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Showing posts from March, 2007

Harold Pinter: Why George Bush is insane

Well-known English playwright, Harold Pinter, was recently awarded an honorary degree by Turin University. In the course of his address of acceptance at the University he said:

"Earlier this year I had a major operation for cancer. The operation and its after-effects were something of a nightmare. I felt I was a man unable to swim bobbing about under water in a deep dark endless ocean. But I did not drown and I am very glad to be alive. However, I found that to emerge from a personal nightmare was to enter an infinitely more pervasive public nightmare - the nightmare of American hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and belligerence; the most powerful nation the world has ever known effectively waging war against the rest of the world. "If you are not with us you are against us" President Bush has said. He has also said "We will not allow the world's worst weapons to remain in the hands of the world's worst leaders". Quite right. Look in the mirr…

Israel's last chance

Writing in Counterpoint Gabriel Kolko [leading historian and author of many books on war] says:

"The United States has given Israel $51.3 billion in military grants since 1949, most of it after 1974- more than any other country in the post-1945 era. Israel has also received $11.2 billion in loans for military equipment, plus $31 billion in economic grants, not to mention loan guarantees, joint military projects like the Arrow missile, and such. But major conditions on these military grants have meant that 74 percent of it has remained in the U.S. to purchase American arms. Since it creates jobs and profits in many districts, Congress is more than ready to respond to the cajoling of the Israel lobby. This vast sum, especially when calculated on a per capita basis, has both enabled and forced Israel to prepare to fight American-style war. But the US has spent immense sums of money since 1950 and it has failed to win any of its big wars.

In early 2005 the new chief of staff of the Isr…

The 3 R's + creativity

Yesterday morning [at the ungodly hour of 6.45 am] the ABC Radio National program had a most interesting interview:

"Fostering creativity and innovation in education and business is important.

UK education guru Sir Ken Robinson says it's absolutely essential in a modern, fast-changing world. It is as important as literacy and numeracy. But he says our schools and universities continue to stifle creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson is now a senior adviser to the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles. He's in Australia this week talking at a series of seminars."

Hear the interview here - and reflect on how those 3 R's rate in the overall scheme of things.

Who are they kidding?

The SMH is reporting this morning on the wrap-up of the David Hicks "trial" - still not concluded at the time of writing this. It all seems rather too pat.

Most disturbing is this:

"He also agreed that he had "never been illegally treated by any persons in the control or custody of the United States".

Now, why would the Americans, and the Australian Government, have almost certainly insisted on this statement by Hicks? Will anyone really believe it, given that Hicks has alleged how he has been mistreated over the years - as has every other person taken into custody by the Americans.

Another dimension to the Hicks fiasco and disgrace is raised by Mike Carlton in his weekly column in the SMH:

"But a question hangs in the air. If Hicks is guilty of providing material support to terrorism, where does this leave those gun-toting executives of the wheat export monopoly AWB who so cheerfully shovelled $300 million of sanction-busting bribes into the coffers of…

Beijing Olympics 2008 - ready or not?

"Less than a decade ago, this city was an industrial wasteland. The sky could be seen from Beijing's ancient monuments less than a third of the year. Nearby lakes were so contaminated that they couldn't be used to water crops. And children were warned not to play outside in the noxious air.

So when China applied to host the 2008 Olympics, it encountered deep skepticism about its ability to pull off the feat in one of the world's most populous and polluted cities. There was real concern about athletes choking on chemical-laden air as they ran the 100-meter dash.

Seven years and $40 billion later, the Chinese have had remarkable success on many fronts. Practically every construction project is running ahead of schedule. The Chinese can brag of heroic feats of logistics and engineering: the "bird's nest" latticework of the 91,000-seat Olympic Stadium, the shimmering blue skin of the Water Cube aquatics center, a 70-mile high-speed railway, four new subway lin…

Going, going....Gone!

It seems whatever support George Bush ever had is rapidly diminishing. His ratings in the polls are way down, sleaze is the buzz-word in Washington, the Iraq war is going from bad to worse - and now even the National Review magazine [a conservative publication and one-time supporter] says it as it sees things:

"That “competence” would become a buzzword, not of Bush supporters but of his critics, is an unexpected turnabout from when the president entered office six years ago. Then, it was common to note the experience and gravitas of the Bush team. Now, the incompetence charge has gained such traction that even many Republicans buy it."

The article on Bush in the latest issue of the magazine isn't available on line [unless a subscriber] but if you want to see the unflattering cover of the issue where the article appears, click here.

Media in the spotlight

This piece on AlterNet will confirm what those who observe the media, critically, have been saying all along. The media does not serve its readers well because it doesn't "do" what it is supposed to - that is, journalists seem to have forgotten that they are supposed to be watchdogs, not cheerleaders of government corruption.

"For six years, conservative domination of Washington created a drought of oversight and accountability. Now, as Congress finally begins to take action and shed light on the executive branch, establishment media figures are aghast. In recent weeks, reporters and editorial boards have repeatedly criticized members of Congress for investigating the White House or acting as counterweights to President Bush. As's Glenn Greenwald noted, "Journalists are supposed to be, by definition, eager for investigations of government misconduct. That is supposed to be their purpose, embedded in their DNA." Yet time and again, media fi…

David Hicks - and Kangaroos

The "trial" of David Hicks resumes tonight Australian time. The media is full of speculation about the outcome of Hicks' guilty plea. Of course, those who posture as experts about matters legal - and know nothing! - like Gerard Henderson and Miranda Devine [in the SMH - and nauseating to boot!] have expressed their views about the whole topic.

Whilst the interest in Hicks in Australia is considerable, it has also being the subject of intense interest around the world.

Amy Goodman [veteran journalist] writing in

"It is appropriate that a person from Australia, home of the kangaroo, should be the first one dragged before the kangaroo court at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. David Hicks, imprisoned there for more than five years, pleaded guilty Monday to providing material support for terrorism.

The case of Hicks offers us a glimpse into the Kafkaesque netherworld of detentions, kidnappings, torture and show trials that is now, internationally, th…

Ghost Prisons and Ghost Courtrooms

Village Voicereports on those "secret" prisons around the world:

"On September 17, 2001, the president told the National Security Council that, at the advice of then CIA director George Tenet (who was later awarded the Medal of Freedom by the president) he was going to issue a classified Memorandum of Notification that would give the CIA permission to use "special authorities to detain Al Qaeda operatives worldwide."

Without consulting Congress or any court, Bush had given the CIA the power to ignore American laws and our international treaty obligations to—among other war crimes under the Geneva Conventions—create its own secret prisons around the world. The CIA could also continue to conduct "renditions" to kidnap terrorism suspects to be interrogated in countries known for torturing their prisoners."

And interesting to reflect on:

"You need to have a president who understands you can't win this war with legal papers. We've got to use…

She's back.....

That woman [no, not Bill Clinton's!] who, remember, was a Liberal candidate until un-endorsed, and who then had her policies "stolen" / adopted by John Howard is back.......none other than Pauline Hanson.

Ms Hanson was interviewed on the Breakfast program on ABC Radio National this morning:

"It's more than ten-and-a-half years since Pauline Hanson gave her now infamous maiden speech. It set off an avalanche which recast Australia's political landscape.

Although the media's immediate response to her speech was muted, talk-back radio shows registered the shockwave which would become known as 'Hansonism'.

But for the girl from Ipswich, life hasn't always been easy; nor was her political career.

Now she has recounted her story in a new autobiography to be published today called Untamed and Unashamed."

Listen to the interview, with Fran Kelly, here - and listen out for Ms Hanson's reference to "Christian Muslims". Eh?

Comical if it weren't so serious

Keep a straight face as you read this piece from CommonDreams:

"The FBI didn’t deliberately break the law by improperly obtaining thousands of Americans’ phone, e-mail and financial records, Bureau Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

That was the good news. But then came the bad:

It happened, Mueller said, because of “mistakes, carelessness, confusion, lack of training, lack of guidance and lack of adequate oversight.”

Then came this line, which senators didn’t find reassuring either:

The FBI’s use of inaccurate information to obtain secret search warrants? The problem was “very lengthy documents . . . with thousands of facts.”

Mueller didn’t mention how the bureau also managed to lose weapons and laptop computers.

He was addressing a series of recent reports of FBI bungling - making the agency seem sort of like Homer Simpson, but with guns - notably an inspector general’s conclusion that the bureau had improperly used so-called “national security let…

A death in Destrehan

"On the afternoon of Oct. 7, 1974, a mob of 200 enraged whites, many of them students, closed in on a bus filled with black students that was trying to pull away from the local high school. The people in the mob were in a high-pitched frenzy. They screamed racial epithets and bombarded the bus with rocks and bottles. The students on the bus were terrified.

When a shot was heard, the kids on the bus dived for cover. But it was a 13-year-old white boy standing near the bus, not far from his mother, who toppled to the ground with a bullet wound in his head. The boy, a freshman named Timothy Weber, died a few hours later.

That single shot in this rural town about 25 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans set in motion a tale of appalling injustice that has lasted to the present day."

So begins a piece by Bob Herbert in the NY Times dealing with a convicted murderer Gary Tyler. Tyler is to be executed next month. But not untypically in the USA, a range of critical ques…

"Justice" at work down in Gitmo

As might have been expected the Hicks "trial" even attracted considerable attention in the US.

H. Candace Gorman, writing on The Huffington Post, amongst other observations says:

"The other thing you should know is what was clear to anyone paying attention: there was never going to be a hearing. The most recent evidence of that was when Hicks stepped into his arraignment yesterday and the first thing that happened was that two of his three attorneys were removed from representing him. Hicks' civilian attorney was removed because he refused to sign a statement agreeing to abide by military rules that had not yet been drafted and another attorney was removed because she supposedly did not have the correct credentials for the commission. That left Hicks with only one attorney, his military attorney, Dan Mori. Although Mori has been doing an exemplary job for Hicks, there was a little cloud hanging over Mori: the prosecuting attorney has suggested that Mori should be …

The buck doesn't stop here....

As the media "covers" the entire David Hicks affair - notably his treatment over the years and to what extent that reflected itself in his pleading guilty - an interesting report pops up on iwon.News on a proceeding brought against Donald Rumsfeld by nine former detainees under the US administration:

"Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cannot be tried on allegations of torture in overseas military prisons, a federal judge said Tuesday in a case he described as "lamentable."

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan threw out a lawsuit brought on behalf of nine former prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said Rumsfeld cannot be held personally responsible for actions taken in connection with his government job.

The lawsuit contends the prisoners were beaten, suspended upside down from the ceiling by chains, urinated on, shocked, sexually humiliated, burned, locked inside boxes and subjected to mock executions.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and …

Whistleblow at your peril!

PM Howard and Co. are always going on about democratic values and like topics. The fact that this Government has done more to curtail access to Government and policy decisions hasn't been lost on those who follow these things. FOI has almost become a joke - especially if the Government is prepared to spend thousands of dollars to protect itself from anything which it doesn't want you and me to either know about or see.

Whistleblowers are certainly an endangered species, as this editorial, perhaps surprisingly, in The Australian clearly explains:

"The pernicious prosecution of retired customs officer Allan Robert Kessing for allegedly blowing the whistle on the poor state of security at Australian airports is a distressing reminder that the Howard Government's words and deeds are worlds apart when it comes to free speech and the public interest. Mr Kessing has been convicted of making public a classified report that formed the basis of a series of reports in The Au…

Not Happy John......

This self-explanatory letter to the editor appears in today's SMH:

"I saw John Howard speaking on the industrial relations laws, saying he had met no one affected. Well, let me introduce myself, Mr Howard. Last year I was working for a company that paid me an extra $5 an hour for working nights and weekends, and I was able to spend a family fun day with the kids.

I then got fired for complaining to my boss over a racist comment she made. Left me high and dry. I had a full-time job one day and was fired the next after working there loyally for two years.

I now have a new job. No penalty rates for working nights or weekends, which run from 7pm Friday to midnight Sunday. I work a total of 27 of those hours, which is more than half the weekend, with no extra compensation.

The family fun day has died a sad death. My two daughters do not understand why Daddy no longer spends time with them. I work all weekend for less money and less family time, and I feel depressed that all I seem to …

A growing chorus....

The voices are getting louder about the whole David Hicks "process" and his now having pleaded guilty.

As The Agereports:

"A extraordinary chorus of jurists has expressed doubt as to whether David Hicks' plea was a free admission of guilt rather than simply a desperate response to coercion.

Representatives from the Law Council of Australia, the Law Institute of Victoria, civil liberties group Liberty Victoria, the International Commission of Jurists, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, Monash University and the University of NSW said that Hicks had been subjected to exceptional pressures.

The most damning interpretation of the plea was delivered by Liberty Victoria president Brian Walters, SC, who described it as "a result not of a free choice, but of no choice".

"After five years in shocking conditions, with no right to see his family … any ray of light showing a way out would be taken, and it has been."

Mr Walters estimated it would have taken…

You too can be a banker to the poor

Nicholas Kristof, columnist in the NY Times, has this interesting column [not available unless a subscriber to the NY Times]:

"For those readers who ask me what they can do to help fight poverty, one option is to sit down at your computer and become a microfinancier.

That’s what I did recently. From my laptop in New York, I lent $25 each to the owner of a TV repair shop in Afghanistan, a baker in Afghanistan, and a single mother running a clothing shop in the Dominican Republic. I did this through, a Web site that provides information about entrepreneurs in poor countries — their photos, loan proposals and credit history — and allows people to make direct loans to them.

So on my arrival here in Afghanistan, I visited my new business partners to see how they were doing.

On a muddy street in Kabul, Abdul Satar, a bushy-bearded man of 64, was sitting in the window of his bakery selling loaves for 12 cents each. He was astonished when I introduced myself as his banker, but h…

David Hicks - and Donald Rumsfled

As speculation swirls around the outcome of the David Hicks' guilty plea - and many rightly say Hicks would not have brought a free-will to his decision given his 5 year incarceration at Gitmo and his treatment all up - it is worth bearing in mind the words of former Defence Secretary Rumsfeld:

"Interrogations must always be planned deliberate actions to take into account the detainees' physical strengths and weaknesses". Then he went onto say, "Interrogation approaches are designed to manipulate the detainee’s emotions and weakness, to gain his willing cooperation".

The SMH reports :

"David Hicks' father Terry says the Australian government put pressure on his son to plead guilty to the charge of providing support for terrorism.

Adelaide-born Hicks could be back in Australia by the end of the year after the shock plea in front of the US military commission at Guantanamo Bay.

"The Australian government, I believe, are the ones that put the pressu…

The President's prison

The New York Times editorialises about George Bush under the heading "The President's prison" in a fashion one might not have expected from the newspaper:

"George Bush does not want to be rescued.

The president has been told countless times, by a secretary of state, by members of Congress, by heads of friendly governments — and by the American public — that the Guantánamo Bay detention camp has profoundly damaged this nation’s credibility as a champion of justice and human rights. But Mr. Bush ignored those voices — and now it seems he has done the same to his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, the man Mr. Bush brought in to clean up Donald Rumsfeld’s mess.

Thom Shanker and David Sanger reported in Friday’s Times that in his first weeks on the job, Mr. Gates told Mr. Bush that the world would never consider trials at Guantánamo to be legitimate. He said that the camp should be shut, and that inmates who should stand trial should be brought to the United States and ta…

Reflecting on that Hicks guilty plea.....

It has just been reported that David Hicks has pleaded guilty. See the report in the SMH here. No doubt a sigh of relief can be heard from Canberra all the way up to Washington. But the question which must be asked is whether he has brought his own free will to the decision. After 5 years in the hell-hole of Gitmo and having been physically and mentally "battered" and tortured who wouldn't jump at the chance of getting out of Gitmo? - whether pleading guilty or not!

The Executive Director of GetUp, writing in Crikey on Hicks' guilty plea says:

"After the legal drama in his initial hearing today, David Hicks surely would have reflected on the fact that years after his initial plea of innocence, he was still locked in a cell 1.8m². Any normal Australian, facing a system weighted so heavily against them and broken by five years of unimaginable privation, is likely to have signed a document that would get them out of Guantanamo – regardless of their guilt o…

A more than justified rage...

Tom Stoppard is a well known British playwrite. On this occasion, however, his writing is in a piece in The Independent directed to an anger about the ongoing situation in Darfur - and the world sitting on its hands:

"If not now, when? If not we, who? News of murder, rape, arson and dispossession in Darfur has been coming in for something like four years, stopping and starting and stuttering, scaling up into horrifying film footage that blanks out the political story, and also down into declarations, resolutions and soundbites that veil the horror of what's really happening in a war so remote and so obscured that the numbers of dead arrive rounded to the nearest hundred thousand.

Is it 200,000 or 300,000?

Both figures keep popping up in the Darfur story in reproachable documentation and all you can think is that the sub-text "enough is enough" of Tony Blair's reported message to Angela Merkel the other day had an even darker meaning than the phrase was intended …

Whatever it is, it isn't a confession

As this op-ed piece in the the NY Times by Slavoj Zizek , the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, puts it:

"Since the release of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s dramatic confessions, moral outrage at the extent of his crimes has been mixed with doubts. Can his claims be trusted? What if he confessed to more than he really did, either because of a vain desire to be remembered as the big terrorist mastermind, or because he was ready to confess anything in order to stop the water boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques”?

If there was one surprising aspect to this situation it has less to do with the confessions themselves than with the fact that for the first time in a great many years, torture was normalized — presented as something acceptable. The ethical consequences of it should worry us all.

While the scope of Mr. Mohammed’s crimes is clear and horrifying, it is worth noting that the United States seems incapable of treating him even as it w…

A dangerous masked ball

Condi Rice is yet again traipsing around the Middle East allegedly attempting, yet again, to get a settlement of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli dispute up and running. It is said to be her 8th visit to the region. It all seems a waste of time as the US doesn't even recognise the Palestinian government whether it be the unity one recently agreed to or its predecessor. This is the very telling point Gideon Levy makes in his op-ed piece in Haaretz:

"The rules of decorum are binding: Welcome - to the U.S. Secretary of State and United Nations secretary-general, who have come here, and to the German chancellor, who is due next week. But the rules of logic are no less binding, and we must ask: So, why have you come?

All three have declared that they are coming here to further a solution. But this whole show, we must tell them, is no more than a ridiculous masked ball: In their pointless and fruitless visits, they only perpetuate and entrench the conflict that most threatens…

Worlds apart

Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, reflects on two worlds - that which he encountered when lecturing in Cairo and giving the same lecture a few days later in the US:

"There's a helluva difference between Cairo University and the campus of Valdosta in the Deep South of the United States. I visited both this week and I feel like I've been travelling on a gloomy spaceship - or maybe a time machine - with just two distant constellations to guide my journey. One is clearly named Iraq; the other is Fear. They have a lot in common."

Read Fisk's full piece here.

An open letter to George Bush & Co.

"You Misters Bush and Cheney; you Ms. Rice are villainously and criminally obscene people, obscene human beings, incompetent even to fulfill your own self-serving agenda, while tragically neglectful and destructive of ours and our country's. And I got a question for your daughters Mr. Bush. They're not children anymore. Do they support your policy in Iraq? If they do, how dare they not be in uniform, while the children of the poor; black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and all the other American working men and women are slaughtered, maimed and flown back into this country under cover of darkness."

Strong words! Written by some radical leftie leaning rabble-rouser? Nope! Sean Penn, well-known actor has written an open letter to Bush and Co.

Penn goes to write [read the whole letter published on Information Clearing Househere]:

"Now, because I've been on the streets of Baghdad during this occupational war, outside the Green Zone, without security, and you have…

The watchers need watching

Since 9/11 governments have taken various steps to allegedly protect us all from terrorism. Just reflect on how many Ministers or public officials now respond to a question that they are unable to answer it on the grounds of security reasons.

The Washington Postreports on the American scene:

"Each day, thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world -- field reports, captured documents, news from foreign allies and sometimes idle gossip -- arrive in a computer-filled office in McLean, where analysts feed them into the nation's central list of terrorists and terrorism suspects.

Called TIDE, for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, the list is a storehouse for data about individuals that the intelligence community believes might harm the United States. It is the wellspring for watch lists distributed to airlines, law enforcement, border posts and U.S. consulates, created to close one of the key intelligence gaps revealed after Sept. 11, 2001: the fai…

Extinction looms in 5 years time.....

This is truly horrifying:

"The UN's environment programme report, 'The Last Stand of the Orang Utan: State of Emergency', says natural rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia are being cleared so rapidly that up to 98 per cent may be destroyed by 2022, and the lowland forest strongholds of orang utans much sooner, unless urgent action is taken. This is a full decade earlier than the previous report estimated when it was published five years ago. Overall the loss of orang utan habitat is happening 30 per cent more rapidly than had previously been thought.

Responding to the findings, the Borneo Orang Utan Survival Foundation UK, a charity which works to rescue, rehabilitate and release the animals into protected forest, warned that at the current rate of deforestation by the palm oil industry, orang utans in the wild could be close to extinction by 2012.

Sir David Attenborough, the broadcaster and naturalist, told The Observer: 'Every bit of the rainforest that is knocke…

How Howard's "biter" gets bit!

Adele Horin writing in the SMH today puts the point well and succinctly:

"When moralisers fall from grace, it is hard to resist the urge to rub the salt in. The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, asks us to show compassion to Senator Santo Santoro now that he is undone by his undisclosed share dealings.

But Santoro was not just any minister in the Howard Government. He was the holier-than-thou patriot and right-wing Christian who mercilessly harassed the national broadcaster for its alleged political bias, imagined anti-Christian bias and lack of patriotism. He was the Government's chief attack dog in the quest to shackle and intimidate the ABC. The ABC has come through rather better than Santoro. It was Santoro who didn't do the right and proper thing, not the ABC."

Read the full piece here. One can only say good-riddance. It also makes one wonder about the PM and the sort of people he his happy to surround himself with. Then again think of the Mad Monk e…

Whither Europe?

As Europe this weekend celebrates 50 years of its existence under the EU banner - having grown to embrace 28 countries including countries one would never have thought of even only a a few years ago - Roger Cohen writing in the IHT reflects on what this all means.....

"It is not easy to think of Spain as Poland. Stroll around this southern city at dusk, beneath the palms, beside the handsome bridges on the Guadalquivir River, past the chic boutiques and the Häagen-Dazs outlet, the Gothic cathedral and the Moorish palace, and it is scarcely Warsaw that comes to mind.

But, insisted Adam Michnik, the Polish writer, "Poland is the new Spain, absolutely." He continued: "Spain was a poor country when it joined the European Union 21 years ago. It no longer is. We will see the same results in Poland."

If history is prologue, Michnik is likely to be right. The EU, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding treaty this weekend, is more often associated with Brus…

Oh Oh! Now its health savvy wonder foods....

BusinessWeek reports on yet another new trend in so-called health-maintenance. Just a few years time this new alleged health "fix" will be condemned for some side-effect or other no one thought about. Perhaps we are all fiddling with and trying all too hard to stop what we all know are certainties - taxes, aging and death.

"Food makers are capitalizing on our fear of aging and love of technology with new "phoods" and "bepherages" aimed at remedying health woes

We all know you can zap your wrinkles with a shot of botox and fix your vision with a laser beam. Now the European food giant Unilever (UL) hopes to lower your cholesterol with a shot of yogurt. The tiny 3 oz. container is called the Promise Activ Supershot and will be launched in May.

The supershot is only one taste of the recent foods and beverages hitting store shelves that claim to provide nutrition, energy, and medicinal benefits, often in small bite-size packs and contai…

David Hicks: A continuing disgrace

As David Hicks this coming Monday faces his first appearance before what can only be described as a kangaroo court [claimed to be some sort of military tribunal], AmnestyInternational has this web site in relation to his continued incarceration and treatment.

By the way, Philip Ruddock, who wears an AI badge all the time and ought to be thrown out as a member of Amnesty International, on the SBS Insight program a while back dealing with David Hicks described himself as the "principal law officer" in Australia. He might be so in title - but he brings no credit to the office by his continued presence in it.

Meanwhile, this, on the military tribunal set up to hear the Hicks matter, as reported in The Age today. Well, A-G Ruddock, do we hear you?

So what do those copy editors do?

The NY Times has an interesting section where various senior people at the Times answer questions about the "operations" of the newspaper.

Here the Director of Copy Desks answers the critical question - what do copy desk editors do?:

"Copy editors are the final gatekeepers before an article reaches you, the reader. To start with, they want to be sure that the spelling and grammar are correct, following our stylebook, of course. But they also want to be sure that they, and thus you the reader, aren't left with a sense that they've come into the middle of a movie, or that they don't understand how something works, or that they're wondering what comes next or what this development means for them, er, you. They have great instincts for sniffing out suspicious or incorrect facts or things that just don't make sense in context. They are also our final line of protection against libel, unfairness and imbalance in an article. If they stumble over anything, t…

Thrown to the assassins

Another dimension to the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent war is revealed in this piece in Mother Jones. The Coalition of the Willing were obviously totally clueless when they entered into this fiasco - leaving aside the lie which precipitated it all - but their actions have done nothing for Iraq and its people. How this is all supposed to win the hearts and mind of the populace let alone get the country back on its feet is seemingly imponderable at the moment - "surge" notwithstanding!

"On the day the American tanks rolled into Baghdad, Abather Abdul Hussein and his wife, Balqes Abdel Mohammed, threw flowers. Literally. After a lifetime of turmoil and tyranny, the couple fervently believed the invasion would bring peace. Abather joined U.S. "democratization" efforts, such as a project to create a governing council for his neighborhood, and he occasionally ended up in the good-news Iraq stories that still seemed plausible in those days; one U.S. paper …

An overlooked people in our midst

From time to time the odd newsworthy item about the aboriginal people of Australia breaks out in the media. Sadly, all too often it is a negative "story" of petrol-sniffing or some other item - like the poor health of aboriginals especially in the outback - dealing with the plight of the Kori people.

It is fair to say that the treatment of Australia's aboriginal population is a blight on the country and its leadership over the years. The present PM, even in these so-called enlightened days, has done little to enhance the position of aboriginal communities around the country or to foster good relations with indiginous people.

This piece by Muriel Bamblett in The Age is therefore timely in that it reminds us that it is 40 years ago this year when aboriginals were first granted the vote in Australia.

"The 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum that gave the Federal Government the right to make laws for Aboriginal people and counted us in the census for the firs…

Does Saddam end up with the last laugh?

Who can forget those images of Saddam's statute being toppled and the weight-lifter literally belting into it?

Well, the mallet-swinging fellow has spoken......and it may well be that Saddam has had the last laugh!

"Yep, you did it, George—mission impossible accomplished. Unbelievably, four years of a bungled occupation have managed to make Saddam Hussein’s tyranny look good in comparison with “liberated Iraq.”

At least, that is the view of the Iraqi weightlifter made famous through a video of him taking a sledgehammer to Saddam Hussein’s statue. “I really regret bringing down the statue,” Kadhim al-Jubouri said on British television this week. “The Americans are worse than the dictatorship. Every day is worse than the previous day.”

That’s the judgment of a man who spent nine years in Hussein’s jails, and, unfortunately, it is one shared by a majority of his countrymen, according to an authoritative poll sponsored jointly by ABC, BBC and USA Today: Only 38 percent of Iraqis be…

Totally misguided pride

It is nothing new to say that former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, did nothing to enhance America's image and reputation around the world especially in the Middle East. His pride, as reported in, in not stepping in to see a cease fire in the Israel-Lebanon war says it all. Never mind the death and destruction of people on both sides of the conflict. Extraordinary that any human being, let alone a so-called diplomat, should be prepared to even articulate what Bolton has.....

"The United States resisted calls for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon last summer, former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said.

Washington first wanted Israel to eliminate Hezbollah's military might, Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told BBC in an interview for a documentary next month.

The war began when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and the fighting quickly escalated into a full-blown conflict causing widespread destruction …

The pull of the Promised Land

Linda Morris writing in the SMH on the current debate and discussion underway in Australia, and overseas, about members of the Jewish community challenging Israel's policies:

"Since the creation of the modern state of Israel, almost 3 million Jews, 10,000 of them from Australia, have made a new life there. They have been driven by a yearning to become part of the Jewish homeland, a dream inculcated at the family dinner table, reinforced by private Jewish education, and realised in short- and long-term visits to Israel.

The process of migration has a name - aliyah, which in Hebrew means to ascend - and it represents the highest ideal of the Zionist movement in fulfilling its commitment to re-establish and protect the ancient Jewish homeland.

The Zionist Federation of Australia, whose job it is to assist the settlement and integration of migrants to Israel, says that Australia has one of the highest per capita rates of aliyah in the Western world.

To outsiders it might be perplexin…

Another case of White House interference?

"The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government's racketeering case.

Sharon Y. Eubanks said Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's office began micromanaging the team's strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government's claim that the industry had conspired to lie to U.S. smokers.

She said a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. He and two others instructed her to tell key witnesses to change their testimony. And they ordered Eubanks to read verbatim a closing argument they had rewritten for her, she said.

"The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said," Eubanks said. "…

Pursuing a worthwhile Arab initiative....

"The Arab summit meeting in Riyadh this month promises a unique opportunity to invigorate the quest for peace. The gaps between Israel and the Arabs have never been narrower. The international Quartet — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations — must seize the moment and act swiftly to make a breakthrough.

With the threat of sectarian conflict spreading beyond Iraq, Palestinian infighting and political stalemate in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia has been galvanized into action. Following deft diplomacy on all three fronts, the Saudis intend to use the meeting to re-launch the Arab Peace Initiative, first developed at the Beirut summit in 2002."

These are not the words of what some might describe as the "usual suspects." They are part of an op-ed piece in the IHT written by Rosemary Hollis, director of research at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London and Daniel Kurtzer onetime U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and a …

The media - and what to know and believe?

FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting] tackles the hard topic of how the media "operates" - and what you and I get to read. No less importantly, FAIR critically examines the biases in the media.

The reporting of the Iraq war has raised a host of concerns of how the media reported the whole thing - from what emanated from the White House right to the men in the field. Remember, the IraqWar brought us "embedded reporters".

"It's hardly controversial to suggest that the mainstream media's performance in the lead-up to the Iraq War was a disaster. In retrospect, many journalists and pundits wish they had been more skeptical of the White House's claims about Iraq, particularly its allegations about weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, though, media apologists suggest that the press could not have done much better, since "everyone" was in agreement on the intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons threat. This was never the case…

Taming leviathan

"This week saw yet another reminder of the awesome power of “the lobby”. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) brought more than 6,000 activists to Washington for its annual policy conference. And they proceeded to live up to their critics' darkest fears.

They heard from the four most powerful people on Capitol Hill—Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner from the House, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell from the Senate—as well as the vice-president (who called his talk “The United States and Israel: United We Stand”) and sundry other power-brokers. Several first-division presidential candidates held receptions.

The display of muscle was almost equalled by the display of unnerving efficiency. There were booths for “congressional check-in”, booths for “delegate banquet troubleshooting”, and booths full of helpful young people. The only discordant note was sounded by a group of a dozen protesters—Orthodox Jews in beards, side-curls and heavy black coats—holding up signs saying …

50 reasons to love the EU

The Independent marks 50 years of the Treaty of Rome - the foundation for the European Union - this coming weekend by putting forward 50 reasons why at least the British should love the EU:

"1 The end of war between European nations

2 Democracy is now flourishing in 27 countries

3 Once-poor countries, such as Ireland, Greece and Portugal, are prospering

4 The creation of the world's largest internal trading market

5 Unparalleled rights for European consumers

6 Co-operation on continent-wide immigration policy

7 Co-operation on crime, through Europol

8 Laws that make it easier for British people to buy property in Europe

9 Cleaner beaches and rivers throughout Europe

10 Four weeks statutory paid holiday a year for workers in Europe."

The remaining 40 reasons

When a poll isn't a poll

Arianna Huffington on The Huffington Post writes:

"On Scarborough last night I was asked repeatedly about a new poll by a British polling company, Opinion Research Business, that showed "an unexpected level of optimism" among the 5,019 Iraqis interviewed. It sounded even more preposterous than the usual polling results, and was contradicted by multiple other polls. So I sent an email to my good friend and HuffPost blogger Simon Jenkins, who had been the editor of the Evening Standard and The Times of London, and who I assumed would know something about the polling firm."

The response mght not come as a real surprise to anyone - here.

George Soros on an "endangered" Israel

George Soros is well known as a seriously wealthy man. He has also been the butt of strong anti-semitic attacks by the former PM of Malaysia. However, on this occasion Soros has chosen to speak out about Israel and the role of AIPAC in the US in a piece in The New York Review of Books:

"I am not a Zionist, nor am I am a practicing Jew but I have a great deal of sympathy for my fellow Jews and a deep concer for the survival of Israel. I did not want to provide fodder to the enemies o Israel. I rationalized my position by saying that if I wanted to voice critica views, I ought to move to Israel. But since there were many Israelis wh held such views my voice was not needed, and I had many other battles t fight

But now I have to ask the question: How did Israel become so endangered? I cannot exempt AIPAC from its share of the responsibility. I am a fervent advocate of critical thinking. I have supported dissidents in many countries. I took a stand against President Bush when h…

A real whopper

"So big it could hold 44 million ping-pong balls or 10 squash courts. Not only that, the airline says, but it weighs as much as 100 elephants, or at least 100 elephants that tip the scales at a combined 1 million pounds or so. And its generators are capable of churning out enough power to provide electrical heating for 800 single-family homes."

What are we talking about here? The new A380 airplane. It flew from Frankfurt to New York a couple of days ago with passengers on board to introduce the aircraft to the Americans. It seems it was quite an "experience" if this piece in the LA Times is anything to go by.

Noam Chomsky pays tribute to Tanya Reinhart

Noam Chomsky, writing in Counterpoint, pays a moving tribute to Tanya Reinhart - who died of a stroke in her sleep in New York over the weekend:

"Her numerous articles and books drew away the veil that concealed criminal and outrageous actions, and shone a searing light on the reality that was obscured, all of immense value to those who sought to understand and to react in a decent way. Her activism was not limited to words, important as these were. She was on the front line of direct resistance to intolerable actions, an organizer and a participant, a stance that one cannot respect too highly. She will be remembered not only as a resolute and honorable defender of the rights of Palestinians, but also as one of those who have struggled to defend the moral integrity of her own Israeli society, and its hope for decent survival."

Women for Palestine in Australia in their tribute say:

"Tanya Reinhart was one of those rare people who looked beyond ethnic,
political and sectari…

Iraq: Stark facts 4 years on....

Reutersreports on the stark facts [revealed by the UNHRC] on how the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent war - now raging for 4 years and with no end in sight - has affected ordinary Iraqis both in Iraq itself and in neighbouring countries:

"Some 2 million Iraqis are now in neighbouring countries in the region, many of whom were uprooted prior to 2003, he said. Syria has more than 1 million Iraqis and Jordan an estimated 750,000. Both countries have carried an enormous burden and deserved more support from the international community, Redmond said.

Much more humanitarian help also had to be focused on the estimated 1.9 million Iraqis who remain displaced inside their own country, many of them in increasingly desperate conditions.
"While many were also displaced before 2003, we estimate that just since the beginning of last year – and particularly since the Samara bombing of February 2006 – nearly 730,000 Iraqis have become newly displaced by sectarian violence," Redmond sa…

Hicks abuse detailed in the NY Times

Perhaps it's the anti-war climate in America, but whatever the reason it is interesting that the NY Times features an article on the abuse David Hicks alleges he has suffered at the hands of the Americans since being detained by them back in 2001. The allegations have surfaced in a proceeding in the UK.

"David Hicks, the first detainee to be formally charged under the new military tribunal rules at Guantánamo Bay, has alleged in a court document filed here that during more than five years in American custody he was beaten several times during interrogations and witnessed the abuse of other prisoners.

In an affidavit supporting his request for British citizenship, Mr. Hicks contends that before he arrived at Guantánamo, his American captors threw him and other detainees on the ground, walked on them, stripped him naked, shaved all his body hair and inserted a plastic object in his rectum.

The abuse, Mr. Hicks asserts, began during interrogations in Afghanistan, where he was c…

Napoleon, the Jews and French Muslims

It might all seem rather odd but not everything today is necessarily new - as this article from IHT [originally in the NY Times] reports:

"Not all stories from the past have relevance today. But here is one not very well-known story about the Jews in Napoleonic France that has much relevance to French Muslims in our own time."

Two hundred years ago, in one of his lesser-known demonstrations of meglomania, Napoleon, who had morphed in a few short years from a servant of the French Republic to emperor, reconvened what he called the Great Sanhedrin — a name taken from the governing body of the Jewish community under the Roman Empire. This council of French Jewish leaders was summoned to resolve a series of issues left unsettled since the French Revolution."

Germany: Grim past - and "criminals" - still being revealed

The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California reports:

"Despite all the books and articles that have been written about the Holocaust, even more stories yet to be told have been hidden away in Bad Arolsen, Germany.

It’s taken 60 years for 11 nations to agree that records there should be revealed. Until now these secret documents were available only to survivors and their nuclear families who were tracing the whereabouts of loved ones. But even then the survivors has to go through years of heartbreaking persistence before seeing the files.

The archive is being opened now only because intense pressure — much of it originating from the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Memorial — managed to force an agreement among the 11-nation commission that owns the archive. It’s housed at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen.

Those countries are the United States, France, England, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland and Israel, plus the two former Axis powers, Italy and Germa…