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.


What is your reaction to this story? How damaging do you think this will be for Republican election hopes? Tell us your thoughts

Advertisements

September 12, 2008

Obama win preferred in world poll

Obama win preferred in world poll

Sen Barack Obama in Flint, Michigan, on 8 September 2008

Most thought US relations would get better under a president Obama

People outside the US would prefer Barack Obama to become US president ahead of John McCain, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

Democrat Mr Obama was favored by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries.

In 17 countries, the most common view was that US relations with the rest of the world would improve under Mr Obama.

If Republican Mr McCain were elected, the most common view was that relations would remain about the same.

The poll was conducted before the Democratic and Republican parties held their conventions and before the headline-grabbing nomination of Sarah Palin as Mr McCain’s running mate.

The results could therefore be a reflection of the greater media focus on Mr Obama as he competed for the presidential candidacy against Hillary Clinton.

Pie chart

The margin of those in favor of Mr Obama winning November’s US election ranged from 9% in India to 82% in Kenya, which is the birthplace of the Illinois senator’s father.

On average 49% preferred Mr Obama to 12% in favor of Mr McCain. Nearly four in 10 of those polled did not take a view.

On average 46% thought US relations with the world would improve with Mr Obama in the White House, 22% that ties would stay the same, while seven per cent expected relations to worsen.

Only 20% thought ties would get better if Mr McCain were in the Oval Office.

The expectation that a McCain presidency would improve US relations with the world was the most common view, by a modest margin, only in China, India and Nigeria.

But across the board, the largest number – 37% – thought relations under a president McCain would stay the same, while 16% expected them to deteriorate.

In no country did most people think that a McCain presidency would worsen relations.

Sen John McCain in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on 5 September 2008

Some 30% of Americans expected relations to improve under Mr McCain

Oddly, in Turkey more people thought US relations would worsen with an Obama presidency than under Mr McCain, even though most Turks polled preferred Mr Obama to win.

In Egypt, Lebanon, Russia and Singapore, the predominant expectation was that relations would remain the same if Mr Obama won the election.

The countries most optimistic that an Obama presidency would improve ties were US Nato allies – Canada (69%), Italy (64%), France (62%), Germany (61%), and the UK (54%) – as well as Australia (62%), along with Kenya (87%) and Nigeria (71%).

When asked whether the election as president of the African-American Mr Obama would “fundamentally change” their perception of the US, 46% said it would while 27% said it would not.

The US public was polled separately and Americans also believed an Obama presidency would improve US ties with the world more than a McCain presidency.

Forty-six per cent of Americans expected relations to get better if Mr Obama were elected and 30% if Mr McCain won the White House.

A similar poll conducted for BBC World Service ahead of the 2004 US presidential election found most countries would have preferred to see Democratic nominee John Kerry beat the incumbent George W Bush.

At the time, the Philippines, Nigeria and Poland were among the few countries to favor Mr Bush’s re-election. All three now favor Mr Obama over Mr McCain.

In total 22,531 citizens were polled in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE and the UK. A parallel survey was conducted with 1,000 US adults.

Polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes carried out the survey between July and August.

September 9, 2008

Economic battle is joined in US race

Economic battle is joined in US race

Jobseekers at a jobs fair in California. File photo

Unemployment is rising in the US as the credit crunch hits home

With just two months to go before the US presidential election, the state of the economy is far and away the biggest concern for most US voters.

The credit crunch has inflicted severe damage on Wall Street, left millions at risk of losing their homes, and millions more in negative equity.

Unemployment has risen above 6% while high petrol prices and rising inflation have squeezed household budgets to the limit.

Things are unlikely to get any better soon. Most economic forecasts suggest that the economy will slow sharply in the rest of 2008. The first official figures will be published in late October – on the very eve of the election.

TOP ISSUES
Economy: 39%
Iraq: 14%
Gas prices: 4%
Source: Washington Post/ABC News telephone poll, 19-22 August 2008, sample size 1108, margin of error +/- 3%

This is the background for a battle over economic policy that has so far been dominated by two issues – energy prices and taxes.Senator McCain made headlines by calling for a temporary suspension of federal gasoline taxes over the summer. He favors a major expansion of nuclear power and further drilling for oil on the US continental shelf. His running mate Sarah Palin, meanwhile, is a strong advocate of further development of Alaskan oil and gas reserves.

Mr Obama has called Mr McCain’s proposals “the same old gimmicks” though he has recently softened his outright opposition to drilling.

His energy plan calls for a big effort to shift the US towards cleaner energy, a windfall tax on oil companies, and a $50bn government investment plan to promote “energy independence”.

Tax cuts

To boost the economy, Senator Obama and many Democrats in Congress would like another stimulus package, worth around $50bn – following on from the $168bn package already put into effect – and more aid to help people at risk of foreclosure to stay in their homes.

But the growing size of the government’s budget deficit, which is expected to more than double to $400bn next year, limits the scope for further action of this kind.

It’s the size of that deficit that has put taxes at the heart of the economic debate between the two candidates.

Mr Obama wants to repeal the “tax cuts for the rich” of the Bush administration, and use the money to give further tax breaks to the “middle class” (all taxpayers earning less than $250,000), including special tax relief for college education.

He also has ambitious plans to use the tax system to boost jobs, provide subsidies for healthcare, and help redistribute income to the working poor.

PORK- BARREL POLITICS
Commerce: $9bn
Defence: $9bn
Military construction: $6.6bn
Energy: $4.6bn
Transportation: $3.2bn
Foreign aid and exports: $14bn
Congressional earmarks in FY 2005. Source: Congressional Research Service

Senator McCain, however, reversing his earlier position, wants to keep the Bush tax cuts, which he argues will help small businessmen and lead to more job creation, while balancing the federal budget by eliminating wasteful spending.He has attacked “earmarks”, the system of “pork-barrel” politics where individual Congressmen and Senators get extra spending projects for their districts by attaching riders to important bills.

The most infamous of these pork-barrel projects was the $400m “bridge to nowhere” – which would have linked the 7,000 people in Ketchikan , Alaska, with their airport on Gravina island, replacing a three-minute ferry ride – promoted by the now-disgraced Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens.

It was Sarah Palin’s role as governor of Alaska in ultimately blocking this project which first brought her to the attention of Senator McCain.

But earmarks make up only $50bn of the $2,000bn Federal budget, according to the Congressional Research Service, and two-thirds of them relate to military spending or foreign aid, which Mr McCain has pledged to preserve.

Balancing acts

The ability of both candidates to project bold economic policy initiatives has been limited by disagreement within their own camps.

Manhattan street scene - file image

Wall Street wants a fiscal conservative – but small businessmen want tax cuts

Mr Obama’s economic instincts appear to lie with the moderate wing of the Democratic party, to judge from his appointment of Jason Furman, a close associate of former US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin as his economic advisor.These “Rubin” Democrats persuaded the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, that balancing the budget was more important for long-term economic growth than new spending programs.

Senator Obama has emphasized “nudge” economics, where the government tries to encourage individuals to take out private pensions and healthcare, rather than big new government programs.

But he faces pressure from the Democratic base, which is expecting him to tackle the lack of healthcare coverage for one in six Americans, and from the unions, which want him to do more to protect American jobs from “unfair” foreign competition.

Expanding health coverage to all children, as he has proposed, could cost at least $100bn a year.

And his support for renegotiating trade talks to include clauses recognising workers’ rights has worried businessmen.

Senator McCain, meanwhile, also has to appease two conflicting constituencies.

Many traditional Republicans share Mr McCain’s original beliefs in small government, low taxes and a balanced budget – as, mostly, does Wall Street, the US financial centre.

However, the Republican Party in power increased spending, especially on defence, while cutting taxes, leading to growing deficits.

Mr McCain backs higher defense spending, and in recent months he has increasingly leaned to the “supply-siders”, Republicans who believe that tax cuts are more important than balancing budgets – a view many small businessmen on Main Street, struggling in the economic downturn, would endorse.

Empathy

Both parties are also divided on how far the government should go in bailing out homeowners and banks who are the victims of the credit crunch.

Many Main Street Republicans are outraged by the idea that people who undertook irresponsible home loans, when they knew they could not afford them, should be bailed out – a view Mr McCain sometimes reflects.

And many left-leaning Democrats believe that the big banks and their shareholders who irresponsibly promoted sub-prime lending should be allowed to fail, rather than being bailed out by the US Treasury – as happened with Wall Street investment bank Bear Stearns and now the government-sponsored giant mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The policy solutions so far put forward to ease the credit crunch have been agreed on a bipartisan basis between Congress and the Bush administration.

WHO DO YOU TRUST MORE TO HANDLE THE ECONOMY?
Barack Obama: 50%
John McCain: 39%
Neither/None: 9%
Source: Washington Post/ABC News telephone poll, 19-22 August 2008, sample size 1108, margin of error +/- 3%

But voters have consistently expressed more confidence in the Democrats’ ability to handle the economy than the Republicans’ – so it’s a puzzle why this has not translated into a decisive poll lead for Senator Obama.

This may be because the battle is really over perception – which candidate has more empathy for the economic plight of ordinary Americans.

The choice of Sarah Palin as Mr McCain’s vice-presidential candidate was partly an attempt to put an “ordinary hockey mom” at the heart of his campaign.

Senator Obama, for his part, devoted much of his speech at the Democratic convention to the difficulties faced by hard-working Americans – perhaps hoping to banish the memory of his comments in March about “bitter” small-townspeople.

“It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care – it’s because John McCain doesn’t get it,” he said.

If Americans are persuaded that one candidate both understands their problems and can fix them, that could be the key to an election victory.

So far there is still everything to play for.

September 8, 2008

Spears dominates MTV awards show

Spears dominates MTV awards show

Britney Spears

Spears had been nominated 16 times before but had never won

Singer Britney Spears has swept the board at the MTV Video Music Awards show in Los Angeles, collecting three prizes for her track Piece of Me.

The 26-year-old, whose performance at last year’s ceremony was widely panned, thanked “God first and foremost for just blessing me like this”.

The other winners at the show in Hollywood included the Pussycat Dolls, Linkin Park, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown.

And there were performances from Kanye West, Rihanna and Christina Aguilera.

West left the ceremony – hosted by British comic Russell Brand – empty-handed.

He fell out with MTV after last year’s show when he failed to win any prizes and had vowed never to perform at the awards again.

MTV MUSIC VIDEO AWARDS
Pussycat Dolls
Best video: Britney Spears, Piece of Me
Best pop video: Britney Spears, Piece of Me
Best female video: Britney Spears, Piece of Me
Best male video: Chris Brown, With You
Best rock video: Linkin Park, Shadow of the Day
Best hip-hop video: Lil Wayne, Lollipop
Best dancing: Pussycat Dolls (pictured), When I Grow Up
Best new artist: Tokio Hotel

And in 2006 he publicly complained about not winning best video at the MTV Europe awards.

Spears has suffered a year of health problems and legal difficulties which saw her lose custody of her children, while her father James has taken legal control of her affairs.

Her video for Piece of Me won the main prize – video of the year.

It beat Chris Brown’s Forever, Burnin’ Up by the Jonas Brothers, When I Grow Up by the Pussycat Dolls and the Ting Tings’ Shut Up and Let Me Go to the coveted prize.

The same promo also earned Spears the awards for best video by a female artist and top pop video.

She had been nominated for MTV video awards 16 times before but had never won.

“Wow, thank you, I’m in shock right now,” she said as she collected her third and final trophy.

“I was not expecting this. This is such an honor to have this award right now. I want to thank my fans. This is dedicated to you.”

Presidential race

Brand said the night marked the “launch of a very new Britney Spears era”.

“Consider this the resurrection of Britney Spears,” he said. “If there was a female Christ, it’s Britney.”

During his innuendo-laden opening monologue, Brand discussed the upcoming US presidential election, publicly backing presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

“Some people, I think they’re called racists, say America is not ready for a black president,” he said.

“But I know America to be a forward-thinking country because otherwise why would you have let that retarded cowboy fella be president for eight years.

“We were very impressed. We thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because, in England, he wouldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors.”

Last year’s big winners were Justin Timberlake with four awards, including top male artist, and R&B star Rihanna, who won video of the year for Umbrella.

The 2008 ceremony is being broadcast by MTV in the UK on Monday at 2100 BST.

Blog at WordPress.com.