A Bitter Valentine's Day

Shaker Aamer   |   February 14, 2014   12:00 AM ET

It's 14 February. In Britain it will be Valentine's Day. In 2002, it was the day I arrived in Guantánamo Bay, and the day my youngest child was born - Faris, whom I have never been allowed to touch.

Yesterday, my fellow detainee Emad Hassan did not take his legal call, for the same reason every time he misses a phone call or a meeting. They intimidate him by telling him before he goes, "we'll do a full body search" - the "scrotum groping search" as they call it. So Emad goes with them to the Camp 5 exit where they plan to do the search, and when he sees them ready to carry out a full body search, he tells them that he refuses the humiliation, and demands to go back to his cell.

Indeed, the authorities don't want someone like Emad to let the world know what has happened to him. Recently, he encountered the worst doctor here in Guantánamo - the "Doctor of the Dark Side". I told him to write as much as he can about it and send it out, but it takes time for him to write in English, and it takes time for the letters to get through the censors.

I am on my hunger strike. Last night, I took one cup of coffee and added two creamers. As a consequence, all this morning I had bad diarrhoea and went to the toilet more than six times in half an hour. That is why I am writing now. I can't go to sleep, plus it is nice to write something about this place on the first day of my New Year.

There are 35 hunger strikers now. Eighteen of them are being tube-fed. These brothers go and return from feedings by the FCE [Forcible Cell Extraction] team. They even are weighed by the FCE team, but it's impossible to take someone's weight whilst he is shaking so hard on the digital scale and tied to a board. But this means there are 11 or 12 soldiers required every time they have to be moved, as many as five or six times a day.

It is exactly 8:00AM and the National Anthem is playing so loudly. There are big rumours going around, and we hope they are true. It is said that the Government dropped the charges against 12 Yemenis and that only two Yemenis will be prosecuted (Bin Attash and Nashiri). The eligible ones will go to Yemen in three groups: only those who have conditions will be kept in the planned rehabilitation centre; those who have no conditions will be free; and the third group will be those who are to be prosecuted in Yemen, serving their jail sentence in Yemen.

What else... How do I feel with another year of my life gone unjustly and another year started? Truly, I feel numb. I can't even think about it. Years are passing like months and months like weeks. Weeks pass like days and days like hours. Hours feel like minutes, minutes seconds, and seconds pass like years. And it goes around in a strange circle that makes no sense. It all takes an age, and yet an age of my life seems to pass too fast. On and on and on.
I live in the dark, knowing nothing. Here I am, cleared for release for seven years, more than half my time here. What, why, when, how, where? These questions have no answers, only total darkness.

I feel lonely and lost. Not knowing my future is the worst torture. I am living just to die. I am confused about everything and everyone. It is not enough for them to leave us alone with all this pain we are suffering. It is not enough for us to live only with our memories, which bring more pain. Dead people are better off than us. They are living a new way of life, knowing that they are dead and facing the consequences of their past actions.

But our suffering is endless - and with it, our loved ones' suffering is endless. We are not dead but they forget us after awhile, because they cannot see us or feel us and know how we truly are.

Yet still they do more harm to us: humiliating and insulting us, degrading us, anything to make us more miserable. Welcome to the Hell on Earth, welcome to Guantánamo. Welcome to the year 1984, the year 2014.

I have no doubt justice will prevail and the light of the truth will shine all over the world. What is happening to us and others is a small price for justice, peace, and happiness which will cover the whole world soon. Always, after total darkness, the sun rises again. I hope to see the sun of justice, peace, and happiness with my own eyes. It will be a great day.

If I don't get to see that sun, please remember that I have endured all this in the name of Justice.

Shaker Aamer

Alone in Guantánamo

Shaker relayed this blog post to his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith in an unclassified letter

Five Principles and 38 Influential Quotations for the Modern Politician

Davis Mukasa   |   February 13, 2014    6:36 PM ET

With the Sochi Winter Olympics well under way and the conduct of our global leaders and their policies firmly in the spotlight, I thought it'd be helpful to produce a guide to some abiding political principles, quotations and notes that aspiring politicians and politicos can use to make sense of the madcap crazy political world we live in. Enjoy.



1. Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies
Groucho Marx
Well that sounds cynical

2. I myself know some people who are gay. We're on friendly terms.
Vladimir Putin, Russian President, on 'anti-gay' legislation to protect children
Oh, I see your point Groucho

3. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries
Winston Churchill
I dare not say that this is connected to the previous statement

4. Suffer little children and come unto me
Evita Peron, Argentine First Lady
Eva extends an arm of optimism to the children

5. Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt
Herbert Hoover
Herbert takes it away again

6. Please do not touch the kids
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak's advice to gay Winter Olympic athletes
As I said, I see your point Groucho

7. When I was poor and I complained about inequality people said I was bitter, now I'm rich and I complain about inequality they say I'm a hypocrite
Russell Brand
I'm tempted to say they just don't like you Russell but I hear your point

8. I live in a neighbourhood so bad that you can get shot while getting shot
Chris Rock

9. I went to Zimbabwe. I know how white people feel in America now; relaxed! Cause when I heard the police car I knew they weren't coming after me!
Richard Pryor, on race, profiling and the perks of afro-American Zimbabwean tourism 


10. Politics, noun. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

11. The president has kept all the promises he intended to keep
George Stephanopolous, Communications Director to Bill Clinton
Never let virtue get in the way of semantics


12. Now, I know that he's taken some flak lately but no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter like where are Biggie and Tupac?'
President Obama, on Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner

13. We don't do God!
Alastair Campbell, Communications chief, quickly reminds Tony Blair not to mention his faith
I only wanted to know where Biggie and Tupac were

14. It's pity there isn't a hell for him to go to
Christopher Hitchens, Atheist, of a particular journalist
Not of Alastair Campbell although some in the British media have uttered similar. Adam Boulton?

15. I don't make predictions. I never have and never will.
Tony Blair, predicts he won't be making a prediction anytime soon

16. He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas better than any man I ever met
Abraham Lincoln, referring to a lawyer
The fact this appears below former lawyer Tony Blair is innocently unfortunate

17. The penalty of success is to be bored by people who used to snub you
Nancy Astor, on the joys of being the first female Member of Parliament
Eyes on the prize Nancy



18. Now is not the time for sound-bites. I can feel the hand of history on my shoulder
Tony Blair, signing the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement, April 1998
The media made sure this would haunt him for years to come

19. If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim'
Lyndon Johnson

20. We don't do God!! [again]
Alastair Campbell, on walking on water

21. Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first
Ronald Reagan
Reagan hated courting

22. The first time Adam had a chance, he laid the blame on women
Nancy Astor
When the cameras are rolling there is no gallantry Nancy

23. Television has made dictatorship impossible, but democracy unbearable
Shimon Peres, Israeli President laments
Unless you're a dictator that likes the limelight...


24. The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste time voting
Charles Bukowski, US Writer


25. In the past months the people of Uganda have been following with sorrow the alarming economic crisis befalling on Britain
Dictator Idi Amin Dada, offers parcels of food and compassion to depression-hit Britain, 1974

26. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt
Abraham Lincoln
Seems simple

27. I love to bring people into the Oval office and say, this is where I office
George W. Bush
OK, point taken Abraham



28. Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who'll get the blame
Bertrand Russell, British philosopher

29. Despise the enemy strategically, but take him seriously tactically.
Chairman Mao Zedong
Mao, never far from killing something

30. An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination
Voltaire, French writer

31. The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity
Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister considers the assisted drowning of the opposition

32. In waking a tiger, use a long stick.
Mao Zedong

33. If God had intended us not to eat animals, how come he made them out of meat?
Sarah Palin, US politician evaluates Mao's words

34. One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
Plato, Greek philosopher
See above. Must see Russell Brand about this...

35. Amigo! Amigo!
George W. Bush hails Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Spanish at G8 summit

36. A fool and his money are soon elected
Will Rogers
See above

37. If ignorance goes to $40 a barrel. I want drilling rights to George Bush's head.
Jim Hightower, US political activist on George Bush Snr
See above

38. A man may fight for many things. His country, his principles, his friends. The glistening tear on the cheek of a golden child. But personally, I'd mud-wrestle my own mother for a ton of cash, an amusing clock and a sack of French porn.
Edmund Blackadder on the art of selflessness and expenses filing

That just about covers it.
Happy Politicking.

Cartoon images under creative commons licence from DonkeyHotey http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
Other images adapted by author from publicly available WikiCommons Images. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Images

Mehdi's Minute: On the Floods, 'Money Is No Object' and the Obama-Beyonce Nonsense

Mehdi Hasan   |   February 13, 2014    5:02 PM ET

Do you want my alternative take on the political fallout from the floods, Cameron's 'money is no object' remarks and the (false) French claims of an Obama-Beyonce affair?

Here it is in 60 seconds.

  |   February 13, 2014   11:15 AM ET

There's a time and a place for a selfie, and this probably isn't it.

French journalists seized the moment while they were sitting in the Oval Office - with Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande looking on in the background.

According to French reports, they were ticked off by White House staff, who reportedly said this was "not the done thing".


Perhaps the hacks should concentrate on holding their President to account over rumours about his private life.

Paul Vale   |   February 12, 2014    2:22 PM ET

A Republican senator is to hit president Obama with a lawsuit on Wednesday that aims to halt surveillance by USA spy agencies which have been intercepting private communications both at home and abroad, as revealed by the Edward Snowden leaks.

Entitled 'Rand Paul v. Barack Obama', the Kentucky Senator is asking the Federal court in Washington DC to declare part of the Patriot Act, the legislation signed into law by George W Bush after the 9/11 attacks that enables agencies such as the NSA to monitor private phone calls, unconstitutional. Those named as defendants include the president, FBI director James Comey, director of the NSA General Keith Alexander and director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

The legal action currently has around 350,000 plaintiffs, with Paul, a staunch libertarian and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, looking to corral many more. In a Fox News interview in December, Paul said that “everybody who has a cell phone would be eligible to become a plaintiff”.

The thrust of Paul’s complaint focuses on the metadata – the bulk phone records collected from American telecommunications companies – routinely collected by the NSA, which includes details such as phone numbers, dates and times of calls.

Several other lawsuits challenging the collection of this metadata are already pending in federal courts across the US. However Paul’s challenge is different in that it’s a class action suit, which means the plaintiff is not only seeking damages for themselves, but also for anyone who has been affected by the perceived wrongdoing.

Speaking to MSNBC, Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University, said of Paul’s suit: "Ostensibly, he could be suing on behalf of all Americans, or all Americans hypothetically affected by these court orders."

Addressing his supporters via a video message on Tuesday, Paul said: "When we learned that the NSA was collecting the phone data of every American last year it posed a serious Constitutional question: Do we no longer have a Fourth Amendment?"

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.

In a statement released this week, Paul outlined his case against Obama, arguing that the president has "publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the Fourth Amendment," with the 51-year-old senator expecting the case to go all the way to the US Supreme Court.

The White House has yet to publicly comment on the lawsuit but, in a speech on security given earlier in January, Obama argued that members of the intelligence community "follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people", adding: "They're not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails."

Paul is expected to give a press conference in front of the federal courthouse in the capital after the suit has been filed, with the senator trumpeting his credentials as a defender of the constitution against encroachment of the intelligence services.

However, Paul’s critics, many of whom are from the Republican Party, have lambasted the move, with Peter King going as far as to question the Senator’s place in government.

"The NSA is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing," said King in an interview earlier this month, adding: "To me, he’s either totally uninformed, or he’s part of that ‘hate America’ crowd that I thought left us in the 1960s.

"In any event, he doesn’t deserve to be in the United States Senate for spreading that type of misperception and absolute lies."

The scope of the NSA’s surveillance programme gained international notoriety last June after former NSA contractor Snowden, who is currently in asylum in Russia, released a tranche of classified documents about US and British spying activities.


  |   February 12, 2014    1:33 PM ET

As Jon Stewart points out in this clip from 'The Daily Show' (showing midnight tonight on Comedy Central Extra), the American media are rather obsessed with one detail of Francois Hollande's trip to Washington...

Sara C Nelson   |   February 12, 2014   11:48 AM ET

Sad times, social media fans – if you’re in Sonora, Mexico you can’t name your baby ‘Facebook’.

‘Rambo’ is also off the list after the state began banning names found to be odd or offensive.

“The law is very clear because it prohibits giving children names that are derogatory or that don’t have any meaning and that can lead to bullying,” Sonora state Civil Registry director Cristina Ramirez told the Associated Press.

rambo stallone

Rambo is off the list

So far 61 names have been struck off and more could follow as officials continue to check records.

Ramirez also cited a male child being named ‘Juan Calzon’ or ‘Juan Panties’ and a baby girl called ‘Lady Di.’

If you thought that was bad, spare a thought for baby Hashtag.

SEE ALSO: He's Not The Messiah... Judge Changes Baby's Name To Martin Claiming Moniker 'Only Befits Jesus'

Oh and two-year-old twins Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – born to proud mother Millicent Owour of south-west Kenya in 2012.

Aaaand while we’re at it – the ridiculously-named spawn of these 66 celebrities:

Twelve Years a Guantánamo Slave

Neil Durkin   |   February 12, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Well, not exactly a slave, but a slave of the Guantánamo system. I'm talking about Shaker Aamer, the former UK resident who is still - still - marooned at the notorious US detention centre in the Caribbean almost exactly 12 years after being taken there during the height of George W Bush's frenzied and law-breaking "war on terror" (Aamer was brought to the camp, manacled and blindfold, on 14 February 2002).

The deepening mystery of why Aamer is still being held at Guantánamo - uncharged, untried and now almost unspoken of in UK-US diplomatic circles - is profound indeed. Like a significant number of Guantánamo's remaining detainees, Aamer was judged by the camp authorities to be suitable for "transfer" out of Guantánamo as long ago as 2007. After this (entirely extra-legal adjudication) things were supposed to be largely procedural - sorting out the details with the receiving country, almost certainly the UK, his longstanding place of residence and home to his British wife and children.

However, that never happened. And the years crept by. In 2009 another - confirmatory - "approval for transfer" decision made by the Guantánamo Review Task Force came and went. Still no change. Since then an increasingly pessimistic Aamer has intermittently sent the world word of his half-forgotten plight via his lawyer, has taken part in miserably desperate hunger strikes, and has even shouted out to passing journalists (forbidden from talking to him) during their heavily-controlled media tours of the camp. Meanwhile his family in London (wife, four children, father-in-law) have pressed on with their efforts to get him released, and ... and what? And nothing. His lawyer writes open letters to the US president in the US media, Amnesty hands in letters to the US embassy in London, and indefatigable campaigners like Andy Worthington and the Save Shaker group plug away with their blogging and speeches at public rallies. But ... still nothing. Aamer stays put. Still detained, growing older, increasingly unwell, and more and more desperate. More despairing.

So, why is this happening? The truth is we don't know. We just don't know about the behind-the-scenes UK-US diplomatic machinations (WikiLeaks where are you when we need you ...?). In public, politicians like William Hague and Nick Clegg are pretty unequivocal, declaring - though only relatively recently and usually only when pressed - that they're willing to facilitate his passage back to Britain and are actively "negotiating" with the US for his release (the implied subtext apparently being that it's the USA that's actually holding things up). But there are also claims that the UK's intelligence services are privately lobbying for his continued captivity, worried that a newly-released Aamer will renew his past allegations of MI6 abuse and their involvement in his calamitous rendition to Cuba. Who knows? Yet all the while, the years creep by and Aamer - and another 154 men - remain firmly behind bars at Guantánamo.

Guantánamo has been one of the true scandals of our age (yes, I know there's a lot of competition and a lot that's infinitely worse in the world, but still, it's definitely a class-A scandal). It's truly scandalous that the place was ever established, was ever populated with hundreds of people flown there by the US military and CIA after being drugged and shackled, and scandalous that it was ever justified by politicians (on both sides of the Atlantic, both Republican and New Labour) as "necessary" in the fight against terrorism. In truth it was - and is - an insult to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. It's never served the interests of justice and any perpetrators still languishing at Guantánamo should rightly have been put on trial in a civilian court years ago.

Yet still the scandal goes on and on. Despite President Obama's now-infamously unfulfilled pledge to close Guantánamo by the beginning of 2010, it's still very much with us. Twelve years a slave of Guantánamo's unlawful system, Shaker Aamer's plight deserves to be the subject of far greater political urgency than it's currently receiving. Regarding Steve McQueen's much-garlanded slavery film, I was recently grumbling about the film's soapy melodramatics and its safe liberal subject matter, wishing instead that McQueen would take on a tougher, more contemporary topic. In fact, Steve, why not make a film about the tragic story of Shaker Aamer?

  |   February 11, 2014    9:17 AM ET

Are Beyonce and Barack Obama dangerously in love? The short answer – no, they are not.

In the wake of their own president being surrounded by scandal, the French media is getting very over-excited about a rumour that Beyonce has been having an affair with President Obama – a claim the singer has swiftly denied.

beyonce obama

The affair claims came as Francois Hollande arrived in America on an official state visit without his now-ex partner, Valérie Trierweiler.

Rumours of an affair between the American president and the pop superstar were first made this morning by a man with some expertise in the subject.

Pascal Rostain, a French paparazzo, who snapped Hollande cheating on his first lady with the actress Julie Gayet, spoke of the alleged relationship during a sensational interview on the Europe 1 radio station.

He said: "Indeed, it will come out tomorrow in the Washington Post. We cannot say that it is from the gutter press - a supposed liaison between President Barack Obama and Beyonce. I can assure you that the world will talk."

The Washington Post immediately denied any such report – saying the newspaper does not produce articles' of this kind and that it is "definitely not true."

But Rostain's claims were reported by a range of respected media in France, including respected newspaper Le Figaro, and Le Point.

Questioned about the Obama-Beyonce claims following the denial by the Washington Post, Rostain said they were a "joke."

Rostain backpedaled on his comments in a piece published on jeanmarcmorandini.com later on Monday, saying he "didn't say that at all" about Obama and Beyoncé. He clarified that "some American journalists were working on the case."

"It looks like things between Barack and Michelle Obama haven't been in the best of shape for a couple of weeks," Rostain said, according to a HuffPost translation. "From what I know, the atmosphere is pretty frigid between Barack and Michelle. But I know nothing more.”

Beyoncé and her rapper husband Jay Z have been friends with the Obamas for several years and she performed at Michelle Obama’s recent 50th birthday party.

A spokeswoman for Beyoncé dismissed the claim as "absurd."

Do Better Wages Really Make For a Better Society?

Nash Riggins   |   February 10, 2014    8:00 PM ET

Britain is on the brink of a disaster. The prices of food and fuel have been allowed to spiral out of control. Meanwhile, affordable accommodation is quickly dissipating - egged on by the coalition's dubious desire to slash cost-cutting holes in Britain's social safety net.

With that in mind, it only makes sense that entrenched politicians should point the finger at the country's pitifully low minimum wage. For the better part of four years, many within the Labour camp have been whinging about Britain's criminally stagnant wages - which are constantly being marginalised by relentless hikes in inflation and living costs that relegate even full-time workers to lives of poverty.

Now, it's easy for an opposition leader to moan about low wages - it's harder to draft tangible resolutions. But across the pond, President Obama is preaching an identical message of hope for America's working class. As momentum builds, even a characteristically stubborn George Osborne has been forced to hop on the bandwagon by promising to authorise some muted legislative pay raise in the run up to the 2015 general election. But try not to hold your breath.

As housing costs continue to soar, most of us would need our salaries doubled in order to scramble onto the lowest wrung of the property ladder. Meanwhile, without addressing the core issues at hand, even the most ambitious wage increase would only serve to widen the country's ever-increasing poverty divide further still.

Let's talk economics.

When governments force employers to hike their wages, we tend to see a swift impact upon those minimum wage workers who are most in need. Warm fuzzies ensue. Yet because employers want to maintain differentials, this increase at the bottom inevitably produces a domino effect that eventually reaches even the plushest chair in the boardroom. In turn, real inflation rises because more people have more money - driving basic living costs up with it. Ultimately, the status quo remains quite unchanged.

To some extent, this knock-on effect actually hurts a lot of workers more than it helps them. That's because when companies are forced to increase wages without seeing any sort of profit increase, they end up with a tattered bottom line that renders future investments meaningless. Thus, new jobs are lost - and the chances are, a few old ones will be made redundant in order to cut corners.

Faced with such a tragically grim outlook, it's hard to say what we should make of all this buzz surrounding people's wages. It would be political suicide not to jump on the bandwagon and call for a higher minimum wage. After all, whilst bankers in The City are proudly high-fiving each other to celebrate the alleged end of a five-year global recession, most of us have yet to witness a damn change. Our bills are still rising and our High Street shops are still closing. But like it or not, a minimum wage increase alone can't change that - it will only perpetuate it.

If politicians are truly serious about solving Britain's cost of living crisis, they should start by addressing the painfully obvious questions first. For example, what can we do to subsidise food costs for people? What about Britain's cutthroat energy market? Or, perhaps most pertinently, how can we provide more affordable housing for those in need? A short afternoon of soul-searching, and politicians on all sides of the spectrum would be shocked to find the answers to these questions aren't so complex - they just involve making a few tough decisions.

Until that happens, let's just go ahead and call this latest push for a higher minimum wage by its true name: shameless politicking. This is precisely the sort of substance-free policy agenda that's meant to turn our attention away from demanding tangible legislative solutions to society's biggest problems. Because, believe it or not, there's a better way to fight homelessness than with a bedroom tax - and there's sure as hell a better way to combat high living costs than with a hollow hike in wages.

Obama and the Power of the Pen

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   February 10, 2014   12:00 AM ET

There is a serious chill in air as Winter unrelentingly pounds our Nation's Capitol with storm after storm.

The Olympics in Sochi are well underway displaying all the grandeur the season has to offer.

And here in Washington, the relationship between President Obama and his not-so-loyal opposition in Congress could not be frostier.

It has only been a few weeks since both sides of the aisle met on Capitol Hill for a Joint Session of Congress to hear the President deliver his State of The Union address.

In keeping with tradition they did their best to honor a temporary cease fire.

However, it seems that at this time the President's gesture of peace and reconciliation may have been short lived and his patience may have run out.

In his address the President warned Congress that this year he would try to work with them but would not wait for them to take action.

Few expected him to resort to the use of sweeping Executive Orders quite so soon.

This week the President uses the power of his pen to eliminate discrimination between traditional and same sex marriages for all matters that will come before the Federal Courts.

This is a broad and sweeping step that could affect American lives in every state since each state has both State and Federal Court system.

What is perhaps most interesting here is that by this action and its consequences the President may not only be making a statement, he may also be ultimately setting up another challenge that the Supreme Court may have to decide.

President Obama can not make a permanent change to any law through the use of an Executive Order, however, he may be able to affect enforcement of those laws during the remainder of his term.

Last year the Supreme Court in two historic cases intentionally avoided a Constitutional decision on Same Sex Marriage - that would have effected all fifty states - but left the door wide open to revisit this issue at a later date.

Many believed that they were reluctant to do what the Supreme Court had done in earlier cases - pushing the law ahead of the popular sentiment of the people... "just too far too fast."

Some of the Supreme Court's most historic precedents have done just that - Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade... and the list goes on.

With this change of law in the Federal Court system, it is easy to see how a case might be decided differently despite the same set of facts and circumstances depending on which court is used to seek redress - the State Court or the Federal Court - in the very same state.

A number of circumstances determine which court a citizen may access to seek redress.

These circumstances may include diversity of citizenship, amount in controversy, the nature of the claim etc.

So it seems very likely that this change in the Federal Courts could give rise to a question of equal protection or another constitutional challenge that the Supreme Court might have to decide.

What is somewhat surprising here is that the Obama Administration chose this particular issue as the first use of the president's not so veiled threat that he made in his State of the Union address.

Although many states are adopting laws to treat traditional and same sex marriage equally, this change is clearly happening too fast for some more conservative areas of the US to absorb.

At this time 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws giving same sex marriage equal standing with traditional marriage under the law.

Ten other states recognize civil unions and partnerships and 33 states limit marriage to opposite sex couples only.

This seems for some a politically perilous thing to do just as the Midterm Election cycle is getting underway.

Not only will this move antagonize President Obama's opponents in Congress and energize their base but it is also likely to concern some of his fellow Democrats who are up for re-election in more conservative states facing more severe challenges.

Taking such an aggressive move by means of an Executive Order is also likely to further complicate the President's relationship with Congress.

Speaker Boehner has already noted that his caucus no longer trusts the president to fully enforce the laws as passed by Congress - so immigration reform is probably dead for now and will have to wait until the Mid-Terms have passed.

President Obama is certainly not the first President to use the power of Executive Orders to get his way.

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln used his executive power to free the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation.

It was originally signed in preliminary form as Lincoln's last attempt to bring the Civil War to a speedy close.

He later then pushed the Congress to make this change permanent.

In 1935 Franklin Roosevelt began most of the work of his New Deal with the Works Progress Administration - created by an Executive Order.

Using his Executive Order signing pen, FDR started putting the 25% of unemployed Americans back to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps - building over 600,000 miles of roads, 125,000 bridges, 8,000 parks and more.

Roosevelt used this power more often than any other president with 3,522 Executive Orders.

President Roosevelt is also known for one of the darkest uses of executive power - the Executive Order that called for the Japanese-American Internment.

This order authorized the detention of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.

In 1948, Harry Truman followed Lincoln's lead when he tried to work with Congress to desegregate the Armed Forces.

He underestimated the reaction of fellow Democrats from the South to this idea.

They seceded from the Democratic party and formed their own party, "The Dixiecrats".

Not missing a beat, in less than two weeks "Give 'em Hell Harry" desegregate the US Armed Forces by Executive Order.

So it seems clear there is precedent for presidents to take bold action when they believe that Congress simply fails to do so.

Presidents need to be careful how far they push their executive power.

There is always the risk of being viewed as an "Imperial President" - as was the case during the presidencies of Richard M. Nixon and "King Franklin I" as FDR was often referred to by his detractors.

Up till now, President Obama has used his executive power sparingly compared to his recent predecessors.

However, President Obama needs to chose these battles wisely and make sure he is on the right side of history when he acts alone.

As his predecessor Truman said, "The buck stops here", at the Oval Office desk, and so it will be for President Obama... and his legacy.

As the US Turns Against New Sanctions on Iran, Has the Israel Lobby Lost Its Mojo?

Mehdi Hasan   |   February 10, 2014   12:00 AM ET

In House of Cards, the award-winning US television show adapted from a BBC miniseries, the Machiavellian congressman Frank Underwood leaks a story (falsely) suggesting that Michael Kern, the president's pick for secretary of state, wrote an anti-Israel article during his student days. Kern, promptly denounced as an anti-Semite by pro-Israel campaigners, is forced to stand aside.

The pro-Israel lobby matters, OK? That's the message not just from Hollywood but also from the leading member of that lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac. In a land of lobbies - from Big Oil and Big Pharma to the NRA (guns) and the AARP (pensions) - Aipac isn't afraid to brag about its power, influence and network of contacts. It boasts 100,000 members, a $67million budget and an annual policy conference attended by two-thirds of Congress, as well as serving and former presidents. It's said that the former Aipac official Steven Rosen once slipped a napkin to a journalist over dinner and deadpanned, "You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 senators on this napkin."

But has Aipac lost its mojo? Is a lobby group famed for its ability to move bills, spike nominations and keep legislators in line now in danger of looking weak and ineffectual? Consider the evidence of the past year. Exhibit A: Chuck Hagel. In January 2013, the independent-minded Republican senator from Nebraska was tapped by Obama to become his second-term defence secretary. Pro-Israel activists quickly uncovered a long list of anti-Israel remarks made by Hagel, including his warning in a 2010 speech to a university audience that Israel risked "becoming an apartheid state".

In previous years, Aipac would have led the charge against Hagel, but this time it stayed silent. "Aipac does not take positions on presidential nominations," its spokesman Marshall Wittman insisted. Hagel was (narrowly) confirmed by the Senate the following month.

Exhibit B: Syria. In September 2013, Aipac despatched 250 officials and activists to Capitol Hill to persuade members of Congress to pass resolutions authorising US air strikes on Syria. "Aipac to go all out on Syria" was the Politico headline; the Huffington Post went with "Inside Aipac's Syria blitz". And yet, although it held 300-plus meetings with politicians, the resolutions didn't pass; the air strikes didn't happen.

Exhibit C: Iran. Despite President Obama pushing for a diplomatic solution to the row over Tehran's nuclear programme, Aipac is keener on a more confrontational approach. Between December 2013 and last month, a bipartisan bill proposing tough new sanctions on Iran, and calling on the US to back any future Israeli air strikes on the Islamic Republic, went from having 27 co-sponsors in the Senate to 59 - and threatened to derail Obama's negotiations with Tehran.

The role of Aipac here isn't disputed. Speaking to CNN in 2013, Jane Harman, an ex-congresswoman and strong advocate for Israel, conceded that her former colleagues on Capitol Hill found it difficult to support Obama's nuclear diplomacy due to "big parts of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States being against it, the country of Israel being against it. That's a stiff hill to climb."

Yet the summit is in sight. "Support for Iran sanctions bill fades", MSNBC reported on 30 January. The bill is "on ice", a senior Senate Democratic aide told the Huffington Post. At least five Democratic co-sponsors of the bill have said they don't want to vote on the legislation while negotiations with Iran are ongoing.

Not only has the bill lost momentum but legislators haven't been afraid to speak out against it. Listen to the long-time Israel supporter Dianne Feinstein of California let rip on the floor of the Senate: "While I recognise and share Israel's concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the US goes to war." Ouch.

Obama has repeatedly vowed to veto the sanctions bill, while his National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan suggested that supporters of new sanctions want war with Iran and "should be upfront with the American public and say so". Such is the anti-Aipac feeling in the White House that there is even talk of the Obama administration boycotting the organisation's annual jamboree in March.

On Iran, as on Syria, Aipac bluffed. And its bluff was called. As even Rosen, the former Aipac official, has had to admit: "I don't believe this is sustainable, the confrontational posture [with the White House]." For now, the sanctions bill is dead. Democrats, if not Republicans, are giving peace a chance. "Much of Aipac's strength has been rooted in the false illusion of their invincibility," Trita Parsi, a DC-based analyst, tells me. "Because people thought they were invincible, most of the time they didn't think they could go up against them."

Let's be clear: this isn't about a "Jewish lobby" or illicit Jewish influence. Pro-Israeli groups such as Aipac don't represent American Jews; rather, they articulate the hawkish world-view of the Israeli right. Recent polls suggest a clear majority of American Jews support the president's approach to Iran's nuclear programme; and 70% of them voted for Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, in 2012.

As Peter Beinart, the Jewish-American journalist and former editor of the New Republic, put it in a recent column in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "The only 'leader' who speaks for American Jews on Iran is Barack Obama." Aipac might want to get a new napkin.

Mehdi Hasan is political director of the Huffington Post UK and a contributing writer for the New Statesman, where this column is crossposted

  |   February 8, 2014    9:23 AM ET

Russia and discrimination has been something of a hot topic as of late.

And the lighting of the Olympic flame by two of Russia's famous Olympians, Irina Rodnina and Vladislav Tretiak, was also not without controversy — but this time over discrimination of a different variety.

As The Guardian reported last year, Rodnina garnered international attention after tweeting a doctored photo of U.S. President Barack Obama that sparked outrage as some interpreted the doctored photo to be racist.

READ MORE: Vladimir Putin's Tough Guy Act Just A 'Shtick' Says Barack Obama

The tweet, which has since been deleted from her account, showed Obama chewing. A hand holding a banana had been superimposed in the foreground.

ABC reporter Terry Moran posted a photo of the deleted tweet on the day of the Opening Ceremony.

The tweet was sent at at time of tension between the US and Russia over military intervention in Syria.

Rodnina's partner in lighting the flame, Vladislav Tretiak, a member of the United Russia part as well, voted in 2012 for a Russian law that would ban some US citizens from entering the country as well as prohibiting the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

  |   February 7, 2014    9:45 AM ET

The US President and his Russian counterpart have become known for their painfully awkward-looking photo ops during bilateral meetings at various global summits.

The world leaders have often been snapped together, desolately staring straight ahead as though they want the ground to swallow them.

Now, Barack Obama has rather daringly said that Vladimir Putin's bored, tough guy act is just a "shtick" designed to boost his domestic political image.

obama putin


"He does have a public style where he likes to sit back and look a little bored during the course of joint interviews," the US president said in an interview with NBC, timed to coincide with the start of the Sochi Olympics.

"My sense is that's part of his shtick back home politically as wanting to look like the tough guy."

"US politicians have a different style. We tend to smile once in a while," he added wryly.

But Obama denied his relationship with the Russian president was "icy."

He claimed the two leaders focus on issues of "mutual concern" where they can work together.

"The truth of the matter is that when we are in meetings there are a lot of exchanges, there's a surprising amount of humour, and a lot of give and take," he said.

"He's always treated me with the utmost respect."

Washington and Moscow have been at odds over the Ukraine crisis, Russia's support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Russia's granting of asylum to fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

On Thursday, a recording of a private conversation between US diplomats discussing protests in Ukraine was posted on YouTube, embarrassing the United States.

The comments from Obama came as an international group of statesmen, diplomats, aid agencies and business leaders issued a dramaticplea Putin to use the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi to take steps to bring peace to Syria.