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Showing posts from April, 2007

Condi "lost" at Foggy Bottom

Condi Rice seems to becoming more irrelevant by the day. Her mis-steps increase as each new thing is thrown up at her. Whatever perceived knowlege she might have had before she assumed any sort of role at the White House or in the Bush Administration has done little to show that she is remotely up to the task of Secreatary of State.

An incisive and devastating analysis of Condi is made by Scott Horton, writing in Harper's Magazine:

"Over the past month it has become increasingly clear that Condoleezza Rice does not, ultimately, call the shots on foreign policy and national security questions. The man in charge is named Dick Cheney. This has emerged from a long series of tussles, of which the response to the British-Iranian fracas from the beginning of the month and the question of closing the concentration camp at Guantánamo are the most obvious examples. Condi’s PR offensive has also begun to lag as voices in the press who were quick to credit her with a new diplomatic off…

No possible Turkish delight here

Whoever has visited Turkey, and in particular Istanbul, has enjoyed the many facets of this delightful country. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia it is a most interesting place. But it's stability and position in the firmament is threatened as its Presidential election approaches.

The NY Timesreports on the implications for Turkey - and its strategic place in the region. One cannot help but ponder where what is happening in Turkey is destined to end up.

"A huge crowd that appeared to number in the hundreds of thousands gathered in central Istanbul today to protest against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and what they said was his agenda to move Turkey away from the country’s secular legacy.

In a growing political showdown in Turkey, the country’s long-ruling secular establishment, backed by its powerful military, is confronting a new class of Islamic-influenced political modernizers, led by Mr. Erdogan. The confrontation has burst into public v…

In search of happiness.....with, or without, an economist!

Newsweek has this week features this rather fascinating cover story on what it dubs "In Search of Happiness:

"Quick: think about what would make you really, really happy. More money? Wrong. 2.5 smiling, well-adjusted kids? Wrong again. Now think about what would make you most unhappy: losing your sight or a bad back? No, the bad back. The fact is, we are terrible at predicting the source of joy. (Sex is the big exception, but you get the point.) And whatever choices we do make, we likely later decide it was all for the best.

These are insights from happiness economics, perhaps the hottest field in what used to be called the dismal science. Happiness is everywhere—on the best-seller lists, in the minds of policymakers, and front and center for economists—yet it remains elusive. The golden rule of economics has always been that well-being is a simple function of income. That's why nations and people alike strive for higher incomes—money gives us choice and a measure of freed…

Now he tells us.....

As debate rages in Washington about pulling out of Iraq there is also an investigation underway by the Democrat-dominated Congress how the US got into the mess in the first place. Now, obviously, politicking is at play here, but slowly, ever so slowly, bits and pieces are emerging about how the White House patently lied about the existence of WMD's in Iraq and a host of other related matters.

Now The Washington Times has this rather startling revelation:

"The Senate's No. 2 Democrat says he knew that the American public was being misled into the Iraq war but remained silent because he was sworn to secrecy as a member of the intelligence committee.

"The information we had in the intelligence committee was not the same information being given to the American people. I couldn't believe it," Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Wednesday when talking on the Senate floor about the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002.

"I was angry about it.…

Failing to make Israel accountable

This piece, from counterpoint, needs no elaboration - other than to comment that Israel ought to be condemned in the strongest terms, and the US censured, for not only supplying the munitions in the first place but evidently bowing to pro-Israel pressure groups, notably AIPAC, in not condeming Israel for its actions and making it fully accountable for what it has wrought.

"In late January the State Department delivered a potentially explosive report to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The classified report asserts that Israel may have violated the Arms Export Control Act with its use of American-made cluster munitions this past summer in Lebanon.

Multiple contacts to both offices indicate neither Biden nor Pelosi has any intention of pursuing the matter. In contrast, a congressional investigation 25 years ago helped persuade President Ronald Reagan to suspend cluster munitions to Israel for six years. This Congress, …

Lack of justice goes from bad to worse....

This editorial in the IHT should give everyone pause for thought as the Bush Administration goes from bad to worse in seeking to deny even the most basic tenets of justice and fairness to those imprisoned, most without any charges, at Guantanamo Bay.

"It can be hard to tell whom the Bush administration considers more of an enemy at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp: the prisoners or the lawyers.

William Glaberson reported in the International Herald Tribune on Friday that the Justice Department had asked a federal appeals court to remove some of the last shreds of legal representation available to the prisoners.

Under current rules, the mail between lawyers and inmates at Guantánamo Bay is checked for contraband, but not read. The lawyers are also allowed to review classified evidence against their clients, and there is no limit on the number of visits they can make.

The government wants the court to allow intelligence and military officers to read the mail sent by lawyers to their c…

Why not just ignore the Middle East?

In what might be seen as a provocative question, writing in Prospectmagazine, Edward Luttwak, senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, posits:

"Western analysts are forever bleating about the strategic importance of the middle east. But despite its oil, this backward region is less relevant than ever, and it would be better for everyone if the rest of the world learned to ignore it ".

Having taken a deep breath as you read the above, Luttwak also says:

"Yes, it would be nice if Israelis and Palestinians could settle their differences, but it would do little or nothing to calm the other conflicts in the middle east from Algeria to Iraq, or to stop Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan, Muslim-Igbo violence in Nigeria, Muslim-Muscovite violence in Chechnya, or the different varieties of inter-Muslim viol…

In praise of ... Mstislav Rostropovich

The Guardian's Leader puts the death, yesterday, of that wonderful cellist and humanitarian, Mstislav Rostropovich, in the exact context in which his passing ought to be viewed:

"What is it about the cello that makes its very finest practitioners into moral exemplars for mankind? All that can be said is that through the many miseries of 20th century Europe, first Pau Casals and then Mstislav Rostropovich stood out as towering musical personalities who made their instrument sing of loss, hope and freedom. It was Casals who brought the cello literature, particularly that of Bach, in from the neglected margins of classical music. It was Rostropovich who ensured it would remain there, inspiring compositions from Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Gubaidulina and many more. Both gave epochal performances of the greatest of all cello concertos in the most testing of circumstances: Casals was airlifted from besieged Barcelona in 1937 to Prague to make a defining recording of the Dvora…

Don't count on the US media doing any digging

Greg Palast is a well know author and writer. Much of what he has written has been an expose of things others have simply either found too hard to follow up or difficult and time-consuming to investigate.

In this piece in the LA Times, Palast takes on the US media:

"In an email uncovered and released by the House Judiciary Committee last month, Tim Griffin, once Karl Rove's right-hand man, gloated that "no [U.S.] national press picked up" a BBC Television story reporting that the Rove team had developed an elaborate scheme to challenge the votes of thousands of African Americans in the 2004 election.

Griffin wasn't exactly right. The Los Angeles Times did run a follow-up article a few days later in which it reported the findings. But he was essentially right. Most of the major U.S. newspapers and the vast majority of television news programs ignored the story even though it came at a critical moment just weeks before the election.

According to Griffin (who has …

Cuba: Timely for US Policy to change?

Julia E. Sweig is the Nelson and David Rockefeller senior fellow and director for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her most recent book is "Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century."

Writing in The Nation [America's pre-eminent magazine] she raises the question which Washington ought to now consider with the the spectre of Fidel Castro passing from the scene:

"The issue is not how to change US policy toward Cuba. The issue is how to change the Cuban regime," Havana-born US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez said not once, not twice, but throughout a recent speech titled "Cuba After Fidel." The secretary's disciplined effort to stay "on message" was likely a response to the emerging pressure on Washington to abandon its policy of perpetual hostility and assume a new approach toward Havana--given new political realities in both capitals.

In Washington and Havana, two striking…

That "slam dunk" revisited

As the Washington Postreports:

"Former CIA director George J. Tenet bitterly complains in a forthcoming television interview that White House officials set him up as a scapegoat when they revealed that he had assured President Bush the intelligence on Iraq's suspected weapons arsenal was a "slam dunk."

Now it seems that Tenet, for whatever motive, is prepared to unload about George Bush and his White House in a bbok about to be released:

"In the book, he writes that Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials developed the case for war without "serious debate" about whether Iraq posed a threat to the United States, the New York Times reported today after buying an advance copy of the work.

"There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," Tenet writes."

So, who is this George Tenet? NPR provides a profile of the man from its program, All Things Considered.

A new way of determining guilt - or not!

Richard Ackland, writing his regular column in the SMH, raises an interesting issue on the determination by a jury whether a person, as it presntly exists, is "guilty" or "not guilty".

"What we need is a proper system of verdicts. The legal academic and former prosecutor Brett Dawson says the trouble with the "guilty" and "not guilty" formulation is that many people found "not guilty" are actually thought to be "guilty, but got off".

He proposes a new system: "Proved guilty, proved innocent and not proven."

Irrepressible.info

Amnesty International continues its extremely valuable work.....

"The web is a great tool for sharing ideas and freedom of expression. However, efforts to try and control the Internet are growing. Internet repression is reported in countries like China, Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. People are persecuted and imprisoned simply for criticising their government, calling for democracy and greater press freedom, or exposing human rights abuses, online.

But Internet repression is not just about governments. IT companies have helped build the systems that enable surveillance and censorship to take place. Yahoo! have supplied email users’ private data to the Chinese authorities, helping to facilitate cases of wrongful imprisonment. Microsoft and Google have both complied with government demands to actively censor Chinese users of their services.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It is one of the most precious of all rights. We should fight to protect it.&…

That a-way?....or this a-way?

Israel is fast approaching a cross-roads, as Sonjya Karkar points out in this piece in ZNet:

"The time will have to come for Israel to declare its hand: is it “a state of the Jewish people throughout the world” as it defines itself, or a state of all its citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish? So far Israel has managed to convince the Western world that it is the only democracy in the region, but neglects to add that this democracy works only for its Jewish citizens. This is the conundrum: Israel has been unable to reconcile what it says it is, with want it wants to be – democratic and exclusively Jewish."

Sonja Karkar is from Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia - and does a sterling job in putting the plight of the Palestinians out there.

Iraq: Those democratic ideals aren't that crash hot

Amidst reports of growing anger in Washington between those seeking an end to the American presence in Iraq and the White House seemingly committed to "staying the course" [whatever that means!] it looke like the US has done little to instil true democratic values and ways in Iraq. Remember, it was because Saddam was a tyrant and democracy and democratic values had to be restored in Iraq that the Coalition of the Willing embarked on the folly they did.

As this United Press International report reveals, it seems the Iraqis don't really want the bad news out there:

"The Iraqi government is withholding official statistics on violent deaths from the United Nations, making it difficult to assess human-rights conditions.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq said in a statement its quarterly human-rights report, released in Baghdad Wednesday, does not contain official statistics of violent deaths that are normally collected by the Health Ministry and the Medico-Legal Instit…

Neocons no closer to getting it

Saul Landau is the author of the book "A Bush & Botox World". In writing a piece for counterpunch he puts the proposition:

"George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and his staff of neo con hard liners, and assorted handwringers could not have predicted the horror show that erupted in Iraq. The war makers were ignorant. Most remain that way--and proudly."

Landau goes on to say:

"The war makers, brilliant intellectuals like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, knew nothing of Iraqi reality. Nor did they evince interest in learning. Their neo con formula holds that as the strongest military power the United States can impose democracy by force to countries ruled by brutal dictators. They fashioned the "axis of evil," spun the "rogue states" phrase for the media as ways to disparage disobedient third world governments. Academics invented "failed states." Hey, call 'em anything but late for dinner.

Why should Wolfowitz, Perle, Douglas Feith and…

The Great Pall of China

Climate change and global warming are, literally, the "hot" topics of 2007. Everywhere one looks there are predictions of dire consequences if the people on this planet do not do something positive to arrest the myriad of issues facing us all. There are already signs of problems arising here and there. Bangladesh is a case in point.

The Independent today publishes a sobering picture of what is happening in China under the headline "The Great Pall of China":

"In a seismic shift for the world, China will overtake the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases this year, far earlier than thought - and present the problem of tackling climate change in even more difficult terms.

The Chinese economy, which is now growing at the unprecedented rate of 11 per cent annually, is sending carbon emissions from China's mushrooming coal-fired power stations beyond those of the whole of the US, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said yesterday.

Les…

Another war in the offing?

With news today that a wing of Hamas has ended the 5 month truce with Israel, the rumblings of a possible outbreak of war are back on the agenda. Israel has over the last days been killing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. One cannot be left with an impression that as soon as there is talk of peace, Israel goes out and does "something" in the West Bank or Gaza which will inflame tensions and bring any even remote prospects for some sort of peace-arrangement to an end.

Lest the above thought we considered a radical proposition, let Orit Shohat "speak" in his piece in Haaretz:

"The talk about a sizable war this summer already started in the midst of the war last summer (there were those who called it a promo and thanked Hezbollah for having revealed its weaknesses in ample time). A "sizable war" is a code name for a war that includes Syria. The outgoing chief of staff estimated in November that there would be a war with Syria this summer…

Remember Jessica Lynch? Now the true story

Jessica Lynch almost became a poster-girl for her heroics in the Iraq War a while back. Daring-do was the name of the game. Many questioned the accuracy of what the US military was spinning about Lynch...and now she has spoken. It doesn't even remotely match what the US military lied said about Lynch.

"House Democrats burrowed into the histories of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch and Cpl. Pat Tillman in a hearing today, holding up the episodes as egregious examples of officials’ twisting the truth for public relations in wartime.

They received help in making their case from witnesses who have mostly shied away from the spotlight, Ms. Lynch and Corporal Tillman’s mother, Mary, and brother, Kevin, who enlisted in the Army along with him after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary,” said Ms. Lynch, dressed in a brown pantsuit and speaki…

A war without end?

"Bush has shown the world that the only difference between American dictatorship and other dictatorships is that, for now, Americans are permitted to remove their dictator after his term is served."

Ouch! The words of some lefty-leaning liberal? - or worse? No, they are the words of a no lesser person than Paul Craig Roberts. Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is author or coauthor of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occ…

Why travelers don't want to visit the US

Is it fear of terrorism which makes people want to avoid visiting the US? Nope! The crime there? No, again.

This report on Travelmole reveals why travellers are checking out from visiting the US. Having experienced Immigration and Customs entry points to, and officials in America, MPS shares the view of those surveyed that the "welcome" mat is certainly not out. Underlying the entire entry process seems to be a belief that one is either a terrorist or hell-bent on becoming an illegal immigrant.

"If you thought of crime…or terrorism…think again.

"Travelers are more afraid of US government officials than the threat of terrorism or crime," says Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership. He added:

"Whether it's reality or not doesn't matter," he says. "We have a problem on our hands."

A Discover America survey has found that by a margin of more than two to one, the US ranked first among 10 destinations …

David Halberstam dead at 73

It would be hard to believe that anyone who reads books would not have read one of David Halberstam's excellent books.

Today comes news that Halberstam was tragically killed in a traffic accident - as the NY Times reports:

"David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and tireless author of books on topics as varied as America’s military failings in Vietnam, the deaths of firefighters at the World Trade Center and the high-pressure world of professional basketball, was killed yesterday in a car crash south of San Francisco. He was 73, and lived in Manhattan."

And:

"Mr. Halberstam came into his own as a journalist in the early 1960s covering the nascent American war in South Vietnam for The New York Times.

His reporting, along with that of several colleagues, left little doubt that a corrupt South Vietnamese government supported by the United States was no match for Communist guerrillas and their North Vietnamese allies. His dispatches infuriated American militar…

Michael Moore: He's back!

One suspects that many, certainly in Washington, won't be pleased to learn that Michael Moore, of "9/11" film fame, is back with a new movie.

As AlterNetreports:

"To state that controversy and Michael Moore go hand and hand is to utter the obvious, and Moore's latest film Sicko will clearly be no exception.

Sicko, which will be premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is a comic broadside against the state of American health care, including the mental health system. The film targets drug companies and the HMOS in the richest country in the world -- where the most money is spent on health care, but where the U.S. ranks 21st in life expectancy among the 30 most developed nations, obviously in part due to the fact that 47 million people are without health insurance.

The timing of Moore's film is propitious. Twenty-two percent of Americans say that health care is the most pressing issue in America. Health care will clearly be a major issue in the upcoming pres…

How real is the "Islamic threat?"

A pause for reflection on that catch-cry, certainly in Europe, of the so-called "Islamic threat".

This piece in counterpunch puts the subject into perspective in the light of a report on the subject issued by Europol:

"Some things interest the media, others don't. Since the fall of the USSR, the United States has sought another menace to designate as the ultimate evil, a world threat the Americans desperately need to take on. The 9/11 attacks gave them that enemy. And when the White House speaks, the media listens obediently.

Over the last number of years the "Islamic threat" has become one of the favourite issues for media coverage. It's all over the news--Muslims leaders pronouncing threats against the countries participating in occupying Muslim land.

While America is the Western country most succumbed to the fear of Islamism, things aren't much better in Europe. Its media is highly Americanised and thus eager to reiterate U.S. governmental positions…

Who says slavery is dead and buried in the 21st century?

This piece by Nicholas Kristof, in the IHT, clearly shows that despite what one might think, slavery in the truest sense of the word is alive and well in the 21st century. Couldn't be, you say! Read on:

"Anyone who thinks that the word "slavery" is hyperbole when used to describe human trafficking today should meet Meena Khatun. She not only endured the unbearable, but has also shown that a slave trader's greed sometimes is no match for a mother's love.

Human trafficking is the big emerging human rights issue for the 21st century, but it's an awful term, a convoluted euphemism. As Meena's story underscores, the real issue is slavery.

Meena was kidnapped from her village in north India by a trafficker and eventually locked up in a 13-girl brothel in the town of Katihar.

When she was perhaps 11 or 12 - she remembers only that it was well before she had begun to menstruate - the slaver locked her in a room with a white-haired customer who had bough…

Change a la Paree?

The BBCreports on the outcome of yesterday's election in Paris - with change seemingly in the air. Like 'em or loath 'em, but one cannot ignore the French. Their position in the EU and on the UN Security Council - plus their fickleness and sometimes contrary approach to the topic of the day - makes France a nation not to be overlooked.

"Sarkozy will face Socialist Segolene Royal in the run-off of France's presidential election on 6 May, results indicate.

With most votes counted in Sunday's first round, Mr Sarkozy had nearly 31%, with Ms Royal, bidding to be France's first woman president, on 25%.

Centrist Francois Bayrou got 18%, and far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen almost 11%.

Voting throughout the day reached record numbers, with turnout put at 85% - the highest for nearly 50 years.

On a bright spring day, disillusionment with politicians and their promises did not translate into apathy, reports the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris."

Climate control: Why we can't wait

The Nation publishes an adaptation of a speech by James Hansen, of NASA, given at the National Press Club back in late February:

"There's a huge gap between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known about global warming by those who need to know: the public and policy-makers. We've had, in the past thirty years, one degree Fahrenheit of global warming. But there's another one degree Fahrenheit in the pipeline due to gases that are already in the atmosphere. And there's another one degree Fahrenheit in the pipeline because of the energy infrastructure now in place--for example, power plants and vehicles that we're not going to take off the road even if we decide that we're going to address this problem.

The Energy Department says that we're going to continue to put more and more CO2 in the atmosphere each year--not just additional CO2 but more than we put in the year before. If we do follow that path, e…

Gonzales: Manipulative or clueless?

The travails of George Bush and his Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, just keep getting worse. Remember, Georges' "mate" from Texas was the intellectual pygmy who advised President Shrub that the US didn't haven't to adhere to the Geneva Convention and that legislation dealing with the imprisonment and treatment of prisoners was perfectly fine. As we all now know, the US Supreme Court clearly thought otherwise.

Now, Gonzales, the White House and the GOP are facing a critical issue, in many ways mirroring the actions of the Tricky Dicky Nixon, of US prosecutors having having been removed or sidelined because their actions did not accord with whatever agenda the Bush team had.

Gonzales was called to testify to a Senate committee last week. The Economistreports on the appearance and questions whether Gonzales was either manipulative or clueless:

"Manipulative or clueless? Alberto Gonzales, America’s top legal officer, had to hold his hand up to one of these…

Caught in the web of the internet

Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, deals with a dimension of the internet, and how it can be used to devastating effect:

"Could it possibly be that the security men who guard the frontiers of North America are supporting Holocaust denial? Alas, it's true. Here's the story.

Taner Akcam is the distinguished Turkish scholar at the University of Minnesota who, with immense courage, proved the facts of the Armenian genocide - the deliberate mass murder of up to a million and a half Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish authorities in 1915 - from Turkish documents and archives. His book A Shameful Act was published to great critical acclaim in Britain and the United States."

However much the book may have been critically acclaimed, the repercussions have been horrifying - as reading the Fisk piece reveals.

The transformation of caring for the elderly in Europe

The revelation in Australia that some 5 people have died recently in an old age facility in one State and in another State investigations are underway at an old age home where the residents have got sick, highlights the issue of the care of our senior citizens.

With ageing populations in most Western countries Governments will need to address the critical issue of its elderly, the cost of looking after them and what that all means to taxpayers in doing so. The Australian Government has prepared a so-called Inter-Generational Report, which appears to have garnered more criticism for what it left out rather than being a positive contribution to the subject.

The IHTreports on how Europe is dealing with the issue:

"Meanwhile, demographics are shifting: By 2050, people over 65 are forecast to make up one-third of the EU population, a jump from 16.5 percent today. As the old safety nets erode, European states are searching for formulas to reduce health care and retirement costs in the …

Banning them is the only option!

The other day the SBS TV Dateline program screened a segment on cluster bombs - and especially the fact that some 72 hours before the ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon last year, that Israel dropped thousands of cluster bombs in Southern Lebanon.

"10 years ago, a committed bunch of international activists received the Nobel Peace Prize for their campaign to have landmines banned worldwide. As a result of their efforts, close enough to three-quarters of the world has signed up to the ban. Now, these same people have their sights set on cluster bombs. And at the forefront of their effort is an Australian, John Rodsted, who these days pretty much devotes his entire life to ridding the world of these deadly weapons. David Brill recently travelled with Rodsted to southern Lebanon, where people are still dying from the cluster bombs rained down by the Israelis in the last days of that recent war."

Watch the video clip, on SBS, here. Two things are certain. First, Israel…

How bizarre is that!

The agreement between the US and Australia to, in effect, to "trade" refugees, is bizarre to say the least. It's also against international laws dealing with the treatment of refugees.

The IHT takes up the subject in this piece and the response of Human Rights Watch to the "deal":

"The United States and Australia are attempting to avoid their international legal responsibilities through a deal to exchange hundreds of refugees held at offshore detention camps, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

Under the agreement signed by Canberra and Washington on Tuesday, around 90 asylum seekers — Sri Lankans and Burmese — currently held at an Australian-run immigration detention camp on the impoverished Pacific island nation of Nauru could be resettled in the United States if they qualify as genuine refugees.

Australia, in turn, would resettle up to 200 Cubans and Haitians annually from asylum seekers who are intercepted at sea while trying to get to the U.S. and hel…

The Terrorism Index

Post 9/11 politicians everywhere have adopted the mantra of the "war on terror". George Bush and John Howard are great advocates for the now very much over-worked term.

In Australia, John Howard has this week had to deal with the UK High Commissioner to Australia asserting that the British did not enter into the Iraq War as part of the "war on terror". See Alan Ramsay's piece "Home truths about Bush's Iraq War" in the SMH on that issue here.

Meanwhile, FP [Foreign Policy magazine] has undertaken its own survey on the "war on terror" and it is all faring. Not well it seems. It's a timely piece worth reading.

"America’s leaders like to say that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, represented a watershed. After that fateful day, Americans were told, problems that had been allowed to linger—terrorist sanctuaries, dangerous dictators, and cumbersome government bureaucracies—would no longer be neglected and left for terroris…

Those baby boomers aren't that healthy after all

Most Western nations focus on the state of health of their citizenry, especially those who are ageing. Now, with people living longer, more opportunities and options to exercise and giant strides in medical knowledge and medication, there should be no doubt that baby boomers are much healthier than their forebears......

Wrong! - it seems from this rather startling and revealing piece in the Washington Post:

"As the first wave of baby boomers edges toward retirement, a growing body of evidence suggests that they may be the first generation to enter their golden years in worse health than their parents. While not definitive, the data sketch a startlingly different picture than the popular image of health-obsessed workout fanatics who know their antioxidants from their trans fats and look 10 years younger than their age.

Boomers are healthier in some important ways -- they are much less likely to smoke, for example -- but large surveys are consistently finding that they tend to d…

The stats say it all

No one can question that deaths caused by terrorism or extra-judicial killings, o simply unprovoked attacks, are to be deplored. Like just about all areas around the globe the Middle East has seen more than its fair share of Palestinian and Israeli deaths. Its being going on since the establishment of Israel in 1948.

The stats make for interesting reading and reflect the state of play between the two waring peoples:

- Sixty-six civilians were killed in hostile actions since last Independence Day, mostly during the Second Lebanon War, bringing the number of civilians killed in terror attacks since the state's establishment to 1,635, according to National Insurance Institute (NII) Director Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom. See the full report in Haaretzhere.

- there were 4419 deaths in Palestinian territories since 2000, with some 29,000 injured during the same period. See the Palestine Red Crescent Societyhere.

- as at February 2007 there were 11,032 Palestinians [about one-…

Fox News - bottom of the list!

News Corpse reports:

"The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has published a new study that measures the public’s knowledge of national and international news. The results are not likely to surprise anyone but Fox viewers, who come in at the bottom of the list (they probably don’t know that there is a list - or what a list is). And, although I’m not surprised to see the Daily Show/Colbert Report place high on the list, it is a bit of a jolt to see them at the very top. It would not likely shock Stephen Colbert, and not just because he would have felt it in his gut. While still with the Daily Show he explained why their audience reportedly got much of their news from the comedy program.

“Steven Colbert, a Daily Show correspondent, has said that he doesn’t believe that viewers learn anything from the show. He contends that, if they weren’t already knowledgeable about political and social affairs, they wouldn’t get the jokes.”

This most interesting piece is worth reading,…

US Supreme Court: Judicial activism run amok?

The abortion-ban decision of the US Supreme Court a couple of days ago has raised a very critical issue - to what extent the justices have allowed their own religious convictions to affect and determine their decision.

As the Catholic News Service proudly reported back in October 2005:

"If confirmed, Alito would be the 11th Catholic in U.S. history to sit on the Supreme Court and would become the fifth Catholic justice on the current court, forming for the first time a majority of Catholics on the nine-member court."

So, has their been judicial activism? - as this piece in AlterNet questions:

"Last year, in defending his decision to vote for the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, Senator Bill Nelson (D-NE) said that it was based, in part, on Alito's "pledge that he would not bring a political agenda to the court."

Today, Nelson and the 18 other Democratic Senators who voted against the attempted filibuster of Alito reaped what they sowed. The ne…

Updating the rights of email users

The issue of privacy in the use of email, especially as it affects employees and the right of their employer to access it, is a vexed one, which has caused much angst for both employees and employers. Of course there have been rather odd and funny situations which have arisen as a result of an employee's email becoming public.

Now, some sort of definition in the right of privacy in using the web has come out of Europe - as the IHTreports:

"The European Convention on Human Rights has just been updated for the Internet age to include the basic right to keep your personal e-mail messages and Web surfing private.

That, at least, is the precedent set by a court ruling earlier this month in Strasbourg in a case involving a Welsh college employee. The decision, coming out of the European Court of Human Rights, will affect subsequent human rights cases emerging from any of the 30 countries that have signed on to the convention.

In particular, the case applied to an employer's…

Cupid and cupidity

Maureen Dowd, in her usual acerbic and caustic style and wit, canvasses the whole Wolfie and Shaha goings-on, in this piece, under the headline "Cupid and cupidity", in the NY Times[only available against subscription]:

"There have been many tender love stories in war.

Ike and Kay. Pamela Harriman and Edward R. Murrow. Aeneas and Dido. Achilles and his tent temptation, Patroclus.

But my favorite is the unfolding saga of Wolfie and Shaha. Never has a star-crossed romance so perfectly illuminated a star-crossed conflict.

The weekend meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were consumed with the question of how the bank chief could fight corruption while indulging in cronyism. Who could focus on a weak yen when you had a weak Wolfie with a strong yen for Shaha?

In addition to the story about Paul Wolfowitz’s giving his girlfriend, Shaha Ali Riza, a promotion and a $60,000 raise because he felt guilty that she had to be transferred from the World Bank to …

Forget about those words "war on terror!"

This morning's news of some 200 killed in Baghdad in yet another suicide bombing and nearly the same number injured, led to Lord Downer of Baghdad [aka Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer] being interviewed on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program on that topic, as also the comments of the UK High Commissioner to Australia [a former UK cabinet Minister] that Britain had not gone into the Iraq War as part of a "war on terror".

Needless to say Downer said the High Commissioner wasn't correct - why would she know anything even if she did sit around the British cabinet table? - and he, Downer, relied on a statement by PM Blair some time that the Iraq War was a war on terror.

So, how does this fit into the scheme of things? - as the NY Times reports:

"A senior politician in the Labor Party of Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that the Bush administration’s commonly used phrase “war on terror” strengthens extremists.

“In the U.K. we do not use the ph…

Georges' shadow [y] army

A just released book, Blackwater, has already reached #9 on the NY Times' Best Seller non-fiction List. The book deals and exposes the actions of a private security company, Blackwater Inc., in effect a mercenary "outfit", to all intents and purposes now part of the US military infrastructure.

The book's revelations are said to be startling, as The Nation magazine, in a piece by the author, Jeremy Scahill, here reports:

"The often overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is their unprecedented scale of outsourcing and privatization. From the moment the US troop buildup began in advance of the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the government gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, Halliburton was prepping for a massive operation. When US tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in modern war. By …

Guns, the Gun Lobby, George Bush and scores of deaths.....

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings some interesting facts:

- some 33,000 Americans a year die from the use of a firearm

- on the ABC's TV Lateline program tonight the father of a slain student at Columbine, now an advocate for curbing the availability of guns, asserted that every day in America double the number of people killed in Virginia [32] die from the use of a firearm.

Even more disturbing is to remember that despite all the hype and pr of George Bush attending the memorial service at Virginia Tech that it is he who is responsible for this extraordinary situation in America - as reported in Jurist Legal News & Research:

"Americans have always cherished certain ideals about our justice system. You may win or you may lose, but you are entitled to have your day in court.

Last week, President Bush created a significant exception to that principle when he signed the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” a federal law that gives the gun industry a broad, na…

The Final Act of Submission

Pulling no punches, Scott Ritter, well known UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, writing in truthdig [and reproduced on CommonDreams] says:

"We must demand not only that Congress reassert its constitutional responsibilities and authority by demanding the president obey the letter of the law when it comes to war, whether against Iran or any other nation, but also to place in check the anti-American activities of one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C., the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee.

For decades AIPAC has operated in the shadows of American foreign policy decision-making, exerting its influence on elected officials away from the public scrutiny of the very constituents who elected those officials to begin with. It is impossible to hold someone accountable for actions that are kept secret, and as such AIPAC’s ability to secretly influence American foreign and national security policies represents a flagrant insult and threat to the very essence…

Why he turned down a dud of a job

"When asked whether I would like to be considered for the position of White House implementation manager for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I knew that it would be a difficult assignment, but also an honor, and that this was a serious task that needed to be done. I served as the military assistant to the deputy secretary of defense in the mid-1980s and more recently as commander in chief of the Atlantic Command during the Cuban and Haitian migrant operation and the reconstruction of Haiti."

So writes Marine Corp retired general John Sheehan in an op-ed piece in the WashingtonPost. Sheehan considered the various issues involved and says:

"What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region."

More troubling of all is Sheehan's conclusion:

"It would have been a great honor to serve this nation again. But after thoughtful discussions with people bo…

Blacksburg and Baghdad

Larry Johnson, who previously worked with the CIA and US State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism makes a valid point on his blog, No Quarter:

"The next time you hear Dick Cheney or George Bush blame the public attitude regarding Iraq on the media's failure to report "good news", examine carefully our reaction to the shooting at Viginia Tech. Look at our collective shock. Our horrified reaction. The public sorrow. Yet, in truth, this is an exceptional, unusual day in America. It is not our common experience. But we cannot say the same about Iraq.

The people of Iraq are living in a Marquis de Sade version of Groundhog Day. It is like the Bill Murray movie--the same horrible day repeated with some new, bizarre twists--only not funny. Multiple body counts and explosions and shootings are the daily experience of the people of Iraq. They have been living this hell for four years. Just keep that fact in mind as you mourn the deaths of 22 American students slai…

8 million people in need of aid

As if the war in Iraq wasn't itself bad enough, what has befallen those who have fled the country is now causing a monumental humanitarian crisis for those both in and outside the country.

Monsters and Criticsreports:

"The number of Iraqis in urgent need of humanitarian assistance is estimated at 8 million, including 2 million refugees and 2 million internally displaced persons, a special conference highlighting the growing crisis was told Tuesday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a video address to delegates gathered in Geneva appealed to Iraq's neighbours, specifically Jordan and Syria, to keep their borders open as they struggled to cope with the refugee burden.

Ban also called on the international community to provide greater assistance: 'All of us must recognise this is a global responsibility with international repercussions.' He added: 'Only a secure, politically stable and economically prosperous Iraq can reverse the tide of displacement.'

The UN ref…

Alan Jones [continued]

Alan Jones is at the centre of controversy - yet again! That the man is appalling is almost beyond question. What is perhaps even more troubling is that PM Howard and Communications Minister have failed to even remotely criticise Jones. In fact, the PM has give a vote of endorsement to Jones.

It is hardly surprising that the ABC program Media Watch weighed in on the Jones controversy last night:

"The immediate response from radio presenter Alan Jones to the members of communications authority ACMA, after 2GB was ruled to have breached its licence in his shows before the Cronulla riots, went right to the point. They can all get stuffed.

It's more than likely he'll adopt a slightly more conciliatory tone before the magistrate at his sentencing this week, for naming a child witness in a murder trial.

And they're just two of the problems surrounding the broadcaster right now."

Go here to view this very good Media Watch program.

Meanwhile Crikey looks at the Jones af…

Is there a message in there somewhere?

Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but separate articles in Oz newspapers make for an interesting analysis and may be an indication of how things might play out in an election year in Australia.

On the one hand the SMHreveals that AWA's have effectively stripped away the rights of workers despite the Government declaring and asserting that the IR Work Choice laws would not:

"Secret figures reveal that 45 per cent of Australian workplace agreements have stripped away all of the award conditions that the Federal Government promised would be "protected by law" under Work Choices.

The statistics, which the Government has been refusing to release for months, also show a third of the individual employment contracts lodged during the first six months of Work Choices provided no wage rises during the life of the agreements.

They show staff of the Office of the Employment Advocate believed 27.8 per cent of the agreements they examined might have broken the law by undercutting one…