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Showing posts from May, 2007

The folly of Bush's Iran "policy"

Shirin Ebadi was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and is Haleh Esfandiari's lawyer. Muhammad Sahimi is professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Southern California.

Ebadi, writing in Tribune Media Services - and reproduced in the IHT - questions where George Bush is heading in relation to Iran:

"The confrontation between Iran and the West has developed a new dimension over the detention of several Iranian scholars, journalists and political activists who have been living in the West for years and have recently traveled to their homeland.

Parnaz Azima, a reporter for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, which broadcasts Persian programs into Iran, has been prohibited from leaving Iran since her passport was seized in January. Mehrnoushe Solouki, an Iranian-French journalist, has not been able to leave since February. Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has been ja…

Mariane Pearl speaks

Mariane Pearl, wife of murdered journalist, Daniel Pearl, speaks via an interview in ForeignPolicy [FP]:

"The remarkable life and brutal murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is the topic of a gripping new film, A Mighty Heart, based on the book by his widow, Mariane. In this week’s Seven Questions, FP spoke with Mariane Pearl about the murder, her activism, the film, and the war on terror."

The first of the 7 questions:

"FOREIGN POLICY: Did you have any hesitations about turning your book, A Mighty Heart, into a film?

Mariane Pearl: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. This wasn’t something I considered seriously before I met Brad Pitt [a producer of the film]. It was a delicate choice to make. Only if I met someone who I felt had the same intentions in making a movie as I had in making the book, would I consider. But [Pitt] really read the book and we were in the same frame of mind. We are both people who want to have children, are aware of what’s going on in the world, a…

Inching toward another war? - with Iran?

Patrick J Buchanan on his blogWorldNetDaily cites a number of facts which point to the US inchig toward a war with Iran - apparently without any input, let alone a green-light, from Congress:

"Has Congress given George Bush a green light to attack Iran?

For he is surely behaving as though it is his call alone. And evidence is mounting that we are on a collision course for war.

Iran has detained several Iranian-Americans, seemingly in retaliation for our continuing to hold five Iranians in Iraq.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, says Iran is making progress in the enrichment of uranium and denying it access to Iran's nuclear sites.

Bush is calling on Russia and China to toughen sanctions.

A flotilla of U.S. warships, including the carriers Stennis and Nimitz, has passed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf.

U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell has told CNN there is "very credible intelligence" Iran is funding Sunni extremists…

A powder-keg waiting to explode

That things are going from bad to worse in Gaza seems beyond doubt. 40 years after first being occupied, not only are Palestinians fighting amongst themselves but Isreal continues its relentless attacks on Palestinians and the general infrastructure in the territory. Now comes news that the US is funding the Fatah Abbas "camp" in the dispute between Hamas and Fatah. Of course the US and many European countries simply do not recognise Hamas even if they were democratically elected.

As CommonDreamsreports [reproducing a piece from Inter Press Service] the position of people in Gaza is getting increasingly worse. There can be little doubt, as most sensible commentators report, that Gaza is a powder-keg waiting to explode:

"Workers in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel have suffered another year of drastic decline in living standards and rising poverty, unemployment, social disintegration and political chaos, the ILO said in a new report.

The proportion of …

A new job for Wolfie?

Perhaps tongue in cheek, but as the US ABC News reports in its The Blotter section, a GOP member of Congress has proposed a new job for Paul Wolfowitz now that he has been ousted as President of the World Bank:

"Paul Wolfowitz may have been ousted from his post at the World Bank, but a free-speaking GOP lawmaker has an idea to keep the so-called "architect" of the Iraq War from standing in the unemployment line.

"I would like to suggest...that maybe we give Paul Wolfowitz a new job and send him over [to Iraq] as mayor," said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., "since the neocons got us in over there."

As deputy secretary of defense from 2000 to 2005, Wolfowitz helped develop the strategy and public rationale for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He publicly stated that coalition troops would be greeted as liberators, and the nation of Iraq would be largely capable of financing its own rebuilding through oil revenues."

They just don't get it!

That John Howard and his Ministers simply don't understand global warming and climate change is evident from Howards' attack on the Professor Stern yesterday. According to Howard Stern is a European. So? The electorate certainly appears to be switched on to the issue. How could they not be as weather around the world seems to have gone haywire.

Someone ought to provide Howard and his troglodyte Ministers with a copy of this "The Big Thaw" - from National Geographic:

"From the high mountains to the vast polar ice sheets, the world is losing its ice faster than anyone thought possible. Even scientists who had monitored Chacaltaya since 1991 thought it would hold out for a few more years. It's no surprise that glaciers are melting as emissions from cars and industry warm the climate. But lately, the ice loss has outstripped the upward creep of global temperatures.

Scientists are finding that glaciers and ice sheets are surprisingly touchy. Instead o…

Why listen to these [discredited] people?

The First Post makes some more than valid points in this piece - the a critical one being the question why anyone should even listen to people like John Bolton or Richard Perle let alone attribute any credibility to what they say:

"While the foreign policy think-tank Chatham House declares Iraq to be on the point of total collapse, the intellectual architects of pre-emptive war continue to attract surprisingly respectful media attention.

One can be revolted - but not surprised - at the spectacle of Bush and Blair, the Laurel and Hardy of the War on Terror, congratulating each other on their strategic vision from the White House lawn. But whose bright idea was it to let Richard Perle, the US hawk known as the 'prince of darkness', make a PBS documentary arguing that the world needs more military 'interventions'? And what explains the ubiquitous media presence of John Bolton, the troglodyte former US ambassador to the UN?

Only last week Bolton was interviewed by John H…

Israeli settlements officially illegal!

It's official! They are illegal! - despite what the Israelis have been claiming for 40 years. As The Independentreports on a 1967 Report on Israeli's actions in establishing those ever-increasing number of settlements in the West Bank:

"A senior legal official who secretly warned the government of Israel after the Six Day War of 1967 that it would be illegal to build Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories has said, for the first time, that he still believes that he was right.

The declaration by Theodor Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's legal adviser at the time and today one of the world's leading international jurists, is a serious blow to Israel's persistent argument that the settlements do not violate international law, particularly as Israel prepares to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the war in June 1967.

The legal opinion, a copy of which has been obtained by The Independent, was marked "Top Secret" and "Ext…

A very odd notion of freedom

Call it surge or whatever, but the Coalition of the Willing still isn't making any progress in war-torn Iraq 4 years after the invasion.

Frank Rich, writing in the NY Times, certainly no friend of the Bush Administration, again takes a blow-torch to it in his column "Operation Freedom from Iraqis" - and what it has "done" in Iraq:

"When all else fails, those pious Americans who conceived and directed the Iraq war fall back on moral self-congratulation: at least we brought liberty and democracy to an oppressed people. But that last-ditch rationalization has now become America's sorriest self-delusion in this tragedy.

However wholeheartedly we disposed of their horrific dictator, the Iraqis were always pawns on the geopolitical chessboard rather than actual people in the administration's reckless bet to "transform" the Middle East. From "Stuff happens!" on, nearly every aspect of Washington policy in Iraq exuded contempt for the …

Australia's indigenous = Australia's shame

This report in Crikey [reproduced here in full] makes all Australians stand condemned:

"The 1967 referendum gave the Commonwealth power to legislate for indigenous people and required the census to count indigenous people as members of the Australian population.

And 40 years on? The statistics provided in this article are intended as a general snapshot only. The process of depicting an 'average Aborigine' is fraught on several fronts, not least of all because of a paucity of available data.

For example, some figures are only available from 2001, while others are from 2006. Also, the gap in some areas between Indigenous people in remote regions and those in metropolitan regions is huge, particularly in relation to health, employment and income.

But all that said, the 'average Aborigine' as depicted here correlates almost exactly with what those familiar with indigenous affairs would expect to see:

Indigenous Australians make up a little under 2.5 per cent of the nationa…

Cheney's back at it again

Make no mistake about it! Dick Cheney, VP of the US, is a dangerous man - and from what can gauge, a misguided missile in every sense of the word.

If the report in The Washington Note is to be believed, Cheney is even workimg behind his bosses back to see Iran being taken on militarily. Now that would unleash things no end in the Middle East,with repercussions around the globe.

"There is a race currently underway between different flanks of the administration to determine the future course of US-Iran policy.

On one flank are the diplomats, and on the other is Vice President Cheney's team and acolytes -- who populate quite a wide swath throughout the American national security bureaucracy.

The Pentagon and the intelligence establishment are providing support to add muscle and nuance to the diplomatic effort led by Condi Rice, her deputy John Negroponte, Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, and Legal Adviser John Bellinger. The support that Director of National Intel…

Middle East: An ever-widening problem

News late last week of the Iranian President [ a hot-head and seemingly hard to play at the best of times] threatening Israel that it would suffer severe retribution if it again attacked Lebanon is hardly comforting.

More troubling yet is news that there seems to be race underway in the Middle East to acquire nuclear weapons. That possibility must be of grave concern to everyone, especially as Israel does have nuclear weapons - despite the world accepting Israel's ambigious position on whether it does, or does not, have a nuclear armory.

The LA Timesreports:

"As Iran races ahead with an illicit uranium enrichment effort, nearly a dozen other Middle East nations are moving forward on their own civilian nuclear programs. In the latest development, a team of eight U.N. experts on Friday ended a weeklong trip to Saudi Arabia to provide nuclear guidance to officials from six Persian Gulf countries.

Diplomats and analysts view the Saudi trip as the latest sign that Iran's su…

A 40 years hiatus - and no solution in sight

The Economist soberly analyses the outcome of the Six Day War 40 years ago in its piece "Israel's Wasted Victory" - and where it has left Israel and the Palestinians:

"On the seventh day Jews everywhere celebrated Israel's deliverance from danger. But 40 years after that tumultuous June of 1967, the six-day war has come to look like one of history's pyrrhic victories. That is not to say that the war was unnecessary. Israel struck after Egypt's President Nasser sent his army into the Sinai peninsula, evicted United Nations peacekeeping forces and blockaded Israeli shipping through the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel's victory opened the waterway and smashed its enemies' encircling armies, averting what many Israelis sincerely expected to be a second Holocaust. And yet, in the long run, the war turned into a calamity for the Jewish state no less than for its neighbours."

See also an accompanying piece "Forty Years On" here, also in The Economist…

An all too familiar ring....

Can anyone forget the disgraceful bigotry and racism of PM John Howard, and his Minister Reith, who not only played the race-card in the 2001 election but also, knowingly, falsely accused boat people of throwing their children into the sea - and then went on to proclaim that we don't want "these people" in Australia.

No wonder George W and John Howard are such good friends..... It all seems like a case of deja vu when one reads this on TomPaine.common sense:

"President Bush today: "These people attacked us before we were even in Iraq!"
Can we have a little frankness, please?

The President of the United States is a racist. Or at the very least, an anti-Muslim bigot.

In Iraq, Shi'ites and Sunni are fighting each other to the death. Under what possible logic can they be joined by a common identity?

There is no "these people" except in their common Middle East-ness.

Iran and Iraq fought a decade-long war - Shia against Sunni. They are, to our presiden…

Iraq: Told you so!

As time marches on and the Democrat-controlled Congress and Senate probes ever more into the Iraq War and what assessments were made about it before the Coalition of the Willing invaded Iraq, the revelations emerging are appalling. Such predictions as there were on the table were extremely negative and warned of dire consequences.

The Washington Postreports:

"Months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies predicted that it would be likely to spark violent sectarian divides and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report released yesterday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Analysts warned that war in Iraq also could provoke Iran to assert its regional influence and "probably would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups" in the Muslim world.

The intelligence assessments, made in January 2003 and widely circulated within the Bush administration before the war, s…

Come in Mike Moore....

By all accounts the latest Mike Moore movie, "Sicko" has attracted critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival. In typical Moore fashion it evidently takes no prisoners!

On his blog / web site, Moore "reports" on Cannes and his new film:

"At the press screening for "Sicko," the Wall Street Journal reported that hardened reporters and critics wept. Even those who have been harsh to me in the past, or who have not agreed with my politics, were moved. Aside from my stated desire that "Sicko" ignite a fire for free, universal health care (and a larger wish that we, as Americans, do a better job of treating each other with a true sense of solidarity and respect), I continue to hope that I can make a contribution to the art of cinema and give people a good reason to get out of the house for a few hours."

A couple doing a reno of their [er, our] "home"

Just a couple doing a bit of renovating? Not quite, as Mike Carleton points out in his piece in the SMH on how the PM Howard and "the little woman" have had their hands deep - very deep - in the taxpayer's pockets spending on their living quarters.

"As anyone who has ever done it knows only too well, working to a tight budget can be a renovator's nightmare. But one Sydney-based professional couple has shown just what magical results can be achieved with a bold sense of style while, at the same time, keeping a tight rein on costs.

John, a prime minister, and his wife Janette, a former schoolteacher turned political guru, make their home in a splendid sandstone colonial mansion on Kirribilli Point overlooking a sparkling panorama of sails and sunshine on Sydney Harbour. They also share a graceful country residence in leafy Canberra, not much more than a stone's throw from Parliament House where busy John has his office."

Howard may be a good politicia…

Yet another question about the USA's actions in Iraq

AlterNet reproduces this piece from The Nation - with a question which needs to be answered. Has the US employed the use of cluster bombs in Iraq? If so, then the Americans, and its allies, stand sorely condemned.

"Did the U.S. military use cluster bombs in Iraq in 2006 and then lie about it? Does the U.S. military keep the numbers of rockets and cannon rounds fired from its planes and helicopters secret because more Iraqi civilians have died due to their use than any other type of weaponry?

These are just two of the many unanswered questions related to the largely uncovered air war the U.S. military has been waging in Iraq.

What we do know is this: Since the major combat phase of the war ended in April 2003, the U.S. military has dropped at least 59,787 pounds of air-delivered cluster bombs in Iraq -- the very type of weapon that Marc Garlasco, the senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls, "the single greatest risk civilians face with regard to a current…

Trying to come to grips with George W

Marty Kaplan, writing in The Huffington Post, raises a not uncritical and important question:

"I wonder what Bush thinks of us.

I don't mean us as in, left blogistan; I mean us as in, America. Day after day, the president sees polls saying that at least 70% of the country consistently believes that he's, oh, put the country on the wrong course, mired us in a hopeless quagmire, politicized the justice system, handed over the regulatory reins to the corporate sector, transferred massive wealth from the middle to the robber barons, obliterated civil liberties, and so on.

Along with our view of what he's done to the country, we 70-percenters also have our pet theories of his character and psychology, of why he's done it. When pollsters ask Americans what words come to mind to describe the president, terms like "delusional," "ideologue," "stubborn" and "idiot" top the charts, suggesting the kind of explanations that Americans use to…

40 years later - justice and a home

It's an event which has attracted little media coverage. But, at long last - 40 years in fact - as The Guardian reports, long-overdue justice has been shown to the Chagossians. They can now return to the home, their island, from which they were so forcibly removed as a result of outragous conduct by the British in cahoots with the Americans.

"Hundreds of Indian Ocean islanders who were forcibly deported from their homeland by Britain 40 years ago won a battle yesterday which could see them set sail for an emotional return within days.

The court of appeal in London found the British government guilty of "abuse of power" for attempting to prevent the Chagos Islanders from reclaiming land leased from under their feet by Britain to the US in the 1960s.

Three judges upheld a ruling in the islanders' favour last year, ordered the government to pay their legal costs and withheld support for an appeal to the House of Lords. Giving his reason for the ruling Lord Justic…

Howard's 11 years of shame.....

It is 10 years since the publication of the Report on the Stolen Aboriginal generation, "Bringing Them Home", and 40 years next weekend since a referendum granted aboriginals the right to vote.

At a ceremony at Parliament House today to mark the 10 year anniversary of the landmark Report, Lowitja O'Donoghue was a keynote speaker.

ABC News on Linereports:

"The former chairwoman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) has attacked the Federal Government for a lack of effort on the Stolen Generation in the last decade.

Lowitja O'Donohue, a member of the Stolen Generation, has addressed a gathering at Parliament House in Canberra to mark 10 years since the 'Bringing Them Home' report.

Ms O'Donohue says of the 54 recommendations made in the report, 35 have been ignored.

"That is two thirds. The Prime Minister either doesn't get it or he doesn't care and I'm not sure which is worse," she said.

"There has been a f…

Amnesty Report [continued]

The Israelis have already countered [not refuted!] what Amnesty International has recorded in its 2007 Report, but the statistics and background provided by Amnesty with respect to the death of Palestinians appear beyond doubt or question.

The Independent provides the details:

"More than 320 civilians were among a threefold increase in the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces last year, according to Amnesty International. The human rights group's 2007 report says that over half of the more than 650 Palestinians killed in 2006 were civilians, 120 of them children and young people under 18. Amnesty defines civilians, "as people that are reasonably supposed never to have been involved in armed operations".

While Amnesty said that dozens of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank it pointed out that most of the increase resulted from aerial and artillery bombardments in Gaza after the abduction of the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit in late June and in …

The Road to Jerusalem

Robert Fisk is the most incisive and best informed journalist and writer about events in the Middle East. Rare amongst Western journalists, he has been stationed in Beirut now for some 30 years. So, he is more than well qualified to report and comment on the region and all its ever-ongoing upheavels.

Lebanon is again in focus. Tumult reigns and violence continues once again. Fisk, writing in The Independent, "The Road to Jerusalem" puts into context what is currently happening, the causes and where it might all be leading to:

"They came into Lebanon last summer when the world was watching Israel smash this small nation in a vain attempt to destroy the Hizbollah. But the men who set up their grubby little office in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp, some of them fighters from the Iraq war, others from Yemen, Syria or Lebanon itself, were far more dangerous than America and Israel believed the Hizbollah to be. They had come, they told the few journalists who bothered to…

Howard, Bush and Mugabe: Fellow travellers

It couldn't be more damning - the Amnesty Intereportnational Report for 2007 joins John Howard, George Bush and Robert Mugabe, equally and as one, in their infraction of human rights.

As the ABCreports:

"Amnesty International has accused the Federal Government of fearmongering by portraying asylum seekers as a threat to national security.

This year Amnesty's annual report into global human rights abuses focuses on the politics of fear, and argues fear thrives on "myopic and cowardly leadership".

The Government is singled out for criticism for its portrayal of "asylum seekers in leaky boats" as a "refugee invasion", which Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan says contributed to John Howard's election win in 2001.

Ms Khan says the new refugee exchange deal with the US proves the offshore processing centres have failed."

The SMH reports the Amnesty Report here. Amnesty International, and its Report, can be accessed here directly.

Yet another new dimension to the Iraq War

There can be little doubt that despite the best efforts of Western nations, Afghanistan remains the leader in the growth of opium crops in the world. For many locals, it is the only source of income.

Now it has come to light that Iraqi "farmers" are trying to get into the act too. It's obviously a quick cash crop. This new situation is presumably a totally unexpected fall-out and dimension to the outcome of the decision to invade Iraq. As TheIndependent reports:

"Farmers in southern Iraq have started to grow opium poppies in their fields for the first time, sparking fears that Iraq might become a serious drugs producer along the lines of Afghanistan.

Rice farmers along the Euphrates, to the west of the city of Diwaniya, south of Baghdad, have stopped cultivating rice, for which the area is famous, and are instead planting poppies, Iraqi sources familiar with the area have told The Independent.

The shift to opium cultivation is still in its early stages but t…

Cuba: A rare insight

Cuba is some 90 miles off the US mainland. Fidel Castro is still hanging in there as a now very long serving dictator. In fact Cuba is a last-gasp communist bastion in an otherwise very different world. Perhaps in typical blinkered fashion the US doesn't recognise Cuba even if it's on its doorstep.

We rarely get an insight into Cuba other than when Castro makes some statement or other which attracts attention.

Antony Loewenstein, writing in The Guardian, provides a rare insight into Cuba, in particular how the population seeks to harness the internet and all it has to offer:

"Cuba is the least technologically connected country in Latin America, falling way behind in mobile phone and internet penetration. The Castro regime has blamed the long-standing US embargo for the communication restrictions - and must utilise satellite technology as a result - but the situation is far more complicated than the government likes to publicly admit. For example, Cubans are require…

Colin Powell in "speaking" in retrospect

Colin Powell - then US Secretary of State, who so famously spoke at the UN before the Iraq War declaring positively what we now know were false claims and facts about Iraq and Saddam - is still seen by many as a decent man. He clearly didn't have the ear of the Bush cabal at the White House when it really mattered.

"Former Secretary of State Colin Powell talks with author David Samuels about the relative advantages of using “soft power” and “hard power” in spreading American influence and ideas, and about the current state of American diplomatic efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere".

Read the interview, in The Atlantic Monthly, here.

Not a record to be proud of

For whatever reason the Americans do it bigger and allegedly better - be it with a negative or positive effect.

As Tom of TomDispatch writes in pulling together some of Americas "records"...

"Hey, aren't we the most exceptional nation in history? George Bush and his pals thought so -- and they were in a great American tradition of exceptionalism. Of course, they were imagining us as the most exceptional empire in history (or maybe at the end of it), the ultimate New Rome. Anyway, explain this to me: Among all the exceptional things we claim to do, how come we never take credit for what may be the most exceptional of all, our success of successes, the thing that makes us uniquely ourselves on this war-ridden planet -- peddling more arms to Earthlings than anyone else in the neighborhood? Why do we hide this rare talent under a bushel? In the interest of shining a proud light on an under-rated national skill, I asked Frida Berrigan to return the United States to its rig…

David Hicks revisited

David Hicks is back in Australia. Of course the whole melodrama of getting Hicks back from Gitmo to South Australia can only be described as a farce. The US wouldn't allow Hicks to over-fly American air-space and in the end the Australian tax-payer had to pick up the tab of some $520,000 for a private jet to transport Hicks. Then it seems this rather pathetic character was thought to warrant no less than both South Australian and Federal Police officers on board the plane.

It is timely to remind oneself of the disgrace which backgrouds the whole Hicks process. Tim McCormack, the Australian Red Cross professor of international humanitarian law at the Melbourne Law School has done so, in an op-ed piece in The Age. McCormick attended the proceedings against David Hicks in Cuba in March as an adviser to the defence team on law-of-war issues.

"Now that David Hicks is back in Australia to serve out the rest of his sentence at Yatala, it is opportune to reflect on the …

Rarely heard voices: Gaza voices

The Middle East is yet again in crisis. Lebanon is confronted with an "internal" war, said to be the worst since the civil war 15 years ago. In Gaza, there is conflict between Palestinians and Israel is attacking Palestinians in that strife-torn area.

There seems little doubt that Israel is using the present problems in Gaza as the catalyst or front for "taking" out Palestinians. Now, it is threatening to kill the Palestinian PM. As Timeson Line reports:

"Israeli politicians said that they would no longer differentiate between elected Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament and its militant leaders. “None of them are immune,” said Danny Yatom, who sits on the Israeli security cabinet. “Hamas has one political and military leadership. They act as a unified body and will be targeted as such.”

Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader-in-exile who lives in Damascus, was listed as Israel’s No 1 target. Mohammed Dief, Israel’s most-wanted man, was also cited alon…

The fastest growing religions

We are constantly told about the rise of islamists around the world and the approaching threat of some sort of "clash of civilisations". From seemingly nowhere, the world of Islam seems to be in the news in one form or another - often negative - almost daily.

So, what are the fastest growing religions?

From Muslims in Europe to evangelical Christians in Africa, it is religious believers who are shaping the early 21st Century. Charismatic movements are sweeping throughout the Southern Hemisphere, while high birth rates among immigrants are provoking soul-seeking in the historically Christian West. FP [Foreign Policy - the magazine] looks at the fast-growing faiths that are upending the old world order.

'Sicko"

Documentary film-maker, Michael Moore, is more than a gad-fly. Controversial yes, and perhaps a publicity seeker - but nevertheless a telling, punchy and powerful maker of a point. Consider his powerful movie "Fahrenheit 9/11".

Now Moore has taken on the US health system, flawed as it is. By all accounts the new movie holds no bars. The film has just been shown for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival, as the IHT details.

"Three years after conquering the Cannes film festival and winning the Palme d'Or for "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore has returned the amour big time with "Sicko," his most fluidly crafted provocation to date. A persuasive, insistently leftist indictment of the American health care system, as well as a funny valentine to all things French - and many things Canadian, British and Cuban - the film shows that while Moore remains a radical partisan, he has learned how to sell his argument with a softer touch. He&…

Iraq: The prognosis couldn't be worse

Those who consider these matters in detail, there seems little doubt that the Iraq War is a disaster - and getting worse nothwithstanding the recently announced "surge". Needless to say the politicians keep telling the public that things either are or will get better. It's hard to see how that might be as the daily news out of Iraq seems quite the contrary.

Now the respected Chatham House has weighed in with its assessment, as the Spiegel onLine reports:

"The highly respected UK think tank Chatham House on Thursday issued a dire report on the situation in Iraq. The country may be on the verge of becoming a failed state, says the study. Meanwhile, the US says things aren't that bad.

It hardly qualifies as breaking news anymore when a think tank comes out with a report saying that Iraq is in trouble. But rarely has a study been as scathing as that released on Thursday by the widely respected British foreign policy organization Chatham House. Iraq, the report say…

Job seeker - qualified or not!

In her inimitable style, Maureen Dowd, writing in the NY Times [her column only available on subscription] puts into context Paul Wolfowitzs' possible quest for a new job now that he will be leaving the World Bank.

"Paul Wolfowitz may be out of a job soon, but think of what an amazing résumé he’ll be shopping around:

Work Experience

President of World Bank: 2005-2007

Responsibilities: Reining in European lefties, raining tax-free money on Arab girlfriend, and giving anti-corruption efforts a bad name.

Achievements: Paralyzed the international lending apparatus to the point where small countries had to max out their Visa cards to pay for malaria medicine. Learned the traditions of many cultures, including those of Turkey, where you apparently are not supposed to take off your shoes at mosques to reveal socks so full of holes that both big toes poke blasphemously through.

Deputy Secretary of Defense for President George W. Bush: 2001-2005

Responsibility: Starting a war.

Achievements: M…

Pinochet's ghost in Gaza?

Today brings news that Fatah and Hamas have declared their 5th cease-fire - this week! The carnage continues in Gaza and one must wonder what the Palestinians think is to be achieved by all this in-fighting. Certainly it has afforded the Israelis an unfettered dream run to yet again attack certain sites in Gaza and target individuals said to be terrorists. No one has stepped back to ask by what right Israel should be permitted these extra-judicial executions.

Tony Karon, writing in The Rootless Cosmopolitan [as reproduced ontruthout] puts forward a position and revelation about all of this not normally read or revealed elsewhere:

"There's something a little misleading in the media reports that routinely describe the fighting in Gaza as pitting Hamas against Fatah forces or security personnel "loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas." That characterization suggests somehow that this catastrophic civil war that has killed more than 25 Palestinians since Sunday is a sh…

Whose worse? Nixon or Bush?

It seems Washington, and America generally, is debating who is worse - Nixon or George W Bush?

Jules Witcover, political columnist, writing in the NY Times, joins the debate:

"A favorite pastime of political scientists and pollsters is compiling lists of the best presidents. The results vary widely, as the judgments of history conflict with contemporary sentiments. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and F.D.R. always finish high on the lists, with more controversial choices like Truman and Reagan often thrown in.

Currently, however, we’re seeing an outbreak of consensus on the worst: George W. Bush. The Internet is awash with academic tomes, blogs and partisan rants, the condemnation coming often from liberal Democrats but also from such varied figures as that eminent historian, Donald Trump".

Not as free as you might think

Users of the internet, and all the options it offers, probably don't even think that it isn't quite as free and accessible everywhere as might be otherwise thought. A new report, just out, highlights that unfettered access to and use of the www is actually restricted in many parts of the word. It is not uncommon in some countries, notably some in the Middle East, Cuba and China, to actually imprison web-users or bloggers writing things which the powers that be don't like.

Technology Review [a MIT publication] provides the details:

"A report released today by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) concludes that the scale, the scope, and the sophistication of state-based Internet filtering have all increased dramatically in recent years. The survey highlights the tools and techniques used by countries to keep their citizens from viewing certain kinds of online material.

ONI is a collaboration among four leading universities: Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, and Toronto. The group&…

Your local news - from downtown New Delhi?

Outsourcing has been the go in business for quite some time now. It's simply cheaper to use manpower in downtown New Delhi or Calcutta than local employees.

The Fairfax group recently announced it would be reducing its pool of journalists. That's on top of the slash and burn which has been underway for some time now. Just reflect on the closure of overseas bureaux by newspaper groups which has occured over the last years. Much less expensive for a newspaper to sign up to a syndicate.

The news that some newspapers will now be oursourcing the writing of news to India is a travesty - on many levels. As AlterNet reports:

"The world may be flat, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written, but I always liked to think I was standing on a hill. Now comes the news that pasadenanow.com, a local news site, is recruiting reporters in India. The website’s editor points out that he can get two Indian reporters for a mere $20,800 a year -- and no, they won’t be commu…

A city of widows

Sadly Kabul, Afghanistan, is a city with more than its fair share of widows.

As The Independentreports:

"There are two million war widows in Afghanistan, and their plight is easy to forget in Hamid Karzai's capital, where Western-style shopping malls, bars and French restaurants are opening up for wealthy foreign aid workers and Afghan expatriates."

And no less troubling:

"Kabul, it is said, is the widows' capital of the world. As many as 50,000 women like Gul live in the city, and many make their home in the abandoned buildings that dot the suburbs, often living in horrific conditions. In a nation with a fractured infrastructure and, at £125 a year, one of the lowest per-capita incomes in the world, many widows are left without relatives able to take them in or offer even modest financial support.

There is no social security system in Afghanistan. Widows are not provided pensions or housing so there is no safety net for them to fall back on. In other Muslim countrie…

An ongoing 59 year catastrophe

The news today of on-going strife in Gaza - including the Israelis weighing in with attacks on the territory and targeted individuals - only highlights that something must be done to resolve the Palestinian "issue". Leaving to one side the undoubted difficulties between various Palestinian factions and despite what they proclaim, an apparent reluctance of the Israelis to see a long-term peace with its Palestinian neighbours, it is clear that 59 years after the establishment of Israel, the displacement of the Palestinians has been a running sore.

Sonja Karkar, President of Women for Palestine [in Melbourne in Australia] writes in counterpunch:

"Fifty-nine years is a long time to wait to return home, yet the Palestinian refugees have waited, and waited resolutely. However, despite every international law that recognises their right to return home, despite the universal consensus that has affirmed that right over 130 times in the UN, despite the humanitarian organisation…

Agent of intolerance

It's hard to really mourn the passing of Jerry Falwell. It's even harder to believe that anyone could have taken this man seriously. As this piece in The Nation, "Agent of Intolerance" highlights, the statements and epithets of Falwell made him the subject of ridicule by some but nevertheless supported by many. Only in America? - is a question one must ask.

"Falwell uttered countless epithets over his long life--in 1999 he warned that Tinky Winky, a character on the children's show Teletubbies, might be gay--but his most infamous remark arrived on the morning of 9/11, after the terrorist attacks, when he proclaimed, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'&quo…

A rare insight into the car market - in China

BBC News reports on something we rarely get even a glimpse of or into - China's car industry:

"The sleepy, provincial town of Luizhou is more than 1,200 miles (1,931km) from Shanghai, and 10,000 miles from Detroit.

Yet for General Motors, which Toyota claims to have overtaken as the world's largest car company, it is Luizhou rather than Detroit where the company's future may be decided.

GM has come to Luizhou to produce a tiny minivan, the Wuling Sunshine, which is a best-seller in China, selling more than 460,000 vehicles a year.

The van costs $3,700 (£1,872), has a 0.8 litre engine, and weighs less than 1000kg - yet cheap labour costs mean that GM makes a substantial profit on each vehicle it sells.


Rather than use automation, the Wuling Sunshine is made on an old-fashioned assembly line, which would not look out of date in 1940s Detroit.


Rick Wagoner celebrated at the Wuling factory in 2005

But with labour costs of just $4 per hour - half the rate in Shanghai - GM Asia Pa…

What French First Lady?

All it needs is Maureen Dowd - writing in the NY Times [Dowd's column available only on subscription] - to "explain" things for us all about the wife of the newly installed French President and how she fits into the scheme of things:

"The French can be very, well, French when it comes to the personal lives of their leaders.

They take affairs, illegitimate children and tumultuous marriages in stride.

But they suddenly turn traditional when it comes to the role of the first lady. They do not like the idea of Nicolas Sarkozy entertaining world leaders alone at the Élysée Palace. It is not comme il faut.

Maybe that’s why this country is so mesmerized with the question of whether the beautiful Cécilia Sarkozy, a former Schiaparelli model who was for years her husband’s influential political adviser, is going to serve as the chatelaine of the Élysée, or run off again with a lover.

No one seems sure if she will bolt, leaving the entertaining duties to Sarko’s mother, an elegant…

Trying to get around illegality

An intriguing insight in how the Bush White House "operates" - illegally - is revealed in this piece in The Washington Post:

"On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey's presence in the room, turned and l…

An unworthy Award - and misguided recipient

Maher Mughrabi, in an op-ed piece in The Age, writes:

"On May 20, Prime Minister John Howard will receive the Jerusalem Prize from the State Zionist Council of Victoria, the Zionist Federation of Australia and Israel's World Zionist Organisation "for his support of the Jewish community and Israel".

It's no secret that Israel enjoys support from both sides of the political establishment; Labor and Liberal leaders compete to secure the favour of Australia's Jewish community, but the matter goes deeper than that. From Kevin Rudd's stories of an ALP government casting the first vote at the UN for partition of Palestine to Tony Abbott's proclamation after Bali that "we are all Israelis now", Australian leaders promote the notion that this country is bound to Israel by shared democratic values against the backdrop of an undemocratic Middle East."

That the PM even considers accepting the award - whatever it's real worth other than curry favo…