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Showing posts from June, 2006

Whack!

Any lawyer worth his boot-straps knew that the establishment of the military tribunals by the Bush administration were not legal. Messrs Ruddock [our appalling A-G] and Gonzales [now US A-G but formerly legal adviser to Bush] seem to be have been the exception! Now, the US Supreme Court - hardly a band of radicals or liberals - have dealt a critical blow to what Bush and Co. thought they could get away with - military tribunals, in effect, without any requirements to abide by the law and the US able to effectively "ignore"the Geneva Convention.

This is how the NY Times reported the decision:

"The decision was such a sweeping and categorical defeat for the administration that it left human rights lawyers who have pressed this and other cases on behalf of Guantánamo detainees almost speechless with surprise and delight, using words like "fantastic," "amazing" and "remarkable."

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rig…

The new frontier for mobile phones

"Think of it as a divining rod for the information age.

If you stand on a street corner in Tokyo today, you can point a specialized cellphone at a hotel, a restaurant or a historical monument, and with the press of a button the phone will display information from the Internet describing the object you are looking at.

The new service is made possible by the efforts of three Japanese companies and GeoVector, a small American technology firm, and it represents a missing link between cyberspace and the physical world".

So reports the IHT. Read this fascinating article, here, on the way for mobile phones in the future.

Shooting the Messenger

It was bound to happen as this article from truthdig so correctly reports:

"The Bush administration's jihad against newspapers that reported on a secret program to monitor the personal-banking records of unsuspecting citizens is more important than the original story. For what the president and his spokesmen are once again asserting is that the prosecution of this ill-defined, open-ended "War on Terror" inevitably trumps basic democratic rights in general and the constitutionally enshrined freedom of the press in particular.

The stakes are very high here. We've already been told that we must put up with official lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the unprecedented torture of prisoners of war and a massive electronic-eavesdropping program and other invasions of privacy. Now the target is more basic - the freedom of the press to report on such nefarious government activity. The argument in defense of this assault on freedom is the familiar refrain of di…

There's a message in there....

With the news that Warren Buffett will give away some 85% of his fortune [he is the second-richest person in the world after Bill Gates] the IHT reveals the following.........in 2004-2005 the UNESCO budget was US$615 million whereas in 2005 the Gates Foundation made grants of US$1.36 billion.

The priorities of the member-nations making up UNESCO are clearly evident.

By appointment of John Howard - the hater!

"Government appointments to Australia's cultural institutions - specifically the Australia Council's Literature Board and the ABC - are raising issues and eyebrows. Last week this column focused on those closely connected to one little-read journal. Once a recruiting centre for Cold War warriors, Quadrant is now a haven for both ageing paleo-conservatives and spritely neo-cons. Keith Windschuttle (ABC), Ron Brunton (ABC) Janet Albrechtsen (ABC) and Imre Salusinszky (Australia Council) are all members of Quadrant's wedding."

So begins an op-ed piece by Philip Adams in The Australian.

What Howard and Co are doing can only be characterised as appalling. It is a clear attempt - and not even a subtle one - to make over Australia in the image of a man, and many of his cohorts, totally out of touch with the realities, and the world, at the beginning of the 21st century.

Read Adams' complete column here.

Meandering in Umbria and Tuscany....

No, it isn't the hard life travelling in this part of the world....

Weather has been very hot [around the 36 degree mark] and very humid to boot. Rather tiring and trying. Nevertheless Italy has much to offer the tourist, not the least it's medieval villages, many of them atop a hill. Charming and almost standing still in time, each village has something to offer.

If there is one frustration it is siesta-time. Yep, everything shuts down even the tourist office.

Should you be venturing forth with a car in foreign climes, then a GPS system on board the car will save hours of hassles, wrong turns and preserve matrimonial harmony. Truly awesome technology.

Ciao....until next time

So that is why our troops are staying in Iraq...

Mike Carlton, writing this weekend in the SMH is, again, right on the button:

"As trade missions go, our most recent effort in Baghdad was less than a success.

Gunning down a bodyguard to the Iraqi trade minister, however accidentally, is not the ideal sales pitch, especially as we are already badly on the nose there after AWB's lavish program of sanction-busting subsidies for Saddam Hussein's war effort.

The minister, greatly aggrieved, is now threatening to halt all dealings with Australia. That's the trouble when you try to bring democracy to foreigners. They don't always get it.

Nonetheless, we soldier on. John Howard announced on Thursday that our troops would be moving to an American base near the devastated and dangerous city of Nasiriyah, in a high-risk role that could involve combat against the insurgents. Parroting the George Bush mantra, he said our forces would "only leave when the job is finished".

What job, exactly? All we ever get from the Whit…

Howard diminishes Oz democracy

The passing of legislation which, in effect, affects the electoral process in many ways and on different levels, will probably be "lost" in all the hype surrounding the World Cup.

But, as Professor George Williams writes in the SMH:

"Our democracy is diminished. The Senate has passed a law that is a significant step backwards for the electoral system. The law closes the electoral roll before many have had the chance to register, takes away the vote from prisoners and allows political parties to accept secret gifts and donations of up to $10,000.

Electoral reform is needed, but it should encourage democratic participation and increase transparency, not frustrate these aims."

Read the full op-ed piece here. Howard's actions are, yet again, clear evidence of using a parliamentary majority to ignore the interests of the wider Oz community. Does he care? Nope? Do Australians? Probably not, either, being in ignorance about what the Government has just done.

Desperation = violence?

"In the fourth month without salaries from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, the Abu Rizek family scours greenhouses after the harvest, looking for potatoes left in the ground.

Mariam Al Wahedi no longer receives her $21 a month from social services and is living off the $200 she got last month by selling her last piece of jewelry, a bracelet given to her 30 years ago. Khalid Muhammad, a policeman, moonlights in a friend's shop, selling used cellphone batteries for $2.25, and says he now yells at his wife and sometimes hits his children. Umm Jihad, with six children, begs in the market."

This sobering and sad report from the IHT highlights what must surely have been seen as an idiocy from the beginning - that is, not providing money to the Hamas-led PA. Blind-freddy could have foretold what the result would be. And this is the way to win over hearts and minds? - never mind that desperate people will do desperate things! Read the full IHT article here.

Going walkabout...

This blog is going walkabout for the next weeks......well, to Italy actually, if one considers that going walkabout.

Postings will still occur - although not as regularly or fully as usual.

Mahler's Prodigal Son will still address an eclectic array of issues as and when they arise. Do stay on board!

Government hacks at ABC

This editorial piece from Crikey says all there is to be said about the appointments to the ABC Board - succinctly:

"The Government has lined up its ABC ducks in a row. A new hand-picked managing director. A board stacked with fellow travellers. Elimination of the pesky staff-elected director. And, early next year, a new chair who will almost certainly be more considerate of the Government's political views.

While most of the interest in these changes dwells on the obvious issues of independence and political interference, the real tragedy is that the Government has been unable to resist making politically-tinged appointments at a time when its palpable responsibility is to make the right appointments. What the ABC desperately needs is a blend of people with the right professional skills and experience to guide the organisation through choppy waters in a sea of media upheaval. Instead, the Government repeatedly appoints ideologues-dressed-up-as-experts who have almost none of t…

Chillingly meticulous - to a deadly degree

"He was a Jew with missing teeth and flat feet. He was married with three children. He fixed heaters, wore reading glasses and wheezed with bronchitis. On March 28, 1943, he surrendered his trousers, winter coat, socks, slippers and shaving kit and stepped through the gates of Auschwitz.

The man known as Max C. is a ghost of pencil and ink, shreds of his memory preserved by the notations of those who made up the Nazi bureaucracy of death. These officers, guards and clerks logged the mundane and the mesmerizing across millions of pages, their meticulous keystrokes and ornate penmanship belying the brutality of their trade.

Max C.'s Auschwitz medical card listed a cursory history: hand injury, missed five days of concentration camp work, Dec. 31, 1943; open head wound, March 31, 1944; gangrene, May 16, 1944; virus, July 9, 1944.

He was transferred to Buchenwald. The last medical report is for a back injury on March 30, 1945 — two weeks before the camp was liberated. There is no me…

PM Haniya: "We want Peace and Stability"

With the Israel- Palestine conflict having flaired up once again in the last week, one has to wonder where all this ongoing violence is going to lead. Neither side benefits irrespective of the continous blame-game and spin put on events.

Yesterday comes news that the EU has bowed to the inevitable and will see funds flow to the PA.

In the context of the foregoing Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, in an interview with Der Spiegel, discussed Hamas's terms for peace with Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas's plans for a referendum. It is a wide-ranging and testing interview of Haniya - here.

Howard demeans the ABC

It is often claimed that the Government would love nothing more than to clip the wings of the ABC [some would say emasculate] in whatever way possible.

The appointment this week of Keith Windschuttle to the Board of the ABC must rank as one of the more bizarre and outrageous appointments made by the Howard Government. Minister Coonan on the ABC's PM program the other night could not proffer any cogent reason by 3 members of the ABC Board were associated with Quadrant magazine.

Mike Carlton, in his weekly op-ed piece in today's SMH, describes the appointment thus:

"Never let it be said that John Howard has no sense of the absurd. The naming of the loopy polemicist Keith Windschuttle to the board of the ABC is the most hilarious appointment to public office since the mad Emperor Caligula threatened to make his horse a consul of Rome.

In his youth, Windschuttle was a bomb-thrower of the hard left. Now he is a bomb-thrower of the far right. Like so many who have made that alm…

Will the real lickspittle stand up!

As always, Richard Ackland is on the button in his latest op-ed piece in the SMH:

"It's upsetting when uninformed people say that John Howard is George Bush's lickspittle. The Prime Minister is way out in front of the US President, as you'd expect from a man of steel.

Whereas Bush recently (on his quick trip to Germany) talked about closing Guantanamo Bay and the inmates having trials in the United States, Howard is more enthusiastic than ever about the Bay. He has said repeatedly that Guantanamo is just the place for David Hicks and the only place for him to be tried is before a presidential commission. Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock have droned the same refrain."

Read Ackland's full incisive piece - including an analysis of the "charges" which David Hicks faces [a joke!] - here.

Bloggers tell it like it is.....

"About the time the 2006 New Year's confetti was being swept away from Times Square, a small group of Iraqi bloggers began posting for The New York Times. Danger in the streets and security fears for anyone seen speaking with Western reporters has made it increasingly hard to get real glimpses of what it is like for the people who have to live in Iraq. Reading the bloggers, at daytodayiniraq.blogs.nytimes.com, has been helping to fill in the gaps ."

So reports an article in the NY Times [as republished in the IHT]. It is interesting to reflect on to what extent the "hard" news from Iraq via bloggers there - rather than the spin from Fox News or embedded reporters or reporters not prepared to take the risk of venturing out on to the streets of Baghdad - has influenced the opinions of Americans.

Read the complete article here.

Shakespeare's plays [complete] on Google

"In Shakespeare's day, gaining greater access to his plays meant duking it out with the other "groundlings" for the best view of the stage. It took centuries for the modern printing press to bring plays like Hamlet to people all around the world – and for the Bard to become one of the most quoted writers in history.

Now Shakespeare's oeuvre is even more accessible. Search within Hamlet for "to be or not to be" to read the rest of his famous soliloquy. Find out who called the world his "oyster" and why. Browse through a familiar play – or follow your curiosity to discover a new one. And if you decide you want to buy a copy, "All editions" will show you every version in Google Book Search, many of which are available for purchase."

Truly amazing! Check out Googlehere.

Jihadist or Victim: Ex-detainee makes out case

As the NY Times reports:

"When President Bush ordered Moazzam Begg's release last year from the Guantánamo prison camp, United States officials say, he did so over objections from the Pentagon, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. — all of which warned that Mr. Begg could still be a dangerous terrorist.

But American officials may not have imagined the sort of adversary Mr. Begg would become in the war of perception that is now a primary front in the American-led campaign against terrorism.

"The issue here is: Apply the law," Mr. Begg told an audience earlier this spring at the Oxford Literary Festival in England, one of many stops on a continuing lecture tour. "If I've committed a crime, we say, take this to court. After all of that, if they can't produce something in court, then shame on them!"

With a new book about his experiences and a small blizzard of media attention, Mr. Begg, a 37-year-old Briton of Pakistani descent, has emerged over the last few months a…

Palestine: Heading towards a failed State?

"Escalating violence and political tension may leave Israel living alongside a failed Palestinian state whose dangers can't be contained" says Time Magazine.

Time goes on:

"Looking at the looming train wreck in Palestinian politics — and in the Palestinians' relations with Israel — it's hard to imagine that any of the protagonists has gamed out the implications of their positions".

"...... the sum total of all of these pressures may spell the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, leaving Israel living alongside a chaotic political entity not altogether unlike Somalia: awash with guns, broken into mini-fiefdoms ruled by unstable coalitions of warlords, and fertile soil for al-Qaeda."

Read the full analysis here. Sobering reading.......

Media in Oz today = "Dog days"

"The Nine network is in the process of removing 100 staff from its news and current affairs divisions. BRW has just finished removing its top tier of writers and editors. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age each recently removed dozens of their most experienced journalists. Almost every major Australian media organisation is engaged in the reduction of editorial staff and budgets.

These are the dog days for Australian journalism as the creative destruction of "old media" is extracting a price. But it's a price which won't just be measured in dollars – it will be measured by the permanent decline in the quality of the editorial content of this country's fourth estate".

So editorialises Crikey today. Yes, we are into the decimation of journalism. The winner? The powers that be as they become less and less accontable and challenged by the Fourth Estate. A politician's dream really! Read the full Crikey piece here.

World sees US in Iraq greater risk than Iran

Iraq and Iran dominate the world news at the moment. That said, what should give the US pause for thought is this, as reported on Yahoo News today:

"The world increasingly fears Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear bomb but believes the U.S. military in Iraq remains a greater danger to Middle East stability, a survey showed on Tuesday.

As Washington campaigns to highlight the threat it sees from Tehran, the good news for the United States in a Pew Research Center poll of 17,000 people in 15 countries is that publics, particularly in the West, are worrying more about Iran.

The bad news is people worldwide think the U.S. presence in Iraq is an even bigger threat and support in most countries for President George W. Bush's war on terrorism is either flat or falling."

Read the full article here.

Update: late afternoon 14 June - The IHT carries a like article "Image of US falls again"[in some greater detail] here.

Graduating - to what?

In the US it's graduation-time. The degree in hand the graduate is ready to "hit the world". It is here that perhaps a word, or two, of caution and advice is called for.

Allowing for the fact that it is directed to American graduates, and their parents, this article in the NY Times applies equally to Oz:

"This is the season for giving advice to graduates as they enter the workplace. Instead of listening to yet another recitation of the usual admonishments to "change the world," "carpe diem," or "wear sunscreen," those graduates — unless they are already trapped on the nonpaying internship hamster wheel — need to hear how to manage their paychecks".

For the good oil, and advice, read the full article here.

Gitmo: "Netherworld of despair"

This editorial, in the NY Times, puts the position succinctly:

"The news that three inmates at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, hanged themselves should not have surprised anyone who has paid attention to the twisted history of the camp that President George W. Bush built for selected prisoners from Afghanistan and antiterrorist operations. It was the inevitable result of creating a netherworld of despair beyond the laws of civilized nations, where men were to be held without any hope of decent treatment, impartial justice or, in so many cases, even eventual release."

Read the full editorial here.

A tunnel without end

"On Friday night, three prisoners in Guantánamo Bay committed suicide. Two Saudis and one Yemeni hanged themselves. In a desperate attempt at spin, the US claims this was an act of war or a public relations exercise. The truth is quite different. Islam says it goes against God to kill yourself. So what would drive a man to take his own life, despite his religious beliefs? The answer shames the US and its allies, Britain prominently included."

The words of Zachary Katneslon, senior counsel at Reprieve [which represents 36 Guantanamo Bay detainees] writing in The Guardian.

There can now be few - ignoring the John Howards and Alexander Downers of this world - who doubt that an injustice of monumental proportions is being perpetrated in the continued detention of people like David Hicks. For an insight into the real situation at this now infamous detention-facility read The Guardian article here.

Meanwhile, as The Monthly reports in this month's cover story [do get hold of a co…

Speaking too loud or too softly?

Writes Elisabeth Wynhausen in a feature article, "Careful, they might hear you" in The Australian:

"Since late March the Australian Jewish community - like Jewish communities across the world - has been caught up in the controversy over a paper titled The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University".

It's an interesting article for on one level it reveals that there are really no more than 100,000 - 120,000 Jews in Australia - far less than probably most assume. Then again, does the Jewish community exert any pressure on media outlets?

As the writer says, criticism of Israel almost inevitably draws a complaint of anti-semitism. For instance:

".......sophistication was not in evidence when .... parliamentary colleague Michael Danby, the Labor member for Melbourne Ports, learned that Sydney left-wing journalist and author Antony Loewenstein was writing a book about Israel and …

World Soccer Cup and the Iranian President

The word Nuremberg conjures up the Hitler rallies there, the Nuremberg trials of Nazis [post WW II] and what have become known as the Nuremberg laws.

So, it's somewhat of a paradox to read the following:

"Thousands took to the streets in two German cities, both World Cup venues, over the weekend to protest against Iranian President Ahmadinejad and a far-right march.

Some 1,200 people joined a rally against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the southern German city of Nuremberg on Sunday, ahead of a World Cup match between Iran and Mexico.

Waving Israeli flags, the demonstrators attacked Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel rhetoric and repeated denial of the Holocaust at the protest organized by the local Jewish community and the German trade union alliance.

Bavarian state interior minister Günther Beckstein said the demonstration was not targeted against the Iranian team or the Iranian people but against "a man who has placed himself outside civilization."

Read the full…

A blogger's first days in Baghdad

"I often feel a sense of deja vu here in Iraq as it reminds me of time spent in Moscow and Kiev in the years before and after the Soviet Union fell apart.

One of the first things I see from my seat on the plane as it spirals into Baghdad is the white roof of Abu Ghraib, the prison notorious as one of Saddam Hussein's torture centers and now infamous for photos of U.S. soldiers humiliating Iraqi detainees. I don't find the corkscrew landing so hard to take, certainly not worse than the steep descent of planes favored by Soviet pilots when I was an exchange student in Kiev more than 15 years ago.

"Welcome to Baghdad International Airport" the sign on the side of the terminal reads as I climb down the stairs onto the tarmac and into the dry heat. I don a flak jacket, put on my head scarf that a lady at the duty free store in Amman taught me how to wear and hop into an armored car. We ride down the dangerous airport road over speed bumps the size of logs and past chec…

You can't be for real....

3 detainees at Guantantamo Bay have committed suicide - it is reported widely today. They were never charged with anything and were simply being detained as part of the USA's policy of keeping "enemy combatants" off the field.

So, what is the American's "spin" on the suicides? Read this, from the SMH today - in disbelief:

"Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris, commander of Guantanamo, told a news conference the suicides were an act of warfare.

"They are smart, they are creative, they are committed," Harris said.

"They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

The full SMH article is here.

Update - Morning of 12 June: It is reported, overnight, that a US State Department has characterised the suicides as a "good pr move".

A Good Scout

"Here is a book about a woman who knew when to get off the train. A tomboy from Monroeville, Ala., editor of her college humor magazine, The Rammer Jammer, and law school dropout, she took it on the lam to New York, got a job, made friends and managed to write a novel that hit the best-seller lists and stayed there, won a Pulitzer, got made into a major movie and became a staple of high school English along with "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Great Gatsby." Total sales are somewhere around 30 million, and it continues to sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year. As her father, A. C. Lee, said, "it's very rare indeed when a thing like this happens to a country girl going to New York."

So, who are we talking about here? None other than Harper Lee, the author of that wonderful and still best-selling book, "To Kill a Mockingbird". The film of the book is no less well-known, even today.

Read this marvellous pen-portrait, here, of the au…

Ruddock stands condemned - yet again!

It seems that Philip Ruddock is a disaster - putting it at its mildest. When the Minister for Immigration his department's actions [and inaction] are simply mind-boggling. As A-G he isn't any better.

Now, today, it is revealed [conveniently over a long weekend?] that whilst under Ruddock's stewardship the Department of Immigration wrongfully detained quite a few Australians:

"The lawyer for two Australians wrongfully detained by the immigration department says he is horrified 26 others may have been subjected to the same ordeal.

The federal government has acknowledged Australian citizens Vivian Alvarez, also known as Vivian Solon, Cornelia Rau and a man known only as Mr T were wrongfully incarcerated in immigration detention.

And former immigration minister Philip Ruddock has told parliament 26 of another 220 possible wrongful detention cases under investigation by the commonwealth ombudsman have involved people identified as Australian citizens."

Read the compl…

Double standards.....

A Palestinian suicide bomber kills innocent people in Isreal - and its draws condemnation from around the world. Israel, like today, kills 10 and injures some 30 people in the course of artillery raining down on a beach in Gaza. So what reaction is there from around the world? Not much really. The US response is this muted one, as reported in the LA Times:

"In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. regretted that innocent Palestinians had been killed.

"The United States calls for mutual restraint and urges Israelis and Palestinians to avoid all actions that could exacerbate tensions further," he said."

Just imagine had the same "attack" been on the beach in Tel Aviv? Need anymore be said? Double standards at play!

John Pilger's new book

John Pilger - journalist, author, film-maker - makes people uncomfortable. If you want the unvarnished sanitised "news" the tabloids will amply fit the bill. But, the hard and uncomfortable facts of repression, government malfeasance, corruption and the bloody-minded actions of men and governments are the stuff of Pilger's writing.

John Pilger's new book, Freedom Next Time (Bantam Press, 2006; http://www.johnpilger.com/) has just been published. Containing chapters on Diego Garcia, Palestine, India, South Africa and Afghanistan, it is a devastating indictment of brutal state-corporate power, and a heartening account of how people around the world are challenging that power.

Read The Independent's review of the book here.The Age also carries a review today - although not on line.

Unreported: The Zarqawi Invitation

"They got him - the big, bad, beheading berserker in Iraq. But, something's gone unreported in all the glee over getting Zarqawi - who invited him into Iraq in the first place?

If you prefer your fairy tales unsoiled by facts, read no further. If you want the uncomfortable truth, begin with this: A phone call to Baghdad to Saddam's Palace on the night of April 21, 2003. It was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on a secure line from Washington to General Jay Garner."

Read the piece of well-known writer, Greg Palast, on truthout.com., here.

A-G Ruddock disgraces his Office - and himself

This month's The Monthly features an article on David Hicks and the interrogation-methods employed on him by his captors.

As ABC Radio National's Breakfast program introduced an interview with A-G Ruddock this morning:

"Yesterday on the program we heard accusations that the infamous Guantanamo Bay base - and it's off-limits, CIA operated Camp Echo are being used by the United States to perfect psychological torture.

Australian David Hicks appears to be a key detainee being submitted to this alleged torture regime. Its claimed that Hicks was held in a closet sized, self contained cell without sunlight for 244 days and nights, watched around the clock by silent guards.

The accusations come as a new report into alleged CIA abuses is bringing to light the widespread American practice of rendition. Rendition is another word for the kidnapping of terror suspects and transporting them to secret prisons in third countries where they have allegedly been tortured out of the reach o…

ipod trumps beer

In an interesting reflection of the times:

"In a rare instance, Apple Computer Inc.'s iconic iPod music player surpassed beer drinking as the most "in" thing among undergraduate college students, according to the latest biannual market research study by Ridgewood, New Jersey-based Student Monitor.

Nearly three quarters, or 73 percent, of 1,200 students surveyed said iPods were "in" -- more than any other item in a list that also included text messaging, bar hopping and downloading music".

Read the CNN.com report of the survey in the USA here.

The War is just starting for Iraqi women

With all the media, and many politicians around the world, hyper-ventilating about the death of al Zarqawi, in the real world of Iraq, this report from The Independent suggests that things are going from bad to worse for Iraqi women:

"The women of Basra have disappeared. Three years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, women's secular freedoms - once the envy of women across the Middle East - have been snatched away because militant Islam is rising across the country.

Across Iraq, a bloody and relentless oppression of women has taken hold. Many women had their heads shaved for refusing to wear a scarf or have been stoned in the street for wearing make-up. Others have been kidnapped and murdered for crimes that are being labelled simply as "inappropriate behaviour". The insurrection against the fragile and barely functioning state has left the country prey to extremists whose notion of freedom does not extend to women."

So much for the "progress" for the a…

Nothing will change

Whilst the media whips itself into something of a frenzy about the killing of al Zarqawi, more sober-thinking people pose the critical question - will it make a difference to anything in Iraq?

The NY Times already has it's analysis out:

"The question looming over Mr. Zarqawi's death is how large a blow it deals to the guerrilla movement that he helped drive to such bloody lengths.

The likely answer, according to American and Iraqi officials and experts who have been following Mr. Zarqawi, is this: While his death could significantly degrade the ability of his group, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, to mount bloody suicide and car bomb attacks, and it could possibly set off a bloody struggle within the organization to succeed him, the insurgency and sectarian war he helped ignite in Iraq will carry on without him.

"Zarqawi may be gone, but the conflagration that he set alight continues to burn," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorist expert at the Rand Corporation in Washington. &q…

There are those "values" again.....

We have heard our PM Howard speak of the "values" [never defined!] immigrants to Australia must adopt. This "value" thing must be yet another thing Howard has learned from his good and "close" friend George W Bush.

Just read this report, in today, from Yahoo News:

"New arrivals to this country must adopt American values and learn English, President Bush said Wednesday, pushing anew for his proposal to overhaul immigration rules."

"On Wednesday, aware that lawmakers are hearing from constituents alarmed by the added burden immigration sometimes places on police, schools and hospitals, Bush touted the importance of assimilation — immigrants' adoption of American culture".

Seems like it didn't quite work out "right" for George though....as the Yahoo News report goes on:

"The president may have undermined that message somewhat while at the Juan Diego Center, as he joined in a class preparing students for their U.S. ci…

Goodbye to a decent life

"Last week, the brave new world of WorkChoices unfolded before Senate estimates hearings with the evidence of Peter McIlwain, the Employment Advocate. McIlwain's testimony in relation to 250 Australian Workplace Agreements lodged in April vividly exposed the sham of "protected award conditions". These conditions are protected only in the sense that they have to be specifically excluded by agreement. This can easily be done in a context of workers with poor bargaining power through the use of pro-forma agreements. Indeed, McIlwain conceded that an appropriately drafted "single sentence" could do the trick. Not surprisingly, all the workplace agreements in the sample removed at least one "protected award condition" while 16 per cent removed all such conditions".

So writes Joo-Cheong Tham, Melbourne University Law lecturer, in this op-ed piece from TheAge - in which he analyses the ramifications, not only economic, of the new IR legislation on w…

People [and money] on the move

One one level it's quite amazing when you consider the implications....

As the BBC News reports :

"Nearly 200 million people now live outside their country of origin - up by about a quarter since 1990, a United Nations report on migration says.

The report by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says most migrants have gone to rich countries - one in five of them to the US.

In some countries money sent home from abroad accounts for a large proportion of the national income.

Mr Annan said migration was a now a major feature of international life."

Read the full piece here.

Dear Home Front

This week, the New Yorker publishes a selection of letters, journal entries, and personal essays by soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines who served in the current war in Iraq. The writings are part of a project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts called Operation Homecoming. An anthology of the work, edited by the historian Andrew Carroll, will be published this fall by Random House. Here, in an Audio Slide Show produced by Matt Dellinger, five of the servicemen read from their work, accompanied by their photographs.

Go here to hear and see what the New Yorker has "published" here.

Trashing America's Image

The New York Times editorialises:

"For more than seven decades, civilized nations have adhered to minimum standards of decent behavior toward prisoners of war - agreed to in the Geneva Conventions. They were respected by 12 presidents and generations of military leaders because they reflected this nation's principles and gave Americans some protection if they were captured in wartime.

It took the Bush administration to make the world doubt Washington's fidelity to the rules. And The Los Angeles Times, reporting yesterday on a dispute over updating the Army rulebook known as the Field Manual, reminded us that there is good reason to worry."

As the editiorial concludes:

"It defies belief that this administration is still clinging to its benighted policies on prisoners after the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the killings at American camps in Afghanistan and the world's fresh outrage over what appears to have been the massacre of Iraqi men, women and children in the villag…

US knew Eichmann's wherabouts

"The Central Intelligence Agency took no action after learning the pseudonym and whereabouts of the fugitive Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann in 1958, according to C.I.A. documents released Tuesday that shed new light on the spy agency's use of former Nazis as informants after World War II.

The C.I.A. was told by West German intelligence that Eichmann was living in Argentina under the name Clemens — a slight variation on his actual alias, Ricardo Klement — but did not share the information with Israel, which had been hunting for him for years, according to Timothy Naftali, a historian who examined the documents. Two years later, Israeli agents abducted Eichmann in Argentina and flew him to Israel, where he was tried and executed in 1962."

If this report in the NY Times is correct - and there is no reason to doubt it - then the complicity in the Americans not disclosing to, or at least sharing the information with Israel, is appalling. And so much for Israel being a …

True world-wide r & d in health

A welcome break-through reported in Le Monde diplomatique:

"The World Health Organisation (WHO) has taken an important step to reform the global system for supporting medical research and development (R&D). The organisation’s governing body has just passed a new — hotly-debated — resolution to set up a new intergovernmental working group that will immediately start work to "draw up a global strategy and plan of action." This will include a new framework to support sustainable, needs-driven, essential R&D work on diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries"

Given the huge monies spent on research and the questionble tactics of pharmaceutical and medical companies, the WHO initiative is a first step in bringing about some order of things.

Read the complete article here.

Facing the Facts

Frank Rich, writing in the NY Times last Sunday, one day before the next days Memorial Day, says:

"We know that "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" is fiction, not reality. We know from the Pentagon's own report to Congress last week that attacks on Americans and Iraqis alike are at their highest since American commanders started keeping count in 2004. We know that even as coalition partners like Italy and South Korea bail out, we are planning an indefinite stay of undefined parameters: the 104-acre embassy complex rising in the Green Zone is the largest in the world, and the Decider himself has said that it's up to "future presidents and future governments of Iraq" to decide our exit strategy.

Actually, the current government of Iraq already is. On Thursday the latest American-backed Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whom Mr. Bush is "proud to call" his "ally and friend," invited open warfare on American forces b…

Hamas' Tight Spot

Mahmoud Abbas has given Hamas until midnight tonight to agree to negotiate with Israel, or else face a public referendum on the issue. Polls show Palestinians are overwhelmingly in favor of the deal, but Hamas—which leads the Palestinian Authority government—still refuses to recognize Israel. The group's intransigence is causing widespread hardship.

Read this analysis [here] from the Council on Foreign Affairs, on where the main players - Hamas, Pres. Abbas and the Palestinian people - sit in this seeemingly endless conflicted area.

Here's a way to keep an eye on the waistline....

Only in America? Worried about your waistline or your kids becoming obese? Well, if restaurants follow the lead from the US [is there anything which we don't "copy?" - good and bad!] as CBS marketwatch.com reports:

"Restaurants and other prepared-food vendors could help put a dent in America's significant obesity problem if they offered more low-calorie menu options, informed consumers of items' calorie content and reduced portion sizes, according to a new study.

Whether it's a take-out meal from a supermarket, quick bite at a fast-food joint or lunch at a school or workplace cafeteria, Americans are eating out more than ever. Foods gobbled outside the home account for nearly a third of daily calories consumed, according to a report from the Keystone Center, which was funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration".

The figures quoted in the article are truly awesome and frightening, like:

"......the U.S. shells out $92 billion every year to c…

Racism at the World Cup

Sad, but true, as the NY Times [as republished in the IHT] says:

"International soccer has been plagued for years by violence among fans, including racial incidents. But FIFA, soccer's world governing body, which is based in Zurich, said there had been a recent surge in discriminatory behavior toward blacks by fans and other players, an escalation that has dovetailed with the signing of more players from Africa and Latin America by elite European clubs.

This "deplorable trend," as FIFA has called it, now threatens to embarrass the sport on its grandest stage, the World Cup, which opens June 9 for a monthlong run in 12 cities around Germany. More than 30 billion cumulative television viewers are expected to watch part of the competition, and Sepp Blatter, FIFA's president, has vowed to crack down on racist behavior during the tournament."

Read the full article here. One can only hope that the Germans, with "control" of the Games in Germany, will d…

Iran: Iraq Mark II?

"Does this sound familiar? The Bush administration, after months of hinting that it is considering military options to rid a certain oil-producing Middle Eastern country whose name begins with "I" of its alleged weapons program, says that it's willing to try diplomacy.

Publicly, American officials say the offer shows the United States is keen to work with other countries diplomatically to resolve the crisis. But it soon starts to look as if the public diplomacy is just a way for American officials to say they have exhausted all options and tried to play nice. In reality, American officials had already begun planning for war."

In an interesting piece in the IHT [from the NY Times] the question is posed whether Iran is the same as Iraq was prior to the War - or are things different now? Read the article, here, to see the conclusions arrived at.

Pentagon re-writing the Geneva Convention?

The Los Angeles Times reports:

"The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards."

Not surprising, given the way the US has conducted itself with Guantanamo Bay, renditioning and its actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It's no wonder the world is scornful of the constant assertion of Americans uphold justice and democracy - and then the US is shown to act quite to the contrary. Only yesterday the Iranian religious leader questioned how the US could make claims about Iran when its own actions at Abu Grab and Guantanamo Bay demonstrate that it tramples on civil rights.

Read the complete LA Times article here.

So, is your boss reading your emails?

This might give pause for thought as you sit at your desk, at work, "doing" your emails:

"Big Brother is not only watching but he is also reading your e-mail.

According to a new study, about a third of big companies in the United States and Britain hire employees to read and analyze outbound e-mail as they seek to guard against legal, financial or regulatory risk.

More than a third of U.S. companies surveyed also said their business was hurt by the exposure of sensitive or embarrassing information in the past 12 months, according to the annual study from a company specializing in protecting corporate e-mail at large businesses."

Read the full article, from Reuters, here. Oh yes, perhaps be a little guarded about those emails of yours at work......

Coincidentally, the travel company, Zuji, has released a report in which it details when bookings are made on line and to where. Not surprisingly, most reservations are made during the working day. From work? Rea…

Ishaqi: Watch the cover-up unravel.....

"The U.S military said Saturday it had found no wrongdoing in the March 15 raid on a home in Ishaqi that left nine Iraqi civilians dead. But, as with the apparent massacre in Haditha, will a military "coverup" in this case come undone? E&P coverage from back in March, and other evidence, suggest that the official story may soon unravel".

So writes Greg Mitchell on Editor & Publisher. It seems an all too familiar pattern. Denial and then the real "story" is revealed. As they say, watch this space! Read the full Mitchell article here.

The Scotsman reports, here, that Iraqis are furious about the US troops being cleared of any wrongdoing and are demanding an apology.

Meanwhile, the carnage in Iraq continues, and worsened last month, as the LA Times reports here:

"New Iraqi government documents show that, excluding the nearly daily bombings, more Baghdad residents died in shootings, stabbings and other violence in May than in any other mo…

Recognise Hamas?

For many the thought of recognising Hamas is akin to a red rag to a bull. For others, like former the Mossad head Ephraim Halevy, Israel needs to in its own interests.

As Tanya Reinhart writes on Znet:

"The Hamas government must be recognized, not only because recognition of Hamas would be good for Israel, as the former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy recently argued,(1) but because this is the right move by any criterion of justice and international law.

The U.S. and Europe decided, despite Israel’s opposition, to permit the Palestinian people to hold democratic elections. According to Jimmy Carter’s report in the “Herald Tribune”, the elections were “honest, fair, strongly contested, without violence and with the results accepted by winners and losers. Among the 62 elections that have been monitored by... the Carter Center, these are among the best in portraying the will of the people.”(2)"

Read the full article here. You may not be convinced of the arguments for recognition …

Soccer "widows" look for succor....

With the World Cup soccer kicking off [pun intended!] this week there are going to be many significant others, wives, companions, partners and girlfriends [take your pick into which category you fit!] not interested in either watching the games on TV or staying up half the night to do so - if watching in Oceania or Asia.

So, what to do? Well, a solution may well be at hand as the IHT reports:

"Some women jam the remote control. Some release rage by shopping. But with the World Cup fast approaching, entrepreneurs have another strategy.

For soccer widows facing temporary abandonment by their sports-obsessed partners, companies are poised to offer sympathy at a price".

The complete article, here, may give you food for thought........

"Stuff Happens" revisited

Rumsie didn't quite say it, again - that is "stuff happens" - but with the news of massacres by Americans of innocent unarmed Iraqis, he did suggest these events do occur. In the same breath no sympathy for the victims or their families - rather the virtues of the US Marines and what suffering they endure on the battlefields of Iraq.

The various massacres in Iraq are a story which won't go away - if this report from the BBC, here, is correct.

Meanwhile, anyone who has seen the marvellous David Hare play "Stuff Happens" will savour this:

"The New Statesman's event was one of the highlights of this year's Hay literary festival: Britain's leading political playwright, David Hare, took the stage with the NS editor, John Kampfner, for a conversation about Iraq and covert censorship."

Read the conversation here.

You gotta be kidding!....

As reported on muckraker.com

"Two weeks ago, Amir Taheri published an op-ed in Canada's National Post about an Iranian law that forced Jews to wear a yellow stripe. The story, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, quickly provoked outrage, but was just as quickly revealed to be a total fabrication. It also ran in the New York Post.

Apparently this is just the sort of reliable advice that President Bush needs. Yesterday, Taheri had a face-to-face with the President as one of a small group of "experts" on Iraq that visited the White House.

According to Press Secretary Tony Snow, the experts were invited to the White House for their "honest opinions" on Iraq".

Need anymore be said about how George Bush and Dick Cheney become "informed?"

Women worthy of an Edna

An Edna you ask! Yes, an award awarded to worthy women, mostly out of the spotlight and not given their due, but deserving for what they have done or been involved in.
As Adele Horin writes in the SMH today:

"In a bad news world, the recent Edna Ryan awards night was a heart-lifting occasion that brought 200 women (and a sprinkling of men) together in celebration. At a time when some think feminism is dead, and others think it has failed, having swapped women's boredom for exhaustion, the night was a cheering reminder of how much good feminist work goes on - and needs to go on.

It was an occasion when women who make "a feminist difference", most of them unheralded and unknown, were honoured by their peers. And it showed feminism has changed, not expired. It has become more individualised, is less about meetings and more about practical application in daily life."

Read Horin's heart-warming article about some quite remarkable unsung and noteworthy women, out …

David Hicks: Ex judges & lawyers write to Howard

"A group of the nation's eminent legal minds, including four former Supreme and Federal Court judges, have warned John Howard that terrorism would destroy civilised society if Australia continued to back the detention and military trial of David Hicks.

Former Federal Court judge Ron Merkel and former NSW Liberal attorney-general and Supreme Court judge John Dowd are among the 76 signatories on an open letter to the Prime Minister arguing that Hicks - who remains in indefinite US detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - is being held illegally and deserves a fair trial.

"Whether or not David Hicks is in fact guilty or innocent is not the issue. The illegality lies in the process of indefinite detention and unfair trial by military commission," the lawyers say".

The continued detention of David Hicks is a disgrace. More so is the assertion by PM Howard and A-G Ruddock the other day that had Hicks not challenged a military tribunal hearing that he would now know his fat…

Afghanistan, unravelling

"Something has gone alarmingly wrong in Afghanistan, previously touted as the Bush administration's one quasi- successful venture in nation-building. Afghanistan's rising carnage still has not reached Iraq-like levels, but the trend is running in decidedly the wrong direction. Unless Washington starts correcting its mistakes, parts of Afghanistan could start tumbling back toward the kind of anarchic chaos that once made such areas an attractive sanctuary for international terrorists like Osama bin Laden.

The warning signs go well beyond this week's deadly outbreak of anti- American rioting in Kabul. The past few months have also seen a stronger than expected Taliban military revival (with open help from supporters in Pakistan), a lengthening list of Afghan civilians accidentally killed in American military operations, a badly flawed U.S.-backed opium eradication program, and rising public disenchantment with Washington and its leading Afghan ally, President Hamid Karza…

WorkChoice: Howard's monster unleashed

$55 million later - that is, after the Federal Government's profligate waste on advertising the benefits of the new IR laws - it seems all is not all that well with this allegedly great advancement for the workers of Australia.

As Peter Hartcher, political editor of the SMH, writes this morning:

"This week the Prime Minister, John Howard, entered the third phase of his handling of his new workplace laws. It was the week Howard stopped pretending that it was all going to be all right and admitted to his party that the public was "uneasy" about the new law.

It was the week Howard stopped the softly-softly approach and openly embraced the raw purpose of the system - that by allowing companies to cut wages, he hoped they could create jobs. It was a threshold moment for one of the greatest gambles of his fourth term".

Read Hartcher's article, here, as it is an interesting commentary on the critical issues thrown up by the new legislation and how PM Howard - now on …

Baghdad: From a blogger

"Baghdadis are reporting that radical Islamists have taken control over the Dora, Amiriya and Ghazaliya districts of Baghdad, where they operate in broad daylight. They have near full control of Saidiya, Jihad, Jami’a, Khadhraa’ and Adil. And their area of influence has spread over the last few weeks to Mansour, Yarmouk, Harthiya, and very recently, to Adhamiya."

So begins the posting of the blogger, "Healing Iraq" in Baghdad. It's a sober appraisal of what's happening on the ground. Read the whole post, here, as up to date as today.

A US$400 million "reward"?

It's quite breathtaking! - as The Independent reports:

"Investors and environmental campaigners condemned a $400m (£214m) retirement package for the boss of Exxon Mobil, the man known as the "Darth Vader of global warming" for his denial that carbon emissions cause climate change.

Protesters descended on the annual shareholder meeting of the world's largest oil company's in Dallas, Texas, amid fury over the lavish lifestyle that it plans to fund for Lee Raymond, who retired after 12 years as chairman and chief executive."

All sorts of adjectives come to mind - profligate, obscene, etc. Read the full article here.