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Showing posts from 2008

Google's Gatekeepers

The NY Times has an interesting piece on the internet, the censorship it faces and the role of Google in all of this - given its domination of the web in so many ways:

"Today the Web might seem like a free-speech panacea: it has given anyone with Internet access the potential to reach a global audience. But though technology enthusiasts often celebrate the raucous explosion of Web speech, there is less focus on how the Internet is actually regulated, and by whom. As more and more speech migrates online, to blogs and social-networking sites and the like, the ultimate power to decide who has an opportunity to be heard, and what we may say, lies increasingly with Internet service providers, search engines and other Internet companies like Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook and even eBay.

The most powerful and protean of these Internet gatekeepers is, of course, Google. With control of 63 percent of the world’s Internet searches, as well as ownership of YouTube, Google has enormous influence…

Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House

Probably all decent law-abiding and intelligent people are on countdown to seeing George W exit the White House. His 8 years in the Oval Office have been a disaster not only for the US but for the world. It is hard to think of one positive thing George Shrub accomplished whilst in office.

"The threat of 9/11 ignored. The threat of Iraq hyped and manipulated. Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Hurricane Katrina. The shredding of civil liberties. The rise of Iran. Global warming. Economic disaster. How did one two-term presidency go so wrong? A sweeping draft of history—distilled from scores of interviews—offers fresh insight into the roles of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and other key players."

Vanity Fair "packages" the last 8 years into a retrospective analysis - here.

Giving the lie to the Israelis

Israel claims that it doesn't target civilians - only Hamas terrorists / people.

It's a lie of course! -

Lie #1:

This heart-rending piece from The Guardian [reproduced by the SMH] shows all too clearly the result of Israel's actions:

"Sixteen year old Iman Balousha didn't hear the explosion that destroyed the bedroom she shared with her six sisters. "I was asleep," she said. "I just woke when the bricks fell on me. I saw all my sisters around me and I couldn't move … I started to scream and told my sisters we would die. We all screamed: 'Baba, Mama. Come to help us.' "

The Baloushas, a family of 11, lived in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza near the camp's Imad Aqil mosque. The blast that destroyed the mosque on Sunday also brought down the family's house.

The seven eldest girls, asleep together on mattresses in one bedroom, bore the brunt of the explosion. Five were killed where they lay: Tahrir, 17, Ikram 14, Samar, 13…

Robert Fisk: Leaders lie, civilians die, and lessons of history are ignored

What is there left to say about the carnage being perpetrated by the Israelis in Gaza? The world tut-tuts and the major politicians blame the Palestinians and Gazans for the violance. Israel says its attack is directed against Hamas and not civilians. Then, why did the Israeli navy intercept a vessel carrying medical supplies headed for Gaza?

Robert Fisk, expert in and on the region for over 30 years now, puts things into context in his latest piece for The Independent yesterday "Leaders lie, civilians die, and lessons of history are ignored":

"We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more – providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israe…

Q and A with Lakhdar Brahimi: What Next for Gaza?

Lakhdar Brahimi, a leading United Nations troubleshooter in the Middle East, who also presided over the Bonn conference in 2001 that created the post-Taliban government of Afghanistan, is a former Algerian foreign minister who has tracked the growth of Islamic militancy across North Africa and in the wider Muslim world. In an interview with The Nation, Brahimi talks about the potentially dangerous fallout in the Mideast and beyond of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and the burden it puts on president-elect Obama as he tries to improve the image of the United States.

Read the Q & A on The Nationhere.

Responses to the Israeli bullyboy

Some responses to the violent ongoing attacks by the Israelis on Gaza - from op-ed writers in Haaretz:

First, Tom Segev in "Trying to 'teach Hamas a lesson' is fundamentally wrong":

".....the assault on Gaza does not first and foremost demand moral condemnation - it demands a few historical reminders. Both the justification given for it and the chosen targets are a replay of the same basic assumptions that have proven wrong time after time. Yet Israel still pulls them out of its hat again and again, in one war after another.

Israel is striking at the Palestinians to "teach them a lesson." That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom - via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with …

Bargain books have an unexpected cost

There are odd things happening in the world of books, readership and bookshops. People are seemingly reading books more than ever despite dire predictions about the demise of reading with the advent of TV, DVD's, Amazon etc. etc. Yet publishing houses plan on cutting the number of books to be published and even more troubling bookstores - some venerable and revered - are closing their doors.

So, what is happening? One insight into the problem is discussed in an article "Bargain books have an unexpected cost" in the IHT:

"U.S. book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding - even more than usual for an industry that has been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades. Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it would not acquire any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had sto…

Robert Fisk: Who Believes There Is ‘Progress’ in the Middle East?

Veteran journalist, writer and commentator Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent [republished on] on the latest attacks by Israelis on Gaza and where president-elect Obama fits into the scheme of things:

"If reporting is, as I suspect, a record of mankind’s folly, then the end of 2008 is proving my point.

Let’s kick off with the man who is not going to change the Middle East, Barack Obama, who last week, with infinite predictability, became Time’s “person of the year”. But buried in a long and immensely tedious interview inside the magazine, Obama devotes just one sentence to the Arab-Israeli conflict: “And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that’s been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.”

What is this man talking about? “Building on progress?” What progress? On the verge of another civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, with Benjamin Netanyahu a contender for Israeli prime minister, w…

Year of the hungry: 1,000,000,000 afflicted

Things don't get better in the world we live in. We might be making all sorts of strides in medicine and technology, but the simple act of being able to feed all the peoples on this planet of ours remains elusive.

The Independent reports on this shocking news "Year of the hungry: 1,000,000,000 afflicted" as we are about to start 2009:

"One billion people will go hungry around the globe next year for the first time in human history, as the international financial crisis deepens, the United Nations has told The Independent on Sunday.

The shocking landmark will be passed – despite a second record worldwide harvest in a row – because people are becoming too destitute to buy the food that is produced.

Decades of progress in reducing hunger are being abruptly reversed, dealing a devastating blow to a pledge by world leaders eight years ago to cut it in half by 2015.

Rich countries have failed to provide promised money to boost agriculture in the Third World; the financial c…

Real people under all that bombing

Israel doesn't care - let's not even reflect on the Declaration of Human Rights or the Geneva Convention! - nor the rest of the world [witness the one-sided and sickening condemnations of Hamas and nary a peep about Israel's actions] but there are bombs raining down on real people in Gaza in no way involved in firing rockets into Israel or doing anything to harm Israelis.

An eye-witness account from a reliable source:

"I’ve never seen anything like this. It all happened so fast but the amount of death and destruction is inconceivable, even to me and I’m in the middle of it and a few hours have already passed. I think 15 locations were hit during the air raid on Gaza. The images are probably not broadcast in US media. There are piles and piles of bodies in the locations that were hit. As you look at them you can see that a few of the young men are still alive, someone lifts a hand here, and another raise his head there. They probably died within moments becau…

Vale Harold Pinter. Is our Conscience Dead?

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."

Writing on CommonDreams she pays tribute - no, homage! - to Harold Pinter, who died the other day:

"On the news today of the death of Harold Pinter, the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, I remembered hearing his Nobel Laureate lecture/acceptable speech. I was in London in December, 2005 speaking at the annual Stop the War conference when Pinter delivered his speech-not in Oslo, as Pinter was very sick and could not travel, but in London via TV link.

I was amazed and thrilled that he chose to use the Noble Prize platform and devote …

Cheney: Lawbreaker, liar and fool!

A NY Times editorial "The World According to Cheney" has a timely appraisal of VP Cheney - who has recently been engaged in so-called exit talks clearly re-writing history:

"Vice President Dick Cheney has a parting message for Americans: They should quit whining about all the things he and President Bush did to undermine the rule of law, erode the balance of powers between the White House and Congress, abuse prisoners and spy illegally on Americans. After all, he said, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln did worse than that.

So Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush managed to stop short of repeating two of the most outrageous abuses of power in American history — Roosevelt’s decision to force Japanese-Americans into camps and Lincoln’s declaration of martial law to silence his critics? That’s not exactly a lofty standard of behavior.

Then again, it must be exhausting to rewrite history as much as Mr. Cheney has done in a series of exit interviews where he has made those comments. It …

Hunger before the Storm

This piece from Electronic Intifadatells it all - and requires no elaboration or comment, other than what is happening here in totally and utterly unconscionable:

"Israeli politicians, in the run-up to elections, are promising to deal a severe blow to Gaza as this is how Israeli policy is made. However, every household in Gaza is already under siege. In Gaza you can only find pale, angry and frustrated faces. If you visit my house you won't find power, while my neighbor is out of gas. Another neighbor seeks potable water as power outages have left him without for four days. A third neighbor desparately looks for milk for his child but does so in vain. Another friend who lives on the corner needs medicine that can't currently be found in Gaza."

Continue reading here.

Top Ten Myths about Iraq, 2008

If one were to believe the media things are on the up in Iraq. Troops are being withdrawn, the Iraqs are doing things for and by themselves, etc. etc.

Professor Juan Cole, veteran commentator and Middle East expert begs to differ in a piece "Top Ten Myths about Iraq, 2008" on his blog Informed Comment.

The first of the 10:

"1. Iraqis are safer because of Bush's War. In fact, conditions of insecurity have helped created both an internal and external refugee problem:

' At least 4.2 million Iraqis were displaced. These included 2.2 million who were displaced within Iraq and some 2 million refugees, mostly in Syria (around 1.4 million) and Jordan (around half a million). In the last months of the year both these neighbouring states, struggling to meet the health, education and other needs of the Iraqi refugees already present, introduced visa requirements that impeded the entry of Iraqis seeking refuge. Within Iraq, most governorates barred entry to Iraqis fleeing …

So where does this bit go? Oh bugger it!

Who cannot empathise with the travails of buying a present for a child only to find that putting it all together to work, borders on the well-nigh impossible. Or that piece of technical equipment which defies logic in getting it going - or requires hours plowing through some sort of manual or instructions?

One can imagine many fathers around the world today being confronted by their children wanting their Xmas gift to actually work.

So, whether in Australia - where this piece was published in The Age - or elsewhere, Geoff Strong's piece "So where does this bit go? Oh bugger it!" will strike a responsive chord:

"We are easily seduced by choice and manufacturers know it. We might never work out how to use the damn thing but at least we buy it, and that means end of problem for manufacturer. Even better if we break it, because the warranty is probably void if we haven't understood the book."


"Instruction books often sound like they are written by engine…

The proof is in....if it was ever needed!

That the Israeli government has allowed the building of settlements unabated is almost beyond question.

Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem has now documented that one of the settlements is not only illegal according to international law, but actually built on land to which Palestinians have title.

"In March 2005, the government of Israel adopted the opinion it had commissioned from Attorney Talia Sasson, former head of the Special Tasks Department in the State Attorney's Office, regarding unauthorized outposts. In doing so, it set, for the first time, detailed criteria for examining the legality of Israeli communities in the West Bank according to local law.

All the settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international humanitarian law, whether or not they are officially recognized by the Israeli government. The various governments of Israel ignored this prohibition and established more than 130 recognized settlements throughout the West Bank and on the ter…

On the Road.....

With the New Year and vacation-time MPS goes "walk-about" - or at least jetting around a bit for the next little while.

Stay tuned as MPS will continue notwithstanding "reporting" from different parts of the world.

Justice after Bush: Prosecuting an outlaw administration

Scott Horton, lawyer, writing in Harper's Magazine on what many will doubtlessly see as unpalatable, but necessary nevertheless:

"Americans may wish to avoid what is necessary. We may believe that concerns about presidential lawbreaking are naive. That all presidents commit crimes. We may pretend that George W. Bush and his senior officers could not have committed crimes significantly worse than those of their predecessors. We may fear what it would mean to acknowledge such crimes, much less to punish them. But avoiding this task, simply “moving on,” is not possible.

This administration did more than commit crimes. It waged war against the law itself. It transformed the Justice Department into a vehicle for voter suppression, and it also summarily dismissed the U.S. attorneys who attempted to investigate its wrongdoing. It issued wartime contracts to substandard vendors with inside connections, and it also defunded efforts to police their performance. It spied on church groups …

Blog censorship silences free speech around the world

Blogs are not liked, or accepted, everywhere....

WorldFocus [well worth accessing regularly] reports:

"Internet censorship and surveillance are contentious issues around the world.

In Malaysia, blogging remains one of the few ways to exercise free speech, although the government has begun to crack down on sites and bloggers, blocking (since redirected) and jailing its publisher.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad joins his country’s bloggers in criticizing the government under Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his chosen successor.

The EU recently criticized Turkey for its free speech violations, when the government blocked 850 sites, including Blogger and YouTube. The blockage of last August met a firestorm of criticism, as documented by “Global Voices” blogger Sami Ben Gharbia.

Australia is making headlines for its new Internet censorship legislation, which is being criticized by both bloggers and traditional journalists. Blogger “Stilgherrian”…

Down to scavenging

Devastating is the only word to describe the appalling living conditions the people of Zimbabwe endure. Despite President Mugabe - dictator personified - meting out every sort of travail to his people one can imagine, the world makes some noises and tut-tuts......but no action of any sort. Saddam was criticised by the West for the way he treated his people. It was said to be one of the justifications for invading Iraq to "free" the Iraqis from Saddam's tryanny.

Could it be that because Zimbabwe has no oil or minerals of value to the West that there is no interest in doing something about the plight of the people of Zimbabwe?

The NY Times reports on how desperate things have become when the populace has to resort to scavenging to survive:

"Still dominated after nearly three decades by their authoritarian president, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabweans are now enduring their seventh straight year of hunger. This largely man-made crisis, occasionally worsened by …

Spiralling towards a human disaster

When will the world wake up to the intolerable and inhumane treatment the Israelis are inflicting on the people of Gaza.

Sara Roy teaches at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and is the author of Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Writing in the London Review of Books she details the extent of the blockade of Gaza by Israel and the devastating effect on the Gazans:

"The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us, but there is little international response beyond UN warnings which are ignored. The European Union announced recently that it wanted to strengthen its relationship with Israel while the Israeli leadership openly calls for a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip and continues its economic stranglehold over the territory with, it appears, the not-so-tacit support of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah – which has been co-operating with Israel on a number of measures. On 19 December Hamas officially ended its truce wi…

Bush White House Philosophy Stoked Mortgage Bonfir

In a piece in the NY Times with the general heading of "The Reckoning" much of the financial meltdown in the US is sheeted home to the Bush Administration, and George W in particular:

"Eight years after arriving in Washington vowing to spread the dream of homeownership, Mr. Bush is leaving office, as he himself said recently, “faced with the prospect of a global meltdown” with roots in the housing sector he so ardently championed.

There are plenty of culprits, like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk.

But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush’s own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials.

From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that …

Wishful thinking for 2009

People fall into two camps about veteran journalist, commentator, author and film-maker JohnPilger - they either love or hate him. Whatever.....Pilger is a renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

Pilger's latest piece for the New Statesman has all what Pilger sees as the good news for the new year:

January: Tony Blair is arrested at Heathrow Airport as he returns from yet another foreign speaking engagement (receipts since leaving office: £12m). He is flown to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes for his part in the illegal, unprovoked attack on a defenceless country, Iraq, ju…

They lied about Iraq in 2003, and they're still lying now

It doesn't get more hard-hitting than this op-ed piece by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in The Independent:

"Triumphalists are getting off on Iraq again, intoning hallelujah songs as they did after staging the fall of Saddam's statue then again and again, sweet lullabies to send us into blissful sleep and wake to a new dawn. The composers and orchestrators – Blair, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Straw, Hoon and Rice – still believe history is on their side.

Bush visited his troops at Camp Victory in Iraq this month and said: "Iraq had a record of supporting terror, of developing and using weapons of mass destruction, was routinely firing at American military personnel, systematically violating UN resolutions ... Iraqis, once afraid to leave their homes are going back to school and shopping in malls ... American troops are returning home because of success." Only one shoe and one without a sharp stiletto was hurled at him by Muntadar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi who begged to differ.

Gordon …

“Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money”

James Fallows, resident in China, reports and writes for the Atlantic Monthly.

His latest article is not only illuminating but worth reading - and understanding the "message" loud and clear.

"In his first interview since the world financial crisis, Gao Xiqing, the man who oversees $200 billion of China’s $2 trillion in dollar holdings, explains why he’s betting against the dollar, praises American pragmatism, and wonders about enormous Wall Street paychecks. And he has a friendly piece of advice:

Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money”.

As for Xiqing?:

"Gao, whom I mentioned in my article, would fit no American’s preexisting idea of a Communist Chinese official. He speaks accented but fully colloquial and very high-speed English. He has a law degree from Duke, which he earned in the 1980s after working as a lawyer and professor in China, and he was an associate in Richard Nixon’s former Wall Street law firm. His office, in one of the more tasteful new glass-walle…

Excess beyong comprehension.....or fair or reasonable

Doubtlessly the bankers will say they are being made scapegoats for all the financial woes inflicting much of the world. Bankers and financial people have certainly seen to lining their own pockets, excessively, and spend money on "things" totally beyond fairness or even simple decency - let alone any consideration for a fiduciary duty to their shareholders or investors.

The SMH republishes an AP report on the sort of salaries, bonuses and perks which were being paid:

"Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $US1.6 billion ($2.34 billion) in salaries, bonuses and other benefits last year, an AP analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock optio…

China: Going into reverse in relation to the web

Who can forget all the hooha around the time of the recent Beijing Olympics about the degree of censorship the Chinese Government would exercise over the web.

Things improved a bit - no doubt as a result of the pressure brought to bear on the government and the poor PR "look" - but it seems that the Chinese have now taken a giant step backwards.

Apart from reports in the last days that the NY Times has been blocked in China, ReportersWithout Borders reports in "Government goes into reverse, blocking access to foreign websites" again:

"Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government’s censorship of the websites of certain foreign news media such as Voice of America and the BBC and certain Chinese media based outside mainland China, which have been rendered inaccessible inside China since the start of December.

“Freedom of information is widely violated in China,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Right now, the authorities are gradually rolling back all th…

One man, the UN, Israel and an Expulsion

It must be some sort of policy that Israel has put in place to increasingly be seen as some sort of rogue State.

Criticise Israel, even if you are the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, Jewish and a professor from Princeton University - and you will still get turned back at the airport in Israel and expelled from the country.

What arrogance and conceit that Israel can simply do what it wants no matter what!

Professor Falk writes of his experience in a piece in The Guardian - none to pleasant - at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel:

"On December 14, I arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel to carry out my UN role as special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories.

I was leading a mission that had intended to visit the West Bank and Gaza to prepare a report on Israel's compliance with human rights standards and international humanitarian law. Meetings had been scheduled on an hourly basis during the six days, starting with Mahmoud Abbas, the presiden…

Some woman. Some following and clout

Arianna Huffington is well known on the political scene in the US.

Having started a blog, her site Huffington Post, has had more than 8 million unique visitors in October, according to Nielsen.

The LA Times had a Q & A her. Some examples:

"Americans already seem confused with newspapers on the difference between their nonpartisan news pages and the opinion pages.

I don't think Americans are confused. I don't get that sense at all. I think the mainstream media, the traditional media, are increasingly accepting that there's nothing wrong with opinion-based journalism if it is also fact-based at the same time.

Now that the Bush administration is closing up shop, do you think that the hatred of the media that they've inflamed will finally cool?

I don't really think it's the Bush administration that's fueled the hatred of the media. I think it was the media's complicity in the lead-up to the war in Iraq that has been one of the darkest moments of Ame…

If criminal penalties are removed, what will deter lawbreaking by political officials?

The question of whether Bush & Co. [Cheney, etal] ought to be pursued for multiple breaches of the law - think wire-tapping, unlawful detention, renditioning , Gitmo, torture and waterboarding to name but a few - is underway in the US. It is unlikely that they will be prosecuted. Justice and humanity demands that they ought to be by any yardstick.

Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon under the headline "If criminal penalties are removed, what will deter lawbreaking by political officials?" reflects on the Nuremberg Trials and what we should have learnt from them:

"The opening address of Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials is undoubtedly one of the most important speeches of the last century. It established the basic precepts of Western Justice. War crimes, Jackson observed, are such that "civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated." And, contrary to the blatantly self-contradictory claims from to…

Robert Fisk’s World: One missing word sowed the seeds of catastrophe

Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent highlights the ongoing unresolved conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians:

"A nit-picker this week. And given the fact that we're all remembering human rights, the Palestinians come to mind since they have precious few of them, and the Israelis because they have the luxury of a lot of them.

And Lord Blair, since he'll be communing with God next week, might also reflect that he still – to his shame – hasn't visited Gaza. But the nit-picking has got to be our old friend United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. This, you'll recall, was supposed to be the resolution that would guide all future peace efforts in the Middle East; Oslo was supposed to have been founded on it and all sorts of other processes and summits and road maps.

It was passed in November 1967, after Israel had occupied Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai and Golan, and it emphasises "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory…

Guns, Butter & Obama

It goes without saying that on assuming office Obama will be pulled this way and that. He will have his hands full as they say!

FPIF[Foreign Policy in Focus] details one area from which pressure will be sought to be brought on the new President:

"Over the next several months there will be a battle for hearts and minds, but not in Iraq or Afghanistan. The war will be here at home, waged mostly in the halls of Congress, where grim lobbyists for one of the top 15 economies in the world are digging in to preserve their stake in the massive U.S. military budget. With the country in deep recession and resources dwindling for the new administration's programs on health care, education, and the environment, the outcome of this battle may well end up defining the next four years.

But coming to grips with the issue, as one military analyst noted, is likely to resemble the worst of World War I trench warfare. "It will be like the British Army at the Somme," Winslow Wheeler of t…

"Deep Throat" dies

Anyone who lived through the years of the Nixon presidency and the whole Watergate scandal - including the revelations by the then unknown Woodward and Bernstein in the Washington Post of the Nixon machinations - will have known of "Deep Throat".

Perhaps one of those "funny" coincidences, but with the release of a the movie Frost / Nixon, it has been announced that "Deep Throat" has just died. The IHT reports:

"W. Mark Felt, who was the No. 2 official at the FBI when he helped bring down President Richard Nixon by resisting the Watergate cover-up and becoming Deep Throat, the most famous anonymous source in American history, died on Thursday. He was 95 and lived in Santa Rosa, California.

His death was confirmed by Rob Jones, his grandson.

In 2005, Felt revealed that he was the source who had secretly supplied Bob Woodward of The Washington Post with crucial leads in the Watergate affair in the early 1970s. His decision to unmask himself, in an articl…

Iraq: No, the Americans are not really leaving!

It's all in the language, PR, politics and what you want to believe....

Are the Americans really on the way out of Iraq? Apparently not so, if this report from Inter Press Service is right:

"U.S. military leaders and Pentagon officials have made it clear through public statements and deliberately leaked stories in recent weeks that they plan to violate a central provision of the U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement requiring the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by mid-2009 by reclassifying combat troops as support troops.

The scheme to engage in chicanery in labeling U.S. troops represents both open defiance of an agreement which the U.S. military has never accepted and a way of blocking President-elect Barack Obama's proposed plan for withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his taking office.

A man holds his child as US soldiers walk past, during a routine patrol in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Fadhil, in Bagh…

At last?

There can be little doubt that the only way in which Israel might reign in the continued building and development of settlements in the West Bank or behaves at least humanely towards the Gazans, will be when the world stops ignoring what is happening in the occupied territories - now ongoing for 41 years - and brings pressure to bear on Israel.

Perhaps there is a small glimmer of light coming from the British. Haaretz reports:

"The British government is stepping up measures against settlements in the West Bank in an effort to stop their further expansion.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently instructed the Foreign Office to issue a warning to British citizens against the purchase of houses and real estate in the settlements.

Other measures recently imposed by London on West Bank settlements include tying the upgrade of relations between the European Union and Israel to the cessation of construction in the settlements in the West Bank and putting special labels on pro…

The Great Unraveling

"The stranger, a Western businessman, slipped into the chair next to me at an Asia Society lunch here in Hong Kong and asked me a question that I can honestly say I've never been asked before: "So, just how corrupt is America?"

So begins one of Thomas Friedman's regular op-ed pieces in the NY Times - republished on IHT.

It is a reflective piece on how capitalism, and accompanying ethics, in the USA have gone awry.

"But while capitalism has saved China, the end of communism seems to have slightly unhinged America. We lost our two biggest ideological competitors - Beijing and Moscow. Everyone needs a competitor. It keeps you disciplined.

But once American capitalism no longer had to worry about communism, it seems to have gone crazy. Investment banks and hedge funds were leveraging themselves at crazy levels, paying themselves crazy salaries and, most of all, inventing financial instruments that completely disconnected the ultimate lenders from the original borro…

Cheney: Condemned out of his own mouth

Scott Horton, lawyer, writing on Harper's Magazine:

"Did Cheney Confess to a Felony? It looks that way to me. In an interview conducted with ABC News’s Jonathan Karl yesterday, Vice President Cheney was probed on his role in the Bush Administration’s torture program. His answers were in part extremely disingenuous, but he did acknowledge a key role in the decision to torture one prisoner. Here’s the key passage:

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

CHENEY: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

KARL: In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?

CHENEY: I don’t."

Horton rightly concludes:

"So Cheney confessed on television to a se…

Robert Redforfd: Stand Up Against Bush's Giveaway of America's Redrock Wilderness

Is there no stopping the wanton vandalism of George W and his Administration, even he is in his dying days in office?

Robert Redford, writes on The Huffington Post:

"You can't put a price on silence or solitude. You can't quantify the beauty of wilderness. And yet that's not going to stop the Bush administration from trying to sell off what should be the birthright of future generations.

In three days, this Friday, 110,000 acres of majestic Utah wild lands go on the auction block, to be sold to the highest bidders in the oil and gas industry. It's a last-ditch effort by a corrupt administration to further enrich its friends in the dirty fuels business. If they succeed, they'll leave a wasteland behind them.

Never mind that we the People of the United States just rejected the failed energy policy of "drill, baby, drill!" Never mind that once industrialized, these precious lands will be marred for centuries. Ravaging these places will put cash in the pocke…

Can Obama avert an Arab-Israeli disaster?

"Time is running out for Israel and the Palestinians. Barack Obama is probably the last American president to have the option of pursuing an accord leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the so-called two-state solution."

So begins an op-ed piece by BerndDebusmann, writing on Reuters.

In a most interesting piece well worth reading [in full, here] Bebusmann deals with what appears pessimism that any signs of a new approach to resolving the on-going issue is emerging from the Obama camp:

"While Obama has been critical of the hands-off approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the first seven years of the Bush administration, dismissing its efforts as “trips consisting of little more than photo-ops”, the president-elect has shown no sign that he might be willing to break with the decades-old policies that have earned the U.S. a reputation in the Arab world of backing Israel no matter what."

Interesting, too, is the seemingly growing po…

Lots of money with great hardship and little gain

Here we have a global economic crisis - especially effecting the US - and today we read of the cost to the Americans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A staggering US$900 trillion.

CommonDreams reproduces a Reuters report:

"U.S. military operations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, have cost $904 billion since 2001 and could top $1.7 trillion by 2018, even with big cuts in overseas troop deployments, a report said on Monday.

In this March 31, 2008 file photo, an Iraqi family reacts as U.S. Army soldiers from K Troop, Third Squadron, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment detain their relative after a rocket propelled grenade attack on U.S. troops in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo/FILE)A new study released by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, or CSBA, said the Iraq conflict's $687 billion price tag alone now exceeds the cost of every past U.S. war except for World War II, when expenditures ar…

Those shoes.....

Patrick Cockburn has been reporting from Iraq for many years. He is one of the few true journalists in the war-torn country. Interesting in all the hype surrounding the event - including the US seeking to make light of it - is the significance in the Arab world of the shoes being hurled, and even more particularly, what the reporter said at the time of the "throws".

He writes in The Independent:

"The sight of the Iraqi reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi hurling his shoes at President Bush at a press conference in Baghdad will gladden the heart of any journalist forced to attend these tedious, useless, and almost invariably obsequious, events. "This is a farewell kiss," shouted Mr Zaidi. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

Official press conferences of any kind seldom produce real news, but the worst are usually those given by foreign leaders on trips abroad in which they and their local ally suggest that they are in…

Has the Arctic melt passed the point of no return?

Should we be surprised if the question, above, is answered in the affirmative?

The Independent reports:

"Scientists have found the first unequivocal evidence that the Arctic region is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world at least a decade before it was predicted to happen.

Climate-change researchers have found that air temperatures in the region are higher than would be normally expected during the autumn because the increased melting of the summer Arctic sea ice is accumulating heat in the ocean. The phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, was not expected to be seen for at least another 10 or 15 years and the findings will further raise concerns that the Arctic has already passed the climatic tipping-point towards ice-free summers, beyond which it may not recover.

The Arctic is considered one of the most sensitive regions in terms of climate change and its transition to another climatic state will have a direct impact on other parts of the northern hemisphere, as …