Saturday, January 31, 2009

McConnell warns GOP that it must broaden appeal or die.

I stated after the last US election that I felt the Republican party would find itself in very deep shit and would resemble the British Labour party in the late seventies - or the Tory Party under John Major - in which infighting left both parties unable to govern.

I said this because it was becoming increasingly obvious that McCain was heading for an historic defeat and that what was left of the GOP was coalescing around Sarah Palin, a woman who held views which most people would regard as extremist.

But, as the neo-cons - as extremist a group as I have ever seen running the Republican Party - had moved the Republican position so far to the right, a battle would have to take place to decide in which direction the party would move to in future. And the fact that McCain had even had to choose Palin to appease the base, led me to conclude that any fight to bring the party back towards electability would have to be a deep and a bruising one.

The Malkins and Coulters of this world will not give up the power they have accrued without a fight and that fight is now beginning to take place:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did not mince words on the outlook for the GOP during his address to the Republican National Committee's annual meeting on Thursday.

The "path forward" for the Republican Party is rocky.

"We're all concerned about the fact that the very wealthy and the very poor, the most and least educated, and a majority of minority voters, seem to have more or less stopped paying attention to us.
And we should be concerned that, as a result of all this, the Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one," McConnell told the gathering.

"In politics, there's a name for a regional party: it's called a minority party.
And I didn't sign up to be a member of a regional party . . . As Republicans, we know that common-sense conservative principles aren't regional. But I think we have to admit what our sales job has been poor. And in my view, that needs to change."
McConnell is on the money apart from one vital area. He appears to think that what was rejected was the party's "sales job" which reminds me of Thatcher's defence of the poll tax and her belief that, if the policy was simply sold better, that the public would see that they were wrong to reject it.

The Republicans need to do a lot more than sell their policies better, they need to understand that a lot of their policies, especially their social ones, are discriminatory and wrong.

But, as long as they pander to the kind of people who hold Sarah Palin up as their champion of social justice, then they are heading, deservedly, for the political wilderness.

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Hamas must be brought into peace process, says Tony Blair

Whilst he was in office Tony Blair was ridiculously pro-Israel, so there ought to be great significance attached to the fact that even he is now calling for Hamas to be part of any Israel/Palestine negotiations on the future of a Palestinian state.

In an interview with Ginny Dougary in the Saturday Magazine, Mr Blair says that the strategy of “pushing Gaza aside” and trying to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank “was never going to work and will never work”. He hints in references to how peace was eventually achieved in Northern Ireland that the time may be approaching to talk to Hamas ... “My basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody.”

The Israelis, of course, have preferred only to talk to Abbas, who they regard as "moderate", even though they have offered him very little as a reward for his moderation, a moderation which many Palestinians have come to see as capitulation.

But it is fascinating to hear Blair push aside the Bush rhetoric which he, for years, espoused; and now talk in a way which makes some kind of sense. I can only think that the arrival of Obama on to the scene has meant that, either Blair is liberated to tell the truth in a way that he was not in the past, or he is displaying a certain amount of political opportunism here and aligning himself with the new administration as a way of preserving what he sees as his own political importance.

To be fair to Blair, he did always understand that solving the Israel/Palestine question was central to any attempt to quell terrorism world wide and he did attempt to make his decision to join Bush in Iraq in some way conditional on the US forcing Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians. However, in the end Bush shafted him and he was left failing to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon so as not to appear out of sorts with the Bush administration. It was a fatal error which resulted in the Labour party forcing him to announce a date for leaving office.

However, to see Blair repositioning himself to such an extent, certainly gives me great faith that I have not been overly optimistic about the Obama administration's attitude to this conflict.

Blair clearly senses that the tide is turning and that Obama is going to have a much more adult and serious approach to achieving peace than his predecessor.

Thought to be privately critical of the failure of the former US administration to give a full commitment to the peace process, Mr Blair says that the appointment of Mr Mitchell, with whom he worked on the Northern Ireland peace process, indicated a “real commitment” by America.

The truth is that Bush's search for peace in the Middle East was half hearted as he always feared upsetting the Israelis.I have always thought that Obama appointed Clinton because she had pro-Israeli credentials which he lacked and that she would be able to push for Israeli compromises which he could not.

There is certainly nothing in Blair's statement to make me think that I was wrong about this and plenty to give me hope that I was right.

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Karl Rove Says He Will Not Show Up For Congressional Subpoena.

It does not surprise me at all that the Bush administration remain as contemptuous of the law now that they are out of office as they were when they governed.

The real question is what will be the result of such an attitude now that they do not have the power of the state to protect them. Rove apparently thinks that such protection is everlasting, hence his refusal to respond to a subpoena even now.

He, and his fellow Republican hacks, will no doubt seek to make out that everything which is being done to them is nothing other than partisan political revenge taking.

But it's not. They are merely being asked to respect the laws which they refused to respect whilst they were in office.

And, if he continues to refuse to co-operate, they should simply throw his ass into jail. Rove cannot be allowed to continue to insist that he is above the law.

Lilly Ledbetter's fight for equality is enshrined in law.

This is why it is so good to have this guy in the White House:

Lilly Ledbetter is about half Barack Obama's height, but she makes up in determination what she lacks in stature. This was clear when the president stooped to embrace her yesterday after signing his first bill into law, a landmark piece of equal pay legislation which has been named after her.

Now 70 and from rural Alabama, Ms Ledbetter is a former employee at a Goodyear tyre plant, where she was a supervisor. For nearly two decades, from 1979 until she retired in 1998, Ms Ledbetter was one of the few women area managers. At first, her pay was in line with men in the same job. Then, she discovered, it started to slip.

"I just could not believe that they would separate the female pay so far down the line from my male peers," she said at the time. "I was shocked when my attorneys accumulated all the information, and I saw how low [my pay] was."

After discovering the pay difference, she filed a lawsuit and a jury found her to be the victim of discrimination. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled against her in 2007, reversing what many saw as years of precedent on equal pay. The Supreme Court judges decided that she took her action too late to collect damages, ruling that discrimination claims had to be filed within 180 days of the first offence.

Ms Ledbetter became a cause celebre in the campaign for equal pay and Congress, now dominated by Democrats, this week approved a law relaxing the deadlines for filing such suits thus making it easier for women to challenge employers they suspect are in breach of equal pay laws.

Obama has made sure that what happened to Ledbetter can, in future, be challenged:
It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign - the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act - we are upholding one of this nation's first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness. So in signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal - but bad for business - to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook - it's about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.
The fact that both Obama and Clinton supported this bill during their election battle, and that McCain did not see it as necessary, says all that needs to be said about the differences between both political parties.

Only with a Democrat in the White House would such an historic wrong ever have been corrected. The Republicans would always favour protecting the employer over the employed. That's simply what they have always done.

But Obama has done what is right and, in doing so, has brought up the memory of his dead grandmother and the future of his two daughters:
And today, I sign this bill not just in her honor, but in honor of those who came before her. Women like my grandmother who worked in a bank all her life, and even after she hit that glass ceiling, kept getting up and giving her best every day, without complaint, because she wanted something better for me and my sister.

And I sign this bill for my daughters, and all those who will come after us, because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined.
As I say, only with a Democrat in the White House would we ever see such a thing.

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Officials sacked after Sarkozy hears jeers.

Various friends of mine had different reactions to Bush being jeered during Obama's inauguration, with some of them expressing pity for the man, a pity which I must admit I did not share.

Bush governed, by his own admission, with a contempt for the opinions of the people he was supposed to represent and attempted to turn that contempt into a thing of honour by claiming that he did not govern "by opinion polls". That is why he always seemed to make speeches in front of members of the armed services, as service personnel are not allowed to express any contempt they might feel for their commander in chief.

So, when Bush finally faced the reckoning of a public he had for so long ignored, I felt that there was a certain poetic justice in him having to walk the walk of shame. After all, he was supposed to be the people's representative, and he had made it clear that he didn't care what the people thought as he was "the decider".

But, over in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy is hearing notes of discontent and has actually started to fire people for allowing such stuff to even reach his ears.

The police chief and the most senior national government official in the Manche département (county) of lower Normandy have been fired in successive days, to the fury of local politicians, including members of M. Sarkozy's own party.

The officials' offence was to fail to shield the President from the boos and whistles of protesters when he made a speech in the town of Saint-Lô earlier this month. Their dismissal has fuelled a debate about President Sarkozy's increasingly autocratic behaviour. Two high-profile ministers from ethnic minorities, appointed by M. Sarkozy to much fanfare in 2007, have been placed in the political deep-freeze by the President in recent weeks. Last year he ordered the firing of a successful Corsican police chief after nationalist protesters had invaded the garden of his friend, the actor Christian Clavier.

The latest victims of presidential pique are two recently-appointed officials who had overall responsibility for public order when M. Sarkozy visited lower Normandy to speak on education reform on 12 January. About 3,000 demonstrators protested. M. Sarkozy was furious the demonstrators had been allowed to come so near that he could hear them faintly.

He was heard to say at the time: "Quel con, ce préfet." (What an arsehole, this prefect is.) A prefect is a governor appointed by the state to oversee the administration of each département. On Thursday, it was announced that the prefect of the Manche département, Jean Charbonniaud, was being moved to another job.

I happen to think the arsehole is Sarkozy himself. The beauty of democracy is that the president or prime minister is supposed to represent the views of the people. Just witness the hero's welcome the Turkish PM was greeted with as he returned home after chiding Peres for Israel's attack on Gaza and contrast that with the way both Bush and Sarkozy have been greeted with hostility for governing contrary to what their respective public wanted and insisting that they knew better than the public did when it came to what was good for the country.

Bush attempted to turn the fact that he was unpopular into a price he was willing to pay to do "the right thing", but "the right thing" under the Bush years seemed to many to simply be the enrichment of the most wealthy parts of American society and a contempt for everyone else.

Perhaps, if politicians like Bush and Sarkozy were not protected from the wrath of the people they were elected to represent, then they would govern in a way which ensured that they continued to represent those people's interests rather than simply the narrow ideological beliefs of their own political party.

That is supposed to be the whole point of democracy. Obama is currently fantastically popular because he puts into words the aspirations of so many of us. Should he fail to deliver, his popularity will drop. I see nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it's the only way that I can see to ever make politicians deliver on their promises.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Recep Erdogan storms out of Davos after clash with Israeli president over Gaza.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, has marched out Davos after a heated exchange with Shimon Peres over Israel's attacks on Gaza. The leaders from the two normally friendly country's erupted into a very public argument in which Erdogan accused Peres of shrillness and of having a "guilty conscience".

In a heated exchange, Erdogan told Shimon Peres the Israeli air strikes and invasion of the Palestinian territory were "very wrong" and said "many people have been killed".

The incident came after a lengthy debate at the Davos forum about the Israeli offensive, in which at least 1,300 Palestinians were killed.
When David Ignatius attempted to stop him from making his point Erdogan complained that he had allowed Peres to speak, uninterrupted, for 25 minutes.

It ended with this exchange:

When the Turkish prime minister said: "Please let me finish," Igatius replied: "We really do need to get people to dinner."

Erdogan replied: "Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I don't think I will come back to Davos after this."

Erdogan arrived home in Turkey to a hero's welcome.
Thousands of people gathered at Ataturk airport, in Istanbul, to greet the Turkish prime minister, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting: "Turkey is proud of you."

Peres appears to be genuinely stunned that the world has reacted with such revulsion towards his country's attack on an unarmed people and the utterly irresponsible amount of civilian deaths the IDF inflicted on the children of Gaza.

He's used to being given the kind of kid gloves routine that Ignatius and Bush normally hand him, he certainly wasn't prepared to be ambushed in this way by a Prime Minister who he regards as an ally.

One really does sense a sea change after the latest Gaza operation, a real feeling that Israel has crossed the line and that people are no longer willing to accept her constant cry that every military action she takes is an act of self defence.


Blair says that, "Given what has happened in Gaza it would be surprising if people didn't feel really strongly about it." And, as so often with Blair, it's impossible to pin him down and work out what he is actually saying.

But I know this, were he still Prime Minister he would have backed Bush and refused to call for a ceasefire, just as he refused to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon.


You can watch the entire Gaza: The Case for Middle East Peace Conference here.

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Dick Armey To Joan Walsh: I Am Glad That You Can Never Be My Wife.

As Republicans grovel before the shrine of Rush Limbaugh, Joan Walsh faces off with Dick Armey.

Armey supplies the public face of the current Republican party as he, rather than make any rational argument, sneers and laughs dismissively at Walsh ending with the comment, "I am so damn glad that you could never be my wife, 'cause I surely wouldn't have to listen to that prattle from you every day."

It's a disgraceful performance but it does make you despair about any possibility of achieving bipartisanship with such people.

Glenn Greenwald:

People like Dick Armey -- and Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity -- are the face of today's GOP, its heart and soul. Armey, who once notoriously referred to Barney Frank as "Barney Fag," comes from a faction -- the Texas Republican Party -- that continues to advocate formally in its 2008 Party Platform (.pdf), among so many wonderful planks, that sex between gay people be criminalized and that all gay citizens be denied the most basic rights, including even the right to adopt children and to have custody over their own children [p.12]:

We also believe that no homosexual or any individual convicted of child abuse or molestation should have the right to custody or adoption of a minor child, and that visitation by such persons with a minor child should be prohibited [p. 14]. . . .

The Texas GOP wants creationism taught in the public schools alongside evolution and given "equal treatment" [p. 17]; Guantanamo to remain opened [p. 24]; the U.S. military to remain in Iraq with no timetable for withdrawal [p. 24]; and extraordinary medical care to be denied to all prisoners except for those who can pay for it themselves [p. 19].

The party's 2008 Platform also demands that the U.S. -- this is really what it says -- "cease strong arming Israel" by pressuring them "to make future diplomatic concessions, such as giving up land to the Palestinians on the West Bank" [p. 24]. American policy towards Israel, they argue, should be "based on God's biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefit of that promise" [p. 24]. Armey himself, in a 2002 Hardball appearance, advocated that Palestinians should "leave" the West Bank and Gaza (which Armey believes is part of Israel) and go somewhere else. His state party's Platform also wants the U.S. to "immediately rescind our membership in, as well as financial and military contributions to, the United Nations" [p. 25] .

These are the people who have largely been in power for the last two decades and the country is in the shape one would expect it to be in as a result. That's why all of this chatter about post-partisan transcendence and trans-partisan harmony and the like is so inane.

This is what I find so interesting about American politics. In any other society, anyone who held the beliefs that people like Armey holds would be seen as extremist, and yet the Democrats seem to spend an inordinate amount of their time trying to seek consensus with these people. And, when consensus proves impossible - as it always will when dealing with such nut cases - it is the Democrats who find themselves labeled as partisan.

Why do they bother seeking such consensus? I mean, seriously, why don't they do what Bush did and say, "We won" and push forward with their own agenda? I understand that Obama wants a change from the past eight years but, when I witness the open contempt which Armey displays here towards Walsh - the sneering laugh and the constant calls to "Give it a rest" - I honestly wonder how consensus with such people is even possible.

Limbaugh called a Hypocrite and mean-spirited on CNBC.

The man who is already on the record stating that he wants Obama, "to fail" now pops up offering the ludicrous Obama/Limbaugh stimulus plan and claims that he is, "trying to build bridges and roads to the administration for genuine bipartisanship and co-operation and fairness."

Rush is stunned to be called a hypocrite during this interview, as he's obviously used to being interviewed by the Hannity's of this world who actually give him credence.

Here Limbaugh claims that, "bipartisanship is a joke, and it's Republicans caving to what Democrats want."

Which he says during the same interview in which he claims to be, "trying to build bridges and roads to the administration for genuine bipartisanship". Yet he's stunned to be called a hypocrite?

They say Rush is currently the public face of the Republican party, which says a lot about the state the Republicans now find themselves in after eight years of Bush. He's incoherent in his rage, embracing bipartisanship whilst decrying it as Republican surrender.

Apparently bipartisanship is what I have always thought people like Rush imagined it. It's when someone like Obama will allow Republican policies to flourish, even when they have lost an election.

After all, despite how the country voted, one must always remember that the US "is a centre right nation".

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Senator Russ Feingold on Bush Prosecutions.

This is interesting. Kit Bond said that he would vote for Holder's confirmation purely on the grounds that Holder had promised not to prosecute any Bush officials for war crimes.

Here Russ Feingold assures us that no such promise was ever given.

As always, it's well worth reading Glenn Greenwald on this issue. He asks what kind of system is the US operating under where a homeless man gets 15 years for stealing $100 dollars and yet the whole of the beltway press argue that the political elite must be free to commit war crimes without fear of prosecution.

Release soldier - and remove Hamas - and we'll end Gaza blockade, says Israel.

As always when dealing with Olmert and Israel, they say one thing which is reasonable, and another which is not.

George Mitchell has traveled to Israel to try and consolidate the 10 day ceasefire and has been told that Israel are insistent that they will only re-open the crossings - including Karni - if Hamas release Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier who was captured before Israel's last war with Lebanon. I actually find that a reasonable request and I personally would welcome the day when that young man is returned to his family, even if I regard punishing an entire people for the actions of a few as collective punishment. But I can, nevertheless, see where they are coming from and understand that what is being done to young Gilad Shalit is a disgrace.

However, the Israelis then attach another demand which is utterly unreasonable:

Israel has been arguing that as the 2005 agreement was made with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his Ramallah-based authority would need to control the Gazan side of the crossings, rather than Hamas.

The reference to the agreement by Mr Mitchell – who will not be meeting Hamas on his visit – appears to suggest that the new US administration accepts that interpretation.

Mr Olmert is said to have suggested in his talks with Mr Mitchell that Hamas had been sufficiently weakened by Israel's military campaign that the eventual return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza "in one form or another" was now a possibility.

I find it worrying if the Obama administration find this request reasonable. No matter what one thinks of Hamas it is undeniable that they are actually the elected representatives of the Palestinian people. To make their removal a condition of ending the siege is to accept Israel's refusal to allow the Palestinians to make their own democratic choice.

We might not like the democratic choice which the Palestinians made but, if we believe in democracy, then we have to accept that they - for whatever reasons - made it and we should respect it.

Because they made that decision we have all - the US, Israel and the EU - been punishing them through a cruel blockade. I wonder if we have actually made them more radical rather than less through our actions?

After all, they only voted for Hamas because Fatah was corrupt and their policies of moderation were having no positive effects on most people's lives.

Meanwhile in a new report on the West Bank, the Israeli pressure group Peace Now disclosed that 1,257 new structures were built in Israeli settlements in occupied territory during 2008 – a 57 per cent increase over 2007. The Annapolis summit on the peace process at the end of 2007 was based on the internationally-agreed road map, which calls for a freeze on all settlement activity.

All around them their land is being stolen, is it any wonder that they made the choice they made when the moderation of Abbas failed to stop that?

I can understand Israel's desire to remove Hamas, but, in order to do so, Israel will need to prove that moderation yields benefits. So far, as the illegal settlement building continues at a pace, there is absolutely no evidence of that.

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US House of Representatives passes Obama's $819bn economic bill.

Okay, so Obama's stimulus plan makes it's way through the House of Representative, but it does so with no Republican support.

The bill, providing $544bn in public spending and $275bn in tax cuts for individuals and businesses, was passed with 11 Democrats opposing it along with all Republican members. It now passes to the Senate, which could begin debate as early as Monday.

Obama said after the vote: "This recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years." But his hopes of bipartisan support were dashed.

Republican leader John Boehner said the measure "won't create many jobs, but it will create plenty of programmes and projects through slow-moving government spending".

I'm all for bipartisanship, and I think it's useful to listen to Republican grumbles and to try and find a middle way, but it appears to me as if the Republicans are playing politics here when there really isn't time for such stuff.

The Senate debates the plan next week, and it could face stiff opposition as the Democrats have a slimmer majority.

After the vote, Mr Obama urged members of Congress not to "drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way".

The president has said his package, which he hopes to sign into law next month, would help create a favourable climate for American business to thrive.

The bill would cut taxes for people and businesses by $275bn, while pumping more than $540bn into a range of initiatives including road and bridge repair, increased unemployment benefits, investment in new technology and renovations to 10,000 schools.

Mr Obama has pledged to try to end partisan division in Washington, but the debate on how best to kick start the US economy has devolved into a bitter squabble along party lines, says the BBC's Richard Lister in Washington.
The economy is tanking, and this guy has a plan. All the Republicans are doing - as far as I can see - is giving themselves room to say, "I told you that wouldn't work."

Which, to me, is the same as wishing that it won't work. Which, at a time of national emergency, I regard as a bloody disgrace.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Does Obama Insist on Being Bipartisan?

I'm with Rachel Maddow on this. The last election was a referendum on the economy as much as anything else - and who was considered most competent to handle it - and the electorate came out firmly on the side of the Democrats.

So why would it be "partisan" for the Democrats to push ahead with their policies if it wasn't considered "partisan" by the Republicans to push ahead with their tax cuts?

It does seem to me that bipartisan behaviour is expected only from one party.

Mitchell heads to Middle East to initiate dialogue between Israel and Hamas.

It is being reported that Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is going to explore the possibility of bringing Hamas into negotiations with Israel.

Mitchell, on the first leg of a weeklong trip to the region, is scheduled to meet the President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo tomorrow. The Egyptians have been engaged in extensive talks with Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Although Mitchell has no plans to visit Gaza or to talk directly with Hamas in the near future, the Egyptians offer an indirect route to the group, which is classified by America as a terrorist group.

Mitchell will discuss with the Egyptians the immediate prospects of Hamas maintaining the current fragile ceasefire and is expected to open discussions about the long-term prospects for the group to become involved in more comprehensive peace talks.

This is a move which has been welcomed by Gerry Adams, who took part in negotiations with Mitchell that brought about the Northern Ireland peace deal.
In a peace process, the goal must be an inclusive agreement that is acceptable to all sides, is doable, deliverable and sustainable. That means enemies and opponents creating space for each other. It means engaging in real conversations and seeking real solutions. It means accepting that dialogue is crucial and that means recognising the right of the Palestinian people to choose their own leaders, their own representatives.

The Israeli government and other governments have to talk to Hamas.
All of us, here in the UK, remember Thatcher's ridiculous insistence that the government couldn't "negotiate with terrorists"; which always seemed to me to be a guarantee that the violence would continue. Indeed, it was not until the Tory government of John Major began secret negotiations with the IRA that the IRA announced it's ceasefire.

The situation in the Middle East is slightly different because Hamas have agreed to abide by any settlement which Fatah arrives at in negotiations with the Israelis as long as such a settlement is agreed with by the Palestinian people in a referendum.

However, even though Fatah are able to negotiate on behalf of Hamas and the people of Palestine, it is a further indication of Mitchell's seriousness that he is seeking to engage with them. And it is a welcome break from the stupidity of the Bush years that such platitudes as, "we will not negotiate with terrorists" appears to be being set aside.

In any peace negotiations one has to negotiate with ones enemies, no matter how unpalatable that may be. And the Obama administration are showing an admirable adult quality, which was lacking from the previous administration, when they put out such feelers.

It is always preferable to talk to the organ grinder rather than the monkey and, in this case, Hamas are the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people, no matter how much the Israelis and others might despise that fact.

It is also worth noting that nothing extraordinary is taking place here, as Israel previously refused to negotiate with the PLO and Fatah, for very similar reasons to the ones they are now giving for refusing to engage with Hamas.

Just as Major sought to talk with the IRA, so Mitchell now seeks ways to open dialogue with Hamas. We should applaud the latter and hope that it is as successful in achieving peace as the former.

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Minutes of the cabinet meeting that took us to war must be released.

The British government have been ordered to release the minutes of two cabinet meetings which were pivotal to the UK decision to go to war in Iraq.

In the latest ruling in a long-running battle under the Freedom of Information Act to force ministers to disclose the official record of two important meetings of Tony Blair's cabinet, the Information Tribunal upheld a decision yesterday by the Government's information watchdog that the minutes should be made public.

The three-man tribunal ruled that Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, had been right to issue a ruling last year compelling ministers to release the minutes of the meetings on 13 and 17 March 2003, when the cabinet discussed the legality under international law of the invasion to depose Saddam Hussein.

Cabinet minutes normally remain secret for at least 30 years but the tribunal upheld Mr Thomas's finding that the "gravity and controversial nature" of the discussions on the eve of war meant that there was a strong public interest in their disclosure.

The Cabinet Office has 28 days to release the documents or appeal to the High Court on a matter of law. Ministers could also take the unprecedented step of issuing a "veto" and refuse to issue the minutes despite losing their case under the provisions of the FOI Act, introduced by Labour in 2000. Downing Street said last night it was considering its response to the ruling.

The main point of interest in the minutes of these meetings is whether or not the cabinet were given the full story regarding the legality of the war.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, presented a summary opinion at the March 17 meeting which argued that the Iraq war would be legal without a second UN resolution, which was a considerably less nuanced conclusion than the one he had arrived at in a paper he wrote on March 7th, which many believe was never shown to the cabinet.

Shortly before the start of the Iraq war, the then-attorney general Lord Goldsmith published a nine-paragraph statement saying why he thought the invasion would be legal under international law.

It was published as a written answer in the House of Lords and it said that the United Nations security council resolution 1441, passed in the autumn of 2002, "revived" the authority to go to war explicitly contained in an earlier security council resolution.

Advice from government law officers is normally kept secret. But Tony Blair had failed to secure another UN security council resolution explicitly authorising the invasion – the so-called "second resolution" – and at the time he was under intense pressure to prove to the public that war would be lawful.

Many MPs assumed that the nine-paragraph statement was a summary of a more considered legal opinion drawn up by Goldsmith in private.

But after the war it emerged that the nine-paragraph document – published on March 17 2003 – was all the legal protection the government had.

More embarrassingly, it also transpired that Goldsmith had written a much more considered, 13-page legal opinion on March 7 that expressed considerable reservations about the legality of the invasion.

The March 7 document was never shown to the cabinet, which met on March 13 and again on March 17 to discuss Iraq. Some campaigners believe that ministers were not told the full truth about the legal question marks raised by Goldsmith and that, if the government has to publish the minutes of those two cabinet meetings, they will prove that ministers were misled.

This was all occurring as the US and Britain were asking United Nations for the infamous second resolution, which they never got. Goldsmith had previously argued that the war could be considered illegal without that second resolution but, when the resolution was not forthcoming, he appeared to change his mind, setting aside previous nuanced considerations. Goldsmith suddenly argued that Saddam's failure to comply revived the security council's authorisation for the 1991 Gulf war (resolution 678) and, therefore, allowed the use of force to disarm Saddam.

Tony Blair has always insisted that the nine paragraph summary he presented to the cabinet was a "fair summary" of the advice he was given and insists that this summary is "consistent" with the longer view written on March 7th.

However, many of us feel that Lord Goldsmith changed his legal opinion to suit the political realities once it became clear that no second resolution was forthcoming, and there were people within the government who uphold that view:
Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, resigned in March 2003 because she did not believe war with Iraq was legal. Her letter setting out why said Lord Goldsmith "gave us to understand" he agreed with Foreign Office lawyers that the war was illegal without a new UN resolution but changed his advice twice just before the war to bring it in line with "what is now the official line".
Of course, none of this means that we will ever get to see these cabinet minutes. The government can appeal this latest decision or, failing that, simply veto the release of the cabinet notes, although this would be the first time the government has ever used it's veto.

One can't help but feel that the government will go to any lengths to prevent us from ever finding out exactly what took place in the run up to this war. To this day they are preventing any inquiry into the war, which is simply astonishing when one considers the fact that the war is almost in it's sixth year.

But, at all points, any information which we have gained has had to be dragged from the government piece by piece, with them at all times claiming that national security was at risk should they ever reveal the reasoning behind the decision to invade Iraq.

One day we will finally see what took place here. And, I suspect that Brown is going to do all that he can to prevent us from seeing this for as long as he can because, once we see it, we won't like what we are looking at.

There's no way to look at this Labour governments behaviour to date and conclude that full disclosure would help them. This has been a tacky business from start to finish.

Click title for full article.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The U.S. Is Required To Investigate Bush Administration War Crimes.

Manfred Nowak is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Here he says that Obama must, under international law, investigate whether or not torture took place under the Bush administration.

When asked if Obama is required, under the Convention signed by President Reagan, to take action against the people responsible, he makes it very clear that, under article four of the Convention that this is the case.

Article 4

1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.

2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.
He is very specific that there is enough evidence to make a case against Donald Rumsfeld, and cites the fact that Alberto Mora warned Rumsfeld, that the actions he was proposing would be torture, but that Rumsfeld went ahead and issued the order anyway.

It's well worth reading
Mora's account of what he did when he discovered abuse was taking place at Guantanamo Bay.
The interrogation techniques that had been authorized were almost identical to those which had been applied by the British government against IRA terrorists or suspected terrorists back in the seventies and eighties. And these techniques had been found by the European Commission of Human Rights to constitute torture, and have been found by the European Court of Human Rights to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Both of these kinds of treatments are prohibited as a matter of law in Europe and regarded as criminal violations. The British government understood the importance of this. The Prime Minister at the time was compelled to go before the Parliament, admit the use of these techniques and then promise never, ever to engage in them again. Then later the court of human rights came down with its decision.
I asked him to protect his client. Towards the end of the meeting, Jim was listening, but really not reacting to anything I said. I didn't know if I was getting through to him or not. And one of the consequences of this, I felt, was that Secretary Rumsfeld, individually, was at risk. And for one lawyer to urge another lawyer to protect a client is one of the strongest messages that a lawyer can possibly send. And I was hoping that that would get through to Jim if the other arguments did not, and cause him to reexamine these authorities and the legal underpinnings for these authorities.
Rumsfeld, of course, rescinded these authorities only for John Yoo to provide his dubious legal guidance which allowed all of the techniques found to be illegal by the European Court of Human Rights to continue. So, a legal precedent had already been established and they were aware of that at the time.

He describes the first time he read Yoo's OLC memo:
These are very densely argued and almost all of the OLC documents are models of legal logic and draftsmanship. They're very carefully, closely reasoned. And they evidence a high degree of legal skill applied to the problem. But this document was awful. There's no other way to describe it. And it caused, with me, a certain dissonance, because you're used to seeing documents that are so carefully crafted that the correctness is evidenced from the quality of a legal analysis. This document was the opposite of that.
It is this document which Cheney, Gonzales and others are relying on when they state that they sought legal clarification that what they were doing was legal. And Yoo's document was written in the full knowledge that these techniques had been found to be torture by a human rights court.

President Obama Gives First Interview To Arabic News Channel.

It's astonishing, and it speaks volumes, that Obama has decided to give his first ever TV interview since becoming president to an Arab TV station. In it he announces that he will redefine the "war on terror" as a war against al Qaeda. He does so because he recognises that "language is important" and that the language of Bush was considered offensive by many Muslims.

Even David Gergen talks of Obama as, "a president of astonishing ambition" as Obama announces his intention to speak to the Muslim world from an Arab capital within the first 100 days of his administration.

It is inarguable that this man is serious, in a way which the Bush administration was not, about achieving peace in the Israel/Palestine dispute.

And it is simply brilliant that he demands that both should look forward to the lifestyles and security that might be enjoyed by their children, rather than continue to focus on what has occurred in the past.

He makes it very clear that the US's friendship will Israel will remain as strong as ever but, by giving his first interview to Arab TV and by phoning Abbas before he telephoned Olmert, he is also signalling that the days of the Bush administration's acquiescence in Israel's every action is truly over.

Reza Aslan says that Obama's promise to listen and respect other opinions - and to watch the ways in which US policy affects "the poor and downtrodden" - "are words which will resonate in the region".

This was an amazing speech. I am actually giddy I have to say.
(I'll put up the rest of this video as it is posted on You Tube.)


As promised, here is more of the interview.

60 Minutes: Is the Two State Solution Doomed?

I've never understood the advantage for the Israelis in killing off the two state solution. In terms of the numbers game the Palestinians easily beat them. So, if they don't favour the two state solution, what do they favour? Expelling them? Keeping them in a permanent state of Apartheid? Or allowing them to participate in Israeli democracy, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

I take some comfort from Livni's assertion that the settlers will be removed, although that will not be easy as you can see from the footage here. The word "settlements" is highly inadequate and implies much more flimsy structures than the towns we are looking at here.

I have always thought that the only way to get around this is to offer land swaps, and allow some settlements to remain whilst offering uninhabited parts of Israel to the Palestinians.

I am extremely pleased that Obama is making this such a high priority but, as we can see from this film, his task is gargantuan.


I see President Carter has come to the same conclusion that I have:

“If we look toward a one-state solution, which seems to be the trend — I hope not inexorable — it would be a catastrophe for Israel, because there would be only three options in that case,” Carter said.

One would be to expel large numbers of Palestinians, which he said would amount to “ethnic cleansing.”

The second would be to deprive the Palestinians of equal voting rights, which he said would amount to “apartheid.”

The third would be to give the Palestinians equal voting rights, and therefore the majority, he said.

“This is William Kristol’s last column.”

Bill Kristol has, at last, been removed from The New York Times. Many of us wondered why the Times ever hired him in the first place, but he's not been fired for being a neo-con nutbag. He's been fired for being a sloppy neo-con nutbag:

The problems that emerged were more fundamental. Kristol’s writing wasn’t compelling or even very careful. He either lacked a talent for solid opinion journalism or wasn’t putting his heart into it. A give-away came in the form of four corrections the newspaper was forced to run over factual mistakes in the columns, creating an impression that they were rushed out without due diligence or attention to factual claims. A senior writer at Time magazine recounted to me a similar experience with Kristol following his stint in 2006-07. “His conservative ideas were cutting edge and influential,” I was told. “But his sloppy writing and failure to fact check what he wrote made us queasy.”
His very last column was a testament to why he should never have been hired in the first place.

He comes out with two crackers in the midst of the current economic disaster:
Conservatives have been right more often than not.
If Reagan’s policies had failed.
There are many of us who think that the current financial situation is a direct result of the deregulation policies which Reagan promoted and the belief that the market was always right and was, somehow, self correcting.

The truth is that the market would never correct itself without regulation.

But I'm quibbling. The real problem with Kristol was that he always essentially wrote the same column. And he did so because he is deeply partisan. New York Times columnists are supposed to report on campaigns rather than advise them, yet it was very clear during the last election that Kristol was doing both.
Kristol and the Times have both insisted the columnist has absolutely no hand in McCain's run.

But a recent report, which raises doubts about those denials, suggests Kristol was instrumental in lobbying for the McCain team to pick Sarah Palin as the GOP's vice-presidential candidate. That would explain Kristol's steadfast support of Palin in the face of so many conservative pundits expressing doubts about her.

Even the McCain campaign began to question Kristol's motives:
As one McCain adviser put it to me: “In the last six weeks there was a remarkable echo. You could listen to arguments made by folks inside of the campaign who were close to Bill Kristol and then open up The New York Times and read them in Kristol’s columns. It was ‘set Sarah free,’ coupled with an agenda designed to appeal to the religious right and the more raucous elements of the party. They got their way often enough, and we started noticing that at many of the Palin functions it was nonstop ‘Sarah, Sarah,’ while John McCain all but vanished. Were they trying to get McCain elected in 2008, or to help Palin on the way to the Republican nomination in 2012? You can’t get yourself into a situation in which anyone can credibly ask that question.”
But, after a lifetime of writing nonsense, he surely reached a new peak when he described McCain's picking of Palin as the act of a “shrewd and prescient gambler.”

It is now inarguable that the decision to pick Palin came across as reckless, and that McCain fatally harmed his election chances when he proposed putting that feisty, but ultimately fabulously under qualified, lady within a 72 year old heartbeat of the presidency.

Seeing what McCain did as the action of a “shrewd and prescient gambler” should have been enough to make The New York Times suggest that it really was time he moved on.

And if that wasn't enough for the Times to think he really needed to go, then there was the small matter of him always holding the New York Times up as an example of all that was wrong, even as they paid his wages:
“Appearing once again on The Daily Show, Bill Kristol, Jon Stewart's favorite whipping boy (‘Bill Kristol, aren't you ever right?’), on Thursday night defended the McCain-Palin ticket, at one point informing the show's host that he was getting his news from suspect sources. ‘You're reading The New York Times too much,’ he declared.

Bill, you WORK for The New York Times!’ Stewart pointed out.
Not anymore he doesn't. And not before time.


Balloon Juice do well to spot this piece of salesmanship from Howard Kurtz. This is his headline:
Kristol Severs Ties With the N.Y. Times.
Ah right, people inside the beltway don't get fired, they "sever their ties" with their employer.

Monday, January 26, 2009

DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal.

This is the appeal for the children of Gaza which the BBC refuse to air in case it in some way is seen to compromise their impartiality.

Anyone who reads here regularly will know that I have actually been sympathetic to the BBC and the constant charges of being anti-Israeli which are levelled against them simply for reporting the news.

However, having at last seen the appeal, I was filled with fury at Mark Thompson's decision.

The appeal makes very clear that this is not about "the rights and wrongs of the conflict, these people simply need your help".

There are children in Gaza who are suffering. They are homeless and hungry. You don't have to favour either side to realise that children shouldn't be caught up in this shit.

Give as much as your conscience dictates. Do so here.


The BBC, whilst still refusing to budge on this, are becoming increasingly isolated:

More than 110 MPs had signed an early day motion urging the corporation to reverse its decision. The BBC is also facing a growing revolt from its journalists, who have been told they could be sacked if they speak out on the issue.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said after last night's broadcast that it was "inclined not to comment", but added: "There is no doubt that any appeal which simply seeks to raise money for innocent civilians should be applauded."

There have now been over 15,500 complaints over Mark Thompson's decision not to air this appeal, the first time the BBC have decided not to air a DEC appeal in the Disaster Emergency Committee's 46 year history.

Shortly before the appeal aired, in London protesters burned their TV licences in front of a line of police outside the BBC's Broadcasting House.

The public have made it very clear just how angry they are with this ludicrous stance the BBC have adopted.

One emerging issue is Thompson's claim that the BBC's stance on humanitarian appeals was "not a new policy" and was consistent with previous such emergencies. Yesterday, he said the BBC had always taken a strong stance on stories "as complex and contentious as Gaza".

However, the BBC broadcast DEC appeals after the 1999 Kosovo war and 1990 Gulf conflict. In 1968 it broadcast an appeal for victims of the Vietnam war. Over the last two years it has broadcast appeals for aid for crises in Burma, Bangladesh, Sudan, Chad and the Congo. Neither has it previously shunned humanitarian appeals in the Middle East. The second DEC appeal ever to be broadcast on the BBC, in June 1967, was a film seeking help for Palestinian and Syrian refugees displaced by the Six Day War. In 1982, the BBC helped raise £1m by broadcasting a DEC appeal for victims of Israel's invasion of Lebanon.

There is simply no coherence to this stance and no truth whatsoever in the claim that the BBC traditionally avoid such subjects for fear of appearing to compromise their impartiality.

This is simply an act of utter cowardice on Thompson's part.

Sullivan on War Crimes.

Andrew Sullivan is that rarest of things; a Republican who I often find myself in agreement with.

Here he talks of the Bush regime and their penchant for torture:

The men who ordered a man tied to a chair, doused in water, and chilled to hypothermia so intense he had to be rushed to emergency medical care, the men who presided over at least two dozen and at most a hundred prisoners tortured to death, the men who ordered an American servicewoman to smear fake menstrual blood over a Muslim's face in order to win a war against Jihadism, the men who ordered innocents stripped naked, sexually abused, terrified by dogs, or cast into darkness with no possibility of a future, and did all this in the name of the Constitution of the United States, the men who gave the signal in wartime that there were no limits to what could be done to prisoners of war and reaped a whirlwind of abuse and torture that will haunt American servicemembers for decades: these men will earn the judgment of history. It will be brutal.
And he destroys the argument, put forward by Cheney and others, that the regime sought legal clarification that what they were doing was lawful.
That Bush and Cheney got hacks to write absurd legal memos saying that, in Bush's own words, "whatever we wanted to do" was legal will mean nothing. Yoo and Bybee are the kind of useful, amoral sycophants and apparatchiks that always emerge and flourish in lawless states eager to put up a facade of legalism to defend their power-grabs.
He then argues, as I do, that any prosecution should be at the top of the food chain rather than of the CIA grunts who carried out the dirty work after being assured that what they were doing was legal.
I do not believe in a witch-hunt in the CIA, whose many hard-working officers deserve support not censure. I do believe in holding responsible those high elected officials who broke the law and violated the Constitution in authorizing war crimes. It should take as much time as needed for a thorough accounting; it should be meticulously fair; it should be geared solely to ensure that the rule of law is no longer in question; and that only those truly responsible at the top of the chain of command are held liable. But if we do not hold these men to account, the precedent they set is alarming.
He appears to have much more faith than I do that prosecutions will take place. But it's wonderful to hear a Republican (albeit a Republican with a small "r") argue that - for all of our sakes - this disgraceful precedent must not be allowed to stand.


Charles Schumer has let it be known that he favours prosecution:
Echoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's words one week ago, New York Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday that he could support prosecution for Bush officials that participated in torture or broke other laws.

"If there are egregious cases, I don't think you can say, blanket, no prosecutions," Schumer told Fox's Chris Wallace Sunday morning. "If there are egregious cases, yes, you have to look at them."

And so it comes to this:
Any Israeli soldiers accused of war crimes in the Gaza Strip will be given state protection from prosecution overseas, the country's PM has said.

Ehud Olmert said troops should know Israel would keep them safe after they acted to protect their country.
Please note that Olmert makes no promise that the charges will even be examined, he simply offers a blanket pledge that anyone charged with war crimes will be given full state protection.

It is to be expected that nutters like O'Reilly make rash statements demanding that torture continue as official US policy, but to hear an elected leader make the case that anyone suspected of war crimes will receive the full backing of the state - and I have to assume that this means whether guilty or not - is truly shocking.

If Obama is serious about restoring the US's image as a nation which respects the law, then one of the places he needs to address this is in the field of international law, for it was there that Bush carried out his most egregious assaults.


This is what was done. Warning: Some of this is harrowing. But I would challenge anyone to tell me that this is not torture.

Click title for Sullivan's article.

An assault on the peace process.

Donald Macintyre is reporting in the Independent that Israel's assault on Gaza has actually destroyed many of Gaza's most important factories as well as over 4,000 homes.

The destroyed factories include: Alweyda, the biggest Palestinian food-processing plant and the only one still operating in Gaza until the war; Abu Eida, the largest, and now flattened, ready-mixed concrete producer; and the 89-year-old Al Badr flour mills, which have the biggest storage facilities anywhere in the Strip. The owners of all three said yesterday they were proud of their close and long-standing contact with Israeli partner firms and suppliers. Dr Yaser Alweyda, owner and engineering director of the demolished food-processing plant, estimated the total damage to his plant at $22.5m and accused Israel of wanting "to destroy the weak Palestinian economy". He added: "They want to ensure that we will never have a state in Palestine."
Israel claimed that their war in Gaza was to destroy Hamas and to ensure the stoppage of Palestinian rocket fire. But, as Macintyre points out, and as Dr Yaser Alweyda also states, it is impossible to look at this kind of damage and not ask oneself if Israel has a different motive.

One of the major components of the peace process has been to ensure that the Palestinians have a viable economy. This attack appears to be an attempt to ensure that they have no such thing.

At the Al Badr mills in Sudaniya, north of Gaza City, owner Rashed Hamada, 55, said his company had been making flour for bakeries right up until the attack on 10 January. He strongly denied that his compound, which was locked at night and had a security guard, had been used by Hamas gunmen, and said it was clear the production line itself had been the target.

"It seems that the father of the commander had owned a flour mill," he commented ironically. "He knew exactly where to hit. The Israelis ... used to encourage me to expand production here. Now they have destroyed it. I don't understand why."

There is no known link between the Palestinian business community and Hamas so one has to ask why the Israelis would do such a thing. What did they hope to gain?
Chris Gunness, chief spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that widespread destruction of "civilian economic infrastructure" was a strike "at the heart of the peace process" because "economic stability is an essential component of a durable peace."
It is very hard to believe that Israel wants a two state solution when she embarks on actions like this which almost work to make sure such a solution is impossible. They reported that the Obama regime were furious with the Israelis. I bet they were. Obama has always made clear that he intended to tackle this issue from day one. Olmert's actions in Gaza appear designed to make his task much more difficult.
The air and ground strikes have compounded the impact of the trade embargo, which Israel imposed in June 2007 after Hamas's enforced takeover of the Strip. Amr Hamad, the executive manager of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, said: "What they were not able to reach by the blockade, they have reached with their bulldozers."
It would appear that, despite all their rhetoric about rockets and destroying Hamas, Israel are really still intent on starving the Palestinians for daring to elect them.

Click title for full article.

Clamour for BBC to show Gaza appeal intensifies.

I spoke yesterday about how the BBC have got themselves into a pickle over their decision not to broadcast an appeal for the people of Gaza for fear that this would make them appear to be taking sides in this dispute.

They are doing so because they have, in the past, been accused of being anti-Israeli and it is only natural that such an accusation makes one reticent to invite such a scurrilous charge again.

However, the BBC's decision not to air the appeal has actually resulted in a wave of complaints possibly worse than what they might have had to endure from Israel's defenders:

The BBC came under renewed pressure yesterday to broadcast an emergency appeal for Gaza on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) after it received more than 10,000 complaints about its refusal to show the film.

More than 50 MPs will back an early day motion in the Commons today urging the BBC to reverse its decision. Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary, Ben Bradshaw, the health minister, and Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, all criticised the BBC. Shahid Malik, the justice minister, said he had not met anyone who supported the BBC's stance.

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the BBC should broadcast the appeal by DEC, an umbrella group of humanitarian charities including Oxfam, Save the Children and the Red Cross.

The appeal will be shown tonight on ITV, Channel 4 and Five. But the BBC is arguing that by screening the humanitarian appeal the corporation "could be interpreted as taking a political stance".

All of her rivals are now showing the advert but I feel that Mark Thompson has dug himself a hole here that he now sees no way of getting out of.

In discussions after the DEC's Gaza appeal proposal was lodged, Gormley is understood to have told BBC executives the appeal would not just be for Palestinian victims of the conflict. "The DEC appeal is for those suffering as a result of the Gaza conflict. The greatest unmet need is in Gaza itself," a DEC spokesman said yesterday. "But DEC members are working in Gaza and Israel, and the Red Cross movement have helped to evacuate people living in southern Israel. We believe that the availability of aid to both Gaza and Israel was understood by the BBC."

I feel for Thompson and for the ridiculous position he know finds himself in. Pressure from Israel and her supporters has led him to make this cowardly decision which he will now defend to the bitter end as if it was a point of high principle.

It is not. And the 10,000 complaints he has received should remind him that, in any situation where both sides are inflamed, sitting on the fence is no guarantee that one will avoid the heat.

Click title for full article.