Category Archives: united states

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.

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If the shoe fits….

While it’s sad that it didn’t connect with its intended target, the shoe seen around the world (possibly as it’s now called) did at least manage to unite countries, peoples, races and religions around the globe. I’m sure there can’t be another event that brought together Iraqis, Iranians, Americans, British, French, Pakitstanis, Russians and Africans alike to the same side of the fence than Muntazer al-Zaidi’s double-throw against the US President last week. Much as it pains to praise, you can’t really complain about Dubya’s ducking (after all, he did it on climate change for the last 8 years) but it’s a shame they didn’t make contact.

The shoe's near miss on George Bush

Mind you, for all the praise and support, it’s faintly depressing, and also rather familiar, that the hero was thoroughly rewarded for his efforts. Rather than a pardon, it seems he received a beating for his actions, and this is even before his 31st December trial. The charge? Insulting a foreign leader. The irony…. He gets my vote for man of the year.

Yes we can!

Victory for Obama

It’s happened, and it’s happened emphatically. Victory for Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the Democrats has been not just a landslide, but an avalanche. He needed 270 Electoral College votes, and he’s currently sitting at 349, with some results still left to come in. He took an unprecedented victory in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and Florida. It’s a huge overturning of the Republican majority that has decimated the United States in the last eight years. It’s been a victory for clean, forthright policies over a party willing to smear and be negative. It’s more than simply a victory though. America has elected its first African-American president, something I didn’t think I’d see in the first 50 years of my life.

So, what does it mean? Of course, the sometimes almost messianic feeling that followed the Illinois Senator around is overblown. It can’t be assumed that he will heal his country in four years. He’s inherited a seemingly endless conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a crippling economic crisis which will seriously stymie his ability to push through reforms in healthcare, education, and spend as he’d have wanted when he started the race twelve months ago. But we cannot underestimate the energising of the United States electorate that’s swept him to victory.

On the ground, he had huge financial resources, but also an unwavering support at grass roots level, whose unstinting work ensured a record turnout, and an unprecedented number of votes from young, black, immigrant, working class people that wanted change. And his unwavering belief that change could occur, that the USA could leave its hawkish, warmongering, isolationist agenda behind and reach out to the world in a new era for politics. This marks the end of the old conservative era, that began with Reagan’s terms in the 1980s and culminated in the Neocon-riddled administration of the ‘W’ era. There is fresh and real hope that this is a time for change and one that can be carried through.

Make no mistake, this will be a hugely tough term. And with the Senate looking like it’ll fall just short of the 60 super-majority that would’ve made his ability to change even more strong, Obama’s Democrats will find the road hard fought and trying, but the belief and willingness to change. And like other reformers before him, he’ll need to stamp his authority on the country in his first 100 days, looking to pass some of his most important bills when the momentum is still with him.

What will happen with Iraq? Will 16 months really be realistic to withdraw? I feel that some of his policies will need to be diluted, both to get them voted through, and also in light of the economic downturn that will blight his four years (and hopefully longer) in the Oval Office. And how will he turn round the economy? Will he be able to force more regulation on a Wall Street that has supported him in his presidential reign? If he can count on one thing though, it should be that he’ll have support from the public like no president has seen since the JFK years.

And what of the elephant in the room… will there be an attempt on his life? There are many in the USA that have expressed enough ire to suggest that it may happen. If we are to believe stories in recent weeks, some have already tried. We can only pray that he sees out his term, and will seek and succeed in a second in 2012.

But there is no escaping the resonance of Nov 4th 2008. The day that the USA voted its first black President into office, and the day that, for once, optimism, hope and change became something tangible and realistic in a decision that should change not just the States, but ripple to the rest of the world. We can be hope.

Yes we can.

The force of change….

Barack Obama

Sitting here in front of news channels and live updates on websites across the world at 1.30am in London, the US Elections are tipping already in the direction of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the Democrats. A night that’s surely going to capture the imagination of the globe, it appears even at this early stage that history is beckoning. One of the hardest and longest fought battles in US Election history, one that’s seen one side beset with negativity, and the other striving to rise above it, it’s been the choice of old politics v new.

Of course, we can make sweeping statements, generalisations, and lush rhetoric, in tune with Obama’s message of change, but the reality is that he will, if elected, face many challenges, based largely around changing the political machine in the States, and working with a budget that’s been decimated by the wars in Iraq and conflict in Afghanistan, and the Economic slump. But work with it he will, and his election is still an inspiration, being the first African-American to be elected into the Oval Office, something I didn’t think I’d see until well into my second half-century.

I will be going to bed soon, and I will be waking up to a new political dawn, one that can give hope to the millions of disenfranchised Americans (blacks, immigrants, middle class, rich, poor, the list in endless) that have suffered at the hands of the Bush administration and its ultimately disastrous eight-year reign. This, if anything else, will be reason for people, not just in America, but abroad, where a recent poll shows that 87% of those involved would vote for the Illinois Senator, to have hope that America will once again engage as part of the global political system, and not stand above it.

Roll on Wednesday, shaping up to be one of the most important days in my generation’s history.

Judgement day…..

It’s 24 hours until the votes will start coming back for the US Presidential nominations. In just over a day we’ll start to have a clearer picture of whether it’s four more years or time for change. There are many on this side of the Atlantic that are sick of the coverage, and probably many in the United States as well, but, like or loathe it, this may one of the most important elections in our lifetime, maybe even our parents’.

It’s easy to be caught up in the rhetoric, and that Obama will transform the USA into a country that will leave today’s United States looking like a distant memory in four years’ time, and only the most carried away idealist would think that it’s that easy, but the choice that the American people have is clear: another term for the GOP, and it’ll be a continuation of what has come before (even if McCain wants to paint himself as the maverick, he’s voted for 90% of the bills that Bush proposed), or the Democrats, and at least a chance to take the country from the isolationist war-hungry superpower it is, into a country that is willing to engage, to discuss, and to reach out.

Make no mistake, if the rest of the world could vote, Obama would be a shoe-in. In recent polls in the UK, and in Europe, more than 75% of those questioned wanted him in office over the embattled veteran McCain. But it’s down to the American people, and in their hands is the future of their country, and, beyond that, the ripples that wash across the globe every time the US wields its power. The signs are good. Obama leads by between 6 and 10%, depending on which polls you follow, and has done since the economic crisis hit hard. Ironically, until then, Obama was struggling after a wave of (successful) negative attacks.

But for once, the legacy of his own party looks likely to be McCain’s downfall. Even better, his running mate, Sarah Palin, will be spared the terrifying prospect of being a breath away from the Commander in Chief role. This is a woman that would still forbid abortion even in the case of incestual rape, and believes man-made global warming is mostly a myth. There are so many things wrong with this woman being in office as the VP that it’s too short a time to list them here.

It won’t be an easy ride. The US Economy will be the elephant in the room, whichever candidate wins. Their four year term’s spending plans will be crippled by the bail-out and losses (nothing, obviously, compared to the 100m a month that is going on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts) and the legacy of the Bush years will be felt far and wide. But Obama is as equipped as any to deal with it.

So, cross your fingers, arms, legs and everything else, and pray that America follows through its intention from the polls and makes history by putting Barack Obama in office. The alternative is too bleak to consider.

Depressing but unsurprising…. Bush pushes for war crimes immunity

It’s pretty demoralising, but then simultaneously unsurprising, that George W Bush is seeking to push through legislation that, on the surface appears to dismantle the War Crimes Act of 1996, that could see him (or any US national, be they military or not) prosecuted for mistreatment of others under the Geneva Convention. The issue came around because the detainees in Guantanamo do fall under Geneva, despite the US’ lamentable categorisation of them as ‘illegal combatants’. Therefore, all of a sudden, Bush, Cheney and every other neocon disgrace from the last 8 years of office were potentially open to prosecution for their inhuman treatment.

While there’s still plenty of support from the media (Fox, anyone?) you have to wonder that when even CNN