Obama and the Middle East
Jonathan Marcus in BBC News
- Something has changed in Washington. This new US President, Barack Obama, is unlike any that an Israeli leader has faced before.
President Obama has backed off from his stated positions on various issues. He is not the first president to cave in to expediency. Some call it pragmatism. It would be interesting to see if he holds firm on this very thorny one.
Would the hard-liners in Israel allow Netanyahu to accept the new American policy? We can expect Israel to crank up the threat from Iran. And we must not forget about fanatics in Hamas. Would they try to sabotage the negotiations in which Mahmoud Abbas is engaged? What the new American position demonstrates is that the powerful AIPAC failed to have its way, and that is something to cheer about.
Regardless of how it plays out, Obama Administration's position has been clearly and unequivocally announced about one of the primary points of dispute -- construction of settlements in the West Bank.
The US wants a halt to settlement building. Now.
Mr Netanyahu seems to have at least half got the message.
He is trying to devise some sort of compromise whereby Israel will remove outposts seen as illegal even under Israeli law, but will continue to build in existing settlements to cope with what Israeli spokesmen call their "natural growth".
But this "natural growth" argument is not getting any traction in Washington.
The message has been repeated again and again; no settlement building - period.
Morels * Wild Flowers
25 days away from summer solstice, and sweaters still needed in the evening. Meadows in the foothills still show patches of green, and wild flowers are in bloom in many of the preserves that dot the San Francisco Bay area.
Morels are rarely found here. Foragers head for fire-ravaged areas in the Sierras where one can find a lot if the timing is right. A few weeks back a friend and I joined a group of foragers led by a man who knows all about wild mushrooms. The location where he took us was in the vicinity of South Fork of Yuba River.
Two good specimens
© Arani Sinha
Arani found one
Back at home
The morels were not in the best of condition -- many of them beginning to get dry -- and there were many other foragers trudging up and down the hills. But we didn't return empty handed.Wild Flowers, and a Bird
Redwing Blackbird, Arastradero Preserve
White Coat Mallow, Arastradero Preserve
Close up of Mariposa Lily, Sierra Azul
Crimson Columbine, Sierra Azul
Ithuriel's Spear, Sierra Azul
Fairy Lantern, Sierra Azul
Venus Thistle surrounded by droplets from mist, Purisima Creek
© Sarbajit Ghosal
California Hedge Nettle, Purisima Creek
It felt wintry when we hiked at Purisima Creek on Sunday, May 24th.
Yellow Lupine, Purisima Creek
Wild Iris, Purisima Creek
Lunch break under redwood trees, Purisima Creek
Trudging up Harkins Ridge, Purisima Creek
On Harkins Ridge Trail, Purisima Creek
© Sarbajit Ghosal*****
Brace for Reinstatement of Annual Fees * The Coburn Amendment
Faced with legislation that would severely restrict them from abusive practices, the same wonderful people who had been ripping off consumers for years with sky high interest rates, penalties and late fees, are huddling to come up with plans to make up for lost revenue.
Reports indicate that credit card users who do not carry a balance but pay off their monthly bills on time might be hit with annual fees!
Are consumers going to roll over and accept the fees? Some would. At one time such fees were common. But in today's America the climate is different. Americans are aware that one of the primary factors for the current economic crisis was lack of oversight by our government that permitted the financial industry to run amok. There is very little good feeling about the large banks that issue credit cards.
Fight back. One way -- the preferred solution -- for those who can afford it and do not carry balance on their credit cards would be to use debit cards. And look for credit cards issued by small, regional banks. Of course, when the small banks are gobbled up by large ones then you will have to start all over again. Still, don't passively accept the fees that might soon be foisted on you by the major issuers of credit cards.
Nancy Trejos in The Washington Post
- Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said the bill "will help create a more fair, transparent and simple consumer credit market."
Have Gun, Will Visit National Parks
- Card executives said the changes will force them to charge higher rates and annual fees to delinquent customers and those in good standing.
Trust a Republican, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, to attach an amendment to the credit card legislation to permit carrying loaded guns at national parks. The NRA is happy. It would be interesting to see whether the amendment would be in the final version that President Obama signs.*****
Slaughter of Tamil Refugees among Coconut Palms
Although foreign journalists are barred from reporting the military operations against Tamil Tigers, the scant details coming out leave no doubt about brutal attacks against refugees fleeing from the combat zone.
The beautiful, green island nation has now earned a place among other countries which carried out mass slaughter of a section of their population to achieve political and/or military objective.Guardian UK
- The last hospital inside the so-called no-fire zone in north-eastern Sri Lanka was shelled today for the second day in a row, killing at least 50 civilians, a government health official said.
- The shelling came the day after 49 people were killed when a shell struck the admissions ward of the same hospital, where casualties of the country's brutal civil war are being treated.
: "SIGNIFICANCE: The humanitarian crisis triggered in recent weeks both reflects past ethnic grievances underlying the protracted conflict and is fuelling new ones. More than 1 million Tamil people have now been displaced, with many thousands reportedly killed in high-intensity fighting this year."
And the world remains a bystander.*****
A Few Ragheads here, a Few Ragheads there
Voice of America.com
An area (there are many) where there has been no change in tactics followed by the Obama administration is the deaths of Afghan civilians in attacks against militants. Just as they took place under President Bush, civilian casualties continue under President Obama. The Taliban could be benefiting in recruiting every time innocent civilians die. But that is not going to stop the killings. Somehow deaths of villagers in far away Afghanistan do not have any impact on American military strategy. They are expendable in our war against terror.
In expressing her regret, Secretary of State Clinton
sounded no different than Ms Rice when she held that position.
- Red Cross officials are backing local reports that U.S.-led airstrikes in western Afghanistan earlier this week killed dozens of civilians. The U.S. military is sending investigators to the scene and President Hamid Karzai has pledged to take up the issue in meetings with President Obama.
- Local Afghan officials say the incident occurred during a battle Monday and Tuesday in Farah province, when Afghan troops aided by U.S. soldiers were battling Taliban insurgents.
- Local officials said bombing raids on the suspected Taliban positions killed as many as 100 civilians and residents are still digging through rubble looking for more bodies. A Red Cross team sent to the region backed up the claims of dozens of civilian deaths, including women and children.
Yes, no doubt the issue would be discussed during visits to the White House by Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Zardari of Pakistan. One can be certain that despite public statements -- sound bites -- nothing would change. *** U.S. Casualties in Iraq
After declining for a few months, the number of U.S. casualties spiked up in April. 19 soldiers died in Iraq.
What did they die for? Saddam Hussein is no longer there. The Iraqis now have an elected government that we approve of. The internecine violence between the Shias and the Sunnis is not going to end anytime soon.*****