Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

I heard that Barack Obama was coming to Europe, and it soon became clear that the only time he would be speaking publicly was going to be in Berlin, so I decided to take a day trip there to go and see his speech. Here are my photos, including my amazing MySpace-esque-picture tour of Berlin’s historical sights!

This was in the first shop that I saw when I got off the train at the main station in central Berlin (Hauptbahnhof). I’m guessing they kinda like this Obama guy, huh?

This is the slightly bizarre pedestrian crossing guy that they have in Berlin. Crossing ist verboten!

Something exciting seemed to be happening here, because there were lots of people and professional cameras looking through these gates, but I couldn’t figure out what the heck it was:

It may have had something to do with these kids, who were just standing around as far as I could see:

I got to to the center of town a few hours before the speech venue gates were opening, so I decided to zoom around the city’s sights first. This is the Reichstag, where the government hangs out. It’s looking better than it did in 1945:

This is the Brandenburg Gate:

This is just up the road from the gate and exciting stuff was going on here too — this time with many Polizei, but again I couldn’t figure out what it was so I moved on:

The bollards here are sentient. Driving ist verboten!

This is commonly called the “Holocaust Memorial”, which is kinda euphemistic for it’s blunt full title of “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”. I’m glad that they have this memorial, not because I want the German people to feel guity (and goodness knows that the British have our fair share of historical sins to feel bad about), but it’s good that there’s such a substantial concrete reminder of those abhorable things, perhaps as a statement of the majority opinion against those who would deny that they took place.

I found the memorial rather more impressive in person than I did from looking at the pictures on Wikipedia. As that article says, it certainly is unnerving walking through it, because you constantly feel like you’re going to bump into somebody who is walking in a row perpendicular to the one which you are in. I felt a bit claustrophobic after a while.

The next one is of Hitler’s bunker. As far as I could see there wasn’t actually anything to see. Now it’s just an apartment block with an information board nearby. I thought it must be odd to live there, with tour groups constantly passing through. There were four separate groups walking around when I was there.

Ahh! I was wondering where all the Frauen were!

This is some Soviet propaganda on the wall of one of the government buildings. Look at all the happy communists!

Nowadays it has this huge photo print next to it, showing the actual miserableness of aforementioned communists. Free markets FTW!

Here’s one of the still-standing stretches of the Berlin wall. I found it amusing that it now has it’s own wall (well, fence) to protect it from being broken down any further:

This is Checkpoint Charlie, which has these recreations of the historical items like this sign and the wooden checkpoint booth, because the originals are long gone:

By this time it was around half-past-one, and the gates were to open at four o’clock, so I decided to make my way over to the park where the speech was going to take place.

The speech was going to be at that statue in the distance, but even this far away there were these temporary food and drink stalls. It looked like a concert:

These are the gates an hour and twenty minutes before they opened:

At that point I was feeling very, very tired, because I’d been traveling for a long time, and then walking around the city, all with only a couple of hours sleep the night before. I decided to nip off into the park and have a lie down, and I fell asleep after a couple of minutes. I set the alarm on my phone for 15:55 and when I came back out to the gates they opened at that exact moment and people started rushing forward. There were security checks and another set of gates further down the road, and that took quite a while to get through. They took my bottle of water, which annoyed me somewhat. There was a stall inside the secure area selling more, but I didn’t want to get any because I only had a 50 Euro note and I thought it would be rude to ask some stallholder for that much change. So I took my place in the crowd, pretty close to the front:

I sat down and got down to reading the issue of Newsweek that I had bought at Luton Airport earlier. Three hours is a long-ass time to wait, and I read it on the outward plane too, so I read very-nearly every article in that magazine. I’m now ridiculously well informed about world affairs (for this week, anyway, as my Dad pointed out). Ask me about Nicolas Sarkozy’s Middle-East strategy, or why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are having difficulties. Go on; I dare you!

After about an hour of reading with the afternoon sun beating down straight on me, I caved in and decided to get a bottle of water after all, sadly giving up my place in the crowd. It turned out that the dude didn’t mind breaking my fifty at all, perhaps because I attempted to order in German (“Wasser, bitte”), even though we had to fall back to English to resolve the still/sparkling question. I did German for two years at school, so I quite enjoyed trying it out. I got a little kick every time I could decipher a sign or poster, although it was usually dashed a few seconds later when I realized that there was an English version of said sign just to the right.

So anyway, I got back in the crowd, and my place wasn’t quite as good, but not too bad either:

I sat around and waited some more… I win at photography:

Eventually Obama came on stage to a loud, but perhaps not deafening, welcome, and gave his speech about international relations, and the “trans-Atlantic alliance” in particular:

I thought it was a very good speech. He had to be very careful because he was simultaneously speaking to multiple audiences, including most importantly the electorate back home. He needed to appear knowledgeable about the world, and liked and respected, but without seeming like one of those wussy pinko Europeans. I thought he handled that very well by sticking to talking about the things about which the world really does need to cooperate, like climate change.

All in all, I suppose it was a bit strange to travel for about 14 hours just to see a 25 minute speech, but I think I would have regretted not being there if I was just watching it on TV, and this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to see Barack Obama. After reading (most of) his book about his politics, I feel very, very good about supporting him. I really do think he will be a fantastic president. Not only does he have the charisma and eloquence to inspire people, but he also has the intelligence and thoughtfulness to back it up, along with a pragmatism to get things done. To be frank, all the next president needs to do to make up with the world is to finish with Iraq, start respecting human rights again, and start being serious about climate change. Obama can set that agenda and start doing those things in his first month in office. Everything after that is gravy.

Anyway, back to the narrative: The crowd by the end was huge. Apparently the police estimated that there were 200,000 people in all. That’s amazing, and I think it might be the biggest crowd Obama has ever pulled:

It seemed that we were all supposed to leave the way we came, and the crowd slowly crawled back towards the gate. But those Berliners are apparently crazy for tearing down walls these days, and some enterprising guys started deconstructing the fence so that we could disperse into the park. I had a plane to catch, so I pretended not to understand the announcements telling us to stop doing that, and followed them through the opening:

I’ve been looking for freedom!!!” etc.

By now it was 20:07 and I had to be at my plane departure gate at 21:30, which is a bit tight to say the least! I ran along the banks of the river Spree, which was a pleasant little jog.

I got to the Hauptbahnhof again with about ten minutes to go before my train. So I waited for the train… and waited… and it didn’t come! Gah! Just my luck for the famously efficient European trains to fail me in my moment of need! At that point I panicked and ran outside to catch a taxi, with about 50 minutes to go now before my flight gate closed and the airport apparently a 40 minute drive away. I got to practice a bit more German:

“Flughafen Schönefeld, bitte.” I said.

“Flughafen Schönefeld?” he said, as in “Why the heck don’t you just take the train, dummy? It’s faster and much cheaper.”

“Ja.” I said, as in “I know what I’m doing, taxi-man; now step on it!”

Thankfully there was zero traffic so we got there in about 30 minutes. I dashed through the airport (just like in the movies, innit), and made it to the gate with five minutes to spare! Phew! Of course, my achievement was dampened somewhat by the fact that the plane was delayed and the gate didn’t actually close for about another 35 minutes, but nevermind that!

So, another plane, another train, and another lift from the station later and I was home (and comically sunburned: sorry! No pictures of that!) Then two days later I made this blog post. And that was that!


So, the US Supreme Court has decided that it would be nice to give the Guantanamo Bay detainees some of their human rights back, and give them access to civilian courts and that habeas corpus thingy (whatever that is — sounds foreign, and therefore un-American). Antonin Scalia is one of the brave judges who disagreed with the ruling, and in his dissenting opinion he wrote:

“it sets our military commanders the impossible task of proving to a civilian court … that evidence supports the confinement of each and every enemy prisoner”.

Wow. Imagine that; having to prove that you have a good reason for confining every prisoner! Every single one! What a bunch of unreasonable bastards those other Supreme Court judges are! Personally, I’d just take George’s word for it that they’re evil-doers and throw away the key, but I guess those other judges just ain’t patriotic enough to trust the President!

…but still, Hillary Clinton just gave a very good speech. I’m trying to decide if I was being too demanding by expecting that speech on election night. I guess that doing something like running for office requires so much self-belief that it makes it very difficult to switch it off suddenly when the results aren’t what you were hoping for. I know that feeling somewhat.

I’m really pissed off at Hillary Clinton right now. In the last hour or so Barack Obama has finally clinched the Democratic Party nomination for President. So what would you expect her to do in her speech afterwards? Well, first of all she’d concede and congratulate Obama. Then, she’d start the work of reunifying the party. Disturbingly large percentages of her supporters have said that they’ll vote for John McCain rather than Obama in the general election. So, of course she should take this opportunity of intense media coverage to point out that her policies are incredibly similar to Obama’s, and a world away from McCain’s. She’d point out that she’d much rather see a Democrat in the White House than a Republican. She’d sing Obama’s praises and start setting him up for a great win in November.

So, did she do any of that?


She continued to campaign! She continued to make her claim that she has more of the popular vote. That claim requires you to ignore the caucus states which do not release official vote totals. The claim isn’t accepted by anyone outside her campaign, but she refuses to stop making it. She continued to make her case that she’d do better in a general election. That claim doesn’t have any merit either, because, as the pollsters themselves say, polls five months before an election are not predictive. Even if it did have merit, it doesn’t matter! She lost the primary! At one point her supporters started chanting “Denver! Denver!”, indicating that she should continue to campaign all the way to the national convention in August, trying to change the minds of the Super Delegates who could still theoretically change sides. Did she calm them down and say that she wouldn’t dream of being so silly? Nope! She just smiled!

I can’t believe how stubborn Clinton is being. It’s a huge missed opportunity. It’s disgustingly ungracious. She said that she’s not making any decisions tonight, but there isn’t a decision to make! When the referee blows the whistle and you have less points, you don’t get to decide if you lost or not! You get on with it and shake hands with the winner… unless you’re a complete asshat.


Calming thoughts… calming thoughts…

But let’s look on the bright side. Today is the first time that a black candidate has been nominated for President by a major American political party. That’s a wonderful achievement that will be remembered for a long time. If Obama goes on to win the general election (and he could use a little help, Clintons!), then that will be remembered forever.

This quote tickled me. From a CNN article about the apparent electoral troubles of the Republican party:

Conservative radio talk show host and CNN contributor Bill Bennett spoke with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about GOP mistakes on “Late Edition.” He told Blitzer that Republicans like Rep. Tom Davis are making a mistake by publicly admitting that the party is in trouble. “A lot of Republicans say we’re in serious trouble, we’re doing the wrong thing,” Bennett said. “They’ve got to stop behaving this way.”

Okay… probably not. But still, this interview really does help to assuage the fears that I hinted at the other day.

The U.S. presidential election nomination process is pretty much over. Barack Obama now leads by every single measure and it would more-or-less take a miracle for Hillary Clinton to win at this point.

Over the last few months Hillary Clinton has been running what her campaign has called a “kitchen-sink” strategy, whereby she has thrown everything she could think of at Obama, in the hope that something would stick. At times that has meant going very close to the line of what is acceptable to say about someone on the same team as you, and sometimes it meant blatantly crossing that line, like when she suggested that the other party’s nominee John McCain is more qualified than Obama (43 second video).

Well, guess what? That sort of thing works. Not well enough to win, in this instance, but well enough to galvanize her supporters sufficiently against Obama that over half of them said in the last exit polls that they wouldn’t vote for Obama in the general election. I was reading the user comments on an ABC News election article a few days ago, and some of the Clinton supporters are vitriolic about Obama. I probably don’t need to say it, but that’s a disaster.

So it seems to me that Clinton now wields an enormous amount of power. There’s no doubt that she’ll support Obama when he’s finally nominated, but I think the enthusiasm and believability of that support will be crucial. I really hope that she spends every day for the next six months telling the world that Obama is the best thing since sliced bread, because I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that her influence over her supporters could very well decide the result of the general election.

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