Tag Archives: Barack Obama

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.

In the right place at the right time

I always used to think that I was in the habit of being in the right place at the right time. After all, I managed to meet The Special One despite the logistical difficulties posed by the fact that I was living and working in the UK while she was blissfully unaware of my existence on the other side of the Atlantic in New York. I’ve met some of my best friends through complete randomness, including Scottish Sally who merely called to book an advert when I happened to be staying late on the newspaper I was working on, and has been a lifelong friend ever since. And some of the best jobs I’ve ever had have been the result of conversations that might never have happened if circumstances had been even slightly different.

Of course, I was less lucky when having my lights punched out in Cambridge ten years ago, but on the whole I can’t really complain.

However, since moving to the United States, it seems that I am actually always in the wrong place at the right time, permanently destined to miss every big moment that the United States has to offer. When America celebrated its independence on July 4, for instance, I was flying out to Europe for a summer holidayvacation, missing the fireworks and festivities. When Barack Obama won the presidential election, I was sitting on a sofa in South London. And when he heads to Washington for the inauguration next month, I’ll be sitting in Heathrow Airport waiting for the next leg of a flight home from the South of France.

It’s a similar story with this blog. I wrote my 200th post on a flight away from the US for work. For the year anniversary of starting the blog, and the year anniversary of moving to New York, I was in the UK. And today’s my 500th day out of water, so sure enough I’m 3458 miles from my adopted home city, and will be celebrating the dawn of 2009 five hours sooner than East Coast residents.

Rather than britoutofwater.com, maybe I should see if occasionalresidentofnewyork.com is available instead?

Happy New Year, everyone.

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.

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?

Over the Hil

Incredibly, after more than 500 days of campaigning, it looks like the race is over and Barack Obama is the chosen one for the Democratic party. Personally I think it’s a shame to see either one lose, given that the electorate has paid much more attention to this clash of the titans than they probably will to the presidential election itself. Interest-wise, it’s kind of like following the season-ending edge-of-the-seat cliffhanging finale of ‘Lost’ or ‘24’ (or – shudder – even ‘American Idol’) with a four year old episode of ‘When Chihuahuas Attack’.

The process of selecting a figurehead for the party is about three times as long a procedure as the presidential campaign. It’s also in direct contrast to the UK major party system, which sees a new leader chosen in less than two months through the combined vote of elected MPs and the party membership. Barack Obama’s campaign has so far cost more than $130 million, while a leadership campaign in the UK generally costs less than $500,000. I appreciate that this country’s bigger, and the system’s different, but nothing has to stay the same forever folks. As I believe somebody may have said, it’s time for change.

Interestingly, the Obama campaign spent $738 on bagels from Einstein Bros, while the Clinton campaign laid down a mighty $2493 with the same supplier. Clearly when the going gets tough, the tough get bagels.

So now we enter five months of back-and-forth between McCain and Obama as they battle for the right to clear up the mess created by the least popular politician on the world stage in living memory. As soon as the whole affair’s over, it’ll be time to start up the Obama 2012 re-election/’I promise I won’t f**k it up this time’ campaign.

Clearly, I am one of the disenfranchised many (no taxation without representation, my arseass) and so I have no say in what happens on November 4. It’s probably for the good of the nation that I don’t have a vote in any case, as there’s only one issue that I want to hear the candidates’ view on. And since neither of them currently seem willing to announce that they’re going to outlaw peanut butter, I guess I’m going to have to keep on waiting.

Tough on peanut butter, tough on the causes of peanut butter. Unite behind me, America.

X marks the spot

Today much of the US has gone to the polls to decide which of the candidates will represent the Democrats and the Republicans in the upcoming election. With more than twenty states holding their primaries today, it’s one of the most important days on the road to the 2008 presidential vote.

As a student of political history, and a keen follower of news from the campaign trail, it feels both strange and painful not to be able to play my own small part in the process. Despite being a federal and state tax payer, I remain one of the disenfranchised. Most of the USA knows today as Super Tuesday, but for me it could best be described as, well, Tuesday.

Of course, if there was an election in the UK in November, I would be free to vote despite the fact that I pay no taxes in the UK and the result would have no immediate impact on my day-to-day life.

Perhaps what expats like myself need is some kind of exchange programme for voting rights? There must be New Yorkers who’ve moved from the Big Apple to South West London, who – like me – aren’t allowed to have any say in any forthcoming election in the country in which they reside. Rather than use our postal/absentee ballots, maybe we should be able to swap votes and have a direct impact on the economic and political system around us?

It’ll be like a timeshare system, without the need for beach towels or factor 25 suncream.

That said, if somebody tries to use my electoral privilege to vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party, there’s going to be trouble.