Tag Archives: united states

What Brexit says about the choice the United States has…

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As a Brit with an interest in US politics that’s lasted pretty much my entire adult life, all I can say is that if Brexit has taught us anything, it’s that those promoting the politics of fear and division don’t care about you or I. Their ideological, selfish campaigning has nothing underneath it. The vote to Leave was a shock, but not unexpected. The Remain campaign simply thought they could scare voters into staying, while Leavers simply peddled negative, xenophobic, racist and outright made-up figures that played to that populist, “we don’t need anyone else to be Great Britain” rhetoric. It resonated with people that thought politics had failed them and saw solutions through demonizing others rather than the very people telling them to Leave. The very same people from the heart of the establishment who were claiming to be anything but. Sound familiar?

There are many things about Hilary Clinton that I have issue with, and while Bernie made inspiring and principled speeches and energised youth and disaffected voters, surely we all knew the reality was that the majority of his plans would have never been reality (Obama’s two terms fighting the House and his own party tells us that an overwhelmingly decent and principled man still struggles to push through even the most sensible policies). And we only have to look at the Labour party to see how a candidate that’s come to power on a wave of populism and left wing ideals has proven a less than competent and effective leader.

But Bernie has forced Hilary into adopting more of his language and policies. This can only be a good thing. Is she as inspiring? As emotive? As warm and engaging? No, she isn’t. And she’s up against a candidate that, however abhorrent, knows how to speak in a way that (unfortunately) connects with many people, playing to their fear and anger. She has to be positive, she has to be able to reach out to voters that want to be heard, that are being attacked by her opponent. That’s a potentially huge demographic. The more he alienates, the more voters are up for grabs for the democrats. Simply refuting his “policies” won’t work, because he makes them up as he goes along, which makes them hard to lay a punch on. And yet Hilary seems to be held up to a level of scrutiny that no man and certainly not a “personality” like Trump ever is.

But however depressing it is to see another dynasty crowned (between Bush and Clinton, that’s most of my life covered, more than half if Hilary gets in) and feel as if there’s such a narrow choice for leader, the alternative surely must galvanize democrats? So many here voted Conservative in 2015 thinking it was a safe bet for a coalition only for a majority to get in and set about further ruining the country, culminating in our decision to leave the EU. Many voted there as a protest, or because they bought lies on immigration, the economy, public services, and it’s going to affect the rest of our lives in the UK.

Trump would be the same. It would be an atom bomb in the US political landscape. Like Leavers, I’m not even sure he wants or expects to win. It’s just about his own ego and popularity. He’s willing to divide the country to feed his own myth and coffers. It’s a crazy situation, but Hilary hasn’t even made her convention speech and yet democrats are fighting each other: it’s just what he wants. I can’t see any reason not to vote against Trump, and to prevent him from being in office, Hilary is the only choice, surely? Anything else is just giving a vote to the devil….

Do the Hustle…

The cast of American Hustle
American Hustle….

I thought I’d start the new year by trying to get to the cinema more, partly because there’s a lot of good stuff around (12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, Anchorman 2, Monument Men) and partly because I live five minutes walk from an independent cinema here in Stratford, so there’s really no excuse. I chose David O’Russell’s new ensemble picture about (in the loosest of terms) about a corruption scandal in New Jersey in the 1970s and 80s. Pedantry check: while it does bear a passing resemblance, in reality it’s only framed around events, the names are changed (to protect the not very innocent).

That out of the way, it’s a hugely enjoyable film. The cast is superb, working very much as an ensemble, even though you’d argue (like The Fighter) the star of the show, while pitched behind Bale’s crack addict (in The Fighter) brother or overweight con-man here, is Amy Adams. She’s proven serious acting chops once again, the driving force behind the men, and the story, and a world away from Disney fare of the last decade. But part of the joy is just how great the film looks, and, more importantly, feels. Yes, there’s been a lot of talk about style over substance, but that’s a lazy criticism. This isn’t Anchorman, it’s pitched fantastically into the late 70s, and there’s little flamboyance above what’s needed to tell the story.

As for the plot, it skirts a little close to pastiche at times, in terms of the Goodfellas-style focus pulls and bar scenes, but it’s all about the characters, staying much in close-up, to get us close to the action, which works especially well in the scenes with De Niro, which crackle with menace (and imminent collapse), and in the second half of the film, as things slowly unravel. There’s no great payoff, even though the ‘real events’ are given a veneer by Russell, reminding us that this is life, and there’s never a happy ending (cue “some of the actually happened” at the start).

Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper in American Hustle.
Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper in American Hustle.

Bale is in superb, shape-shifted form as Irving. Compare this to The Machinist, and you have to wonder if he’s the actor most willing to destroy his form to inhabit the role. He’s not afraid of walking around, gut out. He also gets the fine line between crafty con artist and flawed human perfect, in fact all the characters interweave really well, whether it’s Adams’ ballsy and strong fellow con, Cooper’s curly-haired and increasingly wayward FBI agent, Penner’s Elvis-haired mayor, and Lawrence’s agoraphobic wife. You can sense how much they’re enjoying themselves in every scene, even when it’s all going to pieces. Despite the fact this is a criminal caper, you still feel sympathy, even though most of the characters are pretty unlikable.

The music is superb – think Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Live And Let Die, A Horse With No Name, I Feel Love, Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone – and adds to the experience greatly, (and as an aside, it’s so great to see attention to a good soundtrack when the film’s so clearly lodged in its time) and it’s one of the many reasons why I barely looked at my watch for the two hours-plus running time.

It’s a classic tale of American life, of crime, corruption, politics (in passing) but more than anything about people. And it could’ve come across as a lazy pastiche, but it was a hugely enjoyable trip, at times almost a romp, that’s carried by its stars and its director. It could’ve been overacted, but actually, there’s a nice understatement it much of it, even when the scenes are being laid on thick (the toilet scene in the casino with Adams and Lawrence for starters). Even O Russell, whose career reached something of a crossroads at the divisive I Heart Huckabees (I thought it was self-indulgent nonsense), where his behind-the-camera antics were both cringeworthy and aggressive, (and widely reported) seems to have righted the ship, and reigned in much of his difficulties (though not all), and since then he’s put out three award-worthy films in The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This has already picked up nominations for the four main actors, director and screenplay in the Golden Globes.

So forget the criticisms, and just enjoy what’s a beautifully acted, superbly shot, dryly funny film that captures the world-weary transition from the 1970s in New Jersey in all its glory.

When celebration on 9/11 is not glorification

Islam is taking a¬†hammering in the US¬†press at the moment, most of all from the traditional right-wing (read: intolerant) suspects over its so-called increasing influence in America. Witness the reaction over the plans to build the ‘9/11 mosque’ (an Islamic centre to be run by an organisation that aims to build bridges between the Islamic and Western world, but why let the truth get in the way of a good polemic?) near Ground Zero in New York recently – and the battle is still ongoing – to see that Islam is under fire as much as any time since that terrible day in September 2001.

But even more worry is now placed on the Eid festival this year, which falls on or near September 11th. For Muslims this is a celebration of the end of Ramadan, a religious period of fasting that goes back to the very core of their beliefs, but there’s a real danger that certain parties in the United States will use any show of elation as Islam glorifying the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001.

With some of the reaction in the US over the decision to go ahead with the mosque two blocks from Ground Zero (a church’s “burn the Qu’ran day” and “Islam is EVIL” signs being some of the most shameful) coupled with growing Republican support, particularly from the far-right ‘Tea Party’ movement in the last year, September 11th 2010 is likely to be arguably the most tense anniversary of the terrible day since the event, but one can only hope that it can be treated with some perspective, and some understanding, a reminder that the US constitution is based on freedoms, including that of religion, and that all religions should be resepected, however unlikely that may be.

The worry is that those that seek to spread the message that Islam = Al Qaeda, and that all Muslims supported 9/11 – shocking untruths that still are too readily accepted by those that hear what they want to believe – will use this unfortunate clash to “prove” that the Islamic world and terrorists are one and the same. One can only hope that sense wins out, and this vocal minority (and it is, thankfully, whatever you feel of the US, still that) is put in its place. We are, after all, still claiming we live in a civilsed society where freedom still has value. And that, after all, should extend to everyone, not just those that we feel it should.

What did we expect?

Blair at the Chilcot inquiry
Blair at the Chilcot inquiry

Depending on what papers you read, or what radio stations you listen to and tv stations you watch, today was due to be one of the most important in the last decade of our political history. Forget Obama’s one year on, or even his election, but Friday 29th January 2010 was the day that the Chilcot inquiry would get to hear from Tony Blair, perhaps the figurehead of our Iraq ideology and the focus of bile and criticism from the anti-war lobby. Having an ex- (and previous) PM give evidence in an inquiry such as this is unprecedented, and even despite its lack of legal standing or recourse from what evidence was heard, the frenzied build up raised almost feverish hope that we would have our Frost/Nixon moment, especially in light of a recent interview with Fern Britton where he appeared to state he’d have invaded with or without proof of WMD.

In reality, of course, this was never going to be the case. Blair, whatever you say about him (and personally his political conduct before, during and since the invasion turned my opinion of him from respected – if not supported – leader to self-important and pious disappointment) was a good leader up to this juncture. One of his main strengths was being able to put his point across, and to debate and discuss, much of which went into his conduct in the run up to the Iraq invasion. He had his convictions, his beliefs, and he stuck to them rigidly. In previous circumstances this was a strength, but this time it clouded his judgement, in the face of advice from the Foreign Office, Attorney General, and criticism from his own Cabinet, not to mention a tidal wave of public opinion, he ploughed ahead, striving to retain the ‘special relationship’ with America, possibly at all costs.Typically, he slipped in a side door and away from the protesters and families of Iran casualties, an action that seemed to preface his performance during the day.

Chilcot protesters await Blair

What we know now is that we had a ‘dodgy’ dossier, a misleading document that overstated intelligence that was patchy from the JIC at best. What we had was a legal opinion from the Attorney General that right up unto the decision to go to war wasn’t convinced of a legal case for war with the existing UN Resolution 1441. And what we had was a plan for war, but no clear plan for post-invasion. There were clear questions that were needed to be asked today, for us to try and finally get some clarity and give at least the public some modicum of truth and respect on how we came to go to war, and with retrospect, what we did wrong.

What we got was another Blair masterclass in bluff and subterfuge, stating his own case, swerving questions and restating his firm belief that he was right. Ignoring whether the intelligence he was given that led him to his ‘beyond doubt’ statement wasn’t strong and if he wasn’t correct in saying what he had, he simply stated that he believed it was beyond doubt. Similarly, he stated that he believed that the case for war was sound, and that the planning for the post-war period was ok (despite multiple criticisms from many parties in the inquiry), blaming it on conditions being different to what had been planned. If regimes with WMD needed to stop using them, why did we not invade Pakistan? China? Korea? It simply isn’t consistent. So many times, his answer started with ‘let me say that….’ where he would revert to pre-prepared answers and statements about, Kosovo, 9/11, Iran, when all we wanted were answers on Iraq.

Don’t let’s get too excited here. We knew this was never going to be a career-wrecking day. Blair wouldn’t have got where he was today by being careless or carefree (he is, let’s remember) a barrister. But he’s deflected every contentious question, at times almost suggesting in the light of others’ criticisms, that there was no issue (and effectively suggesting by that, that everyone else was incorrect). Batting everything back with a stern defence, clinging to the ‘special relationship’, stating his firm beliefs in everything he stood for, and justifying his actions on this. The only chink of light coming where he admitted his interview with Fern Britton wasn’t worded sensibly, but at the same time, denying that he was wrong. He did also concede that the 45-minute claim wasn’t, with hindsight, a sensible move.

For the families sitting in the gallery, that have lost their loved ones in the conflict, this won’t be much closure. If anything, Tony Blair’s performance, while nervous and shaky in the first hour, became more sure-footed, and less revealing as the day went on. The panel made a decent effort of not letting him settle, and after early criticism during the inquiry, they’ve become more steely, but ultimately, with no real legal grounding in their group, they were never going to get one over on the former PM.

Yes, with hindsight we can look at many decisions in a different light, but much of this was being criticised at the time, and there was huge opposition evident, but today started full of hope, and ended with weary resignation. I suppose the only consolation is that, however steadfast his outward rhetoric, Blair will have to live with what happened (and is still happening) in Iraq, and there are hundreds of thousands that have lost their lives as a result of decisions he took. This, sadly, is a situation we will most likely face again in this decade. One can only hope we look back at this inquiry and at least use it to colour our actions in the future, or this will have been a pointless exercise.

What’s goin’ on?

Marvin Gaye

Since Tuesday afternoon the world feels a fresher place, and while Barack Obama’s near-deification over the last eighteen months has at times taken on unrealistic proportions, his first days in office have been cause for great optimism: the closure of Guantanamo Bay (or its start), the dismantling of US intelligence’s ‘Black Sites’, the repealing of the 25-year gag order on US funding for organisations that are linked to abortions, and the freezing (and ultimate reversing) of many of Bush’s late-breaking laws.

And one song seems to be echoing round my head today – Marvin Gaye’s sublime What’s Goin’ On? The lyrics are as resonant today as they were when the song was released, but they now sit against the backdrop of a hope for a brighter future, and that is something that means I can wake up with a smile on my face each morning, however cold it is.

Crossing the line…. again and again

The sadness of the Israel/Gaza conflict over the last two weeks has been that, every day, there seems to be a fresh and even more disheartening episode of anguish and sadness. Every day there is fresh horror.

When the Israeli army bombed a UN shelter at a school – which it had GPS coordinates for, knowing that it was being used by the UN – killing more than 40 Palestinians (Hamas terrorists if you’d believe the propaganda, but women and children among them if you believe the hospitals) it seemed, with the fresh hope of peace talks and ceasefire, that the conflict had reached its nadir. But today, the 8th, brings even more terrible atrocities.

News that children had been found by the Red Cross, lying almost starved next to their dead mothers, with Israeli troops less than 100 metres away. The Red Cross had not been allowed in over the past week to give vital aid to those hundreds of thousands that depend solely on it to survive from day to day. Only yesterday had the ‘humanitarian corridor’ been opened by Israel (is disgracefully late action, no doubt to be hailed as a sweeping grand gesture of compassion by their own spin office), at a time when many of Gaza’s residents may be beyond hope. This episode has sadly proven this to be true. And we have no idea how many more are in the same position, lying dead in their rooms, not from bombs or shells, or attacks from ground troops, but from simple lack of food and water, prevented by an illegal and despicable blockade that’s lasted well back to 2007, but yet seems to be swept under the carpet by the apologists that support Israel.

Added to this, the UN has now suspended their aid operations after a UN marked truck was hit by an Israeli shell, killing two aid workers. What sort of country and people can see this as justified actions of war? How blinkered can we be, can the world be? How can this disgusting behaviour be accepted? It is not even the scantest form of self-defence, but yet our own government, the US, Canada, and Australia, who recognise Hamas only as terrorists, and not as any legitimate political party, continue to stay almost silent on the matter, calling only for ceasefire, not condemning the senseless acts and the continual blockade that has engulfed the area way before this war began. It’s actions that make me embarrassed and ashamed to call Labour my government. That we cannot see what is happening in front of our eyes, and see that it is inherently wrong.

It was Israel that overstepped the line on November 4th 2008, breaking the ceasefire with a raid into Gaza that killed six Hamas fighters. But this is again something that’s been conveniently papered over, like much of anything that seeks to further the Israeli cause. But for the past weeks, and in the past few days in particular, it’s made these pale into insignificance by its actions, as if it’s challenging itself to stoop lower each time. History will look back on these days as dark times, ones that we, as those that live in countries that support the Israel movement and condemn the actions of Hamas outright, should be deeply ashamed. Because people are dying in squalor and poverty, and we sit by and watch it happen.

When staying silent is the most shameful act we can use…

Gaza conflict

It doesn’t take much to see the almost minute-by-minute news from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on our screens, airwaves, webpages this last few weeks. The fact it’s been going on for months, and in fact decades, is less reported or covered. Like with many things in our fractured planet at the moment, the emphasis is on the NOW. And now, right now, it’s a conflict that would only appear to have one side. Hamas, are the bad guys. And that is why this ‘war’ (though with the Palestinians so outnumbered and outgunned, invasion would be more appropriate) is so much an example of how this 2000s planet earth functions.

Hamas are a terrorist group, according to the UK, US, Canada and EU. To their people they are freedom fighters. And since 2006, they are the elected government of Palestine. But, if you believe the media, specifically, the BBC, Sky, ITV, CNN, Fox, NBC et al, they’re the stone-throwing, rocket-launching terrorist instigators of this entire shameful and saddening conflict. Let’s forget the almost laughably disproportionate level of attack (100s of rockets from Hamas, single figure deaths – some figures from their own troops on Israel’s side – to 10 days of aerial and now ground bombardment, 600+ dead, 1000s injured, and lack of electricity, water, food, aid and medicine) and remember that whatever happens, Israel is acting in self-defence. Let’s enjoy the news ‘blackout’ (just because you are in Israel doesn’t mean you can’t report on Palestine) that means in the UK we only see Israeli politicians and soldiers giving their ‘balanced’ accounts of the conflict (though Channel 4 must be lauded for their egalitarian stance alone from all other broadcasters here). After all, if we are fed enough of this ‘truth’ then perhaps we will one day believe it.

To a friend today who said:

As far as i can see it Isreal keep saying they will stop any offensive as soon as Hamas stop firing rockets into their country. All Hamas seem to be bothered about is telling Isreal they will be crushed and killed in Gaza and have no intention whatsoever of stopping the firing of rockets. The only way anything can get sorted out now is by Hamas giving up. As soon as they do all this will end and the world can then look at sorting whatever issues palestinians have in Gaza.

I replied:

Do you agree that the response from Israel to Hamas’ rocket attacks (which have killed only a few people) is completely disproportionate?

Do you agree with the blockade of Gaza over the last 18 months by Israel to prevent fuel, money, water, food, medical supplies and general aid (currently less than 10% of the amount needed each day gets through, if at all) thus starving the Palestinian people?

Hamas, while I agree are a terrorist/military organisation as well as (people do sometimes seem to forget) an elected government, are defending the right of the Palestinian people to live in their own country. Did you not see the map Tony posted showing how Palestine has been encroached upon by Israel in the last 60 years? Would you agree with England being gradually eroded to less than 10% of its size by another country?

Israel are happy to use Hamas’ rockets as the excuse to totally destroy Gaza’s infrastructure. While they claim they are destorying Hamas’ system of government (they see a return to the Palestinian Authority that Hamas beat in the elections as a solution) what on earth do they think will happen when there’s a ceasefire? Gaza is being systematically pounded into the ground. Once there’s a ceasefire, Israelis will be going about their daily business while 1.5m Palestinians starve. There’ll be no country left to govern by the time this is finshed.

When this was Bosnia, we called it genocide or ethnic cleansing. What’s the difference here?

This was a person not ignorant or blinkered, just representative of the general population, taking their views of what is fed to them in the media. It’s depressing that we are led so much by those channels, some of which do have agendas, but some of which, like the BBC are publicly funded and are bound by their charter to be ‘impartial’. They should have it challenged, even more so than during the Iraq war.

And while it’s true to say the blockade has made it difficult to report directly, it’s not the whole truth. The BBC does at least have two Palestinian reporters embedded in Gaza, but then they also have reporters stood on the border overlooking the Gaza strip and reporting ‘on the spot’ and pretty much saying almost nothing about the Palestinian side of the conflict. It really is an amazing piece of propaganda and spin from Israel (who set up a political spin department last year for this very sort of issue) that they will counter almost every piece of news…

“the civilians were killed as Hamas have hidden in homes while they fight” (where else do you expect them to hide?)
“we are pursuing military targets but even sometimes civilian targets are hit” (the perfect excuse – though reports from inside the hospitals say the vast majority of casualities are civilian, including women and children)

Today’s blast at the UN-controlled school was particularly shocking – remember that the UN give the Israelis GPS coordinates of all their schools/safe houses so they no where they are and they don’t target them, yet they hit 3 today, one of which resulted in 40 deaths. Israel were on the news almost as soon as it happened claiming that they were only acting in self-defence, and that the explosions “didn’t relate to the ordanance we used” (ie. that Hamas’ had their own explosives in there – a UN safe area – which caused the deaths).

That’s what gets to me the most. The total lack of balance, (Channel 4 is the only one really providing this) and then the almost complete lack of opposition anywhere within the Arab world, UK, Europe (bar France). The UN is therefore appearing weak and powerless. Another blog echoes this desperate situation perfectly.

We can only hope the ceasefire talks and news of a humanitarian corridor are valid and that we shall see an end to the bloodshed. This is genocide by any other name.