Saturday, April 30, 2011

UK: "The world's greatest democracy takes the cake"

The Guardian

Will nothing deter the US 'birthers' who question Obama's origins?

It's thanks to Donald Trump that the myth of Obama as a sinister alien gathered strength – and seems doomed to continue
By Alexander Chancellor

A couple of years ago I was noting with astonishment on this page that 28% of American Republicans believed Barack Obama had not been born in the United States and was therefore ineligible to be president. A further 30% of Republicans were "not sure", despite the fact that Obama's birth in Honolulu on 4 August 1961 had been officially registered with the authorities at the time and his birth certificate published in two Hawaiian newspapers. What, I wondered, could persuade these millions of Americans to accept a fact that had been repeatedly investigated and verified? The answer seems to be nothing.

No opinion poll has been published on the question since Obama produced his birth certificate for inspection this week; but a poll carried out by CBS News and the New York Times only a week ago showed that the percentage of Republicans believing that he was born in another country had risen to a staggering 45% (and that a quarter of all Americans, including Democrats, were of the same view).

This willful denial of a seemingly incontrovertible truth is bewildering. But the myth of the president as a sinister alien and secret subversive has gathered new strength since its adoption by Donald Trump, the real-estate tycoon who is wondering whether to seek the Republican presidential nomination. Obama may have hoped that Trump would be chastened by the sight of his birth certificate, but, if so, he was to be disappointed.

"Today, I'm very proud of myself because I accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish," Trump said, claiming responsibility for its publication. And he promised he would still go on digging into the president's past, despite the media's efforts to "protect" him. His next target would be Obama's college records. Obama had reputedly been "a terrible student" at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said Trump, but he had nevertheless gone on to both Columbia and Harvard universities. "How do you get into Harvard if you're not a good student?" he asked.

Like other leading "birthers", as those questioning Obama's origins are called, Trump also refused to accept the birth certificate at face value. He would examine it for authenticity, he said; as did Joseph Farah, the editor of an Obama-obsessed website, who declared that "it raises far more questions than it answers". Another prominent Obama critic, Orly Taitz, questioned the certificate's authenticity because it gave Obama's father's race as "African". "It sounds like it would be written today, in the age of political correctness, and not in 1961, when they wrote white or Asian or 'Negro'," Taitz said.

Be that as it may, the controversy seems doomed to continue. As the Washington Post put it yesterday: "Conspiracy theories have the self-sustaining gift of ramification: they sprout new tendrils, like a mad vine that has invaded from another continent. For the committed conspiracy theorist, there is always another angle to explore, another anomaly to scrutinize." But in America, unfortunately, the conspiracy theorists are not just a few crazy people but millions of supposedly normal ones. The level of political debate in Britain is often dismal, as when an historic reform of the voting system is discussed mainly in terms of what it would cost and which political party it would hurt the most. But the world's greatest democracy seems to take the cake.

Has the US lost is moral compass along with its collective mind?

PJ: I read this opinion piece in the Washington Post while nodding in agreement with the author as often as I found myself shaking my head in disgust at the lengths to which many will go to try to bring President Obama down. Politics has always worn a black eye when it comes to honesty vs. rhetoric but I have never seen anything like the current discourse in the US. When news agencies such as Fox News parade false information, innuendo and outright lies to further an agenda; when prominent political figures promote lies to win positions and when ordinary citizens are driven away from facts in order to embrace the fiction of their choice, we are left wondering if this signals the end of the great society that was once represented by the phrase "Only in America".

The Washington Post

The relentless smear campaign against Obama
By Colbert I. King, Published: April 29

During Holy Week, President Obama, for the second consecutive year, gathered several Christian clergy at the White House for an Easter Prayer Breakfast during which he talked about his faith and the resurrection. He mentioned Easter in his Saturday radio address. On Easter Sunday morning, the president and his family attended services at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington.

The next day, charged Obama with failing to recognize “the national observance of Easter Sunday, Christianity’s most sacred holiday.” Two days later, Steve Doocy, host of Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” invited Robert Jeffress, a conservative Baptist minister in Dallas, on the show and asked him “what do you think” about why Obama has never issued an Easter proclamation.

Given the opportunity for a gratuitous smear, Jeffress didn’t waste a second: “Steve, let’s look at what’s really going on here. On the one hand, we have a president who never met a Muslim holiday he didn’t like or at least wasn’t willing to issue a proclamation for, and on the other hand, here he is refusing to acknowledge, publicly, the most important event in Christian faith . . . and yet the White House is wondering, why do 20 percent of Americans believe the president is a Muslim?”

It seemed not to matter to Doocy to mention that no president in the past 20 years has issued an Easter proclamation. Doocy also didn’t acknowledge the president’s annual Easter Prayer Breakfast with clergy, though he alluded to Obama making “some comments last week regarding Easter at a breakfast.”

The charge that Obama shortchanged Easter was false. By suggesting Obama had snubbed Christianity and that he might be a closet Muslim, Fox handed its largely conservative audience yet another reason to hate the president.

The quest from the right to degrade Obama knows no bounds.

I’m looking at a photo with the faces of three chimpanzees imposed on the bodies of a man, woman and child. The baby chimp’s face is covered with Obama’s picture. It was e-mailed in California this month with the message: “Now you know why — no birth certificate!”

The sender was Marilyn Davenport, an elected member of the Orange County Republican Central Committee, who thought her GOP colleagues would also get a kick out of seeing the president of the United States depicted as the offspring of chimpanzees.

“I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origins of birth,” Davenport said in a written statement. “In no way did I even consider the fact that he’s half black when I sent out the email.”

Davenport has since apologized, after coming under fire from civil rights groups and some local Republican leaders. But she’s still on the Orange County GOP Central Committee.

Why, come to think of it, should Davenport give up her official Republican position? She’s in good company. A CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted in August showed that 41 percent of Republicans believe Obama was “probably” or “definitely” born in another country. Even after Obama released his “long form” birth certificate this week, “birthers” — and political hustlers who cater to them — still cling to the “Obama is not one of us” smear.

I happen to think it was beneath Obama to respond to the “birthers,” most of all chief accuser Donald Trump, a rich, thrice-married New York show-off who got his start in business with daddy’s money and managed, through the successful operation of casinos, to get himself inducted in the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2005.

It’s sickening that false claims about Obama’s place of birth and his religion have been made, fanned and believed without any evidence. Sad, too, that despite all evidence to the contrary, 34 percent of conservative Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center poll last August, believe Obama is a Muslim. The percentage had risen 16 points since 2009.

What’s behind all this? Why the relentless lies about Obama?

It is, simply put, a crusade to bring him down.

Make Obama out to be the “outsider” who doesn’t belong where he is. Vilify him as a cheat who, knowing he was ineligible to run for president, intentionally violated the Constitution and defrauded the American people. Marginalize him!

Marginalize his Ivy League education and Harvard Law Review presidency. Devalue his degrees with slurs. Insinuate that merit had nothing to do with his achievements. Accuse him of lying about his religion. Repeat over and over that he’s a socialist bent on destroying free enterprise.

Charge him with being weak. If that won’t do, denounce him as headstrong and arrogant.

But above all else, brand him unqualified and in over his head. Yeah, that’s the one. It always works. That’ll get him out of there.

UK: Superman becomes a superhero of the world

The Independent

Superman becomes a super-rebel – and scourge of the American right

By Guy Adams in Los Angeles

He's still a firm believer in truth and justice, but the world's foremost superhero is no longer sure he can carry on proudly endorsing the American way. As he approaches his 80th birthday, Superman has made a shock decision: he intends to renounce his US citizenship.

The move, to be announced next week in the 900th edition of Action Comics, comes after a peculiarly topical plot twist: the Man of Steel finds himself being criticised by the White House for joining young Muslims at a rally against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

"I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy," he wearily tells the President's National Security Advisor. "Truth, justice and the American way... It's not enough anymore. The world's too small. Too connected. I intend to speak before the United Nations tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my US citizenship."

The comments have sparked heated debate among fans of the superhero, who was created in the 1930s. With his perfect teeth, rags-to-riches story and enduring ability to kick butt, Superman has, until now, represented a red-blooded embodiment of the American Dream.

Born on a fictional planet called Krypton, he was raised by a farmer and his wife in rural Kansas. Since becoming an adult, he's lived a double life in New York as Clark Kent, a "mild-mannered" reporter for The Daily Planet, who uses vacant telephone boxes to change into his patriotically coloured blue jumpsuit and red underpants whenever a wrong needs righting.

But since the end of the Cold War, Superman has increasingly found his philosophy at odds with official US policy. His threat to renounce citizenship, which has yet to be followed through, can perhaps therefore be interpreted as an acknowledgement that modern superheroes can no longer view right and wrong through a prism of narrow patriotism.

That sort of liberal hand-wringing is more-or-less guaranteed to upset Middle America, however. News that Superman's commitment to the USA is wavering sparked comic levels of outrage among right-leaning commentators yesterday.

"We are turning into the biggest bunch of pantie-wasted sissies I've ever seen," wrote one Jimmy Wallingford, of Texas, after reading of the development on the New York Post's website. "Has anyone at DC Comics been to another country? America may have some problems, but there is nowhere I'd rather be!"

Another reader, Bernie Loverde, suggested that the development was part of a plot to indoctrinate children with left-wing beliefs. "Do progressives, with their one global life and political correctness, have no end to what they have to shit all over?" he asked. Such comments conveniently ignore the fact that, since he was never formally adopted, Superman is officially classified as an illegal alien. By the logic of most conservatives, he does not therefore have US citizenship to renounce.

Nonetheless, the publishers of DC Comics, Jim Lee and Dan DiDio, appear to be concerned at the level of hostility their new edition has generated. They released a statement yesterday arguing that, despite his commitment to an increasingly international outlook, Superman will continue to embody the best of America.

"Superman is a visitor from a distant planet who has long embraced American values. As a character and an icon, he embodies the best of the American Way," it read. "In a short story in Action Comics 900, Superman announces his intention to put a global focus on his never-ending battle, but he remains, as always, committed to his adopted home and his roots as a Kansas farm boy from Smallville."

The repositioning certainly makes sense from a commercial point of view, with a new Superman film on the way and Hollywood increasingly dependent on international box office returns.

Defenders of the move have also pointed out that Superman is not the first superhero to thumb his nose at the US. During the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, Captain America also renounced his citizenship.

Friday, April 29, 2011

UK: Palin's Trig story goes mainstream

The Guardian

Sarah Palin, unreliable narrator

It's wrong to cast those who question Trig's birth story as crazed conspiracy theorists when the media have not done their job

The rumours surrounding Sarah Palin's pregnancy with Trig have been an issue that found little attention in the media until two weeks ago, when a research paper by Bradford Scharlott, associate professor of journalism at Northern Kentucky University, hit the mainstream. Professor Scharlott asserted in his paper that there exists a "spiral of silence" in the media regarding the circumstances of Trig Palin's birth.

Scharlott was not the first person to make this observation. Since August 2008, the influential blogger Andrew Sullivan, editor at the "The Dish", has repeatedly and harshly criticised the media for its unwillingness to report on Sarah Palin's pregnancy in a long series of posts on his blog. In addition, Sullivan published a book review in the Sunday Times (of London) on 22 November 2009, in which he gave a summary of Sarah Palin's birth story and observed that her account makes "Xena, the warrior princess, seem fragile" in comparison.

But what is Sarah Palin's birth story, and why is it relevant?

A short look at the available documentation reveals that a coherent birth story is hard to determine, as several versions exist – all told by Sarah Palin herself. The first version, audiotaped during a press conference on 21 April 2008, is the one where Sarah Palin went on the record right after Trig's birth. During the press conference, the following exchange happened:

Reporter: So did your water break?

Palin: Well, if you must know more of those type of details, but, um …

Reporter: Well, your dad said that and I saw him say it so that's why I asked.

Palin: Well that was again if, if I must get personal, technical about this at the same time, um, it was one, it was a sign that I knew, um, could lead to uh, labour being uh kind of kicked in there was any kind of, um, amniotic leaking, amniotic fluid leaking, so when, when that happened we decided OK let's call her.

This exchange established that Palin's waters broke during the early hours of the morning on 17 April 2008 in Dallas, Texas. Lisa Demer quoted in the Anchorage Daily News an obstetrician, who confirmed: "To us, leaking and broken, we are talking the same thing. We are talking doctor-speak."

This statement by Sarah Palin was the trigger for scepticism on the part of some journalists regarding Palin's birth story, as well as the start of investigations by bloggers and citizens. I have played a role in these investigations since November 2008. Since then, more material has come to light – and Palin has herself given different accounts of Trig's birth story. In her autobiography, Going Rogue, there is no mention of her "amniotic fluid leaking", but Palin reports instead on page 193 that she was woken at 4am on 17 April 2008 by a "strange sensation low in my belly".

By her own account, Sarah Palin's pregnancy was a "high-risk" one: she was 44 years old, and it was her seventh pregnancy (she had had two previous miscarriages); the baby had Down's Syndrome and was about to be born prematurely. The fact that Palin, despite the obvious complications, embarked on a ten-hour plane journey from Dallas to Anchorage with a stopover in Seattle, bypassing the first-rate Baylor Regional Medical Centre in Dallas with a neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) situated ten minutes away from the conference she was attending, is mystifying – even more so since Palin then elected not to attend Providence hospital in Anchorage, which is also equipped with excellent NICU facilities that would have ensured a safe delivery for her premature son.

Sarah Palin officially gave birth at Mat-Su Regional Medical Centre, a local hospital with no NICU at Palmer, Alaska, on 18 April 2008. The 6lb 2oz Trig was presented by his grandparents to journalists just a few hours after his birth. Oddly, in a memorable appearance in Waco, Texas, on 14 September 2010, Palin, after bragging that she holds the "world record" in hiding her pregnancy and joking about the "Trig truthers", told the audience that she "had the baby in Anchorage", when official accounts have her giving birth 45 minutes away in Palmer.

Why are there so many apparent contradictions in Palin's account of Trig's birth story? Many blogs have addressed this question: for example, on the blogs Politicalgates, Palingates and Palin's Deceptions, as well as Andrew Sullivan on the Daily Dish. The controversy was known at the time of Sarah Palin's nomination for vice-presidential candidate, with Michael Carey, an editor for the Anchorage Daily News, making explicit reference to rumours, at the Republican convention. Despite the attention Professor Scharlott's paper has received since it was released, Sarah Palin and her fans have been strangely silent on the issue. Palin could end the public discussion immediately by presenting hard evidence, such as hospital or insurance records. She once claimed to have published Trig's birth certificate, but no journalist can be found who has seen it.

This issue is not about misogyny, as Megan Carpentier claimed in her recent commentary in the Guardian. We are not misogynist and we have no interest in examining Sarah Palin's "vagina". The majority of our readers, supporters and researchers are female, and they are usually women with experience in giving birth. There are also many readers who have medical backgrounds who strongly question Palin's account of Trig's birth. And I would like to point out that we are also not fixated on the pregnancy, as Carpentier asserts, but have written about many different issues regarding Sarah Palin.

The questions about Sarah Palin's pregnancy are relevant, because they raise issues of trust about a woman who almost became the vice-president of the US and who still has a large following and political influence. Journalists who now quickly declare this matter "closed" without having examined the evidence should be reminded that former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt is on record saying that Palin's book Going Rogue comprises "not 70%, but 100% fiction". Journalists should take this statement more seriously before putting their reputation on the line for Sarah Palin. Instead, they should ask her some tough questions.

Pakistan: Pakistan will benefit greatly from peace in Afghanistan

Associated Press of Pakistan

Pakistan will be first country to be benefitted from peace in Afghanistan:

ISLAMABAD, April 28 (APP): Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar on Thursday said that Pakistan would be the first country to get benefit from the peace and security in Afghanistan. Talking to reporters outside the Parliament House, she said Pakistan always made sincere efforts for peace in the Afghistan adding, “We do not want that Pakistani soil should be used for adventurism and similarly we hope that any other country soil, including Afghanistan, will not be used for adventurism in the region.”

Replying to a question she said Pakistan is facing challenges and it has been seeking cooperation and assistance from the international community.

To an other question she said Pakistani is looking into all diplomatic options to counter the drone attacks as these are counter productive.

She said Pakistan has conveyed its resentment and feelings on the drone attacks to the American leadership at all platforms.

Afghanistan: New US team in Afghanistan

Pajhwok Afghan News

Obama announces new team for Afghanistan
by Lalit K Jha

WASHINGTON (PAN): Having broken the Taliban momentum over the last two years, the United States is entering into a new phase in Afghanistan, with a drawdown of security forces beginning in July, President Barack Obama has said.

"In Afghanistan, the United States is moving into a new phase, transferring responsibility for security to Afghan forces, starting to reduce American forces this summer and building a long-term partnership with the Afghan people,” Obama told reporters on Thursday when he announced his new team for Afghanistan.
Gen. John Allen, currently deputy commander for CENTCOM, would be the new US commander in Afghanistan, while senior diplomat Ryan Crocker would take over as ambassador to that country, the president said.

The incumbent US commander, Gen. David Petraeus, would be new CIA director, replacing Leon Panetta, who would take over from Robert Gates as the next defense secretary.

"I cannot think of a group of individuals better suited to lead our national security team during this difficult time," Obama said, as he announced his choice for the civilian military team.

"I'm nominating a superb commander, Lt. Gen. John Allen, to succeed Gen. Petraeus as commander of the International Security Assistance Force," he said. As a battle-tested combat leader in Iraq, he helped turn the tide in Anbar province.
As CENTCOM deputy commander, he was s respected in the region and has been deeply involved in planning and executing the US strategy in Afghanistan. "As our troops continue to sacrifice for our security, Gen. Allen is the right commander for this vital mission," Obama said.

With coalition forces transferring responsibility to Afghans, the president said, the US was redoubling its efforts to promote political and economic progress in Afghanistan as well.

"Our tireless ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, has helped us dramatically increase our civilian presence of diplomats and development experts. Never before have our civilians and troops worked together so closely and so successfully," he added.
To build on Karl’s great work, Obama said, Ryan Crocker had agreed to return to public service as US ambassador to Afghanistan. He was the US first envoy to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime.

"He reopened our embassy there. As a former ambassador to Pakistan, he recognises that our strategy has to succeed on both sides of the border. As ambassador to Iraq, his remarkable partnership with Petraeus helped reduce the level of violence and promote reconciliation…"

Turkey: Global Summit of Women

PJ: The world is changing and women around the world are participating in that change like never before.

Hurriyet Daily News

Istanbul to host 2011 Global Summit of Women

More than 1,000 women from all over the world will gather in Istanbul for the 21st Global Summit of Women between May 5 and 7. Prominent women will gather in Turkey’s largest city to share winning strategies for advancing women’s economic lives and ensuring global prosperity.

The issues that will be discussed at the summit include growth of the world’s economies, development of a new breed of leadership and engendering of peace worldwide.

The president of the Washington, D.C.-based Globe Women, Irene Natividad, who is also the president of the summit, as well as the Turkish prime minister’s wife, Emine Erdoğan, Turkish state ministers Selma A. Kavaf and Nimet Çubukçu, first ladies from Namibia and Malaysia, Penexupifo Pohamba and Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor, as well as many other prominent women will participate in the summit.

“The Global Summit of Women was conceived as the nexus at which all sectors – public, private and nonprofit – would come together under the common vision of dramatically expanding women’s economic opportunities globally through exchanges of working solutions and creative strategies forged by women leaders in different parts of the world,” reads the summit’s mission statement. It also adds that the summit, also referred to as the “Davos for Women” is a business one, whose “business” focus is women’s advancement in the global economy.

Israel: Outrage over Fatah-Hamas deal


Netanyahu presses for U.S. action over Fatah-Hamas deal
Israel is expected to demand that the international community boycott the new Palestinian government if it does not meet the conditions the Quartet has set for Hamas.
By Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted T Thursday in discussions with a visiting delegation of U.S. Congress members that the United States should consider stopping economic aid to the Palestinian Authority if a Hamas-Fatah unity government did not recognize Israel and renounce terror.

Netanyahu also told the seven U.S. lawmakers that Israel would not recognize a Palestinian unity government if it did not meet these conditions. “Israel would not recognize any government in the world that included members from Al-Qaida,” Netanyahu said.

Speaking to the American legislators, Netanyahu quoted remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April 2009, that Israel would not hold talks with or economically support a Palestinian government, including Hamas, until Hamas recognized Israel and abandoned violence.

Senior government officials familiar with the details of yesterday’s meeting of the septet said the main decision was to launch a diplomatic campaign, with particular emphasis on the European Union, to thwart international recognition of the unified Fatah-Hamas government.

Intelligence officials told the septet that Hamas had agreed to sign a reconciliation agreement with Fatah out of Hamas’ fears over the implications for its organization in light of the riots in Syria.

Joining the ministers at the meeting were Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, MI chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and senior figures in the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service.

The MI officials told the ministers that Hamas is worried about the instability of the regime in Syria, which it considers the patron of the organization ‏(Hamas’ headquarters is in Damascus‏). Hamas’ alliance with Bashar Assad has been harshly criticized in the Arab world.

Israel is expected to demand that the international community boycott the new government if it does not meet the conditions the Quartet has set for Hamas.

After Hamas won a majority in the 2006 elections to the Palestinian parliament, the Quartet − consisting of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations − demanded that Hamas recognize Israel and existing agreements and renounce terror in exchange for international recognition.

Foreign Ministry Director General Rafael Barak sent a classified cable to Israel’s ambassadors to the EU, directing them to to make clear that Israel expects European leaders not to automatically release statements welcoming the Palestinian unity government.

“Hamas is a terror organization and the demand must first be made that it meet the conditions of the Quartet,” he wrote.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday said Israel asked its friends in the world not to talk to Hamas, unless the group undergoes “deep and fundamental changes” by dismantling its terror infrastructure and accepting the Quartet’s conditions.

In an interview yesterday on Army Radio, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for sanctions against the PA, such as withholding tax revenues. However, senior officials in Jerusalem and the septet have decided for now not to take punitive steps against the PA but rather to wait for clarification about the platform of a new Palestinian government.

Most of the European announcements about the Palestinian unity government emerging yesterday did not include the Israeli demands. European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the European Union has long been calling for internal Palestinian reconciliation.

The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, said in a statement that Hamas is “not a dialogue partner for us because we don’t work with organizations that fight with violence against Israel’s right to exist.”

UK: A decline in government spending slows US economic recovery

The Independent

Fresh blow for global economy as US slows

Consumer spending hit by rapid rise ininflation and a stagnant jobs market

By Stephen Foley in New York

Slumping government spending, weaker exports and renewed caution on the part of consumers conspired to slow economic growth in the US in the first three months of 2011.

The world's largest economy grew at an annualised rate of 1.8 per cent in the first quarter – down from its 3.1 per cent pace at the end of last year – underscoring the sluggish and volatile nature of the recovery from recession.

Any hopes that economic growth might be enough to quickly bring down an unemployment rate that is still at 8.8 per cent were dented by the latest weekly benefit claims figures, also released yesterday, which showed an unexpected jump in the numbers joining the unemployment rolls.

Economists scaled back their expectations for the first quarter GDP figure as February and March drew on, but the first estimate published by the Commerce department yesterday was modestly weaker than even those lower forecasts. The consensus estimate had been 2 per cent.

Many analysts noted temporary factors were keeping the figure low. Federal government spending dropped 7.9 per cent, with defence spending down 11.7 per cent, and commercial construction unexpectedly plunged 21.8 per cent.

"Wild swings in government spending from quarter to quarter are notuncommon and are usually reversed quickly, and a severe series of winter storms held back construction in the first quarter," said Kevin Logan, chief US economist at HSBC.

But he added: "For the year as a whole, constraints on government spending, in combination with moderate growth in consumer spending, will probably keep GDP growth below 3 per cent. It appears likely that GDP growth will fall short of the Fed's recent forecast of 3.1 per cent to 3.3 per cent on a fourth quarter-to-fourth quarter basis."

Earlier this week, the FederalReserve cut its expectations for 2011 growth to the 3.1-3.3 per cent range, from an earlier forecast of 3.4-3.9 per cent, largely because of the disappointing start to the year. The central bank also promised to continue its unprecedentedly loose monetary policy for an extended period.

The GDP figures showed that trade was a drag on the economy in the first three months, while growth in the value of exports slowed from 8.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 4.9 per cent. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity, slowed from 4 per cent to 2.7 per cent.

Kathy Bostjancic, director for macroeconomic analysis at business research body The Conference Board, called the disappointing first quarter GDP result "a pause, not a trend", but cautioned: "Moderate growth is not enough to meaningfully lower the unemployment rate or help tackle our large fiscal challenges. A higher growth trajectory will require substantially more business investment, jobs and personal income to support consumer spending."

That was a sentiment echoed by the White House. "Today's report shows that the economy posted the seventh straight quarter of positive growth, but while the continued expansion isencouraging, clearly, faster growth is needed to replace the jobs lost in the downturn," said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

The broad measure of inflationdescribed in the GDP figures, the personal consumption expenditures price index, rose at a rate of 3.8 per cent – its fastest pace since the third quarter of 2008 – after increasing 1.7 per cent in the fourth quarter. The core index, which excludes food and energy costs, accelerated to 1.5 per cent.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

UK: MP joins US birther discussion

Voice Online

Diane Abbott joins Obama 'birther' controversy
By Elisia Brown

MP DIANE Abbott has joined in the controversy over the legitimacy of Obama's presidency over claims he is not a US national.

"It is shocking that figures suggest that around half of Republicans either think Barack Obama was not born in the US or are not sure," the Labour Shadow Health Minister stated.

"It is sad that the so-called 'birther' movement, which maintains the President was not born in Hawaii, has been allowed to reach this stage. It is quite absurd," she added

The right wing creed 'birtherism,' maintains that President Obama is not qualified by birth for office. If this claim is true, it would mean Obama is illegitimate as President.

In a bid to quash cynics and conspiracy theorists, the President has publically released his full birth certificate, after repeatedly being questioned on his origins, more recently from business mogul Donald Trump.

Yet to make a formal announcement, Mr Trump has has sucked up several weeks of headlines and overtaken rivals in early polls by seizing on suspicions about the President's country of birth. It appears the republicans remain united in their desire to remove Obama from presidency.

"The focus on President Obama’s nationality, at a time of great consequence for America, has been a way of delegitimizing Obama and his work," stated the labour MP

"I only hope that the UK can learn from this sorry episode, and can help us to move away from the focus on personality above policy in our politics."

Canada: Opinion: The US "Birther" embarrassment

The National Post


The disgrace of the Birthers

David Frum, National Post · Apr. 28, 2011 | Last Updated: Apr. 28, 2011 4:07 AM ET

Even for the small band that sustained the phony controversy until now, the Barack Obama birth-certificate "issue" ends today.

Any last lingering doubts that maybe, perhaps, a pregnant Stanley Anne Dunham in the summer of 1961 boarded a propeller plane from Honolulu to Los Angeles, then from Los Angeles to New York City, then from New York City to Gander, then from Gander to London, then from London to Nairobi -and then repeated the trip backward a few weeks later -all so that her baby could acquire Kenyan nationality -those doubts are definitively squelched, as they should have been three years ago.

Now the more haunting question: How did this poisonous and not very subtly racist allegation get such a grip on our conservative movement and our Republican party?

I know there will be Republican writers and conservative publicists who will now deny that birtherism ever did get a grip. Sorry, that's just wrong. Not only did Trump surge ahead in Republican polls by flaming racial fires -not only did conservative media outlets from Fox to Drudge to the Breitbart sites indulge the birthers -but so also did every Republican candidate who said, "I take the President at his word." Birthers did not doubt the president's "word." They were doubting the official records of the state of Hawaii. It's like answering a 9/11 conspiracist by saying, "I take the 9/11 families at their word that they lost their loved ones."

Yet even now, the racialist aspect of the anti-Obama movement has not subsided. Trump has moved from the birth certificate to questioning the President's academic qualifications for Harvard Law School. Trump himself was a troubled student (at one point, he attended a military school) who nonetheless gained admission to Wharton. His father's wealth and business success cannot have hurt with that application.

Yet he feels himself qualified to pronounce on who is and who is not smart enough to attend Harvard Law. Barack Obama graduated magna cum laude. (And to anticipate a new line of attack -yes, Harvard Law School exams were blindgraded.) He was elected editor of the law review. And his classmates, left and right, universally admired his abilities.

I wish it were otherwise, but it does seem that these racialized attacks on Obama have exacted a toll on him. But they also have exacted a toll on the opposition to Obama. The toofaint repudiation of birtherism by regular Republicans has shaped not only the Obama brand, but also the Republican brand. It was not only white people who heard the implied message about who counts and who does not count as a "real American."

I write as an opponent of virtually every major and minor action of this administration. Republicans should be fighting this president on policy, not winking at those who use race as a weapon. It's worth recalling the generous words of John McCain on election night 2008:

"Though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound. A century ago, president Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an AfricanAmerican to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth."

And those who imagine that they somehow enhance the value of that citizenship by belittling the American-ness of their President -they not only disgrace the politics they uphold, but they do damage that will not soon be forgotten by the voters a revived Republicanism must win.

(c)David Frum

UK: The Great GOP Reality Show--Video

The Guardian


UK: The day America took leave of its senses

PJ: Since Barack Obama is the first African American to be elected to the Presidency of the United States, you have to wonder why he is also the first person to ever be hounded to provide his long-form birth certificate while all other elected presidents who had provided their certified "Certificate of Live Birth" were given a pass.

When Barack Obama was elected, once again as the first African American to hold that office, people around the world were in awe. "Only in America" was said with admiration for a country who, with significant racial tensions in its history, could look forward to a new brighter future. It is sad now that we shake our heads and use that same phrase with disappointment: Only in America.

The Independent

Special report: The day America took leave of its senses

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Has there ever been a more absurdly surreal moment, even in US politics, that unchallengeable theatre of the absurd and the surreal? One moment, we were watching a property magnate, with one eye on the presidency, the other on his reality TV show ratings, and puffed up like a bullfrog, rejoicing on an airport tarmac in New Hampshire that America's President of two years had finally made public his birth certificate.

The next, America's TV networks interrupted their schedules to cut to the White House, where that self-same President appeared to confirm the momentous fact: not that Barack Obama had indeed been born, but that the happy event indeed took place, as no sane person has ever doubted, on the unimpeachably American soil of Hawaii, one August evening in 1961.

Of late, however, America has seemed to be taking leave of its senses. A quarter of the population, polls showed, and close on half of Republicans, still refused to believe that unassailable fact.

Yesterday, in a bid to finally close the discussion, the White House released Mr Obama's original "long form" birth certificate, rather than the computer-generated duplicate with which the world thus far has had to make do. It is signed by his mother, the doctor who delivered him and the local registrar.

For the benefit of those who have been living – either literally or metaphorically – on a different planet for the last few years, the document bears witness that Barack Hussein Obama was born to Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Senior at 7.24pm on August 4, 1961, at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynaecological Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii's capital city.

The "birther" controversy – in other words, the contention that the 44th president had, in fact, entered this world in Kenya or Indonesia and that the Hawaii business was a conspiracy – has moved to the lunatic centre of American political debate. And no one has done more to propel it there than Donald Trump.

Forced to react to that change, the President yesterday expressed the hope that the matter would now be laid to rest. He had watched "puzzled and bemused", he said, at how the issue had persisted, in defiance of all good sense.

But the final straw, at least in Mr Obama's telling, had come a couple of weeks ago when he delivered a major speech on deficit reduction, as argument raged over how to tackle the national debt that threatens to squeeze the life out of the world's largest economy. And what, he asked, was making headlines the next day?

The "birther" question, of course.

"Normally I wouldn't comment on something like this," the President declared. But crucially serious problems confronted the country, and: "We don't have time for this kind of silliness." Nothing would be done "if we just make stuff up, pretend facts are not facts and get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers". The release of the document, which has briefly seemed as pivotal to the existence of the republic as the US Constitution would, Mr Obama hoped, lay the dispute to rest, except for a tiny minority who would never be convinced. "We live," he concluded, "in a serious time".

But do we really? Up in New Hampshire (just by coincidence, of course, the scene of the country's first presidential primary 11 months hence), the carnival barker par excellence claimed Mr Obama's announcement as a colossal victory for himself.

"I am really proud. I am really honoured. I feel I've accomplished something really really important that no one else was able to do," Mr Trump proclaimed, with the modesty that marks him. "I am really happy this has taken place. We have some issues that are unbelievably important."

Whether, however, this triumph will see "the Donald" addressing momentous matters like the deficit remains to be seen. Why so long, he wondered: why hadn't Mr Obama produced the certificate back in 2007 and 2008, when Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign was asking for it? And even now, he mused, puffing his chest: "We have to look at it. Is it real? Is it proper?"

And if the rigorous Mr Trump is at last satisfied that Mr Obama was not born outside America – and thus disqualified from being President – other possible deceptions loom. "I've heard he wasn't a very good student at Occidental [College in Los Angeles, attended by the President between 1979 and 1981] but he ended up getting into Columbia [University in New York City] and Harvard. How did he do so, if he wasn't a very good student?"

All this may be entertainment. But even if Mr Trump's goal is not the White House, but a new season on NBC for Celebrity Apprentice, in American politics right now he is rather more than a sideshow. CNN was quick to squash a Trump claim yesterday that a poll by the cable network showed him running level with Mr Obama in a hypothetical general election match-up. No such poll had ever been taken, a CNN anchor declared. Others have been however, by various news organisations, which put the property tycoon and relentless self-promoter near the top of the Republican field.

Everyone's heard of Donald, even though he promises a decision on whether to enter the race only at the end of next month.

The likes of Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann and Rand Paul would kill for such celebrity right now.

Some, though, ask whether Mr Obama might have done better by keeping the "birther" issue alive a little longer. Its very existence suggested that Republicans were indeed a party of extremists, they note, driving away the independents and centrists needed to win in November 2012. None other than Karl Rove, who plotted George W Bush's two White House victories, has said that Mr Trump's obsession with the "birther" issue "means he's off there in the nutty right". At moments like yesterday, however, you could believe that everyone's gone nutty.

How the Republican right hounded Obama

"The fact is, nobody has any information. And his people in the United States don't even know which hospital. His relatives don't even know which hospital he was born in... the fact is, if he wasn't born in this country, he shouldn't be the president of the United States."

Donald Trump, Presidential hopeful

"The public rightfully is still making it an issue. I don't have a problem with that. I don't know if I would have to bother to make it an issue, because I think that members of the electorate still want answers... I think it's a fair question."

Sarah Palin

"It's not my job to tell the American people what to think [about his birth]. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people...the American people have the right to think what they want to think."

John Boehner, Speaker of the House

"He lived in Indonesia as a kid. He talked about, you know, the prayer at sunset being one of the most beautiful things... So, he grew up in a foreign country. So some have said, all right, you grew up in Hawaii, it's a constitutional requirement, show us [the birth certificate]. What's the big deal?"

Sean Hannity, Fox News host

"I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough."

Mike Huckabee

"I know that there's going to be a segment of people for which this issue will not be put to rest. But I'm speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We've got better stuff to do."

Barack Obama, today

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

UK: Conservatives keep the birther issue alive despite the release of Obama's long form Birth Certificate

PJ: President Obama had already proved his place of birth, just as other politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon had done, by providing his (legally) certified "Certificate of Live Birth". In most states that is the legal form issued to prove citizenship ( Most politicians in the US have used that very same form to prove their citizenship in passport applications; most members of the armed services have used that form to prove birth date and citizenship; members of the diplomatic corp have used their certified "Certificate of Live Birth" to prove who they were; even the CIA accepts that particular form as proof of identity, birth and nationality for their most sensitive operatives. But for some reason, that should be an embarrassment to everyone in the US, many Republicans expect more proof of citizenship to be shown by their first African American President.


Obama releases 'long form' birth certificate

The White House has released President Barack Obama's birth certificate, in response to persistent rumours he was not born in the US.

Mr Obama had previously released an official "certification of live birth" showing he was born in Hawaii.

But fringe "birther" theorists have insisted Mr Obama was actually born in his father's native Kenya, making him ineligible to be president.

Recently potential Republican candidate Donald Trump has revived the rumour.

The White House clearly felt they had to lay this matter to rest. And they were almost certainly right.

I was out of town when the story broke and rushed to find a diner with a TV to watch what the president said. As I talked to people afterwards, it was very clear many had doubts about the president's birth certificate and wondered why something hadn't been said more clearly much earlier.

Something else was also very clear: They agreed with the president that this was a distraction and nearly everyone, unprompted, mentioned the price of petrol as their overwhelming concern.


On Wednesday, Mr Obama described the unprecedented move as an effort to rid the US political debate of a distraction, saying he had watched, puzzled and bemused, as the birther conspiracy had built and developed over the past years.

He described the matter as a "sideshow" and its proponents as "carnival barkers".

"We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Mr Obama said. "We've got better stuff to do. I have better stuff to do. We've got big problems to solve, and I'm confident we can solve them, but we're going to have to focus on them - not on this."

The release of Mr Obama's long form birth certificate, which had been stored in a bound volume among the records of the Hawaii Department of Health since his birth in August 1961, comes after years of speculation among conspiracy-minded conservatives.

Under the US constitution, only a "natural born citizen" - a clause widely interpreted to mean born in the US or in some cases to US citizens abroad - is eligible to be president.
Trump's birther hype

The birther conspiracy held that Mr Obama was born in Kenya or in Indonesia, where he lived as a child, or that the birth certificate revealed other unwholesome information about the president.

Barack Obama: "We've had every official in Hawaii...confirm that yes in fact I was born in Hawaii"

During the 2008 presidential campaign Mr Obama released a computer print-out of the birth certificate information that is recognised as an official record of his birth - on passport applications, for instance - and Hawaiian public health officials vouched for its authenticity.

But the move did little to quell the birthers, even as most mainstream Republicans have sought to quash the movement, calling it a distraction from substantive policy disagreements.

New York real estate entrepreneur and reality television star, meanwhile, has publicly flirted with a Republican presidential bid in recent weeks, founded in large part by stoking questions about Mr Obama's origins.

And on Wednesday, Mr Trump took credit for forcing Mr Obama's hand.

"I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish," Mr Trump told reporters. "He should have done it a long time ago."

The White House released copies of the original birth certificate, with a stamp verifying its authenticity. White House officials said they had been given a waiver by Hawaii public health officials, as the state's policy in general bars release of long-form birth certificates.
Birthers unsatisfied

The document shows Barack Hussein Obama II was born 4 August 1961 at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu, to Barack Hussein Obama, a 25-year-old student, and Stanley Ann Dunham, 18, and includes the signature of the attending physician.

It remains unclear whether the release of the birth certificate will satisfy the most hard-core birthers.

Joseph Farah, chief executive of birther-orientated website, said on the site the document "raises as many questions as it answers".

"It is important to remember there are still dozens of other questions concerning this question of eligibility... concerning Barack Obama's parentage, his adoption, his citizenship status throughout his life and why he continues to cultivate a culture of secrecy around his life," he said.

UK: Republicans backing of "birthism"

PJ: President Obama has tried to put an end to the rising vitriol about his place of birth (since many on the right insist that he was not born in the US and thereby ineligible to serve as the President). Recently he requested that the State of Hawaii make his long-form birth certificate available, which the White House released today. The President had years earlier made his certified copy of his Certificate of Live Birth available for inspection (this document is the same type of legal document most people in the US are issued for proof of birth and citizenship). By identifying that this is nothing more than a distraction when important issues are in need of attention, Mr. Obama said that he hopes that this will mean an end to the nonsense of this non-issue.

It must be noted that this non-issue was originally the brain-child of people on the far-far-right but has since been embraced by more mainstream conservatives, Fox News, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, who have used the birther issue to pander to the fringe in their party. Mr. Trump even went so far as to announce to the world recently that Mr. Obama's birth certificate had mysteriously disappeared (according to his sources). Mrs. Palin simply cheered on Mr. Trump's efforts in getting to the bottom of this supposed mystery (although there never was one). She even went so far as to spread proven false rumors that Obama had spent millions in trying to cover up his proof of birth. But even though the issue is considered a fringe issue, recent polls now show that nearly half of Republicans do not believe that the President was born in the US.

Do I need to say it? Only in America!

The Guardian

Republicans will rue their birther backing

The timing of the release of Barack Obama's birth certificate expertly made a fool of Donald Trump – and the GOP with him
By Paul Harris

Given that his credentials as a citizen have been questioned by a significant minority of his fellow Americans, President Barack Obama could have justifiably been a bit annoyed as he finally released his long-form birth certificate.

After all, he has more pressing things on his mind: like numerous wars and the ever-stuttering US economy. But the lunatic birther movement, championed by Donald Trump, appeared to have forced his hand, questioning the very Americanness of the country's first black president so loudly that he had to act. To the surprise of no one with two brain cells to rub together, the document (pdf) proved that, yes, in fact, Obama was indeed born on American soil.

Yet Obama seemed barely in chiding mode at having to deal with this idiocy. Instead, he appeared relaxed. He told reporters that he had "watched with amusement" as the rumours spread and been surprised they refused to go away. "I have been puzzled with the degree with which this thing just kept going," he said, before adding the sanest words anyone has uttered on the subject: "We do not have time for this kind of silliness."

So, why the good mood in the White House?

The fact is that the Obama administration has played the recent spasm of birther attention remarkably well. They have let Trump rise up on a balloon of inflated birther nonsense – getting near the top of Republican polls for the 2012 nomination – and then promptly popped it underneath him. Look at the timing. This was meant to be a moment all about Trump appearing in New Hampshire, the vital first state to hold a primary in the nomination process. It was a moment where Trump the outsider upstart was meant to begin to look a little serious.

Instead, the White House timed the release so that Trump would be right in the media's glare when the birther bubble burst. Not surprisingly, he looked like an idiot. At a news conference, he blustered about his proud achievement in forcing the release of the birth certificate, then attempted to cast a little doubt on it and finally made up a CNN poll that he claimed showed him neck-and-neck with Obama in the race (CNN promptly reported no such poll exists).

No one needed any more proof to understand that Trump is a joke in very poor taste. But he provided it anyway – in long form. Not that Trump will give two hoots. His brand is about reality TV and celebrity, not political, reality. But the Republican party should care. A lot.

Which is why Obama has played this well. His team waited for Trump to have enough rope to hang himself on the birther issue, and in doing so, have helped him toxify the Republican brand – just as he tried to debut his serious side.

Birtherism has thus worked well for Obama. No one who has embraced the birther cause was likely much of an Obama supporter to begin with (hence the heavy skewing of birthers towards the Republican party: according to one recent poll, more than half its membership believed Obama was born abroad). But the sheer and increasing madness of the issue – especially now that the long form birth certificate has been released – must be offputting for the independents and moderates who are often so crucial in American elections.

There are plenty of reasons to be mad at President Obama after two and a half years in office, but you look at the bug-eyed, drooling internet conspiracists now lurking among the Republicans and suddenly he looks like the voice of reason all over again.

Which is why the reverse of the fact that Obama has played the birther hand well is that many senior Republicans have played the issue so badly. Too many top party figures sought to "dogwhistle" the issue, using various formulations designed to stoke it up without actually embracing it. "I think the public rightfully is still making it an issue. I don't have a problem with that," Sarah Palin told one interviewer. "It's not my job to tell the American people what to think," said House speaker John Boehner in response to a question about whether he should challenge birthers' views. "I don't think it's nice to call anyone crazy," said House minority leader Eric Cantor. It is a sad indictment of the Republican party that its own leaders took the attitude of not dismissing birtherism and its followers without qualifying their stance or hinting at closet sympathies.

Come 2012, they may yet pay at the polls for that cynicism and moral cowardice. It is going to be an easy task for Democrats to paint the Republicans as extremists with little grasp of reality and many Republicans will have only themselves to blame.

UK: No change in Egyptian US opinion

The Economist

No freedom dividend
by Lexington

THE Egyptian people's opinion of America has not changed for the worse. That, for now, is the only consolation America can derive from a fascinating opinion poll just published by the Pew Research Centre. This shows that although nearly two out of three Egyptians are happy with the way things are going in their own country, the end of the Mubarak regime, and the role some people say Barack Obama played in helping to ease out the dictator, have not made them any better disposed towards the United States. Only one in five Egyptians have a positive view of America and only 15% would like to see closer ties. A majority (54% to 36%) would like to annul the peace treaty with Israel. More Egyptians (82%) say that better economic conditions are important to them than say that about honest multi-party elections. The institution that has come out best from the upheaval is the army: 88% say it is having a positive impact on the country.

In fairness, it's early days. People don't change their deeply held convictions overnight. But if America expected some sort of freedom dividend from the Arab awakening, it isn't visible yet.

China: A dramatic change in US policy regarding Arab countries


U.S. Arab world policy sees consistent threads emerge

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, April 26 (Xinhua) -- As the Arab world reels from unrest, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has been charged with having a vague and, at times ad hoc, policy toward tumult in the region.

Indeed, the U.S. president called for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi -- a historical U.S. nemesis -- to step down while launching airstrikes against his forces. At the same time, however, Obama called for the resignation of now former Egyptian President and longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. While the White House has outlined no overarching doctrine, a few themes are emerging.

David Pollock, senior fellow at the Washington Institute, noted three trends: First, the Obama administration opposes the use of force of a government against its own citizens. Second, Obama supports dialogue between governments and opposition groups. Finally, the United States will apply these principles to countries that are friendly to Washington, as well as to those that are not.

Still, many observers have questioned what makes Libya -- in the eyes of the Obama administration -- different from any other nation that has attacked protesters, and many have asked why Obama would choose to intervene in one conflict and not others.

In a White House press briefing on Monday, spokesman Jay Carney said there are a number of differences between the situation in Libya and other instances of governments attacking protesters in their countries.

Carney said Libya was "a unique situation" in the sense that the Libyan government "was moving against its own people in a coordinated military fashion" and there was "an international consensus to act."

The spokesman did not mention opposition or concerns expressed by a number of countries over the Western-led airstrikes in Libya.

Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said there are other cohesive threads in what many have blasted as a jumbled heap of loosely connected and reactive policies. The administration aims to support the process of reform in the region, but to do so pragmatically and gradually, he said.

Monarchies, such as Morocco, are special cases: Within constitutional monarchies there exists the possibility of delegating more power over time to an elected government under a constitutional monarchy framework. So Obama is unlikely to call for leaders of such countries to step down.

Obama has also said that each country in the region is different, and some analysts said the administration is acting out of practicality, arguing that no one-size-fits-all solution exists.


Aside from questions about how to respond to the recent unrest, there remain questions over U.S. military plans, as nearly 50,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq and around 100,000 in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration is trying to slim down its military commitment to the region with a two part strategy. First, Washington wants to stem the influence of Iran by leaving a footprint in Iraq and Kuwait of around 20,000 to 25,000 U.S. troops. A degree of Iranian influence is tolerable, from the U.S. point of view, as long as it does not exceed a certain limit, said Vice President of Analysis Peter Zeihan, of global intelligence company Stratfor.

The second part of the equation is Turkey. If Iran took over Iraq, Turkey would have yet another foe on its borders along with nemesis Syria. Turkey feels cornered, which will prompt a Turkish emergence with U.S. support, in a bid to contain Iranian power in Mesopotamia, he said.


In spite of Obama's stated support for some Democratic movements in the Arab world, fear of Islamic extremism is impeding U.S. efforts in Libya, said Wayne White, former deputy director of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research's Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia.

"We are literally obsessed with that in the wake of 9/11," he said. "I think it's being taken out of proportion in light of what probably exists on the ground."

"I suspect that (there is) partly a fear of what the rebels represent, and that has hobbled our efforts to engage because we are reluctant to do more before we know what the opposition represents."

While it remains unknown how far the United States will go in supporting Libya's rebels, the White House announced on Wednesday that it okayed 25 million U.S. dollars in non-lethal aid -- such as communications equipment -- to rebels. On Monday U.S. Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain called for the United States to ramp up support for the rebels, including immediate military aid and more direct U.S. involvement.

Meanwhile, in nearby Egypt, much discussion in the United States centered around the Muslim Brotherhood -- an Islamist organization that ranks as Egypt's most influential dissident group.

While the organization is likely to play a major role in Egypt, it is far different from Al-Qaeda, White said.

Zeihan said that as a whole, the Obama administration would like to see moderately democratic regimes that are obsessed with their own internal issues. But one major U.S. concern is that some countries that have never had democracy could vote in a government less amenable to Washington than the previous one.

Right now most regional leaders are strongmen, but they nonetheless keep internal dissidence in check so it cannot turn into international terrorism, according to the U.S. view, he said.

Australia: White House release's Obama's long form birth certificate

PJ: For some on the right, nothing short of a trip in a time machine back to watch Obama's mother giving birth will satisfy them.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Obama to address birthplace conspiracy
April 27, 2011 - 11:30PM

US President Barack Obama was to make a statement on Wednesday about conspiracy theories that allege he was not born in the United States after the White House released his long-form birth certificate.

Obama's 2008 presidential campaign had previously released a shorter regular birth certificate issued by Hawaii authorities after conservative critics and pundits fanned rumours that he was not American born.

The version released by the White House on Wednesday was a copy of a long-form, original document made at the time of his birth and kept since in official records in Obama's native state.
Advertisement: Story continues below

The document lists Obama's birthplace and birthdate as "Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii" on August 4, 1961 at 7.24pm.

According to the US Constitution, presidents and vice-presidents must be natural born citizens of the United States.


India: Doctor ignored torture at Guantanamo

The Times of India

Doctors turned 'blind eye' to Guantanamo torture: Study

WASHINGTON: US department of defense doctors and psychologists whose duty was to care for inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, concealed evidence of intentional harm and torture, said a study.

The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal PloS Medicine on Tuesday, come in the wake of a host of secret US documents released by WikiLeaks, shedding light on conditions in the US military prison in Cuba.

Co-authored by a retired army brigadier general and an expert with Physicians for Human Rights, the study is based on a review of the medical records and legal files of nine inmates at the US "war on terror" prison.

The authors call into question whether military doctors, who like their civilian colleagues generally adhere to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, should have done more when confronted with potential signs of abuse or torture.

The department of defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Military doctors noted the sudden onset of post-traumatic stress symptoms in some inmates who had no history of mental problems, heard stories of rape and documented bone fractures, contusions and lacerations, but they did not question the cause, the study said.

"The medical doctors and mental health personnel who treated the detainees... failed to inquire and/or document causes of the physical injuries and psychological symptoms they observed," it said.

In one case, a clinician with the defense department's behavioural health service noted a detainee's suicidal thoughts, memory lapses and nightmares, and prescribed antidepressants.

"(You)... need to relax when the guards are being more aggressive," the inmate was told, according to medical records cited by the study.

Reports have already come to light of alleged complicity by CIA doctors and psychologists and DoD behavioural consultants, described by the US government as "non-clinical" experts who were present during the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding.

But according to lead author Vincent Iacopino, this study focuses on defense department medical personnel -- doctors and psychologists -- who directly cared for Guantanamo inmates and whose role has been largely obscured.

"There has been no information to date on the role of those health professionals in turning a blind eye, as the paper has indicated, until this time," Iacopino told AFP.

The study does not name the clinicians involved. Iacopino said the doctors' names had been redacted from the documents they consulted, but would be available to those with classified access.

UK: Opinion: Trump's vainglorious idiocy

PJ: Not all Republicans label Trump a nightmare: Rev. Franklin Graham has publicly praised him ( as has Sarah Palin ( who seems to delight in anything said by anyone against the President or, for that matter, anyone at all who she sees as a foe (see her latest snarky remarks about Katie Couric here:

The sad thing about many in the Republican Party (at least those who seem to have the loudest voices) is that they celebrate anyone who attacks the President for whatever baseless reason. Their hatred seems to know no bounds.

The Guardian


Donald Trump and the Republican nightmare of 2012

Donald Trump's vainglorious idiocy is creating a noxious environment for Republicans aiming to win the White House
By Richard Adams

Is Donald Trump a double agent working on behalf of the Democratic party? Because that would at least explain why Trump is doing his utmost to turn the Republican party into a burned-out wreck.

Whatever it is that is driving Trump – and it can't be a desire to run for the White House, since he can't be so deluded not to know that he doesn't stand a chance – his crude antics have moved from hilarious sideshow to centre-stage of American politics.

Trump's latest trick, after donning the putrid mantle of "birtherism", has been to change the subject. When Trump was challenged by CNN's Anderson Cooper over his repeated, unsubstantiated claims to have investigators in Hawaii working to uncover the facts of Barack Obama's birthplace, Trump has literally trumped himself with a fresh, equally unsubstantiated claim, that he was now interested in uncovering Obama's educational records.

In an interview today Trump expanded:

"I heard he was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?" Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm thinking about it, I'm certainly looking into it. Let him show his records."

(For the record, Barack Obama graduated magna cum laude from the fiercely competitive Harvard Law School.)

The problem for Republicans is not just that the Trump circus threatens to taint the rest of the party with such nonsense. It's that Trump's act is taking up valuable time and space, crowding out serious presidential contenders and doing nothing to help the Republicans overcoming their talent deficit – the same talent deficit that gave Trump the inch that he is furiously turning into a mile.

That's why some of the most vociferous attacks on Trump are coming from Republican activists. At the conservative community site RedState, Trump is regarded with contempt, with one poster commenting:

Birtherism is a symptom of something worse in the candidate. A person who actively spreads Birtherism as a serious plank in the 2012 GOP is a racist, an idiot or a dishonest hack.

Others fear that Trump could even run as an independent in the 2012 presidential election, skimming off potential Republican votes.

Republicans must dread looking at the opinion polls. Name recognition and bombast has put Trump way ahead of the rest of the putative field: one in four Americans in a Pew poll said he was the Republican candidate they had heard the most about. A serious Gallup poll actually put him tied for the top spot for support among likely Republican voters.

On the other hand, the American public at large has no illusions about the soi-disant billionaire. In a USA Today poll, 50% of Americans say he would be a "poor" or "terrible" president, while 64% say that they "definitely" would not vote for him. (Trump's polling figures are in fact statistically identical to Sarah Palin.)

Sensible Republicans argue that the whole nightmare will be over as soon as Trump admits that he is not standing. And they are probably right. But he could insist on hanging around like a bad smell, popping up on whatever desperate cable news channel will have him.

In the meantime, expect more of the same. In his latest interview, Trump insists: "The last guy [Obama] wants to run against is Donald Trump." That's probably the biggest joke of them all.

UK: US economic report from Fed. Chair

The Independent

Bernanke to confront his critics as US economic recovery stutters once again

By Stephen Foley in New York

Weakening economic growth and sliding house prices in the world's largest economy form the backdrop to the first-ever press conference by a Federal Reserve chairman, to be held after the US central bank makes its latest interest rate decision today.

Ben Bernanke, stung by public criticism of the Fed's programme of quantitative easing, will spend 45 minutes fielding questions from journalists on the outlook for monetary policy, with financial markets sure to be hanging on his every word.

A slew of disappointing data has led economists to lower their forecasts for US GDP growth since the Fed last met in March, but traders still expect Mr Bernanke to stick to the current policy of wrapping up quantitative easing by the end of June. Last November, the bank said it would pump $600bn of newly created money into financial markets, buying US government debt in the hope of bringing down interest rates for home buyers and businesses.

The Fed's federal open market committee began a two-day meeting yesterday to discuss the bank's latest internal economic forecasts and the questions of whether, when and how to begin tightening monetary policy.

The gathering came as the latest US housing market data showed prices fell by an average of 3.3 per cent across the country in February from the same month in 2010. That fall, as measured by the Case-Shiller index, was the biggest since November 2009. All but one of the 20 metropolitan areas covered by the index are now showing year-on-year price declines, because of a glut of foreclosed homes on the market.

There was some positive economic data yesterday, though, in the Conference Board's consumer confidence survey. That index rose to 65.4 from a revised 63.8 in March, better than the 65.0 expected by Wall Street, and consumers reported improved impressions of current economic conditions for the seventh straight month.

US GDP figures for the first quarter are due out tomorrow morning and are expected to show economic growth having slowed to an annualised rate of 2.0 per cent, according to a consensus of forecasts that has been drifting lower in recent weeks. Disappointing housing market activity, exports and retail sales in the final month of the quarter have led to the expectation of a gloomier GDP outlook.

"The Fed will be pleased to see that the further rise in gasoline prices towards $3.90 a gallon does not appear to have put another dent in US consumer confidence or added to households' inflation expectations," said Paul Dales, senior US economist at Capital Economics. But he said the still-low confidence means consumption growth will "not be anywhere near enough to shift the economy into a higher gear".

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Australia: Obama works to win second term

The Sydney Morning Herald

Back to basics: How Obama aims to win a second term

Think insurgent, not incumbent for Barack Obama in 2012.

That is shaping up to be the early strategy for the Democratic U.S. president's re-election campaign.

"We ought not to act like an incumbent. We have to act like an insurgent campaign that wakes up every single day trying to get every single vote we can," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a video posted on Monday on

The president made the case himself last week when he said in a series of political fundraisers that the next presidential election may well be harder to win than in 2008.

"This is going to be just as hard, if not harder, than 2008," Obama said on Thursday. "Our work is not finished."

Messina warned against complacency when he outlined the campaign's re-election strategy. He said the 2008 campaign was "special" - Obama rode a youth-driven movement to become the first black U.S. president - but Obama's supporters needed to step up their game to win in 2012.

"If we just run that same campaign we stand a good chance of losing," he said. "We have to assume every single day that we need to build something new, better, faster, and sleeker."

Even as many indicators show an improving U.S. economy, Obama faces pessimism -- recent polls show a majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

The president launched his re-election this month and faces a still-unformed Republican field with no clear front-runner.

"Republicans are going to be fired up to take on President Obama and so we all, and all of you out there. have to take the reins of this thing and really build it together," Messina said.

He referred to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that removed restrictions on corporate and union campaign spending, which Obama and Democrats have said opened the floodgates for special interest money in politics.

"What this has done is fundamentally change the way campaigns are funded," Messina said. "We have to compete with that."

Obama raised $750 million in 2008, helped significantly by small donations from grassroots supporters.

The 2012 election is expected to be the most expensive in U.S. history.

Last week Obama attended events in San Francisco and Los Angeles that were expected to bring in between $4 million and $5 million, according to a Democratic official who was not authorized to publicly discuss the party's fundraising. The price of individual admission ranged from $25 for parties for younger voters to $35,800 for exclusive dinners.

The president and his wife, Michelle, will travel to Chicago tomorrow to tape The Oprah Winfrey Show. Later in the day they will attend fundraisers in New York City.

Analysts say they expect the 2012 presidential election to cost $3 billion, about 50 percent more than the $2 billion the Federal Election Commission said was spent in 2008 by candidates, the political parties and outside groups.

Obama raised a record $745 million in 2007-08, and he was the first major-party nominee to reject public financing for the general election.

So far no clear Republican frontrunner has emerged. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said yesterday that he will not seek the White House in 2012. Former Governors Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts have established presidential exploratory committees, taking the first official step toward bids for the White House.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia on March 3 announced the establishment of a website to enable him to raise money and possibly run for president. Other prospective 2012 Republican candidates include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee; former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee; Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget; and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who is stepping down as U.S. ambassador to China this month.


UK: Trump's new attack on Obama--grades

PJ: Not only has Donald Trump reinvented himself as an ulta-conservative (he was for years a liberalish Democrat and at times relatively non-political) he is now trying to rewrite President Obama's history by attacking his educational qualifications. He suggests that the country knows nothing about the President's background, totally dismissing well publicized educational accomplishments such as graduating from Harvard Law magna cum laude in 1991, where he had been elected to head the Harvard Law Review: I must note here that the Harvard Law Review makes its selection based on grades as well as competition scores:

The Independent

Trump trashes Obama's academic record


Property mogul Donald Trump has suggested that US president Barack Obama had been a poor student who did not deserve to be admitted to the Ivy League universities he attended.

Mr Trump, who is considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, offered no proof for his claim but said he would continue to press the matter as he had the legitimacy of the president's birth certificate.

"I heard he was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?" Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"I'm thinking about it, I'm certainly looking into it. Let him show his records."

Mr Obama graduated from Columbia University in New York in 1983 with a degree in political science after transferring from Occidental College in California. He went on to Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude - with great honour - in 1991 and was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.

His 2008 campaign did not release his college transcripts and in his best-selling autobiography Dreams From My Father, Mr Obama indicated he had not always been an academic star.

Mr Trump said Mr Obama's refusal to release his college grades were part of a pattern of concealing information about himself.

"I have friends who have smart sons with great marks, great boards, great everything and they can't get into Harvard," he said. "We don't know a thing about this guy. There are a lot of questions that are unanswered about our president."

Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for Mr Obama's re-election campaign, declined to comment.

Mr Trump has shaped himself as an ultra-conservative candidate, reversing some positions he once held. He now would make abortion illegal and opposes gay marriage and gun control.

He advocates repeal of Mr Obama's health care overhaul that became law last year, wants to cut foreign aid, is highly critical of China's trade and monetary policies and wants to end the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But he has got the most political traction by latching on to the "birther" movement: those who believe claims initiated by the far-right that Mr Obama was born outside the US - despite the release of official birth records in Hawaii and other evidence. The US Constitution requires that presidential candidates be "natural-born" US citizens.

Of late, Mr Trump has appeared in interviews on all the major American cable television networks, pushing relentlessly his message that Mr Obama needs to prove he was born in the US.

"I have more people that are excited about the fact that I reinvigorated this whole issue," he said, adding "the last guy (Mr Obama) wants to run against is Donald Trump".

Mr Trump will travel to the early primary states of New Hampshire and Nevada this week and says he will make a final decision about a presidential bid by June.

China: Former President Carter in North Korea


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrives in Pyongyang
Editor: Xiong Tong

PYONGYANG, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, accompanied by three other former state leaders, arrived in Pyongyang Tuesday morning aboard a private jet for a three-day visit at easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

At the airport, Carter was greeted by Ri Yong Ho, vice foreign minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Carter, along with former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland and former Irish President Mary Robinson, received flowers from four young DPRK girls and boys.

The quartet of former leaders smiled and waved hands to the reporters from the DPRK, China and Russia present at the airport, but delivered no speech.

The reporters were only allowed to stand within a designated area and couldn't get close to Carter.

Five minutes later, the motorcade of the delegation left the airport.

Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2002, said on Monday that the visit will concentrate on Pyongyang's nuclear program and food-aid needs.

Carter, who served as U.S. president from 1977 to 1981, made a historic trip to the DPRK for the first time in 1994 to help defuse a crisis over the country's nuclear program.

He paid a three-day private visit to Pyongyang last August to secure the release of an American citizen, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been detained by the DPRK for entering the country illegally.

WASHINGTON, April 12 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. State Department confirmed on Tuesday that an American citizen has been detained by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

"There is an individual who is in North Korea. This individual has been detained," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at the daily briefing, adding the incident occurred " recently".

Middle East: US mulls Syrian sanctions

PJ: In the US, President Obama has come under increased criticism for the intervention in Libya since he did not consult Congress (although briefings had taken place) and since the Libyan unrest was not considered a direct threat to the US. Now, as violence against the protesters in Syria intensifies the President is facing condemnation from some of these same people for his inaction in that country.

Al Jazeera

Obama administration mulls Syria sanctions
Assets of senior officials could be frozen and their businesses banned in US in order to ratchet up pressure on Assad.

The Obama administration is considering sanctions against senior officials in the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a bid to ratchet up pressure for an end to a violent crackdown against protesters, a US official said on Monday.

The measures, which could freeze those officials' assets and ban them from doing business in the United States, would likely come in the form of an executive order signed by Barack Obama, the US president, the official said.

But a final decision has yet to be made on the exact timing of such a move and there was no immediate word on whether Assad might be among those targeted for sanctions.

Sanctions would mark an escalation of the US response to Assad's efforts to crush a month-long uprising against his autocratic 11-year rule.

Obama's response so far has been limited to tough words but little concrete action against the Syrian government, in contrast to Washington's role in a NATO-led air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Washington is mindful of its limited ability to influence Damascus, which is closely allied with US foe Iran, and has had chilly relations with the United States.

It is cautious about further military entanglement in the Muslim world where it is already involved in long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama, in a statement on Friday, told Syria that its bloody crackdown on protesters "must come to an end now" and accused Damascus of seeking Iranian help to repress its people.

"The brutal violence used by the government of Syria against its people is completely deplorable," Tommy Vietor, White House spokesman, said on Monday.

UN condemnation planned

Meanwhile, four European nations are urging the UN Security Council to strongly condemn the violence against peaceful demonstrators in Syria.

A council diplomat said France, Britain, Germany and Portugal circulated a draft media statement to the other council members.

It will be discussed at a council meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the consultations have been private.

The draft statement supports secretary-general Ban Ki-moon's call for an independent and transparent investigation into the killings in Syria, where more than 300 people have died in five weeks of unrest, the diplomat said.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Turkey: US and Turkey agree on Iran

Hurriyet Daily News

Turkey, US see eye-to-eye on Iran, envoy says

Turkey and the United States share the same vision on Iran’s nuclear future, a source of much tension between Ankara and the West, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey said in remarks published Monday.

Neither country wants Iran to have nuclear weapons but both believe it has the right to develop nuclear power “as long as it fulfills its international responsibilities,” Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone told the Anatolia news agency.

“We widely agree on how to convince Iran to adopt its international responsibilities. Our basic consensus is that diplomacy is the best instrument to cope with the problem, even if it is not the only one,” the envoy said.

Speaking to the news agency on the sidelines of American Business Forum in Turkey, or ABFT, event, Ricciardone largely addressed economic issues, saying investor interest in Turkey is on the rise in the United States and across the world.

“The challenge is transforming this interest into real trade and investments,” he told Anatolia.

Compared to when he first visited the country during a vacation in 1977 and a diplomatic mission in 1979, Turkey is now much more open to the world, Ricciardone said: “How well you compete on the global stage. Turkish goods and brands have a very new meaning in the world today.”

Commenting on the mutual trade relations, Ricciardone noted the establishment of the U.S.-Turkey Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation, an initiative by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama. “The Turkish side has determined the names [of the companies to participate in the effort] and we hope to meet soon, maybe in June,” he said.

Turkey had postponed determining names for the initiative within the U.S.-Turkey Business Council until recently, a hesitation that was criticized by Michael Camunez, a U.S. deputy commerce secretary, and Jose Fernandez, a U.S. deputy secretary of state, during a visit to Ankara in January.

The Turkish media then claimed that the delay was the result of indecision on whether to send representatives from the Turkish Industry & Business Association, or TÜSİAD, the country’s leading employer’s organization; from the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges, or TOBB; from the Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association, or MÜSİAD, a group with a close relationship to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP; or from the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey, or TUSKON, a foreign trade organization.

The parties will work to lift obstacles hindering mutual trade and investments, Ricciardone said, naming the basic problems facing U.S. investments in Turkey as copyright disputes, a lack of transparency and failures in implementing agreements.

Surveys conducted by the ABFT since 2004 show that the basis of the Turkish business environment is sound, but problems in particular fields, such as copyrights, trade limitations and red tape, needed to be resolved, said Murat Aşık, a board member of the organization.

“We are competing with the prominent countries in the world in drawing investments and increasing the country’s potential. Being aware of this competition, we should take steps forward in moving the business environment into a better position and reducing bureaucracy,” Aşık said. “We also think that the level of predictability should improve in Turkey. We have the political and macro-economic stability, but we also need stability in changing laws and regulations. According to our annual surveys, companies are telling us that rules are changing overnight and this hampers investments.”

Dialogue is the best method to overcome these problems, according to Aşık, who said the Turkish government’s openness to such communication is appreciated, but that open dialogue needs to become a structural and sustainable part of doing business in Turkey.

According to data by the Turkish Statistical Institute, or TurkStat, Turkey’s exports to the United States reached $3.768 billion in 2010 while imports hit $12.31 billion.

Officials to discuss freezing Libyan assets

Freezing the assets of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his family and implementing U.N. sanctions on Libya and Iran will be discussed Tuesday in Ankara by Turkish and U.S. officials.

David Cohen, the acting U.S. undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, will pay a visit to the Turkish capital to discuss “international efforts on how to apply pressure on Libya,” the State Department said Friday. Cohen’s trip to Turkey follows his meetings in France, which allegedly balked at implementing sanctions on Libya.

The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 in March to prevent the travel of Libyan authorities such as Gadhafi and freeze their foreign assets so as to halt the regime’s attacks against the opposition. The resolution has created a Security Council committee to monitor the enforcement of the sanctions, determine other individuals who could become subject to the ban and report on its implementation.

Following his meetings with officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Treasury, Cohen will hold talks in Istanbul with banking associations and other business groups.