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Showing posts from May, 2008

That Chinese earthquake - and repercussions

"Bloggers continue to monitor earthquake corruption, as they wait for the truth to come out as to why so many school buildings collapsed so easily in this month's massive earthquake.

The parents of children who died, though, aren't waiting. On Sunday a group from Mianzhu city took photos of their children and marched to the larger Deyang city to seek justice [zh] from Party officials there.

The problem goes back to criticism that many schools which completely crumbled in the earthquake were cut short and built to stand as sturdy as though made from tofu suds."

From Global Voices, "Sohu blogger Crisker offers photos from Mianzhu which us a better senseof what the childless parents there are feeling now". Check out the graphic photos here.

A Rogue Economist

"It is impossible to control the economy when the economy goes wild." Ben Eltham talks to author and terror funding expert Loretta Napoleoni

Loretta Napoleoni is an expert in money laundering, organised crime and the global black economy. She was one of the first people to interview notorious Italian terror group, the Red Brigades, and is a senior partner of G Risk, a London-based risk agency.
As Chairwoman of the counter terrorism-financing group for the Club de Madrid, Napoleoni brought Heads of State from around the world together to create a new strategy for combating the financing of terror networks. Her book Terror Incorporated was an international bestseller, while her latest book, Rogue Economics, examines the international black economy and the aftershocks of globalisation.

newmatilda.com caught up with the author whilst in Sydney for the Sydney Writer's Festival in a Q & A, here.

Desmond Tutu, suffering and David & Goliath

The Independent reports:

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu walked from his car and, his head lowered, paused for a moment's silent prayer or reflection at the alley where so many of the Athamneh family had been killed.

Then he stepped forward to the warm embrace of a tearful Saad Athamneh, 55, who lost three of his sons, all of them fathers, 18 months ago. "The siege is continuing," he told the venerable South African in a short speech of welcome outside the family home. "The US is controlling the Middle East. The Israelis killed my children while I was praying. Please come in and see what happened."

The Archbishop was visiting the still ravaged house in this northern Gaza town 17 months later than he had intended. He was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the Israeli shelling that killed 21 civilians – 18 of them Athamneh family members – on 8 November 2006."

Suffering, of a different kind, and one man taking on a mighty war-machine - shades …

White House: Insider spills the beans.....

His was a true insider at the White House. No lesser a person than George W's White House Press Secretary.

Talking about unloading on your former boss! The Washington Post reports on a book about to be released written by Scott McLellan, that former Press Secretary:

"Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes in a new memoir that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" led by President Bush and aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war."

McClellan includes the charges in a 341-page book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," that delivers a harsh look at the White House and the man he served for close to a decade. He describes Bush as demonstrating a "lack of inquisitiveness," says the White House operated in "permanent campaign" mode,…

Obama gets his history [facts?] truly muddled

Guy Rundle writing on Crikey on the US presidential election:

"So it's all Obama now, and I think the allegory may have exhausted itself. Goddamit, if this guy wins it won't be for want of trying not to. Today's genius move was to connect to a sense of history by noting that his grandfather had been part of the American forces liberating Auschwitz, after which said gentlemen 'went to the attic for six months' and didn't talk to anyone.

Powerful, moving stuff, the only problem being that of course the Americans didn't liberate the Polish camp Ozwiecim – it fell to the Soviets. Obama's uncle was part of the force that occupied Buchenwald, the largest death camp on German soil. Possibly Obama confused it with Birkenau, Auschwitz's companion camp run as a work for resource for IG Farben in that substantial part of the Holocaust that was a capitalist -run project.

Indeed, the story is doubly inaccurate in that the Americans didn't liberate Buchenwa…

World 'failing on human rights'

BBC Newsreports:

"World leaders are failing to tackle human rights abuses around the globe, Amnesty International says.

In an annual report, the group says people are still being tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries.

In at least 54 states they face unfair trial and cannot speak freely in at least 77 nations, the group adds.

It says world leaders should apologise for 60 years of human rights failures since the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948."

And:

Launching the document, Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan said: "Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today.

"The human rights flashpoints in [Sudan's] Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar [Burma] demand immediate action.

"2007 was characterised by the impotence of Western governments and the ambivalence or reluctance of emerging powers to tackle some of the world's worst human rights crises."
Ms Khan stressed that &q…

Israel: Criticise = ban from country

Israel is always touted as the only true democracy in the Middle East. Its actions the other day in banning an American academic who has been critical of Israel's policies from both entering the country on a visit, and a further 1o years, is hardly the action of a truly democratic State. But, then, Palestinians in Israel have for years not been accorded equal right on a range of matters.

Glenn Greenwald, writing on Salon, in "Israel imposes a 10-year ban on American critic of Israelipolicies" takes up the issue:

"On Friday, Israeli security forces, Shin Bet, detained Norman Finkelstein when he tried to enter Israel, kept him in an airport holding cell for 24 hours, ordered him deported from the country, and then imposed a 10-year ban on his entry. Finkelstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor, is a Jewish-American author and academic who has frequently criticized the Israeli Government and provoked extreme animosity among right-wing factions in the U.S. He had flo…

New Rules for the Middle East

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 an op-ed piece in the IHT he reflects on how the last weeks have seen some sizeable shifts underway in the Middle East as some countries and parties grapple with some of the issues confronting them - without the "involvement" of the US.

"The accord that has resolved the immediate political crisis in Lebanon is the latest example of the new political power equation that is redefining the Middle East. It reflects both local and global forces, and 18 years after the Cold War ended, provides a glimpse of what the post-Cold War world will look like - at least in the Middle East.

Several dynamics seem to be at play, but one stands out as paramount: We are witnessing the clear limits of the projection of American global power, combined with the assertion and coexistence of multiple regional powers…

Myanmar, China and Iraq

On TomDispatch.coman evaluation and consideration on the earthquake in China, the tsunami in Myanmar and the Iraq War:

"The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, with its 225,000 or more deaths in 11 countries, shocked the world; so, in recent weeks, has the devastation wrought by a powerful cyclone (and tidal surge) that hit the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar. It resulted in at least 78,000 deaths (with another 56,000 reported missing) and a display of recalcitrance on the part of a military junta focused on its own security while its people perish. Similarly, a devastating earthquake in China's Sichuan Province that hit 7.9 on the Richter scale and whose tremors were felt 1,000 miles away has swept into the news. Its casualty count has already reached 51,000 with unknown numbers of Chinese still buried in rubble or cut off in rural areas and so, as yet, untallied, and an estimated five million people homeless.

These are staggering natural disasters, hard even to take in, and yet it's…

Environgees

This piece, "Climate Destruction Will Produce Millions of 'Envirogees'", on AlterNet, "welcomes" you to a new dimension in this 21st century - and a new word in our collective lexicons.

"Chew on this word, jargon lovers. Envirogee.

It carries more 21st century buzz than its semi-official designation climate refugee, which is a displaced individual who has been forced to migrate because of environmental devastation. Maybe the buzzword will catch on faster and shed some much-needed light on what will become a serious problem, probably by the end of this or the next decade. That light is crucial, because so far envirogees haven't been fully recognized by those who certify the civil liberties of Earth's various populations, whether that is the United Nations or local and national governments whose people are increasingly on the move for a whole new set of devastating reasons.

In short, immigration is about to enter a new phase, which resembles an old …

Iran: The Internet and Women

On one level one can only despair at the way Iran - and indeed other nations in the Middle East - treat their women.

Yahoo! Newsreports:

"Iranian authorities have blocked access to several websites and blogs of women's rights advocates and journalists critical of the government, a press report said on Tuesday.

The move follows a new directive sent out by a committee tasked with identifying illegal websites to Internet service providers, the reformist Etemad Melli newspaper said without giving a source.

"There seems to be a tougher approach this time as some sites and weblogs belonging to women's rights and human rights campaigners, writers critical of the government and well-known journalists" have been singled out, it said.

Internet providers in Iran have in recent years been told to block access to hundreds of political, human rights and women's sites and weblogs for expressing dissent or deemed to be pornographic and anti-Islamic.

The report said several femini…

The Wisdom of Talking

John Kerry, US Senator and the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2004, writes in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post:

"As President Bush commemorated Israel's 60th anniversary by attacking Barack Obama from overseas, here at home he found an all-too-frequent ally: John McCain.

When Bush accused "some" -- including Obama, Bush aides explained -- of "the false comfort of appeasement," McCain echoed this slander.

"What does he want to talk about with [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?" McCain asked, fumbling to link Obama to the Iranian president's hateful words. Soon, a GOP talking point was born.

Lost in the rhetoric was the question America deserves to have answered: Why should we engage with Iran?

In short, not talking to Iran has failed. Miserably.

Bush engages in self-deception arguing that not engaging Iran has worked. In fact, Iran has grown stronger: continuing to master the nuclear fuel cycle; arming militias in Iraq and Lebanon; bolstering ext…

The Internet v censorship

The NY Times editorialises in "Joe Lieberman, Would-Be Censor" on a topic which is, er, topical - censorship and the internet.

"The Internet is simply a means of communication, like the telephone, but that has not prevented attempts to demonize it — the latest being the ludicrous claim that the Internet promotes terrorism.

Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is trying to pressure YouTube to pull down videos he does not like, and a recent Senate report and a bill pending in Congress also raise the specter of censorship. It is important for online speech to be protected against these assaults.

Mr. Lieberman recently demanded that YouTube take down hundreds of videos produced by Islamist terrorist organizations or their supporters. YouTube reviewed the videos to determine whether they violated its guidelines, which prohibit hate speech and graphic or gratuitous violence. It took down 80 videos, but left others up. Mr. Lieberman said that was “not enough,” and demanded tha…

Oil: Thank you George, Tony & John for petrol [gas] costing us all more

The facts are in - well, certainly according to one expert. The Iraq War, initiated and executed by the Coalition of the Willing [thank you George W, Tony B and John Howard] is the prime cause for the now substantial rise in the cost of oil. Needless to say that rise in the cost of oil will, as it already has, cause world-wide inflation.

The Independent reports:

"The invasion of Iraq by Britain and the US has trebled the price of oil, according to a leading expert, costing the world a staggering $6 trillion in higher energy prices alone.

The oil economist Dr Mamdouh Salameh, who advises both the World Bank and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (Unido), told The Independent on Sunday that the price of oil would now be no more than $40 a barrel, less than a third of the record $135 a barrel reached last week, if it had not been for the Iraq war.

He spoke after oil prices set a new record on 13 consecutive days over the past two weeks. They have now multiplied sixfold si…

Water - The Key to Securing Food in the Future

It might seem obvious, but a new Study, as reported on CommonDreams, details how water will be the key in the future if we are to secure food for all the world's peoples.

"The ongoing food crisis, characterized by growing shortages and rising prices of staple commodities, has far reaching implications for the world’s scarce water resources, says a new study released here.

“More food is likely to come at a cost of more water use in agriculture,” according to the report titled “Saving Water: From Field to Fork“.

The emerging challenges facing the food sector include growing water scarcity; unacceptably high levels of under-nourishment; the proliferation of people who are overweight or obese; and of food that is lost or wasted in society.

“All these challenges mean that a narrow perspective on food security in terms of production and supply is no longer sufficient,” the study notes.

It’s time to take a broader perspective incorporating the steps from growing crops in the field to con…

Inside the Guantánamo terror trials

A rare insight into a so-called trial at Gitmo - as published on Salon:

"As a former federal defender, I've been to countless court hearings, but Wednesday was the first time I had to take a speedboat, equipped with two M2 50-caliber machine guns, to get to court. That's because Wednesday was also my first experience with the military commissions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, where the U.S. government is putting 15 terror suspects on trial.

The first hearing was an arraignment of Mohammad Kamin, a thin, frail Afghan, estimated to be about 30 years old, whom the United States accuses of providing material support for terrorism by receiving arms training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan for several months in 2003.

Although Kamin was apprehended five years ago, he was not charged with a crime until March 2008. Wednesday was his first judicial hearing.

It was also the first time the judge, Air Force Col. W. Thomas Cumbie, presided over a military commission, and the first t…

The new Goldas

As always, Gideon Levy, writing his regular op-ed piece in Haaretz, is on the money:

"They are both modern women, successful in their fields, well-dressed, born in Israel, both speak fluid, unaccented Hebrew, they look Israeli and up-to-date. And here's the surprise: Golda Meir, the undeniable symbol of the founders' generation and of an anachronistic Israel, who we thought we were well rid of, speaks from their mouths.

As if 40 years hadn't come and gone, as if fashion hadn't changed. Tzipi Livni and Limor Livnat still wear "Golda's shoes." How embarrassing. Foreign Minister Livni says "the Palestinians will be able to celebrate independence only once the word nakba has been erased from their lexicon, while former education minister Livnat wants Arabic revoked as an official state language. The heirs of the one who said that "there were no such thing as Palestinians" have forgotten everything - and learned nothing. They are with us her…

Rotten general must be brought to justice for crime against humanity

Anyone who has observed what happened in Burma and the aftermath - in particular the military regime's indifference to the suffering of its people - will readily agree with MikeCarlton in his op-ed piece in today's SMH:

"If hell exists, there ought to be an especially fiery corner set aside for Senior General Than Shwe, the pudding-faced thug who heads the junta which controls Burma, or Myanmar as he would like us call his wretched country.

You might have seen him on television this week, ostentatiously dispensing neatly wrapped gift boxes to grateful victims of the cyclone that left who knows how many Burmese dead, injured and homeless. It was a grisly propaganda charade. Sleek in elevated heels and a tailored uniform encrusted with enough medals to embarrass even an old-style Soviet marshal, smiling like an alligator, he posed as the bountiful father of the nation.

The reality is rather different. The medals, we can safely assume, were won waging war on his own people. Th…

The Library in the New Age

"When strung out in this manner, the pace of change seems breathtaking: from writing to the codex, 4,300 years; from the codex to movable type, 1,150 years; from movable type to the Internet, 524 years; from the Internet to search engines, nineteen years; from search engines to Google's algorithmic relevance ranking, seven years; and who knows what is just around the corner or coming out the pipeline?

Each change in the technology has transformed the information landscape, and the speed-up has continued at such a rate as to seem both unstoppable and incomprehensible. In the long view—what French historians call la longue durée—the general picture looks quite clear—or, rather, dizzying. But by aligning the facts in this manner, I have made them lead to an excessively dramatic conclusion. Historians, American as well as French, often play such tricks. By rearranging the evidence, it is possible to arrive at a different picture, one that emphasizes continuity instead of change. T…

Talking with the Enemy. Yes or No?

Depending on where you sit in the scheme of things you either talk, or don't talk, with the enemy!
That is the position which emerged this past week or so as America urged the Israelis not to talk to the likes of Hamas or Syria - but Israel has done just that.

In an editorialForward reflects on talking with the enemy and who ought to decide what is good for Israel:

"There’s something almost comical in the timing of announcements last week that Israel had achieved diplomatic breakthroughs with foes on its northern and southern fronts. The word came out during the very week that Republicans were mounting their fiercest attacks yet on liberals who favor negotiating with those same enemies. Once again, Israel’s self-appointed defenders in this country were out peddling notions of what’s good for Israel that bear little resemblance to what Israel actually wants. Liberals, thrown on the defensive, were absurdly forced to pledge, in the name of Israel’s defense, that they would never d…

Hang your heads Howard, Ruddock and Downer

Richard Ackland - lawyer, commentator and journalist -reflects in his weekly op-ed piece in the SMH, on David Hicks, Gitmo and the military commission there and PM Howard and Ministers Ruddock and Downer.

Bottom line Ackland, rightly, concludes that the 3 former Government ministers ought to hang their collective heads in shame:

"I wonder if, in the time-out room of their souls, the former government's doughty little foot soldiers of freedom feel the odd shiver of embarrassment or shame.

The extent to which Messrs Howard, Ruddock and Downer were prepared to subvert some sacred principles might have brought normal mortals unstitched. But by all appearances they have kept their chins up and their rectitude unexamined.

The principle that they nearly wrestled to the ground and choked to death was that of the "fair trial".

As they abandoned David Hicks, an Australian citizen, to the spectacularly bogus "judicial" regime at Guantanamo Bay, we were told repeatedl…

The Reminder-General

"The past has nothing of interest to teach us." That, fears Tony Judt, is the presiding assumption of the early twenty-first century. The speed of social and economic change, the exhaustion of the twentieth century's dominant ideologies and a desire to put the horrors of that century's carnage behind us all conspire, he believes, to encourage a culture of forgetting. And this belief frames and justifies his sense of his own role; he appoints himself the Reminder-General in contemporary society (or at least in the United States), a particular version of the historian as public intellectual."

And:

"In his introduction, Judt claims that two main themes run through the book: first, "the role of ideas and the responsibility of intellectuals"; and second, "the place of recent history in an age of forgetting." I'm not sure that these are, in practice, the salient themes, but the announcement does fairly represent the insistent, exigent tone o…

Israel's Palestinian Polstergeist

"Only a reconciling of our celebration with Palestinian loss will we finally begin to deal with the presence “in our country” of another people with equal claims and rights, paving the way to a just peace, reconciliation and the securing of a Jewish national presence in the Land of Israel – whatever political form that might take. Difficult as it may be, such a reassessment may in fact allow us to achieve Zionism’s original and ultimate aspiration: a genuine homecoming of the Jewish nation to the hearth of its civilization. Our dybbuks and the Palestinian poltergeist will be finally put to rest. Now that will be cause for genuine, unfettered celebration."

Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). In his piece, above, on CounterPunch, he deals with what he describes as Israel's Palestinian Polstergeist - the Palestinians in its midst and the whole issue of Palestinian dispossession.

Right is Wrong

Alternet publishes an extract from Arianna Huffington's new book, Right is Wrong:

"The most sweeping takeover of the new millennium didn't take place among the telecoms or the big oil companies, or in Silicon Valley. It took place in Washington, but we can see and hear and feel its effects nationwide on our televisions, radios, and computer screens. And America is much the worse because of it. I'm talking about the takeover of the Republican Party by its own lunatic fringe, and the Right's hijacking of America.

Ronald Reagan's GOP has been replaced by the dark, moldering, putrefied party of Bush, Cheney, Rove, Limbaugh, and Coulter. Morning in America has given way to Midnight in America.

Yes, the Republican Party has always had its far-right cowboys, its Jesse Helmses and Spiro Agnews. Yet they were removed from the party's more sober core.

But these days, judging by the opinions and actions of the Republicans in office and the party's candidates for pres…

Obama utilises the internet to advantage

BBC News reports on how modern technology, the internet, has been used to great effect by Obama in his quest to become the Democratic party's nomination as presidential candidate:

"With Barack Obama moving close to victory in the Democratic presidential primary campaign, the internet has proved one of the key tools to his success. And it may well give the Democrats a big advantage during the Presidential race itself .

The internet has been moving to the mainstream of political life in the US for some years.
But in this presidential cycle it has been particularly important for the Obama campaign, which was starting from scratch with few resources and little name recognition.

The internet favours the outsider, and gives them the ability to quickly mobilise supporters and money online.

And the more nimble use of the internet by the Obama campaign in its early stages helped him overcome the huge initial lead of Hillary Clinton in the presidential nominating race."

Ralph Nader reports from inside Google

Ah, Google! "Googling" and everything that goes with it, has crept into the lexicon. It's unquestionably a monolith on many levels - perhaps even a dangerous one.

Presidential aspirant and gad-fly Ralph Nader, writing on CounterPunch, reports on a visit to inside the Google behemoth:

"An invitation to visit Google’s headquarters and meet some of the people who made this ten year old giant that is giving Microsoft the nervies has to start with wonder.

The “campus” keeps spreading with the growth of Google into more and more fields, even though advertising revenue still comprises over 90 percent of its total revenues. The company wants to “change the world,” make all information digital and accessible through Google. Its company motto—is “Do No Evil,” which comes under increasing scrutiny, especially in the firm’s business with the national security state in Washington, D.C. and with the censors of Red China.

Google’s two founders out of Stanford graduate schoo…

Shock at the Pump!

Today's news that the cost of gas [petrol in some countries] at the pump - reflecting the rise in cost of a barrel of oil - is a cause of a concern on many levels. There is even talk of the cost of a of oil reaching US$200 a barrel.

Writing under the headline "Paying for War at the Pump" in truthdig.com Robert Scheer says:

"McCain’s strategy is clearly that of distracting attention from the calamitous economy by sounding the demagogue’s alarm about enemies at the gate. This week, McCain again blasted Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on the grounds that he underestimated the threat from Iran while ignoring the vast increase in Iran’s power—an increase actually resulting from Bush eliminating Iran’s only effective enemy, Saddam Hussein. The other winners in this folly have been the oil kingdoms that Hussein periodically threatened, led by the Saudi royal family. Seizing upon the opportunity presented by the 9/11 attacks, Bush knocked off not the Sau…

Madness! A gun with every new vehicle.....

One might have thought that some sort of responsibility would prevail in the US - at least now post various shootings and multiple deaths as a result - but Americans remain wedded to their guns.

Incredible it might be, but as Jonathan Turley reports:

"Walter Moore of Max Motors in Butler, Missouri recently had a brainstorm. What is the other thing beside a car that everyone should have. The answer is obvious: a semi-automatic handgun. Putting the lead back into American cars . . .

Moore is also offering free gas, but the firearms appear more popular with the car-driving set of Butler.

One snared customer Jerry Hertzog put it simply: “Love guns, we all need to have guns. Guns or gas or fuel, I’ll take the gun anytime.” Even the local sheriff is not opposed. Now, that will put the car back into carbine."

All [hopefully?] is now revealed.....

It has been 3 years coming, but a Justice Department Report just released in the US paints a damning picture of the CIA's methods of interrogation and implicates the White House in not stopping what were, clearly, illegal and improper interrogation methods.

The LA Times reports:

"FBI agents who assisted with overseas interrogations of suspected terrorists after Sept. 11 often clashed with their military counterparts and refused to participate in the most aggressive intelligence-gathering methods because they doubted they were legal or effective, a long-awaited Justice Department audit found.

At the same time, the report released Tuesday by Inspector Gen. Glenn A. Fine faults officials at FBI headquarters for failing to provide prompt guidance to agents in the field on what to do if they witnessed interrogations using snarling dogs, sexual ploys and other abusive techniques that violated long-standing FBI policy.

The audit also found that, as early as 2002, agents were raising que…

China's Inauspicious Year

"Two thousand and eight was to have been an auspicious year for China. But the year has been anything but.

In January, a wave of polite demonstrations over planned urban development washed over Shanghai. Then freak snowstorms left 200,000 citizens stranded and angry over the government's failure to deal with the emergency. Next, demonstrations and riots broke out in Lhasa, Tibet's main city, and beyond. The flame of the Olympic torch relay was nearly doused by international protests and threats of a boycott. And now the catastrophic Sichuan earthquake has claimed as many as 50,000 lives, rendering millions homeless and raising fears of significant damage to the country's infrastructure.

And it's only May. No matter what happens next, 2008 is shaping up to be one of the most eventful and tragic years in recent Chinese history. And the way the Chinese people and the Communist Party leadership have risen to meet these unforeseen events challenges us in the West to reth…

Does it want or need those sort of friends?

Uri Avnery writing on Information Clearing House reflects on recent visitors to Israel - most of whom, if not all, are the sort of friends Israel could well do without:

"Lately we are flooded with friends. The Great of the Earth, past and present, come here to flatter us, to fawn on us, to grovel at our feet.

“God, save me from my friends, my enemies I can deal with myself!” says an old prayer.

They disgust me.

Let’s take, for example, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her pandering was free of any criticism and she reached new heights of obsequiousness in her speech to the Knesset. I was invited to attend. I relinquished the privilege.

I shall also pass the pleasure when I am invited to the session with the hyper-active Nicholas Sarkozy, who will try to break the flattery record of his German rival.

Before that we were visited by John McCain’s mentor, the evangelical pastor John Hagee, the one who described the Catholic Church as a monste…

The Amazing Money Machine

As Obama and Clinton slug out yet another, interminable, primary election today - and Clinton seems set to throw in the towel - to an outsider the amount of money being thrown into the campaigning in the US, by both parties, is truly staggering.

In a piece in The Atlantic, Joshua Green addresses what he sees as the almost awesome power of Obama to garner financial support of tremendous proportions - from perhaps an unexpected quarter:

"History has a way of prizing timeless qualities like vision and oratory above temporal things like money. So if Barack Obama becomes our nation’s first black president, civics textbooks will probably never note his fund-raising prowess or the financial challenges he had to overcome simply to compete with the likes of Hillary Clinton. But Obama would not be where he is today if he did not possess a preternatural ability to elicit huge sums. Obama prompts an impulse in people to reach for historical antecedents when describing him—as a speaker, Martin …

PEN: A Writing Chance

From the New Yorkers Book Department:

"In protest of human-rights violations in China leading up to the Beijing Olympics, International PEN is conducting its own Olympic relay, with a poem in place of the iconic torch. The poem, “June,” by Shi Tao, an imprisoned Chinese journalist, addresses the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, but ends with an image eeriely evocative of the recent earthquake in Sichuan province:

June, the earth shifts, the rivers fall silent
Piled up letters unable to be delivered to the dead

As the poem circles the globe (via the Internet), it is being translated into local languages (ninety thus far, including Kurdish, Náhuatl, and Darug). Recordings from different countries are posted on the relay Web site, where you can track the poem’s progress on a map and read about other imprisoned writers. This month, the poem is travelling through China; it is scheduled to arrive in Tibet on June 2nd.—Jenna Krajeski"

All the President's Nazis (Real and Imagined):

Writing in The Huffington Post, Larisa Alexandrovna writes an open letter to George W.

Assuming the matters Alexandrovna addresses are correct, then the US President has a past - and his own actions and words - which hardly make him worthy of political office, let alone president of the US.

"Your speech on the Knesset floor today was not only a disgrace; it was nothing short of treachery. Worse still, your exploitation of the Holocaust in a country carved out of the wounds of that very crime, in order to strike a low blow at American citizens whose politics differs from your own is unforgivable and unpardonable. Let me remind you, Mr. Bush, of your words today:

"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush said at Israel's 60th anniversary celebration in Jerusalem.

"We have heard this foolish delusion before," Bush said in remarks to Israel's pa…

Israel's Secret Fears

"Israel marks its 60th birthday in a climate of increasing racism, intolerance, corruption and militarism. A nation that has long seen itself as one of the most misunderstood is now almost unable to understand the world beyond its borders. Fear and anxiety provide the mood music of the celebrations.

The past decade has brought a sharp increase in anti-Arab sentiment, which finds many forms of expression, from sordid chants at sporting events ("Death to the Arabs") to blatant racism and attacks on Arab colleagues by right-wing pol iticians in the Knesset. In such an atmosphere, it is almost impossible for Arab citizens (or 1948 Palestinians) to identify with the state of Israel, despite the terms of their legal status. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult for them even to protect their civil rights and express themselves freely in public."

A gloomy assessment and prognosis at a time when there ought to be celebrating. Haim Baram, writing in a piece "Israel'…

An international conference without the main players

It's a familiar story. Pious words from the leaders of many major powers, but when it comes down to the wire, the rhetoric comes to nought.

So it will be with the forthcoming international conference in Dublin to address the use of cluster bombs. What countries are going to be missing? The US, China, Russia and Israel. That Israel won't be attending perhaps comes as no surprise being the most recent user of cluster bombs at the end of the Lebanon-Israel War in August 2006.

Spiegel OnLine International reports:

"International envoys are meeting in Dublin for a 12-day conference to hammer out a deal that would ban the use of cluster bombs. Big producers like the US and Israel will not be attending, while the pressure is on the UK to push to water down the treaty to prevent it undermining the NATO alliance.

Almost 10 years after the Ottawa Treaty banned the use of landmines, more than 100 countries are gathering on Monday to attempt to ban cluster bombs as well. Howeve…

o just where does the madness end? asks Robert Fisk

"I am not sure what was the worse part of this week. Living in Lebanon? Or reading the outrageous words of George Bush? Several times, I have asked myself this question: have words lost their meaning?"

So writes Robert Fisk in his latest piece for The Independent. He deals with the current position in Lebanon and his response to the Bush speech to the Israeli Knesset.

Read the full piece here.

They knew all along

This piece in truthdig.com calls for no comment. It speaks for itself:

"Truthdig tips its hat this week to former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne, who has defied her one-time higher-ups by speaking out about how military officials knew that a target list in April 2003 contained the name of Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, which was shelled by a U.S. tank on April 8 even though embedded reporters were staying there. Two journalists were killed in the attack; one of them even filmed his own death.

Kinne recently talked to “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman about the Palestine Hotel incident, describing how both she and one of her superiors, Warrant Officer John Berry, knew from an internal e-mail that the hotel was on the target list. Kinne, who knows Arabic and worked in military intelligence from 1994 to 2004, told Goodman she had approached Berry and said she was concerned that “there are journalists staying at this hotel who think they’re safe, and yet we have this hotel listed as a potential …

The Middle East - and double-speaking George W

The NY Times reports today on a George Bush speech in Cairo:

"After a showy celebration of America’s close ties with Israel, President Bush presented Arab leaders with a lengthy to-do list on Sunday, telling them that if Middle East peace is to become a reality, they must expand their economies, offer equal opportunity to women and embrace democracy.

“Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail,” Mr. Bush said in an address to the World Economic Forum here, adding, “The time has come for nations across the Middle East to abandon these practices, and treat their people with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Pity is, that Bush is engaged in double-speak and total hypocrisy. Just 2 examples. Israel has some 10,000 people imprisoned who have never been brought to trial. Basically, Israel's Gitmo. And if there is talk of free elections, Hamas won the Palestinian election. It is just that that isn't the…

What a damned cheek!

World War 4 Reportson what can only be described as the height of cheek by the Israelis - and an affront to Palestinians.

"Israel is demanding that the UN strike the word "Nakba" from its lexicon after an official statement released by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made specific reference to the Arab word meaning catastrophe—especially in reference to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands with Israel's inception in 1948. Israeli Radio quoted a Ban spokesperson as saying the secretary-general "phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stress his support for the Palestinian people on Nakba Day." Danny Carmon, Israel's deputy ambassador to the UN, told the radio that the term "Nakba is a tool of Arab propaganda used to undermine the legitimacy of the establishment of the State of Israel, and it must not be part of the lexicon of the UN."

The report said that Ban himself was surprised by the controversy created…

"This Advice Mr. Bush: Shut The Hell Up"

Keith Olberman, anchor on MSNBC's "Countdown" program "speaks" to George W:

"The war in Iraq, your war, Mr. Bush, is about how you accomplished the derangement of two nations, and how you helped funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to lascivious and perennially thirsty corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater, and how you sent 4,000 Americans to their deaths for nothing."

See a very angry Olberman on Information Clearing House.

Moyers: 'Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck'

Bill Moyers, highly regarded commentator and writer, in a new book "Moyers on Democracy" reflects on what he sees as American democracy being at the crossroads.

AlterNet has an extract from the book. Moyer's observations apply with equal force to countries other than the United States:

"Democracy in America is a series of narrow escapes, and we may be running out of luck. The reigning presumption about the American experience, as the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has written, is grounded in the idea of progress, the conviction that the present is "better" than the past and the future will bring even more improvement. For all of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, "The system works."

Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power -and to the claims of empire,…

Talking with Terrorists? Happens All the Time

George Bush addressed the Israeli Knesset yesterday in what might, rightly, be seen as a nauseating speech. Showing the US as virtually joined to the hip with Israel would have gone down like a treat with the Palestinians and many Arab nations. America the honest-broker in any peace negotiations? Hard to imagine!

In his speech Bush had a swipe at those who would engage in talking with terrorists. That has evoked an angry response from Obama who has seen Bush as attacking him.

On another level, Michael Goldfarb, writing in The Huffington Post, "Talking withTerrorists? Happens All the Time" puts the whole thing into perspective and against the reality test:

"There he goes again. George Bush. Talking the talk to create bloodshed where he never has to walk the walk. And scoring cheap political points while doing so.

President Bush calls people who talk to terrorist groups appeasers and implies Barack Obama should wear a Scarlet A where his American Flag lapel pin…

China: Growth + power = abuse?

China is, obviously, very much in the news now, not because of the upcoming Olympics, but due to the truly awful earthquake and the devastation and loss of life it has caused. That Olympic torch "issue" has left the headline news.

But what is China the country up to? Antony Loewenstein, writing on Amnesty International's web site Uncensor, directed to China's human rights record - what record many will say! - reflects on some of the facts relating to China's amazing growth. The question he also poses is whether with that power has there come an abuse of it.

"Amidst all the current stories about China and the Beijing Olympics, it’s easy to forget that the country has progressed extraordinarily fast in the past decade. Some facts are in order:

** 30,000: The expected number of Chinese MBA graduates in 2008. The number in 1998:
** 500: The number of coal-fired power plants China plans to build in the next decade
** 540 milli…

Guantanamo policy is winning few friends in the Muslim world

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer whose work on young Muslims navigating into and out of political Islam was awarded the 2007 Allen & Unwin Iremonger Award for public affairs writing.

Writing in The Age in a piece "Guantanamo policy is winning few friends in the Muslim world" he reflects on a visit to Indonesia and how Muslims, in general, view the West:

"What do Indonesian and other non-Western Muslims think of the West? In their recently published book Who Speaks for Islam?: What A Billion Muslims Really Think, John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed analysed data from a mammoth multi-year Gallup study surveying a sample of tens of thousands of Muslims from more than 35 countries and representing more than 90% of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.

Their study found that non-Western Muslims tend not to see the West as a monolith, and Muslims criticised or praised Western countries based on their politics and not on culture and religion. By and large, non-Western Muslims respec…

What is he on?

“The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced.’’

Who says? None other than John McCain, GOP presidential candidate, in a speech last night - as reported in the NY Times, here.