December 8th, 2010
LONDON — It is a Sunday night in London's East End and the self-styled "most hated man in Britain" is holding court, reveling in his vision of a Taliban victory over America and a world under Islamic Shariah law.
The crowd of about 250 listens intently as Anjem Choudary issues a call to arms in the pristine surroundings of the newly refurbished art deco conference center, built to host weddings and business meetings.
"There are many battlefields," he says calmly into a microphone. "There's a battlefield outside 10 Downing Street [home to Britain's prime minister] and in the mountains of the Tora Bora [in Afghanistan]."
Any man who fails to fight, he warns, will face difficulty when the "angel of death" arrives and he is forced to explain to Allah why he did not raise his hand "against the oppressor" out of fear. "Allah will say to him, 'Am I not more worthy to be feared than them?'" Choudary says.
"Allahu Akbar!" the men shout out in unison, as if a war cry, during his speech. "Allahu Akbar." God is great.
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A group of women, all heavily veiled and sitting in a screened-off area, remain quiet throughout.
As former leader of the banned Islamist organizations al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK, Choudary was kept off the bill and appeared as the surprise star speaker at the rally.
His groups may be outlawed but, unlike his female followers, Choudary will not be silenced. His message is one that echoes across Europe, which experts say is home to thousands of people who would wholeheartedly support Choudary's "ultimate objective" — the "domination of the world by Islam." The majority of Muslims are not Islamists, who believe in a society based on Islamic law, and not all of the latter are seeking world domination or are willing to use violence. But fear of another Islamist-inspired atrocity after Madrid in 2004 — 191 dead — and London in 2005 — 53 dead — remains high. (Continue Reading at MSNBC)
His groups may be outlawed but, unlike his female followers, Choudary will not be silenced.
His message is one that echoes across Europe, which experts say is home to thousands of people who would wholeheartedly support Choudary's "ultimate objective" — the "domination of the world by Islam."
The majority of Muslims are not Islamists, who believe in a society based on Islamic law, and not all of the latter are seeking world domination or are willing to use violence.
But fear of another Islamist-inspired atrocity after Madrid in 2004 — 191 dead — and London in 2005 — 53 dead — remains high. (Continue Reading at MSNBC)
December 8th, 2010
Australian FM Kevin Rudd
Australia's foreign minister has said the US is to blame for the release of thousands of diplomatic cables on Wikileaks, not its Australian founder, Julian Assange.
Kevin Rudd said the release raised questions about US security.
Mr Rudd said he did not "give a damn" about criticism of him in the cables.
Mr Assange, arrested in the UK over sex crime allegations in Sweden, has accused the Australian government of "disgraceful pandering" to the US.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard had earlier called Mr Assange's release of the cables "grossly irresponsible".
Over the past two weeks, Wikileaks has released thousands of classified messages from US envoys around the world, from more than 250,000 it has been given.
Washington has called their publication "irresponsible" and an "attack on the international community".
'First class job'
In an interview with Reuters news agency, Mr Rudd said: "Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network. The Americans are responsible for that."
Mr Rudd, the former prime minister who was replaced by Julia Gillard in June, added: "I think there are real questions to be asked about the adequacy of [the US] security systems and the level of access that people have had to that material.
"The core responsibility, and therefore legal liability, goes to those individuals responsible for that initial unauthorised release."
The White House has ordered US government agencies to tighten their handling of classified documents in the wake of the Wikileaks releases.
Mr Rudd was dismissed in one leaked US cable as a "mistake-prone control freak".
In cables published by the Sydney Morning Herald former US ambassador Robert McCallum said Mr Rudd made "snap announcements without consulting other countries or within the Australian government".
The US was also angered at what it called Mr Rudd's "self-serving and inaccurate leaking" of a phone call with then US President George W Bush in which Mr Rudd was reported as saying: "Stunned to hear Bush say, 'What's the G20?'"
Mr Rudd shrugged off the criticism, saying: "I'm sure much worse has been written about me in the past and probably much worse will be written about me in the future but frankly, mate, I don't care.
"My job's just to act in Australia's national interest as Australia's foreign minister. I don't, frankly, give a damn about this sort of thing. You just get on with it."
Ms Gillard defended Mr Rudd, saying: "He's bringing [his] expertise to bear for the Australian nation and doing an absolutely first class job."
Mr Assange has been highly critical of the Australian government's stance on the release of the cables.
In an opinion piece in The Australian on Wednesday, Mr Assange accused the Australian government of "disgraceful pandering" to the Americans and of putting the powers of the government fully at the disposal of the US.
In the piece headlined "Don't shoot the messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths", he says: "Democratic societies need a strong media and Wikileaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest."
He adds: "The Australian attorney-general is doing everything he can to help a US investigation clearly directed at framing Australian citizens and shipping them to the US."
Mr Assange has been refused bail by a court in London but has vowed to fight extradition to Sweden.
He denies sexually assaulting two women in Sweden but was remanded in custody pending a hearing next week.
Mr Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens, has claimed the charges are "politically motivated".
On a visit to Serbia on Wednesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said there had been no contact with US authorities about the possible extradition of Mr Assange from Sweden to the US.
The US has begun a criminal investigation and vowed to punish anyone found responsible for illegal leaks.
No-one has been charged with passing the diplomatic files to Wikileaks, but suspicion has fallen on US Army private Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst arrested in Iraq in June and charged over an earlier leak.
December 8th, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 12:28 AM
President Obama on Tuesday faced an uprising among angry Democrats who strongly opposed his deal with Republicans on tax cuts, opening a public rift that could prevent the White House from ending the year with a fresh dose of stimulus for the economy.
The Obama-GOP compromise would extend all the tax cuts that are set to expire Dec. 31, including for the wealthiest households; continue long-term unemployment benefits through the end of next year; give businesses a major tax break to encourage capital investment; and provide working couples as much as $4,200 in extra cash in 2011 through a one-year payroll-tax holiday.
The far-reaching package - which would add more than $900 billion to the deficit over the next two years, economists said - contains numerous other provisions, including extensions of smaller individual and business tax breaks that had been widely expected to lapse. Democrats expressed astonishment at the plan's scope and price tag, though they reluctantly conceded its potential to create jobs and boost consumer spending.
But they were furious that Obama capitulated to Republicans over the main provisions - an array of individual tax breaks signed by President George W. Bush nearly 10 years ago that have remained controversial.
Vice President Biden, who helped negotiate the accord, received a stony response when he pitched the package to Senate Democrats at a private luncheon Tuesday. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) was among those who emerged unconvinced. "I'm just staggered by the enormity of this package," she said.
Others were in full revolt. Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) was one of three senators who interrupted Biden's presentation. Afterward, he vowed to "do everything I can to defeat this proposal," including staging a filibuster.
"The president's heart is in the right place," Sanders said. But "I think he has not fully understood that the American people are prepared for a fight. The American people do not want to give tax cuts to billionaires."
Biden will return to the Hill on Wednesday to talk to House Democrats, according to several lawmakers.
The center of the debate
Set to expire on New Year's Eve, the Bush tax cuts are at the heart of a post-election drama: Obama and most Democrats have sought to end benefits for the wealthiest households as a down payment on deficit reduction. But Republicans oppose any form of tax increase and blocked two attempts by Senate Democrats to break up the Bush package and preserve only the provisions that benefit the middle class.
At a news conference Tuesday, Obama said he had weighed the alternative to a GOP deal - allowing all the tax cuts to expire - and concluded the price was too high.
"I understand the desire for a fight. I'm sympathetic to that. I'm as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I've been for years," he said. "But in the meantime, I'm not here to play games with the American people or the health of our economy."
For the first time in his presidency, Obama is pursuing a legislative path that does not cut exclusively through Democratic territory. Republicans, who opposed the president virtually unanimously on all of his major initiatives over the past two years, warmly embraced the tax deal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called the plan "essentially final" and predicted that a "vast majority" of Senate Republicans will back it.
December 8th, 2010
By AMY TAXIN, Associated Press/Yahoo News
LOS ANGELES – Dozens of Filipino hospital workers in California sued their employer Tuesday alleging they were the sole ethnic group targeted by a rule requiring them to speak only English.
The group of 52 nurses and medical staff filed a complaint accusing Delano Regional Medical Center of banning them from speaking Tagalog and other Filipino languages while letting other workers speak Spanish and Hindi.
The plaintiffs are seeking to join an August complaint filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Kern County federal court over the hospital's enforcement of a rule requiring workers to speak English.
Filipino workers said they were called to a special meeting in August 2006 where they were warned not to speak Tagalog and told surveillance cameras would be installed, if necessary, to monitor them. Since then, workers said they were told on a daily basis by fellow staffers to speak only English, even on breaks.
"I felt like people were always watching us," said tearful 56-year-old Elnora Cayme, who worked for the hospital from 1980 to 2008. "Even when we spoke English ... people would come and approach us and tell us, 'English only.'"
A message was left at the hospital seeking comment.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC has accused the hospital in California's San Joaquin Valley of creating a hostile working environment for Filipinos by singling them out for reprimands and for encouraging other staff to report them. The agency is seeking an injunction to protect the workers against future discrimination.
The EEOC has seen an increase in complaints alleging discrimination based on national origin amid a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, said Anna Park, a regional attorney for the EEOC. That's especially the case in California's central valley, where a greater share of the complaints the agency receives relate to such issues than in the nation as a whole.
In this case, the current and former hospital workers filed a separate complaint under state law in part because monetary damages are capped by federal law, said Julie Su, litigation director for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which represents the plaintiffs. They want the English-only policy to be changed and for hospital staff to be trained on the new rule.
Under California law, employers may require workers to speak English if there is a business necessity, Su said.
Delano Regional Medical Center is a 156-bed hospital located about 30 miles north of Bakersfield.
December 7th, 2010
Across the board, Democrats who attended the meeting said, Obama's deal was deemed too costly, too tilted toward the rich and too much of a cave to Republicans.
"The wealthiest few in the country come out like gangbusters," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), a Blue Dog who said he would oppose the deal. Many other Blue Dogs, Pomeroy said, would also vote down the package, on the grounds that it adds heavily to the debt.
Even if every House Republican signs on, Obama needs 39 Democrats to vote to extend the tax cuts for the wealthy. "I don't think the president should count on Democratic votes to get this passed," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said.
Told that Obama had compared liberal unrest with the deal with progressive anger at the dropping of the public health insurance option, Weiner said he also saw a similarity. "If you don't fight for something, you can't expect to get it," he said.
House Democratic leaders huddled with Vice President Joe Biden over the weekend to discuss the strategy required to pass such an unpopular piece of legislation, HuffPost reported earlier this week. Of the 51 Blue Dogs, roughly half are lame ducks, having lost reelection or retired. Corralling those outgoing members will be key to Obama's success, but Pomeroy said the president has a steep hill to climb.
Biden met with Senate Democrats earlier Tuesday and found hostility to the deal, but only two members spoke out aggressively, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said.
The vice president is slated to try to persuade House Democrats Wednesday, but is unlikely to find a receptive audience given Tuesday night's meeting.
"Suffice it to say there was an awful lot of things expressed, pro and con, but at the core was a deep and abiding concern by a number of members that this was not a good deal," House Caucus Chair John Larson (D-Conn.) said. "We're fortunate that we have tomorrow to continue to listen to the White House."
In that time, Larson said, the House will also demand changes. "There was an awful lot of determination for the House to work its will" in Tuesday night's meeting, he said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that opposition was coming "from all stripes" within the Democratic caucus.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a former CPC co-chair, said she was also voting no. "It's not very popular with Democrats, I can tell you that," she said.
If the Senate manages to pass the Obama-McConnell deal, one of Nancy Pelosi's last acts as House Speaker of the 111th Congress will be to gather support for the package, but she doesn't seem happy about it.
"Republicans have held the middle class hostage for provisions that benefit only the wealthiest 3 percent, do not create jobs, and add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit," Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said regarding the deal. "To add insult to injury, the Republican estate tax proposal would help only 39,000 of America's richest families, while adding about $25 billion more to the deficit."
Leaving Tuesday night's meeting, Pelosi diplomatically acknowledged "unease" among her caucus.
Democrats are also concerned about the temporary 2-percent cut to Social Security taxes included as part of the deal. If the tax cut becomes permanent -- as tax cuts often do -- Social Security will be deprived of revenue at a time when it is under heavy assault from deficit hawks.