Sunday, 25 November 2012

Hamas: Terrorists or resistance group?


Yesterday, in amongst all the other crap that appears every day on my Facebook page, I received (as a forward) the following map:


At that time, there had been getting on for 150 “Likes” – which mystifies me more than a little.  What are we supposed to “Like” exactly?  The quality and accuracy of the map?  The fact that the Palestinians have clearly lost over 95% of their territory – their homeland – in less than 60 years?  That, arguably, they are the continuing victims of the worst case of genocide since the Second World War (of which more shortly)?  Frankly, I “Dislike”, fervently, all of these points.

There had been over 100 comments, too – most of which were of course hidden for reasons of space, but the following was there, and I quote it in full by the wonders of Cut and Paste:

Bottem line they need to rid themselves of hamas.They are dangerous and until they do there will always be problems.They are radical and dangerous to anyone whom is not muslim.If Israel laid down there swords they would be all killed.They are protecting themselves.It is Palestines fault for allowing them to stay and at times hiding them out .

Leaving aside the poor spelling, punctuation and grammar (the poster possibly does not use English as a first language – although the name and photo suggest otherwise), the Comment in itself is rubbish, and I posted as much in a somewhat lengthy comment of my own.
 
What follows is an expansion of those views.

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In a nutshell, I pointed out that Hamas, whilst dangerous, was not solely to blame for the land loss – as the poster seemed to suggest – and used a perhaps stretched analogy between Hamas and various WW2 resistance groups.  I’ll expand on that in a moment.  I also stated that much (indeed perhaps the bulk) of the problems in the region could be laid at the door of the state of Israel and its seemingly powerless Western supporters.  Again, more in a minute.

Let me be very clear here.  I do not for one second support the Hamas tactic of launching unguided missiles across the border into Israel – I condemn it without hesitation.  However, I equally condemn without hesitation the consistently disproportionate response from the Israelis, tactics that in my opinion are nothing more than state sponsored terrorism. 

For a typical example, let’s look at the events of the past couple of weeks.  Tensions have been rumbling along between to the two sides for months without any publicity.  Then, seemingly out of the blue, Israel launches an airstrike – which they can do secure in the knowledge that the Palestinian people do not have the weaponry or strength to prevent it – that kills the Hamas armed forces commander.  Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether or not the man deserved to die: I don’t know enough about him to pass a judgement on that.  Hamas’ response, predictably, was to lob a few rockets in the general direction of Tel Aviv, along the coast from the blockaded Gaza Strip.  The action, and others like it the following day, was reported to be fully supported by the vast majority of ordinary Palestinians, whether Hamas supporters or otherwise, and killed a handful (literally: 5 fatalities) of Israelis.  Israel’s response was to launch a five day bombardment by air power and artillery of Gaza City and its environs, and the mobilization of 75,000 army reservists, mostly manning the tank regiments that were lined up along Gaza’s borders ready to roll as soon as Netanyahu gave the word.    Seventy five thousand reservists……that is around 25% of the population of Gaza City, and a high proportion of the City’s residents are of course women, children, the elderly and the infirm.  Throw in the weight of the Israeli regular army (plus navy and air force blockading the country), and it’s clear that Israel would easily win any conflict.  In any case, their bombardment, despite statements from various government spokesmen that it was “aimed at specific military targets”, succeeded in destroying entire neighbourhoods, including hospitals, and killed over 150 people, including large numbers of perfectly innocent women and children. 

Now, can someone please explain to me how a massacre like that can be an acceptable response?

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Now let’s look at the wider picture for a minute, and with apologies take in a bit of history.

The State of Israel was founded in 1948, courtesy of the Allies who had won the Second World War, to give a homeland to the Jewish people in Europe (mostly) who had been the main victims of the Nazi Genocide (and the lesser known but bigger genocide carried out by Stalin, in his own closed country).  No-one could seriously disagree that some recompense was due, after the way the Allies had ignored the stories (and evidence) that came out of Occupied countries (notably Poland) about the slaughter going on there.  The land chosen for this homeland was British administered Palestine, in the Middle East – the historic homeland of Jew and Arab alike.  It made a sort of sense, and had it been organized in a reasonable manner, and the wishes of the Arab population properly considered, much of the bloodshed on both sides probably avoided – or at least significantly reduced.  What actually happened – the forcible removal of Palestinians from lands they had lived in and farmed for centuries, sometimes at gunpoint, to make room for an influx of Jews from across the world - cannot be considered in any way a glowing example of British diplomacy.  Essentially, once the Israelis (as they now called themselves) were in place, and the Palestinians in their new territories – not only much reduced but also much less naturally  productive – the British withdrew at a rate of knots and left them all to sink or swim. 

Given that the new Israeli state was supported financially and otherwise by, in particular, the US (with its own large and powerful Jewish population), whilst the Palestinians were largely left to their own devices, the resentment and mutual dislike was allowed to fester – and that situation continues to this day.  Successive Israeli governments have launched offensives and land grabs, as the maps above clearly show, and still do.  There are Israeli settlements thrown up all over land that, according to the UN Resolution that defined the limits of the respective Israeli and Palestinian territories, lie clearly and hence illegally on Palestinian land.  There have been a number of Resolutions passed confirming the illegality of these settlements and demanding Israeli withdrawal from them.  Every single one has been ignored by successive Israeli governments.  In contrast – and again the maps show this clearly – Israel has forcibly moved the Palestinians from more and more land until they are largely confined to the narrow and barren Gaza strip, along the Mediterranean coast bordering Lebanon, and parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem.  Not content with that, they have blockaded Gaza by land, sea and air, so that only supplies they consider essential (certain foods, medicines and fuel, all in strictly limited amounts) are allowed through – meaning that the lives and dignities of ordinary Palestinian Arabs have been constantly eroded.  They are prisoners in their own lands.  The blockade is not all, however: at great expense, they have constructed (and continue to construct) the euphemistically named Peace Barrier.  Essentially this is a twenty foot high concrete wall stretching for miles along the border, aimed solely to ensure that Palestinians cannot have freedom of movement.  Again, the UN has declared the barrier illegal and demanded it be dismantled.  Again, the Israeli government has flipped the finger and ignored the Resolution.  And again, the US and its Western allies (that’s you, Britain and the EU) have allowed them to do so.

So by any sense of reason and fair play, the Palestinians have genuine and legitimate grounds for complaint.

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Now let’s get back to Hamas, and to my Facebook analogy
.
Clearly, much of what legally constitutes Palestinian land has been occupied and annexed by Israel, in clear contempt of international law and UN governance.  Equally clearly, the major Western Powers have allowed this situation to continue for many years.  Equally clearly, if you read your history books, the peaceful means that initially Palestinian politicians carried out in attempting to resolve the situation and reclaim their ancestral lands has failed.  This has led directly to Hamas.  Hamas is not, and never has been, a terrorist group: it is a legally and democratically constituted political party that took power in Gaza through a properly contested democratic election in which it defeated the more militant Fatah party of the late (and not particularly lamented) Yasser Arafat.  As such, it has every right to fight for the independence of Gaza and a fully recognized Palestinian state with full UN membership. 

It has its military wing, and it is this body (or elements associated with it) that is responsible for the rocket strikes and other, less well publicised, armed actions against Israel.    It could be argued that in Israel too – and indeed any other country – the government in power has its military wing: in the UK it’s called the Army, Navy and Air Force.    Their responsibility is to defend the country when under attack, or in war to attack the enemy and defeat it to maintain its sovereignty.  This is what happened during World Wars 1 and 2, the Korean War and indeed any other recognised “war” – yes, even the one in Iraq that got rid of Saddam.
But in this conflict, things are little different.  In this case, Gaza (or greater Palestine is probably more accurate, since Gaza is only a part of it, though the most visible) is the “occupied territory” – the defender if you will; whilst the State of Israel is the aggressor.  Again, look at the maps.  Now consider what happened when Nazi Germany overran much of Europe in the late 30's.  It essentially did exactly what Israel has been doing to the Palestinian state for the past 40 odd years.  The difference, it seems to me, is that the “democracies” – in particular Britain - stood up to Hitler and his cohorts in a way that no-one seems prepared to stand up to Netanyahu (or whoever has been leading Israel in the past). 

Despite that, to continue the analogy, many governments initially fell as Germany conquered pretty much all of Continental Europe.  In  many of those lands, notably France, Poland, and the Netherlands, active resistance movements sprang up, all of whom wanted to get rid of the Nazis and take their own land back.   They took armed action to do so: they blew up railway lines to disrupt the free movement of equipment and troops, provided intelligence to Allied forces, and, when the opportunity arose, killed Nazis.  To do this, they used arms and equipment either stolen or provided by the Allies.  When they were caught, the reprisals were swift, bloody and disproportionate – there are many documented cases where the death of one Nazi soldier in Warsaw for instance was repaid by the execution of 100 men, women and children.  Entire villages were wiped out in this way across the occupied lands.  Come the Allied victory and the end of the war, the surviving Resistance operatives were rightly lauded as heroes and freedom fighters, and the surviving Nazis tried, and in many cases convicted and executed, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

So now we have a situation where by all definitions of the word, huge swathes of Palestinian lands have been “occupied” illegally by Israel (as huge swathes of Europe were occupied illegally by the Nazis), and the remaining Palestinians holed up in a small bit of territory that is not much more than a glorified concentration camp.  Indeed, by the constant bombardments they are being exposed to in Gaza and elsewhere, with consequent loss of innocent lives, death camp may be a more accurate phrase to use.  But, and it’s a big but, all this is going on in the public gaze, thanks to 21st century telecommunications. And this time, the aggressor – Israel, not Palestine – is the one with the tacit support of the major powers, by the failure of the UN, US, EU and so on, to do anything at all to rein in the Israeli action.  Indeed, the only support they have is from other Arab states like Egypt, Syria and, notably, Iran - all of whom are struggling right now with their own internal problems, and in any case are nowhere near as powerful as the US, never mind the likes of the EU and possibly even Britain.

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So what choice do the Palestinians – or if you prefer Hamas – have but to fight back in some way before they are totally exterminated (which I have to say seems to be what Israel really wants)?  Talking, diplomacy, peaceful means, are clearly having no effect: all the rhetoric coming from the Israeli and US governments, the UN, the British government and so forth, is having no obvious effect – the slaughter continues.  Israel complains that its citizens close to the border with Gaza go to bed at night “frightened” that they may be targeted, and understandably so.  I would think that the ordinary citizens of Gaza live in a constant fear of the same thing – with the difference that they have neither adequate shelters to hide in (as the Israelis have in abundance) nor anyone prepared to step in and help them afterwards – anyone who tries to do so is turned back, arrested or killed by the Israeli blockade.  It seems to me that in this terrible war of attrition that has been going on for so many years, and will probably continue for many more, that Hamas are doing no more than resistance groups throughout history – namely, trying to rid themselves of an aggressive occupying force and reclaim their lands – as did the French Resistance, the Polish Home Army and many others previously.  Only they are doing it alone, and being vilified as terrorists for doing so.

That is the tragedy and the scandal of the Middle East right now.  It seems to me that if Tony Blair and George Bush should be tried at The Hague for war crimes arising from the Second Iraq War then there must be an equal case to try Netanyahu and indeed every Israeli Prime Minister of the past 40 years for the war crimes they have committed (and continue to commit on a daily basis) against the Palestinian Arabs.  It will never, happen of course.  Neither Bush nor Blair, nor any Israeli politician will ever face the International Court – they are too big fish to fry.  But should there be an end to the Israel – Palestine Conflict, I would lay money that within months Hamas leaders, should they survive, would be indicted. 

Sometimes the world is not a fair place at all.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Gardening Leave


The problem with Gardening Leave, especially the extended version (in my case 3 ½ months) is that sooner or later the gardening runs out – as I live in a 5th floor flat, it took about an hour.   So what do you do then?  Move on to DIY, I guess.  The problem there is that I bloody hate DIY and in any case I’m useless at it, as anyone who has in the past seen my wonky shelves and bodged cupboard door repairs will testify.  Painting I can just about manage (as long as you don’t look too closely), but anything electrical, plumbing or (the worst) woodwork – forget it: time to consult Yellow Pages and call in the experts.

From this you may gather that my notice period is beginning to drag more than a bit. 

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The first couple of weeks were ok, as I had Things To Do.  For a start, a CV that needed bringing up to date and editing – reducing 50 individual project assignments over a 13 year period, not to mention a variety of internal projects, down to a handful of notables – sort of compiling a Travellin Bob’s Greatest Hits.   Not the easiest job in the world.  Then there was the LinkedIn profile to complete.   Now this little website seems to be rapidly replacing the good old recruitment consultancy when it comes to finding a new job.  Gone are the days when you’d hop on a train to London (or New York, or Berlin or wherever you happened to live) and do a tour of the agencies that specialized in your particular career path – banking and accountancy, say – and drop off a bunch of CVs (or for my transAtlantic readers, resumÄ—s), then go home again and hope that someone was interested enough to call back.  Instead, nowadays you set up your LinkedIn profile, upload your CV, join a few forums that specialize in what you want to do and hey presto.  Agencies (and others) post job requirements on the site, linked to these forums, you get an e-mail notification, and you can contact the agency (or whatever) directly from the site to register your “interest”.    Since it’s on-line, it’s global – I’ve responded to requirements in Canada, the Middle East, Singapore and Europe (various locations) and while nothing is certain, there has been interest from some of them and discussions are on-going, as they say. 
 
Now, as I’m getting on in years, and in a fairly specialized labour market, finding a new permanent employer is likely to prove a bit tricky – Ageism is rife in the labour market, no matter what legislation is in place and what government ministers may say in public.  So it’s time to look at alternatives - in my case this leads to the concept of the independent contractor.   They are rife in my employment universe – I’ve worked alongside them many times over the years, and I think complained about them on this blog somewhen.  Frequently they have been much less experienced than me, had much less knowledge of the product and, indeed, the investment banking business itself, and needed support and guidance (and education) to a ridiculous degree given their position within the project.  And nine times out ten, they have been earning three and four times as much money as me.  So, given the current situation, it’s time for this gamekeeper to turn poacher.  Cool. 

This leads to more activities to fill the long hours of Gardening Leave……set up a company.  Should it be on-shore (so locally registered and subject to local taxation) or off-shore?  If the latter, where is most tax efficient?  And how the hell do you establish an offshore company from here (with bank accounts and everything)?  And square it with my conscience?  Because, nowadays, tax efficiency is more commonly known as tax avoidance, and universally frowned upon – governments the world over are trying to close all the loopholes that make offshore companies less attractive and harder to establish, on the premise (that I find incredibly flimsy) that trying to reduce your tax bill is somehow Cheating and Unfair and likely to consign you to Hell For All Eternity.  Now I am firmly of the view that the most important thing any man should be doing is providing for his family, and hence making as much money as possible, legally.  Reducing the amount of tax paid, either directly or indirectly, is one way of doing this.  I have no problem at all with paying income tax, and national insurance, corporation tax, poll tax, VAT – whatever else: any government needs to raise revenues to pay for a million things, and that is done through taxation.  I pay the Polish equivalent of National Insurance here, but personally will receive absolutely no benefit from it at all unless I continue to pay in until I’m about 80, because there is a minimum membership period, if I can call it that, before you qualify.  I don’t begrudge it, because one day I may well need emergency hospital treatment (I hope not for many years yet, but you never know) and this insurance pays for that.  And for my wife and kids too, of course.  But that does not mean that I want to be paying the best part of 60% of my income to any government – and anyone who says otherwise is a liar.  Of course people want to pay less tax, whether it be income tax or sales tax or whatever.  This is why political parties that pledge to reduce taxation tend to win elections (even if they renege on the promises afterwards – as most of them do).   Messrs Cameron and Osborne, Frau Merkel. Monsieur Sarkozy and all the other politicians who are screaming for EU budget cuts, increased austerity, higher taxes and so on as a panacea for the world’s economic ills (and, God knows, something needs doing!), even when their people simply cannot take any more financial squeezing, are at best misguided and at worst raging hypocrites – I would dearly love to see statements from their various off-shore bank accounts and see just how tax efficient they are. 

Anyway, rant over: more days have been spent in looking at various options in this field.   I haven’t yet made up my mind which way to go – more information needed – but I’m getting there.  I did think of a couple of catchy names for my shop, but I’m not sure which one to go with.  First up: The TB Consultancy (or maybe, a bit snappier, TB Consulting).  Google it – there’s an outfit with that name in Phoenix, Arizona, apparently, although their business is hugely different than mine will be.  OK – what about BC Consulting?  Worse – it seems there are several of these.  Then someone suggested TB Professional Services.  Definitely not – Google took me to the Facebook page of a hooker in Las Vegas using that one.  So I’m still scratching my head on the name front – if any of you have bright ideas, feel free to get in touch on here.

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So how else am I passing the time, now I’m  in Week 5 of my Gardening Leave?

The school runs can be fun, especially given the NASCAR race track the road here turns into every morning and evening.  Now the evenings are drawing in it’s even worse – my eyes aren’t what they were and all the carrots in the world won’t make much difference if the annual new spectacles can’t help.  Spending so much time generally with the kids is great, actually. And their English is improving since they’re hearing it more. 

I read a lot.  I've just finished an entertaining book by Richard Branson, a personal history of aviation – very interesting once you put aside the self-publicity and advertising for the Virgin Group that’s scattered throughout it – and I’m halfway through an Official History of MI5 (it’s called Defence of the Realm, and is fascinating).   To come: a mock autobiography of Alan Partridge (ah-HA!) by Steve Coogan et al, and a history of the Second World war by Max Hastings.  On order from Amazon: a re-read of the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov (old favourites from my youth in a presentation hardback edition) and Cloud Atlas, an apparently extraordinary book spanning multiple times and dimensions just released as a film starring Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry.  Then there are various internet outlets and sites like the BBC, the Grauniad, various blogs.  It all keeps me going.

I also write.  This blog, of course, when I can think of anything worthwhile (or not as the case may be) to blog about – being grounded, so to speak, reduces the inspiration somewhat.  I managed a post on the eve of the US Election that I thought, being topical, might generate some interest and comment, but it received a paltry 7 views, much to my surprise.  Also my book: many years ago I wrote a novel about sex and booze and football that for years I’ve been planning to transfer from the pair of Boots The Chemist notebooks in which it currently resides into a proper manuscript preparatory to selling the thing.  It’s pretty good, even if I say so myself (and the few people who’ve read and critiqued it agreed with me).  Anyway, now is the best chance I’m likely to have so I’m cracking on with it, typing away like a mad thing and editing bits as I go along.  I don’t do it every day (other things keep interfering) so it’s taking a while, but the intention is to finish the first draft by the end of the month, then review and edit by year-end, and then…..well, then I’m not sure.  I don’t know any publishers or literary agents (so if anyone out there does, please put me in touch), so I’m exploring the self-publishing or e-book route…..  We’ll see.

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Anyway, I’m keeping occupied and surviving.  I’m certainly sleeping better, now all the work bollocks over the past couple of years has gone, for better or worse.  And, Mayan Apocolypse next month permitting, I’m looking forward to a new year and new life in 2013.  It may turn out, in the immortal words of Pete Townsend, to be a case of “meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss” – but you never know: a change is as good as rest, after all.

But for sure I’ll be glad when this bloody Gardening Leave is finished!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Election week - hurrah! China and the US go the polls.


I wrote on here last year sometime that in the previous 12 months I’d been in three countries – Lebanon, Trinidad and Britain – where sitting governments were kicked out in favour of coalition governments.  They’re all still hanging in there – no surprise in Lebanon, where coalition is a way of life and always has been, but Trinidad seems to be doing ok too.  As for Britain…..well, it seems to me that Cameron’s government is only hanging on for two reasons: first, the lack of a credible alternative, as the Labour party continues to struggle with the search for an identity (such a shame that after all the early promise of Blair’s New Labour it all soured under Brown and has left them totally useless).  Second, and more importantly, the first thing Cameron did after taking power was introduce legislation that essentially removed from Parliament the Vote of No Confidence, and guaranteed a full 5 year term in office – no matter how incompetent and unpopular the coalition turned out to be.  And they are certainly that – from the outside looking in, this ConLib coalition seems confused over policy, unsure of anything except staying out of the Euro at all costs, and specialises in government by SoundBite…….  Should the Vote of No Confidence still be there, I have no doubt they would be kicked out at the earliest opportunity, and it seems grossly undemocratic (and hypocritical) of Cameron to deny the British people the opportunity.  So Britons will have to wait another couple of years to make their feelings known at the ballot box.

Shame.

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There is no chance of a coalition in either country that has an election this week, of course. 

In China, there is the “election” (if you can call it that) of the new governing Politburo.  But since they are all members of the Communist Party and the decisions were taken weeks ago and are only being rubber stamped by the Party Congress in its once a decade beano, it’s all a foregone conclusion.  The major interest will follow over the next weeks and months as the new boys get to grips with running the second biggest (or is it the biggest now?) economy in the world.  This latest government has undoubtedly made monumental strides in bringing China forward, moving from a peasant and agricultural economy to an industrial and financial powerhouse.  The challenge for the new boys will be to maintain that progress, and maybe even move to a more democratic society.  Not that I will hold my breath over that happening anytime soon.  They also need to get to grips with the corruption that seems endemic in China (as in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorus…..see the common theme there?) and the continuing authoritarian rule that blocks freedom of speech, Google and Facebook (amongst others) for the merest critical comment.  I’m not holding breath over that one, either.  It will take a whole new generation to come through for that to happen – so probably not in my lifetime then.

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There will be no coalition in the US either.  While China is a one-party state, the US has two, and there is never any credible opposition or alternative to either.  Now and again someone will stand as an Independent, and proceed to get hammered at the ballot box and lose a fortune without making any difference at all – this is democracy, American style, where votes and elections are won by bank balance as much as policy.  This year, between them, the two parties have raised and spent half a billion dollars to try and get elected.  Much of the money has been spent in advertising, a lot of it virulent and nasty, as each party tries to paint his opponent in the worst possible light.  And much of the advertising has been, shall we say, less than honest.  Another heap of cash has been spent ferrying candidates from state to state, electioneering at town hall meetings and making speeches to carefully vetted invitation only audiences – and of course the world’s media.  Against a machine like that, what chance has any independent or minority party (for instance the Greens) of making any kind of impact come election time?  None – they hardly have any nuisance value, let alone a relevant voice.

But no matter how bad the situation, there is no prospect of the Democrats and Republicans sharing responsibility or decision making in the way a European style coalition ever would.  It’s just not in their political DNA.   For the past four years, Obama has been struggling with a global recession and a discredited banking system, not to mention two expensive conflicts thousands of miles away in Afghanistan and Iraq, all bequeathed to him by good ol’ Republican George Bush.   The recession gave him unprecedented unemployment numbers, and industries, notably the auto industry, that were all but deceased from their extreme uncompetetiveness.  He has tried to make a difference and do something about it, and at every step a Republican-dominated Senate has blocked him.  To his credit, he managed to force through bills to provide billions of dollars of state aid to save the car industry (and with it millions of jobs).  He forced through his “Obamacare” health reforms, decried by Republicans as an expense too much, despite providing guaranteed health care to millions who previously had been unable to afford any kind of treatment.  US troops have largely been brought home from Iraq and a timetable is in place to do likewise from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.  He even managed to do something Bush, for all his gung-ho rhetoric, had failed to do and take out Osama bin Laden.   There has been a huge cost, of course, to all this and the national debt is running at record levels. 

I think, given what he’s been up against, he’s done a pretty good job.  Things are turning round, the economy seems to be slowly recovering, with jobless numbers going down month by month.  If the rest of the world – notably Europe, that is in a dreadful state – could manage to drag itself out of its own recession, he’d be in a much better position, and his re-election guaranteed.  Even with all the problems still to be faced and debt to be paid off, he seems to me to deserve a second term, to finish the work he’s started.   Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent in tomorrow’s Election, seems to have spent much of his campaign calling Obama incompetent and worse, and offers the alternative of lower taxes and smaller government as a way forward.  He cites his success running private equity firm Bain & Co before moving into politics – despite Bain being a leading player in the very casino banking that is now universally (if somewhat unfairly) vilified as the root cause the world’s financial crisis.   Hardly a ringing recommendation, I would have thought.  He has also pledged that the first piece of legislation he will sign, on his first day in office, will be to repeal Obamacare in its entirety, thus throwing those millions of beneficiaries back onto the medical scrapheap.  That promise alone should set alarm bells ringing nationwide and disqualify the bloke from office.

But no.  With voting tomorrow, the Presidential race is neck and neck – too close to call.  Obama 49%, Romney 48%.   Or 48% and 50%.  Or 49% to 49%......it all depends on which poll you look at.    So here we are today, with the pair of them flying across country, last minute speechifying to try and persuade the few undecided voters to go their way.   Obama has surged a little over the past week, as he has been perceived to manage the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy very well.  Will it be enough?

Personally, I hope so.  The guy seems more genuine than Romney by a mile, and the policies he’s followed and implemented so far have clearly been aimed at the less well-off and improving the lives of all Americans, not merely the wealthy.  I remember at his first election, to counter his politics of Hope (“Yes, we can!” – remember that?) there were all kinds of scare stories circulating about his being a closet Muslim and dangerous, but of course they all proved to be so much hot air.  This time around, despite Romney being a Mormon, religion has proved to be a non-runner as a concern to the electorate…..and to me, this is how it should be: an individual’s religious beliefs should not disqualify him from holding office if all other factors show him to be the best qualified.  The same goes for colour, gender and sexual orientation – I can’t wait to see the first native American lesbian elected to the White House.