Sunday, May 31, 2009
The Washington Post asked activists, journalists and policy experts what the president should say in his address in Cairo. Below are contributions from Ayman Nour, David Makovsky, Danielle Pletka, Steven A. Cook, Daoud Kuttab, Tamara Cofman Wittes, Martin Indyk, David Pollock and Curtis Cannon, and Aaron David Miller.
Read what the experts say Obama should say here.
"For the second time, the Israeli Army has tried to shut down the week-long Palestine Festival of Literature, a self-described "traveling cultural roadshow" touring across the West Bank with internationally known Palestinian and European writers. After armed forces closed down opening night in East Jerusalem's Palestinian National Theater, the French came in to host the events; last night, when troops arrived again, the British did.
"Talking about what literature is and what it means in a fraught political situation is the most honest thing we can do," said British writer Jeremy Harding. "They didn't like that."
The Guardian reports:
"Climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300m people, according to the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming.
It projects that increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths a year by 2030, making it the greatest humanitarian challenge the world faces.
Economic losses due to climate change today amount to more than $125bn a year — more than all the present world aid. The report comes from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's thinktank, the Global Humanitarian Forum. By 2030, the report says, climate change could cost $600bn a year.
Civil unrest may also increase because of weather-related events, the report says: "Four billion people are vulnerable now and 500m are now at extreme risk. Weather-related disasters ... bring hunger, disease, poverty and lost livelihoods. They pose a threat to social and political stability".
What with the world occupied with the North Koreans, the Middle East, Pakistan and still seemingly entranced by Obama, the critical issue of global warming has slipped below the radar.
It oughn't for the consequences of ignoring it are dire - as
If emissions are not brought under control, within 25 years, the report states:
• 310m more people will suffer adverse health consequences related to temperature increases
• 20m more people will fall into poverty
• 75m extra people will be displaced by climate change.
Climate change is expected to have the most severe impact on water supplies . "Shortages in future are likely to threaten food production, reduce sanitation, hinder economic development and damage ecosystems. It causes more violent swings between floods and droughts. Hundreds of millions of people are expected to become water stressed by climate change by the 2030. "."
Saturday, May 30, 2009
But, this report on Yahoo! News tells us that newspaper sales have actually grew globally by 1.3 % in 2008:
"Global newspaper sales inched up last year, contradicting gloomy predictions that dailies face extinction, as gains in Africa, Asia and Latin America offset slumps in Europe and the US, an industry group said Wednesday.
Newspaper sales grew 1.3 percent worldwide last year from 2007 to 539 million daily, a rise of 8.8 percent over the past four years, said Gavin O'Reilly, president of the World Association of Newspapers.
"The sector continues to grow," he said at the start of a two-day WAN conference in Barcelona, adding media commentators were making a "mistake" when they predicted the death of daily newspapers.
Dailies in wealthier nations are struggling due to the impact of the Internet and the slump in advertising caused by the economic downturn."
Continue reading, here, to find out where newspapers are headed.
Interestingly, just today Bloomberg reports [as reported on Media Channel] that The NY Times is lifting its cover price by a staggering 25%:
"U.S. publishers are betting readers will fork over a few more quarters for their newspaper, one of the few ways they can boost revenue as advertisers cut spending.
New York Times Co.’s flagship newspaper will cost $2 at newsstands as of June 1, a 50-cent increase, and subscription prices also will rise. A.H. Belo Corp. said this month it will consider more increases next year after raising the Dallas Morning News 25 cents to $1 in February.
Price increases at the Washington Post and Tampa Tribune also paid off with higher circulation revenue, a rare area of improvement in an industry that posted declines in advertising and readership in the past year. Ad sales have dropped so low that publishers said they are willing to lose some readers to get more money out of the loyal ones.
“Those rate hikes will continue as long as they can keep pushing them through,” Alexia Quadrani, a JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst in New York, said in an interview. “Circulation is relatively a positive story, but unfortunately it doesn’t do too much to offset the declining advertising.”
In 2007, readers paid 35 cents for the Washington Post, less than half the current newsstand price of 75 cents, and $1 for the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, which now costs $2".
Patrick Cockburn, in The Independent, reports on what is billed as the mother of all corruptions:
"Iraq plans to arrest 1,000 officials for corruption after a scandal which has forced the resignation of the Trade Minister and is threatening the food supply of millions of Iraqis.
Corruption at the Trade Ministry is an important issue in Iraq because the ministry is in charge of the food rationing system on which 60 per cent of Iraqis depend. Officials at the ministry, which spends billions of dollars buying rice, sugar, flour and other items, are notorious among Iraqis for importing food that is unfit for human consumption, for which they charge the state the full international price.
The scandal first erupted in April when police, entering the Trade Ministry in Baghdad to arrest 10 senior officials accused of corruption and embezzlement, were greeted with gunfire by the ministry's own guards. The shoot-out allowed several officials, including two brothers of the Trade Minister, Abdul Falah al-Sudany, time to escape out the back gate.
The political crisis over corruption has escalated after a video surfaced showing Trade Ministry officials at a party, apparently drinking alcohol, cavorting with prostitutes, and deriding the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki."
First, a NY Times report "Misery Hangs Over Gaza Despite Pledges of Help":
"Dozens of families still live in tents amid collapsed buildings and rusting pipes. With construction materials barred, a few are building mud-brick homes. Everything but food and medicine has to be smuggled through desert tunnels from Egypt. Among the items that people seek is an addictive pain reliever used to fight depression. A smuggler digging a tunnel at the border of Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Everything but food and medicine has to be smuggled in. Four months after Israel waged a war here to stop Hamas rocket fire and two years after Hamas took full control of this coastal strip, Gaza is like an island adrift. Squeezed from without by an Israeli and Egyptian boycott and from within by their Islamist rulers, the 1.5 million people here are cut off from any productivity or hope. “Right after the war, everybody came — journalists, foreign governments and charities promising to help,” said Hashem Dardona, 47, who is unemployed. “Now, nobody comes.”
"This is because although Israel and Egypt have shut the borders for the past three years in an effort to squeeze Hamas, Israel rations aid daily, allowing in about 100 trucks of food and medicine. Military officers in Tel Aviv count the calories to avoid a disaster. And the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees runs schools and medical clinics that are clean and efficient. But there are many levels of deprivation short of catastrophe, and Gaza inhabits most of them. It has almost nothing of a functioning economy apart from basic commerce and farming. Education has declined terribly; medical care is declining. There are tens of thousands of educated and ambitious people here, teachers, engineers, translators, business managers, who have nothing to do but grow frustrated. They cannot practice their professions and they cannot leave. They collect welfare and smoke in cafes. A United Nations survey shows a spike in domestic violence."
Second, Mondoweiss has been able to get into Gaza and reports from there:
"My group got into Gaza two days ago, and it feels like a month already. I think the most significant impression I can convey is my surprise at how vibrant and alive the place is. I'd steeled myself to see endless destruction. Certainly every image of physical destruction that we saw last December and January can be found; but the shock is the realization that Palestinian life goes forward with incredible perseverance and charm and dignity. Downtown Gaza city is vibrant, full of street life, and the traffic is now and then interrupted by a flatbed truck going by with a wedding band banging drums on it, and a Mercedes carrying the bride and groom in tow.
It is not that the world's blockade of Gaza is not evident. It is evident at almost every turn. Most buildings downtown are dark at night. Generators go in the street. Store shelves are thin, and the sense of high unemployment is everywhere at hand. The commerce feels like that of a dusty Caribbean island".
Friday, May 29, 2009
Haaretz reports on Amnesty International's report on the Gaza War. It is republished here, in full, lest it be said that by only reproducing part, there has been some selectivity from the Haaretz piece.
"A new Amnesty International report has accused Israel of repeatedly violating the laws of armed conflict during the three-week Israel Defense Forces offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009.
The report claims that 1400 Palestinians died in the offensive - including 300 children - and that 5000 people were wounded.
The Amnesty report accuses IDF soldiers of violating the laws of armed conflict over and over again by directly attacking civilians and civilian structures and by causing an immeasurable number of civilian casualties when attacking Palestinian fighters.
It also mentions Israel's justification for the offensive: that it attacked Gaza to prevent war and to stop armed Palestinians from shelling cities and towns in southern Israel with rockets. The report goes on to detail that three Israeli civilians were killed during the Gaza operation, adding to seven Israeli civilians killed by home-made rockets and other Palestinian attacks launched from Gaza in 2008.
According to the Amnesty International report, the sudden conflict came following a period of a year-and-a-half in which the IDF imposed an uncompromising blockade on the residents of Gaza, which almost completely prevented the movement of people and goods into the Gaza Strip and led to a humanitarian crisis.
The blockade almost completely strangled economic life, the report goes on to accuse, claiming that even those on their death bed were not permitted to leave the Strip for medical attention.
The report also accuses Israeli security forces of destroying many Palestinian homes in the West Bank on the pretext that they were built illegally.
Jerusalem-based watchdog NGO Monitor responded to the report by accusing Amnesty International of focusing disproportionately on Israeli policy in Gaza and of not paying enough attention to the firing of rockets at Israel civilians.
The watchdog, headed by Bar Ilan University Professor Gerald Steinberg, added that Amnesty's biased and disproportionate obsession with Israel reached its peak during the latest conflict in Gaza.
According to NGO Monitor, Amnesty International published more than 20 declarations during the Gaza offensive, most of them critical of Israel, even while violations of human rights included a massacre of more than 600 villagers by Ugandan rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo to which Amnesty devoted minimal attention."
The North Koreans' actions are not be lightly dismissed. But is it a real threat about which the world ought to panic? Stephen Walt, professor in International Relations at Harvard, writing in "On North Korea's nuclear and missile tests" on his blog as part of FP, analyses the situation:
"North Korea's nuclear and missile tests are hardly good news, but they don’t justify going into full panic mode. We already knew that North Korea had a nuclear weapons capability, and though this latest test seems to have been slightly more powerful than the initial one, it doesn’t imply a qualitative shift in the strategic environment. North Korea's defiance is annoying, perhaps, but it’s not like the act of testing a nuclear weapon tells us something new about their regime. And let's not forget that the United States has tested a nuclear weapons 1030 times (plus another 24 joint tests with Great Britain), while Pyongyang has tested exactly twice.
The other reason not to get too bent out of shape is that there is little we can do about it. We've been worried about North Korea’s nuclear program for decades, and the Clinton adminstration seriously considered a preventive strike against North Korea’s nuclear facilities back in 1993-1994. But they ultimately refrained, because our allies in the region were opposed to it and because the risks of an attack were deemed too great. The Bush administration was critical of Clinton’s emphasis on diplomacy and took a tougher line at first, but that approach didn't stop North Korea from testing in 2006 and may even have encouraged them. In the end, the Bush team also recognized that it had no good coercive options and ended up going the diplomatic route too."
They may well have a point given the decision by the Council not to investigate the recent action of both sides in the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. It is even worse! The Council congratulated the Government on its success in concluding the war as it did.
The Guardian reports:
"Sri Lanka last night scored a major propaganda coup when the UN human rights council praised its victory over the Tamil Tigers and refused calls to investigate allegations of war crimes by both sides in the final chapter of a bloody 25-year conflict.
In a shock move, which dismayed western nations critical of Sri Lanka's approach, the island's diplomats succeeded in lobbying enough of its south Asian allies to pass a resolution describing the conflict as a "domestic matter that doesn't warrant outside interference".
The Geneva council session, called because of alarm over the high number of civilian casualties as well as the island's treatment of displaced Tamil civilians, also condemned the Tamil Tigers for using ordinary people as human shields.
In another controversial development, it supported the Sri Lankan government's decision to provide aid groups only with "access as may be appropriate" to refugee camps.
The Sri Lankan government denies it was responsible for the death of even one of the 7,000 civilians the UN estimates were killed in the first four months of the year."
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Not for the first time the way the US has dealt with the press, especially in the light of the recent Saberi case in Iran, is raised again - this time by lawyer Scott Horton writing on Harper's Magazine.
"Recently, Iranians arrested and tried a young North Dakota-reared journalist named Roxana Saberi. She was accused of espionage and held under harsh conditions. The Obama administration cried foul, and newspapers around the United States raged against the Iranians and their abuse of the denizens of the Fourth Estate. The objections were well taken and had commendable effect, as Saberi’s sentence was reduced, and she was freed and allowed to return to the States. But there’s another country whose treatment of journalists might put even Iran to shame: the United States. The U.S. has detained dozens of journalists in Iraq. Most of these were fleeting, and the journalists were allowed to return home after their identity was confirmed. A number of journalists, however, weren’t so lucky."
Continue reading here. As Horton concludes:
"In an address two years ago to the Naval Academy, Secretary Robert Gates told the midshipmen that the press was not “the enemy.” It’s taking some time for this message to sink in. But maybe the Obama Administration’s new crew looking into detainee affairs will see they have a problem with journalists that will take little to fix. Just respecting the law."
"Father Patrick Desbois is a man desperately racing with death. By his own calculations he has six, perhaps seven years at the outside in which to complete his work: a task, which until the reaper renders it impossible some time in the not-too-distant future, is at once unimaginably chilling in nature and nightmarishly ambitious in scale. For the 53-year-old French priest, with an easy laugh and shining eyes, has made it his holy mission to recall for the world the slaughter enacted by the Nazi mobile death squads, the feared Einsatzgruppen, which roamed and murdered Jews and Gypsies with impunity in the remote villages of the former Soviet Union between 1941 and 1944.
It was, until the intervention of Father Dubois, a largely overlooked episode in one of the grimmest chapters of the Second World War. But for the last 10 years the priest and his helpers have painstakingly gathered the testimony of the survivors of this period, travelling to some of Europe's most abject places where, without judging, they have listened as a procession of elderly men and women recalled – often for the first time – how, a lifetime ago, they became teenage helpmates to the Nazi killing machine.
Today these witnesses have grown old and infirm and many are already dead. Living in countries where the average life expectancy for a man is little more than 60 years, those who experienced first-hand the Nazi genocide in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Ossetia are steadily dying out. When they are gone, Father Desbois fears, so too will the memory of what they saw – and with it a truth which exists only in the conscience of Europe's poorest people.
During the course of the last decade, Father Desbois and his team from Yahad in Unum, a French organisation dedicated to Christian-Jewish understanding, have recorded conversations with more than 1,000 witnesses to the mass murders on Hitler's Eastern Front. So far they have discovered some 850 unmarked graves – the majority of them previously unknown – including a site at Bodgdanivka which contained the remains of some 42,000 Jews.
Matthew Alexander was the senior military interrogator for the task force that tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq and, at the time, a higher priority target than Osama bin Laden. Mr. Alexander has personally conducted hundreds of interrogations and supervised over a thousand of them.
"Torture does not save lives. Torture costs us lives," Mr. Alexander said in an exclusive interview at Brave New Studios. "And the reason why is that our enemies use it, number one, as a recruiting tool...These same foreign fighters who came to Iraq to fight because of torture and abuse....literally cost us hundreds if not thousands of American lives."
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Once the invention of movable type and various commercial advances in the early modern era enabled printers to sell books to anyone who could and would pay for them (no longer reserving them for priests and kings), they became irresistibly popular: their relatively sturdy bindings gave them some permanence; the small-format ones were portable and could be read anywhere; and they transmitted sensory pleasures to eye, hand and brain. Children learned to read with them; adolescents used them, sometimes furtively, to discover the secrets of grown-up life; adults loved them for the pleasure, learning and joy they conveyed. Books have had a kind of spooky power, embedded as they are in the very structures of learning, commerce and culture by which we have absorbed, stored and transmitted information, opinion, art and wisdom. No wonder, then, that the book business, although a very small part of the American economy, has attracted disproportionate attention.
But does it still merit this attention? Do books still have their power? Over the past twenty years, as we've thrown ourselves eagerly into a joy ride on the Information Superhighway, we've been learning to read, and been reading, differently; and books aren't necessarily where we start or end our education. The unprofitable chaos of the book business today indicates, among other things, that slow, almost invisible transformations as well as rapid helter-skelter ones have wrecked old reading habits (bad and good) and created new ones (ditto). In the cacophony of modern American commerce, we hear incoherent squeals of dying life-forms along with the triumphant braying and twittering of new human expression."
So begins a most interesting piece on The Nation for anyone who loves his or her books. The writer is someone in the industry - Elisabeth Sifton, senior vice president of publishers Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Sifton undertakes an analysis of where the book-industry is at and the challenges it faces. In this age of blogging, Kindles, iphones and other types of readers, are the days of the books we have come to know - and indeed the bookshops also - numbered?
Continue reading the piece here.
Whilst the debate continues in the USA about torture, the release of photos, Obama not pursuing those who engaged in illegal acts during the Iraq War, etc. etc. there are those who are questioning not only the monetary cost of the war, but what was actually achieved - or put another way, were there any real tangible benefits for either the Americans or Iraqis.
Two pieces highlight critical "issues" relating to the Iraq War. First, Cindy Sheehan, writing on truthout.org in "The Day of the Dead" questions what, if anything, was achieved by the War:
"I was on an airplane flying to Orange County from Sacramento to attend the al-Awda Conference, which is a Palestinian Right's Conference (al-Awda translates to "The Returning"), when the pilot's voice filled the cabin to make an announcement that I think went unnoticed by most of my fellow passengers, but I heard it.
"As the plane was on the approach to John Wayne airport, the Captain came on the intercom to remind us all to "remember our brave troops who have died for our freedom." Even in this post 9-11 paranoid paradigm, if I wasn't belted in for landing, I would have popped out of my seat at 13D and charged up to the cockpit to let the pilot know that my son was killed in Iraq and not one person anywhere in this world is one iota more free because he is dead.
"As a matter of fact, the people of Iraq, the foreign country thousands of miles away where my oldest child's brains, blood and life seeped into the soil, are not freer, unless one counts being liberated from life, liberty and property being free. If you consider torture and indefinite detention freedom, then the pilot may have been right, but then again, even if you do consider those crimes freedom, it does not make it so.
"Here in America we are definitely not freer because my son died, as a matter of fact, our nation can spy on us and our communications without a warrant or just cause, and we can't even bring a 3.6 ounce bottle of hand cream into an airport, or walk through a metal detector with our shoes on. Even if we do want to exercise our Bill of Rights, we are shoved into pre-designated "free speech" zones (NewSpeak for; STFU, unless you are well out of the way of what you want to protest and shoved into pens like cattle being led to slaughter), and oftentimes brutally treated if we decide we are entitled to "free speech" on every inch of American soil."
Over at The NY Times a sobering report "Fate of Missing Iraqis Haunts Those Left Behind" records the suffering of many in Iraq - supposed to have been liberated from Hussein by the Coalition of the Willing:
"Ten thousand Iraqis are listed as missing since the American invasion six years ago — although the Iraqi government acknowledges that its figures are probably only a small fraction of the actual number. Most of those who disappeared are believed to be dead. But even those whose bodies have been found are not always identified quickly; Dr. Munjid Salah al-Deen, the manager of Baghdad’s central morgue, said his staff was working to identify 28,000 bodies from 2006 to 2008 alone.
The authorities are hampered by some of the cruelties of war and the poverty it brings: some bodies are mutilated and hard to identify, and there is little money for new forensic workers to handle the huge caseload."
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
"In the wake of Obama's speech yesterday, there are vast numbers of new converts who now support indefinite "preventive detention." It thus seems constructive to have as dispassionate and fact-based discussion as possible of the implications of "preventive detention" and Obama's related detention proposals (military commissions)."
"It's important to be clear about what "preventive detention" authorizes. It does not merely allow the U.S. Government to imprison people alleged to have committed Terrorist acts yet who are unable to be convicted in a civilian court proceeding. That class is merely a subset, perhaps a small subset, of who the Government can detain. Far more significant, "preventive detention" allows indefinite imprisonment not based on proven crimes or past violations of law, but of those deemed generally "dangerous" by the Government for various reasons (such as, as Obama put it yesterday, they "expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden" or "otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans"). That's what "preventive" means: imprisoning people because the Government claims they are likely to engage in violent acts in the future because they are alleged to be "combatants."
No sooner had the Israeli PM returned from the US last week than all sorts of issues have arisen.
First, this madness, as reported by Akiva Elder in Haaretz in "Words of the living God":
"Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin is considered an honest man who speaks his mind. That is cause for great concern.
In speaking last week to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - and through it, the greater public - he put forth a position that indicates a serious flaw in strategy and logic. Diskin said that as long as Hamas rules Gaza, an effective diplomatic process does not stand a chance.
What does the Shin Bet head propose? "I suggested to government officials at the time to overthrow Hamas in Gaza in order to give Israel more diplomatic options," he said. Almost in the same breath, Diskin said "Hamas can be overthrown, but it cannot be uprooted from the hearts of the people."
Assuming that the director of the Shin Bet, who is responsible for appraising the situation in the territories, was not seeking to serve his new master in the Prime Minister's Bureau, his diagnosis and the recommendation derived from it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom."
Then, this, as also reported by Haaretz in "'Israel won't yield to U.S. demands, won't halt settlement construction'":
"Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon spoke to Channel 2 on Saturday about the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, held earlier this week, saying that Israel's government will not allow the U.S. to dictate its policy, and that "settlement construction will not be halted."
"Settlements are not the reason that the peace process is failing, they were never an obstacle, not at any stage," Ya'alon told Channel 2 News. "Even when Israel pulled out of [Palestinian] territory, the terror continued. Even when we uprooted [Jewish] communities, we got 'Hamastan.' That is why I propose that we think about it - not in slogans and not with decrees."
According to Ayalon, "we will not halt the construction in the settlements within the framework of natural growth. There are people here who are living their lives, raising children. Housing is required ? it wasn't housing that has prevented peace."
But, one sane voice in that ever-increasing Israeli madhouse, is that of Gideon Levy. Writing his op-ed piece "Only settlers are taking Obama seriously in Israel" in Haaretz he says:
"Israel is arguably standing before the opportunity of a lifetime, yet there is not even a hint of real public debate. The town square is empty - for years it has been devoid of demonstrations and protests, neither for nor against, completely empty. The frightening indifference dragged us into wars, and the no-less horrifying indifference could lead us to miss a rare opportunity for peace.
Barack Obama has made Israel an offer it cannot - and must not - refuse, yet Israel fails to wake up. Where are those 57 percent of Israelis who said in the latest Haaretz poll that they support a two-state solution? What do they think? That this solution, which they allegedly support, will fall from the sky, without lifting a finger, without making waves among the depths of society, waves that will put such a grandiose process in motion? Where are the protests against the anti-peace position of our elected prime minister, who continues with his hackneyed we-will-not-divide-Jerusalem and we-will-not-come-down-from-the-Golan?"
"The Tigers have been defeated but don't expect dissenting voices to be welcome in Sri Lanka any time soon, says Sri Lankan journalist Sunanda Deshapriya in an interview with newmatilda.com".
To reflect on how things stand now in Sri Lanka, but one example from the Q & A:
"In recent times it seems as though it has been very dangerous to report anything that wasn't going along with the Government line, though. Has that situation now changed? Do you expect it to change?
No, I don't think so. The President has said there are only two types of people: one group of people who support their motherland, the others who are traitors to their country. He says there are no ethnic groups in this country, no minorities, no Muslims, no Tamils, no Sinhalese: only two groups now.
This is the same terminology used in the last three years [to justify the war on the LTTE] — the Defence Secretary said: there are two people, one's the terrorist, the others are people who are fighting the terrorists. And even before that he said you have to take a side: you are with us or you are with the terrorists.
So the same terminology is still being used, and the message is very clear: if you don't support the official line, you will be branded a traitor."
Read the full Q & A here.
Monday, May 25, 2009
First, Alexander Cockburn in The First Post "Obama: From Anti-war Law Professor to Warmonger in 100 Days":
"How long does it take a mild-mannered, anti-war, black professor of constitutional law, trained as a community organiser on the South Side of Chicago, to become an enthusiastic sponsor of targeted assassinations, 'decapitation' strategies and remote-control bombing of mud houses at the far end of the globe?
There's nothing surprising here. As far back as President Woodrow Wilson, in the early 20th century, American liberalism has been swift to flex its imperial muscle and whistle up the Marines. High-explosive has always been in the hormone shot.
The nearest parallel to Obama in eager deference to the bloodthirsty counsels of his counter-insurgency advisors is John F. Kennedy. It is not surprising that bright young presidents relish quick-fix, 'outside the box' scenarios for victory."
And, secondly, Paul Craig Roberts [who wrote the Kemp-Roth bill] and was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration and was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and contributing editor of National Review, writing on Information Clearing House in "Watching Obama Morph Into Dick Cheney":
"America has lost her soul, and so has her president.
A despairing country elected a president who promised change. Americans arrived from every state to witness in bitter cold Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. The mall was packed in a way that it has never been for any other president.
The people’s good will toward Obama and the expectations they had for him were sufficient for Obama to end the gratuitous wars and enact major reforms. But Obama has deserted the people for the interests. He is relying on his non-threatening demeanor and rhetoric to convince the people that change is underway.
The change that we are witnessing is in Obama, not in policies. Obama is morphing into Dick Cheney.
Obama has not been in office four months and already a book could be written about his broken promises."
Spiegel OnLine International has opened an interesting subject - how many other countries were "helpers" of the Nazis?
"The Germans are responsible for the industrial-scale mass murder of 6 million Jews. But the collusion of other European countries in the Holocaust has received surprisingly little attention until recently. The trial of John Demjanjuk is set to throw a spotlight on Hitler's foreign helpers."
"Of course only Hitler and his entourage or the army could have stopped the Holocaust. But this doesn't invalidate the argument that without the foreign helpers, countless thousands or even millions of the approximately six million murdered Jews would have survived.
In the killing fields of Eastern Europe, there were up to 10 local helpers for every German policeman. The ratio is similar in the extermination camps. Not in Auschwitz, which was run almost entirely by Germans, but in Belzec (600,000 killed), Treblinka (900,000 deaths) or in Demjanjuk's Sobibor. There, a handful of SS members were assisted by some 120 Travniki men.
Without them, the Germans would never have managed to kill 250,000 Jews in Sobibor, says former prisoner Blatt. It was the Travniki who guarded the camp, drove all the Jews from the railway wagons and trucks after their arrival in the camp, and who beat them into the gas chambers.
Was the Holocaust a European Project?
Such a stupefying number of victims raises disturbing questions, and Berlin historian Götz Aly already started asking them a few years ago: was the so-called Final Solution in fact a "European project that cannot be explained solely by the special circumstances of German history"?"
Read the article, in full, here.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
"A UN human rights inquiry on Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip five months ago will hold public hearings, the inquiry's head Richard Goldstone said Wednesday, marking a first for the United Nations.
Goldstone said the four-member mission was ready to hold hearings outside the region in Geneva if necessary, especially to hear Israeli witnesses who might not be able to enter Palestinian territory.
"That way we would cover all fields," he told journalists after a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
UN officials said it would be the first time that a UN inquiry held such public hearings, as Goldstone applied his experience as a former judge and investigator in post-apartheid South Africa.
An Israeli official said last month that Israel would refuse to cooperate with the probe, after Israel's foreign ministry claimed that the probe was based on a biased mandate and sought to tarnish the country's reputation.
Goldstone said the UN mission of inquiry had not received an official response yet to its requests to enter the Gaza Strip "through the front door", via Israel.
But the mission would enter Gaza through Egypt "if it's the only way to get in," he added.
The 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted by a large majority in January to set up the probe into accusations of "grave" human rights violations by Israeli forces against the Palestinians during the military offensive in late December and January.
But when Goldstone was appointed last month, council president Martin Uhomoibhi gave it a broader mandate to deal with "all violations", not only those Israel has been accused of during the incursion.
The panel also includes British law professor Christine Chinkin, retired Irish army colonel Desmond Travers and Pakistan supreme court advocate Hina Jilani.
Goldstone also headed the public inquiry into violence and intimidation in the run up to South Africa's first post-apartheid elections in 1994 that was widely credited with preventing the country's slide into widespread violence.
As if the demise of newspapers wasn't bad enough, The NY Times reveals in "Death Row Foes See Newsroom Cuts as Blow" a singularly unfortunate by-product - lesser and lesser investigations of people wrongly sentenced, many of whom are on death row. Newspaper people have regularly been involved in the investigations together with lawyers.
"Opponents of the death penalty looking to exonerate wrongly accused prisoners say their efforts have been hobbled by the dwindling size of America’s newsrooms, and particularly the disappearance of investigative reporting at many regional papers.
In the past, lawyers opposed to the death penalty often provided the broad outlines of cases to reporters, who then pursued witnesses and unearthed evidence.
Now, the lawyers complain, they have to do more of the work themselves and that means it often doesn’t get done. They say many fewer cases are being pursued by journalists, after a spate of exonerations several years ago based on the work of reporters.
The decline in newsroom resources has also hampered efforts by death-penalty opponents to search for irrefutable DNA evidence that an innocent person has been executed in America.
Because judges and prosecutors are usually reluctant to reopen cases after an execution, advocates have been seeking to enlist the media as plaintiffs, to file motions under a novel legal theory that news organizations should have access to physical evidence under the First Amendment and state sunshine laws, which establish access to government records.
And here, the worry is that weakened newspapers will be increasingly reluctant to dedicate any resources.
“It’s extremely troubling, some of the leading investigative journalists in this country have been given golden parachutes or laid off,” said Barry Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project in New York, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “When procedural mechanisms begin to fail, the press is the last resort for the public to find out the truth.”
What the Government has done to the Tamils has been barbaric and inhumane - at the same time simply ignoring pleas from various countries and organisations to desist, show restraint and act according to international law.
The Guardian reports in "Quarter of a million Sri Lankans face two years in camps":
"Many of the quarter of a million people held in internment camps in Sri Lanka face up to two years behind razor wire, a government official said today.
Despite international concern over conditions inside the camps, the defence ministry spokesman, Lakshman Hulugalle, said Sri Lanka was not prepared to let the UN dictate terms over the length of time people could be held.
A UN spokesman, Gordon Weiss, said he was "shocked" at the revelation, which ran counter to previous government assurances.
"It was our understanding that the government was to return 80% of the people to their homes by the end of the year, or at least try to," said Weiss.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
How's this? - quoting from the JINSA:
"Today, the United States and its allies will never face a lone enemy on the battlefield. There will always be a hostile third party in the fight, but one which we not only refrain from attacking but are hesitant to annoy: the media."
Veteran blogger [and lawyer] - now on Salon - Glenn Greenwald writes:
"Eric Boehlert has just released a truly superb, illuminating and entertaining new book: Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press. As the title suggests, the book examines the impact which the blogosphere has had on both journalism and political activism, and it is, in my view, by far the best book yet to examine the rise of political blogs. Boehlert is my guest today on Salon Radio to talk about the issues raised by this new book.
In order to dispel stereotypes and myths propagated about bloggers (mostly by establishment journalists eager to demonize what they perceive as their competitors), Boehlert focuses on 8-10 bloggers, and writes in detail about their background and what brought them to blogging."
Go here on Salon to read a partial excerpt from what sounds like a fascinating book.
"Cheney has replaced Sarah Palin as Rogue Diva. Just as Jeb Bush and other Republicans are trying to get kinder and gentler, Cheney has popped out of his dungeon, scary organ music blaring, to carry on his nasty campaign of fear and loathing.
The man who never talked is now the man who won’t shut up. The man who wouldn’t list his office in the federal jobs directory, who had the vice president’s residence blocked on Google Earth, who went to the Supreme Court to keep from revealing which energy executives helped him write the nation’s energy policy, is now endlessly yelping about how President Obama is holding back documents that should be made public.
Cheney, who had five deferments himself to get out of going to Vietnam, would rather follow a blowhard entertainer who has had three divorces and a drug problem (who also avoided Vietnam) than a four-star general who spent his life serving his country.
“Bush 41 cares about decorum and protocol,” said an official in Bush I. “I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate Cheney acting out. He is giving the whole party a black eye just as Jeb is out there trying to renew the party.”
Cheney unleashed, egged on by the combative Lynne and Liz, is pretty much the same as Cheney underground: He’s batty, and he thinks he was the president."
Friday, May 22, 2009
"It's already clear: the U.S. president is a great friend of Israel. If Barack Obama continues what he started this week, he might prove to be the friendliest president to Israel ever. Richard Nixon saved Israel from the Arab states in 1973, and Obama is about to save Israel from itself. Nixon sent us arms and ammunition at a critical time, and Obama is sending us, at a time no less critical, the substance of a complete peace plan, a plan that would save Israel.
All that remains is whether Obama stays determined and decisive, as he was earlier this week. In one move he changed Washington's madness and the attitude toward the Israeli occupation. Now we will see if he succeeds in altering the same madness in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It's a long road, and Obama began well.
In a single move he shrank the fearmongering of Benjamin Netanyahu and his mouthpieces on Iran to its proper size. In a single move he put the centrifuges of occupation, the real existential threat to Israel, at the top of the agenda. He fended off Netanyahu's attempts to divert attention from substantial issues, and blocked all efforts to waste more precious time on Iran and impose ridiculous preconditions on the Palestinians. He also blocked all efforts to distract us with committees, promises for negotiations, formulas, declarations and empty words. These are Israel's best tricks and games; anything to evade responsibility for the main issue - the end of the occupation.
Obama understands that now is the time for an end to petty words, impotent negotiations and a hollow peace process; now is the time for big deeds and a courageous leap over the abyss.
Suddenly all of Israel's "friends" in Washington have shed their skin. They, too, sense a rare opportunity in the Middle East. They, too, are tired of what Netanyahu has tried to peddle. They, too, understand that the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank must precede Iran's nuclear reactor in Bushehr. How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister, sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive, without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel - one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness.
How pathetic was the sight, yet how encouraging; perhaps Netanyahu learned something during his short and dramatic visit. The visit has already made one contribution: Obama tore off the mask of so-called peace-loving Israel. If Netanyahu really feared for the fate of the country he would have immediately agreed, in the Oval Office, to all the ideas put forth by this fantastic president. If Israel does not respond, we, the Israelis, will know, the U.S. president will know and the entire world will know that Israel does not want peace.
An Israeli refusal of Obama's efforts will reveal that there is no peace partner in the Middle East. The absent partner is Israel. No to peace with 57 countries, no to a move that will neutralize the threat of the Iranian bomb, and no to two states now. This is not only a no to peace but also a no to a chance to end the war over Israel's establishment with a major victory. This would mean that Israel's greatest strategic asset ever, its alliance with the United States, would be destroyed. Netanyahu may now endanger Israel even more than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
We must be thankful to Obama. Four months after taking office, he is trying to rescue Israel, the Middle East, and basically the entire world, whose most dangerous conflict is this one. The threats are many; first and foremost refusals by Israel, a loss of interest by Obama, and Palestinian divisions. The ball is in Netanyahu's court. If he ends the occupation, he'll get peace and security; if he doesn't, he won't. It's not about another minor deal, but about the future of the Zionist enterprise. Such an opportunity will not return. Yes, we can. Obama has proved it; now it's our turn."
Jeff Sparrow, writing in Crikey, details the nefarious and astounding antics of Rumsfeld as revealed in a recent GQ article:
“He’s a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that.”
So said Richard Nixon, a man who knew something about ruthlessness and bastardry, about Donald Rumsfeld back in 1971.
GQ today provides a fascinating glimpse of the man at work. In the early days of the Iraq war, Rumsfeld was responsible for regular briefings known as Worldwide Intelligence Updates, often personally delivered to the White House.
Continue reading here.
Increasingly, the country's strong-arm tactics, both internally and externally, must surely give pause to even its most ardent fans. But then to challenge and question immediately attracts the label of "self-hating Jew", "anti-semite" or "anti-Zionist".
Read this troubling piece "Intimidation and Interrogation in Tel Aviv" on CounterPunch with grave concern:
"It is simple: even if you are as convinced as I am of being innocent, of being on the right side of the law; even if you have nothing to hide – now the police has picked you up as if you belonged to a dangerous underground network, now you have been interrogated by a man whose questions were formulated and asked as if you were a felon, now your computer has been confiscated as if it carries texts that encode a national threat. Words you and your friends formulated thoughtfully are stated back to you in a flat, accusing voice: you realize they are a half or quarter sentence that fails, even grammatically, to articulate what they accuse you of. But their ineptness is not what worries you – it is the arrogance that allows them this deep, enraged misreading. No wonder that nearly a week afterwards your “surrounded” position in the street flashes out at you. If you were given to such sentiments you would feel alone in the street, horribly alone.
Intimidation, I am learning these days, is when you find that the law can turn against you: This does not come as a surprise to me: I live in a security-dominated country in which Palestinian citizens already live under a different interpretation and dispensation of the same law that still mostly protects someone like me. But now that I have been interrogated by a man called Amichai (literally: “My people live”) my knowledge has an added dimension: It takes a while into my interrogator’s list of questions until I figure out that this exchange is not conducted under the usual rules of conversation, of civilian communication. Nothing in my life has prepared me for this: every word I say not only freezes immediately (later I’ll have to sign the protocol and it feels as though I sign my words away, cut their lifeline) – it can and may well be used against me. In view of the misreading I mentioned before, I stand warned: even grammar stops counting here."
Qadri, together with Tahir Ali write in "Thousands Displaced By War In Pakistan":
"During the past week the Pakistan Army has undertaken its largest ever operation against Taliban forces in the Swat valley and lower Dir districts — parts of the Malakand Tribal Agency where it had earlier reached a controversial peace agreement with pro-Taliban activists.
The army assaults have had a devastating impact on village communities. The UN estimates that 500,000 or more have fled their once quiet, scenic mountain homes which are now part of the deadly frontline of Pakistan's battle with Islamic militancy.
This latest wave of displaced villagers join the close to one million people who, since last August, had already been made homeless by the war with the Taliban in other parts of Pakistan's tribal areas.
People have sought refuge as far south as Peshawar, some 80 kilometres from the current troubles in Swat. On the outskirts of the city, displaced communities live a rudimentary life among the endless rows of tents at the Katcha Ghauri camp, which was once home to refugees from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan."
Thursday, May 21, 2009
"In 2004, Susan Galleymore traveled 7,472 miles from Alameda, Calif., to deliver a message to her Army Ranger son stationed on a military base in Iraq's Sunni Triangle.
"Don't do anything you'll regret or be ashamed of because it will haunt you for the rest of your life," she told him.
The devastation and despair she witnessed, and the stories she heard in taxis and coffee shops along the way made her realize how disconnected Americans are from the realities of war and occupation -- even those of us who like to think we are well-informed.
She decided that she couldn't return to California and continue life as usual.
Over the next few years, she traveled to Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria to interview mostly mothers about their personal stories and everyday struggles.
She couldn't go to Afghanistan because she ran out of money, so she interviewed Afghan women by phone and Afghan American women living in the Bay Area in person. She also interviewed a number of American military moms.
Galleymore compiled these first-person narratives, along with her observations and analysis, in a newly released book, Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak About War and Terror."
Continue reading this penetrating, and troubling, piece here.
With a downtown in the company's profitability and the closure of stores around the world - although good coffee drinkers won't miss them - one would have thought that management might have more sense......
Any support for being cynical and knowing where the PM stands? He has form. The Israel Policy Forum's Mideast Peace Pulse tells all:
"You want to know what Prime Minister Netanyahu is up to? Here it is, from the New York Times
on June 27, 1992. The Likud prime minister then was Yitzhak Shamir who had just been defeated by Yitzhak Rabin.
"Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was quoted in a published interview today as saying he wanted to drag out peace talks with the Palestinians for a decade while vastly increasing the number of Jewish settlers in Israeli-occupied territories.
"Had he held on to his office instead of being defeated this week in Israel's national election, Mr. Shamir reportedly said, ' I would have conducted negotiations on autonomy for 10 years and in the meantime we would have reached half a million people" in the West Bank.' "
Shamir, of course, is one of Netanyahu's heroes and mentors. Sixteen years later, he has the same strategy Shamir did. He says he will negotiate but he will not commit himself to Palestinian statehood.
The only questions are (1) why would the Palestinians negotiate on that basis and (2) why would an American President press them to participate in such a charade.
The answers. They won't. And he won't."
"Three British medics on a humanitarian mission to set up a cardiac surgery unit in Gaza have begun a hunger strike at the Egyptian border after weeks of having been denied access to the beleaguered area. Working with Palestine International Medical Aid, the medics also planned to train medical students and doctors at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
Speaking of Gazans suffering from heart disease and other ailments, cardiac surgeon Omar Mangoush said, "They can't get here, they can't get to Israel. If it's this hard for us to get in, how difficult is it for the Palestinians to get out?"
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Farah Mihlar works for Minority Rights Group International. She writes in an op-ed piece "Neither side has any reason to celebrate" in The Independent:
"Today is a momentous day. I should be celebrating, like most Sri Lankans. I grew up as a Muslim in Colombo in fear of the deafening blasts of the Tamil Tiger suicide bombings. The Tigers ethnically cleansed 60,000 Muslims from their territory. Their campaign was horrific.
But when I travelled to Tiger-controlled areas, I realised that civilians there confronted another even more powerful enemy. I met children who drew only pictures of air force planes that dropped bombs over their homes. Hundreds of women had lost their husbands – killed, disappeared, abducted or imprisoned. It was ugly and sad and unknown to the rest of the country. This is all supposedly history now. People are jubilant. Yet, I feel unable to share in this thrill. I cannot understand how my people, my family and friends, can blind themselves to the carnage behind this victory. In the past four months alone more than 6,500 people have died, because the Tigers brutally held them captive as human shields and government forces continued their indiscriminate attacks. The fighting is supposedly now over, but this does not mean Sri Lanka's problems are. The country still faces a humanitarian crisis that has to be viewed in the context of the Sri Lankan government's disastrous human rights record. This latest success on the part of the government was diplomatic and political, as well as military.
Every UN official, human rights group, journalist or politician who questioned them was dubbed a terrorist. Posters covered the walls of Colombo with pictures of David Miliband and Hillary Clinton with the word "terrorist" imprinted on their faces. The government brilliantly used neo-colonial arguments in the corridors of the UN to shut out Western criticism. This deafness to international pressure cannot be sustained – Sri Lanka has already appealed for international aid to rebuild the war-torn areas. The British Government must continue to work with the US to keep Sri Lanka top of the UN agenda. They should not be put off by Sri Lanka's wrath; there are hundreds of thousands of people in displaced camps who need support.
I do not wish to undermine the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Having lived through their terror, I know what this means for the country. But for there to be a lasting peace there has to be justice, accountability, freedom and equality for all."
The latest appointment to attract flak is that of the new Army chief in Afghanistan. The Telegraph in the UK reports:
"The general chosen by Barack Obama to run the war in Afghanistan permitted abusive treatment and interrogation of detainees in Iraq, according to human rights investigators.
Soldiers have described beatings, psychological torture and other physical mistreatment at a camp near Baghdad where General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of US Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, was frequently seen.
A tall Irish-American with a deceptively gentle manner, Gen McChrystal was named last week as the next head of Afghan operations. He is currently operations director for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The investigation into human rights abuses was led by Marc Garlasco, himself a former Pentagon intelligence officer who helped lead the hunt for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Now a weapons expert at Human Rights Watch, his report, No Blood No Foul, covered the period 2003-2004 when Gen McChrystal operated in the shadows and hunted insurgents across Iraq.
Gen McChrystal is likely to be questioned over the findings of the report, compiled in 2006, during Senate hearings which are needed to confirm his appointment to his new post.
His special operations unit used Camp Nama, an acronym for "Nasty Ass Military Area", which had a fearsome reputation.
According to Mr Garlasco's report, which was based on soldiers' evidence, inmates at the camp were regularly stripped naked, subjected to sleep deprivation and extreme cold, placed in painful stress positions, and beaten. Gen McChrystal is lionised in the US as a warrior-scholar. Last week the media has carried admiring reports on how he eats just one meal a day and operates on a few hours' sleep. He led Task Force 121, the Special Operations units in Iraq which caught Saddam Hussein and killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Perhaps there is something in the piece in Information Clearing House "Is It Too Late To Swap Obama For McCain?"
"Anyone who has ever wasted good money on a clunker only to drop the transmission 15 minutes after leaving the car-lot, knows the feeling. It's like a swift-kick in the groin followed by weeks of fist-pounding rage. It's called buyer's remorse; "Gawd, I wish I hadn't bought that piece of dogshite!"
There are probably a lot of former-Obama supporters feeling that same agonizing sense despair now that President Rainbow has done an about-face on every campaign promise he made. So much for "truth in advertising", eh?
What a disaster. Did anyone know it was gonna be this bad?
For the record; I didn't vote for Obama because I didn't like the way he backpedaled on wiretapping and because he promised to escalate the war in Afghanistan. (Like everyone else who voted for Ralph Nader; I got loads of grief for it) But that doesn't mean I didn't want Obama to succeed. I did. The country is in too big a mess NOT to hope that he would succeed. But now...?
It could have been very, very tricky! - given Germany's past.
But, the show "The Producers" opened to acclaim in Berlin this past week.
Spiegel On Line International reports:
"It took eight years for Mel Brooks' runaway Broadway musical success to come to Germany, but "The Producers" is finally opening in Berlin. It received standing ovations at the public preview on Friday night."
"It was clear that bringing "The Producers" to Germany would raise eyebrows, and it took ages before it got adapted for the German stage. In New York, the Broadway hit garnered 12 Tony Awards and broke all records. Productions were staged everywhere from Finland to Australia, even packing the house in Tel Aviv. The Hollywood remake in 2005 was no different. But it remained problematic for the Germans."
Continue reading here.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
That is the way the group describes itself. In its latest report it deals with the UN's investigation into Israel's attack on and in Gaza:
"On December 27, 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a massive assault on Gaza. 22 days later, around 1,400 Palestinians, including over 300 children, and 13 Israelis were dead; about 5,000 Palestinians were wounded. Israeli forces bombed and shelled schools, medical centres, hospitals, ambulances, United Nations buildings (including UN schools), power plants, sewage plants, roads, bridges and civilian homes. This was described in much of the press as hitting “Hamas targets” (e.g. David Gardner, 'U.S. accused of white phosphorus against Taliban', Daily Mail, May 11, 2009).
Earlier this month, the UN announced the results of an inquiry into attacks on its buildings and personnel in Gaza. It concluded that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were:
“involved in varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries, and extensive physical damage and loss of property.” (Donald Macintyre, ‘UN retreats after Israel hits out at Gaza report’, Independent, May 6, 2009)".
Continue reading here.