Friday, July 31, 2009
Go here to access the sight [and updates as they occur] for the latest from Iran. The blog has good links to other blogs dealing with the situation in Iran.
This is an unfolding "story".
"The first study of drivers texting inside their vehicles shows that the risk sharply exceeds previous estimates based on laboratory research — and far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions.
The new study, which entailed outfitting the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months, found that when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which compiled the research and plans to release its findings on Tuesday, also measured the time drivers took their eyes from the road to send or receive texts.
In the moments before a crash or near crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices — enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field."
Therefore crikey is to be commended for publishing a very up to date report from Gaza. It makes for sobering reading:
"The Gaza Strip, under siege for over three years by Israel and the Western powers, is utterly unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited. Over 70% unemployment, garbage strewn across many streets and in abandoned buildings, a thriving tunnel business from Egypt that brings in the essentials of life and Hamas gunmen on most street corners directing traffic and keeping cool in the searing heat.
The main image in the West of Gaza is of a fundamentalist Islamic regime bent on Israel’s destruction. Although there are worrying signs of an increasing intolerance of difference — witness the news that sharia law and a kind of Muslim code of conduct may soon be implemented here — Hamas is a broad church. The reality on the ground is removed from virtually everything I read before crossing the border."
Thursday, July 30, 2009
It's worse if you are a waiter or waitress. The hourly rate is US$2.30, but if tips don't make the worker get to the minimum hourly rate, then the employer has to make up the difference. No wonder waitstaff are keen to please and employers have them do so.
Meanwhile, whilst the US is presently engaged in a heated debate about health insurance, a study recently concluded that 20% of Medicare patients return to hospital within a month of their initial discharge - at a cost of US$17 billion per annum.
"Secrecy is endemic in all governments. It goes with the turf, especially if their leaders hope to hide illegal or immoral behavior, such as torture of foreign prisoners.
"Many Americans heaved a sigh of relief last January when President Barack Obama banned the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It made the administration look more humane than the Bush-Cheney team. But that is not the whole story.
Obama left unaddressed the possibility of torture in secret foreign prisons under our control as in Abu Ghraib in Iraq or Bagram in Afghanistan, not to mention the 'black sites" sponsored by our foreign clients in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Thailand and other countries.
"The United States will not torture," Obama said in his directive. But he has been silent on the question of whether the U.S. would help others do the torturing."
Continue reading here.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
"More than 75 million people living on Pacific islands will have to relocate by 2050 because of the effects of climate change, Oxfam has warned.
A report by the charity said Pacific Islanders were already feeling the effects of global warming, including food and water shortages, rising cases of malaria and more frequent flooding and storms. Some had already been forced from their homes and the number of displaced people was rising, it warned.
"The Future is Here: Climate Change in the Pacific" predicted that many Pacific Islanders would not be able to relocate within their own countries and would become international refugees.
It urged neighbouring wealthy countries to take urgent action to curb their carbon emissions to prevent a large-scale crisis.
Half of the population of the Pacific live less than 1.5km from the coast and are incredibly vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather. But as well as moving out, the report found that some countries had started adapting to the changing climate."
Here's his lead sentence:
"There are no certainties in war, and the tasks that NATO/ISAF and the US must perform in Afghanistan go far beyond the normal limits of counterinsurgency. They are the equivalent of armed nation building at a time when Afghanistan faces major challenges from both its own insurgents and international movements like Al Qa'ida, and must restructure its government and economy after 30 years of nearly continuous conflict."
Contrast that with good ol' Thomas Friedman over at The NY Times having, who, having spent the last little while hanging out with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff writes:
"After spending a week traveling the frontline of the “war on terrorism” — from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan in the seas off Iran, to northern Iraq, to Afghanistan and into northwest Pakistan — I can comfortably report the following: The bad guys are losing".
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
"My mother turned 80 and we had a party last night, and I had a conversation with an academic friend about monetizing the internet. She is worried that I won’t be able to support myself as a journalist. (So am I). And she is worried that she won’t be able to read good writing anymore. She gets pleasure from reading good writing.
Like every other journalist, I find these issues fascinating. But one problem in her formulation is the belief that the old system somehow created profit for good writing. It didn’t. Good writing was cleverly bundled within profitable enterprises and thus was subsidized by other parts of the enterprise. When Mark Bowden (he of Black Hawk Down) built up his African storytelling skills years ago by going off for months to write about the rhinoceros for the Philadelphia Inquirer, his salary wasn’t paid by his readers and the advertisers who followed them; no, he was subsidized by more profitable portions of the newspaper. Like the weather story. (When I was in newspapers I was told it was the most popular story in the paper, so work hard at it, kid.) Good writing has always been an elite choice. Maybe that’s what makes it good writing. The problem for traditional journalism is that the internet has unbundled the old relationships, leaving the rhinoceros-writer unsubsidized."
"Let us now praise famous men and their fathers that begat them. The famous man – he should be much more famous – is the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim whose wonderful "reappraisals, revisions and refutations" is coming out in September under the simple title: Israel and Palestine.
But to Avi's father first. I hope I tell the story correctly – Avi will be after me if I don't – but he first came to Israel from Iraq with his parents in 1950 and they found themselves in miserable circumstances, at least compared with the life they had left behind. And Avi's dad would always tell him: "The Jews have prayed for a state of their own for many generations – but they prayed in vain. Did it have to happen in my lifetime?!"
But to Avi. He recalls arguing with the late Edward Said – and there is a titanic voice to be ever missed, irreplaceable is the only word – over the Oslo agreement. Here is what Avi writes: "In the years since 1993, I have often asked myself: who was right and who was wrong? When things were going well, when progress was being made, when Oslo II was signed, for example, I thought that I was right and that Edward was wrong."
Continue reading here.
Monday, July 27, 2009
"Prof Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT, said Thursday during a United Nations forum on Responsibility to Protect (R2P), that what happened in Sri Lanka was a major Rwanda-like atrocity, in a different scale, where the West didn't care. "There was plenty of early warning. This [conflict] has been going on for years and decades. Plenty of things could have been done [to prevent it]. But there was not enough interest." Chomsky was responding to a question that referred to Jan Egeland, former head of UN's Humanitarian Affairs' earlier statement that R2P was a failure in Sri Lanka, where Inner City Press (ICP) noted that nearly 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed."
"According to government figures, 1 percenters' share of America's total income is the highest it's been since 1929, and their tax rates are the lowest they've faced in two decades. Through bonuses, many 1 percenters will profit from the $23 trillion in bailout largesse the Treasury Department now says could be headed to financial firms. And most of them benefit from IRS decisions to reduce millionaire audits and collect zero taxes from the majority of major corporations.
But what really makes the ultra-wealthy so fortunate, what truly separates this moment from a run-of-the-mill Gilded Age, is the unprecedented protection the 1 percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues."
Continue reading the piece "One Percenters Enjoy Unprecedented Protection" here.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
William Polk - who served as the Middle East expert on the State Department's Policy Planning Staff during the Kennedy administration - writing on CounterPunch:
"Probably like most of you, I am engaged in a daily attempt to make up my mind about President Obama. I was an early supporter.
And as a former Washington "player," I am aware how difficult is his position. I began to worry when he failed to grasp what I have seen to be the early window of opportunity for a new administration -- the first three months -- when the government is relatively fluid. As the months have flown by, I have seen that there are many positive things, mainly in his eloquent addresses on world problems, notably his speech at the University of Cairo on world pluralism, but also quite a few negative things. With sadness and alarm I find that my list of the negatives keeps on growing".
Read Polk's list of negatives here.
But it wasn't an "ordinary" arrest at all, as events have clearly shown. No less importantly, what happened here has highlighted, not for the first time, racial profiling in the USA.
The Independent reports:
"Imagine, if you will, a professor at Cambridge, one of the most learned and best known scholars of his generation, being arrested by police after forcing the door of his house when the front lock jammed. Impossible, you will say. But that is what happened. Except the Cambridge in question is not in East Anglia, but a town in Massachusetts that is home to the British university's American equivalent, Harvard, and that Henry Louis 'Skip' Gates, the professor who lived at this most pleasant abode, is black.
Every now and then, a small incident crystalises a great issue, and the Gates affair is one of them. The issue is racial profiling, the pernicious habit of police or other authorities to use race as a basis for suspicion of a crime. It is to be found in many countries, but nowhere is it more sensitive or controversial than in the US, where racism is the original sin"
"Three advocacy groups have asked Google to commit to protect the privacy of readers in its book search service, which is poised for a major expansion under a pending class-action settlement. The groups, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, have asked Google to limit the data it collects about users’ reading habits, to commit to protect reader records by handing them over only in response to subpoenas or court orders, and to put into effect measures giving users control of their data."
Saturday, July 25, 2009
"Barack Obama has restored America’s global standing to where it was before the Bush era, but many in the Muslim world remain hostile, according to a survey published on Thursday.
The Pew Research Center’s annual global attitudes survey indicated that people polled in 25 countries now had a more positive attitude towards the US. The exception was Israel, where approval dipped after President Obama courted the Muslim world in a June speech in Cairo."
An example of one MP:
"I have no quarrel with the people of Israel, but I do have a quarrel with the successive Israeli Governments whom some Israeli people chose to elect, and it is sad that the bright ambition for a better future of many Jews who move to Palestine has been tarnished by a state that is, although in many ways successful, in some ways a failed state. It has fallen out with most of its neighbours, so it cannot guarantee the security of its citizens, which is sad. I emphasise that I support the right of Israel to exist, and I also support a two-state solution, but how is that to be achieved, given the fragmentation of land, particularly in the west bank?"
Read more, and in full, here, on Australians for Palestine. The debate in the UK provides more evidence of the tide turning with regard to the support Israel has garnered in the past - and the increasing plight of the Palestinians, especially in Gaza.
Shades of Vietnam. Do we ever learn?
It brought back memories of the late Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in Southeast Asia, who kept escalating the troop numbers after the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam. His strategy produced a debacle for us.
Fast forward to Afghanistan, 2009."
So begins an op-ed piece by Helen Thomas, the veteran correspondent at the White House writing in "Can America prevail on Afghanistan/Pakistan front? No!" on the StarTribune.com
Friday, July 24, 2009
The cost of the Afghanistan war is rising. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded. July has been the deadliest month in the war for NATO combatants, with at least 50 troops, including 26 Americans, killed. Roadside bomb attacks on coalition forces are swelling the number of wounded and killed. In June, the tally of incidents involving roadside bombs, also called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hit 736, a record for the fourth straight month; the number had risen from 361 in March to 407 in April and to 465 in May. The decision by President Barack Obama to send 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan has increased our presence to 57,000 American troops. The total is expected to rise to at least 68,000 by the end of 2009. It will only mean more death, expanded fighting and greater futility."
So writes Chris Hedges in his latest piece on truthdig.com. A troubling piece which bears reading and reflecting on. Iraq II coming up?
"One of the most important cinematic events of the year is not a movie but a book: Claude Lanzmann’s autobiography, “Le Lièvre de Patagonie” (“The Patagonian Hare”), which was published in France in February. (It’s still awaiting English translation.) The story of “Shoah,” one of the most important movies ever made, takes up about a quarter of Lanzmann’s five hundred and fifty-seven pages. It’s a startlingly revealing book that, though unsparingly personal, transcends his own experience to unfold key themes of his life that have been proven, through his films, to be universal.
The dominant theme of the book is death. Lanzmann begins with the words “La guillotine,” launching into a riff on capital punishment, his youthful fear of execution, and the freight trains in which Jews were deported to concentration camps—all on the first page.
He describes a life lived in proximity to death: dealing with violence as a member of the French Resistance while still an adolescent; constantly evading arrest as a Jew in Occupied France; reporting from the front lines during the “war of attrition” waged by Egypt against Israel after the Six-Day War; facing physical danger (from irate Germans) while making “Shoah”; conducting an audacious and law-defying love affair in North Korea in 1958; practicing extreme sports such as hang-gliding and mountain climbing; cultivating a taste for the corrida. Opening the book at random on the subway yesterday, I landed on the beginning of a chapter concerning his postwar trip to Italy with friends; it begins with the phrase “Voglio morire! Voglio morire!,” which he heard prisoners, common criminals, screaming from sealed train cars.
Lanzmann’s adult life was marked as much by love as by death—most crucially, he was with Simone de Beauvoir from 1952 to 1959. Of Beauvoir and her lifelong companion, Jean-Paul Sartre, he writes, “They helped me to think, and I gave them things to think about.” His work in movies, which began with “Pourquoi Israel,” was, in part, prompted by the desire to respond, in practice, to Sartre’s “Anti-Semite and Jew.”
Thursday, July 23, 2009
"Obama has been perfectly clear on so many pledges,on restoring constitutional protections such as habeas corpus, on respect for international treaties and covenants on torture and the treatment of prisoners, on eavesdropping and, when you take even a quick glance at what he’s done, he’s been perfectly awful on so many fronts."
Read the piece in full here. In many respects it makes for dispiriting reading - but is a reality check on Obama & Co.
Now Reuters reports [as republished by CommonDreams] in "UN Reports Record Humanitarian Aid Shortfall" that the UN is severely short of money to fund humanitarian aid where needed around the globe. Surely a blot on the world's humanity and an indictment of where the priorities of many countries lie.
"The United Nations on Tuesday revealed a record $4.8 billion funding gap for its 2009 aid projects as a result of strained foreign assistance, widespread economic trouble and a ten-fold increase in needs in Pakistan.
Aisha, an eight-year-old internally displaced girl, holds a food pot outside the food distribution area of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Jalozai camp, about 140 km north west of Pakistan's capital Islamabad July 6, 2009. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/Files)"This recession is driving up humanitarian needs," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a news briefing in Geneva, where he held meetings with donor nations who will soon set their 2010 aid budgets.
A financing report prepared for those sessions stressed that the United Nations has received less than half the $9.5 billion it sought for humanitarian work this year. Yet some 43 million people need assistance this year, up from 28 million in 2008."
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
"The Israelis don't pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end. It will not end a moment before the Israelis understand the connection between the occupation and the price they will be forced to pay. They will never shake it off on their own initiative, and why should they?
Even the most cruel terrorist attacks to befall the country haven't instilled an understanding among the Israelis about the connection between cause and effect - between occupation and terrorism. Thanks to the media and the politicians - two of the worst agents for dumbing down and blinding Israeli society - we learned that the Arabs were born to kill, the whole world is against us, anti-Semitism determines how Israel is dealt with, and there is no connection between our actions and the price we pay.
Neither an international blockade nor terrible bloodletting appear to be on the horizon, to our great fortune. So why should we worry? It's true that the world is beginning to scowl at Israel. So what? The world hates us anyway, Israelis are convinced. As long as they are not deprived of the world's pleasures, there is no reason to worry. Try to ask them why they are ostracized and you will immediately hear scorn about the world, rather than any self-criticism, God forbid. The Israelis are not only enjoying themselves. They are also very satisfied with themselves - over their level of morality and that of their army and state.
All this really could have been peachy if not for the fact that blindness is dangerous and the not-so-good ending is known in advance. It's another wonderful summer in Tel Aviv - and Gaza and Jenin - but a part of the world will blow up in our faces. And then we will pretend to be amazed, miserable victims, as we so much like to be."
"Once the cradle of agriculture for civilization, the Land Between Two Rivers — the Tigris and Euphrates — has become a basket case for its farmers."
"However, their efforts haven't helped Iraqi agriculture overcome the twin disasters of war and sanctions, which have transformed the country from one of the world's premier sources of aromatic rice and nearly 500 kinds of dates 30 years ago into a net importer of food.
Iraq now imports nearly all the food its people eat: California rice, Washington apples, Australian wheat, fruits and vegetables from its neighbors. All are staples in Iraqi groceries and on the dinner table.
The decline of the farming sector creates other problems. Agriculture accounts for half or more of Iraqi jobs and is the second-largest contributor to the gross domestic product. The prices that people and the government pay for shortfalls in what they used to grow weaken the country's economy."
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Greenwald recorded some of Halberstam's talks including this one to a class at Columbia's School of Journalism:
"One of the things I learned, the easiest of lessons, was that the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be. (So, if you seek popularity, this is probably not the profession for you.) . . . .
It's not about fame. By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are. Besides, fame does not last. At its best, it is about being paid to learn."
Greenwald recalls these words in his latest piece "Celebrating Cronkite while ignoring what he did"on Salon marking the passing of Walter Cronkite. It's another piece of Greenwald's well worth reading as he hones in on the lack of professionalism in journalists nowadays.
"So, too, with the death of Walter Cronkite. Tellingly, his most celebrated and significant moment -- Greg Mitchell says "this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million" -- was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn't trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false. In other words, Cronkite's best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do -- directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed. These days, our leading media outlets won't even use words that are disapproved of by the Government."
"In the hours and hours of preening, ponderous, self-serving media tributes to Walter Cronkite, here is a clip you won't see, in which Cronkite -- when asked what is his biggest regret -- says (h/t sysprog):
'What do I regret? Well, I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn't make them stick. We couldn't find a way to pass them on to another generation.'
It's impossible even to imagine the likes of Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw and friends interrupting their pompously baritone, melodramatic, self-glorifying exploitation of Cronkite's death to spend a second pondering what he meant by that."
Obama seems to be have loath to even go there! It looked like Bush & Co. would "get away with it" But..... it now appears that at least an investigation will get underway - perhaps even leading to prosecution of Bush officials.
The Observer / The Guardian reports in "Bush's key men face grilling on torture and death squads":
"America is bracing itself for a series of investigations that could see top officials from the administration of President George W Bush hauled in front of Congress, grilled by a special prosecutor and possibly facing criminal charges.
Several investigations will now cast a spotlight on Bush-era torture policy and a secret CIA assassination programme, examining the role played by big names such as the former vice-president Dick Cheney and the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In one investigation into the controversial firing of federal prosecutors, Bush's political guru, Karl Rove, has already been forced to appear before Congress and give testimony behind closed doors. Another investigation, by the House of Representatives' intelligence committee, has already asked for documents from the CIA and has now announced that it will examine the legality of keeping a secret CIA hit squad hidden from Congress, something alleged to have been ordered by Cheney himself."
Monday, July 20, 2009
The Independent has an anonymous report [for predictably obvious reasons] in "Something profound has changed. Iranians are losing their fear and mock the official line" of what is the state of play in Iran is today:
The state television channel as the mouthpiece of the regime is increasingly mocked for its lies. We watched in disbelief as it broadcast cookery shows during the upheaval. Now we view staged confessions by some of the countless individuals rounded up after the election.
A colleague quietly left a piece of paper on my desk tallying recent news items on IRIB. Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman shot dead during a street protest, was mentioned three times; Uighur Muslims in China eight times and the killing of an Egyptian-born Muslim woman by a racist in Germany 140 times.
Until recently, it was almost unheard of to utter criticism and the name of the Supreme Leader in the same breath. But now, even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does not escape, and I don't mean just in conversations between trusted friends. My own father, seriously mistrustful of talking about anything meaningful on the telephone, has given up observing his own cautious rules after almost three decades.
The people who are now daring to speak out like my father are not all intellectuals from north Tehran. Nor are they organised resistance. They are fed up with their salaries being eaten by inflation, or that their university-educated children have no prospect of a job. And they seethe at the unimaginable gap between them and loyal members of the Revolutionary Guard who have recently enjoyed salary rises."
Athanasiadis, writing on globalpost, explains his lot when imprisoned by the Iranians:
"Jail cells — alongside yoga studios — are the last bastions of true inner peace. When I became the first foreign journalist in decades to be thrown into Iran's notorious Evin Prison I was exposed to a mixture of intense interrogations amid long stretches of nothingness. Stripped of my laptop, cell phone and all human contact, I was forced to confront my ego and get used to spending time with me, myself and I.
The only printed matter in my jail cell was a copy of the Holy Quran. It was a previous inmate’s well thumbed edition that had come loose from its hardback spine. A neat hand had written several religious aphorisms in Arabic on its pages. Imagining I was resting against the thick pillar of one of the beautifully-carpeted Ottoman mosques of Istanbul, my adopted city, I spent hours reading the handwritten calligraphy."
Continue reading here.
CounterPunchs' Jonathan Cook reports in "Israeli Road Signs":
"Thousands of road signs are the latest front in Israel’s battle to erase Arab heritage from much of the Holy Land.
Israel Katz, the transport minister, announced this week that signs on all major roads in Israel, East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be “standardised”, converting English and Arabic place names into straight transliterations of the Hebrew name.
Currently, road signs include the place name as it is traditionally rendered in all three languages.
Under the new scheme, the Arab identity of important Palestinian communities will be obscured: Jerusalem, or “al Quds” in Arabic, will be Hebraised to “Yerushalayim”; Nazareth, or “al Nasra” in Arabic, the city of Jesus’s childhood, will become “Natzrat”; and Jaffa, the port city after which Palestine’s oranges were named, will be “Yafo”."
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Conkrite has now just passed away aged 92. A legend in his own lifetime? Someone unique in the media?
John Nichols, writing in The Nation, pays tribute in "Walter Cronkite: Definitional Journalist Saw Big Media's Flaws":
"Walter Cronkite never stopped being a journalist.
The former CBS anchorman cared not just about the next story but about the future of reporting in a country where was known for the better part of a half century as "the most trusted name in news."
So it should come as little surprise that what worried Cronkite in the last years of his life was the collapse of journalistic quality and responsibility that came with the increasing dominance of newsgathering by a handful of media corporations.
"I think it is absolutely essential in a democracy to have competition in the media, a lot of competition, and we seem to be moving away from that," Cronkite told me the last time we spoke about media issues.
The definitional American anchorman, who has died at age 92, recognized that Americans would always need diverse and competing media outlets, with the resources and the skills to examine issues from a variety of perspectives -- and to challenge entrenched power."
Vale Walter Conkrite.
Stephen Walt, in his Blog on FP comments:
"This past Monday, President Obama met with the heads of a number of prominent Jewish groups, to talk about the state of U.S.-Israeli relations and the future direction of U.S. Middle East policy. Virtually all the news reports I've seen suggest that the attendees had a cordial and candid discussion. After reading through various accounts, I have three comments.
First, although a few individuals in the Israel lobby continue to downplay its influence, the very fact that this meeting was held is additional testimony to its important role in shaping U.S. Middle East policy. Why was Barack Obama taking time from his busy schedule to meet with the heads of groups like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, J Street, Hadassah, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (among others)? Simple: he knows that these groups have a lot of political power. He also knows that the success of his Middle East policy depends in large part on getting significant support from them. In a political system like ours, where well-organized interest groups routinely wield disproportionate influence over the issues they care about, holding a White House sit-down with these key leaders was smart politics."
Continue reading here.
Meanwhile, Ali Abunimah, an old friend of Barack Obama's and a leading member of the Arab-American community who has not yet been invited to the White House, reflects on the visit of the 16 Jewish leaders to the president's table last Monday and concludes that Obama's "pressure" on Israel has so far been toothless and without real effect. Read Abunimah's comments on
The Electronic Intifada here.
C J Chivers pays tribute in The NY Times in a piece "A Fearless Activist in a Land of Thugs" to what seems to be have been a remarkable woman - not generally known outside her own country:
"Ms. Estemirova was an essential member of a tiny circle of the premier human rights investigators in the entire Caucasus — a woman of immeasurable courage, precision and calm. She was a researcher for Memorial, the human rights organization, in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital.
I will step out of character as a reporter and declare it: she was both a trusted source and friend of the last several years, a time when the foreigners still trying to understand Chechnya shrank to an inadequate few.
She was compassionate, meticulous, gritty, patient and driven at once, possessed of a strong stomach and light touch, a counselor and a hunter, someone who knew what she knew and understood what she could not prove.
To the families whose pain she worked to relieve and whose stories she forced the world to see, she was a resolute champion. To the men whose crimes she exposed, case by case, with a quiet composure, she was a confounding enemy, a feminine nemesis they could neither fathom nor dissuade."
Saturday, July 18, 2009
In northern Syria, more than 160 villages the past two years have run dry and been deserted by residents. In Gaza, 150,000 Palestinians have no access to tap water. In Israel, the pumps at the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), its largest reservoir, were exposed above the water level, rendering pumping impossible. In Lebanon, 70 percent of wastewater is dumped into cesspools, polluting groundwater; Jordan is struggling with just 10 percent of its average rainfall.
Little wonder that many warn that future wars will be fought over water, not land."
Stanley Weiss, op-ed contributor to The NY Times, reflects on the dire state of water available in the Middle East and how it, rather than land, might be the appropriate catalyst to peace in the region.
Either he is being plain stupid, or naive, but The Angry Arab News Service makes more than a valid point:
"Thomas Friedman is embedded in Iraq. He sums up the American legacy in Iraq: "we also left a million acts of kindness and a profound example of how much people of different backgrounds can accomplish when they work together." Million acts? That must be an estimate of the Iraqi dead."
Friday, July 17, 2009
"Now, it’s bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it’s much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that’s exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right — which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more."
"Put it this way: if the consensus of the economic experts is grim, the consensus of the climate experts is utterly terrifying. At this point, the central forecast of leading climate models — not the worst-case scenario but the most likely outcome — is utter catastrophe, a rise in temperatures that will totally disrupt life as we know it, if we continue along our present path. How to head off that catastrophe should be the dominant policy issue of our time."
"Do we read differently on the computer screen from how we read on the printed page? It’s an interesting question.
Before hearing from the experts, let’s review what we think we know. Even the best computer screens are harder on the eyes than the paper page is. Jakob Nielsen, a Web usability researcher, reports that we generally read 25 percent more slowly on the screen. I read more quickly on the screen and edit out about 40 percent of what appears before my eyes. If you haven’t told me what you want by line four of your e-mail, trust me, I didn’t get the message.
A Norwegian researcher, Anne Mangen, recently weighed in with an interesting paper in the Journal of Research in Reading, asserting that screen reading and page reading are radically different. “The feeling of literally being in touch with the text is lost when your actions - clicking with the mouse, pointing on touch screens, or scrolling with keys or on touch pads - take place at a distance from the digital text, which is, somehow, somewhere inside the computer, the e-book, or the mobile phone,’’ Mangen writes.
Her conclusion: “Materiality matters. . . . One main effect of the intangibility of the digital text is that of making us read in a shallower, less focused way.’’"
Thursday, July 16, 2009
"The former speaker of the US House of Representatives has said that the US should "sabotage" Iran's oil and gas infrastructure as part of its efforts to bring down the government.
In an interview with Al Jazeera's Avi Lewis for the Fault Lines programme, Republican Newt Gingrich said targeting Iran's refinery would spark an economic crisis that would destabilise the government in Tehran.
He said the US should "use covert operations … to create a gasoline-led crisis to try and replace the regime".
"I think we have a vested interest, the world has a vested interest, in a responsible Iranian government, just as we have a vested interest in a responsible North Korean government," he said."
An interesting question! If the Iranian president came out with something even remotely like what Gringrich has put forward what would the reaction be in the US and elsewhere?
So, what to make of Israeli solders who have broken their silence and have described actions in clear contravention of the Geneva Convention. McClatchy reports in "Israeli soldiers in Gaza describe a 'moral Twilight Zone'"
"Israeli combat soldiers have acknowledged that they forced Palestinian civilians to serve as human shields, needlessly killed unarmed Gazans and improperly used white phosphorus shells to burn down buildings as part of Israel's three-week military offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter.
In filmed testimony and written statements released Wednesday, more than two dozen soldiers told an Israeli army veterans' group that military commanders led the fighters into what one described as a "moral Twilight Zone" where almost every Palestinian was seen as a threat."
BBC News also reports on the same subject in "Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza":
"A group of soldiers who took part in Israel's assault in Gaza say widespread abuses were committed against civilians under "permissive" rules of engagement.
The troops said they had been urged to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious and said Palestinians were sometimes used as human shields."
Breaking the Silence, a campaign group made up of Israeli soldiers, gathered anonymous accounts from 26 soldiers."
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
"In recent months, those who have been studying Guantánamo closely have come to the disturbing conclusion that the biggest obstacle to President Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo by January 2010 comes not from the fear-mongering and opportunistic politicians who recently voted to prohibit the use of any funds to release or to transfer prisoners to the United States, and who also authorized legislation that “requires the President to report periodically to Congress on the status of Guantánamo Bay detainees and plans for their transfer,” but from the administration’s own Justice Department.
Echoing the position taken by the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department is pursuing patently indefensible cases that should have been dropped before being presented to a judge, and is also engaged in what appears to be a systematic policy of delays when it comes to providing exculpatory material to the prisoners’ defense teams (in other words, material that tends to disprove the government’s case), or, in fact, any other material that is vital to mounting a proper defense. Moreover, when given the option to defend a judge’s right to order the release of prisoners against whom no case could be proved, the Justice Department sided with a notoriously pro-Bush judge in the Court of Appeals, who ruled that, although a District Court judge could demolish the government’s case against a Guantánamo prisoner, he or she was powerless to actually order the prisoner’s release."
Islam in all its diverse forms entitles believers to a personal relationship with Allah – it cuts out middlemen, one reason its appeal extended to so many across the world. You can seek advice from learned scholars and imams, but they cannot come between your faith and the light of God. Today control freaks who claim they have a special line to the Almighty have turned our world dark. Neo-conservative Islamic codes spread like swine flu, an infection few seem able to resist.
The disease is progressive. It started 20 years ago with the hijab, donned then as a defiant symbol of identity, now a conscript's uniform. Then came the jilbab, the cloak, fought over in courts when schoolgirls were manipulated into claiming it as an essential Islamic garment. If so, hell awaits the female leaders of Pakistan and Bangladesh."
So begins an interesting op-ed piece by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in The Independent. In the light of the French President wanting to limit the wearing of various Islamic garb, the piece raises some relevant questions. Read the full piece here.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
"An effort on the scale of the Apollo mission that sent men to the Moon is needed if humanity is to have a fighting chance of surviving the ravages of climate change. The stakes are high, as, without sustainable growth, "billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilisation will collapse".
This is the stark warning from the biggest single report to look at the future of the planet – obtained by The Independent on Sunday ahead of its official publication next month. Backed by a diverse range of leading organisations such as Unesco, the World Bank, the US army and the Rockefeller Foundation, the 2009 State of the Future report runs to 6,700 pages and draws on contributions from 2,700 experts around the globe. Its findings are described by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, as providing "invaluable insights into the future for the United Nations, its member states, and civil society".
The impact of the global recession is a key theme, with researchers warning that global clean energy, food availability, poverty and the growth of democracy around the world are at "risk of getting worse due to the recession". The report adds: "Too many greedy and deceitful decisions led to a world recession and demonstrated the international interdependence of economics and ethics."
"If “history” will decide whether Bush (with Powell) made the correct decision, then we have to confront a factual reality. Surely, Gen. Powell knows that he participated in an unprovoked war of aggression, resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 U.S. combatants and countless Iraqis. He knows that his United Nations speech describing Saddam Hussein’s menacing weapons of mass destruction was utterly fictitious, concocted in the White House and Defense Department. Powell undoubtedly has the excuse that he was handed a script full of errors, lies and poor judgments. He always has been the “good soldier.” Ironically, he was chosen for the U.N. performance for his credibility, not to mention his loyalty. President Bush, ably seconded by Vice President Dick Cheney, soon launched the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad. They quickly marginalized Powell, but he loyally stayed for slightly more than a year and a half.
Powell favors history by omission. His and Bush’s rationale rests on proven lies and factual inventions. In his recent TV appearance Powell offered his judgment of the Iraq war, minus the fact of its undeniably dubious raison d’être. Silent on that fact, Powell proceeded to the standard interpretation for Bush and his followers.
That we lied, that we misrepresented the actual facts—that Condoleezza Rice warned of a mushroom cloud over us if we failed to act against Saddam Hussein—are facts easily discarded or ignored. Powell’s interpretation simply forgets that an unnecessarily provoked war brought needless sacrifices of lives and treasures. We can hope that future historians will use all the facts."
Monday, July 13, 2009
"About 1,400 people are dying every week at the giant Manik Farm internment camp set up in Sri Lanka to detain Tamil refugees from the nation’s bloody civil war, senior international aid sources have told The Times.
The death toll will add to concerns that the Sri Lankan Government has failed to halt a humanitarian catastrophe after announcing victory over the Tamil Tiger terrorist organisation in May. It may also lend credence to allegations that the Government, which has termed the internment sites “welfare villages”, has actually constructed concentration camps to house 300,000 people.
Mangala Samaraweera, the former Foreign Minister and now an opposition MP, said: “There are allegations that the Government is attempting to change the ethnic balance of the area. Influential people close to the Government have argued for such a solution.”
News of the death rate came as the International Committee of the Red Cross revealed that it had been asked to scale down its operations by the Sri Lankan authorities, which insist that they have the situation under control."
"A scary anecdote from Iran. A trusted colleague - who is married to an Iranian-American and would thus prefer to stay anonymous - has told me of a very disturbing episode that happened to her friend, another Iranian-American, as she was flying to Iran last week. On passing through the immigration control at the airport in Tehran, she was asked by the officers if she has a Facebook account. When she said "no", the officers pulled up a laptop and searched for her name on Facebook. They found her account and noted down the names of her Facebook friends.
This is very disturbing. For once, it means that the Iranian authorities are paying very close attention to what's going on Facebook and Twitter (which, in my opinion, also explains why they decided not to take those web-sites down entirely - they are useful tools of intelligence gathering)."
Today's "news" goes one step further - with rather frightening overtones. An op-ed piece in the Israeli ynet news.com reveals in "Thought police is here" [sic]:
"The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an “Internet warfare” squad.
The Foreign Ministry intends to hire young people who speak at least one language and who study communication, political science, or law – or alternately, Israelis with military experience gained at units dealing with information analysis."
"Foreign Ministry officials are fighting what they see as a terrible and scary monster: the Palestinian public relations monster. Yet nothing can be done to defeat it, regardless of how many foolish inventions will be introduced and how many bright communication students will be hired.
The reason is that good PR cannot make the reality in the occupied territories prettier. Children are being killed, homes are being bombed, and families are starved. Yet nonetheless, the Foreign Ministry wants to try to change the situation. And they have willing partners. “Where do I submit a CV?” wrote one respondent. “I’m fluent in several languages and I’m able to spew forth bullshit for hours on end".
Trult frightening! 1984 et al......
Sunday, July 12, 2009
"Every now and then someone has a really good idea. And sometimes, an enormous corporation decides to support that idea, which occasionally leads to something pretty extraordinary being developed. So was the case with Google Maps, the now ubiquitous online navigation system. It was created by brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen at a time when the technology required to deliver their idea was still being developed. But with Google's support, they built an extraordinary website. Delivering the annual Warren Centre Innovation Lecture, Lars Rasmussen gives a blow-by-blow account of the development of Google Maps, and his more recent project, Google Wave. A must-watch for aspiring entrepreneurs everywhere.
Lars Rasmussen is the head of engineering at Google Maps Sydney. In 2003 Lars and his brother Jens formed a mapping technology company, Where 2 Technologies. A year later it was acquired by Google and Google Maps was born. He is also the co-inventor of social networking site Google Wave."
View the talk here.
In his latest piece on CounterPunch he lays bear how the so-called two-State solution isn't a viable option and how subjugated the Palestinians have become as an occupied people under the Israelis:
"Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has been much criticized in Israel, as well as abroad, for failing to present his own diplomatic initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to forestall US intervention.
Mr Netanyahu may have huffed and puffed before giving voice to the phrase “two states for two peoples” at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but the contours of just such a Palestinian state -- or states -- have been emerging undisturbed for some time.
In fact, Mr Netanyahu appears every bit as committed as his predecessors to creating the facts of an Israeli-imposed two-state solution, one he and others in Israel’s leadership doubtless hope will eventually be adopted by the White House as the “pragmatic” -- if far from ideal -- option.
While Israel has been buying yet more time with Washington in bickering over a paltry settlement freeze, it has been forging ahead with the process of creating two Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, that, despite supposedly emerging from occupation, are in reality sinking ever deeper into chronic dependency on Israeli goodwill.
This is creating a culture of absolute Israeli control and absolute Palestinian dependency, enforced by proxy Palestinian rulers acting as mini-dictatorships.
For a growing number of Palestinians, the conditions of bare subsistence and even survival are Israeli gifts that few can afford to spurn through political activity, let alone civil disobedience or armed resistance. The Palestinian will to organise and resist as their land is seized for settlements is being inexorably sapped."
Of course, as Netanyahu's father has revealed, his son doesn't believe in the two-State solution. See here on Mondoweiss.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
In his latest dispatch from Iraq, published on truthout.org, he highlights that far from Iraq's troubles being over now that the Americans have withdrawn to their bases, the problems of a dirty war are about to begin:
"Thus, the stage is set for an indefinite amount of bloodletting across Iraq. A cursory glance at the week from June 6 through June 13 provides several examples of this dirty war. For a dirty war it is, as the opponents of Maliki, and the occupation, and the Sahwa, are sure to respond in kind to any violence visiting them.
On June 8, a gunman was killed while attacking a checkpoint in Fallujah, and on the same day, five "suspects" were captured. The next day, two policemen were wounded during a bombing in Fallujah, a bicycle bomb wounded another seven, and six more "suspects" were detained from around the city. June 10 found police forces in Diyala province, during three different operations, arresting five people "affiliated with armed groups" around Baquba. It is worth remembering that long-time reasons given by the Maliki government for arresting Sahwa members have been that they are "affiliated with armed groups" or for having had taken part in resistance operations against occupation forces. On June 12, two policemen were arrested in Mosul in connection with an attack on Americans in February, while gunmen raided the home of an Iraqi army officer in Balad Ruz, killing his 17-year-old daughter and wounding his wife.
In total, it was another typical week in occupied Iraq, one that found 95 Iraqis killed and another 176 wounded. At least two US soldiers died in Iraq, and another died by hanging himself in the backyard of his childhood home due to not having recovered from having seen "his sergeant blown to pieces. He saw the bodies of half of the men in his platoon torn apart. Heads were cut off and limbs severed."
The US occupation of Iraq has killed as many as 1,320,110 Iraqis and at least 4,312 US soldiers, and as usual, there appears to be no end in sight."
Publishers have typically taken the long view, expending great effort and bushels of money to keep struggling authors writing away for years, banking on the hope of eventual literary success. It is to this dedication that we owe America's status as one of the great literary pillars of the world. Now, that dedication is faltering, and with it, the future of the great American novel. But it's not too late to save the novel."
So begins an interesting piece in The Atlantic, "Give Struggling Authors a Chance", on the plight of novelists - and what might be done to "save" the them. In these times even the largest publishers are, worldwide, cutting back on their publishing activities - looking for big sellers at the cost of the less well-known authors or those who, in time [a la the above examples] will "make it big".
In a move to help the restaurant business - after all, it is France - President Sarkosy has reduced the TVA to 5.5% on at least one course where restaurants are prepared to offer it to their diners.
So, on the menu, in each course [entree, etc] one course shows the original price [that is, with the 19% VTA] crossed out and the lower price [now only with the 5.5% TVA] alongside.
Nice touch! Only time will tell if it makes any impact.
Friday, July 10, 2009
The New Jersey Jewish News spills the beans on how to deal with critics of Israel's policies:
"If you can’t convince ’em, accuse ’em. That’s the advice from The Israel Project (TIP) for pro-Israel activists answering questions about settlements. Rather than try to defend Israeli settlements, change the subject. If that doesn’t work, try accusing those who advocate removing Jewish settlements of promoting “a kind of ethnic cleansing to move all Jews” from the West Bank.
TIP calls that “the best settlement argument” in its 2009 Global Language Dictionary, a manual on how to talk to journalists and opinion molders about the Arab-Israeli conflict."
It doesn't get much more offensive than that!
"Lessons learned from Vietnam? None.
As The Times’s Tim Weiner pointed out in McNamara’s obituary, Congress authorized the war after President Johnson contended that American warships had been attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964. The attack never happened. As Mr. Weiner wrote, “The American ships had been firing at their own sonar shadows on a dark night.”
But McNamara, relying on intelligence reports, told Johnson that evidence of the attack was ironclad. Does this remind anyone of the “slam dunk” evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction?
More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam and some 2 million to 3 million Vietnamese. More than 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and no one knows how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Even as I was writing this, reports were coming in of seven more American G.I.’s killed in Afghanistan — a war that made sense in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, but makes very little sense now.
None of these wars had clearly articulated goals or endgames. None were pursued with the kind of intensity and sense of common purpose and shared sacrifice that marked World War II. Wars are now mostly background noise, distant events overshadowed by celebrity deaths and the antics of Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford and the like.
The obscenity of war is lost on most Americans, and that drains the death of Robert McNamara of any real significance."
Balance is one thing.....but a full, fair, complete and balanced reporting is another! FAIR takes up the very topic in criticising The NY Times in its piece on the death of Robert McNamara, one-time US Secretary of Defence during the Vietnam War years:
"In the sixth paragraph of his front-page obituary of Vietnam War-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (7/7/09), the New York Times' Tim Weiner tries--and fails--to give some idea of the human cost of McNamara's war:
What's missing, of course, is the number of Vietnamese and other Indochinese who died as a result of the war whose escalation McNamara oversaw; estimates range from 1 million to more than 3 million, but Weiner never gets around to mentioning them. More than halfway through the piece, the article does quote a repentant McNamara talking about how escalating the war would cause "more distress at the amount of suffering being visited on the noncombatants in Vietnam, South and North"--though the reference is to unspecified "suffering," and even then the focus is on the "distress" such suffering would cause us.
Clearly, it's morally perverse to treat one's own nation's losses in a war that nation started as the important point, while ignoring the far greater losses of the lands your country invaded. It's that ability to set aside the evil that one inflicts on others that allows wars like Vietnam to be carried out."
Thursday, July 09, 2009
This description of what befell an [Australian] ABC News correspondent in Jerusalem last Saturday makes for sober reading:
"The ABC's Middle East correspondent Anne Barker became caught in violent street protests involving ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem at the weekend. This is her graphic account of her ordeal.
As a journalist I've covered more than my share of protests. Political protests in Canberra. Unions protesting for better conditions. Angry, loud protests against governments, or against perceived abuses of human rights.
I've been at violent rallies in East Timor. I've had rocks and metal darts thrown my way. I've come up against riot police.
But I have to admit no protest - indeed no story in my career - has distressed me in the way I was distressed at a protest in Jerusalem on Saturday involving several hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews."
The Age reports:
"Robert McNamara, who died this week aged 93 having been defence secretary to two American presidents, was the architect of US involvement in Vietnam and its most vehement advocate.
In 1995, however, he revealed to general astonishment that he had been fired for privately opposing the war. But the fact that he did not speak out until long after the conflict had ended ensured that he remained a morally ambiguous figure.
Under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, "Mac the Knife" became a hate figure on university campuses throughout the Western world as the Vietnam War tore American society apart in the 1960s."
Scott Horton, writing on Harper's Magazine:
"As Washington’s attention turns to things Russian, the New York Review of Books publishes a selection from a forthcoming volume (Berlin’s Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960) of the correspondence of Isaiah Berlin. (sub. reqd.) The letter describes the June 1958 visit of Dmitri Shostakovich to Oxford to receive an honorary degree. (He had been selected for the honor together with Francis Poulenc.) Berlin recounts the arrival of Shostakovich’s embassy handlers and describes how he plotted to get Shostakovich free of them. Shostakovich was whisked off to a “musical evening” at the home of Hugh Trevor-Roper, while his minders were taken off to a party for undergraduates. “They may have had their hands dripping with Hungarian blood, but personally they were innocent, rather wooden peasants, who obviously at an order from above would have had no compunction in shooting one dead, but at the same time had a certain charm.”
Shostakovich is described as “small, shy, like a chemist from Canada (Western States), terribly nervous, with a twitch playing in his face almost perpetually.” Berlin quickly turns to a bit of amateur psychoanalysis: “Whenever the slightest reference was made to contemporary events or contemporary personalities, the old painful spasm would pass over his face, and his face would assume a haunted, even persecuted expression and he would fall into a kind of terrified silence.” But Berlin’s diagnosis may be far from the mark. In 1958, as Berlin is writing, Shostakovich had complained repeatedly about physical spasms which made it increasingly difficult for him to play the piano. After years of tests, he was diagnosed with polio.
Shostakovich had of course danced a difficult waltz with Joseph Stalin, a man whom he detested and feared. The most dramatic encounter came on a January evening in 1936, the best account of which has survived in handwritten notes by Mikhail Bulgakov. Stalin and his entourage went to the opera to hear Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtensk. Unfortunately, the Man of Steel had been seated too close to the brass section, a fact which seems to have soured him on the work. Or perhaps it was the plot itself, which could hardly have flattered one of the great mass murderers of the twentieth century. Shostakovich was denounced in an unsigned editorial in Pravda and spent the balance of the winter fearing for his life. He could easily have been exiled, sent to a camp to near certain death. But as it happened, he suffered mere disfavor for a few years and a second denunciation in 1948, only to reemerge triumphantly with Stalin’s demise."