Monday, October 24, 2011

Retiring A Blog Born Out Of The Arab Spring

When this blog was launched it actually filled a void for a while. Few Washington-based bloggers were paying attention to the freedom uprisings on the Arab Street.

That has changed.

In the past few months the story moved to the front pages and the top of the newscasts. The phrase Arab Spring is standard today in the American lexicon.

The fall of Gadhafi, free elections in Tunisia and exciting new opportunities present a grand point in the experiment to step aside as an enlightened observer and pursue new challenges and responsibilities. The blog may be retiring, but the fierce pursuit of freedom and democracy surely will not.

Thank you all for your support.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fruit of the Arab Spring: Tunisia Votes & Libya Declares 'Liberation'

History will remember this day as one in which the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring took one of their biggest leaps towards freedom and democracy.

For Tunisia, the birthplace of the uprisings and reforms that swept across North Africa and the Middle East, voters turned out in en masse to cast ballots for a 217-person assembly that will forge a new government and constitution.

For Libya, the day marked the official declaration of liberation by the Transitional National Council and the freedom fighters who ousted the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

An estimated two-thirds of eligible voters in Tunisia cast ballots 10 months after street vender Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, doused himself with a flammable liquid, set himself ablaze in Sidi Bouzid and triggered the unprecedented and thriving freedom movement. 

The breaking point came Dec. 17, 2010 for Bouazizi, when a policewoman unlawfully confiscated his vegetable cart and produce in the city located 190 miles south of Tunis.

His self-immolation triggered street protests across the country that were met with a heavy-handed response by President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali's security forces and secret police.

The thirst for freedom only grew for the Tunisian people, who were already plagued with poor wages, lousy living conditions and out-of-control inflation.

Bouazizi suffered and eventually died on Jan. 4 2011. Ali was toppled 10 days later.

"I congratulate the millions of Tunisians who voted in the first democratic elections to take place in the country that changed the course of history and began the Arab Spring," President Obama said in a statement.

"Just as so many Tunisian citizens protested peacefully in streets and squares to claim their rights, today they stood in lines and cast their votes to determine their own future," Obama said.

Conditions were not much better for the Libyan middle class, even with an ocean of oil under their desert country. Gadhafi used the excessive profits to fill the treasuries of his family, his henchmen and African despots who had pledged their allegiance.

But backed by the most powerful coalition air force and navy on the planet, the revolutionaries were transformed by foreign military advisers from a rag-tag band of spirited, but ill-trained and equipped fighters into a force able to execute one of the most impressive offensives in modern history.

Like Tunisia, the new Libya presents the potential for democratic reform and freedom from tyranny. The TNC has vowed to embrace reform as it seeks to rebuild its nation.

"The transitional authorities can build on this movement by promoting reconciliation and respect for human rights across Libyan society, while helping to prevent reprisals and ensuring the justice and due process that the Libyan people expect and deserve," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

"The path to democracy is a long-term process that requires the participation of all Libyans," Clinton added.

It is very, very early to predict how the freedom movement will continue to play out, but the path that the revolution has taken shows signs that Bouazizi's extreme form of protest and ultimate sacrifice was not for nothing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gadhafi's Demise: The Drone, the Mirage and the Unknown Gunman

As the fog of war slowly lifts in Libya, it still is not clear how exactly Moammar Gadhafi died Thursday while trying to flee his hometown of Sirte in a conspicuous convoy of about 100 vehicles.

What is known, thanks to confirmations today out of Washington and Paris, is that an American Predator drone teamed up with a French Mirage 2000 fighter jet to halt the convey and send its passengers scrambling, including Gadhafi.

Both the Predator and Mirage fired on the convoy, striking at least two vehicles. As videos and photos show, Gadhafi was wounded in those strikes, but was very much alive after he ran and hid in a roadside storm drain.

Revolutionary forces quickly hunted down the men who ran from their vehicles, finding several, including Gadhafi, down the drain.

Video and still photos show Gadhafi being roughed-up, but still alive in the revolutionary fighters' custody. A short while later, he was dead apparently the victim of a gunshot wound to the head, and, according to some reports, his chest and stomach, as well.

In Geneva, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the images "are very disturbing" because they suggest Gadhafi was killed after he was captured.

"We believe there is a need for an investigation," Colville said. "More details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in some form of fighting or was executed after his capture."

So far there is no great rush by the governments in Tripoli, Washington, Paris, London, Ottawa or Istanbul to make a big deal of the details of the death of Gadhafi, whose body was put on ice in Misurata while people decide what to do with his remains.

Instead, the more universal sentiment from the revolutionary government, NATO members and their allies is that, for Gadhafi, the Arab Spring is over and the world is better off without him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gadhafi Reported Captured and Dead Near Sirte

Moammar Gadhafi was killed this morning, possibly while trying to flee his hometown Sirte when NATO warplanes attacked his convey, Reuters is reporting.

There are also reports that Gadhafi was only wounded and remains alive in the custody of revolutionary forces.

Celebrations are erupting throughput Libya, but U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic that the unconfirmed reports of Gadhafi's demise will pan out.

Gadhafi has been rumored to be hiding in Sirte or Bani Walid, the last two remaining loyalist strongholds since the vfdalkl of the regiume in August. Bani walid fell last week, but revolutionary forces are still fighting their way through Sirte, where Gadhafi was born.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Clinton Maps Out Clear Role for Women in a Democratic Libya

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted today that a new Libya must strive to give women a progressive and respected role in its emerging democracy.

At a press conference after her surprise meetings in Tripoli with the Transitional National Council leaders of the revolution, Clinton noted with glee that she has brought up the matter of universal human rights for women more than once in talks with TNC leaders.

The longtime champion for equal rights offered a thorough opinion, when asked, of how Libya should move forward to give women a righteous place in a progressive society:

"I would make three points. First, no country can become a democracy, no economy can develop as fully as it could, if half the population is not included. And the women of Libya have the same rights as their brothers and their husbands and their fathers and their sons to help build a new Libya. So we are very committed and very outspoken about what we hope will be the full inclusion of women in a democratic future.

"Secondly, women also sacrificed in this revolution. Women were in the streets. Women were supporting the fighters. Women were sending their sons and their husbands off to an uncertain future, and many will never see them again. So women have sacrificed. They may not have been on the front lines holding a weapon, but they were holding together the society and supporting those who were fighting for Libya’s independence. So they have earned the right to be part of Libya’s future.

"And finally, there is an opportunity here that I hope Libya will seize. I believe because you have won your freedom – no one handed it to you, you fought for it and you won it – that you will find it in your hearts to demonstrate to the entire world that Libya is not only free, but Libya is equal, Libya believes in the rule of law, Libya will educate all of their boys and girls to take their rightful places in the world. I would hope that I could come back to a free, democratic Libya in a few years, and it would be a shining example of what is possible when free people make their own choices.

"So I cannot imagine how that could come to pass if women are not given the right to serve their country, to run their businesses, to be educated to the best of their abilities. So I will certainly look to ways that the United States can support the women in Libya to be able to take their rightful places in this new democratic future."

U.S. Puts High Priority on Rounding Up Gadhafi's Weapons

Even as the Libyan rebels battle for control of the remaining Gadhafi-loyalist strongholds, the U.S. and NATO allies are engaged in swift and serious programs aimed at destroying the regimes' weapons before they get into the hands of arms dealers or terrorists.

Stealthy Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Tripoli since the government of Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown, revealed today the deep concern the Obama administration has for loose arms, including shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles and chemical weapons.

"We will stay focused on security: I am pleased to announce that we are going to put even more money into helping Libya secure and destroy dangerous stockpiles of weapons," Clinton said. 

"And the Administration, working with Congress, is going to provide $40 million to support this effort. We will also work with Libya to destroy chemical weapons stocks, she added.

Moammar Gadhafi had about 20,000 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles before NATO warplanes and missiles starting taking them out, according to U.S. intelligence estimates. The U.S. wants to corral the shoulder-launched missiles that were not destroyed in the revolution or captured by the anti-Gadhafi forces.

Eventually, the U.S. and NATO will want the TNC to account for weapons on both sides of the revolution.

The U.S. already has invested about $6 million, putting arms-disposal experts on the ground in Libya to track and round up conventional weapons, and funding to two European mine-clearing operations.

The U.S. will oversee the decommissioning and safe storage of weapons in "a months-long effort," Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs Andrew Shapiro announced late last month.

"We’re going to continue until the new government of Libya is able to manage the stockpiles on their own," Shapiro said.

On the political front, Clinton, who met with Transitional National Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, provisional Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and provisional Finance and Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni, called for clean elections within eight months.

"There are many people who say they support elections, but only if they get elected. They want one election, one time, and then if they are elected no more elections," Clinton told reporters, during a visit that had remained a secret until she arrived in Tripoli.

"So these are all the kinds of challenges that Libyans will face in putting together their democracy. But people must renounce violence, they must give up arms, they must be committed to a democracy that respects the rights of all," Clinton emphasized.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Evangelical Leader Backs Perry; Dubs Romney Non-Christian

Southern Baptist Convention leader Pastor Robert Jeffress urged evangelical voters to back Gov. Rick Perry for President, declaring today GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney is not a Christian and his Mormon religion is "a cult."

There have long been whispers that part of Romney's failure to runaway with the nomination is because the powerful evangelical wing of the party looks upon his religion with disdain and does not trust his flip-flop from pro-choice to pro-life on the contentious abortion issue. 

At the powerful Value Voters Summit in Washington, the leader of the influential First Baptist Church of Dallas introduced  Perry as a "genuine follower of Jesus Christ" who unfunded the "slaughterhouse for the unborn," Planned Parenthood of Texas.

"Rick Perry's a Christian. He's an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ," Jeffress told reporters after he introduced Perry at the conference. "Mitt Romney's a good moral person, but he's not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult."

Mormons insist they are Christians, and the Perry campaign distanced itself from Jeffress's hardline position.

"The governor doesn't get into the business of judging other peoples hearts or souls. He leaves that to God," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said in a statement.

Jeffress's endorsement was not planned by the Perry campaign and it was the summit leaders who chose him to introduce the governor, the campaign said.

Boston Bruins Hoist 2011 Stanley Cup Banner

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Raising Cain: Herman Hunting for Michele and Sarah's Supporters?

Pizza baron Herman Cain is not sitting back and letting his surge in the polls (Stats guru Nate Silver has Cain atop the polls tonight) flounder, especially amid the infatuation with Gov. Rick Perry's $17 million fund-raising bonanza.

With Michele Bachman's backers fleeing and now Sarah Palin's supporters up for grabs, Cain is taking aim at the unemployed, a favorite punching bag for conservatives, along with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who have drawn the ire of some of the GOP presidential slate.

Cain even threw on a little extra cheese with some conspiracy theory during his interview yesterday with The Wall Street Journal.

"I don’t have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration. Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!" Cain said.

"It is not someone’s fault if they succeeded, it is someone’s fault if they failed," he added.

With then field set, Cain has grabbed the flavor of the month banner from Perry, but until he starts getting attacked by his GOP bretheren the former boss of Godfather's Pizza might not fold anytime soon.

No Accident Obama Chooses Words Carefully on Occupy Wall Street

The last thing President Obama and the Democrats want to do is politicize the Occupy Wall Street movement that is spreading to cities around the country, as was demonstrated by his cautious words about the growing protest movement at today's White House press conference.

The once-rapid recruitment of the Tea Party was stunted when it was revealed the movement had been co-opted by the GOP and conservative bank-rollers, like the Koch brothers. The Democrats do not want to make the same mistake with the Pavlovian protests against what the demonstrators say is corporate greed.

The media, though schizophrenic in its coverage, has tattooed the "astroturf" label on the forehead of the Tea Party, while the Occupy Wall Street movement so far remains a grassroots uprising in eyes of the press, which, for better or worse, likes to highlight the anarchist element at its core.

Here is Obama's answer to two questions on the subject by Jackie Calmes of The New York Times:

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you travel the country, you also take credit for tightening regulations on Wall Street through the Dodd-Frank law, and about your efforts to combat income inequality.  There’s this movement -- Occupy Wall Street -- which has spread from Wall Street to other cities.  They clearly don’t think that you or Republicans have done enough, that you’re in fact part of the problem.

     Are you following this movement, and what would you say to its -- people that are attracted to it?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Obviously I’ve heard of it.  I’ve seen it on television.  I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel -- that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.

     So, yes, I think people are frustrated, and the protestors are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.  Now, keep in mind I have said before and I will continue to repeat, we have to have a strong, effective financial sector in order for us to grow.  And I used up a lot of political capital, and I’ve got the dings and bruises to prove it, in order to make sure that we prevented a financial meltdown, and that banks stayed afloat.  And that was the right thing to do, because had we seen a financial collapse then the damage to the American economy would have been even worse. 

But what I’ve also said is that for us to have a healthy financial system, that requires that banks and other financial institutions compete on the basis of the best service and the best products and the best price, and it can’t be competing on the basis of hidden fees, deceptive practices, or derivative cocktails that nobody understands and that expose the entire economy to enormous risks.  That’s what Dodd-Frank was designed to do.  It was designed to make sure that we didn’t have the necessity of taxpayer bailouts; that we said, you know what?  We’re going to be able to control these situations so that if these guys get into trouble, we can isolate them, quarantine them, and let them fail.  It says that we’re going to have a consumer watchdog on the job, all the time, who’s going to make sure that they are dealing with customers in a fair way, and we’re eliminating hidden fees on credit cards, and mortgage brokers are going to have to -- actually have to be straight with people about what they’re purchasing. 

And what we’ve seen over the last year is not only did the financial sector -- with the Republican Party in Congress -- fight us every inch of the way, but now you’ve got these same folks suggesting that we should roll back all those reforms and go back to the way it was before the crisis.  Today, my understanding is we’re going to have a hearing on Richard Cordray, who is my nominee to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  He would be America’s chief consumer watchdog when it comes to financial products.  This is a guy who is well regarded in his home state of Ohio, has been the treasurer of Ohio, the attorney general of Ohio.  Republicans and Democrats in Ohio all say that he is a serious person who looks out for consumers.  He has a good reputation.  And Republicans have threatened not to confirm him not because of anything he’s done, but because they want to roll back the whole notion of having a consumer watchdog. 

You’ve got Republican presidential candidates whose main economic policy proposals is, we’ll get rid of the financial reforms that are designed to prevent the abuses that got us into this mess in the first place.  That does not make sense to the American people.  They are frustrated by it.  And they will continue to be frustrated by it until they get a sense that everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and that you’re rewarded for responsibility and doing the right thing as opposed to gaining the system. 

So I’m going to be fighting every inch of the way here in Washington to make sure that we have a consumer watchdog that is preventing abusive practices by the financial sector. 

I will be hugely supportive of banks and financial institutions that are doing the right thing by their customers.  We need them to be lending.  We need them to be lending more to small businesses.  We need them to help do what traditionally banks and financial services are supposed to be doing, which is providing business and families resources to make productive investments that will actually build the economy.  But until the American people see that happening, yes, they are going to continue to express frustrations about what they see as two sets of rules.

Q    Do you think Occupy Wall Street has the potential to be a tea party movement in 2012?

THE PRESIDENT:  What I think is that the American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules; that Wall Street is an example of that; that folks who are working hard every single day, getting up, going to the job, loyal to their companies, that that used to be the essence of the American Dream.  That’s how you got ahead -- the old-fashioned way.  And these days, a lot of folks who are doing the right thing aren’t rewarded, and a lot of folks who aren’t doing the right thing are rewarded.

And that’s going to express itself politically in 2012 and beyond until people feel like once again we’re getting back to some old-fashioned American values in which, if you’re a banker, then you are making your money by making prudent loans to businesses and individuals to build plants and equipment and hire workers that are creating goods and products that are building the economy and benefitting everybody.

Nowhere in his answers is there a definitive endorsement for the Occupy Wall Street movement, or even the politician's routine stock response that demonstrations are a traditional form of expressing American democracy. Instead, Obama highlighted his own agenda on questions that he was definitely prepped for before going into his press conference.

It sounds a lot like the President is walking a fine line, but it is more like he is doing cartwheels in a crosswalk, much to the delight of the protesters skeptical of Washington and politically savvy Democrats who are aware of the anti-Wall Street movement's room to grow.

Comparisons with the Tea Party aside, that movement has failed to win the support of mainstream middle class Americans hurt by the banking and finance industry's shenanigans, while the opportunity remains for the fledgling Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs Broke All the Rules, Until He Made All the Rules





Steve Jobs, 1955-2011, R.I.P. You changed our lives and let all the PC monkeys rip off all your ideas, from the mouse to pull-down click menus. You were the Thomas Edison of our day (Posted with my IPad).

Sarah Palin Joins Chris Christie on the Sidelines

Sarah, Inc. is staying open for business.

A day after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said for the last time he is not running for President, Sarah Palin finally ended her would-be candidate charade as well, saying after self-reflection she will not seek the Republican nomination.

"This has been prayerfully considered," the Fox News commentator said today on a popular right radio-wing radio program.

Duh.

Like Christie, Palin used her pretend run for President to help raise money. Through June, Palin's PAC had raised $1.65 million from 24,000 individuals, the Center for Responsive Politics reported.

Why would Palin leave her cash-happy life as Queen of the Tea Party for a low-paying job like President of the United States?

Steadily falling in the polls, it became clear Palin would not run for President when she abruptly quit her job as governor of Alaska in 2009. Being a quitter was considered not to be a good sign of leadership.

More recently, she showed her hand when as she threatened to sue author Joe McGinniss over his best-selling book, "The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin." Serious Presidential candidates do not sue authors, they push back.

Palin ended her Barnumesque ruse today when she told conservative radio host Mark Levin
that she will not be seeking the Republican nomination for President. Levin read a statement from Palin on the air.

"I believe that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office -- from the nation's governors to congressional seats and the presidency," Palin wrote.

"I will continue driving the discussion for freedom and free markets, including in the race for president where our candidates must embrace immediate action toward energy independence through domestic resource developments of conventional energy sources, along with renewables," she said. 

"We must reduce tax burdens and onerous regulations that kill American industry, and our candidates must always push to minimize government to strengthen and allow the private sector to create jobs," Palin added.

The move sets the table for center-right candidate and frontrunner Mitt Romney to have a clear path to the GOP nomination, barring a Lazarus-like resurrection from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose support for illegal immigrants and mush-mouth debate performances have him in a death spiral in the polls.

It is probably not good news for the Obama campaign, which would have loved to play against one of the Tea Party darlings in the White House sweepstakes next year. Romney is a different cup of tea, topping President Obama in the current head-to-head polls.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Riding for LiveSTRONG on My Birthday -- Again!



This year we also celebrating my dear friend Paul Basken's 50th Birthday on the bike by raising money for cancer awareness and the cure. It is a great tradition.

And please remember October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I urge folks to give to Lance's organization or the wellness program of your choice.

Spotsylvania Livestrong Day Cancer Awareness Event:
October 2, 2011
Brief Description
Every year, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, AKA LIVESTRONG holds a global cancer awareness day. Last year almost 1500 events of all sizes and descriptions were held all over the world. This year, residents of Spotsylvania and the region are holding a SPOTSYLVANIA LIVESTRONG DAY on the grounds of our fabulous new Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center. Our goal is not only to raise awareness and funds in the fight against cancer, but we want to help improve the lives of the 11 million people in the USA and the 28 million people around the world who are living with cancer! Together we can do more!

Here is what we have planned and we look forward to see you there!

We will be holding a 7 kilometer (4.35 mile) RACE, RUN, JOG, AND WALK! Too far? The join us in walking as far as you want and can around our beautiful new hospital. One time around is about a mile!

NOT A RUNNER? No problem: Join us on a beautiful BIKE RIDE of either 25 or 50 miles.

Or come to our Health Fair and learn how you can eat better, LIVESTRONG and learn ways to reduce your chances of being impacted by cancer!

Friday, September 30, 2011

President Obama's Remarks on Drone Strike That Killed Anwar al-Awlaki

President Obama's comments today on the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki during the change of office ceremony at Fort Myer, Virginia for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

"I want to say a few words about some important news. Earlier this morning Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in Yemen.

"The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al Qaeda most active operational affiliate. Awlaki was the leader of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans. He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009, he directed the failed attempt to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010 and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.

"The death of Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Furthermore, this success is a tribute to our intelligence community and to the efforts of Yemen and of security forces who have worked closely with the United States over the course of several years. Awlaki and his organization have been directly responsible for the deaths of many Yemeni citizens. His hateful ideology and targeting of innocent civilians has been rejected by the vast majority of Muslims and people of all faiths. And he has met his demise because the government and the people of Yemen have joined the international community in a common effort against Al Qaeda.

"Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a dangerous, though weakened, terrorist organization. And going forward we will remain vigilant against any threats to the United States or our allies and partners. But make no mistake, this is further proof that Al Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.

"Working with Yemen and our other allies and partners, we will be determined, we will be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americans, and to build a world in which people everywhere can live in greater peace, prosperity and security."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pro-Assad Mob Attacks and Detains U.S. Ambassador to Syria

The Syrian government simply has no answer for the gutsy and irrepressible U.S. ambassador to Damascus who continues to move around the country to document the atrocities committed on civilians by the regime's military and security forces.

Pro-regime thugs ambushed the motorcade today of Ambassador Robert Ford, pelting his car with eggs and rocks in what the U.S. believes was an attack that may have been condoned by government of Bashir al-Assad.

"The mob was violent," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "It tried, unsuccessfully, to attack embassy personnel while they were inside several embassy vehicles, seriously damaging the vehicles in the process."

Ford was on his way to a meeting with Hassan Abdel-Azim, who leads the opposition National Democratic Gathering, which opposes Assad's crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, known as the Arab Spring.

Ford and the American diplomatic delegation was trapped in the building for nearly two hours before the Assad regime finally sent in security forces to break up the mob on nearly 100 pro-Assad supporters.

"We condemn this unwarranted attack in the strongest possible terms," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "Ambassador Ford and his aides were conducting normal embassy business, and this attempt to intimidate our diplomats through violence is wholly unjustified."

It was not the first time the Assad regime sat back and allowed violence against American diplomats. Ford made a defiant visit in July to Hama, the epicenter of the Syrian freedom revolt, that triggered a retaliatory attack by civilians on the U.S. embassy compound.

At least 2,700 people have been killed by Assad forces since the uprising against Assad started.

Ford insists he will not be deterred and will continue to expose and document the heinous acts of violence by the regime against the Syrian population.

Limbaugh Slams GOP Establishment for Backing Christie & Not A Conservative

Right-wing talk radio king Rush Limbaugh blasted the Republican establishment today for pushing center-right GOP Gov. Chris Christie to run for President instead of a Tea Party-style conservative, like Sen. Marco Rubio.   

"I don't want to just get rid of (President) Obama, I want to take advantage of the opportunity we have to finally get a genuine, full-fledged, unapologetic conservative because this is going to be a major task. It's going to take more than one election, and it's going to take somebody fearless. And we're not going to roll this stuff back having compromise and bipartisanship as our primary objectives," he added on radio program.

"I think as far as the establishment's concerned, there are two things. They don't want a conservative to win for that reason, plus they do want to win. And I think they probably think Christie has a better chance than anybody else up there of beating Obama. That's my guess," Limbaugh adder for his massive listening audience.

Many GOP high-rollers have not embraced Mitt Romney and are wincing at the melting flavor-of-the-month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, keeping their hefty checkbooks on the sideline as they wait for their Republican messiah. They have made a big push to get Christie to reconsider a run, but the New Jersey governor still says it is not going to happen.

Limbaugh held up Rubio (R-Fla.) as a viable alternative to Christie, but charged that the predominantly New York City-based Republican bankrollers have not learned their lesson from Rubio's 2010 victory over former GOP Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

"Rubio was the conservative candidate, the candidate supported by conservative talk radio. Rubio was the outsider. But look what's happened. Now that Rubio has won, oh, yeah, everybody was involved in the campaign! Everybody had a role in electing Rubio!" Limbaugh said.

"Rubio would win in a walkover. He's conservative. He's articulate. He's great-looking. He's Hispanic and sounds very smart. How can he possibly lose? If this were the Democrat Party, the party father would probably tell Obama to step aside and let Rubio run, if Rubio were a Democrat," Limbaugh insisted.

Bachmann Blasts Arab Spring Movement; Links Obama to Fall of Shah

American history is not the only subject that confuses GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. The routinely revisionist congresswoman from Minnesota still cannot quite get her brain around the pro-democracy Middle East freedom movement, known as the Arab Spring.

Despite dictators being toppled in Tunesia, Egypt and Libya (Iraq, as well, albeit at a questionable cost in American lives and treasure), Bachmann condemned the Arab Spring, blaming President Obama for the popular uprisings, led by essentially enslaved peoples who seek the same freedoms enjoyed in Europe, North America and Israel.

"You want to know why we have an Arab Spring? Barack Obama has laid the table for an Arab Spring by demonstrating weakness from the United States of America," Bachmann said at a fundraiser today. 

"The number one duty of the President is to be the commander-in-chief," she told supporters at Troutman's barbecue joint in Concord, N.C. 

It was not the first time Bachmann butchered the facts about the Arab Spring, but she did meander into new territory when she sought to link ex-President Jimmy Carter's handling of the Islamic uprising in Iran in the late 1970s to Obama's handling of the Arab revolutions, according to MSNBC, which broke the story.

(MSNBC has the video of Bachmann's remarks here).

Bachmann further demonstrated that she has scant understanding of the widely accepted and long-held baseline negotiating point between Israel and the Palestinians -- that talks begin with both sides agreeing to the pre-1967 War border and move toward realistic land swaps from there.   

"We saw him put a lot of daylight between our relationship with our ally Israel  and when he called upon Israel to retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders. Don't think that message wasn't lost on Israel's 26 indefensible neighbors," Bachmann said.

Her comments came a week after Obama was criticized for one of the most pro-Israel addresses to the United Nations by a U.S. President.

On the upside, it is worth noting that Bachmann made the comments in Concord, North Carolina, so it could have been worse -- she could have suggested the American Revolution began there, as she did when she was in New Hampshire, whose capital is Concord.

All of Massachusetts can rejoice.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Palestinian Statehood Application Moves Amid Israeli Settlement Expansion

The symbolic push for Palestinian statehood moved forward today at the United Nations, but just days after Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu delivered his suspect speech for peace he approved settlement expansion that even Israel's only friend shook its head at.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's application was sent to the UN Security Council's  admissions committee today for review. The application will be discussed Friday by all 15 members of the UN Security Council.

Palestinians, meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank and Arab sections of Jerusalem were outraged by Netanyahu's decision to build 1,100 homes in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood that was seized by Israel in 1967.

The Palestinian Authority suggested it was evidence of the insincere call for peace the hawkish right-wing Israeli leader made Frioodat at the UN. 

The Israeli government ignored the complaints.

"Gilo is not a settlement nor an outpost. It is a neighborhood in the very heart of Jerusalem about five minutes from the centre of town," Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was an unhelpful move to expand the Jewish settlements. The U.S. has emerged as Isreal's only real friend in the effort to block the move for Palestinain statehood.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Huge Increase in Workers' Health Costs Amounts to Pay Cut for Many

Workers already facing fewer pay raises are now up against a new reality: Their bosses are forcing them to pay more for their premiums and deductibles than ever before, an annual health care survey released today revealed.

Workers premiums increased much faster than their wages and general inflation, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust 2011 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

Since 2001, family premiums jumped by 113%, compared with 34% for workers’ wages and 27% for inflation, the daunting data indicated.

So in reality the increasing cost of worker-financed health care plans is actually a pay cut for many employees -- just the latest indication that the American middle class is under assault by an outdated economic system skewed in favor of the wealthiest Americans.

Annual premiums for worker-sponsored family health coverage increased to $15,073 this year, a 9% increase from last year, the survey showed. On average, workers pay $4,129 and employers pay $10,944 toward those annual premiums.

"This year’s 9% increase in premiums is especially painful for workers and employers struggling through a weak recovery," said Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman.

Perhaps the only good news is that unemployed recent college graduates and other young people up to the age 26 are getting covered thankt to the health care reforms sponsored by President Obama.

"The law is helping millions of young adults to obtain health coverage. In the past, many of these young adults would have lost coverage when they left home or graduated college," said the study's lead author Gary Claxton, a Kaiser vice president and co-executive director of the Kaiser Initiative on Health Reform and Private Insurance.

The survey was conducted between January and May of 2011 and included 3,184 randomly selected, non-federal public and private firms with three or more employees.

Chris Christie: The New and Improved GOP Flavor of the Month

Updated at 8:15 p.m. edt

New Jersey's GOP Gov. Chris Christie reportedly told contributors at a political fundraiser in California today that he is not running for the GOP presidential nomination, according to sources who were in the room when he made the announcement.

Once again Christie found himself having to repeat he is not seeking the highest office in the land. The announcement this time came during a steak dinner for about 40 wealthy donors in Santa Ana, the Newark Star-Ledger reported.

Christie is attending seven fundraisers in three states this week, so the presidential speculation has likely helped fill the events with a donor base he might not otherwise attract.

In addition, sources close to Christie said the governor is sticking by his earlier decision against running, ending some of the rumors that have been flying the past few days, Fox News reported

end update
---[

Updated at 2 p.m. EDT

The brother of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the latest well-connected source to knock down media-inflated rumors and speculation that his brother is having second thoughts about a run for President.

Republican fundraiser Todd Christie insisted to the Newark Star-Ledger that his brother Chris will not run for President in 2012.

"I’m sure that he’s not going to run," Todd Christie told the newspaper. "If he’s lying to me, I’ll be as stunned as I’ve ever been in my life."

end update
---[

It sounds like the mainstream media is ready for another flavor of the month in the GOP presidential sweepstakes. This time it is New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie who is being offered up again as the supersized savior of the GOP.

Apparently some fat cats who bankroll Republican candidates are not convinced that the frontrunners, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas or ex-Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, can beat President Obama next year.

Christie's buddy, former GOP New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, helped trigger the latest buzz when he claimed over the weekend that Christie is seriously thinking about running for President.

Christie added to the speculation by heading to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., today to deliver a speech titled "Real American Exceptionalism." He also has a fundraiser and a few other high-profile events planned for the week.

It all has many political commentators and reporters frothing today over the thought of a Christie candidacy.

The verdict from MSNBC's "Morning Joe" political roundtable this morning was Christie must run now or forever hold his peace. "His chance is not going to come again." insisted the show's ringmaster, Joe Scarborough.

Christie is a wise center-right Republican who is not afraid to take on his own party, but can you imagine the television spots the Tea Party candidates or their allies would run Christie were to jump into the race?

We would see Christie smiling with President Obama; Christie attacking the right wing over its criticism of Sharia law; Christie saying he is not going to run because he is not ready for prime time; Christie saying family first (that is a good thing, by the way); and Christie criticizing Tea Party mascot and House GOP leader Eric Cantor for playing politics with federal disaster aid.

It would be Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza and the Winter Solstice all wrapped into one for political pundits and reporters, and perhaps that is why so many are frothing at the thought of him jumping in the race for President.

Now, despite the breathless news reports, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threw a bucket of ice cold water on the idea, insisting Christie is not running.

"I think the governor is doing a great job here," Guadagno told reporters yesterday. "The governor is not running for President."

Monday, September 26, 2011

UN Security Council Meets On Palestine, But No Vote For At Least Weeks

Do not be fooled by today's closed-door meeting at the United Nation's Security Council: It will be a long slog before any votes or vetoes are cast in the Palestinian statehood issue.

The UN Security Council will not set up a committee to review Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's application for statehood (formally presented last Friday) until then end of this week, at the earliest.

So while the UN Security Council is meeting privately to discuss the future of Palestine, we are talking weeks, perhaps months, before a vote is taken, the CBC reports.

In the meantime, Obama administration is working hard behind the scenes to get UN Security Council members to oppose statehood in effort to avoid its promised veto that would alienate its Arab and Muslim allies, Fox News reports.

The Palestinians need nine votes on the UN Security Council to win statehood, but they only have six for sure — China, Russia, Brazil, Lebanon, India and South Africa -- even without the veto. China formally jumped on board today.

Palestine obviously will not be granted statehood, given the promised U.S. veto, but some Israelis do not think that their leader has helped sell the case that peace talks are the path to freedom for the Palestinians.  

One Haaretz writer even called Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's address to the UN General Assembly a speech of lies.

And in other distantly related news, AlJazeera is trying to shake its reputation as an anti-Western news agency, so it will not help its case that one of its ex-reporters admitted he was an alleged Hamas operative while on the job, the Jerusalem Post reports.

Arab Spring Sweep: Saudi women; Syrian hacking; Yemeni Back; Libya Strife

It has been a few days since we checked in on the pro-democracy freedom movement in the Middle East, so here is an update of the most recent losses and gains and other news in the Arab Spring:

The lead story is Saudia Arabia's claim that it will extend voting rights to women in local elections in 2015:

News of womens' voting rights came as quite a surprise and believe it was King Abdullah playing preemptive CYA, ABC News blogs.

Some say voting rights for women will not really happen, CNN reports.

The Wall Street Journal says it is great that women will be able to vote, but ponders when they will be able to drive. Women drivers continue to be prosecuted.

Clean and open elections are not part of the anti-democracy government's plan in Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, the Associated Press reports.

Things are getting nasty again in Yemen:

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's return to Yemen, after recovering from burns and other wounds in an assassination attempt on his life three months ago, has re-invigorated his political opponents, enemy tribes and pro-democracy freedom fighters, Reuters reports.

Tribesmen killed one of Saleh's top generals in a bold attack on a government army base, Voice of America reports.

The United States and Gulf Cooperation Council were blindsided by the return of Saleh, whom they had hoped would just retire in Saudi Arabia, The New York Times Reports.

It is as bad as ever in Syria:

Bashir al-Assad's tanks blockade northwestern city Al-Rastan as crackdown continues elsewhere, CNN reports.

Assad's loyalist followers flexed some mischievous brainpower and hacked into as website at Harvard University, the BBC reports.

It might have been payback for anti-Assad hackers who attacked government websites, according to The Washington Times.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeaks to China to join the anti-Assad movement, Agence France Presse reports.

Turkey and the re-emegence of the Ottomans across the Middle East, remains a key to the fall of Assad, The New York Times reports

The mainstream media has become bored with the Libyan revolution, but it is far from over:

Residents are fleeing the hometown of Moammar Gadhafi amid food and medicine shortages. Meanwhile, the provisional government declares an end to court that was used by the former dictator to prosecute his enemies, the AP reports.

Like Sirte, the revolutionary army presses on in Bani Walid, the BBC reports.
  
For the latest Afghanistan and Iraq news, please read longtime colleagues Stephanie Gaskell and Rich Sisk at The War Report.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Abbas asks for Palestinian Statehood; Clinton Disses Bibi The Peacenik

First-time listeners of Bibi Netanyahu today would have thought he was a dove carrying an olive branch to his unfortunate Arab brothers.

"Now we’re in the same city, we’re in the same building, so let’s meet here today in the United Nations,” Netanyahu said, in an eye-rolling plea to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to sit down to talks. "With God’s help, we’ll find the common ground of peace."

Predictably, and in concert with an Obama administration that fears it will lose needed Jewish voters next year, Netanyahu appeared before the United Nations General Assembly not as the powerful hawk he has been for an entire career, but rather a somewhat broken isolated leader who is watching his only Muslim allies shake their heads at his failings.

Even former President Bill Clinton is warning the world that Netanyahu is not an honest broker when it comes to peace with the Palestinians. 

For those of us who more than a decade ago covered the Camp David II, Wye River and Sharm El Sheikh peace talks and follow Middle Eastern Affairs for the sheer love of the story and the region, that is not news, but it is timely.

And for The Big Dog, who knows first-hand how Netanyahu does business, the timing is no accident. 

On the eve of Netayahu's bluster-filled at the United Nations, Clinton undermined with random precision the right-wing Israeli leader's attempt to paint himself as a genuine Israeli peacemaker of the ilk of Menachem Begin or Yitzhak Rabin.

"The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn't seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu. They wanted to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there's no question -- and the Netanyahu government has said -- that this is the finest Palestinian government they've ever had in the West Bank," Clinton said, according to Foreign Policy magazine's blogger, Josh Rogin.

"[Palestinian leaders] have explicity said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before -- my deal -- that they would take it," Clinton said of the 2000 Camp David II accord rejected by Yasser Arafat.

Abbas, meanwhile, presented his letter today to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, requesting statehood for Palestine. 

"At a time when the Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy – the Arab Spring – the time has come for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence," Abbas told the UN General Assembly, much of which gave the Palestinian leader a standing ovation.

Here is a full transcript of Netanyahu's remarks.

Here is a full transcript of Abbas's remarks

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Israeli Cops Prep for Violence; Israeli Intellectuals Appeal for Palestinian State

Updated 11:30 a.m. edt Fiday

Israeli police beefed up security today in Jerusalem and banned Palestinian men under the age of 50 from praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, taking security precautions amid at least one deadly confrontation as the Palestinians ask for statehood from the United Nations.

Women of any age are still allowed to pray at the historic mosque, according to the WAFA Palestinian news agency.

Israeli security forces shot and killed a Palestinian in the West Bank during a confrontation between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the village of Qusra, a local Palestinian official said, according to Haaretz.

There were also confrontations in Arab East Jerusalem with rock-hurling Palestinians, the newspaper reported.

end update
---[

Israeli security forces are breaking out the "skunk" crowd-control spray amid fears of violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere ahead of tomorrow's anticipated bid for statehood at the United Nations by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Skunk, a smelly spray that can leave its victims wishing they were instead hit by the more frequently utilized Israeli rubber bullets, is among an array of crowd-control weapons security forces will be armed with in the occupied West Bank territory and along the borders with Palestine.

Security was heightened today in Jerusalem ahead of tomorrow's anticipated spectacle at the UN General Assembly, according to the Palestinian news agency, WAFA.

Dozens of Israeli artists and intellectuals used symbolic Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to show support today for Palestinian statehood. The protesters demonstrated outside the same building where the late socialist former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed independence for the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.

It is all part of a dramatic, but so far peaceful build-up to the events tomorrow at the UN, which will be more along the lines of litigating a case, as Abbas and Isreali Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu address the world body.

But, as the Talk Radio News Service reports, an actual vote has to move through a time-consuming bureaucratic process. So it could be weeks before a vote is taken.   

"A vote here is merely a statement on a piece of paper. It doesn't change anything on the ground for the Palestinian people the day after," a panicked-sounding Ambassador Susan Rice told NPR's of "All Things Considered" today.

Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, told the high-brow radio network a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood "is not just a neutral, symbolic action. In our view it is unwise and counterproductive." 

"If it accelerated the negotiations, we would say yes," Rice said. "The reality is quite the opposite. The process that must occur will be that much more complicated in the wake of this kind of one-sided action."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Obama's Prepared Remarks on Palestine: 'Peace Depends Upon Compromise'

President Obama's prepared remarks opposing the unilateral creation of a Palestinian state excerpted from his address this morning before United Nations General Assembly:
 
"Now I know that for many in this hall, one issue stands as a test for these principles – and for American foreign policy: the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
 
"One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May. That basis is clear, and well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.
 
"I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. So am I. But the question isn’t the goal we seek – the question is how to reach it. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem.
 
"Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted. That is the lesson of Northern Ireland, where ancient antagonists bridged their differences. That is the lesson of Sudan, where a negotiated settlement led to an independent state. And that is the path to a Palestinian state. 
 
"We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There is no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. And it is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can achieve one.
 
"America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were.
 
"These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.
 
"That truth – that each side has legitimate aspirations – is what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes. That’s what we should be encouraging. This body – founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide; dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every person – must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis.  The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live in peace and security, with dignity and opportunity. We will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down together, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and fears. That is the project to which America is committed. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.
 
"Now, even as we confront these challenges of conflict and revolution, we must also recognize once more that peace is not just the absence of war. True peace depends upon creating the opportunity that makes life worth living. And to do that, we must confront the common enemies of human beings: nuclear weapons and poverty; ignorance and disease. These forces corrode the possibility of lasting peace, and together we are called upon to confront them."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lefties Like What Obama is Saying as Poll Shows Americans Favor Jobs Plan

President Obama is armed and ready to take on the Tea Party-led GOP now that he is seeing support for financing his jobs plan with spending cuts and restoring the tax rates to 1990s level for the richest Americans.

A new Gallup poll out today shows significant majorities of Americans favor Obama paying for his latest jobs plan by taxing the wealthy and wiping out tax breaks for some corporations.

There is even more evidence of good news for Obama, including word from some of his allies who say the push-back rhetoric from Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner is an indication that the GOP is feeling the President's sting. Boehner and others on the right spent much of today whining that Obama is waging class warfare.

Now the fractured ranks of the Democratic left is liking what it is hearing from Obama so far regarding his newly announced $3.2 trillion deficit reduction plan that includes taxing the richest Americans at the same rate as middle class taxpayers.

And that is a big deal, because if Obama can shore up the disheartened ranks of his progressive supporters early on in the 2012 presidential election season it will give him ample opportunity to battle for the moderate independent voters who will be the deciding factor in next year's balloting.

"His problem isn't me or Move On so much as it is all the people who voted for him in '08 who may vote for him again. They probably won't vote for the Republican. But they're not going to go out and bring 10 people to the polls with them. They're not going to be excited about voting again. And that's where it could really hurt him," said lefty filmmaker and commentator Michael Moore.

"So, this thing that happened today is very exciting, and to have him just repeat over and over again, I will refuse to let these Bush tax cuts for the rich continue, I will refuse to rebuild this country on the backs of the poor and the middle class, that is music to my ears. We should have heard this from day one. I'll take it on day 900 if that's when I get it," Moore told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last night.

One of the most vocal and angry constituencies within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been the gay and lesbian community. Many Gay Democrats felt the White House was just giving lip service when it came to it's support for abolishing the military's don't ask, don't tell.

"A lot of us were so ticked off at him for dragging his feet," said John Aravosis, a progressive opinion leader known for his political instincts and sometimes bombastic approach to driving home a point. 

But there is euphoria today in the gay community, which has heaped millions of dollars into the Obama campaign along with their support on election day: Don't ask, don't tell is off the books and gay and lesbian Americans can now serve openly in the armed forces.

"It became real as of midnight last night, and it is true that we would not have won without a President pushing for it," said Aravosis, who is an openly gay blogger with a significant following on his AmericaBlog platform.

So Obama is finally having good week, but there remains a skepticism among some supporters that when it gets down to the 11th hour he will blink and give Republicans what they want, without a fight.  

"People are more excited, but a lot of people are waiting to see if he follows through," Aravosis observed. "I have a lot of trouble believing everyone at this point is just going to say, 'Oh, ok we're going to come back now.'"

Abbas Gathers Support for Statehood; Perry Panders to Neocons

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is meeting today with international leaders at the United Nations, drumming up support for his bid to get the world body to recognize the state of Palestine.

The controversial move is further isolating Israel at the UN and putting the U.S. in a tough spot, since it supports the pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East known as the Arab Spring, but the Obama administration will veto any effort at the UN Security Council to unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood.

"We hope the United States will revise its position and be on the side of the majority of nations or countries who want to support the Palestinian right to have self determination and independence," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said at an impromptu press conference after meeting with Venezuela's foreign minister.

Abbas is angered by two decades of talks that have failed to reach a deal leading to Palestinian statehood, especially amid what he believes is further stalling tactics by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

The Palestinian leader is meeting today with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

In an 11th-hour plea, Netanyahu now says he is ready to get back to serious negotiations to try to head off a vote on statehood, as early as Friday, when Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly.

Netanyahu also plans to address the UN on Friday.

Conservative GOP presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is seeking to take advantage of the international tensions, meeting with Jewish and Israeli leaders to blame Obama for the Palestinians move to get statehood.

"Simply put, we would not be here today at the precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama Policy in the Middle East wasn’t na├»ve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous," Perry said in prepared remarks released ahead of his speech today.

Despite Obama's firm position that his Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice will veto Palestinian statehood at the UN Security Council, Perry blasted the President for his even-handed treatment of the Israelis and Palestinians.

"It must be said, first, that Israel is our oldest and strongest democratic ally in the Middle East and has been for more than 60 years," Perry said. "The Obama Policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a dangerous insult."

Perry, who has not addressed foreign policy matters very much on campaign trail, was dismissed by detractors as pandering to neo-conservative Republicans rather than adding anything meaningful to the dialogue.

Rangel Crashes Perry's Panhandling Party Uptown

Forget the sleazy Salahis, Rep. Charlie Rangel is the new king of the gatecrashers.

The Harlem Democrat showed up last night at what was supposed to be a hush-hush, off-the-record fundraiser for Texas Gov. Rick Perry's bid for the GOP presidential nomination at the Papasito Mexican Grill uptown in Manhattan.

"I wanted to make him feel comfortable," Rangel said, according to Politico's Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman.

The cowboy candidate is spending a couple of days away from his Tea Party base of supporters, panhandling in New York City with a more mainstream set of GOP backers.

The fundraiser at the Papisito restaurant and bar was for two dozen or so Hispanic businessmen, reportedly raising $50,000 for Perry's campaign.

Couple Weds Shortly After 'Don't Asks, Don't Tell' Expires

Gays and lesbians can finally serve openly in the U.S. military, now that the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that required them to stay in the closet was wiped off the books at midnight. 

One couple, Navy Lt. Gary Ross, 33, and his civilian partner, Dan Sweezy, 49, wasted no time and tied the knot in Vermont shortly after the policy expired: They were declared husband and husband.

The happy couple traveled from their home in Tucson, Ariz., to get married in Vermont, the state that led the way for the country toward the legalization of gay marriage, according to the Associated Press.

"We're thrilled the policy is gone," said Ross, who wore his Navy dress blue uniform at the ceremony at the log cabin bed-and-breakfast Moose Meadow Lodge in Duxbury.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anti-Gadhafi Forces Retreat in Bani Walid and Sirte Amid Fierce Resistance

Stunned Libyan revolutionary forces regrouped today outside the Gadhafi stronghold Bani Walid after fierce fighters loyal to the deposed dictator successfully countered an offensive to take the hold-out city.

The Transitional National Council's army was stymied in part by what its claims is an effort to limit innocent civilians casualties as revolutionary forces move on Bani Walid, as well as Moammar Gadhafi's hometown Sirte.

But the Gadhafi forces are entrenched and well-armed in Bani Walid, about 80 miles southeast of Tripoli. It is one of the cities where Gadhafi may be hiding. 

"The Gadhafi loyalists have so many weapons," revolutionary fighter Mabb Fatel, 28, told the Associated Press. “This battle is really crazy.”

In the coastal Mediterranean city of Sirte, even after bombing runs by NATO warplanes, TNC forces face tanks, artillery and clusters of snipers that have prevented revolutionary fighters from entering the city.

In a mostly symbolic victory, revolutionary forces captured the Al-Gurdabia airbase south of Sirte, Bloomberg reported.

Canada, meanwhile, whose commitment to the campaign was to expire this month, has agreed to extend its role by three months.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Netanyahu Open to Upping Palestinian Status; Ambassador Back in Jordan

As anti-Israeli sentiment cools off in Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is reportedly considering an upgrade in Palestinian recognition if the Palestinian Authority backs off a plan to seek statehood at the United Nations.

Netanyahu expressed his willingness to accept a plan that would upgrade Palestinian status during talks the past few days with the European Union's foreign policy director Catherine Ashton, according to a report today in Haaretz.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has a been discussing a new comprehensive roadmap to negotiations and statehood with European and American officials that would avoid a unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN, according to the London based Arabic daily Al Hayat.

The plan calls for the PA and Israel to resume negotiations for a minimum of six months, followed by a halt to hostilities and the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Netanyahu will address the UN General Assembly next Friday, the same day the Palestinians will make their pitch for statehood. 

In a sign of a return towards normalcy, Israel's Ambassador Daniel Nevo returned to Amman today a day after a so-called million-man march fizzled into a protest of several hundred anti-Israeli demonstrators.

All but one member of the diplomatic staff was evacuated Wednesday from the Israeli embassy in Amman amid fears of a violent protest similar to the mob over the weekend that ransacked the Israeli mission in Cairo.

Jordanian police protected the Isreali embassy as the protesters app arched, demanding that Jordan scrap its historic peace treaty with Israel. 

Agitators sought to take their cue from the protesters in Cairo, using the fiery remarks by Major Gen. Uzi Dayan to provoke demonstrations in Jordan. Dayan called for Jordan to invade and take over the West Bank and Gaza to keep the Palestinians from declaring statehood at the UN.

Dayan's idea was met with disdain from the government in Amman.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Video: Phish Plays Vermont Irene Flood Benefit & You Can Help


Updated at 5:15 p.m. edt Saturday

So far Phish has raised at least $1.2 million for the victims of Hurricane Irene and still counting!

The vast majority of the money comes from Wednesday night's show, but the band is still kicking in a few bucks from the sale of the music from the ass-kicking show the band turned out.

Phish is distributing he proceeds through The WaterWheel Foundation and the Vermont Community Foundation.

end update
---[

Never forgetting where they came from, the jam band standard-bearers Phish performs "Chalk Dust Torture" live last night at Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, Vermont. This special performance was a benefit for flood relief efforts in Vermont the wake of Hurricane Irene.

PLEASE DO NOT CLICK ON MY ADS. INSTEAD HELP SUPPORT THE VERMONT FLOOD RECOVERY EFFORT AND PURCHASE THE AUDIO FROM LIVEPHISH.COM!

IF MY FAVORITE QUARTET ISN'T YOUR THING HERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO DIG DEEP AND KICK IN A FEW BUCKS. THE VERMONT IRENE FLOOD RELIEF FUND 

PLEASE BE KIND AND HELP OUT

MANY THANKS TO THE GIFTED VIDEOGRAPHER MKDEVO FOR THIS UPLOAD.

Israel Clears Out Embassy in Jordan Fearing Repeat of Egypt

The Israeli government is taking no chances of a repeat of the weekend ransacking of its embassy in Cairo, pulling back its ambassador and most staff from its diplomatic mission in Jordan ahead a planned million-man march in support of the United Nations recogreposed proposed Palestinian statehood.

Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Daniel Nevo and his staff left its complex in Amman in a convoy overnight. The diplomats hope to return Sunday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. Nevo and his staff routinely return to Israel for the sabbath.

The anti-Israeli sentiment in Egypt and Jordan is particularly troubling because they are the only Arab counties that have peace treaties with Israel.

President Obama had to intervene diplomatically on behalf of Israel to save the lives of trapped security personal in the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

Now the U.S. embassy in Jordan is also under increased protection by Jordanian police after Wikileaks diplomatic cables suggested a secret plan to turn Jordan into a homeland for Palestinians. There was a small protest outside the U.S. embassy in Amman yesterday in which demonstrators burned the American flag and demanded that the American diplomats be expelled from Jordan.

The region is swiftly becoming a powder keg amid the Palestinian Authority's plan to seek statehood at the UN.

The U.S. has vowed to veto any move for statehood on the UN Security Council and is lobbying other countries to do also oppose the move. Israel, however, increasingly becoming isolated and faces widespread support globally for Palestinian statehood.

Nonetheless, the U.S. is still hoping the statehood issue is abandoned, fearing a veto could trigger even more anti-American demonstrations in the Muslim world.

"We continue to see any kind of effort by the Palestinians in New York as counterproductive and not in the interest of achieving a two-state solution, which is our goal," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

"Our argument conveyed to countries around the world is that this is a counterproductive measure by the Palestinians, and because of that, it doesn’t get anybody any closer to a comprehensive peace settlement, and that’s why we’ve got to remain focused on getting them back to the negotiating table," Toner added.

The world's leading Islamic democracy, Turkey, which has diplomatic and trade relations with Tel Aviv, is also ripped at the Israeli government for failing to apologize for its soldiers killing nine Turkish civilians on a ship that was part of a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for Gaza last year.

A UN-appointed panel found the Israeli commandos faced "organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers," but was still heavy handed in its response that led to the massacre on aboard the ship. "It seems to us to have been too heavy a response too quickly. It was an excessive reaction to the situation," the panel's report stated.

An internal Israeli probe cleared its military of any wrongdoing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Analysis: Warren's Consolation Prize Would be Senator from Massachusetts

Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, who could not get past the Senate confirmation process to get the job she was truly cut out for, the Wall Street watchdog, today jumps into a big field of Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate.

Warren has a strong story to tell about a Middle Class under siege by an emerging oligarchy whose religion is greed, but the question is can she tell it in way that appeals to the blue-collar voters who likely will decide the outcome of a close election?

On paper, she is probably much smarter than incumbent Republican Scott Brown and knows a thing or two about the new economic norm the U.S. is facing (in which workers are toast). The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was her brainchild, but its top job could never become hers in the pro-Wall Street climate that even permeates the Democratic ranks.

Brown is somewhat popular in Massachusetts and knows how to campaign (he was so good on the stump that the Bay State Tea Party thought he was one of them until he arrived in Washington and started voting like the moderate senators from Maine).

So Warren may need a perfect storm to make this work: First she needs to get through a crowded primary field, and then she needs coattails from President Obama (who politically speaking does not even own a coat at this point). She probably could use the carpetbagger ex-Gov. Mitt Romney, widely hated in Massachusetts, on the ticket as the GOP presidential nominee, but what she really needs is Bay State voters to break their habit of giving the thumbs-down to women candidates for statewide office.

Months ago a source very close to Warren told me she did not have the fire in the belly to run, and what she really wanted was the top job at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Since then she apparently has had an epiphany (she was talked into running) and is indeed serious about taking a shot at Brown's seat.

Warren has done well in small coffee meet-and-greets and she can grow into a candidate who can connect in the rusting industrial cities that have been forsaken by manufacturers who ship their jobs overseas, my intellectually blessed leftist sources tell me.

The problem is when you look at her announcement video released today she says all the right things, but it sure looks like she still does not have that fire in the belly. That needs to change, if she is going to win in a state that loves to describe its politics with sports metaphors.

In other words, this is not the Head of the Charles Regatta, Professor Warren. It is third down in the snow on the Patriots one yard line and you need to fill the hole with some real red meat, or you lose.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Amid Fighting, Western Nations Move to Open Embassies in Tripoli

The U.S., Britain, France and Canada are all moving forward with plans to re-open embassies in the Libyan capital of Tripoli as the Transitional National Council moves from its provisional home in Benghazi.

As the armies of the TNC and NATO mop up resistance in the holdout cities still loyal to the hiding Moammar Gadhafi, Western allies are assessing the damage and security at their existing embassies.

"Having fully assessed the situation on the ground, Canada is prepared to re-establish its diplomatic presence and its ongoing embassy in a temporary location in Tripoli," he said. The permanent embassy building needs refurbishing following the fighting in Tripoli, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said today.

Canada's ambassador to Libya, Sandra McCardell, and a small staff performed the assessment of conditions in at their mission in Tripoli. Canada also announced it would release $2 billion in frozen Gadhafi assets to the TNC.

In a bizarre twist led by the right-wing media, the some in the mainstream U.S. press has tried to make a case that four military personnel who are part of an American diplomatic team in Tripoli represent "boots on the ground" in an effort to embarrass President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Instead, the Obama-bashers are demonstrating their partisanship and ignorance, since an embassy is considered the sovereign ground of the nation that owns it, and almost every embassy has a small security force on hand to protect the facility.

It almost goes without saying that the four military personnel will not be fighting the Gadhafi forces, given their responsibility to protect the U.S. diplomats. The Obama administration promised no U.SD./ troops would be on the ground as part of the NATO operations.

"When the President made his commitment no boots on the ground, that obviously had to do with entering into the fray between the Gaddafi forces and the Libyan freedom fighters and that's not what these guys are engaged in," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, adding an American embassy should be up and running in a matter of weeks.

The French and British were the first Western nations to return to Tripoli, with their diplomatic officials on the ground at the end of August.

In another sign that parts of Libya is slowly moving towards normalcy, Turkish Airlines has resumed service to Benghazi, and Jordan's airline, Royal Jordanian, will re-start its flight to Benghazi Thursday.

The hunt for Gadhafi, meanwhile, continues amid fighting in a few hot spots around the country. Gadhafi's son Saadi, who fled to Niger over the weekend, is being held under house arrest at a government site.

"Our understanding is, like the others, he's being detained in a state guest house and that it is appropriate that Niger and the TNC work through this together," Nuland said. "It's essentially a house arrest in this government facility, is our understanding."

Gadhafi loyalists are putting up a good fight in Bani Walid, 90 miles southeast of Tripoli. TNC fighters have not been able to take the Gadhafi stronhold, despite a two-front attack on that city of 50,000 people.

NATO warplanes softened up targets in at least two other Gadhafi strongholds overnight ahead of anticipated attacks by revolutionary forces. NATO pounded a radar, surface-to-air missile systems and vehicles near Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte. The alliance also said it pounded tanks and two armored trucks in Sabha.

(Editor's note: Moving forward the armies formerly known as "rebel forces" will be described in this blog as the provisional, revolutionary or TNC army.)

Paul Asked About Uninsured Facing Death & Debate Crowd Yells Let Him Die

Updated at 7:45 p.m. edt

At least one Tea Party official is condemning the hate-filled shouts from a handful of its rank and file who want the uninsured to die rather than to receive lifesaving medical treatment.

"It was terrible... Because two people made a stupid statement does not mean that the entire Tea Party agrees with that, we absolutely do not," said Billie Tucker, spokeswoman for the Tea Party Alliance of Florida.

"We wish they weren't in the room," Tucker told CNN today.

At least three different voices could be heard shouting "yes" or "yeah" when Wolf Bitzer asked Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). There were also cheers and applause when Paul said it is people's choice to live or die.

end update
---[

Forget all the candidate box scores and prognostication, the real newsmaker at last night's CNN/Tea Party GOP presidential debate was the audience, in which some in the crowd shouted "Yes" when Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) was asked by Wolf Blitzer if America should let an uninsured man die facing a catastrophic health condition. Here is the video, courtesy of ThinkProgress:




UPDATE: The pro-health care reform organization Protect Your Care called on the GOP candidates, the Tea Party Express and other Tea Party affiliates to condemn the behavior of the people in the audience who shouted "Yes" when Blitzer asked if Paul thought the uninsured should be left to die. Protect Your Care Communications Director Eddie Vale released the following statement:
 
"Last night we got a disturbing view into the Tea Party’s extreme right-wing position on health care when members of the audience clapped and cheered the idea of letting someone without health insurance die. Even worse, none of the Republican candidates on stage expressed a word of disapproval as the Tea Party audience literally clapped for blood. This was a spectacle one would have expected back in the gladiatorial combat of ancient Rome, not at a presidential debate.
 
"This moment is a test of whether those who aspire to the office of the President of the United States have the leadership abilities to stand up to the extreme Tea Party elements that we saw on sickening display last night.  The Republican candidates should condemn the extreme and un-American value of letting people die, as should the Tea Party Express and other Tea Party organizations."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Obama Cites Economists Calling Jobs Bill Insurance Against Double-Dip

President Obama sends Congress the $447 billion American Jobs Act to Congress today with the sales pitch that experts are calling his plan to boost the economy an insurance policy against a double-dip recession.

"When you look at what independent economists are saying about the American Jobs Act, my jobs plan, uniformly what they are saying is this buys us insurance against a double-dip recession and it almost certainly helps the economy grow and will put more people back to work," Obama told NBC News. "And that's what the American people want right now."

Obama also appealed to Republicans to not re-live the debt ceiling debacle again and put the markets and Main Street Americans at risk.

"What we've done is we've been able to stabilize the economy. And, you know, that is an enormous accomplishment. But the fact of the matter is we are not where we need to be. And it is important for us to not relitigate all the arguments of the past, but rather to say right now, what are the smartest things we can do to put people back to work?" Obama added.

This from a White House official:

"The President will make remarks in the Rose Garden on the need for Congress to pass the American Jobs Act. He will announce that he will be sending the bill to Congress on Monday evening when Congress comes back into session. He will call on Congress to pass the bill, which contains the kinds of proposals to grow the economy and create jobs that have been supported by both parties in the past. He will be joined at the Rose Garden event by people from across the country who would benefit from the American Jobs Act, including teachers, police officers, firefighters, construction workers, small business owners, and veterans."

The Democratic National Committee is providing Obama some air cover with a new TV ad to try to help make his case for Congress to pass the bill.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Panetta Played Key Role in Saving Israeli Lives In Egypt

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was the Obama administration's point man who successfully pressed Egypt's interim military government to rescue six trapped guards at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, the Israeli government disclosed.

When Israeli government officials failed to get the Egyptians to take action, it was Panetta who stepped in and took action,  according to the Israeli Defense Ministry. 

Panetta telephoned Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Chairman Gen. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, warning him to get the Israelis out safely or face recriminations from a nation that bankrolls and invests in Egypt.

"There's no time to waste," Panetta told Tantawi, warning that if the Israelis did not get of the embassy safely it "would have very severe consequences," according to Haaretz

Egyptian commandos went into the embassy a short time later and safely rescued the Israelis.

President Obama himself became engaged shortly after the violence broke out Friday, calling on Egypt to take steps to curb the threat to the Israel's sovereign embassy property. Obama spoke to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

The demonstration at the Israeli embassy that turned violent and destructive is seen by many of the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring as a threat to democratic reforms because it represents a dangerous diversion from the need to move forward with elections and institution-building.

"There are (Egyptian) objectors, who are appealing not against policy, but against Israel," Netanyahu said.

For his part, Netanyahu worked the phones, speaking with Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Murad Muwafi, after failing to get in touch with Tantawi.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, was in contact with  Panetta and  Dennis Ross, Middle East adviser on the White House National Security Council.

Barak had asked Panetta and Ross to push the Egyptian military "to protect the embassy from the demonstrators who broke into it," according to a statement from Barak's office.

The Israelis believe it is essential for the Cairo embassy to re-open quiuckly and stand as the symbol of Arab-Israeli relations.

"The Middle East is undergoing a historical earthquake and we have to operate calmly, responsibly," Netanyahu said today.

"Israel will continue to adhere to the peace treaty with Egypt. We are working together with the Egyptian government to quickly return our ambassador to Cairo," Netanyahu added.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke this weekend with her Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, as she and other U.S. officials maintain constant contact with their Egyptian and Israeli counterparts, the State Department said.

"She welcomed the statements made by both Egyptian and Israeli officials that both remain committed to the peace between the two nations, and reiterated her view that Egyptian-Israeli peace is a cornerstone to regional stability," a State Department statement said.

"Additionally, Secretary Clinton offered her condolences to the loved ones of an Egyptian solider who passed away Friday night from wounds he sustained during last month’s violence in Sinai," the statement added.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Egypt's Pro-Democracy Protagonists Reject Move to Overrun Israeli Embassy

Some of the leading protagonists of the Arab Spring pro-democracy revolution took to Twitter overnight to denounce an Egyptian mob ransacking the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

Mahmoud Salam, Amr ElGabry and Gigi Ibrahim, among others, all questioned the mob's decision to storm into the Israeli mission, forcing out staff and ransacking the building.

"Those breaking into Israel Embassy do not represent me, they represent stupidity... and others,” Tweeted the Pan-Arab progressive intellectual @AmrElGabry.

The outspoken and widely followed Salam, better known by his @Sandmonkey handle, fired back when he came under fire for criticizing the mob action.

"Oh, so if u don't agree with attacking the Israeli embassy, u r a soft zionist sympathizer now? Lovely! Go (expletive deleted) yourselves," Salam shot back with his @Sandmonkey Twitter account.

"The deeper we get into the revolution the more apparent it becomes who believes in the revolution & who is simply riding the wave,” lamented Ibrahim, who goes by handle @Gsquare86.

"Result: while anti-Israel Egyptians may feel good, the country looks bad internationally. Stronger response early cld have defused things,” added the anonymous @arabist.

The BBC's Jerusalem correspondent Paul Danahar suggested Israel needs to do its part by behaving like a better neighbor, given the new reality in the Middle East.

"Embassy attack by protestors shows Israel must change way engages with neighbors post Arab spring cos now arab street has voice & muscle,” he Tweeted in his @pdanahar account.