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Five ‘hot mic’ moments that got leaders in trouble

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown

It’s a golden rule of politics: always assume the microphone is on.

But as many world leaders can testify, it’s a rule that’s often forgotten.

‘Hot mic’ moments have heaped embarrassment on politicians across the globe, from America to Australia.

Just this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was caught appearing to mock US President Donald Trump at a Nato meeting.

Unguarded comments like these have been a source of humiliation, sometimes with huge political fallout.

They have also shone a light into the murky corridors of international diplomacy – for better or worse. Here are five of the most memorable.

1. Ronald Reagan: ‘We begin bombing in five minutes’ (1984)

Ronald Reagan
Image captionUS President Ronald Reagan was often known to crack jokes during sound checks

At the height of the Cold War, US President Ronald Reagan turned up the diplomatic heat with a riff on Soviet Russia.

During a soundcheck before his weekly radio address, Mr Reagan joked with sound engineers who were recording him for NPR radio.

“My fellow Americans,” the president said. “I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

The tongue-in-cheek remarks were not broadcast live, but a recording was later leaked to the public.

As a result, Soviet forces were temporarily put on high alert in the Far East, and the comments drew condemnation from the USSR.

2. Jacques Chirac doesn’t like British or Finnish food (2005)

Jacques Chirac
Image captionMr Chirac accused Britain of having the “worst food”, second only to Finland

French President Jacques Chirac caused a stir with culinary comments he allegedly made during a trip to Russia.

According to French newspaper Libération, the veteran politician was speaking to his Russian and German counterparts during an event marking the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad – Russia’s enclave in northern Europe.

Thinking he was off-microphone, Mr Chirac allegedly said of the UK: “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that. After Finland, it’s the country with the worst food.”

“The only thing the British have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease,” he added.

While they didn’t make it to broadcast, the comments were never denied by Mr Chirac’s media team.

It came at a time of cool relations between Britain and France, as the two countries clashed over farming subsidies and France’s decision to abstain from involvement in the Iraq War.

3. ‘Yo Blair!’ (2006)

George W Bush and Tony BlairImage copyrightPRESS ASSOCIATION
Image captionGeorge W Bush’s unguarded comments to Tony Blair were mocked by political opponents

During a G8 Summit in St Petersburg, a private conversation – later known as “Yo, Blair” – was picked up by a microphone close to US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

During the exchange, Mr Bush appeared to greet his UK counterpart, saying “Yo, Blair, how are you doing?” He went on to thank him for the gift of a sweater, and made derogatory remarks about Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Referring to Syria’s support of Hezbollah in its conflict with Israel, Mr Bush said he he hoped the UN would “get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this…” followed by an expletive.

“Get Kofi [Annan] on the phone with [Bashar] Assad and make something happen,” he added.

Mr Bush’s use of the phrase “Yo Blair” was mocked by political opponents of both leaders. But its veracity has been questioned, with some journalists suggesting that he said “Yeah, Blair”.

The recording nonetheless highlighted the leaders’ close, and often controversial, relationship at the time.

4. Gordon Brown’s ‘bigoted woman’ (2010)

Media captionBrown: “I apologise if I’ve said anything that has been hurtful”

While speaking with members of the public in Rochdale, northern England, Britain’s then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown was confronted by a woman who queried levels of immigration.

After their exchange, Mr Brown entered his car with a Sky News microphone still pinned to his clothing.

Not realising the microphone was still on, he told an aide that the conversation “was a disaster – they should never have put me with that woman”.

Asked what she had said, he replied: “Ugh, everything! She’s just a sort of bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour. I mean it’s just ridiculous.”

Mr Brown later visited the woman – Gillian Duffy – to apologise, and repeated his apology during an interview on BBC Radio 2.

5. ‘I can’t stand him any more’

Media captionJournalist Dan Israel, who broke the story: ”They weren’t supposed to hear it, there was a mistake”

A chat between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama was overheard by journalists at a G20 meeting in France.

Shortly before a press conference, reporters were handed translation boxes but were told not to plug their headphones in until the leaders’ backroom conversation had finished.

Several people ignored the instructions and heard Mr Sarkozy talking to Mr Obama about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I can’t stand him any more, he’s a liar,” Mr Sarkozy said.

“You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day,” replied Mr Obama.

For several days there was media silence in France about the exchange, but Dan Israel of the French news website Arret sur Images later broke the story.

The exchange highlighted Israel’s strained relationship with both France and the US at the time.

BBC: San Diego State University suspends fraternities after student dies

Dylan Hernandez smiling at the cameraThe death of Dylan Hernandez was confirmed on Monday evening

San Diego State University has suspended 14 fraternities following the death of a 19-year-old student who had allegedly attended a fraternity event.

Dylan Hernandez was taken to hospital on Thursday morning, the day after the event, and died over the weekend.

Six Interfraternity Council (IFC) groups were already suspended and four under investigation prior to the latest incident, the university said.

San Diego State University police have opened an investigation into the death.

A fundraiser organised in memory of Dylan Hernandez has already raised more than $25,000 (£19,490).

The page says Dylan was “an outgoing, light-hearted and goofy person who had so much love to give to everyone he met. He never failed to make everyone in the room smile and his laugh was infectious”.

The San Diego medical examiner said Mr Hernandez was found without pulse and not breathing by his roommate in their dorm room on Thursday morning.

It listed the date of death as Friday, but the university said he had died with his family by his side on Sunday.

Six of the university’s fraternities were already under suspension, which occurs when there is a “perceived concern for the health and safety of a member”, according to the university.

A statement from the university said the investigation by university police had “uncovered information which alleges that a fraternity was involved in possible misconduct”.

Fraternities in the US have come under much scrutiny in recent years, most recently in the case of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old student who died after a fraternity event at Penn State University in 2017.

He suffered internal injuries after falling down stairs during a fraternity initiation.

During the process of trying to join a fraternity, students are often put into activities or situations designed to cause embarrassment, ridicule or risk of harm, which is called hazing.

Hazing rituals are often harmless, but in some cases can turn into extreme bullying, physical violence and sexual abuse.

At least one hazing death has been reported every year in the US since 1959.

Since 2000, there have been at least 70 student deaths attributed to hazing.

Hazing and initiation ceremonies are widely banned, but continue to be prevalent in universities across the US.

The Tim Piazza case: People “have to see the damage” of hazing

What is a fraternity?

A fraternity is a social organisation at a college or university, founded on a set of principles that members must abide by and mostly designated by a grouping of Greek letters.

A fraternity usually means male members, and a sorority female, although many women’s and mixed organisations also use the term fraternity.

Undergraduates “rush” the fraternity they want to join by going to fraternity events and getting to know members. If the fraternity approves, they will give them a “bid” – an invite to the next stage.

Potential members then go through a “pledging” process to prove their value, through challenges based around loyalty and trust – a process that can also include hazing.

If the individual completes the pledge process, they become active members of the fraternity for life.

Maine: Hancock County – Walter Foster, Nicholas Wood, Samuel K. Stearns and Nicholas Jennings charged with cutting lobster traps

According to the investigation, William Nichols of Stockton Springs lost more than 71 traps valued at $3,692 for a total restitution value of $7,384.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Four Hancock County men were arraigned Wednesday in Hancock County District Court on multiple charges, including vandalism to lobster gear.

Lobster fishermen Walter Foster, 56, of Castine and Nicholas Wood, 22, of Penobscot were issued summonses after the Marine Patrol received a complaint from William Nichols of Stockton Springs that someone was cutting his traps.

Also charged as a result of the investigation were Wood’s crew members, Samuel K. Stearns of Penobscot and Nicholas Jennings of Castine.

An investigation revealed that the four men had cut Nichols’ traps on numerous occasions between August and October of 2018.

Each was charged with molesting lobster gear, a Class D Crime that could result in a $2,000 fine and up to a year in prison. The violation also requires the court to order the person to pay the owner of the traps an amount equal to twice the value of the traps lost.

According to the investigation, Nichols lost more than 71 traps valued at $3,692 for a total restitution value of $7,384.

Wood was also charged with operating a motorboat with imprudent speed and distance, criminal mischief, criminal conspiracy, violation of a condition of release, littering, and lobster fishing without a proper license class.

Foster was also charged with criminal conspiracy, criminal mischief, and littering.

Stearns and Jennings were charged with criminal mischief and littering, as well.

“These are major violations, and I’m proud of Officer Ames for conducting a thorough investigation, which took place over months,” said Marine Patrol Colonel Jay Carroll.

Both Wood and Foster have received notice that their licenses have been administratively suspended for three years. While Wood’s suspension took effect on March 29, Foster’s suspension is currently stayed until the completion of a hearing.

Maine: Bill to ban foam food containers in Maine passes Legislature, heads to Gov. Mills

If a proposed bill is signed into law by Governor Janet Mills, Maine would become one of the first states in the country to ban the use of disposable foam food containers.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would ban the sale or use of disposable foam food containers in Maine is advancing in Legislature, despite divided opinions among various state organizations.

Rep. Stanley Zeigler (D-Montville) is sponsoring LD 289, “An Act To Prohibit the Use of Certain Disposable Food Service Containers”.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2020, this bill would prohibit stores from selling or distributing any disposable food containers that are made entirely or partially of polystyrene foam, or styrofoam.

The bill would also require the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules that would implement these provisions.

“With the threats posed by plastic pollution becoming more apparent, costly, and even deadly to wildlife, we need to be doing everything possible to limit our use and better manage our single-use, disposable plastics — starting with eliminating the use of unnecessary forms like plastic foam,” said Sarah Lakeman, Director of Sustainable Maine. “There are affordable alternatives to foam that are less wasteful and less harmful to the environment we can be pursuing.”

On Tuesday, April 16, the bill was approved by the Senate. It faces a series of procedural votes and will then head to Gov. Janet Mills for review.

If signed into law, Maine would become one of the first states in the country to ban the use of disposable foam food containers.

RELATED: Maine house advances bill on statewide foam ban

The support behind this bill, however, is largely divided. In the 87-51 House vote earlier this month, the Portland Press Herald reported that all Republicans opposed the bill, while all Democrats and Independents supported it.

“The Maine Chamber of Commerce is skeptical about legislation that bans products in the market on a state by state basis,” said Ben Gilman, Senior Government Relations Specialist at the MCC. “We prefer market decisions to be based on consumers driving decisions.”

Gilman added that the impact of a state by state ban could create an unbalanced playing field for business in Maine, as compared to other states.

Other groups, like the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association and the Maine Tourism Association, also oppose the proposed ban, saying it would hike up prices for Mainers.

“We continue to express concerns as this bill moves through the Maine legislature,” said Christine Cummings, Executive Director of MGFPA. “If the bill passes, it would make Maine an outlier as the first in the nation to pass such as a ban on polystyrene for food service containers. Increased product costs will occur, and our Maine residents, the customers, will inevitably incur the price of banning polystyrene and sourcing alternatives.”

Still, those in favor of the bill say that styrofoam can’t be recycled in the state and is costly to towns and cities. They also say there are affordable alternatives to styrofoam, which could help prevent pollution.

According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, more than 150 municipalities or regions have already banned disposable foam food containers, including 14 towns in Maine. They have also been banned in state facilities and functions since 1990.

Will Smith ‘casting as Richard Williams’ sparks “colourism” debate

Will SmithReports that Will Smith is tipped to play Richard Williams have sparked accusations of colourism

An upcoming biopic about the father of Serena and Venus Williams has faced criticism amid reports that Will Smith will play the lead role.

Richard Williams, 77, coached his daughters to become two of the world’s greatest tennis players, despite having no previous experience of the game.

But Smith’s reported casting in the film has angered critics, who say he is too light-skinned for the part.

The actor has not yet commented on the reported casting or the criticism.

Colourism is a form of discrimination against dark-skinned people in favour of those with lighter skin from the same race.

Richard WilliamsRichard Williams coached his daughters to the top of the game

It can lead to a lack of representation in film, TV and fashion, particularly in Hollywood and Bollywood, as well as discrimination at work or on dating sites, and even to serious health problems from skin bleaching creams.

Colourism: “There’s not just one way of being beautiful”
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What have people been saying?

Smith’s casting in the film has not been confirmed. However, after a report from Deadline News claimed that the 50-year-old actor was “poised to play” Mr Williams, many people expressed their anger on social media.

The criticism stems from the fact that Smith is significantly lighter than Mr Williams.

US-based sports writer Clarence Hill Jr tweeted that “colourism matters”, and said that Smith wasn’t the right choice.

People also suggested other actors who could take on the role – including Idris Elba, and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali.

“Colourism is constantly subconsciously fed to us and we just eat it up,” one user added.

However, one person did point out that Ali and Elba might be too in-demand to be able to take on another film.

And another said the casting made sense as, although he has lighter skin, Smith is still a “prominent black actor” playing a “prominent black figure in the sports industry”.

This isn’t the first time a Hollywood film has become embroiled in a colourism row.

The casting of Zoe Saldana, a light-skinned actor of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, as the African-American civil rights activist and musician Nina Simone in 2016 sparked similar criticism.