News & Current Affairs

August 30, 2008

McCain unveils ‘The Barracuda’

McCain unveils ‘The Barracuda’

There were no late night text messages and perhaps not the same build up that preceded the announcement of Barack Obama’s choice for running mate.

John McCain and Sarah Palin (29 August 2008)

Mrs Palin has been credited with bringing in reforms in her time in office

But because it was kept a secret almost until the end, John McCain’s choice did generate a fair amount of rumor and speculation.

Was he going to pick a traditional candidate, a safe bet – someone like the young governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, or would the veteran Arizona senator go for the wild card?

The answer came on a private jet that flew in from the Alaskan city of Anchorage on Thursday night and landed outside Dayton, Ohio, apparently carrying on board a woman, two men and two teenagers.

All the journalists who were covering the story started looking up the biography of Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska.

‘Average hockey mom’

She may be seen by some as a rising star of the Republican Party, but she was relatively unknown on a national level.

As he took to the stage, in front of a packed audience, Mr McCain introduced her as “exactly who I need, exactly who this country needs to help me fight the same old Washington politics of me first and the country second”.

For observers, it showed Mr McCain felt he needed to make a bold move to help change the course of the race to the White House.

SARAH PALIN

Elected Alaska’s youngest and first woman governor in 2006

Grew up in Wasilla, near Anchorage, and was voted Miss Wasilla in 1984
Studied journalism and political science at University of Idaho
Is mother of five, including a son with Down’s syndrome
Her husband Todd is an oil production operator
Likes hunting and fishing

The two presidential hopefuls have been running head to head, with Mr Obama gaining eight percentage points in the polls in recent days.

The choice of Sarah Palin is a high risk bet that could bring high rewards, but there are no guarantees.

Mrs Palin, a mother of five, is the first woman to be on a Republican presidential ticket.

Married for 20 years to Todd Palin, her high school sweetheart, she was nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda” during her college years for her aggressive basketball playing style – the name has stuck.

On stage, dressed in a conservative black power suit, her hair raised in a high ponytail, she described herself as “an average hockey mom from Alaska”.

She drew applause when talking about her anti-corruption drive, her standing up to big oil companies and even the “good old boys club”, which drew a smile from Mr McCain.

She eats moose meat and is an inveterate hunter, a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

One of her sons is heading to Iraq in September. The other, born in April, is diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

‘Exciting choice’

In many ways, her story is all American and her values will appeal to the conservative base and to blue-collar voters.

With 80% approval ratings back home, she seemed to also get the approval of the crowd she was addressing, drawing very enthusiastic cheers, as she spoke in a relaxed, accessible way.

It turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all
Sarah Palin

Mrs Palin also ticks several required boxes – she is fiscally conservative, in favor of drilling for oil and very staunchly anti-abortion.

Most of all she is a reformer and a fresh face for the Republican ticket.

President George W Bush said she was “an exciting choice” and Mrs Palin certainly adds energy and sizzle to the McCain campaign.

She also clearly reached out to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, who are disappointed their candidate did not make it on to the Democratic ticket, not even as vice-president.

“I can’t begin this great effort without honoring the achievement of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and of course, Hillary Clinton, who showed determination in her presidential campaign,” Mrs Palin said.

“It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.”

The Democrats for McCain group sent out an e-mail saying its supporters, especially the women, were “ecstatic” about the choice of Mrs Palin.

But other Democrats said they felt insulted that Mr McCain thought he could woo women by just putting any woman on his ticket, with one sentence making the rounds: “Palin, you are no Hillary Clinton”.

Experience questioned

It all made for an exciting day in Dayton, a city of just over 150,000 that has been hard hit by job losses in the past few years.

But the whole of the US is probably now scouring the internet for more information about Governor Palin and trying to assess her credentials.

Sarah Palin visits troops in Kuwait (24 July 2007)
What is it exactly that a VP does every day?
Sarah Palin

Many will be wondering whether she is ready to be vice-president and even lead the US, should something happen to Mr McCain if he is elected president.

As commander of the Alaska National Guard, she visited troops in Kuwait last year, but has a very thin foreign policy background.

Similarly, while she does have executive experience, the Obama campaign wryly pointed out she had been the mayor of a town with just 9,000 people.

As governor of Alaska during the past two years she has gained more experience, but even some Alaskans calling into talk shows on US network television said they doubted whether that had prepared her for the challenge of national politics.

She did herself no favors in a recent interview.

“As for that VP talk all the time, I can’t answer until someone answers me. What is it exactly that a VP does every day?” she said just a month ago on CNBC when asked about her chances of being on the ticket.

“I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that this VP slot would be fruitful type of position especially for Alaskans and for the kind of things we are trying to accomplish here for the rest of the US.”

Investigation

By choosing her, Mr McCain may have undercut his best attack against Senator Obama – if he uses the inexperience card now it will be turned against him and his running mate.

While conservatives, such as radio host Rush Limbaugh and former Bush adviser Karl Rove, hailed the Palin surprise, there were also dismayed reactions from some Republicans, who felt the choice underscored Mr McCain’s weaknesses and was too risky.

Polls in the coming days, and Mrs Palin’s performance at the Republican National Convention, will help assess the impact of Mr McCain’s decision.

In the meantime, Mr McCain and his new partner have something else to worry about – Mrs Palin is facing an investigation in Alaska for alleged abuse of power involving her former brother-in-law. Her deposition is expected to be scheduled soon.

She says she has “nothing to hide” and is “cool” about the investigation.

August 24, 2008

Blast demolishes landmark towers

Two iconic concrete cooling towers in South Yorkshire have been demolished in a controlled explosion.

Millions of drivers passed the 250ft (76m) towers by the Tinsley viaduct on the M1 at Sheffield over the decades.

At 0300 BST the blast to reduce the “salt and pepper pots” to rubble left part of the north tower still standing but it has since collapsed.

The Highways Agency said the motorway remains closed as planned while safety checks are carried out.

How is a cooling tower demolished?

The blast was watched by several thousand people and the M1 motorway had to be closed from midnight on Saturday, between junctions 32 and 35. It is thought the motorway may reopen on Sunday afternoon.

The towers stood only feet away from the twin-deck Tinsley viaduct, which carries the motorway on the top deck and the A631 on its lower deck.

A joint statement from tower owner E.ON and the Highways Agency said: “The demolition has now been successfully completed.

“The viaduct remains closed and the exclusion zone remains in place as planned to allow safety checks to continue.”

Tinsley towers

Only part of the north tower fell initially

After the dust settled, about a third of the north tower was still standing but a BBC reporter at the scene said the pile of rubble left after the explosion gradually fell in on itself and reduced significantly in height.

Paul Scriven, leader of Sheffield City Council, said the focus was now on getting traffic moving.

“We need to get the M1 opened as soon as possible,” he said. “We have a Bank Holiday where people will be moving around the country, coming back home, going to see relatives or going to see places.”

Despite campaigns to save the towers, which were the only remnants of the Blackburn Meadows power station, E.ON said it was destroying them as the 70-year-old structures had deteriorated.

Emily Highmore, from E.ON, said preserving the towers would have been very expensive.

“They would require a very, very significant investment and fundamentally speaking we are an energy company and our job is to keep people’s lights on.”

Nowhere else in the world has anyone sought to bring down similar structures that sit so close to a major highway viaduct
Arthur Ashburner, Highways Agency

The firm has been given permission to build a £60m biomass power station at the site.

Arthur Ashburner, from the Highways Agency, said: “This demolition is a unique situation and as far as we are aware, nowhere else in the world has anyone sought to bring down similar structures that sit so close to a major highway viaduct.

“We will carry out a series of checks to ensure that there has been no damage to the viaduct, which in itself may take several hours.

“We will reopen the road only when we are entirely satisfied that it is safe to do so.”

Some locals had tried to save the cooling towers and have them turned into art.

Campaigner Tom Keeley said: “You see very few cooling towers that are in quite such a visible position, they’re 12 metres from the M1, and they kind of symbolise not only a gateway to Sheffield and Yorkshire but they also symbolise a gateway to the North.”


Were you at the blast? Has the failed demolition affected your journey on the M1? Send us your comments

August 5, 2008

Morgan Freeman hurt in car crash

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is in hospital after being injured in a car accident near his Mississippi home.

The 71-year-old Dark Knight star is in a serious condition, according to staff at Memphis’s Regional Medical Center.

The accident happened shortly before midnight on Sunday outside Charleston in the Mississippi Delta.

A Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman told the that Mr Freeman’s car left the road and “began to flip several times” before landing in a ditch.

Mr Freeman – who had been driving the car – and a female passenger were airlifted to the Memphis hospital, about 145km (90 miles) north of where the accident occurred in Tallahatchie County.

Talking at the scene

Both the actor and the woman, Demaris Meyer of Memphis, had been wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident, said Sergeant Ben Williams.

“There’s no indication that either alcohol or drugs were involved,” he added.

Mr Freeman was conscious and talking at the scene, he said, but the extent of his injuries was unclear.

There were “no other vehicles or pedestrians involved”, he said.

An investigation into the accident is currently under way.

Clay McFerrin, editor of local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel, told the Associated Press news agency he had been at the scene on Mississippi Highway 32, not far from where Mr Freeman owns a home with his wife.

“He was lucid, conscious,” Mr McFerrin said. “He was talking, joking with some of the rescue workers at one point.”

When one person tried to take a photo with a mobile phone, Mr Freeman joked, “no freebies, no freebies,” Mr McFerrin said.

FREEMAN FACTS
Born 1 June 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee
He spent several years in the US Air Force as a mechanic
Freeman started acting in the 1960s, appearing a couple of off-Broadway shows
His first credited film appearance was in 1971’s Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!
Freeman starred in some of the biggest films of the 1990s, including The Shawshank Redemption, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Se7en, and Deep Impact
He won an Oscar in 2005 for the film Million Dollar Baby
Freeman plays Lucius Fox in this summer’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight (pictured)

Mechanic

Morgan Freeman is one of Hollywood’s best loved and busiest actors.

Mr Freeman won a best supporting actor Oscar for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

He has twice been nominated in the leading actor category – for The Shawshank Redemption in 1995 and Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.

Last year it was announced the actor would play former South African president Nelson Mandela in forthcoming film The Human Factor.

His first credited film appearance was in the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!

Prior to that, he had worked as a mechanic in the US Air Force.

His film appearances include Se7en, Unforgiven and the rebooted Batman franchise.

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