News & Current Affairs

August 28, 2008

Democrats await key Obama speech

Democrats await key Obama speech

Barack Obama looks around the Denver stadium where he is due to accept the Democratic nomination for president, 27 August, 2008

Mr Obama has been preparing for the historic nomination acceptance speech

Barack Obama is set to address US Democrats at the party’s national convention, a day after being chosen as their candidate for the White House.

Mr Obama, the first African-American to be nominated for president by a major US party, will formally accept his historic candidacy in Denver, Colorado.

On Wednesday, he was resoundingly endorsed by ex-President Bill Clinton.

Mr Obama’s speech comes on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a dream” address.

The Illinois senator has won over many critics, analysts say, and is aiming to consolidate his standing within his party.

Hours before her husband publicly gave Mr Obama his unequivocal backing at the convention, in a moment of high drama his defeated rival Hillary Clinton cut short a roll-call vote to endorse Mr Obama’s candidacy by acclamation.

Coronation grandeur

Former Vice-President Al Gore is also due to speak on Thursday, along with Democratic National Committee Chairman Governor Howard Dean, but the focus will be on Mr Obama.

His much-anticipated speech, scheduled for 2015 (0215 GMT), will be the highlight of the party’s carefully choreographed four-day convention.

It is likely to have all the pomp and grandeur of a coronation.

It is only four years since the would-be president gave a headline-making speech at the previous Democratic Convention.

Questions remain as to whether Mr Obama can cement his standing within his own party, and reach out to those parts of the electorate that are yet to be convinced by him, our correspondent notes.

‘New approach’

Mr Obama made a surprise appearance on stage on Wednesday after his running mate, Senator Joe Biden, accepted his own nomination for vice-president in a speech that was sharply critical of the Republican candidate, John McCain.

Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States
Former President Bill Clinton

“We want to open up this convention to make sure that everybody who wants to come can join in the party, and join in the effort to take America back,” he said.

Mr Biden stressed the need for a new approach to help Americans struggling to make ends meet and to change US foreign policy in the rest of the world.

The 65-year-old foreign policy expert was chosen as vice-presidential candidate by 47-year-old Mr Obama partly on account of his experience.

Clinton factor

In an address that was bound to be closely scrutinized for signs of discord, Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, struck a firmly conciliatory note and stressed that he believed Mr Obama was ready to be president.

He said he was proud of his wife, Hillary – who had battled Mr Obama for the Democratic nomination – but that her supporters should now back Mr Obama.

Justin Webb
It was stunning – a moment of brilliantly produced political theatre and a moment to cherish forever
BBC North America editor Justin Webb, on the Obama nomination

“Barack Obama is ready to honour the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” said Mr Clinton. “Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States.”

In American political parlance Mr Clinton “delivered”, and may now find himself playing a higher-profile role in the campaign to come.

Earlier, Mrs Clinton had halted a roll call vote – in which each state, in alphabetical order, declares how many votes were cast for each candidate in the primaries – to call for Mr Obama’s nomination by acclamation.

In a powerful show of unity, she said: “Let’s declare together in one voice, right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate.”

The presidential election on 4 November will pit Mr Obama against Mr McCain, who will be nominated next week at his party’s convention in Minneapolis-St Paul.

The Republican senator has said he has chosen his vice-presidential candidate, and US media reports the running partners will appear together at a 10,000-strong rally in the swing state of Ohio on Friday.

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 23, 2008

Obama picks Biden as running-mate

Obama picks Biden as running-mate

File image of John McCain with Barack Obama, August 2007

Mr Obama could benefit from Biden’s foreign policy clout, analysts say

US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has announced that Joe Biden will be his running mate in November’s election.

Mr Obama’s choice, confirmed on his website, comes ahead of next week’s Democratic Party convention.

Mr Biden, a 65-year-old veteran lawmaker, has over three decades of Senate experience and is highly respected on foreign policy issues.

Republican contender John McCain could announce his choice next week.

Speculation is mounting that Senator McCain may name his running mate on 29 August, his 72nd birthday and a day after the Democrats wrap up their convention.

‘Impressive record’

The announcement came shortly after several US media networks began reporting that Mr Biden had been chosen.

“Barack has chosen Joe Biden to be his running mate,” a brief statement on Mr Obama’s campaign website said.

Senator Joe Biden (file image)

“Joe Biden brings extensive foreign policy experience, an impressive record of collaborating across party lines, and a direct approach to getting the job done,” it said.

The two men are expected to appear together at a rally in Springfield, Illinois, later in the day.

Mr Biden has represented the state of Delaware in the US Senate since 1972.

He is known as a strong orator and chairs the Foreign Relations Committee – something analysts say would balance Mr Obama’s self-confessed lack of foreign policy experience.

The son of a car salesman, he is also expected to appeal to the blue collar workers with whom Mr Obama has struggled to connect.

OFFICE OF THE VICE-PRESIDENT
Second-highest executive officer in the United States
Assumes the top role if the president cannot continue in office
One of four statutory members of the National Security Council

The senator ran against Mr Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination but dropped out after failing to gain enough support.

The McCain camp called the choice of Mr Biden an admission by Barack Obama that he was not ready to be president.

“Biden has denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgement and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realising – that Barack Obama is not ready to be president,” McCain campaign spokesman Ben Porritt said in a statement.

John McCain has reportedly not yet settled on a running mate.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are reported to be under serious consideration for the role.

August 22, 2008

Obama set to reveal running-mate

Obama set to reveal running-mate

Barack Obama on the campaign trail on 21 August in Chester, Virginia

Speculation has been rife about who will share Mr Obama’s platform

US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is expected to reveal his choice of vice-presidential running mate within hours.

He has told journalists he has made his decision, which will be revealed by text message to the party’s senators and supporters, and journalists.

Democrats gather for their party convention in Denver on Monday.

Mr Obama and his running mate are set to make their first campaign appearance together in Illinois, on Saturday.

“I’ve made the selection, that’s all you’re gonna get,” Mr Obama told reporters while campaigning in Virginia on Thursday.

Text alert

In an interview with USA Today newspaper, the Illinois senator said he had selected a running mate who was independent and would challenge him in the White House.

JUSTIN WEBB’S AMERICA
Hang on, I think that’s a text coming in

He added that he had opted for someone who would help him strengthen the economy, and was also ready to act as president.

But Mr Obama gave no clue as to whether he had notified his preferred running mate yet.

It is possible the Obama camp might keep the name of the vice-presidential selection a secret until just before the appearance in Springfield on Saturday but, realistically, that seems unlikely, says the BBC’s North America editor, Justin Webb.

The expectation is that during the course of Friday a text message will be received by those who have signed up for it, revealing the name.

Surprise in store?

The conventional wisdom is that vice-presidential candidates do not swing elections, our editor reports.

John McCain, file pic

But Mr Obama’s choice is interesting because it will reveal a little more about the style of the man and how willing he is to be adventurous.

Most commentators believe he will play it safe, opting for a governor, perhaps Tim Kaine of Virginia, or a political veteran like Senator Joe Biden.

Some Democrats are hoping he has a surprise up his sleeve – a Hillary Clinton or an Al Gore.

Mr Obama’s rival, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, has reportedly not settled on a running mate.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are reported to be under serious consideration for the role.

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.

August 9, 2008

Clinton says she wants Obama to win White House

Clinton says she wants Obama to win White House

LAS VEGAS – Hillary Rodham Clinton told an exuberant crowd Friday she wants Barack Obama to win the White House, even though he dashed her own presidential dreams — and she wants her supporters to vote that way, too.

“Anyone who voted for me or caucused for me has so much more in common with Sen. Obama than Sen. McCain,” Clinton told her cheering audience in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. “Remember who we were fighting for in my campaign.”

Though she has endorsed her former rival, the speech was Clinton’s first appearance at a rally for Obama since the two appeared together in Unity, N.H., in June.

In another sign of growing detente between the House of Clinton and the House of Obama, Democrats said Bill Clinton would speak on the third night of this month’s national convention in Denver.

The Clinton’s’ efforts on Obama’s behalf may ease worries within the party that bad feelings from the long primary battle might erupt at the convention.

She said Friday that “we may have started on two separate paths, but we are on one journey now.” She said her long primary campaign against the Illinois senator showed her “his passion, his determination, his grace and his grit.”

The crowd let her know they still held her in high regard. They cheered Obama’s name and waved his campaign signs, but no mention of him won as loud a roar as Clinton’s introduction.

Still, she kept her focus on making his case, mentioning key Democratic issues where Obama and McCain would differ — U.S. Supreme Court nominations and health care reform, for example.

She noted Democrats have had difficultly reaching the White House recently and said Obama would need a surge in turnout — and registration — to win in November.

“Which is why Sen. Obama needs all of us, he needs us working for him,” she said.

Some of her backers have complained loudly about the way the only female candidate was treated during the primaries. And Clinton supporters have succeeded in getting language into the draft of the Democratic Party platform that says, “We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.”

The platform committee will be reviewing the draft Saturday in Pittsburgh.

After weeks of private talks about exactly what the Clintons will do at the national convention, no decision has been reached on whether delegates will actually hold a roll call vote that includes her candidacy.

Such a move could disrupt or distract from the point of the convention — showing a unified party raring to return a Democrat to the White House.

On the other hand, she has suggested that letting her supporters whoop and holler for her might provide a catharsis and help the party move on.

“It’s as old as, you know, Greek drama,” Sen. Clinton told supporters in a recent speech to a private gathering, which was later posted on the Web.

In this particular drama, the Clinton’s insist they are doing everything they can to get her supporters on board with Obama. Any reluctance, she says, is not hers, but comes from those who committed to her historic bid and are still unhappy that she did not prevail.

Clinton did not mention any convention disputes in her remarks Friday. She later told reporters the two campaigns were still in negotiations.

“We’re going to have a very clear message about how the campaign will cooperate and how the convention will be conducted when it’s appropriate to make that announcement,” she said.

Clinton and Obama may be on the same team, but in the past week they seemed to be running in different directions.

In political terms, one candidate’s catharsis is another’s car wreck. Conventions at which the party appears divided can prove disastrous to the nominee’s chances in the general election.

Obama told reporters Thursday he thought the negotiations with Clinton aides had gone “seamlessly,” but he also rejected the notion that there might be a need for emotional release on the part of some Democrats.

“I don’t think we’re looking for catharsis,” said Obama. “I think what we’re looking for is energy and excitement.”

Giving both Clintons big speeches at the convention may help generate excitement, but it also gives them a lot of attention at a gathering that’s supposed to be about the nominee, Obama.

And Bill Clinton in particular has at times seemed grudging in his praise of the man who stopped his wife’s able ascent.

Asked earlier this week if Obama was ready to be president, Clinton gave a philosophical, not political answer.

“You could argue that no one’s ever ready to be president. I mean, I certainly learned a lot about the job in the first year. You could argue that even if you’ve been vice president for eight years that no one can ever be fully ready for the pressures of the office and that everyone learns something, and something different. You could argue that,” Clinton said.

The Clinton’s argued through much of the primary that she, a former first lady, was ready to be president on “Day One,” suggesting Obama was not.

The Obama campaign is pretty tired of that argument, particularly since it has become a key refrain of Republican John McCain.

August 5, 2008

Clinton wants Aids funding boost

Former US President Bill Clinton has called for an increase in funding to keep down the cost of drugs for people with HIV.

Courtesy BBC

Mr Clinton told a world Aids conference in Mexico that a 50% rise was needed in the next two years just to keep pace with expanding drug programme.

Figures released ahead of the meeting show the number of people with HIV worldwide has decreased slightly.

However, infection rates are still rising in some countries.

Across the world 33 million people are affected by the syndrome.

“Aids is a very big dragon. The mythological dragon was slain by Saint George, the original knight in shining armour, but this dragon must be slain by millions and millions of foot soldiers,” Mr Clinton told the conference.

A crowd of demonstrators holding banners calling for housing for people with HIV walked in front of the podium during his speech.

Mr Clinton used the moment to talk about how rising oil, food prices and the mortgage crisis had made the lives of people with HIV even more difficult.

There was “no silver bullet” to rid the world of the disease, he said.

“We know there is so much yet to be done: to expand prevention, treatment and care, to strengthen undeveloped health systems,” he added.

Universal access

The six-day conference was preceded by an awareness march, a photo exhibition and other events.

About 20,000 scientists, government officials and campaigners are in Mexico City for the event.

Funding, access to treatment, improving prevention against HIV and social issues such as stigma and violence against women are all on the agenda.

However delegates are not expecting any breakthrough announcement concerning new drugs or the search for a preventative vaccine.

The UN General Assembly and the Group of Eight (G8) have set the goal of achieving universal access to treatment and therapy by 2010.

Since Aids first became widely known, a quarter of a century ago, 25 million people have died.

In one positive development, US President George W Bush recently won backing to triple US spending on combating the syndrome.

But in some countries like Russia and China, and even Germany and the UK, the rates of infection are rising, the BBC’s Duncan Kennedy reports from Mexico City.

In the US, better detection methods have just shown the figures there have been underestimated by about 30%.

And in Africa, home to 70% of cases, access to the right drugs is improving but there are not enough health care workers to administer them.

There are concerns too about the human rights of sufferers who are often too scared to seek treatment.

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