News Picks: Ireland prepares for a very important election

Ireland

Over the last few weeks, a general election campaign has taken centre stage in Ireland where I have been working for news website TheJournal.ie (hence the lack of regular updates).

It is often said of elections in countries that they are the most important in many years or even in the history of the country. In Ireland’s case this may actually be true.

The state itself has been in existence for less than a hundred years yet at the end of last year it reached a pivotal moment in its short existence when it was forced to accept an EU/IMF bailout after a disasterous financial splurge in previous years that effectively bankrupted the country.

The government that oversaw much of the economic success that eventually turned into an economic disaster, Fianna Fail, now face an electoral wipeout like no other in the party’s history.

There’s been the usual campaign promises and high rhetoric that will count for little once whoever is elected gets into government.

Here’s a selection of stories that have emerged over the past few weeks:

Public want Kenny as Taoiseach in a single party government – The opposition Fine Gael party could be on the verge of being elected as a single party government.

They have portrayed themselves as a very competent alternative that has a plan to sort the country out. There is a lot of rhetoric that many would be sceptical of in these times but Ireland is desperate for an inspirational figure in the mould of Barack Obama, perhaps.

Ireland has Enda Kenny, he is no Obama, he is no David Cameron. He is dour, at times anonymous and sometimes gaffe prone but he gives the air of a statesman in many ways and having accepted that it’s unlikely any other person will be the next Taoiseach (Prime Minister), the public seem prepared to accept him.

Independents could play a big part as FG make approaches – Kenny and Fine Gael will most likely need the backing of independent candidates to form a government and they recognise this.

Earlier this week I summarised those running and likely to be elected with over a dozen independents set to be elected to the 166 seat parliament, underlining the anger many people feel towards the political mainstream.

There are some bizarre candidates in amongst some very intelligent and smart people who would be a welcome addition to the next government.

Some are so disillusioned they predict military intervention – This was one of the most bizarre stories I’ve worked on since being in Ireland.

Ned O’Keeffe has been a TD (MP) for Cork East for nearly 30 years but is stepping down at this election, one of many from the governing Fianna Fail party. He has become so disillusioned with the actions of his party colleagues in government that he suspects the army could be about to takeover.

This is most unlikely. Ireland’s army, the Irish Defence Force, is not nearly strong enough to overthrow a government and what’s more the democracy currently in place will see those responsible for the economic collapse be made suffer at the ballot box which will satisfy most people.

But O’Keeffe later bemoaned the lack of intellectuals in government, a statement many in the country might not necessarily agree with, being more of the view that there weren’t nearly enough to avert the financial collapse.

But at least we’ve retained our pride…and sense of humour – Amidst the arrival of the men in suits from EU and IMF late last year, a brand spanking new terminal was opened at the country’s main airport in Dublin.

Terminal 2 was planned during the boom and built during the bust, it opened with many predicting rather cynically that it would be the perfect facilitator of the many people who would be leaving the country because of the bleak employment and economic prospects.

The Dublin Airport Authority sought to portray their new building as something to be truly proud of, just like being Irish:

Others were perhaps a bit more honest in their assessment of the terminal:

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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.

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: Wikileaks, Health, US, Obama, O’Reilly, Howard

Wikileaks

The Man Who Spilled The Secrets – In case you missed it, Vanity Fair’s frankly brilliant account of the volatile relationship between The Guardian and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during the before and during the release of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs and the Diplomatic cables. Best thing I’ve read all week.

State Department team works to warn people – Elsewhere in Wikileaks news, the US State Department has a designated team of people warning human rights activists, business people and foreign government officials of potential threats to their safety following the release of around 2,700 of the estimated 250,000 diplomatch cables held by Wikileaks and media organisations.

Ireland

Health insurance rise hits families Families in Ireland face a price hike of up to €1000 per year for their private health insurance. With the state of Ireland’s public health service also in disarray, many are asking where on earth is Health Minister Mary Harney whose under increasing pressure to step down at the upcoming general election or sooner.

US

Gibbs forced out by Daley?Suggestions in Washington that new White House Chief of Staff William Daley effectively ended Press Secretary Robert Gibbs time in the Obama administration. Daley’s arrival could also spell the end for White House advisor Valerie Jarrett. The guy is making early waves.

Obama v O’Reilly on Super Bowl Sunday – This should be good. Fox News firebrand Bill O’Reilly will interview the President on Super Bowl Sunday, maintaining the tradition of a presidential interview with the network broadcasting the game.

Mystery surrounds Obama novelStaying with the President and mystery surrounds the identity of the author of an upcoming novel about Obama’s White House. “O: A Presidential Novel”  by Anonymous is said to be similar to Joe Klein’s 1996 book “Primary Colours” which was loosely based on Bill Clinton’s run for the White House which later became a pretty good film starring John Travolta as Clinton.

Media

Robert Harris eulogises the late, great Anthony Howard – Worth a read for any journalist or anyone interested in a truly remarkable man who was truly brilliant at his trade, as he liked to refer to it (in other words he did not consider journalism a profession). It was delivered by the great author Robert Harris, himself once a journalist.

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That’s it have a great weekend. I’ll do a weekend edition if I can.

News Picks: Bonuses, Miliband, Hodgson, Obama, Bachmann

Breaking…

Robert Peston: Bank bonuses to run to billions BBC reporting tonight that despite widespread calls for a curb on banking bonuses they will in fact run to billions in the latest round of payments. Business editor Robert Peston, is as always, an invaluable read in such situations.

UK

Ed Miliband’s first 100 days – Good feature on the BBC to coincide with Ed Miliband’s first 100 days as leader of the Labour Party, looking at the first 100 days of other UK party leaders down through the years.

Sport

Roy departure may not be enoughA worrying story from the well connected Sid Lowe in Spain on The Guardian tonight, detailing that Liverpool’s star players may not be appeased by the now inevitable sacking of Roy Hodgson.

USA

New WH chief of staff an “ex-nemesis” of ObamaBarack Obama has appointed a new chief of staff to replace Peter Rouse who had been holding the position temporarily since the departure of Rahm Emanuel last year. The new man, William Daley, is the brother of the current Chicago mayor Richard Daley whom Emanuel is looking to follow in the footsteps of when the election for city leader is held later this year. All of which makes it look very much like Obama is staying inside a close knit group of fellow Chicagoans but as The Daily Beast points out, William Daley has been no friend to the Obama administration.

Watch out Palin – Michele Bachmann is the latest Tea Partier to throw her hat into the the already crowded ring of potential Republican nominees for president in 2012. The US representative from Minnesota once said that God told her to run for congress.

That’s it for tonight. A short one but hope it’s been somewhat useful and insightful.

Sarah Palin – President of the United States?

If the above scares you then you’re not alone.

One the many reasons why the majority of Europeans have had such favourable view of Barack Obama is likely to be because the alternative involved Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Right from the moment she literally came from nowhere to be Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008 stories have emerged that have been laughable, disturbing and downright scary.

Any politician subject to as much ridicule as she has been should surely be kept well away from the White House.

If Sarah Palin can’t even tell you what newspapers or magazines she reads, would you really trust her with the nuclear launch codes?

But the US is a strange and wonderful place and Palin commands a strong support base aided by the influential but disjointed Tea Party movement.

Much of it and Palin’s supports stems from the growing and in some cases justifiable disillusionment with President Obama two years into his presidency.

The hope and rhetoric that catapulted him into the White House after a historic election has drained away as Obama has found himself immersed in the same old Washington game he promised to change.

The result is that next week Republicans are likely to have taken control of the House of Representatives. They could even take the Senate although this is unlikely.

In the same way that the Democrats taking control of both houses in 2006 turned George W. Bush’s final two years into a “lame duck” presidency next week’s changes could harm Obama’s next two years as well as his re-election chances.

This is where Palin enters the overcrowded field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Some argue she won’t run but she has taken the steps normally associated with a presidential bid such as forming a political action committee, meaning its worth considering the possibility she might.

In this week’s New York magazine, political author John Heilemann, does just that as well going further and outlining the way in which Palin becomes president.

It relies heavily on the idea that Michael Bloomberg, the independent but fabulously wealthy mayor of New York, makes a run as an independent in 2012, splitting the vote three ways, meaning no candidate takes the magic 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidential election.

In such situations, the decision falls to the House of Representatives as to who becomes the next president. With this likely to pass into the control of Republicans after the November 2 mid terms that would open the door to a President Sarah Palin.

And suddenly the fate of the world rests in the hands of a woman who cites an example of her foreign policy experience as having once governed a state that’s quite close to Russia.

A worrying thought.