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Showing posts from January, 2008

Forget about the legislation! Read the fine print

To non-Americans - and daresay many Americans - this editorial in the NY Times dealing with how George W has simply circumvented legislation is to say the least astounding. In effect a footnote in the legislation does the trick!

"With President Bush, you always have to read the footnotes.

Just before Monday night’s State of the Union speech, in which Mr. Bush extolled bipartisanship, railed against government excesses and promised to bring the troops home as soon as it’s safe to withdraw, the White House undermined all of those sentiments with the latest of the president’s infamous signing statements.

The signing statements are documents that earlier presidents generally used to trumpet their pleasure at signing a law, or to explain how it would be enforced. More than any of his predecessors, the current chief executive has used the pronouncements in a passive-aggressive way to undermine the power of Congress.

Over the last seven years, Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of these insidi…

Liberty, democracy, brutality

"Many EU politicians treat Israel as a state that holds the highest European ideals dear. But this is hogwash."

That is the banner headline to a piece in Comment is Free in The Guardian:

"Diplomatic pressure from the European Union has been credited as being partly responsible for how Israel allowed some deliveries of food, medicine and fuel to Gaza over the past few days.
But you would never guess that senior EU officials had been flexing their metaphorical muscles if you saw one particular document distributed to the Brussels press corps.

This was a transcript of a speech given by the European commission's vice-president, Franco Frattini, during a visit to Israel.

In a week when the UN berated Israel for violating international law by blockading Gaza, it seems extraordinary that Frattini should indulge in some flagrant fawning towards his hosts.

According to his prepared script for a conference entitled Israel at 60: test of endurance, Frattini did not allude once to t…

75 years on....still confronting the Holocaust

Reflect on this. Most countries erect memorials to fallen soldiers, politicians or some particular, usually positive, event. Rarely, if ever, are memorials put in place to remember something "bad" or a blot on a nation.

Germany is different. As it remembers the ascension of Hitler to power 75 years ago this week, the NY Times reports ["Germany Confronts Holocaust Legacy Anew"] that Germany is still erecting memorials to remember the country's dark Holocaust past - not only in relation to Jews [of whom some 6 million were murdered] but also gypsies and gays and lesbians:

"Most countries celebrate the best in their pasts. Germany unrelentingly promotes its worst.

The enormous Holocaust memorial that dominates a chunk of central Berlin was completed only after years of debate. But the building of monuments to the Nazi disgrace continues unabated.

On Monday, Germany’s minister of culture, Bernd Neumann, announced that construction could begin in Berlin…

Israeli and Palestinian

Daniel Barenboim recently taking Palestinian citizenship in addition to his Israeli one was bound to be controversial. Then again, Barenboim has been defiant in his work in trying to trying to forge a bridge between the Israelis and Palestinians despite the brickbats and in the face of many obstacles.

Writing an op-ed piece in the IHT he explains his thinking and what has motivated and driven him:

"I have often made the statement that the destinies of the Israeli and Palestinian people are inextricably linked and that there is no military solution to the conflict. My recent acceptance of Palestinian nationality has given me the opportunity to demonstrate this more tangibly.

When my family moved to Israel from Argentina in the 1950s, one of my parents' intentions was to spare me the experience of growing up as part of a minority - a Jewish minority. They wanted to me to grow up as part of a majority - a Jewish majority.

The tragedy of this is that my generation, despite having …

Population growth is a threat. But it pales against the greed of the rich

George Monbiot writing in The Guardian raises a critical question and issue:

"I cannot avoid the subject any longer. Almost every day I receive a clutch of emails about it, asking the same question. A frightening new report has just pushed it up the political agenda: for the first time the World Food Programme is struggling to find the supplies it needs for emergency famine relief. So why, like most environmentalists, won't I mention the p-word? According to its most vociferous proponents (Paul and Anne Ehrlich), population is "our number one environmental problem". But most greens will not discuss it.

Is this sensitivity or is it cowardice? Perhaps a bit of both. Population growth has always been politically charged, and always the fault of someone else. Seldom has the complaint been heard that "people like us are breeding too fast". For the prosperous clergyman Thomas Malthus, writing in 1798, the problem arose from the fecklessness of the labouring classe…

The Sorry State of a Lame-Duck's Legacy

George W has just presented his last State of the Union speech to the combined US Senate and House of Representatives. As might be expected, lots of hype, panoply, showmanship, platitudes and rhetorical flurries.... but nothing of substance. But that is the present US president! Vacuous and lacking anything remotely reflecting intelligence, vision or an understanding of the world, let an appreciation of the havoc his policies have wrought both in the US and in many places around the world.

The Nation has already delivered it's assessment of the speech:

"As predicted, the president's last State of the Union speech echoed the empty rhetoric of the speeches that came before it. There was an extended call on Congress to make permanent the tax cuts for the rich that have so skewed the nation's economic balance since Bush secured them. There were attacks on spending by a president who has presided over the dramatic bloating of deficits that are the spawn of unsustai…

See climate change...graphically

NPR [National Public Radio in the USA] in collaboration with National Geographic magazine has a web site where climate change - a topic which attracted much attention late last year but seems to have receded since then - can be graphically gauged. The site also contains articles on relevant topics in relation to climate change.

Check out the site here.

Missing News Items Report

The media in the USA is woeful to say the least - and that includes such supposed quality newspapers like the NY Times. Coverage of international events is, mostly, totally missing or such reporting as there is hopelessly inadequate. Where there is reporting of a subject, the analysis is mostly shallow or from a perspective which is wrong-headed by any yardstick.

Scott Horton, writing on Harper's Magazine takes up the topic of what has, or has not been reported during this month:

"I used to try to keep track of the significant national security questions which appear to have been spiked by some sort of editorial consensus in the mainstream media, on the theory that what they choose not to report tells us at least as much about the editorial state-of-mind as what they report. So here’s my missing news items report for the month of January".

Read Horton's list, here, as an insight into the "standard" of reporting in the USA.

And you thought we humans were the smartest....

Maybe it’s time to stop feeling so smug about our vaunted position on the evolutionary chart. Turns out that we, the self-declared smartypants species of the animal kingdom, have been outstripped by one of our simian cousins, the chimpanzee, when it comes to a particular test of memorization skills.

Read a piece on the subject from the Daily Mail [reproduced on truthdig.com].

Bush & Cheney subject to arrest?

It's hard to believe but the Rutland Herald, in Vermont, USA, reports:

"Brattleboro residents will vote at town meeting on whether President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should be indicted and arrested for war crimes, perjury or obstruction of justice if they ever step foot in Vermont.

The Brattleboro Select Board voted 3-2 Friday to put the controversial item on the Town Meeting Day warning.

According to Town Clerk Annette Cappy, organizers of the Bush-Cheney issue gathered enough signatures, and it was up to the Select Board whether Brattleboro voters would consider the issue in March.

Cappy said residents will get to vote on the matter by paper balloting March 4."

Return to Fallujah

Remember Fallujah in Iraq? The city which was under siege for some time and the subject of an assault by US forces. That was 3 years ago.

So, what is the state of play in Fallujah now? Not good, says Patrick Coburn as he returns to the city - in a report in The Independent:

"Fallujah is more difficult to enter than any city in the world. On the road from Baghdad I counted 27 checkpoints, all manned by well-armed soldiers and police. "The siege is total," says Dr Kamal in Fallujah Hospital as he grimly lists his needs, which include everything from drugs and oxygen to electricity and clean water.

The last time I tried to drive to Fallujah, several years ago, I was caught in the ambush of an American fuel convoy and had to crawl out of the car and lie beside the road with the driver while US soldiers and guerrillas exchanged gunfire. The road is now much safer but nobody is allowed to enter Fallujah who does not come from there and can prove it through elaborate ide…

Caroline Kennedy: Vote Obama

The latest primary result has Barack Obama effectively trouncing Hilary Clinton. Meanwhile, the NY Times has editorialised that Hilary Clinton and John McCain ought to be presidential candidates for the Democrats and GOP respectively.

It therefore "interesting" to read an endorsement for Obama - coincidentally published in the NY Times - by a real blast from the past, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of JFK, President of the USA from 196o until his assassination.

In her op-ed piece "A President like my Father" she writes:

"Over the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed…

Stupidity, inhumanity and human nature

The plight of the Gazans, brought about by the disgraceful and inhumane actions of the Israelis, and now the recent outflow of people into Egypt, is the subject of analysis by Uri Avnery in a piece in Counterpunch "Worse than a Crime":

"It looked like the fall of the Berlin wall. And not only did it look like it. For a moment, the Rafah crossing was the Brandenburg Gate.

It is impossible not to feel exhilaration when masses of oppressed and hungry people break down the wall that is shutting them in, their eyes radiant, embracing everybody they meet - to feel so even when it is your own government that erected the wall in the first place.

The Gaza Strip is the largest prison on earth. The breaking of the Rafah wall was an act of liberation. It proves that an inhuman policy is always a stupid policy: no power can stand up against a mass of people that has crossed the border of despair.

That is the lesson of Gaza, January, 2008."

And:

"Months ago, the two Ehuds - Barak…

More invasions of privacy coming your way.....

Elliot D. Cohen, PhD, is a media ethicist and critic. His most recent book is “The Last Days of Democracy: How Big Media and Power-Hungry Government Are Turning America Into a Dictatorship.” He is a first-prize winner of the 2007 Project Censored Award.

Cohen is therefore well-qualified to write on the subject of eavesdropping - in which the Bush Administration has already been widely engaged. According to Cohen., writing in truthdig.com, it's going to get worse:

"Amid the controversy brewing in the Senate over Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform, the Bush administration appears to have changed its strategy and is devising a bold new plan that would strip away FISA protections in favor of a system of wholesale government monitoring of every American’s Internet activities. Now the national director of intelligence is predicting a disastrous cyber-terrorist attack on the U.S. if this scheme isn’t instituted.

It is no secret that the Bush administration has already…

Egypt in the middle of it all

The sight of all those Gazan fleeing into Egypt following the breach or breaking down of that awful wall created by Israel, was in some respects amazing - and, then, not all that surprising. The pent up frustrations of the "imprisoned" Gazans spilled over, naturally enough. It is still early days to asses how this whole scenario will play out for Gaza, Egypt, the Palestinians, Israel and the so-called Peace process. The dynamics may well have changed.

The Guardianreflects on how the events of the last days impact on Egypt:

"It has been an uncomfortable few days for President Husni Mubarak, watching anxiously as the crisis in Gaza spilled over onto his territory, focusing intense and unwelcome attention - both at home and abroad - on Egypt's role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Scenes depicting tens of thousands of people streaming across the breached border fence at Rafah, driven by desperation with the tightening Israeli blockade, graphically underlined t…

Iraq: Whose country is it?

It was never in any real doubt what the Americans were "playing at" in invading Iraq, but it certainly is now more obvious, as this IHT piece clearly shows:

"With its international mandate in Iraq set to expire in 11 months, the Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials.

This emerging American negotiating position faces a potential buzz saw of opposition from Iraq, with its fragmented Parliament, weak central government and deep sensitivities about being seen as a dependent state, according to these officials."

Forget about Iraq being a sovereign State or that democracy is said to have been restored to the now war-torn country post the downfall of Saddam. The Americans are clearly bent on staying in Iraq for the very long term. Read the full IHT …

One or Two State Solution?

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years.

Writing in Counterpunch "One and Two State Solutions - The Myth of International Consensus" [reproduced on Information Clearing House] she says:

"Among the panoply of reasons put forth against advocates of a one-state solution for Palestine-Israel, perhaps the most disingenuous is the injunction, repeated by well meaning commentators who believe they speak in the Palestinians' best interests, that Palestinians would simply be irritating the international community by pressing for such a solution, because the so-called international consensus supports, and indeed is based upon, a two-state solution. At a time when the "international consensus" could not be less interested in securing any Palestinian rights, particularly in forcing Israel to withdraw from enough territory to provide for real Palestinian statehood and genuine freedom from Israeli dominatio…

John Pilger on the US presidential candidates

Veteran journalist and film-maker John Pilger writes about the US presidential aspirants in a piece "The danse macabre of US-style democracy":

"Nothing has changed. Barack Obama is a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, another bomber, is anti-feminist. John McCain’s one distinction is that he has personally bombed a country. They all believe the US is not subject to the rules of human behaviour, because it is "a city upon a hill", regardless that most of humanity sees it as a monumental bully which, since 1945, has overthrown 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed 30 nations, destroying millions of lives."

Race in the USA - still an issue

The Americans have just celebrated Martin Luther King Day. Meanwhile, the issue of race has crept into the contest underway between the presidential candidates for the Democratic Party.

The facts on the ground, as it were, don't put the US in such a great light so far as political action towards Afro-Americans goes.

Scott Horton, writing on Harper's Magazine puts it bluntly:

"The Bush Administration has been notoriously awkward around the Black community and civil rights leaders, and time has gradually explained why. In seven years, the Bushies have struggled continuously to undo the nation’s civil rights infrastructure, attacking the legacy of Martin Luther King. Bush himself has shied away from speaking to Black audiences, and so have his senior officials.

On Saturday, Attorney General Mukasey delivered some significant remarks in an appearance at Washington’s historic Shiloh Baptist Church. They got little attention in the media. That’s unfortunate, because they spea…

Staggering numbers....and monumental indifference

The numbers are appalling........UNICEF in its 2008 report on Children, just released, cites a figure of 26,000 children in the world under the age of 5 dying each day - from preventable diseases. That makes for a staggering 9.7 million children.

Yes, the stats show improvement over the years, but with so much wealth in the world and excessive sums being spent on wars and arms, surely decency and humanity dictates that this scourge of innocent young lives being snuffed out be eradicated. And that doesn't take into account the trauma of mothers and fathers of the children. The indifference of the world as it averts its gaze from this blight needs to be condemned.

Reuters reports:

"Nearly 9.7 million children die each year before their fifth birthday from diseases from pneumonia to malaria, but simple affordable measures could save more lives, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

While the annual toll is below 10 million for the first time, it still mea…

Gaza: Is not Israeli action outright genocide?

Israel has slightly eased the blockade of food and fuel into Gaza - not that that will, of itself, ameliorate the suffering of the people now, in effect, occupied by Israel for over 40 years.

Former NY Times Jerusalem Bureau, Chris Hedges, writing in truthdig.com says:

"This is not another typical spat between Israelis and Palestinians. This is the final, collective strangulation of the Palestinians in Gaza. The decision to block shipments of food by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency means that two-thirds of the Palestinians who rely on relief aid will no longer be able to eat when U.N. stockpiles in Gaza run out. Reports from inside Gaza speak of gasoline stations out of fuel, hospitals that lack basic medicine and a shortage of clean water. Whole neighborhoods were plunged into darkness when Israel cut off its supply of fuel to Gaza’s only power plant. The level of malnutrition in Gaza is now equal to that in the poorest sub-Saharan nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ol…

U.S. Soldiers and Shoppers Hit the Wall

With stock markets around the globe hitting the wall, literally, with a resounding bang, talk of a recession in the US, the US Fed. cutting the interest rate by .75% [in an effort to staunch the red-ink flowing on Wall St. and settle the nerves of both investors and home owners in America] and the grave uncertainty about the economies in many countries, it is timely to reflect on how all of this has come about.

Greed has obviously played its part - as financiers have dangled ever-more cash in front of people unable to afford the loans being offered. A mirage of ever-increasing property values has been another issue. And then there has been spiralling household debt. The credit-card "charge" has gone on unabated and unchecked. Until now!

Roger Cohen, columnist in the IHT and NY Times, puts the whole mess into some context in a well-put together and well-worth reading piece "U.S. Soldiers and Shoppers Hit the Wall":

"Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have p…

A short and sharp message.....

This Letter to the Editor appeared in today's SMH. The point, to the point, is well made:

"Nearly 70 years ago, in a small eastern European city, an oppressed and occupied people were under siege, living under atrocious and brutal conditions, lacking food, medicine, electricity, water, and slowly being strangled in the hope they would just disappear. Warsaw Ghetto 1941 - Gaza 2008. Israel, you are a disgrace."

Zaid Khan Blakehurst

It's Critically Important: Covering up the coverage

Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame back in the 1970's, again challenges the media and Congress - indeed throws down the gauntlet - in a piece in The Brad Blog [reproduced on CommonDreams]:

"For the second time in two weeks, the entire U.S. press has let itself be scooped by Rupert Murdoch’s London Sunday Times on a dynamite story of criminal activities by corrupt U.S. officials promoting nuclear proliferation. But there is a worse journalistic sin than being scooped, and that is participating in a cover-up of information that demands urgent attention from the public, the U.S. Congress and the courts.For the last two weeks — one could say, for years — the major American media have been guilty of ignoring entirely the allegations of the courageous and highly credible source Sibel Edmonds, quoted in the London Times on January 6, 2008 in a front-page story that was front-page news in much of the rest of the world but was not reported in a single American newspaper or networ…

Strangling a people...whilst the world sits idly bye

Need anything more be said than that the cutting off of power by the Israelis to Gaza - and all that that entails for the 1.5 million Gazans - is an absolute disgrace. And what is the world saying about it? Very little.

Information Clearing House reports "People are dying, Help us!":

"A humanitarian crisis is underway as the Gaza Strip's only power plant began to shut down on Sunday, and the tiny coastal territory entered its third full day without shipments of vital food and fuel supplies due to Israel's punitive sanctions.

The Gaza Strip's power plant has completely shut down on Sunday because it no longer has the fuel needed to keep running. One of the plant's two electricity-generating turbines had already shut down by noon.

This will drastically reduce output to 25 or 30 megawatts, down from the 65 megawatts the plant produces under normal conditions. By Sunday evening the plant will shut down completely, leaving large swaths of the Gaza Strip …

‘Daily Show’: Bush Channels Woody Allen in Saudi Arabia

Jon Stewart just might be onto something with his analysis of how oil-pricing fluctuations happen—just watch as President Bush (doing his best impression of a certain notoriously neurotic New Yorker), perhaps aware of his diminishing bargaining power in the twilight months of his presidency, bravely speaks on behalf of American oil consumers during his recent Mideast sojourn.

Watch a rather amazing video about George W. What a sorry state of affairs to have this man in charge of anything let alone the presidency of the US.

A recent letter from Guantanamo

Counterpunch publishes a piece "Letter from Guantanamo" by Andy Worthington (www.andyworthington.co.uk) a British historian, and the author of 'The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (published by Pluto Press in October 2007) dealing with an Al Jazeera cameraman detained in Guantanamo who has has written a letter dated 27 December 2007 from there.

The case of the cameraman again highlights the scandal of the way the Americans have simply detained people without any charges, trial or even an opportunity to confront their accusers of whatever it is said they are alleged to have done.

"Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on a letter from Guantánamo written by Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj. The letter was dated December 27, 2007, and had just been declassified by the Pentagon's censors. It was translated from the Arabic by his lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve, which represents dozens of th…

America - with a begging bowl?

Things aren't looking all that rosy in the land of the free and the brave. The US appears decidedly shaky on the economic front. More concerning still ought to be that the Americans, including major corporations, are looking to Arab and other nations to bail out the US economy.

It is topic which occupies well-known journalist Greg Palast:

"Let’s begin by stating why Bush is not in Saudi Arabia. Bush ain’t there to promote ‘Democracy’ nor peace in Palestine, nor even war in Iran. And, despite what some pinhead from CNN stated, he sure as hell didn’t go to Riyadh to tell the Saudis to cut the price of oil.

What’s really behind Bush’s hajj to Riyadh is that America is in hock up to our knickers. The sub-prime mortgage market implosion, hitting a dozen banks with over $100 billion in losses, is just the tip of the debt-berg.

Since taking office, Bush has doubled the federal debt to more than $5 trillion. And, according to US Treasury figures, on net, foreign investors have purch…

Worthy winners

When lawyers take on hard cases against all odds ranged against them and pursue their client's interests and rights in the face of personal attacks they are to be more than commended. They are doing what one would hope all right-minded lawyers would do in pursuing what they see as the interests of justice and fairness without regard to the personal implications.

It is therefore more than gratifying, and satisfying, to see the Weekend Australian award Australians of the Year to 2 lawyers who took on the Federal Government - and saw a just outcome for their endeavours.

The Australian reports "Haneef team defied injustice":

"The complicated professional relationship that can meld a solicitor and a barrister into a formidable legal team has rarely been better displayed than in the case of the two men who are The Weekend Australian's Australians of the Year.

Brisbane solicitor Peter Russo and barrister Stephen Keim SC have become national figures in their long, diffi…

What is it about these air-heads?

It is bad enough that the media highlights the antics of the likes of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears - but 2 examples of vacuous and stupid people - but when the party of a 16 year old in an outer, outer suburb of Melbourne attracts world-wide attention [should that read notoriety?] one has to scratch one's head and wonder.

That is exactly what Richard Ackland has done in an op-ed piece "Hopefully, this celebrity is as quick as it is instant" in the SMH as he reflects on what has now become news-worthy:

"Don't put your son on the stage, Mrs Worthington. Unfortunately, it's too late - the little prat is already centre stage, soaking up our oxygen and even getting titters of applause for his gormless moment of show and tell.

Narcissistic, monosyllabic, barely literate 16-year olds have always been around. What's new is that now they are celebrities.

Apparently we cannot get enough of those who are famous for being infamous.

Corey Worthington is today's hero…

Divorce by SMS?

Many religions are facing issues where modernity clashes with the faith and its teachings - aside from, for instance in non-Muslim countries, pressure[sometimes leading to death or physical violence] being placed on a woman of Islamic faith who is dating a non-Muslim. The case of an Egyptian woman "divorced" by her husband by SMS, as reported in The WashingtonPost, highlights the 21st century clashing with 6th century Muslim law:

"The Cairo woman stared in disbelief at the text message in her cellphone inbox.

She and her husband, an Egyptian army officer away on duty, had just hung up after quarreling on the phone. She ignored his return call, not wanting to continue the argument, the woman recounted in an interview this week.

The electronic chirrup of an incoming message signaled his response. "I divorce you," her husband had written. "That will teach you not to answer my calls."

Reconciliation followed, only to be broken by another quarrel, this one …

One man's mission....with a win-win outcome

It doesn't necessarily take an organisation or lots of money to change perceptions, educate or raise money.

Nicholas Kristof, op-ed columnist for the NY Times explains in a piece "Win a Trip You Won’t Forget" how one man, he himself, has been able to change things for the better with a win-win outcome:

"A few years ago, soon after I returned disconsolate and shellshocked from a trip to Darfur, I found New Yorkers burning with moral outrage.

The spark wasn’t genocide, war or poverty, but rather homelessness — of a red-tailed hawk nicknamed Pale Male. Managers of a Fifth Avenue apartment building had dismantled his nest.

Fury! Television cameras! And public pressure that led to a solution for rebuilding the nest.

I wondered how some of that compassion for a hawk could be rechanneled to help human beings like those I had just seen dying in Darfur. The potential is vast: just imagine if we felt the same sympathy for the 25,000 children who will die today of poverty as we do …

The other Menuhin

Violinist Yehudi Menhin, now dead, is well known. His equally talented sister, pianist Hepzibah, also now dead, less so.

The SMH has a fascinating article "Life in two parts" on the first biography of Hephzibah, due to be published, almost 30 years after her death in 1981:

"She was just eight years old when she first heard the enchanting name: Hephzibah. With its exotic overtones and lingering lyrical vowels, it appealed to Jacqueline Kent so much the primary-school girl would try it on for size.

"I thought it was such a fabulous name. I used to say it over. Hephzibaaaaaah," Kent says.

She had heard her father talk about the musical Menuhin family, of violinist Yehudi, who he had seen perform in Australia, and his pianist sister Hephzibah. But it was the latter's name that resonated with her long before she began working on An Exacting Heart: The Story of Hephzibah Menuhin.

The surprise is that a biography of Hephzibah has taken so long to appear. For the b…

Throwing down the gauntlet to Israel

When Forward, probably the foremost Jewish and respected publication in the world outside Israel, editorialises on a range of issues relating to Israel, as below, you know that things just have to change in Israel.

"Ehud Olmert, Israel’s perpetually embattled prime minister, probably thought he was performing a daring display of political balancing this week. First he saw off the visiting President Bush with grand words of peace. Then he announced that he opposed any major ground incursion into lawless Gaza. The next day, his troops opened up the bloodiest day of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in more than a year.

It was a classic Olmert juggling act: playing to every side in turn, hoping to give all involved just enough to keep them on board, but managing instead to leave everyone fuming. His advocacy of a negotiated deal with the Palestinians, blunter than any Israeli prime minister before him, has thoroughly alienated his traditional allies on the right. But his clumsy military f…

That Hormuz incident? Oops.....it was a fabrication!

What can one possibly say about the revelation - in an IPS report here - that the the so-called incident in the Straits of Hormuz just before George W "hit" the Middle East was a total fabrication? Shades of deja vu of the Gulf of Tonkin incident back during the Vietnam War.

And the Americans wonder why they have lost almost all credibility?

"Senior Pentagon officials, evidently reflecting a broader administration policy decision, used an off-the-record Pentagon briefing to turn the Jan. 6 U.S.-Iranian incident in the Strait of Hormuz into a sensational story demonstrating Iran's military aggressiveness, a reconstruction of the events following the incident shows.

The initial press stories on the incident, all of which can be traced to a briefing by deputy assistant secretary of defence for public affairs in charge of media operations Bryan Whitman, contained similar information that has since been repudiated by the Navy itself.

Then the Navy disseminated a s…

Hype v reality

Condi Rice was reported the other day as saying that things were looking positive in Iraq. Strange! - for that is not what informed opinion is saying.

If the following piece from The Independent is supposed to reflect one of the positive outcomes of the invasion of Iraq, one has to wonder!

"The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading rapidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops.

Afghan with experience in planting poppies have been helping farmers switch to producing opium in fertile parts of Diyala province, once famous for its oranges and pomegranates, north- east of Baghdad."

And:

"Al-Qa'ida is in control of many of the newly established opium farms and has sometimes taken the land of farmers it has killed, said a local source. At Buhriz, American military forces destroyed the opium farm and drove off al-Qa'ida last year but it later returned. "No one can get in…

Faith, Freedom and Bling in the Middle East

Maureen Dowd, columnist with the NY Times, is well known for her acerbic wit and turn of phrase.

Unusual for her, she has been part of the media with George W as he has swung through the Middle East. No one could accuse Dowd of being an expert in politics, let alone in relation to the Middle East - unlike, say, a Robert Fisk - but her "take" on the Bush visit makes for interesting reading in her latest piece "Faith, Freedom and Bling in the Middle East".

Robert Fisk: Bloody reality bears no relation to the delusions of this President

If there is anyone who knows the Middle East, its people, the way they think and operate and the general culture, it's Robert Fisk. Fisk has lived in Beirut for at least 30 years and covered the region - in the process meeting the main players from PM's to even Bin Laden - and writes for The Independent.

Reflecting on the George W swing through the Middle East in a piece "Bloody reality bears no relation to the delusions of this President", Fisk writes:

"Is this how lame-duck American presidents are supposed to behave? Certainly, the denizens of the Middle East, watching this outrageous performance will all be asking this question. Ever since the 1979 Iranian revolution, a Muslim Cold War has been raging within the Middle East – but is this how Mr Bush thinks one should fight for the soul of Islam?

Already by dusk last night, the US President's world was exploding in Beirut when a massive car bomb blew up next to a 4x4 vehicle carrying American embassy emplo…

A Most Worthy Winner

MPS has often referred to and linked to pieces by Gideon Levy, commentator and op-ed writer in Haaretz.

Doubtlessly his pieces have often attracted adverse reaction, but Levy has been one of the few who has fearlessly put a position about Israel's actions and conduct - including severely criticising it - which others have simply failed to do.

It is therefore gratifying to read [see here] that Levy has been duly awarded for his work:

"Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy has won this year's Euro-Med Journalist Prize for Cultural Dialogue.

Levy was awarded the prize for an article published on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, entitled "The children of 5767" (5767 is the Jewish calendar year that ended on September 12, 2007). The article told the stories of all the Palestinian children killed by Israel Defense Forces fire over the previous year.

According to the prize committee, the piece not only dealt with a sensitive issue "in a very courageous manner," but also focus…

A glimpse at and postcard from Europe.....

Europe continues to engage one's senses and various experiences......

French women remain chic and the food is without equal. The buildings are magnificent and the wide boulevards wonderful. The love of food and wine isn't matched in any other country. Interestingly, contrary to all expectations, the French are adhering to the ban on smoking in restaurants which came into force on 2 January. Why 2 January? So that the locals could still have a puff after midnight on new year's eve.

Berlin is vibrant and an edgy city. The differences between the old East and the West of the city are certainly diminishing, but considerable money will still need to be spent to make the 2 halves, as it were, reasonably equal. Some of the housing in the old East, as things like certain underground railways stations, are in dire of need of "upgrading". For opera, concerts and all sorts of entertainment [mainstream and otherwise] the choice is overwhelmin…

A truly inspirational man

Renowned pianist and conductor, Israeli [although born Argentinian] Daniel Barenboim, has been at the forefront in trying to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. It hasn't won him many friends in Israel, but Barenboim has remained undeterred and pressed on with his Divan Orchestra and other activities.

The fact that the Palestinians have granted Barenboim Palestinian citizenship will doubtlessly draw further criticism of the musician. Haaretz reports:

"Daniel Barenboim, the world renowned Israeli pianist and conductor, has taken Palestinian citizenship and said he believed his rare new status could serve a model for peace between the two peoples.

"It is a great honor to be offered a passport," he said late on Saturday after a Beethoven piano recital in Ramallah, the West Bank city where he has been active for some years in promoting contact between young Arab and Israeli musicians.

"I have also accepted it because I believe that the destinies of…

The abject poverty in a country where everyone is a millionaire

There can be little doubt that Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe is not only corrupt but the administration is incompetent to say the very least. There can be no question that Mugabe is anything but a despot prepared to cling to power whatever the cost.
The economy - some would ask, what economy? - is in total ruin and chaos.

The world sits idly by as Zimbabwe falls apart. Can it be said that Mugabe is any different to what Saddam was? Whatever, the plight of the population is almost universally ignored in the media perhaps because foreign journalists are essentially restricted from getting into the country. It is therefore more than timely, and troubling, to read the BBC's John Simpson's report [undercover] on Zimbabwe "The abject poverty in a country where everyone is a millionaire" in TheIndependent:

"In Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, everyone is a millionaire. You have to be: a loaf of bread costs a million Zimbabwe dollars, a newspaper cos…

American woman married to a Saudi in Saudi Arabia.....behind the veil

We rarely read or see what life is like in the Saudi Kingdom. We hear of untold wealth, restrictions on women - almost impossible to believe in the West - and a regime which pays little regard to personal freedoms generally.

It is therefore interesting to read of an American woman's description of life in Saudi Arabia, where she is married to a Saudi man. The LA Times reports in "Pursuing happiness behind the veil":

"Teresa Malof knew she wasn't in Kentucky anymore when a cleric issued a fatwa against her secret Santa gift exchange.

Malof proposed the idea at the King Fahad National Guard Hospital, where she has worked for more than a decade. It was supposed to be discreet, but rumors were whispered amid veils and hijabs that the lithe, blond nurse, raised on farmland at the edge of Appalachia, was planning to celebrate a Christian tradition in an Islamic kingdom that forbids the practicing of other religions.

"Even though I'm a Muslim too, I like to …

A plaintiff cry....

The Americans are going to the polls to elect a new president in November. We are presently witnessing the shadow-boxing, hoopla and jockeying for position in the primaries. Meanwhile, lame-duck Pres. George W is telling the Arab world, during his flying visit to the region, that they have to back the US in taking on Iran [the language is almost identical to that pre the Iraq invasion] and be a little more democratic.

The Bush rhetoric is hard to take from a man, and his administration, who has done more during his presidency than any other, to bring the US into disrepute and attack the rule of law, decency and justice. And Bush & Co have been repeated offenders shown to have lied.

It is therefore perhaps not surprising to read this editorial - almost a plaintiff cry! - in the IHT:

"There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Like when we read about how men in some of the most trusted positions plotted to cover up the torture of pris…

"Digging in" - and defying George W

The Washington Postreports on defiance in the clearest and most tangible terms:

"With a new round of peace talks underway, the Israeli government is under intense pressure to hand back parts of the occupied West Bank, starting with the outposts, according to the terms of the Bush administration's 2003 "road map," the basis for the current dialogue. First steps required of Palestinians include a halt to violent attacks on Israel.

On the eve of his visit to the region last week, President Bush called on Israeli leaders to "honor their commitments" and "get rid of unauthorized settlements." Palestinians say Israel's efforts thus far to remove outposts have been scattershot and insincere.

Settlers have responded to Bush's comments not by curtailing construction, but by expanding it."

And no less importantly:

"Dror Etkes, who spent five years monitoring outposts for the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, said the government is reluctant to…

China's grinding poor......still some 300 million

"China has moved more people out of poverty than any other country in recent decades, but the persistence of destitution in places like southern Henan Province fits with the findings of a recent World Bank study that suggests that there are still 300 million poor in China — three times as many as the bank previously estimated. Poverty is most severe in China’s geographic and social margins, whether the mountainous areas or deserts that ring the country, or areas dominated by ethnic minorities, who for cultural and historic reasons have benefited far less than others from the country’s long economic rise. But it also persists in places like Henan, where population densities are among the greatest in China, and the new wealth of the booming coast beckons, almost mockingly, a mere province away. “Henan has the largest population of any province, approaching 100 million people, and the land there just cannot support those kinds of numbers,” said Albert Keidel, a senior associate at…

Receding memory = troubling trend

When the real horrors of the Holocaust became know at the end of WW2, the world was astounded, the mantra "never again" became a catch cry and Germany tried, in many respects valiantly and decently, to "repair" what it had wrought so terribly during the Nazi era.

Over the years the Germans have not only solidly and materially supported the State of Israel, but it has paid reparations to victims of the Holocaust and openly made efforts not to hide from the populace the horrendous actions of the Nazis.

It is therefore more than troubling to read this report in Haaretz:

"German schools are failing in educating students about the Holocaust, a new study by a political education center has found, as German youth, who one historian said use the word "Jew" as a common curse in daily discourse, are increasingly distant from the suffering of the victims of Nazism.

According to a study commissioned by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, a political educat…