Josh Marks's columns for Inside Canberra

Josh was commissioned to write a weekly series of pieces in the lead-up to the U.S. elections in November 2012 and beyond, for the venerable publication, Inside Canberra.

Republican Nominations Half Known

Yesterday's victory by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Pennsylvania Republican presidential primaries changed the question from "will Romney be the nominee?" to "who will be Romney's running mate?" It's a serious question, given the mistake that was Sarah Palin in 2008.

The answer appears to be: Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Romney's sweep also means that it's all but over for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Only hours before the primaries took place, Gingrich appeared determined before a crowd in Buffalo, N.Y.: "[Romney] can raise a lot more money than I can, but I think we have a lot more people than he has".

It is somewhat unclear who or where these people are. Gingrich has won only two primaries compared with Romney's two dozen. To make matters worse, Gingrich walked away from Tuesday's primaries not only with the bitter taste of defeat but also an embarrassing war wound: a scar on his finger after a penguin bit him at the St. Louis Zoo. Add to this trauma the ever growing debt that his campaign has run up, and you are left with a candidate who has very few options left. Indeed, now dubbed the `No-Money Candidate', Gingrich has already been asked to forfeit his publicly funded security detail. Unlike Santorum, who abandoned the race early and saved face, Gingrich's continued fight has brought nothing except a deleterious effect on his image, and a few muffled laughs behind the closed doors of the Republican National Committee. However, one group that will be sorry he has now quit will be those who wanted to see his lunar colony project come to fruition. Gingrich aides announced yesterday that he had withdrawn from the race for the Republican nomination.

The next primaries to go under the hammer will be Louisiana, North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol 65, No 11.
April 27, 2012.

Super PAC, Super Pain

The 2012 U.S. presidential election will be the first of its kind required to comply with the Supreme Court's controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions and struck down parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

What does this mean? In short, corporations and unions can give as much money as they want to `independent-expenditure only committees' (or Public Affairs Committees aka. super PACs), which cannot coordinate directly with candidates or political parties but can discuss campaigns via the media as well as `independently' supporting particular candidacies. As a result, the use of super PACs to contribute indirectly to political causes and candidates has exploded: in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, Super PACs spent more than the candidates themselves.

The rise of super PACs has also led to criticism that free speech is money, corporations are people and democracy itself is in dire straits. What's the point of contributing towards a political campaign if corporations are unrestricted in their spending?

Enter New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his proposal to publicly match individual contributions, based on the New York City election system. This would see the State kick in $6 for every $1 contributed by an individual to a candidate (up to $175). Governor Cuomo's aim is to get people actively involved in the political process. According to the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute, such a strategy has successfully boosted small donor contribution ($1 - $250) in NYC elections The system would have to battle its way through the paralysed House of Reps Inside Canberra and is projected to boost such participation in the NY state elections from 6% of candidates' money to 54%. Washington Post columnist, E. J. Dionne Jr, argues such a proposal would "open the way for candidates who might otherwise be driven from the competition by established politicians", ultimately making "democracy democratic again".

While offering a glimmering hope of an escape from the limitations of Citizens United, such a system would first have to battle its way through the paralysed House of Representatives before becoming law. A tough ask.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol 65, No 12.
May 04, 2012.

A Budget -- But At What Cost?

One cold sunny day in late January, a dozen or so freshman Republican congressmen congregated outside the U.S. Capitol. Why? To denounce President Obama's failure to pass a budget in over 1000 days.

"The future of America is bright, but without a budget, the state of our Union is uncertain", lamented Rep Austin Scott from Georgia's 8th District. Another got straight to the point: "Harry Reid stands for fiscal irresponsibility, for fiscal insanity" (Rep Allen West, Florida's 22nd District).

Other freshmen stood nearby, some holding photos of their babies in front of reporters and TV cameras -- `think of their future!' was the implicit message.

Fast forward to today: Republicans are still angry about the (lack of a) budget. The Republican-controlled House Budget Committee recently passed a vote (21-9) cutting integral social programs such as food aid, health care and social services (eg. Meals on Wheels).

Such a proposal would also see federal employees pay more towards their pensions, saving an estimated $80 billion over the next decade. Total savings in the proposal are set to eclipse $300 billion over this period. But the defence budget would escape unscathed.

A quarter of these spending cuts directly target programs to help the poor: Medicaid, food stamps, the Social Services Block Grant, and a child tax credit claimed by immigrant workers.

But a Democrat-controlled Senate would reject such a proposal. It would only become law if presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney took the White House and the GOP re-claimed the Senate. In other words, a real possibility. Mitt Romney, on the stump in Ohio this week, told a student that online classes would help keep the cost of colleges down and condemned Obama's promise of "a lot of free stuff". "We can't promise money we don't have, and we should not borrow for promises by politicians", the former governor said.

But this warning directly contradicts the increased defence spending supported by House Republicans. This plan would surpass Obama's proposed military budget by $3.7 billion -- which was already $4.6 billion above levels called for in last summer's budget and debt pact.

If the Republicans really do stand for fiscal responsibility, they should realise that such a defence budget is truly insane.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol 65, No 13.
May 11, 2012.

Joe Biden Steals the Show

Two Sundays ago someone let Vice President Joseph R Biden Jr out of his pen and into the real world. Somehow, he managed to stumble into NBC's Meet the Press studio, and, not mincing words, declared: "I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties."

It was a moving statement, one that revealed true conviction and feeling, a rare thing in the world of modern politics.

But, in his typical Biden-esque way, he went on: "`Will and Grace' probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done so far."

It was done. Biden had let the pop culture cat out of its bag, and the White House was left with no choice but to release a statement endorsing same-sex marriage. Monday's New York Times/CBS poll revealed 67% of those surveyed felt President Barack Obama's subsequent support for gay marriage was made "mostly for political reasons", as opposed to 24% which said Obama said it because he, like his goofy sidekick, truly believes it.

There were no surprises on the Republican side of the fence, however, when presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney stated unequivocally that marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. His address was delivered to students of the fundamentalist Christian college, Liberty University, whose founder the late Jerry Falwell, blamed part of the 9/11 attacks on gays and lesbians. Preaching to the choir, really.

It remains to be seen whether Romney's anti-gay stance will reignite support amongst older conservative Americans or Obama's support for it will galvanize America's youth to come out and vote again in droves as they did in 2008.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol 65, No 14.
May 18, 2012.

Obamacare is Here to Stay

June 28 2012, the day when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its historic decision on President Obama's signature health care law, ultimately upholding it, can best be summed up in one word: `what?'

At least that was the question asked by millions of Americans when a swathe of news reporters wrongly reported that the Court had struck down the President's law. Said CNN news analyst John King: "The Justices have just gutted the centerpiece provision of the Obama health-care law ... [A] direct blow to the President of the United States, a direct blow to the Democratic Party, and this is a victory, if you will, for the conservatives."

It was a refreshing change to see the media bite its own tongue. News satirist Stephen Colbert commented later that night: "No. It. Did. Not ... You. Suck. At. News."

But this wasn't the only surprise. The biggest shock came when the health care law (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act 2010) was upheld 5-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts Jr, appointed to the Court by George Bush Jr, the swing vote, siding with the four liberal justices.

Roberts: the same Justice who upheld the Citizens United decision, allowing unlimited contributions by corporations to political action committees; the same Justice who dissented in Georgia v Randolph, arguing that police ought to be able to search a home even if one of the two occupants objected; the same Justice who held earlier this year that police were allowed to strip search anyone charged with an offence before being sent to gaol, even if there were no suspicion of the person carrying contraband (Florence v Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington).

For conservatives, Roberts' decision in the health care case -- that the federal government has power under the constitution's tax clause to force individuals to buy health insurance or be fined -- was a brutal betrayal. Republican representative Mike Pence, running for the Indiana Governor's office, likened the decision to the September 11 terrorist attacks. When you think about it, allowing 17 million uninsured Americans access to health care is obviously as bad as an attack on America's homeland that led to over 3000 deaths. Such insightful observations will no doubt serve Mr Pence brilliantly in his race for the Governor's chair.

While Obamacare is here to stay, scholars, including Akhil Reed Amar, have already noted the "cloud behind the silver lining" in light of the court's limit on the federal government's power under the commerce clause. Similarly, many states may refuse to implement the new law (expanding Medicaid protection), which has prompted others to label health care in the US a `wicked problem', one without a clear solution given the vast number of stakeholders: tax payers, employees who currently have insurance cover, patients who currently do not, politicians who support the law, and those who oppose it.

Health care in the US is here to stay. But the consequences of the ruling are still to play out.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol 65, No 20.
July 06, 2012.

Mitt Romney's Problem

Try as he might, Mitt Romney has a problem. It isn't money. It isn't publicity. It isn't competition. Rather, the problem that has dogged Romney for most of the presidential nominee race, and perhaps sometime before that, is of a more Shakespearean kind. It is love.

Mitt Romney isn't loved. And he isn't doing himself any favours either. Back in April, while on the stump, the Romney group made a pit stop in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. While talking to locals at a picnic, Romney made a gaffe. In what has now been dubbed `Cookiegate', the presidential hopeful awkwardly observed that the cookies at the picnic were not homemade but instead "came from the local 7-Eleven ... bakery or wherever". The cookies were not from 7-Eleven. They had been carefully handmade by the local Bethel Bakery, the very people Romney was trying to court.

A couple of nights ago, the signature Romney awkwardness was back with a vengeance. At the annual conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Houston, Texas, Romney began his speech by declaring "I do love that music... I do love listening to that organ music", before announcing that he would repeal Obamacare as soon as he took office. Sitting in the audience, one couldn't help but feel somewhat squeamish, listening to a man whose only colored friend, joked Jay Leno, is John Boehner.

Even Romney's own people do not love him. At a recent fundraiser in West Virginia, Mr Boehner told a reporter that Americans were not likely to "fall in love" with the former Bain Capital executive, and that the only people who would likely vote for him were "some friends, relatives, and fellow Mormons". He qualified this assessment by defending Romney as "a solid guy".

So Romney is "a solid guy" but an unloved one.

But it gets worse. Romney lacks principles and "seems to play everything safe", as conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted last week. Murdoch's Wall Street Journal blasted Romney for his confused stance on the latest health care case and whether the requirement that people buy health insurance or pay a fine was a tax or not: "In a stroke, the Romney campaign contradicted Republicans throughout the country who had used the Chief Justice's opinion to declare accurately that Mr. Obama had raised taxes on the middle class."

It was a painful comment, especially given Romney is one of the richest Americans in a time when most Americans are struggling to feed their families and pay the bills.

To succeed and dispel lingering criticisms that Romney is essentially an "etch-a-sketch" (in the words of one of his political strategists), the Republican nominee must quickly cast off his phlegmatic mould and grow some political cojones. This means taking credit for a health care plan that he coordinated--to great success--in Massachusetts, and quit dithering over Obamacare. In addition, he must sit down with Americans who are currently feeling the hurt of the economy and shut up. He will get far further listening than opening his awkward mouth.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol. 65, No. 21.
July 13, 2012.

Choosing A President

Rick Perry had a memory problem; Herman Cain was bad at geography; Rick Santorum couldn't tough it out; and Newt Gingrich suffered delusions of grandeur. Like Republican candidates before him, Mitt Romney, too, has a problem.

He has too much money.

Ever since The Economist ran a piece back in January on income inequality, "The top 1% and Mr Romney", the presidential candidate has been increasingly dogged by dollar signs.

Only this week, executives at Bain Capital, a financial services company that Romney co-founded and was involved with for over a decade, stated that the presidential hopeful was confident he would not have to release his tax returns to the public. This comes after documents discovered a week ago revealed Romney had not in fact left Bain in 1999, which he had earlier claimed, but continued to work there in some capacity until his departure in 2002, to work on the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The period in question is of particular import given the layoffs that Bain conducted during that time.

Much like the time Romney decided to strap the family dog to the top of the car on a family holiday, the reluctance of the `Consultant in Chief' to disclose his finances--at a time when America's unemployed still number well over 8%--as well as his actual role at Bain between 1999 and 2002, could also backfire. Spectacularly.

In 2007 Romney told media mogul Rupert Murdoch that he would "bring in McKinsey" people--the management consulting firm--to help him set up his presidential cabinet. Murdoch wasn't impressed. Five years later, Romney's cavalier attitude continues to damage. His belief that the rules of accountability somehow do not apply to him is severely misguided.

Risk-taking worked for Romney in the financial world--how well it worked for him might never be known if he withholds his tax statements--but it almost certainly will not help him politically. When confronted by Donald Trump and the diehard birthers, Barack Obama released his birth certificate, to the embarrassment of many on the right. Romney must do the same and fight fire with fire. Hiding will only hinder.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol. 65, No. 22.
July 19, 2012.

The Dark Night and the Silence that Followed

Most of the theatregoers at the Century movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado on Friday July 20, were energized as the opening credits of the latest Batman film `The Dark Knight Rises' started rolling. The group had patiently lined up for the special midnight session, and so far so good, the suspense was palpable.

Only a couple of them thought it odd that a man resembling a SWAT police officer was walking up the aisle, fully armed. And then, without warning, he threw a smoke bomb into the crowd and opened fire.

The inferno that followed is hard to describe. Some thought the smoke grenade was part of the film, a special treat for the midnight audience. But the gunfire that followed broke that hope, as violently as the bullets which tore through the vinyl seats, entering the adjacent cinema.

The gunman, James E Holmes, a neuroscience graduate student who dropped out of the University of Colorado, returned to his car after the assault rifle he had been using jammed. It was only because one police officer noticed an irregularity in Holmes' body armour that he was approached by officers, before being arrested. "I'm the joker," he purportedly told them.

The only joke, as far as this writer is concerned, is the response by the country's leaders after twelve people lost their lives, with another sixty in hospital, some in a critical condition.

President Barack Obama, through the White House press secretary Jay Carney, stated: "We can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law". Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, was even less specific: "We can sometimes hope that just changing the law will make all bad things go away. It won't". But the former governor of Massachusetts held a vastly different opinion when he passed a bill banning assault rifles in that state in 2002, describing weapons like the AR-15 assault rifle used in the Aurora shooting as "instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people".

The debate has tragically run off course.

Speaking last night to political satirist Stephen Colbert, Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said "It's not about curtailing rights. It's about saving lives".

In the fury to protect one's right to access military firepower, many forget that the United States has over 300 million privately registered firearms--almost one for every man, woman and child in the country. Thirty-two people are murdered in the U.S. every day, and only 60% of gun sales include a background check. Such lax regulation allowed Mr Holmes to amass an arsenal of over 6000 rounds of ammunition, a Remington twelve-gauge shotgun, a .40-caliber Glock handgun and a .223-calibre Smith & Wesson AR-15 assault rifle, in addition to various explosives which he used to wire his apartment.

Tragedies such as the Colorado shooting happen far too frequently--it seems only a little while ago that headlines were riddled with the carnage of the Columbine shootings, the massacre at Virginia Tech, the bullet that entered Congressman Gabby Giffords' skull, and the mass murder at Fort Hood.

Will it take a mass shooting on the scale of the September 11 terrorist attacks before legislators are galvanised into action? One desperately hopes not. But enough is enough, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "It's time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they're going to do about it".

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol. 65, No. 23.
July 27, 2012.

Mitt: Hit or Twit ?

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney recently returned from a week-long trip to England, Poland and Israel. `Trip' may not be the best word, however, given the debacle it ended up being--`face-plant' has a far better ring to it.

One can only presume the visit was to bolster Romney's ties with foreign leaders, as he was fairly tight-lipped with the media the whole time. The only words of wisdom he offered were to criticise the organisation of the London Olympic Games; to suggest inferior culture and religion were the reasons why the Palestinians are not as `developed' as Israel; and to give the `A-OK' to a proposed outright military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. That, and the verbal abuse hurled at reporters by Romney's press secretary near a Polish memorial site.

Perhaps, then, the trip--dubbed the "insult-the-world tour" by The Guardian--was to show the world the real Mitt Romney: a man totally at odds with most of the populace, if not also reality.

A May Washington Post-ABC news poll found that only one per cent of respondents perceived foreign policy to be the most important issue of the 2012 federal election. Perhaps Mitt got carried away with that figure, coming from the top one per cent himself.

Prime Minister David Cameron was not alone when he swung back at Romney, suggesting the 2002 Salt Lake City winter Olympics were not comparable in size or scope to London's, as well as being "in the middle of nowhere". One Romney aide who flew with the presidential hopeful called Romney's trip "borderline lunacy. Why on earth is he seeking to improve his foreign policy cred when there will not be a single vote cast on that subject?" Another strategist invoked a painfully awkward golf metaphor to describe the candidate's mistakes: "He works really hard at it .... but once each round he is going to shank one and break a window on a house lining the golf course".

It's as though Romney is stuck in an episode of "The Apprentice", forever bent on criticising everyone around him, as the show's protagonist, Donald Trump, is famously known to do. He needs to snap out of this, and fast. British media has so far called him a "twit", a "wazzock" and a "moron". The epithets will only ripen over time.

Instead of getting hooked up at fundraisers with hedge fund managers, Romney should listen to those who, unlike himself, worked and prepared hard for the Olympics. Like American athletic great Carl Lewis: "Stay at home if you don't know what to say".

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol. 65, No. 24.
August 3, 2012.

No Surprises in First Debate

President Barack Obama was never going to win the first debate against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and there's a simple reason why: Mitt Romney had nothing to lose.

No matter that Romney did not set out a clear alternative to Obama's controversial Affordable Care Act and was vague in explaining how he would replace the Dodd-Frank Act; or that he threw himself open by coldly telling PBS moderator Jim Lehrer that he would end government funding for the Public Broadcasting Service; the point is that Romney has been trailing the incumbent in recent polls--by a large margin in some states--as well as uttering costly gaffes that have poorly reflected on his presidential campaign.

Enter nothing-to-lose Romney: all smiles, even a joke or two, in front of the packed audience at the University of Denver in Colorado. Contrast this with Obama, wide-eyed, visibly agitated, his speech punctuated by awkward pauses, no sign of the man Americans overwhelmingly voted for in 2008. It wouldn't be remiss to evoke the first televised presidential debate fifty years ago between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, in which Nixon, recently released from hospital, conveyed a similar sense of despondency and discomfort. The importance of body language cannot be overstated and Obama's austere gaze was not endearing, nor were his muffled apologies to the moderator for speaking out of turn.

Romney cast off the shackles of the past several weeks with grace and poise, successfully completing an about-face of his performance at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. He spoke with purpose even if it lacked substance, and his much-mocked zingers hit Obama where it hurt ("You've been president for four years and still haven't ...." / "You pick the losers ..." will no doubt ring in many viewers' ears over the next couple of days).

But the race isn't over. Obama must quickly recover and remind voters in the two remaining debates why they voted for him. He can ill afford to continue playing the avuncular/professorial orator, and must bring the debate back to Romney's potential incompetence as a leader. This means using his own zingers: reminding Americans that Romney doesn't care about 47% of them; that Romney has no guiding philosophies of his own; is an acute flip-flopper; and will drag the U.S. into economic ruin through reckless fiscal policies. This means fighting fire with fire and playing the politics of dirt. But mud-slinging should be easy, given Congress' and the Tea Party's recent proclivity for it.

Was the debate a "game changer" in the words of hyperbolical New Jersey Governor Chris Christie? No. But if Obama continues to stumble and falter, the old aphorism "third time's a charm" may come back to bite the Democrats hard.

Josh Marks

October 16, 2012.

Bide the Bullet -- Debate Democrats Needed

There is no denying the bitter-sweet taste last Thursday's vice presidential debate left in Democrats' mouths. Granted, it was a very good performance from Vice President Joe Biden -- too good in that it further underscored the president's lacklustre performance a week earlier.

Biden pretty much replicated Mitt Romney's performance of the previous week: relaxed but resolute; no sign of being under pressure; polite but at times ruthless; constantly smiling; and very, very engaging. It was as if the Democrats had completely disavowed the president's debate and were unveiling a new candidate. Or a new fighter. Obama's weary showing a week earlier led some to draw a boxing analogy between the two presidential hopefuls. This time it was Biden who came out swinging, swiftly dodging the charge of inadequate security and intelligence in the face of last month's terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi by condemning Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan's plan to cut embassy security by $300 million.

The fighter also tactfully employed rhetoric to show out his opponent: "These guys bet against America every time!"; "I don't know what they're talking about!"; "Are you going to war, is that what you want?"; "Romney changes his mind so often ..."; "Facts matter, Martha!".

When debate moderator and ABC News foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz asked Mr. Ryan about the Republican plan to cut the marginal tax rate across-the-board by 20%, Biden was categorical: "It's mathematically impossible".

This is not to say that Mr Ryan did not debate well. He did, keeping cool and collected throughout most of it, invoking moving stories about Romney's generosity and care for families and the automotive industry. But Biden was better, lashing out at the Republicans for Romney's gaffe-tastic remark that 47% of Americans do not take personal responsibility for their own lives and rely solely on government support.

In an article earlier this week, contributor to The Conversation Stephanie Brookes spoke of the need for presidential and vice presidential candidates to live up to the "log cabin" ideal, that is, the need to connect with American values and ideals; or, conversely -- the recent recession -- share Americans' common pain and suffering. Biden did this with finesse, telling the audience that he was fed up that Romney paid less income tax than the average American which included "my mum and dad", "the elderly" and "our nation's veterans".

On top of this, Biden struck a clear distinction between his party's compassion for American values and ideals and the GOP's apparent lack of: "Show me a policy where you take responsibility!" -- supposed reference not only to the 47% of Americans Romney thinks are bludgers but also to his vagueness in the last debate, as well as the criticism that he is an etch-a-sketch, easily changing platforms and beliefs to gain political leverage. In short, Biden's performance in the vice presidential debate was what Democrats had hoped for from their Commander-in-Chief last week.

The entire debate is available at:

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra, Vol. 65, No. 35.
October 19, 2012.

O Back in Oval Office -- But Still With a Polarised House

It just wasn't Mitt Romney's night. Nor that of the Republican Party. Not only did President Barack Obama seal a second term in office -- taking a healthy 303 electoral college votes to Romney's 206 with a possible further 29 votes if he ends up winning Florida -- the Democrats also, as of the time of writing, gained a seat in the Senate and two in the House while the Republicans lost two and three respectively with a further nine House seats still in contention.

Of the ten swing states in this election -- Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina, according to -- the Republicans took only North Carolina. The rest went, or look likely to go, to the Democrats. Obama also won the popular vote by about 2.8 million or 2%. There's no denying that last week's deadly hurricane over the east coast helped Obama's chances of victory; but this was just one ingredient in the recipe. The shattering of the 8% unemployment barrier last month made many Americans realise that the economy is, albeit slowly, on the mend. Furthermore, for all Governor Romney's exhortations to voters as "a boy of Detroit", many Americans remember that it was the president -- not the Mittster -- who bailed out the auto industry, saving countless jobs in the factories of General Motors.

Ultimately, Republican soul-searching will consider the damage wrought by some of its more extreme members -- notably the vile comments by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock about rape and abortion. Somewhere former Senator and Republican moderate Dick Lugar (who was replaced by the latter) is grinning at Mourdock's loss. Romney strategists will also be discussing to what extent their candidate's constant flip-flopping served to cripple his electoral chances.

So what does the future hold? For starters, Obama's signature health care law is here to stay as is the Dodd-Frank Act, a 2010 law aimed at protecting financial consumers, tightening oversight of money lenders and setting new rules for mortgage lending.

Despite their gains, however, Democrats face pretty much the same People's House they have faced for the past two years. Which most likely spells more gridlock. This could be a problem, especially if nothing is done before the "fiscal cliff" looms any closer -- a $600bn combination of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes -- which is only weeks away. Hopefully newfound bipartisanship -- evinced by NJ Governor Chris Christie and President Obama during Hurricane Sandy -- is enough to galvanize lawmakers into action. It's what the 47% would want.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 65, No. 38.
November 9, 2012.

Sex Lies and National Security -- The Petraeus Scandal

"I know we have to talk about the fiscal cliff, but I'm dying to ask you about this scandal because it's all anyone's talking about!"

These words were uttered by CNN anchor Carol Costello on November 13. Since then, the "scandal" Costello was referring to -- the affair between former CIA chief David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell, which led to Petraeus' unexpected resignation on November 9 -- has only mushroomed, potentially embroiling top Administration officials if not the president himself.

The more prudish among us are shaking their fists at this act of infidelity, a violation of the sacred institution of marriage. But the question on the minds of many others is this: did the affair compromise national security? Just what sort of information did Broadwell have access to? When did the president find out about this -- before or after the election? And how does this all connect to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi?

For instance, if the CIA and the intelligence community knew that the attack on the Benghazi compound was a terrorist attack from the get-go, why then did Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, suggest the attack was only a protest spurred on by an uncouth and disrespectful anti-Muslim film? And if indeed, as her defenders are quick to point out, Rice was only following her "talking points", who was it that removed any Al-Qaeda references from such talking points and why?

As Bob Woodward, Associate Editor of The Washington Post, stated on MSNBC's "Meet the Press" last week, there are "still unanswered questions". Last Friday Petraeus testified before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in closed-door hearings, apparently -- according to Congressmen who were present -- contradicting his earlier statements that the attack was a violent reaction to a protest. Why the discrepancy? Was it really, as the conspiracy theorists are all-too-keen to declare, a cover-up?

If we ever do get to the bottom of this no longer sad but increasingly serious saga, it will not restore the confidence many Americans once had in this decorated Army General. More importantly, this drama needs to take a back seat and the elephant in the room -- the ever-approaching fiscal cliff -- needs to take centre stage. It may not be as juicy a topic for discussion but it is definitely as, if not more, worthy of attention.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 65, No. 40.
November 23, 2012.

A Bloody End to the Year: The Sandy Hook School Shooting

As a teenager in high school, I remember the dozens of fire drills we had to do: leave all your belongings and head out the nearest exit before regrouping at one of the several "evacuation points" outside the school. But only once did we do a "terrorism" drill--a different siren sounded and we were ordered to get under our desks, lock the door and get away from the windows. From what threat we were supposed to be hiding was not abundantly clear.

But in Australia school shootings are mercifully rare. In America they are tragically commonplace.

This was sadly confirmed last Friday at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Shortly after classes had begun, a young man, armed with two semiautomatic pistols, a shotgun and a "Bushmaster" assault rifle, breached the school's perimeter--which had only been reinforced because of security concerns the week before--and shot dead the school principal and the school psychologist. The gunman then entered a nearby classroom and unleashed a storm of bullets on mostly six and seven-year olds, killing twenty of them.

When police arrived they found twenty six people dead, some of them with up to eleven bullet wounds. By most accounts the gunman had over a hundred rounds of ammunition. Some nearby residents could hear the gunshots; others knew something was wrong when they saw out-of-state emergency vehicles rushing past towards the school.

Flags across the nation flew at half-mast. President Obama called for "meaningful action" to avoid similar incidents of violence. But the country needs more than just empty rhetoric, recycled from past atrocities--it needs courage. Courage like that shown by teachers who shielded children from the path of bullets. Courage to stand up to the demagogic arguments of the gun lobby and enact new laws to protect Americans, thirty thousand of whom die from guns each year.

The late Charlton Heston, former President of the National Rifle Association, called for members to stand strong in the face of those who would take away their guns "from my cold, dead hands". Inciting violence to protect the right to possess weapons whose sole purpose is to kill. Logical, right?

Perhaps legislators will snap out of the spell they have been under for the past several decades and take a stand, a non-violent stand that is painfully overdue. Arming students and teachers is not the answer. If it was, the three hundred million guns already in circulation would have made these places safer a long time ago. But it has not.

Congress must outlaw assault rifles of the kind we see in video games, which have been used against insurgents in Iraq, and which should never, ever make their way into schoolyards. Lawmakers must do this because they owe it to the American people, the people they swore to protect when taking office. They owe it to the families and friends of those slainand to all those children who will not be there on Christmas Day to open their presents.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 65, No. 44.
December 21, 2012.

The Sequester -- And What Happens Next

Last week Congressional leaders failed to agree on how to tackle the looming federal deficit. They postponed a vote back in January but failed to reach any sort of consensus by the March 1 deadline. The failure to achieve a "grand bargain" in budget negotiations means that the federal budget will be forced to shed $1.2 trillion over the next decade including $85 billion in cuts by October. It's called the sequester. It was devised back in 2011 by lawmakers on both sides of Congress as a proposal "deemed so draconian that neither party would allow it to go into effect" (Politico, 2 March). But they have. And this is what will happen over the coming months: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which saved lives during Hurricane Sandy and assisted people along the battered East Coast to find food and shelter, will be slashed by $900 million; the Pentagon could furlough up to 90,000 civilian jobs which, according to The Economist, could throw parts of Virginia back into recession; and the Environmental Protection Agency will be cut which would mean fewer food safety inspections and fewer rangers out on patrol. Cue the "ripple effect" of 700,000 people nationally who, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will lose their jobs, leading to reduced domestic output and spending, money that will not be reinvested into the economy. These cuts will hit the economy abruptly and without remorse. The problem is that most of these cuts are to discretionary programs, some of which will need more money in the near future, including health care spending for veterans returning from Afghanistan. Former Republican Staff Director of the Senate Appropriations Committee, J Keith Kennedy, warned: "the annual discretionary money is where you make your investments". Instead, money is being withdrawn from these programs.

Perhaps, after the US experiences a severe downturn in growth once the impact of these cuts has been felt, lawmakers--whose salaries have by contrast not been cut--will sit up and take notice, and try for one last stab at that painfully ill-named "grand bargain".

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 6.
March 8, 2013.

Peace in the Middle East "A Hard Slog"

President Obama's visit to Israel last week was positive, but not generally promising for a long-lasting peace in the region. He promised that the alliance between the US and Israel is "eternal, for ever" and reassured Prime Minister Netanyahu that, in the event of an escalation with Iran, Israel would have US support: "I would not expect that the Prime Minister would make a decision about his country's security and defer that to any other country, any more than the United States would."

Beyond this, he also brokered a resumption of talks between Israel and Turkey after the Jewish state attacked a Turkish flotilla en route to the Gaza Strip two years ago, killing nine Turkish nationals. By encouraging Bibi to apologise to the Turkish people, Obama effectively re-opened communication between the countries, an important step toward security in the region given an unstable Syria, a nuclear-bent Iran and the still-smouldering embers of the Arab Spring.

Obama exhorted university students in Jerusalem to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinians and to "look at the world through their eyes", an allusion to the continued occupation since 1968 and the restriction of movement of Palestinian people.

But when it came to discussion about a two-state solution, an outcome a majority of Israelis have supported for a long time, Obama's rhetoric deflated and the President admitted defeat: "[T]his is a really hard problem. It's been lingering for over six decades. And the parties involved have, you know, some profound interests that you can't spin, you can't smooth over. And it is a hard slog to work through all of these issues."

Defeatism is never easy to stomach. But if this is all the US President could contribute since his last visit to the region four years ago, lasting peace is a bleak prospect indeed. One only hopes that the blood spilt between Israelis and Palestinians some months ago will not be repeated. Because right now hope is all there is.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 9.
April 5, 2013.

Boston Burning

The blood and debris that littered the streets of Boston after Tuesday's twin bomb explosion have barely been cleaned up and apart from asking "why?" Americans want to know who was responsible for such violence and carnage. At the time of writing, the FBI has identified -- from obtained CCTV footage -- two "persons of interest" who were seen carrying backpacks in the vicinity of the bomb blast only moments before detonation. One of these possible suspects was seen depositing his backpack at the site of the second detonation. However, officially speaking, no arrests have yet been made either by the FBI or by Boston Police.

The "Marathon Massacre" as some have dubbed it, left three people dead, including a little boy, and over 150 injured. Video footage circulating on the internet shows the blasts, only seconds apart, followed by utter pandemonium as thousands of runners and spectators scatter, with police drawing their pistols, as confused and frightened as the public. One witness described a "sea of legs" strewn over a sidewalk, as she ran to safety; photos show pools of blood around the finish line; one woman held up a sign with her friend's name on it in the desperate hope that they would reunite. President Obama has called for calm and urged his countrymen not to "jump to conclusions" about the attackers and their ethnicity. But in a country that is still healing from the September 11 terrorist attacks, these wise words may fall on deaf ears. What is important now is that those responsible are brought to justice so that the victims, and the city of Boston, can find some closure.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 11.
April 19, 2013.

The Boston Blame Game

Terrorism has no face. It is scary, unpredictable and unrelenting and it almost always results in chaos, be it among the authorities or, more insidiously, in the press.

What happened during the Boston marathon was tragic. Similarly appalling was how the mainstream media dealt with it. The Murdoch tabloids in the US defied common sense, logic, and quite possibly the law, by splashing the photo of two unidentified men on the cover of the New York Post with the headline: "BAG MEN: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon". Never mind the fact that there was no evidence to connect these men to the bombing other than the fact that they were dark-skinned -- the twenty-first century bêtes noires of many conservative media outlets.

The Post also reported that twelve people died in the bomb attack, multiplying the actual figure by a factor of four. The CNN's John King also stumbled over facts in what has become CNN's dash to become the first to report -- even if it's completely wrong, as it turned out to be last year when they incorrectly reported that Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act had been overturned by the Supreme Court.

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please," famously exhorted Mark Twain. Sadly the media can't even do this, for it seems that facts take a backseat to "news" or in Murdoch's case, selling newspapers. But facts matter, especially when lives are at stake.

Josh Marks

Screaming Point

"He was angry that the world saw Islam as a violent religion." The brother-in-law of Boston bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, by way of explanation for the bombing.

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 12.
April 26, 2013.

Obama and Xi Jinping -- Arm-Wrestling is not the Answer

The tieless talks between Xi Jinping and Barack Obama will have to be handled sensitively, given the increasing number of cyber-hacking complaints against Beijing; uncertainty with regard to North Korea and its nuclear ambitions; territorial disputes in the South China Sea; Xi's dream of a Chinese "rejuvenation"; and the American "pivot to Asia".

According to the Financial Times, the Chinese economy is set to eclipse America's by 2016. This doesn't mean that China will gain the upper hand militarily, but it does raise the question of when China will reject America's claim to be the only world superpower. China has already ruffled Japan's feathers by suggesting that the Ryukyu and Senkaku Islands might not belong to its Nippon neighbour.

China's continued denial of computer hacking allegations is cause for concern, given the increasingly large-scale attacks on US Government and businesses which have been traced to Shanghai. There are two aspects of cyber-attacks: the shadow world of cyber espionage, which will continue regardless of any ostensible agreement between leaders, and the cyber-theft of intellectual property which Greg Sheridan says, in an article yesterday, costs US business $300 billion a year.

Obama and Xi would be wise to reflect on such problems, remove the rancour from the dispute and discuss each of their concerns in a conciliatory fashion. For instance, Obama could reassure Xi that the US is not bent on "containing" Beijing as has been feared and is prepared to discuss a regional and global architecture that accommodates China's interests. Similarly, the Chinese leader could provide some assurances that China will not stand by while a belligerent North Korea threatens its Southern neighbour and will intervene if necessary. The two countries could also agree to work together on a number of practical issues such as developing a framework for the protection of intellectual property and take a joint approach to address environmental protection issues.

A dark side to the talks will be that Xi Jinping's key adviser at the talks will be Politburo member Wang Yuming. Wang is an expert on US relations but he is also the leader of China's neo-conservatives who support the dominance of the Party within China and the natural pre-eminence of China within the global community. Wang will not willingly accept any indication that China's future role should be restricted.

The "China Dream" of "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation", as Xi put it in March, is not at odds with the American dream of freedom and prosperity. But clarification, instead of arm-wrestling, at the two leaders' meeting next week, will pay greater dividends in terms of economic growth and regional and global security.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 19.
June 7, 2013.

Syria: A Battle with no End in Sight

The Syrian uprising, which began two years ago and has already claimed over 95,000 lives, is getting increasingly bogged down in politics and contradiction. This week the United States promised military aid to the Syrian rebels but has so far declined to detail what form this aid might take. To date the Obama administration has provided food rations and medical kits to the armed wing of the Syrian opposition. With revelations that the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons against the rebels, the US has stepped up its involvement in a bid to curb the violence.

The recent meeting between Mr Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the eve of the G8 summit, did not bear much fruit: "What will become more and more apparent to [Mr Putin] over the weeks and months, [is] that without a different Government [in Syria], you cannot bring peace". Obama said after the meeting. Russia has been providing arms to the Syrian regime throughout the conflict.

But would the US commit troops, thereby escalating its involvement in Syria? Such a move would be "the worst thing the United States could do right now", warned Republican Senator John McCain. Arming the rebels to oust Assad is one thing; but if the US has learned anything from Iraq -- that regime change is only "a stepping stone to an outcome" (to quote Fareed Zakaria) -- then linking a humanitarian objective to a leadership change could be disastrous.

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, this week stressed the need to keep the spotlight on the Israel-Palestine conflict: "We must not lose sight of [it]". In a message delivered by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, he said: "I cannot stress enough the risk of missing the current window of opportunity", noting that it was "imperative" that everyone in the international community work collectively to make 2013 a positive year for peace between Israel and Palestine and throughout region.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 21.
June 21, 2013.

Edward Snowden: All Dressed up and Nowhere to Go

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor and Central Intelligence Agency employee who leaked classified material last month including information about the US PRISM surveillance program, is still on the run from US authorities who have been trying to extradite him to face multiple charges under the Espionage Act.

Snowden has already applied -- and been rejected -- for asylum in a dozen countries. But Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, currently in Moscow for a gas export meeting, offered a glimmer of hope for the renegade when he told Reuters news agency that Snowden "deserves the world's protection" from the United States. "Why are they persecuting him? What has he done? Did he launch a missile and kill someone? Did he rig a bomb and kill someone? No. He is preventing war."

Which raises the interesting point: are Snowden's actions to be lauded or excoriated?

Cato Institute Vice President Gene Healy has defended Snowden's actions from the "vicious and irrelevant" attacks by the punditocracy. In Healy's view, "the content of the message is far more important than the character of the messenger". Snowden exposed the administration's lie, made back in March when National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Congress that the NSA did not have a policy of gathering private data on its own citizens.

According to this reasoning, Snowden was serving the public interest; this would be contrasted with Julian Assange's leak of classified documents, which cost the lives of members of the US intelligence community who were exposed as a result. This contradiction might explain the danger to Snowden of relying on Wikileaks', and particularly Assange's, support.

Snowden continues to seek asylum.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 23.
July 5, 2013.

Valerie Jarrett: Barack Obama's Right-Hand Woman

Not many know it, but Michelle Obama is not the woman behind the President of the United States. Rather, it is Valerie Jarrett, a two-term Senior Adviser to the President and Assistant for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Jarrett has been hovering in the President's circle ever since she hired Michelle Obama to the Chicago mayor's office in 1991. It is a close relationship, Jarrett admits: "The President and I have kind of a mind meld. And chances are, what he wants to do is what I'd want to do".

But not everyone is close with Jarrett. In fact, an embarrassing talking point circulated to White House staff, for a New York Times profile on her, stressed that: "Valerie is someone here who other people inside the building know they can trust." This juicy nugget of Beltway gossip is just one example in Mark Leibovich's new book, This Town. Leibovich also chronicles how David Axelrod, then White House Senior Advisor, was provided with a secret service detail after receiving death threats. Jarrett -- blessedly free from such menace -- suffered a bout of "earpiece envy" and demanded similar protection. And got it.

He also suggests that Jarrett was instrumental in ending Robert Gibbs's as the White House Press Secretary following an argument between them; and that she helped unseat Rahm Emanuel as Obama's Chief of Staff. When Emanuel turned up for work on the first day of the new Presidency, he found his office occupied by Jarrett, who refused to budge.

Whether or not Jarrett truly has "magic" as the above talking points declared, one would be well advised not to cross "VJ," the Chicago businesswoman-turned-presidential gatekeeper and bulldog.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 24.
July 12, 2013.

Egypt: Democracy Hangs by a Thread

On 3 July the Egyptian Army ousted Muhammad Morsi, the democratically elected president. Mr Morsi was elected a year ago with 52% of the vote. In spite of this, the army argued that the angry mob of protesters in Tahrir Square dictated the need for a change of leadership. In particular, the increasing violence against women disturbed civil rights organisations and many believed the Muslim Brotherhood was to blame.

But following the coup Egypt continues to teeter on the precipice of political anarchy. Mr Morsi's disciples continue to mass in eastern Cairo demanding nothing short of his immediate reinstatement; at the same time Egyptians on the other side of the fence call for the Brotherhood to be dispatched to history. The interim president installed by the army, Adly Mansour, has called for a fresh constitution, to be put to a national referendum within three months, after which new parliamentary elections will be held.

The Brotherhood has so far rejected these developments. But Egyptian Islamist expert, Khalil Anani, plays down the threat of a full-out civil war: "The Muslim Brotherhood will adopt self-restraint as a strategy because they know violence allows their opponents to frame them as terrorists".

Deputy US Secretary of State William Burns has called for an end to violence and renewed dialogue between the two camps: "It is hard to picture how Egypt will be able to emerge from this crisis unless its people come together to find a non-violent and inclusive path forward". Burns was careful not to emphasise US support for a particular individual or party, however.

Ultimately, Egypt needs to restore democracy. It needs fresh elections and it must avoid a repeat of the unrest which followed Mr Mubarak's fall two-and-a-half years ago. Not only for the people and the economy but for the future of stability in the region.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 25.
July 19, 2013.

To Spend or Save? The Coalition's Mixed Message

With the release of the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (PEFO) on Tuesday, one thing is clear: Australia's budget will be in deficit for at least the next four years. And, if Treasury's figures are to be trusted, we'll return to a surplus of $4.2 billion by 2016-17. But news that there is light at the end of the dank fiscal tunnel is unlikely to buoy business confidence which has slumped to minus seven on the NAB Index from a high of positive eight in early 2011. Not far behind this drop in confidence is the rise in unemployment, which will hit anywhere between 6.25% and 6.7% over the next year.

In face of this uncertainty it's imperative that the Coalition release its costings now. Having ruled out changes to the Goods and Services Tax, Tony Abbott is keeping voters in the dark as to how he will plan his budget. Even people within his own Party are worried that the Opposition Leader will have to break promises he's already made. Don Randall, Liberal member for the WA seat of Canning, has already expressed such concerns: "Particularly in the first part of their newly elected term, [Governments] find that circumstances may have changed or the finances -- in the case of both State and Federal Governments -- have been eroded, given the downturn in the Chinese economy".

Having already promised a generous Paid Parental Leave scheme, $17 billion in infrastructure spending and a 1.5% cut in company tax, the Coalition now runs the risk of digging an even bigger deficit hole or having to scale back its pledges. Justifying a delay in the release of its costings on the grounds that Labor did the same last election reeks of recklessness.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 29.
August 16, 2013.

An Easy Road for Abbott at Half-Time

Following Wednesday night's debate, the Coalition is looking ever stronger in this election campaign, making the chance of a third Labor Government increasingly unlikely.

While Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd traded blows over who was responsible for cutting health spending while in Government, it was Abbott's interjection during the debate over the Coalition's controversial maternity leave policy that was most memorable. "Does this guy ever shut up?" asked the Opposition Leader. A mixture of astonishment and guffaws ensued.

But Abbott's snap worked. Not only did the PM's answers come across as verbose and chiding, it was obvious that Kevin07 didn't want to be there at his supposedly safe Brisbane Broncos Leagues Club. His body language demonstrated a profound disrespect for the audience: while his nemesis stood facing the crowd, Rudd repeatedly turned his back on them, grabbing another swig of bottled water to quench his Prime Ministerial thirst. The people voted against him, 35 to 37 for Abbott, with 33 still undecided.

In spite of the rift the paid parental leave scheme has caused within the Coalition, and in spite of economists' warnings that it will do little to improve productivity, the PPL is likely to help Abbott in the short term -- and that's all he needs.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 30.
August 23, 2013.

The Future of Indigenous Policy

Australia's 28th Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has indicated a willingness to become the country's first "Prime Minister for indigenous affairs" and has set up an Indigenous Advisory Council, led by Warren Mundine, to oversee this objective. The Coalition's "Real Solutions Plan" policy booklet outlines key steps to encourage indigenous Australians to "get ahead." This will be accomplished by: streamlining programs, providing $45 million to fund job training for indigenous people in concert with Generation One and the Australian Employment Covenant and introducing place-based initiatives to get a better sense of the needs of indigenous communities.

As grand as these ambitions may be, they are overshadowed by Joe Hockey's pre-election announcement that he would cut Aboriginal legal aid by $42 million. Indigenous legal aid groups claim such a move would jeopardise a system that is already cash-strapped and on its knees, causing a further deterioration in the quality of legal representation for a class of Australians who are 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous Australians. However, the Prime Minister has said that the cuts would not be to legal services but to the "policy reform" aspects of the programme. Abbott said, "The quantum of legal aid funding will remain but indigenous spending overall goes up because we've got things like the $45 million to Generation One." Attorney General George Brandis has confirmed there will be no cut to legal services.

Nevertheless, indigenous legal aid bodies say any reduction in funding will have an impact. The challenge for the new Government is to boost indigenous economic participation and education. This can only be achieved in the right climate, and any move which would limit access to justice for the nation's most vulnerable would be counter productive. While it is all well and good for Mr Abbott to spend a week a year in a remote indigenous community, perhaps he should also spend a week in an Aboriginal community legal centre. That would give him a realistic taste of the direction in which many indigenous people are heading.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 34.
September 27, 2013.

Debt, Health Care and a Divided House

This is not the first Government shutdown and it will almost certainly not be the last. Bill Clinton faced one down back in 1995. But this one comes at a crucial time when the United States is recovering from a devastating recession and could easily fall back into the fiscal crevice. "We will fund the government without Obama's health care law", crow House Republicans. "No", retort Senate Democrats.

While it's fair to say that the Republicans are merely exercising their constitutional right to decide what to spend government money on (Article I, Section 7), it must be asked whether this obstruction is in the longer-term interests of the country, something every Congressman swears to protect upon taking office. This oath has seems to have become applicable only to one's own constituency and not to the wider country.

Warren Buffett described the use of the debt limit as leverage to delay a provision in the health care law as a form of "politicking" which drew parallels with playing with nuclear weapons. Such acts should be banned because they are "basically too horrible to use".

In recent days Speaker Boehner has shifted the debate from Obamacare to the budget. The Republicans are demanding a negotiation over the budget as a condition for increasing the debt limit. In response the President is demanding that the debt limit be given a temporary increase to obviate default while the negotiations take place.

A continued standoff on the budget and, ultimately, an inability to continue borrowing would plunge markets further south, leaving investors shaken and the US in economic turmoil -- something which it truly cannot afford. In reality, as Joe Hockey said in an interview with Fran Kelly yesterday morning, it is more likely the Administration will re-order its spending in order to avoid default.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 36.
October 11, 2013.

Intelligence, But At What Price?

What is more chilling than the recent news that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on over 30 world leaders -- including German Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal telephone since 2002, before she was even the Chancellor -- is that, apparently, neither the White House, nor the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee knew anything about it.

The consequences of these revelations, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, are only now beginning to emerge: upon discovering that it had been bugged, Brazil withdrew its order from Boeing for $4 billion worth of military hardware.

But it's the non-financial cost that may be at the heart of this security scandal: Chancellor Merkel has already said that the US must "re-earn" Germany's trust. It remains to be seen whether this will mean reviewing future co-operation on trade and security issues.

US President Barack Obama claims he was unaware that Merkel's personal phone was being bugged. While it's disturbing to think intelligence officials decided against advising him of such operations, it's more disturbing to contemplate that the NSA has carte blanche to monitor whomever it pleases. A new investigation is under way to find out exactly how the NSA operates and how much of this information is passed around Capitol Hill.

It's arguable that a lot of this surveillance keeps not only America but also its allies safe from terrorism. But can this still be justified when it includes tapping the personal phone conversations of the leaders of the US' allies?

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 39.
November 1, 2013.

Nuclear Weapons: The Iranian Dilemma

The United States and Iran stand at a historic crossroads at the moment. At least this is how some view the latest negotiations between the leaders of the two countries: the chance to negotiate Iran out of its nuclear enrichment programme, to cement a lasting peace and ease off economic sanctions. But, realistically, compelling a nuclear-free Iran is a pipe dream.

The Islamic Republic, writes Professor Hugh White of the ANU, holds most of the cards in this standoff since it could continue enriching uranium without detection. Given the ease with which uranium enrichment facilities may be hidden, the US would have to take President Rouhani's guarantees of nuclear abandonment at his word. In this light, America and its allies would have to accept the fact that Iran will eventually be capable of producing a nuclear weapon.

To muddy the dilemma, President Obama faces a hostile Congress keen to pass further sanctions on Iran as well as a thuggish Benjamin Netanyahu who is loath to negotiate with the "wolf in sheep's clothing". Obama must neutralise this opposition while simultaneously navigating a pragmatic plan for peace. Iran's nuclear ambitions know no bounds; but its appetite for war should be thwarted.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 41.
November 15, 2013.

The Cost of Spying

The first rule of spying, and especially when spying on friends, is not to get caught. But Australia broke this rule and must now face the music which has only crescendoed from Jakarta since Monday. The Indonesian Ambassador has been recalled and President Yudhoyono has turned to twitter to vent his frustration and anger.

With military and people-smuggling operations now hanging by a thread, Prime Minister Abbott faces a very real problem, one far more serious than the "media reports" he tried to tackle earlier this week in Parliament.

Mr Abbott may argue that he should not apologise on principle because spying is central to Australia's intelligence gathering and stable international relations and, anyway, most nations do it. But given that Indonesia is about to enter an election cycle, Abbott would be wise to adopt a more conciliatory approach, especially when bilateral trade and security is concerned.

As Professor Greg Barton points out, in situations where two close friends have a sudden falling out, a show of remorse goes a long way towards sustaining the friendship. An undertaking along the lines of the one President Obama is said to have given Angela Merkel may be sufficient. This apparently did not acknowledge the fact of the spying but undertook that no interception of the Chancellor's personal phone was occurring now, nor would it happen in the future.

Interestingly, according to Marciano Norman, head of Indonesia's top intelligence agency, Badan Intelligen Negara (BIN), Australian intelligence agencies have already agreed to a moratorium on spying on the Indonesian leadership group. Norman went further indicating that the undertaking is "that now and in the future, it will not happen again". He added that the tapping took place from 2007-2009. Since then there had been tripartite talks between Indonesia, Australia and the United States which established joint intelligence protocols. The President knows that the remedy is already in place so what's happening now is all about the politics. This makes Abbott's job all the harder.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 42.
November 22, 2013.

The Iran Deal: A Step in the Right Direction

The deal reached between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- plus Germany) and Iran in Geneva last week appears to have only aggravated divisions over Iran. The agreement requires Iran to halt most of its uranium enrichment above the 5% level; eliminate its stockpile of uranium already purified to near weapons-grade quality; open its enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow to daily monitoring by international inspectors; and slow the construction of its Arak plutonium reactor. In exchange Iran will receive roughly $6 billion in sanctions relief and the P5+1's guarantee that they won't impose any new sanctions on Iran in the next six months.

The hawks, chief among them the hard-line Bibi Netanyahu, slammed the deal as a "historic mistake" which makes the world a "much more dangerous place". This fear is due, in part, to the fact that the deal did not require Iran to disassemble any of its centrifuges or to destroy its enrichment equipment, essentially leaving Iran free to restart its nuclear program whenever it likes. President Obama also faces a hostile Congress keen to inflict fresh sanctions on the Iranian Government. To assuage such fears, President Obama and his allies must reach a longer-term deal, one that will silence the hawks, cut off Iran's ambitions for a nuclear bomb, and ensure that America's allies in the Gulf are put at ease. The fact is that Israel has more than enough weaponry to take care of itself and might well use them if it felt that a more permanent deal were doomed to failure. This cannot happen. Patience and calm-heads must prevail over the hardliners although Netanyahu is likely to continue to talk tough until he sees how much of Iran's nuclear infrastructure will be dismantled. This is an interim agreement, really, more like a truce: the details will have to be worked out over the next year. The irony is that the same principals in Iran who negotiated this deal, Rouhani and Zarif, offered the US a deal 10 years ago when they only had 196 centrifuges. Now they have 19,000 that have to be demobilised. This will cost Iran an enormous amount of lost capital for which it will seek compensation. If the US is to secure a lasting deal, it will have to recognise this and be prepared to ante up. As David Sanger of the NY Times said, on Bloomberg on Wednesday, this means backing away from the mind-set that says that reduced sanctions represent sufficient incentive to make Iran complete the deal.

The next round of negotiations will be aimed at extending the mobilisation time for Iran to acquire weapons-grade uranium. They will be required to reduce the uranium from 80% enrichment to 5% enrichment. This extends the time for making a bomb from a matter of months to close to a year. Obama's difficulty will be holding the international consensus around this objective.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 43.
November 29, 2013.

Tricky Diplomacy in the East China Sea

China fired a diplomatic warning shot over its neighbours' bows last month when it unilaterally declared a new air defence identification zone (ADIZ) for itself. The Chinese Foreign Ministry describes this area, which is roughly the size of California and overlaps with the ADIZ of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, as a "zone of cooperation, not of confrontation" but this has only raised the ire of other countries: neither the United States nor Japan has recognised China's new space and the action has prompted sharp rebukes from many countries, including Australia.

During his visit to China this week, US Vice President Joe Biden made no reference to the dispute but said the relationship between the United States and China "ultimately has to be based on trust, and a positive notion about the motives of one another". Trust here would be avoiding conflict with Japan which has refused to notify or share its flight plans with China when entering the zone.

In the face of growing Chinese assertiveness, the question must be asked: what does China stand to gain by taking this action? Political points at home, for sure. But, if a conflict were to break out, the US would stand by its alliance with Japan, a combined force strong enough to quell any Sino threat. In the long-term, there are very few spoils to be won.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 45.
December 6, 2013.

Unrest in the Ukraine

It started as a protest against President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to reject a trade deal with the European Union but it grew into a movement that sought to topple the status quo which retains strong ties to Russia. At the end of last month the President ordered a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Kiev, a move which was widely regarded as a sign that he's unwilling to contemplate a more western-oriented Ukraine.

Today's protests are of a different complexion from the "Orange Revolution" of nine years ago. Not driven by politicians, these protesters are students and civil activists for whom a European future is more attractive than the Republic's traditional ties with Russia. Popular support for Mr Yanukovych is low, his chief of staff, Serhiy Levochkin, recently resigned and police in the western part of the Ukraine refused to disperse protesters. Tired of what they see as a corrupt, post-Soviet elite, many of these protesters will stop at nothing until the "wall" falls and they can join Europe.

The problem is that none of the opposition leaders -- Arseny Yatseniuk, who leads the party of imprisoned politician Yulia Tymoschenko, or Oleh Tyagnibok, a right-wing nationalist -- has been able to take charge of the movement. Both these leaders will be contesting the Presidential elections which are due in 2015.

And so will Vitali Klitschko, a man with two careers: not only is he a leading politician but he's also the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion. This was useful on Sunday when he persuaded the protesters not to invade the President's office and to stay calm. This undoubtedly saved a great deal of bloodshed. Klitschko interposed his huge frame between the protesters and police and the anger of the crowd immediately dissipated. Earlier he had exhorted people to go to the centre of the capital to defend democracy. "We will say no to a police state, no to a dictatorship," he told protesters.

Under pressure from the protesters, President Yanukovich has vowed to renew talks with the EU on a trade and political agreement. He indicated he was still willing to sign the EU deal at a summit in the spring, but only if the EU can offer better financial terms to offset the loss of benefits from trade with Russia.

Although Klitschko has a record of 41 knockouts from 45 fights since 2003, he's finding politics a lot tougher. On Tuesday he tried to bring down the Ukrainian Government with a no-confidence vote in the Parliament but the Government outwitted him. At the moment he's doing well on the hustings but he lacks a strong network inside Parliament. Fistfights are common in the Ukrainian Parliament so it's little wonder some MPs are keeping their distance.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 46.
December 13, 2013.

"Shrimpgate:" How Australia Spied on Indonesia

Australia's relations with its northern neighbour, Indonesia, have hit not rock bottom but the seabed that lies between the two countries following fresh allegations of spying on Jakarta.

The new allegations, leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden -- dubbed a "traitor" by Attorney-General George Brandis -- reveal that last year the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) monitored communications related to an Indonesian trade dispute with the US about Indonesian exports of shrimp and clove cigarettes. The ASD is alleged to have offered to share this commercial intelligence with the NSA.

Although the incident didn't happen on his watch, such allegations, if proved true, would seriously undermine Prime Minister Tony Abbott's claim that "we collect intelligence to save Australian lives, to save the lives of other people and to help our friends and neighbours, including Indonesia". Little surprise then, that Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa, was "mind-boggled" when trying to join the dots between Indonesia's shrimp trade and Australian lives. "It's a little bit too much," Dr Natalegawa said to reporters during a news conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Americans, for their part, have tried to calm the waters by committing to "concrete and substantial reforms" to intelligence gathering. But the Australian government has been more tight-lipped. It's anyone's guess whether this is out of concern that Operation Sovereign Borders might be compromised if too much is disclosed or because there are more spying allegations yet to be exposed. What is clear is that the six-step code of conduct between the two countries, proposed last year by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the hope of a reconciliation, is unlikely to be achieved before Dr Yudhoyono leaves office in October.

In an interview from Vietnam broadcast on the ABC's AM programme on Thursday morning, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Australia had provided a draft of the code of conduct to Indonesia in December but, as yet, there'd been no indication that Indonesia was in a position to respond. On the other hand it appears that Dr Natalegawa did not raise the question of Operation Sovereign Borders with John Kerry as he had previously said he would.

Assistant US Secretary of State, Danny Russel, told the ABC's Lateline on Tuesday that Dr Natalegawa had not sought to have Secretary Kerry understand the border issues much less do anything about them. Russel said that America's concern was to see the restoration of full co-operation between Indonesia and Australia. Interestingly, asylum seeker arrivals in Indonesia have fallen by 71% over the last 12 months according to the UNHCR. This has been a great relief to Indonesian authorities.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 67, No. 4.
February 21, 2014.

Egypt, Journalism and Free Speech

The second court appearance of Australian-Latvian journalist Peter Greste was an emotional one: Mr Greste stood with his co-accused, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, all employees of Al Jazeera English, inside a cramped cage in the Egyptian court. Having already spent sixty-seven days in prison, the toll was beginning to show on the faces of the three men who were arrested on charges of assisting a terrorist organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood); broadcasting false news to undermine state security; and working without accreditation or permits. The case has sent shockwaves throughout the free world for what many journalists call a crackdown on free speech and the criminalisation of dissent. Managing director of Al Jazeera English, Al Anstey, observed that "What is going on in Egypt right now is a trial of journalism itself, so it is critical that we remain resolute in calling for freedom of speech, for the right for people to know, and for the immediate release of all Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt". The Committee to Protect Journalists last year rated Egypt among the top three deadliest countries for journalists to work in.

According to Thursday's Guardian, the government of Qatar (which owns Al Jazeera) has been a strong political and financial supporter of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The idea that journalists from a Qatari government-owned news agency could turn up in Egypt without appropriate documentation and expect to interview members of the Brotherhood with impunity was, to say the least, naïve.

The three journalists have been charged under Egypt's controversial new anti-terror legislation. If found guilty, Greste faces up to seven years' imprisonment. What is particularly problematic is the wide definition of terrorism in Article 2 of the legislation. It includes conduct which might be a "serious breach of public order", "endangering society's safety and security", "stalling authorities" and "subjecting citizens' lives, freedoms and rights to danger". Law No. 97 of 1992, upon which much of this legislation is based, is similarly broad. An "act of terrorism" extends to "any behavior which damages the communications or information systems, the financial systems, or the national economy". Furthermore, a "terrorist crime" is defined as "any crime committed with the intention of achieving one of the goals of terrorism". Such broad provisions may catch a lot of political groups and civil organisations which are not engaging in terrorism in the conventional sense.

These new laws appear to be sharply at odds with Egypt's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice" (Article 19). The state of emergency in which Egypt's legislative and judicial bodies operate has facilitated these sweeping powers. National security is priority number one.

The Latvian government has called for Greste's immediate release and Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevics, has taken up Greste's case with European Union policy chief Catherine Ashton and the Egyptian government. Until yesterday, however, the Australian government had not commented publicly on the case. Greste himself called for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to help: "Everybody from the White House down has given their support to us. We haven't heard from the Prime Minister". Yesterday afternoon Mr Abbott released a statement to the effect that "the Australian Government is deeply concerned about the charges that have been laid against Mr Peter Greste and the fact that he is currently subject to criminal proceedings in Egypt". The statement confirmed that "Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has personally raised concerns about Mr Greste's arrest with the Egyptian Government and authorities and we will continue to make representations on behalf of Mr Greste to secure his release".

Greste's trial has been adjourned until March 24.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 67, No. 6.
March 7, 2014.

The 2016 US Presidential Election: A Taste of What's To Come

It might strike you as a bit of a folly to be writing about the next resident of the White House given that the presidential election is over 900 days away but there are already several potential contenders for the position of commander-in-chief on both sides of the political divide, including faces both new and old.

Least surprising is Hillary Clinton. Former First Lady and wife of 42nd President, Bill Clinton, Ms Clinton was a frontrunner in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries before bowing out to Barak Obama in their final stages. Not only is Clinton a household name, the former Secretary of State is well placed to run and could well have been the Democratic nominee, and possibly the first female president, two elections ago. An article by former congressional intern, Monica Lewinsky, published recently in Vanity Fair, seems to pose more of a minor headache than a lasting problem for Ms Clinton's chances of nomination this time round.

Should Hillary not run, however, there's speculation that Vice President Joe Biden may throw his hat into the ring. This would be a natural choice given his closeness to the President and his management of the White House in President Obama's absence.

Maryland Governor, Martin O'Malley, is also thought to be considering a tilt at the top job. O'Malley has already been in touch with Ms Clinton concerning the race and has strong backing from Democratic lobbyists. However, he has his critics, specifically those hostile to his 2012 "rain tax", an annual fee levied on residential and business owners of impervious surfaces, such as roofs and driveways, that could create drainage problems. The tax was aimed at reducing pollution in the nearby Chesapeake Bay but Maryland is the only state to legislate on the issue.

There are several contenders on the Republican side: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Chris Christie was considered, until recently, to be the main candidate for nomination. Governor Christie was well known for his swift action following the 2012 hurricane that devastated parts of New Jersey and New York. He's also widely admired for his robust "say it how I mean it" approach to public debate. However his association with a roadblock late last year over the George Washington Bridge, which caused ghoulish traffic jams and public vitriol, has seriously dented his chances.

Jeb Bush, son and brother of two former presidents of the same name, is also a possibility. He not only has gubernatorial experience but is credited with improving standardised testing in Florida's public schools as well as good economic management. Finally, Marco Rubio is not to be dismissed as a potential Republican nominee. Not only is his Cuban-American heritage a winner with Hispanic voters but he's a Tea Party darling and likely to garner wide support.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 67, No. 14.
May 16, 2014.

The War in Gaza: Death, Despair and a Growing Sense of Frustration

The latest outburst of violence between Israel's defence forces (IDF) and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip has achieved only one thing: a rising death toll. Operation Protective Edge, now in its second week, aims to neutralise the threat to Israelis of rocket fire from Hamas as well as further isolating that organisation politically. However, it's unlikely that the latest round of bombings will achieve this.

In fact, in the wake of the failed ceasefire proposed by Egypt, there's a growing sense of unease and despair that lasting peace between the two sides is only something written on paper. This is in spite of US President Barack Obama's statement this week that "The only path to true security is a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians".

While the US supports Israel's right to defend itself, it's criticised the Israeli settlements in the West Bank as harmful to long-term peace and stability in the region. This is awkward diplomacy: condemnation on the one hand but support on the other. Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East, was blunt in his assessment of the topic: "How will Israel remain democratic and Jewish if it attempts to govern the millions of Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank? How will it have peace if it's unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation, and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security, and dignity?"

The problem is twofold: killing Gaza civilians -- whether intended or not -- will only serve to further radicalize Palestinians, bolstering Hamas' position in the region to the detriment of the more moderate Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas. For Hamas, "rocket diplomacy" is regarded as one means of asserting its geopolitical demands: an end to blockades; opening of border crossings; and greater fishing rights. Close to two hundred Palestinians have died during this war but this only seems to strengthen Hamas' belligerence.

Second, Israel has become too insular, rebuffing US Secretary of State John Kerry's attempts to try to broker a peace deal while pandering increasingly to the messianic forces within the Jewish state. Tacitly endorsing further settlements in the dangerous West Bank seems to weaken the IDF's legitimacy when trying to rein in these extremist forces.

The end result is growing frustration among the Americans and blind bellicosity between Hamas and Israel. Sadly, continued bloodshed only creates more radical Islamists while isolating Israel's powerful allies.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 67, No. 23.
July 18, 2014.

The Ferguson Shooting: A Microcosm of What's Wrong with American Policing

The facts surrounding the death of young African-American Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, are still not entirely clear. What is known is that he was shot by police officer Darren Wilson six times -- four times in the arm and twice in the head. Brown had been involved in a physical confrontation with a shop owner just minutes prior to his death, but it's still not known if this was related to his altercation with Wilson. At the time of writing, new evidence has come to light which suggests that Brown may have charged Wilson, causing the officer to defend himself. A grand jury will investigate which account of events is the more credible and whether criminal charges should be laid against Wilson.

Brown's death has sparked widespread unrest in Ferguson as well as other parts of Missouri. Ferguson, a town whose population is two thirds black, has been plagued by a week of violent riots and looting. The National Guard has been called in to quell the uprising but, rather than defuse the tension, this militarisation has only aggravated the situation.

The crisis hasn't been helped by the state's governor, Jay Nixon, who earlier this week called for a "vigorous prosecution" in response to the shooting. Nixon's office later clarified this statement, saying: "The governor's comments -- were not intended to indicate prejudgment in this matter". In an attempt to curb the violence, Nixon also imposed a curfew which only further antagonised protesters, upset by what they perceived as a patronising gesture from a white politician blissfully unaware of the prejudice black people face every day.

The United States has always had problems with race. Its roots are buried deep within American history and are best exemplified by slavery and the Jim Crow laws. Today such racial tensions should be an anachronism, banished to another age. But they are not. This is in large part due to the black-white tension so evident between police and citizens. Ferguson's police force is largely white, as are many others across the country. Furthermore, many of these police forces boast weapons and equipment that far surpass what is necessary for maintaining law and order. As one protester wryly noted, the vehicles used by Ferguson police wouldn't be out of place in Fallujah, such was their military capability.

Pentagon funding for police force equipment should be scrapped or severely scaled back. The police do not need tanks or armoured personnel carriers to keep the peace. Instead, the police should be walking the beat, interacting with the community to better understand public grievances.

It may be impracticable, if not unconstitutional, to impose racial quotas for each police force but at least demilitarising the police would be a good first step. It might even save the next Michael Brown.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 67, No. 28.
August 22, 2014.

Battle for the Senate: The 2014 Midterm Elections

The 2014 US midterm elections turned out to be a repudiation of the Obama presidency. All 435 US House of Representatives seats were up for grabs as were 33 Senate seats, not to mention many state governorships and local races.

But with some Senate races tipped to go to run-off elections, Americans were shocked when the Republicans secured a 52-seat winning majority before all the results were known. Candidates in Louisiana face a run-off because neither candidate could garner the required minimum 50% of votes on election day. On the other hand Georgia, which was tipped for a run-off, went to the Republicans on the day.

Voter dissatisfaction and anger was evident in this election. A poll by The Wall Street Journal this week found that only half of voters said they were interested in the election, compared with 61% four years earlier.

The reason for this? Many do not feel as large an obligation to participate as they do in presidential elections. The motivation is just not there. Recent Supreme Court cases striking down bans on aggregate spending on political campaigns has made this a real problem. Voters feel their voice is drowned out by the millions of dollars pouring into Washington from lobby groups and super Political Action Committees. Money is speech, after all. The question is where the result will leave relations between the White House and the Congress. The President can't yield on key issues such as immigration because the Democrats would lose the Latino vote at the next election. On the other hand, he could compromise on issues such as the minimum wage without getting his constituency offside. There's also a chance that the Republicans will give him the trade negotiating mandate that his own party refused him. Issues such as these would allow Obama to leave office with a legacy that's stronger than just Obamacare.

The other question is how this will impact on the 2016 Presidential race. Hillary Clinton was very prominent in the campaign and made strong pitches to women voters. The female vote for the Democrats fell in this election but that's probably not down to Hillary. On the other hand, the Clinton name has definitely lost its allure in the South. Bill Clinton campaigned strongly for the Democrat Senate candidate in Arkansas but he lost to the Republican. Nevertheless Hillary Clinton is still the outstanding contender for the 2016 presidential race.

The Republicans will have a chance in the presidential race in 2016. The large influx of moderate Republicans to Washington means that the influence of the Tea Party will be diluted and the Republicans will become more acceptable. Their best chance will be to choose a Spanish-speaking candidate from the South. We may yet see a Clinton versus (Jeb) Bush contest.

Josh Marks

Inside Canberra Vol. 67, No. 39.
November 7, 2014.

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