Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gadhafi's Son Dies in Airstrike

The youngest son of Moammar Gadhafi, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, was killed in a NATO airstrike today, a spokesman for the regime said.

Moammar Gadhafi and his wife were in the house when it was targeted, according to Gadhafi spokesman Mussa Ibrahim.

Three grandchildren were also killed in the strike, Ibrahim said.

The Libyan dictator's late son, Saif al-Arab, 29, was a civilian who had studied in Germany, Ibrahim said.

There was no immediate response from NATO or the White House. The strike came during the alliance's promised stepped up air campaign, amid Gadhafi's refusal to stop the attacks on civilians in Misurata and elsewhere. The despot has made persistent threats for more attacks.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Orly Taitz: Soviet-Born Tea Party Birther Hero

It is with a heavy heart that I break a promise to myself never to soil this site with talk of birtherism, but Lawrence O'Donnell's takedown this week of "Queen of the Birthers" Orly Taitz on his "Last Word" show on MSNBC hopefully will help to enlighten good Americans who have been led over the cliff by this demagoguery.

O'Donnell is not to be messed with on this issue. He has courageously called out the corporate stooges at NBC, who have propped up Donald Trump, allowing him to embark on a McCarthyite binge bordering on bigotry. 

US, UN Finally Takes Aim at Assad's Killing Fields

The United States and the United Nations today commenced with an economic and legal crackdown on the genocidal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. targeted Assad's brother, Maher Al-Assad, the commander of the Fourth Armored Division that fired on Syrian civilians in Daraa this week, where the pro-democracy movement erupted in Syria.

The U.S. also named Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamluk and former Daraa province governor Atif Najib as culprits responsible for the murder of peaceful pro-democracy Syrian demonstrators.

President Obama signed an executive order today authorizing the crackdown.

"As a result of this action, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individuals listed in the Annex have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them," the White House said.

The UN Human Rights Council, meanwhile, condemned for Assad his violent crackdown, opening the door to an investigation into the crimes against humanity his regime has perpetrated.

“With today’s vote, the council has stood against attempts to silence dissent with the use of gratuitous violence, which is not the act of a responsible government,” said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice in the understatement of the day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cash-Flush Oil Industry Laughs At The American Motorist

We knew it would happen in this age of greed and corporate welfare.

Amid the worst gas and diesel prices since the economic crash of 2008 under the Bush administration, the oil industry today is reporting whopping first quarter profits worth 10s of billions of dollars:

-Industry giant Exxon Mobil Corp. enjoyed a whopping 69 percent increase in profits.

-Royal Dutch Shell reported its profits rose 30 percent.

-Occidental Petroleum saw a 46 percent gain in profits.

-ConocoPhillips earnings increased 43 percent.

-And last but not least, the corporation that destroyed the Gulf fishing and tourism industry, BP, reported a 17 percent increase in profits.

As Wall Street and the corporate culture of greed wallow in their gluttony, the price of gas rose for the 35th straight day for the American motorist, coming in at $3.89 for a gallon of regular and $4.14 for a gallon of diesel.

Despite the profits and the soaking American motorists are getting at the gas pump,  the Tea Party-driven GOP House majority (courageously on vacation this week) refuses to budge on wiping out $4 billion in taxpayer-funded giveaways to the oil industry

Welcome to another round of stick it to the working man and woman.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

White House: Hamas Must Mend Its Ways

The White House is being very cautious for now on the news today that the Palestinian political organizations Fatah and Hamas are reconciling, opening up the opportunity for a unified Palestinian leadership.

The deal clears the way for a new round of soon-to-be-announced Palestinian elections.

“We have seen the press reports and are seeking more information. As we have said before, the United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

"To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist,” Vietor added.

There is reason for hope: Fatah is the political party founded by the late Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat -- once labeled a terrorist and then hailed as a peacemaker with Israel. There is no reason Hamas too cannot amend its ways and recognize Israel as the legitimate democracy it is and potential economic partner it can be.

Israeli hardline leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, slammed the Palestinian reconciliation accord even before it was announced.

“The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a televised address. “Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly.”

Obama Opts for Name Brands at DOD & CIA

Updated 4 p.m. edt

Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, will replace Gen. David Petraeus as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, a U.S. official confirmed today.

Allen also commanded troops in Iraq. Here is his full biography from CENTCOM (scroll down to the middle of the page).

CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports at this hour that Petraeus will retire from the military and will run CIA as a civilian, beginning in September.

NBC, meanwhile, is reporting Defense Secretary Robert Gates will retire June 30th.

end update

President Obama is avoiding controversial and contentious choices to head the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, opting for spymaster Leon Panetta to head the Department of Defense, and one of America's most beloved commanders, Gen. David Petraeus, to run the CIA.

The formal announcements are expected tomorrow, and neither Panetta nor Petraeus are expected to have much of a problem clearing the Senate confirmation process.

CIA Director Panetta will replace outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, while Petraeus would in turn fill the slot at the spy agency. Gates, who along with Hillary Clinton, became one of Obama's most trusted counselors, has long said he would bolt the administration sometime this year.

Panetta will likely preside over a DoD that will have to embrace an era austerity, cutting the fat out of a military-industrial complex that has preyed on fear since the Cold War to a create a corporate warfare system that has filled their treasuries in exchange for kickbacks to politicians in the form of campaign contributions and unsavory junkets.

Petraeus will have the task of rallying a CIA that, in order, has missed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the 9/11 plot and attacks, and most recently, the Pan-Arab pro-democracy uprising that so far has toppled two (three, if the Yemen deal holds) dictators.

Some in the main stream media are already calling this a shakeup, but it really is more about continuity than a martini made the way James Bond likes it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NATO Steps it Up in Libya; Russians Irked (Yawn)

Call it the big yawn of the Libya campaign.

Moscow is charging that NATO and the Gulf allies have overstepped the bounds of the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing an air campaign to prevent further killings by forces under orders from Moammar Gadhafi. Russia abstained from voting on the resolution last month.

The Interfax news agency reported overnight that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov opposes more military action against Gadhafi and will not support another UN resolution that would step up the campaign against the Libyan dictator.

The Russian government's latest round of squawking was apparently triggered by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's decision to contribute warplanes to the NATO-led campaign. Until now Italy has played a key support role, including allowing the use of its air bases to launch attacks and surveillance missions.

NATO is planning to increase attacks on Gadhafi's command and control facilities as well as palaces, The New York Times is reporting today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Assad's Evil Tactics: Unleash Tanks & Cannons on His People

Updated 7:15 p.m. edt

The death toll in the southern Syrian city of Daraa rose to at least 25 today with many others still missing as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered heavy armor to open fire on his own people, AFP reported.

Assad also launched assaults on the Damascus suburbs of Douma and Al-Maadamiyeh.

Some Western leaders are urging the Arab League to deal directly with Syrian generals, the way the U.S. did in Egypt, to urge them to not open fire on civilians, a source revealed. Using a carrot and a stick approach, Assad and his generals could ultimately be charged with crimes against humanity, said the knowledgeable source, who spoke on the condition that his name not be published.

end update
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed tanks, heavy artillery and automatic weapons fire on his own citizens today, killing at least 18 people and wounding countless others in the city of Daraa, where Syria's pro-democracy movement first erupted more than a month ago.

"Army units are pounding Daraa at this moment. There seems to be no end to the sounds of heavy machine gun fire and occasional mortars," Daraa resident Abu Salem told Reuters hours after the tanks rolled at dawn.

The United States condemned the attacks and threatened to up the economic sanctions imposed on Syria.

“The brutal violence used by the government of Syria against its people is completely deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. The United States is pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown and make clear that this behavior is unacceptable," said White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. "The Syrian people’s call for freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the ability to freely choose their leaders must be heard.”

Human rights groups put the total death toll nationwide as a result of the protests at 350 people so far.

Protesters Reject Deal Granting Yemeni Saleh Immunity

The young leaders of the pro-democracy protests in Yemen are rejecting a deal that would allow President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign within a month with immunity from prosecution.

The demonstrators, who faced armed security forces today, want Saleh to step down immediately and they want him and his top aides to face charges after decades of brutal control by the regime.

Dozens of protesters reportedly were injured today when police opened fire with live rounds of ammunition and tear gas in five provinces in Yemen.

Where's Moammar? NATO Strikes Gadhafi Compound

Updated at 10:45 a.m. edt

Despite claims from the Libyan government, the strikes by two Norwegian F-16s on Moammar Gadhafi's compound overnight were not an assassination attempt, a diplomatic official confirmed a short while ago.

The strike was targeting a communications site in the Bab el-Azizia compound, the foreign official said.

end update

Moammar Gadhafi is in hiding today after NATO dropped a barrage of bombs and missiles on his compound in Tripoli overnight not seen since the start of the United Nations-sanctioned air campaign little more than a month ago.

NATO also attacked targets around Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte and near rebel-held Misurata overnight in dozens of strikes as the alliance keeps its promise to rain down hell on Gadhafi until he capitulates.

Libyan officials accused NATO of trying to assassinate Gadhafi with the strikes, which injured dozens of Gadhafi's staff and loyalists in the Bab el-Azizia compound. At least one building was leveled in the assault.

"Gadhafi compound hit last night with some of the heaviest ordnance we have seen used since conflict began," CNN's Fred Pleitgen Tweeted this morning from Tripoli.

NATO warplanes were targeting Gadhafi's communications headquarters, the alliance said in a statement issued this morning. NATO also said it bombed an ammunition storage facility and a munitions bunker near Tripoli.

Three Libyan TV stations also went off the air briefly following the strikes.

“Yalla NATO you just made many Libyans rejoice by bombing crap out of Libya TV," Tweeted Habiba Hamid, Middle Easterrn affairs expert and editorial writer at The National in the United Arab Emerites.

In the vicinity of Misurata, NATO took out a tank and a munition storage facility.

In Sirte, NATO hit four ammunition shelters and four ammunition bunkers.

The alliance also struck a tank and four rocket launchers in Mizdah, and bombed a pair of infantry fighting vehicles near Zintan.

NATO warplanes have flown a total of 3,725 sorties, including 1,550 strike sorties, since the alliance took control of the mission at the end of last month.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Protests & Pressure Finally Give Yemeni Dictator The Boot

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is expected to submit his resignation within 30 days, apparently destined to become the third Arab despot to abdicate during the Pan-Arab freedom and democracy movement, joining the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.

In three decades of rule, Saleh is accused of ordering the executions of some of his critics, imprisoning others without trial and rigging elections.

Saleh has been a two-faced friend of the United States over the years (he supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, for example), but more recently he became a darling of the post-9/11 terror-hunter cottage industry because he allowed U.S. drones to unleash hellfire missiles on suspected Al Qaeda leaders.

However, many of his fans, who were willing to look the other way and ignore Saleh's dismal human rights record, never took into consideration that his strong-arm tactics contributed to the growth of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. All that has changed amid months of pro-democracy demonstrations by angry Yemenis. The United States welcomed his peaceful exit.

"The United States supports a peaceful transfer of power in Yemen that is responsive to the aspirations of the Yemeni people. We applaud the announcements by the Yemeni Government and the opposition that they have accepted the GCC-brokered agreement to resolve the political crisis in a peaceful and orderly manner," the White House said in a statement.

"We encourage all parties to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement so that the Yemeni people can soon realize the security, unity, and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve," the White House added.

The Gulf Cooperation Council brokered the deal yesterday, which, along with Salah's resignation, also calls for a presidential election to be held within two months. The deal would grant Saleh immunity in exchange for stepping down.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Good Friday to Think About Bicycle Commuting

It is Earth Day and Good Friday and the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.85, according to the American Automobile Association.

States Map

While we wait to see whether a newly announced Justice Department probe reveals any gas price gouging by the oil industry, this is a good time to reflect on a more healthy, holistic and spiritual answer to the choke hold of gasoline economics: Bicycle commuting.

Thousands of miles of bike lanes are being painted in the nation's cities, old railroads are being converted to biker-hiker paths, businesses are adding bike racks to their establishments every day and slowly but steadily motorists are learning to share the road.

Between 2000 and 2009 bicycle commuting increased in the United States by 43 percent, according to the League of American Bicyclists. The reasons vary: health, savings, training, environmentalism, midlife crisis (Some guys like fast cars, some like fast bikes).

But the cycling revolution is being curtailed by politicians who have yet to embrace pedal power. The reasons vary: ignorance, short-sightedness, oil addiction and sloth. So say a prayer today for bike-deprived middle class SUV owners who may have to take out a second mortgage to pay their commuter costs this year.

McCain Assessing Libyan Rebels

Updated at 4:45 p.m. edt

The White House knew ahead of time that Sen. John McCain was taking a surprise trip to Libya and welcomes his outreach to the Libyan rebels.

However, the Obama administration showed no signs of meeting McCain's request that the United States join Italy, France and Qatar in recognizing the rebels Transitional National Council as the official government of Libya.

"We think it’s for the people of Libya to decide who the head of their country is, not for the United States to do that," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

McCain wants President Obama to release some of the $33 billion in frozen Libyan government assets to the rebels. But until the rebels are recognized, it makes it tricky to hand over any of Gadhafi's frozen billions of dollars to the rebels.

Obama is expected to turn over $25 million worth of "nonlethal" surplus military equipment once Obama signs off on the proposal. Secretary of State Hillarey Clinton recommended to Obama that he send the rebels the surpass supplies.

end update

Updated 1 p.m. edt

Sen. John McCain today called on the United States to recognize the Libyan rebel government and urged President Obama to release some of the $33 billion in frozen assets belonging to Moammar Gadhafi and others in Libya.

McCain received a hero's welcome in the nominal rebel capital of Benghazi, as did Obama's decision to deploy armed predator drones in the skies over Libya. The rebels told McCain the predators were a welcomed addition in the fight against Gadhafi's forces.

"He certainly raised the spirits of the rebels here in Benghazi," MSNBC's Richard Engel reported from Benghazi. "People here hope this will be the start of more military involvement from the United States."

In a rare victory for the insugents, hundreds of rebel fighters yesterday captured a remote border post near Tunisia, sending Gadhafi forces fleeing.

Meanwhile, here in Washington there are some murmurs over fears that the predators represent mission creep for the U.S. The Pentagon rejected the charge, emphasizing that the U.S. remains opposed to putting military boots on the ground.

end update

Sen. John McCain made a surprise visit overnight to Benghazi "to get an on-the-ground assessment of the situation" in Libya and meet with the rebel Transition National Council.

"They are my heroes," the Associated Press quoted McCain as saying of the rebels as he emerged from a Benghazi hotel.

McCain, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is in favor of arming the Libyan rebels, but he has been critical of NATO's handling of the air campaign since the United States turned over command to the alliance.

Meanwhile, the first predator drone attack in Libya was aborted yesterday because of lousy weather. NATO warplanes, however, struck targets overnight outside of the besieged city of Misurata.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Raw Video: Rebel Street Fighters in Misurata

An AlJazeera videographer captured the Mad Max army in action in Misurata. The city is in shambles and the rebels are vastly outgunned.

The Struggle to Save Misurata And The Rebel Force

Updated at 5:15 p.m. est

NATO's ominous warning yesterday for people in Misurata to stay away from Moammar Gadhafi's forces appears to have some teeth behind it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates disclosed today that for the first time in the air campaign armed predator drones will be deployed and fire on Moammar Gadhafi's forces and military hardware.

"I think that will give us some precision capability," Gates said.

The U.S. decision to use drones, which can fly low to hit precise targets while not jeopardizing the safety of airmen, comes as Eurepoean officials urged stepped up strikes on Gadhafi.

Drones in the sky over Libya is not new. As was reported here three weeks ago, the unmanned aircraft have been an eye in the sky from nearly the start of the Libyan air campaign. Now, however, they can fire on targets.

And, while the U.S. remains opposed to putting military boots on the ground in Libya, there is no shortage of American spies there. The Central Intelligence Agency has "operators" conducting surveillance, and to a degree, vetting the rebel force, knowledgeable sources revealed.

"They're all over the place in Libya," said one informed source.

Things are heating up in Libya again for the United States.

End update

As Italy, Britain and France prepare to send small teams of military advisers to school the hapless Libyan rebel army in coordinated warfare, the Western European powers are prepared to put troops on the ground to support humanitarian efforts to end the misery in Misurata.

"I am very optimistic and we will win," Saif al-Islam, the defiant son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi said overnight on AlLibya television.

Forces loyal to Gadhafi have relentlessly shelled Misurata, reportedly without deference to civilians or hospitals. The western Libyan city is being held by a small but committed band of rebel fighters, but hundreds of people in Misurata have been killed and the conditions there are deteriorating, humanitarian groups warn.

"Just as Benghazi was saved within hours, so must Misurata be,” Former British Foreign Secretary David Owen wrote in The Times of London. “We have probably only a few days."

France has vowed to step up NATO airstrikes, but many analysts say the situation in Misurata may require some experienced security forces on the ground.

The European Union is offering the use of about 1,000 ground troops to protect the humanitarian relief efforts, but Gadhafi loyalists vow to attack any foreign forces on Libyan soil. United Nations relief officials in Misurata will have to request the assistance.

"On the issue of ground troops, the [UN] Security Ashton confirmed that the EU had formally offered to deploy 1,000 soldiers to Libya’s third-largest city, resolution is very clear," EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said at a joint meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council in Abu Dhabi.

"In line with our work to support humanitarian assistance, I have asked to make sure that if the UN asked the EU to support them to getting aid into the country, we have thought about ways to do that," Ashton said.

France, meanwhile, said it already sent some military advisers to the Libyan rebels, and Britain and Italy will soon dispatch their own military advisers to Libya.

"They’re going in to help the opposition run themselves better or better organize themselves in order to defend themselves against Gadhafi and his regime’s attacks," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

The United States has no intention to send advisers, but the White House is expected to send "nonlethal" surplus supplies to the rebels.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Report Shows Gadhafi Using Cluster Bombs

Moammar Gadhafi's artillery has been lobbing cluster bombs into residential areas of Misurata, using the taboo munitions to terrorize innocent bystanders, according to a blockbuster published report confirmed by human rights watchdogs.

"Such 'indiscriminate' weapons, which strike large areas with a dense succession of high-explosive munitions, by their nature cannot be fired precisely, and when fired into populated areas place civilians at grave risk," The New York Times reports.

One cluster munition was found a short way from a Misurata hospital.

"It's appalling that Libya is using this weapon, especially in a residential area," said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. "They pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about."

Click here for Human Rights Watch's reaction.

Much of the world had banned or condemned the use of cluster munitions. But before we all get too high and mighty, the U.S. has used cluster munitions in Iraq and Afghanistan, though the Pentagon claims only battlefield situations away from civilian populations.

Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron Call Out Gadhafi

The leaders of the United States, France and the United Kingdom penned an opinion piece for today's International Herald Tribune that warns Moammar Gadhafi that the warplanes flying above Libya are not going away -- but he is.

The last paragraph of the op-ed written by President Obama, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron says it all quite succinctly:

"Britain, France, and the United States will not rest until the United Nations Security Council resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their own future."

Click here for the full article.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

NATO Chief Asks for More Planes

Updated 6:15 p.m. est

The Emir of Qatar says his oil state is ready to provide weapons to the Libyan rebels if they ask -- and they have.

"If they will ask for weapons we are goiing to provide them," Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer today. "Of course they asked, but it will take some time, some training."

There are reports that Qatar, the first state to recognize the rebels' Transition National Council as a legitimate government, has already funneled French-made anti-tank weapons to the rebels. The emir did not deny those reports.

President Obama praised the Qatari leader for helping the rebels.

"We would not have been able I think to shape the kind of broad-based international coalition that includes not only our NATO members but also includes Arab states without the Emir’s leadership. He is motivated by a belief that the Libyan people should have the rights and freedoms of all people," Obama said after meeting with the emir at the White House.
"And as a consequence, Qatar is not only supportive diplomatically but is also supportive militarily, and we are very appreciative of the outstanding work of that the Qataris have done side by side with the other international," Obama added.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says he would like to use the frozen $33 billion of Moammar Gadhafi's money to pay for the air campaign and Naval blockade to cover the more than $600 million the U.S. has spent so far on Libya.

"Not only the United States should do this, NATO should do it. France should do it. The countries that are involved there on the ground and in the air - yes.  The answer is yes," Reid said ion another interview with CNN (Wolf scored big guests on The Situation Room today).

The idea of Arab oil to pay for American warfare is not new: the Bush administration argued Iraqi crude would help finance the war there. Now, after spending $1 trillion to depose Saddam Hussein, that claim turned out to be just another one of the whoppers the Bushies used to sell that war to the American people.

"I for a long time advocated and its been lost in the shuffle that the wealth of Iraq, and it's a wealthy country, they should with their oil resources be paying us back for what we've done. Well, I've tried. They should," Reid said.

"What people don't realize is Iraq is still making a lot of money. And we should get part of it," Reid added.

It is a delicious idea, but deducting military costs from Gadhafi's frozen assets may be unseemly in the eyes of the world. Now, if the rebels want to give the U.S. and allies some gratuity for the military assistance once they get Gadhafi's ill-gotten booty, that may be a palatable alternative.

end update

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked the alliance's foreign ministers today in Berlin for "a few more" attack aircraft for the mission in Libya.

So far there are no offers to send more jets, including from the U.S., which has done more than the lion's share of work in attacking Moammar Gadhafi's forces and defenses.

"To avoid civilian casualties we need very sophisticated equipment so we need a few more precision fighter ground-attack aircraft for air-to-ground missions," Rassmussen said. "I am confident that nations will step up to the plate."

Egyptian Military Remains Loyal to the Revolution

Egyptian activists are very optimistic today that the house arrest of Hosni Mubarak and his sons Alaa and Gamal is a sign that the military government has not abandoned the will of the people who have peacefully moved Egypt towards democratic reform.

"Good Bright Morning," Tweeted Egyptian Medhat Etman. "Hope it's not a day dream Mubarak's family interrogated... Now look to Egypts future. Stop talking and start working.”

It looked grim for the Egyptian pro-democracy movement at the end of last week, when hundreds of soldiers stormed demonstrators gathered in historic Tahrir Square to call for the prosecution of the deposed Mubarak on corruption charges.

Frustrated that Mubarak and his family were living comfortably in Sharm-el-Sheikh, protesters in Tahrir also demanded the resignation of military leader, Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi.

"Tantawi is Mubarak and Mubarak is Tantawi," the protesters chanted.

Tantawi apparently heard them, but not before at least open protester was killed by the security forces at Tahrir over the weekend, while dozens of others were beaten with batons.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces let the protesters know Mubarak's arrest was in response to their demands, especially amid rumors that he had fled the country.

"Out of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces belief in the importance of maintaining communication with the Egyptian people and the youth of the revolution, we stress news of the departure of former president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak to Tabuk in Saudi Arabia is not true, as he is under house arrest along with his family," the military leaders said in a statement.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Move to Fund Libyan Rebels As France & UK Plot Strategy

Libyan rebels called on the United States today to recommit to the air campaign, only to discover later that American warplanes are indeed flying above Libya, hunting for anti-aircraft weapons to protect NATO aircraft.

Six F-16 fighter jets and five EA-18 Growler electronic warfare planes have flown 97 sorties in Libya since April 4, the Pentagon said.

The disclosure came after the Libya Contact Group convened today in Qatar, urging nations to finance the Libyan rebels. Meanwhile, the leaders of France and Britain huddled in Paris to plot a strategy for defeating an isolated but resilient Moamnmar Gadhafi.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with British Prime Minister David Cameron, along with defense ministers Gerard Longuet of France and Liam Fox of the UK, to try to forge a unified front in getting NATO to step up its attacks on Gadhafi forces and targets.

"Britain and France are at the heart of this coalition, and with President Sarkozy I am going to be sitting down to make sure that we leave no stone unturned in doing everything we can militarily, diplomatically, politically to enforce the UN resolution, to put real pressure on Qaddafi, and to stop the appalling murder of civilians," Cameron told reporters before the meeting.

Earlier, Britain announced it would send 1,000 pieces of surplus body armor to the rebels. The Brtiish had already sent the rebels 100 satellite phones.

In Doha, the contact group called at the onbe-day meeting for Gadhafi to step down and proposed a temporary "trust fund" for the rebels, possibly including funds from Gadhafi's frozen assets.

"Gadhafi and his regime has lost all legitimacy and he must leave power allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future," the group said in a statement.

A thumbnail guide to the players in Doha today from Agence France Press.

Will Obama Embrace Shared Sacrifice or Just Sacrifice Values?

Updated 6 p.m. est

Angry GOP reaction to President Obama's shared sacrifice agenda was fast and furious today, with Republicans slamming him over his refusal to allow Medicare to become a voucher program and his vow to tax the richest Americans at pre-Bush levels.

"What we heard today was a political broadside from our campaigner-in-chief," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin lawmaker who authored the plan that would further cut taxes for the rich and force seniors off Medicare and into a voucher program. "Exploiting people's emotions of fear, envy, anxiety — it's not hope. It's not change. It's partisanship. We don't need partisanship."

"I don't know about my colleagues, but I asked myself, 'And I missed lunch for this?'" added House Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Several likely GOP candidates for President alsao weighed in.

"President Obama's proposals are too little, too late. Instead of supporting spending cuts that lead to real deficit reduction and true reform of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the president dug deep into his liberal playbook for 'solutions' highlighted by higher taxes," said ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"Today's speech was nothing more than window dressing," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a statement. 

end update

Updated 2:30 p.m. est

It was much ado about something.

President Obama rolled out a plan today that calls for $4 trillion in cuts over 12 years by cutting spending and raising taxes on the richest Americans who for the past decade were given a free ride thanks to the Bush-era tax cuts.

"The most fortunate among us can afford pay a little more," Obama said, vowing not to extend the $1 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans for a second time.

"There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill," Obama said in a speech at George Washington University.

"Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy," Obama said of the GOP plan.

"Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each.  And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President," Obama said.

The shared sacrifice agenda embraced by Obama comes as Congress must raise the debt ceiling -- the amount the federal government is allowed to borrow. The debt ceiling currently sits at $14.294 trillion.

Obama wants to cut $3 in spending for every $1 in new taxes, but he rejected a House GOP scheme to privatize Medicare for seniors by forcing them to go on a voucher program that will make their pals in the insurance industry richer, but will not make elder Americans any healthier.

"I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves. We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations," Obama said. "That includes, by the way, our commitment to Social Security."

end update

There is a slim chance that today's budget speech by President Obama will be much ado about nothing.

There is case to be made Obama would be foolish to get too specific today in the face of a base that wonders how much he we sell them out to get re-elected, along with the angry Tea Party opposition, who blame him for the economic hard times over the corporate greed and Wall Street shenanigans that brought the country to the brink of being broke (not to mention they still think he was born in Kenya).

Obama does not have to go out on a limb today since he has already cut the deal that kept the government open. The fact that Republicans are urging him to be specific should be a red flag for the palace guard at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The President has already made bad on one campaign promise -- to let the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich expire -- and he does not need to add to that list. The GOP would love to box Obama in again and get him to do another flip-flop on a major agenda item.

The Republicans, with the help of many in the corporate media, have framed the budget narrative around three so-called taboos: cutting social security and Medicare, no tax cuts for the rich and no tampering with the Pentagon's budget. The GOP wants Obama to cut the entitlement programs that Americans paid into their whole working lives, but to keep his hands off tax cuts for the rich and the Department of Defense purse strings. 

"We need to consider all three legs of the stool when we're dealing with the deficit. And that's entitlements, tax expenditures and defense spending," spokesman Jay Carney admitted without saying much more about the President's speech.

Hmmmm? Might that be a signal that Obama will embrace shared sacrifice rather than trying to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class.

The Republicans are not taking any chances, already chanting their no-tax mantra ahead of the President's address.

"Tomorrow, I will make clear to the President: Americans don’t want their taxes raised, they want Washington to get its fiscal house in order," House GOP leader Eric Cantor Tweeted on the eve of the President's speech.

Cantor, like his boss, GOP House Speaker John Boehner, still needs to placate their scorched-earth constituents in the Tea Party.

"Tea Partiers simply do not understand how democracy works. And they compound their ignorance with arrogance," Steve and Cokie Roberts write in their synicated newspaper column.

"In the 2012 election, the Tea Party could be the best thing that ever happened to Barack Obama. In early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, party activists could force Republican candidates to make outlandish promises that play well at Tea Party rallies but cripple the GOP's nominee in the fall election," they added.

To make the point that there are real deep cuts in the compromise, Boehner has said there are "no blue smoke and mirrors" in the budget, but National Journal throws a wrench in that statement, showing many of the cuts are indeed slight of hand.

But, make no mistake there are cuts in the deal that kept the government from shutting down. From home heating programs to high-speed rail, Rolling Stone lists 10 programs that take a hit in the budget compromise.

The big business lobby also prevailed in wiping out a model health insurance voucher program as part of the budget deal, The New York Times reports.

Despite the blood money that is thrown around in the nation-building wars of revenge that Obama inherited from Ex-President George W. Bush, the budget deal guts funding for that foreign aid. "The actual cuts in FY 2011 and anticipated reductions [in] FY 2012 come as international responsibilities for the Department of State and USAID are actually expanding in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Egypt," ex-State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in an email to The Huffington Post.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Raw Video: Amazing Footage of F-16 Mid-Air Refueling

Another bird's-eye look at action above the Libya no-fly zone from RT.

French & Brits Slam NATO Over Libya

Updated 4:45 p.m. est

Qatar confirmed today it sold more than $100 million worth of oil for the Libyan rebels and provided gasoline, diesel and propane to the anti-Gadhafi government.

A shipment last week of 1 million barrels of crude oil sailed from the rebel-controlled eastern Libyan port of Tobruk. The shipment was worth about $120 million, the Associated Press reported.

Qatar also shipped four tankers full of gasoline, diesel and other refined fuels to rebels in their de facto capital of Benghazi in eastern Libya, according to the official Qatar News Agency.

The announcement came a day before Qatar hosts the Libya contact group, a gathering of Western and Arab leaders, senior rebels officials and others who support the revolt against Moammar Gadhafi.

Former Libyan intelligence chief and foreign minister, Musa Kusa, is also traveling to Doha for the meetings. Kusa is the top Libyan official to defect in recent weeks from the Gadhafi government, and may be able to provide the rebels with some insight into Gadhafi, if they let him.

end update

NATO again finds itself under fire for its efforts in Libya, with the criticism this time coming from the governments of the two lead protagonists who pushed for the air campaign.

The French and British are making a concerted effort this week for NATO to step up strikes on Moammar Gadhafi's forces and weapons, urging alliance members to pony up more planes to rain down a crushing blow on the regime.

"We know we are having an effect. Pro-Gadhafi forces cannot fight where they want, they cannot fight how they want and they cannot use the weapons they want," NATO Brig. Gen. Mark van Uhm, a senior NATO military officer said today in response to the criticism.

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague nonetheless urged alliance countries today to join the United Kingdom in upping the number of aircraft involved in the Libya mission.

"We must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO," Hague said in Brussels, where European and NATO ministers are meeting this week. "A huge amount has been achieved in Libya, but clearly there is more to be done."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told French radio NATO needs to focus on destroying Gadhafi's heavy weaponry.

”NATO must play its role fully. It wanted to take the lead in operations, we accepted that. It must play its role today which means preventing Gaddafi from using heavy weapons to shell populations,” Juppe said, promising to bring up the issue with European Union foreign ministers today and with NATO ministers later this week.

The pressure for NATO to strike harder at Gadhafi came as Libyan defector Musa Kusa was headed to Doha to meet tomorrow with Qatari officials and high-ranking members of the rebels' Transitional National Council. There is some speculation Gadhafi's former foreign minister and spymaster may make a move to join the rebel movement.

"The more representative of Libya that the (TNC) are, the more broadly aligned they are, the less regional they are, the better that is for them," the Financial Times quoted a British official as saying. "There is therefore merit in them extending their base to get together with Musa Kusa. But the (TNC) will do so on their terms and we are not setting the agenda for them."

The rebels rejected an African Union-brooked peace deal this week because it did not include Gadhafi relinquishing power.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rebels: No Deal Without Gadhafi Departure

Updated 7:45 p.m. edt

The U.S. weighed in today on the African Union's proposal that apparently would keep Moammar Gadhafi in power, saying Washington remains in favor of the Libyan dictator stepping down.

"Look, we want to see the departure of Col. Gadhafi... that’s clearly still our demand. And in fact, we saw that the (Transitional National Council) opposition also called for his departure," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

"We’ve said it’s our bottom line. It’s a nonnegotiable demand," Toner reiterated. "We believe he needs to depart power. He needs to step down. He’s delegitimized as a leader."

end update

Update 4:15 p.m. edt

NATO is prepared to recognize a legitimate ceasefire agreement in Libya, but not as long as Moammar Gadhafi's forces are killing civilians, the alliance's top civilian official said today in Brussels.

All indications are Gadhafi's forces are still killing innocent bystanders with their artillery, snipers and security forces, recent eyewitness reports and human rights monitors have shown.

"Our operational tempo will be determined by this clear goal to protect civilians against any attack," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

NATO welcomed the African Union's effort to seek a ceasefire, but appeared to leave it to the rebels to say whether it was acceptable or not. The rebels rejected the offer, despite an unmovable stalemate in the fighting, citing its failure to call for Gadhafi's departure.

"Since the start of the crisis, NATO has been in constant touch with the African Union as well as other regional and international organizations," Rasmussen said. "I want to be clear: There can be no solely military solution to the crisis in Libya. NATO welcomes all contributions to the broad international effort to stop the violence against the civilian population. Any ceasefire must be credible and verifiable."

NATO aircraft destroyed 49 tanks, nine armored personnel carriers, three anti-aircraft guns and four ammunition bunkers during its much-ballyhooed renewed air campaign, AFP reported.

end update

A day after winning a fierce battle for Ajdabiya, Libyan rebels swiftly rejected today a ceasefire agreement proposed by the African Union that would leave Moammar Gadhafi in power.

"The African Union initiative does not include the departure of Gaddafi and his sons from the Libyan political scene, therefore it is outdated," rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said at a news conference in Benghazi.

"We cannot negotiate the blood of our martyrs," Jabril said. "We will die with them or be rewarded with victory."

“Gadhafi must leave immediately if he wants to survive," Jalil added.

African Union delegates took the ceasefire deal to the rebels a day after first meeting with Gadhafi, who has so far failed to agree to pull his troops ouit of the cities. The deal would have a peacekeeping force put in the country until both sides work out a permanent agreement, Reuters reported.

The African Union said only that agreed to hold talks “with the view to adopting and implementing the political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis,” Bloomberg reported.

NATO warplanes over the weekend propelled the rebels to victory in Ajdabiya and helped repel Gadhafi forces in fighting in Misurata, as well. Gadhafi forces lost at least 25 tanks to NATO strikes, the rebels said.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NATO Strikes Back; Gadhafi Forces Claim Two Helos Downed

Updated 5:30 p.m. edt

NATO is indeed answering the critics.

Multiple airstrikes by NATO warplanes helped rebel ground forces chase Moammar Gadhafi’s forces 40 miles west of Ajdabiya, killing 20 loyalist fighters during the fighting, according to rebel forces.

NATO warplanes were also successful in Misurata, the rebel stronghold in the western part of the country, but the strikes in east were crucial to halting a Gadhafi offensive that threatened to take Ajdabiya, the last city to the west of Benghazi, the home base of the rebel government.

There were reportedly a total of 38 people killed in fighting over the weekend, including 11 rebels and seven civilians, the Associated Press reported.

NATO commanders reported alliance-led warplanes destroyed 11 tanks near Ajdabiya and another 14 near Misrata.

An African Union delegation, meanwhile, arrived in Tripoli today to discuss a cease-fire agreement, NPR reports.

Human Rights Watch charged today that Moammar Gadhafi's forces are attacking Misrata without regard for killing civilians or striking at targets like hospitals.

"The Libyan government's near siege of Misurata has not prevented reports of serious abuses getting out," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "We've heard disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging."

end update

The rebel complaints and second-guessing apparently caught someone's attention in Brussels.

NATO said its aircraft hit 15 tanks near Misrata and two south of Brega in the east of the country on Friday and early Saturday.

NATO's commander of Libyan operations, Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, said "a significant percentage" of his Gadhafi's armor and ammunition stockpiles east of Tripoli were struck in the past 24 hours.

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Abdulrahman said in an interview with Reuters was grateful for the renewed and vigorous air campaign.

In a twist, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim claimed today the Libyan government shot down two U.S.-built attack helicopters operated by rebel forces in the east of the country near the eastern oil facilities of Brega.

"A clear violation was committed by the rebels to (United Nations) Resolution 1973 relating to the no-fly zone. The rebels used two Chinook helicopters and they were shot down," Kaim said.

The Associated Press reported, "The report could not be confirmed with the rebels, but journalists in the area did describe seeing at least one attack helicopter apparently fighting for the rebels in the area Saturday." Libya is said to have 20 of the twin-rotor helicopters in its fleet.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Raw Video: British Air Strike Against Tank Attacking Misrata

NATO video of an RAF Tornado striking a tank spearheading Gadhafi forces in Misurata.

Syrian Protesters Massacred; Egyptian Demonstrators Beaten

It was not a good day for freedom-seeking Arabs.

Conditions continue to deteriorate in Syria for pro-democracy demonstrators who faced a government bent on using deadly force today to silence the opposition. Relations between Egyptian protesters and the military leadership also turned violent today.

In the southern Syrian city of Daraa, where protesters first took to the streets threee weeks ago, security forces shot and killed at least 22 people and wounded hundreds more. Four others were killed in the western city of Hims, The Los Angeles Times reported.

"More than 10 people have been martyred so far. The security forces attacked Al-Omari mosque and Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abbasid mosque in that station area," an eyewitness told Australian radio. "They first dispersed the demonstrators using an internationally prohibited gas. It was not tear gas. They used an internationally prohibited gas in these attacks. The security forces fired live ammunition at the people to disperse them."

The U.S. condemned the violence in Syria and called on the government of Bashar al-Assad to end the crackdown. Pro-democracy protesters hnave not been appeased by Assad's token reforms.

In Egypt, dozens of demonstrators were beaten with batons in Tahrir Square when security forces moved in on the largest protest since Hosni Mubarak was toppled.

The Egyptian people have become frustrated with the heavy-handedness of the formerly sympathetic military government, The New York Times reports. Many Engyptians also want Mubarak to be charged with crimes against his people.

"This means that the army is getting into a direct confrontation with the people, over Mubarak of all people. This could break the country,” Tweeted activist Mahmoud Salem, who is better known by his Twitter handle, @Sandmonkey.

Friday, April 8, 2011

NATO: Nobody Told Us The Rebels Had Tanks

Updated 7:30 p.m. edt

NATO bombed Moammar Gadhafi's weapons depots near the town of Zintan on Friday, an eyewitness told The Jerusalem Post.

It was a timely strike for NATO, which is under fire from all sides over its questionable handing of the air campaign in Libya. Earlier today NATO refused to apologize for strikes that killed rebels in tanks, though the alliance did issue a statement of regret for the friendly-fire casualties.

The rebels are going to try to mark their vehicles so NATO will not hit them in the future, blogs Laura Rozen at Yahoo!

"Soldiers in the rebel campaign have now started to paint the roofs of their vehicles bright pink in order to alert NATO air forces that they are not allied with the Gadhafi regime--and therefore should not be singled out for attacks from the air," she writes.

Here's hoping Gadhafi does not have any pink paint.

end update

A defiant NATO spokesman said today the alliance will not apologize for allegedly killing five rebels when striking their tanks because NATO was unaware those opposition forces even had tanks.

"I'm not apologizing," said British Royal Navy Rear Adm. Russell Harding, the deputy NATO mission commander. "The situation on the ground is fluid, and we had no information the opposition forces were using tanks."

The rebels were once again pinned down today in Ajdabiya by artillary fire from forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, according to CNN. If the rebels cede Ajdabiya to Gadhafi they will be forced to pull back to their nominal capital of Benghazi.

And then what?

Turkey is floating a ceasefire plan that calls for Gadhafi with withdraw his troops from Misurata and Brega and embrace democratic reforms, The Gardian reports.

Closer to home, the price of oil hit a 2 1/2-year high today, "spurred by signs of stalemate in Libya and concerns that violence in other oil-producing nations," MarketWatch reported.

The price of crude went above $112 a barrel amid the unrest in the Middle East oil patch.

Scottish officials, meanwhile, confirm they have met with and interviewed Libyan defector Musa Kusa, grilling him over his knowledge of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103, but they are not saying much more than that about the former Libyan foreign minister and intelliogence chief.

Prosser Has Big Lead After County Clerk's Computer Error

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nicklaus says she forgot to hit the "save" button on her computer.

It was Nicklaus' human error now gives conservative incumbent Justice David Prosser with a more than 7,000 vote lead over liberal-leaning Assistant Attorney General JoAnne in the Wisconsin state supreme court race.

"It is important to stress that this is not a case of extra votes or extra ballots being found. This is human error, which I apologize for," Nicklaus said.

It has been a roller coaster ride since the polls closed, with the vote count flipping back and forth. If the 7,000-vote margin holds, it makes it unlikely that a recount will be necessary, but an army of lawyers on both sides will sort that out in coming days.

Federal Budget Showdown Hits Critical Mass

Updated 10:45 p.m. edt

The angry founder of Tea Party Nation threatened tonight to run a primary challenger against Speaker John Boehner if he agrees to a budget deal with Democrats that averts the shutdown of the federal government. (Dana Bash of CNN just reported there is a deal.)

Sarah Palin was none too happy either.

"GOP: don't retreat! The country is going broke. We can't AFFORD cowboy poetry & subsidizing abortion," Palin Tweeted this evening (Washington time).

"If we can't fight to defund this nonsense now when we have the chance, do you think we'll win the big fight on entitlement reform later on?" she said in a separate Tweet.

The threats of running a candidate against Boehner came from Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips came as the Speaker of the House huddled behind closed doors tonight with the GOP rank and file to sell them on a framework for an agreement. The White House was also reviewing the framework.

According to National Journal, citing multiple GOP and Democratic sources, "The outline of the deal is as follows: up to $39 billion in cuts from the 2010 budget, $514 billion in spending for the defense budget covering the remainder of this fiscal year, a GOP agreement to abandon controversial policy riders dealing with Planned Parenthood and the EPA, and an agreement to pass a “bridge” continuing resolution late Friday night to keep the government operating while the deal is written in bill form."

Word of a deal apparently set off Phillips.

"Boehner is selling us out tonight. We will primary Boehner next year,"  Phillips said on his @teapartnation Twitter feed.

He also lashed out at President Obama and the Democrats.

"Obama and the party of treason think abortionists are more important than our military and their pay," Phillips Tweeted.

end update

Updated 1:30 p.m. edt

Republicans and Democrats are speaking two different languages today.

Democrats say the sticking point is a GOP cut for funding for 3 million women who get their primary care from Planned Parenthood. The GOP seems to be saying that issue has been resolved.

"Republicans want to shut down the government because they want to make it harder for women to obtain the health services they need," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said today on the Senate floor.

But just a short while ago GOP House Speaker John Boehner was asked about the Planned Parenthood rider attached to a Republican bill, saying: "Almost all of the policy issues have been dealt with."

Polls and recent history show signs that most Americans are going to blame the Republicans if the government shuts down in the next 10+ hours, though President Obama is in the crosshairs of an angry electorate, as well. Jockeying for position, Boehner has tried to counter the impending blame game.

"We have no interest in shutting down they government... but we're not going to roll over and sell-out the American people," Boehner told reporters.

end update
Updated 11:15 a.m. edt

It looks like the Tea Party-driven Republican Party is adamant that funding be cut for Planned Parenthood or else there is no deal on a budget.

Democrats charge Republicans want to tamper with women's health at the expense of paying the men and women who wear the uniform of the U.S. Armed Services and 800,000 other federal workers.

GOP Speaker John Boehner is spending the final hours before the government shuts down at midnight trying to make the case that Republicans are really just trying to cut the budget, but has yet to explain why he has drawn a line in the sand with Planned Parenthood funding.

Feeling the heat from the unpatriotic implications of the budget showdown, Boehner a short while ago tried to side-step screwing the Armed Forces by urging passage of a bill that would pay them but shut down the government. The maneuver appears to be going nowhere.

So is this thing really about cutting spending? Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says no, accusing the GOP of using deficit-reduction to impose a social agenda on Americans.

This is going to come down to the wire, but as of now it looks like the government is going to shut down at midnight.

End update

With 24 hours left until the government shuts down, there are dire warnings that military pay and some tax refunds will not be able to be processed and 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed.

All the while members of Congress making about $173,000 a year will continued to get paid, even as some of their own staff are told to stay home, do not telecommute or answer mobile phones or Blackberry devices.

President Obama, who has been convening routine meetings with the congressional leaders, met again last night (Thursday) with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), but no deal was agreed to. They will be at it again today, at least until the deadline is reached.

"What I’ve said to the Speaker and what I’ve said to Harry Reid is because the machinery of the shutdown is necessarily starting to move, I expect an answer in the morning. And my hope is, is that I’ll be able to announce to the American people sometime relatively early in the day that a shutdown has been averted, that a deal has been completed that has very meaningful cuts in a wide variety of categories, that helps us move in the direction of living within our means, but preserves our investments in things like education and innovation, research, that are going to be important for our long-term competitiveness," Obama said.

Military families in particular are shaking their heads over then impasse and threat to take paychecks away while loved ones fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

"They don't need more stress. They don't need to be worrying about nus back home," said Amy Tersigni, whose husband, Army Pvt. Kevin Tersigni, is serving in Iraq.

"They need to focus on finishing what they need to do and keeping themselves safe. So the financial stress doesn't need to happen," the mother of two, who will be broke by the end of the month, told CNN.

The blame game is complex.

Republicans blame the then-Democratic majority for failing to pass a budget last year. Democrats blame Senate Republicans for blocking Democrats from reaching the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster and pass a budget.

Some Democrats even blame Obama for failing to jump into the politically punishing budget battle in recent weeks.

Sen. Bernie Saunders (I-Vt.) says Democrats are culpable in this showdown for another reason: Once they allowed the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich to continue it opened up the opportunity for Republicans to go after the severe budget cuts to tackle the federal deficit. Saunders has said he cannot support deep budget cuts without some "shared sacrifice" with changes to the revenue stream, like wiping out tax loopholes for hugely profitable oil companies.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

AC-130s & A-10s Still Available To NATO, But Stalemate Looms

The U.S. is providing NATO quick access AC-130's with powerful precision-firing canons, but the close-in air support is so far not enough to defeat Moammar Gadhafi's troops who hide near mosques and schools, the top U.S. commander told a congressional panel today.

A-10 tank-busters are also available to NATO, but they have to be requested in a process that takes about a day to get the low-flying jets into action, Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. planes fly 15 percent of NATO missions since handing off the command to NATO.

"The AC-130, as a very precise and specialized capability, remain available. They were not available when I began, just because of the transit time to get those aircraft into theater. And they are available," Ham said.

"The A-10s, similarly, were not available when I began -- when U.S. AFRICOM began the operation; became available, and with good effect. And they are available, but NATO must request the A-10 availability," he said.

Ham had praise for NATO's handling of Libya since taking command, but acknowledged that the chance of stalemate between rebels and Gadhafi's forces is higher now than when AFRICOM was running the warfare. Changing tactics by Gadhafi's forces have made it more difficult for NATO to strike and has contributed to friendly fire casualties, including a report today of four more rebel deaths from air strikes.

"What has changed dramatically has been the tactics applied by the regime forces where they have shifted from their traditional use of conventional armored equipment which was easily identifiable as regime forces and therefore easily targeted. They now operate largely on civilian vehicles. And when those vehicles are intermixed with the opposition forces, it's increasingly difficult to discern which is which," Ham detailed.

"Secondly, we have seen an increased tactic by the regime forces to put their military vehicles adjacent to civilian aspects -- so mosques, schools, hospitals, civilian areas which would result in significant civilian casualties through the strike of those assets. So I would say and then a third factor... would be frankly just the weather. We went through a period of a few days significantly impeded the ability to collect and to strike," he explained.

NATO has been a punching bag by political and military rebel leaders, as well as defectors from the Gadhafi government.

“It was good when military action was being led by the U.S., U.K. and France, but since NATO took over, it is a mess, and there is no real will to liberate Libya from the hardships Qaddafi troops are putting the Libyan people in,” former Libyan Energy Minister Omar Fathi bin Shatwan told Bloomberg. The ex-Gadhafi oil minister, who fled to Malta on a fishing boat April 1, said the situation in Misrata is dire for the rebels and civilians.

Ham said he still is not ready to arm those distraught rebels with superior arms that could end up in the hands of anti-Western militants.

"Not without a better understanding of exactly who the opposition force is," Ham said of arming the rebels. "My recommendation would be we should know more about who they are before we make any determination to arm them."

The AFRICOM commander still opposes putting U.S. troops on the ground, but admitted an international ground force may be needed to intervene, even if Gadhafi leaves.

"I think that is certainly one potential outcome of this, an international force of some composition intervening between the regime and the opposition forces," Ham said.

Riding high(er) in Winnebago, Prosser Now Leads in Wisconsin

This may take a while folks, so sit back and enjoy the spectacle of it all as we all as we seek to figure out what it all means.

Updated election returns from Winnebago County late yesterday now gives a 44-vote lead in the race for Wisconsin state supreme court to incumbent Justice David Prosser, the conservative candidate who was a shoe-in for re-election until Gov. Scott Walker picked a fight with state employees, their families, friends and supporters.

Now Prosser and other Republicans have become surrogates for Walker in the eyes on an angry electorate. GOP state senators had been the primary targets for recall elections, but the race for state supreme court, which may eventually have to rule on the legality of how collective bargaining was stripped from workers, made for an early test proxy vote.

Conservatives surely understood the significance of the race, greatly outspending the backers of Prosser's liberal challenger, assistant attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg. "One liberal group seeking to elect challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg spent an estimated $1,365,340. Four conservative groups seeking to re-elect Justice Prosser spent a combined $2,216,120," The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reported this week.

The drama surrounding the race shifted today amid reports that "updated election returns posted on a Wisconsin county's website would flip the winner of the Wisconsin state supreme court race," the Associated Press reported.

"The Associated Press verified unofficial Winnebago County election returns on Wednesday morning, but the county updated its numbers at 2:27 that afternoon to show incumbent Justice David Prosser with 710 more votes and assistant attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg with 466 more," the AP explained.

"The county is now canvassing results to make them official as is every one of the state's 72 counties. But if the numbers hold up, Prosser would be ahead of Kloppenburg by 40 votes. Almost 1.5 million votes were cast in the race that is almost certain to be decided in a recount that could take weeks," AP said.

As the vote swings back and forth, each side naturally chirps that the other side is cheating without substantial proof at this point. Have no doubt that rainmakers on both sides will surely spend money to try to find examples of voter fraud, but for now the count continues.

John McCormack on The Blog at the conservative Weekly Standard points to the back and forth swings in the vote count in Minnesota's Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken as a model.

"The point is that before liberals allege voter fraud this time, they should check the plausibility of the numbers by comparing the results now to the results in those precincts from previous elections. And that goes for conservatives too, should the lead swing back to Kloppenburg during the canvas," McCormack writes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gadhafi Says Stop Strikes; Rebels Wants More From NATO

Moammar Gadhafi sent a letter to President Obama imploring that airstrikes end in Libya, but there is little chance of that, especially with rebel leaders like Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes complaining that NATO is not doing enough to help the opposition.

"We can confirm that there was a letter, but obviously not the first," White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier today.

The Associated Press obtained what it described as a "rambling, three-page letter" in which Gadhafi petitioned Obama to stop an "unjust war against a small people of a developing country."

"You are a man who has enough courage to annul a wrong and mistaken action," Gadhafi wrote in the letter received at the State Department and was quickly forwarded to the White House.

The Obama administration is shrugging it off at this point, since Gadhafi has not budged on important demands that he end all hostilities and withdraw his troops.  

"The conditions the President laid out were clear, which is action, not words -- cessation of violence, withdrawal from the cities and the menacing sort of positions that the Gadhafi forces had taken.  And I would just leave it at that, that words are different from actions," Carney said.

It is a completely different story for the opposition. The Libyan rebels have spent the past few days lamenting the absence of NATO air strikes. The rebel leadership publicly lashed out at the alliance yesyreday, saying NATO's inaction would cost civilian lives if Gadhafi goes unchecked.

NATO has blamed the weather and it fear of taking out innocent civilians near targets like Gadhafi's armor and batteries, but an alliance spokeswoman today indicated strikes would slowly increase, The New York Times reports.
The  withdrawal Monday of U.S. attack planes put the pressure on European countries, especially France, to offer more strike capability, The Guardian reported.

Wisconsin Election Headed for Recount

Updated 4:45 p.m. est

Assistant attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg declared victory today with a 204-vote lead over conservative incumbent justice David Prosser in the race for Wisconsin's state supreme court, with 100 percent of the state's precincts reporting results.

The slim margin and high stakes in the election leaves little doubt that the outcome will be contested.

“We owe Justice Prosser our gratitude for his more than 30 years of public service. Wisconsin voters have spoken and I am grateful for, and humbled by, their confidence and trust. I will be independent and impartial and I will decide cases based on the facts and the law," Kloppenburg said in a statement carrying by the blog at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"As I have traveled the State, people tell me they believe partisan politics do not belong in our Courts.  I look forward to bringing new blood to the Supreme Court and focusing my energy on the important work Wisconsin residents elect Supreme Court justices to do,” Kloppenburg said.

The result has to give Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans heartburn.

"Given the political security that Wisconsin Justices usually enjoy, Prosser should have been re-elected easily as of just a few weeks ago. However, the political backlash against Republican Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union legislation has galvanized liberal activists, who brought in a late but very energetic game for the election," writes TPMDC's Eric Keefeld. 

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Too close to call -- that is the optimal phrase this morning to describe the outcome of the Wisconsin state supreme court election that caught the attention of political junkies everywhere as it became a proxy fight between Gov. Scott Walker and opponents of his scheme strip collective bargaining rights from public employees.

With 99% of the vote counted, conservative incumbent justice David Prosser has a 585-vote lead over liberal assistant attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Both sides will surely lawyer-up ahead of what promises to be an exciting, and potentially lengthy recount.

"The potentially bad news for Prosser is that of the 34 uncounted precincts, most of them are in counties that voted for Kloppenburg, including 12 in Milwaukee and 1 in Dane," writes John McCormack in The Weekly Standard.

Turnout was a big part of the story, the Journal-Sentinel blogs:

"With 99% of the returns in, almost 1.5 million people had voted in the state Supreme Court race, which would represent a turnout of 33.5% of voting-age adults.

"That’s 68% higher than the official state prediction of 20% turnout, which was based on recent historical norms."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wisc. Supreme Court Race Early Proxy on Walker

Updated 10:15 p.m. edt

It is a close race and it will be a long night if the trend holds. Here is a link to results from Today's TMJ4. Refresh for updates.

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Never has a state supreme court election drawn so much attention, but the highly charged judge's race in Wisconsin has become a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker and his anti-worker legislation that stripped collective bargaining rights from public employees.

The incumbent GOP judge on the high court, David Prosser, should have been a slam-dunk for re-election, but he is a close associate of the increasingly unpopular Republican governor. So Prosser has become a punching bag for Wisconsin workers, who are bent on throwing out the current crop of conservatives over the collective bargaining fight.

Assistant Wisconsin Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg has painted herself as nobody's puppet in an effort to cast Prosser as Walker's guy on the court. No one knows how it will turn out tonight, but you can bank on CNN and MSNBC following the vote count closely after they polls close.

“Before this campaign began, David Prosser was polling ahead of JoAnne Kloppenburg,” said Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that’s been heavily involved in the race. “So if Prosser loses today, this will signal a real rejection of Republican policies by Wisconsin voters,” Taylor told Rachel Weiner of The Washington Post's The Fix blog.

Many conservatives believe it is unfair for voters to take their anger at Walker out on Prosser, but the state is torn and it is harder to find anyone who does not come down on one side or the other.

"In any other election in any other year, Prosser wouldn’t even be able to see Kloppenburg in his rear-view mirror. But in the past few months, Prosser’s life has turned into a horrifying Hilaire Belloc children’s story: 'David, the Justice Who Was Conservative and Was Devoured by the Public Employee Unions.' The calendar has sunk its fangs into him. And it alone may chart the future of Wisconsin," Christian Schneider, a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, wrote on National Review Online's The Corner blog.

Some liberals feel the opposite. They say Prosser is an ideologue who has shown he will do Walker's bidding.

"Prosser has departed from the state’s best judicial values and traditions to identify himself as a conservative who will make decisions based on his political ideology and his political associations—particularly his association with Governor Walker—rather than the law," John Nichols writes in the liberal bible, The Nation. "His opponent, veteran Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, has done the opposite, positioning herself as a rule-of-law contender who would serve as an independent jurist rather than an ally of the governor."

The Wisconsin Supreme Court could ultimately decide whether Walker's bill passes constitutional muster. A lower court judge has temporarily blocked implementation of the collective bargaining rules. Those rules were approved in a legislative procedural maneuver that went around Democrats in the state Senate, who had been hiding out in Illinois to avoid a vote on the measure. The Wisconsin Supreme Court tilts conservative by one vote, so tonight's results will potentially play out beyond the petty politics of the moment.

More Signs Gadhafi's Grip Is Slipping

Updated 6:45 p.m. edt

Rebels have pulled back to just west of Ajdabiya after a crushing, constant artillery barrage from loyalist forces who were supposedly running out of ammunition, CNN's Ben Wedeman reported late today.

Moammar Gadhafi's forces struck the rebel caravan on the main coastal road, with some precision, Wedeman said. There was no sign of NATO warplanes as the rebels once again pulled back, he said.

Gadhafi's forces were thought to be running short of ammunition because of disruptions to his supply lines, but it clear his army in the East had ample stockpiles of shells and rockets.

The offensive by Gadhafi loyalists did not immediately threaten the provisional rebel capital of Benghazi, but with only Ajdabiya in its path the regime was once again taking back precious oil ports of the east and the valuable territory around them.

Opposition leaders say NATO's lone Muslim member nation, Turkey, with its lukewarm support for the no-fly zone, is behind the diminished air strikes, CNN correspondent Reza Sayah reported. The rebels plan to let Turkey know of their growing frustration over the lack of air cover, he said.

Meanwhile, authorities want to question ex-Libyan foreign minister and spymaster Musa Kusa over his alleged role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Though he has not been granted immunity, the U.S. yesterday took him off the list of Gadhafi's top aides whose assets were frozen to pressure the regime into folding. The Telegraph of London reports Kusa is believed to be cooperating with British intelligence. 

"Mr. Kusa is thought to be helping MI6 understand the inner workings of the regime of Col Moammar Gadhafi including the Libyan leader’s sources of finance and the make-up of his armed forces," the newspaper reported. "He is also thought to be trying to persuade other members of the regime to join him in exile."

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Update 11 a.m. edt

Libyan Rebels retreated today from Brega under heavy shelling from Moammar Gadhafi's artillery just one day after the insurgents boasted of having loyalist regime forces surrounded in the eastern oil town.

But according to Agence France Press, "as the first sleepy-looking insurgents arrived cautiously to take up the position they had left late yesterday, artillery and gunfire met them, sending them racing in retreat."

The ragtag band of rebels light arms are no match for Gadhafi's big guns and tanks, and their motor pool looks like something out of the "Mad Max" movies. They continue to complain that they need more air strikes and better equipment to beat back the loyalists.

“When you see this, the situation is very bad. We cannot match their weapons,” Kamal Mughrabi, 64, a retired soldier who joined the rebel army, told the Associated Press. “If the planes don’t come back and hit them we’ll have to keep pulling back.”

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There remains reasons to be optimistic that a diplomatic solution may oust Moammar Gadhafi from power, but there are few indications the rebel army stalled in Brega will bust out make a sweep toward Tripoli anytime soon.

On the positive side for the hapless rebel army, they have kept Gadhafi from recapturing the oil patch in Eastern Libya, likely expediting the demise of the regime by cutting into another of its financial pipelines. Gadhafi's supply lines and armor have been pummeled by NATO warplanes.

And amid defections and emissaries trying to make a deal, Libya's oil minister became the latest senior Gadhafi official to suggest the handwriting is on the wall regarding the country's leadership.

"There will be changes of course, whether we like it or not," said Shukri Ghanem said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

In another diplomatic boost, Italy became the third nation along with France and Qatar to recognize the rebels' Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya.

But adding to the diplomatic disarray, a Libyan government spokesman said reforms are fine, but Gaddafi must stay in power to avoid another Iraq or Somalia.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged the United Kingdom is providing rebels with mobile phones, the Daily Mirror reports.

The Ottawa Citizen has a bit more insight into who's who among the rebels.

Following up on the woman who bravely told the world how she was attacked by Gadhafi's militia, Eman al-Obeidy said on CNN's "AC360" show in a telephone interview she is no longer in the custody of Gadhafi forces, but she still fears for her life.

"My life is in danger, and I call on all human rights organization ... to expose the truth and to let me leave now. I am being held hostage here," wailed the woman who stormed into a Tripoli hotel where journalists were staying, telling them she was beaten and raped by forces loyal to Gadhafi last month before she was taken away by secret police.

"They have threatened me with death and told me I will never leave prison again, if I go to the journalists or tell them anything about what's happening in Tripoli," al-Obeidy told Anderson Cooper.

Closer to home, the FBI has begun questioning Libyans, gathering information agents hope will help deter any potential terror payback from Gadhafi, should he survive, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Raw Video: French Mirage Refueling Over Libya

Official French government video posted by our colleagues at RT.

Quran Burning Highlights American Extremism

As we have seen from the majority of the mainstream media coverage and commentary, the controversial burning of the Quran by a fundamentalist preacher reminded the world that in America we have the right to hate, but to what advantage does one gain by being hateful?

The Rev. Terry Jones, the leader of the World Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla.,  burned a Quran as part of a videotaped mock trial of Islam on March 20, triggering for the past three days deadly protests and widespread condemnation of the act.

The highly respected U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petreaeus called the burning of the Quran "hateful, extremely disrespectful and enormously intolerant."

The Quran-burning was part of an elaborate stunt trial in which the Islamic holy book was put on trial by the members of Jones' fringe fundamentalist Christian sect. It was meant to anger Islam, and with the help of Islamic fundmentalists, like the Taliban, Jones succeeded.

“It was intended to stir the pot; if you don’t shake the boat, everyone will stay in their complacency,” Jones said in an interview with The New York Times.

Jones has received death threats and his enemies are said to have have put a million-dollar bounty on his life. “I don’t right now feel personally afraid,” Jones told the newspaper. “But we are armed.”

Many people also blame Afghan President Hamid Karzai for fanning the flames by calling attention to it in remarks a few days later, apparently inciting a riot that led thousands of protesters Friday to overrun a United Nations compound in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 12 people.

Congress is pondering whether it can take action that would punish Jones, but in reality there is not much that can be done, short of abolishing the first amendment to the constitution.  It was a truly strange happening for someone who purports to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, especially during Lent.