Israelis for Obama video

No issue is more contentious than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. America's longstanding support of Israel - consistent through Democrat and Republican administrations - is well known, and stands in contrast to global public opinion which, while abhorring violence from both sides, generally has more sympathy for the suffering of Palestinians living under military occupation than does the mainstream of American opinion. American elections have long required politicians to compete in expressing unwavering support for Israel no matter what, and Senator Obama in particular has had to go out of his way to demonstrate this (given his partial Muslim heritage). However, he caused a stir in February when he said, referring to the Israeli political party that is generally the most hardline as regards Palestinians: "I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel." That statement is perfectly reasonable and uncontroversial when heard from Israel, or anywhere else in the world, but given the intensity and tone of Israelophilia in the US, it was an extremely bold thing to say. It demonstrate that, while remaining well within the US mainstream (as his speech to AIPAC later demonstrated), he has a more nuanced attitude than most senior US politicians - and many Israelis appreciate this. The recognise that if they are to eventual achieve a peaceful cohabitation with Palestinians, they need a more evenhanded approach from the US which encourages peacemakers on both sides, rather than bolstering the extremists - as Bush's disastrous policies have consistently done. Given this, it is no surprise that Obama is the favourite in Israel (and among Jewish people worldwide), while also attracting strong support among Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims. The YouTube video below gives an indication of the breadth of his support in Israel across the political and social spectrum.

From more, see coverage from Shmuel Rosner, Israeli paper Ha'aretz's Washington Correspondent. And for some opposing views, see JewsAgainstObama.org versus Israelis for Obama, jews4barack.com, rabbisforobama.org ("When 500 Rabbis agree on anything, you know that something is going on!"), jews4obama2008.net and jews4change.com

1st Presidential debate

Widespread uproar at Senator McCain's initial pledge to skip the first debate meant he did participate in the end. The first 30mins focused on the financial crisis and the last hour on foreign policy. You can watch it via the BBC and here is a full transcript. Initial polling suggests that Obama came out top in general and also amongst uncommitted voters. Let us know your views, particularly on the foreign policy issues discussed.

Economist readers overwhelmingly endorse Obama in global vote

There are a host of websites which enable non-US citizens around the world to cast symbolic votes (see our left sidebar). Now, no less an authority than the Economist newspaper has weighted in by creating an online "Global Electoral College". The Economist explains: "As in America, each country has been allocated a minimum of three electoral-college votes with extra votes allocated in proportion to population size. With over 6.5 billion people enfranchised, the result is a much larger electoral college of 9,875 votes." Voting ends midnight on 1st November.

At the moment, with nearly 15,000 votes cast so far, Senator Obama has 81% of the global popular vote and is ahead in every country, giving him 7,991/9,875 potential electoral votes (the remaining 1,884 relate to countries where not more than 10 votes have been cast). These results, coming from the readers of such a high-brow weekly newspaper, which has been known to back Republican candidates (such as Ronald Regan), is a stunning outcome. The many polls and articles we have highlighted over the last year have made it clear that Senator Obama is favoured by ordinary people around the world. This remarkable Economist poll gives a strong indication that the global elite shares the same view.

(P.S. We should declare an interest here, as one of TWWO team - Justin - happens to work for the Economist, but it's a big company and he only learnt about this poll when he opened today's issue of the newspaper! See Wikipedia for more info on The Economist)

Believing in Obama’s ground game

I spent the last week at British Labour Party Conference, in Manchester. I proudly wore my Obama buttons - I brought enough for a different badge each day - and consequently had lots of conversations about the US elections. I was surprised how many people were asking me “can Obama really do it?” and were pessimistic about his chances. They were simply looking at the polls from the past few weeks, Palin’s bounce for McCain and adding in a dose of British natural cynicism for good measure. And hey, suddenly they were downbeat about Obama. Our media was also doing down Obama’s chances too.

So there I was, almost single-handedly I felt, having to reassure and convince Labour people that Obama was still ahead and going to win, albeit in a close election. I guess most people just read a couple of blogs or newsites, see the polling figures and take the state of the race at face value. But that is a complete misreading of what is actually going on.

As Bill Clinton didn’t quite say: “it’s the ground game, stupid.” What we don’t see in the polls and focus groups is what’s actually happening on the ground; the mobilising, voter registration, get-out-the-vote efforts; and the changing demographics. All of these favour the Democrats this time, and have been doing all year. Joe Trippi (Howard Dean’s campaign manager from ‘04) describes the electoral significance of this:

“[Obama's] campaign organization should deliver a 1 to 3 points in additional voters to the polls in get-out-the-vote operations in key states the campaign is targeting. So if these states are close in the closing days of the campaign Obama is likely to win most of them.”
Disappointingly many at Labour Conference just didn’t get it, or didn’t believe it, or thought it the wrong tactics. But if we are not into believing in the power of humanity and collective effort--that by talking to and persuading our peers, building a movement ”brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand” (as Obama said in one of his speeches), that is the right thing to do, as well as what can win us the election--then what is the point in being Labour/progressive at all? It’s certainly what helps drive me and makes me optimistic that Obama will win in the end.

NB. This post first appeared on Malcolm's www.sixfiftyblog.com, which looks at what lessons the UK can learn from these elections, and from the Obama campaign in particular.

"Yes We Can" around the world t-shirts

A new site has just appeared, YesWeCanAroundTheWorld, run out of France, which has produced a stunning Obama t-shirt design in a variety of languages (Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese etc.). The design was reviewed in the latest French edition of Elle magazine. The fact that there is a market for something like this is a further demonstration of Senator Obama's international support - making wearing the colours of the American flag trendy again.

If you can't vote... pray!

Gisèle in France has emailed us about her "Pray for Obama /Prions pour Obama" blog, which she's running in both French and English versions:

"The next President of the United States of America will make decisions that will affect the lives of billions of people worldwide. We citizens of the world cannot vote but we can support and pray for the man we believe will best serve not only the American people, but also the rest of the world.

Les décisions du prochain président des Etats-Unis d'Amérique auront un impact non seulement sur la vie des américains mais aussi sur le reste du monde. En tant que citoyens du monde nous ne pouvons pas voter à ces éléctions mais nous pouvons apporter notre soutien à l'homme que nous considérons plus à même de servir non seulement les intérêts du peuple américain mais qui pourra aussi dialoguer avec le reste du monde."
She also recommends that people who want to pray about the election connect with the Obama Prayer Team, and explains a little more about her personal motivation:
"The Obama campaign has inspired me and I have been struck by his character and reaction in the midst of the McCain campaign smears and attacks... I have been directed to pray a lot for Christians in America, that God open their eyes so that they can understand what the Gospel is about: Love one another, take care of one another. That we can agree to disagree and our will is not always God's. I also pray that God touch the hearts of those who would have voted for Obama if he were white."

Is Spain really for McCain?

Since we started tracking and networking people around the world paying particular interest in the US elections, the phenomenon of global excitement about Senator Obama has been contrast with the equally striking lack of interest in other candidates, particularly as far as internet presence goes. The only facebook groups, blogs, websites, songs etc. put together by non-Americans have focused on Obama. There were a smattering of Ron Paul pages before he dropped out of the nomination, and I think one or two small Hillary facebook group, but nothing compared to the hundreds and hundreds of independently initiated groups from dozens of countries backing Obama.

Now we have discovered a solitary blog backing Senator McCain in Spain. The website states that it was "founded on July 4 in Madrid, bringing together more than 500 Americans and Spaniards who support John McCain." (although it's not clear how big a role non-Americans have in the group). The original in Spanish is here, and here is a google translated version into English. We may not agree with their choice of candidate (and the Spanish certainly don't agree, in an IPSOS poll in May, only 8% said they favoured him, compared to 65% backing Obama and 28% Clinton), but we do welcome their participation in the international dialogue on the US elections, which have a potential to effect us all. We also rather like their "virtual" visit of McCain to Madrid, in which they took a cut-out of the Senator on a photo shoot around the city! If you know of any other non-American groups backing him, let us know.

An Obama victory could bolster reformers in Iran

If Senator McCain wins the US election, the strained relationship with Iran is likely to continue in its current deadlock. However an Obama victory could have a profound effect on Iran's policy and politics.

  • Firstly, there are hints that Iran may be preparing to make a significant concession in response to Obama's professed willingness to engage with enemies. This is likely to be an offer to suspend work on the nuclear programme in return for a suspension of sanctions; such a "suspend-for-suspend" arrangement would go well beyond the current attempts to persuade Iran to agree on a "freeze-for-freeze" under which neither sanctions or uranium enrichment will be increased, but frozen at their current levels.
  • Secondly, an Obama victory would bolster reformists in Iran in the run up to the Iranian presidential election on 12 June 2009. One key question is whether the popular reformist and former president, Mohammad Khatami, will run. He probably has the best chance of defeating the incumbent conservative, President Ahmadinejad, and is said to be more likely to run if he knows he will be dealing with an US administration led by Senator Obama. Another potential reformist presidential candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, has said the Iranian people are hoping for an Obama victory. (More analysis on Iranian presidential candidates here.)
On the subject of Iran, here is an interesting comment by dissident Iranian blogger, Omid Memarian, interviewed by Time magazine:
"Surprisingly, many Iranians differentiate between U.S. politics and American people or culture. People think that their government’s animosity toward America has done more harm than good. I’ve grown up with two myths about the United States: Ayatollah Khomeini’s depiction of the U.S. as “Great Satan” on one hand, and the idea of the American dream on the other... Many Iranians are obsessed with Barack Obama. If he goes to Iran, I’m sure he could fill Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, which has a capacity of 100,000. To a large extent this is because of the nature of Obama’s message about change and hope. Iranian people truly want to change their situation, get rid of decades of marginalization and restore their reputation in the world. They feel connected to his message of change. They are tired of living under the threat of economic sanctions and military attacks. Obama’s remark about initiating a dialogue with Iran translated for many Iranians into hopes of normalizing the relationship between the countries and Iran rejoining the international community. For many Iranian women struggling for women’s rights, Hillary is incredibly inspiring. Senator McCain, on the other hand, they see as just as a third term of President Bush."
And here's a new blog: http://iranians4obama.blogspot.com/

Ashdown: Obama may be Afghanistan's best hope

Lord Paddy Ashdown, one of the most highly regarded British diplomats, has been critical of the international community's limited committment to Afghanistan and has called for a regional peace conference for Afghanistan, similar to the Dayton conference which successfully laid the framework for peace in Bosnia. He explained "A new president in the US might just be able to do this. Indeed, given Obama's courageous statements in favour of multilateralism and dialogue with old enemies, he might well be the single person in the world best placed to pull off such an enterprise." Paddy Ashdown was the EU's high representative to Bosnia until 2006, the leader of one of Britain's largest political parties for a decade, and originally a commander in te Special Boat Service (the elite force in the British navy).

Empire of Liberty

The BBC is running an excellent radio series on American history, written by David Reynolds, Professor of International History at Christ's College, Cambridge. The series starts this week and can be listened to online and will probably be available as a podcast. The series was launched with a panel discussion yesterday with people such as Howard Zinn, author of a People's History of the United States. The title of the series emphasises two of the defining (and contradictory) characteristics of American history.

  • Firstly, the importance of freedom, stretching from the days of the Pilgrim Fathers fleeing religious persecution in Europe to the moral force of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."
  • Secondly, the reality of empire, as liberty and prosperity for US citizens was built through the destruction of the native American people and theft of their land, and on the enslavement of Africans. Then, in the modern period, the empire spread overseas through economic colonialism, spearheaded by corporations and the IMF, and through military intervention in dozens of countries, most recently Iraq.
The 2008 election can be seen as a pivotal moment in US history when the American people decide which of these characteristics - Liberty or Empire - will guide their country, and impact the rest of us, in the coming years. Will they endorse the Bush policy of endless war, with diminishing allies, by giving the Republican party a third term in office. Or, instead, will they elect a man who is committed to multilateral partnership and who, only a generation ago, might have struggled to register to vote - let alone stand for office - on account of the colour of his skin. Their decision will determine whether America will be a "city upon a hill", taking a welcome and leading role in world affairs, or whether it will become increasingly irrelevant in a post-American world.

Brazil's Barack Obamas

Here's another amusing story with a serious point - emphasising the high regard in which Senator Obama is held in Brazil (which is likely to overtake Canada soon as the 2nd largest economy in the Americas). The Guardian reports on the upcoming October local elections in Brazil.

Due to a quirk of Brazilian law, candidates are allowed to run under the name of their choice. As a result, at least six Brazilian politicians have officially renamed themselves "Barack Obama" in a bid to get an edge over their rivals in October's municipal elections. One of the candidates, running to be mayor of Belford Roxo, a city just outside Rio de Janiro tells his story: "In truth it was an accident," says Belford Roxo's Obama, an IT consultant who is bidding to become the city's first black mayor. "I'd been on the television wearing a suit and people thought I looked a bit like him so they started calling me Barack Obama. They'd see me in the street and shout: 'Hey! Barack!" So I decided to register it." He admits he has also been looking to his namesake's speeches for inspiration... the Brazilian Obama says that as mayor he would "extend an invitation" to the real Obama to dine in Belford Roxo. "It would be great if he could come and see our reality," he beams. "Just imagine."

ACTION: Explain how the elections affects you, so 300,000 US Avaaz campaigners can spread the message

As the US election focus narrows, and John McCain's campaign manager states flatly that "this election is not about issues", Avaaz.org - with 3.3m members globally - is launching a campaign to remind US voters to think of the issues and the world before they vote. Their initiative involves a petition:

Dear citizens of the USA: Your choice this November will affect the entire world. As citizens of other nations, we urge you to vote -- and, when you do so, to consider global issues like climate change, human rights, poverty, and peace. Our futures are intertwined. So when you vote, remember us.
But it goes further, offering non-Americans the opportunity to write messages (and submit photos) explaining how the outcome of the U.S. elections will affect us personally. The stories, photos, and signatures will be incorporated into advertising campaigns - and will be sent by many of the 300,000 American Avaaz members to their friends, families, and colleagues in personal appeals to consider international issues in the election.

Brett Solomon, an Australian Avaaz campaigner, writes: "Will this work? Of course, it won't decide the election all by itself. But it could have a significant impact. It's critical for all of us to be respectful in our messages; approaching this with the wrong spirit could risk triggering a backlash. We all recognise that this is a democratic election, and the decisions will be made by U.S. voters themselves. But while it's not our place to tell Americans what to do, it's certainly appropriate for us to let them know that their actions affect us all around the world -- and our polling of U.S. Avaaz members shows they're excited to bring our global messages to their friends and neighbours [83.2% responded favorably to this campaign, against just 4.7% who thought it was a bad idea]."
http://www.avaaz.org/en/usa_remember_the_world/

Obama 4 to 1 favourite in all 22 countries polled by BBC

A dramatic new poll commissioned by the BBC demonstrates that Senator Obama remains the favourite candidate. GlobeScan polled 22,531 citizens in 22 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE and the UK). The margin of those in favour of Obama ranged from 9% in India to 82% in Kenya. On average 49% preferred Obama compared to 12% in favour of McCain (the remainder did not take a view). This is an even higher proportion in favour of Obama over McCain than in an IPSOS poll of a similar size in May. Similarly, more than 2:1 through the US' relations with the world would improve more under Obama than McCain. Obama was even more popular with those with a university education (61%). Also 46% said that the election of an African-American president would "fundamentally change" their perception of the US, with an even stronger result in important allies such as Egypt (65%) and Mexico (60%). The countries most optimistic that an Obama presidency would improve ties were US Nato allies - Canada (69%), Italy (64%), France (62%), Germany (61%), and the UK (54%) - as well as Australia (62%), along with Kenya (87%) and Nigeria (71%). (full results - pdf)

The US public was polled separately and Americans also believed an Obama presidency would improve US ties with the world more than a McCain presidency. 46% of Americans expected relations to get better if Mr Obama were elected, compared to just 30% if Mr McCain won the White House.

Rejecting Obama could cause the world to despair of Americans

As we remember the murder of 2,974 people in the 9/11 attacks seven years ago, we also recall a time when the world united in solidarity behind America. However, that sympathy and support quickly evaporated as President Bush launched invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, detained and tortured prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, and demonstrated arrogance and hubris to the rest of the world. America's standing in the world collapsed, and although much of the frustration was directed at Bush as an individual, international views of Americans themselves also deteriorated, particularly after they re-elected Bush in 2004. Over the last year, the rise of Senator Obama has created a fresh attitude, enabling people around the world to dream once again of an America that lives up to its widely-respected ideals.

However, in the last week, as opinion polls turn in favour of McCain (or rather, it seems, Palin) British Journalist Jonathan Freedland predicts a grim reaction if Americans reject Senator Obama: "A generation of young Americans - who back Obama in big numbers - will turn cynical, concluding that politics doesn't work after all. And, most depressing, many African-Americans will decide that if even Barack Obama - with all his conspicuous gifts - could not win, then no black man can ever be elected president. But what of the rest of the world? This is the reaction I fear most. For Obama has stirred an excitement around the globe unmatched by any American politician in living memory. If November 4 were a global ballot, Obama would win it handsomely. If the free world could choose its leader, it would be Barack Obama.

The crowd of 200,000 that rallied to hear him in Berlin in July did so not only because of his charisma, but also because they know he, like the majority of the world's population, opposed the Iraq war. McCain supported it, peddling the lie that Saddam was linked to 9/11. Non-Americans sense that Obama will not ride roughshod over the international system but will treat alliances and global institutions seriously: McCain wants to bypass the United Nations in favour of a US-friendly League of Democracies. McCain might talk a good game on climate change, but a repeated floor chant at the Republican convention was "Drill, baby, drill!", as if the solution to global warming were not a radical rethink of the US's entire energy system but more offshore oil rigs.

If Americans choose McCain, they will be turning their back on the rest of the world, choosing to show us four more years of the Bush-Cheney finger. And I predict a deeply unpleasant shift. Until now, anti-Americanism has been exaggerated and much misunderstood: outside a leftist hardcore, it has mostly been anti-Bushism, opposition to this specific administration. But if McCain wins in November, that might well change. Suddenly Europeans and others will conclude that their dispute is with not only one ruling clique, but Americans themselves. For it will have been the American people, not the politicians, who will have passed up a once-in-a-generation chance for a fresh start - a fresh start the world is yearning for. And the manner of that decision will matter, too. If it is deemed to have been about race - that Obama was rejected because of his colour - the world's verdict will be harsh. In that circumstance, Slate's Jacob Weisberg wrote recently, international opinion would conclude that "the United States had its day, but in the end couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race".

Even if it's not ethnic prejudice, but some other aspect of the culture wars, that proves decisive, the point still holds. For America to make a decision as grave as this one - while the planet boils and with the US fighting two wars - on the trivial basis that a hockey mom is likable and seems down to earth, would be to convey a lack of seriousness, a fleeing from reality, that does indeed suggest a nation in, to quote Weisberg, "historical decline". Let's not forget, McCain's campaign manager boasts that this election is "not about the issues." Of course I know that even to mention Obama's support around the world is to hurt him. Incredibly, that large Berlin crowd damaged Obama at home, branding him the "candidate of Europe" and making him seem less of a patriotic American. But what does that say about today's America, that the world's esteem is now unwanted? If Americans reject Obama, they will be sending the clearest possible message to the rest of us - and, make no mistake, we shall hear it."

Resources for following the election

So the conventions are over, the VPs are chosen, and it's now less than two months until election day. Here are some resources to help keep up to date with developments. Let us know other sites you find useful

Two excellent sites to follow for polling data are Electoral-Vote.com which graphically displays the results of the latest polls state-by-state. FiveThirtyEight.com, run by two guys that Malcolm met at the DNC, goes further by using some sophisticated maths to forecast the outcome based on the latest polling data. It currently predicts gives Obama a 71.3% probability of winning, which is encouraging, and a 20% probability of wining with a landslide (>375 electoral votes). Unlike the primaries, in the main election, the candidate who wins the most votes in each state gets all the "electoral votes" for that state (ranging from 3 for Alaska to 55 for Calafornia). There are a total of 538 electoral votes available, and so 270+ are needed to win the election. As you can see, most of the states are firmly Republican or Democrat, and many have been for years, and so it's very unlikely that the other party could win them. This is why much of the focus of the campaigns and media attention is on the "swing states" which could go either way and hence determine the outcome, as Florida did in 2000. Another site worth following show the average probability of winning implied by the odds given by 14 of the main betting sites.

The Guardian newspaper and the BBC both have excellent coverage, for a perspective from abroad. For some light relief check out the Daily Show's satirical take on the elections.