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Showing posts from February, 2009

The Fox Guarding the Chicken Coop

Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor of Economics at California State University, Fresno.

Writing on CounterPunch in "Dennis Ross and Iran" he reflects on what the appointment of Dennis Ross as “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Gulf and Southwest Asia" [whatever that is supposed to encompass!] means, who he is and his background and all of that in the context of the Middle East:

"Whatever the reason for the postponement of Ross’s appointment and change of title, one thing is clear: the sly fox is now guarding the chicken coop. As Mel Levine said about Ross: “He’d be great for Israel.” With the help of Richard Holbrooke, Stuart Levey—Bush’s Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, who is now in Obama’s Administration—and all the other “president’s Middle East men,” Dennis Ross might be able to finish the unfinished business of the neoconservatives, the containment of Iraq and Iran. The Israelis and pro-Israel communities mus…

Warning to the US: beware treating Afghanistan like Iraq

All the signs are that newly-minted President Obama, and the US, are determined to commit more troops into Afghanistan - seemingly on the basis that there has been success in Iraq and because as things are going from bad to worse in Afghanistan, more troops will help get things into some semblance of order in what is already described by many as a failed State. And there is the usual refrain that in order to protect America from attack, the terrorists in Afghanistan need to be curbed.

Patrick Cockburn, who reports extensively from the Middle East, writing in The Independent, in "Warning to the US: beware treating Afghanistan like Iraq" counsels the US to reflect on what those foreigners who have been in Afghanistan have encountered before embarking on their ramping up of things in the already war-torn country.

"President Obama is likely to announce in the coming days that he will withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq by August 2010. Many of these soldiers will end…

China's human rights "worsening"

Last year was the year of the Olympics in China. An impression was abroad that human rights had eased. Not so, says the USA. In fact, it's worsening!

BBC News reports:

"China's human rights record worsened in some areas in 2008, the US state department concluded in its annual report on rights around the world.

The report accused China of harassing dissidents and increasing its repression of ethnic minorities.

It came a week after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on a trip to China that co-operation should take precedence over tensions".

The Slow Death of Handwriting

Like so many things in this 21st century, handwriting as we know it, is going the way of the Dodo.

BBC News reports about writing being on the wall for handwriting:

"Christmas cards, shopping lists and what else? The occasions in which we write by hand are fewer and fewer, says Neil Hallows. So is the ancient art form of handwriting dying out?
A century from now, our handwriting may only be legible to experts.

For some, that is already the case. But writer Kitty Burns Florey says the art of handwriting is declining so fast that ordinary, joined-up script may become as hard to read as a medieval manuscript.

"When your great-great-grandchildren find that letter of yours in the attic, they'll have to take it to a specialist, an old guy at the library who would decipher the strange symbols for them," says Ms Florey, author of the newly-published Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting.

She argues that children - if not this generation then one soon to come - ma…

Obama frees up Resources....for More War

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is "Made Love, Got War." He has written a piece for CommonDreams.org "Freeing Up Resources... for More War".

His prediction of where President Obama is headed - and what that means for the American people and the rest of the world - warrants reading.

"Hours after President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress, the New York Times printed the news that he plans to gradually withdraw "American combat forces" from Iraq during the next 18 months. The newspaper reported that the advantages of the pullout will include "relieving the strain on the armed forces and freeing up resources for Afghanistan."

The president's speech had little to say about the plans for escalation, but the few words wi…

Gaza: Closed down yet again

The Israelis know no bounds, let alone any sense of decency, in their treatment of the people of Gaza. The place is once again effectively closed down - by the Israelis. How anything for use in rebuilding the devastated territory is to get into there is a question posed by Ann Wright in a piece "Can Gaza Be Rebuilt Through Tunnels?" on truthout.org:

"How do you rebuild 5,000 homes, businesses and government buildings when the only way supplies come into the prison called Gaza is through tunnels? Will the steel I-beams for roofs bend 90 degrees to go through the tunnels from Egypt? Will the tons of cement, lumber, roofing materials, nails, dry wall and paint be hauled by hand, load after load, 70 feet underground, through a tunnel 500 to 900 feet long and then be pulled up a 70-foot hole and put into a waiting truck in Gaza?

The gates to Gaza slammed shut again on Thursday, February 5, the day our three-person group departed Gaza, having been allowed in for only 48 hou…

Sri Lanka: Committing War Crimes says HRW

Why is that the world, when it suits it, turns a blind eye to what are almost clearly war crimes? Israel is a constant offender - not that one would think the world is doing anything about it. The latest offender, and for some time now, is Sri Lanka - as Human Rights Watch has alleged.

Countercurrents. org reports:

"A report released last Friday by the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has provided a glimpse into the criminal character of the Sri Lankan government's war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Entitled "End ‘War' on Civilians," it calls on the government to "immediately cease its indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians in the northern Wanni region and its policy of detaining displaced persons in internment camps".

The HRW is no friend of the LTTE. The report criticises the LTTE's failure to allow civilians to leave its small remaining territory and its shooting at those who try. It also calls on the LT…

Q & A with Robert Fisk on Gaza and the media

Reporting independently from the front lines of war is an increasingly rare engagement for journalists working for major international media outlets. From Iraq to Afghanistan, reporters are increasingly embedded with Western military forces, operating without independence.

When Israeli military forces launched an invasion into the Gaza Strip, international journalists were barred entry into the territory by the Israeli government for the majority of the conflict, despite a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court that called on the government to allow international reporters into the territory. Major international media outlets, including CNN and the BBC, ended up reporting from hilltops in Israeli-controlled territory kilometres away from the actual conflict.

British journalist Robert Fisk has offered fiercely independent accounts of conflicts throughout the Middle East for decades. Stationed in Beirut, Lebanon, Fisk reports for the UK-based Independent newspaper and is widely read around…

Russia's dissidents deserve help.......

Johann Hari, writing in The Independent, makes out a compelling argument for people in the West to help dissidents in Russia:

"The critics of Vladimir Putin – Russia's Prime Minister and former KGB agent – have a strange habit of being found shot or stabbed or poisoned. This week, I met a man who is half-expecting an assassin's bullet – here, in London. He is not alone. Ahmed Zakayev – a big, broad man with a grey beard and grief-soaked eyes – says: "I remember holding a press conference near here with my dear friends Alexander Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya. Now they are murdered and I am the only one left. But I have no right to sit in a hole and shake. I have to speak."

Zakayev is a Chechen, and his people have been pounded by Putin and his predecessors for too long. The people of his small mountainous province in the Northern Caucusus – rich in natural resources – are one of the most abused populations on earth. In the 1940s, Joseph Stalin deported every si…

Authors miss out.....yet again!

As if things weren't bad enough in the publishing industry - with publishing houses slashing staff and cutting down on the books they publish and bookstores, many of them venerable, closing down, this op-ed piece "The Kindle Swindle?" in the NY Times reveals how authors will miss out from the latest Kindle 2:

"Being president of too many well-meaning organizations put my father into an early grave. The lesson in this was not lost on me. But now I am president of the Authors Guild, whose mission is to sustain book-writing as a viable occupation. This borders on quixotic, given all the new ways of not getting paid that new technology affords authors. A case in point: Amazon’s Kindle 2, which was released yesterday.

The Kindle 2 is a portable, wireless, paperback-size device onto which people can download a virtual library of digitalized titles. Amazon sells these downloads, and where the books are under copyright, it pays royalties to the authors and publishers.

Serves …

The payback for Israel's attack on Gaza

Israel might believe it succeeded in its attack on Gaza, but most pundits and commentators are of the view that Israel, in fact, opened a can of worms.

Tony Karon writing in Time:

"Fatah leaders see the Israeli election as confirming what they already knew: there's nothing to be gained by continuing the charade of U.S.-sponsored talks about talks with the Israelis. Palestinians could not get what they needed from Olmert, and they know that his successors will take even more of a hard line. From the Palestinian perspective, the past eight years of waiting for negotiations with Israel have left Abbas empty-handed, while the latest Gaza conflict has put Hamas in a stronger position than ever in the court of Palestinian public opinion. Despite the violence by Hamas gunmen against Fatah activists in Gaza since the Israeli offensive, many in Fatah view their movement's only hope of re-establishing a leading role in Palestinian politics as being to join a unity government with …

How dumb is that!

As we all know, the Israelis unleashed its savage bombing of Gaza [for 22 days] last month - causing untold numbers of deaths and massive physical devastation to the narrow strip of land.

The Bush Administration said or did nothing to halt the Israeli offensive. It is now being suggested that then president-elect Obama also determined not to come out condemning Israel for its actions or even calling for a halt of the savage bombing. Not to be overlooked, of course, is that much of Israel's hardware was supplied by the US in the first place.

So, having seen Gaza effectively pulverised, now we have the US seemingly on the verge of providing a massive aid package of US$900 million - in times of America suffering an economic meltdown- to help re-build Gaza. Is this dumb or what?

The Washington Post reports:

"United States aid for the Gaza Strip's reconstruction will likely top $900 million, an official said, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prepared to …

Listen.....and be shocked!

"It was one of President Barack Obama's first decisions when he came to office: to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay within a year.

A British resident who was held at Guantanamo Bay for close to five years has become the first of almost 250 prisoners to be released since the US president announced the closure of the Cuban detention camp last month.

But, as he arrived back in London today, Ethiopian-born Binyam Mohamed claims he was tortured with the blessing of the US and Britain."

Listen to an interview with the one-time detainee's lawyer on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program - and be shocked at the utter brutality of what Mohamed was subjected to. Bear in mind that during all the years of his renditioning and detention he was never charged with any offence.

Needless to say as what happened to Mohamed gets reported around the world - especially in the Middle East - reflect on how the Americans and Brits will be viewed especially, their pontific…

Hit 'send,' then hit the door

A sign of the times in more ways than one. The LA Times reports on how email is shaping the "response" to being retrenched:

"It was not the most eloquent subject line for a farewell e-mail to 5,000 co-workers: "So long, suckers! I'm out!"

But Jason Shugars worked at Google, whose off-center corporate culture is more forgiving than that of your average buttoned-down investment bank. In the rest of his goodbye, Shugars, a senior sales compliance specialist, reminisced about workplace moments that included putting cake down his pants at a sales conference, stealing a boss' $8,000 leather couch and singing "Hit Me Baby One More Time" in a miniskirt and braids.


"It took me a long time to write it," said Shugars, 34, who left Google to become director of ad operations for the music streaming website Imeem. "I didn't want to send out a stale 'good working with you, please reach me here' e-mail. Who wants that?"

That&#…

Changing the news to prevent a tantrum

Extraordinary, but true! - from Noam Chomsky's book Understanding Power as reported on FAIR[Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting]:

"[A] few years ago George Will wrote a column in Newsweek called "Mideast Truth and Falsehood," about how peace activists are lying about the Middle East, everything they say is a lie. And in the article, there was one statement that had a vague relation to fact: He said that Sadat had refused to deal with Israel until 1977. So I wrote them a letter, the kind of letter you write to Newsweek--you know, four lines--in which I said, "Will has one statement of fact, it's false; Sadat made a peace offer in 1971, and Israel and the United States turned it down." Well, a couple days later I got a call from a research editor who checks facts for the Newsweek "Letters" column. She said: "We're kind of interested in your letter; where did you get those facts?" So I told her, "Well, they're published i…

Murdoch and his Press Up to Their Old Racist Tricks

To think that the Sun King, Rupert Murdoch, is courted and entertained by various leaders around the world........for the man, and his media empire, can be shown to be racist and prejudiced in so much that is written and aired. And that doesn't take into account skewing the news!

This from AlterNet:

"Much has been said and written about the NY Post's racist cartoon that likened President Obama to a slain monkey, and rightly so. Jack and Jill Politics blogger Baratunde Thurston posted a must-read article about the connection between Blacks and apes, citing Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff's thoughts on how this cognitive association leads to increased racially motivated violence in our society. (Thurston and Young Turks host Cenk Uygur are holding an ongoing YouTube conversation on the issues of race surrounding this cartoon.) Open Left's Paul Rosenberg has a good piece breaking down "colorblind racism." And Earl Ofari Hutchinson took Rupert Murdoch and New Y…

A depressing saga of secrets, lies and medieval horrors

The above headline to an op-ed piece in The Independent has this by-line:

"The US and UK pay others to do what Saddam used to do to his jailed adversaries".

In a heard-hitting piece, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown takes the Brits, and especially their Foreign Minister, to task for not standing up to the US in being an accomplice in the torture of prisoners and the renditioning process:

"This is Britain’s position on torture: we ratified the UN Convention against it in 1988 and we then passed an Act of Parliament giving authority to the investigation and prosecution of torturers no matter where they cowered. But impressive as all this sounds, how precisely has it helped Binyam Mohamed?

Today, God willing, he will arrive back from Guantanamo Bay, the sunny Caribbean resort funded hitherto by the generous USA for the Mad Men of Islam who, we have been told for years, are the biggest danger to world peace. Mohamed’s doctors have found serious bruising, organ damage, acute injuries and em…

Suspend military aid to Israel, Amnesty urges Obama after detailing US weapons used in Gaza

A self-explanatory piece from The Guardian:

"Detailed evidence has emerged of Israel's extensive use of US-made weaponry during its war in Gaza last month, including white phosphorus artillery shells, 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles.

In a report released today, Amnesty International detailed the weapons used and called for an immediate arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups. It called on the Obama administration to suspend military aid to Israel.

The human rights group said that those arming both sides in the conflict "will have been well aware of a pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by both parties and must therefore take responsibility for the violations perpetrated".

The US has long been the largest arms supplier to Israel; under a current 10-year agreement negotiated by the Bush administration the US will provide $30bn (£21bn) in military aid to Israel.

"As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop…

Slumdogs Millionaire - From another perspective......

The movie "Slumdog Millionaire" has, as predicted, swept all before it in the annual Oscar awards today. Whether the movie warrants such accolades is a moot point - but, as was suggested, the Academy was likely to favour a good-feel movie in these economically-pressed times.

“Slumdog Millionaire” is a hit across the world, but in India, protesters have taken to the streets to attack the film.

Some Indians find the word “slumdog” in the movie’s title to be insulting to slum-dwellers. More generally, the rags-to-riches romance has been called “poverty porn” for the way it casts a glowing light on a very poor section of Mumbai society and promotes “slum tourism.”

The NY Times has asked some experts to write on why there are protests about the movie - here.

Diary - of a one-time editor

An all too familiar story of being retrenched.......but this diary - as published in the London Review of Books - ought to give pause for concern to all those who read and value books. Sad fact is that publishing is doing it tough and publishing houses are going through staff like there isn't going to be a tomorrow.

"I’d hardly settled behind my desk when one of my bosses asked if I would join her in the corner office. ‘Please close the door,’ she said as I entered the room. Seldom a good sign. ‘Why don’t you take the comfortable chair?’ Oh dear.

Three hours later I was back at home, jobless. I’d seen it coming, in a let’s-not-dwell-on-that-for-too-long sort of way: I was the most recently hired editor at the imprint, one of its more highly paid staff members, and my list, though filled with erudite, well-written books, was not the most profitable. If anyone was for the chop, it was likely to be me. And the possibility of staff cuts seemed far from remote. The share price of…

Cambodia's empty dock

There are many who dislike John Pilger - author, journalist, film-maker and commentator - but no one can accuse him of not going where others won't. He certainly serves as one pricking consciences where he, rightly, uncovers or challenges injustices.

In his latest writing - for The Guardian in "Cambodia's empty dock" he says that international justice is a farce while those in the west who sided with Pol Pot's murders escape trial.

"It is highly unlikely Pot Pot would have come to power had President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, not attacked neutral Cambodia. In 1973, B-52s dropped more bombs on Cambodia's heartland than were dropped on Japan during the second world war: equivalent to five Hiroshimas. Files reveal that the CIA was in little doubt of the effect. "[The Khmer Rouge] are using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda," reported the director of operations on May 2, 1…

Not a good prognosis....

With Israeli President Peres having called on Bibi Netanyahu to form a Government the prognosis for any settlement of the Israel-Palestinian issue becomes even more remote. But, then, as this piece from BERNARD AVISHAI DOT COM would suggest is Nethanyahu only following on from what has been Israeli policy almost from its establishment?

"Can't you understand simple arithmetic? Why, the very point of [our] program is to have as much land as possible and as few Arabs as possible!"

Avigdor Lieberman in 2009? Actually, Yitzhak Navon, Labor leader, and former president of the state, at an election rally in Yoqneam in 1984.

My point is that there is a bigger crisis here than the emergence of a "neo-fascist," as Marty Peretz called Lieberman (or shall we say even Marty Peretz, as Fareed Zacharia implied). There is the question of what national unity means, or at least how it plays. By 1984, the great danger to Israeli democracy was allegedly Meir Kahane, the causti…

Pakistan: Ally or foe in War on Terror

It's increasingly becoming a vexed question. Is Pakistan, so much heralded as an ally of the West, especially in the so-called war on terror, really so?

ABC Radio National's program, Correspondent's Report, would suggest not:

"ELIZABETH JACKSON: The Western world likes to claim that Pakistan is an ally in the War on Terror, but is it? If tomorrow night's 4 Corners programme is any indication, then the answer is not for much longer.

The Taliban has been systematically and brutally working its way through Pakistan.

4 Corners reporter Matt Carney has spent many years in the Middle East for many years and through a Pakistani journalist he was able to gain unprecedented access to the north west of Pakistan and the Taliban.

His story will be featured on 4 Corners tomorrow. I spoke to Matt Carney a short time ago and asked him how bad things were in Pakistan.

MATT CARNEY: You look at Pakistan and probably maybe a quarter of the country now is under the Taliban influence.

Y…

When will it all end?

Listen to the news or read the press and the economic news - be it job-losses, downturns in the market or company profits going through the floor - can only be described as dire and despairing.

A critical question being asked is when will it all end given governments around the world trying this or that to stimulate economies or perhaps just keep things in a holding-pattern. Bottom line no one seems to know or have any definitive answers.

Nobel prize winner [for economics] Paul Krugman, who writes for the NY Times and IHT, tries to put things into some context and to address the critical question "What will end the pain?"

"Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve released the minutes of the most recent meeting of its open market committee - the group that sets interest rates. Most press reports focused either on the Fed's downgrade of the near-term outlook or on its adoption of a long-run 2 percent inflation target.

But my eye was caught by the following chilling passa…

An evaporating two-State solution

For those who follow politics in the Middle East talk of some two-State solution seems ever-more impossible to realise. If nothing else practicalities on the ground suggest that it simply could not be achieved. What, move or re-settle perhaps some 400,000 settlers now occupying the West Bank. And then there is Gaza? What to do there?

Dissident Voice in a piece "Fearing a One-State Solution, Israel’s President Serves Pabulum to Washington" claims that President Peres sees the two-State solution evaporating:

"Whatever will happen in the future, we shall not repeat the mistakes we made in leaving Gaza.

– Shimon Peres to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations 2/18/09

You take my water. Burn my Olive Trees. Destroy my house. Take my job. Steal my Land. Imprison my Mother. Bomb my country. Starve us all. Humiliate us all. But I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.

– Sign carried near Hyde Park Corner during a demonstration in Londo…

The shoe-thrower speaks

"I did not mean to kill the leader of the occupation forces," Muntadar al-Zaidi said, speaking clearly and forcefully from a wooden cage before a packed courtroom. "I was expressing what's inside of me and what's inside the Iraqi people from north to south and from west to east."

And:

"I am charged now with attacking the prime minister's guest," he said stoically, making his first public remarks since the incident. "We Arabs are famous for being generous with guests. But Bush and his soldiers have been here for six years. Guests should knock on the door. Those who come sneaking in are not guests."

The now infamous shoe-thrower in Iraq - with George W as his targett - has spoken at his first appearance in Court.

Read a full report in truthout.orghere.

I Was Illegally Detained by the U.S. Government and Held in CIA-Run "Black Sites"

Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a citizen of Yemen, is a client of the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law, which represents him in his quest for truth and justice.

He writes in a piece on The Huffington Post [reproduced on AlterNet] about his experiences at the hands of the Americans. It doesn't make for pretty reading:

"The American public needs to face what has happened to those of us who were disappeared and mistreated in the name of their national security.

From October 2003 until May 2005, I was illegally detained by the U.S. government and held in CIA-run "black sites" with no contact with the outside world. On May 5, 2005, without explanation, my American captors removed me from my cell and cuffed, hooded, and bundled me onto a plane that delivered me to Sana'a, Yemen. I was transferred into the custody of my own government, which held me -- apparently at the behest of the United States -- until March 27, 2006, when I was finally rel…

Gaza: US politician's reality check!

The US doesn't recognise Hamas. So, ostrich-like, the US has basically ignored Gaza. In fact, the recently appointed emissary for President Obama, George Mitchell, when visiting the Middle East a few weeks ago went to Ramallah and Jerusalem but did not go into Gaza or even to the border-crossings. So much for informing oneself on the facts!

Surprise, surprise, 3 US politicians having just visited Gaza - an unofficial trip it has been stressed - found devastation and expressed their horror at what they found.

news.com.au reports in "Shock at Gaza devastation":

"US Democratic representatives Brian Baird and Keith Ellison expressed shock at the plight of the war-shattered Gaza Strip during a rare visit to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave today.
"The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering" Mr Baird said jointly with Mr Ellison during their visit which coincided with a similar trip by US Senator John Kerry.

The vi…

Lesson #1: Avoiding an Afghan Pitfall

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University.

Writing on CounterPunch he says:

"As the United States prepares to escalate its eight-year war against the Taliban, it might be useful to weigh its chances of success.

Consider, first, the fate of three previous invasions of Afghanistan by two great European powers, Britain and Soviet Union, since the nineteenth century.

These invasions ended in defeat – for the Europeans."

And:

"In light of the consequences that have flowed from the US presence in Afghanistan, who would advise an escalation? President Obama still has time to put on hold his plans to send more troops to Afghanistan. Instead, the best political minds around the world should be examining the least costly exit from a war that promises to become a quagmire, at best, and, at worst, a disaster, which no US objective in the region can justify."

Obama: No change on that!

Charlie Savage, Pulitzer Prize winner for his exposé of the Bush policies on torture, writing in the NY Times reflects in "Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas" on how things are seemingly going to be much the same, as under Bush, in the Obama administration:

"In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

And earlier this month, after a British court cited pressure by the United States in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in American custody, the …

At last! The dawn of some sense

It was inevitable and obvious - except to the foolish and blind!

If there was to be any progress in getting to some Middle East settlement - or at least a meaningful truce between Hamas and the Israelis - then the principal players would have to sit down and talk with Hamas. That rather simple proposition has been resisted to date.

Now, things seem to be changing, as The Independent reports in "Europe opens covert talks with ‘blacklisted’ Hamas":

"European nations have opened a direct dialogue with Hamas as the US intensifies the search for Middle East peace under Barack Obama.

In the first meeting of its kind, two French senators travelled to Damascus two weeks ago to meet the leader of the Palestinian Islamist faction, Khaled Meshal, The Independent has learned. Two British MPs met three weeks ago in Beirut with the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Usamah Hamdan. “Far more people are talking to Hamas than anyone might think,” said a senior European diplomat. …

Uh, Sorry, Could You Make That Another Five Billion? Or Sixteen, Maybe?

More than fair comment.......

From CommonDreams.org:

"General Motors told the Federal government Tuesday it may need over $16 billion more to stay afloat, bringing its total federal loans to $30 billion. Even then, it will have to cut 47,000 jobs and close five plants. The same day, Chrysler said it needs $5 billion more, bringing its total bailout to $9 billion; it also announced it lost $8 billion last year. It likewise plans to cut 3,000 jobs.

In January, the feds loaned another $1.5 billion to Chrysler Financial, ostensibly to spur new car loans, bringing the total government aid to Chrysler and General Motors financing units to $24.9 billion. At the time, Chrysler Chief Executive Thomas F. Gilman said the money would "better position us to withstand the current economic challenges until funding becomes available through more traditional commercial sources."

You mean, like making a sound product that people will buy, and managing your production and finances in such a …

The death of news

If reporting vanishes, the world will get darker and uglier. Subsidizing newspapers may be the only answer.

So headlines an article on Salon.com on the presently seeming inevitable demise of newspapers as we know them - and all that means.

Gary Kamiya writes:

"Journalism as we know it is in crisis. Daily newspapers are going out of business at an unprecedented rate, and the survivors are slashing their budgets. Thousands of reporters and editors have lost their jobs. No print publication is immune, including the mighty New York Times. As analyst Allan Mutter noted, 2008 was the worst year in history for newspaper publishers, with shares dropping a stunning 83 percent on average. Newspapers lost $64.5 billion in market value in 12 months.

All traditional media is in trouble, from magazines to network TV. But newspapers are the most threatened. For readers of a certain age, newspapers stand for a vanishing era, and the pleasures of holding newsprint in their hands is one that they are …

Israel's terrorist actions

The Israelis are quick to condemn and charge Hamas as being terrorists. Similarly Hezbollah. So, what to make of Israel conducting covert and illegal acts in a sovereign State? Read this rather astounding revelation in the Telegraph.co.ukdetailing Israel's actions in Iran:

"Israel has launched a covert war against Iran as an alternative to direct military strikes against Tehran's nuclear programme, US intelligence sources have revealed.

It is using hitmen, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime's illicit weapons project, the experts say.

The most dramatic element of the "decapitation" programme is the planned assassination of top figures involved in Iran's atomic operations.

Despite fears in Israel and the US that Iran is approaching the point of no return in its ability to build atom bomb, Israeli officials are aware of the change in mood in Washington since President Barack Obama took office.

They privately acknowledge the…

Bad News From America’s Top Spy

Chris Hedges, writing in "Bad News From America’s Top Spy" on truthdig.com. makes a sober assessment of where the world is at in 2009. And no, terrorism isn't the greatest threat. Hedges lays the blame at the feet of Wall St.

"We have a remarkable ability to create our own monsters. A few decades of meddling in the Middle East with our Israeli doppelgänger and we get Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida, the Iraqi resistance movement and a resurgent Taliban. Now we trash the world economy and destroy the ecosystem and sit back to watch our handiwork. Hints of our brave new world seeped out Thursday when Washington’s new director of national intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He warned that the deepening economic crisis posed perhaps our gravest threat to stability and national security. It could trigger, he said, a return to the “violent extremism” of the 1920s and 1930s.

It turns out that Wall Street, rather than I…

Rules of War Weren’t Made for Only One People

Robert Fisk, having just read a book on the Holocaust in Europe in WW2, in his latest piece in The Independent [republished on truthdig.com] reflects on the Holocaust - is it the domain of Jews only? - and how the wanton death and destruction of humans which continues to this day should be considered.

"The rules of war – the Geneva Conventions and all the other post-Second World War laws – were meant to prevent another Holocaust. They were specifically designed to ensure that no one should ever again face the destruction of Mrs Greenman and her child. They were surely not made only for one race of people. And it is these rules which Israel so disgracefully flouted in Gaza. It’s a bit like the refrain from Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara and a whole host of other apparatchiks when the torture at Abu Ghraib was revealed. Well, yes, they told us, it was bad – but not as bad as Saddam Hussein’s regime.

And of course, this argument leads to perdition. True, we were bad – but not as bad…

International jurists bewail damage to law by U.S. war on terrorism

The IHT, from Geneva, reports on what ought to trouble all citizens, be they in so-called repressive regimes or in so-called democratic states. What is increasingly being done by Governments under the banner of or in the name of fighting terrorism is cause for great concern - as, in many respects, what have been seen as liberties taken for granted are steadily eroded. And then there are still the pernicious practices of renditioning or detaining people without charge. Many countries - think the US, many Middle East countries including Israel and former Eastern European Communist nations - engage in or are willing participants in these outrageous acts.

"The U.S. war on terror has done "immense damage" to international law, lacks a credible legal basis and should be repudiated by the administration of President Barack Obama, a panel of eminent judges and lawyers said Monday.

The panel, organized by the International Commission of Jurists, a nongovernmental hum…

The Message: Loud and Clear

The message is unmistakable that Israel will do whatever it wants - and damn the fall-out or consequences.

With the result of the election determined but no PM in sight for quite some time - and probably seeking to taking the opportunity whilst Obama struggles with his country's economy and other pressing issues - the Washngton Post reports that in what can only be seen as a blow to whatever is left of the peace-process, that Israel intends to significantly expand a settlement on the West Bank:

"Israel has taken control of a large chunk of land near a prominent West Bank settlement, paving the way for the possible construction of 2,500 settlement homes, officials said Monday, in a new challenge to Mideast peacemaking.

Successive Israeli governments have broken promises to the United States to halt settlement expansion, defined by Washington as an obstacle to peace. Ongoing expansion is likely to create friction not only with the Palestinians, but with President Barack Obama, who…

Photo Essay: India's Real-World Slumdogs

With the nomination of Slumdog Millionaire for an Academy Award, it's easy to view Mumbai's slums as wastelands of filth and misery. But they're actually vibrant business centers filled with scrappy entrepreneurs. If some wealthy elites get their way, though, the slums' days may be numbered.

About half of Mumbai's 16 million residents live in informal settlements known as slums, the largest of which is Dharavi. Between 600,000 and 1 million people call Dharavi home, but for many, it is also their place of business, the site of approximately 15,000 cottage-industry factories powered by an unflagging entrepreneurial spirit. "You in the West so easily see the slum as a negative concept. ... But Dharavi has also been mirroring India's economic revival," one Dharavi advocate told The Guardian.

Go here for a photo essay on FP [Foreign Policy].

Will the relationship change? Yes it can

The Economist, in a piece "America and Israel: Will the relationship change? Yes it can", reflects on whether with Obama as president something might move on the peace-front in the Middle East:

"At first glance, the chances of peace between Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land look dimmer than ever. If Binyamin Netanyahu ends up as prime minister (see article), Israel’s voters will have elected a man who, on paper at least, is unwilling to let the Palestinians have anything more in the way of a state than a hollowed-out Swiss cheese of feebly linked cantons. He says the moderate Palestinians are too weak to control the West Bank and need to be strengthened, under Israeli supervision, before any more territory can be handed over to them.

Moreover, even if the centrist Tzipi Livni wins the day, with her support for talks leading to two states living peacefully side by side, the Palestinians are for the moment so sour and so divided that they have no government or leader strong …

You choose!

"I think the Israeli troops should get a medal for the way they conducted themselves in that war".

That is what Dan Gillerman, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, is quoted as saying in The Age.

Contrast that bold [brave? - or foolhardy?] claim with this report "In Gaza town, a bitter aftermath" in the LA Times :

"Weeks after Israel declared a unilateral end to its offensive in the Gaza Strip, the aftermath still burns in Khozaa, a farm town of 11,000 in the south of the territory. Chunks of white phosphorus still lie scattered throughout neighborhoods, buried in dirt and sand; when excavated, they immediately ignite and spew noxious smoke that smells vaguely of garlic.

As the International Criminal Court weighs a war crimes investigation of the Gaza offensive, the experience of Khozaa could be a key part in the evidence. It was here that Israeli troops staged a series of incursions from Jan. 11 to 13, facing off against local militant fighters and leaving a trai…