Read my first piece for the Huffington Post here:
There has been a lot of talk in recent days, weeks and months about Mitt Romney’s “glass ceiling” – that he can’t garner enough support within his own party above a certain level.
Time will tell if that’s true or not, but there’s another glass ceiling that I believe remains one of far greater concern. Today, after a poor showing at last night’s Iowa caucuses, Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann has ended her presidential campaign.
Now, Bachmann is someone I disagree with on pretty much every issue – as many women did with Margaret Thatcher, who became Britain’s Prime Minister back in 1979. But that didn’t mean that as a woman you couldn’t be inspired by the Iron Lady. Because of her, I grew up knowing anything is possible for a woman, that females were absolutely not second class citizens.
It is sad that in 2011, women have still yet to smash perhaps what is one of, if not the world’s, most important glass ceiling: winning the Presidency of the United States.
A female American President is not going to happen for many years to come. But when she takes office, it will be in part thanks to the path laid by Hillary Clinton, which contributed to Palin – and Michele Bachmann. There will be a time when the best woman triumphs.
So now we return our attention back to a race of underwhelming middle-aged men.
A cartoon from yesterday’s London Times, which is essentially a Rupert Murdoch publication. Fox News is also essentially Murdoch’s.
Can the Euro survive? That is now a question being increasingly asked. As a Brit commentating here in the US, the query that I most often receive is: what would the collapse of the Euro mean for America?
The state of the Eurozone is an incredibly complex issue. No one knows what the outcome is going to be and this uncertainty is what makes the situation so terrifying. However, let’s strip it down to the basics.
The European Union is comprised of 27 countries, which when put together make the EU, with a population of around 500 million people, the largest economy in the world. 17 of those countries are members of the Eurozone, nations that use the Euro (thus the UK with its pound is a member of the EU but not of the Eurozone). The Eurozone is the world’s second largest economy, with a population of around 330 million.
Comparisons of what is going on with the Eurozone are being made with the economic meltdown of 2008. Greece has been called the new “Lehman Brothers”. We are told that there’s “déjà vu” with the sub-prime crisis – no one knows what Europe’s bad debt is worth or what exactly is exposed to it. However, the issues of Europe are on a much bigger scale and therefore much scarier. We are talking countries not companies here.
There are two main fundamental differences with the situation in America in 2008, both political and economic.
Politically, despite everything that has gone on in America recently, in the US you actually have a cohesive political system. You are one country that when it comes down to it, speaks the same language. In 2008 your politicians came together and made some decisions for the good, in their minds, of your nation. You are, in times of trouble, the United States Of America.
Europe is not the United States Of Europe. It is the Disunited States of Europe. In Europe, 17 leaders – and sometimes 27 – ALL have to come to an agreement on a decision. And then go home and sell that to 17 – and sometimes 27 – democracies. Europe literally and figuratively does not speak the same language. Thus these leaders have always been behind instead of ahead of the crisis curve. I maintain that there’s too much democracy in Europe for the Euro to survive in its present form. Disorderly (as opposed to orderly, which would be a nightmare but less of one) collapse is likely because politicians will be too late to do the right thing.
Economically, America has a key weapon at its disposal: not only is it the world’s reserve currency but the Fed can print as much money as is needed to finance its borrowing. The countries in the Eurozone do not have this power – those that have run into big trouble so far, the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) do not have their own individual central banks that they can rely on to print money and buy their debts. Why doesn’t the European Central Bank just print more money? Theoretically it could, but the Germans are VERY opposed to letting this happen for various historical and theoretical reasons that I shall return to another day. For the question posed in this piece is: why should any of this matter to America?
We live in a globalised economy. Therefore what happens in Europe doesn’t stay in Europe. Fundamentally, the collapse of the Euro means that contagion could trigger worldwide economic meltdown – and America will inevitably hurt.
The EU is America’s largest trading partner. In 2010 $239.8 billion of US goods went to the EU – if it is in deep recession, American companies will suffer and more American jobs will disappear. To compound the problem, the dollar, as the world’s reserve currency, will become extremely strong (people and countries will be trying to find “safe” places for their cash), making it harder for American companies to sell their goods abroad.
Meanwhile, it is estimated that American banks and market funds hold more than $2 trillion in European banks. Those European banks hold a lot of European sovereign debt that could go bad. We’re talking the possibility of banks, bankrupting. Of runs on banks. That means that American banks could suffer big losses – and stop lending to fellow Americans. Basically, what happened when Lehman Brothers fell but far worse. MF Global would be the tip of the iceberg. To add to all this misery, the financial markets – so your pension fund, money in shares – will likely nosedive.
You also cannot underestimate what the disintegration of the Euro would do to confidence. Companies will be even less likely to hire, consumers even more unlikely to spend.
So economically, the Eurozone collapses and America – which currently looks like it’s out of recession, will probably be in another one. Politically that could mean that Obama loses in 2012. Ironically, it would be because of a financial crisis not of his own making.
Legend has it that 2012 will be the end of the world. It won’t be that, but in 2012 we are highly liable to see the end of the world as we know it.
So tomorrow is 11/11/11. A binary lover’s, an astrologer’s and a Black Jack player’s dream. And of course something far more important. In America it is known as Veterans Day. The annual federal holiday honoring military veterans.
The date commemorates the armistice signed by the Allies of World War I in France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. It took effect at the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.
Tomorrow will unite millions of people across the globe. The day may go by different names. In Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada and the UK, we call it Remembrance Day. In France and Belgium it remains Armistice Day. But it is marked. In many countries, people take a two-minute silence at 11AM as a sign of respect.
Here in America, there will be a ceremony at Arlington and a number of regional sites. In Britain the main services will be on Sunday. Members of the royal family lay wreathes at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall. This is a legacy of World War Two. The commemoration was moved so as not to interfere with war-time production.
For those of us in Commonwealth countries, the poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day. Poppies were the first flowers to grow in some of World War I’s worst battlefields. Their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
I’m wearing the British version. Sold on UK streets by volunteers it is our highest profile charity campaign. This week, there was a national outcry when international soccer’s ruling body, FIFA, tried to ban the England team from wearing poppies. The money raised from their sale goes to armed forces charities.
Dylan recently did a touching segment on America’s thousands of wounded warriors. Information on how to help them can be found at woundedwarriorproject.org and operationhomefront.net.
Almost 1% of Americans serve, voluntarily, for the military. A 1% of Americans who ask not what their country can do for them, but do something for their country.
To get to grips with our problems in America and Europe, sacrifice must be shared. The military and their families have done their bit. Perhaps food for thought, especially tomorrow, for the other 1% that’s recently been occupying the news.
The Armistice in 1918 was supposed to be the end of “the war to end all wars”. It was not to be. Since then millions have given their lives so we can remain free. As Kipling wrote, “lest we forget”. Tomorrow, we will remember.
Belonging to social networking sites no longer seems to be a choice. 91% of online American adults access them every month. We are all under relentless pressure to join and maintain our presence on them.
Obviously there are huge merits to this technology. Movements such as the Arab Spring. Get Money Out. And we’d all rather live in a country that allows social networking and not in places like China and Iran where Facebook is banned.
However, there are downsides here. Peer pressure has been around since society began. But social networking compounds the problem.
The most ubiquitous site, Facebook, now has 800 million users worldwide. Yet perhaps as I call it “Face-stalk” is a more apt name. It is peer pressure in the extreme. How many friends do you have? How big is your house? Been on vacation lately? Given birth? Your child can talk at 2? Oh, the love of your life is engaged. To someone else.
I’ve grown to resent Facebook. Like many, I’ve just been coerced into having a visible presence on the site. Someone set up a fake profile of me and being on it is the best antidote. I struggle to make the real me interesting. Why anyone would want to pretend to be me is even beyond me,
Deep down we all know you cannot measure friendship by Facebook page. I have a theory that the people with the most picture perfect Facebook lives end up broke and/or divorced.
But it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Facebook makes me feel inadequate. I get stressed about “friend requests” from people who bullied me at school. And people I’ve never met.
Meanwhile, Linked In tries to make it Mission Impossible not to join. If I get one more invite, I will throw my Crackberry off the top of 30 Rock.
Enough of the bad, let’s talk about my new love… Twitter. Perhaps hypocritically, I adore Twitter. I’m more in control of it. Twitter is an invaluable work tool. I follow news organisations. And close friends who I enjoy hearing from. I’ve managed to keep it an ex boyfriend free zone.
But even Twitter can bring out our worst. You’re on it? You’ve compared follower counts with your peers. Cue ego inflation or deflation.
Social networking is here to stay. Firms like Facebook are spending record amounts on political lobbying to keep them the cultural norm.
We must be wary as we are cyber-bullied into these sites. They may be unavoidable. But what truly matters is our real world. Not our virtual one. And I for one want to make sure there is a difference in the two and I know which is which.
In case you have been living under a rock for the past month, October is all about breast cancer awareness. Indeed, in the marketing world, “to pink” means to link a product or brand to one of the most successful charity campaigns of all time.
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Reese Witherspoon about her support for breast cancer awareness. We’ve recently had Giuliana Rancic talk about her fight with the disease – a woman in the public eye, like Kylie Minogue, who got breast cancer shockingly early. We all know, as we’ve been told by this incredibly important and brilliant campaign, that early diagnosis is key to survival.
Yet apparently at least one third of women do not self-check their breasts.
I have no excuse to be sporadic about this – but I’m ashamed to admit that I have been. My Grandmother died of breast cancer. Within months I had found a lump in one of my own breasts. The discovery was more by accident than by design, although I was in my teens, so perhaps I could be forgiven then on that basis. I was lucky and once the lump was removed everything proved fine – indeed eight out of ten lumps are benign.
However, I’m not so very young any more. Rancic’s diagnosis has made me take a hard look at my own actions. Aside from my own yearly well woman check-ups, I’ve not been giving myself regular breast exams in between. What am I thinking? That my ostrich act is doing me any good? Of course it’s not. And I wager the one third of women who are behaving like me are aware of this as well.
One in nine women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives – we women need to do a breast self-exam at least once a month. Clear instructions can be found at the NHS website. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a doctor immediately.
Chances are – there’ll be nothing to worry about. And if there is, and you’ve found it early – there’s less to worry about.
So from this October on, I resolve to check – and if, like me, you too have belonged to the third, it’s time to join the majority.
We need to have a proper international debate and make a collective decision about the rules of engagement of armed drones right now, or we are in danger of our world looking like a James Cameron Terminator Movie.
Armed drones are remote-controlled, pilotless, aerial vehicles that are able to hit targets of interest, including killing individuals. So far, only the UK, Israel and America are known to have deployed them, although the US leads the way by far.
The first strike by an armed drone took place in Pakistan in 2004, under then-president George W. Bush. Under Obama they have become America’s go-to tool of choice in both its conventional and shadow wars, being used by both the military and the CIA.
On first look, you cannot blame the Obama administration for being so enamoured with drones. They allow U.S. forces to attack targets without risking American lives and are relatively cheap. However, the Obama administration is being incredibly short-sighted.
It’s not just that drones do inevitably sometimes kill the wrong targets and can thus radicalise local populations and lead to more terrorism. Or that they are known to have security flaws, witnessed by the computer virus that recently hit the base in Nevada, where the US military remotely fly their drones.
It’s also, vitally, that where drone attacks stand in law is murky at best. Is it acceptable to assassinate people, including Americans? Who pulled the trigger? Under international conventions, civilians cannot engage in war, but CIA members are civilians. America seems to have unilaterally decided that it can send drones over borders to kill its enemies. Into countries it has not declared war on.
Unsurprisingly, the world is now involved in a new arms race. More than 40 nations are developing armed drones, including Russia, China and Iran.
What happens when everyone else starts using drones the way the US has done in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere? If America protests the US will be looking mighty hypocritical.
A science-fiction scenario is becoming real. Experts believe that unmanned aircraft will eventually take over most tasks currently undertaken by manned systems. That drones will one day be the size of insects and birds and that swarms may be used to overwhelm modern defence systems.
The international norm that is being created by America, is incredibly dangerous to America. Unless America, the leader of the free world, voluntarily submits to sorting out the international law on the use if armed drones right now, it is putting the free world in jeopardy.