Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nate Silver on Health Care Industry's influence on Senators.

Nate Silver explains how many US senators have been bought out by the Health Care industry and the extraordinary influence even a relatively small amount of money can have on a Senator's vote.

Nate explains it all in detail here.

The only"serious realistic policy on Iran is now to help accelerate regime change".

It's well known that the neo-cons hoped that Ahmadinejad would remain in power, as the last thing which they have ever wanted the US to have with Iran was meaningful discourse.

So now we have Kristol stating that Obama cannot possibly negotiate with Iran, or "mindlessly go on this path [...] and force Israel to take action if she has to." Obama is now, according to Kristol, "pathetically hoping that he can engage with this regime".

The only"serious realistic policy on Iran is now to help accelerate regime change".

So, the lunatics who brought us the Iraq war, are now desperate for "regime change" in Iran. And their justification is that Ahmadinejad, the man they wanted to win, has been declared the winner.

Why does anyone listen to these people? We are still up to our necks in their last "regime change" and they are already calling for the next one. No matter what the situation, war is always the answer for these buggers.

Warning: Britain faces new recession.

Anyone I know who is seeking a mortgage is being asked to pay very large interest rates unless they are able to come up with equity of 20-30% of the property price. Which is, I suppose, the definition of a "credit crunch."

But it is this fact which is leading the world's central bankers to state that Britain is heading for a second recession, the infamous "double dip" downturn.

Figures from the Bank of England yesterday confirmed that the banks and building societies remain reluctant to lend to any but the most secure of businesses and home buyers. Mortgage approvals barely improved during May, remaining stuck at a little over 43,000 – some way above the nadir of 27,000 last winter, but under half of their normal level. Analysts at Capital Economics said the figures were "consistent with house prices falling at double-digit annual rates".

Detailed data on changes to the money supply indicated that relatively little of the £100bn pumped into the economy by the Bank of England through its policy of "quantitative easing", akin to "printing money", is finding its way as yet into meaningful lending by the banks to small businesses and first-time buyers.

A small improvement in consumer confidence was registered last month, and there is plenty of evidence of more buyer interest at estate agents and of shoppers continuing to shop. However, for as long as the banking system remains reliant on public funding and unwilling to offer credit, little of this still-fragile optimism will be seen in hard purchases of "big ticket" items such as houses, cars and other goods linked to house purchase, such as electrical appliances and furniture.

Part of the problem here is the banks still want to package together debts and loans and to sell them on to someone else, only this time they want to be able to say that the people who owe the money have a large amount of their own equity tied up in the properties and are, therefore, unlikely to default.

But, as long as the banks continue with this practice, then we are unlikely to see any improvement in consumer confidence and Brown can pump as much money as he likes towards the banks but nothing will happen.
Figures to be released by the Office for National Statistics are likely to reveal that the downturn in the UK in the first quarter of the year was even more severe than first thought, though most economists think the worst of the slump is over. A CBI survey published yesterday said more than 95 per cent of banks and building societies expected their bad debts to rise over the next few months. Such write-offs will join the existing "toxic assets" on the banks' balance sheets and make them even less willing to take on riskier lending – the much feared "negative feedback loop".
Until banks start lending again, at rates which people find affordable, then the credit crunch continues.

Nothing Brown has so far proposed addresses that fact. And he also needs to address the banks ability to sell off it's debts to other companies, the very practice which led to the sub prime mortgage fiasco in the first place.

Click title for full article.

Monday, June 29, 2009

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham: "Gov. Sanford Should Have A 2nd Chance"

MR. GREGORY: ...of South Carolina. Governor Mark Sanford disappeared for five days then announced that, in fact, he'd had a mistress, he was visiting a mistress in Argentina. He misled his staff, he misled the voters. Should he resign?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the first thing, I'm the godfather of Mark and Jenny's youngest child, so I'm just going to put that on the table. My main focus right now is can this marriage be saved? Can these kids have a mom and dad to guide them through life? That is my main focus. I think if Mark can reconcile with Jenny, and that's not going to be easy, that he can finish his last 18 months. He's had a good reform agenda. And I do believe that if, if he can reconcile with his family and if he's willing to try, that the people of South Carolina would be willing to give him a second chance. But he's also got to reconcile the legislature. If he can get his family back together, I think he can continue out his term and maybe do some good things next year.
The hypocrisy Lindsey is indulging in here is quite breathtaking. Both he and Sanford voted to impeach Clinton because he lied about an affair, so why should Sanford be given "a second chance" and be treated differently from the way that both Lyndsey and Sanford voted to treat a public person who behaved in such a fashion?

I suppose the main reason Lyndsey thinks that Sanford deserves "a second chance" is because Sanford is a Republican, although he actually has the nerve to use the Clinton impeachment as an example of why Sanford should be forgiven:

In a curious example, Graham noted that former president Clinton was discovered to have had an affair while in office, yet his approval rating remained high among Americans because of his job performance, Graham noted.

“Bill Clinton had his problems. People looked at his job performance, they looked at his personal failings and they said, ‘You know what, we’re going to put one over here and the other over there,’ ” Graham said. “That’s no justification for what Mark did, but I think the people of South Carolina appreciate what Mark tried to do as governor to change their state.”

Graham voted to impeach Clinton, though he said Sunday that vote was based on his perceptions that Clinton had obstructed justice – not because he had had an affair.

Graham also mentioned a surprising antidote to the current spate of politicians behaving badly: President Obama. Going so far as to call him a role model as a good parent, Graham added: “Obama has done a lot of good in the area of family.”

People have affairs and behave badly - and that doesn't necessarily mean that they are unfit for the office which they hold - but that's not what the "party of morals" have ever argued before. That's the argument which progressives have made, which the Republicans have previously scorned.

So, I'm glad to see Lyndsey being more adult about this, but I can't help thinking that, if it was a Democrat caught with his pants down, he'd be spouting the same old rubbish Republicans always spout on this issue and making the very opposite argument to the one he is now making.

Iran warned by EU after British embassy workers arrested.

The Iranians have been so keen to push the story that the British are behind all the protests on Iran's streets that they have now arrested nine Iranians who work at the British embassy in Tehran.

It has produced a furious response from Britain and the rest of the EU:

David Miliband demanded last night that British embassy staff arrested in Tehran be released as the EU warned of a "strong and collective response" to the latest spat between Iran and the west over post-election unrest.

The foreign secretary denied that the employees, all Iranians, had played a "significant role" in clashes between security forces and demonstrators complaining about the "theft" of the presidential poll.

"We have protested in strong terms, directly to the Iranian authorities, about the arrests," Miliband said. "The idea that the British embassy is somehow behind the demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in Tehran … is wholly without foundation."

It is certainly a nonsense to believe that people are roaming the streets of Iran because the British government are encouraging them to do so. And it's scapegoating of the worst kind to arrest Iranians who work at the British embassy as if they are somehow co-conspirators in some empirical plot to remove the regime.

Khamenei is now thrashing about like a fish out of water, seeking to blame anyone for the chaos which has afflicted his nation.

But the EU appear to be coming out firmly on Britain's side in this dispute.

The EU's support for Britain over the embassy arrests raised the stakes as the regime continued to pin the blame for the unrest on foreign meddling. "Harassment and intimidation would meet a strong and collective EU response," foreign ministers said in Corfu.

"Obviously the regime is trying to preserve its position by very harsh repression," said Carl Bildt, Sweden's foreign minister, whose country takes over the EU's rotating presidency on 1 July. "But that cannot hide the fact that this is a weakened regime. It has lost legitimacy both internally and externally."

Khamenei can complain as loudly as he likes about "British interference", but we all know that his lack of legitimacy stems from the fact that he came off the political fence and chose a side, a side which an awful lot of Iranians do not seem to agree with.

I understand that Iranians are naturally suspicious of the British because of our colonial past, but surely there are very few who are buying into this utter rubbish?

But, it seems Khamenei will try to push the blame for what it taking place anywhere but on his own head.


Miliband's statement.

Click title for full article.

MPs condemn police tactics at G20 protest.

British MP's have produced a report into the G20 protests which is "highly critical" of police behaviour during this demonstration.

The report by the cross-party group of MPs says they "cannot condone the use of untrained, inexperienced officers on the frontline of a public protest under any circumstances".

Their inquiry also calls for the police to seriously consider whether they can continue with the use of tactics such as kettling – containing protesters behind cordons for a sustained period of time – and the controlled use of force against those who appear hostile without first holding a public debate over the future of policing public protests.

During the G20 protests the Met repeatedly attempted to "kettle" thousands of mainly peaceful demonstrators .

The technique is widely believed to have sparked angry confrontations with protesters, who complained that they were penned in for hours and subjected to baton charges.

The tactic of "kettling" would not be acceptable were the police to attempt it on a football crowd, so why are they allowed to use such a tactic against peaceful protesters?

The argument that some in the crowd might wish to cause trouble would be equally applicable to football supporters, and yet the practice would be clearly seen as counter productive were it to be used in such a non political situation.

Officers in charge of the Met's public order operations have been lobbying hard to retain the kettling tactic, which they regard as an effective method of preventing unruly protests from spreading through large areas of a city.

The select committee stops short of commenting on the death of the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson or the case of Nicola Fisher, who was struck across the face by a police sergeant. But the MPs say that the images and film footage of those incidents shocked the public and have the potential to undermine trust in the police. They hoped the incidents would mark the start of a widespread debate on the use of force by the police.

"The basic principle that the police must remember is that protesters are not criminals – the police's doctrine must remain focused on allowing protest to happen peacefully," said Keith Vaz, the committee chairman.

The police at the G20 summit decided to treat all protesters as if they were potential criminals, rather than citizens who were enjoying one of their most basic rights; the right to protest.

And, when one realises that certain members of the police force removed their badge numbers before engaging with the public, then one can imagine that they did so because they intended to take part in actions for which they did not want to be held accountable later on.

It is undeniable that certain parts of the G20 crowd set out to create trouble, but it is equally undeniable that certain innocents - especially Ian Tomlinson - were treated as criminals by the police simply because of the fact that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The police themselves are claiming that inexperience was behind much of the police behaviour.

During the Commons inquiry, Commander Bob Broadhurst, the "gold commander" in charge of the G20 policing operation, told the MPs that there had not been any large-scale disorder in London for a number of years of the kind seen summer after summer in the 1980s and 1990s: "That means I now have a workforce of relatively young people that we draw on who are policing Sutton High Street one day and the next day called into central London."

He said there were 2,500 officers who had only two days of public order training a year and the vast majority of whom had never faced a situation as violent as the G20 protest before.

"That may also be why one or two of them, as you have seen on television, may have used inappropriate force at times ... I would probably say that was probably more fear and lack of control, whereas our experience in the past is the more we experience these things, the less quick officers are to go to the use of force because they understand more the dynamics," he said.

It sounds very convenient to me to blame "inexperienced youngsters" for the brutality which we witnessed at the G20 summit, as the people caught on film didn't look to me like they were puppies on their first day on the job.

But the MP's are making the point that this must simply never happen again. Protesting is not a crime in this country, and the police would do well to remember that.

Click title for full article.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Coulter on the death of Tiller: "I don't really like to think of it as murder."

She really is an abomination. On the death of Dr Tiller:

Coulter: Well, apparently, this one random nut who shot Tiller -- I don't really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester.

... I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don't want to impose my moral values on others.
Nor is this the first time this abominable creature has made this argument. She has previously stated:
"Those few abortionists were shot, or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure with a rifle performed on them. I'm not justifying it, but I do understand how it happened...."
The current Republican party - and their most vocal supporters in the media - are not only off the wall crazy people, they are now - not so subtly - advocating murder.

Battle for Iran shifts from the streets to the heart of power.

It really does look as if the battle for the soul of Iran has moved off of the streets and is being fought far nearer to the centre of political power.

In the past few days, Larijani - who was fired by Ahmadinejad as chief negotiator on nuclear issues with the west - has announced his intention of setting up a parliamentary committee to examine the recent post-election violence in an "even-handed way". In response, Ahmadinejad supporters within the parliament have discussed the possibility of impeaching Larijani.

In a move with even greater potential significance, according to several reports Rafsanjani has been lobbying fellow members of the powerful 86-strong Assembly of Experts, which he chairs, to replace Khamenei as the supreme leader with a small committee of senior ayatollahs, of which Khamenei would be a member. If Rafsanjani were successful, the constitutional change would mean a profound shift in the balance of power within Iran's theocratic regime.

"Although Hashemi Rafsanjani is not a popular politician in Iran any more, he is the only hope that Iranians have ... for the annulment of the election," said an Iranian political analyst who asked not be named. "He is the only one who people think is able to stand against the supreme leader."

Such talk of replacing the supreme leader would have been unthinkable a few short weeks ago, and the fact that it is now being openly discussed speaks volumes about the damage Khamenei has done to himself throughout this process.

They may have bloodied and butchered the populace into silence, but that has not been achieved without a price.

The membership of the Assembly of Experts, which has the power to appoint the supreme leader, is split between those supporting Rafsanjani and those who have gravitated around the highly influential ultra-hardline cleric Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, who is widely seen as both a supporter of Ahmadinejad and the president's religious mentor. Yazdi is also believed to have his own ambitions to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader. Like Ahmadinejad, he is fiercely opposed to the push by reformists for more democratic representation in Iran.

Yazdi is also understood to have a large following among both the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the basiij militia, both also sources of support for Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani has long been a proponent of weakening the power of the supreme leader. He is understood to be arguing in favour of replacing Khamenei with a leadership council of three or more senior clerics.

The splits in the Assembly of Experts - the least visible aspect of the present crisis - will be critically important to its eventual outcome. Even avowed conservatives are reported to have sided with Rafsanjani against Yazdi and his faction, suggesting that there are real limits to the power it has been exercising in the past few weeks.

The complexity of the present political manoeuvres has meant Iran's elites have been made to take sides, reflected in the decision by almost half the members of the parliamentary assembly to boycott the celebration dinner called by Ahmadinejad to mark his "re-election".

The battle for the streets might be all but over, but the battle for who actually runs Iran is still very much up for grabs. And, the brutality which Khamenei used to install calm on those streets, might very well now work against him.

It's impossible to pretend that things can simply go on as they were. Something has to give here.

Click title for full article.

Andy Murray provides a quieter, less mad, steely kind of hope.

It's often said that the Brits love a loser. Maybe that's what explains the fact that they loved Tim Henman and are finding it harder to warm to Andy Murray.

Sure, they like the fact that he's progressing through this years tournament with what looks like ease, but it's almost as if they miss that heart in mouth sense of panic that the Henman years always produced.

Murray provokes in this audience many things, not all good: but one very good one is hope. There's a qualitative difference in mood here from the Henman years: no plethora of flags and teddy bears and misery. No Saltires, even: only, at 6.10, when the Scot finally appeared as clouds seriously began to lour, did the first union flag appear, complete with the odd lettering "Andy - show us your guns!" Instead, this new British hope provokes exactly that: hope. A quieter, less mad, more steely kind of hope. The tennis fans here are in the main sharp and wise and in doubt about the complexity, so far, of their feelings. Lucy, Simon, Lydia, Izzie and Olly compete, between courtesy and giggles and Pimm's, to nail the definitive feeling.

"He's a different kind of player, and actually I do like him, more and more, and it doesn't matter, if you're a tennis fan, whether he smiles or whatever enough," says the first. Simon disagrees. "He's grown up a bit, and he's got a new coach, and learned better PR." A couple of his friends dismiss the last as less important than the tennis, but Simon insists. "If he's a role model to young tennis players he needs to learn the game, to smile, to crack jokes, to be a bit more cool. [Rafael] Nadal does it, he's really cool in Spain and they love him and people get into the game. It's important these days." It might be the preponderance of young PR people here yesterday, but I keep hearing this: image is important today, and he got it wrong, for too long.

"But there's a difference between being 23, more grown, and 18 or whatever when we first heard of him," says Ollie. "Honestly, round here, round this table, whole of this hill I suspect, the Scottishness thing doesn't count. He's British. As we are. And we've got someone to really get behind tonight, and also, you know ... he might just do it. Which is a new feeling!"

That last point is probably much nearer to the truth of the matter. He's Scottish, not English. And, somewhere, deep down, they can't forgive him for that.

He's a far better player than Henman ever was, but yet still they find it very hard to take him to their hearts.

Yesterday he saw off Viktor Troicki with ease, playing a standard of tennis which made it very easy to understand why he is the world's number three, but Wimbledon never seemed anywhere near as hysterical as it did in the days when Henman offered the audience the chance to pin their hopes on the guy who was never going to win.

One audience member summed it all up:
"Tim Henman was warm, cuddly, polite, a good loser. Andy's every Scottish stereotype: dour, hard working. A sore loser. But I promise you, some more wins like tonight, and if he wins Wimbledon, they'll love him. They'll even forget he's Scottish."
Because, of course, one would have to forget that before loving him became even possible.

Click title for full article.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Iran uprising fizzles out as Mousavi backtracks.

Mirhossein Mousavi has almost thrown in the towel - in the face of state brutality- by announcing that he will, in future, seek permission before organising any demonstrations over the recent Iranian election.

The latest moves may signal the beginning of the end for the protests, which have swept Iran since the incumbent President Ahmadinejad claimed a landslide victory. The number of people attending marches has dwindled after demonstrators repeatedly came under attack from police and the Islamist Basiji militia, and almost 1,000 people were arrested.

Iran's Guardian Council yesterday seemed close to endorsing President Ahmadinejad as victor, in what it maintained was "one of the cleanest elections we have had".

Spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai said allegations of fraud by the opposition had proved groundless. "After 10 days of examination we did not see any major irregularities," he said. "I can say with certainty that there was no fraud in the election." In his latest message Mr Mousavi urged supporters not to break the law, while maintaining that the struggle to have the polls annulled must continue. The opposition leader said he had been asked by the Interior Ministry to apply in person for rallies to be authorised, and to give a week's notice. He pointed out that while restrictions were imposed on his protests, supporters of President Ahmadinejad were able to hold marches "that were well publicised on state television, seeming to encourage participation, with their regularly advertised march routes."

Mousavi may very well appeal for Iranians to keep within the law, but there's nothing to say that they will.

Why should they have any respect for a state which pays so little attention their will? And, having brutalised the protesters, there are now calls for the state to go even further in forcing people to accept the election of Ahmadinejad.
A senior Iranian cleric yesterday called for protesters to be executed as "enemies of Allah", as authorities came one step closer to formally declaring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winner of the disputed election.

In a sermon at Tehran University, a venue believed to have been chosen deliberately because of the prominent role played by students in the protests, one Assembly of Experts member, Ahmad Khatami, said: "I want the judiciary to punish rioters without mercy, to teach everyone a lesson."

Mr Khatami's speech, which was broadcast nationwide, continued: "Based on Islamic law, whoever confronts the Islamic state should be convicted as mohareb [one who wages war against God] and punished ruthlessly and savagely. Under Islamic law punishment for those convicted as mohareb is execution."

They are now arguing that anyone who disputes the election of Ahmadinejad should face execution.

It seems with every day which passes that the lengths they will go to in order to hold on to power is simply limitless.

I'm sure that Khamenei will be able to use the full force of the state to impose his will, but he does so at a dreadful cost to his own legitimacy. I mean, it's a seriously bad day when even the Russians and the Chinese are worried about the level of violence you are engaging in:
Russia, which along with China, had maintained that the election result should be accepted, said it was nevertheless, worried by the scale of violence by authorities. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "We count on all questions which have arisen in the context of the elections being resolved in accordance with democratic procedures."
Forget the fact that Obama and the British are being critical, Khamenei's brutality is even managing to shock his allies.

Khamenei might manage to clear Iran's streets, but I seriously doubt that he will ever truly manage to put this genie back into the bottle.

Click title for full article.

Bachmann On Climate-Change Bill: "We Choose Liberty, Or We Choose Tyranny"

Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

And I suppose he was right. But I am left doubting the benefits of democracy every time I realise that a supposedly educated electorate elected this dumbass to represent them.

More tests after Jackson autopsy.

Nothing was as expected in Michael Jackson's life, so I suppose there should be no great surprise that his death has proven to be equally complex.

From the coroner's office

He said a three-hour autopsy had been held but the cause of death had been deferred.

"It means that the medical examiner ordered additional testing such as toxicology and other studies," Mr Harvey said.

The tests would take between four to six weeks, at which point he anticipated being able to close the case, he said.

Six weeks to establish the cause of death seems like an awful long time. Although already there are rumours that it was his use of painkillers which contributed to his early demise:
Speculation was mounting that the star's death may be linked to his longstanding use of painkillers. Family friends have confirmed he was taking drugs to help him deal with the stress of preparing for his series of London concerts.
I have never been what you could call a Michael Jackson fan, although - like everyone else on the planet - his work has become part of the background music of my life. It's simply always been there. And I have always been aware of what he was doing and what was going on in that often tragic life of his.

But the outpouring of grief that his death has produced has been startling:
There was a small plastic sailing boat lying on the pavement of Hollywood Boulevard today. In it, a little plastic boy was sitting dressed in turquoise with a pointed hat. A note attached to the boat read: "Michael, here's Peter Pan to take you to Neverland."

The toy was at the centre of an impromptu memorial that had formed overnight at the spot of
Michael Jackson's celebrity star on the Hollywood walk of fame. It was encircled by an extraordinary scrum that managed to combine quiet public devotion with the media frenzy busily feeding off it. A fitting tribute to Jackson's life, perhaps, which also managed to combine both elements in gargantuan proportions.
I couldn't help but feel last night, as I watched this incredible outpouring of emotion, that there was something actually rather fitting about the fact that this Peter Pan like figure was taken before his time.

Now he remains frozen in our memories. He will not age. And there's a part of me that thinks he would rather like that.

Click title for full article.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Human Rights Watch "Deeply Concerned About Iranian Protesters"!

The very few voices which are emanating from Iran are heartbreaking.

Arrested people are lining up to tell the cameras how they have been influenced by foreign interference in Iran's affairs. It's a simply ridiculous charge.

I would be the first to admit that the British and the Americans have, in the past, interfered in Iran's affairs. But what we are witnessing here is a genuine revolt amongst the Iranians over what they say was electoral fraud.

To blame that on "British interference" is simply fanciful.

FBI Arrests White Supremacist Blogger Hal Turner For Threatening To Kill Federal Judges.

We've all become used to hearing right wingers complain that they are being unfairly blamed for the deaths of people like Dr Tiller.

Well now the FBI have arrested a right wing talk jock, Hal Turner, for threatening to assault and murder three federal appeals court judges for rulings they made upholding handgun bans in Chicago.

Nor was he subtle in the threats which he making:

Internet postings on June 2 and 3 proclaimed “outrage” over the June 2, 2009, handgun decision by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judges Richard Posner and William Bauer, of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, further stating, among other things: “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed.” The postings included photographs, phone numbers, work address and room numbers of these judges, along with a photo of the building in which they work and a map of its location.

Turner’s posts also “referred to the murder of the mother and husband of Chicago-based federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow in February 2005,” saying, “Apparently, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court didn’t get the hint after those killings. It appears another lesson is needed.
The American right wing appear, to me at least, to be bordering on the insane. To listen to O'Reilly after the death of Dr Tiller was to see the face of shamelessness.

I don't know if O'Reilly's constant rants had anything to do with Tiller's death, but I do know that he helped to create the atmosphere in which such a killing was more, rather than less, likely to take place.

And, when Tiller was killed, O'Reilly took to the air without even a hint of regret that he might have had any hand in this tragedy.

Hal Turner has taken this even further than O'Reilly did. He is actually claiming that, "lessons are needed" and giving out the judges names and addresses whilst stating, "Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed."

If that's not an incitement to violence then I don't know what is.

No doubt Turner's great friend Sean Hannity will spring to his defence and argue that we are witnessing some form of assault on free speech. But free speech carries with it responsibility. I am not allowed to shout "fire" in a crowded building. And people like Hal Turner should not be allowed to wish for the murder of three judges - and tell people where these judges might be found - without paying a price.

I have no great hope that this will in any way reign in the American right. The O'Reilly's and the Hannity's are too clever to ever be as obvious and as stupid as Turner has been.

But, at least, a line has been drawn in the sand. If you issue direct threats you will be arrested.

Hat tip to Think Progress.

Singer Michael Jackson dies at 50.

I hope we can be kinder to him at the time of his death than we ever were to him whilst he lived.

Pop star Michael Jackson has died in Los Angeles, aged 50.

Paramedics were called to the singer's Beverly Hills home at about midday on Thursday after he stopped breathing.

He was pronounced dead two hours later at the UCLA medical centre. Jackson's brother, Jermaine, said he was believed to have suffered a cardiac arrest.

Jackson, who had a history of health problems, had been due to stage a series of comeback concerts in the UK on 13 July.

Speaking on behalf of the Jackson family, Jermaine said doctors had tried to resuscitate the star for more than an hour without success.

He added: "The family request that the media please respect our privacy during this tough time."

"And Allah be with you Michael always. I love you."

The truth is that he died years ago. His career and his life were long ago brought to a close by vicious rumours and innuendo. He became a money spinner for the tabloids, and they spun his life story mercilessly. In the end, it didn't matter what was true or untrue, he sold papers no matter how insane the stories about him had become.

Speaking outside New York's historic Apollo theatre, civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton paid tribute to his friend.

"I knew him 35 years. When he had problems he would call me," he said.

"I feel like he was not treated fairly. I hope history will be more kind to him than some of the contemporary media."

I think history will remember a remarkable talent; a child who the world fell in love with, and an adult who we never quite forgave for ceasing to be that child.

I'd like to say that I am sad, but I'm not sure that is completely true. Somewhere in this tale I have the feeling that what I am witnessing is a release of some sort.

The torture is over. He has slipped the chains.


The Prisoner of Commerce:
What's happened to Michael Jackson isn't too different from what they used to do to young male singers in Europe a few centuries ago, to keep their voices sweet. In another way, it resembles the exploitation of child stars like Judy Garland in the heyday of the Hollywood studios. In fact, what American capitalism has done to Michael Jackson is even a bit like what the Soviets do to their women athletes.
Click title for full article.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Savage Nation Indeed

The extraordinary thing about Michael Savage is that he truly believes he is being picked on by the left because of his political views.

There are many conservatives who hold views which I do not agree with, but I have managed to have very friendly discussions with lots of them. It's not only that Savage holds views which I disagree with, it's the obnoxious way he expresses them and the extremity of some of his views.

His comments regarding autism were simply vile, and for him to now claim that this statement was made "in jest"? Well, listen for yourself and ask if you truly believe that he doesn't mean what he is saying.

Phil Donahue debates Bill O'Reilly on Iraq War.

Donahue does a very good job of shining a light on the disgusting attacks of O'Reilly against women like Cindy Sheehan who have paid the highest price any mother can ever pay for Bush's war.

O'Reilly claims that his objection to Sheehan is that her opinions are "radical", ignoring the fact that most Americans share her opinion that this war is lost and that the US should withdraw.

Donahue's best line is when he states that, "Loud doesn't mean right, Bill." And as Donahue points out, O'Reilly does this in a misguided attempt to look tough. And O'Reilly tells the usual lie that Jeremy Glick accused the US of "orchestrating 9-11" when, of course, Glick did no such thing.

And it's fascinating to watch O'Reilly attempt to distance himself from the Iraq war whilst, simultaneously, embracing it.

That's where the right now find themselves. Admitting that the Iraq war was a war of choice, that it might have been a tactical mistake, but insisting that the US must pursue it to "victory", whatever that means.

They are seriously incoherent.

Nixon: The unexpurgated words of a President close to the edge.

Oh, how we love it when new Nixon tapes are released. They never change what we think of the man, rather they always confirm previous expectations. The latest batch does not disappoint.

It was a day after the Supreme Court legalised abortion in its Roe vs Wade ruling, and Mr Nixon wonders aloud about wisdom of the judgement with his senior aide Charles Colson. He worries that abortion "breaks the family" and its legalisation could encourage "permissiveness".

On the other hand, he offers: "There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape."
The election of Obama, born from a white mother and a Kenyan father, shows just how far the US has traveled since Nixon made those remarks in the Oval office.

And there's this extraordinary exchange between Nixon and Coulson regarding who they think is against the Republican party:
"The blacks and the poor," Colson offers, and Nixon adds, "And the intellectuals." For good measure, Colson throws in, "the lavender shirt mob... the homos and the queers."
Reading that today, one realises that the US may have come a long way in the past 40 years, but the Republicans haven't changed that much at all.

Click title for full article.

Tehran 'like a war zone' as ayatollah refuses to back down on election.

Witnesses are describing the scenes in Tehran as akin to "a war zone" as the last of the protesters are being driven off of the streets.

One woman told CNN that hundreds of unidentified men armed with clubs had emerged from a mosque to confront the protesters.

"They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood and her husband fainted. They were beating people like hell. It was a massacre," she said.

The opposition website Rooz Online carried what it said was an interview with a man the government had shipped in to Tehran to quell the demonstrations. He said he was being paid 2m rial (£122) to assault protesters with a heavy wooden stave, and that other volunteers, most of them from far-flung provinces, were being kept in hostel accommodation, reportedly in east Tehran.

With the independent media banned from covering street protests, the reports could not be verified.

There were also unconfirmed reports tonight that Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, had been arrested. Earlier in the day she had called on the authorities to release Iranians who had been detained.

In remarks posted on her husband's website, Rahnavard said: "I regret the arrest of many politicians and people and want their immediate release. It is my duty to continue legal protests to preserve Iranian rights."

And throughout all of this, Khamenei is insisting that he will not back down:
"I had insisted and will insist on implementing the law on the election issue. Neither the establishment nor the nation will yield to pressure at any cost."
He really has destroyed his reputation as a man who stands beyond the political fray, and revealed himself as being in it up to his neck.

And I must admit to being seriously impressed that some protesters are keeping going. I would have thought that they would have been beaten into submission by now. They are displaying an admirable amount of courage to still be standing up for they know to be right, even with the full force of the state ranged against them.

An Iranian friend of mine in London was protesting the other day outside their embassy and was approached and told, "We have taken your photograph. You will pay for this if you ever return to Iran."

Bully boy tactics from a regime which has lost all legitimacy. At least in London they couldn't beat him away from the embassy's doors.

And Obama is getting more and more forceful in his condemnation of the disgusting tactics we are witnessing.
"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost."
I would have thought that Khamenei's "revolutionary" brutality would have driven every last protester off of the streets by now. I am seriously stunned that there are some still brave enough to stand up for what is right in the face of this state violence.

Click title for full article.

Spain: 0 - United States: 2.

I'm sure that most Americans pay almost no attention to football, or soccer as they insist on calling it, but yesterday the US stunned the football world when they knocked the European champions Spain out of the Confederations cup.

Both of the US goals came from Spanish defensive mistakes, but, nevertheless, it was impossible to watch the game and say that the American victory was undeserved.

They won it fair and square.

The United States will contest the Confederations Cup final after causing a huge upset in Bloemfontein last night by inflicting Spain's first defeat since 2006. Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey scored the goals as the US, having lost their opening two games in the tournament and only squeezed through Group B by the skin of their teeth, set up a final showdown against either Brazil or South Africa on Sunday.

The result was one of the biggest shocks in recent international history, with the Spanish having broken the record for consecutive wins with their 15th on the trot against South Africa at the weekend. The European champions would also have claimed the record for the longest unbeaten run if they had avoided defeat last night, having drawn level with Brazil's run of 35.

Even the 86th-minute dismissal of Michael Bradley – son of coach Bob – could not deny the US, who were left to celebrate a famous victory.

I really hope American readers understand the sheer scale of this recent US achievement. A few nights ago the US needed a miracle to even get through the group stages of this competition and - by a six goal swing - the miracle was achieved.

I switched on last night knowing that Spain were going to devastate the US and quickly realised that the Americans were not going to go along with that game plan.

They played with gusto and heart and thoroughly deserved their victory.

Click title for full article.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Obama's Testy Press Conference.

He handles the press very well and easily points out the blatant absurdity of some of the positions which they advocate.

Q: Won't that drive private insurers out of business?

THE PRESIDENT: Why would it drive private insurers out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality healthcare, if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government -- which they say can't run anything -- suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical.

Israel defies US with plan for 240 new homes on Palestinian land.

Netanyahu's regime are giving Obama their answer to his calls for an end to all settlement building:

Israel's defence ministry has proposed legalising 60 existing homes at a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, and building another 240 homes at the site, despite US calls for a halt to settlement growth.

Construction at the outpost, known as Water Reservoir Hill, near the Talmon settlement, north of Ramallah, would "greatly damage" the freedom of movement of Palestinian farmers in the area, according to Bimkom, an Israeli planning rights group.

It said the construction plan was put forward for public inspection shortly after the Israeli government was formed this spring and was first approved by Ehud Barak, the defence minister. It was now awaiting final approval.
But Bimkom added: "In virtually all cases, plans deposited for Israeli settlements were subsequently approved."
Obama has made his opinion on this matter crystal clear. The settlements are against international law and the practice must end. Is there anyone who still thinks that Israel wants peace but is prevented from doing so because of the lack of the "partner in peace" she claims to be searching for?
So far, Israel has resisted Washington's pressure for a halt to construction in settlements and the issue is fast becoming a test of wills between the two governments. In an interview yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said arguing about settlement activity was a waste of time. Last week, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, told Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor ­Lieberman, that Washington wanted "to see a stop to the settlements".
The regimes of Netanyahu and Obama are now at loggerheads. Netanyahu is openly holding the wishes of the American president in contempt, by stating that the things which Obama has insisted upon are, "a waste of time".

Obama needs to remind Israel of just how much she relies on the US. The first thing he could do is to remove the automatic American vetoing of any UN resolution which criticises Israel. Simply take it away and allow Israel to feel the full wrath of the international community.

Netanyahu has said his government will not stop "natural growth" within settlements to accommodate population growth. However, the plans for Water Reservoir Hill, known in Hebrew as Givat Ha'breicha, appear to stretch far beyond any definition of natural growth.

Bimkom said the plan covered 86 hectares (212 acres) and stretched across agricultural land belonging to the village of al-Jania, which is home to 1,200 Palestinians. The only way the farmers could reach their land was along a road which, under the new plan, would become an internal part of the settlement and therefore off-limits to Palestinians. "The new plan, which incorporates part of the road, will disable residents of al-Jania to work their lands and will greatly damage their freedom of movement," Bimkom said.

The group said the plan also appeared to give a green light to other unauthorised settlement outposts, including four others near the Talmon settlement. All settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law.

Netanyahu is openly challenging Obama's authority. He is giving up the pretence that he is seeking a "partner for peace" and is making yet another land grab.

It is obvious that words alone will not be enough to rein in Netanyahu. Obama needs to take some form of action to make his displeasure felt, as it is blatantly clear that it is not enough to make it simply known.

Click title for full article.

Protests in Iran capital 'halted'.

The bludgeoning of the Iranian people appears to have been successful as protests in Iran dwindle and die. But the lengths the regime have gone to in order to quell the unrest is quite startling.

Residents say the city is quiet, but opposition supporters have called for a day of mourning on Thursday for those killed during the protests.

Barack Obama has condemned the "unjust" violence used against protesters.

Meanwhile, reports say four Iranian footballers who appeared to show solidarity with them have been banned.

The pro-government Iran Daily newspaper said four of the six players who wore green wristbands during a World Cup qualifier against South Korea in Seoul had been retired from the national team.
So, four players have been "retired" for even daring to wear green wristbands during a national football game. That really does sum up the level of free expression allowed in Iran at the moment. The wearing of a wristband can end the career of international footballers.

Just think of the message that it would send in this country were a footballer to have his career ended for letting it be known that he supported New Labour or the Tories. It's actually unthinkable.

On Tuesday, President Obama used his starkest language yet to strongly condemn Iran's clamping down on election protests.

He said he respected Iran's sovereignty and it was "patently false" of Iran to say the West was fomenting the unrest.

Mr Obama said: "The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days.

"I strongly condemn these unjust actions and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost."

He said: "The United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran's affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society."

There has been a "remarkable opening" within Iranian society, an opening that has been crushed brutally by the regime of Khamenei.

I don't know what happens now, but I do know that the current regime have given up all claims to legitimacy.

They remain in power because they were willing to use the full power of the state against their own populace. To the extent that they were willing to end the careers of footballers who dared to suggest that they supported the other side.

The Iranian people are no longer under the illusion that they live in a democracy. They don't.

The real question is what happens now. Violence has silenced the protests, but it has not taken away the feeling of injustice.

Not only is Ahmadinejad in power against the will of the people, but Khamenei has also made his own position perilous by the stances he has struck since the election. They will both stumble on, but we all know that they are both there because they were willing to crush all opposition, not because they actually represent the will of ordinary Iranians.


Click title for full article.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Neo-Con Demands over Iran.

The neo-cons are criticising Obama for refusing to intervene more forcibly in the aftermath of the Iranian election.

We are told, "It's hard to imagine former President Bush getting beat to the punch by France and Germany when it comes to standing up for people who are being oppressed in the Middle East."

Firstly, Bush managed to stay silent about the oppression of the Palestinians for his entire time in office. Secondly, are they seriously holding up Bush's Middle East achievements as something which should be emulated?

Bush's policies towards the Middle East were an unmitigated disaster.

The people of Iran have made their voices heard. However, I find it immoral for outsiders - who will pay no price as they bravely call from behind their keyboards for the Iranians to stand up - to continue to demand that young Iranians fall on to the swords of a regime which will use the full force of the state to quell any opposition to them.

Western governments can be swayed by public opinion and by public uprisings. This is not true of the regime of Khomenei. The people taking to the streets have the moral authority, but, in this case, I fear the authority which will most matter is the authority granted by whoever holds the largest stick and is prepared to use it.

In this case, that's Khomenei.

We can be appalled by that, and I certainly am, but I can't bring myself to insist that others allow themselves to be brutalised for my ideological beliefs.

It's their business and I wish them well, but I won't condemn them if they falter in the face of unspeakable violence.

We come from country's where we pay no price for expressing our political views. We really have no idea what we are asking for when we insist that the Iranians must stand up.

Iraq: The final countdown.

Patrick Cockburn is one of the few journalists still in Iraq and he's one of the very few who has persistently spoken the truth through all of the bluster of the past six years. Now he addresses what Iraq the US will leave behind when they begin, next week, to move their troops out of Iraq's cities.

American forces leave behind a country which is a barely floating wreck. Its society, economy and very landscape have been torn apart by 30 years of war, sanctions and occupation. I first came to Iraq in 1977 when its future looked rosy, but it turned out I was visiting the country at the high tide of its fortunes, a tide that has been ebbing ever since. Iraqis have been engulfed by successive disasters: the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war starting in 1980; the defeat in Kuwait in 1991; the bloodily suppressed Shia and Kurdish uprisings the same year; UN sanctions amounting to a 13-year-long siege which ruined the economy and shattered society; the US invasion of 2003; the Sunni Arab war against the US occupation in 2003-7 and the Sunni-Shia civil war over the same period.

How many other countries in the world have endured such traumas? Is it any surprise that Iraqis are so heavily marked by them? The Iraqi government announces proudly that in May 2009 only 225 Iraqis died from war-related violence, a lower figure than we have seen in any month for at least four years. Of course this is far better than the 3,000 tortured bodies which used to turn up every month at the height of sectarian war in 2006-7. Baghdad is certainly a safer place these days than Mogadishu, though not perhaps as secure as Kabul, where violence, at least for the moment, is surprisingly limited. But the attitudes of Iraqis are not determined solely or even primarily by monthly casualty figures or even the current security situation. Their individual psychology and collective political landscape is shaped rather by the memory of the mass killings of the recent past and fear that they might happen again. Iraq is a country so drenched in blood as to make it next to impossible to reach genuine political accommodation between Shia and Sunni, Arab and Kurd, Baathist and non-Baathist, supporters and opponents of the US occupation. "How do you expect people who are too frightened of each other to live in the same street to reach political agreements?" asks one Iraqi friend in exasperation.

The Bush/Blair invasion was supposed to set off a wave of democracy across the whole of the Middle East. Are there any still spouting that insane theory?

The invasion of Iraq has been a disaster, for us and for them.

Cockburn talks about how, despite the undeniable improvements in the lives of the people of Baghdad, he finds it impossible to erase the memories of what has taken place here.
I sometimes think I should not come back to Baghdad because I am burdened by too many grizzly stories like these. I wonder if another correspondent might be better able to write chirpy tales about how life here is getting better, as indeed, in a certain sense, it is. He or she, coming to Iraq afresh, would have no memories of friends killed and tortured and would respond sympathetically to feel-good stories pumped out by the Iraqi and US governments about how life here is improving. But then I recall that most Iraqis are influenced by the same experiences as myself. Almost every Iraqi I know has lost one or more members of their family. The bodies of many of the dead have never been found. It is all very well for American officials and diplomats, with their British equivalents trotting dutifully behind, to hector Iraqi leaders about reaching political agreements with their rivals. In a political universe bathed in so much violence this is difficult to do and, if done, it is almost impossible for leaders to deliver their own communities. Political paralysis at the top in Iraq, so often berated abroad, is only a reflection of the paralysing suspicions and hatreds within Iraqi society.
We have torn that society apart; and now, piously, we demand that the people of Iraq put it all behind them and make up.

That will not happen quickly; indeed, it will take decades for such memories to heal, if they can be healed at all.

We have, literally, torn that country in two. So, as we prepare to finally leave, it should be with a great sense of shame that we exit from a place where we did much more harm than good.

Click title for Cockburn's article.

Battered Iranian protesters threatened with 'decisive confrontation'

Their numbers are vastly reduced, the government killing protesters tends to have that effect, but still there are people taking to the streets of Iran.

So now, disgracefully, the Khamenei regime are threatening them with "decisive and revolutionary confrontation" should they fail to stand down. And, ridiculously, the Iranians continue to insist that this protest is somehow the work of British interference in Iranian politics.

As Iranian officials and the state media stepped up their allegations of British involvement in the protest movement, the British embassy in Tehran began evacuating the families of members of staff, and the Foreign Office advised against non-essential travel to Iran.

The parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, called for a "revision" of diplomatic ties with the UK in the light of what he alleged was British meddling, an allegation denied on Sunday by the foreign secretary, David Miliband.

British diplomats warned, however, that a further worsening of the bilateral relationship was likely in the next few days in view of Tehran's allegations.

The pro-government Fars news agency quoted a former member of a conservative Islamic student movement as saying: "If Britain continues its blatant intervention and malevolence, Iranian students will close down the British house of spies in Iran, like they did the US house of spies."

The European Union, represented by the Czech government, summoned Iran's chargé d'affaires and "categorically rejected" all allegations of interference, and the Italian embassy said it was available to offer humanitarian aid to injured demonstrators.

The Iranian regime of Khamenei is now blatantly clutching at straws, denying what should be obvious to them; their people have rejected an election which they perceive as a massive fraud.

The government backlash against the protesters intensified as the regime acknowledged serious problems with the 12 June elections. The guardian council, a group of 12 conservative clerics tasked with investigating the vote, said that more votes had been cast in 50 electoral districts than there were registered voters. However, a council spokesman insisted that such "discrepancies" would not overturn the president's election.

Alongside the riot police, the government's principal weapon against the demonstrators has been the Basij militia, a paramilitary subsidiary of the Revolutionary Guard.

Yesterday the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard corps threatened to intervene directly to quash the protests. A statement on its website said the demonstrators should "be ready for the decisive and revolutionary confrontation with the IGRC, Basij and other security forces".

The intelligence department of the police issued a statement of its own urging Iranians to help police officers identify "the main elements who have been behind the recent riots", while a member of the judiciary said special courts should be set up to try them.

The chances are that they will manage to put down all forms of protest, but one is left wondering what validity any government would have which was formed under such circumstances.

I can't help but feel that Khamenei has let something out of the box.

It's like trying to keep hold of sand. The more tightly Khamenei grips it, the less of it he actually has in his hand. And his grasp is, at the moment, resembling a vice.

Which means that his entire regime has almost no validity. In trying to save Ahmadinejad, Khamenei has sacrificed his own authority.

Click title for full article.

Monday, June 22, 2009

George Will calls right wing attacks on Obama's Iran response "foolish criticism".

I'm with George Wills in finding right wing criticism of Obama's handling of the Iranian situation "foolish".

The people of Iran are not dumb. They know the American attitude towards Ahmadinejad and the entire Iranian regime. The last thing any Iranian opposition needs is to be tainted with American approval.

Americans are not popular in Iran, for very good reason.

Obama is right to keep his nose well out of this one as, no matter who eventually ends up in power, he will have to deal with them.

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Blair was involved in Iraq inquiry talks, minister says

Labour backbench anger is going to force Gordon Brown to change his mind on holding most of the Iraq War Inquiry in private, although it is unlikely to make him widen the remit of the inquiry.

Backbenchers are furious that it has been revealed that Tony Blair was influencing Brown behind the scenes.

Mr Blair's involvement in discussions with Sir Gus O'Donnell over the nature of the hearings was confirmed by Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland Secretary. "Of course the Cabinet Secretary discussed this with the former prime minister," Mr Woodward said, "because he obviously will be one of the major witnesses who will be giving evidence to Sir John Chilcot's inquiry".

The backbenchers also pointed to a leaked memo yesterday indicating that the former prime minister had been considering the possibility of going to war without a second UN resolution two months before the invasion.

The note, written by his foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning, indicated that Mr Blair and US President George Bush were already discussing ways of legitimising military invasion in case the UN failed to find weapons of mass destruction.

Such documents are likely to go to the heart of the inquiry; suggestions they could be examined in secret provoked uproar among MPs of all parties and senior military and intelligence officers. Mr Brown has already staged a partial retreat by asking Sir John Chilcot, the retired civil servant who will head the inquiry, to hold some sessions in public. But the concession did not go far enough to pacify Labour MPs threatening to support a Tory motion on Wednesday calling for all hearings to be held in public other than for security reasons.

It is said that Blair wanted to avoid a public inquiry because he feared that he would be subjected to some kind of "show trial" were he ever allowed to be interviewed in public over this.

I say he should consider himself lucky only to be subjected to a show trial, as I would be happy to see him face an actual trial for the crime he committed.

Brown has, again, fatally misjudged the mood of the country. We have waited six long years for this matter to be examined. People genuinely want to know the thinking which was behind this catastrophe. The notion that it would be acceptable for the people who lied us into this war to meet in secret and then report to us that everyone acted in "good faith" is simply farcical.

The Government is preparing to table a rival motion on Wednesday promising widespread public hearings in an effort to peel off MPs reluctant to support a Conservative motion. Last night Labour MPs opposed to the war said they would only be satisfied by the majority of hearings being public.

Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport West, said: "We want a clear assurance that the inquiry will be open." Gordon Prentice, MP for Pendle, argued: "The whole way this has been done is so cack-handed and inept it is unbelievable.

"The inquiry should be open with evidence given on oath. There must be an opportunity for the leading players to be cross-examined."

The very least that Blair should be asked to do is answer for what he did in public and under oath. Anything less will not satisfy public anger.

Click title for full article.