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Showing posts from February, 2006

Bush & Cheney in Freefall

The latest CBS poll in America [published here on CBS News] has George Bush with an approval rating of 34%, an all-time low, and Cheney scoring a mere 18% favourable rating.

No less importantly, only 30% of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling the Iraq War.

Bushs' drop in popularity makes an interesting juxtaposition to the polls here in Australia on how John Howard is viewed in this his 10 year anniversary in office. Iraq seems not to rate. The AWB debacle may cause a blip but it is still early days. It would seem that the hip-pocket nerve still resonates the most with voters. Other issues seem to fall by the wayside. It says a lot about the priorities of Australians.

US Faces Sceptical World over Iraq.....

"Is the Bush administration winning or losing what it calls the global war on terror?

That is a question more for military analysts and security experts.

But if the findings of a new opinion poll for the BBC are anything to go by, it certainly seems to be losing the battle for global public opinion.

The poll was carried out by the international opinion research firm GlobeScan, together with the Programme On International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland (Pipa) in the US.

"Though the Bush administration has framed the intervention in Iraq as a means of fighting terrorism, all around the world - including in the US - most people view it as having increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks," Pipa director Steven Kull notes.

"The near-unanimity of this assessment among countries is remarkable in global public opinion polling."

All the huffing and puffing of the politicians about the positives that would come out of the attack on Iraq seem to have come t…

It's a Blog's Life

Everything your ever wanted to know about blogging - including how you can start your own! - is conveniently covered in an article in the SMH.

There can be little doubt that the amazing success of blogs and blogging is spreading. Even the largest corporations are introducing blogs not only "internally" but for those outside the corporation to interact with, for instance, the CEO.

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal has an interesting take on whether an epitaph needs to be written about blogging.

Food for Thought!

New data shows the proportion of Australian men who are overweight or obese jumped from 52 per cent to 62 per cent during the past decade and overweight or obese women from 37 per cent to 45 per cent.

50% of men who think they are an acceptable weight are actually overweight or obese, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' National Health Survey, released yesterday. Women are also sticking their heads in the sand. About 25% of those who consider themselves an acceptable size are overweight.

The implication for the community are enormous. Health economist Paul Gross is quoted as saying that obesity and related diseases and lost productivity cost the country about $11 billion a year.

A Blot on Howard's 10 Year "Record"

The Sydney Morning Herald this morning reminds its readers in an article written by David Marr that there is at least one blot on Howard's 10 years in office - which he would rather forget......

It is the children overboard episode back in October 2001 which Howard still obfuscates about.

No matter how hard Howard & Co. try and fudge the issue he and his fellow-Ministers [Ruddock and Reith in particiular] stand condemned for what was a shameful event and disgraceful behaviour by a so-called responsible Government.

Read the award-winning bestseller Dark Victory by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson [published by Allen & Unwin] dealing with the children overboard episode.

Maureen Dowd in Oz

Like many, I have always enjoyed Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times.

Dowd is presently in Oz to promote her book Are Men Necessary?

Catch up on a delightful interview with Dowd by Tony Jones [described last year on ABC radio as "the thinking woman's crumpet"]on the ABC's Lateline program last night. Could that have been Jones flirting with Dowd?

Dowd will also be interviewed by Margaret Throsby in her program The Morning Interview at 10.05 on ABC FM tomorrow. If you miss the interview you can always access it on line at the ABC's web site.

Oprah Winfrey and The Holocaust

Oprey Winfrey has for many years had what is described as "Book of the Month". Getting onto that List almost guarantees huge sales of the book in question. It will be recalled that one such selection has recently caused Winfrey some grief.

Her latest "selection" is a revised edition of Elie Wiesel's "Night". Winfrey plans on visiting Auschwitz with Wiesel.

A Martin Kimel, a Holocaust survivor now living in the US and practicing as an attorney, in an article on raises a concern that Winfrey, as is her wont, may emphasise "the kinds of morally uplifting stories she is known for" rather than view the entire scope of what the Holocaust really was. Kimel's point is well made as he reflects on the parellels of how the US did little to save European Jewry and America, now, does litle in relation to the ongoing genocide in Darfur. No, the world has not learnt a thing really!

Moving Beyond "Phishing" Cyberthieves

Any user of a computer and email will be aware of the curse of "phishing".

Now comes news [see the article in the NYT today that software may allow a third party [a cyberthief] to copy keystrokes of a computer user and then send the information gained to crooks.

Just imagine what that could mean for millions of users who do their banking on the www, send credit-card details to someone, etc. etc......

Iraqi Conflict: Ominous Fallout for Arab Nations

"Shortly before the American- led invasion of Iraq, Amr Moussa, head of the League of Arab States, warned the attack would "open the gates of hell." Now, more than three years later, there is a sense around the Middle East that what was once viewed as quintessential regional hyperbole may instead have been darkly prescient."

Sadly the fallout of the invasion of Iraq and what has followed - including the slide to possible civil war there - has ominous signs for other Arab nations. For instance, Jordan with already some 1 million Iraqi refugees could find itself with more and considerable economic issues to follow.

Read this very sobering, and disturbing, assessment in the IHTtoday of what may lay in store for Arab countries as a consequence of the Iraq War.

Freedom of Speech, Holocausts, Racism, etc.

Gideon Levy writing in Haaretz says:

"Words do not kill. So there is no statement for which it is permissible to send a person to prison. Freedom of speech is absolute, even when that which is spoken is as despicable and ridiculous as Holocaust denial. Those who start to doubt that principle will not know where to stop. Is denial of the Jewish Holocaust deserving of punishment while denial of the Armenian Holocaust, perpetrated by the Turks, is not? And why not? Because "only" a million and a half people were destroyed there?

And what about the world's racist indifference to the destruction of a million Tutsi in Rwanda or the mass murder of 4 million people in the Congo? After all, the world ignores those holocausts even if it does not deny their existence explicitly, and nobody thinks about punishing someone for that outrageous apathy and indifference. The Danish cartoons, which also hurt millions of people, are not deserving of punishment and neither is the denial …

We Already Know the Facts on Tax!

Be cynical!

Now we have Treasurer Costello [trying to steal some thunder from his bosses "birthday" celebrations?] announcing another inquiry - this one on tax.

So, 2 so-called experts will head up some 8 Treasury officials to report to Costello in about 4-5 weeks.

But most informed opinion already knows what the position in relation to Oz taxes is. David Uren, Economics Correspondent for The Australian, in an article today didn't seem to have any difficulty putting together the salient facts. For instance the top marginal rate is one of the highest in the world. In fact the 3% who pay the highest marginal tax rate actually make up a staggering 25% of the tax-take from individuals.

Iraq: 1000 Years of Sectarian Split

Lest it be thought that the issues between Sunnis and Shia Muslims in Iraq is something which has only arisen in the recent past this most interesting item on BBC News explains that Iraq has been a battleground between the 2 groups for some 1000 years.

Sadly it would seem that the 2003 invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam was the catalyst in Iraq's Shias seeking redress for previous wrongs done to them and to end the imbalance between the two groups.

Another Travesty to Rival Guantanamo

"While an international debate rages over the future of the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500 terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without charges".

Accepting this opening paragraph in a NYT Times article today as correct, it seems the Americans just don't get it. You can't go around the world locking people up in appalling circumstances, without being charged, and expect that you can get away with it!

And there is that little matter of how the actions of the US are going to be perceived especially in Muslim countries. Do the Americans care? Then again, do they understand?

The Truth about Iraqis - from an Iraqi

"Leslie Stahl on the CBS TV program 60 Minutes: "We have heard that half a million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"

US Secretary of State Madeline Albright [as she then was]: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it."

Need any more be said about the cavalier attitude the US has had in relation to Iraq?

Read what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq from an Iraqi actually there - and not embedded - in this blog.

Bush, Cheney & Co. Have Destroyed Iraq

There seems little doubt that even if Iraq doesn't sink into civil war that it is so close to an abyss that life for Iraqis is going to get even harder than it has been since the Coalition of the Willing invaded Iraq.

In what can only be described as a forthright and powerful article on AlterNet by Robert Dreyfuss, he accuses George Bush and his VP Dick Cheney as being to blame for destroying Iraq.

What Dreyfuss overlooks is that Bush and Co. were joined in the folly of what has now turned into a major distaster by Great Britain and Australia.

As John Howard celebrates 10 years in office, what a testament to his tenure to know that he has been jointly responsible for destroying a country and bringing about so many deaths and casualties for Iraqis and British and American soldiers.

Chilling Tale of Green Light to Torture

The case of a Syrian-born Canadian, Maher Arar, tortured as part of the USA's policy of "extraordinary rendition" has attracted some notorierty given that he was eventually released without any charges being laid against him - and then suing the US Government.

An editorial in the New York Times takes to task not only what happened to Arar but the decision of a judge to throw out the case because it wasn't appropriate to challenge American foreign policy.

As the editorial proclaims, the decision needs to be overturned - quickly.

That aside the editorial makes for chilling reading when one reflects on not only what happened to Arar but when Governments ride rough-shod over the rights of people and Courts are not prepared to stand as a bulwark against such abuses.

Amazing Figure Speaks for Itself

Believe it or not it is said that at 7.15 pm EST today in the USA, 25 November, the population of our globe will reach 6.5 billion people - reports Yahoo News. As Yahoo also details on average 4.4 persons are born every second. And, if the stats are right, in 2012 the world's population will have reached 7 billion.

That's a truly staggering number. Just think what that means for each and every one of us..... Sobering actually!

Odd Maths - and Priorities!

Just reflect on this.....

The Federal Government is considering spending $60 million dollars on abortion-counselling..... and announced [late last year] that it will spend a mere $6 million dollars advertising that children should play sport and exercise 1 hour a day. Preventive medicine? Nah! On an ABC 4 Corners program on children's obesity last year Health Minister Abbott wasn't even prepared to acknowledge that money needed to be spent to prevent child obesity leading to serious health problems - heart disease being but one - in years to come.

AND finally, the Federal Government [no! - the taxpayers for the Coalition] spent some $60 million to advertise the new Federal Industrial Relations legislation.

Blair Stands Condemned on Human Rights

Whilst Tony Blair has responded angrily, his record and stand on human rights has been the subject of severe criticism.

From support for the US "rendition flights" to not calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay camp, a Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and Amnesty International have taken Blair to task.

Read The Independent's article here.

More's the pity that Australia's PM has simply escaped under the radar from being the subject of the same sort of criticism. One can only wonder why?

Hail to the Emperor of Snake-Oil Salesmen

John Howard celebrates 10 years in office next week.

Whether that is a matter for rejoicing will depend on what you value as important to you in 2006 and how you assess what has been gained and lost in those 10 years. Sadly, probably most Australians will view the Howard-years through the prism of how it has affected their hip-pocket nerve. Never mind the spin, the lies, the lack of ministerial responsibility, the ever-sharper division between haves and have-nots, etc. etc.

In his inimitable style Mike Carlton in his weekly column in the SMH today puts his stamp on how he views the last 10 years of a Howard-led Government.

Iraq: Ignore the Politicians and Follow the Clerics

"Rarely since the U.S.-led invasion have Iraq's politicians appeared so insignificant and its religious leaders loomed so large as in the 48 hours since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.

Few Iraqis seemed to pay attention to statements by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari and other political leaders who called for calm. But many winced with trepidation or smiled with satisfaction as, hours after the Wednesday morning attack, the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the paramount Shiite Muslim religious leader here, issued an unusually blunt statement suggesting it was time for "the faithful" to start protecting religious sites — an apparent endorsement of militias".

Accepting the above on the [read the full article here] as a correct assesment of what is happening in Iraq is troubling to say the least. It only serves to highlight what so many informed people [no, not the politicians] predicted long ago - the invasion [remember "Shock…

Iraq: One Step Away From Civil War

What many predicted quite some time ago, sadly, seems to be coming true - Iraq is slipping periously close to civil war.

The response to the torching - bombing of the Shiite mosque was almost guaranteed to spark violence. The IHTreports that people in Baghdad have been stunned by the mayhem following the bombing.

Meanwhile the NYTreports that the Bush Administration has little alternative but to closely asses both the military and political consequences of what is unfolding in Iraq.

Regretably the media in Australia have not pressed the PM on the Australian reaction to the current Iraq-situation.

McMansion Man!

A little while back, playwright David Williamson wrote, despairingly, of what he saw as the dumbing-down of Australian values and interests other than acquiring material possessions.

In today's The Australian he "has a go" [see the Opinion piece here] at what he describes as McMansion Man [a myth according to Williamson] - the Aussie who has no time for, nor interest, in anything remotely cultural.

More pointedly Williamson rightly severely criticises people like Janet Albrechtson [sadly, one of the ABC Commissioners] for her attack on artists and public intellectuals.

Gaza in 2006....

We read and hear a lot about Gaza, Hamas and issues between Israel and Palestinians and what the politicians are saying and doing, but we rarely get an insight into what ordinary people in Gaza say and want.

One might not necessarily agree or like what one reads, but this article on reports on interviews with 9 ordinary Palestinians in Gaza - and their hopes and fears.

Those Cartoons: Muslim v Muslim

In an interesting development in the Middle East some sober-minded journalists, and others, have questioned the outrage about those cartoons said to offend Muslims.

"In a direct challenge to the international uproar over cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, the Jordanian journalist Jihad Momani wrote: "What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras, or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony?"

So starts a report in today's NYT on an issue with the potential of pitting Muslim against Muslim. Read the complete article here.

The question raised is, of course, a valid one. Whether it resonates with Muslims everywhere, generally, is another!

Maureen Dowd Awaits "Attack" in Oz

Like many others, I have for many years been a fan of columnist Maureen Dowd who writes for the New York Times.

Late last year Dowd had published a book Are Men Necessary? The book caused quite a stir in the US and was on the NYT Best Seller List.

Dowd is making a flying visit to Oz later this week a spart of a book-promotion. If this opinion piece in today's SMH is correct, Dowd can expect some flack and criticism from her "sisters"in Oz.

Cartoons: Arab Hypocrisy

Whilst controversy about those cartoons first published in Denmark last year continues, ADL [Anti-Defamation Commission, in America] on its web site addresses the critical issue of the Arab media's portrayal of Jews - and to boot, gives examples of what it, the ADL, is complaining about.

The Arab world, and its media, cannot have it both ways - condemn the West whilst at the same time publishing offensive anti-semitic cartoons.

Check out the ADL web site and the cartoons shown and make your own assessment......

McDonalds' Fries - with Wheat & Milk?

Most people, if they believed McDonalds on anything in relation to its products, would have believed that Macca's when it said that its french fries were just that - potatoes, with no wheat, and simply cooked in oil.

Now it is has been revealed [see Medical News Today] that, in fact, those french fries contain not only wheat but also milk. For all those allergic to gluten or dairy products a complete no-no!

So, not unnaturally, McDonalds is not only back in the news but is being sued by 3 people in America because of the wheat-content of those french fries.

Dream On, Condi!

"Condoleezza Rice is someone I knew to be a very bright scholar when we were both fellows in Stanford University’s arms control seminar. Yes, we differed on occasion, but I never had cause to doubt her ability to reason. Now, I do.".

Whether one has time or respect for Condi Rice or not, she is certainly at the centre of action in international affairs.

Robert Scheer in this article on truthdig questions whether the Condi he knew is up to the task! Reading Scheer's article one has to wonder!

Germany Blocks Access to Nazi Documents

Coming on the very day that it is reported that Holocaust-denier David Irving was sentenced by an Austrian Court to 3 years imprisonment for denying the Holocaust, the NY Timesreports today on an issue betweeen the USA and Germany relating to gaining access to a huge repository of Nazi documents.

"Tempers are flaring over a United States demand to open to scholars and researchers a huge repository of information about the Holocaust contained in the files of the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen, Germany.

Based in part on documents gathered by Allied forces as they liberated Nazi concentration camps, the stock of files held by the organization stretches for about 15.5 miles, and holds information on 17.5 million people. It amounts to one of the largest closed archives anywhere".

On one level it is strange that the Germans are adopting the stance they are, but then again what would doubtlessly be revealed with access to a vast array of Nazi documents is perhaps someth…

Hamas: Some Sort of Truce With Israel?

"One of the most fraught and contentious issues to follow the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections is question of its pledge never to recognise Israel.

The issue of recognising Israel is emerging as the chief international objection to the Islamic militant movement's taking its place as the Palestinians' elected representative on the world stage".

So reports BBC News here. The article makes for worthwhile reading for it actually sets out the 1988 Hamas Charter. Reading the so-far unrenounced Charter it is difficult to see how Israel can sit down with a party which sees jihad as its objective to free Palestine.

How Hamas and Israel will ever come to an accomodation remains a puzzle with both sides seemingly in entrenched positions. Perhaps in the end pragmatism - that is money - will see Hamas at least come to the negotiating-table and ultimately agree to some sort of truce, even if not recognition per se of Israel.

Meanwhile read this interesting interview /…

The US of A? A Wealthy Country? - with 37 Million Poor?

"Americans have always believed that hard work will bring rewards, but vast numbers now cannot meet their bills even with two or three jobs. More than one in 10 citizens live below the poverty line, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening".

An article in The Observer highlights that a staggering 37 million Americans are poor - even if working and possibly even in more than 1 job.

Read about the "rich" country, America, with an ever-growing gap between the haves and the have-nots - and reflect on whether Australia isn't following the same trend.

Who is This New PA Prime Minister?

With Hamas having chosen Ismail Haniya as the Palestinian Authority's new Prime Minister, the obvious question arises - who is he and what does he stand for?

Aljazeera.Net has what seems like a good portrait of the man and his background. Read the article here.

We will be hearing a lot more about this man in the times ahead.....

Grrrr - That Hilton Woman!

....She also appears to be supremely talentless. Her acting has been laughed at, her performance on television has drawn scorn, her (successful) attempt to trademark the catchphrase "That's hot" has been widely mocked. Even her raunchy video performance with a then boyfriend received decidedly mixed reviews".

So mocks The Independent is an article about that woman, Paris Hilton.

What the article highlights in this world where people love lifestyle issues and following the vacuous film stars and the like, is that despite being talentless and as The Independent says having the looks of a model "she almost is" her publicity machine will ensure that we continue to be bombarded by this silly woman appearing here, there and everywhere.

Israel: Who Are Its Partners for Peace?

As Israel takes active steps to tighten the noose on Palestinians [and Hamas in particular] given the swearing in of a new Palestinian Government the question which must now arise is with whom is Israel, if at all, going to attempt to partner or try and fashion, a peace between the 2 warring groups?

If Hamas is out of the loop then nothing is going to happen to re-start the stalled peace-negotiations. To the contrary!

This article from AlterNet - Who Exactly Are the Real Partners for Peace? - canvasses the issues very well.

Cheney: Answer These Questions!

Whilst Pres Bush might have pronounced himself satisfied with his VP's answers to that now infamous shooting, Arianna Huffington in her The Huffington Post raises some critical, and interesting, questions that certainly call for answers from Cheney.

Read Arianna's questions here - and ponder whether the Bush Administration "spin" can escape the hard questions about an increasingly troubling, shadowy and somewhat menacing Cheney.

Blogs v MSM

MSM? What is that you ask. It is the rather derisive term used by bloggers for the mainstream media.

That said, as the NYT reports today in its What's OnLine Section, the difference between blogs and MSM may be journalism versus simple plain ol' "armchair yammering".

"But it isn't the data or the rankings that matter most here. More interesting is that it's becoming hard to tell what is a blog and what is mainstream media" says the NYT's article.

Read the full article for an interesting insight into the world of blogging.

When Disengagement Isn't....

The world applauded Israel for withdrawing from Gaza after a 38 year occupation.

In part it was something of an excellent pr exercise. The reality is obviously something quite different - as reported in this article in the

"The Israeli decision to unilaterally shut down Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip last summer was a milestone that virtually ended a 38-year occupation of this densely populated finger of farming villages and slums on the shores of the Mediterranean. Yet in the last few weeks, it has become clear that the fighting is far from over and that Israel is not entirely disengaged".

Read the full article here - and ponder where all the issues with the so-called withdrawal from Gaza, the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and the restrictions Israel is placing on Hamas [following the recent Palestinian election] are leading to.

Those Cartoons - and Arab Double Standards

"Even as the Muslim world protests against the Muhammad caricatures printed in the West, a number of Arab newspapers publish virulently anti-Semitic cartoons. But nobody's paying much attention. After all, Jew baiting in the Arab world has become the norm."

So reports Spiegel on Line.

That the whole issue has gotten out of hand is understating things. To have people killed in riots [just, again, today in Pakistan] and diplomatic missions attacked in Europe and Asia is an over-reaction to the publication of the cartoons - to say the least.

Read the full Spiegel article here.

Meanwhile, here in Australia a minor "war" has broken out between Fairfax and AIJAC in relation to cartoonist Leunig - as reported in The Australian this morning.

Hamas Noose in Israel's Sights...

"Israel's top security officials Thursday drew up a series of punitive measures likely to be imposed against the Palestinians after a new Palestinian Parliament, dominated by Hamas, is sworn in Saturday".

So reports the IHT today.

Whilst Israel might not like the outcome of the Palestinian election and have cause to fear where Hamas is headed now that it assumes power in Palestine, to meet Hamas head on and make life "difficult" for Palestinians is hardly a step toward trying some sort of truce or accomodation with the new Government. One can only fear that a renewal of the intifada looms yet again......

Lest it be said that the IHT reports from an American bias, the BBC reports what Israel is planning here.

Those Cartoons, the WWW and Censorship

Phillip Adams in his mid-week column in The Australian makes the valid point that in the midst of all the hoo-ha about those cartoons and the debate about censorship that it's all rather futile when one considers the impact and breadth of what is available, freely and uncensored, on the world wide web.

As Adams rightly says, sacred or profane, it's all out there on the web...... His concluding paragraph [do read the rest of the article though] encapsulates his argument:

"So here's the message for extremists of all persuasions: Sorry folks, censorship and the repression of ideas, images and even insults are over and what you don't want to hear will be heard. These days censorship is only advertising."

49% Think Bush Broke the "Spying" Law

Whilst George Bush asserts that his "mate" Dick Cheney handled the shooting incident "just fine" [remarkable when one thinks about it!] a poll just released by Gallup shows that 49% believe that Bush has broken the law in relation to the telephone surveillance undertaken without due legal sanction.

What is also most interesting is that some 73% of those polled are watching the matter closely including 32% who are keeping an eye on it "very closely".

Andrew Wilkie: AWB and Federal Ministers

"Blaming spies is a distraction. The evidence of dodgy deals in Iraq should have been obvious" writes Andrew Wilkie [former intelligence officer with the Office of National Assessments] in an opinion piece in today's SMH.

Wilkie was also on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program this morning. Wilkie rightly points out that the track record of Howard and Co. in relation to the children overboard scenario and WMD's as the basis for invading Iraq is discredited.

So, as Wilkie asks, why should we believe what Federal Ministers are now saying about what they knew, or didn't know, about the huge kick-backs the AWB was engaged in.

Criminal Lawyer Dershowitz Challenges Cheney

Now here is a new spin on the unfolding Cheney saga....

Well know US criminal attorney Alan Dershowitz - he was on the OJ Simpson trial defence team - has challenged Cheney to explain why it took 14 hours in which to report the shooting of his fellow-shooter.

Dershowitz asserts that experience would suggest, in the absence of an explanation, that Cheney must have something to hide.

Iraq's Forgotten Victims

As is being reported by The Independent today there is severe criticism of the military for, in effect, "abandoning" at least 1000 Iraq veterans suffering with mental problems.

It is a reminder of Iraq veterans from the the First Iraq War who claimed to be suffering from a variety of diseases and ailments - and being ignored.

So much for the "value" placed on the serving military......

Abu Ghraib - Again!

Coincidental with the showing of more horrendous photos of the goings-on at the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad on the SBS Dateline program last night comes a report in the New York Times today that American officials are concerned that the over-crowded prison is a breeding ground for extremist leaders and "a school for terrorist foot soldiers".

Ahh, when will the Coalition of the Willing learn?.....

Meanwhile, the response in the Middle East to the "new" photos is canvassed in this article in the SMH today. Needless to say the revelation has stirred things up.

The Bush & Cheney Gift to Oil Companies - $ billions

It is no secret that both George Bush and VP Cheney [the gun-slinger?] are friends of the oil industry. Good ol' Dick was CEO of Haliburton remember!

It comes as no surprise, then, to read in the NY Times that the Bush Administration plans on allowing oil companies to pump oil to the value of US $65 billion without paying any royalties:

"The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.

New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government".

That's quite breathtaking - especially as the proposed US Budget plans on cutting many benefits, such as Medicare, for the American people.

Read the complete NY Times article here - and be truly amaze…

Cheney: Butt of Jokes....

With news this morning that the person who VP Dick Cheney shot has suffered a mild heart-attack one would have thought that the White House, and Cheney himself, might show some contrition. Forget it!

Meanwhile, Cheney has been the butt of many jokes arising from the shooting accident.

They are delightfully collected in today's Wall Street Journal.

Overthrowing a Democratic Vote

"The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.

The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement."

If this report in the New York Times is correct [read the full article here] then it is very troubling. Everyone, it would seem, agrees that the Palestinian election was duly and properly conducted. It was the democratic-processes that George Bush espoused he was looking for in the Middle East.

So, now that the result is in and Israel and the USA don't like it.....they are trying to, in effect, overtur…

Will That Be WiFi and Peanuts With That Drink?

To date travelling on airplanes has allowed passengers to "escape" the intrusion of the mobile phone let alone emails.

That may well be a thing of the past as technology is increasingly allowing for wifi to be available on aircraft. Many airlines have, or are in the process of, providing wifi access on board - at a cost!

The issues are many. Read this interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on how the last bastion and haven for peace and quiet - escape?- may be slowly receding. More's the pity!

Iraq: The Signs Aren't Looking Good

"A new poll of the Iraqi public finds that a large majority of Iraqis think the US plans to maintain bases in Iraq permanently, even if the newly elected government asks the US to leave. A large majority favors setting a timeline for the withdrawal of US forces, though this majority divides over whether the timeline should be over a period of six months or two years. Nearly half of Iraqis approve of attacks on US-led forces—including nine out of 10 Sunnis. Most Iraqis believe that many aspects of their lives will improve once the US-led forces leave, but are nonetheless uncertain that Iraqi security forces are ready to stand on their own".

The poll was conducted by World Public Opinion. org and is detailed in full here.

To suggest that the poll is other than troubling is put one's head in the sand. Retreating is one thing- being a realist is another!......

Thoughts on Valentine's Day and LURV.....

We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love. ~ Author Unknown

If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular? ~ Author Unknown

Without love, what are we worth? Eighty-nine cents! Eighty-nine cents worth of chemicals walking around lonely. ~ M*A*S*H, Hawkeye

Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it.- Jerome K. Jerome

Love may not make the world go round, but I must admit that it makes the ride worthwhile.- Sean Connery

Meanwhile, read [from the SMH] how the other half out there is spending up big this Valentine's Day.

US is Abusing Prisoners says UN

A draft UN report on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay concludes that their treatment violates their rights to physical and mental health and in some cases constitutes torture. The draft Report calls for the closure of the facility.

What is being said will come as no surprise to anyone who has over the year followed news relating to the Camp - other than that put out by the US and Australian officials.

Given that David Hicks is now in his 5th year at Guantanamo one can only wonder what PM Howard and AG Ruddock will say in relation to the Report. Be dismissive of it? - even if it is a UN Report? Probably!

Read the full article on the draft Report as reported in the LA Times here.

Salman Rushdie on Freedom of Speech

No one could accuse Salman Rushdie as not having been at the cutting edge - and intimately involved in - freedom of speech. A fatwah on one's life for speaking out openly would allow one to be critically aware of the issues surrounding racial and religious hatred.

With legislation in the UK having addressed both freedom of expression and removing various impediments to open discussion, this piece by Rushdie in The Independent is well worth reading.

The Next War - Crossing the Rubicon

"Has Tony Blair, the minuscule Caesar, finally crossed his Rubicon? Having subverted the laws of the civilized world and brought carnage to a defenseless people and bloodshed to his own, having lied and lied and used the death of a hundredth British soldier in Iraq to indulge his profane self-pity, is he about to collude in one more crime before he goes?"

Who has raised the critical question above? None other than John Pilger - writer, journalist and doco-maker - and critic of many of the policies pursued by George Bush [or the cabal in Washington as Pilger describes them] Tony Blair and John Howard.

As always Pilger's views cannot be easily dismissed. One may not always agree with him, but his "take" on the facts driving policy of governments ought not be ignored. Read the full Pilger article here.

The Trust Gap

It is always difficult from afar to gauge the mood of a country.

To read various reports coming out of the USA the George Bush trust-factor is on the wane. Whilst many in America accuse the New York Times of being part of the "liberal" press - whatever that might mean given that anything even slightly to "to the left" is likely to be called socialist! - today's Editorial in the NYT [here] presumably reflects reasonably widespread thinking in the USA.

In some respects the "trust gap" referred to in the USA should be applied with equal force to Australia's political leaders - although they have not really been under challenge or pressure like their counterparts in America.

US: Planning an Attack on Iran

It is perhaps no surprise to read that the Pentagon is presently engaged in plans for a ballistic missile and submarine attack on Iran.

As if the world, and the Middle East in particular, haven't enough "troubles" to contend with! However a renegade State Iran might be described as, the consequences and fall-out of an attack on Iran are potentially devastating.

Read today's report, on the planning for an attack on Iran, in new.telegraph here.

PM Howard - and [again] Double Standards

"SPEAKING of double standards, you will remember that picture of David Hicks, the Australian prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, photographed holding a rocket launcher. That alone was enough for Howard, et al, to damn him as a wicked terrorist.

What a different reaction to those intriguing snaps of Trevor Flugge and his AWB sidekick, Michael Long, published in the Herald last week. Flugge, all jowls and beer gut, was brandishing a pistol. Long, who rejoices in the nom de guerre of "Proton", toted an M-16 rifle.

Howard was sympathy itself. "I know that looks bad, I know that," he said on Melbourne radio. "I know that looks silly and it's very unhelpful but … would everybody who's ever been overseas on behalf of Australia or an Australian company agree to every photograph of them being published?"

Mike Carlton's perceptive observation in his column in today's SMH needs no further comment. Double standards indeed!

CIA Official: Bush Cherry-Picked Iraq Intelligence

"The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein".

So begins this rather troubling - but not surprising relevation - new item in The Washington Post. The full article, detailing what the former CIA official alleges, is here.

Civility and Double Standards

Recently the Chief Justice of NSW called for more civility and good manners to be displayed by Australians. PM Howard was quick to jump on the same band-wagon.

But as with most things with our PM his words rarely match his deeds. Witness the words and behaviour of Senator Heffernan - a man with a track-record already! - this week. Did you too miss any rebuke or criticism of Heffernan by PM Howard?

In his inimitable style Richard Ackland deals with the subject of "that" hot air in his column in the SMH today. Read the column here and reflect on what Ackland rightly describes as the cant of the PM.

Anatomy of Murder

"The U.S. government's use and defense of torture and inhumane treatment [of prisoners] played the largest role in undermining Washington's ability to promote human rights. . . . Any discussion of detainee abuse in 2005 must begin with the United States, not because it is the worst violator but because it is the most influential. . . . The widely publicized abuse at Abu Ghraib paralleled similar if not worse abuse in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo, elsewhere in Iraq, and in the chain of secret detention facilities where the U.S. government holds its "high-value" detainees."

Who said that? None other than the introduction to the recently published Human Rights Watch World Report 2006..

It's a damning indictment - naturally enough denied by the White House. For an article on the realities "on the ground", as it were, this piece from thevillage voice gives some context to the subject of torture and the way the US sees things. Needless to say the Wh…

Eat, Drink and Be Merry?.....

Many people diet. They say it's healthy.... Others couldn't care less or don't have the discipline to stop "feeding their faces". Yet others are health conscious and look to eating low-fat - or in other words, healthy.

After a US$415 million US Federal study involving almost 49,000 women aged 50 to 79 who were followed for 8 years, it would appear that low-fat diets do not reduce the risk of contracting cancer or having a heart attack.

So, where does that leave you and me? Hard to say but reading this article from the NYT on the results of the Federal study, and the response to it by medicos, might help. Good luck!


Eh? - is this a new word?

Yes and no! This is how Michael Winship in an article on Alternet explains it....

"There's an old saying that politicians use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost -- more for support than illumination. Increasingly, it seems all manner of facts and figures are manipulated, massaged or just plain made up to fit an existing set of beliefs, regardless of the actual truth.

Last fall, Stephen Colbert, of Comedy Central's Colbert Report, came up with a word to describe this phenomenon: "truthiness."

Now, it appears that the American Dialect Society voted "truthiness" 2005 Word of the Year. You will also find millions of references to the word via a Google search.

There can be little doubt that "truthiness" applies in Australia as much as in the USA.

Read the full Winship article here - and add a new word to your vocabulary!

Saddam Slams Lord Downer!!!

"Former dictator Saddam Hussein agrees he would never have authorised dodgy wheat deals with AWB Limited if he’d known the company was not keeping the Australian government in the dark. “No self-respecting dictator would do a deal involving Alexander Downer,” he explained".

This very latest "report" in The Chaser puts yet another dimension on the current Cole Inquiry. Read the full "report" here.

Blogs Increasingly a Force....

"We have no interest in being anti-establishment," says Matt Stoller, a blogger at the popular Web site "We're going to be the establishment."

That kind of flamboyant confidence has become the hallmark of blog evangelists who believe that blogs promise nothing less than a populist revolution in American politics. In 2006, at least some of that rhetoric is becoming reality. Blogs may not have replaced the Democratic Party establishment, but they are certainly becoming an integral part of it. In the wake of John Kerry's defeat in the 2004 presidential elections, many within the Democratic leadership have embraced blog advocates' plan for political success, which can be summed up in one word: netroots".

As the world of blogging grows apace, this article in Alternet puts it all into context. There can be little doubt that blogging and podcasting is changing the world of delivering news and the facility for people to interact across the globe.…

PM Howard Stands Condemned

"THERE was a time when scandals felled prime ministers, when even the odd presidency died of shame. Not any more. Just as engines can be powered by the methane from pig shit, leaders in Western democracies seem empowered by their deceits, energised by the venality of their administrations.

After George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, John Howard is the prime example. Having gained power as Honest John, having promised the electors an era of golden governance, we've had a decade of deception and turpitude. Not at all what we'd have expected from a mob of ministers genuflecting together in the Lyons Forum, from people who like to have prayers with their breakfast.

Having quite rightly protested any moral or ethical lapses in Labor governments, Howard's mob rapidly scrapped any notion of ministerial responsibility - particularly prime ministerial - in favour of implausible deniability. The muddier a minister, the more mired in scandal, the more likely he'd b…

The Realities of Islam?

"Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe. The demographic trends are ominous: Given current birthrates, France could be a majority Muslim country in 25 years, and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow. Throughout Western Europe, Muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet exploit these values to the utmost—demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques. Political correctness and fears of racism have rendered many secular Europeans incapable of opposing the terrifying religious commitments of the extremists in their midst. In an effort to appease the lunatic furor arising in the Muslim world in response to the publication of the Danish cartoons, many Western leaders have offered apologies for exercising the very freedoms that are constitutive of civil society in the 21st century. The U.S. and Br…

Shake Your Head in Amazement....

"Did you know that to get a home loan and a cheque account with an overdraft facility today takes 227 pages of documentation, compared with less than 40 pages in 1985? Or that from 2000 to 2003 the federal parliament passed as many pages of legislation as were passed from 1901 to 1969? Or that since becoming Treasurer, Peter Costello has managed to "slash" the tax law from 3500 to 9500 pages?"

So says Wayne Swan, Labour MHR, in an article detailing what needs to be done to rid Australia of red-tape. Check out the full article on Swan's web-site.

All each of us can say to something being done to lessen the burden of red-tape is - hear, hear!

Ex-U.N. Inspector: Decision Already Made To Attack Iran

"The former U.N. weapons inspector who said Iraq disarmed long before the U.S. invasion in 2003 is warning Americans to prepare for a war with Iran.

"We just don't know when, but it's going to happen," Scott Ritter said to a crowd of about 150 at the James A. Little Theater on Sunday night.

Ritter described how the U.S. government might justify war with Iran in a scenario similar to the buildup to the Iraq invasion. He also argued that Iran wants a nuclear energy program, and not nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration, he said, refuses to believe Iran is telling the truth.

He predicted the matter will wind up before the U.N. Security Council, which will determine there is no evidence of a weapons program. Then, he said, John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, "will deliver a speech that has already been written. It says America cannot allow Iran to threaten the United States and we must unilaterally defend ourselves."

"How do I k…

The Sudanese and Dafur - and now Chad

“You may have thought the terrible situation in Darfur couldn’t get worse, but it has,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “Sudan’s policy of arming militias and letting them loose is spilling over the border, and civilians have no protection from their attacks, in Darfur or in Chad.”

The latest report from Human Rights Watch issued a couple of days ago again highlights how the Sudanese are plundering, maiming and killing and now "extending" their terrible actions from Dafur across into Chad - while the world simply does nothing!

Yet again thousands of civilians are at risk. Read the full report of Human Rights Watch here.

Iran Goes Over the Top - and Engages in Double Standards

"An Iranian paper is holding a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust, to retaliate against the publication of images of the Prophet Muhammad.

Hamshahri says it wants to test the boundaries of free speech, echoing the reasons European papers gave for publishing the caricatures".

So reports the BBC in this latest news item [read it in full].

Whoa! For years the Arab media has systematically villified both Israel and Jews in the most vile and offensive way. There is ample evidence available of cartoons, tv images, videos and articles. Many school books in Arab countries are not purely anti-Israel but downright anti-semitic.

To now be so precious about the cartoons that are said to have caused offence is to engage in double-standards at there very best. Some Arab spokesman talk of freedom of the press being OK but it must be exercised responsibily. Fine! - if it cuts both ways......

On the topic of the the reponse to the cartoons, who better than Richard Neville…

Betty Friedan, Mapmaker

The death of Betty Friedan, at 85, has reminded people what a "pioneer" she was in the women's movement.

I think it is hard for anyone who wasn't around at the time to fully appreciate, let alone understand, the considerable impact Friedan had not only on women as such but society generally. Attitudes changed and in some respects "life" for altered radically.

In her article about Friedan in Alternet [here] Alida Brill describes the impact of the the woman on Brill's life - and Friedan herself. By all accounts Friedan was a feisty woman right to the end of her significant life.....

George Bush and those "Funny" Republicans

Yes, this article [from truthdig - here] is more than tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic, but it belies a truth about George Bush and his cohorts in the Republican Party which is hard to either fathom, let alone understand, from these distant shores.

It is almost impossible to understand how Bush and his fellow-travellers can even think they have any credibility. Or that anyone even believes anything they say! But then again do the people out there care?

As we are seeing here in Australia as the AWB saga unfolds, the Government just blusters and seemingly lies its way through what are serious allegation levelled against at least one department, DFAT. But then again listening to Lord Downer of Baghdad - who increasingly uses the expression "to be honest" when answering questions [does that mean everything else isn't honest] - is to see what an odd slant on the truth and the facts the man has.

Perhaps more troubling about the lying and chicanery, as in the USA, is the quest…

Condi Rices' Foreign Aid Fix = Less Meaningful Aid

"Ever since Washington began giving foreign aid, administrations have been coming up with plans to reform it. Now it's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's turn. She has put a single official, reporting directly to her, in charge of coordinating the State Department's multiple foreign aid programs. Duplicate efforts are a problem, but they are not the main problem, and Rice's proposed solution could easily end up cutting programs that fight disease, put children into schools or provide clean water".

It is troubling!.....Condi Rice seems to be mis-directed in where she is headed in relation to America's foreign aid.

Read the entire IHT article [from which the above quote is taken] here.

The Risks Iraqi Journalists Face

"That reporting in Iraq is a dangerous business was underscored again last week with the abduction of a pair of journalists from the Iraqi satellite channel Sumariya.

It is unlikely the fates of Reem Zaid, 23, and her colleague Marwan Khazaal, 25, will receive as much coverage as the recent kidnapping of 28-year-old American journalist Jill Carroll. But while the kidnappings of foreigners make headlines, it is in fact Iraqi journalists and media staff who bear the brunt of the danger. The translator Carroll was working with, Allan Enwiyah, was simply shot and killed".

In the West attacks on or kidnappings of Western journalists get a lot of media coverage. Of course TV footage of a kidnapped individual gets even greater air-time.

As the beginning, above, of an article in Mother Jones clearly articulates [see the full article here] for Iraqis the dangers of working as reporters or with the Western press are infinitely greater.

Coincidentally, the IHT has just published an ar…

Africa Forgotten Yet Again

I have previously written about on the one hand politicians making pious statements about the state of affairs in Africa and how help is needed there on so many fronts versus the reality of the world almost ignoring the enormous suffering and deprivation which continues across the African continent. Much of the disease and sickness plaguing many countries could be reduced, if not alleviated, at little cost in the scheme of things. And then there are the various wars and skirmishes seemingly without end.

Now UNICEF has again reported on the terrible on-going conditions in Uganda:

"For almost 20 years, a brutal war has raged in northern Uganda, pitting government forces against the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The conflict has forced more than 1.7 million people from their homes into displaced persons' camps scattered across the region.

Salah [UNICEF representative] noted that 935,000 of those displaced were children, some of whom had been abducted by the LRA. Som…

History Will Judge AWB [and Lord Downer?] Harshly

This letter - which appears in the Australian Financial Review today- is, if nothing else, revealing of the Australian Government's alleged humanitarian attitude......

"Regardless of what the Australian government knew of AWB kickbacks to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the scandal runs far deeper than that.

The overarching scandal was Australia's unwavering support for the economic sanctions even when it was known that the sanctions were destroying Iraqi society, killing hundreds of thousands of children and helping Hussein keep his murderous grip on the country.

The oil-for-food program, which began in 1996 and was basically controlled by the United States and the United Kingdom, was so ineffective that two of its heads, Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, both very senior United Nations officials, resigned in protest.

In 2000, Halliday visited Australia to urge our government to withdraw support for the sanctions, the effects of which he described as genocide. He met Fore…

Climate - Irreparable Damage Already?

Whilst the USA and Australia stand outside the Kyoto Agreement - with seemingly spurious arguments for doing so - there is genuine concern around the world about climate-change and the effect it will have on everyone no matter where they live.

Just reflect on the changing weather-patterns and the extremes being felt across the globe. Then there are reports like the recent one that penguins in the Antartic may diminish in number because of the warming-waters there not allowing for the breeding of enough krill - which penguins eat.

The Washington Post in an article this past weekend details the views of appparently eminent scientists where things are at and raises the question of whether we have or are reaching irreparable damage to our planet. Read the article here - and its discussion about "the tipping point".

Since the Washington Post is published not far from the White House perhaps someone could deliver George Bush a copy of the newspaper for him to read. On reflect…

The Changing Face of China

"Many people might not appreciate it, but luxury retailers sure do. Just five years ago mainland buyers accounted for 1% of global sales of luxury handbags, shoes, jewelry, perfume, and the like.

Today the Chinese are the third-biggest high-end buyers on earth, with more than 12% of world sales, Goldman, Sachs & Co. (GS ) reckons. Within a decade, China will likely leapfrog Japan and the U.S. to become the top luxury market, predicts Goldman analyst Jacques-Franck Dossin. "China is experiencing huge wealth creation, and there is lots of conspicuous consumption related to that," Dossin says. "People want to show they are successful."

The above is from BusinessWeek.

No comment is called for!......Obviously the changing face of China.

George Bush - Ozone Man.....

In George Bushs' State of the Union speech last week he spoke of America's reliance on oil - and that that had to change and alternative fuels sought out.

Bush has already been criticised for his comments being vague, giving no indication on what the Administration would be doing henceforth and how many laws in place did little, if anything, to encourage a serach for alternative fuels.

Maureen Dowd, of the NYT, has weighed in with an interesting article dealing with her meeting with the new Saudi ambassador to Washington. He wanted to know whether George Bush had morphed into Ozone Man as Poppy Bush had called Al Gore back in 1992. Dowd's article also picks up on Dick Cheney's responses to questions put to him post the State of the Union speech. It doesn't make for happy reading!

Palestinians May Have Lost Billions

"The Palestinian attorney general said he had uncovered the theft or misuse of $700m (£400m) of public funds, and suspects much more has gone missing, in an inquiry into widespread official corruption. Ahmed al-Meghami said billions of dollars may have been misappropriated in total and that his office has ordered 25 arrests to date and issued 10 international warrants relating to fraud within the Palestinian Authority (PA)."

If the allegation is only half-true at least 2 things clearly emerge. First, how corrupt Arafat and his henchmen were. But then perhaps that is no surprise given that Arafat was at one time on a list of the 500 richest men in the world and there were the persistent reports of Arafat having funds "outside" Palestine. Secondly, it is no wonder that Hamas did so well in the recent elections if the general populace even had only a whiff of money not having been used for them in providing proper health-facilities, schools, roads, etc.

Read th…

A First Small Step?....

"IN the Hamas mosques of Gaza, a new message is being preached, which underscores a creeping, critical shift in thinking.

Friday prayers in the downtown militant stronghold bothered little with the outrage that has consumed the Muslim world over cartoons published in Europe depicting the prophet Mohammed.

Instead, the sermons broadcast from speakers to crowds laying prayer mats on dusty streets addressed a more sensitive issue -- negotiating with Israel".

If this report in this morning's Australian newspaper is correct - read the full article here - then, just perhaps, there might be a very small glimmer of hope that at least some accommodation could be reached between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours.

There is doubtlessly a long way to go before even some sort of truce might be established.

So, Why Were Those Cartoons Published?

As protests sweep a number of countries [and Danish and other diplomatic Missions are under attack] following on the publication of what Muslims describe as "offensive" cartoons in various newspapers - to date, not in Australia - what triggered all this off was the initial publication in Denmark.

So, why did the editor of the first newspaper to do so [bear in mind that the paper's circulation is a mere 150,000 copies - in a country of 5 million] deem it appropriate to publish? Well, Newsweek has interviewed the Editor, Flemming Rose, of Jyllands-Posten. Read the interview with Rose here.

Meanwhile, it is disturbing to hear on the ABC's AM program this morning that a Muslim group in Europe has published what can only be described as a blatant anti-semitic cartoon on its web site - Anne Frank in bed with Hitler!

The Thin Edge of the Wedge?

"Companies will soon have to buy the electronic equivalent of a postage stamp if they want to be certain that their e-mail will be delivered to many of their customers.

America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely."

It was only going to be a matter of time before internet providers would jump onto the bandwagon and try and capitalise on that vast number of emails buzzing around the world daily. What a potential bonanza!!!

Read the article in today's NYT here detailing what is being introduced by America Online and Yahoo.

Iraq - George Bush v Reality

To listen to George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld is to enter Disneyland - all fantasy, and delusional to boot.

If the President is to be believed - and seemingly most Americans don't! - then things are going along pretty swimmingly in Iraq. Er, and what about the continuing deaths of Americans and Iraqi personnel? Minor matter?

Read this analysis by Robert Dreyfus [a contributor to The Nation] on the Bush view of Iraq and the reality. It makes for sobering reading.

Travel [to broaden the mind] or Shopping?

As more and more people are on the move travelling here, there and everywhere, retailers have realised that there is a captive market out there. How else to explain airports full of shops or mega-airports full of shops like in Dubai?

The ever-perceptive Phillip Adams in his column in The Australian this week "takes the whole travel experience" - is that to broaden the mind or stretch the Visa card to do more shopping? - to bits in the way only he can. Sadly what he writes is all too true.....

"Brokeback Mountain": Masterly?

There has already been a lot of hype about the movie "Brokeback Mountain"[directed by Ang Lee]. One State in the USA has banned the movie, and generally, audiences in America have been slow to respond, affirmatively, to a movie dealing with a pair of lonesome cowboys - and to boot, kissing on screen.

With the awards the movie, and its actors, have now garnered, more people are going to see it. Check it out here.

Well known film-critic David Stratton, has described the movie as "masterly", a "modern masterpiece" and one of "the greatest love stories ever brought to the screen".

Having now seen the movie it is needlessly long and slow, certainly very sad in many respects, and extremely well-acted, but in the final analysis it is nothing really that special - other than it deals with the relationship of two men. Given that the viewer already knows the basic premise of the film the only real interest the movie arouses is how the whole thing &q…

Birth Defects: 8 Million Annually Worldwide

"Every year an estimated 8 million children -- about 6 percent of total births worldwide -- are born with a serious birth defect of genetic or partially genetic origin, according to a new report from the March of Dimes".

It's a staggering and troubling figure - as reported in what is described as the first Report of its kind, by the March of Dimes.

Of even greater concern still is that steps could be undertaken to alleviate the problem - and that the cost of "rectifying" the defects does not impact on the economies of even poor countries.

Read a synopsis of the Report here [with the ability to view an online Press Kit].

How Hamas Won with a Secret Weapon.....

Women were the secret weapon used by Hamas in its recent electoral-win.

So reports the NYT in a fascinating insight into how Hamas defeated Fatah in the election. Even more surprising is that 6 of the 74 seats Hamas has in the new parliament will be held by women.

More troubling, however, is that one of those 6 women is the the one who has become known as the "mother of martyrs". Remember the woman who wished she had 100 sons to sacrifice as suicide-bombers? It's not too hard to apprehend what her view [s] on recognising or accepting Israel might be. Just another dimension to what is the continuing politics of the Middle East - played out on so many levels.

Read the NYT article here.

Luring Saddam into War - With a Fake UN plane!

"George Bush considered provoking a war with Saddam Hussein's regime by flying a United States spyplane over Iraq bearing UN colours, enticing the Iraqis to take a shot at it, according to a leaked memo of a meeting between the US President and Tony Blair.

The two leaders were worried by the lack of hard evidence that Saddam Hussein had broken UN resolutions, though privately they were convinced that he had. According to the memorandum, Mr Bush said: "The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

How extraordinary! Then again perhaps not really given what has already been revealed about the Bush Administration's intention to invade Iraq - not long after Bush was first elected and even before 9/11 and now via various leaks.

Read the entire article / report [of which the above is the beginning] from The Independent here.

Amos Oz: End Occupation

Amos Oz is a very well known Israeli writer. He has also not been shy in coming forward in airing his political views. Doubtlessly many in Israel would take issue with his position on the way Israel has dealt with the intifada and the occupation generally.

In this interview, Oz gives his view on the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian election and what Israel should do in relation to the occupation. It is a no-holds barred view!

Who? - Harper Lee?

Anyone who has read a book or seen a film knows "To Kill a Mockingbird". Both are, deservedly, very well known. Some would say they are each classics in their own right.

The book [of which over 10 million copies have been sold] is certainly superb and the film a true adaptation of the text. The film would appear to evoke and portray, accurately, a time in America's past.

Harper Lee, the author of the book, now elderly, and who was "involved" in the film, effectively lives as a recluse in Alabama. That said, this article about her appeared in the New York Times last weekend. It's a most interesting read - here.

Bushs' State of the Union Sliced & Diced

Each year the President of the USA goes up to Capitol Hill to deliver the annual State of the Union.

This year was no different. George Bush delivered his State of the Union a couple of days ago with the usual flourishes [having rehearsed the speech and writers having worked on it for weeks] and dutiful members of Congress and the Senate clapped at the "right time" or gave the President a standing ovation. Great theatre! - even if short on substance.

Sadly much of what is said bears little relationship to reality. Lots of one-liners and platitudes! Remember the term "the Axis of Evil" which appeared in a State of the Union a few back?

In this article from AlterNet the writer slices and dices the lies and fabrications of George Bushs' latest State of the Union address.

Slate's Fred Kaplan's view of the speech is thus:

"George W. Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night may have been the oddest speech of his presidency, and that's sa…

MHR Danby: Wrong Yet Again!

MHR Michael Danby [Labour, Vic] really hit the hight spots last year when he slammed a play ["Stuff Happens"] without even having seen it - on the basis that he had read a review about it.

Not content with that "critique", in October last year he wrote to the Australian Jewish News slamming a book being written by Antony Loewenstein and advising MUP not to publish it and members of the Jewish community not to read it. Trouble is, the book won't be published until July or August this year - and no one has read the book! Perhaps not surprisingly, the prescience of Danby draw criticism in the media both in Australia and the UK and USA.

It would appear almost beyond question that MHR Danby should be directing whatever energies he has to attending to his constituants and the material he distributes to them. Todays Australian newspaper [no link available] publishes the following:

"Michael Danby, federal member for Melbourne Ports, had a brainwave of sorts …