Friday, February 29, 2008

Why The Double Standard?

Why is John McCain allowed to welcome an endorsement from the Rev. John C. Hagee, whilst Barack Obama is forced to denounce - nay, reject - the endorsement of Minister Louis Farrakhan, despite the fact that Obama never sought this endorsement?

When he was asked about Farrakhan endorsing him, Obama said he didn't court the endorsement and didn't welcome it, and that he had denounced Farrakhan repeatedly.

Clinton sensed an opening, though, and tried to make it seem as if Obama's denouncement were too weak a condemnation.

She said that she had rejected support from an anti-Semitic group in her 2000 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from New York. "There's a difference between denouncing and rejecting," she said. "We've got to be even stronger."

Obama adjusted quickly, dismissing Clinton's gambit in a tight answer that made her complaint seem silly.

"I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting," Obama said. "There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word `reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word `denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce."

Said Clinton, "Good. Good. Excellent."

Here's what McCain said about gaining the endorsement of Hagee:
Mr. McCain, who has been on a steady search for support among conservative and evangelical leaders who have long distrusted him, said he was “very honored'’ by Mr. Hagee’s endorsement.

Asked about Mr. Hagee’s extensive writings on Armageddon and about what one questioner said was Mr. Hagee’s belief that the anti-Christ will be the head of the European Union, Mr. McCain responded that “all I can tell you is that I am very proud to have Pastor John Hagee’s support.
Why is this blatant double standard being allowed?

Catholics United have sent a letter to McCain asking that he reject Hagee's endorsement. They state:
In his book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee has a chapter entitled “Centuries of Mistreatment” where he makes derisive claims against the Catholic Church. In one alarming and unsubstantiated passage, Hagee suggests that Hitler’s attendance in a Catholic grade school produced Hitler’s anti-Semitic world view. This rhetoric is part of a pattern of behavior employed by Pastor Hagee to discredit the Catholic faith.

To help set the record straight, Catholics United asks that you distance yourself from
Pastor Hagee’s anti-Catholic rhetoric and reject the endorsement. We suggest that you do this publicly and in unequivocal terms. By publicly addressing this issue, you will reaffirm to the American public and to Catholics that intolerance and bigotry have no place in American Presidential campaigns.
Will McCain reject this endorsement? Or is that something we only ask of Barack Obama when endorsements which he did not solicit are offered to him?

Report: Israeli occupation causes terror

A new report by the UN undermines one of the central tenets to Bush's road map for the Middle East: namely, that Palestinian violence should end as a prerequisite to Israel fulfilling her obligations under the road map.

The report, by John Dugard, points out what should be stunningly obvious to anyone paying attention, namely that the violence is a reaction to the occupation itself and that it does not exist in a vacuum.

The report — posted on the U.N. Human Rights Council's Web site — says that while Palestinian terrorist acts are deplorable, "they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation."

The report accuses the Jewish state of acts and policies consistent with all three.

As long as there is occupation, there will be terrorism, says the author, John Dugard, an independent investigator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a South African lawyer who campaigned against apartheid in the 1980s.

Dugard says in the report that "common sense ... dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation."

The report calls for an end to the Israeli occupation, citing the country's checkpoints and roadblocks restricting Palestinian movement, house demolitions and the "Judaization" of Jerusalem.

Until the occupation is ended, "peace cannot be expected, and violence will continue," the report says.

The Israelis have immediately rejected the logic behind this report and have accused Dugard of inflaming "the hatred between Israelis and Palestinians", as if by pointing out the obvious he is in some way causing even more violence. That the Israelis can make this argument on the same day that Israeli rockets kill young Palestinians as they play football is some indication of the disconnect from reality that is needed to advance some of these talking points.

The idea that the occupation causes violence ought not to be a controversial one. Here in the UK one of our most popular programmes was Dad's Army, telling the story of the Home Guard, a group of old men who had vowed to fight the Nazis, with pitchforks if necessary, should they have succeeded in invading Britain. It strikes me as odd that we should recognise and celebrate such patriotism when it is manifest in our own countrymen and yet express puzzlement when another people display a similar emotional attachment to their homeland.

But, by making the safety of the occupiers the responsibility of the occupied people, we really do turn logic on it's head. And it does make me wonder how serious any government is about finding a solution if they can impose such an immoral demand as a prerequisite of Israel being asked to fulfill her obligations.

And, of course, to add to the irony, all of this is occurring at a time when a majority of Israelis want their government to negotiate with Hamas, especially if doing so would aid the release of young Gilad Shalit. It would appear that the Israeli population possess a wisdom which is sadly lacking in their government.

Click title for full article.

OBAMA: Shooting Back at McCain

U.S. Embrace of Musharraf Irks Pakistanis

Bush's insistence on embracing Musharraf, despite his firm rejection by the Pakistani electorate, is leading to a wave of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

That support has rankled the public, politicians and journalists here, inciting deep anger at what is perceived as American meddling and the refusal of Washington to embrace the new, democratically elected government. John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, said Thursday during a Senate panel hearing that the United States would maintain its close ties to Mr. Musharraf.

Pakistanis say the Bush administration is grossly misjudging the political mood in Pakistan and squandering an opportunity to win support from the Pakistani public for its fight against terrorism. The opposition parties that won the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections say they are moderate and pro-American. By working with them, analysts say, Washington could gain a vital, new ally.

The American insistence that Mr. Musharraf play a significant role, they say, will only draw out a power struggle with the president and distract the new government from pushing ahead with alternatives to Mr. Musharraf’s policies on the economy and terrorism, which are widely viewed here as having failed.

“I’ve never seen such an irrational, impractical move on the part of the United States,” said Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. “The whole country has voted against Musharraf. This was a referendum against Musharraf.”

As I've always said, Bush has no Pakistani policy and has only a Musharraf policy. But watching him cling to Musharraf's coat tails after Musharraf has been rejected by the electorate is to watch Bush set fire to his own legacy which was supposed to include a love of democracy.

Pakistan's newspaper editorials are full of requests that the Americans back off:

Typical of the outrage was an editorial published Sunday by The News, an English-language newspaper, with the headline “Hands Off, Please!”

“No further efforts must be made to intervene in the democratic process in Pakistan,” the editorial read. “The man who the U.S. continues to back has in many ways become a central part of Pakistan’s problems.”

The truth is that Bush wants Musharraf because he knows him and, as we have seen with Rumsfeld and various other members of his own administration, Bush likes that with which he is familiar and is, therefore, highly resistant to change.

But the notion that the US is not interfering here and that it is operating a "neutral" policy, as they are claiming, is simply laughable on it's face.

During his Senate hearing on Thursday, Mr. Negroponte said, “I think we would, as a general proposition, urge that the moderate political forces work together, and of course President Musharraf is still the president of his country, and we look forward to continuing to work well with him as well.”

Well, he'd to fire the judiciary to stop them overturning that piece of political theatre, as I'm sure Negroponte is well aware. However, the Bush administration - these self styled lovers and exporters of democracy - have airbrushed that inconvenient fact out of their Pakistan fact sheet. Now he's simply the President, an immovable fact, and we should not bother ourselves with trifles like how he came to be re-elected.

Click title for full article.

Prince's cover in Afghanistan blown by Drudge Report

The Drudge Report have broke the news that Prince Harry has been serving in Afghanistan, much to the chagrin of the Ministry of Defence and the head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, who will now have to withdraw the Prince from Afghanistan for his own safety.

Apparently British newspapers and TV were aware of his involvement but had agreed to a press embargo in exchange for favourable access once his tour was complete. Now that Matt Drudge has opened his mouth they will have to withdraw this "bullet magnet" immediately.

The decision to send Prince Harry, 23, to Afghanistan under a cloak of secrecy came after the furore that followed the revelation of his proposed deployment to Iraq. Much to the Prince's frustration, General Dannatt announced in May last year that it would be too risky, fearing the Prince and his comrades in the Household Cavalry would become top priority targets for insurgents.

Immediately, officers decided the only way the third-in-line to the throne could continue to do his duty without creating an additional security risk was to send him secretly, calling on the media to co-operate in a news blackout.

By July, editors of key newspapers and broadcasting organisations were sounded out to see if such assistance would be forthcoming. Without dissent, all agreed that it was the only sensible and safe solution.

In December, days before Cornet Wales – as the Prince is known in The Blues and Royals – deployed to Helmand, editors met MoD officials and signed an understanding setting out the terms of the news blackout. While not a legally binding document, it was a statement of faith from the British press.

I turned on my TV last night and it was a sort of Harry-love-fest with footage of him sitting in what looked like a desert with a tank behind him and a gun jutting out of his breast jacket pocket, and later we had footage of him firing a machine gun. The notion that he was actually engaged in battle with the Taliban as ITN filmed this sequence was ludicrous.

It was also strange to later find out that he has been retrained as a forward air controller and was not single handedly battling the Taliban from his little gunner outpost, which is certainly the impression one got from watching the TV coverage.

The prince had retrained as an FAC after being refused permission to fight in Iraq alongside the men he had led in his regiment as troop leader. He admits now he was regarded as a "bullet magnet". As a compromise, he was allowed, under strict conditions of secrecy, to work from a fortified position a distance away from the frontline in Helmand province, calling in aircraft and observing enemy movements.

There's something faintly counter productive about sending royals to war zones, where they simply endanger themselves and everyone around them if their presence becomes known and I suppose this secret deployment to a fairly safe location was the best compromise for all involved.

It is thought the source for the Drudge Report article was a story printed last month in an Australian women's magazine, New Idea. The Drudge Report is most famous for breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal after Newsweek decided not to publish the story.

At 3.30pm yesterday the MoD received a call, confirming fears that a foreign news organisation would break the silence. A decision was taken to make a formal statement confirming the Prince had been in Afghanistan.

"I am very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us. This is in stark contrast to the highly responsible attitude that the whole of the UK print and broadcast media, along with a small number of overseas outlets, who have entered into an understanding with us over the coverage of Prince Harry on operations," General Dannatt said.

"The editors took the commendable attitude to restrain their coverage. I would like to thank them for that."

So, thanks to Matt Drudge, it appears that Harry's little military adventure is over. But, in terms of PR, I feel sure the royals have got all they wanted out of this and that pictures of little Harry "fighting the Taliban" will plague us for years to come.

But it does beg the question, why does Drudge hate the troops and want to endanger them?

Click title for full article.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

President Bush: Holding telecoms accountable is “patently unfair”

Bush's argument is bizarre. "You can't expect phone companies to participate if they feel that they are going to be sued".

That's bollocks:

The claim that telecoms will cease to cooperate without retroactive immunity is deeply dishonest on multiple levels, but the dishonesty is most easily understood when one realizes that, under the law, telecoms are required to cooperate with legal requests from the government. They don't have the option to "refuse."
"The government said to those that are alleged to have helped us, 'It's in our national interests and it's legal.'"

The problem was the government got that wrong. It wasn't legal. It was outside of FISA, which is the "exclusive" means of authorising this kind of activity.

And then he claims that he doesn't want to get into Attorney's heads, but states that he thinks they see "a financial gravy train". No, they see a crime.

He then states that, "It's unfair, it's patently unfair" for telecoms to be prosecuted for this because, I assume, the government told them what they were doing was legal.

Whose fault is that? It was the government who lied to them. And I just love how he can state categorically what the government said and then say that they said this "to those that are alleged to have helped us". Right, so the government categorically said something... but don't read into that that Telecoms gave us what we want.... Just give them fucking immunity......

He continues throughout to make an illogical insistence that telecoms won't participate if they think they will be sued. They would have no choice other than to co-operate if a legal request were made and they will only be sued if they work outside of FISA. Which they did. And the people who wrongly told them this was legal were the Bush regime.

Which he why he now seeks immunity.

If the government got it wrong when they told the telecoms that their request was legal, and if the telecoms acted in good faith, then this is something that a court would take into account in any consideration that it made. So whose ass is Bush actually trying to save here?

Are they running for President or Pastor-in-Chief?

They're all at it, Republicans and Democrats. Whatever happened to maintaining the separation of Church and State?

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

Former SAS man condemns British role in torture tactics

A former SAS man, who left the British Army complaining of the "illegal" tactics of US troops, has condemned the British role in the arrest of Afghan and Iraqi men who he says are rendered to prisons where they face torture.

While ministers had stated their wish that the Guantánamo Bay camp should be closed, they had been silent over prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. He added: "These secretive prisons are part of a global network in which individuals face torture and are held indefinitely without charge. All of this is in direct contravention of the Geneva conventions, international law and the UN convention against torture."

Referring to the government's admission last week that two US rendition flights containing terror suspects had landed at the British territory of Diego Garcia, Griffin said the use of British territory and airspace "pales into insignificance in light of the fact that it has been British soldiers detaining the victims of extraordinary rendition in the first place".

He told a Stop the War Coalition press conference in London that since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, UK special forces had operated within a joint US-UK taskforce that had been responsible for the detention of "hundreds if not thousands of individuals in Afghanistan and Iraq". The primary mission of the taskforce in Iraq was to kill or capture "high-value targets". However, the taskforce often detained non-combatants.

When Miliband talks of his horror at discovering that two rendition flights had landed at Diego Garcia, one has to wonder what planet he is living on. We are working hand in hand with the Americans. We are, at this moment, their partner in crime. It is almost impossible to believe that we are not operating a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Just as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch long ago voiced their concerns that the US was torturing prisoners, the British government are much better placed than either of those organisations to actually know what is taking place, and any ignorance on our part must be willful.

For example, Ben Griffin - the former SAS man at the centre of this story - claims that he went into a war zone unaware of the Geneva Conventions or the UN Convention on Torture.
"It is only since I have left the army [and] I have read the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on Torture, that I realised that we have broken so many of these conventions and treaties in Iraq."
It seems extraordinary to me that soldiers would not be briefed on their requirements under these conventions before they entered a war zone, but Griffin claims that he knew nothing of this until after he left the army.

He said three fellow soldiers had told him on separate occasions that they had witnessed the interrogation of two detainees in Iraq using "partial drowning and an electric cattle prod". Ministers must have been briefed on the activities of the taskforce and should be charged with breach of conventions protecting individuals from torture, he added.

It is impossible to believe that the British government are not aware of these events, especially if anecdotal evidence like this is surfacing so publicly. We are the silent partners in this uneven relationship with the US and their sins are also our sins. After all, under law, silence equals consent.

Click title for full article.

Pakistani opposition claims two-thirds majority in parliament

George Bush has made it abundantly clear ever since the elections in Pakistan that his man is Musharraf and that he wants his man to stay put, despite the fact that Musharraf's party were soundly beaten at the polls.

The man who sacked dozens of judges, suspended the constitution, and jailed political opponents before having himself reinstated as President for another five year term bizarrely continues to have the support of the US president, the man who says he wants to export democracy.

However, the fly in the ointment for both Bush and Musharraf is the sheer size of the defeat which Musharraf has suffered.

Pakistan's election-winning opposition parties claimed Wednesday their incoming parliament coalition had secured a two-third majority, which would enable them to amend the constitution and also attempt to impeach embattled President Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf has amended the constitution to legalize his moves, but now the newly elected parties have won enough power to change the constitution themselves. Which means, if they choose, they could begin moves to impeach Musharraf.

"We have the support of 177 members out of 265 contested seats," Ahsan Iqbal, a PML-N spokesman, said after Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP co-chairman, and ANP chief Asfand Yar Wali, held a triumphant nationally-televised meeting at a central Islamabad hotel.

Bhutto and Sharif's parties finished one-two in the February 18 election, while the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Musharraf's political backers, finished a distant third and was relegated to the opposition.

The winning parties agreed that the PPP will choose the next prime minister - likely party vice chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim - and will also be the lead party in the next government.

"We are going to support each other without any personal motives, without any personal interests," Sharif, once a bitter political rival of the Bhutto family, said. "We will make sure that we stay united, and united we defeat dictatorship."

Zardari, Bhutto's widower husband, urged unity among the new ruling coalition and said the election win by democratic forces was the result of sacrifices made by his wife, a former two-time prime minister who was assassinated in a gun and suicide bomb attack last December 27.

"Democracy is the last gift of Benazir Bhutto. She was the flag bearer of democracy," he said. "We are all one party today. We have joint responsibility, a joint agenda."

Musharraf has attempted to persuade Zardari and the PPP to form a coalition with the former ruling PML-Q, but he has so far had little success, with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif calling for him to stop delaying and to open parliament.

Buah can huff and puff, but there is every indication that, in Pakistan, someone is about to blow his house down. One by one, parliament is probably about to strip Musharraf of all his constitutional powers.

It's very strange that, for a man who claims he loves democracy, every time Bush insists that a nation goes to the polls, the people in question always appear to want the polar opposite of what he wants.

Click title for full article.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interrogator: Torture Endangers America

Former FBI interrogator Jack Cloonan spills the beans to Foreign Policy Magazine about the techniques he used on top al-Qaida operatives. Cloonan explains that the ticking-time-bomb scenario often used to rationalize torture is a myth and that waterboarding only motivates the enemy to get revenge—even if it takes a generation.

Clinton and Obama Debate in Ohio.

I've managed to track down the entire debate:










Hat tip to yd2008.

Democrats Clash on Health, Trade and Rival Tactics

Hillary rounded on Obama last night, taking him to task on health care, Nafta, Iraq and his political tactics in what has been described as her most "pugnacious" performance so far.

It reminds me of nothing so much as this:

As Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist, told The New York Times: "There's a general rule in politics: a legitimate distinction which could be effective when drawn early in the campaign often backfires and could seem desperate when it happens in the final hours of a campaign."
This has been part of Hillary's problem. Such was her presumption of victory that she failed in the earliest days of the campaign to define Obama and, as she now seeks to define him as the campaign is drawing to close, she's far too late. We have now defined him on terms of our own, and Hillary's attacks now allow Obama - who has streaked ahead of her in almost every measure - to occupy the moral high ground, as he did last night when he graciously accepted Hillary's word that her campaign was not behind the release of photographs of himself in a turban.

However, and I admit that I am so far only reading about this debate, the tone set by Clinton - as reported by The New York Times - certainly sounds like it was off key:

Questions about which approach Mrs. Clinton would take to sway voters were quickly answered as she immediately confronted Mr. Obama, and she was relentless throughout the meeting. She insisted on responding to virtually every point that he made — often interrupting the debate moderators, Brian Williams and Tim Russert of NBC, as they tried to move on.

At the same time, it was one of the most detailed and specific of all the debates, with both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama giving long explanations of their records and views.

Unlike their debate last Thursday, a more cordial affair that ended with Mrs. Clinton saying she was “honored” to share the stage with Mr. Obama, this exchange had a belligerent edge. Mrs. Clinton did not nod along as Mr. Obama made standard Democratic points, as she has been known to do. She was more apt to call him “Senator Obama” than the friendlier “Barack.” She did not smile at him.

“Can I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time?” Mrs. Clinton said, to a mix of boos and applause. “I do find it curious, and if anybody saw ‘Saturday Night Live,’ you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.”

This "poor me, everybody's picking on me" defence is simply not a very clever place to go. Especially when it is generally agreed that the campaign that has lurched towards negativity is your own.

Mrs. Clinton stared steadily at Mr. Obama with pursed lips and a furrowed brow — sometimes shaking her head energetically or issuing withering looks — as he answered questions. She spoke forcefully at every turn, as she did while arguing that she was the strongest Democrat to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

“I will have a much better case to make on a range of the issues that, really, America must confront going forward,” Mrs. Clinton said, “and will be able to hold my own and make the case for a change in policy that will be better for our country.”

Obama was easily able to pick Clinton apart because of her support for the war in Iraq:

When she finished speaking, Mr. Obama began a stern criticism of her record on Iraq and her own judgment calls.

“Senator Clinton often says that she is ready on Day 1, but in fact she was ready to give in to George Bush on Day 1 on this critical issue,” Mr. Obama said about the Iraq war. “So the same person that she criticizes for having terrible judgment — and we can’t afford to have another one of those — in fact she facilitated and enabled this individual to make a decision that has been strategically damaging to the United States of America.”

And therein lies the rub. For all Clinton may talk of being ready on Day One, her own voting record shows that on issues like Iraq, and on any forthcoming confrontation with Iran, she may simply be offering more of the same. The Democrats have often been so cowed by the Republican charge of lacking patriotism that they have sometimes appeared to be vaulting over themselves to prove their patriotism on purely Republican terms. Obama has proved, through little things like his refusal to wear a stupid bloody badge, that he will not allow his patriotism to be defined on terms set by Republicans. He appears willing to take them on. To challenge and change the terms of the debate.

Obama has consistently done this.

Which is why Hillary attempting to redefine him now, so late in the day, is a complete and utter waste of time.

Click title for full article.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

McCain Flip Flops on 100 Years in Iraq Statement

Flip... Flop...

And, if the insurgency goes on for "years and years" after the US withdraws, isn't that a tacit admission by McCain that the US is going to lose the war? For if you can't leave behind a stable Iraq then the mission has failed hasn't it?

After all the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq was:

Short term, Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.

Medium term, Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security, with a fully constitutional government in place, and on its way to achieving its economic potential.

Longer term, Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism.

Kristol: I Recommend 'The Politics Of Fear'

Kristol comes right out and asks that Clinton takes on Obama using the "politics of fear". I've long argued that this is the only tactic that the Republicans understand, but it's still unusual to hear one of them being so open about it. It really does say that Kristol doesn't fancy McCain's chances against Obama and he would much rather that McCain was going up against Hillary.

Obama’s Support Grows Broader, New Poll Finds

Barack Obama's support amongst Democrat voters continues to grow with a clear majority now stating that he is the best candidate to beat Republican John McCain.

For the first time in a Times/CBS poll, he moved ahead of Mrs. Clinton nationally, with 54 percent of Democratic primary voters saying they wanted to see him nominated, while 38 percent preferred Mrs. Clinton. A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday showed a similar result, 51 percent for Mr. Obama to 39 percent for Mrs. Clinton.
Of course these are national polls and will have no effect on the next two key states of Texas and Ohio where Hillary is hoping to begin her comeback. Hillary leads in Ohio by eleven points and in Texas both candidates appear to be neck and neck in the polls. However the interesting thing about these recent polls are what they tell us about the areas of support that Obama is now enjoying amongst groups in which he was previously weak. In the early days his supporters were dismissed as rich Liberals, black voters and the young.

The Times/CBS poll shows that Mr. Obama’s coalition — originally derided by critics as confined to upper-income reformers, young people and blacks — has broadened significantly. In December, for example, he had the support of 26 percent of the male Democratic primary voters; in the latest poll, that had climbed to 67 percent.

Similarly, Mr. Obama’s support among those with household incomes under $50,000 rose to 48 percent from 35 percent since December. His support among moderates rose to 59 percent from 28 percent. In contrast, Mrs. Clinton’s strength among Democratic men dropped to 28 percent from 42 percent in December; her support among voters in households making under $50,000 held stable.

Even among women, Mr. Obama made strides. He had the support of 19 percent of white women in December and 40 percent in the most recent poll. White women, however, remain Mrs. Clinton’s most loyal base of support — 51 percent backed the senator from New York, statistically unchanged from the 48 percent who backed her in December.

However, Clinton's early strength in this campaign lay in her ability to beat whatever Republican candidate was put in front of her and it is here that Obama has made his most significant gain:
Nearly 6 in 10 said he had the best chance of beating Mr. McCain, double the numbers that believed Mrs. Clinton was more electable. He is also viewed by more Democratic voters as someone who can bring about “real change” and is willing to compromise with Republicans “the right amount” to get things done.
Hillary and her camp have always played on the fact that Obama couldn't stand up to the Republican attack dog machine and, in the early days, there were many who dismissed Barack as "Obambi".

What a difference a campaign makes....

Click title for full article.

Gazans link hands in protest at Israeli blockade

In Gaza yesterday, 5,000 people lined the wall in an attempt to remind the world that the Israeli blockade against them continues.

While ordinary Palestinians protested peacefully, militants launched several rockets at southern Israel, badly wounding a nine-year-old in the town of Sderot.

Jamal al-Khadary, of the People's Committee Against the Siege, which organised the protest, said neither the low turnout nor the rockets marred their message to the international community. "The important thing is to tell the world about what's happening in Gaza," he said.

The organisers were hoping to repeat Hamas's success last month when it buoyed community spirit and drew international attention to the human effect of Israel's isolation of Gaza by blasting open the wall on the border between the impoverished territory and Egypt.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians streamed across to buy food, medicines, building materials and other items in short supply as a result of the blockade.

Yesterday's protests might not have reached the 40,000 number which it's organisers wanted but the protest still stands as a useful reminder of the disgraceful embargo which Israel is carrying out against the people of Gaza.

The pressure of the blockade, which has plunged Gaza into poverty, has also caused anger among those who voted for Hamas in 2006 in the belief that it would clean up corruption and improve services.

Some analysts said yesterday's protest was partially an attempt at rebuilding confidence among Gazans.

"In their election promises to the people, it wasn't [about] jihad, it was about change and reform, meaning a better life, better services, more freedom of movement," said Shalom Harrari at the Institute for Counter Terrorism in Herzliya. "But on the contrary, life has become 100% worse because of internal factional fighting and the closure of the borders."

And, of course, all of this infighting came about because Israel, the US and the EU refused to accept the result of a democratic election and set about undermining Hamas at every stage.

At a time when the people of Kosovo are being encouraged to form their own state, the people of Gaza continue to live under seige, suffering under the longest occupation in modern history. Any reminder of that injustice is to be welcomed and the very fact that so many newspapers are carrying the story says the protest has achieved it's aims.

Click title for full article.

Obama camp claims smear over turban photograph

There are certain left wing websites, which I like, that are trying to make out that Barack Obama is overplaying his hand by objecting to pictures of him like the one on the left being released to the press. They point out that American presidents often appear wearing the clothing of the nations which they are visiting and that Obama is greatly overreacting to the release of this photo.

I think this argument is nonsense on it's face. When American presidents appear wearing the clothing of the nation that they are visiting, no-one starts to question the religion of the president.

And yet, there has been a huge play by Obama's opponents to suggest that Obama is actually a Muslim, - at a time when America is engaging in a war of terror against Muslim extremists - with people pointing out that his middle name is Hussein, and asking you to make the appropriate connections.

Obama's camp have come out screaming foul play and are laying the blame squarely at the door of the Hillary campaign.

Barack Obama's campaign team accused Hillary Clinton's beleaguered staff yesterday of mounting a dirty tricks operation by circulating a picture of him in African dress, feeding into false claims on US websites that he is a Muslim.

David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, described it as "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election". Obama has spent much of the campaign emphasising he is a Christian not a Muslim and did not study at a madrasa.

Aides for Clinton, who is fighting a last-ditch battle to keep her hopes of the White House alive, initially tried to brush off the furore, but later denied having anything to do with the distribution of the picture.

"I just want to make it very clear that we were not aware of it, the campaign didn't sanction it and don't know anything about it," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson told reporters. "None of us have seen the email in question."

I have no idea whether or not the Hillary camp was behind the picture, nor do I have any reason to especially believe Drudge when he claims it was emailed to him by the Hillary camp with the quote: "Wouldn't we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were [Clinton]?"

After all, it is well within Drudge's remit to attempt to split the Democrats, however, what concerned me was the attempt by Taylor Marsh and others to write off the Obama camps protests as an overreaction.

For the truth is that we wouldn't be seeing that photo "on the front of every magazine" if it were Clinton for the very simple fact that Hillary Clinton doesn't have brown skin.

The underlying message behind the release of the photograph is the same message behind the constant reminders that his middle name is Hussein. It is that he is not one of us. He is different. And we are asked that this should make us suspicious.

This is pure unadulterated racism.

I am simply astonished that some on the left can claim that the Obama camp are "overreacting" when they object to a tactic as seedy as this one.

The Clinton camp have already recently indicated that they were ready to campaign in a much more negative way, so it's understandable that the Obama camp are suspicious.

Plouffe described circulation of the picture as part of "a disturbing pattern". "It's exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties," he said. His comments suggest that the cordial relationship that existed between Obama and Clinton in last Thursday's televised debate in Texas was unlikely to carry into tonight's debate in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Obama team wheeled out Scott Gration, a retired air force general and Obama supporter, who was with the senator in Kenya, to explain the picture. He said: "Senator Obama was given an outfit and as the guest that he was, the great guest, he took this outfit and they encouraged him to try some of it on. It was a thing we all do."

Hillary's team then tried to spin against Obama:

Maggie Williams, campaign manager for Clinton, played down the significance of the picture.

"If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed," she said. "Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely."

I feel Maggie Williams is being especially dishonest here, implying that the shame of this episode should lie on Obama's shoulders, for daring to offend Somali's by objecting to being seen in their clothing.

That is not the point. The implication, as Williams must know, is that Obama is a Muslim. And that implication is being made simply because of the color of Obama's skin.

This is a shameful episode, but it's shameful because many intelligent people are pretending that they don't see the racist undertones behind the pictures release.

Click title for full article.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

House Democrats Save America!

Here's a parody video that rebukes the fearmongering video that the House GOP just put out about the "destruction of the world" because the Telecoms didn't get immunity.

McConnell/Mukasey: Eavesdropping outside of FISA is "illegal"

Well, knock me down with a feather. When it was pointed out that the US Government is free to commence surveillance without a warrant when there is no time to obtain one, DNI Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote back stating:

[You imply that the emergency authorization process under FISA is an adequate substitute for the legislative authorities that have elapsed. This assertion reflects a basic misunderstanding about FISA's emergency authorization provisions. Specifically, you assert that the National Security Agency (NSA) or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) "may begin surveillance immediately" in an emergency situation. FISA requires far more, and it would be illegal to proceed as you suggest].
It's illegal to wiretap without FISA authority after all. Haven't they spent the last seven years arguing precisely the opposite of that?

Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald.

Taxi To the Dark Side

A few bad apples? My ass...

The latest prize-winning documentary from Oscar-nominee Alex Gibney, confirms his standing as one of the foremost non-fiction filmmakers working today. A stunning inquiry into the suspicious death of an Afghani taxi driver at Bagram air base in 2002, the film is a fastidiously assembled, uncommonly well-researched examination of how an innocent civilian was apprehended, imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately murdered by the greatest democracy on earth. Intermingling documents and records of the incident with candid testimony from eyewitnesses and participants, the film uncovers an inescapable link between the tragic incidents that unfolded in Bagram and the policies made at the very highest level of the United States government in Washington, D.C. Combining the cool detachment of a forensic expert with the heated indignation of a proud American who holds his country to a high standard, Gibney's film reveals how the Bush administration has systematically betrayed the very ideals it professes to uphold.

"A festival of ignorance"...

This is funny. I don't know who this young guy is but the way he stuns the Fox News interviewer into almost dumbstruck silence did make me laugh...

I think it's safe to say this will be his last visit to that sofa.

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.


If Not Now, When?

International lawyer, John V. Whitbeck, has written a very good article in The Nation in which he questions the US and EU's decision to allow Kosovo to declare independence from Serbia, "a course of action which should strike anyone with an attachment to either international law or common sense as breathtakingly reckless."

And he does well to highlight the hypocrisy of western insistence that Kosovo should be allowed to separate from Serbia whilst the wishes of the Palestinian people to have a state free from Israeli interference are simply ignored. Patience, it appears, is something the Palestinians are expected to hold in abundance, whilst it would be unthinkable to ask the same of the Kosovars.

The American and EU impatience to amputate a portion of a UN member state (universally recognized, even by them, to constitute a portion of that state's sovereign territory), ostensibly because 90% of those living in that portion of the state's territory support separation, contrasts starkly with the unlimited patience of the U.S. and the EU when it comes to ending the 40-year-long belligerent occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (no portion of which any country recognizes as Israel's sovereign territory and as to which Israel has only even asserted sovereignty over a tiny portion, occupied East Jerusalem). Virtually every legal resident of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip seeks freedom -- and has for over 40 years. For doing so, they are punished, sanctioned, besieged, humiliated and, day after endless day, killed by those who claim to stand on the moral high ground.
He also highlights the difference in the US and EU's attitude towards the Serbs and the Israelis. The Serbs are having this forced down their throats whether they want it or not, whilst the US and EU are insistent that the forty year dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians must be sorted by negotiation, on a wildly unequal bilateral basis, between the occupying power and the occupied people.

The Isrealis have a virtual veto on any state of Palestine, whilst the Serbs have no say whatsoever on the formation of a new country of Kosovo on land that has been traditionally their own.

The west's concern that the Kosovars couldn't reasonably be expected to hold off any longer from declaring their state sits in sharp contrast to our attitude towards a people occupied for over forty years. And, once again, and this is a theme that is coming up more and more frequently, he asks that a one state solution be called for by the Palestinians if the west continues to drag it's heels regarding the two state solution.
The consequence would be the end of the "two-state" illusion. The Palestinian leadership would make clear that if the U.S. and the EU, having just recognized a second Albanian state on the sovereign territory of a UN member state, will not now recognize one Palestinian state on a tiny portion of the occupied Palestinian homeland, it will dissolve the "Palestinian Authority" (which, legally, should have ceased to exist in 1999, at the end of the five-year "interim period" under the Oslo Accords) and the Palestinian people will thereafter seek justice and freedom through democracy -- through the persistent, non-violent pursuit of full rights of citizenship in a single state in all of Israel/Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race and religion and with equal rights for all who live there, as in any true democracy.
As an article I linked to the other day makes clear, there are only a finite number of ways to resolve this, and if the west can act with such determination to set up a state of Kosovo - against the wishes of the government of Serbia - then it really does beg the question of why it is so very hard to produce a state of Palestine.

Whitbeck points out that the Palestinians have been playing the game the western way for far too long and that perhaps the only way for them to get western attention is to "constructively kick over the table."

Click title for Whitbeck's entire article.

Clinton denounces Obama tactics

After the debate in Texas - and her touching end statement in that debate - I had not foreseen Hillary suddenly engaging in the most negative attacks on Obama seen so far in the entire campaign.

In a stunningly negative attack she said:

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton lashed out at rival Barack Obama today for using a strategy out of “Karl Rove’s playbook” by making grandiose speeches of hope while sending Ohioans what she called “false and discredited mailings” on health care and trade policy.

“Shame on you Barack Obama,” Clinton told reporters after delivering a speech at Cincinnati Technical and Community College in which she reminded voters that in 2000, an untested George W. Bush called for change--just as Obama is now--and “the American people got shafted.”

“Let’s have a real campaign. Enough of the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook. This is wrong and every Democrat should be outraged because this is the kind of attack that not only undermines core Democratic values but gives aid and comfort to the very special interests and their allies in the Republican Party who are against doing what we want to for America,” she said.

“Time and time again, you hear one thing in speeches and then you see a campaign that has the worst kind of tactics, reminiscent of the same sort of Republican attack on Democrats,” Clinton asked.

Clinton said it was time Obama “ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public.”

“That’s what I expect from you,” she said. “Meet me in Ohio. Let’s have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.”

The truth is that she came across rather well during this outburst and looked to all the world like a person suffering from genuine outrage.

Although I couldn't help but notice that her final call was for yet another bloody debate. She is obviously aware that the only way that she now has any chance of holding back this Obama juggernaut is to challenge him to debates and hope that he makes some kind of fatal slip.

Obama has responded by pointing out that the fliers that she claims to be enraged by have been circulating for weeks now and that her timing and her outrage appears to be "tactical".

Indeed, the BBC's Kevin Connolly agrees with Obama that this represents a new shift for Team Hillary:

Mrs Clinton's campaign has struggled to find an effective way to cope with her rival's extraordinary momentum and has decided to "go negative", says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Washington.

She and her advisors have clearly calculated that the state of the race now calls for sharper elbows and a sharper tone, our correspondent adds.

Negative campaigning hasn't worked for her so far; indeed, there were indications that her silly charges of plagiarism only drove voters into Obama's camp, so it's an extraordinary decision to go for broke in this way now.

Hillary Clinton apparently thought that she had a killer sound bite during Thursday's debate when she ripped Barack Obama as a promoter of "change your can Xerox."

Instead, the audience booed, critics winced and once again the New York senator's attempt to demonize her rival fell flat, another illustration of how 2008, at least so far, is the year that negative campaigning just doesn't work as it once did.

"It looks like people are just burned out on that stuff," said Peter W. Schramm, the executive director of the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs in Ohio.

The problem for Hillary - and the video of Obama's reaction to this charge clearly shows this - is that she has not managed to rile him. She hopes that if she prods him enough that she can force him to overplay his hand and give her some way to redefine him. The problem with this tactic is that, if she fails to elicit a reaction as she is clearly failing to do, then this backfires on her and makes her look like part of a bygone age.

"What Hillary Clinton says just seems like dirty politics. Obama offers a very positive message," said Roshay Malone, a Milwaukee child-care business owner.

"Clinton's just too polarizing. Obama is able to inject some enthusiasm into the process," added Bryan Hale, a land surveyor from Smithsburg, Md.

Analysts warn that the campaign still could turn on negatives, should a major scandal erupt. And the rules are likely to change in the general election, which will pit candidates at largely opposite ideological poles against each other.

But for now, voters and analysts saw at least five reasons that going negative isn't a positive development for campaigns that try it:

_ Voters are excited about the candidates. "When you have two firsts — the first woman and the first African-American — there's an enormous amount of enthusiasm, and people don't want to be reminded of anything negative," said Karlyn Bowman, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization.

Don't get me wrong, she's very good at it. The problem for Hillary appears to be that, during this particular election cycle at least, "it" appears to be the problem.

Click title for full article.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Alternatives to Palestine

There's a very, very good article by Mathew Yglesias over at The Atlantic which really sums up the Israel-Palestine problem and the stark choices faced by Israel.

New Republic editor in chief Martin Peretz complains about a double standard:

The Boston Globe is sure that the Kosovans are not ready for independence. But its editors, favored columnists and biased news writers are absolutely certain the Palestinians are.

Now, I'm for Kosovo independence. But at the same time, I really don't think it's viable to support independence for every ethnic minority group everywhere around the world. So why Palestine? What makes the Palestinians so special that they deserve their own country when the Catalans and the Québécois and all the rest don't have them? The answer is pretty simple -- the alternative to independence is citizenship. The Québécois don't have an independent country, but they are citizens of Canada. Catalans are citizens of spain. Flemish and Walloons are both citizens of Belgium. Komi are citizens of Russia. When you see legal discriminatory treatment against citizens -- as with African-Americans in the United States until very recently -- that's a problem. People are owed equal citizenship.

It's clear, though, that granting Israeli citizenship on terms of equality to residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is incompatible with the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. Thus, Palestinian independence emerges as a reasonable, practical, and moral alternative. Basically, there are four things you could do with Israel-Palestine. One option is partition and independence. Another option is equal citizenship and the end of Israel. A third option is "transfer" and ethnic cleansing. And a fourth option is apartheid. I wonder which of the alternatives to Palestinian independence Peretz favors?

I think that just about sums up the whole situation beautifully.

Click title for source.

Stop The Spying

A petition has been launched to stop telecom immunity.

Americans are speaking out — thousands have taken action, hundreds have participated in our collaborative multimedia project with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and have sent us video testimonials and pictures expressing their opposition to telecom immunity and warrantless spying.

The House is thus far refusing to follow the Senate’s lead on telecom immunity. And last week, a majority in the House heeded the call of the nearly 45,000 PFAW petition signers and voted to hold White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress for their failure to honor congressional subpoenas.

The contempt vote showed that the House is ready to hold the administration accountable AND that petitions can make a real difference (in whipping votes, trying to move the contempt resolution, our allies on the Hill specifically cited the PFAW petition as part of the case that Americans wanted to see administration officials held accountable to the rule of law).

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

Clouds gather as 'sulky' Musharraf retreats to bunker

There's a definite change in the political landscape of Pakistan, even if President Bush seems determined to ignore it.

On Thursday hundreds of lawyers and civil society activists tried to storm the barricades outside the Islamabad house of the imprisoned former chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Lawyers in suits, ties and gardening gloves ripped back coils of barbed wire, only to be confronted with a phalanx of policemen armed with teargas and water canon. "Go Musharraf, go!" chanted the crowd - a mantra that has haunted the president since his botched attempted to fire Chaudhry last March. Musharraf despises the judge even more than he does Sharif; in a recent interview he described him as "the scum of the earth".

But unlike previous protests, the police did not baton charge or thrash the protesters - at least not very much - and only a few teargas canisters were fired, which landed half-heartedly in a nearby garden. When the crowd dispersed peacefully, one lawyer shook hands briefly with a policeman in riot gear, who smiled back.

"Things have changed," said the organiser, Athar Minallah. "Today Musharraf is obviously not in power, and that is the beauty of democracy.

So the police, who until now have been acting in a manner indistinguishable from Musharraf's henchmen, are beginning to send out a different signal. Things have changed in Pakistan and the police appear to have realised this.

Of course, the person who doesn't seem to have fully comprehended what has taken place in Pakistan is George Bush, who has wasted no time letting everyone know how much he wishes Musharraf to stay in his present position.

Senior officials from all parties told the Guardian they were trying to broker a deal that would ensure Musharraf stays in power. The PML (Q) official said his party was being pressured by US embassy officials hoping for a coalition between their party with Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's party, now led by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari.

"The Americans want a German-style grand coalition including the PPP," he said. "They want Musharraf to stick around, even if it's a diminished Musharraf."

British officials have been more coy, bristling at suggestions they are following the American lead. But many Pakistanis believe Whitehall is singing from a hymn sheet drawn up in the White House.

"The British are masters at using their language; the Americans are more crude. But in the end, it comes down to the same thing," said Nadir Chaudhri, a Sharif aide.

Now, the reason that Musharraf is so valuable to the west is that he has promised to continue the war on terror and there are fears that his successor, General Ashfaq Kayani, might not be as tough rooting out al Qaeda as Musharraf has been.

This strikes me as simply extraordinary. For what we are saying is that Pakistan must have elections but the one thing the election must not be allowed to change is the policies of Pakistan, especially as they effect western interests. Indeed, by insisting that Musharraf stick around - even in a much diminished condition - we are actually insisting that, nice though the election was, it really shouldn't produce a change in leadership.

George Bush's desire to export democracy has always been a dreadful sham but surely nothing renders this more obvious than this? The people of Pakistan may decide that their interests and ours no longer collude. This would be regrettable, but surely that is their democratic right?

Bush, and it would appear Britain, are working behind the scenes to ensure that this election changes nothing which would harm our interests, not the interests of the people of Pakistan.

But many Pakistanis are angry at what they see as American meddling, even among pro-western parties.

"The US has to understand that the parties now elected to parliament are not stooges of Musharraf. They are genuinely elected people," said Senator Enver Baig, of Bhutto's PPP.

The truth of this statement has apparently filtered through to Musharraf, who is said to be brooding in Army House, recently renamed Presidential Lodge after he was forced to stand down from the army.

"He's been sulking," said a senior party official. "He's retreated into a mental bunker, which is not healthy. He thinks everyone is out to get him and only listens to a small circle. It's a dangerous mindset to be in at this point in time. He could decide to hit back."

Musharraf is one of the few world leaders who threw his hat into the ring with George Bush, though to be fair, Musharraf had slightly less choice than the others. When Colin Powell contacted Pakistan shortly after 9-11 the message he had for Musharraf was stark.
The phone call from the US's then secretary of state Colin Powell that woke Musharraf with the news of the attacks in Washington and New York offered him a straight choice: Washington or the Taliban. For Musharraf, it was more than an easy decision - it was a godsend. Since his dismissal of an elected government in October 1999, the military ruler had become a pariah in the west, and the 9/11 attacks were a quick route to recover lost (or never gained) legitimacy, as well as a vanguard role in the unfolding war.
At the time, it must have seemed like a heaven sent opportunity for Musharraf. But, like Blair, Berlusconi and Aznar; Musharraf has come to pay a very high price for aligning himself to the war on terror, especially amongst his own electorate.

So now he sits, alone and brooding, Bush's last standing ally in the war on a noun, as democratic forces swirl around him and attempt to unseat him, while Bush - the very man who claimed his presidency was dedicated to spreading democracy around the world - clings to the hope that he can retain Musharraf and ignore the people of Pakistan's democratic decision.

Click title for full article.