The Shoe Leather Express

Writing and Comedy from James Harris

Month: January, 2012

Guest cartoon from Kerri Mullen

Many thanks to Kerri Mullen, satirical cartoonist and stir-fry cook extraordinnaire, for supplying this cartoon about Obama and Santorum and the linguistic distinctions between them. The team here at the Shoe Leather Express – me and Pedro, my retainer – hope she will be contributing regularly to our rag. Meanwhile, check out Kerri’s website here.

The State of the Union (from Berlin)

Photo by Jonathon Coleman

Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address yesterday and there was one particular passage which struck me.

America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. …(That’s) not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years.

As a Berlin resident of eight years, I feel to a certain extent qualified to judge the Berlin part of how people feel. There is no doubt that the election of Barack Obama was a hopeful moment; perhaps the most hopeful political moment of my lifetime. Try getting Germany to elect a black man. Once in office, Obama has consistently handled himself with grace and aplomb.

But to answer the question of how Berlin feels about America, here are a few pen portraits of the kind Obama, speechifying, so likes to give.

In Louisiana, a 33-year woman named Christie Cheramie is sitting in jail, convicted for a crime she was arrested for age 16 and for which she retracted her confession in 2001. It seems possible her partner of the time committed said crime and his underage partner gave false testimony in a situation of stress.

As of time of writing, January 24th, 2012, there are 171 men at Guantánamo Bay, an illegal prison to Cuba’s southern tip, is still open. In that prison are likely people who are innocent, stuck in diplomatic limbo, as other men before them, since released and never charged.

In Preston Hollow Texas, there’s a 65-year old man living in great wealth and luxury who condoned the use of torture during his last job in direct violation of the Geneva convention. His fellow torturers have also continued most comfortable existences.

Obama cited what Berlin feels about the U.S. And here’s how my one tiny part of Berlin feels, in an obscure flat in Kreuzberg where the President’s mind would never go, living how it could never even imagine anyone could live, without a car, without a TV, and without the sense that the U.S is any better or worse than anywhere else in this world.

“The United States of America form the richest and most powerful country on earth. And if you as President of the U.S were to acknowledge that, saying something like, we’re like an elephant, it’s difficult for us not to do damage but we’re doing our best – then I, and I think Berlin too, could get with that. But to say that America is admired around the world again just because an executive order was signed to close Guantánamo – the prison remains open – just isn’t enough to bring back the ‘feel-good factor’ after Abu-Ghraib and Iraq, after urinating onto corpses.

What enrages Berlin so much is not that America does things wrong but that in public it pretends not to, and styles itself as possessed of some innate moral compass as a nation; the problem here, and a deeply shaming one for anyone who knows anything about politics, society and history, is the gap between reality and rhetoric, between Reagan’s ‘shining city on the hill’ and Guantánamo. The preposterous claims make the trespasses against them seem particularly lurid and derange those who seek justice for these latter.”

Sorry to be so negative, Mr. President, but you did ask. Or rather you didn’t. I suppose can always go talk to Tokyo.

Note. Those of who you follow this blog will remark that there has been a large gap since the last post. For me the problem doing this blog is the same problem with Obama’s statement. Dealing with the official American unreality is exhausting, and working on it too much sends you doolally. ‘You don’t want madhouse and the whole thing there’ as William Empson once wrote. All these comments respect my fondness for my American friends and acquaintances and in part come from my concern for them.

The ‘Not Obama’ Vote

Mitt Romney’s sashay to the Republican nomination continues unabated, despite him apparently being what we call in British English ‘something of an arse.’ Yet what is his election strategy? It appears that his main argument until now that he is not Barack Obama. And the argument is undeniable: he is indeed not Barack Obama. Look at the photographic evidence:

Photo by Jessica Rinaldi under a Creative Commons license

Photo by Pete Souza under a Creative Commons license










Nobody could look at these two photographs and say ‘the man on the left is Barack Obama.’ For one thing, Barack Obama is black and Mitt Romney is white, a small but, even in post-racial America, significant detail which will surely remain true even until the general election. Only if Mitt Romney begins dressing as and/or impersonating Barack Obama will this brilliant tactic become confusing for the average voter. What would complicate matters still further is if before the election, Mitt Romney changed his name to ‘Barack Obama.’ Faced by two identical names on the ballot paper, even the most-hardened ‘Nobama’-sayer might struggle to figure out which meant the real Obama (the one he hated) and which the other (the Barack Obama formerly known as Mitt Romney). A numbering system or some kind of acronym could perhaps make this more clear.
However, Romney has to be careful this tactic does not backfire on him, as it is also undeniably true that the majority of Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination can also say, and say confidently, that they are not Barack Obama. For example, what if Newt Gingrich hits him with a campaign ad with the slogan ‘I Too Am Also Not Barack Obama’? And surely Michelle Bachmann, now out of the race, could also have claimed to be, by dint of her gender, even less like Obama than all the ageing white men who surrounded her. Furthermore even the radical fringe of American politics could appropriate the slogan: surely, for the Occupy Wall Street movement, even better than ‘We are the 99%’ is ‘We are not Barack Obama’, true as it really is for all Americans – except one – rather than just 99% percent of them.
It’s time the non-Obama majority made their voices heard. Only in doing this can we achieve the solution to the ‘Cold Civil War’ now raging in America: all American citizens should run for office against Barack Obama, under the banner of what they each share, namely not being Barack Obama. Even though I myself am neither an American citizen, nor live in America, nor even know where America is, I can safely say that I am not, nor have ever been, Barack Obama.  Even to a displaced Anglo-German like me the slogan rings immediately true. I did not go to Harvard Law School, nor try to learn Spanish. And did the rest of the world? From the lowliest Chinese peasant farmer to the confused Welsh house-husband who has just lost all his worldly possessions in a fire, we can all unite as global citizens to say with great confidence: ‘We are not Barack Obama.’ Only one man is. Though some of us are slightly more like him than others.

No we’re not! (Image xedos4/Free Digital Images)

Harris’ Political Dictionary

Harris’ Law. A political law by which the leader of one political party is better placed to realize the agenda of another. The law results from the natural need of a leader to demonstrate their authority over their own party, and that the best way to do this is by making the party support them in something it finds unpalatable. Hence, Obama supports cutting Social Security in the States, Angela Merkel commits Germany to a nuclear-free future, and David Cameron seeks to bring about legal gay marriage in the U.K. Although these leaders come from on paper the ‘wrong party’ to advance such positions, they have found themselves adopting them despite or to spite their own party’s traditional stance, though in fairness to Obama, the U.S’s contorted political landscape has seen him unable to even compromise his principles effectively. It is also a way in which a leader seeks to define their own particular period as party-head and distinguish it from what has gone before. Of course it is not a consistent rule as in other cases the leader simply tries to realize the party’s actual agenda (see Attlee: NHS) or an agenda no-one thinks is a good idea (see Blair: Iraq).

Ron Paul and the hipster delusion

Here’s a clip which shows why I think the Ron Paul-hipster love affair is so misjudged.

In the excerpt, Congressman Paul is presented with evidence of government providing a service, in this case public transportation, which provides a public good and societal amenity regardless of the profit it makes. The D.C. Metro averages over a million riders a day, a million riders coursing through the city, or, to put it another way, a million trips which might otherwise have been made by car. Surely even Ron Paul would admit that the entire surface of D.C. being covered in cars might be a problem for intracity mobility. But ideology is rarely practical; reality keeps getting in the way. Whether the Washington Metrorail turns a profit or not, the benefits it offers to its host city are enormous; perhaps a campaign to get Mr. Paul to take a ride on it should begin here.

It’s become apparent that for your average, bicycle-riding, big-glass wearing city hipster  or discharged, war-saddened soldier, Ron Paul is a cult figure. And he does have a certain caché, a bit like smoking dope in your Grandad’s bedroom and watching him, high on passive fumes, embarking on ever wilder flights of fancy which you, baked, lap up. But does anybody, even his supporters, really believe, in a country where public goods have been systematically undermined for the last 30 years and the outside observer struggles to find a non-privatized park bench, that what is needed is more profit motive and more selfishness in the U.S.A.? And surely to argue for less financial regulation three years after a crash which, motivated by bandit capitalism and financial whizzkiddery, i.e. fraud, wiped out billions in savings and lost people their homes, suggests that Mr. Paul does indeed come from another planet or as he calls it ‘Texas.’ He is also, and this should identify to anyone doubting exactly where Ron Paul fits on the political spectrum, a global-warming denier. To me, global warming denying, along with a lack of concern for climate change in a wider sense, is a moral wrong, equivalent to, when your child tells you what they want to be when they’re older, mockingly sneering and saying, ‘Sorry – you don’t get to grow up.’

Ron Paul is right about two things and two things only: the U.S.’ ‘War on Drugs’ is idiotic, and the States has to stop embarking on expensive and pointless wars. When he sticks to those points, as below, he can be very good indeed. For the rest of the time he can and should be ignored while the search goes on for someone who opposes the war on drugs, wants to slim down America’s military and who will honour the social contract that, if we wish to have a civilisation, we automatically enter into by being born into a given society at a given time. It’s out there and in droves. Try Rocky Anderson for starters.