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Showing posts from August, 2006

Cluster bombs: Israel's shameful actions

On the ABC's AM program this morning:

"KIM LANDERS:After a month of war, the people of South Lebanon are facing a new danger - unexploded cluster bombs.

The United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre has just finished checking 85 per cent of the areas of southern Lebanon bombed by the Israelis, and the UN's humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, says the findings are "shocking".

JAN EGELAND: They identified 359 separate cluster bomb strike locations that are contaminated with as many as 100,000 unexploded bomblets"

And:

JAN EGELAND: What's shocking and I would say to me completely immoral is that 90 per cent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution when we really knew there would be an end of this.

Read the full transcript of the item on AM here. The BBC reports the same news item here. MSNBC reports it, here, this way.

Jack Thomas - and your and my rights

News just in as reported by the SMH [full article here]:

"A magistrate has blasted the federal government for including terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's name in a list of people that cannot be contacted by terror suspect Jack Thomas.

In the federal magistrates court in Canberra, magistrate Graham Mowbray accused the government of turning the proceedings into a farce by including Bin Laden's name on an extensive list of people who Mr Thomas is not permitted to contact."

This whole Thomas affair is lurching along all over the place. Here you have the Magistrate who made the original restraining Order critical of the Government whilst over at The Australian trial of Thomas, and his wife, by media rolls on. The Australian stands condemned!

It all goes to show and prove how what is at issue here is so important to reflect on. Brian Walters SC, President of Liberty Victoria, in an op-ed piece in The Age addresses the issues:

"Jack Thomas was at the beach w…

Downer v Man of Integrity

Who would you put your money on? The Foreign Minister - who seems to lurch more and more to be Donald Rumsfeld Mark 2 - or the former diplomat, Dr. John Gee, whose integrity seems unimpeachable?

It would appear that Downer has been caught-out in relation to what he and the Government knew about the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - if the newspaper article by stalwart and first-class journalist Marian Wilkinson, reporting in the Fairfax press today, is correct. See her piece here.

In a separate piece, Wilkinson profiles Dr. John Gee this way:

"The case of Dr John Gee highlights the chronic reluctance of the Howard Government to receive frank and fearless advice and the dwindling number of public servants willing to provide it.

Dr Gee was one of Australia's best and brightest in the Department of Foreign Affairs. He was a world-renowned expert on chemical weapons who had worked for the United Nations and who was called on to find the truth about Iraq's wea…

Will John & Jeanette go to the movies?

From The Huffington Post:

"In the United States, the world's biggest contributor of global warming pollution, our president has publicly refused to see the documentary film Americans are flocking to see, An Inconvenient Truth.

Compare that to New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who recently made a point to view An Inconvenient Truth during the Wellington Film Festival.

Not only was she moved by it, but she immediately arranged a screening for the entire New Zealand Parliament and government officials, scheduled for next week.

Other world leaders and dignitaries have made time to see the film, including Prince Charles, who has scheduled a special screening for UK business leaders next month. The Prince of Wales believes "climate change is the greatest challenge facing us all." Talk about getting it.

We all need to urge our elected officials -- our mayors, our governors, our senators, and our president -- to go see this movie. Our government should be leading th…

Rumsfeld alleges appeasement

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday compared critics of the Bush administration to those who sought to appease the Nazis before World War II, warning that the nation is confronting "a new type of fascism."

Speaking at the American Legion convention here, Rumsfeld delivered his most explicit and extended attacks yet on administration opponents — leading Democrats to accuse him of "campaigning on fear."

By likening today's U.S. foreign policy to that during World War II and the Cold War, Rumsfeld sought to portray skeptics of the Bush administration as being on the wrong side of history. He ridiculed American officials who had hoped to negotiate with Adolf Hitler.

"Once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism," Rumsfeld said. "But some seem not to have learned history's lessons."

Coming from an inarticulate and person who seems clueless on the realities of the world…

Israel: Dare to embrace the Middle East

"Israel's recent hopes for peace, fueled by the disengagement from Gaza and elections won on plans to cede the West Bank, have given way to another war and to grim talk of eternal fighting. Israelis now speak of the Arabs' hate as a chronic disease that Israel is destined to live - or die - with. To revive its hopes, Israel must dare to consider a change of paradigm: transform itself into a Middle Eastern country.

While Israel has flourished economically and technologically by modeling itself on the Western European culture of its early Ashkenazi pioneers, the cultural alienation from its neighbors has intensified Israel's pariah status in the region. Even the peace with Egypt and Jordan remains cold, while hate toward Israel in the Arab street heats up to new records."

This isn't written by some Arab representative. The writer is Avi Azrieli - a veteran Israel Defense Force officer and the author of "One Step Ahead: A Mother of Seven Escaping Hitler…

IR Laws: 19th or 21st century?

Professor Joe Isaac is a former deputy president of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It follows that he knows a thing or three about IR laws.

The Age has printed an edited extract of the 21st Foenander Lecture, delivered by Professor Isaac at Melbourne University last Monday night:

"The Prime Minister says the Australian economy has performed strongly in recent years. Australians have enjoyed higher living standards from a combination of prudent economic management, strong jobs growth, higher real wages, low inflation and interest rates, lower taxes, increased family benefits and improved government services.

If so, why do we need WorkChoices?

John Howard's answer is that we "must press ahead with economic reform if we are to prosper in the 21st century … We do not believe the lemon has been squeezed dry in industrial relations reform."

It is relevant to note that the concept underlying this legislation is substantially in line with Howard's J…

Detention Orders: Out of Court!

Much has been written in the last days about the detention Order imposed on Jack Thomas. The Federal A-G has, yet again, disgraced himself and his office, by making all sorts of pronouncements when the Jack Thomas matter is presently before the Courts - first, the detention Order itself and the adjourned hearing in the Victorian Court of Appeal.

Meanwhile, The Australian nails its flag to the the masthead by shamelessly villifying Thomas in various ways. Brian Walters SC, President of Liberty Victoria, writing in Crikey, attacks the Order and the implications for all Australians.

Professor George Williams and Edwina MacDonald are based at the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law, University of NSW. They have written a sober op-ed piece in this today's SMH:

"Control orders have no precedent in Australia. They give the Government a second chance to deprive someone of their liberty even after they have been acquitted in a fair trial or had any convictions quashed on appe…

Cyclone Katrina: What George Bush sees

George Bush visited New Orleans yesterday and said he saw things coming together most postively. Oh yeah?

The NY Times reports the realities this way:

"On the eve of the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush returned to the devastated Gulf Coast today promising to continue federal assistance, and eagerly pointing out signs of progress.

Speaking in a working-class neighborhood in Biloxi, Miss., President Bush attempted to recast the legacy of the year before.

“It’s amazing, isn’t?” he told a gathering under a sweltering sun. “It’s amazing what the world looked like then and what it looks like now.”

Mr. Bush, his presidency still marred one year later by the slow government response to the storm, spent the afternoon demonstrating his empathy and optimism in meetings with residents and officials along the storm-wracked coast. The trip marked an attempt by Mr. Bush to recast the legacy of the year before, when he lingered on the other side of the country before cutting sho…

The Middle East: Facing the facts

"In his latest speech, which infuriated so many people, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uttered a sentence that deserves attention: "Every new Arab generation hates Israel more than the previous one."

Of all that has been said about the Second Lebanon War, these are perhaps the most important words.

The main product of this war is hatred. The pictures of death and destruction in Lebanon entered every Arab home, indeed every Muslim home, from Indonesia to Morocco, from Yemen to the Muslim ghettos in London and Berlin. Not for an hour, not for a day, but for 33 successive days - day after day, hour after hour. The mangled bodies of babies, the women weeping over the ruins of their homes, Israeli children writing "greetings" on shells about to be fired at villages, Ehud Olmert blabbering about "the most moral army in the world" while the screen showed a heap of bodies.

Israelis ignored these sights, indeed they were scarcely shown on our TV. Of course, w…

Steyn: How wrong can you get it?

Nothing more need be added to this piece from the blog "Unclaimed Territory - by GlenGreenwald" save to wonder, aloud, why anyone gives this fellow Mark Steyn any time of day let alone thinks that he has anything, let alone worthwhile, to say or read:

"While looking for something else, I came across this column written by Steyn on May 4, 2003, in which he laughs about the fact that the U.S. won the war in Iraq so quickly and easily and mocks those who were concerned that it would be a difficult challenge. The column was entitled "The war? That was all over two weeks ago," and here is part of what it said, conveying the prevailing "wisdom" among Bush supporters at the time. Just savor every paragraph of intense, complete wrongness:

"This war is over. The only question now is whether a new provisional government is installed before the BBC and The New York Times have finished running their exhaustive series on What Went Wrong with the Pentagon's…

Another dimension to books

"Kara Shallenberg and her 10-year-old son, Henry, exhausted the audiobook collection at their library in Oceanside, California, five years ago.

With Henry's appetite for listening still strong, Shallenberg began to record herself reading his favorite books. Eventually she upgraded from a using a tape deck to burning compact disks on her laptop computer.

Last autumn, she took her hobby to a wider audience. Her recordings of "The Secret Garden," "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" and other works are now available, free, to anyone with an Internet connection and basic audio software. She is part of a core group of volunteers who give their voices and spare time to LibriVox, a project that produces audiobooks of works in the public domain."

With talk of E books and Google putting books on the net, there is also a world out there of audiobooks. Read the full article, above, in the IHT,here.

How to look like a failure

Sidney Blumenthal is a former senior adviser to President Clinton. His new book, How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime, is due for publication next month.

Writing in The Guardian under the heading "How to look like a failure" Blumenthal starts his piece thus:

"Each Bush presidency is unhappy in its own way. George W has contrived to do the opposite of his father, as if to provide evidence for a classic case of reaction formation. Rather than halt the army before Baghdad, he occupied the whole country. Rather than pursue a Middle East peace process that dragged along a recalcitrant Israeli government, he cast the process aside."

Blumenthal makes out a rather strong case to show how this latest Bush President has been a failure on so many fronts. Read the full op-ed piece here.

Israel's true friend

Yesterday saw a packed sell-out session at the Melbourne Writer's Festival on the new, now best-selling book by Antony Loewenstein, My Israel Question.

With Chairperson / convenor Louise Adler [CEO of MUP] speakers were the author, Peter Rogers [one time Oz ambasssador to Israel] Justice Alan Goldberg, human-rights activist and barrister Julian Burnside QC and Robert Richter QC.

The release of the book has led to the author being villified by certain sections of the Jewish community and accused of being anti-semitic, a self-hating Jew and anti-Israel - but at the same time studiously avoiding the critical issues raised in the book.

The Age, today, in reporting on yesterday's session reports:

"Prominent Melbourne barrister Robert Richter, QC, has called on the Jewish community to speak out when Israeli Government policies adversely affect the Jewish diaspora.

Mr Richter, speaking at a session of the Age Melbourne Writers' Festival yesterday, said author and commentato…

Our Barra hits big time in the USA

"With Chilean sea bass nearly fished out and chefs across the country looking for the next hot catch, the answer may have arrived from Australia. Barramundi, another kind of sea bass with white flakey meat, recently graced White House tables at a dinner for Australian Prime Minister John Howard. This summer the fish also turned up on menus at such fancy Manhattan venues as the Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center and Alain Ducasse"

Yes, our very own "Barra" is making it big in America according to this article in BusinessWeekOnline. Read all about it here - but also reflect on ever-depleted or fished-out fish stocks around the world.

Blackberry = litigation?

"Keeping employees on electronic leashes such as laptops, BlackBerries and other devices that keep them constantly connected to the office could soon lead to lawsuits by those who grow addicted to the technology, a US academic warns.

In a follow-up to an earlier paper on employees' tech addictions, Gayle Porter, associate professor of management at the Rutgers University School of Business in Camden, New Jersey, has written a paper that states workers whose personal lives suffer as a result of tech addictions could turn their sights on their employers.

"These people that can't keep it within any reasonable parameters and have these problems in their lives, at some point may say: 'My life is not all that great. How did this happen? Who can I blame for this?'," Porter, who co-authored the study with two other academics, said in an interview on Thursday. "And they're going to say, 'The company'."

The Blackberry, as with the mobile and la…

Postscripts to the Israel-Hezbollah war

Leaving to one side each combatant in the Israel-Hezbollah war - and their respective supporters - claiming "victory" in the war, many facts and questions are now, post-war, emerging or under investigation.

For instance the NY Times [and Reuter] reports:

"The United States is investigating whether Israel violated U.S. rules in its use of U.S.-made rockets armed with cluster bombs in Lebanon, the State Department said on Friday.

``We have heard the allegations they were used and we are taking a look at that,'' said State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos.

He was responding to questions about an article in Friday's New York Times which said the State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls opened the probe this week after reports that three types of American cluster bombs were discovered in southern Lebanon and were responsible for civilian deaths."

Read the full article here.

Then, consistent with what Israel has repeatedly claimed to be the case…

The very, very unfunny Mark Steyn

"Mark Steyn has been making his mark, or leaving his stain, on the conservative speaker's circuit. First in the US and now in Australia. Here, as there, adoring crowds of neo-cons and camp followers flock to laugh at the Canadian columnist's jokes and to applaud his insights. Trouble is it's near impossible to tell one from the other. The insights are comical and the jokes unfunny.
But put them together and you can see how the radical Right thinks, if you can call it thought.

Not that I've been able to attend one of Steyn's soirees. Though the blogger and Bush-lover was brought to Australia with some taxpayers' funds, the Steyn Gang issuing the invites clearly suffer from political bias. Thus RSVPs are received from the VIPs and RIPs of the Right - the likes of John Howard, Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Nick Minchin, Santo Santoro, Janet Albrechtsen, Tim Blair, Keith Windschuttle and the editor of this page - while my invitation went missing in the mail.…

Ignorance writ large

"The shrill reaction from some sections of the media to the release from prison of accused terrorist Jack Thomas has been almost as consuming as the outcome of the case. Of note was the editorial in Monday's The Australian: Thomas had betrayed Australia by travelling to Afghanistan to serve the cause of terrorism. And he's betrayed Australia again by getting off.

Its legal affairs reporter said earlier the law must be wrong because the families of those who died in Bali would not understand it.

Gerard Henderson in this paper said the Victorian Court of Appeal's decision was bad for democracy.

Apart from the tiny problem that Thomas didn't blow anyone up, there is so much speciousness inherent in the notion that the quashing of his conviction is all down to a mad technicality. In fact, it is down to a cock-up by the outfit charged to protect us from all the hobgoblins, the Australian Federal Police."

So writes Richard Ackland in the SMH - the complete op-ed piece …

How the USA goaded Israel

What this article in AlterNet reveals will probably not surprise many....

"There is increasing evidence that Israel instigated a disastrous war on Lebanon largely at the behest of the United States. The Bush administration was set on crippling Hezbollah, the radical Shiite political movement that maintains a sizable block of seats in the Lebanese parliament. Taking advantage of the country's democratic opening after the forced departure of Syrian troops last year, Hezbollah defied U.S. efforts to democratize the region on American terms. The populist party's unwillingness to disarm its militia as required by UN resolution--and the inability of the pro-Western Lebanese government to force them to do so--led the Bush administration to push Israel to take military action".

And:

"Israel was a willing partner. Although numerous Israeli press reports indicate that some Israeli officials, including top military officials, are furious at Bush for pushing Olmert into war, t…

Newspapers: Going the way of the Dodo?

“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself,” mused Arthur Miller in 1961. A decade later, two reporters from the Washington Post wrote a series of articles that brought down President Nixon and the status of print journalism soared. At their best, newspapers hold governments and companies to account. They usually set the news agenda for the rest of the media. But in the rich world newspapers are now an endangered species. The business of selling words to readers and selling readers to advertisers, which has sustained their role in society, is falling apart (see article).

Of all the “old” media, newspapers have the most to lose from the internet. Circulation has been falling in America, western Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand for decades (elsewhere, sales are rising). But in the past few years the web has hastened the decline. In his book “The Vanishing Newspaper”, Philip Meyer calculates that the first quarter of 2043 will be the moment when newsprint …

Yelp! Critics on the march....

"Sorry, the hot dog vendor said, no more veggie dogs. Then, as a disappointed Monica Lee ordered fries instead, his gaze drifted south and settled on her chest.

Awkward pause.

"I'm scared of you guys," he said finally, pointing to Lee's olive-green lapel pin for Yelp.com, a website on which Bay Area hipsters post reviews of hot dog stands, five-star restaurants, corner bars and neighborhood hardware stores.

A few good words on Yelp can make cash registers ring. Enough dings — like, say, no veggie dogs or a rude waitress — can put a dent in business. Although the Internet is blamed for debasing public discourse with anonymous and poorly punctuated tirades, the amateur reviews posted on Yelp may be helping restore gentility and customer service to businesses all over town".

Read this rather fascinating article from the LA Times, here, on people-power. Time for Oz to have its own Yelp?

Media - old and new

E. J. Dionne is a Washington Post writer and professor of foundations of democracy and culture at Georgetown University. He delivered the annual A. N. Smith Lecture at the University of Melbourne a couple of nights ago.

Dionne, writing an op-ed piece, in yesterday's The Age, says:

"Individual journalists and news organisations can no longer think of themselves as fully the masters of their own house, since no one can control the definition of news."

And:

"The influence of mainstream journalism is also being challenged by other sources of information and opinion, including talk radio and the blogosphere.

It is not surprising that public disaffection with politics has evolved into dissatisfaction with the media. When the public's problem is with the content of the political debate, it is natural that the main medium through which that debate is carried out should be challenged.

The problems of the media are systemic. They are not merely the result of technological ch…

Oz Diplomat: Lessons from Lebanon

Ross Burns recently retired after 37 years in the Australian Foreign Service. As well as having headed the Middle East, Africa and South Asia Branch, he is a former Ambassador to Lebanon and Syria in the 1980s, South Africa & Greece in the 1990s and to Israel until 2003. He has also written and lectured on the history and archaeology of the area, especially Syria.

It follows, then, that Ross Burns is more than qualified to speak on the latest conflict in Lebanon - which has raised many questions about the consequences of the long-running Middle East confrontation.

In a lecture at the University of Western Australia on Tuesday last, Ross Burns examined the likely implications for the region in the post-Iraq era and asked “How long can we afford to ignore the central issues of the Middle East equation?” Read the transcript of the lecture here.

"Jihad Jack": The facts!

The decision by the Court of Appeal in Victoria to overturn the conviction of so-called "Jihad Jack" has caused some in the media to hyper-ventilate - notably The Australian and Gerard Henderson in the SMH. Almost to a tee statements and assertions made by anyone about the court decision have been borne out of ignorance of the law.

Alastair Nicholson, former Victorian SC Justice and Chief Justice of the Federal Family Court puts the whole matter in a proper and sober context in this piece on Crikey [not avalaibale on line except by subscription]:

"One of the strange by-products of the decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal allowing the appeal of Jack Thomas is not the decision itself -- which involved a straightforward application of well known legal principles -- but the hysterical reaction to it from some sections of the media, particularly The Australian and its stable of right wing columnists.

All seem to have forgotten that despite the police evidence now found…

Blogger extraordinaire

"Government leaders are seldom fixtures in the freewheeling blogosphere. But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clearly hopes to change all that. The Iranian president last week launched a blog (www.ahmadinejad.ir) that comes with folksy pictures of himself in an open-necked shirt and a casually studied writing pose complete with old-fashioned pen rather than modern keyboard at hand. And not surprisingly, it’s generated the kind of buzz that most bloggers can only dream about."

Heh? Yes, true, if this report in Newsweek is to be believed. And it's very popular to boot! Read the full article here as to why the blog and who it is designed to have as its readership.

Amnesty International: J'accuse Israel

Perhaps not surprisingly given his appalling record of distortion and plain cock-eyed views of the law and morality, Alan Dershowitz has attacked Human Rights Watch for its condemnation of Israel's actions in Lebanon in the recent War.

Now, today, Amnesty International accuses Israel of war crimes - as reported in the NYTimes:

"Amnesty International accused Israel on Wednesday of war crimes in its monthlong battle with Hezbollah, saying its bombing campaign amounted to indiscriminate attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure and population.

“Many of the violations examined in this report are war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility,” Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said in a report on the Israeli campaign. “They include directly attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.”

Even if Amnesty International is half-right, it is a sad commentary on Israel's "behaviour" and ac…

A new paradigm in the Middle East?

"President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be quite right about a new Middle East being born. In fact, their policies in support of the actions of their closest regional ally, Israel, have helped midwife the newborn. But it will not be exactly the baby they have longed for. For one thing, it will be neither secular nor friendly to the United States. For another, it is going to be a rough birth."

So writes Saad Eddin Ibrahim - an Egyptian democracy activist, professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, and chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies - in a piece in the Washington Post.

The writer's analysis of how things are shaping up in the Middle East should be read to get a handle on what appears to be an almost seismic shift in a variety of "things" in a region confronting a myriad of issues. Read the full Washington Posthere.

Victory? How to define and assess it

Andrew J. Bacevics, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, writing in the LA Times:

"In the wake of the war in southern Lebanon, claims of victory are legion. Hardly had the shooting stopped than Sheik Hassan Nasrallah was asserting that Hezbollah had triumphed. Others see Syria or Iran or even Shiite Islam as the big winner. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, seconded by President Bush, doggedly insists that Israel came out on top.

What are we to make of these competing claims? What is victory anyway?

Ardently pursued, victory in the modern era has been remarkably elusive. Genuine victory implies something more than military success; it must have a political dimension. Even then, results often prove other than expected. Understanding why requires that we appreciate the intimate relationship between war and politics."

In the light of the recent Israel-Hezbollah war and each side, and other countries, touting who won and who lost - does…

Climate change: Where we're heading....

Climate change! The topic is seemingly everywhere. Ross Gittins, writing in this morning's SMH starts his article on the subject this way:

"Climate change is getting to be like that old joke about the weather: everyone talks about it, but nobody does anything. Except that last week the state governments did propose to do something - which, they assured us, would neither cost us much nor do much to slow the economy's growth.

There wouldn't be many people left who still doubt the reality of global warming. According to a report by the CSIRO, Australian agriculture is likely to be affected by reduced rainfall, a greater likelihood of extreme weather events (droughts, floods, cyclones and storms), reduction in the quality of pasture and an increase in the populations of pests such as fruit flies, apple moths and ticks.

The CSIRO also predicts bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, possibly to the point of destruction, reduction of snow cover in the Australian Alps and los…

Another failed State looming

As the Australian Government sends Australian troops over to Afghanistan, PM Howard & Co would have done well to consider what is actually happening in that country.

If this article in the NY Times is even half-right, things are going from bad to worse in Afghanistan:

"After months of widespread frustration with corruption, the economy and a lack of justice and security, doubts about President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and by extension the American-led effort to rebuild that nation, have led to a crisis of confidence.

Interviews with ordinary Afghans and with foreign diplomats and Afghan officials make it clear that the expanding Taliban insurgency in the south represents the most serious challenge to his presidency to date.

The insurgency, along with the other issues, has brought an eruption of doubts about Mr. Karzai, who is widely viewed as having failed to attend to a range of problems. That has left more and more Afghans asking what the government is doing.

Corruption is s…

Shameful censorship

It is nothing new for countries - witness Israel and the Palestinians - to court and to seek to influence and shape public opinion.

All year round there are film festivals to be found everywhere the world. Like any other country, Israeli film-makers have been contributors to such festivals. But, it seems that directors of some festivals have bowed to pressure from pro-Palestinian groups or interests.

"In Europe, film festivals have become battlegrounds, with curators blatantly discriminating against artists and subjecting their work to Stalinist-style scrutiny. In Europe, a film such as The Substitute might battle to reach the screen simply because of its country of origin. And it's not only Israelis who ought to be worried.

In recent weeks, film festivals in Edinburgh, Dublin and Locarno (Switzerland) moved to cancel visits from Israeli directors. Meanwhile, Greece announced its withdrawal from the coming autumn film festival in Haifa, just as the Israeli city was suffe…

Islamism Trumps Arabism

"She grew up in Cairo with the privileges that go to the daughter of a military officer, attended a university and landed a job in marketing. He grew up in a poor village of dusty unpaved roads, where young men work long hours in a brick factory while dreaming of getting a government job that would pay $90 a month.

But Jihan Mahmoud, 24, from the middle-class neighborhood of Heliopolis, and Madah Ali Muhammad, 23, from a village in the Nile Delta, have come to the exact same conclusion about what they and their country need: a strong Islamic political movement.

“I have more faith in Islam than in my state; I have more faith in Allah than in Hosni Mubarak,” Ms. Mahmoud said, referring to the president of Egypt. “That is why I am proud to be a Muslim.”

The war in Lebanon, and the widespread conviction among Arabs that Hezbollah won that war by bloodying Israel, has fostered and validated those kinds of feelings across Egypt and the region. In interviews on streets and in newspaper com…

George Bush as he "speaks!"

There is little that need be said about the ability of George Bush to articulate anything - let alone something coherent.

This is part of a press conference where he was questioned about Iraq:

You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived and, you know, kind of -- the "stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were --

Q: What did Iraq have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

Q: The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September the 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken".

Oh dear! Read the entire press conference here - perhaps through c…

Oily Comments

From that wonderful blog, The Road to Surfdom, this piece under the headline "Oily Comments":

"Perhaps the secret of John Howard’s recent political success is that there are actually two of him. There’s Johnny 1, the one who says one thing because it seems like a good idea at the time, and then, when that statement becomes inconvenient, up pops Johnny 2 to recalibrate the story.

So back on August 2nd we had Johnny 1 saying this about the relationship between oil prices and instability in the Middle East (emphasis added):

Well petrol prices is the biggest problem Australians have with the economy at the moment. It worries me more than anything else, it’s not something that any government in Australia can control because everybody’s battling with the problem, everybody around the world….Everybody’s got the problem, America’s got it, Europe’s got it, Asia’s got it, the Middle East has got it, and it’s being compounded by the instability in the Middle East. Bear in mind that I…

There goes the vacation....

This startling fact from an article in The Guardian:

"A quarter of people employed in the private sector in the US get no paid vacation at all, according to government figures. Unlike almost all other industrialised nations, including Britain, American employers do not have to give paid holidays."

And this from the same article:

"Left to themselves, Americans fail to take an average of four days of their vacation entitlement - an annual national total of 574m unclaimed days."

Yikes! Is this the coming thing in Australia? Whatever, read the full article and ponder how we, in Australia, are still fortunate with the vacations we do have. Or, are we still "chained" to the office via the Blackberry, mobile and laptop even if, supposedly, on vacation?

Stem cell research: Health Min. shows his true colors

"Who, more than anyone else, should Australians be able to trust to look after their health? Err ... the Minister for Health? So how can the person entrusted with the nation's health justify the use of quack theories, emotive hyperbole and pseudo science (he has no medical qualifications) to support a campaign against the therapeutic cloning of stem cells that comes with the imprimatur of his office?"

So editorialises Crikey yesterday. They have a point. To hear Tony Abbott, Federal Health Minister, on ABC's Sunday morning TV program Insiders was rather breathtaking. Certainly nothing subtle about where Abbott stands. Has Abbott been talking with Archbishop Pell yet again? Whatever, read the full Crikey piece here.

Some uncomfortable questions for Israel

"What would we be saying if Hizbullah kidnapped the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and launched a daring raid inside Israel to disrupt a U.S. effort to resupply the Israeli Defense Force? We would be up in arms over their provocation and would be convening the UN Security Council to recommend new sanctions. Hell, we'd probably have the National Security Council in session and be ready to dispatch U.S. military forces to help Israel."

It's an interesting question as posed in this piece on AlterNet. In an article titled "Uncomfortable Truths about Israel" the author raises some pertinent questions arising out of Israel's actions both pre and post the recent war with Hezbollah. Read the piece here.

A voice of and for reason......

Let's hope that this heralds a sensible and sane approach to resolving a myriad of issues confronting Israel as well as each of its neighbours:

"Internal Security Minister, former head of Shin Bet says, 'Any political process is preferable to military-fighting process, be it with Syria or with Lebanon'; Adds: Israel willing to withdraw from Golan Heights in exchange for full peace, water arrangements with Syria
Ynet

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said Monday that "In exchange for peace with Syria, Israel can leave the Golan Heights."

In an interview with Israel Army Radio, Dichter brought up: “We have paid similar territorial prices for peace with Jordan and Egypt." He added that the water question and the Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) is "an issue that I wouldn't give up on easily."

Read the full report from ynet.newshere.

A new geo-political dimension?

It might not seem something which immediately comes to mind, but a close relationship between two oil-producing countries, Venezuela and Iran - in two different spheres in the world - should be of interest to those watching geo-political developments.

As the NY Times reports today:

"Venezuela has long cultivated ties with Middle Eastern governments, finding common ground in trying to keep oil prices high, but its recent engagement of Iran has become a defining element in its effort to build an alliance to curb American influence in developing countries.

In a visit late last month to Tehran by President Hugo Chávez and his oil minister, Rafael Ramírez, the two countries agreed to produce jointly nearly a dozen products, including crude oil and medicines. In a further sign that their ties have taken on a new dimension, the two countries are speaking in a more unified voice in their criticism of Israel and the United States."

Read the full article here.

Terror-threat doesn't wash anymore

It might still gain some traction for John Howard & Co. in Australia, at least for the moment, but if Frank Rich writing in the NY Times [reproduced in the IHT] is right, the terror-threat doesn't wash anymore with the American public:

"The results are in for the White House's latest effort to exploit terrorism for political gain: The era of Americans' fearing fear itself is over.

In each poll released since the foiling of the trans-Atlantic terror plot - Gallup, Newsweek, CBS, Zogby, Pew - President George W. Bush's approval rating remains stuck in the 30s, just as it has been with little letup in the year since Hurricane Katrina stripped the last remaining fig leaf of credibility from his presidency.

While the new Middle East promised by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remains a delusion, the death rattle of the domestic political order Americans have lived with since the Sept. 11 attacks can be found everywhere: in Americans' unhysterical reaction to t…

Ouch!

Can you imagine John Howard even remotely coming to to the same conclusion about George Bush? - let alone making it known?

"The alliance between George Bush and Tony Blair is in danger after it was revealed that the Prime Minister believes the President has 'let him down badly' over the Middle East crisis.

A senior Downing Street source said that, privately, Mr Blair broadly agrees with John Prescott, who said Mr Bush's record on the issue was 'crap'.

The source said: "We all feel badly let down by Bush. We thought we had persuaded him to take the Israel-Palestine situation seriously, but we were wrong. How can anyone have faith in a man of such low intellect?"

Ouch! George Bush "of low intellect?" Read the full Daily Mail article here.

The Mid-East War - as viewed from either side of the Atlantic

"The ugly little mid-summer war that has just ended in Lebanon spilled over into the parliaments, streets, television studios and dinner parties of Europe. By and large, Israel got the worst of it.

Why has Europe become so reflexively anti-Israel, just when America has become so reflexively pro-Israel? Europe has no equivalent of America's powerful AIPAC Israeli lobby, and it also has a disgruntled (and growing) Muslim population. But neither is enough to explain all the difference in attitude. Indeed, many Muslims in Europe now feel beleaguered and can only dream of wielding AIPAC's clout.

Some Americans blame rising anti-Semitism in Europe, which they also attribute in part to its growing Muslim population. But there is a difference between being anti-Semitic and being anti-Israel. And in any case, it is not obvious that anti-Semitism is a big factor. In central Europe, for example, there seems to be both greater anti-Semitism and more support for Israel. And some polls s…

Not before time

"I have long accepted my reliance on a wheelchair to move about, as I have been using one ever since my spinal cord was fractured in a car accident when I was four years old. Like so many other individuals with disabilities, I accept who I am. But what I can never accept are the artificial limitations imposed upon me through physical barriers such as stairs, ignorance and sometimes downright discrimination.

This week and next, the United Nations is hosting negotiations, which include disability organizations, on a new human rights convention to protect and advance the rights of people with disabilities. Progress has been steady and there is a good chance that by the end of the next session there could be agreement on the convention's text. If adopted and ratified, the convention - the first human rights treaty of the 21st century - will ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same rights as everybody else. In some instances they will obtain effective human rights for th…

Making music - not war!

"It was an immensely appealing experiment, both in its idealism and in its simplicity: Let young Israeli and Arab musicians play together in an orchestra to show that communication and cooperation were possible between peoples who had long fought each other.

The two men behind the idea had themselves made something of the same journey. The Argentine-born Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said met in 1993 and, though they were not always in agreement, they forged a deep friendship."

Daniel Barenboim has endured all sorts of brick-bats for his initiative. He has nevertheless remained defiant in the face of considerable obstacles. And there has been success on a number of levels. Read the complete piece in the NY Timeshere.

Tipping the scales

The Guardian reveals - as republished in The Age - this:

"Overweight people now outnumber the hungry across the world. Hurrah! Let's have a street party. Famine, one of the gravest threats to human life throughout history, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, is on the wane! Imagine the celebrations if we heard that tranquil boredom was outdoing war, or vigorous immune systems were outdoing pestilence. So why do I get the feeling I'm the only one breaking out the paper hats and balloons?

The International Association of Agricultural Economists, which has revealed that 1 billion of the world's 6.5 billion population are too heavy and 800 million are malnourished, doesn't seem to be in a party mood. "Obesity and excess weight," says Professor Benjamin Senauer, "bring with them significant risks of chronic disease and premature death." But not as significant, I would guess, as starvation."

Whether sobering, or startled by the information,…

The Pebble in the Shoe

Revelations on Indonesia and East Timor come in a new book - as discussed in this NY Times article:

"For more than two decades, the brutal military occupation of East Timor, a distant, impoverished territory, brought Indonesia little but disdain and dishonor on the world stage.

The ending, a bloody rampage by Indonesian-backed militias after a vote for independence in 1999, further curdled the nation’s reputation and left a bitter mood at home, where the loss of East Timor was treated as a subject best left untouched.

The seemingly closed chapter was reopened this month with a new book by Ali Alatas, the former longtime foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations. It is the first account by an Indonesian insider who tried to steer some of the events — which at critical moments involved the United States, the United Nations and, at all times, the heavy hand of the Indonesian Army.

In “The Pebble in the Shoe: The Diplomatic Struggle for East Timor,” Mr. Alatas traces events f…

Yeah! Coffee may have some benefits

Coffee drinkers will be delighted to read the following from the NY Times:

"Coffee is not usually thought of as health food, but a number of recent studies suggest that it can be a highly beneficial drink. Researchers have found strong evidence that coffee reduces the risk of several serious ailments, including diabetes, heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver.

Among them is a systematic review of studies published last year in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which concluded that habitual coffee consumption was consistently associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. Exactly why is not known, but the authors offered several explanations."

Read the full piece here - and make that another skinny flat white!

The ethics of the Middle East war

Tony Coady is professorial fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.

In an op-ed piece in The Age yesterday he wrote:

"As the UN ceasefire takes effect, it is time to evaluate crucial moral aspects of the war in Lebanon. Both Hezbollah and Israel appealed to the idea of "just cause" in the conflict, thereby invoking a central justifying element in the moral tradition of the just war. But they ignored other just war constraints, most importantly: last resort, prospects of success, proportionality and discrimination. My discussion concentrates on Israel's case, but the lessons also apply to much in the Hezbollah campaign."

This is a thoughtful and balanced piece worth reading - here.

In thrall to the Bush lawyers

Under the heading "In thrall of the Bush lawyers" well-known international human-rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, writes in The Age today:

"The term "Bush lawyer" is Australian slang for a hick counsellor, ignorant of the law. Thanks to recent decisions of the US Supreme Court and inquiries into torture at Abu Ghraib, it has been given a wider meaning, to denote the lawyers in US Government service who have misunderstood or misrepresented the fundamental rules of human rights in their advice to the President. Their mistakes have been so damaging that the British Attorney-General has taken to tendering his own advice to the White House about Guantanamo Bay - namely to close it. The case of David Hicks should provide his Australian counterpart with an opportunity to do likewise."

And:

"Given Australia's obligations under the Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute, and the history of demonstrably erroneous advice that the White House has received …

Now that's calling a spade a shovel....

The Independent reports today:

"John Prescott has given vent to his private feelings about the Bush presidency, summing up George Bush's administration in a single word: crap.

The Deputy Prime Minister's condemnation of President Bush and his approach to the Middle East could cause a diplomatic row but it will please Labour MPs who are furious about Tony Blair's backing of the United States over the bombing of Lebanon."

Read the full article here. Just think! Could you imagine, even remotely, PM Howard voicing anything critical of his mate George Bush?

A sober reflection on the winners and losers

There are no winners or losers in a war. The latest Middle Esat war has clearly shown the death and destruction any military battles can inflict - mosty on innocent civilians.

As those in the Arab world claim a victory in the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah war, George Bush says the self-same opposite and Israel assesses its "victory" in the harsh light of day [see here], Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent puts the position thus:

"In the sparse Baathist drawing rooms of Damascus, reality often seems a long way away. But it was a sign of the times that President Bashar al-Assad was able to bring the great and the good of Damascus to their feet by the simple token of telling the truth - which no other Arab leader has chosen to do these past five weeks: that the Lebanese Hizbollah guerrilla army has, in effect, won this round of their war with Israel.

There was plenty of hyperbole in the Assad speech. A conflict that has cost 1,000 Lebanese civilian lives can hardly be calle…

Zimbabwe: Off the radar

Whilst the world is preoccupied with the Middle East other conflicts and issues around the globe disappear off the radar. Take Zimbabwe for example.

The LA Times reports:

"Highways are clogged by roadblocks as police conduct lengthy searches for currency before a revaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar aimed at reining in the country's hyperinflation.

Mourners say they have been forced to open coffins, and some women say they have had to submit to body cavity searches.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe lopped three zeroes off the currency more than two weeks ago and gave people until Monday to exchange their old notes. It also put a strict limit on how many notes can be exchanged each day.

The government of President Robert Mugabe blames currency hoarding for the country's economic problems. Mugabe warned Tuesday that the government would crack down on any violent protests when the old currency expired, state radio said."

Read, here, how the once strongest economy in Africa is …

Ruddock shows his colours - again!

Amnesty-badge wearing A-G Philip Ruddock has again shown his true colours. Already tarred with an appalling record on a variety of matters - from his conduct as Immigration Minister to his failure to do anything about the continued detention of David Hicks - today this:

"The federal government's decision not to help fund the annual conference of National Community Legal Centres meant they would be less able to advise clients on Work Choices, the new family law regime and other important legal changes, according to the opposition.

Labor MP Sharon Bird said that the $25,000 which the government had refused to provide was needed to subsidise the travel of rural and regional delegates to the conference in Wollongong."

And:

"Last week the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the funding had been denied because Attorney General Philip Ruddock did not like the "tone" of the program. The paper quoted conference organisers who claimed that Mr Ruddock's office had …

A meeting - and what it reveals

antonyloewenstein.com reports [yesterday] as follows:

"When the Sydney-based, right-wing think-tank, The Centre for Independent Studies, hosts an event titled, “It’s Not ‘Them’, It’s Us: The Need to Regain Confidence in Western Culture” - and invites conservative columnist Mark Steyn, Murdoch commentator Janet Albrechtsen and foreign policy “realist” Owen Harries to participate - proceedings are bound to follow a predictable line. Last night’s “Big Ideas Forum” did not disappoint.

Over 500 people packed a large hall in the city centre. The crowd largely consisted of old, white males (including historical revisionist Keith Windshuttle, the Australian’s Paul Kelly and monarchist tragic David Flint.) It was also appropriate that former politician and bigot Pauline Hanson came to hear about the Muslim “threat”.

Albrechtsen introduced the night by asking whether “Western self-esteem is waning.” “The West”, she stated, “has a self-correcting mechanism” and openness is one of its strengths…