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Friday, July 29, 2005

Off to Canberra

I'll be in Canberra for the weekend so postings will cease until early next week. In my absence, feel free to offer thoughts in comments about the "TAFKATWOT" (The Artist Formerly Known as the War on Terror) or any other musings.

Check out this fascinating read by one of Israel's top journalists, Gideon Levy. It's an interview with the Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs, Mohammed Dahlan.

And yes, political shenanigans are bound to happen in the nation's capital. I expect to be offered the leadership of one political party, just not sure which one yet.

One's man terrorist...

Prime Minister John Howard calls the IRA "terrorists" who "murdered people." "The reason that the British security forces and police are so effective in responding to terrorist attacks", he says, "is the bitter 30 years' experience of dealing with the IRA. There was nothing heroic about the IRA campaign, although it is still shrouded in romanticism in the eyes of some."

Let me get this straight. Howard is comfortable comparing the IRA struggle - brutal, criminal and uncompromising as it once was - to the recent London attacks, carried out by men with absolutely no comparative ideology, motives or ideals. It's so politically convenient labelling every act of violence as a terrorist act, therefore negating any distinguishing reason or background. The London suicide bombers are completely irrelevant to the IRA campaign of the 1970s and 1980s. Once again, "we" are the unwitting victims of "them."

Of course, Howard presented former "terrorist" Nelson Mandela with an Order of Australia in 1999.

Nearly there

It's coming...

The only book likely to compete with Finkelstein's explosive tome is Robert Fisk's upcoming, "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East", out November 8.


While the Sydney Morning Herald mentions their monthly dose of disaster yarns on page one (today it's the record breaking rainfall in Mumbai) Indian blogger Sixo paints a much clearer picture of the devastation. He's clearly a rich man (or at least comfortable) as he talks about "my poor servant Neeta."

UPDATE: Speaking of India, a number of Indian bloggers are expressing concern about the city of Gurgaon, centre of Western multinationals and "development." But what about worker rights and police powers?

Our friends

"The U.S. Government is now openly supporting the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, an Iranian resistance movement designated as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department...This kind of hypocrisy reveals much about what the global "war on terror" is really about. It's not a war against terror as such, but rather a war of terror to subdue resistance to the US designs in the region."

William Van Wagenen, July 28, Electronic Iraq


Yasser Salihee was an Iraqi journalist. Joe was an American sniper. On June 24, 2005, fate brought them together on a Baghdad street. A fascinating Salon feature on modern day Iraq under occupation. Trigger happy US troops are causing such anguish and mayhem that any residual feelings of affection are dissipating by the day.

Jordan calling

Jordan has become the bridge between North America and Europe and the Middle East and bloggers are at the forefront of this debate. A recent bloggers meet-up proved the diversity of opinions and attitudes.

In response to those arguing that blogging is simply for the wealthy and well-connected, Jordanian bloggers have an idea: "A number of Jordanian bloggers are interested in organising outreach efforts through community internet access centres in rural areas, encouraging people to blog about community events, possibly using audio and photo blogging to make the process more accessible to less literate participants."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The rules

"Senior media figures on the mainstream ‘left’ are where they are because they know how to play this game. The idea is to talk a good fight, to elicit applause from the ‘left’, but also quiet nods of acceptance from the media gatekeepers, the people they are supposed to be challenging. A key talent is to appear passionately radical while subtly indicating that one is not ’extreme’, that the rules of the media club are accepted. The first rule of media club is: Don’t talk about the inherent contradiction of a corporate ‘free press’. The second rule: Rule one does not exist. The third rule: Do not discuss the existence or non-existence of rules one and two."

Medialens, July 27, The New Statesman Editor And Blair’s 'Mistake'

Paying the price of peace

Peaceful protest of Israel's "security" fence is deemed dangerous by Israeli forces, according to a stunning Haaretz report. Most disturbingly, numerous IDF soldiers have been caught lying about the circumstances in which Palestinians are arrested and making up false testimony about stone throwing and other violence.

Israel's descent continues.

Bush To London bombers: "Bring It On"

WASHINGTON, DC—President Bush officially responded to the latest round of London transit bombings Monday, challenging terrorists to "do their worst." Said Bush, in a televised statement from the Oval Office: "The proud and resilient people of London can take anything the forces of evil and cowardice can throw at them. They will never live in fear of you. Bring it on." Prime Minister Tony Blair thanked Bush for his comments, inviting him to visit London and ride the Underground in a show of solidarity.

Bob Carr - friend of a war criminal

The "shock" resignation of NSW Premier Bob Carr has caused much of the press pack to compete for superlatives. I won't even bother trying to compete with those hacks.

I met Carr a few years ago while researching Not Happy, John! about the Hanan Ashrawi affair. He had bravely resisted pressure from Zionists to withdraw his support from the Sydney Peace Prize. I found him engaging, interesting and knowledgeable. Our interview lasted around one hour in his stunning office overlooking the city. He struck me as more of a talker than listener.

My view of him has changed greatly in the years since. Since learning of his affection for "my good friend" Henry Kissinger, I've become even more aware of his love of being close to power. Kissinger represents the worst of the American establishment, a war criminal still feted by politicians the world over. What did Carr see in him? Hard to say, but I suspect it had something to do with the former Premier feeling close to the heart of his beloved America.

International relations expert Scott Burchill put it best in June 2004:

"I am sure what it is with the Right of the NSW ALP and their infatuation with US history. Perhaps they like to dress up as Minutemen and recreate battle scenes from the revolutionary war on their days off? They certainly don't like talking about the extirpation of the native population or the overthrow of democratic governments in Iran and Guatemala by people they admire in Washington. Whatever the true nature of their infantile disorder, let's not forget that Bob Carr regards unindicted war criminal Henry Kissinger as a mate - and invited him as a VIP to the Sydney Olympics. Carr still wants to be chief brown-noser inside the beltway next time his party gets to sit on the Treasury benches in Canberra. Until then, the pompous and insufferable bore is apparently going to lecture all and sundry about how America truly feels after 9/11 and how to manage the alliance accordingly. What a guy!"

Watch the Australian media completely ignore any of these facts. Too messy, too difficult, too unkind to his "legacy".

Jordan's first podcaster?

Ahmad Humeid is a Jordanian graphic designer, newspaper columnist and entrepreneur. Listen to his views about the opportunities for podcasting and blogging in the Arab world.

Stumbling in the dark

"MI5 tried to recruit senior al-Qaida figure Abu Qatada as an informer in a bid to keep terror off the streets of Britain, it was reported Wednesday."

According to the UK Evening Standard, intelligence sources hoped that he "would not bite the hand that fed him" and "keep terrorism off the streets of the U.K."

Let's lay out the facts. The recent London bombings, both real and attempted, was a failure of the intelligence services. When citizens are killed and intelligence fails to pick up the signals, they've failed. But then, as we've learnt in Australia, governments are often only listening to information they want to receive, rather than alternate theories and ideas.

Of course, if you're New York Times commentator and McCarthyist, Tom Friedman, the US government should draw up a list of individuals who believe that US actions may encourage violent reprisals.

Friedman is a man the Fairfax press publishes regularly, an acceptable "liberal" face of the American establishment. He is nothing of the sort, however, but rather the mouthpiece of well-connected Washingtonians. Who can forget his April 23, 1999 column during the war with Milosevic when he insisted "every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted." Friedman supported the US military committing war crimes, but what did he care?

News flash!

What are the war cheerleaders going to do? Where will they turn for the appropriate turn of phase now that the Bush administration has announced that the term "war on terror" will be phased out for more nuanced language.

"As the struggle evolves some of the language will evolve as well," a senior Administration official said. " The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, said this week that he "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution". The solution, he offered, was "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military".

Let's give the Bush administration a head start in picking more hilariously simplistic terminology. Suggestions in comments. Allow me to start:

"Battle against hypocritical Western nations determined to play the friendship card when it suits - ie. Uzbekistan - and the scary face when it doesn't";

"Really aggressive stance against Islamic fundamentalism and a less aggressive stance against US-backed militias in Iraq"; and

"The right has won, the left has lost and the military budget should increase even further. Soldier on! Let's militarise space."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Our man" in the "war on terror"

"Our military, police and other law enforcement agencies have completely shattered al-Qaida's vertical and horizontal links. It no longer has any command, communication and propaganda structure in Pakistan."

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, July 2005

No peacenik

Jane Fonda announced this week that she opposes the Iraq war and will be touring America spreading that message. Good for her. "I have not taken a stand on any war since Vietnam," she recently told 600 people at a bookshop in Santa Fe. "I carry a lot of baggage from that."

David Bloom deconstructs this distortion of the historical record. He remembers Fonda and then husband Tom Hayden visiting Beirut in 1982 and praising the brutal Israeli invasion.

Read the whole report.

Lord Howard visits the troops

While Prime Minister Howard visits the Australian troops in Iraq - and the media pack breathlessly report the details of the "wildest ride of his life" - he refuses to announce any timetable for withdrawal.

Back on planet Earth, and with increasing reports of civil war on the cards, calls for US withdrawal is growing louder. New York Times veteran John F. Burns reported last weekend that Shiite militias and Shiite and Kurdish-led army and police units, often backed by US and British forces, were themselves launching aggressive measures to tackle the insurgency, including kidnapping, torture and extra-judicial killing. And this would be different from the days of Saddam?

A Western-friendly government in Baghdad is unlikely in the long run. Ask Howard, Bush and Blair how they'd feel about an administration with close ties to "axis of evil" Iran? Howard visited Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari "in his capital, in his office as the democratic prime minister of Iraq". More than a week since Seymour Hersh published his revelations surrounding American attempts to subvert the January elections, the Australian media continues to ignore the scoop.

I read the story again last night. If anybody, including Howard and his media cheerleaders, truly believe that the current Iraqi leadership was democratically elected, they're as deluded as believing the existence of WMD.

A long way to go

While our leaders prepare to "deal" with Islamic extremism - and yet completely ignore any discussion about the foreign policy goals of the Howard government - a more disturbing report closer to home suggests that a great number of Australians hold homophobic views.

Queensland and Tasmania are the most bigoted states while Victoria is the least so. Males between the ages of 14 and 17 hold highly homophobic views and surprisingly, Catholics were least likely of the faithful to harbour fear and hatred of homosexuals. This result should shame us all:

"Overall, 35 per cent of respondents were intolerant of homosexuality. Four in 10 people surveyed in southern Sydney - almost half of men - described gay relationships as immoral. This compared with 27 per cent in the northern suburbs, 34.5 per cent in the west and 37.5 per cent in the south-west."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

How much is too much?

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may end up costing the US over $700 billion. "Osama bin Laden doesn't have to win; he will just bleed us to death," says Michael Scheuer, former counterterrorism official at the CIA who led the search for bin Laden and recently retired after writing two books critical of the Clinton and Bush administrations. "He's well on his way to doing it."

Working together is essential

In the wake of increasingly vicious anti-Muslim sentiment within the Australian community and the decision of a leading Islamic body to send letters to 200 Muslim clerics and leaders asking them to repudiate violence, racial harmony is hardly served by comments by The Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that "he had no time for Islam, whose teachings he believed were false." Can you imagine the outcry if a leading Muslim leader announced on national television that Christianity was a pagan religion, based on superstition and a death cult?

Having said that, the spectacle of Melbourne's Sheikh Mohomed Omran on ABC Lateline last night was an intriguing sight. His answers were vague, contradictory and confused when asked about terrorism, September 11 and Bin Laden. Host Tony Jones, though, was so aggressive - would he ever ask John Howard if he condemned American bombing raids in suburban Baghdad or Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory? - Omran almost had to convince viewers why he should be allowed to stay in Australia.

If people like Jones think the real problem in 2005 is an individual like Sheikh Omran, they're sadly mistaken. But then, it's far too confronting to assess Western culpability.

UPDATE: Hundreds of Muslims have considered leaving England after the London bombings, according to a Guardian poll. The fear of an anti-Muslim backlash is real.

The fascists have arrived

"In their fight against the "rotten" Israeli democracy, the settlers have adopted the Holocaust symbols. They are ostentatiously wearing the Yellow Star that was imposed by the Nazis on the Jews before their extermination, only substituting orange for yellow. They inscribe their forearm with their identity number, like the numbers the Nazis tattooed on the Auschwitz prisoners. They call the government the "Judenrat", after the Jewish councils appointed by the Nazis in the ghettoes, and liken the evacuation of the settlers from Gush Katif to the deportation of the Jews to the death camps. All this live on television."

Welcome to Israel, 2005. Uri Avnery warns that the current protests, intimidation and violence by fanatical settlers is "an attempt to overturn by force the democratic system itself."

Let there be no mistake. This is the result of nearly 40 years of governmental support for a movement based on racial superiority, discrimination, hatred of Arabs and a God-given right to the land. Let's not say we have no idea from whence this comes.

Danner vs Kinsley

Writer, journalist and academic Mark Danner correspondents with Los Angeles Times editorial and opinion editor Michael Kinsley. It's a most informative discussion about the role of the mainstream media in our age, Iraq and the Downing Street Memo. Kinsley calls the memo "fairly worthless" and "will not persuade anyone who is not already persuaded" about Blair and Bush deceptions. Danner disagrees:

"Kinsley, like many others in the American press, wants to judge the memo's 'worth' on whether or not it contains, as he says, 'documentary proof that President Bush had firmly decided to go to war against Iraq by July 2002.' As I have written, such 'documentary proof' - if we are talking about firm and incontrovertible evidence of what was in Mr. Bush's mind at the time - is destined to prove elusive; the President can always claim, all appearances and outward evidence to the contrary, that he 'hadn't made up his mind.' And so he has claimed.

The implications of the Memo, however, reveal a much wider truth. We await a Canberra Memo in years to come, the proof that John Howard's government committed to the Iraq adventure months before saying so publicly.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Album of the year?

Surjan Stevens' Illinoise. Beautiful, spooky, melodic, poetic and downright brilliant.

This is not (just) about East Timor

ABC TV's Australian Story tonight features an exclusive interview with top intelligence analyst Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins. Aside from detailing the power and influence of the pro-Jakarta lobby within the Australian establishment during the late 90s - contributing to a denial of vital intelligence during Australia's 1999 operation and placing troops in danger - the underlying thesis of Collins is far more disturbing.

Our intelligence services are determined to receive certain answers to certain questions, Collins alleges. "The problem with our intelligence system is it's the politicians that choose or approve the choosing of bureaucrats that run it," he says. "The system is very heavily weighted to produce a certain answer that is acceptable to a certain political party and its agenda rather than the nation and its wellbeing."

A military source tells me that government policy and direction determines the kind of intelligence they are receiving. In other words, the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are regarded as necessary and good and intelligence that may provide alternative ways of seeing the situation are dismissed or ignored.

Don't let our media paint Collins as a figure solely discussing Timor and Indonesia. This is a much bigger story. It directly affects our government's ability to serve the country's best interests and politically meddle in a field needing independence and forthright opinions, our intelligence services.

Moments of truth

Bill Leak is one of Australia's finest cartoonists and publishes regularly in the Australian. A new collection of his work, Moments of Truth, is released in early August through Scribe. I love Leak's description of John Howard: "eyebrows that look like two of Hitler's moustaches in full arousal."

Stuff Happens

Powerful and effective political theatre is a rarity in the 21st century. Ironic really, considering the tumultuous times in which we live. David Hare's Stuff Happens changes all that. Recently opened in Sydney (with Melbourne to come), I saw the play with my partner last week.

Hare constructs the political machinations behind the Iraq war, the extremism and cynicism of the Bush administration and the pathetic Tony Blair, shown as a desperate leader determined to stay on the good side of Bush, whatever the cost. Hare has not simply constructed an anti-war piece (though the underlying tone is most certainly against the conflict), but rather looks at the backgrounds, motivations and lies spun by the major players.

Condoleezza Rice - played brilliantly by Leah Purcell in brightly coloured power suits, shoulder pads and almost robotic carelessness - is an academic ideologue, like so many in the American administration. No experience of war or its consequences (nor proper planning for the post invasion phase), Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Bush himself (a simple, quasi-religious idiot with savvy political skills) plan a "War on Terror" without any understanding of American power or its limitations, let alone legality.

When the play opened in London last year, the Guardian praised its insights (the paper even gathered "experts" to determine its accuracy). Hare does ask whether the ends justifies the means and comes down on the side of "no." The facts allow no other answer.

Stuff Happens is moving and angry but has faults. Colin Powell is portrayed as the somewhat idealistic moral centre, determined to avoid war yet unsure how to achieve his aims. Sadly, his so-called idealism did not lead him to resign and his infamous presentation before the UN in February 2003 to "prove" the American case was a classic case of deception. His subsequent comments suggest that he probably knew this at the time or at least had major doubts over the intelligence he was sharing with the world. At one point in the play, he says of Saddam, "People keep asking, how do we know he's got weapons of mass destruction? How do we know? Because we've still got the receipts." Of course, those weapons never materialised.

Australia's role in the invasion is mentioned in passing. A similar piece from an Australian perspective would be most welcome. Stephen Sewell, writer of the stunning "Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America", said in 2003 that mainstream theatre spaces in Australia were unwilling to take risks on edgy political theatre. Most contemporary theatre produced by organisations such as the Sydney Theatre Company, he said, "lacked any social significance", producing only 'fruit-on-the-head' theatre. "I am being blocked, have been for some time, because I don't fit into their agendas, which is to reinforce their audience's beliefs."

As an irregular theatre-goer in Sydney, the distinct lack of contemporary, political commentary is striking (Hannie Rayson's Two Brothers may be worthy but it's as subtle as a sledge-hammer.)

Stuff Happens matters. The title refers to comments made by Rumsfeld in the face of widespread looting after the fall of Saddam. "Stuff happens ... and it's untidy, and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."

Iraq: This is now an unwinnable conflict

The Independent's Patrick Cockburn has spent "half my time living in Iraq since the invasion." On a return from another tour of duty, one of the world's great journalists explains that present day Iraq is far worse than our Western media is letting on. He portrays a devastated country with random violence, virtually no reconstruction and a deluded American administration.

"The war, which started out as a demonstration of US strength as the world's only superpower, has turned into a demonstration of weakness. Its 135,000-strong army does not control much of Iraq", he writes.

Then the key analysis:

"The suicide bombing campaign in Iraq is unique. Never before have so many fanatical young Muslims been willing to kill themselves, trying to destroy those whom they see as their enemies. On a single day in Baghdad this month 12 bombers blew themselves up. There have been more than 500 suicide attacks in Iraq over the last year. It is this campaign which has now spread to Britain and Egypt. The Iraq war has radicalised a significant part of the Muslim world. Most of the bombers in Iraq are non-Iraqi, but the network of sympathisers and supporters who provide safe houses, money, explosives, detonators, vehicles and intelligence is home-grown."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

This is the future

"Police gunned down innocent man", states the Sydney Morning Herald. One day the Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was a potential terrorist and the next an innocent in the wrong place at the wrong time (Stockwell station in London, to be precise, a few minutes walk from my former home.)

The London police are looking for a number of men allegedly behind last week's attempted attacks. It's an essential job and hopefully successful. This doesn't alter the facts that an innocent man has been murdered. Phil Gomes explains what is at stake:

"Jean Charles de Menezes was undoubtedly a man of colour, so he now automatically comes under suspicion because of circumstance and the tenor of the times, and of course Jean Charles de Menezes will just be considered collateral damage as far as those who wish to tighten a noose around our civil liberties. They’ll say 'but if he had nothing to fear he would still be alive', but Jean Charles de Menezes as a man of the global south probably knew better than any of us that police with unlimited powers are something to be feared."

We are seeing the birth of extra-judicial killings in the heart of Western cities. No longer hidden or kept secret by shadowy government officials, but committed under the mantra of "blame the terrorists." London mayor Ken Livingstone misses the point entirely: "The police acted to do what they believed necessary to protect the lives of the public. "This tragedy has added another victim to the toll of deaths for which the terrorists bear responsibility."

Tom Engelhardt reports on the logical extension of this new ideology, the kidnapping of "terrorism" suspects in various countries around the world by American authorities and then spirited away to dictatorships for torture. There have allegedly been over 100 of such missions since 9/11, but it's a figure impossible to clarify.

Make no mistake. John Howard would have little or no problem with introducing draconian measures to crack down on "terrorism." His suggestion this week that the London bombings had nothing to do with the Iraq war show how out of teach with reality he really is.

Let's not forget that this is a man who recently feted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ("I salute somebody in President Musharraf who has led a transition of his country to a democratic state", said Howard dishonestly.) And now we learn that Pakistan "has continued to let [extremist] groups run military-style camps to train guerilla fighters." Turning a blind eye to such dangers is a familiar Western tactic. One of the main sources of Islamic extremism is Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and yet both governments are working closely with the Americans and British. What part of "blowback" do they not understand?

The Iraq war is over, and the winner is...Iran

"More than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, it is difficult to see what real benefits have accrued to the United States from the Iraq war, though a handful of corporations have benefited marginally. In contrast, Iran is the big winner. The Shiites of Iraq increasingly realize they need Iranian backing to defeat the Sunni guerrillas and put the Iraqi economy right, a task the Americans have proved unable to accomplish. And Iran will still be Iraq's neighbour long after the fickle American political class has switched its focus to some other global hot spot."

Juan Cole,, July 21

Life in Ghana

A fascinating report with photos about life in a Liberian refugee camp. Yet another conflict the world prefers to ignore.

Finally, some competition

Telesur, a Venezuelan government media initiative undertaken in association with Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay, is about to launch, a truly pan-Latin American station. America, of course, is concerned about "anti-American" propaganda.

The aim is to provide a counterweight to the CNN style programming all too prevalent in the region.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Overwhelming democracy

The US military will be introducing a "Star Wars" style gun in Iraq next year, despite concerns over its effectiveness and safety. MSNBC reports: "The Active Denial System weapon, classified as “less lethal” by the Pentagon, fires a 95-gigahertz microwave beam at rioters to cause heating and intolerable pain in less than five seconds. The idea is that people caught in the beam will rapidly try to move out of it and therefore break up the crowd."

New Scientist has published concerns about the weapon. "How do you ensure that the dose doesn’t cross the threshold for permanent damage?" asks Neil Davison, coordinator of the non-lethal weapons research project at Britain’s Bradford University. "Does the weapon cut out to prevent overexposure?"

Is this the kind of weapon Australian troops may be using during their deployment in Iraq? Will any journalists actually ask the Defence Minister this question? Unlikely. Much easier, as the Sydney Morning Herald pontificates today, to simply mouth official platitudes and champion the US goal of bringing democracy to the country, whatever the costs.

Those poor Orientals

"The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

Guess who made this comment? The contemporary relevance is startling.

New Nazis?

A manga version of Anne Frank? Tokyo Times reports.

UPDATE: "Call-girl services in Tokyo are starting to replace their wholesome, fleshy, real-live hookers with 'love dolls,' i.e. the modern, high-tech sex mannequins like RealDolls."

Inside the beast

Two films that screened at this month's Jerusalem Film Festival tackled the price of Zionism and concluded that the ideology was the prime reason behind the dispossession of another people, the Palestinians.

Why is it that a handful of voices can make such statements in Israel and yet arguing similarly in the Diaspora causes faux grief? Only one thing to do, soldier on.

Blair's bombs

While our mainstream media continues its delusions about the "War on Terror" - including feting Prime Minister John Howard for doing and saying absolutely of note in Washington and London this week - John Pilger writes in this week's New Statesman of Western culpability, "liberal" media blindness and the twisting of the terrorism debate:

"How many Palestinian babies have died at Israeli checkpoints after their mothers, bleeding and screaming in premature labour, have been forced to give birth beside the road at a military checkpoint with the lights of a hospital in the distance? How many old men have been forced to show obeisance to young Israeli conscripts? How many families have been blown to bits by America-supplied F-16s with British-supplied parts? The gravity of the bombing of London, said a BBC commentator, "can be measured by the fact that it marks Britain's first suicide bombing". What about Iraq? There were no suicide bombers in Iraq until Blair and Bush invaded.

"What about Palestine? There were no suicide bombers in Palestine until Ariel Sharon, an accredited war criminal sponsored by Bush and Blair, came to power. In the 1991 Gulf "war", American and British forces left more than 200,000 Iraqis dead and injured and the infrastructure of their country in "an apocalyptic state", according to the United Nations. The subsequent embargo, designed and promoted by zealots in Washington and Whitehall, was not unlike a medieval siege. Denis Halliday, the United Nations official assigned to administer the near-starvation food allowance, called it "genocidal"."

While the Australia media still ignores Seymour Hersh's report on Iraq's rigged January election - let's guess how long it may take them to pick up his lead - the Sydney Morning Herald today reveals its colours in an editorial discussing the "War on Terror." After suggesting that "opinions about the wisdom and propriety of going to war to topple Saddam Hussein remain polarised", the paper praised the Howard government's ongoing commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan, without once asking about the true agendas of the deployments, other than accepting Western government spin. No discussion about US-funded militias, those pesky, missing WMDs, torture in American custody and a planned Constitution that sidelines women and Israel.

Victory is at hand, indeed.

The whitest of them all

Indians are obsessed with skin colour, according to blogger Vislumbers. A fascinating insight into Indian ideas of beauty, fashion and avoiding the sun.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Love us/hate us

The Independent doesn't know if it loves Australia or finds us irritable.

Either way, pretty predictable and uninspiring choices. We've moved past the "having a shrimp on the barbie" days. Really.

He's back

Ricky Gervais, aka David Brent, aka the genius behind The Office, returns today on BBC2 with Extras. Check out a preview here. I've asked my English cousin to tape the series, as who knows how long it will take the ABC to realise they should be buying BBC productions other than costume dramas.

Gervais also makes a rather fetching Che Guevara.

What Lynch wants, Lynch gets?

One of the greatest film directors of our time, David Lynch - creator of Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive - wants to raise US$7 billion to bring world peace through transcendental meditation programs. He intends to educate children in the ways of meditation. "I am starting this foundation [The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-based Education and World Peace] to ensure that every child in America who wants to meditate can learn", he says and the Foundation also wants to study the effects of meditation on drug abuse, mental illness and high blood pressure.

Lynch told the Chicago Sun-Times in January that he had benefited greatly from decades of meditation. "It's not that you go dead or numb. It's, there's just too much happiness and consciousness and wakefulness and understanding growing for you to be, you know, suffering so much, or caught up in some narrow little thing. It just starts getting better, and better, and better, and better."

As a long-time fan of Lynch's weirdness, I have to say I'm certainly curious, though more than a little suspicious. Any alternative to an education program like this and I'll listen.

We're to blame

Western liberals cause Islamic fundamentalism, according to the Sydney Morning Herald's clueless columnist Miranda Devine.

It must be so comforting to live in a black and white world, where emotion and bigotry triumphs over reason. But then, Devine's insights into the Muslim world come from emails she receives from readers.

Fairfax spent wisely when they poached her from the Murdoch press.

Thanks Ken

London Mayor Ken Livingstone continues his insistence of speaking truth to power. Back in March, he labelled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a "war criminal". "Israel's expansion includes ethnic cleansing. Palestinians who had lived in that land for centuries were driven out by systematic violence and terror aimed at ethnically cleansing what became a large part of the Israeli state", he said.

Now, in the wake of the London bombings, Livingstone has told BBC News that Western policies in the Middle East have greatly contributed to Islamic anger. "I think you've just had 80 years of western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the western need for oil. We've propped up unsavoury governments, we've overthrown ones we didn't consider sympathetic."

He called Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza "border on crimes against humanity". During an interview with Sky News - and despite the dishonest Haaretz headline - Livingstone said: "Given that the Palestinians don't have jet planes, don't have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons." He also rightly suggested that, "Likud and Hamas members are two sides of the same coin. They need each other in order to attract support. Each side emphasizes the extremism of the other in order to attract sympathy."

Jewish groups are outraged by the comments, of course and some have called for his resignation. He won't and he shouldn't.

I await a similarly prominent Australian leader to echo Livingstone's comments.


"In the dominant culture of the West there is a deep-seated belief that the lives of Western civilians are somehow worth more than those living in other parts of the world - especially those parts being bombed and occupied by the West."

Tariq Ali, July 2005

Reading between the (not so subtle) lines

While Rupert Murdoch and John Howard engage in some mutually satisfactory back-slapping in Washington this week, letter writers to the Sydney Morning Herald explain the agenda better than any journalist from the Fairfax stable.

Peter Friend of Heathcote writes:

"Rupert Murdoch is a man who has never had any difficulty confusing his version of the world with reality. He was a supporter of the Keating Government until it wouldn't bend to his desires. His view of the relationship with the United States then was quite different to the way he sucked up to John Howard in Washington this week. He has joined Alexander Downer as a historian of political convenience.

"This latest analysis will rank with his confident prediction that the invasion of Iraq would be a great thing for the world because it would deliver a $US20 a barrel oil price.

"Maybe it's to do with the upcoming changes to cross-media ownership regulations."

And speaking of cross media changes, the Australian's lead Media article today goes a long way without saying very much. And how should readers interpret this line? "The federal Government is considering a way to ensure a minimum level of media diversity if cross-media restrictions are removed later this year."

So there you have it. The government cares enough about the media that they're determined to ensure "minimum levels" of diversity, though not necessarily ownership. Indeed, there's a fine line between minimum and minimal. Journalist Jane Schultze writes as if this decision by Communications Minister Helen Coonan is a concession. Surely a functioning democracy should demand a great range of media ownership? But then, Australia has the one of the most tightly controlled media environments in the Western world. We're an example to exactly nobody.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Our media asleep at the wheel

My latest column for online magazine New Matilda is published. This week I tackle the media amnesia of Australia's mainstream press:

"Any Western responsibility for Muslim anger is airbrushed. How quickly they forget the death of more than half a million Iraqi children under brutally maintained US and UK sanctions. While journalists parrot the government-fed lines of the other side's inhumanity, where is the examination of the war crimes committed in Najaf, Jenin, Qaim, Fallujah and Afghanistan itself? Salim Lone, former spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq put it best last week: 'Yes, the terrorists are barbaric? But who is more so?'"

I'm now a regular columnist for New Matilda and my articles will be appearing every three weeks.

The toady's blindness

Piers Akerman in yesterday's Daily Telegraph:

"...though the Koran does contain some verses of great poetry on tolerance and respect, it also contains a plethora of extremely virulent exhortatory suras condemning nonbelievers, apostates, Christians and Jews, to violent deaths and unending misery in the hereafter."

All those sections in the Bible about death, stonings, murder and incest clearly read like a children's fairy tale. No wonder Akerman is Howard's favourite commentator/toady. ABC TV's Insiders calls him a "highly experienced journalist and a columnist." Notice the omission of respect. Why the hell is he on that show again? Yet another tortuous bow to "balance."

Woman drivers

It is illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Jeans blog examines the absurdity of the ruling and wonders when the kingdom will enter the 20th century (let alone the current one.)

UPDATE: Want to learn the latest about elections in Azerbaijan? Read on.

Amnesia rules

It is now two days since Seymour Hersh published his stunning report in the New Yorker about Iraq's rigged January election. As yet, the Australian media has completely ignored the revelations. We shouldn't be surprised. While Prime Minister John Howard is in Washington and the media focuses on back-slapping and delusions over Iraq, a new study indicates that around 25,000 Iraqis have been killed since the 2003 invasion, more than a third caused by US forces.

These figures, if correct, rather make a mockery of Howard's calls to "stay the distance in Iraq [and] we won't go until the job is finished." How many deaths are justified as "liberation?" And when exactly will the job be done?

The mainstream media's amnesia on matters of reality in Iraq is today examined by Tom Dispatch. American Mark Danner has written extensively about the failure of the US media to highlight the growing amount of disastrous news emerging from Iraq. When the now infamous Downing Street Memo was released, much of the US press ignored it. Michael Kinsley, editorial and opinion editor for the Los Angeles Times, "wrote a piece typical of this mainstream moment in the Washington Post, (No Smoking Gun), discounting the importance of the Downing Street Memos as, among other things, no more than "an encouraging sign of the revival of the left. Developing a paranoid theory and promoting it to the very edge of national respectability takes a certain amount of ideological self-confidence.""

Danner rightly says that a growing number of Americans - and I would argue Australians, too - now see a "the widening gap between what [Americans] are told and what they see - a gap that, when it comes to the Iraq war, is becoming harder and harder to ignore."

Jay Rosen's Pressthink profiles the increasing role of the White House - and his theories can be equally attributed to Canberra and the weak-willed Press Gallery - in "roll[ing] back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country."

"Lying to the press—though a serious thing—is what all Administrations do", Rosen says and this fact is routinely dismissed in Australian media. When will journalists learn that the state lies routinely? Rather than expressing scepticism towards the general public, reporters should get behind government spin and "out" lying politicians, media advisers or spin doctors. Cynicism should be directed their way, rather than a "gullible" public.

The aim of numerous governments around the world can be explained thus (courtesy of US journalist Ron Suskind): "That’s the whole idea, to somehow sweep away the community of honest brokers in America - both Republicans and Democrats and members of the mainstream press - sweep them away so we’ll be left with a culture and public dialogue based on assertion rather than authenticity, on claim rather than fact."

Instead, we're treated to a story such as this in today's Melbourne Age: "Janette Howard has kept a low profile since arriving in Washington at the weekend with Prime Minister John Howard, but a $20,000 diamond drew her into the public spotlight yesterday. She presented a glittering 2.09 carat cognac-coloured diamond to Washington's Smithsonian Museum on behalf of Sydney jeweller Nicola Cerrone and Rio Tinto's Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia."

Until journalists see themselves as outsiders rather than privileged insiders being fed the scraps offered by all-too-willing politicians and PR agents, our democracy will remain in a parlous state. ABC TV's Insiders program personifies this problem. Why does the national broadcaster think that the general public is interested in hearing opinions from reporters and politicians who spend their lives in the incestousness world of sanctioned leaks?

UPDATE: Seymour Hersh explains his current thesis on Democracy Now.

Site news


I've made some small additions to my blog, including a Google search box, a handful of Google ads (a writer has to eat, after all!), and an RSS feed. Some other cosmetic changes are on their way.

Please don't forget the "Make a Donation" box, if you're feeling so inclined.

Thanks to Jon @ 12th Harmonic for the assistance.

Viva la revolution.


ET blogging home

Ever wanted an extraterrestrial to read your blog? A Florida-based company will beam blogs into deep space via a powerful satellite broadcast. is the latest venture in the hunt for alternative life.

Ted Murphy, CEO of MindComet, says: "I've always believed that other intelligent life forms are out there, and now, for the first time, they will be able to peer into the life of average Homo sapiens."

Do we really have that much to say?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Keeping it in the family

Whoever thinks that the Howard government's cross media laws won't benefit the Murdoch empire, need only look at today's comment in Washington by the media mogul and the Prime Minister's reply (a smirk actually, as SBS News just showed):

Murdoch on Howard: "In this crucial hour in the history of the world and of our alliance Australia is fortunate to be led by a man of such vision and courage."

Howard on Murdoch: "Rupert - through his life and his efforts, particularly in recent decades - has exemplified all of the things that our two countries have in common and has made an enormous contribution to cementing the good relations between the people of Australia and the people of the United States."

Hard to swallow

Former associates of Huey P. Newton, the late co-founder of militant organisation The Black Panthers, want to copyright the term "Burn Baby Burn" so it can be used to promote hot sauce.

Whatever happened to that revolutionary feeling?

Want to get ahead?

Former public servant, author and whistle-blower Tony Kevin tells Crikey about the new rules of the game at government departments under the Howard regime:

"We should understand the rules of the government service game – the system protects its own as long as they protect the system. That is the operating rule now, for if anyone is penalised now for professional misconduct or out of political expediency, those remaining are at greater risk because an embittered person could leak. So no-one is jettisoned, as long as they all stick to the rules of no unauthorised public comment that could even remotely be construed as expressing regrets or questioning the rules.

"What happens to those kinds of people – even the mildest of dissidents – is instructive in itself – but that is another story.

"This is how the Soviet bureaucracy worked. It is not the way the Westminster system worked or was ever supposed to work – we were supposed to have checks and balances. But we no longer have that system. We have a Soviet-style nomenclature, where the roles of politicians and administrators are indistinguishable, and blind loyalty is the performance criterion that matters above all else."


"Aid worker, female, 31, extremely single" reports and blogs from Darfur, Sudan. On the ground journalism from a conflict the world still prefers to ignore.

Freedom of speech?

Macquarie University public law professor Drew Fraser appears on Channel 9's "A Current Affair" and offers a collection of racist propaganda from the Hitler era. Thankfully, host Ray Martin takes him to task. Fraser's University has reportedly issued a statement deploying racism but supporting Fraser's right to express his views. Should there be limits on such freedoms?

Ray: What is a typical Australian in your eyes?

Drew: It is the sun bronzed, blonde, blue eyed Aussie. That is what brought me down here. That is what, I would say, brought many people down here, the belief that what was really attractive about Australia, was that it was populated by Australians.

Read the whole interview.

Pleading ignorance

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is currently in Washington meeting the key players of the Bush administration, including Bush himself. One can almost feel the blood on their hands. Responding to reports that the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions have contributed to a heightened risk of terrorism, blatant denial was order of the day.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered the most insightful comment: "The United States had done nothing on September 11th when 3,000 people were killed."

If Bush, Blair and Howard would like some insights into Western foreign interventions since World War Two and their often violent and undemocratic nature, they'd best read William Blum. Brits, Americans and Australians should be aware of the real history of the 20th century, including the Cold War.

Blum explains: "We now know that the CIA of Ronald Reagan and William Casey regularly "politicised intelligence assessments" to support the anti-Soviet bias of their administration, and suppressed reports, even those from its own analysts, which contradicted this bias. We now know that the CIA and the Pentagon regularly overestimated the economic and military strength of the Soviet Union, and exaggerated the scale of Soviet nuclear tests and the number of "violations" of existing test-ban treaties, which Washington then accused the Russians of. All to create a larger and meaner enemy, a bigger national security budget, and give security and meaning to the Cold Warriors' own jobs."

And, of course, funding al-Qaeda.

Politicians only get away with such nonsense when our media players display the same level of historical amnesia.

Eg. There is no mention in today's Australian newspapers about Seymour Hersh's New Yorker exclusive on American manipulation of Iraq's January election. Key question for Aussie journalists: did our officials know and were they involved? Don't expect the question asked nor any answer forthcoming.

Monday, July 18, 2005

No peace partner

As Israel prepares for a supposed withdrawal from Gaza, we are treated to yet another fraudulent Israeli offer of conciliation. We are told that Israel is making a huge sacrifice in withdrawing a handful of settlements in the Gaza. We should see such moves as the shams that they are. A truly brave Israel would end the occupation immediately and join civilised nations in agreeing to implement colour blind immigration and civil laws. No such luck.

Akiva Eldar writes in Haaretz of the Israeli PR campaign and its ability to sell to the world the myth that the Palestinians are not ripe for a peace process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once again, we are treated to the realisation that Israel is the rejectionist state, determined to hold onto as much land as possible. Occupation has become a natural state of being for the Jewish entity.

In the equally delusional world of political matters, the Council of Foreign Affairs asks Henry Kissinger - friend of the rich and powerful, war criminal to many and mate of NSW Premier Bob Carr and Murdoch's Australian - about Iran's nuclear potential. Does the grand old man of realpolitik advocate military action (a default position for most neo-cons):

"I'm not recommending it but, on the other hand, it is a grave step to tolerate a world of multiple nuclear weapons centres without restraint. I'm not recommending military action, but I'm recommending not excluding it."

Slogan of our times

The establishment speaks

Former CIA chief John Deutch writes in the New York Times that the US should pull out of Iraq and not try and build a country again in its own image.

"Those who argue that we should 'stay the course' because an early withdrawal...would hurt America's global credibility must consider the possibility that we will fail in our objectives in Iraq and suffer an even worse loss of credibility down the road," he said.

This story was virtually ignored in the Australian press and yet we read every day supposed government experts on foreign policy and nation building. The view from the plush office must be very cushy indeed. Time for a dose of reality.

Hersh strikes again

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports today in the New Yorker that the Bush administration authorised covert action to rig last January's Iraqi elections.

Hersh discovers that the Americans were keen to ensure that a pro-American government continued in Iraq and individuals or groups not associated with the Shias or Iran would be assisted. The reality, of course, is far different with some elements of the current Iraqi government very close to the Iranian mullahs.

Hersh quotes a UN official: "The American embassy's aim was to make sure that [Iyad] Allawi remained as prime minister, and they tried to do it through manipulation of the system...[But] the Shias rigged the election in the south as much as ballots were rigged for Allawi."

Timely link

The Iraq war is linked to the continued strength of al-Qaeda, according to a respected English think-tank. "Riding pillion with a powerful ally [the USA] has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign", the Chatham House organisation said.

The obviousness of such a statement should not be underestimated.

UPDATE: Iraq's insurgency is not, as claimed by Bush, Blair and Howard, being led by foreign fighters with a history of animosity towards the West. Rather, the Iraq war has led a number of men in the Muslim world to fight the West. The conflict has radicalised a new generation in the Arab world.

A letter to the British people from a daughter of Iraq

The following letter was written by Iman al-Saadun on Tuesday July 12 2005. A powerful challenge to "our" terrorism:

I'm sending this letter to the British people and in particular to the residents of London. For a period of hours, you have lived through moments of desperate anxiety and horror. In those hours you lost a member of your family or a friend, and we wish to tell you in total honesty that we too grieve when human lives pass away. I cannot tell you how much we hurt when we see desperation and pain on the face of another person. For we have lived through this situation - and continue to live through it every day - since your country and the United States formed an alliance and laid plans to attack Iraq.

The Prime Minister of your country, Tony Blair, said that those who carried out the explosions did so in the name of Islam. The Secretary of State of the United States, Condoleezza Rice, described the bombings as an act of barbarism. The United Nations Security Council met and unanimously condemned the event.

I would like to ask you, the free British people, to allow me to inquire: in whose name was our country blockaded for 12 years? In whose name were our cities bombed using internationally prohibited weapons? In whose name did the British army kill Iraqis and torture them? Was that in your name? Or in the name of religion? Or humanity? Or freedom? Or democracy?

What do you call the killing of more than two million children? What do you call the pollution of the soil and the water with depleted uranium and other lethal substances?

What do you call what happened in the prisons in Iraq - in Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and the many other prison camps? What do you call the torture of men, women, and children? What do you call tying bombs to the bodies of prisoners and blowing them apart? What do you call the refinement of methods of torture for use on Iraqi prisoners - such as pulling off limbs, gouging out eyes, putting out cigarettes on their skin, and using cigarette lighters to set fire to the hair on their heads? Does the word "barbaric" adequately describe the behaviour of your troops in Iraq?

May we ask why the Security Council did not condemn the massacre in al-Amiriyah and what happened in al-Fallujah, Tal'afar, Sadr City, and an-Najaf? Why does the world watch as our people are killed and tortured and not condemn the crimes being committed against us? Are you human beings and we something less? Do you think that only you can feel pain and we can't? In fact it is we who are most aware of how intense is the pain of the mother who has lost her child, or the father who has lost his family. We know very well how painful it is to lose those you love.

You don't know our martyrs, but we know them. You don't remember them, but we remember them. You don't cry over them, but we cry over them.

Have you heard the name of the little girl Hannan Salih Matrud? Or of the boy Ahmad Jabir Karim? Or Sa'id Shabram?

Yes, our dead have names too. They have faces and stories and memories. There was a time when they were among us, laughing and playing. They had dreams, just as you have. They had a tomorrow awaiting them. But today they sleep among us with no tomorrow on which to wake.

We don't hate the British people or the peoples of the world. This war was imposed upon us, but we are now fighting it in defense of our selves. Because we want to live in our homeland - the free land of Iraq - and to live as we want to live, not as your government or the American government wish.

Let the families of those killed know that responsibility for the Thursday morning London bombings lies with Tony Blair and his policies. Stop your war against our people! Stop the daily killing that your troops commit! End your occupation of our homeland.

Free at last

Australia's longest-held asylum seeker, Peter Qasim, is finally free. After seven years in detention, he is now living with his adopted parents in Adelaide. "I don't know what my future is now, but I am happy to have the chance to live a normal life", he said. "I never wanted to be a burden on Australia."

What other so-called democracy would hold an innocent man for seven, long years in detention?

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Naomi Klein visits former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in South Africa. Why did he fall out with Washington? "Privatisation, privatisation and privatisation", he says.

And, welcome to all new readers. Stay for a drink or five, you'll enjoy the ride.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Blogger news

Iraqi blogger Khalid Jarrar has been detained by the Iraqi police, according to reliable sources. Read the announcement for more information.
And US soldiers in Iraq now have to register with authorities if they want to maintain a blog. Clearly dissidents are no longer welcome. These voices certainly provide interesting perspectives.
UPDATE: I'm in Melbourne for the weekend, so posting will be light. Also, I've switched off anonymous postings on comments. Too much abuse and trouble, frankly. You now must be a registered user. Hope you readers understand (and a few readers suggested this, so...)

Friday, July 15, 2005


The Guardian reports on the sadly predictable anti-Muslim backlash to the London bombings. Far-right websites and soccer hooligans are allegedly agitating to exact "revenge" on members of the Islamic faith.

The British National Party, one of those racist parties pushing for a rejection of Britain's multicultural policies, issued a statement on 13 July titled, "Don't get mad, get even."

Timor and Bin Laden

In the aftermath of the London attacks, a handful of conservatives wondered aloud about the connection between Islamic terror and Timor's "liberation". Tim Blair: "Anti-war leftoids, who supported East Timor’s liberation, always seem to forget East Timor when blaming the West for Islamic terror."

Wrong. Says who? Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and former ASIO chief Dennis Richardson.

First, Richardson, speaking at the Sydney Institute on Tuesday, 26 October 2004:

"In this context, I think bin Laden's first known reference to East Timor in November 2001 was designed to strike a chord in South East Asia, especially Indonesia, and his subsequent references to Afghanistan and Iraq must be seen in terms of al-Qa'ida propaganda and recruitment purposes. That is not to diminish the significance of his references to East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq, but to question whether our involvement in those countries is the central driver in al-Qa'ida's targeting of Australia. Otherwise, how do you explain al-Qa'ida's very real interest in Australia, and the targeting of us, before our involvement in those countries. It simply does not make sense."

Downer on ABC Lateline on 16 March 2004:

TONY JONES: Let's come to the issue what is Al Qaeda propaganda, as you put it, and what isn't. First of all would you agree with the proposition that Australians were targeted in Bali because of their intervention in East Timor?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, I don't think Australians were so much targeted as Westerners were targeted in Bali. We don't have evidence that Australians themselves were targeted. We know that 88 Australians were killed. There were a large number of Australians in that nightclub and in Paddy's Bar on that night. But I think this was an attack against Westerners generally because this was a bar that Westerners congregated in. I don't think you can link it directly to the Timor issue."

If right-wing commentators have better intelligence than either man, produce it now. They don't, of course, making their accusations all the more pathetic.

al-Qaeda is as opportunistic as those conservative commentators attempting to rewrite history. When the West was supporting Bin Laden against the Soviets during the 1980s, we heard no complaints from the usual suspects. Today, however, any excuse of absolving Western responsibility for Islamic terror is acceptable. History knows better than to trust these false idols.

Unedifying spectacle

Guess who?

An over 40 smoker who loves correcting spelling mistakes. A propagandist who can't bring himself to criticise conservative leaders lest they stop sending him Christmas cards. A Court Reporter whose contribution to the journalistic canon can be summarised in one word: negligible. Any ideas yet?

Let me continue.

A man whose mates like comparing critics to Jewish concentration camp guards. (What are his kind saying about inciting hatred in the wake of the London attacks?) A meek individual whose output consists of little more than columns, criticism and bile. A writer afraid to actually report from the real world nor travel to places without an official guide.

Give up?

Yep, got it in one. Welcome to Australia's favourite son. He rather reminds me of Robert Manne's description of Herald Sun "journalist" Andrew Bolt. Reading him is like "being trapped in a small room with an angry, indignant, simple-minded man who believes the best way of convincing you that he is right, yet again, is to ridicule and shout."

For those who believe in a black and white world - so reassuring, isn't it followers? - bigotry, racism and ridiculing mental illness becomes part of the intoxicating mix.

Contribution to the world?

The Palmer report

The release yesterday of the Palmer report into Australia's Immigration Department was a depressing affair. Minister Amanda Vanstone may argue that her department "gets it right most of the time", but a long list of damaged refugees would disagree.

The Sydney Morning Herald's David Marr neatly summarises Palmer's findings. The Immigration Department, writes Palmer, operates "a culture in which detention of suspected unlawful non-citizens is the paramount consideration." Furthermore, "a culture of denial and self-justification that the inquiry found to be at the heart of the problem. Rigid, narrow thinking stymies initiative and limits the ability to deal successfully with new and complex situations."

Christine Rau, sister of wrongly imprisoned Cornelia Rau, writes of profound anger and shock but also hope that a dysfunctional Immigration Department will be restructured:

"I hope that Cornelia's and Vivian's legacy will be for us as a society to take a long, hard look at our immigration detention policies and explore humane alternatives. Surely this can be done without exploiting people's fear of being overrun by hordes of 'others'."

A permanent stain on Australia lives and breathes through our government's inhumane policies. Let history judge them harshly.

"There is no progress"

The situation in Iraq from those journalists on the ground paints a bleak picture. Clark Hoyt is a Knight Ridder reporter in Baghdad. In response to those claiming Western journalists are creating a deliberately negative picture of Iraq, he responds forcefully:

"Iraqis currently have electricity for an average of nine hours a day. A year ago, they averaged 10 hours of electricity. Iraq's oil production is still below pre-war levels. The unemployment rate is between 30 and 40 percent. New cases of hepatitis have doubled over the rate of 2002, largely because of problems with getting clean drinking water and disposing of sewage."

Hoyt says that any positive news emerging from Iraq is coming from the American military or those living inside the heavily-fortified Green Zone. They are divorced from reality.

Gaming under repression

An internet cafe in North Korea? Photographs and information regarding this strange occurrence. Fascinating report, if true.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Jews against Jews

As a Jew who doesn't believe in the concept of a Jewish state - a fundamentally undemocratic and colonialist idea from a bygone era - reception to such ideas within the Jewish community is usually vitriolic, bigoted, racist and downright pathetic. Australian Jews, generally speaking, are incapable of hearing the true reality of their beloved homeland and its barbaric actions.

Blogger Polywise has a few tips for the uninitiated.

Iraqi dead

An Iraqi humanitarian organisation is reporting that 128,000 Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of the US-led invasion in 2003. 55 per cent of those have been women and children under 12, according to Dr. Hatim al-'Alwani, chairman of the Iraqiyun humanitarian organisation in Baghdad.

UPDATE: An international research organisation in Switzerland claims that US troops have killed 39,000 Iraqi civilians since the beginning of the war and 100,000 Iraqis have died since the US invasion.

The development we had to have

The discovery of British suicide bombers is a shocking development in the London bombings. It is, of course, the worst possible situation. To understand why a group of young, British men decided to inflict maximum damage upon their own countrymen and women is almost too hard to understand and yet we must examine how it happened. Life in Leeds goes on but will never be the same again.

Pakistani blogger Zuffar Hali explains how the London attacks affect each and every Muslim:

"A tolerant, moderate Muslim feels as threatened by these as any one not Muslim - or indeed anyone under attack. And that's a simple fact which needs to be realized and appreciated by those readily pointing fingers in the predictable general direction of the 'Muslim Problem', et al."

The Sydney Morning Herald, aka Murdoch-lite, encourages a greater military commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan and yet appears unwilling or unable to understand the concept of cause and effect. Such deployments will only increase the chances of further attacks on Western cities.

We need to understand how these British men became indoctrinated and seemingly programmed to inflict carnage on July 7, 2005. Dismissing them as mad or simply bad will not be sufficient. The rate of suicide bombings in Iraq is extraordinarily high. What is driving these men to such acts? Indeed, if some of the bombers in Iraq are foreign fighters, is their ideology similar to the London attackers? If so, why?

Australian Zionist leader Colin Rubenstein argues that Islamic terror is created solely in the Islamic world while the West has no responsibility for that region's frustrations or anger. Rubenstein's world is akin to Bernard Lewis (who he quotes approvingly): Western values are good, wholesome and benign, while Islamic values are twisted and perverted.

Such racism may be acceptable in the Melbourne Age but they fundamentally misunderstand the source of terror and its root causes. The London attacks must force us to look at Islamic extremism as well as our own government's policies. They do not operate in isolation.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The war over there

Australia has announced it will be sending around 150 SAS troops to Afghanistan to support the US-puppet regime in Kabul. The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul McGeough supports the deployment, writing that, "a genuine frontline role in the pursuit of bin Laden and the Taliban would be a money-where-our-mouth-is use of Australian military resources that has been absent in post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan."

The failure of the US in Afghanistan is much greater than a need for more troops on the ground. While most of the Western media accepts official spin on the country, a recent Human Rights Watch report explains the real truth: "Numerous high-level officials and advisors in Afghanistan’s current government are implicated in major war crimes and human rights abuses that took place in the early 1990s."

Australia and America have no hope in building a so-called democracy while such figures are in power, funded and supported by the US.

Furthermore, the Greens have revealed the hypocrisy of the latest deployment. Senator Kerry Nettle says that Australia still holds eleven Afghanis (and sixteen Iraqis) on the Pacific island of Nauru. "Whilst the government considers Afghanistan and Iraq to be war zones worthy of Australian troop deployment they have not accepted that Afghani and Iraqi asylum seekers on Nauru cannot return home."

In other words, Australian immigration officials refuse to grant these Afghan and Iraqi refugees asylum - despite many of them being on Nauru for nearly four years - refuse to accept that returning them back home is unacceptable in the current situation and yet maintain their limbo status.

The Age may naively claim that the latest "intervention offers a more immediate hope of a stable and secure Afghanistan", but the reality on the ground makes this an unlikely prospect.

Important, but...

The Monthly is the new magazine on the block. Modelling itself on the New Yorker, the Melbourne-based publication is a noble attempt at producing high-quality, essay style articles on issues of the day. Its success rate is decidedly mixed, not least due to its insistence on commissioning the "old guard" of Australian publishing, from Robert Manne to Helen Garner, Kerryn Goldsworthy to Linda Jaivin. Thus far, the choice of writers has been fairly conventional.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. It's a new magazine, the editors want to establish a name for the publication and they simply need to do this by hiring big names. Maybe. The quality of the writing is not in question - generally speaking - and neither is the attractive layout. I want to see a brave new magazine that is unafraid to challenge Australia's underlying assumptions and those of our media elite. I'm not giving up yet. To do this, editors need to commission articles that are unpredictable, controversial, edgy and young. The signs are not wholly convincing. Where, for example, is the inclusion of online writers and bloggers, voices of today rather than yesterday?

This month features a cover article by Robert Manne on the Iraq war. Titled "Murdoch's War", it tells the compelling story of the media owner, the Australian's Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan, and Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt. Manne systematically dissects the Australian's support for the war, its ability to bypass facts on WMD, Iraq nationalism and US foreign policy and constantly move the goalposts when previously claimed justifications no longer exist.

Manne says reading Bolt's columns is akin to "being trapped in a small room with an angry, indignant, simple-minded man who believes the best way of convincing you that he is right, yet again, is to ridicule and shout." Sheridan's "journalism" is dismissed as the "kind of uncritical enthusiasm one might expect from a teenager in love." The Melbourne academic convincingly argues his case, dismissing the numerous factual errors, assumptions, articles of faith and outright lies told by the Murdoch press to convince a wary public that the Iraq war was essential to democracy and freedom. The Murdoch press is shameless, deceitful, devious and unethical, but then, what's new?

Manne dismisses the Fairfax press as "no longer playing the kind of balancing role they once did. Now run by a board of corporation investors, they have almost altogether forgotten the tradition of fierce independence that still produces the best family-owned quality newspapers in the US: the New York Times and The Washington Post."

Come again? Let me get this straight. Manne slams the Murdoch press and praises two American papers that, without a doubt, contributed a barrage of mis-information and propaganda before the Iraq war. Is Manne unaware of this? It's hardly possible. Does Manne think that the actions of Times journalist Judith Miller - perhaps the person most responsible for channelling false WMD claims through Ahmed Chalabi - are less responsible than the Murdoch press? If so, he's delusional.

Manne's censure of the Fairfax press is warranted. They have indeed become a shadow of their former self, preferring to follow rather than lead and positioning themselves as the media company best suited to pursue the new lifestyle agenda of the 21st century. Brave stuff, indeed. But by simply highlighting the Murdoch press - easy targets and thoroughly predictable - Manne has missed a golden opportunity. His slavish praise of the American media shows a disturbing sign of cultural cringe. Of course, certain American outlets have behaved admirably over the last years, but the Post and Times are not two of these publications.

Black Inc Books is soon releasing a book on the media, edited by Manne, called "Do Not Disturb". Let's hope his power of analysis improves.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Afghan Civilians Killed in Airstrike

17 Afghan civilians were murdered by an American airstrike in late June. The Washington Post reported the story on July 5. The US military apologised for the mistake but claimed they had targeted a "known operating base for terrorist attacks."

How comforting for the victims and their families. Another fine example of Western humanity in the face of war.

Scott Burchill explains the hypocrisy: "Some of 'our values' on display again, this time in Afghanistan. Why would this make anyone angry? We kill with the very best of intentions. Don't suppose these people will get a memorial. Of course what we have done to Falluja is many times worse than the terrible tragedy in London. For how much longer can Afghanis and Iraqis withstand the onslaught of our values?"

Resign, do not collect $200 and go to jail

What's the chance of Bush's svengali, Karl Rove, resigning over the Valerie Plame scandal? We now know, finally, that Rove did indeed reveal the CIA agent's name to journalists. That's a crime.

The revelation was political payback of the cruellest kind. Diplomat Joseph Wilson had dumped all over Bush's false claims of yellowcake in Niger and we know how much the Bush administration loves dissent.

Rove must resign and face charges. In Bush's America - or Australia, for that matter, as we witness the Immigration failure Bill Farmer off to romance the Indonesians - accountability matters little. The media is unlikely to pressure for Rove's head. In a time of "war", we are told, such questions are unpatriotic. Witness the right-wingers in the US after the London attacks. Their ignorance is touching in a twisted kind of way, especially in light of the fact that their bullying and messages are ignored by the vast majority of the world. Never criticise the rulers (as Australia's resident ignoramus knows all too well) and the insider's glow will continue.

Take these insights from the Washington Times' Bill Sammon:

"I think the entire conversation changes now. You know, we were talking about Gitmo and whether the prisoners had sufficient comforts...That debate is obliterated. And now we're back to, guess what? Good and evil. I mean, this is what Tony Blair, and Jack Straw, and all these people were talking about. They're talking about using words like wicked and evil, the words that Bush was mocked for using by his detractors when 9/11 happened. But that's where the conversation's back to. We're not talking about global warming. We're not talking about Gitmo. We're back to the basics. We are at war."

I nominate Sammon as the best candidate for the 2008 US Presidential election; he understands as little as the current leader.

Theft, pure and simple

John Howard is trying to sell his industrial relations reforms. The mainstream media has been pretty generous in offering the Prime Minister a platform in which to "sell" his long-held ideological crusade. Public opinion is already resisting the proposed changes due to an effective campaign by the ACTU. The latest business survey suggests that despite Liberal government spin, removing protection from workers will not create more jobs. ACTU President Sharan Burrow says that, "these survey results add to the already significant body of evidence showing that the Federal Government’s claim that abolishing unfair dismissal protections for Australian workers is important to the economy and will create jobs is nothing but hollow propaganda."

Democrat Andrew Bartlett looks at an equally distressing part of the government plan; the use of tax dollars to sell the proposed IR changes. As he rightly argues, "there will always be a grey area between what constitutes legitimate government advertising to inform the public and what is just blatant party political propaganda." Moreover, in this case the government is trying to sell a policy, not a new law. The law is forthcoming, to be sure, but it does not yet exist.

Bartlett writes that the mainstream media, "often marvel about what a clever and skilful politician John Howard is, and there is undoubtedly some truth to that. But if I had twenty million dollars to spend every time I wanted to build public support for an idea of mine or to counter criticism by others, I think I could make myself look pretty good too."

The MP says the mainstream media should refuse to run the advertisements. It's a bold call, and could set a dangerous precedent. Who should be making this decision? And who could be next? Having said that, Bartlett rightly says that the program is akin to being an accomplice to stolen goods.

Can we imagine the mainstream media working together to reject the Howard government's almost pathological addiction to advertise itself? The Sydney Morning Herald's Alan Ramsey offered some perspective in May: "John Howard's Government spends more money on advertising than Coles Myer, Holden, McDonald's and Coca-Cola. It is now Australia's biggest advertiser, far bigger than these corporate giants." Since coming to power in 1996, advertising expenditure exceeds $1 billion.

Israel dedicated to division

The Israeli Cabinet has approved a route of the "security" fence that will cut off 55,000 Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem. Labor Minister Haim Ramon said that the wall was designed to keep out "terrorists" and, in a telling sign of racist slippage, to maintain a Jewish majority in the city. "The fence makes Jerusalem more Jewish", he said.

Israel's descent into apartheid continues.

UPDATE: Further info on the changes here. While the Australian media focuses on Israel's latest request for financial assistance - the Middle East client state knows little shame - Israel MP Azmi Bshara said that the proposed changes suggested the Israeli authorities failed to understand the effect on people's lives and saw only a paper and ruler.

US casualties

Is the US government hiding the true figure of US and Iraqi casualties in Iraq? The Government of Puerto Rico thinks so during investigations of its own war dead. They claim over 4000 US and "coalition" soldiers have been killed during 799 days of fighting.

"Military affairs expert Jose Rodreguez Beruff from the University of Puerto Rico said that the figures showing more than 4,000 dead indicate that, far from winning the war in Iraq, 'what is happening is that the troops are being worn down.' He said that traditional theorists calculate that for an armed invading force to win a guerrilla war, its casualties should be one to ten of its enemy's. In this case, that would require 40,000 casualties among the insurgents."