Posts Tagged ‘Obama’
Several of my allotment pals had a copy of the last ever edition of the News of the World in their pockets this morning. Some of them have been regular readers for many years and seemed genuinely sorry for the staff who have lost their jobs. Few of them had any involvement in the hacking scandal. Yesterday, Rupert Murdoch remarked that he is not in the business of pushing innocent people under buses. But that is exactly what he has done. He also stood by Rebekah Brooks who was in charge at the time of the worst excesses! That young lady appears to have powerful friends for Murdoch describes her as his ‘favourite daughter’ and the Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner, John Yates, referred to her by her Christian name during an interview.
As the revelations unfold one thing above all others registers on the corruption scale. We are deluged with pictures of the Blairs, Browns and Camerons mingling constantly with the Murdoch clan. It seems that nothing was too much trouble for the disciples of the great man. We tend to imagine the United States system as corrupt, an assumption based on Nixon. But there the realtionship between politicians and media is a distinctly remote one. The kind of socialising that we see regularly here would be seen as improper. And it would be impossible to imagine Obama spending his Christmas Eve at the home of a press baron in the way that the Camerons did with Rebekah Brooks.
To the surprise of many, one politician has broken ranks by openly declaring war on the Murdoch empire. Ed Miliband initially demanded Brooks’ resignation and received warnings from Murdoch’s men that he would be targetted come the next election. Many of his MPs flinched at this, the longer-serving had been brought up to understand that keeping in with the all-powerful was crucial. But now he has gone one step further by launching a Commons bid this week to suspend the planned takeover of BSkyB until after the criminal investigation into phone hacking is complete – a process that could well take years.
The vote will be held on Wednesday, the day on which the Opposition sets the business of the Commons. On such a day, even if Miliband wins, it is not legally binding on Cameron and Hunt, the culture secretary. However the political fall-out from defying the House in support of Murdoch would be devastating. It is therefore safe to assume that what happens on Wednesday will destroy or endorse Murdoch’s ambition to control the greater part of the British media. So we at last have a clear test of just how deep the corruption runs.
The pundits believe that Miliband may well attract support from a lot of Liberal and Tory MPs. They may be proved wrong if Cameron and Clegg cobble together an escape route. One favourite might be to argue that approval of the deal should only be based on media plurality. Another might be some supposed concession or other offered by Murdoch. Despite his gaffe in declaring Andy Coulson to be a close friend, Cameron is a clever political operator and anything could happen. But the simple truth is that unless he and his ministers vote for the Miliband proposal they are deep in Murdoch’s pockets.
There are those in the Opposition who doubt the wisdom of what Miliband is doing and without doubt the new seven days per week Sun will be a dangerous enemy. But he appears to be that rare thing, a politician who is not prepared to be bought off. Without doubt were he able to deliver a majority demanding suspension of the takeover this would be a major rebuff for Murdoch. And that means that Cameron has to stop it to avoid also incurring the tycoon’s wrath. But on the other hand he risks incurring the wrath of the electorate which is repelled by what has happened.
Of course things are moving fast and almost anything could happen between now and Wednesday. Maybe even Miliband will lose his nerve. But whatever happens we will at last know exactly who is really dancing to the tune of an organisation that allowed the most appalling behaviour in the history of British newspapers!
Wednesday just could be not merely the end of the Murdoch dream of total power. It could also be the moment at which an historic clean-up of British politics began. One suspects that, even as I type, frantic talks are taking place between News Corp and its political lackeys!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A NEW PUB QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There was an air of disappointment on the allotments this morning. It emanated from the significant number amongst us who have been staunch fans of President Obama. Here, my pals liked to say, was an honourable man who would always put what was right before any political considerations. Perhaps distance does lend enchantment for the comparisons made between him and our lot have always been favourable. Suddenly, at a stroke, the American hero of the chicken-keepers has fallen from grace.
The feeling that maybe this, after all, is just a politician on the make like every other, has been triggered by the President’s announcement of the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, plus the remainder of the 33,000 “surge” troops by September 2012, smacks of political calculation rather than military judgement, indeed the US Generals have been quick to distance themselves from the decision.
Of course it reflects Mr Obama’s ambivalence about the Afghan strategy that he unveiled at West Point in December, 2009, after months of agonising about what to do following General Stanley McChrystal’s stark assessment that the United States was on course for defeat. On that point there was probably widespread sympathy for the man who had inherited a war that few believe can be won. But to now announce withdrawal dates is astonishing. To have them as secret targets for the military is one thing, to tell the enemy with whom negotiations are the only realistic hope is another.
The effect may well be to leave the 70,000 troops in Afghanistan to fight and to be killed without any prospect of achieveing anything because they lack the “force density” required for a counter-insurgency offensive. The withdrawal of all the “surge” troops announced at West Point risks a reversal of the fragile gains they have made, leaving the Taliban to slip back into areas being relinquished.
And above all else it will surely shatter any hopes for the talks now under way with Mullah Omar’s Quetta shura faction of the Taliban. Omar was clearly under great pressure from the “surge” but will surely now ask himself why he should negotiate. All he needs to do is wait for the American troops to leave. And for ordinary Afghans, why side with Nato forces or their indigenous allies if the Taliban will soon return?
Ultimately, Mr Obama will be judged not on how quickly he pulled the troops out but what kind of Afghanistan they left behind. For all its political adroitness, the President’s decision could lead to escalating chaos and civil war and the country could once again become a base for Islamist enemies of the West. We can all undertsand his reluctance to be in Afghanistan, not least because it is an unpopular war with the American public and an election is due next year. But what we cannot understand is what amounts to the torpedoing of the only real hope of securing a better Afghanistan; negotiations, for no one really believes that the corrupt and incompetent government forces will be ready to beat off the Taliban in the short term.
So it would appear that yet another major politician has feet of clay. Needless to say the Italians, French and Germans have been quick to follow suit. Britain? But of course. In fact William Hague went to great lengths yesterday to strees that we will not be involved in conflict at all from 2015. Again he is right with the decision but wrong to tell the enemy. It is almost like Churchill having told Hitler we will not battle on beyond 1945!
Without changing one iota of their intent Mr Obama and the other leaders could have said that they will not ease back until the Taliban sit down to agree terms. At least that way they would have retained a strong bargaining position for the next six months, and that just might have been enough. We surely owed at least an attempt at a face-saving formula to all those who have died in this futile, misguided conflict born of Bush and Blair.
Now they have ensured failure and further jeopardised the morale and safety of all the Nato troops. But then given a choice between their own political skins and those of the troops we are not surprised at their choice are we?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. Lancashire 2. L.B 3. Kent 4. Rum 5. Locum 6. Argentina 7. Dog 8. Northamptonshire 9. D H Lawrence 10. Apple
It was my turn to fetch the corn today. One of the sacks burst on the way back so I can confidently predict that she-who-must-be-obeyed will not be too pleased at sitting in what resembles Farmer Giles barn when we take our next spin. I did consider cleaning the car out but a chat with the man at the depot dissuaded me. We are, he told me, all doomed.
He ferreted under the stack of hay which serves as his chair, and produced a copy of today’;s Guardian. It reports that Britain’s fragile recovery was dealt a severe blow yesterday after figures revealed a slump in household spending. This, it continues, could severely restrict growth and knock the government’s debt reduction plans further off course. Danny Gabay, of Fathom Consulting, says that Britain is already back in recession if exceptional items are stripped out of the Office for National Statistics revised GDP figures.
The only surprising aspect of all this is that Osborne and his zillion advisers had not anticipated that household spending would plummet. By their own figures unemployment is set to rise to almost 9% by the end of this year and one can safely assume that at least another 20% are liivng in fear of it. Throw in the rocketing inflation on the cost of food, the rocketing costs of power, the zero returns on savings plus many other factors and you have the obvious conclusion that people must cut back.
It is hard to find an economist who doesn’t believe that the strategy of eliminating the deficit in one parliament is a potentially disastrous one. It doesn’t take Einstein to work out that if buyers are forced to buy less, producers will produce less and employ fewer people. Hetal Mehta, UK economist at Daiwa Capital Markets, said yesterday that we now face contraction and there are “ significant weaknesses in the UK consumer sector”. Mr Osborne needs to dust off his Plan B and fast!
One gathers that David Cameron was bitterly disappointed that President Obama did not endorse the rate at which the coalition is making cuts. Given the American approach of using growth as the stimulant that was hardly surprising. What is surprising is the preoccupation with the NHS at a time like this. The £20 billion cut in funding will be difficult, but to at the same time launch a massive and contentious reform is madness. It will offset any savings and occupy ministers for months ahead.
It has been apparent from the start that this government has a stubborn streak. It refused to listen to the outcry aginst the sale of the forests, it is effectively refusing to do so over the NHS. And, worst of all, it refuses to listen to economists the world over. There would have been no shame in announcing a fall-back position, and it is still not too late.
I confess to finding it all confusing and depressing in turn. I cannot even work out where the money that the Bank of England lends comes from. All I know is that a lot of reputable economists and thinktanks are saying that we are heading for a financial collapse, the like of which few have ever seen.
Perhaps we should all have a Plan B? Head off to a tropical paradise such as Fiji. I loved it when I visited. The good news was that there is no nincompoop like Osborne in charge. The bad news? No allotments, no cricket!
THE ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1. Zulus 2. Phyllis Nelson 3. Jose Maria Olazabal 4. Aldeburgh 5. Tracy-Ann Oberman 6. Varicella 7. Stereophonics 8. Robbie Coltrane 9. National Theatre 10. Alan Alda (of M*A*S*H fame).
DO PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU MANAGED 7 OR MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We have a problem on the allotments. A chicken has damaged its leg and the others are constantly crowding around to peck it. We thought that such behaviour was confined to the tabloid press but it seems that there are other creatures on earth as spiteful as man. We have to find a quick solution, one more effective than Albert’s which comprises hurling his cap at the offenders. Hopefully Messrs Obama and Cameron are also considering the possibility that violence should be the option of last resort rather than the first.
So far as one can gather the two men have struck up a good relationship. On the face of it they are an odd couple. One has emerged from what we would call a working class environment, the other from a very privileged one. But both are relatively popular amongst their countrymen despite both facing considerable problems in enacting what they see as the way forward. Interestingly, opinion polls show Obama retaining a 70% approval rating over here, and he is recorded as being admired for his vigorous steps to fend off recession and for his having the will to confront the health industry lobbyists. In that respect he is clearly different to Cameron but, by and large, both men are regarded well on the world stage.
Well, part of the world stage. Unfortunately the inital voice of them both that suggested reason and sobriety in foreign affairs has been drowned out by their respective failure to stand up to their Generals. They are experts in promising politicians glory, but in reality never deliver. They are truly bulls in the interventionalist china shop. Proof positive, if it were needed, is provided by the fact that the main issue on their joint agenda today is how to intensify the bombing of a north African state that threatens neither of them. To many in Britain, American foreign policy under Obama has come to seem Bush-like, while Britain’s seems Blair-like. And that is an opportunity missed on a grand scale.
What is surely exhausted is the policy the Britain and American uniquely share, of bringing about regime change by military aggression. Yesterday the two men attempted to distort the reality by talking of the ‘Arab Spring’ and saying that “it is not our place to dictate the pace and scope of such change”. Why then are they trying to dictate it in Libya?
For the first time since the fall of the Berlin wall, nations forming a significant regional grouping have seemed on the brink of freeing themselves from oppressive regimes. They are doing so not through outside intervention or military coup but through the delicate process of insurrection. They have demanded great sacrifice and loyalty from their people to the cause of freedom. But their cause has derived its peculiar potency through being “bottom-up”. Such regime change can be aided from outside via media, overseas contacts and an expatriate diaspora. It cannot be aided by blundering military intervention and aerial bombardments which strengthen rather than weaken the resistence of the bombed.
Military intervention by ‘world policemen’ paid no part in regime change in Tunisia or Egypt, while its deployment in Libya has been counter-productive. It has simply not worked in Iraq or Afghanistan and neither leader seems prepared to accept the reality that an unstable Afghanistan is unfortunate, an unstable Pakistan a disaster. Military might has failed to deliver peace in Iraq or security in Afghanistan and it has destabilised Pakistan and spread al Qaida’s influence even into this country. Today London and Washington are fortress cities.
Sadly the war drums of Bush and Blair rumble on. Until Obama and Cameron use what they chose to call an essential realationship to talk and practice peace, the idea that they will in some way gain traction in the Muslim world is a fantasy. Recent revelations in the New York Times by the widow of the US envoy Richard Holbrooke, indicate deep scepticism among diplomats to the continued belligerence toward the Muslim world. The reliance on assassination, drone attacks and bombing of innocents are, it seems, creating despair amongst those who strive for peaceful interactions.
This is really a moment of truth for the two leaders. They could together be a force for good. But we must surrender the dream of telling everyone else how to run their societies and, unless we are threatened, must put out lethal toys to one side.
TODAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ QUESTIONS; GENERAL KNOWLEDGE
1. Cetewayo, Dingaan and Chaka have all led which people? 2. Whose one and only hit was ‘Move Closer’ in 1985? 3. Which injured player did Ian Woosnam replace in the 1995 European Ryder Cup team? 4. Which Suffolk town was the first in Britain to have a woman mayor? 5. Who played Yvonne Hartman, head of the Torchwood Institute in Doctor Who? 6. What is the correct name for chickenpox? 7. Which top-selling band featured Richard Jones on bass? 8. Who is the elder – Phil Collins or Robbie Coltrane? 9. In the 80s which building did Prince Charles compare to a “nuclear power station”? 10. Which US actor’s autobiography was titled “Never Have Your dog Stuffed“?
It was bitterly cold this morning as we released the chickens but we consoled ourselves with the thought that the various pests that threaten their wellbeing are on their way to a considerably hotter place. We stamped our feet, and our breath hung lazily in the air, as we set about the cleaning-out, on mornings like this it is hard to focus on global warming. Yet this morning we read of the most dramatic warning so far on what the UN’s top representative on the environment, Achim Steiner, calls the “mutually assured destruction of the world”.
The report reflects on the Copenhagen accord which was signed by 80 countries last year. Everyone committed to reduce greenhouse gases by 2020 but already there is considerable doubt that even this modest target will be met. And even if it is, it will deliver less than two thirds of the cuts needed to stop global temperatures rising by more than 2C (3.8F). At this level of increase, scientists confirm, that the ice caps will melt and more extreme weather will occur, such as droughts and floods. If the rise is substantially greater, large parts of the earth’s surface will be submerged.
Achim Steiner gives his harshest warning yet that unless dramatic and concerted action is taken on a worldwide basis global warming is heading for dangerous and extremely destructive levels. If countries carry on with ‘business as usual’ emissions will rise to 56 gigatons by 2020 bringing a temperature increase of 7c (12.6F). Cue disaster. To stand any chance of limiting temperature rise to 2C, emissions have to fall to 44 gigatons by 2020. The current pledges will, even in the unlikely event that they are achieved, bring emissions down to only 49 gigatons. This gap is equivalent to taking all the vehicles in the world off the road!
In reality there is no mileage left in brushing such detail aside as alarmist. British scientists have been studying a block of ancient Antarctic ice, holding bubbles of air trapped 700 years ago. Their findings show clearly that during warm periods there is more carbon in the atmosphere. They also show that there has been an unprecedented growth in carbon since the industrial revolution and all the analysis adds up to one conclusion. If the present rate of growth in carbon continues there will be a worldwide catastrophe during the lifetimes of our grandchildren.
Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, yesterday urged world leaders to strengthen their efforts to curb emissions. There is, he warned, “no time to waste”. Sadly he is spitting in the wind. In most countries, certainly those with any semblance of democracy, politicians respond to public concern. And on global warming there is none. To put that another way, the subject is seen by the masses as a low priority.
So far as the UK is concerned one only has to turn to today’s newspapers for confirmation. Some have no found space to cover the UN report and even the ‘quality’ papers have buried it beneath a mass of supposedly more important issues. Ann Widdicombe’s dancing, Kate Middleton’s bridal dress, fighting in Korea and an incomprehensible speech by Nick Clegg are all considered of greater moment than the fact that where we are living may well be under ten feet of water some forty years hence!
My self understanding tells me that I would prefer not to hear about global warming. Its detail is too complicated, its implications too overwhelming. I suspect that I am far from alone. It is being realistic rather than pessimistic to conclude that until the first major inundations occur world leaders will continue to utter platitudes for the cure is worse than the disease, and the patients will never swallow the medicine of no cars and dramatically reduced power. In fact they will carry on cutting down trees and worrying about the tiger rather than acknowledge that humans are now the endangered species.
In his book ‘The Time Before This’ Nicholas Montserrat described a party of ex earthlings returning to a deserted planet. They excavated and eventually came to the remains of a computer. In reality it will probably be an old copy of the tabloids featuring Strictly Come Dancing! They may also find an inscription on old stone remains saying ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’.
One would like to believe that they would find old headlines saying that mankind fought to the last. But short of someone resurrecting Churchill that is unlikely.
SURELY OBAMA HAS NOTHING TO FEAR?
News that Sarah Palin may well be the alternative on offer to the American electorate at the next Presidential election sounds, from this side of the Atlantic, very good news for Obama. The woman appears to be as mad as a mongoose.
Her latest venture involves a huge row about the finals of America’s Dancing with the Stars where her daughter Bristol has reached the last three ahead of others who can actually dance The allegation is that political conservatives have been able to vote repeatedly for young Palin by registering multiple email addresses.
Surely even the Yanks are not going to jettison a man who is arguably the most dynamic world leader for the modern equivalent of Old Mother Riley. Are they?
WHO PAYS THE PAPARAZZI SCUM?
Everyone hates the paparazzi who hounded Diana to her death. Well not quite everyone for some newspapers make their appalling creepiness very rewarding.
After publishing a picture of Diana on the night she died the Daily Mail promised solemnly to “not in future purchase pictures taken by paparazzi”. This week it included a picture of Kate Middleton leaving Westminster Abbey after a private visit. Guess who provided the picture!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. China and Japan 2. United States
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1 Blondie was formed in 1975. Who was the band’s lead singer? 2. What was Gan Island in the Maldives used for until 1975?