Tag Archives: elections

Bilhá Calderón: Obama, McCain and the second presidential debate

Last night, when I prepared (braced myself) for the Second Obama- McCain debate, I didn’t think I’d find it highly educational, but it was.

A good 30 minutes before the debate took place, American networks were going wild on the things that would be key to Obama and McCain’s arguments to gain points with the voters. Being economy the most important and urging matter, the specialists discussed what the answers of both presidential candidates could be. The unanimous opinion was that the key goal was to answer the leadership question accurately. convincing the public that they are able to lead the American people through the economic crisis and reassure them that they will not lose their homes or their jobs this fall. Also, it was important for both candidates to improve their image and a few mistakes they had made in the past. Senator McCain was expected to show a little more respect for Senator Obama, since he hadn’t been able to even look at him last time they held a debate in which he also couldn’t hold back from quiet a few attacks on Obama’s inexperience, background and character. Barack Obama, on the other hand, was expected to show more strength and confidence; his major goal would be to look trustworthy.

In the end, at a time of profound lack of trust from voters, it would be the candidate that managed to link its discourse to the people’s lives and the difficult time they are going through what would make this debate a game-changer. A political debate tends to question question voters, but they don’t necessarily change their mind unless what they hear has a direct impact on their lives. To win or lose this debate depended on being able to show and explain to people what is happening in USA and bring a reasonable solution to the table. That, and only that would define a connection between the candidates and the public, and therefore their potential votes.

And that’s exactly what happened. According to American journals and annalists, the debate showed the acute difference between both candidate’s projects to improve the economy, which was the most relevant subject of the evening. A great part of the debate went by arguing over hich one of them would be tougher at cutting taxes and explaining how. As the evening went by, Senator McCain seemed to have more reasons to attack Obama performance in Congress, but very few explanations for the people he was talking to. The gap between powerful corporations and a strong State grew bigger, so when it was time to elaborate on health care Senator Obama shined for being able to explain why medical services and prevention were the people’s rights as opposed to McCain’s refundable tax credit that would go to private health care companies, who until now are known for cheating their clients. And that right there made the connection with the public.

There is one more debate to come, and only one month before election day. If you ask me, I think we will be looking at a month of mouthfuls of Sarah Palin’s conservative babble, perhaps some more adds warning people of Obama’s desire to raise taxes because he is secretly Bin Laden’s best buddy. Other than a dirty campaign, I don’t see how Senator McCain can manage to convince people that his capitalist-in-denial plan can possibly be a good idea for crisis struck America.Obama, McCain, debate, USA,

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The Independent: Echoes from another era of American liberalism

History never repeats itself exactly. But long before the electrifying appearance of Ted Kennedy at the Democratic convention it was evident that, with the rise of Barack Obama, American politics might be approaching a moment comparable to when another Kennedy took the presidential oath of office on the steps of the Capitol that icy January day in 1961.

“This November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans,” the cancer-stricken Kennedy, the last survivor of his own family’s most glorious generation, declared on Monday evening, reprising the luminous words of his slain brother’s inaugural address 47 years ago. But Ted Kennedy, whose final convention this will surely be, was also passing on a torch of his own – the seal of approval of the Democrats’ first family.

In its time, this approval was conferred upon Bill Clinton, though relations between the Clintons and the Kennedys, while friendly, were never especially close. Last January the blessing was transferred, as the old liberal lion embraced not Hillary Clinton, but a young and Kennedy-esque senator from Illinois, in the race for the White House. The endorsement did not immediately affect the campaign, as Hillary easily won the Democratic primary in the Kennedy fiefdom of Massachusetts. But it was a signal of the impending power shift at the summit of the party.

The parallels between 1960 and 2008 are striking. Kennedy broke new ground by becoming the first Catholic President. An Obama victory in November would, of course, constitute a far more remarkable historical breakthrough, with the election of the first African American to the White House, a prospect utterly unimaginable in John Kennedy’s day. Both are young – indeed a President Obama would be five years older than JFK when he took office. Both have grace, charm and elegance. They share a cool, at times sardonic, detachment.

Should Obama win, it might also well be in circumstances similar to that of 1960. We often forget that Camelot in Washington, DC, was born of a squeaker of an election, which some to this day maintain was only resolved by shady machinations on the part of Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley that handed the vital state of Illinois to Kennedy, not Richard Nixon. If the current dead heat in the polls between Obama and John McCain is an indication, it could be an equally close-run thing in November 2008.

A genuine watershed

But the similarities must not be overstated. The legend that now encrusts the 35th President obscures the fact that 1960 was not a watershed election. John Kennedy’s freshness might have been a radical departure from the stale country-club Republicanism of his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower. But in the sweep of history, it was merely prolongation of a Democratic era that began with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

By contrast, 2008 has the makings of a genuine watershed. An Obama victory would signify the end of more than a generation of Republican dominance ushered in by Ronald Reagan and continued by Bush father and son. The overwhelming sense today is that American conservatism has run its course, bankrupt in ideology and devoid of leaders. A turning point is at hand, towards more regulation, more government intervention – an age in which “liberalism” is no longer a dirty word and when, miracle of miracles, universal healthcare might turn from distant dream into fact.

All through the Reagan/Bush era, Ted Kennedy toiled away on Capitol Hill, defending liberal values when they could not have been more out of fashion. He continued to fight for improved public education, better welfare, and, of course, for universal healthcare, despite mostly Republican majorities in Congress, and mostly Republican occupants of the Oval Office. He swam against the tide too with his impassioned opposition to the Iraq war. On that issue as well, he has been vindicated – as has been Obama. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s stubborn refusal to repudiate her Senate vote in October 2002 to authorise the war may have cost her both Kennedy’s endorsement and the Democratic nomination.

On Monday evening, the messenger might have been sickly, but his message reverberated to the rafters. In a shifting, dangerous world, as America faces its worst economic crisis in a generation, today’s young prince faces a far greater challenge than his predecessor of 48 years ago. Like Obama today, candidate John F Kennedy was widely seen as inexperienced and untested. But Americans took the chance, and the gamble paid off. With his very presence on stage, Ted Kennedy was promising that the same can happen now.

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New York Times: Mixing Politics and Wal-Mart

It is hardly news that Wal-Mart will do whatever it takes to keep unions out of its stores, from closing down a unionized outlet to firing pro-union workers. The National Labor Relations Board has already ruled several times that Wal-Mart has violated the law by retaliating against workers for supporting a union.

Facing the prospect that union-friendly Democrats could win both the White House and Congress, the retail giant is now turning its attention to this year’s election.

Last week, several labor groups filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, accusing Wal-Mart of violating election rules. They acted after The Wall Street Journal reported that thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads had been called to mandatory meetings and told that if Democrats won in November they would likely pass a law to make it easier to unionize companies. According to The Journal, Wal-Mart executives warned that could force the company to cut jobs, while workers would be forced to pay union dues and might have to go on strike.

Telling workers who are paid by the hour — Wal-Mart department supervisors are hourly workers — how to vote is prohibited under the Federal Election Campaign Act.

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Robert Fisk: The West’s weapon of self-delusion

So they are it again, the great and the good of American democracy, grovelling and fawning to the Israeli lobbyists of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), repeatedly allying themselves to the cause of another country and one that is continuing to steal Arab land.

Will this ever end? Even Barack Obama – or “Mr Baracka” as an Irish friend of mine innocently and wonderfully described him – found time to tell his Jewish audience that Jerusalem is the one undivided capital of Israel, which is not the view of the rest of the world which continues to regard the annexation of Arab East Jerusalem as illegal. The security of Israel. Say it again a thousand times: the security of Israel – and threaten Iran, for good measure.

Yes, Israelis deserve security. But so do Palestinians. So do Iraqis and Lebanese and the people of the wider Muslim world. Now even Condoleezza Rice admits – and she was also talking to Aipac, of course – that there won’t be a Palestinian state by the end of the year. That promise of George Bush – which no-one believed anyway – has gone. In Rice’s pathetic words, “The goal itself will endure beyond the current US leadership.”

Of course it will. And the siege of Gaza will endure beyond the current US leadership. And the Israeli wall. And the illegal Israeli settlement building. And deaths in Iraq will endure beyond “the current US leadership” – though “leadership” is pushing the definition of the word a bit when the gutless Bush is involved – and deaths in Afghanistan and, I fear, deaths in Lebanon too.

It’s amazing how far self-delusion travels. The Bush boys and girls still think they’re supporting the “American-backed government” of Fouad Siniora in Lebanon. But Siniora can’t even form a caretaker government to implement a new set of rules which allows Hizbollah and other opposition groups to hold veto powers over cabinet decisions.

Thus there will be no disarming of Hizbollah and thus – again, I fear this – there will be another Hizbollah-Israeli proxy war to take up the slack of America’s long-standing hatred of Iran. No wonder President Bashar Assad of Syria is now threatening a triumphal trip to Lebanon. He’s won. And wasn’t there supposed to be a UN tribunal to try those responsible for the murder of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005? This must be the longest police enquiry in the history of the world. And I suspect it’s never going to achieve its goal (or at least not under the “current US leadership”).

There are gun battles in Beirut at night; there are dark-uniformed Lebanese interior ministry troops in equally dark armoured vehicles patrolling the night-time Corniche outside my home.

At least Lebanon has a new president, former army commander Michel Sleiman, an intelligent man who initially appeared on posters, eyes turned to his left, staring at Lebanon with a creditor’s concern. Now he has wisely ordered all these posters to be torn down in an attempt to get the sectarian groups to take down their own pictures of martyrs and warlords. And America thinks things are going fine in Lebanon.

And Bush and his cohorts go on saying that they will never speak to “terrorists”. And what has happened meanwhile? Why, their Israeli friends – Mr Baracka’s Israeli friends – are doing just that. They are talking to Hamas via Egypt and are negotiating with Syria via Turkey and have just finished negotiating with Hizbollah via Germany and have just handed back one of Hizbollah’s top spies in Israel in return for body parts of Israelis killed in the 2006 war. And Bush isn’t going to talk to “terrorists”, eh? I bet he didn’t bring that up with the equally hapless Ehud Olmert in Washington this week.

And so our dementia continues. In front of us this week was Blair with his increasingly maniacal eyes, poncing on about faith and God and religion, and I couldn’t help reflecting on an excellent article by a colleague a few weeks ago who pointed out that God never seemed to give Blair advice. Like before April of 2003, couldn’t He have just said, er, Tony, this Iraq invasion might not be a good idea.

Indeed, Blair’s relationship with God is itself very odd. And I rather suspect I know what happens. I think Blair tells God what he absolutely and completely knows to be right – and God approves his words. Because Blair, like a lot of devious politicians, plays God himself. For there are two Gods out there. The Blair God and the infinite being which blesses his every word, so obliging that He doesn’t even tell Him to go to Gaza.

I despair. The Tate has just sent me its magnificent book of orientalist paintings to coincide with its latest exhibition (The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting) and I am struck by the awesome beauty of this work. In the 19th century, our great painters wondered at the glories of the Orient.

No more painters today. Instead, we send our photographers and they return with pictures of car bombs and body parts and blood and destroyed homes and Palestinians pleading for food and fuel and hooded gunmen on the streets of Beirut, yes, and dead Israelis too. The orientalists looked at the majesty of this place and today we look at the wasteland which we have helped to create.

But fear not. Israel’s security comes first and Mr Baracka wants Israel to keep all of Jerusalem – so much for the Palestinian state – and Condee says the “goal will endure beyond the current American leadership”. And I have a bird that sits in the palm tree outside my home in Beirut and blasts away, going “cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep” for about an hour every morning – which is why my landlord used to throw stones at it.

But I have a dear friend who believes that once there was an orchestra of birds outside my home and that one day, almost all of them – the ones which sounded like violins and trumpets – got tired of the war and flew away (to Cyprus, if they were wise, but perhaps on to Ireland), leaving only the sparrows with their discordant flutes to remind me of the stagnant world of the Middle East and our cowardly, mendacious politicians. “Cheep-cheep-cheep,” they were saying again yesterday morning. “Cheap-cheap-cheap.” And I rather think they are right.

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/fisk/robert-fisk-the-wests-weapon-of-selfdelusion-842117.html

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Alistair Burnett: The return of Silvio?

This weekend Italians go to the polls to elect a new government (nothing new there you may think given the country has had more than 60 governments, albeit not all as a result of elections since the creation of modern republic from the ruins of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship and the abolition of the monarchy at the end of World War II.)
[…]
Controversial is not really doing Mr Berlusconi – who is favourite to return to power this weekend – justice. A former cruise liner crooner who rose to be the country’s richest man, a TV mogul, owner of one of Europe’s top football teams and two times prime minister, Mr Berlusconi has also been persistently accused of corruption – though never convicted – and some of whose closest advisers have been found guilty of bribery as well as collusion with the mafia. Silvio Berlusconi, who’s also known as Il Cavaliere, stands out as a leading politician who also controls a large chunk of his country’s media. A situation which many other European countries would probably not accept and has led to suggestions that if Italy were not a member of the EU already, it may well have trouble being accepted as a member today.
Understanding the appeal of such a politician in modern Europe is what we will attempt on the programme.
But Italy has a wider importance to the rest of Europe too. It’s one of the largest countries in the EU and an economy which is in decline. It adopted the Euro at its inception, but its public finances are in such a state some Italians would like to abandon the currency, which could have a serious impact on the prestige of the new money. Italy also faces a dilemma – in some ways similar to that faced by France – of deciding whether to introduce liberal economic reforms at the risk of jeopardising a quality of life many in the rest of world envy.
In this election, both the main candidates, Mr Berlusconi and his centre-left challenger, Walter Veltroni, are promising reform. But there is doubt whether they can deliver on those promises and also whether the electorate is really going to decide on these issues when most observers agree this election will really be about one thing – whether or not to return Mr Berlusconi to office.
[…]

* Edited by Our Words in Resistance. Full version found at the given link
* Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight
* BBC
* http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2008/04/the_return_of_silvio.html

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Clitemnistra: Some show

It’s been two weeks since the elections for president of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD, Party of the Democratic Revolution) in Mexico were held on March 16th. Since then, we’ve gone from drama to hysterical comedy with the ups and downs of the results of those elections.
Factions showed on the day of the election that Alejandro Encinas -formerly Major of Mexico City- was a clear winner with a high 4 point advantage, Jesús Ortega’s group insisted on not recognizing the results of Mitoksky’s pole company claiming their internal results showed differently.
All day -March 16th- there were complaints mainly from people acusing fraudulent actions. The reports concerning irregularities were documented and made public by the well-known “Sendero del Peje” and national newspapers

The results of those internal election are still an uncomfortable mistery to those who were honestly hoping their vote would count and be a first step to the renewal of the leftish party in Mexico. And for those who knew from the start this was not an election at all, but a way to allow negociations with the imposed government of Felipe Calderón… well, the show must go on

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Sarah Churchwell: The big issue in America is not race, it’s class

They’re calling it bold, audacious and risky, a political milestone and the most important speech on American race relations since Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his children might be judged by the contents of their character, rather than the colour of their skin. But according to the pundits, the power of Barack Obama’s epochal “race address” will be gauged by “white males, especially working-class males”.

“Will it win over the blue-collar white males who have been trending toward his opponent, or drive them away?” wondered Newsweek. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd quoted “a top pol” who felt that the controversy over Reverend Wright’s sermon had transformed Obama “in the minds of some working-class and crossover white voters from ‘a Harvard law graduate into a South Side Black Panther'”. It sounds like the set-up to a joke, but it’s all too serious. Question: what is the difference between a Harvard Law grad and a South Side militant? Answer: class.

Everywhere Obama is praised for “telling the truth about race” – but the success of his “race speech” is incessantly measured along class lines, because Obama actually charted a course through the crisscrossing lines of race and class, a complex social web that he described with great delicacy, but never came out and named.

What was most remarkable about this speech to my mind was not that Obama confronted race “head-on” (although that has certainly become uncommon in recent years) but that he repeatedly, and correctly, called race “a distraction,” on both sides of the colour line, from class issues: “Just as black anger often proved counter-productive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle-class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favour the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognising they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide.”

In one sense, Obama’s point couldn’t be clearer: race is a distraction from class-based inequities. And if we dismiss working-class resentment as camouflaged racism, we will continue to be distracted by the spectre of race. So why has no one noticed that the much-vaunted “race speech” is also a class speech? The answer to that is very complicated, but its roots may be traced in large part to what Obama referred to as the nation’s “original sin” of slavery. In order to tell the truth about race in America, we need to tell the truth about slavery: which is that slavery was not racially motivated – it was economically motivated, and justified by means of race.

Race was invented in order to rationalise slavery: if black people are inferior, they deserve enslavement (or so went the logic). Racism is an effect of slavery, not the other way around. Once slavery was abolished, not only did racism not disappear, neither did the economic system it upheld. Slavery was simply replaced by a new feudal system known as sharecropping, which Jim Crow helped sustain. The legacy of slavery comes from the sustained political, legal and economic effort to link permanently an entire group of people to poverty – and to mystify that systematic disenfranchisement by making up something called race, which could serve as a distraction.

Black people in America remain, to a large extent, an underclass. But they are not co-extensive with the underclass. There are rich, powerful black people (take a bow, Condoleezza). And we have a significant white underclass, too, one which has been given different names, in different colours – white trash, rednecks, blue-collar. What they all share is the experience of economic deprivation, which is why 10 years ago Toni Morrison could call Bill Clinton “the first black president,” because, she said, he showed all the signs: “single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas”. The only sign he doesn’t show is colour: because race in America is overwhelmingly defined by economic conditions.

To be absolutely clear: I am not saying that race per se doesn’t exist, or isn’t a problem in America. On the contrary. But we will never solve the problem of race in America until we do exactly what Obama suggests: see it for the distraction it is. It was invented to deflect attention away from economic, legal and political inequalities. And the longer that the Democrats ponder the complexities of identity politics, the more distracted they will become from the issues that are actually driving voters – including their utter disillusionment with the current administration and its catastrophic policies.

Democrats need to keep their eyes on the prize – beating McCain in November. The irony is that Obama’s speech urging us not to be distracted by race has so far had quite the opposite effect. Obama now needs to confront with equal candour the lesson we were taught by that “first black president”: it’s the economy, stupid.

* The Independent
* http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/sarah-churchwell-the-big-issue-in-america-is-not-race-its-class-800223.html
* Sarah Churchwell is a senior lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia

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