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Showing posts from September, 2006

Iraqis on the march - registering as refugees

George Bush & Co can make whatever pronouncements they want. John Howard and Tony Blair can echo them. But on the ground in Iraq this is what happening [as reported by Yahoo News]:

"A quarter of a million Iraqis have fled sectarian violence and registered as refugees in the past seven months, data released on Thursday showed, amid an upsurge in attacks that has accompanied the Ramadan holy month.

Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq called for the kidnapping of Westerners to swap for a Muslim cleric jailed in the United States, according to an Internet audio tape.

The sectarian killing continued in Baghdad, where police said they had found the bodies of 40 victims -- bound, tortured and murdered -- in the last 24 hours, a total that has become almost commonplace in the capital over the last few weeks.

The United States says violence in Iraq has surged in the last two weeks, and this past week, the first of Ramadan, saw the most suicide bombs of any week since the war began in 2003…

Just imagine....

"Access by air, sea, and land has been virtually cut off for XXXX. The movements of goods and peoples have practically ceased. Supplies of electricity and water, interrupted by XXXX Defense Forces attacks on electric power stations, is irregular and insignificant. Civilian infrastructures have been affected. XXXX today remains dependent on outside sources for its food and commercial supplies. Hygienic conditions are deteriorating, while access to potable water is inadequate. With a XXXX economy in continuous freefall, we must expect a more severe deterioration in sanitary conditions.

Imagine: You are a mother or a father in XXXXX, living in a space inferior to a quarter of that of greater London (1,620 sq. km) with a population the size of Leeds (1.49 million inhabitants). You cannot leave this territory, nor import nor export products. Your children live in continuous fear of violence. Shortages of essential goods, including water, increase the propagation of contagious illnesses…

Australia's unjust and shameful behaviour

"Mohammed Sagar is an island on an island: as the last asylum seeker on Nauru, caught between the country he fled in 2001 and the country where he wanted to be, he is as isolated as the place where he has been held for five years."

That is the opening paragraph of The Age editorial today - addressing an article which appears in the newspaper itself about Mr Sagar. It catalogues a travesty of justice, humanity, decency, or simple fairness. All Australians should be appalled, distressed, ashamed and outraged about what the Howard Government is doing.

As the editorial concludes:

"....Sagar may take small consolation in what he stands for: he is the symbol of an intransigent government long out of touch with human rights and whose policies of mandatory detention are unjust and shameful."

The ugly side of so-called American "justice"

The Senate has now passed legislation to address the recent US Supreme Court decision striking down military commissions. What has been "introduced" appears just as offensive - and as Major Mori, David Hick's US lawyers has said, no better than what existed before.

The US Center for Constitutional Rights has issued a Statement about the latest legislation which in part [read the full text here] says:

"With the defeat of the Specter Amendment to the Military Commissions Act, Congress has sacrificed any semblance of a meaningful balance of power. Congress is now rubber-stamping a bill that was written by the President which gives the President expansive power to detain without judicial oversight. If the Military Commissions Act is passed, it will grant the President the privilege of kings, allowing him to imprison any critics as alleged 'enemy combatants,' never to see the inside of a court room or to have the chance to challenge their detention or their trea…

Er, having kids could send you broke

Treasurer Costello has sought to encourage women to have children. The Federal Government is even making a lump-sum payment to mothers on the birth of a child.

If this piece, here, in the SMH is right, parents will need all the financial help they can get if they aren't to go broke:

"Finances have always played a role in child rearing, but now more than ever the number of children we have is being dictated by money.

For average one-income earning households across Australia's capital cities, the absolute cost of raising a child to the age of 18 years is about $250,000 - and that's just for the bare necessities".

New book: Bush ignored warnings about Iraq

The NY Times reports today:

"The White House ignored an urgent warning in September 2003 from a top Iraq adviser who said that thousands of additional American troops were desperately needed to quell the insurgency there, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter and author. The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war.

The warning is described in “State of Denial,” scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: “I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.”

Oh dear! George & Co. "caught out" yet again. Eventu…

Iran: Successful copycats?

Reutersreports:

"In developing its nuclear program Iran is using strategies that allowed its enemy Israel to assemble the Middle East's only atomic arsenal without admitting it had one, according to a leading expert on the Israeli program.

"Whether deliberately or inadvertently, there are elements of resemblance between the way Iran is pursuing its nuclear program today and the way Israel was pursuing its own program in the 1960s," Avner Cohen, author of a landmark study entitled "Israel and the Bomb," in a telephone interview.

"This is a great irony of history but Iranian policymakers and nuclear technocrats may be strategically mimicking the Israeli model," said Cohen, senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies".

Multinationals hijack climate change debate

Timely, in the light of the current debate about climate change and the Al Gore movie showing around Australia, George Monbiot in The Guardian [reproduced in The Age] writes:

"The campaign of dissuasion about the science of climate change funded by ExxonMobil and the tobacco company Philip Morris has been devastatingly effective.

By insisting that man-made global warming is either a "myth" or not worth tackling, it has given the media and politicians the excuses for inaction they wanted.

Partly as a result, in the US at least, these companies have helped to delay attempts to tackle the world's most important problem by a decade or more. Should we not confront this?"

Read the complete piece here. Clearly the darker side of these multinationals must not only be exposed but resisted.

Israel: Rogue actions

"The air strike on Gaza's only power station that has left most residents with half their normal electricity supply three months later was a war crime, according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem.

A 34-page report says the cuts in power are: harming health care; drastically limiting water supplies to three hours a day; plunging sew-age treatment to near crisis levels; limiting the mobility of high-rise dwellers by halting lifts; and threatening residents with food poisoning because of interruptions to refrigeration.

The report, entitled Act of Vengeance, says the cuts in power have also seriously disrupted small businesses in Gaza, deepening an economic crisis already far worse than that faced by Gaza's 1.3 million residents at the peak of the Palestinian uprising three years ago."

So reports The Independenthere. Meanwhile this report on AM ABC Radio this morning - dealing with restrictions of movements in the West Bank and Gaza - is shocking, and disgra…

Chickens home to roost

"As if by stealth, almost without our noticing, the Iraq war's long-awaited turning point has arrived. After the innumerable events touted as decisive that turned out to be anything but that - the capture of Saddam Hussein, the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the various milestones related to the creation of a new Iraqi political order - the end game now becomes clear. And the outcome points ineluctably towards an American failure of immense proportions.

Historians of the global war on terror will likely recall September 2006 as a pivotal moment. Throughout this month, chickens have come home to roost. Each has arrived bearing bad news for the Bush administration."

So begins this op-ed piece in The Australian by Andrew Bacevich, a US Vietnam veteran and a contributing editor of The American Conservative. Bacevich is professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford, 2005).

Thi…

A survival guide for men

Dr Peter West is head of the research group on men and families at the University of Western Sydney.

Perhaps bravely, and timely, given the recently expressed Latham view of males in Australia, West has written a guide for Oz men in this op-ed piece in The Age.

Good luck.........

A plight - triggered to explode

Haaretzreports:

"Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into a prison for Palestinians where life is "intolerable, appalling, tragic" and appears to have thrown away the key, a United Nations human rights envoy said on Tuesday.

Special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territory John Dugard said that the suffering of the Palestinians was a test of the readiness of the international community to protect human rights".

Needless to say Israel rejects the finding. How long Israelis can ignore what is going on in their name - the misery caused by its actions - and effectively in their midst, and expect nothing to happen in the fullness of time, must surely be living in a delusional state. The situation is set to explode with probably dire consequences all round.

Meanwhile, this op-ed piece in the IHT reflecting on American policies in the Middle East is timely - for sooner or later reality will need to sink in and the US not continue to be the "big" p…

Political correctness going awry?

It goes without saying that communities must ensure that certain groups are not the subject of villification or prejudice. However, there must surely be limits to political correctness - as this issue which has arisen in Berlin shows:

"The Deutsche Oper in Berlin announced Monday "with great regret" that it had scratched Hans Neuenfels' version of the Mozart opera "Idomeneo" from the program this season because certain scenes presented an "incalculable security risk" for the theater.

"To avoid endangering the public and its employees, the Deutsche Oper in Berlin has decided to refrain from showing "Idomeneo" in November," the opera house said."

Read the full report from Deutsche Welle here - as also how the IHTreports it.

Who is Noam Chomsky?

The Wall Street Journal poses the question - who is Noam Chomsky? Remember, he is the man whose book Venezuela's Pres. Hugo Chavez said at the UN last week should be read by everyone.

As the WSJ says in this piece:

"To his supporters Noam Chomsky is a brave and outspoken champion of the oppressed against a corrupt and criminal political class. But to his opponents he is a self-important ranter whose one-sided vision of politics is chosen for its ability to shine a spotlight on himself. And it is surely undeniable that his habit of excusing or passing over the faults of America's enemies, in order to pin all crime on his native country, suggests that he has invested more in his posture of accusation than he has invested in the truth."

Read one "take" [that is, the WSJ's op-ed piece] on Chomsky.

Not such a lucky country for some Australians

"The Australian economy has been going 'gangbusters', and many of us are enjoying the prosperity with new homes, cars, and overseas holidays.

But a new report prepared for the welfare agency Anglicare shows not everyone is sharing the boom, and having a job is no guarantee against poverty.

'Life on a Low Income', is a series of studies and anecdotes about how some Australians are going without food to pay the bills, and are being tipped over the edge by misfortunes as simple as a broken fridge.

Anglicare helped 87,000 families and individuals with emergency relief last year. It's watching carefully to see how the government's new welfare-to-work and workplace relations laws will affect the poor."

Yes folks, not everyone is travelling well in Australia, the so-called Lucky Country - as this report, here, on ABC RadioNational's Breakfast program interviewing the Chairman of Anglicare clearly highlights.

Proof positive

It can't be long before George Bush and his merry-men and Tony Blair and John Howard have no alternative but to admit that things in Afghanistan are going from bad to worse.

With today's news of the slaying of Safia Amajan in Kabul it is clear that the Taliban is in its ascendency. As The Independent reports:

"Safia Amajan promoted women's education and work - a fairly ordinary job in most places - but in the Afghanistan of a resurgent Taliban it was a dangerous path to follow. She was a target, and yesterday she was gunned down outside her home.

Five years after the "liberation" of Afghanistan by the US and Britain, with promises of a new dawn for its downtrodden women, her murder was a bloody reminder of just how far the country is slipping back into a land of darkness."

And this:

"* 50 per cent of Afghan women say they have been beaten, while 200 women in Kandahar ran away from domestic violence this year.

* In the past year, 150 cases of women …

Real men aren't weasel-word-wielding toss-bags

He's back! Mark Latham is destined to be in the limelight for the next little while with the release of his latest book, A Conga Line of Suckholes [MUP].

Whatever might think of Latham he is hard to ignore. Read his op-ed piece, yesterday, in The Age. Just a sample:

"One of the saddest things I have seen in my lifetime has been the decline in Australian male culture, the loss of our larrikin language and values. This has been squeezed out of society by a number of powerful influences: the crisis in male identity brought about by changes in the workplace and family unit; the rise of left-feminism in the 1970s and 1980s, with its sanitising impact on public culture; and, more recently, the prominence of neo-conservatism and its timid approach to social behaviour and language. Australian mates and good blokes have been replaced by nervous wrecks, metrosexual knobs and toss-bags. I saw so many of them in politics, from all states, parties and factions. It's the reve…

Dummies making money

Who hasn't bought, or at least seen, the series of Dummies series of books - on seemingly every conceivable and topic.

The NY Times reports:

"Few thirsts run deeper these days than the one for self-improvement, and few recent books have slaked it better than the ubiquitous bumble-bee-colored titles in the “For Dummies” series. Since it began in 1991 with “DOS for Dummies,” which helped computer neophytes navigate the user-unfriendly program that predated Windows, the series has swelled to more than 1,000 titles and sold more than 150 million copies."

Read, here, how being a Dummies author can be lucrative and those endless titles that just keep rolling on.

Forget about justice

George Bush and certain Senators have evidently agreed to measures to circumvent the recent US Supreme Court decision banning military tribunals and abrogating rights under the Geneva Convention.

Whatever these new laws turn out to be The Age reports:

"The [new] provision if made into law, would allow the US to hold terrorism suspects in custody indefinitely if the suspects were not charged with an offence."

Worse still, Major Mori, lawyer for David Hicks is quoted in the LA Times as saying that Hicks will be going backwards in all of this. Read The Age piece here - and wonder, yet again, why the first law-officer in the land, Ruddock, is still doing nothing about the continuing outrage in leaving Hicks uncharged and incarcerated for 5 years, some of that time in solitary confinement.

The real day-to-day Baghdad

"It is not a miserable life. If there is a grade more than miserable, then it will be ours!"

That grim assessment, here, is by this man, Dr. Anon. - as he is described on Counterpunch:

"I have a big family. My eldest two are already dentists and both abroad. I have one daughter just married one month ago. so I am not yet a grandpa. Although I have perfect job satisfaction, Full Professor, with MRCP, FRCP and a couple more degrees from London and France, things are so unhappy here in Baghdad, there is no quality of life at all. There are no services: we are loaded with garbage, as it is not collected more than once every so many weeks, the garbage collectors are also afraid of being killed. We have almost no electricity, no fuel, bad water supply, and what's more you could get killed whether you are Shiite or Sunnite, if you fall in the wrong hands. I nearly got killed on several occasions, I cannot count the sheep sacrified for my safety till now."

Two holydays coincide

Because the religious traditions follow two ancient timetables, Rosh Hashana and Ramadan infrequently coincide. This year, they do.

This informative article in the LA Times explains the background and "calculations" used to determine the start of the Jewish New Year [Rosh Hashana] and the Muslim Ramadam. Also read what each event entails.

Winning hearts and minds

This Newsweek article will surprise some:

"It's a cliché to say that Islamists are skilled at winning Mideast hearts and minds. But even some Israeli officials acknowledge that they're being outmaneuvered by Hizbullah in the ongoing battle for international public opinion. Remember those made in the u.s.a. banners that sprouted everywhere amid the rubble of southern Lebanon right after this summer's fighting? That was just the opening salvo—and some Israelis worry that they're still not fighting back. "We're simply not there," says one senior Israeli security official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record. "And [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah is extremely adept."

Read, here, how Hezbollah is in the forefront of winning the hearts and mind of people.

Now, that's an endorsement!

"Move over Oprah - the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, is calling the literary shots this week.

Chávez made headlines for his United Nations speech on Wednesday calling President George W. Bush "the devil himself," but a reading suggestion he made in the same speech created a best-seller.

Chávez began his UN speech by displaying a copy of the U.S. writer Noam Chomsky's book "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance" and recommended that Americans read it instead of watching Superman and Batman movies, which he said "make people stupid."

By Thursday, the book had risen from backlist obscurity to be the No.3 bestseller on Amazon.com. By Friday, it was No.1".

Read the full article from the IHT here.

Surprise? Told you so!

George Bush & Co have denied it. John Howard, in echo-mode, has dismissed it! But as the LA Times reports - which will come as no surprise to anyone with half a brain - in this piece today:

"The war in Iraq has made global terrorism worse by fanning Islamic radicalism and providing a training ground for lethal methods that are increasingly being exported to other countries, according to a sweeping assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The classified document, which represents a consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, paints a considerably bleaker picture of the impact of the Iraq war than Bush administration or U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged publicly, according to officials familiar with the assessment."

Read the complete article here - and then ponder, where to from here on?

Meanwhile, the NY Timeseditorialises - in assessing how things really are in Iraq:

"While Iraq is a central issue in this year’s election campaigns, there is v…

Read this the Gerard Hendersons of this world

The Oz has loudly proclaimed the guilt of Jack Thomas. The likes of Gerard Henderson and Miranda Devine have been critical of the judicial system and even particular judges who have dealt with the Thomas appeal.

Now this, as reported, here, in the SMHtoday:

"There is no evidence that Joseph Thomas, the first Australian subjected to a control order, planned a terrorist attack here, according to the head of counter-terrorism at the Australian Federal Police.

The admission from Ramzi Jabbour is contained in a transcript of court proceedings held last month, which neither the media nor counsel for Mr Thomas were made aware of.

"Is there any evidence, at all, that Mr Thomas, has, [at] any stage planned any particular terrorist acts in Australia?," asked the federal magistrate Graham Mowbray.

Mr Jabbour: "No sir, there's no direct evidence of that."

And this is democracy at work?....

We all hear and read about the US seeking to bring democracy to various peoples around the world. The Middle East is currently a prime object of America's attention. However, the US needs to do more than a bit of navel-gazing about its own electoral laws and the ability of its citizens to vote.

As Sasha Abramsky writes in Mother Jones writes:

"We used to think the voting system was something like the traffic laws -- a set of rules clear to everyone, enforced everywhere, with penalties for transgressions; we used to think, in other words, that we had a national election system. How wrong a notion this was has become painfully apparent since 2000: As it turns out, except for a rudimentary federal framework (which determines the voting age, channels money to states and counties, and enforces protections for minorities and the disabled), U.S. elections are shaped by a dizzying mélange of inconsistently enforced laws, conflicting court rulings, local traditions, various techn…

Iraq: A sobre and realistic assessment

The US President George Bush and the Prime Minister John Howard have both used the phrase "the long war" to describe the fight against terrorism. But one of America's most respected strategic thinkers says they should be talking not just about one long war, but several. Professor Anthony Cordesman, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, gave a talk at the Lowy Institute in Sydney a couple of days ago, in which he looked at the prospects for those long wars.

Cordesman is well know to ABC Radio National listeners and ABC Lateline viewers. Read [or listen] to his interview with Mark Colvin on ABC's PM program here. It is a sobre assessment of a range of matters.

Hanging onto your seat!

"With the midterm elections less than seven weeks away, Americans have an overwhelmingly negative view of the Republican-controlled Congress, with substantial majorities saying that they disapprove of the job it is doing and that its members do not deserve reelection, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll."

Leaving to one side that it would be interesting to know how Australian Federal politicians would fare in a similar poll, the report from the NY Times is interesting. By the way George Bush isn't doin' too famously in that poll either:

"Mr. Bush’s job approval rating was 37 percent, virtually unchanged from the last Times/CBS News poll, which was conducted in August. On the issue that has been a bulwark for Mr. Bush, 54 percent said they approve of the way he is managing the effort to combat terrorists, again unchanged from last month, though up from earlier this spring."

Tax reform! - but we're going backwards.....

Crikey reports:

“More than 900,000 working age Australians will keep less than half of their next dollar of private income, a report shows, and more sole parents and women face higher effective marginal tax rates than they did a decade ago,” The Age reports today.

The Oz is blunter. “The number of people losing more than 50c of every extra dollar earned as a result of tax-take and benefit reductions has almost doubled in the past ten years, with middle-income families suffering the most."

So much for John Howard & Co trumpeting how we are all better off. Oh yeah? Read the full Crikey piece here.

Deja Vu?

"Is the Bush Administration mistaking Iran for pre-war Iraq? Recent events certainly sound eerily familiar."

So begins a piece by Ari Berman in The Nation. He catalogues quite a few things which sound and look all too like the precursor to what, then, became the Iraq War - and now looks like the next war, this time with Iran. Read the Berman "list" here.

An absolute abrogation of rights and justice?

The US Senate and George Bush are engaged in debate about the treatment of detainees - like those at Gitmo - in the light of the US Supreme Court having recently struck down military commissions.

The various matters under consideration are horrendous. For instance, abolishing the right to habeas corpus and torture without accountability. Even more troubling - that anyone can even consider this is a real worry! - is the proposal that a detainee could be tried and sentenced without ever seeing or challenging any evidence against him or her or even being present at any hearing. End result could be that a person could be executed without knowing the evidence against them.

Read this interesting interview on Democracy Now with Michael Ratner of the Centre for Constitutional Rights [incidentally a lawyer for David Hicks] here - where Ratner explains the ramifications of what is under consideration.

The Boston Globe, here, also carries an article on the same subject:

"TRUST US. You&#…

John Howard's lack of values

As always, Tim Dunlop in his blog, Road to Surfdom, is right on the money.....

"Prime Minister John Howard says there is no need for a special inquiry into offensive internet images of Australian soldiers in Iraq.

….”We should leave it to the military to deal with this. The military is quite capable of dealing with this without a whole lot of gratuitous advice from me or other people in the political arena,” he said.

HOW’S-MY-VALUES UPDATE: Can I also point what a craven little prawn this overrated nipple on the soul of the body politic is. While representatives from the Australian Defence Force are making unequivocal statements condemning this sort of thing — “There is no place in the ADF for members who behave in this way,” Air Chief Marshal Houston told reporters — the prime minature is warning everyone else not to “get in a lather” or “overreact.”

This willingness to defend bad behaviour is just an insult to the rest of the forces who do the right thing. Air Chief Marshall Housto…

Double-standards at play

"Imagine, on September 12 2001, Condoleezza Rice had jetted in to town to tell New Yorkers that the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center and the two thousand lives lost there represented the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”… Yet that’s exactly what she told the people of Lebanon as they dug dead children out of the rubble left by American bombs dropped from American planes flown by Israelis. When American innocents are killed, we’re told the event changed the world; when Arab innocents are killed they’re just the “collateral damage” of the turning of history’s gears.

Perhaps it was the grotesque spectacle of Rice telling the Lebanese people that calling for a cease-fire would have to wait, because as tragic as their losses were, they were the necessary price of the greater Bush administration’s efforts to create a “new” Middle East — an enterprise that has seen at least 46,000 Iraqi civilians killed, and counting — that provoked Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to dis…

Bloggers take on the travel industry

"Like most other business travelers who publish blogs, Steve Broback first noticed the potential power of the sites by accident."

So begins an interesting article in the IHT on how bloggers are having an influence on the travel industry - like, a complaint about a hotel? Air your "issue" on your blog and stand back to watch the reaction. Read the full IHT piece here.

Pell's ill-timed and uncalled for outburst

The Pope makes statements in relation to Muslims for which he nows apologises - although he doesn't retract them as such. Read here - as reported in the NY Times - what the Pope said by way of apology. Meanwhile, Muslims in some parts of the world have re-acted angrily. Justified or not, tensions have flared and been flamed.

So, what does Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, do? He launches into an ill-timed - the Pope tried to batten things down a couple of days ago! - and extraordinary attempted justification and explanation of the Pope's comments and takes a swipe at Muslim clerics in Oz who have been critical of the Pope's statements.

Read the Cardinal's ill-conceived outburst here - as reported in the SMH. Someone should have counselled Pell that at times silence can be golden!

The media in the spotlight

The two most powerful media people in Oz, Packer and Murdoch, don't want it. Fairfax has queried the need for it. The Nationals are against it. Country people are opposed to it too. So, why is that Howard and Co are seemingly bent on the so-called media reform?

The pubic seems by and large disinterested. They oughtn't to be! The ramifications are considerable if media laws are changed as proposed. We have enough issues in and with the media as things stand now.

Which makes a recent publication "Do Not Disturb - Is the Media Failing Australia?" so timely. Edited by Prof. Robert Manne, as the publisher in its blurb says:

"At a time when the Howard government has radically narrowed the national vision, the mainstream media has failed to notice or to hold it to account. Do Not Disturb offers diverse and enlightening explanations for this failure. Featuring an array of independent insiders, including: Eric Beecher, Guy Rundle, Jon Faine, Margaret Si…

Post the recent Middle East War.....

The Independent, here, reports:

"The war in Lebanon has not ended. Every day, some of the million bomblets which were fired by Israeli artillery during the last three days of the conflict kill four people in southern Lebanon and wound many more.

The casualty figures will rise sharply in the next month as villagers begin the harvest, picking olives from trees whose leaves and branches hide bombs that explode at the smallest movement. Lebanon's farmers are caught in a deadly dilemma: to risk the harvest, or to leave the produce on which they depend to rot in the fields."

Meanwhile, in Israel, Danny Rubinstein writing an op-ed piece in Haaretz, here, says:

"The direction is therefore clear. The European countries have started to acknowledge it, and there is a fair chance that they will begin to offer aid to the new government. The Israeli government should also fall into line with this trend. Israel does not have the option of getting rid of Hamas. It is an authentic Pales…

Iraqi leader accuses: US protected Saddam

Dr. Mahmoud al-Mashadani, Baghdad, Speaker for the Iraqi Representative Council writes in the Washington Post:

"I have been a member of the political opposition in Iraq since 1966 and continue to consider myself a Muslim hardliner. I was very strongly opposed to Saddam's regime and I escaped from death penalty many times. Even so, I have opposed Operation Iraq Freedom from the very beginning. I was in prison at the time of America's invasion of Iraq at the hands of Saddam Hussein and still I opposed the invasion."

And:

"I think those who protected Saddam Hussein from assassination were the Americans. My group attempted many coups against Saddam Hussein over the years and the Americans always leaked our plans to Saddam. We once went to ask the Americans' help, which was a very stupid step on our parts. The Americans told Saddam Hussein about us. I was imprisoned and many of my colleagues and friends were executed".

The assertions are rather astounding. …

The Longer the War, the Bigger the Lies

Frank Rich, who writes an op-piece in the NY Times weekly, has long been a strident critic of the Bush Administration.

His piece this week, "The Longer the War, the Bigger the Lies", is no exception - other than that it is perhaps even more critical on a number of levels:

"Rarely has a television network presented a more perfectly matched double feature. President Bush's 9/11 address on Monday night interrupted ABC's "Path to 9/11" so seamlessly that a single network disclaimer served them both: "For dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression."

No kidding: "The Path to 9/11" was false from the opening scene, when it put Mohamed Atta both in the wrong airport (Boston instead of Portland, Me.) and on the wrong airline (American instead of USAirways). It took Mr. Bush but a few paragraphs to warm up to his first fictionalizat…

Climate change: World check-list

"In Greenland the barley is growing for the first time since the Middle Ages. In Britain gardeners were warned this week that the English country garden will be a thing of the past within the next 20 years. In Italy skiers were told yesterday that melting glaciers will mean an end to their pastime unless they can get above 2,000 metres."

If that isn't frightening enough-a-prospect, things are not much better around the globe - as The Indpendent catalogues in this article here. It make for frightening reading.

The dire warning of how things are shaping up in the world in the light of climate change, comes against a background of the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, starting to screen in Australia - and with the PM [whose Government won't join the Kyoto Protocol] not planning to see the movie and only speaking with Gore via the phone and the Industry Minister asserting the movie is "just entertainment". What erudition! No better than columnis…

Bush just doesn't get it! - again!

The New York Times editorialises:

"Watching the president on Friday in the Rose Garden as he threatened to quit interrogating terrorists if Congress did not approve his detainee bill, we were struck by how often he acts as though there were not two sides to a debate. We have lost count of the number of times he has said Americans have to choose between protecting the nation precisely the way he wants, and not protecting it at all.

On Friday, President Bush posed a choice between ignoring the law on wiretaps, and simply not keeping tabs on terrorists. Then he said the United States could rewrite the Geneva Conventions, or just stop questioning terrorists. To some degree, he is following a script for the elections: terrify Americans into voting Republican. But behind that seems to be a deeply seated conviction that under his leadership, America is right and does not need the discipline of rules. He does not seem to understand that the rules are what makes this nation as good as it ca…

Brain food...

Mahler's Prodigal Son is off this weekend to a Writer's Festival for some brain-food....

By Sunday evening this blog will be back - refreshed, re-invigorated, energised and, hopefully, a tad wiser!

Torture is torture!

By any reckoning Human Rights Watch, like Amnesty International, is a respected organisation.

Joanne Mariner is the terrorism and counterterrorism director of Human Rights Watch and writing in AlterNet, here, says:

"Last week, George W. Bush gave a speech admitting, for the first time, the CIA's secret detention program. A fuller description of the kind of torture comitted in this detention program is contained in John le Carre's new novel. Called The Mission Song, the novel includes an extended description of torture that takes up several pages of text.

President Bush spared the nation such excruciating details. He spoke vaguely and euphemistically of an "alternative set of [interrogation] procedures" - "tough" and "necessary" tactics that made uncooperative detainees talk."

And no less importantly:

"But to call the tribunals that Bush is advocating "military commissions" is nearly as euphemistic as calling torture "alter…

A welcome revival

"Germany had a thriving Jewish community of more than 500,000 when the Nazis were voted into power in 1933 and began to implement their anti-Semitic policies, causing many to emigrate.

About 200,000 German Jews were among the 6 million European Jews killed by the Nazis, leaving only between 10,000 to 15,000 in Germany in the first years after the war."

So, this report on Forbes.com from AP,here, makes for welcome reading:

"Germany on Thursday ordained its first rabbis since World War II in an event hailed as a milestone in the rebirth of Jewish life in the country responsible for the Holocaust."

Annan: Disaster in the Middle East

"The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has said many leaders in the Middle East believe the US-led invasion of Iraq three years ago has brought disaster to the region.

At a news conference in New York, Mr Annan revealed that during his recent tour of the Middle East most of the leaders he met told him that the Iraq war and its aftermath had been a major destabilising factor."

So reports RTE Newshere. Nothing further need be added!

How wrong can you be? - with dire consequences

It all seems more than a little late:

"The war lasted 34 days. It left 1,393 people dead. Another 5,350 injured. And more than 1,150,000 displaced, of whom 215,413 are still homeless. The damage amounts to more than £2.6bn. Exactly one month after it ended, a Foreign Office minister admits that Tony Blair should have called for a ceasefire."

The Independent reports another critical issue confronting Tony Blair. How the Lebanese, Hezbollah and the people of the Middle East will view all of this makes for "interesting" reflection. Read the full piece here.

A real killer!

Professor Paul Zimmet AO is director of the International Diabetes Institute and was the chairman of the 10th International Congress of Obesity held in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. When Zimmet speaks, with all the authority and expertise he brings to bare on the subject, people need to listen.

Writing in The Australian, here, following the conference in Sydney, he said:

"Obesity is the single most important challenge for public health in the 21st century. More than 1.5 billion adults worldwide and 10 per cent of children are now overweight or obese. Yes, the world's waistline is bulging - some cynics call the phenomenon "Globesity". Professor Philip James, chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, warned the congress that it is sweeping the world with terrifying rapidity.

Obesity is the driving force behind type 2 diabetes, which causes significant cardiovascular complications, kidney failure, blindness and amputations. This is leading to decreased life expec…

Exploding hate on the web

"Data stored on the Internet will explode by a factor of 1,000 in the next five years -- a proliferation that will make it impossible for governments to control the flow of hate material, an international conference was told yesterday.

"There is no way any government can control the amount of hate material that is going to be out there," said Michael Nelson, Washington-based director of IBM's internet technology and strategy systems and technology group development. "The Net is going to be as versatile and ubiquitous as paper."

Dr. Nelson's warning to the conference, organized by B'nai Brith Canada, encapsulated a view held by one faction of those in attendance. This faction espoused a belief that a wide array of strategies will be necessary to fill the government void and curb the spread of virulently racist websites and blogs on an estimated 500 billion existing websites.

An opposing faction, while not denying the need for creative solutions, stress…

The horror of Afghanistan

The Independent reports today:

"Soldiers deployed in Helmand province five years on from the US-led invasion, and six months after the deployment of a large British force, have told The Independent that the sheer ferocity of the fighting in the Sangin valley, and privations faced by the troops, are far worse than generally known.

"We are flattening places we have already flattened, but the attacks have kept coming. We have killed them by the dozens, but more keep coming, either locally or from across the border," one said. "We have used B1 bombers, Harriers, F16s and Mirage 2000s. We have dropped 500lb, 1,000lb and even 2,000lb bombs. At one point our Apaches [helicopter gunships] ran out of missiles they have fired so many. Almost any movement on the ground gets ambushed. We need an entire battle group to move things. Yet they will not give us the helicopters we have been asking for".

The article makes for horrifying reading, here, and can't help make one wo…

Studying - for a degree and debt!

You study at University. There are onerous fees to pay. You graduate - with a huge debt.

As The Age reveals today:

"Debt from university fees is growing by about $2 billion a year, leaving some students with the equivalent of a small home loan by the time they graduate.

The federal Department of Education estimates debt from HECS and loans to cover full-fee degrees will rise by at least 10 per cent a year until the end of the decade.

If it continues at this rate, the amount owed will double in six years, from $10.2 billion in 2003-04 to more than $20 billion by 2009-10."

There can be little doubt that this ever-increasing debt - read the article here - will impact not only on students post University but the economy, and general landscape, of the country [think ability to purchase a home!] as a whole.

George Soros on Israel's war-tactics

George Soros is one of those seriously rich people in the world. He is known as a trader who has made zillions. He is also a supporter of Israel and who campaigned against the re-election of George Bush spending quite a bit of money in the process.

Soros has also got his own blog. In his latest piece a couple of weeks ago, he criticises Israel's methods in its war with Hezbollah:

"The failure of Israel to subdue Hezbollah demonstrates the many weaknesses of the war-on-terror concept. One of those weaknesses is that even if the targets are terrorists, the victims are often innocent civilians, and their suffering reinforces the terrorist cause.

In response to Hezbollah's attacks, Israel was justified in attacking Hezbollah to protect itself against the threat of missiles on its border. However, Israel should have taken greater care to minimize collateral damage. The civilian casualties and material damage inflicted on Lebanon inflamed Muslims and world opinion agains…

Rupert goes into reverse-gear on global warming

The Murdoch press has been hammering the notion of global warming. Only yesterday morning an editorial in The Australian effectively scorned the issue. BUT.....as Crikey reported yesterday Rupert has had a change of heart and direction:

"Too many of us have spent too long in denial over the threat from global warming. The evidence is now irresistible: Searing summers and dry winters in the UK; increasingly frequent tornados and hurricanes worldwide; the shrinking Arctic ice cap."

The voice of Al Gore? Nope. Try Rupert Murdoch. The excerpt is from the editorial in yesterday's London Sun. Last week we pointed to James Murdoch and his growing influence on the News Ltd stable when it came to climate change, but The Sun's backflip is something else entirely. The paper acts as Rupert Murdoch's megaphone -- and now The Sun is saying it was wrong:

Only the severity and immediacy of the threat is open to debate. This week The Sun will present the evidence and suggest…

Hey!....wait a minute!

George Bush addressed the Nation from the Oval Office on 9/11. That might have been expected.

But, reflect for a moment on the idiocy, and nonsene, of this statement in his speech:

"They will not leave us alone. They will follow us. The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad."

Hey? With all the evidence concluding that there was never any connection between Iraq and 9/11, what Bush has said - no doubt put in his mouth by his idiot advisors who seem as equally stupid as their boss - is just plain balderdash! Will people really believe this rubbish?

Read the report in the LA Times, here, of Bushs' speech.

Losing in Iraq, bucketing Hitchens, etc

"As America commemorates the 5th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a secret intelligence report reveals that Iraq's largest province has suffered a total breakdown in law and order.

According to the Washington Post, the chief of intelligence for the US Marine Corps in Iraq says the prospects for securing Iraq's western Anbar province are dim.

The classified report states there is almost nothing the US military can do to improve the political and social situation - a position at odds with the official White House position that conditions in Iraq are improving.

Thomas Ricks broke this story. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning Pentagon correspondent with the Washington Post.

He's also the author of a new book called Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq."

That was the intro, by presenter Fran Kelly, to an interview with Ricks on Breakfast on ABC Radio National this morning. Listen to the interview here - and look out for Christopher Hitchen's views o…

A postscript to 9/11

Americans have, rightly, mourned those whose died as a consequence of the attack on the World Trade Centre 5 years ago. It was a terrifying and barbaric act of terrorism and deserves condemnation in the strongest terms.

It will be recalled that within a month of 9/11 the US "invaded" Afghanistan to root out the terrorists said to have been responsible for the attack in New York. Then, in March 2003, the US, together with its Coalition of the Willing, invaded Iraq in its War of "Shock and Awe".

It is now beyond question that the justification and basis for invading both Afghanistan and Iraq was totally wrong! Meanwhile, thousands upon thousands of "innocent" people in both countries have been killed, maimed or displaced in some way or other. Both countries are experiencing harsh conditions. As one commentator noted the other day, even in the darkest days of Saddam, people could still safely go out on the streets of Baghdad and do the…

Top UK soldier condemns his own

Perhaps coincidentally - that is, the commemoration of 9/11 and the subsequent US "entry" into Afghanistan in an attempt to dislodge the Taliban there - but this news item from Sunday Times, here, says it all:

"The former aide-de-camp to the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan has described the campaign in Helmand province as “a textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency”.

“Having a big old fight is pointless and just making things worse,” said Captain Leo Docherty, of the Scots Guards, who became so disillusioned that he quit the army last month.

“All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British,” he said. “It’s a pretty clear equation — if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.

“We’ve been grotesquely clumsy — we’ve said we’ll be different to the Americans who were bombing and strafing villages, then behaved exactly like them.”

Bolt nailed

Last week saw the end of the Melbourne Writer's Festival. On the last night, Prof. Robert Manne debated Andrew Bolt [Herald-Sun columnist] on the issue of the Aboriginal "stolen-generation". It will be recalled that Bolt steadfastly denies any such thing happened - his "qualifications" to make such an assertion suspect - and has over the years refused to debate Manne on the topic.

As Manne writes in this op-ed piece in The Age:

"One of the qualities of nationalist extremists is the anxious denial of their own group's historic crimes. As soon as the cultural warriors of the right embraced Keith Windschuttle, perhaps for the first time in our history an authentic version of Australian denialism began to emerge.

One branch of this denialism concerns the question of what Australians have come to call the "stolen generations", the policy and practice of removing mixed descent Aborigines from their mothers, families and cultures between 1900 and…

Some legacy post 9/11!

Nothing need be added to these stats produced in The Independent today. They readily speak for themselves.....

2,973 Total number of people killed (excluding the 19 hijackers) in the September 11, 2001 attacks

72,000 Estimated number of civilians killed worldwide since September 11, 2001 as a result of the war on terror

2 Number of years since US intelligence had any credible lead to Osama bin Laden's whereabouts

2,932 Total number of US servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since September 2001

1,248 Number of published books relating to the September 11 attacks

$119m Ticket sales for anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11

$40bn Airline industry losses since September 2001

2009 Date when the official memorial will open at the World Trade Centre site

0 Hours of intelligence training provided to new FBI agents before 9/11. Now they get 24.

91 per cent Terror cases from FBI and others that US Justice Dept declined to prosecute in first eight months of 2006

11 Weeks the 9/11 commi…

How misguided can you get?

On this day, remembering 9/11 five years ago, this is what VP Cheney was saying when he spoke to Veterans of Foreign Affairs in August 2002:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors -- confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth."

And no less gob-smacking:

"When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace. As for the reaction of the Arab "street," the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are "sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throng…

News and comment 2006-style?

With newspaper sales falling around the world and blogs becoming increasingly popular and having an impact on the dissemination of news and opinion, this new "venture" by the Washington Post is an interesting development:

"PostGlobal is an experiment in global, collaborative journalism, a running discussion of important issues among dozens of the world's best-known editors and writers. It aims to create a truly global dialogue, drawing on independent journalists in the countries where news is happening -- from China to Iran, from South Africa to Saudi Arabia, from Mexico to India."

Read the complete introduction to PostGlobalhere. You can easily access PostGlobal on one of the links on this blog's main page.

9/11 - Five years on.....

The LA Times reports:

"Five years after Sept. 11, is the United States winning the war against Al Qaeda? President Bush says yes, but most experts — including many inside the U.S. government — say no.

An all-out effort by the United States and its allies has succeeded in making life difficult for Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, and has probably disrupted any plans they had for further terrorism on the scale of the attacks in 2001, the experts say."

Not really a satisfactory situation - read the complete LA Times piece here - when even George Bush concedes that Al Qaeda far from dead.

In Australia, commentator Hugh Mackay, writing, here, in the SMH, opines:

"In these past five years, we have become a more suspicious, less trusting and more frightened society. Many of us now regard asylum seekers as potential terrorists; we support tougher anti-terrorism laws even when they impinge on fundamental human rights; we have hardened our hearts against Muslims a…

Two "loser" leaders compared

In an interesting op-piece in Haaretz Yossi Sarid compares 2 failed leaders, Bush and Olmert, thus:

"Lady Luck has come to Bush and Olmert's aid. The mess in New Orleans has almost overshadowed the Iraq fiasco, because Bush now has an urgent national mission: to put Louisiana and Alabama back on their feet again. And don't bother him about the 800 or so who are shot or slaughtered or beheaded in Iraq every month - and a few more in Afghanistan.

And what would Olmert have done without his own hurricane? Now, thank goodness, he too has a national mission of the highest priority. Without the war, the government would have remained devoid of vision, and without vision the nation would have settled accounts with it. So don't bother Olmert about the 1.5 million poor, or the malignant corruption, or the occupation whose final countdown to a unilateral withdrawal has been stopped.

Bush will continue and Olmert will continue, because in practical terms there is no way to get ri…

A not-so-small step

Who can forget the horrendous kidnapping and then murder of journalist Daniel Pearl a few years ago now. It again showed terrorism at its very worst.

On the eve of the 5th anniverary of what has now become known as 9/11, it is hard to believe that something like this could come about:

"The father of slain Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl will share a prize for activism with a Muslim man.

Judea Pearl and Akbar Ahmed are joint recipients of a new $100,000 prize for their campaign against intolerance and terrorism.

The Los Angeles - and Washington - based professors were among five recipients of the newly established Purpose Prize, awarded to Americans age 60 or older who are using their experience and skills to address long-standing social problems.

Pearl, 69, an authority on artificial intelligence at UCLA, became a semi-public figure when his son was kidnapped and brutally murdered by Islamic extremists in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002.

In response to the tragedy, Pearl and his wife R…

New tech-dimensions to travel

"Will you get that thing out of your ear?"

I'm sitting in a cafe in Lisbon, listening to my iPod, and my husband is not pleased. I'm on my honeymoon, after all, and it's a little early in the game for me to ignore him. But I have good reason to keep that thing stuck in my ear: It's instructing me how to ask for a bottle of red wine in Portuguese.

Welcome to the world of tech-enhanced travel. Thanks to a growing array of products for mobile devices like iPods, PDAs and cell phones, it's possible to defy the laws of physics and fit an entire city in your pocket. Whether you're traveling for work or play, mobile gadgets can help you speak better (if you're in a foreign country), eat better (by picking stellar restaurants in unfamiliar cities) and tour better (without being tethered to a guide or tour group)."

Yes, the days of just going off to Europe armed with the book 'Europe on $X a Day" are well and truly of a bygone era. The advent …

Howard shows his "grubby" side

"It was grubby politics for John Howard to single out Muslims, given the failure of many migrants - my own grandparents for a start - to ever master the language. Such migrants can still be upstanding citizens and, in a generation or two, produce heirs who write for a living. But it was particularly grubby politics to single out Muslims in light of the Government's deliberate exclusion of so many from the very programs that would have made integration easier."

This is Adele Horin writing in the SMH today. As she starts her op-ed piece "Told to learn, denied the right":

"When the Prime Minister complained recently that a "small section" of Muslims resisted integration and failed to learn English, jaws dropped in all the unfashionable suburbs where community workers are helping refugees fit into our way of life.

From the charitable "Is it possible he has forgotten?" to the furious "He's an outrageous hypocrite", the workers …

Caught out lying - again!

"Saddam Hussein regarded al-Qaida as a threat rather than a possible ally, a Senate report says, contradicting assertions President Bush has used to build support for the war in Iraq.

The report also newly faults intelligence gathering in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion.

Released Friday, the report discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that prior to the war Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward" al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or his associates.

As recently as an Aug. 21 news conference, Bush said people should "imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein" with the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction and "who had relations with Zarqawi."

So reports the Washington Posthere. Yet again the Bush Administration has been caught out lying. Remember, this is John Howard's close friend. When will the media start challenging and questioning Howard on this w…

Disaster in the making

"Gaza is dying. The Israeli siege of the Palestinian enclave is so tight that its people are on the edge of starvation. Here on the shores of the Mediterranean a great tragedy is taking place that is being ignored because the world's attention has been diverted by wars in Lebanon and Iraq.

A whole society is being destroyed. There are 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned in the most heavily populated area in the world. Israel has stopped all trade. It has even forbidden fishermen to go far from the shore so they wade into the surf to try vainly to catch fish with hand-thrown nets."

Whilst the world has focused on Hezbollah and the recent Hezbollah-Israel war, things in Gaza go from bad to worse. How long can the world look on as this absolutely terrible state of affairs in Gaza is allowed to continue? And for Israel it's a time-bomb ready to explode. Read this devastating article from The Independent on the dire conditions and situation in Gaza.

Meanwhile, in the …