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Showing posts from April, 2008

Reflections on a dinner....and what it says about the participants

A reflection of the White House Correspondent's dinner last weekend on Mojo Blog [on MotherJones], literally gives rise to food for thought [no pun intended!]:

"On Saturday night, as I was sitting at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner--Washington's official prom--I had a vision of the future.

This is what I saw: it's decades from now, and historians and others are trying to understand what happened in the first years of the 21st century. That was when the United States government initiated a foolhardy war on the basis of fear and hyped-up threats. It was also a period when the people in charge did not take one of their last chances to deal with the real danger of global warming. And, of course, it was during those years that American leaders hocked the nation to China and the nation's global financial standing diminished. And these historians are asking, "What the hell went on."

Read on here....

From Chief Prosecutor To Critic at Guantanamo

Now, this ought to give all those sceptics more than food for thought! Especially in relation to David Hicks and all that his "case" entailed.

The one-time Chief Prosecutor at Gitmo has gone across to the other side - and in the process slammed the process of which he played such an integral part, in a leading role, at one time.

The Washington Post reports:

"The Defense Department's former chief prosecutor for terrorism cases appeared Monday at the controversial U.S. detention facility here to argue on behalf of a terrorism suspect that the military justice system has been corrupted by politics and inappropriate influence from senior Pentagon officials."

And:

"Davis said he wants to wait until the cases -- and the military commissions system -- have a more solid legal footing. He also said that Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II, who announced his retirement in February, once bristled at the suggestion that some defendants could be acqui…

The Old Bailey: Read the transcripts

Reuters reports in "Old Bailey trials go online for first time" on what surely must have been a huge undertaking - which should make for most interesting research and reading:

"The transcript from Oscar Wilde's trial for gross indecency at London's Old Bailey Court went online for the first time on Monday alongside a raft of murder, robbery and abduction cases.

Up for free examination are 110,000 pages of transcripts -- including Wilde's trial and the notorious story of Dr Crippen and the murder of his wife.

Lurid tales of murder and rape, stories of pickpocketing and robbery -- every type of crime was paraded before the London court, which is topped by a statue of Justice with a sword in one hand and scales in the other.

The www.oldbaileyonline.org site was billed as the largest single source of searchable historical information about British lives that has ever been published.

The transcripts cover every one of the 210,000 trials held at the Old Bailey from 167…

Afghanistan: An analysis in April, 2008

Patricia Gossman is an independent consultant on human rights and rule of law issues in South Asia, Afghanistan in particular. She is currently a grantee of the United States Institute of Peace to write a book about justice and stability in post-2001 Afghanistan. In 2001 she established the Afghanistan Justice Project to document past war crimes in Afghanistan. Prior to that, she was a senior researcher on South Asia at Human Rights Watch. She recently responded by email (from Istanbul, where she is based) to six questions about the current situation in Afghanistan.

Harper's Magazine has the Q & A with Ms Gossman here.

The Israeli Model Surges Toward Iraq: The New Walls of Baghdad

Counterpunch has an interesting, and revealing, piece by Professor Steve Niva, about the "surge" in Iraq and the way the US is implementing policies in the war-torn country learned from the Israelis:

"While there is no question that overall levels of violence have temporarily decreased, Iraq has become virtually caged in a carapace of concrete walls and razor wire, reinforced by an aerial occupation from the sky. Reporting from a recent visit to the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, the seasoned journalist Nir Rosen noted in Rolling Stone (March 6, 2008) that:

Looming over the homes are twelve-foot-high security walls built by the Americans to separate warring factions and confine people to their own neighborhood. Emptied and destroyed by civil war, walled off by President Bush's much-heralded "surge," Dora feels more like a desolate, post-apocalyptic maze of concrete tunnels than a living, inhabited neighborhood.

The explosion of walls and enclaves reinforced by…

John McCain's serious foreign policy

Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon.com, raises a critical and important question about Republican presidential candidate John McCain:

"John McCain was on a conference call with right-wing bloggers yesterday and boasted:

"I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas's worst nightmare".

What possible reason would a U.S. President have for turning himself and our country into a "nightmare" for Hamas, let alone its "worst nightmare"?

Hamas is a single-issue Palestinian group, focused exclusively on its "territorial dispute" with Israel (and, in light of its victory in the U.S.-demanded election, is also now preoccupied with governing the Palestinian Authority). Is there anyone who thinks that Hamas has tried to, will try to, or ever could attack the U.S.? Hamas is an enemy of Israel, not the U.S. Is that a distinction we even recognize any more?

What exactly is the point of feeding Israel billions of dollars every year in military…

Jimmy Carter on "pariah diplomacy"

"A counterproductive Washington policy in recent years has been to boycott and punish political factions or governments that refuse to accept United States mandates. This policy makes difficult the possibility that such leaders might moderate their policies."

So writes former US pres. Jimmy Carter in an op-ed piece "Pariah Diplomacy" in the NY Times.

As Carter writes there are "two notable examples" of what he saying. Read them, in full, here.

3 war criminals?

RINF.COM: The Breaking News Alternative reports on the former Malaysian PM's view on how Bush, Blair and Howard ought to be treated:

"The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has echoed calls for Western leaders to be charged with war crimes over the invasion of Iraq.

Speaking at Imperial College in London Mahathir, who was in office from 1981 to 2003, singled out US President George Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australia’s former prime minister John Howard as he wants to see them tried “in absence for war crimes committed in Iraq”.

The event was organised by the Ramadhan Foundation which is a leading British Muslim youth organisation working for peaceful co-existence and dialogue between communities."

Floss 10, substance 0

Elizabeth Edwards is the wife of one-time Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards. She has been on the road with her husband and seen at first hand how the media covers the whole election process and what the candidates are saying and doing. She is therefore pretty well qualified to comment on the media, as she does in an op-ed piece in the NY Times:

"The vigorous press that was deemed an essential part of democracy at our country’s inception is now consigned to smaller venues, to the Internet and, in the mainstream media, to occasional articles. I am not suggesting that every journalist for a mainstream media outlet is neglecting his or her duties to the public. And I know that serious newspapers and magazines run analytical articles, and public television broadcasts longer, more probing segments.

But I am saying that every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what …

Food, and not so glorious [availability of] food!!!!!

Forgive the play on the words of the song "Food, glorious food" from the musical "Oliver", as John Nichols writing in The Nation addresses the very serious, vexed and pressing issue of food and its ready availability all people around the world:

"The only surprising thing about the global food crisis to Jim Goodman is the notion that anyone finds it surprising. "So," says the Wisconsin dairy farmer, "they finally figured out, after all these years of pushing globalization and genetically modified [GM] seeds, that instead of feeding the world we've created a food system that leaves more people hungry. If they'd listened to farmers instead of corporations, they would've known this was going to happen." Goodman has traveled the world to speak, organize and rally with groups such as La Via Campesina, the global movement of peasant and farm organizations that has been warning for years that "solutions" promoted by agribusine…

Rupert kills the news

The previous post on "disseminating news" makes for an "interesting" juxtaposition to what is happening in New York - where Rupert Murdoch is near to cornering the newspaper world.

The Columbia Journalism Review [reproduced on AlterNet] reports:

"The abrupt resignation of Marcus Brauchli as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal is surprising even to those of us who saw News Corp.'s takeover of the Journal's parent as a journalistic disaster in the making.

The best account, as Ryan Chittum points out in our Opening Bell, is by Richard Perez-Pena in today's New York Times.

There will be some who say the resignation of an editor doesn't matter or that it is a good thing since we live in the best of all possible worlds. In fact, Brauchli's resignation is a billboard-sized sign that the world's leading financial publication is abandoning the qualities that made it great in the first place.

If Murdoch's bid for Dow Jones & Co. was the…

"Disseminating the news".....go to jail!

Zimbabwe 2008. The charge of "committing journalism". Eh?

Read the account of the NY Timesreporterarrested and imprisoned in Mugabe's Zimbabwe:

"I had never been arrested before and the prospect of prison in Zimbabwe, one of the poorest, most repressive places on earth, seemed especially forbidding: the squalor, the teeming cells, the possibility of beatings. But I told myself what I’d repeatedly taught my two children: Life is a collection of experiences. You savor the good, you learn from the bad.

I was being charged with the crime of “committing journalism.” One of my captors, Detective Inspector Dani Rangwani, described the offense to me as something despicable, almost hissing the words: “You’ve been gathering, processing and disseminating the news.”

And I’d been caught at it red-handed, my notes spread across my desk, my text messages readable on my cellphone, my stories preserved by Microsoft Word in an open laptop."

Meanwhile, on the topic of "…

Latin America: the attack on democracy

John Pilger, veteran reporter, writer and filmmaker, is never one to shy away from hiding a light on areas of government action where others just won't go or would rather ignore.

In his latest piece for Information Clearing House, he targets what is happening in South America:

Beyond the sound and fury of its conquest of Iraq and campaign against Iran, the world's dominant power is waging a largely unreported war on another continent - Latin America. Using proxies, Washington aims to restore and reinforce the political control of a privileged group calling itself middle-class, to shift the responsibility for massacres and drug trafficking away from the psychotic regime in Colombia and its mafiosi, and to extinguish hopes raised among Latin America's impoverished majority by the reform governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In Colombia, the main battleground, the class nature of the war is distorted by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known…

No equality here....

Human Rights Watch in its latest report - Saudi Arabia: Male Guardianship Policies HarmWomen -once again brings to the fore an issue which the world would, seemingly, rather ignore - probably because of Saudi Arabian oil and a fear to upset the country's rulers.

"Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship of women and policies of sex segregation stop women from enjoying their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Saudi women often must obtain permission from a guardian (a father, husband, or even a son) to work, travel, study, marry, or even access health care.

The Saudi government sacrifices basic human rights to maintain male control over women. Saudi women won’t make any progress until the government ends the abuses that stem from these misguided policies.

In a 50-page report, “Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia,” Human Rights Watch draws on more than 100 interviews with Saudi women to …

Sshh! Mustn't offend the Chinese

truthdig.com reports in a piece "The High Price of Diplomacy with China" on an intriguing court case underway in the US and the Bush Administration doing its darnedest to stop it going forward lest it upset Chinese-American relations:

"The Bush administration is trying to scuttle a federal human rights lawsuit that threatens to embarrass one of China’s top political leaders. The administration says the case could jeopardize trade and “has already had a chilling effect on U.S.-China relations,” documents show.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. district court, accuses Bo Xilai—a member of China’s elite Politburo and until recently the country’s trade minister—of controlling and directing forced labor camps where inmates were beaten, suffocated and killed.

The abuses occurred while Bo was governor of Liaoning province between 2001 and 2004, before he was named China’s minister of commerce, according to the complaint.

If the lawsuit goes forward, the Bush administration arg…

An infamous letter

As the world knows the Israeli's continue, unabated, with the development and expansion of settlements - despite the so-called Oslo Accord and various undertakings, the latest as recent as the Annapolis Conference last November, that they would not expand the settlements.

Now, The Washington Post reports that the Israelis claim to have got the green light from none other than George W a few years back to go right ahead with those settlements:

"A letter that President Bush personally delivered to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four years ago has emerged as a significant obstacle to the president's efforts to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians during his last year in office.

Ehud Olmert, the current Israeli prime minister, said this week that Bush's letter gave the Jewish state permission to expand the West Bank settlements that it hopes to retain in a final peace deal, even though Bush's peace plan officially calls for a freeze of Israe…

Hilary: A very valid question

Hilary Clinton may have won the latest Democratic primary but Robert Scheer, writing in TheNation, poses more than a valid question:

"How proud the Clintonistas must be. They have learned how to rival what Hillary once termed the "vast right-wing conspiracy" in the effort to destroy a viable Democratic leader who dares to stand in the way of their ambitions. The tactics used to kneecap Barack Obama are the same as had been turned on Bill Clinton in earlier times, from radical-baiting associates to challenging his resolve in protecting the nation from foreign enemies. Senator Clinton's eminently sensible and centrist--to a fault--opponent is now viewed as weak and even vaguely unpatriotic because he is thoughtful. Neither Karl Rove nor Dick Morris could have done a better job.

On primary election day in Pennsylvania, even with polls showing her well ahead in that state, Hillary went lower in her grab for votes. Seizing upon a question as to how she would respond to a n…

Rewriting [falsifying or sanitising?] history on Wikipedia

"A pro-Israel pressure group is orchestrating a secret, long-term campaign to infiltrate the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia to rewrite Palestinian history, pass off crude propaganda as fact, and take over Wikipedia administrative structures to ensure these changes go either undetected or unchallenged.

A series of emails by members and associates of the pro-Israel group CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), provided to The Electronic Intifada (EI), indicate the group is engaged in what one activist termed a "war" on Wikipedia."

Startling! - and disgraceful conduct by certain pro-Israel groups. So reports The Electronic Intifada in what seems to be well-documented evidence of certain groups, in effect, seeking to "corrupt" Wikipedia.

America through Arab eyes

Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of The Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

Writing in the IHT he reports on a survey of people in Arab countries on their attitude to the US and Americans.

"One of the most important regular surveys over the past decade is the Annual Arab Public Opinion Poll, conducted by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland with the respected polling firm Zogby International.

The latest survey, conducted in March, covered a representative sample of over 4,000 people in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (1.6 percent margin of error). It provides a good overview of Arab public opinion on key issues of the day, and deserves study every time it comes out.

This year's poll revealed strong and widespread opposition to American policies in the region. This is not particularly newsworthy, as this has been known for years, …

Clueless in American

It is generally accepted that Americans are, by and large, dis-interested in anything outside their own country. It just doesn't rate on their radar. Just look at the relatively small number of Americans who hold a passport. As for the media's coverage of events outside the US it is almost a wasteland.

With the upcoming presidential election Bob Herbert, writing his op-ed column in the NYTimes, "Clueless in America", reflects on how education just has been a consideration of any of the candidates.

"The nation’s future may depend on how well we educate the current and future generations, but (like the renovation of the nation’s infrastructure, or a serious search for better sources of energy) that can wait. At the moment, no one seems to have the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S.

An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless yo…

A book without a real plot?

The coup by Melbourne University Publishing [MUP] that it will publish former Treasurer Costello's memoirs leads one to question what the book will actually reveal, if anything.

Crikey has already weighed in with it's thoughts on the matter:

"Don't expect to see much of the Costello who begged off a fight for the leadership after Downer imploded, or who spent 11 years as Treasurer without a serious policy agenda, who let his Prime Minister turn a Coalition Government into the most appallingly profligate pack of porkbarrelers in Australian history, who didn't have the stomach to seriously pursue his leadership ambitions even after being repeatedly snubbed and insulted by Howard. Even after it was clear Howard was leading the party over the precipice."

And:

"It's typical of Costello, though, that even months after declaring he was pulling the pin, he still hovers at the edges of the political scene, unwilling to plunge in but seemingly unable to walk away.…

So, is the US still top [power] dog?

The New Yorker has an interesting feature article "After America":

"Every so often, a grand thesis captures the world’s imagination, at least until it is swept away by events or by a newer, more plausible thesis. The latest one to do so, in policy think tanks, universities, foreign ministries, corporate boardrooms, editorial offices, and international conference centers, is that America’s time of global dominance is finished, and that new powers, such as China, India, and Russia, are poised to take over. It’s an idea that has had as much currency within the United States as elsewhere.

All great empires set too much store by predictions of their imminent demise. Perhaps, as the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy suggested in his poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” empires need the sense of peril to give them a reason to go on. Why spend so much money and effort if not to keep the barbarians at bay?"

Soaring to busting level

The Age reports on some staggering data on the obesity of Australians - now and going forward:

"Obesity is the new tobacco and poses a major threat to Australia's economic future, a group of internationally renowned health experts warns the Prime Minister.

In an open letter to Kevin Rudd, the specialists call for the obesity epidemic to be top of the 2020 Summit agenda, claiming the nation has put on 2.4 million kilograms since federal Labor came to power.

The four acclaimed professors say obesity should be treated as a "national emergency" and given the same health priority status as smoking, HIV and immunisations.

Paul Zimmet, director of the International Diabetes Institute, Mark Nelson, chair of general practice at the University of Tasmania, nutrition expert Ian Caterson and metabolic health specialist Stephen Colagiuri, both from Sydney University, say the epidemic already costs $21 billion a year and the problem is growing.

"In the 120 days since the Governme…

The "debacle" which cannot be ignored

Once again the mainstream media has been shown severely lacking in reporting on a major Report on the Iraq War.

The Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) is a policy research and strategic gaming organization within NDU serving the Depart- ment of Defense, its components, and interagency partners. Established in 1984, the institute provides senior decisionmakers with timely, objective analysis and gaming events and supports NDU educational programs in the areas of international security affairs and defense strategy and policy. Through an active outreach pro- gram, including conferences and publications, INSS seeks to promote understanding of emerging strategic challenges and policy options.

Coming from the Pentagon's premier educational institution the Institute's latest Report "Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath" [go here to read the full Report] should not be ignored - especially as it concludes that the Iraq War has been a &qu…

It's nothing but gang warfare

As always Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, is spot on in his assessment of the newly increased warfare between the Palestinians and Israelis:

"On both sides of the fence locking in the Gaza Strip, there is a war of desperation going on. Hamas is fighting against the insufferable siege that the Gaza Strip has been under for many months, and the Israel Defense Forces is mostly preoccupied with avenging Hamas' actions. Both sides are busy with displays of power and retaliation. It was sufficient to hear last week the commander of an IDF company, which lost three of its men, who called on his troops to kill as many terrorists as possible and to destroy the area from which the attacks came, to understand that the differences between the two opposing sides are increasingly becoming distorted.

The ethical differences are also being blurred. For example, if the B'tselem report is correct, and the IDF has resumed using flechette tank shells, then killing is being done without disti…

Words and actions don't match

8 August for the opening of the Olympics draws ever nearer. Correspondingly the issues surrounding the Chinese Government's recent actions reflect grave concern that its vows to the IOC on how it will deal with the Olympics on a range of issues, notably freedom for its citizens and the foreign press, will not, in fact, be met.

The Washington Post reports:

"China has spent billions of dollars to fulfill its commitment to stage a grand Olympics. Athletes will compete in world-class stadiums. New highways and train lines crisscross Beijing. China built the world's largest airport terminal to welcome an expected 500,000 foreign visitors. Thousands of newly planted trees and dozens of colorful "One World, One Dream" billboards line the main roads of a spruced-up capital. The security system has impressed the FBI and Interpol.

But beneath the shimmer and behind the slogan, China is under criticism for suppressing Tibetan protests, sealing off large portions of the cou…

Blooms without the scent

Roses are red, violets are blue.....but without scent it seems.

The Independent [as reproduced on CommonDreams] reports on new scientific research which finds that flowers are losing their scent:

"Pollution is dulling the scent of flowers and impeding some of the most basic processes of nature, disrupting insect life and imperilling food supplies, a new study suggests.

The potentially hugely significant research - funded by the blue-chip US National Science Foundation - has found that gases mainly formed from the emissions of car exhausts prevent flowers from attracting bees and other insects in order to pollinate them. And the scientists who have conducted the study fear that insects’ ability to repel enemies and attract mates may also be impeded.

The researchers - at the University of Virginia - say that pollution is dramatically cutting the distance travelled by the scent of flowers. Professor Jose Fuentes, who led the study, said: “Scent molecules produced by flowers in a less p…

Olympic torches dubious birth

The Olympic torch relay started out with significant protests in Paris, London and San Francisco. In other places the progress of the torch through the particular city has had to be curbed. This week, the torch reaches Canberra in Australia. Protesters and supporters will line up whilst the Government has warned that any sort of violence will not be tolerated.

But where does this whole idea of the Olympic torch relay come from? The NYTimes reveals its dubious "birth" and heritage in "The Relay of Fire Ignited by the Nazis":

"If you want to know how the Olympic torch really began its “Journey of Harmony,” as the Chinese call its current relay, if you want to see why the torch has had to pass through a human obstacle course composed of protesters, SWAT teams and police in San Francisco, Paris and London, then do not look to Tibet’s grievances against China. Look to the opening of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 film, “Olympia.”

In that homage to Berlin’s 1936 …

"Thank you, and now goodbye."

"Encapsulating the mood, about three months after the invasion, a graffito appeared on the plinth of the famously toppled Saddam statue. The graffito said, "All done, go home." I think that summed it up. It's the same sentiment I remember hearing on great march of [Shia] pilgrims through Karbala within three or four weeks of the toppling of the statue -- "Thank you, and now goodbye."

The invasion referred to above is, of course, that of Iraq now just over 5 years ago.

Jonathan Steele is a senior correspondent and columnist for London's Guardian newspaper. He made eight reporting trips to Iraq between 2003 and 2006. His new book Defeat: Why They LostIraq was recently released in the United States. AlterNet caught up with Steele to talk about his book in a Q & A session - here.

Forget the facts....just manipulate the news

The NY Times reports, today, in a report "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand" how the Pentagon has "manipulated" the news since 2005:

"In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pr…

Passover.....and a message lost

Jews around the world are celebrating Passover - remembering the exodus and liberation from Egypt and being led into the land of Canaan by Moses.

Pivotal to the celebration is an abiding concern for the oppressed and those in need. For a people of the Book and said to be a "light unto the Nations" Israeli's actions in the West Bank and Gaza certainly do not reflect the spirit of the Passover.

Perhaps it was coincidental, but on the eve of the Passover The Independent featured a piece "Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army":

"In shocking testimonies that reveal abductions, beatings and torture, Israeli soldiers confess the horror they have visited on Hebron".

And:

"The maltreatment of civilians under occupation is common to many armies in the world – including Britain's, from Northern Ireland to Iraq.

But, paradoxically, few if any countries apart from Israel have an NGO like Breaking the Silence, which seeks – through the experiences of the…

Get used to a different world!

From TomDispatch.com:

"It's strange that the business and geopolitics of energy takes up so little space on American front pages -- or that we could conduct an oil war in Iraq with hardly a mention of the words "oil" and "war" in the same paragraph in those same papers over the years. Strange indeed. And yet, oil rules our world and energy lies behind so many of the headlines that might seem to be about other matters entirely.

Take the food riots now spreading across the planet because the prices of staples are soaring, while stocks of basics are falling. In the last year, wheat (think flour) has risen by 130%, rice by 74%, soya by 87%, and corn by 31%, while there are now only eight to 12 weeks of cereal stocks left globally. Governments across the planetary map are shuddering. This is a fast growing horror story and, though the cry in the streets of Cairo and Port au Prince might be for bread, this, too, turns out to be a tale largely ruled by energy: Too …

Let's hear the Hamas position

Hamas is vilified and not recognised by Israel, the US and the EU. Never mind that it was the party which, legitimately, won the elections in Gaza. The organisation certianly doesn't have a good track record i many levels not least from a public-relations angle.

Now Jimmy Carter has met the Hamas leader - and in the process attracted considerable condemnation for doing so. Read about that here [from the Washington Post] and Forward's "take" on the visit [here]

But what about Hamas? Do we really know what they stand for and want? What better person than Mahmoud al-Zahar, a surgeon, and a founder of Hamas - he was foreign minister in the government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, which was elected in January 2006 - to clarify things, as he does in this piece "No Peace Without Hamas" in The Washington Post.

Reuters reports on the Carter visit, here, in relation to an address given by Carter at the American University in Cairo - when he described th…

Fisk: Meet the Man

Robert Fisk, author and journalist, and based in Beirut for some 30 years now, is well known - and either revered or reviled.

The Guardianunplugs the man:

"Robert Fisk is one of the most famous journalists in the world, and one of the most divisive. Many revere him both for the muscular quality of his reporting - in a world numbed by 24/7 television, he makes news seem gripping and important and full of pity - and for his refusal to shy away from saying that which few other writers dare to put down on the page. No one escapes the heat of his ire: neither Bush nor Blair, neither Israel nor the Arab dictatorships. For him, journalism is about 'naming the guilty' and sod the consequences. In his more than 30 years as a Middle East correspondent - during which time he has survived bombs, bullets, two kidnap attempts and, perhaps most notoriously, a thorough beating at the hands of a group of Afghan refugees in Pakistan - he has won more awards than any other foreign news journ…

Internal displacement

We read and hear about refugees, by the millions, in camps dotted around the world or literally "on the move" seeking either a safe haven or a new home. All too often the quest for a new "home" ends in some sort of tragedy - witness refugees dying in trucks moving from country to country or people drowning as they try and cross the seas from Africa to Europe.

But there is another group of people seemingly totally overlooked - those who are displaced internally in a country. Relief Webreports:

"In 2007, the estimated number of people internally displaced as a result of armed confl icts and violence passed the 26 million mark. This is the highest fi gure since the early 1990s, and marks a six per cent increase from the 2006 fi gure of 24.5 million. The increase resulted from a combination of continued high level of new displacements (3.7 million) and a lower level of return movements (2.7 million) in 2007.

Three countries had signifi cantly larger internally…

Torture? Go for it!!!!

An "interesting" web site Condi must GO, here, well worth having a look at.

As the site says:

"America will not stand for a Secretary of State who approved torture and then misled Congress. We call on the Presidential candidates to ask Secretary of State Rice to resign".

There has been talk of Rice as VP to presidential aspirant McCain.

By the way this is the same Condi Rice who in a [Freudian?] slip of the tongue referred to George Bush "as my husband".........!!!!

On the subject of the White House sanctioning torture also worth reading is this piece on AlterNet "Torturers in the White House: Why Is This Story Being Ignored?".

Anyone looking for lost luggage?

Travel light, or without luggage at all, might be the go - if this report on TravelMoleis accurate:
"A total of 42.4 million bags were mishandled or delayed in 2007 by airports and airlines last year, new figures show.

The air transport industry lost $3.8 billion because of growing pressures on baggage management linked to passenger volumes, tight aircraft turnaround times, and heightened security measures.

The industry is estimated to handle around 2.25 billion pieces of checked baggage every year.

The single largest cause of baggage delay was in transfer baggage mishandling at 49%, down from 61% in 2005.

This was followed by ticketing error/ passenger bag switch/ security/ other, 14%; failure to load, 16%; space-weight restriction, 5%; loading/offloading error, 5%; tagging errors, 3%; and arrival station mishandling, 8%.

The statistics come from SITA, the IT provider which tracks passenger baggage worldwide for the air transport industry."

Is Google evil?

We all know that "googling" has entered main-stream language. Some would say one can't live without the Google facility even if only a small-time user of the internet.

Perhaps we ought not be all that comfortable about Google and all that entails. Mother Jones in a piece "Is Google evil?" explains:

"Every search engine gathers information about its users—primarily by sending us “cookies,” or text files that track our online movements. Most cookies expire within a few months or years. Google’s, though, don’t expire until 2038. Until then, when you use the company’s search engine or visit any of myriad affiliated sites, it will record what you search for and when, which links you click on, which ads you access. Google’s cookies can’t identify you by name, but they log your computer’s IP address; by way of metaphor, Google doesn’t have your driver’s license number, but it knows the license plate number of the car you are driving. And search queries are win…

"Are Americans unusually stupid?"

"Are Americans unusually stupid or is it something our president put in the water? ? As millions surrender their homes and sacrifice other standards of our nation’s economic and political reputation to the caprice of the Bush-Cheney imperium, a majority of voters tell pollsters that they might vote for a candidate who promises more of the same.

Assuming that likely voters are not now thinking of yet another Republican president simply because John McCain is the only white guy left standing—an excuse as pathetic in its logic as the decision four years ago to return two Texas oil hustlers to the White House because they were not Massachusetts liberals—must mean that tens of millions of Americans have taken leave of their senses.

If not the white-guy syndrome, why would even a shocking minority of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama supporters say they prefer McCain to the other Democrat? How otherwise to explain the nation’s widespread bipartisan rejection of the Bush presidency and yet…

Praise, not pillory, him

The news overnight has been that in yet another clash between the Israelis and Palestinians, 3 Israeli soldiers were killed and 19 Gazans. It is reported that some of the Palestinians were children.

Meanwhile, former US President is visiting the Middle East - and plans on meeting the leadership of Hamas. Needless to say that intended visit has drawn flack from the usual suspects, including Israeli leadership, as The Guardian reports:

"Jimmy Carter faced a cold reception in Israel yesterday where senior political leaders avoided meeting him and the Israeli secret service declined to help the American agents guarding him".

However, Haaretz editorialises in "Our debt to Jimmy Carter" that Carter ought to be praised and supported in his move, not condemned:

"The government of Israel is boycotting Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, during his visit here this week. Ehud Olmert, who has not managed to achieve any peace agreement during his publ…

60 years on.....no destiny!

As Israel approaches its 60th birthday, Uri Avnery writes on Information Clearing House:

"Next month, Israel will celebrate its 60th anniversary. The government is working feverishly to make this day into an occasion of joy and jubilation. While serious problems are crying out for funds, some 40 million dollars have been allocated to this aim.

Bur the nation is in no mood for celebrations. It is gloomy.

From all directions the government is blamed for this gloom. "They have no agenda" is the refrain, "Their only concern is their own survival." (The word "agenda", with its English pronunciation, is now fashionable in Israeli political circles, pushing aside a perfectly adequate Hebrew word.)".

And:

What does all this mean? That there is no agenda? No, it means that behind the fictitious agenda, which appears in the media, there hides another agenda that does not meet the eye.

"THE HIDDEN agenda is opposed to peace. Why?

"Conventional wisdom ha…

More time off!

"Oh, to be able to read a book! To lie down on the beach and hear just the waves breaking instead of all that rush-hour traffic! To have time to just sit there, instead of always doing something!

Or that's how I imagine the internal conversations of the poll respondents. Ezra Klein points out that leisure time was rated more desirable in the poll than careers, marriages and having children".

Really no surprise that the above reflects what Americans want - as found by the Pew Research Centre's national public opinion survey - as reported, and considered, in a piece in Nation.

Read on here.

Muslims, the Koran and secular law

Shahram Akbarzadeh is deputy director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, University of Melbourne. He is therefore well-qualified to write on Muslims in Australia.

In a piece in today's Australian newspaper "Muslim majority wants secular law" Akbarzadeh writes:

"There is a presumption about Muslims' inability to live under secular rule that rests on the view that they live by strict Koranic codes that are incompatible with the modern way of life in Australia. This is false on two grounds.

First, most Australian Muslims are not affiliated with any religious organisation, do not attend mosque or send their children to Islamic schools. They may pray in the privacy of their homes but would not wear their religion on their sleeves. This group is best described as cultural Muslims.

Islam is the religion they are born into and proud of, and anything short of this would be tantamount to rejecting their heritage. Islam is part of their identity, as is…

Roll up, roll up... for the torture demonstration

Nothing better demonstrates the shallowness and indecency of the Bush Administration than the fact, as the US ABC TV network revealed last week, that CIA provided a "demonstration" of torture techniques at the White House.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Board takes up the issue in "Torture: Beyond thepale" on seattlepi.com:

"The image of CIA officers demonstrating and detailing torture techniques considered for use during detainee interrogations in the White House is one most Americans could probably never conceive. And yet, ABC News reported last week that senior Bush administration officials were privy to such presentations in the Situation Room as they discussed and approved the brutal treatment (such as waterboarding) of terror suspects. They also approved combining various techniques to be used on a suspect.

Included in the group were Vice President Dick Cheney, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (currently a lead contender for vic…

Now you see it, now you don't!

One might have thought that as the Obama-Clinton show grinds on, and with the ever-looming presidential election, that the war in Iraq might rank highly on the political agenda in the US. Not so. By all accounts the populace just don't want to know. It's a bit of yawn!

It's a subject that veteran journalist, Frank Rich, addresses in his weekly op-ed column "Why Americans Are Tuning out the Disaster in Iraq" in the NY Times[reproduced on AlterNet]:

"Most Americans don’t want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time.

That’s why last week’s testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker was a nonevent beyond Washington. The cable networks duly presented the first day of hearings, but only, it seemed, because the show could be hyped as an “American Idol”-like competition in foreign-policy one-upmanship for the three remaining pres…

Afghanistan: In reverse mode

Waleed Aly, writing an op-ed piece in The Age, "War Without Freedom", paints a depressing picture of life in Afghanistan - especially for its women - despite all the expectations and promises that with the Western nations moving in that things would get better for the country and its people :

"Afghanistan used to be our feel-good war. The regime really did turn out to have links with terrorists, and al-Qaeda suffered heavy losses there, at least until we invaded Iraq and breathed life into global terrorism. But above all, Afghanistan delivered the altruism of liberation long after similar ideals evaporated in the violent chaos of Iraq.

With the Taliban gone, and Hamid Karzai installed as President, freedom would be irrepressible. The people of Afghanistan would once more be enchanted by music and warmed by the glow of television.

Most symbolic were the Afghan women. No more beatings, no more repression, and especially, no more burqas. They would march in the Taliban's …

Judging the judges-to-be

There are probably few countries in the world where a person nominated to be a justice of the highest court in the land is subjected to an "interrogation" by members of the legislature. Unusually, the US is one of those countries.

There have been questionable nominations - and confirmations. Clarence Thomas is one those.

The NY Times in an editorial counsels the Senate Judiciary Committee to take their task more seriously and probe more deeply, given a study just released which shows that what is said to the Committee is mostly not reflected in how the justice acts when on they eventually get onto the Bench.

"It is hard to imagine a more solemn responsibility than confirming the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. And we have worried, especially in recent years, that nominees are far too carefully packaged and coached on how to duck all of the hard questions.

A new study supports our fears: Supreme Court nominees present themselves one way at confirmation hearings b…

Tibet, the Olympics and China's youth

Matthew Forney, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time, is writing a book about raising his family in China.

From a different, and perhaps an "inside" perspective, on how the youth of China view all the brew ha-ha in relation to Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the upcoming Olympics, writing an op-ed piece in the NY Times Forney says:

"Many sympathetic Westerners view Chinese society along the lines of what they saw in the waning days of the Soviet Union: a repressive government backed by old hard-liners losing its grip to a new generation of well-educated, liberal-leaning sophisticates. As pleasant as this outlook may be, it’s naïve. Educated young Chinese, far from being embarrassed or upset by their government’s human-rights record, rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people you’ll meet.

As is clear to anyone who lives here, most young ethnic Chinese strongly support their government’s suppression of the recent Tibetan uprising. One Chinese friend who has a…