News & Current Affairs

October 11, 2008

Palin abused power, probe finds

Palin abused power, probe finds

Todd and Sarah Palin in Anchorage, Alaska (file image, 2006)

The report said a family grudge was a likely factor in the dismissal

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is guilty of abuse of power, according to a probe by the state legislature.

The Republican vice-presidential candidate was accused of sacking a senior state official, Walter Monegan, in connection with a family feud.

But the McCain-Palin campaign team said that the report showed Mrs Palin acted within “proper and lawful authority”.

The report could have a significant effect on Republican hopes of winning next month’s US presidential election.

Mrs Palin has always denied any wrongdoing, and her supporters say the charges are motivated by her political opponents.

She stood accused of dismissing Mr Monegan for refusing to sack a state trooper who was in a bitter custody battle with her sister.

The report concluded a family grudge was not the sole reason for the dismissal, but was a likely contributing factor.

However, the report said that the actual sacking of Mr Monegan was not beyond Mrs Palin’s legal powers.

Speaking after a bipartisan investigating panel reached its decision on what has become known as Troopergate, Mr Monegan said he felt “vindicated”.

“It sounds like they’ve validated my belief and opinions,” he said. “And that tells me I’m not totally out in left field.”

Ethical violation

The panel found Mrs Palin in violation of a state ethics law prohibiting public officials from using their office for personal gain.

I would encourage people to be very cautious, to look at [the report] with a jaundiced eye
Gary Stevens
Republican state senator

“I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110 (a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act,” investigator Steve Branchflower concluded in the panel’s 263-page report.

Legislators do not have the power to take formal legal action against the governor; that would be up to Alaska’s Personnel Board.

If the Board decides Mrs Palin violated state law, the case will be referred to the president of the state Senate.

Mrs Palin’s lawyer said that the report had not been conclusive.

“In order to violate the ethics law, there has to be some personal gain,” said Thomas Van Flein.

“Mr Branchflower has failed to identify any financial gain.”

And Alaskan state Senator Gary Stevens, a Republican, said there were “some problems” with the finding.

Palin supporter in Anchorage

Palin’s supporters say the probe was politically motivated

“I would encourage people to be very cautious, to look at this with a jaundiced eye,” said Senator Stevens, after the report’s release was announced.

Several Republican politicians had earlier attempted to have the investigation stopped on the grounds that it was politically motivated.

The investigation into the affair began before Mr McCain selected Mrs Palin as his running mate in August.

The US presidential race has now become so polarised both Republicans and Democrats will likely see the report’s findings as vindication for their own trenchant views about Mrs Palin.

Alaska’s governor will either be seen as the victim of a Democratic party hatchet job, or a hypocrite.

Most voters, for now at least, seem more concerned about who will extract them from the current economic crisis, than any questions about political infighting in far-off Alaska, our correspondent adds.

Violent trooper?

Mrs Palin maintains she fired Mr Monegan in July over a budgetary dispute.

But Mr Monegan said he was dismissed for resisting pressure from Mrs Palin and her husband, Todd, to fire State Trooper Mike Wooten, Mrs Palin’s former brother-in-law.

Mr Monegan said he simply wanted the truth to be made known.

Sarah Palin campaigns in Golden, Colorado, 15 Sept

Sarah Palin has denied any wrongdoing over the affair

“The governor did want me to fire [Mr Wooten], and I chose to not,” he told the Associated Press news agency.

“He didn’t do anything under my watch to result in termination.”

Todd Palin has admitted he did publicise what he called the “injustice of a violent trooper keeping his badge”.

But he said his wife, who did not give evidence to the enquiry, then told him to drop the matter.

The McCain campaign on Thursday issued its own report, written by its staff, stating that the Alaska governor was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

“The following document will prove Walt Monegan’s dismissal was a result of his insubordination and budgetary clashes with Governor Palin and her administrators,” campaign officials wrote. “Trooper Wooten is a separate issue.”

The 21-page report suggests that the allegations against Mrs Palin stem from a conspiracy planned by a former campaign opponent of hers, Andrew Halcro, and Mr Wooten.

“It is tragic that a false story hatched by a blogger over drinks with Trooper Wooten led the legislature to allocate over $100,000 of public money to be spent in what has become a politically-driven investigation,” it concludes.

The McCain campaign says the inquiry has been muddied by innuendo, rumour and partisan politics.


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September 6, 2008

US rules out new economic package

US rules out new economic package

Worker rolls a spool of cloth at the Nice-Pak factory in New York state

Jobs are being lost in the service, business and manufacturing sectors

The United States government says it does not see an immediate need for new measures to stimulate the US economy despite a sharp rise in unemployment.

The latest figures show a rate of 6.1% – the highest since December 2003.

A White House spokeswoman said that while the figures were disappointing, the existing economic stimulus plan was having the impact intended.

A call for more action had been made by the Democratic Party presidential candidate, Barack Obama.

A higher-than-expected 84,000 jobs were lost last month, which together with the unemployment rate has added to concern about the US economy and its ability to stave off a recession.

In a further blow, the Labor Department revised upwards job loss figures for each of the past two months.

The Federal Reserve said earlier that economic activity remained “weak”.

A separate report by the Mortgage Bankers Association said that almost one in 10 US homeowners were behind with their mortgage payments or was in foreclosure procedures.

The 9.2% default rate between April and June was up from 8.8% in the previous quarter, and nearly double the rate one year ago.

‘Convincing evidence’

The number of jobs lost last month was significantly higher than the 75,000 forecast by economists.

All sectors of the economy were affected with manufacturing worst hit, shedding 61,000 jobs.

This is more convincing evidence that the economy is still in trouble
Gary Thayer, Wachovia Securities

The labor market has worsened noticeably in recent months, reflected by the fact that it is now apparent that more jobs were lost in June and July than was previously thought.

Revised figures show that in June, 100,000 jobs were lost while in July 60,000 jobs disappeared. This was up from the 51,000 figure initially forecast for both months.

“It seems unemployment in the US really is accelerating,” said the BBC’s North America business correspondent, Greg Wood.

“There do not seem to be many sectors of the US economy which are hiring.”

‘Clearly deteriorating’

In the first eight months of 2008, 605,000 jobs have been lost.

Employers have now reduced their payrolls for eight straight months, with the dramatic downturn in the housing market and the credit crunch hurting all sectors of the economy.

“This is more convincing evidence that the economy is still in trouble,” said Gary Thayer, senior economist at Wachovia Securities.

“The economy is clearly deteriorating.”

Political focus

Both candidates in November’s Presidential election are under pressure to come up with concrete proposals to help the growing number of people out of work and families battling against rising living costs.

Although the US economy grew a robust 3.3% in the second quarter, businesses are struggling to cope with the high cost of raw materials and energy, fragile consumer confidence and weaker export markets.

The Federal Reserve, which meets to decide on interest rates next week, has warned that the US is facing the twin threats of weak growth and rising inflation.

The bleak employment picture means the Fed is unlikely to raise rates in the foreseeable future while further cuts seem equally unlikely against a background of rising inflation.

“The jobs number is weak again but we think this probably is not the time to panic,” said Steve Goldman, strategist at Weeden & Co.


Have you recently been made unemployed in the US? Are you affected by the issues in this story? What are your experiences? Send us your comments

August 29, 2008

Obama launches historic campaign

Obama launches historic campaign

Barack Obama has accepted the Democratic Party’s historic nomination to run for president of the US in front of a crowd of some 75,000 people.

In an address at the party’s national convention in Denver, he promised he would do his best to keep alive the American dream of opportunity for all.

“America, we are better than these last eight years,” he told cheering crowds. “We are a better country than this.”

Mr Obama is the first African-American to be nominated by a major US party.

In his speech at Denver’s Invesco stadium, Mr Obama promised to reverse the economic downturn afflicting the US and restore the nation’s standing in the world.

I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom
Barack Obama

“We are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight years,” he said.

He also attacked the record of the Bush administration and his Republican rival for the presidency, John McCain.

“This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st Century, the American promise alive.”

Mr Obama criticized Mr McCain as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans and said he had failed to help them on issues such as the economy, health care and education.

He also stressed that he would call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, whereas Mr McCain stood “alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war”, he said.

“I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, who yearn for a better future,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people gathered to hear Mr Obama’s speech

He rejected criticism by the McCain campaign that he is a “celebrity”, pointing to his family’s past financial hardships, and said his rival should stop questioning his patriotism.

In a final rallying call, Mr Obama recalled the message of Martin Luther King, who – 45 years ago to the day – gave his “I have a dream” speech in his historic march on Washington.

“America, we cannot turn back,” he said. “We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to walk into the future.”

Joined on stage by his family and running-mate, Joe Biden, Mr Obama was given a standing ovation by the crowds.

‘Not ready’

Earlier in the day, Mr McCain ran a TV advert in which he congratulated Mr Obama on the historic nature – and date – of his nomination, saying it was “truly a good day for America”.

The political truce was short-lived, however, with a spokesman for the McCain campaign issuing a statement following Mr Obama’s address that dismissed his words as “misleading”.

Al Gore speaks at Invesco Field, Denver, 28 Aug
If you like the Bush-Cheney approach, John McCain’s your man. If you want change, then vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden
Former Vice-President Al Gore

“Tonight, Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meagre record of Barack Obama,” spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

“The fact remains, Barack Obama is still not ready to be president.”

The BBC’s Justin Webb in Denver says that this needed to be a serious speech by Mr Obama and it was.

One feature was that Mr Obama made frequent reference to the future, our correspondent says. The Obama camp knows that Americans are worried about Mr McCain’s age and ever so subtly they are making an allusion to it.

Martin Luther King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, had earlier told the convention that his father’s dream lived on in Mr Obama’s candidacy.

“He is in the hopes and dreams, the competence and courage, the rightness and readiness of Barack Obama.”

Former Vice-President Al Gore also called on the Democrats to “seize this opportunity for change” and elect Mr Obama.

Linking Mr McCain firmly to the policies of President George W Bush, Mr Gore said it was vital that Americans changed course if they wanted to tackle a “self-inflicted economic crisis”, protect the rights of every American and halt global warming.

Mr Gore added that the US was “facing a planetary emergency” and that the ties of Mr McCain and the Republicans to big oil firms meant they would not act to end the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

‘Open convention’

Mr Gore’s address, warmly received by the crowd, followed performances from singers Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow and John Legend.

The Obama campaign took the unusual move of holding the closing night speeches in the sports stadium to allow ordinary voters, as well as party delegates, to attend.

Justin Webb
His supporters and those sympathetic to him are breathing a sigh of relief
BBC North America editor Justin Webb, on the Obama nomination

Mr Obama’s much-anticipated appearance was the highlight of the party’s carefully choreographed four-day event.

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, the BBC’s Matthew Price in Denver notes.

He was resoundingly endorsed by ex-President Bill Clinton on Wednesday, which may help consolidate his standing.

Earlier that same day, 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, in a powerful gesture of unity.

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 St Paul, Minnesota.

Republican officials say Mr McCain has chosen his running-mate, but the person’s identity has not yet been announced.

Mr McCain is due to hold a 10,000-strong rally in the swing state of Ohio on Friday, at which it was expected he would present his vice-presidential candidate.

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 17, 2008

Belarus dissident leaves prison

Belarus dissident leaves prison

Alexander Kozulin. File photo

The EU and the US have pushed for Mr Kozulin’s release

The former Belarussian opposition leader Alexander Kozulin has left prison and is on his way home to Minsk, his daughter says.

It is not clear whether he has been freed permanently or only so he can attend his father-in-law’s funeral.

Mr Kozulin was jailed for five-and-a-half years in 2006 for staging protests against President Alexander Lukashenko.

Mr Lukashenko had defeated Mr Kozulin in an election that international

observers said was severely flawed.

Reports have suggested that Mr Kozulin may have been pardoned.

This month the Social Democratic party stripped Mr Kozulin of the leadership, replacing him with his long-standing rival Anatoly Lenkovich.

Last year he refused President Lukashenko’s offer to release him if he left the country.

He was allowed out briefly in February to attend his wife’s funeral, but only after a hunger strike that prompted the US and the European Union to push for his release.

Belarus is set for another parliamentary election next month which the president has promised will be free and fair.

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.

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.

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