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Showing posts from April, 2006

The Hollow Words of "Never Again"

There are many who would argue that there has only ever been one Holocaust - that is, the extermination of Jews by the Nazis.

All too sadly, there is probably now in 2006 no "ownership" in the term "Holocaust" if correctly used.

"As someone who lost practically his entire family to the Holocaust, I came to regard the Nazis’ systematic murder of Jews as the ultimate benchmark for mass murder. Any subsequent 20th-century genocides seemed merely sad reminders that the post-Holocaust pledge “Never again” was just an empty promise.

Tuol Sleng is Cambodia’s version of Auschwitz. I found visiting the current museum at the site not only a harrowing experience but an eye-opener about the similarities between the two collective tragedies".

So writes Tibor Krausz in this Ha'aretz article under the heading "First Person".

Read one man's journey.......here. Sobering is a word which comes to mind. And then we have the present situation in Dafur. So…

The Death of Private Kovco

The media has been full of all the "news" relating to the death of Private Kovco, the "loss" of the body and speculation about what caused his death.

That the whole "thing" has been a fiasco is putting it mildly. No less importantly the role of the PM and the Government deserves all the criticism one can marshall.

Alan Ramsay, of the SMH, could never be accused of failing to call a spade a shovel. He is certainly not restrained when criticism is called for.

So, in this week's column Ramsay writes:

"A friend emailed yesterday: "We talk about a values debate in Australia? F--- me dead! A billionaire media mogul like Kerry Packer, who celebrated his tax minimisation, gets a publicly funded state memorial service, and a Private Kovco, who offered his life for his country and paid the ultimate price, gets treated like a piece of meat." His bitterness only reflects national outrage. How can this be?"

Ramsay, rightly, calls into question…
The weekend approaches - and I am off interstate to meet up with family.

Mahler's Prodigal Son will be back on Sunday night. Enjoy your weekend......

Ferment about the "Israel Lobby" Continues

It is interesting to reflect on this statement in an article in The Nation about the ferment caused by the publication of the paper on the so-called "Israel Lobby" :

"And Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, praised it [the academics paper] at the Middle East Institute for conveying "blinding flashes of the obvious," ideas "that were whispered in corners rather than said out loud at cocktail parties where someone else could hear you."

Read the full AlterNet article here on the continuing ripples and repercussions of the Paper.

"Mission Accomplished" - Not!

"On May Day next week, along with the more traditional observances of spring and socialism, we should pause to contemplate the anniversary of Bush's famous triumphalist landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln under the banner 'Mission Accomplished'."

This opening paragraph in an interesting article in AlterNet seeking to analyse how the US got into the Iraq War in the first place, touches on the currently topical subject of the so-called "Israel Lobby" and how it may, or may not, have influenced America's foreign policy.

So, what triggered the War? "Was it oil? Empire? Human rights? The Israel Lobby? Three yearslater, there's no clear reason why we invaded Iraq, much less any idea how we'll get out" the article asks.

The article goes on to say this

"It is certainly true that Israel itself and its U.S. lobby, AIPAC, were pushing for war on Iraq, as indeed they are now against Iran. Ironically, while pro-Israeli pundits have lambasted t…

A Blot On Israel's Justice System

"Morally and legally, and from a democratic perspective, it is intolerable that someone who has been punished should be punished over and over again for the same sin for which he served such a heavy sentence. It should be remembered that it is precisely through the same argument of knowing state secrets that the Soviet Union prevented Jewish scientists from immigrating to Israel."

Who are we talking about here? None other than Mordecai Vanunu.

As the Ha'aretz article points out [from which the above quote is taken]:

"Vanunu was one of the very few prisoners in Israeli history whose sentence was not reduced for good behavior, nor was he given a single day's furlough. For many years, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement, which nearly drove him insane. Two years ago, he was released and asked to leave Israel".

For a country which espouses due processs as part of its judicial system and which is held up as the only democracy in the Middle East, the contin…

Torture, the CIA's Renditioning across Europe - and Justice goes AWOL

"Two years after the Abu Ghraib scandal, new research shows that abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay has been widespread, and that the United States has taken only limited steps to investigate and punish implicated personnel.

A briefing paper issued today, “By the Numbers,” presents preliminary findings of the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, a joint project of New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First. The project is the first comprehensive accounting of credible allegations of torture and abuse in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo."

According to an investigation undertaken by and now a Report issued by Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch and the Centre for Human Rights Global Justice today, there are some 600 instances of abuse not only in Iraq, but elsewhere, which go virtually unpunished. Read the Media Release [which allows for acces…

Howard's Australia: Unfair Go

Julian Burnside QC is a well-known Melbourne silk who has been involved in many high-profile cases, in particular those relating to refugees in Australia. Burnside is also often called on as a commentator and speaker.

In an article just published in New Matilda [on the www - but available only by subscription] entitled "Howard's Australia: Unfair Go", Burnside, validly and forcefully, attacks the Federal Government's new refugees laws including the processing of asylum seekers off-shore.

Amonsgt the things Burnside addresses in his article is this:

"But the Howard Government has developed a taste for unfairness, which has been masked by Howard’s deceptive rhetoric about ‘Australian values’ and a ‘fair go.’ In a speech in Adelaide in 2004, Howard reaffirmed his faith in Australia as ‘a fair and decent society.’ What bullshit.

Unfair: Howard has overhauled the Workplace Relations Act. One aspect of the new law expressly permits employees to be dismissed unfairly. …

John Howard's Doublespeak

Just a few days ago PM John Howard was critical of the English being taught in schools. Not good enough and too trendy [my word!] he declared.

So, what does our PM do? He says this yesterday when speaking of the new as-yet-unamed "smart cards" to be introduced by the Federal Government.

“It will be necessary for everybody who needs the card to apply for one and it will not be compulsory to have the card,” he said.

“But by the same token it will not be possible to access many services which are normally accessed by people unless one is in possession of the card.”

In good old plain English doesn't this mean that, no, you will not have to be the holder of the card, but without it you will be "lost" and without the "benefit" of various matters [like a pension] in just about every way?

Read the report of the announcement about the card from The Agehere.

At the news conference announcing the "smart card" the gaggle of Ministers were at pains to po…

Majority of Palestinians Want "Talks" with Israel

The news is full of Hamas-related issues, the suicide bombers, the travails, financially, of the new PA Government and many in the world refusing to recognise the new PA Government.

Now this news, as reported in Ha'aretz, makes for interesting reading:

"Although Hamas' popularity has risen in the first two months since its late January parliamentary victory, three-quarters of Palestinians want negotiations with Israel, leading pollster Khalil Shakaki has found.

In a poll conducted March 16-18, Shakaki found that 47 percent of the 1,270 respondents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip said they would bring Hamas to power again if elections were held a second time. However, 75 percent said they want Hamas to hold negotiations with Israel."

I suspect that given the "will" of ordinary people everywhere, they simply want to get on with their lives untrammeled by conflict. It's only when Governments or religion "interferes" that problems arise in so many…

A New Twist to Relationships - "The Decider!"

"When President George W. Bush referred to himself as "the decider" last week, there was the ensuing list of dinner party queries: Is "decider" an actual word? (It is.) Is it applicable in the world of presidential politics? (Sure, whatever.) Doesn't everyone, no matter their politics or opinion of the phrase, secretly believe that in interpersonal dealings, they wear the "decider" badge?

It seems the president, who thought he was simply fending off pressure to dismiss Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — "I'm the decider, and I decide what's best," he said, adding that he had no intention of letting Mr. Rumsfeld go — has unwittingly added to the lexicon of marital relations".

OK, so where do you fit in as "the decider" in your relationship with your significant other? Mars and Venus and all of that!

Maybe the article [here] in the NYT [the opening paragraphs of which are above] might help....

Oil, Petrol Prices, George Bush - and Megga Bucks

George Bush has announced an investigation into why petrol [gas in the USA] is costing the consumer so much. He wants to establish whether motorists are being been gouged.

Arianna Huffington in her daily Huffington Report [always well-worth reading] reports this:

"It’s not a coincidence that the oil and gas industries donated over $25 million to Congressional campaigns in 2004 (with 80% of that money going into Republican coffers), and another $7.2 million so far in the 2006 cycle (with 84% going to the GOP). They also doled out over $4.5 million to Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential runs.

And what did they get for their largess? According to Public Citizen, the top five oil companies have pocketed over a quarter of trillion (that’s with a “T”) in profits since Bush took office. Talk about a return on investment. That’s a gusher!"

Bear in mind that the above figures are US dollars.

Read the full article here. It certainly looks like that Bush inquiry is really only directed …

A Letter to John Howard?

"Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night? Do you? Do you ever wake up sleepless in the middle of the night? What have you done in Iraq? Do you ever realize, in the middle of the night, what you've done? Do you? "

Yes, these are imaginary questions directed to John Howard.

BUT they are questions posed in an open letter to President George Bush by a former diplomat in the State Department who resigned from the Department over the planned War on Iraq.

Read the full text of the letter, as published on AlterNet, here. Any takers out there willing to write an open letter to John Howard - and Tony Blair - in similar terms?

Meanwhile, PM Howard like his counterpart George Bush [and probably Tony Blair too] continues to live in la-la land [as reported here by the ABC] when he says that the Coalition's intervention in Iraq hasn't been a disaster.

First Class, Business Class - or Standing?

If things were tight-enough at the back of the plane - aka "cattle class" - now read this [from the IHT]:

"The airlines have come up with a new answer to the old question: How many passengers can be squeezed into economy class?

A lot more, it turns out, especially if an idea still in the early stage should come to pass: standing-room-only "seats."

But even short of that option, carriers have been slipping in another row or two of seats in coach by exploiting stronger, lighter materials developed by seat manufacturers that allow for slimmer seatbacks. The thinner seats theoretically could be used to give passengers more legroom but, in practice, the airlines have been keeping the same amount of space between seats to accommodate the additional seats."

Heaven-forbid if the airlines go down the path as detailed in the full article [here] in the IHT.

How Do You Want That Food Served?

In Victoria they plan on banning so-called junk food being available to kids in school. Meanwhile, Tony Abbott, Minister for Health in the Federal Government, resists any attempts to police advertising of junk foods during children's TV viewing times. Forget about preventative medicine! Abbott's argument [?] is that parents should "police" what their kids eat. As Four Corners suggested last year perhaps the "influence" of advertisers has something to do with the Federal Government's resistance to take steps to cut down obesity in children by at least limiting advertising of junk-foods during children's TV viewing times.

The Guardian, in the UK, on the topic of foods available to us all has this to report in an article entitled "World's top 25 food firms 'pathetic' in combating unhealthy diets":

"The world's top 25 food companies have not taken significant action to improve diets despite their claims, according…

World Bank Lying on Eradicating Malaria?

If this article in The Independent is correct - and there appears to be no reason to doubt it - then it is a scandal:

"The world's largest foreign aid organisation is accused today of deception and medical malpractice that has contributed to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of children from malaria.

The World Bank, which has a $20bn (£11.2bn) budget and a mission to reduce poverty, is alleged to have published misleading financial claims and false statistical accounts and wasted money on ineffective medicines for treating the disease, which kills more than a million people a year, 90 per cent of them children."

So much for the humanitarian efforts of the World Bank and the now so-oft repeated pledges to help African countries overcome poverty, malnutrition, medical ailments and diseases of various types.

Read the complete article here. And now here is a real challenge for neo-con President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz.....

Introspection in America

As the tidings out of Washington seem to lurch from one negative to another, Americans have at long last begun to question, albeit somewhat tentatively, how they have got themselves in the mess they now find themselves. Interestingly, given the American veneration of their President there is now open questioning of the present incumbent in the White House. And well they might....

"Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?"

That is the introduction to an introspective and thoughtful analysis of the US and how it rates in the overall scheme of things in a piece in AlterNet ["Removing America's Blinders"].

This is not the sort of thought-process readily found in America....

"Wh…

Your newspaper....via e-device

It is well known that newspapers the world over are losing readership either because many people, especially younger readers, have abandoned the daily newspaper, or the populace is content with relying on TV news or obtaining their news via the www.

Confronted with those falling circulation-numbers newspaper proprietors are looking to change the way in which they could "deliver" a newspaper to a reader.

"In the Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller "Minority Report," a subway passenger scans an edition of USA Today that is a plastic video screen, thin, foldable and wireless, with constantly changing text.

The scene is circa 2054, but it is no longer science fiction."

So begins a report in the IHT on tests being undertaken to deliver the daily news via e-devices. Tests are being conducted around the world using varying technologies. Read this rather intriguing report here.

Overwired in a Word

"Was there gridlock before there were automobiles? Was there jet lag before there were airplanes? Who was the first person to say "I Googled it" or "he's cyberstalking me"? At what moment did a "web log" turn into a "blog"?

Language makes things official. Change in the pace of life over the last decade can be measured by change in our vocabulary. We I.M., we get phished, we have PIN's. We HotSync, therefore we are."

The New York Times in its Life Works column has an interesting article on how technology has caught up with everyone in 2006 - and in the process spawned a new lexicon of words to match. Read the article here - and probably nod sagely, and sadly, that the writer is all too correct.

If you want to follow up that article there is a second part [also in the NYT] on the topic here.

Young Workers Vulnerable

"The new federal industrial relations legislation is likely to exacerbate the vulnerability of young temporary workers by removing award protections and encouraging individualised bargaining. In reality, few young workers will be in a position to "bargain" with their employer and they will feel even less confident about raising occupational health and safety concerns for fear of losing their job. Recent changes to federal Comcare legislation and proposed changes to federal occupational health and safety legislation could make the situation worse."

So writes Prof. Michael Quinlan in this op-ed piece in today's SMH. Read the complete article here.

The op-ed piece is part of a number of articles in today's SMH dealing with young workers and the appalling injury and deaths they have exprienced over the years. Read the centre-piece and feature article here. It highlights how the Federal Government's words about the the advantages of the new IR laws …

So much for the Sun King's prediction....

With the price of oil hitting US $75 in New York and motorists around the world facing a steep rise in filling up their cars with petrol at the bowser - let alone the impact on economies of countries brought about by rising oil-fuel costs - it is worth reflecting on what has or is causing of all of this.

The Iraq War has been a considerable contributing factor. Then there is the unrest around the world and how that impacts on oil-producing countries. And, finally, there is now the threat of Iran becoming involved in some sort of conflict. Iran is the world's 4th largest producer of oil.

Rewind then...... It will be remembered that almost univerally the News Limited newspapers around the world, and Fox News, were strong supporters of the Iraq War. Rupert Murdoch stumped around the globe supporting the Coalition of the Willing going into Iraq. The rationale? Oil prices would come down. This is how it was reported in The Guardian [see the full article here]bac…

Be Gravely Concerned! Be on Guard....

John Pilger is no stranger to either speaking out or controversy at what he sees as injustices wherever and however they occur.

Pilger has recently written a critical piece in the New Statesman on legislation now wending its way through the British Parliament. As Pilger says in the first paragraph of his piece:

"People ask: Can this be happening in Britain? Surely not. A centuries-old democratic constitution cannot be swept away. Basic human rights cannot be made abstract. Those who once comforted themselves that a Labour government would never commit such an epic crime in Iraq might now abandon a last delusion, that their freedom is inviolable. If they knew."

Read the full article here - and be gravely concerned, and on guard, for what surely will be steps in Australia to follow suit in what is being done in the UK. All in the name of security and anti-terrorism measures!

A Lobby.....Not a Conspiracy

In the last weeks there has been quite a bit written - including on this blog - about the paper, "The Israel Lobby", by two academics, published in the London Review of Books.

This last week saw The Australian publish an op-ed piece by Antony Loewenstein [here] on the "lobby" in Australia, and a response, the next day, from an executive of AIJAC, Colin Rubenstein.

Yesterday, The Australian featured an article which was, in effect, a synopsis of the original piece by the two academics. [here].

An op-ed piece in the New York Times [only available by subscription] dissects the original paper in a sober and unhysterical op-ed piece by a leading academic Tony Judt. As Judt writes:

"As they must have anticipated, the essay has run into a firestorm of vituperation and refutation. Critics have charged that their scholarship is shoddy and that their claims are, in the words of the columnist Christopher Hitchens, "slightly but unmistakably smelly." The …

Horrifying and Staggering Stats.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) there are:
- four million IDPs in Sudan (excluding Darfur)
- two million are now in Khartoum , the capital of Sudan
- 325,000 are offered protection in four official IDP camps
- 1.7 million have established around 30 informal settlements, so-called “squatter areas”.

These horrifying figures come from Amnesty International's web-site dealing with what can only be described as the dire situation of internally displaced persons in the Sudan.

"Sudan has the largest population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the world. An estimated two million IDPs, live in the official IDPs camps and unofficial “squatter areas” in and around Khartoum. Many of the IDPs have fled the conflict in south Sudan and more recently, the conflict in Darfur in Western Sudan. Many of these face forced evection from their residence as the Government pushes ahead with its project to’re-plan' all IDP and squatte…

A Ritual Going the Way of the Dodo?

Everyone is working harder and longer. Jobs are less secure. The pressure of meeting ever-increasing bills gets harder. The cost of living is rising. It's an endless spiral.....

The things we have grown up with are changing or disappearing altogether. Where will it all stop? And is our life-style altering for the better?

Adele Horin, in a perceptive op-ed piece in the SMH this morning, looks at the disappearing family dinner:

"THE family dinner, like the nine-to-five worker, is fast becoming a relic of the good ol' days, disappearing down the plughole of overscheduled and overworked lives. And the new industrial relations laws, which are boss-friendly rather than family-friendly, further imperil the evening ritual.

Now that individual workplace contracts can dispense with loadings for overtime or unsocial hours, some workers, hitherto protected, will be compelled to join the long-hours culture and, as a result, miss dinner with the kids".

It's a reflective …

Hamas and Israel: Time for Reality Check?

"The unique predicament of the Palestinian Authority denies Israel and the Quartet the luxury of a benign neglect, wait-and-see approach to the Hamas government. Virtually all aspects of Palestinian economic life, trade, movement of persons and goods, and 40 per cent of government income (via the customs duties Israel collects) are at the whim of Israeli policy. Hamas' ideology, popularity and military aggression are unlikely to evaporate if they are forced from office by an Israeli-U.S.-led squeeze. The prospect of premeditated regime collapse may even be encouraging violence from Islamic Jihad and elements of Fatah. Certainly Fatah is unlikely to undertake its own much needed internal reform and regeneration process if it is expecting to be imminently re-anointed in an internationally blessed coup. British Foreign Secretary Straw and Italian Prime Minister-elect Prodi have both hinted that a policy rethink is needed."

Writing in Ha'aretz, Daniel Levy explores the wa…

George Bush: Worst President in History

"George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history."

That's the view of Sean Wilentz, a leading US historian - as published in Rolling Stone magazine.

In what some might consider a startling proposition - that is, that Bush has reached the nadir of his Presidency and is unlikely to recover and then, to boot, be remembered as the worst President in the history of the USA - Wilentz painstakinly does an analysis of Bush from all perspectives - domestically, internationally and in relation to the Iraq War.

It makes fo…

A Human Rights Act for Australia

There are many in the Australian community who have for years now called for an Australian Human Rights Act.

New Matilda, an on-line publication [NewMatilda.com] - very well worth subscribing to by the way - has for some time been advocating that Australia should have a Bill of Rights - or what it prefers to refer to as a Human Rights Act.

For instance just the other day New Matilda had this notification on its web site:

"On Easter Thursday the Government announced changes to migration laws that breach the Convention Relating to the Treatment of Refugees 1951, further demonstrating why we need a Human Rights Act. Under the changes, all people arriving by boat would be removed to another country to be processed. The government will then pay other countries to accept refugees".

Today New Matilda launched a web site dedicated to a Human Rights Act being introduced in Australia and also containing not only the proposed legislation but a vast resource and array of matters relating …

John Howard: Moral Midget of the World?

"John Howard's reputation is established as a shrewd politician who keeps a finger on the public pulse and shows his feelings only on immaculate occasions, praising heroes of the sports or battle fields. He appeals to a deflationary streak in the Australian character, which tends to ask, when complex issues of ethics arise: "What's all the fuss about?"

When Pauline Hanson captured the mood of a significant part of the Australian electorate, Howard positioned the Coalition Government as a spoiler, with soft versions of her hard prejudices. Since then the record of cagey political management has lengthened. It is now an axiom of Australian politics that he is an astute interpreter of the Australian public mind.

Yet his behaviour lately on two issues - AWB's improper payments to Saddam Hussein's regime and refugees from Indonesia - raises the question whether his political skills may have more serious consequence for Australia than simply keeping him in offic…

Just Think How This Money Might Have Been Used....

The Washington Post reports:

"With the expected passage this spring of the largest emergency spending bill in history, annual war expenditures in Iraq will have nearly doubled since the U.S. invasion, as the military confronts the rapidly escalating cost of repairing, rebuilding and replacing equipment chewed up by three years of combat.

The cost of the war in U.S. fatalities has declined this year, but the cost in treasure continues to rise, from $48 billion in 2003 to $59 billion in 2004 to $81 billion in 2005 to an anticipated $94 billion in 2006, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The U.S. government is now spending nearly $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from $8.2 billion a year ago, a new Congressional Research Service report found."

Let me do the maths for you. The Iraq War, including the anticipated cost for 2006, will have have cost the American people a staggering US$282 billion. Yep, you read that correctly!

Just pau…

White House Press Secretary - exit Left Stage

Who hasn't seen Scott McClelland, White House Press Secretary, on TV, and wondered how this inarticulate, slow and seemingly bumbling man, keeps his job.

Well, he's gone! Today's news tells us that McClelland's tenure is at an end. It's significance may be wider than is imagined.

Sidney Blumenthal, writing in The Guardian, says as follows:

"The resignation of the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, is an event of almost complete insignificance except insofar as the beleaguered White House presents it as an important change. Meanwhile, the secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, under siege from dissenting ex-generals demanding his firing for arrogant incompetence, stays.

McClellan is a flea on the windshield of history. On the podium, he performed his duty as a slow-flying object swatted by a frustrated and flustered press corps. Inexpressive, occasionally inarticulate and displaying a limited vocabulary, his virtue was his unwavering discipl…

At Last! Access to German Holocaust Files

"Germany has agreed to allow access to a huge trove of information on what happened to more than 17 million people who were executed, forced to labor for the Nazi war machine or otherwise brutalized during the Holocaust."

So reports the IHT in this article here.

It is astounding that 61 years after the end of World War II that only now has the German Government allowed access to this seemingly vast treasure-trove of critical documents.

What is somewhat troubling, and puzzling in the absence of any details,is that Ha'aretz has reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has administered the centre where the records have been kept all this time, has been less than co-operative in facilitating access to and opening out the records for all to see.

Also read this piece from Der Spiegel on the release of the some 50 million documents. As this piece points out, with the realease of these critical documents, those Holocaust deniers will be confronted with "…

Huh? A Pulitzer Prize for Treason?

Aussies are rejoicing that an Australian [well American-Australian], Geraldine Brooks, has just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for her book March.

Two reporters have also been awarded Pulitzer Prizes for their exposure of the Bush Administration's "internal" eaves-dropping on its citizens and an expose of the Cyclone Katrina debacle.

You would have thought these the two journalists would be well and truly lauded. They are being in many quarters - but there are also those, as AlterNet reports:

"Hiding under the banner of free press advocates, right-wingers are calling for the heads of reporters who publish 'against the president's wishes.'"

Read the full AlterNet article here. It makes for interesting and troubling reading on a number of levels.

Cruise "Control" and Scientology

The news that the wife of Tom Cruise has given birth to a child will only interest those who consider the lives of film stars [or as they consider themselves to be] of any remote interest.

What has made the Cruise-birth of some consideration is the brouhaha in relation to the impact of Scientology on the birth of the child.

The Independent decided to investigate the so-called Church of Scientology and concludes:

"The cult has attempted to intimidate news organisations who expose it. Last year, it threatened court action against Google, which had to remove websites that criticised the group. After a day witnessing what goes on on the inside, I realise it's little wonder the "church" needs to resort to such tactics".

Read the full rather eye-opening and frightening article here - and ponder how people can so easily be gulled into a religious belief [!] and the true "cost" of doing so. It does make one wonder about the adherents of Scientology...…

Refugees: The Hidden Victims of West's War on Terror

The Independent today reports as follows:

"Refugees fleeing persecution or civil war are becoming the hidden victims of the West's obsession with combating terrorism, the United Nations will warn in a report published today.

Only a fraction of the world's 9.2 million refugees have the means to reach the industrialised world to seek asylum. Those who do are increasingly likely to be treated like criminals as rich countries put up the barriers to keep out terrorists and economic migrants."

What is clearly evident - as the debate presenty underway in Australia with respect to refugees so clearly demonstrates - is that the issue of refugees, fleeing from wherever, and for whatever reason, will continue to increase around the world. It certainly is an issue which won't go away.

Read the complete Independent article here.

Ignore Bloggers at your Peril!

"Bloggers and internet pundits are exerting a "disproportionately large influence" on society, according to a report by a technology research company. Its study suggests that although "active" web users make up only a small proportion of Europe's online population, they are increasingly dominating public conversations and creating business trends".

Thus reports The Guardian in this interesting and thought-provoking article by the paper's technology correspondent. Read it here.

Yes, the world has changed! - and so is the way we "get" our news and how we relate to it both personally and with and to others.

Mike Carlton's Insight into the AWB Affair

The Cole Inquiry into AWB is in recess this week.

One can only shake one's head in amazement at the "evidence" given at the Inquiry by Vaile, Downer and Howard last week. In a word it was a "joke" - and leaves one breathless at the ineptitude of our so-called political leaders.

In his weekly column in the SMH Mike Carlton, in his inimitable style, has this take on the Cole Inquiry:

"IN THE men's toilet at the famous Cole inquiry they have installed "the latest in water-saving technology, the Desert Cube Waterless Urinal System".

There is a notice above the porcelain, explaining how it works: "The small cubes below contain beneficial microbes able to eliminate odour-causing bacteria without the use of water," it says.

Last Tuesday, in Cole's witness box, Lord Downer was also working to eliminate odour, but far less successfully than the Desert Cube. The stench of the Government's deceit and incompetence in this AWB kickbac…

More than an Apple a Day!

"It was a fitting way to wrap up the first day of IBM's (IBM ) innovation-themed leadership forum, held in Rome in early April. Guests were treated to small group tours of the Vatican Museum, including Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. They sipped cocktails on a patio in the back of St. Peter's, the vast dome of the basilica outlined by the light of the moon. They dined in a marble-statue-filled hall inside the Vatican. What better place than Italy to hold a global confab on innovation, the topic di giorno among corporate leaders? It was, after all, the birthplace of the Renaissance, another period of great innovation and change."

So reports BusinessWeek. More interestingly which companies received accolades for being the most innovative?

Well, the Apple Corporation [you know the ipod people!] was one the corporations up there with the leaders because, as the article says:

"At the top of the list are the masters of many genres of innovation.…

The "Israel Lobby" [revisited] - this time in Oz

I recently dealt with the furore in, mainly, the USA, following the publication in the London Review of Books, of an article by two well-respected academics relating to the "Israel Lobby" in the US and how it influences, amongst other things, American foreign policy.

If you want to follow the debate just Google "The Israel Lobby" and find many articles on the subject following publication of the article.

Now, today, The Australian, has published a feature article on the "Israel Lobby" and its impact in Australia.

As the author writes:

"An Israel lobby also exists in Australia, though it is far less influential than its US counterpart. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council claims to represent the interests of the Jewish community in Australia and maintains strong ties with the Labor and Liberal parties. Its executive director Colin Rubenstein explained in 2003 that there is an "affinity between Australia and Israel, almost an overlapping…

And this was an Easter Message?

Last Friday night SBS had its usual 6.30 World News program.

In the course of "covering" the celebration of Easter around the world, including Australia, the segment had footage of Anglican Archbishop Dr. Peter Jensen giving his Easter sermon.

Dr Jensen stated that both Islam and Christianity were religions deserving of respect but the beliefs of Islam were "wrong". Eh? A Christian message at Easter? And this will lead to respect and tolerance? Me thinks not.....
It's either Easter or Passover for you and me.....and certainly a few days off to rest, refresh and re-charge the batteries.

So, I will be escaping the city-life for a few days and blogging will go on hold.

Enjoy whatever you are doing over Easter......

It Speaks For Itself

"Here in the Crikey bunker we have been furiously hunting the Cole Commission transcripts for a tally of how many times the memories of our government ministers, officials and AWB executives have lapsed. How many times the key witnesses at the Cole inquiry have answered questions with phrases like: “I can't recall”, “not to my knowledge”, “I don't know”, “I'm not across that detail”, “I'm not sure”, “I'm not certain” and “not that I'm aware of”.

So here it is – the 2006 Australian Leadership & Competence Index:

John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia – 2 times at least (subject to transcript)
Mark Vaile, Deputy PM and Trade Minister – 44 times
Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs – 62 times
Andrew Lindberg, Managing Director of AWB – 733 times
Trevor Flugge, Chairman AWB – 201 timesMichael Long, General Manager, AWB International Sales and Marketing Division – 138 times
Peter Geary, Domestic and Global Trading International Sales and Marketing, Ris…

The New Magic Word - Terrorism

"THE magic word used to be abracadabra. Say it while waving his wand and an illusionist could make an elephant vanish or a conjuror could pull a rabbit from his hat.

Now the magic word is terrorism. That black magician Bin Laden used it to make the Twin Towers disappear, dramatically changing the Manhattan and political landscape. And by repeating terrorism almost as often as he says "God" or "America", George W. Bush has changed the rest of the world."

Phillip Adams, in his latest opinion-piece in The Australian, "Terrorism is a Tricky Business", raises some critical issues in relation to how "terrorism" has become the thing to mask and cover a host of matters.

As Adams says, amongst other things:

"The truth of the matter is that terrorism doesn't frighten Western leaders as much as they pretend. Rather it's a potent weapon for political incumbents. Any magician will tell you that the secret of all conjuring tricks and illusi…

David Hicks, PM Blair and the Law Lord

With the news that the English Court of Appeal has dismissed the Government's appeal from the decision of a single judge to grant David Hicks UK citizenship, just today this news report in The Age from The Guardian:

"Prime Minister Tony Blair's refusal to condemn Guantanamo Bay detention centre is "shaming for our country", a former British law lord says.

Lord Steyn, who retired last year from Britain's highest court, said: "Unfortunately, our Prime Minister is not prepared to go further than to say that Guantanamo Bay is an understandable anomaly. In its feebleness, this response to a flagrant breach of the rule of law, reminiscent of the worst actions of totalitarian states, is shaming for our country."

Read the full article here.

This morning Major Mori, David Hicks' US attorney, was interviewed on the ABC's Radio National's Breakfast program. He asserted that Hicks was back in solitary confinement and only allowed out of his cell 30 m…

Now Colin Powell Tells Us

"On Monday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told me that he and his department's top experts never believed that Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat, but that the President followed the misleading advice of Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA in making the claim. Now he tells us.".

So writes Robert Scheer, contributing editor of The Nation and editor of Truth.dig.

Read the full piece here.

What more can one say? It only re-inforces and supports what has been said by many before and denied by the Bush Administration. Doubtlessly this revelation from Powell will do little to or for George Bushs'falling popularity with the American electorate.

Travel 2006 Style

As we head into Easter, those "on the road" might be interested in the latest advice from National Geographic on how to put an ipod to effective use.

Let it not be said that ipod hasn't caused a revolution. Just yesterday it was reported that Apple and airlines are looking into how ipod users might be able to download music from the iTunes Store whilst aloft. Read all about that here.

Meanwhile, check out that National Geographicweb site for those tips.....

The Fall-out from Berlusconi's Fall

For those who have watched both the Italian election itself and the outcome, it looks like Berlusconi is out.

However, Berlusconi's exit left stage is not the end of the matter as The Independent points out:

"The defeat of Silvio Berlusconi has left Tony Blair isolated in Europe as the last political leader supporting the war in Iraq".

Even more so, the article says this of the Blairs:

"The close relationship between Mr Blair and the Italian media mogul has mystified Labour MPs, who privately say the Blairs were dazzled by wealth. The election result is also likely to bring the curtain down on the free holidays the Blairs enjoyed at Mr Berlusconi's villa in Sardinia.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera dubbed the Blairs "The Sultans of Bling" after Mr Blair declared receiving watches, earrings, a necklace, a ring and a bracelet from Mr Berlusconi."

Finally, The Independent deals with the possible outcome of the now ex PM's travails with the Co…

Purging the Past before the World Cup

This is a dimension, as reported in the NYT, to the upcoming World Cup probably most people had not even thought of.

"Hoping to cleanse themselves of their Nazi past before the World Cup starts, German soccer leaders have broadened their examination of their shameful history in the Third Reich and embraced their critics.

The German soccer federation (DFB), now eager to come to terms with its enthusiastic support of the Nazis during the Hitler era after covering it up for six decades, has thrown open its soul, and archives, to try to purge that nightmare past".

As the article in the NYT [read it here] reveals - and it is worth reading what the Germans are attempting to do, even if somewhat belatedly, before the forthcoming World Cup:

"There were some 40,000 Jews in German sport clubs -- or about one-tenth of pre-war Jewish population of 400,000. By 1945, there were only a few thousand Jews alive in Germany."

Wag the Camel

Maureen Dowd, writing her column in the New York Times this week, entitled "Wag the Camel"[regretably not on line unless a subscriber to Times Select] says this....

"Talk about a fearful symmetry.

Iran was whipping up real uranium while America was whipped up by fake uranium.

Obsessed with going to war against a Middle East country that had no nuclear weapon, the Bush administration lost focus on and leverage over a Middle East country hurtling toward a nuclear weapon.

That's after the Bush crew lost focus on and leverage over an Asian country that says it has now produced a whole bunch of nuclear weapons.

To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, if brains were elastic, these guys wouldn't have enough to make suspenders for a parakeet".

And then this:

"I'm sure the mad-as-cheese Mr. Ahmadinejad cannot believe his luck. The down-the-rabbit-hole Bush administration is tied up in Iraq, helping to create a theocracy friendly to Iran while leaving Iran to do whatever i…

AWB Inquiry: "Alex in Wonderland"

David Marr of the SMH was back at the Cole Inquiry into the AWB yesterday.

He concludes in his piece this morning that Alexander Downer's "evidence" - remember, he is supposed to be the Foreign Minister - was like "Alex in Wonderland, a most implausible tale". Downer's "evidence", or rather the lack of it, revealed Downer for what he is - incompetent. Downer also showed himself as being a pompous snob and living in an orbit removed from reality. As for "leading" a responsible Government department.....? Read Marr's incisive asssement here.

SMHs' Political Editor, Peter Hartcher heads his report on Downer's appearance this morning as "A minister like Magoo is relaxed and safe" and concludes that because ministerial responsibility has effectively disappeared under John Howard's prime-ministership, Downer's job is safe.

Democracy @ $$$$$$$

Bill Moyers is a well-known commentator who writes for the Washington Spectator.

In his latest piece, Moyers deals with the really vexed issue of lobbyists in Washington. The entire article isn't of all that much interest to Australians. What is interesting, and staggering, are the stats in relation to lobbying and lobbyists Moyers cites:

"Money is choking our democracy to death. Our elections are bought out from under us and our public officials are doing the bidding of mercenaries. So powerful is the hold of wealth on politics that we cannot say America is working for all Americans. The majority may support such broad social goals as affordable medical coverage for all, decent wages for working people, safe working conditions, a secure retirement, and clean air and water, but there is no government "of, by, and for the people" to deliver on those aspirations.

Our system of privately financed campaigns has shut regular people out of any meaningful participati…

IDF Killed British Student "unlawfully": Jury determines

"April 6 2003. I have been shot at, gassed, chased by soldiers, had sound grenades thrown within metres of me, been hit by falling debris and been in the way of a 10-tonne D-9 that didn't stop. As we approached, I kept expecting a part of my body to be hit by an 'invisible' force and shot of pain. It took a huge amoung of will to continue. I wondered what it would be like to be shot, and strangely I wasn't too scared. It is strange to know that each night people are shot and killed for breaking military curfew, and in the darkness on the north west side there is an Israeli settlement and a few hundred metres away with military snipers in between and any one of the four of us could be being watched through a sniper's sights at this moment. The certainty is that they are watching, and it is in the decision of any one Israeli soldier or settler that my life depends. I know that I'd probably never know what hit me, but it's part of the job to be as visible…

AWB: Vaile Joins Club Vague

As the media around Australia this morning details the less than sterling "performance" of Mark Vaile [remember he is the Deputy PM!] at the AWB Cole Inquiry yesterday, David Marr in the SMH this morning succinctly details the scene at the Inquiry yesterday - in what Marr dubbs "Club Vague". Read it here.

Meanwhile the NY Times has also reported on Vaile's travails at the Inquiry yesterday. This is the concluding part of the article:

"Mr. Aquis expressed equal disbelief that Mr. Vaile had never ordered an independent investigation, not even after the United Nations commission that investigated the oil for food scandal, which was headed by Paul A. Volcker, issued its report last October. Mr. Volcker said that AWB had been the largest payer of kickbacks to the regime.

"Did you cause any inquires to be made" after the Volcker report came out? Mr. Aquis asked.

"No," Mr. Vaile said."

Comforting to know that the nation is in the hands o…

Middle-East Democracy: It Ain't Happening!

"Steps toward democracy in the Arab world, a crucial American goal that just months ago was cause for optimism - with elections held in Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinian areas - are slowing, blocked by delays in reform efforts, legal maneuvers and official changes of heart throughout the Middle East.

The political rise of Islamists, the chaos in Iraq along with the newfound Shiite power there with its implication for growing Iranian influence, and the sense among some rulers that they can wait out the end of the Bush administration have put the brakes on democratization, analysts and officials say."

This round-up, as it were - in the IHT - of how the US has fared in spreading democracy and democratic principles in the Middle East does not make for happy reading.

Read the full article [here] and reflect on all those speeches by George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard of how one outcome of the Iraq War will be to spread democracy in the Middle East. Doesn't look like it..…

Iraq: "It's do-able" said Dick Cheney!!!

The BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson writes:

"It was a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq, three years ago. I was interviewing the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in the ballroom of a big hotel in Cairo.

Shrewd, amusing, bulky in his superb white robes, he described to me all the disasters he was certain would follow the invasion.

The US and British troops would be bogged down in Iraq for years. There would be civil war between Sunnis and Shias. The real beneficiary would be the government in Iran.

"And what do the Americans say when you tell them this," I asked? "They don't even listen," he said.

Over the last three years, from a ringside seat here in Baghdad, I have watched his predictions come true, stage by stage."

Read the complete Simpson piece here. It's an insight into the conflict, and its consequences, not usually seen or read.

A Small Group in the Vanguard?

"Bassam Aramin vividly describes the shock of his first meeting with the fresh faced, pony-tailed Noam Hayut. Three years ago, at the height of the intifada, Noam had been the commander at the biggest checkpoint in the West Bank between Jerusalem and Ramallah - for Palestinians like Bassam the most hated symbol of their lack of freedom of movement."

In the midst of what appears to be an ever-deteriorating situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, comes an article today in The Independent [the first paragraph of which is above] relating the story of a group of Palestinians and Israelis who meet and who are seeking, however tentatively, to forge links between the two sides.

It may be a faint hope [probably is!] but at least some people, on both sides, see the merit in looking for peaceful solutions rather than violence and mayhem, all round, and all on levels.

Zimbabwian Disaster

"Zimbabwean doctors have issued an urgent plea for the Government of President Robert Mugabe to rescue the country's collapsing health services as research revealed that Zimbabwean women now have the shortest lives in the world.

The average Zimbabwean woman is dying at 34, figures published on Friday in the World Health Organisation annual report for 2006 said. Zimbabwean men can expect to live only to 37."

Yet again the world sits idly by and watches thee people of an African nation suffer. Where is the outrage about human-rights violations, sanctions or even the threat of them, assistance in many ways to people at risk, etc etc?

Read this article from SMH on the tragedy of Zimbabwe, and its people, here.

Fatal Blow to The Hammer

The fact that Tom DeLay, Republican Leader of the US House of Representatives, has resigned, will not greatly impact or effect people outside America.

DeLay has been known as "The Hammer" given the way he goes about his "business". It seems people fell into two camps - love or loath him.

Now caught up in more than one scandal, DeLay has decided to quit.

What makes this article by Molly Ivins on truthdig.com about DeLay's "departure" so interesting, is to read how he "operated". Bringing to bear his alleged Christian values, the actions of methods of DeLay, asa recounted by Ivins, are quite breathtaking.

AWB: Mark His Words?

With Mark Vaile and Alexander Downer to give evidence [?] to the Cole Inquiry into the AWB Food for Oil Scandal, today and tomorrow respectively, Tim Dunlop at his wonderful blog The Road to Surfdom [read it here - and regularly too] last Friday suggested the following:

"Let me save everyone the trouble of listening to the testimony by Mr Vaile and Mr Downer at the Cole Inquiry. I happen to have a pre-transcript of what they are going say:

I don't recall. I'm not sure. I have no recollection. Nope, I'm not getting anything. Um, no. Drawing a blank on that one, sorry. Oh yeah..no wait...no. Couldn't find the file on that one. Nobody told me. I wasn't aware. I could've sworn I knew that one. Hang on, hang on, I know this one...oooh...no...it's gone. Sorry."

Listen out for and read the latest news today and tomorrow. Will Dunlop be right in his prediction? Most likely - a resounding yes!

Meanwhile, The Australian editorialises - "Time for Answer…

Defining a "Humanitarian Disaster"

Writing in Haaretz Gideon Levy challenges the assertion being made by Palestinians, and many around the world, that Palestinians are facing a "humanitarian disaster". He rightly points to it not being suggested that there are food shortages and the like or that people are going hungry .

Levy says, however, that the "humanitarian disaster" for Palestinians is something else altogether....

"The real humanitarian disaster in the territories began a long time ago, and it is not hunger. Those who regard the neighboring people as human beings know this very well. It is true that the dimensions of the disaster are worsening, but that's been taking place over years, and the food index is not the only measure. The cessation of the flow of funding since the rise of Hamas might threaten to depress the economic situation even further, but the thought that if they only have enough food, their needs will be satisfied and our conscience can be clear, is outrageous.

&quo…

IR Laws: "Fairness" to the Employer!

"If they don't want to sign, they can leave," he said. "It's not about what's fair, it's [about] what's right - right for the company."

That about sums it all up! Despite all the hyperbole and rhetoric - and the Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, who doesn't know exactly what "his" legislation means so that the Courts will have to determine so - the effect of the new IR laws is already clearly evident.

Read this piece from this morning's SMH - and despair, and be outraged, at how the vulnerable are at risk in their pay and conditions being severely downgraded. Or should that be "degraded" rather than downgraded? But, as the boss quoted above says in the SMH article, what's fair is what's right for the employer!

As for Minister Andrews [a lawyer] - and Peter Costello, also a lawyer, on ABC Radio the other day - not knowing what the legislation means is a disgrace. According to the A…

Misdirected Funds for AIDS

The US is said to be the largest provider of funds for AIDS in Africa.

However, it would appear that the funding is misdirected, if this piece from Radio Netherlands is correct:

"The administration of US President George Bush has been accused of undermining the global fight against Aids. The US is investing billions of dollars in Aids-prevention campaigns in countries with a high prevalence, particularly in Africa. But a report by the US Congressional Research Office says the money is only being spent on programmes which teach abstinence and fidelity."

So, Radio Netherlands' Pieternel Gruppen spoke to Joe Amon, head of the Aids programme for Human Rights Watch who is also critical of Washington's anti-Aids campaign. Read the interview here.

Turn of Phrase....

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle about the language used by Italian PM Berlusconi in the course of the current election-campaign. Maybe the words reflect a desperate man clinging to the hope the electorate will return him to office.

Probably not since Federal MP Jim Killen have there many Oz parliamentarians with the gift of the gab let alone the capacity [or intelligence?] to speak off the cuff.

So, it was with delight [and thanks to Crikey for publishing it - full text here on MP's web site] that one could read this pen-portrait of John Howard by Anthony Albanese [Lab] during a Grieveance Debate back in 1998:

"You can trim the eyebrows; you can cap the teeth; you can cut the hair; you can put on different glasses; you can give him a ewe's milk facial, for all I care; but, to paraphrase a gritty Australian saying, `Same stuff, different bucket.' In the pantheon of chinless blue bloods and suburban accountants that makes up the Australian Liberal Party, this bloke i…

The Truth Will Out

As reports come in daily of increased violence and death in Iraq [the latest only a few hours ago] the Bush Administration continues the spin that things are positive in that war-torn and divided country.

Things are not good in Iraq says a sombre internal report from the US Embassy and military command in Iraq. So reports today's New York Times.

"An internal staff report by the United States Embassy and the military command in Baghdad provides a sobering province-by-province snapshot of Iraq's political, economic and security situation, rating the overall stability of 6 of the 18 provinces "serious" and one "critical." The report is a counterpoint to some recent upbeat public statements by top American politicians and military officials.

The report, 10 pages of briefing points titled "Provincial Stability Assessment," underscores the shift in the nature of the Iraq war three years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Warnings of sectarian and …

And This is Justice?

I don't usually read items in newspapers dealing with what appear to be beaten-up stories about court cases, celebrities, etc. etc.

BUT this morning a headline in The Sunday Age referring to Orange County [in the US] - which I have visited a number of times - drew my attention. I read the article, and as I continued, did so in disbelief about a so-called US legal system seemingly totally out of control.

This is how the article starts out....

"THERE is something about Orange County that movie and TV scriptwriters have come to love.

Something about sunshine and space and gum trees; multimillion-dollar homes perched on steeply rising hills, big white boats with engines and sails, the eternally beckoning Pacific Ocean and the golden sands that girdle it.

Third cars. Second wives. Rootless, indulged children, caught in the twilight zone between adolescence and adulthood. Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, and Newport Beach, where this story begins on July 4, 2002, with the invitation of…