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Archive for May, 2008

During the Republican primaries I didn’t pay much attention to the candidates. I was so focused in the Democratic one, and there were so many Republican contenders, I kind of read about it but never really looked in the detail at all the candidates. I had heard about Ron Paul being a ‘special’ case within the Republican contest. I knew he was a libertarian against US military interventions abroad or any kind of taxation. But watching this video yesterday I found a candidate that represents the orthodoxy of the Republican Party like no other I’ve ever seen.

Republicans always talk about cutting expenditure, but never on agricultural subsidies or military spending. They talk about being tough on terrorists but keep fighting them with the same failed strategy of the past 50 years. They talk about material individual freedoms but not when it comes to morality. In other words, Republicans leave out orthodoxy when running for office. Ron Paul doesn’t do this, you might disagree with the guy, but he stands in principle whatever it takes (as you’ll see in the video).

But the most impressive thing about Ron Paul is he’s stand on 9/11. Noone is going to disagree on the tragedy it was, but I always have felt noone within the American political class was asking himself or herself why is this happening. Why do they attack us? Ron Paul is the only prominent political leader in the US, Republican or Democrat, that doesn’t just give you the standard patriotic answer, he tackles the root cause straight on (have a look at the other candidates response to his statement). I have gained a lot of respect for this guy, I can respect more a politician that stands on principle even if we disagree that one that flip-flops on issues just to get himself to be liked.

Here is the video… (excuse the fact that is pro-Ron Paul just focus on what he says, not the whole paraphernalia around)

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Not sure how many of you did watch the Eurovision contest last week. But if you did probably you didn’t forget the Spanish entry, Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, and his rather bizarre outfit (and song). He didn’t do too well and ended up near the bottom of the table, so my question is, according to the picture below, has the Pope lost his divine touch?

P.S.: a Spanish comedy programme managed to get Chikilicuatre’s toy guitar all the way to the Pope’s hands at the Vatican, as you can see His Holiness accepted the gift but didn’t give much luck to the Spanish participant (maybe because the Vatican doesn’t have an entry? thought for the future in Rome).

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Obama is Murdoch’s choice

Like he did with Tony Blair in 1997, media mogul Rupert Murdoch is to meet with Barack Obama before taking a final decission on his endorsement in the US Presidential race. However at a WSJ conference in California today he praised the Democratic candidate on his economic and education plans and as being the people’s candidate. If that wasn’t enough he attacked John McCain as a Washington establishment guy and as not being interested in the economy (a hard one to swallow for the Republican candidate under the current circumstances). Moreover, he admitted having played a role in the NewsCorp-owned New York Post’s endorsement of Obama.

What does this mean for Obama in the upcoming general election? NewsCorp has three news-related media outlets in the US, FoxNews, the New York Post (tabloid) and the Wall Street Journal. If FoxNews was to endorse, or at least take it easy on Obama, this could help with plenty of conservative Democrats and independents, even some moderate Republicans looking for a one-off change after Bush. The Post has already, as we’ve said, backed Obama, it’s the second biggest tabloid in the US and known for its sensationalist articles and its conservative ideology, again for Obama to be away from their fire range is always a good thing. In a country like the US where political scandals can be devastating, this is good news for Obama. Finally, in a race massively dominated by the economy, the support of the Wall Street Journal could be priceless. Moreover, Obama’s biggest weakness at the moment is his apparent lack of experience, big endorsements like this help build confidence on his candidacy for November. Plus conservatives that weren’t fully comfortable with a McCain ticket before will now have more reasons to not get out the vote in November.

Obama ’08 feels a lot like Blair ’97. Unless big mistakes are made (I’m thinking the debates) or his campaign simply fails to deliver a good a general election as this primary race has been (don’t forget McGovern ’72), it feels everyone just wants him to win, the big mo is his and it’s going to be difficult for McCain to take it away. As Murdoch said: ‘he’s a rockstar!’

Have a look at what Murdoch said in California…

Rupert Murdoch on the McCain-Obama race

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Stories like this best illustrate my argument on the key role education plays in interfaith respect that I outlined in the main post below.

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I’m always reluctant to give my opinion on religion and politics as it’s an extremely complex issue that affects social traditions differently. While in Europe faith is part of the individual’s private sphere, in India for example religion is best understood as ‘a way of life’, it steps into the public sphere and determines social relations to a much greater extent than they do here.

Tony Blair is to launch his new foundation in New York today. According to a feature in Time magazine he aims at promoting interfaith respect and dialogue. This isn’t the first initiative of this kind and probably it won’t be the last one as the rise of international terrorism and distrust between societies has put religion at the centre of the political debate. I yet don’t know what perspective Blair is going to take on the issue, but I think certain approaches could set his foundation apart from previous and less successful enterprises of similar nature.

The key issues Blair has to focus on are religious leadership and education.

Religious scholars and leaders don’t need more dialogue, there are already several organisations that perform that role and moreover they approach each other willingly and are aware through their work of the similarities of different faiths. Those that reject dialogue aren’t going to be convinced that easily, in part because of one of the weaknesses of religion is that as faith it can be irrational and exclusivist (one’s religious truth is the absolute truth, therefore rational debate isn’t fully possible). These less tolerant religious leaders will always exist the solution stems from the removal of all social support away from them. Here is where education comes from. Education for society in general across the globe not just on the basics of the different faiths but the cultural contexts and contributions they have made to humankind as a whole. Here I would like to put an example from Spain. Spain’s Muslim heritage and Islamic history is part of the national curriculum in primary and secondary schools. Knowing about Islamic contribution to mathematics, technology, literature, etc. I believe has helped minimise the social backlash against Islam after the Madrid bombings. An understanding of Islam in Spain, even if at a very basic level, has helped differentiate between terrorists and ordinary Muslims helping integration (despite great challenges still ahead for Spanish society).

The new Blair foundation could help promote a big push on global education of world civilisations. People across the globe should have a basic understanding of the cultural richness of all faiths and cultures to avoid generalisation and manipulation by those that only preach hatred and ignorance. New literature on the accomplishments of the different religions and cultures should emerge. In 12th century Spain there was a group of translators from the three Abrahamic religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, that worked together to translate each other works so people could exchange knowledge of other cultures. It was called the ‘Toledo School’, Blair could set up nine centuries later a modern version of it. This would do more for interfaith dialogue than any vacuous religious conference that is alien to most people across the world anyways.

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Oh dear… apparently NASA has had to make extra space in the Discovery, the shuttle flying to the International Space Station on Saturday, for a toilet!!. This is, according to NASA, now a priority (it’s not like they can pop out for a quick wee). But somehow absurdly, the specific toilet is made in Russia, so they are flying the toilet from Russia, putting it in the Discovery in Cape Canaveral and flying it to the ISS. Just hold it for a bit longer lads, help is on the way.

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In The Independent today there’s an article by Steve Richards on electoral reform in the UK. He argues Gordon Brown should put electoral reform at the top of the agenda for two reasons. Firstly, Labour will benefit from it as things stand today and secondly, it will widen the array of views that will be important for electoral victory away from media moguls (read Rupert Murdoch) and targeted marginals.

I think Richards is right, but I would add something else. I believe it’s time to get some real dialogue going within Westminster. Electoral reform will move the control of the political debate away from spinners and the media and into the hands of the elected representatives. Because of the current FPTP voting system, British governments tend to have outright majorities that allow them to pass legislation as they please (with backbenchers’ permission of course). The golden rule of Commons’ debates is to get your soundbite across, to humiliate your opponent and to get yourself on the news. The UK is a rare case where the PM and the Leader of the opposition don’t meet to negotiate and set policy priorities. Yes, there’s PMQs but it’s not enough. Outright majorities aren’t always good, if a party can’t affect a policy then all its got to win power is to trash that policy on the media. Politics becomes a zero-sum game. Hence why in Britain today the public is so displeased with politics, there’s no negotiation between parties on policy, just spinners fighting over on the media to get their party’s line across. Inter-party dialogue and shared legislative projects will help promote a constructive debate that can only help rebuild Westminster’s prestige with the public.

Some commentators are already talking about Brown’s legacy, this could be it (even if he wins reelection). Electoral reform isn’t just political advantageous to Labour, it’s the right thing to do to get British politics moving again away from the sleaze-debate that has dominated the field for the past eleven years and into the statesmen debate it should be all about.

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