Sunday, October 31, 2010
"For Barack Obama, the past is mere prologue. From January 2011, the President will be part of an entirely new political play in Washington. Unless every poll in these last days of the mid-term election campaign is wrong, next week's vote will force him to deal with a world in which Republicans have a majority in the House and near-parity in the Senate – and in which his plans for the presidency will have to take quite a different tack. For Mr Obama's first term, at least, the time of sweeping political change is at an end."
"The conventional wisdom in Washington right now, of course, is rather different. If you detest the partisanship and polarisation of US politics these past two years, it runs, then get ready – you ain't seen nothing yet. Fanatical Tea Partiers, it is said, will gain a strong foothold in Congress and drag the Republicans further to the right, making it even less inclined to compromise. Welcome, in other words, to permanent deadlock, and endless fights over deficits, tax cuts, and social policy."
"At this point the Western world is looking at Israel with a complete lack of understanding. Is it just a banana republic, something like a failed state? Or is it just behaving like a spoiled child, as Tom Friedman lately argued? Or is it an ethnocracy that, unsuccessfully, tries to hide ethnic cleansing and colonial ambitions behind protestations that it is under existential threat?
Israelis, in turn, feels misunderstood: After all, their country faces very real threats: Iran keeps calling for Israel's destruction, and may become a nuclear power. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth with rockets, and it has shown that it is willing to use them against Israel's population centers. Hamas rules Gaza, and its official position is that it will never accept Israel's existence. So why doesn't the world understand us?
The answer is, in the end, quite simple. It is the great achievement of Israel's right to have made Israel's fears utterly unbelievable to the world. Its other great achievement is that it has managed to confuse a large part of Israel's constituency. It is therefore of the essence to celebrate this immortal achievement, because Israel's right is about to score a further, valuable victory: After 62 years, Israel may soon cease to be a democracy, and finally be a Jewish state without excuses".
"Every Thursday afternoon doctors, nurses and medics gather in a conference room at the military hospital here, linked by telephone or videocam to colleagues at all the combat hospitals in Afghanistan, and at military hospitals in Europe and the United States. Over two hours, this virtual assembly of about 80 people reviews the care of every U.S. service member critically injured in Afghanistan in the previous week.
Among the 13 discussed at one recent meeting, nine will have permanent disabilities: Two lost one leg; two lost a leg and a foot; two lost both legs; two lost both legs and a hand; and one was paralyzed from the waist down. Three of the nine also lost their genitals."
In "The Way We Treat our Troops" op-ed writer Bob Herbert in The New York Times addressed how the US is remiss in looking after its serving military personnel:
"And you wouldn’t get mind-bending tragedies like the death of Sgt. First Class Lance Vogeler, a 29-year-old who was killed a few weeks ago while serving in the Army in his 12th combat tour. That’s right, his 12th — four in Iraq and eight in Afghanistan.
Twelve tours may be unusual, but multiple tours — three, four, five — are absolutely normal. We don’t have enough volunteers to fight these endless wars. Americans are big on bumper stickers, and they like to go to sports events and demonstrate their patriotism by chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” But actually putting on a uniform and going into harm’s way? No thanks.
Sergeant Vogeler was married and the father of two children, and his wife was expecting their third.
It’s a quaint notion, but true: with wars come responsibilities. The meat grinder of war takes its toll in so many ways, and we should be paying close attention to all aspects of it. Instead, we send our service members off to war, and once they’re gone, it’s out of sight, out of mind.
If we were interested, we might notice that record numbers of soldiers are killing themselves. At least 125 committed suicide through August of this year, an awful pace that if continued would surpass last year’s all-time high of 162.
Stressed-out, depressed and despondent soldiers are seeking help for their mental difficulties at a rate that is overwhelming the capacity of available professionals. And you can bet that there are even higher numbers of troubled service members who are not seeking help.
In the war zones, we medicate the troubled troops and send them right back into action, loading them up with antidepressants, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs and lord knows what other kinds of medication."
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley travelled Afghanistan, not embedded....and their report on the situation there does makes for sober reading. Both men appeared on Democracy Now. Read the transcript, in full, here, but Scahill's answer to one question captures the situation in the country - and is worth publishing here in full:
"Well, first of all, what’s abundantly clear from traveling around the Pashtun heartland—the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan are where the Taliban have their strongholds, and also Rick and I traveled in areas that are really heavily populated by members of the Haqqani network, which is the insurgent group that the United States government most closely identifies with al-Qaeda, with strong links to Pakistan’s ISI spy agency, and so we traveled around these areas talking to tribal leadership, to civilians. We even interviewed some current Taliban commanders, as well as former senior members of the Taliban government, including Mullah Zaeef, who was the former Taliban spokesperson to Pakistan, the man who after 9/11 really emerged as the public face of the Taliban. He then was taken for four years to Guantánamo prison. So, much of what Rick and I focused on was trying to get a sense of the nature of the insurgency. And what’s abundantly clear is that the US counterinsurgency strategy, the so-called COIN doctrine, has utterly failed.
The Taliban are gaining in popularity, gaining in strength. The leadership of the Taliban acknowledged that the so-called targeted killing campaign of senior Taliban leadership has been successful, but they say that it’s only producing new generations of leaders within the Taliban that are actually more radical than the previous generation. In fact, when we talked to Mullah Zaeef, who’s under house arrest in Kabul, he has Hamid Karzai’s military forces in front of his house, and when we entered there, they went nuts about Rick’s camera, and they tried to sort of grab his camera from him. And then we entered Mullah Zaeef’s house, and we interviewed him. And what he was saying is, look, if you kill all of the old-school Taliban leaders, people who actually were part of a government that had diplomatic relations with Muslim countries, that knew how to negotiate, you’re not going to like what you create in that, because this new generation—and he said to us, "I know this new generation. They’re more radical." And evidence of this can be found in the fact that when Mullah Mohammed Omar, who—all the Taliban people we talked to—is still running the show, still issuing orders through the shadow governors that the Taliban has—all over the country they have a shadow government, and in many cases, local people go to that shadow government instead of the Karzai government, because they feel that they’re going to get results there. But what they were saying is that within this structure, when they try to give orders to new commanders, sometimes it’s met with hostility from the new generation of Taliban. A few months ago in Paktia province, which is a Taliban area just outside of Kabul, Mullah Omar sent an emissary to a new Taliban commander to try to say that "you’re violating some of the rules of Taliban combat," and they literally murdered his emissary.
So, to give you a sense of what’s happening, what the United States is doing through its night raids, where they’re going into people’s homes, they’re corralling women, which is just anathema to the culture there, into one room, hooding men, zip-tying their arms, helicoptering them to secret prisons—what they’re doing is they’re enraging populations throughout Afghanistan that wouldn’t necessarily support the Taliban. So what you see happening is that the United States says, "We’re here to win hearts and minds," their targeted killing campaign, the reliance on bad information from individuals in Afghanistan who are accusing their neighbors of being Taliban to settle personal grudges. The perception is that the United States government is just on a killing spree there, that they rarely get the right people. The Karzai government is utterly corrupt to the bone and exists only for the purpose of facilitating corruption. When you combine those things and then you look at the rhetoric coming from the Obama administration and the military, that we’re there to win hearts and minds, you realize that the single greatest blows being dealt to the stated US strategy in Afghanistan are being dealt by the US itself through this targeted killing campaign."
"As predictable as Burma's election outcome might be, it is likely to attract considerable international press coverage. The last time Burmese politics made headlines, in 2007, thousands of monks were swarming into the streets of Rangoon, the country's largest city and former capital. The mass protests, which snowballed into the weeklong "saffron revolution," were put down with brutal force by the country's military junta, which bludgeoned and gunned down dozens of unarmed protestors, including a Japanese photojournalist.
Now, three years on, the government is seeking a mandate at the ballot box. Why, after 48 years of autocratic misrule, are Burma's military rulers holding elections?
One thing is clear: The junta is less interested in establishing a true democracy than in making a bid for international legitimacy and buying off dissent with cosmetic reforms. The junta's three-front war—against the pro-democracy movement, ethnic minority unrest, and international opprobrium—could all be advanced, if only marginally, by a stamp of democratic legitimacy."
Tough and fighting words [on truthout, here] .....about the forthcoming mid-term elections in the US from someone not fearful of calling a spade a shovel. Mike Moore, famous for his documentaries on various aspects of American life. Moore calls what the winning GOP might do, putting "the boot" into a range of things, from healthcare to unions, to wages, etc. etc.
"In 2009, the U.S. government spent some $650 billion on its military. This is more than the next 46 highest-spending countries combined. Much of this treasure ended up in the hands of profit-driven weapons manufacturers. In the following short film, directed by filmmaker Iara Lee, Cultures of Resistance takes a brief look at the current state of what President Eisenhower famously called the "military industrial complex." With the United States waging two wars overseas at the same time that millions of people are out of work at home, those pushing to reel in government spending and balance the budget would be wise to look carefully at bloated and unchecked military spending."
Thursday, October 28, 2010
His latest op-ed [in fact, in full below] is yet another exemplary piece by Levy:
"The voice of joy, the voice of rejoicing is heard in Israel: The Americans and British have also committed for war crimes, not only us. WikiLeaks' revelations have inflamed all our noisy propagandists: Where is Goldstone, they rejoiced, and what would he have said? They were relieved. If the Americans are allowed to do it, so are we.
Indeed, the Americans are not allowed, and neither are we. When the traffic police stop a driver for speeding, the argument that "others do it" will not help him. When Richard Goldstone exposes war crimes in Gaza, the claim that "everyone does it" will not help us. Not everyone does it, and when they do, they should be excoriated and penalized.
According to the logic of Israeli propagandists, some of whom are disguised as journalists, Israel should now proudly look at the rest of the world: They killed more people there. There is no need to improve prison conditions in Israel - in China the situation is much worse; there is no need to upgrade health services - in America 50 million people have no insurance; no need to reduce the gap between rich and poor - in Mexico it is greater; we can continue to assassinate without trial - the British also do it; human rights are protected here - the Iranians are much worse; Israel has no corruption - look what's happening in Africa; the United States has the death penalty - let's have it too; it is even permissible to kill dissident journalists - look at the Russians.
Yes, war is cruel, the world is full of crimes and injustice, but not one of them exonerates Israel, even if Israel's sins seem pure as snow compared to those of the great United States. Now is the time to sharply censure America, not to forgive Israel.
It is the task of all patriots and people of conscience to express their fury over any such revelations, especially, of course, in their own country. Israelis must aspire to a more just and much more law-abiding country, without reference to what is going on in the world. True, we are not the worst; far from it. The number of civilians killed in Iraq, as was revealed, is a thousand times more horrific than the number killed in Gaza. So what? Even if the world holds us to a harsher standard, our hands do not become any cleaner. The world is more strict with us for various reasons, some justified, and at the same time treats us favorably and turns a blind eye to many other things. And in any case, the determining factor should be what we see in the mirror, if we look at it honestly.
Our rejoicing propagandists have changed their tactics now: no longer "the most moral army in the world," a contention any reasonable person can see is ridiculous. Now they say: "We are terrible, like all the rest." That claim does not hold water, especially because Israel is not judged only by one or another of its military operations, but by its decades-long occupation, with no end in sight. Such a lengthy occupation is unparalleled in the modern world and a disgrace to Israel, no matter what America is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
WikiLeaks has proven that in the end the truth will out; it is hard to hide anything in this era. Goldstone also showed it, albeit much less dramatically. Some two years after Operation Cast Lead, even the Israel Defense Forces is still dealing with it here and there, investigating and trying officers and soldiers who did what the Goldstone report, which so infuriated Israel, said they did.
Israel should thank Goldstone, and America should thank Julian Assange. Their revelations prove the futility of war and its crimes. Imagine how much hatred America has sown in Iraq, with its thousands of mourning families, and how much hatred Israel has sown in Gaza, with its thousands of mourning families and its ruination.
How futile are all the assassinations and the torture, abuse and false arrests, with Iraq and Gaza looking as they do.
What are we brandishing? More than 100,000 dead in a terrible, useless war, the whim of a democratic leader? True, George W. Bush should now be sent to The Hague. But the fact that others are doing it, as Assange's revelations show, is the consolation of fools, and theirs alone."
"Today, the unreal spectacle of outraged talking - but clearly incapable of thinking - heads at Fox News schooling our first black president on racial sensitivity. Do these people actually believe the crap they say?"
Go here, on CommonDreams, to see what Abby Zimet is talking about in his piece "Fox News Deep Thinkers Want to Impeach Obama For Offending Rosa Parks, Or Something".
Stephen Walt comments in his blog on FP:
"One of the silliest things ever written was F. Scott Fitzgerald's statement that, "There are no second acts in American lives." Fitzgerald obviously wasn't around to witness the lives of Oliver North, Elliot Spitzer, G. Gordon Liddy, Elliott Abrams, or Madonna's entire career. I'm even betting Tiger Woods manages a pretty successful second act after his own embarrassing melodrama.
If Fitzgerald were alive today and studying the United States' Middle East policy, he'd never have written such a silly line. I refer to Laura Rozen's latest Politico column, entitled "On the Mideast: Waiting for Superman." Rozen suggests that the Obama administration is thinking about bringing former Clinton-era official Martin Indyk into the government to jump-start the moribund Israeli-Palestinian talks. She also speculates about the possibility of using former president Bill Clinton as some sort of a special envoy, an idea that has been recently advanced by New America Foundation's Steve Clemons.
Waiting for Superman? More like Waiting for Godot.
There's little doubt that the Obama's administration's handling of Mideast affairs has been an embarrassing failure, but it is hard to see how these personnel moves would help. Nothing personal, but didn't these guys have the chance to produce an Israel-Palestinian peace in the 1990s -- when conditions were a lot more favorable -- and didn't their efforts end in near-total failure? (That goes for Dennis Ross too, who is already a key player on this issue in the current administration, and who seems to be repeating his past mistakes.) Clinton, Indyk, and Ross were handed a golden opportunity with the Oslo Peace Accords back in 1993, and they spent the rest of the 1990s squandering it. They had plenty of help from the Israelis and Palestinians, but the U.S. record during that decade is hardly one that inspires confidence."
"A growing number of creatures could disappear from the earth, with one-fifth of all vertebrates and as many as a third of all sharks and rays now facing the threat of extinction, according to a new survey assessing nearly 26,000 species across the globe.
In addition, forces such as habitat destruction, over-exploitation and invasive competitors move 52 species a category closer to extinction each year, according to the research, published online Tuesday by the journal Science. At the same time, the findings demonstrate that these losses would be at least 20 percent higher without conservation efforts now underway."
Equally disturbing and of concern is this report from The Guardian:
"Rising food prices and shortages could cause instability in many countries as the cost of staple foods and vegetables reached their highest levels in two years, with scientists predicting further widespread droughts and floods.
Although food stocks are generally good despite much of this year's harvests being wiped out in Pakistan and Russia, sugar and rice remain at a record price.
Global wheat and maize prices recently jumped nearly 30% in a few weeks while meat prices are at 20-year highs, according to the key Reuters-Jefferies commodity price indicator. Last week, the US predicted that global wheat harvests would be 30m tonnes lower than last year, a 5.5% fall. Meanwhile, the price of tomatoes in Egypt, garlic in China and bread in Pakistan are at near-record levels."
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
"This morning I sat in a U.S. military commissions courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and watched the first child soldier charged by a Western nation since World War II plead guilty to crimes he was never seriously accused of. If the guilty plea of Omar Khadr this morning was a face-saving effort by the U.S. government, it was a sad day for the rule of law in the United States.
Omar Khadr is the 24-year-old Canadian who's spent a third of his life in U.S. custody without trial after being accused of helping his father's al Qaeda associates build improvised explosive devices when he was just 15. He was taken to Afghanistan from Canada by his father at the age of nine. The lone survivor of a 2002 U.S. assault on an Afghan compound, Khadr was accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier.
But as he entered his guilty plea this morning -- after the government agreed he'd serve just one more year at Guantanamo Bay, and an as-yet-unspecified number of years in Canada -- it was clear that prosecutors had taken the opportunity to throw the kitchen-sink-full of charges at him - including far more crimes than he'd even been charged with. Most importantly, Khadr pled guilty to killing two Afghan soldiers who accompanied U.S. forces in the 2002 assault on the compound. The government has never presented any evidence whatsoever that Khadr was responsible for that, and did not claim he was in its opening statement at trial."
They have something worthwhile contributing....and to listen to!
Salute to The New York Times for a multi-media feature of a number of centenarians which it has headed "Secrets of Centenarians - Life before, during and after 100".
Spiegel International reports:
"Historians have found that the German Foreign Ministry was far more deeply involved in the Holocaust than had been thought. A new study commissioned by former minister Joschka Fischer in 2005 is due to present its findings this week, and concludes that diplomats went on covering up the past for decades."
"The experts' verdict is damning. "The diplomats were aware of the Jewish policy throughout," they write, "and actively involved in it." Cooperating in mass murder was "an area of activity" of ministry staff "everywhere in Europe."
"The historians' findings about the ministry in the post-war West German era are also explosive. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who had the job of foreign minister from 1951 until 1955 during his tenure as West German leader, allowed former Nazis to remain on the ministry's staff even though he was well aware of the roles they had played under Hitler. Diplomats with Nazi pasts were posted in Arab countries and Latin America where they were unlikely to encounter public criticism."
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
"A stunningly cogent editorial from the Guardian on Wikileaks' Iraq War Logs, the brutality they exposed and the legal and moral obligation to investigate U.S. forces' complicity in it. How appalling that no U.S. official - or mainstream paper - has yet to make such a demand."
Over at The Independent, op-ed writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown makes some telling and relevant observations:
"I wonder if some staunch supporters of the Iraq war will now think again about the purpose and execution of that illegal and vainglorious expedition. The sanctions and war killed, maimed and destroyed more civilians than Saddam did, even during the most diabolical periods of his rule. Blair, Bush and their armies have never had to face proper, international judicial interrogations. Now imagine good Muslims worldwide, who know all about universal rights, but can see that there is no universal accountability, that Third World despots are made to pay while others earn millions writing autobiographies and lecturing the world on good leadership and governance. Hundreds of savvy, smart, keenly aware young people email me from various Muslim states asking: "What's the point? They say one thing and do the opposite. They say they want to help us and kill our people. Why should we trust the British and Americans?"
What do our army commanders and American leaders advise me to tell these disenchanted Muslims? And Mr Blair, I wonder if he has some wise thoughts? He is, they tell me, still one of the greatest prime ministers this country has had. And his wife, the hot human rights lawyer, does she think these abuses her husband just might have known about should be investigated? No answers will be forthcoming. Those who took us into this war are not obliged to explain themselves, not liable. In that they are worse than the dictator they toppled. Not comfortable that thought, but true."
Monday, October 25, 2010
"One of the most disturbing stories in the war logs is the callous use of children as suicide bombers by al Qaeda in Iraq. The files detail how insurgents recruited children who, as innocents, could gain greater access to targets. But these innocents were killed.
There are numerous references in the war logs to the use of children by insurgent groups. The youngest mentioned is just 10 years old, and they are used as spotters, to plant IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) or even fire rockets. The children, more often than not, died."
"Last Friday was the official start of the olive harvest season in the Israeli-occupied West Bank as gunfire and real fire once again heralded its opening. Hundreds of trees were burned by settlers as Israeli soldiers looked on. Fire trucks were prevented from helping put out the blaze in what has become an annual ritual of despoiling land by those who have illegally settled on it.
To coincide with the beginning of the harvest, the international relief agency Oxfam released its report, “The Road to Olive Farming: Challenges to Developing the Economy of Olive Oil in the West Bank” in Jerusalem.
Oxfam indicates that Palestinian olive oil production contributes $100 million annually to some of the poorest, most disadvantaged families and communities in the West Bank. It is a primary source of revenue for the economy and nearly half of all agricultural land use is devoted to it. As one of the territory’s major exports, the extent to which olives and olive oil contributes to employment opportunities and income for 100,000 Palestinian farming families cannot be overstated.
Yet, the Israeli government deliberately prevents access to land where olive farms are located.
“Physical barriers such as checkpoints and road blocks have restricted the free movement of people and goods within the West Bank and obstructed access for Palestinian agricultural produce, including olives and olive oil, to internal, Israeli and international markets,” the report said.
It also concluded the Israeli government sanctions settler violence against the groves, which include stealing its fruits, torching or uprooting tens of thousands of trees and attacking farmers to intimidate them from harvesting their crops."
News today of yet further conduct by the Israelis really goes too far. A side-question is what the UN and nations of the world will do about Israel's egregious conduct. The International Middle East Media Centre reports:
"Nearly two years after the devastating Israeli invasion of Gaza that left 1400 dead and over 30,000 families without homes, many of the schools that were destroyed in the invasion have yet to be rebuilt. Now a United Nations effort to rebuild schools in Gaza has been cut short by the Israeli military, which refuses to give the UN permission to build several schools.
The Israeli military claims that the schools could be used by Hamas to plan terror attacks against Israel. This, despite the fact that multiple UN and international investigations have found no evidence that Hamas has ever used a school in this way, and the fact that the armed wing of Hamas has not knowingly attacked Israeli civilians for over 5 years.
According to UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna, over 40,000 students were kept out of school this year due to a lack of facilities, and Israel's refusal to allow the construction of needed facilities merely exacerbates this problem."
"As usual, the Arabs knew. They knew all about the mass torture, the promiscuous shooting of civilians, the outrageous use of air power against family homes, the vicious American and British mercenaries, the cemeteries of the innocent dead. All of Iraq knew. Because they were the victims.
Only we could pretend we did not know. Only we in the West could counter every claim, every allegation against the Americans or British with some worthy general – the ghastly US military spokesman Mark Kimmitt and the awful chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace, come to mind – to ring-fence us with lies. Find a man who'd been tortured and you'd be told it was terrorist propaganda; discover a house full of children killed by an American air strike and that, too, would be terrorist propaganda, or "collateral damage", or a simple phrase: "We have nothing on that."
Of course, we all knew they always did have something. And yesterday's ocean of military memos proves it yet again. Al-Jazeera has gone to extraordinary lengths to track down the actual Iraqi families whose men and women are recorded as being wasted at US checkpoints – I've identified one because I reported it in 2004, the bullet-smashed car, the two dead journalists, even the name of the local US captain – and it was The Independent on Sunday that first alerted the world to the hordes of indisciplined gunmen being flown to Baghdad to protect diplomats and generals. These mercenaries, who murdered their way around the cities of Iraq, abused me when I told them I was writing about them way back in 2003."
Continue reading here.
One of the issues often now touted for foreign forces being in Afghanistan - now that many of the other reasons have been shown to have been hollow - is that to leave would expose the women to the diktats of the Taliban. Yes, it is a critical issue.....but is what is going on now in the war-torn country helping them now?
Nicholas D Kristoff - who writes an op-ed column for The New York Times and also has his own blog - has actually been in Afghanistan and writes cogently about the Afghan women in his latest piece "What About Afghan Women?"
"The best way to end oppression isn’t firepower but rather education and economic empowerment, for men and women alike, in ways that don’t create a backlash. As I wrote in my last column, schooling is possible even in Taliban-controlled areas, as long as implementation is undertaken in close consultation with elders and doesn’t involve Westerners on the ground.
Often the best place to hold girls’ literacy classes is in the mosque. And the insistence of Western donors that they get credit with signs on projects they finance is counterproductive. Buildings might as well have signs reading “burn me down.”
One impressive force for change is BPeace, which encourages female entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. Soora Stoda, one of the entrepreneurs I met, is building a potato chip factory. Another, Shahla Akbari, makes shoes. Her mother, Fatima Akbari, has 3,000 (mostly female) employees around Afghanistan, working in jam-making, furniture building, tailoring, knitting, jewelry and other lines.
Fatima Akbari is now expanding her women’s businesses and literacy classes in Taliban-controlled areas, always working closely with mullahs and elders to gain their support and protection. “When you go and win their hearts, you can do anything,” she said.
“I’m not threatened by negotiations with the Taliban,” she added. “In fact, it would be good for the Taliban to be involved in the country, to see that there’s nothing wrong with women leaving the house. And once there’s a deal with the Taliban, security will be better.”
So let’s not fool ourselves by thinking that we’re doing favors for Afghan women by investing American blood and treasure in an unsustainable war here. The road to emancipate Afghan women will be arduous, but it runs through schools and economic development — and, yes, a peace deal with the Taliban, if that’s possible."
Over at Mother Jones view a photo essay - "Hidden Half: Women in Afghanistan"
Sunday, October 24, 2010
According to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based watchdog, at least 17 “netizens” are in jail across the Middle East: eight in Iran and the rest in Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. China may be the biggest online represser, but the Middle East is not far behind."
So writes The Economist in a piece "Don't be too cheeky" on the hazards of being a blogger and blogging in countries of the Middle East.
Whilst those who claim that because of being occupiers that that is an underlying reason for terrorism - by no means an "excuse" - are often dismissed as plain wrong, it is a subject taken up by Robert Pape in the Argument section of FP:
"Although no one wants to talk about it, 9/11 is still hurting America. That terrible day inflicted a wound of public fear that easily reopens with the smallest provocation, and it continues to bleed the United States of money, lives, and goodwill around the world. Indeed, America's response to its fear has, in turn, made Americans less safe and has inspired more threats and attacks.
In the decade since 9/11, the United States has conquered and occupied two large Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), compelled a huge Muslim army to root out a terrorist sanctuary (Pakistan), deployed thousands of Special Forces troops to numerous Muslim countries (Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, etc.), imprisoned hundreds of Muslims without recourse, and waged a massive war of ideas involving Muslim clerics to denounce violence and new institutions to bring Western norms to Muslim countries. Yet Americans still seem strangely mystified as to why some Muslims might be angry about this situation.
In a narrow sense, America is safer today than on 9/11. There has not been another attack on the same scale. U.S. defenses regarding immigration controls, airport security, and the disruption of potentially devastating domestic plots have all improved.
But in a broader sense, America has become perilously unsafe. Each month, there are more suicide terrorists trying to kill Americans and their allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Muslim countries than in all the years before 2001 combined. From 1980 to 2003, there were 343 suicide attacks around the world, and at most 10 percent were anti-American inspired. Since 2004, there have been more than 2,000, over 91 percent against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries."
Trust a Swiss banker! Credit Suisse has undertaken an analysis of wealth in the world....and the distribution of it. The disparities are extreme, as AlterNet highlights in this piece on the banker's Report:
"The Credit Suisse figures show that total global net worth, despite the 2008 global economic meltdown, has rocketed up 72 percent since 2000.
The world’s 4.4 billion adults, notes the new Credit Suisse research, now hold $194.5 trillion in wealth. That’s enough, if shared evenly across the globe, to guarantee every adult in the world a $43,800 net worth.
But the world’s wealth, of course, does not stand evenly divided, and the new Credit Suisse study, to its credit, neatly breaks down the arithmetic of our staggering global unevenness.
We now have, at the wealth spectrum’s uppermost reaches, just over 1,000 billionaires and another 80,000 “ultra high net worth individuals” worth over $50 million each. We can add into this wealthy summit still another 24 million adults worth between $1 million and $50 million.
At other end of the global spectrum sit three billion people -- “more than two thirds of the global adult population” – with an average wealth per adult less than $10,000. About 1.1 billion of these adults hold net worths less than $1,000."
For those interested, over at Reuters there is a special report relating to the USA - "The Haves, the Have-Nots and the Dreamless Dead"
Saturday, October 23, 2010
"A grim picture of the US and Britain's legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.
Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.
The new logs detail how:
• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.
The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent death."
Continue reading here.
University of Michigan students walked out of a speech by an IDF soldier in a potent silent protest Wednesday.
An effective protest at Israel's actions. That damn awful Wall is not only a blot on the landscape but signifies everything which is rotten in and with Israel and how it "deals" with the Palestinians - both inside the country and in the occupied territories.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Back in Israel, Keret writes about his time in Ubud in the on-line journal The Tablet:
"The Swiss guy with the funny hat sitting next to me on the balcony of the Indus restaurant is sweating like crazy. I can’t blame him. I’m sweating quite a bit too, and I’m supposed to be used to temperatures like this. But Bali isn’t Tel Aviv. The air here is so damp that you can actually drink it. The Swiss guy tells me that he’s between jobs now, which gives him time to travel. Not too long ago, he managed a resort hotel in the New Caledonian Islands, but he was fired. It’s a long story, he says, but he’ll be glad to tell it to me. The Turkish writer he’s been trying to hit on all night told him that she was going to the bathroom about an hour ago and still hasn’t come back. He’s already had so much to drink, he says, that if he tries to get up he’ll probably roll down the stairs, so he’s better off sitting where he is, ordering another frozen vodka, and telling me his story."
Continue reading here.
Britain is the latest country to bring down a severe budget - which is destined to crimp the country for years to come. It's a theme which Johann Hari takes up in a piece "A colder, crueller country – for no gain" in The Independent:
"Margaret Thatcher is lying sick in a private hospital bed in Belgravia but her political children have just pushed her agenda further and harder and deeper than she ever dreamed of. When was the last time Britain's public spending was slashed by more than 20 per cent? Not in my mother's lifetime. Not even in my grandmother's lifetime. No, it was in 1918, when a Conservative-Liberal coalition said the best response to a global economic crisis was to rapidly pay off this country's debts. The result? Unemployment soared from 6 per cent to 19 per cent, and the country's economy collapsed so severely that they lost all ability to pay their bills and the debt actually rose from 114 per cent to 180 per cent. "History doesn't repeat itself," Mark Twain said, "but it does rhyme."
George Osborne has just gambled your future on an extreme economic theory that has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried. In the Great Depression, we learned some basic principles. When an economy falters, ordinary people – perfectly sensibly – cut back their spending and try to pay down their debts. This causes a further fall in demand, and makes the economy worse. If the government cuts back at the same time, then there is no demand at all, and the economy goes into freefall. That's why virtually every country in the world reacted to the Great Crash of 2008 – caused entirely by deregulated bankers – by increasing spending, funded by temporary debt. Better a deficit we repay in the good times than an endless depression. The countries that stimulated hardest, like South Korea, came out of recession first.
David Cameron and George Osborne have ignored all this. They have ignored the warnings of the Financial Times, the newspaper most critical of their strategy. They have dismissed the warnings of Nobel economics laureates like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, who have consistently been proved right in this crisis. They have refused to learn from the fact that the country they held up as a model for how to deal with a recession – "Look and learn from across the Irish Sea," Osborne said – has suffered the worst collapse in the developed world. They have instead blindly obeyed the ideological precepts they learned as baby Thatcherites: slash the state, and make the poor pay most."
Well, the UN has in a report just issued by it - as The Independent reports in a piece which ought make everyone sit up and take notice.....urgently!
"Nature and the services it provides are worth trillions of dollars annually to human society, and governments and businesses must formally recognise this to halt the continuing degradation of the natural world, a groundbreaking UN report said yesterday.
The enormous economic value of forests, freshwater, soils and coral reefs, as well as the social and economic consequences of their loss, must be factored into political and economic policies in all countries, according to the new study of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb).
It suggests, for example, that the value of human welfare benefits provided by coral reefs is between $30bn (£19bn) and $172bn annually. The destruction of coral reefs is not only damaging to marine life but also poses risks to communities, the report says. Some 30 million people around the world rely on reef-based resources for food production, and for their livelihoods."
Thursday, October 21, 2010
One can criticise Google as much as one likes - as MPS is wont to do and did so only yesterday - but for whatever negative things it does, there are positives too - as this piece "Google to bring Dead Sea Scrolls to modern world" in The Independent reveals:
"The 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the oldest, historically richest and most fragile religious texts in the world, are to be made available to more than a billion internet users thanks to a plan to put digitised images of the manuscripts online from next year.
One side effect is that the delicate parchment and papyrus fragments on which the text is written will not need to be exposed to the damaging effects of light and air to be read, thanks to the collaboration between Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
Sixty-three years after a Bedouin shepherd first discovered one of the scrolls in a cave near the West Bank village of Qumran, close to the Dead Sea, they will be available to a readership unimaginable to the Essene sect popularly believed to have written them in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
The Scrolls, which among much else contain every book of the Hebrew Bible apart from Esther, are currently kept in darkened, temperature-controlled rooms at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, where only four specially trained employees are permitted to handle the precious documents. No more than two scholars at a time are allowed to inspect the originals at once."
"At least, unlike Paris Hilton and her ilk, the Dumb Blonde of ’50s cinema had a firm grasp on one thing: It was cool to be smart. She aspired to read good books and be friends with intellectuals, even going so far as to marry one. But now another famous beauty with glowing skin and a powerful current, Sarah Palin, has made ignorance fashionable.
You struggle to name Supreme Court cases, newspapers you read and even founding fathers you admire? No problem. You endorse a candidate for the Pennsylvania Senate seat who is the nominee in West Virginia? Oh, well.
At least you’re not one of those “spineless” elites with an Ivy League education, like President Obama, who can’t feel anything. It’s news to Christine O’Donnell that the Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. It’s news to Joe Miller, whose guards handcuffed a journalist, and to Carl Paladino, who threatened The New York Post’s Fred Dicker, that the First Amendment exists, even in Tea Party Land. Michele Bachmann calls Smoot-Hawley Hoot-Smalley.
Sharron Angle sank to new lows of obliviousness when she told a classroom of Hispanic kids in Las Vegas: “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”
As Palin tweeted in July about her own special language adding examples from W. and Obama: “ ‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”
Overnight the British Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken a razor-blade to the country's budget - as Yahoo News reports:
"Britain outlined the sharpest cuts to public spending since World War II on Wednesday — slashing benefits and cutting public sector jobs with an austerity plan aimed at clearing record debts that swelled during the global financial crisis.
As many as half a million public sector jobs will be lost, about 18 billion ($28.5 billion) axed from welfare payments and the pension age raised to 66 by 2020, earlier than previously planned."
Across the Channel, the French are facing their own economic, and political woes - as The New York Times reports here.
Down Under, Australia has largely avoided the GFC - except that underlying the economic prosperity, as the Salvation Army reveals in a Report just released, there are many who are not sharing in the wealth of the country:
- 2 million Australians now live in poverty -- 1 in 10 of us
- 70% of poor children in Australia live in jobless families
- Australia now has one of the highest levels of joblessness among families with children in an OECD country
- 12% of all children aged 0 to 17 live in ‘relative poverty’
- At least 80,000 Australians needed the Salvation Army's help for the first time last year
- 57% of single parent families interviewed said they could not pay utility bills in the past 12 months and 12% went without meals.
"First, income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it’s been in 80 years. Almost a quarter of total income generated in the United States is going to the top 1 percent of Americans.
The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us."
Glenn Greenwald ponders the question in a recent column "They hate us for our occupations" on Salon:
In 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld commissioned a task force to study what causes Terrorism, and it concluded that "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies": specifically, "American direct intervention in the Muslim world" through our "one sided support in favor of Israel"; support for Islamic tyrannies in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia; and, most of all, "the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan" (the full report is here). Now, a new, comprehensive study from Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political science professor and former Air Force lecturer, substantiates what is (a) already bleedingly obvious and (b) known to the U.S. Government for many years: namely, that the prime cause of suicide bombings is not Hatred of Our Freedoms or Inherent Violence in Islamic Culture or a Desire for Worldwide Sharia Rule by Caliphate, but rather. . . . foreign military occupations."
"Isn't Muslim culture just so bizarre, primitive, and inscrutable? As strange as it is, they actually seem to dislike it when foreign militaries bomb, invade and occupy their countries, and Western powers interfere in their internal affairs by overthrowing and covertly manipulating their governments, imposing sanctions that kill hundreds of thousands of Muslim children, and arming their enemies. Therefore (of course), the solution to Terrorism is to interfere more in their countries by continuing to occupy, bomb, invade, assassinate, lawlessly imprison and control them, because that's the only way we can Stay Safe. There are people over there who are angry at us for what we're doing in their world, so we need to do much more of it to eradicate the anger. That's the core logic of the War on Terror. How is that working out?"
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
It's something Obama, and his advisors, have obviously taken to heart - but not for noteworthy reasons! From in "Obama expands his Islamophobia to include Sikhs as well" on Ali Abunimah's blog:
"US President Barack Obama has ruled out a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, sacred to Sikhs, because Obama does not want to wear the head-covering that is required as a sign of respect in case it makes him look like a Muslim."
".... during the [election] campaign two Muslim women enthusiastically attending an Obama rally were required to move out of camera shot, so that the Post Racial candidate would not be pictured with them.
More recently, Obama has repeatedly failed to stand up to Islamophobic incitement ginned up about the planned lower Manhattan Islamic Center and has basically hung American Muslims out to dry.
If Obama had refused to wear a kippah - the Jewish ritual head-covering - when he went to Jerusalem, and instead insisted on wearing a baseball cap, he would have been declared not only disrespectful, but anti-Semitic as well. Of course the whole point of going to Jerusalem was to for that photo-op in order to buttress his pro-Israel credentials."
Robert Reeves writing on truthdig:
"What is the most powerful political operation in the country in this 21st century? It's the United States Supreme Court. The men and women in black are on their way to deciding their second national election in just the first decade of the century.
In the year 2000, the justices stopped the counting of votes in the presidential election. This year they tilted (or mutilated) congressional elections by ruling—in the case called Citizens United—that corporations are people, only more so. What they ruled was that corporations (and unions) or groups they sponsor have the right to anonymously pump millions of dollars into campaigns. Citizens, you and me, can give much smaller amounts, but we have to reveal our names and addresses—"transparency" they call that.
There is, to say, a heated debate going on about all this secret money. Two distinguished debaters, David Brooks of The New York Times and Al Hunt of Bloomberg News, have taken opposite (and extreme) sides of the argument.
Brooks' analysis appeared Tuesday under the headline: "Don't Follow the Money."
Hunt wrote two days earlier under the headline: "Watergate Return Inevitable as Cash Floods Elections."
They are both commenting on the same set of facts: Because of the new Supreme Court decision, spending on next month's House and Senate elections may top $4 billion, a record. Undisclosed cash, most of it from unnamed corporations, could be between $250 million and $500 million."
The Traveller section of the SMH reports:
"Stand by for a new era of online travel research, where you can get options, prices, images and other key information with one quick search.
Google is experimenting with technology that will allow it to provide much richer search results, eliminating the need for consumers to trawl through multiple sources or cross-reference information from several sites.
Travellers will, for example, be able to look at a map and see actual prices for hotels in a given area (along with images and information on facilities and nearby attractions), with the ability to click through to make a reservation via a third-party booking site.
There will also be a new landscape for flight bookings if US regulators approve Google's purchase of software firm ITA, which specialises in the organisation of flight data."
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
"In nearly every Congressional and Senate race, these are the issues that explode into attack ads, score points in debates and light up cable talk shows. In poll after poll, these are the issues that voters say are most important to them this year.
Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?
How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.
In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans’ health care. And the end is not in sight.
So why aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?".
So writes Tom Brokaw in "The Wars That America Forgot About" an op-ed piece in The New York Times.
And then there is this - as reported by Associated Press:
"Ballots from about 10 percent of voting centers in last month's parliamentary election have been disqualified by fraud, Afghan election officials said Monday in a move likely to affect results in a number of volatile provinces.
The Sept. 18 poll is being watched for signs that the government of President Hamid Karzai is committed to reform after a fraud-marred presidential election last year prompted many of Karzai's Western allies to threaten to pull troops and aid. However, the pursuit of a clean result also risks inflaming ethnic tensions in tumultuous provinces if ballots are voided that leave certain tribes feeling that their votes didn't count."
Finally, and no less importantly for that, those in power would do well read Nicholas D Kristof, on this occasion writing the subject of his blog "Tea in Kabul" on The New York Times web site:
"A few vignettes [3 in all] to explain why I believe America’s strategy in Afghanistan isn’t working".
An exhibition has just opened in Berlin on which The New York Times reports in "Hitler Exhibit Explores a Wider Circle of Guilt":
"As artifacts go, they are mere trinkets — an old purse, playing cards, a lantern. Even the display that caused the crowds to stop and stare is a simple embroidered tapestry, stitched by village women.
But the exhibits that opened Friday at the German Historical Museum are intentionally prosaic: they emphasize the everyday way that ordinary Germans once accepted, and often celebrated, Hitler.
The household items had Nazi logos and colors. The tapestry, a tribute to the union of church, state and party, was woven by a church congregation at the behest of their priest.
“This is what we call self-mobilization of society,” said Hans-Ulrich Thamer, one of three curators to assemble the exhibit at the German Historical Museum. “As a person, Hitler was a very ordinary man. He was nothing without the people.”
This show, “Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime,” opened Friday. It was billed as the first in Germany since the end of World War II to focus exclusively on Adolf Hitler. Germany outlaws public displays of some Nazi symbols, and the curators took care to avoid showing items that appeared to glorify Hitler. His uniforms, for example, remained in storage.
Instead, the show focuses on the society that nurtured and empowered him. It is not the first time historians have argued that Hitler did not corral the Germans as much as the Germans elevated Hitler. But one curator said the message was arguably more vital for Germany now than at any time in the past six decades, as rising nationalism, more open hostility to immigrants and a generational disconnect from the events of the Nazi era have older Germans concerned about repeating the past."
Monday, October 18, 2010
"First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and no one was left to speak for me.”
Award-winning journalist Robert Koehler reflects on Niemoller's words in a piece "Then They Came for Me" on CommonDreams:
"Speaking out a year ago against the idea of holding civilian trials for terrorism suspects, Liz Cheney captured the paranoid arrogance of the past decade with stunning efficiency:
“This demonstrates conclusively that we are going back to a pre-9/11 mentality,” she said.
Oh the horror! Fair trials, rule of law, habeas corpus, Miranda rights, blah, blah, blah — remember what a nuisance our justice system used to be before Liz’s father and the rest of the neocon High Nooniacs made us safe by hustling us off to a police state and perpetual war?
I can’t help but think about the younger Cheney’s comment — and the fear it implies, not of terrorists but of liberals — in connection with the lawsuit that a recently freed Guantanamo detainee, Abdul Razak al Janko, has filed in U.S. Federal Court against Robert Gates, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and about a hundred other current and former military and government officials."
It's an issue taken up at a conference at Harvard earlier this month - as reported in The New York Review of Books:
"The purpose of this meeting is to discuss a question of vital importance to the cultural life of our country: Can we create a National Digital Library? That is, a comprehensive library of digitized books that will be easily accessible to the general public. Simple as it sounds, the question is extraordinarily complex. It involves issues that concern the nature of the library to be built, the technological difficulties of designing it, the legal obstacles to getting it off the ground, the financial costs of constructing and maintaining it, and the political problems of mobilizing support for it.
Despite the complexities, the fundamental idea of a National Digital Library (or NDL) is, at its core, straightforward. The NDL would make the cultural patrimony of this country freely available to all of its citizens. It would be the digital equivalent of the Library of Congress, but instead of being confined to Capitol Hill, it would exist everywhere, bringing millions of books and other digitized material within clicking distance of public libraries, high schools, junior colleges, universities, retirement communities, and any person with access to the Internet."
It's the subject of a piece "Toddlers’ Favorite Toy: The iPhone" in The New York Times:
"Apple, the iPhone’s designer and manufacturer, has built its success on machines so simple and intuitive that even technologically befuddled adults can figure out how to work them, so it makes sense that sophisticated children would follow. The most recent model is 4.5 inches tall, 2.31 inches wide and weighs 4.8 ounces: sleek, but not too small for those with developing motor skills. Tap a picture on the screen and something happens. What could be more fun?
The sleepy-eyed toddler who called for the iPhone from his crib is one of hundreds of iPhone-loving tykes starring in videos posted throughout the Internet, usually narrated by parents expressing proud wonderment at their offspring’s ability to slide chubby fingers across the gadget’s screen and pull up photographs and apps of their choice."
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Now the UN has issued another warning that global farming practices pose a "recipe for disaster".
"The United Nations top official on the right to food has called for wholesale changes in farming methods to safeguard the environment and ensure everyone has enough to eat.
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a statement to mark World Food Day that there is currently "little to rejoice about," and "worse may still be ahead."
"As a result of climate change, the yields in certain regions of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to fall by 50 percent by 2020 in comparison to 2000 levels. And growing frequency and intensity of floods and droughts contribute to volatility in agricultural markets."
"Current agricultural developments are ... threatening the ability for our children's children to feed themselves," he said. "A fundamental shift is urgently required if we want to celebrate World Food Day next year," he added."
It seems weren't all that bad or dire - as ArmyTimes reports what US Defence Secretary has now come out and said:
"No U.S. intelligence sources or practices were compromised by the posting of secret Afghan war logs by the WikiLeaks website, the Pentagon has concluded, but the military thinks the leaks could still cause significant damage to U.S. security interests.
The assessment, outlined in a letter obtained Friday by The Associated Press, suggests that some of the Obama administration's worst fears about the July disclosure of almost 77,000 secret U.S. war reports have so far failed to materialize.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates reported these conclusions in an Aug. 16 letter to Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who had requested a Pentagon assessment.
WikiLeaks, a self-described whistle-blower website, is believed to be preparing to release an even larger set of classified Pentagon documents on the Iraq war as early as Sunday.
U.S. officials warned of dire consequences in the days following the July leak. In his letter to Levin, Gates struck a more measured tone in describing the impact.
"Our initial review indicates most of the information contained in these documents relates to tactical military operations," Gates wrote, suggesting the materials did not include the most sensitive kinds of information."