Thursday, December 31, 2009

Official defends Gitmo plan.

Lieberman, McCain and Lindsay Graham are never slow to exploit an attempted terrorist attack to imply that Obama and the Democrats are weak on national security, which is why they are now calling for a halt of the transfer of any prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Yemen, in the light of the failed Christmas Day terrorist plot.

The White House are pushing back:

A senior Obama administration official pushed back against critics of the White House’s plans to transfer some detainees at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen as it moves toward closing the facility, saying the process for transfers are “consistent with our national security interests.”

“I am aware of a lot of people pointing back at the way the transfers were handled under the Bush administration that apparently they have some concerns about that,” said the official, who had not seen the senators’ letter. “I didn’t hear many of those concerns at the time, but there were obviously hundreds and hundreds of detainees that were transferred under the old regime.”


The official explained that the administration’s policy requires that Congress be notified of any transfers, that they are “consistent with our national security interest,” and that each case is reviewed “with a fine-toothed comb.”


“And we believe that each of those that we have done so far enhances our national security,” the official said.
“I think that some of us were struck by the fact when Al Qaeda on the Arabian peninsula itself was formed,” the official added, “one of the recruiting and motivational tools that it used in its initial announcement to generate sympathy for its cause for recruits was the facility at Guantanamo Bay.”
Anyone released from Guantanamo Bay who ended up working for al Qaeda, was released under the Bush administration, so why isn't there more questioning of why the Bush administration didn't properly vet the people they were letting go?

If McCain, Graham and Lieberman were genuinely concerned with national security - as opposed to making cheap opportunistic points - then they should be calling for a thorough examination of why the Bush regime released certain people who are now working against the US.

And, if they were serious about tackling terrorism, then they would also have to consider the value of Guantanamo Bay to al Qaeda as a recruiting tool.

Instead, they seek to make Obama responsible for the mistakes of the previous regime which they totally supported.

There's a cheapness to these Republican tactics which I find simply shameful. But it's sadly all too predictable. This is simply what these buggers do.

UPDATE:

I've commented before on the blatant double standard which is employed whenever a Democrat is in the White House, but this takes some beating:
President Obama wants us all to know he’s taking seriously the attempted terrorist attack of Christmas Day and that his administration is doing all it can to ensure our safety. But his words would be a lot more convincing if not delivered during time snatched between rounds of golf, swimming and sunbathing. . . .
Returning to Washington would have sent the world a powerful message of a president willing to drop everything and roll up his sleeves -- someone who really means business.
As I've pointed out before Bush didn't even bother to comment on Richard Reid's attempt to blow up an airplane for SIX DAYS, far less beat a path back to Washington.

So why is this behaviour utterly unacceptable once a Democrat is in the White House?

Why would Obama's message be "a lot more convincing if not delivered during time snatched between rounds of golf, swimming and sunbathing" and yet this behaviour was perfectly acceptable when Bush was president?



UPDATE II:



This is how ludicrous Republicans are becoming in an attempt to attack Obama. It is now suspicious for a President to spend time in his home state.

MADDEN: President Obama right now has suffered very greatly in the last few months because of the fight over health care, and he has very little political capital right now. So Republicans feel it is in vogue to criticize this president.

And then lastly, you have to also remember the fact that the president being on vacation in Hawaii, it’s much different than being in Texas. Hawaii to many Americans seems like a foreign place. And I think those images, the optics, hurt President Obama very badly.

You couldn't make that up. It's beyond pathetic.

Click here for full article.

Electing the Conservatives is a risk we must not take.

I feel quite sure that the Tories are going to walk away with the next election, despite the fact that Cameron is going to great lengths to avoid telling us what it is that he actually proposes doing once elected.

Today, Alastair Darling sets out why we should not elect the Tories by setting out the difference between what Labour has promised and what the Tories are hinting at:

And to demonstrate our determination to live within our means I will present legislation to the Commons next week which will set out how we'll halve the deficit over four years. It will not be easy, but to cut "further and faster" as the Tories have pledged would be reckless and dangerous. Even if they intend to halve the deficit one year earlier, they will have to find additional cuts or tax rises of £26bn. They owe it to every family and business to spell out what their plans are. This approach is foolish in the extreme. It would risk wrecking the recovery and would not be a platform from which this country can succeed.
It's worth remembering that the Tories wanted to "do nothing" during the recent economic crisis and were very happy to let the recession do it's worst.

Their theory was out of kilter with that of every other industrialised nation on Earth.

Jack Straw covered this subject in yesterday's Independent:
Now, as we start 2010, we face another big choice. Mr Darling has made clear that our first task for the new year must be to secure the recovery. We need to get the economy growing in order to get the deficit down. Mr Osborne, by contrast, threatens to choke off the recovery with cuts at the worst possible time. He and Mr Cameron promise an "age of austerity" – one in which ordinary families and the public services on which they depend would suffer.
For reasons best known to themselves, the Tories seem determined that the poorest members of society - those reliant on the very social programmes which Cameron is promising to devastate - should pay the price for an economic crisis brought about by the banking industry.

There is almost a Thatcherite glee in the way they are making these promises:
With Labour, Barack Obama, and most of the western world attempting to spend their way out of recession, the Tories have wasted no time in letting us all know that they intend to do things differently. They intend to get out of recession the way Tories always want to get out of recession: by cutting public services. Punishing the working class is simply what the Tories are best at; indeed, Philip Hammond, the shadow Treasury chief secretary, seems to almost be looking forward to the approbation which will be heading his way.
Hammond, destined to be the man to rein in public spending if the Tories gain power, also concedes he is "likely to become a great figure to pin up on the dartboard, and throw darts at. I am sure there will be short-term pain and brickbats."
It's the Margaret Thatcher complex which all Tories seek to emulate.
Both Straw and Darling are making valid arguments, but I think people have stopped listening to Labour over here.

That's how Cameron is leading in the polls, despite the fact that he is resolutely failing to tell us what he intends to do, other than vague Thatcherite notions that "this will hurt".

Quite why anyone would imagine a return to Thatcher's Britain would be a good thing is utterly beyond me.

And yet, that's what Cameron is hinting at and he remains ahead in the polls. The poorest members of society are about to pay the price for the mistakes of the world's banking community.

Why does Britain appear to be okay with that?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blatant Double Standards.



Obama is under siege because it took him THREE WHOLE DAYS to comment on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempt to blow up an airplane.

Does anyone remember Bush's response to Richard Reid's attempt to blow up an airplane?

Bush's Non-Response: While President Obama did not speak to the American people for three days after the Flight 253 incident, George W. Bush did not surface to address the December 22, 2001 attempted shoe bombing until six days after it occurred. Even then, as Huffington Post's Sam Stein recounted, "it was only in passing."

And that hardly caused a ripple. As the Boston Globe noted two days later on December 24, 2001:

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that President Bush continued to monitor the situation and receive updates at Camp David. Bush has not issued any statements about the incident.
Why is this blatant double standard allowed? Why are people attacking Obama for taking three days to comment when they said nothing when it took Bush six days and had no complaint that it took him so long?

Why are Democratic presidents always held to a stricter standard than Republicans?

Pat Buchanan's Torture American Style: Withhold meds from would-be Flight 253 bomber.



What is it about torture that gets so many right wingers excited?

Here Pat Buchanan argues that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's medication should be withheld.

Buchanan: ...frankly if that means you have to deny him pain medication because he's badly burned, I think you go ahead and do that. I'm not arguing for torture, but I am...

Spencer: You just did.

Buchanan: Nobody is, but I am arguing for hostile interrogations of this fellow, because our job is to protect American lives. It's not to make sure his Miranda rights haven't been violated.

Spencer: So you're arguing for torture but with a different euphemism for it?

It strikes me as extraordinary that, since the days of the Bush administration, right wing Americans now routinely argue for things which their nation has traditionally condemned.

They have somehow managed to equate torture with patriotism. I feel sure that future Republicans will look back on this period of their party's history with deep shame.

They have lost all sense of morality.

Activists and relatives held as Iran accuses Britain of backing protesters.

One of the reasons why I think Obama is right to stay quiet on the subject of the recent protests in Iran is that the government of Ahmadinejad is desperate to portray what is taking place there as somehow being influenced by the US, Zionists or the UK.

Indeed, yesterday they indulged in extraordinarily undiplomatic language when they accused Britain of being behind the protests as Iran started to arrest leading activists and their relatives.

The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, is said to have threatened Britain with "a slap in the mouth" after they summoned the ambassador to Tehran, Simon Gass, to listen to their grievances about supposed British involvement in the protests.

The official narrative of a western-backed opposition was reinforced by the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who described Sunday's events as a "nauseating masquerade" backed by Americans and "Zionists", according to the official news agency, Irna.
Ahmadinejad and Khamenei now both find themselves with their backs to the wall, so it was to be expected that they would seek to make any protests the work of Americans, Brits and Zionists.

Indeed, the situation is worrying enough for Khamenei to have ordered that his jet be prepared in case he needs to flee to Russia in the face of growing protests.
The media organization reports that the Supreme National Security Council ordered a check-up Sunday of the jet on standby to evacuate Khamenei and his family should the need arise.
Neo-con lunatics like Krauthammer continue to insist that Obama should be speaking out more to assist in the collapse of the Iranian regime, but to speak out would actually be throwing a lifeline to the Khamenei regime; as they would seize on this as proof of foreign interference.

Their behaviour is becoming increasingly erratic:

The warning came as opposition websites reported that 1,000 people had been arrested in Tehran alone on Sunday. The regime has stepped up the pressure by targeting its opponents' relatives, most notably the sister of the Nobel laureate and rights campaigner, Shirin Ebadi, and the brother-in-law of the reformist opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Ebadi, who is in London, said her sister, Noushin Ebadi, a lecturer in medical science at Tehran Azad university, was arrested at her home on Monday night. Noushin Ebadi was not a political activist but had been singled out in an attempt to force her Nobel peace prize-winning sibling to abandon her human rights activities, according to a statement from Shirin Ebadi on the reformist website, Rah-e Sabz. The International Committee for Human Rights in Iran condemned the arrest as "a kidnapping consistent with the tactics of criminal gangs".

They are beginning to look fairly desperate, so it would be foolish in the extreme to interfere in any way.

Click here for full article.

Execution row escalates as China dismisses UK criticism.

The Chinese government have been quick to dismiss British criticisms of their decision to go ahead and execute Akmal Shaikh, giving one the distinct impression that relations between the two country's is seriously undermined.

In a "difficult" meeting at the Foreign Office, the UK minister Ivan Lewis told the Chinese ambassador Fu Ying that her government had failed in its basic human rights responsibilities by ignoring representations about Shaikh's mental health. "It's a deeply depressing day for anyone with a modicum of compassion or commitment to justice," Lewis said.

The response from the Chinese government was swift and dismissive. An annual meeting between the two countries, scheduled for January in Beijing to discuss human rights, was cancelled.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told a press briefing in Beijing: "No one has the right to comment on China's judicial sovereignty. It is the common wish of people around the world to strike against the crime of drug trafficking. We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British government's unreasonable criticism of the case. We urge the British to correct their mistake in order to avoid harming China-UK relations."

So, the Chinese are now insisting that commenting on their judicial process may harm China-UK relations.

Anyone who protests over the fact that they have killed an innocent man, duped into carrying drugs due to his bipolar condition, is undermining relations between the two country's.

We are beginning to get a taste of how China will behave when she is the most powerful nation in the world.

It doesn't fill one with any degree of confidence.

Lewis went on:
"China cannot expect to receive the respect they yearn [for] from the international community until they abide by minimum standards of human rights. Engagement with China is non-negotiable and any alternative strategy is simply not credible. But by being so clear in our public criticism of China's handling of this case we are demonstrating that it is not business as usual."
Nevertheless, there will be no price for China to pay. No diplomats will be expelled for instance. We will merely have our annoyance noted, although the Chinese appear to consider even the fact that we have expressed an opinion as somehow an interference into their judicial process.

The Chinese are continuing to insist that there has been no miscarriage of justice here.

The Chinese embassy in London said Shaikh, who used to run a minicab firm in Kentish Town, north London, had no previous medical record of mental illness and that his rights and interests had been properly respected.

But campaigners said his mental health was never assessed while he was in prison and that the Chinese authorities repeatedly refused access to a forensic psychologist who offered to conduct a free assessment.

The legal charity Reprieve, which took on Shaikh's case, said today that China ignored evidence from six witnesses who came forward on Monday with tales of his vulnerability. These included a nun and a priest who worked at a centre for asylum seekers in Warsaw, where Shaikh moved five years ago as his mental state declined.

China are insisting that they showed their humanitarian side by allowing two of Shaikh's cousins to visit him and break the news to him that he was about to be executed.

It's hardly what the rest of us would consider an act of humanitarianism.

Click here for full article.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Year Since Israel's Offensive, Gaza Still Suffers.

The situation in Gaza, one year after the Israelis bombed the place back to the stone age, remains appalling:

One year after Israel launched its three-week offensive in Gaza that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and damaged or destroyed more than 50,000 homes in a campaign aimed at stopping Hamas rocket fire, the survivors are still living in rubble. And it is not for want of money that thousands of residents of the coastal enclave remain homeless this winter. Moved by the plight of Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians who were already reeling from a 2½-year economic siege imposed by Israel with help from Egypt and the U.S. even before Israel's air-and-ground assault had begun, international donors earlier this year pledged more than $4.5 billion to repair war damages. But that aid has failed to reach Gaza, according to Palestinians and relief agencies who accuse Israel of imposing Kafkaesque rules that bar from entry vital reconstruction materials and items as innocuous as glass, most schoolbooks, honey and family-size tubs of margarine.

Says Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA): "Because the Israelis are not allowing in any reconstruction material, that $4.5 billion is just a paper figure." With more than 80% of Gazans now surviving on humanitarian handouts from UNRWA, Gunness adds, "Palestinians are becoming more desperate and more extreme."

And yet, despite this scandal, Netanyahu stood up in the Knesset the other day to utterly rewrite his role in the continuing suffering of the Palestinians:
From day one, we told the Palestinians, the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians and the entire world that negotiations have to start right away. I think a call was even issued from right here, on the Knesset podium, to the Palestinian Authority. And it would be an understatement to say that we've never received a response.
The truth is that Netanyahu has refused to negotiate in any meaningful way with anyone, yet he portrays himself here as the one who is looking for peace, but receiving no response from the Palestinians. It's a fantasy world which he paints.

Then he lists the ways he feels his government have been thanked for their generosity:
What have we got from the other side? The Goldstone Report, complaints about building in Gilo and all kinds of unprecedented and unjustified preconditions.
The "unprecedented and unjustified preconditions" that he complains about are also known by the more mundane term: international law. He has been asked to stop illegal settlement building, and it is that request which he is treating with such horror.

The reality on the ground could not be more different from the picture which Netanyahu is painting:

Relief officials estimate that Gaza needs 40,000 tons of cement and 25,000 tons of iron to start repairing the homes, hospitals, schools and shops destroyed during Israel's offensive. But so far, according to GISHA, an Israeli legal-rights group, the Israelis have allowed only 19 trucks carrying construction material into Gaza since the war ended last January. "You could say that Israel has bombed Gaza back into the mud age," says UNRWA's Gunness, "because that's what they're building their houses out of now — mud."

Without parts to replace machinery damaged in the war, 97% of Gaza's factories have shut down, raising unemployment higher than 43%. With scarce sources of income, many Gazans would probably starve if not for food handouts from the U.N. and other agencies. More than 40,000 Gazans have no electricity; 10,000 have no running water in their homes; and because Israel bans entry of the spare parts needed to run Gaza's sewage-treatment plant, every day 87 million liters of sewage are dumped into the Mediterranean (which washes up on Israel's beaches too).

Although the international community occasionally protests Gaza's ongoing tragedy, so far no real pressure has been put on Israel to loosen its stranglehold.

The fact that this last sentence appears in Time Magazine, shows how scandalous this has now become.

Where is the international pressure on Israel to stop this collective punishment of the Palestinian people? Why is Netanyahu allowed to stand in the Knesset and spout this nonsense without the international community coming down on his head?

When will Obama place some pressure on the Israelis to comply with international law? It shames all of us that we sit quietly by while this takes place.

Click here for full article.

British man said to be mentally ill executed in China.

I can't be the only person who is appalled by this:

A British man convicted of drug smuggling in China has been executed, the Foreign Office has confirmed. Akmal Shaikh, 53, a father-of-three, of London, had denied any wrongdoing and his family said he was mentally ill. The execution took place despite repeated calls from his family and the British government for clemency.
This has been done despite the fact that Shaikh went to China under the impression that he was about to be made into a Chinese pop star and that the Chinese had been told repeatedly that he was bipolar and had been tricked into carrying the drug package by the very people who had promised him his highly unlikely career in music.

The Chinese have remained utterly unmoved by any appeals for clemency, and have gone ahead with the first execution of an EU citizen in China for over fifty years.
In a statement issued after the execution, the Chinese Embassy said Mr Shaikh's rights "were properly respected and guaranteed" and British concerns were "duly noted and taken into consideration". It said: "As for his possible mental illness which has been much talked about, there apparently has been no previous medical record."
The execution has produced uncharacteristically sharp language from British MP's:

In a statement, Mr Brown said: "I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted.

"I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.

"At this time our thoughts are with Mr Shaikh's family and friends and I send them our sincere condolences."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband also condemned the execution.

He said the UK was opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, but also "deeply regretted" that his specific concerns in this case, including "mental health issues, and inadequate professional interpretation" had been ignored.

Conservative leader David Cameron echoed the condemnation, saying he "deplored and deeply regretted" the execution.

China's reputation has recently taken a battering over Copenhagen, but it's relations with Britain are now at an all time low with each political party lining up to condemn this disgraceful decision.

It's hard to work out just what the Chinese feel they have accomplished by this action. It strikes me as a situation in which they could have easily given clemency and gone some way to repair their image after Copenhagen, but it is not the path they have chosen.

Instead, they have chosen to execute a bipolar man for a crime which few of us believe he even understood he had committed.

Quite appalling.

Click here for full article.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Peter Hoekstra's Buffoonery: 'Fair' to hold Obama responsible for terror attack'.



Hoekstra would no doubt consider it outrageous were anyone to blame the Bush administration for the 9-11 attacks, but watch how quickly he finds fault with the Obama team for failing to prevent a failed terrorist attack.

"You were quoted in the Detroit Free Press this morning as saying that, you know, the key is to connect the dots and maybe the Obama administration will now realize that. Is it really fair to hold the Obama administration responsible here?" asked Wallace.

"Yeah, I think it really is," replied Hoekstra. "Connecting the dots here is not really on this particular case. It's connecting the dots that we've seen over the last 11 months, over the last eight years."
These guys are simply shameless.

Final hours for Briton on China's death row.

First we had the sabotaging of the Copenhagen climate change talks, quickly followed by the sentencing of Liu Xiaobo to 11 years for daring to question state authority, and now we hear that Akmal Shaikh, despite pleas for clemency from the British government, is to face the death penalty.

The Chinese spent fortunes on the Olympics, determined to announce their arrival as major players on the world stage, and one felt as if they were keen to show themselves in a kinder light than they had previously been held.

But all of that appears in recent weeks to have gone out of the window.

Akmal Shaikh, a 53-year-old father of five who has been accused of smuggling four kilos of heroin into China's western Xinjiang province in 2007, could become the first Briton to be executed in China in modern times, and the first EU national to face the death penalty there in 50 years. But he has not been informed that his execution by a bullet to the neck has been scheduled for 10.30 tomorrow morning. The Chinese government says the information is being withheld on "humanitarian grounds".

Mr Shaikh's friends and family say he suffers from bipolar disorder and was too ill to stand trial. His cousins Soohail and Nasir Shaikh have travelled to China to try and deliver pleas for mercy to President Hu Jintao. But so far those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

The China which spent millions trying to dazzle us at The Bird's Nest, no longer appears to care what the world thinks of it.

They now sound like members of the American Republican party, insisting that "Chinese interests" must come before the good of the planet, even if doing so makes the rest of the world hostile towards them.

"I like to think the Chinese will show compassion but I don't know," Mr Stafford Smith said yesterday. "I think on one level China is aggravated by what happened at Copenhagen, but I hope it won't hold that against him."

China executes more people than all other countries put together but rarely executes Westerners. The Foreign Office says it has pressed hard for his release. Over the last six months, the UK has forcibly raised the case with senior Chinese officials 10 times to no effect. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the actor Stephen Fry are among many who have tried to intercede.

I would hope that the Chinese will now show clemency towards a man who many say is mentally ill, but after Copenhagen and the incarceration of Xiaobo, I have lost faith that China cares what the rest of the world thinks of them at all.

Click here for full article.

Opposition leader's nephew among nine dead amid rioting and bloodshed in Iran.

I wish I had some optimistic prediction as to how this is going to pan out, but I don't:

Iran was plunged deeper into crisis on a day of religious mourning yesterday as political tensions erupted into violence that left at least nine dead, including a nephew of the main opposition leader.

Mayhem unfolded in Tehran after a brutal crackdown in which security forces fired on protesters gathered on Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shia calendar. The shootings killed at least four people, with another said to have died from head injuries after being beaten by police. Among the dead was Ali Mousavi, a nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, leader of the reformist movement. He was reported to have been shot through the heart.

Demonstrators – many chanting slogans against Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – retaliated by attacking members of the security forces, in some cases beating them with their own batons. Police cars were set on fire and photographs appeared to show riot officers retreating under a hail of stones.

A further four people were killed and many others injured in the northern city of Tabriz, according to reformist websites. Clashes were also reported in several other cities, including Isfahan, Shiraz, Arak, Mashhad, Babol and Najafabad.

In the summer it appeared as if the state had shown the opposition that it was prepared to use more violence than they could stomach. And yet, the opposition now rise again.

Khamenei must surely now regret the fact that he threw his weight so solidly behind Ahmadinejad, as he now finds his own position as Supreme Leader being questioned. But, it's not something he is going to give up lightly, so there will be further bloodshed should the protests continue.

Although there are hints that the opposition are becoming even more fearless:
The violent response of the protesters to the security forces was also unprecedented and suggested that many are becoming fearless in the face of state repression. While many demonstrators in the post-election protests covered their faces, footage from videos shown yesterday on YouTube showed most people with their faces exposed.
This is no longer simply about reversing the election of Ahmadinejad, the crowds are now questioning the legitimacy of Khamenei, which is why I feel there will be no way out of this without terrible bloodshed. Khamenei is not going to give up his position without a considerable fight.

Click here for full article.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Glenn Beck: Media Matters' 2009 Misinformer of the Year



Media Matters have named Glenn Beck as the Misinformer of the Year:

Glenn Beck's well of ridiculous was deep and poisonous before he launched his Fox News show, but the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States -- and the permissive cheerleading of his Fox News honchos -- uncorked the former Morning Zoo shock jock's unique brand of vitriol, stage theatrics, and hyperbolic fright, making him an easy choice for Media Matters' 2009 Misinformer of the Year.

When he wasn't calling the president a racist, portraying progressive leaders as vampires who can only be stopped by "driv[ing] a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers," or pushing the legitimacy of seceding from the country, Beck obsessively compared Democrats in Washington to Nazis and fascists and "the early days of Adolf Hitler." He wondered, "Is this where we're headed," while showing images of Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin; decoded the secret language of Marxists; and compared the government to "heroin pushers" who were "using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state."

Like his predecessor, Beck spat on scruples, frequently announcing his goal to get administration officials fired. He increasingly acted not as a media figure, but as the head of a political movement, while helping to bring fringe conspiracies of a one-world government into the national discourse.

And he all too frequently helped to set the mainstream media's agenda.

I couldn't agree more.

Read the rest here.

Gaza ceasefire in jeopardy as six Palestinians are shot.

What the Hell is Netanyahu up to?

Israeli troops yesterday shot dead six Palestinians in two separate incidents, as evidence emerged that an increasingly fragile ceasefire between armed groups loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement and Israel appeared to be in danger of breaking down.

The shootings, the most serious violence in months, came a day before today's first anniversary of the outbreak of Israel's war against Gaza in which almost 1,400 Palestinians died – and as allegations have emerged from Israeli human rights campaigners who opposed the war that they are facing concerted attempts to silence them.

Three of the Palestinians were killed in an airstrike just inside the Gaza border. According to Israeli officials they had been scouting the area for a possible infiltration operation, but according to Hamas officials and medics they had been searching for scrap metal to salvage.

More serious in its implications, however, was the shooting dead of three members of Fatah's armed wing – the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades – in a raid on the northern West Bank city of Nablus, apparently in retaliation for the shooting of an Israeli driving near the settlement at Shavei Shomron. Relatives who witnessed the Nablus shootings said soldiers fired at two of the men without warning. An Israeli army spokesman, Major Peter Lerner, said troops fired after the three men failed to respond to calls to surrender.

These attacks come at a time when Obama is hoping to kick start the peace process and they have been attacked by Abbas as an attempt to derail the peace process.
An aide to Abbas described the killings as a "grave Israeli escalation" which showed "Israel is not interested in peace and is trying to explode the situation".
These attacks come at the same time as Israeli human rights groups are complaining about the way the Israeli government are treating them since they spoke out against the invasion of Gaza.

In its annual report, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel states: "Instead of taking an honest look at its reflection, Israeli society and its institutions chose to smash the mirror."

Although much attention has been focused on the continuing plight of Gaza's residents, still suffering under a prolonged Israeli economic siege that has prevented rebuilding of the war-damaged coastal strip, there has been less focus on the treatment of those Israelis who campaigned against the war and for the ending of the blockade.

"There has been a huge change in the way the government treats those who dissent," says Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing several human rights groups. This process, he adds, has accelerated in the year since the attacks in Gaza: "The gloves have come off."

Sari Bashi, director of human rights group Gisha, says Israeli campaigners in this field "know that red lines were crossed in Gaza, that the Israeli military relaxed its restraints on the use of force and that terrible violations were taking place". But she accuses the Israeli government of using a "shoot-the-messenger" tactic to deal with such concerns.

"Instead of addressing credible claims of human rights violations, there have been attempts to undermine the legitimacy of anyone trying to raise awareness," she says.

The Israeli army have complained that groups such as Breaking The Silence have received funding from the EU, as well as from Britain, Spain and the Netherlands, and are claiming that accepting such funding amounts to Breaking the Silence serving "foreign interests".

One doesn't know where to begin to address such an hypocrisy. The Israeli government receives huge amounts of money from the US, some of which it redirects to US politicians who will vote in favour of Israel in the US Senate. Is Israel now against such funding by foreigners? Would she agree to make such funding illegal, or would she like this rule only to apply to funding which comes to Israeli protest groups which protest against Israel's actions?

This year, Knesset members initiated a draft law that would require Israeli civil society organisations to state their funding sources in every document and every media interview. But Bashi points out that such financing is already transparent. "We report our sources of funding to three separate organisations and on our website," she says.

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, says the concern is over whether groups defined as non-governmental organisations should receive contributions from overseas governments. "No one has in any way inhibited their activities," he said of human rights groups in Israel. He described the complaints of de-legitimisation as "attempts to create a bogeyman".

So, Israeli civil society organisations are to be held to a much higher standard than the Israeli government itself. It's an almost classic case of attack the messenger, rather than challenge the message. "Let's talk about who is funding these groups rather than listen to what the soldiers they have recruited have to say. But don't for God's sake ask where we get our money from or what we use it for."

Click here for full article.

Leading article: A victory that may come to define the Obama presidency.

I was pleased reading yesterday's Independent editorial, that they have come to the same conclusion as I have regarding Obama's healthcare bill.

They begin by admitting that it does not give everything that progressives like myself might want:

For left-wing Democrats, abandonment of the so-called public option, the direct provision by the state of health insurance for the poor, is a bitter pill.

That is almost certainly a lost cause now, a casualty of a savage Senate battle against resurgent Republicans who closed ranks against Obama's supposedly "socialist" health reforms with frantic and, at times, disconcerting zeal.

But they ask that we not allow that disappointment to blind us to the scale of the achievement he is on the brink of pulling off:

Nevertheless, we should not lose ourselves in all the details about messy compromises, and so miss the vital significance of what Mr Obama is tantalisingly close to achieving. The President is surely right to assert that most of a loaf is better than no loaf at all, and to describe his health reform package as the most important item of social policy in America since the 1930s.

Tens of millions of poor Americans who have been denied healthcare cover in the past can in all likelihood look forward quite soon to a day when they will be able to face the prospect of illness with a little more equanimity than they do now. Under the new bill, most people who are not currently covered by Medicaid – the existing federal and state-funded insurance scheme for those on low incomes – will either have access to it, or will receive subsidies to obtain health insurance elsewhere. Businesses will be obliged to offer coverage to their employees. The number of potential beneficiaries of these changes is huge, and could affect the lives of more than 30 million people.

Democratic presidents and politicians since the era of Teddy Roosevelt have fought and lost battles to set up a comprehensive national system of health insurance for Americans – a system that would benefit the many, not just the few. The Clintons tried their hand at this and failed. If Mr Obama closes this deal, he has a chance to earn a place in American history as a great reformer.

The Democrats have spent seventy years attempting to change America's utterly unfair health system and it would be churlish to deride Obama's achievement simply because he did not manage to bring home the entire loaf.

Progress in these matters is rarely achieved in one giant step, much as we would like that to be so, but Obama has taken a very large step in the right direction.

Until the Democrats tackle the problem of the blue dogs in their midst then proper universal healthcare will always be beyond their grasp.

Click here for full article.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

President Obama: I'm Getting 95% of What I Want on Reform in Health Care Bill.



At least he's stopped pretending that he didn't campaign on the public option. This is a much more honest answer; he couldn't get everything he wanted because of the Blue Dogs.

Krauthammer Blames Obama For Iranian Regime's Survival.

According to Charles Krauthammer, it is Obama's fault that the Iranian protest over last summer did not result in the collapse of the Iranian regime.

Obama responded by distancing himself from this new birth of freedom. First, scandalous silence. Then, a few grudging words. Then relentless engagement with the murderous regime. With offer after offer, gesture after gesture — to not Iran, but the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” as Obama ever so respectfully called these clerical fascists — the U.S. conferred legitimacy on a regime desperate to regain it.

Why is this so important? Because revolutions succeed at that singular moment, that imperceptible historical inflection, when the people, and particularly those in power, realize that the regime has lost the mandate of heaven. With this weakening dictatorship desperate for affirmation, why is the U.S. repeatedly offering just such affirmation?
Yeah, and how did eight years of Bush's constant bullying work out then? But Krauthammer is displaying a well known neo-con trait; insist that your tactics are the only ones which will work even when they have been shown to have repeatedly failed.

I find their insistence that everything is Obama's fault - from the economic collapse which occurred under the Bush regime, to the fact that Ahmadinejad hasn't gotten down on his knees and offered to disarm - simply tiresome.

And, of course, behind this insistence that Obama alone could bring about the collapse of the Iranian regime is the belief in the falsehood that Ronald Reagan brought down the Soviet Union single handedly.

This is why it is so hard to engage in any meaningful dialogue with neo-cons, they simply supply their own set of facts, which bear little relation to how anyone else sees the world.

Click here for full article.

Cameron Would Repeal Hunting Ban.

I've said often that David Cameron enjoys his lead in the polls because he is very careful not to tell us what his actual policies will be. On the few occasions when he has indicated what he would do were he the Prime Minister; for example, the fact that he proposed doing nothing during the economic collapse and would have allowed the market to do whatever damage it would have done, left me thinking that - were he honest about his policies - he would be nowhere near as electable as he currently appears to be.

Now, he has spoken out to say that the new Conservative government would repeal the ban on fox hunting. That strikes me as simply perverse. If he wants to lose his party's image as the nasty party who looks out for toffs then this is precisely the wrong way to go about it.

Writing in The Independent today, the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn says: "Quite why this is something that would be a priority for a Tory government, instead of the economy or tackling other concerns, is hard to explain to the public and [the Conservatives] have failed to do so."

Last night, Mr Benn explained: "David Cameron used to hunt foxes. He talked about fox-hunting in his first speech to Parliament, and he has said that if he becomes Prime Minister he will get rid of the fox-hunting ban.

"But like the vast majority of people, I think the barbaric act of letting dogs tear foxes to pieces should not return to our countryside. If you think the Tories have changed, their views on fox-hunting with dogs make it absolutely clear that their priorities haven't."
The Independent are portraying this as Brown launching yet another class war against the Tories, but I don't agree with the way they have chosen to frame this. The person who chose to raise this subject was Cameron by promising to repeal fox hunting, and fox hunting is a sport which is indulged in only by the British upper class. There are no housing schemes where fox hunting is practiced.

One senior Labour source said: "We are not saying hunting will be the centrepiece of our election campaign. But it is an issue that concerns many people and it says something about the Conservatives. They say 'we are all in it together' but their policies, whether on inheritance tax or hunting, show that under a Cameron government there would be one rule for their friends and another for the rest of us."

When Labour's focus groups remind voters of the Tories' stance on hunting, many people are said to reply: "I guess they haven't changed." People are surprised that Mr Cameron wants to overturn the ban, and Labour believes the policy undermines his claim to have modernised the Conservative Party.

It's a simply bizarre thing for Cameron to have taken a stance on as it simply reinforces the image of his shadow cabinet as a bunch of old Etonians, hopelessly out of touch with the concerns and hopes of millions of ordinary Brits.

And yet, that is where he has chosen to go. Between this and his promise to hack away at public services, I actually think there is more than enough to tell us what kind of Tory party he would lead if elected.

And yet, they look odds on to walk into Downing Street at the next election. Unbelievable.

Click here for full article.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Report Finds Acorn Broke No Laws.

Fox News, Michelle Malkin, and the other right wing loons should be embarrassed and mortified by this latest report, but they won't be:

The controversial community organizing group Acorn has not broken any laws in the last five years, according to a Congressional Research Service report released Tuesday evening.

The report, requested by Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, said that federal agencies, mainly the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development, have awarded money to the group 48 times since 2005. But, in none of those instances did Acorn violate the terms of their funding, the report said.

Since the 2008 elections, the group, which works primarily to expand voter registration and affordable housing, has become a key Republican target. A series of scandals brought to light by conservative activists led to multiple Congressional hearings and repeated attempts to deny it taxpayer funding.

Acorn has been the subject of scores of investigations—a total of 46 inquiries by federal, state, and local agencies, including the FBI and the Treasury Department, and five by Congress as of October 2009, according to the report.

The report found no evidence that voters attempting to cast ballots at the polls had been improperly registered by Acorn, a chief Republican accusation.

They simply won't report that their claims have been found to be utterly wrong and they'll still use the word Acorn as a synonym for all that is wrong with leftist thinking.

They really are a shameless bunch. And the truth matters not a jot to them.

Click here for full article.

US Senate passes Obama's landmark healthcare bill.

I know that there are many on the left who have attacked Obama and let their deep frustration be known because the new healthcare bill does not include a public option, but I don't agree with Glenn Greenwald that this is because Obama never wanted such a thing. I think this is much more to do with the fact that Blue Dog Democrats aren't really Democrats in any meaningful sense of that term, and that the bill Obama has come up with it simply the best one that he could get these buggers to agree to.

The early-morning vote in the first Christmas Eve session for decades came after months of intense negotiations by the president's allies in the Senate, who were forced to wrangle for every Democratic vote in the chamber to overcome Republican opposition.
Republicans have long opposed any reform of American healthcare, lying to the American public by claiming that their healthcare is the best in the world, so Obama was never going to get any support from that side of the aisle; which, of course, gave an incredible amount of power to the Joe Lieberman's of this world who were able to strip all the best bits out of the bill in order to please their corporate sponsors.

Nevertheless, it is an achievement for Obama, one which - although short of what many progressives would like to see - still gives healthcare protection to millions who presently do not have it.

Negotiators will have to iron out differences between the two bills on coverage for abortion. Among other distinctions, the Senate-passed bill does not establish a government-run health insurance programme, a provision sought by Obama and congressional liberals.

The Senate bill passed on a 60-39 party line vote.

The overhaul is expected to extend health insurance to 30 million Americans who currently lack it. For the first time, Americans will be required to obtain health insurance, and insurers will be forbidden from denying coverage based on patients' pre-existing conditions.

Those who cannot get insurance through their employers will have access to a government-regulated health insurance exchange and may receive subsidies. A government-run insurance programme for the poor will be vastly expanded.

America won't begin to see the kind of bills many progressives want to see until the Democratic party starts challenging the Blue Dog Democrats and replacing them with people who believe in what the Democratic Party is supposed to believe in.

The bill has angered the president's allies on the left, who have criticised the exclusion of a public health insurance programme and restrictions on abortion coverage, both modifications necessary to win over conservative Democrats.

Senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, an independent who is nominally allied with the Democrats, forced the removal of a public insurance programme, angering many Democrats, while Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, agreed to support the bill only after it was amended on insurance coverage for abortion.

The Democrats should start by putting a strong candidate up against Lieberman and making sure his or her campaign is financed to the hilt.

Nothing would give me greater joy than to see that little toad run out of office.

Click here for full article.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sarah Palin the Liar.

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Palin is in the news again as her "death panel" comments are found to be The Lie of The Year.

Countdown's Year End Palin 'Whackjob Jamboree'.

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Oh, what would 2009 have been without her? Without that strange mixture of extreme self confidence and utter stupidity?

Jack Straw faces Iraq inquiry grilling over Tony Blair letter.

Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion, is to face questioning from the Chilcot Inquiry into a letter he sent Tony Blair on the eve of the invasion, urging that British troops desist from taking part in the invasion and, instead, help with the clearing up after the fighting was over.

Straw's attitude to the Iraq war has always been under question, as he was known to be aligned with Colin Powell, one of the more sensible members of the Bush administration who was calling for restraint.

It has been claimed that in the letter Straw suggested the UK should offer the Americans "political and moral support" in their campaign against Saddam Hussein, but not military backing.

He reportedly urged Blair to tell George Bush that British troops would help clear up the mess and keep the peace once the war was over, but could play no part in Saddam's overthrow.

The US president had offered Blair the chance to pull out, and the then chief of the defence staff, Lord Boyce, has told the Chilcot inquiry that the US invasion would not have been delayed by more than a week if British military forces had been held back at the last minute.

Should Straw have actually said what he is claimed to have said in this letter, then an extra onus of responsibility will be placed on the shoulders of Tony Blair, who will be seen to be acting against the advice of both his Foreign Secretary and his Attorney General, the man who famously - and we suspect under extreme pressure from Downing Street - changed his advice on the legality of the war at the very last minute.
Downing Street has never denied the existence of Straw's letter, but claims he did not oppose British involvement in the war, and instead merely set out the options for how the UK could remain involved in Iraq's reconstruction in the event of MPs voting to oppose British military involvement.
Downing Street, as it was run during the time of Blair, is also known to be highly selective in it's reading of things like Straw's letter, so we can take what they say the letter said with a huge pinch of salt.

There have certainly been many indications since the war that Blair was entertaining no doubts at all concerning the war on terror, and speaking in a way which alarmed many seasoned Whitehall veterans:

Tony Blair delivered one of the most fascinating and revealing speeches of his premiership to Rupert Murdoch, a gathering of News Corp executives and assorted celebrities gathered at Pebble Beach in California. His theme was leadership and the inner convictions needed to sustain it. Turning to what he called "the debate about terrorism or security," he said: "I have many opponents on the subject: but complete inner-confidence in the analysis of the struggle we face."

And the implications of this total ring of self-confidence in these days of global anxiety and uncertainty?

"In these times, caution is error; to hesitate is to lose."

For his critics, this was primary-colours thinking verging on the millenarian. As a seasoned Whitehall veteran, who had closely watched Mr Blair in action during most of his wars, put it privately shortly after the Pebble Beach oration: "It's TB and the Holy Grail. He really does see himself as a latter-day crusader. It's dangerous."

Here the old sweat paused for thought and said: "Thank God Bush and Blair weren't in charge during the Cuban missile crisis."

Since leaving office Blair has, if anything, become more convinced that he was right about this conflict and that the rest of us were wrong. It was that attitude which led him to declare that he would have invaded anyway, even if he knew that Saddam did not possess WMD.

He simply can't accept that he got this one badly wrong and his pontifications on the subject have left even his biographer warning that his entire reputation will be ruined unless he accepts that mistakes were made.
Tony Blair's biographer, who once described him as a "political colossus" with achievements as least as great as Margaret Thatcher's, has warned that his reputation will be destroyed if he refuses to apologise for his errors over the Iraq war.

Writing in today's Observer, Anthony Seldon argues that the former prime minister who led Labour to three election victories will "diminish everything else he achieved" if he continues to try to justify his actions and refuses to show "contrition".


He accuses Blair of "perversity" and "insensitivity".


Seldon says Blair possessed a rare gift for understanding the public mood and an ability to speak in a way "that touched the British psyche better than any prime minster since Winston Churchill".
But he argues that he "lost it" when he turned from a populist to a conviction politician, driven by his Christian beliefs and a sense of moral purpose that made him sure he was always right.
Personally, I think that Iraq was a mistake of such magnitude that it dwarfed Blair's other achievements anyway, but the Chilcot Inquiry will tell us to what extent Blair was acting out of his own sense of conviction, and how many people were warning him against what he was proposing to do.

Click here for full article.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Matalin Calls Democrats 'Jihadists' and Social Security and Medicare 'Entitlement Jihads'.



The Republicans never fail to link their opponents to their countries enemies, but this is especially ridiculous.

KING: Let's start, David Axelrod says we're on the one-yard line deep in the red zone. Mary Matalin, you don't like this bill, but are Democrats going to get it?

MATALIN: They are and they're going to get something more, a big loss in the midterms. We've been saying this all along. The more they get, the rougher it's going to be for them in the midterms. And they've made that political calculation that their sacrificial lambs are going to be the blue dogs and they're going to lose all those blue dogs and they may even lose their majority and so be it. They've been on this jihad for 70 years, and they're going to throw over all competitive seats to do it.

And I don't know what kind of party that is. That leaves left and the Democratic Party, the urban centers, this is tyranny of the minority. Two-thirds of the country don't want this. And one-third of these jihadists, these health care jihadists do. I guess that's how democracy in the Obama era works.
And I love how she predicts a Democrat collapse in the mid terms. Republicans love to do this. They secretly believe that all Americans think the way they do and that, should the Democrats deliver on what they promised during the election, that they will be punished for doing so.

Why would anyone listen to someone who speaks of people who want universal health care as "health care jihadists"?