Friday, June 30, 2006

Oversight? What oversight?

First things first. Thanks to Crooks and Liars for finding the following and bringing them to my attention.

The classified intelligence/NYT resolution passed 227-183, but the Democrats recognised this shabby resolution as the diversion that it was.

Leader Pelosi: "Continue its oversight of the program? There's never been any oversight of the program. The fact is that because there has never been any oversight of the program, there isn't one person in this body, who will vote on this resolution, who can attest to this statement. They're asking us to vote on something that we absolutely cannot attest to. Not any one of you can attest to this as a fact, because it isn't a fact.

Rep. Maloney: "The Republican party has become masters of cut and run, cutting from the issues so that they can run for re-election in november. This resolution is a diversion. If it was really about condemning leaks of classified information, it would also mention Valerie Plame, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby. As the Member of Congress representing the district that suffered the greatest loss of life on 9/11, I believe that combating terrorism is a serious bipartisan issue, not a one-sided, last-minute, take it or leave it, Republican-only, political campaign stunt."

Rep. Slaughter: "Let me be very clear. On this day the Republican majority shamelessly played politics with our most cherished principles. From the very beginning this resolution and this so-called debate has been about one thing and one thing only, election politics. Six months before our midterm elections Republicans are falling back on the one play that has worked for them time and time again. They are putting fear in the hearts of the American people and labeling any individual or organization that doesn't take its marching orders from the white house as a threat to our nation. Think of what we heard from leading Republicans over the past few days. They've called the disclosure of the swift anti-terrorist program a disgrace, they've accused a newspaper that first wrote it, the ""the new york times,"" of forcing its, quote, arrogant elitist left-wing agenda, end quote, on the rest of the country. If all of this is true, I have no choice but to conclude that our President, President bush himself, is a disgraceful, arrogant left-wing elitist, because it was Mr. Bush who leaked the story."

Rep. Conyers: "Well, there may be some motive that is political about the selective crying out about information. The swift story bears no resemblence to security breaches, disclosure of troop locations or anything that would compromise the security of individuals."

Rep. Dingell: "They tell us that they're protecting our civil liberties while they're tapping our phones and spying in our libraries and looking into our bank accounts. They tell us to trust us on everything. They tell us to trust us on -- trust them on everything because they're protecting their civil liberties. Well, I don't think I can trust this administration to protect my civil liberties and those of the people that I serve."

Hamas says Israel is out to destroy its administration

It is now becoming clear that the Israeli government are using the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit as an excuse to dismantle a democratically elected Hamas government of whom they have long disapproved.

They have now arrested 8 Hamas Cabinet ministers, 20 if it's MP's and 64 Hamas officials in the West Bank.

Israel's defence minister, Amir Peretz, said the detained Hamas officials could be put on trial for involvement in "acts of terror", adding: "The masquerade ball is over. The suits and ties will not serve as cover to the involvement and support of kidnappings and terror."

Hamas has accused Israel of taking its leaders hostage as a bargaining chip to win Cpl Shalit's release. The Islamist group's military wing was involved in his capture during an attack inside Israel that killed two other soldiers. Hamas's political leadership said it had no prior knowledge of the raid, but it has backed a demand by Cpl Shalit's captors for Israel to free Palestinian women and youths held in its jails in return for the soldier's release. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has rejected any such deal.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Israel was "waging an open-ended all-out war against the Palestinian people that aims to topple the Palestinian presidency and government".
Based on the evidence it is hard to find any fault in Erekat's logic. This seems less an effort to secure the release of a kidnapped soldier than a blatant attempt to dismantle a regime that the Israelis have never approved of.

Israel radio said yesterday that the head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, had warned the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on the day of the soldier's abduction that the future of the Hamas government hung in the balance. It quoted him as saying: "If the soldier is not returned in 24 hours, Israel will not allow the government to survive."

This should disturb anyone who believes in democracy, whether they agree with the Palestinian's choice of government or not. It is not for a foreign power to tell the Palestinians who they may or may not elect as their leaders.

Israel have also destroyed the Palestinian Interior Ministry with air strikes. The behaviour of the Israeli army at times like this always leaves one open mouthed with incredulity.

They continue to behave as if international law simply does not exist, and they do so with the complicity of the US administration.

They act as if excessive use of force is the only way to ever achieve one's objectives.

Even Hamas' greatest opponents in the Fatah movement have united against Israel's behaviour.
As President Abbas called on the UN to intervene, one of his allies, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian Liberation Organisation negotiator, said: " We have no government, we have nothing. They have all been taken. This is absolutely unacceptable and we demand their release immediately."
It's odd. Just as George Bush is forced by the Supreme Court to accept that international law exists and that he is bound by it, the Israelis continue to behave as if we all live in the wild west and that there is no degree of behaviour that is unacceptable.

And at the centre of all this lies the life of a 19 year old boy.

It is being reported that Palestinian groups have issued terms for his release that the Israelis have found unacceptable.

The very fact that the Palestinian group holding him have offered terms surely means that this situation can be resolved by negotiation.

Israel, if they wish to secure the release of this young man, need to learn the lesson that George Bush has seemed determined in his war on terror to ignore. There are times when your powerful armies are of no use.

That's the whole point of asymmetrical warfare, the very reason that it exists.

Churchill put it best, "Jaw jaw, not war war."

Israel can't bludgeon it's way to victory here, it needs to negotiate. A young man's life depends on it doing so.

Click title for full article.

Supreme court finds: The President is NOT a King.

Okay, time to look at the Supreme Court ruling with the benefit of a good night's sleep.

What does it mean?

The court appears to have rejected Bush's central premise that , as a "wartime president", he has legal authority that exceeds the powers of international treaties, US courts, and Congress.

By demanding that Bush comply with the Geneva Conventions the Supreme Court have also outlawed torture and the practice of extraordinary rendition.

Some lawyers said the ruling places limits in other arenas of the war on terror, such as Mr Bush's order authorising the National Security Agency to monitor the email and telephone calls of Americans without court oversight. The lawyers said the direction from the court for the Bush administration to comply with Geneva convention safeguards for humane treatment would apply not only to Guantánamo, but the dozens of US detention centres around the world.

The court also reaffirmed the rights of hundreds of inmates, held without charge at Guantánamo for four years, to challenge the legality of their detention in US courts.

Lawyers for the detainees were delighted. "What this says is that the administration can no longer simply decide arbitrarily what it wants to do with people," said Michael Ratner, president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represents about 200 of the men at Guantánamo. But there was no indication that the blow to the White House vision of overarching executive power would hasten the end of a detention regime that has become a symbol of abuse in the war on terror - despite Mr Bush's comments that he would like to close Guantánamo.

Minutes after the ruling the president said he would seek legislation explicitly authorising the tribunals. "To the extent that there is latitude to work with the Congress to determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give people their day in court, we will do so," he told a press conference.

Justice department officials argued the court had pointed the way out of the legal morass by noting that Congress could pass laws specifically authorising military tribunals. "Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his opinion.

But the decision does drastically curtail the powers claimed by this White House to override international human rights treaties as well as US military law.

For me the most important part of this finding is that Bush cannot rule as he has done, like a King, deciding which laws he finds convenient and ignoring the rest.

This finding challenges the entire concept that Bush has relied upon since 9-11, namely that - as a "war President" - he can negotiate his way around laws that he finds inconvenient.

The most important part of this finding is the ruling that he cannot. He must abide by international law and the Geneva Conventions.

This, of course, is the antithesis of what Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Gonzales et al have been claiming since 9-11. For this reason alone, I am delighted by the court's findings.

For the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay, this judgement represents a light at the end of the tunnel.

The government will now have to justify it's holding of these men before a court of law by providing actual evidence of wrongdoing rather than broad conspiracy charges.
Joe Margulies, a lecturer at the University of Chicago law school, said the Government would have to defend in court its holding of detainees. He said: "The Government has never done that. If it does not do that... it means it will have to let them go."
There are many who will lament this decision and, no doubt, claim that dangerous men are about to be released into the open.

To them I would only say this: if any of these men are a real danger to the general public then the government should have no difficulty proving this in a court of law. If the government cannot prove this, then you have no right to believe this to be true.

This ruling has, in effect, demanded that Bush show his hand and reveal what he actually has on these people. Does he have any actual hard evidence that these people are "the worst of the worst" or is he relying on circumstantial evidence based on where they were arrested etc, etc.

The demand that the President should obey the rule of law is so basic that it shouldn't even need to be said.

However, we are dealing with an administration that has long believed itself to be above the fray, with a President who believes - as Nixon did - that an action cannot be illegal if it is carried out by a President.

We have basically been dealing with a President who believes that he has the powers of a King.

The court has found that he does not have the powers that he has claimed.

I am not sure what Bush will do next. He will no doubt try to squirm his way out of this. But any person who cares for the rule of law and wishes to see the international codes of behaviour established in the wake of World War Two taken seriously has just received a substantial boost in the arm.

The President is NOT a King. He MUST comply with the law.

Only the most rabid Bush supporter could lament those findings, but to them I can even offer a crumb of comfort.

Would you want Clinton to have had the unlimited power that you have claimed that Bush possesses?

The honest answer would have to be no. And that is why this is a victory for all of us.

Click title for full article.

Related Articles:

Full text of Supreme Court ruling.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Joe Looks Forward to Meeting with the Union?

Ken Delacruz of the Metal Trades Union, at the AFL-CIO meeting today says, "I hope that after this is over we can get Joe Lieberman, all of us, even the ones that get along greatly with Joe, and beat the shit out of him."

Bush loses at Supreme Court. Guantanamo trials are illegal.

BREAKING NEWS! (I'll post a more measured opinion on this in the morning!)

The day we have all been waiting for is here!

Having done all in his power to build his illegal Gulag out with of the reach of the law, Bush finally faced justice today... and lost.

The Supreme Court have ruled that George Bush overstepped his authority in ordering military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The stunning rebuke against the Rumsfeld/Bush/Cheney/Gonzales mindset stated that the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and the Geneva conventions.

In a 5-to-3 ruling, the justices also rejected an effort by Congress to strip the court of jurisdiction over habeas corpus appeals by detainees at the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

And the court found that the plaintiff in the case, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, could not be tried on the conspiracy charge lodged against him because international military law requires that prosecutions focus on specific acts, not broad conspiracy charges.

Bush has rather bizarrely stated that he would comply with the ruling and would work with Congress "to have a military tribunal to hold people to account'' that would meet the Court's objections. Guess he finds it hard to realise when the writing is on the wall.

The majority ruling was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who was joined in parts of it by Justices

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel J. Alito Jr. dissented. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. did not take part in the case, since he had ruled in favor of the government as an appeals court justice last year.

Justice Thomas took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in his 15 years on the court. He said that the ruling would "sorely hamper the president's ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy."

In the majority opinion, Justice Stevens declared flatly that "the military commission at issue lacks the power to proceed because its structure and procedure violate" both the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs the American military's legal system, and the Geneva Convention.
So it's official. You need actual evidence rather than broad conspiracy charges. Which means basically Bush and his lot have bugger all on these people.

Commander Swift, who represented Mr. Hamdan called today's ruling "a return to our fundamental values. That return marks a high-water point," he said. "It shows that we can't be scared out of who were are, and that's a victory, folks."

Indeed, it is. And it never tasted sweeter.

Click title for full article.


A reminder of the kind of attitude towards Guantanamo that today's judgement has ruled against. Sorry, Michelle, Donald et al - rules apply, even in "wartime".

Be sure to check out the silly little hatemongers opinion in the morning. She'll be outraged. I can't wait.

The Case for Rebuilding New Orleans

Nothing seems to change in the Post Katrina landscape of New Orleans. Citizens are angry. Politicians don't understand why progress is so slow. No one seems to care that the main reason to rebuild New Orleans is because people live there (or used to), and they are American citizens who just want to return to their home.

Swift was no secret

This is hysterical.

With many Republicans lining up calling for the Editor of the New York Times to face police charges for committing the crime of treason when his newspaper revealed the existence of SWIFT, it comes as a bit of a shock to realise that there never was any secret in the first place as Bush and others have long made it clear that he was following the money of terrorists.

Media Matters gathers the hysterical accusations here.

Crooks and Liars have the video of Olbermann going through the evidence revealing just how public all this stuff was.

Once again it appears that Bush and Co are trying to batter the media into submission rather than actually defending the US national interests.

Watch the C&L video here.

New blow for Home Office as judge quashes six terror orders

No doubt Blair and Cameron will be holding hands again and expressing their mutual outrage as a judge has demolished Blair's plans to hold suspects under house arrest saying that this contravenes their rights under human rights law.

The new Home Secretary John Reid, a man who's political leanings place him slightly to the right of Ghengis Khan, nearly burst a blood vessel in expressing his outrage:

Reid "strongly disagreed" with the ruling by Mr Justice Sullivan, which overturns nearly half the 14 control orders currently in force. He will try to overturn it in the court of appeal next month. Mr Reid said the control order system was needed to deal with international terror suspects who could not be deported on human rights grounds to countries where there was risk of torture.

But this latest clash over human rights between the government and the senior judiciary is a sharp illustration that the crisis facing the Home Office is not over yet. Tony Blair warned the judges again yesterday that he is prepared to legislate to overturn their rulings if necessary.

Blair and Reid seem to be heading for a battle that they are almost certain to lose. At the centre of this dispute is whether or not the government have the right to put individuals under virtual house arrest because they suspect involvement in terrorist activity but do not have any evidence of sufficient merit to put before a court of law.

When the people who told us that Iraq had WMD state that a certain individual is probably a terrorist one can understand why a court might ask that they be held to a stricter standard for a persons confinement than merely their own suspicions.

And that is, literally, what this comes down to.

Mr Justice Sullivan said the home secretary had acted illegally when he used control orders to lock up six Middle Eastern men for 18 hours a day in one-bedroom flats across the country after failing to bring charges under the Terrorism Act.

He told the government it had no power to make the orders. Each of the orders was a legal "nullity".

The men had been deprived of their liberty and freedom in contravention of article 5 of the European convention on human rights.

Mr Justice Sullivan severely criticised the home secretary for first claiming to international human rights monitors that the courts could quash control orders, but then a year later telling the courts that it would be "inappropriate" to quash them.

This change in position was "more than unfortunate" and had "the potential to undermine the government, to undermine confidence in public administration and its integrity". It is the second time in three months that Mr Justice Sullivan has criticised the orders. In April he overturned a seventh control order on a British terror suspect known only as "S", calling it an "affront to justice".

Six men, five of them Iraqi, and one of either Iraqi or Iranian origin, were arrested under anti-terrorism legislation in October last year and released without charge. The six were then held under immigration laws before being placed under control orders.

Their lives were "for all intents and purposes under the control of the Home Office" and they were not able to "lead a normal life". The men were under curfew for 18 hours a day enforced by an electronic tag and were not allowed to attend any public meetings. The home secretary decided which mosque they could attend.

Mr Justice Sullivan said: "The freedom to meet any person of one's choice by prior arrangement is significant. As is the freedom to attend any temple, mosque, church as whatever you choose." He went on: "I am left in no doubt whatsoever that the cumulative effect of the order has been to deprive to respondents of their liberty, in breach of article 5. I do not consider that this is a borderline case." The judge said he had taken into account the importance of the needs of protecting the public from acts of terrorism, but "human rights or international law must not be infringed or compromised".

No doubt Blair will, with his fractured logic, argue that the judge is putting lives at risk by overturning his house arrests.

In doing so, Blair - who is himself a lawyer - will be ignoring the simple fact that it is incumbent on the government itself to bring evidence. If they do not have sufficient evidence then the failing lies with them.

All of us wish to be protected from acts of terrorism. But we cannot dispense with the principle that all men are innocent until a jury of their peers finds them guilty based on evidence.

Blair and his Home Office team should work harder at acquiring this evidence if these men really are as dangerous as they claim they are.

Click title for full article.

Israeli tanks turn screw on besieged Gaza Strip

The Israeli army continues to inflict collective punishment on the residents of the Gaza Strip in the hope of securing the release of Gilad Shalit, the 19 year old soldier taken hostage by Palestinian rebels.

No other purpose is achieved by cruelly depriving hundreds of thousands of ordinary Gazans of their electricity supply (and shutting down water pumps) in sweltering heat. The international community, rightly alarmed at this dangerous escalation, can only call for restraint and back whatever diplomatic moves are afoot, through Egyptian mediation, to secure a peaceful outcome to a grave crisis.
The Israeli action is as dangerous as it is bizarre. If the aim of the action is to secure the young man's release then one has to question it's logic. Punishing hundreds of thousands of ordinary Palestinians, who have nothing to do with the kidnap, will surely only harden local opinion and make the rescue less likely, indeed Israel are putting his life in considerable danger.

And from the US came the expected endorsement.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of the governing Hamas party, criticised Washington for giving approval to the Israeli incursion. Mr Haniya said Washington had "given the green light to aggression" and called on the United Nations to step in to prevent an escalation in violence.

A spokesman for US President George W Bush has said Israel has a right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens.
The Israeli army have also, it is being reported, taken control of Gaza's international airport - which hasn't seen a single flight in the last five years - and bulldozed the runway.

What is the purpose of this kind of action? Israel will no doubt claim, as she did when she destroyed Palestinian bridges, that she is trying to prevent the movement of the hostage.

However, when the airport hasn't functioned for over five years this begins to look like wanton destruction. Which is, of course, a war crime.

Last night, the Israel army fired artillery shells every minute or so around two towns in northern Gaza, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia, as tanks and troops waited to cross the border. Residents in towns in the line of fire rushed to stock up on food as they took on board a warning from the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, that "we won't hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring Gilad back to his family".

Human rights groups said it was in breach of the Geneva conventions which bar attacks on targets of no immediate military value and on reprisals against civilians.

The Israeli army seemed at a loss to explain the value of severing electricity to most of Gaza's population, and destroying bridges that will take weeks or months to repair, unless it is to make civilians suffer in order to pressure the armed groups holding Cpl Shalit. "This is part of an ongoing effort to cause disruption, it's all part of the same effort to get the soldier released," said a spokeswoman, Captain Noah Meir. "It's part of measures against those who are directly involved and those not directly involved."

Miss Meir appears at that point to admit that war crimes are being committed. Collective punishment occurs when you punish civilians who were not directly involved in the crime for which you are meting out the punishment. This is exactly what Miss Meirs admits that the Israelis are now doing.

And in the final showing that the Palestinian Authority has no authority other than that which it is allowed by it's Israeli neighbour:

On the West Bank, Israel has detained more than 25 ministers and lawmakers from the Hamas-led government.

Among those held after the raids in several separate towns were at least eight cabinet ministers, Palestinian officials said.

In the West Bank town of Qalqilya, the Hamas mayor and his deputy were taken into custody.

Does Israel have any proof that links these people to the kidnapping? Can you imagine any other nation where a foreign power could enter, at will, and arrest so many members of the governing party? Can you imagine any other situation where the US would publicly back such an action?

The Israelis claim that all of the above is to help secure Gilad Shalit's release. I would say that this is a high risk strategy that is as likely to provoke his death as it is to help release him.

Israel is now punishing hundreds of thousands of innocent people for a crime that they did not commit, and she is doing so with the tacit approval of George Bush.

But, more disturbingly, she is making a rod for her own back and proving that she has not learned the lessons of Lebanon. The lesson of the Israeli's time in Lebanon should have been that it is easy to invade when you are a regional superpower, but it is not always quite so easy to leave.

If the worst comes to the worst, and this young Israeli soldier is not returned alive, how does Israel leave?

This plan is ill thought out, counter productive, against international law and as likely to ensure Gilad Shalit's death as it is to ensure his rescue.

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Related Articles:

Israeli missiles pound Gaza into new Dark Age in 'collective punishment'

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Helen Thomas with Jon Stewart

Crooks and Liars have got a great clip of Helen Thomas talking to Jon Stewart about the number of Presidents she has seen come and go from the White House.

She's a great lady. If she were British, she would be a Dame by now.

Watch the clip here.

Senate Rejects Flag Desecration Amendment

Firefighters across America face a tense night as the Republican attempt to amend the Constitution and ban flag burning has failed by a single vote.

President Bush, the man with his finger on the pulse who identified this previously unknown American habit, will no doubt spend tonight in The White House wearing an asbestos suit.

Indeed, by highlighting the issue he may have unwittingly encouraged people who did not realise, prior to this vote, that they were allowed to burn the flag.

I expect by teatime most of the USA will look like Atlanta in "Gone With The Wind", as anxious flag burners waste no time before lighting up. It will be like Towering Inferno on every American Main Street.

The nobility of those defending this barbaric practice were best summed up by Majority Leader Bill Frist who said, "Countless men and women have died defending that flag, it is but a small humble act for us to defend it."

I had always thought they had died defending the country rather than the flag, but that might simply be my goofy British lack of understanding. After all, the flag can't even say thanks, it just sort of flaps around. Some days it doesn't even do that.

Now in order to express my solidarity with my American cousins I have noticed a similar loophole in the British legal system whereby this nation of supposed animal lovers have no law forbidding the consumption of domestic pets.

Off to eat the budgie.

Viva la revolution!

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War's Iraqi Death Toll Tops 50,000

According to statistics from Iraq's morgues, more than 50,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since the US invasion. This is the equivalent proportionately of 570,000 Americans being slain in three years.

And even this shocking figure is thought to be an underestimate. Many more are thought to be simply uncounted as the US has made the shameful decision to "liberate" but not to count the number you kill during the "liberation".

Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.

The Health Ministry acknowledged the undercount. In addition, the ministry said its figures exclude the three northern provinces of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan because Kurdish officials do not provide death toll figures to the government in Baghdad.

In the three years since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, the Bush administration has rarely offered civilian death tolls. Last year, President Bush said he believed that "30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis."
When one looks at these kind of figures and try to imagine an American equivalent, it is not hard to work out why the Americans are experiencing such a difficult time in Iraq.

Nor why the US should consider a timetable for withdrawal.

Bush wants to "stay the course." For what? The course is the problem.

Bush has said that the decision to leave Iraq will be taken by his successor. He says this at the same time as the US builds permanent military bases and an Embassy that is larger than Vatican city.

I don't think the Republicans have any intention of leaving Iraq, that's why Bush shoves that decision towards his successor. They want a permanent foothold in the Middle East.

But like everything else they do regarding Iraq, they are operating on a policy of deception.

How many more Iraqis must die before Bush realises his folly?

How many more Americans?

The people arguing the loudest that this disaster must continue are people who are thousands of miles away from any danger. They think they are displaying courage. They are actually indulging in the worst form of hypocrisy.

Demanding that young men and women must die rather than them being forced to admit that the invasion was wrong.

It's beneath contempt.

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Who Killed The Electric Car?

Trailer for the film. Visit the Sony Pictures website here. Find a theatre showing this movie.

EU members urged to admit to CIA renditions

Franco Frattini, the EU justice commissioner, has admitted for the first time that European territory had been used for "extraordinary renditions", the process by which the US secretly moves prisoners to undisclosed locations where it is believed they are being tortured.

Mr Frattini's intervention came as parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly to approve a report by Liberal Swiss senator Dick Marty that "named and shamed" 14 European states, including Britain, Germany and Sweden, and watched a video containing direct testimony on secret detention and torture from two survivors.

He said in Strasbourg it was a "fact" that incidents of "extraordinary rendition" had taken place on European territory since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, but insisted it was unclear whether governments were aware of them or had cooperated, and whether the flights were legal.

Urging national governments to investigate alleged CIA activities on their territories, he said: "It's extremely premature to draw consequences from the elements so far available. What we must do is make sure that national authorities understand that they not only have the power but the duty to carry out judicial investigations."

He added: "They have the duty to establish national committees. I am determined to encourage, to put political pressure if necessary, on the home affairs ministers so that we get the results [of the inquiries]." Mr Marty said collaboration with the CIA was "proven" and Mr Frattini said his report had shown "facts".

Blair can no longer get away with the fobbing off of enquiries into this issue or the blanket denial that the government have any knowledge of what is going on.

It is time for the government to agree to a formal enquiry into whether British airports are being used for extraordinary rendition flights and as to whether tip off's from MI5 led to any British citizen being incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay.

If we are allowing extraordinary rendition flights, and few of us believe Blair's claims that he is unaware of what's going on, then we are facilitating torture.

If this does come to light, it will add to the clamour that is growing surrounding the date of Blair's departure. If the man who invaded Iraq illegally can now be shown to be assisting in further human rights abuses, then there are many of us in the party who would want his removal immediately.

This would be the final nail in Blair's coffin for many of us.

MEPs are, separately, demanding an EU inquiry into alleged transfers and abuses of financial data concerning European citizens from Swift, the Brussels-based international banking body, to the US authorities in the fight against terrorism.

Click title for full article.

Israel enters Gaza

Israel entered Gaza last night, under cover of darkness, after air attacks on three bridges and the main Gaza power station knocked out electricity in most of the coastal strip.

The aim of the Israelis is to ensure the release of Gilad Shalit, the 19 year old soldier taken hostage by Palestinian rebels.

It's a high risk move by the Israelis who surely understand that the death of a single innocent Palestinian might signal the death of the soldier who's life they seek to save.

Even Condoleezza Rice has urged Israel to "give diplomacy a chance".

The last time a soldier was snatched in such circumstances was 12 years ago. The military hurriedly launched an operation to rescue Nachshon Wachsman. He was killed along with one of the men sent to rescue him.

And all of this is happening at a time when Hamas have lost a crucial power struggle over recognition of Israel yesterday by agreeing to surrender control of the Palestinian government in favour of a power sharing administration committed to a negotiated two-state settlement.

The deal was a victory for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in his attempt to establish a government committed to a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a means to force Israel to the negotiating table.

Despite face-saving denials from Hamas over the extent of its political concessions, Mr Abbas yesterday secured an agreement that commits all parties in government to recognise Israel and authorises him to negotiate a final agreement to establish an independent Palestinian state on territories occupied in 1967.

After its unexpected landslide election victory in January, Hamas said it would not retreat from its goal of replacing the Jewish state with an Islamic one. It also resisted negotiations.

But the group backed down after a threat by Mr Abbas to hold a referendum on the issue as a means to end crippling economic sanctions imposed by foreign donors until Hamas recognises Israel, renounces violence and agrees to abide by agreements in which the Palestine Liberation Organisation accepts a two-state solution. Opinion polls suggested Hamas would lose a referendum, because most Palestinians support negotiations with Israel.

Mr Abbas's aides described Hamas's endorsement of the agreement, drawn up by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, as a "surrender to reality" and "showing the world that the Palestinians are partners for peace".

Of course, all of this could come to naught if young Gilad Shalit is not released unharmed.

So far the Israeli incursion has caused no Palestinian to lose their life. For the sake of Mr Shalit we must hope that Israel continues to exercise restraint.

The surrender of Hamas to political reality, whilst holding the reins of political power, is potentially a moment of great breakthrough in the Middle East in terms of both sides reaching a viable peace agreement.

It now hangs on the fate of a 19 year old boy.

Israel, having entered Gaza and made her point, should go no further.

This is a time for diplomacy, not gunfire.

Click title for full article.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Former Admin. Official Needs Only Three Words To Explain Manipulation of Intel: ‘The Vice President’

Think Progress have the video of Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing before the Democratic Policy Committee hearing in which he is asked:

JONES: My question is this to all four of you who would like to answer, maybe it’s a very simple question. I apologize if it’s been asked before. But what perplexes me is how in the world could professionals – I’m not criticizing anybody here at this table – but how could the professionals see what was happening and nobody speak out?

I’m not saying you did not do your duty, please understand. My point is as a congressman who trusted what I was being told – I’m was not on the Intelligence Committee, Senator Dorgan, but I am on the Armed Services Committee – and I was being told this information. And I wish I’d the wisdom then that I might have now. I would have known what to ask. But I think many of my colleagues – they did not have the experience on the Intelligence Committee – we just pretty much accepted.

So where along the way – how did these people so early on get so much power that they had more influence in those in the administration to make decisions than you the professionals.

WILKERSON: Let me try to answer you first. Let me say right off the bat I’m glad to see you here.

JONES: Thank you sir.

WILKERSON: As a Republican, I’m somewhat embarrassed by the fact that you’re the only member of my party here.

JONES: I agree.

WILKERSON: But I understand it. I’d answer you with two words. Let me put the article in there and make it three. The Vice President.

Watch the video here.


Crooks and Liars have an even longer video in which the panel go on to discuss the role of Feith's Office of Special Plans and the value of the junk that emanated from that office. The panel also hear that there was no failure of intelligence. The intelliegence community were doing a fine job, it's simply that the Bush administration did not like the answer they were hearing.

Watch the C&L video here.

Police have no right to rush into action on dubious intelligence, say most Muslims in poll

A recent poll has shown that Muslims in Britain have lost faith in the police and strongly object to the philosophy that the police must act on information even if it later turns out to be wrong.

This would appear to be a reaction to the clumsy police raid on a house in Forest Gate which resulted in a young Muslim man being shot, and was later acknowledged by the police to have been carried out as a result of faulty intelligence believed to have been given to them by an informant of especially low IQ.

The Muslim community have also lost faith in Sir Ian Blair and are calling for his resignation.

Fifty-four per cent of Muslims said Sir Ian Blair should resign over the Forest Gate raid, while 29% said he should not.

In the poll, carried out two weeks after the raid, Muslims were also asked: "Do you think it is right or wrong for the police to act to pre-empt potential terrorist attacks, even if the intelligence, information and warnings may turn out to be wrong?" Thirty-one per cent said it was right and 57% said it was wrong.

This view contrasts sharply with that held by the general public. When the same question was asked of a representative sample of all adults, 74% said the police were right to act and 17% said they were wrong.

Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said last night the respondents could be "reacting against the many hundreds of Muslims who have been arrested in high-profile raids across the country since 9/11".

With the threat of home grown terrorists seeming to be more urgent than any threat from al Qaeda, it seems to me especially important that we retain the trust of the Muslim community.

It is quite obvious that we are failing in that task.

The kind of clumsy policing we witnessed in Forest Gate and the diabolical shooting of Charles de Menezes have only further eroded confidence.

As long as Blair and Hayman continue in their present posts that confidence is unlikely to return.

There has to be a radical rethinking of how the police face the threat before them. If these two men are incapable of undertaking a task of that size then it really is time to think of replacing both of them.

Israeli troops gather at Gaza borders as Palestinians try to find hostage

Israeli forces continue to mass on the borders of Gaza as Olmert continues to threaten to storm the place in the hope of finding Gilad Shalit, the 19 year old soldier who has been taken prisoner.

Of course, as long as there is any chance of the young Israeli being returned alive then Olmert will do nothing. Can do nothing. Must do nothing.

In Gaza, the militant groups believed to be holding Shalit, continued to make demands that no-one can seriously believe will ever be met by the Israelis. The release of all female prisoners and of all persons held by Israel who are under the age of 18.

Israel, as always in these kinds of situations, seeks to proportion blame towards anyone that they may in future be asked to negotiate with, so as to render the chances of those negotiations ever taking place as less likely.

In this case, they have chosen to blame President Abbas.

Israel insists that it holds Mr Abbas personally responsible for the hostage's safety. But Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said that if Mr Abbas is able to secure the corporal's release that could help to rebuild Israeli confidence in the Palestinian leadership.

"Mr Abbas is the president of the Palestinian Authority. This soldier was kidnapped by the Palestinian Authority, into the Palestinian Authority. This is the time for the president of the Palestinian Authority to prove that he does indeed have authority and capability that come with the job and the title he holds," he said.

"If this matter is resolved peacefully maybe this could be the beginning of negotiations and trying to reach an understanding with the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. If it is not, it is just another proof that there is no partner on the other side."

Israel has for the last forty years been anxious to prove to the US that there is no partner for negotiations on the other side. And now that Hamas are said to be on the verge of recognising Israel, the need to dismiss all possible future negotiating partners has never been more keenly felt.

But to blame Abbas for the dreadful kidnapping of an Israeli soldier is like blaming Clinton for the actions of Timothy McVeigh. It's simply nonsensical rubbish.

I sincerely hope that this young man is returned soon and unharmed. However, both the US and Israel have played a dreadful role in this breakdown of the political process.
Yehiyeh Musa, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was once an enthusiastic advocate of the transformation of Hamas from guerrilla army to political force. Now he feels that the Hamas entry into politics has been destroyed by Europe and the United States.

"The government [Hamas] can go to hell. Europe boycotts us and the United States are against our democracy. The Palestinians are in a big jail and the Israelis have the key," he said. "We have no use for prime ministers or anything like that. The reality is that we are under occupation. We would end the occupation by negotiations but the occupier has no interest in that. The only path is resistance."

One has to wonder whether the Palestinian militant groups would be indulging in this kind of action if Israel and the US had recognised the democratically elected government of Hamas.

There is no point in our arguing that militant groups should dismiss the bullet in favour of the ballot box if, when they do so, we simply refuse to acknowledge the transition.

For that is exactly what the US and Israel, with the shameful help of the EU, have done in this case.

The transition of Hamas from a resistance movement to a political party has not been rewarded. Indeed, it has been punished with attempts to starve the Palestinians into submission for daring to elect them.

I sincerely hope that the Palestinian factions who are holding this young man will hand him over unharmed. However, if they do so, Israel will immediately drop the promise that this may be the beginning of negotiations.

And therein lies the problem. Israel and the US condemn extremism but offer no tangible reward for it's abandonment.

I'll leave the last word on this to Gilad Shalit's father:
Gilad Shalit, the "quiet young man who has dual French-Israeli citizenship, excelled in physics at school and chose to do his military service in a combat unit. Noam Shalit, his French-born father yesterday issued a call on Army Radio to his kidnappers, asking that they " remember that he's a human being."

He added: "We want to hear a sign of life. We believe that those who are holding him also have families and children, and that they know what we are feeling."

Addressing his son directly in the same broadcast, he added: "Try to survive the difficult moments. We love you, and are waiting for you to come back home."

I sincerely hope that Mr Shalit is reunited with his son. And I also hope that, if this happens, the US and Israel will stop ignoring the democratic choice the people of Palestine have made and begin to negotiate with their democratically elected representatives.

If we show no tangible reward for embracing democracy, then we encourage this kind of chaos.

Click title for full article.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Never Forget.

I often ask what the people of Iraq did to deserve the terrible price that the US, under Bush, has made them pay.

I also wonder what the working class poor of America, who so often see the armed forces as their only chance of achieving a decent life, ever did to deserve a President who would put them in harms way based on lies and deceptions.

We will never forget their courage and their bravery. Nor will we forget the liars who placed them in harms way.

Watch the video here.

What will you do to end the war?

This video actually made me cry. It's not the sight of children crying that I found upsetting. It's the grown men. People who would normally try to look strong who have simply come to the end of their tether.

This is what we are inflicting on the people of Iraq.

To watch click here.

Why I say NO2ID.

A couple of weeks ago I added the NO2ID logo to the sidebar which started a discussion in the comments section of a completely unrelated thread, with various people agreeing and disagreeing with whether or not the introduction of compulsory identity cards in the UK represents a threat to people or whether they are simply "a bit of plastic", not unlike any other form of identification that we routinely carry around with us.

So I decided to do a post outlining why I object to the introduction of ID cards in the UK and challenging the arguments that I most often hear being argued in their defence.

Firstly, if this was simply an identity card used to prove that I am who I say I am, I would have no difficulty with this legislation. As many people rightly point out, that would simply be another piece of plastic.

My objection is not to the card, my concern is with the National Identity Register that the card will be linked to.

More on that in a minute. Let's start by how you get the card if Blair is to get his way.

You will attend an appointment given to you by the government at which you will be photographed, have your fingerprints taken and have a copy of your iris scanned. If you fail to keep this appointment you can be fined up to £2,500. Additional fines of £2,500 may be levied for each subsequent appointment that you fail to attend.

All of this is before you get the card. Once you have the card, if you do not promptly tell the police if you lose your card or it becomes defective, you face a fine and/or up to 51 weeks imprisonment.

You will also be required to use it to prove who you are when you rent videos, borrow from the library, buy alcohol, etc, etc.

A copy of it - and the number on it that uniquely identifies you - will be needed by your bank and numerous other organisations that we deal with in the normal course of everyday life.

All of these sources will gather and store information on you.

Now, of course, the government argues that it has no intention of having anything other than the most basic information about you on the card. However, it is worth remembering that when ID cards were introduced in this country during World War Two they had only three functions. By the time they were abolished in 1952 (against the will of the government) they had 39 administrative uses.

However, even according to present plans - and this is before any of the inevitable extensions - you will not be able to buy, rent or sell a home without one. You couldn't stay in a hotel, buy a car or a mobile phone, open or use a bank account, travel, register with a doctor, work or run a business without first showing your card.

If the uses for the card expands, as it inevitably would, no doubt citing terrorism, paedophilia and the usual reasons for expansion, the government Data bank on you could include:

  • your spending habits
  • your ethnicity
  • your religion
  • your sexual preferences
  • your political leanings
  • your health records
  • your criminal records
  • your driving record and convictions
  • what you read and what DVD's you rent
Nor do you have any guarantee over who would one day have access to this register.

It is not a proper function of government to engage in blanket surveillance of ordinary law abiding citizens, to force compulsory identification of those citizens, to open a file on each citizen, or to criminalise citizens who refuse to comply.

Privacy and freedom are ours by right and we only give our government permission to curtail our freedom and privacy in very limited and very important circumstances.

A government should be the servant of the people, not it's master.

If a government suspects me of committing a crime they are given permission by a judge, under very strict circumstances and for a limited amount of time, to invade my privacy and - in more extreme cases - to deny me my freedom.

This legislation fundamentally changes that balance

Which brings me to the arguments often made in favour if this legislation.

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

It does not naturally follow that, if I wish to preserve my privacy, I must automatically have something to hide. My privacy is mine and, as long as I remain within the law, it is my choice who I allow access to it. Moreover, people died in two World Wars so that I could enjoy my liberty and my privacy. I will give up neither without a fight.

Of course, I could extend this pro-ID argument and say if we were to take it to it's logical conclusion then it would be better for all of us if the government opened all our mail and taped all our mobile and land line conversations. Perhaps we could even install cameras inside our homes. However, most of us recognise that this would transform us into living under a Totalitarian regime.

If it saves just one life....

Why don't we apply this logic to any other area of public life? Cars kill and injure thousands every year in Britain, but I hear no calls to outlaw them. Cigarettes, alcohol? Both killers and yet both are legal.

What's wrong with ID. We need it.

Of course we do. What we don't need is the database recording so many other aspects of our lives in one centralised place accessed by God knows who.

If it will stop terrorism then I'm in favour of it.

It won't stop terrorism. Even Blair has given up arguing that canard after 7-7 was carried out by home grown terrorists who would have had ID's anyway were the system to be made compulsory.

And like everything else, real crooks and terrorists will find ways to fake them. It's the ordinary law abiding citizen who will be subjected to a level of scrutiny that we have never been subjected to before. Even Blunkett, the former Home Secretary and one of the most right wing men ever to hold that office stated, "ID cards won't stop terrorism."

So having dropped the argument that it will stop terror attacks and having given the racists a wink with the hint that it will help stop illegal immigration, Blair finally gave the nearest thing he will ever give to an honest answer to the question, "If they don't stop terrorism, why do you want them?"

Blair replied, "Because the police asked for them."

I can understand why the police would make such a request. However, it is not the proper function of a citizen's government to give the police everything and anything simply because they ask for it.

A balance has to be struck. And in this case the price is too high and the advantages to having the cards introduced is nil.

For all of these reasons, I object to this legislation.

Click title to go to the NO2ID site and read more or join up.

Feingold on "cut and run".

Russ Feingold was on blistering form on Face The Press when he said that the American people and the goverment of Iraq all realise that a timetable for the troops to leave is necessary and that Bush and Cheney are only arguing that the US must stay in order to justify their original mistake.

"The worst thing we could possible do is what Vice President Cheney and President Bush did which was take us into an unnecessary war — that had nothing to do with 9/11 — on false pretenses. They have done the worst thing that has ever been done in this regard."

On a Bush Censure for Wiretapping:

"I’m very afraid that we are just going to have a blank page in terms of the history of this country and when the President assert and outrageous grab of executive power we did nothing."

"The extreme claim that, under Article Two of the Constitution, the President can make up whatever laws he wants is what of the greatest threats to our system of government… when the founders wrote the words ’High Crimes and Misdemeanors’ they weren’t particularly interested in break-ins at the Watergate Plaza or presidential personal misconduct. What they wanted was a different system of government than they had under King George III and that’s what this is all about."

"The President is asserting claims that have, frankly, I don’t think have ever been made in the history of this country."

The Democrats have a great Presidential candidate right in front of their noses in Feingold. I'd vote for him in a nano-second.

Crooks and Liars have the video here.

The insidious attacks on Karzai begin.

Having spoken out against Bush's tactics in the War on Terror it was inevitable that "anonymous sources" would soon start questioning the leadership of Hamid Karzai.

And here they come, right on bloody cue.

In today's Washington Post we learn:

Many Afghans and some foreign supporters say they are losing faith in President Hamid Karzai's government, which is besieged by an escalating insurgency and endemic corruption and is unable to protect or administer large areas of the country.

As a sense of insecurity spreads, a rift is growing between the president and some of the foreign civilian and military establishments whose money and firepower have helped rebuild and defend the country for nearly five years. While the U.S. commitment to Karzai appears solid, several European governments are expressing serious concerns about his leadership.

"The president had a window of opportunity to lead and make difficult decisions, but that window is closing fast," said one foreign military official in Kabul who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

You'll notice that these "many Afghans" and "foreign supporters" all remain unnamed.

This is yet another sign of the paucity of Bush's supposed love for democracy, as this represents simply a crude threat that Karzai should get back on message or face being replaced.

Of course, the Bush administration has not publicly said a word about their displeasure at Karzai's criticism of their failings in the War on Terror. They don't have to. The Washington Post has found "many Afghans" and "foreign supporters" to do their dirty work for them.

And then comes the big threat:

While no one is suggesting that any imminent withdrawal of foreign military or economic support is likely, some European governments -- which do not share Washington's investment in Afghanistan as a role model for a modern Muslim democracy -- have begun to question the wisdom of costly long-term economic commitments and the risk of ongoing high battlefield casualties.

"There is an awful feeling that everything is lurching downward," said a Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The same people who argue that we must stay the course in Iraq have let it be known, on condition of anonymity, that those pesky Europeans might "cut and run" if you don't stop saying nasty things about little Georgie.

This is simply disgusting, barefaced and cowardly politicineering.

This is the Bush administration warning yet another democratically elected leader that he better do their bidding or face his downfall.

Further evidence that Bush is actually to be trusted to export democracy as much as King Herod was to be trusted to babysit.

Click title for Washington Post article.

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Israel may provide counsel to officials in war crimes trials overseas

It would appear that Israel is taking the threat that some of it's citizen's may face charges for war crimes seriously as a new piece of legislation was passed on Sunday stating that Israel will provide the legal defence for state and defence establishment employees prosecuted in foreign countries or international courts for action they took as representatives of the State of Israel.

This all began when Major General Doron Almog was unable to leave an El Al flight in London nine months ago because he was told that an arrest warrant had been issued against him in England relating to the IDF's demolition of 60 homes in Rafah.

Solicitors Hickman and Rose said the 54-year-old had been due to be arrested on suspicion of committing a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention 1949, which is a criminal offence in the UK under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957.

Senior District Judge Timothy Workman had given the police authority to detain Maj Gen Almog during a hearing at Bow Street Magistrates' Court in central London, the law firm added.

The warrant relates to the bulldozing of more than 50 houses in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, when Maj Gen Almog was head of Israel's Southern Command.

It was seen as retaliation for an assault by Islamic militants on an Israeli Army post that left four soldiers dead.

Under war crime legislation other nations are compelled to take action against individuals if their home nation is unwilling to do so. This case is not dissimilar to the case in Belgium against Ariel Sharon which was dropped after sustained pressure from the US on Belgian authorities.

International law, especially when it comes to war crimes, has been seen largely as the west prosecuting those that it holds to be war criminals whilst absolving all of it's allies from any chance of facing prosecution.

This move by Israel is a welcome sign that the Israelis do not feel that the US will always be able to guarantee them immunity.
The chairman of the legislation committee, Justice Minister Haim Ramon, said it was essential to defend Israelis facing prosecution for carrying out their duties.

"This is crucial regulation to defend to the highest office-holders who were carrying out the state's instructions - first and foremost heads of the security establishment - from hostile elements that want to harm the State of Israel by putting these office-holders on the defendant's bench."
The fact that Israel feel the need to take these steps shows that eventually international law will have teeth. At the moment the US seem to embrace international law when it involves treaties regarding trading and seeks to ignore it when it comes to matters such as war crimes and the ability to wage war.

This is why Bush was able to ignore the UN Charter and indulge in his invasion of Iraq. Who seriously believes he will ever be held to the same standards that we demand of Milosovic?

However, when the US's main ally feels the need to take such precautions, this can only be welcomed as a step in the right direction to the day when we are all forced to act under the same rules and none of us enjoy immunity.

Click title for full article.

Cameron promises UK bill of rights to replace Human Rights Act

David Cameron has announced that, if elected, the Tories would replace the Human Rights Act with a US style Bill of Rights.

It was only to be expected that, with Blair attacking the Human Rights Act - an Act that his own government introduced - that the Tories would jump on the bandwagon.

However, Cameron's attack on the Act seems spectacularly ill conceived. For instance, he says that he intends that the UK should remain a signatory to the European convention on human rights, meaning that any citizen could challenge the government's reading of British law at Strasbourg - where the Human Rights Act is enshrined in law - meaning that any challenge to Cameron's new Bill of Rights is guaranteed to succeed.

Even the right wing of his own party have turned on him with Lord Tebbitt, that famous Europhobe, declaring, "European law would override it and we would be back where we are now, but in a bigger muddle perhaps."

This all began because Blair has got his knickers in a twist because he's not allowed to deport suspected terrorists to country's where they may face torture. He started ranting against what was a piece of his own government's legislation and Cameron has picked up the baton and is running very fast towards a brick wall.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said the suggestion was muddled, misconceived and dangerous.

A US-style bill of rights would outline the rights of citizens, while the Human Rights Act incorporates European rules into British law.

Both Blair and Cameron need to understand that the law is not necessarily bad simply because it doesn't allow you to do certain things that you might want to do. Sometimes the things you are proposing doing are not actually legal for very good reason.

This ridiculous game - that Blair started - has led both men into a ridiculous position because, at the end of the day, neither of them is going to carry out their threats. In order to do so, they would have to leave the European Convention and no-one seriously believes either of them is prepared to do that.

So we have this battle for the hearts of the right wing slobbering Daily Mail readers, with both men promising the Earth, and which neither will have the courage to deliver.

It's antics like this that gives politics a bad name. As the bard once famously described, "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Click title for full article.