News & Current Affairs

September 6, 2008

US campaign reaches final phase

US campaign reaches final phase

Barack Obama at a factory in Duryea, Pennsylvania, on 5 September 2008.

Republicans can’t be trusted with the economy, Mr Obama says

US presidential rivals Barack Obama and John McCain have begun the final phase of their campaigns following their anointment by the party conventions.

Mr Obama, the Democratic candidate, seized on high unemployment figures to tell a rally that Republicans must be driven from the White House.

Republican John McCain promised to work to fix the economy.

Both candidates are focusing on key battleground states ahead of the presidential election in November.

Campaigning in the industrial north-east, Mr Obama criticized Mr McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention on Thursday, citing the country’s economic woes.

“If you watched the Republican National Convention over the last three days, you wouldn’t know that we have the highest unemployment in five years,” Mr Obama told workers at a factory near Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Friday.

“They didn’t say a thing about what is going on with the middle class.”

John McCain (5 September 2008)
They’re tough times in Wisconsin, they’re tough times in Ohio, tough times all over America
John McCain

Government figures show that the jobless rate reached 6.1% in August.

Mr McCain told supporters in Wisconsin – another swing state – that the sagging economy had squeezed everyone in the country.

“These are tough times,” he said. “They’re tough times in Wisconsin, they’re tough times in Ohio, tough times all over America.”

But he promised that “change is coming”.

The candidates were gearing up for the last weeks of campaigning up to the 4 November election.

They used their respective party conventions to address vulnerabilities in their campaigns.

Mr McCain – who has a reputation as a maverick – tried to strike a balance between distancing himself from an unpopular presidency and rallying the party’s conservative base.

His selection of conservative Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential running mate helped rally supporters of President George W Bush.

A week earlier, Mr Obama – who needed to heal Democratic divisions after his primary election battle with Hillary Clinton – got a boost when her husband, former President Bill Clinton, gave him unqualified backing in his convention speech.

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Popular comic strip ignites controversy

Popular comic strip ignites controversy

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — For most of our lives cartoonist Lynn Johnston has had us hanging on every plot twist and complication she could pack into 29 years of “For Better or For Worse.”

Lynn Johnston ended the original run of "For Better or For Worse" Sunday, but is now returning to the past.

Lynn Johnston ended the original run of “For Better or For Worse” Sunday, but is now returning to the past.

Take one of the biggest, longest-running ones: Would Elizabeth, seriously challenged in picking men, finally dump that silly helicopter flyboy boyfriend of hers and just marry Anthony, for God’s sake? He’d been her sweetheart off and on since their grade-school days and had rescued her from the crazy would-be rapist she once worked with. So forget that the mustache Anthony grew in recent years made him look so much like a dork that even other comic strips began making fun of it. Life is, as Johnston would say, for better or for worse.

But then the cartoonist pulled the rug completely out from under us Sunday with a plot twist that made even the heartbreaking death of the Patterson family dog Farley (as he saved little April from drowning) seem pale in comparison. Even the comic strip that outraged readers by the thousands in 1993 when Lawrence acknowledged he was gay couldn’t top this.

There it was in full color in the big Sunday strip: As Elizabeth’s parents are dancing at her wedding (to Anthony, thank God) Johnston herself enters the strip in cartoon form and tells us that starting the next day “For Better or For Worse” will rocket back almost 30 years in time to soon after it began.

Elizabeth, now 27, would be a baby again. Michael, who loved to taunt his sister, calling her “Lizard Breath” when they were growing up, would be about grade-school age. On the positive side, family patriarch John Patterson would shed that pot belly he’d been growing in recent years and his wife, Elly, could finally put away all those anti-wrinkle products she’d been obsessing over for about the last decade.

And readers of some 2,000 newspaper comic sections would be left to scratch their heads and mutter, “What the … ”

“Interesting idea and it may very well work with the fan base that she’s got,” says Dave Strickler, a comic-strip fanatic who runs the Web site comicsaccess.com and has compiled a list of every comic strip syndicated in the United States from 1924 to 1995.

Strickler, like other fans of the strip, complains that it has gotten a little too sentimental in recent years, with Johnston concentrating too much on the philosophical musings she is famous for saving until the final panel and not enough on the story line.

At the same time, he says, the strip has grown to include so many characters that it was getting hard to tell them apart. He would sometimes mistake Elizabeth for her younger sister, April, or even her mother, Elly. (Those anti-wrinkle products must really be working!)

“If she goes back to the original art and carries on with the wit she’s capable of, there’s no reason to believe current fans won’t be loyal and new fans won’t enjoy it as well,” he said of the change.

For the time being, fans are left to try to figure out what would have happened to the gang had they kept on aging.

Johnston did tie up some loose ends in that last strip, explaining that Michael, who nearly died a few years ago when he ran into a burning apartment to save the manuscript of his Great Canadian Novel (the comic strip is set in Johnston’s native Canada) has gone on to publish four books and sign a movie deal.

Ailing Grandpa Jim, she said, would live long enough to hold Elizabeth’s first baby before dying at age 89.

Barely able to speak after suffering a stroke, Jim still managed to think one of the strip’s better quips last month when, after seeing the bride and groom rush into his hospital room straight from their wedding, he declared their act “a classic case of hitch and run.”

Whether editors will embrace the strip or cut and run remains to be seen.

About 2 percent of the 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada that carry “For Better or For Worse,” canceled when Johnston changed things from a real-time serial to a daily comic set in a fixed time, Universal Press Syndicate spokeswoman Kathie Kerr said Wednesday.

For some of the newspapers that did, reaction was swift.

Kathy Lu, features editor at The Roanoke (Virginia) Times said about 100 people e-mailed or phoned over the next two days, most of them unhappy.

“It felt like we were just going to be doing the same thing over again, even though she said she was going to be drawing some new stories,” Lu said of deciding not to continue the strip.

It was an argument die-hard fans weren’t buying.

Although Johnston has said that from this point the strips will be about a 50-50 mix of “classic” repeats and what she calls “new-runs” that will be drawn in the old style and set in the previous time but involve new stories, one man told Lu he wouldn’t care if every strip was old.

“He said, ‘It’s like watching ‘(The) Andy Griffith (Show),’ ” she said of the 1960s sitcom still in reruns. “He said, ‘I watch that show over and over again.’ ”

In an interview she recently posted on YouTube, Johnston said she was aware of fans’ concerns and hoped they would “hang in there with me and see what I do because it’s never been done before.”

In recent years, she has talked of simply ending the strip when the time came or of handing it off to someone else. She indicated in the YouTube interview that splitting with her husband of more than 30 years last year prompted her to abandon those plans.

“I never thought I’d be single at this time in my life,” the 61-year-old artist said. “And with that in mind, I still want to work. I still want to keep my hand in it.”

August 19, 2008

Musharraf foes set to hold talks

Musharraf foes set to hold talks

Coalition leaders Asif Ali Zardari (left) and Nawaz Sharif shake hands on 18 August at news of President Musharraf's resignation

The ruling parties must now fill the gap left by Pervez Musharraf

Leaders of Pakistan’s ruling coalition are to meet in Islamabad to discuss who will succeed their long-time opponent, former President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Musharraf stepped down on Monday after nine years in power to avoid a move by the government to impeach him.

The coalition, led by the parties of the late Benazir Bhutto and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, held a first, inconclusive round of talks on Monday.

Mr Musharraf was replaced automatically by caretaker President Muhammad Sumroo.

Mr Sumroo, speaker of the Senate and a political ally of Mr Musharraf, will lead the country until a new election is held by parliament.

It is unclear whether Mr Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, will face prosecution now that he is out of power.

Mutual distrust

On Monday, Mr Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), met Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, and other coalition figures.

President Musharraf live on TV, 18th August

Mr Musharraf denied being an enemy of democracy

Sources say their talks focused on the nomination of the next president and the restoration of judges deposed by Mr Musharraf.

The PPP and PML-N distrust each other and have already said different things about Mr Musharraf’s future.

Mr Zardari’s party said it believed he might have immunity from prosecution.

But Mr Sharif’s party argues he should stand trial for, among other things, abrogating the constitution.

The parties are also likely to differ on whether to reinstate the judges and are thought to have differences of emphasis on how to tackle a violent Islamist insurgency on the Afghan border, our correspondent says.

There is relief in Pakistan that Mr Musharraf is gone but mounting impatience with the political parties that won February’s elections.

‘Going, Going, Gone!’

Pakistan’s newspapers on Tuesday celebrated the exit of former president.

Musharraf should be blamed for his own fall
Stan Rodrigues, Newark, US

The headline of The Daily Times was “Going, Going, Gone!”, next to a photo of Mr Musharraf, while The News led with “Mush Quits With His Tail Between His Legs”.

The country’s media also speculated about what he might do next, reporting that he wants to stay in Pakistan, but may soon travel abroad, with Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK and Turkey mentioned as possible destinations.

Mr Musharraf left his official residence in Islamabad for the last time after announcing his resignation in a televised address.

He inspected a last military guard of honour before leaving the palace in a black limousine.

Mehr, Lahore, Pakistan

Send us your comments
I would rather have been ruled by a democratic dictator than despotic democrats

After nine years in power, Pervez Musharraf had finally run out of options, the BBC’s Chris Morris reports from Islamabad.

Well known in the West for his support for the US after the 11 September 2001 attacks, he had grown increasingly unpopular at home.

With the government on the verge of impeaching him, the former soldier’s instinct was to fight on, our correspondent says, but in his lengthy address he said he was stepping down for the good of the nation.

It is a landmark moment in Pakistan, our correspondent adds: the former military ruler forced from office by civilian politicians and the army standing by and allowing it to happen.

Mrs Bhutto’s son and heir, Bilawal, said he hoped the country could move forward after Mr Musharraf’s departure.

“I see that the biggest hurdle in the way of democracy has been removed,” he said.

Mrs Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi in December last year.

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