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Showing posts from November, 2009

That doesn't look like moving toward peace

Obama has developed an image of the man looking for solutions to global issues, conflicts with and between nations and a man of peace. Graet on the PR front but far from the reality as we are all witnessing on a daily basis.

From Salon - and note, in particular dot-point 3:

"I say that because here are some objective, nonpartisan, non-ideological facts:

* The 2010 Pentagon budget means "every man, woman and child in the United States will spend more than $2,700 on (defense) programs and agencies next year," reports the Cato Institute. "By way of comparison, the average Japanese spends less than $330; the average German about $520; China's per capita spending is less than $100

* "(The Pentagon budget) dwarfs the combined defense budgets of U.S. allies and potential U.S. enemies alike," reports Hearst Newspapers

* "President (Obama) is on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office sinc…

Iraq War: It's official! It was illegal

Tony Blair, the chameleon and show-pony, will have a lot of explaining to do when he gives evidence at the UK's Chilcot enquiry into the Iraq War.

The Independent gives more than a graphic account of how Blair swept aside the advice of his Attorney-General to forge ahead with joining the Coalition of the Willing with his buddy George Bush:

"Tony Blair will be quizzed over a devastating official memo warning him that war on Iraq would be illegal eight months before he sent troops into Baghdad, it was claimed last night.

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will consider a letter from Lord Goldsmith, then Mr Blair's top law officer, advising him that deposing Saddam would be in breach of international law, according to a report in The Mail on Sunday.

But Mr Blair refused to accept Lord Goldsmith's advice and instead issued instructions for his long-term friend to be "gagged" and barred from cabinet meetings, the newspaper claimed. Lord Goldsmith apparently lost t…

Oh Sarah!

Credit to Danziger in The NY Times

Dubai: What are those Sheiks up to? And then there is slave labour

"There are, however, two basic truths about Dubai which, predictably, have not found their way into market speculation or newspaper analysis. The first is that Dubai may soon find itself a satellite not of its AbuDhabi capital but of India. The biggest merchants in Dubai are Indian – they run the gold market, even the bookshops in Sheikh Mohamed's playpen – and west India is only two hours' flying time away. In fact, until 1962 – and you have to be an oldie to understand the emirates' economic world – the Indian rupee was the currency for most of the Gulf, including even Kuwait."

Who says? None other than veteran journalist and author [30 + years living in Beirut] Robert Fisk.

Read his full analysis, in The Independent, of what is going in what seemed like unassailably rich Dubai.

In a piece in the same newspaper, Johann Hari takes a stick to the image of Dubai - and it's not a pretty picture!

"Dubai is finally financially bankrupt – but it has been morall…

Those wretched settlements: Israel PM's spin

Not for the first time have the Israelis said no more settlements. It's all a fiction. The latest so-called freeze is anything of the sort.

The Age newspaper'sMiddle East correspondent puts the so-called freeze into context:

"For 10 months, Netanyahu says, Israel will impose a residential housing construction freeze in the West Bank.

So does that mean the hammers will fall silent immediately? Far from it.

According to Netanyahu's plan for a settlement freeze, construction on 2500 partially built housing units in the West Bank can be completed.

So can another 500 new housing units in the West Bank announced earlier this year.

This isn't even a slowdown on last year. In 2008, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 1647 new housing starts, and 1389 new housing starts in 2007.

In East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to make their capital, Netanyahu says no limits will apply."

Over at Prospects for Peace, Daniel Levy also reflects o…

Soulmates.... and the Iraq deal [War] "signed in blood"

The Inquiry into the Iraq War might have just got underway in the UK, but it has already led to some "interesting" evidence.

The SMH reports this rather startling revelation:

"The personal relationship between Tony Blair and George Bush was so strong the former US President felt his British counterpart was the ''only human being he could talk to'' and other world leaders were ''like creatures from outer space''.

The details of the friendship between the leaders emerged yesterday when the former British ambassador to the US Christopher Meyer gave evidence to the inquiry into the Iraq war.

Sir Christopher, who was in the US on September 11, 2001, and before Iraq was invaded in 2003, said the two men got on extraordinarily well, and he remembered the then US secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, telling him Mr Bush felt understood by Mr Blair.

''I remember it was after they had a very good weekend together and so did the wives, and the pre…

Good for you....good for the planet

Now here is a way to help yourself and the planet - at the same time.

The Montreal Gazette reveals all:

"Pedestrians and cyclists should be made king of the urban jungle, according to an international study showing the big benefits of "mass active travel."

It suggests money should be diverted way from roads to make walking and cycling "the most direct, convenient, and pleasant options for most urban trips." Pedestrians and bikers should also get "priority" over cars and trucks at intersections.

The study is one of six reports on the "health dividend" of combating climate change published in the medical journal Lancet Wednesday.

The reports say that enormous changes are needed to slow global warming, but show that reducing carbon dioxide emissions will be good for people's health. Millions of deaths could be averted by getting people out of cars, breathing cleaner air and eating healthier food."

Post that Cairo speech? Zip!

From on a piece on FP "Fulfilling the Promises of Cairo":

"On June 4, U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Cairo's distinguished Cairo University to deliver an historic address to the Muslim world.

According to a Pew Research Center public opinion poll released this summer, the euphoria that initially accompanied his speech has mostly dissipated in the region. There is a clear improvement in public opinion of the United States in certain influential Muslim countries, including Obama's former home, Indonesia, and confidence in the president himself is high. However, Obama's personal popularity has not translated into major improvement across the board in attitudes toward the United States.

Given that it may take much longer for the administration to offer up major foreign breakthroughs that will mitigate Muslim resentment against America, the White House should consider a policy of diplomatic, economic and social engagement to protect the president's down…

Is she really the one?

Credit to Mike Lukevich

Talk - with Hamas!!!

Who would have thought it? No lesser person than the one-time head of Israel's Mossad, says that his country ought to be talking with Hamas.

In an interview on Australia's ABC program PM, Efraim Halevy said:

"Well as you know I am on record for the last six years saying that Hamas should be part of the solution not part of the problem.

In the last two weeks two developments have taken place, a, the former minister of defence and chief of staff General Mofaz has come out openly and said that in certain circumstances people should talk to Hamas. And in a recent poll which was carried out last week, at the end of last week in Israel, a majority of Israelis believe that Israel should talk to Hamas.

So I am no longer a lone voice on this. The timing of such an event of course is contingent on when it would be of interest to both sides. I think that it will be in the end in the interest of both sides and I think in the end Mr Netanyahu will talk to Hamas in one form or another.…

Now its Blackwater in Pakistan

Veteran and well-respected journalist Jeremy Scahill, writing in The Nation, reveals in "Blackwater's Secret War in Pakistan" that the infamous Blackwater [of Iraq "fame"] is now up to no good in Pakistan:

"At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help run a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

The source, who has worked on covert US military pro…

The Guantanamo Lawyers: Shipwrecked

truthdig has an extract from a new book "The Guantanamo Lawyers" about the lawyers who have been acting for those imprisoned at Gitmo.

As the intro to the truthdig piece says:

"This important new book tells the story of the world’s most famous prison from the perspective of the lawyers who toiled under notoriously difficult conditions on behalf of the detainees. In this excerpt, Baher Azmy tells the story of his client, who was held for years despite having been found by his captors to have no connection with terrorism."

Part of the article:

"The United States knows that Murat Kurnaz has no connection to terrorism and logged this fact no less than five times in his classified “file.” According to his file, the U.S. military itself concluded that “Kurnaz has no connection to al Qaeda, the Taliban or any terrorist threat,” and “the Germans have confirmed he has no connection to al Qaeda.” The government resisted for years permitting disclosure of this information, b…

A photo [worth more than 1000 words] that says it all!

Anna Baltzer, author, and Haithem El-Zabri, founder of the Palestine Online Store in Texas

What? This is 2009?

Al Jazeera reports:

"The UN children's agency says one billion children around the world are still deprived of food, shelter, clean water and healthcare 20 years after the adoption of a treaty guaranteeing children's rights."

But wait! It's even worse than that as the article reveals:

"Veneman [UN's Executice Director] said it was unacceptable that more than 24,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable causes such as pneumonia, malaria, measles and malnutrition.

About 200 million children are chronically malnourished, more than 140 million are forced to work, and millions of girls and boys of all ages are subjected to sexual violence, the report says.

It also estimates that up to 1.5 billion children experience violence annually."

Is this the sort of world we are prepared to accept? - where defenceless children face a life as detailed above.

Blindness to history

Whilst Obama still considers what do to in Afghanistan - that is, how many military to commit to the ever-growing disaster there - he might do well to read and reflect on this piece in Harper's Magazine "History Promises Disaster in Afghanistan for Blind America" by John R. MacArthur, publisher of the magazine.

"But first let’s restate the burning question: Why are we in Afghanistan? To start, we can dismiss the preposterous argument advanced by Obama’s most aggressive advisers about defending our country against “terrorism” in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is nothing if not decentralized, and its adherents are still perfectly capable of attacking the United States from Canada, Boston, Hamburg, or Fort Hood. Anyway, terrorism, as Timothy McVeigh demonstrated in Oklahoma City, can originate with the nice young white man next door who shops at the gun store around the corner. “Fighting terrorism” in Afghanistan “to prevent another 9/11” simply isn’t a serious argument, and I s…

Iran: Protest with a spray-can

From France24:

"The most famous piece of Iranian graffiti is probably the deathly Statue of Liberty painted on the wall of the former US Embassy in Tehran. There's far more to street art than anti-American paintings however, and in the past two years, it's become more popular than ever."

Farhad Roozbeh (not his real name) is a graffiti artist from Tehran. He wishes to remain anonymous. He writes [and go here to view more graffiti]

"They are no legal surfaces to graffiti on in Tehran. Even if the owner of a house wanted an artist to paint the outdoor wall of his property, the police would be sent round to warn them that it's forbidden and the city council would then remove the painting. It's not about making the city look clean, it's about controlling it.

The police don't pay any more attention to street artists than they do other artists. Besides there are very few of us and we draw in secluded places; we're not in it for the fame. They haven&…

Rogue or rouge woman?

Leaving to one side the 2 books to have hit the US bookstores these last days - Sarah Palin's Going Rogue and The Nation's Going Rouge: An American Nightmare - by all accounts the hype surrounding the woman has been extra-ordinary. She is being touted as the leader of the GOP and 2012 presidential candidate.

Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish on The Atlantic says this:

"This is only the second time in its nearly ten-year history that the Dish has gone silent. The reason now is the same as the reason then. When dealing with a delusional fantasist like Sarah Palin, it takes time to absorb and make sense of the various competing narratives that she tells about her life. There are so many fabrications and delusions in the book, mixed in with facts, that just making sense of it - and comparing it with objective reality as we know it, and the subjective reality she has previously provided - is a bewildering task. She is a deeply disturbed person which makes this work of fiction…

"Final nail in the coffin"

The talk of "settlements" in Israel and the West Bank conjures up a picture of an outpost of a few houses, perhaps even shacks, and an odd collection of caravans in the like.

Well, the above is a so-called "settlement" - Gilo, now the centre of controversy as Israel announces that a further 900 homes will be built in Gilo.

The Israeli PM snubs his nose at the world and says the plans will proceed. Well they might - who is going to stop Israel? - but the peace process now seems dead and buried, as Press TV reports:

"Former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia calls Israel's plan to build more housing units in Gilo the “final nail in the peace process' coffin”.

"This proves that the international community must realize that our statements regarding the collapse of the two-state solution are not slogans," Qureia urged.

On Tuesday, Israel announced plans to construct 900 homes in Gilo, one of a dozen settlements in the illegally annexed East J…

Now it's cyberware to contend with

Be scared.....for if this report in the SMH is correct, then we are confronted with a new dimension of conflict between nations.

"Warning of a "cyber arms race," top web security firm McAfee says that China, France, Israel, Russia and the United States have developed cyber weapons.

"McAfee began to warn of the global cyber arms race more than two years ago, but now we're seeing increasing evidence that it's become real," said Dave DeWalt, president and chief executive of McAfee on Tuesday.

"Several nations around the world are actively engaged in cyber-war-like preparations and attacks," he said. "Today, the weapons are not nuclear, but virtual, and everyone must adapt to these threats."

The Santa Clara, California-based McAfee, in its fifth annual Virtual Criminology Report, said China, France, Israel, Russia and the United States were countries that have developed "advanced offensive cyber capabilities."

McAfee said cyber att…

The warning couldn't be more dire

A Spanish reservoir suffers from drought

All the signs are that the upcoming Climate Change conference in Copenhagen isn't going to achieve any positive outcomes - other than be one big talk-fest and photo op for the politicians attending. Looks like they are "doing" something when precisely the opposite is the case!

The attendees need to read the dire state in which the world finds itself - as The Independent reports in "World on course for catastrophic 6° rise, reveal scientists":

"The world is now firmly on course for the worst-case scenario in terms of climate change, with average global temperatures rising by up to 6C by the end of the century, leading scientists said yesterday. Such a rise – which would be much higher nearer the poles – would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation.

We are headed for it, the scientists said, because th…

Not as rich as some would have us believe

The US is often touted as the richest country in the world. Of course it ignores the realities. For instance, the US is mightily indebted to the Chinese. So when Obama sits down with the Chinese during his present visit there, it is they who can, and doubtlessly will, call the shots.

And then there are America's hungry. An indictment on a a country with such abundance of wealth. Crikey explains in this piece:

"For all the talk of a recovery in the US economy, the rebounding financial markets (with Wall Street at 13-month highs overnight), gold at record highs, and a rise in October retail sales, a grim reality has been outlined in Washington for all the world to see.

America can't feed all its 303 million people, with one in seven going short at some stage in a week.

The country's agricultural department reckons 49 million Americans struggle to get enough to eat, the highest reading in an annual survey in the 14 years it has been conducted.

And the fig…

She's [that's Sarah Palin] back

There is no denying that the woman has guts - even if little evident brain! Now on the circuit promoting a book of hers to be released this week, Sarah Palin has been hard at it making her usual uninformed and inflammatory statements.

Max Blumental, writing on TomDispatch in " The Palin Effect: How Sarah Palin Made Herself Indispensable While Destroying the Republican Party" provides a background to the woman and her re-emergence on the American political scene:

"Sarah Palin's heavily publicized book tour begins in earnest this Monday, but weeks before, her ghostwritten memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, had already vaulted into the number one position at Amazon. Warming up for a tour that will take her across Middle America in a bus, Palin tested her lines in a November 7th speech before a crowd of 5,000 anti-abortion activists in Wisconsin. She promptly cited an urban legend as a "disturbing trend," claiming the Treasury Department had moved the p…

Justice? Not so fast!

The US Attorney-General has attracted both praise and severe criticism for his decision to prosecute the 9/11 offenders in New York rather than at Gitmo. Open justice you might think! Yes, but there is a fly in the ointment in all of this - as Glenn Greenwald, lawyer and blogger for Salon explains in his piece "Detainees to get the "state-always-wins" system of "justice":

"The problem is that this decision does not stand alone. Instead, it is accompanied by this:

'Holder will also announce that a major suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, will face justice before a military commission, as will a handful of other detainees to be identified at the same announcement, the official said.

It was not immediately clear where commission-bound detainees like al-Nashiri might be sent, but a military brig in South Carolina has been high on the list of considered sites.'

So what we have here is not an announcement that all ter…

Peace process? - and meaningless gestures

Stephen Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard, writing on his blog onFP, reflects on the ever-growing stalemate which is said to be the peace-process in the Middle East. Indeed, the so-called two-State solution may also be dead in the water!

"The second problem, I fear, is that it is too little, too late. Having dithered, delayed and dissembled ever since the Oslo Accords -- while the number of settlers more than doubled -- we are about to face an entirely different problem. The sun is now setting on the "two-state solution" -- if it is not already well below the horizon -- and pretty soon everyone will have to admit that they are sitting around in the dark and pretending they see daylight.

Be careful what you wish for. Israel is going to get what it has long sought: permanent control of the West Bank (along with de facto control over Gaza). The Palestinian Authority is increasingly irrelevant and may soon collapse, General Keith Dayton's mission to t…

Another devastating [and disgraceful] Wall

From The Electronic Intafada's piece "Palestinians symbolically dismantle sections of the wall" :

"Tear down this wall!" then US President Ronald Reagan told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, demanding he tear down the infamous Berlin wall. Two years later, on 9 November 1989, media around the world broadcast images of crowds of Germans from both the east and the west climbing atop the barrier and tearing down large sections of the wall. For many, the event was highly symbolic as it was perceived as the end of the Cold War and the start of a period when the world was headed in a more just and peaceful direction, free of walls keeping peoples apart.

However, two decades later, walls of separation still exist throughout the world. Israel's wall in the West Bank is much bigger than the Berlin wall ever was, as it encloses more than two million Palestinians inside the occupied West Bank. This wall separates Palestinians from their families, land, natural r…

As Obama considers......

Credited to cartoonist Mike Luckovich

Who's calling the shots here?

Who says there isn't an Israel Lobby? - or at the very least a very well-organised group of Jews who exert significant influence and power far in excess of their numbers.

Paul Craig Roberts takes up the issue - including asking who calls the shots between the US and Israel - in a piece in Information Clearing House:

"It did not take the Israel Lobby long to make mincemeat out of the Obama administration’s “no new settlements” position. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu is bragging about Israel’s latest victory over the US government as Israel continues to build illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

In May President Obama read the Israelis the riot act, telling the Israeli government that he was serious about ending the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians and that a lasting peace agreement required the Israeli government to abandon all construction of new settlements in the occupied West Bank.

On November 10 Obama’s White House chief of staff, Rahm Israel Emanuel, …

All too true.....

Credit to Larry Wright in The Detroit News

What an Indictment of the World!

CommonDreams republishes a piece from AP which is astounding. That in this day and age some 200 children in the world have stunted growth because they don't have enough to eat. And this in a world in which many, many countries spend untold billions just on military hardware alone.

"Nearly 200 million children in poor countries have stunted growth because they don't get enough to eat, according to a new report published Wednesday by UNICEF.

The vast majority are in Asia and Africa: more than 90 percent of children with stunted growth live on those two continents.

"Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal undernutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow," said UNICEF executive director Ann M. Veneman in a statement.

More than a third of all deaths in children under five are linked to undernutrition, according to UNICEF. Children with nutritional deficiencies often lack the strength to fight off diseases and compli…

Juveniles in jail...never to be released

The American justice "system" is quite astonishing.....

AlterNet, in a piece "Hard to Believe: 73 U.S. Kids Sentenced to Life Without Parole at 14 or Younger, and All Are Black" lays out some difficult facts to accept - in a country which prides itself as civilised.

"Today, Sullivan is one of some 109 prisoners in the country whose non-homicide crimes have condemned them to leave prison only in a coffin. No fewer than 76 of those prisoners are behind bars in Florida. (Until last month there were 77, but 29-year-old Travis Underhill, sentenced to life in 1999 for armed robbery, "collapsed while playing basketball at a Palm Beach County prison on Oct. 8 and died," according to the Miami Herald.) The vast majority -- 84 percent, in Florida -- are African American. On a national level, according to Human Rights Watch, African American youths are serving life without parole at a rate of about 10 times that of white youths."

Read the complete piece he…

Stalled Justice

One can only continue to shake one's head at certain aspects of the so-called American justice system. The prosecutors ambitions as against the injustice of a person, seemingly innocent, who has spent 31 years in jail.

Read this editorial from The Nation, in full. The beginning of the piece sets the scene:

"In Texas and Illinois, recent controversies have exposed our broken criminal justice system. Mounting evidence indicates that Texas Governor Rick Perry ordered the wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 and has subsequently tried to cover up the details of the case, recently dismissing three experts on the state's Forensic Science Commission forty-eight hours before they were set to examine the evidence. Willingham's case has rightly generated national headlines, and another case of prosecutorial overreach is unfolding in Illinois.

On the evening of September 15, 1978, a white security guard named Donald Lundahl was murdered in a robbery gone awry i…

So that is where the scammers are?

Have you, like everyone else with a computer, received spam and lots of scam emails? More importantly, have you wondered where the scammers got your email from? Think no longer, for all is revealed in this piece "Digital Dumping and the Global ‘E-Cycling’ Scam" on truthdig:

"The next time you get a scam mail from Nigeria, don’t ask me how the scammer got your information, especially if you don’t know where your old PC is. Yes, the one you gave to a recycler or dropped off with a charity for a tax deduction after “erasing” your data. It turns out that erasing data or reformatting your hard disk does not completely eliminate data.

The Basel Action Network (BAN), a group that monitors the movement of electronic waste around the world, gathered hard-drive memory devices from old computers exported to Nigeria and had them analyzed by forensic data recovery experts. What did it find? It found personal e-mail correspondence, country reports, business letters, banking informat…

All power to the 'netizens

They is no denying that the internet can be a force for good. Yes, there are regimes which clamp down, severely, on bloggers [read an excellent book on the subject, The Blogging Revolution, by Antony Loewenstein (MUP)] but those committed to harness the power of the internet find ways around restrictions on them.

The Washington Post reports in "China's 'netizens' hold authorities to new standard"

"A severed finger sparked an online uproar that went viral. And very quickly, rattled authorities here took note.

The story of Sun Zhongjie, a 19-year-old driver who chopped off his finger to decry police entrapment, shows how the Internet has become an effective tool of public protest in this tightly controlled country.

Almost every form of open dissent is outlawed in China, but mass protests organized online are increasingly putting pressure on police, judges and other officials -- and getting results.

Last June in Hubei province, an online campaign by netizens, a…

What about Afghanistan's women

When the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan, the position of the country's women was dire, to say the least.

And now? Improved but not looking all that good as things go from bad to worse in the war-torn country. truthout reports:

"If we abandon the country, or even the countryside, don't we abandon those girls who have gone to school even when risking acid thrown in their eyes? If we prop up the deeply corrupt government of President Hamid Karzai, are we just supporting warlord fundamentalists instead of Taliban fundamentalists?

The options are so chilling that even Afghan women's groups are divided. RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, wants us out. WAW, the Women for Afghan Women, "deeply regrets having a position in favor of maintaining, even increasing troops" rather than "abandoning 15 million women and children to madmen."

And:

"We barely noticed when Karzai signed a law that would have, among other things, allowe…

Hilary speaks.....and the actions are the opposite

"We owe it to ourselves and to those who yearn for the same freedoms that are enjoyed and even taken for granted in Berlin today. And we need to form an even stronger partnership to bring down the walls of the 21st century and to confront those who hide behind them - the suicide bombers, those who murder and maim girls whose only wish is to go to school, leaders who chose their own fortunes over the fortunes of their people."

And:

"European countries have been leaders in addressing the economic and social development challenges of the world. We need to continue our work on an economic recovery. And we need to continue to promote democracy and human rights beyond freedom's current frontiers, so that citizens everywhere are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams and live up to their own God-given potential".

The words of Hilary Clinton speaking at a NATO commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Reflect on Clinton's words and how hollow they are w…

Say no more!

Credit to Pat Oliphant in The New York Times

And you call this decent or civilised?

How this is to be seen as civilised, humane or even sensible is hard to fathom. As for Israel's conduct in all of this, the less said..........

It is "interesting" to reflect on the previous posting - in relation to the Berlin Wall - and how 20 years on we still witness a wall, this one even worse than the Berlin one.

The Berlin Wall: 20 Years Later

The New York Times, here, has an interesting collection of articles and montages, via photos, of the fall of the Berlin Wall, what it was like at the time it came down and how it has all played out since.

Over at Spiegel OnLine International, here, a different perspective on the significant event, including an interview with Lech Wasela.

Reality as against image

Israel is forever promoting its army as the "most moral in the world". It also pushes a line of being a democratic - indeed, the only one in the Middle East - nation for all its citizens. Why, look, we even have Arab members of the Knesset!

Not so quick! No lesser entity than the US State Department has found that Israel is not, in fact, a tolerant country. Haaretz reports:

"Israel dismally fails the requirements of a tolerant pluralistic society, according to a new report from the U.S. State Department.

Despite boasting religious freedom and protection of all holy sites, Israel falls short in tolerance toward minorities, equal treatment of ethnic groups, openness toward various streams within society, and respect for holy and other sites.

The comprehensive report, written by the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, says Israel discriminates against groups including Muslims, Jehova's Witnesses, Reform Jews, Christians, women…

Robert Fisk: America is performing its familiar role of propping up a dictator

Almost to a man, those in know - principally commentators and even military people - are writing Afghanistan off. It's a disaster, on many levels, now often compared to what ended up as the debacle in Vietnam.

Veteran Middle East observer, commentator, author and journalist Robert Fisk, in his latest piece for The Independent, comments on the "election" of President Karzei:

"Could there be a more accurate description of the Obama-Brown message of congratulations to the fraudulently elected Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan? First the Palestinians held fair elections in 2006, voted for Hamas and were brutally punished for it – they still are – and then the Iranians held fraudulent elections in June which put back the weird Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whom everyone outside Iran (and a lot inside) regard as a dictator. But now we have the venal, corrupt, sectarian Karzai in power after a poll far more ambitiously rigged than the Iranian version, and – yup, we love him dearly and acc…

Losing goodwill....fast!

On assuming office Obama seemed to offer hope of a US open to viewing the world differently to that of George Bush. The much heralded so-called Cairo speech also offered a perspective on the ever-current Middle East crisis welcomed in Arab countries.

All too sadly Obama is doing a great job in evaporating that goodwill. Exhibit #1 is Secretary of State's absurd statement in Jerusalem the other day lauding the Israelis for taking unprecedented limits on building settlements.

Writing in FP Mark Lynch puts the ever-diminishing US opportunities in the Arab world this way:

"Obama’s window is closing. Arab audiences see Guantanamo still open (including in an endlessly repeating al-Jazeera promo), US troops escalating in Afghanistan, Gaza still blockaded, and no settlement freeze or peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. They have seen little follow-up on the ground on the Cairo address (regardless of what’s been cooking secretly in Washington). A narrative is clearly h…

Opium, Rape and the American Way

"The warlords we champion in Afghanistan are as venal, as opposed to the rights of women and basic democratic freedoms, and as heavily involved in opium trafficking as the Taliban. The moral lines we draw between us and our adversaries are fictional. The uplifting narratives used to justify the war in Afghanistan are pathetic attempts to redeem acts of senseless brutality. War cannot be waged to instill any virtue, including democracy or the liberation of women. War always empowers those who have a penchant for violence and access to weapons. War turns the moral order upside down and abolishes all discussions of human rights. War banishes the just and the decent to the margins of society. And the weapons of war do not separate the innocent and the damned. An aerial drone is our version of an improvised explosive device. An iron fragmentation bomb is our answer to a suicide bomb. A burst from a belt-fed machine gun causes the same terror and bloodshed among civilians no matter who…

It was more than a Wall

Next week sees the 20th anniversary of the downfall of the Berlin Wall. It's more than ironic that 9th November is not only the anniversary of the Wall coming down but also the 61st anniversary of Germany's infamous Kristalnacht.

Mary Dejevsky, writing an op-ed piece "Remember the Berlin Wall – and not only how it fell" in The Independent, rightly reflects on that was more than just the Wall coming down:

"This time next week Berlin will be suffering a hangover second only to the one that followed the collapse of the Wall 20 years ago. Even though a whole generation has now grown up across Europe with no first-hand memory of the dismembered city and the divided country that surrounded it, the scenes from 9 November, 1989, are lived and relived as the defining images of the end of the Cold War.

It is not just that this was one of the first events to be broadcast worldwide, in the earliest days of live 24-hour television, from anywhere – although it was. It was th…

Mammals are facing extinction

If there was ever a wake-up call that the world needs to do something, urgently, to protect our endangered mammals, this piece from the TimesOnLine, reporting on the "Red List" of endangered species, makes for sober and compelling reading.

"A fifth of the world's known mammals, a third of amphibians and reptiles and more than two thirds of plants are threatened with extinction, according to the latest "Red List" of endangered species.

Some gorilla species are close to extinction, warns the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photograph: Guardian)Of the 5,490 mammal species that have been identified by scientists, 79 are extinct or extinct in the wild, 188 are critically endangered, 449 are endangered and 505 are classed as vulnerable, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said.

The annual Red List, published today, also shows that 70 per cent of identified planets, 35 per cent of invertebrates, 37 per cent of freshwater fi…

That's it! No argument!

It is hard not to be appalled at the statement below and the prospects of any sort of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, let alone the future of Jerusalem.

Mainstream Australian television, on SBS Dateline, last Sunday night [Australian time] featured a portrait of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. A Jewish settler summed up the attitude:

"We don’t care about what the world thinks about what our land is and what our land is not. Because we are a chosen nation and the world knows that, and God promised us Jerusalem."

The Goldstone Report: Why let facts get in the way?......

Surprise, surprise! The US Congress voted 344-36 to oppose the UN's initiated Goldstone Report on the Gaza War.

It is therefore more than heartening to read the speech of Congressman Brian Baird speaking against the resolution before the House. Read it here on Baird's web site. Baird could speak with some authority, as he points out, having been one of the few Congressmen to have actually been in Gaza:

"First, why are we bringing this resolution to the floor without ever giving former South African Constitutional Court Justice Richard Goldstone a hearing to explain his findings? Have those who will vote on H.Res. 867 actually read the resolution? Have they read the Goldstone report? Are they aware that Justice Goldstone has issued a paragraph by paragraph response, available on my Web site at www.baird.house.gov, to H.Res. 867 pointing out that many of its assertions are factually inaccurate or deeply misleading?

Since scarcely a dozen House Members have actually …

My Father, the Terrorist

"Although I cannot simply order my heart to stop loving my father, I do not agree with his behavior. There are times that I feel my heart swell with anger at his actions, which have harmed many people, people he did not know, as well as members of his own family. As the son of Osama bin Laden, I am truly sorry for all the terrible things that have happened, the innocent lives that have been destroyed, the grief that still lingers in many hearts.

My father was not always a man who hated. My father was not always a man hated by others. There was a time when many people spoke of my father with the highest accolades. History shows that he was once loved by many people. Despite our differences, I am not ashamed to admit that I loved my father with the usual passion of a young boy for his father. In fact, when I was a young boy, I worshipped my father, whom I believed to be not only the most brilliant but also the tallest man in the world."

So writes the son of the now infamous Osam…

The disaster that is Afghanistan

The Independent's Middle East veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn reports in "Victory (for a crooked, corrupt and discredited government)" on the disaster which is Afghanistan:

"The election in Afghanistan has turned into a disaster for all who promoted it. Hamid Karzai has been declared re-elected as President of the country for the next five years though his allies inside and outside Afghanistan know that he owes his success to open fraud. Instead of increasing his government's legitimacy, the poll has further de-legitimised it.

From Mr Karzai's point of view he won through at the end and showed that nobody is strong enough to get rid of him. For the US President, Barack Obama, the election has no silver lining. It has left him poised to send tens of thousands more US troops to fight a war in defence of one of the world's most crooked, corrupt and discredited governments. "It is not that the Taliban is so strong, but the government is so weak," w…

Scotching the climate change sceptics / doubters

From the TimesOnLine:

"The snows of Mount Kilimanjaro will be gone within two decades, according to scientists who say that the rapid melting of its glacier cap over the past century provides dramatic physical evidence of global climate change.

If the forecast — based on 95 years of data tracking the retreat of the Kilimanjaro ice — proves correct it will be the first time in about 12,000 years that the slopes of Africa’s highest mountain have been ice-free.

Since 1912, 85 per cent of the glacier has disappeared and the melting does not appear to be slowing down. Twenty-six per cent of the ice has disappeared since 2000.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that the primary cause of the ice loss is the increase in global temperatures. Although changes in cloudiness and snowfall may also play a role, these factors appear to be less important. Even intense droughts, including one lasting about 300 years, did not cause the …

Six Questions for Desmond Travers on the Goldstone Report

As the US Congress is about to debate whether it ought to adopt a resolution in effect denouncing the UN initiated Goldstone Report on the Gaza War - why in heavens name the US ought to be involved in such a deplorable consideration, especially given the distortions of the report before members of Congress, God only knows! - perhaps some pertinent facts in relation to the Report are called for.

Desmond Travers was one of the four members of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which produced the controversial Goldstone Report. Travers is a retired Colonel of the Army of the Irish Defence Forces. His last appointment was as Commandant of its Military College. He also served in command of troops with various UN and EU peace support missions.

Ken Silverstein, of Harper's Magazine, interviewed Travers with 6 important questions. Read the Q & A here.