Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cliff Kincaid Says President Obama Not Born in US.

I honestly have no idea how these people expect anyone to take them seriously when they stand on public platforms and spout this kind of nonsense. It's becoming the party of the insane and deluded.

Speaking of which, here's a treat:

O'Reilly and Beck, two of the least critical thinkers in the US, express their utter astonishment as to why anyone would want to investigate allegations of torture.

They seem genuinely baffled as to why Democrats "would like to hurt the USA". And, whilst spouting this almost insane babble they dismiss everyone who opposes them as "loons".

Beck goes as far as to say, "Look, you know what, that's why I think.. if we are going to torture, we should torture. If we're going to do it, let's stop farming it out to somebody else." Billo then jokes that perhaps these Democrats should be tortured.

This is what passes as political commentary these days on Fox News. The election of a Democrat has driven them to the edge of insanity. They are so deluded that they have actually started to become, inadvertently, funny.

Jonathan Krohn Addresses CPAC.

The Republicans have found their new leader.

He begins by making a distinction between conservatism and the Republican party, which is vital, as he then claims that two of the fundamental principles of conservatism are "respect for the constitution" and "personal responsibility".

It would be impossible to make this argument and reconcile it to the behaviour of the Republican party over the past eight years.

Robert Reich: 'Finally, A Progressive Budget'.

Robert Reich expresses my sentiment regarding Obama's budget completely. It is long overdue that someone attempted to reverse the thirty year long tendency to redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich in the US.

Robert Reich:

Presidential budgets are aspirations. They're not real, in the sense that no one really has to adhere to them. Obama's budget now goes to Congress, where budget committees will draw up their own versions. Even these congressional budgets are mere guidelines for appropriations and tax-writing committees. Lobbyists will be swarming. So don't expect the final sausage to look exactly like the meat the President is putting into the grinder. On the other hand, the sausage is likely to bear more than a passing resemblance. Remember: This president's approval ratings are well over 60 percent -- substantially higher than Congress's overall approval rating, and far far higher than Republicans in Congress -- and the nation is still looking to Obama to lead the way out of our troubled times. And it's a Democratic congress, with a Democratic Senate that could be (if Franken is seated) one vote short of being able to cut off a filibuster.

It's about time a presidential budget unequivocally redistributed income from the very rich to the middle class and poor. The incomes of the top 1 percent have soared for thirty years while median wages have slowed or declined in real terms. As economists Thomas Piketty and Emanuel Saez have shown, in the 1970s the top-earning 1 percent of Americans took home 8 percent of total income; as recently as 1980 they took home 9 percent. After that, total income became more and more concentrated at the top. By 2007, the top 1 percent took home over 22 percent. Meanwhile, even as their incomes dramatically increased, the total federal tax rates paid by the top 1 percent dropped. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent paid a total federal tax rate of 37 percent three decades ago; now it's paying 31 percent.

Fairness is at stake but so is the economy as a whole. This Mini Depression is partly the result of a widening gap between what Americans can afford to buy and what Americans when fully employed can produce. And that gap is in no small measure due to the widening gap in incomes, since the rich don't devote nearly as large a portion of their incomes to buying things than middle and lower-income people. The rich, after all, already have most of what they want.
Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

Six years after Iraq invasion, Obama sets out his exit plan.

He had called it, "A dumb war. A rash war."

In many ways it was his very opposition to this war which had enabled the young senator from Illinois to make his improbable journey all the way to the White House. When Clinton was forced to admit that she had been wrong, and McCain continued to insist that he had been right, Obama was able to take the high road and talk, not of experience, but of judgement. He was able to fend off Hillary's attacks, such as the three am phone call, by insisting that what mattered was whether or not one made the right decision when that call came in, and implying that Hillary and McCain would not.

Yesterday, he walked the tightrope between his campaign promises and respecting the troops. How could he be expected to stand before these young men and women and tell them that they had risked their lives for a lie? That their comrades had fallen for no great cause? He couldn't and so he didn't. He spoke of a mission to rid Iraq of Saddam, rather than of WMD, and congratulated them on achieving that task. He spoke of the mission to enable democracy and, again, patted them on the back.

But even they cheered loudly when he, at last, stated:

"Let me say this as plainly as I can - by August 31 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."
A further 50,000 will stay for a further year to aid the Iraqis, but by 2011 all Americans will have left Iraq. It's less swift than lefties like myself would have liked, but no-one can say that he is not fulfilling his promise to leave Iraq "carefully".

But the plan was welcomed by Republicans, including John McCain, who had opposed early withdrawal."Overall it is a reasonable plan and one that can work and I support it," he said.

He also won great applause from the troops by promising to look after them better than Bush has done should they return home requiring medical assistance.

All in all, I thought he handled a tricky task particularly well and made sure that the troops realised that he appreciated all that they had done, even if he was not enamoured by the task which they had been sent on.

He also promised never again to put them into harms way without good cause. And hanging over all that he said, unspoken, was the hint that this is exactly what President Bush had done.

But, for now, surveys show the US public has fiercely repudiated the war six years after it began, with 60 percent saying it was "not worth it," according to an ABC television poll released last week.

People may think that. Indeed, Obama himself has made it perfectly clear that he is of that mind, but he couldn't say it yesterday as he spoke to the brave young men and women who had risked their lives for Bush's rash war. So he didn't.

Instead he, rightly, concentrated on their bravery and told them that, in future, it would only be called upon when utterly necessary.

As I say, he walked a tightrope, but he walked it well. And, in doing so, he fulfilled one of his earliest campaign promises. He declared the war which should never have been fought to be over.

Click title for full article.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Debating the difficulty of dismantling Israeli settlements.

Gorenberg is talking great sense here and David Frum is talking the usual nonsense. Israeli settlements are not "trailer parks" as Frum claims. In many cases they are fully functional towns stealing local Palestinian water resources. And, again as Gorenberg points out, the people living in these places are not suburbanites, in many cases they are living there because of ideology.

Successive US governments have ignored the issue of the settlements, which is highly dangerous, as each new settler makes eventual peace ever less likely.

Gorenberg argues that dismantling the settlements is vital to the security which Frum is demanding that the Israelis need. When Frum and others discuss Israel's security threats they certainly never view the settlements as part of the problem, as you can see from the casual way Frum writes them off with, "people move". But I'll give Frum his due, he certainly allows Gorenberg to make his case without interruption.

This excerpt is actually from a much wider and very interesting conversation which they both had. You can watch the whole thing here.

We did hand over terror suspects for rendition, Hutton admits.

The Defence Secretary, John Hutton, has admitted for the first time yesterday that the UK did participate in "extraordinary rendition" and that terror suspects handed over to the US in Iraq were flown out of the country for interrogation.

Contradicting previous insistences by the Government that it had no played no part in the controversial practice, John Hutton revealed that details of the cases were known by officials and detailed in documents sent to two cabinet members at the time – Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The prisoners, two men of Pakistani origin who were members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba group, which is said to be affiliated to al-Qa'ida, were captured by SAS troops serving near Baghdad in February 2004. They were handed over to US custody and flown to Afghanistan within the next few months. Among other inmates who passed through the prison was Binyam Mohammed, the UK citizen recently freed from Guantanamo Bay.

Mr Hutton apologised to the Commons "unreservedly" for misleading statements made by the Government in the past, adding "in retrospect, it is clear to me that the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the time".

It really does appear as if the wall of deceit is starting to crumble and that the government's continual lies over what it has and has not done in the war in terror are starting to prove impossible to maintain:

Hutton referred to allegations first made in February last year by Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier, that British troops had handed over to the US detainees who were then rendered to Iraq.

Griffin alleged that Iraqis and Afghans were captured by British and American special forces and rendered to prisons where they faced torture. The MoD obtained a gagging order preventing Griffin from saying anything further. Griffin said last night he remained bound by it.

They have placed gagging orders on those who were telling the truth, but, I suppose, with the release of Binyam Mohamed, they must fear that their lies are about to be exposed, so they have decided on a damage limitation exercise.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "A judicial public inquiry into this whole poisonous episode is the only hope for lancing the boil and moving on."

Reprieve, the human rights group, said the government had confirmed what its investigators uncovered many months ago - "that the UK has colluded with the US in the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition". Its executive director Clare Algar said: "This government has misled us again and again.".

Tom Porteous, spokesman for Human Rights Watch, added: "We've now got enough credible allegations and reluctant ministerial admissions of wrongdoing to warrant a full-scale independent inquiry into UK involvement in the whole rotten system of US abuse including torture, renditions to torture, abusive detention policies, and disappearances.

"The internal review carried out by the government on the basis of which Hutton made today's statement appears to have been a bureaucratic and documentary exercise designed to cover tracks by ring-fencing any incriminating evidence in official records.

"A proper inquiry needs to start now. The drip, drip of allegations and admissions does huge damage to the international reputation of the UK and the ability of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to say that they are fighting on the side of justice and truth."

This really has been a shameful period in British history when we appear to be behaving outside of international law in the most flagrant way.
The 1949 Geneva convention on protecting civilians in times of war prohibits deportations of individuals to any other country, human rights lawyers said yesterday. The MoD said the case was "not a Geneva convention issue at all".
Of course, this was mostly done to placate an American president who is no longer in office, and it appears as if his successor is not of a mind to continue such practices. Which leaves the British government horribly exposed. And the release of people like Binyam Mohamed only means that more evidence is about to enter the public realm.

But it's very clear that we have been repeatedly lied to. We were lied to when the government claimed that no US aircraft transporting abducted prisoners landed on the British dependent territory of Diego Garcia in 2002, and now it transpires that we were lied to when the government claimed that we did not take part in "extraordinary rendition". I am utterly uninterested in whatever excuses they have to offer.

As Shami Chakrabarti states, the only way to restore public confidence is to have an immediate judicial inquiry. And it must be public.

Click title for full article.

Republicans criticise Obama's massive $3.5tn budget.

The Guardian are calling it, "the biggest redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor in US history" and are citing Republicans fears that Barack Obama could turn out to be, "one of the most liberal presidents ever".

I would be very pleased if both turned out to be true. It's time the pendulum swung the other way. For the past thirty years the gap between the rich and poor in the US has been sharply increasing, with the rich getting richer and the poor having to do more than one job in order to eke out a living.

While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent.

The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

Anything Barack Obama can do to redress this situation will win support from me.

The figures in the budget are on a scale that would have been almost unimaginable a year ago. One of the biggest expenditures is $634bn to be directed towards fulfilling Obama's campaign pledge to make a start on providing universal healthcare.

Obama, speaking at the White House before the budget was released, said, that in spite of recession, it was time to address the fundamental problems facing America. "There are times when you can afford to redecorate your house and there are times when you have to focus on rebuilding its foundation."

This meant, he said, "some hard choices" lay ahead. To try to pay for his ambitious spending plans, he intends to rip into Pentagon spending, with expensive projects such as the F-22 fighter jet at risk.

Also to be targeted are farm subsidies that have existed for decades and tax-breaks for corporations.

But the most contentious issue is his planned increase in taxes for anyone earning more than $250,000 a year from 2011.

The president faces a marathon battle with Republicans, who are committed to limited government and lower taxes. Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republicans in the Senate, said: "I have serious concerns with this budget, which demands hardworking American families and job creators turn over more of their hard-earned money to the government to pay for unprecedented spending increases."

Mitch McConnell is talking through his arse. There are no "hard working American families" being asked to turn over more of their income to the government, Obama is simply ending Bush's tax cuts to individuals earning more that $250,000 a year.

The Republicans will, no doubt, oppose Obama's plans every step of the way. That is to be expected. But, at the moment, all the momentum is on Obama's side. He is right to be as ambitious as he is showing himself. The political wind which is currently behind his back won't last forever and he should strike while he can. And I am secretly pleased that he is showing himself to be much more of a liberal than many people expected.

I am especially pleased that he is being brave enough to talk about things like the F-22 fighter. For too long Democrats have been arguing within parameters set by the Republican party, which meant that defence spending had to be maintained in order to prove one's patriotism. The US already spends more on defence than the next 45 country's combined and accounts for 48% of all the world's military spending, which I regard as simply ludicrous in a country which doesn't even guarantee health care to all of it's citizens.

Obama is, at last, refusing to accept what the Republicans see as universal truths and is making a different argument. He is actually stating that cuts can and should be made in defence in order to ensure healthcare for all Americans.

Oh, it will drive the Republicans nuts, but they are nutcases anyway. And, at the moment, they appear to be on the wrong side of every argument.

Click title for full article.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pelosi wasn't briefed on torture.

This is interesting. I must admit that I began to suspect that perhaps the Democrats had been briefed on torture which, I assumed, was why they appeared so keen to give immunity to the Telecoms.

Pelosi however could not be more blunt. She says they were never briefed on this and certainly never told that torture was taking place as Bush and Co have implied.


Nancy Pelosi is against immunity being offered to team Bush in return for testimony, although I notice that - whenever she is specific - she is talking about the firing of US Attorney's rather than prosecution for torture.

But it is interesting to hear her say that she opposes immunity. It would be a strange position to find yourself in, if you opposed immunity for the firing of US Attorney's, but granted it for war crimes.

Daily Show: Is Obama the antichrist? Or the new Hitler?

Lunatics. What is it about this man that drives them quite so insane?

Brooks: Jindal's Do-Nothing Path "Insane" For GOP.

I am pleased to note that Jindal's response to Obama's speech has been recognised as "just a disaster" for the Republican party.

That was David Brooks talking. And, as he states, it is further proof that the Republicans simply don't get the hole that they are currently in. They continue to argue that "big government" is the problem and appear to be utterly unaware that, with that speech, Obama has moved the goalposts. He isn't doing what Clinton did, he isn't essentially accepting their argument and debating over how it best be achieved, he is utterly rejecting their premise.

That's why Jindal's response was so pathetic. Indeed, it was so pathetic that even Fox News couldn't defend it.

The Republicans need to recognise that Obama has moved the goalposts. At the moment, they seem utterly unaware of that fact. This is exactly what I expected to happen before the last election, and it is why I predicted that the Republicans were heading for years in the political wilderness. The language that they have relied on for the past thirty years - big government bad, deregulation good - simply doesn't fit with the times.

Their message is fatally flawed, and yet they seem unable to readjust. Reaganism, and the simplistic answers it offered, is dead. It will take the GOP a long time to accept that fact, and therein lies their problem.

Clinton warns Israel over delays in Gaza aid.

When Obama appointed Clinton as Secretary of State I said that I suspected that he had done so because he was serious about finding a solution to the Israel/Palestine dispute and that Clinton's pro-Israel credentials might allow him to put more pressure on Israel than would otherwise be possible.

I am slightly reading the tea leaves here, but there are signs that this theory might, in fact, be correct.

From yesterday's Ha'aretz newspaper:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has relayed messages to Israel in the past week expressing anger at obstacles Israel is placing to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. A leading political source in Jerusalem noted that senior Clinton aides have made it clear that the matter will be central to Clinton's planned visit to Israel next Tuesday.

Ahead of Clinton's visit, special U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is expected to issue a sharply worded protest on the same matter when he arrives here Thursday.

"Israel is not making enough effort to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza," senior U.S. officials told Israeli counterparts last week, and reiterated Washington's view by saying that "the U.S. expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter."
It would have been unthinkable to imagine the Bush administration criticising Israel in any way, shape or form. And yet here is Clinton expressing "anger" at Israel's reluctance to provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

That's a definite change of tone. Nor is it a change of tone which is occurring behind closed doors. This has been leaked. Clinton and her aides want us to know that the tone has changed.

Just as Obama wanted us all to know that he called Abbas before he called Olmert after taking office.

It goes without saying that one can read far too much into this stuff, that what matters is what Clinton and Obama actually do regarding the solving of this intractable conflict, rather than what messages they send, but these subtle changes of tone do give us a hint that change is afoot.
Sources at the defense establishment confirmed last night that pressure is increasing on Israel to reopen the crossings to larger volumes of aid for the Gaza Strip. Defense sources said that Israel will find it increasingly difficult to counter the pressure, and may agree to more extensive use of the crossings for aid. Currently, fewer than 200 trucks carrying aid are allowed through daily. The U.S., the EU and the UN are demanding that at least 500 trucks carrying aid be allowed into the Strip daily.
For the past eight years Israel has done as she pleased, knowing that the Bush administration would offer unconditional support.

Those days appear to be over.
However, an incident occurred last week at a crossing into the Gaza Strip that gave a very different impression to a senior observer. When Senator John Kerry visited the Strip, he learned that many trucks loaded with pasta were not permitted in. When the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee inquired as to the reason for the delay, he was told by United Nations aid officials that "Israel does not define pasta as part of humanitarian aid - only rice shipments."

Kerry asked Barak about the logic behind this restriction, and only after the senior U.S. official's intervention did the defense minister allow the pasta into the Strip.
The Obama administration is leaning harder on Israel than their predecessors did. That is a change which is long overdue and one which, I hope, is a sign of things to come.

Click title for full article.

Obama's congressional speech earns rave reviews.

Obama's already high ratings have been further boosted by his first major speech congressional speech.

The speech, in effect his first state of the union address, attracted millions of viewers and initial polls taken by the television networks showed jumps in his already high approval ratings.

The president's left-of-centre programme threatens to polarise Congress. Republicans said they were offended by plans that run counter to their party ethos: his proposed investment in education, health, social and energy programmes at a time of recession; scrapping big military projects; cutting subsidies for large-scale agricultural companies; and ending tax breaks for some corporations.

Joe Biden, the vice-president, responding to Republican sniping today in an interview with NBC. "I hear a lot of criticism, but I never hear anything [suggested] in response. What would you do?"

I am not remotely surprised to hear that the Republicans were offended by this speech, how could they fail to be? It was a rejection of everything in which they believe.

They have spent the last thirty years telling us that big government doesn't work, indeed, that seemed to be the main point that Jindal (in his bizarre Katrina quoting response) was trying to make. Obama is making the opposite argument. Obama is placing the government at the centre of the recovery plan. Rather than repeating the Reagan argument that the government must get out of the way, Obama is arguing that the government is essential, that only the government can respond to such a crisis.
A CBS News poll of public opinion saw his approval ratings rise from 62% before the speech to 69% afterwards, while one for CNN recorded 68% approval for the speech.
I am not remotely surprised by these figures. The American public elected this man to bring about change. And, for the first time since he was elected, I detected a real promise of change by the very fact that he was rejecting what the Republican party hold to be universal truths.

That is what, I think, produced that nonsensical response from Jindal. The Republicans are used to Democrats trying to fight them on their own ground, they are used to their beliefs being accepted as universal.

Obama, as far as I can see, is rejecting their beliefs completely. This is not a Democrat who is trying to govern wearing Republican clothing, rather this is a Democrat who is stating that the Republicans have no clothes. And Jindal's astonishingly weak response only confirmed that.

Obama is saying that Reaganism was wrong. He is dismissing the patron saint of Republicanism as someone who, wrongheadedly, attempted to advocate greed as the answer to the country's ills. Obama is saying that, rather than attempt to cure problems by giving more to those who are already rich and hoping that it trickles down, that the answer lies in the totally opposite direction: that one must enrich society from the bottom up.

It is a radical argument in the post Reagan world, but it's one that makes utter sense to me. Indeed, I have been waiting for years to hear a Democrat make it. And I am very pleased that Obama has been rewarded for making it by such a surge in the polls.

Click title for full article.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cameron's 'beautiful boy' dies.

One can't even begin to imagine the pain that David Cameron and his family must be suffering after the dreadful, dreadful news that his six year old son Ivan had slipped away.

Six-year-old Ivan, who had cerebral palsy and epilepsy, died at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London.

Mr Brown, who suggested suspending the weekly Commons clash as a mark of respect, said every child was "precious and irreplaceable" and that the death of a child "was something that no parent should have to bear".

The prime minister, whose daughter Jennifer Jane died aged just 10 days in 2002, paid tribute to Ivan saying: "I know that in an all too brief life, he brought joy to all those around him and I know also that for all the days of his life, he was surrounded by his family's love."

No parent should ever have to bury a child. It's just horrible and heart wrenching.

Click title for full article.

Release of Iraq war minutes vetoed.

There really is nothing more nauseating than politicians pretending to be holding on to some high moral principle when, in actuality, they are simply avoiding something embarrassing for political expediency.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, had ordered the release of the minutes of two meetings which took place in the cabinet room in the run up to the Iraq war, arguing that their publication was in the public interest. The meetings, on 13 and 17 March 2003, are the ones where the decision was made for the British government to join the US in invading Iraq. Thomas's decision was supported by an independent tribunal last month.

But, for the first time, the government are to veto the release of these minutes, despite the Information Commissioner's decision. But it's the reasons given by Jack Straw that make me want to barf:

The Government has decided to make use of "Section 53" of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, allowing it to veto the release of the documents. The clause was added to the Act as a way of placating ministers who wanted final control over the release of sensitive documents.

Using the power, rather than challenging the tribunal's decision at the High Court, makes it almost impossible for campaigners to overturn the veto. They can now only challenge it by seeking a judicial review.

The Government decided to issue the veto during Monday's cabinet meeting in Southampton. The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, said
releasing the minutes risked doing "serious damage" to the frank discussions that take place around the cabinet table.

"There is a balance to be struck between openness and maintaining aspects of our structure of democratic government," he said.

"The convention of cabinet confidentiality and the public interest in its maintenance are especially crucial when the issues at hand are of the greatest importance and sensitivity."

What spurious nonsense. Almost every cabinet member who writes an autobiography tells stories of who said what at cabinet meetings. The notion that they would be reticent to give their opinions if they knew that what they were saying might one day become public is simply nonsensical on it's face, because any cabinet member with a functioning brain cell would know that there is every chance that what they are saying will one day be made public.

Tony Benn has filled volumes of his diaries with tales of what transpired in cabinet meetings and both Claire Short and David Blunkett have already written about what took place in cabinet in the run up to this decision being reached. If there was a danger that their reminiscing might cause future cabinet members to be less than frank then what they had written would never have been published and would be banned under the official secrets act.

The truth is that there are only two cabinet meetings that Straw and others wish to prevent ever becoming public, and those are the meetings on 13 and 17 March 2003, when the cabinet made the immensely costly and foolish decision to join the US on it's Iraqi misadventure.

That's simply about avoiding political embarrassment and has nothing to do with whatever noble excuse about "cabinet confidentiality" Straw wishes to hide behind.

David Howarth, the Liberal Democrats' justice spokesman, said that by using the emergency veto power instead of appealing through the courts, the Government was "silencing opposition" to its decision "by decree".

"We need to learn the lessons, and we need to learn them as quickly as possible. That is why these Cabinet minutes should be released," he said. "This decision has more to do with preventing embarrassment than protecting the system of government," he said.

The ban was criticised by MPs in all parties. Tony Wright, the Labour chairman of the Public Administration Committee, said it was of "considerable regret that this veto has been used for the first time". He added: "Won't the effect be simply to confirm people in the belief that there is something in that period that needs to be hidden?"

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell said: "This is a Government which, when introducing measures to limit personal freedom, says that those that have nothing to hide should have nothing to fear.

"If the process of reaching the decision to embark upon an illegal war against Iraq is still supported by the Government, why haven't they the courage to let us see the minutes of the Cabinet?"

Campbell is right. By the logic they always employ, they should have nothing to fear, unless they have something to hide.

But it's the pretence that they are defending some noble cabinet tradition that I find simply insulting. The sooner we have a full public inquiry into the run up to the Iraq war the better. It's a disgrace that, five years after the start of the war, they have still never had to answer for what they did.

Click title for full article.

Jindal Responds to Obama's Address.

This guy, Bobby Jindal, is supposed to be the Republican response to Obama and tonight was supposed to launch his career. I suspect he's ended it rather than launched it with this wooden, cliche ridden, reply to Obama's address.

Obama has just announced a myriad of ways in which the government is determined to help people through this crisis and Jindal's response is to remind us of how badly the Republican government handled Katrina, as if to suggest that government help in these kind of times is always bound to fail.

And he hits the well worn Republican talking points about passing debt on to the nation's children, ignoring totally the deficit which the Democrats have just inherited from the Republicans, and the fact that Obama has actually announced plans to halve the deficit.

Indeed, whilst admitting that the Republicans did not adhere to their own principles whilst in power, Jindal asks that the American people give them another chance to prove that they can deliver what they failed to deliver over the last eight years.

To be fair to the spectacularly wooden Jindal, he is not the only Republican talking to himself at the moment, it appears to me as if they have all manifestly failed to realise that the talking points which have long sustained them simply no longer apply.

And, as long as they keep repeating them, rather than genuinely entering into political debate, the more irrelevant they will render themselves.

Obama Assures Nation: ‘We Will Rebuild’

Nancy Pelosi looked almost giddy. The Republicans looked largely sullen and glum. There was scant evidence of bipartisanship here as Obama laid out his plan to rebuild the US from the disaster of the recent financial collapse.

Indeed, the only time the Republicans appeared happy was when Obama stated that he would not pass the deficit on to the next generation, although they were instantly put back in their places when he reminded them of, "this deficit which we have inherited".

They say that some speeches define an era, well this one appeared to declare than an era had officially drawn to a close. The era of Reaganism is well and truly over and Barack Obama last night stood over it's corpse and declared there was a new way forward.

Gone is the Republican notion that the more one gives to the rich the better it is for the whole of society, as wealth will eventually trickle down to the benefit of all. Indeed, he promised to roll back the tax cuts of the Bush years to make those who earn over $250,000 a year once more pay their way whilst promising tax cuts for the other 95% of Americans. And he appeared to reject the entire philosophy which has guided Republicanism for the past thirty years.

We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jump start job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

Suddenly, the government has an active role again in creating jobs and jump starting the economy, and the emphasis has moved away from an obsession with "small government" to asking what the government needs to do that people can't do on their own.

And, underneath it all, there was an overwhelming feeling of optimism and the belief that, out of crisis, comes great opportunity.
While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

"The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.
He promised to make banks more accountable for any bailouts they receive whilst acknowledging the anger that the bailouts had generated.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

However, he asked that people look beyond those concerns and see the bigger picture.
But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people.
He promised that, "Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover." And the way to do that he declared was an end to the deregulation which has defined Republicanism since the Reagan era:
I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.
And he argued that, after the civil war and the Second World War the "government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise". It really was as profound a reversal of Reagan's arguments as one could ever hope to hear. Here, Obama was placing the government at the forefront of the recovery rather than repeating the Reagan mantra that the government must get out of the way.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

He vowed to revamp the auto industry and to address "the crushing cost of health care". He wants to wean the nation away from dependence on foreign oil and towards renewable energy sources. And he promised that the government would help make the education system work better, but he also laid a challenge - and a responsibility - on to the shoulders of the students themselves.
And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.
It was nothing if not ambitious. It was also authoritative and bold. I was reminded of the people who used to come here when Obama was challenging Clinton and claim that he was "just talk", that he had "no policies", and that his appeal depended on, "just words".

I am sure even they must have realised how wrong they were tonight. Obama has just set a more progressive agenda than I have ever heard from any American president in decades. And, in doing so, he has reversed every truth which the Republicans hold dear.

I thought he was, quite simply, outstanding.

Click title for transcript.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Deficit Concern Jumps ... Among the GOP

I've said it before but the Republican party always do a complete U-turn once a Democrat is elected and suddenly the people who claimed that one must support your president at a time of war find it is their patriotic duty to oppose him in everything that he does.

But now, this even applies to the deficit.

By contrast, 74 percent of Republicans in the new poll expressed grave worry about the deficit, 29 points higher than in December when George W. Bush held the reins.
Suddenly, they are all fiscal conservatives again. There's utterly no surprise to any of this as conservatives under Bush defined themselves as conservatives not through policy but through loyalty to the leader.

Glenn Greenwald eloquently made that point back in February 2006:
Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more "liberal" one is. Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one’s personal loyalty to George Bush.

That "conservatism" has come to mean "loyalty to George Bush" is particularly ironic given how truly un-conservative the Administration is. It is not only the obvious (though significant)
explosion of deficit spending under this Administration – and that explosion has occurred far beyond military or 9/11-related spending and extends into almost all arenas of domestic programs as well. Far beyond that is the fact that the core, defining attributes of political conservatism could not be any more foreign to the world view of the Bush follower.

As much as any policy prescriptions, conservatism has always been based, more than anything else, on a fundamental distrust of the power of the federal government and a corresponding belief that that power ought to be as restrained as possible, particularly when it comes to its application by the Government to American citizens. It was that deeply rooted distrust that led to conservatives’ vigorous advocacy of states’ rights over centralized power in the federal government, accompanied by demands that the intrusion of the Federal Government in the lives of American citizens be minimized.

Is there anything more antithetical to that ethos than the rabid, power-hungry appetites of Bush followers? There is not an iota of distrust of the Federal Government among them. Quite the contrary. Whereas distrust of the government was quite recently a hallmark of conservatism, expressing distrust of George Bush and the expansive governmental powers he is pursuing subjects one to accusations of being a leftist, subversive loon.
And now that Bush has gone they seem to think it will be somehow plausible for them to suddenly express shock at the size of the deficit and start to distrust their government again.

For eight years they did nothing as Bush ran up deficits by fighting two wars whilst simultaneously giving tax cuts to the rich - a notion that they now define as "generational theft". Of course, in the days when they were running up the deficit to record levels this was known as "stimulating the economy".

Their hypocrisy is to be expected, this is simply what these people do.

Click title for full article.

King of the Hill.

Obama really is changing the way things are done in Washington. Here, he has invited both Republicans and Democrats to his “financial responsibility summit.” And, at the end of it, he invited questions from the audience. It's hard to imagine Bush ever taking part in such an exercise. It's not unlike the British ritual of Prime Ministers Questions; and Blair was very honest in the end about how daunting he always found that process.
I have never pretended to be a great House of Commons man, but I can pay the House the greatest compliment I can by saying that from the first to last that I never stopped fearing it. And that tingling apprehension that I felt at three minutes to twelve today I felt as much ten years ago and every bit as acute. And it is in that fear that the respect is contained.
So I applaud Obama for having the courage to face such questions directly from friend and foe alike, especially as he didn't have to. I really think it would be beneficial if this happened more in American politics, where Bush managed to be mostly interviewed only by people like Fox News, which I have always found a strange way for the president to show his accountability. Let him answer to his peers for his actions.

And I thought McCain's remarks about the helicopter were low, especially as it was commissioned by the previous administration, but Obama easily saw him off.
“Your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) chided.

“The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me,” Obama answered, to laughter. “Of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before.”
Nicely handled I thought.

Karl Rove NO SHOW For Today's Congressional Subpoena.

Rove continues to hold Congress in contempt by not even showing up to claim his supposed privilege before them. They ought to throw his ass in jail until he agrees to do what he is legally required to do. It was bad enough that he treated the process with such contempt when he was in a position of power, it's simply intolerable that he continues to do so while not in such a position.

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Dire state of the nation revealed, but Obama vows to halve deficit.

Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress tonight and, whilst doing so, will lay the blame for the financial crisis squarely at the feet of George W. Bush.

He pinned the blame for runaway spending on poor leadership in Washington and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which continue to drain the country’s wealth. The massive stimulus package Mr Obama signed into law last week accounts for a quarter of the deficit.

The US leader promised to chop the shortfall in half before his term ended in four years and said he was instituting a new, transparent budget process. He would not try to hide government spending from the public, he said, lacerating his predecessor’s practice of keeping the spending on Iraq and Afghanistan out of the budget.

“For too long our budget was an exercise in deception,” he said.

That exercise featured accounting tricks designed to hide spending while “hoping the American people won’t notice”.

By including the cost of the wars – as well as the cost of dealing with natural disasters such as floods, fires and earthquakes – and providing a true picture of taxes being collected, Mr Obama’s budget will paint a worst-case scenario.

Bush's accounting practices were an act of deception. It would be impossible to give a true account of your home finances, for example, if you excluded the costs of roof repairs or any other major costs. And yet Bush excluded two of his largest expenses - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - from his calculations.

Tonight’s speech is being treated as though it was a State of the Union address as Mr Obama attempts to build on his early successes that range from new legislation and emergency economic packages to renewed diplomatic efforts.

The high-stakes public relations task he faces is finding a way of convincing sceptical Americans that he has the solution to their economic woes while promising to cut the deficit in half before his term is up. He intends to do this by slapping taxes on the very wealthy, pulling troops out of Iraq and cutting domestic government spending.

Obama is going about this the right way. He is allowing light in where Bush insisted on operating in darkness. The task he faces is a gargantuan one and the light in some ways makes his job harder, but it is essential for public confidence that he is as open as he possibly can be.

And, so far, public confidence in his leadership appears to be holding up.

Despite blundering in important cabinet appointments, the president’s “no-drama Obama” image remains intact. An opinion poll by Gallup released yesterday put his approval rating at 63 per cent, high given the crisis which many fear is yet to hit its lowest point.

We should never forget that Obama inherited this bloody mess. It was not of his making and I am sure that two years ago, when he announced his decision to run for president, he had no idea that a problem this massive was going to be his inheritance from the Bush years.

And, unlike insane people like Rush Limbaugh, most of us realise that it is in all of our interests that he pulls this off. We all have mortgages and savings upon which the stability of our lives depend.

The Republican party are continuing to play the most awful politics at a time when the US seriously needs to come together to face this crisis. After eight years of deficit spending it is simply not credible for these same people to now oppose Obama on the grounds of fiscal responsibility. And yet that, astonishingly, is where they are now seeking to position themselves. I hope Obama gives it to them right between the eyeballs tonight. They are long overdue a serious wake up call.


Obama, rightly, attacks "cable chatter" as simply politics as usual and points out that there simply is no time for this at the moment.

Click title for full article.

'Those I hoped would rescue me were allied with my abusers'

It's impossible to even imagine what Binyam Mohamed has been through. I simply lack the imagination to put myself in the position of someone who has been abducted, flown to another country, tortured, and who discovers that the country that he was hoping would rescue him is actually colluding with his abductors.

It feels to me like an insult to even pretend that I could imagine what seven years of that would feel like.

He arrived back on British soil yesterday and released a statement through his solicitor.

"For myself, the very worst moment came when I realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence."
That was surely the moment when he realised that no rescuers were coming. That the government which he hoped to take action to help him was actually working hand in hand with his abductors.

Senior MP's are said to be about to pursue what the government knew about his ill treatment and ask why they helped the CIA in his interrogation. But the truth is that we already know the answer. It was shortly after 9-11, the US was in a rage, and Blair was anxious to prove to Bush that a Labour leader could be as close to a Republican president as he had been to a Democratic one. I honestly believe it was no more complicated than that. It was politics, pure and simple. Binyam Mohamed was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the Labour government were keen to prove to the neo-cons that they were willing to bend the envelope and to work on what Cheney called "the dark side" in order to defeat al Qaeda.

"We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."
Cheney utterly embraced a "gloves off" approach to combating terrorism, he really did believe that the normal rules no longer applied. A British government hoping to prove it's credentials to a group of people who were essentially saying that international law could go hang itself, should have been impossible, but Blair pulled it off. Now, we know how he did that.

In the prepared statement issued as he landed in the UK, Mohamed said: "I have to say, more in sadness than in anger, that many have been complicit in my own horrors over the past seven years ... I realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realised, had allied themselves with my abusers."

The high court has heard evidence of British security and intelligence officials' involvement in secret interrogations endured by Mohamed. What two judges have described as "powerful evidence" relating to Mohamed's treatment is being suppressed under pressure from Miliband and the US authorities.

The shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, said it was "high time the government asked the new US administration for permission" to release information relating to Mohamed's case. Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the government was now "out of excuses for delaying a full inquiry" which Amnesty International also pressed for.

And, in a final act of utter shamelessness, Miliband has made a statement:

Miliband described Mohamed's release as the result of years of "very hard work by officials with him and with his team".

Miliband has fallen over himself to make sure that we never discover the truth about British involvement in the torture of this man over a seven year period. He has outraged British judges with his claim that national security will be endangered if they ever allow the truth of what happened to Binyam Mohamed to be made public. And yet, in his statement, he congratulates himself for "years of very hard work".

I hope MP's pursue what happened here with vigour. Miliband is now simply taking the piss. He should be on his hands and knees apologising for what has occurred here, not patting himself on the back and letting us know that, without his hard work, Mohamed would still be at Guantanamo.

It is, as William Hague has stated, "high time" that we are allowed to see the "powerful evidence" which British judges say Miliband and others are trying to suppress.


Click title for full article.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Keyes: Stop the "radical communist" Obama or U.S. will "cease to exist."

I spoke yesterday about the way that the ring wing in the US is becoming unhinged because a Democrat is installed in the White House.

Now Alan Keyes throws his hat into the ring declaring that Obama is "a radical communist" and that:

"we are either going to stop him or the US is going to cease to exist.


The man is an abomination."
He then claims that the US is facing "the greatest crisis this country has ever seen" and, like Beck, predicts possible civil war.

He is vague about how people should "stop him" but it's clear that this man doesn't believe in the Democratic process when it delivers results that he disagrees with. He doesn't even concede that Obama is the president for God's sake. So, having argued that democracy must be exported around the world, by the barrel of a gun if necessary, right wingers now declare the entire process unsound because it has delivered a Democrat to power.

The American right wing has lost no time at all in completely losing it's mind, revealing some of them to be the dangerous radicals that many of us always stated that they were.

Obama has been president for barely a month, God only knows where these nutbags are going to go over the next four years. It's going to be the "Clinton Body Count" all over again. The maddest conspiracy theories are going to be discussed as if they have some form of credibility.

And, after four years of this insanity, they are going to ask to be elected. Good luck with that.

Sean Penn Wins Oscar for "Milk" Acceptance Speech

I'm delighted to see Sean Penn win the Oscar for Milk, and especially delighted to see the reaction the Academy has for him, as illustrated by the standing ovation he receives.

For so long he was considered an outsider by mainstream Hollywood and it is simply great to see how much they now respect him. His speech is wonderful, and I especially loved his reference to Mickey Rourke at the end, especially as Mickey Rourke has been saying some odd things about Penn of late. Class.

Glenn Beck's Head Implodes.

There must be a Democrat in the White House because Glenn Beck has started to imagine the "Bubba effect" and what might happen in the US when individual militias are formed in protest at Obama led tyranny. Now he claims that he hopes this won't happen and that he is only looking at "worst case scenarios" but he actually starts to imagine what would happen if taxation finds itself at 80-90%, which it is implied Obama would need to set it at to achieve what he wants to do.

And, of course, if the people do take to the streets, we are assured that the US army would be on the side of the people, rather than the government.

It's quite breathtaking how quickly a Democrat in the White House has caused these people to lose their minds.


Glenn Greenwald has some other clips of this bizarre programme and also a keen observation:

What was most remarkable about this allegedly "anti-government" movement was that -- with some isolated and principled exceptions -- it completely vanished upon the election of Republican George Bush, and it stayed invisible even as Bush presided over the most extreme and invasive expansion of federal government power in memory. Even as Bush seized and used all of the powers which that movement claimed in the 1990s to find so tyrannical and unconstitutional -- limitless, unchecked surveillance activities, detention powers with no oversight, expanding federal police powers, secret prison camps, even massively exploding and debt-financed domestic spending -- they meekly submitted to all of it, even enthusiastically cheered it all on.
Obama hasn't done a single thing which one could reasonably argue sounded like tyranny and yet these same lunatics - who sat meekly by whilst Bush ripped up the constitution - now prepare to defend it against possible democratic tyranny.

Everything that they have been saying for the past eight years - in a time of war it is your duty to support your president etc, etc - will now simply be flipped on it's head and it will represent the very essence of patriotism itself to oppose a leader who is Hell bent on tyranny.

The stunning levels of hypocrisy being reached here are matched only by their shamelessness.