Category Archives: International Politics

Hazy Days For Washington State

The state of Washington in the United States of America has become the first state in the country to legalise marijuana. The move comes a month after the US election which saw the proposition to make the drug legal receive the votes needed for it to pass into law. Recreational drug users took to the streets to light up in celebration.

And there is another US state which will see similar laws come into force in the coming weeks. Colorado also voted during the national election on a proposition to legalise marijuana.

Under the new laws in Washington state, recreational smokers over the age of 21 will be able to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis or up to 450 grams of baked goods containing marijuana. Having in your possession, up to 720 ounces of the drug in liquid form is also legal under the law which came into force in Washington on Thursday.

There are however some conditions attached to the new law.

Selling, cultivating and giving away marijuana for free, even among pot-smoking buddies will continue to be illegal. And despite the public pot party overnight, toking on marijuana in public will still be verboten.

This begs the question: what has actually changed at present?

The answer is that not much has changed so far. The only differences for now are that you may possess the aforementioned quantities of the once illicit substance and smoke or ingest those products in private.

However, you will have come by the drug in an illegal manner and universities and workplaces will have the ability to ban it on their premises.

State authorities, under the law, will have until December next year to establish legal cannabis trading houses which will be taxed and licensed in much the same manner as liquor-selling businesses currently are.

There is some major uncertainty about the future of the laws in Washington state and Colorado.

The drug is still illegal under federal law and the federal government may well decide to override the two states’ laws, though this has not yet been confirmed.

It is true though, that the Justice Department did not move to override the Washington law before it came into effect and so perhaps this points to the possibility of letting the law in Washington stand as well as the path to legalised cannabis in Colorado being allowed to continue.

The US Government intervening and overturning the two state-based laws would however, actually be quite a good thing.

Cannabis and indeed all drugs, are substances which are harmful to the health of all users, especially long-term recreational drug-takers.

The drug Cannabis is responsible for bringing on mental illnesses which can have devastating consequences in the lives of those experiencing such problems and result in similar negative consequences for the community around users.

Legalising drugs, including marijuana, will not suddenly make them less harmful to the public. They will still cause mental illness in people taking such substances and those effects will continue to harm both the drug-taker and potentially members of the public around them.

And legalising drugs will not cut down on their use either. Legalising drugs would likely mean that more people, some of whom had perhaps wanted to engage in drug-use but did not partake because it was illegal, would take up the habit and this would not be good for both healthcare and crime budgets. When you legalise drugs, you remove the stigma which is behind stopping some people using them.

It is important to acknowledge that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ is a battle that governments around the world are losing and will continue to lose in varying degrees across the globe.

But legalising drugs is no answer.

Even the most tightly regulated drug-use schemes will have their problems unless scientists discover a way to remove the harmful compounds from the drugs, or they discover some kind of way to shield the brain from the potentially very dangerous effects of such chemicals.

Whichever path governments choose, they are going to face costs. But trying to stop harm to consumers of drugs and those around them should be the highest priority.

What Happened, What Does it Mean and What Next for Palestine?

The United Nations General Assembly has now voted emphatically in favour of granting the Palestinian delegation to the UN, non-member observer status. This is a symbolic victory, not a material one, for the territories seeking to one day be recognised with official statehood by the United Nations

So what happened? What does the vote mean? And what is next for Palestine?

Leading up to the vote, the Palestinian mission to the UN thought that they had secured about 132 votes of the 193 nation-state members of the General Assembly. This in itself would have been more than enough for a ballot victory, with ballots in the UNGA only requiring a majority ‘yes’ vote of 50% of the member countries, plus one.

The Palestinians received 138 votes in favour of them reaching the status of non-member observer state. This means that just over 70% of countries on the floor voted in favour of the motion.

Nine UN members voted against the motion. Most notably, this included the United States of America and Israel, both firm allies on the other side of the long-running Israel-Palestine conflict. The other states joining the USA and Israel in voting against the resolution were Canada, Czech Republic, Panama, Palau, The Marshall Islands, Nauru and Micronesia.

There were also forty-one abstentions which included large powers, including the United Kingdom and Germany. Australia also decided to abstain earlier this week.

Germany had been planning to vote against the motion. The Australian Government through Prime Minister Julia Gillard had also planned to vote ‘no’ to the idea of strengthening Palestinian observer status, but in the end, the caucus decided that Australia should instead abstain.

In the end, because of the nature of the General Assembly, as opposed to the Security Council, the vote was soundly won by the Palestinian Authority.

The next important question is: What does the new non-member observer state vote mean for Palestine in terms of what the position offers?

Well, it is a tokenistic position in terms of territory.

The vote does however grant Palestine an implied recognition of sovereign statehood, the equivalent stature to that of The Vatican as far as the United Nations is concerned.

The new-found recognition also means that the Palestinians are now able to become members of all UN member organisations. This includes the ability to petition the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

The ability to join UN bodies and sign up to conventions and treaties are probably the two most significant aspects of the victory at the United Nations for the now implied state of Palestine.

Perhaps the most important question is: What comes next for Palestine?

In light of the UN vote, answering this question and charting a possible future for the peace process, perhaps becomes even more difficult than it was before the Palestinian victory at the UN General Assembly.

Israel and the United States of America are mightily annoyed. Officials from both countries are saying, as they did prior to Thursday’s vote, that it is a step backwards in terms of territorial negotiations and a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Israel and the US are particularly annoyed that the decision now opens the door to proceedings of war crimes and broader crimes against humanity being levelled at the Israeli Government at the International Criminal Court.

The process required for charges to be brought by the Palestinians is prohibitive, even though they have flagged the possibility of referring individual Israelis to the ICC. Israel for one, along with the United States, does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court and would obviously not cooperate in handing over suspects.

Perhaps any intentions on the part of the Palestinian Authority to pursue Israel at the ICC should be immediately put off as an act of good faith. Proceedings could be instigated at a later stage, either if settlements in Palestinian territories continue, or the peace process becomes further intractable after a period of time.

Israel and the United States of America are also annoyed at the way in which the Palestinian territories have obtained the status of implicit statehood.

Really, both Israel and the USA should not be particularly concerned about Palestine now enjoying implied statehood. The change guarantees nothing in terms of actual territorial claims. That can only be determined by either a petition to the UN Security Council or by negotiations between Palestinian groups and the Israeli Government.

A direct petition to the Security Council by Palestinian representatives would never succeed. A similar petition last year by Mahmoud Abbas was never introduced because it was going to be blocked.

Official recognition of statehood at the Security Council would require 10 of the 15 member states to vote in favour of a resolution to create an official Palestinian nation-state. The USA, being a key and almost unwavering ally of Israel, even under President Barack Obama, have already indicated on previous occasions that they would use their veto power in the Security Council.

The best way forward is direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine, preferably with the United States of America involved as well as key powers in the Middle East. The key players have alluded to this, although their actions and words, particularly in the wake of the UN decision, seem to indicate little interest in strengthening negotiations over a two-state solution.

Negotiations too, have failed for decades. The recent increased tensions between Israel and Hamas, not just Thursday’s vote, have undoubtedly contributed to, at best, an even more protracted peace process.

The future of Israel-Palestine relations is at best tenuous. However, the present should be accepted for what it is and that is, in reality, a largely painless development.

If it’s not seen as such, then questions should rightly be asked about the actual intentions of Israel and the US, in terms of pursuing an enduring tw0-state solution.

Symbolism and Statehood are Two Different Things

The Australian Government was reportedly engaged in an especially robust party-room debate today. The Labor caucus was discussing the position to take on the United General Assembly vote set to take place in the coming days. This motion, if successful, would grant the Palestinian territories non-member observer status in the UN. Currently, the Palestinians have observer status.

After looking like the ALP caucus might vote ‘no’ to the motion, it soon emerged that the party-room, in the end, voted in favour of the Australian delegation abstaining from this highly non-controversial vote.

Not surprisingly, the United States of America and of course Israel, have indicated they will be voting against the motion in the UN General Assembly.

Unlike in the Security Council though, the US and Israelis voting against the measure will not matter. There is no veto power in the General Assembly and 132 of the 193 member countries have pledged recognition of Palestine as a state. Despite this, official recognition of statehood has been blocked in the United Nations Security Council.

During the ALP caucus discussions this morning, members of the left faction reportedly indicated that granting observer status would provide some assistance in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

This is an interesting concept. The position argues that by granting non-member state observer state status, the longstanding conflict would suddenly lurch closer to some form of mutually agreeable conclusion.

Clearly it will not. Hostilities on the part of Palestinian terror groups will not stop, at least until a broad solution involving Palestinian statehood is reached.

Terrorist acts on the part of some Palestinian factions would quite likely continue, even in the event of a negotiated peace between authorities on both sides of the conflict. They would however be more isolated and not necessarily linked with representative political organisations.

However, such heinous crimes would still not be tolerable, no matter how infrequent. The point must be made too, that both sides are and have been in the wrong on this issue, albeit in different ways.

The reluctance on the part of the Israelis and the USA to recognise Palestine as an official state would also continue, virtually leaving the situation at the status quo. Non-member state observer status will be a symbolic act.

Granting non-member state observer status is however one that the Israeli government should not be scared of. But they are and they will probably be annoyed. They need to realise, however, that there is a clear difference between a vote for non-member state observer status and a peaceful two-state solution. The latter should be negotiated outside the United Nations.

It is curious that Australia will abstain from the vote. Abstention, to some, gives the appearance that Australia is basically hedging their bets.

Abstaining from the vote will likely be seen by the representatives of the Palestinian territories as a vote against their motion, since the Australian Government does not feel a compulsion to vote for what is ostensibly a sensible concept.

This week’s vote is not about statehood and probably will not provide much of a catalyst toward the Palestinian territories becoming a recognised state.

So why such a fuss?

Small Cause for Hope in a Grim Situation

Israel and Hamas have agreed to the terms of a ceasefire after over a week of rocket attacks perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. Hamas had been rocketing Israel and in return the Israelis sent missiles hurtling into Palestinian territories. Approximately 150 people died in the conflict, the vast majority being Palestinians.

Perhaps surprising to some, Egypt, now controlled by an Islamist government was crucial in negotiating the terms of a ceasefire agreement with Palestinian group, Hamas.

There are four elements of the agreement brokered between Israel and Hamas.

First, it calls on Israel to halt land, sea and air assaults and incursions in the Gaza Strip. This includes, as part of the deal, Israel agreeing not to target individuals in Palestinian territories.

The first part of the ceasefire agreement would appear likely to hold now, with the world’s attention, for at least as long as the Palestinians stop firing rockets into Israel.

Although Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories are a major factor in the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestinians, this part too seems likely to hold as long as rockets from Palestinian territories are not fired.

The second condition of the ceasefire involves all Palestinian factions. Under the ceasefire, they must not target Israel in any way, be it from the Gaza Strip or the border regions.

The second condition, largely the reverse of the first one, is less likely to hold. There are multiple groups on the Palestinian side with factions that will prove very difficult to control and there is the distinct possibility that possible militant attacks from outside groups might easily be mistaken as originating from Palestinian terrorists.

Ceasefires in general are tenuous and, as such, it will probably be just a matter of time before both the first and second elements of the accord are broken.

The third and perhaps most significant element of the ceasefire is an agreement to open all border crossings. This includes an understanding that the movement of both people and goods must be facilitated and must in all cases be free. Again, this involves an understanding that border residents not be targeted, this time when attempting border crossings. However, this clause of the ceasefire is not immediate. After 24 hours of the ceasefire have passed, this tenet will come into effect.

The third part of the pact is very important. However, if the ceasefire does not last more than a day, then Israel will again close her borders and the free movement of people will cease again.

If the ceasefire does hold and that is very unlikely, then Israel stopping incursions and allowing border crossings will be seen quite favourably by most factions on the Palestinian side.

The final clause is potentially important too in terms of long-term considerations in that it opens up the possibility of further dialogue. The fourth part of the ceasefire equation allows for the negotiation of further issues involved in the dispute between Israel and Palestine.

The fourth part of the ceasefire does provide the opportunity for ongoing dialogue which might lead to discussion of the important and substantive issues in the medium to long-term. However getting to that point would almost certainly hinge upon a well-maintained ceasefire between Israel and Hamas at the very least.

There are a number of small positives but it would appear that they are largely overshadowed by the likelihood of an enduring ceasefire being minimal at best.

The part that Egypt played is interesting and provides hope, but the assistance provided to Hamas from Iran would give pause for concern, over and above the usual fragility of ceasefire agreements.

Having so many disparate groups on the Palestinian side is also a challenge in terms of maintaining order in Israel and the Palestinian territories on any given day.

Add to that the realisation that the conflict involves far more than just territorial considerations, but also regional issues and extremism, and seeking a lasting peace becomes an even more challenging task.

Land Only Part of the Israel-Palestine Equation Now

Tensions between Israel and Palestine have increased over recent weeks to a point now where fears are growing that a major conflict will ensue. Militants had been targeting Israel with rockets and Israel responded by killing a leading Hamas militant. In retaliation for the assassination, Hamas fighters have rocketed the capital of Israel, Tel Aviv while Israeli jets continue to bomb Gaza. Both sides of the conflict have again suffered civilian casualties.

A peaceful end to the conflict again has been shown to be too difficult. On the Palestinian side, terrorism has proved impossible to control, particularly the actions of Hamas who are responsible for the rocket attacks on Israel.

As for Israel it’s been a question of the scale of the response to equally unjustifiable and unforgivable attacks on their people. Huge force has been used against Palestinians by the Israelis and that looks set to continue apace with a military-based incursion appearing likely to be utilised by the administration in conjunction with jets bombing Palestinian areas.

The question of Israeli willingness to negotiate on the land dispute is not an argument that can in any way justify violence on the part of Palestinian terrorists. However, the Israelis must display a real willingness, a readiness to negotiate on a two-state solution.

And so, the cycle of violence, as it has for decades, is set to continue. There is again little will from both the Israelis and Palestinians and their respective overseas supporters to attempt to reach a peaceful and necessary two-state solution.

Again it seems that violent fringe groups are dictating terms over the whole dispute. Any hope of any kind of compromise dashed by extremist elements in the conflict. A problem magnified by illegal settlements has had any hope of a solution pegged on a return to peaceful interactions between Israelis and Palestinians.

At least that is the excuse given. Even when there has been relative peace, negotiations over a solution involving the mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine never really went ahead with any real gusto, any vigour or confidence and belief that both states actually have the right to peacefully coexist.

The problem has proved too difficult not just for Israel and Palestine to resolve on their own, but also for world powers and supranational institutions interested in seeing peace between the two parties.

We have probably passed a point, especially in recent years, where any hope of a lasting peace, a compromise deal that would halt hostilities from all groups with a stake in the conflict, would have been a reasonable assumption. The rise of Islamist groupings in the Middle East over the Arab Spring has surely seen to that.

At the same time, it would be folly to suggest that were the extreme elements of Hamas and Fatah not in existence, that a lasting peace would be able to be established swiftly. This is partly the case for the reason just given but there is also another reason.

It is also the case that extreme elements would still exist within Palestinian circles, but the resistance would be much more muted, though still proving a catalyst for inaction on a territorial compromise.

There will also undoubtedly be elements within Palestinian groups always unhappy with a compromise deal, even one that creates two states with reasonable territorial divisions.

With so many disparate groups and as always the violent ones clouding things, the dispute seems even more inexorable as we head towards much more bloodshed in a very unstable geographic region.

A number of factors are compounding to make even a sensible mutual resolution difficult for all parties to accept without further violence. So, the cycle of violence will continue.

Tax Will Not Cut the Fat

Denmark has decided in recent days that it will repeal the fat tax introduced over a year ago that is levied on foods with a certain level of fat and above. The Danes have also decided not to go ahead with their planned ‘sugar tax’, an extension of the chocolate tax. The move is a victory for common sense, even though it actually took until the tax was operational for the Danish Government to realise that it was a silly idea that was never going to work.

The Danes love their taxation, they are one of the world’s top taxing nations so of course it was almost inevitable, with a worldwide obesity crisis continuing to grow, that they, or another European nation would be the first country in the world to put a tax on high-fat foods. In the end, the Danes went first with a tax adding 16 kroner per kilogram of saturated fat.

In looking at the results of the tax the Danish political establishment found that their world-leading tax was costly to business, but more importantly, failed to change the eating habit’s of Danes. The levy on saturated fats was also a bureaucratic nightmare, having being levied on all food products containing saturated fats.

The government of Denmark found that part of the reason the tax did not work was because Danes travelled across the border to purchase foods high in fat once the tax was introduced.

The Australian Government and others around the world contemplating placing a tax on saturated fats and high-sugar products must learn from the Danish example. Governments must realise both that a fat or sugar tax will not work in combating obesity and that because such a tax will not work, they would be asking business to take on extra costs for no benefit.

There are a few things that government needs to know about introducing a fat tax and the Danish example might finally make politicians realise those facts.

First and foremost, taxing to change behaviour is a stupid concept. In fact, what a tax attempting to change behaviour is doing a lot of the time is actually taxing stupidity. Common sense cannot and should not be legislated for unless it is in order to prevent harm to others. Eating fatty foods is not a crime against your friend, your neighbours or strangers. Having an unhealthy

A tax on saturated fats or fast food just increases the price of fast food. A tax put on foods that are bad for us will not ever magically make healthy foods more accessible than poor food choices.

Not only that but increasing the cost of foods with saturated fats on any level would make it difficult for low-income earners to be able to afford food. People that are on low incomes are already struggling and do not need to be struggling to eat.

Government also needs to think about why foods high in fat, salt or sugar are increasingly the choice made by Australians in their day-to-day lives. In some cases it is not quite as simple as people willingly choosing the worst food option.

First and foremost, unhealthy foods are cheaper. Fast food and more generally, all foods high in fat, salt and sugar cost much less than fast foods and that has been a reality for a long time,

It must also be recognised that we are getting busier as a nation. People are working longer hours and getting more tired. Consequently, fast and convenient food is an increasingly sought after product and again, that is usually processed, high in fat, salt and sugar.

Subsidising healthy food is an option but it would prove extremely costly and would still not work. Subsidising anything is also something that a government should avoid at any cost.

There is a role for educating people about healthy food choices, starting at an early age to instil the benefits of good food choices. Again though, this is a part solution.

The problem is a difficult one, but as Denmark has shown, taxing eating habits is not the answer.

A Rollicking Speech But What of Expectations Management?

President Obama romped home in yesterday’s presidential poll in the US. It was a famous victory that most pundits had been unwilling to contemplate, at least as far as the extent of the victory for the incumbent yesterday. We were told it would be pretty close, even during the early part of the coverage, but in the end the result was quite comfortable for Obama. It was not of 2008 proportions, nobody expected that, but it was a good win, a strong win nonetheless.

At present Barack Obama has 303 electoral college votes, ahead of rival Mitt Romney on 206. After being behind in the popular vote early on Tuesday night, the President has pulled far enough ahead for any questioning of the extent of the result to be out of the equation. The President has over 59 million votes and his challenger, Governor Romney, over 56 million.

That means four more years as the chant went. Another opportunity to attempt to turn the American economy around and another opportunity to try to implement aspects of an extensive progressive agenda.

Of course there were mixed results during the first two years of Obama’s presidency. With control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the President largely failed to work towards implementing large swathes of his policy agenda. This was partly down to the state of the economy and also as a result of a much less partisan political environment. Some Democrats often vote with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Mitt Romney was gallant and gracious in defeat, wishing the President all the best with very kind words during his concession speech late yesterday.

But it was the President that stole the headlines with a rollicking victory speech, the kind of oratory precision that Mr Obama is well and truly capable of and some may have thought was lost after some of his performances during the election campaign.

The speech was on a par with those leading up to his becoming President at the 2008 election and with his acceptance speech upon winning the Presidency. Again the President spoke of hope and opportunity for all, much in the same vein as those now famous speeches.

The speech was a vision more than an action plan. It was a look at what President Obama would like to do, what he values. It appeared more of a speech that a presidential challenger or first-term President having just won election, would deliver than it did the work of a second-term incumbent like Obama.

Of course, it was lacking in concrete policies and had some wild claims of reforms that Obama would like to pursue during his second term, like electoral reform, which will prove a massive and probably insurmountable challenge.

The speech undoubtedly excited a large number of people and that was the intention. Even people who do not agree with Mr Obama or his policies were in awe of the strong performance from the newly re-elected leader.

The President probably thought, going into his final term, that he could afford politically to give a speech like that, raising the expectations of the masses again. But whether or not that is smart is an entirely different proposition.

There are three factors that he would have needed to consider before appealing to people’s emotions like that.

The first is regarding his legacy. Does President Obama really want to be remembered for setting lofty goals and then struggling to achieve the vast majority of those aims?

Setting ambitious goals is something that progressive candidates do all the time, often setting too many tasks, failing to have time for some and not being able to successfully implement others. It can often be a significant reason for the failure of progressive governments in an electoral sense.

Progressive government is not inherently bad, but you must be able to manage expectations rather than overly excite them. It is better to be both a bit progressive and a bit conservative.

The second thing that Barack Obama should be wary about is the effect that the speech and its highly ambitious tenor might have on the campaign in four years time. What harm might another term of over-promising and under-delivering produce for the Democrat’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

There is one final thing that the President should have had in mind before delivering the speech. There is no extra money in the budget for anything. The United States of America is truly struggling fiscally and that could become a much deeper problem in the coming weeks.

It was a good speech, even a great speech. However, good speeches do not always make or mean good leaders, but they do help us remember them.

Storm Events Forgotten

Last week Hurricane Sandy smashed into the United States of America, a country nearing its presidential election. The storm has left at least 110 dead on US shores and will be responsible for a reconstruction bill in the order of tens of billions. The eyes of the world were fixed on the US as the storm came ashore, the coverage in-depth and intense. Television coverage brought Hurricane Sandy into the living room’s of people across the world in a frame-by-frame blanket of images.

The human suffering brought on by natural disasters like Sandy is sad, shocking and devastating. Loss of life through natural disasters is an unfortunate reality for countries and people across the globe. But sometimes that devastation is heard but not seen. Sometimes the cameras are not there to capture the destruction and death. Sometimes storms and the people they impact are invisible to the world. Sometimes too there are storms we easily forget.

The USA was lucky in a sense. The world power had plenty of warning of the impending threat that Sandy posed. The storm had bashed and battered the Caribbean, particularly Haiti, still recovering and rebuilding after a massive earthquake, before continuing onto America. The Caribbean was largely forgotten, the damage and death wrought by the tropical storm largely ignored by the world’s media.

It was almost as if Hurricane Sandy was the United States’ storm. That’s not to say that the loss of life and widespread damage to infrastructure on US soil should be forgotten, that it is any less than death and damage elsewhere. The point is that there should be little or no distinction between loss of life and property in the United States of America and people losing their lives and property in the third world.

The coverage of Hurricane Sandy on the television, the radio and the web was also notable for another large storm that most of the coverage seemed to ignore or had forgotten occurred.

Generally, the one and only storm used for comparative purposes was Hurricane Irene. Irene was more powerful in wind speed, a Category 3, than Sandy, a Category 1. Sandy though was much larger in size, her impact felt across approximately 2 million square miles, much of the eastern seaboard of the USA. Which event caused more death is of course irrelevant. All loss should be mourned.

In comparing and contrasting Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene, there was one storm event which was conspicuously absent from media coverage and social media comments. Many had seemingly forgotten a storm which is still, seven years on, causing problems for some of the areas it hit, including exacerbating social disintegration and the breakdown of social cohesion.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit Florida as a Category 1 hurricane where some casualties were incurred and damage experienced. The system then moved into the Gulf of Mexico where it again gathered strength. By the time Katrina reached landfall it was a Category 3.

There were 1833 confirmed deaths and $185 billion damage was levelled on storm-hit areas. The city of New Orleans, a largely African-American populace, was the hardest hit area and continues to suffer the consequences of a storm that time, the American people and the world seem to have largely forgotten.

How could the American media as well as social media have skipped over such a large, dramatic and violent event responsible for so many casualties and so much temporary and also ongoing damage? How could people on social media also not think of Hurricane Katrina when making links or comparisons between major natural events?

Admittedly some of the lack of attention toward Hurricane Katrina may have been down to the size of the wind field as compared with Irene and more recently Sandy. However, surely a mass casualty event where close to 2000 people died is worthy of a mention?

The memory loss surrounding Katrina could be one of three things. Either Katrina, with the loss of life and infrastructure and the woefully inadequate response from FEMA and the Bush administration is because of a genuine forgetfulness, a source of shame and deep embarrassment or a sign of something more sinister.

It is much better, a more pleasant thought to contemplate, that the amnesia suffered about Hurricane Katrina is down to genuine forgetfulness. Unfortunately, this is the most naive and unrealistic assumption. It is not within the realms of reality to believe that such a significant event could simply be forgotten.

Could it be the next best option? Could it be that the response to Hurricane Katrina caused deep shame?

This is the eventuality that seems most reasonable to widely apply to the case of Katrina. It is also, thankfully, not the most uncomfortable. The slow response and the divisions it exposed and further fomented should have been and should continue to be a cause of shame and consternation.

Unfortunately, just because embarrassment would appear to be the major response in the wake of Katrina, it does not mean that there are no sinister undertones in the ignorance displayed about Katrina and her impact.

One need only look to the swiftness of action in response to Hurricane Sandy and Irene and then compare it with the slow move to help those who suffered because of Hurricane Katrina. The link is somewhat tenuous and does not reveal a widespread ethnic and racial divide, but the disparate responses should provide pause for thought.

It is entirely possible that some of the lack of tolerance and understanding of different races and ethnicities does pervade parts of the media. No parts of society are without ignorance of difference and a lack of tolerance, but this must not be overstated. Any role intolerance plays in the media is likely very small.

Whatever the cause of the storm amnesia, no large and tragic events should be forgotten. The good thing is that lessons can be learned from the way the media have covered Sandy and the social media response which so closely mirrored that of the broadcast media.

This Is the Political Story of a Hurricane

Post Tropical Storm Sandy has now vanished from the skies above the United States of America. In its wake it has left at least 90 dead with the final death toll likely to be higher than that. The hurricane has also resulted in billions of dollars damage to cities along the east coast of the USA. Now that the storm has passed, attention first and foremost has turned to the recovery with FEMA and the US President hitting the ground running. The US President has toured areas hit by the natural disaster and FEMA have commenced their post-disaster efforts.

Despite the fact that a tragedy has just transpired, the US election, which has seen an intriguing campaign so far, is still going ahead. Polling day is now less than a week away and after a brief ceasefire, electoral hostilities have resumed in key swing states across the country.

Inevitably, thought has turned to the effects that the hurricane has had on the campaign and might have on the outcome on election day. Would the storm help or hinder Barack Obama and end Mitt Romney’s chances or would it end Barack Obama’s hopes for re-election? Or would the storm have left the electoral equation relatively unchanged?

It would appear that there are two main scenarios which could play out as a result of Hurricane Sandy. But there is also the possibility of a third effect brought on by the tropical storm.

The first is the really obvious one. This is the one that seems to be in the mind’s and on the lip’s of many political commentators. That is that the devastation gives President Obama a chance to appear presidential, an interesting conclusion given that President is exactly what Barack Obama currently is.

This theory holds that the President, through responding to the crisis, will gain electoral momentum thanks to the horrific events which have killed so many, not just in the USA, but also throughout parts of the Caribbean.

Whether or not this theory holds any credibility is largely down to the states involved in the hurricane, with the broader populace probably not as concerned about Barack Obama appearing presidential as a result of something that does not affect them. Most of the directly hit states are well and truly in the bag for either side, save for Virginia and North Carolina.

The theory of looking presidential with strong and swift actions after a tragic event could also be applied to Mitt Romney. It is somewhat arguable that appearing presidential as the challenger could have more of a benefit than the incumbent coming across to voters in the same way.

Governor Romney quickly hit the bellwether state of Ohio for what was termed a ‘ hurricane relief event’. At this outing, Obama’s adversary organised for donations of food and other goods to be sent to storm-hit areas of the country.

This event and others like it as well as Romney’s responses regarding the awful events of earlier this week mean that he could also appear presidential to voters. Again, whether this matters is debatable, though with Governor Romney enjoying most of the electoral momentum, small gains could make a difference.

The other theory is that Sandy might be responsible for halting the momentum of the campaign.

This theory offers more negative consequences for the President than it does for Mitt Romney. Effectively, if this was the case it would mean that two days were removed from Barack Obama’s last week and a bit of the campaign. This means two less days campaigning for votes.

The final effect is mostly a positive for the sitting President, at least for the period of time it was in play.

It is within the realms of reason, even self-evident, that the hurricane provided a distraction for up to almost a week from the real issue that Americans will be voting on when Tuesday next week rolls around. For that time, news of the economy and debate about it would have played second fiddle to the approaching winds and rain.

Whether or not two days of almost zero talk about the has resulted in a change of the complexion of the campaign seems unlikely. The storm is over now too and the focus of the campaign has largely returned to domestic issues.

It would appear that any benefit for either Republicans or Democrats, President Obama or Mitt Romney, derived from the storm that hit the east coast, is small or even negligible. Stranger things have happened though. Who would have thought that a debate would result in quite a dramatic shift in voter intentions?

With less than a week to go in a tough contest, the result is still anyone’s, even with a hurricane thrown into the equation.

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