Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'A Pretty Shameful Day For Washington'

US President Barack Obama speaks on gun control on April 17, 2013 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. Obama on Wednesday slammed what he called a 'minority' in the US Senate for blocking legislation that would have expanded background checks on those seeking to buy guns. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks on gun control on April 17, 2013 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. Obama on Wednesday slammed what he called a 'minority' in the US Senate for blocking legislation that would have expanded background checks on those seeking to buy guns. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
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The ten things you need to know on Thursday 18 April 2013...


What the hell is wrong with the members of the United States Senate?

From the Financial Times:

"The US Senate yesterday delivered a devastating blow to efforts to tighten gun laws after the Newtown school shootings, voting down two measures that would have imposed tough new rules on who can buy guns.

"The vote scuppered attempts to enact the toughest new gun laws in the US for 20 years as well as a key part of President Barack Obama's second-term agenda.

"An angry Mr Obama, flanked by families of children killed in the school massacre and by Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in an earlier rampage, sharply criticised the moves.

"'This was a pretty shameful day for Washington,' he said from the White House, accusing 'the gun lobby and its allies' of misleading the public."

The Times reports:

"He had harsh words for senators from both parties who let the NRA intimidate them. 'They worry that a vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections ... so they caved in to the pressure,' he said.

"The President vowed to carry on fighting. 'I see this as just round one,' he said.'I believe we're going to be able to get this done, sooner or later we're going to get this right. The memories of these children demand it.'


David Cameron and George Osborne will be grateful that all eyes were on Lady Thatcher's funeral yesterday (see things 3 and 4, below). Why? Because the latest unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) were released at 9:30 on Wednesday morning, on hour before the event, and they didn't make for very pleasant reading.

"Jobs recovery runs out of steam," says the headline in the FT.

The Guardian reports:

"Unemployment jumped by 70,000 in the three months to the end of February, amid the lowest growth in pay rises since 2001, as pressure mounts on George Osborne to adopt a more aggressive growth strategy.

"The number of unemployed people reached 2.56 million, with 20,000 under 25-year-olds joining the jobless ranks, pushing the unemployment rate up from 7.8% to 7.9%. It was the third consecutive increase and the highest level since July. Britain's working population is also suffering from an austerity squeeze, with the average pay rise slipping to 1%, the lowest since records began in 2001 and well short of the 2.8% inflation rate."

The paper's leader points out:

"This has been a terrible week for George Osborne, as would be more apparent in a quieter period. After months of subtly disagreeing with the coalition's cuts, the IMF this week went full-frontal and called for a plan B: "It may be time to consider adjustment to the original fiscal plans." Couple that with the discrediting of a study much cited by the Treasury that argued that high debt produced slow growth. This chancellor's austerity increasingly lacks for intellectual credibility, influential friends and empirical support."



The front pages of this morning's papers are, of course, dominated by coverage of yesterday's state (sorry, 'ceremonial') funeral for the late Margaret Thatcher.

"R.I.P. Mrs T," is the headline in the Sun; the paper's leader says the applause outside St Paul's was "a simple gesture... the perfect tribute from Britain's decent, silent majority".

"Goodbye Mummy," is the headline on the front of the Daily Mail, over a picture of a weeping Carol Thatcher.

"There were tears and cheers; some gentle heckling and some polite flag-waving," observes the Independent on its front page.

"For all the grandeur, they claimed a simple purpose," writes Jonathan Freedland on the front of the Guardian. "They had come, they said, not to bury a political figure or an "-ism", but a woman of flesh and blood, a mortal who was 'one of us'. And yet there were moments when it seemed they had come to bury an entire era, to conclude at last that dizzying, turbulent decade where she reigned supreme. The ceremony that hushed central London yesterday morning was a farewell to Margaret Thatcher - but also to the 1980s."

Freedland adds:

"[A]n all but state funeral was always bound to be controversial, why some opposed granting such a rare, once-a-century honour to a former prime minister. For they knew, and feared, the power of such a ceremony - how it can transform and elevate a onetime partisan politician into something larger, a figure that towers above politics, apparently uniting a nation.

"Once today's images have aged and yellowed into archive, that's the story they will seem to tell too. The boos along the funeral route were mainly off screen. Few will ever see the photographs of big screens relaying coverage of the funeral to empty city squares in Leeds and Edinburgh."

On a less serious note, I was amused to read, according to the Mail's Robert Hardman, that "old Cabinet colleagues seemed to have been seated according to reliability. Thus, we saw staunch supporters Norman Tebbit and Cecil Parkinson in Row Four while Geoffrey Howe (whose resignation precipitated her own back in 1990) sat hunched in Row Five, one ahead of the axeman, Michael Heseltine, keeping himself to himself in Row Six."

The Times' Ben Macintyre, however, best summed up the whole affair: "Traditional, proud, patriotic, martial and uncompromisingly British: this was the funeral Margaret Thatcher wanted; and in death, as in life, what she wanted, she got."


So, George Osborne has functioning tear ducts, eh? The chancellor of the exchequer, according to the Telegraph, "provided one of the defining images of the day as he wept during the funeral service".

Indeed he did. But the Times' Ben Macintyre says Thatcher herself "would not have put up with displays of mourning. George Osborne shed a tear. She would have told him to pull himself together".

The Guardian's Simon Hoggart says "it was hard to read the tear that at one point ran down George Osborne's cheek. The employment figures?"

I knocked out a quick piece yesterday, on the "five other things" that Osborne should be crying about, which you can read here.


On its front page, the Independent also reports on the latest developments in the investigation into the Boston bombings:

"Police investigating the Boston Marathon bombings were said last night to have identified a suspect in the attack that left three dead and more than 170 injured on Monday."

The splash headline on the front of the Mirror is: "Bomber caught on CCTV."

But, for me, the big Boston-related story of yesterday was the on-air meltdown at CNN - from the Raw Story website:

"CNN on Wednesday backtracked after badly botching a report that a “dark-skinned male” had been arrested in connection with the Monday bombings of the Boston Marathon.

"At around 1 p.m. ET, CNN’s John King came on the air to say that 'law enforcement sources' had told him that a suspect had been identified based on surveillance video taken from a Boston Lord & Taylor department store.

“'I was told they have a breakthrough in the identification of the suspect, and I’m told — and I want to be very careful about this because people get very sensitive when you say these things — I was told by one of these sources who’s a law enforcement official that this was a dark-skinned male,' King reported.

"... By 1:45 p.m. ET, King was reporting that 'an arrest has been made.'

"... King later returned to say an official had told him that 'anyone who says an arrest [has been made] is ahead of themselves.'

"And if other media reports are correct, even King’s initial description of the suspect as a 'dark-skinned male' may have been wrong.

"CBS News noted on Wednesday that the 'man sought as a possible suspect is a white male, wearing white baseball cap on backwards, a gray hoodie and a black jacket.'"

Speaking as a "dark-skinned male", let me just say: PHEW.


Watch this rather weird video of a cat being hugged by...a sloth!


When will it end? From the Telegraph:

"Theresa May is seeking to overturn a court decision that prevents her deporting Abu Qatada, the extremist Muslim preacher.

"The Home Secretary yesterday asked the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal against its decision last month that he cannot be sent to Jordan. If permission is granted, the Supreme Court will hear the case.

"Qatada, once referred to as Osama bin Laden's right hand man in Europe, is wanted in Jordan to face terrorism charges but has resisted deportation for more than a decade."


Poisoned letters in DC? Again?

From the BBC:

"An arrest has been made after letters containing suspected ricin were sent to US President Barack Obama and a US senator.

"The alleged sender, Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, is a resident of Mississippi.

"Initial tests on the letters, identified at remote facilities, showed the presence of the lethal toxin.

"The FBI has said there is 'no indication of a connection' between the letters and Monday's deadly attack in Boston."


He may be a loathsome dictator, with the blood of tens of thousands of on his hands, but that doesn't change the fact that Syria's Bashar al Assad has a bit of a point - from the Telegraph:

"President Bashar al–Assad predicted last night that the West would 'pay the price' for allegedly siding with al–Qaeda in the Syrian uprising.

"A bullish Mr Assad sought to exploit the West's embarrassment over the fractured opposition to his rule.

"'The West has paid heavily for funding al–Qaeda in its early stages,' he said during a rare appearance on state television. 'Today, it is doing the same in Syria, Libya and other places, and will pay a heavy price in the heart of Europe and the United States.'

"... Mr Assad's words suggested that he has been buoyed by last week's announcement by Jabhat al–Nusra, one of the most powerful rebel groups, that it owed allegiance to Ayman al–Zawahiri, the head of al–Qaeda. Jabhat al–Nusra has been blacklisted as a terrorist group by the United States, but is still fighting alongside – and sharing weapons with – rebel factions supported by the West."

Will we never learn the lesson of Afghanistan and the 1980s? That my enemy's enemy is not necessarily my friend?


From the Times:

"Visitors to a literary festival rounded on the founder of Hacked Off when he refused to identify the financial backers of the lobby group that helped to draft Britain's new press law.

"Audience members shouted 'Answer the question!' at Brian Cathcart, the group's executive director, when he was urged at a debate to unmask those who were footing the campaign's bills.

"Instead of naming his own secret backers, he launched an attack on the financial probity of some newspaper owners...

"When the journalist Nick Cohen asked him to name his donors, the academic said: 'Now you see what's happening?' Some in the audience shouted that Cohen was only doing his job while others called for the Hacked Off founder to answer. Under combined pressure from the crowd and Cohen to name celebrities, Professor Cathcart conceded that some donors were celebrities but many were not."


I bet you didn't know that President Barack Obama is a bigger threat to US national security than North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un, did you?

From the Waco Tribune:

"Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told a Waco audience Monday he would sue the Obama administration to protect individual gun rights if the U.S. joins a United Nations global arms treaty...

"'One thing that requires ongoing vigilance is the reality that the state of Texas is coming under a new assault, an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons,' Abbott said. 'The threat that we're getting is the threat from the Obama administration and his political machine.'"

Those right-wing Republicans in the South really, really hate Obama, don't they?


"Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all." - the Right Reverend Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, speaking at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher yesterday.


From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 30

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 112.


‏@George_Osborne A moving, almost overwhelming day.

@AlecMacGillis Enough talk of NRA. Real live senators made these decisions. They have agency. It's on them.



Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "It was right that Lady Thatcher’s old enemies were there – but final closure may be elusive."

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "We watched a ritual from a foreign country."

Owen Jones, writing in the Independent, says: "Margaret Thatcher's funeral was a political broadcast."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol