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14/1/10

15:41

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LOCAL FEATURE

news Younge: Obama’s first year ‘not good enough’ One year in, President Obama’s administration is “moving in the right direction but not moving as fast as the country is going to need”, according to the US-based Guardian journalist Gary Younge. Obama started off well, beginning to dismantle Guantanamo, boosting public spending and being conciliatory to the Arab world. But with unemployment in double digits, one in eight Americans on food coupons, the surge in Afghanistan and the bombing of Pakistan, Obama has had only mixed results in his task of “managing the decline of the US as a military and economic superpower”, said Younge. “What people want from Obama is heaven or hell and what they got is life on earth,” he said. “He never stood as a radical Democrat, he’s not been a radical Democrat. “He came in as capitalism was collapsing, he has two wars going really badly. It would be unreasonable to think that will turn round in a year. It is reasonable to hope they will be moving in the right direction.” Younge was speaking to The Big Issue in the North ahead of giving Edge Hill University’s first annual Jesse Jackson Lecture. The award winning British journalist, based in the US since 2002, said Obama was the best US politics had to offer – other candidates may have had better policies but were not electable – but that “simply wasn’t good enough”. He said the people who voted for Obama were suffering particularly badly. Over 90 per cent of black people voted for Obama but one in three African Americans are unemployed. Life expectancy in Washington DC is lower than in Gaza. Part of the problem was that Obama did not anticipate the 4

the bailouts, as his Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, who was Clinton’s guy, and Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, when the one piece of blue water between him and her was the Iraq war. So there’s an element of old wine in a darker bottle in his administration.” Younge said liberals and the left in the US need to be better organised to put pressure on Obama. He said: “He’s been elected to represent the interests of the

“What people want from Obama is heaven or hell.”

Younge before Edge Hill University’s first annual Jesse Jackson lecture

level of opposition he would encounter, not only from Republicans but Democrats on issues like healthcare reform, and from the new Tea Party movement that campaigns against big government. By contrast, the coalition of the young, blacks, Latinos and white liberals that swept him to power had now fallen away. “It’s been an education to see how solidified a bloc the Republican Party has been,” said Younge. “It wasn’t clear to me a year ago the extent to which that was the case and maybe it wasn’t to him. He made a lot about being bipartisan, bringing people together. I think you’ll hear a lot less about bipartisanship. “There are some thing he’s done that are completely wrongheaded but people can’t be disappointed with that because he said he’d do them. The Afghan surge was something he promised. I wish he hadn’t. “There are lots of areas where I’d say he’s failed – rendition is still going, he said he’d bomb Afghanistan but he didn’t say he’d bomb the crap out of Pakistan. “Military commissions. Guantanamo – he said he’d

THE BIG ISSUE IN THE NORTH · 18-24 JANUARY 2010

close that down but he hasn’t done so yet. Don’t ask, don’t tell [policy on gay people in the military]. He promised a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures. “He won the election and handed the keys to the military to Bush’s man, Gates. He had Tim Geithner, who organised

most powerful country in the world. To be elected he had to be embedded in to the financial sector, the military sector, all these people give him money. “If you want this guy to move, you have to make him move. Money makes these candidates – nobody in America is going to be any more liberal than you make them.” KEVIN GOPAL

Read a transcript of the interview with Gary Younge at www.bigissueinthenorth.com.

Manchester prison cri A European anti-torture watchdog has criticised overcrowded conditions at a Manchester jail. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) was set up to help monitor abuses of the European Convention on Human Rights. As part of this it carries out spot checks on detention centres across Europe. For their UK inspection, investigators visited several prisons including HMP Manchester. Ideally the prison should hold 960 inmates and has a capacity of 1,265. When the committee visited it was holding 1,189 inmates.

According to the committee’s report too many cells are overcrowded. It said: “CPT has already indicated in previous reports that cells measuring 8.5 square metres or less are acceptable for one person but provide only cramped accommodation for two. However… the vast majority of prisoners at Manchester… were doubled up in cells of 8.5 square metres or smaller. “Further, the toilet area in every cell should be at least partially partitioned.” The government said it had a number of strategies in place for reducing overcrowding, including building more


Gary Younge coverage