Latest from Birmingham Post news...
An American friend once asked me why the rest of the world insisted on poking its nose into their business - and specifically into the question of who should be the next US President.
As I tried to explain, if you're going to be the leader of the free world you have to expect the whole of the free world, rather than just a bit of it, to take an interest in the things you do.
Sometimes I think we Brits should get a vote in the US elections, as the result will certainly have an impact on our foreign policy.
But unlike most people I know who have been watching events in American, I've avoided jumping on the Obama bandwagon.
Some of the hype doing the rounds about Obama reminds me of the way people talked about Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 election.
I don't think Blair was a bad Prime Minister, but I do think some of those who were so enthusiastic about him ten or 11 years ago were disappointed, and I think some of Obama's supporters will end up equally disillusioned if he wins.
He won't want to withdraw American troops from Iraq if his advisors warn him the result will be chaos on the ground, which means he won't be able to withdraw the troops.
Birmingham International Airport's new chief executive Paul Kehoe lost little time in starting a campaign to persuade the Government not to order a public inquiry into a proposed ÃÂ£130 million runway extension.
Mr Kehoe had no sooner occupied his desk at Elmdon than he was briefing journalists on the possibility of a six-year delay to the project if a planning application to Solihull Council is called in by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Sir Michael Lyons is rapidly emerging as the man of action who forced plodding old Auntie BBC to face up to a storm of public protest over the foul-mouthed antics of presenters Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand.
Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, is reported in national newspapers to have insisted that the corporation fast-track its handling of the fiasco.
Sources close to Sir Michael said he had decided the BBC was being damaged by what was seen as a sluggish response and that waiting for a scheduled meeting of the trust's Editorial Standards Committee was "not good enough".
There's an arms race in the House of Commons to see who can condemn Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand the loudest.
A group of 13 MPs including Lynne Jones (Lab Selly Oak) signed a Commons motion describing the pair as "base and vulgar".
This wasn't quite enough for another MP, who put forward an amendment suggesting the words "puerile, predictable" should be added.
He also suggested "their contracts should be terminated forthwith."
Finally, another MP wants the motion amended to include a reference to their "gross professional misconduct".
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Redditch MP Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, endured an uncomfortable grilling from MPs angry at the way she handled the debate over proposals to extend the time police can hold terror suspects without charge, to 42 days.
At the time Ms Smith said it was sad that "some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat".
Now she has had to explain herself to the Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Committee, which contains MPs and peers from all parties.
Black Country MP Richard Shepherd (Con Aldridge-Brownhills) said: "It is an incredible position for a very new home secretary to launch into an attack on people who have been protecting our liberties for a very long time."
Andrew Dismore, the committee's Labour chairman, claimed she had "offended quite a few people"
The point made repeatedly by her questioners was that if she actually wanted people to support her, as opposed to scoring points, she had gone about it the wrong way.
The 42-days measure has actually been scrapped by the Government after it was rejected by the Lords a fortnight ago, and Ministers decided their chances of convincing the Commons to overturn the House of Lords decision were slim.
Usually this would have been reported as a major climbdown and humiliation for Brown, but as the economy was busy imploding it didn't get much attention.
The winterval deniers are at it again.
Ten years after Birmingham City Council invited ridicule by airbrushing out the word Christmas from its official celebrations, there are still some people eager to blame everyone other than local authority leaders at the time for bad publicity arising from the winterval fiasco.
Memories were reawoken this week when the council announced it had invested in a new set of Christmas lights, with a distinctive Christian theme.
Angels and stars will twinkle on city centre streets this year.
To underline the point, a press release detailing the decision included supportive comments from Canon Stewart Jones, Rector of Birmingham and spokesman for Believing in Birmingham - a network of church communities in the city.
Should we be relieved that Gordon Brown is willing to borrow more in order to keep the economy moving?
The effects of the recession, which is almost certainly what we are in, were seen today when Jaguar-Land Rover closed down its Merseyside plant for a week, following cuts in working hours at the Castle Bromwich and Solihull plants.
Part of the Prime Minister's response is to inject more money into the economy by spending more - even if it has to be on credit.
He told business leaders today: "That means that the responsible course of government is to invest at this time, to speed up economic activity."
And he tacitly admitted that meant borrowing, adding: "And as economic activity rises and as tax revenues recover, then you would want borrowing to be a lower share of your national income."
In other words, we'll pay off the debt once the economy recovers.
And I wouldn't be surprised if the Bupa/Great Run bods try to snap up Birmingham's newly inaugurated half marathon for their portfolio in future.
Why? Other than it proves that when the city council put their minds to they can put on a brilliant event or show, as only Brum can.
But the expertise of the Great Run group would help elevate this city road race from being a regional must-run to a national fixture.
Considering that next year Birmingham will host the World Half Marathon Championships, I suspect it may only be a matter of time.
But despite all this praise, and it's not all a result of post-race endorphins coursing through my veins, there are one or two glitches that need to be ironed out.
Is this the week that will finally see trading suspended on most of the world stock markets?
With financiers freely admitting that the current stampede out of stocks and shares, and indeed out of bonds, guilts and even gold, has reached the point of sheer lunacy, it would seem the only course of action left to Britain, the USA, Europe, and the Far East markets is to call a halt for a few days in the hope that traders will calm down.
When I sat down to write this blog, I wasn't sure where to start if was going to do justice to the journey the Post has embarked on this week.
Then, as I chomped on a sandwich at my desk in the newsroom, I realised all I had to do was describe a 15 minute segment of my day, and you'd get a pretty good idea of what I want to say.
At least some of Gordon Brown's own MPs were not impressed by his surprise call for an inquiry into an inquiry into Conservative links with Russian Billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
Claims that Tory Shadow Chancellor talked to Mr Deripaska about making a donation to the Conservative party were raised in the Commons by veteran lefty Des Skinner.
Mr Brown said: "This is a very serious matter indeed, and I hope that it is investigated by the authorities."
His comment was surprising because nobody's claimed that George Osborne actually broke any rules (it is illegal for people not on the British electoral register to make donations), merely that he might have talked about it.
In any case, the Prime Minister isn't supposed to tell "the authorities" (such as the police or Parliamentary Commissioner) what to investigate.
Staffordshire MP Tony Wright, Labour MP for Cannock Chase, was pretty scathing.
Almost immediately after the Prime Minister spoke, he was on the radio telling interviewers: "We are not talking about corruption here. We are not talking about law-breaking.
"What there is, as someone said, is a twerp and a massive misjudgement.
"I'm not sure which authorities Gordon though he was talking about."
His words carry weight, as he is chair of the Commons Public Administration Committee which investigated the cash for peerages scandal.
I wonder if this whole affair is going to help Labour. Dedicated Labour supporters will be delighted the Tories are in trouble, but most people aren't going to follow the ins-and-outs.
They may just see it as more evidence that politicians in general are sleazy.
I recently wrote a blog post about Church schools, and one of the comments left by Ursula, a reader, prompted a small debate about multiculturalism.
Personally, I'm not a fan of the term. It's often used simply to mean a diverse society made up of people from different ethnic backgrounds, which is fair enough. But strictly speaking, it would mean a multitude of distinct cultures, as I understand it.
I prefer to think that we Brits share the same culture, and one which is extremely diverse. The arrival of the Windrush, which bought migrants from the Caribbean in 1948 and is seen as marking the start of significant migration from that part of the world, is part of my history, as it is part of British history and I am British (and white).
I was passed on a press release from Respect - the party of MP George Galloway - which reports on a meeting in Birmingham addressed by Mr Galloway and Birmingham Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob.
They criticised "Pakistani MPs" for failing to speak out against violence in Pakistan. Although he is not named, the local MP they have in mind is clearly Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Perry Barr.
Some of the language in the release makes me uneasy.
No regular reader of our print edition can fail to see the changes we have introduced today - the most visible being the change in size and design of the newspaper.
But, as we hope those of you who read the Birmingham Post online will be discovering, the new compact print product is only one of a number of responses the title is making this week to the challenges presented by the rapidly changing media marketplace.
Other developments are not as visible, but no less significant for that. The Post's online presence, birminghampost.net has been updated, building on phenomenal growth since its launch just eight months ago.
Later this week, the Post becomes the first regional newspaper in the UK to launch its own news and information service designed specifically for use on the new generation of mobile phones.
Confirmation that Argent is to sign an exclusivity agreement to work with Birmingham City Council on the ÃÂ£1.2 billion transformation of Paradise Circus puts paid to the worst kept secret in the development world.
It was obvious from the moment the firm bought the lease of Paradise Forum a couple of years ago that Argent would play a major role in working up radical proposals for the most far-reaching changes to the city centre street scene for 30 years or more.
But the latest announcement represents only the start of what is likely to be a long and torturous road.
John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York and former Bishop of Birmingham, writes in defence of church schools in one of today's Sunday papers.
He says they are under attack from some politicians and commentators for being divisive and creating ghettoes.
But he points out that 90 per cent of pupils in schools such as St John's School in Sparkhill, Birmingham, or Saint Saviours in Alum Rock, are Muslims.
Church of England schools are "built on Christian values but not restricted to those who subscribe to the Christian religion," he says.
While I obviously hesitate to disagree with the Bishop on Church of England matters, I don't think this is entirely right.
As I understand it, Church schools only take in people of other religions if they don't receive enough applications from Christians to fill their classrooms.
In an area where the vast majority of youngsters are Christians, members of minority religions are indeed excluded (assuming, at least, that Christian parents do apply to the school).
But perhaps more importantly, he sidesteps the real concern some people have, which is not about Church schools at all.
As you can imagine, things are pretty busy at Birmingham Post Towers as we all gear up for the launch of the brand new Birmingham Post on Monday.
There has, unstandably, been much talk of changes to our print editon, but there also going to be a few tweaks and upgrades on the digital side too.
We hope the website will get a new coat of paint and there is also the new mobile site to look out for in the coming week.
However, whilst others are doing a fantastic job communicating the changes to our newspaper to our online community, my focus is telling our print readers about all the exciting things we are building up online.
So, over the past 24 hours (as those who follow my Twitter account might know), I've been putting together a list of things people might not know about the Post online.
It is supposed to target print readers who may have little or no knowledge of social media sites like Facebook, but may be curious enough to get involved.
It's not going to be an exhaustive "step-by-step" guide, just an introduction to what these online tools might do.
I've tried to make this as clear as possible, but things can always be improved. I'd be interested to know what you think!
Have you ever been stopped in the street and asked to take part in a public opinion survey?
You know the sort of thing. What are your views on the Government? Would David Cameron make a better prime minister than Gordon Brown?
No, I thought not. Neither have I.
Tories are keen to play down predictions that they will scrap Regional Development Agencies such as Advantage West Midlands, the giant quango which spends ÃÂ£300 million of our money each year.
As the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail reported, the Shadow Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles appeared to sound the death knoll for RDAs at the Tory conference in Birmingham, telling a fringe meeting on regional administration: "In terms of our plans for quangos, you could only possibly say we were looking towards restructuring them if you felt that Anne Boleyn received a restructuring from the guillotine. So in that sense there is going to be a sort of divvying up of the corpse."
He also summed up the performance of RDAs thus: "On balance, they probably haven't done any damage."
And he said that economic development would be organised around "economic areas" rather than the official government regions covered by RDAs, except where local people argued that these were the same thing (which I took to be a reference to the north east).
I'm told by Alan Duncan, the Shadow Business Secretary, that I was wrong to take this to mean that RDAs faced the axe. The "guillotine" remark was a reference to them losing responsibility for planning, he says.
Well, okay, It seems to me that if we are looking forward to bodies which don't cover the region and have fewer powers than existing RDAs, then they are not RDAs.
But I suspect the key point the Tories want to make is that a Conservative government would continue to provide support for economic development and businesses through some kind of body, rather than just abolishing everything and putting nothing in their place.
The Government is to seize money left in "dormant" bank accounts to donate to good causes through the Big Lottery Fund.
An account is said to be dormant if it hasn't been touched for 15 years. There's been a bit of a row over what should happen to the cash.
Birmingham MP Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green) is backing the scheme (and encouraging constituents to claim any money in dormant accounts before the day of reckoning comes).
John Maples (Con Stratford) has his doubts about removing money from banks during the current financial crisis, and argues that if it happens at all, banks should be allowed to use the cash to prop themselves up.
It seems to me that the money should just be left where it is. Is it really that unusual for someone to stick ÃÂ£500 they inherited from granny in a dedicated bank account and leave it there for a rainy day - even for 15 years?
Even if the money is seized, you'll still be able to get it back, in theory at least, if you turn up with your bank book. But I dread to think how much paperwork and expletive-generating hassle will be involved in trying to get cash out of an account which has been closed.
After 50 years, you could probably assume the original owner has forgotten all about the account or is six feet under, but 15 years seems too short a time to me. The idea that the Government is closing bank accounts and taking the money away is hardly going to reassure people in the current climate.
We're promised an iconic design for the New Street Station make-over. Good news, if what is built matches that much over-used word. My wish list includes no more concrete facades - our weather doesn't like concrete. We need lots of glass, steel and brick, as in the great railway stations of the 19th century and the best that's being built today.
Talk of concrete and architects (and they discourse on little else in The Dog & Duck....) makes me lift half a glass to John Madin. Veteran City designer of the hotly debated Central Library, Mr Madin is still battling to reprieve his creation from its final death sentence. It was very much his vision and 35 years on he sees no reason to call in the demolition squad. But if you can admire his tenacity, his sense of the art of the possible is less striking.
Yes, he's right to say that the politicians and business wallahs mucked up the original design, which saw the upside down ziggurat as part of a grander civic ensemble. Yes, he's right when he points out that the landscaping, marble cladding and other fine finishes were junked. But this means his original concept is dead. Why then keep bits of the corpse on life support?
Growing up nearby in the 60s and 70s, I remember the library when new as a reasonable place to study in; but the windswept concrete tunnel of a courtyard was about as far from the southern European spaces we all celebrate as a Big Mac from a rump steak. The cafes, bars and shops now there have rescued the wind tunnel from its previous role as a muggers' paradise. Unfortunately Paradise Row just off it - better known Desolation Alley - might still qualify.
Mr Madin's sentimental attachment to his baby blinds him to the fact that his dream was never realised. Maybe the topsy-turvy ziggurat idea was interesting, but the overall scheme was flawed, its brutal boxiness sitting badly with what's left of 19th/early 20thc Chamberlain Square.
But before we get to restore Chamberlain Square to something like former glory, let's make sure we learn a lesson or two with New Street Station. If the station make-over works, it will complement the new Bull Ring in transforming the city centre. The stakes are high. Let's get it right this time....
In the depression of the 1930s, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the relatively new medium of radio to reassure the nation that he was doing all he could to help, in what became known as the fireside chats.
When he began, in 1929, it was just nine years since the first radio news broadcast had taken place.
Today, Gordon Brown is doing something similar - but using the newish technology of the Internet.
You can hear his podcast, in which he sets out what the Government is doing to deal with the credit crunch, and why, here: http://podcast.ulcc.ac.uk/accounts/Number10/DowningStreetPodcast/PMfinance.mp3
I'm fascinated by some of the comment doing the rounds about the credit crunch. Commentator Peter Oborne, writing in various media, is particularly dramatic, speculating that our economic system has changed permanently with the Government taking part-ownership of some of the major banks. Our lives may never be the same again, he says.
Birmingham MP Lynne Jones (Lab Selly Oak) told me today that the banking crisis had proved that the social democratic model, of a strong state regulating the free market, was more resilient than the untrammelled capitalism associated with Anglo-Saxon economies such as the United Kingdom and the USA.
And we now live in a world where the Conservative leader can get up in the House of Commons and demand that the Prime Minister prevent banks paying huge bonuses to managers who didn't deserve them.
The idea that we can leave the market to ensure people get paid what they deserve now sounds naive.
But when I attended the Business and Enterprise Select Committee earlier this week, representatives of the CBI, Chambers of Commerce and Engineering Employers' Federation said that trading wasn't too bad for their members, or at least, not half as bad as one might expect
The reality is that we don't yet know quite what the effect on the "real economy" outside the money markets will be. We're not yet in a period of enormous change, just a period of enormous uncertainty.
Even world-weary and cynical journalists could have been forgiven for gasping with disbelief when the West Midlands' most senior planner described proposals to build 445,600 new homes across the region as neither a strategy nor a plan, nor indeed anything much other than a piece of evidence.
Dave Marr, head of housing and planning at the Government Office for the West Midlands, had the delicate task of chairing a press briefing on the Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners study - an "independent" report into the scope for new housing growth over the next 18 years.
I was surprised to learn today that the West Midlands has not only a new regional minister, in the form of Ian Austin, MP for Dudley North, but a deputy regional minister as well.
Stourbridge MP Lynda Waltho has the role, and issued a statement saying how pleased she was. We carry some of what she said in an article I have written for Tuesday's Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail.
I think creating a deputy minister for the region is a mistake. For a start, Ms Waltho is not, strictly speaking, a minister at all. Rather than being a Government appointment, her role is an internal Labour Party appointment (just like the deputy ministers appointed today for the other English regions).
A press release issued by Labour today announced "a new appointment of MPs who will help coordinate the Labour Party's campaigns in regions and nations, with a special emphasis on economic issues."
It adds: "They will liaise with and support the work of regional ministers and national ministers."
Over the years, I've often sat in on focus groups when a newspaper I'm associated with carries out some market research, usually because it's being relaunched, redesigned or otherwise pepped-up.
I bumped into veteran Sky TV political commentator Adam Boulton at the Tory party conference at the ICC and asked him what he thought of birmingham as a conference venue.
Seems he love the city and the fringe 'vibe', but is less than enthusiastic about the auditorium. Too small, in his view, and stifling the mood of the event.
Here's what he said in full:
Read that heading above - and then email me to reassure me that it is an obvious mistake. Maybe it is supposed to say 32 days to go...or 28...23?
It is certainly true that time has flown by since my last blog about the redesign of the Birmingham Post, so i thought I should do the decent thing and produce an update.
The ICC is vastly superior to any of the other conference venues used by the major parties.
I've been here before many times, but only to cover specific events - listening to a speech and heading straight back to the office to file copy.
It's the first time I've spent a whole day at a conference at the ICC, having done the same many times at Bournemouth, Blackpool, Brighton and Manchester for previous party conferences.
The ICC looks modern. It is light and airy, with high ceilings. The facilities for the media are as good as you'd find in any open plan office in a modern business.
Although the conference is packed (when you look like you're winning, more people want to come to your event), the ICC doesn't feel crowded. At the same time, everything you want is within easy reach of a large central foyer. There's no need to wander around getting lost.
And it has some decent bars and restaurants right on site, without forcing people to leave and go through security to get back in.
Leaving Brummie partisanship aside, as someone who attends these conferences for a living, I hope Birmingham becomes a regular choice of venue for all the parties.
This sort of email will be familiar to anyone with an email account. But the latest one that's doing the rounds has a slightly different take on things.
I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.
I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.