Wednesday, August 31, 2011

GOP Gov. Christie Slams Cantor's Idea to Negotiate Hurricane Aid

The Republican governor who took on right-wing bigots that questioned the patriotism of a Muslim judge he named to high state court is now facing down the Tea Party darling in the House GOP leadership who is threatening to make federal disaster relief a budget debate issue.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie warned House GOP Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia today not to hold hostage the states' need for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid money to another brutal budget battle like the country endured with the market-tanking debt ceiling negotiations.

"You want to figure out budget cuts, that’s fine," Christie said, appearing with members of the state’s congressional delegation, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

"You’re going to turn it into a fiasco like that debt-limit thing where you’re fighting with each other for eight or nine weeks and you expect the citizens of my state to wait? They’re not gonna wait, and I’m going to fight to make sure that they don’t," Christie said putting the Tea Party-driven House on notice that its slash and gut politics will not be tolerated.

"I don’t want to hear about the fact that offsetting budget cuts have to come first before New Jersey citizens are taken care of," the boisterous New Jersey chief executive barked.

A tone-deaf Cantor sounded heartless when he mixed the suffering of Hurricane-turn-storm Irene victims with his hard-core no taxing the rich budget policy. Cantor made the comment while hundreds of thousands people were without power, many were trapped (and still are) and billions of dollars worth of property was destroyed. Irene killed at least 40 people in 11 states.

Christie also said he welcomed the news that President Obama will be visiting New Jersey this weekend. Vermont remains a disaster area that would likely be disrupted by a visit from Obama this soon after Irene left the state in turmoil.

Negotiations Falter with Gadhafi Forces Amid New Claim Despot Cornered

Giving Moammar Gadhafi and his loyalist fighters until Saturday to surrender is not the same a ceasefire for the Libyan rebels.

Several clashes have been reported around Libya and there is a new report in The New York Times that claims Gadhafi may be surrounded 150 90 miles from Tripoli in a desert redoubt in Bani Waled.

Libya's largest tribe, the Warfallah, a longtime ally of Gadhafi, control Bani Waled, a city of 50,000 people.

Negotiations are underway to try to avoid a battle with Gadhafi loyalists in cities like Sirte, but doubtful rebel forces have been massing there, preparing for a fight that military analysts warn could be tougher and bloodier than the taking of Tripoli.

To avoid bloodshed, the Transitional National Council and its rebel commanders would likely need to display a commitment to immense confidence-building reconciliation measures to ease the concerns of the Gadhadhfa (our chosen spelling among several known options) tribe, centered around Sirte.

Rebel fighters repeated public threats that they will kill Gadhafi have been unhelpful with building confidence.

Moammar Gadhafi is from the Gadhadhfa, a Berber tribe, and Sirte is his hometown. There are believed to be more Gadhadhfa living around Sabha, a city in the south that the rebels would also likely to engage, if there is a battle for Sirte.

NATO would prefer to see an accord than a fight.

The Gadhafi loyalists reportedly claimed they were struck by a rocket attack in Sirte. NATO did not immediately claim responsibility.

The Christian Science Monitor addresses the issue of the UN mandates to protect citizens, calling into question whether fighters from Sirte face slaughter at the hands of the rebels.

The rebels know NATO will not tolerate rampant killings if there is an attack, but they also know the alliance has blessed the TNC. The rebels remain confident NATO is with them.

CPI Probe Highlights Wasteful Pentagon Addiction to No-bid Contracts

America loves its mercenaries.

Competitive-bid Pentagon contracts are a low point since the Sept. 11 attacks, giving way to the military's addiction to hard-to-trace, fast-track no-bid contracts that have encouraged waste and fraud, according to a new report.

Private military contractors, the politically correct name for everyone from hired guns to engineers and custodians, are still cashing in since the war on terror began 10 years ago.

A new "fellow the money" investigation, dropping incrementally each day this week by the Center for Public Integrity's IWatch News, shows the Pentagon's no-bid contracts jumped to $140 billion in 2010, up from $50 billion in 2001.

"While the Pentagon says its overall level of competition has remained steady over the past 10 years, publicly available data shows that Defense Department dollars flowing into non-competitive contracts have almost tripled since the terrorist attacks of 9/11," writes author and journalist Sharon Weinberger, the accomplished national security writer whose byline is on the CPI investigative report.

The Pentagon’s competitive-bid contracts declined to 55% the first half of this year based on dollars spent, the group's analysis of available public federal records show.

The big winner in both the competitive-bid and no-bid world of Pentagon spending, is the Houston-based outfit KBR, formerly known as Kellogg, Brown & Root. KBR was competitively awarded an umbrella contract in December 2001, but was not required to compete for any subsequent contacts, the analysis revealed.

Over 10 years through the end of July of this year, KBR earned  $37 billion, proving water systems, heaters, tents, and dining facilities, as well as electricians, cooks, cleaners and other civilian workers for military bases, CPI reported.

"The rush to war in the months following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 created an urgency in the Pentagon, not just for military operations but also for contracting," Weinberger writes in thge second of five installments of CPI's "Windfalls of War" series --- an update to an earlier groundbreaking investigation by the highly regarded watchdog group.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rebels Give Gadhafi Forces Saturday Deadline; NATO Planes Still Flying

The rebel government is giving Gadhafi loyalists in the dictator's hometown Sirte and other pockets of resistance around the country until Saturday to lay down their weapons, or else they will be taken by force.

Indications are that rebel fighters are already concentrating on the outskirts of Sirte, about 225 miles east of Tripoli, where many Libyans believe Moammar Gadhafi is hiding.

Rebels "have a good idea" where Gadhafi is, according to Ali Abdul Salaam Tarhouni, a Transitional National Council spokesman.

"We don’t have any doubt that we will catch him," Tarhouni said, stopping short of naming Sirte or elsewhere.

Sabha in southwestern Libya, another of the last remaining loyalist strongholds, is another city where some rebels suspect Gadhafi may be hiding.

Sky News quoted a trusted inside source who said he saw Moammar Gadhafi Friday at the Tripoli compound belonging to his son, Khamis, but he and others fled that location later that day.

The TNC issued its ultimatum today, warning Gadhafi forces they have until the end of the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday to surrender or fight. Eid comes at the conclusion of the Ramadan month of fasting for the Islamic faith.

TNC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil said he hoped negotiations with Gadhafi loyalists would succeed and "avoid more bloodshed and to avoid more destruction and damage."

"It might have to be decided militarily," Jabril admitted. "I hope this will not be the case."

The NATO-Arab coalition signaled NATO airpower will be nearby, flying reconnaissance and combat missions.  

NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie confirmed NATO "will remain critically important until the Libyan civilian population is no longer under threat from the former regime."

"As recently as yesterday, our aircraft struck several surface-to-air threats and multiple military vehicles in the area of Sirte, which is considered the last bastion of the Gadhafi regime," Lavoie said today.

The TNC is also calling for neighboring Algeria to hand over members of Gadhafi’s family who fled there this week, including his wife, daughter, two sons and grandchildren. The rebel leaders want to the Gadhafi family to face potential charges in Libya.

The rebels claim 50,000 people have been killed in the Libyan revolution, CNN reported.

Are Conservatives A Bit Off-Key With Their Reaction to Irene?

It appears the trumped-up criticism by people who complain the media hyped-up Hurricane Irene is more off target than the forecasts that, as it turns out, accurately projected a killer storm would strike the East Coast.

National Guard helicopters were flying in food and water to isolated towns and villages in New England today, where flooding has wiped out roads, trapping residents and others. 

So far the death toll stands at 40 people in 11 states and damage is expected to total in the doube-digit billions of dollars, from the barrier islands of the Carolinas to the bursting mountain-fed rivers and streams of Vermont. 

Conservative critics in particular have poured on the inappropriate comments, even as Americans continue to suffer from the wrath of the hurricane-turned-storm that dumped a month's worth of rain in some areas in a single day.

House GOP leader Eric Cantor of Virginia waded back into the hot water when he said Congress would provide money to states to help dig out of Irene's wrath, but there would have to be cuts to other programs to pay for the disaster aid. And never mind that his state was whacked by the same storm.

"Yes there's a federal role, yes we're going to find the money -- we're just going to need to make sure that there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so," Cantor told Fox News yesterday.

White House aides rolled their eyes at Cantor's remarks, saying the first priority must be providing relief to states and counties.

"I think the principle that when we have a natural disaster and an emergency situation in, in this case, a significant stretch of the country, our priority has to be responding to the disaster and then helping those regions and states recover," White House spokesman Jay Carney said today when asked about Cantor's remarks.

It is not the first time Cantor has crossed folks by injecting his slash-but-no-tax agenda during a catastrophic natural disaster.

Cantor got a slap on the wrist from his former boss in the House GOP leadership, Missouri Gov. Roy Blunt, when he said federal money from FEMA "would be accompanied by support for having pay-fors" before Jopin, Mo. would be  reimbursed for damage caused by the devastating mile-wide EF5 multiple-vortex tornado that struck Joplin, Mo. on May 22.

In plain English, Cantor suggested no cuts, no disaster funding -- pretty harsh rhetoric when you consider more than 150 people were killed and final costs are approaching $3 billion for the Joplin area.

"We need to prioritize spending, and this needs to be a priority," Blunt politicely said back in May. “I’m sure Eric will help find the necessary off-sets."

Republican candidate for president, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, is still back-peddling from her off-key remark suggesting Irene and last week's earthquake in the Mid-Atlantic region was the wrath of God.

"Washington, D.C., you’d think by now they’d get the message. An earthquake, a hurricane, are you listening? The American people have done everything they possibly can. Now it’s time for an act of God and we’re getting it," Bachmann said at a weekend campaign event.

Shock-jock Rush Limbaugh, demigod of the right wing and partisan blowhard to the left, led a chorus of naysayers who think the media over-sold the storm, telling his millions of "Dittohead" listeners that President Obama was hoping for a a nasty storm.

"I'll guarantee you Obama was hoping this was going to be a disaster as another excuse for his failing economy," Limbaugh said. "If he's out there blaming tsunamis, blaming earthquakes, this one -- made to order, but it just didn't measure up."

Record Number of Americans Killed in August In Afghanistan

August is already the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan, with almost half of those casualties coming when the Taliban shot down a helicopter carrying elite forces and others.

Sixty-six U.S. troops have died so far this month, according to the media tally maintained by the Associated Press. The record death toll comes amid a gradual troop drawdown in a war increasingly becoming unpopular with the American people.

President Obama addresses the American Legion's annual conference Minneapolis on U.S. combat in the decade after the Sept. 11 attacks.

July 2010 had been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, when 65 Americans were killed in the war.

So far this year, 299 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan this year, while a total of 402 coalition forces have died in that war in the past eight months. 

In addition to the 66 Americans killed so far this month, more than a dozen coalation forces from other countries were killed this month in Afghanistan, including  two British, four French, one New Zealander, one Australian, one Polish and four other troops of unspecified nations, AP reported.

Nearly half of the Americans were killed this month Aug. 6 when their Chinook helicopter was shot down a  in eastern Afghanistan in the deadliest incident in the war. A rocket-propelled grenade fired by Taliban fighters killed 30 Americans, most of them elite Navy SEALs being flown in to reenforce Army Rangers who were under fire.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Finally Figuring Out Ron Paul is a Real Threat in GOP Race

Suddenly Ron Paul does not look like an outlier anymore.

With an elbows-out cowboy frontrunner and a bombastic anti-government congresswoman who tends to muddle history trailed mainly by boilerplate pro-life hyper-conservatives at the rear, Paul finds himself sharing a stage with opponents who, on many issues, sound a lot him.

The ob/gyn physician from Texas is poised to make mischief in the Republican race. And the mainstream media is finally catching on.

Paul has a low-budget, campaign dependent on volunteer loyalty and well-timed "money-bombs" that net him more than a $1 million-a-pop. Odds are his strategy will see him last through every single Republican caucus and primary.

This week's Gallup poll left little doubt that Gov. Rick Perry is out front with a low double-digit lead over the previously presumed leader in the GOP field, Mitt Romney, the ex-governor of his adopted Massachusetts.

Gallop confirms what a Rasmussen poll taken days after the Iowa Straw Poll and Perry's entry into the race at a conservative bloggers summit in South Carolina: The Texan is the leader going into the traditional Labor Day start for the caucus and primary season.

But survey after survey also consistently indicate Paul has an established base of support that is at least as loyal as the best candidates in the field.

Among the evidence, Paul is the only announced candidate for the GOP nomination whose favorable rating tops his unfavorable rating, according to an AP/IPSOS poll out today.

Paul also polled solidly with Romney and Bachmann in the second tier of candidates who draw support from Republicans who identify closely with the Tea Party, More eye-catching, the same Gallup survey numbers released today have him at a strong third-place ceding among mainstream Republican voters. 

All eyes are on Romney, the languishing would-be establishment candidate, and Bachmann, the previous flavor-of-the-month who is wonderinging when her support will bottom out. Bachmann was at 13% in the Rasmussen poll before dropping to 10% in the Gallup survey.

If the Minnesota congresswoman fades, people will likely discover many Bachmann voters are turned off by Perry and may find a candidate like Paul more appealing. Romney probably can best help Paul by going on the attack against Perry and expose weaknesses and maybe provoke some gaffs.

There are also the backers of the bottom-dwellers to consider. If they cannot hang with the pack, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Gingrich all have supporters who will be looking for a new home.

Paul, for now a sort of protest candidate in a field of protest candidates, has to hold his grown and not lose any of his backers to Perry. If he holds, the feisty lawmaker could find his unwavering libertarian camp a home for the forthcoming pool of available Republican primary and caucus voters.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gadhafi on the Run Left His Photos of Condi Behind

Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi continues to elude capture, but the rebel government hoping to pick up his scent now that there is $1.4 million price on his head.

The bounty on Gadhafi sure does appear to be a carrot to Gadhafi insiders.

The likelihood of Average Joe Libyan seeing the fleeing despot on the streets is slim, so the Transitional National Council's may be thinking that a bag full of money may just what some inner circle Gadhafi confidante needs to add to his legal defense fund.

The rebels, with the help of NATO and Arab allies Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, may be on the trail of Gadhafi, according to a report in the French press.

Trackers reportedly discovered a safe house in Tripoli where Gadhafi holed up for at least one night, the magazine Paris Match reported on its website today.

The search for Gadhafi is centered in Tripoli, but the fighting is moving toward Sirte, the defrocked dictator's hometown and tribal capital. The city is said to be brimming with Gadhafi hardliners, so the battle is expected to be fierce.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, is preoccupied with the hunt for Gadhafi's mustard gas weapons and precursor chemical materials. NATO's eye in thee sky is keeping watch over any evidence that Gadhafi forces are attempting to use te chemicals weapons.

The nationwide search for Gadhafi is very different than the hunts for Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, in which the U.S. was pretty much on its own to track down those scoundrels. In contrast, the vast majority of Libyans appear to want to capture Gadhafi.

Gadhafi and Hussein, however, did apparently share a penchant for quirky lifestyle choices.

When American forces went through Hussein's personal items they found that he fashioned himself to be a closet dime-store novelist. Rebels who captured Gadhafi's compound this week discovered a photo album of former Secretary of State Condoleeze Rice, for whom the dictator has hinted that he had much admiration for. Maybe too much.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All the Journalists at Rixos Hotel Are Safe and Free

The armed Gadhafi goons who held captive the three dozen journalists in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli released their hostages today after they finally woke up today to the reality that they were virtually the last regime stronghold in Tripoli.

"It's a great thing to come out of a situation like this... in one piece. There were no injuries, nobody's been killed, and it's just a huge, huge relief that we came through it," said Matthew Chance, CNN's gutsy correspondent at the Rixos.

The multi-national press corps at what had been considered a posh hotel by Tripoli standards were living in the dark, facing occasional sniper fire and an unknown fate. They were short of food and water, existing in a virtual sweatbox without air conditioning in a desert country.

It was a "terrible, horrible situation at the Rixos hotel for the past week or so" and the journalists "have been sleeping in the corridors, wondering if we were going to make it," Chance said on CNN.

The guards were described as angry, young, AK-47-wielding "crazy gunmen" who blamed the international media for the revolution in Libya, at times intimidating and threatening the journalists.

"They're die-hards, there really believed that Gadhafi was coming back, that he was beating the rebels," Chance said.

"As Tripoli fell to the rebels it became more and more obvious that there was nothing really outside oif the hotel that was in Gadhafi's control. The reality slowly dawned on these people until today, just a couple of hours ago," Chance said.

"They essentially just capitulated to the 36 journalists inside the Rixos Hotel. They handed over their weapons. Those weapons were sort of put out of use. They said 'We're going to let you go,'" Chance explained.

Arrangements were made with the International Committee of the Red Cross, who provided cars that pulled the media people out of the Rixos. The 36 journalists hugged, kissed, congratulated each other and shook hands after they were finally free.

The journalists noted that as they drove away that rebel forces were not far away from the hotel, crediting the opposition fighters for not storming the Rixos and potentially engaging in a firefight that may have led to a very different outcome.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fierce Urban Warfare Erupts in Tripoli

Updated 3:45 p.m. edt

Libyan rebels breached Moammar Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound today, rifling through his personal property and moving room-to-room, but did not immediately find the despot-in-hiding.

One rebel was seen wearing one of Gadhafi's beany caps as Arab-owned tv was among the first to enter the formerly fortified compound.

A military source said an "elite" group of rebel fighters trained by Western and Qatari special forces the past few months were expected to lead the way into Gadhafi's underground bunker and catacomb-like tunnel system.

"They were trained for this type of operation," the source said.


There are brutal gun battles all over Tripoli today as rebels try to sweep up pockets of fighters loyal to Moammar Gadhafi who refuse to give up.

Smoke has been seen billowing from Moammar Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound and a ferocious firefight is underway at Tripoli's main airport, according to multiple media reports. NATO warplanes also have been heard in the skies over the city.

It remains unknown where Gadhafi is holed up.

There are now checkpoints around the city where rebels are aggressively searching cars of people leaving the city. It is part of an attempt to crackdown on former Gadhafi forces who have stripped off their uniforms in favor of civilian clothing, CNN reported.

Monday, August 22, 2011

France's Juppe on Libya: 'The Goal is About to be Achieved'

Statement today by French Prime Minister Alain Juppe:

"Yes, we took risks in Libya, at both diplomatic and military level. It was France who was the architect of UNSCR 1973. We – with our British friends in particular – were the sponsors of that resolution, which set the legal framework for the international intervention and, at the last minute, spared Benghazi’s population from a premeditated bloodbath. I won’t forget the gravity of the Security Council meeting where I spoke out in France’s name to secure the decision.

"Within NATO, it was France who made the greatest contribution, and I’d like to pay tribute to our pilots, our seamen and all our armed forces for their courage and professionalism.

"But as in Côte d’Ivoire, the risks taken were calculated. The cause – to which President Sarkozy and our diplomatic service were steadfastly committed – was just, because it was the liberation of a people and of democracy.

"France’s people and parliament lent us their support. The most skeptical individuals quickly started to talk of getting bogged down, even though the operation had only begun in March. Today, the goal is about to be achieved. Gadhafi’s regime no longer has any future. His last supporters must finally act with dignity, stop fighting and lay down their weapons to prevent any more bloodshed.

"From now on, we must look to the future. It’s for the Libyan people, and for them alone, to build the new Libya they’ve fought for. But it’s our duty to support them in this rebirth, which will not be free of difficulties.

"It’s true that Libya is a country with the potential for considerable wealth. That wealth must be put at the service of the country and its people. Everything, or nearly everything, has yet to be built or rebuilt. The international community must join in the effort, and in the vanguard will be France, whose early and unstinting support did her particular credit. A new page will be turned in Franco-Libyan relations. We’ll help to write it with the same determination and confidence."

Saif is Safe? Gadhafi's Son is Apparently Not in Rebel Custody

Is it the fog of war, or just a wicked whopper by the loose-tongued Libyan rebels?

Just hours after Mohammed Gadhafi, the eldest son of Moammar Gadhafi, reportedly escaped his rebel-imposed house arrest, his brother Saif al-Islam Gadhafi defiantly showed up at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli to dispute rebel claims that he too had been captured and was being held at an undisclosed location.

"I am here to refute all the allegations," said Saif Gadhafi, according to a translation provided by Sultan Al Qassemi via @SultanAlQassemi. "My father is fine and he is in Tripoli."

Saif Gadhafi even shrugged off the charges he faces from the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"Screw the ICC," Saif Gadhafi said.

The images of a clearly free Saif Gadhafi were carried in the past hour by CNN, whose gallant reporter Matthew Chance spoke to the cocky heir-apparent son of the dictator-in-hiding.

"Saif Gadhafi told me that he had been travelling around Tripoli in an armored convoy the whole time," Chance Tweeted via @mchancecnn. "Major PR coup for Gadhafi – if the rebels lied about this – what can we believe?"

The rebels also claim to have captured, Saadi Gaddafi, the Libyan leader's third son, but who knows until he is actually produced for the Western media.

Throughout the Arab Spring it routinely has been state television and Arab-owned media Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya that routinely have provided premature or just outright misinformation, but this time even the Western press bought into the rebel claims.

Meanwhile, Chance and other journalists at the Rixos are essentially under a house arrest themselves by armed guards loyal to the Gadhafi regime.

"All electricity down, running low on food and water. Sitting at #Rixos in the dark as bullets fly outside," Chance Tweeted. "It's no fun being stuck in one of Gadhafi's few remaining strongholds. Rixos gunmen now refusing to let us leave."

Obama on Libya: 'There remains a degree of uncertainty...This is not over'

Statement by President Obama on Martha's Vineyard:

"Good afternoon, everybody. I just completed a call with my National Security Council on the situation in Libya. And earlier today, I spoke to Prime Minister Cameron about the extraordinary events taking place there. The situation is still very fluid. There remains a degree of uncertainty, and there are still regime elements who pose a threat.

"But this much is clear: The Gadhafi regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people.

"In just six months, the 42-year reign of Moammar Gadhafi has unraveled. Earlier this year, we were inspired by the peaceful protests that broke out across Libya. This basic and joyful longing for human freedom echoed the voices that we had heard all across the region, from Tunis to Cairo.

"In the face of these protests, the Gadhafi regime responded with brutal crackdowns. Civilians were murdered in the streets. A campaign of violence was launched against the Libyan people. Gadhafi threatened to hunt peaceful protesters down like rats. As his forces advanced across the country, there existed the potential for wholesale massacres of innocent civilians.

"In the face of this aggression, the international community took action. The United States helped shape a U.N. Security Council resolution that mandated the protection of Libyan civilians. An unprecedented coalition was formed that included the United States, our NATO partners and Arab nations. And in March, the international community launched a military operation to save lives and stop Gadhafi's forces in their tracks.

"In the early days of this intervention, the United States provided the bulk of the fire power, and then our friends and allies stepped forward. The Transitional National Council established itself as a credible representative of the Libyan people. And the United States, together with our European allies and friends across the region, recognized the TNC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya.

"Gadhafi was cut off from arms and cash, and his forces were steadily degraded. From Benghazi to Misurata to the western mountains, the Libyan opposition courageously confronted the regime, and the tide turned in their favor.

"Over the last several days, the situation in Libya has reached a tipping point, as the opposition increased its coordination from east to west, took town after town, and the people of -- of Tripoli rose up to claim their freedom. For over four decades, the Libyan people had lived under the rule of a tyrant who denied them their most basic human rights. Now, the celebrations that we've seen in the streets of Libya shows that the pursuit of human dignity is far stronger than any dictator.

"I want to emphasize that this is not over yet. As the regime collapses, there's still fierce fighting in some areas, and we have reports of regime elements threatening to continue fighting. Although it's clear that Gadhafi's rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce further bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms for the sake of Libya.

"As we move forward from this pivotal phase, the opposition should continue to take important steps to bring about a transition that is peaceful, inclusive and just. That the leadership of the TNC has made clear the rights of all Libyans must be respected. True justice will not come from reprisals and violence; it will come from reconciliation and a Libya that allows its citizens to determine their own destiny.

"In that effort, the United States will be a friend and a partner. We will join with allies and partners to continue the work of safeguarding the people of Libya. As remaining regime elements menace parts of the country, I've directed my team to be in close contact with NATO as well as the United Nations to determine other steps that we can take to deal with the humanitarian impact. We're working to ensure that critical supplies reach those in need, particularly those who've been wounded.

"Secretary Clinton spoke today with her counterparts from leading nations of the coalition on all these matters, and I've directed Ambassador Susan Rice to request that the U.N. secretary-general use next month's General Assembly to support this important transition.

"For many months, the TNC has been working with the international community to prepare for a post-Gadhafi Libya. As those efforts proceed, our diplomats will work with the TNC as they ensure that the institutions of the Libyan state are protected, and we will support them with the assets of the Gadhafi regime that were frozen earlier this year. Above all, we will call for an inclusive transition that leads to a democratic Libya.

"As we move forward, we should also recognize the extraordinary work that has already been done. To the American people, these events have particular resonance. Gadhafi's regime has murdered scores of American citizens in acts of terror in the past.

Today, we remember the lives of those who were taken in those acts of terror and stand in solidarity with their families.

"We also pay tribute to Admiral Sam Locklear and all of the men and women in uniform who have saved so many lives over the last several months, including our brave pilots. They've executed their mission with skill and extraordinary bravery, and all of this was done without putting a single U.S. troop on the ground.

"To our friends and allies, the Libyan intervention demonstrates what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one. Although the efforts in Libya are not yet over, NATO has once more proven that it is the most capable alliance in the world and that its strength comes from both its firepower and the power of our democratic ideals.

"And the Arab members of our coalition have stepped up and shown what can be achieved when we act together as equal partners. Their actions sent a powerful message about the unity of our effort and our support for the future of Libya.

"Finally, the Libyan people: Your courage and character have been unbreakable in the face of the tyrant. An ocean divides us, but we are joined in the basic human longing for freedom, for justice and for dignity. Your revolution is your own, and your sacrifices have been extraordinary. Now, the Libya that you deserve is within your reach. Going forward, we will stay in close coordination with the TNC to support that outcome. And though there will be huge challenges ahead, the extraordinary events in Libya remind us that fear can give way to hope, and that the power of people striving for freedom can bring about a brighter day.

"Thank you very much."

NATO Jams Tripoli Communications as Rebels Hunt for Gadhafi

Libyan rebels are searching today for the all-but-toppled Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi who is in hiding now that Tripoli is occupied by the freedom fighters. NATO is believed to be intermittently jamming communications in Tripoli to keep Gadhafi or his remaining commanders from giving orders to what is left of the loyalist forces.

Most of Gadhafi's army -- a force he bragged over the weekend was 65,000-strong in Tripoli -- has scattered and has not engaged the rebels in a major firefight since the opposition took control of a vast majority of the city.

"We have no confirmation of Gadhafi’s whereabouts, but at least two of Gadhafi’s sons have been detained. His regime is falling apart and in full retreat," British Prime Minister David Cameron said this morning. "Gadhafi must stop fighting, without conditions – and clearly show that he has given up any claim to control Libya."

NATO is firmly committed to seeing the mission through until it is satisfied it's services are no longer necessary.

"We will continue to monitor military units and key facilities, as we have since March, and when we see any threatening moves towards the Libyan people, we will act in accordance with our UN mandate," added NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "Our goal throughout this conflict has been to protect the people of Libya, and that is what we are doing."

The regime crumbled faster than anyone expected, including the rebels.

President Obama, Cameron and NATO all appealed to the rebels to provide security for the people of Tripoli and not let the city fall under mob rule.

Cameron Says 'We Played Our Part' in Libyan Revolution

British Prime Minister David Cameron's  statement on the impending fall of Tripoli:

"I have just come from chairing a meeting of the National Security Council on the situation in Libya. The latest information is that the vast majority of Tripoli is now controlled by free Libyan fighters, although fighting continues – and some of it is extremely fierce.

"We have no confirmation of Gadhafi’s whereabouts, but at least two of Gadhafi’s sons have been detained. His regime is falling apart and in full retreat. Gadhafi must stop fighting, without conditions – and clearly show that he has given up any claim to control Libya.

"As for his future, that should be a decision for (Transitional National Council) Chairman Jalil and the new Libyan authorities. The situation in Tripoli is clearly very fluid today and there can be no complacency. Our task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people, which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya.

"This will be a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process with broad international support coordinated by the UN – and I am in close contact with partners from NATO, the Arab League and with Chairman Jalil himself. Clearly the immediate priority today is to establish security in Tripoli.

"We are working closely with the TNC to support their plans to make sure that happens.
I spoke to Chairman Jalil last week, and will be speaking to him again, to agree with him the importance of respecting human rights, avoiding reprisals, and making sure all parts of Libya can share in the country’s future.

"And the wider NATO mission which is to protect civilians – that will continue for as long as it is needed. This morning the national security council also discussed the urgent work that needs to be done on medical supplies and humanitarian aid, on diplomatic efforts, and on our work at the UN Security Council.

"Let me say a word about each. First, on the need to support the medical facilities in Tripoli. We have already deployed medical supplies close to where they are needed, and have now released them to the World Health Organization. In the coming days it will be important to make sure the communications networks, the electricity, the power supplies, fuel and water are maintained or repaired where they need to be.

"The Transitional National Council have been planning for this for months and we have been helping with that work. Diplomatically, we have a strong mission already in Benghazi consisting of Foreign Office, military and aid specialists, and we will establish a British diplomatic presence in Tripoli as soon as it is safe and practical to do so. This will include stabilization experts who have been planning for this moment with the NTC for months.

"At the UN, we will also be taking early action in the Security Council to give the new Libyan authorities the legal, diplomatic, political and financial support they need. We will soon be able to release the frozen assets that belong to the Libyan people. The foreign secretary is returning and, with the deputy prime minister, the defense secretary and the development secretary, will coordinate our efforts with the TNC in the week ahead.

"Six months ago this country took the difficult decision to commit our military to support the people of Libya. I said at the time that this action was necessary, legal and right – and I still believe that today.
It was necessary because Gadhafi was going to slaughter his own people – and that massacre of thousand of innocent people was averted.

"Legal, because we secured a resolution from the United Nations, and have always acted according to that Resolution. And right, because the Libyan people deserve to shape their own future, just as the people of Egypt and Tunisia are now doing.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many British pilots, air staff, ground crew and everyone who worked so hard to support the NATO mission and the work of the TNC.
On the pilots – as ever they have shown incredible bravery, professionalism and dedication.

"This has not been our revolution, but we can be proud that we have played our part. There will undoubtedly be difficult days ahead. No transition is ever smooth or easy. But today the Arab Spring is a step further away from oppression and dictatorship and a step closer to freedom and democracy.
And the Libyan people are closer to their dream of a better future."

NATO Secretary General Warns Gadhafi Not To Try Anything

Video and text of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's statement this morning on the rebel takeover of most of Tripoli and the imminent fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

"The Gadhafi regime is clearly crumbling. The sooner Gadhafi realizes that he cannot win the battle against his own people, the better -- so that the Libyan people can be spared further bloodshed and suffering.

"The Libyan people have suffered tremendously under Gadhafi’s rule for over four decades. Now they have a chance for a new beginning. Now is the time for all threats against civilians to stop, as the United Nations Security Council demanded. Now is the time to create a new Libya – a state based on freedom, not fear; democracy, not dictatorship; the will of the many, not the whims of a few.

"That transition must come peacefully. It must come now. And it must be led and defined by the Libyan people.

"NATO is ready to work with the Libyan people and with the Transitional National Council, which holds a great responsibility. They must make sure that the transition is smooth and inclusive, that the country stays united, and that the future is founded on reconciliation and respect for human rights.

"Gadhafi's remaining allies and forces also have a great  responsibility. It is time to end their careers of violence. The world is watching them. This is their opportunity to side with the Libyan people and choose the right side of history.

"We will continue to monitor military units and key facilities, as we have since March, and when we see any threatening moves towards the Libyan people, we will act in accordance with our UN mandate.

"Our goal throughout this conflict has been to protect the people of Libya, and that is what we are doing.

"Because the future of Libya belongs to the Libyan people. And it is for the international community to assist them, with the United Nations and the Contact Group playing a leading role. NATO wants the Libyan people to be able to decide their future in freedom and in peace. Today,they can start building that future."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Obama: Gadhafi is Toast; Rebel TNC Must Behave Appropriately

Statement of President Barack Obama
"Tonight, the momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Qadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.
"The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Qadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end. Qadhafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all. Meanwhile, the United States has recognized the Transitional National Council as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. At this pivotal and historic time, the TNC  should continue to demonstrate the leadership that is necessary to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting the institutions of the Libyan state, and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya. A season of conflict must lead to one of peace.
"The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners in the international community to protect the people of Libya, and to support a peaceful transition to democracy."

Rebels Take Central Tripoli Amid Scant Defenses From Gadhafi Forces

Updated 10:30 p.m. edt with statement from President Obama

The Libyan rebels liberated a square in downtown Tripoli today with little resistance from Moammar Gadhafi's forces who finally may be abandoning the bloody back and forth revolution of the Arab Spring after six months of fighting.

At least two of Gadhafi's son's, including the loose-tongued Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, have been taken into custody by representatives of the rebel Transitional National Council. They may be turned over to international authorities at The Hague for prosecution.

After half a year of fierce fighting it is almost shocking how Gadhafi forces have disappeared, or are simply refusing to take up arms, just a day after the Tyrant of Tripoli promised rebel invaders street-to-street fighting to the death.

The citizens of Tripoli rising up to join the rebellion overnight should not be underestimated as a key to the speedy fall of the city.

NATO called for a peaceful and immediate transition of power in Libya.

President Obama issued a statement on Martha's Vineyard after he consulted by teleconference with his war council, made up of his top military, civilian and intelligence advisors.

"Tonight, the momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Qadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator," Obama said.

"Meanwhile, the United States has recognized the Transitional National Council as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. At this pivotal and historic time, the TNC  should continue to demonstrate the leadership that is necessary to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting the institutions of the Libyan state, and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya," Obama added.

The regime claimed to have a 65,000-member force waiting for the rebels, but so far it has not been seen. NATO's eye-in-the sky: mainly U.S. spy satellites and drones, are believed to be keeping a watch for signs of that force.

Gunfire could be heard from small pockets around the city and there was no indication that the rebels had not captured Gadhafi's Bab el-Azizia compound by 9 p.m. Washington time.

It is night in Libya, so NATO and the rebels are waiting to see if daylight brings out the Gadhafi forces. The biggest fear now is of snipers under the cover of darkness.

The rebels moved slowly at first today, capturing key military installations and then finding scant resistance as they pressed on to central Tripoli and occupied what was formerly known as Green Square, renaming it Martyr's Square. It had been a favorite rallying spot for the Gadhafi regime.

There are very strong indications that elite forces from Western nations have lead, plotted and coordinated the rebel attacks. For months sources have said at the very least ex-American, British and French special forces have been among the trainers on the ground.

French-armed forces out of the Nafusa mountains led the invasion of Tripoli, backed by a daring dawn sea assault from fighters out of Misurata dubbed "Operation Mermaid Dawn." Overnight, NATO paved the way with strategic air strikes on military installations and command and communications facilities.

The rebels raised a French flag to apparently say thank you for the arms from Paris.

The Nafusa army includes at least two forces known as the Tripoli Brigades made up of men who fled the city to train and fight Gadhafi forces on a western front that virtually popped up overnight at the end of the spring.

The Nafusa fighters slowly, but steadily rolled towards Tripoli, while Gadhafi forces were focusing on the main rebel army out of the Transitional National Council capital Benghazi, and another force in Misurata, 

Along the way the rebels captured tanks and other armor and coordinated with NATO warplanes, holding down friendly fire casualties to a relatively few, given the size and scope of the battlefield.

NATO's strategic strikes overnight, the Nafusa brigade's march on Tripoli and a daring dawn sea landing by Misurata fighters was a potent combination.

Freedom-seeking Libyans began their pro-democracy Arab Spring uprising on Feb. 17, hoping the Gadhafi regime would implode and the army would back their cause, as the armed forces did in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

When Gadhafi ordered his forces to crack down on the peaceful Arab Spring protesters, they decided to fight back. The rebels took up arms, made some quick gains, but on March 19 an armored tank column under orders from Gadhafi was poised outside Benghazi, promising to exterminate the rebels in their stronghold once and for all.

And then that same day, French fighter jets and more than 110 U.S. and British cruise missiles lit it up against Gadhafi, virtually giving the Libyan rebels the most powerful air and sea force on the planet.

The mission, sanctioned by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, was initially under the command of Army Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command

The U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps did the lion's share of the work, until  March 27 when NATO took on the whole military operation in Libya under the command of Lt. Gen. Charlie Bouchard of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey, the lone Muslim member of NATO, ultimately joined the mission.

The U.S. provided ships, drones, AWACS and other support after NATO took over, but American air strikes were still called in when necessary. Britain and France showed its commitment to the campaign when they upped the ante in late May and committed Apache and Gazelle attack helicopters to the campaign.

The Western and Arab coalition did not lose a single man or woman in combat, strongly suggesting the U.S. Africa Command, NATO and Arab coalition members pulled off the mission with random precision. France and Qatar also scored some points by breaking UN rules and arming the rebels.

With NATO's Help, Rebels Take Key Base on Day 2 of Siege of Tripoli

Libyan rebels captured a strategic military base today outside Tripoli after NATO warplanes cleared the way with massive air strikes in what the insurgents said was a coordinated attack on Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

The base was a headquarters for the one-vaunted Khamis Brigade, located 18 miles to the west of downtown Tripoli. according to multiple media reports. The well-armed Khamis Brigade is named for Gadhafi's son, a general who may have been killed in earlier fighting, though the government disputes that claim by rebels.

A rebel celebration, witnessed by Western journalists, erupted after the installation was captured.

"This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us," Ahmed al-Ajdal, 27, a fighter from Tripoli, told the Associated Press as he loaded up a truck with ammunition. "Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people."

The rebel breakthrough came this week when it captured the key crossroad city of Zawiyah, about 30 miles from downtown Tripoli.

The private military intelligence service STRATFOR made an interesting observation in an intelligence report it distributed this morning, suggesting the advancing rebels are being led by Western elite forces.

"It is unlikely that the rebel forces advancing from Zawiyah are fighting on their own. It will be important to watch for any signs of special operations forces from participating NATO countries quietly leading the offensive and preparing operations to locate and seize Gadhafi," the STRATFOR analysis said. 

In a separate unconfirmed mission, the rebels claimed they pulled off a daring sea assault, landing fighters from Misurata near Tripoli to bolster the opposition forces preparing to enter Tripoli.

There were more reports of protests and small arms fire by Tripoli residents rising up against the 42-year rein of the Gadhafi regime. In addition to some high-profile Gadhafi advisers abandoning the regime this week, some of his forces are now indicating they are ready to quit the fight, as well.

Loyalist snipers, however, were believed to be targeting protesters in parts of Tripoli, signaling that many Gadhafi loyalists will fight on in what NATO fears could be bloody street-to-street fighting if the regime does not capitulate.

On his working vacation, President Obama was being kept abreast of the developments by his deputy national security adviser John Brennan.

"This morning, the President was briefed on the situation in Libya by John Brennan, including inputs from our team in Benghazi. The national security team will continue to provide updates to the President on this situation, as necessary," said White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest.

"The United States continues to communicate closely with our allies, partners, and the TNC. We believe that Gadhafi's days are numbered, and that the Libyan people deserve a just, democratic and peaceful future," added Earnest, who like Brennan, is with Obama on Martha's Vineyard, off the Massachusetts coast.                                                                                  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Battle for Tripoli Begins as Rebels Lay Siege on Gadhafi Stronghold

It's on!

Rebel forces are battling their way into Tripoli today to the cheers and support of Libyans welcoming the freedom fighters determined to capture the capital city and topple Moammar Gadhafi and his regime once and for all.

After six months of fighting that often has favored Gadhafi, rebel brigades closed in on the outskirts of Tripoli, sending notice to residents that the regime is the enemy, not the civilians. Gunfire is reportedly being heard all around the city, most of which is without power this evening.

There were reports that young people in the city are rising up to join the revolution born out of the Arab Spring pro-democracy freedom movement, according to rebel dispatches. Shots have been heard outside Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound.

President Obama is being kept abreast of the developments in the definitive battle to wrest control of Libya from Gadhafi. It is a crucial moment for the President, who inherited the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but owned the Libyan revolution when he joined France and Britain in launching a daunting air assault against Gadhafi. Not a single American has been killed in the Libyan war.

Rebel victories this week in Zawiya to the west of Tripoli, Zlintan to the east and Gharyan to the south along with NATO warships to the north in the Mediterranean Sea have allowed the powerful alliance to surround Tripoli.

The regime claimed all-is-well in Tripoli in an absurd announcement on government tv that harkened back to the "everything is fine" whoppers told by Saddam Hussein's spokesman, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, better known as Baghdad Bob, as U.S. tanks and humvees rolled into the Iraqi capital May 1, 2003.

"All of Tripoli is safe and stable," Gadhafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told state tv.

Libyan rebel political leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, told a very different story, however.

"All evidence shows that the end is very near, with God's grace," the chairman of the Transitional National Council told reporters.

Unions Don't Trust Kasich and Neither Does the Tea Party

Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich's shameless plea this week to strike a bargain with public unions in order to save his own job managed to irk members of the anti-union Tea Party and insult workers who do not trust his bad-faith negotiating style.

After all his chest-thumping when he signed his anti-worker law, Kasich is sweating out a Nov. 8 ballot question that aims to overturn the GOP union-busting law that stripped public employees of many of their collective bargaining rights.

Kasich's appeal this week to unions to give him a break apparently looked like old-fashioned, tail-tucking cowardice to Tea Party types.

"The stunt by the governor is not helping our cause. I can't see what he gains out of this, he looks foolish," the anti-union Mason Tea Party boss Ray Warrick told ONN-TV.

For the unions, Kasich's ploy was seen as a ruse. The pro-worker We Are Ohio campaign rejected Kasich's call for a meeting yesterday to see if he could talk the leaders of the union group into selling-out their members and take a deal on a promise to water down the 

The unions do not trust Kasich and his GOP sidekicks in the state legislature, a pair of national union organizers explained today. So with the majority of Ohioans on the side of the workers, Kasich's popularity melting like a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a hot August day and $7 million on hand to spend in the repeal vote campaign.

"A complete repeal would go a long way toward creating an environment for compromise, restoring trust in government by the electorate and setting the table for meaningful negotiations about creating jobs, rebuilding Ohio's economy and moving the state forward," We are Ohio director A.J. Stokes wrote to Kasich.

The deadline to remove a repeal question from the Nov. 8 ballot is Aug. 30. If yesterday's decision by the unions to ignore a request for a meeting with Kasick, GOP Senate President Tom Niehaus and House Speaker William Batchelder is any indication, the repeal vote will go forward.

Kasich tried to spin it like he was being magnanimous. 

"Woody Allen says that 90 percent of life is just showing up. And they’ve obviously flunked that test today," Kasich whined.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Surrounded, Gadhafi Looking for Refuge Outside of Libya

Moammar Gadhafi is looking for an Arab country willing to give him safe haven after rebel armies cut off his supply lines and captured his last oil refinery as NATO warplanes kept his tanks from countering the opposition's ferocious week-long offensive, according to published and broadcast reports.

Civilians have begun fleeing Tripoli, fearing street-to-street fighting or one last act of deadly defiance by Gadhafi against his people.

NATO bombed Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziyah compound overnight. At least seven loud blasts were heard and felt by Western journalists in Tripoli, the Associated Press reported.  

NBC reports Gadhafi could leave Libya, possibly for Tunisia, in a matter of days. NBC cited intelligence reports out of Washington. The loyalist government claimed it was engaged in talks with the rebels, asking for a cease-fire.

Gadhafi sent inquiries to Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, indicating he and his family are looking for a safe haven that would bring an end to his defiant stand against the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring, a representative of the rebel Transitional National Council in Cairo told the Pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

"Gadhafi is looking for a safe haven for his family in the case that Tripoli falls into the hands of the revolutionaries,"said Abdel Monem al-Houni, who was Gadhafi's top delegate to the Arab League before defecting to the rebel side.

The rebels say they have taken most of Zawiya, within 30 miles west of downtown Tripoli, capturing the last remaining oil refinery that had been proving fuel to the regime. Two other rebel armies have captured Zlintan to the east and Gharyan to the south with the help of Western air power, and the NATO Navy has cut off shipping to Tripoli.
Gadhafi and what remains of his forces are surrounded by what was once an uncoordinated rag-tag rebel force and a NATO alliance that has refused to put troops on the ground.

The key to the campaign was the emergence of a French-armed rebel division that came out of the Nafusa mountains in the West. With Gadhafi's forces tied up with the main rebel army in the east near Brega and separate opposition brigades out of Misurata, the Nafusa insurgents were able to march on Zawiya. NATO warplanes made it nearly impossible for Gadhafi's armor to move to re-enforce a loyalist garrison in that city.

France secretly parachuted small arms weapons, including tank-killers, in the Nafusa region earlier this summer, and more recently Qatar flew truckloads of ammunition into the captured air field outside of Misurata. NATO warships recently also helped the rebels capture a tanker loaded with fuel bound for Tripoli. The ship sailed into the de facto opposition capital Benghazi with rebels aboard. 

"The Gadhafi regime has few days before it breathes its last," al-Houni said.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Martha's Vineyard: A Vacation Stop on the Black History Trail

Is anybody else getting tired of seeing and listening to some people in the mainstream media and GOP politics completely blow the story on the First Family going to Martha's Vineyard?

Rest-assured the President will be working everyday on the Vineyard on solutions to the economy and he will be briefed on the happenings of the U.S. men and women in uniform on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Libyan sky and sea.

Like Presidents before him, Obama also will need this 10-day retreat to recharge his battery and reconnect with his wife and two young daughters, like most Americans do during their family vacations.

Congress, of course, is on its own five-week vacation, and one-fifth of the federal lawmakers are spending their not-so-hard-earned money on the beaches of Israel, where they are on a junket partially funded by the IsraelI lobby.

Now do not begrudge anyone an Israeli vacation. It is a beautiful country (I loved my stay there). Lets just hope Congress is thinking about the economy and wars while they are those foreign beaches.

Now, do rich people vacation and live on the Vineyard? Of couse. Are some of the wealthiest black? Absolutely. But there are still countless middle-class people, like my family, who save up and pitch-in to enjoy the beauty of the largest of the Elizabeth Islands. The same goes for African-American middle-class folks, who also scrape together money to hit South Beach and the Oak Bluffs cottages and Edgartown condos.

As Roland Laird writes on the website, The Grio:

"This relaxed, diverse African-American atmosphere is one of the Vineyard's biggest selling points. While on the Vineyard, you're just as likely to bump into a New York City office security guard as you are Spike Lee, and more importantly, you'd probably have a friendly conversation with both of them."

It is not by accident that Martha's Vineyard is a destination for African-Americans. The island has a painful-turned-beautiful narrative that has contributed as an essential part of three centuries of African-American history.

As my friend and colleague Jackie Calmes, who always gets the story right, points out at The New York Times Obama visited Martha's Vineyard for years before he entered the White House.

The sometimes aloof Barack Obama may have difficulty shaking off his elitist image, but have no doubt that he is completely in touch with the Vineyard's important black history dating back to slavery (and the hypocritical Puritans) and ultimately the desegregation that evolved on the island without laws or social engineering.

For enlightened Massachusetts natives, the Martha's Vineyard African-American experience is a source of great pride, and it helps us offset the images of the ugly Boston race riots during the start of busing in the 1970s.

Others, like the carpetbagger ex-Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, have not caught up with the history of Martha's Vineyard. They ignorantly take cheap shots at Obama over the vacation. What do you expect from Romney? His idea of Martha's Vineyard is the high-roller political fundraiser he is hosting there in a few weeks.

So people, do your homework and cut the Obamas some slack. You are embarrassing us.

Obama: Enough is Enough, Assad Must Go

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared this morning the dictator of Damascus Bashir al-Assad must go for ordering his army and secret police to butcher more than 1,800 Syrian men, women and children who long for freedom.

The United States gave Assad more time and opportunities to clean up his act and embrace democratic reforms than most of the other big-name despots of the pro-democracy revolutions of the Arab Spring. The U.S. put in place the toughest sanctions to date along with the call for Assad to step down.

"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashir al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people," Obama said in statement.

"We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama added.

Clinton explained that the U.S. has meticulously assembled a global chorus of opposition made up of Arab, Islamic and Western Nations in calling for the Assad regime to step down. Clinton signaled the U.S. strategy earlier this week when she said it would have done little good for the U.S. to act unilaterally.

"It is not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go," she said. "OK, fine, what's next? If other people say it, if Turkey says it, if (Saudi) King Abdullah says it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it," Clinton said this week at a joint appearance at the National Defense University with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"I think this is smart power, where it is not just brute force, it is not just unilateralism," she said. "It is being smart enough to say you know what we want a bunch of people singing out of the same hymn book and we want them singing a song of universal freedom, human rights, democracy, everything that we have stood for and pioneered over 235 years."

The demand that Assad resign comes as NATO and the Libyan rebels appear to be close to toppling the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Feds: A 'Lone Wolf' 9/11 Terrorist Attack Would be Hard to Stop

Cottage industry terror-trackers have warned for months Al Qaeda would be out for revenge for the death of Osama Bin Laden, but what scares President Obama and the FBI the most is a "lone wolf" attacker like the right-wing extremist car-bomber and gunman who killed 69 people in Norway.

Just hours after Obama revealed in an interview his fears of a lone wolf attacks, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security began circulating a warning to local authorities to be on the lookout for individual terrorists capable of the carnage like Anders Brevik admitted to when he car-bombed government buildings and gunned-down unsuspecting patrons at a youth camp in Norway.

The problem, says one government source, is they could be anywhere among us waiting to strike with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks approaching and it may be impossible to know it until that person strikes.

A lone wolf could simply take it upon himself top carry out an attack without orders the Al Qaeda or any another terror organization, making it nearly impossible for federal authorities or private-industry terrorist trackers to get even a whiff of such a plot.

"The biggest concern we have right now is not the launching of a major terrorist operation, although that risk is always there," Obama said in a widely-cited interview with CNN"s Wolf Blitzer.

"The risk that we're especially concerned over right now is the lone wolf terrorist, somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently," Obama said. "You know, when you've got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it's a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators."

There will be stepped security surrounded memorial events for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, remembering the fate full day that saw Al Qaeda hijack airliners and crash them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Shanksville, Pa.

Dems Hold All Their Seats While GOP Lose Two in Wisconsin Recalls

Updated at 7 p.m. edt

Apparently the two state Senate seats Democrats picked up in recall elections in Wisconsin this month have far-reaching ramifications as word comes now that Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich is ready to make a deal with unions to avoid a similar repeal vote in November. 

Like Wisconsin, the GOP-controlled state legislature in Ohio passed a union-busting law banning strikes and limiting rights for more than 350,000 teachers, police officers and other public workers. Unions successfully launched an effort to repeal the law by bringing the issue before the voters of Ohio in November.

With polls showing the majority of Ohioans want the law to be repealed, and seeing how close Democrats came to winning control of the Wisconsin Senate in recall elections, Kasich said today he and other top GOP lawmakers want to sit down tomorrow with unions to work out a deal to avoid a referendum showdown in his state, according to the Associated Press.

About 56% of Ohio voters want the collective bargaining law to be repealed, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, and the unions have loaded up their war chest with about $7 million for the repeal fight.

The same poll shows public support for Kasich slipping.

end update

The Wisconsin recall election season, triggered by GOP Gov. Scott Walker's anti-worker law, is finally over, leaving Republicans with only a one-seat majority in the state Senate.

Two Wisconsin Democratic state senators easily held on to their seats yesterday in the last two of nine recall elections this summer.

The Democrats now have their sights set on Walker, the ultra-conseravtive governor who stripped most public employees in Wisconsin of their collective bargaining rights. They may try to recall Walker early next year, but first need to collect more than 500,000 signatures.

"Democrats won more races, recalled two Republican senators, protected every Democratic incumbent, shifted the balance of power in the state Senate away from conservatives, and forced Walker and the GOP to pay public lip service to moderation and bipartisanship for the first time since they took power in January," Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said.

"All of these facts show that voters gave Democrats the overall victory in this summer’s historic senate recall elections," he added.

The GOP has to be concerned about the newly enlisted rural voters that joined the Democratic ranks as a result of the recalls. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a tough-talking hardliner not known for either eloquence or compromise, is already begging for a truce.

"The problems facing our state are too serious for these political games, and the Democrats' permanent campaign cycle," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "The Democrats need to start working with the other side of the aisle, not just moving on to their next recall target."

Six Republicans and three Democrats were challenged in the recall  races that together cost close to $40 million in money spent by outside unions and corporate-backed right-wing groups.

First-term Sen. Jim Holperin was believed to be the most vulnerable Democratic target of the three who were challenged this summer by Republicans, but he coasted to victory yesterday over Tea Party activist Kim Simac.

Holperin knows about recall elections. He was challenged in a recall in 1990 while in the Wisconsin Assembly after he backed tribal spearfishing rights. Holperin won that race.

In the other race, Democratic Sen. Bob Wirch had a cake walk win over GOP political neophyte and corporate lawyer Jonathan Steitz.

There have only been about 20 legislative recall election nationwide since the early 20th century. There have never been as many recalls in one state over a one-month period.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gadhafi Getting Desperate as Rebels Close In

Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are getting low on fuel and munitions as separate rebel armies are closing in on Tripoli, prompting Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to predict today the Libyan despot's "days are numbered."

In a sign that may prove Gadhafi is getting desperate, his forces fired a hugely unreliable scud missile Sunday at the rebel army for the first time in the six-month war.

The scud was launched from near the coastal city of Sirte and aimed at  the rebel-held oil terminal city Brega. The short-range scud, which is not a guided missile, landed harmlessly in the desert. Gadhafi is believed to have a stockpile of more than 200 Scuds.

The rebels, meanwhile, are closing in on Gadhafi's last real stronghold: Tripoli on three fronts. The rebels say they have taken control of most of the major battleground city Zawiya, about 30 miles west of Tripoli; Surman, 40 miles west of the capital; and Gharyan, 50 miles south of Gadhafi's power center.

"I think the sense is that Gadhafi's days are numbered," Panetta said at a joint appearance at the National Defense University in Washington with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton called the NATO-Arab alliance fighting Gadhafi an example of "strategic patience" and the use of "smart power" to ultimately defeat an enemy.

Report & Protesters Call for End to Controversial Immigration Program

The National Community Advisory Commission and the Center for Constitutional Rights released a report today recommending the termination of the Secure Communities program aimed at deporting illegal immigrants.

The report condemns the federal fingerprint-sharing program, concluding all it really has done is split loved ones apart while it takes away too much time from local police officers who are already overworked chasing criminals and solving cases.

"This report confirms what immigrant communities have long known. The program called Secure Communities results in the opposite. The experts confirm that entangling local police in immigration enforcement is not just bad policy," the National Community Advisory Commission said in a statement.

"Conscripting local police into immigration enforcement has provoked a massive civil rights crisis our country now faces. The only suitable approach is to end Secure Communities," the commission added.

The commission's findings come amid another round of demonstrations by civil rights advocates in several cities, including Chicago, Charlotte and Atlanta, where protesters gathered outside the local Democratic Party's headquarters, demanding President Obama nix the program.

Obama Urges Congress to Embrace a New Recovery Plan

President Obama promises he will offer up a new recovery plan next month and he has a message to Republicans in Congress who obstruct efforts to jump start the economy: Get on board or face the voters next year.

"Moving forward, my basic attitude is we know what to do.  I'll be putting forward, when they come back in September, a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs, and to control our deficit. And my attitude is, get it done," Obama said during a surprise announcement at a stop in Decorah, Iowa

After a weekend of playing the punching bag, President Obama is hitting back with a three-day bus trip through the heartland that includes five town halls, three states and a lot of bruising shots at what he casts as a do-nothing GOP-led Congress.

"And if they don’t get it done, then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people, and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear," Obama said in a veiled threat to campaign in districts where members of Congress oppose a new stimulus plan.

Now on Day Two of the listening tour, Obama is hosting a White House Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa, where he is announcing a new rural jobs initiative that includes committing $350 million in Small Business Administration funds over the next five years. White Housae officials say it is only a small taste of the recovery plan the President plans to roll out next month.

"SBA is pleased to announce that we will be doubling the capital going to rural businesses through the Small Business Investment Company program, with no cost to taxpayers,” said SBA Administrator Karen Mills. "Small businesses of all kinds are thriving in rural areas where they are creating jobs of the future and helping ensure the economic stability of the middle class."

Predictably, the GOP and some members of the mainstream media are slamming Obama for what they call a campaign-style trip paid for with taxpayer money. It is a charge that Presidents have long faced from the opposition party in election cycles.

Obama is riding in his Midwest motorcade this week in a brand new, giant black bullet-proof bus purchased by Secret Service for $1.1 million. The Secret Service made the decision about a year ago to buy two of the secure buses to use to protect the President, other government officials and visiting foreign dignitaries, a spokesman said.

Perry Fires in All Directions As New Kid on the GOP Presidential Block

It did not take Texas Gov. Rick Perry long to catch fire in the polls, climbing atop a new Rasmussen survey to claim the title of GOP front-runner from Mitt Romney.

The poll, taken after the Iowa beauty pageant known as the Ames Straw Poll, puts Perry at 29%, Romney at 18%, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 13% and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 9%. Some 16% of the respondents were undecided in the poll of 1,000 people conducted Monday night.

Perry can expect to take fire from some of the other camps, with his name atop the leader board now. Already the Romney campaign is pegging Perry as a candidate with little real world experience or working knowledge of running a business.

However, when given the chance today to comment directly, Romney took the high road, saying there will be plenty of time to engage Perry at "10 to 15 debates."

Meanwhile, The White House has some advice for Perry when it comes to taking a cheap shot that sounded a lot like a threat (see below this update) aimed at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke:

"When you’re President or you’re running for President you have to think about what you’re saying, because your words have greater impact. And President Obama and we take the independence of the Federal Reserve quite seriously, and certainly think threatening the Fed Chairman is probably not a good idea," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

end update

Texas Gov. Rick Perry caught people's attention with one of his tough-guy cowboy rants when he trained his fire on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, calling a Fed plan to bail out the economy and loosen credit markets "almost treason."

At a campaign stop last night in Iowa, the GOP presidential candidate appeared to threaten Bernanke.

"If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what you all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas," Perry said.

The Fed is considering another round of quantitative easing of the money supply to help the U.S. economy rebound. Perry calls the so-called QE3 program printing money to help President Obama's re-election.

Earlier on the stump Perry called into question Obama's patriotism when he was asked if he believes the President loves this country. "I dunno, you need to ask him," Perry replied.

Since hitting the campaign trail Perry has tried to highlight his service in the Air Force at the expense of Obama, who did not serve in uniform. Perry went so far as to suggest Obama does not command the respect of the troops.

"I think people who have had the same experiences connect with people who have had the same experiences. That’s human nature. If you polled the military, the active duty and veterans, and said 'would you rather have a President of the United States that never served a day in the military or someone who is a veteran?' They’ve going to say, I would venture, that they would like to have a veteran,” Perry said.

"The President had the opportunity to serve his country. I’m sure at some time he made the decision that isn’t what he wanted to do," Perry added.

The Texas governor made no mention of Obama's biggest military fete to date: The killing of Osama Bin Laden in a mission that the President approved and followed every step of the way. "He staked his presidency on that mission," a senior U.S. official said shortly after the raid on Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bachmann Becomes Punching Bag of Mainstream Republicans

Is winning the pay-to-play Ames Straw Poll worth anything at all?

That has to be a question GOP Rep. Michele Bachman is asking tonight as she finds herself a target of barbs from everyone from leading GOP political consultants, like Mike Murphy, to the bible of mainstream Republicans, The Wall Street Journal.

If the GOP aristocracy gets its way, Bachmann will cede her flavor-of-the-month status to the sixth-place finisher in the straw poll, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who shunned the unscientific vote in Iowa and instead announced his candidacy in a bigger Southern State (not that it mattered one bit based on his reception by Republicans in Iowa the past two days).

"I think Michele Bachmann is totally unelectable. ... I think Rick Perry is going to take her out," said Murphy, a former advisor to GOP heavyweights like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.    

Murphy warned on MSNBC today of "a McGovern moment" that "gives (President) Obama the election" by nominating a hardcore social conservative, like Bachmann, who plays to Tea Party and evangelical base Republicans  -- the so-called T-vangelicals. 

"As a pragmatic right wing consultant type who wants to win the election, I am concerned," Murphy said.

The Wall Street Journal, which turned on the Tea Party when it's members in Congress, including Bachmann, were willing to default on the federal debt rather than reach a deal with Obama, hit the Minnesota lawmaker over her lack of experience.

"Americans are already living with the consequences of electing a President who sounded good but had achieved little as a legislator and had no executive experience. Mrs. Bachmann will have to persuade voters she isn't the conservative version of Mr. Obama," The Wall Street Journal opined today.

Add GOP talk show host Joe Scarborough, Republican media consultant Alex Castellanos and right-wing blogger Erick Erickson of to a growing list of conservatives who fear Bachmann cannot win.

At this rate Obama and the Democrats can sit back and just watch the GOP hierarchy duke it out with the rank-and-file T-vangelicals while focusing on Romney, who still looks to be the likely GOP nominee once the family feud is decided.

As for the Ames Straw Poll, only one candidate to win the hugely unscientific vote since its inception in 1979, has gone on to win the presidency: George W. Bush. So history, rather than Republican hysteria, may prove to be Bachmann's demise.

President Bill Clinton Takes On 'Good Looking Rascal' Rick Perry

Former President Bill Clinton used an appearance at the International Association of Fire Fighters conference in Manhattan today to mock GOP presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a "good-looking rascal" who is a bit of a hypocrite for bashing the federal government that he wants to join.

"He's saying, 'Oh, I'm going to Washington to make sure that the federal government stays as far away from you as possible -- while I ride on Air Force One and that Marine One helicopter and go to Camp David and travel around the world and have a good time.' I mean, this is crazy," Clinton said.

Here is a clip from Clinton's speech posted by our friends at Gotham's high-minded tabloid, The New York Observer.

Obama Launches Summer Push-Back Tour

After a weekend of playing the punching bag, President Obama is hitting back with a three-day bus trip through the Midwest that includes five town halls and a lot of bruising shots at what he casts as a do-nothing GOP-led Congress.

Rolling out the artillery at his first stop this afternoon in Cannon Falls, Minn, Obama said, "I'm not here just to enjoy the nice weather. I'm here to enlist you in a fight. We are fighting for then future of our country and that is a fight that we are going to win."

Obama needs to make sure America's debt fatigue does not become Obama fatigue. His approval rating hit a new low over the weekend, dipping to 39%. The mainstream media and the GOP field of presidential wannabees quickly latched on to the Gallup number.

The GOP candidates, in high-profile speeches in Iowa and South Carolina, focused on questioning Obama's leadership in a stinging barrage that drew cheers, but failed to further sink the President's poll numbers. The Gallup daily tracking poll actually ticked upwards by two points today to 41%.

Obama hopes to counterattack by striking back at the most unpopular entity in Washington: The GOP-led House and filibuster-prone Senate Republicans, which have a dismal 28% approval rating, according to a Gallop survey last month.

The President and his advisors believe there is plenty of evidence that the Republicans are stalling at moving forward with a jobs agenda, instead focusing on protecting the rich from paying their fair share of taxes.

Driving home his point, Obama served up a menu today of pending and proposed legislation that Congress could pass immediately to help spur job-creation, including a payroll tax cut, tax credits for companies that hire war veterans, creation of an infrastructure bank to rebuild America and put builders and constructions workers back to work, international trade deals and patent reforms to make it easier to turn ideas into businesses.

"So there is no shortage of ideas to put people to work right now. What is needed is action on the part of Congress, a willingness to put the partisan games aside and say we're going to do what's right for the country, not what we think is going to score some political points for the next election," Obama said.

Obama picked up some support from the biggest name in Wall Street circles, when mega-investor Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed for The New York Times titled, "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich."

"While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks," Buffett wrote.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Tea Party is the Big Winner at the Ames Straw Poll

Whether you take your tea sweet or unsugared, there was plenty served up at the Ames Straw poll, where, with so many variables in play, the biggest winner in the unscientific tally was really the Tea Party.

Rep. Michele Bachmann is taking her victory lap today after edging out Rep. Ron Paul to finish first in the Ames Straw Poll, but for Tim Pawlenty the race is over.

The conservative anti-government voters who form the core of the Tea Party essentially delivered a win yesterday for not one, but two candidates: Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Paul (R-Tex.), the latter with a close second-place finish. Bachmann and Paul made a strong connection with Tea Party voters, while Pawlenty did not.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also is believed to have picked up some Tea Party backing in a write-in campaign that gave him more votes than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose name was on the ballot, though he did not formally participate in the straw poll.

"Rick Perry won the straw poll at an event I was at. He has a lot more Tea Party support than many believe," Tweeted Tea Party Nation Chairman Judson Phillips.

Those results for Bachmann, Paul and Perry are a pretty strong indication the Tea Party is highly energized and easy to organize, even as polls show it is increasingly unpopular with most Americans. The Tea Party vote turns out, and the loosely held organization will be a deciding factor -- perhaps the deciding factor -- in the GOP nomination process.

It is not worth arguing one way or the other about Pawlenty's distant third-place finish. The former Minnesota Gov. was without a message (especially within the super-charged Tea Party and evangelical voters) and remained where he was going into the straw poll -- atop a second tier of candidates, at best. It was enough of a sign for him to quit the race.

Bachmann received twice as many votes as Pawlenty, and overnight he went from spinning his third-place finish as a fresh start for his campaign to admitting he had as much traction as a bald tire in a blizzard.

Pawlenty's problem was not simply a weak finish in a straw vote that is bought by the candidates with a $30 ticket, food and drink and lots of live (mostly country) music. He already had been overtaken by the new kid on the block, the governor of Texas, who has early momentum and is an instant darling of the main stream media and another option for the Tea Party voters.

Perry brings a plain-talking, slash-first-and-ask-questions-later approach that almost sounds like a common-sense way to solve the nation's problems. He drew on an angry optimism to attack President Obama and reach out to Tea Party and evangelical voters with his presidential campaign announcement speech yesterday half a country away in Charleston, S.C.

"The fact is for nearly three years, President Obama has been downgrading American jobs, he's been downgrading our standing in the world, he's been downgrading our financial stability, he's been downgrading our confidence, and downgrading the hope for a better future for our children," Perry declared.

The takeway for the Obama campaign may be Republican field is telegraphing the election's biting partisan lines of attack, barring a spectacular unforeseen event or the economy getting even worse for President Obama. The jabs will be loaded with Tea Party rhetoric.

Not all the titans of the Tea Party emerged unscathed. One Tea Party darling may be steeped in a downward spiral: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's pre-game boom was a post-game bust.

Palin stole some of the limelight by showing up in Iowa this weekend, but Mama Grizzly failed to make a blip in the straw poll (She was not on the ballot, but there were some expectations that she would make a showing as a write-in candidate). The base Republicans have decided she is not running.

The wild card Tea Party player will continue to be Paul, the man that the mainstream media cannot seem to mention without adding, "... but conventional wisdom is that he cannot win the nomination." Now the conventional wisdom is Bachmann is a time bomb because she cannot win over independent voters.

The problem with conventional wisdom is that this is not a conventional primary season. This is the Tea Party's first run in a presidential election and its members are prone to the unconventional.

It seems almost counterintuitive in this climate to hear pundits arguing that the only reason Paul had a strong finish in Ames was because his followers are so loyal and well-organized. This 2012 GOP primary landscape is new ground, and the Tea Party is set to stake its claim to some of its available acreage.