‘The Lady of the House’ – PORTER Magazine

Photo: Jason Schmidt, Courtesy PORTER Magazine

Photo: Jason Schmidt, Courtesy PORTER Magazine

I have interviewed dozens of female politicians in my time, and the thing that stands out is how different they are from other women. In that one respect they are just like male politicians who, when you meet them, come across as a race apart from ordinary mortals. First and foremost, they are doers. There’s none of that second-guessing, procrastinating, or introspection that holds the rest of us back. Obstacles only make them try harder. To a woman (or man) they radiate a special combination of ego and energy that seems to propel them faster and higher than everyone else.

In the United States, there is no better example of this all-conquering breed than Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives, the first female Speaker of the House and the highest-ranking political woman in American history. As she strides towards my table in the restaurant of the Regency Hotel in Manhattan, immaculately presented in powder blue, smile at the ready, it is like being drawn into a powerful tractor beam. When she speaks she’s so loud and full of purpose, it’s mesmerizing. Despite her slight stature, Pelosi has a diaphragm that could hit you at a thousand paces.

Continue reading…

‘These shootings reveal an America still shackled to the ghosts of slavery’ – The Sunday Times

Photo: John Mark Arnold

Photo: John Mark Arnold

In 2009, a few months after President Barack Obama took office, Jiverly Wong shot dead 13 people at a community centre for immigrants and refugees. Later that year Nidal Hasan killed 13 soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas. In 2011, Jared Loughner shot dead six people outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. The next year James Holmes killed 12 people in a cinema in Aurora, Colorado; followed by Michael Page who killed six in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; followed by Adam Lanza who killed 26 people — 20 of them children — in a school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. In 2013 Aaron Alexis killed 12 inside the Navy Yard in Washington.

The next year, Fort Hood was attacked again when Ivan Lopez killed three. This year, Craig Hicks killed three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and this month Dylann Roof shot dead nine members of a Bible study group at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

These are just the massacres that gained international attention. In fact, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School atrocity 2½ years ago, there have been 72 mass shootings — involving three or more people being shot — with at least 226 being killed.

Continue reading…

‘Lying, grasping politicians have an easy ride. Unleash the next ‘Gotcha’’ – The Sunday Times

Photo: Josh Felise

Photo: Josh Felise

There are two political scandals doing the rounds in the US media. The first involves the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, who retired in 2007. During his eight-­‐year tenure as the longest-­‐serving Republican Speaker, Hastert presented a somewhat shambolic, avuncular front that endeared him to both parties.

He wasn’t known for being especially honest or particularly careful about the moral and ethical reputation of the House. But he was thought to be a man of good character and wholesome values — and that counted for a lot.

However, last Tuesday Hastert pleaded not guilty to federal money laundering charges. It is alleged that he paid $3.5m (£2.3m) in cash to an unnamed individual in return for that person’s silence about having been sexually molested by Hastert some years ago. It turns out that the man whom everyone considered a good old-fashioned Washingtonian of the right sort may have been a paedophile who was being blackmailed by at least one of his victims.

The same day that Hastert entered his plea, an even bigger scandal was splashed across the front page of The New York Times. The newspaper revealed that the Republican presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio isn’t rich. In fact, a thorough investigation of his finances showed Rubio has so many debts and so few assets that he is distinctly middle class. Oh, and he’s bad at paying his parking fines.

Continue reading…

‘The First Ladies and Their Predecessors’ – The Wall Street Journal

Photo: CSU ARCHIVES/EVERETT COLLECTION

Photo: CSU ARCHIVES/EVERETT COLLECTION

Dolley Madison was born this month in 1768. One of the greatest first ladies in U.S. history, she had a style and energy that brought a uniquely American twist to the role of political spouse. She transformed the White House, not only giving the interiors a much-needed face-lift but also making the presidential residence the social epicenter of Washington, D.C. Among her many gifts to the nation was her insistence that George Washington’s portrait be rescued when the British burned the city in 1814.

But Dolley Madison’s greatest achievement was in creating the role of first lady. President Zachary Taylor used the term for the first time at her funeral in 1849. After her time in the White House, Americans expected first ladies to play a public part, one that was above day-to-day politics and often national in its scope.

The idea of the political spouse has deep historical roots. Livia Drusilla, the ruthless and powerful wife of Caesar Augustus, was instrumental in shaping the destiny of the Roman Empire. Yet even she was imitating a role model that had its original expression in ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization.

Continue reading…

‘In pill-popping America even shyness is a medical condition’ – The Sunday Times

Photo: Martin Vorel

Photo: Martin Vorel

What’s the biggest difference between Americans and Britons? Is it the broad vowel sounds, the prevalence of guns, or the belief in God? No, it’s the number of healthy people who believe they have a medical issue.

Call it the medicalisation of life, or slick marketing, the fact is there is an entire industry in America dedicated to turning the human condition into a chronic disease.

The topic has resurfaced because the Supreme Court has been listening to arguments in King v Burwell — ostensibly a lawsuit about the legality of federal health insurance schemes, but in reality an attempt by rightwingers to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare. A ruling is expected in June.

If Obamacare is struck down, one consequence will be a resurgence in health costs. The ACA is problematic, but its limits on Medicare payments and emphasis on lower-cost preventative medicine over higher-priced chronic-disease care has had a beneficial effect; last year’s rate of growth in healthcare spending was the slowest since 1960.

No sane person would argue that medical innovation is bad, or that the relief of suffering is not a worthy end. Who doesn’t hope scientists will be able to prevent Alzheimer’s or cure cancer. But along with the miracle of modern medicine something else has been happening, something so insidious and pervasive to the concept of wellbeing that it took a while before anybody noticed.

Continue reading…

‘The British View the War of 1812 Quite Differently Than Americans Do’ – Smithsonian Magazine

Photo: Bettmann/CORBIS

Photo: Bettmann/CORBIS

As we look forward to celebrating the bicentennial of the “Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key, I have to admit, with deep shame and embarrassment, that until I left England and went to college in the U.S., I assumed the words referred to the War of Independence. In my defense, I suspect I’m not the only one to make this mistake

For people like me, who have got their flags and wars mixed up, I think it should be pointed out that there may have been only one War of 1812, but there are four distinct versions of it—the American, the British, the Canadian and the Native American. Moreover, among Americans, the chief actors in the drama, there are multiple variations of the versions, leading to widespread disagreement about the causes, the meaning and even the outcome of the war.

Continue reading…