Thursday, January 31, 2008

Official: End Justifies Means...

I really am naive enough still to find this shit shocking.

Here we have the Attorney General of the United States arguing that "shocking the conscience" is dependent on what end result would be achieved by the use of torture. I'm with Joe Biden on this. Mukasey's attitude shocks my conscience.

Hat tip to Digby who says it so eloquently:

It's really hard for me to believe that someone who used to be a federal judge can blow that sophistry in a congressional hearing with a straight face. If you don't know what they know, then you can't know in advance if what they know might save lives, right?

I honestly don't know why everybody's so hung up on waterboarding specifically at this point. If this is their legal understanding, then they can use the rack, they can break arms and legs and they can pull teeth out with a pair of pliers. There is no logical difference between any of that and waterboarding if the only moral and legal guideline is that "it might be used to save lives."

Indulge Me...

Apologies to American readers to whom this will mean little, but last night Cristiano Ronaldo scored the best free kick I have ever seen in my life. This is simply perfection.

The Dems Should Grow a Spine.

"Who do you want to see take the lead role in setting policy for the country: George W. Bush or the Congress?"

This is the question asked by a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll. It turns out that only 21% want policy set by Bush whilst a massive 62% want policy to be set by Congress.

Now, in the same poll, a majority of people - 53% - think it's a good thing that the Democrats are in control of Congress whilst 56% disagree with how the Democrats have done so far this year.

65% think that Congress has achieved "Not Too Much" this year and 51% of poll participants think this is the fault of "Bush and the Republicans in Congress".

A further 50% think that the policies being proposed by the Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate would move the country in the right direction.

Perhaps it's time the Democrats grew a spine and realised that one of the reasons people have such a low opinion of Congress is that they are not doing enough to oppose the policies of Bush's White House. Bush can't get any more unpopular so why do the Dems keep rolling over and playing dead?

Click title for poll.

Sentenced to death: Afghan who dared to read about women's rights

George Bush has called Afghanistan's democracy "inspirational" and implied that, as it takes hold, other nations will seek to emulate it:

"I hope the people of Afghanistan understand that as democracy takes hold, you're inspiring others," Bush said while visiting Afghanistan for the first time. "And that inspiration will cause others to demand their freedom."

Bush said he was "enthralled" to see the progress being made in Afghanistan. As evidence of this progress, he pointed to the growth of an entrepreneurial spirit enabling Afghans to realize their dreams, to young girls going to school for the first time, to the country's free press, and to the standing-up of a well-trained military dedicated to the sovereignty of the nation.

However, Bush's soaring rhetoric is greatly undermined by the facts on the ground in that country, and especially by the case of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a young man recently sentenced to death for downloading a report from the internet which said that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.

He passed this report around Balkh University - with the aim of starting a discussion on the matter - and was arrested and sentenced to death. He is charged with blasphemy.

Despite the intervention of many human rights groups the Afghan Senate yesterday voted to carry out the execution and urged President Karzai not to be influenced by Western pressure groups.

Demonstrations, organised by clerics, against the alleged foreign interference have been held in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where Mr Kambaksh was arrested. Aminuddin Muzafari, the first secretary of the houses of parliament, said: "People should realise that as we are representatives of an Islamic country therefore we can never tolerate insults to reverences of Islamic religion."

At a gathering in Takhar province, Maulavi Ghulam Rabbani Rahmani, the heads of the Ulema council, said: "We want the government and the courts to execute the court verdict on Kambaksh as soon as possible." In Parwan province, another senior cleric, Maulavi Muhammad Asif, said: "This decision is for disrespecting the holy Koran and the government should enforce the decision before it came under more pressure from foreigners."

The Independent have started a campaign to prevent the execution of Kambaksh which you can sign here.

It's a strange kind of democracy where one can be sentenced to death for challenging religious beliefs and it's certainly not one that I would call "inspirational" as Bush has done. The whole notion of blasphemy runs counter to the democratic ideal; that all ideas should circulate freely, not just our own.

The war in Afghanistan, which was fought to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist group, quickly morphed into a desire to remove the Taliban when it's primary aim proved elusive.

However, one of the major complaints that Bush and others cited against the Taliban was the extremity of their religious beliefs and the fact that they sought to impose those beliefs upon the whole country.

It's hard to see any "inspirational" difference between what's happening to Sayed Pervez Kambaksh and the kind of behaviour one could have expected from the Taliban.

Please consider signing the petition.

Click title for full article.

New York Post Endorses Obama.

Rupert Murdoch's New York Post has endorsed Barack Obama after the New York Times recently endorsed Hillary Clinton. It's a strange notion for Murdoch to be endorsing any Democratic candidate and it's certainly - after The Sun's endorsement of Blair in the British campaign - something of a poisoned chalice.

And the paper has not stopped at simply endorsing Obama but, as expected, it has also done something of a hatchet job on the Clinton's.

His opponent, and her husband, stand for déjà vu all over again - a return to the opportunistic, scandal-scarred, morally muddled years of the almost infinitely self-indulgent Clinton co-presidency.

Does America really want to go through all that once again?

It will - if Senator Clinton becomes president.

That much has become painfully apparent.

Bill Clinton's thuggishly self-centered campaign antics conjure so many bad, sad memories that it's hard to know where to begin.

Suffice it to say that his Peck's-Bad-Boy smirk - the Clinton trademark - wore thin a very long time ago.

Far more to the point, Senator Clinton could have reined him in at any time. But she chose not to - which tells the nation all it needs to know about what a Clinton II presidency would be like.

I've already said what I think about some of the tactics that Bill employed in South Carolina, but it really is a bit much to have to listen to this sanctimonious bile from the New York Post.

The New York Post supported George Bush whose election campaign was far nastier than anything that Clinton has engaged in. McCain was constantly referred to by Bush's supporters as "the fag candidate" and did so, as columnist Frank Rich noted,“even as Bush subtly reinforced that message by indicating he wouldn’t hire openly gay people for his administration.”

Then, of course, there were the dreadful rumours circulated about McCain's daughter:
Bush supporters in South Carolina made race-baiting phone calls saying that McCain had a “black child.” The McCains’ daughter, Bridget, was adopted from Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh. In August 2000, columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that the McCains “are still seething about Bush supporters in South Carolina spreading word of their dark-skinned adopted daughter.”
So it's one thing for the New York Post to endorse Obama, but it's quite another to cite Bill Clinton's campaign tactics as having anything to do with one's reasons for doing so.

The Post had no such qualms when supporting a candidate whose campaign tactics were of a much darker hue.

Click title for full article.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

End the Illegal Israeli Siege of Gaza - Empty Walls

The Largest Minority have made a new video concerning Israel's blockade of Gaza and have asked that it be spread around. Always happy to oblige:

The Palestinians are powerless, and rely on us for their survival. We’re the ones with the power to force Israel to adhere to international law. Any blockade, no matter how relaxed Israel claims, is far too inhumane to impose on a people already living under occupation, apartheid, and systematic ethnic cleaning. This is true terrorism, and our government makes it possible. Americans can not in good conscience support any politician who supports Israel without condition.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (202) 225-0100
The House of Representatives: 1-800-828-0498
Email your representatives here

FISA in 30 seconds

Humiliated Giuliani readies to endorse McCain

It's a funny old game politics. This time last year we were all talking about how McCain had blown it and how Giuliani was lining up to take the prize. Today it's a question of when, not if, Giuliani stands down and whether or not he will endorse McCain. (It's 90% certain that he will.)

McCain surely now steps into Super Tuesday as the Republican front runner and, for the first time since this battle for the Republican nomination started, as the favourite to take the prize.

With most of the the state's precincts reporting, Mr McCain pushed aside Mr Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, by 35 per cent to 31 per cent. He thus also bagged all 57 delegates that were up for grabs in the Sunshine State and can now expect a surge money into his campaign coffers.

His victory will thus provide a huge lift ahead of next week’s Super-Tuesday primaries in more than 20 states. It will surely also spur speculation of one more impossible endorsement in the days ahead – from California Governor, Arnold Schwarzengger.

Gathered in a Miami airport hotel, Mr McCain's supporters roared in delight as news of their candidate's narrow but vitally important victory was broadcast on giant television screens. Even until the last moments, most polling organisations had seen the state as too close to call.

"Our victory may not have reached landslide proportions but it was sweet nonetheless," Mr McCain told the cheering crowd, before paying tribute to all of his rivals – Mr Giuliani especially generously as the "exceptional American hero that he truly is".

I'm pleased to see Giuliani go, some of the things he has been saying on this campaign have been truly worrying; echoing, and sometimes even surpassing, the Bush regimes desire for violent intervention wherever they choose. Like Bush, he promised to "take whatever action is necessary" regarding Iran and, also like Bush - after the NIE reported that Iran had stopped attempting to build a nuclear weapon in 2003 - Giuliani was quick to tell us all that this made no difference to his opinion that Iran remained a threat. Facts were never going to get in the way of Giuliani's hate fest.

And the team he had built around him
- which included Norman Podhoretz, the man who called for the bombing of Iran and who gleefully admitted that this would “unleash a wave of anti-Americanism all over the world that will make the anti-Americanism we’ve experienced so far look like a lovefest" - was certainly one of the most hawkish of any of the Republican candidates. So we can breath a slight sigh of relief as this particular Republican bampot leaves the stage.

However, as Johann Hari pointed out recently in the Independent, the myth of McCain as the Republican liberals can live with is just that: a myth.
He brags he would be happy for US troops to remain in Iraq for 100 years, and declares: "I'm not at all embarrassed of my friendship with Henry Kissinger; I'm proud of it." His most thorough biographer – and recent supporter – Matt Welch concludes: "McCain's programme for fighting foreign wars would be the most openly militaristic and interventionist platform in the White House since Teddy Roosevelt... [it] is considerably more hawkish than anything George Bush has ever practised." With him as president, we could expect much more aggressive destabilisation of Venezuela and Bolivia – and more.
Up until now the Republican battle has been a messy affair and one can only hope that, as the field narrows, more attention will be paid to just who John McCain actually is.

The fact that he doesn't hate immigrants and is genuinely opposed to torture is to be welcomed, but to be honest I would expect to find those sentiments in any rational human being. However, it is a huge mistake to look at those aspects of McCain and to imagine that, by doing so, one is seeing an accurate reflection of the whole man.

The fact that McCain is seen as the liberal Republican candidate is merely a sign of how far to the right the Republican party have slid. So goodbye Giuliani, but lets not celebrate a McCain victory. He's not so different from what we have now in terms of supporting military interventionism.


It's interesting to see Michelle Malkin's reaction to a possible McCain nomination, based mainly on his stance on immigration.
But questions like this remain: How can McCain honestly reach out to conservatives when he defends his extremist campaign Hispanic outreach director who doesn’t believe in borders and when he boasts a national campaign finance chair and soft-money mogul who poured millions of dollars into the fight against English-language instruction in California, Planned Parenthood, and radical environmental fear-mongering groups?
And her readership are promising not to vote for McCain:


I cannot in good conscience vote for John McCain.. If the country is going to hell, I’d rather Hillary, Barack, or the Dems can take credit for the destruction of the country than the Republicans.


As a lifelong, politically active Conservative I’ve decided to vote Dem if McCain is the nominee. Why? Because I think that McCain will perform almost exactly like a Democrat and it is better to have the real thing in office rather than a Dem in GOP clothing. If McCain is elected and then performs poorly, because he acts like a Dem, he virtually guarantees a Dem win in 2012. However, if a Dem wins and runs things as they are dying to do then the GOP has a strong shot at 2012 and beyond.

What I find most interesting here is that even though Malkin complains that 20% of the people who took part in the Florida election were Independents or Democrats, that still mean that 80% of those who voted were actually Republicans.

So, does this mean that Malkin and the views of her readership are actually out of touch with the Republican base? I do find that intriguing.

I note a similar state of despondency over at Little Green Footballs. Perhaps these rather extreme hate sites are simply talking to themselves at times...

For example, I notice that over at the very right wing National Review Online they are taking a much more balanced view of the whole thing:
Someone who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is not your enemy, Ronald Reagan reminded us. McCain’s voting record is considerably better than that. Before Barry Goldwater said “go to work,” he first advised conservatives to “grow up.” The moment is at hand for Senator McCain and conservatives to acknowledge what conservative voters had repeatedly made clear: That they need each other.
Such common sense reveals the hate filled bile of the Malkins for just what it is.

Click title for full article.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Barack Obama Responds to Bush's State Of the Union Address

I'm glad he heard the same speech that I heard:

Tonight, for the seventh long year, the American people heard a State of the Union that didn’t reflect the America we see, and didn’t address the challenges we face. But what it did do was give us an urgent reminder of why it’s so important to turn the page on the failed politics and policies of the past, and change the status quo in Washington so we can finally start making progress for ordinary Americans.

Tonight’s State of the Union was full of the same empty rhetoric the American people have come to expect from this President.

Ted Kennedy Endorses Barack Obama

Giuliani ends Florida campaign before dwindled crowds

It appears that Giuliani's bid for the White House is effectively over:

The former New York mayor invested all his hopes on winning Florida. He virtually ignored the early states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and spent more than 60 days campaigning in Florida.

Polls suggest that strategy is going to fail and that, when the votes are counted on Tuesday night, Giuliani's hopes of the White House will be effectively over.

Only about 100 supporters turned out at the airport for a campaign stop billed as a "rally". They were noisy, drowning out his short speech with chants of "Rudy, Rudy", but the poor numbers suggest much of the energy has gone out of his campaign.
Rudy is insisting that the polls are wrong and that he is going to win Florida. He bases this claim on some 500,000 Republican votes which were cast via the state's early voting system before his campaign went into freefall, which he insists will be votes for him.

That may be wishful thinking, but for hyperbole to rally the troops, he really did reach out and hit the stars yesterday:

"We will win in Florida. We will win on February 5. We will win the Republican nomination and we will win the White House," the former Republican favourite claimed.

The extraordinary thing about Rudy's Floridian campaign has been that the longer he has remained in Florida, the more money he has spent there and the more they actually got to know him, the less popular he has become.

The sign on the side of his bus claims that "Florida is Rudy Country". We'll know soon enough...

Click title for full article.

His Last State of the Union.

The only thing Bush said in his entire State of the Union address which made me sit up and blink was his astonishing claim that the people of Palestine elected Abbas to look after their interests. I was under the illusion that they had elected Hamas for that function, but I suppose that claim was actually no more false than many of the other themes he was expounding.

It really was a tick list of the usual baloney. The surge is working, Iran must be confronted, and the US must pass immunity for telecoms companies who broke the law by assisting the US government to spy on it's own citizens. What one super patriot in the Republican party referred to as "a terrorist loophole".

Russ Feingold saw that for what it was:

"He once again attempted to bully Congress into giving broad powers to the executive branch far beyond what is necessary to protect the country from terrorists."
Oh, and the economy is slowing and tax cuts must, therefore, be made permanent. That, and many other of Bush's vacuous claims, had the right wing of the chamber on its feet. And as always, Bush phrased this wish to continue to give tax cuts to America's richest citizens in the most deceitful way possible.

"Members of Congress should know: if any bill raising taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it."

In other words, a refusal to make tax cuts permanent is actually a tax increase, rather than simply the ending of a short term tax break.

Oh, and he wants an end to "earmarks" and will also veto any bill which contains them. An argument which might carry more force and credibility had he not himself requested more than $15bn in "earmarks" last year.

But, more than anything, there was something of the wake about the whole affair. He referred at one point to "seven years ago" and it was impossible not to think that he was simply supplying a list of all the areas in which he has been found to be lacking.

His last minute attempt to push for peace in the Middle East only made me more aware than ever that this was the man who encouraged Israel to use force rather than to negotiate with the Palestinians; indeed, that this was the man who refused to call for a ceasefire during the Israeli Lebanon war, a refusal that led to Israel to all intents and purposes losing that war, the consequences of which are still to be determined.

I also remember the promises he made prior to the Iraq war, the same promises that Blair used to try and drum up support for that conflict, that the road to a Palestinian state was through Baghdad, and that once Saddam was out of the way Bush would push his "road map for peace" in the region. More empty words and promises that were simply left to wither on the vine.

And, with words that seemed to echo those hazy days before he invaded Iraq, he turned to Iran:

"Our message to the people of Iran is clear: we have no quarrel with you, we respect your traditions and your history, and we look forward to the day when you have your freedom.

Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment so negotiations can begin. And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home and cease your support for terror abroad.

But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf."

He made a similar claim about having no quarrel with the people of Iraq before he invaded their country and turned their lives into a living Hell, but the only comfort the people of Iran can take from this message to them is that the man delivering it is heading out the front door and is, hopefully, too weak to come to their aid.

I strongly suspect the people of Iran do not want rescued in the same fashion that Bush supposedly "rescued" the people of Iraq.

So the Iranians, like many people around the globe, can take comfort from the fact that this is the last time this pompous little failure will get to make a State of the Union address. It's the last time we will have to listen to this tick list of Republican talking points which hardly changes even when NIE reports say the opposite of what the President has been claiming.

The defining moment of his Presidency will be when he landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln, resplendent in his flight suit, and then made a speech in front of a banner reading, "Mission Accomplished". It was the ultimate example of Bush's desire for reality to be what he wished it to be rather than what it actually was.

He will leave office with two unfinished wars still raging on, with hatred for the US around the globe at unprecedented levels, and having taken a $200 billion surplus and turned it into a $167 billion deficit.

Way to go, George. Don't let the door hit your arse on the way out!

Monday, January 28, 2008

SUPER TUESDAY: Will Not Decide the Nominations

Jubilant Obama wins Kennedys' endorsement

Barack Obama didn't just win in South Carolina, he totally wiped out Hillary Clinton in a way which no poll predicted.

With 55% of the vote, he more than doubled the share commanded by Hillary Clinton. If the polls were wrong in New Hampshire, where Obama seemed to be ahead only to lose narrowly to Clinton on the night, they were more wrong in South Carolina. Most showed the Illinois senator leading in a race that seemed to be tightening; pundits thought he'd be lucky to win by a double-digit margin. Instead this was a landslide: Clinton trounced by 28 points.
Having proven that he could win in predominantly white Iowa, he now has proven that he can also do so in states with large African American constituencies.

The task ahead of him in defeating the Clinton juggernaut is still gargantuan, but he heads into Super Tuesday with a new endorsement ringing in his ears; that of the daughter of John F. Kennedy.
"I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them," Caroline Kennedy wrote in The New York Times. "But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president – not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."
Heady stuff indeed.

That endorsement will be echoed by her uncle today as Senator Edward Kennedy announces his backing for the man who has emerged battle-hardened but victorious from South Carolina. Senator Kennedy, whose endorsement carries immense weight among Democrats, had vowed to stay out of the nomination but was swayed, his associates said, by the bitter tone of the contest.

Another indication that Bill's heavy handedness has alienated some Democrats.

Both the Clintons and their allies had pressed Mr. Kennedy for weeks to remain neutral in the Democratic race, but Mr. Kennedy had become increasingly disenchanted with the tone of the Clinton campaign, aides said. He and former President Bill Clinton had a heated telephone exchange earlier this month over what Mr. Kennedy considered misleading statements by Mr. Clinton about Mr. Obama, as well as his injection of race into the campaign.

Mr. Kennedy called Mr. Clinton Sunday to tell him of his decision.

However, I think part of what Clinton was doing was sending a more subtle message to his party. He is asking if Obama has what it takes to face down the Republican attack dog machine and reminding Democrats that, when it's time to roll up one's sleeves and get dirty, that he has proven he has the ability to do so.

Watching all this from abroad I have to say it's a fascinating spectacle. I love the soaring rhetoric of Obama and his ability to inspire audiences and whip up such enthusiasm. However, Clinton touches a nerve when he hints that the last thing the Democrats need is another noble leader who ultimately loses the election.

I personally think that Obama could easily see off a McCain or Romney challenge, especially as both seem to be determined continue many of the dismal policies which have made the Bush presidency such a calamitous failure, but - nagging right at the back of my head - the doubt is there.

And it's that doubt that Clinton keeps nudging. It's another example of why he's the most effective politician the US has produced in the last thirty years. And it contributes to making the Democratic battle such a fascinating spectacle, even to someone across the ocean with no vote.

Click title for full article.

Chavez calls for anti-US alliance

It says rather a lot about the way George Bush's presidency has increased anti-American feelings across the globe and diminished actual US power that Hugo Chavez can so openly call for countries in South America to revolt against their northern counterpart.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has called on other Latin American and Caribbean countries to form a military alliance against the United States.

The vehemently anti-US leader says Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba and Dominica should create one united force.

Mr Chavez, a long time critic of what he sees as US imperialism, made the comments after a summit of its leaders.

Of course, having already failed to oust him in a coup, and with their hands tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is very little chance of the US making any kind of serious response to Hugo's remarks.
Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and now the Caribbean island of Dominica are all members of a trade alliance known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a group that takes its name from South America's independence leader, Simon Bolivar.

Mr Chavez has urged them to draw up a joint defence policy and create a united military force against US imperialism.

"If the US threatens one of us, it threatens all of us," he said, "we will respond as one."

America's meddling in South America has long been a source of anger for many across the globe.

During the cold war the US seemed obsessed with stopping communism from creeping into south America and, to that end, often interfered in the business of small nations.

However, under Bush's presidency, most of South America has turned socialist and no-one in the White House appears to have noticed.

It's bizarre. Much as I loathed the Reagan presidency and it's goals, there was at least an intellectual consistency; under Bush there is none.

That's why the man who declared his intention to export democracy to the Middle East can now find himself offering $20 billion arms deals to Saudi Arabia, one of the least democratic nations in the region; it's like he's literally making it up as he goes along.

What I find interesting here are not so much Chavez's comments but rather how they fit into a narrative that has developed under the Bush presidency. Chavez joins Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-il in sticking a finger up at the American empire, knowing full well that Bush is far too tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan to be able to anything about it.

The neo-cons claimed that they were going to use America's military superiority to impose what they saw as a new American century upon the world. And yet, after seven years of their military imperialism, the US appears weaker on the world stage than it was before they began their failed experiment.

And that is because the central theme of the Bush presidency - the Bush doctrine - which is basically an arrogant policy of preemption - has failed to produce any viable, sustainable, results on the ground. Which is why people like Chavez can now openly call for people to unite against the US.

It's just another tiny example of the many, many ways that the Bush presidency has actually weakened the US global position.


There's a great article in today's New York Times magazine that explains this phenomenon much more eloquently than I could. It's well worth reading:

Waving Goodbye to Hegemony
Turn on the TV today, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1999. Democrats and Republicans are bickering about where and how to intervene, whether to do it alone or with allies and what kind of world America should lead. Democrats believe they can hit a reset button, and Republicans believe muscular moralism is the way to go. It’s as if the first decade of the 21st century didn’t happen — and almost as if history itself doesn’t happen. But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them.
It says this about Chavez:
Hugo Chávez, the country’s clownish colonel, may last for decades to come or may die by the gun, but either way, he has called America’s bluff and won, changing the rules of North-South relations in the Western hemisphere. He has emboldened and bankrolled leftist leaders across the continent, helped Argentina and others pay back and boot out the I.M.F. and sponsored a continentwide bartering scheme of oil, cattle, wheat and civil servants, reminding even those who despise him that they can stand up to the great Northern power.
Click title for full article.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gaza's falling wall changes Middle East map for ever

Up until now Mubarak has appeared simply unwilling to do anything to stop the steady stream of citizens from Gaza flocking into his country to stock up on goods that they have long been denied by the Israeli blockade.

Now, however, despite pressure from Israel and the US, he appears to be going further than ever and actively endorsing the actions of Gaza's citizens.

North Sinai Governor Ahmed Abdel-Hamid said that "Palestinians will continue to cross until they get all their needs of commodities and foodstuffs" in response to an Israeli lockdown on the impoverished territory of 1.5 million.

Egyptian security forces have been "instructed to facilitate the Palestinians' passage and guide them to the places where they could get their needs," Abdel-Hamid said.

He said he was coordinating with the Ministries of Social Solidarity and Industry "to secure large amounts of commodities and products to meet the needs of the Palestinians in the country" because many Egyptian shops were now out of stock.

The United Nations said at least 700,000 Gazans -- nearly half the territory's population of 1.5 million -- have poured into Egypt to stock up on desperately needed supplies since the heavy steel wall was blasted open on Tuesday.

Like everyone else I presumed that the wall breach would be a one day wonder and that the citizens of Gaza would soon be herded back into their open prison. However, as we enter day four it's impossible not to think that, having tasted freedom, the people of Gaza will simply not accept this Israeli imposition upon them when Israel decides she wants to further punish these people for crimes that they did not commit.

There's a very interesting article by Peter Beaumont in the Guardian which asks whether or not Gaza's falling wall will herald in a new phase in the Middle East.
They came and went in lorries and gas tankers, in flatbed trucks loaded with cattle and sheep, in coaches and mini-buses, loaded by the dozen in the backs of trucks, all shuttling across Gaza's southern border. Four days ago they went on foot like refugees, but yesterday for the first time the trucks drove through and it felt like an unstoppable momentum had been reached.

They carried generators and goats, diesel and huge piles of carrots and cabbages. But most of all they carried the message that Israel's long blockade of Gaza is over. 'I want to get some cheese,' says Ameera Ahmad, after crossing the border from Gaza into Egypt yesterday. 'And honey. Look, crisps! I haven't seen a bag of crisps for months.'

So walls fall down. Not only physically, blasted down on Gaza's border with Egypt last week with dynamite and cutting torches, but in the mind as well.

The four short days since Hamas blew down the six-metre metal border wall built by Israeli soldiers before the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and troops has forged a confusing new reality on the ground. What first was being treated as a holiday from the oppressive conditions of Gaza under Israeli siege, by yesterday was taking on the attributes of an entitlement - one for long refused.

He makes a very interesting point regarding the feeling of entitlement. The simple truth, as Gandhi illustrated in India with regard to British rule, is that the Israelis cannot continue to hold one and a half million people prisoners unless those same people acquiesce in their imprisonment.

Once those people have tasted freedom, once they have breached the wall and not been instantly driven back, then the size of the injustice that has been perpetrated against them becomes not an abstract notion, but a cold clear fact.

700,000 people have crossed that border in the last four days. Some of them for the very first time:
Ameera, 24, texts her husband to ask if there is anything he wants brought back from Egypt. 'Oh!', she says suddenly in a quiet, happy voice, surveying a pretty vista of open fields, without walls or boundaries that cannot be crossed without risk. 'This is my first time out of Gaza.'
Once they have tasted life outside of the prison, they will forever know what lies on the other side of the wall. And it would take quite an army to hold back 700,000 people who know that their imprisonment is unjust.

What I viewed four days ago as a wonderful day out at the shops for the people of Gaza is assuming a whiff of permanence. Things might simply never be the same again. If the people of Gaza move in sufficient numbers then no army in the world would dare try to face the international outrage that would accompany any attempt to lock them back in their jail.

Perhaps Mubarak is realising this new reality.

Click title for full article.

Obama's Victory Speech South Carolina

Part 1:

Part 2:

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Letterman: Barack gives the Top Ten

I can't imagine a British politician doing this. Good on ya, Obama...

Egypt Tries to Plug Border; Gazans Poke New Hole

As the Egyptians ponder what to do about the broken border with Gaza, the New York Times has a piece which interviews some of the Palestinians who managed to get into Egypt for a few brief days.

Muhammad al-Hirakly, 22, said he and his friends had been in El Arish for two days, but could not get past the police to get to Cairo. “We tried to go there, to see the big city and our family there, and also the girls,” he said.

The police ordered local hotels not to take in Palestinians, but residents and mosques provided beds. “We’ve been sleeping in the Rifai Mosque. It’s nice they let us in,” Mr. Hirakly said. He was interviewed in a line to ride the bumper cars at a little amusement park. “We’re angry at the Egyptians, who try to rob us with overpriced stuff,” he said. “But it’s the most fun we’ve had in years.”

Muhammad Abu Samra, 18, came to buy cigarettes to resell and found many friends from Gaza. “Being here makes me feel like I want to see the world, breathe some fresh air,” he said. “I wish they could keep the border open; maybe one day they’ll even let us go to Cairo.” But said he and his friends planned to return to Gaza on Friday night.

Adel al-Mighraky, 54, was returning to the Rafah crossing with his grandson, and thanked Mr. Mubarak for allowing Gazans to enter. “We were like birds in a cage,” he said. Once the door is open, he said, “birds will fly away as fast as they can — this is what we did. But what kind of bird has to go back to its cage after it was freed?”

It was the first time his grandson had left Gaza, Mr. Mighraky said. “We felt free today.”

It's very hard not to be moved when one hears people talk with such wistfulness about freedom. A people who have been under curfew since June for crimes that they personally did not commit.

The Egyptians are in an understandable quandary. Pressured by Israel and the US to reseal the border whilst fully aware that most Egyptians, and many people around the world, strongly disagree with the punishment that is being meted out to the people of Gaza.

The Egyptian forces have fired guns and water cannons into the air in an attempt to control things, but that's as heavy as it's got. The reality is that Egypt don't want to be Gaza's jailers, and they certainly don't want to be Gaza's jailers on Israel's behalf.

So Mubarak finds himself in a dreadful position. A trapped people will do anything to break free and any attempt by Mubarak to force a solution will end in violence, and the last thing Mubarak needs is for his forces to be seen reacting violently towards a group of people who have been dreadfully mistreated.

Mubarak has therefore suggested a solution:
In an interview published Friday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the situation in Gaza unacceptable and called on Israel to lift the blockade and solve the problem.

"They should get things back to normal according to previous agreements and understandings," Mubarak told the weekly Al-Osboa.
I have no doubt in my mind that Olmert, a man who doesn't even bother to pretend that he's not engaging in collective punishment, will dismiss such a notion out of hand. But Mubarak is right. This situation has developed because people kept in a cage have broken out, and it is not for Mubarak to insist that they re-enter that cage.

It is for Olmert to realise that punishing one and a half million people for the crimes of a few is wrong.

Click title for full article.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why Republicans Will Lose The Presidency In 2008

Clinton’s Campaign Sees Value in Keeping Former President in Attack Mode

There's an article in todays Guardian Comment entitled, "The Madness of King Clinton" which argues that Bill Clinton, far from losing it with his increasingly frequent temper tantrums, is actually playing to the cameras; well aware that, if he appears to lose his temper, that whatever point he wants to make will be instantly propelled to the front of the news agenda.

In a political culture that seems ever more spin-dried and desiccated, the media lust for unguarded moments - or, at least, moments that look that way. And when those moments centre upon a former president whose psychodramas have long fascinated millions of his compatriots, they are prized all the more highly. An outbreak of Clintonian ire can cut through the usual hubbub of campaign noise like a klaxon.

The image of an out-of-control Clinton is so compelling that it also serves as an amplifier for whatever point he is making. Many pundits have suggested, wrongly, that Clinton's most heated remarks are aberrational. In fact, every tantrum so far has occurred whilst sounding a vital campaign talking point - the notion that supporting Obama is a huge gamble, that the young senator's appeal is fundamentally fake, that a Clinton loss in the Nevada caucuses - widely, though incorrectly, predicted at the time the former president reared up in Oakland - should be seen as insignificant.

The sheer spectacle of Clinton's explosions is so over-powering that the media reports that inevitably follow are dominated by what he said and how he said it. Questions about whether his statements are true can get pushed to the sidelines.

When I first read this I was unsure whether or not I agreed with this theory. I agree that outbursts guarantee that his points lead the next news cycle, but was unsure whether Clinton would damage his own brand simply to pull of such a feat.

And then I read this over at the New York Times:

The benefits of having Mr. Clinton challenge Mr. Obama so forcefully, over Iraq and Mr. Obama’s record and statements, they say, are worth the trade-offs of potentially overshadowing Mrs. Clinton at times, undermining his reputation as a statesman and raising the question among voters about whether they are putting him in the White House as much as her.

Mr. Clinton is deliberately trying to play bad cop against Mr. Obama, campaign officials say, and is keenly aware that a flash of anger or annoyance will draw even more media and public attention to his arguments.
Perhaps the Clinton camp are simply trying to put a positive spin on Bill's more erratic outburts, but there's a part of me that thinks this theory might actually hold water.

One of the initial reasons Liberals like myself love Bill is because he won. He could take on the Republican attack dog machine and beat it at it's own game.

Since Hillary finished third in the Iowa caucuses Bill has openly started setting the news agenda in any way that he can. And as long as he is in attack mode then Obama is forced to respond rather than having any chance to set the agenda himself.

The other day I thought that Bill might - in an election being fought on the notion of change - be playing the game in a way that made Obama the underdog and gave him the advantage, but now I'm not so sure.

As long as Bill plays the role of attack dog, Hillary can safely ignore Obama and concentrate on attacking Bush. She rises above the fray and acts Presidential.

Such a tactic is simply not open to Obama as neither his wife nor his chief strategist, David Axelrod, are capable of generating anywhere near the kind of heat and light that a former President can generate.

It's ugly. But, with this two-for-the-price-of-one partnership that the Clintons now represent, one has to concede that - rather than simply losing it in his old age - there's a very good chance that Bill Clinton knows exactly what he is doing.

And Obama is on the money when he says he's unsure who he's running against because, like it or not, he's running against both of them.

Click title for article.

American Right Mock Heath Ledger's Death

The American right wing have always struck me as a particularly unhinged group of people but this is a new low even for them. They are now mocking the death of Heath Ledger - and threatening to picket his funeral in some quarters - not because he was gay, which he wasn't, but because he once played a gay man in Brokeback Mountain.

It's beneath contempt...

As I said the other day, I really haven't followed Ledger's career, but the death of anyone at 28 is a bloody tragedy. To turn an event like that into a punchline is simply sick.


Gibson has "apologised" because "some took my comments as anti-gay and offensive".

Hat Tip to Crooks and Liars.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Are They Waiting For?

It's bizarre. Reporters have asked as many questions about UFO's as they have about global warming during this election campaign...

Freedom for Gaza (but for one day only)

The Israeli blockade of Gaza has been going on since last June. Yesterday - no-one knows who but many of us suspect Hamas - someone blew the wall between Gaza and Egypt with seventeen separate explosive charges.

And through they came, thousands of Palestinians searching for household goods, cigarettes and spare car parts which they have been denied for the past seven months.

And, from the reports that I have read, the Egyptians seemed very happy to see them.

And certainly the steel-helmeted Egyptian border guards standing by their armoured personnel carriers seemed pleased enough to see the tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children who squeezed between the now flattened eight- metre concrete slabs of wall or scrambled across the furrows in the now uselessly prone and twisted corrugated iron barrier.

One, in camouflage fatigues, surrounded by curious small boys and standing by Rafah-Sinai's Shuhada Mosque, but with no visible weapon and refusing to give his name, said: "Everything is good. We are very happy at what happened." Had his unit received instructions on how to handle the day-long mass Palestinian break-out? "Nobody told us anything," he replied.

This may not have been quite the collapse of the Berlin Wall. But if anyone doubted the impact of a prolonged siege on an imprisoned people, they had the evidence yesterday.

With Gaza City's streets abnormally light of traffic because of the fuel shortages, the cars, vans, cattle trucks, packed with Gazans seeking everyday household wares, crowded the main Salahadin north-south artery of the Gaza Strip clogging the approaches to the border, confident of filling their jerry cans of petrol and diesel after queueing patiently on the other side. "We are going to heaven," shouted one teenager.

Israel have, understandably, complained about the security implications of this, stating that "potentially anyone could enter Gaza" which is, of course, true. However, it still made me smile as it implied that there might be some rush of people eager to enter the world's largest open prison.

No doubt the Israelis will close the holes in the wall soon enough and the blockade will continue, but for one day there was something very endearing about the fact that the Egyptian border patrol - and who would ever have thought that border patrols would show humanity? - turned a blind eye whilst a besieged people enjoyed a day at the shops.

As a Gazan taxi driver put it:
"I don't know who did it," he said cheerfully. "But this is an agreement between two peoples, not between governments."
And there's a great truth to that. Governments might argue about the need to maintain the borders for reasons of security but, that was not the first thing most people thought of when they saw the exodus of people searching for goods.

Anyone capable of empathy, especially here in Britain where most people's parents can still remember war time rationing, imagined what it would be like to be in the Palestinians shoes and wished them well.

It is for that reason, I suspect, that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt ordered his troops to do nothing. He didn't dare to intervene.

Here's footage of what took place.

Click title for full article.

Kerry denounces 'lies' about Obama

The battle between the Clinton's and Obama is getting nastier and drawing in more people which ultimately can't do the Clinton's any favours.

Now John Kerry has stepped into the middle of it to condemn - without naming any names - the apparent "swiftboating" of Barack Obama.

"The fight is just heating up. We won't let them steal this election with lies and distortions," he said.

His comments came amid signs of a backlash in the Democratic party, especially among African-Americans, at the way that Hillary and Bill Clinton have taken Obama apart during the past fortnight.

Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, endorsed Obama last month, despite his long friendship with Bill Clinton. It was an important endorsement, giving heart to other members of Congress who had been dithering about supporting Obama for fear of antagonising the Clinton machine. But it is a big jump for Kerry to go from endorsement to criticism of the former president and his spouse, even if indirectly. He described as "disgusting lies" allegations on the internet about Obama's religion and record of public service.

"I support Barack Obama because he doesn't seek to perfect the politics of Swiftboating - he seeks to end it," he said. "This is personal for me, and for a whole lot of Americans who lived through the 2004 election."

These are incredibly strong words and an indication of just how much the tactics being employed by the Clinton camp are alienating other Democrats.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton has hit back at claims that he and Hillary have injected race into the Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina and has accused Obama of doing a "hit job" on him.

Scolding a reporter, Mr. Clinton said the Obama campaign was “feeding” the news media to keep issues of race alive, obscuring positive coverage of the presidential campaign here of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“They know this is what you want to cover,” Mr. Clinton told a CNN reporter in Charleston, in an apparent reference to the Obama campaign.

“Shame on you,” the former president added.

The Clinton camp are running an ad which highlights the very remarks which Obama says the Clinton's are distorting and taking deliberately out of context.

At about the same time, the Clinton campaign began running a radio commercial about Mr. Obama, which replayed Mr. Obama’s words from a recent interview with The Reno Gazette-Journal: “The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years.”

“Really?” a voice-over in the Clinton commercial says. “Aren’t those the ideas that got us into the economic mess we’re in today?”

In his interview, Mr. Obama did not specify any particular idea and did not say he supported any of them, though Mrs. Clinton’s commercial strongly implies that he did.

The Obama campaign called Mrs. Clinton’s commercial “dishonest,” and Mr. Obama broadly implied at campaign appearances that the Clintons were misleading voters, though he did not mention the Clintons by name.

Mr. Obama further responded with his own radio advertisement, saying that it was Mrs. Clinton who had frequently sided with the Republicans on issues like the Iraq war and the North American Free Trade Agreement. “She’ll say anything, and change nothing,” the commercial said. “It’s time to turn the page.”

What puzzles me about the way this campaign has turned out is that it never needed to get quite as nasty as it's becoming. And it doesn't seem to me as if this will in any way help the Clintons. Obama is already in the highly unusual position of facing what amounts to two candidates, one of whom is a former President, and any perception that he is being bullied or unfairly misrepresented by the formidable Clinton political apparatus sets up Obama as the underdog facing seasoned ruthless political cynics.

In an election being fought on the issue of change, that kind of thing can only assist Obama.

Click title for full article.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger Dies

I don't know why Heath Ledger's death saddens me, but it does. I paid very little attention to his career and only really knew him through the fact that the tabloids made such a fuss over Brokeback Mountain.

But to die at 28 is simply a bloody tragedy. There are reports that he was suffering from pneumonia at the time of his death.

His family have released a statement:

We, Heath's family, confirm the very tragic, untimely and accidental passing of our dearly loved son, brother and doting father of Matilda, who was found in a peaceful sleep in his New York apartment by his housekeeper at 3:30 p.m. (EST)," his father, Kim, read while accompanied by mother Sally and Ledger's sister, Katie.

"We would like to thank our friends and everyone around the world for their kind wishes at this time.

"Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life, but few had the pleasure to truly know him.

"He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving and unselfish individual who was an extreme inspiration to many.

"Please now respect our family's need to grieve and come to terms with our loss privately."

Whatever the circumstances that have led to his early demise it is simply tragic that someone so young, with apparently everything to live for, should pass away. 28 years old. It's no age at all...

The Liar in Chief. (Nearly a Thousand Porkies...)

I have never bought into the theory that Bush and others genuinely believed that Saddam was a threat to the United States and that they were only telling us what they believed to be true when they were making their case for intervention.

I think they had decided that they wanted to take out Saddam and that all evidence was regarded as useful or useless based solely on whether it advanced or hindered that cause.

Now a new study by two not-for-profit organisations has found that Bush and his officials told almost one thousand lies regarding Iraq after 9-11.

The Associated Press reports the study, published on the website of the Centre for Public Integrity, concluded the statements “were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanised public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretences”.

According to the study, 935 false statements were issued by the White House in the two years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In speeches, briefings and interviews, President Bush and other officials stated “unequivocally” on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda, or had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to get them. “It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to al-Qaeda,” wrote the study’s authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith.

“In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.” The study found that President Bush alone made 259 false statements – 231 about weapons of mass destruction and 28 about Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda.
The truth was that Bush and his ideologues didn't care whether or not the evidence they were relying on was true or false, they cared about whether it made the case for war or not. As was famously spelled out in the Downing Street memos, "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

In other words, if it aided the case for war it was in and if it didn't it was dismissed.

And, of course, the WMD/terrorist justification was chosen not because of any immediate danger but because - as Paul Wolfowitz admitted:
For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.
And, of course, there were further indications that Bush had always wanted to remove Saddam. According to his former ghost writer:
“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.
Indeed, the lengths that little Georgie was prepared to go to in order to get his war were actually extraordinary:
Bush told Blair "that the US was so worried about the failure to find hard evidence against Saddam that it thought of 'flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours'. Mr Bush added: 'If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]'."
Because, of course, Bush felt that starting a war with Saddam would improve his standing as President; indeed, he might never be considered a great President unless he went to war:

According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush’s beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House – ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.”

Bush’s circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: “They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches.”

Republicans, Herskowitz said, felt that Jimmy Carter’s political downfall could be attributed largely to his failure to wage a war. He noted that President Reagan and President Bush’s father himself had (besides the narrowly-focused Gulf War I) successfully waged limited wars against tiny opponents – Grenada and Panama – and gained politically.

And, of course, Bush's ignorance of just what he was getting himself into apparently knew no bounds. Pat Buchanan revealed that Bush had told him the Iraq invasion would yield no casualties.

So we shouldn't be surprised at the level of lies that were told to make this war possible. One thousand whoppers.

And Pelosi still says impeachment is off the table? Unbelievable.


Here's Cheney lying:

Here's an example of Cheney lying about his lying.

Here's Rumsfeld getting caught lying:

Click title for full article.

Bush Attempts to Pardon Himself for War Crimes.

Cafferty says it all when he wonders, "What are we becoming?" At least Nixon waited for Ford to pardon him, Bush is setting out to pardon himself...

Did Canada cave under US Israeli pressure?

The Bush regime have always set out to make reality what they say it is rather than contend with tiresome actuality. However, they are now having some considerable success with this nonsense if this story is any indication of how things work. Now the truth can, apparently, be changed with a single phone call...

Hat tip to The Largest Minority.