News Picks: Egypt and America’s duplicity, Obama and Reagan, Torres

Just a quick one this weekend…

Egypt

America’s duplicity in Egyptian crisis – Events in Egypt are moving very fast indeed. Last week we were being told that what had happened in Tunisia was unlikely to unfold in a similar way in Egypt. Yet here we are with thousands taking to the streets in defiance of curfews and President Hosni Mubarak’s regime looking decidely shaky.

Amidst it all America is playing a fine line between encouraging reform but not explicitly calling for the overthrowing of Mubarak. This is demonstrated beautifully by two stories that have come out this weekend.

One is about tear gas canisters, bearing the label “Made in U.S.A” being fired at protestors in Cairo whilst on the other hand the Daily Telegraph reports that the American government has secretly backed leading figures in the current uprising.

They speak for themselves.

US Politics

What Obama can learn from Reagan – President Barack Obama is learning a lot from an unlikely source, former two-term President Ronald Reagan. He took a biography of Reagan on holiday over Christmas and in trying to set the tone for the second half of his term in office, Obama sees “the Gipper” as a “point of reference.”

Torres

Sale won’t be popular but could be best for Liverpool – Liverpool fans are generally quite angry at the news of Fernando Torres handing in a transfer request following Chelsea’s rather cheeky bid for him last week. Liverpool rejected the bid and rejected the transfer request, being perfectly within their rights to do so.

However Sam Wallace in The Independent argues that the sale of the Spaniard may be in the best interests of the club as well as the player. He argues the tipping point has been reached in much the same way it had been with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United and Thierry Henry at Arsenal.

Arguably, Torres can justify the decision. He has won nothing since moving to Anfield three years ago having left his hometown club to do exactly that. But the timing is awful and Chelsea, perhaps still laden with money, are an ageing team in need of a big restructuring whereas Liverpool’s has already begun with the impending arrival of Luis Suarez.

One thing is for certain is that Torres will probably get his way either by Monday or in the summer. Having being adored by all Liverpool fans since his arrival he has chosen a rather undignified way to end it all.

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News Picks: Ireland, Palestine Papers, Egypt, Sexy Anchors

Ireland

New Fianna Fail leader says sorry – Maybe it’s all too late but it was nice to hear a change from the usual bluster and arrogance of Fianna Fail leaders as Michael Martin apologised for his and his party’s actions over the last 14 years in power that have led to the country’s economic collapse.

“I am sorry for the mistakes we made as a party and that I’ve made as a minister — very sorry for those mistakes that we made,” Martin said after being elected leader of the party following the political suicide mission conducted by Taoiseach (still!) Brian Cowen last week.

Martin’s task will be to rebuild the party as a credible opposition to the likely Fine Gael/Labour coalition that will be formed in the aftermath of the election due late next month. In one sense he’s already started, challenging the leaders of these two parties to a three-way debate (much in the way Cameron, Brown and Clegg battled it out last year). This has already been rejected by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny who wants to include more parties in the debates perhaps wary of not looking so good in alongside Martin and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

Palestine Papers

Saeb Erekat hits back – At first he described the revelations in the Palestine Papers as “a pack of lies” but in an article for The Guardian, chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat has said that the coverage of the release of the documents has distracted from the real issue: “That Palestinian negotiators have consistently come to the table in complete seriousness and in good faith, and that we have only been met by rejection at the other end.”

This is something I alluded to in my previous post on the subject, that really we should not be criticising the actions of the Palestinian negotiators (although they are questionable in many ways) but examining the reasons as to why, when they were being offered so much, Israel, supported by the United States, were continually rejecting what was on the table.

If Israel cannot in any way consider the offers so far put forward by the Palestinians, then what hopes for a two state solution or at least a peaceful solution?

Egypt

A Manifesto for Change in Egypt – Could this be the tipping point that sends Egypt the way of Tunisia? Mohammed El Baradei, the former head of the European Atomic Energy Agency, is returning to the country ahead of presidential elections due to take place in September. But in the midst of heavy protests on the streets of Egypt’s cities, he has warned in an article for The Daily Beast that “the Egyptian people broke the barrier of fear, and once that is broken, there is no stopping them.”

Protestors across the country are demanding change taking inspiration from Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution”. Toppling president Hosni Mubarak will not be as easy as Bin Ali in Tunisia. For a start Mubarak still holds considerable clout within the country and has the armed forces on his side, something Bin Ali could not really say in the dying days of his regime.

As always, Brian Whitaker’s blog, Al-Bab is an excellent resource of news and comment on what’s happening in the Middle East.

Sexy Anchors

Sexy News Anchors Distract Male Viewers – Of the many revelations that have emerged from Sky Sports over the past week in which their leading lights Richard Keys and Andy Gray have been unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin has been that they only ever hired good-looking women to anchor their programmes, particularly Sky Sports News. Anyone who watches Sky Sports News will know that there are a plethora of  blonde and attractive women delivering the latest sports news.

Now, new research in the US has found that when a female news anchor’s sexual attractiveness is played up (more make-up, tight-fitting tops), male viewers retain less information. Conversely, the researchers at Indiana University found that the men who took part in the study recalled significantly more information watching the unsexualised anchor deliver news than her sexualised version.

 

News Picks: Ireland’s political crisis, Phone hacking, China, Palestine Papers

Ireland

The worst Taoiseach in the State’s history – Events in Irish politics have taken an almighty turn since my last post and have, frankly, descended into utter chaos and farce.

After seemingly his finest hour Taoiseach Brian Cowen reversed all his good work with a politically suicidal attempt to parachute six new people into his cabinet after resignations across the board by Ministers who would be retiring at the election.

He then resigned as leader of Fianna Fail but retained his role as leader of the country prompting the junior coalition partner, the Green Party to withdraw from government. Ireland’s cabinet now consists of just seven people, some with three portfolios and the longest job titles in the world.

There will be final effort to push through a finance bill this week but the desire for change has grown even stronger than it already has been over the weekend and a general election is just weeks away.

Phone hacking/BSkyB takeover

Cameron and Murdoch’s son attended private dinner – Aside from the implications of Andy Coulsen’s resignation last week on David Cameron’s judgement there is also the issue of News Corporation’s attempts to takeover BSkyB, a move feared by many in the UK media, not least because of the phone hacking allegations surrounding the Murdoch owned News of the World, which are unlikely to go away.

The Independent today reports that that Cameron met with James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son and chairman of News Corp. in Europe and Asia, late last year. However the PM’s spokesman today said any discussion about News Corp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB would have no bearing on the decision of the Culture Secretary on whether or not to allow the move.

The PM’s spokesman would also not comment on whether the Cameron has any plans to meet with Rupert Murdoch when he comes to London this week in what many see as his attempts to get a hold a crisis that is engulfing his media empire.

China

China grooming Hu’s successor – Much was made of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the White House last week where he was given a full state banquet by President Obama. But it’s unlikely Hu will return to the US with his successor already being groomed to takeover, probably next year.

Profiled in the New York Times, Xi Jinping, the current vice president, is unlikely to alter China’s direction in the world although he could be more popular amongst Communist Party members. How much influence he will wield in an increasingly peripheral position as president of the world’s second-largest economy and fastest-modernising military power is unclear.

Palestine Papers

Leaks show there is no peace process – The leaking of documents relating to discussions about the Middle East peace process show just how much of a gulf there is between what is said in public by political leaders and what is offered and argued in private. This could be said of any political discourse in any country in any part of the world, but it’s all the more crucial here because of the volatility of the region.

As Channel 4 News’ Lindsay Hilsum points out, there is much concentration on the perceived weakness of the Palestinian negotiators, but she asks why did the US not push Israel into more concessions?Why did Middle East envoy Tony Blair not offer more praise for what the Palestinians were prepared to offer?

Truth is, in my view, that this merely confirms the status quo of US-Israeli relations that have been this way for decades. Whilst some may point to an increasing appreciation of the plight of Palestinians in recent years, namely George W. Bush becoming the first US president  to call for a two state solution, the reality is that the US nor Israel really don’t want this to happen.

The up shot of this latest leak (which has nothing to do with Wikileaks by the way), is the certain death of the two state solution and, worse still, possibly further violence and war in the region.

News Picks: Palin and the media, Obama, Phone hacking, Cowen’s victory

US Politics

Sarah Palin and the Media symbiosis – The excellent US pollster Nate Silver has posted an interesting piece of research about how American’s view Sarah Palin. It’s not so much the argument of how favourably or unfavourable they look upon her but just how many people actually hold an opinion of the former Alaskan governor, who until she was the surprise pick for Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, was utterly unknown in the US.

Research found that 53% of people held a strong view of Palin, that’s second only to the President Barack Obama. Silver asks what drives this fascination with Palin? Is it her? The media? Or the American public? Probably a combination of all three.

Is Barack Obama keeping his promises? – An interesting fact check of President Obama’s 2008 campaign pledges weighing up how many he has managed to keep, how many he has broken, and how many he has compromised on or are still in the works since he entered the White House.

The results show he has kept 26% of his pledges, most notably health care (although this was laden with compromises). In total he has broken 33 promises but most pledges (44%) are described as in the works with at least two years left in office.

Christine O’Donnell – she’s back! – Remember the Republican nominee for Senator in Delaware who had to fight of accusations of being a witch? Well she lost, unsurprisingly, but that doesn’t appear to have dented her political ambitions. O’Donnell has announced the formation of a Political Action Committee (PAC), a way of staying involved in the political process and a vehicle for raising money. Sarah Palin utilises it to great effect. O’Donnell is hoping to do the same.

Phone hacking

What are the other papers up to? – The News of the World continues to be mired in controversy over phone hacking allegations and questions about just how high up in the organisation they went. The Guardian has been doggedly pursuing it’s perceived rivals, who are part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International stable, for years now.

But are they keeping their own house in order? The Press Gazette had asked it and other national media, including the Daily Mail, Trinity Mirror, Telegraph Media Group and the BBC, about phone hacking. So far only Guardian News and Media have responded to their questions.

Ireland

Cowen wins confidence vote but victory could yet be Martin’s – Unsurprisingly, Taoiseach Brian Cowen won the vote of confidence in his leadership of Ireland’s governing party, Fianna Fail, late last night and has been crowing about it in the Dail (Parliament) today.

But the learned Irish political writer Harry McGee suggests that victory may, in the long run, be that of last night’s failed challenger Michael Martin who has emerged from this “pantomime” (as one opposition Labour Party member put it) with the best chance of leading Fianna Fail post general election wipeout.

Cowen apparently won the confidence vote by 2-1 which reflects rather badly on the majority of Fianna Fail TDs who claim to represent their constituents despite polls showing only ten per cent of the Irish population actually approve of Cowen.

 

News Picks: Tunisia, Ireland, Chile

Tunisia

Events in Tunisia just the start? – The weekend’s news agenda has been dominated by events in Tunisia but what’s really interesting is not only what is happening there but what may now happen in other Arab countries of a similar political structure where people young and old are gaining hope from the uprising in Tunisia.

Brian Whitaker, The Guardian’s fantastic Middle East expert, writes about clashes in Libya which, although they may die down in the next few days, are unlikely to abate long term where Colonel Gadaffi still rules after nearly 42 years. Whitaker’s Al-Bab blog is generally an excellent resource for analysis on the Arab world.

A Wikileaks revolution? – Foreign policy magazine speculates whether the diplomatic cables released late last year that highlighted the mafia-esque rule of the former President Bin Ali were part of the reason why the people rose up against their leader, demanding change.

Ireland

Tight vote expected in Fianna Fail leadership contest – Events in Dublin also dominated the weekend news agenda with a leadership battle slightly more civilised than what is happening in Tunisia.

But that doesn’t mask the sheer anger of many in the country as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen announced his intention to remain as leader of his party Fianna Fail. However this is subject to a confidence vote in his leadership by the 71 TDs (MPs) in the party on Tuesday. Cowen will be confident of victory after reassurances last week from those within the party.

However, Foreign Minister Michael Martin will attempt to unseat Cowen, launching his own leadership bid at a late evening press conference in a swanky Dublin hotel on Sunday.

Martin is blitzing the Irish media over the next 24 hours or so in an attempt to shore up his position. Whilst junior ministers are lining up behind Martin, Cowen, inexplicably, commands a strong position despite desperate approval ratings which would make you question the very sanity of the 14% of people who apparently back him as leader of the country.

Events in the Republic will be extremely interesting to follow over the next day or two. I’d recommend TheJournal.ie for the up-to-date coverage of what happens.

Chile

Fuel price strikes trap tourists – We were all engrossed and utterly charmed by the story of the trapped Chilean Miners last year which sent President Sebastian Pinera’s approval ratings sky high as he was on hand to greet each of the 33 miners who emerged from the depths of the earth. Pinera revelled in the popularity as you would expect. However, there is now growing discontent in Chile with rising fuel prices, people taking to the streets and in some areas violent protests trapping tourists. Pinera’s approval ratings are down.

News Picks: Wikileaks, UK election?, Election 2012, Wikipedia, Israel

Wikileaks

US journalists back away from Assange The Miami Herald reports that more and more US journalists are shunning the Wikilkeaks founder Julian Assange amid concern about the organisation’s methods of dumping documents “willy-nilly” as investigative journalist Bob Woodward put it. There are also questions as to whether Assange is actually a journalist. An interesting read.

Election 2011?

Cameron considering a snap election? – Labour MP Tom Watson speculates (some would say wildly) that the Prime Minister may call a snap election in May. Watson cites a weary Nick Clegg, an unfulfilled David Cameron and the belief by some that the Tories could win an outright majority if they called an election given the Lib Dems’ appalling poll numbers. It’s all gossip but it’s well written and thought provoking. It also hints that embattled No. 10 communications director Andy Coulsen will be gone by the end of the month.

Election 2012

The activist Republican candidates court – An interesting piece in the LA Times about the Iowa based activist whom Republicans running for the party’s presidential nomination will all court in the build up to that state’s all important caucuses that kick off the nominee race at the beginning of next year. Joni Scotter is 69, and, it seems, very important to the likes of Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich but she has voted Democrat before.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia at 10, a pioneer of global civility – Timothy Garton Ash has some words of praise for Wikipedia which turns 10-years-old this weekend. Unlike Facebook, this internet success story is not worth billions but is a fine example of a non profit organisation that “still breathes the utopian idealism of the internet’s heroic early days.”

Israel

The rise of fanatical ‘Israeli ayatollahs’ – We all know about fanaticism in the Muslim world but what of the ultra orthodox Jewish rabbis who are becoming increasingly controversial and divise in Israel. They were even involved in the recent tragic death of ex-Liverpool defender Avi Cohen.

News Picks: Arizona Shootings, King Kenny, Band of Brothers, Murdoch

Arizona shootings

Congress members will carry arms – Some US congress members have confirmed they will carry their firearms while back in their home states in light of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at the weekend. So far one Democrat and one Republican say they will carry their guns as is their right. Another Republican congressman wants to install plexiglas in the gallery of congress.

Loughner’s parents set to speak – The estranged parents of the alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner are set to make their first comments since the shooting on Saturday. Both are said to be “devastated” by what’s happened.

Politico lead the way in shooting coverage – The Poynter Institute has a good summary of how journalists at Politico, the US political news website, led the way with their coverage in the aftermath of the shooting, posting dozens of stories within hours of the news filtering through from Arizona.

Liverpool FC

How will Dalglish’s Liverpool play? – An interesting overview on The Guardian sports blog that speculates on just how King Kenny will set up his Liverpool team which considers his previous tactics both successful at Liverpool and Blackburn and unsuccessful at Newcastle and Celtic.

War Hero

Central figure in ‘Band of Brothers’ dies at 92 – Major Richard “Dick” Winters, a decorated World War II hero celebrated in the stunning ‘Band of Brothers’ TV series, died recently and was buried this past weekend at a private funeral. Tom Hanks summed it up best in describing the man: “When our days run their course and a man like Dick Winters leaves us, time and providence remind us that human beings can do giant things.”

Tech

Murdoch and Jobs to launch iPad only paperMedia tycoon Rupert Murdoch and Apple CEO Steve Jobs will appear on stage together later this month (January 19) to launch the new ‘newspaper’ The Daily which Murdoch is pumping a shedload of money into and will be available only on the iPad. Will it be a hit?