Thomas Tamblyn   |   March 13, 2015    4:23 PM ET

It's that time of the year again when the prestigious "GIFYS" reveals the web's favourite GIFs, whether they're a cat wiggling its bottom or President Obama cooly skateboarding his way through a major worldwide peace conference.

It should come as no surprise then that President Obama skateboarding his way through the 'Nuclear Security Summit' has been crowned GIF of the year.

A glorious piece of image manipulation the GIF looks utterly real and even though the GIF itself is actually around three years old, the award is simply proof that the moment something appears on the internet, it becomes timeless.

Check out the slideshow below to see all the winners from the 2014 "GIFYS":

Ryan Barrell   |   March 13, 2015    9:43 AM ET

Jimmy Kimmel is fairly well known for getting celebrities to read mean tweets about themselves, and it's always hilarious. Now he's managed to turbo-charge the segment by getting the most powerful man in the world to do it too.

President Barack Obama, who is reaching the end of his second and final term as the US Commander-in-Chief, has been hoping to secure a positive place in the minds of the US public by popping up on various media you wouldn't expect.

Earlier this year he appeared in a BuzzFeed video using a selfie stick and the internet went into meltdown.

Following the tirade of angry tweets, Obama went on to talk to the late-night host who introduced him as the USA's "first Kenyan-born Muslim Socialist ever elected president", to which he responded: "You should see what the Senate says about me."

The President is ineligible to be the President after the 2016 election, due to term restrictions laid out in the 22nd Amendment. The election is scheduled for 8 November, and the new President-elect will take office on 20 January 2017.


Ryan Barrell   |   March 12, 2015   12:16 PM ET

A pair of President Barack Obama's Secret Service agents are being investigated for allegedly crashing a vehicle into a White House barricade after attending a party.

The agents, identified by the Washington Post as Mark Connolly, the second-in-command on Obama's detail, and George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor in the Washington field office, have reportedly been reassigned to "non-supervisory, non-operational assignments".

A spokesperson for the Secret Service told the BBC the crash occurred on 4 March at around 10:30pm local time.

mark connolly secret service

Mark Connolly, left, is being investigated for the alleged incident

Witnesses claim to have seen the officers driving a car with emergency lights flashing and showing their badges in an attempt to gain access to the secure grounds of the White House.

The men were not allowed into the area due to a previous security alert surrounding a suspicious package, and at that point they drove into the barriers and through some security tape.

It is illegal to use emergency lights on a government vehicle without a security reason, and agents are bound by law to not drive after consuming any alcohol.


March 2014: Agent found passed out drunk in a hallway of a Dutch hotel, unable to make it back to his room.
Agents are forbidden to drink alcohol in the 10 hours leading up to an assignment.

October 2014: First female head of the Secret Service resigns over security breaches which saw an armed man allowed into an elevator with the President and a man with a knife jump the fence and enter the building.

January 2015: Secret Service agent drunkenly crashes surveillance drone on White House lawn, causes security alert.

Agents on duty reportedly wanted to arrest Connolly and Ogilvie, but were told to let them go home by a supervisor.

The agency's new director Joseph P. Clancy said the incident will be investigated by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general because it involves such senior officials.

"If misconduct is identified, appropriate action will be taken based on established rules and regulations," agency spokesman Brian Leary said.


Sara C Nelson   |   March 6, 2015   12:01 PM ET

Russell Brand poses an intriguing question in his latest online news broadcast, musing: “ISIS vs climate change – which kills more?”

As Brand rightly points out, stories about climate change fail to inspire the same visceral reactions as, say, coverage of terror attacks and uprisings.

But he quotes sobering figures from climate change group DARA, which estimates deaths related to global warming in 2010 amounted to 5 million.

russell brand

Russell Brand addresses the links between terrorism and climate change

The number marks a sharp contrast to reports which claim 26 Americans were killed in jihadi attacks in the US in the last 10 years.

And Brand cites an unlikely ally in this debate – in the form of US President Barack Obama.

Obama gave a lengthy Vox interview last month in which when asked if the media “sometimes overstates” the risks posed by terrorism as opposed to climate change and epidemic disease, he replied: “Absolutely.”

He added: “Climate change is one that is happening at such a broad scale and at such a complex system, it’s a hard story for the media to tell on a day-to-day basis.”

syria drought

Farmers in the drought-hit region of Hasaka in northeastern Syria in 2010

Brand references a recent National Academy of Sciences study which traces the conflict that has torn Syria apart in part, to a record drought worsened by global warming.

Climate change leading to crop failures, hunger, anger and dissent are, he says: “The perfect condition there for terrorism, for mayhem.”

Given that the Syrian conflict has resulted in the deaths of 210,000 and the displacement of 10million, Brand asks: “These events occur because of conditions, so if climate change is causing five million deaths and terrorism is causing 26 deaths, why is climate change largely being ignored and terrorism being vehemently promoted?”

The answer, Brand says is his ever-present foe: The carbon emission-pumping behemoth that is capitalism.


Brand points the finger squarely at big businesses like Exxon, which he alleges: “Last year made $44.9bn, make that money as a direct result of 210,000 people being killed and 10 million people being displaced in Syria because their social conditions are being destroyed because of climate change."

He adds: “So the truth that terrorism is a problem created by climate change and not as bad a problem as the climate change itself, that truth is never revealed because the politicians have been bribed and the media makes money from that situation.”

A number of Brand's followers were not convinced by his argument, but links between climate change and conflict are not new.

Last October, then-US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled a Pentagon report that made exactly that point. "Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration," Hagel said.

Also, last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded: "Human security will be progressively threatened as the climate changes."

Brand signs off with the following suggested checklist for President Obama:

  • Withdraw troops from the Middle East.

  • Make it illegal to profit from Middle Eastern interests and limit involvement solely to humanitarian.

  • Invest in green energy.

  • Make it illegal to have media conglomerates which dominate the global narrative.

Is the U.S. Opening the Door for Europe to Lead in Tech?

Andrea Giuricin   |   March 4, 2015   10:09 AM ET

This week, more than 80,000 people gathered in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. Leaders from across the mobile industry will come together to discuss how we're on the "Edge of Innovation" and the endless possibilities the mobile Internet creates.

Over the past several years, the mobile Internet and connectivity have changed our lives. It started in the U.S. where a light-touch regulatory approach combined with an investment-friendly environment enabled providers to deploy next-generation infrastructure and entrepreneurs to create new businesses from Facebook to Uber and more. We've seen other regions look to replicate this success.
Thanks to this light-touch regulation, the market has a strong increase and the sector is leading in the creation of new high-skilled jobs. The market capitalization of the first three companies born due to this infrastructure development reached 1342 billion of dollar (February 2015).

Unfortunately, as we enter one of the largest events of the year for the mobile industry, we're also seeing the beginning of the downfall of U.S. Internet policy.

Last Thursday, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, introduced a regulatory framework that place the Internet under heavy regulation created in the 1930s. The FCC took unilateral decision to change the way the U.S. Internet is regulated despite the possibility for bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress to update the country's communications laws.

The U.S.'s new approach of prescriptive regulations on the Internet- created by one agency - threaten its position as a leader in the mobile revolution and the direction of the rest of the world. For 20 years, U.S. Internet policy was the gold standard. It led to massive investments in infrastructure and drove innovation. Europe and the rest of the world are still trying to catch-up.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama criticised Europe for trying to rein in the power of U.S. tech companies on the continent. It's an interesting criticism given his strong push to have the FCC regulate U.S. Internet companies. So now it's OK for the U.S. to create burden some regulations in their country but Europe should make everything flexible for them. The U.S. also criticises Russia and China for creating unnecessary regulations making it more difficult to deploy new services but the U.S. can create all the unnecessary regulations they want? It's a risky precedent.

In a White House's report on "Four Years of Broadband Growth", they highlight the annual investment in U.S. wireless networks. It grew more than 40% between 2009 and 2012, from $21 billion to $30 billion, and exceeds investment by the major oil and gas or auto companies in the country. The report also notes that investment in European wireless networks remained flat during the same period.

Why did FCC and U.S. President Barack Obama want to change such successful policies? Without a doubt, we can expect years of litigation in the U.S. on this issue and it will have an impact on the global Internet ecosystem.

The Silicon Valley cluster was born in USA also thanks to the light-touch regulation. Over regulation could lead USA to lose the world leadership the IT sector.

On the positive side, it opens the door for Europe to once again become the leader in the technology sector.

Paul Vale   |   March 3, 2015    4:42 PM ET

Benjamin Netanyahu boosted his domestic election chances with a high-profile speech to a joint session of US Congress on Tuesday, lambasting the current negotiations between the Western nations and Iran, warning the days the Jewish people remain passive in the face of a genocidal threat "are over".

In a speech that stirred political intrigue in Washington as well as Tel Aviv, the Israeli prime minister called the negotiations with Tehran "all but [a] guarantee" that Iran will get nuclear weapons, a step that the world must avoid at all costs.

"Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted," no matter what it says about permitting verification of the terms of any accord designed to prevent it from getting such weapons, he said. "The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons," he said in remarks before a packed House chamber.

Netanyahu spoke shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry met for more than two hours in Switzerland with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in hopes of completing an international framework agreement later this month to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The Israeli leader's appeal also came two weeks before elections in which he is seeking a new term -- and after the invitation to address Congress extended by House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, triggered a political furor in the United States. More than four dozen House and Senate Democrats said in advance they would not attend the event, a highly unusual move given historically close ties between the two allies.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the US Congress at the Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC

The White House expressed its displeasure with the appearance by word and deed, dispatching Vice President Joe Biden on an overseas trip that meant he did not fill his customary seat behind the House rostrum during the speech. Nor did Netanyahu meet at the White House with Obama on his trip to the United States.

The prime minister was greeted with a roaring welcome as he walked down the same center aisle of the House chamber that presidents tread before their annual State of the Union speeches.

He also sought to smooth over any political unpleasantness, thanking Obama lavishly for the help he has given Israel since he became president. In a grace note, he took a moment to mention Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who is back at work after suffering an eye injury in an accident at home.

At the same time, Netanyahu was unrelenting in his condemnation of the negotiations the administration is conducting with Tehran.

He said that with the concessions the United States was prepared to make Iran would not only gain nuclear weapons, but also eventually would become free of international economic sanctions. As a result, he said, it would be emboldened to finance even more terrorism around the Middle East and the world.

The result for Iran, he said, would be "aggression abroad and prosperity at home." Instead, he said that if Iran wants to be "treated like a normal country, it ought to behave like a normal country."

Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson Can't Stop Kids Joining Isis, But These Characters Might

Tanya Silverman   |   March 3, 2015   12:00 AM ET

President Obama has a certain cool about him. He's made a Buzzfeed video, he knows his pop-culture, and plays basketball. So, it should come as no surprise that at last week's White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Obama, alongside other less cool U.S. administration types, were impressed by the creative new approaches at the heart of tackling violent extremism in Europe. Animations were just one of these. US government representatives were all staring up as bold characters took to the screens.

No, they didn't all take a break and decide to watch the Simpsons. There were a few new characters introduced at the Summit in a showcase of the finest and most innovative approaches to CVE in the world - the use of animation. They're set to make it to the top, and whilst they might not be able to compete with the banter of the Griffins for a spot on Adult Swim, they can certainly compete with extremist groups like ISIS. They are cartoon characters that are making steps to counter the online recruitment propaganda of extremist groups like ISIS, famed for their relentless use of social media to draw in vulnerable youth.

Abdullah-X is but one of these fictional characters that has taken a life of his own. When he's not time travelling or hosting the Abdullah-X show, he's a normal teenager exploring what it means to be a young British Muslim. As with many of his (non-fictional) contemporaries, he challenges Islamophobia, western foreign policy, and asks questions about groups such as ISIS such as "Five Considerations for a Muslim on Syria". Like many internet stars, Abdullah-X is making it big on his YouTube channel and social media.

Abdullah-X is at the centre of a campaign that aims to challenge the narratives of jihadists through audio-visual content. Engaging videos, music, and spoken word are at the core of what makes him appealing to youth at risk of radicalisation. Why? Because at risk youth are just that - youth - and kids like multi-sensory explosions, especially when they find it themselves trawling the internet.

However, counter-narratives can't just appeal to the eyes and ears. There needs to be a message - an alternative script to read from that provides youth with a storyline that is different to that of extremist groups. Credible messengers - former extremists, survivors of violent extremism, and community and religious leaders - can provide that. Obama said it himself. Due to their personal circumstances these individuals are prime agents to deliver messages that challenge dangerous narratives. Abdullah-X is the brainchild of a former extremist that once followed the teachings of notorious clerics Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri - both of which are definitely not role-model characters.

We need to fight back with campaigns that encourage critical thinking, and answer the questions that youth want answers to in a positive way. This 'been there, done that' reality of former extremists gives legitimacy to the message that there is 'something better' than the 'false promises' of extremist movements.

Average Mohamed is Abdullah-X's more matured counterpart. He can't quite time travel, but that's his thing - he's average, and he's confident there's nothing wrong with that. He's around to "talk plainly to humanity" and give average parents who deal with average kids a way of approaching every day topics that can empower them to discredit extremist ideologies. The creator of the project, NAME, said "the day you put the word Jihad in YouTube and 100 messages for peace created pops up" is how he measures success.

Our male friends aren't the only ones spreading positive and alternative messages. The Burka Avenger is a female force to be reckoned with. Created by famous Pakistani social activist and rock star Haroon, the award-winning animated series features Jiya, a teacher by day, a burka-wearing superheroine by night. Instead of fighting with fists, swords, and a scowl she uses books and pens to fight crime.

With so much attention on the young girls flocking to join ISIS from the UK and elsewhere, surely a message like Jiya's that empowers girls and stands up to extremism should be spread.

On the big screen we often see a good guy and a bad guy. In this animated feature that follows a battle for hearts and minds campaigns like Abdullah-X, Average Mohammed, and the Burka Avenger are the good guys that rival violent extremist groups. But, they need sidekicks. They need more appealing campaigns to come forward that challenge the narratives of all extremist groups and ideologies. They need the facilitative support of governments and more direct help from the private and tech sectors to help reach their target audiences on social media and disseminate their messages.

Extremist groups like ISIS have taken leaps to disseminate their harmful messages on the internet where we have taken steps. The White House Summit concluded that "we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion, and we especially need to do it online." Online animations like these have taken proactive steps to reclaim that online space, and in so doing embed themselves in the offline realities. With stories and script-writing like this, these animations-come-heroes are true contenders to win the online battle against extremist groups like ISIS.

The Three Mega-trends That Prove the War on Carbon Is Being Won

Jeremy Leggett   |   March 1, 2015    9:56 AM ET

I have a dream. It involves climate negotiators. They are bleary-eyed, exhausted, but happy. Nestled inside some grey building in the heart of Paris, they are weeping with relief at the result of all-night negotiations that leave climate campaigners like me elated, and the carbon-fuel lobbyists staring into the abyss, desolated.

It's a dream that could yet become a reality later this year at the climate talks being held in the French capital, as I argue in my new book, 'The Winning of the Carbon War'. For the last 25 years, I have fought hard against defenders of finite carbon fuels, careless of the impact they have on our world by clinging to coal, oil, and gas. And I have lost battle after battle against the dark side.

But in 2013, something changed and the tide began to turn. Now, in 2015, I'm genuinely hopeful the light side can win the war. Let me explain why.

The world has witnessed an extraordinary series of events that have combined to develop a 'tipping point' in the DECLINE of fossil fuel industries, driven by three emerging mega-trends.

First, the cost of deploying renewable energy systems is falling. In fact, 2013 saw new renewable energy generation overtake conventional fossil fuel and nuclear installations globally. According to UBS, a combination of a solar roof, an electric car, and a domestic battery tank will offer a 7% return on investment every year, with a 6 to 8-year capital payback, without subsidy support, by 2020. It's no wonder tech-giant Apple has announced plans to jump into the mass-production of electric cars, complementing its already impressive adoption of solar energy.

Secondly, the cost of delivering hydrocarbons is rising. Drilling for shale is losing its appeal, with US shale companies going bankrupt, drillers losing money and assets being written off by the multiple billions. Meanwhile, last year saw peak capex spending by the oil and gas industry, and the lowest rate of discovery of new reserves in 20 years. The situation is compounded by a Bank of England investigating whether or not fossil-fuel industries pose a threat to the stability of the capital markets and continuous divestment away from oil and gas being the ultimate trend. September 2014 saw the heirs to the fabled Rockefeller oil fortune, who control around $860m in assets, withdraw their funds from fossil fuel investments as part of a wider divestment movement involving 800 global investors promising to remove $50bn worth of support over the next five years.

Thirdly, the politics of climate abatement are showing signs of aligning. More than 100 countries now have a 2050 target to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions. SO HAVE businesses such as Virgin and Unilever. In the UK, all three main political parties agree that a strong treaty is required in Paris, with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Opposition Leader co-signing a letter of intention.

Meanwhile, the deal struck between the US and China in Beijing, in November, is huge. China has for the first time committed to cap its carbon output by 2030 while generating at least 20% of its energy needs using clean energy sources, such as solar and wind. And with Barack Obama agreeing to double the pace of the cuts in US emissions, reducing them to between 26% and 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, the future looks bright. Even political parties are aligning in the US, with most Republicans claiming to favour a candidate that possesses strong climate policies.

Imagine yourself as the CEO of a big energy company, with these three mega-trends playing out around you right now. Your cost base is soaring. Your investors are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. Your clean-energy competitors are finding it easier to grow, thanks to plunging costs. Analysts are more and more bullish about the need and potential for a low-carbon clean energy future to be realized, buoyed by a clear shift in direction by policymakers and society's increasing refusal to continue to accept the activities of fossil fuel industries.

Any one of these challenges would be bad enough to confront and face on their own. Facing them all at once is going to be tough and could trigger the long-delayed managed retreat of the industry to the clean energy alternatives. You only have to look at the strategic decision taken by E.ON to see the sort of transition that could soon become the norm among the big energy players.

Of course, my dream might not come true; governments may fail to codify their intentions in international law in Paris this December. I've witnessed enough of these negotiations over the years to acknowledge that that is a real possibility. (And I have worded the title of my book precisely: it does not read "How we won the carbon war".

But it is clear that the Carbon War can now be won, and I am very excited to witness how things play out in the next ten crucial months.

'The Winning of the Carbon War' will be downloadable for free and released in a ten-part series month by month through to the last day of the Paris climate summit in December 2015. Follow the blog and download the book


I NEED A HERO: Why Fiction, Not Reality, Is The Way Through This Election

Bex Felton   |   February 26, 2015    1:11 PM ET

My parents were journalists in the 70s and 80s. They weren't saints, but they were politically empowered and radical and principled. They uncovered corruption; they picketed corporate oligarchies; they fought for rights and absolutes in a time when they were few and far between.

Sure, it's easy to idealise. And if the worst thing we've got to face is the fallout from too much privilege, for too long, then that is our peculiar cross to bear.

But when I look back on my twenties, it won't be radical certainty I remember. It'll be radical uncertainty. Moral queasiness; something a bit grubby, lingering, all the time.

(I'm sorry if this depresses you. It depresses me too. But bear with me.)

I don't know anyone who doesn't feel grubby about some aspect of their work or their lifestyle. Or if they don't, they have no imagination and questionable intellect and I'd give them a wide berth anyway.

Political nihilism was a choice, back then.

Today, it seems to me, we're all nihilists, whether we know it or not - because we're all consumers. Moral compromise is de rigeur. Our lifestyles depend, inherently, on a scale of uncomfortable moral relativism.

You only need to head to to realise that your cumin is served with a nice side of exploitation and every piece of technology you own is causing horrifying, barbaric, turf wars in the Congo. When we turn on our heating we're effectively flooding coastal Latin America. I discovered I had 36 slaves working for me. And they're still working for me. Because as far as I can tell (as I frenziedly check my phone and write on my laptop while wearing high street clothing) apart from buying fair-trade cumin, I'm not about to jump off this bandwagon any time soon.

Professionally, well. The grubbiness gets a whole lot grubbier. You're pretty unsavoury if you don't work in the sustainable or not-for-profit sector (.... and even then, who are they kidding?).

If you want to REALLY dig your pristine nails under the skin of our consumer culture and get some dirt up their that just won't shift, I highly recommend branding, PR or advertising - the red pill of the professional world from which there is, I fear, no way back to that nice giant baby-tank and the illusion of spontaneous free will.

Learning how to manipulate people into buying things they don't want, believe things that aren't true or hoodwink them into staying in jobs they hate, sure feels great.

For the most part though, we get on with it and get pissed and forget to worry anyway. There isn't, thank god, too much time for introspection these days. We tell ourselves that it's tough to be ethical. It's expensive to be worthy. Ethics is a game for the rich, and they're not playing.

Occasionally, we purge. Huddled together, well into our second bottle on a Tuesday night, staring into the barrel of our wine glasses as we trade battle stories about our most recent moral indignity.

If you have ever stood at the back of an auditorium listening to the 'brand ambassadors' of a certain soft drinks company roll off speeches you have written that flagrantly bastardise the English language into nauseating - and grammatically incorrect - affirmations designed to convince employees of their ethical contribution while images of obese children and ravaged rain forests run through your brain and the only comfort is in the can of said drink you are chugging away on desperately (because it is free, and you are, by this point, deeply deeply addicted) in the ultimate act of sordid complicity - you will know what I'm talking about here.

It took me months, and hundreds of showers, before I could feel normal again.

Anyway, I digress.

The point is, we are the frogs in the slowly heating pot. Once you step onto that delicious, convenient, well-priced escalator, it's a long way down. Once you concede that everything is just a matter of perspective; once you broaden the frame; rewrite the narrative; filter the image; it's far too easy to rationalise away anything at all.

Malcolm Rifkind's just getting his. HSBC are no worse than anyone else. And so on.

You might not be skimming billions off the tax bill or flogging your dubious political influence to fictitious Chinese business men - but we all do it. We are up to our necks in moral turpitude. Entrenched in a game of ethical off-setting.

And like the broken window theory, when faced with such overwhelming ethical bankruptcy in ways big and small, it seems pointless, some days, to bother trying to improve anything at all.

Mustering outrage feels fruitless. We still do it of course, but it seems stale; we know the script, and the outcome. Stage managing our indignation through a show trial run by profiteers, bankrupt tabloids and weary MPs.

But lately, and far more worryingly, I've become aware that this relativism has infected my ability to imagine a better alternative. It's seeping into my principles; setting everything on a stinking, sliding scale of caveats and qualifications rather than the Rights and Wrongs we used to know.

Where I used to be certain about my moral absolutes, now I feel lost. I lie awake, suspecting, in my bones, that moral absolution went out with my dad's sideburns. Welfare - but for how long? Healthcare - but to what extent? The environment - but what's realistic? And aren't we all going to be washed away by a tidal wave in 2050 anyway?

I sit in front of, terrified in case, on a bad day, I come out 9/10 Tory and 1/10 UKIP.

My conclusion is that once we start thinking too much; once we start down this rotten path of moral carbon offsetting, nothing really looks the same ever again. I feel a bit like Hamlet, most days. And no one wants to feel like Hamlet.

But who to look to, to shake me out of this ethical indifference?

Our politicians, surely? By nature, the walking, talking advocates of a better, shinier, imagined future. That's the job. But no.

And the problem is, wherever we look, we're flat out of heroes.

The problem in this election, I think, is the lack of any particularly appealing versions of the future. I can't remember what moral certainty really looks like and neither can our politicians.

There's a dullness to their fight. A steady avoidance in their middle distance gaze while their political rhetoric bows to the lowest common denominator of public sentiment.

I wish they could just try a bit harder to sell us something we could believe in. I mean, not LIE. But creatively imagine better, alternative realities.

Or at the very least, give us one hell of a speech. In times of crisis, we need SYMBOLS OF HOPE. Grand Gestures. Great Orators.

Make like Obama and woo us with an expansive, (if ultimately hollow and still unrealised) vision of what we are capable of being; harness JFK and remind us of the things we used to like to believe about ourselves.

American politics isn't good for much. But they do know how to put on one hell of a show.

You know that saying - we can't be what we can't see?

Maybe, optimistically, where imagination lives, reality can follow.

But no one seems very hard to be trying to convince me.

The remedy, I feel sure, is less reality, more performance.

Maybe, if we hear the words said with enough certainty - no darting tongue, no parched lips, no skittish looks - we will start to believe it again. Maybe Obama was just a man and a great speech-writer but who cares? And SURE it hasn't really panned out the way it should've. BUT IT FELT AMAZING and people gave a crap.

But don't despair. Hope can spring from the oddest of places. To this end, I - unexpectedly - refer you to former UKIP Councillor Rozanne 'I have a problem with Negroes and I don't know why' Duncan as remedy to our lost faith.

Like most of the nation, I was fixated. Sure, by disgust. But also by a dawning hope.
Because this woman is a DOUBT FREE ZONE. It was the most convincing and committed political performance I'd seen all year.

When she lays her bigoted smackdown, there is literally NOTHING happening at a cerebral level that even hints at the wildly unfounded, socially repugnant, eye-popping nature of her tirade.

No twitch around the mouth, no flicker of doubt in the eyes.

Not a glimmer of recognition at the winded horror etched onto the face of her fellow tea drinker and onetime-UKIP-press officer.

Just, BOOM. Total, glazed, racial prejudice. Solid. Like a bar of Racist Kentish Rock.

Now, transplant the galling racism with unfounded faith in the human spirit then we'd be in business. THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO SEE MORE OF. Leaders, take note.

So this is my plea.

Just... Tell us a better story. Or at least a different story. Pretend you believe it. Give us our fight back. Draw some clear lines in the sand.



Obama v Putin: 'Dr. Strangelove' and the Doomsday Machine

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   February 26, 2015    2:19 AM ET

Since it is Oscar season, I recently watched Stanley Kubrick's exquisitely composed portrait of Armageddon circa 1964 for the first time in several years.

Having spent the last 20 or so years working here in Washington engaged in politics, government, media and education, I must report with that experience under my hat, this film with its extraordinarily brilliant cast simply - pun intended - blew me away!

For those of us who have not had the pleasure of living through the "First Cold War" - Suez Canal Crisis, Soviet Forces Enter Hungary, Francis Gary Powers U2 (not the Irish Rock Group) Shot Down, Kennedy-Nixon Debates, Khrushchev 'banging his shoe' at UNGA, Berlin Wall, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Prague Spring Ends as Soviet Tanks Roll into Czechoslovakia, Reagan's "Mr Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall" speech, and so on!

Here's some background:

In 1964 Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, a comedy film satirizing the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the USSR and the US, became an instant smash!

The film was directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick and co-written by Kubrick and Terry Southern. The film is based on Peter George's thriller novel Red Alert.

It stars Peter Sellers, playing three totally over-the-top characters and George C. Scott - as brilliant here as he is in his portrayal of General George S. Patton.

The film also features Sterling Hayden, Kennan Wynn and Slim Pickens... brilliant all.

The story involves a totally whacked-out United States Air Force General who orders a first-strike attack on the Soviet Union aka "the Ruskies".

It follows the President of the United States, his close advisers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Royal Air Force officer as they try to call back the bombers to prevent an unimaginable nuclear catastrophe.

Simultaneously, the narrative follows the crew of the one B-52 bomber loaded with a 40 megaton payload that has managed to escape destruction by avoiding a US-USSR coordinated pre-emptive missile strike which was launched to stop them and that previously took out all the other bombers - in an effort to prevent the activation of "the Doomsday Machine."

One might think that the most frightening element of the entire scenario, besides total nuclear annihilation, is the aforementioned 'dramatis personae' which include Dr. Strangelove himself - a mad Nazi scientist played by Sellers who most likely arrived at 'the War Room' from the Peenemünde Army Research Center by way of Huntsville, Alabama.

No, No that's not it. What is truly the most terrifying aspect of this movie is the level of bureaucratic insanity that must be endured and suffered in attempt to correct an error and prevent the mass destruction of the human race!

Ironically or maybe wisely in 1989 the United States Library of Congress included Dr. Strangelove in the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

It was also listed as number three on the American Film Institute "100 Years...100 Laughs List".

Flash forward fifty years!

The Berlin Wall has collapsed, many countries formerly under Soviet domination have become independent and Havana is talking to Washington.

The bad news is that the following states either have, had or are believed to have Nuclear Weapons, setting up an even more hideous scenario than Kubrick's "Doomsday Machine":
China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel (believed to have) Belarus & Kazakhstan, (transferred to Russia) Ukraine (disposed of them) and South Africa (claimed it has disassembled them).

Instead of continuing to pursue the path to disarm the world and destroy these horrific weapons that began with the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the world now seems to be headed in a different direction.

Today as you know, the US, as part of the P5+1, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany, is desperately trying to negotiate a deal with Iran to prevent Tehran from developing "the bomb".

This is problematic at best since it now seems the goal is "micro managing" those who wish to possess nuclear capabilities instead of preventing new members from ever joining the "nuclear club".

Skepticism about the negotiations and the wisdom of easing of sanctions on Iran are already growing and angering hard line Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle as well as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to strongly criticize easing the sanctions in a high profile address to the US Congress.

If the P5+1 talks fail, President Obama may be unable to hold off a politically anxious Congress from passing new sanctions against Iran.

After all, we are already entering another presidential election cycle and the soon-to-be officially declared candidates are very aware of the importance of the Pro-Israel vote.

As Americans it is always sobering to remember, especially during all this talk about nuclear proliferation of one sort of another, that the United States is still the only nation ever to drop "the bomb" on another sovereign nation.. and we did it twice.

Not only should everyone be concerned about admitting new members to the so called "Nuclear Club", some of its current members are already very troubling.

The USSR now The Russian Federation was once the main nemesis of the West.

Change eventually took place within the Soviet Union and 'perestroika' and 'glasnost' became key words of reform.

They inspired friendly new beginnings with the West but perhaps it was not destined to last.

Presently and frighteningly after annexing Crimea unopposed, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin seems to be enjoying playing a deadly game of chess while the West continues to be engaged in a child's game 'tiddlywinks' over Ukraine.

In the case of Russia's Putin, these devastating weapons of mass destruction in his hands, or in anyone else's hands who may one day succeed him, mean that there are really no meaningful military options the West can deploy to keep Putin's voracious ambitions in check.

With Russia's vast storehouses of nuclear weapons looming in the background, the Americans and the Europeans seem only to have just another round of sanctions or some other diplomatic gesture as an option for a resolution to the Ukraine dilemma.

When it comes to nuclear powers, despite protestations to the contrary, the military option is basically off the table - unless the players are willing to risk a nuclear response - in Cold War parlance "mutually assured destruction".

So this latest round of muscle flexing by "Rootin Tootin' Putin" should give the world pause about permitting another member of the "nuclear club" in any form - even for so-called peaceful purposes.

This current situation between Russia and the West is eerily similar to the Cold War build up as these groups seem to be coming closer and closer to an accidental escalation from which there may be no return.

Despite noble efforts from Chancellor Merkel, acting as a go between to achieve some diplomatic resolution and support from President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and other EU Leaders, Putin seems ready to violate any agreement - even the latest cease fire agreement - before the ink is dry.

Putin is clearly playing to his domestic audience who long for the 'bygone days' of the Great Soviet Union.

In response, the US has recently decided to show off its own military hardware with a parade of tanks dangerously close to the Russian border.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge for the West is whether to assist Urkraine with lethal aid since this may be viewed as entering into a proxy war with "Mother Russia".

So where does this leave us?

The cold hard fact is that unless Ukraine can somehow stand up to Russian aggression on its own, the response from the West will continue to be limited precisely because Russia is a nuclear power.

As these tensions escalate it is easy to see how a Dr. Strangelove incident might happen.

In the final analysis, it seems both Russia and the West have much more to gain by working together - even when it comes to the Iran issue - than arguing at cross purposes, otherwise this "Second Cold War" could turn Hot into a real Dr. Strangelove doomsday scenario.

The United States of America Questions the Credibility of the European Union

Andrew Duff   |   February 24, 2015    6:55 PM ET

Vladimir Putin's manoeuvres cast a new light on the state of EU-US relations. If you are American you do not have to be Senator John McCain, who wants to arm the Ukrainians, to question the validity of Europe's fond belief that reliance on soft power fits the bill for the 21st century. Russia, and for that matter Turkey no longer have truck with the European idea (if they ever did) that the rule of democratic law is more important than national sovereignty. The EU's efforts to apply pressure on Moscow through a mix of diplomacy and sanctions are being watched quizzically in Washington. American scrutiny is informed by a slightly different reading of history and indeed geography.

On a recent visit to DC I was struck by how the Ukraine is seen as an embattled classic nation state on the front line of Western interests. Back in Brussels, it is more normal to see Ukraine as murky border lands - what the Cambridge historian Christopher Clark calls 'a post-Imperial space' - for ever subject to competition among several powers, some more benign than others. After 1945, the future of Ukraine was crafted entirely by the Soviet Union: as Churchill and Roosevelt conceded to Stalin at the Yalta Conference, all territory to the east of the Curzon Line was 'theirs' not 'ours'. Only since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 has an independent Ukraine struggled to assert itself, against the odds, as a modern state governed from Kiev. Both the EU and US have offered help in building up Ukrainian economy and society, but the EU has never seen Ukraine as a defining strategic interest and has never sincerely extended to Kiev - unlike the Baltic or Balkan states - the offer of prospective membership.

NATO surpassed

Traditionally, the US has been more comfortable with the power politics of NATO than with the 'technocratic charisma' of the European Union. It is telling that the focus of today's Western reaction to Putin's adventurism is the EU and not NATO where the presence of Turkey is an embarrassment. That Barack Obama's administration seems content to conduct transatlantic discussions about the Ukrainian crisis with the EU signals growing American trust in 'institutional Brussels'. But then the President is a constitutional lawyer.

Recent changes at the top of the EU have helped. The tougher language of President of the European Council Donald Tusk on Russia is preferred to that of his emollient predecessor Herman Van Rompuy. High Representative Federica Mogherini is thought 'competent and fluent'. There is much interest in Washington about the whys and wherefores of the Spitzenkandidat experiment that saw Jean-Claude Juncker elected in 2014 as a more overtly political President of the European Commission than José Manuel Barroso. And the emergence of Germany as the lead player in the EU's efforts to build a common European foreign and security policy is wholly welcomed.

There will be difficulties ahead if the ceasefire drafted at Minsk crumbles and the EU has no contingency plan. EU-US relations could certainly be closer than they are. Neither Tusk nor Juncker has yet been to Washington, and Obama is thought to be reluctant to hold another summit meeting this summer with the Europeans: he found the laboured duet of Van Rompuy and Barroso at these occasions painful to endure, and the prospect that the Latvians could now climb in on the act by virtue of their term as president of the Council of Ministers risks putting the kybosh on the whole idea of EU-US summits.

Who's our Hamilton?

I found nobody in America who believed that the euro can be saved without deeper fiscal integration. Having waxed at a Yale conference about how Jean Monnet was Europe's James Madison, I was asked to nominate Europe's Alexander Hamilton (who created the US Federal Treasury). Hmm.

To Americans steeped in presidential politics, it seems odd, not to say absurd, that the EU's executive is so weak and diffuse. The US experience suggests that without the establishment of strong federal government European solidarity at home and European cohesion abroad will continue to be elusive. European unification continues to be seen as very much in the American interest, as Churchill, Schuman and Monnet originally testified.

The retirement of the British from the international scene is also a matter of much comment in Washington. The decisive moment as far as the Americans are concerned was the August 2013 decision of the House of Commons not to send British troops to Syria. The coalition government has done nothing since to refurbish the special Anglo-American relationship, particularly after the removal as foreign secretary of William Hague. The fact that Scotland was almost allowed to leave the United Kingdom, and may yet do so, is regarded by most Americans (many of whom take pride in their tartan) as incredible.

Yet the prospect of Brexit has not yet sunk in. If Cameron is still prime minister after the British election on 7 May and then calls a referendum on leaving the EU watch out for truly scandalised Americans.


Andrew Duff's new book is Pandora, Penelope, Polity: How to Change the European Union

Asa Bennett   |   February 16, 2015    4:42 PM ET

Ed Miliband's American election guru David Axelrod has given him a lukewarm endorsement, insisting that he isn't on a par with his former boss, Barack Obama.

Axelrod's cool assessment comes as Miliband tries to regain the initiative by setting out his party's plan to deliver "inclusive prosperity".

The former Obama adviser, who is reportedly being paid a six-figure sum to act as a part-time consultant to Labour, told the Guardian: "I think Obama's a once in a lifetime candidate. I can't think of another person who I would put in his category in my experience of consulting. So I wouldn't put that burden on Ed or anyone."

axelrod obama meeting Axelrod with US president Barack Obama

Axelrod, the creator of Obama's iconic 'Yes We Can" campaign message, also failed to succinctly describe Labour's election message in six words, choosing to do so in 145 words.

The wordiness of Axelrod's suggestion underlines Labour's apparent inability to summarise its key message, as Miliband showed last year.

Asked by The Telegraph to give “one word” to define his leadership following attacks from within his party that he is “too wordy and academic”, Miliband chose two - "One Nation". He then used 111 words to explain what he meant by “One Nation”.

Axelrod praised Miliband, describing him as a "smart, earnest guy who very much cares about the issues I care about, especially when it comes to the economy".

See more on General Election 2015

"Ed understands that a healthy economy is not one where a few people do fantastically well and the rest are falling behind. That's fundamentally what differentiates him from Tory policies because there is a grand indifference among the Tories."

He added: "My experience with Ed is that he's someone very comfortable in his own skin. I think he knows why he's in politics and has a clear idea of public service. I think Ed genuinely wants to do something. He sees public service as a calling. He sees challenges he wants to address."

Meanwhile, the Labour leader has used a speech at Jaguar Land Rover in Birmingham to outline his party's economic agenda.

Arguing that there is a choice between "two plans at this election", he said: "A failing plan under which we would carry on as we are with a government claiming the economy is a success when it only works for a handful of people at the top. Or a new plan, a better plan, that says this economy must succeed for working families if Britain as a whole is going to succeed.

"Nothing more symbolises their failing plan than seeing the tax gap - between what should be paid and the revenue received - widening while the number of apprenticeships available for young people is falling.

"We need a better plan to replace an economy where tens of billions are lost in tax avoidance with an economy where tens of thousands more of our young people are doing apprenticeships and we help more businesses grow, succeed and create wealth."

Unveiling a 79-page document, Miliband talked up the party's proposals to generate investment and cut taxes for small business and entrepreneurs, which include boosting training and apprenticeships, promoting competition in energy and banking to lower bills, and devolving power to regions.

The plan has been endorsed by Labour's former business secretary Lord Mandelson, who remains a key figure for Blairites and popular with business.

In an article for the Guardian, the peer insisted: "The Plan for Britain's Prosperity that Labour is publishing shows that these two elements are part of a bigger whole, the aim of which is not only to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth, but significantly to expand the productive potential of the British economy."

Ryan Barrell   |   February 16, 2015    3:08 PM ET

Twitter exploded recently at viral gossip reporting Tony Hart's death. Awkwardly, he actually passed away six years ago.

Here's a few more reasons why you should never trust the internet.

(Except us. You can trust us.)


Paul Vale   |   February 12, 2015    5:09 PM ET

“The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”

Obama has posed with a selfie stick. Man's final hour is here...

Here's the full BuzzFeed video: