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The real situation in Iraq

The media seems to have left Iraq off the radar of late - probably because of the way politicians have portrayed things in the war-torn country being on the improve. Yes, the American death-count is down but that is the end of the matter. The realities are actually recorded by Dahr Jamail in his Mideast Dispatches:

"Despite all the claims of improvements, 2007 has been the worst year yet in Iraq.

One of the first big moves this year was the launch of a troop "surge" by the U.S. government in mid-February. The goal was to improve security in Baghdad and the western al-Anbar province, the two most violent areas. By June, an additional 28,000 troops had been deployed to Iraq, bringing the total number up to more than 160,000.

By autumn, there were over 175,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. This is the highest number of U.S. troops deployed yet, and while the U.S. government continues to talk of withdrawing some, the numbers on the ground appear to contradict these pro…

Privacy International's 2007 scorecard....

Privacy International's report on the state of privacy around the world is in - and it doesn't make for happy reading especially in relation to some countries where one might have expected, if not hoped, that the right to privacy is cherished. Then again, reflecting on what many countries have embarked on post 9/11 it isn't all that surprising that privacy of the citizen is slipping.

The IHTreports:

"Individual privacy is under threat in the United States and across the European Union as governments introduce sweeping surveillance and information-gathering measures in the name of security and controlling borders, an international rights group has said in a report.

Greece, Romania and Canada had the best privacy records of 47 countries surveyed by Privacy International, which is based in London. Malaysia, Russia and China were ranked worst.

Both Britain and the United States fell into the lowest-performing group of "endemic surveillance societies."

"The gen…

Robert Fisk: The Facts Behind Bhutto Death

No one knows the Middle East and the general region better than Robert Fisk. After all, not only has he lived there for some 30 years but he has met the main players.

So, the Robert Fisk "take" on the Bhutto assassination, published in The Independent [as reproduced on Information Clearing House] is not the usual media grab put out by the various politicians, but a trye analysis of the facts:

"Weird, isn't it, how swiftly the narrative is laid down for us. Benazir Bhutto, the courageous leader of the Pakistan People's Party, is assassinated in Rawalpindi – attached to the very capital of Islamabad wherein ex-General Pervez Musharraf lives – and we are told by George Bush that her murderers were "extremists" and "terrorists". Well, you can't dispute that.

But the implication of the Bush comment was that Islamists were behind the assassination. It was the Taliban madmen again, the al-Qa'ida spider who struck at this lone and brave woman …

Some "interesting" stats

- A few years back Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, predicted that there would be an end to spam by 2006. The latest data for 2007 suggests that 70% of emails are spam and users spend an average 3 minutes a day deleting it

- Lawrence Summers claims that the standard of living in Europe during the Industrial Revolution rose 50% over the lifetime of people, some 40 years at the time. In 2007 the Asian countries, principally China, will see a 10,000% increase in the standard of living in the space of a lifetime

- The population of the USA will hit 303 million as at 1 January 2008

- 22% of Americans won't be taking a break over the Xmas-New Year period and some 45% say that they will take off only 1 week for vacation during 2008.

Bhutto: A colleague remembers her from student days

Whilst the world reflects on the death of Benazir Bhutto - and the potential fallout from it - Arianne Huffington, on her TheHuffington Post, reflects on the person she came to know when they were both students at Cambridge and Oxford respectively:

"The world is debating the political fallout from Benazir Bhutto's assassination -- from fear of chaos in Pakistan to the impact of her death in Iowa. There is already no shortage of analysis about the national security implications of her death, but I want to write about the young woman I met in England before she became a player on the world stage.

She was at Oxford. I was at Cambridge. And by a strange coincidence I became president of the Cambridge Union and she became president of the Oxford Union. The anomaly of two foreign women heading the two unions meant that we ended up debating each other around England on topics ranging from British politics to broad generalities about the impact of technological advance on mankind."…

The worst Eurpoean airports

Anyone who has travelled will find this piece, from the IHT, about some of Europe's awful airports, resonates in many ways. Travel is supposed to be pleasurable - at least for the casual vacation-traveler. No longer. Read on - and reflect on your own horrible experiences:

"As we sat for an hour waiting to deplane at Leonardo da Vinci Airport from a short-haul flight this year, the pilot got on the public address system. "Sorry," he intoned. "Everybody knows this is one of Europe's worst airports."

At the time it seemed hard to argue: After the 50-minute flight and the wait to get off the plane, we would wait another hour around a carousel before receiving our luggage.

But these days, there is intense competition for the title of "worst airport."

Each year, the World Airport Awards, given by an air travel research and consulting firm called Skytrax, honor the best airports. Only a few in Europe made the top 10 this year: Munich is No. 4…

Pakistan: Now what?

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto raises a myriad of questions. It's early days yet - in fact the dastardly act only happened some hours ago - but The Independent seeks to address the questions and issues:

"The killing has dealt a severe blow to the fragile hopes of an orderly transition to democracy in Pakistan and has left the country facing a dangerous future. Despite the repression which followed the imposition of the state of emergency by President Pervez Musharraf, the West had accepted his protestations that "free and fair" elections were back on track. Indeed Mr Musharraf as president, with Ms Bhutto as prime minister, was the ideal combination sought by the US and Britain.

The murder in Rawalpindi, and the anger it has unleashed, has led some political leaders, such as Riaz Malik of the opposition Pakistan Movement for Justice Party (Tehreeke-insaf) to warn of civil war. Even if this is too alarmist, and there is no outbreak of full-scale fighting, there…

Chinese goods transform Asian life

There is a revolution underway in Asia which doesn't attract much notice. Whilst Chinese products might presently be somewhat suspect, or evn "on the nose" in the West, Chinese goods are transforming life in meaningful ways for many Asians. The IHT reports from Laos:

"The pineapple that grows here on the steep hills above the Mekong River is especially sweet, the red and orange chilies unusually spicy, and the spring onions and watercress retain the freshness of the mountain dew.

For years, getting this prized produce to market meant carrying a giant basket on a back-breaking, daylong trek down narrow mountain trails that cut through the jungle.

That is now changing, thanks in large part to China.

Villagers ride their cheap Chinese motorcycles, which sell for as little as $440, down a badly rutted dirt road to the markets of Luang Prabang, the charming city of Buddhist temples along the Mekong that draws flocks of foreign tourists. The trip takes just one and hal…

No, cluster bombs are not OK Israel!

Nothing really needs be added by way of comment to this piece by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Board on seattlepi.com:

"Surprise, surprise: After a year investigating itself, the Israeli military (OK, its prosecutors) concluded that it was justified in using cluster bomblets -- millions of them -- in its war with Lebanon last year. The reports tell us that, "the matter is now closed." Well, that depends on whom you ask. Entities such as human rights groups and the United Nations beg to differ with the Israeli military.

The United Nations called the use of the devastating bombs in the final three days of the fight, when the end of the conflict was clearly in sight, "shocking and immoral." The bombs, which were dropped in populated areas, farms, etc., have a 30 percent failure rate, meaning that they explode later, and many have been doing so over the past year.

Just last week, a 35-year-old man collecting firewood died instantly when one of the Israeli…

Laboratory in schooling how to get along

In an endless strife-torn world perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from a most unusual school in Georgia, USA. The NY Times reports on what be seen as unique experiment:

"Parents at an elementary school here gathered last Thursday afternoon with a holiday mission: to prepare boxes of food for needy families fleeing some of the world’s horrific civil wars.

The community effort to help refugees resembled countless others at this time of year, with an exception. The recipients were not many thousands of miles away. They were students in the school and their families.

More than half the 380 students at this unusual school outside Atlanta are refugees from some 40 countries, many torn by war. The other students come from low-income families in Decatur, and from middle- and upper-middle-class families in the area who want to expose their children to other cultures. Together they form an eclectic community of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, well-off and poor, of e…

That Tsunami 3 years on....

It is hard to believe that 3 years have passed since the devastating tsunami which hit so many Asian countries- with loss of life and infrastructure smashed.

This "story" from the Sunday Age is a tribute not only to the family involved but how countries affected by the tsunami have had to cope and rebuild shattered lives and property.

"The Boxing Day tsunami didn't rear up on Unawatuna, on Sri Lanka's south coast, as tsunamis do in movies. Rather, it arrived like a fast-running and ever-rising tide, sweeping all before it, accompanied by a roar that muffled the cries of the luckless and the alarmed.

Quickly, it swamped the grounds of the Sea View Hotel to a depth of four or five metres. Cars overturned, buildings collapsed and terrified villagers clambered up coconut trees. Melbourne pediatrician Sian Hughes was readying herself for a day's excursion with her family when she heard her husband, journalist Tony Heselev, shout. Expecting to find another processio…

Another loss for Condi & Co.

Whilst Condi Rice in her end-of-year message has pretty much self-congratulated herself for her successes - probably most critical analysts would give her a fail mark - the billions of dollars spent by the US in Pakistan seem to have essentially come to nought.

The NY Times collates the details and concludes:

"After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money. The strategy to improve the Pakistani military, they said, needs to be completely revamped.

In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United St…

White House fingered

George Bush may have only a year to go in office, but 2008 isn't shaping up to be a good one for him. More and more he and his cronies are looking like the shonks that they are. Prepared to rely on advice of incompetents and goaded on by a false view of the world and what is allowed by law, Bush and Co. have sailed on regardless.

The loss of those infamous CIA video tapes is but the latest in a saga of blatant illegal conduct by the White House or the country's various agencies - but with the apparent sanction of the White House.

TimesOn Linereports that Bush might not escape so lightly this time:

"The CIA chief who ordered the destruction of secret videotapes recording the harsh interrogation of two top Al-Qaeda suspects has indicated he may seek immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying before the House intelligence committee.

Jose Rodriguez, former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, is determined not to become the fall guy in the controversy over the C…

One 2007 Retrospective

It's that time of lists. The worst or best of this or that for the year.

That venerable and oldest magazine in the US,The Nation, reflects on the year about to conclude and features what it says are the top stories it published throughout the year, and what drew the most attention and interest on TheNation.com:

"It was a year of alarming news and amazing reporting and analysis--on the Iraq War, torture and unauthorized surveillance; the rise of private security firms and the burgeoning business of disaster capitalism; the beginning of a crucial campaign season; the growing power of interactive media and a climate crisis that worsens by the day."

The stories may, at least in some instances, have an American perspective, but are worthwhile reading.

Israel at it again - breaking an agreement

It's an all-too familiar story. Israel says one thing and its actions are totally the opposite. Not for the first time, Israel agreed at the Annapolis meeting last month to halt any building or expansion of settlements. So what do the Israelis do? As BBC News reports, the Israelis have just authorised some 700 new units to be built in occupied East Jerusalem:

"Israel plans to build 740 new homes in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, a minister said, despite its commitment to freeze all settlement activity.

Rafi Eitan, minister for Jerusalem affairs, said Israel had never promised to stop building within Jerusalem and had a duty to house its citizens.

It is budgeting to build 500 new homes in Har Homa and 240 in Maaleh Adumim.

A Palestinian spokesman condemned the plans, accusing Israel of seeking to destroy renewed peace talks.

The two sides agreed at a peace conference in Annapolis in the US in late November to revive the 2003 peace plan known as the roadmap.

Ac…

A dangerously vast FBI biometric database

It may be 23 years past 1984, but this report from the Washington Post [reproduced on Information Clearing House] about the FBI being in the process of establishing a vast biometric database is truly frightening. With a track-record for integrity which is poor to say the least, why should the world trust the US or its agency? Just bear in mind that the Americans, as a starting point, collate and retain significant details about all foreigners, even mere tourists, entering the USA.

"The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.

Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount a…

Michael Ratner on Missing CIA Tapes, Torture and the Supreme Court

Hardly a week goes by without the Bush administration being mired in some sort of controversy - and most likely some breach of the law. Think Guantanamo, renditioning, water-boarding, missing CIA tapes, illegal wire-taps, etc. etc. Talk about shades of the Nixon White House and Watergate!

Matt Renner on truthout.com:

"I sat down with Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), to talk about his work on behalf of prisoners in the so-called War on Terror. His organization, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, has been fighting for the rights of Guantanamo Bay prisoners who were captured and detained since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Recent revelations of waterboarding by the CIA and the destruction of interrogation tapes have pushed the debate over torture back into the national spotlight. CCR lawyers, along with others, have been collecting testimony from prisoners at Guantanamo about their mistreatment and torture. Ratner believes that the Bus…

A dream on life-support?

The US economy is looking rather sick. And as we approach 2008 the prognosis for the world's economies isn't all that positive.

Never mind, it looks like Wall Street is just doing fine, as Bob Herbert, writing his regular op-ed piece in the NY Times records:

"Christmastime is bonus time on Wall Street, and the Gucci set has been blessed with another record harvest.

Forget the turbulence in the financial markets and the subprime debacle. Forget the dark clouds of a possible recession. Bloomberg News tells us that the top securities firms are handing out nearly $38 billion in seasonal bonuses, the highest total ever.

But there’s a reason to temper the celebration, if only out of respect for an old friend who’s not doing too well. Even as the Wall Streeters are high-fiving and ordering up record shipments of Champagne and caviar, the American dream is on life-support."

BUT......and it's a big but, things aren't that rosy in the big land of the free and the brav…

Guilt by association rejected

The now infamous situation and case of Dr Haneef stands as clear condemnation of former PM Howard and his Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews. Their behaviour in all of this can only be described in one word - disgraceful! And this from men trained in the law.

Hadley Thomas, writing in The Australian, justly won the Walkely Award this year for his clear expose of the way the whole Haneef case was conducted by the Commonwealth Government.

With the Full Federal Court yesterday ruling that the decision of the original judge was correct, Thomas today reflects on the Haneef case and its implications in a piece "Let us reject guilt by association":

"The concept of guilt by association, adopted with great relish by the Howard government and its immigration minister, Kevin Andrews, in the Haneef case, is again exposed for what it is: deeply flawed, unjust and un-Australian.

As a result of the unanimous judgment by the Full Bench of the Federal Court yesterday, four out of four…

A Theatre of the Absurd

"I should point out that the 'absurd' in the title of this article is used in the theatrical sense and does not extend to the legal aspects of the case where I was a juror. The judge's conduct was exemplary. The learned counsel on both sides acted with decorum. I was incredibly impressed with both the knowledge and communication skills of the expert witnesses and the police presented their evidence with a surprising degree of competence. The jury considered its verdict with due diligence and came to the only logical conclusion as to the guilt of the accused.

Why then such a provocative title? Because as a juror in a long criminal trial I felt a strong sense of disconnect between the legal process and the way the courts are administered, including the presentation of computer based evidence and the treatment of jurors. I should emphasise again that this is a juror's perspective, given in ignorance of the law. By trade I am an art historian."

So begins a most int…

Europe grows - and borders evaporate

The rest of the world may not be all that interested, but as Spiegel OnLineInternational reports, the map and face of Europe has just changed in a fairly momentous way:

"The number of European countries doing away with border checks expanded by nine early on Friday morning. Most of those joined were behind the Iron Curtain just 20 years ago.

Europe just got bigger. At one minute after midnight local time on early Friday morning, border controls vanished for nine more European Union members, many of them former members of the Soviet Bloc. Fireworks, cheers, music and speeches throughout the morning welcomed the expansion, which means that travelers can move from the far corners of Estonia all the way to the Atlantic coast in Portugal without once encountering a border guard.

"This is an especially beautiful moment," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a Friday morning ceremony at the German border with Poland and the Czech Republic. "It is a source of great pleasur…

US media ignores humanitarian stories

Anyone who has visited the USA will know that TV news is, in the main, a total wasteland. Forget about any news of substance let alone international news. Parochialism is the name of the game. The print media isn't all that much better. The NY Times, said to be the "heavy" newspaper in America doesn't "do" much better in the reporting of things international.

This report from Agence France Presse [reproduced on CommonDreams] confirms what is, and what isn't, reported in the US:

"While US headlines in 2007 were dominated by celebrity gossip, next year’s US presidential election and Iraq, humanitarian stories went largely unreported, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The aid organization, also known as Doctors Without Borders, identified violence, forced displacement and disease in the Central African Republic, Somalia and Sri Lanka among the top 10 underreported stories of 2007.

The list, released on Thursday, also highlighted what it…

PM Rudd's Kristallnacht

Crikey makes more than some valid points about the new PM and his "response" to a proposal to build an Islamic school in Campbelltown - and the opposition it has engendered, mostly bigoted and racist.

"Two NSW MPS joined hundreds of angry residents at protests against the construction of a Jewish school in Camden in Sydney’s southwest. “The Jews have already taken over Sydney,” one protester explained. “We don’t want them coming here and doing the same thing.”

Had the paragraph above appeared in our daily papers, do you suppose Kevin Rudd would have added his voice to those denouncing the school?

Ah, but when it’s an Islamic institution, all bets are off.

Last month, Rudd visited Campbelltown and declared he opposed the application for the Camden Islamic school on "planning grounds".

"We are concerned about the adequacy of local infrastructure to support such a large school," he explained.

More recently, Liberal MP Charlie Lynn explained his opposition to …

Israel's supporters should push for talks with Iran

Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America and Century Foundations, was an adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office under Ehud Barak, a negotiator on the Oslo Accords under Yitzhak Rabin and was the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva peace initiative.

Writing an op-ed piece on JTA News, "Israel's supporters should push for talks with Iran" says:

"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vile statements about the Holocaust and Israel should not be ignored or taken lightly. But the pre-NIE strategy of using coercive diplomacy and military threats was deeply flawed, dangerous and failed to deliver concrete results. It has not stopped Tehran’s pursuit of uranium enrichment, enhanced regional security or tempered Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric.

Now it’s time for Israel and its friends to take the initiative and promote direct, unconditional and comprehensive U.S.-led engagement with Iran.

Three considerations drive this approach: practical, political, and strategic.

On …

An added cost of climate change

A report on the ABC this morning notes that major insurers are facing steep payouts due to unusually heavy rains and hailstorms - ergo great damage wrought on property. Climate change is blamed for the weather conditions.

The result? Higher premiums for policy-holders. Just another dimension, probably generally overlooked, to climate change....and a cost to the community.

How we got it wrong!!!

Yesterday the Federal Director of the Federal Liberal Party addressed the National Press Club and laid out the reasons being put forward by his Party why the Coalition lost the election on 24 November last.

Crikey, today, comments and puts it bluntly:

"Three moments in Conservative politics yesterday.

1. Liberal Party Federal Director Brian Loughnane faces the National Press Club and maintains the head up the a-se of the dog in the sand line that things were great, we just got a bit inward looking and didn't sell our message.

2. Brendan Nelson, Federal Leader of the Liberal Party apparently, abandons the central tenet of ideological faith that has propelled his party through the preceding three years: WorkChoices. They used to call it the industrial relations reform that was the bedrock of the country's solid economic performance. Now it's dead meat. People didn't like it apparently, so best we don't believe in it anymore.

and the clincher:

3. A year and a change o…

Make way for the rise of Asia

On the very day that a Chinese corporation has invested a cool $5 billion into capitalist icon, Morgan Stanley - effectively "saving" the merchant bank - Newsweek looks at the upcoming year and how the US will need to stand back as Asia gains prominence:

"There's a curious paradox in America's relations with the rest of the planet these days. The United States has done more than any other country to make the world a better place. Asia especially has benefited: when Europe dominated the globe, Asia was subjugated, but when the United States took charge after World War II, Asia was liberated. The U.S.-inspired rules-based global order that has emerged since has enabled Asian economies to thrive. American universities have trained hundreds of thousands of Asian policymakers, who have in turn used U.S. best practices to transform their societies. Given this historical backdrop, the United States should be reaping a global harvest of good will.

Instead, the country'…

Happy Birthday BBC World Service

19 December marked the BBC's World Service's 75th birthday. Quite an achievement for the basically venerable broadcaster.

"This year the BBC World Service celebrates 75 years of broadcasting. In this audio archive, each of those years is looked at in a special one-minute-long programme, based on our vast radio archive. Presented by Helen Boaden, the BBC's Director of News, the series looks at how mass communications have changed the world, and how the world has changed the media. The series begins in 1932, with the rather downbeat words of the BBC's founder, Lord Reith: "as to programmes - don't expect too much in the early days... The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good." It covers innovations in broadcasting and charts changing styles in reporting."

Go here, BBC WORLDSERVICE.com to access the program.

Focus on Israel

Some interesting reports in relation to Israel:

BBC Newsreports:

"An Israeli human rights group says the overwhelming majority of Israeli troops suspected of criminal offences against Palestinians are never indicted.

The small number of investigations and even fewer indictments showed Israel's army was ignoring its duty to protect Palestinian civilians, Yesh Din says.

It said soldiers felt they had immunity from investigation and prosecution, which inevitably led to more offences."

And:

"Between 2000 and 2007, it says, 239 investigations into the killing and wounding of non-combatant Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces had led to just 16 convictions."

Meanwhile, whilst Israel says one thing and does the total opposite with respect to seeking some sort of peace with Palestinians, the NY Timesreports:

"Officials in the Israeli prime minister’s office reacted coolly on Wednesday to an indirect approach by the Hamas leader in Gaza offering talks for a truce.

The of…

Ignoring the real, hard news and facts

That the US is in the grip of the sub-prime credit problem and that there is even talk of the possibility of a recession in the country, is in the news daily. The ripples of the greed of bankers and their associates is sweeping around the world. Stock markets are down, severely etc. etc.

Scott Horton , writing in Harper's Magazine, "Obligations Ignored" says that the dross in the daily media has basically ignored reporting this critical piece of information:

"For the 11th year in a row, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was prevented from expressing an opinion on the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government--other than the Statement of Social Insurance--because of serious material weaknesses affecting financial systems, fundamental recordkeeping, and financial reporting."

If that wasn't bad enough, as Horton records from the relevant report:

“Until the problems outlined in our audit report are adequately addressed, they will …

"Dead" in Baghdad

Readers of MPS, and other blogs, will have become aware of Iraqi blogger, Ali Safeya Al-Moussawi who contributed to the blog "Alive in Baghdad". Ali was a critical "player" in bringing to the world the realities, and the facts, in relation to Iraq.

As Global Voices explains:

"It is with great sadness that I report the death of an Iraqi blogger. Ali Shafeya Al-Moussawi was a contributor to the video blog, Alive in Baghdad. He was killed while at home, during a raid by the Iraqi National Guard in his street. Ali took 31 bullets between the chest and head and died immediately. Ali was not the only victim of that raid. Hussain, his neighbour, was found dead. Hussain's brother and nephew have disappeared too.

Ali is survived by his mother and sister. Alive in Baghdad are collecting donations to help the family with the funeral costs."

The complete "report" can be read here. Contrast the honesty of what Ali "reported" to the world…

Your newspaper...

The Seattle Times reports on a view of newspapers following a survey by the Pew Research organisation:

"Journalism in the United States has a serious identity crisis. It's not the first time this has occurred, but it might just be the last.

Over the past few decades, the news organizations that many of us read or watch have lost enormous credibility among the U.S. public. This is due to high-profile mistakes such as taking a pass on the Bush administration's claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — a journalistic debacle for which The New York Times and The Washington Post publicly apologized — and for everyday errors of emphasizing entertainment that masquerades as news. Enough Britney, Paris and O.J. already.

That's not only our view. The Pew Research Center has tracked perceptions of the press among U.S. adults for more than two decades, asking the same questions over time. Some trends speak volumes:

• In 1985, when asked whether news organizations "get …

Basra: Positives or Negatives?

The British pulled out of Basra, Iraq, the other day - declaring that, in effect, their mission there has been accomplished. That has basically how the media has reported it too.

But wait. The Guardian reports the situation in Basra from an Iraqi perspective on things:

"The full scale of the chaos left behind by British forces in Basra was revealed yesterday as the city's police chief described a province in the grip of well-armed militias strong enough to overpower security forces and brutal enough to behead women considered not sufficiently Islamic.

As British forces finally handed over security in Basra province, marking the end of 4½ years of control in southern Iraq, Major General Jalil Khalaf, the new police commander, said the occupation had left him with a situation close to mayhem. "They left me militia, they left me gangsters, and they left me all the troubles in the world," he said in an interview for Guardian Films and ITV.

Khalaf painted a very dif…

Two perspectives on aid to Palestinians

Whilst the media is trumpeting that the one day conference in Paris led to a number of countries pledging some US$7.4 billion in aid to the Palestinians, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that the Israelis are largely to blame for the plight in which the Palestinians find themselves.

That aside, how one is to view the outcome of the conference and the aid offered up, depends on who and what you read.

The IHTreports it thus:

"The donors' meeting is a high-profile effort to build on the peace talks with Israel last month to which the Bush administration played host in Annapolis, Maryland. Those talks were the first serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in years, and the two sides pledged to seek a final peace agreement by the end of 2008.

It was the largest Palestinian donor meeting since 1996, and the latest in a string of aid-raising events for the Palestinians over the years. The Palestinians are one of the highest aid-dependent populations in the world…

The Joys [*!#*] of visiting the US of A

The story needs no comment:

"Iceland's government has asked the U.S. ambassador to explain the treatment of an Icelandic tourist who says she was held in shackles before being deported from the United States.The woman, Erla Osk Arnardottir Lillendahl, 33, was arrested Sunday when she arrived at JFK airport in New York because she had overstayed a U.S. visa more than 10 years earlier.Lillendahl, 33, had planned to shop and sightsee with friends, but endured instead what she has claimed was the most humiliating experience of her life."

Read how Erica saw events unfold here - as published by Crikey.

Anyone keen to visit the "welcoming" US of A?

Who is calling the shots?

Scott Ritter gained "fame" as one of the high-profile UN weapons inspectors in Iraq before the Coalition of the Willing attacked the country.

Writing in Antiwar.com "US Must Reevaluate Its Relationship With Israel" [reproduced on Information Clearing House] he says:

"As a weapons inspector I made numerous visits to Israel for the purpose of coordinating with the Israeli intelligence community on matters pertaining to Iraqi WMD. I was greatly impressed not only with the professionalism of the Israeli intelligence services, but also with the Israeli people and society. During my time in Israel, I was witness to numerous horrific events, including several terrorist bombings and the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The resilience of the people of Israel in absorbing these blows yet continuing to live life to its fullest was remarkable, and worthy of admiration."

More importantly, though, he raises the thorny question and issue many fear to out of a…

Not a List you should want to be on

Capital punishment is abhorrent and banned in many countries. Its critics call the practice barbaric. The United Nations General Assembly is voting to outlaw it. Yet, a closer look at the death penalty—and the countries that still use it—reveals that it’s far too early to pronounce a death sentence against capital punishment just yet.

FP [Foreign Policy] lists - in a piece "The List: The World’s Top Executioners" - and details, the main "offenders" still engaged in capital punishment. Not a list one would have thought one would want to be on.......

Read the FP piece here.

Food for thought

The fact that climate change, and all that entails, is having dire consequences for the globe, is hard enough to come to grips with.

There is another, in many ways just as serious, crisis brewing. It's simply the lack of the ready availability of food for the peoples of the world. A dire warning of a looming crisis is reported on by IHT in a piece "Global food supply is dwindling rapidly, UN agency warns":

"In an "unforeseen and unprecedented" shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday.

The changes created "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food," particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The agency's food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before - a rate that was alre…

The View from the Back of the Plane

The cover article in the Nov. 25 issue of the NY Times of the Travel section, “Class Conflict,” by Michelle Higgins, the Practical Traveler columnist, prompted an unusually large response from readers, including 298 comments posted on our Web site.

The editors have collected the responses and now published a selection of them in this latest piece in the Travel section of the NY Times. What readers [aka flyers] have said will resonate with anyone who has sat at the back of the plane......

A well-deserved Award

It might not be the Nobel Prize, but the award of the 2007 The Nation/ Puffin Award to Michael Ratner [who you ask? - read on] ought to be welcomed by all those who value the concept of justice and decency.

As noted by the Puffin Foundation and The Nation Institute:

"Attorney, author and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) President Michael Ratner is the recipient of the 2007 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. One of the country's foremost defenders of human rights and civil liberties, Ratner has led the fight to demand due process for Guantánamo detainees, adequate safeguards against intrusive government surveillance, and an end to torture and extraordinary rendition. Ratner will receive the annual prize on December 10 at The Nation Institute Annual Dinner Gala in New York City, the same week CCR returns to the Supreme Court representing Guantánamo detainees held indefinitely without charges.

Under Michael Ratner’s leadership, the Center for Constitutional Rights …

David Hicks "resurfaces"

David Hicks, once in the news almost daily, has been off the radar - until now, when he is to be released from his imprisonment in Adelaide.

It would appear that Hicks' actions and liberties are to be severely curtailed if the Australian Federal has its way. That that is rather ludicrous is almost an oxymoron. It is a topic taken up by Tracee Hutchison in a piece "Hasn't Hicks suffered enough?" in The Age:

"I don't know why I thought the saga of David Hicks' incarceration might finally be resolved with his release on December 29 from Adelaide's Yatala Prison."

And:

"But when it came to the first real test of where this Government stands on the much-touted Howard bogyman — the war on terror — it caved to the Australian Federal Police's Howardesque mentality that David Hicks is a living, breathing local personification of the terrorist threat, a man who apparently needs to be constantly monitored for fear he will get involved with u…

Q & A on the UN Bali Climate Change Conference

The Observer's Anushka Asthana has a pithy and helpful Q & A on the just concluded UN Climate Change Conference in Bali:

"What was the point of the Bali conference?

It was a chance for policymakers from more than 180 countries to hammer out an international agreement on what cuts in greenhouse emissions were required, which countries needed to make them and what the deadline should be. It aimed to create a 'roadmap' for a future climate change deal - a successor to the Kyoto protocol.

What was the Kyoto protocol?

After two and a half years of negotiations, the Kyoto protocol on climate change was adopted on 11 December 1997. Although most countries signed up to it, some chose not to, most notably the US, despite the fact that it is one of the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, the Kyoto treaty came into force in February 2005 and required each developed country to reduce emissions by an agreed level between 2008 and 2012.

Was the Bali confere…

Salon: Inside the CIA's "black sites"

Be appalled and disgusted by the actions of the CIA and the country, the US of A - trying to influence other countries to do "things" according to due process, democracy, humanity and justice - which allows it to happen. Salon reports:

"The CIA held Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in several different cells when he was incarcerated in its network of secret prisons known as "black sites." But the small cells were all pretty similar, maybe 7 feet wide and 10 feet long. He was sometimes naked, and sometimes handcuffed for weeks at a time. In one cell his ankle was chained to a bolt in the floor. There was a small toilet. In another cell there was just a bucket. Video cameras recorded his every move. The lights always stayed on -- there was no day or night. A speaker blasted him with continuous white noise, or rap music, 24 hours a day.

The guards wore black masks and black clothes. They would not utter a word as they extracted Bashmilah from his cell for interrog…

A welcome mat for tyrants?

Visits of political tyrants, or those whose actions are repulsive to any norms of humanity, decency or justice - think, Robert Mugabe, Gadhafi and the same ilk - to foreign countries raises a vexed question. Should the West receive these people even if they are, in there own way, somehow or other "elected" representatives of their country?

The issue was highlighted the other day with the visit of Moammar Gadhafi of Libya to Paris. In reading this piece from truth.dig remember that the Gadhafi's visit was "sweetened" by his signing agreements to purchase more than $14 billion in French products, from the Airbus to a nuclear reactor (for water desalination) to advanced jet fighters.

"France is seething over the official visit of Moammar Gadhafi to Paris—a landmark affair, considering that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s invitation was the first such offer from a Western leader since Gadhafi’s notorious rupture with the West in the 1980s.

Unfortunately, the…

Gaza: Three Perspectives

Three reports serve to highlight the position in which Gaza finds itself, Israel's actions and own "issues" caused by its unlawful behaviour and how Gazan people see their own situation both for themselves and in relation to the Israelis and the Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Washington Post reports:

"The batteries are the size of a button on a man's shirt, small silvery dots that power hearing aids for several hundred Palestinian students taught by the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children in Gaza City.

Now the batteries, marketed by Radio Shack, are all but used up. The few that are left are losing power, turning voices into unintelligible echoes in the ears of Hala Abu Saif's 20 first-grade students.

The Israeli government is increasingly restricting the import into the Gaza Strip of batteries, anesthesia drugs, antibiotics, tobacco, coffee, gasoline, diesel fuel and other basic items, including chocolate and compressed air to make soft drinks.

This punishing…