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Thursday, March 31, 2005

The "no kidding" stories of the day

John Danforth, a former senator and US ambassador to the United Nations, writes in yesterday's New York Times that the Republican Party has fallen hostage to the religious right. "Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians", he said.

Palestinian women have borne the brunt of the pain inflicted by four-and-a-half years of conflict but their plight has been largely ignored, Amnesty International says and reported by The Independent today. Both the Israelis and Palestinians are criticised. The Israelis for regularly refusing women to cross checkpoints and gain medical access and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for not addressing issues such as honour killings.

Watch these stories ignored or spun out of recognition in the West. Bush devotees will mention his democratic vision and love of freedom, conveniently ignoring issues such as Guantanamo Bay and the Palestinians will be blamed for causing terrorism and therefore, by extension, shouldn't be expecting treatment with compassion. The PA will be dismissed as corrupt (which it is) and ineffective (fairly accurate) but frequently forgotten in this debate is the fact that the Israeli military has spent the last four years destroying the entire infrastructure within Palestinian society.

Torture, Colin says "oops" and what we should be doing

German publication Der Spiegel yesterday released a report showing that US General Ricardo Sanchez authorized illegal interrogation techniques in Iraq just months before the Abu Ghraib abuses. In further evidence that Geneva conventions were wilfully ignored after the US invasion, the latest revelations add weight to the charge that senior elements of the US military acted in the knowledge that their superiors were unlikely to chastise them.

Furthermore, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell said this week that he was "furious and angry" that the information he presented to the UN in February 2003 was wrong. "We were sometimes too loud, too direct, perhaps we made too much noise," Powell told Germany's Stern magazine. Admitting that blatant lies were told that led to an illegal invasion isn't something we're likely to hear Powell admit anytime soon.

Before I'm told that the Left should "get over" the reasons behind the war, I have this to offer. An unprecedented number of people around the world protested before the war and signalled their opposition to an invasion without UN sanction. Ignoring ever-increasing amounts of information that proves duplicity by the leading governments is irresponsible, especially in light of US sabre-rattling towards Iran, Syria and North Korea. We must learn the lessons of past mistakes and hold our leaders accountable. Elections are but one way of doing this.

Journalists shouldn't see themselves as beholden to government spin. Indeed, the finest reporters are those individuals who work outside the system, cultivating contacts and presenting alternative narratives from the official line, likely to be inaccurate and air-brushed (UK-based Medialens expertly dissects the true role of journalists in Western "democracies.")

Sadly in Australia, we are yet to produce an equivalent to Seymour Hersh, although Dateline's Mark Davis is perhaps as close as we get.

Popularity contest

John Brown works for the University of Southern California. He runs a website dedicated to examples of US public diplomacy " including current issues in U.S. foreign policy, international broadcasting and media, propaganda, cultural diplomacy, educational exchanges, anti-Americanism, and the reception of American popular culture abroad."

Is Iran next?

Scott Ritter is a former UN Weapon's Inspector in Iraq and one of the few voices before the invasion to claim that Saddam was essentially disarmed. Mainly ignored in the Western media - keener to accept and propel government spin on WMD - he now publishes regularly in the Arab world, including al-Jazeera.

His latest article warns of the threat posed by blindly following the lead of the US and Israel, two countries encouraging action against the Islamic state. Caution should be exercised, Ritter argues, as facts on the ground are sketchy, at best.

The December edition of The Atlantic asked whether Iran was next on the neo-con hit-list and in an analysis that completely ignored the civilian population conducted a Pentagon war-game to determine US military success. Failure was the result, thankfully.

They voted...against the US

Two months after the "historic" Iraqi elections, Western propaganda continues to push the line that the Iraqis voted for democracy and freedom. Many did, but one key factor has been erased: the leading parties campaigned for an end to US occupation. In his latest interview, Noam Chomsky explains the true significance of the January elections:

"I agree that the elections were a success...of opposition to the United States. What is being suppressed - except for Middle East specialists, who know about it perfectly well and are writing about it, or people who in fact have read the newspapers in the last couple of years - what's being suppressed is the fact that the United States had to be brought kicking and screaming into accepting elections. The U.S. was strongly opposed to them."

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Speaking out in Nepal

When Nepal's King Gyanendra sacked his country's government and declared a state of emergency in early February, press freedom immediately suffered. We now learn from the Committee to Protect Bloggers that a small group of bloggers in Kathmandu are fighting back and spreading the word of democracy. One was recently dubbed the "Salam Pax of Kathmandu", a reference to the trail-blazing resident of Baghdad who reported on his city's journey during the period before and after the US invasion of 2003.

The Committee blog focuses primarily on attempts by governments in the Middle East to restrict blogging access and voices other than the official line. They are, of course, fighting a battle they will never win.

New Matilda

Any kind of new so-called alternative voices are welcome in the closed Aussie media environment. New Matilda started in 2004 and aims to provide a centre-left outlook on Australia and the world. This week's editorial paints a typical picture of John Howard and his seeming inability to feel compassion towards refugees who desire better lives in supposedly open Australia while he expresses compassion towards victims of natural disasters and terrorism over "there" in faraway lands.

The online publication has been very uneven. Speaking to the soft Left voter within, the editors appear generally unwilling to publish writers operating outside the establishment media or academia. Furthermore, this attitude rarely allows any serious examination of political life beyond a two-party system. Perhaps I'm being unfair. I'm happy to continue supporting attempts to highlight the failure of mainstream media in holding business and government accountable. Truly brave indy publishing is something like US-based Counterpunch, though whether Australia can support something like this is debatable. And now we have until May to wait for The Monthly, "a new national magazine of politics, society and the arts." Pray for guts.

Facts on the ground

If one is thinking of travelling to Iraq as a journalist, would the US Embassy be the best source of security information? Contact information for the relevant personnel can be found here. Considering the fact that the US military have killed numerous journalists in suspicious circumstances (including the recent near-death experience of Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena), I would encourage would-be visitors to post-Saddam Iraq source their security info elsewhere. A good place to start could be here.

Anti-chewers unite

In the latest news not getting appropriate coverage in the anti-humour Australian media, citizen groups in the US are fighting the ever-increasing trend of second-hand tobacco spit in public. New York resident Glen Abramson explains: "I can't go to a bar without coming home reeking of tobacco spit. I have to wring my clothes out in the sink before I go to bed. Sometimes, I'll get them back from the dry-cleaners with flakes of chew still clinging in the weave."

Timor sea justice

Channel 7 and SBS have refused to show these ads funded by millionaire businessman, Ian Melrose, explaining the ways in which the Australian government is stealing the oil and natural gas reserves in the Timor Shelf.

Crikey today reports that Melrose is bewildered by the networks' decision:

The networks have not yet supplied written statements outlining the reasons why they refuse to screen the ads, but have indicated that they were concerned about the content of the ads for young viewers. Melrose says this is nonsense: "The ads have already been approved by the appropriate bodies and were deemed suitable for free-to-air television, so that can't be the reason," he told Crikey today."

"What I want to know," says Melrose, "is, has there been any correspondence between the networks and the Australian government?"

It's a good question and one unlikely to be answered by government still basking in the glow of "liberating" East Timor in 1999.

Iraq still matters

Many adults in the US still regard the situation in Iraq as vitally important, according to a new poll by CBS News. Indeed, it is the most pressing issue according to respondents, followed by the economy/jobs and terrorism.

Before last year's Federal election, Australians overwhelmingly thought that the Iraq war increased the terrorist threat to our shores. The recent announcement of a further deployment of 450 troops has also left the public feeling great unease.

These results are hardly surprising. Australians are wary of engaging even further in Iraq when more and more countries are withdrawing. What has John Howard promised that we aren't being told?

Former US Presidential candidate and consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, claims that a US withdrawal from US is now more likely than ever. Frankly, I think he's deluding himself. The US have never set a timetable for withdrawal because they intend to maintain a sizeable presence in the country for the foreseeable future - Iraq remains a key strategic asset in the region.

One big prison

B'Tselem is one of Israel's premiere human rights organisations. Its latest report, One Big Prison, makes for disturbing reading. It's well worth quoting in full:

Israel has cut off the Gaza Strip from the rest of the world to such an extent that it is easier for Palestinians in Israel or the West Bank to visit relatives in prison than visit a relative in Gaza. This is one conclusion of the 100-page report that B’Tselem and HaMoked publish today. One Big Prison documents the ongoing violations of human rights and international law resulting from Israel’s restrictions on the movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, Israel, and the rest of the world. The report also warns against Israel’s attempt to avoid its responsibility toward residents of the Gaza Strip following disengagement.

Despite the easing of restrictions that Israel declared following the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in February 2005, there has been almost no improvement in the movement of Palestinians to and from Gaza, nor in the movement of goods. The report illustrates the extent to which Israel treats many fundamental human rights – among them the right to freedom of movement, family life, health, education, and work – as “humanitarian gestures” that it grants or denies at will.

Report Highlights:

• As a result of the economic siege on Gaza, more than 77 percent of Gazans (1,033,500 people) now live below the poverty line - almost double the number before the intifada. Some 23 percent of Gazans (over 323,000 people) are in “deep poverty,” meaning that they do not reach the subsistence poverty line even after receiving aid from international agencies.

• The forced isolation of Gaza tears many Palestinians from their families, and in some cases even separates spouses. The report includes the testimonies of a woman whose husband was expelled from the West Bank to Gaza, and of a mother whose son has never seen his father.

• Almost all the restrictions on movement are imposed on entire categories of people, based on sweeping criteria, without checking if the individual poses a security risk, and without weighing the harm the person will suffer, or if less harmful alternatives are available. In most cases, where Israel denies a permit and human rights organizations intervene, Israel reverses its decision to avoid an embarrassing legal challenge.

• Most components of the policy of strangulation are illegal under international and Israeli law.

The strangulation of the Gaza Strip increased following Palestinian attacks against civilians in Israel and the Occupied Territories over the past few years. Targetting civilians is a “war crime” and never justified. Israel is entitled, even obligated, to protect its citizens. However, Israel’s right to self-defense does not permit it to trample on the rights of an entire population.

Israel declared that “completion of the disengagement will invalidate the claims against Israel on its responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” In the report, HaMoked and B’Tselem emphasize that all the suffering described in the report is likely to continue, and even worsen, after disengagement, for which Israel will be continue to bear legal responsibility.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

What peace process?

We're told that Israel is serious about peace. We're informed that Palestinians must stop "terrorism" before serious negotiations can occur. We're deluged with propaganda in our media that reassures us that there is a new hope for peace since the death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat. If you believe all this, you're living in fairyland.

How to explain this in yesterday's Haaretz?

"We can't expect to receive explicit American agreement to build freely in the settlements," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at Sunday's cabinet meeting. The large blocs of settlement in the West Bank "will remain in Israel's hands and will fall within the (separation) fence, and we made this position clear to the Americans. This is our position, even if they express reservations," he said.

Damning the Greens

Rupert Murdoch's media empire is known to despise the Greens under Senator Bob Brown. For these establishment media-types, a two-party system is all a democracy needs, thanks very much, and if anybody dares steal the limelight from the corporate-driven Labor or Liberal parties, watch out. Such was Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper during last year's Federal Election campaign.

The Greens complained to the toothless Press Council and won. Murdoch's minions refuse to accept the decision and today publish a scathing "examination" of the Council's findings. Indignation runs high, as ever, and Greens are once again deemed dangerous to society. The party has responded though where is the Fairfax press? Neither The Sydney Morning Herald nor Age, the supposed quality broadsheets of Sydney and Melbourne respectively, have covered this story in depth. It's a common theme. The Murdoch press regularly attacks the Fairfax press, and nothing more than a whimper is ever heard in reply.

If the powers that be at Fairfax reckon they're above such petty squabbles, they should think again. The Australian media landscape is increasingly dominated by Murdoch and his agendas. Sometimes you've got to play dirty, especially when your already dwindling readership is diving even more. Issues of media accountability are important and people do care. Are the editors of Fairfax simply waiting for the cross-media laws to pass the Senate after July 1 and then calmly watch as any kind of investigatve journalism remaining is reduced to make way for more advertising dollars? It's happening already.

My brief

I’m a freelance journalist based in Sydney, Australia, writing primarily on international affairs, the Israel/Palestine conflict and domestic politics. Few areas don’t interest me. Sadly, the Australian media is increasingly complicit in the actions of John Howard’s government. Rupert Murdoch owns 70% of my country’s print media, the highest percentage of any Western nation. The alternatives, The Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald, are frequently little better. Fear of seriously tackling governmental corruption and injustice as well as business interests pervades much of the mainstream media. Corporate news values permeate everything and information that slips through is the exception rather than the rule.

Alternative news sources are therefore essential. This blog is but one example. The fight back has begun. It’s time that media existed not solely for the advertising dollar, but for informing readers. Let’s get beyond the Right and Left divide. They exist of course, but increasingly partisan news agendas don’t serve the public interest. I love that the mainstream media is struggling to understand or accommodate the blogging revolution. It’s time they acknowledge that their agendas and angles are no longer the only truth. Far from it. The Iraq war proved once and for all that Iraqi and Western bloggers were the most fascinating source for conditions on the ground, not embedded journalists with the New York Times.

Let’s have a discussion about what media you want, what you dislike, what you think your media isn’t telling you and what perspectives they’re ignoring or highlighting. Blogging allows media to be owned by us, the reader and participant. And that’s the most democratic thing that’s happened to media for a generation.

Who remembers their dead?

"In an age where war has become a policy option rather than a last resort, where its legitimacy rather than its morality can be summed up on a sheet of A4 paper, we prefer to concentrate on the suffering caused by "them" rather than "us", writes Robert Fisk in his latest article for The Independent.

Fear America

"Australians are as just as concerned about United States foreign policy as Islamic extremism and regard the US as more dangerous than a rising China, according to a new poll." It's a sign that recent Bush administration adventurism and illegalities, from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay, are causing uncertainty here. This is not about moral equivalence, but rather the welcome failure of the Howard government to convince us that America is our saviour and a sole force for good in the world along with the legitimate fear of a terrorist attack.

The poll was commissioned by the Lowy Institute for Public Policy. Its executive director, Alan Gyngell, said yesterday that he suspected the results would have been different during the presidency of Bill Clinton. He sounded somehow disappointed that the Howard government hadn't convinced enough people of the Bush doctrine.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Gorilla in the room

The now deceased Edward Said once said that the last great taboo in America is that country's relationship with Israel. It's rarely discussed in Australia, either, though I'll be examining it throughout my upcoming book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, out with MUP in early 2006.

Gorilla in the Room is a new blog based in Washington, dedicated to "shattering the taboo on discussion of Israel's "Agents of Influence". It's a fascinating read and deconstructs the incestuous alliances between pro-Israel lobbyists such as AIPAC, the Bush administration and the formulation of foreign policy.

Australia in the cold

David Marr, one of Australia's finest journalists and co-writer of Dark Victory - the devastating examination of the 2001 election and the injection of racial prejudice into the public domain by the Howard government - has returned to The Sydney Morning Herald after three years hosting ABC TV's Media Watch.

His latest article tells the rarely reported saga of Australia's increasingly sullied name overseas, especially in relation to human rights breaches. The UN's Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination brought down a judgement on March 12 which should make any compassionate Australian react with horror. "Australia was rebuked for its treatment of migrants, Muslims, asylum seekers, refugees and Aborigines", it stated.

Marr skilfully explains the dominant culture within the Australian government and its American masters to consistently slam the UN, any of its decision and operate outside the established international norms. Foreign Editor of Rupert Murdoch's The Australian, Greg Sheridan, articulated this position last weekend:

"Australia should be absolutely pragmatic about the UN. It is merely one form of international co-operation. It does some good things, which we should support, and some bad things, which we should oppose. But under no circumstances should any Australian government ever feel constrained by UN authority."

So who, therefore, should make the key decisions leading to war, or an occupation or avoidance of conflict? When George W. Bush appoints an arch-enemy of multilateral institutions, John Bolton, as his UN ambassador, the new rules of the game are perfectly clear and the Howard government is more than willing to go along for the ride. This should be opposed by all people who believe in international law and accountability.

Just today we learn that David Hicks, the Australian captured by the Americans in Afghanistan and held for over three years without trial at Guantanamo Bay, is still facing an uncertain future. Publicly the Australian government expresses hope that there is enough evidence to try Hicks and little movement has occurred since his incarceration. Privately, ministers need to be shamed into more aggressively pursuing Hick's release back to Australia.

All these cases are pieces of the same puzzle. We may see ourselves as a tolerant, easy-going and generous country, but in reality, the world community is becoming increasingly aware of Australia's racist past and present. By all means imagine encourage much-needed reforms of the UN, but to imagine a world where American unilateralism is the sole arbiter of decision-making, we are heading for a divided world. Are you with or against US government policy? It's not a decision that countries should have to make.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The problem is Blair

Easter Sunday. Sunny day in Sydney. And I'm cooking, a rare occurrence for a dinner party tonight with friends.
This story in today's UK Independent peels back yet another layer in the Blair government's rush to war. We await an equivalent dissection in Australia. Lies, deception and slave to American power:
"A former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee...said: "Any government that wants to manipulate the intelligence as shamelessly as this one did will find a way to bypass procedures. What went wrong was not an aberration of the system - the problem is Blair."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Protesting Baxter

Every Easter, refugee activists converge on Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia to protest the Howard government's asylum seeker policy. Some violence has been reported, but this is a distraction from the main game. This photograph graphically displays the reality. Full information about the reasons, actions and motives of the activists is well worth reading. With media access banned from inside the detention centres, remember that the vast majority of Australians, as the government desires, does not see or humanise the refugees. Highlighting the outrage of incarcerating innocent people for often years on end is essential.

Bad teeth and Iraqi truths

Ever thought your drink of Coke tastes a little sour? Perhaps it's because charges of serious human rights abuses by the company are gaining in strength. The Nation reports. And who said soft drinks can't kill you? Killer Coke responds.

Patrick Cockburn is the Iraq correspondent for the UK Independent, also home to Robert Fisk. In an exclusive interview with Arab Media Watch, Cockburn discusses the realities of reporting from the "liberated" country. "I don't go out of Baghdad", he says.

Furthermore, the role of the insurgency is murkier than many in the anti-war left would like to acknowledge and with the Americans, " have some frightened American GI from Ohio, aged 20, who probably doesn’t want to be in Iraq. He believes that in any car there might be a suicide bomber and nothing happens to him if he gets it wrong. If he guns down a family of five, nothing happens to him. So there is no downside, from his point of view, in pulling the trigger. This happens, as I have said, all the time. Even if there’s a single shot in the distance, the Americans often open up in all directions. It seems to be part of their military training."

Cockburn's comments confirm that, despite the propaganda in the West proclaiming flowering democracy in Iraq, the security situation remains so treacherous that any kind of even barely functioning freedoms are undermined by the incompetence of the Americans. The great unspoken truth about Iraq is the desire of many in the country to be rid of the US occupation and embrace democracy.

Not Dead Yet

In the current debate surrounding Terry Schiavo and issues of assisted suicide, shameless political point-scoring and faux moral outrage, Not Dead Yet is a perspective rarely heard. What are they about?

"Since 1983, many people with disabilities have opposed the assisted suicide and euthanasia movement. Though often described as compassionate, legalized medical killing is really about a deadly double standard for people with severe disabilities, including both conditions that are labelled terminal and those that are not."

PS. I discovered this group thanks to historian, writer and military man, Clinton Fernandes, after sharing lunch with him today. He's the author of Reluctant Saviour, an insightful look at Australia's true role in East Timor's "liberation." My recent Sun Herald review is here.

PPS. Thanks to all who've added comments. We may only be one week old, but I want this blog to be, soon enough, an essential stop for news and views you won't find anywhere else, a challenge to the mainstream media's primary reliance on US sources and a community who believes that people of conscience need to be more active in disseminating dissenting viewpoints.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Michael Manning is an American deep-sea diver turned documentary filmmaker. He recently went to the Iraqi town of Fallujah. Why?

"For the past two years, Manning has been making a documentary, American Voices, crisscrossing the United States and asking hundreds of Americans if they could explain why, exactly, the U.S. is at war with Iraq", wrote the Santa Barbara Independent on March 24.

"He was profoundly disheartened, he said, by the lack of facts and accurate information out there. Very few of the people he interviewed could back up their opinions with facts. Even worse, he realized, neither could he. That’s when he decided he had to see what life was like on the receiving end of Operation Enduring Freedom. “As an American citizen,” said Manning, “I felt personally responsible for what happened to the people of Fallujah. We live in a democracy. In our democracy, my government is conducting a military operation over there in my name. To me, it doesn’t get more direct than that."

His eyewitness account gives credence to the claim that the US occupation is in fact fuelling the insurgency, due primarily to its heavy-handedness and indiscriminate killing.

Rabbis for Human Rights

Be inspired.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman: "...this is a country fighting for its soul, that Zionism is fighting for its soul, that Judaism is fighting for its soul. Nothing, even after the terrible things I've seen, causes me to call the enterprise into question."

"But as a Jew, as a rabbi, as an Israeli, as a Zionist, I've always wanted to believe that we're better. I don't think we're any worse, but I can't any more say that we're better. It only reinforces my commitment to save the soul of Judaism."

Facility 1391

Harvard Law Professor and defender of torture, Alan Dershovitz, claimed in 2003 that Israel "outlawed torture":

"They were the only country in the world ever directly to confront the issue, and it led to a supreme court decision...outlawing torture, and yet Israel has been criticized all over the world for confronting the issue directly."

So what about Facility 1391? The Guardian report of 2003 makes for chilling reading:

"Facility 1391 has been airbrushed from Israeli aerial photographs and purged from modern maps. Where once a police station was marked there is now a blank space. Sometimes even the road leading to it has been erased."

Charges of torture, rape and psychological torment abound. One leftwing MP, Zahava Gal-On, describes Facility 1391 as "one of the signs of totalitarian regimes and of the third world".

Furthermore, Israeli Shin-Bet officers were sent to Iraq in 2003/04 to assist the US "with the most difficult interrogations." One major question remains unanswered: were the Israelis involved in torture, and if so, has their role been suppressed?

More blogging, please

Interesting recent gabfest at the Brookings Institution about blogging, its relationship with the traditional media and what the future may hold. Put aside the generally conservative voices here (we are, after all, at the Brookings Institution) and discover a fairly thorough investigation about the fear that currently rests in the so-called "old media" towards the blogosphere as well as the idea that blogging can increase mainstream accountability and verification of facts.

Partisan blogging hacks may frequently receive media attention but I believe these people represent only a small fraction of the blogging community. Besides, bloggers are now mushrooming around the world, and thankfully care little about Republicans increasingly intimate line-dancing with the Christian Right.

A kick up Israel's centre-left behind

The support of Ariel Sharon in Israel, from both the left and right, is a disturbing delusion, argues Sefi Rachelevsky in today's Haaretz:

"...the contrary political path that perpetuates the idea that "only the Likud can do it" is ironically what will allow the Likud to reunite after the disengagement from Gaza, and to gather around the flag of "protecting the real interests of Israel" in the elections that take place right after the withdrawal."

The essential failure of Israel's left over the last four years to construct a convincing argument has led to this most unfortunate situation, whereby many on the left support Sharon because he appears to want withdrawal from Gaza and then they argue, as I heard frequently during my recent travels in Israel, "only a right-winger can bring about such a radical shift here."

Gideon Levy recently wrote a fiery piece entitled, "Good morning to the Israeli left." He argues that the Israeli left have almost uniformly joined the ranks of Sharon supporters and fallen silent whilst the brutality of the occupation continues:

"...the silence was the greatest failure of all. It is impossible not to ask now where everyone was for the 346 children that Israel killed. What prevented them from protesting when 112 wanted men were assassinated without trial and another 521 innocent passersby were killed at the same time? The demolition of half of Rafah, the uprooting of olive trees in the West Bank, the erection of the wall, the apartheid roads for Jews only, the imprisonment of an entire nation behind checkpoints for years - none of it awakened most of the artists or the "coalition of the majority." They were silent. They were afraid. They were complicit."

Speaking out in times of national trauma is what distinguish the brave from the cowardly. So few Israelis have campaigned against the direction that Israel is taking, essentially wanting to remake Gaza as a large prison camp and consolidate a tight grip over the West Bank. All the while, settlement expansion continues. And the West thinks the Israeli government is serious about peace?

What is multiculturalism?

Sir William Deane is a former Governor General of Australia and remains a voice of compassion in the community. He gave the following speech at the University of Western Australia on Monday night. Our country is being challenged by a conservative orthodoxy, Deane argued, and the very fabric that makes us diverse and tolerant is being threatened:

"One cannot but be conscious of a tendency in recent times to seek to discount or trivialise policies and attitudes protecting the dignity and self esteem of other human beings by dismissive or occasionally sneering reference to the pejorative and largely meaningless catchphrase of “political correctness”. Or, in some more strident sections of the media, by childish reference to things such as drinking chardonnay, or cappuccino or even latte or an undefined “chattering class” from which those who are enamoured of the phrase apparently see themselves as strangely exempt."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Show of the year?

Will an Australian television station have the moral fortitude to launch the Frank and Fitzy show on an unsuspecting public? It's Seinfeld meets Sopranos.

Anti-semitism rules

Let it never be said that Jew-hatred isn't alive and well in the Middle East. News that Lebanon has withdrawn from this year's Eurovision Song Contest because of an Israeli participant.

Daddy's girls

Jenna and Barbara, daughters of George W. Bush, are known for their frequently illegal partying ways. And now it seems the last laugh is not on them. It couldn't have happened to a nicer family.

Not to be forgotten is Vice President Dick Cheney's drunk driving issues. In fact, The Smoking Gun has a raft of other documents that the rich, powerful and corrupt would rather never saw the light of day. Price of infamy, people.

I can't resist this. The video invite to Puff Daddy's recent 29th birthday party in New York. Many celebrities are featured. The ego has landed. If you're wondering why Hollywood is proud of its Democratic roots, and yet appears to have little or no impact on the voting public, the delusions on offer throughout this video may provide some clues.

Misinformation and damn lies

If you repeat a lie often enough, people truly do believe it. And when an unquestioning media joins the cheer parade, truth will not be the winner. This is the only conclusion to be drawn from a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, taken two years after the Iraq invasion. The two most startling facts are:

"Fifty-six percent of Americans still think Iraq did possess WMDs shortly before the war, though none has been found; that's sharply down, though, from the 89 percent who thought before the war that it had such weapons"; and

"Six in 10 Americans also continue to think that before the war Iraq provided direct support to the al Qaeda terrorist group."

A recent study also confirms that the US media are routinely self-censoring information about Iraq. This reluctance to show the true horrors of war, and the effects of the occupation, allow media consumers to feel comfortably distant from the carnage. As a Pentagon official told Jeffrey Alan Smith in his book War and Press Freedom, there would never again be any war if we let people see graphic imagery of war and civilian casualties.

War of aggression

The Iraq war amounted to a "crime of aggression", the former deputy legal adviser to the UK Foreign Office has said.

Chomsky in Edinburgh

"The Gifford Lectures are held at each of the four ancient Scottish universities. They were established under the will of Adam Lord Gifford, a Senator of the College of Justice, who died in 1887. For over a century, the Gifford Lectures have enabled a distinguished international field of scholars to contribute to the advancement of theological and philosophical thought."

"The Gifford Lecture Series in 2004-2005 was to have been delivered by Professor Edward Said. Sadly he died on 25 September 2003. The Series in 2004-2005 is dedicated to his memory."

"Past Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh include William James, John Dewey, Albert Schweitzer, Niels Bohr, Arnold Toynbee, Sir John Eccles, Iris Murdoch, Charles Taylor, Michael Ignatieff and J Wentzel van Huyssteen."

This year's lecture was given by Noam Chomsky on March 22. He discussed the role of a rampant, militaristic superpower, the fact that both the Democrat and Republican parties are much further Right than the vast majority of American citizens and perhaps the most unspoken truth of all: America's role, over the last 30 years, in rejecting any kind of true peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. They have never been an honest broker for peace and the vast majority of the Western media has failed in not examining this intransigence and the real role of successive Israeli, expansionist governments.

Justice, then some reformed Zionism

Two articles, from opposite ends of the globe.

Julian Burnside is a Melbourne-based QC, heavily involved in refugee and human rights issues. He argues that civil liberties are being eroded in Australia and people of conscience must speak up now.

Tony Bayfield is the head of the Movement for Reform Judaism in Britain. He suggests that Zionism must redefine itself in the 21st century. Many of his arguments are spurious, I believe, such as the claim that Judaism as a religion would die if Israel ceased to exist. But it's healthy that The Guardian is a newspaper that encourages debate on this most sensitive of subjects.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Sadly, the same Africa

After recently being informed by the establishment press that British PM Tony Blair is serious about repairing Africa and bringing hope and prosperity to the continent, historian Mark Curtis explains why Blair's rhetoric simply doesn't match his government's actions.

Until Western countries stop arming despotic African nations, as but one example, dirt-poor nations will understand that countries like Britain and America are more interested in helping multinational arms dealers than assisting the disenfranchised.

Mark Curtis' website is worth investigating.

Let the Chinese blog

An increasing number of Chinese are blogging and connecting with the world, despite the best efforts of their government to shut down dissent. Isaac Mao is one such blogger and he explains the ways citizens are fighting an authority that refuses to accept these emerging voices.

Hold the champagne

The Howard government has announced minor changes to its draconian refugee policy. "Too little, too late" says Western Australian refugee lobby group Project Safecom. They released the following statement this afternoon:

"West Australian refugee group Project SafeCom, while welcoming the announced release of some long-term immigration detainees by the Immigration Minister, has called this 'massive shift' in the Prime Minister John Howard's 'little mind of compassion' too little, too late."

"Firstly, The Howard government has failed abysmally to respond with much-needed generosity to a situation where we permanently created misery and psychological damage in people's lives through our mandatory detention regime in the first place, by creating another class of "soft-shoe-shuffle deportation visa" - where people are still required to leave Australia in time with all the associated uncertainty and fear of it."

"Secondly, while the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone had the opportunity today to create clarity by naming that "all those" in detention for "three years" - indicating a simple, but clear cut-off point, as proposed by the Liberal backbenchers' lobby group led by Petro Georgiou MP, she did not do so, and there is still no clarity as to whom exactly will qualify for the announced detention release."

"Thirdly, and perhaps most disturbingly, the Howard government has no intention whatsoever to start falling in line with the UN Convention by offering resettlement opportunities, or by giving any semblance of humanity by offering permanency for those who cannot leave, and who finally should become re-united with their wives or children, or who should be given opportunities in other ways to unite with their family and get on with life. The Howard government's record of 'not saying sorry' also fits asylum seekers tortured in our detention jails."

"There is no olive branch of humanitarian visas in today's announcement, and Australia's asylum regime remains the dark blotch it has been since it became known right around the Western world as the most hardlined asylum regime amongst all Western countries. Millions of Australians will keep saying after today's announcement that they're "ashamed about being Australian". Australia remains in breach of the UN Refugee Convention with its policy of mandatory detention, where biased spin-driven politicians keep the key of its barbaric refugee jails in their pockets or in the bag of their political party, and well away from the courts."

For those hoping that the ALP opposition may be a voice of reason, Laurie Ferguson is their immigration spokesman. Need I say more? Nepotism is alive and well in the ALP.


Mordechai Vanunu is a hero. After being imprisoned for 18 years by the Israeli state for divulging the Jewish state's covert nuclear weapons program, he was released last year to much fanfare. I wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald in April 2004 that the world should salute a man who risked his freedom in the noble aim of bringing peace to the Middle East. During the last 10 months, he spoke to various media organisations, against the rules of his release, continually campaigning for a nuclear-free Israel, criticising Israel's policy in the Occupied Territories, and perhaps most importantly, rejecting Israel as his homeland and requesting asylum in a host of other countries.

We now learn he has been rearrested in Israel. His main crime appears to have been speaking to journalists and allegedly threatening Israel's national security. The fact remains that Israel has never forgiven Vanunu for confirming what the world always suspected - Israel was nuclear-armed and dangerous. He does not deserve to remain incarcerated for the remainder of his life, a situation that seems increasingly likely if Israel gets its way.

One of many websites dedicated to freeing Vanunu can be found here.

They are afraid of us

It is now more than two years since the illegal invasion of Iraq. During last weekend's anti-war rally in Sydney, journalist and filmmaker John Pilger gave a powerful speech reminding the assembled masses of the following:

" What all of you should remember on this second anniversary of the brutal assault on Iraq is that you are not alone: that you are part of a great worldwide movement that refuses to accept the dangers and moral indecencies of Bush and Blair and Howard."

Furthermore, he explained the world's awakening to the true motives and actions of the US, Britain and Australia. We may not read much about the developing world here, such as Latin America or Africa, but be rest assured that Western media can only shield us for so long from the stories of people and groups imagining a world without US hegemony.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The US lies...and allies should look elsewhere

This startling, yet wholly predictable MSNBC report, details the lies told by the Bush administration to allies regarding the nuclear capability of North Korea (bad government, says Bush), Pakistan (good, nice government, says Bush) and Libya (ok government, says Bush; or so we think.)

Global dimming

Our world is sick. Environmentally, although temperatures are rising, the earth's surface is receiving less sunlight. It's a mystery examined by the BBC.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The best documentary

"Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: US Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" is a wonderful example of how truthful filmmaking can be. It's the finest documentary you'll probably never see on free-to-air television. Dissecting the true agendas behind the Middle East media coverage and the reasons that Palestinians are rarely given a humanity, let alone a death toll, the film features Jews and Arabs, journalists and academics, all explaining the murky relationship between corporate media, US foreign policy and slick Israeli PR.

It's makes one thankful for indy media. Any chance of an Australian film funding body supporting a similar project here? No, didn't think so.

The true Palestine

I recently travelled to the US, Lebanon, Israel, the occupied territories and Sri Lanka. I am writing a book for Melbourne University Publishing on the Israel/Palestine conflict and alternative viewpoints on this most misreported region.

This photo was taken near Jerusalem, showing, to the left, a massive Jewish settlement block, continually being expanded. To the right lies a Palestinian town, its land and resources increasingly stolen by the Israeli state. It would be hard to find a more startling visualisation of the true price of occupation. To those who say we are currently in the middle of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, facts on the ground sadly suggest otherwise.

It'll be journalism, but not as we know it

Just what is the condition of mainstream media in 2005? It's a question addressed by in their State of the News Media annual survey. Their conclusions are illuminating and disturbing. First, the good news. Traditional journalism is dying, thankfully. When I talk of old-school journalism finally falling off its perch, I'm referring to the notion that increasing numbers of people no longer believe what the mainstream media is telling them, and they search for alternative viewpoints, log onto the web, read blogs etc.

A paper like The New York Times, while still respected in many circles, has taken a battering in the last years, and rightly so. Its failure to seriously question the WMD claim before the Iraq invasion has, in my view, irreversibly damaged the paper's reputation. As Robert Fisk told me recently in Beirut, "when you read the New York Times, it's always fun to see how long it takes for every statement to be attributed to 'a government official or source, requesting anonymity.'" It's a publication close to the establishment, and shouldn't claim to be truly independent, when, in fact, it relies so heavily on "leaks" and "sources" within the government or the corporate world.

The survey also identifies five major trends over the past year. These include:

- There are now several models of journalism, and the trajectory increasingly is toward those that are faster, looser, and cheaper;
- The rise in partisanship of news consumption and the notion that people have retreated to their ideological corners for news has been widely exaggerated;
- To adapt, journalism may have to move in the direction of making its work more transparent and more expert, and of widening the scope of its searchlight;
- Despite the new demands, there is more evidence than ever that the mainstream media are investing only cautiously in building new audiences; and
- The three broadcast network news divisions face their most important moment of transition in decades.

Although the survey refers solely to the US, we can glean much for the Australian market. The days of relying on The Sydney Morning Herald or other broadsheets for the entire scope of the day's news is over. And bring it on, I say. Reliable news sources are still vital, places one can read unbiased and accurate information, but these sources are increasingly on the web, on blogs, indy news portals, and far away from the ever-increasing pressure of corporate news "values."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

War is so last century

Today is the second anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq. After attending the anti-war rally in Sydney, attended by none other than recently freed Guantanamo Bay detainee, Mamdouh Habib, I was once again reminded of the words of Beirut-based journalist, Robert Fisk. Never one to shirk from speaking truth to power, Fisk had this to say in January regarding the narrow perspective we regularly receive in the West about the true situation in Iraq. He called it "Hotel Journalism":

"Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. The New York Times correspondents live in Baghdad behind a massive stockade with four watchtowers, protected by locally hired, rifle-toting security men, complete with NYT T-shirts. America's NBC television chain are holed up in a hotel with an iron grille over their door, forbidden by their security advisers to visit the swimming pool or the restaurant "let alone the rest of Baghdad" lest they be attacked. Several Western journalists do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad.

Friday, March 18, 2005

What's gone wrong?

A former Newsday journalist explains the decline of journalism in the US. I shudder to think of the Australian equivalent:

" What does it mean when even journalists consider comedian John [sic] - "This is a fake news show, People!" - Stewart one of the most reliable sources of "news"?"

The good old, friendly CIA

When the head of the CIA, Porter J. Goss, can't guarantee that his agency hasn't practised torture on "terrorist" suspects since 9/11, it looks like the cracks might be starting to show in the Bush administration.

"We don't do torture", said Goss. Shame the evidence is now so overwhelming as to make his assertion virtually meaningless. The American Civil Liberties Union shows the money evidence.

Love the Greg

Greg Palast is a journalist of the old school. Not content rehashing government press releases he's an American virtually unknown in his home country. Instead, he appears in the UK on the BBC and The Observer. Balding, and with a tongue likely to lash the pliable and powerful, his best-selling heart-stopper, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, is essential reading for anyone who seriously thinks Western democracies, especially the US, are run for the people by the people.

His latest story for BBC Newsnight is stunning. Telling the real reasons behind the Iraq war (and yes, oil features pretty prominently), I await with impending cynicism the Murdoch press to embrace Palast's revelations. Or even The Sydney Morning Herald. Or indeed, any mainstream news outlet in Australia.

Call me when I can wake up.