Saturday, 28 May 2011

Another Pretty Picture...

Of a totally different type:

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Pretty Pictures

To use a British expression, I'm pretty knackered from all the hullabaloo surrounding the President's visit, so tonight I'm just going to chill out and post some of my favourite pictures from Barack and Michelle's time in London. All of these are pulled from this amazing Daily Beast slideshow.

Barbecuing with the Prime Minister...

With Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg...

Toasting the Queen.

Looking fierce (the dress! Those smiles!)...

Ping pong with the PM...

And, of course, the shoes.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Today in the UK: Parliament and Press Conferences. And Michelle.

"I have known few greater honours than the opportunity to address the mother of Parliaments in Westminster Hall. I am told that the last three speakers here have been the Pope, her Majesty the Queen, and Nelson Mandela - which is either a very high bar, or the beginning of a very funny joke."

President Obama became the first US President ever to address a joint session of the UK Parliament in Westminster Hall.

I've been spending the last couple of days traipsing to and from various different media outlets, assuring them all - in response to the identical, inevitable questions, that yes: Britain is indeed very special to us. It gets tedious to repeat, because to me it's so blindingly obvious - of COURSE the relationship between Britain and America is close, important, cordial and thriving. How could it be otherwise? In a multilateral world where the adversarial conflict of superpowers from the Cold War is being by a world led by America but anchered with new vital powers across Europe, Asia and South America - where the Arab Apring has created a moment of opportunity for democracies in North Africa - our relationship with our most trusted ally are bound to be more important than ever. The fact is that, yes, America has other European allies such as France and German. And, yes, the Obama administration is reevaluating its foreign policy to reflect the strategic importance of Asia and the Pacific - which may mean that Europe itself becomes less strategically important.

But America is no longer (if we ever were) in a position to impose its will on the world as a medapower - we need our allies more than ever before, and Britain is first among equals. It is tightly bound to America by culture, history, economic investment, trade, immigration, and shared values and interests.

Frankly, it shouldn't really require the degree of reassurance that the British media seems to demand but for the record, one more time: yes, your friendship is extremely important to us.

Other videos from the day's events, not to be missed -

While Barack was recalibrating the global power dynamic, Michelle was dishing with a group of London schools girls about how she fell for him in the first place (because, she tells us, he loved his mother and he wasn't impressed with himself).

And here she is giving the girls a pep talk and making a hard sell for the importance of an education:

And finally, here's Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron giving a joint press conference earlier today.

Obama and Cameron are About to Give a Joint Press Conference

You can watch it here, live:

Update - now that the press conference is over, live video stream went dead. Here's a short video from the press conference. I'll look for more later.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Obamas as Role Models and Inspirations

You can see me on tonight's edition of BBC London news chatting about how Barack and Michelle can serve as inspiration to young people. I'm there alongside Tim Campbell, an inspirational entrepreneur and former winner if the UK version of The Apprentice (nice guy). My bit starts about 20 minutes and 35 seconds in.

Again, that link is here.

I can't really stand watching myself - and I know if my Mom were watching she'd notice how desperately I am in need of makeup. Sorry Mom!

The Obamas in the UK: Let's go to the video tape...

Thought you might enjoy seeing the story of the Obama's UK visit so far played out in the various videos.

Here's the moment the President and First Lady arrived on Air Force One from Ireland - a day ahead of schedule, out of concern over the Icelandic volcano eruption.

Sadly, one of the first things he had to do today was to address the terrible suffering caused by the recent storms in Missouri and the Midwest.

After which, they met with the Queen and observed the Queen's guardsmen on parade.

Here he is teaming up with Prime Minister David Cameron to play ping pong against some students from a South London school.

David Cameron seems to be letting the side down here, I have to say... Bless him, he seems a bit nervous whereas the President is cool, calm and collected. I imagine he'll be more relaxed at tomorrow's press conference - no doubt the sporting element of any photo op is stressful.

More videos to follow tomorrow - I'm especially excited to see the President's speech to the joint houses of Parliament. I can't remember a US President being invited to address a joint session of Parliament in the time I've been here. Although, speech guru Max Atkinson has pointed me to Ronald Reagan's 1982 speech to Parliament as a great moment in Presidential speechmaking.

Let's see what Barack makes of the opportunity.

Me on the telly today...

Just to shamelessly self-promote, slightly – I’m doing lots of media appearances this week for Democrats Abroad while the President is in town.

Here's an outline of my schedule:

Tuesday, May 24

14:00PM - BBC World TV: a stand up interview near Buckingham Palace

14:15PM SKY news: (another) stand up interview near Buckingham Palace

6:30PM - BBC London News (TV) - Portland Place

Wednesday, May 25

7:00 - BBC World Service - radio interview outside Buckingham Palace

17:30 - BBC Five Live - interview from Millbank studios

Feel free to invent creative drinking games or suggest obscure words for me to insert into comments.

And, by the way - to all my newish blog readers: if you live in the UK and support the President, you should definitely join Democrats Abroad. We do great stuff here.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Why is the President in Europe, anyway?

Obama spoke today to a seething crowd of over 25,000 enthusiastic Irish people in Dublin. You can watch the full, fiesty and funny speech here. It's a lovely speech, but I don't think I'm doing it a terrible disservice if I summarise it thus: "The history of America has been the history of our Irish immigrants. We totally heart the Irish."

And we do!

Now, as Barack and Michelle's 2011 European tour gets under way, you may be asking (as Danish and French TV have already asked me on camera) why are they coming?

Fortunately, senior members of the White House foreign policy team have done a helpful on the record briefing a few days ago to set the scene - having reviewed the transcript on the tube today, I can now tell you that the trip comprises visits to 4 countries: Ireland, the United Kingdom, France (where the President will participate in the G8 meeting in the town of Deauville) and finally Poland.

Touching on the underpinning meaning of the trip, one official described it by returning to the President's campaign promises:
He as a candidate made a strong commitment to revitalizing our alliances, as Ben said, and to repairing America’s leadership and moral standing in the world.  And this trip very much underscores the extent to which he has achieved that with our closest allies and partners in Europe.
She went on to say that there are essentially 3 key themes or purposes underpinning the trip. In summary, these are:
  • Highlight America's ongoing commitment to Europe. Ireland, the UK, and continental Europe remain American's most lasting, reliable and important allies. Amongst other things, some of the ceremonial aspects of the trip - like today's public address in Dublin and the pomp and circumstance associated with the UK state visit - serve to reaffirm that friendship. In short, sometimes you just have to come and spend time with your friends. 
  • The second theme is to work on the European institutions which form the more formal aspects of the American-European alliance. Most notable in this is NATO, and the effort to bring the NATO project up to date with the modern world. Similarly, continuing to build the relationship with the European Union as it too continues to change and grow. This will be most important, perhaps in the Polish leg of the trip.
  • And finally, our joint activity in working together WITH Europe to advocate for western values on the world stage. This will be especially critical in light of the ongoing joint actions in Libya and Afghanistan, and as we strategise together about the an appropriate response to other international crisis as the Arab Spring and Israeli-Palestinian situations continue to await resolution. 
So there will be some stuff to talk about. I'm just glad Barack managed to get in a pint right at the start.

The Scene in London today...

Preparations are under way for the President's visit - thanks to the US Embassy for their excellent info page.

I'm hearing reports that the President will arrive in Britain tonight, instead of tomorrow AM as planned - due to concerns about the Iceland volcanic eruption and the possibility that it might disrupt flights. Either way - tomorrow the First Couple will be here for sure.

The Obamas have arrived in Ireland...

... to kick off their 6 day European trip. They'll arrive in Britain tomorrow, for what BBC North America correspondent Mark Mardell refers to as:
"A melange of pageantry and policy, and the political equivalent of both poetry and prose”
Mmm... tasty.

Here's what I know or have heard reported about the President's trip, so far (all subject to change, or just to discovering that I heard wrong):
  • Monday - Ireland
  • Tuesday - arrives in U.K. Meetings with Cameron and Miliband (and maybe Clegg? Not sure). State dinner in the evening
  • Wednesday: Barbecue being hosted at 10 Downing Street. Guests will be British and American service personnel and their families. 15:40 Speech to Parliment in Westminster Hall

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Michelle Obama's Shoes

A few weeks ago, I blogged an update on the plans for Barack and Michelle's UK visit (which starts tomorrow!), and a commenter took the time to provide some political analysis in the comments, writing:
This time I hope the Obamas do not embarass Americans again with a tackey gift and inappropriate social manners. Michelle will, no doubt, wear outfits that are hidious, inappropriate for a royal visitation. No doubt, her shoes will be a color that absolutely do not match or fight the shade of her outfit. There is no hope for this woman! 
Now, I've defended the President and First Lady on a number of occasions - but I have to admit to  defeat here. If I'm truthful, I would probably have to confess that my own shoes frequently fight with the shade of my outfit. It's a shame I have had to live with. As for Michelle's, in fairness I think I should fully disclose the horror and embarrassment that the First Lady's shoes have wrought upon this nation.

Shining a silverly light upon this scandal. Shoegate. 
 What I didn't realise was that there I have been unwittingly overlooking a major undercurrent of the American debate. It turns out that there is a raging national dialogue taking place on the important topic of how very ugly some commentators believe Michelle to be.

You see, startled by the intensity of my commenter's shoe-related disgust, I tried to remember what terrible shoe faux pas Michelle might have made, so did a quick Google search looking for some pictures.

You know that feeling when you turn inoccently overturn a rock and find scurrying, repellent creatures beneath? Well, that's what it's like when you click through on some of these sites - to which I will not link. Because... ew.

But I did find one commentator, referring to Michelle, saying: "She is the ugliest woman in the world bar none!"


The ugliest women in the world, bar none? Someone, somewhere actually thinks that?

I don't know. Personally, I take the view that the physical appearance of people in general and women in particular is made too important - outside of fashion modelling there's no profession where being beautiful should be a mandatory  part of the job. I think Michelle herself would be the first to agree that loving your family, caring for your community, working hard at your job are all more important than just looking amazing in a pair of Jimmy Choos.
On display in the Smithsonian: Our national shame?
But on the plus side, my brief ugly foray into the hate-filled world of Michelle-Is-Ugly-ism (a theory that I find about as implausible as the theory that Barack was secretly born in Kenya) did give me the opportunity to read what I now regard as possible the Stupidest Thing Ever Written On the Internet. And this is not an accolade that I bestow lightly.

Objecting to Michelle's observation that Barack understand the issues that women face in their lives, this blogger writes:
What kind of women is Michelle talking about? Her black sisters? Certainly what she says does not apply to Scandinavian-American women. We have no “issues to face”, we live our lives and try not to create any issues for our community.
OK then! "Scandinavian-American" woman have NO issues to face. They earn equal pay for work, don't have any difficulty in balancing work and child-rearing, never need to fear rape and sexual violence, and always have easy access to quality and affordable health care. Oh, to be a Scandinavian-American woman, but I guess as an Anglo Saxon woman, I'll just have to struggle on.

Michelle beside Carla Bruni. Are we surrendering to France?
On the bright side, not everyone thinks that Michelle is a physically repellent fashion disaster. Googling the phrase "Michelle Obama style icon" returns over 2 million hits - most of them pages gushing about the First Lady's elegant but relatable style.

Personally, I'm just glad she works so hard to encourage kids to eat healthy and live active lifestyles, that she tries to give something back to the families of wounded serviceman and woman, and that she tries to be a role model to young women. I'm not really going to make a judgement on the shoes.
Casually destroying our global reputation with her sneakers?

Obama's exclusive interview with Andrew Marr is airing on BBC 1...

right now. If you're near a TV on this sunny Sunday morning - do switch it on.

Or - you can watch the whole thing online here.

Michelle Is Coming to Oxford...

As the state visit by Barack and Michelle to Britain creeps closer, some of the details of their trip are starting to become clear. One thing that was announced yesterday is that Michelle will be visiting Oxford University on May 25th, in company with a group of London school children.

When the First Couple visited Britain in 2009 for the G20 meeting, Michelle made quite an impression in the British media - if anything, she generated more press coverage than her husband. Certainly, there was at the time an almost freakishly obsessive fixation on Michelle's clothes and hair. But what I remember the most from that last visit was a really lovely moment that she shared with a group of Islington schoolgirls. Here's the video of that encounter: