President Barack Obama\u2019s \u201cwinter White House\u201d has a few perks that even the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can\u2019t claim. Purple taro chips, for one. A breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, for another.
The Obama family is renting a $4,000-a-night Hawaiian home in Kailua, on the windward side of the island of Oahu. Centered on a lagoon-like pool, it\u2019s got plenty of open space and privacy for Malia and Sasha. ABC\u2019s Good Morning America offered avideo
Kailua beach is one of the most gorgeous in the Hawaiian Islands, though less reliably sunny than Waikiki. It\u2019s also familiar to the first family: they stayed here last year after the 2008 elections. They also are renting two neighboring houses for family and friends.
About those taro chips: they come as an extra benefit for the president, who reportedly likes them, along with sweet potato
chips. There is also an imported evergreen tree \u2014 most Christmas trees get to the islands by boat, since they don\u2019t really flourish in the Hawaiian climate.
The Obamas will be getting to their Hawaiian hideaway a bit later than expected, since the president has said he will stay in Washington until the Senate finishes its work onh e a l t h c a r e
expected to take place with a vote on the bill on the morning of Christmas Eve. Then everyone will head for the exits (and the
There won\u2019t be any waiting lines for the Obamas of course \u2014 just a quick trip to Andrews Air Force Base and then a flight on Air Force One.
Photo credit:\ue001REUTERS/Hugh Gentry (A woman kayaks past a stand-up paddle surfer along the canal near the compound where Barack Obama stayed last year, December 27, 2008)
Closing Bell: Pre-Holiday stocks,
oil, dollar all on their own (RUTH,
RIMM, RHT, ACHN, CGEN, PFE)
mixed trading day on somewhat light trading pre-holiday volume throughout most of the trading day and there was no real feeling for a positive or negative close until the afternoon. A drop of 11% in new house sales in November added concerns over the housing recovery. This was in contrast to personal income and spending rising 0.4% and 0.5%, respectively, in November. Oil had a solid day with a $2.22 gain to $76.62 close on big inventory draw-downs.
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Closing Bell: Pre-Holiday stocks, oil, dollar all on their own (RUTH, RIMM, RHT, ACHN, CGEN, PFE) originally appeared
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By Patrick Wintour (World
news and comment from the
Guardian | guardian.co.uk)
Evidence details ignorance, hasty plans and a one-sided relationship with the US
Some will always believe that Tony Blair took the country to war in Iraq on a lie, but the most damning charge emerging from the Iraq war inquiry so far is that Britain went to war on a wing and a prayer. The main charges, after four weeks of cross examination, are that Britain had minimal influence over American diplomatic and military strategy, did not plan correctly for the aftermath of war, and utterly misconstrued post-war Iraqi society.
It is these charges as much as whether intelligence was doctored that are likely to make the Labour political class squirm when they give evidence to the Chilcot inquiry starting in January.
The chronology to disaster that has seeped from the inquiry makes sometimes shocking reading. It is after all the first time the British diplomatic and military establishment have had to discuss openly their secretive relationship with the US in the run-up to the war.
The diplomats have been freed to disclose their distaste for the simplicities of the neo-cons in Washington, their limited entry points into Washington
bureaucratic in-fighting and their shuffling admission that they went to war knowing the aftermath was unplanned \u2013 a "known unknown" in the immortal words of US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the villains of this inquiry so far.
Yet what has emerged already from the 12 sessions with British defence, intelligence and diplomatic officials is the extent to which Britain seemed to slide into war, ultimately with little Whitehall resistance. The inquiry has also shown the extent to which Whitehall went to war ignorant of Iraq's near economic collapse, or the risks of a Sunni- Shia civil war.
On the basis of the evidence given so far, these are the key questions the political class will have to answer:
gradually commit itself to regime change in Iraq and always know they would join the war if UN support was not forthcoming? Almost all the evidence from the military insists that British joint planning with the Americans was contingent on political endorsement, and the backing of the UN. Yet former ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer claims that Blair committed himself intellectually to regime change. \u2022 Did Blair give the defence ministry conditional permission to prepare for war at a secret meeting in Chequers the weekend prior to meet George Bush at his
ranch in Crawford in April 2002? \u2022 Should Britain in March 2003 have withdrawn its support for the war after the failure to secure a second UN resolution giving Saddam a final chance to comply?
Edward Chaplin, Foreign Office director for the Middle East, claimed he persistently flagged up that an invasion without UN support would lack legitimacy, as opposed to being unlawful.
Lieutenant General Sir Freddie Viggers, the chief British military representative in Baghdad after the war, told the inquiry: "We suffered from the lack of any real understanding of the state of that country post-invasion. We had not done enough research, planning, into \u2026the country coming out of 30 years of the Ba'athist regime, the dynamics of the country, the cultures, the friction points between Sunni, Shia and Kurd."
SIr Peter Ricketts, the foreign office political director said " I think they (the Americans) had a touching faith that, once Iraq had been liberated from the terrible tyranny of Saddam Hussein, everyone would be grateful".
Sir David Manning admitted " I think the assumption that the Americans would have a coherent plan which would be implemented after the war was over obviously proved to be unfounded. There was confusion over this.
Whitehall realised that Rumsfeld had won a turf war with the state department on post-war planning, and no plans were in place. Hastily the UK set up an Iraq Planning Unit on 10 February 2003 with fewer than 10 staff. Major General Tim Cross, the only UK military official appointed to help plan the invasion aftermath told the inquiry the unit "suffered from chaos, lack of planning and a chorus of competing voices."
Apart from that an ad hoc committee of civil servants with a cabinet office secretariat met ahead of the war, but at junior level . No Iraq cabinet committee existed and according to Cross "I got no sense at all cross Whitehall that there was any coherence in a single pan Whitehall perspective on what this was all about."
But Desmond Bowen, deputy head of Overseas and Defence Secretariat admitted was there a moment when the OD secretariat put up its hand collectively and said 'you know you should stop and think'. I dont think I can say that was the case" .
Once the war began Bowen said "There was no formal ministerial group. It was run out of Number 10 and there were ministerial meetings, with what frequency exactly I don't know.
Viggers complained " There were lots of plugs and lots of sockets, but not too many of
them were joined up. Without a single minister to drive it forward it was very difficult to get the officiala to focus on the whole" . \u2022 Did the Treasury not commit the resources for the reconstruction ?
Chaplin said: "If you have a decent plan and an idea of what you are aiming for, you need to identify the resources necessary to carry that out. It was certainly one of the constraints in the early months \u2013 seeing the need for additional expertise but not having the mechanisms to identify, train and dispatch those people quickly enough."
Successive witnesses have said Britain did not want to run southern Iraq partly because of the potential cost and fears that the absence of a full UN mandate made the occupation illegal. Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Blair's foreign policy adviser from August 2003, said: "We had no plan for handling Basra because that was something that only emerged during the course of the military action."
\u2022 Did the Department for International Development (Dfid) refuse to participate?
Lt General Sir Robert Fry, deputy chief of joint operations, said: "I think we had the Dfid representatives who came to the Permanent Joint HQ who would hardly conceal their moral
By Timothy Garton Ash
(World news and comment
from the Guardian |
A wrenching debate about antisemitism in Poland's past leads us, in the end, to ask questions about ourselves
Between Hanukkah and Christmas, the sign over the entrance to theA u s c h w i t z
the thieves, who were apparently carrying out a commission from abroad. We struggle to imagine the kind of human being who would want such a thing in his private collection. For all the mass murder, enslavement and torture that has been perpetrated since, Auschwitz remains, for a European of my generation, the symbol of human evil in our time.
This grotesque episode ends a year in which the relations between Christians and Jews in general, Christian Poles and Polish Jews in particular, have again been the subject of debate. The ghosts of a tortured east European past even howled through the corridors of Westminster, as the
Conservatives announced their alliance in the European parliament with a group of rightwing parties, mainly from
rightwing Catholicism which has been deeply disturbing for those of us who know a little history and remember which side of the border Auschwitz was on". A little history, indeed. To blame Catholic Poles for the Nazi extermination camp in German- annexed Polish territory, a camp in which Catholic Poles were also imprisoned and died, is so absurd that Fry's remark met with a torrent of criticism. And Fry, to his credit, swiftly apologised.
Yet this is not just one Englishman's folly. Watching a German television news report on the trial of John Demjanjuk a few weeks ago, I was amazed to hear the announcer describe him as a guard in "the Polish extermination camp Sobibor". What times are these, when one of the main German TV channels thinks it can describe Nazi camps as "Polish"?
In my experience, the automatic equation of Poland with Catholicism, nationalism and antisemitism \u2013 and thence a slide to guilt by association with the Holocaust \u2013 is still widespread. This collective stereotyping does
no justice to the historical record. It has no place, for example, for the incredible story ofW i t o l d
1940 volunteered to get himself imprisoned in Auschwitz in order to discover what was going on there. He remained as a prisoner in Auschwitz for two and a half years, smuggled out reports, organised resistance cells inside the camp, and then escaped. Having fought in the Warsaw rising against the Nazis, Pilecki survived the last months of the war in a German POW camp, only to be arrested and tortured by the communist secret police in Soviet-occupied Poland, and executed in 1948.
Blanket stereotyping produces a defensive reaction among Poles, and therefore also hinders their coming to terms with a deeply troubling history of Polish and Catholic antisemitism. (It is not confined to the right: the Polish communist party was convulsed by a notorious antisemitic
Especially since Poland regained its freedom, that process of facing up to a difficult past has been well under way. At the beginning of this decade, a historian's exposure of the
Catholic fellow villagers, in the summer of 1941, sparked off what the Polish Jewish writer
In its wake, Gebert says, "the country has undergone a serious moral transformation."
I yield to no one in my criticism of the Conservatives' new alliance in the European parliament, but the political verdict must be kept separate from the historical and moral one. The language of today's party politics, with its prefabricated phrases and glib half-truths, is so pathetically inadequate to the terrors of Auschwitz and the heroism of a Pilecki, that even to bring such synthetic verbiage close to them feels like a kind of sacrilege.
There is a political judgement, for which the issue of what a rightwing opportunist like Kaminski said in Poland's Jedwabne debate a few years ago is a relevant though subsidiary consideration. There is a historical judgment, which scholars are enabling us to make with a growing appreciation of the complexity of east European and Jewish history. There is a legal judgement, which must apply to those who committed crimes against humanity. But beyond all these, there is a dimension of human understanding which perhaps only the language of art can fully encompass.
To see what I mean, please buy, beg or steal yourself one of the last available tickets to the brilliant first production of a play called Our Class, by the Polish writer Tadeusz Slobodzianek, which is on at the National Theatre in London until mid- January. Drawing on the now extensive documentation of what happened in Jedwabne, Our Class tells the tragically intertwined life stories of 10 pre-war schoolmates, five of them Jewish, five Catholic.
It spares you nothing of the horrors of one of the worst chapters in the history of Polish antisemitism, showing a gang rape, a man beaten to death, and finally the Jews being burned alive in a barn. But it also shows you Wladek, the Catholic peasant farmer who shelters and then marries a Jewish girl. Then there's Menachem, the Jewish survivor who after the war becomes a communist secret police interrogator. And Zocha, the Polish Catholic woman who saved Menachem's life by hiding him in her barn, then emigrates to the US. Hearing an American Jewish couple banging on about Polish antisemitism, she explodes: "And what did the Americans do for the Jews during the war?"
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