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 19, 2008

Becalmed Baghdad counts war’s cost

Becalmed Baghdad counts war’s cost

There have been dozens of bombings in the Karrada district of Baghdad. But there is one date Ali Hameed will never forget – 26 July 2007.

Ali Hameed
We have a bright future in Iraq. The cloud that was hanging over all of us has passed
Ali Hameed

At six pm, a massive truck bomb exploded near his fish shop. Five members of his family were killed.

“We thought it was an earthquake because of the power of the explosion,” he told me.

Ali spent several minutes helping the wounded in the street. Only later did he realise that his home nearby had been destroyed. The whole apartment block was flattened.

In total, more than 60 people were killed. Ali pulled the bodies of his daughter and his brother from the rubble.

But, despite everything that happened to his family, he does not come across as angry or full of hate.

“The situation now is getting better,” he tells me.

“Life is gradually coming back to normal for us. People have started to question the purpose of fighting.

“We have a bright future in Iraq. The cloud that was hanging over all of us has passed.”

The smell of grilled fish wafts out onto the road. It is full of people buying groceries, sitting in cafes, and standing around chatting.

There is a sudden bang and I instinctively flinch. But it is just a car backfiring. The locals do not even notice.

Future anguish

Across Baghdad, people are starting to feel more confident. There are still bombings and shootings almost every day. But there is no longer the constant fear.

Dr Haider Maliki
Many of the children who have experienced trauma become very violent…. It will be a very violent generation
Dr Haider Maliki

The drop in violence has allowed many to think more about its effects. One recent study found that 70% of children exposed to trauma in Iraq go on to develop psychological problems.

At a park in central Baghdad, two orphans are playing.

Salah is nine years old. He was found by the police after a bomb went off. Nobody knows what happened to his family.

Saif is seven. His parents were killed in an explosion.

“I want to tell them [the bombers] it’s against God’s law to kill people,” he tells me. “I want to ask them: why did you kill my mother and father.”

He says he wants to be a policeman when he grows up, so that he can find his parents’ killers and send them to prison.

Salah barely talks at all. His shaking hands tell their own story.

Dr Haider Maliki deals with many similar cases at Baghdad’s only child psychiatric ward. Flowers hang from the ceiling and the walls are brightly painted. They have tried to make it as friendly as possible for the children.

Dr Maliki thinks problems are being stored up for the future.

“Many of the children who have experienced trauma become very violent,” he says. “They are violent towards their parents and they have no respect for their teachers. It will be a very violent generation.”

Letting off steam

On the other side of the city, there is a very different scene. We watch as the stunt bikers of Baghdad take to the streets.

Bikers in Baghdad

Bike enthusiasts make the most of a relatively safer Baghdad

At dusk, more than a hundred people gather on motorbikes. It is an anarchic sight as they race around performing skids, jumps and wheelies for the crowd.

The police keep moving them on, but they always find another venue for their impromptu displays.

The young men are ecstatic – almost intoxicated by the mix of testosterone and petrol fumes.

At one point, the bikers are joined by a man driving a minibus who skids his vehicle wildly around the empty car park.

After all the violence of recent years, young people in Baghdad clearly need to let off a lot of steam.

September 8, 2008

White House race enters high gear

White House race enters high gear

Barack Obama and John McCain, 5 September 2008

Candidates often see a surge in popularity after the party conventions

The US presidential rivals have begun campaigning in earnest, as a new opinion poll put Republican John McCain ahead of Democrat Barack Obama.

Fresh from being nominated at their party conventions, the two men are now gearing up for the 4 November poll.

A USA Today-Gallup poll put Mr McCain ahead for the first time in months.

Candidates often see a bounce in the polls after the conventions but Mr McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as running mate is being seen as key.

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

Mrs Palin wowed the Republican convention crowd with her speech, helping to re-energize his campaign.

Major test

Mr McCain said that “the electricity has been incredible” at rallies ever since he invited the Alaskan governor to join his ticket.

“She has excited people all over the country. I would love to say it was all because of the charisma of John McCain, but it is not,” he told CBS on Sunday.

Sarah Palin and John McCain (6 September)

Mr McCain said that “the electricity has been incredible” at rallies

Mrs Palin will face a major test this week when she gives her first nationally televised interview, following intense media scrutiny over her personal life and credentials for the ticket.

The USA Today-Gallup poll, which was released on Sunday, showed Mr McCain leading Mr Obama by four percentage points, 50 to 46.

A USA Today poll taken before the Republican convention showed Mr McCain trailing Mr Obama by seven points.

The latest poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The results of a Reuters/Zogby poll, also released over the weekend, gave Mr McCain the edge, with 50 percentage points to 46.

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll showed John McCain with a one-point lead.

Mr McCain and Mrs Palin are scheduled to be in Missouri on Monday.

Mr Obama is campaigning in the crucial swing state of Michigan. His vice-president, Joe Biden, was appearing in Wisconsin and Iowa, while Hillary Clinton is on the campaign trail in Florida.

Despite the frenetic pace of the presidential race, the candidates will stop campaigning on Thursday to appear together in New York on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks.

They said they would put aside politics to honour the memory of the nearly 3,000 people who died.

August 24, 2008

Obama introduces Biden at rally

Obama introduces Biden at rally

US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has introduced veteran Senator Joe Biden as his running mate at a rally in Springfield, Illinois.

Mr Obama hailed Mr Biden as a “man with a distinguished record and a fundamental decency”.

Mr Obama confirmed his choice of running mate overnight on his website and with a text message after the news began to leak to the media.

The two men were making their first appearance following the announcement.

Senator Joe Biden (file image)

The Democratic campaign will be hoping Mr Biden’s presence will reassure voters who are concerned about Mr Obama’s relative inexperience, particularly in the international arena, says the BBC’s Rachel Harvey at the rally.

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain’s camp called the choice of Mr Biden an admission by Barack Obama that he was not ready to be president.

His spokesman also picked up on a slip of the tongue Mr Obama made on stage when he introduced his running-mate as “the next president”.

Hugs and cheers

At the place where he launched his presidential campaign a year and a half ago, Mr Obama outlined Mr Biden’s accomplishments in the Senate, his blue collar roots and – above all – his experience on foreign policy.

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

“He’s an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are rooted firmly in the middle class,” Mr Obama said.

He also emphasized Mr Biden’s drive for change, despite his 30 years spent in the Capitol.

“For decades, he has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn’t changed him,” Mr Obama said.

He recounted the personal tragedy that struck Mr Biden more than 30 years ago, within days of his election to the Senate, when his first wife and their daughter were killed in a car accident.

After being introduced, a shirt-sleeved Mr Biden ran on to the stage and was embraced by Mr Obama to cheers from the crowd.

In his speech, Mr Biden referred to his own short-lived bid for the White House against Mr Obama for the 2008 nomination, before dropping out in January:

“You learn about a man when you debate with him, you see how he thinks. Barack Obama has the vision and courage to make this a better place. He is a clear-eyed pragmatist who will get the job done.”

At one point, Mr Biden garbled Mr Obama’s name, calling him “Barack America”. The crowd yelled back “Obama”.

Veteran politician

Mr Biden, a 65-year-old veteran lawmaker, is highly respected on foreign policy and is a six-term senator who serves on the powerful Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

HAVE YOUR SAY

He brings a breadth of knowledge and experience unmatched amongst the crop of finalists Obama was said to be considering

David Seidman, Durham, NC, USA

He has represented the state of Delaware in the US Senate since 1972.

Crucially, Senator Biden appeals to working-class Americans and was born in Pennsylvania, a key swing state in this election, our correspondent says.

Hillary Clinton, the former first lady who narrowly lost to Mr Obama during the tense battle for the Democratic nomination, issued a statement calling Mr Biden “an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant”.

John McCain has reportedly not yet settled on a running mate.

Mr McCain’s spokesman, Ben Porritt, suggested that Mr Obama’s slip in describing his running-mate as “the next president” reflected on his own inexperience.

“Barack Obama sounded as though he turned over the top spot on the ticket today to his new mentor…” he said in a statement.

“The reality is that nothing has changed since Joe Biden first made his assessment that Barack Obama is not ready to lead,” Mr McCain’s spokesman said.

August 22, 2008

Obama set to reveal running-mate

Obama set to reveal running-mate

Barack Obama on the campaign trail on 21 August in Chester, Virginia

Speculation has been rife about who will share Mr Obama’s platform

US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is expected to reveal his choice of vice-presidential running mate within hours.

He has told journalists he has made his decision, which will be revealed by text message to the party’s senators and supporters, and journalists.

Democrats gather for their party convention in Denver on Monday.

Mr Obama and his running mate are set to make their first campaign appearance together in Illinois, on Saturday.

“I’ve made the selection, that’s all you’re gonna get,” Mr Obama told reporters while campaigning in Virginia on Thursday.

Text alert

In an interview with USA Today newspaper, the Illinois senator said he had selected a running mate who was independent and would challenge him in the White House.

JUSTIN WEBB’S AMERICA
Hang on, I think that’s a text coming in

He added that he had opted for someone who would help him strengthen the economy, and was also ready to act as president.

But Mr Obama gave no clue as to whether he had notified his preferred running mate yet.

It is possible the Obama camp might keep the name of the vice-presidential selection a secret until just before the appearance in Springfield on Saturday but, realistically, that seems unlikely, says the BBC’s North America editor, Justin Webb.

The expectation is that during the course of Friday a text message will be received by those who have signed up for it, revealing the name.

Surprise in store?

The conventional wisdom is that vice-presidential candidates do not swing elections, our editor reports.

John McCain, file pic

But Mr Obama’s choice is interesting because it will reveal a little more about the style of the man and how willing he is to be adventurous.

Most commentators believe he will play it safe, opting for a governor, perhaps Tim Kaine of Virginia, or a political veteran like Senator Joe Biden.

Some Democrats are hoping he has a surprise up his sleeve – a Hillary Clinton or an Al Gore.

Mr Obama’s rival, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, has reportedly not 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 16, 2008

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

https://i1.wp.com/blog.mobiles.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/madonna300.jpg

Madonna – one of the most successful stars in pop history – celebrates her 50th birthday on Saturday.

Use our interactive timeline to find out more about the ups and downs of her career.

Full name: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Born: August 16, 1958, Bay City, Michigan, USA

Also known as: The Queen of Pop, Material Girl, Madge, Esther, Mrs Ritchie.

Biggest hits: Holiday, Into The Groove, Like A Prayer, Vogue, Ray of Light, Music.

Quote: “A woman who pulled herself up by her bra straps and has been known to let them down occasionally” (Bette Midler, introducing Madonna at Live Aid in 1985).

1963 – MOTHER DIES

Madonna’s mother, also called Madonna, dies of breast cancer. The tragic event has a lifelong impact on the singer. “You walk around with a big hole inside you, a feeling of emptiness and longing,” the star later says.

1982-1985 – INITIAL CHART SUCCESS

Madonna moves to New York in 1977, where she studies with choreographer Alvin Ailey and works as a model.

Madonna

Early music demos recorded with her boyfriend Stephen Bray make their way to Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, who demands to meet her, even though he is in hospital with a heart condition. Impressed with “the drive, the zeal, the ruthlessness” of a young Madonna, he signs her on the spot. But her first few releases only make an impact in clubs.

Holiday becomes Madonna’s first breakthrough hit in the US, reaching number 16 in late 1983. Her first top 10 hit comes a year later with Borderline, a song she later disowns. She is more proud of the subsequent, career-defining hits Like A Virgin and Material Girl. The sell-out Virgin Tour begins in 1985 with support from the Beastie Boys.

1985 – MARRIAGE

Madonna receives rave reviews for her role in mainstream film Desperately Seeking Susan (she previously made low-budget sexploitation movie A Certain Sacrifice in 1979).

She also hits number one with Into The Groove, plays Live Aid, and marries actor Sean Penn on a Californian clifftop, their vows drowned out by the roar of press helicopters circling overhead.

1986 – TRUE BLUE

True Blue

True Blue was the first time Madonna had a writing credit on every song.

The album True Blue, with its iconic Herb Ritts cover, cements Madonna’s reputation as the first lady of pop, reaching number one in 12 countries and spawning five hit singles.Papa Don’t Preach, which deals with teenage pregnancy, confirms the star’s willingness to tackle controversial issues, while Live To Tell’s raw vocals (recorded on the first take) show new emotional depth.

Her first world tour, Who’s That Girl, sees the singer mobbed by adoring fans in cities across the globe.

But Madonna’s film career takes the first of many serious beatings with the release of Shanghai Surprise.

A year later, she separates from Sean Penn, and the couple are granted a divorce in 1989.

1989 – LIKE A PRAYER

Like A Prayer video

The video for Like A Prayer caused storms of protest

The release of Like A Prayer marks the moment when critics first begin to describe Madonna as an artist, rather than a mere pop singer. The title track’s video, which shows the star kissing a black saint, causes storms of protest – but sends her straight to number one.She follows up the album with the hit single Vogue and the lavish Blond Ambition tour. At the end of 1990, Madonna seals her reputation with a Greatest Hits album – The Immaculate Collection.

1992 – SEX

Sex book

The sex book was shot by noted fashion photographer Steven Meisel

A coffee table photo book, Sex, finds Madonna in a number of sexually explicit poses with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Vanilla Ice. The book is derided in the press, and the dark and seedy Erotica album suffers as a result.Two years later, she makes a bizarre, expletive-filled appearance on David Letterman’s talk show. Madonna asks the host to smell her underwear, smokes a cigar and quizzes Letterman on whether he urinates in the shower. When she refuses to leave the stage, several audience members shout “get off”.

The show marks a low point in public perception of the star.

1996 – EVITA

Madonna’s casting in Evita helps to rehabilitate her image – and her film career. Meanwhile, she falls pregnant to fitness trainer Carlos Leon, giving birth to her first daughter, Lourdes, in October.

1998 – RAY OF LIGHT

Ray of Light

Ray of Light was produced by British musician William Orbit

Ray Of Light marks a musical return to form. Its laid-back blend of dance and electronica catches the pop superstar in a reflective mood, musing on fame and parenthood. She continues to mine this rich seam of futuristic pop with Beautiful Stranger in 1999 and Music in 2000, albeit with diminishing returns.In the meantime, she meets Guy Ritchie at a party thrown by Sting’s wife Trudi Styler. The couple have a son, Rocco, before tying the knot in Scotland days before the new Millennium.

2004 – RE-INVENTION

Re-invention tour

The Re-Invention tour took more than $125m (£62.5m) in ticket sales

After the lacklustre American Life album, Madonna looks to the past for her Re-invention World Tour. Highlights including the yoga-inspired dance routines of Vogue, and a bagpipe version of Papa Don’t Preach.She follows it up with a love letter to disco, Confessions on a Dancefloor, produced by the tour’s musical director Stuart Price. Based around European dance music – including a prominent Abba sample on Hung Up – sells 8 million copies, but its singles perform badly in the US.

The accompanying tour draws flack when Madonna performs Live To Tell while strapped to a mirrored cross, wearing a crown of thorns.

2006 – ADOPTION

Madonna and David Banda

Madonna ‘s adoption was challenged by Malawian civil rights groups

Madonna visits Malawi, arriving by private jet in the capital, Lilongwe. She says she is in the country on a humanitarian mission to visit Aids orphans, but government officials say she plans to adopt a child.A week later, Yohane Banda tells the Associated Press news agency the star has adopted his 13-month-old son, David. “I know he will be very happy in America,” he says.

Madonna denies she has used her status to “fast-track” the process, and the adoption does not receive final approval until 2008.

2008 – KEEPING BUSY

Hard Candy

Hard Candy features collaborations with Justin Timberlake and Kanye West

Showing no signs of letting up the pace as she approaches 50, Madonna parts company with record label Warner Brothers to sign a ground-breaking contract with concert promoters Live Nation.She is also inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; releases an album, Hard Candy; directs her first film, Filth and Wisdom, and produces I Am Because We Are, a documentary about Aids orphans in Malawi – all while fending off rumours about trouble in her marriage.

After celebrating her 50th birthday, the megastar sets off on her Sticky and Sweet world tour next week.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.