Sunday, July 31, 2011

UK: The Republicans are to blame for US debt crisis

PJ: Even the conservative leaning Economist doesn't cut the GOP any slack on the current debt crisis.

The Economist

Whom to blame

Jul 29th 2011, 23:09 by Lexington

I WAS sorry to see Gary Johnson, the agreeably modest former governor of New Mexico, and Republican presidential candidate, repeating one of the absurder Republican talking points. He says:

Having served as a Republican governor in a Democrat state with a Democrat legislature, I understand the challenge of divided government. I would have voted against the House-passed debt limit bill; it simply does not cut enough spending. But at least the Republican House came up with something and voted on it.

The President and the Senate, on the other hand, have done nothing except hold news conferences and lay blame on everyone from the Tea Party to George W. Bush. 'We don't know what we want, but this isn't it' is not the approach to leadership the American people want and deserve. The federal budget can be balanced, and it can be balanced now, if only our elected leaders in Washington would actually show some courage and commitment to putting our financial house in order.

Er, hang on. The "something" the Republican House has come up with is a non-solution (since the Senate cannot buy it) to a problem entirely of the Republicans' own making. The reason for this crisis is that instead of just raising the debt ceiling in the customary way so that the government can pay the bills Congress has already run up, the Republicans decided to point a pistol at the American economy and threaten to pull the trigger if they did not get the spending cuts they wanted.

Sure, America needs to tackle its burgeoning entitlement programmes. But not now, when cutting spending will make an insipid recovery worse, and more especially not like this, hijacking a routine procedure and using it to bring the country to the edge of downgrading or default. At least the Republicans have done something? Gimme a break.

UK: The threat of the US Tea Party

PJ: Many in the US are waking up to the dangers of the "my way or the highway" (or "dangerous charlatans" as the author of this article calls them)Tea Party push. Yesterday, Kathleen Parker, conservative columnist for the Washington Post, put her thoughts on the subject in an excellent piece titled The Tea Fragger Party

The Guardian

US economy: The Tea Party is a real threat to America

Although ultra-conservatives are not in control of the White House and the Senate, they feel they have the political wind at their back
From The Observer

Presidential candidate and ultra-conservative congresswoman Michele Bachmann prays every day for guidance. "The American people are looking for someone who will say, 'No'," she said last week. "I will be that person… I won't raise taxes. I will reduce spending. I won't vote to raise the debt ceiling. And I have the titanium spine to see it through."

Developing her theme, she added that the little people of America, factory workers and housewives, tell her: "'Michele, stand strong. Michele, don't cave.' The American people are scared to death they have lived through the pinnacle of American greatness, that we may be in decline."

The struggle to secure a deal between the Republicans and Democrats to lift the $14.3 trillion cap on the country's national debt is seen by disinterested onlookers as a foolish squabble between self-serving politicians, whose silliness risks potential default on the US's national debt and a first-order financial crisis within the next 48 hours.

If only it were just an ordinary political squabble. The reason the US is so close to economic calamity is that its politicians have existentially different views of the world. As the US faces stagnation and retreat from "the pinnacle of American greatness", these differences have become crucially important. This goes to the heart of how the US can recover its greatness.

Bachmann, with her "titanium spine" and communion with God, is no normal Washington politician. Nor is she alone. There is the chair of the house budget committee, Paul Ryan. There is first-time congressman Jim Jordan, head of the Republican study committee that represents two-thirds of the Republicans in the house. For all of them, representatives of the Tea Party movement, the cause of the US's problems is the federal government, federal spending and federal debt.

Taxation is not merely coercive, it takes money from efficient taxpayers and transfers it to inefficient government. To raise taxes in any circumstances is immoral and undermines the US economy.

These are not politicians given to compromise. Their predecessors in the Republican party did so, securing tax cuts but only at the price of rising national debt because spending has not been cut. The new generation is going to pursue this matter to the end – and the only deal they are prepared to sanction is a short-term fix that will bring the whole issue back to congress in the new year – presidential election year.

While the Democrats now control the Senate and the presidency, they were routed last year in the elections for the house by the Tea Party movement.

The Democrats know that being the defenders of debt, deficits and taxes does not play well with the US electorate, and that to allow another wrangle over the national debt limit in six or nine months is tantamount to signing a political suicide note. Better secure a deal with the Republicans now than allow this fight to go into 2012.

This goes to the heart of the stand-off. Although the ultra-conservatives are not in control of the White House and the Senate, they feel they have the political wind at their back. Why compromise when they can get all they want – no increase to the debt limit and the entire pain being taken by swingeing cuts to federal spending? Which is why President Obama and Democrat Senate leader, Harry Reid, have given so much ground. The Democrats' latest plan for deficit reduction contains virtually no tax increases, despite Obama's insistence it is a balanced package with the rich and corporate America taking some of the burden. But it does require that the issue be taken off the table until after next year's elections.

Within Republican ranks, there is virtually no incentive to bargain; until the US is confronted with the need to maintain debt within the $14.3 trillion cap, no one knows what the consequences will be.

Some Republicans may be concerned about slashing much-loved social programmes, while others worry that they will get the blame if there is a calamity. But there are many who refuse to see why Bachmann and co should get credit for their intransigence, while others bargain responsibly and risk the wrath of voters.

Economically, the Tea Party argument is feeble. Countries' debts are not like individual households; they can be serviced over generations. In the aftermath of a credit crunch, a country that tries simultaneously to cut public and private debt will suffer prolonged economic stagnation or depression. The cost in lost opportunity, broken lives and bust businesses is too high to slash public debt; indeed, the right action may be to increase it.

Nor is tax in essence different from any other fee: it is the cost of services rendered, and some services such as defence, security, healthcare and investment in innovative technology are best rendered by society as a whole. Hence taxation.

All the US's great advances – in the internet, computers, aerospace, space, the internal combustion engine, drugs, optics – have had the federal government as their sponsor. A well-designed social security system offers people security while not removing their incentive to work; well-judged federal spending on innovation boosts the economy; a banking system needs federal deposit insurance and a central bank as a lender of last resort when banks are distressed.

But in the land inhabited by Michele Bachmann, these propositions are false; they undermine US self-reliance and individualism and obstruct America's road back to greatness.

In vain do conservative supporters in Wall Street and business urge the Tea Party Republicans to moderate their opposition – they are dismissed as Democrat stooges.

Nor do the Democrats help their case. In democracies, you argue, argue and argue, but even Obama's eloquence has been silenced in the search for a deal. The Democrats seem to have stopped believing.

Maybe there will be a bargain at one minute to midnight, but until the Tea Party Republicans are exposed as dangerous charlatans and their support recedes, the threat to the US is ever-present.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Middle East: Opinion: The US Taliban

PJ: For many years I've referred to the growing extreme religious right wing in the US as the American Taliban. While they cry freedom, they practice anything but freedom for all. Their's is the freedom to practice their religion while denying others that same right. Their's is to regulate the family and marriage. Their's is to control education by eliminating many scientific truths and theories while supporting Biblical teachings. Their's is to determine who is and who is not a proper American, a proper citizen and a proper human. Their's is to practice free speech as long as you agree with them but if not then you're all 'haters' or leftist lovers of the 'lamestream media'.

During the 2010 elections people like Sarah Palin, while crying her right to free speech and freedom of the press (as long as the speech from others did not criticize her or point out her mistakes or untruths or were otherwise considered, by her, to be unkind), denounced reporting from just about every news outlet except her own, suggested conservative candidates speak only through Fox News. Fox News is the right wing news outlet that regularly distorts other's opinions while propagandizing their opinions and supporting conservative issues and causes like the Tea Party movement. Shockingly, commentators such as Bill O'Reilly recently and staunchly (in order to protect his own brand) denied that the Norway mass murderer was a right wing Christian when in the murder's own manifesto he wrote extensively about his Christian believes and determined that there was a need to rid Europe of all who were not white Christians. However, if the murderer had been a Islamic extremist, Mr. O'Reilly would have had no trouble in calling him a Muslim terrorist.

The American extreme right wing wants absolute control of public policy. They want absolute control of the media. They want absolute control of education. They want absolute control of who are and who are not acceptable as a family. They want only Christians and Jews (because they'll need the Jews to fight with them in the end of times after which the Jews will need to convert to Christianity in order to be eligible for "The Rapture") They are not at all for the freedoms as set down by the Founding Fathers of the country who they claim as their own. Their model, instead, is very much like the absolute rule under religious law established by the Taliban, a group they claim to hate. And to me they are every bit as frightening.

Al Jazeera


America's own Taliban
A fast growing right-wing politico-religious presence plans to implement an end-times, Christian theocracy in the US.
By Paul Rosenberg

Prior to 9/11, the Taliban government in Afghanistan did not register very much on American radar screens, with one notable exception: when it blew up two colossal images of the Buddha in Bamiyan province in early 2001. But destruction of treasured artifacts isn't just limited to the Taliban.

There's a right-wing politico-religious presence centered in the US, but with a global reach, engaging in similar practices, destroying religious and cultural artifacts as a key aspect of its ideology of "strategic level spiritual warfare" (SLSW).

Until recently a fringe evangelical movement, warned against as deviant, "spiritual warfare" is rapidly positioning itself within America's mainstream political right. It's well past time for political journalists to start covering what this movement is up to.

As an example, leaders have bragged online about the destruction of Native American religious artifacts, which their twisted ideology somehow sees as a liberating act, promoting "reconciliation" between estranged groups of people. Critics, however, see it as reflecting an eliminationist mindset, while traditional conservative evangelicals have denounced the ideology as un-biblical. Some even claim it is actually a form of pagan practice dressed up in Christian clothes, according such artifacts a spiritual power that the Bible itself denies.

The ultimate goal is to replace secular democracy, both in America and around the world, with a Christian theocracy, an ideology known as "dominionism". The supposed purpose is to "purify" the world for Christ's return - again, strikingly similar to what the Taliban believe, but also significantly at odds with more common, long-standing Christian beliefs about the "end times", as well as the nature and purpose of prayer, and the roles of human and divine power.

This description might seem utterly fantastical, but copious evidence for it is hidden in plain sight, scattered across the internet, in books, on YouTube, and tracked by a small community of researchers at sites such as and, as well as by evangelical critics. The question is: When will America's mainstream media catch up?

The missed story in the 2008 campaign

Known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a term coined by its intellectual godfather, C Peter Wagner, this movement surfaced in the 2008 campaign, with video of one of its most prominent practitioners, Kenyan witch-hunter Thomas Muthee, anointing Sarah Palin - but the mainstream media largely missed the real story on a number of counts.

They generally failed to realise that Muthee was part of a Western-based movement, indeed, he starred in the first "Transformations" video, a pseudo-documentary series advancing SLSW, advertised as having been seen by 200 million people in 70 languages.

Media also overlooked clear evidence that Palin herself was part of an Alaskan group involved in SLSW, dating back to when she was just 24 years old. More basically, media failed to grasp the radical nature of NAR, and its departure from earlier evangelical practice. This is so new that many academic experts haven't caught up with it.

Additionally, many in the media relied on Charisma magazine for guidance - a publication deeply aligned with the NAR. Add this to the media's general skittishness when accused of bias by Palin and her supporters, and the result was a perfect storm of story suppression, much of it seemingly quite reasonable.

A rare exception, which did not occur until very late in the campaign, was Laurie Goodstein's October 24 story in the New York Times, "YouTube Videos Draw Attention to Palin's Faith", which did discuss spiritual warfare and Palin's involvement, but barely brushed against the underlying agenda of dominionism and its more troubling implications.

Inside USA - Christianity in US politics

This election cycle, the media will have another chance to get the story right. The NAR has made great strides since 2008, and already, NAR figures are deeply involved in organising for Texas Governor Rick Perry's August 6 prayer meeting, "The Response".

On July 12, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow did a segment highlighting some of their more bizarre claims in a series of video clips. These included Wagner saying that the Japanese stock market collapsed because the emperor had sex with a demon (the sun goddess), another leading NAR figure, John Benefiel, calling the Statue of Liberty "a demonic idol", and a third figure, Mike Bickle, calling Oprah Winfrey "a forerunner to the Harlot movement", or, as Maddow put it, a "harbinger of the antichrist".

But these aren't just a collection of random bizarre claims. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick - who's been studying NAR since 2008 - wrote the day after: "These video clips should receive much more national exposure, but they need to be viewed in context of the movement they represent."

Not your father's religious right

Encompassing a variety of organisations and networks of activist groups, the NAR is not just concerned about particular issues, such as abortion or gay rights, or even about so-called "values", which is the impression that even Goodstein's 2008 story left with readers.

Rather, the NAR is committed to replacing democracy with a religious dictatorship, which it sees as a necessary prelude for Christ's return to earth.

Consequently, the NAR is also openly dedicated to destroying religious and cultural groups who do not share their beliefs - even including others on the Christian Right. They openly denounce Mormonism and Roman Catholicism as demonic, but in the end all Protestant denominations are seen as impediments to creating one unified religious establishment which should in turn control all of society, entirely replacing America's secular democracy, and bringing about their own version of "one-world government".

This is explicitly articulated in terms of what's known as the "Seven Mountains Mandate", which seeks to establish Christian dominance over seven culture-shaping spheres of activity: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion. On one of Muthee's several visits to Sarah Palin's church in Wasilla, he spoke for about ten minutes about the Seven Mountains Mandate.

The NAR's non-church, non-denominational apostolic/prophetic organisation is key to its recent rapid growth and its relative invisibility to outsiders, but it also departs significantly from traditional scriptural teachings long held dear by evangelicals, as do many of its teachings.

Indeed, in August 2000, the Assemblies of God, America's largest Pentecostal denomination, adopted a statement warning against a number of tendencies, under the heading "Deviant Teachings Disapproved", including, but not limited to, some prominent elements involved in the NAR. However, Tabachnick informed me that "unfortunately many in the Assemblies of God have changed their tune on this and embraced the NAR".

Yet many have not changed, and the warnings still serve to highlight how this latest development is not the same religious right wing as in your father's day.

One tendency warned against was dominionism itself, which the document called "unscriptural triumphalism". It also warned against "the problematic teaching that present-day offices of apostles and prophets should govern church ministry at all levels", and against "excessive fixation on Satan and demonic spirits". These are all major aspects of NAR theology, as is the concept of "generational curses", which the document also warns against.

In short, the NAR may be gaining substantial ground on the religious right, but in doing so, it is profoundly undermining a raft of biblical teachings that the vast majority of evangelicals have staunchly clung to until quite recently. This is, indeed, not your father's religious right. It is arguably destroying your father's religious right.

Strategic level spiritual warfare: A myth? A heresy? Or worse?

Because of the goal of gaining dominion over all of society, spiritual warfare to drive out demons who supposedly stand in the way of this goal plays a central role in NAR thinking. There are, three levels to spiritual warfare, as explains in their glossary of NAR terms:

Ground level spiritual warfare is casting out demons from individuals. Occult level spiritual warfare is a confrontation with demons operating through witchcraft and esoteric philosophies (examples are Freemasonry and Tibetan Buddhism). Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare is the highest level, dealing with confrontation of territorial principalities that control entire communities, ethnic groups, religions, and nations.

While there are many evangelical critics of spiritual warfare and the NAR, and a great deal of material online, Bishop Michael Reid - who has three degrees from Oral Roberts University, including an honorary Doctorate of Divinity - literally wrote the book on the subject.

Although he's since had his own gay sex scandal - much like Wagner's long-time close associate, Ted Haggard - his 2002 book, Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare: A Modern Mythology? remains a devastating Bible-based critique, in which he writes, regarding SLSW:

"There is no foundation in the Old Testament for this practice, nor any indication that the devil has any intrinsic power or authority. Satan's only weapon is deception and his only sphere of influence that which God permits for His own eternal purposes.

"In the New Testament, the picture is similar; there is no evidence to suggest that Christians are called to engage in an on-going conflict with spiritual forces in the cosmic realm. The Scripture is quite clear in its teaching that Christ defeated Satan completely at Calvary and that Christians have been freed from his power."

Reid sees this unscriptural ideology usurping God's role and elevating mere mortals to a higher place - precisely the sort of thing that NAR's leading advocates accuse secularists of doing:

"The whole focus of SLSW is on the devil and his demonic host ... Man has become the fulcrum of redemption, holding the balance of power between God and the devil in the battle for the souls of men, and the gospel itself rendered impotent without the preliminary work of pulling down demonic strongholds ... These are serious matters which call into question the very basis of the Christian faith."

"The Harlot Babylon is preparing the nations to receive the antichrist. The Harlot Babylon will be a religion of affirmation, toleration, no absolutes, a counterfeit justice movement ... I believe that one of the main pastors as a forerunner to the Harlot movement is Oprah."

In short, SLSW is implicitly about the egos of "spiritual warriors", rather than Christian humility.

Reid also repeatedly suggests that SLSW is actually pagan in origins, and thus a form of syncretism, the very sort of mixture between Christianity and older pagan religions that biblical literalists of all stripes abhor. For example:

"Hesselgrave draws the analogy between warfare prayer and the prayer typical of Indo-European paganism with its dualistic understanding of the eternal co-existence of good and evil. The latter is viewed as a means 'to control the gods', but, in contrast, prayer in biblical thought is 'submission' to God'.

The idea that spiritual warfare as practiced by the NAR is itself a pagan practice, perhaps even a form of demonic battle or that it elevates man over God are perceived examples of what psychologists call "projection", an ego defence mechanism.

But long before there were any psychologists, the Bible weighed in, Matthew 7:5: "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." We turn now to another such example.

Oprah and the Antichrist - A case of projection?

On July 12, Rachel Maddow began the segment mentioned earlier with a video of NAR bigwig, Mike Bickle, in which he said:

"The Harlot Babylon is preparing the nations to receive the antichrist. The Harlot Babylon will be a religion of affirmation, toleration, no absolutes, a counterfeit justice movement. They will feed the poor, have humanitarian projects, inspire acts of compassion for all the wrong reasons. They won't know it ... I believe that one of the main pastors as a forerunner to the Harlot movement is Oprah."

Although Maddow naturally focused on the claim that Oprah was somehow a harbinger of the antichrist, it's arguably even more interesting that Bickle so accurately - if inadvertently - describes one of the NAR's own favourite practices, what it calls "reconciliation" between groups that are estranged from one another, be they ethnic, racial or nationalist. These often, but not always, involve the destruction of religious/cultural artifacts and are supposed to lift so-called "generational curses".

One such example revolved around Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, formerly a US senator.

"Brownback has taken part in NAR 'Reconciliation' events since 2003, and subsequently introduced Senate resolutions apologising to Native Americans," Tabachnick wrote at last year. "These Reconciliation ceremonies are not about pluralism, but about proselytising - for both charismatic evangelical belief and right wing politics."

Eventually one such resolution was incorporated into legislation. On the other side, a number of Native American NAR leaders were involved in the ritual destruction of objects said to depict false gods. Given the centuries-long history of the many ways that Native American culture has been destroyed by white America, it is nothing short of absurd to claim that "reconciliation" can be brought about by further acts of cultural destruction. Yet, that is precisely what the NAR practices.

This is, at best, to use Bickle's own word, a "counterfeit" movement.

Another indication of how counterfeit such "reconciliation" is lies in just who represents each side. In this example, it was eventually the US government on one side, and a religious network of self-hating Native Americans on the other. If that seems a bit lopsided, it is more typical than not.

A similar pattern can be found in reconciliation rituals with "Jews" who are so-called "messianic Jews" - meaning they are actually practicing born-again Christians. That's a bit like a "reconciliation" between Italian and Brazilian soccer fans, with the Brazilian fans being from the Italian embassy in Brasilia.

In another case, religion wasn't even really a factor, as a small, private reconciliation ritual in Texas was performed to bring black people back to the Republican Party. In her book, Bridging the Racial and Political Divide: How Godly Politics Can Transform a Nation, Alice Peterson describes how Susan Weddington, then chair of the Texas Republican Party, organised the ritual.

When the time came, Peterson wrote, she expected Weddington to ask forgiveness for whatever White Republicans had done - she seems to have no idea what that might have been. Instead, Weddington asked forgiveness for the Black Republicans who left the party.

Nowhere in Peterson's account is there any hint that Blacks became Democrats when Democrats renounced their racist past during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, and Republicans eagerly wooed tens of millions of White Democrats who fled their party as a result. In short, such make-believe "reconciliation" has nothing to do with spiritual truth, and everything to do with historical lies.

Work to be done

If this all seems a bit overwhelming, that's only because it is.

If the media had taken a serious critical look at Palin's religious beliefs and practices in 2008, all the above and more could have been examined and discussed in detail over the past three years. As it is, there is a lot of catching up to do.

There is no question that American political journalists are up to the task - if they put their minds to it. The only question is, will they do it? Will they dare to seriously consider the evidence of a Taliban-like movement in right-wing Christian America, seeking to impose its own form of "godly" government in place of the secular democracy established more than 200 years ago?

Journalists could begin to answer that question by taking a long hard look at the NAR figures endorsing Rick Perry's prayer event on August 6. Let's hope they do.

Paul Rosenberg is the Senior Editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newsletter.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

UK: International markets fall as the Congressional debt dance continues

The Guardian

Debt crisis: Republicans scramble to rewrite plan following figures bungle

Embarrassment for Congress speaker John Boehner after budget office finds $350bn hole in his original proposal

The US debt crisis has escalated after Republicans were forced to rewrite their proposal to lift the debt ceiling, because they miscalculated how much the original plan would cut spending.

In an embarrassing development for John Boehner, the Republican Congress speaker, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ruled on Tuesday night that his bill would have only cut spending by $850bn (£517bn)over the next decade, not the $1.2tn he had aimed for. Republicans are now racing to rewrite the legislation, and have pushed back a congressional vote on the plan from Wednesday to Thursday at the earliest.

Although Boehner was already struggling to find support for his package, the delay increases the risk that Washington will fail to agree a deal to raise the debt ceiling before 2 August, when the federal government is expected to run out of money.

The dollar dropped against other currencies on Wednesday morning as investors faced the possibility that America could default. Several economists believe the country will lose its AAA credit rating within months, which would push up its borrowing costs, even if the $14.3tn debt ceiling is increased in time.

The White House said on Tuesday it was working with Congress to devise a "Plan B" that might attract enough support. The two sides have been deeply divided for weeks, with Republicans demanding deep spending cuts and Democrats anxious to include tax rises as a major part of the deal.

The US people may be losing patience with their political leaders. The congressional telephone system was swamped with calls from the public on Tuesday, coming close to collapse. The websites of several members of Congress have crashed this week, after president Obama urged Americans to make their voices heard.

Across the globe, there is growing astonishment that the world's biggest economy is on the brink of a technical default because its elected leaders cannot hammer out a deal. Nouriel Roubini, the leading economics professor, said there was disbelief in China. "Biggest concern in meetings in Hong Kong: will the US default on its debt? Folks here are shocked by the dysfunctional US political system," he tweeted from Shanghai.

In London, the FTSE 100 fell 39 points at the start of trading to 5890, following widespread losses in Asia overnight. Traders are braced for the debt ceiling negotiations to go right to the wire.

"Equity markets remain on the back foot as the US debt impasse continues to dominate the agenda. The political spat continues and as a result the expectation is that negotiations will be ongoing into next week, right up to that August 2nd deadline," said Chris Weston, Institutional trader at IG Markets.

Complacency rules, ok?

Analysts have suggested that America may have more time to resolve the crisis than the government has admitted, with Barclays Capital calculating that the country might be able to function until 10 August before needing to borrow again.

The yield, or interest rates, on US 10-year bonds remained below 3% on Wednesday – meaning America still enjoys some of the cheapest borrowing costs of any country. There are indications, though, that investors are becoming more anxious, with the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) volatility index, which tracks Wall Street confidence, rising by 4.5%.

"We are finally seeing a little bit of risk priced in, but not a lot is being priced in yet," said Louise Cooper, markets analyst at BGC Partners. "There's still complacency ... I don't think anyone expects this to go wrong."

One possibility is that Obama could approve a short-term rise in the debt ceiling while Congress wrestles with a long-term fiscal plan.

"The can would then be being kicked down the road in the States as well as in Europe," said Cooper, referring to the eurozone's own debt problems.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that banks are now holding on to more cash, bolstering their liquidity levels in preparation for a US credit rating downgrade that could potentially prompt a second credit crunch.

"We've been here before, post-Lehman Brothers, and we don't want to be there again," commented Cooper.

The wrangling over the debt ceiling could do long-term damage to America's economic credibility, warned Christopher Molumphy, chief investment officer of Franklin Templeton Fixed Income Group.

"The lack of a credible long-term solution would likely raise questions about the creditworthiness of the US, push up the cost of capital for private and public borrowers and thus prove a further impediment to economic recovery. There is still time for a deal to be reached on raising the debt ceiling, but continued doubts about a longer-term solution to the US's federal deficit may well threaten the country's AAA credit rating and the status of US Treasuries as assets previously perceived as virtually 'risk-free', and against which many other products are gauged," said Molumphy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keeping the US deficit in proper perspective


Republican Leaders Voted for Debt Drivers They Blame on Obama
July 26, 2011, 1:30 AM EDT
By Lisa Lerer

July 26 (Bloomberg) -- House Speaker John Boehner often attacks the spendthrift ways of Washington.

“In Washington, more spending and more debt is business as usual,” the Republican leader from Ohio said in a televised address yesterday amid debate over the U.S. debt. “I’ve got news for Washington - those days are over.”

Yet the speaker, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all voted for major drivers of the nation’s debt during the past decade: Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and Medicare prescription drug benefits. They also voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that rescued financial institutions and the auto industry.

Together, a Bloomberg News analysis shows, these initiatives added $3.4 trillion to the nation’s accumulated debt and to its current annual budget deficit of $1.5 trillion.

As Congress nears votes to raise the $14.3-trillion debt ceiling to avert a default on U.S. obligations when borrowing authority expires on Aug. 2, both parties are attempting to claim a mantle of fiscal responsibility. They both bear some of the blame: Many Democrats contributed to the expenses that are forcing lawmakers to boost the nation’s debt limit, as have Republican leaders at odds over how much borrowing authority to hand President Barack Obama and when.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” for the debt, said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an Arlington, Virginia-based group that advocates for balanced budgets. “If there had been no Barack Obama, we would still be bumping up against the debt limit.’”

Debt Has Doubled

Since 2001, the debt has grown from $5.8 trillion.

Republicans say the long-term growth of entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, along with depressed tax revenues due to the worst recession since the Great Depression, drive the current debt level.

“Blaming Bush for the structural deficits we’ve known would come since the early 1990s is beyond irresponsible.” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Cantor.

In his address yesterday, Boehner accused Obama of going on the “largest spending binge in American history.”

Obama’s 2011 annual budget, Republicans note, drove federal spending to a record $3.8 trillion. Non-defense discretionary spending also grew by 24 percent during the first two years of the Obama administration, they say, adding $734 billion in spending over the next 10 years.

Recession Worsened Deficit

The recession, Obama said in a televised address from the White House yesterday, lowered revenue and required his administration to “spend even more” on tax cuts, unemployment insurance and state and local aide. “These emergency steps also added to the deficit,” he said.

Some Democrats also supported the Bush administration programs. In the Senate, Obama voted to finance the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and TARP. He signed legislation extending the Bush-era tax cuts for two years in December.

“Both sides are claiming they’re fiscally responsible,” said Rudolph Penner, director of the Congressional Budget Office under President Ronald Reagan. “But I don’t see much difference in that regard.”

Bush Tax Cuts

The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which lowered tax rates on income, dividends and capital gains, increased the federal budget deficit by $1.7 trillion over a decade, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan left-of- center group in Washington that studies fiscal policy.

The two-year extension of those tax cuts that Obama signed will cost $857.8 billion, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

Boehner has defended the tax cuts, arguing that they didn’t lead to the deficit.

“The revenue problem we have today is a result of what happened in the economic collapse some 18 months ago,” he told reporters on June 10, according to The Hill newspaper.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost almost $1.3 trillion since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, according to a March 29 analysis by the Congressional Research Service. Operations in Iraq have cost $806 billion, and in Afghanistan $444 billion. The analysis shows the government has spent an additional $29 billion for enhanced security on militia bases and $6 billion remains unallocated.

Medicare Drug Benefit

The 2003 Medicare prescription program approved by President George W. Bush and a Republican-dominated Congress has cost $369 billion over a 10-year time frame, less than initially projected by Medicare actuaries.

Nine Senate Republicans, including Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, along with 25 Republicans in the House, voted against the bill. Hagel argued that it failed to control costs and would add trillions in debt for future generations.

“Republicans used to believe in fiscal responsibility,” Hagel wrote in a 2003 editorial in the Omaha World Herald. “We have lost our way.”

TARP, the $700-billion bailout of banks, insurance and auto companies, has cost less than expected. McConnell, Boehner, Cantor and Ryan all voted in October 2008 for the program, which stoked the rise of the Tea Party movement.

Many institutions have repaid the government. The latest estimated lifetime cost of the program is $49.33 billion, according to a June 2011 report by the Treasury Department. That figure includes the $45.61 billion cost of a housing program which the administration never expected to recoup.

Rank-and-file Republicans are eager to pin the blame on Democrats, frequently pointing to the economic stimulus signed by Obama in 2009. The total cost of the stimulus will be $830 billion by 2019, according to a May 2011 Congressional Budget Office report.

That’s half the cost of the Bush tax cuts and less than two-thirds of what has been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

--With assistance from Brian Faler, Vincent Del Giudice, and Steven Sloan in Washington. Editors: Mark Silva, Jim Rubin.

UK: Republicans dangerous behaviour

PJ: Even this fiscally conservative publication sees the dangers of the GOP's game of playing politics with the US debt ceiling.

The Economist

Shame on them
The Republicans are playing a cynical political game with hugely high economic stakes

IN THREE weeks, if there is no political deal, the American government will go into default. Not, one must pray, on its sovereign debt. But the country will have to stop paying someone: perhaps pensioners, or government suppliers, or soldiers. That would be damaging enough at a time of economic fragility. And the longer such a default went on, the greater the risk of provoking a genuine bond crisis would become.

There is no good economic reason why this should be happening. America’s net indebtedness is a perfectly affordable 65% of GDP, and throughout the past three years of recession and tepid recovery investors have been more than happy to go on lending to the federal government. The current problems, rather, are political. Under America’s elaborate separation of powers, Congress must authorise any extension of the debt ceiling, which now stands at $14.3 trillion. Back in May the government bumped up against that limit, but various accounting dodges have been used to keep funds flowing. It is now reckoned that these wheezes will be exhausted by August 2nd.

The House of Representatives, under Republican control as a result of last November’s mid-term elections, has balked at passing the necessary bill. That is perfectly reasonable: until recently the Republicans had been exercising their clear electoral mandate to hold the government of Barack Obama to account, insisting that they will not permit a higher debt ceiling until agreement is reached on wrenching cuts to public spending. Until they started to play hardball in this way, Mr Obama had been deplorably insouciant about the medium-term picture, repeatedly failing in his budgets and his state-of-the-union speeches to offer any path to a sustainable deficit. Under heavy Republican pressure, he has been forced to rethink.

Now, however, the Republicans are pushing things too far. Talks with the administration ground to a halt last month, despite an offer from the Democrats to cut at least $2 trillion and possibly much more out of the budget over the next ten years. Assuming that the recovery continues, that would be enough to get the deficit back to a prudent level. As The Economist went to press, Mr Obama seemed set to restart the talks.

The sticking-point is not on the spending side. It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.

A gamble where you bet your country’s good name

This newspaper has a strong dislike of big government; we have long argued that the main way to right America’s finances is through spending cuts. But you cannot get there without any tax rises. In Britain, for instance, the coalition government aims to tame its deficit with a 3:1 ratio of cuts to hikes. America’s tax take is at its lowest level for decades: even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when he needed to do so.

And the closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look. Earlier this year House Republicans produced a report noting that an 85%-15% split between spending cuts and tax rises was the average for successful fiscal consolidations, according to historical evidence. The White House is offering an 83%-17% split (hardly a huge distance) and a promise that none of the revenue increase will come from higher marginal rates, only from eliminating loopholes. If the Republicans were real tax reformers, they would seize this offer.

Both parties have in recent months been guilty of fiscal recklessness. Right now, though, the blame falls clearly on the Republicans. Independent voters should take note.

UK: IMF demands US leaders act responsibly

PJ: President Bush inherited a healthy economy after Clinton left the country with a historic budget surplus. After eight years, with Congressional support, Bush had given tax cuts the the wealthiest Americans and started two unfunded wars which left the country with an enormous deficit as well as an economy on the brink of collapse. During those eight years the debt ceiling was raised, without argument from the GOP, multiple times.

Let us also not forget that during President Reagan's presidency the debt ceiling was raised some eighteen times. Reagan also raised taxes eleven times. This is significant when you consider that today's republican party heralds Reagan as the greatest president in modern times.

Now, under President Obama, that same GOP is somehow fiscally responsible? Or could it be that they will do anything to disable this president? Will they risk throwing the country, and in fact the world, into the worst imaginable financial crisis so that they can attempt to pin the blame on the president and reclaim the White House?

The Independent

IMF demands end to partisan bickering over debt ceiling as America's deadline day looms

Government urged to come up with 'comprehensive solution' to prevent $14.3 trillion limit being breached

By Guy Adams

Tick tock. With a week to go until Uncle Sam runs out of cash, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that enough was enough yesterday, calling on politicians to stop bickering and act urgently to stave off global financial meltdown by raising their country's debt ceiling.

How America maxed out its credit card: Click here to download full graphic (150Kb)

The government of the United States will move more than $14.3 trillion (£8.7trn) into the red next Tuesday, surpassing an upper limit on the national debt and therefore preventing the Treasury from being able to pay its bills. That would leave the US unable to service its debt, leading to economic chaos.
Related articles

Obama urges compromise to avoid 'deep economic crisis'
Stephen Foley: Raising the debt ceiling may not be enough to prevent financial disaster
The US Debt Ceiling: Is America in danger of default?
Search the news archive for more stories

For weeks, leaders of both major parties have been meeting with Barack Obama to negotiate an extension to the debt ceiling. But talks have so far produced nothing but hot air, and markets are growing increasingly uneasy as the deadline for action approaches.

The IMF published a harshly worded review of the US economy yesterday, calling for an immediate increase in borrowing limits followed by a "comprehensive solution" which will allow the US to reduce its public borrowing in the medium term by cutting spending and increasing the government's revenues.

But first, they must avoid what would be an unnecessary default. "Directors [of the IMF] highlighted the urgency of raising the federal debt ceiling and agreeing on the specifics of a comprehensive medium-term consolidation programme," said the review.

The US Congress has voted to raise the debt limit more than 60 times since the Second World War, without any serious debate. But with an election approaching and the political landscape more fractured than ever, both sides are attempting to use the growing crisis to their own ends. Republicans are opposed to any new taxes, insisting the country's books must only be balanced by slashing spending. Democrats argue that federal taxes are currently at their lowest, as a proportion of GDP, in history, and would like any cuts to be accompanied by revenue increases.

The Obama White House is willing to agree to $2.7trn in public spending cuts, without any tax increases, provided the debt ceiling is increased by the same amount. That would provide them with cashflow until after next November's election. But Republicans want to allow a mere $1trn increase to the ceiling. Neither side's ideas will pass muster with ratings agencies, who would like to see $4trn in spending cuts or tax increases in the near future, if the US is to hold onto its triple-A creditworthiness.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Norway: It's time to fight back against right-wing extremism. Update

PJ: The author focused on Europe but needed to expand to the rest of the world as well. Since the gunman was a fan of some US bloggers and politicians who inspired his views, Americans need to come to terms with those in their midst who cherish dangerous rhetoric whether they are on the internet, the radio waves, Fox News or used by political figures who want to promote political discourse.

Update: Please take the time to read this piece posted on Slate Magazine's website:

The Guardian

Norway attacks: Norway's tragedy must shake Europe into acting on extremism

I share the fear and pain of my country – but in Norway this kind of insane act has always had its origins in the far right
By Aslak Sira Myhre

Like every other citizen of Oslo, I have walked in the streets and buildings that have been blown away. I have even spent time on the island where young political activists were massacred. I share the fear and pain of my country. But the question is always why, and this violence was not blind.

The terror of Norway has not come from Islamic extremists. Nor has it come from the far left, even though both these groups have been accused time after time of being the inner threat to our "way of living". Up to and including the terrifying hours in the afternoon of 22 July, the little terror my country has experienced has come from the far right.

For decades, political violence in this country has been almost the sole preserve of neo-Nazis and other racist groups. During the 1970s they bombed leftwing bookstores and a May Day demonstration. In the 80s two neo-Nazis were executed because they were suspected of betraying the group. In the past two decades, two non-white Norwegian boys have been died as a result of racist attacks. No foreign group has killed or hurt people on Norwegian territory since the second world war, except for the Israeli security force Mossad, which targeted and killed an innocent man by mistake on Lillehammer in 1973.

But even with this history, when this devastating terror hit us, we instantly suspected the Islamic world. It was the jihadis. It had to be.

It was immediately denounced as an attack on Norway, on our way of life. In the streets of Oslo, young women wearing hijabs and Arab-looking men were harassed as soon as the news broke.

Small wonder. For at least 10 years we have been told that terror comes from the east. That an Arab is suspicious, that all Muslims are tainted. We regularly see people of colour being examined in private rooms in airport security; we have endless debates on the limits of "our" tolerance. As the Islamic world has become the Other, we have begun to think of that what differentiates "us" from "them" is the ability to slaughter civilians in cold blood.

There is, of course, another reason why everybody looked for al-Qaida. Norway has been part of the war in Afghanistan for 10 years, we took part in the Iraq war for some time, and we are eager bombers of Tripoli. There is a limit to how long you can partake in war before war reaches you.

But although we all knew it, the war was rarely mentioned when the terrorist hit us. Our first response was rooted in irrationality: it had to be "them". I felt it myself. I feared that the war we took abroad had come to Norway. And what then? What would happen to our society? To tolerance, public debate, and most of all, to our settled immigrants and their Norwegian-born children?

It was not thus. Once again, the heart of darkness lies buried deep within ourselves. The terrorist was a white Nordic male; not a Muslim, but a Muslim hater.

As soon as this was established, the slaughter was discussed as the deed of a mad man; it was no longer seen as primarily an attack on our society. The rhetoric changed, the headlines of the newspapers shifted their focus. Nobody talks about war anymore. When "terrorist" is used, it is most certainly singular, not plural – a particular individual rather than an undefined group which is easily generalised to include sympathisers and anyone else you fancy. The terrible act is now officially a national tragedy. The question is, would it have been thus if the killer was a mad man with an Islamic background?

I also believe that the killer was mad. To hunt down and execute teenagers on an island for an hour, you surely must have taken leave of your senses. But just as 9/11 or the bombing of the subway in London, this is madness with both a clinical and a political cause.

Anyone who has glanced at the web pages of racist groups or followed the online debates of Norwegian newspapers will have seen the rage with which Islamophobia is being spread; the poisonous hatred with which anonymous writers sting anti-racist liberals and the left is only too visible. The 22 July terrorist has participated in many such debates. He has been an active member of one of the biggest Norwegian political parties, the populist right party until 2006. He left them and sought his ideology instead among the community of anti-Islamist groups on the internet.

When the world believed this to be an act of international Islamist terrorism, state leaders, from Obama to Cameron, all stated that they would stand by Norway in our struggle. Which struggle will that be now? All western leaders have the same problem within their own borders. Will they now wage war on homegrown rightwing extremism? On Islamophobia and racism?

Some hours after the bomb blast, the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said that our answer to the attack should be more democracy and more openness. Compared to Bush's response to the attacks of 9/11 there is good reason to be proud of this. But in the aftermath of the most dreadful experience in Norway since the second world war I would like to go further. We need to use this incident to strike a blow to the intolerance, racism and hatred that is growing, not just in Norway, nor even only in Scandinavia, but throughout Europe.

UK: Congressional stubborness threatens global markets

PJ: The world's economies held hostage by the Tea Party.

The Guardian

US debt crisis threatens global markets as Congress is locked in blame game

Congressional talks fail to make progress after Obama's fall-out with House leader John Boehner

By Ewen MacAskill

Democrats and Republicans are locked into a dangerous game of seeing who will crack first over the national debt crisis, with the White House warning that the next few days could be stressful for world markets and Americans.

With time running out, congressional leaders from both sides met on Saturday after the dramatic collapse of negotiations between Barack Obama and the house Republican leader, John Boehner, on Friday. But the congressional talks broke up late on Saturday night after failing to make progress.

The White House chief of staff, Bill Daley, interviewed on Sunday on CBS, predicted that the next few days will be tense. "In the end, we may have a few stressful days coming up – stressful for the markets of the world and the American people."

In an effort to reassure markets reopening after the weekend, he claimed he was confident a deal would be reached before the 2 August deadline. The White House refused to discuss what contingency planning is taking place in the event no compromise.

Obama met the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, at the White House on Sunday to discuss possible compromises with the Republicans but a White House staffer said afterwards no deal had been reached yet.

Obama is no longer directly involved in the negotiations following the sudden deterioration in his relationship with Boehner, who, in a breach of Washington etiquette, refused to return the president's phone callson Friday. But Obama will remain engaged behind the scenes, and has left his diary for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday virtually clear. The Republicans and Democrats have been trying to ensure the other will be blamed by voters if it all goes wrong. The Republicans accused Obama, when a deal was close on Thursday night, of adding extra bits, in particular tax rises.

Democrats blame a hard core of Republicans in the house elected last year with Tea Party support. The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, labelled the Republicans as intransigent.

"Their unwillingness to compromise is pushing us to the brink of a default on the full faith and credit of the United States," he said.

The business secretary, Vince Cable, broke the unwritten rule of non-intervention in other countries' domestic disputes on Sunday by describing diehard Republicans as "nutters".

Cable, appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, said: "The irony of the situation at the moment, with markets opening tomorrow morning, is that the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few rightwing nutters in the American Congress rather than the eurozone."

Until now, market traders had appeared confident that agreement would eventually be reached but US legislators fear that, following the collapse of talks on Friday, there could be the first signs of panic when Wall Street opens on Monday as well as other markets round the world.

According to the US treasury, America has to raise its $14.3tn (£8.77tn) debt ceiling by 2 August or risk defaulting for the first time. Economists warn a default will have a catastrophic impact worldwide.

The treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, attempted to calm the markets by insisting the debt ceiling will be raised, telling ABC News that it was unthinkable that there would be a time when the US could not pay its bills. Geithner said that congressional leaders were working on a compromise package on Sunday to try to forestall any panic. But Boehner, in a Fox News interview, did not indicate that a compromise was near and instead blamed Obama. "I know the president's worried about his next election. But my God, shouldn't we be worried about the country?"

He said he planned to announce details of legislation on Sunday based on a Republican plan that would provide a short-term solution. Democrats are unlikely to support it. The White House countered that it was not interested in a short-term solution but wanted a "grand bargain", a 10-year plan for reducing the country's burgeoning debt by cutting spending and raising taxes. Daley said that a short-term fix would fail to reassure the markets because the business world is looking for evidence that America is going to take long-term measures to reduce its debt.

Obama and Boehner were close to a deal on Thursday night that would have cut spending by $3tn, mainly through spending cuts but also through $800bn in tax rises.

Boehner claims that Obama, in an act of bad faith, tried at the last minute to add $400bn in tax rises and so he walked away. The Democrats claim Boehner walked away because he could not sell the package to Tea Party Republicans opposed to any tax rises.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

UK: Norwegian gunman linked to far-right wing groups

The Daily Mail

Norway gunman had links to UK far-Right groups: Killer claimed to have discussions with English Defence League

British Mosques to increase security, say Muslim leaders
Anti-extremist group calls for EDL to be 'formally classified as far-right organisation'
His father only learnt of attacks when browsing online news sites
Surgeon says he used Dum-Dum bullets that 'explode inside body'


The man who allegedly killed 93 people in a massacre in Norway has been linked to the English Defence League (EDL).

Anders Behring Breivik, 32, wrote in one online post: 'I have on some occasions discussed with... EDL and recommended them to use conscious strategies.

'The tactics of the EDL is to ''entice'' an overreaction from jihad youth/extreme Marxists, something they have succeeded [in] several times already.


He also called for a 'cultural Euro-Tea Party' referring to the grass-roots, right-wing organisation in the U.S. supported by Sarah Palin.

for the entire article and pictures:

UK: Norwegian gunman admired US Tea Party and Pamela Geller

PJ: Didn't Americans learn that inflammatory speech could incite violent acts by madmen? After the Tucson shootings many tried to calm their language. But it was short lived. Sarah Palin recently brought back her 'it's time to reload' call to action and Pamela Geller never stopped using the hate-filled rhetoric that could inspire heinous acts by unhinged individuals. With power comes's time that public figures learn to accept that responsibility.

Craig Murray Blog
for images and videos referenced, please go to the link provided at the bottom of this post.

Norwegian Killer Linked to Tea Party and EDL

by craig on July 23, 2011 1:09 pm in Uncategorized

Anders Behring Breivik posted links to the Atlas Shrugs website of the Tea Party’s Pamela Geller. Here you can see him under the name of Anders Behring (his middle name) posting links to Geller’s “Atlas Shrugs” site. That cache page is bing translated from Norwegian.

Here is a video of Pamela Geller addressing the Tennessee Tea Party convention. This is a list of links I just copied off her Atlas shrugs website to a stream of virulent anti Norwegian-Muslim articles Geller has been publishing:

January 2009: NORWAY: Jewish children are not allowed to play outdoors –

April 2011: Norway: Muslim Taxidrivers Refuse to Drive Jews to Synagogue

May 2009: More Jewish Graves Desecrated in Norway


2011: Norway: ALL Rapes In Past 5 Years Committed By Muslims

2008: Jewish Genocide watch: Jew Hatred in Norway Part II

2009: JIHAD ON THE JEWS: Something rotten in the state of Norway

2008: ISLAM ATTACKS – Death for Writer! Norway Hides

2007: Massive Islamic Terror Plots: Germany, Norway, Denmark

2007: Email from Norway

2006: Norway calls for Israel Boycott

The links themselves appear to have been disabled. You could still see the links on Atlas Shrugs here as I type this. Someone more technically proficient than me might want to grab a screenshot before the list vanishes.

Geller has been actively promoting links between the Tea Party and the English Defence League. Geller states on her website that she had been in Oslo to attend a pro-Israel rally. It would be interesting to know whether Anders Behring-Breivik was also on that rally.

We are told that Behring Breivik acted alone. In truth he had ideological and communication links with organised far right networks every bit as solid as the comparable connections of Islamic terrorists.

Middle East: In the wake of the Norwegian right-wing terrorist attack and how the US media initially blames Islamic extremists

Al Jazeera

PJ: Surprisingly the New York Times was caught out in spreading the false accusation that Islamic extremists were responsible for the heinous crimes in Norway. They have since corrected their story. Not surprisingly, Fox News' Laura Ingraham claimed the same, and you can watch her video here: At the time of this writing, Ms. Ingraham has yet to correct her version.

Norway's attacks reveal world of hatred
Initial reactions to the attacks in Norway showed a "clash of civilisations" exists, but not in the way many understood.
By Ahmed Moor

The Norwegian terrorist who murdered more than ninety innocent civilians - many of whom were teenagers - did not act alone. Or rather, he acted within a cultural and political context that legitimises his fearful and hate-infested worldview. It is now clear that Anders Behring Breivik was exposed to large amounts of right-wing propaganda. This tragedy underlines the urgency with which normal people around the world must combat fundamentalist nationalists and chauvinists wherever they may be. But it also demonstrates the extent to which reactionary bigotry has infected mainstream thought.

Many reacted to the news from Oslo with wide eyes and a pointed finger. The most animated reactionaries took to the pages of the New York Times comment section to issue sweeping proclamations about the Clash of Civilisations and something called "the cult of death". In many ways, readers were merely reinforcing the paper's woefully editorialised reportage. As Glenn Greenwald helpfully pointed out, the editors of the NYT - America's allegedly liberal newspaper - reserve the word "terrorist" solely for use in conjunction with the word "Muslim".

When news emerged that the perpetrator of the murders - the terrorist - was a man whose religion and skin pigmentation closely resembled those of the editors of the NYT, the story changed. The terrorist became a deranged "Christian extremist" whose tactics clearly mirrored "Al Qaeda's brutality and multiple attacks". In that way, the paper linked the terrorist with Muslims, despite his strong antipathy for them.

Blame for the Western media's panting pursuit of a non-existent Muslim triggerman quickly focused on the feckless, credulous, overeager and inept source of the NYT's journalistic failure. Will McCants - proclaimed by one of his acolytes to be at the top of a "list of five terrorism experts you can trust" - was quickly discredited. In his defence, he only sought to affirm the confirmation bias that he and the editors of the NYT suffer from. The meme that underpins their worldview goes something like this: "Muslims are bad. When bad things happen, Muslims are responsible." This is a mainstream view in the US today; it cuts across party lines.

Shaping both sides of the narrative

That the purported American left maintains this bigoted outlook is an indication of how successful the right has been at constructing the stage upon which public debate is conducted. Two main anti-Muslim talking points are now taken for granted in this country: First, all terrorists in the West are Muslims; second, we are in the midst of a global civilisational war. These are the dual planks upon which Uncle Sam squats in his Afghani outhouse.

Objective sources have done an excellent job of discrediting the first of the two claims that inform the 21st century American experience. The second point however - that we are engaged in a war of civilisations - is one that I agree with. But the combatants are not Islam and the West. Instead, the war is between the normal, sane people of the world and the right-wing zealots who see doom, destruction, hellfire and God's Will at every turn.

Anders Behring Breivik, Mohammed Atta and Baruch Goldstein are all cut from the same rotten cloth. Anwar Al-Awlaki and Glenn Beck - the peddlers of the faith - all share the same core afflictions.

These men are insecure, violently inclined, and illiberal. The outside world scares them. They hate homosexuals and strong women. For them, difference is a source of insecurity. Their values are militarism, conformism, chauvinism and jingoism. Worst of all they seek to pressure us into compliance while they work frantically to destroy themselves - and the rest of us with them.

The war continues

All indications are that the hate-mongers - who are on the same side of this war, irrespective of religion - are winning in America. The unreflective, superficial, wan editors of the NYT are an indication of just how successful the right wing has been at eviscerating the left.

But not all liberals are created equal.

It is a credit to the Norwegian people that their prime minister did not respond to the terror attack with scorched-earth rhetoric or a carpet-bombing campaign. A real liberal with strong principles, he did not succumb to fear or vicious speculation.

Instead, he pledged to strengthen Norwegian democracy. This is what he said shortly after the terrorist attacks: "Our answer is more democracy, more openness to show that we will not be stopped by this kind of violence." His words illustrate the difference between a society that takes liberal principles as a foundation and one that treats them as an inconvenient luxury.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's words make it clear where Norway stands on the global war on right-wing extremism. Where does the US stand?

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American freelance journalist based in Cairo. He was born in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

UK: "Right wing nutters" who endanger the world economy

The Guardian

Vince Cable attacks 'rightwing nutters' over US debt ceiling talks

Business secretary says those trying to derail efforts to raise ceiling are bigger threat to world economy than eurozone crisis

Vince Cable also told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that the Bank of England may have to engage in more quantitative easing if UK economic growth stalls. Photograph: Reuters

Vince Cable has launched an extraordinary attack on "rightwing nutters" in America who are trying to block the raising of the US government's debt ceiling and who are, he said, a bigger threat to the world economy than problems in the eurozone.

Speaking on the BBC1's Andrew Marr show, the business secretary also suggested the Bank of England may have to engage in more quantitative easing – effectively printing money – as growth stalls. Cable said the deal struck in Europe last week to bail out countries such as Greece and Ireland had been a "significant step forward", but failed to the fundamental issues.

He said: "The irony of the situation at the moment, with markets opening tomorrow morning, is that the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few rightwing nutters in the American Congress rather than the eurozone."

Negotiations on raising the US government's debt limit above its current level of $14.3tn (£8.7tn) collapsed in acrimony late on Friday over details of a package of spending cuts and tax rises that would help to pay for such a move.

A visibly angry Barack Obama attacked the Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner, for refusing to return his phone calls and said he had been "left at the altar" in trying to reach an agreement. Most experts agree that if the US were to default on its debt payments, stock and bond markets worldwide would plunge, threatening a new great recession. The deadline for agreement is just over a week away, on 2 August.

On the crisis in the eurozone, Cable said the coalition government wanted to see the euro succeed, even though Britain was not a part of it.

With GDP figures this week expected to suggest that growth has stalled, the senior Liberal Democrat conceded that the state of the economy was "not great".

"It is not surprising that it isn't great because of the problems we inherited," he said, while dismissing the idea of easing the coalition's austerity measures. The UK was in a "German rather than Greek" position because there was confidence in the country's finances, he said.

There was also evidence of "rebalancing" in the economy, and the "beginning of the rebirth of manufacturing and exports".

"There is a genuine problem with demand, consumer demand. Again, it is not surprising there have been big shocks, world commodity prices going up has had a big effect on confidence here," he said, adding that quantitative easing (QE) would be the right approach if demand remained suppressed.

"The Bank of England is an independent body, we need to stress that, they need to make their own judgments ... but if there is a sustained period of weakness of demand, the right approach to that is not for the government to relax its fiscal discipline. We have to keep that going.

"But it is about the Bank of England pursuing policies of low interest rates that also helps keep our exchange rate down and helps exports.

"But also using the expansion of QE perhaps in more imaginative ways, not just acquiring government securities ... If we have a continuing problem of weak demand that is the way to deal with it."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pakistan: Pakistan stresses need for strong relationship with US

The Associated Press of Pakistan

Gilani asks US not to ignore Pakistan in crediting victories

LONDON, July 21 (APP): Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday said Pakistan considered its relations with the United States as ‘extremely important’ and stressed that victories in fight against terrorism must be credited to Pakistan. “As we [Pakistan and US] are working together in fighting militancy, victories should be shared along with losses,” Gilani said at a press conference here at the conclusion of his four-day visit.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that Pakistan and the United States were undergoing a strained period after the unilateral action by the US in Abbottabad against al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

He said the incident resulted in misunderstanding between the two countries after Pakistan voiced its reservations for not being taken into confidence for violating its sovereignty.

Gilani said Pakistan would not allow any restrictions forced on it from outside and added that the country’s sovereign parliament had already adopted a resolution opposing such step.

When asked about the need for a more independent foreign policy, he said the Parliament had all the rights to review national strategies and invited the members to work on it, if required.

On relations with India, the Prime Minister said the two countries had come on the table to discuss all the issues, including the Kashmir dispute.
He said Pakistan and India had realized that their relations should not become hostage to the Mumbai incident and added that the foreign ministers would be meeting on July 27 to discuss a range of issues.

“If the two countries do not talk, the beneficiaries will be the militants,” he said.

When asked to comment on the arrest of Kashmiri leader Ghulam Nabi Fai in the United States, Gilani clarified that he [Fai] belonged to the Occupied Kashmir and his detention had nothing to do with Pakistan’s clear-cut policy on Kashmir.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the current political situation in Pakistan and said that political leaders in the country had always been a soft target to be accused of corruption in an attempt to derail the democracy.

He regretted that contrary to this, military dictators had never been charged with corruption despite their policies that led to this menace.

Gilani said political leaders had paid a huge price for democracy, however, come what may, he would keep on defending democracy.

When asked how long would be the patch-up between the government and the MQM, Gilani said he hoped for the better as both were allies for the last three years and all amendments in the Constitution had been backed by MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement).

He welcomed the review of decision by MQM chief Altaf Hussain and said it was necessary for the country’s stability and future.

On Seraiki province, the Prime Minister said it was a long-standing demand of the people of area for their rights and he had full respect for the public opinion.

He said the government was striving to meet the demands of energy crisis and mentioned workable project of 1100 Mega Watts of electricity with Iran, wind mills project with China and the recent agreement by National Command Authority on the expansion of nuclear power plants.

As regards the new prime minister in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, he said it would be decided in view of the party majority after holding of election on reserved seats.
On elevation of Hina Rabbani Khar as Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister said she had the capability of handling the important assignments. As today’s foreign policy was also based on economic issues, the decision of her appointment was made in view of her performance in the last five and a half years as the economic affairs minister, he added.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Middle East:: US, Libya meeting

Al Jazeera

US sends 'time to go' message to Gaddafi
US official says weekend meeting with envoys from Tripoli was to reaffirm Washington's call for Libyan leader to quit.

US officials have met with representatives of Muammar Gaddafi to deliver a message that the embattled Libyan leader must go, a state department spokesperson said.

The rare meeting between US diplomats and Gaddafi envoys on Saturday was held "to deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Gaddafi to step down," the official said on Tuesday.
"This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message," the official said in a statement issued in New Delhi, where Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is on an official visit.

The meeting involved assistant secretary of state Jeff Feltman and two other American officials, said a senior US official, who declined to say who represented the Gaddafi government or where the meeting occurred, although he said it was not in Libya.

A State Department official told CNN that the meeting had taken place in Tunis, the Tunisian capital, and had lasted three hours.

The official said the meeting had been initiated by the US following contact by senior Libyan officials which had indicated Tripoli believed Washington's commitment to Gaddafi's departure from power was less firm than its international allies.

"Senior officials in the Gaddafi regime had over a period of weeks made repeated calls to senior officials in the U.S. and in those conversations they evinced an incorrect sense that somehow the United States was in a different place from other members of the international community and that the U.S. could see a future for Gaddafi in Libya," said the official.

The meeting followed Washington's decision on Friday to formally recognise the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council as the legitimate interim government of Libya at a Contact Group meeting in Turkey.

Libya's government confirmed on Monday it had held talks with US officials and welcomed discussions but only without preconditions.

"We support any dialogue, any peace initiative as long as they don't decide Libya's future from without, they decide it from within," Libyan government spokesman Ibrahim Moussa told journalist in Tripoli.

"If any country involved in this aggression against us wants to revise its position and genuinely wants peace and democracy in Libya, come to us and we will discuss everything, but do not condition your peace talks. Let Libyans decide their future."

The US is among countries contributing to a NATO-led bombing campaign sanctioned by the United Nations to prevent civilians from attack by Gaddafi forces.

The operation has also allowed rebels to make advances in their campaign to overthrow Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya since 1969.

On Monday rebels claimed they had regained control of the key oil town of Brega, 750km east of Tripoli, which has changed hands several times since fighting began in February.

South of Tripoli, rebels also control the village of Qwalish, just 100km south of Tripoli, which allows opposition fighters access to the highway running north to the capital.

Recognition of the NTC as Libya's legitimate government has been condemned by Russia which criticises the US and other countries for taking sides in a civil war.

For video:

Monday, July 18, 2011

UK: A view of the debt ceiling debacle from Europe

The Daily Beast
Andrew Sullivan's The Dish

If America Defaults, Who Gets The Blame?

From this side of the Atlantic, the great game of chicken now being played by the American political class with the debt ceiling is regarded as a sign that America - or rather, America's Republicans - has gone completely insane. Everyone in Europe is desperately trying to stave off default - and here is the most powerful economy on earth actually hoping for it! When I explain the details of Obama's last Grand Bargain - a debt reduction built on a ration of 3:1 spending cuts and tax increases - most Brits see it as a Cameron-conservative-style austerity measure, They simply cannot understand why the GOP doesn't take what would for any sane conservative in any civilized country be a no-brainer. I'm reduced to trying to explain what passes for "conservatism" in America is nothing of the kind - just know-nothing, fundamentalist, Manichean pseudo-conservatism. From this distance, the GOP seems even loonier, crazier and more reckless than they do stateside.

My own view, however, is that Obama badly bungled this by not embracing his current position in the State of the Union and pummeling the GOP with it for months. Bowles Simpson was his commission after all, and yet he dropped it like a stone and pandered to his left when he had a perfect moment to pivot to the debt question. Giving the GOP any credibility on debt by offering nothing of real $4 trillion substance until last week may well be seen as Obama's greatest mistake in his first term. Now that he has finally offered it, his ability to maintain the high ground on a fair measure to tackle the deficit is much reduced from his January possibility. This is not a meep-meep moment. And it could easily have been, if Obama had shown, yes, courage sooner.

Nate Silver thinks both parties would take a hit if default occurs - something that Obama's dilatory cowardice made possible. Brendan Nyhan counters:

Both sides would no doubt blame each other for the outcome and create elaborate stories about why the other side is to blame, which would then be reinforced and amplified in the press. Then more than a year would elapse before November 2012, and both sides would continue to blame each other for failing to adequately address the consequences of the default. In the meantime, many people will forget the details of what happened, but will know that Obama is the president and the economy is in bad shape. Under those conditions, how likely is it that people who would normally blame Obama for the poor economy will instead blame the GOP when they show up at the polls?

Agreed. On this score, leading from behind has been pretty much a disaster. And there is no longer much time to lead from the front.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

UK: Republicans cautious in their Murdoch defense

PJ: It is not surprising that conservatives in the US would be prone to jump to News Corp.'s defense since Fox News, their media voice, will come under fire. Also not surprising is how democrats are prone to attack the media mogul who has made their lives difficult. Interesting times ahead....

The Guardian

News Corp scandal divides US along party lines

Claims of illegal attempt to gain 9/11 victims' numbers bring outrage from Democrats and caution from Republicans
By Paul Harris

The battle over Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is splitting American politics along party lines, with senior Democrats calling for investigations into the company while some senior Republicans play down the crisis.

Allegations that News International reporters may illegally have attempted to obtain the phone numbers of 9/11 victims have prompted an FBI probe into the company, which this week launched a preliminary investigation into the allegations. But a backlash has begun, focusing on the source of the claim: a single story in the Daily Mirror.

The former Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain has criticised the decision to investigate, saying there is little evidence so far that the problem of phone hacking had spread to the US and the probe was unjustified. "It seems to me that this is a British issue that needs to be resolved first," he told Sky News. "I've heard of no evidence or allegation yet of anything being done in the United States of America."

His defence is significant not only because he is a senior Republican but also because he has criticised News Corp in the past. In 2001, he publicly questioned its plans to take over the satellite television service DirecTV, citing concerns over media consolidation.

On Saturday, the Washington Post criticised the Mirror report, saying it "appears to be based on a shaky foundation. The Mirror names no specific sources in its reporting, and it relies on a single anonymous second-hand source for its account."

More predictably, support has also come from News Corp's right-leaning cable channel Fox News, where there has been a reluctance to devote as much time to the story as other outlets, especially the left-leaning MSNBC network. A recent episode of the show Fox and Friends featured a media consultant, Robert Dilenschneider, who said that the scandal was being overplayed and Murdoch had "done all the right things".

Though one Republican congressman, Peter King, has been influential in calling for probes into News Corp, the bulk of the anger has come from Democrats. Four Democratic senators have written letters to the department of justice and the securities and exchange commission asking for investigations. They include powerful figures such as California senator Barbara Boxer and West Virginia senator Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the influential senate commerce committee.

At the same time John Podesta, a former Clinton chief of staff who is close to Obama, has come out swinging against News Corp. In an interview in Canada this week, he attacked Fox News and declared that the company might have broken US laws if it paid bribes to police in Britain. "This is not one rogue editor. This is an empire that was built on a set of journalistic ethics that's beginning to explode and unravel," he said.

Liberal campaigning groups have mobilised against News Corp: a protest was organised this week outside Rupert Murdoch's New York apartment, and there is a petition drive calling for an official investigation into the company. There has also been a focus on the company's political contributions, notably to the Republican Governors Association and the US Chamber of Commerce. That issue may prove less suitable for clear-cut campaigning, however, because News Corp has given money to politicians from both parties in the past.

Friday, July 15, 2011

UK: News of the World's problems could endanger News Corp.

The Guardian

If News Corp hacked the phones of 9/11 families, Fox News is finished

The FBI investigation into the News Corp 9/11 hacking allegations could endanger the company's broadcast licences in the US
By Megan Carpentier

There are few universally sacred cows in American politics these days, but the families of the victims of 9/11 are among them – conservative pundits Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck notwithstanding.

So with the bombshell that News of the World reporters may have sought not only to hack into their cell phone records and voice mails but to bribe a former NYPD officer to help, the US government finally got engaged in doing more than posturing.

Of course, a fair bit of posturing – some of it deserved – was clearly going to be the end result of the News Corp scandal here, even if the scandal itself remained confined to British soil. After all, News Corp is the parent company of the politically-divisive Fox News, and any whiff of scandal was going to be red meat for an exhausted and increasingly demoralised Democratic base in need of something else to think about.

And from early adopters Senator Jay Rockefeller (Democrat, West Virginia) to Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat, New Jersey) to the plethora of House Democrats who joined in the chorus to investigate News Corp for hacking Americans, violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (which prohibits the payment of bribes abroad by any company with any American operations) and for possiblly violating the accounting rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission (by paying bribes abroad and covering them up), it was clear that the interest had far more to do with News Corp. (and its subsidiary Fox News) than any real interest in the virtually unknown-to-Americans News of the World.

There it might have stayed, what with some Republican Congress members like Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (Republican, Florida) initially satisfied with NewsCorps assurances that the problems were confined abroad. That is until the 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters & World Trade Center Victims came out in favor of an investigation into whether they were hacked. With that, House homeland security chairman Peter King (Republican, New York) proved himself far less likely to rely on News Corp's statements alone and called for an investigation, given his constituents' close connections to 9/11 and his own reputation as their biggest defender in Congress.

King, a frequent guest on Fox News programs whose hearings on Muslim radicalisation earlier this year garnered him more than a fair share of criticism on every other network, was apparently the last crack in the proverbial dam at the Department of Justice, which announced only a day later that they were beginning a probe into whether News Corp. employees attempted to hack 9/11 victims' phones or records.

The investigation, of course, will be just more ammunition for those who hardly need an excuse to bash Fox News, especially after some of its talent made their names questioning the patriotism of various liberal political figures (including President Obama).

Any proof that News Corp did try out its phone hacking here could jeopardise more than an as-yet incomplete acquisition or one newspaper. As the LA Times noted, convictions among News Corp employees could potentially endanger the company's broadcast licences in the US and, as King's call for an FBI showed, endanger the company's reputation among once-loyal conservatives. That would likely be a bigger loss to the company than even News of the World, given Fox News' near-monopoly on conservative viewers these days.

Russia: US and Europe's debt debates


Europe and USA in battle of debts

President Obama is threatening with non-payment of pensions if the government fails to increase the national debt ceiling. The most powerful populist arguments are being used, but Obama has yet to succeed in breaking the resistance of the Republicans in Congress. Experts are speculating: the country is actually threatened by a default, but the U.S. is an unusual economy.

Obama said that he "cannot guarantee" the payment of retirement benefits in August to 27 million people. According to Obama, it all boils down to the legal size limit of public debt that currently is at $14.3 trillion. White House proposes to increase the upper limit by $2.4 trillion. There is a joke in the United States that Obama asked his finance minister: "What number comes after trillion?"

Over the past two years the U.S. budget deficit rose to $2.8 trillion. It is more than it was in the previous 10 years. In February of this year, Obama introduced to Congress a draft budget for 2012 fiscal year with a plan to reduce public spending by 1.1 trillion over ten years.

At the same time, both Democrats and Republicans are ready to make a decision to increase the national debt ceiling under certain conditions. Democrats insist on raising taxes, while Republicans want to reduce the social spending.

Termination of social programs protected by Obama will knock the chair from under the first black U.S. president. Analysts believe that his electorate is consumers of the state-assisted programs.

At the same time in 2013 tax raises will be implemented that will affect not only the rich but the middle class as well. However, Republicans and Democrats agree with regard to the elimination of existing tax breaks for the rich and middle class.

As for the statements about the end of the financial world on August 2 of this year in case of the Congress' inability to make a decision to raise the debt ceiling, it is rather an artificially created panic.

Also read: US debt may reach quadrillion dollars

Repayment of UST for $30 billion is planned for the beginning of August. In addition, there was an official announcement of the completion of the repurchase program of bonds from the U.S. Federal Reserve at the amount of $600 billion (QE2). This program was created by the Federal Reserve to shape an artificial demand for its own debt instruments. The current political panic attacks, at a closer look at the principles of speculative arithmetic in the debt market, allow the Federal Reserve to maintain a rather comfortable situation in terms of the bonds.

The price of bonds and bonds yields have opposite directions - with an increase of the bond price its yield falls and vice versa. The inability to issue bonds because of the opposition of Democrats and Republicans and the demand for UST leads to a reduction in their profitability and increase of prices for these securities. That is, it makes borrowing cheaper.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is joined by the new head of the pro-American IMF Christine Lagarde, whose refusal to give credit to Greece once again stirred questions about the Euro and the ability of European countries to service their debts. This means that investors can once again run to the U.S. treasuries which fund the U.S. national debt.

Vitaly Salnik