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Showing posts from June, 2008

Seymour Hersh on preparing the battlefield

Veteran reporter Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, on what he describes as preparing a battlefield against Iran as that country ramps up its nuclear program - and what he says is the Bush Administration stepping up its secret moves against Iran:

"In June, President Bush went on a farewell tour of Europe. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, the President and First Lady of France. The serious business was conducted out of sight, and involved a series of meetings on a new diplomatic effort to persuade the Iranians to halt their uranium-enrichment program. (Iran argues that its enrichment program is for civilian purposes and is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Secretary of State Rice had been involved with developing a new package of incentives. But the Administration’s essential negotiating position seemed unchanged: talks could not take place until Iran halted the program. The Iranians have repeatedly and cate…

Actions speak louder than words.....

The Israelis can say what they like about seeking some sort of resolution with Palestinians, but actions speak louder than words. This report from The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information not only says much about Israel's "conduct" - but can only be described as disgraceful:

"The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information “ANHRI.Net”condemns the detention of Palestinian Journalist Mohammad Omer Mughir by Israeli Occupation Forces. Muhammad was detained, assaulted and interrogated on June 27th upon his return to Gaza after receiving the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. The young journalist returned to Gaza from the London ceremony and was subsequently seized and detained by the Israeli Military for several hours. During his detention he was assaulted, stripped, beaten, and interrogated about his trip to London and about the press award, which he received.

The international prize was awarded to Muhammad Omer Mughir for a series of newspaper article…

Gitmo Mark II?

Another travesty of "justice" American-style is about to rear its head. This time it's not Gitmo, but another facility, Bagram, in Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reports in this piece "In Courts, Afghanistan Air Base May Become Next Guantanamo":

"Human rights groups and activists have become increasingly concerned about the U.S. military prison at Bagram, about 40 miles north of Kabul. The prison has grown steadily over the years and has about 600 detainees, military officials said. The military is planning to spend $60 million to build a new, larger facility that would house the same number of captives but could accommodate as many as 1,000.

Some of the Bagram prisoners have been there since 2002, activists said. Although the vast majority were picked up in Afghanistan, activists and lawyers say at least a few were arrested in other countries.

"It provides a convenient place to hold people who you might not want the world to know you are holding…

Blogging benchmarks

The Economist has an interesting piece on blogging, whose doing it, attempted crackdowns on bloggers by governments and the Global Voices Conference presently underway in Budapest:

"What do Barbra Streisand and the Tunisian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, have in common? They both tried to block material they dislike from appearing on the internet. And they were both spectacularly unsuccessful. In 2003 Ms Streisand objected to aerial photographs of her home in Malibu appearing in a collection of publicly available coastline pictures. She sued (unsuccessfully) for $50m—and in doing so ensured that the pictures gained far wider publicity.

That self-defeating behaviour coined the phrase “Streisand effect”, illustrated by an axiom from John Gilmore, one of the pioneers of the internet, that: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” But the big test of the rule is not whether it frustrates publicity-shy celebrities. It is whether it can overcome governments’ d…

Dispatches from postwar Vietnam

There are many out there who fought in the Vietnam War. Many were drafted to fight and had no alternative in the scheme of things. Perhaps coincidentally, what is happening in Iraq now is being compared to what turned out to be the debacle of the Vietnam War.

Mike Carlton, who usually writes acerbically in his weekly op-ed piece in the SMH this week writes about having been fighting in Vietnam and his return for the first time recently:

"Vietnam, mon amour. When I left Saigon in 1970 after my bit part in Richard Nixon's invasion of Cambodia, I swore I would never return. The search for lost time can only end in tears, I told myself.

My wife eventually talked me into going back. Warily, I went.

It was marvellous. We have just spent 12 days in Vietnam on one of the most delightful holidays I can recall.

The truly remarkable thing - the humbling thing - was the warmth of the Vietnamese people. Given the horrors they have endured, that was about the last thing I expected.

In the w…

Torture v humanity

Bob Herbert writing his regular op-ed piece in the NY Times:

"Thursday was the 21st anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

It was also the same day that two Bush administration lawyers appeared before a House subcommittee to answer questions about their roles in providing the legal framework for harsh interrogation techniques that inevitably rose to the level of torture and shamed the U.S. before the rest of the world.

The lawyers, both former Justice Department officials, were David Addington, who is now Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and John Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. There is no danger of either being enshrined as heroes in the history books of the future.

For most Americans, torture is something remote, abstract, reprehensible, but in the eyes of some, perhaps necessary — when the bomb is ticking, for example, or when interrogators are trying to get information from terrorists willing to kill Americans in huge number…

Democracy isn't a foreign word

Amnesty International, in Australia, has for the last months specifically taken up the cause of oppression in China in the light of the upcoming Olympics. To that end, Antony Loewenstein has been writing a regular column "Uncensor" honing in on the internet in China.

With the Olympics now some 6 weeks away, the latest column by Loewenstein raises some interesting issues to reflect on:

"Is the West afraid of Chinese patriotism? Some Chinese bloggers think it is but remain aware of the ways in which such sentiments could be misunderstood around the world. One wrote:

“…I love the country, and fervently so. But regardless of how passionately patriotic I am, my goal is to see China be able to continue its economic development, social stability, and continuous political reforms so as to keep up with the times…This is what worries me every time I see patriotism rising up again, wondering if it will completely ruin international relations. Will it ruin our economic growth?”

A r…

Books not Bombs

Nicholas Kristof makes more than a valid point as a result of his travels in the Middle East. Remember, this is the man who wrote an op-ed piece in the NY Times the other day "The Two Israels" [see an earlier posting on MPS].

In his latest piece in the NY Times, "Books not Bombs", Kristof writes:

"The dirty little secret of the Iraq war isn’t in Baghdad or Basra. Rather, it’s found in the squalid brothels of Damascus and the poorest neighborhoods of East Amman.

Some two million Iraqis have fled their homeland and are now sheltering in run-down neighborhoods in surrounding countries. These are the new Palestinians, the 21st-century Arab diaspora that threatens the region’s stability.

Many youngsters are getting no education, and some girls are pushed into prostitution, particularly in Damascus. Impoverished, angry, disenfranchised, unwanted, these Iraqis are a combustible new Middle Eastern element that no one wants to address or even think about.

American hawks …

Stark stats

The truce - note, not a ceasefire - between Israel and Hamas looks decidedly shaky after only a few days.

Meanwhile, Medicins Sans Frontiers in its publication Inter Action provides these rather stark, and bleak, stats on the Palestinian territories at a glance:

Total population: 3.9 million

Life expectancy: 72.9

Refugee population:
4.4 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and
Lebanon
1.3 million living in refugee camps

Percentage living below the poverty line [AUD $2.45 per day]
Gaza: 80 per cent
West Bank: 46 per cent

Inside Zimbabwe. Living on Pennies

Given that President [should that read Dictator?] Mugabe has banned all foreign journalists it is near-enough impossible to find out what is really happening in Zimbabwe.

This week, Newsweek carries an article on what life is like inside Mugabe's near-enough collapsed country:

"In response to his critics who say Zimbabwe cannot much longer withstand the failed economy, the million percent a year hyper-inflation, the food and political and diplomatic crises, Robert Mugabe has defiantly said, "Countries don't collapse." So far he's been right; reports of his regime's imminent collapse are at least six years old now. Here in Bulawayo, the nation's second-largest city, there is at first glance proof of that. It's in a region plagued by drought, following a winter harvest in the southern Matabeleland region that nearly completely failed; unemployment is 85 percent, while relief groups with few exceptions have been ordered to cease their activities. And …

No Blood for... er... um...

"More than five years after the invasion of Iraq -- just in case you were still waiting -- the oil giants finally hit the front page…

Last Thursday, the New York Times led with this headline: "Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back." (Subhead: "Rare No-bid Contracts, A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards.") And who were these four giants? ExxonMobil, Shell, the French company Total and BP (formerly British Petroleum). What these firms got were mere "service contracts" -- as in servicing Iraq's oil fields -- not the sort of "production sharing agreements" that President Bush's representatives in Baghdad once dreamed of, and that would have left them in charge of those fields. Still, it was clearly a start. The Times reporter, Andrew E. Kramer, added this little detail: "[The contracts] include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today's prices: the [Iraqi oil] minist…

Gaza, Hamas, Palestinians and the future

Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London).

Writing on CounterPunch Baroud reflects on where things are headed with Hamas, PM Abbas , Gaza and the West Bank and where things are seemingly headed by Israel:

"Meanwhile, recent news reports spoke of assurances made by Abbas to the anxious Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that his offer of dialogue with Hamas would be conditional. Why condition talks among brethren while allowing Israel endless benefit of the doubt in stretching out a meaningless "peace process" while allowing its army to kill children like Hadeel at will?

Perhaps Abbas, and the angry minister in the BBC report, are confused about the Palestinian state Israel tirelessly promises. "The future Palestinian state must be established according to Israel…

Another [positive] dimension to Google

A lot of things can be said about Google - both positive and negative - but one part of its "work" will probably prove to be a welcome dimension, as this Inside Google Book Search explains:

"If I handed you a book and asked whether it was in copyright or in the public domain, you'd probably turn to the copyright page first. Unfortunately, a copyright page can't answer that question definitively -- at best, it could tell you when the book in your hands was published, and who owned the rights to it at that time. Ownership can change, though: rights revert back to authors, and after enough time has passed, the book enters into the public domain, letting people copy and adapt it as they wish.

So how much time is "enough"? It varies, often depending on the country, on when the book was published, and whether the author is living. For U.S. books published between 1923 and 1963, the rights holder needed to submit a form to the U.S. Copyright Office renewing the…

The World's Top 20 Public Intellectuals

"Rankings are an inherently dangerous business. Whether offering a hierarchy of countries, cities, or colleges, any such list—at least any such list worth compiling—is likely to generate a fair amount of debate. In the last issue, when we asked readers to vote for their picks of the world’s top public intellectuals, we imagined many people would want to make their opinions known. But no one expected the avalanche of voters who came forward. During nearly four weeks of voting, more than 500,000 people came to ForeignPolicy.com to cast ballots.

Such an outpouring reveals something unique about the power of the men and women we chose to rank. They were included on our initial list of 100 in large part because of the influence of their ideas. But part of being a “public intellectual” is also having a talent for communicating with a wide and diverse public. This skill is certainly an asset for some who find themselves in the list’s top ranks. For example, a number of intellectuals—incl…

$20 Billion Later, Iraq Security Only Operating At 10 Percent

"The Government Accountability Office delivered on Monday what was, in many ways, a sobering report on the current situation in Iraq. Noting that violence levels in the war had decreased, the authors nevertheless concluded that many of the Bush administration's "surge" priorities had so far been unrealized.

The most startling illustration of the hindered strategy seems likely to be the current status of the Iraqi Security Forces -- the policing and military presence that is supposed to allow U.S. troops to come home. According to the GAO, the percentage of Iraqi units "capable of performing operations without U.S. assistance" remains roughly 10 percent. Thus, while the number of forces has risen by more than 150,000, the actual assistance that American troops are receiving is far more negligible. Adding salt to the wound, the GAO notes: "Since 2003, the United States has provided more than $20 billion to develop Iraqi security forces."

So writes Sa…

The Tipping Point has arrived

The Toronto Star reports on where we are at in climate control - at the tipping point:

“We have reached a point of planetary emergency,” he said.

“There are tipping points in the climate system, which we are very close to, and if we pass them, the dynamics of the system take over and carry you to very large changes which are out of your control.”

During a speech at the National Press Club, he rambled, as if his ideas were sprinting well ahead of his words, but he kept an overflow ballroom audience rapt.

Already, he said, the world’s safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been exceeded.

Yet, in the 20 years since he first testified, no major U.S. law restricting greenhouse gas emissions has been passed, 21 new coal-fired generating units have been built at power plants in this country and total U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide have climbed by about 18 per cent.

“If there is any single moment that marked the turning point where the climate issue became a serious public policy issue, Jun…

What First Amendment?

Americans always strongly defend their First Amendment of free speech. That has led to what can only be described a bizarre results.

It is therefore troubling to read this piece from Mondoweiss:

"I've failed to post anything about the University of Michigan Press's decision to stop distributing books by Pluto Press, a leftwing British publisher whose big offense was publishing Overcoming Zionism, by Joel Kovel. What is there to say other than that it's tragic? Kovel is for a one-state solution. His book exposed U of M to the usual letterwriting campaign and god knows what other forms of blackmail. It is something like Politics and Prose shutting down the book talk by Saree Makdisi, who is also for a one-state solution (a decision since reversed).

Roger van Zwanenberg, chairman of Pluto, said that there was no doubt in his mind but that for political opposition to a book critical of Israel, his press and Michigan’s press would still be doing business. “What this te…

Washington = Versailles?

Chris Hedges was a Pulitzer award winner at the NY Times and its one time Bureau Chief in Jerusalem.

Writing under the headline "The Hedonists of Power" on truthdig.com he takes a stick to the way Washington "operates":

"Washington has become Versailles. We are ruled, entertained and informed by courtiers. The popular media are courtiers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are courtiers. Our pundits and experts are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games. We are being had.

The past week was a good one if you were a courtier. We were instructed by the high priests on television over the past few days to mourn a Sunday morning talk show host, who made $5 million a year and who gave a platform to the powerful and the famous so they could spin, equivocate and lie to the nation. We were repeatedly told by these television courtiers, people like To…

Israel: Different dimensions

The French President has some sound advice for the Israelis when addressing the Israeli Knesset yesterday - as The Guardian reports:

"The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy told Israel today to share sovereignty over Jerusalem with the Palestinians and to stop building settlements in the occupied territories.

In an address to the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, Sarkozy also promised France's support in helping to halt Iran's nuclear programme and he praised Israel's democracy, comments for which he won applause.

However, he also spoke strongly about what he expected of Israel as part of the peace process with the Palestinians. "There cannot be peace without an immediate and complete halt to settlement," he said. "There cannot be peace without recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states and the guarantee of free access to the holy places for all religions."

At the NY Times, the newspaper, somewhat unusually - given its almost one-eyed support f…

Off the radar....almost

There may still be a war raging in Iraq, the Americans have something like 150,000 troops in the country - and the war is costing the US untold billions of dollars - and then there is that upcoming presidential election [what do the candidates intend to "do" about Iraq?], but it seems that the TV nightly news bulletins aren't really interested in providing any news of the Iraq War.

As the NY Times reports:

"According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspo…

Robert Fisk: Today's despot is tomorrow's statesman

Robert Fisk makes the point in this piece from The Independent - pointedly!

"How are the mighty fallen, we used to say. Now we turn it round. How did the fallen become mighty again? Remember the "mad dog of the Middle East" – Reagan's stupid clichĂ© – the "terrorist" sponsor who even sent a shipload of guns to the IRA? A certain Moammar Ghazzafi – there are 17 different ways of spelling his name in Latin script – was the crazed leader of Libya who wrote a mind-numbingly boring volume of pseudo philosophy called The Green Book and who wanted to mock the White House by calling his own palace the Green House until someone tipped him off that this would mean he would look even more of a cabbage than he already was.

Then suddenly, he gave up some imaginary weapons of mass destruction and Anthony Blair, now the commercial director of World Faith, went out to fawn over him in Tripoli and he was called "statesmanlike" by the absurd Jack Straw and then he wa…

These are wars for oil, not democracy

The news the other day that the four major oil companies are in the process tying up deals in Iraq serves to confirm what many informed people have said for years - as Eric Margolishighlights in this piece "These wars are about oil, not democracy" in theToronto Sun:

"The ugly truth behind the Iraq and Afghanistan wars finally has emerged.

Four major western oil companies, Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Total are about to sign U.S.-brokered no-bid contracts to begin exploiting Iraq's oil fields. Saddam Hussein had kicked these firms out three decades ago when he nationalized Iraq's oil industry. The U.S.-installed Baghdad regime is welcoming them back.

Iraq is getting back the same oil companies that used to exploit it when it was a British colony.

As former fed chairman Alan Greenspan recently admitted, the Iraq war was all about oil. The invasion was about SUV's, not democracy.

Afghanistan just signed a major deal to launch a long-planned, 1,680-km pipeline projec…

Is Google Making us Stupid?

There is no doubting that the internet, and what it has to offer, both good and bad, has revolutionised all our lives in a multitude of ways.

Nicholas Carr, writing in The Atlantic in "Is Google Making us Stupid?", ponders on whether the net has dulled our brains and ability to read books:

"Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else t…

15 numbers tell 7 years of history

From Le Monde diplomatique:

"After 9/11, George W Bush and his top advisers almost instantly launched their crusade against Islam and then their wars, all under the rubric of the “global war on terror”. (As Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld pungently put the matter that September, “We have a choice – either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live; and we chose the latter.”) By then, they were already heading out to “drain the swamp” of evildoers, 60 countries worth of them, if necessary. Meanwhile, they moved quickly to fight the last battle at home, the one just over, by squandering vast sums on an American Maginot Line of security. The porous new Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, the FBI, and other acronymic agencies were to lock down, surveil and listen in on America. All this to prevent “the next 9/11”.

In the process, they would treat bin Laden’s scattered al-Qaida network as if it were the Nazi or Soviet war machine (ev…

The tragic and wide-ranging fall-out from folly

The fallout of the Iraq War cannot be under-estimated. Not has the country been severely decimated but the repercussions for its people has been horrendous.

In a piece "Iraq's Refugees. America' Shame" on CommonDreams, Medea Benjamin deals with the refugees who have fled war-torn Iraq and the plight in which they now find themselves. As you read the piece reflect on the fact that the Coalition of the Willing, led by the US, unleashed this whole mess - and that this past week has been Refugee Week:

"The invasion and the ensuing spiral of violence has led to the most massive displacement in the Middle East since the creation of the state Israel in 1948. Some 1.2 million Iraqis fled to Syria before the Syrian government, its schools and hospitals overwhelmed and local people reeling from soaring rents and food prices, closed its doors in October 2007. The Jordanian government allowed some 500,000 Iraqis to enter the country but has also closed its borders.

So…

Fault Lines. Inside Rumsfeld's Pentagon

The Boston Review has an interesting article "Fault Lines. Inside Rumsfeld's Pentagon" which looks at what went on inside the Pentagon with regard to what has become known as the Iraq War - especially the perspective of Douglas Feith, neo-con supreme:

"Setting aside combat memoirs, of which there are a growing number, the literature of the Iraq War divides neatly into two categories. The first category, dominated by journalistic observers, indicts. The second category, accounts authored by insider participants, acquits. The two books reviewed here fall into the second category: They are exercises in self-exculpation. Pretending to explain, their actual purpose is to deflect responsibility.

Douglas Feith and Ricardo Sanchez are not exactly marquee figures. Yet each for a time played an important role in America’s Mesopotamian misadventure. From 2001 to 2005 Feith served in the Pentagon as the third-ranking figure in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) under Do…

Dangerous sabre rattling.....with a message?

The news that Israel engaged in some military manoeuvres earlier this month - flagging something to Iran and others? - has led to this announcement, as Reuters reports:

"The chief of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said in remarks aired on Friday that he would resign if there was a military strike on Iran, warning that any such attack would turn the region into a "fireball".

"I don't believe that what I see in Iran today is a current, grave and urgent danger. If a military strike is carried out against Iran at this time ... it would make me unable to continue my work," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamad ElBaradei told Al Arabiya television in an interview.

"A military strike, in my opinion, would be worse than anything possible. It would turn the region into a fireball," he said, emphasising that any attack would only make the Islamic Republic more determined to obtain nuclear power.

"If you do a military stri…

Israel's very own Gitmos

No doubt the naysayers will accuse the Arab press of fabrications or downright lies, but this piece in Al-Ahram Weekly on Line "Israel's very own Guantanamos" seems to confirm what has previously been reported elsewhere:

"Israeli maltreatment of Palestinian captives and political prisoners has reached unprecedented levels of brutality, according to lawyers, human rights groups and newly-released prisoners.

There are currently as many as 12,000 Palestinian detainees languishing in Israeli detention camps, many of them without charge or trial. They include hundreds of university professors, engineers, school teachers as well as religious and civic leaders, students, resistance fighters and women activists.

Two years ago, the Israeli occupation authorities abducted hundreds of democratically- elected officials, including mayors, members of local city councils, law-makers, and cabinet ministers, many associate with Hamas's political wing.

Israel employs a set of draconi…

Oil: Anatomy of a Price Surge

Who isn't being affected by the sharp rise in petrol [gas] as a consequence of the ever-spiralling cost of oil? But why has this come about?

Writing "Anatomy of a Price Surge" in The Nation, Michael Klare says:

"As the pain induced by higher oil prices spreads to an ever growing share of the American (and world) population, pundits and politicians have been quick to blame assorted villains--greedy oil companies, heartless commodity speculators and OPEC. It's true that each of these parties has contributed to and benefited from the steep run-up. But the sharp growth in petroleum costs is due far more to a combination of soaring international demand and slackening supply--compounded by the ruinous policies of the Bush Administration--than to the behavior of those other actors.

Most, if not all, the damage was avoidable. Shortly after taking office, George W. Bush undertook a sweeping review of US energy policy aimed at expanding the nation's supply of vital fu…

How many innocent people are going out of their minds today?

It is well worth posting this piece, in full, by George Monbiot in The Guardian - for, once again, it highlights the duplicitous behaviour of the White House etal:

"We shouldn't be surprised to hear that George Bush dined with a group of historians on Sunday night. The president has spent much of his second term pleading with history. But however hard he lobbies the gatekeepers of memory, he will surely be judged the worst president the United States has ever had.

Even if historians were somehow to forget the illegal war, the mangling of international law, the trashing of the environment and social welfare, the banking crisis, and the transfer of wealth from poor to rich, one image is stamped indelibly on this presidency: the trussed automatons in orange jumpsuits. It portrays a superpower prepared to dehumanise its prisoners, to wrap, blind and deafen them, to reduce them to mannequins, in a place as stark and industrial as a chicken-packing plant. Worse, the government was pr…

Dissent with a Chinese Face

From the Uncensored weekly column by Antony Loewenstein on Amnesty International's web site:

"During last weekend’s Chinese Internet Research Conference in Hong Kong, Hu Yong, Associate Professor at Peking University, said that after the Sichuan earthquake, many people initially started watching TV instead of the internet, but a group of civilian reporters quickly emerged.

Zhang Dong-Sheng, Editor-in-chief of QQ.com, argued that the earthquake reaffirmed the ability of the Chinese press to act like real journalists, but there were still a lot of restrictions.

Zhai Minglei, Editor-in-chief of 1 Bao, said that fear is what holds the Great Firewall together. A poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org even found great Chinese dissatisfaction with their rulers. Furthermore, a recent study of Chinese bloggers reveals that they are more likely to criticise the status quo than the state-run press. Solidarity is no longer possible.

These developments are undoubtedly signs of progress in China. The …

Lesson #1 How to Get it Wrong

In this op-ed piece "Strengthening Extremists" in the NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reflects on how Israel and the US got it so wrong in the way it has approached Hamas - and the consequences of doing so!

"When Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza and then seized full power a year ago, there were no good choices for Israel and America. Hamas includes terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists and ideologues, and it has cultivated ties with Iran. It has decent governance by the region’s devalued standards — it is not particularly corrupt; it delivers social services efficiently, and the streets are safe — but it runs a police state and alarms all its neighbors.

Of all the bad choices, Israel chose perhaps the worst. Punishing everyone in Gaza radicalized the population, cast Hamas as a victim, gave its officials an excuse for economic failures and undermined the moderates who are the best hope of both Israel and the Arab world.

If the U.S. and Israel had formed a Joint Com…

American President Pleads Guilty to Hopeless Idealism

The redoubtable Maureen Dowd, writing her column in the NY Times, gives an assessment of George W's visit to Britain and meeting with PM Brown:

"President Bush was in one of his oddly chipper moods when he arrived for dinner with Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street on Sunday night.

Maybe he was excited by the prospect of sharing some Gloucestershire beef, Yorkshire pudding and fruit trifle with a world leader more unpopular than he is.

centuries and Maybe he was happy to be having dinner with Rupert Murdoch and a covey of British historians who might agree with his contention to London’s Observer that “there’s no such thing as objective short-term history.” Just in case, though, the group dwelled on the 18th, 19th and 20thdidn’t talk about the 21st. And presumably, over the 1934 brandy that W. eschewed, the historian Simon Schama did not repeat his 2006 assessment that the president was an “absolute [expletive] catastrophe” or his analysis that long before Mr. Bush’s militant mis…

It's torture, torture, torture!

The White House can proclaim as much as it likes, as it did earlier today, that detainees were not tortured and treated "humanely" - but the evidence points totally the opposite way.

CNN.com reports on a report by a well regarded group of medicos who examined detainees, never charged with anything, post their release by US authorities:

"Former terrorist suspects detained by the United States were tortured, according to medical examinations detailed in a report released Wednesday by a human rights group.

The Massachusetts-based group Physicians for Human Rights reached that conclusion after clinical evaluations of 11 former detainees, who had been held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan.

The detainees were never charged with crimes.

"We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse often causing lasting suffering," said Dr. Allen Keller, a medical evaluator for the study.

The doctors' group said …

Refugees. An issue to be resolved

Add climate change [think shortage of food, etc] into the mix - and just one reason for people wanting to relocate from their home-countries - and the flow of refugees is an ever-growing issue for many countries around the world. Yes, there is a cost of accommodating these essentially homeless people - but when one considers the extent of monies being spent on armaments, the massive cost of the Iraq War and simple government waste - all misdirected funding- the world needs to extend compassion and humanity to those who are genuine refugees.

The IHTreports:

"The number of refugees fleeing to other countries to escape conflict and persecution rose in 2007 for the second year as factors from climate change to overly scarce resources threatened to increase the flow, the United Nations refugee agency warned Tuesday.

A total of 11.4 million refugees were under the care of the agency, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2007, including about 400,000 experiencing…

Bloggers under real threat

In what must be seen as a most troubling trend, BBC News reports on the threat to bloggers around the world - and it's not only in what might be in the usual suspect countries:

"More bloggers than ever face arrest for exposing human rights abuses or criticising governments, says a report.

Since 2003, 64 people have been arrested for publishing their views on a blog, says the University of Washington annual report.

In 2007 three times as many people were arrested for blogging about political issues than in 2006, it revealed.

More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report."

And:

"It also noted that many nations, perhaps as many as 30, imposed technological restrictions on what people can do online. In nations such as China this made it difficult for people to use a blog as a means of protest.

The report pointed out that it is not just governments in the Middle East and East Asia that have taken steps against those publis…

Robert Fisk on a snapshot of life in Baghdad

"The refugee statistics are so appalling that they have become almost mundane. Four million of Iraq's 23 million people have fled their homes – until recently, at the rate of 60,000 a month – allegedly more than 1.2 million to Syria (a figure now challenged by at least one prominent NGO), 500,000 to Jordan, 200,000 to the Gulf, 70,000 to Egypt, 57,000 to Iran, up to 40,000 to Lebanon, 10,000 to Turkey. Sweden has accepted 9,000, Germany fewer – where an outrageous political debate has suggested that Christian refugees should have preference over Muslim Iraqis. With its usual magnanimity – especially for a country that set off this hell-disaster by its illegal invasion – George Bush's America has, of course, accepted slightly more than 500."

Robert Fisk, in his latest piece in The Independent, provides a "picture" of life in Baghdad.