Category Archives: Politics

A need for speed – electorally speaking

For a relatively relaxed person like myself, everything in New York is just slightly too fast-paced. Easing yourself into a day is a practical impossibility. Everywhere you look there are people acting as if they’re starring in a bus-less version of the movie Speed, and that if they slow down below 50 mph, they’ll spontaneously combust. Rather like Sandra Bullock’s marriage and Keanu Reeves’ career, to be honest.

Everything has to be done at high pace. Order coffee, and you’ve got bitter black liquid in your mouth before you can spit out the words “…and don’t put any of that whipped cream crap in there”. Push your accelerator even half a second after the green light has flicked on, and you’ll be greeted with the kind of felicitations offered to John TerryTiki Barber at the World Feminist Council’s Annual General Meeting. And don’t even think about walking down the street with anything less than industrial springs in your step, unless being trampled to death is what butters your proverbial crumpet.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. The subway to Coney Island, for instance, is required to take at least three times longer than federal authorities have deemed ‘strictly necessary’. Post office staff are not allowed to serve any customers whatsoever until there are more than 19 people in the queueline. And the immigration procedure in the US was recently the winner of the Ballon D’Or at the International Festival of Snail-Like Slow, held annually in Luxembourg.

If you really want slow though, then the UK is the place for you. British Sunday drivers go so slowly that it took a £3.2m study to determine whether they were actually moving at all. We cut the crusts off cucumber sandwiches, as otherwise we have to move our teeth too quickly. And the newspapers regularly feature stories about how a postcard sent by a woman in Falmouth in 1932 has just turned up in Birmingham. That’s not an anomaly, by the way, that’s just second-class mail UK-style.

One place where the UK bucks the trend though is the election process to find a new government. On April 6, Gordon Brown (or, as Americans call him, ‘Who?”) announced that he was calling an election. Twenty nine days later, and Britain is currently going to the polls. Like the young lady who gave into the smooth-talking charms of the well-groomed man from the Home Counties (only to wake up the next day and find herself in bed with an ill-mannered oik who holds her head under the covers as he farts), the country is almost certainly going to make a frankly regrettable decision and not even be able to blame it on too many shots of Jagermeister. But you can’t say fairer than an election campaign that lasts less than a month.

Here in the US, the election campaign for president appears to kick off two months before the previous election is completed. Given that Americans have eschewed the ‘put a cross in a box’ method of voting in favour of a complicated series of buttons, pulleys, levers and chads, it can take almost four years for that vote to be registered. If I ever get to vote in an election, it’ll be unclear whether I’m voting to bring Obama’s successor into office, or to try to keep Nixon out of office.

This is my first UK election living in the US, and the brilliance of it is that I can watch the whole thing unfold in primetime. No more waiting up until 5am to see the smile wiped off the face of this year’s Michael Portillo, and no poking myself in the eye in a bid to stay awake during John Prescott’s ramblings.

Still, it does mean that I will need to explain the Sunderland South phenomena to The Special One. After all, sometimes speed really is of the essence.

A moment of history

Today has been a proud day for United States. A triumph for the American dream, and for the ideal that all men, women and children are equal regardless of colour, gender or religion. A vindication of the dream that Dr Martin Luther King had more than forty years ago, and a redemption from eight years of leadership that has seen the country slip in the hearts and minds of the world’s population.

And when grandchildren ask me in years to come where I listened to the momentous speech following the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States and the country’s first African-American leader, I will be able to sit them on a lap with a tear in my eye and say, “My dear child, I was on a bus at Heathrow Airport taking me from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5. The reception on the radio kept cutting out, but I heard the occasional word or two.”

Happy days.

Try a little bitterness

One thing that has always impressed me about the American political system is the idea that the presidential campaign is a no-holds-barred battle for the hearts and minds of the US people, but once the votes have been counted (or recounted, or argued over in court), politicians and people unite behind the selected President. It’s a noble ideal that puts the country above party politics, and recognises that the President needs the support of those of all different political persuasions in order to be effective. And a long distance from the British system, which sees the sniping and undermining begin shortly after the new Prime Minister has finished his first egg and soldiers breakfast at 10 Downing Street.

As it turns out, the ideal and the reality are as far apart as Sarah Palin and ‘the ability to string a coherent sentence together’. Whether it’s his selection for attorney general, or his plans for tighter controls on the economy, the soon-to-be-President will by now have realised not only that the honeymoon’s over, but that his new family is apparently packed full of characters like crazy Uncle Bert and vindictive step-cousin Michelle.

The problem is, of course, that some people are sore losers, and it’ll take more than a few calls for national unity to get them to pick up the toys scattered around their metaphorical pram.

But while British losers tend to keep their mouths firmly shut for fear of coming across as bitter, it seems as if some people over here don’t care if people know they backed the wrong horse, however ridiculous it makes them sound.

Last week, the New York Young Republican’s Club held one of their last meetings prior to Obama’s inauguration on January 20. Seizing their opportunity to show that at least they weren’t the only ones to support John McCain, the New York Post gleefully reported on the sentiments of the young right wingers who think that the country got it wrong.

23-year-old Cathy Reno, for example, commented “I’m trying to savor the last days of capitalism” as she “bitterly sipped a three olive martini.” Presumably Daddy’s funds weren’t hit by the Madoff scandal, then? Jeff Miller, two years older but not two years wiser, said that he feared “a gross overreaction to the current economic issue,” and was “divesting all his equity before the capital gains tax goes up.” Poor old Jeff.

Villamor Asuncion showed that Dick Cheney can be a role model for young people, with his comment that he was “hiding all [his] guns where Barry can’t find them.” I assume that disheartened Villamor was referencing Barack Obama’s high school nickname, rather than expressing any latent fear that his munitions stockpile would disappear into Mr Manilow’s Bermuda Triangle.

Finally, grad student (possibly in knitting, rather than international diplomacy) Michael Pocelinko agreed with Villamor, saying “I’m buying as many guns as possible, and I’m enjoying the last days of national security while I can.” One can only hope that he’s heading off to his deep bunker in Idaho to see out the next foureight years.

So, while the champagne corks (to be fair, it could be Sprite given the economic crisis) pop across America next week, spare a thought for the disheartened few in New York who will be working themselves up into a sweat come Tuesday. After all, that arsenal of ammunition and firepower won’t hide itself.

Unknown at this address

Ever since I first went into the tiny computer room at my college back in the day, I’ve been a relentless email devotee. Sure, most of it’s spam offering to help me ‘make her sigh’ or trying to give me approximately $8 million dollars from a mysterious account in Ghana, but such fripperies don’t put me off. Like the schoolkid waiting eagerly for the postmail to arrive in hopeful anticipation of an unexpected package, I metaphorically sit under my virtual lettermailbox waiting for an electronic treat to plop onto the mat of my inbox.

Email has played a central role in my life over the last fifteen years or so. I’ve been offered jobs, resumed friendships, found out about births and deaths, and even helped stave off the pangs of being separated by an ocean from The Special One. Without email, it’s doubtful I’d even be living in New York today.

And of course, email has revolutionised the way I work – indeed, the way in which the vast majority of us work. It’s enabled quick decisions to be taken, measured responses to be made, and helped communication become much more effective. Sure, it’s made the fax machine as useful as the whistle and light on a airplane lifejacket, but email has clearly marked a step forward in the way that businesses operate. Certainly, no Chief Executive could manage without it in this day and age.

Unless you’re the Chief Executive of United States of America Inc, that is.

Because of both freedom of information issues and fears of hacking, the president of the United States doesn’t traditionally use email, it would seem. In 2000, George W Bush bade an emotional email farewell to his 42 friends via his AOL account after realising he would no longer be able to send his regular ‘Friday funny’ out (the quality of his jokes may actually explain why he only had 42 friends). And now self-confessed Blackberry addict Barack Obama, who famously used email and the internet to rally his supporters to victory, may be forced to cease ROFLing at some picture sent by Rahm Emanuel and cancel his own email account too. He’ll still be able to get a faxed copy of Colin Powell’s a**ea** as taken on the photocopier after the Oval Office Christmasholiday party, so all is obviously not lost.

Now, some might say the lack of email would explain a few things about the George W Bush administration over the last eight years. And I have no doubt that the president has plenty of minions to do his emailing for him. But how can you appoint someone to the most important ‘business’ role in America (possibly the world), and tell them that they can’t use the most rudimentary technology to get their job done?

And don’t talk to me about the difficulty of reconciling national security with the democratic right to read written presidential communications. I’m not allowed to be on the line when Obama calls Nicolas Sarkozy (or even when he calls for pizza) so why should I be allowed at some point to see his emails? And as for hacking…it really cannot be beyond the ability of man to come up with a safe system for the president to email without a 14 year old from Scranton breaking in and sending Angela Merkel an email saying ‘You is like wel fit. Lol!!!!!!!’

Having run on a platform for change, I hope Barack Obama sees sense and insists on becoming the first emailing president of the United States. It’s in the interest of the country, and it’s in the interest of common sense defeating anachronistic principle.

Can we get a supply of presidential Viagra? Yes we can.

Out with the old, in with the new. Eventually.

I haven’t passed comment on the election since the historic events of November 4. After all, I don’t even have the vote, let alone an inside track on the political machinations that led to the Democrats winning Virginia, so sometimes it’s just best to keep quiet. All I can say is that I stayed up on a sofa in Brixton until 5.15am watching events unfold thousands of miles away, and went to bed happy in the knowledge that America had given itself a new start.

But after an interminably long election process that seemed to begin shortly after Bush robbeddemocratically defeated John Kerry in 2004, we’re now faced with two and a half months of sitting around waiting for the dawn to break. It’s like ordering a sofa for a brand new house, then having to sit on the floor for nine weeks while you wait for it to be delivered. Call me old fashioned, but since when were the supply chain problems of Sofa Workshop a good model for the democratic process?

In the meantime, The Squinty Little Man With The Former President For A Dad gets to experience a lame duck session as he goes through his cupboards to find all those weird scrappy bits of legislation he’d forgotten about over the last eight years. Any suggestions that lame ducks should be shot to put them out of their misery is not for this blog, thank you very much.

Of course, if the experience of the Clintons is anything to go by, he’ll have his beady eyes on some souvenirs from the Oval Office as he starts packing up his boxes. Although given that George Bush Jr (as he apparently hates to be called) has spent more time on holidayvacation than any other President in living memory, one of his aides will first probably have to point out where the Oval Office is.

The sadness is that by having this weird interregnum, America is denied one of the great delights of the British political system. Every time a Prime Minister loses an election, or is forced out of office by his own party, they’ve essentially got to get out of 10 Downing Street that day to make room for the new arrival. Nothing brings a politician back down to earth quicker than the arrival of a removals truck with a few hundred boxes to be filled full of tin sculptures (gifts from the Mongolian government) and framed pictures of the family standing with Bono and Richard Curtis.

Rumours that Gordon Brown was spotted picking up packing tape and bubble wrap at the weekend could not be confirmed at time of going to press.

A jump to the left, a step to the right

When it comes to the media, I think objectivity is a little over-rated. I like the fact that certain newspapers – British and American – nail their colours to the political mast, and go out of their way to attract those of a certain ideological persuasion. It’s why The Guardian with its relatively socially progressive agenda will always be more appealing to me than, say, the Daily Telegraph. And if you ever see me with a copy of the Daily Mail, feel free to drive rusty nails into my eyes.

In the States, it’s probably fair to say that more media outlets attempt to claim that they are independent from political bias, but some just can’t help but have their true colours emerge. And of course, the best example of this is Fox News.

Don’t get me wrong, the Fox network has many things going for it. After all, any channel that features ‘House’, ’24’ and even ‘The Simpsons’ is alright by me. But their news coverage is world-renowned for its – erm – marginal right-wing bias. Infact, their political persuasion is so well documented that I’ve never actually turned on the TV or radio to watch or listen to the news for myself.

Until Friday that is, when my Obama-supporting cab driver was listening to the Fox News channel on his satellite radio. Now, as I said earlier, I’m all for a bit of open bias, but this was ridiculous. Despite there being 11 national polls published on Friday, all of which claimed that Obama’s lead was widening (bar one, which had the McCain camp gaining a point), one commentator claimed that McCain had narrowed the gap in the last week by 10 points in key demographics such as 18-30 year olds, to practically level things up.

In a debate about taxation, the host and a Republican analyst both expressed their opinions about possible tax raises in an Obama administration, before cutting off a Democratic spokesperson by playing music over the top of her as she tried to make her response. And as I left the cab, Joe the Well Driller was telling us how much an Obama administration would hurt him.

Now, some or all of this may turn out to be fair, although it still seems unlikely that millions of 18-30 year olds will suddenly wake up and exclaim “Wow, that little man with the grey hair is just the guy I need to stir me from my latent political torpor.” But what really shocked was the abject refusal to put both sides of the argument. One of Fox News’s taglines is “Fair & Balanced,” but to be honest I’ve seen more fair and balanced treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

My best guess is that Fox News isn’t actually a news channel, but some kind of warped reality TV show in which contestants compete to see who can make the most outlandish claims on a broadcast outlet. Mark my words, viewers will turn on later this week to find Ryan Seacrest proclaiming Bill o’Reilly “America’s Next Top News Inventor Idol.”

America: your country needs you

Look, this is no political blog, and I’d like to think that people of all ideological persuasions are welcome here. But after tonight’s vice presidential debate, I find myself duty-bound to make five points:

1. Why aren’t there ever any debates between party leaders or their deputies in the UK? I’d have paid good money to see John ‘Slugger’ Prescott clash with anybody the Conservatives cared to put up, to be honest.

2. Could the moderator have been any less confrontational? Paxman would have made mincemeat of both of them, especially given that one candidate refused to answer any of the questions put to her.

3. Did Sarah Palin really wink at us, in an almost coquettish fashion? I thought America was looking for a vice president, not a morning TV host…

4. Tina Fey is way too scarily spot on with her Palin impression.

5. If that woman ever becomes vice president of the United States of America, I swear that I’m making immediate plans to leave the country.

I’d like to apologise unreservedly

It’s wryly amusing seeing that the Evening Standard has been forced to apologise to Prince Philip for wrongly claiming that he was fighting prostate cancer. Not because of the nature of the illness that the Queen’s husband absolutely and categorically does not have, but just because it’s rare to hear a story that’s not about Philip himself having to say sorry for something he’s said.

Let’s face it, Philip only ever opens his mouth to insert his foot in it. From asking a Scottish driving instructor how he managed to keep locals off the booze long enough to get them to pass their test, to asking a Cayman Islander whether they were all descended from pirates, Prince Philip is the king of the inappropriate comment. After all, who can forget his 1986 comment on a state trip to China, when he told a group of British students that “if you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty eyed.” Or congratulating a native from Papua New Guinea on managing to not get eaten?

He’s an embarrassment to his country. Fortunately his country is Greece, but the British are all guilty by association.

The terrible irony, of course, is that the American equivalent of Prince Philip is the president of the entire country. Given that George Bush is in Beijing at the moment for the opening of the 2008 Olympics, here’s hoping the American embassy has got its crisis management team on 24 hour standby.

A little bit of politics

I was accidentally included on an email exchange today between a few intelligent Americans talking about Barack Obama’s recent Berlin speech. The back-and-forth quickly turned into a discussion regarding America’s role in the post-World War II rehabilitation of Europe. The Marshall Plan was, after all, one of a series of important measures that helped rebuild the economies and cities of the battered continent. Sure, there may have been a little bit of self-interest, but nobody’s doubting that America stepped up to the plate when it needed to.

But every so often in any debate about foreign policy, someone will make a comment that forces you to question whether you actually read the email correctly. The kind of statement that makes you wonder why Americans are surprised to find out that some people regard them as pariahs in the international arena.

A statement that in this case reads “if it wasn’t for us, 90% of the world would be speaking Russian.”

The 43rd President of the United States is near-universally derided as the worst occupant of the Oval Office, but you’ve got to imagine that even he would have second thoughts about saying something like this.

By the way, I read that an AOL poll on who should be the next president has John McCain ahead on 64%. Will the last person to leave America please turn the lights out?