In keeping with his image as a younger, hipper kind of Tory leader, British Prime Minister David Cameron has often expressed his appreciation for the music of legendary '80s band, The Smiths. The indie rock pioneers aren't all that appreciative of his support, however, with guitarist Johnny Marr tweeting last week, "David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it."
Sensing an opportunity at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, Labour backbencher Kerry McCarthy used Marr's rebuke as the premise for a jab over Cameron's support for raising university fees:
But McCarthy's plan backfired when Cameron was ready with a quick comeback:
He said: 'I accept that if I turned up I probably wouldn't get This Charming Man and if I went with the Foreign Secretary [William Hague] it would probably be William It Was Really Nothing.'
Bigmouth strikes again!
Hat tip: The Awl
Many commentators give at least partial credit for India's economic success to the political institutions left in place by British colonialism. Fareed Zakaria, for instance, believes India "got very lucky" in that its first generation of post-independence leaders "nurture the best traditions of the British" including "courts, universities [and] administrative agencies."
This paper compares economic outcomes across areas in India that were under direct British colonial rule with areas that were under indirect colonial rule. Controlling for selective annexation using a specific policy rule, I find that areas that experienced direct rule have significantly lower levels of access to schools, health centers, and roads in the postcolonial period. I find evidence that the quality of governance in the colonial period has a significant and persistent effect on postcolonial outcomes.
The finding is particularly interesting given that Iyer also shows that the areas directly annexed by the British tended be those with higher agricultural productivity. Despite their potential, these areas "did not invest as much as native states in physical and human capital."
Iyer's paper provides an interesting companion to another recent study by Alexander Lee and Kenneth Schultz of Stanford, which compared economic outcomes of formerly British and formerly French districts of Cameroon:
[W]e focus on the West African nation of Cameroon, which includes regions colonized by both Britain and France. Taking advantage of the artificial nature of the former colonial boundary, we use it as a discontinuity within a national demographic survey. We show that rural areas on the British side of the discontinuity have higher levels of wealth and local public provision of improved water sources. Results for urban areas and centrally-provided public goods show no such effect, suggesting that post-independence policies also play a role in shaping outcomes.
Taken together, the moral of these studies could be that colonalism isn't great for a country's future political and economic wellbeing, but if a country is going to be colonized, they're better off with the British than the French. It's also very possible that the legacy of colonialism -- whether positive or negative -- manifests differently in national rather than local governance. Although on a purely anecdotal level, the French vs. British distinction seems to hold there as well.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman
In a letter to the Times (firewalled, but here's a write-up from the Guardian) a group of five fomer British Navy admirals, including the former commander of the fleet, Sir Julian Oswald, warn of the tragic consequences of David Cameron's proposed defense cuts, particularly the decision to scrp the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the Harriet Jet fleet:
"In respect of the newly valuable Falklands and their oilfields, because of these and other cuts, for the next 10 years at least, Argentina is practically invited to attempt to inflict on us a national humiliation on the scale of the loss of Singapore. One from which British prestige, let alone the administration in power at the time, might never recover."
They move into Godwin's law territory as well:
The admirals invoked the threat from Hitler to warn about the cuts, saying: "The government has, in effect, declared a new '10-year rule' that assumes Britain will have warning time to rebuild to face a threat. The last Treasury-driven '10-year rule' in the 1930s nearly cost us our freedom, faced with Hitler."
Of course, the RAF will still maintain an airbase in the Falklands and just in case Argentina should get any ideas, even with an 8 percent cut the British will still exceed them in military spending by about 24 times.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The inevitable international pushback against the United States' snowballing airport security regime seems to have begun, with British Airways Chairman Martin Broughton leading the charge:
In remarks at the annual conference of the UK Airport Operators Association in London on Tuesday, he said the practice of forcing people to take off their shoes and have their laptops checked separately in security lines should be ditched.
Mr. Broughton said there was no need to "kowtow to the Americans every time they wanted something done" to beef up security on U.S.-bound flights, especially when this involved checks the U.S. did not impose on its domestic routes.
"America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do," he said. "We shouldn't stand for that. We should say, 'We'll only do things which we consider to be essential and that you Americans also consider essential'." [...]
Mr. Broughton said no one wanted weak security, but added: "We all know there's quite a number of elements in the security programme which are completely redundant and they should be sorted out."
In the wake of 9/11, the shoe bomber, the transatlantic plot, and the underwear bomber, the TSA responded by adding procedures that might have prevented the last attack -- removing shoes, banning liquids, full-body imaging scanners. Once these new measures are in place, they are almost never removed. Broughton is acting in his own airline's interests of course, but if he can help start a public discussion on which of these measures are actually useful or worth the delays and indignities associated with them, he will have done U.S. travelers a service.
Michael Nagle/Getty Images
The Telegraph reports that as part of its austerity measures, Britain plans to sell off around half of its 748,000 hectares of government-owned forest, possibly including Robin Hood's old haunt:
The controversial decision will pave the way for a huge expansion in the number of Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf courses, adventure sites and commercial logging operations throughout Britain as land is sold to private companies.
Legislation which currently governs the treatment of "ancient forests" such as the Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest is likely to be changed giving private firms the right to cut down trees.
Laws governing Britain's forests were included in the Magna Carta of 1215, and some date back even earlier.
A source close to the British environment department describes the move in terms of "putting conservation in the hands of local communities," a phrasing consistent with the Cameron government's "Big Society" vision. Most of Britain's forests were lost by the 17th century to firewood and construction. We'll see if the private sector can take care of the trees a little more responsibly this time around?
Britain's deep cuts in defense spending mean it's far less likely that Her Majesty's armed forces will participate in future military interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it will also reduce Britain's footprint in another part of the world, Germany:
Britain is to pull the last of its troops out of Germany 15 years ahead of schedule as part of a wide-ranging program of defense cuts.
Some 20,000 British service personnel are set to leave Germany in the next decade. The troops, originally stationed in the aftermath of the Second World War, had previously been set to remain until 2035.
Between this and Germany settling up its World War I debt, it does appear that Europe's 20th century wars may actually be over now.
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
In a wide-ranging and somewhat unusual interview with David Cameron in this weekend's Financial Times, Columbia University historian Simon Schama gets the British prime minister to open up a little bit about the American right:
Later, I would ask him what he thinks of American conservatism’s lurch to the libertarian extreme. “How shall I put this? We seem to have drifted apart … there is an element of American conservatism that is headed in a very culture war direction, which is just different. There are differences with the American right.”
Among other interesting tidbits, the PM's favorite painting is Guernica, he enjoys the BBC spy drama Spooks, and he uses an iPad.
Sept. 11 protests over an Islamic community center a few blocks away from the World Trade Center site drew an unlikely ally: British soccer hooligans.
This isn't particularly shocking, given that many hooligans have long been tied into European right-wing political organizations. The most infamous among them were militant followers of Red Star Belgrade in the early 1990s. Headed by future-Serbian war criminal Arkan, the Delije were notoriously violent fanatics, and later became a backbone of Serbian paramilitary units in the Balkan Wars.
The small protest contingent were members of the English Defense League, an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim organization. (They style themselves as a "Counter Jihad" movement.) The make-up of the group itself is actually quite amazing. The New York Times quotes a piece on the EDL's website referring to a London Al-Quds Day rally:
More and more lads started to arrive at the pub, Pompey, Southampton, West Ham, Arsenal, Tottenham, Millwall, Chelsea, Brentford, QPR all drinking together, a bit of banter, but no hassle whatsoever. Top lads all there for their country.
For the record, these are some of English football's fiercest rivalries: (Pompey) Portsmouth-Southampton, West Ham-Millwall, Arsenal-Tottenham, Queens Park Rangers (QPR)/Brentford (and to a lesser extent, Chelsea.)
The Times piece also provides a number of videos of EDL rallies, which are well worth a look to get a taste of what the group is like. Matthew Taylor of the Guardian secretly investigated the group for months, and produced this video in May. A choice bit as quoted by the Times:
As we moved outside for the E.D.L. protest -- during which supporters became involved in violent clashes with the police -- a woman asked me for a donation to support the "heroes coming back injured from Afghanistan." I put a pound in the bucket.
"Thanks love," she said."They go over there and fight for this country and then come back to be faced with these Pakis everywhere." The woman also used another racial slur, using language we cannot repeat here.
Some right-wing U.S. protesters have gone to great lengths to prove they aren't bigots; I wonder if they'll denounce this British group showing up at their rallies …
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Jon Stewart hosted Tony Blair on The Daily Show Tuesday night, and he barely let the former British prime minister get a word in edgewise. Stewart evidently had some things to get off his chest, because he harangued Blair at length in one of his occasional moments of earnest seriousness. And in so doing, he just may have eviscerated the logic of the war on terrorism:
Stewart: As a pragmatist, is our strategy to rid the world of extremists practical? In a long-term... You talk about this as a generational conflict. Are we being practical in that pursuit?
Blair: Well, I think we're being realistic that it exists, that it exists as a more or less a global movement, with a narrative that's quite deep. And I think you know it's not just about hard power but about soft power as well. It's about how we can bring people of different faiths together, and resolve the Middle East peace process, as well as the hard business of fighting. But I think we don't have an option but to confront this extremism and defeat it. Because when the extremism came here, to New York, on 9/11, it wasn't a provocation.
Stewart: No. But I think the point I'm trying to make is: A very small group of people can do a great deal of damage now. And the amount of resources that we're putting into changing regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan...
I live in New York. We have cockroaches. I'm rich. I hire people to come in; they fumigate... I will never, as long as I live in New York City, be totally rid of cockroaches. Now, I could seal my apartment; I could use bug bombs so that it was nearly unlivable and reduce the amount of cockroaches. But what kind of life is that for me? [Applause.] Do you see what I'm saying? Do you see where I'm going here? Our strategy seems idealistic and naïve to some extent.
Blair responded that he didn't "see what the alternative is" but to stand and fight. Then, after some back and forth about the wisdom of taking out Saddam Hussein, Stewart launched this monologue, with Blair trying vainly to interrupt:
"This is what I mean by naive: Omigod, we have cockroaches. We have to get rats to eat them. Omigod, now we have rats! Oh no, we better getter cats! Oh no, we're overrun by cats; let's get dogs! Omigod, we need to get polar bears!
Do you understand what I'm saying? We are chasing our tails around...
Our resources are not limitless. We cannot continue to go into countries, topple whatever regime we find distasteful, occupy that country to the extent that we can rebuild its infrastructure, re-win the hearts and minds because here's my point: Ultimately within that, there could still be a pocket of extremism in that country... So all that effort still would not gain us the advantage and the safety that we need, as evidenced by the attacks in England by homegrown extremists. So don't we need to rethink and be much smarter about the way we're handling this?"
The interview that aired was edited, but I recommend the entire dialogue, in which Blair and Stewart also tangle about the threat of Iran.
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
Two days ago, we discussed Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's suggestion that Austalia stop recognizing the British monarchy after Queen Elizabeth II steps down. But amid harsh budget cuts, some British voters, participating in a website that solicits ideas for budget reductions, are hoping to ditch the royals a little sooner than that:
In June, Osborne said the 7.9 million pounds ($12 million) in annual government funding to Queen Elizabeth II's royal household, used to pay salaries and the costs of official functions, would be frozen for a year.
Contributors to the website say that doesn't go far enough - calling for Queen Elizabeth II either to step down, or drastically reduce the number of her family members who receive public money. "The French have not had a monarchy for more than 200 years and tourists still flock to Versailles," one of the ideas posted on the Treasury site reads.
I wouldn't count on this happening, but it does seem a little outrageous that Britain continues to spend nearly $60 million on people with no political function at a time when the government is halting construction of 700 schools and cutting health programs for pregnant women.
The amazingly named MP from Kent, Mark Reckless, has apologized to his contituents for missing a vote on the country's budget because he had gotten, like, totally wasted with his colleagues at Westminster:
Mr Reckless denied claims that he fell asleep on the terrace or got a taxi back to his constituency.
He added: "I remember someone asking me to vote and not thinking it was appropriate, given how I was at the time. If I was in the sort of situation generally where I thought I was drunk I tend to go home. Westminster is a very special situation and all I can say... is given this very embarrassing experience I don't intend to drink at Westminster again."
Mr Reckless was having drinks on the night of the second reading of the Finance Bill, which lasted until 0230 BST on Wednesday.
I don't mean to endorse voting while intoxicated, but presumably Reckless already knew how he was voting on his own party's finance bill so he must been pretty rough shape if he didn't even think he could raise his hand at the right time.
I'm guessing turning Westminster into a frat house wasn't quite what Prime Minister Cameron had in mind for his "responsibility agenda."
The New York Times reports that one Steven Perkins, a former oil trader based in London, set off a minor panic in global markets last June when he traded more than half a billion dollars in Brent crude oil after a night of heavy drinking.
According to British regulators, Perkins said he had been boozing it up at a company golf outing, fired up the old laptop when he got home -- and that's when he made the rogue trades.
Here's the regulators' account:
As a direct result of Perkins' trading, the price of Brent increased significantly. Perkins' trading manipulated the market in Brent by giving a false and misleading impression as to the supply, demand and price of Brent and caused the price of Brent to increase to an abnormal and artificial level.
In sanctioning Perkins, the FSA has also taken into account the fact that Perkins initially lied repeatedly to his employer in order to try and cover up his unauthorised trading.
In the full writeup explaining his $108,000 fine, we learn:
Mr Perkins’ explanation for his trading on 29 and 30 June is that he was drunk. He says that he drank heavily throughout the weekend and continued drinking from around mid-day on Monday 29 June. He claims to have limited recollection of events on Monday and claims to have been in an alcohol induced blackout at the time he traded in the early hours of 30 June.
Apparently Perkins has gone to rehab and is no longer drinking.
While stoppages and barricades stymie the "Freedom Flotillas" en route to Gaza, the "Speed Sisters" -- an eight-woman speed-racing troupe breaking onto the driving scene in the West Bank -- are revving up to shatter barriers at high speeds.
These unfearing females -- comprised of Christians and Muslims from ages 18 to 39 -- competed last Friday in the "Speed Test," a car race in the West Bank city of Ramallah that makes the typical NASCAR loop look like child's play. Thousands of fans attended the event to cheer on the seventy helmet-clad contestants as they navigated through treacherous obstacles, spinning loops, and serpentine pathways. And these eight women, gripping the wheels with fingerless gloves that accentuate their brightly painted fingernails, may have particularly piqued the crowd's interest: they are the first female team to enter the Speed Test. The Speed Sisters follow in the footsteps of the one female contestant -- now the group's coach -- who raced in the first competition five years ago.
While racing, many of the Speed Sisters wear t-shirts emblazoned with the British flag to pay homage to their sponsor, the British consulate in East Jerusalem. It is the consulate's personnel that facilitated the creation of the women's team, and its budget that subsidized about $8000 worth of training, coaches, and car refurbishing -- all part of a campaign to foster development in the West Bank and other communities of Palestinian refugees. But even with a financier, the women's road to the finish line is a bumpy one: they share a donated hatch-back that pales in comparison to the other high-powered BMWs and Mercedes on the track, and they face doubt and skepticism from their male counterparts.
Regardless, this strong female showing in a male-dominated arena is inspiring in such a conservative Muslim society -- especially one in which mounting political strife can often preclude a focus on social equity.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
The British border agency discovered 728 pounds of cocaine off the southern coast of the country on Sunday, floating in bags attached to lobster pots. The three men charged with the conspiracy to import the drugs are due in court today, where they will likely confess to the crime, but remain ignorant of their invoking the drug's notorious double entendre: "the white lobster."
In the Caribbean, where the ban on coca leaves and the burgeoning cocaine trade are hot topics, many call cocaine "the white lobster." Faced with a law enforcement crackdown, Colombian traffickers often are forced to release their drug supplies into the ocean. From there, currents bring the bulging packages to the shores of some of the most impoverished surrounding regions, where fishing communities collect and sell them to make a living.
The contrast here elucidates just how vastly different the role of drug trafficking is in different areas of the world. The cocaine trade requires a crackdown; but certainly that crackdown should be executed very differently in countries like Nicaragua, where the presence of "white lobster" belies enormous financial hardship, than in Britain, where lobster -- in this case -- is merely the fancy floatie for 9 million dollars of narcotic loot.
In the much-discussed cover story of this weekend's New York Times Magazine, Lynn Hirschberg profiles M.I.A., née Maya Arulpragasam, the British-by-way-of-Sri-Lanka musician whose third album comes out later this summer. It's an interesting piece (even if its subject doesn't think so), not least because it's the first celebrity profile I've read that begins with a thorough parsing of Sri Lankan dissident politics. The subject comes up because a frequent touchstone in M.I.A.'s music is her father's resume: He was as a founder of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS), a militant group with ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization that helped lay the groundwork for the modern Tamil statehood movement before being superseded by the more violent Tamil Tigers.
Although her father never actually had anything to do with the Tigers, M.I.A. championed the organization's cause (albeit sort of vaguely) throughout its guerrilla war with government forces in northern Sri Lanka, a war with few good guys. (By happenstance, M.I.A.'s own ascent to popularity over the course of her first two records happened mostly between the breakdown of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers in 2006 and the rebels' defeat in 2009.) Her support is a matter of considerable annoyance to activists concerned with bringing about some sort of lasting peace on the island. "It's very unfair when you condemn one side of this conflict," Ahilan Kadirgamar of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum tells Hirschberg. "The Tigers were killing people, and the government was killing people. It was a brutal war, and M.I.A. had a role in putting the Tigers on the map. She doesn't seem to know the complexity of what these groups do."
Hirschberg mines this vein unsparingly -- you know the knives are out when a writer pulls the old take-a-radical-artist-to-a-fancy-restaurant trick:
Unity holds no allure for Maya - she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. "I kind of want to be an outsider," she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry. "I don't want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I'm a terrorist."
A whole genre of art is, by association, coming in for a drubbing here: the venerable agitprop tradition in which M.I.A. has positioned herself. In music, the legacy runs back through Public Enemy, who championed Louis Farrakhan, and the Clash, who called their classic 1980 album Sandinista!; elsewhere, you've got Warhol's Mao paintings, of course, and pretty much everything Jean Luc Godard has ever said. It's different from the standard political peregrinations of artists and celebrities in that the art is inextricable from the politics, and from their audaciousness -- the Clash record would have sold somewhat worse if it had been called Social Democrat!
This is the line in the sand between the postmodern chilliness of M.I.A.'s radical politics and, say, the heartfelt socialism of Woody Guthrie -- the aesthetic of conflict, rather than any particular policy ambition, is the point. To Hirschberg, it suggests an unflattering comparison:
Like a trained politician, [M.I.A.] stays on message. It's hard to know if she believes everything she says or if she knows that a loud noise will always attract a crowd.
I think this is a more damning indictment of politics than it is of M.I.A. -- whose music is, all things considered, pretty great, if not quite up to the precedents of London Calling or It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Stitching an aesthetic out of politics is at the end of the day pretty harmless; assembling a politics out of aesthetics, not so much.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
It's a bit unclear who's in charge of Britain right now, but if -- as is looking more likely -- David Cameron enters 10 Downing Street with either a minority government or a wacky Conservative-Liberal coalition, he's going to have his hands full right off the bat with Argentina:
Argentina reacted with fury last night to the news that British company
Rockhopper Exploration had made significant oil discoveries in waters around
the Falkland Islands.
As news broke that the company had encountered a 53m-thick deposit of oil
220km (135 miles) north of the islands, that could lead to the discovery of
up to 200 million barrels of oil worth £17 billion at current prices,
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana condemned British actions in the
region as “illegal” and “unilateral”.
In a statement issued yesterday by the Foreign Ministry, Mr Taiana said:
“Argentina energetically refutes what is an illegal attempt to confiscate
non-renewable natural resources that are the property of the Argentine
It went on: “And wants to make clear, to the UK authorities that authorised
this exploration and to the company involved, that the Argentine Government
will continue to denounce this illegal British action in all international
forums, and that it will take all necessary measures, according to
international law, to impede the continuation of these actions.”
Argentina’s Foreign Minister also warned that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s
Government would continue to impose restrictions on the movement of ships
between Argentina and the Falklands.
Cameron is not only hawkish on the Falklands; he has also been critical of the Obama administration's reluctance to take the British side in the dispute.
As Joe Biden would say, "Gird your loins!"
In the wake of "Bigotgate," British candidates are apparently not taking any chances with political correctness. Nick Clegg has apologized to mental health groups for use of the word "nutters" to describe people who are, well, nuts:
The remark was made in the second debate, broadcast on Sky News on April 15. Mr Clegg said that the Tory leader had aligned himself in Europe with ''nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes''.
Responding to a complaint from the charity Stand to Reason he wrote to director Jonathan Naess: ''You have raised concern about my use of the term 'nutters' in the debate and I am sorry for any offence caused.
''I am acutely aware that the stigma of mental health causes great distress to many people and my use of language that could be considered derogatory was entirely unintentional.''
Granted I've mostly heard the word used in BBC comedies rather than real life, but "nutters," unlike, say, "retarded," seems like it's more often used to describe irrational behavior than those who have mental conditions. I suspect Clegg could probably have gotten away with this one.
The biggest gaffe yet of the British general election was uttered today, and it's potentially devastating for Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour's chances. The British media, long salivating for its first taste of blood, is not surprisingly relishing the chance to stir up the frenzy.
After an impromptu conversation with voter Gillian Duffy in at a campaign stop Rochdale, during which she expressed her concerns about British immigration policy rather bluntly, Brown is heard on a still-hot microphone calling the conversation a "disaster," and describing Duffy as a "bigoted woman." Yikes. Here's the full exchange, courtesy of the New York Times:
"You can't say anything about the immigrants, all these Eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?"
The episode brings to light President Barack Obama's infamous "bitter" remarks regarding small-town voters before the Pennsylvania democratic presidential primary in 2008. But Obama was merely guilty of poor word choice, not outright hostility -- and the substantive point he made was largely accurate. Brown, on the other hand, has been caught disparaging a voter immediately after hearing her policy concerns.
British journalists are claiming this will cripple Brown, as voters with similar concerns will now wonder whether the prime minister thinks they're bigots as well. But to be fair, if Duffy's comment wasn't bigoted, it was certainly quite close to crossing that line.
Brown has now personally apologized to Duffy (it is said it went quite well), and reporters are camped on her front stoop, waiting for her response. More to come.
UPDATE: It's pointed out on Andrew Sparrow's live blog for the Guardian that Brown's exact quote was "sort of a bigoted woman," which is somewhat less harsh.
Sparrow also referenced a Channel 4 news report, during which a Rochdale resident used a variation of the "having said that" line:
One woman says: "I'm not racist, but I admit they're taking all the jobs and houses – there's several of them round here."
Lastly, actor Simon Pegg has given his (rather amusing) spin, claiming on his Twitter feed to have discovered the journalist responsible for picking up Brown's miscue.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Britain's gone mad for Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg over the past week, elevating the onetime longshot to frontrunner status in Britain's election. As it turns out, like David Bowie and U2 before him, Clegg had help from a good producer.
Pioneering glam rocker, ambient composer and pop producer Brian Eno signed on with Clegg as an advisor in 2007. Somewhat bizzarely, the 59-year-old was brought on to advise the Liberal Democrats about youth issues, but once again, it seems like Eno spotted a trend before it got big.
In a speech today at a Labour Party rally held in his old constituency of Sedgefield, former Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly threw his weight behind incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown. While some may have been surprised or even amused by Blair's endorsement of Brown, given their strained relationship, what I found most interesting was Blair's description of Conservative Leader David Cameron's campaign slogan "Time for Change" as "the most vacuous [slogan] in politics."
"Time for Change." Sound familiar? The slogan, of course, sounds eerily like Barack Obama's "Change We Can Believe In." But the Tories haven't just cherry-picked a popular catchphrase from the Obama campaign; in addition, they've hired a number of campaign strategists and consultants who've worked with candidate and President Obama, including media-savvy former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn.
What's so risible about Blair's comment is the awkward position in which it puts him: by mocking Cameron's "Time for Change," he also mocks Obama's "Change We Can Believe In." There just really isn't any way to simultaneously skewer "Time for Change" and hold up "Change We Can Believe In" as a paradigm of pith and profundity. Not exactly the nicest way to thank the guy who awarded you "first friend" status, is it?
On the other hand, maybe Blair's comment will throw some cold water on "change" enthusiasts. The change conceit does, after all, make for a vacuous campaign slogan. Given the highly polarized contemporary political atmosphere in the United States and the United Kingdom, to say that electing a president or prime minister from the opposition represents Change is nothing but an empty truism.
Owen Humphreys - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Some British bloggers seem to be infuriated by remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her meeting with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner today. Here's what Clinton had to say about the ongoing dispute over the Falkland Islands:
And we agree. We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way. [...]
As to the first point, we want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. Now, we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed. So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.
Guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, Alex Massie writes:
So one hopes that Clinton was merely being polite, but her words carry weight and will increase a sense of expectation in Argentina (and more broadly across Latin America) that cannot possibly be met and that is guaranteed to infuriate the British. At best this is clumsy; at worst it's rather worse than that.
If me email is anything to go by... the average Briton is likely to react to this sort of American intervention by suggesting that it's time to bring our boys home from Afghanistan and leave the Americans on their own.
The Economist's Bagehot was even angrier, and seemed to speculate that the move by Clinton was some sort of retaliation for " the release of the Lockerbie bomber and the fuss over Binyam Mohamed":
I have hesitated to read drastic slights into the sometimes awkward diplomacy between Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. But this stance on the Falklands cannot be seen any other way. It really is no way for the Americans to treat their most important military ally—as some in America doubtless appreciate.
I recognize this is a very contentious issue, but I think these writers may be reading a bit too much into Clinton's statement. It seems to me that when U.S. diplomats say they "encourage both countries to sit down," what they're really saying is, "we don't want to deal with this so please, just don't start another war." I don't really see the stab in the back here.
ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images
Both sides in Britain's national elections are looking to capture a little bit of the Obama magic in a series of upcoming televised debates:
David Cameron has hired two of President Obama’s former advisers to help him to prepare for the televised debates due to be held before the election. Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director, and Bill Knapp, who has worked on the past four US Democratic Party presidential campaigns, will also advise the Tory leader on general strategy.[...]
Gordon Brown, meanwhile, is being advised by Joel Benenson , a pollster and strategist who helped to prepare Mr Obama for his TV showdowns with John McCain. Labour has also received help from David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s senior adviser, and David Plouffe, his former campaign chief.
Thanks to prime minister's questions, British party leaders have plenty of experience with televised verbal jousting, but American-style debates are an entirely different beast. From an outsider's perspective, the younger more dynamic Cameron would appear to have the upper hand, though the polls do appear to be narrowing.
Peter Macdiarmid/WPA Pool/Getty Images
The latest Twitter fail comes courtesy of the Israeli Mission to Britain. The Thursday tweet included a link to a story about Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer's advancement to the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championship, but also seemed to jokingly reference last month's killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, which Mossad is suspected to have committed.
It seems the message was particularly poorly-timed, as London asked the Embassy about the use of faked British passports during the Dubai operation on the very same day. The Guardian first reported the posting, but Ynet News grabbed a screenshot of the Tweet itself. It reads:
You heard it here first: Israeli tennis player carries out hit on #Dubai target http://ow.ly/18A79
The message was removed within minutes of its posting. A response was put out by the Israeli Mission today:
Naturally, messages on the Twitter network are characterized with a great deal of creativity. In this case the creativity was undoubtedly inappropriate. The ambassador told off the employee who wrote the message and it was removed.
One would have loved to be a fly on the wall during that telling off. ("WHO'S THE GUILTY TWEETER?")
There's no two ways about it: The last year of foreign policy had more drama than a Scorsese epic and enough thrills to put Avatar to shame. From the fearsome battle in the Afghan hills to the U.S.-China love-hate relationship, and from the serious al Qaeda threats in Yemen to the hard-to-take-seriously pirates off the Somali coast, 2009 was arguably a much more interesting year for global politics than for movies. So with Oscar nominations due tomorrow, we're taking nominations for our own FP Oscars.
Who would you pick for the best actor of the year? Is President Barack Obama holding his own in an unfriendly world, or does the ubiquitous Brazilian President Lula deserve an Oscar? Is Muammar Qaddafi's persona just too good to be true, or do you prefer the smooth, suave diplomacy (and wacky domestic antics) of France's Nicolas Sarzoky?
You tell us what scandals, dramas, tragicomedies, and personal stories are your picks for the history books in 2009. Listed below are the categories and a few sample entries. Send your own nominations to Joshua.Keating@foreignpolicy.com or paste them in the comments below. May the best news win!
Best picture: What one story encapsulates the year?
Best drama: Spies, dissidents, treachery, and truth. Were the adrenaline-pumping protests following the Iran elections the most dramatic event? Or perhaps it was the long, drawn-out U.S. decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. If you have a humanitarian bent, the crises in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan might come a heart-wrenching first.
Best comedy: If it isn't a tragedy, the dysfunction of the U.S. Congress is certainly good for a laugh. Then again, how about the Copenhagen Climate conference that ended in a collective shrug? Or the British MPs who used their expense accounts to buy fancy rugs and re-dig their backyard swimming pools?
Best romantic comedy: Gordon Brown requested meeting after meeting with the U.S. president; Obama just didn't have time. Brown gave him a romantic antique biography of Churchill, and Obama gave him a DVD box set. Let's just say the special relationship isn't all it used to be. But then again, there are other comedies in Europe these days ... Berlusconi anyone?
Best romantic drama: Unclear whether this should be a drama or a comedy, but the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladamir Putin certainly have a relationship worth noting -- as their press photographer has shown time and time again...
Best action: A U.S. ship is seized in the Gulf of Aden and devious pirates take the Maersk Alabama captive on the high seas, demanding a ransom for their deed. But lo and behold! A brave captain sacrifices his freedom to save his crew. And the U.S. whacks three pirates in the end, bringing everyone home safely! Phew!
Best special effects: Hmm, how about that missile launch in North Korea? It hit right on target: the Pacific Ocean.
Best director: Nicolas Sarkozy is a whirling dervish of diplomatic activity.
Best actor: Very few world leaders can also claim their own daily television shows -- and surprisingly humorous ones at that. "Alo Presidente" hasn't exactly skyrocketed Hugo Chavez to fame (his coup attempt back in the 1990s did that), but man has this guy mastered media in the Drudge Era.
Best actress: On a more serious note, few women leaders have been more powerful this year in asserting political freedom than Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi. Or does Hillary Clinton have your vote? As one FP staffer put it, "she's the queen of 'the show must go on.'"
Best supporting actress: Is Carla Bruni the perfect companion for a perfectionist French president?
Best supporting actor: Let's be honest: One man whose entire year has been a story about other people's interests is the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. For all his posturing and pontificating, he was never running the show.
Best costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes.
Worst costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes. You decide.
Lifetime achievement award: Fidel? Kim Jong Il? Mubarak? Most of the longest-lasting players on the world stage aren't particularly savory characters. Got someone better?
We'll post a full list of nominees based on your e-mails and comments on Monday, Feb. 8 and give you a chance to vote. The final winners will be announced at the end of the month.
We promise to keep the musical numbers short.
Today, on Fox News Radio (via The Hill), Rep. James Clyburn, the House majority whip, let loose with some nasty words for the upper half of the U.S. bicameral legislature: "[Senators] tend to see themselves as a House of Lords and they don't seem to understand that those of us that go out there every two years stay in touch with the American people. We tend to respond to them a little better."
It's an easy statement to sympathize with. In the past year, the majority-rules House has seemed a paragon of populist efficiency, passing cap and trade and the health care bills with relative ease -- before the Senate's long horse-trading process winnowed public support for the latter, and before the Democrats lost their 60th Senate seat and thus their ability to stop Republican filibusters.
But it left me thinking -- if only the Senate were like the House of Lords!
At the very least, Britain realized that the institution was anti-democratic and unpopular -- and reformed it, diminishing its power and changing its crusty composition. Parliament has progressively reduced the number of hereditary peers, the land-owning barons of old, replacing them with life peers appointed for career excellence. Plus, in the future, Parliament will likely start making peers elected. (See the composition of the House of Lords here.)
The Times reports that when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in London next week, she expressed concerns that a new Tory government led by David Camerson would cause a rift between Britain and Europe:
Mrs Clinton is said to be worried by Mr Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty if it is not ratified by the time of the next election or seek to repatriate powers given to Brussels in previous agreements. [...]
President Obama has repeatedly made plain that he wants a strong and united Europe as a foreign policy partner on issues ranging from Afghanistan to climate change.
He has less sentimental attachment than many of his predecessors to the traditional “special relationship”. Instead, he believes that Britain should be at the heart of Europe — a position that has been put in doubt by French and German anger over Mr Cameron’s decision to sever ties with the federalist centre right grouping in the Strasbourg Parliament.
Mr Obama is enthusiastic about the idea of a permanent EU president to replace the revolving chairmanship of the EU council, a measure opposed by the Conservatives.
It has long since been Washington’s aspiration to have a “phone to ring” in Europe and there would be strong support for a heavyweight figure such as Tony Blair taking on the role. Mr Obama’s impatience with dealing with the existing European structures is being reflected by an apparent reluctance to attend the next EU/US summit: he may send vice-president Joe Biden to Sweden in his place.
If Obama is intent to see the new EU governance structure put into place, it will be interesting to see if Vice President Biden applies some pressure to Czech President Vaclav Klaus -- the lone holdout on ratifying the Lisbon treaty -- when they meet in Prague on Friday.
In what will probably qualify as the year's least exciting civil rights victory, the far-right British National Party has agreed to admit nonwhite members nearly three decades after its founding:
A government-backed rights body took it to court, claiming the party's constitution is discriminatory.
At a court hearing, a lawyer for the party said leader Nick Griffin would ask members next month to change the constitution so it did not discriminate on the grounds of race or religion.
In an order issued at the Central London County Court, the BNP agreed to use "all reasonable endeavors" to revise its constitution to comply with the Equality Bill, which bans discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or religious belief.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which brought the case, said it would be watching to see whether the BNP complied.
Somehow I don't think minorities are going to be beating down the door to join.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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