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Showing posts from August, 2010

Another witch-hunt afoot

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman in his latest op-ed piece for The New York Times attacks what seems to be another witch-hunt - and a virulent and toxic one to boot - afoot in the US:

"The last time a Democrat sat in the White House, he faced a nonstop witch hunt by his political opponents. Prominent figures on the right accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything from drug smuggling to murder. And once Republicans took control of Congress, they subjected the Clinton administration to unrelenting harassment — at one point taking 140 hours of sworn testimony over accusations that the White House had misused its Christmas card list.

Now it’s happening again — except that this time it’s even worse. Let’s turn the floor over to Rush Limbaugh: “Imam Hussein Obama,” he recently declared, is “probably the best anti-American president we’ve ever had.”

To get a sense of how much it matters when people like Mr. Limbaugh talk like this, bear in mind that he’s an utterly mainstream figure wit…

Leave out the main players = unsuccessful outcome

Ali Abunimah is not only the author of “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse", but also the editor of and commentator in the much-respected Electronic Intifada.

With the upcoming so-called resumed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, in an op-ed piece "Hamas, the I.R.A. and Us" in The New York Times, he examines why the failure to include Hamas in the discussions is most likely to doom the talks.

"George J. Mitchell, the United States Middle East envoy, tried to counter low expectations for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations by harking back to his experience as a mediator in Northern Ireland.

At an Aug. 20 news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, announcing the talks that will begin this week, Mr. Mitchell reminded journalists that during difficult negotiations in Northern Ireland, “We had about 700 days of failure and one day of success” — the day in 1998 that the Belfast Agreement instit…

More than a fair question

Credited to Mike Keefe, The Denver Post

Paper v eBook

The tussle between the conventional book and the new ebooks is on. It is more than likely to shape the way in which we read books and how much we pay for them. And then there is the new intrusion advertisements into ebooks.

So, how are people responding to ebooks? The Wall Street Journal takes up the question in "The ABCs of E-Reading":

"People who buy e-readers tend to spend more time than ever with their nose in a book, preliminary research shows.

A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources Inc. found that 40% said they now read more than they did with print books. Of those surveyed, 58% said they read about the same as before while 2% said they read less than before. And 55% of the respondents in the May study, paid for by e-reader maker Sony Corp., thought they'd use the device to read even more books in the future. The study looked at owners of three devices: Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle, Apple Inc.'s iPad and the Sony Reade…

That was one hell of a BBQ

Scott Horton writes in Harper's Magazine on what surely be the most expensive BBQ this century - or probably ever!

"It was the most expensive barbecue in all history, writes Berlin’s Tageszeitung today about a fete arranged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel for George W. Bush and his entourage in 2006.

On a warm summer evening four years ago, helicopters set down on the Trinwillershagen athletic field and one of the most powerful men of the world walked into the little village with 700 inhabitants. Chancellor Angela Merkel had invited George W. Bush to her home electoral district in Western Pomerania—she planned to offer him a hearty meal of barbecued wild boar and to send the world many harmonious photographs of the gathering. But hardly had the proprietor of the Gasthof zu den Linden removed the boar meat from the skewers when a controversy began in Germany about this “most expensive barbecue in history.” The event did not bring only politicians to Merkel’s constituency. A f…

How lampooning cost a General his job

Oh dear, those types who take themselves so seriously.

In this case a general pored scorn on the military hierarchy using Powerpoint. Salon explains:

"An Army reserve colonel on his second Afghanistan tour has been kicked out of that country for writing an editorial about how much he hates PowerPoint.

Col. Lawrence Sellin was on the staff of the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command, the organization that, according to Spencer Ackerman, "formed last year to oversee the war’s day-to-day operations." PowerPoint enthusiast and Afghanistan war commander David Petraeus loves the IJC. Sellin thinks it's a pointless bureaucratic nightmare that accomplishes nothing.

So he wrote a hilarious editorial about the IJC, which was published by UPI. An excerpt:

'For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. …

Hearing the other side

The Western press rarely publishes any articles with the viewpoint of Arabs in the Middle East, let alone Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.

Haneen Zoabi is an Arab Palestinian and member of the Israeli Knesset. She has been under constant personal villification especially since she was a member of the flotilla back in May which sought to get through to Gaza and was then attacked by the Israeli military.

NewStatesman has interviewed Zoabi - which can be read here.

An example of the Q & A:

"What is it like being a Palestinian in Israel?

Israel did everything it could to make us forget our history: controlling education and the media, putting us in a ghetto, preventing us from having normal relations with the Arab world and visiting our families in Syria and Lebanon."

Afghanistan: Nine Years Later Looks it's Much the Same: A Mess

It is hard to believe that 9 years have passed since the West moved / invaded / charged into Afghanistan - to eradicate those terrible terrorists, we were all told, responsible for all manner of things.

9 years on and what do we have? A mess, as this piece from CommonDreams makes so very clear:

"OK. The roads are impressive. Specifically, the fact that they exist. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, more than two decades of civil conflict had left the country bereft of basic infrastructure. Roads, bridges and tunnels had been bombed and mined. What didn't blow up got ground down by tanks. Maintenance? Don't be funny.

It took them too long to get started, but U.S. occupation forces deserve credit for slapping down asphalt. Brutal, bone-crushing ordeals that used to take four days can be measured in smooth, endless-grey-ribboned hours. Bridges have been replaced. Tunnels have been shored up. Most major highways and major city streets have been paved.

But that'…

Dot Earth

Dot Earth? It's a new section in The New York Times. The Times explains:

"By 2050 or so, the world population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet where, scientists say, humans are already shaping climate and the web of life. In Dot Earth, which recently moved from the news side of The Times to the Opinion section, Andrew C. Revkin examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits. Conceived in part with support from a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Dot Earth tracks relevant developments from suburbia to Siberia. The blog is an interactive exploration of trends and ideas with readers and experts."

Go to Dot Earth here.

The US an exporter of terrorism?

The notion of the US exporting terrorism will take many aback. But, the latest Wikileaked documents confirm the fact. Surprising? Perhaps not when one reflects on the matter.

Paul Pillar, writing in the column Argument on FP, considers what the latest Wikileak revelations reveal from the CIA's Red Cell:

"Partly because the deadliest attack in the history of modern international terrorism was against the United States, Americans tend to see their own country as the center of the counterterrorist universe. It was a U.S. president who declared a "war on terror," led by the United States. Although U.S. officials have said a lot about international cooperation, the cooperation they have had in mind has been mostly a matter of the United States leading, pushing, or insisting, and other countries conforming or complying. The same U.S. president summarized his standard for other countries' counterterrorist performance with the phrase "either you are with us o…

People?.....or Politics?

Pakistan is a bit on the nose with the international community......but does that mean that its people need to suffer without aid from the rest of the world, as they literally fight to survive those horrendous floods?

The floods which have devastated Pakistan are so extensive so as to defy comprehension. A third of the population affected in a area the size of Great Britain. 6 million children alone.

Read one of the latest reports from Australia's ABC reporter on the ground here. Meanwhile, whatever charity you favour, give generously. It's the people we are helping, not the Government of Pakistan.

Worlds apart

Credited to Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

How to use US$100 million in right wing causes against Obama

Money knows no bounds.....as this piece "Covert Operations" from the The New Yorker amply demonstrates.

Introducing the Koch brothers...

"With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion…

Maybe we are all headed to dieting

Food is the stuff of life! But perhaps there won't be enough to go around for all the people of the world.

It's an issue taken up by Mark Bitman in a piece "Seeing a Time (Soon) When We’ll All Be Dieting" in The New York Times:

"Fifty years ago, a billion people were undernourished or starving; the number is about the same today. That’s actually progress, since a billion represented a third of the human race then, and “only” a sixth now.

Today we have another worry: roughly the same number of people eat too much. But, says Julian Cribb, a veteran science journalist from Australia, “The era of cheap, abundant food is over.”

Like many other experts, he argues that we have passed the peak of oil production, and it’s all downhill from now on. He then presents evidence that we have passed the peaks for water, fertilizer and land, and that we will all soon be made painfully aware that we have passed it for food, as wealthy nations experience shortages and rising pric…

If anyone is fanatic it's Sarah Palin

The battle-lines are well and truly drawn in relation to the so-called building of a mosque on Ground Zero. The debate has brought out rabid racists and highlighted the prejudices and intolerances of people like Sarah Palin and various TV commentators, notably on the Sun King's Fox News.

Mark Steel, op-ed writer for Britain's The Independent in " If anyone is fanatic it's Sarah Palin" has a take on the controversy - written with more than a dose of irony and tongue-in-cheek:

"To give yourself a stressful and futile day, try telling people there are no plans to build a mosque at Ground Zero. You'll get nowhere, although the truth is there are plans to build an Islamic centre, with a swimming pool open to everyone, two blocks away from Ground Zero. So if this is a continuation of the terrorist agenda as claimed, it's been a peculiar plan, and Bin Laden must have started by telling his followers "First we will destroy their buildings – and then, …

Why foodbills are sky-rocketing

From Spiegel International OnLine:

"Financial speculators have discovered agricultural commodities, and the result has been skyrocketing prices for wheat, barley and other grains. SPIEGEL spoke with agricultural economist Joachim von Braun about how to curb such speculation and the dangers for the world's poor."

Joachim von Braun, 60, is one of the world's leading agricultural economists. He has been the director of the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn since May. Before that, he spent seven years as head of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC.

Read the Q & A here.

Why bother about the small matter of evidence!

The case of Death Row inmate Troy Davis has, justifiably, attracted world-wide interest. By any objective yardstick the man appears innocent.

The US justice "system" at work, would seem to suggest otherwise. As you read the piece below from CommonDreams reflect on the fact of how many prosecution witnesses have recanted their evidence:

"A federal judge has ruled that Death Row inmate Troy Davis failed to prove his innocence during this summer's extraordinary Supreme Court hearing on his conviction for the 1989 killing of a Georgia police officer – that, despite no physical evidence, 7 of 9 prosecution witnesses recanting their testimony, and other witnesses naming another man as the killer. The judge called the new evidence "smoke and mirrors," which seems almost as cruel as Davis' fate"

Yuck!

If you were sceptical about former Brit PM Tony Blair but did not totally regard him with disdain, then this piece "Tony Blair's new book 'is like a love letter to George Bush'" from the MailOnline about the forthcoming Blair book suggest to you that Blair, if nothing else, lacks any character:

"Tony Blair's forthcoming memoirs will read like a 'love letter' to George W Bush, insiders claim.

The autobiography will praise the former U.S. president, with whom Mr Blair launched the controversial invasion of Iraq in 2003, as 'highly intelligent' and 'visionary'.

The former prime minister is wheeling out his wife Cherie and their four children to publicise the book, entitled A Journey, across the Atlantic.

They will appear at a glitzy awards ceremony in the U.S. at which Mr Blair, who led Britain into four wars, will receive a medal to celebrate his efforts towards peace.

It will be the first time the whole family have been seen together…

Celebrating a namesake's 150 anniversary

This blog, as readers know all too well, is called Mahler's Prodigal Son.

The affinity to and love of Mahler's music is considerable. One could say that this blogger is a Mahler junky.

This being the 150 anniversary of Mahler's birth imagine the joy of discovering a web site - with recordings of Mahler's music.

Check it out here.

Despite all the hype, those "settlement" negotiations will come to nought

The news sounds good. After a long stalemate, direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians are to resume in a few weeks time.

Stephen Walt, professor of International Relations at Harvard, in his blog on FP, suggests its all hype and nothing will really happen:

"Why do I say this? Three reasons.

1. There is no sign that the Palestinians are willing to accept less than a viable, territorially contiguous state in the West Bank (and eventually, Gaza), including a capital in East Jerusalem and some sort of political formula (i.e., fig-leaf) on the refugee issue. By the way, this outcome supposedly what the Clinton and Bush adminstrations favored, and what Obama supposedly supports as well.

2. There is no sign that Israel's government is willing to accept anything more than a symbolic Palestinian "state" consisting of a set of disconnected Bantustans, with Israel in full control of the borders, air space, water supplies, electromagnetic spectrum. etc. Prime Mi…

Afghanistan: Get the "mafia-like groups" out!

If there was ever a slap in the face for the NATO forces in Afghanistan, and especially the countless private contractors being paid by various governments, it comes from no lesser person than President Karzai. Get 'em out he says! - in the strongest and most direct language.

The Huffington Post reports:

"Afghanistan's embattled president Hamid Karzai said on Sunday that U.S. taxpayers were indirectly funding "mafia-like groups" and terrorist activities with the American government's support of private contractors inside his country.

In a rare U.S. media appearance, Karzai continued to press for the removal of the vast majority of U.S. private contractors by the end of this year. He argued that their continued presence inside Afghanistan was "an obstruction and impediment" to the country's growth, a massive waste of money, and a catalyst for corruption among Afghan officials.

"The more we wait the more we lose," Karzai said during an a…

'Yoga Wars' where there ought to be Karma

'War' in the world of yoga? No peace where there ought to be karma?

The Washington Post reports on something which probably slipped under the radar of most people in the yoga world:

"Heard of Naked Yoga? Kosher Yoga? Yoga for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

More than 30 million Americans practice some sort of yoga in an ever-expanding industry generating an estimated $6 billion in the United States alone.

But in the birthplace of yoga, an Indian government agency is fighting what it calls "yoga theft" after several U.S. companies said they wanted to copyright or patent their versions. Yoga is a part of humanity's shared knowledge, the agency says, and any business claiming the postures as its own is violating the very spirit of the ancient practice.

India's Traditional Knowledge Digital Library has gathered a team of yogis from nine schools and 200 scientists to scan ancient texts, including the writings of Patanjali, thought to be the original compiler of yoga…

What isn't being reported about Iraq

All the hype surrounding the so-called withdrawal of American "combat" troops from Iraq fails to report on the terrible state in which the war-ravaged country has been left.

Foreign Policy in Focus in "What You Will Not Hear about Iraq" reports on the sad state of affairs in Iraq:

"Iraq has between 25 and 50 percent unemployment, a dysfunctional parliament, rampant disease, an epidemic of mental illness, and sprawling slums. The killing of innocent people has become part of daily life. What a havoc the United States has wreaked in Iraq.

UN-HABITAT, an agency of the United Nations, recently published a 218-page report entitled State of the World’s Cities, 2010-2011. The report is full of statistics on the status of cities around the world and their demographics. It defines slum dwellers as those living in urban centers without one of the following: durable structures to protect them from climate, sufficient living area, sufficient access to water, access to sanita…

Going off message and hope

Obama rode high as he entered the White House post a rather amazing election-campaign.

But the man, with little experience in any sort of position in government, has proven a disappointment on many levels. His latest foray into the controversy surrounding a supposed mosque at Ground Zero has only shown up what a political dilettante he is.

In her latest op-ed piece in The New York Times Maureen Dowd reflects on where Obama is at:

"Many people still have a confused view of Muslims, and the president seems unable to help navigate the country through its Islamophobia.

It is a prejudice stoked by Rush Limbaugh, who mocks “Imam Obama” as “America’s first Muslim president,” and by the evangelist Franklin Graham, who bizarrely told CNN’s John King: “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father, like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother.”

Graham added: “The teaching of Islam is to hate the …

Encapsulating the issue

Credited to Mike Keefe, The Denver Post

Economists: Yes, why should anyone believe them anymore?

Now, everyone recognises that economics isn't an exact science - but economists consistently cannot agree with one another, let alone get their prognosis and assessments right. So, with such a poor track record, why believe anything they say ?

It's a subject and question taken up by author Stephen Hill in a piece "Shorting Economists: The ‘Experts’ Keep Getting it Wrong" in The Nation:

"Based on such a miserable track record, I’m shorting economists and financial experts of all stripes. Most of them are wrong more than they are right. But that doesn’t prevent them from pontificating like an order of self-righteous priests. Considering how much damage they have caused, how many economic experts have lost their jobs or been otherwise defrocked? Indeed, many of the same people who caused the disaster—Fed chief Ben Bernanke, Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin, the latter two being Clinton treasury secretaries who got deregulation done, then split for Harvard and Citig…

Talk,talk....and yet more talk - with scant hope in the air

The US has announced that the Israelis and Palestinians are to resume direct peace-talks next month. One might have been encouraged by the move, but a news analysis "In Mideast Talks, Scant Hopes From the Beginning" by The New York Times' Jerusalem Bureau Chief, gives one little hope that, once again, little will come of these new talks:

"The American invitation on Friday to the Israelis and Palestinians to start direct peace talks in two weeks in Washington was immediately accepted by both governments. But just below the surface there was an almost audible shrug. There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met.

An Israeli soldier marks a block on a concrete barrier near the Jewish settlement of Gilo.
Instead, there is a resigned fatalism in the air. Most analysts view the talks as pairing the unwilling with the unable — a strong right-wing Israeli coalition led…

Tony Judt [1948-2010]

Tony Judt was an intellectual giant in the truest sense of the word.

The New York Review of Books - to which Judt was a regular contributor - has a wonderful reflection and tribute to the man and his work:

"Tony Judt was a very public intellectual but a very private man. He had a rich, close family life. In the last months of his illness, his wife, Jennifer Homans, and their sons, Daniel and Nicholas, set up for him a screensaverslideshow on his desktop monitor. Besides happy moments from family holidays, it showed a lot of mountains (particularly the Alps) and railway stations—trains and mountains being two of his private passions.

Tony had a couple of characteristic gestures. There was a motion of the hand, as if cooling it down after touching a hot saucepan or shaking off water. This denoted that something was silly, toe-curling, inauthentic. And there was a sideways inclination of the head, accompanied by a quick, wry lifting of one end of the mouth and a twinkle in the eye…

Meet the knuckleheads .......

Fox News in the US has rightly been condemned for the overt racism most of its commentators exhibit - and no less for their rabid criticism of Obama and the more than nudge-nudge-wink-wink that Obama is Muslim. Add to that heady mix the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his like-minded toxic criticism of Obama and a Muslim "connection".

Result? As Slate reports in "Greetings, 18 Percenters! Let's meet the knucklehead Americans who think Barack Obama is a Muslim."

"Shall we set ourselves on fire at the news spat out by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life today that 18 percent of Americans recently polled believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim? Shall we pour gasoline over our heads before torching ourselves because the number of those who think he's a Muslim is up from 11 percent, recorded in March 2009, and up from 12 percent in March 2008, when the average American couldn't spell his name let alone name his religion?

I've got a book…

"Living" with a noose around one's neck

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has delivered a Report, in cooperation with the World Food Program (WFP), on the situation in Gaza.

Haaretz reports:

"According to the report, since 2008 the IDF has prevented access to land up to 1,500 meters outside the Green Line, and to naval zones up to 4.5 kilometers from the shore. All in all the IDF restricts access to 17 percent of Gaza's territory. At sea, the fishermen are completely barred from 85 percent of the naval territory to which they are entitled under the Oslo Accords.

The report estimates that some 178,000 individuals are directly affected by these access restrictions.

According to OCHA, the IDF enforces uses life fire on individuals who enter restricted zones. Though in most cases the troops fire warning shots, 22 people have been killed and 146 have been wounded in such incidents since the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. The report further argues that this method of e…

Iceland - The World's Premier Press Have?

An interesting dimension to Iceland's economic woes and accommodating Wikileaks in the process. A kinda marriage made in heaven to satisfy two parties!

RTE News reports:

"After Iceland's near-economic collapse laid bare deep-seated corruption, the country aims to become a safe haven for journalists and whistleblowers from around the globe by creating the world's most far-reaching freedom of information legislation.

The project is being developed with the help of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

It flies in the face of a growing tendency of governments trying to stifle a barrage of secret and sometimes embarrassing information made readily available by the internet.

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On 16 June a unanimous parliament voted in favour of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a resolution aimed at protecting investigative journalists and their sources.

'We took all the best laws from around the world and pulled them together, just like tax havens do, in order to create fre…

Robert Fisk: US troops say goodbye to Iraq - and leaves its mark of torture, corruption and civil war.

No journalist, author and commentator knows the Middle East like veteran of 30 years plus, Robert Fisk.

In his latest column for The Independent he provides a sober picture of what the Americans have left behind with their departure of "combat" troops from Iraq:

"When you invade someone else's country, there has to be a first soldier – just as there has to be a last."

And:

"So we should not be taken in by the tomfoolery on the Kuwaiti border in the last few hours, the departure of the last "combat" troops from Iraq two weeks ahead of schedule. Nor by the infantile cries of "We won" from teenage soldiers, some of whom must have been 12-years-old when George W Bush sent his army off on this catastrophic Iraqi adventure. They are leaving behind 50,000 men and women – a third of the entire US occupation force – who will be attacked and who will still have to fight against the insurgency.

Yes, officially they are there to train the gunmen and …

No "mission accomplished" here

This short piece from CommonDreams says it all - and speaks for itself:

"After seven-plus years, one trillion dollars, the loss of 4,400 American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, the U. S. media widely reported the "last" U.S. combat brigade left that devastated country last night. Some media were astute enough to use the far more accurate "drawdown" to a mere, still heavily armed 50,000 troops. Some also noted the move came a day after a suicide bomber killed 59 people, and Iraq's two main political parties failed to reach agreement on forming a government. Or that private contractors will now double there. Or that huge uncertainties about Iraq's future remain, including its capacity to provide even basic services - like electricity - to its ravaged population. Most alarmingly, even federal officials were more conscientious than the media about calling it what it was - a "historic moment," with a whole lot of "but"s. Shiny …

Be damned if you publish?....or publish and be damned!

The perennial debate. Publish and be damned or otherwise. The issue has become a very live one, as it should be, as a result of the Wikileaks of recent times.

The most awarded journalist in the world - apart from being a commentator and film-maker - John Pilger, writing for Information Clearing House, says:

"In one sense, the WikiLeaks revelations shame the dominant section of journalism devoted merely to taking down what cynical and malign power tells it. This is state stenography, not journalism. Look on the WikiLeaks site and read a Ministry of Defense document that describes the "threat" of real journalism. And so it should be a threat. Having published skillfully the WikiLeaks expose of a fraudulent war, the Guardian should now give its most powerful and unreserved editorial support to the protection of Julian Assange and his colleagues, whose truth-telling is as important as any in my lifetime."

Read the complete piece here.

Climate Change: At the frontline of the real thing

Credited to Getty Images

The real world in relation to climate change and how it effects people on the ground is addressed from 2 different sources.

First, from The Independent:

"Irrigated by one of the world's mightiest river systems, the Murray-Darling Basin yields nearly half of Australia's fresh produce. But the basin is ailing, and scientists fear that as climate change grips the driest inhabited continent, its main foodbowl could become a global warming ground zero.

The signs are already ominous: in the Riverland, one of the nation's major horticulture areas, dying vines and parched lemon trees attest to critical water shortages. Farmers have had their water allocations slashed during the recent crippling drought; 200 sold up, and many of those who hung on are struggling.

In Renmark, the region's oldest town, tales of hardship abound. Some families have spent their life savings; others are drowning in debt."

Secondly, John Nichols, writing for The Nation, in…

Mindset in the slow [and non-existent] lane

Read this piece "Feeling old? Mindset university study shows how times have changed" from The Australian - and ponder on the "education"of today's young. The future, certainly on some levels, doesn't look all that encouraging.

"Most young Americans entering university this year can't write in cursive, think email is too slow, that Beethoven's a dog and Michelangelo a computer virus, according to an annual list compiled by two academics at a US college.

To students who will get their bachelor's degrees in 2014, Czechoslovakia has never existed, Fergie is a pop singer, not a duchess; Clint Eastwood is a sensitive movie director, not Dirty Harry; and John McEnroe stars in TV ads, not on the tennis court, Beloit College's “Mindset” list says.

The Mindset list was first compiled in 1998, for the class of 2002, by Beloit humanities professor Tom McBride and former public affairs director Ron Nief."

Continue reading here.

Shameful Blair - yet again!

An op-ed piece in The Independent reflects on Tony Blair's donation of the proceeds of his memoir, to be published shortly, to a charity aiding those wounded in the Iraq War - which he was instrumental in starting in the first place.

"Some people have suggested the donation is Blair's conscience money, and the Catholic Church he's joined certainly has provisions for that. In the 18th century the Vatican even had a menu, listing the price to be paid to the Pope for redemption from each sin. For example "A nun who had given herself to several men" had to find 131 livres for absolution. So allowing for inflation, helping to start a catastrophic war by telling a pack of lies must be somewhere around £4.6m.

But there doesn't appear to be a sign of penance. Blair still says, when asked if he regrets going to war, "I have no regrets about overthrowing Saddam," which slightly skirts round the issue of the million others who got killed as well. It's a…

More damning "torture" photos

Breaking the Silence has revealed more photos which show the way in which Israelis treat Palestinians. Not a pretty picture - for a military which the Israeli Government claims is the most moral in the world.

CommonDreams reports:

"The Israeli human rights group Breaking the Silence has posted more pictures of IDF soldiers abusing or humiliating Palestinian prisoners to prove what many of us suspected - that similar Facebook photos posted earlier this week are the norm, not the exception. Israeli activists say such pictures reflect the inevitable dehumanization wrought by the Occupation. More "trophy" pictures here. Graphic.

"It encapsulates precisely the feeling among soldiers serving in the territories. At some point, they stop seeing these handcuffed people as human beings." - Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence."

The politics and ire about a mosque

The heat generated by the approval granted by the New York authorities to build a "mosque" on Ground Zero continues to ramp up. Much of what is being said is plain racism and ugly. The President has been drawn into the issue as have both political parties and the people of The Tea Party.

Stephen Walt, in his blog in "Why America is going to regret the Cordoba House controversy" on FP, writes:

"It doesn't take a genius to figure out what is going on here: All you really need to do is look at how the critics of the community center project keep describing it. In their rhetoric it is always the "Mosque at Ground Zero," a label that conjures up mental images of a soaring minaret on the site of the 9/11 attacks. Never mind that the building in question isn't primarily a mosque (it's a community center that will house an array of activities, including a gym, pool, auditorium, and oh yes, a prayer room). Never mind that it isn't at "…

"Army...the most beautiful time of my life"

What to say other than shake one's head......

From GAWKER - and now making news around the world - "Israel's Own Military Prisoner Photo Scandal, on Facebook"

"Well, this was inevitable, what with Israel's political situation, and the existence of Facebook: a former Israeli soldier has posted some photos of herself posing with blindfolded Palestinians, for kicks. Mini-Abu Ghraib?

Eden Abergil got out of the Israeli Defense Forces a year ago, but of course it's never too late for her to post funny photos of her time in the Army, guarding blindfolded prisoners (the name of the album: "Army.. the most beautiful time of my life :)"). Now the photos are all over the Israeli (and world) media, and the Israeli government is decrying them, but they can't stop Abergil, legally. She's handling her own PR, apparently:

Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman contacted the former soldier via Facebook, who replied: "I don't speak to leftists."

Okay! Th…

Afghan Women Have Already Been Abandoned

As the Afghanistan war grinds on - with an increasing loss of life - and seemingly no end in sight, the plight of the country's women is often overlooked. As a rule it's the Taliban who are demonised as those evil people who are out to restrict the women of Afghanistan in all manner of ways.

But is it only the Taliban? Ann Jones, the author of Kabul in Winter, does humanitarian work in post conflict zones with NGOs and the United Nations, writing in "Afghan Women Have Already Been Abandoned" on The Nation says the Karzai Government isn't all that great in its approach to women:

"The Taliban do terrible things. Yet the problem with demonizing them is that it diverts attention away from other, equally unpleasant and threatening facts. Let's not make the common mistake of thinking that the devil we see is the only one.

Consider the creeping Talibanization of Afghan life under the Karzai government. Restrictions on women's freedom of movement, acc…

Chomsky: On the US and Israel

Like him or not Noam Chomsky internationally recognized as one of America’s most critically-engaged public intellectuals today.

Chomsky spoke with Kathleen Wells on race-talk about Israel and its interplay with the United States:

Example :

"........simply ask, where are the strongest sources of support for Israeli actions? Well, pick the newspapers. By far the most rabid pro-Israel newspaper in the country is the Wall Street Journal. That's the journal of the business community, and it reflects the support of the business world for Israel, which is quite strong. There's a lot of high-tech investment in Israel. [Our] military industry is very close to Israeli military industry. There's a whole network
of interactions. Intel, for example, is building its next facility for construct development of the next generation of chips in Israel. But, altogether, the relations are very tight, very intimate, quite natural. And it's not surprising that the main business journal in t…

A rare unvarnished insight into Iran

Unfortunately we in the West rarely get to read an unvarnished and moderate article about modern-day Iran.

Thankfully Australia's ABC in its The Drum has a an article by Scott Bridges, a Melbourne-based writer, teacher and film-maker:

"What is your idea about Iran?"

I was asked this question countless times during my month travelling through the Islamic Republic, and my answer was always the same: "I love it; it's an amazing country full of beautiful, friendly and generous people." But I was always more interested to know what Iranians' ideas about Iran were, and I didn't need to do much asking because their opinions were usually forthcoming."

Continue reading here.

No end of salesmanship will make the Afghanistan war a success-story

General Petraeus, the golden-haired "boy", now the man in charge in Afghanistan, is off around the US selling the Afghanistan War. It's a lost cause, of course, as anyone even remotely familiar with what is happening in the war-torn country knows all too well.

A sober voice in "Why Petraeus Can't Make The Sale" from The Huffington Post:

"As Gen. David Petraeus kicks off an extended media blitz intended to make Americans feel better about the war in Afghanistan -- or at least give him some more time to fight it -- he faces a foe more implacable than al Qaeda, or even the Taliban: Reality.

That reality, increasingly obvious to national security experts and the general public alike, is that no amount of good intentions or firepower is going to advance our fundamental interests in Afghanistan -- and that as much as Petraeus might be able to achieve in the next six months, or a year, little to none of it is sustainable and most of it is, even worse, counterp…

Justice? What Justice? What Rule of Law?

The ACLU's Blog of Rights explains it all. Just bear in mind that what is being done here is all under the aegis of America's repeatedly beaten drum that it adheres to the rule of law and justice for all.

"Yesterday was a stark reminder that instead of closing the book on the Bush-era military commissions, President Obama is adding another sad chapter to that history. Although President Obama promised transparency and sharp limits on the use of tortured and coerced statements against the accused, at Guantánamo today one military judge ordered that a sentence be kept secret from the public and another military judge allowed statements obtained by abuse and coercion of a 15-year-old to be used at trial."

And:

"But in an unprecedented move, military judge Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul ordered today that al-Qosi's true sentence will be kept secret until he's released. The judge said the government requested that the sentence be kept secret."

And:

"A…