Wretched poor must be Obama's priority

IF you want to understand the size of the problem facing Barack Obama, look behind the glitz, glamour, and beauty of America's leading cities, holiday playgrounds, and national parks and, if you dare, journey through the housing projects, urban dereliction, and trailer parks to see the deprivation in which the country's millions of dispossessed are forced to live.

Graham Dines

IF you want to understand the size of the problem facing Barack Obama, look behind the glitz, glamour, and beauty of America's leading cities, holiday playgrounds, and national parks and, if you dare, journey through the housing projects, urban dereliction, and trailer parks to see the deprivation in which the country's millions of dispossessed are forced to live.

In Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, the outer boroughs of New York and even in Washington DC, you'll come across unimaginable squalor the like of which we would never find in the UK. We got a glimpse of it in the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Of course there are rough estates in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Middlesbrough etc, but row houses and tenements are demolished, not left boarded up to decay without sanitation and electricity as they are in the States, allowing them to be turned into crack houses or to provide miserable shelter for yobs and families.

The problems aren't just in the cities. Many of the Deep South and Appalachian states have rural wretchedness epitomised by ramshackle cabins and trailer parks which are permanent homes for the poor, black and white.

The United States is the richest and most powerful nation on the planet. It's a land of opportunity for the educated and those prepared to knuckle down and work themselves to the bone.

Most Read

But it has this permanent underclass which has been ignored by every president since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to fight the great depression.

There is no National Health Service in the United States. The rich pay for medical insurance but Medicare for the less fortunate is a poor substitute. Horror stories abound - apocryphal or not - about ambulance services refusing to transport injured victims to hospital unless they give their credit card details to paramedics, and of people being turned away from hospital because they can't pay for treatment, board, and medication.

In the first days of the Obama presidency, the US Treasury will be tapping deep into its reserves to rescue ailing American industry and banks. But if Obama can use federal cash and his political clout to begin to tackle the inequalities of the enigma that is the United States - eradicating urban and rural poverty will take at least a generation - then he'll be a shoo-in for his 2012 re-election bid.

On the international stage, there'll be overwhelming support for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, with its kangaroo courts. Bringing the troops back from Iraq while keeping up the pressure in Afghanistan will show a deft touch in a region full of complexities.

Whether Hillary Clinton was a wise choice as Secretary of State is debatable. She is solidly pro-Israel, and during her failed campaign for the Democratic nomination, said she supported retaliation if Iran attempted to carry out its threat to drive Israelis into the sea.

The Obama presidency, in theory, should make little difference to the UK. But that won't stop our politicians trying to getting up close and personal as they hope some of the new President's charisma rubs off on them.

Perhaps Gordon Brown will be hoping to adopt the mantle of Harold Macmillan, the sound head on old shoulders who saw himself as the perfect foil to the inexperienced John F. Kennedy. Macmillan was quietly tolerated to his face by Kennedy but the American was not renowned for consulting the Tory Prime Minister before making decisions.

BARACK NOT THE FIRST TO REPEAT OATH

BARACK Obama retook the US presidential oath in private after stumbling over some words at Tuesday's public swearing-in ceremony. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the oath to Mr Obama at the White House in a rare move in which no TV camera crews or news photographers were allowed in.

The constitution is clear about the exact wording of the oath but Justice Roberts went wrong, inadvertently leading the President to utter words out of sequence. Two other previous presidents have repeated the oath because of similar issues - Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur.

CARSWELL CLAIMS CREDIT FOR CLIMBDOWN

HARWICH MP Douglas Carswell has been quick to claim credit for the Prime Minister's u-turn on exempting MPs' expenses from Freedom of Information legislation.

Mr Carswell asked Gordon Brown in the Commons why he was “whipping his party to vote to keep MPs' expenses secret? When it comes to freedom of information, why should there be one law for the people and another for the politicians?”

MPs should have voted yesterday on a motion sneaked out by Commons Leader Harriet Harman on the same day as the announcement of the third runway. This would have prevented the details of MPs' expenses from being published.

Gordon Brown found himself in a no-win situation, isolated because opposition parties said they would vote to open expenses to public scrutiny, making his decision to force Labour backbenchers to vote `no' look a typical act of self-serving by the House of Commons.

Mr Brown backed down, promising that revised rules on MPs expenses would be put the proposals to the House on a free vote. “We thought we had agreement on the implications of the Freedom of Information Act as part of this wider package. Recently, the support that we believed we had from the main opposition party was withdrawn. I believe that all-party support is important on this particular matter, on which we will continue to consult.”

Mr Carswell, who had promised that regardless of any Commons vote he would publish his own expenses on his internet pages, immediately emailed newspapers to chortle at his success. “Across our area local folk are having to tighten their belts. Yet the Westminster establishment carries on.

“I've had enough. It's time to force the government to force every MP to publish details of what they spend. I'm pleased to have forced the Westminster establishment to back down. But we need real change to clean up Westminster.”

BRAINTREE UP THE POLE

BRAINTREE has a lap-dancing club, much to the chagrin of the town's Conservative MP Brooks Newmark. He took the opportunity to raise the matter in Monday's debate on the Policing and Crime Bill, which contains a clause making it mandatory new lap-dancing establishments to apply locally for a licence.

The measure is supported by the Conservatives. However Mr Newmark, puzzled why “the genteel market town” of Braintree deserves such a club in its midst, doubts if the proposals “will

grant sufficient powers to stop lap-dancing clubs from opening in towns such as Braintree.”