Saturday, June 30, 2007
The man who, famously, consulted his "other father" before deciding to invade Iraq, has turned to his paternal father to sort out his decidedly frosty relations with Vladimer Putin.
The venue for Bush's latest meeting with Putin is not the White House or Camp David or even Bush's own Texas ranch. For the first time in six and a half years Bush is to hold a meeting at his father's home in Kennebunkport, Maine. The 41st President was known for his deft handling of theUS-Soviet relationship, a trait for which the 43rd President is decidedly less known.
He may have looked into Putin's eyes and seen a good soul but his planned missile defence system in Europe went down in Russia like a plate of cold sick. Putin has gone as far as to compare Bush's foreign policy to that of Nazi Germany.
Time to call for daddy's help.
And therein lies the rub. Bush has always rejected the style of Clinton and his own father, believing that he could reject diplomacy and insist on his strange "my way or the highway" style of leadership.
The bracing surrounds of George Bush Snr's home at Walker's Point, a rocky promontory on the Atlantic coast, was where the former president used to oil the wheels of top-level diplomacy with fishing trips and games of horseshoe.
Tomorrow and Monday, his son will be hoping to do the same. "What the President wants ... is the ambience and the background and the life out here just as it is when our family is here," Mr Bush Snr told a local radio station yesterday. "You sit down, no neckties, in a beautiful house looking over the sea and talk frankly without a lot of strap-hangers and note-takers."
Perhaps tactfully, the 41st president did not mention the deeper symbolism of the venue, a reminder of the moderate and multilateralist foreign policy he pursued, so conspicuously abandoned by the 43rd. The century-old stone and shingle house breathes the old East Coast Republican establishment - similarly rejected by the defiantly Texan son.
It has been catastrophically unsuccessful. We watched as he refused to do any deal with North Korea, saying that to do so would only be to "reward" North Korea for nuclear proliferation. North Korea simply went ahead and developed a nuclear weapon which Bush then "rewarded", in the words of John Bolton, by offering a deal if they would freeze their nuclear activities.
We are also witnessing a similar approach to Iran, who Bush refuses to negotiate with until the Iranians freeze all nuclear activity, despite the fact that what Iran are doing is perfectly and within their rights under the nuclear non proliferation treaty.
The Bush regime appear to have an almost pathological aversion to negotiation, insisting always that opponents concede defeat before any negotiations can take place.
After six and a half years we have the first indication that 43 might have worked out that this plan isn't working.
Such a sensible change of direction can only mean one thing: Dick Cheney is sedated and quietly sleeping in some antechamber.
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Gordon Brown's appointment as the new Prime Minister has caused Labour to jump seven points in the polls, putting them a clear four points above the conservatives and meaning, were an election to take place tomorrow, that Labour would - on these figures - actually increase their majority. Which makes Cameron's calls for an immediate general election somewhat suicidal.
The Tories are making a great deal out of the fact that the general public have not elected Brown, as if Britain is suddenly America, where one elects a President as opposed to a party. They are also ignoring the fact that there is precedent to a Prime Minister being changed without the government going to the polls, the most recent example of this being John Major's succeeding of Margaret Thatcher without Major seeking any approval from the British public.
The most impressive thing about Brown's premiership has been the fact that he has hit the ground running. He has already transformed the front bench team with some appointments that are bound to infuriate Washington.
The Conservatives had been bracing themselves for a Brown bounce, and privately believe the new prime minister is going to dominate the agenda for at least a fortnight. Mr Cameron's staff were relieved the Tory vote remained solid, but will be worried that leads on a raft of policy issues, including health, have dissipated. The Tories are holding back their policy review reports for some weeks and Mr Cameron will soon reshuffle his shadow cabinet.
Research for the poll began on Wednesday after Mr Brown became prime minister and was completed on Thursday night, after the new Cabinet was appointed.
Mr Brown continued his mould-breaking ministerial appointments, including a former head of the Royal Navy, Sir Alan West, who becomes minister for security at the Home Office. Lord Stevens will become his senior advisor on international security. Sir Digby Jones, the former CBI director general, has been appointed an industry minister and will take the Labour whip in the Lords.
This is clearly going to be a very different administration from the one that Blair ran.
And all the indications are that the public, so far, very much likes what it sees. Cameron was chosen to face Blair and, in many ways, has that same all-things-to-all-men appeal that Blair had.
Brown comes across as a welcome change to such frippery. He's a serious man and almost the opposite of what we are told will work in the televisual age. He reminds me of a politician from another time, as there is something austere and strict about his demeanour. This is not a man who wants to be our chum.
He strikes me as the perfect antidote to Blair's image as the king of spin. Cameron, however, is simply the Tory version of Blair.
If the opinion polls are any indication then perhaps the British public's love of spin is at an end, and David Cameron may very well find that he is the wrong man to unseat the very serious Mr. Brown.
Brown's lack of warmth may, ironically, prove to be Cameron's undoing; leaving the latter looking unserious and too Blair-like for the British public's taste. Blair overstayed his welcome with the British public, and recent polls indicate that they may very well decide that they don't want to replace him with the Tory equivalent.
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Two car bombs in central London. Neither goes off, although it appears that both were aimed at night club revellers as they made their way home, giving one the distinct impression that some sort of moral judgement was being made against a western lifestyle choice.
It was a busy night at Tiger Tiger, the Piccadilly bar and nightclub just refurbished in the "funky era" style of the 70s complete with disco balls and lava lamps. Thursday night - "ladies' night" - is one of the most popular for the clientele of Londoners and tourists in their 20s and 30s happy to pay a £5 cover charge and order jugs of Sex on the Beach and Mojito cocktails as they listen to music and dance.I presume the plan was to blow up "immoral" revellers as they made their drunken way home. The story has made front page news across Britain, despite the fact that the bombs failed to activate. The fear is that the kind of car bomb attacks that currently afflict Baghdad are now on their way to London.
In the early hours of yesterday, one guest suffered a minor head injury after a fall. An ambulance was called shortly after 1.25am to the club in Haymarket, just round the corner from Piccadilly Circus. Tiger Tiger, which can hold up to 1,700 people, was still crowded and there were hundreds of people on nearby streets heading home from other bars and clubs.
As they tended their patient, the crew from the London Ambulance Service noticed a grey-green Mercedes saloon with what appeared to be smoke inside.
What they saw was probably vapour from petrol which, along with nails and gas canisters, made up the device. The crew told its control room of their suspicions and control contacted the police. Bomb disposal experts, police vans and more ambulances were dispatched.
The whole of London yesterday continued to go on with it's day, almost unaffected by the events on Haymarket. And that, I feel, will continue to be the reaction no matter what the extremists do.
Opinions among senior figures who talked to the Guardian ranged from hope that the attack was limited to the two car bombs, to a real fear that more attempts could be on the way. One was clear: "We are very worried. This was a deadly serious attempt." Another said: "We can only guess at the intent and scale [of the terrorists]. We are having to guess."
MI5 cancelled leave for its frontline staff and security was stepped up at "iconic targets", with uniformed police patrols also increased. Security plans for weekend events from Wimbledon to a Gay Pride march in London were under review.
I have no idea whether my reaction is typical of most Londoners, but my reaction is simply this: Fuck them.
The IRA bombed the British mainland for 37 years and they did not succeed in making any of us change our way of life, and nor will these buggers. And old phrase from World War II comes to mind: No war was ever won by bombing London.
London is like New York, it is a frame of mind as much as it is anything else. And no-one will make Londoners cow by bombing them. Nor is there any logic behind the plan to bomb the city where two million people marched in protest against the Iraq war. If any city in the world had shown it disapproved of it's government's plans in Iraq then this is surely that city.
And yet still some moronic al-Qaeda sympathisers planned to kill Londoners as they made their drunken way home.
The fact that the intelligence communities say that this attempt was "off the radar" only makes me more convinced that this is going to turn out to be the work of some home-grown fanatics, some soon-to-be-arrested deluded loons who actually believe that there is such a thing as the clash of civilisations. Some nutters who spends their time sitting in their bedrooms watching beheading videos and planning Jihad.
The security services and police have been trying to increase the intelligence they have about extremists, but yesterday's attempts were "off the radar".
"There is no intelligence whatsoever that we were going to be attacked in this way," said the national counter-terrorism coordinator, deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke.
Were the evangelical Blair still sitting in Number Ten, he would no doubt tell us that this is why he had to invade Iraq, to prevent such mayhem from reaching our doorstep. It's another version of Bush's insane mantra that, "we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here".
It's bull. There is a reason why they choose to attack us as opposed to Sweden or Scandinavia.
So I can reject my government's warped logic whilst, simultaneously, rejecting the warped logic of those who sought to kill Londoners. Whatever they had hoped to achieve by maiming and killing Londoners, they would not have succeeded. We are too spectacularly cynical to be changed by such crude attacks.
However, and much more importantly, the cause for the anger and hatred which causes lunatics to set out to kill and maim innocents remains our behaviour in the Middle East; our occupation of Iraq and the unresolved question of the State of Palestine.
Sort that out and much of this hatred will dissipate. Until that day, many of us will continue to feel as if we are caught in the middle, between two equally insane proponents of two equally insane ideologies, both of whom are convinced that they are right.
Click title for full article.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Bush has lost his battle over immigration and can't hide his anger as he spits out this statement. His fight on this subject was always likely to pit him against the grassroots of his party, who have been wound up whenever it suited the Republican cause to rant against "waves of immigrants".
Of course, Bush's problem is that big business - who fund his party - were very keen on cheap Mexican workers. He could never please both camps. And there's an irony that the grassroots, who he is usually able to fob off with the odd religious remark or by letting it be known that he would like to overturn Roe vs Wade, has actually been victorious over big business' interests. Big business invests in the Republicans to avoid defeats like this. They won't be best pleased.
"Sand is flowing out of the hourglass," said Fred I. Greenstein, a Princeton University scholar on the presidency, who was struck by the gloomy tone of Bush's televised statement. "He looked much less like the kid on the cover of Mad magazine without a care. . . . He looked very angry and almost having difficulty getting the sentences out. That seems to me to contrast with some of the early stages" of his presidency.
Dear Mr Brown
Peace can only be returned to Iraq by a negotiated end to the occupation and an acceptance by Washington and London that the Shia religious parties, in alliance with the Kurds and influenced by Iran, are going to run the country.
You should take on board simple facts about Iraq that Tony Blair never seemed to grasp. The occupation is disliked by most Shia and Sunni Iraqis and is supported only by the Kurds. When the US and Britain overthrew Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated regime in 2003 they made it inevitable that the majority Shia community would rule and Iranian influence would increase. The contortions of US policy over the past four years are largely a vain attempt to avoid this outcome.
US officials and their Iraqi allies stuck in the Green Zone often take comfort in the fact that many Iraqis want a US pull-out over a period of a year or after Iraqi security forces are ready to take their place. They imagine that this means the Iraqis do not want them to go. The reality is that they do and the continuing presence of foreign forces means the government never learns to stand on its own feet and lives in a dependency culture. Sending in more troops to support a government is like giving a drunk more whisky, as one former senior US intelligence officer said.
The presence of foreign troops and a government dependent on them may delay a final explosion but it makes that final explosion all the more certain. All the talk of creating mixed Sunni-Shia government means stopping any winner emerging in the civil war that has been raging across Iraq since 2004.
The British record in Basra, for instance, has proved more dismal than the US's in Baghdad. The much-bruited British Operation Sinbad in Basra from September last year until March was talked up by British ministers at the time as an example of how to bring militias under control and strengthen local security forces. A year later it is the Shia militias who rule Basra and the battles between them are about taking over government institutions and resources - notably petrol - out of which they can make money. Racketeers rule the city. British troops are increasingly confined to their compounds and are relentlessly attacked when they leave.
Iraqi politics increasingly resembles Chicago during Prohibition in the 1920s in which criminal mafiosi and politicians are linked together and disputes are settled violently. Turf wars are endemic.
British soldiers now have no role in southern Iraq other than to provide targets. The only reason for them to stay is that the White House does not want to be wholly bereft of allies on the ground, and it would be embarrassing to admit the futility of the British presence over the past four years.
From Patrick Cockburn
Click title for source.
This is astonishing footage. Mika Brzezinski disagreed with her editor's choice that Paris Hilton should be the leading news story and, rather than read it out, chose to rip it up and then shred it live on air.
"You have changed the world," mocked host Joe Scarborough."Yes I have," replied Brzezinski, "at least my world."
"I just don't believe in covering that story, especially not as the lead story in a newscast when you have a day like today," she said. Brzezinski was brought up to consider weightier matters than a pampered socialite. Her father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, served as national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter.
Brown has made many interesting appointments, but surely the most interesting is that of David Miliband, the man who many thought might challenge Brown and win, as the youngest foreign secretary in three decades. Especially as Miliband is known to have been privately sceptical about the Iraq war.
Responding to his appointment yesterday, Mr Miliband called for "a diplomacy which is patient as well as purposeful, which listens as well as leads".Unlike Jack Straw, who played a leading role in justifying the conflict, Miliband comes to this conflict with no past record on the subject, there are no previous comments about early victories etc., that Miliband has lying like an albatross around his neck. He really does represent a clean start and in Europe and abroad he will be seen as carrying none of the baggage that Straw and Margaret Beckett carried.
The first problem he faces is in heading off Tory claims that Britain must have a referendum regarding the new European Treaty but it is generally thought that he will sufficient grasp of his brief to see this off with some ease.
Mr Miliband's elevation is extraordinary, making him the youngest foreign secretary since the ill-fated David Owen. Unlike Lord Owen, he has never worked in the Foreign Office before. He has socialism in his blood: his father was the Marxist professor Ralph Miliband, author of The State in a Capitalist Society.
He will present a stark contrast to his predecessor Mrs Beckett. He is energetic, modern, intellectual, non-tribal and instinctively pro-European. "It's a really interesting appointment," said Mark Leonard, the executive director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. "It's the first time since Robin Cook you have someone coming into the post with ideas about what foreign policy should look like. He's a natural internationalist."
Mr Miliband was one of a group of European foreign policy intellectuals who formulated the Laeken declaration in 2001 calling for institutional reform in the EU.
Miliband is a man that many of us, myself included, believe might one day be Prime Minister. Indeed, I was of the opinion that, if he challenged Brown in a leadership contest, that he might very well have won.
So he is an inspired choice for foreign secretary at a time when we not only have the Iraq war, but we have an American administration that seem to be considering action against Iran. Having already been instinctively against the Iraq war - and events since have proven that those of us who opposed that war were largely right - he is unlikely to approve, far less sign up to, any American action against Tehran.
Indeed, that largely applies to the new Prime Minister as well. David Blunkett revealed in his diaries that Brown only signed up to the Iraq war at the eleventh hour and only then because he feared that Blair would sack him if he didn't.
So George Bush faces a completely different British government, one that does not share his views over the Iraq conflict, and the appointment of Miliband tells us that Brown is not prepared to stick with the status quo.
Whereas Bush became used to expecting Blair's instant agreement on things like refusing to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Lebanon war, or possible action against the Iranians, that will not prove to be the case with Brown.
After the departure of Berlusconi and Aznar, Blair leaving Number Ten really does mean that Bush is isolated on the world stage, surrounded by a group of people who - with the exception of Merkel - really do not agree with his foreign policy.
There really are interesting times ahead. And Miliband's appointment tells us that Britain is about to embark on a much more independent course. When one couples this with the appointment of Sir Mark Malloch Brown to the post of minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, one really does sense that Brown is clearly signalling a change in the Special Relationship for as long as Bush is in power. Malloch Brown recently said that Bush and Blair's "loss of credibility" was imperilling the lives of humanitarian workers in conflict zones who were being "seen as serving western interests rather than universal values".
By appointing him to this post, Brown appears to be condoning what he said.
Click title for full article.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Finally managed to find a clip of Blair's last speech and the standing ovation he received as he left the chamber. Thought it might be of interest.
Cameron bids farewell.
The BBC's compilation of the last day
Gordon Brown is going to some length to prove that his administration will be a very different one from Tony Blair's, appointing Britain's first ever female home secretary, as he makes drastic changes around his cabinet table.
And in a move designed to show that he will utilise all the talent available to him regardless of which party the individuals belong to, he has appointed the TV business guru Sir Alan Sugar as a business advisor and is said to be in talks with Lady Williams of the Lib Dems about a possible position. Appointing Lady Williams would be an especially generous thing to do as it was the gang of four's breakaway from Labour in the eighties that many people think split the Labour vote and kept Thatcher in power and Labour in opposition for eighteen long years.
Jacqui Smith, the former chief whip, will take charge of the new-look department in a wide-ranging reshuffle that is likely to see six members of the Blair cabinet leave government altogether.
Alistair Darling, the former trade and industry secretary, is widely expected to replace Mr Brown as chancellor.
David Miliband, the Blairite environment secretary, has already been confirmed as one of the youngest ever foreign secretaries at the age of 41. "I'm tremendously honoured and delighted to be asked by the PM to be his foreign secretary," Mr Miliband told reporters.James Purnell is to be the new secretary of state for culture, media and sport. Mr Purnell, who once worked for the BBC and spent a year after the last election as a junior minister in the culture department, has been given the post by new prime minister Gordon Brown.
There is speculation that outgoing culture secretary Tessa Jowell could retain a portfolio looking after planning for the 2012 Olympics.
Douglas Alexander, a close ally of Mr Brown's who had already been picked as Labour's general election strategist - is likely to be further rewarded with a promotion to the Department for International Development, replacing Hilary Benn.
Alan Johnson is expected to take over as the new health secretary following Patricia Hewitt's resignation last night, and Jack Straw, Mr Brown's campaign manager, is likely to be appointed head of the new justice ministry.
I think by the end of today the government is going to look substantially different than it did yesterday with many of Blair's former favourites heading for the backbenches. One of the constant refrains on radio programmes this morning has been that we can't expect too much change as Brown has been a member of the government for the past ten years and has been part of all the decision making processes. I think this rather misses the point. For whilst it is true that Brown was Blair's accomplice in the New Labour project, for Brown New Labour was a matter of political expedience, in his heart he remained old Labour down to his bones. And, whilst I fully expect him to govern from a centrist position, the fact that his heart is Old Labour will, I suspect, stop him from taking any of those wild lurches to the right that were where Blair's natural tendencies always seemed top lead him.
So there is a big change in Downing Street and I don't think it will prove to be a superficial one.
Blair was, at heart, a rather right wing politician; Brown, at heart, is not.
A new beginning.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007
This was posted on YouTube by a fan of Coulter who celebrates the fact that she "whips Matthew's ass!" Now I can that agree he rolls over and plays dead, but can anyone deny that he is interviewing an insane person? Why is she allowed this level of access to the media when she is clearly foaming at the mouth?
She thinks that what America needs is to have "less concern" about civilian casualties? She wants to get rid of the idea of "clean hygienic wars", meaning wars where we avoid - wherever possible - civilian casualties. When asked if she worries that killing civilians may produce more youngsters willing to become enemies of the United States she replies, "No, no, no ,no, no; because you are destroying the society that produces these monsters and you win by killing the other side."
She is, apparently, actively advocating the killing of civilians. But then, this is the woman who, post 9-11 said, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity".
What's astonishing is that an American TV station should allow a full hour to such a crazy person. The only ray of hope I take from this is that the crowd watching is literally about thirty people, and I'm being generous when I say that. I could honestly count them and give you an exact number if I could be bothered. Which I can't...
Ironically, I only this morning stated this:
And so today he takes his final bow. There is much to criticise, and regular readers here will know that I have never been slow to do so. However, there is also much to applaud. And, as Blair bows, I will do so. There was a day though - pre-Iraq - when I would have given him a standing ovation.Well, the members of the House of Commons were much more generous than I proposed being, giving Blair a standing ovation from all sides. This is the first time I have ever been aware of such a thing happening in the Commons.
The House gave him a gentle send off with tributes flowing in from friends and foes alike, with even Iain Paisley heaping praise upon him. I paraphrase, but Blair replied something along the lines of, "I was waiting for the 'but', but it didn't come".
Conservative leader David Cameron hailed Mr Blair's "remarkable achievement" in being prime minister for 10 years, praising peace in Northern Ireland and Mr Blair's work in the developing world which he said will "endure".
He wished Mr Blair "every success for whatever he does in the future".
Mr Blair thanked Mr Cameron for his tributes and said although he could not wish the Tory leader well politically, "personally I wish both him and his family very well indeed".
He caused great laughter when he informed the House that he received his P45 on Tuesday.
And, whilst admitting that he "never pretended to be a great House of Commons man", he admitted that he had always feared the House of Commons and said that at three minutes to twelve before every Prime Ministers Questions he had always felt "a tingling sense of anticipation".
He noted, "In that fear, there is respect."
Then, ever the showman, he finished with a flourish.
And with that they stood. Every single one of them. And, sitting at a set of traffic lights in west London, myself and a friend clapped along as we waited for the lights to change.
"Politics is still the arena which sets the heart beating a little faster". "As well as skulduggery," it is the place of high causes, he concludes.
The outgoing prime minister's final words to parliament are: "I wish everyone, friend or foe, well and that is that; the end."
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Glenn Greenwald's new book "A Tragic Legacy" is released today. A new excerpt from the book is available here.
I shall certainly be buying a copy and would encourage others to do so. Greenwald's writing is always of a very high standard and it's nice to see a blogger enjoy such success.
Another excerpt is to be found here, although I'll print the section that I liked below:
One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness -- who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil -- is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations -- moral, pragmatic, or otherwise -- on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.
Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.
Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone.
It is from these premises that the most amoral or even most reprehensible outcomes can be -- and often are -- produced by political movements and political leaders grounded in universal moral certainties. Intoxicated by his own righteousness and therefore immune from doubt, the Manichean warrior becomes capable of acts of moral monstrousness that would be unthinkable in the absence of such unquestionable moral conviction. One who believes himself to be leading a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good will be incapable of understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally.These principles illuminate a central, and tragic, paradox at the heart of the Bush presidency.
During Hardball's love in with Ann Coulter—-Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of John Edwards, called in and asked her to stop lowering the bar with personal attacks in the country's political debate. Coulter was not ready for this one. Her only defence is to claim that this is an attempt to get her to stop writing books and to stop speaking.
Coulter later questioned why the presidential candidate didn't phone in himself, to which Elizabeth had a ready answer. "I haven't talked to John about this call. I'm phoning in as a mother," she said to much applause. "I'm the mother of that boy who died. . . These young people behind you are the age of my children. You're asking them to particpate in a dialogue that's based on hatefullness and ugliness instead of on the issues and I don't think that's serving them or this country very well.Again, Coulter continued to see this as a first amendment issue. "I think we've heard all we need to hear," she says. "The wife of a presidential candidate is asking me to stop speaking. No." Coulter comes across as more insane than usual.
Brown is either a wonderful stage manager or simply one of the luckiest men ever to become British Prime Minister. For the defection, coming on the day Brown assumes power, gives the impression that Labour is the party of the future and Cameron's Tories are a pale imitation.
Quentin Davies, a pro-European appalled by Mr Cameron's Eurosceptic line, accused the Tories of standing for nothing and being driven by public relations. He heaped praise on the "towering record" of Mr Brown, who personally wooed him to Labour at a series of private meetings in the past two months.
The 63-year-old former shadow cabinet minister was accused of "treachery" by former Tory colleagues, who challenged him to cause a by-election in his Grantham and Stamford constituency, where he has a majority of 7,445.
It's a devastating indictment, and strikes at the heart of what many see as the fatal weakness of Cameron's new Conservative Party and it's lurch into the middle ground. It's very hard not to write it all off as so much pandering to the crowds, it's certainly almost impossible to believe that the Tory Party agree with the direction that Cameron is taking them in.
Labour's surprise coup on the eve of Mr Brown's premiership gives the incoming prime minister him some valuable ammunition to fire at the Conservative leader. In an open letter to Mr Cameron, Mr Davies, a former shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said that, after more than 30 years in the party, he could no longer carry on "living a lie". He accused Mr Cameron of breaking a promise that he would not pull Tory MEPs out of the European People's Party, the main centre-right group in the European Parliament.
"Under your leadership, the Party appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything," he said. "It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda."
Mr Davies described the Tory leader's foreign policy as a shambles, accused him of being opportunist for demanding an inquiry into the Iraq war and criticised his "green air miles" scheme to combat global warming as "complete nonsense".
And the timing simply couldn't be more harmful, coming on the day of a Brown succession that Cameron has, at least publicly, always said that he was looking forward to.
However, this day will now be remembered for Davies' savage attack on the leader of his old party, the most devastating of which was surely:
"Although you have many positive qualities you have three - superficiality, unreliability and an apparent lack of any clear convictions, which in my view ought to exclude you from the position of national leadership to which you aspire."Even Sir Geoffrey Howe's attack on Thatcher, which eventually led to her downfall, wasn't anywhere near as savage as that.
So no matter what else happens today, Brown can surely count his first day in office as a good one. And Cameron can peruse on the fact that the wily old Scotsman, who he has been waiting with baited breath to replace Blair, isn't going to be the pushover that Cameron had hoped for.
Brown's either very clever or very lucky. Neither bodes well for Cameron.
Click title for full article.
I remember only too well the day he entered office. It was a bright May morning and the entire nation felt as if it was a new dawn. Even friends of mine who were Tory and who couldn't bring themselves to vote for him admitted that, after eighteen years of Tory rule, it was time for a change.
He had been elected with the largest landslide in a 100 years. Looking back on the images of the young man making his way to the Palace to ask the Queen for permission to form his cabinet, he looks impossibly young, but then, don't we all after ten years?
At noon Mr Blair leaves Downing Street to attend his last PMQs in the House of Commons. Despite the huge platform for photographers and camera crews being set up outside No 10, he is not planning to say any words as he leaves.His start was actually surprisingly tame, earning him the nickname "Bambi", he certainly never behaved like a man who was carrying a mandate from the British people and the largest majority seen for a century.
The task he set himself was gargantuan and actually much more difficult to achieve than anything Thatcher had set for herself. Thatcher set out to make cuts which, of course, one can achieve with the swift movement of a pen. Blair set out to transform the civil service and to restore the damage done to the health service and to the education system after eighteen years of Tory disinvestment.
So, for the first four or five years not a lot seemed to be happening. Indeed, it was only after he went to the polls for a second time and was confronted by the wife of a cancer sufferer during the election campaign on the steps of a hospital that Blair's premiership seemed to invigorate itself. He suddenly seemed to stop worrying about being liked and set about transforming Britain.
New hospitals began to open and old ones had facelifts, the nurses that he had been training over the last five years were, at last, ready to take up their posts. The second term seemed energised leaving behind the timidity of the first.
His military action in Kosovo was wildly popular sold as an intervention to stop ethnic cleansing.
He will then return to No 10 and say farewells to staff, many of whom - including chief of staff Jonathan Powell and press bosses David Hill and Tom Kelly - are leaving Downing Street with him.His highlights include bringing in the minimum wage, lowering the age of consent for gay sex, introducing paternal leave for fathers, enabling the economy to rise to the fourth largest in the world, overseeing the largest drop in unemployment for decades, and - the jewel in his crown - negotiating a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.
After 3,708 days in Downing Street, Mr Blair will formally tender his resignation to the Queen shortly after 1pm. Accompanied by Cherie, he will make the five-minute drive to Buckingham Palace. Mrs Blair will wait in an anteroom while Mr Blair says farewell to the Queen. No written resignation is necessary: his word is enough.There can be no denying that the Britain he leaves behind is a nicer, more liberal, fairer society than the one he inherited. Indeed, he has changed the political landscape to such an extent that David Cameron, in order to have any chance of being elected, has had to abandon the Tory rhetoric of the past and scramble towards the middle ground, even if his party do not seem to want to follow him on that path.
He will probably then head for Chequers, the prime minister's official residence, in Buckinghamshire, which he has been allowed to hang on to for a few days to say farewell to staff there. The house the Blairs have bought in Connaught Square, near Hyde Park, is still not ready.I personally believe that his early success in Kosovo blinded him to the danger of wars. Unlike Clinton, who had his fingers burnt in Somalia, Blair always associated wars abroad with success. I well remember Blair walking through Kosovo and the crowds, those large emotional crowds chanting, "Tony, Tony, Tony." It was moving enough to witness as a bystander, I can only imagine how that would effect the main protagonist.
For a few minutes the country will be prime minister-less. But as Mr Blair leaves Buckingham Palace, Gordon Brown will head there - probably with wife Sarah. The Queen will invite him to form a government. He will immediately take on Mr Blair's protection squad.Then came the election of Bush, 9-11, and what appeared - to those of us on the left - as Blair's descent into madness.
I give money to his party and worked with my local Labour party, pounding the streets, to help ensure his election and subsequent re-election. Therefore, it was with some sense of unreality that I found myself, with two million others, marching through London demanding that he rethink his plans to join Bush in attacking Iraq.
In the preamble to the war there were many who spoke of the "Baghdad bounce", as if - once Saddam had been toppled - we would all see the error of our ways and rise applauding. I never bought into that notion. I thought at the time that, although he would succeed, he would return to a Britain that was sullen and a Labour Party who would never forgive him for circumventing the United Nations.
Iraq's subsequent descent into chaos and civil war, the non existent weapons of mass destruction and Blair's stubborn refusal to ever countenance the notion that he might have made a mistake drove a permanent wedge between Blair and the grassroots of his party.
When he joined Bush in refusing to call for a ceasefire during the Israel-Lebanon war last summer, he crossed an ideological bridge too far for the party to ignore it. Immediately, coups were launched and Blair - in order to remain in office - had to promise that the speech to party conference he was about to give, would be his last one.
It was over. He had started the clock ticking on his premiership.
And today it ends. What to say, what to say? It would be easy for an old leftie like myself to harp on about the Iraq war and how that will be his lasting legacy. And Iraq has undeniably stained and, in many ways, defined his premiership. But there were many achievements under Blair.
And I do genuinely believe that the country he leaves behind is a better and fairer one than the country he inherited, even if he leaves it still embroiled in an unwinnable and immoral war.
Blair. He was a very good Prime Minister. The tragedy, for me, is that he could have been a great one. But, like so many British Prime Ministers, Britain was never enough for him. Eventually, he got the smell of that world stage in his nostrils and found that he was more appreciated overseas than he was back at home. And, whilst he was accepting plaudits from an admiring overseas audience, back at Westminster plotters were plotting.
Like Thatcher before him, he was brought down - not by the opposition - but by his own party. With Thatcher, it was her unwavering stance on Europe which alienated conservatives. With Blair, it was his unwavering loyalty to Bush which eventually became too much for his own party to stomach.
And so today he takes his final bow. There is much to criticise, and regular readers here will know that I have never been slow to do so. However, there is also much to applaud. And, as Blair bows, I will do so. There was a day though - pre-Iraq - when I would have given him a standing ovation.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
As Bush visited a High School he was presented with a letter signed by fifty high school seniors in the Presidential Scholars program urging a halt to "violations of the human rights" of terror suspects held by the United States.
Bush apparently was taken back and did not expect to presented with such a letter. Nevertheless, he took the time to read it.
The handwritten letter said the students "believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions."
"We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants," the letter said.
"The president enjoyed a visit with the students, accepted the letter and upon reading it let the student know that the United States does not torture and that we value human rights," deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.At the same time as we are learning things like this:
According to Alberto J. Mora, Cheney was actually setting out, when he asked Bush to adopt Addington's formula, to specifically avoid a ban on cruelty. Now, most sane people would at this point be perplexed, after all what is the difference between torture and cruelty? Mora has the answer:In international law, Mora said, cruelty is defined as "the imposition of severe physical or mental pain or suffering." He added: "Torture is an extreme version of cruelty."
So the honest answer should have been, "We don't do torture, we are a civilised nation. We only indulge in cruelty but we always stop before the pain level reaches that of organ failure or death."
With that he could have smiled sweetly and the camera could have gone for the close up on the girl's face as it filled with love knowing that her nation was led by a man of principle.
Click title for full article.
There is an eye opening article in yesterday's Washington Post regarding Cheney's role in implementing "robust interrogation techniques" and how he sought to distinguish this from torture, making distinctions that - to most sentient human beings - would be utterly meaningless.
What's startling is how early on in the war on terror that Cheney is pushing for this stuff.
The events of Abu Ghraib have often been written off as the work of a few bad apples, but here we have reports that, as early as January 2002, Cheney is looking for ways to by-pass the Geneva Conventions. Now the Geneva Conventions not only bans torture, but in equally unequivocal terms also bans the use of "violence," "cruel treatment" or "humiliating and degrading treatment" against a detainee "at any time and in any place whatsoever."
Shortly after the first accused terrorists reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, a delegation from CIA headquarters arrived in the Situation Room. The agency presented a delicate problem to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a man with next to no experience on the subject. Vice President Cheney's lawyer, who had a great deal of experience, sat nearby.
The meeting marked "the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up" among top-ranking White House officials, recalled John C. Yoo, who represented the Justice Department. "The CIA guys said, 'We're going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees'" if interrogators confined themselves to treatment allowed by the Geneva Conventions.
From that moment, well before previous accounts have suggested, Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive's will to resist. The vice president's office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion of prisoners in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials.
Indeed, The War Crimes Act of 1996 makes any grave breaches of those restrictions a US Felony. So how did Cheney get around the fact that what he was proposing was actually a felony under US law?
The vice president's counsel proposed that President Bush issue a carefully ambiguous directive. Detainees would be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of" the Geneva Conventions. When Bush issued his public decision two weeks later, on Feb. 7, 2002, he adopted Addington's formula -- with all its room for maneuver -- verbatim.Okay, so Cheney has now managed - as regards to compliance with US law - to buy himself wriggle room. He is now no longer bound by the letter of the Geneva Conventions, he is now acting "in a manner consistent with the principles of" the Geneva Conventions only as much as this is "consistent with military necessity".
That's quite a lot of wriggle room. According to Alberto J. Mora, Cheney was actually setting out, when he asked Bush to adopt Addington's formula, to specifically avoid a ban on cruelty. Now, most sane people would at this point be perplexed, after all what is the difference between torture and cruelty? Mora has the answer:
In international law, Mora said, cruelty is defined as "the imposition of severe physical or mental pain or suffering." He added: "Torture is an extreme version of cruelty."What fucking planet are these people on? It is simply astounding that there are people sitting around in offices in Washington making definitions of what constitutes an extreme version of cruelty. However, according to the article, that is precisely what they were doing. And what distinction did they come up with?
The Justice Department delivered a classified opinion on Aug. 1, 2002, stating that the U.S. law against torture "prohibits only the worst forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" and therefore permits many others. [Read the opinion] Distributed under the signature of Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, the opinion also narrowed the definition of "torture" to mean only suffering "equivalent in intensity" to the pain of "organ failure ..... or even death."So, any pain inflicted upon a captive that is not equivalent in intensity to the pain of organ failure or even death is not torture, it is merely being cruel. With such a standard in place, US pronouncements that "we don't do torture" are utterly meaningless. Indeed, the very fact that they seek to make such distinctions would lead any reasonable person to assume that they are, indeed, engaging in torture; they have simply decided to call it cruelty.
Now this "torture memo" as it became known has always been attributed to Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who had come to serve in the Office of Legal Counsel. However, Yoo now says that Gonzales and deputy White House counsel Timothy E. Flanigan also contributed to the analysis.
So now the line has moved from making a false distinction between cruelty and torture towards advocacy of torture itself. And the only argument at this point is regarding who should be allowed carry out these "robust interrogation techniques".
The vice president's lawyer advocated what was considered the memo's most radical claim: that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it crosses the line into torture. U.S. and treaty laws forbidding any person to "commit torture," that passage stated, "do not apply" to the commander in chief, because Congress "may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."
That same day, Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo signed off on a second secret opinion, the contents of which have never been made public. According to a source with direct knowledge, that opinion approved as lawful a long list of interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA -- including waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that the U.S. government has prosecuted as a war crime since at least 1901. The opinion drew the line against one request: threatening to bury a prisoner alive.
Yoo said for the first time in an interview that he verbally warned lawyers for the president, Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that it would be a risky policy to permit military interrogators to use the harshest techniques, because the armed services, vastly larger than the CIA, could overuse the tools or exceed the limits. "I always thought that only the CIA should do this, but people at the White House and at DOD felt differently," Yoo said. The migration of those techniques from the CIA to the military, and from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, aroused worldwide condemnation when abuse by U.S. troops was exposed.Is there anyone left on the planet who can read this and still believe that what took place in Abu Ghraib was the work of a few bad apples? According to this recent interview with Yoo, he has just admitted for the first time that this was being discussed with lawyers for the President, the Vice President and the Defense Secretary. I mean there is simply nowhere higher in the chain for this to go. And, as we know that these techniques were exported to Abu Ghraib, and that this was discussed with lawyers representing the top tiers of the administration, one can only assume that this was exported with their permission.
There are many more fascinating things in the article, which you can read by clicking the title, but it does seem to make a very strong case that not only were the US engaging in torture, whilst choosing to euphemistically refer to it as "cruelty", but they were doing so with the complete knowledge and complicity of the President, the Vice President and the then Secretary of Defense.
It is looking increasingly likely that Blair will be confirmed as the international community's special envoy to the Middle East later on today, a post he is likely to take up in the Autumn.
I have spoken before about how spectacularly unsuited I think Blair is for such a job, not only because his eagerness to invade Iraq has ruined his reputation in the region, but also because his failure to call for a ceasefire during the Israeli-Lebanon war led many to believe that, like his counterpart in the United States, he has a pro-Israeli bias. This makes putting him in charge of the Palestinian side of the conflict somewhat akin to putting a fox in charge of the henhouse. And that's roughly how it's been greeted in Palestine.
Mr Blair's role would focus on the Palestinian side of the conflict rather than negotiations between Israel and Palestinians.
At the top of his agenda will be an attempt to forge a Palestinian state, despite Hamas's takeover of Gaza.
But an official for the Islamist Hamas group said that 'the experience of our people with Blair was bad'.
His appointment as Quartet envoy 'may even make things worse', said the official, Sami Abu Zuhri.
Now, perhaps the thought is that Blair's role in forging peace in Northern Ireland will aid him in bringing the various Palestinian factions back together, however that is not really as difficult a task as it is being portrayed, after all Hamas are already seeking reconciliation with Fatah.
My real concern, leaving aside my belief that Blair has a pro-Israeli bias which will hinder rather than help any step towards genuine peace, is that Blair has always wanted Bush to seriously engage with the Israeli-Palestine crisis believing it to be the most important single step we could take to drain the swamp of terrorist recruitment for al-Qaeda. So, having been unable to force Bush to take this seriously as British Prime Minister, I am left wondering how he will be able to do so in the greatly decreased position of Special Envoy to the Middle East.
Nor does the remit he has been handed, as reported, give one much faith:
I have already published an article by John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinians on negotiations with Israel, as to why the Palestinians can never accept the notion of Israel's "right to exist" and really would suggest that anyone serious about understanding the Palestinian position read this.
It was being stressed last night that Mr Blair's role - in the short term at least - would not be to act as a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis, or to become a negotiator for the road map to peace. He might, however, be responsible for trying to persuade the Palestinians to accept the conditions for ending the international boycott of Hamas. The now defunct Hamas government has not received any international aid since its election in March 2006, although aid has been sent directly to the poorest Palestinians through a temporary international mechanism.
The quartet says aid can only be conditional on the Palestinians accepting the right of Israel to exist and giving a commitment to exclusively peaceful means and to abide by all previous agreements.
If Blair's role is to convince the Palestinians to accept Israel's "right to exist" then he is being handed a poisoned chalice, he is being asked to do something which sounds reasonable on the surface - from a western position - but which is impossible to achieve from the point of view of the Palestinians. So I suspect the new role Blair has accepted for himself is to spend the next few years telling the Palestinians how unreasonable they are being.
The only minuscule shred of optimism that I can take from this is that Blair is undoubtedly an intelligent man, albeit one who was schooled on the Middle East by Lord Levy. However, there is always just the shred of hope that, confronted by the Palestinians on a one to one basis, Blair may just begin to see their point of view.
My worry is that Blair always regards "political reality" as accepting the American position, which in this case is indistinguishable from the position of Israel.
The last person to hold this job was Jim Wolfensohn who was backed by Kofi Annan but opposed by Washington. The hope is that Blair's contacts with Washington will put him in a stronger position than the one Wolfensohn found himself in. And he undoubtedly will. My worry is that his position will only be strong as long as he is telling Washington what they want to hear.
Should he take a rush of blood to the head and suddenly insist that international law should be obeyed as it relates to this conflict, I feel quite sure that Dick Cheney and others will quickly find ways to make Blair see the "political reality".
Click title for full article.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Lara Logan broke a heartbreaking story concerning the treatment of some children in an Iraqi orphanage. She is then asked to address Bill O'Reilly's complaint that some networks and journalists are reporting suicide bombings etc, mainly because it harms President Bush.
LOGAN: Well, I mean, with all due respect to Bill O’Reilly or anyone who takes that line, I mean, I just — it’s ridiculous. It’s completely and utterly ludicrous. And how can you — the media’s job is not to serve one side or the other. That’s never been our job. We’re there to be the watchdog for all sides.
So it’s not up to us to say, oh, you know, it doesn’t — it doesn’t do well for the war effort if you show how many people are being killed, so we’re not going to show it. I mean, what are we talking about? That’s not even journalism.
Barack Obama has had the courage to call out the religious right in the United States on the way that they have "hijacked" faith to suit their own agenda.
He began by highlighting the ways in which he feels religion serves a useful purpose in the United States:
But then he turned his attention towards the religious right:
Mr. Obama said that religion has a rightful role to play in American politics, and he praised people of faith who he said are now using their influence to try to unite Americans against problems like poverty, AIDS, the health care crisis and the violence in Darfur.
“My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work,” he said.
“But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together,” Mr. Obama said. “Faith started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hijacked.”
He attributed this partly to “the so-called leaders of the Christian right, who’ve been all too eager to exploit what divides us.”
It's good to see that there's an American politician with the guts to take these nutcases on. For far too long they have simply been pandered to, especially by the current resident of the White House who spends too much time sending his silly coded messages which only makes him sound as if English is not his first language.
Click title for full article.
Sir Mark Malloch-Brown, the former UN deputy secretary-general under Kofi Annan, thinks that the Iraq war has led directly to the targeting of relief workers in conflict zones because under the policies of Bush and Blair they are now no longer viewed as neutral.
Nowhere is this becoming clearer than in the way the US has supported Abbas rather than the democratically elected Hamas government.
Sir Mark, the former UN deputy secretary-general under Kofi Annan, however, points out that the Sudanese President, General Omar al-Bashir, has been able to use the Iraq invasion as the prime reason to delay acceptance of a UN force in Darfur. "Tony Blair and George Bush have repeatedly called for the right kind of action in Darfur only to be rebuffed as the architects of Iraq. Bashir has tried to make them his best weapon.
"It is not their loss of credibility that concerns me today, but rather that of humanitarian workers. The trouble is the two are linked," he goes on. "I have watched the work I used to do get steadily more dangerous as it is seen as serving Western interests rather than universal values."
While at the UN, he says, he would see the maps of Darfur showing ever-widening yellow circles that mark no-go areas for humanitarian workers. "Iraq is the immediate cause for this. And 9/11 the preceding trigger - but both come at the end of a process that has knocked humanitarian work off the straight and narrow of non-political impartial help ... bringing help to the needy."
There is a terrible irony that the conflict that Blair hailed as a humanitarian intervention, similar in style he claimed to that of our interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, should have dealt such a blow to humanitarian work everywhere.
Sir Mark describes similar problems for humanitarian workers in such diverse places as Colombia and Gaza, where, he says "with Western support to Fatahland and a political-economic blockade of Hamastan, as one journalist put it, sides are being taken. The humanitarian effort is not neutral." More unarmed aid workers than military peacekeepers are being lost. Sir Mark's warning at an event organised by the International Rescue Committee comes after the Darfur head of mission for Médecins sans Frontières, Mark Fark, expressed concern that relief workers were being targeted by all the rival factions in Sudan's western province. "It's a free for all," he said. "All parties see the humanitarians as legitimate targets either for political reasons or as a resource," he said, referring to robberies in which cars, food deliveries or mobile telephones are stolen.
Sixty aid workers were killed in Darfur last year.
Because, of course, although Bush labelled it a war to "liberate" the people of Iraq, the world knew that this was a bare faced lie. This war was never about "liberating" the Iraqi people.
And, having masked America's intentions under such terms, Malloch-Brown implies that, whenever we do now try to intervene with the very best of intentions, our motives are suspect and our humanitarian workers are being seen as legitimate targets.
So that's the cost of the conflict to those who try to aid others, but there appears to be an even greater cost to Iraq's children, a subject that has again been raised at the UN.
An Iraqi doctor has addressed a direct appeal to the UN secretary general over the plight of children in his home country, warning that the violence there was causing widespread emotional and behavioural damage - and could lead to spiralling violence in the future.
"This is a crisis situation that needs urgent attention. Iraqi children are suffering from continuous exposure to violence; many are killed and mutilated every day. They suffer from neglect and abuse, oppression and the loss of parents through death and separation. Our children carry the future of Iraq, and that future is being corrupted. The risk is great, not just for our country, but for the region and the world."
The horrors that the children of Iraq have lived through for the past four years can't even be imagined by most of us. But we'll all live with the consequences of this.
Just as humanitarian workers are, at the moment, bearing the brunt for the Bush administration's lies.
Click title for full article.