The Ghost Writer, based on Robert Harris’s best-selling novel, The Ghost, premieres on February 11th at the Berlin Film Festival and opens in Los Angeles and New York on February 19th. Directed by Roman Polanski, it’s a roman a clef on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, concerning the completion of his memoirs.
** TONY BLAIR’S FRIDAY, AND IRAQ. Tony Blair, the only Labour Party leader to win three terms as prime minister of the United Kingdom, has long seemed well-positioned to be the global statesman of the age. Highly intelligent, charming, articulate, and mediagenic, at 56 he and his foundation are involved around the world on a host of issues, from climate change to poverty to terrorism. He’s been the Middle East special envoy of the Quartet powers (US, UN, EU, and Russia) and was long the favorite to become the first president of the European Union.
There’s just been one thing in the way. The Iraq War.
The obstacle still remains.
On Friday, Blair at last was compelled to give six hours of public testimony on the origins of the Iraq War, before the Chilcot Inquiry in London. Arriving before dawn, hours before he was due, in order to avoid the protesters, he did not avoid the families of British soldiers killed in the Iraq War crowded into the hearing room.
He also did not acknowledge them.
Although he hardly broke under questioning, which was at most pointed, Blair struggled to justify his position in joining President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the invasion of Iraq.
Blair had sold the war on the basis of Iraq possessing an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, which he dramatically claimed could be deployed in 45 minutes. But there was no WMD.
In December, Blair said that he would have taken Britain to war even had he known there was no WMD. Why? Because Saddam Hussein was a very bad guy and Iraq is better off without him. Which would make more sense if he were an aspiring leader of Iraq.
On Friday, he refined his position. The war was justified, he said, because in the post-9/11 era any potential threat could not be tolerated. In other words, since Saddam Hussein was against the West (which had supported him in his war with Iran), and since he had technologists capable of developing weapons of mass destruction, he had to act to eliminate that potential threat.
Of course, that explanation, which sounds suspiciously like that of Dick Cheney — who, ironically, opposed Blair in internal war councils as a too liberal influence on Bush — doesn’t fly very well.
In his testimony, Blair seemed curiously unaware of the vast Iranian influence inside Iraq. Or of how the elimination of Saddam would empower Iran within the region, by removing him as a strong counterweight. Or that his dramatic claim of WMD deployable “within 45 minutes,” which the public took to mean against, say, them, actually pertained to battlefield chemical weapons. Which also did not exist.
So the Iraq obstacle remains for Tony Blair.
Next month a new movie comes out, based on a best-selling novel by a former Blair friend, who broke with the prime minister over the Iraq War and his leadership of Britain in the war on terror.
Like the novel, the film — directed by Roman Polanski, who was suddenly arrested last year on 30-year old sex charges on a routine trip from France to Switzerland, while still working on the film — is a roman a clef about Tony Blair. Polanski was finally able to post a huge bond and moved, under house arrest, to his Swiss chalet, where he finally completed The Ghost Writer.
It stars former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan as former Prime Minister Adam Lang, British actress Olivia Williams (seen lately on American TV’s Dollhouse) as Ruth Lang, Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall as top Lang aide Amelia Bly, and Ewan McGregor (Obi-wan Kenobi in the recent Star Wars trilogy) as the unnamed ghost brought over from London to finish the politician’s memoirs on Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.
I’ve read the novel and followed the film and will write more on this.
** OBAMA TODAY – SUNDAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington today.
He has received his daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
Obama has no scheduled public events today.
Yesterday, following his scheduled meeting with former President George H.W. Bush, Obama made an unscheduled visit to a high-profile college basketball game, the clash between national Top Ten powers Georgetown and Duke. He was accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, senior advisor David Axelrod, and press secretary Robert Gibbs. Obama took the microphone during the national TV broadcast for the better part of a quarter delivering color commentary on the game.
Today Obama is monitoring geopolitical crises in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Pakistani media reported today that the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed earlier this month by a U.S. air strike. His predecessor was killed late last year by a U.S. air strike. The Pakistani Army has not confirmed the report. The Taliban deny the report. They had also denied that the previous leader had been killed.
Hamas says that a top Hamas commander, murdered earlier this month in a luxury Dubai hotel room, was assassinated by the Israeli Mossad. Dubai authorities say they are looking for a European “gang” of seven individuals traveling on the passports of various countries which they will not name. Mossad had no denied the Hamas claim. Israel says that the Hamas commander was in charge of smuggling arms from Iran into Gaza.
In Iraq, a top Sunni leader said he may call for a boycott of upcoming national parliamentary elections in the wake of the government’s banning of hundreds of Sunni candidates with supposed links to the former regime of the late Saddam Hussein.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE – SUNDAY. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Los Angeles today.
He has no scheduled public events.
President Barack Obama directly engaged Congressional Republicans, meeting yesterday at their retreat in Baltimore, in an extraordinary live session.
** OBAMA TODAY – SATURDAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington today.
Obama has received his daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
He met early this morning in the Oval Office with former President George H. W. Bush, who was accompanied by his son, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
He has no other scheduled public events.
Obama scored yesterday, big time, when he appeared before the House Republican Caucus in Baltimore. There, in a televised session akin to Prime Minister’s Question Time in Britain, he told Congressional Republicans that their approach as the “party of no” is hurting America, challenged them to help govern the country through perilous times, and entertained their questions, some of which are more like little speeches.
The session was carried live on the cable news nets, and went so well for Obama that Fox News cut away long before CNN and MSNBC.
The Obama Administration, as expected, has reversed course and now will not hold the trial of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed the idea when it was announced in November. Since then, however, Al Qaeda has demonstrated that it is definitely alive and kicking with the narrowly averted 12/25 attack in the skies over Detroit. New York police officials determined that the trial will costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year to secure. New York real estate interests, looking at the massive security plans for Lower Manhattan, realized that it could seriously disrupt the real estate market there. New York politicians of all stripes came out against the plan this week.
Bloomberg, who once talked of the righteousness of holding terrorism trials near the site of the late World Trade Center, now says that KSM should be tried on a military base.
Obama is also monitoring geopolitical crises in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq.
Iran has again made a vague offer of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency on its nuclear enrichment program. Is it genuine? Or merely another attempt to buy time?
The big international conference on Afghanistan took place Thursday in London. And negotiation with the Taliban, as well as amnesty for many, is suddenly all the rage.
I think the play is to go for a coalition government in Kabul. Students of history will recall that Robert F. Kennedy proposed a “coalition government” for Vietnam in 1966.
I have a column on this, which is linked below.
In his weekend video/radio address, President Barack Obama says that reining in budget deficits, while ranking below job creation as his top priority, is critical for success.
In Iraq, security forces are still hunting for the planners of a bloody series of bombings in Baghdad. And the crisis over the banning of hundreds of Sunni candidates from the national parliamentary elections in March continues.
Yesterday in London, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his first public testimony on the hotly disputed origins of the Iraq War. Appearing before the Chilcot Inquiry, Blair was forced to come up with a new rationale for the invasion, as the previous rationale of WMD obviously proved to be wrong.
I’ll have more on this later. Along with the brand new trailer for Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, based on the best-selling Blair roman a clef novel The Ghost by former Blair friend Robert Harris.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE – SATURDAY. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Los Angeles today.
He has no scheduled public events.
State Controller John Chiang warned yesterday that California’s state government will run out of money by the beginning of April if the Legislature does not get moving on budget solutions.
The state Senate has held hearings on Schwarzenegger’s budget proposals.
The state Assembly, in a now familiar pattern, has not.
** WHAT A DIFFERENCE TWO MONTHS MAKES AS THE FATE OF OBAMA’S PRESIDENCY PLAYS OUT FAR FROM WASHINGTON. What a difference two months makes. Way back then, as it were, the staunchly resolute talk on Afghanistan was all about the big military surge just announced by President Barack Obama, with NATO leaders pledging to ante up lots of troops, too. (Even as actual national commitments were, well, lacking.) Now the talk coming out of Thursday’s big 70-nations conference in London on Afghanistan centers on talking with the Taliban, and on exit strategies.
While all the attention — in the hyperventilating aftermath of the Democrats’ eminently avoidable Massachusetts special election loss — was on Obama’s State of the Union address, an event of far greater relevance to the fate of his presidency played out not in Washington, but in London.
In Washington, there was barely a word on the issue on which I think Obama’s re-election will turn, that of getting further into, and then out of, Afghanistan.
The economy is slowly recovering. One way or the other, Obama will be able to campaign for re-election in 2012 having staved off another Great Depression inherited from the Bush/Cheney Administration. Which he focused on effectively in his big speech. The question is how quickly and fully the recovery comes prior to the mid-term election, in order for Obama and the Democrats to limit expected losses. … From my new column.
** MAD MEN SWEEPS THE LATEST AWARDS AND LOSES A KEY CHARACTER. … From my January 27th column.
** SCOTT BROWN NEED NOT APPLY: CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS IN THE POST-ARNOLD ERA. Is there a Scott Brown-like figure to surprise California Democrats this year? No. The politicians who are vying to replace Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as the ranking California Republican could scarcely be less like Scott Brown. Or, for that matter, Schwarzenegger.
The Republican who takes on wily Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown — the former governor, presidential candidate, and Oakland mayor — will be not a pickup truck-driving pseudo-independent but a plutocrat hugging the far right rail of the current Republican primary.
The Republican who takes on feisty Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer will be not a populist-sounding moderate inveighing against the manipulations of entrenched wealth and power but a golden parachute corporate CEO, a fringe right state legislator, or an intellectual ex-congressman whose faculty advisor was Milton Friedman.
And none of them will be a global icon with a common touch. … From my January 26th column.
** WHAT SCOTT BROWN KNEW IN 2010 AND BARACK OBAMA KNEW IN 2008. This past Tuesday night, the politics of positioning beat the politics of branding. As it frequently does. Scott Brown figured it would. As Barack Obama did in 2008. … From my January 22nd column.
** 24 NATION. Well, 24 has returned, with a vengeance. The controversial hit TV series, one of the key shows of the past decade, is proving relevant in this decade, too. As recent polling clearly shows, it turns out that its hardball ethos on terrorism resonates just as well in the Obama Era as it did in the Bush/Cheney years. … From my January 19th column.
** THE BAND OF THE DECADE: THE BEATLES?! What does it say that the biggest musical group of the first decade of this new millennium recorded its last album 40 years ago? … From my January 1st essay.
** THE COMMON THREADS OF AVATAR. Is Avatar the future of cinema? Probably. … From my December 22nd essay.
** HOW JERRY BROWN CLEARED THE DEMOCRATIC FIELD FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA. … From my December 9th column.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th, 2009 Huffington Post column.
** HELP FOR HAITI.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer, bringing you English-language, jargon-free, fast-paced coverage of global and Russian news from the Russia Today channel. You probably already know about CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera. Russia Today, which also features culture, entertainment, and sports, is based in Moscow and is owned and operated by the TV Novosti division of Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti. While it’s quite foolish to expect to see, say, criticism of Vladimir Putin on Russia Today, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. With U.S. cable news chattering away as it does, this sort of respite can be informative. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in two wars in the region, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Based in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, Al Jazeera is very influential and more than a bit controversial. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, 2008, crude oil closed on Friday at $72.89 per barrel. Energy markets are closed on the weekend.
This is up about $39 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity.
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