Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tell Congress: Stop Big Media

Kevin Martin, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has been keeping a secret from the American people. He wants to push through plans to remove decades-old media ownership protections. And he's trying to do it without public scrutiny.

Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) have introduced groundbreaking bipartisan legislation that would hold the FCC accountable and put the people ahead of Big Media.

Petitions from the public — millions of them — stopped media consolidation in 2003. Sign the petition and tell everyone you know:

Countdown: Bush Bolts After Photo Op At Middle East Peace Summit

Bush can't even pronounce the names of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. That's how engaged he is in this process.

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

America in the Time of Empire

I am too busy to post much today but I came across this in Truthdig which is well worth reading:

All great empires and nations decay from within. By the time they hobble off the world stage, overrun by the hordes at the gates or vanishing quietly into the pages of history books, what made them successful and powerful no longer has relevance. This rot takes place over decades, as with the Soviet Union, or, even longer, as with the Roman, Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empires. It is often imperceptible.

Dying empires cling until the very end to the outward trappings of power. They mask their weakness behind a costly and technologically advanced military. They pursue increasingly unrealistic imperial ambitions. They stifle dissent with efficient and often ruthless mechanisms of control. They lose the capacity for empathy, which allows them to see themselves through the eyes of others, to create a world of accommodation rather than strife. The creeds and noble ideals of the nation become empty cliches, used to justify acts of greater plunder, corruption and violence. By the end, there is only a raw lust for power and few willing to confront it.

The most damning indicators of national decline are upon us. We have watched an oligarchy rise to take economic and political power. The top 1 percent of the population has amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, creating economic disparities unseen since the Depression. If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president, we will see the presidency controlled by two families for the last 24 years.

Massive debt, much of it in the hands of the Chinese, keeps piling up as we fund absurd imperial projects and useless foreign wars. Democratic freedoms are diminished in the name of national security. And the erosion of basic services, from education to health care to public housing, has left tens of millions of citizens in despair. The displacement of genuine debate and civil and political discourse with the noise and glitter of public spectacle and entertainment has left us ignorant of the outside world, and blind to how it perceives us. We are fed trivia and celebrity gossip in place of news.

An increasing number of voices, especially within the military, are speaking to this stark deterioration. They describe a political class that no longer knows how to separate personal gain from the common good, a class driving the nation into the ground.

“There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of forces in Iraq, recently told the New York Times, adding that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”

The American working class, once the most prosperous on Earth, has been politically disempowered, impoverished and abandoned. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. State and federal assistance programs have been slashed. The corporations, those that orchestrated the flight of jobs and the abolishment of workers’ rights, control every federal agency in Washington, including the Department of Labor. They have dismantled the regulations that had made the country’s managed capitalism a success for ordinary men and women. The Democratic and Republican Parties now take corporate money and do the bidding of corporate interests.

Philadelphia is a textbook example. The city has seen a precipitous decline in manufacturing jobs, jobs that allowed households to live comfortably on one salary. The city had 35 percent of its workforce employed in the manufacturing sector in 1950, perhaps the zenith of the American empire. Thirty years later, this had fallen to 20 percent. Today it is 8.8 percent. Commensurate jobs, jobs that offer benefits, health care and most important enough money to provide hope for the future, no longer exist. The former manufacturing centers from Flint, Mich., to Youngstown, Ohio, are open sores, testaments to a growing internal collapse.

The United States has gone from being the world’s largest creditor to its largest debtor. As of September 2006, the country was, for the first time in a century, paying out more than it received in investments. Trillions of dollars go into defense while the nation’s infrastructure, from levees in New Orleans to highway bridges in Minnesota, collapses. We spend almost as much on military power as the rest of the world combined, while Social Security and Medicare entitlements are jeopardized because of huge deficits. Money is available for war, but not for the simple necessities of daily life.

Nothing makes these diseased priorities more starkly clear than what the White House did last week. On the same day, Tuesday, President Bush vetoed a domestic spending bill for education, job training and health programs, yet signed another bill giving the Pentagon about $471 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. All this in the shadow of a Joint Economic Committee report suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been twice as expensive than previously imagined, almost $1.5 trillion.

The decision to measure the strength of the state in military terms is fatal. It leads to a growing cynicism among a disenchanted citizenry and a Hobbesian ethic of individual gain at the expense of everyone else. Few want to fight and die for a Halliburton or an Exxon. This is why we do not have a draft. It is why taxes have not been raised and we borrow to fund the war. It is why the state has organized, and spends billions to maintain, a mercenary army in Iraq. We leave the fighting and dying mostly to our poor and hired killers. No nationwide sacrifices are required. We will worry about it later.

It all amounts to a tacit complicity on the part of a passive population. This permits the oligarchy to squander capital and lives. It creates a world where we speak exclusively in the language of violence. It has plunged us into an endless cycle of war and conflict that is draining away the vitality, resources and promise of the nation.

It signals the twilight of our empire.

By Chris Hedges

This column was originally published by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Click title for source.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bush: 'Worth It to Try' on Mideast Peace

Quote of the fucking decade:

Hours after opening a Mideast conference, President Bush said Tuesday he was worried about the consequences if the search for peace failed but declared, "It is worth it to try."

Bush cautioned it would take time for Israelis and Palestinians to reach an agreement. The goal is to reach an accord within 14 months by the end of Bush's presidency.

"I don't think it's a risk to try for peace," the president said in an Oval Office interview with reporters from The Associated Press. "I think it's an obligation."
Then why has he been the first American President to so blatantly ignore that obligation for seven long years?

Indeed, he encouraged Ariel Sharon to use force to create a "new reality" in the Middle East rather than to seek peace, as he is the first US president who has legitimised the illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories when he said that there will be no return to the borders of 1967.

That's quite a track record for a man who now says he has an "obligation" to seek peace. He appears to have been doing everything in his power to avoid it since he came to office, hoping that Israel's superior fire power would win the day.

His plan failed.

So, now he sets out to portray himself as a man of peace, as he once famously called Ariel Sharon.

There are many of us who view Bush as exactly the same kind of man of peace as Sharon was.

Both of them are war criminals.

Click title for full article.

This must have been an akward meeting...

The man who won the popular vote gets together with the guy elected by the Electoral College. What did they talk about?

Fred Thompson attacks Fox News

Iraqis may offer US deal to stay longer

Here we go:

-- Iraq's leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq. We are ready to build that relationship in a sustainable way that protects our mutual interests, promotes regional stability, and requires fewer Coalition forces.

-- In response, this Declaration is the first step in a three-step process that will normalize U.S.-Iraqi relations in a way which is consistent with Iraq's sovereignty and will help Iraq regain its rightful status in the international community – something both we and the Iraqis seek. The second step is the renewal of the Multinational Force-Iraq's Chapter VII United Nations mandate for a final year, followed by the third step, the negotiation of the detailed arrangements that will codify our bilateral relationship after the Chapter VII mandate expires.

This is Maliki offering Bush a permanent presence in Iraq as long as Bush will guarantee to protect Maliki's government against any internal coups. Senator Lindsey Graham recently hinted that if Maliki's government didn't do more then it would have to be replaced:
The conditions are right now and, quite honestly, if they can’t do it by the end of the year, I have real doubts that this group will ever do it so we need a new political strategy to find a group that can.
And now we have Maliki offering Bush a permanent presence in Iraq as long as the US will protect Maliki's government from internal coups, from... well, perhaps from the Sunnis that the US has recently started co-operating with.

Now, of course, the Bush administration have always insisted that they do not want permanent bases in Iraq:
"We do not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. Our goal is to help Iraq stand on its own feet, to be able to look after its own security, and to do what we can to help achieve that goal."
Of course people like Tony Snow found it hard to keep telling the blatant lie as this exchange shows:
Q Would you like to reaffirm what you said earlier today, that the U.S. wants no permanent bases in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Well, I think -- let me -- because -- can you define what a permanent base is?

Q No, I can't.

MR. SNOW: Well, then how can I get a question --

Q Except into infinity -- no, no, no, you're dancing around already.

MR. SNOW: No, I'm not dancing around. I'm actually trying to get a specific question answered.

Q Okay, say flatly, does the United States want bases in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: It has bases in Iraq, and the United States will have bases -- look, the United States, Secretary Rice has said -- well, number one, it's premature to talk about how long they're going to be there. Number two, Ambassador Khalilzad has said we have no desire for permanent bases. Number three, when it comes to a permanent base, that is not the call of the United States. As you know, Iraq has a sovereign government. So the issue of --

Q It's about as sovereign as the President being able to go into Iraq and not even tell the President.

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, obviously, Helen, you're preaching and not asking. Let's go to you.
Now, there were many of us who always wondered why, if there was to be no permanent US presence on Iraqi soil, that the US was bothering to build an Iraqi embassy larger than the Vatican and several bases which certainly looked permanent.

Now, not only are the US to be invited to stay longer, but they are to bribed into doing so:

The two senior Iraqi officials said Iraqi authorities had discussed the broad outlines of the proposal with U.S. military and diplomatic representatives. The Americans appeared generally favorable subject to negotiations on the details, which include preferential treatment for American investments, according to the Iraqi officials involved in the discussions.

The two Iraqi officials, who are from two different political parties, spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is sensitive. Members of parliament were briefed on the plan during a three-hour closed-door meeting Sunday, during which lawmakers loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr objected to the formula.

Preferential treatment for U.S. investors could provide a huge windfall if Iraq can achieve enough stability to exploit its vast oil resources. Such a deal would also enable the United States to maintain leverage against Iranian expansion at a time of growing fears about Tehran's nuclear aspirations.

The discussion foresees a US permanent presence of about 50,000 troops stationed outside of Iraq's main cities as opposed to the 160,000 US troops currently in Iraq.

As Muckraker puts it:
Make no mistake: this is Nouri al-Maliki offering the U.S. a permanent presence in return for guaranteeing the security of his government. In exchange for a platform for the indefinite projection of American power throughout the Middle East, the Bush Administration probably considers protection for Maliki and his coterie to be a small price to pay.
A small price indeed. And, finally, Bush's lie is exposed for what it is:
"As a proud and independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation and neither does America."
Oh, wait... suddenly we do...

Click title for full article.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bush powerless when it comes to "imposing peace" in the Middle East.

My cynicism ahead of the Annapolis conference will be well known to anybody who regularly reads here. However, to say that Bush is falling over himself to lower expectations ahead of this particular conference - the first the US has had since Clinton left the White House - would be an understatement:

President Bush today welcomed key participants in the Middle East conference that is getting under way in Annapolis, Md., with an acknowledgment that the United States cannot force peace on the region.

“The United States cannot impose our vision, but we can help facilitate,” the president said in the Oval Office before meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
Yeah, 'cos I find it almost impossible to imagine the United States forcing their world view down anyone else's throats. And it would be unthinkable for the US to pressure their ally to give up settlements which are illegal under international law or even to conform to UN resolution 242 which demands that Israel returns to the pre-1967 borders.

No, suddenly the most powerful country in the world is utterly impotent and unable to exert any pressure at all on this situation.

And, as far as the New York Times are concerned, Olmert is not even pretending that he thinks anything will come out of this:
A couple hours earlier, President Bush welcomed the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to the Oval Office. While Mr. Bush expressed the hope that the Annapolis session would bear fruit, Mr. Olmert seemed less optimistic.

“Thanks for coming to the Annapolis Conference,” Mr. Bush told the prime minister before their private meeting. “I’m looking forward to continuing our serious dialogue with you and the president of the Palestinian Authority to see whether or nor peace is possible. I’m optimistic, I know you’re optimistic, and I want to thank you for your courage and your friendship.”

But Mr. Olmert did not grasp the opportunity to confirm the optimism that President Bush said he was sure the prime minister was feeling, although he did said he was “delighted” to be in the Oval Office.

“This time it’s different,” Mr. Olmert said, “because we are going to have lots of participants in what I hope will launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians. This will be a bilateral process, but international support is very important for us.”

The prime minister went on to say that he hoped the Annapolis conference would produce “something that will be very good and create a great hope for our peoples.”

The president and prime minister seemed comfortable with each other on a personal level, but Mr. Olmert’s somewhat elliptical remarks may have reflected a feeling among Israeli officials, voiced privately this morning, that the Annapolis session is unlikely to produce a major, lasting breakthrough.
So the Israelis have arrived and started privately briefing that this conference will produce nothing.

And Bush is making it very clear that "the Decider" is suddenly impotent to do anything at all about Israeli intransigence.

They promised that this wouldn't simply be a photo-op, but all the signs are that Annapolis is set to be just that... And, apparently, there's nothing Bush can do about it.

Nor is there going to be no price to pay for this, as even the New York Times acknowledges:
The stakes for Mr. Abbas are considerable. If he should leave Annapolis in what appears to be a weakened posture, the Islamic militant group Hamas would probably try to fill the power vacuum, as a spokesman for the group signaled on Sunday.
Abbas is supposed to be their man, and yet they are - if first impressions count for anything - going to hang him out to dry and send him back home with nothing.

This is how they encourage the "moderates"?

I expected at least a token gesture at an attempt to make peace, but Olmert appears unwilling to give even that, and Bush is making it very clear that he is powerless to "impose our vision".

If only he had been powerless to impose his vision on Iraq. How many more innocent Iraqis and Americans would be alive today had that been the case?

Click title for full article.

Buying The War

Bill Moyers is one of my favourite American journalists. He's produced a documentary on the way the Bush regime sold the Iraq war and the complicity of certain parts of the US media in the selling of that war. It's well worth watching. You can do so by clicking here.

Four years ago on May 1, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln and delivered a speech in front of a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. Despite profound questions and the increasing violence in Baghdad, many in the press confirmed the White House's claim that the war was won. How did they get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 continue to go largely unreported?

The War On Christmas

Hat tip to DaveAwayFromHome

Wow. Fox News says “Blogs are Biased.”

Blogs are biased? That's news? Surely the difference is that blogs don't pretend to be "fair and balanced"?

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

Boost for Middle East summit as Syria joins in

As Syria agree to send a deputy foreign minister to Annapolis - they would have sent someone higher but the Golan Heights is not on the agenda - to accompany the Saudi Arabian delegation, there can be no doubting that Israel's neighbours are giving this conference their very best shot, despite their understandable cynicism that they might be being used for a very expensive photo-op.

However, even before the conference has begun, there are indications that the Israelis are already dragging their feet.

First, they made the bizarre claim that the Palestinians must recognise Israel's "right to exist as a Jewish state". An extraordinary proposition that ups the ante considerably from the usual demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel's "right to exist", which is contentious enough in Arab eyes as it asks Palestinians to accept that the Nakba was somehow justified. Their latest formulation appears to take the subject of "right to return" off the table completely. After all, how can a Palestinian have a right to return to a Jewish state?

Now we find that Olmert is refusing to be specific about the final status of Israel and Palestine's borders.

Diplomats said Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, was trying last night to bridge the gaps. Negotiations have been deadlocked for weeks over whether the document should address the final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, Jerusalem, and refugees. Israel wants to keep it vague; the Palestinians want detail and a timetable.

These are the first substantive talks to take place since President Clinton left office and the fact that they are taking place at all is an indication that even Bush has realised that his policy of allowing the Israelis to sort this out through force has been woefully unsuccessful. However, his deeply pro-Israeli bias will still be in place and I imagine very little actual pressure will be put on Olmert to change his stance on the issues that matter. Olmert can, simply by the very fact that he is attending, claim that he is searching for a partner in peace; but if - as reported - he wants to keep things vague, then one has to wonder how serious he is about actually finding a solution as opposed to attending simply in order to say that he tried.

U.S. National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, has already started explaining the lack of a joint Israeli and Palestinian declaration as something unimportant, which fits perfectly into the Israeli script:
As Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams scrambled on Sunday to formulate the statement to present at the summit, Hadley said, "The two sides took the unexpected step of seeking negotiations, and the declaration no longer needed to serve as a vehicle to prod them to do so."

"If we get something, if they can agree on some things as an input to the negotiations, that would be fine," Hadley said. "But I think it is really no longer on the critical path to a successful conference."
So, what was vital a few weeks ago no longer matters, simply because Israel refuse to give it. Indeed, the document needed to ensure that this was not simply an expensive photo-op is now being portrayed as a document to ensure that both sides "sought negotiations". So the very fact that they are meeting at all is sold as a success, rather than defining anything specific that they should be meeting to discuss. All of this perfectly fits into Olmert's wish to avoid details.

Indeed, Hadley outlined the President's thoughts on the forthcoming conference in ways that, strangely, seemed identical to Israel's thoughts on the matter:
In a briefing to the press Sunday, Hadley said that "the President will probably decide that it is not the time for him to put out specific ideas on how to resolve any of these particular issues" - namely borders, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.
So, no rush on any of the points which matter most to the Palestinians. Indeed, Olmert's spokeswoman made clear that the conference could have wider significance:
Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Olmert, said Sunday "Israel sees in a positive way the high-ranking participation of Syria in a conference which is clearly about the Israeli-Palestinian track, but could open additional avenues to peace in the Middle East."
In other words, it's really useful to bring together a delegation of Israel's neighbours that does not include Iran.

Why do I have so little faith that anything is going to come from this? Perhaps it's because the man who will need to push things forward has never shown any inclination to do anything other than "ride herd" as he calls it, which is the last thing that is needed at Annapolis. Bush, a President who likes to make bold statements and then delegate, appears not to understand that - when it comes to the Israeli-Plaestine dispute - the devil is in the detail.

Then there is his profound lack of knowledge and sense of history concerning this dispute.

Flynt Everett, once the top adviser to Ms Rice on Middle East matters, but now a strong critic of the President, last week related how at a 2002 meeting in the White House situation room, he heard Mr Bush say that as soon as the Palestinians had a democratically elected government, their leadership would be "less hung-up" on issues like borders and the status of Jerusalem.

Mr Everett was astounded. It was, he told the Washington Post last week, "one of the most profoundly ignorant statements anyone has ever uttered on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

So, I wish the participants well, but I have no great hope that much is going to come from this.

Related Articles:

Bush's last chance to leave a legacy of peace

Tony Blair, whose quiet but effective involvement as Middle East envoy has so far been largely positive, argues that progress on Israeli security, a better economy for the Palestinians, and a political solution for both peoples all go hand in hand. This is an improvement on the "security first" doctrine, which holds that no progress is possible until Palestinian militancy has been crushed. Western and Arab countries will have a chance at the summit to endorse Mr Blair's approach.

Click title for full article.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Breaking the Silence a film from John Pilger

Annapolis: The Cost of Failure

There's a very good article by Henry Siegman in the New York Review of Books which starts by asking what is in the Annapolis summit for Israel?

The "it" referred to guidelines the letter proposed for an agreement that would end Israel's occupation of the territories the IDF overran forty years ago in a conflict—as Israelis were reminded by the celebrated author David Grossman when he addressed a recent commemoration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination—that is now in its 100th year.

What is in it for Israel should be self-evident, but now that three new Israeli generations have been born having no memory of Israel without settlements, it no longer is; for too many, the occupation—and the spiral of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has come with it—is a given, the natural order of things.

An agreement that leads to the end of an occupation that with the best of intentions humiliates and brutalizes an entire nation should be more than enough of a reason to go for it. The subjugation and permanent dispossession of millions of people is surely not the vocation of Judaism, nor is it an acceptable condition for a Jewish national revival.

The whole notion of negotiating with Abbas was supposedly - and this is the Israeli argument - because he is a "moderate" and Israel are not prepared to negotiate with Hamas who the Palestinian people chose as their democratic representatives.

However, in order to persuade the Palestinians that more can be achieved by Abbas being "moderate" and Hamas being sidelined, then one would imagine that the Israelis would go out of their way to show Abbas's approach produces results.

In 2005, following Abbas's election as president of the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank, worked out a detailed agreement with the Israeli government to remove many of the obstacles which plague Palestinian daily life.

The plan included the creation of a safe passage that would link the populations of the West Bank and Gaza—a connection that is vitally important to the social, cultural, and economic life of these geographically separated entities, to which Israel had already committed itself in the Oslo accords. The whole point of that agreement was to show Palestinians that Abbas's moderation and opposition to violence could obtain results that Israel had denied his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. It proved the opposite. According to Wolfensohn, Israel violated the agreement before the ink of its representatives' signatures had dried.

"In the months that followed, every aspect of the agreement was abrogated," Wolfensohn, an observant Jew and a lifelong friend and generous philanthropic supporter of Israel, recently told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. Indeed, instead of removing checkpoints, more were added. Reading the Ha'aretz interview, it is difficult to avoid the impression that this firsthand experience with Israel's dealings with the Palestinians profoundly disillusioned Wolfensohn, who came to see the equities of the conflict in a new light.

There is also the constant and oft repeated claim that Israel offers everything and is usually given nothing in return.

It is not true, as Israelis often claim, that Palestinians refuse to compromise. (Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously complained that "Palestinians take and take while Israel gives and gives.") That is an indecent charge, not only because so far Israel has given Palestinians nothing, but because Palestinians made the most far-reaching compromise of all when, in 1988, Arafat formally accepted the legitimacy of Israel within the 1949 armistice line (i.e., the pre-1967 border). With that concession, Palestinians gave up their claim to more than half the territory that the United Nations 1947 Partition Resolution had assigned to Palestine's Arab inhabitants. Palestinians have never received credit for this wrenching and historic concession, made well before Israel formally recognized that Palestinians have a right to sovereignty in any part of Palestine. The notion that Palestinians can now be compelled to accept "border adjustments" at the expense of the 22 per cent of the territory that is left them is deeply offensive to Palestinians, and understandably so.

He then goes on to discuss Olmert's obstructionism, a point which is largely ignored in western press reports of the conditions being set before this conference at Annapolis takes place.

If Annapolis fails, it will be because of Israel's rejection of the single most central condition for success: full disclosure of its definition of viable Palestinian statehood. Olmert has already reneged on his earlier endorsement of Rice's insistence that the meeting must produce a joint statement outlining a permanent status agreement to avoid becoming a meaningless photo op, and it remains unlikely that any meaningful joint declaration can be reached.

According to Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz's diplomatic correspondent, Olmert is adept at marching "in the no-man's land between talk and action." For Olmert, Benn says, engaging in high-level talks and granting gestures to the Palestinians creates "the most convenient diplomatic situation," because such gestures are "in themselves sufficient to remove international pressure on Israel to withdraw from the territories and to end the occupation." At the same time, "as long as it's all talk and there are no agreements," internal pressures not to cede the territories are neutralized. Olmert seems to have succeeded in turning Annapolis into that kind of no-man's land.

Siegman appears to think that this is a unique opportunity for the Israelis to negotiate with "moderate" Palestinians, a point which I do not agree with. "Moderates" cannot simply be defined as people whom Israel deem worthy of talking to.

I think negotiations should be with the people that the Palestinians chose to represent them; however, I do agree that the dangers for Israel - should Olmert use this conference as no more than a photo-op to take pressure off of Israel - will be severe and life threatening to Israel herself.

More important, should Annapolis fail, prospects for resuming a viable peace process at some future date will be made increasingly unlikely by the changing demographic balance in Palestine. A clear Arab majority in historic Palestine, a situation that is imminent, will persuade Palestinians and their leaders that the quest for a two-state solution is a fool's pursuit. They may conclude that rather than settling for even less than 22 percent of Palestine—i.e., less than half the territory that the international community confirmed in the 1947 Partition Resolution of the UN is the legitimate patrimony of Palestine's Arab population—it would be better to renounce separate Palestinian statehood and instead demand equal rights in a state of Israel that includes all of Palestine. Why settle for crumbs now if as a result of their decisive majority they will soon become the dominant political and cultural force in all of Palestine?

Israel and her supporters always reject the charge of Apartheid when it is made towards this conflict, but Israel will very soon find herself controlling the lives of more Palestinians than it does Israelis. If, at that point, it remains obvious that we have an Israel intent on permanently denying its majority Arab population the rights and privileges it accords to its minority of Jewish citizens, then it is highly unlikely that the international community would be able to look away and accord Israel the astonishing leeway she has enjoyed up until this point.

As Siegman points out:
It would be an apartheid regime that, one hopes, a majority of Israelis would themselves not abide.
At that point the calls for a one state solution would reach a crescendo and Israel's preferred solution of the Palestinians remaining in Israeli controlled bantusans - where they get a vote so we all pretend that they are actually running the Palestinian Authority, when in reality they are running their own prison for the Israelis - would be revealed as the intellectual and moral vacuum which it is.

It is in Israel's interests to make the deal, but from all of Olmert's stances so far, he simply doesn't appear to get it.

Click title for Siegman's interesting article.


Bush's style when it comes to the Israel-Palestine dispute:

"Hands off would be an understatement," said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator. He now heads the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation and the Prospects for Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation.

Nathan Brown, a Mideast expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "What's remarkable is the extent to which he's been disengaged, with only episodic parachuting in with absolutely no follow-up."

To Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bush strikes him "as someone who closes deals, not someone who painstakingly sets them up. Mideast peace needs to be painstakingly set up. ... Making a statement is one thing, but cajoling, prodding and nudging are just as important."

It really is almost impossible to think of an American President who has put less effort into this conflict than the current inhabitant of the White House, or one that has been more relentlessly pro-Israeli.

Kasparov: Bush's America has lost it's crediblity.

Garry Kasparov on Putin's Russia and Bush's America.

This guy is dynamite...

Hat tip to The Largest Minority.

The Largest Minority are also reporting that:

Chess grandmaster and Russian presidential candidate Garry Kasparov was forced to the ground, beaten, and arrested by Moscow riot police yesterday during an anti-Kremlin rally of around 3,000 people. Protesters attempted to deliver a petition to the Central Election Commission building, but were stopped and pushed into three police buses. Kasparov is head of Other Russia, an umbrella coalition of several movements opposed to the authoritarian control of President Vladimir Putin.

Kasparov was taken to a city court, where he was sentenced to five days in jail for organizing an unauthorized protest and resisting arrest. “What you’ve heard is all lies,” Kasparov said after the sentence was read. “The testimony is contradictory. There was not a single word of truth.” Two riot police testified in court that they were given direct orders before the rally to arrest Kasparov. One of the policemen did acknowledge that the two reports filed were contradictory.

Kasparov has stated his intention to run for the presidency next March, but his party, along with a number of other opposition parties, has been denied registration for the upcoming parliamentary vote. Eduard Limonov, leader of the National Bolshevik Party, was also arrested.

The same link will take you to the story.

Richard Perle: ‘I Don’t Believe I Was Wrong’ About Iraq.

Perle is, to this day, still defending his position on the Iraq war.

Asked whether he was wrong on Iraq, Perle gave this response:

"Well, I don’t believe I was wrong. Let me be very clear about that. What I think happened is that a successful invasion was turned into an unsuccessful occupation. I didn’t favor the occupation strategy. I think the occupation was a mistake."

But once the war began, Perle specifically endorsed the Paul Bremer-led occupation of Iraq. And repeatedly claimed it was producing good results. Appearing on Fox News on April 7, 2004, Perle said, “We’re making so much progress with most Iraqis that those who feel threatened by the progress are more devoted and more energetic than ever to try to destroy the progress we’re making.”

Democratic response by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to President Bush's radio address

"It will take the army at least a decade to repair the damage done to it's full spectrum readiness, which is at it's lowest level since the Vietnam war".

Cameron to Meet Bush at White House

Since Michael Howard had a visit to the White House cancelled, after Karl Rove made it very clear that he would not be welcome because of his comments on the legality of the Iraq war, the Tories have found it almost impossible to get any of their leaders to meet with George W. Bush.

Until now...

Next week George Bush will meet with David Cameron and we will witness a further deterioration in the relationship between George Bush and Gordon Brown.

The meeting, which has been the subject of intense negotiations between the Tories and Mr Bush's aides, will take the form of a "drop in" while Mr Cameron and William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, hold talks at the White House with the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

White House aides said the meeting with Mr Bush probably would last up to an hour.

It will be the first visit by a Conservative leader to Washington since Iain Duncan Smith met the president six years ago - the longest period the Conservatives have spent in relative exile from the US since the 1930s.

And aides to Bush are making it very clear that this is a deliberate snub to Brown:

Aides say that the president does not feel the deep sense of loyalty to Mr Brown that he felt towards his predecessor, Tony Blair, which stopped him from forging warmer relations with previous Tory leaders.

A foreign policy adviser to the White House said: "The Bush administration is pretty down on Brown, so they would be happy to meet Cameron. Bush was utterly loyal to Blair and wouldn't have talked to or promoted any rival. With Brown, they feel no such obligation."

So the poisoned chalice of Bush's politically toxic friendship has been passed to Cameron. Perhaps he is foolish enough to view this as a victory of sorts. Although, he would be wise to note that Brown has gone to great lengths to stress his friendship with the USA whilst simultaneously distancing himself from the current inhabitant of the Oval Office.

As Howard crashes from power in Australia, Cameron would do well to remember the fate that befell all those who associated themselves too closely to the Toxic Texan. Berlusconi, Aznar, Blair and now Howard: all gone.

Nile Gardiner, a former adviser to Baroness Thatcher and now expert on transatlantic relations at Heritage, the leading Conservative think tank with close ties to the Bush administration, said: "The special relationship is certainly beginning to suffer under Gordon Brown. There is now greater willingness on part of the White House and the administration to reach out to the Conservatives.

"The Blair era is very clearly over and that has created an important opportunity for the Conservatives to move in. There was still some bad blood over David Cameron's remarks on the anniversary of 9/11 last year so it will be an important meeting."

Quite why Cameron would want to associate himself with such damaged goods is simply beyond me, unless he sees this merely as a chance to show himself off as some kind of international statesman.

Cameron has been seeking to reinvent the Tories as a new kind of conservative party, one that cares about the environment and opposes the Iraq war.

Which only makes association with Bush all the odder.

One thing is for certain, there will be no tears over this at Number Ten. Indeed, the more Bush meets with Brown's political rivals, the less constrained Brown will feel at pulling away from Bush's disastrous policies.

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Howard's End

The supporters of George W. Bush's War on Terror have been falling by the wayside for quite some time now.

Aznar: gone. Berlusconi: gone. Blair: gone.

And now, the last of the true believers, a man who not only supported the war in Iraq but was - until recently - a man who had resisted efforts to curb global warming; now, even John Howard has fallen on his sword with a defeat in the Australian elections which has seen him swept from power after eleven years as Prime Minister. His defeat has been so comprehensive that it looks likely that he might also lose the seat he has held for 33 years as an MP in Benelong.

He is replaced by Labor party leader Kevin Rudd, a man about whom very little is known, other than the fact that he is not John Howard.

His victory marked a humiliating end to the career of Howard after voters turned on their aging Prime Minister with ferocity. The scale of the 'Rudd-slide' surpassed all expectations, with the Labor party winning more seats than it had hoped for. The new leader said Australia was 'moving forward to plan, prepare and embrace the future'.

Howard's defeat was finally delivered by the key defection of the group that had for so long supported him - the 'Aussie battler' - the disillusioned blue-collar voters that Howard had won over from Labor in his sweeping victory in 1996 -renamed 'Howard's battlers'.

The only person still in office who is publicly associated with the Iraq war is now George Bush, and he holds office with a disapproval rating that is possibly going to set new records for an American President.

One by one, the men who embraced Bush's "with us or against us" reaction to 9-11 have fallen from grace. Perhaps, if they had concentrated on rooting out al Qaeda, they would have retained the support of their electorates. Who can tell? But what seems obvious is that the side step into Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with the events on 9-11 - has exhausted the patience of electorates worldwide, perhaps due to it's lack of visible success and the promise of politicians that it must go on for years to come with no end in sight.

And whilst it is impossible to put Howard's defeat solely down to the Iraq war - and other positions that he shared with Bush - it is undeniable that his successor is promising a new direction for Australia.

Rudd is expected to hit the ground running on issues such as climate change, marking his first weeks in power by ratifying the Kyoto protocol and heading Australia's delegation to the United Nations climate change conference in Bali. His attendance will signify a huge shift in Australia's attitude towards environmental issues, overturning Howard's boycott of the protocol.

Rudd has also promised to bring back Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq in a phased withdrawal.

What is also undeniable, as we have witnessed with Gordon Brown here in the UK, is that the new leaders will be very wary of associating themselves too closely with an American President whose friendship appears to be so toxic to one's political health.

So Howard is the last of the leaders who supported Bush's mindset to be removed from office and Bush himself now limps towards the finish line, with a US public that not only "doubts that U.S. foreign policy is working", but who are "increasingly skeptical about whether anything can turn the situation around".

The US public appear to share the views of other electorates around the world, that the current plan is simply not working. Against that backdrop one really has to wonder what hopes Giuliani realistically has of being elected by promising "more of the same". The Bush mindset appears to have been comprehensively rejected worldwide, and John Howard's landslide defeat is merely the most recent example of this.


And here he is, spouting the line that a vote for Obama would be welcomed by al Qaeda.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

John Gibson: White House deserves medal for outing Plame

The lengths that some Bush supporters will go to in order to defend the indefensible appears to know no bounds.

The War on Democracy - Trailer.

What hopes for Annapolis?

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have failed to come to an agreement on a joint statement for next weeks Annapolis summit searching for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Hamas' Gaza leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has already predicted that the summit will be stillborn and achieve nothing for the Palestinians.

"We realize that this conference was stillborn and is not going to achieve for the Palestinian people any of its goals or any of the political and legal rights due to them," Haniyeh said outside the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza City.

Haniyeh said Abbas did not have the mandate to make compromises in talks with Israel, especially over the demand of Palestinian refugees to return with their families to homes in Israel they lost during the 1948 War of Independence.

"No one is authorized to compromise or to give up any of these rights, especially the right of return," Haniyeh said.

Haniyeh also called on Abbas not to cave in to a recent Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. "We do not recognize that this state is Jewish," Haniyeh said.
Israelis are also deeply negative about the chance of peace coming from this conference and about Olmert's legitimacy to conduct the negotiations:

Polls published yesterday showed most Israelis support Annapolis but few expect results. According to one poll, published by the Ma'ariv newspaper, up to 50% of the Israeli public think Olmert has no mandate to negotiate with the Palestinians because of his unpopularity over last year's war in Lebanon and the alleged corruption scandals that surround him.

So Bush is assembling a group of people that the Palestinians didn't vote for and an Israeli Prime Minister who is so low in the polls that it's hard to imagine how he could be less popular.

And yet. the Bush administration have managed to persuade the Saudis to send a delegation to Annapolis, which is something of a coup.
The US-brokered Annapolis peace conference was given a significant boost yesterday when heavyweight Saudi Arabia decided to send its foreign minister to the launch of the first peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in seven years. Syria, Israel's most implacable Arab enemy, signalled that it was now also likely to attend.

Prince Saud al-Faisal said he would be taking part in next Tuesday's Maryland summit as part of an Arab "consensus" of support for the Palestinians - despite near-universal gloom about the prospects of agreement on the toughest issues.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had urged fellow Arab leaders to come to Annapolis, arguing that there were prospects of meaningful negotiations with Ehud Olmert of Israel on the creation of a Palestinian state within a year. "We have a historic opportunity," Abbas told reporters in Cairo. "We are hoping that we will be together at the conference discussing all tracks, the Palestinian-Israeli track, the Syrian-Israeli track and the Lebanese track."

Saudi Arabia, home to the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina as well as a quarter of world oil reserves, is Washington's closest ally in the Arab world. Its presence guarantees wide, if sceptical, Arab support for George Bush's initiative.

I would love nothing more than for a peace deal to come from this conference, but I remain highly sceptical about the legitimacy of Abbas to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians, as he is not their democratically elected representative.

Likewise, Israel's ludicrous insistence that the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a "Jewish" state appears to me to be a way of removing the subject of "right to return" from the table before negotiations even begin. And, if Olmert is as insistent upon this as he's claiming to be, then the talks are simply a waste of time.

George Bush has ignored the Israeli-Palestine crisis more than any previous American President. Indeed, I find it hard to imagine any American President who was more pro-Israeli than Bush has been and more willing to stand aside and refuse to condemn some of Israel's more brutal attacks on the Palestinians over the past seven years.

His policy of allowing brute force to change things on the ground has resulted in abject failure, and succeeded only in splitting the Palestinians into a vicious civil war which has separated Gaza politically from the West Bank. Which was perhaps the point and is possibly why he has agreed to talks now between the unelected Abbas and Israel.

But, even with the involvement of the Saudis, one has to wonder how any deal made in such circumstances can have any legitimacy.

The Israeli public remain willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve peace, even if they remain deeply suspect of Olmert's reasons for attending Annapolis.

As Olmert flies to the US tomorrow, Israeli police will reveal whether they will bring charges against him in connection with a banking scandal. The Ma'ariv poll, which questioned 500 people, said 53% believed he was only going to Annapolis to improve his public standing, while 38% thought he wanted to make peace.

The same poll produced a mixed verdict on Abbas, with 48% saying they felt he wanted peace and 46% saying he did not. It found 56% of Israelis were in favour of evacuating some or all of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Ha'aretz newspaper has warned against the cynicism of people like myself:
"Even the cynics acknowledge that the broad outlines of a two state solution are known, clear and acceptable to the majority in both nations. The question, therefore, remains: if not at Annapolis - then where, and if not now - then when?"
And I would have to agree with that statement. We all know what the solution to this problem will look like. It is already spelled out in resolution 242. Israel must return to the pre-1967 borders and remove all illegal Israeli settlements.

Simple, eh? Then why am I so pessimistic that Israel will ever agree to this formula for peace which is accepted by every nation on the planet except Israel and the United States?

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Do Conservatives Spend Their Time Thinking About?

Honestly, these people are beyond satire...

Conservapedia's most viewed list:

1. Main Page‎ [1,897,388]
2. Homosexuality‎ [1,488,013]

3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis‎ [516,193]

4. Homosexuality and Promiscuity‎ [416,767]

5. Homosexuality and Parasites‎ [387,438]

6. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea‎ [328,045]

7. Homosexuality and Domestic Violence‎ [325,547]

8. Gay Bowel Syndrome‎ [314,076]

9. Homosexuality and Syphilis‎ [262,015]

10. Homosexuality and Mental Health‎ [249,14]
Hat tip to Crooks and Liars and to The Agonist.

Countdown’s Worst Persons: Kellyanne Conway, Fox’s John Gibson, and Swift Boat’s T. Boone Pickens

Candidates slam Saudi rape verdict

Bush, so quick to condemn other nations in the Middle East, is, as usual, strangely quiet when it comes to condemning any atrocity involving Saudi Arabia. Even if that atrocity involves a raped woman being given 90 lashes.

UN official says Israel's siege of Gaza breeds extremism and human suffering

A senior United Nations official has issued an unprecedented appeal to British MP's to use their influence to tackle the "indiscriminate" and "illegal" Israeli sanctions in Gaza which he says are "serving the agenda of extremists".

In one of the strongest attacks on recent Israeli strategy issued by a senior international official, John Ging, Gaza's director of operations for the refugee agency UNRWA, said that "crushing sanctions" imposed since the Israeli cabinet declared the Strip a "hostile entity" in September had contributed to "truly appalling living conditions."

Mr Ging said the measures had been justified as protection from what he fully acknowledged were rocket attacks "terrorising" the Israeli civilian population within range. The rockets have killed two people this year and injured 99 others. But citing cuts in fuel and planned cuts in electricity along with closures which have had "an atrocious" impact on Palestinian medical care, "destroyed" Gaza's economy and threatened already "Third World" water and sanitation, he told the Britain-Palestine group of MPs: "This presupposes that the civilian population are somehow more capable of stopping the rocket fire than the powerful military of the occupying power.

"My message ... is that not only are these sanctions not working, but because of their profound inhumanity, they are counterproductive to their stated purpose and while Gaza is not yet an entity populated by people hostile to their neighbour, it inevitably will be if the current approach of collective punitive sanctions continues."

Collective punishment is a war crime and yet that is exactly what the Israelis continue to do to the people of the Gaza strip with the apparent complicity of the US and the EU.
Israeli officials cite signs of a decline in Hamas's popularity as evidence that the sanctions are working. But Mr Ging said the "human suffering and misery for the entire civilian population in Gaza was creating fertile ground for the extremists".
The question should not be whether or not the sanctions are working, the question should be whether or not the sanctions are legal. Punishing the entire population of Gaza for the actions of the few is collective punishment, whether it is "working" towards Israel's stated purpose of reducing Hamas's popularity or not.

The world's silence as Israel commits these atrocities is actually shocking. I sometimes wonder if we have stopped viewing the Palestinians as people at all. We are certainly astonishingly cavalier towards the levels of hardship these people must endure for crimes that they have not committed.
The Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights says that 11 patients have died since last month because their treatment was blocked or delayed. At least 800 more are being denied treatment abroad.
As Ging rightly states, treating people with such barbarism will only drive them into the arms of the extremists. It used to be that we fought extremism by encouraging the democratic ideal. In the case of Palestine, the very opposite has turned out to be the case. It was their democratic decision to elect Hamas that set in motion the series of events which led us to where we are today.

So, if we are not going to tackle extremism by the imposition of the democratic ideal, what are we going to tackle it with?

Israel's answer appears to be collective punishment. That's hardly a noble alternative.

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Pakistan suspended from Commonwealth

Dana Perino recently hinted that the US was impotent to do anything to encourage Pakistan to give up it's emergency rule and claimed that "there's not much else that can be done" other than asking Musharraf nicely if he wouldn't mind restoring democracy.

Thankfully, the Commonwealth has taken a more robust stance than it's US counterparts and has suspended Pakistan for the second time in eight years. Pakistan's suspension will remain in force until emergency rule is lifted.

Gordon Brown welcomed the decision late last night in Kampala, Uganda saying the move was necessary and justified. He said Britain would work with the Commonwealth to see that the terms on which Pakistan could be readmitted were met.

The decision came after four hours of talks in Kampala at foreign minister level, with Britain and Canada leading the call for suspension with terms for readmittance. Some of Pakistan's fellow Asian countries, such as Malaysia, opposed. Smaller countries, including African ones, backed outright suspension.

Mr Brown added: "President Musharraf has said that he will take steps necessary to restore democracy. The Commonwealth is strongly of the view that he must do so. We will work with Pakistan and the Commonwealth to ensure Pakistan returns to its rightful position in the Commonwealth once the remaining steps are taken."

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said the international community had to pressure Pakistan into holding free and fair elections. A British minister added: "We would have looked limp-wristed in the eyes of the world if we had not acted. Musharraf says he is making changes, but it is very clear that this is not a run up to free and fair elections."

The Commonwealth are at least taking action where Bush has, indeed, looked ineffectual and weak; asking that Musharraf restore democracy whilst offering no punishment should he fail to do so. Indeed, the notion that "there's not much else that can be done" by the US to pressure Pakistan to restore democracy ignores the enormous financial aid that the US sends to Pakistan to fight the war on terror.

The difference between the US and the Commonwealth is that the Commonwealth is interested in restoring democracy and Bush is interested in keeping Musharraf in power. Bush's entire policy towards Pakistan is based on Musharraf, which is why we are now witnessing the US pussy footing around this military dictator as he places Supreme Court judges under house arrest so that his hand picked judges can declare his recent "election" legal.

American claims of impotence regarding Musharraf have a hollow ring, especially as Musharraf's stated reason for imposing emergency rule is so that he can tackle "extremism", when it is clear to everyone that the people he is arresting are the moderates and his political rivals, so the whole exercise is designed to keep himself in power rather than tackle "extremism".

But then, Musharraf's whole game with the US has been based on this false premise. He has always portrayed the US's choice as between him or the extremists running Pakistan, and the US has - to date - always chosen Musharraf.

Pakistan have reacted to the suspension with anger:

Pakistan's foreign ministry has said the suspension was "unreasonable and unjustified".

The ministry said that the Commonwealth had failed to appreciate Pakistan's "serious internal crisis".

Pakistan's ambassador to Washington Mahmud Ali Durrani told the BBC the government regretted the decision.

He said the authorities were committed to lifting the state of emergency as soon as possible, but that would be done according to Pakistan's timetable, not under threat from outside powers.

The trouble is that the Pakistani authorities will lift the suspension just as soon as Musharraf has been declared legally elected. At the moment Musharraf is talking about holding fresh elections whilst his rivals remain in jail, which is a simply ludicrous proposition.

Britain's Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has stated that the "decision was taken in sorrow, not in anger", and that the Commonwealth hopes to readmit Pakistan as soon as possible.

But at least the Commonwealth have taken a stance, unlike the Americans, who are feigning impotence whilst Musharraf makes a mockery of the democratic ideal. The very same democratic ideal that Bush claims to be exporting to Iraq. However, in the case of Pakistan, Bush is faced with a choice between the democratic ideal and Musharraf remaining in power. And he appears to be favouring the latter. The Commonwealth, thankfully, are insisting on the former.

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