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Thursday, June 30, 2005

It's getting hot in here

Healthy motives, shame about the execution.

Two teenage American flag-burners recently took their dislike for George W. Bush a little too far. Full marks to their political awareness, however.

The new black times

At last week’s National Newspaper Publishers Association convention in the US, it was announced that the New York Times company will be starting an African-American newspaper in Gainesville, Florida.

Writing in the Chicago Defender, George E. Curry, head of and regular media commentator, offers the Times a few home truths:

"Black publishers freely concede that anyone has the right to start a newspaper. That is not the issue. What is so galling is that White-owned media companies that have done such an embarrassingly poor job of accurately portraying people of colour on their pages and broadcast outlets are now seeking to supplant the only legitimate Black media voices that have performed that task admirably for more than a century. It is arrogant and ridiculous to think that newspapers that primarily portray African-Americans as criminals, athletes and entertainers will suddenly be able or willing to present African-Americans in their full complexity."

Curry says that that the main reason behind the move is financial due to declining newspaper circulation over the last decade. Furthermore, he writes:

"Equally culpable are companies that refuse to advertise in Black-owned media but are willing to place ads with White-owned publications, broadcasts and Internet outlets targeting African-Americans. They should be publicly exposed and boycotted. In fact, every Black newspaper should identify them each week so that African-Americans will be able to support only corporations that respect and support them."

Gawker gives the thumbs-down to the proposal: "Forgive us, but it’s positively absurd to insinuate that the Times doesn’t accurately portray people of colour. Why, just today, the paper’s 'black coverage' included fraudulent leaders in Darfur, angry soldiers in Florida, and Bill Cosby’s infidelity."

Don't be surprised

Bob Dylan has sold out. Actually, that's (maybe) unfair. Starbucks have announced a deal for the exclusive marketing rights to a new Dylan CD. The release is an early Dylan's recording at the Gaslight coffee house in New York's Greenwich Village in the autumn of 1962.

Dylan has been fighting his public image for more than four decades so what's a mutually acceptable financial agreement with a chain selling average, frothy coffee?

Mike Marqusee writes in the Guardian: "With its corporate regimentation and single-minded dedication to maximising profit, Starbucks is diametrically opposed to the ethos of the Gaslight. In fact its cut-throat policies have pushed independent coffee houses out of business." And yet it likes to portray itself as your one-stop-cosy-shop for all things hot.

Marquess says that, "it's impossible not to marvel at the apparently limitless capacity of corporate behemoths to appropriate the trappings of their opponents - from images of Che Guevara to G8 protests."

Perhaps Sir Bob was in need of some cash. After all, he featured in a 2004 ad for Victoria's Secret lingerie.

No accounting for taste

Proof positive that popularity contests are about as meaningful as, well, Ronald Reagan's policies towards Latin America. The former, now deceased, US President may have helped "restore American morale", but he was also involved in the sales of arms to Iran while diverting the funds to the vicious Nicaraguan Contras. In other words, a true believer in freedom and democracy.

Labor blues

I've deliberately avoided commenting on the current Labor blues surrounding Mark Latham's biography, not wishing to add yet another voice to an already crowded field. The ALP is in dire straights, lacking direction, policy or solid ideology, but I'm hardly the first to say that, and nor will I be the last. Australia needs a strong Opposition - and Keating's former speechwriter, Don Watson, outlines how essential that should be - but Labor under Beazley is struggling for relevance.

The SMH's David Marr put it best at the launch in Sydney yesterday: "The sharks were hoping for blood. A packed room of press had gathered on a Crows Nest rooftop expecting to hear Senator John Faulkner do what he'd never done in his long career: drop a bucket on his own party."

Faulkner's speech was actually very interesting, in a kind of picking over the carcass kind of way. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't too happy with the book, "Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy", but offered an honest appraisal of the Latham experiment: "Mark was a bold politician, passionate about the future Australia he imagined. Part of his tragedy is that he became leader of the Labor Party at a time when his boldness and his passion were not enough." Faulkner also took aim at the factional system of the party, a constant albatross rejecting real progress.

The SMH's Peter Hartcher, not one to ever see past the pure politics of the moment, writes that Latham has shown his true colours: "Everything Mark Latham has done since losing last year's federal election has vindicated the electorate's decision to reject him...In fact, his latest comments are so puerile and show such total lack of self-reflection that anyone reading them can only feel Australia dodged a bullet in deciding not to elect him prime minister."

When Latham accuses the Labor of being "beyond repair, beyond reform", who could seriously doubt his credentials? How relevant are the ALP in today's Australia? And who can name any major policies released by the party in the last years that have had major impact?

Latham will be releasing his own diaries in early October (through my publisher, Melbourne University Publishing) so there is much more to come. If Labor ever gets back into power - according to the Australian's Greg Sheridan, Beazley "stands an excellent chance of winning the next election. I'd rate him as just under even money against John Howard and just better than even money against Peter Costello" - what will they stand for? Who will they represent? And what kind of Australia will they shape? Many people may not wait around to find out.

Finding the right man

Speed dating with men of the moment. Kim Beazley, Mark Latham and Shane Warne get the once over. It's not pretty but then, with Ms. Fits, it never is.

Making connections

Christopher Hitchens, former thinker, doesn't seem capable of linking his support for the Iraq war to its disastrous post-invasion phase. On last night's ABC Lateline, he revealed his true colours:

TONY JONES: "Christopher Hitchens, a final question, if I can. Has your own faith - and I do suspect I know the answer to this, but has your own faith in the righteousness of this war been shaken at all by the way in which the US has handled the post-invasion phase?"

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: "Well, the two things don't really relate to each other, do they? I mean, one can be absolutely convinced that it was both a just and necessary war, as I am, and be fairly voluble about the immense failures of post-war planning and the immense continuing risks. My support for it doesn't depend on how well it's going. I think it's an inevitable confrontation that was put off too long. That's partly the reason it's going so badly now. But I'm on the other hand very heartened by the developments among Iraqis, by the extraordinary attachment to democracy and liberty that they show, by the way they refuse to turn on one another in spite of many provocations to do so, the way that predictions about fratricide haven’t been fulfilled, and I wouldn't consider it decent even to suggest abandoning them to the sort of fate so that the so-called insurgents - who are in fact the secret police of the former regime allied with the scum of the earth from foreign jihadists - have in store for them."

Hitchens lives in an ideological world completely divorced from reality. Sounds like somebody else we know.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


- Larry David, creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, offers "The Roving Thoughts of a Liberal Insomniac." Hilarity in the face of disaster.

- A Victorian Supreme Court judge orders the Royal Women's Hospital to release the records of a woman's late-term abortion. Patient privacy and confidentiality has been struck an ominous blow.

- Harvard's Alan Dershowitz continues his campaign to stop the publishing of Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah. The Nation articles outlines the various ways the free-speech advocate has intimidated, threatened and provoked the University of California Press. Finkelstein's thesis utterly destroys the intellectual underpinnings of Dershowitz, so his fear is understandable, though attempting to censor the work shows the man's profound hypocrisy. It is still possible that the book will not be released, the latest release suggests. Lynne Withey, director of the University of California Press, puts it best: "To say that the book is anti-Semitic is to say that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic."

Inside the mind

Time magazine interviews an Iraqi insurgent on the US presence in the country, his motivations and reasons behind joining the resistance.

Essential reading.

Iraq: a bloody mess

The best recent report of the current quagmire in Iraq by the Independent's Patrick Cockburn, awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting in recognition of his writing on Iraq over the past year.

He paints a devastating picture of growing insurgency, restricted journalistic access, restless citizens, lack of basic living essentials and sham democracy.

George W. Bush, during his televised address last night, asked Americans not to "forget the lessons of September 11" and support the Iraq war. Virtually nobody believes anymore that the conflict is making Americans safer and maintaining the current policy will work in bringing stability. "Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country," he said.


Should the media be patriotic? Yes, according to a number of Americans rating the performance of their media. The results give an interesting indication that many people believe the media's role, ipso facto, isn't to question government spin but rather to promote "American values", whatever that means.

Yet another nail in the coffin of objective journalism.

Short memory

Remember Judith Miller? She's the New York Times journalist who was promoting bogus claims of Iraqi WMD before the 2003 invasion. When it was discovered that she had been sourcing her material from none other than fraudster Ahmed Chalabi, she kept her job and remains one of the Times' key reporters. So much for accountability at the "paper of record."

Now she's caught up into another scandal. Miller and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine face up to 18 months in jail for declining to name the source (or sources) who leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to them. Miller never wrote about the story, but researched background information about it. Miller did cover the Plame case. Miller has launched a website to support her case.

Speaking to Editor and Publisher, Miller said she would not likely be writing additional pieces for the site or starting a blog. "I don't know a lot about this Web stuff," she said. "I have a full time job writing for The New York Times. I don't need to write for a blog." Good to see Miller understands online journalism. She's too busy finding false information to help launch illegal wars in the Middle East.

Scepticism towards Miller is a natural reaction, however, it appears that her journalistic ethics are being threatened in this case. A reporter's sources are sacred and should be protected. One can see why those in power would like these long-established norms to be challenged. Watch this space.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

How the West was won

"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."

Samuel P. Huntington

I re-discovered this priceless and accurate comment while re-reading Salam Pax's old blog. Huntington, of course, is the man who brought us the "Clash of Civilisations" theory - the inevitable confrontation between the West and Islam - and more recently, the Hispanic "threat" to the United States.

In other words, a likely favourite of the US establishment.

Stop blaming Syria for your problems

Syria can be accused of many things, not least of which is an autocratic regime intolerant of dissent. But, according to Iraq's former interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, Damascus is not assisting militants crossing into Iraq to fight the raging insurgency. Allawi, whose background is suspect at best, made the comments in Cairo this week.

Allawi would have had access to high level intelligence during his time in office. His claims contradict continual accusations by America, Australia and Britain that Syria is behind the rising violence. So whom can our Dear Leaders blame now?

Back on planet Earth, Bush is fighting growing displeasure at home. His answer is to expand Iraqi prisons and arrest more "terrorists". And what of claims that the US is now talking to "terrorists"? Never negotiate with them, I remember them crowing some time ago. No longer. As I've said before, bring back the draft. America is in such dire straights militarily, they may soon have no choice. Support for the war, already plummeting, will decrease even further.

The US lost Iraq militarily months ago. And yet our pro-war commentators and politicians continue to insist Iraq is flowering into a democracy. How much longer will they bury their head in Iraq's quicksand?


The Committee to Protect Bloggers has moved. The team for all the news that's fit to publish on bloggers and internet freedom.

A branch has just opened in Singapore, that bastion of Asian economic strength. As for the government's belief in true democracy, well...

On related matters, a Napalese blog has launched in an attempt to bypass that country's draconian press restrictions.

The inside story

How did the Downing Street memo see the light of day? The London Times' Michael Smith explains.

Monday, June 27, 2005

You want fries with that?

Ever wanted to know what culinary delicacies are served to inmates at Guantanamo Bay? Worry no more, The Gitmo Cookbook will answer all your questions. American conservative activists reckon this is a way to convince the world that "Gitmo" is a holiday camp under a different name. US Vice President can't understand the outcry: "There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people". Prisoners are "living in the tropics", he says.

How many more reports need to be released to prove the American facility is a travesty of human rights?

An Amnesty spokesperson perfectly expressed the sentiment: "It is not a matter of climate or what food prisoners get, but a question of justice."

Perhaps we need to remember the words of senior Pentagon official, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Christino, who claimed in 2004 that intelligence gathered from Guantanamo Bay inmates had failed to stop even one terrorist act and the system of interrogation there was almost guaranteed to produce false confessions.

Really, Paul?

The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul Sheehan today informs us that when it comes to the Middle East, "we remain locked in a malignant cliche, a vision of the region and its peoples as seething and dysfunctional, divided between Islamic fundamentalists and those who fear them. Blood and terror is the dominant news story from the Gulf."

How insightful and original. As usual with Sheehan, the reasons behind such racism aren't articulated, so let me help. Our mainstream media is a prime culprit. While we remain convinced of "our liberation" of Iraq, America's supposed belief in democracy and freedom in the region and label anyone who disputes the Bush agenda as terrorists or appeasers, Sheehan's words, no matter how well intentioned, will fall on deaf ears.

For the real perspective on the Arab world, don't rely on the Western press. Check out blogs or regional newspapers. Only then do we realise that many in the Middle East have no desire for Western influence or "liberation".

Enough already

Wayne Mansfield is a self-confessed "spam king." Australian authorities claim he has sent tens of millions of spam emails over the last years. Mansfield says that the response rate to spam "is staggeringly high - people wouldn't do it if it didn't work".

He faces penalties of up to $220,000.

Mansfield said the real king of spam was American Scott Richter who sent more than 56 million spam emails an hour.

Trouble in Russia

Can you imagine being jailed for defamation after writing an article that was never published? Welcome to Russia, 2005. Eduard Abrosimov is currently serving seven months detention. The current state of Russia's fledging democracy is worrying.

Reporters Without Borders places Russia under Putin as a "Predator of Press Freedom". He joins a distinguished group that include Laos, Libya, Nepal and China.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Looking ahead

Iran has a new President. Ultra-conservative Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is likely to inflame relations between the West and Iran. Vote-rigging has been alleged.

Iranian born Hossein Derakhshan, currently living in Canada, blogs about the likely changes to Iranian society. Suffice to say, he is less than optimistic about the flowering of democracy in his birth country and fears a greater crack-down on the country's barely functioning freedoms.

Global Voices gathers a round-up of Iranian blog reaction.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

US invaded

"The 14 democratic member nations of the Middle Eastern Union unanimously voted to declare war on the U.S. Monday, calling the North American country a 'dangerous rogue state that must be contained.'"

Read on.

Get real

"It's easy to criticise from my ergonomic chair. Let's not forget: [Paul] McGeough is in Iraq and I am not", wrote Murdoch and pro-war lapdog, Andrew Bolt this week. How does anyone take this man seriously, other than propagandists and those suffering delusions? The war in Iraq is not going well, the American people are wavering and democracy is not taking root. Don't believe me?

Gen. John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Persian Gulf, gave testimony to the US Congress during the week, and contradicted the upbeat assessments offered by the Prince of Darkness, Dick Cheney. The insurgency is as strong as it was six months ago, he said, and shows no signs of weakening. Cheney continues to claim that the "terrorists" are in their "last throes."

Blind pro-war supporters have become the laughing stock in this debate. Face reality, people. The insurgency isn't simply about defeating America and its allies, it's about ending an occupation that continues to provide no security or basic services. How hard is it for ignorant war-lovers to understand that Iraqis don't want to be occupied?

Paul McGeough, meanwhile, the subject of numerous attacks this week over his reports from Iraq - and an Australian journalist on the ground contradicting Howard government spin - explains that our leaders have little or no understanding of the tribal nature of Iraq and refuse to see the lessons of the Douglas Wood saga. But how would they? They're too comfortable, like the Bolts of this world, in their ergonomic chairs.

Friday, June 24, 2005


Der Spiegel reports on the crisis in Darfur. It's a tragic tale of world indifference, Sudanese viciousness and African Union bungling and buck-passing:

"The world knows exactly what's happening in western Sudan, but hasn't taken any serious steps to intervene and put a stop to the conflict between the Arab Islamist central government in Khartoum, together with its Janjaweed helpers, and the primarily black African population in the poverty-stricken western portion of Africa's largest country (by land mass)."

The Sydney Morning Herald should be congratulated for sending their Middle East correspondent, Ed O'Loughlin, to Sudan in 2004. His reports were placed on the front page and gave Australians a small insight into the horrors of the country. Since then, however, much of our media has paid little more than lip service to the unfolding genocide.

For the Bush administration, Sudan can supposedly supply "key" intelligence in the "war on terror." Good to see their priorities are clear.

Selective memory

"The Simon Wiesenthal Centre gives its 2005 tolerance award to a torturer. It also gave the Sudanese government its 2005 award for ethnic harmony."

Via the Angry Arab.

The Centre, according to its website, is:

" international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action. The Center confronts important contemporary issues including racism, antisemitism, terrorism and genocide and is accredited as an NGO both at the United Nations and UNESCO."

Speaking of praising false prophets, read this astounding report into the brutal Ethiopian government and the British government support.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown care about Africa, do they? Pull the other one.

The other side

The recent controversy over Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin continues. He is currently waiting for confirmation of his Australian asylum bid. Road to Surfdom reports today - and Tim Dunlop expresses initial scepticism of his source - of an alternative perspective on the Chen case and his claims. The anonymous author takes on the Howard government's lofty claims of fighting tyranny and analyses Chen's public story thus far. He also offers a disturbing insight into China's "re-education" programs.

A blogosphere exclusive.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

God help us

The Guardian reports:

"The war in Iraq is creating a new breed of Islamic jihadists who could go on to destabilise other countries, according to a CIA report. The CIA believes Iraq to be potentially worse than Afghanistan, which produced thousands of jihadists in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the recruits to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida had fought in Afghanistan."

What is that rhetoric - echoed by Howard, Bush and Blair - that the world is a safer place after the Iraq invasion? Some, of course, have too much invested in the lie and prefer to live with their delusions.

Not Happy, Fairfax

Fairfax's new chief operating officer Brian Evans has ordered his management team to slash $100 million from the publishing company. The Australian's lead media story this week must have made News Limited staff smile. It's a worrying development, however. Evans is asking for massive cut across all divisions, including editorial.

The paper reports:

"The closure of overseas bureaus, almost certainly starting with Tokyo, the merging of the Canberra bureaus of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and the merging of the staffs of the broadsheet Herald and the tabloid Sun-Herald also have been mooted."

Redundancies of journalists are also likely. Evans, a former regional newspaper executive, has suggested one way of raising revenue: "the introduction of more advertorials in the broadsheet newspapers."

As I've written many times before, Fairfax is a sick company and I'm very glad that I've left there as a full time staff member. However, a strong alternative to the pro-war, pro-free market, pro-Howard agenda, blindly echoed in the Murdoch press, is essential in a true democracy. Australia, sadly, has the most concentrated media ownership in the Western world and is about to get worse, if the Howard government and Communications Minister Helen Coonan get their way.

Speaking on last week's Media Report, Coonan mentioned the words "diversity" and "choice" many times, giving the false impression that her proposed changes to cross media would bring both. Nothing could be further from the truth. She is already talking to industry stakeholders to negotiate possible options.

Cast your mind back to media player John Singleton's comments from April, speaking on ABC Inside Business:

ALAN KOHLER: Do you think the cross-media rules and the foreign ownership rules will change so therefore there will be a shake up in the media that you can participate in?
JOHN SINGLETON: … I don't know. I can tell you only this - there's sure to be no decisions made that are going to in any way affect the chances of John Howard being re-elected as Prime Minister in the next term, so ...
ALAN KOHLER: What does that mean?
JOHN SINGLETON: Well, it means the terms are going to be, the changes to the media cross-ownership laws will be only those that don't make any existing media owners, doesn't disadvantage them.
ALAN KOHLER: And what do you think that turns into?
JOHN SINGLETON: It means life's a rort and it's only a rort if you're not in it, that's what it means. And John Howard likes being Prime Minister so he's not going to set out to upset the existing media owners by saying, "Oh, laissez-faire, let's have every available - let's have 50, 100 radio stations, 20 TV stations ..."… And the natural barriers to entry in other things like magazines and newspapers preclude it in any event, so..."

Fairfax should be afraid. Alternatives are needed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Democracy? Unlikely

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told an audience in Egypt that America's policy towards the Middle East has been wrong for a very long time:

"For 60 years my country pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people. Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy."

Robert Fisk makes justified mince-meat of Rice's deluded utterings:

"I don't think there's going to be democracy in the Middle East and I don't really think we want democracy. One of the problems of democracy in the Middle East is that, if it really exists, the Arabs may not do what we want them to do, and it's much more easy to have dictators, generals, businessmen running countries on our behalf, rather than saying, "Let's have a fair vote", because in many cases, we may find Islamist governments take over, which we don't want."

Fisk continues on last night's ABC Lateline - for the record, why is SBS Dateline the only other show on Australian television who ever features arguably the world's greatest foreign correspondent? - and highlights the rank hypocrisy and Western-centric perspective of Rice's speech:

"If you live in the Middle East, it doesn't look like this. The Arab world, which is principally what we're talking about, would love some of this shiny beautiful democracy which we possess and enjoy. They would love some of it. They would like some freedom. But many of them would like freedom from us - from our armies, from our influence. And that's the problem, you see. What Arabs want is justice as much as democracy. They want freedom from us, in many cases. And they're not going to get that. They're not going to get it in Uzbekistan, which is not apparently in the little circle of democracy which Condoleezza Rice is talking about. I'd like to believe that what the Americans say is true, but living here, I don't believe it is."

Of course, those with the most to gain from Iraqi "democracy", the pro-war crowd still crowing about success and free elections and heart-warming tales of electricity given and torture offered, continue their little delusions. Never let facts get in the way of healthy propaganda. American casualties in Iraq are skyrocketing and leaders are starting to prepare their citizens for the long haul. Disaster has struck.

Israel's bleak future

Israel is currently going through a bleak period in its history. Why?

I've been commissioned to write three articles for online magazine New Matilda on the subject, as well as examining the wider implications for the Middle East and the journalistic profession.

My first piece is here.

"Israel of 2005 is a state in crisis. During my recent visit to the country, I was constantly told that Israel was a democracy, if you were Jewish. In July 2004, the Israeli cabinet voted to extend a law that blocked Israeli citizenship from Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens. The real reason behind such racism can be found in Israel's demographic time bomb. Within a few years, Jews are likely to become a minority in their own country, leaving Palestinians and Arabs in the majority. Israeli MP Ehud Olmert expressed it best: "It's only a matter of time before the Palestinians demand 'one man, one vote' and then, what will we do?"

Let it die

The White Australia policy is a blight on our history. A new book examines this legacy and my review in this week's Bulletin is here.

Author and refugee activist Arnold Zable recently launched the book in Melbourne. His speech captured the essence of Gwenda Tavan's book:

"Perhaps, one day, we will again have a prime minister who can fully embrace an inclusive and plural society based on the recognition that we are, in essence, a land of indigenous peoples and immigrants, a new world with an ancient past. Meanwhile, we rely on the efforts of advocates and support groups with an alternative vision, and on the efforts of dissident backbenchers. We also need studies like Gwenda Tavan's to learn of the hard-won reforms that took Australia beyond the racially based policies of the past."

More please!

The Los Angeles Times recently tried a noble experiment by introducing a wikitorial asking readers to rewrite an editorial on the Iraq war. The paper received over 1000 participants but closed it down when abuse and pornography was posted.

Deputy Editorial Page Editor Michael Newman told Editor and Publisher that the paper was considering reintroducing the experiment soon. "Readers took things in an unforeseeable way," he said. "They put up different editorials, they fine-tuned things, and had some high-minded debates."

The future of online editorials is coming. Collaborate with your readers and media companies will find a readership more willing to trust the outcomes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

We stick together

Bloggers under repressive regimes are fighting a brave battle against censorship, imprisonment and torture. The BBC examines a few case studies, especially Iran and Nepal.

World solidarity with these gutsy men and women prove that they will not be forgotten.

Let's go there

The Liberal Government has finally relented on some of the harshest measures of its draconian mandatory detention system but the changes don't go nearly far enough. In fact, resting more power with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone seems about as logical as asking Saddam Hussein to monitor human rights abuses in a Basra jail (though perhaps not quite as inappropriate.)

On last night's 7.30 Report, John Howard refused to apologise for treatement of refugees and blamed the parents for bringing their children here in the first place in an unauthorised way. The Prime Minister's glaring ignorance of world affairs was all too apparent. As Kerry O'Brien asked, "would you agree that people who are facing the possibility of death for themselves and their children aren't necessarily going to think in terms of whether they should or shouldn't queue in a refugee centre in Pakistan or somewhere else for an indefinite number of years, where in fact people are dying in those camps?"

Howard ignored the question: "the reality is that not everybody who has sought to come here in an unauthorised way fits the category of somebody who's genuinely in fear of their country can afford to have an unrestricted approach to the entry of citizens of another country into our country."

Do we need to say this again? Arriving in any country, including Australia, with no papers and claiming asylum is not illegal under international law.

As for the situation on Nauru, children and families in that post-colonial dependent nation can rot, as far as Howard is concerned.

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett reckons the changes announced by Howard are limited, at best: "I am amazed at how limited the changes are, how misleading the portrayal of the changes have been and how even more power has been given to a Minister and Department that has been shown to be highly dysfunctional."

Lateline, meanwhile, continues its run of stunning investigative journalism, leaving much of its competition in the dust. Last night, Margot O'Neill (give that woman a Walkley, please!) uncovered evidence of a Chinese spy network in Australia, intimidating and threatening Falun Gung practioners. A huge story? The Sydney Morning Herald all but ignored it today.

Monday, June 20, 2005

No more Wood

Recently released Australian hostage Douglas Wood, currently in Melbourne with his family, is considering a return to Iraq to pursue "business opportunities."

During a press conference upon his arrival at Melbourne airport, Wood said that he supported the American occupation of Iraq:

"I'd like to apologise to President Bush and Prime Minister Howard for things I said under duress. I actually believe that I am proof positive that the current policy of training the Iraqi army, of recruiting, training them worked because it was the Iraqis that got me out. I am proof positive that the current policies of the Americans and the Australian governments is the right one."

I am very glad that Wood has been released unharmed and is safely back with his family. But I can't help but think his belief in the Iraqi occupation is directly linked to his ability to make a buck. Wood may well be a free market profiteer, not unlike many who have flocked to Iraq to earn some quick money. It's time to stop lionising the man, other than wishing him well.

The proliferation of private, Western contractors is a major source of concern for many Iraqis. Take the example of Zapata, a company commissioned to supervise the destruction and storage of U.S military ammunition worldwide to the tune of US$200 million. These companies lack accountability, to say the least.

Before we start labelling people like Wood heroes, let's take a closer look at their role in the post-occupation phase and who is really benefiting. Daily Flute blog puts it best: "If profiteer Douglas Wood gets into trouble in Iraq again, what say he pays for the rescue efforts?" And a prediction. The money Wood will receive for appearing on Channel Ten television next week will not be going to the Iraqi people. I'd like to be proven wrong. Thus far, Wood has proven himself to be a lover of money rather than showing any affection for the people he was supposedly helping in Iraq.

UPDATE: Douglas will not be returning to Iraq. Perhaps he can make some money in another occupation zone. There must be some vital jobs in Afghanistan.

Blair's (lack of) power

British Prime Minister Tony Blair sees himself, not dissimlarly to NSW Premier Bob Carr, as an environmentally caring leader. The facts, of course, bring no such confidence, but our media prefers to play along with their delusional games.

Yesterday's UK Observer revealed (and thus far, in my reading, completely ignored in Australia) attempts by the Bush administration to undermine Blair's feeble attempts at tackling climate change. The US administration is essentially denying reality when their papers have:

· Removed all reference to the fact that climate change is a 'serious threat to human health and to ecosystems';

· Deleted any suggestion that global warming has already started;

· Expunged any suggestion that human activity was to blame for climate change.

Let's take a reasoned guess at the reasons behind such irresponsibility. Officials with ties to the fossil fuel industry often control and dictate government policy.

In Australia, meanwhile, the Howard government has been ignoring many of its own recommendations, according to a strong investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald:

"A Herald investigation has found that the Federal Government has not replied on time to a single public inquiry out of the 62 it has ordered in the House of Representatives since December 1998. It has given no reply at all to almost half of them."

But the Liberal Party is a "party of ideas", says John Howard. What ideas does he have in mind? A foreign policy dictated from Washington? A Pacific proxy? A refugee policy aimed deliberately at inflicting harm on those seeking asylum?

Perhaps our Dear Leader can enlighten those of us who believe the Liberal Party isn't a party of ideas, so much as a rabble of extremists with supreme faith in the free market.

How many dead?

How many American soldiers have been killed in Iraq? We're told just over 1700, but we're now told possibly over 9000. How?

Read on.

I've read nothing like this report anywhere else, so perhaps it's best taken with scepticism.

Thanks to Phillip Gomes for the tip.

UPDATE: The story seems to be bollocks.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

To the polls

The Iranians are going to the polls. It's a sham democracy, really, as only candidates vetted by the Mullahs have been allowed to run. The Guardian's weblog looks at the options and asks the key question: "do you boycott the election or vote for a reformer who would probably struggle to drive through change?"
With no free press, bloggers are our only real way of gaining the Iranian perspective, rather than Western journalists flown into Tehran for a few days.
Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian living in Canada, but currently back in Iran, comments on the many failings of the Western press while reporting the momentous election.
Iranian theocracy will fall one day. Hopefully soon. But what would replace it?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Not above the law

Philippe Sands QC is director of the Centre for International Courts and Tribunals at University College London and currently speaking in Australia. During an interview on ABC TV Lateline last night, he argued that John Howard, Tony Blair and George W. Bush may one day face criminal charges over their actions in the Iraq war:

"Under international law an illegal war amounts to the crime of aggression and in some countries around the world a crime of aggression is one in which they exercise jurisdiction. So the possibility really can't be excluded that if messrs Blair and Howard at some point in the future travel after they've left office to a country which, for example, has an extradition agreement with another country where you have an independent prosecutor."

Precedents do exist. Chile's dictator and US and British friend Augusto Pinochet always thought he would live above the law, but he will be hopefully hounded for the remainder of his life to answer charges of human rights abuses during his reign of terror. Likewise, Israel's Ariel Sharon. He has never faced a court to answer for his role in the 1982 massacres in Sabra and Shatilla. The Belgium courts were considering pressing charges against Sharon but relented after US pressure. In early 2005, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in the sights of the German courts for his role in torture in Iraq. And let's not forget Henry Kissinger, friend of the rich and powerful (including NSW Premier Bob Carr). To this day, he refuses to travel to certain countries due to potential prosecution, due to his role in subverting democracies from Chile to Cambodia.

It is the height of Western imperial arrogance to suggest that only "they" - African despots, Iraqi dictators or Cambodian generals - should be held accountable for past crimes and not "us", the benign leaders of so-called open democracies.

A victim of Pinochet's reign of terror, tacitly supported by the US government, Joyce Horman, perfectly articulates the need for Western accountability:

"The American military and the American government have an incredible amount of power and the abuse of that power was typified by the Chilean coup. For Americans to be bumping off Americans in foreign lands is not what American citizens want their government to be doing."

Howard, Blair and Bush have been warned.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Global voices

Reporters Without Borders has announced the winners of the Freedom Blog Contest. Chosen by popular online vote from around 60 nominated blogs who “each in their own way, defend freedom of expression", the winners are from a variety of countries, including Iran, Malaysia, Italy, Morocco and Afghanistan.

Tipping point?

”We can't kill them. When I kill one, I create three.”

A U.S. officer working with the task force overseeing training of Iraqi troops admitting the difficulty of fighting the Iraqi insurgency.

Are we reaching a tipping point? According to a new study in Australia, 60 per cent of people don't think the Iraq war has been worth it. In America, the situation is worsening, too. Numerous reports prove that the American military presence in Iraq is fuelling a resistance that, as history proves, will be impossible to beat. This is not to suggest leaving the country to Islamic fundamentalists, but what exactly is the people's desire? The much praised election in January proved one thing: many Iraqis want "Coalition" forces to leave immediately. What part of "no more occupation" do the Americans, British and Australians not understand?

US public opinion is diving, and for good reason. Iraq is descending into chaos, and the occasional bright areas of peace and stability are far and few between. A number of polls reflect American concerns that the country is falling into the same trap as Vietnam and more US Senators are encouraging a firm timetable for withdrawal.

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail reports that the US-backed Iraqi government is now openly supporting militias to "deal" with unwelcome elements. What this means in reality, as Jamail notes, is the introduction of sharia law in much of southern Iraq. Liberation, indeed.

Jamail: "...We have the US-backed Iraqi “government” overtly (they have been doing this covertly for quite some time) pitting Shia and Kurdish militias against the primarily Sunni resistance. State sponsored/propagated civil war-although most Iraqis continue to fear and loath the idea, and so many Iraqi political and religious organizations continue to work tirelessly to avert the worsening of this now low-grade civil war."

A number of US soldiers are writing to Jamail expressing their disgust at the bankruptcy of the whole enterprise. A US soldier in Iraq writes: “Do I think it (the war) was started for moral reasons? Of course not.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The dodgy guys in the pack

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is a wonderful documentary. Screening at this year's Sydney Film Festival (and receiving a wider release in the coming months), the film tells the sordid tale of greed gone horribly wrong, the distorted American dream and the relationship between former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay and the Bush family.

Enron's history is dissected as are the ways in which this once grand American energy company never understood the lessons of restraint. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says: "Alex Gibney's riveting documentary is a rape story, with the public trust as the victim."

Welcome to corporate America without brakes or morality.

Ordered around

The Queen's Birthday Honours List. The best excuse to become a republic. And soon. Despite the archaic honours, this year sees a handful of worthy winners. Phillip Knightley is one of this country's finest journalistic exports. He made his name working on the London Times from the early 1960s, before the days of Rupert Murdoch. Knightley has been a supporter of my work and an early proponent of my current book on Israel/Palestine.

I interviewed him last year. He is a fierce critic of much contemporary journalism. One of his biggest complaints is the increasingly cosy relationship between journalists and politicians:

"The Canberra press gallery has too incestuous a relationship with politicians. Any journalist who makes too big a wave runs the risk of being cut off the loop. The only person who would take a major risk is someone who is not afraid of losing their job or access. The clever press officer working for departments, often to their shame, ex-journalists, have ways of rewarding journalists who come along and punishing those who don’t."

He likes reading Margo Kingston, Alan Ramsey and Paul Kelly.

Another Order of Australia is Stuart Rees, founder of the Sydney Peace Prize. I got to know Rees during the Hanan Ashrawi affair in 2003. He defended the Palestinian advocate proudly.

I'm sure both men are thrilled with this regal honour.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Covering their behinds

Corporates are discovering the wonders of blogging and offering readers insights into the culture of multinationals. Richard Giles, an account manager for Sun Microsystems Australia in Perth, says that, "Microsoft is looked at as being evil, and very closed and not very innovative", but corporate blogs can change the perception, providing a human side to long thought-of characterless and devious companies.

Novel idea and yet thoroughly unsurprising. Corporates are beginning to discover the full spectrum of public relations and how to best manage the information flow. How, then, to spin this?

"Users of Microsoft's new China-based Internet portal were blocked on Monday from using the words "democracy", "freedom" and "human rights" in an apparent move by the US software giant to appease Beijing. Other words that could not be used on Microsoft's free online blog service MSN Spaces include "Taiwan independence" and "demonstration"."

Looks like Microsoft's corporate bloggers have their work cut out for them. Bill Gates has clearly been inspired by that other true democrat and lover of Chinese repression, Rupert Murdoch.

Just how much is a journalist's life worth?

Robert Fisk asks the key question. In the aftermath of the assassination of anti-Syrian Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir, and the ever-increasing rate of murdered journalists around the world, Fisk wonders what keeps him going, and his battered profession.

"I'm still not sure why I still walk in harm’s way. There’s nothing vicarious about war and I’m no war junkie. The thousands of bodies I’ve seen prove that death is just a heartbeat away. But "monitoring the centres of power" - to use Amira Hass’s fine description of journalism and its business of challenging governments - means witnessing the filth of the battlefield. To do that, you’ve got to go there."

His main gripe is with propaganda journalism masquerading as objective reporting ("...the way in which too many of us like to pose on screen, to put military helmets on our heads, to parade our flak jacketed selves in front of tanks, to dress up in army costume.") When the reporter or commentator becomes the combatant, journalism descends into farce.

We know all about such people in Australia.

The buck must stop somewhere

How much environmental damage is occurring thanks to American arrogance?

The facts are in and it's not pretty:

"The United States constitutes 4 per cent of the world population. It is responsible for a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions - an average of 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide is released by each US citizen every year - the highest of any country in the world, and more than China, India and Japan combined."

Official propaganda suggests something else entirely. Naturally, of course.

The real truth about Iraq

The deceptions around the Iraq debacle are becoming clearer by the day. Take the latest Downing Street memo written eight months before the invasion detailing the apparent lack of US plans for any occupation problems. The current explosion of violence there proves that America had little or no idea about what to expect in Iraq and leading US senators now openly talk about bringing back the draft. As I've written before, this is a surefire way to send public support for the war to new lows. Bring back the draft!

Meanwhile, Pepe Escobar writes in the Asian Times on some possible scenarios for Iraq in the coming years. Key point:

"Several Iranian websites have widely reported a plan to break up Iraq into three Shi'ite southern mini-states, two Kurdish mini-states and one Sunni mini-state - with Baghdad as the seat of a federal government...The plan is an exact replica of an extreme right-wing Israeli plan to balkanize Iraq - an essential part of the balkanization of the whole Middle East. Curiously, Henry Kissinger was selling the same idea even before the 2003 invasion of Iraq."

America's lack of sufficient troops in the country means that the world's pathetic superpower will have to rely on Shi'ites and Kurds to fight Sunnis. The fight over oil in the north of the country rages daily. Escobar's conclusions are bleak:

"The Bush administration though is pulling no punches with Iraqification. It's a Pandora's box: inside one will find the Battle of Algiers, Vietnam, El Salvador, Colombia. All point to the same destination: civil war. This deadly litany could easily go on until 2020 when, in a brave new world of China emerging as the top economy, Sunni Arabs would finally convince themselves to perhaps strike a deal with Shi'ites and Kurds so they can all profit together by selling billions of barrels of oil to the Chinese oil majors. If, of course, there is any semblance of Iraq left at that point."

Of course, you won't read any of this here. The good man of Queensland is currently hoping that actor Sean Penn, on a journalistic project in Iran, will "prove that he's motivated by humanitarianism, however misguided, rather than anti-Americanism of the kind officially approved by Iran's rulers." God forbid Penn displays scepticism towards Bush's mission in the Middle East.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Check out my review in today's Sun Herald of "War: The Lethal Custom" by Gwynne Dyer.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Working into the grave

Will Australian workers be better off under John Howard's proposed industrial relations changes? George Simon thinks not. I tend to agree.

Truth and lies

"The US and Britain have agreed on how the debt owed by the world's poorest nations can be erased", booms the New York Times. The Age's James Button writes that the world's beautiful people are pressuring the leaders of the most powerful nations to do something about Africa. He approvingly quotes Bono, Bob Geldof and former Ultravox singer Midge Ure. At least he asks whether such activity will actually make a difference in Africa itself. What he doesn't say is instructive. As ever, it's up to Naomi Klein to reveal the reality:

"This is what keeps Africa poor: not a lack of political will but the tremendous profitability of the current arrangement [of Western imposed economic policies, namely privatisation.]"

"Neoliberalism, an ideology so powerful it tries to pass itself off as "modernity" while its maniacal true believers masquerade as disinterested technocrats, can no longer claim to be a consensus. It was decisively rejected by French voters when they said No to the EU Constitution, and you can see how hated it has become in Russia, where large majorities despise the profiteers of the disastrous 1990s privatisations and few mourned the recent sentencing of oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky."

The imposition of economic policies designed to benefit Western multinationals rather than Africa's poor remains a key issue rarely discussed in the West. Back to Klein:

"All of this makes for interesting timing for the G-8 summit. Bob Geldof and the Make Poverty History crew have called for tens of thousands of people to go to Edinburgh and form a giant white band around the city centre on July 2 - a reference to the ubiquitous Make Poverty History bracelets. But it seems a shame for a million people to travel all that way to be a giant bauble, a collective accessory to power. How about if, when all those people join hands, they declare themselves not a bracelet but a noose - a noose around the lethal economic policies that have already taken so many lives, for lack of medicine and clean water, for lack of justice."

John Pilger reminds us that the current face of "saving Africa" is in fact colonialism under a new name. Gordon Brown says there is an "obligation" on the poorest countries to "create the conditions for [business] investment." The chief civil servant at the UK Department for International Development wrote, "We are extending our support for privatisation in the poorest countries from the power sector in India to the tea industry in Nepal."

Why doesn't James Button talk about this? Much easier to believe the propaganda of Gordon Brown.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Warm and fuzzy drugs

PR Watch's Bob Burton debunks the "generosity" of drug companies in the wake of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami:

"In a series of announcements in the aftermath of the tsunami that swept that swept through East Asia and parts of Africa on December 26 2004, Pfizer committed itself to contribute a total of $20 million in cash and $60 million worth of medicines. Pfizer's staff chipped in a further $2million.

"On its U.S. website Pfizer listed its tsunami response as an example of its commitment to corporate social responsibility. However, at a recent drug industry marketing conference in Sydney the Manager of Government Affairs for Pfizer Australia, David Miles, said that the company would have been better off being less generous. 'We would be better off giving five million and shutting up,' Miles said only a little jokingly. 'As soon as you get into big numbers people think you can double or triple it.'"

Not really helping

Ms Fits reveals a less than appealing bunch of losers rooting for "our" Schapelle. God help us. Perhaps they're related to this mob, planning to set up an online "hit list" of anti-racist campaigners in Australia (respect to Darp for taking this on.)

Barking mad

The Sydney Morning Herald's Peter Hartcher continues his incisive commentary, ensuring future success at the Fairfax masthead:

"What if all politicians were dogs? A researcher, Tim Grau of the public affairs consultancy Springboard Australia, asked focus groups of voters to think of politicians that way...When it came to the Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, by far the most common reaction was Saint Bernard, followed by Great Dane. Once more, a Labor voter with a mean streak - perhaps it was the same respondent in all three cases - compared him to an overweight German shepherd."

Hartcher will be advising politicians within weeks as he'll soon be applying his political analysis on the cat and snake family. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni has been released by her kidnappers in Afghanistan. She had been working for CARE International on a project helping Afghan widows and their families.

War will end

The US military is desperate for cannon fodder (sorry, recruits.) Numbers are way down. What to do? Introduce the draft, writes the Chicago Tribune. "The American citizenry is not being asked for any sacrifice", we're told. Really? All those US casualties must be very insignificant. "A draft for the 21st Century is the only answer to our national security needs", the paper booms. "Above all, a compulsory national service program would give our youth - and future leaders - a shaping civic experience. The revival of the citizen soldier can only be to the advantage of the armed services and the nation."

The quickest way to end further imperial follies is to reintroduce the draft. The public outrage at such a measure would cause protests the scale of which we havn't seen in decades. The fact that a major US paper is discussing such a proposal suggests a dire situation within military ranks.

Reintroduce the draft. End the war in Iraq.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The marks around my neck

Tim Dunlop takes aim at that Court Reporter, Gerard Henderson, and his rejection by the Melbourne Age. Poor Gerard can't understand why someone as well connected and unique as himself has been fired by the "Guardian on the Yarra."

Gerard, there are places for people like you. Like working for the Howard government. Oh, hang on a minute...

The brave Sydney Morning Herald continues to publish Gerard, obviously enamoured with his particular take on history. Risk takers, that's what Fairfax wants more of. And they won't be disappointed, if recent columns are anything to go by. In mid May, Gerard explained why America was a champion of democracy. "So much for the mythology that the Bush Administration is dominated by adventurous and unfeeling ideologues", he wrote. But wait, where does Uzbekistan fit into this neat puzzle? Or Pakistan?

Incidentally, during last night's SBS Dateline, General Pervez Musharraf was asked about his country's use of torture. Let's not forget that the autocrat is coming to Australia next week to sign a memorandum of understanding to assist both countries in their "War on Terror." But back to torture:

GEORGE NEGUS: Can I ask you this - I mean I don't know Pakistan's procedure or principles on this - but would he have been tortured by your people when he was in custody here?

GENERAL PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: I wouldn't be able to comment on that. We presume not, but again, I mean - as I see it - leave the torturing aside - are we here to give comfort to terrorists or are we here to extract information? Because he is a part of a terrorist organisation and we should not show much sympathy towards an individual who is a terrorist.

GEORGE NEGUS: Understood, understood.

GENERAL PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Now when it comes to the methodology, I really don't know what methods they use, but I believe we should not tie the hands of the intelligence operatives in interrogation. That is all that I would like to say. They have to extract information. The key issue is you must get information out of the man.

GEORGE NEGUS: Does that mean, though, that all the human rights rules are out the window... .for the interrogation of suspected terrorists?

GENERAL PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: If you talk idealistically, yes. If you're talking of human rights, what about the human rights of the number of people he's killed and what about the human rights of - he's attacked, he's the mastermind in attacking me - what about my human right?

Pakistan. Torturers. Ally. Friend. Mate.

USA Yesterday

In a further sign of American mainstream media decline, USA Today reveals why the now infamous Downing Street Memo - proving that intelligence was being fixed to support war in Iraq - was ignored in its newspaper. Here's Jim Cox, the paper's senior assignment editor for foreign news: "We could not obtain the memo or a copy of it from a reliable source. There was no explicit confirmation of its authenticity from (Blair's office). And it was disclosed four days before the British elections, raising concerns about the timing."

Let's get this straight. A story isn't a story until confirmed by a government source? The appearance of the memo before the election was news in itself and was released by a British media that actually understood its job. Finally, numerous papers around the world had published extracts of the memo and USA Today couldn't obtain the memo? USA Today wasn't alone in its deficiencies as much of the US media ignored the revelation.

There is a distinct lack of truthfulness in the public domain. CBS News has recently been suggesting that things are getting better in Iraq and the source for this fallacy has been the word of military officials, again proving that news isn't news unless confirmed by government organs. At least now, finally, more than half of Americans believe that the Iraq war has made America less safe. Let's hope the tide is turning and a timetable for withdrawal will be announced before the end of Bush's second term.

Speaking of America's Dear Leader, he today announced that alternatives to Guantanamo Bay were being considered but assured his restless flock that detainees were being treated humanely. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, meanwhile, continued his ability to increase hatred towards America throughout the world. Is he, perhaps, working for Osama?

Here's Rumsfeld discussing those "evil doers" at Guantanamo: "These were terrorists, swept up off the battlefield in a place like Afghanistan, for example. And it's in our nation's interest that we learn a lot about those people that are still in detention, because we're still trying to find out how to better protect our country."

All terrorists? Really? So why have America released so many of them? And how to explain recent reports that much of the intelligence gathered at Guantanamo is next to useless? This 2002 report proves how effective the new "gulag" has become: "The questioning of al-Qaida prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has descended into farce, with inexperienced interrogators routinely outwitted by detainees..."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Bush dedicated to the environment

Or not. Take this from yesterday's New York Times:

"A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming."

This news coincides with a statement by the US National Academy of Sciences and 10 similar organisations from some of the world's most powerful nations urging immediate action on greenhouse emissions. The only groups supporting the Bush administration are ideologically driven, anti-environmental fools and the energy industries. The LA Times reports: "...the Bush administration appears firmly entrenched in its position that mandating reductions in greenhouse gases would hurt the U.S. economy."

Future generations will simply have to suffer, or so it seems. The Court Jesters may understand one day. Then again...

Missiles bound for Tel Aviv

This report saddens me; Israel will receive five less missiles this month in its vital "War on Arabs":

"Five missiles allegedly being shipped to Israel were seized by Venezuelan authorities from a private airport hangar, the attorney general's office said Monday. The missiles apparently arrived in Venezuela from neighbouring Colombia late last month and 'were destined for Tel Aviv, Israel,' according to the statement issued by prosecutors."

Like kids in a lolly shop

Australia's cross media laws are soon to be changed by the Howard government, effectively allowing media moguls such as Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch to own both a television station and newspaper in the same city. We can predictably expect a lessening of media diversity and increased necessity for alternative information.

Last night on PM, they examined the current attitudes of the key players. Reporter David Mark told of yesterday's meeting of media executives discussing future options. The Sydney Morning Herald did not report this event today, unsurprisingly, as the last years have seen a reluctance by senior Fairfax management to allow open debate on the matter. Why? The Fairfax board and a number of senior editorial staff support the changes to cross media, in the delusional idea that the newspaper company will be able to expand into the TV market. The Murdoch minions, meanwhile, have long supported "opening" up the market.

Alan Revell, Group Executive of Fairfax: " look at it from a Fairfax perspective and there are three commercial television networks and there are two major newspaper companies and if there's a game of musical chairs, I don't expect the newspaper companies will be one of the ones left without a seat."

Revell was brought back to reality by Media buyer Belinda Rowe from Optimedia: "I think probably the most vulnerable target would be Fairfax, even though it's probably a bit expensive. Austereo would potentially be another kind of play, but people might say Austereo's also expensive, so it's interesting you've got two panellists here that are probably quite vulnerable potentially."

SBS Managing Director Nigel Milan, a minor player in a very big pond, seemed comfortable taking John Howard's word on face value: "I'm only 50 per cent convinced there'll be any change at all. The Prime Minister made it very clear unless there was a degree of collegiality between the major players, that he wasn't going to go into a controversial piece of legislation. You've got to bear in mind the Government makes no money out of this. There's only pain and dissatisfied customers. So unless there is a high degree of collegiality between the major players, it may well be that nothing happens."

And this is exactly the point. As I wrote recently, the Packers, Murdochs and overseas players will be strongly lobbying the government for the changes, as long as they get the assets they've long desired.

Never trust a media mogul (or a Howard government promise.)

Kicking a home goal

Rod Norland, Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief, is about to leave Iraq after two years of service. He was an early supporter of the invasion:

"Two years ago I went to Iraq as an unabashed believer in toppling Saddam Hussein. I knew his regime well from previous visits; WMDs or no, ridding the world of Saddam would surely be for the best, and America's good intentions would carry the day. What went wrong?"

Today, however, he's less optimistic, arguing that America has blown its chance of establishing democracy and appears incapable of maintaining security.

Norland's comments are instructive for a few reasons. Firstly, like much of the American media, he was initially convinced that democracy could in fact be imported and that American intentions were wholesome. And like much of the mainstream media, his so-called left-wing bias is nowhere to be found. Secondly, how did his blind support for American power affect his journalism? Was he cheerleading for the home team? Thirdly, he appears comfortable blaming the current quagmire in Iraq on American mistakes, rather than systemic corruption. Is he unwilling to acknowledge the true reasons behind the invasion? To read a senior American reporter expressing such admiration for American foreign policy is both pathetic and disturbing.

Norland is to be congratulated for finally seeing what many critics of the war have said all along. What if, we said, and despite charges of being Saddam apologists, oppressed people actually didn't want to be ruled by an occupying power? We are currently seeing the failure to listen to those warnings.

Calling for help

Two Iranian bloggers are in trouble for expressing their opinions. Mojtaba Saminejad has been sentenced to two years jail for allegedly offending Iran's Supreme Leader and Omid Sheikhan has been arrested for similar "crimes" and is looking for a lawyer.

To help Mojtaba, sign this petition.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Chen Yonglin

The desperate sight of Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin claiming asylum in Australia is a major scandal. His claims are explosive, including the alleged presence of 1000 Chinese spies monitoring so-called pro-democracy groups here, the ongoing persecution of dissidents in his home country and the secret kidnapping of Chinese citizens in Australia.

He should be granted asylum.

The Australian editorial today rightly expresses concern with Yonglin's treatment at the hands of the Immigration Department (and this is despite Murdoch's previous overtures to the Chinese authorities): "According to Mr Chen, Immigration Department officials rang his diplomatic bosses to establish his identity. In Mr Chen's view this put him at great risk. Similarly it is bizarre that some agency of the Government has not debriefed Mr Chen at length."

China's Ambassador to Australia, Fu Ying, may claim that Yonglin's claims are fanciful and that he wouldn't face any reprimand if he returned to China, but her words are hollow. The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that Yonglin has good reason to fear going back to China. Furthermore, Yonglin claimed asylum in America after Australia refused him protection here without even an interview.

The SMH today: "The Federal Government has denied that its negative attitude to Mr Chen's asylum bid and offer of intelligence information was linked to its pitch for a free trade deal and multibillion-dollar gas contract with the emerging economic power. However, the Australian National University's Professor Hugh White said: 'China has made it clear consistently that the development of an economic relationship is dependent on Australia being sympathetic to China's concerns on political and security issues.'"

This is surely a time to offend China, if granting asylum to Yonglin would indeed cause this. The Age's Tony Parkinson agrees. The dissident's human rights are clearly an issue and his claims too disturbing to simply allow him to return to China. The Age's editorial rightly states: "It is proper for the Government to act as discreetly as possible, but it would be shameful were Australia to betray its own values by sacrificing an individual on the altar of commercial relations with China."

Ambassador Fu claims that China is no longer "behind a bamboo curtain" but sadly the facts do not support her claim. Even the Australian's Greg Sheridan argued last week that Australia should stand up to China over human rights, rather than simply avoiding the issue and begging for trade benefits. Listening to Fu on Lateline last night, one wondered why she'd even bothered to come on the program. She answered little, revealed nothing and portrayed a benign China not out to spy on anyone. She did say, however, that the Australian government had asked her if Yonglin would be persecuted if he returned to China. Amanda Vanstone, what did you think the Ambassador would say, you clueless woman?

Amnesty International reported in late May that thousands of Chinese citizens are still routinely sent to "re-education" camps (RTL): "People receiving RTL terms have no access to a lawyer, there is no court hearing, and “sentencing” is usually decided by the police alone. Under the current system, people can be detained in an RTL facility for up to four years. Those serving terms of RTL are at high risk of being beaten or subjected to other forms of torture or ill-treatment..."

Amnesty's 2005 Report revealed an appalling picture of gross human rights abuses across China: "The authorities continued to use provisions of the Criminal Law relating to 'subversion', 'state secrets' and other vaguely defined national security offences to prosecute peaceful activists and advocates of reform." Under such a definition, surely somebody such as Yonglin would be targeted.

The Australian government should protect Yonglin and listen to his claims. The sight of the Howard government refusing to take responsibility for this man's plight shames us all.

UPDATE: Crikey reports today on the mainstream media's initial failings over this story and the historical parallels:

"[A] senior player on The Australian...claimed that Yonglin spent much of Friday offering his story to The Sydney Morning Herald, but had no joy so he switched to the Murdoch flagship late in the day to try to get some publicity ahead of his public appearance on Saturday. The SMH quickly realised the error of its ways and led Monday's paper with the story."

"All of this rekindles memories of the Mordachai Vanunu case in the 1980s when the Israeli nuclear whistleblower failed to interest the SMH, Daily Telegraph or The Australian in his story, which was eventually picked up by The Sunday Times in London. It was David Jenkins at The SMH who said no, and Piers Akerman on The Australian."


This Republican Majority Whip doesn't get out much. "It's very difficult to run a perfect prison anywhere, but the United States does that better than any other country in the world", he said. Tell that to these people.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Net freedom

Republican Congressman Christopher Cox has introduced a bill into the US Senate called the Global Internet Freedom Act. The aim? "To adopt an effective and robust global Internet freedom policy" and "to establish an office within the International Broadcasting Bureau with the sole mission of countering Internet jamming and blocking by repressive regimes."

The Committee to Protect Bloggers supports the Act, so maybe worth a look. Then again, Orange Country Congressman Cox was recently appointed by George W. Bush as the next Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, so caution is probably advisable. The White House offers a handy CV so if readers can find a good reason why the Act shouldn't be supported, leave them in comments.

Spying on friends

Fox News investigates the Israeli spy network within the US and what information, if any, the Israelis knew about 9/11 before it happened but failed to pass onto the Americans.

Why's Murdoch's Fox News looking into this matter? Good question. The report is far from conclusive, but poses some fascinating questions. "Why would Israelis spy in and on the U.S.?" the report asks. "A general accounting office investigation referred to Israel as country A and said, 'According to a U.S. intelligence agency, the government of country A conducts the most aggressive espionage operations against the U.S. of any U.S. ally.'"

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The plot is lost

Ben Stein is a "writer, actor, economist, and lawyer in Beverly Hills and Malibu [and] a former presidential speechwriter". Writing in the American Spectator on the unmasking of "Deep Throat", Andrew Sullivan rightly suggests Stein is "completely losing it":

"[B]lood will tell, as the old saying goes: [Mark Felt's] posterity is now dragging out his old body and putting it on display to make money. (Have you noticed how Mark Felt looks like one of those old Nazi war criminals they find in Bolivia or Paraguay? That same, haunted, hunted look combined with a glee at what he has managed to get away with so far?) And it gets worse: it's been reported that Mark Felt is at least part Jewish. The reason this is worse is that at the same time that Mark Felt was betraying Richard Nixon, Nixon was saving Eretz Israel. It is a terrifying chapter in betrayal and ingratitude. If he even knows what shame is, I wonder if he felt a moment's shame as he tortured the man who brought security and salvation to the land of so many of his and my fellow Jews. Somehow, as I look at his demented face, I doubt it."

Dual reality

On this balmy Sunday evening in Sydney, two pieces to avoid the pitfalls of having to watch Big Brother.

Former US Presidential candidate and consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, wonders if the advent of the internet has lessened our chances of organising as a legitimate and credible alternative to the "irrevocably corrupt Democratic and Republican parties" and has made us " slaves to our machines?"

It's a provocative piece, and although I don't fully agree with some of Nader's conclusions, his intentions are simple: a grassroots movement to shake up the establishment.

Secondly, investigative journalist Greg Palast takes on the globalisation lover, Thomas Friedman:

"In his endless series of pukey peons to globalisation, Friedman promises that free trade, an end of regulation, slashing government welfare and privatisation of industry will lead to an economic nirvana. Yet, all he and his globalisation clique can point to as the free market's accomplishment is the murderous competition between workers across borders to cut their wages for the chance to work in the new digital sweatshops."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Dangerous precedent

Is the editor-in-chief of Le Monde anti-Semitic? A French court thinks so. A June 2002 article suggested that Israel treated the Palestinians with disdain. One of the offending paragraphs:

"The Jews of Israel, descendants of an apartheid named the ghetto, ghettoize the Palestinians. The Jews who were humiliated, scorned and persecuted humiliate, scorn and persecute the Palestinians. The Jews who were the victims of a pitiless order impose their pitiless order on the Palestinians. The Jews, scapegoats for every wrong, make scapegoats of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority."

The court found the "the paper guilty of 'racial defamation' against Israel and the Jewish people." The attorney representing the paper warned that the decision was ominous for fair comment: "The article was a critique of a policy, of [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's policy, it wasn't a racial criticism," lawyer Catherine Cohen said. "The remarks were taken out of context; the plaintiffs argued that they were against Jews, but a few paragraphs later, the piece says that all occupiers behave the same way. This is a very serious matter for intellectuals, for commentators who express their point of view on a very complex issue."

I agree. Slamming all Jews as being responsible for Ariel Sharon's policies is inappropriate (though the number of Jews who openly oppose the Israeli leader's oppressive policies is far and few between) but suggesting that Israeli government policy is aggressive, racist and shows a singular disdain and ignorance of Jewish history is both legitimate and necessary. The oppressed has sadly become the oppressor.

Free speech has been dealt a blow.

Who killed Samir Kassir?

Samir Kassir was a leading Lebanese journalist openly critical of the Syrian presence in his country. He was murdered this week. By whom? Robert Fisk investigates.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Stability rules

Despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise, Indonesian and Australian relations are generally solid and warm. East Timor and the Schapelle Corby case, while unquestionably placing strain on the relationship, are unlikely to cause any long-term damage. The Sydney Morning Herald's Peter Hartcher argues today that relations with our northern neighbour are too vital to be left to populism. He approvingly quotes former Prime Minister Paul Keating:

"The event of greatest positive strategic significance to Australia in the postwar years was the election of President Soeharto's new-order government. Had it not been for that cohesive event - if the archipelago was breaking up - we would not be spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, we would be spending 6 or 7 per cent."

Therefore, writes Hartcher, stability is essential. Human rights abuses? Ignored. The reign of terror perpetrated by Soeharto? Forget about it. Hartcher's commentary fits into a dubious history of acquiescence with the actions of Indonesia. And these friendly relations allow Australia to spend less on defence, he glowingly assures us. This logic taken to its clear conclusion suggests that realpolitik should always take precedence in politics, and let's not let the small issue of massacres get in the way.

Hartcher needs reminding of history. When Soeharto stole power in the mid 1960s, he massacred up to 1 million people with the assistance of the CIA. The invasion of East Timor in 1975 caused untold misery to the East Timorese people. Perhaps this is the kind of stability imagined by a government apologist like Hartcher.

Scott Burchill, senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University, understands the real agenda behind the Indonesian/Australian relationship:

"The Indonesian military (TNI) has always been seen by the [Australian] Jakarta lobby as the best guarantor of social and political control of the Indonesian population. Australia's de jure recognition of Indonesia's incorporation of Portuguese Timor in 1985, the Timor Gap Treaty in 1989, and the 1995 agreement on security signed by the Keating government and the Soeharto regime, were the high watermarks of the lobby's influence."

Burchill emphasises the disparity between the political elite in both countries and the general populace. The former is in favour of close ties while the latter is more suspicious and questioning. Hartcher's cards have been shown. He isn't the first apologist and nor will he be the last.