Is the US Presidential Turkey Pardon a Big Load of Baloney?

Xavier Toby   |   November 24, 2014    1:43 PM ET

Every year the US President pardons a turkey.

Quite an honour, which may be more useful if bestowed on a person.

I'm sure plenty would agree to dress up as a turkey, and even behave like a turkey, in order to avoid ruining the spirit of the day.

It's also pretty hard not to forgive someone dressed in a turkey suit, pecking at the ground and squawking. Give it a go yourself, next time you forget to tip someone, arrive late to pick up the kids from school, or rob a bank.

So this presidential turkey pardon has only been regular thing since 1989.

That's right, 1989.

Meaning it's not even as old as Indiana Jones, Ghost Busters or Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Thanksgiving in the USA goes right back to around 1621, but the turkey pardon itself is not even as old as The Princess Bride and The Terminator. (80s movies are the best.)

A turkey was first presented to President Harry Truman in 1947, however no records mention a pardon. Indeed, there's evidence that he actually ate it.

A president eating a turkey? Outrageous! That's not what they're for! Why wasn't he impeached?

Eisenhower ate the birds presented to him as well.

Kennedy apparently spared a turkey on Nov 18, 1963, just four days before his assassination. The bird was wearing a sign that read, 'Good Eatin' Mr President' and weighed fifty-five pounds, a size which apparently made the president uncomfortable.

This makes perfect sense, especially considering Kennedy's motto was, 'no fat chicks'.

The first president to officially pardon a turkey was Reagan in 1987, who at the time was being questioned over whether or not he would pardon Oliver North for has involvement in the Iran-Contra affair.

In order to distract everyone's attention, he pardoned a turkey instead. It worked too. Nobody noticed that the bird was not Ollie North, proving again Reagan's superior acting abilities, and his lesser known powers as an improv comedy genius.

In 1988 Reagan didn't pardon a turkey, because that year, North had forgotten to organise a secret war.

Then in 1989 George Bush senior made it a regular thing.

For many years the pardoned turkeys were then sent to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. Probably the best name for any park ever, especially if the turkey's eventual resting place was a cemetery known 'The Fire'.

Meaning the turkeys go straight from 'Frying Pan' and into 'The Fire'. Puns are the best.

The turkeys selected for a presidential pardon are actually a special breed.

Eighty are randomly selected at birth from thousands, and trained to handle flash photography, loud noises and large crowds. Making them a Kardashian with wings.

This field of eighty is then reduced down to twenty, with the final two selected by White House staff. They're renowned for their abilities to pick a turkey. Which explains the secret service.

Two turkeys are currently selected and pardoned each year, in case the first choice turkey becomes unavailable. This is not due to media commitments, or a career on Fox News, but a nice way of saying that one of them might die.

The turkeys up for a pardon fed on the same grain-heavy diet of fortified corn and soybeans as the turkeys raised for slaughter, as it increases their size.

With this diet comes many health problems, and the turkeys frequently die within a year of being pardoned, if they survive that long.

Which makes it less of a 'pardon' and more a refusal to give the bird the assisted benevolent suicide that it craves.

A number of US states have similar turkey-pardoning events, because they lack creativity and can't think of anything more exciting to do.

Recent presidential speeches have mentioned that the tradition dates date to Truman and even Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey, however there's no evidence of either.

There is plenty of evidence, however, that Lincoln was an utter legend, so he might've done it.

Thomas Tamblyn   |   November 21, 2014    7:44 PM ET

NASA's chief technologist has revealed that in some areas humans are already 'halfway' to landing on Mars.

David Miller was speaking to Motherboard editor Victoria Turk about the hurdles that NASA would need to overcome before a manned mission could take place.

He outlined the many obstacles that needed to be overcome, most notable of which being getting the astronauts back to Earth.

orion spaceship

Whereas the Mars One mission considers the possibility of a one-way trip to the red planet, Miller believes that frankly, this approach is unacceptable.

“If we don’t have the technology to come back, I don’t think we have the technology to go.”

Then of course there's the problem of radiation, how do you protect humans from eight months of cosmic rays, including down on the surface where Mars' atmosphere is far far weaker.

While some of these questions remain unanswered MIller is keen to point out that actually NASA is just being remarkably humble about just how far they've come.

“I think one of the things NASA does poorly is that we always talk about the challenges ahead, but we don’t talk about the challenges that we’ve addressed, as I got to NASA and started looking at the programs, I saw that in some ways we are already halfway to Mars with humans. We are there with robots today, but we are halfway there with humans.”

Of course the big question everyone will now want answering is whether, with the current rate of technological advancement, can NASA stay within President Obama's bold target of having humans in orbit around Mars by 2030.

Orbiting and landing are two very different things of course however Miller remains optimistic that the organisation is already well on the way to fulfilling that goal.

Lucy Sherriff   |   November 17, 2014    1:47 PM ET

A student has chastised her university after not being invited to listen at a G20 speech given by Barack Obama - explaining she had even watched all seven episodes of the West Wing.

Ashley Chandler, a student at the University of Queensland, posted an open letter on urging the institution to "admit that you done f**ked up the Obama speech", and it's perfectly spot on.

"Dear UQ,

I am writing in regards to the recent uproar over President of the United States, Barack Obama’s upcoming visit, and more specifically, in regards to your decision not to invite me. This seems to me to be a scandal that would rank somewhere between Watergate and the 2011 Greenfield incident.

I am, naturally, upset/outraged/hurt/offended/aggrieved by UQ’s decision not to invite me. From what I can tell, I tick all the boxes. I study law and political science, I hold a leadership position in the university, I am a scholarship student, I have represented UQ internationally, was once on Millionaire Hot Seat, have seen all seven seasons of the West Wing, and hell, I even went to College. Given that I have satisfied all the criteria – well, so far as I can tell as UQ hasn’t actually given information on the basis they allocated tickets– you can surely accept that I am justifiably upset/outraged/hurt/offended/aggrieved. I mean, What about me? It isn’t fair. I’ve had enough and I want my chair at the Obama speech.

This is not just about me, though. I write on behalf of the scores of deserving UQ students who have been thrown under the proverbial bus (I say proverbial because, of course, actual buses are not running thanks to this). There are many, many students who have contributed much to the UQ community who should have been offered the opportunity to attend, some even more deserving than me (maybe). How about UQ Ambassadors who whore themselves out at Open Days and every other weekend to spruik the benefits of UQ to young, naïve high school students who don’t realise that they’re about to enrol in an elitist, nepotistic university with little regard for its students or the practical skills they need to develop in order to thrive in their chosen career? From a marketing stance, surely you should have kept these guys happy so they could rave to prospective students about the opportunities UQ has offered them? Now they’ll have to awkwardly (and probably bitterly) answer questions about Obama’s visit with ‘Oh, no, despite the enormous contribution that I make to UQ,I was not invited to this event. You can rest assured, regardless of what you do for UQ, you will probably be treated with the same contempt and utter disdain by the administration. But QTAC closes soon so make sure you put UQ first!’. There’s also those in the UQ Advantage programme, those studying disciplines directly relevant to this speech, student leaders in clubs and societies, the list actually goes on and on and on (and on).

With countless deserving and sensible-choice students excluded from the list, it leaves us in a position where we are unable to do anything but assume there must be some ulterior motive at play, some great conspiracy or discrimination. I’m inclined to think it is probably misogyny. After all, I am a woman and I was not invited and we all know that correlation is always causation. Furthermore, I have an ethnic friend who was not invited. Seriously, UQ? We all know that you make a killing off international students. Perhaps this institutional racism is not the best way to sure that up for the long term? Although I suppose you’re probably less concerned about international student revenues given upcoming fee deregulation.

Apart from this, the only conclusion I can draw is that you guys are just idiots and when the White House told you that Obama wanted to speak to ‘college students’ you forgot that in America that just means university students and gave 400 tickets to those who just happen to reside on campus (Chris Withers, 2014). Not only is this stupid and unfair, but I think it’s also probably unwise to further perpetuate the divide between college kids and ‘day rats’. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought that segregation was a bad thing. I wonder what Mr Obama’s views are on it. While it was nice of the Vice-Chancellor to finally deign to speak to the plebs who pay his wages in a statement today, it is definitely more than a bit rich to claim that this allocation was ‘based on the logistics associated with exceptionally tight timeframes’ given that there are guests attending from other universities who clearly do not reside within the exclusion zone.

This is a choice that smacks of UQ being too lazy to allocate tickets based on merit. It’s like you guys just put fairness in the ‘too hard’ basket. But I ask you, my friends, where we would be if Martin Luther King Jr had put fairness in the too hard basket? If Vida Goldstein had put fairness in the too hard basket? If Reform had put fairness in the too hard basket? (Okay, I was joking about that last one. They did #thanksreform. Though, to be fair, I am inclined to believe that this claimed ‘consultation with the student union’ is just Pete passing the buck).

Perhaps the worst thing about this entire process is that it seems to fly in the face of everything Barack Obama stands for. He was the one who told us all that ‘Yes, we can’, but, literally, we can’t. We can’t attend his speech because you won’t let us and have insisted upon the most ridiculous and inequitable way possible of doling out tickets. I mean, come on, even Griffith and QUT seem to have done a better job. On top of it all, you’re also restricting the access of students to their campus and important academic resources during the middle of final exams, all so that you can get your name in the international media. You’ve subordinated needs of students at a crucial time to your desire for fifteen minutes of fame and you’ve also closed the gym. I shudder to think of all the gains that stand to be lost. For shame, UQ, for shame.

I’ve always been told that it is good to follow constructive criticism with a compliment of something that has been done well, so I must commend your sense in ensuring that the speech takes place out of firing distance of the Grassy Knoll. Your handling of this event in all other respects, though, leaves a lot to be desired. I can assure you that I intend to appeal your decision to exclude me to the Senate, and would encourage all other students to do the same. I have also received legal advice that should the Senate go against me I have recourse to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and that all I’ll have to do is run up there, put my case, and you can go and get stuffed.

Sour grapes aside, I, and the students I have presumed to speak on behalf of, of course, understand completely that only a limited number of tickets can be offered to such an event. Indeed, as once pointed out by the preeminent economist, Jonathan Black, pie is a scarce resource. However, it is my passionate belief that just because there is only a limited amount of pie, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way to cut it.

Kind regards,

A concerned student, with the support of other concerned students"

In Defence of Ed Miliband

Robin Lustig   |   November 14, 2014    4:36 PM ET

Perhaps I'm the last person in the country - but I still like Ed Miliband. More than that, I think he could be a pretty good prime minister. Yes, I know there aren't many of us left, and I want to try to analyse why.

Let's leave aside all those voters who would never dream of voting Labour anyway. And those who couldn't possibly vote for a party whose leader "looks weird". And those who would never vote for anyone at all. The people who interest me are the voters who do intend to vote, who may well have voted Labour in the past (especially when Tony Blair was leader), but who now cannot imagine themselves voting Labour again.

According to a recent YouGov opinion poll, nearly 40% of voters think Labour cares more about the lives of ordinary people than other parties do. You might think that should convert into lots of votes from ordinary people.

But then you look at some other figures: which party has the better team of leaders? Who's more competent? Who has more ideas for making the country better? On every count, the Tories do better than Labour.

Most people have better things to do than follow the day-by-day (more often minute-by-minute) twists and turns of Westminster politics. They form their political views from a mix of sources: family and friends; TV; the newspapers.

As it happens, many of Mr Miliband's ideas are popular. According to a poll carried out in September, Labour's policies on the NHS, the minimum wage, apprenticeships, the self-employed, and energy pricing are all backed by more than half the voters who were asked.

On their own, though, popular policies are not enough. The politicians proposing them must also be regarded as credible - pollsters like to say it's a bit like choosing a surgeon or a plumber: even if you're confident that they know what to do, you also need to be confident that they will be able to do it.

So try this as an experiment: next time you're with a group of friends, ask them what they think of Ed Miliband. Then ask them the same question about David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

My guess is that many of your friends will say something along the lines of "They're all the same. Can't tell them apart. Wouldn't trust any of them." You may well say the same yourself.

According to YouGov, people who dislike Ed Miliband describe him as unconvincing, unelectable, out of his depth, weak and irritating. Those who like him (yes, it's a much smaller number) say he stands up for ordinary people, is intelligent, honest, genuine and decent.

It doesn't help that the leaders of the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems look much the same and sound much the same. It also doesn't help that the economic crisis from which we are only now beginning to emerge began under Labour, and continued under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition - so if you've been suffering the consequences of casino banking and austerity for the past five years, it's extremely tempting (and by no means entirely unjustified) to blame the lot of them.

They all make the same promises; they all blame each other; they all "passionately believe" that they have all the answers. I suspect one reason, although not the main one, why Nigel Farage is doing so well is simply that he looks and sounds different.

Mr Farage is a big problem for Mr Miliband, and not only because he cynically articulates the fears of some traditional Labour voters. He takes up huge amounts of media space that might otherwise be occupied by Labour. Ukip is simply more interesting than Labour at the moment; it's the new kid on the block; it's news, not history. The same goes for the SNP, whose vertiginous rise in popularity threatens to lose Labour sackloads of Scottish seats next May.

So Mr Miliband struggles to find airtime other than when his own party succumbs to one of its periodic bouts of internecine insanity. Add to that the determination of his right-wing media critics to damage him at every opportunity, and you have a dangerously toxic brew. It did for Neil Kinnock, and it may well do for Mr Miliband as well.

He told the BBC's Nick Robinson that he's "not in the whinging business" about media coverage. (It's worth watching the interview here.) What else can he say? But he needs urgently to assemble a media team who can do for Labour in 2015 what Alastair Campbell did for the party pre-1997. I have the impression that Mr Miliband tends to care more about getting the ideas right than about selling them - admirable, but also short-sighted.

Sometimes he reminds me of Barack Obama: they are both thoughtful men with interesting ideas, and they both have ruthless ambition that they disguise well. (Obama challenged Hillary Clinton when no one thought she could be beaten; Mr Miliband challenged his own brother in an act of breath-taking audacity.)

The result of next year's general election may well be a total mess. David Aaronovitch of The Times summed it up well: "The bookies ... very roughly suggest a 20% chance of a Tory victory, a 20% chance of a Labour one, 20% of one or the other ending up in coalition with the Lib Dems and a 40% chance of no two parties being able to form a majority government together."

I wouldn't be at all surprised if we end up having two general elections next year, just as we did in 1974. If the May election leaves the country ungovernable, there'll be nothing for it but to ask voters to go to the polls again and hope for a clearer answer. (In 1974, a minority Labour government led by Harold Wilson was elected in February and then re-elected in October with an overall majority of just three. By 1977, it had lost its majority and signed the Lib-Lab pact, which enabled it to limp on until it was swept away by Margaret Thatcher in 1979.)

In the meantime, perhaps someone will notice that, according to the Financial Times, Treasury officials fear that David Cameron's tax cut promises "risk undermining fragile public finances and could be 'a disaster' - and that according to one of his own Foreign Office ministers, the Lib Dem Lord (William) Wallace, Britain has no coherent foreign policy and is sinking into "sullen and suspicious nationalism".

In my view, we deserve better.

Paul Vale   |   November 12, 2014    2:40 PM ET

The United States and China pledged Wednesday to take ambitious action to limit greenhouse gases, aiming to inject fresh momentum into the global fight against climate change ahead of high-stakes climate negotiations next year.

President Barack Obama announced that the US would move much faster in cutting its levels of pollution. Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to cap China's emissions in the future — a striking, unprecedented move by a nation that has been reluctant to box itself in on global warming.

"This is a major milestone in the US-China relationship," Obama said, with Xi at his side. "It shows what's possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge."

The unexpected declaration from the world's two largest polluters, unveiled on the last day of Obama's trip to China, reflected both nations' desire to display a united front that could blunt arguments from developing countries, which have balked at demands that they get serious about global warming. Yet it was unclear how feasible it would be for either country to meet their goals, and Obama's pledge was sure to confront tough opposition from ascendant Republicans in Congress.

The US set a new target to reduce its emissions of heat-trapping gases by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. That's a sharp increase from earlier in Obama's presidency, when he pledged to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020.

China, whose emissions are still growing as it builds new coal plants, didn't commit to cut emissions by a specific amount. Rather, Xi set a target for China's emission to peak by 2030, or earlier if possible. He also pledged to increase the share of energy that China will derive from sources other than fossil fuels.

"This is, in my view, the most important bilateral climate announcement ever," said David Sandalow, formerly a top environmental official at the White House and the Energy Department. "It sends the signal the two largest emitters in the world are working together to address this problem."

Obama's target, expected to serve as the US contribution to a worldwide treaty to be finalized next year in Paris, came months before it had been expected. The US has sought to show aggressive action on climate change in order to spur other nations to offer ambitious contributions, too.

barack obama

US President Barack Obama (L) walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a welcome ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

For China, the commitment to cap emissions marked a turning point in China's evolution on global warming and its responsibility to deal with the problem. China accounts for around 30 percent of global emissions, but has only gotten serious in recent years as the large-scale impact on health and quality of life in China has come into focus, exacerbated by smothering smog in Beijing's skies.

Environmental advocates in the US heralded the joint announcements as a game-changer that would undermine opposition. If China can get serious about emissions, they said, surely others can, too.

Al Gore, former vice president and a leading advocate for limiting climate change, called the announcement "a major step forward in the global effort to solve the climate crisis." He said more will be required — "including a global agreement from all nations — but these actions demonstrate a serious commitment by the top two global polluters."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate's environmental panel, said: "Now there is no longer an excuse for Congress to block action."

But Republicans signaled that they would seek to thwart Obama's efforts once the GOP controls the Senate next year, pointing out that Obama was saddling future presidents with a tough-to-meet goal.

"This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs," said incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Criticism also came from Campaign groups, with Friends of the Earth warning the deal wasn't the "major breakthrough the planet needs".

International Energy Campaigner Asad Rehman said: “The US pledge represents at most a woeful 15% cut on 1990 levels - a weaker target even than that promised by Obama in Copenhagen in 2009. Much greater ambition is needed to stop the worst impacts of climate change.

“If everyone follows the US approach then poorer countries will have to take on even greater efforts, without any support from rich nations to avoid the threat of catastrophic climate change.

“China’s intention to peak its emissions in the next fifteen years is certainly welcome news, but only in the context of a global deal based on science and fairness that delivers the urgent help developing nations need to cope with the severe threat global warming poses.”


Tahira Mirza   |   November 10, 2014   12:59 PM ET

China's President Xi Jinping drew the short straw this year to host President Barack Obama and other world leaders at the latest APEC summit

The gathering saw China's president and Japan's prime minister take a major step in easing more than two years of high tensions with an ice-breaking meeting during the Asia-Pacific conference.

But with so many global leaders in the same place, at the same time, there are bound to be a few bumps along the way...

It's a Wave, It's a Flood, It's the GOP Tsunami! But What Now?

Andy Langenkamp   |   November 10, 2014   12:30 PM ET

Sweet dreams for GOP & nightmares for Dems, but....

From a markets point of view the outcome of the midterm elections is moderately encouraging now that we have a president who is generally more pro-market and pro-business than his democratic caucus and a party in charge of both houses of Congress which is also generally pro-business. If they manage to get into a room and work some deals out, we could be witness to progress in some important policy areas:

• Energy: it will now be easier to open up the energy markets for exports of oil and gas. Moreover, Obama could be tempted to finally approve the Keystone pipeline from Canada to the US. These prospects could push oil prices further down.

• Trade: Obama would like to close major free trade deals with Europe and the Pacific region (TTIP and TPP). But to do this, the President needs fast-track authority otherwise Congress could hold up the legislation by constantly adding amendments. A Republican controlled Congress could more easily grant Obama this authority. Most economists agree that TTIP and TPP would give a big boost to the world economy.

• Bank legislation: Republicans despise the Dodd-Frank legislation that put the financial sector in chains according to many conservatives. Even some Democrats are not too happy with this bank law. So we could see some relaxing of the constraints on banks in the coming years.

• Taxes: there's an opportunity for the corporate income tax to be reformed. US companies have by now stashed as much as $5tn in cash abroad in order to prevent having to pay one of the highest corporate taxes in the world. If Washington succeeds in pushing through some changes in tax law, part of this money could come back to the US ready to be invested instead of idly waiting abroad thereby giving the US economy a boost.

• Immigration: we admit, it will be very difficult to realize progress on this issue, but if Obama and Congress can work something out it will be a lift for the US economy as well as for the global economy.

• Battle against the Islamic State: Republicans are more in favor of a "boots on the ground" component in the strategy to battle the Islamic extremists. If they succeed in adding this to the mix, the prospects for success against IS will likely increase, somewhat lessening the geopolitical risk in financial markets prices.

Foreign Policy Troubles?

The elections may turn out to be good for the above foreign policy issue, but could have averse consequences for two other areas:

• Iran: the GOP prefers a much harder line against Iran. So the outcome of the midterms could frustrate the Iranian nuclear talks.

• Guantanamo Bay: the Gitmo prison has turned out to be a major catalyst for increased extremism in the Middle East and in other places. Obama wants to close it down, but he was confronted with major opposition in Congress, especially from the Republican side. Now, we see increased chances of Gitmo continuing to operate even after Obama leaves office. Adding some more fuel to extremist, anti-American fires around the world.

Bipartisanship pipe-dream or realistic scenario?

All in all, we see some probabilities for market-friendly breakthroughs as a result of the midterms. However, financial markets should not get their hopes up too much. Republicans could get cocky because of their success and populist firebrands like Marc Rubio still are a sizeable part of Congress despite the moderate conservatives making a comeback. Democrats should be some what humble after this massacre, but they could opt for thinking that in 2016 the electoral map is heavily in their favor and therefore be less amenable to working with Republicans.

There won't be an end to political gridlock yet, there's just a movement of the chokepoint from the Senate to Obama's veto. People were very frustrated that nothing got done in Washington the last couple of years, but they should not count on DC becoming a smooth, tough, lean and mean operator just because of one election. Some market friendly decisions now have a better chance of being taken, but politics in general in America will not begin to work better overnight.

Louise Ridley   |   November 10, 2014    8:57 AM ET

It's a classic mistake which has foiled many a news organisation: are you referring to current US President Barack Obama... or late Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden?

CNN confused the two in an unfortunate typo on 8 November in a TV news banner.


CNN aired the banner on Sunday evening US time

The banner reportedly appeared for less than a minute before being corrected, but that was long enough for eagle-eyed audience to take some screen shots and lampoon it for the mistake.

CNN's report was about the US Navy Seal who claims to have shot and killed Bin Laden in a May 2011 raid, who is under attack by his former comrades who dispute his version of events.

Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid in Pakistan, and founded one of the largest terrorist organisations in the world, while Barack Obama runs the US and is very much alive.

READ MORE: October's best news bloopers

It's not the first time Obama has been reported dead.

Fox News fell victim to the confusingly similar names on two occasions in 2011 when reporting Bin Laden's death. Its Sacramento affiliate Fox40 News reported that 'Obama Bin Laden' was dead, with another banner that was quickly removed.


Fox's affiliate made the mistake

A reporter on its affiliate channel News 5 even spoke the mistake out loud, telling viewers that their president was "telling the nation and the world President Obama is in fact dead."


Howard Fineman   |   November 6, 2014    1:59 PM ET

It would be nice to think that, after years of ever-deeper anger, division and paralysis, the U.S. government would unite -- out of exhaustion, if nothing else.

It would be nice to think that a humbled President Barack Obama and his emboldened Republican foes would join hands to deal with our obvious public problems: Immigration policy, debt, foreign policy, education, infrastructure.

It would be nice, but it would be wrong.

The prospect for the next two years is one of limited substantive progress, but intense political positioning for, yes, the next election.


'Intense political positioning' for the next presidential elections will follow the midterm elections, Howard Fineman writes

If the U.S. were a parliamentary democracy, the government would have fallen as a result of Tuesday’s election.

But in America, with its Newtonian clockwork of dispersed authority, the political losers and the winners are supposed to work jointly and earnestly on a governing agenda.

They rarely do that.

Honoring tradition, the president and the new leader of the opposition, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, pledged open minds and hearts and a desire to cooperate.

And there, in fact, may be some new laws on global trade, energy, corporate taxes, and a few other matters. Republicans and Obama may able to assemble a mostly Republican alliance of business-friendly members of Congress.

But on the big, emotional issues -- health care, immigration policy, the seemingly endless “war on terror,” even education policy -- the world should not expect much. The cultural chasms are too deep.

There is no doubt that Obama was sobered, if not humiliated, in this midterm election. One reason is the ebb and flow of American politics. The president’s party almost always loses seats in the sixth year of an eight-year administration.

But this was a drubbing on all levels. Obama's (liberal) Democratic Party lost control of the Senate to the (conservative) Republicans for the first time in nearly a decade. Republicans strengthened their already strong grip on the House of Representatives. They won governorships in many key states, including Obama’s Illinois. And they won more state legislatures that, among other things, draw the lines for congressional election districts. There are indeed some factors that favor an effort at cooperation. The main one is Americans’ collective disgust at the way elections work and the way Washington does not. Voters are smarter than the commercially bizarre way we run elections, and they resent the sloppy, cynical system they live in. After all, Americans have just survived an election season in which $4 billion -- yes $4 billion -- was spent on TV advertising, in which Republicans tore down Obama as a wimp and a socialist (a confusing combination) and Democrats depicted Republicans as misogynistic predators eager to rip intravenous tubes from grandma’s arm. Republicans have prospered in the Obama years by trying to block every initiative he has to offer, and then blaming the resulting gridlock on him. This plays into the American myth about the globe-girdling power of the presidency, and it has worked to make Obama look weak. But they now have an incentive to show that they can be grown-ups as they lay the groundwork for whomever their presidential candidate is in 2016. Successful presidential campaigns don’t win on anger, but on hopeful ideas. McConnell, soon to be Republican leader in the Senate at age 72, has reason to want a legacy of constructive action. So those are reasons to think that things will get done. But there is another side of the ledger. Republicans have gotten where they are in the last few years by opposing the president at every turn. Why should they stop now? The activist core of their party remains vehemently antagonistic to Obama, and Republican leaders ignore that at their peril. The president himself is not the kind of politician who relishes the grimy trading of favors that is at the heart of politics. He thinks in intellectual constructs, and he doesn’t enjoy the game for its own sake. And American politics as now constructed is a money-drive proposition based on the profits of discord. Campaign consultants make millions; TV stations make hundreds of millions; billionaires are free to throw their weight around like oligarchs in Russia. Parties play to their own extremes to stoke emotion and harvest contributions. It is as though the seating in the House of Commons were reversed. Instead of facing each other, the parties are facing outward to their most mindlessly steadfast supporters outside the building. It would be nice to think that that will change, but it won't.

Can this Lame Duck Fly?

James Davis   |   November 5, 2014    2:11 PM ET

In the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt unseated a sitting president with the campaign slogan: "Happy days are here again!" Assuming the presidency in March 1933, he lifted the spirits of the nation with the assertion: "The only thing we have to fear itself!" A half-century later, as the US economy showed signs of recovery from a sustained recession, Ronald Reagan won a landslide reelection, campaigning on the slogan: "It's morning again in America!" Optimism, it seems, is a winning proposition in American politics.

First elected on the slogan "Yes we can!" Barack Obama's optimism was often was compared to that of Roosevelt and Reagan. But today, after the Democratic Party suffered major defeats in the mid-term elections and lost control of the United States Senate, many are drawing a different comparison to these lions of the last century. The implied lesson? If only Obama were a bit more like Roosevelt and Reagan, if only he had been able to counter the Republican narrative of fear, things would have turned out better for the Democratic Party!

It is true; Americans by and large seem to have lost their optimism, their fundamental belief in a better future. And by and large, Republicans did run a campaign of fear. Take the campaign of the incoming Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. The Senator from Kentucky ran a campaign that highlighted the dangers of foreign trade and labeled President Obama's efforts to move the United States toward renewable energies as a "war on coal." Not much optimism there.

While McConnell criticized a phony war, other Republicans were eager to rewrite the history of failed wars of the past. Raising the specter of the Islamic State in attacks against the incumbent Democrat, Senator Kay Hagan, the newly elected Senator from North Carolina, Thom Tillis, was characteristic. Ignoring the fact that Barack Obama won election with a pledge to bring American troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and conveniently forgetting that the sectarian violence now plaguing Iraq and Syria is a direct consequence of George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq, Tillis blamed the President and Senator Hagan for the rise of ISIS. When reporters pointed out that Tillis himself had failed to articulate a plan for dealing with ISIS the Republican candidate responded: Hagan is "responsible for it and she works for a commander in chief who's responsible for it."

Fear mongering served the Republicans well in this election, but would things have been different, if only Barack Obama had a bit of Roosevelt or Reagan in him? History suggests the answer is no.

Despite a convincing reelection in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt suffered a devastating defeat in the November 1938 midterm elections. The Democrats lost 72 seats in the House of Representatives and 6 in the Senate. The President's party retained official control of the Senate, but a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats from the Southern States effectively brought Roosevelt's New Deal politics to a standstill.

Despite Ronald Reagan's intense personal popularity and landslide reelection in 1984, the Republican Party lost control of the Senate only two years later, with the Democrats picking up 8 seats. Facing Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Reagan's "Conservative Revolution" had hit a wall in the 1986 midterm elections.

Whether Obama has turned out to be a weak and ineffective President is a proposition we can debate, but not on the basis of yesterday's elections. True, the President will no longer dominate the domestic political agenda. On that question, the elections leave no room for doubt. At home, Obama is indeed a lame duck.

But the President can to draw some strength and inspiration from the fact that both Roosevelt and Reagan achieved their most important foreign policy triumphs after they lost their power to dominate the domestic political agenda. After 1938 Roosevelt effectively led the United States into the Second World War and Reagan essentially ended the Cold War in the final years of his Presidency. It seems that lame ducks sometimes still can fly.

  |   November 3, 2014   10:17 AM ET

That headline is not, amazingly, a rhetorical question, but one posed by 'Russell Howard's Good News'.

Check out Howard comparing and contrasting Cameron and Obama's recent moves... and coming to a not-too-unexpected conclusion.


US in for a Killer and a Chiller and a Thriller?

Andy Langenkamp   |   October 31, 2014    3:09 PM ET

Talking about butterflies and bees

Forty years ago on 30th October 1974 the legendary Rumble in the Jungle took place: Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round in Zaire in one of the biggest sporting events ever. The US would like to be able to operate on the global stage like Ali did in the boxing ring: "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

However, the US now often lacks the stamina, shrewdness and domestic political unity needed to deal out a mean five-punch combination of left and right hooks to deal with opponents and challenges: Russia, terrorists, high debt, immigration, to name but a few.

The coming quarters we will see if the US manages to offer some Ali to the world and deliver on domestic issues like immigration, addressing the Islamic State challenge, standing up to Russia without plunging the world into a new Cold War etc. On 4 November Americans will be heading to the polls to pick a new House of Representatives and replace a third of the hundred Senators. Later in November - on 15 and 16 November - we will witness the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia and a deal on Iran's contested nuclear program needs to be reached before a November 24 deadline.


Ali used a tactic now known as Rope-A-Dope: lying against the ropes, Ali allowed Foreman to hit him, but much of the punch's energy was absorbed by the ropes' elasticity rather than Ali's body. Ali managed to cause Foreman to "punch himself out" and make mistakes so Ali could counter-attack.

It would be fantastic if we would be able to look back in a couple of years to the period after 2008 and conclude that the US copied the Rope-A-Dope tactic and 2015 turned out to be the year that the US finally hit back and took the initiative back again as global leader and as a united country with a strong and cohesive vision and policies.

Who's the greatest?

However, America often acts like a ponderous and unwieldy giant in the geopolitical boxing area lacking the necessary eye-to-hand coordination. The US used to be able to act like Ali did in the ring (although it did not always do so):

• Approaching fights like chess matches.

• Being almost invincible and acting with supreme confidence, just like Ali yelled to Foreman in the 1974 fight: "That all you got, George? That all you got?"

• Bending the rules and getting away with it (just like Ali did when he out-wrestled Foreman, leaned on him and pushed the champion's head down by pulling on the back of his neck).

But the US could and cannot sustain the hegemonic role the way it did in the recent past: other giants stepping into the ring are one cause. Another reason is the political disunity at home, the partisanship that obstructs policy making and the clear lines that divide the country into red and blue parts. The government shutdown last year was one example of this debilitating political climate. The US does not succeed in passing major reforms in areas like immigration and taxes because of the political gridlock.

Midterms: it's the economy stupid - except when it isn't

The midterms next week will not lead to revolutionary change. The Republicans should retain solid control of the House and recent polls have tilted in favor of a narrow Republican Senate majority, with a net gain of seven seats which would give the GOP 52 out of the hundred seats. Obama's Democrats heading for a clunking defeat in the midterm elections next week shows a disjunction between economic performance and political success. "It would upend one of the great clichés of modern politics. These days it's the economy stupid - except when it isn't," writes The Guardian. The American people are insecure and are doubting if growth will translate into many good paying jobs being created and in a broad-based recovery for consumers. On top of this, the world seems more dangerous to Americans with ISIS beheading US citizens and Ebola having entered the country without Washington showing an appropriate response.

If polls turn out to be right, the last two years of Obama's presidency are set to make the last four look like an age of mutual civility and respect. The GOP will try to repeal many laws that the Obama administration has enacted in the last six years. Obamacare will obviously be the first to go if it was up to the Republicans and environmental regulation will also be on the list. If the next two years will indeed be all about the GOP trying to undo what Obama has done, the US will lose even more sense of direction and purpose.

However, I doubt that the outcome of the elections will matter very much to markets despite upcoming issues like the possibility of another debt ceiling-related impasse in the 2nd quarter of 2015. The markets are already discounting a lame-duck president for the next two years and I do not see this changing. We witnessed political trench warfare in the last couple of years and we will certainly see it the next two years albeit possibly in a somewhat intensified manner.

Get up and fight

All in all, the US will not undergo a remarkable change for the better in the coming quarters to years: US economic growth will probably continue without surprising very much on the upside. The G20 meeting in Australia will not herald any major changes in how the world will deal with economic imbalances and disappointing growth and we will also not witness a game changing nuclear deal with Iran. This means that the West will stay down in the near future just like Sonny Liston did in 1965 when Ali shouted at him: "Get up sucker and fight. Get up and fight!" The US will be a giant for years to come but is clearly taking a couple of steps back because of domestic political malady and a lack of strategic vision and strong White House leadership amid the rise of new international players and the reappearance of thorny old rivals.

Bricks and stones

Right after the crumbling of the Soviet Union the US felt like Ali in his heydays:

"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale;
and cuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail;
Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick;
I'm so mean I make medicine sick."

Nowadays, the US still deserves and receives much admiration and awe because of its military, political, economic and social levels of development, but in many ways the nation needs a couple of doses of medicine while players from all sides are hurling bricks and stones at it. It will take some time for the US to stand up again and turn the game around.

Overcoming the Past and Accepting Realities - The Necessary Evils to Defeat ISIS are Boots On The Ground in Iraq and a Diplomatic Channel With Assad

Daniel Marriott   |   October 27, 2014   11:03 PM ET

Western foreign policy vis-à-vis Iraq & Syria is an incoherent and ineffective mess. It is becoming painfully obvious that the lazily sporadic Western/coalition air strikes in the two countries, particularly in Iraq, are proving ineffective at pushing back ISIS, let alone defeating it. The self proclaimed caliphate has infiltrated territory less than 10 miles from Baghdad, and the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga are merely holding the line. The Assad regime appears to be mounting a more effective campaign but nothing close to what is needed to push ISIS into full scale retreat. Meanwhile, ISIS is controlling vast swathes of Iraq and Syria as well as large portions of the populations and natural resources of both countries, giving them the unprecedented influence and power to perpetuate their extremist ideology and carry out tyrannical extreme Islamist oppression not seen since the brutal rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Children are being indoctrinated in extremist controlled schools and the rule of secular law has been brushed aside. The genocidal massacre of the Yazidi population in Iraq and the persecution of Kurds and other minorities are just a handful of the deplorable crimes committed by the organisation. One thing is certain - there is consensus the world over that ISIS must be stopped, but the present strategy simply isn't working.

At the heart of the problem is that current efforts are not only halfhearted, the West is trying to implement a "one size fits all" strategy in both countries. Air strikes weaken ISIS but they do not comprise an effective counter attack to retake the lost territory containing vast swathes of valuable natural and human resources which are fueling ISIS' war effort. History has shown time and time again that air power alone cannot win wars. The current strategy does not take into account the differing contexts and situations on the ground in each state. As far as Iraq is concerned, it is becoming clear that the democratic government in Baghdad is completely inept at governing the territory it does control let alone able to mount a successful counterattack on the ground. This is partly due to the US' premature withdrawal from the country, which had more to do with Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign than with any real confidence that the Iraqis were ready to provide their own security. The Iraqi army has proven to be unorganized and poorly disciplined - leaving in the wake of their hasty retreat scores of technologically advanced US provided materiel which ISIS now uses to its advantage. But despite the fact that Iraq is crumbling before our very eyes, the West is reluctant to provide any real assistance. Baghdad's Western allies have allowed the legacy of Iraq's failings as well as the memories surrounding the loathed Bush Doctrine to constrain the execution of anything close to an effective strategy. No doubt one of the most important things for policy makers to bear in mind when formulating foreign policy are the lessons of history - having an awareness and appreciation for the mistakes of the past and acting accordingly to prevent repetition. But one of the most dangerous paths policy makers can go down is to allow the mistakes of the past to constrain future decision making to the point that fears of public reprisal and concerns of one's place in the history books prevent effective and necessary policy from being enacted. This is what is happening in Iraq. Nobody wants to return to Iraq, but sometimes the only options on the table are bad ones.

The West, particularly Britain and the United States, have become prisoners of the past - afraid to act in fear of repeating the sins of 2003 and the failures of the subsequent occupation, regime change, civil war, and insurgency. This fear is a fallacy. This isn't 2003 and this isn't a regime change. The mistakes of the 2003 invasion and the failures of Iraq can no longer constrain us - it is clear that ISIS can only be stopped and pushed back with a commitment of Western ground troops in Iraq to aid the woefully untrained and undisciplined Iraqi army. Western nations are the only states with the experience and the effective power projection to meet the task at hand, with the Arab League proving yet again to be nothing more than an impotent and ineffective talking shop. Arming the Kurdish Peshmerga as has been widely advocated is a vital step, but alone it is a short sighted strategy aimed at merely keeping Iraqi Kurdistan free from ISIS influence. The Iraqi Kurds have neither the ability nor the will to fight ISIS in the Arab populated regions of Western Iraq where the militants are strongest. The simple fact is that the original Iraq mission remains unfinished and was terminated prematurely for reasons of Western domestic politics. But let's be clear about one thing, a return to Iraq isn't about national security - Theresa May's scaremongering that ISIS poses a threat to the United Kingdom is unfounded and hyperbolic. Neither is a return solely about international and regional security, though ISIS does pose a threat to both. A return to Iraq is primarily about meeting obligation and responsibility. Regardless of the rights and wrongs surrounding the 2003 invasion, to not aid the democratic government in Baghdad is tantamount to a death sentence to a country and people the West owes security to at the very least. Those states in particular which partook in the 2003 invasion and catalysed a chain of events which slowly but surely destabilized the region into its present state are indebted to Iraq. The questionable legality of the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation are food for thought but they are now moot points - policy in 2014 should be formulated according to the needs of 2014. Yes we should remember the failings of the past but Iraq now has as close to a democratic government as it has ever had, and to allow that to fall to an extremist group whose ideology we have been fighting for over a decade is simply unacceptable. Granted an ideology cannot be stopped with the use of military force, but the tangible effects of its execution can.

But ISIS' transnational presence across the Iraqi-Syrian border means even if the West does intervene and defeat ISIS in Iraq, the organization maintains a foothold in Eastern Syria. To defeat ISIS, the organization must be crushed in both states. This leads us to accepting an uncomfortable truth; that a tacit relationship with the Assad regime is currently the only way to ensure ISIS is fully militarily defeated in both countries. Western ground troop presence in Syria is out of the question, and the "moderate" Syrian opposition has become so intermixed with the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat-Al-Nusra that the distinctions between moderate secularists and Islamist extremists, albeit non-linked to ISIS, are no longer apparent. The blurring has reached such an extent that it is impossible to support the moderates without aiding Islamist extremists allied to the West's nemesis by default. Similarly to the situation in Iraq, arming Syrian Kurds is a step in the right direction but is not a strategy in itself. The Kurds have little interest or ability to fight ISIS outside Kurdish populated territory. It is becoming all too apparent therefore that the West was right to not intervene in the Syrian Civil War in the aftermath of Ghouta chemical weapon attack of 2013, not solely because the perpetrator of the attack has been unconfirmed (though all evidence points to Assad's Ba'ath regime) but because the Syrian government has proven to be the sole effective fighting force keeping ISIS and Islamic extremism at bay in Syria. An attack on the Syrian regime would undoubtedly have aided an enemy which the West has been combating for over a decade.

I know what you're thinking - Assad is a monster, or more accurately, the ruling Syrian Ba'ath Party regime is monstrous. The extent to which Basher al-Assad is actually in control of 'his' government let alone his country is a matter of debate, but what has been clear for decades is that the ruling regime is one of illiberal and brutal despotism hell-bent on maintaining its grip on power at the expense of the Syrian people and wider regional security. The crimes of the Ba'athist regime became quite clear prior to the onset of the Civil War with the gunning down of peaceful demonstrators in Damascus. One might rightly ask therefore why the West should have anything to do with such a despicable regime. The sad fact is there a few other options. Lamentably, foreign policy and diplomacy is invariably a game of contradictions and hypocrisies, and let's be frank - the Syrian regime is a considerably lesser evil than ISIS. Double standards in diplomacy more often than not serve a purpose and a much needed channel of communication with Assad is no exception. The West maintains close ties with a plethora of questionable bedfellows the world over, many like Saudi Arabia and Yemen possessing far worse human rights and civil liberties records than Syria. Many of these uneasy relationships are forged because they are beneficial economically, but many of these alliances of convenience are essential in the maintenance of international security. Co-operation with Assad doesn't have to be a formal treaty, it doesn't mean the West and Assad would be best friends. Cooperation can come in the form of intelligence sharing or the co-ordination of offensives. A communicative channel with Assad would be an acceptance that the situation in which we now find ourselves is intolerable and that alliances of convenience, as history has shown, serve wider humanitarian interests. If the parties of the Chinese Civil War could put aside their differences to fight Japanese imperialism, if Churchill could sit with Stalin to defeat European Fascism, then London and Washington can call Damascus to defeat ISIS. The beauty of alliances of convenience is that they are just that and nothing more. They serve their purpose and can end as soon as they become redundant.

Paul Vale   |   October 24, 2014    4:32 PM ET

NEW YORK -- “Ebola Hits New York,” screamed headlines across US media on Friday (including HuffPost) following news that a 33-year-old doctor had contracted the virus in Africa before unwittingly transporting it to Gotham.

Paranoia is rife stateside, with cable news shows devoting hours to the “outbreak” (currently four people out of 316 million), puffing the opinion of anyone willing to go on record and say the virus is perhaps more communicable that the much maligned Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has outlined.

However beyond the rational fear of disease, some commentators are using the “outbreak” for political capital ahead of next week’s mid-term elections, while employing the virus as fertilizer for two of America’s great cultural pastimes – "blaming Obama" and conspiracy theories.

Bewigged birther Donald Trump was quick to assign responsibility, tweeting on Thursday night:

This was followed by a further tantrum:

Yet Trump’s late-night sulk was positively tame compared to some of the views being proffered in the God-infused sewers of America’s right wing madhouse.

Earlier this week, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told a radio show that Obama was “deliberately” pushing for an Ebola epidemic to take hold across the US so that the President could institute “martial law”.

Then there was Peter LaBarbera, a social conservative activist who runs the wonderfully named, “Americans for Truth about Homosexuality”, who last week made the handy connection between Ebola and homosexuality, arguing that as the government had made no plans to deal with AIDS (presumably by banning gay sex), they could not be trusted to handle Ebola.

"Condom-less anal sex and homosexual promiscuity are the two largest risk factors in the spread of disease," he said. "They can't even close down a bath house? I mean, they're not serious about that disease so why should we trust them on Ebola?"

This chap wants to talk about male "bath houses"... and Ebola

Erik Rush, a man best know for making a joke about Muslims while the charred victims of the Boston Marathon bombings were still on the pavement, used a recent speech about Ebola to claim the president had “deep psychological problems”.

He said: “Last weekend, Obama addressed the threat to America from the Ebola virus during his weekly television and radio address. Leaving aside the gross inaccuracies and misrepresentations contained therein, what caught my attention was a photograph from the video of the address released by a news agency in which Obama looks completely deranged.”

This old bruiser takes it to the next level

And then there was the John Hagee, a senior Pastor from Texas whose brand of Christianity is more concerned with geopolitics than helping people, particularly when it comes to the borders of the Middle East. He decided to fuse end times theology, the Ebola virus and Israel into a toxic cocktail mixed by the man in the White House.

He squealed: "I want every American to hear this very clearly… our president is dead set on dividing Jerusalem. God is watching and he will bring America into judgment. There are grounds to say that judgment has already begun because he, the president, has been fighting to divide Jerusalem for years now."

And what form has this punishment taken? “The crisis of Ebola,” said an ageing Hagee, looking close to the Day of Judgment himself.

(H/T Right Wing Watch)