News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”

Contradictions

Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”

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July 16, 2009

Jackson’s ex-wife denies pay-off

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:28 pm

Jackson’s ex-wife denies pay-off

Michael jackson and Debbie Rowe

Rowe was married to Michael Jackson from 1996 to 1999

Michael Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe has denied reports she was paid by the singer to give up parental rights to their two children.

The New York Post reported that Rowe agreed to take about $4m (£2.4m) to give up her rights to children Prince Michael Jr, 12, and Paris, 11.

In a letter to the newspaper, her lawyer Eric George called the claims “blatant falsehoods”.

New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan said the paper “stands by its story”.

That was despite Mr George asking the newspaper to publish an immediate retraction.

‘Reckless’

The lawyer said Ms Rowe, who was married to Jackson from 1996 to 1999, “has not and will not” give up her parental rights and the claim was “unequivocally false”.

Jatherine Jackson

Katherine Jackson has temporary guardianship of her grandchildren

He said the story had been “concocted with reckless disregard for the truth”, adding that Ms Rowe had also not taken, and would not accept, any additional money beyond the spousal support she had agreed with the singer years ago.

Mr George said that, following Jackson’s death, “no determination has been reached concerning custody or visitation”.

Jackson’s mother, Katherine, was granted temporary guardianship of her son’s three children on 29 June.

A custody hearing on the three is set for next Monday.

The surrogate mother of Jackson’s youngest child, seven-year-old Prince Michael II, has never been identified.

In a 2002 will signed by Jackson, he said he had “intentionally omitted” to provide for Ms Rowe.

She gave up custody rights to the children but sought them again in 2003.

They agreed a settlement in 2006 but the terms were never disclosed.

Intervention

Meanwhile, sales of Jackson’s music have continued to rocket in the US.

Early figures show the singer’s catalogue of solo albums sold 1.1 million copies in the past week.

It brings the total number of Jackson album sales in the US to more than 2.3 million in two-and-a-half weeks.

Meanwhile, Tito Jackson has said he and his brothers and sisters confronted the star over claims he was addicted to prescription drugs.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror, he said: “We had to act – it was me, my sisters Janet, Rebbie and La Toya and my brothers Jackie and Randy.

“We kept asking him if it was true.”

He added: “He kept denying it. He said we were over-reacting. We talked about it again and again for hours but we just couldn’t get through to him.”

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Los Angeles coroner said results of Jackson’s autopsy would not be released “this week or next” while final work on the case was carried out.

April 4, 2009

Gunman kills 13 in New York siege

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:03 am

Gunman kills 13 in New York siege

A gunman has killed 13 people after taking dozens hostage in the US state of New York.

The suspected gunman was later found dead inside the immigration centre in Binghamton, police officials said.

Nearly 40 people escaped from the building but four were critically injured in the shooting, north-west of New York City, police said.

President Barack Obama, in Europe for a Nato summit, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the “senseless violence”.

Mr Obama said his administration was “actively monitoring the situation” and that Vice-President Joe Biden was in touch with officials in Binghamton.

The town’s police chief, Joseph Zikuski, told a news conference that 14 people had been found dead in the American Civic Association (ACA) buildings.

The man believed to have carried out the attack was found dead with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, he said. Ammunition, two more hand guns and a hunting knife were recovered from the scene.

Democratic Congressman Maurice Hinchey told AP the gunman had entered a room where people were sitting exams for US citizenship.

“It was in the middle of a test. He just went in and opened fire,” said Mr Hinchey, whose congressional district includes Binghamton.

The BBC’s Matthew Price in Binghamton says people in the town are struggling to deal with the horror of what some have described as an “unbelievable” attack.

Wounded

Witnesses reported seeing a man entering the ACA building during the morning. He was described as being of Asian appearance, in his 20s, and wearing a bright green nylon jacket and dark-rimmed glasses.

The gunman, believed to have been a Vietnamese-American, used his car to barricade the building’s back door before bursting in the front door, firing his weapon, said officials.

Jon Donnison, BBC News, Binghamton
Binghamton is the latest American town trying to come to terms with a mass shooting. Last week it was Carthage, North Carolina. The week before Samson, Alabama.

With the red and blue lights of police cars flashing through the drizzle, smokers huddle in doorways on Main Street. There is only one topic of conversation. “It’s a very good area, I would never think that it would happen here,” said Martine Youmans.

The words and the scenes are increasingly familiar for Americans. On local talk radio stations the chatter has already turned to gun law, still as divisive an issue as ever. One caller’s plea: “Don’t let them take away our guns.”

He shot two receptionists, one of whom managed to call the police, before walking down a corridor towards classrooms.

Police were on the scene in minutes – people in nearby apartments, a school and a care home were told to stay in their buildings and some streets were sealed off.

Mr Zikuski said 26 people took refuge in the building’s basement after hearing gunshots.

Eyewitnesses described seeing some people fleeing the building.

“About 15 or so employees of the Civic Association came out crying with their hands behind their heads,” one witness told Binghamton’s WNBF Radio.

“They were escorted by the police and they took them to ambulances and took them away,” he said.

Two other people were seen being led away by police in plastic handcuffs during the incident but officials later said they were not suspects.

Police later raided the home of the suspected gunman and removed items including computer hard drives and a rifle bag, reports said.

‘Profound outrage’

Local hospitals have said about 30 people are being treated.

A spokeswoman for Our Lady of Lourdes hospital told the BBC several people had been admitted with serious injuries.

The governor of New York state, David Paterson, said it had been “a tragic day for New York”.

“This is a horrible situation. There’s actually no reason or excuse for this kind of shooting and brutal attack on innocent people right here in New York state,” he said.

Mr Paterson told a news conference there was “a profound sense of outrage at this senseless act of violence in which many innocent people were killed, injured and probably traumatised for some time to come”.

He said many of the victims were not from the US and police were in the process of contacting their families living abroad.

New York State would offer any assistance to the victims, who had “wanted to be part of the American dream and so tragically may have had that hope thwarted today”, said Mr Paterson.

“There still is an American dream and all of us who are Americans will try to heal this very, very deep wound in the city of Binghamton.”

Our correspondent said police were picking through evidence in the building trying to determine what had happened and why.

Bob Joseph of WNBF Radio told the town had never experienced an incident on such a scale before.

The ACA says on its website that it assists immigrants and refugees with personal and immigration counselling.

Map

December 30, 2008

Caroline Kennedy fails to impress

Caroline Kennedy fails to impress

Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy wants to become a New York senator

Caroline Kennedy’s latest attempt to press her case to be the replacement for Hillary Clinton as a senator for New York has been widely criticised in the US media.

Ms Kennedy – daughter of former President John F Kennedy – broke weeks of silence on her bid, by giving a series of interviews at the weekend.

But she was criticized for being unknowledgeable on key policy areas, being unable to articulate why she was seeking public office for the first time – and even for possessing a verbal tic.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Under the headline “Caroline Kennedy no whiz with words”, the New York Daily News mimicked Ms Kennedy’s speech pattern during the round of interviews.

“Caroline Kennedy, you know, might need, you know, a speech coach, um, if she, you know, wants, um, to be a senator,” the paper said.

Totting up the number of “verbal tics” during its 30-minute interview, the paper counted “you know” more than 200 times… and added that “‘um’ was fairly constant, too”.

Asked if President George W Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy should be repealed immediately, Ms Kennedy replied: “Well, you know, that’s something, obviously, that, you know, in principle and in the campaign, you know, I think that, um, the tax cuts, you know, were expiring and needed to be repealed,” the paper reported.

It consulted experts to give their opinion on her speaking manner. One said it was not necessarily an indication of weakness or doubt, just inexperience. Another advised her to get coaching, to pause more often, and “to listen to her father”.

Columnist Michael Goodwin wrote: “The wheels of the bandwagon are coming off. Fantasy is giving way to inescapable truth. That truth is that Kennedy is not ready for the job and doesn’t deserve it. Somebody who loves her should tell her.”

NEW YORK POST

The New York Post also counted up the number of times Ms Kennedy said “you know” during its interview – 235 times in 41 minutes – “which works out to saying the phrase once every 10.5 seconds,” it said.

The speech expert it consulted described it as a “very, very common” verbal tic called a “vocalized pause,” and said it was a “Kennedyism” as demonstrated by her uncle.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press said “Kennedy offered no excuses for why she failed to vote in a number of elections since registering in New York City in 1988”.

“I was really surprised and dismayed by my voting record,” she told AP. “I’m glad it’s been brought to my attention.”

AP reported that “since word of her interest leaked out in early December, Kennedy has faced sometimes sharp criticism that she cut in line ahead of politicians with more experience and has acted as if she were entitled to it because of her political lineage”.

In response, Ms Kennedy said: “Anybody who knows me knows I haven’t really lived that way. And I think that in my family, I come into this thinking I have to work twice as hard as anybody else. Nobody’s entitled to anything, certainly not me.”

NEW YORK TIMES

“[Ms Kennedy] still seemed less like a candidate than an idea of one: forceful but vague, largely undefined and seemingly determined to remain that way,” the paper said.

“She provided only the broadest of rationales for her candidacy for the Senate, saying her experience as a mother, author and school fund-raiser, her commitment to public service and her deep political connections had prepared her for the job.”

The Times said Ms Kennedy spoke “knowledgeably about education issues”.

But the paper added: “… She said she hoped to be a consensus-builder, and declined to describe her positions on other pressing public issues – even in education, where she has some expertise. Ms. Kennedy would not say, for example, whether she supported proposals to abolish tenure for teachers and offer them merit pay instead.”

Ms Kennedy “seemed irritated” when asked to describe the moment she decided to seek the Senate seat. She said “she couldn’t recall”, the article said.

“Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?” she asked the Times reporters. “I thought you were the crack political team.”

HUFFINGTON POST

Huffington Post writer Diane Tucker gave her take on the emphasis other media were placing on Ms Kennedy’s speech patterns.

“The real reason her interview is riddled with ‘you knows’ is because she mocked the two Times reporters halfway through the interview.

“Rookie mistake, Caroline! You gotta play nice in the media sandbox. Good manners are important. …No one ever says ‘you know’ in my interviews for HuffPost. We edit that garbage out. I’m sure Kennedy won’t make that mistake twice. After all, she went to Harvard.”

Tucker adds: “We Americans are a kind-hearted people, and we have always felt deeply sorry for her loss. Couldn’t we make it up to Kennedy by gifting her a Senate seat? Wouldn’t that be nice?

“Never mind that she’s made it perfectly clear over the years that she really isn’t into politics. Never mind that there are hundreds of New Yorkers with more experience. If Prince Charles is entitled to be King, then by golly Caroline Kennedy is entitled to be Senator.”

SALON

Salon’s Joan Walsh writes: “Overall, [Kennedy] was slippery, and regrettably, because I admire her, I came away with the feeling that she views her single best credential for the Senate seat as her celebrity, and, secondarily, her wealth.”

Regarding Ms Kennedy’s comment to the New York Times journalists about writing for women’s magazines, Walsh wrote: “I’ve written for women’s magazines, and I can anticipate people who might object to that remark as condescending, but I thought it was smart and funny: it captured the traditional media’s growing infatuation with the telling sappy anecdote over important discussions of policy – even, sadly, at the New York Times.”

November 20, 2008

Asia markets follow US share drop

Asia markets follow US share drop

Man walking past share board

Concerns are increasing over the scale of the slowdown

Asian markets have plummeted after the Dow Jones share index in New York fell to its lowest level in five years, amid fears of a protracted global recession.

Japan’s Nikkei index ended 6.8% down and Hong Kong’s main index fell 5.5%.

Data showing Japan’s exports to Asia dropped in October for the first time since 2002 added to fears over the scale of the economic downturn.

On Wednesday, Wall Street shares fell 5% after the US central bank slashed its economic growth forecasts for 2009.

‘No positives’

Japan and other Asian nations are heavily reliant on exports.

Sales to other Asia nations have helped to limit the impact for Japanese exporting firms suffering from lower demand from the US and Europe.

But exports to Asia fell 4% last month from a year earlier, showing the extent of the global slowdown.

Several East Asian countries – including Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong – are already in recession and the thought that the US may be about to join them has been enough to send shares tumbling across the region.

Man walks past an electronic share price board in Toyko, Japan, 20 November 2008

Share prices in Tokyo and elsewhere slumped

Bad news from the US worries Japanese firms like Toyota and Nintendo which usually depend on American consumers to make a lot of their profit, our correspondent adds.

“We’ve gone past the poor sentiment stage,” Miles Remington, head of Asian sales trading at BNP Paribas Securities in Hong Kong, told the Associated Press news agency.

“People are looking for any kind of positive and there are just no positives out there. Everyone seems to be united in the depressed global outlook. Whether it’s commodities or equities, everything seems to be on a downturn.”

US slowdown

On Wednesday, the US Federal Reserve said the country’s gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services – could be flat or grow only marginally this year, and might shrink in 2009.

It said positive economic growth was only likely to return in 2010 and predicted further interest rate cuts might be necessary.

Month-on-month US consumer prices fell by 1% in October – the biggest drop in 60 years – which has reinforced fears of rapid slowdown.

Car problems

Carmakers were among the biggest fallers as the Dow Jones average closed down 427 points at 7,997 on Wednesday – dropping below the 8,000-level for the first time since 2003.

GM shares were down 15% at a 66-year low, while rival Ford slumped to a 26-year low.

Prospects for an industry bail-out remain uncertain and politicians have been arguing over a compromise deal.

Chief executives from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler say the firms could collapse unless they receive aid fast – which could lead to millions of job losses across the US.

But the automakers have faced fierce questions on Capitol Hill about their request for a $25bn (£16.6bn) bail-out deal.

Investors are concerned about how a possible bankruptcy among US carmakers could further hurt an already fragile economy.


What is your reaction to the stock market losses? Have you been affected by the downturn? You can send us your experiences

November 12, 2008

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

Congolese government soldiers pass displaced people as they return from the front near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

Congolese troops have faced fresh allegations of abuses

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a fresh plea for 3,000 more peacekeepers to be sent to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In New York, Mr Ban also called for a ceasefire so aid workers could urgently help “at least 100,000 refugees” cut off in rebel-held areas near Goma.

A 17,000-strong UN force in Congo has been unable to stop the fighting or halt the rebel advance.

The UN Security Council is considering the call for reinforcements.

The UN head of UN peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy, said there were currently only 10 UN soldiers for every 10,000 inhabitants in eastern DR Congo.

Rebel administration

He said this was not enough to protect the population from violence perpetrated by rebel groups and the Congolese army.

A displaced woman next to a UN armoured vehicle near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

The UN presence in DR Congo is its largest mission in the world

Recent fighting between government and rebel troops has displaced a quarter of a million people in the strife-torn region around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Earlier, the rebel Congolese general, Laurent Nkunda, said he had formed an alternative administration in the area of eastern Congo that he controls.

In what observers say is his latest direct challenge to the central government, 12 ministers will take responsibility for a range of functions including police and security.

The move appears to be pure propaganda.

‘Looting and raping’

Our correspondent says it may annoy the government but is likely to be insignificant unless the rebels follow it up with further military action.

Displaced people tap into a supply of water aid nearby the Nyiragongo volcano in Kibati

Meanwhile government troops have faced fresh accusations that they have been ransacking villages and raping civilians.

UN spokesman Lt-Col Jean Paul Dietrich said looting began around Kanyabayonga, 100 km (60 miles) north of Goma, on Monday afternoon and continued through the night.

He said UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army had been trying to intervene.

Rebel leader Gen Nkunda claims to be fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels, who fled to DR Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

On Monday, he threatened to take over the whole country if President Joseph Kabila’s government continued in its refusal to negotiate with him.

FORCES AROUND GOMA
CNDP: Gen Nkunda’s Tutsi rebels – 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus – 6,000-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia – 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers – 1,000 in Goma, 6,000 in North Kivu (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army – 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts

But a Congolese official said the government was still unwilling to talk to the rebel leader and accused him of war crimes.

The UN has accused both sides of war crimes during the latest violence.

Mr Kabila was elected president in 2006 in polls that were backed by the UN, and which international observers generally declared to be fair.

As in the four-year war that began in DR Congo in 1998, the recent fighting has threatened to draw in neighbouring countries.

Map of eastern DR Congo


What is your reaction to the situation in Congo? Can this region ever find peace? Tell us your thoughts

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.

October 3, 2008

House set for fresh bail-out vote

House set for fresh bail-out vote

Pedestrians outside the New York Stock Exchange on Wall St (02/10/2008)

President Bush has said the bill is the best chance of rescuing the economy

The US House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a $700bn (£380bn) plan to rescue the US financial sector.

Party leaders are hoping the House, which stunned global markets by rejecting the initial plan, will follow the Senate and back a new version.

The House began debating the deal on Friday morning and is expected to vote later in the day.

The Senate bill added about $100bn in new tax breaks in the hope of gaining more support from House Republicans.

The New York stock exchange opened shortly after the debate began and the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped more than 100 points in early trading.

But earlier in Japan, shares fell to a three-year low. The Nikkei index closed down more than 1.9%, its lowest level since May 2005.

In Europe, shares were relatively flat. In early afternoon trading the UK’s FTSE 100 was down just 18 points, France’s Cac 40 was down nine and Germany’s Dax up seven.

The financial volatility continued on Friday as US bank Wells Fargo announced it would buy troubled rival Wachovia in a $15.1bn (£8.5bn) deal.

The US also reported its biggest monthly job loss in more than five years.

Bush plea

In Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, has said no vote will be scheduled until the party feels it will pass.

NEW MEASURES IN BAIL-OUT BILL
Increased protection for saving deposits
Increased child tax credits
More aid for hurricane victims
Tax breaks for renewable energy
Higher starting limits to alternative minimum tax

“We’re not going to take a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes. I’m optimistic that we will take a bill to the floor,” she said.

When the House first rejected the plan on Monday – by 228 votes to 205 – legislators had concerns about both the content of the plan and the speed with which they were being asked to pass it.

President George W Bush has since urged the House to back his revised bill.

The package is aimed at buying up the bad debts of failing institutions on Wall Street.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are pressing their members in the House to swing behind the revised bill and party leaders expect it to pass.

This thing, this issue, has gone way beyond New York and Wall Street
President George W Bush

Some members have called for more amendments, which opens up the prospect of further horse-trading up to the point at which votes are cast.

Pressure will particularly be applied to the 133 House Republicans who went against party affiliation to reject President Bush’s bill, correspondents say.

Tennessee Republican Zach Wamp, one of those who voted against the bill on Monday, said he would now vote in favor of the measure despite ordinary Americans remaining “as mad as heck” at the situation on Wall Street.

“You have got to do what you think is right. I thought the right thing Monday was to vote no. And I think the right thing to do tomorrow is to vote yes.”

The bill successfully passed through the Senate on Wednesday after it was amended to raise the government’s guarantee on savings from $100,000 to $250,000.

It also now includes tax breaks to help small businesses, expand the child tax credit and extend help to victims of recent hurricanes.

Most importantly, it extends the tax break aimed at boosting the provision of alternative energy such as wind farms.

It also includes a number of so-called “pork-barrel” measures including tax cuts for rum manufacturers in Puerto Rico and the owners of racetracks.

The additional cost of these unrelated tax breaks – which could add $100bn to the bill – have worried some fiscally conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives.

September 26, 2008

West ‘agrees new Iran resolution’

West ‘agrees new Iran resolution’

Iran maintains that the purposes of its nuclear programme are peaceful

The foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany have agreed a draft resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Diplomats said the new resolution would reaffirm three earlier rounds of UN sanctions, and make it clear that the Security Council wants Iran to comply.

The agreement came after discussions between the US and Russia in New York.

On Wednesday, Iran’s president warned it would resist “bullying powers” who tried to thwart its nuclear ambitions.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country supported dialogue but would not accept “illegal demands”.

Western powers suspect Iran wants to build a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.

The UN Security Council has already imposed three packages of sanctions against Iran for defying its calls to halt uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, and refusing to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a report last week, the agency said that without further information, it would not be able to provide assurances about Iran’s nuclear programme to the international community.

September 22, 2008

Murder trial for Sopranos actor

Murder trial for Sopranos actor

Lillo Brancato Jr

Lillo Brancato Jr is due to go on trial on 28 October

Sopranos actor Lillo Brancato Jr will go on trial next month charged with the murder of an off-duty police officer shot dead in New York in 2005.

A judge has ruled that the actor, who played Matt Bevilacqua in the drama’s second series, will be tried separately from co-defendant Steven Armento.

The two men were allegedly carrying out a burglary at the time of the killing.

Mr Armento is accused of firing the fatal shot. Mr Brancato, 32, says he did not know Mr Armento had a gun.

Prosecutors had wanted the two of them tried together.

They say that, on 10 December, the two defendants broke into an apartment in search of prescription drugs after visiting a strip club together.

They were then confronted by off-duty officer Daniel Enchautegui who was killed in an alley after a shoot-out, prosecutors add.

Mr Brancato made his screen debut opposite Robert De Niro in 1993’s A Bronx Tale and appeared in a number of other films before appearing in The Sopranos.

Mr Armento will go on trial on 29 September while Mr Brancato’s trial date has been set for 28 October.

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