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Wednesday evening: Rome
July 8, 2009
I visit the Sant’Edigio Community, situated in a beautiful old monastery in the heart of Rome. A poignant moment on arrival to see a tiny little iron turnstile in the wall, where poor and desperate unmarried women in years long past had to tragically abandon babies without disclosing their own identity.
Today the 120,000 strong Sant’Edigio community across the world address new crises. With their hugely dedicated staff we talked about the work they are doing to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa aiming to offer a treatment in Mozambique and Malawi that matches the treatment you can find in Italy or the UK. In many of the poor countries I’ve visited, AIDS often has a female face. Pacem from Malawi has come to share with us her journey from her own HIV positive diagnosis to treatment and life now as an activist for Sant’Egidio, sharing the message of life after testing.
HIV is spreading fastest amongst women and young girls, and elderly women are often the ones left holding families and communities together in the epidemics wake. I am concerned that HIV-positive women are often denied health care, information and services. This can mean they pass the infection onto their baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding even though there are effective ways of preventing mother to child transmission. The DREAM programme created by Sant’Egidio works in partnership with communities to overcome these barriers to treatment and care and offers hope and dignity to thousands of vulnerable people across Africa.
I am with Margarita Zavala from Mexico and Margarida Barroso whose husband is the Presidient of the EU and has herself just returned from a visit to Mozambique. We all know that we will follow up on today’s meeting to learn more, and I hope to engage them in the maternal mortality campaign I support.
After the visit, I returned to the British Embassy for a short break and then back out to the final visit of the day with the spouse group. We are hosted by the Italian President’s wife at the Quirinale Palace with a fascinating tour and a drink at the end. We all left ready to meet in L’Aquila in the morning to visit the town and witness the effects of the terrible earthquake here. I have made my way to L’Aquila tonight to find Gordon after his meetings and hear how his day has gone.
More from me tomorrow.
Sarah Brown, the wife of Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, promised to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, when she began a blog about the “spouses’ summit”.
Sarah Brown and the other G8 spouses will be hosted at the three-day summit in L’Aquila by Clio, wife of Italian president Giorgio Napolitano Photo: PA
Mrs Brown and the other G8 spouses will be hosted at the three-day summit in L’Aquila by Clio, wife of Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, as PM Silvio Berlusconi is currently going through a divorce.
While the world leaders are tied up in meetings on the economy, climate change and aid, the wives – and one husband – will follow an alternative programme, including visits to people affected by the devastating earthquake which struck the town in April and an audience at lunchtime today with Pope Benedict XVI.
The two most glamorous spouses, Michelle Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy’s pop star wife Carla Bruni, are expected to miss the meeting with the Pope – Mrs Obama because she and her husband have a separate meeting and Ms Bruni because she is arriving at the summit late.
In her first post on the G8 blog Mrs Brown said she was looking forward to meeting up with the other “first ladies”.
“Up at the crack of dawn to set off for the G8 in Italy!” she wrote. “There’s a busy few days ahead for me as part of the spouses programme while Gordon is at the summit.
“But I’m really looking forward to meeting up with the ‘other halves’ – some of them I have met before from last year’s G8 and the G20 in London. They are all very interesting people and I’m hoping to get to know them better and to discuss some of the issues that we all feel strongly about.
“It looks like we have some interesting visits lined up. There is some time planned in L’Aquila, the venue for the G8, to meet people affected by the devastating earthquake there in April, as well as visits to some great organisations and historical sites in Rome.
“Hopefully I can give you a flavour of what we have been doing through this blog – and I’m planning to post plenty of pictures from the trip, so make sure you check back regularly.”
Very Cool New Program That Allows You To See Who is Connected To Whom
By Neil Grace and Catherine Hill
MSNBC threw a memorable Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner after-party that stood apart from parties past. Held directly across the street from the main event at the Washington Convention Center, MSNBC turned the traditionally staid Historical Society of Washington, D.C. into a brightly-lit fete of themed cocktails, glowing neon necklaces and comfort food.
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As guests walked down the blue carpet entrance, we asked them the question of the night: are you a nerd or a jock? Politico’s Mike Allen said he was “all of the above!” and Patrick Gavin thought he was a hybrid of the two. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell exclaimed she was a “total jock.” John “I’m a PC” Hodgman discussed the modern cultural divide at length during the dinner.
Inside the party, the scene downstairs included a Starbucks-sponsored coffee bar where guests ate ice cream sundaes and desserts. From the main bar, guests walked outside to a large outdoor patio, where dance music had the party-goers on their feet for “Don’t Stop Believing.” Faces and heads glowed in the light of neon necklaces and headbands.
Upstairs, special guest bartender Rachel Maddow was mixing up cocktails at her heavily-branded “Rachel Maddow’s Bar”– complete with MSNBC napkins and “Rachel’s Bar” menus. Maddow’s signature cocktail was listed as a Hearst: a mix of gin, sweet vermouth and bitters (though she told us she actually served more of her cava drink, “Airmail” which mixed rum, fresh lime juice, honey and the bubbly cava on top). Afterwards, Maddow relinquished her bar duties to catch up with Ana Marie Cox and John Hodgman.
Later in the night passed treats included mini-pancakes and mini-ham, bacon and cheese croissants. As the bars began to close, guests went out back. Among the last to leave at 3:00 a.m. were MSNBC Morning Joe’s Willie Geist, Luke Russert and many of the cable network’s junior staffers.
Media heavy-hitters spotted at the party: Steve Capus, Tamron Hall, Norah O’Donnell, Contessa Brewer with Matt Ackland, Joe Scarborough with Mika Brzezinski, David Shuster, Carlos Watson, Chris Matthews, Lynn Sweet, Margaret Carlson, and Eugene Robinson.
Politicos rounded out the guest list, including Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers, as well as Hilary Rosen, Alex Castellanos, Brad Dayspring, and Kevin Madden.
Move it to a Friday night (for the first time), bring a celebrity bartender to the after-party, and the night is guaranteed to go long. The Radio-TV Correspondents’ dinner festivities didn’t break until several hours after midnight.
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The MSNBC-thrown after-party, attended by Obama advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, among others, had a different vibe than Fox’s fondly remembered 2004 disco affair: more cocktails and comfort-food. Contessa Brewer’s black dress, with its open back, was one of the more daring of the evening and drew admirers; her lengthy conversation with NBC News president Steve Capus had some guessing. The special drinks that Rachel Maddow was mixing up behind the bar — including her “signature cocktail” the Hearst (gin, sweet vermouth and bitters) — must have been potent: The last of the NBC junior staffers trickled out after 3 a.m.
As for the dinner itself, the reviews are in: President Obama was pretty funny. Then again, it’s hard to know — it could be just another manifestation of that whole being-in-bed-with-the-press phenomenon that he poked fun at in his remarks last night. “Why bother hanging out with celebrities when I can spend time with people who make me one?” Obama said, comparing the RTCA event to the Hollywood celeb-studded White House Correspondents Association dinner in May.
Unlike the WHCD, there was no one line that everyone grabbed on to, but the papers, Twitterers and bloggers found plenty to like, although they appear to be tiring of his frequent jokes about chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s colorful vocabulary. (Last night’s: “In Egypt, we had the opportunity to tour the pyramids. And by now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the pictures of Rahm on that camel. I admit, I was a little nervous about the whole situation. I said at the time, ‘This is a wild animal known to bite, kick and spit. And who knows what the camel could do.’ “) [Read more…]
The night’s tone of gentle ribbing was set early, before the President’s speech, with JibJab’s much-awaited new video, “He’s Barack Obama,” which depicted the President as a superhero capable of knocking out pirates.
Author, actor and occasional “Daily Show” contributor John Hodgman’s “nerd v. jock” speech following the president got raves from some, seemed to go over the heads of others, and appeared to have found its most-important mark: President Obama laughed with seemingly real appreciation, as he was quizzed about his apparent love of comic book characters and sci-fi, and egged into giving the Vulcan salute.
Before the speeches, an Onion News Network “special report” poking mild fun at TV anchors who talked too much fell flat on TV, but got laughs in the room, according to some. President Obama watched attentively as Sweet Honey in the Rock performed.
A short video paid tribute to three journalists who passed away in the last year: CNN’s Bill Headline, NBC’s Tim Russert and Tony Snow, the Fox News anchor-turned-White House spokesman.
The Joan Barone Award went to Mike Viqueira, NBC News’ Capitol Hill producer, while the three daughters of David J. Bloom caused some to tear up as they presented the award named in memory of their father to Orla Guerin, the Africa correspondent for the BBC. It was accepted in her name by BBC America’s Rome Hartman.
President Obama in his speech to the RTCA got right to the heart of Washington’s journalist dinner rivalry, saying he was on hand to “Tell jokes that weren’t funny enough for me to use when we did this five weeks ago,” at the White House Correspondents’ dinner (known as the Senior Prom to the RTCA’s Junior Prom.) Then again, he said, twisting the knife deeper: “The jokes may not be as good but neither is the guest list.”
And later: “I think your programming is more relevant than ever before — at least that’s the impression that I get when I read the blogs.”
In his appearance before the Radio and TV correspondents at the Washington D.C. Convention Center, the President was unaccompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama on the orange and yellow rose-rimmed dais and he left at 9:20, before dinner was served. His short stay prompted some last-minute frantic juggling of the entertainment lineup, according to insiders. VP Biden wasn’t there, either, despite apparently erroneous earlier reports that he would attend. A spokeswoman said that he had a scheduling conflict.
Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, right after the speech, noted the President’s “sharp elbowed humor;” a few tweets from the dinner suggested that his humor was “underappreciated” by the audience. He cracked himself up several times, however.
The biggest laughs of the night came when he joked about embattled California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger competing on “I’m a Celebrity….Get Me Out of Here,” then added: “That’s how I feel about tonight.” The dinner, he said, was causing him to miss “date night” with Michelle, and his plans to go for Thai food-pause-“in Bangkok.”
A joke about being in bed with NBC’s Brian Williams, whom he called a terrible house guest, was followed by a list of new TV programs that the success of “Inside the White House” had inspired, the funniest of which was TLC’s “Jon & Kate plus Peter Orszag.”
There was also a mild jab at NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd for having the style of a TV correspondent and “the facial hair of a radio correspondent.” To MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, he said: “We both have partners named Joe who used to be in Congress and don’t know when to stop talking.” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he noted, was “the only other man in America with his own situation room,” and it was cooler than the President’s, which he said, was unable “to generate the bandwidth to turn Larry Summers into a hologram.”
Random jokes poked fun at his own Administration, including Richard Holbrooke, whom he alleged sprayed WD-40 that caused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s elbow-breaking fall. He announced a “new” plan to rescue the auto business, telling dinner guests to look under their seat, a la Oprah, because everyone was getting a car company. Fox, he said, would get AIG.
Looking relieved that his speech was over, the President ended his remarks with a serious tribute to the work of the press, noting “I am here tonight because I appreciate the role you do.” He got the traditional standing ovation at the beginning and end.
A few more guest lists are now known for tonight’s RTCA dinner
CBS, which is hosting a pre-party at the Convention Center, will have, among others, RNC Chairman Michael Steele; National Security Council member Samantha Powers; Dag Vega, the White House’s director of broadcast media and Lebanese Ambassador Antoine Chedid.
CNN, which took a full 15 tables, is hosting CIA Director Leon Panetta, U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan; White House Communications Director Anita Dunn and, as it usually does, a number of military folks, including Army Lt. General Francis Kearney.
There will be a full roster of CNN talent there, too, including Wolf Blitzer, Ed Henry, Suzanne Malveaux, Dan Lothian, Joe Johns, Heidi Collins, Brianna Keilar, Gloria Borger, Bill Schneider, Kate Bolduan, Barbara Starr, Chris Lawrence, Lisa Sylvester, Tom Foreman, Jim Acosta, Howard Kurtz and Jeffrey Toobin.