Paul Vale   |   July 23, 2015   10:31 PM ET

Barack Obama has warned that the UK must stay in the European Union to retain its influence on the global stage. In an interview with the BBC, the president, who referred to Britain as America’s “best partner,” said the UK’s membership of the EU gives him “much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union.”

Obama lauded the European project as making the world “safer and more prosperous,” while congratulating Cameron for meeting NATO's 2 percent of GDP target for defence.

"We don't have a more important partner than Great Britain. For him to make that commitment when he has a budget agenda that is confined, a budget envelope that is confined, is significant," he said.

In June, US defence secretary Ashton Carter said would be a "great loss to the world" if Britain "disengaged" by cutting its defence spending, noting that the nation had historically "punched above its weight."

He said: “The European Union… is part of the cornerstone of the institutions built after World War Two that has made the world safer and more prosperous and we want to make sure the United Kingdom continues to have that influence.”

He added that Britain's strength derived from its "willingness to project power beyond its immediate self-interests to make this a more orderly, safer world".

In response, MEP Daniel Hannan, a Conservative eurosceptic, tweeted: “I accept that there may be some arguments for Britain staying in the EU. Humouring Barack Obama is not one of them.”

Ukip MEP Patrick O’Flynn was equally dismissive, saying: “We need to look to our own national interest first."

Obama struck a similar tone at the G7 summit in Germany in June, the president urging Britain not to abandon Europe. He told reporters: "I would note one of the great values of having the United Kingdom in the European Union is its strength and leadership on a whole host of global challenges. So we are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying part of the European Union."

In an attempt to placate members of his party's right flank, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU ahead of a referendum scheduled for 2017. The prime minister has repeatedly stated he wants Britain to remain part of the union, but only if it reforms its rules.

Also in the interview, Obama revealed the biggest frustration from his time in office was not being able to pass "common-sense gun safety laws... even in the face of repeated mass killings."

He said: "If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands."

"For us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing," he reflected.


The Cry of Kenyan-Somalis: Is Anyone Listening?

Catherine Wyatt   |   July 23, 2015    3:59 PM ET

The Kenyan state has an ethnicity problem. By presenting their conflict with the terrorist group al-Shabaab as a conflict of ethnicity, ethnic Somalis living in Kenya are at increasing risk of discrimination, marginalisation, and human rights abuses.

Ethnic Somalis in Kenya are marginalised based on the fear that they are supporters of, or related to, al-Shabaab. This marginalisation of ethnic-Somalis includes harsh measures used against the group in order to 'weed out Shabaab sympathisers'. Operation Usalama Watch, which began in April 2014, arrested over 4000 Muslims in four months. Police use extreme force, stealing items such as phones and watches from suspects, with a high number of reports of physical violence and rape. When Human Rights Watch interviewed 101 refugees and asylum seekers in Eastleigh about their experiences of police custody in 2013, almost all of them reported that the police repeatedly called them 'terrorists' or 'al-Shabaab'.

The government's monopoly on citizenship means that 60% of Somali residents living in the North Eastern Province of Kenya, the area most densely populated with Somalis, do not have ID cards. Upon failure to produce an ID card, Somalis can be arrested and punished. Video footage captured by Al Jazeera shows the military forcibly bundling innocent men and women into trucks, with one man shouting 'I am not al-Shabaab'. Somalis are being deliberately kept in a state of vulnerability.

The Kenyan authorities are conflating immigration issues with terrorism issues, giving legitimacy to the violation of the rights of ethnic-Somalis. This is a conscious tactic on behalf of the Kenyan government: focus on ethnicity forces focus away from issues such as government corruption and unfair allocation of resources.

This tactic is working. In 2014, the Managing Editor of Kenya's most popular newspaper the Daily Nation, Mutuma Mathiu, wrote 'Are we going to sit around and wait to be blown to bits by terrorists?...every little, two-bit Somali has a big dream - to blow us up...terrorists are pouring across the border'. Ethnic tension is the harmful consequence of the Kenyan state's insistence in conflating Somali ethnicity with terrorism.

However, Somalis living in the NEP are fighting back. Last month, a small group of Somalis embarked on a 1000 kilometre walk from Garissa to Mandera. They arrived in Mandera this week, significantly larger in number than when they started. Their trek encouraged others to join, providing hope and inspiration to the communities they walked through.

Named the #WalkofHope, the month long trek's aim was to bring international attention to the plight of Kenyan-Somalis. Unfortunately, the walk did not feature in the international media at all: it seems that Somalis are destined to only make the news when al-Shabaab attack, as they have been doing with increasing frequency in the past year.


By reporting on al-Shabaab but not the Somalis who aim to separate themselves from the Islamist group, we as journalists play into the hands of the Kenyan state, who use fear of al-Shabaab as a way of legitimising discrimination of Somalis.

Hearing the stories of Somalis in the NEP is the first step in fighting prejudice and discrimination. We must listen to the voices of those who are suffering. With President Obama currently visiting Kenya, now is the perfect time to bring to light the plight of one of the world's most disadvantaged ethnic groups.

Paul Vale   |   July 22, 2015    8:25 PM ET

NEW YORK -- The White House is planning to close controversial detention centre Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a spokesman for the administration. Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge of closing the facility ahead of the 2008 election, but Congress has repeatedly block attempts to decommission the prison during his tenure in office.


Obama has called the closing of Guantanamo a 'national imperative'

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Wednesday that the administration is in the “final stages” of drafting a plan, adding that it remains a priority to close Guantanamo. Earnest noted that terrorists use Guantanamo Bay as a recruiting tool.

The prison, which holds terror suspects, currently houses 116 inmates and costs $100 million per year to maintain. US law does not allow prisoners to be transferred to facilities within the US, and requires 30 days’ notice for inmates to be moved from Cuba. More than 800 detainees have passed through Guantanamo since 2002.

Having been thwarted by Congress, plans have been mooted suggesting the President would use an executive action to close the facility, circumnavigating the ban on transferring detainees to the mainland.


What If Gun Laws Aren't the Solution?

Eirik Bergesen   |   July 22, 2015    3:19 PM ET

As Norway marks four years after the Utøya massacre, the country might have a few lessons to teach. Especially to the US.

Picture a 12-year old riding the bus alone across town. With a rifle on his back. Imagine the commotion had it happened in the US.

Instead it happened in Norway. Two times a week, all through high school. The kid was me. On my way to biathlon training.

The national sport of biathlon is in itself probably the best illustration of Norway's relaxed attitude towards guns. Could the sport of skiing and shooting ever find an American equivalent of skateboarding interrupted by target shooting? Hardly.

It's no secret that the US has one of the highest densities of weapons in the world. Fewer people know that the small, socially liberal country of Norway ranks very close.

On a global level, private gun ownership in Norway is high. 31.32 firearms per 100 people. Still a lot less than the US with 88.82 firearms per 100 people ("Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City," Cambridge University Press), however, Americans are in a league of their own in this field.

Add the fact that 75% of Norwegians are members of the protestant church, and you can safely say that we "cling to guns or religion", as Obama once said. So, how did these nature-loving tree huggers also become gun huggers?

When the Vikings stopped pillaging neighbouring villages, weapon in hand, they remained hunters, continuing to harvest the forest-covered country. And with a history of Nazi occupation, well-armed military reserves at least create an illusion of heightened resistance. Although the Germans no longer scare us outside of the football field, we do share a border with a certain bear wrestling, bareback riding, bare-chested president.

Gun ownership is common. But gun violence is not. Norway has one of the lowest per-capita homicide rates in Europe. It is not a given that a country has to rank high in both categories. So how is this possible?

Up until July 22, 2011, Norwegians were not known to use their guns to kill each other. That's not to say there weren't killings. Let's just say that a high gun density often implies that people who decide to end their own lives have a higher rate of success.

Then the Utøya massacre happened. Norwegian-born and -raised, blond and blue-eyed - "one of us" - Anders Behring Breivik chose to aim his rage towards national immigration policies at a Labor Party youth camp. 69 young people died. Eight others were killed when the same person set off a bomb by a building housing several ministries, including the Prime Minister's Office.

Finally, this open and trusting little society was up for some serious law reforms, right? Surely, one needed to make sure that another insane person, or rather someone with insane political ideas (the court-appointed psychologists were divided on the issue), couldn't get their hands on weapons?

No. Then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was quick to phrase that the terror would be met with "more openness and more democracy." Future will tell if the now Secretary General of NATO will attempt to implement such a strategy at that organisation.

Political Norway was intent on one thing: Not letting this frightening, but still singular, incident change society's structures. Instead of more rules and restrictions, the government applied even more of the original medicine: faith in social trust. Perhaps even more interesting, a year later, scientists found that social trust had actually grown.

Seriously, not one adjustment to gun restrictions? Actually, there was one notable change. For the first time in history (outside of the Second World War) Norwegian police were allowed to carry a gun.

But, and this but is big, the change came only half a year ago and was not linked to the Utøya shootings. The background was the very same ISIS threat that every other Western country is scaring itself with these days. Yes, Norway is no better than the rest when it comes to loosing its cool when the threat is not "one of us", but has darker eyes and hair and belongs to a different religion.

Also, the permission for the police to carry guns has now been revoked. Mostly because the government weren't able to describe the threat in a credible way. Parliament was not satisfied with the threat description of "someone, somewhere, sometime - maybe".

Today, one can still park a van next to the parliament building. Politicians and royalty are easily approachable. Surveillance has been tightened, but nowhere close to American measures or those suggested by EU's now-debunked Data Protection Directive.

Less judgemental political dialogue was immediately encouraged. People with similar ideas about restricting immigration were not to be assorted guilt by association.

The killer had some years earlier been involved in party politics within a local branch of the right wing Progressive Party. Very few have held this against the party, underlined by the fact that they now for the first time are in government.

In his famous play "Peer Gynt", Norwegian Henrik Ibsen wrote that trolls burst when exposed to the sun. The same is often said in Norway about net trolls. Is is true? Can xenophobic people shed their extreme political views through online deliberation?

Not necessarily, most Norwegians still shed more of their fair skin than their unfair politics under solar exposure. But it doesn't mean the extreme views translate to extreme actions. Such views are perhaps more tolerated, although still not acknowledged.

The Utøya terrorist got his guns and bomb-making fertilizer according to rules and regulations. His record was clean. Four years later, it is still difficult to make the case that stricter laws could have prevented the attacks. There has been no call for "strong leaders".

Emphasis has been placed elsewhere. The government has strengthened psychiatric health care, which together with physical health care, is offered free. A high level of social trust makes it easier to maintain collective dialogue and coordinated action.

Guns don't kill people. People kill people. Although people with guns kill people, people with guns also don't kill people. In any case, one can't escape the fact that somebody is pulling the trigger and it's not the guns. Ultimately, it's with the people you have to put the effort.

Ryan Barrell   |   July 22, 2015   11:30 AM ET

We've reached another emotional moment in the journey to Jon Stewart's retirement - his last ever interview with President Barack Obama.

The Commander-in-chief took the opportunity to issue a sweeping executive order, jokingly banning Stewart from leaving.

Since Obama is also leaving his job soon, they both spent twenty minutes reflecting on recent years. It was emotional, interesting, and informative. Here's the full interview:

It was the president's seventh appearance on the popular current affairs show, which will be taken over by South African comedian Trevor Noah when Jon Stewart vacates his seat after 16 years at the helm.

Meanwhile, it's looking a lot like Obama's hot seat will be taken up by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2017.


Paul Vale   |   July 21, 2015    8:19 PM ET

NEW YORK -- A TV news anchor’s flag-waving commentary on the Chattanooga shooting went viral on Monday due to some provocative lines suggesting the US should respond by sending bombers to the “desert.”

Tomi Lahren took aim at President Obama’s response to the threat of radical Islamism, decrying his “be friendly to jihadists mentality.” The jingoistic outburst was performed in front of a backdrop featuring an American eagle soaring across Old Glory.

“Four United States Marines are now dead,” she said. “Climate change didn’t kill them, lack of free community college didn’t kill them, the income gap, wage inequality, nope, not those things either. Gay marriage? Nope. Oh, white racism? Not that either. So what did? President Obama, if you won’t say it, I will: radical Islam.”

“It’s about time we bring the fight to them, full force,” she continued. “Let’s show them [the 'radical jihadists'] what the United States looks like up close and personal. Show them what a B1 bomber looks like flying overhead; show them what they’re messing with. Put the fear of God in their desert.“

Unfortunately, Miss Lahren didn’t explain how bombing a “desert” might have curtailed what appears to be a domestic terror attack.


Daniel Welsh   |   July 17, 2015    4:19 PM ET

With best friends like Nicola McLean and Maria Fowler, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace’s life couldn’t get any more A-list, but she’s now revealed that she’s in regular contact with none other than Barack Obama.


True, the conversation is completely one-sided, but that’s hardly the point, is it?

The ‘Big Brother’ housemate - who returned to the house during this year’s series, as part of a ‘Time Warp’ twist - recently confessed that she often sends private messages to the US President when she’s feeling a little merry.


Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace

She told The Mirror: “I DM Barack Obama every time I've had one too many because he does follow me.”

When asked what kind of messages she sends Obama, Aisleyne responded that she tells him : “I love what you've done with our country… You're amazing. You're everything a president should be.”

Our country, Aisleyne? She does release we’re not… oh never mind.

barack obama

President Obama, who presumably doesn't watch 'Big Brother'

For anyone concerned for Obama, who we’re positive spends his Sunday mornings trawling his DMs to see which British reality stars have messaged him, never fear - Aisleyne is insistent she always sends him an apology the next day, usually along the lines of: “I'm so sorry I sent you that message! Like cringing."

Still, DMing the US President is still better than tweeting personal details, like she did earlier this month, when she posted the phone number of her ‘BB’ rival, Helen Wood, on her official account.

Aisleyne later alleged that she wasn’t at this year’s ‘BB’ final due to a “security risk” - and while we initially thought that might be due to her feud with Helen, it turns out it might actually be because of her high-profile connections with the world’s most powerful man...


Paul Vale   |   July 16, 2015    3:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- How best to greet America’s first African-American president? For a group of protesters in Oklahoma, the answer was to form mob and wave a symbol of slavery outside his hotel room.

The Confederate flag may have been removed from the South Carolina statehouse and purged from retailers’ stock rooms following the murder of nine people in Charleston last month, but the banner of armed insurrection against the United States remains a potent symbol for some.

Barack Obama stayed in an Oklahoma City hotel on Wednesday night ahead of a visit to a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. So out came the "stars and bars," though protesters were quick to inform the watching media that the demonstration definitely wasn't "racist.

confederate flag oklahoma

People wave Confederate flags outside the Obama's hotel, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Oklahoma City

"It is about history," protester Trey Johnson told a local TV station. "We're not gonna stand down from our heritage,” he added. Presumably that's the history in which the southern states went to war with the US government over their right to own other human beings, specifically black slaves.

“You know, this flag's not racist,” he added. “And I know a lot of people think it is, but it's really not. It's just a southern thing, that's it.”

Make of that what you will…


Paul Vale   |   July 15, 2015    8:02 PM ET

NEW YORK -- On the command of Barack Obama, the US Army invaded Texas on Wednesday, one of several Republican southern states now subjugated under martial law. American service personnel, covertly aided by soldiers from the People's Liberation Army of China and fighters from the Islamic State, moved quickly to rest control of the local populace.

Food distribution centres were establish in Walmart stores across the state, with a curfew in place restricting the movement of non-military personnel to between 9am and 9pm. A statement from the White House is scheduled for Thursday, with Obama expected to declare a state of emergency and the suspension of all local and national elections pending confiscation of civilian firearms...

jade helm

Eric Johnston, the Texas organiser for the counter Jade Helm 15 exercise, talks on the phone, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Bastrop, Texas

The above paragraphs would have been my introduction had the Jade Helm 15 exercise been revealed as a military campaign to subdue much of the Southwestern United States.

There’s nothing new about American conspiracism; an unpleasant coda to every mass shooting is the tedious reflex claiming an “inside job” or a "false flag," usually with the aim of tighter gun control. However, Jade Helm has gone far beyond the usual conspiratorial bent, gaining such a large following that national politicians have been unwilling to dismiss its tenets for fear of alienating the electorate.

Here are the basics: Jade Helm 15 is a realistic military training exercise in which US forces are faced with a fictitious counterinsurgency in the Southwestern states -- from California to Texas. The exercise is to last from July 15 to September 15.

Conspiracy theorists contend it is not an exercise, but a real mission to place Texas under martial law. Specific details vary: some say the Chinese are complicit; others say soldiers will go door-to-door to disarm citizens. Some predict Vladimir Putin will arm a Texas rebellion. But why has this nonsense gained such traction?


The initial paranoia was whipped up by radio talk show host Alex Jones, who started trumpeting a military takeover in March after a member of his staff obtained a map detailing the exercise with Utah, southern California and Texas listed as "hostile." Soon thereafter, Jones was warning his listenership of the impending "invasion.”

The frenzy escalated in April when Texas Governor Greg Abbott was confronted by a concerned mob. Rather than dismiss their anxiety, he instead penned a letter to the Texas State Guard requesting that they “monitor the proceedings.” In May, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, plotting a presidential bid, also refused to dampened fears, preferring to ask the Pentagon for reassurances, while using the opportunity to bash the Obama administration.

Both directly lent the paranoia legitimacy, while highlighting how the American system creates politicians that have to reflect their constituents, rather than lead them.

And there's Chuck Norris, the martial artist turned actor who penned an opinion piece for the WorldNetDaily website, suggesting there was more to the training exercise than officials disclosures. "It’s neither over-reactionary nor conspiratorial to call into question or ask for transparency about Jade Helm 15 or any other government activity,” he wrote.

The psychosis reached such a pitch that by late April the US military dispatched an official to Texas to speak to residents of Bastrop Country, southeast of Austin. In a packed meeting room, Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria tried to reason with the crowd, assuring them that Jade Helm was not an intelligence gathering exercise, nor would it lead to confiscation of property.

The soldier even had to assure attendees that the United Nations was not involved, and was jeered when he said he didn’t know about “Agenda 21” (the UN’s sustainability planning programme that conspiracy theorists claims is a forerunner to a one-world government).

As laughable as this might appear, some of the underlying reason for the distrust are not. Speaking to the Washington Post, Bastrop’s former mayor Terry Orr gave what he perceived as the root cause: “The truth is, this stems a fair amount from the fact that we have a black president.” He added that local residents think Obama is only concerned with African-Americans and “illegal aliens” and that the government "is just not on the side of the white guy.”

Though race is woven into the fabric of American political culture, other factors are also at play, including a long-standing distrust towards the federal government, a national trait that would persist regardless of the colour of the President.

More pertinently, America is a changing nation -- demographically, socially, economically and politically. Declining religious affiliation, healthcare reform, changing attitudes towards LGBT rights, fear of another recession and America’s perceived waning as a global power all feed a anxiety. In the 2014 paper “Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of American Politics,” researchers Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood argue that people often turn to conspiracies to cope with the difficult emotions uncertainty begets.

Interestingly the researchers found that conspiratorial thinking cuts across the political divide (conspiracism isn’t the preserve of the right wing), nor is it an affliction of the perennially paranoid. Yet one of the real drivers could be religion, with conspiracy theorists likely to also hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs. That's not in short supply in Texas or beyond.

Whatever the reasons, the Lone Star state is not (at the time of publication) under martial law, a fact likely to be spun by Jones et al as a victory for an alert, well informed citizenry that has thwarted Obama's tyranny (for now). In the absence of an armed takeover, the Internet stepped in, reminding us what it would be like had the Texas fallen to Obama's ISIS-Chinese hordes. Here are some more:


Paul Vale   |   July 15, 2015    4:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- A political group is to confront President Obama with 5,000 naked men and women on his forthcoming trip to the Kenya, a protest against Obama’s "open and aggressive support for homosexuality."

The demonstration is the plan of the country’s ultra conservative Republican Liberty Party, an organisation vocal in its opposition of extending rights to the LGBT community. Homosexuality is currently illegal in Kenya, with acts carrying a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Obama is to visit the African country later this month, with Republican Liberty Party leader Vincent Kidala having already sought permission to hold a “peaceful protest,” which involves thousands of men and women stripping naked to show the President the “differences” between the genders.

According to the Nairobi Times, Kidala sent a notification for the march on Tuesday.

His letter read: “The procession shall be carried out by approximately 5,000 totally naked men and women to protest over Obama’s open and aggressive support for homosexuality. The party’s main objective is for him to see and understand the different [sic] between a man and a woman.”

According to Pink News, Kidala confirmed authenticity of the missive, telling local media that his party is to hire “prostitutes” to bolster numbers for the protest. He added that the prostitutes would work for free as they’ll lose business should homosexuality be made legal.

Anti-LGBT groups in Kenya have advised Obama not to talk about gay rights on his visit, however White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the President will confront the issue, telling reporters last week: “I’m confident the president will not hesitate to make clear that the protection of basic universal human rights in Kenya is also a priority and consistent with the values that we hold dear here in the United States of America.”

Last month, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage would be legal across all 50 states, a move decried by social conservatives and the majority of the Republican presidential field.


The Nuclear Deal Is Good for Iran and Bad for US Allies

Nehad Ismail   |   July 14, 2015    1:43 PM ET

The media reported that a landmark Iran nuclear agreement has been finally reached on Tuesday July 14th after two weeks of intensive political bargaining in Vienna, reported Reuters quoting Iranian diplomats.

The deal is said to allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iran's military sites as part of their monitoring duties - a compromise between Washington and Tehran. Iranian media rejected such a demand earlier today.

"All the hard work has paid off and we sealed a deal. God bless our people," one diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. A second Iranian official confirmed the agreement.

But access at will to any site would not necessarily be granted and even if so, could be delayed, a condition that critics of the deal are sure to seize on as possibly giving Tehran time to cover any sign of non-compliance with its commitments

Death to America:
Meanwhile on Friday July 10th 2015 whilst the nuclear talks were taking place tens of thousands of protesters in Tehran and cities across Iran Friday chanted "Death to America" in the Islamic republic's annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day of Demonstration.
Even in stifling heat approaching 100 degrees (38 Celsius), the crowds were undeterred. Participants in the demonstrations included President Hasan Rouhani and other top Iranian officials.
Analysts believe Iran is the winner. The US negotiating team has been the weakest link giving away more and more concessions whilst the Iranian team remained stubbornly firm. The Iranians were aware of the fact that both President Obama and his secretary of State John Kerry were desperate to sign a deal. In June news leaked that Obama had written letters to Iranian President Rouhani virtually begging him to sign a deal. Both Obama and Kerry are desperately seeking some kind of foreign policy success.

The Iranian leaders will celebrate by announcing to their people that the world super powers have acknowledged Iran's right to become a nuclear power. Obama's advisors will tell him that such rhetoric is for local consumption. But this doesn't alter the fact that Iran will squeeze more and more concessions from a weak US President. Obama's weakness was starkly reflected in his refusal to take a tough stance against the Assad regime which is Iran's ally and client. According to Washington sources Obama was afraid any action against the Syrian regime would alienate Iran and derail the nuclear talks.
President Obama is rushing to sign a nuclear deal with Iran at any price. Iran's negotiators have won generous concessions from the Obama administration.

Many issues still remain unresolved:

The Iranians have failed to provide satisfactory answers to several questions:
In March the IAEA asked about the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of their nuclear program. Iran refused to answer. No clear answer has been given in the recent talks either.
According to latest reports the agreement announced Tuesday, Iran has NOT agreed to allow unfettered, unlimited access and intrusive inspection of suspected sites military and non-military without prior consultations. Iran had said it would implement the Additional Protocol (AP) of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but the supreme leader had balked at its implications, declaring inspections of military sites a red line.
Critics of the nuclear deal such as John Bolton former US Ambassador to the UN warn of Iranian concealment, cheating, delay and obstruction to defeat whatever is agreed in writing. Bolton even dismisses the "snapback" mechanism to revive economic sanctions as questionable and will be subject to endless disputes and delays.

The Economist (Tuesday July 14th) referred to "worrying differences between the detailed American account of what had been agreed and the far vaguer public interpretation of the accord by the Iranians. These were subsequently amplified by statements about "red lines" by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he appeared to reject key provisions of Lausanne, particularly those relating to inspection of suspicious sites".

However the Financial Times cautiously welcomed the deal:
"Iran has accepted unprecedented international control and surveillance over its nuclear programme as well as cuts in its uranium stocks and in the number of centrifuges. Yes, it might cheat. But the terms imposed by the US and the other members of the P5+1 group of leading powers will not make that easy".

Many in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and Israel think that Iran will at some point in future become a nuclear threshold state, as a result of the P5+1 agreement. The lifting of sanctions will embolden Iran to escalate its funding to its proxies and continue its strategy of sponsoring and supporting terrorism.
As far as the Middle East is concerned Obama's speech celebrating the deal has not impressed or reassured the allies. Obama just repeated what he has been saying for the last two years.

Labour's Untimely Demise

Grainne Gillis   |   July 14, 2015   10:10 AM ET

What has happened to the Labour party? Once the proud defender of the working classes, it has been steadily showing its true blue colours since it assumed the mantle of the now defunct and destructive 'New Labour' project. For me, this culminated in Harriet Harman's failure to oppose the government's welfare cuts, which seems a bizarre type of own goal, considering she is the deputy leader of the now blindingly apparent nominal 'Opposition'.

Let's make no mistake about it: these Tory-lite tactics cost Labour the election. For sure, Labour had a weak messenger in Ed Miliband, who in almost 5 years failed to define what he, or the PLP under his leadership, stood for. Moreover, when he did define what he stood for - it turned out to be a carbon copy of a UKIP anti-immigration policy. But the Labour Party's biggest failure under his leadership, in my opinion, was the failure to be an effective opposition and challenge the lie of austerity. A failure that Harman and anyone cut from that Blairite cloth seem absolutely intent on continuing.

Part of me is in absolute despair at the state of British politics, and I believe what we are witnessing is the absolute exposure of the endgame of the freemarket capitalism - the new feudalism. Class war has never been so obviously played out, and clearly most of the political elite at Westminster are hopelessly out of touch with what is actually happening in the country. Homelessness has been on the rise; food bank usage has been on the rise by the working poor; child poverty has been on the increase; at least 49 benefit claimants have killed themselves directly related to welfare cuts. This has all happened since 2010, and the link with ideological, unnecessary austerity is brutally transparent. And where is the Labour Party on all this? Our supposed Opposition is towing the government line on austerity, sucking up to the Bullingdon bullies like an erstwhile gangly-limbed teenager trying to ingratiate themselves in a gang. Teenagers have an excuse for this; elected MPs who are voted in by the public to oppose wrong-footed government policy do not.

Like many others, the wasteland of the Miliband years have left me feeling increasingly disenfranchised from a party which, as a centre-Leftist, should feel like my natural political home. The problem, I suspect, is that while my political views have not changed much (I believe in a healthy mixture of socialism and capitalism - note the word 'healthy') the party has been pulled so much to the right as to be indistinguishable from the Tories (who in turn are being pulled to the right by UKIP, and UKIP have ended up taking the place of the BNP, with more legitimacy than the BNP ever had). Here's what would make me support Labour again, and what I believe would increase their supporter base:

1. A clear mandate opposing ideological austerity, and exposing in no uncertain terms the economic and societal vacuousness of pursuing those policies in terms of economic recovery.

2. Proper and independent regulation of the financial sector and the media. While every sector should be regulated it has recently struck me that there is a huge disparity between the eagerness Cameron has in regulating and gagging, let's say, the Third Sector and his cronies and party backers in big business and the media.

3. Closing tax avoidance loopholes, which are costing the UK upwards of £12bn a year. Compare this to the proposed welfare cuts, which will save the UK the comparatively measly sum of £1.2bn. The lack of logic behind this alone should prove to be a godsend for any Opposition, which Harman seems to have blithely ignored.

And I don't think I'm alone in feeling that the Labour Party is in disarray. And yet, if this is Labour's untimely demise, it has come at the worst time possible, because never has it been so badly needed. The thirst among friends, even those that would sway more to the Right than I would, for a new kind of politics that will stand up for the non-millionaired majority of the electorate, has never been so keen. Where has the party of Hardie and Attlee disappeared to? As short-lived as his leadership was, of John Smith? If we spend every goddamned year in the United Kingdom eulogising the dead and veterans of World Wars I & II, why are we not protecting their legacies of the welfare state and the NHS, where no child would go hungry, and the vulnerable would be protected, rather than letting the same legacies be used and spat out by the evil (or should I say, EVEL) of Cambornian ideology? Where is the political warrior that will go into battle day in, day out in Parliament for the next 5 years and stand up for the working and middle classes? Because ultimately, that is the direction the Labour Party should be taking now. Otherwise its MPs may as well hand in their red rosettes and join the Tories and have done with it.

Out of all the candidates for the Labour leadership, there is only one that may potentially fulfil that criteria. I don't buy into the notion that Corbyn is unelectable; and, quite frankly, I'm not so concerned with the election in 2020 as I am with the damage the Tories are currently wreaking and how to oppose that. If a week is a long time in politics, five years is an eternity; and the candidate that appeared unelectable yesterday may very well crest the wave of capturing the Zeitgeist in a few years. In recent years, Obama is the proof positive of that.

The best way to revive Labour's fortunes is not to follow the trajectory it has been on since Blair, but to revive its beating heart, and that lies not in Westminster (yet) but in the people in the wider UK who still hope that political heart exists. The victory of the SNP, and the left-wing policies they espoused shows that there is a hunger for an alternative to Toryism. Politics is changing; and rather than doing what is politically expedient and towing the redundant New Labour line, Labour must now find a new voice. If they do, they might be pleasantly surprised at how the electorate respond in kind.

Kathryn Snowdon   |   June 26, 2015    8:09 PM ET

US President Barack Obama led a chorus of "Amazing Grace" during his eulogy for the reverend of the Charleston church where nine people were gunned down before calling for stronger gun laws.

Obama described Reverend Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was targeted in a "hate crime", as a "good man".

He described those killed as "good people, decent people, God-fearing people. People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, persevered. People of great faith."

barack obama

Barack Obama led a chorus of 'Amazing Grace' at Reverend Clementa Pinckney's funeral

He told the families of those murdered: "The nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church."

The president also used the eulogy to call on America to front up to its problem with guns.

He said that for too long America has "been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts on this nation", and called for action on gun control, not just talk.

The removal of the confederate flag from the country's capital was also touched upon. Obama said that, while "this flag did not cause these murders", the flag represents more than just ancestral pride.

He said removing the flag from the state's capital would not be an act of "political correctness".

Obama said: "For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.

"By taking down that flag," he said, "we express God's grace."

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Obama said taking the flag down would be an "acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery was wrong".

Obama never mentioned the name of the 21-year-old charged over the murders, Dylann Roof, name, only referring to "the alleged killer" during his eulogy.

The president said: "Blinded by hatred the alleged killer couldn't see the grace surrounding Revered Pinckney and that bible group."

He added: "The alleged killer couldn't imagine how the city of Charleston... how the state of South Carolina... and the United States of America would respond, not merely with revulsion at his evil act but with big hearted generosity and more importantly with a thoughtful introspection and examination that we so rarely see in public life."

After his speech, Obama tweeted how much he admired the grace shown by the victims' families, using the hashtag 'HateWontWin'.

People were moved by Obama's rendition of Amazing Grace.


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Steven Hopkins   |   June 25, 2015    7:04 AM ET

Barack Obama took time out during an event honouring LGBT Pride Month to teach a heckler some manners, and left no one in doubt what is expected when you're in "my house".

The president was speaking at the White House on Wednesday when an LGBT activist interrupted him to protest against his administration's policies on deportation of undocumented immigrants.

"Not one more deportation!" Jennicet Gutiérrez, a transgender woman, shouted.

Obama had no time for Gutiérrez, telling her, "no, no, no, no...", before continuing, "listen, you're in my house".


President Barack Obama responds to heckler Jennicet Gutiérrez after she interrupted him during a LGBT Pride Month event

When Gutiérrez continued to try and get the president's attention, he said, "It's not, you know, respectful, when you get invited to somebodies..."

The crowd cheered as Obama shut Gutiérrez down, telling her: "You're not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me like this."

Gutiérrez was booed by the crowd, before Obama continued: "I'm sorry... no, no, no... shame on you. You shouldn't be doing this."

The crowd began chanting "Obama", before the president turned to his security detail and asked if Gutiérrez could be removed from the venue.

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Obama told Gutiérrez: "You can either stay and be quite, or we will escort you out." After pausing for a moment, the president then gave the order: "Can we have this person removed please."

Later he reportedly said: "As a general rule I'm just fine with a couple of hecklers, but not when I'm up in the house," before receiving a jovial pat on the back from Vice President Joe Biden.

Gutiérrez, 29, came to the US from Mexico when she was 15. She is in the process of getting a green card through her sister, but is currently undocumented.

The president was interrupted by transgender woman Jennicet Gutiérrez

At Wednesday's event, Gutiérrez said she intended to deliver a letter bringing the abuse of undocumented LGBT immigrants to Obama's attention.

Before the event started she said: "The letter is asking to release our communities from detention centers and to stop deportation."

The Williams Institute estimated in 2013 that there were 267,000 adult undocumented immigrants in the US who identified as LGBT.

The Department of Homeland Security recognises LGBT individuals as a "special vulnerability," which officers are instructed to consider when making decisions on detention and deportation.


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But LGBT people are nevertheless detained, despite the risk of abuse in holding facilities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds about 75 transgender immigrants each night, most of them transgender women seeking asylum, according to report by Fusion published in November. The report found that many transgender women are housed with men, and one in five said they had been sexually assaulted.

Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva , Michael Honda, and 33 other House Democrats, signed a letter this week asking Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to improve treatment of LGBT people by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Honda said in a statement: "The alarming rates of sexual assaults of non-heterosexual detainees should be a wakeup call for ICE.

"Even more dire is the fact ICE continues to detain transgender women in men's detention facilities. ICE has the power to determine suitable alternatives to detain LGBT persons, but instead they continue to ignore safer alternatives. Our letter calls on ICE to use the power they have to create a safer and more humane alternative that will treat LGBT individuals with respect and dignity."

Obama briefly addressed immigration in his remarks at Wednesday's event, saying: "Those of us who know freedom and opportunity thanks to the toil and blood of those who came before us, we have an extra responsibility to extend freedom to those who are still marginalised."

He went on to mention "immigrants who deserve a pathway to be able to, to get right with the law," among other groups.

After the event, Gutierrez said in a statement that she was disappointed by Obama's response.

She said: "I am outraged at the lack of leadership that Obama demonstrated.

"He had no concern for the way that LGBTQ detainees are suffering. As a transwoman, the misgendering and the physical and sexual abuse -- these are serious crimes that we face in detention centers. How can that be ignored?"

Obama's slapdown is reminiscent of Jed Bartlet's dismissal of a heckler in political drama, West Wing.