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Showing posts from July, 2009

The latest from Iran

The NY Times is moving with the times [no pun intended!] with its blog "The Lede" as it covers, in a most timely manner, events in Iran.

Go here to access the sight [and updates as they occur] for the latest from Iran. The blog has good links to other blogs dealing with the situation in Iran.

This is an unfolding "story".

Yikes! Texting whist driving - with attendant risk!

The NY Times reports in "In Study, Texting Lifts Crash Risk by Large Margin" on what ought to have been the very obvious - save those donkeys who couldn't see that texting whilst driving is potentially lethal:

"The first study of drivers texting inside their vehicles shows that the risk sharply exceeds previous estimates based on laboratory research — and far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions.

The new study, which entailed outfitting the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months, found that when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which compiled the research and plans to release its findings on Tuesday, also measured the time drivers took their eyes from the road to send or receive texts.

In the moments before a crash or near crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices — enough time at typical highway speeds to c…

Gaza: Flattened, occupied, sick and rootless

Whilst Israel continues to virtually imprison 1.5 million people in Gaza - having bombed them extensively during the recent Gaza war - it is hard to come by what is actually happening there. The Israelis have also effectively blocked journalists and others - yes, including aid workers - from entering Gaza.

Therefore crikey is to be commended for publishing a very up to date report from Gaza. It makes for sobering reading:

"The Gaza Strip, under siege for over three years by Israel and the Western powers, is utterly unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited. Over 70% unemployment, garbage strewn across many streets and in abandoned buildings, a thriving tunnel business from Egypt that brings in the essentials of life and Hamas gunmen on most street corners directing traffic and keeping cool in the searing heat.

The main image in the West of Gaza is of a fundamentalist Islamic regime bent on Israel’s destruction. Although there are worrying signs of an increasing intolerance of difference…

"Interesting" numbers

The GFC may still be on and the unemployment rate in the US set to rise over the next months, but last Friday the minimum hourly rate in America rose from US$6.75 to US$7.50. Now, there are many people around the world who work for less than that hourly rate for a whole month, but $7.50 an hour in supposedly the world's richest country?

It's worse if you are a waiter or waitress. The hourly rate is US$2.30, but if tips don't make the worker get to the minimum hourly rate, then the employer has to make up the difference. No wonder waitstaff are keen to please and employers have them do so.

Meanwhile, whilst the US is presently engaged in a heated debate about health insurance, a study recently concluded that 20% of Medicare patients return to hospital within a month of their initial discharge - at a cost of US$17 billion per annum.

Obama ignores torture

Writing on timesunion.com veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas - in fact the acknowledged doyen of the press corp - rightly highlights that the Obama Administration, despite all the rhetoric, is ignoring the torture its CIA and others are perpetrating:

"Secrecy is endemic in all governments. It goes with the turf, especially if their leaders hope to hide illegal or immoral behavior, such as torture of foreign prisoners.

"Many Americans heaved a sigh of relief last January when President Barack Obama banned the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It made the administration look more humane than the Bush-Cheney team. But that is not the whole story.

Obama left unaddressed the possibility of torture in secret foreign prisons under our control as in Abu Ghraib in Iraq or Bagram in Afghanistan, not to mention the 'black sites" sponsored by our foreign clients in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Thailand and other countries.

"The United States w…

75 million people looking for a new home

The Telegraph [UK] reports:

"More than 75 million people living on Pacific islands will have to relocate by 2050 because of the effects of climate change, Oxfam has warned.

A report by the charity said Pacific Islanders were already feeling the effects of global warming, including food and water shortages, rising cases of malaria and more frequent flooding and storms. Some had already been forced from their homes and the number of displaced people was rising, it warned.

"The Future is Here: Climate Change in the Pacific" predicted that many Pacific Islanders would not be able to relocate within their own countries and would become international refugees.

It urged neighbouring wealthy countries to take urgent action to curb their carbon emissions to prevent a large-scale crisis.

Half of the population of the Pacific live less than 1.5km from the coast and are incredibly vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather. But as well as moving out, the report found that some cou…

Afghanistan: Realist? - or in your dreams?

Realistic military analyst Tony Cordesman published a 28-page paper [PDF here] last on the US war in Afghanistan, which serves to establish fairly conclusively how un-winnable that US war has become.

Here's his lead sentence:

"There are no certainties in war, and the tasks that NATO/ISAF and the US must perform in Afghanistan go far beyond the normal limits of counterinsurgency. They are the equivalent of armed nation building at a time when Afghanistan faces major challenges from both its own insurgents and international movements like Al Qa'ida, and must restructure its government and economy after 30 years of nearly continuous conflict."

Contrast that with good ol' Thomas Friedman over at The NY Times having, who, having spent the last little while hanging out with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff writes:

"After spending a week traveling the frontline of the “war on terrorism” — from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan in the …

The internet, reading and writing.......

Mondoweiss[worth accessing every day] has a well-written and reflective piece on writing, the internet and journalism:

"My mother turned 80 and we had a party last night, and I had a conversation with an academic friend about monetizing the internet. She is worried that I won’t be able to support myself as a journalist. (So am I). And she is worried that she won’t be able to read good writing anymore. She gets pleasure from reading good writing.

Like every other journalist, I find these issues fascinating. But one problem in her formulation is the belief that the old system somehow created profit for good writing. It didn’t. Good writing was cleverly bundled within profitable enterprises and thus was subsidized by other parts of the enterprise. When Mark Bowden (he of Black Hawk Down) built up his African storytelling skills years ago by going off for months to write about the rhinoceros for the Philadelphia Inquirer, his salary wasn’t paid by his readers and the advertisers who fo…

Robert Fisk’s World: Lessons in justice and fairness from a no-nonsense historian

Robert Fisk writing in The Independent:

"Let us now praise famous men and their fathers that begat them. The famous man – he should be much more famous – is the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim whose wonderful "reappraisals, revisions and refutations" is coming out in September under the simple title: Israel and Palestine.

But to Avi's father first. I hope I tell the story correctly – Avi will be after me if I don't – but he first came to Israel from Iraq with his parents in 1950 and they found themselves in miserable circumstances, at least compared with the life they had left behind. And Avi's dad would always tell him: "The Jews have prayed for a state of their own for many generations – but they prayed in vain. Did it have to happen in my lifetime?!"

But to Avi. He recalls arguing with the late Edward Said – and there is a titanic voice to be ever missed, irreplaceable is the only word – over the Oslo agreement. Here is what Avi writes: "In the y…

Chomsky: Add Sri Lanka to the world's failures

From Syndicate TamilNet "Chomsky: Sri Lanka, a Rwanda-like major atrocity the West didn't care":

"Prof Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT, said Thursday during a United Nations forum on Responsibility to Protect (R2P), that what happened in Sri Lanka was a major Rwanda-like atrocity, in a different scale, where the West didn't care. "There was plenty of early warning. This [conflict] has been going on for years and decades. Plenty of things could have been done [to prevent it]. But there was not enough interest." Chomsky was responding to a question that referred to Jan Egeland, former head of UN's Humanitarian Affairs' earlier statement that R2P was a failure in Sri Lanka, where Inner City Press (ICP) noted that nearly 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed."

How 1% snaffle the bounty

truthout.org records how the wealthy have done very, very well for themselves in the USA notwithstanding the GFC:

"According to government figures, 1 percenters' share of America's total income is the highest it's been since 1929, and their tax rates are the lowest they've faced in two decades. Through bonuses, many 1 percenters will profit from the $23 trillion in bailout largesse the Treasury Department now says could be headed to financial firms. And most of them benefit from IRS decisions to reduce millionaire audits and collect zero taxes from the majority of major corporations.

But what really makes the ultra-wealthy so fortunate, what truly separates this moment from a run-of-the-mill Gilded Age, is the unprecedented protection the 1 percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues."

Continue reading the piece "One Percenters Enjoy Unprecedented Protection" here.

Report Card on Obama From a New Frontiersman

As polls suggest that Obama's popularity is dropping - although it far outranks that of George W, not that that is all that difficult! - more and more questions are being asked whether all the rhetoric and hype is actually being "translated" into positives.

William Polk - who served as the Middle East expert on the State Department's Policy Planning Staff during the Kennedy administration - writing on CounterPunch:

"Probably like most of you, I am engaged in a daily attempt to make up my mind about President Obama. I was an early supporter.

And as a former Washington "player," I am aware how difficult is his position. I began to worry when he failed to grasp what I have seen to be the early window of opportunity for a new administration -- the first three months -- when the government is relatively fluid. As the months have flown by, I have seen that there are many positive things, mainly in his eloquent addresses on world problems, notably his speech at …

No ordinary arrest this!

On the face it it was just another arrest of someone trying to break into a house in Boston.

But it wasn't an "ordinary" arrest at all, as events have clearly shown. No less importantly, what happened here has highlighted, not for the first time, racial profiling in the USA.

The Independent reports:

"Imagine, if you will, a professor at Cambridge, one of the most learned and best known scholars of his generation, being arrested by police after forcing the door of his house when the front lock jammed. Impossible, you will say. But that is what happened. Except the Cambridge in question is not in East Anglia, but a town in Massachusetts that is home to the British university's American equivalent, Harvard, and that Henry Louis 'Skip' Gates, the professor who lived at this most pleasant abode, is black.

Every now and then, a small incident crystalises a great issue, and the Gates affair is one of them. The issue is racial profiling, the pernicious habit of p…

Who's reading what you are?

The NY Times reports in "Advocates Ask Google for Privacy Guarantees in Online Library":

"Three advocacy groups have asked Google to commit to protect the privacy of readers in its book search service, which is poised for a major expansion under a pending class-action settlement. The groups, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, have asked Google to limit the data it collects about users’ reading habits, to commit to protect reader records by handing them over only in response to subpoenas or court orders, and to put into effect measures giving users control of their data."

You win some, you lose some

FT.com reports in "Obama restores America’s world standing":

"Barack Obama has restored America’s global standing to where it was before the Bush era, but many in the Muslim world remain hostile, according to a survey published on Thursday.

The Pew Research Center’s annual global attitudes survey indicated that people polled in 25 countries now had a more positive attitude towards the US. The exception was Israel, where approval dipped after President Obama courted the Muslim world in a June speech in Cairo."

Westminster debates Palestine and the Israelis

Sit back and read, with rapt attention, a debate and discussion at Westminster Hall about the situation of the Palestinians and the way the Israelis are conducting themselves.

An example of one MP:

"I have no quarrel with the people of Israel, but I do have a quarrel with the successive Israeli Governments whom some Israeli people chose to elect, and it is sad that the bright ambition for a better future of many Jews who move to Palestine has been tarnished by a state that is, although in many ways successful, in some ways a failed state. It has fallen out with most of its neighbours, so it cannot guarantee the security of its citizens, which is sad. I emphasise that I support the right of Israel to exist, and I also support a two-state solution, but how is that to be achieved, given the fragmentation of land, particularly in the west bank?"

Read more, and in full, here, on Australians for Palestine. The debate in the UK provides more evidence of the tide turning with regard …

Been there.....

"I had a flashback recently when I read a Washington Post news story about how the U.S. commander in Afghanistan thinks he may need many thousands more troops to win the war.
Shades of Vietnam. Do we ever learn?

It brought back memories of the late Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in Southeast Asia, who kept escalating the troop numbers after the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam. His strategy produced a debacle for us.

Fast forward to Afghanistan, 2009."

So begins an op-ed piece by Helen Thomas, the veteran correspondent at the White House writing in "Can America prevail on Afghanistan/Pakistan front? No!" on the StarTribune.com

War without Purpose

"Al-Qaida could not care less what we do in Afghanistan. We can bomb Afghan villages, hunt the Taliban in Helmand province, build a 100,000-strong client Afghan army, stand by passively as Afghan warlords execute hundreds, maybe thousands, of Taliban prisoners, build huge, elaborate military bases and send drones to drop bombs on Pakistan. It will make no difference. The war will not halt the attacks of Islamic radicals. Terrorist and insurgent groups are not conventional forces. They do not play by the rules of warfare our commanders have drilled into them in war colleges and service academies. And these underground groups are protean, changing shape and color as they drift from one failed state to the next, plan a terrorist attack and then fade back into the shadows. We are fighting with the wrong tools. We are fighting the wrong people. We are on the wrong side of history. And we will be defeated in Afghanistan as we will be in Iraq.

The cost of the Afghanistan war is rising. …

Bearing Witness

From The New Yorker:

"One of the most important cinematic events of the year is not a movie but a book: Claude Lanzmann’s autobiography, “Le Lièvre de Patagonie” (“The Patagonian Hare”), which was published in France in February. (It’s still awaiting English translation.) The story of “Shoah,” one of the most important movies ever made, takes up about a quarter of Lanzmann’s five hundred and fifty-seven pages. It’s a startlingly revealing book that, though unsparingly personal, transcends his own experience to unfold key themes of his life that have been proven, through his films, to be universal.

The dominant theme of the book is death. Lanzmann begins with the words “La guillotine,” launching into a riff on capital punishment, his youthful fear of execution, and the freight trains in which Jews were deported to concentration camps—all on the first page.

He describes a life lived in proximity to death: dealing with violence as a member of the French Resistance while still an adoles…

"Watch What We Do, Not What We Say"

Alexander Cockburn, writing on CounterPunch, evaluates the Obama Administration as it approaches 6 months in office and concludes that on many fronts it is a case of watch what we do, not what we say.

"Obama has been perfectly clear on so many pledges,on restoring constitutional protections such as habeas corpus, on respect for international treaties and covenants on torture and the treatment of prisoners, on eavesdropping and, when you take even a quick glance at what he’s done, he’s been perfectly awful on so many fronts."

Read the piece in full here. In many respects it makes for dispiriting reading - but is a reality check on Obama & Co.

A blot on the world's humanity

Many nations spend untold zillions on armaments and other things - much of which is of little practical help to the people of the world. Just think of what the US alone is spending on arms as against what is directed to medical research.

Now Reuters reports [as republished by CommonDreams] in "UN Reports Record Humanitarian Aid Shortfall" that the UN is severely short of money to fund humanitarian aid where needed around the globe. Surely a blot on the world's humanity and an indictment of where the priorities of many countries lie.

"The United Nations on Tuesday revealed a record $4.8 billion funding gap for its 2009 aid projects as a result of strained foreign assistance, widespread economic trouble and a ten-fold increase in needs in Pakistan.

Aisha, an eight-year-old internally displaced girl, holds a food pot outside the food distribution area of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Jalozai camp, about 140 km north west of Pakistan's…

Sunny, with storm clouds on the horizon......

Gideon Levy writes to the point in his latest op-ed piece "Israelis don't pay price for injustice of occupation" in Haaretz. The Israelis are warming themselves in the comfort of summer oblivious of, and disinterested in, what will doubtlessly befall them if they don't do something to resolve the Israel-Palestinian situation. In effect, the Israelis have adopted the ostrich approach of sticking their collective heads in the sand.

"The Israelis don't pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end. It will not end a moment before the Israelis understand the connection between the occupation and the price they will be forced to pay. They will never shake it off on their own initiative, and why should they?

Even the most cruel terrorist attacks to befall the country haven't instilled an understanding among the Israelis about the connection between cause and effect - between occupation and terrorism. Thanks to the …

From bread basket to basket case

The Thomas Friedmans of this world might be be praising all the positives the Coalition of the Willing achieved by unleashing a war on Iraq, but as McClatchy News reports in "Once world's bread basket, Iraq now a farming basket case", things are mighty different on the ground for the people of the now war-ravaged country.

"Once the cradle of agriculture for civilization, the Land Between Two Rivers — the Tigris and Euphrates — has become a basket case for its farmers."

And:

"However, their efforts haven't helped Iraqi agriculture overcome the twin disasters of war and sanctions, which have transformed the country from one of the world's premier sources of aromatic rice and nearly 500 kinds of dates 30 years ago into a net importer of food.

Iraq now imports nearly all the food its people eat: California rice, Washington apples, Australian wheat, fruits and vegetables from its neighbors. All are staples in Iraqi groceries and on the dinner table.

The decl…

The true mark of a journalist and writer

When renowned author and journalist David Halberstam died in 2007 [as a result of an accident] Glenn Greenwald paid him a glowing tribute in a piece in Salon. It's a piece well worth reading.

Greenwald recorded some of Halberstam's talks including this one to a class at Columbia's School of Journalism:

"One of the things I learned, the easiest of lessons, was that the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be. (So, if you seek popularity, this is probably not the profession for you.) . . . .

It's not about fame. By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are. Besides, fame does not last. At its best, it is about being paid to learn."

Greenwald recalls these words in his latest piece "Celebrating Cronkite while ignoring what he did"on Salon marking the passing of Walter Cronkite. It's another piece of Greenwald's well worth reading as he hones in on the l…

An investigation too good to be true?

There are many who have assiduously sought a thorough investigation of the Bush Administration in relation to the Iraq War, the policy of torture, deceiving Congress, etc. etc.

Obama seems to be have loath to even go there! It looked like Bush & Co. would "get away with it" But..... it now appears that at least an investigation will get underway - perhaps even leading to prosecution of Bush officials.

The Observer / The Guardian reports in "Bush's key men face grilling on torture and death squads":

"America is bracing itself for a series of investigations that could see top officials from the administration of President George W Bush hauled in front of Congress, grilled by a special prosecutor and possibly facing criminal charges.

Several investigations will now cast a spotlight on Bush-era torture policy and a secret CIA assassination programme, examining the role played by big names such as the former vice-president Dick Cheney and the former def…

Things have, and are continuing to change in Iran

The media coverage out of Iran after the recent street-demonstrations against the result of the recent so-called elections, has dropped away markedly. So, what is happening there now?

The Independent has an anonymous report [for predictably obvious reasons] in "Something profound has changed. Iranians are losing their fear and mock the official line" of what is the state of play in Iran is today:

"But even if they won't admit it, our rulers must be worried. They know that after last month's unrest and the violent suppression that followed, the nation is still in deep crisis. And they also know that something profound has changed. Because never at any time since the revolution has public criticism been as open and as bitter as now.

The state television channel as the mouthpiece of the regime is increasingly mocked for its lies. We watched in disbelief as it broadcast cookery shows during the upheaval. Now we view staged confessions by some of the countless individ…

A jailbird's summer reading list

In an Iranian prison awaiting a court date on espionage charges? Recently released writer and photographer Iason Athanasiadis suggests a prison reading list.

Athanasiadis, writing on globalpost, explains his lot when imprisoned by the Iranians:

"Jail cells — alongside yoga studios — are the last bastions of true inner peace. When I became the first foreign journalist in decades to be thrown into Iran's notorious Evin Prison I was exposed to a mixture of intense interrogations amid long stretches of nothingness. Stripped of my laptop, cell phone and all human contact, I was forced to confront my ego and get used to spending time with me, myself and I.

The only printed matter in my jail cell was a copy of the Holy Quran. It was a previous inmate’s well thumbed edition that had come loose from its hardback spine. A neat hand had written several religious aphorisms in Arabic on its pages. Imagining I was resting against the thick pillar of one of the beautifully-carpeted Ottoman mos…

If this isn't ethnic cleansing.......

If this doesn't count for ethnic cleansing of the Arab / Palestinian heritage of the territories occupied by the Israelis it is hard to imagine what else it might be....

CounterPunchs' Jonathan Cook reports in "Israeli Road Signs":

"Thousands of road signs are the latest front in Israel’s battle to erase Arab heritage from much of the Holy Land.

Israel Katz, the transport minister, announced this week that signs on all major roads in Israel, East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be “standardised”, converting English and Arabic place names into straight transliterations of the Hebrew name.

Currently, road signs include the place name as it is traditionally rendered in all three languages.

Under the new scheme, the Arab identity of important Palestinian communities will be obscured: Jerusalem, or “al Quds” in Arabic, will be Hebraised to “Yerushalayim”; Nazareth, or “al Nasra” in Arabic, the city of Jesus’s childhood, will become “Natzrat”; and Jaffa…

They don't make them like that anymore! America's Anchorman

Those who have been around long enough will recall the almost amazing influence - would that be possible in 2009? - that Walter Conkrite had on shaping the opinions of the American people. Witness his anchoring the reports on CBS coming out of Vietnam.

Conkrite has now just passed away aged 92. A legend in his own lifetime? Someone unique in the media?

John Nichols, writing in The Nation, pays tribute in "Walter Cronkite: Definitional Journalist Saw Big Media's Flaws":

"Walter Cronkite never stopped being a journalist.

The former CBS anchorman cared not just about the next story but about the future of reporting in a country where was known for the better part of a half century as "the most trusted name in news."

So it should come as little surprise that what worried Cronkite in the last years of his life was the collapse of journalistic quality and responsibility that came with the increasing dominance of newsgathering by a handful of media corpor…

Yes Virginia, The Lobby is alive and well!

Those who attacked Walt and Mearsheimer for going so public in their book [The Israel Lobby] a couple of years back about the existence of The Israel Lobby might, yet again, need to swallow their words. For how else to describe The Lobby being exactly where it wanted to be - at the White House - voicing its views on what it, the Lobby, perceives to be the Obama Administration's lack of total commitment and support to everything the Israelis are doing?

Stephen Walt, in his Blog on FP comments:

"This past Monday, President Obama met with the heads of a number of prominent Jewish groups, to talk about the state of U.S.-Israeli relations and the future direction of U.S. Middle East policy. Virtually all the news reports I've seen suggest that the attendees had a cordial and candid discussion. After reading through various accounts, I have three comments.

First, although a few individuals in the Israel lobby continue to downplay its influence, the very fact that this meeting w…

Russia's shame! The Thugs Win Again?

The murder of the human rights activist Natalya Estemirova again highlights Russia's appalling record on human rights. Like Anna Politkovskaya before her this woman seems to have known no bounds in pursuing what she perceived to be injustices or abuses of human rights in Russia and in particular Chechnya.

C J Chivers pays tribute in The NY Times in a piece "A Fearless Activist in a Land of Thugs" to what seems to be have been a remarkable woman - not generally known outside her own country:

"Ms. Estemirova was an essential member of a tiny circle of the premier human rights investigators in the entire Caucasus — a woman of immeasurable courage, precision and calm. She was a researcher for Memorial, the human rights organization, in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital.

I will step out of character as a reporter and declare it: she was both a trusted source and friend of the last several years, a time when the foreigners still trying to understand Chechnya shrank to an inadequ…

Water = Peace?

"The Jordan River now has large sections reduced to a trickle. The Sea of Galilee is at its lowest point ever. The surface area of the Dead Sea has shrunk by a third. Iraq’s ancient marshes are now marked by large swaths of stalks and caked mud.

In northern Syria, more than 160 villages the past two years have run dry and been deserted by residents. In Gaza, 150,000 Palestinians have no access to tap water. In Israel, the pumps at the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), its largest reservoir, were exposed above the water level, rendering pumping impossible. In Lebanon, 70 percent of wastewater is dumped into cesspools, polluting groundwater; Jordan is struggling with just 10 percent of its average rainfall.

Little wonder that many warn that future wars will be fought over water, not land."

Stanley Weiss, op-ed contributor to The NY Times, reflects on the dire state of water available in the Middle East and how it, rather than land, might be the appropriate catalyst to peace in the …

He's gotta be kidding?

MPS has never had much time for Thomas Friedman, author and op-ed writer for The NY Times.

Either he is being plain stupid, or naive, but The Angry Arab News Service makes more than a valid point:

"Thomas Friedman is embedded in Iraq. He sums up the American legacy in Iraq: "we also left a million acts of kindness and a profound example of how much people of different backgrounds can accomplish when they work together." Million acts? That must be an estimate of the Iraqi dead."

Krugman: Two pressing issues dominate for the US

Paul Krugman in his latest op-ed piece "Boiling the Frog" in The NY Times paints a sobering picture of what faces the US if it doesn't address two pressing issues - the ever-growing unemployment crisis and climate change.

"Now, it’s bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it’s much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that’s exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right — which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more."

And:

"Put it this way: if the consensus of the economic experts is grim, the consensus of the climate experts is utterly terrifying. At this point, the central forecast of leading climate models — not the worst-case scenario but the most likely outcome — is utter catastrophe, a rise in temperatures that will totally disrupt life as we know it, if we continue along our present path. How to head off that catastrophe should be the dominant policy issue of our…

I screen, you screen, we all screen

A fascinating piece from the Boston Globe on reading - paper or on screen!:

"Do we read differently on the computer screen from how we read on the printed page? It’s an interesting question.

Before hearing from the experts, let’s review what we think we know. Even the best computer screens are harder on the eyes than the paper page is. Jakob Nielsen, a Web usability researcher, reports that we generally read 25 percent more slowly on the screen. I read more quickly on the screen and edit out about 40 percent of what appears before my eyes. If you haven’t told me what you want by line four of your e-mail, trust me, I didn’t get the message.

A Norwegian researcher, Anne Mangen, recently weighed in with an interesting paper in the Journal of Research in Reading, asserting that screen reading and page reading are radically different. “The feeling of literally being in touch with the text is lost when your actions - clicking with the mouse, pointing on touch screens, or scrolling with ke…

An odd [and outrageous] way to lead Iran......

Al Jazeera reports on what many will regard as an amazing proposition put forward by a former US House Speaker:

"The former speaker of the US House of Representatives has said that the US should "sabotage" Iran's oil and gas infrastructure as part of its efforts to bring down the government.

In an interview with Al Jazeera's Avi Lewis for the Fault Lines programme, Republican Newt Gingrich said targeting Iran's refinery would spark an economic crisis that would destabilise the government in Tehran.

He said the US should "use covert operations … to create a gasoline-led crisis to try and replace the regime".

"I think we have a vested interest, the world has a vested interest, in a responsible Iranian government, just as we have a vested interest in a responsible North Korean government," he said."

An interesting question! If the Iranian president came out with something even remotely like what Gringrich has put forward what would the re…

Not so moral!

The IDF is forever propounding that it is the most moral army in the world. Whatever criticism has been directed at the IDF before, and during and post the Gaza War early this year, has been dismissed as having no foundation.

So, what to make of Israeli solders who have broken their silence and have described actions in clear contravention of the Geneva Convention. McClatchy reports in "Israeli soldiers in Gaza describe a 'moral Twilight Zone'"

"Israeli combat soldiers have acknowledged that they forced Palestinian civilians to serve as human shields, needlessly killed unarmed Gazans and improperly used white phosphorus shells to burn down buildings as part of Israel's three-week military offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter.

In filmed testimony and written statements released Wednesday, more than two dozen soldiers told an Israeli army veterans' group that military commanders led the fighters into what one described as a "moral Twilight Zon…

Guantánamo and the Courts: Exposing the Bush Administration’s Lies

Andy Worthington has written in this topic regularly and widely for a long time now - and brings things up to date in his latest writing on The Future of Freedom Foundation:

"In recent months, those who have been studying Guantánamo closely have come to the disturbing conclusion that the biggest obstacle to President Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo by January 2010 comes not from the fear-mongering and opportunistic politicians who recently voted to prohibit the use of any funds to release or to transfer prisoners to the United States, and who also authorized legislation that “requires the President to report periodically to Congress on the status of Guantánamo Bay detainees and plans for their transfer,” but from the administration’s own Justice Department.

Echoing the position taken by the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department is pursuing patently indefensible cases that should have been dropped before being presented to a judge, and is also eng…

Wearing the burqa is neither Islamic nor socially acceptable

"I am a Shia Muslim and I abhor the burqa. I am offended by the unchallenged presumption that women covering their heads and bodies and now faces are more pious and true than am I.

Islam in all its diverse forms entitles believers to a personal relationship with Allah – it cuts out middlemen, one reason its appeal extended to so many across the world. You can seek advice from learned scholars and imams, but they cannot come between your faith and the light of God. Today control freaks who claim they have a special line to the Almighty have turned our world dark. Neo-conservative Islamic codes spread like swine flu, an infection few seem able to resist.

The disease is progressive. It started 20 years ago with the hijab, donned then as a defiant symbol of identity, now a conscript's uniform. Then came the jilbab, the cloak, fought over in courts when schoolgirls were manipulated into claiming it as an essential Islamic garment. If so, hell awaits the female leaders of Pakistan an…

The planet's future: Climate change 'will cause civilisation to collapse'

The Independent reports on a Report which should be seen as a wake-up call for everyone on this planet of ours - whilst making for sobering at the same time:

"An effort on the scale of the Apollo mission that sent men to the Moon is needed if humanity is to have a fighting chance of surviving the ravages of climate change. The stakes are high, as, without sustainable growth, "billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilisation will collapse".

This is the stark warning from the biggest single report to look at the future of the planet – obtained by The Independent on Sunday ahead of its official publication next month. Backed by a diverse range of leading organisations such as Unesco, the World Bank, the US army and the Rockefeller Foundation, the 2009 State of the Future report runs to 6,700 pages and draws on contributions from 2,700 experts around the globe. Its findings are described by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, as providing "i…

What will history say about Colin Powell?

An interesting reflection on and evaluation of Colin Powell by Stanley Kutler on truthdig.com:

"If “history” will decide whether Bush (with Powell) made the correct decision, then we have to confront a factual reality. Surely, Gen. Powell knows that he participated in an unprovoked war of aggression, resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 U.S. combatants and countless Iraqis. He knows that his United Nations speech describing Saddam Hussein’s menacing weapons of mass destruction was utterly fictitious, concocted in the White House and Defense Department. Powell undoubtedly has the excuse that he was handed a script full of errors, lies and poor judgments. He always has been the “good soldier.” Ironically, he was chosen for the U.N. performance for his credibility, not to mention his loyalty. President Bush, ably seconded by Vice President Dick Cheney, soon launched the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad. They quickly marginalized Powell, but he loyally stayed for slightly more than…

Horrendous toll on Tamils

Whilst the media fixates on the death of Michal Jackson and other trivia, the TimesOnLine reports on what can only be described grave situation, which is both appalling and distressing, of how the Tamils, now imprisoned by the Sri Lankan authorities, are being treated:

"About 1,400 people are dying every week at the giant Manik Farm internment camp set up in Sri Lanka to detain Tamil refugees from the nation’s bloody civil war, senior international aid sources have told The Times.

The death toll will add to concerns that the Sri Lankan Government has failed to halt a humanitarian catastrophe after announcing victory over the Tamil Tiger terrorist organisation in May. It may also lend credence to allegations that the Government, which has termed the internment sites “welfare villages”, has actually constructed concentration camps to house 300,000 people.

Mangala Samaraweera, the former Foreign Minister and now an opposition MP, said: “There are allegations that the Government is atte…

Taking Facebook to a new dimension

Evgeny Morozov, writing on his blog net.effect on FP [Foreign Policy] reveals a disturbing aspect of the way Iran is headed:

"A scary anecdote from Iran. A trusted colleague - who is married to an Iranian-American and would thus prefer to stay anonymous - has told me of a very disturbing episode that happened to her friend, another Iranian-American, as she was flying to Iran last week. On passing through the immigration control at the airport in Tehran, she was asked by the officers if she has a Facebook account. When she said "no", the officers pulled up a laptop and searched for her name on Facebook. They found her account and noted down the names of her Facebook friends.

This is very disturbing. For once, it means that the Iranian authorities are paying very close attention to what's going on Facebook and Twitter (which, in my opinion, also explains why they decided not to take those web-sites down entirely - they are useful tools of intelligence gathering)."…

Now it's the Thought Police

The other day it became know that the Israelis were planning on a PR campaign to lift the country's image around the globe.

Today's "news" goes one step further - with rather frightening overtones. An op-ed piece in the Israeli ynet news.com reveals in "Thought police is here" [sic]:

"The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an “Internet warfare” squad.

The Foreign Ministry intends to hire young people who speak at least one language and who study communication, political science, or law – or alternately, Israelis with military experience gained at units dealing with information analysis."

And:

"Foreign Ministry officials are fighting what they see as a terrible and scary monster: the Palestinian public relations monster. Yet nothing can be done to defeat it, regardless of how ma…

Inventing Google Maps

From [Australian] ABC's Flora:

"Every now and then someone has a really good idea. And sometimes, an enormous corporation decides to support that idea, which occasionally leads to something pretty extraordinary being developed. So was the case with Google Maps, the now ubiquitous online navigation system. It was created by brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen at a time when the technology required to deliver their idea was still being developed. But with Google's support, they built an extraordinary website. Delivering the annual Warren Centre Innovation Lecture, Lars Rasmussen gives a blow-by-blow account of the development of Google Maps, and his more recent project, Google Wave. A must-watch for aspiring entrepreneurs everywhere.

Lars Rasmussen is the head of engineering at Google Maps Sydney. In 2003 Lars and his brother Jens formed a mapping technology company, Where 2 Technologies. A year later it was acquired by Google and Google Maps was born. He is also the co-inventor…

Two-State Solution, Israeli style

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books).

In his latest piece on CounterPunch he lays bear how the so-called two-State solution isn't a viable option and how subjugated the Palestinians have become as an occupied people under the Israelis:

"Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has been much criticized in Israel, as well as abroad, for failing to present his own diplomatic initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to forestall US intervention.

Mr Netanyahu may have huffed and puffed before giving voice to the phrase “two states for two peoples” at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but the contours of just such a Palestinian state -- or states -- have been emerging undisturbed for some time.

In fact, Mr Netanyahu appears every bit as comm…

Iraq: The Dirty War

Dahr Jamail has been one of the few who has reported consistently from war-torn Iraq - and been awarded for his sterling efforts.

In his latest dispatch from Iraq, published on truthout.org, he highlights that far from Iraq's troubles being over now that the Americans have withdrawn to their bases, the problems of a dirty war are about to begin:

"Thus, the stage is set for an indefinite amount of bloodletting across Iraq. A cursory glance at the week from June 6 through June 13 provides several examples of this dirty war. For a dirty war it is, as the opponents of Maliki, and the occupation, and the Sahwa, are sure to respond in kind to any violence visiting them.

On June 8, a gunman was killed while attacking a checkpoint in Fallujah, and on the same day, five "suspects" were captured. The next day, two policemen were wounded during a bombing in Fallujah, a bicycle bomb wounded another seven, and six more "suspects" were detained from around the city. June 1…

Save the Novelist!

"William Faulkner's first novel, Soldier's Pay barely sold when it was released in 1926. Neither did Saul Bellow's in 1944, Kurt Vonnegut's in 1952, Cormac McCarthy's in 1965, or David Foster Wallace's in 1987. All of these books garnered tepid reviews and bare-minimum sales. Ever since Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1828 debut sold so poorly that the author burned the remaining copies out of embarrassment, flopped first novels have been an American tradition.

Publishers have typically taken the long view, expending great effort and bushels of money to keep struggling authors writing away for years, banking on the hope of eventual literary success. It is to this dedication that we owe America's status as one of the great literary pillars of the world. Now, that dedication is faltering, and with it, the future of the great American novel. But it's not too late to save the novel."

So begins an interesting piece in The Atlantic, "Give Struggling Au…

A "nice" Gallic touch to help during the GFC

As we all know in Europe there is TVA [otherwise called VAT and GST in other countries] on just about everything that is purchased. It's a hefty 19%.

In a move to help the restaurant business - after all, it is France - President Sarkosy has reduced the TVA to 5.5% on at least one course where restaurants are prepared to offer it to their diners.

So, on the menu, in each course [entree, etc] one course shows the original price [that is, with the 19% VTA] crossed out and the lower price [now only with the 5.5% TVA] alongside.

Nice touch! Only time will tell if it makes any impact.

Change the policy, or change the subject

It's a familiar refrain and response to Israel's one-eyed supporters. Attack those who criticise with whatever epithet suits the occasion - self-hating Jew, ant-Israel, Jew for Genocide or anti-Zionist, etc. etc.

The New Jersey Jewish News spills the beans on how to deal with critics of Israel's policies:

"If you can’t convince ’em, accuse ’em. That’s the advice from The Israel Project (TIP) for pro-Israel activists answering questions about settlements. Rather than try to defend Israeli settlements, change the subject. If that doesn’t work, try accusing those who advocate removing Jewish settlements of promoting “a kind of ethnic cleansing to move all Jews” from the West Bank.

TIP calls that “the best settlement argument” in its 2009 Global Language Dictionary, a manual on how to talk to journalists and opinion molders about the Arab-Israeli conflict."

It doesn't get much more offensive than that!

No lessons learnt

Bob Herbert, NY Times columnist, in a poignant and personal piece "After the War was Over" reflects on the death of Robert Mcnamara, but more importantly on what politicians do not understand the effect of their decision to got to war means to those pressed into military service, as in the Vietnam War - Herbert being one of them.

"Lessons learned from Vietnam? None.

As The Times’s Tim Weiner pointed out in McNamara’s obituary, Congress authorized the war after President Johnson contended that American warships had been attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964. The attack never happened. As Mr. Weiner wrote, “The American ships had been firing at their own sonar shadows on a dark night.”

But McNamara, relying on intelligence reports, told Johnson that evidence of the attack was ironclad. Does this remind anyone of the “slam dunk” evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction?

More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam and som…

Forget about balance....what about reporting fully and fairly?

It is often a mantra in criticising the media that it isn't balanced. There are things which simply don't call for balanced reporting. Would one have expected a report on finding the survivors at concentration camps including the reasons and arguments on why the Germans engaged in the systematic killing of Jews and many others? Of course not!

Balance is one thing.....but a full, fair, complete and balanced reporting is another! FAIR takes up the very topic in criticising The NY Times in its piece on the death of Robert McNamara, one-time US Secretary of Defence during the Vietnam War years:

"In the sixth paragraph of his front-page obituary of Vietnam War-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (7/7/09), the New York Times' Tim Weiner tries--and fails--to give some idea of the human cost of McNamara's war:

Half a million American soldiers went to war on his watch. More than 16,000 died; 42,000 more would fall in the seven years to come.

What's missing, o…

Extremism at its worst

Any extreme is bad - whatever the subject or cause. Religious extremism is probably the worst, for the effect it can have on both people, generally, and even a country. Just reflect on countries driven by religious extremists or clerics whose influence on government is hard to comprehend.

This description of what befell an [Australian] ABC News correspondent in Jerusalem last Saturday makes for sober reading:

"The ABC's Middle East correspondent Anne Barker became caught in violent street protests involving ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem at the weekend. This is her graphic account of her ordeal.As a journalist I've covered more than my share of protests. Political protests in Canberra. Unions protesting for better conditions. Angry, loud protests against governments, or against perceived abuses of human rights.I've been at violent rallies in East Timor. I've had rocks and metal darts thrown my way. I've come up against riot police.But I have to admit no p…

"Mac the Knife"

The death of Robert McNamara at 93 brings to the fore, once again, a man who was so much aligned with the disastrous Vietnam War.....and the controversy which arose when he seemed to recant his original position on the war. Bottom line McNamara probably said too little, too late. The carnage the War brought is, as many now consider, not dissimilar to the failures of the recent Iraq War.

The Age reports:

"Robert McNamara, who died this week aged 93 having been defence secretary to two American presidents, was the architect of US involvement in Vietnam and its most vehement advocate.In 1995, however, he revealed to general astonishment that he had been fired for privately opposing the war. But the fact that he did not speak out until long after the conflict had ended ensured that he remained a morally ambiguous figure.Under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, "Mac the Knife" became a hate figure on university campuses throughout the Western world as …

Shostakovich in Oxford

An interesting insight into a man who detested Stalin but yet was able compose wonderful music despite the constraints on him. None other than Dmitri Shostakovich, - a man still somewhat mired in controversy.

Scott Horton, writing on Harper's Magazine:

"As Washington’s attention turns to things Russian, the New York Review of Books publishes a selection from a forthcoming volume (Berlin’s Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960) of the correspondence of Isaiah Berlin. (sub. reqd.) The letter describes the June 1958 visit of Dmitri Shostakovich to Oxford to receive an honorary degree. (He had been selected for the honor together with Francis Poulenc.) Berlin recounts the arrival of Shostakovich’s embassy handlers and describes how he plotted to get Shostakovich free of them. Shostakovich was whisked off to a “musical evening” at the home of Hugh Trevor-Roper, while his minders were taken off to a party for undergraduates. “They may have had their hands dripping with Hungarian blood, b…