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:


Paul Vale   |   February 11, 2015    6:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- President Barack Obama asked the US Congress on Wednesday to authorise the use of military force against members of the Islamic State - six months after American forces started bombing the militants.

In legislation sent from the White House to Capitol Hill, Obama asked Democrats and Republicans to "show the world we are united in our resolve" in the fight against the radicals that have occupied swathes of land across Syria and Iraq.

In urging Congress to back military force, the president ruled out "enduring offensive combat operations," a deliberately ambiguous phrase designed to satisfy lawmakers with widely different views on any role for US ground troops. The authorisation would last for three years and would require the president to report to Congress every six months.

The request, which is retroactive, came in the form of a new Authorisation for the Use of Military Force. The Congress is expected to hold debates and votes on whether to grant the AUMF over the next few weeks.

In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Obama said the Islamic State group is on the defensive and "going to lose," but vowed not to repeat the large and costly ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama said a large deployment of US troops won't be necessary to fight the Islamic State, and he argued that the three-page proposal he sent to lawmakers would give him and his successor the needed flexibility to wage a battle likely to take "some time."

Addressing the floor on Wednesday morning, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, said the chamber "will review the president's request thoughtfully," adding: "Individual senators and committees of jurisdiction will review it carefully, and they'll listen closely to the advice of military commanders as they consider the best strategy for defeating ISIL."

See below for the full text of the AUMF and the accompanying letter to Congress:



AUMF Transmittal Letter

Daniel Welsh   |   February 11, 2015   10:03 AM ET

Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Beyoncé are among the celebrities to have been immortalised in puppet form for ITV’s new satirical show, ‘Newzoids’.

‘Newzoids’ will pick up where ‘Spitting Image’ left off when it went off the airwaves almost 20 years ago, sending up some of the most famous faces from pop culture and politics with a blend of puppetry and animation.

The new six-part series will feature impressionists Jon Culshaw and Debra Stephenson lending their voices to celebrities and politicians we’re all familiar with, in surreal new scenarios, right in time for this year’s general election.


Some of the line-up of 'Newzoids'

The show will be produced by Citrus Television, who also produce the British Comedy Award-winning sketch series, ‘Horrible Histories’.

Citrus was co-founded by Giles Pilbrow, who was a producer on ‘Spitting Image’ for five years, who tells The Telegraph: “There is always an appetite for a show like this, but you need the right vehicle. ‘Newzoids’ is a clever mix of puppetry and animation. It has a real charm and is a mix of old and new.

“And it’s the right political environment at the moment. There are really interesting characters around: Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Ed Miliband, the Tories.”

Director of Entertainment and Comedy for ITV, Elaine Bedell, echoes his enthusiasm, saying: “ITV has a rich history of playing popular satirical comedy in peak-time on its main channel, and it seemed a good time to revive it this year.

“We are pleased to be adding to our growing comedy portfolio with this funny and biting look at the world of politics and celebrity.”

Other characters who will be sent up when ‘Newzoids’ hits the airwaves include Barack Obama, Simon Cowell and One Direction’s Harry Styles.


Harriet Harman: 'Strident Harpyism Is Now Conventional Wisdom'

Mehdi Hasan   |   February 9, 2015   10:42 AM ET

Back in 1993, the then shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Labour's Harriet Harman, hired a new 23-year-old researcher called Ed Miliband to work on her team. On the latter's very first week on the job, he was tasked by the more senior aides in her office with the all-important job of finding Harman's missing coat.

Twelve years later, what does Harman admire most about her researcher-turned-leader?

"That he is not cynical,” she says, almost instantly. "He hasn’t got a cynical bone in his body.

"He is somebody who believes in things and wants things to be better for people. He’s not in it for himself. All the things that people don’t like about politicians, that they're in it for themselves… he is the opposite of all that."

tv debates

I meet Labour's deputy leader, and Miliband's 'Number 2', in her corner office in Portcullis House, overlooking Parliament Square, as she prepares to launch the party’s 'Woman to Woman' tour of the country and embark on her eighth general election campaign.

The 64-year-old Harman, who has been the member of parliament for Camberwell and Peckham since her 1982 by-election victory, looks and sounds excited, energised, enthused.

"Unite [the union] has provided us with a driver and blow me down they’ve managed to find a woman with one of these [special] licenses,” she says smiling, before adding, with only a hint of sarcasm: "We’ve had lots of doctrinal discussions, such as: should we be alright with a male driver?"

Has there been any discussion of the colour of her vehicle, I ask? Isn’t driving around in a pink van a bit patronizing? A bit clichéd?

"Well it doesn’t have big eyelashes on the front,” she shoots back at me. "We don’t care. Actually it’s got to look like itself. Because it’s new; it’s different."

women to women van

This it the van in which Harman plans to tour the country

The deputy Labour leader is focused on (obsessed with?) the campaign for equality; it is the cause that animates her politics and which has come to define her as a public figure.

The 'Woman to Woman' tour - described by Labour spinners as the party's "biggest ever women’s campaign" - is the brainchild of Harman, who serves as both shadow deputy prime minister and shadow culture secretary, and Gloria De Piero, shadow minister for women and equalities and one of the party's rising stars.

"What is driving us to do this," explains Harman, "is there’s a general fall in turnout as part of people’s disaffection [with politics] and there’s an even bigger fall amongst women; it’s an accelerated decline amongst women."

She reminds me that 9.1 million women did not vote in 2010 - compared to 8 million men. "We’re saying, 'Don’t be part of the missing millions.'"

Harman’s message to disillusioned female voters is as simple as it is blunt: "We’re women. We’re inside the system. But we’re trying to change it. We want to be mobilizing with you, on your behalf.

"This is the biggest dividing line between women in the Tory Party and women in the Labour Party. The Tories want to hoover up lots of women’s votes so they can get into power [and] be a Tory government. We want to get women’s votes so Labour can be in power [and] we can deliver for women."

For Labour’s deputy leader, it’s a "two-way" relationship, "demonstrating that women are on our mind as politicians and we are focused on and interested in their lives. Because most women think politics has nothing to do with their lives."

It is the aggressive, masculine style of politics that turns women off perhaps? The shouting and heckling at Prime Minister’s Questions every Wednesday lunchtime?

"Well…" She pauses. "I think there’s that. I think that if the proportions were reversed in terms of the House of Commons, being four-to-one women, I think its inconceivable the atmosphere could be like it is is in Prime Minister’s Questions. But how much is it women watching PMQs forensically?" She's not so sure, preferring to highlight how politics consists mostly of "men talking about other men to men and arguing with men about men. And half the population are women."

What's her view of David Cameron then? Feminists have knocked the prime minister for his 'calm down, dear' asides and his much-discussed refusal to wear a 'This is what a feminist looks like' campaign T-shirt. Does Harman think the PM is a misogynist?

She sighs. "I’m not sure whether a name-called label is how we’re going to make progress on this. I certainly think that what his government represents for women is a stalling of progress and a turning of the clock back and if they were to get in again [that] would be even more the case."

harriet harman feminist

Harman wearing a 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirt at PMQs

Is she saying it'll be even worse for the women of Britain under a second-term Cameron government?

"I fear a second term [for women]," she replies. "Oh definitely."

Given her passionate, very genuine and long-standing advocacy on behalf of women in politics, does she believe that the next Labour leader, ideally, should be a woman?

She dodges my question. "We’re a balanced team in the leadership, in that we have a man and a woman [at] the top. We have a balanced team in the shadow cabinet. We’ve made huge strides but we’re still male-dominated in the parliamentary Labour Party so we’ve still got further to go."

But it must worry her that the Tories - in the form of Theresa May, the home secretary - could have a second female leader before Labour has even had its first?

"Erm.. well.. I do think that we are striving to be a balanced team delivering for women. And men. The point is for gender not to be an issue because across the team you’ve got a [gender] balance."

So, in a gender-balanced team, there's no need for a woman at the top? Ever?

She crosses her arms defensively. "Well, our top person is Ed Miliband and I’m not looking beyond that. Sorry about that. I’m just not. It’s a bit difficult to discuss it in theory."

Is it? Couldn't she say, in theory, that it'd be nice for the next prime minister or Labour leader after Ed Miliband to be a woman?

"Well, I wouldn’t love to see a woman prime minister if [she were] like Margaret Thatcher. I distinctly did not love seeing Margaret Thatcher."

She may not want to look beyond Ed Miliband but how about looking beyond Boris Johnson. Wouldn't it be a massive step forward if the next mayor of London were a woman?

"Or a black or Asian person," she counters, echoing the recent call made by Labour MP Margaret Hodge who quit the race for the party's mayoral nomination because, the latter declared, "the time is right for us to have a non-white mayor".

Harman explains that she wants politics to be "more diverse and more representative. Our institutions are supposed to be representative."

However, "the first thing is to have a Labour mayor so we can have a bit of progress and social justice within a dynamic economy. I am not at this point picking our London mayoral candidate."

Well, why isn't she standing herself? She has been a London Labour MP for more than three decades and would bring more high-level government experience to the job than any other potential mayoral candidate bar Tessa Jowell, the former culture secretary and Olympics minister.

"I want to be member of parliament for Camberwell and Peckham," Harman tells me. "And I would like to be in a Labour government with a majority."

harriet harman liberties

Harman campaigning in the Peckham by-election with Roy Hattersley in 1982

Would she be deputy prime minister in that Labour government, I wonder? Harman suggested in a speech in 2014 that Gordon Brown didn't make her deputy prime minister in 2007 - a post previously filled by John Prescott - because she was a woman.

"Well, I am shadow deputy prime minister now," comes the not-so-illuminating reply.

I ask again. There's an awkward pause. "Well, I’m deputy prime minister. I mean shadow deputy prime minister. Well, it's down to the prime minister of the day to decide what he does."

Has she discussed what her role and job title in government would be with Miliband?

"Honestly," she says with a big laugh, "I’m not discussing any of that."

But she has discussed it before, hasn't she, when she criticised Brown?

"Oh that’s true. I was looking back."

The deputy Labour leader is normally on the receiving end of criticism - much of it unwarranted, excessive and, yes, misogynistic. Right-wing papers such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have long mocked and caricatured her as 'Harriet Harperson' and constantly belittle her campaigns for gender equality and greater diversity.

What's it like being Harriet Harman, always under attack from the right?

She leans back in her chair. "It is like being somebody who is trying to be part of a movement which is trying to bring about change when there are lot of people who don’t want to see that change happen.

"I could lead a quiet life but actually that wouldn’t be bringing about any change. And I would rather endure the brickbats than endure the injustice and unfairness that’s out there." There's a pause. "It would be nice if you could strive for change and not have personal disparagement."

Harman, rather impressively, doesn't seem to let the attacks get under her skin. She is remarkably self-confident, self-assured and proud of her achievements in public life so far. "I do notice," she tells me, "that a lot of things that I have argued for and which were regarded as strident harpyism are now conventional wisdom agreed by everybody. The CBI organised virtual lynch mobs when I was proposing the national minimum wage [in the 1990s] and now everybody agrees with that. So, basically, I take a bit of satisfaction that today’s unreasonable demand is tomorrow's conventional wisdom."

I meet Harman almost exactly a year after the Daily Mail accused Harman and her husband Jack Dromey, who is also a Labour MP and shadow minister for policing, of being "apologists for paedophiles" due to the links between the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) - Harman's former employer - and paedophile lobbyists in the 1970s.

What did she make of that tawdry episode, with all the awful smears and over-the-top accusations?

"Well, it was outrageous and calculated and it was wrong. It was absolutely wrong."

harriet harman liberties

Harman's past links with the NCCL were used to smear her in 2014

The shadow deputy prime minister reminds me of how, when she was solicitor general in the last Labour government, she repeatedly challenged the court of appeal over "unduly lenient" sentencing of child sex offenders. As for the Mail's attack on her, she says, "I am kind of assuming that a lot of people see it for what it is which is a cynical attack by the Daily Mail but I don't think they have any boundaries."

Why don't they? "They think anything goes when they're having a go at Labour."

So what does she think of Paul Dacre? Harman's former leader, Gordon Brown, once praised the Mail boss as "an editor of great distinction and someone of very great personal warmth". I'm assuming she has a lower opinion of Dacre than he did.

"I've never met him," she declares, before turning to her special adviser Ayesha Hazarika seated nearby to ask: "Have I met [Dacre]?" Hazarika shakes her head.

What would Harman say to him if she ever did meet him? "Nothing I haven’t said publicly."

I can think of few other politicians who have been subjected so relentlessly to such wild smears and constant caricatures. Does she ever allow the media attacks on her character, her appearance, her past, to get her down? Upset her?

"I've made a choice. I'd rather it be an easier pathway to progress and I certainly feel exasperated and frustrated by the length of time it takes to get even small steps towards equality. However, I’ve made a choice to do this because it needs people to step forward, and women have made choices to step forward in the past and open doors.

"You can’t just leave it other people."

The likes of Dacre might not want you to know it but Harman has had a long and distinguished political career. She served in both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's cabinets; was elected Labour's deputy leader in 2007; and stood in for Brown at Prime Minister's Questions, becoming the first ever Labour female minister to do so.

In May 2010, Harman was appointed to Labour's negotiating team to help try and secure a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. What lessons for 2015 have Labour frontbenchers like her learned from the failure of those negotiations in 2010?

The shadow culture secretary makes a face. "What happened last time, I wouldn’t call it 'negotiations'. I think that’s overstating [it]."

Why? "Because the numbers didn’t work out. It’s a big rewriting of history that somehow if we’d have done more thinking [about coalition] in advance, things would have worked out differently.

"Us plus the Lib Dems did not produce a majority. And the Lib Dems were quite clear that they were going to go with the people who had the most MPs. Which was not us. Which was the Tories. So, yes, we sat in a room. But 'negotiations' would be overstating it because basically.. the real negotiations were between the Lib Dems and the Tories. It was a dead duck, basically."

This time round, explains Labour's deputy leader, "it's really important not be distracted by the notion of post-election negotiations. And I think people say it's going to be close. Actually nobody knows. It's uncertain."

In recent weeks, there has been much talk of a Labour-SNP coalition in the event of another hung parliament. First, shadow chancellor Ed Balls ruled out a coalition with the Scottish nationalists; then, Labour's election coordinator Douglas Alexander refused to rule it out. Where does Harman stand on this issue?

The deputy leader gives a safety-first answer: "We will deal with whatever the result is when it happens. But we are not looking over our shoulder, second-guessing the voters, trying to align our policies with what might suit the Lib Dems or anyone else. We’re aligning our politics to suit the people of this country. And that’s what our focus has got to be."

I ask again. Is she ruling out a post-election coalition with the SNP?

"Well, I’m just basically saying that we are not going into this thinking of a coalition with anybody. Because we’re trying to win an overall majority and I think its really important that we keep that focus because people don’t want to think that we are offering them a programme but somehow it’s a programme that is not about them, it's about second guessing some other party that we can ally with."

I'll take that as a 'no' then. I move onto the Lib Dems. Didn't she once call them "Tory accomplices"? Will it therefore be difficult to sit in a coalition government with Nick Clegg and co?

Harman has no interest in withdrawing her earlier remarks. "They are accomplices in a Tory government. They absolutely have colluded with them and have been willing partners in all sorts of things that are making things worse for people.. like the bedroom tax. That’s a statement of fact."

She continues: "Basically, we will decide what to do should the occasion require it - if it's not an overall [Labour] majority."

But can Ed Miliband pull off a Labour majority? Four and a half years into his leadership, and the Leader of the Opposition has yet to cut through to the British electorate. His personal poll ratings are dire, he is locked in a war of words with a variety of business bosses and, only a few months ago, Miliband found himself in the midst of a destabilising leadership crisis.

Harman is, characteristically, loyal and quick to defend her leader. "I don’t agree that he was having a leadership crisis," she says, in as convincing a tone as she can muster. "He has been very focused on what he wants to do. It's always been Labour's case that we support business in terms of its important role in creating jobs and creating prosperity but we want businesses to be responsible citizens who pay their taxes.. .pay the minimum wage." What Miliband is saying on business, argues his deputy, "is absolutely right and reflects Labour values".

harriet harman

Harman is a loyal deputy to her leader and former researcher

Has the Opposition, however, gone too far in its denunciations of big business? Can it afford to go into another general election without the support of any major business leaders?

Harman tells me the recent attacks by former M&S boss Stuart Rose and Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire were "probably" coordinated by the Tories but says "it's down to us to respond and argue that we, of course, support business, we support jobs in the private sector, and that's one of the principal reasons why we don’t want there to be a referendum on the European Union.

"We are setting out our case that what we’re doing is in the interests of a flourishing economy and in the interests of business. But that doesn’t mean that we have to say we’re happy with the energy market as it's currently structured. No, we’re not. And we think its not good for consumers and not good for other businesses that are ripped off by energy companies, as it’s a big bill for them."

I return to my earlier, unanswered question: why hasn't Miliband cut through to the voters? "Well, he has," she says in response. "Actually we’ve been winning council seats across the whole period of Ed Miliband’s leadership.. It was never going to be easy to be Leader of the Opposition when you have been roundly kicked out of government but he has led us to a position where we are in contention. He always knew it was going to be very hard."

What about the claim that Miliband doesn't pass the 'blink test', where voters close their eyes and try and imagine the Labour leader standing, as PM, on the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street?

She shrugs. "That is often the case with leaders of the opposition."

Really? What about Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 general election?

"I think those were very exceptional circumstances."

How about David Cameron prior to the 2010 election?

"Well, nobody thinks very much of Cameron as prime minister right now. He is the prime minister and still not looking that prime ministerial to many people. So I don’t think that’s a fair comparison."

Harman points out that Miliband "has been making the political weather which, from opposition, in your first term, is unprecedented. So, basically, the Tories didn't want the NHS on the agenda. It is. They didn’t want the cost of living on the agenda. It absolutely is. They are having to respond to the force of what he has put on the political agenda."

Yet the paradox of Ed Miliband's leadership is that his very real and tangible achievements - from dominating the debate on living standards to taking on Rupert Murdoch over phone hacking - haven't translated into positive poll ratings. Meanwhile, his critics inside the Labour Party line up to kick him, loudly and publicly. In recent weeks, Blairite ex-cabinet ministers such as Alan Milburn, John Hutton and Peter Mandelson have grabbed headlines by criticising Miliband's NHS and tax policies, provoking Harman's predecessor as deputy Labour leader, John Prescott, to denounce them as "Tory collaborators". What does Harman make of these interventions from the New Labour flag-carriers ?

She leans forward and stares at me intently. "Nobody made Alan Milburn leave parliament. He could have stayed on as a Labour MP and been part of the team. It was his choice to go. The same with John Hutton. It was his choice to go.. They've stepped aside, okay that’s their choice for them to do that, but actually [they should] support the team that is fighting for social progress in this country."

Harman then issues this scathing message to the likes of Milburn and Hutton: "Don’t become an unhelpful commentator, using your position as a former person in a Labour cabinet."

john hutton

Former cabinet minister John Hutton is an 'unhelpful commentator', says Harman

Labour's deputy leader is a shrewd and experienced political operator, who clearly isn't afraid of picking fights. So what does she think motivates Miliband's Blairite critics? Do they really want to see, as Prescott suggests, the re-election of a Cameron-led government?

"I don’t know," she sighs. "I think people sometimes can't resist a sort of moment of being back in the frame. But they chose not to be in the struggle. They chose that. So basically.. they should focus on what they chose to do. Not dip in with comments when we are heading to a general election."

She continues: "I hope you won't see me doing that at anytime in the near future." She checks herself. "Not that I’m stepping aside from the struggle."

I don't doubt that for a second.

Paul Vale   |   February 5, 2015    3:54 PM ET

NEW YORK –- Fresh evidence from the lawyers of the victims of the September 11 attacks could corroborate information redacted in the near-mythical 28 pages of the official 9/11 report that remain classified. The redacted pages reportedly detail links between the 9/11 hijackers and the Saudi Arabian regime.

On Wednesday, lawyers working for the victims said they had new evidence proving agents of the Saudi state "directly and knowingly" aided the hijackers, proof obtained from Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, as well as new information from domestic and foreign intelligence reports.

The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington reiterated on Wednesday that it had no connection to the 9/11 attacks, calling Moussaoui’s accusations the claims of a “deranged criminal”.

However, lawyers filed documents in Manhattan federal court to buttress claims Saudi Arabia supported al-Qaida and its leader at the time, Osama bin Laden, prior to the attacks. They have always said "the Saudi government directly and knowingly assisted the 9/11 hijackers," but now say facts and evidence supporting the assertion "are compelling."


Photo provided by the Sherburne County Sheriff Office of Zacarias Moussaoui, currently held in a maximum security prison in Colorado

They said an "expansive volume" of new evidence — including US and foreign intelligence reports, government reports and testimony from al-Qaida members — support lawsuits seeking billions of dollars from countries, companies and organisations that aided al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

They said evidence likely to be released soon includes a congressional report detailing evidence of Saudi 9/11 involvement and nearly 80,000 pages of material relating to an FBI probe of Saudis who supported 9/11 hijackers in Florida. They also cited their own research, including last year's Moussaoui interview at the maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado.

Moussaoui repeated some assertions made previously, including that a 1990s plot by al-Qaida to shoot down Air Force One and assassinate President Bill Clinton was assisted by a top Saudi Embassy employee, along with claims there were direct dealings between senior Saudi officials and bin Laden.

The lawyers also said their case is boosted by sworn statements by 9/11 Commissioners John Lehman and Bob Kerrey, as well as Bob Graham, co-chairman of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11. Last month, Graham, who penned the official report into the attacks in 2001, joined a growing chorus demanding the redacted pages, detailing links between the terrorists and the Saudi government, be made public.

Entitled the Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001, the original report was published in December 2002, however President Bush demanded that 28 pages of the 828-page dossier were blacked out in an effort to protect America’s relationship with the Saudis.

Speaking to ABC News in January, Graham said: "The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier. The position of the United States government has been to protect Saudi Arabia.

twin towers

The north tower of the World Trade Center burns after s hijacked airplane hit it September 11, 2001 in New York City

"At virtually every step of the judicial process, when the United States government was called upon to take a position, it has been a position adverse to the interests of United States citizens seeking justice and protective of the government which, in my judgment, was the most responsible for that network of support."

Wednesday’s court filing, coming less than two weeks after the death of Saudi King Abdullah, was made to meet a deadline set by Judge George B. Daniels.

In a website statement, the Saudi embassy noted the Sept. 11 attack had been the "most intensely investigated crime in history and the findings show no involvement by the Saudi government or Saudi officials." As for Moussaoui, the statement said: "His words have no credibility. His goal in making these statements only serves to get attention for himself and try to do what he could not do through acts of terrorism — to undermine Saudi-US relations."

Moussaoui was arrested on immigration charges in August 2001 after employees of a Minnesota flight school became alarmed he wanted to learn to fly a Boeing 747 with no pilot's license. He was in custody on Sept. 11 and pleaded guilty in April 2005 to conspiring with the hijackers to kill Americans.

A psychologist testified for the defense at death penalty proceedings that he had paranoid schizophrenia. Jurors spared his life.

Hall and Hebdo in a Huff with Obama?

James Christie   |   January 31, 2015    3:24 AM ET

I see President Obama has criticised the scribes and pages of this august paper. "Get informed, he says. [but] not by reading the Huffington Post..."

Well, as one of those scribes I'd say writing a blog for the Post can be a ball, but I approached it more in the manner of setting out a good stall.

I took care to write properly, back up my statements, moderate my assertions (that was quite a lesson - like anyone else, I have my bad days but even when it seems the world does pall, there's still two sides to every argument, one and all), pull the wool over the reader's eyes and then the rug from under his or her feet, then sum it up with a concise closing line clearly in sync with what came before.

So though there may be many more bells and whistles in this brave new world of journalism to dazzle folks today (much as Cinerama did in its long-forgotten heyday), I didn't let myself be seduced by the razzle-dazzle and roses.

My watchword was: write a good column, add hyperlinks and pictures to make a fine veneer; but at heart and core set out the store; and whether they be in the park or on the iPad, try to give the audience both a good read and that little bit more.

Pre-Huffington Post, I'd had a long and hard apprenticeship to the art of authorship, but one of the last stops along the way was at a hostel in Monterey in March 2010, the morning after Barack Obama signed the Health Care Bill which became the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare.

Pleased with the potential promise of health care for all (or at least more) Americans, I bought five national papers that day. Funnily enough, the local Monterey Herald seemed to sum it up best, and the straightforward headline:

Obama signs health bill hangs framed above my bed. Though perhaps not quite on a par with the lost innocence of Kennedy's tarnished Camelot, Obama's Bill was a substantive part of the explosive, whirling framework of chance and coincidence which had swept me from a flat in Partick to the shores of the Pacific and Steinbeck country by way of Sunset Boulevard and a certain Hollywood star.

And of course no Camelot can long endure. My blue and sunny days in Monterey became part of myth and Dear Miss Landau, but since then I've seen Obamacare challenged, Obama himself disturbingly reviled, been on hand for the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death and had to consider whether America may indeed be in irreversible decline.

Sometimes it seems like that peak of personal achievement by the Pacific's shore was a one-off, doomed to be reclaimed by the mediocrity that lies in wait along so many of life's byways.

And sometimes it doesn't.

I've never met Barack Obama, of course, but I've been overland across America three times during his Presidency, considered its Constitution and even paralleled the fictional path John Steinbeck's Joads took over the Colorado River and into California via the arcing bridge at Needles during the last Great Depression. I've also been reminded of the importance of free speech, laid down in the U. S. Constitution's First Amendment and recently borne to prominence once again courtesy of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Namely, that Congress "shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."

And also, as per Evelyn Beatrice Hall's quotation (wrongly attributed to Voltaire) which acts perhaps as statutory instrument to that legislation, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

So I've seen some of Obama's America and reported it as fairly as I'm able, but while I may disapprove of the President's seeming dismissal of the Huffington Post as a relevant source of news, I'll sure as hell defend to the death his right to say that that's what he thinks.

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.



The Saudi Royals: Not People to Do Business With

Robin Lustig   |   January 31, 2015   12:00 AM ET

I wonder what was going through David Cameron's mind as he cleared his diary to rush off to the funeral of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. (I'm not too bothered about what went through Prince Charles's mind - going to foreign funerals is what he's paid for.)

By most people's standards, the Saudi monarch was a brutal tyrant. Or, if we're feeling generous, he presided over a tyrannical regime. If he was, as so many commentators insisted, a reformer at heart, he was a remarkably unsuccessful one.

I understand the need for diplomatic niceties to be observed. That's why when a royal head of state dies, I'm perfectly happy for one of our royals to attend the funeral. But why on earth do we have to send the prime minister as well?

Perhaps you think it's because we still need their oil. Well, no, in fact - only 4% of the UK's imported oil comes from Saudi Arabia - most of it comes from Norway (42%), Algeria (14%) and Nigeria (13%).

No. The real answer is that the Saudis buy obscene quantities of UK armaments. So British policy towards Saudi Arabia can best be represented by a single symbol: a great big dollar sign. Moreover, in a region that becomes ever more violent and unstable (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon), Saudi Arabia appears - repeat appears - to be a rare island of relative tranquillity. These days, for Western leaders worried about where the next jihadi outrage will strike, that's worth a lot.

It is also woefully short-sighted. Because the truth is that the motivating ideology that infects the jihadi killers on the streets of Europe's capitals comes directly from the very same city where Mr Cameron, Prince Charles and the rest of them congregated to pay their respects to the departed Saudi monarch.

My heart sinks as I write the word "respects". Respects to an absolute monarch in a kingdom that publicly beheads miscreants, publicly flogs bloggers, and still forbids women from driving or travelling without the permission of a male guardian? Does realpolitik know no boundaries at all? Would they genuflect to Kim Jong-un of North Korea as well if he bought enough of our weapons?

There are nearly as many strands in Islam as there are in Christianity. Most of them pose no greater threat to non-Muslims than the Quakers do to non-Christians. But it is the world's great misfortune that the strand espoused by the richest and most reactionary rulers in the Muslim world is also the most ruthlessly exported. Visit almost any country on earth where there are Muslims and there you will find mosques built and financed by Saudi cash.

These days, the Saudis profess to be as worried about jihadi murderers as everyone else, but whether that anxiety is matched by effective action against the propagandists, financiers and others who back the most extreme elements in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere remains open to doubt.

What is not in doubt is that the Saudi royals are deeply concerned at the spread of Iranian-backed Shi'ism in the region - and even more concerned at the prospect of Iran finally doing a deal over its nuclear research programme and being re-admitted into what we fondly refer to as the "international community". The Saudis have always regarded themselves as the rightful rulers of the whole of the Islamic world; after all, their country is where the prophet Mohammad was born and lived, and where their religion was created. Iran, and Shi'ism, which Saudi clerics regard much as Pope Leo X regarded Martin Luther in the 16th century, threaten Saudi hegemony.

President Obama, who was accompanied in Riyadh by Mrs Obama and a host of US dignatories, wants to keep the Saudis onside. No one in Washington has forgotten, or will ever forget, that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 11 September 2001 came from Saudi Arabia.

And if you've been following the entirely specious "row" over why Mrs Obama didn't cover her head during their visit (a wonderful demonstration of feminist courage, according to her supporters; a disgraceful demonstration of disrespect to a key ally, according to her Republican critics), you may be interested to know that she was in good company. On previous visits to the desert kingdom, former First Lady Laura Bush, ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and German chancellor Angela Merkel have all appeared bare-headed.

I've even come across a 30-year-old photo of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, also bare-headed on a visit to Saudi. And she wasn't exactly one of the world's most outspoken feminists, or one to disrespect a valued ally, especially as it was she who signed the UK's most lucrative arms contract ever with the Saudis: the al-Yamamah deal, worth something like £40 billion to the British defence firm BAE.

The Saudi royal family are not the kind of people we should be doing business with. The only reason to stay on speaking terms with them is that if they are overthrown, they could well be followed by something even worse.

Still, wouldn't it be nice if, like Germany, we could halt our arms sales to what is undoubtedly one of the nastiest regimes on the planet. And when the new king dies - he's already 79 - perhaps we could send Prince Charles on his own. I'm sure he'd manage just fine.