Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from July, 2006

A breath of fresh air! - "My Israel Question"

Today's Crikey [always worth the subscription] has this piece by Antony Loewenstein in response to an article by Gerard Henderson in the SMH last week:

"It is hard to imagine a less appropriate context in which to read Gerard Henderson's latest opinion piece. At a time when we're being inundated by grim reports of escalating carnage in Lebanon and Israel, Henderson has launched an extraordinary attack on the notion that a pro-Israel lobby influences US or Australian foreign policy towards the Middle East. Washington and Canberra support Israel, he argues, because it is in their strategic interests to do so. To suggest anything else is a “conspiracy theory”.

Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel, recently begged to differ. On ABC TV's Lateline last week he noted that the US Zionist lobby wields significant influence, threatening congressmen should they dare to cast an “anti-Israel vote.” Similar tactics are directed at journalists, editors and their boards in …

When the IR laws are not!

As always the Road to Surfdom [check it out here] blog puts it succinctly

"If members of Mr Howard’s own party think the new IR legislation sucks, why should the rest of us have to put up with it?:

(Victorian) State Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu is distancing the Victorian Liberal Party from hardline elements of the Howard Government’s industrial relations revolution.

In the lead-up to the November state election, Mr Baillieu will tell nurses, doctors, teachers, police officers and other public sector workers that under a Victorian Liberal government none of them would be forced onto individual contracts or encouraged to quit their unions.

He will pledge that as premier, and therefore effectively the biggest employer in the state, he will continue the Bracks Labor Government’s policy of negotiating collective agreements with the main public sector unions, which cover hundreds of thousands of Victorian workers.

No wait, he doesn’t think they suck:

State Liberal strategists last night e…

Rumsi looking "slightly deranged"

Things are going from bad to worse in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran is a real "issue" and North Korea a problem. Meanwhile, militants of all shades and agendas are active around the world. And good ol' US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld?

According to the Newsweek editor, Rumsfeld, is "slightly deranged" and living in a "different world" as he is reported here as saying:

"[If I were running against conservatives,] I would make up a campaign commercial almost entirely of Donald Rumsfeld’s press conferences, because the man is looking — I mean, it’s not just that he seems like a bad Secretary of [Defense]. He seems literally in a parallel universe and slightly deranged. If you listen to what he said last week about Iraq, he’s living in a different world, not a different country."

Read the full transcript of the editor's appearance on America's ABC This Week program here.

Qana: Can there be anything but outrage?

No one could possibly claim that Robert Fisk, stationed in Beirut for the last 30 years, is anything but the doyen of journalists and authorities on the comings and goings in the Middle East.

In the light of the Qana bombing by the Israelis, Fisk writing in The Independent, says:

"You must have a heart of stone not to feel the outrage that those of us watching this experienced yesterday. This slaughter was an obscenity, an atrocity - yes, if the Israeli air force truly bombs with the "pinpoint accuracy'' it claims, this was also a war crime. Israel claimed that missiles had been fired by Hizbollah gunmen from the south Lebanese town of Qana - as if that justified this massacre. Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, talked about "Muslim terror" threatening "western civilisation" - as if the Hizbollah had killed all these poor people."

Read the complete article by Fisk - republished on Information Clearing House - here.

Qana - The facts!

No one in his right mind could be anything other than appalled and shocked by the actions of the Israelis in Qana. It appears absolute wanton death and destruction for its own sake. Israel is rightly condemned and no apologies or attempted excuses post the event can detract from what Israel has wrought - as Dr. David Clark, former UK Labour Government advisor writes in Guardian Unlimited today:

"As if we didn't know it already, the conflict in Lebanon shows that truth and war don't mix. All parties to the tragedy of the Middle East resort to disinformation and historical falsification to bolster their case, but rarely has an attempt to rewrite the past occurred so soon after the fact. Israeli ministers and their supporters have justified the bombardment of Lebanon as "a matter of survival". Total war has been declared on Israel, so Israel is entitled to use the methods of total war in self-defence. This would be reasonable if it were true, but it isn't. …

Food for the brain and soul....

The Age Melbourne Writers’ Festival, now in its 21st year, has established itself as one of the pre-eminent cultural events in Australia. Staged over 10 days and nights, in August and September each year [this year - 25 August to 2 September] the festival promotes the art and talent of more than 200 writers from Australia and around the world, with attendances of more than 38,000.

The festival program features an enormous range of literary activity – entertaining discussions, debates, readings, film screenings, interviews, performances, workshops, master classes and book launches, as well as a lively schools’ program for both primary and secondary students.

The writers’ festival attracts some of the finest names in writing in Melbourne. It is an international platform for Melbourne writers and a Melbourne platform for international writers. Each festival features a fabulous line-up of Australian authors, from much-loved favourites to some of the most exciting and distinctive new voices …

Outright carnage! - but in whose name?

Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, says:

"In war as in war: Israel is sinking into a strident, nationalistic atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything. The brakes we still had are eroding, the insensitivity and blindness that characterized Israeli society in recent years is intensifying. The home front is cut in half: the north suffers and the center is serene. But both have been taken over by tones of jingoism, ruthlessness and vengeance, and the voices of extremism that previously characterized the camp's margins are now expressing its heart. The left has once again lost its way, wrapped in silence or "admitting mistakes." Israel is exposing a unified, nationalistic face.

The devastation we are sowing in Lebanon doesn't touch anyone here and most of it is not even shown to Israelis. Those who want to know what Tyre looks like now have to turn to foreign channels - the BBC reporter brings chilling images from there, the likes of which won't be s…

Condi: Midwife from Hell

"After being one of the most inept national security advisers in the nation's history, Condoleezza Rice is now earning the same grade as secretary of state."

So writes Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive. As Rothschild catalogues, Condi has been nothing short of a disaster. Read Rothschild's "list" here and assess it for yourself.

Even today when visiting PM Olmert in Israel to see whether a cease-fire can be negotiated, there was Condi on the TV news looking her chipper smiling self shaking the PM's hand. No demeanour or anything to remotely suggest that serious matters were at hand.

What does the future hold for Lebanon?

"From his hilltop citadel, Walid Jumblatt was a worried man Saturday. In Lebanon's Byzantine, ever-shifting politics, the leader of the country's Druze community has emerged as one of Hezbollah's harshest critics. But a savvy veteran, he understood the arithmetic of the Middle East these days: In war, survival often means victory. And after 18 days of the conflict with Israel, he was bracing for what Hezbollah's survival would mean for a country seized with volatile uncertainty.

Lebanon's survival, he said, was now in the hands of Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah."

This sobering assessment is detailed in an article in the Washington Post. Read the full piece here.

Mel Gibson reveals his true colors

Whilst the mainstream press reveals the arrest of Mel Gibson for DUI and his subsequent contrite statement, what Gibson said when arrested has not been reported - except here:

"Lt. Steve Smith, in charge of the detective bureau for the Malibu/Lost Hills station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, confirmed to me just now that "the contents seem to be similar" between the official reports and the four pages posted by TMZ.com on the Internet alleging Mel Gibson "blurted out a barrage of anti-Semitic remarks" -- "fucking Jews" and "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" and asking the arresting deputy "Are you a Jew?" -- during his DUI arrest early Friday morning. Smith denied TMZ.com's charge that the sheriff's department was involved in a "cover-up" of Gibson's alleged anti-Semitic tirade detailed in deputy Jim Mee's first arrest report. "TMZ has learned that the Los An…

Now, that's what I call a sea-change....

There would be few who haven't dreamt of quitting the rat-race or simply longed for, or even thought of, a sea or tree change.

Well, the seemingly ultimate seachange is revealed in this letter to the editor of delicious magazine - a food magazine - in the July issue:

"After working as a lawyer in Melbourne and then London for six years, and guiltily devouring delicious [and Jill Dupleix's column in The Times] daily, instead of case law, I chucked in the corporate towel and became a chef in a five-star private chalet in the French Alps this past winter. I relied heavily on those hours reading delicious on the way to work! As did British Airways, who made a packet on the my luggage which held four years of delicious. However, the response to my [well, really your!] cooking has been beyond my wildest dreams. Thank you for being my secret weapon".

Daring to criticise Israel!

Writing his weekly column in the SMH today, Mike Carleton says:

"....in these times, to write anything even mildly critical of Israel attracts a hail of letters from furious Jews hurling the charge of anti-Semitism. After last week's column, which canvassed the immorality of the Israeli Defence Forces killing Lebanese civilians, a hysterical Melbourne dentist wrote to accuse me of Holocaust denial."

Carleton draws on his response to visiting Dachau many years ago and reflecting on what the Israelis are visiting on the Lebanese in the current war.

Read Carleton's column here - and ponder the critical questions he raises. Fair or otherwise? Anti-semitic or merely the position of decent and concerned human being?

On the subject of being critical of Israel see also this feature piece, here, in the SMH today - "The dissenter who dared to ask why".

Olmert needs to account for his actions

"Criticism of the government is mounting, and for good reason. The government entered Lebanon War II in a hasty and reckless manner. The goals of the war were not properly defined, the hidden risks were not sufficiently clarified and the implications were not fully analyzed. The government led the country into a critical strategic maneuver without being aware of its consequences or foreseeing its outcome. When the war is over, the prime minister will be called to account for his actions. He has proven himself a lightweight and an irresponsible statesman, unworthy of high public office.

Criticism of the army is also mounting, and for good reason. The Israel Defense Forces have chalked up failures in the air, on the ground and at sea. The army did not have vital intelligence, and was not even aware of this. It did not have a forceful response to Hezbollah's rockets, and was not even aware of this. The army dragged the politicians into a decisive war without having the means to …

French embrace blogging with a vengeance

So reports the IHT:

"Already famed for angry labor strikes and philosophical debates in smoke-filled cafés, the French have now brought these passions online to become some of the world's most intensive bloggers.

The French distinguish themselves, both statistically and anecdotally, ahead of Germans, Britons and even Americans in their obsession with blogs, the personal and public journals of the Internet age.

Just why the French have embraced blogs more than most is anyone's guess, but explanations range from technical to historical and cultural.

Sixty percent of French Internet users visited a blog in May, ahead of Britain with 40 percent and little more than a third in the United States, according to Comscore, an Internet ratings service."

The reasons for "Froggies" [oops - sorry!] taking to blogs, and blogging, in such a big way is explored in the full IHT article here.

How Israel helped Arab support for Hezbollah

"At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.

Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.

The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington."

One has to ask the critical question. If Israel perceived that Palestinians or the populace in Middle Eastern countries would vent their anger at Hezbollah because of the conflict it allegedly initiated, then it has backf…

So, why is the US in Iraq?

"Why is the United States in Iraq?"

It's a pertinent question - not easily or readiy answered, as David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation magazine, rightly highlights:

"That is question that is increasingly difficult for the White House to answer coherently--and honestly. This past week, George W. Bush, appearing at a press conference with Maliki, noted that the horrific and intensifying violence in Iraq of recent weeks is "terrible" and that more US troops will be deployed to Baghdad. But who--and what--is the enemy? And what can US troops do about disorder and violence there?"

Read Corn's analysis here.

Rumsfeld ruminates - again!

No less than 100 people are being killed, daily, in the violence gripping Iraq. Some are already describing what is happening as a civil war having started.

So, what does the US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, say at a press conference at The Pentagon?:

"Q. Is the country [Iraq] closer to a civil war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is -- there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents. So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the …

Bombing of UN camp: Israel has "form"?

"With the Israeli bombing of a U.N. camp and the killing of four U.N. peacekeepers, we really do seem to be in a "deja vu" all over again phase. Already Kofi Annan is under attack for condemning the "apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defense Forces of a U.N. Observer post."

It is reminiscent of the trouble his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali got himself into last time the Israelis tried shock and awe on Lebanon back in 1996, when he failed to suppress a report that said pretty much the same thing about the IDF shelling of the U.N. post in Qana, which macerated some 106 Lebanese civilians to death."

Heh? We've been here before? According to Ian Williams, writing in AlterNet, yes we have! It's actually earily similar to an incident, exactly 10 years ago, involving Israel and the UN. Read the William's piece here.

US neocons regroup

One-time Senior Adviser to former US President Bill Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, writing in the Guardian Unlimited:

"Once again the Bush administration is floating on a wave of euphoria. Israel's offensive against Hizbullah in Lebanon has liberated the utopian strain of neoconservatism that had been traduced by Iraq's sectarian civil war. And the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has propelled herself forward as chief cheerleader. "What we're seeing here," she said, "are the birth pangs of a new Middle East." At every press conference she repeats the phrase "a new Middle East" as though its incantation is magical."

Even if Blumenthal is half-right - and he seems to be - then the prognosis for US involvement in securing both a cease-fire in the Middle East as well as even some sort of resolution of the ongoing conflict, appears remote. Read the complete analysis of the US position as put forward by Blumenthal here.

Washington's hand behind Jerusalem?

Writing in AlterNet, Marjorie Cohn, says:

"Washington loses no opportunity to scold Iran and Syria for providing weapons to Hezbollah. Yet during the Bush administration, from 2001 to 2005, Israel received $10.5 billion in foreign military financing -- the Pentagon's biggest military aid program -- and $6.3 billion in U.S. arms deliveries. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance."

And further:

"Last week, both houses of Congress, mindful of the importance of retaining Jewish votes and campaign contributions, passed resolutions stating that Israel was acting in self-defense. The vote in the Senate was unanimous; the House vote was 410 to 8. Walking in lockstep with Bush, neither resolution calls for a ceasefire. The Senate resolution praises Israel for its "restraint" and the House resolution "welcomes Israel's continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties."

Eh? That resolution seems to contradict everything sober-m…

Calls for Condi to be dumped

Whilst Condi Rice has, finally, arrived in the Middle East to suss out the situation there - and perhaps even do something to bring about a cease-fire of the conflict - it seems that the conservatives in the USA are far from happy with her "performance":

"Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administration’s national security and foreign policy agenda.

The conservatives, who include Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle and leading current and former members of the Pentagon and National Security Council, have urged the president to transfer Miss Rice out of the State Department and to an advisory role. They said Miss Rice, stemming from her lack of understanding of the Middle East, has misled the president on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Read the full piece, from Insight on the News, here.

Morality not on Israel's side

"There's practically a holy consensus right now that the war in the North is a just war and that morality is on our side. The bitter truth must be said: this holy consensus is based on short-range selective memory, an introverted worldview, and double standards.

This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy, whose sole purpose is extortion. That is not to say that morality and justice are on Hezbollah's side. Most certainly not. But the fact that Hezbollah "started it" when it kidnapped soldiers from across an international border does not even begin to tilt the scales of justice toward our side."

No, not the words of some rabid anti-semite, self-hating Jew [or some similar offensive "label"] but none other than a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University, Ze'ev Maoz.

Read the full analysis by the professor in this op-ed, here, in Haaretz.

The "making" of supporters of Hezbollah

As Israel continues to pound Lebanon - and Human Rights Watch reports the use of cluster-bombs by Israel - the "outcome" of the devastation being wrought on the Lebanese people seems to be a guarantee of support for Hezbollah.

An independent journalist writes on AlterNet [the full article here] as follows:

"Much of Beirut is a devastated city, infrastructure in many areas lies in a shambles after the Israeli bombing. But the Lebanese are also just feeling devastated.

"Does our country not have the right to move forward like other democracies," says Nidal Mothman, a 35-year-old taxi driver in downtown Beirut. "We hate the American government for giving the green light for the Israelis to bomb us back to the stone age."

Mothman, like so many Lebanese in the capital city, is seething with anger over what he called "indiscriminate" Israeli aggression towards their country."

"Civilianality" - whatever that means!

Alan "it's-OK-to-torture" Dershowitz can't help himself!

In an op-ed piece in the LA Times he asserts that there are various types of "civilianality" which seems to mean that in whatever category you fit it might be OK if you are killed, as say in Lebanon.

Leaving aside that this man is supposed to be a professor of law, it appears that our ever-happy apologist for Israel is putting forward some sort of justification for Israel killing "civilians" in Lebanon. If you are the wrong sort of "civilian" it's OK then!

Read this rather astounding piece by Dershowitz here - and stop your jaw from gaping!

Middle East: Peace? - without a solution?

On ABC Radio National's Breakfast program this morning:

"US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched down in Israel a short time ago after her unannounced visit to Beirut earlier in the day.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he is prepared to accept the deployment of a European peacekeeping force in Southern Lebanon, provided it was robust and had a strong mandate.

Meanwhile Israel's peace movement appears divided over the conflict. Anti-war rallies held across Israel over the weekend were boycotted by the powerful anti-settlement group 'Peace Now'.

Even people on the left have been condemning the protesters for not caring about the value of Israeli lives. Shulamit Aloni is one of the country's leading human rights activists.

She's a former government minister and a founding member of the International Centre for Peace in the Middle East. She also took part in the largest peace demonstration in Tel Aviv last Saturday. She joins Breakfast from Israel.

Professor …

The Costellos mix it....up!

This from today's Crikey needs no elaboration:

"Today, Crikey reports that Mrs Costello has landed a nice job at the ANZ Bank's charitable trusts business. It's a business development role, a position for which she seems eminently qualified, and we wish her well in her latest career move.

Now for Mr Costello. The Federal Treasurer. The government's policy man on economic and fiscal policy, financial industry oversight, the Banking Act, the four banks policy, banking licences, prudential regulation, currency and legal tender, foreign exchange, corporate and securities law and corporate insolvency.

Husband: Federal Treasurer. Wife: ANZ banking executive. Perception: appalling. Country: Australia.

Just another day at the office."

Bush Administration blunders in the Middle East

Robert Kuttner, writing in the Boston Globe, says:

"The latest violence in the Middle East demonstrates the bankruptcy of the Bush administration's grand design for the region. The Iraq war was going to display American power, promote democracy, strengthen moderates, and secure Israel. Instead, the quagmire has demonstrated the humiliating limits of US military power, fomented anarchy, recruited Islamist extremists, and strengthened a more radicalized Iran.

Palestinian moderates have been marginalized, leaving nobody for Israeli moderates to negotiate with. Hamas and Hezbollah have more support among Arabs than ever. Israel finds itself more vulnerable militarily, prone to excess, and dangerously isolated from world opinion. As for democracy, our few allies in the region are dictators and kings. Democratic Lebanon is a shambles. The democratically elected government in Iraq has just denounced Israel, and a democratic Palestinian election empowered Hamas."

One can only scrat…

Stop now, immediately

A call, which if made by an Australian, Jewish or otherwise, would likely draw flak from the usual suspects, but this is what Gideon Levy, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz says:

"This war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return. This is a good time to stop the war because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hezbollah and Hezbollah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement. Remember the lessons of the Yom Kippur War."

Read the full piece here. Levy's position is unassailable. But will anyone listen?

Justice? - in secrecy in Australia

Writes Adele Horin in the SMH:

"You might have forgotten Scott Parkin but his friends in Australia have maintained the rage. It has been 10 months since the Federal Government stripped the American peace activist of his tourist visa on the grounds that he was a risk to Australia's security, thrust him into solitary confinement for five days, and shipped him back to the US. There he was presented with a bill for $11,700 for his detention, air fares and accommodation.

On Thursday proceedings began in the Federal Court in Melbourne to have Parkin's adverse security assessment overturned. As a first step, Parkin's barrister, Julian Burnside, sought a discovery order to determine precisely what Parkin is alleged to have said or done that warranted him being thrown out of the country. He wants to see the Government documents. The Government has never explained to Parkin or the public how he crossed the line between political activism and becoming a security risk. Parkin was n…

Middle East: This is the US diplomatic effort?

Condi Rice might be going to the Middle East - probably more for show than effect - but what the US is also sending across to Israel is far more troubling if this report in the NY Times is correct:

"The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran’s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah."

This seems a rather "odd" way of engaging in diplomatic efforts to stop the carnage presently underway. No less importantly what a wonderful re-inforcement of the …

Have we all missed something?

With the situation in the Middle East deteriorating by the day and the current suspicion that Israel is about to invade Lebanon - as if that country and its people havn't been battered enough - what has been singularly absent has been any effort by the US and its allies to put a stop to Israeli aggression and breaches of the Hague and Geneva Conventions. As others have said the US and the UK have given the Israelis the "green light" to go ahead with its actions at least for a while.

Therefore to read this is startling:

"This morning on the Today Show, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow argued that “nobody has been more diplomatically active than we have” in the Middle East, citing all the phone calls White House officials have made in recent days".

Yet another part of the delusion which infects the White House that it has been attempting do bring a halt to the carnage?

As Think Progress rightly points out diplomacy takes more than phone calls. Read the com…

Australia wrong-headed on rights

One thing the Howard Government could not be accused of is that it is a proponent of human rights - just to the contrary!

Thus, this op-ed piece, in The Age, from Brian Walters SC, President of Liberty Victoria, is more than a timely:

"Australians like to think that their country respects human rights. But our recent voting record at the UN suggests otherwise

Australia has a proud history as a pioneer in the field of human rights. We instituted the eight-hour day as early as the 1850s. We made available, well ahead of most of the world, free universal education. We were among the first to legislate for women's suffrage. The Harvester decision in 1907 resulted in the important safety net of the basic wage. In 1948, when the UN proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was an Australian attorney-general, H. V. Evatt, who presided over that historic assembly.

But recently, Australia has taken a stubborn stand against human rights in the UN."

Reading Walters' l…

Picking up the [large] tab

The Boston Globe reports that the US government's top auditor has told Congress that the new Iraqi Government will need about US$50 billion [A$67 billion] in additional aid to rebuild the country's oil facilities and electrical grids to pre-war levels. Not only would the US Government have to pay the majority of those costs but the funds would be on top of the roughly US$30 billion the US has already committed to rebuild the war-torn country since the March 2003 invasion.

Surely the American taxpayers, if they really knew the above, would be calling for Bushs' blood. Just think what the Americans could have done with the money for the country's disadvantaged or "fixing" their failing health system.

Ex Oz ambassador on Mid East conflict

Ross Burns was an Australian ambassador to Syria and Lebanon in the 1980s and until 2003 to Israel. So, he knows the area and its politics.

On the ABC Radio National program Perspective he said this:

"It is clear that Hezbollah deliberately taunted Israel into this crisis. The issue of Shabaa Farms has been crafted for just such a purpose. It is also possible that they got a stronger response than they calculated (after all kidnappings across borders and prisoner exchanges have been an art form in this neighbourhood). But there are indications that Hezbollah can only be encouraged by the outcome so far - they are now seen as pivotal to the way in which the Middle East question will play out and the Palestinian secularists and the Sunni states are further marginalised.

So Israel, again, may have fallen into a trap. Unleashing a response which virtually knows no bounds in terms of its effects on the Lebanese population is a familiar story which could again provoke unforeseen consequ…

Prayers for Hezbollah?

Reports the NY Times:

"Hezbollah is a Shiite militia. Its followers hang pictures of the grandfather of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in their offices and in the towns. And it says its mandate is to liberate Lebanon and Lebanese prisoners from Israel".

And:

"Perhaps more so than at any time since Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, the bloodletting between Hezbollah and Israel has highlighted the huge divide between many Arab countries, and between many people and their leaders. Sunni Arab leaders in Jordan, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries, see in Hezbollah a dangerous beachhead for Iranian influence in the region. They have criticized Hezbollah for the raid that led to the Israeli attack on Lebanon.

But the longer the conflict drags on, the more these leaders are finding their own credibility called into question. The longer satellite television shows images of civilians killed and maimed by Israeli bombs, the more these leaders fac…

Calling those neocons! Where are you now?

"In his terrific blog post on the hornets' nest we've kicked open in the Middle East, Gary Hart makes the point that as the fighting spreads, we have seen precious little of "the nation's wisemen, those neoconservative idealists who saw the great American empire imposing democracy on the Middle East at the point of a bayonet."

And, indeed, in the wall-to-wall coverage of the latest Middle East carnage -- and the analysis of said carnage -- the neocon architects who brought us the invasion of Iraq and the promise that it would bring democracy and stability to the region have been notably absent from the discussion.

Where have you gone Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, et al? A nation turns it anxious eyes to you."

Arianna Huffington raises an interesting question, here, in this piece on AlterNet - but isn't able to answer it.

That other war - in Iraq

As reported, today, in The Huffington Post:

"After the last three years, I didn't think I could be surprised by the level of cluelessness exhibited by the Bush administration when it comes to Iraq. Then I picked up this morning's New York Times.

But before we get to the jaw-dropping money quote that leaves no doubt the Bushies continue to view Iraq through zealots' eyes, let's start with a bracing shot of reality: the United Nations report on Iraq released yesterday.

It paints a devastating -- and wrenchingly specific -- portrait of a country in bloody chaos.

First the numbers: 14,338 civilians killed in the first half of 2006. And, according to the UN report, civilian carnage is on "an upward trend," with more than 5,800 deaths and 5,700 injuries in the last two months. Indeed, on average, more than 100 Iraqi civilians were killed per day in June -- the highest monthly total since U.S. forces took control of Baghdad".

And if that wasn't bad enough:

&…

George Bush "revealed" - in his own words!

It has been sometimes said that although George Bush feigns to be tongue-tied and vacuous, that there lurks, within, an astute and clever man. It's hard to believe! - and now probably clearly shown not to be the case.

As Robert Scheer writes in truthdig.com:

"Bombs were exploding and innocents dying, from Beirut to Haifa to Baghdad, and yet George Bush managed to pose for yet another photo op, smiling as he gave the thumbs up at the close of the G8 summit. Thanks to an unsuspected open mic, however, we could also glimpse the mindset of a leader unaccountably pleased with his ignorance of the world.

What seemed to interest him most at that farewell get together of leaders bitterly divided over a disintegrating Mideast was not some last-minute proposal for peace but rather the fact that it would take China President Hu Jintao eight hours to fly home from St. Petersburg to Beijing."

Read this insight [and shake your head in disbelief] into George Bush and his "thinking&…

How does this help the Israeli cause?

"Nonstop battles between Israel and Hezbollah have wreaked a massive humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, driving as many as 500,000 people from their homes, according to United Nations estimates.

The frazzled refugees who have flooded Beirut are struggling to find food, water and medicine. They sleep chockablock in city parks, abandoned basements and sweltering schools in the capital."

So reports the LA Times in this disturbing and distressing "picture" of what is happening "on the ground" in Beirut. Read the full article here.

One does have to ask what Israel hopes to achieve in causing the upheaval it has for ordinary women, men and children in Lebanon rather than pursuing its objective - Hezbollah.

In another development or aspect of the cuurent Israeli attacks, Guardian Unlimited reports:

"The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on Hizbullah before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according t…

The Middle East: Sensible assessments

Israel keeps on pounding Lebanon, the death toll in Lebanon and Israel is rising and things in Gaza are going from bad to worse - yet the US veteod the Security Council calling for a ceasefire and the world basically stands by watching events unfold. George Bush, who ought to be taken a lead on behalf of the USA, is basically sitting on his hands. In fact, the present "uplifting" underway of various nationalities from Lebanon has been described as the biggest evacuation of people since WWII.

This morning Peters Rodgers - journalist, author and diplomat and Australia's Ambassador to Israel between 1994 to 1997 - was interviewed on ABC National Radio'sBreakfast program. Listen to this interesting interview and the revelation by Rodgers that Israel at one time supported Hamas and Hezbollah.

A different and sober assessment of the current crisis - and not the shrill pro-Israel material pushed in the media - can be read in this op-ed piece, Deadly Double Standard…

The world we live in

World Population Day came and went, almost unnoticed or recognised, a week ago, on 11 July.

The UNFPA put out a Statement to mark the day. It includes these disturbing and shocking statistics:

"....today millions of young people are threatened by poverty, illiteracy, risks of pregnancy and childbirth, and HIV/AIDS. Today, more than 500 million people aged 15 to 24 live on less than $2 per day; 96 million young women in developing countries do not know how to read or write; and 14 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 become mothers every year. Every day, 6,000 young people are newly infected with HIV."

Read the full Statement here - and reflect on how the so-called "civilised" countries of the world directs their resources. Just last week it was reported in the course of a US Senate Committee hearing that the US is spending a staggering $3 billion a week on the Iraq War.

Travel broadens the mind and....

This blogger is back in town - that is, back home!

As they say, "travel broadens the mind!" No doubt about it, but it also test one's stamina [lifting suitcases and bags here there and everywhere], one's patience and endurance levels and fitness. In some respect travel figures fairly high on what constitutes stress.

What also now makes travel a little more challenging is what one needs to take along. Just think.....plugs and various cords and do-dats for laptops, power, the mobile, the digital camera and the PDA.

Gorillas into the Mist

Who can forget the story of and the images in the film "Gorillas in the Mist?'

Now, this:

"The gorilla is threatened with extinction by the mid-21st century if poaching and destruction of its habitat continue at the current rate, the United Nations has warned.

Within a decade, three of the four sub-species of the great ape could be wiped out, it says. "Many populations are faced with imminent extinction," said Matthew Woods, of the UN-run Great Apes Survival Project. "It is incredibly serious."

How sad - and what a reflection of mankind! Read the full story of the plight of these wonderful creatures here.

Israel: Overdoing it!

"In Lebanon as in Gaza, it is not Israel's right to protect its civilian population from terrorist aggression that is at issue. It is the way Israel goes about exercising that right.

Despite bitter lessons from the past, Israel's political and military leaders remain addicted to the notion that, whatever they have a right to do, they have a right to overdo, to the point where they lose what international support they had when they began their retaliatory measures."

So writes Henry Siegman, a Senior Fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, a visiting professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and former head of the American Jewish Congress, in a piece in GuardianUnlimited.

Read this sober and balanced analysis from someone who could hardly be accused of not being well-informed or anti-Israel here.

Meanwhile, read here this grim "picture" of the death and destruction in Leba…

Howard attacks the vulnerable - again!

Adele Horin writing in this morning's SMH:

"The news that the Federal Government has registered the welfare arm of Hillsong Church as the state's - and possibly the country's - biggest charitable provider of financial counselling services to indigent unemployed people has raised alarm bells in some quarters."

This is worrying as Horin rightly points out - especially as other welfare organisations don't want a bar of the Federal Government's welfare scheme. As Horin goes on to write:

"The dominance of Hillsong Emerge is due to the refusal of all the major charities so far to have anything to do with the Federal Government's new scheme. Their boycott is fuelled by a belief that the scheme is morally unjustifiable. It will strip an estimated 18,000 people a year of their unemployment benefits for eight weeks for infringing job search rules, and then turn around and offer financial counselling - and the chance to get some money back from Centrelink …

The Mid-East Slugfest

"Recent events in Gaza and on the Israel-Lebanon border reveal the extraordinary value of symbols in the region. News of kidnapped Israeli soldiers prompts rejoicing in the streets of Gaza City and Beirut, as Arabs revel in the blow delivered to the powerful Israeli Goliath. Meanwhile, for Israelis, and many Jews around the world, the image of captured soldiers induces a kind of tribal rage that demands the use of overwhelming force. This force is intended, first, to return the soldiers, but no less important, to send a message that Israel's military might remains as potent as ever.

And so the power of symbols brings Israel and its Arab foes together again in a deadly dance. Driven by the need to protect these symbols, the competing sides have entered into yet another cycle of violence that threatens to plunge the region into a new abyss. Indeed, the current pair of conflicts could easily expand from two to four fronts, if Hamas' and Hezbollah's patrons, Syria and Iran…

Fisk on the new Lebanon War

Robert Fisk is, unquestionably, the foremost journalist, on the ground, dealing with the Middle East. His experience in the area is almost legendary. He is based in Beirut. So, his "take" on what is happening in the Middle East, and historical facts surrounding those events, cannot be ignored.

As he writes in The Independent:

"It's about Syria. That was the frightening message delivered by Damascus yesterday when it allowed its Hizbollah allies to cross the UN Blue Line in southern Lebanon, kill three Israeli soldiers, capture two others and demand the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails."

And:

"And there is one certain bet that Syria will rely on; that despite all Israel's threats of inflicting "pain" on Lebanon, this war will run out of control until - as has so often happened in the past - Israel itself calls for a ceasefire and releases prisoners. Then the international big-hitters will arrive and make their way to the real …

Watching a disaster unfold.....

"The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has exploited the capture of Army Corporal Gilad Shalit to restore the country's diminished deterrence against militant Palestinian factions, to break the elected Hamas government and to impose its unilateral territorial solution on the West Bank. But when the dust finally settles, Israel's offensive against the besieged territories--and now Lebanon--will have left the region with more destruction and death and the Israeli government with the same strategic deadlock. That's why instead of lashing out against their neighbors, Israelis must end the vicious cycle of provocations and retaliations, and pursue meaningful negotiations to end the occupation".

So writes Marwan Bishara in a very up to date piece in The Nation Magazine.

As the Middle East seemingly explodes, once again, one has to wonder where Isreal thinks its actions will lead. With the attention of the world diverted to North Korea and Iran - and know…

Dogs and abuse - and judicial appointment?

Maureen Dowd's latest column in the NY Times [unfortunately not available on line unless on subscription] needs no elaboration or comment:

"What better time than the dog days of summer to watch a dog-torture advocate get hounded?

As three female protesters in Abu Ghraib-style orange jumpsuits and black headscarves stood vigil in the back of the Senate Judiciary hearing room, like the supernatural chorus in “Macbeth,” William Haynes was grilled about his worthiness to ascend to the federal bench when his main claim to the promotion is complicity in letting Dick Cheney dance a jig on the Geneva Conventions.

“The State Department characterizes the use of dogs as an interrogation aid as torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,’’ Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said to the Pentagon general counsel. “We publicly condemned the countries of Libya and Burma for using dogs in interrogation. In November of 2002, you recommended that Secretary Rumsfeld approve the use of dogs to i…

George Bush: War criminal?

"A Nuremberg chief prosecutor says there is a case for trying Bush for the 'supreme crime against humanity, an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation."

Some will probably find the prosecutor's position startling. It follows, of course, that if Bush is potentially culpable, then so are PM's Blair and Howard. Probably none of the 3 men even gave it a thought - bear in mind that Blair and Howard are lawyer-trained - that their actions might constitute a war-crime.

Read the full text of the AlterNet article on Bushs'possible crime here.

Supporting the Government = Federal funding

"In the past, non-government organisations such as charities, churches and environment groups have played a valuable role in encouraging public debate. Soon after the Howard Government was elected, however, many of these began to lose funding. Groups representing some of the poorest and least powerful people, such as the Australian Pensioners' and Superannuants' Federation, National Shelter, the Association of Civilian Widows and the Australian Youth Policy and Action Coalition lost their funding. No government likes to be criticised, but in the past governments have accepted that it is part of the role of non-government organisations to advocate for their constituencies.

As well as losing funding, non-government organisations have been silenced in other ways. Many groups that receive some funding from the Government have contracts that include confidentiality clauses which prevent them making public comment. Even where confidentiality agreements do not apply, many non-gov…

The Dreyfus Affair 100 years on

"One hundred years ago this month, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish army officer who had spent five years on Devil's Island for high treason and an additional seven years trying to clear his name, was absolved by France's Supreme Court. A few days later, he was reinstated into the army, promoted to lieutenant colonel and given the Légion d'Honneur.

The Dreyfus Affair, which deeply divided France and sparked a vicious wave of anti-Semitism, was finally over. Or was it?"

It's a potent question posed in this interesting article in the IHT. Read a revealing article on how things stand in France 100 years after the infamous Affair. It doesn't make for happy reading!

They're back with a vengeance - the Taliban

The war in Iraq gets worse by the day and pundits in the know are predicting that it is only a matter of time before civil war breaks out. So much for the success of the Coalition of the Willing in bringing democracy and peace to Iraq.
Meanwhile, Condi Rice recently stopped off in Afghanistan to show solidarity with Pres. Karzai. Good photo op but little more. All reports from Afghanistan paint a picture of a narcon State with little progress to show for all the effort of stationing foreign troops there, including those from Australia.

If "proof" was needed of how bad things are in Afghanistan this report by The Independent says it all

"The letter pinned overnight to the wall of the mosque in Kandahar was succinct. "Girls going to school need to be careful for their safety. If we put acid on their faces or they are murdered then the blame will be on their parents." Today the local school stands empty, victim of what amounts to a Taliban war on knowledge.…

Not Happy John - revisited

Many will remember the best-selling book, back in 2004 [before the last Federal election] "Not Happy John" - which catalogued a series of John Howard evasions, deceptions, alleged dishonesties and cant over the years.

Howard has, often, made much of his alleged honesty and integrity. The man protesteth too much? That aside, to what extent people have "bought" what Howard has said of himself might be a moot point.

Today's "bombshell" [as the SMH describes Costello's revelation of his meeting with Howard in December 1994] that Howard did - despite Howard's strenuous denials even as late as this morning - in effect, promise the prime-ministership to Peter Costello after Howard had served 1 1/2 terms in office as PM, must surely put pay to Howard's standing.

Read the latest on the "bombshell" here.

A message to the Israeli Government....

"Despite the combative statements, despite the promises not to capitulate and even though every hour that passes and every Qassam that is launched raises the bar of violence and causes both sides to hold steadfastly to a commitment to use still harsher means, it is not yet too late to begin talks on ending the crisis and coming up with new agreements."

So editorialises Haaretz last Thursday. And the situation is getting worse and Israel carries on regardless - even when some countries have called for restraint on Israel's part.

Read the complete Haaretz editorial here.

Ruddock and Howard - Silent and condemned!

Mike Carleton's column in the SMH needs no further comment:

"The endless, Kafka-esque punishment of David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay is approaching the status of a crime itself: a vindictive crime committed by the Bush Administration, in defiance of US and international law.

Nick Cowdery, the forthright NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, was entirely correct to say last weekend that the imprisonment of Hicks and others in Gitmo was an unprincipled disgrace. "These people have not been treated according to the rule of law but according to the rule of Bush and his cronies," he said. He demanded that Hicks should be brought back to Australia.

John Howard and Philip Ruddock must have been the only two lawyers in this country who maintained that those American military tribunals would deliver a fair trial. They should have been severely embarrassed by the US Supreme Court's finding to the contrary, but there is no sign of that. They wash their Pilate hands, content to le…

Hate groups infiltrate US military

This troubling and startling revelation as reported in the NY Times:

"A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines."

It is to be noted that the Southern Poverty Law Centre is a highly regarded and respected organisation - so its findings are not the "work" of some non-descript group. One has to wonder what action will be taken to eradicate the problem. And no less importantly, can the same situation be said to apply in the Australian military and those of other countries?

Read the complet…

Howard: "A bloodless little coot"

A lot has already been written about last week's decision by the US Supreme Court dealing with military commissions and associated topics of critical importance - all having a bearing on the fate of David Hicks as he languishes at Guantanamo Bay now for nigh on 5 years.

Richard Ackland, writing his weekly op-ed piece in the SMH today, says this:

"The court's findings run much deeper than Bush and Howard might care to admit. It is the most important decision affecting presidential power since US v Nixon (hand over the tapes).

Back here the news was greeted by Howard with a bit of shuffling of the feet and something about receiving the wrong legal advice. Further, he wasn't much interested in this "bloke" Hicks coming back to Australia without facing "some trial in America" because we can't try him here. "Hicks should be brought to trial as soon as possible," he said.

How many years has that refrain been tapped out by this bloodless little …

Turning a blind eye

What has been astounding during the current upheaval in the Middle East is that seemingly few countries, if any, have been prepared to speak out about Israel's actions. The Swiss were reported, yesterday, as alleging that Israel is breaching the Geneva Convention by imposing collective punishment on the Palestinians. There can be little doubt about it!

For a US perspective, AlterNet reports:

"The daily horrors emerging from Iraq have caused a majority of people in the United States to oppose Bush's war there. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis Israel has created in the occupied territories hovers below the radar for most Americans.

Israel has used the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of a third by Palestinians as an excuse to invade Gaza with overwhelming military force and demolish its infrastructure. What Israel and its benefactor -- the United States -- really want is to destroy the democratically elected Hamas government."

One can't help but …

A law professor to be ignored - yet again!

I have in the past deplored the writings of Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard. Some one say Dershowitz is something of a media tart. Whatever, his repetition of his previous call thaat torture is ok when dealing with terrorists is obscene - and a questionable premise especially coming from a lawyer.

As The Indpendent reports Dershwowitz saying:

"The problem is that the current laws regulating the detention of combatants are near useless when it comes to this motley array of detainees. These detainees simply do not fit into the old, anachronistic categories. Most are not classic prisoners of war. They were not part of a uniformed army under the command of a nation. But neither do they fit in to the classic definition of "unlawful combatants". They are not spies or saboteurs, as those terms have been understood in the context of conventional warfare. Nor are many of them simple "criminals", subject to ordinary trials under the domestic law of cr…

That US Supreme Court decision in a nutshell

So, what was it about that US Supreme Court decision the other day - and its alleged importance?

This part of a NY Times editorial encapsulates it fully:

"Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni being held in Guantánamo, has been charged with conspiring to help Al Qaeda. The Bush administration has contended that he and the other prisoners there are not covered either by congressional laws governing military trials or by the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners of war. Instead, Hamdan was put on trial before a military tribunal where defendants can be excluded from the proceedings and convicted based on evidence kept secret from them and their lawyers. Prosecutors can also rely on hearsay, coerced testimony and unsworn statements.

The Supreme Court held that these rules violate the standards Congress set in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which requires tribunals to offer the same protections, whenever practicable, as other military trials. It also ruled that the tribunals fall…

The Sun King's Oz "voice" [aka Andrew Bolt]

Stephen Mayne, writing in Crikey [always worth a subscription] hits the nail on the head with this item:

"Spotting attempts by News Ltd hacks to impress Rupert Murdoch when he visits Australia is a fun sport. But with the Sun King's trip winding up this weekend, we've already got a clear winner. Step forward, Andrew Bolt, who produced this on Tuesday:

"Fox News, owned by the company that owns this paper, has a tone too raucous for the ABC. But it has a format for debate the ABC should copy, not condemn. .. Channel Nine under Eddie McGuire is examining the Fox News model because it makes for more interesting television – and cheaper. The ABC should, too, because it is more fair – and informative."

The closest the ABC will ever get to Fox News was broadcasting Robert Greenwald's powerful Outfoxed documentary, which has sold more than 250,000 DVDs worldwide and was banned in Murdoch outlets across Australia, as Media Watch revealed at the time.

One of the Fox News …

Israeli Government losing all reason?

No doubt there will be some who will say the following is the ravings of some anti-semite or self-hating Jew or the like - but they are the opening words of no less than an editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

"Bombing bridges that can be circumvented both by car and on foot; seizing an airport that has been in ruins for years; destroying a power station, plunging large parts of the Gaza Strip into darkness; distributing flyers suggesting that people be concerned about their fate; a menacing flight over Bashar Assad's palace; and arresting elected Hamas officials: The government wishes to convince us that all these actions are intended only to release the soldier Gilad Shalit.

But the greater the government's creativity in inventing tactics, the more it seems to reflect a loss of direction rather than an overall conception based on reason and common sense. On the face of it, Israel wishes to exert increasing pressure both on Hamas' political leadership and on th…

Putting the world into perspective

Trust Mike Carlton in his weekly op-ed piece in the SMH to put it succinctly:

"Visiting Washington to hobnob with Deadeye Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, our mini-Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, promised to do everything possible to prevent the North Koreans firing their new long-range missile into the Pacific.

This will have pleased his hosts no end, although exactly how Nelson hopes to stop the launch was not spelled out. Unless he intends to throw himself gallantly on top of the thing before it goes off, Australia's options would seem limited."

Carlton's column this week is particularly perceptive as it analyses a world seemingly confronted by conflicts and issues all over the place. And then there is how despite all the might of the US having been put on display the world actually views America and its actions. Read the full column here.

Flashpackers?

The IHT reports a Hostelworld.com survey as follows:

21% of respondents travel with a laptop, 54% with an MP3 player, 83% with a mobile [cellphone] and 86% with a digital camera.

And flashpacker? Well, the word was coined by the NZ tourist people to "cover" backpackers loaded up with high-tech gear. In fact, in NZ hotels have been upgraded the past 3 years to accomodate these techno-glitterati!