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Showing posts from July, 2008

IOC stands condemned

No comment is called for other than condemnation of the IOC for allowing the Chinese to effectively censor the net during the upcoming Olympics. TheIHTreports:

"The Chinese government confirmed Wednesday what journalists arriving at the lavishly outfitted media center here had suspected: Contrary to previous assurances by Olympic and government officials, the Internet would be censored during the upcoming games.

Since the Olympic Village press center opened Friday, reporters have been unable to access scores of Web pages - politically sensitive ones that discuss Tibetan succession, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown of the protests in Tiananmen Square and the sites of Amnesty International, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers known for their freewheeling political discourse.

On Wednesday - two weeks after its most recent proclamation of an uncensored Internet during the Summer Games - the International Olympic Committee quietly agreed to some of the limit…

Acts of War

"The war between the United States and Iran is on. American taxpayer dollars are being used, with the permission of Congress, to fund activities that result in Iranians being killed and wounded, and Iranian property destroyed. This wanton violation of a nation’s sovereignty would not be tolerated if the tables were turned and Americans were being subjected to Iranian-funded covert actions that took the lives of Americans, on American soil, and destroyed American property and livelihood. Many Americans remain unaware of what is transpiring abroad in their name. Many of those who are cognizant of these activities are supportive of them, an outgrowth of misguided sentiment which holds Iran accountable for a list of grievances used by the U.S. government to justify the ongoing global war on terror. Iran, we are told, is not just a nation pursuing nuclear weapons, but is the largest state sponsor of terror in the world today.

Much of the information behind this is being promulgated by …

Obama: One Wall or Two?

newmatilda.com has an interesting piece on Obama, his visit to Israel and Berlin and reflections on Walls:

"Obama's "anti-wall" speech in Berlin somehow overlooked the one he'd just visited in the Palestinian Occupied Territories

At a much publicised rally in Berlin attended by some 200,000 people, US Presidential nominee Barack Obama spoke of breaking down the walls that divide our global society. Obama spoke first of the Berlin Wall and how it represented the real and symbolic division of much of humanity between the Soviet and Western blocs. He went on to describe the metaphoric walls that still divide societies along racial and religious lines, but reminded the audience that, as with Apartheid South Africa, "history reminds us that walls can be torn down".

There is, though, one wall Barack Obama is unlikely to breach. Given the reference to Apartheid South Africa and walls, it was significant that he chose not to mention the very real wall Israel has …

Technology: A funeral and a birth

Nothing ever seems to stand still in the world of technology.

This week has witnessed a death of something many have used to for many, many years - the cassette. The NY Times reports on the demise:

"There was a funeral the other day in the Midtown offices of Hachette, the book publisher, to mourn the passing of what it called a “dear friend.” Nobody had actually died, except for a piece of technology, the cassette tape.

Hachette’s audio department recently held a “funeral” for cassette tapes; an invitation is above.
While the cassette was dumped long ago by the music industry, it has lived on among publishers of audio books. Many people prefer cassettes because they make it easy to pick up in the same place where the listener left off, or to rewind in case a certain sentence is missed. For Hachette, however, demand had slowed so much that it released its last book on cassette in June, with “Sail,” a novel by James Patterson and Howard Roughan.

The funeral at Hachette — an office pa…

Curbing energy-use = saving money

That the world must do something to curb the use of energy is almost an oxymoron.

What everyone must come to realise is that it is not only big business and governments which must take affirmative action to reduce energy-use. Therefore an item on NPR'sMorning Edition program today on how households can play their part in reducing the use of energy is more than worthwhile - because in the process the householder can actually save money:

"More than a dozen states have adopted ambitious goals to cut back on energy use. My home state, Maryland, has one of the most aggressive plans.

This spring, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a law that calls for a 15 percent reduction in electric use, per capita, over the next seven years. If successful, Maryland will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve a cleaner environment. These efforts also will reduce the state's need to build new power stations and transmission lines. While no one will be rewarded for making that 15 percen…

There go those promises

Apart from the seemingly naive members of the IOC who accepted China's promises about freedoms for the Olympics, did anyone seriously believe that the Chinese would clamp down, and severely, on any sort of dissent pre and during the Games?

Amnesty International reports today on the current state of affairs in China and the country's broken promises:

"The Chinese authorities have broken their promise to improve the country’s human rights situation and betrayed the core values of the Olympics, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Published to mark the 10-day countdown to the Games, the report evaluates the performance of the Chinese authorities in four areas related to the core Olympic values of ’universal fundamental ethical principles’ and ‘human dignity’: these include persecution of human rights activists, detention without trial, censorship and the death penalty.

The Olympics Countdown: Broken Promises concludes that in most of these areas human rights have con…

Land of the free - it's just that you might not be able to vote!

Americans are good at lecturing the rest of the world about freedom, justice and democracy. George W and his now discredited motley crew have been most vocal on the subject over the years.

But has the US an electoral system which isn't fatally flawed? No! The NY Times editorialises on the subject:

"After the controversy over Palm Beach County’s infamous “butterfly ballot” in 2000, there was a lot of earnest talk about improving ballot design so that voters do not miscast their votes. Two election cycles later, a study has found that ballots around the country are still far too confusing and that poor design and instructions have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters in the last several federal elections."

And:

"The Palm Beach Post’s postelection analysis found that the butterfly ballot ended up costing Mr. Gore far more votes than the 537 by which he lost Florida — and the presidency.

The controversy should have led to sweeping reforms, but it didn’t…

The Age of Incarceration

Mother Jones has a revealing article on incarceration in the US. Startling stats indeed:

"The number first appeared in headlines earlier this year: Nearly one in four of all prisoners worldwide is incarcerated in America. It was just the latest such statistic. Today, one in nine African American men between the ages of 20 and 34 is locked up. In 1970, our prisons held fewer than 200,000 people; now that number exceeds 1.5 million, and when you add in local jails, it's 2.3 million—1 in 100 American adults. Since the 1980s, we've sat by as the numbers inched higher and our prison system ballooned, swallowing up an ever-larger portion of the citizenry. But do statistics like these, no matter how disturbing, really mean anything anymore? What does it take to get us to sit up and notice?

Apparently, it takes a looming financial crisis. For there is another round of bad news, the logical extension of the first: The more money a state spends on building and running prisons, the…

Bosnian Genocide, No Apologies

truthout.com has a revealing piece on the genocide in Bosnia and its aftermath....

"In 1992 Ed Vulliamy revealed the existence of the Bosnian concentration camps. The remarkable image of Fikret Alic showed for the first time how Muslim prisoners were being brutalised by the Serbs. In the week of Radovan Karadzic's arrest our reporter returned to find Alic. In this moving dispatch, he - and other survivors - tell of their anger, despair and continued attempts to try to rebuild their shattered lives."

Read on here. No, the world hasn't learnt from the Holocaust........

Iraq poised to explode?

Writing in The Nation, Robert Dreyfuss suggests that despite all the media hype suggesting that things are on the improve in Iraq, that that is not the case at all - and indeed, the already war-torn country may well be on the cusp of exploding:

"While everyone's looking at Iraq's effect on American politics -- and whether or not John McCain and Barack Obama are converging on a policy that combines a flexible timetable with a vague, and long-lasting, residual force -- let's take a look instead at Iraqi politics. The picture isn't pretty.

Despite the Optimism of the Neocons, which has pushed mainstream media coverage to be increasingly flowery about Iraq's political progress, in fact the country is poised to explode. Even before the November election. And for McCain and Obama, the problem is that Iran has many of the cards in its hands. Depending on its choosing, between now and November Iran can help stabilize the war in Iraq -- mostly by urging the Iraqi Shiites…

A sanitized view of the war in Iraq?

We all know that the Bush Administration hasn't wanted to show all those US flag-draped coffins arriving back in America from Iraq, but it would seem, according to this piece in the IHT that sanitizing view of the Iraq War has gone much further:

"The case of a freelance photographer in Iraq who was barred from covering the U.S. Marine Corps after he posted photos on the Internet of several dead marines has underscored what some journalists say is a growing effort by the U.S. military to control graphic images from the war.

The photographer, Zoriah Miller, who took images of marines killed in a suicide attack in Anbar Province on June 26 and posted them on his Web site, was subsequently forbidden to work in corps-controlled areas of the country. Major General John Kelly, the marine commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Miller barred from all U.S. military facilities throughout the world. Miller has since left Iraq.

If the conflict in Vietnam was notable for open access given …

"Prince of Bait-and-Switch"

"The US and its allies are dropping record numbers of bombs on Afghanistan. This is not news. In the first half of this year, 1,853 bombs were dropped: more than all the bombs of 2006 and most of 2007. “The most frequently used bombs,” the Air Force Times reports, “are the 500lb and 2,000lb satellite-guided . . .” Without this one-sided onslaught, the resurgence of the Taliban, it is clear, might not have happened. Even Hamid Karzai, America’s and Britain’s puppet, has said so. The presence and the aggression of foreigners have all but united a resistance that now includes former warlords once on the CIA’s payroll.

The scandal of this would be headline news, were it not for what George W Bush’s former spokesman Scott McClellan has called “complicit enablers” - journalists who serve as little more than official amplifiers. Having declared Afghanistan a “good war”, the complicit enablers are now anointing Barack Obama as he tours the bloodfests in Afghanistan and Iraq. What they nev…

Obama's tough audience

200,000 people may have turned up in Berlin to hear and see Obama, but The Nation, in a piece from Israel, says that the Israelis were not easily swept off their feet. In fact he was confronted with a tough audience:

"The possible election of Senator Barack Obama as the next President of the United States could have tremendous implications for Israelis, so why has there been no evidence of Obamamania in Israel during his intense, thirty-six hour visit to the country?

For one thing, Israel is one of the few countries in the world where George W. Bush would still win over 50 percent in the public opinion polls. So there is no yearning for change in the American leadership, as there is among many Americans, and with most of the people around the world.

Israeli leaders have their own tzures (problems, in Yiddish). Prime Minister Olmert is competing with Bush in America when it comes to plummeting in the polls, and the latest news about investigations into his behavior, together with t…

Rendering public opinion irrelevant

We all know, all too clearly, that whilst politicians claim to represent their constituency or their country and the position of its peoples on critical issues, the reality is that they do quite the opposite. Witness the opposition to the war in Iraq - committed to by Bush, Blair and Howard, the Coalition of the Willing, totally contrary to overwhelming public opinion to the contrary.

Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon, takes up the issue of how public opinion is rendered irrelevant insofar as it relates to taking a position on the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. He supports his argument with compelling stats:

"One of the most striking aspects of our political discourse, particularly during election time, is how efficiently certain views that deviate from the elite consensus are banished from sight -- simply prohibited -- even when those views are held by the vast majority of citizens. The University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Atti…

No peace move here.....

Israel says one thing, does the opposite. Despite all the pious words of seeking peace with the Palestinians, Israel plans on expanding a settlement [let's call it for what it is - the beginnings of a town] on the West Bank. Apart from a snub to the Americans, Israel knows that in this year of a US election, nary a word of criticism will come from the White House or the 2 presidential candidates. Good timing too......Obama having just left the Middle East a few days ago.

The Independent reports:

"Israel has has taken a decisive first step towards reviving a controversial plan for a Jewish settlement in the West Bank which it was forced to withdraw two years ago under pressure from the US.

The military's civil administration has announced plans to go ahead with the construction of at least 20 homes in the Jordan Valley for settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Peace Now, which campaigns against settlement, believes the move is part of a larger plan which coul…

Er, keeping quiet on that other war

Both Britain and America are reluctant to admit it but, says Fraser Nelson in a piece in the Spectator, our most pressing foreign policy problem is what to do about Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state in which terrorists have taken sanctuary.

This is a war which seems to be kept under the radar - perhaps with good cause - by the Brits and Americans.

As Nelson writes:

"In theory, the Pakistani government has signed up to the war on terror and is trying as best it can to help us. But in practice, it is playing a dangerous double game. The Pakistani government, army and intelligence services all have their own distinct reasons for keeping the Taleban in business. The Pakistan army effectively ceded Quetta to the Taleban six years ago, for example, hoping their brutal methods would deal with local Baluchistan separatists."

Bad Days for Newsrooms - and Democracy

Chris Hedges, former Bureau Chief in Jerusalem for the NY Times, writing in truthdig.com. addresses the real problem of declining newspapers and the effect on democracy as a consequence:

"The decline of newspapers is not about the replacement of the antiquated technology of news print with the lightning speed of the Internet. It does not signal an inevitable and salutary change. It is not a form of progress. The decline of newspapers is about the rise of the corporate state, the loss of civic and public responsibility on the part of much of our entrepreneurial class and the intellectual poverty of our post-literate world, a world where information is conveyed primarily through rapidly moving images rather than print.

All these forces have combined to strangle newspapers. And the blood on the floor, this year alone, is disheartening. Some 6,000 journalists nationwide have lost their jobs, news pages are being radically cut back and newspaper stocks have tumbled. Advertising revenue…

Tough love! Talking tough?

Obama has left Israel for his beachead into Europe in Berlin! Needless to say what Obama has told the Israelis has been deemed critically important to the Jewish folks home and the rest of world Jewry. Never mind that whatever Jews consider good for Israel might not be so for the rest of the world.

Nicholas Kristof in his column in the NY Times returns to a theme he took up some weeks back:

"On his visit to the Middle East, Barack Obama gave ritual affirmations of his support for Israeli policy, but what Israel needs from America isn’t more love, but tougher love.

Particularly at a time when Israel seems to be contemplating military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States would be a better friend if it said: “That’s crazy” — while also insisting on a 100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem.

Granted, not everybody sees things this way, and discussions of the Middle East usually involve each side offering up its strongest arguments to …

Little cause for optimism

Anthony H. Cordesman is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a well-regarded expert and commentator in his field.

Following a visit to the Middle East he makes his assessment of the situation in an op-ed piece in the IHT:

"Having just returned from the Middle East, I find it hard to have much optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel sees Hamas' control of Gaza as a situation it cannot do anything about. It also must deal with a weak and divided Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, increased arms smuggling and a growing threat from Israeli Arabs.

Palestinians see a steady growth in Israeli settlements and restrictions, a weak Israeli government and faltering international assistance. And all sides seem to see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visits as an end-of-administration effort in résumé-building."

Read on here.

Obama: Just "another political hack?"

As Obama does his pr shtick in the Middle East and Europe in order to "prove" his credentials that he has some sort of handle on foreign affairs - some would say a work in progress! - Robert Scheer writing on truthdig.com in "Obama on the Brink" questions whether there really is much substance to Obama and a real, meaningful difference to John McCain:

"Barack Obama is betraying his promise of change and is in danger of becoming just another political hack.

Yes, just like former maverick John McCain, who has refashioned himself as a mindless rubber stamp for the most inane policies of the miserably failed Bush administration. Both candidates are embracing, rather than challenging, the fundamental irrationality of Bush’s “war on terror,” which substitutes hysteria for rational analysis in appraising the dangers the country faces.

Terrorism is a social pathology that needs to be excised with the surgical precision of detective work, inspired by a high level of inter…

Misplaced cheers for China

As news continues to emerge from China on how the authorities are dealing with any possible dissent during the upcoming Olympics - most of it pretty predictable except to those on the IOC who seem to have been gulled into believing that China's appalling human rights record and "freedoms" during the Games would not be in play - major sponsors are seemingly looking away from China's curbing of freedoms.

Ken Silverstein, in Harper's Magazine, has an interesting Q & A with a Human Rights Watch representative:

"Arvind Ganesan has been at Human Rights Watch as the Director of the Business and Human Rights Program and is involved in research, advocacy, and policy development. His program has issued groundbreaking reports on Enron, Wal-Mart, on corruption in Angola, where American oil companies have major investments, and on Western companies censoring the Internet in China. I recently spoke to Ganesan by phone and asked him six questions about the upcoming Olymp…

Telling It Like It Isn't

"Distortions, delusions, misrepresentations. No wonder Western leaders and media don't understand the popularity of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas in the Arab world".

A bold statement reflective of a piece "Telling it Like it Isn't" in newmatilda.com written by Antony Loewenstein [author of the best-selling book My Israel Question (MUP)].

"It shouldn't come as any surprise that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is consistently voted the most popular leader in the Arab world. The Islamist group is praised for its discipline and resistance. Not only Israel's loss in the 2006 Lebanon war marks a welcome shift in regional power, Hezbollah's opposition to the Bush administration's increasingly unsuccessful policy of divide and conquer is guaranteed to generate respect."

Read the full piece here.

Decline does not equate to imminent death

It is widely reported that newspapers are in decline. Readerships are down and revenues from advertising declining. Bottom line newspapers - that is those for sale - are facing stiff competition from "free" dailies and the internet. Now ipods and itouch appliances add another dimension for obtaining news.

For all of that there seems to still be some optimism abroad by newspaper publishers, as the LA Times reports in "U.S. newspaper editors still optimistic, survey says":

Despite declines in revenue and repeated staff reductions, most American newspaper editors remain optimistic that their publications will regain their footing by shifting news to online editions and by employing innovations like video and computer-assisted reporting, a study has found.

More than half of the 259 editors surveyed rated the overall quality of their papers as better now compared with three years ago, with a majority saying the quality of writing and the depth of reporting had impr…

My Son, the Blogger: An M.D. Trades Medicine for Apple Rumors

My son the doctor! is a somewhat familiar and cliched phrase. But here is a doctor who is giving up his stethoscope and white coat to be a full-time blogger? The NY Timesreports:

"For eight years, Arnold Kim has been trading gossip, rumor and facts about Apple, the notoriously secretive computer company, on his Web site, MacRumors.com.It had been a hobby — albeit a time-consuming one — while Dr. Kim earned his medical degree. He kept at it as he completed his medical training and began diagnosing patients’ kidney problems. Dr. Kim’s Web site now attracts more than 4.4 million people and 40 million page views a month, according to Quantcast, making it one of the most popular technology Web sites.It is enough to make Dr. Kim hang up his stethoscope. This month he stopped practicing medicine and started blogging full time."

You just can't keep a good man / woman down!

Try as they might, oppressive regimes simply can't clamp down on bloggers and those using the internet to "report" on what is going on in their country. Take Burma as an example! The Washington Post reports from Rangoon in "A New Generation of Activists Arises in Burma":

"They operate in the shadows, slipping by moonlight from safe house to safe house, changing their cellphones to hide their tracks and meeting under cover of monasteries or clinics to plot changes that have eluded their country for 46 years.

If one gets arrested, another steps forward.

"I feel like the last man standing. All the responsibility is on my shoulders. . . . There is no turning back. If I turn back, I betray all my comrades," said a Burmese activist who heads a leading dissident group, the 88 Generation Students, named for a failed uprising in 1988. He took command after the arrest last August of its five most prominent leaders."

Why Do People Love to Hate the NY Times?

The newspaper which has the moniker "All the News Fit to Print" - the venerable NY Times - rarely escapes the public and critical gaze. Whether it really does print all the relevant critical news is questionable. It's "coverage" of matters foreign [that is outside the US] is woefully slim and inadequate.

Matt Pressman, writing in Vanity Fair, considers why it is that people love to hate the NY Times:

"It’s such a given in the media business that few even stop to notice it: people love to hate The New York Times. They read the paper every day, and seemingly could not function without it, yet they never tire of, and often seem to delight in, pointing out its errors, biases, and various other real and imagined shortcomings. They’re a bit like the callers on sports talk radio—hopelessly devoted to an institution, but wanting nothing more than to voice their (often very loud) opinion about how awful and disappointing it is.

To plumb this phenomenon, VF…

Stop-Loss

It is becoming apparent, ever so slowly, that many veterans returning to the US and Canada from duty in Afghanistan and Iraq are suffering multiple traumas and injuries. Suicides are very high.

A searing movie "Stop-Loss" explores the trauma of a group of men returned from Iraq to their hometown in Texas to a triumphant welcome only to find, amongst other things, that their sergeant has been stop-lossed - that is, that the Army can, by law [see how Wikipedia details the practice here] require a serviceman, even though he has completed his tour of duty and is entitled to be discharged, to involuntarily return to Iraq. Some 80,000 servicemen have found themselves in that position.

In a no holds-barred movie the whole gamut of situations are explored including what it is like "on the ground" in Iraq for the men and women fighting there and the Iraqis too. See the movie trailer here.

Meanwhile, the movie ought to be compulsory viewing for the likes of…

Whither Al Qaeda in 2008

Al Qaeda is now rarely out of the headlines. Who had really heard of Bib Laden and his group pre 9/11?

In a piece "Al-Qaede. Winning or losing?" The Economist ponders on where to now for the infamous group:

"These days in Peshawar, where al-Qaeda was founded 20 years ago, the only glimpse of Osama bin Laden comes on little green packets of safety matches strewn around town by American officials (see picture). They bear the portrait of the world’s most wanted man, along with the promise that America will pay up to $5 million for information leading to his capture.

It is an appropriate image. Like one of these matches, Mr bin Laden caused a flash with the September 11th attacks on America in 2001, then vanished into smoke, leaving a burning trail of militancy stretching from Indonesia to Afghanistan, Iraq, north Africa and Europe. And despite the reward offered for his capture, now $25m, nobody has yet betrayed the whereabouts of “the Sheikh”, who periodically emerges on …

A fight to survive against overwhelming odds

It's a telling indictment of the news media that what is reported in relation to Israel and the Palestinians is so very much from an Israeli prospective. The ignorance of the world to what is happening to the Palestinians will only so long - until something really dramatic happens!

The Nation reports on an all too familiar situation:

"Jerusalem bulldozer 'terrorist' kills 3 in rampage," read the headline of a CNN article describing the recent attack of a Palestinian construction worker that left three Israelis dead and scores wounded. A Google news search indicates that the brutal assault was mentioned in 3,525 news articles. USA Today, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, BBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera as well as all the other major media outlets covered the incident. Lesser-known media sources, such as the Khaleej Times in the United Arab Emirates, the Edmonton Sun in Canada and B92 in Serbia, also featured the event. Indeed, one could safely assume tha…

Something to fear from McCain?

Johann Hari, writing in The Independent, make out a compelling case for us all, certainly outside the US, to fear a victory for John McCain in the upcoming presidential election. Hari explains in "We have everything to fear from McCain":

"When the almost six billion of us outside the US watch the contest for The Most Powerful Man in the World, we tend to focus on the candidates' foreign policies. If I was Iranian, say, I'd be anxious that John McCain keeps joking in public about killing me. As a bravo-bow after singing "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys melody Barbra Ann, he responded to being told exports of cigarettes to Iran are high by guffawing: "That's a way of killing them!"

But there's a way in which the next US president will affect you even more directly than foreign policy. By his economic decisions, the next president will help swing the price of the food you eat and the wages you earn – where…

'Theatrical return of the living and the dead'

Who else, and better than Robert Fisk to evaluate the last days when Israel secured 2 coffins containing 2 of its military and the Lebanese, in return, got 5 convicted killers and 199 coffins?:

"Yesterday was the last day of the 2006 Lebanon war, the final chapter of Israel's folly and Hizbollah's hubris, a grisly day of corpse-swapping and refrigerated body parts and coffin after bleak wooden coffin on trucks crossing the Israeli border, which left old Ali Ahmed al-Sfeir and his wife, Wahde, stooped and broken with grief. Ali had a grizzled grey beard and stood propped on a stick while Wahde held a grey-tinged photograph of a young man – her son Ahmed, born in 1970. "He was a martyr, but I do not know which lorry he will be on," she said. In the slightly torn picture, he looked whey-faced, unsmiling, already dead."

Read on the complete piece, from The Independent, here.

Robert Fisk: Europe has to educate the USA

"You in the West have a moral duty in Europe to educate the United States more about the Middle East. If they don't listen to you, they will not listen to us. They will continue with their mistakes." I don't think they're going to listen, I mutter. But Mr Moallem is in full flow."

So says the Syrian Foreign Minister in conversation with veteran writer, journalist and broadcaster Robert Fisk.

Fisk's piece in The Independent provides a rare insight into the thinking of at least one major player in the Middle East.

Airport Gestapo and utter incompetence

MPS has previously posted pieces on security post 9/11. Many instances of what now passes for security is alarming. Civil liberties are being trampeled on, but perhaps just as troubling is the utter and total incompetence of what is done in the name of security.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review.

In a piece "Airport Gestapo" on CounterPunch he highlights the absurdity of what the US Administration is calling security at airports:

"The Bush Regime’s “terrorist” protection schemes have reached the height of total incompetence and utter absurdity. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, a private organization that defends the US Constitution that inattentive Americans neglect, there are now one million names on the “terrorist” watch list.

One of them is that of former Assistant US Attorney …

Europe: Thumbs up for Obama?

Why it is thought that US presidential candidates need to go overseas before an election is a tad puzzling, but Obama is headed for Europe in the next days. How will they react? And how will the electorate back home view his travels and how is greeted whilst away? McCain has already been abroad to various places.

The LA Times considers the questions and issues which arise from Obama's upcoming visit to Europe:

"From prime ministers to college students, Europeans want to cloak Barack Obama in a warm embrace when he arrives on the continent next week. But they're also aware that anything that looks or smells like elitist Old Europe could hurt the Democratic contender with voters back home.

"Obama has yet to finalize his itinerary for Europe. However, he is already set to skip Brussels, the capital of the modern united continent, for the traditional symbols of economic and military power: London, Paris and Berlin.

All those European capitals' leaders have expres…

Enter at your own risk!

No one can object to security measures being undertaken to protect the public - especially those flying - but in the paranoia which has gripped governments post 9/11, especially in the US, some things have gone way too far and become onerous and beyond necessity.

The Washington Post reports in "Clarity Sought on Electronics Searches" on intrusions to privacy which are totally out of bounds unless - with good cause:

"Nabila Mango, a therapist and a U.S. citizen who has lived in the country since 1965, had just flown in from Jordan last December when, she said, she was detained at customs and her cellphone was taken from her purse. Her daughter, waiting outside San Francisco International Airport, tried repeatedly to call her during the hour and a half she was questioned. But after her phone was returned, Mango saw that records of her daughter's calls had been erased.

A few months earlier in the same airport, a tech engineer returning from a business trip to London o…

The Next Step [s]

Richard Clarke is chairman of Goodharbor Consulting. Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh are senior fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Writing an op-ed piece in the IHT they raise for analysis and consideration what confronts and what steps the next president to be elected in the US must undertake:

"As Americans begin to debate the merits of John McCain and Barack Obama, the Middle East is roiling. Just as the 1948 Israel war of independence triggered the collapse of the old order and the Six Day War of 1967 spurred profound shifts in both Israeli and Arab societies, the events of the past eight years have brought the region to a precipice.

To grapple with the quandaries of the Middle East, America will need a president of intellectual independence, strategic flexibility and considerable political imagination. He will have to be conscious of history without being shackled by it, alive to the emerging Arab narrative and prepared to shape it, while protecting American interests.

Alth…

Is the Fourth Estate a Fifth Column?

Veteran commentator, Bill Moyers, raises a critical question, never more relevant than now, in a piece "Is the Fourth Estate a Fifth Column" truthout.com:

"Our media institutions, deeply embedded in the power structures of society, are not providing the information that we need to make our democracy work. To put it another way, corporate media consolidation is a corrosive social force. It robs people of their voice in public affairs and pollutes the political culture. And it turns the debates about profound issues into a shouting match of polarized views promulgated by partisan apologists who trivialize democracy while refusing to speak the truth about how our country is being plundered.

Our dominant media are ultimately accountable only to corporate boards whose mission is not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the whole body of our republic, but the aggrandizement of corporate executives and shareholders.

These organizations' self-styled mandate…

A shift [albeit small] in Saudi Arabia

There is nothing especially about news of a new university being built - except this one is in Saudi Arabia and will, in many respects, be very "new" [think men and women students together!] is material ways.

The LA Times reports on some surprising apsects of the Arab kingdom and what is planned:

"The kingdom's huge oil reserves cannot mask Saudi Arabia's problems: 40% of its population is younger than 18, its schools are backward and its economy is not diverse enough to compete in a high-tech future balanced between the West and the rising powers of China and India."

And:

"The university, known as KAUST, is promising academic freedom, the mixing of cultures and religions, and subjects as varied as nanotechnology and crop development. The country's ubiquitous and often abusive morality police will not patrol the campus, depicted on the university's interactive website with unveiled women. Going unveiled is a crime in Saudi society that could lead t…

Looking at Iran objectively

Sad to say, any analysis of the news-sources around the world, shows that Iran is very much topic of the day - more particularly, the possibility of some sort of attack on the country.

TheNew York Review of Books has a sober and well-thought out piece "Iran:The Threat" on the whole subject of Iran and the sort of considerations which ought to be brought to account and into play in considering an attack on the country:

"At a moment of serious challenge, battered by two wars, ballooning debt, and a faltering economy, the United States appears to have lost its capacity to think clearly. Consider what passes for national discussion on the matter of Iran. The open question is whether the United States should or will attack Iran if it continues to reject American demands to give up uranium enrichment. Ignore for the moment whether the United States has any legal or moral justification for attacking Iran. Set aside the question whether Iran, as Secretary of Defense Robert Ga…

An ominous green light?

One would hope that this report in The Times [as reproduced on Information Clearing House] isn't correct. Then again, the trigger-happy White House honchos, Bush and Cheney, have seemingly been itching to "go" for Iran. Time is running out for George W. For their part the Israelis know that in an election year in the US, the Americans won't hold the Israelis back. PM Olmert might also welcome some respite from his own woes - by the country coming behind him despite the bad polling he is getting.

"President George W Bush has told the Israeli government that he may be prepared to approve a future military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if negotiations with Tehran break down, according to a senior Pentagon official.

Despite the opposition of his own generals and widespread scepticism that America is ready to risk the military, political and economic consequences of an airborne strike on Iran, the president has given an “amber light” to an Israeli plan …

"Dining off Iraq's wealth"

It is hard to avoid the validity and integrity of what Noam Chomsky writes and says. This piece, "Bush & Cheney Always Saw Iraqas a Sweetheart Oil Deal", reproduced on AlterNet, again raises the question, and motives, of those who invaded Iraq. Was it access to Iraq's oil which at all times propelled the invasion [for that is what it was! - remember the tag "Shock and Awe?]?:

"The deal just taking shape between Iraq's Oil Ministry and four Western oil companies raises critical questions about the nature of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq -- questions that should certainly be addressed by presidential candidates and seriously discussed in the United States, and of course in occupied Iraq, where it appears that the population has little if any role in determining the future of its country.

Negotiations are under way for Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP -- the original partners decades ago in the Iraq Petroleum Company, now joined by Chevron a…

The Real-Life ‘24’ of Summer 2008

When one reflects on it, those who lived through the Nixon-era Watergate saga - and all that entailed - can't be anything but troubled to read the weekly op-ed piece by Frank Rich in the NY Times - when he compares a book about to launched dealing with the still current Bush Administration and what was revealed about Nixon after he left the White House. Rich goes so far as to claim that Bush is, and his actions have been, worse than those of Nixon:

"We know what a criminal White House looks like from “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s classic account of Richard Nixon’s unraveling. The cauldron of lies, paranoia and illegal surveillance boiled over, until it was finally every man for himself as desperate courtiers scrambled to save their reputations and, in a few patriotic instances, their country.

“The Final Days” was published in 1976, two years after Nixon abdicated in disgrace. With the Bush presidency, no journalist (or turncoat White House memoirist) is …

What a pathetic lot!

The G8 Summit has come and gone. Countless millions of dollars have been spent on transporting teams of people to the conference and security for it. And what has come out of it? Precisely nothing in practical terms! One could describe the participants as a pathetic lot for apart from photos of tree planting, standing in their suits in a row and waving at the camera [might not photos of the participants sitting at a table with their sleeves rolled up shown some productivity] nothing concrete has emerged to work on, and resolve the world's present economic issues, climate change or food shortages.

Spiegel International has an interesting take on the Conference in a piece "The Incredible Shrinking Bush" - that the US was a follower and not a leader at the conference.

The US Government and your laptop

As if the Americans, thanks to George Bush, haven't already endured sufficient incursions into their personal liberties and privacy - "thing" being done post 9/11 allegedly on the grounds of security and combating terrorism - now it seems that even laptops of Americans arriving back into the country [and probably more than a goodly number of foreigners entering or passing through the US] are being subjected to close scrutiny.

The IHT reports:

"The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is routinely searching laptops at airports when Americans re-enter the United States from abroad. The government then pores over or copies the laptop's contents - including financial records, medical data and e-mail messages. These out-of-control searches trample the privacy rights of Americans, and Congress should rein them in.

There have been widespread reports of the government searching - and often seizing - laptops, BlackBerrys, iPhones and other portable electronic devices …

A comparison not to be proud of

It is interesting how the last years have seen commentators increasingly assert that many of Israel's policies and actions are no different to those during the apartheid era in South Africa. Count Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter as two high-profile critics. Needless to say such claims have met with the usual retort by the Israelis that the critics are being either anti-semitic or anti-Israel or if Jewish, self-hating Jews, etc.

Now, a group of South Africans have visited Israel and the Occupied Territories and the "story" is the same - in fact, they claim that some of Israel's policies and actions are even worse than those during the times of apartheid in South Africa. The Independent reports:

"Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle said last night that the restrictions endured by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories was in some respects worse than that imposed on the black majority under white rule in South Africa.

Members of a 23-strong human-r…

Torture: We always knew it......

The New York Times reports:

"Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes, according to a new book on counterterrorism efforts since 2001.

The book says that the International Committee of the Red Cross declared in the report, given to the C.I.A. last year, that the methods used on Abu Zubaydah, the first major Qaeda figure the United States captured, were “categorically” torture, which is illegal under both American and international law.

The book says Abu Zubaydah was confined in a box “so small he said he had to double up his limbs in the fetal position” and was one of several prisoners to be “slammed against the walls,” according to the Red Cross report. The C.I.A. has admitted that Abu Zubaydah and two other prisoners were waterboarded, a practice in which water i…

Poking justice in the eye!

Say what you will, Israel speaks with a forked tongue. It is forever calling for peace, yet its actions are totally the opposite in even fostering a peace settlement with the Palestinians let alone taking any steps toward or showing that it really means it.

B'Tselem, an Israeli Human Rights group, reports:

"The Separation Barrier has not been moved in any of the sections that were built and later nullified by the High Court of Justice. The human rights organization B'Tselem published this finding today, 9 July 2008, marking the fourth anniversary of the advisory opinion given by the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, which held that building the barrier in the West Bank breached international law.

The High Court nullified three sections, on grounds that the harm to Palestinians was disproportionate, and ordered the state to move the fence. The state has not yet moved the barrier in any of these sections. The sections that were nullified are as follows: the barr…

4 million say no to a private dance

Something lighthearted from the IHT and an "interesting" tale to boot:

"There are no weekend box office charts for online videos. But if there were, near or at the very top of the list right now might well be a four-and-a-half-minute video called "Dancing," which more than four million people have viewed on YouTube, and perhaps another million on other sites, in the just over two weeks since it appeared. It's the online equivalent of a platinum hit, seeping from one computer to the next like a virus.

The title is not misleading. "Dancing" shows a guy dancing: a big, doughy-looking fellow in shorts and hiking boots performing an arm-swinging, knee-pumping step that could charitably be called goofy. It's the kind of semi-ironic dance that boys do by themselves at junior high mixers when they're too embarrassed to partner with actual girls.

The dancer is Matt Harding, the 31-year-old creator of the video, and with some New Agey-sounding music p…

China: Forget about human rights for the Olympics!

Whilst there was intense interest and coverage of how China would deal with dissidents or "issues" during the upcoming Olympics, following the upheavals of the devastating earthquakes and floods China experienced, the subject has seemingly evaporated from the media.

Thankfully, Human Right Watch in its latest Report in the last days, reminds us that human rights in China are sadly lacking - and will remain so during the Olympics:

"The Chinese government continues to block and threaten foreign journalists despite repeated promises to lift media freedom restrictions ahead of the Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

Proponents and critics of the Beijing Games agreed on one thing – that fewer restrictions for international media and scrutiny of China at this time would constitute progress, yet the Chinese government – with the help of the International Olympic Committee – has done its best to impede progress.

The Chinese government has prohib…