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Showing posts from December, 2006

For once - a positive out of Africa

The news out of Africa is rarely good. A coup, unrest, starvation, disease etc etc.

It is therefore more than heartening to read this positive report in the IHT out of sub-Saharan Africa:

"Even before workers hung the last wooden shutter on the new classrooms here, School H was overcrowded.

Makamba Keito, the new school's director, was expecting no more than 420 first through sixth graders. But as he opened registration on a sizzling Saturday in September, twice that many were already on the list, and those were only the students who had transferred from other jam- packed schools nearby.

Keito registered a few dozen more, then halted with a whopping 887 pupils, an average of 126 per teacher. "That's it," he recalled telling parents who were turned away. "You must go find some other place."

Finding places for millions of new students is one of sub-Saharan Africa's most overwhelming and gratifying missions.

After two decades of sluggish growth in enr…

A reflection on who is guilty in the matter of Saddam

"Saddam to the gallows. It was an easy equation. Who could be more deserving of that last walk to the scaffold - that crack of the neck at the end of a rope - than the Beast of Baghdad, the Hitler of the Tigris, the man who murdered untold hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis while spraying chemical weapons over his enemies? Our masters will tell us in a few hours that it is a "great day" for Iraqis and will hope that the Muslim world will forget that his death sentence was signed - by the Iraqi "government", but on behalf of the Americans - on the very eve of the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, the moment of greatest forgiveness in the Arab world.

But history will record that the Arabs and other Muslims and, indeed, many millions in the West, will ask another question this weekend, a question that will not be posed in other Western newspapers because it is not the narrative laid down for us by our presidents and prime ministers - what about the ot…

An "interesting" juxtaposition

Well, the Americans got what they wanted! George Bush said earlier this year that Ssddam would be executed by year's end. Good timing George! Obviously Saddam was an appalling and ruthless dicatator. One can't really say that one can mourn his loss. That said, the whole apparatus for trying him and the trial itself does give one more than pause for thought.

Riverbend, a yound Iraqi blogger puts her thoughts about the situation in this moving way:

"You know your country is in trouble when:

The UN has to open a special branch just to keep track of the chaos and bloodshed, UNAMI.

Abovementioned branch cannot be run from your country.

The politicians who worked to put your country in this sorry state can no longer be found inside of, or anywhere near, its borders.

The only thing the US and Iran can agree about is the deteriorating state of your nation.

An 8-year war and 13-year blockade are looking like the country's 'Golden Years'.
Your country is purportedly &…

Choking on their Xmas dinner?

"One hopes that John Howard, Philip Ruddock and Alexander Downer enjoyed their Christmas dinners -- an occasion which, I understand, celebrates the birth of Christ as well as the triumphs of retailing. Presumably the Christian jailers of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo had turkey and pud, too, and you can bet there were some macabre Chrissie decorations about the place. Tinsel and Santas to go with the carols, Rudolph and I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas. Talk about the clash of civilisations.

Hicks has had five years in and out of wire cages and solitary confinement, John. That's 60 months, Philip. Or more than 1800 days, Alexander. Though treated as cruelly as any criminal on earth, Hicks has never been formally charged -- let alone convicted -- of anything. And his term of imprisonment shows no sign of ending. Best estimate? Another two years before Hicks has his day in some parody of a court. But we can't bring him back here, can we, gentlemen? Because there's …

Linda Jaivin on those Oz "values"

Linda Jaivin is a well-known author. In an op-ed piece in the SMH she considers and reflects on those Australian "values" John Howard & Co. have been banging-on about.....

"We hear a lot about Australian values these days. Yet the substance behind the slogan remains more difficult to pin down than a core promise in a non-election year.

Aussie values are an abstraction which normally becomes concrete only when some group - Muslims, refugees, inner-city "elites" - need to be beaten into submission with them. Once the values have served their purpose they revert to being conceptual gas.

As the education minister, Brendan Nelson famously tried to pin the values tail on Simpson's donkey. It appears he wasn't fully aware that Simpson, unarmed angel of Gallipoli, was also an illegal immigrant, army deserter and socialist with a pro-union bent, a lazy streak and food stains on his collar.

There are those of us who may appreciate Simpson even more for all t…

Read it - and believe it!

"How extreme were conservative commentators in their remarks this year? How about calls to nuke the Middle East and an allegation that a "gay ... mafia" used the congressional page program as its own "personal preserve." Right-wing rhetoric documented by Media Matters for America included the nonsensical (including Rush Limbaugh's claim that America's "obesity crisis" is caused by, among other things, our failure to "teach [the poor] how to butcher a -- slaughter a cow to get the butter, we gave them the butter"), the offensive (such as right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel's question about "Barack Hussein Obama": is he "a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?"), and the simply bizarre (such as William A. Donohue's claim that some Hollywood stars would "sodomize their own mother in a movie"). Since there were so many outrageou…

Wolfowitz needs to explain......

"Accountability is one of those ideals, like justice or the triumph of right over might, that are wonderful in principle but usually disappointing in practice.

This is nowhere more true than in Washington, where one of the most powerful men in President Bush's inner circle, a man who helped conceive, plan and execute the Iraq war, has managed to escape scrutiny for steering his country into one of the greatest strategic catastrophes of his generation.

I am referring, although nobody else does, to Paul Wolfowitz. Remember Wolfowitz, best known to readers of this and other newspapers as the "chief architect of the Iraq war"? Before the war, he was hailed by many as one of the great foreign policy intellectuals of our time. He was a leading defense strategist, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and the former dean of the School of Advanced Studies at Johns Hopkins University, a man whose views on democracy and the Middle East were taken seriously by both his admirers …

Speaking with a forked tongue

In the last days Israeli PM Olmert met with Palestinian President Abbas and even announced a number of so-called concessions in a move said to be aimed in bringing about some sort of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Hamas leadership condemned the lastest moves as being little else than the Israelis duping the Palestinians.

It looks like Hamas were spot on. In a move which can only be regarded as madness and spitting into the face of the Palestinians, the IHTreports today:

"Israel has approved the construction of a new settlement in the occupied West Bank for the first time in a decade, according to the Israeli Defense Ministry and settler groups speaking Tuesday.The announcement comes days after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel met for a first substantive meeting with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and is bound to embarrass the Palestinian leader, already being criticized by political rivals in Hamas for carrying out an Israeli and American agenda…

Try telling that to the Tax Department....

With news today that the Australian Defence Department cannot adequately account for some inventory and "repairable items" worth a mere $3.9 billion, one has to wonder what sort of department former Minister Robert Hill, and now Brendan Nelson, are running.

As The Agereports:

"Days after the Defence Department launched an inquiry into fears that criminals have gained access to army shoulder-fired rocket launchers, the Auditor-General has found it cannot adequately account for inventory and "repairable items" worth $3.9 billion.

An annual investigation of government agencies by the Australian National Audit Office concludes that Defence has breached federal financial management controls.

The Auditor-General, Ian McPhee, also criticised the $8.7 billion Defence Materiel Organisation, the body responsible for managing defence equipment."

So, should the ATO knock on your door and you be unable to produce an elusive receipt or explain some transaction because the p…

An event of significance for South America

All too often the reporting, if any, of what is happening in South America is limited to some dictator or other being deposed, a drug-bust of monumental proportions or slamming an elected President because he isn't pro-American.

As Noam Chomsky writes on ZNet, an event with significance occured in South America with little or no reporting of it:

"There was a meeting on the weekend of December 9-10 in Cochabamba in Bolivia of major South American leaders. It was a very important meeting. One index of its importance is that it was unreported, virtually unreported apart from the wire services. So every editor knew about it. Since I suspect you didn't read that wire service report, I'll read a few things from it to indicate why it was so important.

The South American leaders agreed to create a high-level commission to study the idea of forming a continent-wide community similar to the European Union. This is the presidents and envoys of major nations, and there was the two-d…

To live and let live, amongst the olive groves

"For the 39th consecutive year, Palestinian Christians in towns and villages like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Aboud will celebrate Christmas under Israeli military occupation. In Aboud, our hardships increased in October 2005, when the Israeli military issued confiscation orders to seize land owned by village residents to build Israel's security barrier, or wall. The orders were given without consultation with the land owners, contradicting what is expected from a democratic government.

Aboud is a small village northwest of Jerusalem, five kilometers from the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 border. The Christian history of Aboud is said to date from when Jesus and the Holy Family passed through Aboud en route from the Galilee to Jerusalem. There are remains of nine ancient Christian Churches here that are visited by pilgrims from around the world."

This piece in the IHT provides a graphic account of life for a village slowly being strangled by that awful wall whic…

Watch this space

In what is described as probably George Bushs' worst nightmare, the Democratic controlled Congress is set to probe a raft of things on Bushs' watch - as the Boston Globereports:

"Massachusetts lawmakers are set to launch a blizzard of investigations in the new Congress, probing issues such as wartime contracting, post-Katrina housing assistance, and the Bush administration's relationship with Cuba and other countries in Latin America.

In what could be closely watched proceedings, two members of the Massachusetts delegation -- representatives William D. Delahunt of Quincy and Martin T. Meehan of Lowell -- are planning joint committee hearings to examine the administration's Iraq war policies, particularly the reasons for the military's lagging efforts to train Iraqi troops. Delahunt is in line to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, and Meehan will take over the same subcommittee on th…

The wonders of technology.....mile high!

Quite incredibly it is possible, on some airlines, to access the internet whilst flying. Whilst Mahler's Prodigal Son listens to Mahler on his ipod he is also blogging on board a Singapore Airlines flight somewhere above the Middle East en route to Frankfurt.

Whoever said technology isn't getting better and better?......

Father Bob on Christmas

Father Bob is well known as John Safran's fellow-commentator on both TV and radio. He has become one of Melbourne's most popular priests....

"It's Christmas in South Melbourne. Amid the smoke and the heat, Father Bob Maguire is pausing to collect his thoughts for his own style of Christmas message. It's not like the Queen's with her autocue and good manners — Father Bob's is more robust, from the heart, the yuletide thoughts of Melbourne's unorthodox social commentator.

"A nice bloke said to me the other day 'It's Christmas time, I wonder what I should be doing'. And I said 'Well, maybe you could look after others'. And he paused as if I'd said something very profound and he said 'What others?' He didn't know what the word meant. I said 'Well, go home and Google it'."

Read the full piece, in The Age, about the priest and his views on a whole range of issues.

Guantanamo: 5 years on

11 January 2007 marks the 5th anniversary of Guantanamo receiving the first of its prisoners. But what has happened since January 2002 to all the imprisoned people there?

The questions are pointedly raised by Colonel Ann Wright, Retired, this piece on truthout:

"On January 11, 2002, the first detainees from Afghanistan arrived at the prison in the US Naval Base, Guantanamo, Cuba. In the succeeding five years, Guantanamo has symbolized to the world the Bush administration's abandonment of international and domestic law, and the development of a policy of inhumane treatment and use of torture. These claims have been linked to military and CIA operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and in an unknown number of secret prisons.

More than 775 detainees have been held in Guantanamo since January 11, 2002. After five years, no Guantanamo detainee has been convicted of a criminal offense. According to an American Forces Information Service News article dated October 17, 2006, "Bush Says M…

Robert Fisk on the Alice in Wonderland factor

Robert Fisk lives in Beirut, writes for The Independent, and "covers" the Middle East - in depth, in as much that he actually goes out there [rather than just sit in a hotel room "reporting"] and does report on what is happening.

Fisk is visiting the US. He writes here:

"I call it the Alice in Wonderland effect. Each time I tour the United States, I stare through the looking glass at the faraway region in which I live and work for The Independent - the Middle East - and see a landscape which I do no recognise, a distant tragedy turned, here in America, into a farce of hypocrisy and banality and barefaced lies. Am I the Cheshire Cat? Or the Mad Hatter?"

Fisk's observations, as always, are acute and to the point. Some would say uncomfortably blunt!

Israel - and its apartheid policies

Chris Hedges, former NY Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, writing on AlterNet, on the controversy swirling around former President Carter's recently released book - which accuses Israel of apartheid-like policies:

"Carter's book exposes little about Israel. The enforced segregation, abject humiliation and spiraling Israeli violence against Palestinians have been detailed in the Israeli and European press and, with remarkable consistency, by all the major human rights organizations. The assault against Carter, rather, says more about the failings of the American media -- which have largely let Israel hawks heap calumny on Carter's book. It exposes the indifference of the Bush Administration and the Democratic leadership to the rule of law and basic human rights, the timidity of our intellectual class and the moral bankruptcy of institutions that claim to speak for American Jews and the Jewish state.The bleakness of life for Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, is …

Happy Holidays - and wanderlust.....

Whatever your creed or religion, or whatever, it holiday and holyday-time. Happy Holidays.....

Meanwhile, Mahler's Prodigal Son is off wandering parts of the globe. That doesn't mean that this blogger will be off the air during the next weeks.....only that there won't be quite the regular postings each day.

Stay tuned!!!!

Climate change v Mother Nature

"Bears have stopped hibernating in the mountains of northern Spain, scientists revealed yesterday, in what may be one of the strongest signals yet of how much climate change is affecting the natural world.

In a December in which bumblebees, butterflies and even swallows have been on the wing in Britain, European brown bears have been lumbering through the forests of Spain's Cantabrian mountains, when normally they would already be in their long, annual sleep.

Bears are supposed to slumber throughout the winter, slowing their body rhythms to a minimum and drawing on stored resources, because frozen weather makes food too scarce to find. The barely breathing creatures can lose up to 40 per cent of their body weight before warmer springtime weather rouses them back to life.

But many of the 130 bears in Spain's northern cordillera - which have a slightly different genetic identity from bear populations elsewhere in the world - have remained active throughout recent winters, natu…

Australian Ministers flouting the laws of war

Peter Vickery QC, is special rapporteur for the International Commission of Jurists, Victoria.

He puts forward the proposition in this op-ed piece in The Age that Ministers in the Howard Government may well have breached international law in their handling [or non-handling] of the Hicks matter:

"Davis Hicks has been accused of some ill-defined war crimes. But is he the victim of a policy promoted by the Australian Government that is itself a war crime?

In September last year Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said: "We have been pressing the American Government to get on with the trial of Mr Hicks." He has frequently repeated this view, and Prime Minister John Howard and other ministers have also expressed it.

This stance would not only fail the "fair go" section of any proposed citizenship test, it also ignores our commitments under international law and may be a grave contravention of Australia's criminal law.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court…

A Muslim perspective on that conference on the Holocaust

AYAAN HIRSI ALI, is a Somali immigrant who served in the parliament of the Netherlands until earlier this year, and is the author of "Infidel," an autobiography to be published in February.

The LA Times has published this op-ed piece "Why they deny the Holocaust" in the course of which piece Ali says:

"Western leaders today who say they are shocked by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conference this week denying the Holocaust need to wake up to that reality. For the majority of Muslims in the world, the Holocaust is not a major historical event that they deny. We simply do not know it ever happened because we were never informed of it.

The total number of Jews in the world today is estimated to be about 15 million, certainly no more than 20 million. On the other hand, the world's Muslim population is estimated to be between 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion. And not only is this population rapidly growing, it is also very young.

What's striking abou…

Winds of change in Iran?

The news out of Iran, as reported, portrays its President, Ahmadinejad, as a seemingly dangerous and quite outragous individual. Think sabre rattling with nuclear weapons, threating to eradicate Israel and the recent conference on the Holocaust in Tehran.

Things in Iran might just be changing, even a tad, as this piece in the NY Times reports:

"As protests broke out last week at a prestigious university here, cutting short a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Babak Zamanian could only watch from afar. He was on crutches, having been clubbed by supporters of the president and had his foot run over by a motorcycle during a less publicized student demonstration a few days earlier.

But the significance of the confrontation was easy to grasp, even from a distance, said Mr. Zamanian, a leader of a student political group."

Sponsor a cow

As drought grips Australia, the plight of the man [er, person] on the land is often overlooked. City-slickers simply see the effect of the drought as being the restrictions on watering the garden or washing the car.

As this piece on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program reports:

"The drought is certainly hitting our rural communities hard this Christmas. For many people on the land, this will be the worst ever.

But a small town in Victoria is hoping that city folk will come to the rescue.

Stanhope, in the Goulburn Valley, wants people to sponsor a cow, so local dairy farmers can buy feed for their livestock.

Currently, 3,500 dairy cows are being slaughtered every week. at just one local abattoir. But, there is hope.

Bob Holschier is chairman of the Stanhope and District Development Committee and the brains behind this scheme."

Listen to this interview for an insight into how hard people on the land are doing it through the drought. Oh yes, you can even adopt a cow too!

Does David Hicks even know its Christmas?

This entry on radar blog speaks for itself.....

"So, David Hicks has been locked up in Guantanamo Bay for nearly five years. Britain and the US pulled their citizens out years ago, but John Howard doesn't see any need to avoid a trial by the US military commission that Britain, justifiably, feared would not try its citizens fairly. And how would someone react to five years of hellish, seemingly unending captivity? In particular, someone who, judging by his decision to fight alongside the Taliban, probably wasn't exactly tip-top mentally to begin with? Well, they'd have enormous problems. Which is why when I ask whether David Hicks knows it's Christmas, I don't mean it in the Band Aid sense of "can he, in his suffering, recognise that this is supposed to be the season of goodwill towards others". I'm asking whether, given his evident mental disintegration, he is even aware it's Christmas.

The news today is that he won't talk to his long-suff…

Chris Hedges: Worse than apartheid

Chris Hedges was the bureau chief of the NY Times in Jerusalem. He is a veteran journalist and knows the Middle East well.

In his latest piece in truthdig he writes:

"The stark reality of Gaza, however, has failed to penetrate the consciousness of most Americans, who, when they notice the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, prefer to debate the merits of the word “apartheid” in former President Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” It is a sad commentary on the gutlessness of the U.S. press and the timidity of the Democratic opposition that most Americans are not aware of the catastrophic humanitarian crisis they bear so much responsibility in creating. Palestinians are not only dying, their olive trees uprooted, their farmland and homes destroyed and their aquifers taken away from them, but on many days they can’t move because of Israeli “closures” that make basic tasks, like buying food and going to the hospital, nearly impossible. These Palestinians, after d…

Iraq more hellish than under Saddam

On the day that George Bush, finally, acknowledges that the US isn't "winning" in Iraq - funny that....a few weeks ago before the mid-term Congressional elections Bush claimed they were winning! - but "not losing" [what does that mean?] this piece in AlterNetgraphically describes the position for Iraqis:

"The tragedy unleashed by the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq defies description."

And:

"Basic foods and necessities are beyond the reach of ordinary Iraqis because of massive inflation. "A gallon of gasoline cost as little as 4 cents in November. Now, after the International Monetary Fund pushed the Oil Ministry to cut its subsidies, the official price is about 67 cents," the New York Times notes. "The spike has come as a shock to Iraqis, who make only about $150 a month on average -- if they have jobs," an important proviso, since unemployment is roughly 60-70 percent nationally.

October 2006 proved to be the bloodiest mont…

Money, money, money....

Rolling Stone reports:

"......according to one of the world's leading economists, that is just a fraction of what Iraq will actually wind up costing American taxpayers. Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, estimates the true cost of the war at$2.267 trillion. That includes the government's past and future spending for the war itself ($725 billion), health care and disability benefits for veterans ($127 billion), and hidden increases in defense spending ($160 billion). It also includes losses the economy will suffer from injured vets ($355 billion) and higher oil prices ($450 billion)."

*** The Australian Financial Review reports that the Chairman and CEO at Goldman Sachs Group [in New York] is eligible for a US$87 million [A$111 million] bonus this year after his firm shattered Wall Street's profit record

*** The Epicure section of The Age reports that a barrista working in Sydney can earn $100,000 per annum

A blast at the past

We rarely hear or read anything about communism and how many European countries were under the yolk of that terrible political regime.

So, it is interesting to read this blast at the past, as reported in the IHT:

"President Traian Basescu of Romania on Monday formally condemned the Communist dictatorship that ruled his country for more than four decades, the first time a Romanian head of state had officially denounced the Soviet-era system.

"The regime exterminated people by assassination and deportation of hundreds of thousands of people," Basescu told his country's Parliament. He based his assessment on a 660-page report compiled by a presidential commission charged with analyzing the country's Communist past."

Just think! On 1 January Romania joins the European Union.

Big on talk - less on action!

Remember the Stern Report on global warming a few weeks back? Tony Blair saying it was one of the most significant reports during his prime-ministership? The hype and seeming recognition that somethimg needs to be done.

That was then. As James Button reports in this piece in The Age:

"At the United Nations summit in Nairobi last month, ministers from France to Denmark to Bangladesh lined up to praise Stern and pledge their commitment to the cause.

But in Britain this month, Chancellor Gordon Brown released his pre-budget report. The document would normally hold little interest, except that it was hyped in advance as a visionary statement of what Brown will do if and when he becomes prime minister next year.

The report was brown all right. Green was hard to find. It marginally increased taxes on airlines and fuel and introduced a stamp duty exemption on a minority of new homes that are carbon-neutral. But it adopted none of Stern's proposals, notably those for targeted …

Dumb, dumb, dumb....

We are constantly told, reminded and exhorted by everyone - be it George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard and many Ministers - that we are fighting terrorists on many fronts.

Accepting that to be the fact, one certainly would not be telling those pesky terrorists what our thinking is and what plans are afoot to combat the terrorist threat.

Not so! Be gob-smacked that the US Department of Defence [ie the Pentagon] has published its 282-page counterinsurgency war-fighting manual on line.

Yep folks, all of us, terrorists and others, can read it here via IraqSlogger. Dumb!!!

Turning back to the Taliban

Whilst Bush and Co - as also Tony Blair - assert that democracy has been restored to Afghanistan post the ousting of the Taliban, the LA Timesreports that certainly as far as the so-called justice system is concerned, things are far different:

"Systematic injustice stokes searing humiliation and resentment, turning many Afghans against President Hamid Karzai's government and his foreign backers. Nostalgia for the ruthless rule of the Taliban is growing as the line between judges and criminals blurs. When they can't find justice in the courts, Afghans are tempted to turn back to what they've trusted most for a generation: their weapons."

Looks like it's the same sort of democracy we are witnessing in Iraq - not!!!!

Putting a value on the gift - and the giver

The NY Times features this interesting article by Oz Professor, Peter Singer, "What Should a Billionaire Give - and What Should You?".

"What is a human life worth? You may not want to put a price tag on a it. But if we really had to, most of us would agree that the value of a human life would be in the millions. Consistent with the foundations of our democracy and our frequently professed belief in the inherent dignity of human beings, we would also agree that all humans are created equal, at least to the extent of denying that differences of sex, ethnicity, nationality and place of residence change the value of a human life."

For Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the ideal of valuing all human life equally began to jar against reality some years ago, when he read an article about diseases in the developing world and came across the statistic that half a million children die every year from rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children. He had n…

Us, you and me.....

Each year since time immemorial, Time magazine has chosen the Man of the Year. Recipients have been diverse - from Hitler to US Presidents, Nobel Peace prize winners, Bill Gates and many others. Time's 2006 choice? Check it out here.

This year it's all very different, as Nora Ephron, somewhat tongue in cheek, writes on TheHuffington Post:

"It never crossed my mind that when I was finally named Person of the Year by Time Magazine, which I seem to have been, I would find it out by reading the morning newspaper on the actual day Time Magazine appeared. It never occurred to me that they would be able to assemble an entire article about me without even calling."

Not the way to win hearts and minds

Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian journalist. She writes, hereon AlterNet, about her experiences, and those of her 2 year old son, as they waited in Egypt for over 2 weeks before be allowed to cross into Gaza where their home is. The Israelis had simply shut the border between Egypt and Gaza down. The actions of the Israelis can't help but alienate an already hostile Palestinian people. Hardly the way to moving toward the peace the Israelis claim they seek.

"Last week, I awoke to the persistent stammering of my 2-year-old son Yousuf: "I think today the crossing will open mama!" After we had waited at the border for over two weeks, Yousuf's prediction came true. Israel finally opened the border for a few hours.

Amidst chaotic crowds of thousands of stranded travelers, my son and I managed to squeeze through Gaza's Rafah crossing from Egypt to reach our home in the Gaza Strip.

However, the hardships persist for thousands of Palestinians on both the E…

Starbucks: Grinding more than coffee

Like their coffee or not [not!] Starbucks is everywhere around the globe.

What is less well-know, is that apart from grinding its cofffee-beans, Starbucks also "grinds" down the producers in Ethiopia who grow the actual coffee beans.

As Le Mondereports [reproduced on truthout]:

"Coffee is by far Ethiopia's main resource. It represents between 40 and 60 percent of the country's exports and assures the survival of about 15 million people, essentially the families of poor farmers. In an attempt to increase its income and protect itself from the catastrophic collapse of prices, like the one that took place between 2000 and 2003, Addis Ababa is trying to register the brand names for the regions where its most well-known coffees - Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Harar - are produced, much the way cognac or Roquefort are registered.

But Ethiopia runs up against Starbucks. The multinational makes liberal use of Ethiopian names to sell its beverages and does not want to hear ab…

Contemplating Cuba post Castro

With Fidel Castro reported as being ill and US Congressmen again visiting Cuba this week, it is worth reflecting on the fact that the Americans have not recognised the Castro government - depsite the fact that the island nation is a some 150 kms off the shore of mainland America.

As Mother Jonesreports, it's not just the exiles who have their sights on Havana. Whilst Fidel Castro evidently nears death, an insight into the thinking in the US looks at past and future American policy towards the island nation Castro has ruled for fifty years.

Colin Powell: Telling us what we already know

As President Bush is said to be considering sending up to 40,000 more troops into Iraq - and the daily carnage in the country continues unabated - Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff - appearing on CBS News tells us what we all really knew.

"The United States is losing the war in Iraq but sending more troops to Baghdad is not the best way to change course, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Face The Nation.

Powell said he agreed with the assessment of the Iraq Study Group co-chairmen, Lee Hamilton and James Baker, that the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating," and he also agreed with recently-confirmed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the U.S. is not winning the war.

"So if it's grave and deteriorating and we're not winning, we are losing," Powell told Bob Schieffer in an exclusive interview. "We haven't lost. And this is the time, now, to start to put in place the kinds of …

Reporting on that conference

Words fail when one considers the recent conference on the Holocaust initiated by the Iranian President. Madness is one word which comes to mind.

So, how do you report it? That was the dilema of the the BBCreporter in Iran.

"Iran has been severely criticised for hosting a conference questioning the Holocaust. Delegates included not only some of the world's best-known Holocaust deniers, but also white supremacists and anti-Semites.

Iran frequently plays host to those who criticise Israel.

In the BBC there's a lot of talk about impartial broadcasting. I've always wondered how that would work if you were the BBC correspondent in Nazi Germany reporting on Hitler.

Would you not have to take sides? Well I got closer than ever before to this problem reporting on Iran's Holocaust conference."

Woman going backwards in Iraq

The now discredited leaders of the Coalition of the Willing said the aim of the war was to remove Iraq's WMDs, topple Saddam and restore democracy to the country. Of course apart from Saddam being out of office Iraq has increasingly gone from bad to worse in just about all respects.

It is interesting, in an Australian context, as John Howard seeks to have new immigrants adopt "Australian values " - including those coming to Australia given to understand that women must be treatly equally to men - the situation for women in Iraq is getting must worse than it was under the Saddam regime.

The Washington Postreports:

"As Islamic fundamentalism seeps into society and sectarian warfare escalates, more and more women live in fear of being kidnapped or raped. They receive death threats because of their religious sects and careers. They are harassed for not abiding by the strict dress code of long skirts and head scarves or for driving cars.

For much of the 20th century, and…

We can, and have to, each do our bit....

There is no doubt that politicians have either been hostile to or slow to grasp that climate change must be addressed. George Bush and John Howard have actively poo-pood Kyoto. Rupert Murdoch, until recently, questioned global warming and the like. People like Andrew Bolt [described as the "village idiot" by Mike Carleton] still resist the notion that there is something known as climate change.

The world is turning though. Despite the sceptics, the evidence is almost overwhelming that we are faced with innumerable challenges, on all levels, unless we, now, deal with climate change. To ignore what is happening around us, and faces future generations, would be totally irresponsible.

It is is not only governments who must take action. Everyone has a role to play:

"Research out of the Max Planck Institute in Germany suggests how we might help ourselves evolve. We behave as better environmental citizens when educated about the science of global warming, and w…

An Israeli response to Jimmy Carter

Whilst people of the Alan Dershowitz [who by the way sounds more rabid by the day] ilk rail against Jimmy Carter and his latest book [see previously postings] Haaretz has this piece:

"Predictably, some are accusing Carter of anti-Semitism. Carter is closely following the responses, including on the Internet, and responding to his critics. He is prepared to lecture for free about his views - but Jews don't want to hear, he complains. An Israeli reader won't find anything more in the book than is written in the newspapers here every day.

Carter has much praise for the public discourse in Israel, saying that it is more open to debate over a withdrawal to the Green Line than is the public discourse in America. It's become something of a fashion there lately to claim that the Jewish lobby stifles all criticism of Israel; in fact, it isn't difficult to find criticism there, too. Surveys show that a majority of Jews in America support a withdrawal in return for peace, as …

Pre Iraq War: Now here is a surprise!

The Independent reveals and reports - what we have all suspected all along:

"The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."

Losing the real plot

As any traveller to the US well knows, entering the US, especially post 9/11, now requires running the gauntlet of being photographed and finger-printed. On top of that the visitor is likely to be quizzed as to why he or she is coming to America. Apart from terrorist concerns the Americans, even pre 9/11, have always seemingly held the view that any entrant to the US must want to stay and live there.

As the report NY Times reports, the whole "structure" of entry and departure from the US now looks more than a tad ridiculous:

"In a major blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to secure borders, domestic security officials have for now given up on plans to develop a facial or fingerprint recognition system to determine whether a vast majority of foreign visitors leave the country, officials say.

Domestic security officials had described the system, known as U.S. Visit, as critical to security and important in efforts to curb illegal immigration. Similarly, one-thir…

Australia's ministerial imposters

Alan Ramsay is right on the button in his weekly op-ed piece in this morning's SMH:

"Alexander Downer and Brendan Nelson were in Washington this week. A greater pair of ministerial impostors representing Australia at the very hub of US military and political power is hard to imagine. What must Americans really think of two such characters from the other side of the world? Do they see the joke, you wonder? Or is the Bush Administration, with its frightening caricature of a President, grateful for any visitors, particularly those forever genuflecting, who continue to tell it how right it is and what staunch "mates" it has in the land of the kangaroo?".

And as Ramsay goes on to write, this quite extraordinary statement from Lord Downer of Baghdad:

"Foreign Minister Downer, speaking on future Iraq policy to reporters in Washington on Tuesday: "Our view is, first of all, it's not [about] timetables. It's not the haste with which the President makes hi…

Israel's dangerous redneck Defence Minister

Avigdor Lieberman is Israel's Defence Minister. He is a dangerous man as this background of the man, in The Nation, clearly shows:

"If Lieberman's pronouncements are to be taken seriously--and there is no obvious reason they should not be--a Lieberman government would exclude some Arab citizens from Israel, would expel others who refuse to sign a loyalty-to-Zionism oath, would turn Gaza into Grozny and would execute Arab members of the Knesset who talk to Hamas or mark Israel Independence Day as the anniversary of the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948.

Many Israelis--and many Americans--are sleeping through the rise of Lieberman. Others are through their actions facilitating the ascendance of fascist ideas in Israel. Lieberman is more than kosher as far as Washington is concerned. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed him at the State Department on December 11, a day after he was featured at a forum, sponsored by the Brookings Institution's Saban Center,…

Jimmy Carter addresses that "a" word.....

Riz Kahn, one-time with CNN, interviews former President Jimmy Carter on Al Jazeera - as published on Counterpoint - on his latest book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid" - and the "fire" the book has attracted because he accuses Israel of pursuing apartheid policies. All the usual shrill voices - like Alan Dershowitz, that ever-more disgraceful professor at Harvard University - have hoed into Carter and accused him of being anti-semitic.

Carter, to one of the questions, says:

"So the book applies to the Palestines. Secondly I use that word deliberately and it's an accurate description of the circumstances there because I wanted to provoke an almost non-existent debate and discussion in my own country.

Where rarely is any sort of presentation of the conflicting points of view that I see everyday when I'm is Israel, in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or when I'm in an Arab country obviously or Europe. So I wanted this book to be somewhat provocative and that…

US takes torture to a new level

Writing in The Guardian George Monbiot says:

"That the US tortures, routinely and systematically, while prosecuting its "war on terror" can no longer be seriously disputed. The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA), a coalition of academics and human-rights groups, has documented the abuse or killing of 460 inmates of US military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay. This, it says, is necessarily a conservative figure: many cases will remain unrecorded. The prisoners were beaten, raped, forced to abuse themselves, forced to maintain "stress positions", and subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation and mock executions."

This most disturbing piece is a must-read for it shows the level of depravity and inhumanity the US has employed in its treatment of many people, said to be terrorists, not even charged with any offence. As Monbiot concludes in his piece:

"President Bush maintains that he is fighting a war against threats to the…

All you wanted to know about becoming a geek

"So you are a dummy when it comes to computers and the digital lifestyle. It's something you shrug off with a self-deprecating smile, burdened as you are with so much else in life. Who's got the time to indulge in even partial geekdom?"

So begins this light-hearted piece "Cheat to geek guide" in The Age - but nevertheless a quick guide on all one at least needs to know about what all those seemingly geeky terms mean and being in the loop......

An eloquent acceptance speech.....

This is what Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, said as part of his acceptance speech when presented the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm the other day...

“The question we writers are asked most often, the favorite question, is:

Why do you write? I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because I can't do normal work like other people. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write …

Multiculturalism not on Howard's radar

PM Howard has never liked multiculturalism or the use of the term. He rarely uses it himself. Why would he as a WASP?

Now, with this newly proposed "test" for applicants for citizenship in Australia, Howard has attempted - poorly and incoherently one might add - to not only say what "Australian values" are but what he sees as the larger picture about immigrants to the country.

Interviewed on AM [the ABC's Radio National program] a couple of days ago, Howard said:

"I haven't used the word [ie multiculturalism] a lot. We're not sort of formally abandoning words. You don't make announcements about that, you just, over a period of time you use the language which best expresses the feelings you have, and I prefer to use the expression "integration". But I, side-by-side with that, continue to emphasise that we have a non-discriminatory immigration policy, and it will continue to take people from all around the world, irrespective of the…

Arianna - the ultimate Net worker

The Huffington Post features prominently on Mahler's Prodigal Son. In just 2 years it is said to have become the leading blog in the US.

But who is Arianna Huffington? Some formidable woman by all accounts, as the GuardianUnlimited describes her in this interesting "portrait" of the blogger:

"She's the Blackberry-toting, Bush-baiting Queen of the Blogosphere who has made her two-year-old website the most potent force in American politics. Paul Harris links up with Arianna Huffington to discover what makes the ultimate Net worker click".

If you want to see Huffington's "work" in action take a load of this great put-down of Congressman Tom De Ley and his blog:

"First let me say, welcome to the blogosphere -- always nice to have a new voice in the mix. So good to know you have access to a computer in jail (oh, sorry, you dodged that bullet). And thanks for the link.

But since you're a newbie blogger, I want to give you a hand by poi…

Throwing a cat amongst the pidgeons

With all the death, mayhem and destruction wrought on the Palestinians by the Israelis, this just released decision by the Israeli Supreme Court is certain to throw a cat amongst the pidgeons with probbaly "interesting" consequences - as The Independentreports:

"The Israeli supreme court has overturned part of a 17-month-old blanket ban by the government on Palestinians seeking compensation for harm inflicted by the Israel Defence Forces.

The decision reopens the way for at least some law suits in the Israeli courts by Palestinians who suffer bereavement, injury or property damage at the hands of the Israeli military in Gaza or the West Bank, by cancelling a section of an amendment approved by the Knesset in July 2005."

Kofi Annan: 5 lessons I have learnt

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, retires at the end of the month after 10 years in the position.

He writes [in an op-ed piece in The Age] of 5 lessons he has learned as the "head" of the UN:

"Nearly 50 years ago, when I arrived in Minnesota as a student fresh from Africa, I had much to learn - starting with the fact that there is nothing wimpish about wearing earmuffs when it is 15 degrees below zero. All my life since has been a learning experience. Now I want to pass on five lessons I have learned during 10 years as Secretary-General of the United Nations that I believe the community of nations needs to learn as it confronts the challenges of the 21st century."


Outrageous lobbying - and a disgraceful capitulation

Those who do not like what is being taught or published about Israel, or the place of Israel in the Middle East in relation to Palestine, know no bounds in "pushing" their line and attempting to stifle anything written, spoken or taught which doesn't accord with their pro-Israel position.

Crikey has exposed the most outrageous "complaint" [really?] about an educational simulation conducted at a Sydney High School - and then the immediate backdown [capitulation?] by the NSW Education Department:

"I recently reported for Crikey on alleged anti-Israel bias of educational simulations on the Israel/Palestine conflict conducted by Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies. The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and The Australian have both conducted a campaign to stigmatise the simulations as pro-terrorist, pro-Palestinian and anti-US (though the simulations ended late last year.)

Crikey has now discovered that the popular simulations were c…

Breakfast Gold

Crikey has issued its Honour Roll for 2006. The Honours cover a range of fields - like Political Idea of the Year, Dumbest Political Idea for 2006, etc.

The Media award is a most deserving one. Let Crikey hit the mark in one:

"There is no more polished, professional or practiced media operator in Australia than the host of Radio National’s must-listen-to daily breakfast news feast, Fran Kelly. She’s personally on air for almost two hours from 6am, a solo act (with a patently outstanding production staff supporting her) juggling something like eight issues each morning, in addition to regular slots on sport, business and politics. She is the master of the brief – actually more like a dozen briefs each day – and her consistency across those subjects is spectacular. Whether it’s a complex breaking foreign story, an economics issue, a human interest tale or her own area of expertise, national politics, she handles them all with a sense of apparent knowledge and deep interest.…

Great News! George W has a new slogan!

The Huffington Post, with no little sense of irony and poking fun where it ought to be, reports:

"Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is already backing away from most of the proposals put forth by the Iraq Study Group. The New York Times, with unintended comic irony, noted it this way: "Administration officials say their preliminary review of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's recommendations has concluded that many of its key proposals are impractical or unrealistic." Thank God we have George Bush to protect us from doing anything impractical or unrealistic in the Middle East.

But there is one thing in the proposal we can be sure Bush will take from the report -- the slogan. Bush may not be into things like facts, truth, or reality, but he loves a good slogan.

So while Bush may not like any of the Group's 79 proposals (so impractical and unrealistic), he's ready to adopt its slogan, "New Way Forward." Newsweek says that next week "Bush is …

President Shrub gets more delusional.....

For a wounded President locked in a lethal downward spiral ever since his reelection, it was the cruelest week of all.

Yet, good ol' George, ever delusional and seemingly living in the Washington version of Disneyland is quoted in NY Daily News thus:

"I'll be dead when they get it right," he said during an Oval Office meeting last week.

Read the rest of the analysis of Georges' past week here.

Sabotaging Baker and his Report

Hardly surprisingly AIJAC, and its shrill counterparts overseas, have had published in the press here and abroad articles "attacking" James Baker and his ISR for asserting that in order to achieve piece in the Middle East, including Iraq, the Israel-Palestinian conflict must be resolved.

The Guardian has this op-ed piece by Peter Preston [re-published today in The Age] on the subject:

"This injunction couldn't be clearer. "The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts." Notice that "must" word. Tony Blair says it again and again. If you don't cut out the cancer of hatred, loss and retribution, then nothing good will happen. There will be no rest for Iraq, no spread of democracy, no rapprochement with Tehran - and no breakthrough in the camp…

Israel's nuclear capacity: The ambiguity is at an end

Israel has persistently played what can only be described as a game of not admitting or denying it has a nuclear capacity. Ambiguity has been the operative word! The world has let the charade go on for years - with all that entails, including Israel not being subject to inspection by the UN Nuclear Agency.

The Israeli PM has now blown it! - as reported here by the Israel News Agency:

"According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel's Channel 10 TV news, Reuters and The Washington Post, Israel has publicly announced it's possession of nuclear weapons.

In a story attributed to The Jerusalem Post staff and Post reporter Anshel Pfeffer, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted this evening that Israel possessed nuclear weapons.

Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons,but few international experts ever questioned the Jewish state's presence on the world's list of nuclear powers. Its nuclear capability is arguably the most secretive weapons of mass destruction pr…

ISG and Cockburn tell it as it really is

Slowly.....the facts emerge about the Iraq War - the source being the rather unlikely Iraq Study Group report and a recently released book by veteran journalist Patrick Coburn.

As Patrick Cockburn writes in this piece in AlterNet [from The Independent]:

"During the Opium Wars between Britain and China in the 19th century, eunuchs at the court of the Chinese emperor had the problem of informing him of the repeated and humiliating defeat of his armies. They dealt with their delicate task by simply telling the emperor that his forces had already won or were about to win victories on all fronts.

For three and a half years White House officials have dealt with bad news from Iraq in similar fashion. Journalists were repeatedly accused by the US administration of not reporting political and military progress on the ground. Information about the failure of the US venture was ignored or suppressed.

Manipulation of facts was often very crude. As an example of the systematic distortion, the Ira…