Sabine Conrad plays with her French sheepdog El Lobo in front of the snow-covered rooftops of Erfurt, central Germany, on Jan. 17.
Slideshow: Winter's frozen splendor
James Murdoch was back at the Leveson inquiry, where he claimed he didn't know about phone-hacking at News Corp's U.K. unit, and didn't remember being told about it. ITV's Juliet Bremner reports.
LONDON - James Murdoch defended his record at the head of his father's scandal-tarred British newspaper unit before a U.K. inquiry Tuesday, saying that subordinates prevented him from making a clean sweep at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.
Speaking under oath at Lord Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry into media ethics, Murdoch repeated allegations that the tabloid's then-editor Colin Myler and the company's former in-house lawyer Tom Crone misled him about the scale of illegal behavior at the newspaper.
Leveson asked Murdoch: "Can you think of a reason why Mr. Myler or Mr. Crone should keep this information from you? Was your relationship with them such that they may think: 'Well we needn't bother him with that' or 'We better keep it from it because he'll ask to cut out the cancer'?"
"That must be it," Murdoch said. "I would say: 'Cut out the cancer,' and there was some desire to not do that."
The 39-year-old Murdoch said that at the time he had no reason to doubt his subordinates when he took over at News International, which published the News of the World, saying he had repeatedly been told that nothing was amiss.
"I was given assurances by them, which proved to be wrong," he said.
Revelations that reporters at the News of the World had hacked into the phones of hundreds of high-profile people, including a teenage murder victim, pushed Murdoch's father Rupert to close the 168-year-old newspaper, triggered three U.K. police investigations, led to more than 100 lawsuits, and launched Leveson's inquiry into media practices.
James Murdoch has found himself sucked into the center of scandal, with critics saying that he should have found out about the wrongdoing once he took over at News International in December 2007.
Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images
A protestor wearing a mask depicting James Murdoch demonstrates outside London's High Court during his testimony.
The uproar over illegal behavior at the News of the World has already scuttled Murdoch's multi-billion dollar bid for full control of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC. He resigned from his post as chairman earlier this month "to avoid being a lightning rod," he said.
Murdoch's relationship with politicians also came under scrutiny.
The American-born News Corp. executive revealed that he'd told Conservative leader David Cameron that The Sun newspaper would endorse the Tories' election bid at a meeting at the George club in London on Sept. 10, 2009.
The top-selling paper's endorsement was a blow to Britain's Labour Party — and critics claim that it helped secure Tory approval for the potentially lucrative BSkyB bid after they won the election in 2010.
Murdoch denied the charge Tuesday.
"I would never have made that kind of a crass calculation," Murdoch said. "It just wouldn't occur to me."
Murdoch acknowledged talking to Cameron about it at a Christmas dinner in 2010 — after the Tory leader had been elected prime minister — but said it was "a tiny side conversation ahead of a dinner."
"It wasn't really a discussion, if you will," Murdoch said.
Cameron, who won power two years ago, has been forced to play down his contacts with the Murdochs and with Rebecca Brooks, a neighbor and frequent guest at his home in the countryside.
Rupert Murdoch, who is still chairman and chief executive of News International's parent company News Corp., is scheduled to appear before the inquiry on Wednesday.
U.S.-based News Corp, owner of Fox Television and the Wall Street Journal, was thwarted in its ambition last year to buy the 61 percent of BSkyB, a major British pay-TV provider, that it did not already own. Amid the fire storm of scandal at the News of the World, it withdrew the bid.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov, tycoon and independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, Nationalist Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and A Just Russia party leader Sergey Mironov will battle for the country's presidency on Sunday.
More than 100 million Russians will go to the polls on Sunday to elect a president who will be in office for the next six years. Msnbc.com's Alastair Jamieson examines the potential outcomes -- and what's at stake.
What do the polls suggest will happen?
Most polls indicate it will be an outright victory for Vladimir Putin, the current prime minister and former president who has made a deal with his ally Dmitry Medvedev, the former prime minister and current president. Despite initial public outrage over their job swap, Putin is consistently polling at around 50 per cent – well ahead of the fragmented opposition.
And even if voters do not endorse Putin, his victory is likely to be assured with the help of regional officials loyal to his United Russia party. Having extended the presidential term of office from four to six years, Putin would remain in charge until 2018 – or 2024, if he won a second term. By then, Putin would have chalked up 24 years in power out of the 33 years since the collapse of Communism thanks to his previous terms as president and prime minister.
If the outcome is such a certainty, why should the U.S. and other Western countries care?
Experts agree the U.S. will find Russia harder to deal with on Putin’s return. On Wednesday, British think tank Chatham House warned that “Russia’s stability is at increased risk” due to Putin's determination to stay in power. “The overriding objective of Vladimir Putin and his team is to preserve the narrow and personalized ruling system that they have built over the past 12 years,” it said in a report. “Real change, necessarily involving accountability and devolution of power, would disrupt the system. But without real change, Russia cannot develop as effectively as it could, and the Putin system is vulnerable to shock.”
Opposition leaders believe Russia at a crossroads in this election, according to NBC News correspondent Jim Maceda.
“The choice is stark: six, perhaps 12, more years of an authoritative regime that is belligerent to critics ... and which sees the U.S. and its allies as Cold War rivals -- or a new, more democratic Russia that respects its neighbors and no longer snubs the West,” he said.
With less than a week until Russia's presidential elections, protesters of Vladimir Putin have one single message: "Putin, go away." Rock Center's Harry Smith reports.
“The feeling is that a President Putin will instinctively shrink from, rather than encourage, co-operation with the West on a range of issues including Iran and Syria, so there’s a lot at stake for the U.S. in this election," added Maceda, who has reported on the country since the days of the Soviet Union.
Although Putin enjoys strong domestic popularity, especially in rural Russia, dissatisfaction with his seemingly invincible regime has resulted in unprecedented public protests, with thousands joining recent marches in central Moscow that would have been unthinkable only a few months ago.
What happens if Putin doesn't do as well as the polls suggest?
If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the total votes cast, a second round run-off between the top two contenders will be held within 15 days, according to the country's electoral rules.
Who are the opposition?
Putin’s United Russia is opposed by long-standing Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov and Sergey Mironov of A Just Russia. Two other candidates will liven up the contest. The first is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party candidate who once suggested retaking Alaska from the U.S. His populist remarks have repeatedly landed him in trouble. The second is Mikhail Prokhorov, the 6’ 9” international playboy who is the multi-billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets and business partner of rap star Jay-Z.
Eleven other candidates were summarily rejected by Russia’s Central Elections Committee as ineligible for reasons ranging from paperwork errors to not having the necessary two million verifiable signatures of support.
Is Prokhorov wasting his time?
“On paper, the ‘billionaire bachelor’ should probably pack it in and focus on his day job and the back half of the NBA season,” said Maceda. “But guess who is the only candidate surging in the polls? Prokhorov was hovering around one per cent when he launched his campaign in December, now he’s scraping 10 per cent.”
Could his pro-business platform resonate with Russians sick of endemic corruption and bribery? “He is learning to connect with ordinary Russians,” said Maceda. “His performance of a Russian rap tune has gone viral on the web and, who knows, maybe if this goes into a second round and enough voters who want neither Putin not Zyuganov rally round the new face, anything could happen.”
But would communists really switch support from Zyuganov to back the world’s 32nd richest man in the event of a second round? “There is no evidence that suggests that is likely,” said Professor Richard Rose, director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy at Glasgow'sUniversity of Strathclyde and co-author of the "Popular Support for an Undemocratic Regime."
Can the results be trusted anyway?
“Vote fraud was widespread in December’s parliamentary elections and it is likely to be a factor again,” said James Nixey, an expert on Russia with Chatham House and a co-author of Wednesday’s report. “It is likely a Putin victory will be solidified through fraud before and after, rather than on polling day itself.”
A Wall Street Journal analysis of December’s Duma election results showed United Russia party captured a high share of voters in districts where turnout was well above the national average, suggesting ballot-stuffing.
But although the issue has angered many voters, Russians seem resigned to the problem. “Russians are not particularly concerned with the process,” said Rose. “They do not view the elections in the same way an independent observer might.”
What issues have featured in the campaign?
“Wages and economic prosperity are what matter most,” said Nixey. “There has also been a patriotic narrative from Putin, which strikes a chord with voters.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were wider questions about what sort of society could be created and how it should be structured. “Now, most educated professionals spend their time bogged down in how to make schools and hospitals work for the best,” said Rose, adding that there was not widespread demand for political upheaval.
A crowd of over 100,000 people brave bitter-cold conditions in Moscow to push for free and fair presidential elections. NBC's Jim Maceda reports.
Putin succeeded in imposing some kind of order in the post-Soviet Russia he inherited from the unpredictable Boris Yeltsin. He won a power struggle with the country’s new super-rich oligarchs -- tackling them with the ruthlessness learned during his time working for the KGB -- and used media stunts such as bare-chested horseback riding in order to maintain his appeal to ordinary Russians.
Given Putin’s poll lead, the opposition is not focused on whether Putin wins, but how. “This election is about the first round,” said Maceda. “If other candidates do better than expected and Putin is forced into a second round, the opposition will see it as a major victory and the beginning of the end for Putin.”
But a decisive, unchallenged victory for Putin could see the opposition neutered until the next election cycle in six years’ time, he added.
So what, if anything, might change?
Putin has pledged more than $160 billion in campaign promises, Maceda said, so some Russians will reap the benefits of his determination to stay in office.
Further protests could also draw concessions, particularly to the country’s frustrated middle classes. “The very fact that there have been protests shows that there is the sense of an ending around Putin’s regime, that it is aware of its own mortality,” said Nixey.
However, there is no wider expectation of reform. Data from the country’s Levada Center polling organization shows four out of five Russians don’t believe elections make any difference to national affairs.
Is social media playing a role?
As in the Arab Spring, protesters have used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get their message across. In December, video footage and pictures that appeared to show election officials rigging ballots in favor of United Russia were widely shared online, sparking a furious backlash against Medvedev.
The president -- a keen user of social media with 759,000 Twitter followers of his Russian language account and 144,000 in English -- saw thousands of negative comments posted on his official Facebook page by internet users accusing him of burying the issue of election fraud by holding an internal inquiry.
Meanwhile, Russia’s independent elections monitor, Golos, has created an interactive map for voters to upload video and photographs of any election violations on Sunday directly from their mobile phones. The organization, funded largely by Western governments, has been targeted by a documentary on state-controlled television accusing it of serving American interests, according to a New York Times report.
Will there be violence?
“With security forces being full of young guys carrying machine guns, there is always the fear that these protests could turn nasty,” said Nixey, whose report suggests a "next wave of protest in the Soviet-era provincial cities, fuelled by social and economic discontent, is inevitable" However, he added: “If I had to predict whether there would be serious public disorder I would guess not. The country is generally more secure than those caught up in the Arab Spring.”
Rose added: “The fragmented opposition would first need to rally around one particular issue, and then use that to create some kind of significant embarrassment for Putin. That doesn’t appear a realistic prospect at the moment.”
NBC News' Jim Maceda contributed to this report. Follow Alastair Jamieson on Twitter.
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Using a scraper, nail-polish remover and a camera, 66-year-old Irmela Mensah-Schramm is tackling neo-Nazi hate in Berlin. The retired special-needs teacher has removed more than 90,000 hateful stickers and graffiti.
(This report has been updated to correct an error.)
By Andy Eckardt, NBC News
BERLIN – Irmela Mensah-Schramm has embarked on her very personal "combat mission" almost daily for 26 years. Her weapons? A scraper, nail-polish remover, a camera and lots of courage.
Come rain, heatwaves or stormy weather, the 66-year-old sets out to battle what she calls "extremely disturbing" neo-Nazi and racist graffiti, stickers and posters that blight the streets of Germany's capital.
The retired special-needs teacher has now removed more than 90,000 stickers and scribblings.
"Even when I injured my leg several years ago and was walking on crutches, it did not stop me from removing the muck off traffic light poles, bus stops or building walls," Mensah-Schramm says.
Mensah-Schramm travels by commuter train to areas she believes are right-wing strongholds, places where xenophobic propaganda and spray-painted Nazi symbols mix with gang-related graffiti and the more colorful works of spray-paint artists.
Her "vocation" started with a single neo-Nazi sticker on a street light outside of her apartment in the upmarket Berlin-Wannsee area.
"One morning, I saw a banned Nazi symbol well visible on a lamp post and was appalled that people in my neighborhood ignored it day in and day out, without removing this trash," Mensah-Schramm recalls.
"Only a short while later, I witnessed an incident in which my Indian brother-in-law became the victim of racist bashing. This shocked me so much that I decided to act."
John Macdougall / AFP - Getty Images file
Anti-Nazi activist Irmela Mensah-Schramm scrapes a sticker off a drainpipe in eastern Berlin's Lichtenberg district on December 20.
She documents much of the offensive material in photographs and has compiled a scrapbook, which she always carries with her. Mensah-Schramm calls her project "Hate Destroys".
"For many years, I have been displaying my pictures in exhibits across the country," Mensah-Schramm says. "I talk about my experiences in schools and I regularly host workshops with children and students, generating awareness for the bad impact of these ugly racist messages."
Even ill health hasn't stopped her determined drive to wipe out extremist propaganda. After undergoing a cancer operation at a Berlin hospital in 1995, Mensah-Schramm found two swastikas painted in a stairwell. She rushed back to the nurses, asked for acetone and scrubbed away as much as she could before becoming too weak to finish the job. It was the first day Mensah-Schramm was able to get out of bed.
"In some journeys, I need to take tougher measures with black spray-paint or anti-graffiti solvent to remove writings off walls, and sometimes I even ask people on the street to help me out, if I cannot reach the graffiti," Mensah-Schramm says as she walks past run-down apartment buildings in an economically depressed neighborhood in the Berlin suburb of Koenigs Wusterhausen, which was once part of communist East Germany.
"Look, that is my work," she proudly points out, as she walks past a black square, which was once a swastika that she recently painted over.
Her message is clear: Don't look away.
"You cannot achieve something by doing nothing," explains Mensah-Schramm, whose husband was born in Ghana.
"This type of xenophobic propaganda on the streets can help to spread dangerous ideologies, which can be part of a radicalization process that ultimately can lead to extreme violence," she says, referring to recent revelations about a neo-Nazi terror cell that shocked Germany and led to a nationwide debate about the danger of right-wing extremism in the country.
Two men, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, and their 36-year old female accomplice, Beate Zschaepe, formed the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU). The group is believed to be responsible for the murders of at least nine small businessmen of Turkish and Greek origin between 2000 and 2006, as well as the slaying of a police officer in 2007.
Much to the embarrassment of German authorities, the country's law enforcement agencies only connected the crimes and their xenophobic motives in late 2011 after two of the three cell members committed suicide, following a bank robbery that put police on their trail.
German investigators originally suspected that the victims were most likely killed by fellow immigrants and might have been involved in gang-related crimes.
While critics say that German authorities had turned "blind on the right eye", by focusing instead on tackling Islamist terrorism, lawmakers set up an anti-terror center for right-wing extremism in December. Last month, Germany's parliament also appointed a commission of inquiry into the series of killings.
The German government has also established a database aimed at better coordination in the fight against violent neo-Nazis, partly because the NSU terror cell apparently remained in the shadows for so long due to poor lines of communication between different national security agencies and state authorities.
"Attacks on local politicians and violent acts against foreigners show that the goal is to spread fear and terror," Heinz Fromm, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, told a recent symposium in Berlin.
Germany's domestic intelligence agency estimates that there are about 9,500 potentially violent neo-Nazis among the 26,000 right-wing extremists in the country.
"For years, we have been seeing that brutality within right-wing extremism has been on the rise," says Dr. Alexander Eisvogel, vice-president of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.
However, Mensah-Schramm insists that she remains unafraid.
"I have been threatened many times by neo-Nazis, who have seen me remove their works,” she says. “And once, I came across big letters written on a wall that read: 'Schramm, we will get you'.
"Another time, I found my photo illegally posted on a well-known neo-Nazi website, where the subtitle indicated that nobody would care if I was dead," Mensah-Schramm describes.
She filed an official complaint over the violation of her personal rights. "Unfortunately, that got me nowhere because the server for the page was based in the United States," Mensah-Schramm says.
Andy Eckardt, NBC News
This neo-Nazi sticker that reads "nationalism" in German is among the thousands that have been removed by Irmela Mensah-Schramm.
In fact, German authorities are facing a growing challenge when it comes to online enforcement.
Extremist groups are turning to web servers in the United States to host their content and spread their messages beyond the jurisdiction of local authorities. While displaying of Nazi symbols and the incitement of racial hatred are outlawed in Germany, neo-Nazi websites take advantage of free speech laws in the United States.
As the retiree counts sticker number 70,076, removed at a bus stop outside a local high school, she turns and says, "There are these small, but very rewarding moments."
"A former neo-Nazi, who had massively threatened me in the past and later exited the scene, stopped me on the street one day," Mensah-Schramm says with a choked voice. "He took off his sunglasses, looked me straight in the eyes and said that he wanted to thank me for never giving up my fight.
"I was so overwhelmed by the gesture that I started to cry," Mensah-Schramm says, before walking off to complete her mission of the day.
GIGLIO, Italy -- When Father Lorenzo first saw the Costa Concordia last Friday evening, it was near Giglio's harbor.
The cruise liner looked beautiful but he remembers thinking it was far too close and didn't seem to be moving. When he looked a little later he knew there was an emergency: The bow seemed to be lifting out of the water. What followed has been an extraordinary week for this small island with a winter population of just a few hundred.
Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images
Life-vest, rope and helmets recovered from the Costa Concordia are seen during a mass celebrated on Sunday in the Isola del Giglio's church.
The Lorenzo e Mamiliano Church stands tall on a hill set back from the waterfront. Father Lorenzo believes it is symbolic that the church was the first building seen by the Costa Concordia's frightened passengers as they struggled ashore.
Soon enough a stream of survivors snaked its way to the church doors. Wet, scared and confused, most had no idea what had happened or where they were.
Through the night and into Sunday the church, school and kindergarten offered shelter. Local residents opened their homes, too. "This was the wonderful thing," says the padre.
Some needed spiritual guidance, others technological - and Father Lorenzo was able to help with both by offering prayers for survivors and his computer so they could reach friends and family on Skype.
The help continues. On Thursday, two sets of parents sat on his front pew. Their son and daughter were a French couple in their mid twenties who had been enjoying their first holiday together. Away from the noise of the harbor where police, salvage teams and journalists gather, the church was one of the few private places where they could quietly reflect on the lives that have been lost here.
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Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images
Flowers were left at the Stephen Lawrence memorial in the Eltham area of south London on Wednesday.
By Jason Jouavel, NBC News
LONDON -- A plaque near a bus stop in south London marks where murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence took his last few breaths and serves as a grim reminder of one of Britain's most notorious racist crimes.
The memorial at the site of Lawrence's killing -- which has been described as the U.K's "Rosa Parks moment" -- has been vandalized several times. That strikes me as a sign that deep hatred still exists.
I'm a black south Londoner. And almost two decades after the slaying, I still feel very anxious walking through certain streets in Eltham after dark.
Lawrence, 18, was stabbed to death by a gang of white youths in an unprovoked attack as he waited at the bus stop in Eltham in 1993. The investigation was bungled and despite multiple court appearances by suspects over the years no one was convicted until Tuesday.
Two men have been convicted of the 1993 killing of a black teenager that prompted a change in the law and reforms to Britain's police. ITV News' Simon Israel reports.
At least three people involved in Lawrence's slaying remain at large and to this day a notable lack of local people have come forward with information about what happened.
Duwayne Brooks, who was with Lawrence at the time of the attack, told investigators that they had been racially abused before the stabbing. However, police initially treated Brooks like a suspect -- as opposed to a key witness.
The crime also resulted in a 1999 public inquiry that branded London's Metropolitan Police force as "institutionally racist."
Paul Hackett / Reuters, file
David Norris (rear with blue shirt) runs for cover as he and some of the others suspected of involvement in the killing of Stephen Lawrence are pelted with eggs after leaving a 1999 public Inquiry into police handling of the case in London.
Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, have waged a nearly 19-year battle for justice, which finally paid dividends with this week's murder convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris.
I've seen the slain teenager's courageous mother several times on the streets of south London as she continues her fight to clean-up the police, strengthen laws and support victims of racially motivated crimes. My immediate impulse is always to just salute her.
Although there was celebration in some quarters over the conviction and sentencing of Dobson and Norris, I have to agree with the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He summed up this week's events as "little light with deep darkness."
It's important to remember that the people who killed Lawrence have been harbored by their community for years and some are still being protected.
Some progress has undoubtedly been made since Lawrence's slaying.
Stephen Lawrence was aged 18 when he was stabbed to death near a bus stop in Eltham, south London, in 1993.
However, recruitment drives aimed at attracting more black and Asian officers have failed to make the Metropolitan Police representative of London's ethnic diversity.
A disproportionate number of black people are still stopped and searched by the police. It's something I've been through several times. On one occasion, I was driving to work when I was stopped. The police officer said that I looked "suspicious."
Many young black men in London complain about being prejudged and stereotyped.
I was astonished when a well-educated acquaintance told me she thought that black people should be stopped because they commit most crimes as we casually discussed last summer's London riots. I wonder whether this is also the view of some police officers.
The police must be commended for pursuing Lawrence's killers for close to two decades. But let's not forget that if the investigating officers had been more rigorous when the crime was committed, the Lawrence family may have had justice much sooner.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images file
Barack Obama received a warm reception during this rally in Berlin, Germany, in July 2008. Despite his problems at home, Obama remains broadly well-liked across Europe.
By Marian Smith, msnbc.com
LONDON – Before he was elected to the White House, Barack Obama drew 200,000 ecstatic fans during a 2008 visit to Berlin. Analysts predicted he would have easily been elected France's president if he had been a candidate there. And the day after Obama's election triumph, practically every U.K. newspaper splashed his picture across their front pages.
Europe had fallen in love.
Two years later, Obama is struggling at home. With the midterms looming, the president's approval rating is at just 47 percent and most indicators suggest that the Democrats will take a hit on Tuesday.
Many Europeans don't get it.
"They're very confused as to how [Americans] could vote for Obama and then two years later turn around and vote for a completely different set of policies," Sarah Oates, professor of political communication the University of Glasgow, told msnbc.com.
When viewed from abroad, Obama's campaign promises of "hope" and "change" left Europeans expecting a fundamental shift in American politics.
"[People here] are just dismayed," Oates added. "There's a real feeling of ... disappointment that it didn't signal the change they thought it would."
Normally, congressional elections don't resonate much abroad.
But Europe's love affair with Obama – and interest in his plummeting fortunes – mean that midterms seem to be getting more coverage than usual in the U.K. and across the continent. In the wake of financial crisis, Europeans also wonder how the vote in America will affect the global economy.
French and British newspapers have been covering the run-up to the vote for weeks, with Tuesday's showdown already occasionally making the front page. In Germany, TV news channels are reporting regularly on U.S. politics and newspaper editorials have focused on the Tea Party movement and the perception that conservatism is growing in America.
On Thursday, the websites of the BBC and the London-based Guardian, Telegraph and Times newspapers all prominently featured stories about Obama's appearance on "The Daily Show."
'He's not Mr Miracle'
But with the economic crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan casting a shadow over his presidency, Obama's reputation has also suffered abroad.
"He is no longer seen as an icon, but as a politician who is doing his very best," said Christian Malard, senior foreign analyst on France 3 TV. "He is paying the price for the crisis. He's not Mr Miracle, he's not a prophet."
However, Obama remains broadly well-liked and many Europeans think the disenchantment that many American voters have been expressing is unfair.
"What he inherited was so enormous that no American president could have fixed it," Manfred Gortemaker, professor of modern history at Germany's University of Potsdam, told msnbc.com.
Meanwhile, those who got caught up in the "Yes, we can" fever of 2008 simply want to know what will happen to their star.
"Obama is like a movie character," said Nicole Bacharan, a historian, political analyst and associate researcher at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. "There is something very romantic about him and his fate is something that people want to know. Why is this young, attractive, very smart president struggling?"
Tea Party rhetoric
Many Europeans are also wondering whether the Tea Party is simply a phenomenon born from the financial crisis, or whether its rise signals a broader, lasting, more radical conservative movement.
"In all the French newspapers and magazines, people are writing, trying to figure it out," Bacharan said.
While the economic downturn has sparked severe spending cuts from Ireland to Greece and renewed questions over European-style "big government", a Tea Party-like movement hasn't emerged on the continent.
But Europeans have noticed that some opponents of the Tea Party are being demonized as "socialist". That rhetoric has at times included references to far more sinister chapters in history. An editorial in Germany's Der Spiegel newspaper last week slammed the Tea Party’s references to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany when criticizing the Obama administration’s policies as being irresponsible, flippant and ignorant.
"The Holocaust was the result of murderous ideological fanaticism of the kind not to be found in leaders forced to face re-election every four years," the newspaper's editorial said. "It is hard to imagine even the most hard-bitten Tea Party activist sincerely believing that President Barack Obama wants to systematically murder over 6 million people like Adolf Hitler did. And that is necessarily the implication."
Obama's more liberal policies also resonated with many Europeans. With polls suggesting the Democrats could lose control of the House, Professor Oates said the idea that many of his plans could potentially never come into effect baffles some people.
"It's hard for them to understand the frailty of the American presidency," she said.