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Showing posts from February, 2010

E-waste in bucket-loads. Too much!

What does happen to all those old unwanted and regularly discarded computers and mobile / cell phones? It's a real problem and something addressed in a report issued by the UN this week.

SpiegelOnlineInternationalreports:

"This week the United Nations released a report on the problems surrounding the recycling of electronic scrap, known as e-waste. Millions of tons of old computers and phones on the scrap heaps of the world contain more gold and silver than the average mine. What is needed is better and safer recycling.

Mankind goes to an immense effort to extract metal from out of the ground. We dig holes thousands of meters deep into the earth, blow up mountains and dig laboriously in sand dunes.

But in fact, there are much easier ways to find precious metals. There is a treasure trove of gold and silver stored in household and industrial trash -- in discarded electrical devices, to be more exact. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) around …

Yes, you read correctly!

Yes, it's hard to believe, but Abbey Zimet, writing on CommonDreams, reveals the newest dimension to attacking Obama by the extreme right-wing nutters who have already given us "the birthers", Obama is a Muslim, etc. etc.

"Okay, loonies, this takes the nefarious cake. Right-wing blogs are aflutter 'cause the new logo of the Missile Defense Agency sort of has a - gasp! - crescent and star, which makes it part of "an increasingly obvious and worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam," which is all a plot by Comrade Obama, whose campaign logo also looks suspiciously like...Oh treachery! Oh insanity!"

Tom [Friedman] revises history - again!

FAIRrightly takes to task Tom Friedman [NY Times op-ed writer] on his latest column - where, as a supporter of the Iraq war, he now does more than a bit of revision on the grounds for going to war:

"In his New York Times column today (2/24/10), Tom Friedman presents a bizarre view of the Iraq War. Attempting to answer the question of whether Iraq is dysfunctional because of its culture (the "conservative" argument) or because of its politics (the "liberal" argument), he writes:

Ironically, though, it was the neo-conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn’t matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. While many liberals and realists contended that Iraq was an irredeemable tribal hornet's nest and we should not be sticking our hand in there; it was place where the past would always bury the future.

But stick we did, and in so doing we gave Iraqis a chance to do something …

The New Rules of War

From an article "The New Rules of War" on FP:

"Every day, the U.S. military spends $1.75 billion, much of it on big ships, big guns, and big battalions that are not only not needed to win the wars of the present, but are sure to be the wrong approach to waging the wars of the future.

In this, the ninth year of the first great conflict between nations and networks, America's armed forces have failed, as militaries so often do, to adapt sufficiently to changed conditions, finding out the hard way that their enemies often remain a step ahead. The U.S. military floundered for years in Iraq, then proved itself unable to grasp the point, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, that old-school surges of ground troops do not offer enduring solutions to new-style conflicts with networked adversaries."

And, most critically important, and a grave cause for concern:

"Which brings us to war in the age of information. The technological breakthroughs of the last two decades -- compar…

10,000,000,000 and counting

It's hard to get one's head around the figure, but Apple yesterday notched up a mere 10,000,000,000 [that's 10 billion] downloads from its iTunes.

As TUAW comments:

"This represents a huge milestone for both Apple and the music industry. Apple has revolutionized the music industry with the iPod and iTunes. It seems like only yesterday that Apple sold the 500 millionth song to much fanfare. It's pretty clear that this whole digital music thing has really caught on."

Remember Haiti? Now read about the aid racket....

The scenes out of Haiti a while back caused by the devastating earthquake - and then the aftershocks - are hard to forget.

The media rushed in headlong - and reported steadily and regularly - and then it all evaporated as they moved onto whatever next seemed newsworthy. Now the Haitians are still there, of course, trying to comes to grips with what has befallen them.

Ashley Smith, writing on counterpunch in "Haiti and the Air Racket" deals with the aid racket now underway in the devastated country:

"It's now more than a month since the earthquake that laid waste to Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 people and thrusting millions of people into the most desperate conditions.

But according to the U.S. government, Haitians have a lot to be thankful for.

On February 12, the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Ken Merten boasted, "In terms of humanitarian aid delivery...frankly, it's working really well, and I believe that this will be something that people will be …

Kofi Annan: As long as Palestinians are occupied, passions will be inflamed

An extract from a lecture given by Kofi Annan [former UN Secretary-General] in The Guardian:

"Globalisation will not bring peace or prosperity unless we all share fairly in its benefits. To regain legitimacy, the global economy must be guided by an ethical framework that addresses the gross inequalities in our world, and meets the basic needs and aspirations of people everywhere.

Nor can our global institutions play their essential role in building consensus and bridging divides unless they are reformed to reflect the realities of today rather than 60 years ago. We are seeing new powers emerging eager to share global responsibilities. Respecting diversity on the world stage means giving them the opportunity to play their role.

Rather than be alarmed, we should welcome this return to multipolarity. It will require reconciling a more diverse set of interests and values but it promises a much stronger foundation to address shared threats and challenges. All of these are important steps…

Death of Rachel Corrie goes to Court

Rachel Corrie, allegedly killed by the Israelis some years ago, has been the focal point of a play, a film and controversy. The Israelis have maintained the death was an accident. There is evidence to suggest the contrary.

The Guardian backgrounds the upcoming case [in Haifa, Israel] in "Rachel Corrie's family bring civil suit over human shield's death in Gaza":

"The family of the American activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza seven years ago, is to bring a civil suit over her death against the Israeli defence ministry.

The case, which begins on 10 March in Haifa, northern Israel, is seen by her parents as an opportunity to put on public record the events that led to their daughter's death in March 2003. Four key witnesses – three Britons and an American – who were at the scene in Rafah when Corrie was killed will give evidence, according the family lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein.

The four were all with the International Solida…

Yes, Virginia, they do have a licence to steal

The figures are truly staggering! Especially when seen in the context of the financial woes confronting the USA post the nadir of the GFC.

Robert Scheer, writing in The Nation, spells out how the large Wall St. financiers have done extremely well out of the GFC:

"They do have a license to steal. There is no other way to read Tuesday’s report from the New York state comptroller that bonuses for Wall Street financiers rose 17 percent to $20.3 billion in 2009. Of course that is less than the $32.9 billion for bonus rewards back in 2007, when those hotshots could still pretend that they were running sound businesses.

The economy is anything but sound, but you would hardly know that from looking at the balance sheets of the big investment banks. The broker-dealer firms on Wall Street made a record profit, estimated at greater than $55 billion by the comptroller, and the only thing holding back even more grotesque bonuses was concern over criticism from a public that was hardly doing a…

One Greek Not Bearing Gifts

There is the saying...beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

All too sadly the financial mess in which Greece now finds itself has all the hallmarks of spreading to other European countries - with a ripple-effect beyond.

The Nation provides the background to Greece's plight in "Athens: The First Domino?"

"The shadow of classical Greece has always loomed large over Western civilization--whether in literature, philosophy, art, mathematics, history or politics, it has been, in so many ways, the fons et origo of us all. Modern Greece suddenly seems poised to play that same outsized role, but by no means in the same civilizing way. Athens's fiscal crisis could very well ignite the next global financial crisis--just as the world hoped it might be starting a slow exit from the last one.
After meeting with fellow European leaders in Brussels in early February, where he argued the case for help in solving the hefty budget deficit he'd inherited on taking office last fall, Pr…

"This Book Is Overdue!": Hot for librarian

Who would have thought it? Librarians with a visage much different to that of the dowdy, glass-wearing spinster type.

Salon reveals all........

"Behold the stereotypical librarian, with her cat’s-eye glasses, bun and pantyhose -- a creature whose desexualized persona and desire for us to be quiet has fueled generations of wild sexual fantasies. But there's bad news for those of you with a shushing fetish; as Marilyn Johnson explains in "This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All," the uptight librarian is a species that's rapidly approaching extinction.

A new generation of young, hip and occasionally tattooed librarians is driving them out. They call themselves guybrarians, cybrarians and "information specialists," and they blog at sites like The Free Range Librarian and The Lipstick Librarian. They can be found in droves on Second Life, but also outside the Republican National Convention, dodging tear gas canisters and tweetin…

All the news [and editorial] fit to print?

The NY Times is published under the well-known banner "All the News Fit to Print".

There are many aspects of the Times which can be called into question. Apart from not being as far-reaching in reporting news from around the world - or its lack of judgment, as recently the subject of debate, in having Ethan Bonner as its Bureau Chief in Jerusalem - the latest eye-raising issue is in relation to a recent editorial.

truthout reports in "New York Times' "Mystery" Op-Ed Calls for More Afghan Civilian Deaths":

"On Thursday, The New York Times made an astonishing editorial choice, for which its editors owe the public an explanation: it published an op-ed by an obscure and poorly identified author attacking Gen. Stanley McChrystal for his directive last July that airstrikes in Afghanistan be authorized only under "very limited and prescribed conditions." The op-ed denounced an "overemphasis on civilian protection" and charged that &qu…

Getting further bogged down......

A record, of sorts, was set today. 1000 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan. And the question which needs to be asked. Has it been a "price" worth incurring? and for what end? - given the period the war has now dragged on and with no real end in sight.

Yahoo! News puts the grim figures into context:

"The number of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan has reached 1,000, an independent website said on Tuesday, a grim reminder that eight years of fighting has failed to defeat Taliban insurgents.

Icasualties.org said 54 U.S. troops were killed this year in Afghanistan, raising the casualties to 1,000, compared to eight in Iraq, where the total has reached 4,378. The rise to 1,000 dead coincides with one of the biggest offensives against the Taliban, a NATO-led assault in the Marjah district of Helmand, Afghanistan's most violent province.

The operation is an early test of U.S. President Barack Obama's troop surge strategy aimed as wresting control of Ta…

Yoo said slaugthter was OK

Perhaps nothing is surprising anymore - especially what occurred in the years of the Bush Administration - but for a Justice Department lawyer to have ok'd slaughter is astounding. Troubling is that this official, now teaching law at a US University [!] is not to be prosecuted for what must undoubtedly be professional misconduct - given that what he was advising Bush and Co. was clearly a violation of the law.

consortiumnews.com reports:

"Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo argued that President George W. Bush’s commander-in-chief powers were so sweeping that he could willfully order the massacre of civilians, yet Yoo’s culpability in Bush administration abuses was deemed “poor judgment,” not a violation of “professional standards.”

That downgrading of criticism by the Justice Department – regarding the legal advice from Yoo and his boss at the Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee, to Bush's White House and the CIA – means that the department will not refer them to s…

A Human Shield in Iraq.....and the aftermath

From a piece "Mocked When She Flew to Baghdad" on counterpunch:

"A book recently launched at Sydney University attracted a large audience and scant media attention. At first glance this may not seem surprising, as its author is not a Vogue model, shock jock, porn start or literary giant. She is a Christian; one of an unusual hue. Her faith is expressed in deeds, not platitudes and ghastly hymns. She believes John Howard, Tony Blair, George Bush – all self proclaimed Christians - committed grave crimes with the 2003 shock & awe invasion of Baghdad. She was there – she saw it, she smelled it, she nursed the limbless children in hospitals, their mattresses soaked in blood. Her name is Donna Mulhearn.

Back then, “forty six per cent of Iraq’s population was below the age of sixteen,” Donna writes in her memoir, Ordinary Courage, “this is essentially a war against kids”. She was right. In 2007,UNICEF reported the number of vulnerable children in Iraq had outstripped the…

Treading on Shards

Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Writing in The Nation she records what is happening in and in relation to Gaza since her most recent visit there in August last year. It makes for a miserable situation, made worse by what the Israelis - with the quiet aquiescence of the West - is allowing to happen there. To think that the access [that is, what is allowed in] to food is rationed in order to keep it just barely above starvation level is scandalous. A department of one of the Israeli ministries monitors that.

"Normal trade (upon which Gaza's tiny economy is desperately dependent) continues to be prohibited; traditional imports and exports have almost disappeared from Gaza. In fact, with certain limited exceptions, no construction materials or raw materials have been allowed to enter the Strip since June 14, 2007. Indeed, according to Amnesty International, only forty-one truckloads of construction materials were allowe…

He's Back!!...You know, Tiger What'sHisName

Credit to Mike Lester, Rome News-Tribune

Been there....done that! Dubai, Mossad, assassinations, CCTV, etc. etc.

It's all over the news....what appears almost certain to have been Mossad's assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai. The story has still some way to unfold.

Meanwhile, Paul McGeough, veteran journalist in the Middle East and author of the must-read book, Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas, [the true account of the attempt by Mossad to assassinate Khalid Mishal in Amman back in 1997] is interviewed on Democracy Now, bringing up-to-date the present situation of the assassination in Dubai and putting the whole thing into context:

"Well, the similarities are that the Mossad chose, and funnily enough, while Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister in an earlier incarnation—these sorts of missions require the prime minister’s sign-off—they chose a foreign setting. They chose Amman, the capital of Jordan, notwithstanding the fact that King Hussein of Jordan was Israel’s best friend in the Arab world and had gone out on a limb t…

Terrorism: the most meaningless and manipulated word

The disgruntled crazy, Joseph Stack, who flew a plane into an IRS office in the USA has brought forth the usual commentary, usually from the uninformed, like those on Fox News, about terrorists.

Glenn Greenwald, lawyer, writing his blog on Salon, rightly points out that the word "terrorist" has been overworked and become totally distorted:

"All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon. The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity. It has really come to mean: "a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies." That's why all of this confusion and doubt arose yesterday over whether a person who perpetrated a classic act of Terrorism should, in fact, be called a Terrorist: he…

The chicken and the egg!

Michelle Obama has taken to involving herself in attacking obesity in America's children. Not that that is something which ought to be confined to the USA. Meanwhile, Toyota is battling its corporate image as it recalls vehicles with various faults.

Perhaps there is a message in there somewhere....as cartoonist Jimmy Marguiles reflects in his cartoon in New Jersey's The Record.




Sri Lanka: A lost cause?

The Nation, in a piece "Sri Lanka Wins a War and Diminishes Democracy", puts into context the sad plight of the people of Sri Lanka post the "defeat" of the Tamil Tigers last year - and all that entailed, mostly negative.

"In its 62 years of independence, Sri Lanka has never had a better chance than it has now to stamp out the last fires of ethnic hatred, violence and mindless chauvinisms that have left over 80,000 people dead in civil wars across one of the most physically beautiful countries in Asia.

Tragically for all Sri Lankans, it looks as if its increasingly autocratic president, reelected in January on a surge of Sinhala triumphalism following the defeat of a Tamil rebel army, is determined to let this hopeful moment pass. Not only a lasting peace between the Tamils and Sinhalese is at stake but also the multiparty democracy that set the country apart from many of its neighbors.

Why should a descent into misgovernment in a nation of 21.3 million people on…

Robert Fisk: Britain's Explanation is Riddled with Inconsistencies. It's Time to Come Clean

By all accounts seems to be almost certainty that Israel's Mossad was behind the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai. Writing on Information Clearing House, Robert Fisk questions Britain's role in all of this sordid extra-judicial killing:

"That's what it's all about. The United Arab Emirates suspect – only suspect, mark you – that Europe's "security collaboration" with Israel has crossed a line into illegality, where British passports (and those of other other EU nations) can now be used to send Israeli agents into the Gulf to kill Israel's enemies. At 3.49pm yesterday afternoon (Beirut time, 1.49pm in London), my Lebanese phone rang. It was a source – impeccable, I know him, he spoke with the authority I know he has in Abu Dhabi – to say that "the British passports are real. They are hologram pictures with the biometric stamp. They are not forged or fake. The names were really there. If you can fake a hologram or biometric stamp, wha…

World's top firms cause $3 trilion of environmental damage, report estimates

To everything to is cause and effect - and mostly, a cost. So it is with a cost to populaces around the world from any damage to the environment from such things as just simple pollution. The source of the damage is the top 3000 companies around the world - and at a cost of a staggering $3 trillion!

The Guardian reports on the findings of an upcoming United Nations Report:

"The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world's biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found.

Black clouds over the central business district, Jakarta. The report into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest public companies has estimated the cost of use, loss and damage of the environment. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty ImagesThe report comes amid growing concern that no one is made to pay for most of the use, loss and damage o…

Hillary Clinton gets tough with "military dictatorships"

"I have this nagging, intuitive sense that there are a few inconsistencies embedded in these statements -- which some people in the target audience might perceive -- though I can't quite put my finger on what they are."

So begins Glenn Greenwald's latest column "Hillary Clinton gets tough with "military dictatorships" on Salon.

Greenwald goes on to examine what Hillary has been reported as saying and concludes:

"What I always find mystifying is who they think the target audience is. I understand if they expect a domestic audience to swoon for this sort of rhetoric, but do they actually expect that there is anyone in the Middle East, anywhere, who will take seriously the righteous objections of Hilary Clinton -- the American Secretary of State and close Mubarak family friend -- to the rise of an oppressive military dictatorship in the Middle East? Is anyone there really going to believe that it's that government's lack of respect for hum…

Malaysia takes a giant step.....backwards!

The BBC reports on what must surely be regarded a barbaric in the 21st century....even allowing for any religious aspect or considerations involved:

"Three Malaysian women have been caned by the authorities for having extra-marital sex, say officials.

They are the first women to receive such a sentence under Islamic law in the country.
The punishments come as another Malaysian woman waits to hear whether her caning - for drinking beer - is carried out.

Malaysia's majority Malays are subject to Islamic laws, while the large Chinese and Indian minorities are not."

Ciao, baby! Why Italy just can't say no to Silvio

It's almost beggars belief that good 'ol Silvio, Italian PM, remains in office - and with seemingly little dent to his popularity. How come? - and how does he do it?

The Independent provides the background dope on the Teflon PM [a la Ronald Reagan?]:

"They must be among the harshest claims ever lodged against a European prime minister, and this month they were made in public, before Sicilian public prosecutors, and backed by documentary evidence. The cornerstone of the fortune of the tycoon who has ruled Italy for most of the past 15 years was money from the Mafia, which Silvio Berlusconi used to build his first housing estate, the project which made him rich and famous. And when, in 1993, after the meltdown of Italy's major political parties in a corruption scandal, Berlusconi decided to launch himself into politics, it was with the support of Bernardo Provenzano, the capo di capi of the Cosa Nostra who, 13 years later, was finally arrested after many years on the r…

Closed Zone

"Despite declarations that it has "disengaged" from the Gaza Strip, Israel maintains control of the Strip’s overland border crossings, territorial waters, and air space. This includes substantial, albeit indirect, control of the Rafah Crossing.

During the past 18 months, Israel tightened its closure of Gaza, almost completely restricting the passage of goods and people both to and from the Strip.

These policies punish innocent civilians with the goal of exerting pressure on the Hamas government, violating the rights of 1.5 million people who seek only to live ordinary lives – to be reunited with family, to pursue higher education, to receive quality medical treatment, and to earn a living.

The effects of the closure were particularly harsh during the military operation of Dec. 2008 - Jan. 2009. For three weeks, Gaza residents had nowhere to flee to escape the bombing.

Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement calls on the State of Israel to fully open Gaza's crossing…

Is Obama [the Law Professor] abandoning the Rule of Law?

It is hard to believe that Obama, a Harvard trained lawyer and one-time Law Professor, could even contemplate putting into place a regime which allows for indefinite detention without trial.

Politicoreports that it might well be on the cards:

"The White House is considering endorsing a law that would allow the indefinite detention of some alleged terrorists without trial as part of efforts to break a logjam with Congress over President Barack Obama’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday.

Last summer, White House officials said they had ruled out seeking a “preventive detention” statute as a way to deal with anti-terror detainees, saying the administration would hold any Guantanamo prisoners brought to the U.S. in criminal courts or under the general “law of war” principles permitting detention of enemy combatants.

However, speaking at a news conference in Greenville, S.C., Monday, Graham said the White House now seems open to a new law to…

Cheney condemns himself out of his own mouth

If the Obama Administration were even remotely interested in applying the law to its citizens, whoever they might be, then former VP Cheney made admissions the other day which would pave the way to successfully prosecuting the hard-right warrior Cheney.

truthout explains in "Cheney Admits to War Crimes, Media Yawns, Obama Turns the Other Cheek":

"Dick Cheney is a sadist.

On Sunday, in an exclusive interview with Jonathan Karl of ABC News' "This Week," Cheney proclaimed his love of torture, derided the Obama administration for outlawing the practice, and admitted that the Bush administration ordered Justice Department attorneys to fix the law around his policies."

The WWW: Information Super-Sewer?

There can be little doubt that the www - including the ready facility and acccess of email - has been a great benefit to people around the world.

BUT, and it's a big but, there are many downsides to the world wide web. Chris Hedges, formerly with The NY Times, explains in "The Information Super-Sewer", his regular column on truthdig:

"The Internet has become one more tool hijacked by corporate interests to accelerate our cultural, political and economic decline. The great promise of the Internet, to open up dialogue, break down cultural barriers, promote democracy and unleash innovation and creativity, has been exposed as a scam. The Internet is dividing us into antagonistic clans, in which we chant the same slogans and hate the same enemies, while our creative work is handed for free to Web providers who use it as bait for advertising.

Ask journalists, photographers, musicians, cartoonists or artists what they think of the Web. Ask movie and film producers. Ask ar…

Michael Ratner on Israeli apartheid

The vengeance with which former US president was attacked - as also those who made similar statements - when he some years ago described some of Israel's actions as being like apartheid, is hard to forget.

Now, Michael Ratner, President of the US based Centre for Constitutional Rights describes his, and his family's visit to Israel - and what he regards as the apartheid-like policies adopted by the Israelis.

Hold Onto Your Underwear. This Is Not a National Emergency

All the hype post the so-called underpants bomber has been over the top. The excesses put in place to protect the travelling public have bordered on the patently absurd. Like......passengers in the US in the weeks post the incident on Christmas Day in the last hour of their flight not permitted to leave their seats or read a book.

TomDispatch takes up the issue and puts into some sort of context in his latest piece "Hold Onto Your Underwear".

"Let me put American life in the Age of Terror into some kind of context, and then tell me you’re not ready to get on the nearest plane heading anywhere, even toward Yemen.

In 2008, 14,180 Americans were murdered, according to the FBI. In that year, there were 34,017 fatal vehicle crashes in the U.S. and, so the U.S. Fire Administration tells us, 3,320 deaths by fire. More than 11,000 Americans died of the swine flu between April and mid-December 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; on average, …

Yes, it's a Mad Hatters Tea Party alright!

Credit to Mr. Fish on Harper's Magazine

Did your city crack The List?

The debate goes on every year. Which city in the world is the most liveable? How on earth one can realistically evaluate such things remains somewhat of a mystery, but The Economist "does" the exercise annually.

This year's List is out:

"Canadian and Australian cities account for seven of the top ten spots in the Economist Intelligence Unit's latest liveability ranking. Vancouver (Canada) continues to top the Economist Intelligence Unit's global liveability survey with a score of 98%, which bodes well for visitors during the Winter Olympics this year.

All of the top ten cities achieve scores of over 95% and almost half of the cities surveyed (64 of 140) score more than 80% which puts them in the very top tier of liveability. For most cities liveability has been unaffected by the global downturn, which may have hit wages and prices but has had less of an impact on factors that the survey measures like infrastructure or crime levels."


Top 10 cities …

Message to Obama: Some home truths about the Middle East

Interestingly, when The NY Times is presently involved in a lively debate about the "independence" of its Bureau Chief in Jerusalem - his son is a member of the IDF - along comes ones of its regular op-ed writers, Roger Cohen, calling on Obama to take some stern and urgent action to get things sorted out in the Middle East. As Cohen rightly says, time is running out.

"For over a century now, Zionism and Arab nationalism have failed to find an accommodation in the Holy Land. Both movements attempted to fill the space left by collapsed empire, and it has been left to the quasi-empire, the United States, to try to coax them to peaceful coexistence. The attempt has failed.

President Barack Obama came to office more than a year ago promising new thinking, outreach to the Muslim world, and relentless focus on Israel-Palestine. But nice speeches have given way to sullen stalemate. I am told Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have a zero-chemistry relat…

Taliban friend's letters to the enemy

Benjamin Gilmour, if you didn't know it, has written a wonderful book Warrior Poets and made a much lauded film Son of a Lion. Check out both here.

Writing on Eureka Street.com.au he details a letter from a member of the Taliban "addressed to the Americans". The letter becomes even more significant given the 15,000 strong military operation presently underway in Afghanistan.

"Looting of military convoys is nothing new in this part of the world. A few decades ago it was the Soviets who lost their AK47s, big fur hats and service medals. Pre-partition, the British were so frustrated with the Pashtun habit of looting their weapon stores, that they encouraged Afridi tribes to expand the capabilities of the Darra Bazaar. It is ironic to think the only way the colonialists could stop the enemy from stealing their weapons was to help them make their own.

Fifty years later the Pashtuns are putting up the same fight they always have. Thanks to never-ending attempts to cont…

Valentine's Day: Has it really come to this?

Credit to Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Our world, in photographs, in 2009

Photographs are still able to capture the "scene" - which the printed word or narrative can't.

The independent, non-profit World Press Photo, which organizes the largest international press photography exhibit, announced this year's winners today.

Go here, on CommonDreams, to view the winners.

China: Yet another blow for freedom of expression

The Washington Post reports:

"A Chinese court upheld Thursday the unprecedented 11-year sentence given to a prominent scholar who had called for political reform, the latest in a string of harsh punishments for dissenters."

This conviction once again demonstrates that freedom of expression in China is near enough impossible - whatever the Chinese claim.

"Asked whether China's treatment of dissidents might negatively affect its image overseas, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu responded, "There are no dissidents in China."

Mmm! Read the full Post article here.

Italy's PM does it again

No, you are not reading about some African or South American dictatorship. It's Italy, land of Chianti, pasta, those canals in Venice, pizza - and it's infamous Premier, Silvio Berlesconi.

Passport, the blog of the Editors of FP, reports on what must surely be more than cause for concern:

"Italy has now essentially banned talk shows on state broadcaster RAI from commenting on politics ahead of regional elections:

'The ruling PDL Party's majority on the parliamentary watchdog that oversees public broadcaster RAI forced through rules that mean the state broadcaster's most popular talk shows will have to scrap their political content – or face a transfer from mid-evening to graveyard shifts. Programmes such as BallarĂ² and Annozero, which have frequently held Mr Berlusconi to account for alleged sex scandals and even Mafia links, will be the main victims of the month-long clamp down that prompted accusations of censorship.'

Political content will be allowed – b…

It pays to pay up ...big!

Mind-boggling is a word which comes to mind when reading this report in The Huffington Post on what lobbyists spent in 2009. And, yes Virginia, it was a year of recession in the US:

"The final reports are in and we can now officially say that 2009 was the most profitable year ever for the lobbying industry.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics tallied lobbying income data from tens of thousands of disclosure filings, and the data show that special interests of all stripes spent $3.47 billion lobbying the federal government in 2009, up from $3.3 billion the previous year.

How did the influence industry manage such a banner year despite a battered economy? The simple answer is that the Obama administration's aggressive change agenda has prompted businesses to open their wallets to an unprecedented degree in the hope of preventing reform."

Two perspectives on Iran

Iran is again back at the top of the news. Apart from celebrating it's 31 year old Islamic Revolution - and the protests that has wrought - the announcement of the maverick Iranian President that the country is closer to being a nuclear power has caused more than ripples of concern around the world.

World Focus highlights 2 pieces on Iran.

First, this, on women in Iran:

"Iranian women have made remarkable strides in education during the last few decades; 65 percent of college undergraduates are female.

Correspondent Bigan Saliani and producer Richard O'Regan travel to Iran to explore tensions between the expectations of highly educated young Iranian women and the reality of their lives."

Second, the current street protests in Iran:

"As Iran battles dissent at home and abroad, hundreds of thousands of people showed their support for the government today.

Iranians took to the streets of Tehran to mark the 31st anniversary of the revolution that created the Islamic repu…

Top judge: Binyam Mohamed case shows MI5 to be devious, dishonest and complicit in torture

It's all unravelling!

Either through the Chilcot Inquiry in the UK or litigation in the Binyam Mohamed case, the duplicity and lying of politicians is being revealed - as also the clear involvement of many in the torture of those imprisoned, mostly without any charge or conviction. Remember renditioning?

Just read through this and this piece from The Guardian.

They're back! The neo-con bomb 'em mob!

As if the world hasn't seen enough of what havoc the neo-con bomb 'em mob have wrought, as FP reveals.....they are back! Now, it's not Iraq which they have in their sights, but Iran.

"They're back! The "Bomb Iran" crowd is making a big return to the political center stage after months of puzzlement over what to do about developments in the Islamic Republic. Hawks such as Daniel Pipes and John Bolton are arguing that Iran is dead-set on its pursuit of a nuclear arsenal -- and point to developments such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement this weekend that Iran would enrich its uranium stocks to 20 percent to argue that diplomatic avenues have reached a dead end. The would-be bombers fear that the mullahs will leverage their nuclear capability to expand Persian influence through the Arab world and beyond -- and argue that the United States must do anything in its power, including the use of force, to stop them.

This movement had its heyday…

Heaven forbid

Credit to Mike Luckovitch

Obama! Clueless?

With markets once again getting jittery in the light of Greece's economic woes - as possibly also those of Portugal and Spain - and the US economy limping along and looking in need of being admitted to the ER, Obama's response to Wall St. firms announcing huge bonuses for their execs is to say the least puzzling. One day he is having a go at Wall St. and the next seemingly relaxed about it.

All of this prompts Paul Krugman, Nobel prize winner in economics, writing in The NY Times to wonder, out loud, whether Obama is clueless.

"I’m with Simon Johnson here: how is it possible, at this late date, for Obama to be this clueless?

The lead story on Bloomberg right now contains excerpts from an interview with Business Week which tells us:

"President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athl…

Robert Fisk: Gaza's defiant tunnellers head deeper underground

The Israelis have Gaza under a seige - and have had so, for many years. There is even a territorial-limit on the fishing Gazans can do. Now the Egyptians, as puppets of the US and with the active support of Israel, are in the process of building a wall [yes, Virginia, like the Berlin one and the one the Israelis call a "fence"] along the Gaza-Egyptian border.

Where that is supposed to leave 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza is more than an "interesting" question. With just everything blocked off from entering and leaving Gaza what are its people to do?

Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, relates how the by now ubiquitous tunnels "work" and the evil of it all:

"They are the real resistance. They are the lung through which Gaza breathes. True, missiles must pass along their subterranean tracks, Qassam rockets, too, Kalashnikov ammunition, explosives. But by far the greatest burden of the tunnellers of Gaza is the very life-blood of this besi…