Why Mitt Romney will not be the next President

There appear to be only two things that Republicans agree upon: 1) They desperately want a candidate who will beat President Obama in the 2012 election; 2) They really do not want that person to be Mitt Romney. The former Governor of Massachusetts has been stagnant in the polls for months now – generally obtaining support of around 22-25%. Meanwhile, there has been a handful of front-runners, who have been pushed forward by the GOP as their preferred candidate, only for their campaigns to falter under heightened scrutiny.

Why does nobody like you, Mitt?

Back in August, Michele Bachmann – who has always been popular with the Tea Party – won the Iowa Straw Poll and was considered the leading contender for the Republican nominee, ahead of second placed Romney. When Rick Perry entered the race in September, Bachmann’s support dropped and went towards the Governor of Texas. Perry’s woeful performances in the first two debates he participated in, resulted in his polling numbers declining sharply, a trend exacerbated by his bizarre speech in New Hampshire last week. However, voters did not switch to Mitt Romney from Perry, instead their allegiance went to Herman Cain – a businessman, motivational speaker, and a man many thought was just on a promotional book tour. I honestly believe that Cain himself did not expect to be a serious contender, seeing his campaign as an excellent opportunity to increase his profile – perhaps to land himself a position on Fox News (hey, it worked for Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Mike Hucakabee, Michele Bachmann – oops, spoiler alert, that last one does not happen until June of next year). While the settled sexual harassment cases were unearthed by someone outside of his campaign, Cain himself has been doing his best to jeopardise his chances, before primary season has even kicked off. How else could you explain this ad, (which made me check if he was getting big fundraising endorsements from tobacco companies – he isn’t)? Or his dismissing a comment he had made about an electrified fence on the border with Mexico as a joke, only to repeat the “joke” in the same press conference. On foreign policy, Cain has cited his concern about China attempting to develop nuclear capabilities (which they did in 1964), and has said that he does not know the President of Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan*, dismissing a need to be able to name the leader of, what he considers, irrelevant states around the world. Also, Herman Cain has proposed a 9-9-9 tax plan – which I examined here – a policy that has given him a soundbite and thus increased recognition, but something he has not been able to explain in detail when questioned about it – showing there is no substance behind the headline grabbing title.

*Side note on this – the question asked to Cain that provoked that response was about how he would react when the media asked him a “gotcha” question like, “who is the President of Uzbekistan”. This was alluding to the 2000 Presidential election campaign then President George W. Bush could not name the leader of Pakistan, managing only that he was “General” (Musharaff). Knowing the President of Uzbekistan is a lot different to being able to name the leader of Pakistan – one of them has nuclear weapons. There are only 8 countries in the world with a declared nuclear arsenal, is it too much to expect someone running for President to know all of their leaders? Here’s a cheat sheet for the GOP Candidates: USA – President Obama (you knew that one, right?); Russia – President Medvedev (will be Putin again next year); United Kingdom – Prime Minister Cameron (Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II); France – President Sarkozy; China – President Hu; India – President Patil; Pakistan – President Zardari; North Korea – Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il (but you knew that from Team America).

The Republicans have even tried to push forward people who have had no intention of running, from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to Son of President 41 and Brother of 43, Jeb Bush – hoping to support anyone who is not Mitt Romney. Yet, as all comers have come and gone, (Cain has not dropped out of the lead yet, but it seems to be only a matter of time), the former Governor of Massachusetts can still not gain any ground in the polls. The reason for this range from: Romney not being far enough to the right for the Tea Party caucus (as I noted during my evening with Fox News, Laura Ingram took much pleasure in describing Romney as a non-conservative – a view shared by many other right-wing commentators); to the constant changing of his position depending on who he is talking to. He has been for the 99 percenters and against the Occupy Wall Street movement; his healthcare plan in Massachusetts was great for the state, and worked really well, but would be terrible for the country; he was with the Governor of Ohio on his union killing proposition, but would not take a position on that very same issue.

It may seem inevitable that the Republicans will default to Mitt Romney as their best hope of making Barack Obama a one-term-President – but I do not see that happening – neither him getting the nomination, nor winning the general election if he were to be the GOP candidate. On the former point, consider this poll – conducted exactly four years ago – in the 2008 Presidential races. For the Republicans, the leaders are Rudy Giuliani (28%) and Fred Thompson (21%) – the eventual nominee, John McCain, was third (15%) and the last man standing against him, Mike Huckabee, was down in fifth (10%). Hillary Clinton was the clear front-runner in the Democrats’ race – leading Obama by a margin of 43% to 24% – this shows a lot can change between now and the first Primary in Iowa on January 3rd, 2012. The format in Iowa is that of a caucus, rather than a regular election, which tends to result in people choosing a candidate they can speak passionately about. Mitt Romney does not elicit that type of support, even among those who vote for him. Should Rick Perry, Michele Bachman, or Ron Paul – a Libertarian who has fervent support among young Republican voters – win the first contest of the Primary season, momentum could quickly shift in their direction, giving Republicans the reason they are looking for not to nominate Romney.

As for the general election, the New York Times this week had a piece suggesting that Mitt Romney had an 83% chance of winning the vote against President Obama next year – part of the reason why the Republicans may start to embrace him as their main chance of getting back the White House in 2013. I do not agree with this projection – while President Obama has disappointed many of his own supporters by failing to deliver on many of his campaign promises (Guantanamo Bay is still operational; the Bush Tax cuts were extended; healthcare was watered down; there has been no real change to the way Washington operates) – it is also acknowledged that he has been working in very difficult circumstances. He inherited an economy worse than any since the 1930s and has had to try to overcome stubborn opposition from the Republicans in Congress, particularly since the mid-term elections in 2010 (prior to this, the threat of filibustering in the Senate resulted in the Democrats backing down on every issue, including healthcare reform). But if there is one thing that President Obama knows how to do well, it is campaign. His fantastic speech making, use of social media to aggregate support, and his ability to energise the Democratic base to get out the vote, should help him overcome his current low approval ratings. Will it be enough to win in 2012?

To become President, a candidate needs to obtain 270 votes (out of 538) in the Electoral College – in 2008, Obama got 365. A realignment of the House of Representatives, carried out following the census to reflect changes in state populations, means that if he were to win the exact same states in 2012, the President would get a total of 359 ECVs (Electoral College Votes). The following states are unlikely to be in play in 2012, as the Democrats had a large margin of victory in 2008, that is unlikely to be overturned: (ECVs in brackets) Hawaii (4); Washington (12); Oregon (7); California (55); Nevada (6); New Mexico (5); Minnesota (10); Wisconsin (10); Illinois (20); Michigan (16); DC (3); Maryland (10); Delaware (3); Pennsylvania (20); New Jersey (14); New York (29); Connecticut (7); Rhode Island (4); Massachusetts (11); Vermont (3); New Hampshire (4); Maine (4) – a total of 257 ECVs from 21 states and the District of Columbia. Barring any of these turning red in 2012, that means that the Republican candidate will need to pick up the following states that McCain lost in 2008: (President Obama’s winning margin in brackets) Indiana (1%); Ohio (4%); Virginia (6%); North Carolina (1%); Florida (2%); and one of Iowa (9%) and Colorado (8%). As well as needing to almost sweep in those swing states, the GOP need to hold on to Montana (which they won by 3% in 2008) and Missouri (1%) in order to win the next election.

While Mitt Romney would be the Republican candidate most likely to garner votes with independents in those swing states, he is not a nominee who will encourage the hard-line Republicans to get out and vote. Should he have a good campaign, I think President Obama will end up being a two-term President – hopefully with a Democratic Congress for the next four years.

A Night With Fox News

As is the case with many people who are not Right Wingers, I only tend to see Fox News in clips shown on The Daily Show.  From time to time, I do try to sit through The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity, in order to know what the other side is saying.  In previous attempts, this has led to some Twitter rants and high blood pressure on my part and I have never actually made it all the way through the shows.  On this occasion, I am going to watch the Fox News mainstays and provide a play-by-play and my reactions – watching on delay in order to fast-forward through the commercial breaks.

The O’Reilly Factor

O'Reilly - very pointy

Segment 1

I am warned I am entering the No Spin Zone, we will see.  He has two guests: Nile Gardiner, representing the Right; Tamara Draut for the left.  First up is the violence in Oakland – O’Reilly does acknowledge that the Occupiers started out with a valid point, but they have been hijacked by extremists intent on violence.  They are very quick to label the protestors as Marxists or Communists – it has been a while since I studied The Communist Manifesto, but I do not remember part of Engels’ and Marx’s theory including a plan to raise the marginal tax rate on the highest earners by 3%.  The discussion moves on to Europe and the state of the Greek economy.  O’Reilly is baffled why the Occupiers don’t trust the free market when the Greek economy is state-run (his words) and that has so clearly failed.  The answer should be: Do you remember 2008?  Do the phrases “toxic assets”, “mortgage-back securities”, or “$800bn bailout of the banks who were too greedy to control themselves” ring any bells with you, Bill? Draut’s answer is: Germany’s state-run economy works because it does not have a problem taxing millionaires – which just leads to a debate about what that particular tax rate is, neither O’Reilly nor his guests know (it is 45% on everything over 250,000 Euros – current unemployment rate 5.9%).  Bill puts Draut’s point, that an efficient government like Germany shows that you can have a country with entitlements and a strong economy, to Gardinr, who dismisses it as impossible – as if Germany is a fictional land, like Narnia.  The host closes out the segment by telling Draut that everyone knows that Portugal, Spain, Italy and the UK have failing economies because they have spent too much on “social justice” (said with much derision).  She fights back by pointing out that it was actually the de-regulation of the financial markets that have ruined economies across the globe. O’Reilly – 1, Truth- 0.

Segment 2

The focus shifts to Herman Cain and the revelations that there were sexual harassment claims made against him during his time as head of the National Restaurant Association.  O’Reilly has Laura Ingram on to discuss this, but the piece is all about who dug up these allegations – Perry or Romney – and how the infighting in the Republican party will help non-conservatives “Obama” (that’s President Obama to you, and the rest of us, Ms. Ingram) and Mitt Romney – which, to be fair,  is a subtle, but funny, diss.  There is an aside for Bill and Laura to belittle the President, by saying nobody listens to him in Europe, nor gives him any credibility on the economy on either side of the Atlantic – just to remind you this is a segment about sexual harassment cases that were settled by the front-runner for the Republican Presidential Nominee.  The conversation goes to the next Republican debate and Ingram implores Perry and Cain to attack Romney, and sees Gingrich as a possible candidate to be the “last-conservative man standing against Romney”.  They talk about Cain’s campaign and how seriously it can be taken, especially after this ad – Laura Ingram uses this as an opportunity to say that the Obama administration flew in fake doctors in white coats for the “Obamacare” passage press conference…okay …that was a non-sequitor if I ever heard one.

Segment 3

This much-hyped segment is all about the Department of Justice spending $16 on a muffin – which I believe was news about three months ago.  It is a fluff piece, complete with cutaways from movies of people talking about muffins, orange juice, and coffee.  I have nothing more to say about this – this is the most a TV show has focused on breakfast outside of Walt Jr., in Breaking Bad, appearing solely for the most important meal of the day.

Segment 4

Bill has Gretchen Carlson (who I know from many a Daily Show segment where she contradicts herself inside an hour on Fox & Friends) and Margaret Hoover on to talk about a bill introduced by Richard Blumenthal (D, CT) to help provide diapers to parents who cannot afford them.  Gretchen points out that this money has already been given to the states, but this allows them to spend it on diapers.  O’Reilly thinks it is ridiculous, and Gretchen says diapers are bad for the environment and she was concerned about that.  This seemed to be a non-issue and yet they spent several minutes on it – apparently this segment is called the “Culture Warriors” and they spend a lot of time congratulating each other and high-fiving.

Segment 5

Next, we have The Kelly File – with Megyn Kelly.  Firstly, there is the case of a teacher who sued after not being allowed to go on a religious retreat to Mecca – the case was settled, Bill was against this, Megyn defends the woman’s right to do the Hajj.  O’Reilly makes fun of the calling Muslims feel to carry out this retreat, thinking the woman just wanted to get some time off work for a holiday.  They discuss the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction at the Superbowl from many years ago – a judgement was issued today that CBS was not responsible for the…exposure.  The segment ends with Kelly chastising O’Reilly for his lack of religious tolerance, as well as he view on parental leave. Go Megyn (even if you’re spelling your name wrong)!

Segment 6

News quiz time – and it is about the Wild West.  The questions are about The Sundance Kid, Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Gunsmoke and the first black sheriff – not exactly putting the “new” in “news”.

Segment 7

Pinheads and Patriots time – where O’Reilly passes judgement on the world.  Solyndra’s former CEO is a pinhead as he got a payout when he left – oh and that is it.  The word of the day is pedantic, apparently.

I have survived the first hour of Fox News programming, mostly because the last 30 minutes was filler and quizzes, and Megyn Kelly taking Bill O’Reilly to task for his intolerance.  On to Hannity – it is at this point I wish I had stocked up the fridge with some beers, to help gloss through this next hour.

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Why it is time to abolish the British Monarchy

The wedding between William and Kate in April put the British Royal family firmly back in the global spotlight this year – the

My kind of Monarch - the unpretentious King Ralph I

glitz and glamour of the occasion grabbing the attention of newspapers, magazines, and television networks for weeks on end.  The interest in the US was, in part, because of the foreign concept of a real life Prince and Princess – a quirky aspect of the United Kingdom that can be stared at and enjoyed without thinking about the politics behind it.  Most people in Britain are in favour of the Royal Family, I am very much in the minority with my view – the Monarchy should be abolished.

What do the following countries have in common: Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Canada; Grenada; Jamaica; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Solomon Islands; Tuvalu; United Kingdom? All of them have Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State.  The person who represents their country, the figurehead to the world, is an 85-year-old woman whose qualifications for the job(s) were: she was the eldest daughter for her Dad who had no sons – he (King Colin Firth the Stutterer) got the job because his Dad was King and his older brother wanted to marry someone who was divorced – his Dad got the job because his Dad had the job…and so on and so forth, back to some wars fought between York and Lancaster, England and France – you can get a lot of the details in Shakespeare’s historical plays if you so wish.

This is the antithesis of Democracy – France and the United States recognised the tyranny of having a Monarch control the people in the late 18th century, yet somehow in Britain it has survived to the present day.  Arguments for keeping the Royal Family are as follows (my comments in italics):

  1. TraditionJust because the Royal Family has existed for so long, does not mean they should continue to do so;
  2. Would you really want it to be President Cameron/Brown/Blair etc? – Despite the fact I would not, and did not, vote for any of these Prime Ministers in an election, does not mean I do not believe in the process – if a democratic election which you participate it does not have the outcome you desire – at least you have had the opportunity for your vote to count;
  3. It’s a good tourist attractionBritain does not need to have an active Royal Family to attract tourists.  The Tower of London is still popular and that has not been used as a residence for Monarchs for centuries.  Plus all the attractions in the country that have nothing to do with Royalty – would people not want to: visit museums; go to the Lake District; or Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland; have a curry on Brick Lane, fish and chips by the seaside, drink a pint in a real British Pub; go on the London Eye; attend shows at the Edinburgh Fringe – would any of these things be less appealing because there was no Monarchy?;
  4. They do not do anything anyway – it’s just a figurehead with no real power – This one requires some expansion;
The fact that Royal Assent has to be granted on every single bill that is passed by the Government at Westminster, shows that the Queen does have real power.  Because it has not actually been denied since 1708, does not mean that this potential power over all legislation should be granted to someone, merely because of the family they were born into.  A Presidential veto can be overturned by two-thirds of Congress – there is no check nor balance on the power of a Monarch should they deny Royal Assent.  In 1999,  a bill was introduced to be debated in Westminster that would transfer the power to authorise military strikes in Iraq from the Monarch to Parliament – the Queen signaled that she would not assent to the hearing and it was dropped.  It is true that she was acting on the advice of the Government – but it brings up three interesting points.  Firstly, why is it the Monarch who still authorises attacks on other nations?  This Commander-in-Chief is unelected and unaccountable to the citizens of the country.  Secondly, Royal Assent was used as a political maneuvering tool by the Government, therefore there is inherent power in it, even if it has not been withheld in over 300 years.  Thirdly, and unrelated to the main argument, this was 1999, four years before the Iraq War started – that invasion was planned for a long time.
Furthermore, The Guardian revealed that Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, has been offered the chance to veto 12 pieces of legislation in the last 6 years, for fears they would affect his own personal interests.  A man who has inherited property worth around £700m, the Duchy of Cornwall and countless other castles and estates, is offered the chance to prevent bills being passed that the Governments think would be beneficial to the country – because they might make his personal wealth dip slightly.
There has been very little diversity in the demographics of the 44 Presidents of the United States – white, male and protestant defines all but two (Kennedy and Obama being the outliers).  However, there is at least the opportunity for anyone who is born in the United States, to become President.  In Britain, this is not the case – you cannot become the Head of State unless you are from the right family, are born first and, until a recent law change, were male (In anticipation of William & Kate’s first child, the leaders of the Commonwealth countries agreed to eliminate the sexist rule that sons ascended to the throne before any daughters, older or younger).
It is long overdue for Britain to be a democracy – and for all of the nations under the Commonwealth umbrella to have self-rule.  The House of Lords (the upper chamber of Parliament – made up of appointed and hereditary peers) should be eliminated and replaced with a second elected body, similar to the Senate in the United States.  The bicameral legislature would be a separation of powers to a new President, directly elected by the people (no electoral college, which makes the US a Republic, not a Democracy, by the way) and a strong judicial system to ensure that no measures are introduced by the Government which negate the rights or liberties of British citizens.  Of course, this is not a revolutionary idea – or at least, it is not any longer – it was in 1787 when the Founding Fathers provided the framework of the Constitution.
Somehow, Britain has still not embraced this concept of democracy and maintains the Royal Family and worships their majesty. Not me – Kings and Queens should be for the history books, Princesses should be for Disney movies.

Homophobia and Sports

Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day in several countries across the world, including the United States and UK. This is a reminder that, despite some progress that has been made, especially in recent years, there is a large group of people who have been made to feel fear at being open about who they are.  On one hand the US Military has now eliminated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, on the other, in the world of sports, homophobia is so prevalent that there are no openly gay athletes currently playing in any of the four major sports in America, nor in the Premier League in England.  This is not because there are no sportspeople who are homosexuals, that is as ridiculous a thought as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that there were no gay people in Iran.  While in the West we may have laughed off his claims, the culture and societal norms that have been established around the world of sports is such that people who compete in them who are gay do not feel comfortable being open about it with the wider population.

Week after week, Premiership footballers in the UK are exposed as having affairs, cheating on their wives with their brother’s

Kobe Bryant - Far From Eloquent

spouse, or sleeping with their teammates girlfriends – some of them go so far as getting a Super Injunction from the courts in order to keep their indiscretions a secret, but this is only done in order to ‘protect their marriage’ not because they believe the general public would renounce them for their behaviour.  In the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger is still cheered on by his own fans, despite several rape and sexual assault investigations against him; Donte Stallworth pleaded guilty to a DUI manslaughter charge and continues to play, now for the Redskins.  In the NBA, Kobe Bryant is still adored by Lakers fans, prefer not talk about the incident in Colorado in 2003, especially since he won another title for the team in 2010.  It seems sports fans will accept anything from the players they worship, except being born gay and living an openly homosexual life.

Kobe is a good crossover on this point, given that last season the NBA fined him for referring to a referee who had called a technical foul against him as a “fucking fag”.  In his apology afterwards he said he did not mean to offend anyone and his words did not reflect his views about homosexuals; but this derogatory term was obviously on the tip of his tongue.  If someone is not perceived as acting ‘manly enough’, be it in sports, on the playground, or anywhere, often they will be called “gay” – as if that is the worst possible thing in the world someone can be.  As I mentioned in my thoughts on chanting in English football, Sol Campbell was subjected to homophobic songs by Tottenham fans when he moved to Arsenal back in 2001.  It was not enough to call him Judas, traitor, a wanker or whatever else we shouted at him, the Spurs faithful decided that he must be gay also.  Why?  No racial epithet would be used in this manner – Sol Campbell is black, nobody at White Hart Lane would ever dream of using derogatory language in this regard toward him. Why do we tolerate prejudice toward someone based on their sexual orientation (or the one assigned to them by the crowd in this case), when it is no more their choice than the colour of their skin? What’s more – why is being called “gay” even an insult? It is no different from the US Constitution, which counted African-Americans as just 3/5ths of a person (until later amended), when homophobic slurs are used, people are tacitly (or explicitly) saying that heterosexuals are inherently better and worth more. Thankfully, in English football the clubs are clamping down on chanting that is homophobic, but people’s attitudes need to change along with it. Thus far, only one openly gay footballer has existed in Britain, Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 – but was subjected to abuse by fans and his own manager, Brian Clough, who asked him why he “kept going to those bloody poofs’ clubs” after it had been revealed in the tabloids Fashanu frequented gay bars.  He killed himself in 1998 having been accused, but not charged, of sexual assault – according to the note he left behind he believed he was already presumed guilty as he was gay.

As a society we are obsessed with the binary gender code and seem befuddled when somebody doesn’t fit neatly into on or the other. In 2009, Caster Semenya won the 800m at the World Athletics Championships.  Having been briefly lauded for her fantastic performance, she was subjected to the humiliation of the IAAF requesting she undergo a gender test, doubting that she was in fact a woman.  There was no sympathy for Semenya, someone who has lived her whole life with a masculine look and high testosterone levels, but is indeed a woman.  She was accused of cheating, subjected to infantile jokes at her expense, and was unable to compete again for many months while the IAAF determined if she would be allowed to compete as a female.  This was such humiliation for a young athlete to deal with and showed a complete lack of empathy from the sporting world.

It is time for sports to change.  And it is time for society to change – no more should 8 Republican candidates for President stand on the stage and say nothing when the audience at a debate boos a soldier for being gay.  Supporting the troops should mean supporting all of them, supporting your team should mean supporting every player no matter what their sexual orientation.  Haven’t we been through all this before with race?  With gender?  It has been almost 20 years since Sports Illustrated ran this story, saying Magic Johnson should speak for all those with HIV, after he had been cheered on Arsenio Hall’s show when he said he was “far from a homosexual”.  Have we not progressed since then?  I hope that a gay athlete will feel comfortable enough to come out very soon, and all others who want to be open about their sexual orientation will follow, without fear of taunts from small-minded fans or fellow players.  It is time to make National Coming Out Day obsolete, because everyone should be accepted for who they are and there should be no need to “admit” to being homosexual, nor heterosexual, nor anything in-between.

Political Update: Herman Cain’s 999 Plan and Occupying Wall Street

Herman Cain with his political resume

Even a causal observer of the current GOP Presidential Candidate race will not have been able to miss Herman Cain talking about his “Nine Nine Nine Plan”.  Under this policy, would-be President Cain (he was not a serious candidate a few weeks ago, but everyone still hates Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry has been going hunting at a place called…wait what? It’s named what? Im not saying that…but that must hurt his chances) would scrap the current tax code with all it’s deductions (save for charitable donations) and progressive rates, and replace it with three flat levies:

9% Corporate Income Tax (Currently 15%-35% depending on income levels)

9% National Sales Tax (Currently 0%)

9% Personal Income Tax – (Current Rates increase the more you earn, 28% on everything of $83k, 33% on income over $174k and 38% on amounts earned over $379,150)

So taking the last part first, a change from gradually increasing tax rates to a flat rate of 9%, sounds like a tax cut – but only if you are in the top bracket of earners.  This is a plan for the rich and for corporations – who would not only see their tax rates drop, but Herman Cain has a proviso in his plan that there would be no taxes on repatriated profits nor on dividends, providing plenty of ways for the Exxon Mobiles and GEs of the country to continue paying no corporate income taxes, as has been the case in recent years.  More numbers to prove this point:

*Numbers approximations from IRS calculator – no deductions/dependents considered, just raw numbers

Person A Earns $500,000 salary in NYC

Current Anticipated Federal Income Tax – $148,989

Under Cain’s 999 Plan – $45,000

Saving of $103,989 – meaning Person A will have plenty set aside to pay the extra 9% National Sales Tax on essentials – such as champagne, yachts and employing 1 (one) gardener

Person B Earns Minimum wage in NYC ($7.25 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year – $15,080 per year)

Current Anticipated Federal Income Tax – $558

Under Cain’s 999 Plan – $1357.20

Meaning Person B will have $799.20 less per year, plus will have to then pay 9% tax on those luxury items like food, shelter, water, etc. Luckily, there is a gardener position opening up in NYC and a second job may help offset that difference – careful with those shears though, Person B – you definitely cannot afford healthcare.

A widely quoted statistic by the Republicans at the moment is that 50% of Americans pay no federal income tax (we’ll ignore the fact that they pay payroll taxes, social security, medicare, etc), and the view from the Right is that everyone should be paying something rather than increasing the rates on the rich job creators in the top two brackets.  During the debt ceiling debate, part of President Obama’s plan was to raise the marginal rates on these top earners in order to generate $700bn more in revenue over the next ten years – the GOP hit back claiming that this money should be taken from the bottom 50% of the country who do not pay any federal income taxes.  Well, according to the most reliable news source available in the US, The Daily Show, that half of the population of the United States controls a massive 2.5% of the wealth.  To put it another way, their total assets are worth $1.45trillion, meaning that in order to generate the same amount of additional revenue, the Federal Government would need to take away half of everything the bottom 50% have.  Apparently this is a fairer way of spreading the burden than increasing the highest rate of taxation back to 38% – or the same number it was prior to the Bush tax cuts came into effect in 2001.

Adding to this, the Cain administration would add a 9% National Sales Tax – meaning the poorest Americans would be hit with an additional tax on everything they buy with their net income – this is not a levy that is coming from their gross income, but something that increases the cost of all expenditures on the money they have available after the Federal Income Tax has been deducted from their wages.  Remember also, this National Sales Tax would not be instead of State Sales taxes, President Cain would have no control over the rights of states to decide their own rates and thus this would be additional on top of the 8.875% in New York City (where you have City tax as well), 7% in Mississipi, 0% in Delaware…

NineNineNine may have a catchy name for a tax plan, but it perhaps should have been used as a sales device in one of Herman Cain’s former jobs, CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He could have offered a 9″ Pizza, with 9 pieces of Pepperoni guaranteed, for $9.  It’s just not a fair plan, and it will decrease revenues massively – because taking 9% more from 50% of the population who have only 2.5 % of the wealth, does not balance taking 26% less from the richest 1%, who own 42% of the wealth.  It does not make mathematical sense, and it does not make sense philosophically.  John Rawls, in “A Theory of Justice”, used a device called the Original Position.  The idea is, that the fairest way to determine how society should be constructed would be to have a person in this Original Position – deciding how everything should be setup without knowing what their position within the society would be.  If you were to be in such a place, would you really design a system where you had a very small chance of controlling a significant amount of the wealth, yet everyone would be required to pay the same federal income tax rates?  If everybody started from a level playing field, then there would be more of an argument for this, but there is no doubt that the United States is designed to benefit the richest 1% and they maintain that control by lobbying the Government and through campaign contributions – indeed, in the last election President Obama garnered more donations from banks than his opponent, Senator McCain.  Wall Street not only knows which of their own products are toxic and to bet against (mentioning Goldmans Sachs no names specifically), they also know which candidate is most likely to win and therefore is in most need of their convincing donations.

This is why the Occupy Wall Street campaign is happening, with people taking up residency on the streets of Lower Manhattan.  They want to send a message that this divide between the top 1% and the rest of the population is not fair.  Fox News and the right-wing blogosphere has gone out of its way to paint these people as incoherent anarchists who want to destroy capitalism and move towards European Socialism. Glenn Beck likens them to the Brown Shirts of the Nazi Party (to be fair, he does have Nazi Tourettes and thinks anything he disagrees with is “exactly what happened in 1930s Germany”).  Or they have been described as hippies – the great unwashed – and have been charged with all of the stereotypes that come with that label.  Maybe it is not the best way to go about initiating change, but what they are asking for is a return to the tax rates of the 1990s, under which the US economy was strong, and proper regulations on Wall Street banks – as opposed to the impotent Dodd-Frank bill, which has implemented very few regulations and has just been used by financial firms as a mechanism with which they can compete for new business.  Good luck to the Occupy Wall Street protestors, they are exercising their Constitutionally protected right to petition the Government – when did all those who support the Tea Party and hold the Constitution with such reverence, forget the First Amendment?

Or are they just too busy misunderstanding the Second Amendment? (That, though, is an argument for another day)

The Death Penalty and the Execution of Troy Davis

On September 21st 2011, Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia for the murder of a police officer, Mark MacPhail, in 1989.  Davis was convicted on the basis of evidence from nine eyewitnesses – seven of whom have since recanted their testimony, stating that they had been forced to cooperate by the police under threat of being put on trial themselves should they not comply.  One of the two who did not reverse the evidence he provided was Sylvester Coles, a man who has been identified by several people as the actual killer of MacPhail.  Indeed, three witnesses provided affidavits that Coles had confessed the murder to them.  There was no forensic evidence linking Troy Davis to the crime, no murder weapon found, no DNA evidence presented.  Despite all of this, upon appeal to the 11th Circuit Court, Davis was told that he was not entitled to a retrial as he had “failed to prove his innocence”.

On December 7th 2000, Claude Howard Jones was executed by the state of Texas for the murder of Allen Hilzendager in his liquor store in Point Blank, TX.  Jones protested his innocence up until his death – ten years later in 2010, he was exonerated after DNA evidence proved that the hair that had connected him to the scene of the crime was, in fact, not his.  Claude Howard Jones is proven not guilty – he remains dead.

1,269 people have been executed in the United States since 1976 – while a further 3,251 prisoners are currently on Death Row.

Executions in the US by year

How many of those put to death were innocent of their crime? It will never be known for sure whether or not Troy Davis was responsible for the murder of Mark MacPhail – but if there is any shred of doubt, why would the execution be carried out?  Surely one innocent person being murdered is too many, therefore the utmost scrutiny should be given to capital cases and the onus should be on the prosecution to prove beyond all doubt the guilt of the suspect.

The execution of the innocent is only one of the reasons I am against the death penalty, albeit the most important one. Arguments for capital punishment cite it as being a deterrent to those considering crimes, but evidence does not support this -the murder rate in the United States increased in the years following the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976 – showing no downward turn due to fear of execution.  The majority of capital offences are crimes of passion – situations in which the perpetrator is not thinking rationally and would not avoid an action due to a supposed deterrent.  Capital punishment is also clearly irreversible – while you can release someone who has been incarcerated incorrectly and attempt to compensate them for the time they have lost, if you execute someone it can never be undone.

Arguments based on financial cost of lifetime imprisonment versus the death penalty do not hold up, as studies have shown that capital cases cost more to the taxpayer than incarceration without parole.  (While I do not think that monetary concerns should be the basis of an argument to put someone to death, I note it here as a further assertion against capital punishment).  If the cost of keeping people in prison is of concern, then the primary area that should be looked into is sentences for non-violent offenders for drug related crimes – it’s a separate point entirely but 20+ years for simple possession of narcotics is far too punitive.

July 17th, 2007.  September 23rd, 2008.  October 27th, 2008.  September 21st, 2011.  Four different days that Troy Davis was given as the date he would be executed – it is hard to imagine the psychological trauma of a person who knows they are scheduled to die and then it is delayed, three times.  The delays were due to his appeals, as Davis was fighting to prove his innocence the whole time, but this appointment with a lethal injection meant that, unlike everyone else in the world who is not on Death Row, he had a clock ticking down to the end of his life.  That he had a small amount of time added on with each stay of execution did nothing to change the fact that the days, hours and minutes were running out for him.  Innocent or guilty, this psychological torture falls under the definition of cruel and unusual punishment – a fate that the 8th Amendment is supposed to protect citizens from.

There is, of course, the argument of retribution – the death penalty as justice for the families and friends of the victims of capital crimes.  I have total sympathy with those who have lost a loved one, in that situation I am sure that I would want to kill the person responsible myself.  However, that is the reason that trials are by a jury of peers and not those directly affected by the crime – it is important for due process to happen, a critical examination of the evidence and an appropriate sentence handed down by the judge.  Executions of guilty people have brought back to life exactly none of their victims – it is a primal desire to want to see the person responsible for taking someone from you to die – but it does not change what has happened, does not deter future crimes from occurring and, in the long run, will not provide comfort to those who sought the vengeance in the first place.

One final point, as I noted here, Rick Perry’s record of 234 executions carried out in the state of Texas under his Governorship was cheered by the crowd at the Republican Debate earlier this month.  Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin on Twitter (@michellemalkin) was appalled that #RIPTROYDAVIS was trending – rather than #RIPMARKMACPHAIL.  The death of MacPhail should be remembered and his memory honoured – I do not believe that he, as a police officer who was working a second job as a security guard on the night he was killed, would believe that having someone put to death based on questionable evidence was the way to do this.  It also missed a couple of crucial points: that Davis might have been innocent and, if he was in fact guilty, he had thus paid the debt that society imposed on him by losing his life.  Is Malkin against people resting in peace after they have been executed?  Does this carry over to those who have served time in prison for crimes – should they never be forgiven despite rehabilitation?

The United States currently has a political climate based on hate of anyone who has an opposing view – Malkin herself was subjected to disgusting racist abuse which she re-tweeted – ignorant people who took Alec Baldwin’s (@alecbaldwin) plea to his followers to “Go all town hall” on her as a suggestion to be vile rather than provide reasoned debate.  Freedom from persecution is one of the building blocks of the USA, people have the right to hold whatever opinions they desire, as along as their actions do not impinge on anyone else’s inalienable rights.  Reasoned debate is needed over the use of the death penalty, I fear that at the present time such a thing will not be allowed to occur.  To me, the death penalty is not justice, just wrong.

This week in: US Politics

Congress was back in session this week following a summer break, so all eyes were on the lawmakers and what legislation they would be passing in order to help the country recover from the ecomonmic downturn…hang on, that’s not right.  Oh yes, all attention was on the race to be the Republican Presidential Candidate for 2012 and the scheduling of a Presidential Address.

Change...the date

On the latter issue, it played out as follows: President Obama wanted to make another speech to Congress about Jobs – he asked to give it on September 7th, but this conflicted with a GOP Presidential Debate, so they moved it to the 8th.  Sounds simple enough, but, as The Daily Show covered on Tuesday,  this was turned into “Speechgate” by the media, with them describing the President as having “backed down”.  Firstly, another speech on jobs will create no new jobs, particularly as no legislation is being passed through a divided Congress who all have a view on the 2012 elections as opposed to fixing the current situation.  Secondly, what else should the President have done – insisted on his original date despite there being an existing event that night?  That would have resulted in a news cycle all about how he was deliberately agitating the GOP and he would be putting Representatives Paul and Bachmann in a position to choose between their debate and attending the speech.  Thirdly, the address now has to be at 7pm ET,  which is 4pm on the West Coast, otherwise it would clash with the opening game of the NFL season and thus the majority of people in the US would be watching the Packers take on the Saints, rather than the President.

Today, the whole perceived drama has taken on a new twist, as many Republicans in Congress are threatening to boycott the speech anyway, believing it to be just a re-election ploy from President Obama.  I would urge all parties involved to focus on what they were elected for – working to improve the country.  Speeches and fighting are all very well for campaigns, but the Presidency is a four year term not three, and members of the House and Senate are elected for two and six years at a time respectively, not one and five.  Stop campaigning, start governing.

The GOP Debate did indeed take place last night, with the candidates squaring off in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.  As Rick Perry has been leading in the polls, many of the candidates looked to gain ground by aiming their attacks solely at him.  Ron Paul questioned his Republican Credentials, pointing out his support of Hillary Clinton’s Health Care plan in the 90s and his use as Governor of executive order to pass laws mandating HPV vaccinations in their co-home state of Texas.  Mitt Romney claimed that George W. Bush created more jobs as Governor of Texas than Rick Perry had in his tenure.  Rick Santorum stated he was offended by Rick Perry’s vaccination program, though since Perry at one point

Which one is Keyser Soze?

seemed unsure who Santorum is and referred to him as “the last individual”, I do not think that disappointment will have too much affect.  Even Rick Perry tried to take himself down, by giving a modicum of praise to President Obama for the killing of Osama Bin Laden, though the majority of his adulation went to the SEALs who carried out the mission.  However, there was a stoney silence in the room upon this small amount of credit being given to Obama.  The only thing more sacrilegious Perry could have done would be to point out that, with his tax increases to combat the deficit and Immigration reform bills he passed, President Reagan would have been considered a RINO (Republican In Name Only) in the present day GOP.

There were, of course, shocking moments in the debate.  The most grating was the audience applauding when Rick Perry’s record of having had 234 people executed in the state of Texas whilst he has been Governor.  When he was asked if he worried that any of these people had been innocent, Perry replied that he was happy that people knew that if they committed a heinous crime in Texas, they would be put to death.  Not only did this miss the point of the question, it also suggests that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, which research has shown it is not.  Also, there have been questions about the mental health of at least 10 of the prisoners who have been executed during his Governorship, as well as 5 people who were minors at the time of their crimes.  His record is something that should be debated and raises serious ethical questions about Capital Punishment, rather than people clapping the high number of executions.

In other craziness, Rick Perry also backed up his prior claim that Social Security was a Ponzi scheme, forcing Mitt Romney to say something sensible – that many seniors rely on Social Security, and it’s something that needs to be fixed, not eliminated.  Ron Paul claimed that if there was no air conditioning in the barracks in Afghanistan and Iraq, US troops would come home – as if anyone who is making the decision about deployment is actually in either one of these countries.   Michele Bachmann stated that not building a fence on the border with Mexico meant that the US was conceding its sovereignty – though she said nothing about the erecting one to stop the Canadians coming in through the north.  Newt Gingrich decided that the Immigration system should be run by Mastercard or Visa to prevent fraud – while he may not realise that a lot of people have had their credit card details stolen before, I have to concede he does have a lot of experience in the personal debt field.

Oh and Hermain Cain was also at the debate, making the whole audience think about ordering a pizza.