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Showing posts from February, 2008

The real cost of Iraq

Writing on Business Spectator, well-regarded financial commentator Alan Kohler reports on a new book which details the real cost of the Iraq War [aka the Iraq Debacle]. The figures are truly astounding and the ramifications, both now and into the future, extraordinary.

"A new book by Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize winning economist and former chief economist of the World Bank, makes a persuasive case that the credit crisis and US economic downturn is, at heart, a result of the Iraq war.

Stiglitz, and co-author Linda Bilmes, have estimated the cost of the war at $3 trillion – more than 50 times the original estimate.

They point out that most of this money has been borrowed, since President George W Bush cut taxes at the same time, and assert that it was the hidden cause of the credit crisis because the Alan Greenspan Federal Reserve colluded with the Bush Administration by flooding the US with cheap credit to keep interest rates down."

And.....whew!!!:

"In their book, St…

Something bad is happening to us

As "history" has shown over the last years, any criticism of Israel - in particular in relation to the occupation, with all that entails - is an almost inevitable invitation to be labelled anti-Israel, anti-Zionist or even anti-semitic.

So, what to make of an editorial in Haaretz "Something bad is happening to us"

"Perfectly ordinary people, as the American psychologist said of the Abu Ghraib abusers, are capable of behaving like monsters when they receive a message from the top that it is permissible to abuse, beat, choke, burn, make people miserable and generally do anything that man's evil genius is capable of inventing to others who are under their control. Something bad is happening to us, they are saying in the Kfir Brigade. That "something" is the occupation."

Meanwhile, coincidentally, Haaretz also reports on this:

"A prominent Israeli human rights group on Wednesday criticized an Israel Defense Forces probe that decided not to pr…

Noam Chomsky, Terrorists Wanted the World Over

"One of Noam Chomsky's latest books -- a conversation with David Barsamian -- is entitled What We Say Goes. It catches a powerful theme of Chomsky's: that we have long been living on a one-way planet and that the language we regularly wield to describe the realities of our world is tailored to Washington's interests."

So begins a piece in tomdispatch.com "Noam Chomsky, Terrorists Wanted the World Over" reproduced on AlterNet.

"Of course, the minute you try to turn the Washington norm (in word or act) around, as Chomsky did in a piece entitled What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?, you've already entered the theater of the absurd. "Terror" is a particularly good example of this. "Terror" is something that, by (recent) definition, is committed by free-floating groups or movements against innocent civilians and is utterly reprehensible (unless the group turns out to be the CIA running car bombs into Baghdad or car and camel bombs int…

Iraq: The Calm Before the Conflagration

Former NY Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Chris Hedges, writing in truthdig.com "The Calm Before the Conflagration":

"The U.S. is currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pay the monthly salaries of some 600,000 armed fighters in the three rival ethnic camps in Iraq. These fighters—Shiite, Kurd and Sunni Arab—are not only antagonistic but deeply unreliable allies. The Sunni Arab militias have replaced central government officials, including police, and taken over local administration and security in the pockets of Iraq under their control. They have no loyalty outside of their own ethnic community. Once the money runs out, or once they feel strong enough to make a thrust for power, the civil war in Iraq will accelerate with deadly speed. The tactic of money-for-peace failed in Afghanistan. The U.S. doled out funds and weapons to tribal groups in Afghanistan to buy their loyalty, but when the payments and weapons shipments ceased, the tribal groups headed back …

Forget about freedom of speech in Russia

The BBC reports on a Report by Amnesty International on freedom of speech in Russia - that is, the lack of it:

"Russian freedom of speech is "shrinking alarmingly" under President Vladimir Putin, says Amnesty International.

The murders of outspoken journalists go unsolved, independent media outlets have been shut and police have attacked opposition protesters, said the report.

It also said "arbitrary" laws were curbing the right to express opinion and silencing NGOs deemed to be a threat by the authorities.

The report comes ahead of Russian's presidential elections on 2 March.

The director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said: "The space for freedom of speech is shrinking alarmingly in Russia and it's now imperative that the Russian authorities reverse this trend."

A related piece on BBC News "KGB old boys tightening grip on Russia" by the BBC's former Moscow correspondent makes for interesting reading. It looks like nothi…

URL Not Available

With the Olympics looming in August, China is very much in the spotlight. It may not like it but actions such as those of Steven Spielberg in withdrawing from working for the Chinese on the Olympics does not find favor in Beijing.

All too sadly human rights, especially as it relates to access to the internet and its use, are more than wanting.

A piece in New Matilda, "URL Not Available" explains - and highlights how some Western companies are complicit.

Afghanistan: And that's progress?

What is there to say, other than despair, when one reads this truly sad and tragic piece in The Independent on the women of Afghanistan and what the world holds in store for them?

"Grinding poverty and the escalating war is driving an increasing number of Afghan families to sell their daughters into forced marriages.

Girls as young as six are being married into a life of slavery and rape, often by multiple members of their new relatives. Banned from seeing their own parents or siblings, they are also prohibited from going to school. With little recognition of the illegality of the situation or any effective recourse, many of the victims are driven to self-immolation – burning themselves to death – or severe self-harm.

Six years after the US and Britain "freed" Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, a new report proves that life is just as bad for most, and worse in some cases.

Projects started in the optimistic days of 2002 have begun to wane as the UK and its Nat…

Food for Thought

Yes, sharemarkets around the world are down substantially and there is even talk of recession in some countries, like the USA. That said, there are still many "rich" countries around the globe - and countries like the USA, Australia, the UK and those in the EU are spending money on all manner of things including on the military. Just think of the ongoing cost of the war in Iraq and the military intervention in Afghanistan.

It therefore more than disturbing to read of a possible worldwide shortage of food and the inability of the UN World Food Programme to adequately meet the needs of those it supports.

FT reports in "High food prices may force aid rationing":

"The United Nation’s agency responsible for relieving hunger is drawing up plans to ration food aid in response to the spiralling cost of agricultural commodities.

The World Food Programme is holding crisis talks to decide what aid to halt if new donations do not arrive in the short term.

Why are food pr…

Bush vs. Africa's Women

Yifat Susskind is a communications director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization. She is the author of a book on US foreign policy and women's human rights and a report on US culpability for violence against women in Iraq, both forthcoming.

Last week George W returned to the US from a swing through some carefully selected African countries. It was a photo-op if nothing else. However, reading a piece "Bush vs. Africa's Women" by Yifat Susskind on counterpunch Bushs' trip had more serious, widespread and troubling consequences:

"President Bush headed home on Thursday from his five-day, five-country tour of Africa. Not since Thanksgiving 2003, when he showed up at the Baghdad Airport with a fake turkey for US troops have we seen such saccharine Presidential photo ops. And most of the media can't get enough. The New York Times describes Bush in Africa as "a little like Santa Claus, a benevolent figure from another land ha…

A Landmark for Bloggers -- and the Future of Journalism

You probably haven't heard of the George Polk Awards, so read on. This piece reproduced on Alternet, not only explains what the Awards are but also about blogging and journalism generally:

"The George Polk Awards are kind of like the Golden Globes of American journalism . Not as well known as those Oscars of the news business, the Pulitzer Prize, the Polk Awards are nevertheless probably a close second in terms of prestige, and this year I am especially blown away by the quality of the work they honor.

The winners include Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, a 26-year-old woman who reports from some of the most dangerous regions of Iraq, as well as journalists who peeked under Vice President Cheney's veil of secrecy, toxic river pollution in China, unsafe cribs, infant mortality in Mississippi, the Blackwater scandal, human rights abuses in Burma, healthcare scams, and the courageous work of Oakland's Chauncey Bailey, who was slain as he …

Fidel's Children

We all know that Fidel Castro is going to depart the scene - as much, too, that the US will doubtlessly continue it idiotic policy toward the island-State. In fact, many say that the parlous economic state of Cuba can be laid at the door of the Americans.

But now what? Newsweek reports in "Fidel's Children":

"For years, Fidel Castro has been a living anachronism. A stalwart communist in an age of free markets and democracy, he ruled a Cuba largely cut off from a world prospering through international trade. By the end he was out of touch at home as well, both metaphorically and literally. For 19 months, the ailing 81-year-old leader had stayed out of sight, too sick to venture out, reduced to publishing ponderous "reflections" on the front page of the Cuban Communist Party's organ, Granma. By the time he resigned last week, there was something almost anticlimactic about it. Cubans—including émigrés in Miami and elsewhere—have waited so long for a c…

Wanton destruction..vandalism...disgraceful

That Israel continues to thumb its nose at the world, and certainly the Palestinians, is yet again shown in this report [in The Age] of the outrageous and illegal actions of the Israelis:

"The farmers of Beit Ula spent two years preparing their new groves of fruit, nut and olive trees, clearing rocks, building stone terraces and digging deep cisterns to catch the scarce rain.

The Israeli army destroyed it all in less than a day.

"We heard they were here at 6.30 in the morning, when it was still dark," said Sami al-Adam, one of eight farmers whose terraces were bulldozed on January 15.

"There must have been dozens of soldiers with jeep and bulldozers, and they brought a lot of Filipino workers, or maybe they were Thai, who pulled up the trees and cut them and buried them so we wouldn't be able to plant them again."

When the soldiers and police left the site, in the low hills on the West Bank's border with Israel, 6.4 hectares of trees and terraces had been u…

Fruitloop Award of the Week

What can one say?.....

A member of Israel’s parliament has an unusual explanation for the recent spate of earthquakes in his country: It’s the gays! Specifically, says Orthodox lawmaker Shlomo Benizri, the Israeli government’s acceptance of and tolerance toward homosexuals have incurred God’s wrath in the form of tectonic rumblers.

BBC:

Mr Benizri made his comments while addressing a committee of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, about the country’s readiness for earthquakes.

He called on lawmakers to stop “passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the state of Israel, which anyway brings about earthquakes”.

Israeli court rulings in recent years have granted inheritance rights to gay couples and recognised same-sex marriages performed abroad.

Gitmo trials rigged

The revelation won't really come as a surprise to anyone, but a piece in The Nation "Rigged Trials at Gitmo" - stemming from former Chief Prosecutor at Gitmo "talking" - is more than revealing.

"Now, as the murky, quasi-legal staging of the Bush Administration's military commissions unfolds, a key official has told The Nation that the trials have been rigged from the start. According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo's military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees to foreclose the possibility of acquittal.

Colonel Davis's criticism of the commissions has been escalating since he resigned in October, telling the Washington Post that he had been pressured by politically appointed senior Defense officials to pursue cases deemed "sexy" and of "high interest" (such as the 9/11 cases now being pursued) in the run-up to the 2008 elections. Davis, once a staunch defender…

Is it torture? Try it

Mort Rosenblum is former editor of the International Herald Tribune, is the author, most recently, of "Escaping Plato's Cave: How America's Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival."

Writing an op-ed piece in the IHT "Is it torture? Try it" Rosenblum says:

"George W. Bush denies that we torture, which adds hypocrisy to our sins. His attorney general refuses to call waterboarding torture and won't rule out its use.

Whatever Americans may think, judgment elsewhere is plain. When our highest authorities excuse torture - even applaud it - it is no surprise that terrorist ranks swell, and so many people loathe us.

Even if torture did provide useful information, what is the longer term cost? By employing such terror ourselves, we lose claim to a higher moral plane.

Not long ago, I was on a Tufts University panel with a retired white South African police colonel and an African National Congress leader he used to torture. Both agreed: brutal m…

Keeping it secret to protect relations

The Guardian reports on what must be seen as an extraordinary story "How Labour used the law to keep criticism of Israel secret - Concern over nuclear arsenal removed from Iraq dossier":

"The full extent of government anxiety about the state of British-Israel relations can be exposed for the first time today in a secret document seen by the Guardian.

The document reveals how the Foreign Office successfully fought to keep secret any mention of Israel contained on the first draft of the controversial, now discredited Iraq weapons dossier. At the heart of it was nervousness at the top of government about any mention of Israel's nuclear arsenal in an official paper accusing Iraq of flouting the UN's authority on weapons of mass destruction.

The dossier was made public this week, but the Foreign Office succeeded before a tribunal in having the handwritten mention of Israel kept secret."

Read the complete piece here.

Breathtaking, ignorant and probably wrong legally

That judges still don't seem to understand what the internet means and how it works and that the law hasn't caught up with this now not so new "medium" is clearly shown by an extraordinary decision by a judge in San Francisco. The decision has caused ripples around the world and is almost certainly against the US First Amendment.

The NY Times reports :

"In a move that legal experts said could present a major test of First Amendment rights in the Internet era, a federal judge in San Francisco on Friday ordered the disabling of a Web site devoted to disclosing confidential information.

The site, Wikileaks.org, invites people to post leaked materials with the goal of discouraging “unethical behavior” by corporations and governments. It has posted documents said to show the rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq, a military manual for the operation of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and other evidence of what it has called corporate waste and …

Saying sorry?.......Impossible?

Last week Australian PM Rudd make history when he apologised to Australia's indigenous people for the treatment meted out to them, especially to those who have become known as the "Stolen Generation".

Author and journalist Antony Loewenstein [see My Israel Question - published by MUP] in a piece in Haaretz "The hardest word" raises the critical question of why it is that Australia's Jewish leaders seem to feel empathy toward Australia's indigenous people but cannot, nor will not, apologise to or even extend any sympathy to the plight of the Palestinians. In his criticism he equally condemns Jewish leaders world- wide.

"Many Australian Jews resist recognising the suffering of the Palestinians. "Pounding the enemy only makes the enemy want to pound you back", Forward editorialised in early February. The fact that Hamas has offered a long-term ceasefire to the Israelis is not mentioned. "Why doesn't our government jump at this p…

Imagine 50 million American refugees

Tom Engelhardt writing in The Nation:

"I'm an innumerate, but the figures on this -- the saddest story of our Iraq debacle -- are so large that even I can do the necessary computations. The population of the United States is now just over 300,000,000. The population of Iraq at the time of the U.S. invasion was perhaps in the 26-27 million range. Between March 2003 and today, a number of reputable sources place the total of Iraqis who have fled their homes -- those who have been displaced internally and those who have gone abroad -- at between 4.5 million and 5 million individuals. If you take that still staggering lower figure, approximately one in six Iraqis is either a refugee in another country or an internally displaced person.

Now, consider the equivalent in terms of the U.S. population. If Iraq had invaded the United States in March 2003 with similar results, in less than five years approximately 50 million Americans would have fled their homes, assumedly flooding across …

Criticism a no-no

With the Olympics looming in August, one might have thought that the Chinese Government would try and put a good face out there in its attitude to any of its critics. Not so! To the contrary, the authorities are relentlessly cracking down, in many ways, on any dissent or indeed anything which might be seen as showing the Chinese, or its cities, in a bad light.

The Independentreports:

"A Chinese activist who dared to criticise the Olympics while lobbying for farmers' rights goes on trial tomorrow for subversion, a sign of growing official intolerance of any dissent over the Games.

Yang Chunlin, an unemployed factory worker from Jiamusi city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, faces charges of subverting state power for his activism, which has involved petitions, denouncing government corruption and seeking democratic reform of the one-party state.

Last year he helped organise a petition, which was signed by 10,000 villagers, over a land dispute. It declared: &q…

Howard's End

ABC TV's Four Corners program last night on the demise of PM Howard and his government entitled "Howard's End" was in many respects an eye-opener.

As Crikey comments today:

"Last night's edition of Four Corners was instructive.

Most cabinet ministers in the former Howard government did not realise that workers could be worse off under Work Choices, former workplace relations minister Joe Hockey says."

Other things the Howard Cabinet didn't understand:

That innocent people might die if we helped invade Iraq.

That putting asylum seekers in high security detention could be construed as harsh and inhuman treatment.

That the Australian Wheat Board was giving lots of money to Saddam Hussein.

That there would never, ever, be a GST.

That we could say sorry to black people.

That the Australian flag was not a party political symbol.

That climate change was a bit of a worry really and quite possibly our fault.

That Don Bradman couldn't help.

But could he deliver?

As the Barack Obama juggernaut roles on leaving Hilary Clinton in his wake, it has to be said that all one reads or sees of him on TV is reflective of mouthing platitudes. The rhetoric might be persuasive, but what does the relatively untried Senator stand for? What are his policies, etc?

It is a question The Economist tries to answer in a piece "But could he deliver?"

"That question is partly answered by Obama the phenomenon. His immediate effect on international relations could be dramatic: a black president, partly brought up in a Muslim country, would transform America's image. And his youthful optimism could work at home too. After the bitterness of the Bush years, America needs a dose of unity: Mr Obama has a rare ability to deliver it. And the power of charisma should not be underrated, especially in the context of the American presidency which is, constitutionally, quite a weak office. The best presidents are like magnets below a piece of paper, invisibly …

Liquidation Sale

Gideon Levy writing in Haaretz:

"It was like an especially wild orgy: First the great intoxication of the senses, then the bitter sobering up the next morning. Within a few hours, Israel went from celebrating the assassination of Imad Mughniyah to the fear of what would follow. The "great feat of intelligence," the "perfect execution," the "humiliation of Bashar Assad" were replaced in the blink of an eye with a spate of fear-inducing "travel advisories" by the Counterterrorism Office - don't travel, don't identify yourself, don't congregate, be careful, take every precaution - and with states of high alert on the northern border, and at all of Israel's embassies and consulates, and Jewish community centers worldwide. If these are the dangers that lie in wait for us, one has to ask: What did we need this assassination for?

Whoever killed Mughniyah was once again playing with the most dangerous fire of all: He undermined Israe…

Kissinger, the War Criminal

As author and commentator Christopher Hitchins showed so clearly in his book on Henry Kissinger- based on documents - Kissinger can only be described as a duplicitous individual and a war criminal. It is said that Kissinger fears travelling overseas lest he be arrested for his actions as Secretary of State during the Nixon years. Think Chile and Laos where Kissinger can be shown as singularly responsible for what happened to and in those two countries.

Now, Information Clearing House has a video on Kissinger under the banner "The Making of a War Criminal".

"A fascinating, bombshell documentary that should shame Americans, regardless of whether or not ultimate blame finally lies with Kissinger. Should be required viewing for civics classes and would-be public servants alike." -- Brent Simon, Entertainment Today".

View the video here.

Valentine's Day Torture Trifecta

Scott Horton, writing in Harpers' Magazine:

"On Valentine’s Day the Bush Administration was out on a mission, straight from the Orwellian Ministry of Love. That ministry of course served in Nineteen Eighty-Four as the center for torture. And as the shortest month reached its middle point, three apologists appeared on behalf of the administration to explain to the American public that they needed to relax and start getting comfortable with torture. It’s the new American Way, after all."

Read a fascinating piece "The Valentine’s Day Torture Trifecta" on how George W and his cohorts see themselves and the US take the moral high ground - yet justify torture. Bizarre! And the US wonders why its standing around the world is so poor.

Critical issues and questions

We all know that people around the world like things American. Think McDonalds, movies, clothing, etc. However, it also probably undeniable that the standing and reputation of the US around the world since George W took office has never been worse.

The NY Times editorialises:

"How the next president plans to handle the disastrous Iraq war is the most important foreign policy question of this year’s campaign. But it is not the only foreign policy question that voters need answered.

President Bush’s mismanagement reaches far beyond Iraq. He has torn up international treaties, bullied and alienated old friends, and enabled old and new enemies. Before Americans choose a president they will need to know how he or she plans to rebuild America’s military strength and its moral standing and address a host of difficult challenges around the world."

The NY Times' questions can be read here.

Soul for Sale

Arianna Huffington in The Huffington Post puts the seemingly unstoppable GOP presidential candidate John McCain under the blowtorch in how he has sold his soul for political expediency:

"Has there ever been a more repugnant example of political pandering than John McCain's decision to vote against a bill banning waterboarding, putting hoods on prisoners, forcing them to perform sex acts, subjecting them to mock executions, or depriving them of food, water, and medical treatment?

That's right, John McCain, the former POW who has long been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's disturbing embrace of extreme interrogation techniques.

But that was before his desperate attempt to win over the lunatic fringe that is running the Grand Old Party.

Earlier this week, I showed how outdated the image of McCain as an independent-thinking maverick had become -- and called on the media and independent voters to snap out of their 2000 reverie and see the 2008 McCain for what he…

Gaza: UN official shocked

No surprise here! The BBCreports - and all too sadly most other media outlets won't - on the response by a top UN official to a 4 day visit toGaza:

"The UN's top humanitarian affairs official has said he was shocked by the "grim and miserable" situation he witnessed on a visit to the Gaza Strip.

Undersecretary General John Holmes said it was the result of Israel closing its border crossings and the "limited food and other materials" allowed in.

Mr Holmes said 80% of Gaza's 1.5m population now depended on food aid."

And:

"As part of a four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Mr Holmes toured the Shifa Hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip, and the Karni industrial zone near the closed cargo crossing on the Israeli border.

"I have been shocked by the grim and miserable things I have seen and heard about during the day," he told reporters at the main UN compound in Gaza City."

Meanwhile, over at counterpunch, a…

The Great Wall of Indifference

2 days ago, The Independent announced a global campaign to shame China into doing more to help Darfur. And the reaction from those who could actually change things? President Bush rules out boycott and says 'I'm going to the Olympics'. Major Games sponsors refuse to raise the issue with the Chinese.

So much for principles.....

The Independent writes in "The great wall of indifference":

"An international coalition of human rights activists has urged corporate sponsors of the Beijing Olympics to call the Chinese government to account over its support for Sudan or face a series of protests and consumer boycotts in the approach to this summer's Games.

As international condemnation mounted over China's reluctance to censure Khartoum for its conduct in Darfur, campaigners pressured multinational companies including Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Adidas, to end their "silent complicity" with the regime.

The new focus came after a letter that demanded Ch…

Reflecting on a week of sorry....

The "sorry" to Australia's indigenous people by PM Rudd has attracted world-wide attention. Deservedly so.

In the days since the world has moved on....and there are, amongst other things, reflections on the day and all that it involved, including the main players.

Mike Carlton, writing in the SMH:

"For 10 long years, the Howard government trod ever more heavily upon the downtrodden. Obsessed with crushing its ideological enemies, real or imagined, it was, in Manning Clark's memorable phrase, a government of "straiteners and punishers".

At last, the Australian people have embraced a return to fairness and decency in our national life. The week was all about just that. What the hermit of Wollstonecraft made of it, I cannot imagine. Perhaps he warms himself with thoughts of the Queen offering him the garter."

In the same newspaper, Adele Horin writes:

"Brendan Nelson's mean, meandering speech on sorry day could not spoil the moving and historic…

The architects of War: Where are they now?

As the candidates for the US presidency dance around the issue of America's involvement in the Iraq War - and what the US is going to do, if anything, to withdraw from the war-torn country - Think Progressive raises the interesting question of what has happened to the architects of what has turned out to be a "venture" doomed from inception.

"President Bush has not fired any of the architects of the Iraq war. In fact, a review of the key planners of the conflict reveals that they have been rewarded — not blamed — for their incompetence."

Read the piece here.

On the subject of that "surge" in Iraq which the politicians and some of the media are touting as having had positve results, well-known journalist, Patrick Cockburn, who writes for TheIndependent, has the following report from Baghdad:

"Life in Iraq, the Pentagon boasts, is returning to normal. But the truth is a very different story."

Meanwhile, over at truthdig.com Robert Scheer reflects…

McCain & Condi?

Now here is a possible dimension to the US presidential race - McCain with Condi as his VP.

The Nation in a piece "Vice President Rice?" reflects on the possibility and how such a scenario might play out and the impact on the Democrat ticket.

"Democrats who think it's going to be a cakewalk into the White House next November had best remember one name: Condoleezza Rice.

John McCain is a formidable candidate in his own right, but if he has the political imagination to do it, he can cause the party of Jefferson and Jackson indescribable angst with Rice as his vice-presidential pick."

Ah yes, they are human!

Whilst Israel continues pursuing its policies in battening down Gaza and the West Bank - making life for the Palestinians extremely difficult - a call by former Israelis generals to remove West Bank roadblocks should be welcomed by all fair and decent-minded people.

syracuse.com reports:

"A group of retired Israeli generals has launched a campaign urging the army to remove West Bank roadblocks, warning on Wednesday that the travel restrictions sow Palestinian hatred of Israel and stymie the peace process.

The 12 top former commanders say the hundreds of checkpoints dotting the West Bank are excessive and other military means can be used to prevent suicide bombings in Israel.

The Palestinians have long demanded that Israel remove the roadblocks as a way to build faith in recently renewed peace talks."

Meanwhile, Israel snubs the supposed peace process initiated by the Americans, as the LA Times reports:

"Israel on Tuesday unveiled plans to build 1,120 apartments for Jews in Ea…

Johnny Howard's apology - and Note from Mum

Yesterday PM Rudd said "sorry" for all the wrongs done to Australia's indigenous people. In attendance in the Federal Parliament were ex-PMs Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating. John Howard was absent. Silence from Howard.

Crikey's take on Howard's absence and the note Howard's Mum wrote about why Howard wasn't there can be found here......

Torture first, "cleanse" later

AlterNet reports on the upcoming trial of 6 detainees at Gitmo. Already a lot has been said that the trial [s] have all the hallmarks of show trials in this election-year in the US. Of course there that small matter of torturing the detainees! Now that might cause some "problems!". No, given what is now reported on AlterNet on how the Pentagon has sought to "deal" with the issue:

"Timing is everything. Yesterday the Pentagon announced that it will seek the death penalty against six men accused of masterminding the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Arriving at the heels of CIA Director Michael Hayden's admission last week that three detainees at Gitmo -- including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is among the defendants -- were waterboarded, the announcement sparked immediate questions about the viability of the evidence against the defendants, who are said to have undergone other forms of "harsh interrogation." As one reporter asked White Ho…

A Saudi Valentine?

As Valentine's Day is "celebrated" around the world on 14 February - largely commercially driven on many levels - the NY Times publishes a piece in which a Saudi woman, now living in the US for 2 years, reflects on dating in Saudi Arabia.

"Tomorrow will be my second Valentine’s Day in the United States. As I’ve discovered, the celebration here bears little resemblance to the one I know from growing up in Saudi Arabia.

Yes, there are dates. But in Saudi Arabia, we eat them. As for the other kind of dating — the kind that will fill restaurants here tomorrow night — don’t count on it.

Where I come from, dating in the Western sense is not acceptable, either socially or religiously. Though most Saudis sympathized with “the Qatif girl” — a young woman who was gang-raped while in a car with a male friend, then sentenced to 200 lashes for “mingling” — and relieved when King Abdullah pardoned her last year, that does not mean that sitting with a strange guy in his car is consid…

Watch history.....

As a follow on from the previous posting on MPS, the Australian Parliament has now seen and heard the apology given to the indigenous people of Australia.

The day is a historic one......and to see and feel the effect of it make it your business, and take the time, to view or listen to the event.

A momentous and memorable day for Australia

Today sees the PM, Kevin Rudd, make his apology to the stolen [indigenous] people of Australia in the Australian Parliament.

By any measure it is a historic day on many levels. The apology is long, long overdue. So, how does the apology read? Read it here.

Meanwhile, the last days has once again brought to light stories of the tragedy wrought about by the policy of removing children from their parents.

Read, or better still, listen to just one of the stories - as heard on the ABC's "The World Today" radio program yesterday.

Iraqis returning home: Propoganda v the facts

Patrick Cockburn has been reporting for The Independent from Iraq for many years now. His reports can be considered more accurate than the PR pumped out by what is left of the Coalition of the Willing - now a rag-tag collection of countries apart from the US.

In his latest piece from Baghdad, Cockburn reports on the reluctance of Iraqis, who left the country mainly for Syria, to return to their former war-torn homeland:

"To show that Iraq was safe enough for the two million Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan to return, the Iraqi government organised a bus convoy last November from Damascus to Baghdad carrying 800 Iraqis home for free.

As a propaganda exercise designed to show that the Iraqi government was restoring peace, it never quite worked. The majority of the returnees said they were returning to Baghdad, not because it was safer, but because they had run out of money in Syria or their visas had expired.

There has been no mass return of the two million Iraqis who fled to Syri…

60 years on......to celebrate or not

Authors David Grossman and Daniel Gavron offer competing portraits — one sad, one happy — of where Israel stands as it prepares for its 60th birthday.

Grossman, writing in Salon, paints a gloomy picture, arguing that the Jewish state has yet to truly confront that alarming existential lessons of the war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.

On the other hand, Gavron strikes entirely different, more optimistic chord in the NY Times – which reads almost like a direct response to Grossman’s angst.

Read the different perspectives, on The Telegraph, here.

Meanwhile, over at Al Jazeera:

"Norman Finkelstein is one of Israel's fiercest academic critics and a vocal supporter of the Palestinians.

He is urging the Palestinians to break down the "segregation" wall built across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein was an assistant professor of Political Science at Chicago's De Paul University for six years until he was denie…

Obama unmasked

The Barack Obama bandwagon seems to roll on - much to the annoyance of the Clinton camp.

To an outsider - that is an non-American, and probably even to Americans themselves - the present primary elections underway in the US are more than puzzling. On one view it looks like grassroots level electioneering, yet it really isn't. At the end of the day it will be the heavyweights, certainly in the Democratic Party, who will decide who its candidate for the presidency will be.

All that aside, who is this Obama? What does he stand for? - other than the oft-repeated platitudes of pronouncing that he will bring "change" to Washington. It is a question Andrew Stephen, who was appointed US Editor of the New Statesman in 2001, having been its Washington correspondent and weekly columnist since 1998, has asked. Stephen is a regular contributor to BBC news programs and to The Sunday Times Magazine. He has also written for a variety of US newspapers including The New York Times…

Howard: Not deserving of any honor!

The SMH reports the following today:

"Former prime minister John Howard could be in line to join one of Britain's most prestigious orders.

Speculation is mounting that Mr Howard has been personally selected by Queen Elizabeth to receive the Order of the Garter, the most senior and oldest British Order of Chivalry"

The idea of awarding Howard anything should give rise to concern that such an undeserving person - who led the Government he did - should be even considered for any sort of honor let alone be invited as a speaker as an ex-PM [no doubt against payment of some outlandish fee!] anywhere in the world.

The inhumane and racist policies of the Howard Government - as reflected in its policy in relation to the so-called "Pacific Solution" and the treatment of refugees, generally, and the absolute refusal to deal with the "Stolen Generation" let alone offer any sort of apology to Australia's indiginous people - only highlights that Howard and his Mini…

Beyond the Green Zone

"Dahr Jamail has spent more time reporting from Iraq than almost any other US journalist. His new book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, is a chronicle of his experiences there. He recently sat down with Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill to talk about the supposed "success" of Bush's troop surge, what would happen if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wins the White House and why he believes an immediate withdrawal from Iraq is the only way to peace."

Go here for an edited transcript of the interview.

Climate Change: Nine Tipping Points

"Nine ways in which the Earth could be tipped into a potentially dangerous state that could last for many centuries have been identified by scientists investigating how quickly global warming could run out of control.

A major international investigation by dozens of leading climate scientists has found that the "tipping points" for all nine scenarios -- such as the melting of the Arctic sea ice or the disappearance of the Amazon rainforest -- could occur within the next 100 years.

The scientists warn that climate change is likely to result in sudden and dramatic changes to some of the major geophysical elements of the Earth if global average temperatures continue to rise as a result of the predicted increase in emissions of man-made greenhouse gases."

So writes Steve Connor in a piece in The Independent [republished on AlterNet].

"A tipping point is defined as the point where a small increase in temperature or other change in the climate could trigger a disproport…

Hamas: Journey to the Secret Heart

The Spectator has a piece on a rare and unprecedented insight into Hamas, aka as a terrorist organisation by the West, by film-maker Mike Chaberlain:

"This was it: as soon as I stepped through the door of the offices of Khaled Mishal I held out my flimsy plastic folder and jabbered away in English to the four slick-suited men who were my reception committee, trying desperately to make clear that, yes, there was a potentially lethal weapon in there. I smiled and pointed sheepishly to the scissors, and they were confiscated before my cameraman and I were allowed to pass through the airport-style security portal.

It was hardly surprising we were tense: it was the autumn of last year and we were making a film about Hamas for Channel 4. Khaled Mishal, the unofficial leader of Hamas, was in some ways a dangerous man to be talking to. Indeed, the reason he was unofficial leader was that his two predecessors had been assassinated by the Israelis and he himself had almost been killed in Jor…

The Economics of Obesity: A QQ & A With the Author of The Fattening of America

The NY Times reports:

"We’ve blogged about obesity at length here at Freakonomics. The health economist Eric Finkelstein has been studying the subject for years, and, along with co-author Laurie Zuckerman, has just published a book, The Fattening of America, which analyzes the causes and consequences of obesity in the U.S. Finkelstein agreed to answer our questions about the book.

Q: You state that the factors contributing to the dramatic rise in American (and worldwide) obesity, from air conditioning to restaurant portions to modern medications, are all fundamentally economic issues. What are the most significant ways modern society has made it easier to be obese?

A: Modern society is giving Americans many more incentives to gain weight than to lose it. We are, in fact, victims of our success as a nation. The two most obvious factors are: 1) the abundance of cheap, tasty foods; and 2) the new technologies that allow us to be increasingly more productive at work and at home while bu…

Reporting on the Iraq War. How accurate?

A new book takes a close look at the triumphs, challenges and regrets of reporters working to cover the first three years of the Iraq war.

There seems little doubt, now, that the way the Iraq War has been reported has been less than either accurate or fully truthful. Just the practice of embedding journalists with the army has seen a less than objective reporting of what has been happening on the ground. And then there is the valid criticism made by people like Robert Fisk that those reporting from Baghdad do so from the confines and safety of a hotel room.

As Alternet reports in a piece "Reporting Iraq: Journalists' Coverage of a Censored War":

"The late British journalist James Cameron, known for his coverage of the Vietnam War, said of his journalism, "I may not have always been satisfactorily balanced; I always tended to argue that objectivity was of less importance than truth." Perhaps in times of peace, objectivity naturally hews closer to truth. B…

A call for freedom

So much for freedom in Afghanistan....... For Westerners to see someone sentenced to death for downloading material about women rights from the internet comes as amazing news. But the execution of an Afghani for doing just that is astounding and drawn condemnation from around the world. That freedom and democracy being brought to Afghanistan doesn't seem to be working!

The Independent reports:

"The world's most powerful woman has added her voice to the campaign to save the life of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student journalist sentenced to death for downloading material on women's rights from the internet.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, promised yesterday to raise his case personally with the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, which would significantly raise the international pressure for his release.

Ms Rice, who was in London for talks with Gordon Brown and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, on the West's Afghanistan strategy said: &…

Turning off the lights

Veteran writer Gideon Levy on Haaretz in a piece "The lights have been turned off" reflects on Israel's collective punishment of the people of Gaza - and questions why the Israelis too ought not be subjected to "punishment" for the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank:

"One after another, the final lights are being turned off, and a moral gloom is falling upon us as we stand at the edge of an abyss. Just last week, three more lights were turned off. The Winograd Report did not come out clearly against the fact that Israel embarked on a pointless war; the Supreme Court authorized collective punishment and the attorney general concluded that the killing of 12 Israeli citizens and someone from the territories by the police does not warrant a trial. The final keepers of order, the lighthouses of justice and law, are reconciling themselves with the most serious injustices of the institutions of authority and no one so much as utters a word about it. The upsettin…