Oprah Winfrey speech stokes speculation of White House bid

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Putting the O in oval office?

The early numbers indicate that around 20 million Americans tuned in to watch the Golden Globes last night. So there are worse places to launch a presidential campaign.

Oprah Winfrey’s passionate speech, linking the struggles of the civil rights movement and the #MeToo momentum of today, seems to have excited a lot of people. And it stoked long-smouldering speculation that the former talk show queen intends to run for high office.

Those who are closest to Winfrey aren’t exactly pooh-poohing the idea.

“It’s up to the people,” Stedman Graham, her longtime partner, told the Los Angeles Times. “She would absolutely do it.”

Winfrey is a household name in America, and historically at least, has had better favourability numbers than the current president. A widely reported opinion survey last March showed her beating Donald Trump 47-40 in a theoretical matchup — although the sample size was small.

She will be 65 years old in 2020, and with a fortune estimated at $2.8 billion US, Winfrey has the resources to fund much of her own campaign.

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Oprah Winfrey endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. (Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

And if American voters really have stopped caring about political experience and policy expertise, she is probably better qualified than some on the list of potential contenders.

Other celebrities who have been musing/joking about making a White House run include Kanye West, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, reality TV star Mark Cuban and comedian Chris Rock.

John Podhoretz laid out the rationale in a New York Post column last fall, saying it will take a big star to outshine Trump’s headline-grabbing stunts and pronouncements.

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Winfrey, seen here receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, says she was moved to tears by Barack Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Of course, the next U.S. presidential election is still nearly three years away, and there is an even longer list of conventional politicians and business leaders who have a rumoured interest in running for the Democratic nomination. It includes Joe Biden, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (who has a net worth of $72 billion and ranks as the world’s fifth-richest man).

Still, it’s hard to imagine any of them commanding as much attention as Winfrey on a cold January Sunday. Or even a hot July Thursday.

Trump’s keynote address to the Republican National Convention drew 32.2 million viewers in the summer of 2016, making it the second-most-watched GOP acceptance speech ever.

But he was being broadcast on 10 different channels. Last night, Oprah was on just one.

Who needs a government?

Germany has been without a government for more than 100 days.

The tight Sept. 24 election failed to produce a majority, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has been having a tough time finding willing partners to form a coalition.

Germany Politics

German chancellor Angela Merkel, left, met with the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic party, Martin Schulz, in Berlin on Sunday to continue coalition talks. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/Associated Press)

Her Christian Democrats restarted talks Sunday with their former colleagues, the Social Democrats. But there are many policy divisions to paper over, including immigration, taxes, and military spending.

And now it seems that Belgium may follow its neighbour into murky political waters.

Prime Minister Charles Michel took to the airwaves today to insist that he will not be cowed by “blackmail or threats” from his government’s coalition partner, the Flemish nationalist party Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (NVA).

Belgium EU Summit

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was able to form a coalition government with three other parties in 2014 after 138 days of negotiating. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press)

The issue is an ongoing fight over a plan to forcibly repatriate 100 Sudanese migrants nabbed in raids around Brussels last fall.

There are fears that some of them may face imprisonment or torture back home. The NVA has charged that the minister of asylum and immigration — one of its own members, Theo Francken — allowed representatives of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir to include some of his political opponents in the group.

It took 138 days of talks in 2014 before Michel was able to form his current coalition with the NVA and two other parties.

But that pales next to the experience of his predecessor, Elio Di Rupo. Following an inconclusive June 2010 election, Belgium went without an elected government for 589 days before a coalition was sworn in — a record for a “functioning” democracy.

Iran’s shaky fundamentals

Iran’s ruling clerics have identified the underlying cause of the anti-government protests that have spread across the country — too much English.

Mehdi Navid-Adham, head of the high education council, took to state television yesterday to announce an immediate ban on the teaching of English in all primary schools, saying the foreign tongue paves the way for a Western “cultural invasion.”

IRAN ANTI GOVERNMENT PROTEST

Iranian students clash with riot police during an anti-government protest around the University of Tehran on Dec. 30. (EPA-EFE)

This is not a new theme for the mullahs. The Basij militia, their theocratic enforcers, destroyed more than 100,000 satellite dishes in 2016 on the grounds that popular U.S. and British programs deviated from Iran’s “morality and culture,” and were corrupting the country’s youth.

Iranian authorities are often as concerned with the medium as with the message. Like last week, when they threatened to shut down Instagram and another popular social media app, Telegram, because activists were using them to spread word of the street demonstrations.

The reality, however, is that these demonstrations, which have spread to more than 80 cities and towns, and reportedly led to the deaths of 22 people and the arrest of 1,000 others, are all about the economy.

Iran Protests

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, centre, attends the Tehran Security Conference on Monday. He has warned neighbouring countries over fomenting trouble in his country. (Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

The lifting of international sanctions following the 2016 nuclear deal and rising oil exports have the Iranian economy expanding at a fairly decent clip, and the International Monetary Fund forecasts 4.2 per cent GDP growth in 2018.

However, it’s too little and too late for much of the populace.

Double-digit inflation remains the rule, albeit now down to 10 per cent from 40 per cent in 2013. Average household budgets have dropped 15 to 20 per cent over the past decade.

Meanwhile, years of shaky lending policies have led to the collapse of many Iranian banks and credit companies, depriving millions of their savings.

IRAN ANTI GOVERNMENT PROTEST

Anti-government protests in Iran over the past two weeks have spread throughout the country. (EPA-EFE)

President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to rein-in government spending and reshape social programs haven’t been popular either.

And there has been widespread outrage over the billions the regime has been pouring into wars in Syria and Yemen, while people at home struggle to pay for food and shelter.

But before Donald Trump again tweets in support of the protests, he might want to consider who may stand to benefit if the reformist Rouhani can’t contain the dissent. Al-Quds Al Arabia, a London-based newspaper, is reporting that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been charged with inciting violence for comments he made at a Dec. 28 demonstration in the Western Iranian city of Bushehr.

And as this clip shows, the former president’s English isn’t very good at all.

Quote of the moment

“We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders.”

Viktor Orban, the outspoken prime minister of Hungary, explaining his hardline anti-immigrant stance to the German newspaper Bild.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Shareholders push Apple to study effects of cellphones on children. (Fortune)
  • Kurdish soccer star survives murder attempt in Germany. (BBC)
  • Scientists credit Montreal protocol for shrinking ozone hole. (Calgary Herald)
  • Pilot shortage could get worse for Canadian carriers. (CBC)
  • Why that selfie with a wild elephant might be your final photo. (BBC)
  • Doomsday prep for the super-rich. (The New Yorker)

Today in history

Jan. 8 1987: Don Cherry on the 1987 world junior hockey brawl.

Canada’s foremost hockey loudmouth knows who he blames for the epic “Punch-up in Piestany” — the Russians, of course.

World junior hockey brawl: the right thing to do5:48



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