Category Archives: bush

The rich get richer, and the poor….

Obama announces debt deal

Well, when you’re a Tea Party-backed Republican and you’re crowing about your ‘victory‘ in the debt-ceiling deadlock, why should you care? After all, you stood in the landslide mid-terms on a ticket of no taxes and rolling back so-called ‘big government’, under a misguided sense of taking America back to Washington-era constitution, and after weeks of acrimonious argument and Capitol chicanery, you’ve succeeded in hijacking a process that’s hitherto been smooth and commonplace and turning it into a means to push America further to the right.

It’s astonishing that, for an administration that still holds a Senate majority, this government can be held hostage by a group of politicians that, for all the aghast cries from dissenting Democrats, didn’t even support such a painful bill because the cuts were not nearly tough enough, and the compromises too weak. The likes of Ron Paul, Michelle Bachmann, who would sooner give up their right to bear arms than bring in tax increases for the rich, have come off best in a game of brinkmanship that played with the global economy as if it was a roulette table. While many thought that a deal would eventually be done, simply because it had to, it’s incredible to think that a President whose election ideals reached out to the poor and disenfranchised so much has now been forced to support a deal that must’ve felt like sucking vinegar, against everything he and many of his party stood for.

So why did it come to this? The debt ceiling had to to be raised, as it had painlessly by countless Democrat and Republican Presidents before, but this time the Democrats, shorn of their House majority, had to face the fact that this time the vote would be made, by those on the far right, to symbolise the deep divisions on Capitol Hill. The GOP, so riven itself in conflict that on Friday its House leader, John Boehner, humiliatingly lost proposed vote simply to approve his own party’s plan, has managed to play a game of chicken, safe in the knowledge that however opposed to their plans President Obama was, he would most likely compromise in the national interest, something they would refuse at all costs. And what costs? While many doom mongers had forseen another 2008, the reality was that a US that couldn’t service its own payrolls could’ve sent the markets into turmoil, and yet Tea Party-backed Republicans and many more moderate in their party saw it as a viable alternative to many of their bete noires, especially that spectre of all spectres, tax rises for the rich.

It’s a distasteful, unpalatable truth that many of these super-rich politicos see it as their divine right to save the majority of the wealth for the majority of the rich. Bush’s tax cuts, an abomination when they were brought in 2001, are staggeringly still here, making those with the most proportionally better off year on year. It was this unthinkable that saw the Right push back against a series of proposed Democrat plans that would’ve seen them take a hit along with many schemes designed to help the poorest – social security, education, Medicare, Medicaid – in favour of swingeing cuts that simply left them untouched. To a British citizen like myself, even with a Conservative-lead government, this seems an almost unbelievable truth. That a country as apparently welcoming and diverse as the United States, self-appointed global leader and trumpeter of its ideals, can allow this abomination to persist, in fact to be furthered is shameful beyond description. But this, to many on the Right, is the American Dream. You are responsible only for yourself, you reap what you sow, your success is yours alone to enjoy, and no-one, NO ONE, is going to deprive you of it. Perfect, if you’re a millionaire, but if you’re below the poverty line? Well, you just need to work harder. It comes as no surprise that the majority of these Tea Party-backed are white, middle and upper-class (yes, there are token minorities, there always are), and their supporters even more so, while all the poor are often black, many minorities. Well, they’re just poor because they’re lazy, or they don’t work hard enough, or they’ve not made their own opportunities. It’s one of the staggering conditions of the United States: try to redistribute wealth, to help using taxes those less well off than you? You’re a socialist.

In a Europe where Obama would be, and is, welcomed with open arms for his lofty ideals and balanced views, many in his own country happily equate him with Stalin. And as the Right pushes further from the centre, these viewpoints, festering in the fetid cauldron of the likes of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, gain more and more mainstream credence, and soon, they are talked of as the ‘centre’ ground in a country whose politics are becoming ever more polarised. So, we’re left with a bill, that’s passed with disgust by the majority of Democrats, and amazingly rejected even more so by the Tea Party for its weakness, that ‘saves’ the States, for now. And you almost have to take your hat off for the way the Right fought the battle. They’ve weakened the President, undermined the economy, and a Senate majority, won a bill that’s abhorrent to Democrats, and for them this is just the beginning. And why? Because they’d rather see people on the street over medical bills, bankrupted by mortgage repayments, homeless and jobless, because they see it as their divine right to retain all the wealth they have, at the expense of those who have none. That is, in their eyes, the American way, the American ‘dream’.

It’s a disgrace, and no amount of argument, however eloquently expressed, will convince me that the Tea Party is anything other than the politics of the mean. The selfishness of the wealthy over the powerlessness of the poor. Helping those less well off than you isn’t socialism, it’s humanity, and these last few weeks have shown, as if it wasn’t already flashing like a million watt bulb, that these people have none.

Closure at last, and a significant event, but the end is still a long way away

Bin Laden's reign at the head of Al-Qaeda is at an end.
Osama bin Laden

Waking up to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s capture, and ultimate death gave a sense of relief, but also a sense that this significant landmark is only a mark in the long path to defeat terrorism. We can only wonder and hope that there is some closure now for those that have lost loved ones, friends, colleagues and family in the atrocities before, on, and after September 11th 2001, but it won’t be the end of this story. Bin Laden was a figurehead, the head of an organisation that had, for the last 15 years, been at the hub of multilateral actions against the West, and, as is often overlooked, many Muslims around the world. Seeing the events and reaction unfold today brought a rush of the blood, but not excitement. While the man behind so many deaths is now gone, it gives me no pleasure to rejoice the death of another human being.

Scenes in America have been more colourful than in the UK. It’s understandable when their operation resulted in the killing – with, tellingly, no direct assistance or involvement from the Pakistan government – and their country was so horrifically affected. I can’t imagine how those friends and relatives of those lost in the Trade Centres must have felt over the last nine years as bin Landen evaded the clutches of the allied forces, and countless American soldiers and intelligence, prolonging the agony and seeing the man responsible taunting the West with videos, messages and more attacks. Dancing and cheering in the streets – from a mostly young and sometimes well-oiled crowds – didn’t sit too comfortably with me, as I can’t bring myself to celebrate a death, however repugnant the person may be. But the US has invested so much emotionally, financially and ideologically into finding and killing Al-Qaeda’s leader that the reaction was always going to be different on the other side of the pond. Watching some of the reactions today of the bereaved to the news, and how they conducted themselves with such dignity was very moving. For them, the victory, however hollow, must bring an end in part to a harrowing period.

For Britain, it’s also a landmark. We’ve been – justifiably or not – invested into this battle ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the United States since its beginning, and we’ve been directly affected by the spectre of Al-Qaeda, its operations and figurehead looming over the last decade. For teenagers and younger adults, they’ll struggle to remember a time before this was so. Having attended a funeral after 7/7 – something I hope I never have to go through again, let alone seeing the pain it caused to the family – it’s a relief to be at this point. But the reality is that little will change. In fact, we may see things escalate if revenge attacks are orchestrated. London will be a more tense place for a while. But we can only hope that this is the beginning of a new chapter, and that, with all the change that’s now afoot in the middle east, that Al-Qaeda’s lustre is reduced, and that their dominance ebbs in the coming years.

And predictably, even as the news surfaced, there were naysayers already debunking the news. However low governments and the military may stoop – whatever we may say, we left thousands dead in Afghanistan and Iraq – it’s hard to believe that this would be an untruth. It would be one that would dwarf the spin that so ashamedly took us to war in Iraq. The US and its allies have invested way too much time, money, resources and emotion in this claim otherwise, and there have been none of the usual denials from the terror groups that form the cabal involved. I’m a skeptic, but this is one thing that I am taking on face value. And cheeringly, Obama will have a grandstand moment to validate his presidency, giving him a boost that even grudging Republicans can’t deny him. The States are united for a short time, and great that is too.

We will be talking about this day for many years, and the main hope is that it can be a positive landmark, that we will look back at this as a turning point. But to think that cutting the head from one of the snakes in Medusa’s hair renders the rest of the beast incapacitated would be short-sighted. But at least for many, this will hopefully be some sort of closure, and draw a line under the terrible events in New York and London. It’s the least that the bereaved deserve.

Obama’s changing religious image….

I was depressed but not surprised to see news of a poll this morning that almost a fifth of Americans think Barack Obama, their President, is a secretly pracitisng muslim. More worrying still, in a country where the religion, especially of a president, is seen as a key belief, those that think he’s a Christian has fallen from 43 to 34%.

Driven in a large part by the right-wing conversatives, above all in the media (Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, take a bow) it would be almost amusing if it wasn’t alarming. Clinging to the tenet that his middle name – Hussein – and schooling in Indonesia must’ve contributed to this, and the concious feeling that, unlike his very publicly god-fearing (and communicating, if you beleive Dubya) predecessor, he’s not visibily religious enough, those that oppose him politically and ideologically are slowly eroding his image. Most worrying of all, some of those whose minds have changed are his own supporters.

With the mid-terms approaching, this is another worrying statistic in a long and difficult term for a president that deserves a lot better from his people and his country.

What did we expect?

Blair at the Chilcot inquiry
Blair at the Chilcot inquiry

Depending on what papers you read, or what radio stations you listen to and tv stations you watch, today was due to be one of the most important in the last decade of our political history. Forget Obama’s one year on, or even his election, but Friday 29th January 2010 was the day that the Chilcot inquiry would get to hear from Tony Blair, perhaps the figurehead of our Iraq ideology and the focus of bile and criticism from the anti-war lobby. Having an ex- (and previous) PM give evidence in an inquiry such as this is unprecedented, and even despite its lack of legal standing or recourse from what evidence was heard, the frenzied build up raised almost feverish hope that we would have our Frost/Nixon moment, especially in light of a recent interview with Fern Britton where he appeared to state he’d have invaded with or without proof of WMD.

In reality, of course, this was never going to be the case. Blair, whatever you say about him (and personally his political conduct before, during and since the invasion turned my opinion of him from respected – if not supported – leader to self-important and pious disappointment) was a good leader up to this juncture. One of his main strengths was being able to put his point across, and to debate and discuss, much of which went into his conduct in the run up to the Iraq invasion. He had his convictions, his beliefs, and he stuck to them rigidly. In previous circumstances this was a strength, but this time it clouded his judgement, in the face of advice from the Foreign Office, Attorney General, and criticism from his own Cabinet, not to mention a tidal wave of public opinion, he ploughed ahead, striving to retain the ‘special relationship’ with America, possibly at all costs.Typically, he slipped in a side door and away from the protesters and families of Iran casualties, an action that seemed to preface his performance during the day.

Chilcot protesters await Blair

What we know now is that we had a ‘dodgy’ dossier, a misleading document that overstated intelligence that was patchy from the JIC at best. What we had was a legal opinion from the Attorney General that right up unto the decision to go to war wasn’t convinced of a legal case for war with the existing UN Resolution 1441. And what we had was a plan for war, but no clear plan for post-invasion. There were clear questions that were needed to be asked today, for us to try and finally get some clarity and give at least the public some modicum of truth and respect on how we came to go to war, and with retrospect, what we did wrong.

What we got was another Blair masterclass in bluff and subterfuge, stating his own case, swerving questions and restating his firm belief that he was right. Ignoring whether the intelligence he was given that led him to his ‘beyond doubt’ statement wasn’t strong and if he wasn’t correct in saying what he had, he simply stated that he believed it was beyond doubt. Similarly, he stated that he believed that the case for war was sound, and that the planning for the post-war period was ok (despite multiple criticisms from many parties in the inquiry), blaming it on conditions being different to what had been planned. If regimes with WMD needed to stop using them, why did we not invade Pakistan? China? Korea? It simply isn’t consistent. So many times, his answer started with ‘let me say that….’ where he would revert to pre-prepared answers and statements about, Kosovo, 9/11, Iran, when all we wanted were answers on Iraq.

Don’t let’s get too excited here. We knew this was never going to be a career-wrecking day. Blair wouldn’t have got where he was today by being careless or carefree (he is, let’s remember) a barrister. But he’s deflected every contentious question, at times almost suggesting in the light of others’ criticisms, that there was no issue (and effectively suggesting by that, that everyone else was incorrect). Batting everything back with a stern defence, clinging to the ‘special relationship’, stating his firm beliefs in everything he stood for, and justifying his actions on this. The only chink of light coming where he admitted his interview with Fern Britton wasn’t worded sensibly, but at the same time, denying that he was wrong. He did also concede that the 45-minute claim wasn’t, with hindsight, a sensible move.

For the families sitting in the gallery, that have lost their loved ones in the conflict, this won’t be much closure. If anything, Tony Blair’s performance, while nervous and shaky in the first hour, became more sure-footed, and less revealing as the day went on. The panel made a decent effort of not letting him settle, and after early criticism during the inquiry, they’ve become more steely, but ultimately, with no real legal grounding in their group, they were never going to get one over on the former PM.

Yes, with hindsight we can look at many decisions in a different light, but much of this was being criticised at the time, and there was huge opposition evident, but today started full of hope, and ended with weary resignation. I suppose the only consolation is that, however steadfast his outward rhetoric, Blair will have to live with what happened (and is still happening) in Iraq, and there are hundreds of thousands that have lost their lives as a result of decisions he took. This, sadly, is a situation we will most likely face again in this decade. One can only hope we look back at this inquiry and at least use it to colour our actions in the future, or this will have been a pointless exercise.

What’s goin’ on?

Marvin Gaye

Since Tuesday afternoon the world feels a fresher place, and while Barack Obama’s near-deification over the last eighteen months has at times taken on unrealistic proportions, his first days in office have been cause for great optimism: the closure of Guantanamo Bay (or its start), the dismantling of US intelligence’s ‘Black Sites’, the repealing of the 25-year gag order on US funding for organisations that are linked to abortions, and the freezing (and ultimate reversing) of many of Bush’s late-breaking laws.

And one song seems to be echoing round my head today – Marvin Gaye’s sublime What’s Goin’ On? The lyrics are as resonant today as they were when the song was released, but they now sit against the backdrop of a hope for a brighter future, and that is something that means I can wake up with a smile on my face each morning, however cold it is.

Crossing the line…. again and again

The sadness of the Israel/Gaza conflict over the last two weeks has been that, every day, there seems to be a fresh and even more disheartening episode of anguish and sadness. Every day there is fresh horror.

When the Israeli army bombed a UN shelter at a school – which it had GPS coordinates for, knowing that it was being used by the UN – killing more than 40 Palestinians (Hamas terrorists if you’d believe the propaganda, but women and children among them if you believe the hospitals) it seemed, with the fresh hope of peace talks and ceasefire, that the conflict had reached its nadir. But today, the 8th, brings even more terrible atrocities.

News that children had been found by the Red Cross, lying almost starved next to their dead mothers, with Israeli troops less than 100 metres away. The Red Cross had not been allowed in over the past week to give vital aid to those hundreds of thousands that depend solely on it to survive from day to day. Only yesterday had the ‘humanitarian corridor’ been opened by Israel (is disgracefully late action, no doubt to be hailed as a sweeping grand gesture of compassion by their own spin office), at a time when many of Gaza’s residents may be beyond hope. This episode has sadly proven this to be true. And we have no idea how many more are in the same position, lying dead in their rooms, not from bombs or shells, or attacks from ground troops, but from simple lack of food and water, prevented by an illegal and despicable blockade that’s lasted well back to 2007, but yet seems to be swept under the carpet by the apologists that support Israel.

Added to this, the UN has now suspended their aid operations after a UN marked truck was hit by an Israeli shell, killing two aid workers. What sort of country and people can see this as justified actions of war? How blinkered can we be, can the world be? How can this disgusting behaviour be accepted? It is not even the scantest form of self-defence, but yet our own government, the US, Canada, and Australia, who recognise Hamas only as terrorists, and not as any legitimate political party, continue to stay almost silent on the matter, calling only for ceasefire, not condemning the senseless acts and the continual blockade that has engulfed the area way before this war began. It’s actions that make me embarrassed and ashamed to call Labour my government. That we cannot see what is happening in front of our eyes, and see that it is inherently wrong.

It was Israel that overstepped the line on November 4th 2008, breaking the ceasefire with a raid into Gaza that killed six Hamas fighters. But this is again something that’s been conveniently papered over, like much of anything that seeks to further the Israeli cause. But for the past weeks, and in the past few days in particular, it’s made these pale into insignificance by its actions, as if it’s challenging itself to stoop lower each time. History will look back on these days as dark times, ones that we, as those that live in countries that support the Israel movement and condemn the actions of Hamas outright, should be deeply ashamed. Because people are dying in squalor and poverty, and we sit by and watch it happen.

The BBC…. impartiality evaporates

I was so incensed by the coverage on the BBC news this morning that I felt moved to, for the first time in my life, to write to them directly to question their impartiality. Or indeed the lack of it. While I expected the likes of ITV, Sky, Fox, NBC, and CNN to tow the commerical/US/UK line, I had at least hoped that the BBC, with its charter, and its supposed impartiality and balance, to give an even-handed view of the conflict. I was sadly disappointed. It wasn’t so much pro-Israel as acting as its mouthpiece at times. Almost no counterbalance to any point, no reply. Here’s my email. It sums up just how disgraceful the majority of the media coverage (apart from the brilliant and brave Channel 4) really is in the UK at the moment:

Over the last few weeks it’s become apparent to me that, despite being a public service broadcaster paid for by taxpayers like myself, that the BBC is sadly blinkered and censored by the pro-Israeli powers (Israel, the US for starters) that loom over the current conflict.

I’ve been a devoted follower of the BBC since I was old enough to watch tv or listen to the radio. I’ve defended it on numerous occasions when people have complained about the fee, the programming, the coverage, digital channels…. but watching the news coverage of the last few weeks has depressed me. This is a conflict with two sides, yet there seems to be an almost total absence of detail for the Palestinians, especially on tv.

This morning for BBC Breakfast, the headlines were about the 3 Israeli soldiers killed by their own troops, and about Israeli statements on ceasefires, and the ‘terror’ they seek to extinguish with their attacks. Only on the scrolling headlines below were there mentions of the number of Palestinians killed, with no mention by the newcasters themselves of the total killed, which at over 500 dwarfs the handful of Israelis. This 500 includes civilians – women and children – but it is almost as if everyone in Palenstine is a fair target from their association (or not) with Hamas. And the BBC is happy to broadcast the continuing rhetoric of the Israeli government, while an almost deafening silence emanates from Palestine.
I understand the news blockade is in place. There is very little direct coverage coming from inside Gaza, but this does not preclude the likes of the BBC, an organisation that should represent the best of unbiased and brave reporting, funded by the very inhabitants of this country, from presenting any argument whatsoever, but it is as good as this. The story should be the growing humanitarian crisis, the vastly disproportionate response to Hamas’ almost symbolic rocket attacks, the almost complete cessation of aid traffic to Gaza in the last 18 months, and particularly the last few weeks, that has left the 1.5 million inhabitants near starvation, without medical care, food, water, electricity or help. There are not 1.5 million Hamas fighters there, but yet we continue to treat them all as such.

It depresses and angers me that such a biased picture can be presented as ‘news’. It’s almost astounding that the likes of President Bush’s (in his last days as the lamest of ducks) weekly address, that lambasts Hamas and supports Israel in such a blinkered way that it is almost comical if it weren’t disgraceful, can be broadcast with no comment, no counterpoint. If this coverage continues then it is nothing better than propaganda, and for this the BBC should be held to account and ashamed of itself.

I’ve never felt the need to contact the BBC in the past like this, but this is beyond reproach. It’s a conflict that in any other location would be ethnic cleansing, genocide, yet here, in the UK, we’re saturated with reports that present an almost completely one-sided picture, and it’s one for which an organisation such as yourselves should be both rightly criticised, and completely ashamed.

This has formed part of the decision to go to protest this week at the Israeli embassy. It feels like the least we can do.