Thursday, 16 August 2012

One car, one vote

The US presidential campaign switched into high gear this week with Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as a running mate. But with a raft of voter ID laws now going into effect in crucial swing states across the country, it’s looking increasingly likely that the result in November could be shaped more by who is allowed to vote than by who is on the ticket. Thanks to these new laws, if an American doesn’t drive, he or she may not get to vote.

Until 2003, no state in America required voters to show a photo ID in order to vote. For Europeans this may seem strange, since showing your national ID is often a requirement here for things as simple as using a solarium. But English-speaking countries tend to not have national IDs. For some reason I’ve never understood, there’s just some deep-rooted Anglo-Saxon distrust of them.

In the United States, this leaves drivers licenses as the only government-issued photo identification most people have. Because such a large proportion of adult Americans (85%) have a drivers license, this has more or less worked out. Many people obtain a drivers license even if they do not routinely drive, in order to have a photo ID.

But that leaves 10% of eligible American voters who do not have a drivers license or any other form of photo ID, according to NYU's Brennen Center for Social Justice. This group is overwhelmingly made up of African-Americans, Hispanics and college students. And these three groups are statistically the most likely to vote Democratic.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Bank battle: New York vs London

Yesterday's news that US regulators are investigating yet another British bank for illegal activity has provoked a roar of indignation and incredulity from the City of London. Today a member of the British parliament accused the US government of launching the string of investigations in order to weaken the British banking sector.

“I think it's a concerted effort that's been organised at the top of the US government,” fumed Labour MP John Mann to British media. “I think this is Washington trying to win a commercial battle to have trading from London shifted to New York.”

This week the New York State regulator charged the British bank Standard Chartered of money laundering $250 billion in funds aimed for Iran. The US has a trade embargo against Iran, and under US law all companies publicly traded in the US, including Standard Chartered, must comply. The money laundering went on for nearly a decade, the regulator alleges.

The announcement comes just weeks after the US Congress held highly confrontational hearings of British-based HSBC executives over allegations that HSBC was laundering money for Mexican drug cartels. Earlier this summer London-based Barclays bank was discovered to have been manipulating libor rates – the rates at which banks lend to each other.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Romney’s offend-a-thon comes to an end

If the aim of Mitt Romney’s ‘world tour’ over the past week was to demonstrate his ability to tactfully represent the United States on the world stage, it’s safe to say the trip had the opposite effect. Professing to be on a quest to ‘restore relations with America’s most important strategic allies’, Romney managed to cause grave offense in all three of the countries he visited.

It started badly and quickly went from bad to worse. Even before he touched down in London last Wednesday, his campaign had raised eyebrows when an advisor said that Barack Obama was unable to understand the “common Anglo-Saxon heritage” of the US and the UK. Given that in English this term only refers to the Germanic tribes of Southwest England (unlike the "free-market capitalism" meaning it has in France), it came off as shockingly racist – i.e., a black man cannot understand the common Germanic heritage of the English and their descendants.

Romney then managed to enrage the British public by casting doubt on their readiness to host the Olympic Games, telling a US journalist in London that the UK’s preparedness was “not encouraging.” This sent the British media into a frenzy of anti-Romney headlines, such as “Mitt the Twit” (The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch) and “Who invited Party-Pooper Romney?” (The ultra-conservative Daily Mail). He even managed to enrage Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who quipped at a press conference, "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere." (Romney ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah). Even London mayor Boris Johnson, himself a gaffe-magnet, used Mitt Romney’s name when speaking to crowds asif describing some kind of panto villain, quickly followed with boos from assembled Olympics-lovers.