Monday, January 31, 2011
Troubling news, if true - Obama will be given the power to switch off the internet, selectively or otherwise. Welcome Mubarak Mark II?
"As Egypt's government attempts to crackdown on street protests by shutting down internet and mobile phone services, the US is preparing to reintroduce a bill that could be used to shut down the internet. The legislation, which would grant US President Barack Obama powers to seize control of and even shut down the internet, would soon be reintroduced to a senate committee, Wired.com reported."
So writes Robert Fisk in his latest appraisal of events in Egypt published in The Independent.
"The attempts to block, then sabotage, then bury the Goldstone Report began before a single word had been written. The Israeli government rejected the original decision by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of war crimes during the Gaza attack. The council was hopelessly biased, Israel claimed, and the January 12, 2009, resolution creating the fact-finding mission was, according to Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs, “one-sided and irrelevant.” It is true that the original mandate of the mission called only for an investigation of violations committed “by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people.” But when Justice Goldstone took the top job and announced that the mandate had been expanded to include possible crimes committed by Palestinians “whether before, during or after” the attacks, Israel flatly refused to acknowledge this new reality. “There is no formal expansion of the mandate,” foreign ministry spokesman Yossi Levy insisted, against abundant evidence to the contrary. He added, “We will not cooperate with the mission, because its duty is not to find the truth but to find semi-judicial ways to attack Israel.”
When it became clear that the mission would proceed despite this obstructionism, the Israeli government switched to a new strategy: doing almost everything in its considerable power to sabotage Goldstone’s work. To this end, the Israeli government refused to allow the UN team to travel inside Israel. That meant that to get into Gaza, members had to go through Egypt. It also meant that Goldstone’s investigators could not travel to Sderot and Ashkelon to hear from Israeli victims of Qassam rocket attacks—critical testimony if the mission was to fulfill its mandate to investigate crimes on all sides. Israel’s strategy was transparent enough: it would force Goldstone to produce a one-sided report, which it would then enthusiastically dismiss for being one-sided.
It didn’t work. To get around the government roadblocks, Goldstone flew Israelis to Geneva so he could hear their testimony in person. When the report came out, it reflected the scale of the crimes committed by each side, concentrating mostly on Israel’s actions, including attacks on houses, hospitals and mosques that together killed scores of people, as well as attacks on civilian infrastructure such as water installations, agricultural facilities and factories. But the report did not give Hamas a pass. Goldstone concluded that the launching of rockets and mortars into populated areas “where there is no intended military target”—a practice used by Hamas’s military wing as well as by other armed Palestinian groups—“indicates the commission of an indiscriminate attack on the civilian population of southern Israel, a war crime, and may amount to crimes against humanity.” He also accused Hamas of “extrajudicial executions” in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority of repression and possibly torture in the West Bank.
The Goldstone Report is a serious, fair-minded and extremely disturbing document—which is precisely why the Israeli strategy since its publication has been to talk about pretty much everything except the substance of the report. Distractions have ranged from further posturing about the UN’s bias, to smear campaigns about Justice Goldstone’s personal history, to claims that the report is an integral part of a grand conspiracy to deny Israel’s right to exist. Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador and top political adviser, said the report was “the most serious and vicious indictment of the State of Israel bearing the seal of the United Nations” since the UN equated Zionism with racism in 1975 and “an assault on Israeli society as a whole,” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that “there are three primary threats facing us today: the nuclear threat, the missile threat and what I call the Goldstone threat.” The phrase “blood libel” was thrown around with great promiscuity, disgracefully equating the Goldstone Report with the anti-Semitic trials of the Middle Ages in which Jews were accused of drinking the blood of Christian children. (For some reason this seems to be a problem only when Sarah Palin abuses the term.)"
This news item won't play out well on the streets of Cairo as demonstrations continue there.
"Egyptian riot police are firing tear gas canisters bearing the label "Made in U.S.A" against street demonstrations in Cairo, according to protesters who provided ABC News with pictures of the canisters.
The protestors said the tear gas canisters were recovered in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo on Tuesday.
The label urges anyone who comes in contact with the gas "to seek assistance as soon as possible."
According to the canister labels, the tear gas is produced by Combined Systems International of Jamestown, Pennsylvania."
Sunday, January 30, 2011
"It might be the end. It is certainly the beginning of the end. Across Egypt, tens of thousands of Arabs braved tear gas, water cannons, stun grenades and live fire yesterday to demand the removal of Hosni Mubarak after more than 30 years of dictatorship.
And as Cairo lay drenched under clouds of tear gas from thousands of canisters fired into dense crowds by riot police, it looked as if his rule was nearing its finish. None of us on the streets of Cairo yesterday even knew where Mubarak – who would later appear on television to dismiss his cabinet – was. And I didn't find anyone who cared.
They were brave, largely peaceful, these tens of thousands, but the shocking behaviour of Mubarak's plainclothes battagi – the word does literally mean "thugs" in Arabic – who beat, bashed and assaulted demonstrators while the cops watched and did nothing, was a disgrace. These men, many of them ex-policemen who are drug addicts, were last night the front line of the Egyptian state. The true representatives of Hosni Mubarak as uniformed cops showered gas on to the crowds."
Saturday, January 29, 2011
"Events in the Middle East are moving too fast for the Obama administration to think it can get away with Plan A and Plan B reaction strategies according to the regimes or leaders it wants to keep in and out of power.
Consider the response of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Hezbollah tightening its grip on power in Lebanon this week - Washington might have to pull its funding worth hundreds of millions for Lebanon, her office warned.
But as democracy demonstrators were confronted by thousands of baton-wielding policemen in the streets in Cairo, there was no mention of pulling the $US2 billion-plus cheque that Washington writes for the octogenarian President, Hosni Mubarak, each year.
Instead, a rhetorical nugget that Mubarak's mouthpieces would use in their defence - ''our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable'' and then some namby-pamby words about how Mubarak was ''looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people''.
"Israeli soldiers tell Channel 4 News they were ordered to "cleanse" Palestinian neighbourhoods, as filmmaker Nurit Kedar says "the atmosphere was that nobody should talk about this war".
Nurit Kedar's film, Concrete, hears from Israeli soldiers who blame their military leaders for encouraging a "disproportionate" response to Hamas's rockets.
They claim their commanders used to "psych up" soldiers before an operation so they were ready to shoot indiscriminately.
This is the first time Israeli soldiers have come forward publicly with claims which counter those of their bosses.
In a report first aired on Channel 4 News on Wednesday, 24-year-old tank commander Ohad remembers being told the night before the operation that the entry into Gaza was to be "disproportionate".
It sounds really terrible to say 'cleanse' but those were the orders.
Israeli tank commander
Once into Gaza, he says his orders were unambiguous: "We needed to cleanse the neighbourhoods, the buildings, the area. It sounds really terrible to say "cleanse", but those were the orders....I don't want to make a mistake with the words."
Friday, January 28, 2011
France 24 Live looks into... Vlad's Palace?
"With its stunning seaside views, private casino, helipad, giant four-poster beds and marble halls, the newest palace built in the Black Sea resort town of Praskoveevka looks like something straight out of a James Bond movie. But according to a Russian businessman, it is being built for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with dubious funds".
Who said being an ex-KPG guy doesn't pay?
"Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei is headed back to Egypt despite direct threats against his life. On the eve of his return, the former U.N. official who is the Mubarak regime's most high-profile opponent on the young people who’ve taken to the streets, political Islam, and the role of the United States.
When Egypt had parliamentary elections only two months ago, they were completely rigged. The party of President Hosni Mubarak left the opposition with only 3 percent of the seats. Imagine that. And the American government said that it was “dismayed.” Well, frankly, I was dismayed that all it could say is that it was dismayed. The word was hardly adequate to express the way the Egyptian people felt."
Meanwhile, perhaps something of a paradox that America is taking the position it is in relation to events in Tunisia and Egypt......especially when one considers that the US has been so one-sided with the Israelis against the aspirations and rights of the Palestinians.
"The Obama administration is openly supporting the anti-government demonstrations shaking the Arab Middle East, a stance that is far less tempered than the one the president has taken during past unrest in the region.
As demonstrations in Tunis, Cairo and Beirut have unfolded in recent days, President Obama and his senior envoys to the region have thrown U.S. support clearly behind the protesters, speaking daily in favor of free speech and assembly even when the protests target longtime U.S. allies such as Egypt."
Thursday, January 27, 2011
"Gerald Kaufman once described Labour's 1983 manifesto as the longest suicide note in history. If ever a set of documents merits this epithet, it is surely the one we publish today. Written by Palestinian officials, obtained by al-Jazeera and shared with the Guardian, the papers are the confidential record of 10 years of efforts to seek a peace agreement with Israel.
It is hard to tell who appears worst: the Palestinian leaders, who are weak, craven and eager to shower their counterparts with compliments; the Israelis, who are polite in word but contemptuous in deed; or the Americans, whose neutrality consists of bullying the weak and holding the hand of the strong. Together they conspire to build a puppet state in Palestine, at best authoritarian, at worst a surrogate for an occupying force. To obtain even this form of bondage, the Palestinians have to flog the family silver. Saeb Erekat, the PLO chief negotiator, is reduced at one point to pleading for a fig leaf: "What good am I if I'm the joke of my wife, if I'm so weak," he told Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
Palestinian concessions roll on. The Israeli settlements around East Jerusalem? Sold, two years ago in a map which allows Israel to annex all of the settlements bar one, Har Homa. Mr Erekat called it the biggest Yerushalayim (he used the Hebrew word for Jerusalem) in history. Israel's former foreign minister Tzipi Livni acknowledges the pain involved, but refuses the offer. Israel banks the concession anyway. They are building in occupied Gilo today as if there is no tomorrow. Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in the Muslim world? That, too, is up for grabs. Mr Erekat said he was prepared to consider "creative ways" to solve the problem of Haram al-Sharif or the Temple Mount.
The surrender of land Palestinians have lived on for centuries prompts more demands. Not only does Israel want all of East Jerusalem, Har Homa, and the settlement blocs of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim which carve strategic swathes out of the West Bank. Not only does it insist on a demilitarised state. It also wants Palestinian leaders to sign away their future. When Mr Erekat asked Ms Livni: "Short of your jet fighters in my sky and your army on my territory, can I choose where I secure external defence?". She replied: "No. In order to create your state you have to agree in advance with Israel – you have to choose not to have the right of choice afterwards. These are the basic pillars."
Before the extreme right politician Avigdor Lieberman rose to prominence, the papers reveal that Israel asked for some of its Arab citizens to be transferred to a new Palestinian state. Since then, state population swaps have entered the mainstream of Israeli debate, but no one is asking the Israeli Arabs themselves. Has the former nightclub bouncer from Moldova become more Israeli? Or is Israel behaving more like a Moldovan nightclub bouncer?
One requires Panglossian optimism to believe that these negotiations can one day be resurrected. Nineteen years of redrawing the 1967 borders, of expanding the boundaries of Jerusalem, of refusal to accept the return of Palestinian refugees, and of pleading for a fig leaf, has sullied the concept of peace.
The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street. The two-state solution itself could just as swiftly perish with it. If that is to be saved, three things have to happen: America must drop its veto on Palestinian unity talks and take up Hamas's offer of a one-year ceasefire; a negotiating team that represents all major Palestinian factions must be formed; and Israel has to accept that a state created on 1967 borders, not around them, is the minimum price of an end to the conflict. The alternative is to allow the cancer of the existing one-state solution to grow and to prepare for the next war. No one will have to wait long for that."
From The New York Review of Books:
"The title of The Memory Chalet refers to its method of composition. Locked inside a body made inert by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and faced with his shrinking future and approaching death, Tony Judt decided to revisit his past. Physically unable to write, but with a mind as sharp and active as ever, he plotted the twenty-five short essays that compose this book in his head, while he was alone at night, using a mnemonic device taken from accounts of the early modern “memory palace,” whereby elements of a narrative are associated with points in a visually remembered space; but instead of a palace, he used a small Swiss chalet that he had once stayed in on vacation as a boy, and that he could picture vividly and in detail. He was then able to dictate these feuilletons the next day from the resulting structure. All but four of them were originally published as separate pieces in The New York Review, but their impact is much enhanced as a single book, a book that is at once memoir, self-portrait, and credo."
Continue reading here.
"Amnesty International has written a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates objecting to the conditions of Bradley Manning's detention, which was first reported here. The group denounces the oppressive conditions under which Manning is being held as "unnecessarily harsh and punitive," and further states they "appear to breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." The letter describes Manning's treatment as particularly egregious "in view of the fact that he has no history of violence or disciplinary infractions and that he is a pre-trial detainee not yet convicted of any offence." Moreover:
The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence, which should be taken into account in the treatment of any person under arrest or awaiting trial. We are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement . . . may, further, undermine his ability to assist in his defence and thus his right to a fair trial.
The letter follows a report from Manning's lawyer, former Lt. Col. David Coombs, that the conditions of his detention temporarily worsened in the past week, prompting a formal complaint under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Amnesty's letter also follows a report that the U.N.'s leading official on torture is formally investigating the conditions of Manning's detention, a fact confirmed two weeks ago by The New York Times ("the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez,  said he had submitted a formal inquiry about the soldier’s treatment to the State Department").
Now, in the latest twist to this entire saga, it also seems that Manning cannot be linked to have delivered up or provided documents to WikiLeaks.
"U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure."
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The truth is now out - and those denials hollow and a lie. Harper's Magazine's Scott Horton reports:
"Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, traveled to Pakistan in 2001, seeking work and religious schooling for his children. On October 5, 2001, he was arrested by Pakistani police while traveling by bus to Karachi. After several months of interrogation, he was sent to Egypt for five months, where he says he was subjected to intense torture including being shocked with high-voltage wires, hung from metal hooks on walls, and beaten. From Egypt he was transported to Guantánamo where he became prisoner No. 661. He was accused by U.S. authorities of having been in Afghanistan and having had advance knowledge of the September 11 attacks. American authorities subsequently conceded, however, that they had no evidence to support these accusations. The Australian government agreed to Habib’s return, and on January 28, 2005, he was returned and became a free man.
Now Australian authorities announce that they believe that Habib’s claims of torture at the hands of Egyptian police are credible and that Habib was transferred to Egypt from Pakistan through a CIA renditions process. They also state that Australian intelligence figures might have been complicit in the rendition to torture and may have been present or close by as he was tortured.
The Australian reports:
[Prime Minister] Julia Gillard requested the new probe [by the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence] amid dramatic claims of Australian government complicity in his 2001 CIA rendition to Egypt, where he was detained and tortured. The investigation follows a secret compensation payout made by the federal government to Mr Habib in December, apparently triggered by untested witness statements implicating Australian officials in his detention and brutal maltreatment in a Cairo military prison.
The new evidence, not previously made public, includes a statement from a former Egyptian military intelligence officer that he was present when Mr Habib was transferred to Cairo in November 2001. In the statement, tendered as part of Mr Habib’s civil case against the commonwealth, the officer says Australian officials were present when Mr Habib arrived in Egypt, handcuffed, with his feet bound, naked and apparently drugged.
Although Australian intelligence officials have consistently maintained that they knew nothing about Habib’s mistreatment in Egypt, their accounts have now been directly contradicted by eyewitness testimony. The evidence was so strong that the Australian Attorney General accepted mediation and agreed to a substantial government settlement on civil claims arising from his torture in Egypt.
The inspector general’s probe is designed to explore more fully the role that Australian intelligence officers played in the rendition and torture and to decide whether a formal criminal probe and prosecutions are appropriate.
With Gillard’s announcement, Australia now joins Britain, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Italy among the nations now conducting formal investigations into CIA renditions operations on their soil or involving their government personnel. Torture allegations figure prominently in each case."
Monday, January 24, 2011
For those to whom the Dr. in unknown, watch this very recent Democracy Now program, here - by way of background. It is moving beyond belief. See also this piece "Believing in Peace, Even After the Unthinkable" in The New York Times.
The Dr. spoke at the Jaipur Literature Festival this morning. A truly remarkable human being - with a heartfelt message! There wasn't a dry eye in the hall at one point. And something never seen before at a Writer's Festival.......the doctor was accorded a spontaneous standing ovation, by everyone in the hall, at the conclusion of the session.
Make it your business to hear this man. You won't regret it.
"The Tunisian uprising that overthrew the 23-year-old regime of strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had resonances throughout the Middle East. Leaders of countries invested in the region’s authoritarian and highly unequal status quo rejected the political revolution, while groups and states that want change welcomed it. The spectacle of masses of demonstrators pouring down Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis on Friday, overwhelming security forces and putting the president to flight, raised the hopes of the dispossessed and the downtrodden, even as it inspired a gathering dread in the breasts of the region’s dictators and absolute monarchs. Whether or not, as many observers rushed to predict, a wave of discontent will radiate from Tunis throughout the Arab world (and there are reasons to be cautious about that prospect), the “Jasmine Revolution” is a Rorschach test for distinguishing reactionaries from innovators in the region.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom worried that the Tunisian events might lead to regime change in other countries. Originally from Tunisia himself, Shalom expressed disquiet that a more democratic Middle East might not share with Tel Aviv a concern with fighting what he called radical fundamentalists, who he said threaten Israel. He was probably talking about the possibility of, say, the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Egypt or Jordan, both of which have peace treaties with Israel that are likely be abrogated if another government comes to power. It is hypocritical, however, for the Israelis, who are always criticizing the Arab world for being undemocratic, to express such anxiety about the prospect of democratization."
She explains in a piece on Salon:
"There were lots of reasons why we pulled the plug on my family's electronic media for six months ... or, I should say, why I did, because heaven knows my children would have sooner volunteered to go without food, water or hair products. At ages fourteen, fifteen and eighteen, my daughters and my son don't use media. They inhabit media. And they do so exactly as a fish inhabits a pond. Gracefully. Unblinkingly. And utterly without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there. Over a period of years, I watched and worried as our media began to function as a force field separating my children from what my son, only half-ironically, called RL (Real Life). But to be honest, the teenagers weren't the only ones with dependency issues. Although a recent arrival to the global village, I'd been known to abuse information too."
Continue reading here.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
"Slowly but surely the entire shameful truth is coming out about Shannon airport, CIA renditions, and the lengths the Irish government went to avoid the evidence. One of the first Dublin embassy cables from Wikileaks confirmed that the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern knew about the CIA’s use of Shannon for its renditions. The latest Dublin cable (full text below) shows that they knew this meant they were in violation of torture conventions. Yet they did nothing to uphold their legal and moral responsibilities, preferring instead to avoid political difficulty.
According to a cable released by Wikileaks on 14 January, an unnamed individual who met with the U.S. embassy’s deputy chief of mission (DCM) in Dublin told the embassy
“were a plane to include Shannon in an itinerary that also included transporting prisoners, GOI [government of Ireland] lawyers might be forced to conclude that the GOI itself was in violation of torture conventions”.
So an Irish government minister was quite convinced that at least three flights involving renditions had refueled at Shannon Airport before or after conducting renditions. The government’s lawyers were telling them they were likely to be in violation of the legally binding Convention Against Torture. But what did our government do? They vehemently denied any involvement of Shannon in the CIA’s renditions programme, and they went to the U.S. embassy to make sure they were not found out. Or as the cable puts it, their main concern was that what they were saying would not be found "to have holes in it".
Saturday, January 22, 2011
"Former British prime minister Tony Blair has acknowledged that he ignored the warning of his then-Attorney General that attacking Iraq was illegal without United Nations approval.
Mr Blair, who was summoned on Friday for a second time by the official inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war, said he believed the warning was provisional.
During a four hour appearance, he said he thought the Attorney General would change his mind on whether a second UN resolution was necessary when he knew the full details of negotiations that had been taking place.
Mr Blair said he regrets deeply and profoundly the loss of life during and after the 2003 Iraq war.
The ex-PM said his refusal to express regret for the decisions that led to war at his first appearance before the committee had been misinterpreted.
But his words were met with cries of too late from the public gallery. The BBC reports Committee chairman Sir John Chilcot had to tell the public gallery to be quiet."
Friday, January 21, 2011
"America was founded upon the principle of liberty and freedom, but guess who was covering the quest for freedom in Tunisia extensively yesterday? Al Jazeera, not the American news TV Networks.
I am utterly disgusted by how American TV channels have abandoned an important historic event of our time. Tunisian people took to the streets and toppled a Saddam-like totalitarian regime, but their voices and images from their revolution did not make it to the American viewers.
CNN, FOX News and MSNBC were busy interviewing celebrities and discussing pet-related stories.
At work, I was able to follow Al Jazeera’s minute-by-minute coverage of the revolution through my iPhone. The Qatari network has an iPhone app that live broadcasts their news, in addition to its presence on Facebook, Twitter and Al Jazeera Blogs.
It was simply everywhere and for free!
Tech Crunch, a popular Web publication that offers technology news and analysis, summed it up in this article on how American news networks failed in covering the news. The article discussed how tweeps criticized American TV networks that were busy broadcasting news related to Marta Stewart’s dog and a guy who was arrested for drunk-driving a donkey in Texas on MSNBC, while CNN was busy interviewing the Jeopardy host about a robot contestant.
This is not journalism. What Al Jazeera did is!
And thanks to the social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook that brought the news to the American public, along with a few articles American newspapers published later in the afternoon yesterday."
The doctor was interviewed on Democracy Now in the last days - here.
In fact, the doctor is a guest speaker at the Jaipur Literature Festival which kicks off tomorrow.
Not even having seen the movie Indiana Jones (with Harrison Ford) a few years ago can prepare one for the absolutely stunning and awesome Petra. It really is a sight to behold - as is the history of how the place came about in the first place , how inventive the people were at the time, how it "disappeared centuries ago and was discovered in the 1800's by a Swiss man.
The Four Seasons Hotel chain newsletter has a number of photos of Petra - a teaser if ever there was one to go and visit in person.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
So writes Glenn Greenwald on Salon. No less importantly Greenwald records the facts as against the Obama Administration's relentless attack on WikiLeaks and its Julian Assange.
"To say that the Obama administration's campaign against WikiLeaks has been based on wildly exaggerated and even false claims is to understate the case. But now, there is evidence that Obama officials have been knowingly lying in public about these matters. The long-time Newsweek reporter Mark Hosenball -- now at Reuters -- reports that what Obama officials are saying in private about WikiLeaks directly contradicts their public claims:
Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration's public statements to the contrary.
A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers. . . .
"We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging," said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials. . .
But current and former intelligence officials note that while WikiLeaks has released a handful of inconsequential CIA analytical reports, the website has made public few if any real intelligence secrets, including reports from undercover agents or ultra-sensitive technical intelligence reports, such as spy satellite pictures or communications intercepts. . . .
National security officials familiar with the damage assessments being conducted by defense and intelligence agencies told Reuters the reviews so far have shown "pockets" of short-term damage, some of it potentially harmful. Long-term damage to U.S. intelligence and defense operations, however, is unlikely to be serious, they said. . . .
Shortly before WikiLeaks began its gradual release of State Department cables last year, department officials sent emails to contacts on Capitol Hill predicting dire consequences, said one of the two congressional aides briefed on the internal government reviews.
However, shortly after stories about the cables first began to appear in the media, State Department officials were already privately playing down the damage, the two congressional officials said."
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Writing in "The Thrill and Consequences of Tunisia" on agence global:
"Local and international observers who wonder how Tunisia mirrors the rest of the region would do well to note the core grievances that Tunisians articulate during this transition, because these grievances are widely shared across the nearly 90% of all Arabs who are poor – and thus they point the way to needed reforms across the region. They are about corruption, lack of political and fiscal accountability, non-credible electoral and political systems, absence of democratic principles, abuse of power, and excessive reliance on unchecked police power. Consequently, heading off similar revolts in other Arab countries would seem to require that long-serving rulers reflect on the need to make real changes in four principal areas: freedom of press and expression; more honest political representation of the citizenry in parliament; greater accountability in government budgets (including ruling and royal family spending); and civilian oversight of the police, security and intelligence services. These changes will not come easily or quickly.
Tunisia’s ongoing transition will have continuing impact around the Arab world, especially with the massive television coverage from Jazeera-led satellite services. What a thrill – what an absolute, exhilarating thrill – it is after half a century of mass Arab citizen degradation and dehumanization to watch one self-determinant Arab citizenry start to make a transition to something more noble, or simply more normal."
"How all these issues and others are viewed by the public hinges significantly, however, on the perceived value of the leaked cables. US officials, even in charging foul, usually focus on the embarrassing loss of control and secrecy, not the damaging content of the cables. And as with earlier WikiLeaks bombshells—the massive Iraq and Afghanistan "war logs"—many critics in the media soon labeled the Cablegate revelations minor, old hat. Some of WikiLeaks' media partners, after a dozen days of heavy-duty reporting, severely reduced coverage of the cables. Now most of them are emerging via El País and the Norwegian daily Aftenposten.
For balance, then, it's important to review a small sample of what we have learned thanks to WikiLeaks since April and the release of the "Collateral Murder" US helicopter video, which showed the killing of two Reuters journalists, among others. It's necessary to do this because most in the US media, after brief coverage, provided little follow-up."
The samplings The Nation refers to can be read here. It's a formidable "list" and not to be lightly dismissed.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
MPS had the privilege of visiting the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem the other day.
That the world allows the situation of Palestinian refugees to continue after all these years is a disgrace, but to be in the Camp and be confronted by that god-damn awful and obscene Wall the Israelis have built is another thing. To think that in 2011 people are living in the harsh conditions as the refugees do, and then be confined into a camp surrounded by a Wall with watch towers a la a prison - manned by Israelis who are quite likely to arbitrarily shoot down on the refugees - is an obscenity.
One significant beacon and light in the Camp was a visit to the Lajee Centre.
If you are in any way concerned by what is happening to the Palestinians and your fellow man, then the Centre is more than deserving of support. The people who run the Centre are so committed to helping all people in the Camp, irrespective of their age, that they are nothing less than an inspiration to be admired, supported and emulated.
It's a subject taken up by Barry Lando in "With Friends Like These, Who Needs Democracy?" in a piece on truthdig. He analyses the political [?] position in various countries. One can't help think of dominoes.
"Assuming the Tunisian military actually agrees to hold free elections (not at all a sure thing), will the generals really throw open the doors to all political groups? Nationalists? Islamists? Marxists? Anti-militarists? What forces will roil to the surface after decades of political repression? Will they throw in their lot with America’s war against terror, or join the ranks of those in the Middle East who increasingly see what’s going on as America’s war against Islam?
Washington’s ambivalent view was evident even before the revolution was victorious. In Doha on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lectured Arab autocrats and others meeting there on the urgent need for reform and an end to corruption if they wanted to save their regimes.
But just a couple of days earlier, as young demonstrators were being gunned down in the cities and towns of Tunisia, when Clinton was asked which side the U.S. was on, she replied that the U.S. was “not taking sides.”
American officials have reason to hesitate. If uprisings were to occur across the Middle East and Central Asia, that could spell disaster for American policy."
A global recession has helped to accelerate the trend, by putting pressure on many people over age 55 to keep working if they can. But the real impetus behind an aging workforce is demographic. People are living longer. Older people are also becoming a larger share of the population in many nations, simply because of declining birthrates and shrinking ranks of young people.
All this is amplified by the arrival of the massive boomer generation on the threshold of retirement. The baby boom after World War II didn't just happen in the United States but also in places like Europe and Australia as well. The first boomers are hitting 65 this month."
Read the complete piece on truthout here.
"For those who regularly write and read about civil liberties abuses, it's sometimes easy to lose perspective of just how extreme and outrageous certain erosions are. One becomes inured to them, and even severe incursions start to seem ordinary. Such was the case, at least for me, with Homeland Security's practice of detaining American citizens upon their re-entry into the country, and as part of that detention, literally seizing their electronic products -- laptops, cellphones, Blackberries and the like -- copying and storing the data, and keeping that property for months on end, sometimes never returning it. Worse, all of this is done not only without a warrant, probable cause or any oversight, but even without reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in any crime. It's completely standard-less, arbitrary, and unconstrained. There's no law authorizing this power nor any judicial or Congressional body overseeing or regulating what DHS is doing. And the citizens to whom this is done have no recourse -- not even to have their property returned to them."
Continue reading here.
Monday, January 17, 2011
"The attacks on WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, are a response to an information revolution that threatens old power orders, in politics and journalism. The incitement to murder trumpeted by public figures in the United States, together with attempts by the Obama administration to corrupt the law and send Assange to a hell hole prison for the rest of his life, are the reactions of a rapacious system exposed as never before."
"The latest propaganda about the “damage” caused by WikiLeaks is a warning by the US State Department to “hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials and business people identified in leaked diplomatic cables of possible threats to their safety”. This was how the New York Times dutifully relayed it on 8 January, and it is bogus. In a letter to Congress, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has admitted that no sensitive intelligence sources have been compromised. On 28 November, McClatchy Newspapers reported that “US officials conceded they have no evidence to date that the [prior] release of documents led to anyone’s death.” NATO in Kabul told CNN it could not find a single person who needed protecting.
The great American playwright Arthur Miller wrote: “The thought that the state… is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.” What WikiLeaks has given us is truth, including rare and precious insight into how and why so many innocent people have suffered in reigns of terror disguised as wars, and executed in our name; and how the United States has secretly and wantonly intervened in democratic governments from Latin America to its most loyal ally in Britain.
Javier Moreno, the editor of El Pais, which published the WikiLeaks logs in Spain, wrote, “I believe that the global interest sparked by the WikiLeaks papers is mainly due to the simple fact that they conclusively reveal the extent to which politicians in the West have been lying to their citizens.”
Crushing individuals like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning is not difficult for a great power, however craven. The point is, we should not allow it to happen, which means those of us meant to keep the record straight should not collaborate in any way. Transparency and information, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, are the “currency” of democratic freedom. “Every news organisation,” a leading American constitutional lawyer told me, “should recognise that Julian Assange is one of them, and that his prosecution will have a huge and chilling effect on journalism”.
My favourite secret document -- leaked by WikiLeaks, of course – is from the Ministry of Defence in London. It describes journalists who serve the public without fear or favour as “subversive” and “threats”. Such a badge of honour."
"In a bleak but beautiful landscape of undulating stony hills I watched a group of Palestinian schoolchildren take their lessons yesterday in the open air next to a heap of rubble that, until this week, was their classroom.
This is the village of Dkaika, about as far south in the West Bank as you can get. It's a community of around 300 people, without electricity or running water, whose days are spent tending their herds of goats and sheep and trying not to attract the attention of nearby Jewish settlers.
"On Wednesday, at about 7.30am, a convoy of military vehicles and bulldozers arrived to tear down 16 homes, an animal pen, a store and one of the village school's classrooms. All were subject to demolition orders, granted because the structures were built without permission, which is almost impossible for Palestinians to get around here. Dkaika is in Area C, under full Israeli military and civil control, which accounts for 60% of the West Bank.
At the time there were dozens of children inside the school. The soldiers tried to prevent the its three teachers from entering the building. Sulaima Najadah, 38, who has taught English at the school since last September, told me that he sneaked in to reassure the crying children.
"I was in this class," he said, pointing to the pile of twisted metal and masonry. "The soldiers took us out by force."
The teachers were handcuffed and blindfolded in front of their pupils before the bulldozers moved in. One girl, Mariam Odeh, 13, said she had been afraid the classroom would be demolished over their heads."
Sunday, January 16, 2011
"The Israeli peace movement is coming back to life, and it's a very courteous movement indeed. When activists find objects marked "Made in USA" lying on the ground, they deliver them directly to the US ambassador to Israel. The other night, they returned a bunch of empty tear gas canisters - all marked "Made in USA" - fired by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. The canisters are used to break up nonviolent protests against the Israeli-built wall that is tearing Palestinian life apart.
One canister made in the USA killed Jawaher Abu Rahmah in the village of Bil'in on the last day of 2010. Another killed Abu Rahmah's brother, Bassem Abu Rahmah, in April 2009."
"The dominant concern in Israel is not for the obvious evils of the occupation, but for Israel's public image.
The IDF is taking a bizarre position by telling the world to ignore the unprovoked tear gas attack, the wall that Israel's Supreme Court has ruled illegal in Bil'in, and the confiscation of Palestinian land to enlarge settlements that the whole world says are illegal, and to see Israel as totally innocent - simply because Jawaher was at home when the made-in-USA gas killed her."
But FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) suggests that the US media has for a long time urged violence, of one sort or another, against a lot of people and peoples including those outside America.
"The discussion of violent and paranoid rhetoric in the media is long overdue, whether or not it is ever determined that accused Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner was somehow influenced or motivated by such rhetoric. Before the shooting, there had been a remarkable surge of politically motivated violence (FAIR Blog, 1/12/11). Despite media efforts to suggest this is a problem coming from "both sides" (FAIR Blog, 1/10/11), any disinterested analysis would conclude that the rhetoric coming from the right is both far more virulent and is given a much higher profile by nationally syndicated talk radio and the Fox News Channel.
But any discussion of media support for violence should not exclude other examples, many of which emanate from respectable, mainstream figures in the corporate media. The difference is that, in most cases, they are supporting or calling for state violence, usually against citizens of weaker countries who cannot, in most cases, defend themselves. This kind of rhetoric rarely elicits calls for greater "civility" in our public discourse, which suggests that some calls for violence are considered more acceptable than others."
Samplings of what FAIR is talking about can be found here.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Maybe a different approach is called for. A sound proposal and suggestion comes from Ann Jones in a piece "Why Peace Is the Business of Men (But Shouldn’t Be)" on TomDispatch.
"Looking for a way out of Afghanistan? Maybe it’s time to try something entirely new and totally different. So how about putting into action, for the first time in recorded history, the most enlightened edict ever passed by the United Nations Security Council: Resolution 1325?
Passed on October 31, 2000, more than a decade ago, that “landmark” resolution was hailed worldwide as a great “victory” for women and international peace and security. In a nutshell, SCR 1325 calls for women to participate equally and fully at decision-making levels in all processes of conflict resolution, peacemaking, and reconstruction. Without the active participation of women in peacemaking every step of the way, the Security Council concluded, no just and durable peace could be achieved anywhere.
“Durable” was the key word. Keep it in mind.
Most hot wars of recent memory, little and big, have been resolved or nudged into remission through what is called a power-sharing agreement. The big men from most or all of the warring parties -- and war is basically a guy thing, in case you hadn’t noticed -- shoulder in to the negotiating table and carve up a country’s or region’s military, political, and financial pie. Then they proclaim the resulting deal “peace.”
"There are many who believe that Lebanon will now descend into a civil war, similar to the fratricidal conflict which it endured from 1976 to 1980. I doubt it. A new generation of Lebanese, educated abroad – in Paris, in London, in America – have returned to their country and, I suspect, will not tolerate the bloodshed of their fathers and grandfathers.
In theory, Lebanon no longer has a government, and the elections which were fairly held and which gave Saad Hariri his cabinet are no more. President Michel Suleiman will begin formal talks on Monday to try to create a new government."
When the former editor of a leading newspaper writes he is "ashamed" of his country....Houston, we have a problem!
"....this is because I have felt lately that it has become shameful to be an Israeli, and a decent person must feel this shame and blush deeply and clear his throat and whisper to himself the question, what should we do, what should we do, for heaven’s sake, and perhaps even reach far-reaching conclusions.
Because it is fairly clear already that if our life here continues as it has been developing, then decent, moderate, balanced and humane people will not be able to live here. Before our eyes, with growing speed, Israeli society is changing, the political culture is changing, balances are disrupted and checks are tossed to the blazes, in the terrible wind that is blowing in our lives and quickly colouring them in darkening shades of black.
It seems that things that were bottled up in the Israeli soul, well hidden due to the shame, are suddenly erupting with a sense of release and capering in a disgraceful manner in full view. It is now permissible to be a racist, and permissible to take pride in it, and it is permissible to kick democracy and take pride in that, and it is permissible to cause injustice and exploitation and trample people’s rights, if the people in question are Arabs, and it is permissible to take pride in this too. There are MKs that engage in all this with great skill, and with smiles that cannot fail to send a shiver down one’s back. There are entire parties whose colour and music arouse shocking and horrific memories."
Friday, January 14, 2011
First this from those wonderful people at TSA in the USA:
"Folks have created products designed to shield private areas from the TSA’s Advanced imaging Technology. But it won’t work, says the TSA on its own blog.
“Remember the post about the artist who designs metal plates for baggage with messages that appear on the X-ray monitor? This is very similar to that. If there is something shielding an area and we don’t know what’s under it, we have to conduct a pat-down,” says the blog. It continues:
“We're certainly not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t buy or wear, but I feel it’s only fair to give you a heads up on your choice of attire.”
So basically, passengers should be aware that the use of these types of products to shield their private parts will likely result in a pat-down.
Some might think this is TSA’s way of getting back at clever passengers.
That’s not the case at all, reassures the blog.
“It’s just security,” it says."
Much more serious, and with political overtones, this latest Israeli offensive, insidious and intimidatory behaviour:
"........followed a complaint filed yesterday by Al Jazeera with the Government Press Office and the Foreign Press Association, over what the channel said was a humiliating and lengthy security check at the invitation-only foreign press briefing with Netanyahu in Jerusalem."
"Najwan Simri Diab, a producer and reporter, and another reporter, Shirin Abu Aqla, were part of the Al Jazeera team that arrived to the Jerusalem event. Abu Aqla was reportedly made to wait over an hour and not permitted to enter in the end, while Simri Diab was asked by security to remove her clothing, including her bra."
A "mishap" is the official explanation to date!
Thursday, January 13, 2011
"Since Obama took office in January 2009, there have been seven separate cases of disturbed white men committing political murders after becoming hopped up on guns, right-wing media and anti-government and anti-Obama blather. And this doesn’t even include Loughner’s attack or other incidents where the gunman was intent on killing but didn’t succeed."
"The group resentment is fomented and stoked within the right-wing echo chamber, in increasingly apocalyptic terms. With swaths of the public alienated and looking for easy answers in a time of epic joblessness, they latch onto scapegoats that demagogues like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage provide. As a result millions of alienated Americans are convinced their problems and the national malaise is the fault of Mexicans, liberals, abortion providers and homosexuals. Politicians willing to exploit this hatred can find a large and passionate base. Because extremism stands out in our media-saturated culture, those voices and politicians who are the most outrageous tend to be the most successful. This creates a politics that makes compromise and reasoned discourse all but impossible. Add to that a political system dominated by corporate money, which makes addressing social ills all but impossible, and you have a public seething with anger but with no ready outlet."
"After a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people in Haiti on January 12, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that there could be dire consequences "if the effort to rebuild is slow or insufficient, if it is marked by conflict, lack of coordination, or lack of transparency." At a March 31 UN conference, the international community pledged $5.3 billion dollars for 2010–11 to help Haiti "build back better," with the United States pledging $1.15 billion.
Yet excluding debt relief, the governments and international institutions that promised to help Haiti rebuild have disbursed just $1.28 billion of the pledges they made at the UN conference, according to the UN Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti. The United States has disbursed only $120 million of its pledge, according to Office of the Special Envoy's most recent update.
Of the European Community's pledge of $294 million for 2010-11, it had paid $97.2 million, or about a third, by December 2010. Canada, which was originally reported to have pledged $375 million for Haiti's reconstruction, had disbursed only $55.3 million by December 2010. Meanwhile, France has delivered less than a quarter of the $30 million it pledged to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, according to the fund's website."
"Rush Limbaugh said many awful, offensive things today, because he was defending himself from people who say that hateful, ugly rhetoric leads to violence. Well, he wasn't really "defending himself" from anything, so much as just spewing his usual free-associative garbage.
He "jokingly" suggested that Democrats had purposefully orchestrated a mass murder for their own political benefit. He incorrectly asserted that "every association that any act of violence has been made with the conservative right has fallen on emptiness." He said that now the government will take away your guns, along with "as many political freedoms as they can manage." (So you'd better stock up on guns, and you'd better fear and hate the government!)
Then he said that Democrats and liberals are doing everything in their power to aid and help the man who tried to assassinate a Democratic member of Congress, because the sheriff said something mean about Rush Limbaugh.
“This guy clearly understands he’s getting all the attention and he understands he’s got a political party doing everything it can, plus a local sheriff doing everything that they can to make sure he's not convicted of murder.”
Yes. Right. The Democrats don't want Jared Loughner to be convicted of murder, because Democrats are objectively pro-murdering Democrats."
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Reflect on each piece as you read them......for America has to take stock of itself.
From The Nation:
"After Sarah Palin targeted her district with a gunsight on a map identifying Democrats Palin was urging her followers to "reload" and defeat, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said: "We are on Sarah Palin's targeted list. The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of the gunsight over our district. When people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that action."
From AlterNet quoting a Republican Congressman at a rally in Washington:
"Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the Constitution, and they're right down the Mall, in the Congress of the United States -- and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us," Broun told the crowd. "It's not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It's not about the ability for me to protect my family and property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it's all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States."
Finally, this from an op-ed piece in the IHT:
"There are almost 300 million guns in America, a third of them handguns, and almost 100 million are owned by the public. This is the highest concentration of gun ownership in the world.
Not surprisingly, the United States also has the highest gun homicide rate, almost 3.5 per 100,000, of any industrialized country. European countries and Japan have only a fraction of such firearm homicides."
The Guardian has published some of the arguments which will be put forward, based on a 35 page document released by Assanges' lawyers outlining the arguments in skeleton form.
"Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, could be at "real risk" of the death penalty or detention in Guantánamo Bay if he is extradited to Sweden on accusations of rape and sexual assault, his lawyers claim.
In a skeleton summary of their defence against attempts by the Swedish director of public prosecutions to extradite him, released today, Assange's legal team argue that there is a similar likelihood that the US would subsequently seek his extradition "and/or illegal rendition", "where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantánamo Bay or elsewhere".
Continue reading here. It should be quite some "challenge".
Spoke with a young man who had just travelled, by bus, from Ramallah to Jerusalem. The trip should, at most, take 30 minutes. At the border crossing the Israelis insisted that a Palestinian, on crutches because of a broken leg, have his crutches x-rayed, and then, that he walk some metres unaided with his crutches. He was obviously unable to do so. The consequence? A strip-search and questioning in a room at the border-crossing whilst all passengers on the bus waited. 45 minutes later the bus resumed its journey. Total time taken in the trip, including the wait at the crossing? 2 1/2 hours.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
"The Obama administration is currently drafting what it's calling the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, which Locke said will be released by the president in the next few months. (An early version was publicly released last summer.)
"We are not talking about a national ID card," Locke said at the Stanford event. "We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy and reducing and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords, through creation and use of more trusted digital identities."
The current occupant of the position reflects on the publishing of the newspaper, the pressures time-wise, the blurring between reporting and opinion and what readers expect from their newspaper.
"Four months as public editor has given me a working list, perhaps only that, of the challenges The Times faces and the faults readers find in this most important of American newspapers. As a representative of the reader, I’d like to post that list today and invite you to consider it, then add to it as you will."
Continue reading here. You may not agree with anything Brisbane writes, but it might provide an insight into what the NYT, with its banner "All the News Fit to Print", seeks to do in publishing its daily newspaper.
"The publication in Jerusalem of Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies 2000-2010—unprecedented first-hand accounts by over one hundred Israeli soldiers of their experiences while serving in the IDF—coincides with an appalling yet unsurprising incident I learned of only a few days ago. On Tuesday, December 28, 2010, at 3:00 AM, Hajja Sara Nawaja, a Palestinian grandmother living in a tent with her family in the arid hills of south Hebron, on the occupied West Bank, woke to the sound of dogs barking. She smelled smoke. She discovered that two adjacent tents, which the family used as kitchens, were on fire. She woke her son Ahmad, who managed to remove the gas cylinders from the tents just in time, before they exploded. The two tents were burned to the ground. A car was seen driving away from the scene in the direction of the nearby Israeli settlement of Susya.
Did the settlers who probably set the fire intend to kill Hajja Sara and her large family? It’s quite possible. Settlers regularly harass the family, whom I know well from previous visits to the area. The previous week Hajja Sara’s brother, Hajj Khalil, was severely beaten by some fifteen settler toughs at the tiny encampment of Wadi Gheish. Will the culprits be arrested? No chance. Settlers act with virtual impunity in the wilds of south Hebron; the police and the army units in the area usually show no interest in violence directed at Palestinians. Their primary goal is to secure the settlements and the Israelis who live in them."