Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I would use Military Force against Iran Now! John Bolton.

The insane John Bolton pops up with Fox News' skewered version of history and, once again, his answer to everything is war. He, of course, blames Iran for everything that is happening in Gaza at the moment.

He also thinks the "pursuit of the 'so-called' two state solution" in Palestine "has come to the end of the road". I presume the lunatic is now calling for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians as he's not going to want to integrate all those Palestinians into Israel is he?

Every time nutbags like this pop up I am reminded of how simply insane the last eight years have been with zany ideologues like this actually listened to as if they have anything of value to contribute.

When one listens to Bolton one realises that, in the Republican party, the lunatics really have taken over the asylum.

Private firm may track all email and calls.

All emails, texts and internet use in the UK could be monitored by a private company if the government get their way:

A cabinet decision to put the management of the multibillion pound database of all UK communications traffic into private hands would be accompanied by tougher legal safeguards to guarantee against leaks and accidental data losses.

But in his strongest criticism yet of the superdatabase, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who has firsthand experience of working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, told the Guardian such assurances would prove worthless in the long run and warned it would prove a "hellhouse" of personal private information.

"Authorisations for access might be written into statute. The most senior ministers and officials might be designated as scrutineers. But none of this means anything," said Macdonald. "All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen."

This Labour governments relentless assault on our privacy continues unabated. And the notion of handing all of our private data over to a private company, after all the embarrassing losses of data in the past simply doesn't bear thinking about.

The Home Office's interception modernisation programme, which is working on the superdatabase proposal, argues that it is no longer good enough for communications companies to be left to retrieve such data when requested by the police and intelligence services. A Home Office spokeswoman said last night the changes were needed so law enforcement agencies could maintain their ability to tackle serious crime and terrorism.

We are, once again, looking at the thin end of the wedge.

Senior Whitehall officials responsible for planning for a new database say there is a significant difference between having access to "communications data" - names and addresses of emails or telephone numbers, for example - and the actual contents of the communications. "We have been very clear that there are no plans for a database containing any content of emails, texts or conversations," the spokeswoman said.

Of course, there are "no plans" to look into the content of our communications. But it would only take one security scare for all of that to be deemed impractical.

There really is a creepy Big Brother feeling to all of this.

Macdonald, who left his post as DPP in October, told the Guardian: "The tendency of the state to seek ever more powers of surveillance over its citizens may be driven by protective zeal. But the notion of total security is a paranoid fantasy which would destroy everything that makes living worthwhile. We must avoid surrendering our freedom as autonomous human beings to such an ugly future. We should make judgments that are compatible with our status as free people."

Maintaining the capacity to intercept suspicious communications was critical in an increasingly complex world, he said. "It is a process which can save lives and bring criminals to justice. But no other country is considering such a drastic step. This database would be an unimaginable hell-house of personal private information," he said. "It would be a complete readout of every citizen's life in the most intimate and demeaning detail. No government of any colour is to be trusted with such a roadmap to our souls."

The moment there was a security crisis the temptation for more commonplace access would be irresistible, he said.

And that is my point. Reassurances are meaningless and simply not worth the paper that they are written on.

That a Labour government, which I voted for, should be proposing such draconian measures is depressing beyond belief. But, when it comes to the war on a noun, I find little to separate the two parties.

Click title for full article.

Amid a Buildup of Its Forces, Israel Ponders a Cease-Fire.

The pressure for Israel to halt it's bloodbath in Gaza is growing as even the US have now joined the calls for a ceasefire.

In Paris, where Mr. Kouchner was meeting with his European Union colleagues over the Gaza crisis, he called publicly for a permanent cease-fire. A similar call came from the so-called quartet of powers focused on the region — the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.

The Israelis, who are putting tanks on the ground, are pretending that they are almost at the point of a ground invasion.
“The leading option right now is still a ground invasion, but the target of this operation is an improved cease-fire, and if that can come without the invasion, fine,” said a close aide to Mr. Barak, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not Mr. Barak’s authorized spokesman. “But, of course, Hamas has to agree, and there has to be a mechanism to make it work.”
This is simply a stance to force Hamas to accept a ceasefire which does not mean Israel have to stop their siege of Gaza. After all, one of the main reasons for this orgy of violence has been to undermine the Israeli hawk Netanyahu ahead of the elections. As I have always said it helps Livni and Olmert to be seen battering the Palestinians from the air but the minute they employ ground troops and young Israelis start coming home in body bags then the electoral advantage of attacking Gaza is reversed. It is for this reason that I think Barak is merely negotiating with Hamas when he makes statements like this regarding a ground invasion.

And there is a reason why Bush has now joined the calls for a ceasefire:

Mr. Olmert told the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, that the airstrikes were the first of several planned phases, according to spokesmen for the officials. It was also clear that the number of targets available from the air was declining, making the likelihood of a ground offensive greater.

The party who are bombing in an attempt to win an election are approaching the point where, in terms of a ground invasion, they are going to have to shit or get off the pot. So Bush is helping them by contributing to the global cries for a ceasefire.

Hamas will now have to decide whether to accept this ceasefire or push ahead with their demand that Israel halt it's inhumane siege of Gaza as a condition of ending conflict. This was the demand which Israel previously found unacceptable.

Israel's overwhelming wish is the collapse of Hamas so it will be interesting to see what Israel do should Hamas make that demand.

The world, with the usual exception of the US, have watched in horror as Israel has indulged in a "war" with a people who have no army, no air force and no navy. It doesn't look like war to most of us, it looks like an occupying army battering a defenceless people and committing the war crime of collective punishment. The vast majority of these people have nothing to do with the rockets that are aimed at Israel which is why most of us are simply appalled at what we have been witnessing.

And, of course, unspoken under all of this is the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people, which is the problem which is always excluded from coverage of this dispute.

But watching the news shows, you'd think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.

Both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said back in the 1990s that they wished Gaza would just go away, drop into the sea, and you can see why. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years ago, when tidal waves of refugees had washed over Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War and when a bunch of Arabs kicked out of their property didn't worry the world.

Well, the world should worry now.

For a long time the Israelis got away with shoving this under the rug, but I detect a sea change, especially amongst American left wing bloggers, who are starting to criticise Israel in ways that I have previously never heard.

The American political class remains as united on this as ever but, as Glenn Greenwald points out here, the American public does not share that opinion.

Israel are, at last, losing the public relations war which they have waged since 1967. People are beginning to question just what is the real story behind this conflict which, as we all know, is very different from the version Israel has been pedalling.

And people like Joe Scarborough are now being called out openly for their ignorance on national television.

As Booman states:
When the European Union issues a call to end your campaign on its very first day, you know world opinion no longer supports your right to self-defense. And when you get to that point, you are in real danger. Israel must realize, soon, that their position is weak.
Europe simply doesn't buy the Israeli narrative anymore. It's time, for Israel's sake, that she seriously started thinking about peace talks regarding the West Bank and Gaza.


You know your case is wobbling on a shaky nail when the satirists move in.

The gap between the might of Israel's F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters, and the Palestinians' catapulty thing is so ridiculous that to try and portray the situation as between two equal sides requires the imagination of a children's story writer.

The reporter on News at Ten said the rockets "may be ineffective, but they ARE symbolic." So they might not have weapons but they have got symbolism, the canny brutes.

It's no wonder the Israeli Air Force had to demolish a few housing estates, otherwise Hamas might have tried to mock Israel through a performance of expressive dance.

The rockets may be unable to to kill on the scale of the Israeli Air Force, said one spokesman, but they are "intended to kill".

Maybe he went on: "And we have evidence that Hamas supporters have dreams, and that in these dreams bad things happen to Israeli citizens, they burst, or turn into cactus, or run through Woolworths naked, so it's not important whether it can happen, what matters is that they WANT it to happen, so we blew up their university."

Or there's the outrage that Hamas has been supported by Iran. Well that's just breaking the rules. Because say what you will about the Israelis, they get no arms supplies or funding or political support from a country that's more powerful than them, they just go their own way and make all their weapons in an arts and crafts workshop in Jerusalem.

This kite simply isn't flying.

Click title for full article.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Zbigniew Brzezinski calls Joe Scarborough's Mideast views "stunningly superficial".

Zbigniew Brzezinski calls Joe Scarborough out on his "stunningly superficial knowledge" of the Israel Palestine peace process.

Scarborough: "You cannot blame what's going on in Israel on the Bush administration."

Brzezinski: "You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you."
The Bush regime have been absent to a disgraceful degree for the past eight years. Scarborough should know that. There have been no meaningful discussions between the two sides. And that has been because the Israelis don't want to return to the 1967 lines and Bush didn't want to make them do anything that they didn't want to do. That's why the Road Map was such a joke.

But it's when Scarborough gets to Clinton and "the great offer that Israel never made" that he simply becomes embarrassing. To be fair to Scarborough, he claims that most Americans believe what he believes, and he's right. But that's the core of the problem. Most Americans are fed - and believe - unadulterated Hasbara.

Scarborough claims that Brzezinski "knows" things that "most of the international community" rejects. The problem is that "most of the international community" does not reject what Brzezinski says, as we know it to be a fact.

Arafat did not reject that deal.

The fact that Scarborough does not know that is embarrassing. He's supposed to be a journalist.

Soon afterward, Shlomo Ben-Ami, then Israel's foreign minister, met Arafat in Cairo. He agreed that Arafat didn't exactly reject the Clinton plan - but didn't unequivocally accept it either.

"The problem with Arafat is that he's never clear," Ben-Ami recalled. "He says things like, `If there's a will, there's a way.' All kinds of slogans that don't mean anything."

Talks continued at Taba, Egypt, and by all accounts made considerable progress. Ben-Ami says the Israelis even kept a helicopter standing by to rush the Palestinian negotiators to Gaza in case a deal was reached.

Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian negotiator, says: "We were very close to an agreement." That may overstate the situation, but notes of a European diplomat who was present suggest movement on everything from territory to Palestinian refugees.

"Progress was made at the Taba talks," Arafat said last month, and he referred to the joint statement on January 27, 2001, when the negotiations were suspended because of the imminent Israeli election.
And then in came Ariel Sharon. So Brzezinski is right and Scarborough is embarrassingly wrong on this.

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

Bush Relaxes as Gaza Burns.

I'm sightly stunned that a man who is due to be out of a job in twenty odd days needs a vacation right now, especially as Gaza burns, but according to ABC News Bush is remaining in Crawford, Texas, and has no plans to cut short his vacation:

Even an emerging crisis in the Middle East, one he pledged to resolve just 13 months ago, has not drawn President George W. Bush from his final vacation before leaving office. Despite his personal pledge at Annapolis last year to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before 2009, this weekend Bush sent his spokesmen to comment in his stead.

The spokesman's statement, while blaming Hamas for the outbreak of violence, did not signal that the United States is prepared to step in to resolve the conflict, suggesting that this president is content to leave the matter for his successor.

Since departing Washington for Crawford on Friday, President Bush has made no attempt to be seen in public. In fact, he has yet to leave his ranch.

His spokesmen said that the president has stayed in the loop, receiving his usual briefings and consulting with his top advisors. He had at least one talk with a foreign leader, a conversation with Saudi King Abdullah, yesterday.

Not atypically, we have yet to learn anything more about what is keeping the commander in chief busy, though one can assume there is brush to be cleared, trails to be biked, and perhaps even fish to be caught.

From Think Progress:
Today, in a press briefing delivered from the “Western White House” in Crawford, TX, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe was asked what is on Bush’s schedule today. In addition to receiving “updates on the ongoing situation,” Johndroe said, “I expect he’ll probably ride his bicycle today and spend time with Mrs. Bush.” Watch it:

He promised that he would have resolved this in his last thirteen months in office but, like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the crumbling economy, this becomes simply yet another thing which he will pass on to his successor.

As he appears to be doing bugger all I am even more confused as to why this transition period has to be so bloody long.

Inside Story - Assault on Gaza continues.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Josh Muravchik (he enters the discussion in Part 2) is breathtaking as he seeks to assure us that "the numbers game" - the number of Israelis who have died over the past eight years compared to the number of Palestinians killed in the past three days - is "meaningless" and "absurd".

Fisk reminds us that if "the numbers game" were the other way around Muravchik would be making a very different argument. And the argument that any country would do what Israel is doing in a similar situation is easily undermined by the British behaviour towards the IRA.

Indeed, the discussion is quite interesting until Muravchik enters with the usual Israeli/US talking points. There is simply no nuance in this position. And only fragments of truth.

Fisk makes another important point: just as Israel called the PLO and Abbas "thugs", Israel did go on to talk to them and will, eventually, have to talk to Hamas.

Israel says its army is fighting war to the bitter end against Hamas.

I suppose it's hard to remain outraged - or even fully engaged - for most newspapers with a story that essentially doesn't change. And so it is with Israel's relentless pounding of the Gaza Strip. Having led on the front page of the Guardian, the story now slips inside. There's nothing less outrageous about the current barrage of a civilian population, but I suppose there's nothing new to say, so editors lose their interest. And this despite the fact that the death toll continues it's inexorable rise.

The toll of Palestinians killed in Israel's three-day bombing campaign in Gaza rose yesterday to at least 335 as Israeli jets bombed a university's science laboratories and hit the interior ministry in a widening series of air strikes. Early this morning, Israeli aircraft destroyed government buildings in Gaza City, killing 10 more Palestinians and injuring 40 others.
Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, has already stated that Israel is fighting a "war to the bitter end" without anyone really understanding what that end should look like. The end of Hamas? It's an Israeli dream but it's not one that's likely to come true. To stop the rockets entering Israel from Gaza? Well, if the figures from yesterday are any indication then it's having the opposite effect.
The number of rockets fired from Gaza increased to at least 60 yesterday, killing three Israelis. An Israeli soldier also die in a mortar attack.
Even some of the Israeli press are finding Israel's reaction simply jaw dropping:
Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, I wrote: "Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger... Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!"

Two and a half years later, these words repeat themselves, to our horror, with chilling precision. Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy.

Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.
What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country. History's bitter irony: A government that went to a futile war two months after its establishment - today nearly everyone acknowledges as much - embarks on another doomed war two months before the end of its term.
One of the reasons why most people find this war unfathomable is because it is impossible to believe the cynicism behind it. Olmert and Livni are desperate to outflank Netanyahu and to prove to the public that they are even tougher than he is in the hope of defeating him in the elections. For this noble purpose must Gaza be further reduced to rubble. For this must more Palestinians die.

And all because Israel and the US refused to accept the democratic will of the Palestinian people who tired of no progress under Fatah and chose the alternative, Hamas.

For daring to do so they have been starved for months now and, when Hamas demanded that the siege end as a condition of any new ceasefire, the Israelis ruled that this was an impossible demand as they seek to destroy Hamas and the siege is one of the main - and fatally flawed - tools at their disposal.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, called for swift and decisive action to end the "unacceptable" violence, adding that world leaders must step up the pressure for a political solution. In his third statement on Gaza in three days, Ban said he was "deeply alarmed" by the escalation of violence. While recognising Israel's right to defend itself, he condemned its "excessive use of force".

Ki-moon is wasting his breath as there is only one nation who Israel ever listen to and from the Bush administration, the same people who goaded Israel throughout their ill advised war in Lebanon, they are getting the expected green light.

The Bush administration refused to call on Israel to show restraint, instead putting total blame for the conflict on Hamas, citing rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. "Israel is going after terrorists who are firing rockets and mortars into Israel, and they are taking the steps that they feel are necessary to deal with the terrorist threat," Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said.

"In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire."

It's simply tiresome to listen to these same tired American talking points. Indeed, one of the most depressing things about the current onslaught of Gaza is the way in which it highlights the utter failure of Bush's policy - and I flatter it to even call it a policy - in the Middle East.

He famously told Colin Powell that he was going "to tilt US policy back towards Israel". That gave us Jenin and countless other assaults on the Palestinians but it brought us nowhere near to peace.

If violence was the answer here the Israelis would have wrapped this thing up years ago. It's not, but Israel refuses to negotiate until she can guarantee a result which allows her to keep settlements deemed illegal under international law. Bush even went as far as promising Sharon that he could have that, but still peace eluded them.

In the past eight years of Bush's presidency there have been almost no meaningful discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and, as he leaves office with the Israelis pounding the civilian population of Gaza, the failure of his lack of policy couldn't be more clear.

His Road Map lies tattered on the ground and he becomes simply another president whom the Israelis have run out time on.


The Palestinian spokeswoman gets this spot on. Israel wants to talk about the symptoms, the rocket attacks, rather than the underlying problem here which remains the occupation and the theft of Palestinian land.


Booman points out the danger of Israel electing Netanyahu at this point in time:
The United States was the only major country or organization that failed to condemn Israel's attacks on Gaza. The United Nations, the European Union, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, the Arab League and others all were quick to condemn Israel's actions, even as they all called on Hamas to stop rocketing Israeli territory. Israel's isolation is almost complete, as the world now broadly rejects their right to self-defense if that self-defense involves the use of force outside of their borders.

This means that Israel is more dependent than ever before on good relations with the United States. It also means that Israel is dependent on America maintaining its dominant position in the world and its heavy presence in the Middle East. But those are exactly the conditions most at risk as America experiences economic decline and a lack of will for maintaining the strategy of being the sole hegemon. American public opinion is another factor that is at risk of turning against Israel.

For these reasons, there could be no more self-defeating act than for Israelis to respond to these crises by electing Binyamin Netanyahu as their prime minister. Electing Netanyahu would be the equivalent of the United States reacting to the manifold failures of the Bush administration by electing Paul Wolfowitz as president. If the last eight years of neo-conservative policies have been disastrous for Israel, why vote in someone even more neo-conservative than the neo-conservatives that created the mess?

If the Obama administration finds an Israeli government that is bent on preventing a two-state solution, it will inevitably rupture U.S.-Israeli relations. Israeli voters should be clear-sighted about this. Netanyahu cannot save you. But he can destroy Israel's relationship with their last, best friend.
Click title for full article.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Livni Calls Gaza Airstrikes ‘an Answer’ to Hamas.

Livni is asked, "Why now?"

You can hardly expect her to answer that an election is coming up and that, at the moment, she is trailing Likud.

And she continues to say that Hamas are firing rockets into Israel, which is not true:
Militants from the less influential Islamic jihad group said they fired two rockets at an Israeli community village to the east of southern Gaza Strip and into Sderot city northeast Gaza.

"This shelling comes to emphasize the choice of resistance," the Islamic Jihad's military wing said in a statement sent to the media.

Meanwhile, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also claimed responsibility for firing two rockets into northern Israel's coast city of Ashkelon.

But Israel loathe the fact that Hamas are the democratically chosen representatives of the Palestinian people so, for the purpose of Hasbara, every rocket fired will now become a Hamas rocket.

Laura Bush: Shoe-throwing 'was an assault'.

Throwing a shoe is an assault, invading a country and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people is "liberation". Everything it seems is in the eye of the beholder.

On a separate issue, Bush says the press is not fair but thinks that Chris Wallace is very fair. Dick Cheney thought so too. In fact, I'm sure this White House thinks Fox News is the only fair news channel which exists.

Israel considers ground attack as it mobilises more troops.

The talk is of an Israeli ground invasion.

Israel's cabinet yesterday approved the call-up of thousands of reservists as the military deployed tanks close to the border with Gaza while pressing on with air strikes, suggesting a major ground invasion was being considered to follow the biggest single day of conflict in Gaza since the 1967 war.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, reportedly told a cabinet meeting the fighting in Gaza would be "long, painful and difficult". After two days of air raids, more than 290 Palestinians have been killed, and more than 600 injured. Gaza's hospitals, already short of supplies, had corpses lying on their floors as the morgues filled up.

Considering the fact that the forthcoming election - and Netanyahu's lead in the polls - has much to do with the Kadima party's actions,I would be very surprised if Israel actually went ahead with a ground invasion. I would have thought that the memory of Lebanon would be enough to make Olmert pause before engaging ground troops. But he's behaved insanely in the past so one can't rule anything out. Although the sight of young Israeli soldiers in body bags is unlikely to aid any party's electoral prospects, which is why one would think he might be reticent to give the order.

The international reaction, with the expected exception of the US, has condemned Israel's actions.

The UN security council called for a halt to the violence in Gaza and the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said Israel's use of force was "disproportionate". But the US blamed Hamas, the Islamist movement which won Palestinian elections three years ago and then seized full control of Gaza last year, for the fighting. Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza observed a ceasefire for six months which began to break down in November.

Just as the attack on Lebanon was billed as a war to destroy Hizbullah, the Israelis are claiming that the aim of this action is to destroy Hamas. It's a silly thing to say as they are never going to achieve it.

I think there may be a limited use of ground forces, but I would be very surprised if the Israelis actually employ ground forces in a full scale invasion.


Some perspective on Israel's wish for a truce which we are hearing so much about:

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, pleaded that Israel wanted "quiet" - a continuation of the truce - while Hamas chose "terror", forcing him to act. But what is Israel's idea of a truce? It is very simple: Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonise their land.

As John Ging, the head of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said in November: "The people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence ... at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food."

That is an Israeli truce.

Despite the fact that his moderation has so far produced zero results, Abbas is keen to prove to the US and Israel that he is still willing to play the game according to his masters script:
Hamas could have prevented the "massacre" in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday in Cairo

"We spoke to them and told them 'Please, we ask you not to end the cease-fire. Let it continue,'" Abbas said during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "We want to protect the Gaza Strip. We don't want it to be destroyed."
I bet he's popular in Gaza right now.


Ezra Klein gets it:

The rocket attacks were undoubtedly "deeply disturbing" to Israelis. But so too are the checkpoints, the road closures, the restricted movement, the terrible joblessness, the unflinching oppression, the daily humiliations, the illegal settlement -- I'm sorry, "outpost" -- construction, "deeply disturbing" to the Palestinians, and far more injurious. And the 300 dead Palestinians should be disturbing to us all.

There is nothing proportionate in this response. No way to fit it into a larger strategy that leads towards eventual peace. No way to fool ourselves into believing that it will reduce bloodshed and stop terrorist attacks. It is simple vengeance. There's a saying in the Jewish community: "Israel, right or wrong." But sometimes Israel is simply wrong.


Although the Israelis continually state that it was Hamas who broke the ceasefire, that's not what the Guardian reported on November 5th:

A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.

Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious break in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June, yet both sides suggested they wanted to return to atmosphere of calm.

And it was this action which led to Hamas refusing to renew the ceasefire:
The armed branch of Hamas, the Qassam brigade, at 6 am (local time) on December 19 declared the end of the six month old truce with Israel. A statement issued via internet affirmed that “the ceasefire will not be renewed because the Zionist enemy has failed to respect the conditions”.
Hamas apparently decided that it wasn't much of a ceasefire if one side allowed itself to attack the other with impunity.

Click title for full article.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Let's pretend history starts now...

This is the first paragraph in the lead story in today's New York Times:

Israeli airstrikes against Hamas facilities in Gaza continued for a second day on Sunday and medical officials said the death toll rose to more than 280 as Israel retaliated for protracted rocket fire from the area with its most severe campaign against Palestinian militants in decades.
In order to phrase it like this one has to ignore forty years of brutal military occupation and an Israeli blockade of Gaza which has left 51.8% of its residents living below the poverty line and its citizens being forced to scavenge for food on rubbish dumps to survive.

I mean the rocket attacks from the Palestinian side can't possibly be portrayed as a response to Israel's inhumane treatment of a civilian population, so they have to be portrayed as if they occur inside a bubble, totally unrelated to any Israeli action.

And I happen to think the Palestinian rocket attacks are stupid, counterproductive, and wrong; but it's not as if I can make any argument for moderation which rings even remotely true when I watch the treatment meted out to Abbas, the Palestinian moderate chosen by both Israel and the United States as their preferred negotiating partner after Hamas won the Palestinian election. He turned up at Annapolis, where even the same New York Times admitted that the stakes were high for him, having staked his reputation on moderation as the way forward:
The stakes for Mr. Abbas are considerable. If he should leave Annapolis in what appears to be a weakened posture, the Islamic militant group Hamas would probably try to fill the power vacuum, as a spokesman for the group signaled on Sunday.
And what did he leave with? Nothing. As I said at the time:
Abbas is supposed to be their man, and yet they are - if first impressions count for anything - going to hang him out to dry and send him back home with nothing.

This is how they encourage the "moderates"?

I expected at least a token gesture at an attempt to make peace, but Olmert appears unwilling to give even that, and Bush is making it very clear that he is powerless to "impose our vision".
When Israel humiliated the moderate, Abbas, the same New York Times predicted that "the Islamic militant group Hamas would probably try to fill the power vacuum". But they have now forgotten their own prediction and pretend that these rocket attacks have come out of nowhere; forcing Israel, no doubt against her better will, to "retaliate".

When the Palestinians "retaliate" - against an illegal occupation - they are terrorists. When Israel "retaliates" then the occupation and deliberate starvation of the people of Gaza is always removed from the narrative.

It has to be. It's the only way that one can portray the occupier as the victim.

Click title for New York Times article.

Rove Claims History Will Be Kind to Bush.

It's simply hysterical to watch a Fox News reporter practically spoon feed Karl Rove to butter up Bush's record in office:

Colby: Karl before I let you go much of what the President-elect inherits, the tough economic times, the war as you raised, health care, so many issues facing so many Americans. There's a lot of finger pointing that the Bush administration is responsible for a lot of what ails us right now and I wonder whether at the time that the President Bush took office he could not have predicted that we would have 9-11 and that national security needed to be priority number one. Do you predict in the end the legacy for President Bush will be that we have not had another terrorist attack? That he has kept us safe and that his priorities were in order?
Rove: I think that will be a big part of it. I think history is going to see him as a man who put America on a war footing in a struggle that will have shaped the nature of this century. He will be seen as someone who liberated Afghanistan and Iraq. Fifty million people now live in freedom in those two countries who did not know freedom before. And he will also be seen as somebody who's created a strategy to confront terrorism that is going to make America and the world safer in the years to come.
Look, judgments of history are harsh in the short run and unfairly so many times. Harry S. Truman left office. In fact the slogan at the time was "To err is Truman". He left town not very popular and yet history regards him now as a much different person and I think this President is not going to leave office with that same state. He's going to be at a relatively low ratings but much better than some of his predecessors. History though is going to be kind to him at the end. I'm absolutely confident of that.
It's a sick joke to look at either Afghanistan or Iraq and claim that you are looking at fifty million people "living in freedom". If that's what freedom is supposed to look like then no-one would ever want it.

The funniest thing about this revisionist nonsense is in the fact that simply no-one is buying it. Saying that history will judge Bush kinder than we do now is simply the equivalent of McCain telling us that the polls were wrong. And we all know how that worked out.

It's so typical of the arrogance of this bunch of Republicans that, every time the public disagrees with them, they assume that the public must always be, somehow, wrong.

Never have hopes been higher – and never has the job been tougher

Whatever one thinks of Barack Obama one would have to concede that the challenges he faces are almost unprecedented:

Never has an incoming President been confronted by as daunting an array of problems as the untried former Senator from Illinois.

Others have been put to stern test. Abraham Lincoln faced looming civil war when he took office in March 1861. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt had to drag the country out of the Great Depression, an economic crisis worse even than the one Obama must deal with now. But for the 44th President, 2009 will be the year of multi-tasking. The unfinished business of two wars, and a dislocating economic downturn, are only the first items on his agenda. Around the globe, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, other crises simmer.

Hardly less pressing is the need to tackle the ever more glaring inadequacies of the United States's health and education systems, and at last to set about reducing the country's ruinous and unsustainable addiction to imported oil. But even these vast domestic challenges pale beside the global challenges – among them global warming, and the gulf between the world's rich and poor, that the economic downturn will only widen. In each case, action is essential, and soon.

But, as Rupert Cornwell points out in an excellent article in today's Independent, the American people appear to have great faith that he can pull this off.
A Washington Post poll before Christmas found almost 70 per cent of Americans to be "optimistic" about Obama's policies over the next 12 months.
As Cornwall points out, one of his greatest challenges - ending the virulent anti-Americanism which has swept the globe thanks to the unilateral swaggering of the neo-cons - has already largely been achieved simply by the very fact of Obama's election.

Few US presidents start their time in office with such a groundswell of international support. Indeed, world leaders are going out of their way to pledge that they will do all that they can to assist him.

Having watched this guy flawlessly run his campaign and then equally flawlessly fashion his transition team, I have every hope that Obama is equal to the many challenges ahead.

However, he is not superman, nor, as many Europeans would like, will he ever cease to put American interests before our own.

But he at least starts with the right priorities and, from what we have so far heard, the right ideas for addressing the myriad of problems that impact on all of our lives whether we be Americans or not.

At this point we can ask for no more and should simply thank God that we don't have a President McCain continuing the same failed policies which led us to this morass in the first place.

Click title for Cornwell's article.

Israeli air strikes kill 200 and leave 700 injured.

The first thing to say about this is that it won't work. I know it won't work, you know it won't work, the Israelis know it won't work, the Palestinians know it won't work, the international community know it won't work. And yet the Israelis insist on doing it anyway.

A massive wave of Israeli air strikes, launched yesterday against Hamas in Gaza, has killed at least 227 people – the highest death toll in a single day in the territory since the end of the 1967 Six Day War.

Warplanes and combat helicopters launched their ferocious assault on the Islamic faction's security compounds and rocket launching pads in what Israel said was a response to about 470 Qassam missiles and mortars, launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza since a five-month ceasefire began to break down in November.

The sudden and unexpected strikes, the start of an operation which the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, warned "won't be easy and won't be short", sent thick plumes of black smoke rising above Gaza City and triggered panic in some districts as parents frantically searched for children rushing home from school.

Hospitals rapidly filled up with as many as 700 wounded, and the chief of Hamas's police in Gaza, Tawfiq Jabber, was reported to be among the dead. More than a dozen bodies of uniformed officers from his force lay on the ground at Gaza City's main security compound shortly after the strikes.

This is happening because the Israelis go to the polls in about a months time. One Israeli has been killed by Palestinian rocket fire. The number of Palestinians killed is rising by the second. Two hundred and rising at the last count. Of course, the Israelis are targeting Hamas, but as many as a third of those killed are said to be civilians.

In a television interview with Fox News, Mr Barak, speaking from Tel Aviv, rejected calls by the UN and the EU for a truce. "For us to be asked to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like asking you to have a ceasefire with al-Qa'ida," he said. "It's something that we cannot really accept."

It's a typically "made for America" quote that Israeli politicians excel at. A ceasefire with al Qaeda is simply not possible nor are they the democratically elected leaders of anyone, unlike Hamas who were democratically elected to represent the Palestinian people.

It is no surprise that this is happening as Israel chooses it's next government. All Israeli politicians must at such times be seen as being tough on terror.

And the Israelis are engaging in the usual bogus arguments that any civilian casualties are the responsibility of Hamas who "choose to hide amongst the civilian population". One only has to consider how the international community would have reacted had the British decided to conduct air strikes on Belfast as a reaction to IRA bombings to see how utterly immoral this argument is.

The United Nations immediately called for a cessation of violence in the Gaza Strip, with the Palestinian spokesman calling Israel's action collective punishment.
"There is no justification for this whatsoever,"Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, told reporters before the council began its closed-door consultations. "This collective punishment is inhumane, immoral and should be stopped immediately. There is no justification for punishing 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza because of the actions of a few."
This is undoubtedly an act of collective punishment designed to weaken Hamas and, hopefully, force the Palestinians to rise up and remove Hamas from power. It's never going to happen and we all know that. It's an utterly pointless orgy of violence designed to show the Israeli electorate that the government are "doing something" ahead of next months election. Indeed, if anything, it's going to worsen the situation with Khaled Meshal, a leader of Hamas now living in Syria, already calling for a third intifada.

I also wonder if the Israelis are aware that, with the inauguration of Barack Obama on the horizon, the days of George Bush's acquiescence in every Israeli action are coming to an end.

Israel have never known any US president to bend US policy to their will in the way that Bush did, and I am sure they are suspect about what an Obama presidency will offer them.

This is the final death knell of Bush's Road Map to Peace which was always a meaningless waste of time as Bush never dared to put even the slightest pressure on Israel to force them to the negotiating table.

I personally hope that Obama drags both parties by the scruff of their necks to the negotiating table and forces them to thrash out a two state solution. That's the only thing that is going to work and we all know this, which only makes this current orgy of violence all the more obscene.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Poll: 75% glad Bush is done.

He may have decided that we are all too thick to judge his time in office and insisted that it will be for future historians to work out whether he was a good or a bad president, but already most Americans are expressing their joy that the days of the Bush administration are coming to close.

A new national poll suggests that three out of four Americans feel President Bush's departure from office is coming not a moment too soon.

Seventy-five percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Friday said they're glad Bush is going; 23 percent indicated they'll miss him.

"Earlier this year, Bush scored some of the lowest presidential approval ratings we've seen in half a century, so it's understandable that the public is eager for a new president to step in," said Keating Holland, CNN polling director.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider added, "As President Bush prepares to leave office, the American public has a parting thought: Good riddance. At least that's the way three-quarters feel."
And that's a feeling that is replicated all over the planet. The mixture of arrogance, complacency and stunning incompetence which have defined the Bush White House have been loathed everywhere.

The drop in US popularity across the globe has been almost unprecedented. Indeed, it's been strange, sitting outside the US, to watch how long it has taken many Americans to come to the same realisation as the rest of the planet. That's why people outside the US were so shocked when America re-elected him.

Now, however, it appears that the majority of Americans simply want the guy to go to Hell.

The poll indicates that Bush compares poorly with his presidential predecessors, with 28 percent saying that he's the worst ever. Forty percent rate Bush's presidency as poor, and 31 percent say he's been a good president.

Only a third of those polled said they want Bush to remain active in public life after he leaves the White House. That 33 percent figure is 22 points lower than those in 2001 who wanted Bill Clinton to retain a public role.

That's extraordinary. More than two thirds of Americans don't want him to have any public role once he leaves office, they simply want him to bugger off into the sunset.

"It's been like a failed marriage," Schneider said.

"Things started out well. When President Bush first took office in 2001, more than 60 percent saw him as strong and decisive. That impression was confirmed after the September 11th attacks. The public still saw Bush as strong and decisive when he took office a second time in 2005.

"But no more. The public has completely lost confidence in this president," Schneider said.

Bush has dropped on a number of measures, but possibly the biggest is that only 20 percent say he inspires confidence, Holland said.

"That's an important figure when the country is facing its biggest economic crisis in a generation," he added.

And one of the main reasons that Bush is rejected is because of his utter failure to fulfill his campaign promise "to be a uniter and not a divider". I find it hard to think of any president who was more partisan than Bush and who did less to unify.

"The vast majority of Americans believe he betrayed his promise to unite the country," Schneider said. "He took a country that was divided under President Clinton and he divided it worse."

Only 27 percent of those questioned in the poll approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president; 72 percent disapprove.

"President Bush's job approval rating has been at or below freezing since the beginning of the year," Schneider said. "The current 27 percent approval rating is one of the lowest ratings for any president, ever."
Bush has always claimed that he had no interest in opinion polls, which was simply his way of justifying pushing through a radical right wing agenda for which there was no popular mandate.

The end result has almost crippled the Republican movement, which will now fracture further with the moderates hoping to reign back their party's propensity for a style of governing which took the US way outside of international norms and the rule of law; and the Malkin wing of the party, which believes that the Republicans lost because McCain was not right wing enough.

If he's crippled their party for a decade it will still be little compensation for the havoc he has caused or for the tens of thousands of innocent people who are dead because this intellectual pygmy was ever allowed to hold the highest office in the world.

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Little Blue Pills Among the Ways CIA Wins Friends in Afghanistan.

We all know that Cheney's claims regarding information gleaned through torture are highly disputed, with people being tortured just as liable to lie to you as to tell you the truth. Well now, in Afghanistan, the US have finally found a way to ensure that they get a steady stream of information on the Taliban's movements.

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills.

Now that's soft power. Or should that be hard power? Oh well, you get the idea...

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Sorry! Humiliated Bush revokes pardon

One has to wonder what would inspire Bush to pardon such a man at a time when the subprime mortgage crisis - caused by selling mortgages to people who the banks must have known had no way of paying the debt back - has brought the economy to it's knees. The crime in this instance?

Mr Toussie was sued by hundreds of New York residents in 2001 for masterminding a scheme which lured "inexperienced and low-income, inner-city, minority first-time buyers into purchasing homes that they could not afford".

The homes, in working-class areas of Brooklyn, were overpriced by up to 50 per cent and often defective, and the cost of mortgage payments was hidden.

It was extremely odd then for Bush to choose to pardon someone for this particular crime at this particular time. But it gets worse. For Bush has now become the first ever US president to have to rescind a pardon. Why?

But on Christmas Eve, the President was forced to reverse the decision, as newspapers revealed that his father had recently donated almost $30,000 to the Republican Party.

Dana Perino, a White House press secretary, told a news conference that the decision to revoke the pardon, which is unheard of in modern history, was "based on information that has subsequently come to light".

She admitted that the pardon had not met Justice Department guidelines, and said neither the White House counsel's office nor the President had been aware of a political contribution by Mr Toussie's father that: "might create an appearance of impropriety".

The New York Daily News had earlier that day revealed that Mr Toussie's father Robert had made his first ever political donation last April, giving $28,500 (£20,000) to the Republican National Committee. His son's application to receive a pardon was filed just four months later.

That simply beggars belief. Firstly, I find it inconceivable that Bush would want to pardon someone for such a crime at this particular moment in time. Secondly, one would think that anyone to be pardoned would have donations given by their families checked as a matter of course during such a procedure. The fact that this guy was pardoned, only to have the pardon rescinded, simply beggars belief.
"It's, at best, embarrassing. At worst, it's an extraordinary example of this White House's ability to bollocks up one bit of presidential authority that he clearly has," Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and a close follower of presidential clemency decisions, told the Associated Press.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

X Factor losers and the outgoing President.

Every time I hear Bush or Cheney stating that they think their record in office was a good one, I am reminded of nothing as much as those deluded people on the X Factor who think they have talent and that the judges are being rude to them by pointing out that they actually have none.

So it is with Bush and Cheney. They care not how history remembers them as they think they did a good job for eight years and anyone who disagrees must be wrong or, at least, suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome; a syndrome thought up by right wing loons when they could no longer win rational arguments.

The 43rd president is going home with less remorse and fewer regrets than my grandchildren express for spilling their cereal.

This is the tenor of the farewell tour being conducted across the landscape from ABC to the American Enterprise Institute. It’s the No Regrets Tour, the nonreflective “reflections by a guy who’s headed out of town.”

George W. Bush will be remembered with names such as Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and Katrina. With phrases such as “weapons of mass destruction” and “mission accomplished.” He came in with a budget surplus and leaves with a massive deficit. He blew the good will of the post-9/11 world. But being this president means never having to say you’re sorry.

Leaving office, he takes credit for seven years of safety and no debit for a day of disaster. He takes credit for the boom—“it’s hard to argue against 52 uninterrupted months of job growth”—without taking responsibility for the deregulated bust. He takes credit for the surge, not the disastrous pre-emptive war.

“The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq,” he said. But would he have led us to war anyway? “It’s hard for me to speculate.”

No. 43 has the lowest approval ratings in modern presidential history. But he told Charlie Gibson, “I will leave the presidency with my head held high.” This is what puts me between a rocking chair and a hard place.

Bush says he doesn’t worry about short-term history. “I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it.” Yet on this farewell tour, he sounds like an artist scorned by the public and sure that he’ll be seen one day as Vincent van Gogh.
Historians, however, are already making their call:
In an offhand survey of historians, 61 percent ranked Bush dead last among presidents, below even the barrel-scraping James Buchanan. Bush, of course, prefers Harry Truman, who rose from the ashes of his reputation.

But Princeton historian Sean Wilentz has a simple way of assessing presidents. “Great presidents rise to the occasion; poor presidents fall to the occasion.”
Bush's administration sat on their hands prior to 9-11, despite warnings that bin Laden intended to attack the US, and have since led the US into two wars, neither of which is winnable, and has watched the world economic system teeter on the brink of the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression.

So when Bush states, “I will leave the presidency with my head held high” he's being no more coherent than Rachel when she states, "Bullshit!" after being told she's not very good.

Bush doesn't like history's verdict so, like the petulant Frat boy he's always been, he's simply giving us all the finger.

Click title for source.

Compare Liberal and Conservative Talk Show Hosts.

Cenk points out that Rachel Maddow, when found to be in the wrong, immediately takes it firmly on the chin and admits her error on air. That's a far cry from the behaviour of O'Reilly and Limbaugh.

Seasonal forgiveness has a limit. Bush and his cronies must face a reckoning.

There is a wonderful article by Jonathan Freedland in this morning's Guardian laying out exactly why Bush and other members of his administration must be brought to justice. He begins by spelling out just what the recent bipartisan report by the armed services committee of the US Senate revealed:

The report was the fruit of 18 months of work, involving some 70 interviews. Most of it is classified, but even the 29-page published summary makes horrifying reading. It shows how the most senior figures in the Bush administration discussed, and sought legal fig leaves for, practices that plainly amounted to torture.
And he makes the case that torture became possible because it was approved at the very highest levels of the Bush administration, by Bush himself:

The report's first conclusion is that, on "7 February 2002, President George W Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaida or Taliban detainees". The result, it says, is that Bush "opened the door" to the use of a raft of techniques that the US had once branded barbaric and beyond the realm of human decency.

For this Bush should surely be held to account.

He then looks at the Nixonian mindset which allowed this torture to take place, fueled by Cheney's belief that no action taken by a US president can ever be illegal.

A still smiling Cheney denies the Bush administration did anything wrong. Note this breathtaking exchange with Fox News at the weekend. He was asked: "If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?" Cheney's answer: "General proposition, I'd say yes."

It takes a few seconds for the full horror of that remark to sink in. And then you remember where you last heard something like it. It was the now immortalised interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon. The disgraced ex-president was asked whether there were certain situations where the president can do something illegal, if he deems it in the national interest. Nixon's reply: "Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

It is no coincidence that Cheney began his career in the Nixon White House. He has the same Nixonian disregard for the US constitution, the same belief that executive power is absolute and unlimited - that those who wield it are above the law, domestic and international. It is the logic of dictatorship.

When Nixon attempted to impose his vision of an unrestrained presidency he was driven from office. The US decided that no American president was above the law, despite Nixon's protestations.

Cheney, thirty plus years later, is attempting to re-establish that Nixonian view of the presidency. The danger is that, in order to avoid being labelled partisan, the new Obama regime will allow Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to sail into the sunset, deciding that bygones should be bygones.

If this happens, then the US will no longer be able to say that it upholds what Freedland refers to as, "that bedrock principle of the republic: the rule of law"

For Cheney will have succeeded in establishing that the office of the presidency is above such petty concerns. And we will all be worse off if Cheney is allowed to get away with that.

Click title for full article.

Exit stage left: Harold Pinter dies.

He was, rightly, known as one of the greatest playwrights of his generation and, on Xmas Eve, he finally exited the stage after a long battle with cancer.

Pinter had a number of awards bestowed on him during a long and distinguished career, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. In its citation, the Nobel academy said Pinter was "generally seen as the foremost representative of British drama in the second half of the 20th century" and declared him to be an author "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms".

Pinter was best know for his plays, including his 1960 breakthrough production The Caretaker, The Dumb Waiter and The Birthday Party. But he was also a screenwriter, actor and director and in recent years a vociferous campaigner against human rights abuses, including the occupation of Iraq by western armed forces. He joined other artists such as Blur and Ken Loach in sending a letter to Downing Street opposing the 2003 invasion.

In 2004 he received the Wilfred Owen award for poetry for a collection of work criticising the war in Iraq.

I well remember his comments on the day 2 million people marched through London protesting against the Iraq war, when he referred to the neo-cons as "thugs". There was something beautifully apt about this master of language choosing this particular word to describe so bluntly a group of people that political commentators were bending over backwards to understand. Pinter simply called them as he saw them and it was a description which never left me.

The Independent refer to him this morning as the "most anti-Establishment member of the Establishment" and there is great truth in that. He has for many years been in a class of his own, indeed the term "Pinteresque" had long ago entered the lexicon, and yet he never lost his anger at that same establishment and the mindless wars that they engaged in, the most recent being the Iraqi misadventure.

It was typical that he should take a swipe at the Iraq war whilst collecting his Nobel Prize in 2005, but he widened his criticism to American foreign policy in general:

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed.

He gave examples, including what took place in Nicaragua, E Salvador and Guatemala of how this promotion of "democracy" works and how it impacts on the world's poorest citizens:

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

And, of course, he saw this same pattern being repeated in Iraq, where American corporations were moving in on Iraqi oil whilst their government spouted platitudes about democracy.

And Pinter, a master of language, understood perfectly well how American presidents have managed to sell what they are doing to the American people:

Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable.

He referred to the Iraqi invasion as "a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law" and asked the question, "How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand?"

At a time when one witnesses political commentators falling over themselves to excuse the inexcusable, Pinter's voice had a unique logical consistency which refused to buy into American exceptionalism or the Orwellian language of "freedom" and "liberation" espoused by Bush and his cohorts.

It was an important voice and it will be missed.

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