News & Current Affairs

November 5, 2008

Obama wins historic US election

Democratic Senator Barack Obama has been elected the first black president of the United States.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight… change has come to America,” the president-elect told a jubilant crowd at a park in Chicago.

His rival John McCain accepted defeat, saying “I deeply admire and commend” Mr Obama. He called on his supporters to lend the next president their goodwill.

The BBC’s Justin Webb said the result would have a profound impact on the US.

“On every level America will be changed by this result… [it] will never be the same,” he said.

Mr Obama appeared with his family, and his running mate Joe Biden, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Grant Park, Chicago.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” he said.

He said he had received an “extraordinarily gracious” call from Mr McCain.

He praised the former Vietnam prisoner of war as a “brave and selfless leader”.

“He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine,” the victor said.

He had warm words for his family, announcing to his daughters: “Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.”

Congratulations… You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life
President George W Bush

But he added: “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep… But America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”

From red to blue

Mr Obama captured the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, before breaking through the winning threshold of 270 electoral college votes at 0400 GMT, when projections showed he had also taken California and a slew of other states.

HAVE YOUR SAY

I find myself strangely emotional about this. I want to go wake up my neighbours and hug them

Amy Scullane, Boston

Then came the news that he had also seized Florida, Virginia and Colorado – all of which voted Republican in 2004 – turning swathes of the map from red to blue.

Several other key swing states are hanging in the balance.

In Indiana and North Carolina, with most of the vote counted, there was less than 0.5% between the two candidates.

However, the popular vote remains close. At 0600 GMT it stood at 51.3% for the Democratic Senator from Illinois, against 47.4% for Arizona Senator McCain.

The main developments include:

  • Mr Obama is projected to have seized Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada – all Republican wins in 2004.
  • He is also projected to have won: Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Delaware, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island, California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon.
  • Mr McCain is projected to have won: Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Georgia, Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota.
  • Turnout was reported to be extremely high – in some places “unprecedented”.
  • The Democrats made gains in the Senate race, seizing seats from the Republicans in Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Colorado. They also increased their majority of the House of Representatives.
  • Exit polls suggest the economy was the major deciding factor for six out of 10 voters.
  • Nine out of 10 said the candidates’ race was not important to their vote, the Associated Press reported. Almost as many said age did not matter.

LOSSES AND GAINS
Key states
Projected gains for Obama in former Republican states of Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada
Senate seats
Virginia: Democrat Mark Warner replaces retiring Republican John Warner
New Hampshire: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen unseats Republican John Sununu
North Carolina: Democrat Kay Hagan replaces Republican Elizabeth Dole
New Mexico: Democrat Tom Udall replaces retiring Republican Pete Domenici

Several states reported very high turnout. It was predicted 130 million Americans, or more, would vote – more than for any election since 1960.

Many people said they felt they had voted in a historic election – and for many African-Americans the moment was especially poignant.

John Lewis, an activist in the civil rights era who was left beaten on an Alabama bridge 40 years ago, told Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church: “This is a great night. It is an unbelievable night. It is a night of thanksgiving.”

Besides winning the presidency, the Democrats tightened their grip on Congress.

The entire US House of Representatives and a third of US Senate seats were up for grabs.

Democrats won several Senate seats from the Republicans, but seemed unlikely to to gain the nine extra they wanted to reach the 60-seat “super-majority”, that could prevent Republicans blocking legislation.

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September 14, 2008

Bush warns on hurricane recovery

Bush warns on hurricane recovery

US President George W Bush has warned Texas will take a long time to recover from Hurricane Ike, as a huge search and relief operation gathers pace.

Mr Bush will travel to the state on Tuesday to inspect the relief effort.

Rescuers are trying to get to thousands of people who ignored orders to flee the storm, which cut power to millions and mauled America’s oil hub.

“This is a tough storm and it’s one that is going to require time for people to recover,” Mr Bush said.

Ike has been blamed for four deaths so far, two in Texas and two in Louisiana.

What’s really frustrating is that we can’t get to them
Tommie Mafrei
Galveston police chief

Rescuers are using boats, lorries and helicopters to tackle roads waist-deep in water and blocked by felled trees.The storm made landfall in Galveston early on Saturday with 110mph (175km/h) winds.

It cut a 500-mile (800-km) swathe of destruction across a span of the Gulf of Mexico coast before weakening to a tropical depression on Sunday morning over Arkansas.

Ike severely hit oil and gas production in the region and wreaked at least $8bn (£4.5bn) in onshore damage.

Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison warned that oil refineries disabled by the hurricane could remain idled for a further eight or nine days – and that Americans should brace for possible fuel shortages.

Some coastal residents waded through chest-deep water with their belongings and children in their arms to get to safety on Saturday, but thousands of others ignored evacuation orders.

Mr Bush said the federal government would be delivering 1.5m liters of water and 1m meals daily for the displaced.

Distress calls

Police, paramedics, rescue dogs and structural engineers fanned out at daybreak on Sunday across the coastal city of Galveston, which took the brunt of the storm, hampered by floodwater’s and widespread wreckage.

Galveston police officer Tommie Mafrei said: “What’s really frustrating is that we can’t get to [the stranded]… They are naive about it, thinking it’s not going to be that bad.”

State Governor Rick Perry’s office said 940 people had been rescued by nightfall on Saturday, but that thousands had made distress calls the night before.

Hurricane Ike caused widespread destruction in Galveston, Texas

Officials said another 600 people were rescued in neighboring Louisiana, where flooding ruined tens of thousands of homes and left nearly 200,000 householders without electricity.

More than three million people had no power in Texas at the height of the storm, and the authorities said it could be weeks before supplies were fully restored.

Ike sent fuel prices higher at the pumps and, analysts say, has triggered the biggest disruption to US energy supplies in at least three years.

Production was shut down at 14 oil refineries and 28 natural gas processing plants in the storm’s path.

The hurricane also battered Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US and the nation’s oil hub. Police there had used bullhorns to order people back into their homes.

The BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani weathered the storm in Houston and described how ferocious winds ripped the glass from many of the city’s skyscrapers.

But officials were encouraged by the fact flooding brought by the storm surge turned out to be much less serious than forecast.

Among those killed by Ike were a woman in Pinehurst, Texas, and a teenage boy in Louisiana’s Bayou Dularge, AP news agency reported.

Last week, Ike caused devastation in Cuba and Haiti, where hundreds of people have died in several tropical storms over the last month.


Are you in the areas affected? Are preparing to evacuate or are you staying in your home? Send us your comments and experiences

September 13, 2008

‘Catastrophic’ storm hits Texas

‘Catastrophic’ storm hits Texas

Hurricane Ike has made landfall on the Gulf coast of Texas, where it is expected to cause “potentially catastrophic” flooding and damage.

It hit land at Galveston at 0710 GMT, with winds of up to 110 mph (175km/h).

Much of the city, which in 1900 was the scene of the country’s deadliest hurricane, was already under water after a 12ft (3.7m) storm surge.

The eye of the storm, which has since weakened to a Category One, is turning away from Houston, towards Arkansas.

Outside walls and ceilings have collapsed, the glass atrium in the lobby [of our hotel] shattered

Mandatory evacuation orders affected more than one million people, but there are fears for up to 90,000 people across Texas who officials say decided to brave out the storm.

In Galveston, an estimated 23,000 residents stayed behind.

President George W Bush, who earlier declared a federal emergency in Texas, said the federal and state authorities would conduct the recovery effort together, bringing in generators and ensuring water and ice supplies.

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is due to arrive in Texas on Saturday, weather conditions permitting, he added, speaking at the White House.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has waived federal clean air regulations for petrol sold in states affected by the storm, in an effort to reduce fuel disruption.

Ike has halted more than a fifth of US oil production, forcing 17 refineries in the Gulf of Mexico to shut down as a precaution.

Rain and debris

Jessica Willey, a journalist based in Galveston which lies on a small island off the coast of Texas, told it was the worst storm she had ever seen:

See the likely path of Hurricane Ike through the US

“The rain is coming sideways. Debris is flying through the air. Things are getting ripped off buildings every second, and flying through the air.

All emergency workers have been pulled off the streets until daybreak when a curfew will be lifted.

“We hope we will find the people who are left here alive and well,” said Galveston mayor Lynda Ann Thomas.

There is widespread flooding, and a hospital there is under at least 9.8ft (3 meters of water). The city has lost power and a number of houses are reported to be on fire.

Residents of low-lying homes were warned they faced “certain death” if they stayed.

Haitian appeal

At 1300 GMT, Hurricane Ike was about 20 miles (30km) south-southeast of Huntsville, Texas, with top sustained winds of nearly 90mph (145km/h).

It was due to pass through eastern Texas during the day, reaching western Arkansas on Saturday night, according to US National Hurricane Center.

US officials have warned as many as 100,000 homes in Texas could be affected by flooding.

Nearly 4.5 million people in the Houston-Galveston area are without electricity, a spokesman for power company CenterPoint Energy said.

Ferocious winds and rain have been lashing at his hotel for 10 hours.

“We are largely trapped here,” he said. “The power went out five hours ago, the lowest floor is submerged. Outside walls and ceilings have collapsed, the glass atrium in the lobby shattered.

“With the threat of rising seas, hotel guests have been ushered into the concrete stairwell, the sturdiest part of the building, and urged to climb to higher floors.”

The massive system is causing flooding along the Louisiana coast, still recovering from Hurricane Gustav earlier this month.

1900 GALVESTON HURRICANE
Men carry out bodies from the wreckage after a hurricane in Galveston, Texas, in 1900
Thought to be worst natural disaster in US history
8,000 people killed
130mph (209km/h) winds and 15ft (4.6m) waves swept homes away

Authorities are trying to avoid a repeat of 2005, when some 110 people died in Houston during a chaotic evacuation in the face of Hurricane Rita.

Mr Chertoff said Ike was a “potentially catastrophic hurricane”.

Earlier, it caused devastation in Cuba and Haiti, where hundreds of people have died in several tropical storms over the last month.

The Haitian Prime Minister, Michele Pierre-Louis, believes one million people may be homeless, and has called for international help.

The UN says more than $100m (£55.8m) is needed.


Are you in the areas affected? Are preparing to evacuate or are you staying in your home? Send us your comments and experiences

August 25, 2008

Obama sets out to sell his vision

Obama sets out to sell his vision

Barack Obama has a hard act to follow at this convention: himself.

Barack Obama speaks in Wisconsin

Barack Obama faces a career-defining moment

Four years ago, when Democrats gathered for their national convention in Boston to nominate John Kerry, the then-US Senate candidate made a much-lauded, career-defining speech. His message of a unified America, coming from the mouth of a young, mixed-race politician, marked the effective launch of the history-making Obama phenomenon.

It also brings a level of expectation ahead of his speech on Thursday, which the last Democratic candidate, who went on to become president, did not have to face.

When nominee Bill Clinton spoke at the 1992 Convention in New York, it was four years after he had made a convention speech that was widely seen (including by Clinton, himself) as rather long-winded and boring.

He did not repeat his mistake. With his “I still believe in a place called Hope” speech, the Arkansas governor defined himself in a way that resonated with the country at large.

Weight of history

Barack Obama needs to do something similar. With opinion polls placing him in a tight race with Republican John McCain and suggesting that sections of the public still do not have a clear impression of who he is, his goal is to come out of the week having defined himself as someone whom Americans can feel comfortable about as a leader.

He needs to sell his vision, his experience and his unconventional background.

Pepsi Center, Denver

Mr Obama must unite the Democrats behind his campaign

He will be selling that vision of himself on an auspicious date: the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

But, while that may add to the weight of history on his shoulders, the location of his speech represents a break with history.

Obama will not accept the nomination in the Convention Hall, but at the 70,000-seater Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos Football team. This will provide a unique spectacle, but it also presents a certain danger of perception for a candidate who – since securing the Democratic nomination in June – has faced accusations of being too presumptuous about his chances of winning the November election.

Clinton tensions

And while the 1992 Clinton experience offers him a something of a blueprint for success, the 2008 Clinton presence, on the other hand, presents him with potential pitfalls.

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton will be speaking at the Convention. Their performances – on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively – will be watched closely for signs of party disunity, that could harm not only Barack Obama’s chances, but those of Democrats running for Congress in November.

Despite a joint appearance with Senator Obama in Unity, New Hampshire earlier this summer, Hillary Clinton is still dogged by questions about her level of support for the man who narrowly beat her to the nomination. Many of her supporters are still unhappy about the manner of her defeat. There is also concern that she was not seriously considered for the position of running mate, which Senator Joe Biden has secured.

Bill Clinton, file picture

Observers will be closely watching Bill Clinton’s mood

By allowing Senator Clinton’s delegates to participate in a formal nominating roll call vote – recognising the historical nature of her campaign – the Obama team hopes to defuse some of the remaining tensions and shore up the support of the millions who voted for the former First Lady. Neither outcome is a foregone conclusion.

John McCain’s campaign is doing its mischievous best to stir things up: releasing an advert, showing Hillary Clinton asking some of the same questions about Barack Obama’s experience and judgment during the primary campaign which they are asking now.

But, perhaps, it is Bill Clinton’s speech that will be the most closely dissected; both for its words and for the body language of the man delivering it. By his silence, the former president has given the impression that he is still sulking about Obama’s victory over his wife.

Many Convention-goers will be looking for him to swallow his pride and give the sort of full-throated endorsement of the party’s nominee, that will sway Democrats flirting with John McCain, and help to repair some of the damage done to President Clinton’s own reputation during the primaries.

As he effectively hands over the role of party leader to a younger man, he can still play the role of party healer.

How to measure the success of this? The time-honoured tradition has been to look at the “convention bounce” – the boost in the opinion polls which a candidate gains from his moment engulfed in balloons and ticker tape. Bill Clinton, for example, got one in 1992 and never relinquished his lead over George H W Bush.

Time is not Barack Obama’s side, though. No sooner has the Democratic Convention finished, than the Republicans meet in St Paul, Minnesota.

So the onus is on Senator Obama to make the most of his time in the spotlight, before the spotlight quickly turns to his Republican rival, John McCain.

August 14, 2008

US politician killer had lost job

US politician killer had lost job

Bill Gwatney (handout image courtesy of Arkansas Democratic Party)

Bill Gwatney was taken to hospital but died of his injuries

A gunman who burst into the offices of the Arkansas Democratic Party chairman and killed him had lost his supermarket job earlier the same day.

Bill Gwatney, 49, was shot several times by 50-year-old Tim Johnson at the party headquarters in Little Rock.

It is not clear if the gunman, later shot dead after a police car chase into a neighboring county, knew his victim.

Police said Johnson had lost his job at a Target store on Wednesday morning, after he wrote graffiti on a wall.

Mr Gwatney – a top ally of former President Bill Clinton and his New York senator wife Hillary – died later of his injuries in hospital.

Police said they did not believe Mr Johnson, from Searcy, a town about 50 miles (80km) north-east of Little Rock, had any criminal record.

A volunteer at the party headquarters building said Johnson had barged past staff to get into Mr Gwatney’s office.

Map showing Arkansas

“He said he was interested in volunteering but that was obviously a lie,” Sam Higginbotham, 17, told AP news agency.

Johnson then sped away in a truck and stopped at a nearby Baptist church, where he pointed his gun and told a church group manager he had lost his job.

Police said he was pursued to Sheridan, 30 miles (50km) south of Little Rock, before emerging from his truck to shoot at officers, who returned fire. Johnson later died at a hospital.

The Clintons said in a joint statement that they had lost “a cherished friend and confidante”.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that Bill Gwatney has passed away,” they said.

The couple lived for years in the Arkansas capital of Little Rock while Mr Clinton was governor of the state.

Barack Obama, who competed with Mrs Clinton for the Democratic nomination to run for US president in November, also said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news.

Mr Gwatney was a former state senator who had been due to attend the Democratic Party’s national convention in Denver later this month as a super delegate.

He had supported Mrs Clinton during the contest for the party’s presidential nomination.

Last December, a man who claimed to have a bomb strapped to his chest walked into Mrs Clinton’s campaign office in New Hampshire, prompting a hostage drama lasting several hours.

Arkansas party leader shot dead

Arkansas party leader shot dead

Bill Gwatney (handout image courtesy of Arkansas Democratic Party)

Bill Gwatney was taken to hospital but died of his injuries

The chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party has died after being shot by a gunman at the US state’s party HQ.

Bill Gwatney, 49, was shot several times by a man who barged his way into his office near the state capitol building in Little Rock, police said.

The attacker was shot and killed after a police chase, officials said.

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said Mr Gwatney’s killing was a “senseless tragedy”. Bill and Hillary Clinton said they had lost a friend.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that Bill Gwatney has passed away,” the Clintons said in a joint statement.

He was, they said, ” a cherished friend and confidante”.

The couple lived for years in the Arkansas capital of Little Rock while former President Bill Clinton was governor of the state.

Barack Obama, who competed with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination to run for US president in November, also said he was “shocked and saddened” by news of the shooting.

Map showing Arkansas

Police have named the suspected gunman as 50-year-old Timothy Dale Johnson of Searcy, a town about 50 miles (80km) north-east of Little Rock, the Associated Press reported.

The motive for the shooting remains unclear.

A 17-year-old volunteer at the party headquarters building told AP that the suspect had pushed past staff to get into Mr Gwatney’s office.

“He said he was interested in volunteering but that was obviously a lie,” Sam Higginbotham said.

Mr Gwatney was taken to hospital in a critical condition and died of his injuries about four hours later.

He was a former state senator and was due to attend the Democratic Party’s national convention in Denver later this month as a super delegate.

He supported Mrs Clinton during the contest for the party’s presidential nomination.

Last December, a man who claimed to have a bomb strapped to his chest walked into Mrs Clinton’s campaign office in New Hampshire, prompting a hostage drama lasting several hours.

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