China threatens U.S. because of Trump

China Warns U.S. After Trump Wins Nevada Caucus

Trump has promised to punish Chinese currency manipulation

Chinese Communist Party leaders stand up while the international communist anthem is played. / AP

Chinese Communist Party leaders stand up while the international communist anthem is played.  Caucus/ada AP

By Bill Gertz
February 24, 2016 5:00 pm

 

China warned the United States on Wednesday not to adopt punitive currency policies that could disrupt U.S.-China relations after Donald Trump’s win in the Nevada caucus.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing that “we are following with interest the U.S. presidential election.”

Hua was asked about China’s response to a possible Trump presidency and his announced plan to punish China for currency manipulation with a tax on Chinese goods.

“Since it belongs to the domestic affair of the U.S., I am not going to make comments on specific remarks by the relevant candidate,” she said.

“But I want to stress that China and the U.S., as world’s largest developing and developed countries, shoulder major responsibilities in safeguarding world peace, stability and security and driving world development,” the spokeswoman added.

“The sustained, sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations serves the fundamental and long-term interests of the two countries and benefits the world. We hope and believe that the U.S. government will pursue a positive policy toward China in a responsible manner.”

NEW YORK - MAY 10: Donald Trump attends "The Celebrity Apprentice" season finale at the at American Museum of Natural History on May 10, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)

The comments came as Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, is holding talks in Washington that include U.S. concerns about a Chinese military buildup on disputed islands in the South China Sea, and cooperation on dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.

Hua said Wang and Secretary of State John Kerry agreed the two sides will enhance cooperation and increase talks and exchanges.

“We stand ready to preserve and advance China-U.S. relations together with the U.S. side,” she said.

Kerry said he spoke to Wang about reducing tensions and finding diplomatic solutions to competing South China Sea claims.

“We want there to be a halt to the expansion and militarization of occupied features,” Kerry said. “Everyone benefits by true demilitarization, non-militarization.”

Kerry also said the United States remains committed to freedom of navigation and overflight, “something which China says it does not stand in the way of; it agrees that there should be peaceful freedom of navigation.”

 Reports from Asia say Chinese state-run media have been ordered by the Communist Party to minimize reporting on the U.S. presidential election.

Hong Kong’s Chinese-language news outlet Oriental Daily reported Feb. 5 that the Party’s Propaganda Department, which sets policies for all state-run media, ordered all publications to ban election coverage of U.S. policies toward China and to focus election coverage on negative stories and scandals.

Trump won the Nevada caucus with 45 percent of the vote, increasing his chances of winning the Republican nomination later this year.

Last month, Trump vowed to impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese good to offset China’s devaluation of the yuan.

“They’re devaluing their currency, and they’re killing our companies,” Trump said. “We are letting them get away with it, and we can’t let them get away with it.”

The Obama administration has adopted conciliatory policies toward China on trade and currency issues.

Trump, on his campaign website, outlined a hardline approach to dealing with China that involves officially declaring China a currency manipulator and negotiating an end to the practice.

Trump also wants to thwart China’s theft of intellectual property and adopt policies aimed at bring jobs back from overseas to the United States.

Bolstering the U.S. military and “deploying it appropriately in the East and South China Seas” are other goals.

“These actions will discourage Chinese adventurism that imperils American interests in Asia and shows our strength as we begin renegotiating our trading relationship with China,” the Trump website states. “A strong military presence will be a clear signal to China and other nations in Asia and around the world that America is back in the global leadership business.”

What I am thankful for today

I have as much to be thankful for as any man that ever lived.  But today I am gripped, stunned and collapsing beneath a weight of gratitude.   I am thunderstruck with thankfulness over this one thing: God’s mercy on America.  Seven times in our history when we would have been destroyed, and by all accounts should have been destroyed, God intervened.  Read on.

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Seven Miracles that Saved America

 “In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine protection — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. … I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men!”

—Benjamin Franklin, 1787

“There is no overwhelming proof, but deep inside we know. And to those who believe, it also seems clear that these events took place with the direction and purpose. Despite our weaknesses, which are many, and our failings, which have existed since our inception, God has been willing to intervene so that this nation might survive.”

– Chris and Ted Stewart, 2009

The Founding Fathers regularly wrote that they considered themselves to be doing God’s work in establishing the United States. This habit was not just confined to the conspicuously devout, such as Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams but also to such secular saints as Jefferson and Franklin, the so-called Deists.  More to the point, they fervently believed — and often asserted — that God in his Providence actively intervened in events to make their efforts successful.

Today, we often dismiss such rhetoric as “just the way people talked back then” and explain how politicians of a certain era used it to rally an overwhelmingly religious populace behind them.

In their terrific new book, Seven Miracles that Saved America: Why they Matter, Why We Should Have Hope, former Air Force officer Chris Stewart and his brother, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart, argue forcefully that the Founders not only meant what they said, but they were right.

The Stewarts look at seven instances in which overwhelming odds had to be beaten for the United States to exist in its current form. While some might argue over their meaning or the significance of some of their “miracles,” the unlikely circumstances that saved the day in several cases will have even a hardcore secularist taking a second look:

  • The extraordinary unlikelihood that America was colonized due to the efforts of an ambitious navigator with humble beginnings  – rather than perhaps the greatest fleet ever assembled for just such a purpose– which “discovered” North America about 70 years before Columbus.
  • The million-to-one odds that saved the English colonization of America as a fleet crossing the Atlantic arrives in Jamestown minutes before it was to be abandoned.
  • The fortuitous fog that saved Washington’s army that was as well-timed — and accurate — as any artillery smokescreen.
  • The discovery of the Japanese fleet heading toward Midway in the vastness of the Pacific during World War II by an American reconnaissance airplane extending its search well beyond its operational range.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While this book makes a theological and political point, the emphasis in Seven Miracles that Saved America is on storytelling. The Stewarts employ an unusual device — novelizing part of each chapter, much like the Shaaras or Alan Eckert — while sticking to known facts and actual quotes. This makes for an extremely engaging, if rather quirky, narrative.

The authors open with the fascinating — and not well known account — of how America should have been colonized by the Chinese, rather than by Western Europeans.  Even if the Chinese did not discover the American continents, though it seems likely they should have, with their massive fleet and more advanced technology.

However, the glorious fleet that was sent on a mission of discovery, returned to a China that had changed and become inward-focused and xenophobic. The records of the exploration were burned, and the fabled fleet was left to rot, along with China’s expansionist ambitions.  (For more on this, check out last year’s interesting, if flawed, book, 1421.)

The next chapter, The Miracle at Jamestown, continues the discussion of the religious and cultural nature of those who colonized America and why it was important. While the Stewarts propose the obvious, that those who followed Columbus were culturally very different than the navy of Zheng He, the authors assert it was also very important that a Protestant presence be established in America. They contend the competition among Christian sects led to the religious diversity and tolerance that formed the basis of the United States.

Their story of how close Jamestown came to failure and abandonment is gripping reading.  How it was saved is one of the more convincing cases for the word “miracle” in the book—along with the “mysterious fog” that saved Washington’s army in New York in the Revolutionary War, allowing him to pull off a Dunkirk-like evacuation and live to fight another day.

Many might put the circumstances of extraordinary events down to the American character that results from free men, for the first time in history, being allowed to operate on principles of liberty.  It’s not unusual, for instance, to hear the term “the miracle of the Constitution.”  It’s just unusual — today, at least — for it to be meant as literally as the Stewarts’ assert.

This is particularly true in the chapters in which the authors see the hand of God in the timing of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan assuming the presidency in times of crisis.

Easily the most controversial chapter — and the most likely to raise the ire of some country club Republicans, much less Democrats — is the chapter saying that Ronald Reagan not only won the Cold War but also saved America.

The Stewarts, however, point out that George H.W. Bush, while a good man, did call the Reagan economic agenda “voodoo economics” during the Republican primaries. Even if Bush 41 truly was aboard, he would not have had the political oomph to push it through a Democrat-controlled Congress.GodBlessAmerica

More importantly, Bush was from the “realist” foreign policy tradition, which would have looked for “stability” and détente over real change. The most persuasive point the authors make here is to remind us that, after all of Reagan’s successes in putting the USSR on the ropes, Bush ordered a “reassessment” of U.S. relations with the Soviets upon taking office.

While the first Bush administration was “reassessing,” communism collapsed, and 41 was too surprised to even celebrate the Berlin Wall coming down, as Reagan had predicted.

Of course, such pivotal battles as Gettysburg and Midway had hundreds of little moments that one could argue “changed the course of history.” In the case of Midway, for example, the authors are persuasive in their argument that nearly every one of those moments miraculously went the Americans’ way.

In the case of Gettysburg, for instance, they could easily have titled the chapter, “The Miracle of Friendly Fire.”  Had Stonewall Jackson, the South’s best tactician and Lee’s greatest commander been with him at Gettysburg … who knows?  Jackson was easily the most important figure in American military history to be mistakenly shot by his own troops.

Those of a determinedly secular mindset may be apt to dismiss this book too quickly.  Even if you reject the premise out of hand and prefer to think of it as “Seven Statistically Wildly Improbable Coincidences that Saved America,”this book is worth your time.

In each case, the Stewarts do a masterful job of setting the stage of not only why the odds were stacked against the outcome we take for granted but also in reminding us of what was at stake.  Each chapter, it could be argued, is as good a one-chapter treatment of a momentous time as you are likely to find anywhere—particularly setting the stage for the Civil War, and demolishing the notion that slavery was a side issue.

Which brings us to the authors’ ultimate point. As bad as things seem now, America has been much closer to the precipice in its history. The Stewarts write that if God did not let the nation fail, or fall to its enemies then, there is no reason to suppose he is done with America yet.

The end may not be near after all.

P.S.  I am gripped by hope but equally sobered by the fact that today is unique in our history.  This is the first time that America has been led by God haters.  That hatred extends to every vestige of Christian influence on America.  Our leaders are, in fact, shaking their fists at God.

We are in desperate need of a new mercy, a mercy unlike any that we have ever known.  Today I am stunned by the fact that we will be shown mercy.  It will not be easy, it will be costly and we can certainly expect that God will even allow crisis that will, in the end, save the Republic.  It begins today with hearts full of gratitude for past mercy and a new passion to repent and pray.  Your prayers are powerful.  We must cease with lukewarm intercession and graduate into prevailing prayer for America.  MM

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4 IN 5 IN US FACE NEAR-POVERTY, NO WORK: HERE IS WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO.

Here is what we are going to do part two copy

 4 IN 5 IN US FACE NEAR-POVERTY, …HERE IS WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO.

By Mario Murillo

According to exclusive information from the Associated Press,  four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

Hardship is particularly on the rise among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy “poor.”

Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.

By 2030, based on current trends, 85 percent of all working-age adults in the U.S. will experience bouts of economic insecurity.  Just 45 percent say their family will have a good chance of improving their economic position based on the way things are in America.

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To understand why 80% of all Americans are facing poverty you can blame Obama’s obsession with Obamacare, the media’s obsession with Obama and the damage of Obamacare itself.

Obama was so pregnant with Obamacare that he squandered everything to create it.  Obamacare is why Obama did nothing about jobs when his party controlled both houses of Congress for two years.  For four years, Congress refused to even create a budget at Obama’s bidding so that the cost of Obamacare could not be evaluated.  Only Democrats voted for Obamacare.

To create Obamacare, the Democratic Party turned Congress into Frankenstein’s laboratory.  They perverted laws and parliamentary procedure like “reconciliation” to put the pieces of the corpse together.   Then the cadaver was elevated on a platform to the mainstream media which provided the lightning to bring the beast to life.

Obama, no statesman to begin with, was even worse under the spell of Obamacare.  He bungled foreign policy, made clumsy and arrogant power grabs, diminished our standing in the world, our net worth and possibly our life span.  In simple terms, American is beyond human solution.

HERE IS WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO:  The answer we seek is prescribed in the last verse of the Star Spangled Banner:

“Oh! Thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand between their loved home and the war’s desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.” And the Star – Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

In this verse we find three things:  1. Strong medicine for our poverty and disgrace.  2. An act of honor and worship that will save us.  3. And finally, a nation rescuing declaration: “In God is our trust!”

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1. Mario Murillo Ministries will henceforth refer to America as the HEAVEN RESCUED LAND.  Our national anthem declares that we were born from a divine rescue mission!  You cannot say that without also speaking of REVIVAL!  We are a nation of revivals.  We have been rescued by revivals.  Awakenings have come at key times in our history.

Just when doom was certain God has come on the American scene with a vengeance.  As a youth I began reading about the moral awakenings in our nation’s history.  I saw a pattern, a glorious tapestry of mercy and grace that visited us again and again.  My heart burned with the accounts of how entire cities would shut down to pray, how crime was abated and families restored.

Then I lived to see it with my own eyes in the Jesus Movement.  Millions of American youth were converted in the next two decades and the Church was ignited nationwide.

Revival is what we must seek and the nucleus of what we preach.

2. “Then conquer we must when our cause it is just.”  Mario Murillo Ministries will speak out because it is a just cause!  How shall we preachers allow false humility and political politeness to keep us silent in America’s darkest hour?  Combating the poverty that is spreading like locusts is a just cause.  Speaking out in defense of marriage and the unborn is a just cause.  To refuse government constraints on our First Amendment right to speak out in our pulpits is a just cause.

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3.  “In God is our trust.”  The enemy we face is sophisticated, organized and well-funded.  Any endeavor with a human origin is doomed from the start.   Going forward, every Pastor, leader and believer must saturate their plans in prayer and tune their souls to hear solutions from the Holy Spirit.  The ideas must come from Him.  The finances will come for divinely approved projects.  We will find the strategies we need, the words that will silence our enemy and the miracles that will confirm and convince a secular generation.

In conclusion:  To make a difference we must see the threat.  To retake the land we must call on God.  We must speak out loud and clear.  We must provoke the lukewarm to action and the lost to redemption.  The matter is summed up in the Prayer of Saint Peter:

“Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,  by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”- Acts 4: 29,30.

P.S.  We are moving full speed ahead on our next Living Proof Crusade!

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Feds tell Web firms to turn over user account passwords

Feds tell Web firms to turn over user account passwords

Secret demands mark escalation in Internet surveillance by the federal government through gaining access to user passwords, which are typically stored in encrypted form.

Declan McCullagh

July 25, 2013 11:26 AM PDT

(Credit: Photo illustration by James Martin/CNET)

The U.S. government has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users’ stored passwords, according to two industry sources familiar with these orders, which represent an escalation in surveillance techniques that has not previously been disclosed.

If the government is able to determine a person’s password, which is typically stored in encrypted form, the credential could be used to log in to an account to peruse confidential correspondence or even impersonate the user. Obtaining it also would aid in deciphering encrypted devices in situations where passwords are reused.

“I’ve certainly seen them ask for passwords,” said one Internet industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We push back.”

A second person who has worked at a large Silicon Valley company confirmed that it received legal requests from the federal government for stored passwords. Companies “really heavily scrutinize” these requests, the person said. “There’s a lot of ‘over my dead body.'”

Some of the government orders demand not only a user’s password but also the encryption algorithm and the so-called salt, according to a person familiar with the requests. A salt is a random string of letters or numbers used to make it more difficult to reverse the encryption process and determine the original password. Other orders demand the secret question codes often associated with user accounts.

“This is one of those unanswered legal questions: Is there any circumstance under which they could get password information?”
–Jennifer Granick, Stanford University

A Microsoft spokesperson would not say whether the company has received such requests from the government. But when asked whether Microsoft would divulge passwords, salts, or algorithms, the spokesperson replied: “No, we don’t, and we can’t see a circumstance in which we would provide it.”

Google also declined to disclose whether it had received requests for those types of data. But a spokesperson said the company has “never” turned over a user’s encrypted password, and that it has a legal team that frequently pushes back against requests that are fishing expeditions or are otherwise problematic. “We take the privacy and security of our users very seriously,” the spokesperson said.

A Yahoo spokeswoman would not say whether the company had received such requests. The spokeswoman said: “If we receive a request from law enforcement for a user’s password, we deny such requests on the grounds that they would allow overly broad access to our users’ private information. If we are required to provide information, we do so only in the strictest interpretation of what is required by law.”

Apple, Facebook, AOL, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast did not respond to queries about whether they have received requests for users’ passwords and how they would respond to them.

Richard Lovejoy, a director of the Opera Software subsidiary that operates FastMail, said he doesn’t recall receiving any such requests but that the company still has a relatively small number of users compared with its larger rivals. Because of that, he said, “we don’t get a high volume” of U.S. government demands.

The FBI declined to comment.

Some details remain unclear, including when the requests began and whether the government demands are always targeted at individuals or seek entire password database dumps. The Patriot Act has been used to demand entire database dumps of phone call logs, and critics have suggested its use is broader. “The authority of the government is essentially limitless” under that law, Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who serves on the Senate Intelligence committee, said at a Washington event this week.

Large Internet companies have resisted the government’s requests by arguing that “you don’t have the right to operate the account as a person,” according to a person familiar with the issue. “I don’t know what happens when the government goes to smaller providers and demands user passwords,” the person said.

An attorney who represents Internet companies said he has not fielded government password requests, but “we’ve certainly had reset requests — if you have the device in your possession, than a password reset is the easier way.”

Source code to a C implementation of bcrypt, a popular algorithm used for password hashing.Source code to a C implementation of bcrypt, a popular algorithm used for password hashing.(Credit: Photo by Declan McCullagh)

Cracking the codes
Even if the National Security Agency or the FBI successfully obtains an encrypted password, salt, and details about the algorithm used, unearthing a user’s original password is hardly guaranteed. The odds of success depend in large part on two factors: the type of algorithm and the complexity of the password.

Algorithms, known as hash functions, that are viewed as suitable for scrambling stored passwords are designed to be difficult to reverse. One popular hash function called MD5, for instance, transforms the phrase “National Security Agency” into this string of seemingly random characters: 84bd1c27b26f7be85b2742817bb8d43b. Computer scientists believe that, if a hash function is well-designed, the original phrase cannot be derived from the output.

But modern computers, especially ones equipped with high-performance video cards, can test passwords scrambled with MD5 and other well-known hash algorithms at the rate of billions a second. One system using 25 Radeon-powered GPUs that was demonstrated at a conference last December tested 348 billion hashes per second, meaning it would crack a 14-character Windows XP password in six minutes.

The best practice among Silicon Valley companies is to adopt far slower hash algorithms — designed to take a large fraction of a second to scramble a password — that have been intentionally crafted to make it more difficult and expensive for the NSA and other attackers to test every possible combination.

One popular algorithm, used by Twitter and LinkedIn, is called bcrypt. A 2009 paper (PDF) by computer scientist Colin Percival estimated that it would cost a mere $4 to crack, in an average of one year, an 8-character bcrypt password composed only of letters. To do it in an average of one day, the hardware cost would jump to approximately $1,500.

But if a password of the same length included numbers, asterisks, punctuation marks, and other special characters, the cost-per-year leaps to $130,000. Increasing the length to any 10 characters, Percival estimated in 2009, brings the estimated cracking cost to a staggering $1.2 billion.

As computers have become more powerful, the cost of cracking bcrypt passwords has decreased. “I’d say as a rough ballpark, the current cost would be around 1/20th of the numbers I have in my paper,” said Percival, who founded a company called Tarsnap Backup, which offers “online backups for the truly paranoid.” Percival added that a government agency would likely use ASICs — application-specific integrated circuits — for password cracking because it’s “the most cost-efficient — at large scale — approach.”

While developing Tarsnap, Percival devised an algorithm called scrypt, which he estimates can make the “cost of a hardware brute-force attack” against a hashed password as much as 4,000 times greater than bcrypt.

Bcrypt was introduced (PDF) at a 1999 Usenix conference by Niels Provos, currently a distinguished engineer in Google’s infrastructure group, and David Mazières, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University.

With the computers available today, “bcrypt won’t pipeline very well in hardware,” Mazières said, so it would “still be very expensive to do widespread cracking.”

Even if “the NSA is asking for access to hashed bcrypt passwords,” Mazières said, “that doesn’t necessarily mean they are cracking them.” Easier approaches, he said, include an order to extract them from the server or network when the user logs in — which has been done before — or installing a keylogger at the client.

Sen. Ron Wyden, who warned this week that "the authority of the government is essentially limitless" under the Patriot Act's business records provision.Sen. Ron Wyden, who warned this week that “the authority of the government is essentially limitless” under the Patriot Act’s business records provision.(Credit: Getty Images)

Questions of law
Whether the National Security Agency or FBI has the legal authority to demand that an Internet company divulge a hashed password, salt, and algorithm remains murky.

“This is one of those unanswered legal questions: Is there any circumstance under which they could get password information?” said Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society. “I don’t know.”

Granick said she’s not aware of any precedent for an Internet company “to provide passwords, encrypted or otherwise, or password algorithms to the government — for the government to crack passwords and use them unsupervised.” If the password will be used to log in to the account, she said, that’s “prospective surveillance,” which would require a wiretap order or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act order.

If the government can subsequently determine the password, “there’s a concern that the provider is enabling unauthorized access to the user’s account if they do that,” Granick said. That could, she said, raise legal issues under the Stored Communications Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The Justice Department has argued in court proceedings before that it has broad legal authority to obtain passwords. In 2011, for instance, federal prosecutors sent a grand jury subpoena demanding the password that would unlock files encrypted with the TrueCrypt utility.

The Florida man who received the subpoena claimed the Fifth Amendment, which protects his right to avoid self-incrimination, allowed him to refuse the prosecutors’ demand. In February 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed, saying that because prosecutors could bring a criminal prosecution against him based on the contents of the decrypted files, the man “could not be compelled to decrypt the drives.”

In January 2012, a federal district judge in Colorado reached the opposite conclusion, ruling that a criminal defendant could be compelled under the All Writs Act to type in the password that would unlock a Toshiba Satellite laptop.

Both of those cases, however, deal with criminal proceedings when the password holder is the target of an investigation — and don’t address when a hashed password is stored on the servers of a company that’s an innocent third party.

“If you can figure out someone’s password, you have the ability to reuse the account,” which raises significant privacy concerns, said Seth Schoen, a senior staff technologist at theElectronic Frontier Foundation.

Last updated at 8:00 p.m. PT with comment from Yahoo, which responded after this article was published.

Disclosure: McCullagh is married to a Google employee not involved with this issue.

Most Palestinians hate Obama; US president gets heated reception in West Bank

Most Palestinians hate Obama’; US president gets heated reception in West Bank

The two presidential choppers landed in the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The force of their landing blew plumes of dust and litter over thin lines of ceremonial guards and bagpipers saluting the arrival.

Police block Palestinian protesters during a rally against Barack Obama

Police block Palestinian protesters during a rally against Barack Obama in the West Bank city of Ramallah Photo: AP

By Phoebe Greenwood, Ramallah

5:55PM GMT 21 Mar 2013

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, hit the red carpet first, followed byBarack Obama. The welcome ceremony lasted five minutes, with time for only solemn-faced handshakes and a reedy rendition of the Star Spangled banner before presidential entourage disappeared into Muqata’a building. The red carpet rolled up promptly behind them.

The pageant of love Mr Obama has engaged in with Benjamin Netanyahu may have won over several Israeli hearts, but it may have caused considerable damage to his relationship with the Palestinians.

The first 24-hours of Obama’s visit was marked with early morning rocket fire from Gaza towards Sderot, violating ceasefire agreed with Israel in November.

In Ramallah, empty streets were dotted with truculent Palestinian soldiers deployed to prevent violent protest at the president’s visit. Ramallah’s major thoroughfare, running from the presidential compound to Qalandiya checkpoint, was lined with posters censored with black paint. Their slogans had read: “Mr President, don’t bring your smart phone to Ramallah, there is no 3G in Palestine!”

Just 100 metres away from the Muqata’a, a small crowd of angry demonstrators gathered outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken, contained by flanks of riot police. “Obama get out”, they chanted in the direction of the president.

“The right of return [for Palestinian refugees] is a red line,” an old man swathed in a keffiyeh yelled passionately.

Ahmad, 27, was nursing a broken arm having been shot with a rubber bullet by Israeli soldiers during a protest at Qalandiya checkpoint last Friday but supported the demonstrators.

“When he got the presidency, he said he would do lots for Palestine but he did nothing,” he explained. “Now Palestine is angry, as you can see. Most Palestinians hate Obama – he will only make more problems for us”.

On his last visit to the Middle East in 2009, Mr Obama had made a soaring speech in Cairo saying that the suffering of the Palestinian people was intolerable. “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own,” he vowed then. But this is exactly what most Palestinians believe he has done.

Emerging from more than two hours of talks with the Palestinian leadership, Mr Obama squirmed on his podium next to Mahmoud Abbas when pressed on his position over Israeli settlements.

“Based on my conversations with both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas, I believe the possibility exists for a two state solution,” he equivocated. Settlement expansion was not “appropriate or constructive”, he said, stopping short of stating the US government position that Israeli settlement construction is illegal.

“It’s important to continue with negotiations even if there are irritants on both sides,” he said.

“The core issue is how to get sovereignty for the Palestinian people and security for the Israeli people. That isn’t to say settlements are not important. But … I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”

Hassan Mousa, 47, whose export business was forced to close due to the presidential visit, had no interest in hearing what Mr Obama had to say.

“It’s crazy this visit. All our business shut down for a whole day and for what? He may be the head of the most important country in the world but he is doing nothing for us as Palestinians,” Mr Mousa said. “He is a man who offered a lot but has delivered nothing.”

Mario’s note: Remember when Obama promised us that he would improve our relationship with the Arab world?  Obama seems to have  a reverse Midas touch where everything that is gold turns into tin when he touches it.