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Showing posts from September, 2007

"9/11 has made us stupid"

Thomas Friedman hits hard, very hard, in his weekly op-ed piece in the NY Times and concludes that "9/11 has made the US stupid". What? Read for yourself what Friedman has to say:

"Not long ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion ran a fake news story that began like this:

“At a well-attended rally in front of his new ground zero headquarters Monday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani officially announced his plan to run for president of 9/11. ‘My fellow citizens of 9/11, today I will make you a promise,’ said Giuliani during his 18-minute announcement speech in front of a charred and torn American flag. ‘As president of 9/11, I will usher in a bold new 9/11 for all.’ If elected, Giuliani would inherit the duties of current 9/11 President George W. Bush, including making grim facial expressions, seeing the world’s conflicts in terms of good and evil, and carrying a bullhorn at all state functions.”

Like all good satire, the story made me both laugh and cry, be…

Living with Big Brother in 2007

It's insidious, and downright dangerous in a country, however democratic it claims to be - but 2007 sees Big Brother alive and well, in many guises, as The Economist reports:

"It used to be easy to tell whether you were in a free country or a dictatorship. In an old-time police state, the goons are everywhere, both in person and through a web of informers that penetrates every workplace, community and family. They glean whatever they can about your political views, if you are careless enough to express them in public, and your personal foibles. What they fail to pick up in the cafĂ© or canteen, they learn by reading your letters or tapping your phone. The knowledge thus amassed is then stored on millions of yellowing pieces of paper, typed or handwritten; from an old-time dictator's viewpoint, exclusive access to these files is at least as powerful an instrument of fear as any torture chamber. Only when a regime falls will the files either be destroyed, or thrown open so pe…

Daniel Ellsberg: Stop a War with Iran

For those old enough to remember, Daniel Ellsberg borders on being a hero of the Watergate era. He almost single-handedly was instrumental in bringing down Richard Nixon. And despite all efforts to discredit and get at him at the time, he was never prosecuted for his actions.

A leopard doesn't change his spots! - and at 76 Ellsberg is still out there, as the Lancaster OnLinereports:

"The date Aug. 4, 1964 still haunts Daniel Ellsberg, despite the passage of more than 40 years.

He was a 33-year-old on his first day at the Pentagon as special assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton. It also was the day the North Vietnamese navy allegedly fired 21 torpedoes at U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Ellsberg was one of 100 people who saw top secret transmissions later in the day saying the attack never happened, yet President Lyndon Johnson used the alleged incident to drive the U.S. into full-scale war in Vietnam.

"I knew Congress was being deceived…

Iraq War: Slowly the facts seep out

Ever so slowly the background to and the ramp up to what has become the disastrous Iraqi War see the light of day - and in the process the mindset and "thinking" of George W.

Harper's Magazine, yesterday, had this:

"It’s not as dramatic as the Downing Street Memo but El Pais, the Madrid daily, has obtained a revealing transcript of a pre-Iraq War meeting between President Bush and Spain’s then-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar. Below is the lead to the story, which ran in El Pais today. One caveat: I did the translation and while I’m sure it’s accurate, it may not be elegant.

Four weeks before the invasion of Iraq . . . George W. Bush made a public demand to Saddam Hussein in the following terms: disarmament or war. Behind closed doors, Bush acknowledged that the war was inevitable. During a long private conversation with [Aznar], which took place on Saturday, February 22, 2003, Bush made clear that the time had come to take out Saddam: “There are two weeks left. In two …

Iranian academics pose 10 Questions to President of Columbia University

The tables are turned following on the Iranian President's visit to Columbia University and the rather pointed and some would say offensive and insulting "welcome" speech of the University's President Bollinger.

As Fars News Agency reports [reproduced on CommonDreams]:

"Seven chancellors and presidents of Iranian universities and research centers, in a letter addressed to their counterpart in the US Colombia University, denounced Lee Bollinger’s insulting words against the Iranian nation and president and invited him to provide responses for 10 questions of the Iranian academicians and intellectuals."

The letter opens with this:

"We, the professors and heads of universities and research institutions in Tehran , hereby announce our displeasure and protest at your impolite remarks prior to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent speech at Columbia University.

We would like to inform you that President Ahmadinejad was elected directly by the Iranian peo…

Never Coming Home

Now that the media is so dominated by the crisis in Burma and the Iranian President's visit to New York, that other major topic, the Iraq War, has slipped under the radar somewhat the last days. The carnage continues with 48 killed just today.

A timely and sobering reminder of Iraq, and all that that involves, comes via AlterNet:

"Andrew Lichtenstein's new book, Never Coming Home, shows the faces behind the daily casualty statistics in the Iraq war. Each week, these men and women killed in Iraq are buried and mourned, privately and publicly, in deeply personal scenes of love, loss and remembrance."

The tragedy of what has been wrought by the Coalition of the Willing comes home with a resounding wallop!

Inside Burma: Bloggers "speak"

Yet again the www shows itself as having no boundaries or being able to be stifled. Bloggers in Burma, notwithstanding the authoritys' attempts to limit or stop access to the internet, are still putting out their "stuff" - as this latest piece from The Independent, just in, so clearly shows:

Dawn 109,Rangoon

"A lot of rumours are flying around Yangon [Ran goon]. I am getting awfully paranoid. The military has been ordered to shoot. I heard... that "they have been ordered to shoot." Even now, a co-worker is saying: "They are going to shoot." I just saw with my own eyes that more than 500 monks... have marched on Bo GyokeAung Sand Road. There were other people too, walking along the side, holding hands, holding Buddhist flags, singing and clapping hands. They were chanting: "To the uncountable living beings living in uncountable universes to the east, May they be free of danger, May they be free of anger, May they be free of sufferings, and…

George W: The "Decider" who can't speak English

Dear oh dear! The great "Decider" - as he described himself - George W, has confirmed, yet again, his lack of intellectual capacity let alone his inability to speak the English language.

The SMHreports:

"Offering a grammar lesson guaranteed to make any English teacher cringe, US President George W Bush told a group of New York school kids today: "Childrens do learn."

Bush made his latest grammatical slip-up at a made-for-TV event where he urged Congress to reauthorise the No Child Left Behind Act, the centrepiece of his education policy, as he touted a new national report card on improved test scores.

The event drew New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings plus teachers and about 20 fourth and fifth graders from PS 76.

During his first presidential campaign, Bush -- who promised to be the "education president" -- once asked: "Is our children learning?"

On the very same subject:

"ABC News' Ann Compton and …

On the path to being a pariah State

"Israel's way of dealing with the Palestinians and Lebanon in the last few decades has led to a long-term process in which the Western world is beginning to see Israel as a pariah state that has no true affinity to Western values. Hence, it is not on the 'right' side of the clash of civilizations, as was reflected in the French ambassador to Britain calling Israel "that shitty little country" not long ago.

This development is consistently disregarded by Israeli decision makers. Short-term political bickering is on their minds more than the survival of Israel, which in theory is their main goal. Any criticism of Israel's policies is dismissed as an expression of the New Anti-Semitism. The proof often provided is that we are not judged by the same standard as our neighbors: "Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia can get away with inhuman behavior a lot worse than ours," the argument runs.

My point is simple: the day we are no longer judged by the …

The NY Times speaks......

The NY Times, for all the criticisms levelled against it, especially in recent times, has had a regular feature of Talk to the Times - meaning that various senior personnel answer reader's questions.

The current occupant of the page is Editorial Page Editor, Andrew Rosenthal. He was asked where the NY Times stood on the Iranian President and his [then upcoming] talk at Columbia University:

"Having not heard the Iranian president's speech yet, I naturally don't have anything to say about his comments. In general, I don't plan to use this forum as a space for editorializing about the issues of the day.

But, there's an easy and obvious answer to the question, "Should he be allowed to speak at Columbia?" The answer is, yes.

Free speech is one of the founding principles of our republic. How can we deny him the right to speak simply because we don't like what he has to say, or what he has already said? Isn't that one of the biggest things that sets…

The Great Leap Backward?

"China's environmental problems are mounting. Water pollution and water scarcity are burdening the economy, rising levels of air pollution are endangering the health of millions of Chinese, and much of the country's land is rapidly turning into desert. China has become a world leader in air and water pollution and land degradation and a top contributor to some of the world's most vexing global environmental problems, such as the illegal timber trade, marine pollution, and climate change. As China's pollution woes increase, so, too, do the risks to its economy, public health, social stability, and international reputation. As Pan Yue, a vice minister of China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), warned in 2005, "The [economic] miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace."

With the 2008 Olympics around the corner, China's leaders have ratcheted up their rhetoric, setting ambitious environmental targets, a…

Getting inside Burma

The TV pictures of thousands upon thousands of monks, and others, marching through the Burmese capital have been quite startling. Tonight comes news that shots have been fired by security forces and some monks injured, if not killed.

To penetrate what is actually going on on the ground has not been easy in country like Burma. Thankfully the BBC News has been able to provide an insight:

"People inside Burma have been e-mailing the BBC News website and talking to the BBC Burmese Service about the growing unrest."

Check out the BBC News website here.

Ahmadinejad Does New York

Pierre Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. A piece of his, republished on CommonDreams puts an interesting perspective on the visit of the Iranian President to New York:

"In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight in 2006, Philip Roth was asked about 9/11 and the Bush administration. This was his answer: “This I think criminal administration has hijacked the event to bankrupt the country financially, to go to war needlessly. What could be more criminal than that? To destroy every social program they possibly could that gave aid and comfort to people in need. To make lying, which is only half of politics, 90 percent of politics, to alienate America from most of the world, to utterly destroy whatever moral prestige America still had. It’s hardly a pure country, but there were things it stood for that were pretty good, but that’s utterly destroyed, so now the president of Iran can write a letter to the president of the United States, and when I read it, I shake my head in agr…

Palestine: Securing a just outcome

As the hopes for some sort of Middle East conference in November recede, all signs point to the Israelis having no real intention to engage in, let alone agree to, a meaningful resolution of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Only today Israeli PM Olmert is reported on JTA as saying:

"A final Israeli-Palestinian peace accord could be a generation away, Ehud Olmert said.

The Israeli prime minister, appearing Monday before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, reiterated his stand that a permament settlement with the Palestinians would require Israel quit much of the West Bank.

But Olmert also said he agreed with Israelis who saw such a deal being as many as 20 or 30 years away from completion."

The Christian Science Monitor puts the position - in a piece "Palestine: Democracy not Zionism" - which must be explored in the following terms:

"With some sort of "meeting" or "conference" to kick start the peace process now being toute…

A rare Q & A with Sy Hersh

Sy Hersh is the stuff of legend in his own lifetime. Veteran journalist and gadfly he has got under the skin of many American Administrations by revealing all manner of things they would rather have kept under wraps.

It's rare that one reads something about the man himself and his views. Fortunately, he sat down for a Q & A with the

"Journalist Seymour M. Hersh, 70, announced his arrival in Washington nearly four decades ago by uncovering the U.S. military massacre of Vietnamese women and children at My Lai and winning the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. As a freelancer for the tiny Dispatch News Service, he did all this without even leaving the country. Newsweek dubbed him the "scoop artist," and from the start he has served as the official executive pain in the neck -- breaking such stories as the CIA's bombing of Cambodia and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's wiretapping of his own staff.

Recently ra…

He came.....he spoke! Now the fallout

Well, the Iranian President made it to Columbia University to speak. There are sound-bytes available on the radio and TV. The press and internet has also reported the event at Columbia.

The Washington Post reports the President's talk at the university as follows:

"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was greeted with student protests and withering public criticism during a visit to Columbia University Monday in which he defended his government's human rights record, denounced Israel and rejected U.S. efforts to restrict Iran's nuclear program.

Speaking to students and faculty at Columbia a day ahead of his scheduled address to the United Nations General Assembly, the hard-line Iranian president also asserted that his people, including women, "enjoy the highest levels of freedom," and he claimed that homosexuality does not exist in his country.

Before his speech, he came under unusually harsh criticism from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who…

Dick [Cheney] is beating those war drums again

The rumblings of an upcoming war in relation to Iran grow ever louder - and if this piece on Harper's Magazine has gathered the material together correctly, VP Dick Cheney is right up there is promoting some sort of attack on Iran. The Israelis are also in the picture-frame.

Scott Hortonanalyses what is being said by pundits such as those in Newsweek and Salon, and concludes:

"The notion that Israel would be used as a U.S. proxy in the launch of an air war against Iran is hardly far-fetched. Security experts in Israel now regularly state off-the-record that last year’s disastrously misplanned Lebanese campaign was timed and stage-managed by the White House, and that the impetus for it came from Vice President Cheney with the involvement of Elliott Abrams and David Wurmser. So the tactical notion of using Israel as the “tip of the spear,” which is frequently labeled by Middle East experts as lunatic, has a well established progeny. The real question, of course, is whether …

Iranians puzzle why the US focuses on their President

Iranian President Ahmadinejad has arrived in New York and whilst denied a visit to Ground Zero will address a meeting at Columbia University. A fire-storm has erupted. Whatever the outcome and fall-out of that speech at the University, as the NY Times reports from Teheran, the Iranians puzzle why the US focuses so much on their President:

" is because of his provocative remarks, like denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, that the United States and Europe have never known quite how to handle him. In demonizing Mr. Ahmadinejad, the West has served him well, elevating his status at home and in the region at a time when he is increasingly isolated politically because of his go-it-alone style and ineffective economic policies, according to Iranian politicians, officials and political experts.

Political analysts here say they are surprised at the degree to which the West focuses on their president, saying that it reflects a general misundersta…

Another dimension to the surge in Iraq: Sectrian hatred

As if the killing and mayhem and displacement and dislocation of people in Iraq wasn't bad enough, The Independenttoday reports - in the light of 2 new reports, one from the Red Crescent and the other from Amnesty International - on how the so-called surge has engendered and fueled sectarian hatred in Baghdad:

"They are two Iraqi families, one Shia, the other Sunni, who once lived in what were called "mixed" neighbourhoods. Now they are among the 2 million internal refugees in the country, a vast and desperate pool of the dispossessed whose numbers have risen massively along with US troop "surge" operations.

The forced migration, called "a human tragedy unprecedented in the country's history" in the latest Iraqi Red Crescent report, has uprooted communities from homes they have occupied for decades. In Baghdad, the focus of US military action, there are a million displaced people in a population of four million.

Another two million people, accor…

Ed Murrow Mark II?

It is rare to see a commentator, especially on TV, take on a politician. Ed Murrow did it publicly - and famously. Nowadays the Ed Murrows of this world are sadly missing.

Just witness in the last days how the media has seemingly unquestioningly simply reported the White House line on Iran and the Administration's leaked "news" on that Israel air strike by Israel on Syria. No challenges, no queries, no independent investigations of any actual facts.

The "space" previously occupied by Ed Murrow seems to have been taken up by commentator Keith Olbermann. Watch [and read] this pointed and hard-hitting attack on George Bush "Your Hypocrisy is So Vast" from

Olbermann even signs off with the same words as Ed Murrow did. Pity we don't see and read more Olbermanns.

The quiet, undeclared war on children

It's nothing knew, but the plight of the people of Gaza, especially it's children, remains under the radar and the scrutiny of the world. In it's effect, the undeclared quiet war by Israel on the those living in Gaza, is having dire effects, as the LA Times reports:

"An entire generation of Palestinians in Gaza is growing up stunted: physically and nutritionally stunted because they are not getting enough to eat; emotionally stunted because of the pressures of living in a virtual prison and facing the constant threat of destruction and displacement; intellectually and academically stunted because they cannot concentrate -- or, even if they can, because they are trying to study and learn in circumstances that no child should have to endure.

Even before Israel this week declared Gaza "hostile territory" -- apparently in preparation for cutting off the last remaining supplies of fuel and electricity to 1.5 million men, women and children -- the situation w…

Maestro of Mime dies

Anyone who ever had the good fortune to have seen Marcel Marceau will not have easily forgotten the talent of this master of mime. Each performance was a tour de force.

Now, sadly, the maestro is dead at 84. Associated Pressreveals something about the man behind the wonderful mask of his:

"Marcel Marceau, who revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, has died, his former assistant said Sunday. He was 84.

Marceau died Saturday in Paris, French media reported. Former assistant Emmanuel Vacca announced the death on France-Info radio, but gave no details about the cause.

"Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, Marceau played the entire range of human emotions onstage for more than 50 years, never uttering a word. Offstage, however, he was famously chatty. "Never get a mime talking. He won't stop," he once said.

A French Jew, Marceau survived the Holocaust — and also worked with the French Resistance to…

America's "Siberian Dilemma"

Kurt Campbell is an expert on Asia and security issues who is now chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. He served in the Pentagon in the Clinton administration, in charge of Asia/Pacific issues, and earlier taught at Harvard. He has written widely, for popular and academic audiences, about everything from Japan to nuclear policy.

On this occasion he has written an interesting and thought-provoking piece for the NY Times on what he describes as America's "Siberian Dilemma":

"A trip through Asia, even a relatively brief one, reveals some disquieting concerns over the current American position in the region. In these waning months of the Bush Administration, with the country bogged down and preoccupied in Iraq, the United States faces the unpalatable choice posed by the “Siberian dilemma” in Asia. Just what is the Siberian dilemma and how does it apply to the unforgiving urban battlefields of Iraq? And more to the point, what does this have to do wit…

What? A Lonely Planet Guide to Afghanistan?

Yep, you read it correctly! Lonely Planet has just released one of its ubiquitous guides - Afghanistan of all places. Not your regular tourist destination......

As Spiegel On Line International reports:

"It may be a war zone, but never mind. Lonely Planet has published a new travel guide for Afghanistan, a first for the country since the 1970s. But as the long list of 'Dangers & Annoyances' shows, it's not your standard backpacker Bible.

At first glance, it looks just like the dozens of other Lonely Planet titles. Each chapter begins with the highlights of the region being presented. There are suggestions for those looking for "Roads Less Travelled." And there are useful tips for eating and sleeping. But the destination itself is a bit out of the ordinary: For the first time since Bohemians were following the Hippie Trail through Central Asia in the 1960s and 70s, travel-guide giant Lonely Planet has come out with a book on Afghanistan.

"For most …

Iraq War: A cool cost of US$720 million - a day!

The figures are truly staggering and frightening on many levels. The Washington Post reports:

"The money spent on one day of the Iraq war could buy homes for almost 6,500 families or health care for 423,529 children, or could outfit 1.27 million homes with renewable electricity, according to the American Friends Service Committee, which displayed those statistics on large banners in cities nationwide Thursday and Friday.

The war is costing $720 million a day or $500,000 a minute, according to the group's analysis of the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes.

The estimates made by the group, which opposes the conflict, include not only the immediate costs of war but also ongoing factors such as long-term health care for veterans, interest on debt and replacement of military hardware.

"The wounded are coming home, and many of them have severe brain and spinal injuries, which will require round-the-clock …

Big Brother alive and well in the USA in 2007

The so-called "war on terror" has shown itself up in a multitude of manifestations. The most dangerous thing has been governments using the "excuse" of the war to restrict certain civil liberties, allowing government agencies to pursue a variety of things that they would otherwise would not - and should not - be allowed to do and gathering, and retaining, a variety of information on its citizens.

The Washington Post reports on the latest incursions into civil liberties of all Americans:

"The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as lo…

And he calls himself a professor of law?

Iranian President Ahmadenejad is about to visit New York to attend the General Assembly.

Now, the Iranian President may well be irrational, and even dangerous in many respects, but should he be subject to arrest in New York. JTA reports:

"On Monday, a team of lawyers and diplomats who want Ahmadinejad tried for inciting genocide will call on the U.S. Department of Justice to arrest the Iranian president when he lands on American soil. The call comes as Jewish groups are preparing for a full-court press on the Iran issue in meetings planned with world leaders gathered for the yearly assembly. Also on Monday, a protest rally is planned across from U.N. Headquarters."

Not to be outdone, the ever-irrepressible Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law Professor - also described by Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powells's former Chief of Staff when he was Secretary of State as "AIPAC's lapdog" - has joined in the fray and said, as JTA reports:

"He is an international war cri…

Empty-Nesters Unite!

The results of this Pew Research Centre research will probably surprise many, but is perhaps not surprising, as The Atlantic reports:

"The kids are, eh, all right. A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows that more people now consider adequate income and an equitable division of household labor more essential to a happy marriage than having children. Researchers asked more than 2,000 adults what they considered important for a successful union; having children ranked eighth out of nine choices, ahead of only “agreement on politics.” Just 41 percent said that kids were “very important”—a plunge of 24 percentage points since the last such study, in 1990. (“Sharing household chores” shot up 15 percentage points over the same period, landing in third place.) The report attributes the shift in part to a change in moral thinking that has also led to greater social acceptance of cohabitation, premarital sex, and unwed childbearing. As a result, the authors say, “In the United States…

Revisiting the Jena 6 and Legal Lynching 2007 style

The Freedom Riders in the south of America in the 1960's are well-enough known.

Sadly, it appears that 40 years hasn't seen much change in the south. The now well-known Jena 6 case has served to highlight the injustices still seemingly well entrenched in the American judicial system in so far as it effects the Afro-American community.

As Linn Washington Jr., a Philadelphia based journalist who is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program and a Washington is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune, [America’s oldest African-American owned newspaper] writes on CommonDreams:

"For many African-Americans today, the main battle field against terrorism is not Iraq or Afghanistan but Jena, a small town in the state of Louisiana.

This rural town about 40-miles northeast of Alexandria, La is where a group of six black teens are enduring criminal prosecutions for a school yard fight that many see as a legal lynching.

The prosecutor in Jena is pressing serious felony…

The Ugly Australian

The term, the Ugly American, was coined many years ago. We all know the image. But the Ugly Australian? Yes, he and she, is alive and well, as Mike Carleton reports in his weekly column in the SMH:

"Fleeing the menacing police regime that ruled Sydney during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, I spent a week in Bali shooting more of a television documentary I am making for SBS.

It was nice to be back in a democracy. The Indonesian cops have their faults, but paranoia about the so-called war on terrorism is not one of them. They do not go spare at the sight of foreigners on their streets, although they have good enough reason to do so: the Australian football season is starting again.

At this time of year Bali's tourist traps are infested - it's the only word for it - by hordes of drunken young footballers who have flown in from our sunburnt land to make yobs of themselves celebrating the end of their playing year.

I encountered a gang of about 20 of them hoo…

How low can you get?

Reuters reports:

US President George Bush and Congress registered record-low approval ratings in a Reuters/Zogby poll, and a new monthly index measuring the mood of Americans dipped slightly on deepening worries about the economy. Only 29 % of Americans gave Bush a positive grade for his job performance, below his worst Zogby poll mark of 30% last March. Only 11% rated Congress positively, beating the previous low of 14% last July.

Morality and humanity in 2007

Perhaps it's dreaming, but Warwick McFadyen raises the now so-often overlooked issue of morality and humanity in 2007:

"Perhaps at heart we are just Daleks. Our calling is only to ourselves in the most vicious and uncaring way. Humankind is a fragmented chain of self-interest. This grey despondence, sweeping across the inner landscape like low cloud, is due to a convergence of news items in recent days. The Daleks came to my mind. Exterminate.

First came a report by the World Federation of United Nations Associations, based on a "state of the future" survey.

Perhaps I am being too much the naysayer. The report did, after all, find rising rates of life expectancy and better access to health and education, and a recent UNICEF report also has found that the number of children dying before they reach five years of age has fallen below 10 million annually. Worldwide, child deaths stand at 9.7 million a year; in 1990 the figure was 13 million. This is good news, isn't it…

An Eerie Familiarity

The drums of war are beating! An attack on Iran, of one sort or another, seems to grow by the day. And the ramp-up to such attack has an eerie familiarity to it - as Adrian Hamilton writes in The Independent:

"Have we learnt nothing from the shameful and shameless run-up to the invasion of Iraq? Then, Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel prize-winning Egyptian head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, quietly but firmly said that as far as he and his UN agency were concerned, there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons or the materials to make them.

His conclusion was simply swept aside as the US and the British tore into the UN inspector, Hans Blix, determined to show that their worst warnings about Saddam were based on fact. ElBaradei and Blix proved right in their denial. Jack Straw and the hapless (in this case) Colin Powell were wrong.

So here we are, nearly five years later, and exactly the same is happening over Iran. Once again the UN process of ins…

Ethnic cleansing going on apace

Hardly a day goes by without the Middle East being in the news in one way or another. Usually the news isn't positive. Just today an assassination of a pro-Government Lebanese MP - allegedly by the Syrians. Then, Israel has declared the Gaza Strip a "hostile entity" and will now, at its whim, turn off water or electricity to the entire territory of 1.5 million people. Not collective punishment assert the Israelis. The UN Secretary General disagrees. And what will Condi Rice have to say about it all as she pays a flying 24 hour visit to the region? Most likely nothing - certainly not publicly.

Victoria Buch is an Israeli academic, anti-occupation activist, and a member of the editorial board of the Occupation Magazine. She writes, in concise and compelling terms, of the ethnic cleansing underway by the Israelis of the West Bank, in a piece in CounterPoint:

"The stage for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has been set in the Occupied Territori…

Comparing a Big Mac with Louis Vuitton

This may come as startling news to those who have more money than good sense in spending obscene amounts of money to secure de luxe goods, like a Louis Vuitton handbag, but AlterNet puts the whole thing in some perspective:

"Today's $157 billion luxury industry outsources production to Chinese factories, dresses celebrities for red-carpet events, fights massive counterfeiting operations and builds designer outlet malls across America. All this is a long way from the industry's history of family-owned businesses handcrafting the best products possible.

Newsweek's style and culture reporter Dana Thomas explores the new luxury industry in her book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. She found that today's luxury marketplace is mostly about hype and marketing. The goal is no longer making something unique and beautiful but maximizing profits."

Read an interesting interview, on AlterNet, with author Thomas here.

The General Who Doesn't Know....

Andrew Sullivan writing in the TimesonLine:

"When historians look back on the past week in Washington, I suspect they will see it as a seminal moment. It was the moment when the president and his party recommitted themselves to an indefinite, decades-long Iraq occupation, and when the Iraq war was formally handed over to the next president, with forces near the maxed-out 2006 level."

Sullivan then highlights something which seems to have generally slipped under the radar of the media in all the hype surrounding the Patraeus evidence followed by the president's address to the nation from the Oval Office:

"For me, the critical exchange evinced a response from Petraeus that, after a recess, he decided to withdraw. Too late. The truth had been blurted out. When staunch Republican Senator John Warner asked him: “Does the [Iraq war] make America safer?” Petraeus replied with admirable honesty: “I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.”

And then r…

Iraq: Positive moves?

If it weren't so tragic it could be rather comical.....

At the same time as the White House spins about the signs of things improving in Iraq - and little sir-echo Oz Foreign Minister Lord Downer of Baghdad repeating the same nonsense - the IHT today reports that US soldiers are to be confined to the Green Zone in Baghdad:

"The United States on Tuesday suspended all land travel by U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials in Iraq outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, amid mounting public outrage over the alleged killing of civilians by the U.S. Embassy's security provider Blackwater USA.

The move came even as the Iraqi government appeared to back down from statements Monday that it had permanently revoked Blackwater's license and would order its 1,000 personnel to leave the country — depriving American diplomats of security protection essential to operating in Baghdad.

"We are not intending to stop them and revoke their license indefinitely but we do…