Massive congratulations to the fantastic #EndTamponTax campaigners!
Headed up by Laura Coryton this campaign and petition has successfully pressurized Parliament to scrap the archaic laws taxing tampons as 'luxury items'. They also forced MPs to use the word "tampon" and "period" in Parliament, which some found quite awkward.
The story behind the removal of this unfair tax shows why we need more women MPs and Peers at Westminster, which is what #5050Parliament is campaigning for.
#TamponTax was eventually scraped because Paula Sherriff MP succeeded in changing the law by getting an amendment to the Finance Bill. Her amendment called for a zero rate VAT on "sanitary products". Having got agreement from the EU in Brussels, the Prime Minister and Chancellor decided not to oppose her amendment when announcing the Budget.
MP Paula Sherriff is the first Opposition backbencher to ever successfully amend a Government's Budget. She said it had been an "absurdity" than tampons had been classed as a luxury product when "periods are simply a fact of life" calling the tax "Vagina Added Tax"
Cameron told Sheriff that the "new epithet" for VAT will "live on in Hansard for many years to come". He also added "Getting over some of the language barriers on sanitary products in a 28-person European Council is something that is going to stay with me for a while."
President Obama's reaction to Tampon Tax on Youtube was particularly inspiring and encouraging:
"I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed."
He is absolutely right but the Tax on Tampons is the tip of the iceberg.
There are many important issues that are legislated by men but which affect women predominantly, including FGM, sexism, sexual discrimination, maternity care and domestic violence. But it is not just these issues that affect women and matter to them. Women should be equally involved in drafting policy in all areas including the economy, energy, defence, foreign affairs, environment, transport, health, education and parenting. Women are 51% of the population, 51% of the life experience, talent and skills. Women make a massive contribution to society with their paid and unpaid work, they merit fair inclusion in Parliament so they can participate equally in writing the laws, running the country and planning the future.
Women are a majority in life but a minority in Parliament. Of our 650 MPs only 191 are women. Men outnumber women by more than 2:1. There are still more men in the House of Commons than there have ever been women MPs in the whole of history. In the House of Lords only around 200 of our 800 Peers are women.
These statistics suggest that the system is not working for women. There is a democratic deficit.
50:50 Parliament is calling upon all Party Leaders for solutions to this historic problem. Parliament has the power to sort it out. We would like to see men and women running the country and planning our future, together, in more equal numbers.
Westminster needs to be attractive and accessible to women so that it draws upon the widest possible range of experience, talent and skills. We need more women in Parliament because, representation, or lack of it, shapes policy, as #TamponTax clearly demonstrated. If there were more women MPs and Peers then there might not need to be so many campaigns and petitions concerning women and gender equality. Only 134 more women MPs are needed from a population of 32 million to get gender parity in Parliament, it should not be a big ask.
Professor Joni Lovenduski from Birkbeck, University of London, writes " Evidence from more balanced legislatures than ours shows that men can act for women, but they may be more likely to do so when there are more women around."
And Prof Ngaire Woods "We know that when women are in parliament...it builds more resilient, responsive, better-informed institutions." The evidence is overwhelming. She adds "These things are not about each individual woman but about the aspirations of a society."
The success of the #EndTamponTax campaign shows that petitions do make a difference and influence policy!
If you want better gender balance at Westminster with more women MPs and Peers then say so and sign the #5050Parliament petition here: change.org/5050Parliament! It is like a referendum on Gender Equality and every signature counts.
See President Obama's interview here at 35.54 minutes in: "I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed" and thanks Laura Coryton for supporting #5050Parliament at our picnic last year!
Sign up here to become a #5050Parliament Ambassador
Belgian authorities claim at least 200 IS operatives have infiltrated Europe to plan further terror attacks. The obvious questions are: How did they get into the EU? And from where did they come?
Was it because Turkey turns a blind eye to IS troops traveling through their territory? Or was it because there have been no EU or US troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq to keep these murderers from escaping a caliphate decimated by a massive NATO air and infantry assault?http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/23/world/europe/brussels-airport-explosions.html?_r=0
What's happening in Europe and in the US is this regard is rests solely with the Western powers, nations that since Munich 1938 have been fearful of becoming involved in foreign wars, especially if there's no economic element attached. Bosnia pitted against Kuwait proved that.
Daesh was responsible for Paris. Daesh was responsible for San Bernardino. And now Daesh is responsible for Brussels. Who or what will be next? Because there probably will be other attacks.
What is happening now in the world might have be prevented had the Europe and America acted with unflinching resolve in Syria and Iraq, as they did in 1989's Operation Desert Storm to rescue oil rich Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. But they didn't. Instead they chose unenforced red lines and talk...the result has been the greatest humanitarian crises since WW2 and terror coming to the developed world.
The failure of the West to forcefully confront hostile states and groups has evolved into a Pandora's Box of catastrophes now and in the future. US President Barack Obama's well meaning but utterly incompetent handling of foreign affairs for the World's policeman, has been Chamberlain-esque in his naivety, highlighted by the US brokered Iran deal.
On person benefiting from the Brussels attack is US presidential candidate Donald Trump. America's most popular pompous vulgarian promises to do what wimp Obama won't do...bring America's full military force into action against Daesh. And many voters believe him. Yet, even on the slim chance of Trump being elected president, it may be too late to stop IS sleeper cells in the West and more newly radicalized youth joining the jihad.
What Western leaders have failed to understand is that unlike other Islamic jihadist groups, IS or Daesh has become a fundamentalist movement drawing in people worldwide. If it had been confronted with a united NATO style force four years ago, it might have been killed off or minimized in its infancy. But thanks to western fears of getting involved in a Middle East ground war, the evil genie is loose.
Even if a major ground war is now waged by NATO against Daesh, it won't address its growing Fifth Column in the West.. If and when Daesh is defeated in the Middle East, the worst fears of EU politicians may be realized...having to fight a jihadist terror war in Europe and even in America. And once again its because the West didn't confront this evil when it had the chance.
President Obama danced the tango with a sultry Argentine woman during a state dinner on Wednesday in Buenos Aires.
Although he initially declining several offers, POTUS eventually hit the floor with his size 12 loafers, pirouetting to the well-known score.
Michelle Obama did likewise with another dancer. Watch the full trot below...
President Obama has been branded “splendidly arrogant” by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg over plans to urge Brits to stay in the EU during a UK visit.
The US President is set to make a major intervention in the Referendum campaign next month when he jets into London after visiting Germany.
Pro-EU campaigners believe President Obama will help persuade undecided voters to back Remain, but his planned rallying cry has provoked fury from Brexiters.
An e-petition calling for President Obama to not be allowed to speak in Westminster on the issue has attracted 26,000 signatures.
At a meeting of eurosceptic think-tank The Bruges Group last night, leading Brexit supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg tore in the US President’s plans.
He also claimed the French government's support for its country's 'dirty' film industry was harming EU/US trade negotiations.
After describing Obama as a “funny fellow”, the North-East Somerset MP said: “I think he’ll be the greatest recruiting sergeant for the Brexit campaign.
“No true honest Briton is going to be told what to do by a Yankee president they’re just not. He can come and tell us all he likes about what we should do but we’re not an American colony and they’re not a colony of ours anymore.
“It’s so splendidly arrogant for him to think that poor little Blighty is just waiting for big old Uncle Sam to come and tell us what we should do with our European neighbours and which garden we should play in.
“I think we just have to be very welcoming to him, thank him for his kind consideration and vote against being told what to do.”
Rees-Mogg’s comments, which were met with applause by the 200 or so eurosceptics in the room, echoed those of fellow Tory MP Steve Baker when the visit was revealed.
Speaking to the Independent on Sunday earlier this month, Baker said: “Whenever a US president intervenes in our constitutional future, I always reread the US Declaration of Independence. We will solve peacefully at the ballot box the problem for which their nation fought a bloody war of insurrection.”
Speaking to LBC Radio, he said “We would be horrified if an American president got involved in a British general election campaign just as Americans would be horrified if a British prime minsiter was to say ‘vote for Hillary’.
“So he should butt out.”
Rees-Mogg drew laughter at the meeting when he claimed the French government’s desire to protect its country’s pornographic film industry was having an impact on an EU trade deal with the US.
The MP claimed America’s decision to exclude financial services from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal was in retaliation for France not allowing the film industry into negotiations.
Rees-Mogg said: “One thing very important in terms of free trade to the Americans is the film industry. Hollywood’s a very big exporter for the US.
“The French won’t put in the film industry because they are worried about those dirty French films they like making which they need to subsidise because proper people don’t watch them.
“They’re watched by teenagers, I think, who get excited by that sort of thing.”
Reacting to the comments on President Obama, Stronger In spokesman James McGrory said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg should be ashamed of himself for using that kind of language to describe the Leader of our closest ally. Though I doubt President Obama is losing too much sleep.
“The leave campaigns are so scared by their lack of argument that anybody offering an honest opinion on the other side, including the President of the United States, is told they have no right to do so.
“It’s for the British people to decide this biggest question in a generation but I’m sure they won’t mind hearing from a range of voices before they make their choice.”
1986 was the year the space shuttle Challenger exploded during take off, and the year the worst ever nuclear catastrophe occurred in Chernobyl, in the former USSR. To baseball fans, however, 1986 brings other sort of extraordinary memories. That season the Boston Red Sox came within a strike of winning a World Series for the first time since 1918, before the curse of the Bambino struck in the form of a harmless groundball that went through the legs of first baseman Buck Buckner.
In Cuba, baseball fans did not get to see the Red Sox collapse, but to us 1986 was also an unforgettable year, remembered by Agustin Marquetti's walk off homerun against league champions Vegueros in the final game of the season's play offs. That was Industriales' first national title since 1973, and the first many of us in Havana ever experienced. Impervious to the Major Leagues season in the neighboring United States, we celebrated to the tunes of Van Van's Eso que Anda, and Falco's Rock me Amadeus, turning that game into a piece of urban lore for years and generations to come.
To us Daryl Strawberry, Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs were non-entities. Our heroes were Marquetti, Pedro Medina, Lazaro de la Torre and Euclides Rojas. Since 1960 the American and Cuban baseball worlds had been hurled in opposite directions, like badly controlled knuckle-balls by their respective governments. It would be decades before our paths would encounter again.
As I write these lines aboard a plane on my way out of Havana, Cubans across the island are eagerly anticipating the forthcoming visits of President Barack Obama and of the Tampa Bay Rays, hopeful of witnessing almost six decades of isolation come to an end for good. Once again the love-hate affair between the US and Cuba is about to be rekindled by the convergence of baseball and politics in a significant new historical moment.
A bit of -necessary- history
While it is true that Cuban fans, me included, did not get to see some of the most spectacular players who grazed the majors between the 1960s and 1990s, it is also true that we were spoiled for choice when it came to baseball talent. Until today I regret not having seen Luis Tiant Jr. pitch and Tony Perez bat, but to a certain extent I also feel for American fans who never watched in awe the devastating forkball of Rogelio Garcia or Luis Giraldo Casanova's raw power at the plate.
When the players of the Cuban Sugar Kings, a Triple A team based in Havana, were ordered by Major Leagues commissioner Ford Frick not to return to the island during a series of away games in the US in July 1960, one of the last bridges of contact between the US and Cuba disappeared. At once, Cuban fans were deprived of the privilege of seeing many of the best players of their time. Cuban players were dealt an even tougher hand. While a few chose to abandon their dream of playing in the big show, many others, including some of the most talented, decided to stay in the US to never go back home.
79 years-old Luis Zayas, the only remaining Cuban Sugar King still living in the island, recalled those days when I met him in his flat only blocks away from his beloved Estadio Latinoamericano, which is currently getting a huge makeover with a view to hosting the Rays and President Barack Obama. Zayas, a flashy infielder with some serious pop, was one of those who renounced to the have a Major League career, spending his last years as a player in the Mexican league instead. "It was difficult for us, but we had to adapt," he admitted.
Gone were the 12 to 6 unhittable curveball of Camilo Pascual, the magical fielding of Leo Cardenas, the brilliant screwball of Mike Cuellar and Julio Becquer's fine line drives. Gone was also the chance of watching the likes of Tommy Lasorda, Rocky Nelson, Dutch Dotterer and Art Fowler during the Cuban winter season.
It was not until another Industriales' hurler named Rene Arocha, defected during an international tournament in 1991 and signed with the St Louis Cardinals, that a new era dawned. In the following years, players like Livan and Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras and Rey Ordoñez slowly but steadily began to rebuild those broken bridges. They did so through personal sacrifices, and loosing, just as Pascual, Cuellar, Perez and others had before, their right to return to Cuba.
By the time Evan Longoria, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and the rest of the Tamba Bay Rays land in Havana, they will encounter a much-changed landscape. Although still immensely popular, baseball is not what it once was, after losing ground to the appeal European football and stars like Leo Messi and Luis Suarez. Historian Felix Julio Alfonso, whose book Beisbol y Nacion (Baseball and Nation) was launched only a few days ago during the annual International Book Fair of Havana, explained that a lack of investment, ever-increasing defections, and a National Series that is but a ghost of those of the 1980s have dented the interest of the new generations in the sport.
17 years have passed since a Major League team last played in the island. When I asked around in Havana's Parque Central esquina caliente -a place where baseball fans go to scream their profound and often philosophical knowledge of the sport in each others' ears- every one of them seemed excited by the visit, but even more excited about the possibility of witnessing a revival of Cuban baseball in the short term.
With his broad and contagious smile and surrounded by photographs from his time as a player, Zayas agreed, reassuring me that Cuban fans will receive the Rays and Obama with their usual welcoming attitude.
It is a symbolic coincidence that the Rays will visit Cuba at the same time Obama will. Back in 1960 baseball was the last open line of communication between Havana and Washington, and it seems that as the two former foes come together, baseball may again be a centerpiece for this new relationship.
The Untold story Behind Obama's Historic Visit to Cuba
President Obama's historic visit to Havana starting on March21st marks the end of a 55 year diplomatic standoff between uber-capitalist USA and uber-communist Cuba. In fact so 'uber' has each country's opposing political ideology been that Cuba's decision in 1962 to allow Soviet ballistic missiles to be deployed on its soil almost led to a full scale nuclear war between the super powers.
From then until now the US and Cuba, living cheek by jowl, have been at daggers drawn economically, politically and ideologically. It makes it all the more remarkable that, imminently, with the whole world watching, the leader of the free world is to be greeted as an honoured guest by one of the last remaining socialist countries to follow a Marxist-Leninist credo.
How then, from the political deadlock that followed the Cold War, has this sudden warming of relations, referred to as 'The Cuban Thaw', come about? Some say it is the result of secret negotiations in Canada and the Vatican City with the assistance of Pope Francis. Well, that may have facilitated the opening of a US embassy in Havana last July but it is not what first initiated the conciliation and accord we are now witnessing.
Astonishingly, the diplomatic ice was first broken six years ago not by consular officials, religious leaders or heads of state but by an ageing Royal Navy Destroyer on her final deployment. In November 2010 HMS Manchester and her 270 exhausted ship's company had just finished a gruelling seven months of counter narcotics and hurricane relief duties in the Caribbean. I had been on board for the entire period making a documentary and, along with everyone else, was looking forward to going home for Christmas. Before crossing the Atlantic, however, Commander Rex Cox, the Commanding Officer, had one last extraordinary duty to perform. His orders were to sail to Cuba on a five day diplomatic visit, something that had been carefully but secretly planned between Whitehall, Washington and Havana for over a year. This
was a very big deal for no British or American warship had entered Cuban territorial waters in over half a century.
On Monday 15th November at 0800 HMS Manchester, a sleek Type 42 Destroyer, known affectionately as the "Mighty Manch", passed the ancient battlements that mark the entrance to Havana's main port. Everyone on board was excited but nervous about how the Cuban people were going to react to the arrival of an "enemy" gun-boat?
"Here we go ladies and gentlemen" said Rex Cox from his captain's seat on the bridge. "Take us in please Officer of the Watch"
"Blimey" said Leading Hand Paul Bailey, standing on the starboard bridge wing. "Talk about 'into the bleedin' lion's den'!"
Until that day revolutionary Cuba had been a no-go area for any British warship due to its enduring hostile relations with our closest allies, the Americans, who refused, as they still do, to trade with the island. The US trade embargo of communist Cuba is long lived and uncompromising. Even smoking Cuban cigars is branded unpatriotic throughout the Union and US cruise ships visiting Caribbean islands are still not allowed into Cuba. At that time even foreign cruise ships were penalised for stopping there. To do so meant an instant six-month prohibition from stopping at any American port, a financially crippling penalty for any cruise-line.
HMS Manchester was no cruise ship but a ship of war and as she sailed ever closer towards the inner harbour Rex Cox was in no doubt about how vital his mission was.
"Normalising relations after so long will require careful handling on both sides so the best thing will be to establish common ground from the start".
The official line was that HMS Manchester was visiting Cuba for talks about drug interdiction and hurricane relief work in the Caribbean. Certainly Cuba had and continues to have a great interest in both but none of us doubted that our presence there, even if shrouded by diplomatic obfuscation, was to forge relations with a country that for a long time has been ideologically and politically beyond our reach and, more crucially, that of our American partners.
"We are playing a big part in history" observed Able Seaman Kelly Hamon. "Just by being here we can start to mend things and show the Cubans that they can trust us".
The Royal Navy is good at these things", said Cox. "As a warship under the White Ensign HMS Manchester is British sovereign territory and, as such, a fantastic diplomatic and political platform from which we can, quite literally, fly the flag."
The original orders were that this visit should be 'low key' especially as far as the press was concerned so I found myself in a very privileged position. Perhaps the need to be understated is why our arrival in the harbour was not greeted by the 18 gun salute that had initially been planned and one that, by protocol, we would have had to return. At the last minute the ship received orders from the Foreign Office that the gun salute had been "turned off" as it was felt it was a gesture too far at this stage.
Guided by two Cuban tug boats "The Mighty Manch", battered and sea-worn after seven months of chasing cocaine smugglers and battling hurricane driven seas, glided gently to her allotted berth at the Terminal Sierra Maestra in old Havana. Suddenly, as we came alongside, there was an explosion of music and cheering.
The ship's company, lining the upper decks in white tropical rig, stood proudly to attention as crowds on the jetty cheered and a military band played Viva la Revolution followed by God Save the Queen with determined gusto. One hundred Cuban sailors saluted smartly as a Union Jack, unfurled from the ship's bow, billowed in a brisk off-shore breeze. The crowds cheered all the louder.
So much for understatement. The protocols seemed to be writing themselves.
I crossed the gangway as soon as I could to film the excited crowds eager to see the British destroyer secured alongside. "Incredible!" said Maron Rivera Gonzales from his vintage Chevrolet taxi. "I never thought I'd see the day that a western warship would be allowed into Havana and that we'd welcome it like this". I was surrounded by waving, whooping Cubans clearly delighted to welcome the "buque de guerra Británico".
In front of me on the key-side Her Excellency Dianna Melrose, the British Ambassador to Cuba, introduced Rex Cox to the Cuban Navy Chief, Rear Admiral Carlos Alfonso Duque Ramos.
"This is an extremely significant visit", acknowledged a delighted Melrose. "Not only to the Cuban Government but to the Cuban people. They feel quite isolated on this island. They can't travel abroad with out permission. So to see the British destroyer in the harbour is very special for them. It's a sign that things are changing"
The last British warship to have come alongside in Havana was the frigate HMS Bigbury Bay in 1957. Since then the Royal Navy had not been welcome in a Cuba that increasingly distanced itself from any Western power sympathetic to the American cause. In the classrooms school children continued to chant eternal loyalty to the political martyr Che Guevara, the "Guerrillio Heroico" or "Knight without flaw and without fear" and vowed to "die in a hail of bullets like Che" if duty demanded. But since the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 Cuba, along with many communist states, has had to reinvent its socialism and explore more pragmatic and less rigid ways of running its affairs - both at home and abroad.
Ramos Jose Emmanuel, a retired history teacher, watched HMS Manchester arrive from his tiny second floor apartment overlooking the old harbour. "This was a special moment for Cuba" he told me, sucking on the stub of a fat cigar. "Now that a British ship has come it might not be long before an American ship arrives. And we need that to happen. The world has new problems with terrorism, global warming and recession that means that old enemies need to start working together."
One thing not widely known about Manchester's visit was that among our crew was an eight strong contingent of US Coastguard that joined as part of our counter narcotics operation. The US military are forbidden to set foot on Cuban soil unless it is in Guantanamo Bay or as part of a diplomatic delegation and so our US Coastguards assumed they would either have to stay on the ship or else be transferred to another vessel before entering Cuban territorial waters. But, in the end a special dispensation was made and the Americans were allowed ashore with their British shipmates. (If they bought any Cuban cigars they would have to smoke them there because it was still illegal to import them into the States)
So, for the first time in a long time, US military personnel were walking the streets of Havana. Their weapons, of which they had enough to start a small war, were a mere stone's throw away on HMS Manchester where, of course, they stayed.
Over the next few days the men and women of HMS Manchester embarked on a range of practical and symbolic diplomatic initiatives. Rex Cox had private talks with Cuban Navy big wigs and the drug interdiction and hurricane relief teams on HMS Manchester briefed their counterparts from the Cuban Navy and Coastguard. The ship provided a guard of honour to pay respects at the statue of the great national hero of Cuba Jose Julian Marti Perez who was instrumental in breaking away from Spain in the 19th Century. This was of particular significance because some years ago an American sailor was caught urinating at the base of the statue - something the Cuban people have never forgotten or forgiven.
The public were invited on board HMS Manchester for a ship's tour which generated massive queues from dawn to dusk. There were formal receptions on shore given by the Cuban Navy and also at the Ambassador's residence but perhaps most importantly a cocktail party was held for VIPs, dignitaries, foreign diplomats and business people on the ship herself. The Royal Navy is famous for its cocktail parties, invariably held on the helicopter flight deck of visiting ships and, whilst quite formal with speeches and toasts, they also provide an opportunity for people to interact informally and it is often what is said 'in the margins' that is most effective in promoting understanding and consensus. Being a working warship and British sovereign territory the cocktail party ended, as all do, with the nightly Sunset Ceremony when the colours, the White Ensign at the stern and the Union Jack at the bow, are lowered as a bugler plays the Last Post. Sailors call this "Putting the Queen to bed" and visiting foreign guests always love it.
Rex Cox had one other cunning plan to promote Anglo-Cuban relations - and very much his own idea. 'The Mighty Manch', when she got home was to be decommissioned so the visit to Cuba was the old ship's last hurrah. Accordingly, Cox ordered that the ship's company's nightly knees ups or "runs ashore" should be traditional "rig runs" - meaning that all sailors would not, as usual, wear civilian clothes but their No 1's - white tropical rig. Cox reckoned this would go down a storm with the people of Havana but the sailors needed convincing. "S'posing they have a go?" said Leading Hand Stuart "Moffs" Moffat, worried that military uniforms on shore might antagonise. Cox was gently persuasive "Go ashore in rig on the first night and see how it goes". It was an occasion I will never forget as I accompanied the unwitting envoys from ship to shore .
The evening was warm, redolent of tropical Jasmine and echoed with the rich sound of rumba, conga and calypso emanating from the multitude of bars that surrounded the Plaza de San Francisco immediately adjacent to the ship. Guitar, trumpet, maracas and flute combined in an Afro-Latin blend of rhythms and, just as Cox had expected, we were welcomed wherever we went - that night it seemed everybody wanted to meet and greet a British sailor. It was not long before we were throwing back rum infused Mohitos and puffing on Cohiba Lanceros - Che Guevara's cigar of choice. We were drawn gladly into the fun, mirth and musicality of Cuban nightlife and everywhere we were greeted as long lost friends. The crisp white naval uniforms marked the sailors out as something special and greatly increased their prospects, not only of free rounds in the bars, but also, and most importantly, with the girls!
The rig run was a diplomatic master stroke.
Four days later a military band struck up as port workers unbuttoned our securing ropes to release us for departure. HMS Manchester was heading back to the UK. To mark the occasion the band played neither national nor revolutionary anthems but swinging, up beat Latin jazz.
"Bloody fantastic!" enthused Paul Bailey. "Them Cubans are ace. Really friendly. I want to come back here for my honeymoon next year"
Rex Cox's task of gently nudging open the doors of rapprochement between Cuba and the West had been completed - not in an overtly political way but in a peculiarly naval way.
"This was really about two navies coming together as representatives of their nations. We have common enterprises and a shared nautical culture so, as brothers of the sea, we can commune in ways that other's cannot. Sailors can often break down barriers that politicians are unable to".
And do not underestimate the size of those barriers. Just consider the recent history that formed the background to HMS Manchester's probing diplomatic mission: A communist revolution; a martyred revolutionary called Che; another, who survived and thrived, called Fidel; a failed CIA sponsored invasion of the island; a missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of annihilation; a protracted Cold War.
Quite a challenge for the sea pummelled, weather beaten old warship on her final mission.
"We have spent the last seven months chasing drugs runners and providing help to hurricane hit islands. Said a proud Rex Cox as we headed back to sea. "But diplomacy is always a duty for us wherever we go. We have done what we came to do and now it is for the politicians, on both sides, to build on what my ship's company has achieved".
Over to you Mr Obama.
President Obama will visit the United Kingdom at the end of April it has been confirmed.
He is expected to use a joint press conference with David Cameron to encourage the British people to vote to remain inside the European Union.
The visit was confirmed by the White House on Wednesday afternoon. Obama will begin his foreign tour, which will take in Saudi Arabia and Germany, on April 21 - the Queen's 90th birthday.
While in the UK, Obama will attend a private lunch with the Queen at Windsor Palace.
In a statement, the White House said the president will "offer his gratitude to the British Government and people for their stalwart partnership with his administration and the American people throughout his presidency".
Obama's expected intervention in the EU referendum campaign has angered those campaigning in favour of Brexit.
London mayor Boris Johnson accused the president of "outrageous and exorbitant hypocrisy" for advising the UK to remain inside the EU when the US would never accept a similar arrangement with other countries.
Downing Street has defended the right of foreign leaders to voice their opinion.
And last week Obama's spokesman said the president would "continue to make clear" that the United States wanted to see the UK vote to 'Remain' at the June 23 referendum.
The press conference with Cameron could also be awkward for Obama after the president criticised the prime minister's approach to military action in Libya. In an interview with The Atlantic magazine, he said Cameron had become "distracted".
The US administration moved quickly to try and repair the damage, insisting the Anglo-American alliance was valued "deeply".
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz told a campaign rally recently that Obama "will make it more likely that England will pull out of the EU" if he intervened again.
Conservatives who have defied Cameron and are campaigning for Britain to vote to leave the EU at the June 23 referendum have also said Obama should keep his opinion to himself.
Cabinet minister Chris Grayling told MPs last week he wanted to "discourage any foreign leader from entering the debate at the moment".
And Tory MP Peter Bone said the president of the "former colonies" should not "come over here and tell us how to vote in the EU referendum".
Boris Johnson seemed the be channelling Hugh Grant in his latest column as he slammed Barack Obama for “outrageous and exorbitant hypocrisy” over his European Union referendum intervention.
The furious London Mayor hit back at Obama’s warning that Britain will lose influence on the world stage if it quits the EU, calling his claim “wholly fallacious”.
And just as Grant’s Prime Minister in Love Actually tells Billy Bob Thornton’s US President, Johnson effectively told Obama to butt out of UK matters.
The Uxbridge MP and recently-announced Brexiter attacked the US for interfering in the debate, when it defends its own sovereignty with "hysterical vigilance".
According to the Press Association, Downing Street has refused to comment on reports that Obama, who has previously made it clear that America wants its closest ally to remain part of the EU, is heading to the UK next month to make the case to voters.
In his regular Daily Telegraph column, Johnson wrote: "Sometime in the next couple of months we are told that president Obama himself is going to arrive in this country, like some deus ex machina, to pronounce on the matter.
"Air Force One will touch down; a lectern with the presidential seal will be erected. The British people will be told to be good to themselves, to do the right thing. We will be informed by our most important ally that it is in our interests to stay in the EU, no matter how flawed we may feel that organisation to be.
"Never mind the loss of sovereignty; never mind the expense and the bureaucracy and the uncontrolled immigration. The American view is very clear. Whether in code or en clair, the president will tell us all that UK membership of the EU is right for Britain, right for Europe, and right for America; and why?
"Because that – or so we will be told - is the only way we can have 'influence' in the councils of the nations. It is an important argument, and deserves to be taken seriously. I also think it is wholly fallacious – and coming from Uncle Sam it is a piece of outrageous and exorbitant hypocrisy.
"There is no country in the world that defends its own sovereignty with such hysterical vigilance as the United States of America. This is a nation born from its glorious refusal to accept overseas control."
Johnson, meanwhile, has come in for criticism from George Osborne for suggesting Britain could achieve a Canadian-style trade deal. The Chancellor insisted the agreement took seven years to negotiate and tariffs on exports remain in place for cars and beef.
"I hear people saying 'I want Britain to be like Switzerland, I want Britain to be like Norway, I want Britain to be like Canada'. You know what? I want Britain to be like Great Britain'," Osborne told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show.
Osborne also appeared to take a more personal swipe at the mayor, who came in for criticism over his performance during a recent appearance on the programme.
"If people want a politician who is just going to sit here and blather away and not actually do anything, then get someone else," he said.
When it comes to pointing out the utter absurdity of Donald Trump's White House run, no one does it better than President Barack Obama.
In a week that started with Trump peddling steaks at a press conference in Florida and ended with violence at a cancelled rally in Chicago, Obama used a Friday speech at a fundraiser in Texas to lampoon the Republican Party for allowing their frontrunner to “sell stuff like the home shopping network.”
Earlier this week, Obama rebuffed accusations that he was responsible for Trump’s rise. During a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he said: “I’m not going to validate some notion that the Republican crackup that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken.”
Instead, Obama cited conservative media, such as Fox News and talk radio, for giving voice to the idea that everything he suggests must be opposed or that “cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a ‘them’ out there and an ‘us,’ and the ‘them’ are the folks causing the problems you’re experiencing.”
Earlier this year, Obama spelled out why Trump will never be president. Speaking to reporters in January at a press conference in Rancho Mirage, California, Obama said, “It’s not hosting a talk show, or a reality show. It’s not promotion, it’s not marketing. It’s hard and a lot of people count on us getting it right.”
Friday's jibes were not the first directed from the White house at Trump. In 2012, at the height of the 'birther' paranoia, Obama effectively ended Trump's muted presidential run with a now-infamous White House Correspondent's Dinner speech in which he mocked the tycoon as a preposterous conspiracy theorist.
The five things you need to know on Friday March 11, 2016…
1) ACTION DAN
Dan Jarvis’s speech on the economy yesterday wasn’t earth-shattering, but then again it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, it was aimed at reassuring the soft left of Labour (which makes up much of its membership and a fair few MPs) that the ex-Para shared their Milibandite analysis of the world’s problems, but had some more practical solutions. An Action Dan, with grip hands, you might say.
Chuck in a few neat references to Keir Hardie saying the British public don’t like ‘chasing bubbles’ and his tears at hearing his local youth choir and you see the beginnings of an offering. Although he ducked any such talk, for those of us in the room it felt like a very clear show of ankle for a future leadership bid. In sum, he’s not the Messiah, but neither is he a very naughty boy.
Despite his protestations that he was ‘in no way’ seeking to criticise Corbyn, the most striking message was how high Jarvis raised the bar for the May elections. Labour should be ‘taking’ not losing English councils, he said. (Stephen Kinnock, Angela Eagle’s PPS, was even more outspoken on the test for Corbyn on our podcast HERE). As for leadership challenges, he made plain no one should be doing anything before the EU referendum on June 23. But after it…?
2) KEN GOES NAGASAKI
Maybe that’s why many on the Left were nervous about Jarvis yesterday. And maybe that’s why Ken Livingstone really went nuclear on LBC, attacking Jarvis’s financial support from a hedge fund manager Martin Taylor as being “a bit like Jimmy Savile fundraising [for] a children's group.”
What was significant was the ferocity of the return fire from Jarvis’s troops and supporters. Jamie Reed ("There's no sewer so fetid that Ken won't swim in it”) and Michael Dugher (“Ken Livingstone is not fit to lace Dan Jarvis's boots”.) told HuffPost of their disgust, while plenty of MPs retweeted their anger. Expect more, much more of this mano-a-mano combat if the summer coup really does happen.
In the firefight between Corbyn supporters and those they see as the enemy, comedian Jeremy Hardy also took some flak after suggesting that ex defence minister Kevan Jones was suffering from ‘depression’ because of his bleak pro-Trident views (a neat hit for BuzzFeed). PolHome reports Jones has written to Corbyn demanding he ‘condemn’ Hardy’s remarks.
3) BLAIR FORCE AWAKENS
Mr Tony is back. He gave Nick Robinson a Today prog interview in which he rammed home Project Doubt, saying there would be years of economic uncertainty after Brexit and that he was ‘concerned’ not enough was being done to counter the Outers. What caught my ear was him saying it was time for people to argue the In case ‘with some passion’ - that sounded like a direct hit at Jeremy Corbyn (who on Monday was told by Barry Sheerman to show some passion). The rise of Clive Lewis’s new leftwing In campaign worries several of his colleagues. Blair tried to turn on its head the ‘elites v the people’ case of the Brexiters “come on, you guys are just as elitist anybody else”.
The row over the Sun/Queen story rumbles on with Cameron saying it would be ‘very serious’ if Michael Gove had leaked Her Maj’s words. Nick Soames suggested Gove should suffer the same fate as Sir Thomas More.
John McDonnell is not exactly Blair’s biggest fan but today he adopts a Blair-Brown pitch on fiscal rectitude (that sounds exactly like Ed Balls). Some have already pointed out its similarity to Liz Kendall’s line that ‘there’s nothing progressive about running a deficit’. Yet McDonnell is also keen on opposing cuts - cuts like the Mirror’s splash showing the PM’s mum has lost her voluntary job at an axed children’s centre.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this baby sea otter snuggle up to its mum. Hey, it’s Friday
4) BISH BOSH
Just like the Bible itself, whatever your political persuasion you can pick and choose what you like from The House magazine’s excellent interview with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
His attack on the ‘outrageous’ suggestion that fears about migration are ‘racist’ (the ghost of Gillian Duffy returns) gets him the Mail splash and the lead on the BBC today. But he also attacked the PM for his ‘really very thin’ programme to accept just 20,000 Syrian refugees, compared to the 1.1m Germany has taken in.
5) OBAMA SCARE
Barack Obama’s Atlantic interview is a superb read. And a bit like Welby’s interview, there are so many news lines that you can cherry pick what you like. Obama going public with the open secret in Whitehall - that he warned Cameron to commit to 2% defence spending - is picked up by the UK papers.
But so too are Obama’s remarks about Cameron getting ‘distracted’ after the toppling of Gaddafi. There’s Washington irritation with the way George Osborne tilted to China by supporting its Asian infrastructure investment bank. And the BBC’s Jon Sopel points to another serious fracture: the Obama administration has grown frustrated that its requests for operational assistance from British special forces, including the famed SAS, are not granted with the same frequency that they were in the past. The criticism is that the UK is no longer punching its weight.
Yet the line that is exciting many in the US is Obama was ‘deeply proud’ of his decision not to bomb Assad over chemical weapons. We learn that Ed Miliband’s Commons ambush of Cameron on the issue was one factor. But a bigger factor was Obama’s own decision to stand up to his generals and find a different course: he reckons the deal with Russia to dismantle the weapons was in fact proof that action followed his ‘red line’ being crossed. That, plus his wider approach of not jumping in to the Middle East unless it posed a direct threat to the US, is sure to be picked up by Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy Corbyn Under Pressure, International Women's Day and that Sunday Trading Defeat all feature in this week’s Commons People podcast. We also have our usual Quiz of the Week - guess which ‘international day’ is real or fake. Plus Yvette Cooper and Stephen Kinnock interviews.
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The Donald is now the official front-runner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Yes I know. So let's suppose that we are to wake up to a nightmare Room 101 scenario on the morning of January 20th 2017 to find that the Donald is being inaugurated as the most powerful man in the world.
It's terrifying to think that a narcissist (based on his tendency to emblazon his name on everything he owns from real estate and his plane to hooded tops) would have his hand on the button. Narcissists need a regular narcissistic supply. If they are not the centre of attention or they are snubbed ie their supply is cut off then they tend to go ballistic. Now, in a normal situation, this is usually no biggie. But when you have your hand on the nuclear button then going ballistic would literally mean the end of the world.
For example, the Donald talks about obliterating ISIS, which energises his base no end. What would this translate into in realpolitik terms? Well, let's suppose that there is a second 9/11 then internment camps for American Muslims plus a nuclear attack on Syria and Iraq would certainly be on the cards. Of course, the list of potential nuclear targets would be longer. So we can safely assume that Iran, North Korea and France would also be on it. In fact, anyone who has ever got in between the Donald and his egomania.
Of course, he wouldn't be the first narcissist to become President. The political world is full of sociopaths - men and women prepared to do the bidding of their lizard overlords for personal gain without a thought for their fellow citizens. Likewise, the corporate and financial universe. Which is why Trump's business background would be ideal preparation for the job of President - an irony missed on his fans, who believe that his business background is an asset. In fact, Trump's vehicle of the American version of The Apprentice tells you all you need to know about his value system and those, who aspire to it. A world of atomised, hyper-individualised beings with zero emotional substrate prepared to deep fat fry their grandmother's liver and climb over the bodies of other contestants in order to win.
As for the assumption that the President has immense executive power, well one look at the Obama presidency tells you all you need to know about that theory. Although I for one do not subscribe to the notion that Obama is weak. He's just not liberal. As Tariq Ali points out in The Obama Syndrome, the man is an arch neoliberal. Hence why he's made it so far. He's just selling a great brand of being black, hip, cool and looking like he cares. Domestic policy has encompassed failure to punish Wall Street for the financial crisis or even impose policies that might force them to cough up for their mass corruption. Obamacare was only given the green light, unlike the Clinton healthcare reforms of the 90s, because it basically meant more money for the insurance industry. All the while, he has pulled off a fantastic performance in rebranding USA PLC after the global PR disaster of the Bush presidency and provided us with some soaring rhetoric along the way. And we have not even got to his foreign policy.
The charge sheet attacking the Obama administration from Trump, the fanatical Fox News and their acolytes is laughably absurd. They contend that Obama's foreign policy has weakened the US empire. The reality has been to extend the Bush White House national security doctrine, escalate the use of extrajudicial killing through drones, clampdown on civil liberties, allow the CIA to escape unscathed from the torture disclosures and failure to close Guantanomo.
The reality of modern day imperial USA is that the power is bottom up and not top down. In other words, power is diffused throughout a nexus of corporate, finance and military-industrial sectors. For example, defence policy-making filters up from the Pentagon, defence firms, intelligence agencies, hi-tech companies and thinktanks. And this is before we even get to the paralysis of Congress in which the days of cross-partisan politics, in the interests of the people, are long over.
So the Donald would quickly find that his powers are curtailed. George W Bush commented that his biggest surprise was finding how little authority he had. The Obama administration was enraged to find that, on coming to power, they were given two options for Afghanistan - either a small or a large surge. They went for the former with an escalation of 30,000 troops.
The Donald would thus find that the NSA and the CIA are dictating national security and foreign policy and his friends on Wall Street are doing the same for domestic policy. And anyone, who thinks they can take on that lot should be reminded of the old Bill Hicks joke about how the first thing every new president is shown is the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination from a never before seen angle, which looks suspiciously like it's off the grassy knoll!
So a Donald presidency would look very much like an Obama or Bush presidency. The point is that the President these days is not a Roosevelt or even an Eisenhower but a figurehead. That's not to say that a Donald presidency would not be terrifying with its imitation of fascist demagoguery. On the domestic front, we would continue to see neoliberal economic policies siphoning wealth from the 99% to the 1% and, on the international front, more wars and more bombing at the behest of the military-industrial lobby.
"But when you shake your ass they notice fast and some mistakes were built to last." George Michael (Freedom '90)
Innumerable citizens of the Land of the Free, so called, ask God to bless America frequently. I've long pictured God holding his head in agony on a nightly basis as hundreds of millions of American voices ascend the spheres, breaching the serenity of heaven, reiterating the request. I've also wondered, "Why America and nowhere else?" It seems a tad "über alles," but then what would befall if Obama were to say, "Goodnight and God bless China" instead? I wish an American president would slip up thus, just once, just to see what fun days would ensue on the worldwide web.
God's blessing upon the Land of the Free is perceived by its citizens to be a birthright. The perception makes sense: it is what has been taught. It is born of the kind of propaganda that nations tend to generate in classrooms: I pledge my allegiance; your country first; dulce et decorum est pro patria mori; for queen and for country, and so on. But is the British monarch's God the same as the American one? Having been a citizen of two nations, my impression for many years was that the Queen of England was gracious and that it was my duty to implore God to save her. I also believed that Guyana was A "Land of six peoples united and free" because its national anthem says so, but there are actually a few more "peoples" to Guyana's population profile than that.
A nation's peoples process and interpret that nation's propagandist information. They have no choice unless they live somewhere else and subscribe to a different propagandist programme. Whether stable or psychotic/law-abiding or crooked, deep down, Americans respond to what it means to be a citizen within the borders of their realm. This is why Jeb Bush recently tweeted the word "America" attached to a photograph of a gun with his name incused on it. This is why Donald Trump- fusing Patrick Bateman with Travis Bickle- honks, "Let's make America great again!" It is why Obama has voiced calm faith in the American people by disbelieving in the possibility of a President Trump. It is why Beyonce has stirred lust, purchased freedom, social consciousness and success into a tricksy mixture that has potently hexed the Land of the Free.
I don't mind telling you I have been completely obsessed by the song Formation. It isn't unusual for me to play a record I like several times a day, and presently I can't get enough of the sonic assembly that constitutes this controversial masterstroke. I have watched the video and listened. Watched the video and listened. Initially, I struggled to reconcile the plutocracy in the message to its social conscience, its voluptuous visuals to its politics. The message seemed to lack singularity. It was all over the place. But then several viewings and listens yielded dividends. Those dividends might have been apparent at the outset, to the sharper thinker, but I have never filed myself under that heading.
At first it seemed like a massive wind-up, a deliberate "queering" of African Americana: I use the term "queering' to cite the mid twentieth century renunciation of the late nineteenth century homosexual "condition;" the adjustment from the decriminalizing early twentieth century gay ethos to the radicalized, unapologetic, politicized queer; the post Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976) "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" merged with Punk's "This is who we are and if you don't like it you can do one!" After all of the comely melodies and Beyonce's stealthy proximity to the Whitney, America's sweetheart succession, out of nowhere she added a sinister, bolshie, in your face edge. At first, I loved it because Beyonce had suddenly thrown "Eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog" into an almighty steaming southern cauldron and made America inhale and choke on it. But I was wrong. That wasn't quite it.
In fact, the message, infuriating, bewildering and inappropriate as its execution may seem, is quite simple: racism and racist violence destroy American potential. Beyonce is raising herself as an example of what can happen if a citizen is allowed to live, to freely and fully realise their prospects. When she says, "Y'all haters corny with that Illuminati mess" she is saying that she has not joined a mythical secret society a la Dan Brown, rather she has grafted for the vaunted dream on offer in the Land of the Free. When she mentions her father and mother, "My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma," it is an American statement more than it is a race declaration. It is the 2016 equivalent of Patti Smith's 1978 Babelogue battle cry, "In heart I'm an American artist, and I have no guilt!"
When Beyonce recklessly rocks her Givenchy dress and intimates to the listener, "When he f*** me good I take his ass to Red Lobster. If he hit it right I might take him on a flight on my chopper..." She is merely saying that she is human, a woman who likes to look good, a woman who enjoys performing spousal duties- two American values if ever I heard them. When she claims that she could "Get your song played on the radio station" or "you might just be a black Bill Gates in the making," she is regurgitating the promises from nationalist propaganda long entrenched in the collective American Dream psyche. It is to this compelling reading of the enshrined dream that she adds her sucker punch.
When you watch the video she sinks, recumbent atop a police car, into the flood. With that simple action she is transmitting what could have become of her if racism had greater reach, alerting her audience to what occurs with the reach that racism already has. She is saying that good fortune has allowed her to become an exemplar of the American Dream. She is acknowledging miracles: her father and her husband are alive and un-incarcerated. In America their survival and freedom has never been a given. I can't agree with those who think that the message is apolitical, and self-aggrandising. I hear a call to arms here, "OK ladies now let's get in formation:" a bid to stand strong, a phalanx of female might in the face of very apparent hostility that fells their men, their husbands, their brothers and their boys.
Another criticism that has arisen in response to Formation is the hackneyed old sleight that is routinely levelled at too many successful female musicians who are unashamed of their bodies: she is not talented- she is a great entrepreneur i.e. if she were any good she wouldn't have to get her kit off. This nonsense just makes me want to swear. OK. Maybe Madonna's timbre is disagreeable to some, but don't try to tell me that Borderline, Like a Prayer, Live to Tell or The Power of Goodbye are just good entrepreneurship, bereft of credible musicianship. Likewise, Beyonce is an entirely credible musician, a supreme rhythmic technician. She has long recognised this and made a killing with it.
The Destiny's Child hits like Bills Bills Bills, Lose My Breath and Independent Woman, alongside solo hits like Crazy in Love, Single Ladies and Drunk in Love are acquitted with innovative melodic/rhythmic invention. You might not like the woman or the message, but when it comes to musicianship one should know one's music and recognise truly outstanding skill before attempting critique! If in doubt try singing the second verse of Independent Woman to the same melodic/rhythmic standard. I won't argue with my friend who the other night said, "She only uses one nostril." Even he admitted that the nostril has impressed him twice, and he isn't easily impressed. More valid was his point about the juxtaposition of Beyonce with Jennifer Hudson in Dream Girls (2006). Beyonce did rather pale in comparison.
Pale comparisons aside, the singer is getting it from all sides of late. It goes with the territory. The police in Tampa, Florida are refusing to police her stadium show: ah yes, lovely Tampa where the police infamously hindered African American voters from getting to the polling booths during the presidential election in 2000- allegedly; Florida, where vigilante desperado, George Zimmerman, DID NOT murder Trayvon Martin. The NYPD is being more "reasoned:" they will not boycott the concert if the singer explains why her Super Bowl turn included women in Black Panther-esque outfits.
Meanwhile, Conservative glove puppets- like Power 105.1 FM, The Breakfast Club's Donkey of the Day, Tomi Lahren who has voiced the questionable concern that Beyonce is advancing a radical agenda against "white domination-" are distracting Americans from the simplicity of Beyonce's Formation message, making it ugly, screaming terrorism, pleading for the salvation of Beyonce's newly "blackened" soul. While some African American writers are instructing Beyonce that if she is going to have a butt that she should not shake it while preaching a serious message. Really? Well, to them I would say consider this: every time I see that butt I think that had a particular school of bigotry lurched in that particular butt's direction it might well be six feet under having had its full butt shaking potential annihilated.
As James Brown once sang, "Shake ya ass, but watch yourself..."
A 106-year-old woman has fulfilled her dream to meet President Obama in one of the most excitement-filled encounters you're likely to ever see.
Virginia McLaurin danced for joy and waved her cane in the air as her 14-month quest to visit the White House came true.
She said: "It's an honour, it's an honour! I thought I would never live to get in the White House and I tell you, I am so happy!"
Her campaign began in December 2014 when she recorded a video request that even came with its own online petition and Facebook page.
A visibly stunned Michelle Obama stood by as the President half-jokingly tells her to slow down.
The First Lady said: "I wanna be like you when I grow up."
"You can," McLaurin replies.
In her 2014 video she says: "I didn't think I'd ever live to see a coloured president. I am so happy. I pray for you every day of my life."