x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Gustav casts shadow over the Republican Party convention

As Hurricane Gustav barrels towards New Orleans, John McCain calls on fellow Republicans, haunted by memories of Hurricane Katrina, to "take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats" as delegates gather for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Maliki replaces negotiating team as US-Iraq talks on troop withdrawal remain deadlocked. Egypt provides brief relief in Gaza's struggle to break the siege.

"The Republic Party rewrote its convention script Sunday, canceling appearances by President Bush and Vice President Cheney and preparing to jettison much of the normal fanfare, bowing to the political reality that it could not be seen as celebrating as Hurricane Gustav prepared to delivered a body blow to the Gulf Coast," The Washington Post reported. Chris Cillizza wrote: "The news that neither President George W Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney will speak on the opening night of the Republican National Convention will be greeted - privately, of course - with a huge sigh of relief by most party strategists. "Bush and Cheney canceled the scheduled appearances because of the Hurricane Gustav, which appears to be on a collision course with the Gulf Coast. According to the Associated Press, Bush might reschedule his appearance for later this week but Cheney is leaving on a four day foreign trip starting Tuesday that seems to preclude him from making a stop at the convention. "The absence of the two most visible - and controversial - members of the Bush Administration is seen as a blessing by nearly every Republican not directly tied to the president." Bloomberg reported: "Gustav is forecast to strike the Gulf Coast harder than Katrina, which made landfall almost exactly three years ago on Aug 29, 2005. The storm may prove to be a reminder of the Bush administration's failures in handling the aftermath of Katrina, which flooded 80 per cent of New Orleans, killed 1,800 people and caused $80 billion in damage. " 'That was really a turning point for the Bush administration,' said Darrell West, vice president and director of Government Studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based policy research organisation. " 'After the devastation of Katrina, people concluded that Republicans were not very competent at managing public policy,' West said." The New York Times said: "Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, said in Ohio on Sunday that he had no plans to travel to the Gulf Coast because he did not want to get in the way of emergency efforts there. Mr Obama, speaking to reporters after leaving services at St Luke's Lutheran Church in Lima, Ohio, said his campaign would mobilise its giant e-mail list of supporters to encourage them to volunteer or send contributions as soon as the impact of Hurricane Gustav becomes known. " 'We can activate an e-mail list of a couple million people who want to give back,' Mr Obama told reporters. 'I think we can get tons of volunteers to travel down there if it becomes necessary.' "Asked whether he believed it was appropriate for Mr McCain to travel to the Gulf Coast, Mr Obama said: 'A big storm like this raises bipartisan concerns, and I think for John to want to find out what's going on is fine.' " 'The thing that I always am concerned about in the middle of a storm,' Mr Obama said, 'is whether we're drawing resources away from folks on the ground because the Secret Service and various security requirements sometimes it pulls police, fire and other departments away from concentrating on the job.' " Meanwhile, AFP reported: "Western Cuba woke up Sunday to a scene of massive devastation after deadly Hurricane Gustav blasted through with winds gusting up to 340 kilometers (210 miles) per hour, wrecking vulnerable coastal towns and knocking out communications and power. "Thousands of homes on the coast of the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio were left roofless and sea water from the storm surge nearly reached the levels of roofs on homes on the low-lying Isle of Youth, which was hit directly by the massive huricane Saturday afternoon. "There were reports of dozens of injuries but no immediate reports of deaths from the storm, which plowed across the Isle of Youth and then Pinar del Rio province Saturday with sustained top winds of 240 kilometers (150 miles) an hour."

US-Iraq negotiations on troop withdrawal remain deadlocked

"At the 'make-or-break' stage of talks with the US on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has swept aside his negotiating team and replaced it with three of his closest aides, a reshuffle that some Iraqi officials warn risks sabotaging the agreement. "The decision on the team negotiating the pact, which the Americans have described as the basis of a long-term strategic alliance between the United States and Iraq, remains so sensitive that it has not been announced. In disclosing the switch to the Los Angeles Times this weekend, a senior Iraqi official close to Maliki also suggested that the two sides remained deadlocked on key issues. "The shake-up comes just four months before the expiration of the United Nations mandate that authorises the US troop presence in Iraq. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the country recently, expectations rose that an agreement was imminent. But Iraq and the United States remain far apart on the matter of immunity for US forces in Iraqi courts, the official said." The Sunday Telegraph reported: "More than 3,500 insurgents have been 'taken off the streets of Baghdad' by the elite British force in a series of audacious 'Black Ops' over the past two years. "It is understood that while the majority of the terrorists were captured, several hundred, who were mainly members of the organisation known as 'al Qa'eda in Iraq' have been killed by the SAS. "The SAS is part of a highly secretive unit called 'Task Force Black' which also includes Delta Force, the US equivalent of the SAS."

Gaza's struggle to break the siege

"The Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip was open for a second day Sunday to allow hundreds of people to pass into and out of the besieged territory, officials said. "Seventeen buses carrying over 800 people, including medical patients requiring treatment abroad, students, and foreign visa holders, were lined up on the Gaza side, Mohammed Odwan, a spokesman for the crossing, told AFP. "On Saturday some 1,900 people crossed into Egypt and nearly 900 crossed from Egypt into Gaza, Odwan said, adding that the crossing would close Sunday night." The Los Angeles Times reported from Gaza City: "As the academic year gears up around the world, hundreds of college and graduate students here are growing increasingly desperate. Israel's decision to virtually seal off the Gaza Strip after the militant group Hamas took control last summer has made the students partners in frustrated ambitions and pawns in a larger political struggle. "The case of seven Gazan Fulbright scholars who were not being allowed to leave the enclave attracted a flurry of international media attention; four of them got out in June after the US intervened. But very few Gazans are allowed out anymore, except in extreme medical cases. " 'I think I'm going to lose [my scholarship] and then I'm going to check right into the asylum,' said Wael Hamdi al Daya, who was accepted to the doctoral programme in international finance at the University of Bradford in Britain. 'It's a long struggle just to obtain a scholarship. So to do all that and gain it, and then lose it....' " Individual students - 58 so far this summer, according to Israel - have been permitted to leave to study overseas. But Daya, the coordinator of Gaza's trapped student committee, estimates that at least 600 have been accepted to foreign universities. That number, he said, is probably low and doesn't take into account a new dynamic: students with ambitions to study abroad who didn't bother to apply. The Media Line reported on the unusual election campaign efforts of a small group in Gaza. "For the past seven months, a group of 24 students and young professionals have gathered in the Gaza Strip nightly to phone random telephone numbers in the United States, urging the voices at the other end to 'vote for Barack Obama.' "Although only American citizens can actually cast a ballot in the election, this Gaza-based effort is a forceful demonstration of how Internet technology opens the door for anyone, anywhere to take an active role in US politics. Even if they have never even been to the USA. "Far from utilizing a state-of-the art call-center of the sort that have become a mainstay of American political marketing, the Gaza callers are amateur volunteers who meet in a local Internet cafe or in a stark room at a local youth center equipped with little more than desks, chairs and outlets for the personal computers through which they will make their calls. That - and the desire to see Barack Obama become president of the United States."