Attacks on public broadcasters around the world have increased in the last years. Murdoch has been a longtime critic of the BBC, ABC and PBS. His media cheerleaders talk about ingrained left-wing bias and lack of accountability in these institutions but their true aim is more sinister - the eradication of any credible competition to the corporate agenda. Who can forget Murdoch crony Tony Ball talking about the public's supposed dissatisfaction with the BBC? His plan, of course, was to split up the national broadcaster and lessen its overall reach across Britain and the world. It matters little to Murdoch and his ilk that in survey and survey the public express strong support in the independence of the BBC. Likewise with the ABC in Australia.
Take this 2003 survey conducted by British public relations company Weber Shandwick in relation to Iraq's WMD. The results speak for themselves: "The public is two times more likely to trust the BBC over the Government on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. More than half (54%) of the respondents are much more likely (28%) or somewhat more likely (26%) to believe the BBC on the issue of WMDs. Only one in five (21%) are much more likely (9%) or somewhat more likely (12%) to believe the government.
The European Federation of Journalists reports that journalists across Europe are banding together to voice their concern over the crisis in public broadcasting. Arne König, the Chairman of the EFJ, says that aside from worker's rights being questioned, political pressure is attempting to silence dissenting viewpoints. "More than ever, these values need to be defended," says König.
The state of Australia's public broadcasters, ABC and SBS, is worrying. Governmental pressure is resulting in increasingly reluctant staff tackling the hard issues or asking the tough questions. We now have to rely on comedy to provide the most incisive political comment:
INTERVIEWER: Mr Howard, I wondered if the meaning of Anzac Day has somehow changed?
JOHN HOWARD: Anzac Day is a day of great importance in the Australian calendar, Graham.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think that importance is?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, I think the essential lessons and characters of Anzac Day are as they have always been, Bryan.
INTERVIEWER: And what are they?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, it celebrates that very important time when the Australian Government made a very significant decision, Bryan to
INTERVIEWER: To do as it was told by an imperial power.
JOHN HOWARD: -- to assemble a very, very impressive body of young men, very talented, very resourceful young men and to send them away to
INTERVIEWER: Invade another country.
JOHN HOWARD: -- to defend Britain.
INTERVIEWER: By invading Turkey.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) is holding the annual Orwell Awards - "the gong for the annual tongue-in-cheek anti-press freedom awards." Aimed at those in power who actively discourage press freedom, including the majority of the ministers in the Howard government. One note of advice to the MEAA. Holding an Inaugural World Press Freedom Dinner tomorrow night is a noble idea, and speakers include shit-stirrers David Marr, Richard Neville and John Birmingham. But how the hell did the NSW Premier Bob Carr score an invitation? He has more press secretaries than John Howard and is the master of spin. His press secretary Walt Secord won an award in 2003 for best spinner in the state.
A final warning to those who believe in retaining the current state of affairs regarding Australian defamation laws. This report by the University of Melbourne proves that our freedom of speech, compared to the US, is being seriously eroded:
"This article reports on a comparative content analysis of more than 1,400 Australian and US newspaper articles. The study suggests that in the US - where defamation plaintiffs face much heavier burdens than under Australian law - defamatory allegations are made more frequently against both political and corporate actors than in Australia. The US articles contained apparently defamatory allegations at nearly three times the rate of the Australian sample. In particular, the Australian media appeared to be less comfortable making allegations in relation to corporate affairs than its US counterpart. In addition, some US articles included far more extreme commentary than the Australian sample, which suggests a less restrained style of public debate may be fostered under US law. Through introducing comparative content analysis to Australian media law research, the article supports the idea that Anglo-Australian defamation law has a chilling effect media speech."
Reform is essential, as online magazine Crikey have been saying for years.
The release of UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's pre-war legal advice regarding Iraq throws the debate into unchartered territory. Tony Blair has been forced to speak weasel words in his defence ("I did not lie over Iraq") but a large percentage of the British public now simply do not believe their Prime Minister.
Fundamental to Australia is the legal advice offered to John Howard. On what basis did the Prime Minister commit this country to war? Legal eagle Richard Ackland today asks the key question:
"How did the legal smoke-and-mirrors game play out in this corner of the globe? The Prime Minister, John Howard, told the House of Representatives on March 18, 2003: "Our legal advice … is unequivocal … This legal advice is consistent with that provided to the British Government by its Attorney General.
"As we now realise, the legal advice to the British Government was highly equivocal. With which piece of legal advice was Howard's legal advice consistent?"
Pressure must be placed on the government to release its own legal advice. Without it, serious doubts will remain over the true intentions of our elected officials.
Ahmed Chalabi, former Pentagon favourite, failed coup leader, alleged spy for Iran and provider of false information regarding Iraq's WMDs, is back. As acting Iraqi oil minister. The mind boggles. The oil fields were "secured" almost before the invasion began and yet more than two years after the invasion, oil revenues are reaping not a fraction that was predicted.
Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfiwitz, told the U.S. House Budget Committee on February 27, 2003 that oil exports would pay for the reconstruction of post-invasion Iraq: "It's got already, I believe, on the order of $15 billion to $20 billion a year in oil exports, which can finally - might finally be turned to a good use instead of building Saddam's palaces. It has one of the most valuable undeveloped sources of natural resources in the world. And let me emphasize, if we liberate Iraq those resources will belong to the Iraqi people, that they will be able to develop them and borrow against them.”
One can safely interpret "borrow" to mean the rapid arrival of massive financial loans on the condition that privatisation of natural resources and essential services are undertaken by Western multinationals.
But I digress. The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul McGeough reports today on the suffering of Iraqi children due to the effects of depleted uranium.
McGeough writes: "The rest of the world vowed to help Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. Billions ofdollars have been set aside and because Basra is Iraq's only city by the sea, hundreds of military and civilian supply convoys thunder past its hospitals, heading to Baghdad and other centres as part of a huge military and reconstruction effort.
"But few trucks stop at these hospitals. A few did pull up outside the Al-Sadr Teaching Hospital a month ago and dumped donated second-hand hospital equipment from Japan in the forecourt. But no one knows how to install it all - so the delivery just gathers dust and its flat surfaces have become an extension of the waiting room for day patients."
Chalabi's reputation is so sullied that his appointment throws into question the agendas behind the endorsement of a government by the National Assembly. Already, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's connections to Iran remain unclear.
"Tony Blair was told by the government's most senior law officer in a confidential minute less than two weeks before the war that British participation in the American-led invasion of Iraq could be declared illegal."
A startling revelation in today's Guardian and a story that should receive widespread coverage in Australia, but has not, thus far. The BBC and Independent are leading with the story and yet neither the Sydney Morning Herald nor News Limited websites mention the yarn at all. The Age features the story from Reuters. Will any paper in Australia dare print the story on their front page tomorrow, giving it equal weight to the numerous page one articles before the war channelling government propaganda on WMDs?
Let's take a look back. At the time of the Iraq invasion in early 2003, Bush, Blair and Howard all claimed that the "Coalition of the Unwilling" was engaged in lawful behaviour. John Howard said on March 14, 2003: "There is adequate legal authority in the existing [UN] resolutions for force to be used." Dissenting views were expressed but had little practical effect.
Fast forward to 2005. The British election is days away. Tony Blair is likely to win (a report in today's Australian explains this will be largely due to a "badly distorted electoral system") but the leaking of the UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's pre-war advice reveals that serious doubts were expressed merely days before the invasion, not least because of dubious evidence of Iraq's WMD capability. Ten days later, Blair claimed his country could enter the war legally. What happened during those ten days remains a mystery though governmental pressure on the Attorney General seems likely.
In October 2003, leading Pentagon hawk Richard Perle admitted that the Iraq war was illegal. "International law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable, Perle said. This caused barely a ripple. Indeed, in 2003 the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh uncovered numerous shady dealings involving Perle and arms dealing. Today, however, with an upsurge in violence across Iraq, an ever-increasing "Coalition" death toll and no clear exit strategy, the new leaks will hopefully re-focus attention on the nature of taking a country to war.
Families of some of the British soldiers killed in Iraq are preparing legal action against Blair based on the leaked information. Furthermore, the initial concerns expressed by Lord Goldsmith were never seen by the British Cabinet, "an apparent breach of the official code covering ministerial behaviour", reports the Guardian.
Can you imagine a world where Western leaders could be brought before an international court and charged with war crimes? As John Pilger said in 2003: "To call them war criminals is not to take a cheap shot. It is to speak the truth. In 1946, the judges at the Nuremberg war crimes trials said that unprovoked aggression against another state was, and I quote, 'the supreme international war crime because it contains all the evils of other war crimes.'"
Those who argue that the Iraq issue is dead misunderstand the direction our leaders are taking us. Just a few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked George W. Bush to step up pressure on Iran's alleged nuclear weapon's facilities. Today we learn that the US is likely to sell bunker-buster bombs to Israel, weapons designed to destroy underground nuclear factories.
It has already been proven that the Iraq war was illegal. The next challenge is to bring accountability back to Western democracy and today's news brings the public one small step closer to realising how far our governments have strayed.
"Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits - a false doorway to the backside of life. A filthy, piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo cage."
This weekend signals the beginning of the Eighth Annual Freelance Convention for Journalists, Artists and Photographers organised by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. If you're in Sydney, or feel the need to get here, it'll be well worth a visit. Speakers include ABC's Kerry O'Brien and Jonathan Harley and Garry Linnell, editor-in-chief of The Bulletin. They'll be talking on all media matters, including pitching stories to editors, interview techniques and new media.
I'll be speaking on Sunday morning on the topic: "Web Tactics: Blogging and New Technologies." I'll be joined by Trevor Cook, a director of PR firm Jackson Wells Morris. Expect heated debate over the impact of blogging on journalism and perhaps the odd joke about Rupert Murdoch's recent realisation that money could be made on the internet.
George W. Bush isn't one to engage in debate. Indeed, he much prefers talking to slavish followers, Republican hacks and media cheerleaders. He recently toured the US promoting his plan to privatise social security. He conducted fake town hall meetings where nobody spoke out of line and everybody congratulated their President. Why? Republican media strategist Frank Luntz explains: "A real town hall can be very dangerous if it gets out of control. A town hall where the speaker cannot command the respect and the control of the audience can look very bad on television. ... To me the most important component of a successful town hall is the visual, is the backdrop." And, Luntz forgot to add, a lack of real debate. The Bush administration is getting pretty proficient at selling itself and many news organisations are either oblivious or happy to go along for the ride.
Watch this exclusive report to prepare yourself for the onslaught of fake news coming soon to a TV near you.
The election of Josef Ratzinger as the new Catholic Pontiff has drawn the predictable cries from familiar circles, including this one. And critics are just warming up. How about the connections between Ratzinger and Opus Dei, the secretive sect associated with fascism and American Supreme Court judges? What about the links between the new Pope and the Bush family? Conspiratorial? Hardly. Take this example, one of many detailed by the Planetary Movement:
"When George Bush visited John Paul II in June of last year, he asked the Pontiff for a political favour. Shortly thereafter, Cardinal Ratzinger issued a letter to American bishops that essentially threatened to excommunicate all Catholics who voted for John Kerry. Upon receipt of the letter, five prominent Roman Catholic bishops held an unprecedented press conference to proclaim their preference for George Bush over his rival, John Kerry. Bush received 6% more Roman Catholic votes last year than he did in 2000, even though his opponent was a lifelong Catholic who had served as an altar boy. Ratzinger’s political intervention had worked wonders for neoconservativism, and it is now being recognized as one of the most decisive factors in Bush’s electoral strategy."
Ratzinger has a history of silencing critics who challenge the church's behaviour over sexual abuse. Many critics, including some critical of this blog, argue that challenging the new Pope is somehow inappropriate, insensitive, intolerant, prejudicial. My point has never been to chastise Catholics for their faith. I take issue, however, with the history of Ratzinger, his associations and the likely future of an increasingly tight union between religious fundamentalism and the political realm. The flaunting of religious belief for the sake of political gain seen across the Western world is yet another sign of traditional democratic values being challenged.
Ratzinger deserves to be questioned and investigated like any other religious leader. Of course, not many other religions would appoint someone like Ratzinger to the throne.
Jonathan Steele, the Guardian's senior foreign correspondent and Dahr Jamail, a freelance American journalist explain the significance of Fallujah and the price paid in that "hotbed" of anti-American insurgency.
We still don't know the true cost of American attacks. Casualty figures vary wildly, but thousands of civilians may have been murdered. This town, the "symbol of defiance", is still under siege and atrocities are being reported by the few brave journalists entering the city.
"Dr Hafid al-Dulaimi, head of the city's compensation commission...reports that 36,000 homes were destroyed in the US onslaught, along with 8,400 shops. Sixty nurseries and schools were ruined, along with 65 mosques and religious sanctuaries.
"Daud Salman, an Iraqi journalist with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, on a visit to Falluja two weeks ago, found that only a quarter of the city's residents had gone back. Thousands remain in tents on the outskirts. The Iraqi Red Crescent finds it hard to go in to help the sick because of the US cordon around the city."
Read the whole thing. This is Iraqi "liberation" in the trenches.
Many in the mainstream media shun bloggers, content believing that by burying their head in the sand, the online revolution will simply disappear. No such luck, cultural heathens. Most bloggers have no corporate affiliation, are independently funded and can speak their mind freely, without having to toe the company line. True independence within the corporate media structure is next to impossible. Mainstream journalists know it and owners love it.
Juan Cole helpfully articulates the reasons bloggers are vitally important in this age of "consolidation":
"If we were the mainstream media, we would be accountable to CEOs and editors and advertisers, all of whom have motives for suppressing some pieces of news and highlighting others. You might think to yourself that this is a diverse enough group that the story would still get through. But with media consolidation, fewer and fewer persons make the decisions."
Media owned by Rupert Murdoch or newspapers published by Fairfax have both hidden and acknowledged agendas. So do many bloggers. But self-censorship is the only thing stopping bloggers highlighting a story or putting forward an opinion.
"We are not the mainstream media, and we are here. Get used to it." Cole tells it like it is. Besides, are we going to simply rely on the Sydney Morning Herald or New York Times for information?
Gorilla in the Room continues its essential role in discussing the unmentionable. They highlight a startling article in Haaretz by Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad and now Ariel Sharon's national security advisor. In a candid piece aimed at an Israeli audience, Halevy analyses the desired future role of the US in the Middle East. Gorilla outlines the revelations:
"A large part of the reason Saudi Arabia is so unstable right now is the U.S. presence in Iraq, which has made the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims feel that the U.S. has gone to war against the whole Islamic world. Halevy's (and the neocons', and AIPAC's) preferred solution for all of this is additional U.S. wars against other Arab and Muslim (Iran) states, a resumption of the draft (where else would we get hundreds of thousands of additional Americans to serve as cannon fodder for this?), and a "generational" presence as occupiers in the region. (Of course, this would generate additional impetus for terrorism against the U.S. itself.)"
To this I would add the following. As an Australian, I question whether the government of John Howard is signing us up for adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and who knows where else, with a vested interest in allowing America's role in the region to increase. When Australia sends more troops to Iraq, we are asked to believe that it's to secure the Iraqi people and provide democracy. Alternative theories are essential. Historian Clinton Fernandes argues, instead: "Today, Australian military personnel are participating in the US-led attempt to create a stable investment climate, complete with a vast military presence, in Iraq." This involvement mirrors, Fernandes posits, a repeat of similiar behaviour in relation to Asia, especially Indonesia under General Soeharto.
It's time to dispense the myth that the Iraq invasion was about bringing democracy to the country. American, British and Australian financial and political interests are seen to align in the Middle East region. Never believe anyone who says otherwise.
I'm currently reading a fascinating book that expands on these matters. Iraq Inc.: A Profitable Occupation reveals the private contractors profiting from the occupation. Writer Pratap Chatterjee (managing editor of CorpWatch) painfully details how going to war makes good business sense. Hear the storm clouds gathering over Iran?
Baghdad-based Patrick Cockburn writes in the UK Independent that US troops are continuing to kill Iraqis with impunity, unlikely to be prosecuted or even investigated:
"We should end the immunity of US soldiers here," says Dr Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Kurdish politician who argues that the failure to prosecute American soldiers who have killed civilians is one of the reasons why the occupation became so unpopular so fast. He admits, however, that this is extremely unlikely to happen given the US attitude to any sanctions against its own forces."
Furthermore, the recent upsurge in insurgent violence can be explained in a variety of reasons, including:
"It was obvious to many American officers from an early stage in the conflict that the Pentagon's claim that it did not count civilian casualties was seen by many Iraqis as proof that the US did not care about how many of them were killed. The failure to take Iraqi civilian dead into account was particularly foolish in a culture where relatives of the slain are obligated by custom to seek revenge."
Robert Fisk reveals in the Independent on Sunday that the 2002 Tony Blair "dossier" on WMD, translated into Arabic, contained numerous changes and deletions and differences to the English version.
"Translation carried out for The Independent on Sunday reveals for the first time that several references to UN sanctions were cut from the Arabic text. On one page, the words "biological agents" were changed to read "nuclear agents". Arab journalists who reported on the dossier culled their information from the Arabic version - unaware that it was not the same as the English one.
"While there is evidence of sloppiness in the translation - a 2001 Joint Intelligence Committee assessment of Iraqi nuclear ambitions is rendered as 2002 - many of the changes were clearly deliberate, apparently in an attempt to make the dossier more acceptable as well as more convincing to an Arab audience. At the time, the US and Britain were trying to convince Arab Gulf states that Saddam Hussein still represented a major threat to them - in the hope of seeking their support for the 2003 invasion - while the Arab world was enraged at the disastrous effects UN sanctions had on child mortality in Iraq."
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) claims to be Australia's finest newspaper. Interesting, therefore, that the latest circulation figures show a massive decline in readership. The weekday SMH lost 3.5% to just over 214,000 copies, while the Saturday edition shed a massive 5.4% to 352,482. There is trouble in Fairfax land. With speculation rife that management is hoping and praying for a change to cross-media laws after July 1 - allowing the once-great media company to be bought by a hungry mogul - the paper's relevance to the Australian community is decreasing weekly. Numbers sold are far from the only barometer of success, but with less people still reading the paper, at what point does it become less relevant to informed debate?
Take today. "They're having a baby - and eight Tassie cousins eagerly await a playmate", screamed the article at the top of the front page. The pregnancy of Denmark's Princess Mary is undoubtedly news-worthy, but the ever-increasing elevation of celebrity gossip to prominence shows an editorship, under Robert Whitehead, losing focus on what constitutes serious news. If the paper wants to be a tabloid, let the broadsheet morph into a tabloid or place such "news" in the entertainment section.
During a recent media forum, head of UTS journalism school, Wendy Bacon, spoke about the increasing reluctance of Fairfax to tackle the corporate takeover of Australia. She co-wrote a piece for the SMH in early March on the Australian connections of Halliburton. She said that she had had great difficulty getting the piece in the paper, "and if I was a nobody it possibly would have been impossible." The facts in the story were alarming and yet no follow-up has occurred.
I recently spent time with one of the Middle East's prominent journalists. I asked if he knew Paul McGeough, Fairfax's leading foreign correspondent. He looked at me blankly. "Never heard of him", he replied. McGeough is indeed one of Australia's finest reporters, but his newspaper's impact on setting agendas outside of Australia remains minimal, despite the advent of the internet. A newspaper's success should never be solely dictated by its effect on the world, though it's one important factor. We’re a small fish in a big pond, and seem to be becoming more parochial as time goes on. Shouldn’t a local paper want to challenge established norms in Washington, London and Canberra?
Is the mainstream media capable of seriously examining the tightening relationship between government and corporate interests? Are senior editors concerned about upsetting the status quo (witnessed during last year's Federal election, when the Fairfax press either supported John Howard's re-election or gutlessly sat on the fence, despite spending the previous years criticising Liberal Party policy.) We all know the agendas of the Murdoch press. We should be more questioning of how the Fairfax press conducts itself in a democratic Australia. If the organisation fails to listen, circulation figures will continue to haemorrhage and they'll only have themselves to blame.
Union of Arab Community-Based Associations (Ittijah) has prepared a petition to the governments of the United States and the European Union calling on them not to support Israel’s “Development Plan for the Galilee and Naqab (Negev)”. The full petition can be read in English here.
The petition states that Israel’s plan for “development” of these two areas is actually a plan to destroy the Palestinian presence in these areas. The “development” plan will further the confiscation of Palestinian Arab land, the demolition of thousands of homes and the forced evacuation of the Arab unrecognised villages, encourages step-by-step ethnic cleansing and reinforces the State of Israel’s racially discriminatory policies.
As this is the case, Ittijah calls on the governments of the United States and the European Union, and on the United Nations, not to support the “development” plan. Every dollar and Euro in support of the “development” plan is support for the destruction of the Palestinian presence in the Galilee and Naqab (Negev), and for the continuing, extreme discrimination by the State of Israel against the Palestinians living in Israel.
Are the Americans keeping a body count in Iraq? Despite denying the fact for years - and Tommy Franks, former head of US Central Command, once saying that the US army "don't do body counts", a requirement under the Geneva Conventions - murdered humanitarian worker Marla Ruzicka claimed in a recent essay that the US are in fact keeping a secret tally of Iraqi dead.
Ruzicka: "The statistics demonstrate that the US military can and does track civilian casualties. Troops on the ground keep these records because they recognise they have a responsibility to review each action taken and that it is in their interest to minimise mistakes, especially since winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a key component of their strategy."
CNN has a new President. Jonathan Klein is the man leading the once-mighty cable news network. Media moguls have long explained why progressive voices are so rarely heard on their stations or in their pages. In Australia, for example, there are no truly left commentators/talking heads on television during current affairs programs. We're constantly told that a liberal agenda is running rampant and yet centrists are frequently featured in lieu of progressive guests.
Anyway, back to Klein. During a recent interview on PBS's Charlie Rose Show, Klein explained why liberals are marginalised. Fox News was tapping into a largely "angry white man's" conservatism and then the clanger: "a quote/unquote, 'progressive' or liberal network probably couldn't reach the same sort of an audience, because liberals tend to like to sample a lot of opinions. They pride themselves on that. And you know, they don't get too worked up about anything. And they're pretty morally relativistic. And so, you know, they allow for a lot of that stuff."
Where to begin with this nonsense? Hundreds of thousands protested the Iraq war, voted against George W. Bush in 2004 (or indeed didn't vote for either Bush or John Kerry) and viewed any number of documentaries critiquing the current administration. Hundreds of campaigns continue across a wide area of activity, including against the "WOT" (War on Terror), Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act.
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting explains the hypocrisy: "As for progressives being "pretty morally relativistic," Klein's insult seems misapplied. One could argue that it's the right and not the left that tends to see the killing of civilians as important only if the civilians are of the right nationality, for example, and thinks that torture may be acceptable if the right people are torturing."
Klein's diatribe is yet another reason why the mainstream media is no longer the place to regularly provide perspectives questioning the establishment. Following orthodox doctrine is what most mainstream commentators engage in. It's not called journalism. It's called channelling government propaganda.
I'm off to Melbourne again for this Anzac Day long weekend. If you still accept the views of status-quo enforcer Gerard Henderson, who argues that Gallipoli was a noble adventure - "in 1914-18 Australia did not fight another nation's war - then facts will clearly never get in the way of a good yarn. Yet again, our colonial past is ignored or justified. Australia has a history of fighting the wars of the imperial powers. By all means remember the fallen soldiers, but ditch the romanticism. Until Australia forms an independent foreign policy and feels comfortable saying 'NO' to America or Britain, we will continue to be seen as a neo-colonial outpost.
Related to this, blogger Rex in the City explains the possible reason behind John Howard's hesitation in signing ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation:
"By signing this treaty, we would be acceding to the rules of the South East Asian Nuclear Free Zone. The US does not like this zone, and to sign the treaty would put us in a difficult position with the US. We’re a major ally, relying on their nuclear umbrella and we’re not going to upset the applecart."
As Rex rightly says, Australia's embedded journalists are caught asleep at the wheel yet again.
ANYWAY, have a good break and feel free to leave in comments any thoughts related to the following:
1) The day we can expect to see the rise and rise of a Prime Minister with no financial ties to big business and favours to repay when elected;
2) The day we can expect journalists to collectively rebel against the Howard government's increasing restrictions on press freedom (I know I'll waiting a long time for this one!);
3) The day we can expect more than a handful of Arab voices to appear in our mainstream media. After all, we have just invaded and occupied one of them (Iraq) and contributed to the continued occupation of another (Israel). Editors reading this, here are a fewsuggestions; and
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) has invoked privacy right protections on behalf of al Qaeda terror leader Osama bin Laden. In a September 24, 2003 declassified “Secret” FBI report obtained by Judicial Watch, the FBI invoked Exemption 6 under FOIA law on behalf of bin Laden, which permits the government to withhold all information about U.S. persons in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
Large questions remain as to the activities of Bin Laden's associates in the US in the days before and after 9/11, including access to flights out of the country.
Genocide is currently occurring in Sudan. Despite former US Secretary of State Colin Powell stating last September that genocide was in fact taking place, the atrocities continue. Australia announced this week that it will be sending a small deployment (a paltry 15 people) to assist the UN mission in the country.
Brian Steidle is a former US representative to the African Union who spent six months in Sudan monitoring the so-called ceasefire between rebels and the government and militia. He has now spoken out and detailed the horrors he witnessed.
"...probably say 95 per cent of the attacks, maybe even more – 99 per cent - were from the government of Sudan. It was the government of Sudan working in conjunction with the Arab militias using their helicopter gun ships and their Antonovs to bomb and terrorise the people."
Steidle's descriptions were chilling. He witnessed weapons that caused a man to have "his back...shredded by a cheese grater." Entire villages were burnt to the ground and women were mass raped.
"..outside the village of Adwah there was a bone field. It was probably about 50m by 50m and you couldn't walk around without stepping on human bones. We don't really know how many people were killed there, but they apparently had been taken from one of the village by the Janjaweed [militia] and executed and left there to rot."
And why doesn't the world act? Steidle said it was simple. "Innocent people are being killed by a government that is aimed at wiping them out, pushing them out of Darfur, killing them, simply because they are black Africans."
Rwanda recently marked the tenth anniversary of the 1994 genocide that killed close to 1 million people. The world has clearly learnt nothing after the worse atrocities since Cambodia under Pol Pot were committed.
The EU announced in August last year that its fact-finding mission had discovered widespread violence in Sudan but no signs of genocide, a crucial distinction allowing the Europeans not to intervene.
Sudan.net has the latest news from the country. Watching ABC TV last night and witnessing gruesome pictures of decomposing bodies and burning villages, one couldn't help but feel helpless. Human Rights Watch is but one NGO trying to stop the ethnic cleansing.
"Israel and the entire world are fascinated by Sharon's great show in the Gaza Strip. That is the first stage of his plan.
"Behind this smoke screen, Sharon is occupied with expanding the big "settlement blocs" in the western part of the West Bank. Their annexation is the second stage of his plan.
"But at the same time, Sharon is preparing the third stage: the annexation of the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea shore. Together with the settlement blocs, these constitute 52% of the total West Bank area.
"This week, the occupation authorities have informed dozens of inhabitants of Akaba, north of Nablus, that they have to get out of their village, which has been declared a "close military zone".
"Akaba is a small village bordering on the Jordan valley. The expulsion of the families is the beginning of a big secret operation for widening the valley, in preparation for its eventual annexation to Israel."
Israel. The Middle East's only democracy. A land of freedom amongst tyranny. All true statements if you're Jewish, but not Palestinian. We now learn that Israel has asked the US for extra aid to fund the Gaza "disengagement". A journalist colleague in Switzerland tells me that an article appeared in the Hebrew version of Haaretz newspaper stating Israel will ask for US$1.6 billion as financial aid for the Gaza disengagement. It will be asked in the first phase for US$ 600 million for transferring military bases. The second request of over US$ 1 billion will be for the development of the Negev and the Galilee. These figures were negotiated during the recent meeting between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon.
These developments once more begs the questions (and mirror statements I heard during my recent travels in the Middle East): is Israel little more than a convenient (for the US), dependent, colonial outpost in the Middle East, and do the American people, from whose tax dollars these loans are coming, truly understand the amount of financial support Israel is receiving?
Andrew J. Bacevich is a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, former contributor to such magazines as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, and former Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He's also a self-confessed conservative. His latest book, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War, discusses the ways in which the American people have fallen in love with the idea of American military power and the rapid expansion of an imperial force that 9/11 only accelerated.
This extract explores the changes that have occurred since the Vietnam War, namely the military's increasing separation from the American people - a force unto itself. For example, do most Americans know that their forces are constantly roaming and infiltrating dozens of countries around the world? The key to understanding these shifts is the desire of many in the military establishment, and their media cheerleaders, to normalise war for ideological and financial reasons. With governmental propaganda convincing many spectators that war is now nothing more than a spectator sport, with few casualties to speak of, let alone seen on the evening news, the public are more easily led into foreign adventures without understanding the true consequences.
The American Congress was informed in February that the Iraq invasion and occupation had in fact assisted terrorist recruiting. CIA Director Porter J. Goss said: "The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists." Yet how often have we heard Bush, Blair or Howard talking about the Iraq war reducing the likelihood of terrorism?
Bacevich observes: "Confidence in the military has found further expression in a tendency to elevate the soldier to the status of national icon, the apotheosis of all that is great and good about contemporary America. The men and women of the armed services, gushed Newsweek in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, "looked like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. They were young, confident, and hardworking, and they went about their business with poise and élan." A writer for Rolling Stone reported after a more recent and extended immersion in military life that "the Army was not the awful thing that my [anti-military] father had imagined"; it was instead "the sort of America he always pictured when he explained… his best hopes for the country."
Ricky Gervais, star and brains behind The Office, is currently shooting his new program, Extras, "a new six-part comedy series set in the world of film and television and focussed in particular on the mundane tedium of life as a supporting artist."
Expect hilarity from the man who made hating your boss socially acceptable. Ricky's website features a host of facts and figures behind the alter-ego of David Brent. Or is it the other way round?
- March 18 was the 9th anniversary of the Israeli massacre at Qana. The Israeli army shelled and killed over 100 people sheltering in the headquarters compound of the Fijian batallion of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. A subsequent UN report, which the US under President Bill Clinton tried to bury, painted the damning picture that Israel tried to deny.
- The LA Times reports on the dark side of the "War on Terror." German citizen Khaled el-Masri claims he was "kidnapped in Macedonia, beaten by masked men, blindfolded, injected with drugs and flown to Afghanistan, where he was imprisoned and interrogated by U.S. intelligence agents. He said he was finally dumped in the mountains of Albania." Masri has no reported links to terrorism of any kind.
- Riverbend reports from Baghdad of the tactics of the Iraqi officials and spokespeople in the recent case of the alleged Sunni kidnappings of numerous men, women and children in Medain. It now appears that this story was based on vague rumours (though reported in the West without caveats and later corrected by AP, though little disseminated.) The real reason behind the story, Riverbend says, may have been to mask an assault by the American military and Iraqi national guard on a town not controlled by the "Coalition". Accent on "may". Simply put, if a story is rumour, journalists should write this clearly in their reports.
Germany's Joseph Ratzinger is the new Pope and will take the name Benedict XVI. Conservative American journalist and Catholic, Andrew Sullivan, explains the significance of the decision:
"Ratzinger's immersion in political culture wars has become even deeper. I also cover his radical innovations on the role of women, gays and conscience. A woman should follow the "roles inscribed in her biology"; gays are inherently disposed to "intrinsic moral evil"; conscience as the modern world understands it is illusory. Yes, we have a new Pope. Just like the old one, but without any of his redeeming features."
Personally, I salute the choice of Ratzinger, if for no other reason than the church's inherent bigotry and misogyny will finally be clear for all to see. Prediction number one: attendances in churches in the Western world will continue to dive due to Ratzinger's divisive nature. Prediction number two: the new Pope will be completely incapable and unwilling to engage on any of the fundamental issues facing the world in the 21st century. Prediction number three: being a former Nazi will do wonders for the church's image.
All in all, a grand day for the secularists.
UPDATE: US Rabbi Michael Lerner explains why Ratzinger is "a disaster for the world and for the Jews."
"In the next 10 days the Republican leadership is planning to pull the trigger on their scheme to break the rules of the Senate and seize absolute power over judicial appointments. We must act."
The progressive organisation's latest alert outlines the dangers of this Republican attempt at subverting democracy:
"If radical Republicans seize absolute power to pack the courts with extremist judges, some of our most treasured rights, like basic environmental protections, the right to privacy, and even the 40-hour work week would be in danger. A rally in your area, as part of a massive national wave of protest, could help sway enough votes in the Senate to stop them. Can you help make it happen?"
Let's not forget the recent comments of Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay who said after the death of Terry Schiavo: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour, but not today." Directly threatening judicial independence strikes at the heart of democracy. Delay is currently charged with numerous ethical breaches though his supporters claim this is nothing more than a left-wing vendetta against him. Bollocks.
Which country is the most religiously dangerous in the world? It sure ain't Iran.
The IDF will be unarmed during the upcoming removal of settlers from Gaza in an attempt to defuse conflict, despite the fact that a small minority of right-wing extremists may well use force in resisting. Yigal Serena is a regular Yedioth Ahronoth commentator and writes that IDF thinking on this matter is morally bankrupt:
"Had the IDF banned live ammunition and restrained itself in the first days of fire in 2000, and had soldiers used innovative non-lethal weapons that frighten and hurt, but do not kill, hundreds of Israelis would still be with us today - hundreds of Israelis who were later killed by the flames that were fanned into a mutual massacre."
"However, Chief-of-Staff Mofaz’s IDF hit back as powerfully as it knew how to, firing two million bullets in the intifadah’s early stages and maintaining a 10 to 1 casualty ratio."
Thousands of Palestinians would still be with us, too. During the second intifadah, the number of Palestinians and Jews slaughtered was in the thousands. The facts, however, speak for themselves. 3164 Palestinians were murdered between 2000 and 2005 (including 639 minors) and hundreds of Israelis.
US-based Center for Public Integrity released a report last week that should cause concern to those who believe that democracy is more than a little sickly in the world's only superpower:
"...lobbyists have spent nearly $13 billion since 1998 to influence members of Congress and federal officials on legislation and regulations."
Roberta Baskin, the Center's executive director, said: "Our report reveals that each year since 1998 the amount spent to influence federal lawmakers is double the amount of money spent to elect them."
In relation to the Middle East, as a renowned correspondent told me recently, "if you're a congressman, and you become a harsh critic of Israel, the chances are you won't get re-elected again", such is the power of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Funds will be directed to your opponent and charges of anti-Semitism will follow.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz is a regular visitor to Australia, frequently interviewed in our media and prone to giving long-winded speeches on Israel.
During a recent talk in Canada, Dershowitz claimed that Israel no longer tortured Palestinians, a fact he said was confirmed by speaking to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI). The group deny making any such statements. For the record, Israel still tortures Palestinians in detention; the evidence for this is overwhelming.
Dershowitz is a curious case. American academic Norman Finkelstein has documented the professor's difficulties with the truth and his upcoming book, Beyond Chutzpah - On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and Abuse of History, further explores the ways in which "... apologists for Israel contrive controversy. Whenever Israel comes under international pressure, another media campaign alleging a global outbreak of anti-Semitism is mounted."
Finkelstein sent me the introduction to his book late last year. It painfully explains the increasingly vicious attempts by pro-Israel supporters to silence dissent on the Israel/Palestine conflict and media culpability in this trend.
"Mother Jones has tallied some 40 ExxonMobil-funded organizations that either have sought to undermine US mainstream scientific findings on global climate change or have maintained affiliations with a small group of “skeptic” scientists who continue to do so. Beyond think tanks, the count also includes quasi-journalistic outlets like Tech CentralStation.com (a website providing “news, analysis, research, and commentary” that received $95,000 from ExxonMobil in 2003), a FoxNews.com columnist, and even religious and civil rights groups. In total, these organizations received more than $8 million between 2000 and 2003."
So begins a timely report from this classy American magazine. Here in Australia we are constantly bombarded by Green scepticism dressed up as reasoned debate. This anti-Green hysteria is defeated by mountains of fact but the self-appointed conservative commentators create a left-wing conspiracy and routinely dismiss the evidence. Much easier to laugh at environmental damage than actually examine the facts.
As Mother Jones discovers, the political and financial affiliations of these sceptics should always be considered and investigated. Besides, ever wondered why virtually all Green-sceptics hang onto every word of the genre's master, Bjorn Lomborg? Professor Ian Lowe, emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, explains the true reasons behind his following:
"Propaganda units like the Institute of Public Affairs fund the travel of people like Lomborg to muddy the water and obscure the harsh reality that we are not using our natural resources sustainably. The facts show that we desperately need a new approach. Trusting business and the magic of markets has caused the problem; it cannot solve it, even in principle."
UPDATE: The UK Independent provided a useful summary yesterday of why the environment should feature prominently in the current election campaign and beyond. We should take note:
10 of the hottest years in the world on record have occurred since 1990
3.5C predicted rise in average UK temperature by 2080. For every one degree rise, Spring advances six days
1.5 per cent rise in UK carbon dioxide emissions in 2004
In its 2001 manifesto, Labour reaffirmed its pledge to cut greenhouse emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels, by 2010. They are currently 12.6 per cent lower than in 1990
8.6 months is the estimated reduction in lifespan of average European due to pollution
434,000,000 tons of waste is produced in Britain each year - enough to fill the Albert Hall every two hours
50cm average distance between pieces of litter on UK beaches. Levels of rubbish on beaches have increased 82 per cent in a decade
Rubbish is dumped illegally in UK every 35 secs
22m tons of rubbish from British homes sent to landfill sites every year
10 species of wild flower are believed to be disappearing from each county in Britain each decade
21 native flowering plants have disappeared from Britain in the past 150 years
50 per cent fall in the population of birds living in agricultural fields since 1970 (with tree sparrows down by 87 per cent )
95 per cent of our important, wildlife-rich lowland peat bogs have been destroyed in the past half century
97 per cent of our flower-rich lowland grasslands have disappeared since 1930
17 per cent of household waste was recycled last year. The target is 35 per cent by 2015
19 per cent of municipal waste recycled last year
50 per cent of household and municipal waste is recycled in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands
97m passengers flew between the UK and the rest of Europe in 2003 - almost double the 51m in 1993
32.26m vehicles were on Britain's roads last year, a rise of 3.2 per cent on 2003
100 tons of CO2 will be released by each of the main party's helicopters during the campaign, say the Greens
"Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is planning further unilateral Israeli withdrawals to follow the pullout from the Gaza Strip if he fails to find a political settlement with the Palestinians, aides said."
"A source close to Sharon said that new unilateral moves - which reportedly could see Israel hold on to over 20 percent of the West Bank - would allow the country to sidestep international pressure over its future borders with a Palestinian state."
And the West wonders if the Palestinians are serious about peace?
Further reports that the US and UK are using napalm in Iraq. Despite the mainstream media ignoring these charges, eyewitnesses are increasingly coming forward. Last year's American assault on Fallujah remains the current target of these allegations.
Medialens has been pursuing the BBC over the broadcaster's failure to fully investigate. Read the report of April 18. Human Rights Watch charges that the BBC's claim of conducting "some investigations" into the napalm allegations is spurious. Credible evidence is emerging that demands investigation. Medialens has consistently proven that the BBC refuses to seriously challenge the Blair government, especially in their post Andrew Gilligan environment, though the problems existed way before Gilligan appeared on the scene.
How willing is our media to report on the use of napalm in Iraq? The deafening silence speaks for itself.
For fans of The Sopranos, the HBO series unlike any before, the long-awaited and supposedly final sixth season is about to start production in the US. Michael Imperioli, who plays Tony Soprano's nephew Christopher Moltisanti, says that the episodes will probably screen in the US in early 2006, making our wait here just a little more painful. Bring it on.
If any show more accurately and devastatingly dissects the American dream, I'd like to know.
"Our presidents and prime ministers are poseurs", writes Robert Fisk. "Where are the Great Men of today?" Pope John Paul II, thankfully, doesn't make the cut (though is praised for opposing the Iraq war), Nelson Mandela certainly does and the Dear Leaders of the Unwilling are shown to be the duplicitous men that they are.
The heroes? American girl Rachel Corrie, killed by an Israeli bulldozer trying to protect a Palestinian house being demolished and nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.
I'm off to Melbourne for a couple of days. A long-time friend is getting married in what I expect to be an OTT extravaganza. I've already been informed that I'm sitting next to a former girlfriend, and another ex will be at my table. Joy to the world. Alas, I have few fears. Everybody has moved on and our lives are better enriched without the other. Besides, returning to my home-town always brings a certain thrill. My closest friends are there, all living about five minutes walking distance from each other in Fitzroy. Bars, brasseries and booze will be consumed and visited.
During the last years, the Australian government implemented the "Pacific Solution", a system of dumping unwanted refugees on cash-strapped islands in our region. Many people approved of this practice, as John Howard and his media supporters frequently suggested that terrorists or undesirables were arriving on leaky boats. Ludicrous and lacking in fact, Australia was involved in 21st century colonialism, shamed around the world, except of course in certain European countries and the UK, where governments saw the value of beating-up fears of asylum seekers.
Media access to Nauru has been restricted for years. Some journalists (such as Bronwyn Adcock of SBS Dateline) managed to report the situation, but few others. The government deliberately planned to keep refugee stories out of the public gaze, lest they gain widespread sympathy. And how hard did media organisations really try to break this impasse?
The Age's Michael Gordon has travelled to Nauru and finds a group of 54 men, women and children that Australians have rarely heard. Discover their humanity. How often do we consider the cruel irony? Australia invades Afghanistan and Iraq for "liberation", but when individuals from these countries come here seeking our assistance we turn them into criminals, then isolate and demonise them.
Daniel Day-Lewis (come back to the screen, Daniel, we miss you!) travels to the Gaza Strip and meets Palestinian families suffering under occupation and the psychologists assisting them. Full marks to Murdoch's London Times for publishing this piece.
"On March 16, the US House of Representatives, in a stunning 420-to-2 vote, passed an amendment to the emergency Iraq supplemental appropriation by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) forbidding the use of any funds that violate the legal obligations of the international Convention Against Torture, which this nation signed. Congressman Markey has led the charge against the CIA's practice of sending terrorism suspects to countries cited by our own State Department for torturing their prisoners."
"The media took little notice of this bipartisan move to try and end the administration's outsourcing of torture - which President Bush continually says is not happening, despite mounting evidence from human rights organizations, freed tortured detainees, and journalists worldwide."
This startling development, reported by Nat Hentoff in The Decatur Daily Democrat, has been ignored in Australia. Once again, we should demand whether Guantanamo Bay detainee, David Hicks, and recently released Mamdouh Habib, were sent by the US to countries in the Arab world to be tortured. Our government's silence speaks for itself.
UPDATE: The Washington Post reports: "A detainee at a U.S. military prison alleges that U.S. military guards jumped on his head until he had a stroke that paralysed his face, nearly drowned him in a toilet and later broke several of his fingers, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday in a US federal court.
"Few ideologues can resist the allure of a blank slate - that was colonialism's seductive promise: "discovering" wide-open new lands where utopia seemed possible. But colonialism is dead, or so we are told; there are no new places to discover, no terra nullius (there never was), no more blank pages on which, as Mao once said, "the newest and most beautiful words can be written." There is, however, plenty of destruction - countries smashed to rubble, whether by so-called Acts of God or by Acts of Bush (on orders from God). And where there is destruction there is reconstruction, a chance to grab hold of "the terrible barrenness," as a UN official recently described the devastation in Aceh, and fill it with the most perfect, beautiful plans.
"We used to have vulgar colonialism," says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. "Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'"
So writes Naomi Klein in the May 2 edition of The Nation. She highlights the increasing use of private contractors for the rebuilding of countries and economies. Iraq is a perfect example. Baghdad was still burning and the "American occupation officials rewrote the investment laws and announced that the country's state-owned companies would be privatised."
When Western leaders talk about "reconstruction" or "assistance", they're speaking in code. I remember reading some months ago of the recent election victory of President Yushchenko in Ukraine. An International Monetary Fund spokesperson was quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying that the country would need to "reassure" foreign investment and "engage in a policy of rapid privatisation" before serious overseas capital could arrive. The Bush administration even wanted to privatise Iraqi oil before the invasion.
What exactly does democracy mean to the powerbrokers in Canberra, Washington and London? Take Indonesia. Before the Boxing Day tsunami, the country owned over $100 billion to the World Bank. It was an unpayable amount. The result is that millions of citizens are living in poverty because the government is forever paying back this debt.
Before the first Gulf War, many Arab countries, such as Syria and Egypt, joined the "Coalition" because America provided either massive "debt relief" or arms. Coalition of the Willing, indeed.
The "outbreak" of democracy in many countries is simply language for a new kind of colonialism. The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2004 that Halliburton could not justify why it billed the Pentagon for $1.8 billion of work in Iraq and Kuwait. Just who gets rich when invasion and occupation strikes?
April 29 is the 40-year anniversary of Australia committing troops to Vietnam. It was a disastrous war, killing hundreds of conscripted young men. When Australia withdrew in 1973 under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, the country had decisively turned against the imperial deceptions of the Americans. The current Governor-General Michael Jeffrey, who fought in Vietnam, still believes in the correctness of the war - saying a few years ago: "I believe passionately that Vietnam was a just cause in the circumstances of the time" - but for most Australians, the Vietnam War was nothing but folly.
The Communist "threat" was constructed and manipulated for geo-political gain in the unhallowed halls of Washington. Canberra went along for the ride, deceiving its citizens with an initially unquestioning media. John Pilger says that the invasion and devastation of Vietnam can be directly linked to today's Iraq. "It is the essence of imperialism, a word only now being restored to our dictionaries. It is racism."
The Sydney Morning Herald's Alan Ramsey reminds us why this anniversary is so important. When then Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced Australia's involvement in Vietnam in 1965, he stated that a request had arrived for assistance from the South Vietnamese. The American President, Lyndon Johnson was "delighted" with our acquiesce. Years later, it was revealed that no such request ever came and the Americans were simply hoping that other nations would see the benefit of being by its side.
Fast forward to the latest engagement. John Howard gave a commitment to George W. Bush as far back as September 2002 to join the "Coalition of the Unwilling", ideally with a UN resolution, though how important this was to Howard remains unclear. British Prime Minister Tony Blair may have given his country's commitment in April 2002. Neither leader informed the public of their true plans and remain aloof to this day. Indeed, the legality of the war remains (marginally) unclear, and in the UK the situation seems dubious at best. In Australia, Howard would rather this debate became irrelevant and no legal advice has ever been released. Surely a government with nothing to hide would thrust the truthfulness of their claims into the hands of anybody interested?
This brings up the current ASEAN debate. Australia is attempting to gain entry to the forthcoming meeting of South-East Asian nations. A sticking point is the reservation of the Howard government to sign a non-aggression pact. Howard made the oafish comment in 2004 that, "If I believed that there were going to be an attack, a terrorist attack on Australia and there was no alternative but action being taken by Australia I would unhesitatingly take it to prevent that attack occurring." It was a statement that caused many Asian countries grief and contributed to the theory that Howard's Australia is little more than an obedient US outpost. Pre-emptive strikes should have no place in 99% of modern diplomacy.
New Zealand has agreed to sign the pact. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer responded with typical sensitivity: "Australia is a proud and independent country, we're able to beat New Zealand at rugby, we thrash them at cricket and there is no reason why we should always do what New Zealand does. We're a more confident country than that." Or not. The report details Australia's concerns that signing the pact might upset America. So how independent are we really?
Recent visits by Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi has brought near uniform praise and uncritical adulation by the Australian media. The Sydney Morning Herald tells us that, "The democratic election of Dr Yudhoyono in Indonesia means Australia has a new reformist partner, unafraid of confronting corruption and human rights abuses at home." New Zealand, unlike Australia, still refuses to even discuss the idea of restarting military co-operation with Indonesia. And human rights abuses continue in West Papua and Aceh. By all means welcome renewed positive relations between Australia and our region, but leave the scepticism intact. When Prime Minister Bob Hawke champagne toasted the dictator Soeharto during his first overseas trip as head of state in 1983, he said: "We know your people love you."
Australia's world-standing has taken a battering in the last decade. We may be receiving praise from the Bush administration, but harsh criticism elsewhere. Our government claims independence but is in fact increasingly dependent on US approval.
Yesterday's lies on Vietnam are being repeated with Iraq and once again subservience to the whims of the White House is paramount. Our position in Asia is unsure. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
Writer Salman Rushdie accuses the Bush administration of fuelling Islamic fundamentalism by failing to seriously engage with the international community.
"It seems really remarkable that the moment you leave America...you find not just America's natural enemies, but America's natural allies talking in language more critical than I, in my life, have ever heard about the United States," he says.
Rushdie lived for years under an Iranian fatwa after writing the "blasphemous" Satanic Verses. He is currently President of PEN America, a worldwide organisation dedicated to defending writers in detention.
The US is failing in Iraq and hatred of the occupation is greater than ever, writes Jonathan Steele in today's Guardian. Recent massive protests against the American presence, vast areas of the country out of "coalition" hands and largely lawless and the desire of the US to maintain permanent bases in the country all contribute to the impression that Iraq is not welcoming democracy, as we're told by governments and its obedient media minions.
The US is increasingly not wanted in the country and no amount of spin can disguise this brutal fact. How long before Bush, Blair or Howard acknowledge that its troops are no longer wanted?
US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld visited Iraq yesterday. Iraq-based Christopher Allbritton, blogger and journalist-for-hire, says the real reason behind the visit, unreported in the Western media, is American concerns that deposed Ba'ath party members will be completely purged from vital governmental positions, when they are, in fact, essential for the "rebuilding" of the country. Ironic, to say the least.
"Despite American proconsul L. Paul Bremer’s orders in May 2003 to dissolve the Ba’ath Party and sweep them into the dustbin of history", Allbritton writes, "America now finds itself in need of many of those guys it threw out in the street two years ago. Former Ba’athists fill top leadership spots in the new Iraqi Army and in the Interior Ministry, among other positions. Education and Health ministries are full of ex-Ba’athists."
"In other words, the United States, which spent billions of dollars and lost more than 1,500 soldiers to topple Saddam’s Ba’athist regime, is now warning the new regime headed by religious Shi’ite Ibrahim al-Jafari not to get rid of all of the Ba’athists."
What kind of democracy is the "Coalition of the Unwilling" truly building?
What is this story doing on the leading world news page of today's Sydney Morning Herald?
"As he ponders the future of the free world, the fate of social security or the state of his Texas ranch, President George Bush can turn to one source for solace: his iPod."
The article explains how Bush likes country tunes, Joni Mitchell, "does not do anything so vulgar as download the songs himself" and cycles with the device before and after important engagements.
This is not news. The musical tastes of the US President could be conceivably buried as an "Odd Spot" somewhere in the newspaper, but knowing that Bush likes Van Morrison does nothing to humanise a man loathed the world over. More importantly, editors would never place the leisure activities of France's Jacques Chirac, New Zealand's Helen Clarke or Iran's President Khatami with such prominence. It continues a trend towards promoting the trivial as relevant and important, when in fact these details take valuable editorial space away from reporting issues in other corners of the world. Did the editors miss a US State Department report which found "serious cost overruns and a 'poor performance' have plagued Halliburton's continuing $1.2 billion contract to repair Iraq's vital southern oil fields?"
Today's Sydney Morning Herald has only one page of world news. A once great paper continues its slide towards irrelevance.
Monty Python's Terry Jones is confused. He can't understand why a recent UN report proves that children were better off under Saddam. There must be a mistake. Surely. And no, Jones isn't wishing for the return of the brutal dictator. He's merely asking some pertinent questions.
"This, of course, comes as a bitter blow for all those of us who, like George Bush and Tony Blair, honestly believe that children thrive best when we drop bombs on them from a great height, destroy their cities and blow up hospitals, schools and power stations."
Every so often an album of exquisite beauty lands in my lap. Last year the Arcade Fire rocked my world. Those fine Canadian folk sure knew how to serve up a generous helping of sweet melodies with a Talking Heads ear for rhythm.
And now we have the Mars Volta and their latest release, Frances the Mute. These American lads have attitude to burn and deliver music, as my flatmate said on the weekend, "for not relaxing." Well said, son. The Mars Volta is the new skin and bones of post-rockers, At the Drive-In, described by Rolling Stone as "five young men ever pushing against and beyond the limits of physical and emotional endurance with crusader zeal."
Frances the Mute continues in this grand tradition. Combining elements of Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis-era free jazz, Brian Eno ambient doodlings and a bunch of extended tracks crossing multiple genres, this album is the ultimate head-trip. Every song is like a journey along a road filled with Badlands-type characters.
The band's first LP, De-Loused in the Comatorium, was on similar lines but their latest is more ambitious and attains a state of musical paranoia - the twilight-zone of performance - that suggests the boys are not content resting on any laurels.
I remember seeing the band at the Big Day Out a few years ago. My companions looked confused during the set, and so was I at times, but overall we marvelled at the band's outstretched finger to convention. They were deafeningly loud, mellow and then back to the original volume. Not easily forgotten, in other words.
If you only buy one album this year, you should get out more often. But Frances the Mute - so named for reasons best left unsaid - is unlike much else out there at present. Have a little faith in the adventure.
Marvel at George W. Bush presenting Ariel Sharon with a collection of Laura's home-made "Israeli" cookies. The US President once again proves that America will never be an honest-broker in the conflict with comments rivalling his infamous quip about Sharon being a "man of peace" a few years ago.
"Prime Minister Sharon is showing strong visionary leadership by taking difficult steps to improve the lives of people across the Middle East", Bush told Sharon, "and I want to thank you for your leadership."
Dissenting historian Mark Curtisreveals how the British provided assistance in the Ba'ath party's seizure of power in Iraq in 1963. Furthermore, "the February 1963 coup was masterminded by the CIA, which provided the coup leaders with a list of 5,000 people who were hunted down and murdered. Ostensibly directed at eliminating the Iraqi Communist Party, they included senior army officers as well as lawyers, professors, teachers and doctors, who were killed mostly in house-to-house visits by hit squads."
How does this evidence fit with the thinking of the neo-conservatives such as William Kristol? Long arguing that America should be a "benevolent hegemony", Kristol was one of the leading brains behind the Iraq invasion. He is still paraded on Australian TV as an authoritative voice of the Right, despite the fact that he received money from disgraced multinational Enron and never disclosed the payments. Does our national broadcaster not think it's appropriate to acknowledge this fact? Kristol is the kind of Republican who prefers preaching American-directed democracy to the Arab world and ignoring hypocrisies closer to home.
"As the United States gears up for an attack on Iran, one thing is certain: the Bush administration will never mention oil as a reason for going to war". So writes Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. It's almost unspeakable that America will soon be in desperate need of further energy sources. Ignore the almost religious fervour surrounding Iran's supposed imminent threat. We're heard this all before and we know where that ended up. Being conspiratorial has nothing to do with it. Understanding imperial thinking in the 21st century requires decoding of Orwellian language.
Seymour Hersh reported in January of American plans to invade and occupy Iran. When one of the world's greatest reporters says something as incendiary, it pays to listen.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. He explains today how Israel perfectly explains the Bush administration policy in Iraq. Gordon discusses the ideology behind colonial-minded governments offering the illusions of democratic elections while fundamentally operating to control and manage that country's natural resources:
"First, like Israel, the United States has made a distinction between the occupied inhabitants and their resources. The Bush administration's idea is to allow the Iraqis to manage themselves and in this way to cut the cost of the occupation while at the same time continuing to control the rich oil fields. The important question now is which U.S. corporations will profit most from the expected 200 percent increase in Iraqi oil production - from 2.1 million to 6 million barrels a day."
"Second, whereas Israel was certainly not the first country to stage elections in an occupied context, it was the first power to reintroduce this practice in a post-colonial age so as to legitimize an ongoing occupation. The Bush administration found this strategy useful because it fits extremely well with the narrative about "spreading freedom" to the Middle East."
Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. "A Palestinian Prison State" explains the likely effects of the upcoming Israeli Gaza withdrawal. The Palestinians will be asked to accept Israel's generosity while seeing themselves surrounded by Jewish settlements. "It will be a new apartheid", Halper writes.
Counterpunch's Jeffrey St. Clair reports on the Bush administration's role in the clandestine "rendition" of suspected terrorists around the world. The corporate community is implicated. Who is behind the Gulfstream V jet?
- The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports on a new kind of x-ray machine being used on the Rafah crossing point in Gaza. Aside from serious health concerns, civil liberties campaigners in the USA and the UK have condemned the machines as a “voyeurs charter”. Civilians can be photographed naked by the Israeli authorities. Up-to-date news from Rafah can be found here.
- Despite American hostility, a "UN-appointed commission has strongly recommended the referral of the “heinous” crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC)."
- The Russians are bringing hate to Australia. Or so says Sydney's Murdoch tabloid, the Daily Telegraph. This would be funny and completely irrelevant, except Rupert's newly appointed editor, David Pemberthy, is clearly trying to beat-up issues furiously. As he said last week, "The bottom line is you've got to sell more papers. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about." And here I thought fear-mongering should matter little in journalism.
- Adel Abdel Mahdi is the new Iraqi Vice-President. He's a favourite in Washington, Paris and London because he's a strong believer in privatising Iraq's oil reserves and implementing the Bush administration's agenda of economic reforms.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) visited East Timor, "during which he laid a wreath at the Santa Cruz cemetery where Indonesian troops massacred civilians in 1991." The paper said that Yudhoyono pledged to respect East Timor's independence.
Max Lane is convenor of the Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference (APISC). He released the following press release over the weekend which paints a less rosy picture of the President's visit. It should be remebered that after Yudhoyono's recent visit to Australia, our political and media establishment have fallen in love once more with our northern neighbour's leadership. The Australian's Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan calls the President "ordinary and extraordinary." Then again, Sheridan was once fond of dining with the military leaders behind the invasion of East Timor.
"Around 200 East Timorese protesters were attacked this morning (April 9) by East Timorese police, including special branch paramilitary forces. The protesters had gathered at the Santa Cruz cemetery, the site of the 1991 demonstration and massacre by Suharto’s military, to commemorate the massacre but also to protest the decision by the government of Xanana Gusmao and Mari Alkatiri to invite President Yudhoyono to visit East Timor. Yudhoyono was scheduled to visit Santa Cruz cemetery.
The police stated that the demonstrators had no permit for a demonstration at the cemetery, although a law requiring such permits had not yet been passed by parliament. After seizing banners and using force to disperse the demonstration, the demonstrators relocated to the offices of the Socialist Party of Timor. They are now sealed off inside the offices of the PST which have been surrounded by police and vehicles from the Rapid Response Unit. The Secretary-General of the PST, Avelino de Silva, told APISC that he had tried three times now to enter his office but had been stopped.
Meanwhile inside the offices, students and youth from activist NGOs and from the Socialist Youth Organsation are putting up a banner outside the office which reads: “No Impunity – Justice for the Victims”.
Now inside the PST office, Tomas Freitas, from the Lao Hamatuk organization, told APISC contacts in Darwin that the demonstration was protesting against the East Timorese government’s policy of “reconciliation” with the Indonesian government, because it involved dropping the demand for an international tribunal to judge human rights violators during the period of the Indonesian occupation.
“Democracy is dead in East Timor,” Avelino told APISC Covenor, Max Lane, by phone. “In Jakarta you can demonstrate against SBY, but they have made him a god here. They have allowed no banners anywhere protesting SBY’s visit but have forced people to put up welcome banners everywhere. When people gathered outside our office just a while ago, they too were dispersed by force.”