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How I woke up to the untruths of Barack Obama

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address
© Associated Press
President Obama delivers his State of the Union address
The President's State of the Union address was as weaselly as any politician's could be.

When I happened to wake up in the middle of the night last Wednesday and caught the BBC World Service's live relay of President Obama's State of the Union address to Congress, two passages had me rubbing my eyes in disbelief.

The first came when, to applause, the President spoke about the banking crash which coincided with his barnstorming 2008 election campaign. "The house of cards collapsed," he recalled. "We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn't afford or understand them." He excoriated the banks which had "made huge bets and bonuses with other people's money", while "regulators looked the other way and didn't have the authority to stop the bad behaviour". This, said Obama, "was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work."

I recalled a piece I wrote in this column on January 29, 2009, just after Obama took office. It was headlined: "This is the sub-prime house that Barack Obama built". As a rising young Chicago politician in 1995, no one campaigned more actively than Mr Obama for an amendment to the US Community Reinvestment Act, legally requiring banks to lend huge sums to millions of poor, mainly black Americans, guaranteed by the two giant mortgage associations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Chess

The Conundrum of Iran

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© lonelyplanet.com
The EU oil embargo recently slapped on Iran and the threats voiced by the US and other Western countries to come up with further sanctions against the country led watchers to conclude that an armed conflict between Iran and the West finally became imminent.

The first potential scenario in the context is that the current standoff would eventually escalate into a war. The US forces in the Gulf area currently number 40,000, plus 90,000 are deployed in Afghanistan, just east of Iran, and several thousands of support troops are deployed in various Asian countries. That adds up to a considerable military potential which may still fall short of what it takes to keep a lid on everything if armed hostilities break out. For example, Colin H. Kahl argues in a recent paper in Foreign Affairs that, even though "there is no doubt that Washington will win in the narrow operational sense" (1), the US would have to take a vast array of pertinent problems into account.

At the moment, maintaining the status quo is not in the US interests, holds Stratfor, a US-based global intelligence agency: "If al Assad survives and if the situation in Iraq proceeds as it has been proceeding, then Iran is creating a reality that will define the region. The United States does not have a broad and effective coalition, and certainly not one that would rally in the event of war. It has only Israel ..." (2) If the conflict with Iran takes the shape of a protracted bombing campaign and comes as a prologue to the occupation of the country, the US will need to strengthen its positions in adjacent regions, meaning that Washington will be trying to draw the Caucasian republics (Georgia, Azerbaijan) and those of Central Asia into the orbit of its policy and thus tightening the "Anaconda loop" around Russia.

Handcuffs

Iran Slams US Government for Scientist Arrest

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Iranian professor Mojtaba Atarodi
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman has blasted the recent arrest of an Iranian professor in the United States for allegedly buying high-tech American lab equipment.

Ramin Mehmanparast said Sunday the US government's measures against Iranian scientists aim to hamper the country's scientific progress.

"Such measures are in line with the inhuman policy of assassinating Iranian scientists and reveal the deceptive nature of Washington's allegations against the Iranian nation," he added.

A number of Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated in the past two years as tension escalates between Tehran and Western countries over Iran's nuclear program.

In the latest instance, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, an official at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, was killed in Tehran when a bomb was stuck to his car by operatives working for Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad.

V

Thousands March in Poland Over Acta Internet Treaty

Thousands of protesters have taken to Poland's streets over the signing of an international treaty activists say amounts to internet censorship.

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© AFP
The government says protesters will have their say before the treaty is ratified in Poland
Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in Tokyo on Thursday.

The treaty, known as Acta, aims to establish international standards to enforce intellectual property rights.

But critics say it could curb freedom of expression, and government websites have been hacked in protest.

Later on Thursday, hundreds of people took to the streets of the eastern city of Lublin to express their anger over the treaty.

Several marches had taken place in cities across the nation on Wednesday, says the BBC's Adam Easton in Warsaw.

Crowds of mostly young people held banners with slogans such as "no to censorship" and "a free internet".

Health

Bin Laden Raid: Will CIA's Secret Doctor Face Treason Trial?

Shakil Afridi
© unknown
Dr. Shakil Afridi
Pakistan is re-examining the fate of the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA gather information on the hideout of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden through a fake vaccination program after a top U.S. official publicly confirmed his secret spy operation.

Officials with the commission investigating the May 2 Navy SEAL raid that took the life of America's most wanted terrorist in Abbottabad, Pakistan, told Pakistan's The News they've ordered Dr. Shakeel Afridi to face trial for treason and said he will not be turned over to the U.S. Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Gilani, also said Sunday Afridi would be tried.

Another senior Pakistani official, however, said that the commission does not give the final say on Afridi's fate and that the Pakistani government has yet to decide whether to try him.

Pakistani officials have called for a treason trial previously, but the commission's new order comes just days after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly confirmed Afridi's key role in the Bin Laden mission.

Stop

Joe Biden Advised Against the Osama Bin Laden Raid

Joe Biden
© unknown
Vice President Joe Biden confessed this weekend that he advised President Obama not to launch the mission that ultimately killed Osama bin Laden last spring.

During remarks at a Democratic congressional retreat this weekend, Biden explained that when it came time to make the final decision, he had some lingering uncertainties about whether the 9/11 mastermind was in the suspected compound in Pakistan.

When the president asked his top advisers for their final opinion on the mission, all of them were hesitant, except for the former CIA director, now Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Biden said.

"Every single person in that room hedged their bet except Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said, 49, 51," Biden said, as he offered the unsolicited details of the decision-making process.

Dollar

Audit: U.S. Defense Department can't account for billions for Iraq

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© Getty

The U.S. Defense Department cannot account for about $2 billion it was given to cover Iraq-related expenses and is not providing Iraq with a complete list of U.S.-funded reconstruction projects, according to two new government audits.

The reports come from the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

The Iraqi government in 2004 gave the Department of Defense access to about $3 billion to pay bills for certain contracts, and the department can only show what happened to about a third of that, the inspector general says in an audit published Friday.

Although the Department of Defense (DoD) had "internal processes and controls" to track payments, the "bulk of the records are missing," the report says, adding that the department is searching for them.

Other documents are missing as well, including monthly reports documenting expenses, the audit says.

"From July 2004 through December 2007, DoD should have provided 42 monthly reports. However, it can locate only the first four reports."

Airplane

Iraqi officials outraged by use of US drones: report

Iraqi officials have expressed outrage at the United States' use of a small fleet of surveillance drones to help protect the US embassy, consulates and American personnel in Iraq, The New York Times reported.
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© Unknown

The newspaper said the State Department began operating some drones in Iraq last year on a trial basis and stepped up their use after the last US troops left the country in December.

The US government plans to take bids for the management of drone operations in Iraq over the next five years, the report said.

The State Department drones carry no weapons and are meant to provide data and images of possible hazards, like public protests or roadblocks, to security forces on the ground, the paper noted. They are much smaller than armed drones.

But the US government needs formal approval from Iraq to use such aircraft there, the paper noted, citing unnamed Iraqi officials.

Such approval may be hard to get given the political tensions between the two countries, The Times said.

A senior American official said negotiations were under way to obtain authorization for the drone operations, but Ali al-Mosawi, a top adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki; Iraq's national security adviser, Falih al-Fayadh; and the acting minister of interior, Adnan al-Asadi, all said in interviews that they had not been consulted by the Americans, the report said.

"Our sky is our sky, not the USA's sky," Asadi is quoted by the paper as saying.

Dollar

Secrets of the Zionist Billionaire Backing Gingrich's Shot at the White House

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© Matt Rourke/AP
The billionaire Sheldon Adelson is backing Newt Gingrich.
Sheldon Adelson is not running for office - but his cash could swing Tuesday's Florida primary

Abraham Foxman, the amiably chatty director of the Jewish civil rights group, the Anti-Defamation League, has a story to tell about his friend, the 78-year-old multi-billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson, who is America's eighth richest man and has given millions of dollars in support of Newt Gingrich's presidential bid, was having dinner with Foxman in Las Vegas several years ago. Foxman let slip that he was having to miss an invitation to the White House from the then president, George W. Bush. Foxman explained it was impossible to get a commercial flight. Adelson replied: "If the president of the United States asks you to go, you go." Then he gave Foxman the use of his private plane.

Foxman asked Adelson if any condition was attached to the spontaneous act of generosity. "The condition is that you tell President Bush that is how you got there," said Adelson. Foxman made it in time to meet the president.

It is a classic vignette to describe the power and style of Adelson, a man who has given scores of millions of dollars to Republican and Jewish causes over the years but who only now - by backing Gingrich - is becoming known to the wider public. It shows the reach of great wealth and how it mixes with the most powerful people on earth. It also shows Adelson's willingness to use that wealth for causes and people he believes in.

Bad Guys

Americans Oppose War: But Does Government Care?


With harsh US rhetoric and tensions around Iran's nuclear program snowballing by the hour, American polls nonetheless show that most Americans think a war with Tehran would be a grave mistake. But do the leaders care?

­Despite Iran's recent consent to return to negotiations over its atomic work, the Obama administration says war with Tehran is still on the table. Even harsher statements come from some of Washington's hawks like Newt Gingrich, who spoke of breaking the Iranian regime within a year.

The calls however appear to find little support with the ordinary people. Online and telephone surveys by one of the country's online companion polls show the majority of Americans do not back the government's talk of war against Iran.

The residents of one American city went even further and took the matter to their City Council. The legislative body of Charlottesville in Virginia passed a resolution, believed to be a first in the country, opposing the launching of a war on Iran, as well as calling for an end to current ground and drone wars engaged in by the US.