Life Imitates Art

October 31, 2008

Good to see that the NYTimes has noticed something I said ages ago: that this election has a striking resembelance to one played out on the television series the West Wing a number of years ago.   Of course that’s because (as has been widely reported) the writers’ of the season were in touch with Obama’s campaign manager during the writing process, and they had McCain in mind when crafting Vinick.  None of that means of course that the writer’s expected they would get it so right.  Let’s just hope that the end result is similar, yet different.  A Santos victory, albeit with a wider margin and without an election night tragedy in the form of a dead Vice President.

I did my part today to globalise the American election. For those of you who read my previous post where I lamented not being able to do anything for the election, I got over my fears of talking to “real Americans” about politics and let the Obama campaign generate me a call list of 25 Ohioans they were interested in talking to. I spent less than an hour calling all 25 people on my sheet, at about 10am Ohio time. Obviously, most people were at work. So I left lots of messages encouraging people to vote, and to vote early. I wasn’t particularly partisan, and I was (surprisingly) a bit nervous about asking the 7 or so people who I actually talked to who they were planning on voting for. But once I worked up the nerve, all of them said Obama. I collected my own stories about Americans in this election to incorporate into my virtual stump speech for Barack Obama here on the IC. Here goes…

“Thank you, thank you very much. You’re too kind. Really, thank you. You know, as I’ve called around a very small part of this great country, I’ve heard lots of stories. Stories from fathers, grandparents, and single moms. I remember talking to one father in Ohio, who was at home instead of at work because he was caring for a sick child. We talked about the challenges of being parents today, and about challenges with health care costs. He was going to support the Obama / Biden ticket for lots of reasons, and health care was one of them. I also remember a man who told me that he had voted for Democrats all of his life, and planned to do so next week. His house burned down recently, but that wasn’t going to stop him from going to the poles to support Barack Obama. Then there was a woman who was home caring for her elderly father. She wasn’t inclined to tell me who she was going to vote for, but she did say that there were lots of concerns on her mind about the state of the economy, and the state of health care, and she would be sure to cast her vote on Tuesday. What struck me about all of these Americans was their belief in democracy, their belief in their ability to help bring about change. Let’s give these great Americans, and all of you, something to believe in. A democracy worth believing in again.”

You think the campaign will hire me to write his next great speech? One can dream…

Globalisation Backlash

October 28, 2008

The backlash against globalisation reached a peak in 2001.  That was the year that one young Italian protestor died and more than 200 others were beaten and tortured by the Genoa police at a G8 summit.  That was July.  Two months later an even more violent protest against globalisation took place in New York and Washington (overshadowing Genoa and as a result making it even harder to get justice for the people injured).   As a book entitled Globalizaton / Anti-Globalization co-authored by an LSE academic describes the globalisation backlash: “Representing a diverse range of social movements and non-governmental organizations, from anarchists to social democrats, the anti-capitalist movement has evolved as a powerful reaction against corporate-driven and state promoted globalization.” (Held and McGrew 2003: 64).

Today, I’m suffering from a far more personal sort of globalisation backlash.  It is not anti-capitalist in its nature, but would be more accurately described by the term homesickness.  Despite my global life, every once and a while, a creeping sense of homesickness overwhelms me, and I want to go back to the US.  I don’t even know where I would like to go home to (though as I am missing the fall colours in particular, I guess it would be the East Coast of my adolescence and not my parent’s home in balmy Texas), but I am missing home big time.

It’s partially because of the election.  I can’t read enough about it, and have an acute sense of helplessness at not being able to pick up and go to Pennsylvania or Ohio for the last week of the race.  I thought about making calls to Colorado voters (on the campaign’s request) but would they really take a woman calling from London urging them to vote seriously?  Or would I just hurt That One’s chances of winning all the more by confirming that he is an elitist foreign socialist?  It occured to me the other day that I have lost touch with the way that Americans discuss politics – something I realised talking to an American friend by phone.  I wouldn’t even know how to begin talking to an undecided Colorodan voter without coming across as, well, elitist, foreign and socialist.

The other reason I’m feeling homesick is Halloween.  Our 11 month old son is not growing up the way I did.  There are no pumpkin patches to take him to this week (“like in Charlie Brown?” my Italian husband asked), and though there is a local website that says it is organising a “trick or treat parade” on Friday in our neighbourhood, I think it’s going to be lame.  After all, I’ve lived in that neighbourhood for several years and no little ones ever rang my doorbell.  I’m debating whether to even suit him up as a pumpkin at all, and feel crushingly disappointed by the whole lack of Halloween spirit.

There’s no warm apple cider to drink or haystack mazes to get lost in, nor is there the stunning fall foliage of New England flashing before me on the way to work.  And to rub salt in my wounds, the British are preparing for Christmas while I’m missing Halloween and mourning the lack of Thanksgiving prep. At least it’s cold and crisp and there’s a blue sky and some yellowish leaves outside my office window.  It’s not enough to stem my own globalisation backlash, but it’s something.

Show Me a Winner

October 17, 2008

Among the great myths about sure-fire ways to predict the results of US presidential elections, some are rather silly.  There’s the one that predicts that the incumbent party will lose if the Redskins (that’s Washington DC’s American football team, for those non-Americans out there) lose the game the weekend before the election, which was correct for 17 elections in a row… until 2004 when they lost, and so did John Kerry.  There’s a Boston Halloween retailer that says that they can accurately forecast who will win by the number of masks of each candidate they sell (right three times running).  And then there’s one that seems silly, but is actually kind of interesting: the state of Missouri always picks the winner.  For this, it’s often referred to as the bellwether state (in addition to its more common nickname of the “Show Me State”).

In every election since 1906, with the exception of 1956 when Missourians voted for Adlai Stevenson instead of Dwight Eisenhower, Missouri has voted for the presidential candidate that ends up winning the race.  Not only that, since 1960, Missouri’s vote split has been within 1.5% of the national vote split.  This wouldn’t be interesting in and of itself if it was the result of just dumb luck, but it’s interesting because Missouri is actually a good microcosm of the United States on a number of demographic metrics.  First, it’s rural / urban population divide is exactly the same as the US as a whole.  Also, the same percentage of Missouri’s population is African American as in the country as a whole.  It is situated in the middle of the US, and shares borders with a number of states with distinctly different demographics and regional identities.  Plus commentators have made much of the fact that the state has two liberal “coasts” (in the form of the two cities St Louis and Kansas City) and a conservative interior.  All of this is why one of the presidential debates is almost always held in Missouri.

So how’s it looking now in Missouri?  Polls vary, but on average, Missouri is leaning Obama 48.8% to 47%.   You can click on this cool graph to watch how over the course of the election, McCain has gained, and then lost, the lead in Missouri.  In 2 out of 4 polls, Obama is leading, while McCain is leading in another 2. However, Obama’s leading margin is greater (in one case 8%) than McCain’s (never more than 3%).  So if you’re in to this sort of thing, it seems that despite commanding leads in the national polls for Obama, the results of the 2008 election are far from a foregone conclusion…

Your banks too, Comrade?

October 16, 2008

Isn’t it enough that global capitalism is collapsing?  Did Bolivarian socialism have to take a hit too?  The Financial Times is reporting that Venezuelan banks are particularly exposed to the US-based credit crisis.  Venezuelan banks were holding $400 million of “structured notes” guaranteed by the now-defunct bank Lehman Brothers.  And in an extra blow to Hugo Chavez’s pride, the Treasury itself had an additional $300 million worth.  Thus despite the intricate capital controls and exchange controls which cosset the Venezuelan financial sector from international swings, there has been increased fear in the market that Venezuela’s banks are facing a major crisis.

It wouldn’t be surprising, of course, if Chavez used the opportunity to increase the state’s stake in the banking system, seeing as his administration has  pursued a number of nationalisations of key industries (telecoms, communications, energy, etc).   But for once, Chavez’s nationalisation policy, rather than seeming like a socialist aberration in a free-market world, would fall safely within the mainstream.  Even the governments of the UK and US, the prophets of market capitalism, have taken over parts of their financial system in the wake of the credit crisis.

As a colleague at LSE joked yesterday, it seems that for left-wing politicians, what globalisation taketh away, globalisation giveth.  As a student in the 60s and 70s, Gordon Brown might have dreamed a  dream of a nationalised banking sector; a dream which was made untenable by the Labour Party’s march into modernity, globalisation and market capitalism under the leadership of Tony Blair.   And now, imagine the joy!  Gordon Brown got to nationalise the banks!  You have to wonder if in private, as he pours over the books of the Royal Bank of Scotland, he’s smoking a fat Cuban cigar and wearing a Chavez-esque red beret.