Democrats praise ‘new hope’ Obama

August 26, 2008

michelle obamaThe wife of US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has joined party leaders in praising his values, dedication to family and leadership.

Michelle Obama, giving the first keynote address of the party’s four-day convention in Denver, said he would make "an extraordinary president".

Senator Edward Kennedy, undergoing treatment for brain cancer, also lauded Mr Obama, saying he offered "new hope".

Senator Obama will formally accept the party’s nomination on Thursday night.

He is to address a crowd of an expected 80,000 people at a sports stadium, arriving from a tour of electoral battlegrounds.

The first African-American to be nominated as a US presidential candidate, he will stand against Republican John McCain in the 4 November ballot.

Senator McCain will be nominated next week at the Republican Party’s convention in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota.

Some of the latest opinion polls suggest the two men are in a statistical dead heat.

The Democrats hope their national convention in Colorado will show the Illinois senator as a family man and heal the rifts of the primary race.

In an assured speech, Mrs Obama talked of being raised with the same values as her husband: "That you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect."

She went on: "We want our children and all children in this nation, to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."

The couple’s two young daughters, Sasha and Malia, then joined their mother on stage as Mr Obama spoke by satellite video link-up from Missouri.

The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Denver says Mrs Obama knew that she had to claw her way back into the affections of the US public after a nasty slip earlier this year, when a comment about being proud about her country for the first time drew stinging criticism.

Her speech was effortless political theatre, our correspondent says, but also brilliant content, aimed at precisely the kind of Americans worried about her patriotism.

Earlier, Mr Kennedy, the 76-year-old scion of the iconic Democratic family, appeared on stage to loud cheers.

"I have come here to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and elect Barack Obama president of the United States," he said.

His niece, Caroline Kennedy, who had introduced a video homage to Mr Kennedy shortly before, paid her own emotional tribute to both him and Mr Obama.

"Their stories are very different but they share a commitment to the timeless American ideals of justice and fairness, service and sacrifice, faith and family," she said.

"Leaders like them come along rarely. But once or twice in a lifetime, they come along just when we need them most."

Mr Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetero-Ng, earlier spoke of a shared upbringing in which she and her brother learned that with hard work and imagination they could "dream the improbable".

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke of a defining moment in history for the US.

Praising Mr Obama’s "bold" vision for the nation’s future, Mrs Pelosi described him as "honouring American values, a belief in personal responsibility, in community, in hard work".

Party officials have played down the scope for discord between supporters of Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton, who was his chief rival for the nomination.

Opening the convention, Democratic chairman Howard Dean spoke of "the strength and unity of our party".

Mrs Clinton herself, addressing delegates from her home state of New York on Monday, urged them to throw their support behind Mr Obama.

She will give a speech to the convention on Tuesday and her husband and former president Bill is to speak on Wednesday.

More than 4,000 Democratic delegates and tens of thousands of officials, activists, protesters and journalists have descended on Denver for the event.

(BBC News)


Michelle Obama interview: I’m nothing special

August 24, 2008

michelle obamaMore than a year before her husband was declared Democratic candidate, Michelle Obama was already hard at work on his behalf. The setting: the Chit-n-Chat coffee shop in Waukee, Iowa, population 9,213. Percentage of population that is white: 97.7. The subject: values. Hers and his. ‘I married my husband,’ she told the crowd, composed equally of reporters and supporters, ‘because we shared the same Mid-Western values: keep your word, work hard, treat others with respect.’

As a topic, it’s a little disappointing (who would ever come out in favour of shirking work?). I had hoped for a little more of, ‘He’s a man, just a man’ – the speech in which she ribs her lionised husband for being so inept at the banal details of daily life – but those jokes, she told me later, have gone a little flat. Once you have done them, you can’t keep doing them. That, and having been chided by the New York Times for assuming that the American public does, in fact, see Barack Obama as a god (though his mantle has slipped a little now). ‘No harm, no foul,’ Michelle Obama said of the criticism – though she admitted to subsequently toning down the irony. ‘If the joke is clouding the point, let’s just get to the point.’

Of his wife, Barack Obama has said, ‘She is smart, funny and thoroughly charming. If I ever had to run against her for public office, she would beat me without too much difficulty.’ Watching her easy way with the crowd, you can see what he means. She writes her own speeches, speaks without notes, doesn’t seem uptight or anxious about being liked, and makes jokes about herself. Moreover, she looks the part of the elegant working mother she was until just over a year ago, when she cut back on 80 per cent of her $212,000-a-year job with the University of Chicago hospital system in order to concentrate on her husband’s campaign.

After the Chit-n-Chat speech, I sought out the sole black woman in the room, a distinguished-looking elderly lady who had watched Obama’s performance with a small, enigmatic smile. Willie Glanton, it turned out, was the first African-American woman elected to the Iowa state legislature – and a hardcore Hillary Clinton supporter, until Barack and Michelle Obama came along and swept her off her feet. What, I wondered, did she like so much about Michelle Obama?

‘She’s normal,’ Glanton answered, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. ‘She stands by her man.’

Normal. Certainly not a word that applies to Hillary’s spouse, Bill Clinton. Nor, frankly, is it a word that would have applied to Teresa Heinz, John Kerry’s oddly flinty wife, or Cindy McCain, who once stole painkillers from the charity for which she worked. Or even the icy Laura Bush, who can barely contain her contempt for the media in her rare public appearances. But, again and again, it is a word that resurfaces with regard to the Obamas.

‘This is probably my 20th interview on the subject, so I’ve really been forced to think about what makes Barack and Michelle unique,’ said Michelle’s older brother, Craig Robinson, who works as the head basketball coach at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. ‘And I think it’s that they come closer to being like us than any of the other candidates. They’re not extremely wealthy or lifelong politicians hungry for power. They seem like normal, honest people who are doing this for the right reasons.’

Michelle Obama arrived for our photo shoot at the Chicago Cultural Centre wearing black leggings, a flowy tunic top and flat shoes, and looking a little tired. Apparently the senator had surprised her by arriving home for a rare visit the night before. Given her somewhat fierce reputation, I was a little surprised by her easygoing attitude to the clothes for the shoot. ‘I think you all should decide,’ she said, shrugging. ‘I can be comfortable in anything.’ (On the rare occasion she finds a moment to shop, she says, she is drawn to Giorgio Armani or MaxMara for suits.)

Then the time came to do her hair. After half an hour with a curling iron, the hairdresser presented her with a mirror.

Obama looked at the intentionally messy hairdo with alarm. ‘The hair is not working,’ she said, fingering a lank lock with alarm. ‘I look like I just got out of bed.’

A few feet away, Ingrid Grimes, Obama’s make-up artist, shook her head and muttered. Grimes met the Obamas four years ago, became a friend, and has been doing Michelle’s make-up on special occasions ever since. She knows her style inside out. And this was not it. ‘Her natural style is classic and elegant,’ she later told me. ‘She doesn’t like a lot of fuss.’ More important, and as we were witnessing, Michelle Obama does not have a problem saying no. ‘It’s partly her intellect,’ Grimes said. ‘She is a person who is comfortable in her skin. She’s clear and direct without ever being over-emotional.’

Even her brother, who has said, ‘Michelle doesn’t like to play games, because she can’t stand to lose,’ calls Michelle one of his best friends. ‘She might seem intimidating at first because she’s so smart, but my sister is a very warm and sympathetic person. When the chips are down, she and my wife are the people I talk to.’ And for the record, it’s not that Michelle can’t stand to lose. She doesn’t like to see anyone lose. ‘I’m competitive,’ she said, ‘but I’d rather see everyone win.’

When we sat down together a few minutes later, the subject of normality came up almost immediately. ‘I say this not to be modest, but there are so many young people who could be me. There’s nothing magical about my background. I am not a supergenius. I had good parents and some good teachers and some decent breaks, and I work hard. Every other kid I knew could have been me, but they got a bad break and didn’t recover. It’s like I tell the young people I talk to: the difference between success and failure in our society is a very slim margin. You almost have to have that perfect storm of good parents, self-esteem and good teachers. It’s a lot, which is why Barack and I believe so passionately about investing in education and strengthening institutions.’

Daily Telegraph


US presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s Mid-East tangle

July 25, 2008

barack obamaUS presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s current visit to the Middle East would give him a sound measure of the foreign policy dilemmas which are likely to bedevil an administration coming under his purview, in the event of his winning the upcoming race for the number one job in the US.

Obama has reportedly already drawn flak from some sections of Palestinian opinion by stating that Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital and "remain undivided’. This flies in the face of the usual US position that the status of Jerusalem remains to be negotiated. On the other hand, Obama has raised a storm in Israeli circles by advocating negotiations with Iran on the nuclear and other relevant issues while going on record as opposing any possible moves by Teheran to develop nuclear weapons and support "terrorism".

These are just two issues on which Obama’s attempts to walk a tight rope are most apparent and which show-up his vulnerabilities as a Democratic presidential hopeful. For, as a Democratic presidential nominee, the public expectation is likely to be great that he would advocate and pursue a relatively liberal policy on the most contentious of domestic and foreign policy issues. However, the fact that he has been compelled to virtually follow Republican nominee John McCain into Iraq – besides visiting Afghanistan and Jordan – proves that there is no easy way out of the foreign policy tangles the Bush administration has got the US into. Obama’s visits to Iraq and Afghanistan are reflective of a recognition that the bulk of US public opinion is yet to make-up its mind fully on the merits or otherwise of the US military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan despite the seeming overwhelming unpopularity of these policy initiatives. The big question is, to what degree would Obama satisfy anti-war sentiment in the US that he indeed is the long-awaited deliverer of the US from its military quagmire in particularly Iraq? Would they be fortunate enough to see an expeditious withdrawal of US troops from their long-running military travails in South-West Asia under an Obama administration?

Far from being idealistic, Obama is likely to be a pragmatist and a realist in his handling of the currently most contentious foreign policy questions, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Moves would certainly get underway under Obama to "get the boys home", but this would be done with the utmost circumspection, on account of the heavy political costs which would follow in the wake of a US public perception that the US is making an unceremonious and even ignominious withdrawal from its foreign commitments. Therefore caution rather than moralistic commitment is likely to be the watchword of a future Obama administration.

It needs to be considered that the Bush administration would be leaving behind in the US public consciousness, the image of the US as a sole global hegemon, which certainly has taken a beating in Iraq, but which is nevertheless the world’s number one military and economic power. This image of the US, Obama would be compelled to uphold despite advocating a relatively liberal policy on foreign policy issues. Besides, the perception is gaining ground that a degree of stability has been established in Iraq, the heavy human costs for the US notwithstanding. Therefore, drastic policy changes in trouble spots such as Iraq, are unlikely to be on the cards.

On Middle-East issues, progressive change is likely to be equally gradual and phased out if not slow. Obama is doing right by talking to the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank but it is the Ghaza-based leadership which is proving problematic. It is the Hamas leadership which is usually seen by the West as intransigent and this political formation needs to be convinced of the merits of the two-state solution in the Middle East, besides hardline opinion on the other side of the divide. A substantial achievement has been made over the years by arriving at the two-state solution to the Middle-East tangle. Obama would be obliged to sell this concept to both sides of the divide if a stable basis is to be laid to a negotiated settlement.However, profoundly emotional issues, such as the final status of Jerusalem, would need to be resolved and this would prove an arduous undertaking on account of the inflammatory nature of the questions involved.

A greater challenge for any future US administration in the foreign policy sphere, takes the shape of a holistic approach to Middle-East peace. This is on account of the fact that the numerous tensions in the region are closely interwoven. Some of these tensions cannot be defused without making Iran an important stakeholder in peace negotiations. Nor could these tensions be comprehensively resolved without envisaging a grand coming together of all the principal political and military actors in the region. A solid foundation needs to be laid to these talks by gradually eliminating perceptual blinkers or ideological and attitudinal barriers which have prevented the sides from talking to each other over the decades.

This is an undertaking of a lifetime no doubt and a steep, uphill task at that, but one that needs to be undertaken if a comprehensive settlement is to brought in the Middle-East. Hopefully, Obama – if he emerges victorious – would lay the basis for these paradigm changes in bringing Middle-East peace but there is no doubt that the tasks at hand are of the most delicate and sensitive kind.

A future progressive-minded US administration would need to consider that the current US-led ‘war on terror’ has had the effect of creating the misconception almost globally that political issues requiring political solutions could be resolved through the use of coercion and force. It needs to be considered that "terror" is a convenient label and that it could be used by particularly state actors to repress opposition of all kinds, thereby legitimising the free use of armed force even in situations that do not warrant it. Consequently, violence and repression acquire an acceptability which only help in perpetuating spirals of violence. Thus is the world brutalised. A united, global drive for peace is the crying need.


The Obamas Cover Peiple Mag…

July 25, 2008

The Obamas Cover Peiple MagThe new issue of People magazine has Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on the cover, along with his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters – 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha.

Interesting tidbits were revealed about life on the campaign trail for the Chicago-based family, who could be moving into the White House on January 20. The girls get a weekly allowance of $1; both have chores and time is set aside for play dates and movie nights.

Obama said of his wife Michelle: "She is the best Hula-Hooper I know. Once she gets the rhythm going, she can drop to her knees! That is one thing you will never see – me Hula-Hooping. I think that’s clear."

The following is an excerpt from the People magazine interview with the Obamas:


Obama visiting Israel, West Bank

July 23, 2008

obamavisit1US Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama has begun a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, on the latest leg of his foreign tour.

Mr Obama held talks with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, before visiting Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

He is also expected to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, something his Republican rival John McCain did not do on a recent visit to the Middle East.

The Illinois senator arrived fresh from visits to Jordan and Iraq.

Mr Obama is also due to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Wednesday afternoon he is expected to visit the West Bank town of Ramallah for talks with Mr Abbas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

He is also scheduled to visit the southern Israeli town of Sderot – the target of many Palestinian militant rocket attacks.

Mr Obama is due to leave for Germany early on Thursday.

"The most important thing for me to share is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel, one that cannot be broken," Mr Obama said after touching down at Tel Aviv airport, AFP news agency reported.

"One that I have affirmed throughout my career and one that I will intend to not only continue but strengthen in an Obama administration."

BBC Middle East correspondent Paul Wood says Mr Obama is in the region in part to burnish his credentials on foreign policy and among Jewish Democratic Party voters ahead of November’s US presidential election.

Our correspondent says the presumptive Democratic nominee is also facing a wider US electorate, of whom 10% think he is a Muslim, according to a recent opinion poll.

Some also believe he was educated in a madrassa (Islamic religious school) and refused to place his hand on the Bible when sworn into the Senate – all false claims, says our correspondent.

Mr Obama arrived in Israel on Tuesday night from neighbouring Jordan, where he met King Abdullah.

He earlier joined a US congressional delegation on a visit to Iraq, where he met Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in Baghdad.

He repeated his goal of withdrawing US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months should he become president.

Back in the US, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said Mr Obama had been wrong to press for withdrawal timetables.

(BBC News)


Women don’t have it easy in the ‘free world’

July 2, 2008

obamaBy Dilrukshi Handunnetti

There is unprecedented interest the world over, over the US presidential race. And not just over the race but many aspects of it such as the race of the candidates, their stance on Iraq and utterances on Palestine to Israel.

In this hype, with the entire world watching the candidates closely, there is a women’s dimension to it that is sometimes strong, sometimes appalling and at times, immature.

The US poll sadly is showing some of the murky signs associated with local politics and campaigns. That’s when the debates plummet to an abysmal low and issues are forgotten while the debate is on personalities than anything else. Then there are women bashing in all its forms.

Strangely, the women bashing and the feminist debate had little to do with the two contenders, Republican candidate John McCain and Democratic hopeful Barack Obama.

Women bashing

The sequence of the women bashing began with Hillary Clinton as she ran against Obama to secure Democratic nomination. The one time first lady has many pluses to her credit as much as aspects viewed negatively. What’s new about that?

But for daring to run against a man, black or otherwise, and for showing strength instead of crumbling, she had her fill in terms of bad publicity — almost as if she was not born a woman, but a she-man.

The fact that a woman running for Democratic nomination, however successful a senator she had been appeared inconsequential in some US opinion polls as well. She was the hot favourite for a while, with a few snide remarks here and there. Obama was still picking up his campaign at that time.

On cnn.com, there was one time President Bill Clinton crying foul over the fate his wife suffered. It is believed that Bill Clinton was no great supporter of his strong wife who found her voice elsewhere and during the campaign. Until then she was more or less in the shadow except on her health drive.

White and pluses

When Clinton commenced her campaign, she had it all. She was white. That’s important, whether the reference to colour is accepted or not. Then she had many other pluses such as funds, the machinery, a recognised name in her own right as well as being the bright spouse of a former president. For a long time, she was the established candidate.

But now that she is not the Democratic candidate, there are accusations that she divided the country’s massive feminist movement. That she supported Bush’s war theories as a senator. It was as if people could not wait to watch her step down.

A complete change came when Hillary Clinton quit the campaign and conceded the Democratic nomination to Barrack Obama on June 4. It was as if people could not wait to see her go.

As a candidate, she had much strength. She had the support of the whites, Hispanics and women voters (all very crucial vote banks) and with a track record that should not make her blush.

Forger her public health policies or what she did as a senator. The moment she stepped down, Hillary Clinton was hounded by the media, vilified often and portrayed as a woman crazed enough to desire the top post in the country.

Biases

And that’s when America’s true biases emerged, opined Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist on Fox TV.

On the other hand, the rabid women supporters of Clinton found it unthinkable to vote for anyone else but a woman candidate and appeared on national TV and radio rambling on for hours, discrediting their own nominee Obama. Some went to the extent of claiming that they would vote for McCain instead of Obama, simply for the ‘acrimonious campaign’ according to them, carried out by Obama.

That Clinton and Obama on and off hit a low in their campaigns and were delivering below the belt was a given. Such is politics. And there was supportive husband Bill Clinton running Obama down with a vengeance, as his wife remained cautiously noncommittal.

Two days after officially ending her campaign, a graceful Hillary Clinton called on voters to support Barack Obama, and in doing so, she noted: "It was an honour to run against him."

Likewise, Obama acknowledged her political presence with words that were equally complimentary.

"Senator Clinton made history over the past 16 months — not just because she has broken barriers, but because she has inspired millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment to causes like universal healthcare that make a difference in the lives of hardworking Americans. Our party and our country are stronger because of the work she has done throughout her life, and I’m a better candidate for having had the privilege of competing with her."

Analysts are still skeptical, for all of Obama’s eloquent words that Hilary indeed would be his running mate.

The day after clinching the nomination, there was Carolyn Kennedy appearing on Obama’s stage. Nobody would expect this decision to come easy. Obama needs the Hispanics, women and the white population to support him. These are Clinton’s strengths, not his.

Iconic

At the same time, he also needs a vice president who will do his bidding than someone who will have better opinions than he does. As a campaigner of Barack Obama in Cleveland, Ohio, Enrique Miguel noted, "It is not easy to have a bossy woman as your second in command. He is wise to look at elsewhere."

Elsewhere also meant Carolyn Kennedy, some think. There lies another advantage of mobilising the iconic Kennedys in his favour. So Obama did not lose a minute. The day after he won the nomination he had the beautiful Kennedy appearing by his side on an election platform for good reason.

And she was talking about women’s rights, reproductive health and a foreign policy that accommodates women’s opinions. One would say that she was pitching into what is traditionally recognised as Hillary Clinton’s terrain.

Some felt that Clinton fell off the cliff for she sounded manlier than men. This because she ran a campaign during a rules-changing election and acceded to sexism within her campaign that advised her not to apologise for her disastrous vote supporting Bush’s war resolution. Yes, she was in charge. She could have rejected the advise she received. But Clinton appeared to have bought into the idea that a Commander-in-Chief has to play by "men’s rules"— and be tougher than the toughest. That stance came at a price!

Opportunity missed

That was when she missed her opportunity to make history by becoming the first women president. Whatever happens, this is a decisive poll. As for Democratic voters, it was a choice between a black candidate and a woman candidate. It seems that despite the overarching majority of whites making the United States their home, they are becoming comfortable with a black candidate. That won’t come easy to America, despite all the rhetoric.

Bad publicity

Then there is Michelle Obama, now being referred to as the ‘bitter half’ of Barack Obama, receiving bad publicity on many counts. She was recently called ‘Baby Mama,’ a derogatory reference to black, young, unwed mothers, later a woman of ‘grievance’ and an Islamic militant for her knuckle-knocking with her husband on the day he won the Democratic nomination. His affectionate pat on her back was lost on the audiences that found the wife’s playful gesture a ‘non-first lady’ matter.

And finally to the fact that she referred to women of Caucasian origin as ‘Whiteys.’ So much so that Barack Obama had to open a web site to deal with the bad publicity Michelle Obama seemed to causing a dent in his campaign.

Forgotten was her many credentials as a Harvard scholar and her commitment to many causes. A poll last week claimed with 22% voting "the wife of the candidate is extremely important."

As Richard Spencer, a political scientist in Washington DC commented: "If you believe America is the Free World and women have it easy here, forget it. Michele and Hilary are proving how hard it is at their level. Let’s not speak about the rest of them."

via TML email : editor@themorningleader.lk


Obama in unity talks with Clinton

June 28, 2008

clintonobamanew

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has held a joint fund-raising dinner in Washington with his former rival, Hillary Clinton.

The event was aimed at shoring up party unity, following the hardest-fought Democratic Party primaries in decades.

Mr Obama announced that he would personally donate $2,300 (£1,160), the maximum amount allowed by law, to help cover Mrs Clinton’s campaign debts.

He said he would call on his top financial backers to do the same.

Mr Obama received a standing ovation from a crowd of more than 200 at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel when he said he would enlist his supporters to help pay off Mrs Clinton’s debt.

Mrs Clinton is due to back Senator Obama’s bid for the White House for the first time on Friday at a joint campaign rally in Unity, New Hampshire – where they each got 107 votes in the state’s primary.

Latest opinion polls suggest that while Mr Obama has made headway in winning over Mrs Clinton’s supporters, one in five of them has indicated they will vote for the Republican candidate, John McCain.

"I’m going to need Hillary by my side campaigning during this election, and I’m going to need all of you," Mr Obama told the Washington audience.

Mrs Clinton’s advisers have warned Mr Obama that her ability to campaign on his behalf will be limited if she has to spend the summer raising money to pay off her more than $20m (£10m) debt racked up in her failed bid to win the nomination.

Mrs Clinton told her donors they must make electing Mr Obama a priority, as she acknowledged the often bitter fight between the two former rivals.

"This was a hard-fought campaign, that’s what made it so exciting and intense and why people’s passions ran so high on both sides," she said.

"I know my supporters have extremely strong feelings, and I know Barack’s do as well. But we are a family, and we have an opportunity now to really demonstrate clearly we do know what’s at stake, and we will do whatever it takes to win back this White House," she added.

Since Mrs Clinton suspended her campaign and endorsed Mr Obama, the former rivals have not met in person since they spoke at the Washington home of Senator Dianne Feinstein, two days after the last primaries.

BBC News