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Showing posts from May, 2006

HIV / AIDS: One step forward, 2 steps back

On the day a UN Report states that some progress is being made in the West in relation to HIV/ Aids, the situation in Africa is quite the opposite.

As reported, graphically, in this article in the NY Times the HIV/Aids toll in Africa is grim:

"In the early years of AIDS, the virus didn't get attention because the victims were marginalized people: gays, Haitians and hemophiliacs.

Then when AIDS did threaten mainstream America, it finally evoked empathy and research dollars. But now it has slipped back in our consciousness because once more the primary victims are marginalized people - this time, Africans.

Nearly 3 million people die from AIDS each year. Among them are half a million children under the age of 15, mostly Africans infected during childbirth."

The article, only available against subscription, concludes as follows:

"In the 14th century, we didn't know how to fight the Plague. Today we know what to do, and we have the tools to overcome AIDS - and yet we stil…

Chaos in Kabul

Afghanistan is again in the news - sadly, all too predictably, negatively.

As Time magazine reports:

"Five years after collapse of the Taliban, the streets of Kabul are typically clogged with land-cruisers transporting foreigners or newly minted drug lords. Ordinary Afghans, however, still live much as they did before — with sewage flowing through open gutters at the side of the street, no running water and working electricity only about every two or three days."

In dealing with the recent riots in Kabul the article highlights, here, the all too common issues which have arisen since the Taliban were overthrown - and they are back anyway! On top of that the general consensus is that the country is being run by the narcons. So much for the West's "assistance" to Afghanistan and the eradication of the opium growers and the warlords.

Fox News: Living in la la land...

It is now well-known that the Murdoch stable of media have their views - and aren't shy in pushing it, be it accurate or not. Just remember! The Sun King [as did all his newspapers, to a man, around the world] supported the Iraq War on the basis, as Rupert asserted, that the oil price would come down to US$20 a barrel. Yesterday it hovered around the US$70 mark.

Now this on Fox TV News:

"There’s no scientific proof that global warming even exists. To be honest, it’s a bogus consensus dreamed up by Greens because they hate industry. They hate advancement. They hate technology…Greens will lead us back to the stone ages".

Are you startled? Are you amazed? Don't be - and just watch the Murdoch empire beat the same drum.

Read the full article on the topic from Fox News [an oxymoron if ever there was one], here, on why you have been duped about this global-warming thing!

All the news not fit to be seen!

This opening para in an article in The Independent says it all:

"Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products."

So, the "news" shown [in the USA - and not in OZ?] has been "doctored" to suit the message. We all know the TV news is rather poor - particularly that shown on commercial TV - but how much of it is true? - let alone accurate.

Read the full article here and perhaps just view that TV "news" a tad sceptically from now on.

Racism in schools "underestimated"

Most Australians still believe that because there is the ever-popular slogan of Aussies giving someone else a "fair go" that racism is something which exists overseas and not in Australia. All too sadly that is not the case, as so clearly demonstrated by the popularity of Pauline Hanson and many of her policies and ideas - now "adopted" by John Howard & Co.

It would seem that racism in schools has been "inderestimated" as this article in The Age reveals:

"The effects of racism experienced by Arab-Australian students have been underestimated, according to Deakin University researchers.

The study on attitudes at three Melbourne secondary schools since 2003 found that schools and teachers needed better training and resources to manage cultural diversity.

While racism between students at the multicultural schools was not a significant problem, many students reported poor relationships with teachers in the project's initial stages. Boys in particul…

The Pope at Auschwitz

It's a paradox! Pope Paul II was a Pole. The current Pope, Benedict, is German by birth. And here is the Pope visiting Auschwitz whilst in Poland.

As the NY Times reports:

"Pope Benedict XVI prayed on Sunday at the cells and crematories of the concentration camp complex here, on a visit he called "particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany."

"Words fail," said Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria in 1927. The son of a policeman, he was inducted unwillingly into the Hitler Youth and the German Army. "In the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence that itself is a heartfelt cry to God.

"Why, Lord, did you remain silent?" he said, his voice wobbling. "How could you tolerate this?"

Read the full NY Times report here.

What can one say? - save that the role of the Catholic Church is more than murky with Pius XII having turned his face from saving Jews during the Holocaust and the Chur…

The dark side of Eastern Germany

With the eyes on Germany as the World Cup approaches, Newsweek reports on a side of Germany which gets little air-play - racism in East Germany.

As Newsweek reports:

"Germany's official motto for this summer's football World Cup is "The World Hosted by Friends." And increasingly, some Germans fear it might promise more than they can deliver. As the country gears up to present its best face to more than a million foreign visitors, a string of recent attacks on black and Turkish immigrants in the formerly communist East has reminded the public of an ugly, festering problem."

The article, here, catalogues what has been happening in the country and describes racism as an issue which isn't being truly confronted let alone properly addressed.

Don't Become Them

Maureen Dowd, now celebrity-columnist with the NY Times, says:

"When I started in newspapers, I shied away from police brutality stories, letting other reporters cover them."

"So I felt sickened to hear about the marines who allegedly snapped in Haditha, Iraq, and wantonly killed two dozen civilians - including two families full of women and children, among them a 3-year-old girl. Nine-year-old Eman Waleed told Time that she'd watched the marines go in to execute her father as he read the Koran, and then shoot her grandfather and grandmother, still in their nightclothes. Other members of her family, including her mother, were shot dead; she said that she and her younger brother had been wounded but survived because they were shielded by adults who died.

It's a My Lai acid flashback. The force that sacked Saddam to stop him from killing innocents is now accused of killing innocents. Under pressure from the president to restore law, but making little progress, marine…

Remembering what journalism is all about

Monday sees the US "celebrate" Memorial Day.

Norman Solomon, writing on truthdig, suggests that the Day should also be marked as Media Memorial Day 2006. As Solomon points out:

"People who are concerned about the state of the U.S. news media in 2006 might pause on Memorial Day to consider those who have lost their lives in the midst of journalistic neglect, avoidance and bias."

Solomon catalogues a series of issues where the media has been wanting - or needs to be pro-active in fulfilling its role. Read his piece here. It gives pause for thought.

Academic Double Standards

For years now the debate whether the actions or words of people speaking out about Israel's policies towards Palestinians are anti-semitic or anti-Israel have raged around the world. Academics, in particulars, have sought to impose sanctions in various ways against Israeli colleagues.

The NY Times reports today:

"Two days before British academics were to vote on a possible boycott of their Israeli colleagues, the lines sharpened on Saturday as 600 university teachers from Britain, Canada, the United States and Israel came out in opposition to the move while Palestinian and other academics supported it.

The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, Britain's biggest union of college teachers, is to vote Monday on a resolution enjoining its 67,000 members to boycott Israeli colleagues who do not distance themselves from what it calls Israel's "apartheid policies."

There is nothing wrong with academics - or indeed anyone else for that mat…

My Lai Mark II?

This report from the LA Times brings back memories of My Lai in Vietnam:

"Photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team have convinced investigators that a Marine unit killed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqis, some of them "execution-style," in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed an American in November, officials close to the investigation said Friday."

And:

"One government official said the pictures showed that infantry Marines from Camp Pendleton "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results."

If this latest revelation [read the full LA Times report here] is yet another example of getting the Iraqis on board to show them what democracy is all about and how fortunate they are that Saddam has been removed, then the US and its Coalition of the Willing partners are deluding themselves. Watch this space as this tragic story unfolds.....

The real situation about Wadeye

"The Federal Government's policy of "practical reconciliation" has come spectacularly unstuck in Wadeye, the Northern Territory Aboriginal town now famous around the world for its violence, gang warfare and child abuse.

Mal Brough, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, has pointed the finger at law and order and the deficiencies of customary law. And he has made wild claims about generous government expenditure. In truth, Wadeye is a scandalous example of gross neglect and underfunding by federal and territory governments."

So begins Adele Horin in her weekly op-ed piece in the SMH today. But read on....

"The public has been led to believe that billions have been spent exclusively on Aborigines, who have received special treatment over years, and that Wadeye is a typical example of government munificence wasted.

Rarely can these claims of over-expenditure on Aborigines be tested. They have become accepted wisdom, feeding a deep sense of pessimism and a bla…

LNL: Trumps them all!

Phillips Adam's program, Late Night Live [LNL] on ABC Radio National [10.05 pm Monday -Thursday and repeated at 4.05 the next day] is a program like no other. Adams deals with issues and interviews a variety of people, in Australia and overseas, on a host of topics simply not covered or addressed anywhere else.

There have been rumours around for years that ABC management was going to, or would like to, axe LNL. Now, one would hope that this item on Crikey ensures that LNL "lives":

"LNL Podcast spike. This email from Phillip Adams arrived at Crikey this morning: Late Night Live got 50,000 pod downloads this week – up from 30,000 a few weeks ago. That's more than all the other RN programs put together (!) and far more than any program on any other ABC network which makes us the top poddie program in (and from) Australia. The figures have management reeling. And to think they've been trying to kill us off for fifteen years."

Long may LNL live! …

Jury votes on the Enron era

Yes, we have all now read that Lay and Skilling were found guilty after a trial lasting 16 weeks. To anyone who followed the evidence, it is hard to believe that either man could have thought, reasonably or otherwise, that a jury would accept that everyone else at Enron was responsible for the collapse of the company - and even more importantly, that they didn't know what was going on.

One quick question! Where does the buck stop if not with the chiefs? - or were these 2 fellows asleep at the wheel?

The NY Times has an interesting analysis of the case and the era which saw an Enron-type company with all its arrogance, recklessness and greed :

"The Enron case will forever stand as the ultimate reflection of an era of near madness in finance, a time in the late 1990's when self-certitude and spin became a substitute for financial analysis and coherent business models. Controls broke down and management deteriorated as arrogance overrode careful judgment, allowing senior …

A viable Palestinian State

Whilst Israeli PM Olmert has been feted in Washington - the "usual" address to Congress, standing ovations and all that! - the NY Times rightly opines:

"It's long been clear that getting a workable, feasible Palestinian state out of two geographically separate masses of land in the desert will be an uphill battle. Now, because of two culprits and one enabler - Hamas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and President George W. Bush - that hill is becoming a mountain."

Yes, the Palestinians have all their own issues to resolve amongst themselves. But anyone who thinks that Israel can sort the Israel - Palestine issue out alone, with or without Washington's support, is deluding himself. Unilateral action on Israel's part is doomed to failure!

Meanwhile read the New York Times editorial here.

Bushs' tainted ambassadorial mate to Canberra

"George Bush nominated Robert McCallum to be his ambassador to Australia, the most obliging of the willing nations. That was more than two months ago and still there is no sign on the horizon of Bush's pal from the Skull and Bones society".

As Richard Ackland writes in his weekly column in the SMH the reason we are not seeing the ambassador-designate has to do with his being under investigation on a number of levels. To put not too fine a point on it, McCallum's ethics and reputation stink! Read why in Ackland's column here.

As Ackland concludes:

"At the moment McCallum's ethics are subject to reference in two places, the Justice Department and the District Court. He's perfect for Australia."

Eroding - and then losing our rights and liberty....

"As many have observed, fear weakens the determination to protect rights when an assurance is given that to diminish those rights will protect us and, in any event, if you have nothing to hide you won't need those rights anyway.

And people buy that logic. Thus, we are kept in fear of terrorism though no terrorist attack has yet occurred on Australian soil. All this occurred under the stewardship of a Prime Minister who quickly recognised the benefits of incumbency and the ease with which frightened voters would be content to empower police forces and intelligence agencies in a way they could not previously have dreamed of."

So says high-profile QC, Lex Lasry, in The Age, in an edited version of a talk given by him at Melbourne University. Lasry has been involved in many cases notably, of late, the van Nguyen case in Singapore and the first alleged terror case in Australia of Jack Thomas.

Read Lasry's insightful piece here - and reflect on how very right he is. Sadl…

Ravaging the Free Press

"Journalists. Get the rack ready! Our attorney general is coming for us, snarling like a guard dog at Abu Ghraib".

That's the opening paragraph in this piece "The War on the Free Press" in The Boston Globe [republished on truthout.com] dealing with the threat by the US Attorney-General to pursue journalists who might have revealed things the Administration would have rather they had not - like internal wire-taps in America.

Read the entire piece here. It won't take A-G Ruddock to cotton onto the thought that this might be yet another abhorent thing to emulate from the US of A.

Apple & Nike: Running Mates

Where will it all end?....

"iPod-compatible footwear that tracks runners' training routines is just the beginning of a collaboration between these iconic brands."

So reports Business Week, and goes on:

"Now the two companies behind those logos are teaming up. At an event in New York, Nike and Apple said they are collaborating on a series of products that bridge the gaps between sports, electronics, and entertainment.

Their first jointly produced product: the Nike+iPod Sport kit, which involves an electronic sensor inserted under the inner sole of a new Nike running shoe dubbed the Moire (pronounce (MOR-ay). That sensor talks to a small wireless receiver that attaches to Apple's iPod nano music player."

Read the full details of this evolution in foot and ear-wear here.

Ex-wives upping the ante?

The Family Law legislation in Australia seeks, in a divorce, to divide the assets of a couple equally. That principle of equality may be shaken up as a result of the underlying thinking in 2 landmark cases just decided in the UK.

As The Independent reports:

"Thousands of divorced women who gave up high-flying careers for the sake of their marriages could qualify for millions of pounds in compensation after a House of Lords ruling in favour of ex-wives.

The judgments, delivered yesterday, considered two divorce cases involving super-rich husbands and set down new principles for the fair division of a married couple's assets. They are expected to trigger more claims from wives who still receive maintenance payments from their husbands but feel they have not been properly compensated for giving up lucrative careers."

Read the full article here. It is hard to believe that the principles enunciated in the cases won't find there way to Oz even if our legislative framewo…

Jimmy Carter on Israel & Palestine

Ex-president Jimmy Carter, writing in USA Today:

"New Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that Israel will take unilateral steps to establish its own geographical boundaries during the next four years of his administration. His plan, as described during the recent Israeli election and the formation of a new governing coalition, would take about half of the Palestinian West Bank and encapsulate the urban areas within a huge concrete wall and the more rural parts of Palestine within a high fence. The barrier is not located on the internationally recognized boundary between Israel and Palestine, but entirely within and deeply penetrating the occupied territories.

The only division of territory between Israel and the Palestinians that is recognized by the United States or the international community awarded 77% of the land to the nation of Israel and the other small portion divided between the West Bank and Gaza. Only about twice the size of Washington, D.C., Gaza is now a politic…

Don't wear that gear!

For years well-known brands like Nike, Adidas, Fila and the like have been accused of using sweat-labour in poor conditions - mostly in third-world countries around the world - in the manufacturing of their products.

With the World Cup upon us all the sporting-manufacturing brands are pushing for part of the huge advertising opportunity the Cup presents - and the sale of their products. At the other end of the spectrum it appears from this piece in The Independent that in practical terms little has been done to alleviate the conditions of workers in factories making all those shoes and garments, etc.

As the article opens:

"The world's top sportswear manufacturers stand accused of continuing to use a number of foreign factories which deny workers union rights and decent wages, despite claims they have cleaned up their act."

Read the full Independent article, here, and its analysis of what all the manufacturers [you know those brands you wear!] are doing - with details of …

David Attenborough on Climate Change

There would be few who do not know David Attenborough as the genial and informative presenter of all those nature and animal programs over the last years. So, when he speaks on things around us in the world his is a voice of whom one ought to at least take note:

"I was sceptical about climate change. I was cautious about crying wolf. I am always cautious about crying wolf. I think conservationists have to be careful in saying things are catastrophic when, in fact, they are less than catastrophic."

So begins an article in The Independent today by Attenborough. He goes on:

"But I'm no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world. I have waited until the proof was conclusive that it was humanity changing the climate. The thing that really convinced me was the graphs connecting the increase of carbon dioxide in the environment and the rise in temperature, with the growth of human population and …

Coming up - www #3

"Just when the ideas behind "Web 2.0" are starting to enter into the mainstream, the mass of brains behind the World Wide Web is introducing pieces of what may end up being called Web 3.0.

"Twenty years from now, we'll look back and say this was the embryonic period," said Tim Berners-Lee, 50, who established the programming language of the Web in 1989 with colleagues at CERN, the European science institute.

"The Web is only going to get more revolutionary," he told delegates Tuesday at the opening of the 15th annual International World Wide Web Conference".

If the revolution is on then read this article from the IHT and see where it - and all of we surfers - are headed.

Postscript: Berner-Lee is said not to have earned one bit cent by way of royalty from what was, in many ways, his discovery of the www.

Sacrificing principles and rights.....

"Governments have sacrificed principles and ignored human rights in the name of the "war on terror", says a leading rights group in its annual report.

But Amnesty International celebrates what it calls a "wake-up call" issued to governments over the last year.

It says their "doublespeak and deception have been exposed by the media, challenged by activists and rejected by the courts"."

So reports BBC News,here, today. There will be those who will challenge the conclusions in the Amnesty Report, but they cannot be ignored. Not enough is being done, certainly in Australia, to question and challenge laws, and other actions of Government, all done in the name of the "war on terror". It's too glib and easy to claim that! Just read the article and see the extent of "abuses" around the world.

Israel & Palestine: There is a way to peace

It will perhaps not come as a suprise to some that the Palestinian PM is reported in Haaertz, today, as follows:

"Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told Haaretz Monday that the Hamas government is prepared to agree to an extended cease-fire if Israel withdraws to the 1967 lines.

"If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, peace will prevail and we will implement a cease-fire [hudna] for many years," Haniyeh said during an interview in his south Gaza office. "Our government is prepared to maintain a long-term cease-fire with Israel."

Anything which sees a return to some semblance of sanity between Palestinians and Israel should be welcomed. It is in the interests of both peoples. Read the Haaertzarticle detailing its interview with PM Haniyeh.

Is it any different in Oz?

"The children of baby boomers are the new debtor class. Buckling under a heavy weight of debt, new workers step into an economy of low-wage and contingent work, a combination that makes the basics of adulthood increasingly unattainable."

By all accounts the situation in Australia is really no different. Read the entire AlterNet article here - and feel sorry for a generation which will probably never really get out from under!

Will the real Iraq stand up!

"Blair's view: 'We have a government of national unity that crosses all boundaries. Iraqi people are able to write the next chapter of their history themselves' - Tony Blair on a visit to Iraq yesterday

Another view: Two car bombs explode in Baghdad, killing nine. At least 23 more die in attacks elsewhere, bringing the death toll in May to 848 as sectarian violence spreads."

The Independent in its article [here] draws on the parallel worlds of what Tony Blair is saying, hype and all - and what is really happening on the ground. Just this one observation puts it all into context:

"There was a ghastly absurdity about Mr Blair's optimism as he stood beside the new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone yesterday".

Howard: morally complacent?- or smug morality?

"Howard rightly asks us to contemplate the pain of the families of the 3000 innocent people who were murdered on September 11, 2001. Does he, do we, feel nothing for the families of the tens of thousands of Iraqis whose lives have been lost in the killings and the murders that have occurred since the invasion of Iraq, for whose involvement in which our Prime Minister was honoured, in Washington last week, with a black-tie dinner and a 19-gun salute?"

So writes Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at La Trobe University in an op-ed piece in both the SMH and The Age.

Manne disassociates himself - and probably a goodly number of Australians - from all the pomp and hype of John Howard's visit to Washington last week, and especially Howard's pronouncement that the honours being showered all around were not for him personally but for Australia. Manne questions that and wonders whether Howard has any conscience given the generally accepted debacle surrounding the Iraq War…

Unspeak?

This was the introduction to an item on the ABC Radio National's Breakfast program this morning:

"Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to a 'fair go' have regularly given as examples of a healthy Australian democracy.

But to us, the media consumers, this freedom is delivered with a big dose of 'spin', where a lot of what we hear has been massaged by consultants or political advisers. This includes the use of quirky, clever catch-phrases, like 'pro-choice', or 'ethnic cleansing' for often very complex, moral issues.

Steven Poole, journalist with London's Guardian newspaper, has given this use of language a name; 'unspeak'. He says this is language used as a weapon, and he sees a sinister side to its use.

Steven Poole is the author of Unspeak and is the keynote speaker at next week's Sydney Writers' Festival. He joins us now from his home in Paris."

Click on the link here to get to the ABC web site in order …

Will the Real Pundit Stand Up!

"Goma was at the BBC, waiting to be interviewed for a computer job, when a producer mistook him for another Guy and led him into a studio. Suddenly he was on live television being introduced as Guy Kewney, an expert brought in to comment on the verdict in the trademark dispute between Apple Computer and the Apple Corps record label."

Trouble is, that Goma wasn't the expert the BBC had in mind! So, what did Goma do?

Read on to find out [on line it is only available on subscription to NYT]...

Hearing his introduction, Goma gaped at the host. His eyes widened, then flicked sideways, looking for help off-screen. But then he took a deep breath and faced the first question: "Were you surprised by this verdict today?"

"I am very surprised to see this verdict," he said truthfully, and proceeded to offer an unassailable explanation for his reaction, "because I was not expecting that."
"A big surprise," the host said.
"Exactly," Goma…

Is it any wonder?

Once again the state of our aboriginal people, and issues affecting them personally and their place in the community, is in the news. Politics aside and the usual blame-game in various quarters, there clearly are critical issues which require urgent attention - health, inter-personal matters, housing, customary law, etc. etc.

When one reads this report in The Australian today one does have to ask - is it any wonder that matters such as crime and poor health are rife?:

"More than 40 of the 205 houses in the Hopevale Aboriginal community north of Cooktown in Cape York are "not fit for animals to live in", council mayor Greg McLean has warned.
Health inspectors have condemned 43 of the homes, but people have nowhere else to live, so they stay there - in some cases accommodating up to 27 people.

Mr McLean said 20 of the homes were more than 40 years old and were built in the days when Hopevale was run by the Lutheran missionaries, with every part of the building containing as…

Middle class exodus from Iraq

Whilst George Bush has this morning extolled the establishment of a Government in Iraq and how it spells the defeat of Al Queda [where that "wisdom" comes from is somewhat hard to fathom] the facts on the ground in Iraq are clearly spelt out in this statistic in an article in the NYT:

"Since 2004, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children's academic records abroad. The number of such letters issued in 2005 was double that in 2004, according to the director of the ministry's examination department. Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million. Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations."

It seems the middle class is moving out of Iraq in substantial numbers. Just this morning on Iraqi doctor, presently in Australia, was on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program noting how the medical professsion has been decimated in Iraq.

Read the comp…

Going from bad to worse...

Whilst George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard all sing from the same song-sheet on how great it is that a government has been formed in Iraq [which will almost surely collapse very quickly] the news of deaths in Baghdad and Afghanistan continues.

Just today this:

"NATO's top military commander in Europe said on Saturday Afghanistan was teetering on the brink of becoming a narco-state with drug cartels posing a greater threat than the Taliban."

And as Australia prepares to send more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, read this sobering and depressing report in the Washington Post what a mess things are in in Afghanistan. The Taliban is back with a vengeance and the opium trade is flourishing.

You might wanna avoid flying in the US this summer

If ever there was a dire warning about travelling in the USA, this is it in the NYT:

"Brace yourself for a summer of miserable air travel."

And, if that wasn't bad enough, this:

"Planes are expected to be packed fuller than at anytime since World War II, when the airlines helped transport troops. Fares are rising. Service frills are disappearing.

Logjams at airport security checkpoints loom as the federal government strains to keep screener jobs filled. The usual violent summer storms are expected to send the air traffic control system into chaos at times, with flight delays and cancellations cascading across the country."

Read the whole article NYThere.....and then, perhaps, call your travel agent to change those travel plans?

"Surviving" Mass Retrenchments

Adele Horin, writing in the SMH, very often covers issues in the workplace. Her op-ed piece this week deals with the effects on those employees left when the employer undertakes a fairly radical retrenchment of staff - in this case, the latest reduncies at Qantas.

As Horin writes:

"The survivors of mass retrenchments are not necessarily the lucky ones any more. At Qantas, the staff left behind once the broom sweeps out 1000 managers and support workers over coming months deserve commiseration, not congratulation. If they are not already fully paid-up members of the overworked, overstressed and time-poor brigade, they soon will be.

The latest decision by Qantas to slash labour costs was prompted not by falling demand, or lazy and unproductive managers, but by rising fuel costs and their effect on the bottom line. (All airlines have been hit by the fuel price rise so you have to wonder why Qantas believes it is at some unique competitive disadvantage.) There is not less work to …

Zimbabwe: Sinking or already sunk?

Yes, to all intents and purposes, Zimbawbe is stone broke, its inflation rate staggering, unemployment very high and people scrounging for food.

So, it is perhaps surprising, on one level, to read this in the Times on Line:

"Robert Mugabe has spent millions of pounds ordering luxury cars in an effort to retain the support of allies as he comes under mounting pressure to quit as Zimbabwean president.
The Sunday Times has obtained government documents showing transfers of money made last week by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to accounts in South Africa and Britain. The payments were for more than 50 4x4s such as the Toyota Prado and Land Cruiser Amazon, some costing as much as £47,000. The total order is believed to be for more than 100 vehicles.

The revelation comes as the country descends into economic meltdown, with inflation officially put at 1,041%."

When will the West and African countries take a stand in relation to what is happening in Zimbabwe? Read the Times article h…

Parallel Universes

As always, Mike Carleton in his weekly op-ed piece in the SMH hits the nail on the head:

"... nothing of any moment has emerged from the Prime Minister's triumphant progress along the Potomac.

The bands played, the flags flew, the guns went off and the mutual schmooze flowed like molten lava, but unless there was something interesting we haven't been told - a secret Oval Office pact to eventually bomb Iran, say - it was froth and tinsel.

There was a surreal air to the carryings-on, as if Howard and Bush were travelling in some parallel universe. Here was this nincompoop President, his domestic popularity at a record low and his global credibility in shreds, pathetically, embarrassingly eager to wallow in the fulsome praise showered upon him by his dear friend.

The word "courage" was tossed around like confetti. "Firm leadership … the liberty agenda … sense of optimism" - you'd have thought the Iraq war had brought some tremendous Churchillian victory r…

Switched On - but Burnt Out

"Once was a time when telephone business was conducted at desks; formally, in an office, by people who tended to be fully dressed. Such an old-fashioned concept. Now, it is possible to find oneself in a toilet cubicle listening to a mobile phone ring in the next cubicle. Even more remarkably, it is answered by its owner, who proceeds to hold a dignified conversation with an unsuspecting work contact - despite the indignity of the moment at her end.

Everyone has a story about the intrusiveness of the mobile phone: of the boss who rings while his employee is on a family holiday; of the young woman who embarrasses a full tram by her loud argument with a friend; of train users who bray into their phones about personal topics ranging from their love lives - "I said to him, I said . . ." - to the state of their innards - "Yeah no, the doctor reckons . . ."

In this piece from The Age [here] the writer addresses the critical issue of how we are all now seemingly "…

The info Costello doesn't want you to have

"Details about the rise in the amount collected from income taxes or evidence of fraud in the first-home owner's grant were hardly the stuff of national security, High Court judge Michael Kirby suggested yesterday.

In a case challenging the secrecy surrounding public documents, Justice Kirby questioned why taxpayer-funded Treasury research on the effect of publicly announced policy should be kept secret from taxpayers.

"Why possibly in a nation like ours, in an open democracy with freedom of expression, could it be not in the public interest not to disclose a document made by public servants who are paid by the taxpayers of this country?" Justice Kirby asked.

The Government's right to keep information secret in the public interest under Freedom of Information laws is being tested in the High Court by The Australian."

This is what The Australian reported today.

How extraordinary that the PM-in-waiting [aka Treasurer Costello] is denying and preventing Australian…

"Fairy Tales"

Ken Silverstein, writes in Harper's Magazine:

"During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein's Information Minister became the butt of a million jokes for proclaiming that American soldiers were being routed, even as U.S. troops were quickly closing in on Baghdad. “Their infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad,” Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf—aka Baghdad Bob—said as Saddam's end neared. “Be assured, Baghdad is safe.”

Now, on the subject of Iraq the Bush administration has roughly the same credibility as Baghdad Bob, and for similar reasons: the administration covers its ears when it gets bad news and anyone bold enough to deliver it is sent to face the firing squad. “This administration,” Bob Graham, the former Senator and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me, “does not seek the truth as a basis for its judgments, but tries to use intelligence to validate judgments it has already made.”

Read the complete piece [here] on how t…

A Deathly Silence

It's a subject most don't want to confront - but each each day in Australia about 5 people commit suicide. Some 300 young people suicide in Australia each year. But why?

The ABC's 4 Corners program this week ["A Deadly Silence"] directly tackled the subject in a sobering, and exceedingly sad, exploration of the suicide of Campbell Bolton last year. Interviews with parents and family, teachers, school friends, a professor specialising in youth suicide and access to Campbell's last note, are used in seeking to try and piece together why a young man with so much to give, talented and liked, felt that at 17 life was just not worth living. Strangely, in his last note Campbell said he liked life!

Go to the ABC's 4 Corners web-sitehere to access the program and associated material. Suicide, and especially youth suicide, is a scourge which must be stopped. Check out resources to help with depression and suicide prevention - in this listing here.

Zimbabwe: A Basket Case

Zimbabwe is in economic meltdown, with the world's highest rate of inflation of 1,000% and chronic unemployment.

Conditions in the country are appalling for everyone - whatever their skin colour. Read this report on life in Zimbawbe, from the BBC, by a 41 year-old HIV-positive widow whose home was dmolished by the authorities last year.

Again the question has to asked. Why is the world standing by and letting a country go to rack and ruin and its people suffer so?

Forget about that page 3 girl....

The Independent reports:

"Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has told the country's newspapers to stop publishing pictures of women as they could lead young men astray.

The move surprised some observers as the absolute monarch has sought to portray himself as a quiet reformer since taking the throne last year in the ultraconservative country."

As the article also discloses:

"The authorities indefinitely postponed a move to replace male shop assistants with women at lingerie shops. The proposal, offered as evidence of progress on women's rights, has been quietly shelved amid claims that shopowners need more time to manage the transition."

Forget about womens' lib! It looks like Saudi woman - and men - have quite a way to go to catch up to that page 3 girl in Rupert Murdoch's English newspaper.... Read the full article here.

Your taxes at work....

"Australia wrote off 80 per cent of Iraq's debts to Canberra, forgiving nearly $US1 billion ($A1.31 billion), an Australian diplomat confirmed.

The Paris-based envoy asked not to be named because he was not at liberty to comment publicly on the agreement."

So reports tradingroom. com. auhere.

It's good to see our hard-earned taxes well spent - not!

The real reason Libya came in from the cold

The US has been touting the way it has brought Libya "to heel", as it were, including restoring diplomatic relations with the former renegade country.

It's all rather fanciful, Michael Hirsh, columnist in Newsweek suggests. As Hirsh says:

"All of which raises an interesting question: just what kind of "model" is Libya really? It's certainly not a model for Bush's global democracy campaign; quite the opposite, in fact, although the administration is now touting the idea that diplomatic relations with Libya will give Washington more leverage in pressing for internal reform. (This is blatant nonsense: the Kaddafi clan, led by the leader's heir-to-be, his son Seif Kaddafi, will now become richer, and more powerful.) It is also a stretch to think that the Iranians or even the North Koreans are going to emulate the strategy followed by Kaddafi, who is mocked as a barmy Bedouin even by his fellow Arabs."

Read the "real" story here - and …

Who's making the money?

The media has been hyper-ventilating about the some $21 million earnings of Macquarie Bank CEO Alan Moss. Yes, it's a hell of lot of money!

This morning's ABC Breakfast program noted that boxers Mundine and Green would each earn almost $5 million for last night's boxing contest.

So, how does one equate one night's work with running an international company with thousands of employees - and shareholders to whom the Board is responsible to boot?

And while you are pondering on the question, just reflect on the news this morning, as reported in the SMH, that Greg Norman will be paying out his divorced wife a settlement of some $200 million.

The movie to miss!

It speaks for itself:

"CANNES, France (Reuters) - Most critics panned "The Da Vinci Code" on Wednesday ahead of the world premiere of the year's most eagerly awaited movie.

Kicking off the annual Cannes film festival, Ron Howard's adaptation of the Dan Brown bestseller was described variously as "grim", "unwieldy" and "plodding", though one reviewer bucked the trend and said "You'll Louvre It!"

Read the complete Reuters article here - including coverage of all the "heat" the movie has generated. Perhaps the lesson is to avoid the local multiplex and go and see a good movie elsewhere.

UPDATE: The NYT cinema critic, as published in the IHT, has headed his review "'Da Vinci Code' enters yawning". Maybe that says it all. Read the review here.

Flying - and those blood clots.....

It has been claimed for some time that flying - especially in so-called "cattle class" - is a cause of DVD, blood clotting.

Now, the Times on Line reports this:

"Conditions particular to travelling on a long-haul flight, such as low air pressure and reduced oxygen, do not increase the risk of potentially lethal blood clots, research indicates.

A study into the causes of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which kills thousands of Britons every year, suggests that the clotting is not a result of circumstances unique to flying but is chiefly caused by sitting down for too long in a confined space."

Read the full article here detailing the findings of the study.

Your Health! - US or UK style?

The debate on what constitutes good health, the growing numbers who are obese, how to cut back on smoking, and all related topics, continues unabated - as it should.

But where you live may make a difference too it seems, if this article in the IHT portrays the health-score between the US and the UK correctly:

"Medical researchers recently set heads to shaking on both sides of the Atlantic with a study showing that white, middle-aged English people are much healthier than white, middle-aged Americans. The English have less cancer, less high blood pressure, less heart disease and stroke, and less diabetes. To make sure that the difference was not just the result of stiff-upper-lip Brits keeping quiet about what ails them, the researchers also examined biological data, which confirmed the disparity."

Interesting! What has caused all of this? Read the full IHT article here.

Oz PM in Washington....Cringing Spectacle!

John Howard is in Washington as we all know, all too well, from the media here.

Today the Washington Post even reported on our PM's visit, but pointedly noted:

"Little wonder the president lavished such attention on his counterpart from Down Under. When it comes to Bush's "coalition of the willing" partners, Howard is virtually the last man standing."

Seemingly "blind" to what is going on in being feted as he is [I had understood Howard is a little hard of hearing] we have the spectacle of a PM seemingly fawning at the feet of Washington's B-grade team - George, Dick, Condi and Rumsie. It's all rather too much as Phillip Adams suggests in his column in The Australian yesterday:

"You may recall the outrage when Latham resorted to metaphors involving noses and buttocks. He implied that no cork was ever more tightly fitted in a bottle of champers than John Howard's proboscis in the seat of presidential power. Not merely supportive, H…

Book-burning remembered

"It has been 73 years since the Nazis instituted their public book burnings in more than 50 cities. About 10,000 so-called "un-German" titles went up in flames and disappeared from public life. Most of the authors were persecuted and had to flee the country and some even murdered.

In order to remember such barbarism and victimization of authors, the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies in Potsdam is launching a "library of burned books." And even though the financing for the project has not yet been secured, its promoters are hard-pressed to keep quiet about the project."

So reports Deutsche Welle. It is a timely and perhaps belated reminder of Nazi barbarity and Philistine behaviour. Read the full article here.

Has George Bush Lost the Plot?

"I hate to raise such an ugly possibility, but have you considered lunacy as an explanation? Craziness would make a certain amount of sense. I mean, you announce you are going to militarize the Mexican border, but you assure the president of Mexico you are not militarizing the border. You announce you are sending the National Guard, but then you assure everyone it’s not very many soldiers and just for a little while."

The question is asked by Molly Ivins in an article on truthdig "Could Lunacy Explain Bushs' Policies?" in this far-ranging piece on a range of matters in the USA - including tax cuts for the rich, the guards on the border with Mexico, keeping depressed soldiers continuing to serve in Iraq etc. etc. Read the full piece here.

Watch out - as Ruddock & Co follow Tony Blair

You can almost take a bet on it that either John Howard or Phillip Ruddock will make a speech in identical or similar vein to this:

"My view, as I have been saying for some time now, is that we cannot reform [the criminal justice system] unless we change radically the political even philosophical context in which it operates. I believe we require a profound re-balancing of the civil liberties debate. The issue is not whether we care about civil liberties but what that means in the early 21st Century. The demands of the majority law-abiding community have to take precedence. We should not have to fight continual legal battles to deport people who are committing serious crimes or inciting extremism. We cannot allow violent or drug-abusing offenders to be put back out on the street again without proper supervision and if necessary restraint. We cannot have bail requirements, probation orders and community sentences flouted without proper penalty. None of these things are new. What is…

A "scanned" library on the www

"In several dozen nondescript office buildings around the world, thousands of hourly workers bend over table-top scanners and haul dusty books into high-tech scanning booths. They are assembling the universal library page by page."

So starts a fascinating article in the NYT on the quest to have a large bulk of all published books on line. It was thought to be an unattainable task.....

"Until now. When Google announced in December 2004 that it would digitally scan the books of five major research libraries to make their contents searchable, the promise of a universal library was resurrected. Indeed, the explosive rise of the Web, going from nothing to everything in one decade, has encouraged us to believe in the impossible again. Might the long-heralded great library of all knowledge really be within our grasp?"

Read the full article here and marvel at what is being undertaken and how.

George Bush: Hiding Behind Laura's Skirt?

George Bush isn't doin' too famously in the opinion polls. It's perhaps not surprising for all the obvious reasons. So, what better way to try and restore some credibility than by "using" what the Americans call the First Lady to restore his stocks?

As this interesting piece [not only for the question it poses but also how the Americans look upon their President and his wife] on AlterNet opens:

"Fox News host Chris Wallace's third question to Laura Bush in his White House interview with her on his Sunday show This Week captured in a nutshell the reason we've been hearing more from her than her husband, whose public approval has dipped into the 20s. It's because Americans don't hate her as much -- yet. Said Wallace:

As someone whose … approval ratings are double your husband's, why do you think the American people are beginning to lose confidence in your husband?"

Needless to say the media in the US is questioning whether Laura B i…

John Howard's "impact" in USA? - Zip!

Whilst the Oz media has "covered" John Howard's visit to Washington, the US media seemingly couldn't care less. So, John and Janette might enjoy whatever and whomever in Washington but apart from Bush & Co. nobody else is, apparently, really interested.

In fact, the SMH has, today, this article headed "They don't dig Howard in US media". Meanwhile a check on Google a few minutes ago throws up two entries for the Oz PM in the US - both Australian media.

The Grieving Mothers of the Iraq War

In an article in this morning's SMH, posted from Washington, entitled "Stop this terrible waste, grieving mothers tell Bush" Phillip Coorey relates the true impact of the Iraq War on Americans affected by the War.

As Coorey reports:

"As the Prime Minister, John Howard, spends the week in Washington reaffirming Australia's support for the war, Ms Lipman's story, and that of the other 2400 mothers who have lost their sons in Iraq, is beginning to loom large in the US."

Read the full, sad and moving piece, here. It's the "real" side of the War as it affects Americans. Remember that the trauma is mirrored in Iraq too.

Whilst PM Howard basks in the "show" which has undoubtably been turned on for him in Washington, he and his wife - parents of grown-up children who haven't been sent to Iraq to serve nor volunteered to do so - on the realities of what Howard, Bush and Blair have wrought with their misguided and misconceived entry …

Work, Retire or Superannuation?

Peter Costello is seemingly still beaming about his latest Budget. Whilst he is touting the great stride made in superannuation for everyone in his Budget, commentators are beginning to question how really economically sound the Budget really was.

The changes to the proposed superannuation laws will allow for people to work to 75 years of age and still benefit from super. But, implicit in that is that there will be jobs for people over 55 or 60. It would seem to be contrary to everything one reads or hears however anecdotal. The American "experience" with seniors continues to work or forced to retire has just been reported in the LA Times thus:

"American workers, who face growing financial pressure to stay in the workforce, are far more likely to be forced into an early retirement than many expect, according to a study being released today.

Four out of 10 retired workers left their jobs sooner than they had planned, usually because of health problems or the lo…

Iraq: Scuds Aims for the Truth

There will be those who will immediately dismiss what is being asserted by Rageh Omaar because he works for Al Jareeza - but this man, and what he has to say, cannot be so easily ignored.

As The Independent reports:

"In the eyes of Rageh Omaar, Western news organisations are perpetrating a "fraud" on their viewers with their misleading coverage of the war in Iraq, the conflict in which he established himself as an internationally-recognised journalist.

Omaar is outspoken in voicing his frustrations, and his words help to explain his recent career-path, which has taken him from being the flak-jacketed golden boy of the BBC to a presenter for Al Jazeera who is also writing a deeply personal book about the experiences of living as a Muslim in contemporary Britain.

He won admiration for his cool-headed dispatches from Baghdad during the aerial bombardments of the first days of the invasion of Iraq, and was nicknamed The Scud Stud by the New York Post, but suffered a whispering…

Seeking Out the Real Traitors.....

This opening paragraph in a hard-hitting op-ed piece by Frank Rich in the NYT [reprinted in the IHT]:

"When America panics, it goes hunting for scapegoats. But from the Salem witch trials onward, we've more often than not ended up pillorying the innocent. Abe Rosenthal, the legendary New York Times editor who died last week, and his publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, were denounced as treasonous in 1971 when they defied the Nixon administration to publish the Pentagon Papers, the secret government history of the Vietnam War. Today we know who the real traitors were: the officials who squandered American blood and treasure on an ill-considered war and then tried to cover up their lies and mistakes. It was precisely those lies and mistakes, of course, that were laid bare by the thousands of pages of classified Pentagon documents leaked to both The Times and The Washington Post."

In pulling no punches Rich compares how things developed in the Nixon Administration post Waterga…

Game Theory

In an op-ed piece in Haaretz, entitled "Game Theory", Gideon Levy says:

"This was an especially short masked ball: Two or three months and the "boycott" party of the Palestinian Authority ended. It was also an especially stupid masked ball: Hamas can now brandish a real achievement. Israel and the world have surrendered unconditionally, and the flow of money to the territories is being renewed.

The problem is that some of the masks have remained, and the foolishness continues: Israel and the world will not transfer monies "directly" to the Hamas government, but rather by means of a special "Hamas bypass" mechanism. This unnecessary mask will also be removed quickly.

What has Israel gained from this game? Nothing. It has only lost. The pictures of shortages and distress have been chalked up, and rightly so, to Israel. And how does the world look when it dances, just like that, automatically, to Israel's pipe? Apart from another several thou…

Value for Money?

Whilst John Howard and Janette purport to strut the world stage [assuming one looks upon being in the company of George and Laura, Dick, Rumsie and Condi some sort of stage other than a rank amateur production] the Australian Financial Review reports this weekend:

"Prime Minister John Howards's 10-day trip to the US, Britain and Iraq last year cost more than $600,000, including $250,000 for hotel accommodation in Washington, London and Abu Dhabi. Travel cost $220,000 and security for Mr Howard and his wife Janette totalled $3000, with an additional $145,454 for other expenses."

Is is more that doubtful that the Oz taxpayer has got value for all of this, unless it is in some bizarre way seeing "our" PM out there overseas "mixing it" with George and Blair- two losers on all levels!

A Pithy Summation of Peter Costello and his Budget

Mike Carlton in his weekly op-ed piece in the SMH this week says all that need be said about the Budget, Peter Costello and the Government's management of the economy:

Peter Costello is the piano player in the whorehouse. Gets no sex, does what the madam tells him, but the money rolls in so long as he bangs out the tunes the customers want to hear.

Tuesday's budget was for a good time, not a long time. A night of passion spent as if there were no tomorrow.

And I loved it. As a 60-year-old baby boomer, in the upper income bracket, with retirement more or less hull up on the horizon, I felt an election coming on as the Treasurer showered us with tax cuts and his wonderful superannuation reforms. I could have kissed him, along with the rest of the big end of town.

Thank heavens, though, I'm not a young couple mortgaged to the eyeballs and desperate to find quality child care. Or a teenager in casual employment, eager for job training or just a fair shake in the workplace. I'm…

George & John - and the real world in Iraq, like malnutrition

John Howard had lunch with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld yesterday ABC News reported this morning. It also recorded the fact that PM Howard will meet with George Bush in the Oval Office.

Whilst these two self-congratulating "close friends" will doubtlessly pat each other on the back, they may care to ponder this report from the LA Times:

"One in four Iraqi children suffers from chronic malnutrition, as poor security and poverty take their toll on the youngest generation, health and aid workers said Saturday.

The situation is worse in remote rural areas, where as many as one in three children suffers from problems associated with poor diet, such as stunted growth and low weight, according to a recent government report that surveyed 22,050 households in 98 districts around the nation."

The article goes on to paint a grim picture of health-conditions in Iraq. Is this the "success" of the Iraq War we keep on hearing about? It doesn't look like it ev…

A Pope's Duty at Auschwitz

"The Vatican recently announced that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Auschwitz on his scheduled trip to Poland later this month. This will be his second Auschwitz visit. In 1979, when Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich, he accompanied Pope John Paul II to the former Nazi death camp, where they celebrated Holy Communion."

So starts an article in the IHT. It also suggests:

"One hopes that Benedict will use this moment the way, for example, that Chancellor Willy Brandt did in 1970 when he fell to his knees, speechless with remorse, before the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, or the way President Richard von Weizs├Ącker did in 1985 when he marked the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II with a landmark speech about the Germans' collective responsibility to their past. "All of us, whether guilty or innocent, whether young or old, must accept the past," Weizs├Ącker said. "We are all affected by its consequences and are liable for it."

Is…

Nailing Your Mast to the Wrong Guy!

Our PM, John Howard, has arrived in Washington to visit his "friend" George Bush. Howard says they have a "very close relationship". It looks like ol' George needs all the friends he can get if the latest Harris Poll just released in the US is right.

"President Bush's approval rating has fallen to its lowest mark of his presidency, according to a new Harris Interactive poll.

Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. It compares with 71% of Americans who said Mr. Bush is doing an "only fair or poor" job, up from 63% in April."

What makes this article in the Wall Street Journal interesting is that it tabulates all the surveys over the years. It ain't lookin' too good for George - not that Congress was looked at that favourably either.

Perhaps John Howard sets his s…