, Connecticut be a tipping point? It remains to be seen, if Sandy Hook can “break the usual cycle of universal shock fading into political reality,” reported  the AP.

Sadly, more and more people see the battle for increased gun control as unwinnable. The gun lobby seems just too strong, and the American people do not seem support more gun control. According to Gallup, fewer Americans now favor stricter gun laws, from 78 percent in 1990, to 44 percent in 2010.

Still, the deaths at Sandy Hook of 20 school children between six and seven years old seem to have struck a chord among Americans. And how could it not? So if not now, when? Enough.

Shocked Republicans face a new political reality

The air during the walks in the woods outside Washington, DC a few days after Barack Obama’s convincing victory is somehow easier to breathe under the clear, blue November sky.  It’s been a long, an awfully long, campaign, emotionally draining. Most are just happy that it’s over, and at least 61 million voters are happy about the outcome.

The American voters chose the man they trusted to continue to lead them in these difficult economic times, while Mitt Romney, his challenger, beckoned to an old America as he asked the voters to trust a man they really did not know, a man who would not release his tax returns, who never explained why he invested money in tax havens in the Cayman Islands or in Switzerland, who denied his own moderate political record as a governor of Massachusetts, supportive of a woman’s right to choose, implementer of universal healthcare in his home state.

The bruising Republican primary campaign forced him steadily further to the right, and by the time he won and became the party’s presidential nominee, it was too late change in a credible way. 

As conservative columnist Kathleen Parker writes in the Washington Post today:

“The truth is, Romney was better than the GOP deserved. Party nitwits undermined him, and the self-righteous tried to bring him down. The nitwits are well-enough known at this point — those farthest-right social conservatives who couldn’t find it in their hearts to keep their traps shut. No abortion for rape or incest? Sit down. Legitimate rape? Put on your clown suit and go play in the street.  Equally damaging were the primary leeches, who embarrassed the party and wouldn’t leave the stage. Nine-nine-nine, we’re talking about you, Herman Cain. And Gov. Oops?  You, too. And then there were Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, who never had a real shot at the nomination and certainly could never win a national election, yet they refused to surrender to the certain nominee.”

The name of Newt Gingrich should be added to these names.   

The result was that the “Etch-a-Sketch” in the last month of the election campaign, when “severely conservative” Romney suddenly turned moderate, never worked. By then, the Obama campaign had already defined him for the voters and they did not trust him, he did not care about the ordinary voter.

The end result was an Obama victory by 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206 – way more than the necessary 270 to win.  Of the nine battleground states, Obama only lost North Carolina. That means that Obama captured 61,7 million votes compared to Romney’s 58,5 million, or 50,6 percent compared to 47,9 percent.

The Romney campaign, which up to the last moments really believed they would win, never knew what hit them according to John Dickerson in a fascinating piece in Slate Magazine.

“Mitt Romney says he is a numbers guy, but in the end he got the numbers wrong. Even on the morning of the election, Romney’s senior advisers weren’t close to hedging. They said he was going to win decisively…How did the Romney team get it so wrong? According to those involved, it was a mix of believing anecdotes about party enthusiasm and an underestimation of their opponents’ talents.”

Instead, Barack Obama won among Blacks (93 percent), Hispanics (71 percent), and Asians (73 percent), among women (53 percent) and among working women with children under 18 (62 percent), among gays and lesbians (76 percent), among those between 18 and 29 (60 percent) and those between 30 and 44 (52 percent), among those in big cities (69 percent) and those in cities up to 500 000 people (58 percent), among Jewish voters (69 percent) and Catholics (52 percent,)  among those without a high school diploma (64 percent) and among those with a post-graduate degree (62 percent,)  and among those earning less than 50,000 dollars (56 percent).

Romney won among men (52 percent), among those above 45 years of age, among white voters (59 percent) among those with incomes above 50,000 dollars per year, among Independents (50 percent), and among those in the suburbs (50 percent), the small towns (56 percent) and in rural America  (61 percent). And he won the protestant votes, including the white born-again or evangelical Christians (78 percent).

His support was white, old, and rural, when all demographic trends point to a younger, multi-ethnic, and more urban America.  That’s a losing proposition. It’s the old America vs. the new America, and the Republicans, in a state of shock, have suddenly come face to face with this political reality. A long and fierce internal debate is expected whose outcome is far from certain. 

That debate is taking place as America faces a fiscal cliff by year’s end, when almost one trillion dollars in automatic budget cuts will be implemented at the same time as taxes are raised for everyone, if a new budget deal is not struck before that.  The cliff is of Congress’s own making when it failed last year to reach a budget deal.  The question is: are the players more ready now? We will soon know.

America’s voters chose Obama and the future

And so, America did the right the ting and chose the future.

The historic election of 2008, when the American voters made Barack Obama the nation’s first African-American president and bade farewell to the old America, was re-enforced yesterday when Barack Obama got enough support for another four years in the White House.

His victory was not quite as overwhelming as four years ago, when Obama beat John McCain by ten million votes and won 365 electoral votes to McCain’s 173, but it was a solid, even sweeping, victory. The coalition that Obama built up with the young, women, African-Americans, Hispanics and white union members in the Rust Belt, lost only two states, Indiana, traditionally Republican, and North Carolina, both of which Obama surprisingly had won in 2008. Yesterday, he won the rest of the battleground states: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Florida, although his victory in Florida is not yet official. If his lead there is confirmed he will win 332 electoral votes against Romney’s 206.

When Obama gave his victory speech in Chicago, the joy and jubilation from the Obama coalition of whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, young, old, knew no bounds. They belonged to the new and once again victorious America, and they represented the country’s new politics. Over 90 percent of the country’s black voters chose Obama; over 70 percent of the Hispanics and the Asians voted for the president; over half of the women gave him their support; and the trade unions members in the Rust Belt also voted for the man who had saved the auto industry early in his first four years in the White House.

They did not want to retreat and turn back to a time that had led to two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to the deepest U.S. economic crisis since the ’30s depression, to return to the old America, dominated a white electorates, like that overwhelmingly white crowd in Boston who had voted for Mitt Romney but who now somberly, almost in shock, listened to their candidate’s concession speech.

That old America was not enough yesterday, as it had not been in 2008, to win a presidential election. The conclusion must be that it is no longer possible for the Republicans to win a U.S. presidential election only with the support of the country’s white voters. There are simply no longer enough white voters – 72 percent of all voters yesterday were white – to win. That trend will continue and even strengthen in the coming years because of the continued demographic changes in America’s population. America will be less and less white. Republicans need to think about and change, but if they are able to do so is an entirely different matter.

Much of the campaign focused on polls and forecasts and many questioned if they were right in their predictions. They were. Forecasters such as Nate Silver on his New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight had predicted 307 electoral votes for Obama, and Simon Jackman, the Stanford professor, who in his Huffington Post blog also had predicted over 300 electoral votes for Obama

More later today. Meanwhile, here’s President Obama’s rousing victory speech last night in Chicago.

Uphill for Ryan — only 39 percent are happy with him

The first opinion poll is in and the verdict is not encouraging for Paul Ryan, the new Republican vice presidential candidate.

According to USA Today/Gallup, only 39 percent of Americans are satisfied with Romney’s choice while 42 percent are dissatisfied. It is the most negative numbers since George H.W. Bush in 1988 chose Dan Quayle as his running mate. Support for Ryan is even lower than for Sarah Palin four years ago, when 46 percent felt that her appointment was “excellent/very good,” while 37 percent deemed it “weak/bad.”

Now, Bush/Quayle won anyway, so there is still hope for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, especially since 39 percent of Republicans in the poll called the appointment “excellent” and 29 percent “pretty good,” which is promising for the Republican voter turnout in November.

Romney’s choice of Ryan has stirred up the campaignpot plenty, and just in a couple of days the previous debate on the weak economy, high unemployment and Obama’s handling of the economy, has become a whole new debate about how America’s future should look like and how the American society should meet and resolve the major economic issues.

In this debate, Obama’s/Biden’s vision of justice — “fairness,” where the rich help to share the burden through higher taxes and where the government and the government plays an important role in protecting the elderly and the poor stands in stark contrast with Romney’s/Ryan’s vision where the rich get more tax cuts and where the social security program is radically cut down as the role of the government is gradually reduced.

Paul Ryan is the Republican Party’s chief spokesman for the anti-government, super capitalistic America, and Mitt Romney, now with Ryan as his number two, is closely tied to that vision. With Ryan, Romney has been transformed from a moderate Republican, a man of the Republican establishment, to a member of the radical Republican right wing, where the born-again Christians and the Tea Party supporters feel so at home. And the Obama campaign will not let Romney and the American electorate forget that.

So, have President Obama’s chances of being reelected increased with Paul Ryan’s appointment? Yes, is the short answer. Ryan does not broaden the support for the Republican ticket — the independents find him too far right, the seniors want to keep Medicare, the poor need their Medicaid, and the women are largely pro-choice.

But let me add that vice presidential candidates do not directly decide elections, and two thirds of respondents in the Gallup poll said that who is that person does not affect how they will vote. Thus, the election in November will be a choice between Obama and Romney, although in a close race, Ryan can be a decisive handicap.