Sunday, February 27, 2011

U.S. Encourages Gadhafi's Opposition

Updated at 8:20 p.m. est

President Obama will host United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon tomorrow as NATO reportedly reconsiders whether to set up a no-fly zone over Libya to protect protesters from air attacks by forces loyal to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Italy, meanwhile, once considered to be Libya's closet European ally, suspended its treaty with Gadhafi today, seen as a precursor to further potential action to counter the Libyan strongman as his stranglehold on the country continues to shrink at the hands of vigilant rebels.

The New York Times reported today that NATO and other European allies are reconsidering implementing a no-fly zone over Libya.

end update

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed earlier today that the United States is "reaching out" to Libyans organizing opposition to dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Speaking to reporters before heading to Geneva for a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Clinton said, "We are just at the beginning of what will follow Gadhafi" as his regime slowly crumbles.

"First we have to see the end of his regime with no further violence and bloodshed, which is a big challenge in front of all of us," Clinton said.

"But we’ve been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the East and as the revolution moves westward there as well," she added. "I think it’s way too soon to tell how this is going to play out, but we’re going to be ready and prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have from the United States."

Clinton is particularly hopeful that the UN Security Council's resolution, which was approved unanimously last night, will put pressure on Gadhafi and his loyal advisers and forces, including his hired mercenaries.

"The Security Council resolution passed unanimously yesterday makes clear there will be accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes and other atrocities that are being perpetrated against the Libyan people, including a referral to the International Criminal Court," Clinton said.

"And I want to underscore this unanimous message from the Security Council to those who are around Gadhafi that you will be held accountable for the actions that are being taken and have been taken against your own people," she added.

Protesters Ready for Civil Disobedience in Wisconsin

Updated 7 p.m. est

Police sympathetic to Wisconsin's state and local workers so far are declining to arrest demonstrators who are staging a sit-in at the state Capitol over collective bargaining rights.

Under orders from beleaguered Gov. Scott Walker, police are being asked to clear the Capitol of Wisconsin of workers and their supporters so the building can be cleaned. The two-week occupation of the Capitol in Madison is a result of Walker's unpopular decision to take away the right of workers to negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

Union leaders began spreading the word earlier today that some of the police are not happy with Walker's order, but have no choice to carry out the unpopular directive. The building was closed at 4 p.m. local time and Walker ordered the State police in to clearer out the protesters.

"At 4:00pm they were told to leave. Some did, but many others including clergy, police and firefighters said they would not leave and would engage in peaceful civil disobedience if they tried to remove them," said AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale. "They were not removed. They will not be removed tonight. The people of Wisconsin held their Capitol building against the governor."

End update

“Law enforcement working at the Capitol has been impressed with how peaceful and courteous everyone has been,” Wisconsin Professional Police Association Executive Director Jim Palmer said in a statement.

“The fact of that matter is that Wisconsin’s law enforcement community opposes Gov. Walker’s effort to eliminate collective bargaining in this state, and we implore him to not do anything to increase the risk to officers or the public. Security cannot come at the cost of conflict,” Palmer added.

In response, many of the workers plan to engage in civil disobedience, refusing to leave the building while agreeing to go peacefully should police decide to physically remove the demonstrators.

“First Gov. Walker tried to take away workers’ rights, now he is trying to take away our Constitutional right as Americans to peacefully assemble,” steelworker Roy Vandenberg said in a statement. “I have a message for Gov. Walker, your plan to silence us won't work. We are not going away, and we will not be silenced.”

Even Walker, when pressed this morning on NBC's "Meet the Press" news program, admitted the workers have been peaceful and orderly.

"We've had, you know, a week ago, 70,000 people, we had more than that yesterday, and yet we haven't had problems here. We haven't had disturbances," Walker said. "We've just had very passionate protesters for and against this bill, and that's OK. That's a very Midwestern thing."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Obama Finally calls for Gadhafi to Step Down

President Obama today joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy in calling for Libyan despot Moammar Gadhafi to step down. Obama's long-awaited call for Gadhafi to end his reign of terror came during a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The President stated that when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now," the White House said in a statement.

"The leaders reaffirmed their support for the Libyan people’s demand for universal rights and a government that is responsive to their aspirations, and agreed that Gadhafi's government must be held accountable. They discussed appropriate and effective ways for the international community to respond," the White House said.

Earlier this week, Sarkozy became the first world leader of significance to call for Gadhafi's ouster.

The Obama administration has been ridiculed this week for foot-dragging in response to the violence carried out by Gadhafi's military and hired goons, but a U.S. official late today insisted the White House had its hands tied because of fears of reprisal against Americans who were in Libya.

"The administration had only one majer concern: The Americans stuck in a very hostile place," a U.S. official said.

Most of the remaining Americans cleared out yesterday aboard a U.S.-chartered ferry that arrived in Malta and a U.S.-chartered flight that landed in Turkey.

Workers Air New Walker Prank Call Ad

The latest pro-worker spot to hit the Wisconsin battle over employees' rights:

Friday, February 25, 2011

U.S. Aims Sanctions & Tough Talk at Gadhafi

Updated 11:50 p.m. est

Declaring it "a national emergency," President Obama issued an executive order tonight, freezing assets of Moammar Gadhafi, his sons, senior Libyan government officials and anyone found to be complicit in the violent crackdown on Libyan protesters.

In a letter to the leaders of Congress, Obama wrote, "I have determined that the actions of Col. Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and close associates, including extreme measures against the people of Libya, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. The order declares a national emergency to deal with this threat."

The unilateral action comes as the U.S. prepares to join allies in other coordinated sanctions expected to be imposed on the Libyan despot.

"Going forward, the United States will continue to closely coordinate our actions with the international community, including our friends and allies, and the United Nations," Obama said in a separate statement issued along with the executive order. "We will stand steadfastly with the Libyan people in their demand for universal rights, and a government that is responsive to their aspirations. Their human dignity cannot be denied."

end update

Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Jay Carney announced the sanctions would be forthcoming, using the strongest language to date to slam Gadhafi, apparently having waited for Americans to be evacuated from Libya before lashing out.

"It's clear that Colonel Gadhafi has lost the confidence of his people.  He is overseeing the brutal treatment of his people, the fatal violence against his own people, and his legitimacy has been reduced to zero in the eyes of his people," Carney said.

The Obama administration spent the day working out the details of the sanctions, including ending limited coordinated military activities between the U.S. and Libya.
"Consistent with the President's tasking to the government to prepare options to hold the Libyan government accountable for its violation of human rights, we have decided to move forward with unilateral sanctions which we are in the process of finalizing, coordinated sanctions with our European allies, and multilateral efforts to hold the Libyan government accountable through the United Nations," Carney said.

Ferry Sails for Malta; Arrives Safely

Updated 3:50 p.m. est

The U.S.-commissioned ferry that had been docked for more than 2 1/2 days in Tripoli finally departed Libya today headed for Malta. It arrived in Malta shortly before 3 p.m est.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney said in addition to the ferry from Tripoli, a charter flight carrying Americans, including the last of embassy staff, also departed Libya today destined for Turkey. The U.S. embassy in Tripoli is now closed.

"It's been shuttered," Carney said of the embassy.

end update

The people aboard are said to be relieved and were happy to get a hot meal overnight, according to a reporter from MSNBC who spoke to a passenger aboard the ferry.

"The ferry carrying American and international citizens from Libya to Malta is finally underway. The trip will take roughly eight hours," State Departments spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Twitter.

"More than 300 passengers are on board the U.S.-chartered ferry from Libya to Malta. Additional passengers were added before departure," Crowley wrote in a separate Tweet.

Most of the U.S. citizens and others remained on the ferry since Wednesday, waiting for choppy seas to settle before they set sail for Malta

End update
Aboard the Maria Dolores ferry as of yesterday were 40 U.S. citizens who work for the U.S. government and their families, 127 private U.S. citizens and 118 citizens from other nations. There are also U.S. security and State Department personnel on the ferry, and other forces nearby.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Obama Looks for Libya Options With Allies

Updated at 8:15 p.m.

President Obama is moving forward with plans to come up with an international response to the crackdown on Libyan protesters by Moammar Gadhafi, speaking with top European allies late today.

A range of options, from economic sanctions to a no-fly zone over Libya, are on the table, but no final decisions were apparently reached in separate calls with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.

UPDATE: Later State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley Tweeted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conferred with British Foreign Secretary William Hague about #Libya and the "steps the international community can take in the coming days."

The White House said in its statement, "The President expressed his deep concern with the Libyan government’s use of violence which violates international norms and every standard of human decency, and discussed appropriate and effective ways for the international community to immediately respond."

The statement added, "The leaders discussed the range of options that both the United States and European countries are preparing to hold the Libyan government accountable for its actions, as well as planning for humanitarian assistance. The leaders agreed to maintain close consultations on this issue going forward."

Scott Walker's Really Bad Day

Updated 10 p.m. est

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO wasted little time making a TV ad showing an embarrassing side of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, highlighting an anti-worker agenda and his loyalty to fat cat GOP financiers the Koch Brothers. 

Meanwhile, yet another poll shows that Wisconsin's tradition of standing by working people appears to be holding: 56 percent of respondents say workers should have collective bargaining rights (and, as Talking Points Memo pointed out late today, this is a right-wing shop that conducted the poll).

And, just to top off the day, here is a wicked editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that says in part: "What wasn't funny was the revealing look the incident provided behind the veil of the Walker administration."

U.S. Ferry in Libya Stymied by Storm

Nearly 300 U.S. citizens and others have remained aboard a ferry docked in Tripoli for more than a day now, waiting for choppy seas to settle before they set sail for Malta

Aboard the Maria Dolores ferry, according to State Departments spokesman P.J. Crowley, there are 40 U.S. citizens who work for the U.S. government and their families, 127 private U.S. citizens and 118 citizens from other nations. There are also U.S. security and State Department personnel on the ferry, and other forces nearby.

"These people have been on board the ship for now well over 24 hours. I'm sure they're uncomfortable. They slept last night on the ship. You know, this is a ship that obviously can accommodate a large number of people, but I'm sure it's difficult for anyone who's on the ship for this long and it hasn't moved," Crowley said. "There are provisions on board the ship."

In addition, the U.S. still hopes to be able to land a charter flight in Tripoli to help evacuate remaining Americans.

"There are some Americans there still trying to make commercial connections, but we will spend today, you know, continuing to establish contact with any American citizen in Libya who wishes to leave. And it remains our strong recommendation that U.S. citizens, you know, depart Libya if they are able," Crowley said.

The U.S. also thanked the Libyans for securing the port, ensuring the safety of the Americans and others on the ferry.

"Undersecretary Bill Burns has had two conversations today with (Libyan) Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, talking about the situation in Libya as well as, you know, expressing our gratitude for the cooperation that Libya has shown in helping us with the evacuation of our citizens and making clear that we need to continue to have that level of cooperation as we continue our evacuation," Crowley said.

Special Forces Muster on Malta

Elite troops, including U.S. Delta Force and Navy SEALS, are positioned on the island of Malta to help protect fleeing Americans and others escaping the chaos in Libya, if needed, knowledgeable sources confirmed.

Food, water and emergency supplies are also being stockpiled on Malta, a strategic port of call for the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean, a source said.

The U.S. special forces on Malta are equipped with chemical warfare suits, a source said. "Those guys like to travel light and they hate carrying those things around," said a source familiar with the deployment.

Earlier today, The Wall Street Journal and others reported the U.S. fears Gadhafi never destroyed his stash of  chemical weapons, like mustard gas. Gadhafi has not used chemical weapons on the protesters so far, but because of his hair-trigger personality and threats to fight to the death, it is a contingency the Western powers are taking into consideration.

Special forces from European nations are also believed to be in the region, a diplomatic source said.

Malta has been a primary destination for Americans and others seeking refuge from strongman Moammar Gadhafi and his armed goons who have wreaked havoc in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya. A State Department-sponsored ferry is also waiting at a dock in Tripoli to take Americans and others to Malta once a patch of bad weather that has caused high seas passes.

Defecting Libyan fighter jets and helicopter pilots landed their aircraft on Malta earlier this week, seeking political asylum.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Obama Fears For His Own Political Life

President Obama, with far fewer cards to play than he had with U.S. ally Egypt, was cautious late today when he called on Moammar Gadhafi to end the violence against civilians.

"The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya," Obama said in his first public remarks since the turmoil erupted in Libya.

"These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop," he added, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side.

Obama never mentioned Gadhafi by name, but that is just politics.

The U.S. to this point has watered down its reaction to the killing in Libya for fear that the unpredictable Gadhafi might take revenge on Americans still in his country.

"We are doing everything we can to protect American citizens.  That is my highest priority. In Libya, we've urged our people to leave the country and the State Department is assisting those in need of support," Obama said after meeting privately with Clinton.

Domestically, Obama has more to fear than just aggression against U.S. citizens, like the rising cost of gas, a volatile stock market and an unemployment rate that is choking off the middle class from reaching the fading American dream.

In other words, Obama and his brain trust are just as concerned with re-election next year at this point.

Americans Are Leaving Libya by Ferry

Updated 5:20 p.m. est

U.S. citizens already aboard a ferry in Tripoli today hoping to flee to safety on the Mediterranean island of Malta will remain overnight in Libya because of concerns over nasty weather, the State Department announced a short while ago.

"The ferry departure from Libya to Malta is delayed due to high seas. Citizens are safe on board. It will leave when the weather permits,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley on Twitter.

"The ferry capacity is roughly 575 people. On board as we speak are U.S. private citizens, roughly 35 members of the embassy delegation, including nonessential official personnel and family members who are departing as part of the ordered departure that we made on Sunday," Crowley said. "We are also taking on third-country nationals and supporting other countries whose personnel and citizens are also trying to depart."

Libyan government officials and security forces are at the As-shahab port in Tripoli, handling passports and other documentation procedures, he said.

"The Libyans have actually been cooperative today. You know, some of their procedures are just taking a fair amount of time: Verifying passports, stamping passports, doing the accounting," Crowley said.

"The system is creaking along. We're satisfied with the Libyan support today," he added.

The ferry when possible will depart for Valletta, Malta. The voyage is expected  to take about six hours, but choppy seas may extend the trip, Crowley said.

The Libyans granted permission for the U.S.-sponsored ferry to dock and board passengers after declining to allow chartered flights to evacuate Americans.

"That was the first option we presented to the Libyan government. We still would like to have permission to bring charters in for any additional Americans who want to leave. We hope that that permission will be granted," Crowley said.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

U.S. Still Won't Call for Gadhafi to Step Down

updated 6:15 p.m. est

The United Nations Security Council issued a weak statement this evening calling for "an immediate end to the violence" by the Libyan government against anti-Gadhafi protesters.

"The members of the Security Council called on the Government of Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its population. They called upon the Libyan authorities to act with restraint, to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and to allow immediate access for international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies," the statement said.

It was swift action for a body known for its penchant for taking it slow, but it was a slap on the wrist compared to passing a full-blown UN resolution.

The Obama administration had appeared to be waiting for the Security Council to take some type of action before it considers calling for Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi to step down -- even after he delivered a chilling speech that threatened widespread death to the protesters.

"We have joined with the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya. And we believe that the government of Libya bears responsibility for what is occurring and must take actions to end the violence," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this afternoon.

"The Security Council, as you know, is meeting today to assess the situation and determine whether there are steps the international community can and should take," she told reporters. "We will take appropriate steps in line with our policies, our values and our laws. But we're going to have to work in concert with the international community."

The UN Security Council met twice today behind closed doors for "consultations," and moved quickly to issue the toothless statement.

Libya's Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who broke yesterday with Gadhafi when he called his government's crackdown on protesters "genocide," had asked the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Libya in order to ground fighter jets and helicopters unleashed on demonstrators.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley wouldn't speculate on the likelihood of a no-fly-zone being set up. The tactic was used after the first Iraq War to help protect Shiites and Kurds from Saddam Hussein's vengeful wrath.

Clinton, meanwhile, said the No. 1 priority for the U.S. is now helping Americans, including diplomatic staff and their families, to get out of Libya safely. There are about 600 Americans registered with the U.S. Embassy in Libya, Crowley said.

Now, as always, the safety and well-being of Americans has to be our highest priority. And we are in touch with many Libyan officials directly and indirectly and with other governments in the region to try to influence what is going on inside Libya," Clinton said.

Wisconsin Workers See Path to Victory Over Walker

Updated at 8 p.m. est

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took a shot this evening at wooing public employees and their supporters with sweet talk, but ultimately refused to blink on his demand that the workers give up their rights to negotiate union contracts, even amid signs momentum is shifting to the pro-labor forces.

"First, let me be clear: I have great respect for those who have chosen a career in government. I really do," Walker said in a televised address to the state embroiled in a mega-labor dispute with far-reaching implications.

The Tea Party-influenced GOP governor again threatened layoffs and asked absent Democratic senators to return to pass his controversial bill.

"The missing Senate Democrats must know that their failure to come to work will lead to dire consequences very soon. Failure to act on this budget repair bill means (at least) 1,500 state employees will be laid off before the end of June. If there is no agreement by July 1st, another 5 (thousand) to 6,000 state workers -- as well as 5 (thousand) to 6,000 local government employees would be also laid off," Walker said.

"But, there is a way to avoid these layoffs and other cuts. The 14 state senators who are staying outside of Wisconsin as we speak can come home and do their job. We are broke because time and time again politicians of both parties ran from the tough decisions and punted them down the road for another day," he said.

AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale said it was more of the same rhetoric for Walker, commenting on Twitter that he "was worried Walker might adjust his message since its polling so badly -- pretty psyched he didn't!”

Earlier, public employees and unions in Wisconsin said they have more cards to play in their effort to stave off Walker's attempt to roll back collective bargaining rights, bolstered in part by a new GQR poll that shows most people in Wisconsin support the workers and believe the governor has overplayed his hand.

Walker appears to be losing ground in particular since the unions agreed to pay more for health care and retirement, the polling data suggests.

Walker, reputed to be a frontman for the powerful multi-billionaire GOP financiers, the Koch Brothers, is bent on getting the workers to surrender their collective bargaining rights, making it difficult for him to argue successfully that he is more concerned with balancing the state budget than breaking the teachers and government workers unions.

There is some behind the scenes evidence that the more than week-long demonstrations in Madison are beginning to take their toll on a handful of GOP senators who were elected in districts that lean Democratic, sources said. Some of the senators have indicated in private conversations that they fear a backlash over Walker's steadfast refusal to negotiate.

"A lot of them won (in November) in this wave year in seats that are moderate Democratic.  So further right (Walker) goes, making it a national story, endangers them," said a top labor source in Wisconsin.

The nomadic Democratic senators, who are on the run to avoid allowing Walker a final vote on the union-busting measure, are upbeat in part by the overwhelming financial support they are receiving through organizations raising thousands of dollars on their behalf.

Gadhafi: I'll Die Before I Quit

A defiant Col. Moammar Gadhafi threatened Libyan protesters with death and vowed to die a martyr himself rather than abdicate the throne as he delivered a rambling and sometimes incoherent speech today amid the ruins of the palace the U.S. bombed in1986.

The delusional dictator boasted that he had brought Libya to the "summit of the world" as he stood firm and urged supporters to take revenge on the anti-government protesters (who appeared to be gaining control of more and more of the North African nation, according to reports).

"I will be a martyr at the end," Gadhafi vowed, standing amid the shambles of Bab al Aziziya, the compound President Ronald Reagan ordered bombed in 1986 in retaliation for a deadly terrorist blast at a German disco popular with U.S. serviceman.

Gadhafi appeared to be hunkered down in Tripoli for the long-haul.

His arms waving and voice erratic, Gadhafi looked like a wild man in beige pajamas, hammered and looking for a urinal in a gutted, skid row bathroom, while endlessly blaming Arab enemies, the media and the colonial powers -- everyone but himself -- for Libya's woes during his four decades of reign.

Further living up to his billing (by Reagan) as "the madman of the Middle East," Gadhafi also ticked off a strange laundry list of events, where death and mayhem resulted for civilians. 

"Citing Tienanmen, Wako, Falluja, the Duma, and many other ghastly incidents, Qaddafi is blatantly threatening his people with massacre," warned Arab-American Middle East scholar Hussein Ibish on Twitter. 

Egyptian protest organizer and Google exec Wael Ghonim was more optimistic in his analysis. "Can't wait to see Qaddafi follow BinAli and Mubarak path. He is the craziest dictator in the world. Libya will thrive after him," Ghonim Tweeted.

Gadhafi's threats (using translations provided by AlJazeera, CNN & MSNBC) came rapid fire throughout the more than hour long rant.

"I have not even given the order to use bullets yet," he said, seeming to indicate that the reported thousands dead and injured was nothing compared to hell he could unleash on his fellow citizens.

As Gadhafi routinely spewed out random threats of using deadly force on the demonstrators, he also accused the protesters of taking "hallucination pills" to account for the unrest. 

"Give up the drugs you are taking. They are very harmful to your heart." Gadhafi said in one of a series of bizarre comments in which he accused enemies in the streets of tripping on some LSD-like drug.

"It's horrible for the country to be torn apart, or fall into the hands of crazy people," Gadhafi quacked.

Yeah, too late.

Monday, February 21, 2011

U.S. to New Egypt: Lift Emergency Law

The West began showing its love for the Egyptian Revolution today with a polite reminder from the U.S. that assistance comes with a price: Emergency law needs to be lifted and planning for elections must move forward.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns both touched down in Cairo for separate meetings with top officials, and offers to help with the transition to democracy (EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is also scheduled to arrive today in Egypt for consultations).

Burns, who is joined in Egypt by White House aide David Lipton, said their mission is to "understand better how we can connect our resources to Egypt's priorities and to be as helpful as we can in this process."

"Along the way, we'll continue to encourage concrete steps to build confidence and to sustain the momentum of the transition, ranging from the constitutional amendments that are being considered, through careful preparations for elections, to the further release of political detainees, to the lifting of the emergency law," Burns said in remarks after an initial meeting with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.

Cameron, the first world leader to visit post-Mubarak Egypt, met Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who heads the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is running the provisional government. Cameron also had scheduled meetings with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

Libya Alarms U.S.; Gadhafi Appears Briefly

Updated 10:30 p.m. est

The United Nations Security Council announced late tonight it will meet at 9 a.m. est Tuesday behind closed doors for "consultations" on the bloodshed in Libya.

The Security Council session was requested by Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Omar Al Dabashi, who earlier told the BBC, AlJazeera English and other media outlets that Gadhafi was engaged in genocide of his own people.

end update

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned this evening the violent actions by the government of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, saying, "The world is watching the situation in Libya with alarm."

Gadhafi finally made a very brief appearance on Libyan TV tonight to dispute claims that he had left his country. "I'm not in France or Venezuela," Gadhafi said in an English translation provided by CNN. "I'm still here."

The United States was concerned about the extreme force Gadhafi has ordered to maintain his hold on power. Despite the unrest by Libyans who want Gadhafi to step down, all indications are that Gadhafi is not willing to go at this point.

"We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya. Our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives have been lost, and with their loved ones. The government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly,m": Clinton said.

"Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed. "We are working urgently with friends and partners around the world to convey this message to the Libyan government," she added.

U.S. on Gadhafi Son's Speech: Uh, What?

Updated at 2:45 p.m. Monday

Senior Libyan civilian and military officials have resigned or defected and the country's largest tribe has aligned itself with anti-Gadhafi protesters today as the predominantly secular Arab nation fractures amid demonstrations that have spread to Tripoli.

Two Libyan fighter jets and two helicopters reportedly landed on Malta. The pilots sought political asylum rather than unleashing their weapons on protesters or military and security forces no longer loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

"Details are still emerging, but there are reports of Libyan pilots who reportedly refused orders to target civilians being given permission to land on Malta after requesting asylum," the Stratfor global intelligence service reported.

Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Omar Al Dabashi, told the BBC, AlJazeera English and other media outlets that Gadhafi was engaged in genocide of his own people.

"It is a real genocide whether it is in the eastern cities of Libya or whether what is going now in Tripoli," the senior Libyan diplomat told the BBC World. "The information that we are receiving from the people in Tripoli is the regime is killing whoever goes out to the streets."

The unrest in petroleum-rich Libya sent the price of oil upward on the global markets as Gadhafi clung to his 40 years of reign.

"At the moment, no single piece of information out of Libya is verifiable or particularly reliable. But taken as a whole, a mounting tide of news indicates a rapidly deteriorating security situation and that divisions within the regime are beginning to manifest themselves, with military force being directed against military force," the latest Stratfor report concluded.

END update
The White House and State Department are trying today to decipher the rambling remarks of Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of Moammar Gadhafi, who warned that "blood will flow" and chaos will rip apart Libya if the demonstrations continue.

There was a scant mention of reforms and local rule that were disbursed among Qadhafi's dark headline-winning warning last night that the protests will end in an armed civil war.

"Libya is at a crossroads. If we do not agree today on reforms, we will not be mourning 84 people, but thousands of deaths, and rivers of blood will run through Libya," Saif Gadhafi said, leaving many experts vexed by the intent of those remarks.

The U.S. is analyzing Saif Gadhafi's convoluted speech and has asked the Libyan government for a clarification of what he was trying to convey in his remarks, according to an administration official. "We are considering all appropriate actions," the official said.

But there is not much more pressure the West can put on Gadhafi to order his army and security forces to show restraint against demonstrators, as the Obama administration did somewhat successfully last week to end the strong-arm government tactics used against protesters in Bahrain.

Essentially handcuffed, President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia can only wait and see where events on the ground lead.

There are more credible reports today that protests have spread to Tripoli, Libya's capital and largest city. The protesters also claim to control Benghazi, the second-largest city in Libya. Moammar Gadhafi, meanwhile, has remained out of site for days.

Obama was given a full briefing last night by his national security adviser Tom Donilon after Gadhafi's son addressed his nation. The President will be updated as needed, the White House official said.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Unrepentant Gadhafi Regime: 'Blood Will Flow'

The focus in the Middle East has shifted from Bahrain to Libya, where more than 200 protesters have been killed during weeklong demonstrations aimed at toppling dictator Moammar Gadhafi, whose modest attempts at reforming his despotic image have failed.

Gadhafi's tone-deaf son Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi made a statement on Libyan TV tonight that amounted to a defense of the military's crackdown, disputing the reported death toll and saying only that a "mistake" was made by troops not trained in crowd control. The army panicked, "So they ended up shooting," he said, claiming some of the protesters were drunk or on drugs.

"We are not Tunisia or Egypt ... There will be civil war. We will be killing each other on the streets," he said through an interpreter. "The petrol we will be burned, and nobody will benefit from the petrol... Blood will flow."

Video of Saif's remarks with translation from AlJazeera English: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

The Libyan Youth Movement (@ShababLibya) responded quickly to the remarks on Twitter, saying: "Libya is one, before and after, people of tripoli do not listen to this, you are our brothers, he is dividing Libya right now."

The remarks, which came just hours after Libya's ambassador to the Arab League resigned over the regime killing innocent people, were a throw back to Hosni Mubarak's delusional speeches in the final days of his dictatorship. Some of the military has begun to defect, AlJazeera English reported.

The world clearly wants Moammar Gadhafi gone amid a violent crackdown on protesters in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, as well as Mesrata, the third-biggest city in the North African nation.

"The United States is gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images coming out of Libya. We are working to ascertain the facts, but we have received multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured in several days of unrest – and the full extent of the death toll is unknown due to the lack of access of international media and human rights organizations," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement issued this afternoon.

"We have raised to a number of Libyan officials, including Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, our strong objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators. We reiterated to Libyan officials the importance of universal rights, including freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Libyan officials have stated their commitment to protecting and safeguarding the right of peaceful protest. We call upon the Libyan government uphold that commitment, and hold accountable any security officer who does not act in accordance with that commitment," Crowley said.

Celebrated Egyptian pro-democracy organizer Wael Ghonim sent his brethren in Libya words of support on Twitter today. "Dear brothers and sisters in Libya, never give up! Free your country from one of the worst dictatorships in the world. God (be) with you!" Ghonim Tweeted.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Scott Walker: GOP's Man of the Moment

Updated 7 p.m. est Saturday

Depending on which side you tune into for the moment, what is happening in Wisconsin is either a GOP war on the American worker, or a Republican-led belt-tightening epiphany. Either way, it is clearly the latest case of elected leaders pitting neighbor-against-neighbor with no assurances that either side can foresee how it will all play out.

Protesters opposed to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's bill to strip collective bargaining rights from state workers withstood a smaller but boisterous counter demonstration by Tea Party backers today, vowing to remain at the Capitol until the measure is withdrawn. Local authorities said there were upwards of 70,000 protesters in downtown Madison.

A spokesman for Walker, meanwhile, urged Democratic state senators who are on the lamb to return to take a vote on the controversial measure aimed at tearing into union membership. The state workers have signaled a willingness to make a deal on employee contributions to health care and pension funds, but the Republicans say they have no intention of compromising.

Expect the standoff to last for days, if not longer.

The latest updates:

The New York Times on Walker's desire to fight the union-busting battle
The Washington Post on the battle to win public opinion in budget fight
The Wall Street Journal on Democratic senators on the run
All Politics Blog, Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Wisconsin State Journal live protest blog
Reuters on dueling protests
Associated Press via Press-Democrat: Hell no, no union-busting in California, Jerry Brown says.
Bloomberg Businessweek

Scott Walker was the Milwaukee County executive who rode the nationwide Tea Party wave to defeat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in an incendiary campaign for governor of Wisconsin last fall.

Now the freshman governor has propelled himself to the national spotlight with controversial legislation that would take away the collective bargaining rights of his state's public employees, including school teachers.

Late Friday, the unions said they would agree to pay into their pension and health care plans, but Walker signaled no deal, holding out until the public workers agree to give up their collective bargaining rights.

"The reality is we do have a financial crisis in this state," Walker said this evening in Madison, unfazed by the 10s of 1,000s of protesters gathered outside his offices who oppose his bill.

Organized labor says Wisconsin is the front line in a union-busting battle that could soon spread to other states, and they want to stop its progress early. Walker and his allies, including some of the high rollers in GOP money world, are equally committed to standing their ground.

The Latest Updates:

MSNBC Walker signals no compromise (video and text)
The New York Times
All Politics Blog, Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, Wisc.
The Los Angeles Times
National Journal
Think Progress on Koch's Connection to Walker
Grover Norquist, president of the anti-tax coalition Americans for Tax Reform, on the virtues of Scott Walker
Politico on 2012 GOP Field
The Washington Post on President Obama's role in the Wisconsin uprising
The Business Journal, Milwaukee
AP via Watertown Daily Times

More About Scott Walker

Official Wisconsin Office of the Governor Bio
Project Vote Smart bio, speeches, positions, etc.

Wisc Gov and Public Employees Draw Battle Lines

"Some men rob you with a six-gun;others rob you with a fountain pen." Woody Guthrie

Not since the patriot farmer Daniel Shays felt the economic squeeze brought on by obsolete laws and the indifference of profit-driven merchants in post-Revolutionary War America have citizens who toil for their nation faced a governor so bent on cutting into their livelihood while sparing people of wealth the same hardship.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to take away most collective bargaining rights from state workers with the intention of cutting their benefits to save money is the latest (very loud) salvo in the ideologically driven debate on how, and how much, to fund government.

“We are confident this is the right thing to do,” Walker told local WTMJ-AM radio host Charlie Sykes this morning.“The bottom line is we’re doing this for the right reasons.”

Walker, a newly elected conservative governor, hopes to tap into the understandable anger among Americans with Tea Party values being choked by their own unforgiving economic conditions, seeking to shift their vitriol on public employees who he argues have “a stranglehold” on the state.

The labor movement hopes to reach Wisconsinites' better angels, appealing to middle class sensibility to recognize that public employees are their friends, neighbors and family and they are victims of union-busting and class warfare.

"Our job, and the role of the legislature, is to expand rights, not deny them," said state Senate Democratic leader Mark Miller.

Walker's critics contend it would be the right thing to do if the public employee' salaries and benefits were responsible for adding to Wisconsin's budget deficit, but that is not the case. The state's own legislative auditors' scorecard show it is Walker's tax cuts and pet projects that are taking the biggest bite out of the budget.

Until they can convince Republican lawmakers to break with Walker over the changes to the collective bargaining rules, Democratic state senators are hiding out to avoid having to take a vote to pass the law.

So the showdown is set, with Walker refusing to budget and thousands of public employees promising to demonstrate in the streets for weeks to come.

Shays, a Colonial Army captain who fought at the battles at Lexington and Bunker Hill, took up arms to rally citizens against a government-sponsored chokehold on the pocketbooks of the agrarian workforce. Even after Shays was convicted and slapped with the death penalty, a wiser state government stayed the sentence of Shays and set in place regulations to protect the farmers.

Wisconsin's public employeees, armed with numbers, organization and passion, say they need only to convince their neighbors, friends and family that it will not improve public services or save them a nickel if Walker is allowed to change the rules for negotiating contracts.

U.S. Antes Up $150M for Egypt Democracy, Economy

We are expecting to hear more details about the $150 million in new U.S. aid for Egypt announced Thursday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The money is expected to be used for Egypt's political transition and battered economy.

Clinton is Under Secretary of State William Burns and Senior White House Economic Advisor David Lipton to Egypt next week to “consult with Egyptian counterparts about how we can most effectively deploy our assistance," she said.

The cost of building democratic institutions, like political parties, will be hefty.

"The message is, give Egyptians the ability to eat bread while they focus on the democratic future," Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told David Ignatius of The Washington Post.

Gheit, who is old school when it comes to handouts from the U.S., believes Washington should either write off Egypt's $350 million annual debt or provide $1 billion in emergency economic aid.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gibbs Welcomed Departing Egypt Narrative

Robert Gibbs could not have written a better exit script than the one Egypt gave him.

Pro-democracy protesters filled the streets of Cairo and Alexandria just as President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, the last major message event that Gibbs would execute as spokesman for the President.

For more than two weeks the demonstrators remained in the streets, stepping all over the White House strategy to break out themes from the State of the Union address. Gibbs, like the spokesmen and women ahead of him, had to become an overnight expert on an issue du jour, this time Egyptian democracy.

Right on cue, or so it seemed, the curtain came down on the first act of Egypt's political metamorphosis: Hosni Mubarak stepped down on the same day that Gibbs presided over his final daily briefing. Mubarak's exit even delayed the start of Gibbs' curtain call in the briefing room (Obama needed to deliver his own statement first Friday).

"I didn't have to spend the time talking about myself," Gibbs chuckled this week, admitting he liked the way his closing script wrote itself.

The Iran Model: No Sale for Egypt

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad really is a lousy salesman.

Even given a golden opportunity to humiliate the chorus of high-minded scholars who warn Egypt will become the next Iran if its pro-democracy movement is hijacked by Islamic extremists, Ahmadinejad whiffed.

A few days ago Ahmadinejad hailed the Egyptian revolution as a victory for the people of the Middle East. Today Iranian secret police are tracking down peace protesters, just as Hosni Mubarak's regime did in the early days of the January 25 pro-democracy movement.

The irony was not lost on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called the current street protests in Tehran "a testament to the courage of the Iranian people and an indictment of the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, a regime which over the last three weeks has constantly hailed what went on in Egypt."

"And now, when given the opportunity to afford their people the same rights as they called for on behalf of the Egyptian people, once again illustrate their true nature," Clinton observed.

Think about the absurd juxtaposition: As triumphant Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrators return to their every day lives from their made-for-tv revolution, the few images they see aired on AlJazeera tell a story of repression and hypocrisy in Iran.

This is the Iranian model everyone is so afraid of?

The action taken against Iranian street demonstrators by the government in Tehran is exactly the kind of tyrannical behavior the Tahrir Square protesters were fed up with. It is not surprising Washington wants the smartest minds in all quarters of Egyptian life to be reminded the Iranian model has never been a viable option for post-Mubarak Egypt.

"We have sent a strong message to our allies in the region, saying let’s look at Egypt’s example as opposed to Iran’s example. I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt when, in fact, they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran," President Obama told reporters Tuesday.

"Real change in these societies is not going to happen because of terrorism; it’s not going to happen because you go around killing innocents -- it’s going to happen because people come together and apply moral force to a situation. That’s what garners international support. That’s what garners internal support. That’s how you bring about lasting change," Obama added.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Navigating the 2012 Obama Budget

Updated 4 p.m. est

Drudge headline and link: "DEBT NOW EQUALS ENTIRE US ECONOMY"
The Nation: "The Obama Budget: Challenging or Appeasing the GOP?"

President Obama proposed a $3.73 trillion budget that slashes popular programs and could challenge the will of Congress to make painful cuts in order to cut into a projected record $1.6 trillion federal deficit for 2012. Early highlights of the budget include:

  • Plans to reduce the federal deficit by $1.1 trillion over the next decade through spending cuts and tax increases.
  • Estimated savings of $33 billion in 2012 by eliminating or reducing the size cut of more than 200 programs.
  • Creates new revenue of about $46 billion over 10 years by eliminating some tax breaks to oil, gas and coal companies.
  • Trims $78 billion in Pentagon spending from "unnecessary" weapons programs over 10 years.
  • Leaves Social Security and Medicare virtually untouched.
President Obama via "The Newshour" on PBS:

National coverage of the FY2012 budget proposal:
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
National Journal

The Wall Street Journal
National Journal
Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic
Andrew Stiles, National Review
Additional links here from

Official links (Live after 10:30 a.m est)
White House Budget
Office of Management and Budget
OMB director Jack Lew, White House blog

Official reaction to 2012 budget (links to official statements)
House Speaker John Boehner
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell 

Budget Director Jack Lew

This site will updated.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt Tries To Calm Israeli Fears

Updated at 4:15 p.m. est

Assuring Israel that nothing has changed since the historic 1979 Camp David Accords was the first public act of engaging in foreign policy by the military government in Egypt.

“The Arab Republic of Egypt is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties,” a senior military officer said in a statement read this morning on state-owned television.

UPDATE: President Obama welcomed the statement in conversations today with the leaders of Britain, Jordan and Turkey.

"The President welcomed the historic change that has been made by the Egyptian people, and reaffirmed his admiration for their efforts. He also welcomed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ announcement today that it is committed to a democratic civilian transition, and will stand by Egypt’s international obligations," the White House said in a statement.

"The President emphasized his conviction that democracy will bring more – not less – stability to the region.  He also stressed the U.S. commitment to provide the support that is necessary and requested by the Egyptian people to pursue a credible and orderly transition to democracy, including by working with international partners to provide financial support," the statement added.

Egypt's initial statement  was meant to ease concerns aired publicly by the leaders of Israel, the oldest Democracy in the Middle East, as well as its backers in the United States, who quickly took to the airwaves and issued press releases adorned with fears that Egyptian democracy was a blight on the Jewish state next door.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has publicly warned that one of the scenarios under the Egyptian Revolution could be the emergence of another Iran-like Islamic state, welcomed the statement from the military government.

"The longstanding peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has greatly contributed to both countries and is the cornerstone for peace and stability in the entire Middle East," the Israeli leader said in a written statement.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Meet the Interim Leaders of Egypt

UPDATED 5:30 p.m. est

Vice President Omar Suleiman announced Friday in a 30-second statement that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will assume interim control of Egypt:

“Citizens, in these difficult circumstances that our country is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to relinquish the office of the presidency and has instructed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to take over the affairs of the country."

The Supreme Council, which appears to have forced out deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, issued a statement saying it would end the state of emergency and schedule free and fair elections in the future. Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, the armed forces chief of staff, and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister, head the Supreme Council.

Statements issued so far by the Supreme Council:
First Statement 2/10/11
Second Statement 2/11/11
Third Statement 2/11/11

Here is what we know about the Supreme Council from:
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
AlJazeera English
Democratic Underground
International Business Times

President Obama reacts to news of Mubarak's ouster:

A Stunned Obama Reacts to Mubarak's Statement

President Obama does not even have to mention Hosni Mubarak by name (nor does he) to make his point that the Egyptian leader is clueless to the will of his people and should have just said 'thank you and good-bye' tonight. Instead Mubarak remains president of a divided Egypt.

Obama's statement:

"The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient. Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world. The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity.  

"As we have said from the beginning of this unrest, the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. But the United States has also been clear that we stand for a set of core principles. We believe that the universal rights of the Egyptian people must be respected, and their aspirations must be met. We believe that this transition must immediately demonstrate irreversible political change, and a negotiated path to democracy. To that end, we believe that the emergency law should be lifted. We believe that meaningful negotiations with the broad opposition and Egyptian civil society should address the key questions confronting Egypt’s future: protecting the fundamental rights of all citizens; revising the Constitution and other laws to demonstrate irreversible change; and jointly developing a clear roadmap to elections that are free and fair.

"We therefore urge the Egyptian government to move swiftly to explain the changes that have been made, and to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step by step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek.  Going forward, it will be essential that the universal rights of the Egyptian people be respected. There must be restraint by all parties. Violence must be forsaken. It is imperative that the government not respond to the aspirations of their people with repression or brutality. The voices of the Egyptian people must be heard.

"The Egyptian people have made it clear that there is no going back to the way things were: Egypt has changed, and its future is in the hands of the people. Those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly represent the greatness of the Egyptian people, and are broadly representative of Egyptian society. We have seen young and old, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian join together, and earn the respect of the world through their non-violent calls for change. In that effort, young people have been at the forefront, and a new generation has emerged. They have made it clear that Egypt must reflect their hopes, fulfill their highest aspirations, and tap their boundless potential. In these difficult times, I know that the Egyptian people will persevere, and they must know that they will continue to have a friend in the United States of America."

Obama is one angry U.S. leader.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Obama: U.S. Will Support Emerging Egypt Democracy

President Obama spoke only a few words about Egypt at the start of an unrelated speech in Michigan today, yet what came out of his mouth said so much about Egypt's future and its relationship with the United States.

"I just want to say that we are following today's events in Egypt very closely. And we'll have more to say as this plays out. But what is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It's a moment of transformation that's taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change," Obama said.

"They've turned out in extraordinary numbers, representing all ages and all walks of life, but it's young people who've been at the forefront -- a new generation, your generation, who want their voices to be
heard. And so going forward, we want those young people and we want all Egyptians to know America will continue to do everything that we can support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt," Obama continued.

"Now as we watch what's taking place, we're also reminded that we live in an interconnected world. What happens across the globe has an impact on each and every one of us," Obama added, just before announcing his plan to expand high-speed broadband.

Those few lines translated into "diplo speak" essentially were a signal to Egypt's military leaders and establishment that the U.S. checks are still going to flow, as long as the pro-democracy protesters are not harmed and democratic reforms are put in place. The U.S. provides Egypt with at least $1.3 billion a year.

For two weeks sources have disclosed that U.S. military officials have assured their Egyptian counterparts that the U.S. will not cut off the much-needed revenue stream. "They've been telling them 'You will get paid. Protect the protesters, and you will get paid,'" said a source with deep military connections.

Obama made the remarks as the world waited to hear from doomed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Obama Moves on Expanding High-Speed Wireless

Now a moment for the "4G revolution" here in the United States.

President Obama is breaking out his plan today to create incentives to help businesses expand high-speed wireless service to 98 percent of Americans, targeting areas that are still behind the wireless revolution.

The plan, announced last month in Obama's State of the Union address, calls for doubling the available mobile broadband spectrum to connect smartphones, laptops and devices like the IPad. The plan to auction off up to 500 MHz of spectrum could boost the federal treasury by nearly $28 billion and cut the deficit by $10 billion, according to the White House.

Obama is making the announcement today at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich. Below is a fact sheet provided by the White House.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Protest leader Wael Ghonim: Internet Revolutionary

Here is a primer on the heroic peaceful Egyptian protester who set up a Facebook page that rocked Egypt, the Middle East and changed American foreign policy faster than even the dark forces of Al Qaeda had sought out to do with treachery. 

Google executive and Egyptian pro-democracy activist Wael Ghonim, the emerging leader of the revolution, speaks out about how the action began and where it goes from here in this candid exclusive English language interview with CNN: Click here!

More on Ghonim from:
The New York Times
The New York Times (again)

Updated with new links (Midnight East Coast time):
The New York Times (again)

Fear of Egypt's Secret Police Runs Deep

Egyptian military regulars sympathetic to the pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo are hesitant to fully embrace the movement for fear of retaliation from President Hosni Mubarak's secret police, according to a knowledgeable source.

"They are afraid that (the secret police) will take it out on their families," said the U.S. source with deep military ties. "They are sympathetic, but they really fear the secret police."

Torture, murder and mayhem are the calling cards of the secret police, according to media reports that have exposed their practices during the pro-democracy revolution.  

Unlike the generals in the Egyptian military still clinging to the Mubarak regime, the rank and file soldiers live a working class existence more in line with the majority of the protesters than the life of opulence their commanders know. The military's support remains the best hope for swiftly pushing out the regime, setting up a provisional government and moving towards the first truly democratic elections in the ancient country's history.

Adding to the soldiers' fear of reprisal were the contentious remarks by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman that sent shock waves from Tahrir to the White House. "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools," Suleiman warned, predicting a coup attempt could result if an accord is not reached to end the occupation of Tahrir.

The protesters, meanwhile, were equally put off by Suleiman's cavalier attitude towards emerging democracy, angry that their message apparently had gone unheard by the regime. "The culture of democracy is still far away," Suleiman told Egyptian newspaper editors Tuesday, echoing comments that set off the demonstrators earlier in the week.

The White House called Suleiman's remarks unhelpful, and Vice President Joe Biden again had to get on the phone with his Egyptian counterpart to formally register the administration's concerns.

But undeterred, the freedom-craving protesters were bolstered Tuesday by nationwide strikes by workers demanding more money. They promise another massive protest Friday.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Patriotism of Protecting American Jobs

If you blinked you may have missed that President Obama this week questioned the patriotism of corporate America and Wall Street.

It is understandable that some of the coverage of President Obama's speech Monday to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would be looked at through the prism of politics. Predictably there were two main focal points of the political coverage: Had Obama waded into enemy territory by addressing the Chamber? And was this part of a move to the center that Obama's liberal backers fear so much?

Progressives wrapped up in the politics may have missed an underlying message in Obama's talk with the big business lobby: That it is unpatriotic to pocket multi-million dollar bonuses while work forces are cut, and it is equally unAmerican to send U.S. jobs overseas to exploit cheap labor and weak government regulation.

"But as we work with you to make America a better place to do business, I’m hoping that all of you are thinking what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire more American workers, what you can do to support the American economy and invest in this nation," Obama lectured his audience.

Amid the loss of a documented 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs and another 850,000 service sector jobs that moved overseas in this decade, Obama can boast of providing more tax cuts and incentives to keep jobs in the U.S. than any President in a generation.

No matter how much his detractors try to deny it, the fact is that more Americans, including the wealthy captains of industry and finance, have more tax relief under Obama than even President Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the Grand old Party.

Now Obama is making the case that it is time for big business to live up to its part of the bargain and substitute a culture of greed with a culture of honor. That is not a move by Obama to the center, nor is it a position that only the left has staked out for itself. It is the American way to ensure that the Republic remains strong and that our friends and neighbors can enjoy a good quality of life.

"Together, I am confident we can win the competition for new jobs and industries. And I know you share my enthusiasm. Here’s one thing I know. For all the disagreements, (Chamber President) Tom (Donohue), that we may have sometimes on issues, I know you love this country.  I know you want America to succeed just as badly as I do," Obama said.

"So, yes, we’ll have some disagreements; and, yes, we’ll see things differently at times. But we’re all Americans. And that spirit of patriotism, and that sense of mutual regard and common obligation, that has carried us through far harder times than the ones we’ve just been through," Obama added.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Still A Chance Mubarak Will Go Sooner Than Later

As Cairo re-opened banks and businesses today amid a tireless pro-democracy movement, there were a few indications some Egyptian government officials appear ready to try to find a dignified and respectful way for Hosni Mubarak to resign with a degree of honor, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the discussions.

How long it will take to implement such a plan remains unknown, but Mubarak's departure is a centerpiece of all-party talks between the government and factions representing the pro-democracy protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood, the sources indicated.

"I can only keep saying what I have said previously, that it's extremely fluid," said a European diplomatic source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.   
Closer to home, the Obama administration is showing signs of  becoming increasingly frustrated with the tactics of a tone-deaf Mubarak, whose strong-arm tactics carried out by lawless goon squads have resulted in near universal sympathy for the pro-democracy demonstrators.

Near universal sympathy is the key phase there. A handful of Arab monarchs, multi-national capitalists, some but not all neocon ideologues and a few nostalgic politicians, diplomats and scholars are still urging President Obama to prop up the doomed dictator.

Obama's own special envoy, who met this week with Mubarak and newly installed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman believes Mubarak should not be ousted as he begins his promised democratic transition.

"The President must stay in office in order to steer those changes through,"Wisner told the Munich Security Conference.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Mubarak should be treated with respect for his loyalty to the U.S. and his role as a Middle East peace broker. "I think President Mubarak needs to be treated as he deserved over the years, because he has been a good friend," Cheney said at the ceremony marking 100 years since President Ronald Reagan's birth.

Even Tea Party hostess Sarah Palin, with her vast knowledge of foreign policy (she can still see Russia from her house), took a swipe at the Obama administration's Egypt diplomacy, borrowing from a campaign ad that Hillary Clinton used against Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Palin said in an interview this weekend with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “This is that 3 a.m. White House phone call, and it seems for many of us trying to get that information from our leader in the White House, it seems that that call went right to the answering machine.”

Obama has erased much of the doubt (even cast in the columns of this web log) where his heart lies in this struggle for human rights, a good living and the freedoms that are enjoyed in the West and next door with Egypt's ally Israel. The President wants Mubarak to go.

In a role he has become comfortable with, Vice President Biden pressed Egyptian Vice President Omar Soleiman "for the need for a concrete reform agenda, a clear timeline, and immediate steps that demonstrate to the public and the opposition that the Egyptian government is committed to reform," the White House said in a statement.

"Vice President Biden asked about progress in beginning credible, inclusive negotiations for Egypt’s transition to a democratic government to address the aspirations of the Egyptian people," the statement added.

For his part, Obama discussed "the importance of an orderly, peaceful transition, beginning now," with key allies, who also wield influence with the Egyptian government, the White House said. Obama spoke by phone with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (see also previous item below).

Cameron warned the longer it takes for a transitional government to form in Egypt, the greater the likelihood of extremists hijacking the pro-democracy movement. "We need change, reform and transition to get stability," Cameron said at the Munich conference. "The longer that is put off, the more likely we are to get an Egypt that we wouldn't welcome."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Party Politics Dominate Egypt Revolt Day 12

The White House is upbeat over reports that Gamal Mubarak has stepped down as leader of the ruling National Democratic Party in Egypt as a shakeup takes place amid preliminary talks with opposition leaders representing protesters encamped at Tahrir Square, an administration official said today.

“We view this as a positive step toward the political change that will be necessary, and look forward to additional steps,” said an administration official.

UPDATED: Meanwhile, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough convened a meeting this morning at the White House and President Obama was briefed on the situation this afternoon by his senior national security staff.

Obama also spoke to leaders of UAE, Britain & Germany, discussing rights of protesters & targeting journos and human rights groups. Here is the readout from the White House:

"The President made a number of calls to foreign leaders today to discuss the ongoing situation in Egypt.  He spoke to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.  The President discussed his serious concern about the targeting of journalists and human rights groups, and reaffirmed that the government of Egypt has a responsibility to protect the rights of its people and to release immediately those who have been unjustly detained.  The President emphasized the importance of an orderly, peaceful transition, beginning now, to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, including credible, inclusive negotiations between the government and the opposition.  The leaders agreed to stay in close contact going forward.  The President and Chancellor Merkel also reviewed developments in the broader Middle East..."

Here are the top reports out of Egypt:

In Munich, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns of "perfect storm" for Middle East:

Egyptian army takes up positions in Central Cairo during curfew:
Los Angeles Times

Gas pipeline suppying Israel, Jordan May be Work of Terrorists:

Live video and around-the-clock coverage:

Friday, February 4, 2011

U.S. Outreach Extends to Egypt's Elite Forces

The U.S. is going through Egypt's highly respected elite military forces to try assure the secular Egyptian army that they will not be abandoned in a transition of power, according to knowledgeable sources.

It is part of a larger U.S. effort to use back-channels to reinforce the need for the Egyptian military to protect the pro-democracy protesters from violent thugs and Hosni Mubarak's loyal police forces.

The U.S. military personnel below the level of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chief Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen have engaged in one-on-one conversations with their Egyptian special forces counterparts, a source detailed.

"There is a trust... They trained together," said a source with deep military ties familiar with the outreach. "When the special forces speak, everyone (in the Egyptian army) listens."

These elite forces are not Hosni Mubarak's palace guard, but rather Egypt's best trained and equipped fighting forces. The source compared them to "our Marines."

A diplomatic official confirmed talks are underway "on many levels," and did not dispute the report. Earlier this week White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also acknowledged there were contacts below Gates and Mullen, but provided no further details.

So far the push may have shown some results, as the Egyptian military kept violent pro-Mubarak mobs away from the huge gathering after Friday prayers today at Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo.