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Palestine Given A Boost At The UN

November 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Sixty-five years on since the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition a territory in the Middle East into a Jewish state and an Arab State, the state of Palestine has been officially recognised by the UN.

While the state of Israel was admitted as a member of the UN back in 1949, it took the very people that created the Arab state over 60 years ago to recognise their creation. In that time countless lives have been lost on all sides over a war that could possibly have been avoided (or at the very least contained) had an official recognition of the state been given.

It has to be mentioned that originally, when the UN voted to partition the region into two states, the Arab Higher Committee rejected it while the Jewish leadership accepted it.

Over the next sixty plus years several wars were fought in the region between the newly formed state of Israel and its neighboring Arab countries. As these wars progressed Israel continued to accumulate more and more land.

Fast forward to 2012 and the world is finally welcoming Palestine as an official state. In an overwhelming show of support; 138 countries voted in favour, 9 voted against and 41 abstained.

While the majority of the General Assembly showed their support for the recognition, it is of little surprise that Israel voted against. What is a little disappointing is the US’ decision to vote against Palestine. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, explained why the US voted against the resolution, “Today’s unfortunate and counter-productive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace.”

Earlier in the year Barack Obama explained that they felt the recognition of the state of Palestine by the UN would deter future peace talks with Israel.

The office of Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said “by going to the UN , the Palestinians have violated the agreements with Israel and Israel will act accordingly.” Of course, what this means remains to be seen.

While Palestine has been recognised, they are still not a full member state but are instead bestowed with a non-member observer status. This will mean that they can, at any time, submit an application to the UN for full membership. Earlier in the year Mohammed Abbas, the Palestinian President, planned on doing so until the US promised to veto any such application.

Today’s vote means Palestine has access to numerous UN organisations including the International Criminals Court. This is something Israel has strongly opposed, while many Palestinians feel it is a step to investigating the allegations of human rights crimes being committed by Israel. The vote is an indirect recognition of Palestine’s claim of statehood on the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

Regardless of what the future holds, the people of Palestine are out on the street rejoicing for what they can only hope will be a step towards permanent peace.

Morsi; The New Kid On The Block

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Egypt’s newly instated President, Mohamed Morsi, successfully orchestrated a ceasefire between Palestine and Israel this past week. In doing so he has announced himself as a key player in the post Arab Spring Middle East.

For many outside of Egypt, Morsi was a relatively unknown character prior to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Despite being a political figure for the better part of the 2000s, he failed to make headlines until he contested and won the Presidential election earlier this year.

Love him or hate him Mubarak left Morsi with some big shoes to fill. While his success was greeted with much jubilation in Egypt the rest of the world was waiting to see what the new President of the Middle East’s most populous state was capable of.

His opportunity of a meaningful contribution to the region came on November 14 when hostilities between Israel and Palestine escalated to aerial bombardment.

The US, which has been a vital component in the affairs of the Middle East for the past decade, was quick to jump in. Barack Obama voiced his support for Israel, justifying their defence of their country.

Obama’s relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu could be described as formal at best. Support for this act of aggression is surprising considering the heavy criticism Bashar al-Assad has received for similar action. The recently re-elected President’s support for Netanyahu would have come as a shock and disappointment to many.

Morsi’s time had arrived. With many people questioning America’s stance, Egypt came to forefront by hastily securing a peace accord between the two groups. It avoided, what was gearing up to be, an invasion of the Gaza strip by Israel. Morsi was suddenly the mediator of peace in the Middle East. Had the Arab Spring produced a leader who was capable of leading the region forward?

Syria’s civil war, Iran’s aggravation of the West with threats of producing a nuclear bomb, Libya’s rebuilding and Afghanistan’s turmoil are just some examples of the regions crises. Morsi decided to tackle the longest running issue, that of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It was a success, not so much in that halted the conflict but rather it forced Netanyahu to agree to a highly unpopular ceasefire a mere two months before he stands for re-election.

All-out war has been avoided, at least for the time being, which has been a shift in the pattern of events seen in the Middle East. The Arab Spring, while signalling a change, was marked with US support of potentially violent actions (as was seen in Libya and now in Syria). Obama’s vocal support of Israel could be seen as following a similar vein.

Morsi has instead diffused the situation and shown that continuity was possible through peaceful means. Supporting Gaza, and by doing that open warfare, was avoided through the Egyptian President orchestrating a ceasefire that benefited the Palestinians. While rumours circulate that a deal has been made with Israel to ensure the ceasefire, on the surface Morsi has championed the Palestinian cause.

The result was a showering of praise from the international community. From being an obscure figure Morsi was now being labelled as the regions much needed driving force for sustainable peace and democracy.

Twenty-four hours after brokering the deal Morsi passed a string of decrees back in Egypt. The image was destroyed. Supporters of Morsi were suddenly torn between loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood and a wish to see their revolution completed.

Morsi came in to power on the back of one of the longest running dictatorships in the region. He was looked upon to lead Egypt, and be an example for the rest of the Middle East. Instead he has now given himself powers which are further reaching than what was seen during Mubarak’s time.

While dividing the country over his new decrees, Morsi has also left the Obama administration embarrassed. A day after singing his praises the White House was forced to sit quietly and observe as, who they thought would be, the newest leader for Democracy take on a dictatorial stance.

He garnered admiration from the international community, he strengthened his standings in the region and now he has moved to cement his position as the undisputed leader of Egypt. Morsi is taking all of the right steps in announcing himself as a heavyweight of the Middle East, and from the early signs he is on the right path. However, it remains to be seen whether or not this will be a lasting reign.

Voting Closes In Key Swing State

November 7, 2012 1 comment

Polling stations have closed in Ohio and now the public eagerly awaits the results of the key swing state.

Ohio has 18 electoral votes up for grabs and whoever wins the state has been predicted as winning the 2012 Presidential election. To make matters more interesting, no Republican candidate has won the Presidential election without winning this state.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan both broke tradition and continued campaigning in Ohio on election day. An indication of the importance they have placed here.

Polling stations were open from 6:30am and by 7:15am the lines were growing as voters came out to cast their ballots. Initial indication of the voter turnout (12:30pm) was of a sizable support for the Democrats. By mid-morning in West Toledo, numerous stay at home mothers had turned up to vote. There was also a large number of African-Americans who expressed support for President Barack Obama.

However, by afternoon this changed rather dramatically. The Republicans started coming out in force with many middle aged white men leaving work early to cast their votes. They expressed confidence that they would win the state, despite early voting results having Obama ahead.

The length of the voting lines continued to remain the same, so it is difficult to comment without official figures on which candidate had a higher turnout.

While the voters split the day between themselves, it was clear that they all were not impressed with the time spent at the polling stations. One voter, Harry Johnson, stood in line for over two hours before he was able to cast his vote. “This is a big day for Americans and we would have hoped that the authorities would have been better prepared. These long lines are off-putting to voters”, he said.

Regardless of the complaints by voters about the length of the lines, there has been no serious issues around the state. Unlike the malfunctioning voting machines in Pennsylvania or the disregarded absentee votes in Florida.

While polling booths closed at 7:30pm around Ohio, those voters still in line braved the cold and stayed on to cast their ballots.

With news arriving that the provisional ballots in Ohio will not be counted until November 17, both the candidates and the public will hope that the result will not be dependent on this.

Early Voting In The US

Election Day in the US will see millions of people around the country line up at polling stations ready to cast their vote. Unlike Sri Lanka, something I have noticed in the US is that the number of polling stations are far fewer and casting the vote itself would also take up to ten minutes. This means that people are left standing in line for hours. So the US election authorities have made it easier by making use of “early voting”.

Early voting is very simply an opportunity for voters to turn up before election day and cast their vote either in person or via mail.

Each State in the US has a separate time period for early voting which is determined by the state authorities. It can run from anywhere between a week to ten days. This election has seen an unprecedented prediction of over 46 million people casting their votes early.

The idea behind early voting is to ensure that on election day everybody can cast their vote before the polling stations close.

However, despite the opportunity to vote early the majority of the country still choose to come out on November 6.

Visiting the polling station at Elmhurst School in West Toledo, I was greeted with the sight of long voter lines. Speaking to the people I learnt that they had been in line for over two hours. Jessica Litzch said she had been in line for almost two hours and was tempted to leave and try again later.

“I never got down to voting early simply because I never had time with work. My boss said I can take time off to vote today which is why I am here”, she explained. Litzch added that she has to go back to work and will not wait to vote now but would try again in the evening.

Frank Bedford left the polling station complaining that he had been standing in line for 2 hours and could not afford to spend anymore time there. “I run my own business and cannot afford to keep it closed for too long”, he said.

Bedford added that it was unlikely he would come back and vote since he does not leave his shop until 7pm. He admitted that not making use of the early voting was a mistake.

Judging by the news from elsewhere in the county the lines seem to be even longer. One report suggests that in Florida voters are having to stand in line for almost 3 hours. Despite these time constraints the voters are, by and large, choosing to stand in line.

Of course a surprising aspect is that traditionally voter turnout in the US is not high. An interesting development considering all the assistance voters are given.

Democrats have complained that their voter bases are lazy and do not often turnout in full force on election day. Early voting would no doubt assist the Democrats.

Volunteers; Backbone Of A Campaign

At 64 years, Marie Jenson has been a volunteer for the past 6 presidential elections in the Democrats’ camp. Back in 1988, while Democrat candidate Michael Dukakis was soundly beaten, winning only 111 electoral votes, Jenson was bitten by the election bug.

“I was forty years old and a stay at home mother when I first volunteered. Elections were not the most important thing in my life, but one day I decided I wanted to go out and help the Democrats. It had been a tough 12 years for the Democrats, Jimmy Carter had been a flop and we needed a boost”, she explained.

She believed that if the Democrats were to come back in to office, they needed the people to reignite the voters passion for victory, “something volunteers had to do at the grassroots levels.” During her first campaign, Jenson spent three months handing out campaign buttons, ever since that election Jenson has made it a point to turn to volunteer for the Democrats at every election.

The 92′ election was where Jenson tasted victory as a supporter, and she says that it was at that point she realized how important the role of the volunteer is. “Clinton’s campaign had us out in force, I was volunteering in Ohio and I travelled all over the state urging people to come out and vote for him. His margin of victory is indication that we were successful”, she said.

In 2012 Jenson is back in the Democrats camp having spent the past three months canvassing on the ground. On the day before the election (November 5) she spent her day walking from house to house in Toledo, along with dozens of other volunteers, urging Democrats to turn out and vote. “By now we know where those who support the Democrats live, it is of utmost importance that we get them out to vote”, the volunteer explained.

Her work as a volunteer has seen her carry out work ranging from calling up registered voters urging them to vote Democrat, to sitting outside shopping centers handing out Democrat badges. “It is the job of the volunteers to remind the voters why they should vote for the candidate, President Obama has spent the election period telling the country what he will do in the next four years. It is our job to remind the individuals and ensure they all hear his message. I was in Columbus Ohio a week ago and a man told me that seeing how tirelessly the volunteers were working had convinced him that turning out to vote was important. That is all that we can do” Jenson explained

Of course it has not always been thankful work, often Jenson has been forced to listen to Republican supporters run down President Obama’s policies, while also having undecided voters flat out refuse to vote. “It is frustrating when a person refuses to vote either way, this is their opportunity to make a change if they are unhappy. Sometimes I have had doors slammed in my face, other times I have had to stand next to a republican volunteer trying to convince an undecided voter. This is all worth it, if at the end of the day we know we have done all we can”, she said.

Her brightest moment during the campaign came a few weeks ago when during a campaign rally in Cleveland Ohio, President Obama personally thanked her for all the work she did. “The President asked me about myself and my family, and thanked us all for the hard word we were doing for both him and the party. It is a small gesture like that which is thanks enough”, she said.

Election day will Jenson’s busiest, “I will be traveling to the houses of those we know who will be voting for the Democrats urging them to get out there early and cast their ballot. It is our last opportunity to ensure we win, this will be a fight but I am convinced America will make the right choice.”

For Jenson, and thousands of other volunteers, all their hard work will come to an end on November 6. Yet regardless of the result, most of them will be back in four years trying once again.

Indecision And Division Leaves Ohio Up For Grabs

The state of Ohio is considered the biggest swing state in the 2012 US Presidential election. With 18 electoral votes up for grabs, both campaigns have been tirelessly wooing voters in the state for the past month.

Recent polls show that as of Thursday (November 1) Barack Obama has a slender lead of 2 percentage points. However, early voting has the President ahead with a sizable lead of 60% to 34%. Despite this clear lead, early voting in the state of Ohio has been much lower than expected, meaning that election day voters will have the final say.

Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, knows that if he is to win the election it is essential that he wins Ohio. Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, will have all but ensured victory if he is able to win the electoral votes on offer.

While the candidates, and their campaign teams, have been hosting rallies and meeting with the voters, it appears that neither Obama nor Romney are any closer to securing the support of Ohio.

In Toledo, Ohio all of the different voter groups have numerous demands from the candidates.

Students at the University of Toledo explained that their biggest concern is the lack of jobs awaiting them upon graduation. Daniel Stevens, a third year engineering student, said that he was concerned that he would not be able to find a job to repay all of his loans. “Going to university in America is very expensive, I have been forced to take a few loans to pay off my student bills. If I am able to get a job after graduating I will be able to repay these loans. But in recent years the economy has been very poor and getting a job is not assured”, he said.

Stevens added that due to the economy being in a bad shape the cost of repaying the student loans have increased. “Both campaigns have promised to improve the economy but neither have really been able to convince on how they will do this. President Obama has had four years to do so, he now says that was not enough time. If we elect him again he will only have another four years, what guarantee is there that he can do what he needs to. Mitt Romney on the other hand has not really showed any proper plan to rebuild the economy. As far as I am concerned, this election is to choose a candidate who is less likely to worsen the situation”, he explained.

Jennifer Burton, a second year Arts major, agreed with Stevens that the cost of education was too high and needed to be addressed by the next president. “The economy was in bad shape when President Obama came in to office, in the four years he has done a lot to set it right. It is too much to expect him to have everything perfect in only four years, I will definitely be voting for him again he is on the right track”, she said.

Burton added that she was sure Obama was the proper choice as she felt Romney would only assist the wealthy class of America. “President Obama has promised to increase taxes on the wealthy, that has to be done if they want to improve the economy. Romney will only protect the wealthy because h knows they can get him elected. Does it not the way an economy should be handled”, the student explained.

Jordan Parker, an unemployed African-American high school graduate, believes that the current state of the economy has put further education out of the reach of lower income families. “When President Obama was elected we all thought he understand the issues facing us poorer people. In the four years that he has been president there has been no change to the economy. I cannot afford the college fees, and that means my education stopped after high school”, he said.

Parker said that he had wanted to become an electrician after leaving high school, but because of the expensive college fees and high repayment schemes for loans he was forced to abandon those plans. He explained that as a high school graduate job opportunities were limited, forcing him to look for part-time work in convenience stores.

“I was a supporter of President Obama when he started, but his term has made little difference to my life. I know that Mitt Romney will not make any difference to my life, I do not see myself going out and voting this time”, Parker explained.

While the younger generation appear to be divided and unconvinced on who they should vote for, the retired people of Ohio have already picked their candidate for President. Bill Mathews, a retired glass factory supervisor, and his wife Donna Mathews expressed their support for Romney in the upcoming election. “President Obama has done nothing but weaken an already fragile economy with his policies. As Americans we have always prided ourselves on welcoming immigrants, but a strong President needs to know when to say enough. I have lived in Toledo all my life and I have seen a change in the people who live here. In the past 30 years there has been an increase in the number of Latin Americans and Arabs living here, and unfortunately that means fewer jobs”, he said.

The Mathews explained that they were not racist, but simply believed that there should be greater controls on the number of immigrants living in the area. Donna Mathews said “Bill was forced to retire early as they were laying off people at the factory, one of the reasons was because they could get cheaper labour from the immigrants who have moved here.”

Bill Mathews said that he supported Mitt Romney as they believed he understood the need to protect American citizens from outside influences both economically and physically. “Governor Romney has continually expressed his distrust towards the Chinese, unfortunately President Obama has allowed companies to outsource work to the other countries taking away money from families back here in the States. The Republicans are dedicated to protecting us, and for that they have our vote”, he said.

Sam Redmond, a former employee at the Chrysler factory, threw his whole hearted support behind Romney. “I am 69 and am suffering from arthritis, my medication is expensive and the current insurance packages do not cover it. Last month Senator Paul Ryan met with a lot of us and promised that the Republicans would make health care more affordable for the lower income families. President Obama has had four years to do so and still has not been able to. At this stage in my life health care is my main concern, for that reason alone I will be supporting Governor Romney”, he said.

Redmond added that he did not have anything against Obama and believed if there were not as many issues facing him as there are, he would have been a good President. He explained that he felt Romney would a stronger leader and someone who would be able to make smarter decisions under pressure.

While the retired people of Ohio seem to be leaning towards Romney the minorities are clearly backing Obama in the election.

Mohammed Al Fayar, a local shop owner in downtown Toledo, said that he wholeheartedly supported Obama both on his domestic and foreign policies. “The economy was in a bad state when President Obama took over, since then it is improving, another four years and we will be in a much better state. The Republicans do not know how to protect small businesses, furthermore they do not care about us migrants,” he said.

Al Fayar expressed his belief that Obama’s foreign policy showed an understanding towards migrants. “We must not forget it was the Republicans under George W. Bush that instilled an anti-Islam feeling amongst Americans. President Obama may continue the war in Afghanistan but he is also sympathetic to issues facing the Muslim world, his treatment of Palestine is example of this. This is a President who will be supportive of all groups”, he said.

Martha Fernandez, a waitress at a restaurant, said that it was because of the Obama administration that she was able to finally get her green card and remain in America. “I spent five years in and out of America trying to get my green card during the Bush administration, within 8 months of President Obama taking office I was approved for my green card. I was not able to vote last time, but I will certainly be voting on this occasion for President Obama”, she explained.

Fernandez who is a mother, is hopeful that she can bring her daughter over from Mexico to live with her. “I have had to show that I can support both myself and my daughter in order for her to get a green card also, 5 years ago that would not have been possible. Jobs for minorities were scarce back then, now under President Obama jobs are more easily available and more importantly people are able to migrate to this country more easily”, the waitress said.

With less than two days remaining for the election, the indecision that remains in Ohio may prove to be influential in the final outcome of the election. While both parties can claim to have support amongst key groups in the state, neither can boast of having a substantial lead.

It appears that this deadlock will only be decided on election day.

First Step To The US

October 22, 2012 3 comments

This will be the first of many blog posts documenting my journey in the United States.

Before I go on any further, let me explain what I will be doing. Thanks to the US Embassy in Colombo and the International Center for Journalists, I will be in the United States covering the ongoing Presidential Election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. After an initial briefing in Washington I am off to Toledo, Ohio where I will be working alongside a local newsroom covering the goings on.

I plan on posting daily updates of my journey both on twitter
and this blog. I will not only be reporting the happenings of this closely contested election, but also will be taking a look at the “behind the scenes” of a US election and the public’s reactions.

Any and all photographs will be uploaded either accompanying articles or on my flickr account (which will be updated upon my return to Sri Lanka).

If any of you have questions or would like me to look at any specific issues in the US during my time there, please feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to follow up.