Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Déjà Vu All Over Again...



Satchi and Satchi have revealed their handiwork for the coming election. A series of posters bearing an image of Gordon Brown and various messages like, "I let 80,000 criminals out of jail early - vote for me." "I took billions from pensions - vote for me," says another one.

It's so typical of the way Satchi and Satchi operate. These posters tell us nothing about what the Tories intend to do, but then we do have a precedent of Satchi and Satchi choosing to highlight what they perceived as a Labour failing.

In 1979 unemployment in Britain was around a million when Satchi produced this poster. Under Thatcher's government unemployment in the UK soared to 3 million, with some economists claiming that the true figure - Thatcher constantly changed the way the figure was calculated - was nearer to 4 million.

So, if they repeat that precedent, we can expect Cameron to release some 240,000 prisoners early and to take trillions from people's pensions.

Frum and McClellan Slam Tea Partiers.



The way the Tea Party protesters are dragging the Republican party towards the far right becomes especially obvious when one looks at the reaction of both Frum and McClellan to some of the things which the Tea Party protesters are demanding.

FRUM: When you bring on two people on to an important show like this, and they represent themselves as leading a conservative and libertarian uprising against the president, and you say what you would really like to do, and they say, we would like to abolish Social Security, if given half a chance, is that helpful to the Republican Party? There probably aren’t even two percent of the members of the Republican Party who think that way. But that — those are the people on television. That’s not helpful. [...]

MCCLELLAN: And then you also had the comments from the one Tea Party activist that was at the rally over the weekend in Searchlight, referring to President Obama as a terrorist. I mean, that’s just outrageous. You know, I think that there are probably many decent people in the Tea Party movement that have some legitimate concerns about their economic security. [...]

But this is a divisive protest movement that plays too much to people’s fears and hatred. And it’s got limited appeal. I think that after the 2010 elections, you’re going to see this party or the Tea Party movement dissipate to a great degree.
… It has limited influence. It really hasn’t shown itself to be a strong, powerful force, even within the Republican Party. However, it is pushing Republicans too far to the right.
Traditional conservatives recognise the danger of the party pandering to these lunatics, but much of the present day Republican party seem terrified to stand up to this insane fringe.

And here is the reactionary bullshit which outraged Frum so much.



King reminded them that Obama actually won the last election, but that point didn't seem to overly concern them.
KING: But, Wayne, as last time I checked, Obama won the election. He ran on campaign platform, and he won on it. That goes back to the founding fathers.

WAYNE ALLYN ROOT, LIBERTARIAN: You know, when I wrote my book, it was right after Obama had won the election and that title, you know, empowering the citizen revolution with god, guns, gambling and tax cuts, my book was about what I predicted. A citizen revolution from Obama's victory, I felt there'd be a coalition of conservatives, of disgruntled Republicans, of libertarians like me of blue dog Democrats, of taxpayers, small business people, of Christians, and most importantly of taxpayers and home schooled parents.


I think these are the groups that I found at the tea party rally. I speak at rallies all over the country. And those groups are angry. We want to take back our country, Larry. We believe there is an entitlement class.


KING: I know.


ROOT: And there's a taxpayer class, and we're standing up for the people that pay the taxes and the people that create the jobs. You can't keep raping us to give it to the entitlement class and think that the country will go on. It just can't go on, Larry.
The language Root employs, with it's imagery of rape and "taking our country back", is simply an inability for some in the US to accept the democratic decision of the majority and to try and put this rejection of the democratic wishes of the majority into a flattering light.

Frum and McClellan are right to say that this hurts the Republican party. These people come across as deranged extremists. And their talk of "taking our country back" sounds an awful lot like they only accept democracy when it yields results that they agree with.

Sky ordered to sell sports channels at wholesale price.

Ofcom have ordered Rupert Murdoch to sell Sky Sports to other broadcasters at a wholesale price.

Ofcom said its decision, after a three-year investigation into the industry, would ensure "fair and effective competition".

Parent company BSkyB immediately said it would challenge Ofcom's conclusions before the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

It said today: "Ofcom has concluded that Sky has market power in the wholesale provision of premium channels. Ofcom has also concluded that Sky exploits this market power by restricting the distribution of its premium channels to rival pay TV providers. This prevents fair and effective competition, reduces consumer choice and holds back innovation and investment by Sky's rivals.

"Today's decisions are therefore designed to ensure fair and effective competition which should lead to greater investment, innovation and choice for consumers."

Sky has almost monopoly control when it comes to cable TV services in Britain, and I find this decision by Ofcom especially interesting because there are rumours that David Cameron has done a deal with Rupert Murdoch, which gives the Tory party the support of Murdoch's newspapers, in return for Cameron seeing off what Murdoch views as the threats from Ofcom.

And the links between Tory changes in policy and the wishes of the Murdoch family have become blatantly obvious:

In April 2008, James Murdoch complained bitterly about the media regulator Ofcom in his first major speech after taking over as chief executive of News Corporation in Europe and Asia. The following year, David Cameron announced that a Conservative government would cut Ofcom down to size.

Last summer James Murdoch attacked the "abysmal record" of the BBC Trust – the body created by Labour to over see the BBC – in a lecture he gave at the Edinburgh Festival, singling out its "total failure" to stop the BBC buying the Lonely Planet travel guides, a takeover that Murdoch denounced as an "egregious" invasion of private enterprise by the state. Less than two months later, Jeremy Hunt promised that the Tories would abolish the Trust.

In the same lecture, Murdoch complained that BBC performers like Jonathan Ross are being paid salaries that "no commercial competitor can afford". He had barely uttered the words before Ed Vaizey, a shadow media minister, promised that a Tory government would compel the BBC to publish the salaries of its top performers.

So Murdoch will take this to appeal and try to play out the clock until Cameron's Tories get elected and then the Tories will proceed to do whatever he wishes them to do so that Sky's monopoly can be maintained.

There's nothing surprising in Murdoch's behaviour, but it does seem a little odd that a Tory party who would have us believe they believe in the free markets and competition find themselves fighting to maintain Murdoch's monopoly.

It's yet another example that Cameron will ditch any principle if he thinks it will get him into Downing Street.

Click here for full article.

Israel lobby presses Congress to soften Obama's tough stance on Netanyahu.

As surely as night follows day, this was bound to happen:

Aipac has persuaded more than three-quarters of the members of the US House of Representatives to sign a letter calling for an end to public criticism of Israel and urging the US to "reinforce" its relationship with the Jewish state.

The open letter, which has been circulating among members of Congress for the last week, says that while it is recognised that there will be differences between the two countries, they should be kept behind closed doors. "Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence," it says.

The public differences, and revelations of Obama's private snubs of Netanyahu at the White House last week, have proved embarrassing to the Israeli leader at home, where he has been accused of undermining Israel's most important relationship.

And, of course, the effect that this dispute is having on Netanyahu at home is the very point of what Obama is doing. Bringing pressure to bear on Netanyahu to force him to become serious about negotiating with the Palestinians. Now, with the present coalition that Netanyahu has formed this will be impossible. But he could always form a new coalition with Kadima; but I suspect Netanyahu would rather attempt to see out the Obama presidency in the hope that he is a one term president like Jimmy Carter.

But the Aipac letter, signed by both Steny Hoyer, the Democrat majority leader, and Eric Cantor, the Republican whip, demands that Obama "take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish state".

It takes a particular kind of spinelessness to imply that it is for Obama to reduce the tensions, when it is Netanyahu who is behaving in clear violation of international law.

But I don't see Obama stepping back from this, nor do others.

Robert Malley, a former special assistant to President Bill Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs, said the administration's decision to take a once routine disagreement over settlement construction in East Jerusalem and turn it in to a confrontation is a reflection of the determination in the White House.

"This episode tells us more about the past and the future than the present. It's a reflection of the accumulated frustration and mistrust of the Netanyahu government by the White House. For the future, they're headed for a collision on the pace and nature of peace negotiations," he said. "We're seeing determination."

This has now become, according to some in the administration, about Obama's credibility.
A source, who is consulted by administration officials on Israel policy but did not wish to be named, said that having chosen to take Netanyahu on, Obama cannot afford to back away. "The administration's credibility is at stake – in Israel and the Arab world. Netanyahu thought he had the better of it last year after he humiliated the president by rejecting his demand for a settlement freeze. If the administration does not follow through on this, or reaches some compromise that takes the heat off the Israelis, I suspect it will be almost impossible for us to get anything off the ground," he said.
And this letter arrives at a moment when the administration of Netanyahu have suddenly realised that Obama is not the Bambi they had assumed he was. Roger Cohen describes how Obama's healthcare victory has been perceived in Israel.
The passage of the U.S. health care bill is a major foreign policy victory for President Barack Obama.

It empowers him by demonstrating his ability to deliver. Nowhere is that more important than in the Middle East.

All the global mutterings about the “Carterization” of Obama, and the talk (widespread in Israel) of kicking the can down the road and so getting through the “garbage time” of a one-term president — that is suddenly yesterday’s chatter.

The reminder was timely: This man is no softie.

And Cohen detects shifts in the Middle East:

Americans, prodded by a report from Gen. David Petraeus, are beginning to see the link between terror recruitment and a festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Planning in Washington on Iran has shown a “marked shift in thinking away from the war strategy,” as Nicholas Burns, a former top State Department official, put it to me.

These are real shifts. They are prerequisites for the rapprochement with the Muslim world Obama rightly seeks. Lo, even the Middle East moves.

Hoyer, Cantor and the others who signed this letter are insisting on a formula which has already failed, on a formula which says that the Israelis can do whatever they like and that the US will always back them. It is spineless and it is part of the reason that US popularity world wide under the presidency of George W. Bush ended up at such an all time low.

Obama was elected to change all that. He must stick to his guns, no matter how much shit they throw at him. For the world knows that he is in the right and Netanyahu is in the wrong. It would cripple his credibility were he to back down now.

And, despite the spineless behaviour of Hoyer, Cantor and others, there is actually a notable silence from Congressional leaders.

Netanyahu appears to have been caught off guard by Obama's stand, perhaps because he was overconfident of being able to bypass the administration by relying on strong support for Israel in Congress. But while Aipac has been able to mobilise support for its letter, Congressional leaders have remained largely silent on the substance of the dispute.

That is, in part, because there is little enthusiasm for Jewish settlements. In addition, the White House has played an unusual card in suggesting that Netanyahu's intransigence is endangering US interests in the Middle East, and the lives of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"So far, I've been surprised by how muted congressional reaction has been," said Malley. "It may come, but if the administration manages to portray this as an issue of US national interest, it may be able to sustain a level of criticism."

Petraeus's link between Netanyahu's intransigence and the possible deaths of American soldiers, plus the fact that Obama is insisting on nothing more than Netanyahu obey international law and desist from building illegal settlements, places most of Israel's traditional defenders in a dreadful position.

There is nothing outrageous in Obama's request. Indeed, the arguments being prepared by The Israel Project (TIP) - to advise supporters on how best to counter criticism of the settlements - has more than a whiff of defending the indefensible:
TIP says the "best argument" for settlements is this: Since Arabs citizens of Israel "enjoy equal rights," telling Jews they can't live in the Palestinian state "is a racist idea."
They are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Because, of course, Jews can live in any future Palestinian state, they simply can't call it Israel.

So, Obama has all the moral ammunition he needs to see this argument through. The arguments against his position are incredibly weak. And Hoyer, Cantor and the others will find it very hard to maintain their position when it becomes a question of whether to protect the lives of American soldiers or Israel's desire for illegal settlements.

Obama has chosen his battleground well. Now, he must stiffen his resolve and see this through.

Click here for full article.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Koch's Misplaced Attack on Schumer and Gillibrand.

Ed Koch finds Obama's treatment of Netanyahu to be "shocking", as if the Prime Minister of Israel giving the middle finger to an American president is something commonplace, or certainly nothing which could justify Obama's anger.

But he then goes on to berate Jewish members of the Obama administration for their silence and, rather unsubtly, brings up the Holocaust.

In the 1930s, the Jewish community and its leadership, with few exceptions, were silent when their co-religionists were being attacked, hunted down, incarcerated and slaughtered. Ultimately 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. The feeling in the U.S. apparently was that Jews who criticized our country's actions and inactions that endangered the lives of other Jews would be considered disloyal, unpatriotic and displaying dual loyalty, so many Jews stayed mute. Never again should we allow that to occur. We have every right to be concerned about the fate of the only Jewish nation in the world, which if it had existed during the 1930s and thereafter, would have given sanctuary to any Jew escaping the Nazi holocaust and taken whatever military action it could to save Jews not yet in the clutches of the Nazis. We who have learned the lessons of silence, Jews and Christians alike, must speak up now before it is too late.

So I ask again, where are our Senators, Schumer and Gillibrand? And, where are the voices, not only of the 31 members of the House and 14 Senators who are Jewish, but the Christian members of the House and Senate who support the State of Israel? Where are the peoples' voices? Remember the words of Pastor Niemoller, so familiar that I will not recite them, except for the last line, "Then they came for me, and by that time, there was no one left to speak up."
Until now, it has always been considered anti-Semitic to imply that Jewish senators and statesmen might display "dual loyalty" over the subject of Israel; but Koch here implies that the fact that Schumer is Jewish is the very reason why he must back Netanyahu and oppose Obama. And his call for Gillibrand to offer support is supposedly because she is one of "the Christian members of the House and Senate who support the state of Israel". The implication being if one doesn't back Netanyahu then one clearly doesn't support Israel.

Koch seems not to get it. Even some Israeli newspapers are not on Netanyahu's side in this dispute.

Obama's argument with Netanyahu is about the settlements; a subject which is not popular, especially amongst American Jews, as The Israel Project (TIP) have made clear in recently released documents:
"The single toughest issue" to defend among Americans generally and American Jews in particular is settlements, says the manual, and "hostility towards them and towards Israeli policy that appears to encourage settlement activity. … Public opinion is hostile to the settlements – even among supporters of Israel."
Koch seems not to even consider the fact that the reason Schumer and Gillibrand have not rushed to defend Netanyahu is because Netanyahu is in the wrong.

Instead, he brings up religion and makes a clumsy attempt to weave some comparison between their silence and the silence which preceded the Holocaust. I think that's shameful.

O’Reilly Says Media Are Using ‘Nuts’ To ‘Brand’ Tea Party As ‘Racists.'



O'Reilly thinks it is grossly unfair for the press to highlight the actions of a few Tea Party protesters and make them indicative of the whole.

O’REILLY: But the press showed no restraint at all in covering that story and immediately took that and branded the tea parties a bunch of racists. Now, that’s the strategy. This is why it’s a big story. Why I’m leading with it tonight on the Factor. And I got Al Sharpton in the seat. Because I can’t get the others and that tells me something too. I can’t John Lewis and I can’t get Emanuel Cleaver. These are the guys who made the accusations. They won’t come on. That shows, that tells me something. But anyway, the strategy is on the left because the Tea Party movement is a danger to them to brand everybody in it as a racist.

INGRAHAM: Isn’t that a sure sign of a scoundrel’s refuge, though? I mean, you always go to the racist charge.

O’REILLY: Sure. Of course it’s scoundrels. Of course, the left-wing media, you don’t get more scoundrel than those people. And but that’s what they’re doing. You can see it. You can see it that any nut — and there are some nuts, Laura, in the Tea Party movement — any nut and anything will be used to brand the entire movement.

[...]

“What is true is that the extreme far left is not often used to brand” the Democratic Party,” observed O’Reilly. “But the extreme right has been used to brand the Republican Party. And that, that’s what’s going on.”
Clearly, the actions of a few cannot be said to be representative of the actions or the beliefs of the entire Tea Party movement.

It's just a pity that Bill has been so keen to make the actions of the few representative of the many when it comes to the left.

In this clip Billo highlights an extreme minority of readers comments at the Daily Kos and implies that these are representative of the Daily Kos itself, which he brands “hatemongerers” like “the Ku Klux Klan” and “the Nazi Party.”



Billo has, in the past, been guilty of the very things which he is now berating the media for doing.

You can both go hang, say voters.

As Vince Cable emerges as the clear winner of the debate between Britain's prospective Chancellor's, a new poll is stating that the British people do not want another Labour government - with 50% saying Brown's return to power would be unthinkable - but that there is also no enthusiasm for the election of the Tories - with 51% of the electorate stating that this is the case.

Fifty per cent of people regard it as "unthinkable" to elect Mr Brown for another five years, while 44 per cent disagree with this statement. Almost one in four Labour supporters believe electing Mr Brown for another term would be "unthinkable". However, 51 per cent say they personally feel no enthusiasm for the Conservative Party, with 42 per cent disagreeing. Remarkably, a quarter (24 per cent) of those people who intend to vote Tory say they have no enthusiasm for the party.
It really is, as the Independent today states, "a plague on both your houses".

George Osborne was almost comical last night as he set out his stall as would be Chancellor, and was easily devastated by Cable:

The result is a blow to the Tories, who are also unlikely to have been boosted by the performance of George Osborne during Channel 4's Chancellors debate last night. Both Alistair Darling and Vince Cable questioned how he could afford to reverse Labour's proposed rise in national insurance contributions. But the shadow Chancellor said that the Government had identified £11bn of waste which could be cut. He told Mr Darling: "Instead of tackling that waste now and stopping wasting people's money, you want to increase the taxes on pretty much every single person here in this room and people watching at home."

Mr Cable said: "George, last week you went round denouncing these government supposed efficiency savings as complete fiction – which, frankly, a lot of them are.

"You are now using these fictional savings to finance your tax cut. That is utterly incredible."

It's the final proof of the argument I have been making for a very long time. The country have had enough of Labour and Gordon Brown, but the Tories have offered no reason to vote for them, other than the simple fact that they are not Labour and Cameron is not Gordon Brown.

I would, frankly, be stunned if there was any genuine enthusiasm for the Tories as they have yet to tell us just what it is that they propose to do.

At the moment they are limping towards power on a wave of public apathy towards both the main political parties.
Meanwhile, a strikingly high 38 per cent of people believe the country would be better off with a hung parliament and coalition government, while 53 per cent disagree. One in four Tory supporters would prefer a hung parliament and coalition, as would 36 per cent of Labour and 57 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters.
One in four Tories and one in three Labour supporters - their own supporters - want a hung parliament. That's a simply astonishing set of figures.

And yet, who can find it surprising when we are so near to an election and yet the main opposition party resolutely refuse to discuss politics and policy, deciding instead to seek election through what they are not, as opposed to setting out a vision which they want the country to follow.

And the very few indications which they have given us of what they intend to do are reminiscent of every dreadful Tory government which we have ever endured. And Labour, well they refuse to set out what any of us would regard as a progressive agenda, and seem determined to embrace the politics of triangulation.

And both parties appear to have decided that the main battle ground for the forthcoming election should be who is going to be the most savage when it comes to cutting public spending.

It's unsurprising that enthusiasm for politics in Britain is at an all time low.

UPDATE:

Worth reading: Steve Richards: And I thought the Tories had changed.

For an opposition that has changed quite so often, tonally and in policy terms, government must seem something of a nightmarish prospect, however badly it wants to win. In power, policies cannot be altered in the way that in opposition words can be unsaid. Perhaps the Conservatives could have won convincingly by arguing for tax cuts from the beginning, as David Davis did in the 2005 leadership contest. Maybe they could have won by sticking with Labour's tax-and-spend plans. Possibly they could have walked it by proposing spending cuts and insisting that tax cuts would have to wait. They might have won by calling for immediate spending and tax cuts. But to try out all four permutations is quite something.

What are we going to get next, a revival of William Hague's Tax Guarantee and a commitment to slash the deficit more quickly, or perhaps a pledge to cut petrol duties before the publication of the party's manifesto for the environment? A more nimble-footed governing party could take this confused, inexperienced Conservative leadership to the cleaners.

Richard's has a point. Brown should be devastating Cameron's Tories at this point. They appear to stand for everything and nothing. We all know that they very badly want to elected; they just can't tell us why.



Click here for full article.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Palin Tells Constitution-Loving Tea Partiers: We Don’t Need A President Who Is A ‘Constitutional Law Professor’



Think Progress highlight a contradiction in the Tea Party philosophy as set out by Sarah Palin.

First, we need to remember that the Tea Party protesters simply adore the constitution.

Yesterday’s Tea Party rally in Searchlight, NV, for instance, was filled with imagery of the Constitution. Protesters carried signs that read “I honor the Constitution” and “What about the Constitution don’t you understand?” Rally attendee Norman Halfpenny, a 77-year old retired Marine Corps veteran, said, “We need to get our Constitution back.”
Which made Palin's contribution puzzling to say the least.
Palin: “Our vision for America is anchored in time-tested truths that the government that governs least governs best, that the Constitution provides the path to a more perfect union — it’s the Constitution,” she exclaimed.
And then, literally moments later, she states this:
Palin: In these volatile times when we are a nation at war, now more than ever is when we need a commander-in-chief, not a constitutional law professor lecturing us from a lectern.
And, of course, the Tea party protesters applaud her, apparently blissfully unaware that she has just reversed her own argument.

Baltimore Sun's Zurawik: Palin's "gun rhetoric" "very dangerous and irresponsible"



I happen to agree with Zurawik here. There was something terribly ugly about the anger Boehner displayed during his now infamous, "Hell, no you can't!" moment.

The Republicans have spent a lot of time recently attempting to distance themselves from the specific deaths threats and the general anger of the tea party protesters. But, anyone who has watched the way they have behaved as the healthcare battle ensued would have to conclude that they bore a very large responsibility for the air becoming as toxic as it has.

They have never wanted to have an honest debate on this subject and have argued against a bill which never really existed, certainly not in the "death panel" way they described it.

And they now seek to distance themselves from a public anger which has been fuelled by the lies which they propagated. That doesn't seem credible to me.

Maher Comes Out Guns Blazing.



Bill Maher says it like only he can:

New Rule: You can't use the statement "there will be no cooperation for the rest of the year" as a threat if there was no cooperation in the first half of the year. Here's a word the president should take out of his teleprompter: bipartisanship. People only care about that in theory, not in practice. The best thing that's happened this year is when President Obama finally realized this and said, "Kiss my black ass, we're going it alone, George W. Bush style."

[...]

But even before the Democrats got to take a single victory lap they were already being warned not to get used to the feeling, and not to get drunk with power. I disagree. All you Democrats: do a shot, and then do another. Get drunk on this feeling of not backing down and doing what you came to Washington to do.


Democrats should not listen to the people who are now saying they shouldn't attempt anything else big for a while because health care was such a bruising battle. Wrong -- because I learned something watching the lying bullies of the Right lose this one: when they're losing, they squeal like a pig.


[...]

The Democrats need to push the rest of their agenda while their boot is on the neck of the greedy, poisonous old reptile.

[...]

Democrats in America were put on earth to do one thing: drag the ignorant hillbilly half of this country into the next century, which in their case is the 19th -- and by passing health care, the Democrats saved their brand. A few months ago, Sarah Palin mockingly asked them, "How's that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?" Great, actually. Thanks for asking. And how's that whole Hooked on Phonics thing working out for you?
My problem with the Democrats is that they often come across as spineless. And Maher's larger point is correct. The Democrats were elected to carry out a Democratic agenda. Being "bipartisan" is simply a way of acting as if the Republicans were never kicked out of office.

Fierce debate on Israel underway inside Obama administration.

It is being reported that "fierce debate" is taking place within the Obama administration about how to proceed with Israel, as unnamed sources within the Israeli cabinet are letting it be known that they regard Obama as pro-Palestinian and Israel's "greatest disaster".

White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross is apparently making the case that the US government needs to be sensitive to Netanyahu's political position, which really is the line of the Israeli government.

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn't seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.”

Ross has been criticised before, especially by Aaron David Miller, a member of the Ross-led US negotiating team between the Israelis and the Palestinians in 1999-2000. Miller said that Ross had acted "as "Israel's lawyer", and their policy of "no surprises" (meaning all US proposals were first reviewed by Israel), led to a lack of negotiating flexibility and independence."

But, it is to be expected that there will be some in the US administration who want negotiations to proceed as they have always done before, but the intransigence of Netanyahu has surely meant that this is impossible if the Americans are serious about peace in the Middle East?

And the sheer ferocity of the Israeli leaks surely prove that Obama's stance is piling the pressure on Netanyahu.
"We're talking about something that is diseased and insane," the confidant told the paper. "The situation is catastrophic. We have a problem with a very, very hostile administration. There's never been anything like this before. This president wants to establish the Palestinian state and he wants to give them Jerusalem … You could say Obama is the greatest disaster for Israel, a strategic disaster."
Ross, apparently, has been arguing that there is only so far that Netanyahu can go and he has been pushing that same line which is pushed by the Israeli government, that the US must be careful not to do anything which will increase Palestinian demands.

Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations during Netanyahu’s visit and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the first official said, Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi's coalition's red lines.”

When the U.S. and Israel are seen to publicly diverge on an issue such as East Jerusalem construction, the official characterized Ross's argument as: "the Arabs increase their demands ... therefore we must rush to close gaps ... no matter what the cost to our broader credibility.”

A second official confirmed the broad outlines of the current debate within the administration. Obviously at every stage of the process, the Obama Middle East team faces tactical decisions about what to push for, who to push, how hard to push, he described.

As to which argument best reflects the wishes of the President, the first official said, “As for POTUS, what happens in practice is that POTUS, rightly, gives broad direction. He doesn't, and shouldn't, get bogged down in minutiae. But Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”

The more Obama pressurises Netanyahu the more one can expect people who have a great fondness for Israel to argue that Obama should cut him some slack. Even to the point which Ross is demanding, which is that the US must do this "no matter what the cost to our broader credibility.” But the point which Petraeus made is that the US lack of credibility may actually cost the lives of American soldiers. At that point, Ross's argument collapses.

And surely "cutting Israel some slack" is what almost every previous US administration has ever done and the results have almost always been disastrous.

The ferocity of the leaks coming from Israel - and the fact that the leaker is claiming that Obama's policies are "a strategic disaster" for Israel - means that the pressure Obama is applying is being felt.

And, there are no signs that he plans to take Ross's advice; indeed, he appears willing to apply even more pressure. He is apparently now considering one of the things which I have always argued that Obama should do.
The US is considering abstaining from a possible UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, sources suggest to the BBC.

The possibility surfaced at talks in Paris last week between a senior US official and Qatar's foreign minister.


The official said the US would "seriously consider abstaining" if the issue of Israeli settlements was put to the vote, a diplomat told the BBC.
I have always argued that, if the US wanted to apply serious pressure to the Netanyahu government, then it should let the Israelis know that the automatic use of the American veto at the UN was going to be withdrawn.

The fact that the Obama team are even willing for it to be leaked that they are considering this, piles even more pressure on Netanyahu.

And the fact that some Americans are leaking stories of Ross's pro-Israeli negotiating stance, is itself proof that this administration is not willing to play this game the way in which it has always been played.

UPDATE:

As always, it's fascinating to see how this plays in the Israeli press:
Obama's reaction is not a result of his victory in passing health care reform. The American president doesn't need to be strong to offend an Israeli prime minister over a matter such as settlements. And despite the hopes of some in Israel, it doesn't appear that the U.S. Jewish community will go out of its way to defend Israel on the settlement issue either.
Netanyahu is playing his cards terribly, assuming that the American Jewish community will argue for settlement building in Judea and Samaria. He's totally misjudging their mood.
"Netanyahu should have taken into account the change within the American Jewish community," Dov Weisglass, a senior adviser to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the MESS Report. "Their support for Israel is decreasing and they will defend Israel in the face of the administration only on matters where there is a real threat to Israel. I have serious doubt that U.S. Jews see the Netanyahu government's territorial aspirations in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem as an existential matter."
It's really hard to hold the moral high ground whilst stealing someone else's land. Netanyahu doesn't seem to have grasped that yet.

UPDATE II:

Astonishingly, I find myself in agreement with the Moustache of Understanding when he detects "a tectonic shift that has taken place beneath the surface of Israel-U.S. relations."
Both Vice President Joe Biden and Gen. David Petraeus have been quoted recently as saying that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-U.S. sentiments, because of the perception that America usually sides with Israel, and these sentiments are exploited by Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to generate anti-Americanism that complicates life for our soldiers in the region. I wouldn’t exaggerate this, but I would not dismiss it either.
Petraeus's comments were the game changer for me. He is defining what Obama means when he states that peace between Israel and Palestine is in "America's interests".

UPDATE III:

And I'm not sure if Friedman is even aware of how he is highlighting a classic example of the way the Israelis manipulate each situation to ensure that peace talks are non-viable.
At the same time, Israel’s erecting of a wall around the West Bank to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel (there have been no successful attacks since 2006), along with the rise of the high-tech industry in Israel — which does a great deal of business digitally and over the Internet and is largely impervious to the day-to-day conflict — has meant that even without peace, Israel can enjoy a very peaceful existence and a rising standard of living.

Instead of pining for peace, they’re now asking: who needs it?...
See how it works? The argument used to be "we cannot negotiate because they are attacking us". Now the argument moves to, "Why should we negotiate, we are not being attacked?" There's always a case to be made for not negotiating.

Click here for full article.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

VIDEO: The Extreme, Violent Rhetoric Of GOP Lawmakers



Eric Cantor recently asserted that no lawmaker “would incite threats.”

Think Progress has made a video which questions that assertion:

MCCAUL: They fought against tyranny and oppressive taxes, do that sound familiar? We’re continuing that revolution right here in Austin, Texas today. Thomas Jefferson said the Tree of Liberty will be fed by the blood of tyrants and patriots. You are the modern day patriots. [...]

* * * * *

BARTON: What are the homeland security people calling us now?

AUDIENCE: Domestic terrorists! Terrorists!

BARTON: Welcome right-wing activists — is that what we are?

AUDIENCE: Extremists!

BARTON: Yeah extreme, well I’m going to get me a button.

* * * * *

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m a proud right-wing terrorist.

HERGER: Amen god bless you, there’s a great American.

* * * * *

BACHMANN: I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.

* * * * *

KING: If I could start a country with a bunch of people it would be the folks standing out here the last few days. Let’s hope we don’t have to do that. Let’s beat that other side to a pulp. Let’s take them out, let’s chase them down.
I find it simply extraordinary that some people are so enraged by what is happening that they are now openly embracing the term, "right wing terrorist"; insisting that this is, somehow, a good thing.

It's impossible to listen to this rhetoric and not to perceive violent undertones.

Rupert Cornwell: After this week, we may all owe Obama an apology.

I am glad that Rupert Cornwall shares my enthusiasm for just how the last week has played out in the Obama presidency:

What a week it has been. Congress passed the most far-reaching social legislation in four decades. The US and Russia agreed the most important arms control agreement since the end of the Cold War. And an American president, his patience exhausted with Israel's procrastination over what some still describe as "the Middle East peace process", dared send off a visiting Israeli prime minister with a flea in his ear. In short, it was the week that made Barack Obama.
After listening to the almost constant sniping on the right and the similar bitching which has been occurring on the left, it was nice to see Obama finally put something substantive on the plate.

Sure, there is much further to go on the issue of Israel and Palestine, but, with his treatment of Netanyahu, Obama has shown that he is willing to stand up to Israel in a way which the previous administration were not. It doesn't guarantee success, but without showing this kind of resolve, failure was always guaranteed.

Obama has, this week, sent out the message that he is perfectly serious about bringing about a meaningful peace between the two sides.

And, with his recent successes regarding US healthcare and Russian disarmament, the momentum now moves firmly behind Obama.
The prospects for financial market reform, climate and energy legislation and immigration reform have suddenly brightened. Obama, of all people, will be wary of excesses of optimism. But one thing he knows full well. Nothing succeeds like success.
The Party of No will have to come up with more than simple negativism if they are to have any realistic chance of stopping him.

Click here for Cornwall's article.

Labour targets George Osborne as 'weakest link' in Tory team.

He is clearly the most obvious target.

Labour vowed last night to target the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, as the strategic "weak link" in the Conservatives' bid for power.

Party sources told the Observer that a decision had been taken to focus on Osborne as the prime target throughout the campaign, because the future stewardship of the economy is the issue that most concerns voters.

They said there was "strong evidence" from their own focus groups that people regard Osborne as "shrill, immature and lightweight", and that the Tories are already being harmed in the polls because of doubts about their economic policies.

I've written about this man many times. He is heir to the Osborne baronetcy and is part of the old Anglo-Irish aristocracy. He has famously done almost no job outside of politics and yet Cameron proposes putting him in charge of the UK's economy for no better reason than the fact that they became friends at college.

Nor are doubts about Osborne's abilities limited to those of us on the left. Simon Heffer, a well known right wing commentator has stated:
"George is silly; George has poor judgment; George is unreliable; George is, to coin a phrase, a dolt. What credibility does he have left? This has at least caused people to forget what a disaster he made of his attempts (if they can be dignified with such a term) to mount a response to the global financial crisis.

"Can a dolt aspire to hold a great office of state? For little George could be walking out of 11 Downing Street with Mr Gladstone's dispatch box within months.

"How much does that make you want to vote Conservative?"

Nor does his taking over at Number 11 fill the city of London with anything other than extreme apprehension:
Few wanted to go on the record with their criticisms of Osborne, but the views of David Buik, senior analyst at the City brokers BGC Partners, are typical of what I was told. "I find it quite extraordinary, however delightful he may be, that his only experience, in terms of business, industry or commerce, has been as a speechwriter at Tory Central Office and that he should be the chosen person to be the next chancellor of the exchequer. I know he's a quick learner, but it's frightening. And I say this as an obsessed Conservative . . . I haven't got a bad word to say about him [as a person]. But you have got to have some experience of life."
Every single call this man has made as shadow Chancellor has been wrong.

Ed Balls said the country faced stark choices when it decides who would best run the economy. "People will be asking themselves during this campaign, who do we want to be our chancellor after the election? Alistair Darling, who with Gordon Brown has calmly but skilfully taken us through the worst global recession for decades, made all the right calls and done so fairly?

"Or the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, who… wobbles under pressure, got every call in the past two years wrong, whose economic policies would risk the recovery and hit families hard, and whose credibility and judgment are now in serious question even from his own side."

Cameron's judgement is seriously suspect if he can honestly look at the entire Conservative party and say with a straight face that he thinks George Osborne is the best the Tories can offer us as a future Chancellor.

It's a horrendous choice and it's one which he deserves to be punished for. That's why Labour are right to take aim at George, not simply for being unqualified for the task which Cameron has set him. But, more importantly, just what that appointment says about Cameron himself.

Click here for full article.

Special relationship between UK and US is over, MPs say.

The Commons Foreign Affairs committee has said that British politicians should stop using the phrase "special relationship" when describing the relationship between the United States and the UK, even though the relationship between the two countries remains "profound and valuable".

The committee said although Britain and the US still had close ties, the UK's influence had "diminished" as its economic and military power had waned.

"The use of the phrase 'the special relationship' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided," the committee said.

"The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to de-value its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK."

There are many in the UK who appear to believe that, because America and the UK share a common language, that this somehow means that we are like each other.

I think most Brits, like myself, have enormous affection for Americans, and find them warm and optimistic and friendly. However, that is how we relate as people when we meet.

But, in terms of the world stage, Britain is no longer the world power it was when this phrase was first used by Winston Churchill, and when the phrase was applied by Tony Blair to describe his relationship with George Bush, British people found it sufficiently embarrassing to label Blair Bush's poodle.

Blair seemed to see Britain's role - as he repeated recently in front of Chilcot - as to ensure that the US did not go to war in Iraq on it's own. Quite why, he never specified. And I certainly never understood this line of reasoning.

If an ally wants to engage in illegality, why was it our job to apply a fig leaf of respectability?

The committee has stated:

"The UK needs to be less deferential and more willing to say no to the US on those issues where the two countries' interests and values diverge.

"The UK's relationship should be principally driven by the UK's national interests within individual policy areas. It needs to be characterised by a hard-headed political approach to the relationship and a realistic sense of the UK's limits."

That is so obvious that it shouldn't even have to be said, but there were times under Blair when it was impossible to work out what Britain was supposed to be gaining by embracing the insane neo-con world view.

The truth is that the United States has a special relationship with one country and one country alone; and that is Israel. But, when Britain and Israel teemed up to invade Suez the United States were not shy about stating what it thought were it's best interests and telling it's allies to withdraw.

We need to view our relationship with the US according to our own interests, and to avoid the embarrassing sycophancy which occurred during the Blair years.

The relationship will always be close and terribly important, but lets leave the phrase "special relationship" in the past, where it belongs.

It reminds far too many of us of Bush and Blair. And that was simply embarrassing.

Click here for full article.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Right Wing Blogger Hopes for Obama/Netanyahu Secret Plot.

Does this constitute analysis on the right wing blogs?

Instapundit:

WHY HAS BARACK OBAMA TREATED NETANYAHU SO RUDELY? “Obama would never treat the president of Equatorial Guinea that way.”

Possibly Obama just hates Israel and hates Jews. That’s plausible — certainly nothing in his actions suggests otherwise, really.

But it’s also possible — I’d say likely — that there’s something else going on. I think Obama expects Israel to strike Iran, and wants to put distance between the United States and Israel in advance of that happening. (Perhaps he even thinks that treating Israel rudely will provoke such a response, saving him the trouble of doing anything about Iran himself, and avoiding the risk that things might go wrong if he does). On the most optimistic level, maybe this whole thing is a sham, and the U.S. is really helping Israel strike Iran, with this as distraction. The question for readers is which of these — not necessarily mutually exclusive — explanations is most plausible.

That's one of the most bonkers things I have ever read, although I note in his update he says that he regards this analysis as "favourable to Obama". Which means that Obama attempting to find some way to facilitate an Israeli attack on Iran means that he is "serious" about national security.

That's the only circumstances under which Instapundit can "complement" Obama. If one suggests that Obama would engage in behaviour so lunatic that even George W. Bush wouldn't condone it, then one is being "favourable to Obama".

It simply never occurs to Instapundit that Obama is serious about Middle East peace and that Netanyahu is being obstructionist. That thought clearly never crosses his mind.

According to his world view, Obama is either an anti-Semite or he's secretly aiding an Israeli attack on Iran. Those are the only two options with which he presents us.

Has he been paying any attention to the battle which has raged between Obama and Netanyahu over the illegal Israeli settlements? Has he bothered even to read what the Israeli press are saying on this subject?

To think this is about facilitating an Israeli attack on Iran is just about the greatest example of wishful thinking that I think I have ever seen.

Click here for full article.

The View From Israel.

We heard recently from Aipac that Obama should avoid criticising Netanyahu in public and essentially putting all the blame on his shoulders for the recent spat between the two nations.

It's well worth looking at what is being said in Israel's own newspapers about the government which Netanyahu is leading.

Ha'aretz:

In the unnecessary fight with the United States, an essential ally for Israel, the Netanyahu government is showing itself to be the most extremist and dangerous in the country's history.

Yediot Ahronoth:

“Netanyahu too needs to do some thinking. Ever since he came to power via real democratic elections, and ever since he formed an impossible government, the State of Israel's global status has been deteriorating to the point of genuine danger. We're approaching, with immense speed, the realisation of the well-known song, The whole world is against us."

Maariv:

“It’s politics time now. Even if the magic formulas are found that will make it possible to square the circle and keep bumbling on, Binyamin Netanyahu knows that he is on a collision course. He will be able to avoid it once or twice, but in the end, it will come. The light that is looming ahead is the headlight of an oncoming train.”
Aipac may, unsurprisingly, see all the fault to be on the side of Obama, but the Israeli press are increasingly finding Netanyahu to be the one who is out of tune with the times.

Click here for full article.

Obama On GOP Running On Repeal: 'Go For It'.



Obama welcomes the Republican promise to run on a platform of repealing his healthcare legislation. He goes as far as to say, "Go for it!"

Media Matters' Eric Burns on MSNBC: "Glenn Beck is the single most dangerous person in this country".



I have spoken before about how insane the American right wing appear to someone across the pond. Here, Eric Burns of Media Matters calls Glenn Beck "the single most dangerous person in this country".

Beck has been calling for revolution for many months now. He has even predicted "civil unrest". And recently we have seen the results of the anger which Beck and his tea party cohorts have unleashed. He has called Obama a racist, a communist, a socialist, and regularly compares him to some of the most despicable dictators in history. And he has done all this without anyone at Fox News making any attempt to curb his dangerous excesses.

Now, there is a part of me that thinks that Beck is simply going where he knows the ratings are, that he is - after all - simply a shock jock. He courts outrage because, when working on the radio, he discovered that this is where the money is.

However, there are unquestionably Americans who take what he says as fact.

I came across this interview on Fox and honestly thought that it must be a piss take. The longer it went on, the more I realised that this insane woman was actually being perfectly serious.


JACKSON: I am the tea party people. We're beginners at this political activism and it's all new to us and it's kind of cute 'cause we're shy, we hold up our signs like this, you know, despite what they say about us, I have never done anything like this, but we have to because the president is a Communist.

[...]

DOOCY: Now, he is not a Communist. But you just pointed out that you hold up signs and stuff like that and people make fun of you. What do you think about how some on the other political side have tried to diminish or, you know, or marginalize the Tea Party people?

JACKSON: Well, I guess they're afraid of the power of our passion and our numbers and, you know, you might not say Communist, but I watch Glenn Beck and he's taught me well. Progressive is the new word for Communist, but it's the same goal as government control of everything and it's very obvious that Obama is trying to do that. And I don't want to brag, but I sort of called it before he was elected and when I was on O'Reilly and I said he was a Communist and I got a lot of hate mail, but I got some that said I was a prescient which means "a prophet."
Okay, the people who Beck is speaking to are not the brightest of the bright. But that only makes the language that he uses to enrage them all the more despicable.

He constantly implies that the US is almost at war, as he did after the recent healthcare vote:
"The battle was lost, the war is not over. The war is just beginning."
And he casts what is at stake in apocalyptic terms, implying that, in his battle with the Obama administration, his own life might be at stake:
"For those of you in the administration, who are coming after me ... remember, you've broken three [of the 10 Commandments], let's not make it four; thou shalt not kill."
When politics is cast in such terms one can hardy be surprised that a certain section of the populace is enraged. And Beck, despite a pathetic recent attempt to portray the threats of violence - which he has spent months stoking - as, somehow, what the Democrats want, is up to his neck in this.

He, more than any other commentator, has fuelled the anger which many of these people feel.

I wouldn't go as far as Eric Burns in saying that Beck is "the single most dangerous person in the country", but I do think this is what happens when you give an uninformed, basically quite stupid man, a very loud microphone.

When he worked on the radio, he learned how to outrage people and how this turned into mega-dollars. That was okay when when he was simply being an entertainer, or "a rodeo clown" as he once described himself. But he has since strayed into politics, setting himself up as an Everyman, fighting for the little guy in the street. And, he has also worked out that, the more people speak out against what he is doing, the more committed his audience will become
Extreme talk, especially as practiced by a genuine talent like Beck, squeezes maximum profit from a relatively small, deeply invested audience, selling essentially the same product in multiple forms. The more the host is criticized, the more committed the original audience becomes.
As David Frum recently pointed out, it is in Beck's interest to keep people angry, as that is where his profits lie, but it's disastrous for political discourse. Speaking of the Republican loss in the healthcare debate, Frum notes that this defeat was also a win for talk radio:
The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.
So, I don't know if I would agree that he is "the most dangerous person in the country", but there can be no denying that he is profiting from the very real anger that he is stoking amongst a certain section of the US populace.

It's in his interests to keep people angry. He makes lots of money out of that.

Now, I take a lot of what he says with a huge grain of salt, because I understand that doing what he is doing is making him incredibly wealthy. But the really dangerous thing is that a lot of people don't. They actually believe what this uninformed lunatic is saying. And that is scary.

Nuclear weapons arsenals to be cut after landmark US and Russia deal.



After more than a year in which very little happened other than talk, Obama has now passed his healthcare bill and today told us of an agreement between Russia and the US which will cut both those nations nuclear arsenals by 30%, giving us the biggest breakthrough for arms control in two decades.

The treaty, which Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev will sign on 8 April in Prague, lowers the ceiling on the number of operational strategic nuclear weapons from 2,200 to 1,550.

The total number of launchers (missiles and heavy bombers) allowed will be reduced to 800, half the existing ceiling.

"We have turned words into action. We have made progress that is clear and concrete," Obama said. "And we have demonstrated the importance of American leadership and American partnership on behalf of our own security, and the world's."

I have no doubt that the Party of No, despite their unwavering support of Ronald Reagan - another president who wanted to reduce the US's nuclear arsenal - will find fault in what Obama has done. They will forget that Reagan also wanted to abolish nuclear weapons, as he made clear in his 1984 State of the Union address:
Ronald Reagan: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”
No doubt they will accuse him of leaving America at risk by reducing it's nuclear arsenal.

But, after his recent healthcare victory, this reduction in both the US and Russia's nuclear arsenals represents a huge win for Obama.

I remember during the campaign, when he spoke of a nuclear free world, thinking that he was pitching his rhetoric a little too high. But now, as with healthcare, he has made a significant step in the right direction.

American administrations, like huge ships, turn very slowly. But Obama is undoubtedly turning his ship in the direction which he promised.

Click here for full article.