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Showing posts from October, 2007

Australia's forgotten poor

Put it down to him being a one-note man, too old, past-it or convinced of his own rhetoric, but during his current electioneering PM Howard almost daily repeats the mantra of the financial health of Australians. Everyone is better off, etc. etc. and has been during his tenure in office.

Hold it! No less than 10% of the population isn't all that fortunate at all - as this op-ed piece "Our forgotten poor" in The Age written by Cath Smith, chief executive officer of the Victorian Council of Social Service. Anne Turley is chief executive officer of Melbourne Citymission, clearly points out and highlights:

"It's said that a "rising tide lifts all boats" — that the best policy to reduce poverty is to promote economic growth. If that's the case, where have we gone wrong?

Australia has recorded 15 years of almost unbroken economic growth. In fact, from 2001 to 2006, growth averaged 3 per cent a year — well above the average rate of economic growth in the…

Israel taught US "torture techniques"

"Should the United States, seeking to recalibrate the balance between security and liberty in the "war on terror," emulate Israel in its treatment of Palestinian detainees?"

It's a pertinent question given Gitmo and the discussion underway in America about the facility and the so-called military tribunals there.

The questioner is Lisa Hajjar, associate professor and chair of the Law and Society Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of "Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza" (University of California Press, 2005), writing in CounterPunch.

"Long before the first suicide bombing by Palestinians in 1994, Israel had resorted to extrajudicial killings, home demolitions, deportations, curfews and other forms of collective punishment barred by international law.

Imprisonment has been one of the key strategies of Israeli control of the Palestinian population, and since 1967 more than half a…

Fisk: The Saudis lecture us on terrorism?

Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, makes more than some valid points about the visit of the Saudi's King Abdullah to Great Britain:

"In what world do these people live? True, there'll be no public executions outside Buckingham Palace when His Royal Highness rides in stately formation down The Mall. We gave up capital punishment about half a century ago. There won't even be a backhander – or will there? – which is the Saudi way of doing business. But for King Abdullah to tell the world, as he did in a BBC interview yesterday, that Britain is not doing enough to counter "terrorism", and that most countries are not taking it as seriously as his country is, is really pushing it. Weren't most of the 11 September 2001 hijackers from – er – Saudi Arabia? Is this the land that is really going to teach us lessons?

The sheer implausibility of the claim that Saudi intelligence could have prevented the ondon bombings if only the British Government had taken it s…

Yes, it's apartheid in Israel, says Tutu

It will be recalled that former president Jimmy Carter was heavily criticised for equating some of Israel's actions being akin to the apartheid policies in South Africa.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has once again weighed into the debate, as reported on CommonDreams:

"South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu compared conditions in Palestine to those of South Africa under apartheid, and called on Israelis to try and change them, while speaking in Boston Saturday at historic Old South Church.”We hope the occupation of the Palestinian territory by Israel will end,” Tutu said.

“There is a cry of anguish from the depth of my heart, to my spiritual relatives. Please, please hear the call, the noble call of our scripture,” Tutu said of Israelis.

“Don’t be found fighting against this god, your god, our god, who hears the cry of the oppressed,” Tutu said.

Tutu spoke with political activist and lecturer Noam Chomsky and others to a largely religious audience abou…

Guantanamo Military Lawyer Breaks Ranks to Condemn "Unconscionable" Detention republishes a piece from The Independent on what must be seen as another nail in the coffin in the integrity and lawfulness of Guantanamo Bay. Where this will all go is an "interesting" question, especially as the imprisonment of David Hicks comes to an end at the end of the year. This is a story with a lot still in it:

"An American military lawyer and veteran of dozens of secret Guantanamo tribunals has made a devastating attack on the legal process for determining whether Guantanamo prisoners are "enemy combatants".

The whistleblower, an army major inside the military court system which the United States has established at Guantanamo Bay, has described the detention of one prisoner, a hospital administrator from Sudan, as "unconscionable".

His critique will be the centrepiece of a hearing on 5 December before the US Supreme Court when another attempt is made to shut the prison down. So nervous is the Bush administration of the late…

Straitjacket Bush

It is hard to believe that a mainstream newspaper such as the LA Times has an op-ed piece by Rosa Brooks "Straitjacket Bush". It says something about a feeling abroad in America.

"Forget impeachment.

Liberals, put it behind you. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney shouldn't be treated like criminals who deserve punishment. They should be treated like psychotics who need treatment.

Because they've clearly gone mad. Exhibit A: We're in the middle of a disastrous war in Iraq, the military and political situation in Afghanistan is steadily worsening, and the administration's interrogation and detention tactics have inflamed anti-Americanism and fueled extremist movements around the globe. Sane people, confronting such a situation, do their best to tamp down tensions, rebuild shattered alliances, find common ground with hostile parties and give our military a little breathing space. But crazy people? They look around and decide it's a great time to start anot…

And this is a friend to be feted?

In his Labour Party conference speech last month, the Prime Minister declared that he would oppose dictatorship everywhere: "The message should go out to anyone facing persecution from Burma to Zimbabwe ... human rights are universal." He has refused to even attend the same summit as the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, on the grounds that "there is no freedom in Zimbabwe, and there is widespread torture and mass intimidation of the political opposition."

Simple! The British PM won't mix it with dictators. Right? No! As The Independent reports "A royal guest to be proud of?":

"This week, Gordon Brown and David Cameron will welcome the leader of one of the world's most vicious dictatorships to Britain. Both men will embrace King Abdullah al-Saud, who heads a regime in which, according to Amnesty International, "Fear and secrecy permeate every aspect of life. Every day the most fundamental human rights of people in Saudi Ara…

Tony Blair: "Yes" Man personified

It will come as no surprise to many to learn that Tony Blair, former British PM - more show-pony and media-tart - did absolutely nothing to stand up to George Bush in relation to the then looming invasion of Iraq.

How do we know? From no lesser authority than his political biographer quoting former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and British insiders. The Independentreports:

"Tony Blair failed to stand up to George Bush over the invasion of Iraq, the former US secretary of state Colin Powell has claimed.

The damaging disclosure by an influential participant in the build-up to the war will undermine claims by Mr Blair's allies that he acted as a restraining influence on the president.

The observation is made in Blair Unbound, a new book about the former prime minister by the political biographer Anthony Seldon. Mr Powell recalled how he and Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, attempted to find ways of restraining the two leaders."


"In extracts from the b…

Iran: An Informed and Timely Warning

Australia's ABC News reports on the facts - aside from misplaced rhetoric emanating, especially, from the White House - on Iran's nuclear capacity and the caution which ought to be exhibited before thinking of attacking the country.

"UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed El Baradei said he had no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons and accused US leaders of adding "fuel to the fire" with recent bellicose rhetoric.

"We haven't received any information there is a parallel, ongoing, active nuclear weapon program," the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told CNN.

"Second, even if Iran were to be working on nuclear weapons... they are at least a few years away from having such weapon," he said, citing Washington's own intelligence assessments.

"My fear is that if we continue to escalate from both sides that we will end up into a precipice, we will end up into an abyss. The Middle East is in a total mes…

How to cut down those Arab births in Israel!!!

From afar it is interesting to observe the pre-election posturing of the candidates and wanna-be's vying for the office of US President next year. One of those candidates is Rudy Guiliani who captured so much publicity and prominence as mayor of New York when 9/11 happened.

Guiliani's views, mostly far right, have attracted attention of late. More troubling still are the coterie of advisors he has around him - and the views they espouse.

Mother Jones reports on one of those Guiliani advisors and some of his more than startling views on how to curb births of Arabs in Israel:

"Lately Philip Weiss, proprietor of the blog Mondoweiss, has been reading up on the work of Peter Berkowitz, a George Mason law professor who moonlights as Rudy Giuliani's "Senior Statecraft, Human Rights and Freedom Advisor" (pretty good gig, if you can get it). Today Weiss dug up a 2004 Weekly Standard article in which Berkowitz offers an analysis of Israeli demographic policies hin…

25 Primates face oblivion

This report "The edge of oblivion: conservationists name 25 primates about to disappear" from The Guardian ought to be of grave concern to anyone who values the worth of our nature, conversation and our forebears:

"Sri Lanka's Horton Plains slender loris has been seen just four times since 1937. Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey was not found in an exhaustive six-year study ending in 1999 and there have been no definite sightings since. Vietnam's golden-headed langur and the Hainan gibbon in China both number in the dozens.

These are the primate species on the edge of oblivion and, according to a report commissioned by three leading conservation charities, scores of others of our closest relatives are poised to suffer the same fate. It names the top 25 species most in need of help but concludes that 114 primate species are also close to extinction.

The 25 species most at risk include two of our closest great ape cousins, the Cross River gorilla of Cameroon and …

Murdoch's Cuckoo's Nest

Rupert Murdoch, dubbed Sun King, and the owner of most media outlets worldwide, sees himself as some sort of political pundit. Trouble is that his views are largely to the right - far right in some instances.

Murdoch recently acquired the Wall Street Journal as part of his newspaper stable. Mike Whitney, writing in Information Clearing House, "Rupert's Cuckoo's Nest: The Wall Street Journal's Op-Ed Page" analyses the newspaper and comes up with perhaps not all that surprising results:

"The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page is the ideological headwaters for far-right fanaticism in the US. It is less of a forum for open debate than it is a breeding ground for noxious ideas that undermine democratic institutions. Every day, there’s a whole new slate of extremist opinion pieces defending one absurdity or another. Typically, the articles focus on the two issues of primary importance to all conservatives; war and taxes. It’s astonishing how many variati…

The Outsourced Brain

As you reflect on this piece - "The Outsourced Brain" - by columnist David Brooks in the NY TImes, it will doubtlessly resonate with you how life, in so many ways, has changed in this 21st century:

"The gurus seek bliss amidst mountaintop solitude and serenity in the meditative trance, but I, grasshopper, have achieved the oneness with the universe that is known as pure externalization.

I have melded my mind with the heavens, communed with the universal consciousness, and experienced the inner calm that externalization brings, and it all started because I bought a car with a G.P.S.

Like many men, I quickly established a romantic attachment to my G.P.S. I found comfort in her tranquil and slightly Anglophilic voice. I felt warm and safe following her thin blue line. More than once I experienced her mercy, for each of my transgressions would be greeted by nothing worse than a gentle, “Make a U-turn if possible.”

After a few weeks, it occurred to me that I could no longer get …

Silence out of Burma

The news out of Burma seems to have stopped. The media appears to have moved on from the upheavals there a few weeks ago. That is not to say that things have turned positive in the country of a military dictatorship.

Addressing a London meeting, 'Freedom Writ Large', organised by PEN and the Writers Network of Burma, John Pilger pays tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi and the writers of Burma, 'the bravest of the brave', and describes the hypocrisy of Western leaders who claim to back their struggle for freedom.

"The news is no more from Burma. The young monks are quiet in their cells, or they are dead. But words have escaped: the defiant, beautiful poetry of Aung Than and Zeya Aung; and we know of the unbroken will of the journalist U Win Tin, who makes ink out of brick powder on the walls of his prison cell and writes with a pen made from a bamboo mat – at the age of 77. These are the bravest of the brave.

What honour they bring to humanity with their struggle; and…

Iran: War or Not?

Der Spiegel [reproduced on AlterNet] says that Dick Cheney is actively promoting an attack on Iran using Israel in the process:

"US Vice President Dick Cheney -- the power behind the throne, the eminence grise, the man with the (very) occasional grandfatherly smile -- is notorious for his propensity for secretiveness and behind-the-scenes manipulation. He's capable of anything, say friends as well as enemies. Given this reputation, it's no big surprise that Cheney has already asked for a backroom analysis of how a war with Iran might begin.

In the scenario concocted by Cheney's strategists, Washington's first step would be to convince Israel to fire missiles at Iran's uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. Tehran would retaliate with its own strike, providing the US with an excuse to attack military targets and nuclear facilities in Iran.

This information was leaked by an official close to the vice president. Cheney himself hasn't denied engaging in such war gam…

Rumsfeld cops a Writ - in Paris

We know that neither Presidemt Bush nor the US Congress will take any action against former Defence Secretary Rumsfeld for his various illegal activities, both national and international, but when visiting Paris yesterday he copped a writ there - as the raw storyreports:

"Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's jaunt to France was interrupted today by an unscheduled itinerary item -- he was slapped with a criminal complaint charging him with torture.

Rumsfeld, in Paris for a discussion sponsored by the magazine Foreign Policy, was tracked down by representatives of a coalition of international human rights groups, who informed the architect of the US invasion of Iraq that they had submitted a torture suit against him in French court.

The filed documents allege that during his tenure, the former defense secretary "ordered and authorized" torture of detainees at both the American-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the US military's detainment facility at Gua…

John Howard and the Right twitchy

Never lost for the appropriate barb or acerbic comment, Mike Carlton's column in the SMH follows up on John Howard in that TV debate last Sunday night with Kevin Rudd and the week that has been:

"The Prime Minister's curious facial twitch during the not-so-great debate on Sunday evening set the radio talkback phone lines ringing on Monday. Some people called it a spasm. Others thought he'd been about to drop from a heart attack.

If you missed it, you can catch a replay on YouTube. Type in "John Howard spasm" and up it comes. His face contorts in a weird grimace, eyelids batting, lips chomping furiously. His hands grip the lectern for support. One contributor has unkindly added some rap music.

To me, it looked as if he'd swallowed a blowfly, although it might have been a nervous reaction to a prickly question he was being asked about al-Qaeda and Iraq. Or perhaps it was the sudden realisation that the Channel Nine Worm, manipulated by the treacherous Ray Mar…

Riches beyond all that oil and sand

Saudi Arabia is known for all its oil, sand and restrictions on its women. That may become a thing of the past as the oil-rich kingdom seeks to zoom into the 21st century - with the resources to do so.

The NY Times reports on what is underway in the rather elusive kingdom of the Royal sheiks:

"On a marshy peninsula 50 miles from this Red Sea port, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is staking $12.5 billion on a gargantuan bid to catch up with the West in science and technology.

King Abdullah has broken taboos, declaring that the Arabs have fallen critically behind much of the modern world in intellectual achievement.

Between an oil refinery and the sea, the monarch is building from scratch a graduate research institution that will have one of the 10 largest endowments in the world, worth more than $10 billion.

Its planners say men and women will study side by side in an enclave walled off from the rest of Saudi society, the country’s notorious religious police will be barred and all rel…

Turkey. Iran, George Bush, Oil and John Howard

You might well ask what the connection between Turkey, Iran, George Bush, oil and John Howard is. Easy, actually. In a globalised economy and ready repercussions of political events, overnight in New York the price for oil went to US$92.22 a barrel - and is said to be destined to go to US$100. Why?

The threat of Turkey invading northern Iraq to curb those pesky Kurds there and George Bush talking of World War III in relation to Iran has made markets nervous. For John Howard a rising oil price with attendant increases in petrol prices and that feeding into inflation - and then the probability of the Reserve Bank raising interest rates on 7 November - translates into a potentially greater loss for the Howard Government in the election on 24 November.

Bottom line PM Howard can probably thank his good friend George Bush and having been a willing partner in the Coalition of the Willing as the repercussions spelling his death knell. And, of course, we can't forget Howard'…

It's a sick world

The topics of climate change, Al Gore and his movie "An Inconvenient Truth" and extremes in weather patterns around the world - witness the devastating fires in California - are very much the topic de jour at the moment.

Today comes publication of the UN's Global Environment Outlook. It's not a pretty picture or prognosis for our planet.

Crikey has Frank Jotzo, environmental economist, The Australian National University, put the Report into context:

"Climate change is not news to the scientific community, and it's certainly not news to the UN, which published its fourth Global Environment Outlook report overnight.

What has focussed public attention, and has policymakers scrambling for solutions, is climate events consistent with what is expected under climate change: Europe’s heatwave, America’s hurricanes and fires, Australia’s drought.

Today’s UN Global Environment Outlook report drives home some of the key facts:

11 of the 12 last years were the warmest s…

Israel: Flouts International Law - yet again!

The world sits by and watches as Israel, yet again, flouts international law. Not a murmur of condemnation. Just a tutting tutting! The time has surely come when the world must say to Israel - enough is enough! To say that Israel is becoming a renegade State, openly cocking its nose at international law and convention, is probably now an under-statement.

Israel's latest action is that it will collectively punish the people of Gaza by either restricting, or cutting off altogether, electricity and water, to the already devastated territory.

BBC News reports:

"Israel's defence minister has approved sanctions against Gaza, including cuts in the supply of electricity and fuel to try to halt rocket attacks.

Ehud Barak authorised the cuts, which are expected to follow immediately after rocket attacks are launched.

Palestinian leaders say the measure amounts to collective punishment.

Israel supplies 60% of the electricity for Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants - but last month…

Moving ever closer to a War

The signs are ominous. For reasons not entirely clear, other than the Bush Administration's misguided view of the world, and the Middle East in particular, a war with or some sort of attack on Iran now seems almost inevitable. Yet more destruction and death and injury! - and implications all to easy to see.

Newsweek's piece, "The Road to War" on where things are at:

"Last weekend I met a happy hard-liner, a senior White House official, at a Washington party. His good mood, it turns out, had a lot to do with the new, uncompromising stance laid out by his boss, George W. Bush, against Iran. Until recently administration hawks had been somewhat worried about where their president was headed. Since the beginning of his second term, in their view, Bush had gone suspiciously soft on the question of how to stop Iran's nuclear program. He had acceded to Condoleezza Rice's demands that the United States back the multilateral diplomatic approach favored by th…

David Hicks "affair" resurfaces

It was bound to happen! The totally unsatisfactory and disgraceful situation relating to David Hicks has resurfaced - clearly something John Howard and Alexander Downer would have wished to avoid, especially in the middle of an election-campaign.

As Richard Ackland writes in his op-ed piece in the SMH:

"Try as they might to bury one of the nastiest instances of political meddling in the course of justice, sooner or later the David Hicks case was bound to resurface as an unwanted pong for a desperate government.

The New York attorney and Columbia law lecturer Scott Horton, who has written tirelessly on Hicks's case for Harper's Magazine, reports that a military officer told him that the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, "interfered directly to get Hicks's plea bargain deal".


"In fact, the corruption infecting what is supposed to be an independent military justice system has become so apparent that it was a factor in the US Supreme Court changing its mind…

Alan Johnston: His Kidnap Ordeal

Anyone who listed to BBC Radio or watch TV news - with items "taken" from or provided by the BBC - would have been familiar with Alan Johnston, reporting from Gaza. In fact, Johnston was the only Western journalist actually stationed in the turbulent Gaza strip.

Then, as we also know, Johnston was kidnapped. Happily, and fortunately, 114 days later he was released by his captors.

As the BBC reports - "As he neared the end of a posting in Gaza, the BBC's Alan Johnston was seized at gunpoint by militants".

Today, on BBC News, Johnson tells the full story of his 114 days as a hostage.

Diggers for the West Bank: Lord Downer of Baghdad suggests

It is hard to believe that anyone can take anything that Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says seriously. Yesterday, courting voters in the seat of Wentworth, Downer was totally of the rails - some would say misguided - in seeking support in the upcoming election of the Jewish vote in Malcolm Turnbull's seat.

As The Australian reports:

"Australia could send troops to the Middle East as part of an international buffer force to facilitate an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and prevent a takeover by terrorist-linked organisations, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said last night.

In a speech to Jewish leaders in Sydney, Mr Downer expressed doubts that Palestinians as a whole would support a peace settlement between Israel and West Bank leaders.

He said the concern was that the Hamas organisation would, because of its backing by Iran, never truly accept Israel's right to exist.

"If the Israeli defence forces withdrew from the West Bank, Hamas will just tak…

Courageous Female Iraqi Journalists

Being a male reporter in Iraq is bad enough......but a woman?

The NY Times reports on an award given to 6 very, very brave female Uraqi journalists:

"Six women who risked their lives reporting in Iraq, a Mexican reporter who faced death threats for her reporting on pedophiles, and an Ethiopian journalist who was charged with treason received awards for courage Tuesday from the International Women's Media Foundation.

ABC News' Bob Woodruff, who was nearly killed in a January 2006 bombing in Iraq, presented the award to the Iraqi women for their work in the McClatchy news organization's Baghdad bureau. The recipients were Sahar Issa, Huda Ahmed, Shatha al Awsy, Alaa Majeed, ZainebObeid and Ban Adil Sarhan.

Eighty percent of reporters killed in Iraq are Iraqis, Woodruff said, adding that the women slept with bulletproof vests and helmets by their beds.

Issa accepted the courage award on behalf of the women, saying Iraqi journalists must lead double lives, not telling frien…

Method as Madness

It isn't too difficult to have a go at VP Dick Cheney - almost evil-incarnate in his ways. The man seems to know no bounds.

NY Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, hasn't had any difficulty in concluding that there might be some sort of method in Cheney's behaviour - that is, madness - learnt from his days in the Nixon White House:

"Dick Cheney’s craziness used to influence foreign policy.

Now it is foreign policy.

He may have lost his buddy in belligerence, Rummy. He may have tapped out the military in Iraq. He may not be able to persuade Congress so easily anymore — except for Hillary — to issue warlike resolutions. He can’t cow Condi into supporting his bullying as he once did, and Bob Gates is doing his best to instill some common sense.

Besides, Cheney is running out of time to wreak global havoc; he’s working for a president who is spending his waning days on the job trying to prevent children from getting health insurance.

But the vice president may have hit on a devious …

Ouch! The Cost of War

Think of the mayhem and where things are at in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - and then the cost, both human and monetarily, in the process.

The Independent puts the whole monetary cost into context:

"President George Bush will have spent more than $1 trillion on military adventures by the time he leaves office at the end of next year, more than the entire amount spent on the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.

There are also disturbing signs that Mr Bush is preparing an attack on Iran during his remaining months in office. He has demanded $46bn (£22.5bn) emergency funds from Congress by Christmas and included with it a single sentence requesting money to upgrade the B-2 "stealth" bomber.

By wrapping his request in the flag of patriotism, the President has made it very difficult even for an anti-war Congress to refuse the money. He was accompanied by the family of a dead US marine when he made the request for funds on Monday.

The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has attacked …

Immunity and impunity to brutality

The occupation of Palestine by Israel continues unabated - with no prospect to it coming to an end. As part of the now 40 year occupation there have countless reports of deaths and physical brutality meted out to the Palestinians. Needless to say the Israeli military are the focus of their actions.

Now, a storm has erupted in Israel about a report in Haaretz detailing the brutality of Israeli soldiers and their approach to their duties. As The Guardianreports:

"A study by an Israeli psychologist into the violent behaviour of the country's soldiers is provoking bitter controversy and has awakened urgent questions about the way the army conducts itself in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Nufar Yishai-Karin, a clinical psychologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, interviewed 21 Israeli soldiers and heard confessions of frequent brutal assaults against Palestinians, aggravated by poor training and discipline. In her recently published report, co-authored by Professor Yoe…

From Lucky to Mean Country.....

"I have always regarded my country as a generous nation, but what do the data tell us? We rank very well (third) when it comes to overall wealth, life expectancy and education. But when it comes to reducing poverty, we are a lowly 14th out of 18 OECD countries on the UN Human Poverty Index.

In the decade to 2004, poverty in Australia increased significantly, no matter how you measure it, and Australia is fourth from the bottom on the social housing league table.

Even though the Federal Government has doubled the overseas aid budget, we are still 19th out of 22 OECD countries.

The situation at home is equally deplorable. The latest OECD Education at a Glance report shows declining levels of investment in public education, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's data shows the Government's declining levels of investment in our hospitals. And then both public systems get clobbered by our leaders for underperforming.

Have a good look at the countries that have the lo…

Riverbend writes from Syria

Readers of MPS will recall the young female blogger who writes under the name Riverbend - and in her last post, before yesterday's most recent one, just prior to her and her family relocating from Baghdad to Syria. This young blogger has been one of the few direct "reporters" of the situation on the ground in Baghdad and its effect, in the most practical terms, on the people of Iraq.

Now relocated to Syria, this young blogger now reports on life there:

"Syria is a beautiful country- at least I think it is. I say “I think” because while I perceive it to be beautiful, I sometimes wonder if I mistake safety, security and normalcy for ‘beauty’. In so many ways, Damascus is like Baghdad before the war- bustling streets, occasional traffic jams, markets seemingly always full of shoppers… And in so many ways it’s different. The buildings are higher, the streets are generally narrower and there’s a mountain, Qasiyoun, that looms in the distance.

The mountain distracts m…

Sabre-rattling on Iran: Cheney at it again!

All the signs out of Washington are ominous. The US seems intent on taking on Iran in some way or other to prevent it on its path to develop nuclear power. Not surprisingly, at the forefront of sabre-rattling is VP Dick Cheney - one of the active cheer-leaders for getting the US into the now ill-fated Iraq War.

Where Cheney sits with respect to Iran is clearly spelt out in this report from the Washington Post:

"The United States and other nations will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, Vice President Cheney said yesterday.

"Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions," Cheney said in a speech at a Washington think tank's conference, meeting at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg.

He said that Tehran's efforts to pursue technology that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon are obvious, and that "the regime continues to practice delay and deceit in an obvious effort…

USA Making Matters Worse

Yossi Alpher is the Israeli co-editor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

"About ten days ago, I made the rounds of the think tanks in Washington, DC, discussing current American/Middle East issues with colleagues. From scholars of the far right to the left, no one believed the Annapolis conference would succeed. The level of cynicism regarding the Bush administration's motives and capabilities in the Middle East was depressing. Between the lines was a consistent assessment that, in pressing the case for the conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was out of her depth.

These dim prospects for the Annapolis conference cannot be separated from earlier and more obvious failures of US policy in the greater Middle East, from Pakistan and Afghanistan via Iran and Iraq to Lebanon, all intertwined with the fiasco of President Bu…

A timely call for tolerance

Little needs to be added to this self-explanatory report and piece from the Washington Post:

"The Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders called Sunday for followers of the world's religions to work toward understanding each other rather than bickering over differences.

The panel, which included Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, stressed affection for others, even if they have differing views on faith.

"Today, the world is getting smaller," the 14thDalai Lama of Tibet said in English. "We really need closer understanding of each other. It's essential."

The discussion was part of a weekend of events at Emory University with the Dalai Lama, who has accepted a distinguished professorship at the school. His visit will also include a free public talk at Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta on Monday and the first of many lectures to the Emory community.

Thousands filled Emory's gymnasium throughout the weekend to listen in on panel disc…

Stalin, Mao.....and Ahmadinajad?

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. Zakaria came to the magazine from Foreign Affairs, the widely-circulated journal of international politics and economics, where he was managing editor. Prior to joining Foreign Affairs, Zakaria ran a major research project on American foreign policy at Harvard University, where he taught international relations and political philosophy. He has written for such publications as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The New Republic, and the webzine Slate. He is the author of "From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role" (Princeton University Press), which has been translated into several languages, and co-editor of "The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World" (Basic Books). His most recent book, The Future of Freedom, was published in the spring of 2003 and was a New York Times bestseller. It is being translated into 18 lang…

Latin American Women on the March

For far too long what is happening in South America is under the radar of the media. Only the odd provocative pronouncement of some political leader attracts an article in the press or an item on the TV news.

CommonDreams reproduces a piece from McClatchy Newspapers on the rise of women in South America - including the election of a woman as Chile's President last year and the almost certain imminent election of a woman as President of Argentina:

"Defying Latin America’s longtime reputation as a bastion of machismo, women in South America are winning political power at an unprecedented rate and taking top positions in higher education and even, albeit more slowly, in business.

The election last year of Michelle Bachelet to Chile’s presidency and the all-but-certain victory of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina’s presidential balloting next Sunday are the most visible examples of the trend.

South American women also are leading important social movements and are earnin…

Who's afraid of Michael Moore?

Perhaps not surprisingly, veteran journalist John Pilger in his latest piece "Who's afraid of Michael Moore?" in the NewStatesman raises some critical and probing questions on a range of subjects, not the least how journalists probe and prod the powers-that-be.

The header to the piece encapsulates where Pilger is coming from. He "argues the spirit and humanity of Moore's film-making shaming the supine American media".

"In Sicko, Michael Moore's new film, a young Ronald Reagan is shown appealing to working-class Americans to reject "socialised medicine" as commie subversion. In the 1940s and 1950s, Reagan was employed by the American Medical Association and big business as the amiable mouthpiece of a neo-fascism bent on persuading ordinary Americans that their true interests, such as universal health care, were "anti-American".
Watching this, I found myself recalling the effusive fare wells to Reagan when he died three years ago. &q…

Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007

Reporters Without Bordersreports:

Bloggers now threatened as much as journalists in traditional media.

"Eritrea has replaced North Korea in last place in an index measuring the level of press freedom in 169 countries throughout the world that is published today by Reporters Without Borders for the sixth year running.

“There is nothing surprising about this,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Even if we are not aware of all the press freedom violations in North Korea and Turkmenistan, which are second and third from last, Eritrea deserves to be at the bottom. The privately-owned press has been banished by the authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to criticise the regime are thrown in prison. We know that four of them have died in detention and we have every reason to fear that others will suffer the same fate.”

Outside Europe - in which the top 14 countries are located - no region of the world has been spared censorship or violence towards journalist…