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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The year that was...

2005 will be remembered as the year that citizens across the world started to realise the rules of the game in the "war on terror." Extraordinary rendition, US supported and administered torture, unauthorised spying on citizens, privatised killing, diving support for the Iraqi quagmire and a growing Iranian influence. Liberation, indeed.

In other news, we saw the shameful response to Hurricane Katrina, world apathy on the Sudanese genocide, military threats towards Iran's supposed nuclear arsenal, Latin America's challenge to US imperialism, Israel's talk of peace but further entrenchment of the occupation, Pacific islands starting to feel the effects of global warming and climate change starting to be taken seriously, in some quarters anyway.

We should take heart from the fact that the US's global influence is waning. Still a superpower but heavily weakened by the Iraq war and imperial arrogance, Latin American countries provide perhaps the best example of a way forward towards a world without constant US threats and bullying. The mainstream media is being challenged like never before and many people are simply ignoring the "establishment" sources and looking elsewhere.

In Australia, we experienced the full force of the Latham Diaries - the finest and most insightful political book about the local scene for a very long time - and the Howard government's control of the Senate saw a flurry of legislation likely to benefit the business community and the Murdoch press, but few others. Opinion polls now show the ALP in front, a direct connection to draconian industrial relations "reforms." The Labor party remains an archaic institution and appears to inspire less people every day. Support for the Greens is steady but climbing in some states. Robert Fisk made his first tour to the country (and returns next March.)

On a personal note, the year has been challenging. My book on Israel/Palestine is nearly finished and will be released in July next year through Melbourne University Publishing. My time in the Middle East - and constant, almost obsessive, threats - makes me even more determined to challenge the Zionist version of the conflict.

I've recently signed with Random House to write a book about the parlous state of the Australian media, the often corrosive impact of the US media and the curse of "insider" journalism. It will be released in 2007.

My regular column for growing online magazine New Matilda - and the positive emails I receive after nearly every article - has proven that there is an appetite for dissenting work in the Australian media.

After being appointed to the board of Macquarie University's Centre for Middle East and North African Studies, we intend to inject some humanity and diversity to the often one-dimensional, Orientalist and racist views of the Arab world and Islam present in Australian society.

There are a number of other projects in development and I should be able to confirm these early in 2006.

As for this humble blog, thanks for all the comments, thoughts and suggestions. I have a number of ideas to expand the site next year. Let's all try to lower the abuse and increase the insights.

I'll be back in the first days of the new year.

Peace to you all.

News bytes

- Yet more evidence that Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe is bankrupt and unable to house its many displaced citizens.

- Australia's richest man, Kerry Packer, has died. Will the country's media landscape change in 2006 as a result of this news?

- The Jerusalem Post reports:

"Some 5,700 emigrants have returned to live in Israel in 2005, according to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. This figure represents a significant jump from the 5,000 returning citizens in 2004, and eclipses the 3,052 new immigrants from North America this year."

Many Jews clearly believe that the Jewish state is the best place to raise their families. I wonder how many of these Jews will live on occupied West Bank land.

- Josh Marshall examines John Yoo, the key lawyer involved in drafting Justice Department memos that gave George Bush almost unparalleled powers to do as he wished in the "war on terror."

- The Bush administration increases pressure on the mainstream media to not publish articles that could threaten "national security." Publish and be damned. For the US government - experts at spin and outright lies - to caution the press is a joke and should be treated with contempt. Sadly, we've already seen evidence of the cowered media in action.

From Beverly Hills with love

Never let it be said that car dealers don't make great US ambassadors:

"The US embassy in London was forced to issue a correction yesterday to an interview given by the ambassador, Robert Tuttle, in which he claimed America would not fly suspected terrorists to Syria, which has one of the worst torture records in the Middle East. A statement acknowledged media reports of a suspect taken from the US to Syria.

"Torture is banned in the US but the CIA has been engaged in a policy of rendition, flying terrorist suspects to countries in the Middle East and other parts of the world where torture is commonplace.

"Although Mr Tuttle, a Beverly Hills car dealer and major donor to George Bush's re-election campaign, has been ambassador in London only since the summer, he is proving to be accident-prone. Last month he vigorously denied British media reports that American forces used white phosphorus as a weapon in Iraq, only to be undercut by an admission from the Pentagon the next day."

Nepotism is alive and well in the Bush administration. And so is outsourcing torture.

The constant struggle

Bahrain enjoys relative political freedom for a Middle Eastern nation and the blogosphere has exploded accordingly. Political punditry is now common. Take the example of Mahmood Al-Yousif:

"Shops, restaurants, coffee houses, garages and other workshops could be forced by law to close for two hours for Friday prayers, if MPs get their way. Those caught opening from 11am to 1pm on Fridays would be fined or their establishments closed for a week, under proposals backed by parliament yesterday.

"Petrol stations could also be closed under the proposed new law, which will now be submitted to the Cabinet.

"MPs said the proposal was in keeping with what is written in the Quran."

The news does not make the blogger happy:

"Can anyone suggest a country I might consider emigrating to that will allow me just to live my life without anyone imposing their interpretation of whatever religion on me and my family? A country that is tolerant that might appreciate its citizens and protect their freedoms, rather than one whose parliament has made it its mandate to rule by and from pulpits?"

Very few Middle Eastern countries would even allow a discussion about the role of Islam in government and society and yet Western media prefers to classify the "Arab world" as a homogenous mass.

No state here

A headline in today's Sydney Morning Herald reads: "Sharon may be ready to accept an independent Palestinian state":

"The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, would turn over more territory to the Palestinians and accept an independent Palestinian state if elected to a third term, according to a draft platform of Mr Sharon's Kadima party released yesterday."

Sharon has not become a peace-maker, however. His definition of a Palestinian state is both inadequate and contradictory:

"But it still falls short of Palestinian demands, as Mr Sharon wants to keep control over all of Jerusalem, and has said he wants to retain large blocs of West Bank settlements. Yesterday Israel announced plans to expand two settlements there despite a ban on such construction in the US-led plan for peace with the Palestinians."

While West Bank settlements continue to expand and checkpoints make life next to impossible for many occupied Palestinians, the SMH headline-writer clearly needs to read more widely than the syndicated news feeds.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Dissent not allowed

Israel appears to see an Australian peace activist as a threat to national security:

"An Australian woman has been detained by Israeli authorities for the past five days after refusing to leave the country."

Shiri Lock had been planning to attend a peace conference in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, but was denied entry into Israel.

"'Well, Shiri and her friends are actually peace activists and they have come to a non-violent conference in Bethlehem, and she was denied entry under the reason that she presents a security threat,' [her lawyer] said."

"'We believe that peace activists do not represent any security threat or other threat to the state and that's why we decided to appeal.'"

Israel is notoriously frightened of dissent within its own borders, such is the fragility of its democracy.

Welcome to reality

Iran's leading hard-line newspaper has called Iraq's recent elections as "the creation of the first Islamist state in the Arab world."

It went on:

"Of the 275 seats in Iraq’s new parliament, 140 will belong to pious Islamists, 60 will be occupied by Kurds with excellent ties with Iran, and 40 will belong to Sunni Arabs, most of whom want a sovereign, Islamist state."

The Western nightmare continues.

Kids and the bomb

One of Australia's most popular online forums - a dance music website, of all places - discusses the current crisis between Iran and Israel and the nuclear question.

A fascinating insight into the debate far away from the commentariat and "experts."

UPDATE: Der Spiegel analyses the likelihood of military strikes against Iran in 2006. Turkey may be a big player in this potential disaster.

Asking the impossible

Australia's top spy is in the business of wishful thinking:

"New ASIO director-general Paul O'Sullivan has warned his spy network not to allow politics to colour their intelligence-gathering and to avoid overstepping their new counter-terrorism powers.

"As spy agencies around the world reel from accusations of political bias, Mr O'Sullivan has told the intelligence community "judgments need to be unbiased and not influenced by political considerations".

"'What the Government needs is balanced assessments that draw on both classified and unclassified information,' he told 200 new spies from several security agencies in a speech.

"Western intelligence agencies have been heavily criticised in the past three years for being too beholden to their political masters."

The intelligence services, especially in a post 9/11 world, have become increasingly politicised, to the point where governments only want to hear viewpoints from a certain political perspective. Lance Collins, former senior intelligence officer and now whistleblower, explains:

"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 well-being."

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Dusty trail to death

Gideon Levy, Haaretz, December 23:

"On Sunday morning of last week Mahmoud Shawara, a labourer, mounted his mule and set out from his home in the village of Nuaman to look for work in the neighbouring village of Umm Touba. At about 9 A.M., he was arrested by a Border Police unit that detains workers who do not have an entry permit to Israel every morning.

"The Border Police ordered Shawara to get into their jeep. He refused. He did not want to leave his mule unattended. At 9:30 his brother saw him for the last time, healthy and sound. At 4 P.M. a resident of Umm Touba named Mohammed Hamadan noticed a mule galloping toward the village and dragging something behind it. From a distance, Hamadan thought it might be scrap metal. As the mule came closer, Hamadan saw that it was dragging an injured, battered man. The mule, he says, was galloping down the slope and looked frightened. He stopped the animal and then discovered that the person being dragged across the ground was Mahmoud Shawara, from the neighbouring village, whom he knew well. Shawara's left hand was roped to the mule's neck. He was unconscious and barely breathing. His skull and face were smashed on the left side and blood was pouring from him. He managed to utter a few broken, unclear words or parts of words and then stopped breathing."

Also read this fascinating article by Amira Hass about the forthcoming Palestinian elections.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Jesus time

Merry Christmas to all believers, Jesus-freaks and Christians.

For the rest of us, let's enjoy the public holiday.

I'll be back in a few days.

Leading a banana republic

There is a name for countries that utilise rampant, unchecked power:

"In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the [US] federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts."

The Bush administration seems to believe that any action it takes can be justified as defending national security. Thankfully, many disagree. Perhaps Bush and his cronies would be better suited to running a banana republic in Latin America.

A misty mirror

Australians are increasingly not seeing themselves on screen:

"Local television drama is set for a lean year, with network belt-tightening and timid programming adding to instability created by expected changes to media ownership laws.

"Viewers are being let down, said the head of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, with only a "patchy" schedule of local drama production in 2006.

"'The trend of declining drama out of the networks and the desperate situation at the ABC means it's very difficult to sustain independent production,' Geoff Brown, said.

The three commercial networks are avoiding the risky returns on local dramas for a clear reason, he said, trying to clean up their books before changes to ownership laws.

"'Even though they all deny it, they're all up for sale,' he said."

It seems we can't rely on private investment or government support of SBS and ABC. But then - and although it's made in the UK - the League of Gentlemen might have to keep punters amused.

A view on China

China is aiming to make a fool of itself in early 2006:

"Prosecutors are proceeding with an espionage case against a Chinese researcher for The New York Times and his trial could begin within six weeks, his defence lawyer said Friday.

"Zhao Yan, who worked for the Times' Beijing bureau, was detained in September 2004, prompting an outcry by press freedom groups. He is charged with "providing state secrets abroad," but the government has not given any details of what he is accused of doing."

The confused communist and capitalist state holds a dubious record:

"China was the world's leading jailer of reporters for the sixth consecutive year in 2004, with 42 journalists detained, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. It said most were held under national security or subversion laws."

Let's not forget, however, that the US is one of the worst offenders when it comes to detaining journalists.

Some lessons in Israeli democracy

It seems like yesterday that Israel was being praised for bringing peace to the conflict. Now, perhaps, the world will realise the Jewish state's true intentions.

The IDF now advocates collective punishment and the targeting of civilian areas in Gaza. Notwithstanding the failure of such policies in the past, the IDF suggests it may even cut off electricity so that Palestinians understand the meaning of Israeli might.

Seventy U.S. senators are calling on George Bush to tell Palestinian leaders that "Hamas and other groups that the United States wants terrorist organizations to disarm or be banned from upcoming Palestinian elections." Again, dictating terms of democracy to a fledging state is a sure way to increase public support for Hamas. Besides, since when does the US or Israel have the right to tell the Palestinian people that only certain candidates are acceptable? Perhaps Abbas should actively campaign for the defeat of Ariel Sharon in the March Israeli elections.

Leading Israeli journalist Amira Hass reports on Israel's enlightened view of dissent:

"Israel Defense Force soldiers confiscated documents belonging to the Committee for the Popular Struggle against the Separation Fence during a nighttime raid on the northern West Bank village of Qafin, a committee activist said yesterday. Apparently, the soldiers located the committee headquarters in a building search and seized documents and NIS 7,000 and 500 dinars from their offices, said the activist."

Like the US - afraid of truly free elections across the Middle East due to the likelihood of Islamist parties taking power, as is happening in Iraq - Israel is trying to undermine free elections in Palestine. It is destined to fail on a number of levels. Open elections are impossible to conduct under occupation, though Palestinians will try and convince the world that they can while support for Hamas is partly related to the Palestinian Authority's corruption and inefficiency.

Until the occupation finally ends, Palestinian "democracy" is little more than a smokescreen. Israel and the US must be so proud.

Selling liberation

It seems the American people are concerned about black propaganda:

"Almost three-quarters of Americans think it was wrong for the Pentagon to pay Iraqi newspapers to publish news about U.S. efforts in Iraq, a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows.

"USA TODAY reported earlier this month that the Pentagon plans to expand beyond Iraq an anti-terrorism public relations campaign that has included secret payments to Iraqi journalists and publications who printed stories favourable to the USA. In some cases, the stories will be prepared by U.S. military personnel, as they have been in Iraq.

"The military will not always reveal it was behind the stories, said Mike Furlong, deputy director of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element. The global program will be part of a five-year public relations campaign costing up to $300 million."

The US has long been engaged in propaganda around the globe and Iraq is no different. I encourage the acts to continue, as it will only increase people's cynicism of the American empire.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A stain on Israeli society

Haaretz, December 23:

"Cases of abuse of Palestinians, whether by soldiers or by settlers, have stopped making headlines in the press or eliciting shock. Nor do investigations of these incidents appear to be serious, and complaints are ignored until the story is either published in the media or dealt with by one of the human rights organizations active in the territories. This growing apathy can perhaps be attributed to the continuous satisfaction felt over the disengagement from Gaza, following which Israelis feel that the occupation is about to end. But, meanwhile, the occupation is continuing in all its severity, with all the abuses that have characterized it throughout the years."

The friends we keep

British Prime Minister Tony Blair regularly talks about eradicating poverty in Africa. Perhaps he should take a long, hard look at one of his allies:

"An Ethiopian court has charged 131 politicians, journalists and activists with treason and genocide as the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, continues to suppress all dissenting voices in the country.

"Two campaigners for the Make Poverty History movement are among the defendants. Daniel Bereket, the head of policy for ActionAid in Ethiopia and Netsanet Demessie of the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia, have been charged with two counts of treason. If found guilty, they could face life imprisonment.

"ActionAid claims the men were arrested in November for doing their job as anti-poverty campaigners, and have done nothing illegal.

"Brian Kagoro, head of policy for ActionAid Africa, said: 'Neither Daniel nor Netsanet are anti-state. They may have been critical of the government's progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, but they are not political activists, and they are not members of the opposition.'

"Others charged include the leader of the opposition, Hailu Shawel, elected members of parliament and Ethiopian journalists.

"Mr Zenawi, an ally of Tony Blair and a member of his Commission for Africa, has accused the defendants of causing the riots that spread through the capital, Addis Ababa, after the general election on 15 May."

We shouldn't be surprised. Blair has a history of talking democracy and freedom while supporting dictatorships and oppression.

Duty calls

In my ongoing series of "guess what? The military lies", Deutsche Welle reports on interesting times in Germany:

"The German ministry of defence has admitted that it is carrying out an internal inquiry into the possible extracting of information on suspected terrorists by Bundeswehr operatives posing as journalists in Bosnia.

"The confirmation of an inquiry on Wednesday, reported in the German media on Thursday, follows allegations that German soldiers attached to the United Nations mission in Bosnia had operated outside official army regulations and interviewed members of the public under a pretence."

It is imperative that journalists remember their first duty - to tell the truth. As Robert Fisk says in the introduction to his new book, "The Great War for Civilisation":

"[Journalists should] challenge authority - all authority - especially so when governments and politicians take us to war, when they have decided that they will kill and others will die."

Liberate me!

It seems that even military men with an establishment pedigree are questioning current deployments in the Middle East:

"One of the sons of Australia's celebrated former defence force chief Peter Cosgrove will be discharged from the army after going AWOL from his barracks and being thrown in military jail.

"Private David Cosgrove, based at Singleton in the NSW Hunter region, also breached a series of strict conditions imposed on him.

"He was given a custodial sentence of up to 14 days in late October. He subsequently breached 'unit standing orders' and was administratively warned he was 'unsuitable for service'.

The military is clearly upset by the revelations. Fighting wars of "liberation" must be taking its toll.

Quote me

"You know if I had nickel for every time Bush has mentioned 9/11, I could raise enough reward money to go after Bin Laden."

- Jon Stewart

24 other priceless quotes of the year.

No more us and them

A timely series of essays on the West, Islam and Islamophobia that highlights the problems within Islam itself, the Western war against the religion, integration and assimilation and media mis-representation.

Western and Islamic writers tackle the key issues of the day with poise.

Democracy for all

Sometimes, even the New York Times talks sense:

"The messy thing about democracy is that people tend to vote for the candidates they want - a point that seemed lost on Israel yesterday when it threatened to ban Palestinians in East Jerusalem from voting in the scheduled Palestinian elections if Hamas took part."

Hamas and other Palestinian factions are calling on Mahmoud Abbas to avoid further delays to the January 25 parliamentary poll.

The Palestinians have the right to a free, open and unimpeded vote. If Israel decides to block this right, the world will make the appropriate conclusions.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A high price to pay

My final New Matilda column for the year is about the Israel/Palestine conflict and what may lie ahead:

"The greater ramification of Israeli intransigence is a growing belief among Palestinians in a one-State solution. While a two-State answer is still widely accepted in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities - even though the details of such an arrangement remain largely undecided - the increasing unlikelihood of a viable Palestinian State could lead many Palestinians to lose hope and pick-up on the growing sentiment within the Palestinian intelligentsia."

My New Matilda archive can be found here.

Thinking like we do

Medialens, "correcting for the distorted view of the corporate media", is about to release its first book, Guardians of Power. Check out this exclusive interview with the authors:

"If you are to convince people in our society that they are free, you can't just censor everything as they did in the Soviet Union, because then everyone knows they're living in a kind of prison. In our society people are bombarded with business and political propaganda that shapes their assumptions about the world. But they also have access to some honest ideas in comparatively small circulation newspapers like the Guardian and the Independent, and primarily through one or two honest writers like John Pilger and Robert Fisk.

"This acts as a kind of vaccine - tiny doses of dissent that inoculate people against the idea that they are subject to thought control. But the reality is that this dissent is flooded and overwhelmed by propaganda that keeps us thinking the right way, keeps us passive and in line. By the way, we don't intend to suggest that this is the result of any kind of conspiracy. It happens as a kind of side-effect of the media's pursuit of maximised profits in a state-capitalist society."

Through its regular media alerts, Medialens has tackled the mainstream media's failure on issues such as Iraq, climate charge, Afghanistan and rampant imperialism. I've been reading for years and humble beginnings have turned into a moderately successful, pro-active media group. The BBC and Guardian used to ignore their questions and requests, and even this has changed. Citizen activism is having an effect and the mainstream media ignores it as their peril.

Israel and Saddam

Did Israel lead the US into the war on Iraq? The US-based Jewish Voice for Peace examines this rarely discussed issue.

Israel's security is clearly a major factor in this debate. Many leading Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, believe that the interests of Israel and America coincide. The Jewish state is not the leading factor in shaping US Middle East policy yet maintaining and reinforcing Israel is a clear goal of every US administration.

If the US is damaged from this war, Israel's hands are equally bloodied.

Love and hate in Poland

What do Poles think of the world more than 15 years after the fall of Communism? A new poll provides some insights:

"According to a new survey, Poles most like Italians, the English and the Spanish, while prejudices remain about Arabs and Roma people. And Americans, too, are slipping down the list.

"A year and a half after Poland's EU accession 'love thy neighbour' is still the rule put into practice by many Poles not only towards their closest neighbours but also other fellow EU member states - shows the latest opinion poll by CBOS research centre.

"According to the survey, every other respondent in Poland likes the Italian and the English (52 and 50% respectively), while almost half of the general number of them like the Spanish and the Czech. As for other attitudes, 70% of Poles continue to express negative feelings towards Arabs, 65% of respondents show dislike towards Roma people while 62% towards the Romanian."

A British journalist based in Warsaw explains some possible reasons behind rising anti-US feeling:

"If George W. Bush is stuck for a few ideas for Polish Christmas presents this year, then may I suggest that a plane ticket to Washington, but without the usual queue at the Embassy in Warsaw for a visa, would slip inside the Polish stocking very nicely."

Behind the tapestry

The ABC still screens the occasional program of note, unafraid to tackle the issues of the day:

"ABC Television will launch a reality program next year - and has pegged its relevance to Sydney's recent race riots.

"Family Footsteps will be a four-part television series taking second and third generation Australians back to their ancestral roots.

"While the riots that swept across Sydney's beaches have eased, December Films producer Tony Wright says Family Footsteps is very relevant to this generation.

"'There is no denying Family Footsteps comes at a time when race relations in Australia is being tested,' he said.

"'A lack of understanding and appreciation of the rich cultural tapestry that makes up this country is, I believe, at the heart of the misunderstandings.'

Multiculturalism should be celebrated on the national broadcaster, in all its beauty, troubles and depth.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Saying "no" and "yes" to Georgie

Recent revelations of the Bush administration illegally monitoring US citizens without a warrant mask another sinister element of this sordid tale. The New York Times agreed to hold the story for an entire year and only published the revelations after discussions with senior government officials. The key section:

"The White House asked the New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be understand scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted."

We now learn, furthermore, that Bush himself called the Times publisher and executive editor to the White House and begged them not to run the story. They clearly refused but questions remain.

Bush probably knew that he would be exposed as a law-breaker, massively over-stepping his constitutional rights and leading to further erosion of his non-existent credibility. But what of the Times? They need to come clean and explain why they held this explosive story for one year, what sections, if any, were excised and whether they have actually gained any experience from the Judith Miller saga.

Fragmenting begins

So much for a Western-friendly, secular, open-minded, "liberated" Iraq:

"Iraq is disintegrating. The first results from the parliamentary election last week show the country is dividing between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions.

"Religious fundamentalists now have the upper hand. The secular and nationalist candidate backed by the US and Britain was humiliatingly defeated.

"The Shia religious coalition has won a total victory in Baghdad and the south of Iraq. The Sunni Arab parties who openly or covertly support armed resistance to the US are likely to win large majorities in Sunni provinces. The Kurds have already achieved quasi-independence and their voting reflected that.

"The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-Western secular democracy in a united Iraq.

"Islamic fundamentalist movements are ever more powerful in both the Sunni and Shia communities. Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi commentator, said: 'In two and a half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq.'"

Iraq has become an inspiration to one major country in the region: Iran.

News bytes

- George W. Bush advises Ariel Sharon to eat less, work less and exercise more following the Israeli leader's mild stroke. Oh, he also said Sharon was a visionary and a man of peace.

- A fascinating study of American Jews reveals strong opposition to the Iraq war, a majority who have never visited Israel - though profess strong love for the Jewish state - and a massive number of Democrats.

- Evo Morales, the winner of Bolivia's presidential election, has called George W. Bush a "terrorist" and claims the Iraq invasion was an example of "state terrorism." Imperialism now has many foes in Latin America.

- Foreign nations have issued travel advisories against Australia in the wake of the recent Sydney race riots, while politicians continue to debate the level of racism in the country.

- Whatever happened to the black box recorders on the doomed planes that hit the World Trade Centre on 9/11?

- Andrew Bartlett discusses the limits of free speech in the blogosphere. I increasingly have the view that censoring any comments is counterproductive and against my belief in free speech, no matter how offensive a statement may be. Thoughts?

- The Guardian reports:

"Health officials in Brazil have launched an investigation after claims that at least 10 impoverished Brazilians from an Amazon village may have contracted malaria while being used as human 'guinea pigs' during a study by an American university."

The police state beckons

Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U, speaking on Bush administration attempts to monitor and criminalise dissent:

"You look at these documents, and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in F.B.I. files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Film vs war

Want to promote a Hollywood film or a war-criminal? Look no further:

"Steven Spielberg has hired the public relations consultant who is spearheading Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's re-election campaign to promote his film "Munich", about the hunt for the Palestinians responsible for the hostage crisis that led to the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

"The film, which has already been lambasted in Israel for its perceived sympathy for the Palestinian cause, will be promoted to Israelis by Eyal Arad before its release in January.

"Mr Arad has been a member of the Likud party for almost 30 years. His first big political client was the former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He then took his skills to Mr Sharon. He is considered one of the advisers closest to Mr Sharon and was instrumental in the prime minister's creation of a new party, Kadima."

Perhaps Arad could also resurrect the fallen careers of Saddam Hussein and Corey Feldman.

Jews who smile when Arabs gloat

Bradley Burston, Haaretz, December 20:

"What is it about Israelis that makes them smile when Palestinians rejoice at the misfortunes of the Jews?

"What is it about the people of this country that gives them a feeling of validation when newscasters describe gunmen of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza firing in the air and handing out baklava and candies to celebrate word of Ariel Sharon's stroke?

"What is this masochistic revelling in the darkly ironic and the painfully ambivalent, the perverse surge of pleasure in the sense that all is somehow right in the world when the childish behaviour of a few members of the other side confirms one's deepest fears and, yes, unspoken racism."

"Threat" released

Saddam's Iraq was a threat due to WMD, we were told. It was imperative to invade and stop the dictator launching chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons on his neighbours. So how to explain this?

"Saddam Hussein's weapons experts, known as Dr Germ and Mrs Anthrax, are being released by US forces, an Iraqi lawyer has said, and the US military confirmed several "high-value detainees" were being freed.

"The US State Department said Rihab Taha, who was dubbed Dr Germ by the popular press in the West and admitted to producing germ warfare agents, was released because US forces could not justify keeping her as a security threat."

The evidence against Taha must have been either non-existent or pathetically weak. One more "threat" is reduced to insignificance.

The hatred within

Israeli society is riddled with hate:

"Maariv reported last week on a survey which found, not surprisingly after five gruesome years of Palestinian Arab belligerence, that topping the "most hated" list for nearly all Israelis were Palestinians. But 67 percent of leftists hated "settlers" even more than Palestinians.

"Besides settlers, the Orthodox, haredim, leftists and Arab Israelis also scored high on being despised."

Many in the Palestinian community equally hate Jews and Israelis, not least because of the brutal occupation.

There will be no peace until this hatred is eradicated or largely reduced. The current path is unlikely to achieve either.

MOR on the skids

Iranians are being taken back to the stone ages (well, at least before Kenny G):

"Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned Western music from Iran's radio and TV stations, reviving one of the harshest cultural decrees from the early days of 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"Songs such as George Michael's "Careless Whisper," Eric Clapton's "Rush" and the Eagles' "Hotel California" have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.

"But the official IRAN Persian daily reported Monday that Ahmadinejad, as head of Iran's Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council, ordered the enactment of an October ruling by the council to ban Western music."

Ahmadinejad needs to realise that banning the Eagles is bound to cause social unrest on a massive scale.

UPDATE: In more positive Iran news, check out this new blog from an Iranian insider.

Insights needed

Change is (hopefully) brewing across the Arab world:

"Arabs are no longer blaming external forces for giving the region and its media a bad name. As debates at the 'Arab and World Media Conference' revealed, they are also attempting to identify the deficiencies in their own systems and demanding remedies to overcome them."

Arab journalists face greater challenges than their Western counterparts, due to overt censorship and government pressure.

Many Arab journalists in the West face hurdles too, as the Western Arab narrative both deceives and distorts the uniqueness and problems of the Arab world.

Accepting our demons

Australians are much more self-aware than politicians and the media realise:

"Three out of every four voters disagree with the Prime Minister's claim there is no underlying racism in Australia.

"The Herald Poll reveals deep concerns about the long-term impact of the riots: 59 per cent of respondents believe the violence at Cronulla and other Sydney beaches would damage Australia's international reputation. Only 38 per cent think Australia's image has not been tarnished."

But the most encouraging result of all:

"The poll revealed 81 per cent backing for multiculturalism."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Friends with enemies

The US says it believes in democratisation, unless, of course, it involves parties it doesn't like:

"Two days after the U.S. Congress voted by a large majority (397 to 17) to threaten the Palestinian Authority with withholding aid if it includes Hamas in the next government, U.S. officials pressured the European donor nations to transfer $60 million immediately to the PA to pay the salaries of its officials and security apparatus. The money had been withheld in protest over PA salary hikes and unimplemented administrative reforms.

"Last week in London at a meeting of the donor countries, the U.S. urged the Europeans to unfreeze the funds out of concern that the delay would hurt Mahmoud Abbas' standing in the upcoming elections and weaken the position of Fatah members who are close to the leadership."

Hamas will be a major player after the end of January Palestinian elections. Israel, the US and the world have to accept this and adapt.

Getting some heart

Sometimes it would be encouraging if people didn't just think of themselves:

" Up to seven Australians have received kidney transplants from death-row prisoners executed in China, according to a report.

"The recipients are among dozens of Australians who have travelled overseas and paid up to $50,000 for organ transplants."

Yet another form of economic imperialism in action.

Stick to rock music

Time magazine has knighted Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates as "Persons of the Year" for being "Good Samaritans."

Bono is described as the "rocker who has made debt reduction sexy."

Perhaps Time magazine - about as in-touch as most corporate media - should get past the headlines about Africa and debt reduction and recognise the massive con perpetuated by the G8, aided and abetted by Bono and Bob Geldof.

Leading British dissenting historian Mark Curtis revealed as much in August:

""It is true that the G8 communique stated that 'developing countries...need to decide, plan and sequence their economic policies to fit with their own development strategies'. Yet it also stated that 'African countries need to build a much stronger investment climate" and increase "integration into the global economy' - code for promoting free trade [and privatisation] - and that aid resources would be focused on countries meeting these objectives."

No end in sight

Salim Lone, former spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq, The Guardian, December 19:

"The carnage in Iraq is not primarily caused by the insurgents. It is the death squads run by the Shia and Kurdish militias - according to former US diplomat James Dobbins, who is now with the Rand Corporation - who bring about a greater threat of civil war. Indeed the former US-appointed Iraqi leader Ayad Allawi has accused Jalal Talabani's regime of committing human-rights abuses against Sunnis that are as egregious as those under Saddam Hussein."

Reasons for resistance

Hala Jaber is the first Western journalist to visit Fallujah independently since the US onslaught in late 2004. Writing in the Murdoch UK Times, the discovery is shocking: Massive support for the growing insurgency, evidence of US terrorism, torture by US and Iraqi forces.

Expose, boycott, shame

The "Most Wanted" corporate human rights violators of 2005 are revealed.

I can feel some 2006 priorities coming on.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Get off the land

While the mainstream media believes Zionist propaganda over Israel's "peaceful" intentions, Peace Now reveals the truth of the matter:

"The most recent data published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) indicate that settlement construction during the first half of 2005 was greater than during the same period in 2004."

Read the whole report. It reveals why another Palestinian uprising is all but inevitable.

The decline of the American empire

Gabriel Kolko, Counterpunch, December 17

(The article starts with a killer headline: "Defeated in Iraq, Bankrupt at Home, Despised Around the Globe (And That's Just the Good News"):

"The world is escaping American control, and Soviet prudence no longer inhibits many movements and nations. World opposition is becoming decentralized to a much greater extent and the US is less than ever able to control it - although it may go financially bankrupt and break up its alliances in the process of seeking to be hegemonic.

"This is cause for a certain optimism, based on a realistic assessment of the balance-of-power in the world. I think we must avoid the pessimism-optimism trap but be realistic. Although the Americans are very destructive, they are also losing wars and wrecking themselves economically and politically. But for a century the world has fought wars, and while the US has been the leading power by far-in making wars since 1946, it has no monopoly on folly."

A time to stand together

"We are all Australians and we should never forget that."

I attended a large anti-racism rally today in Sydney. It was an opportunity for people of various ethnic backgrounds, gender, sexual orientation, Jewish, white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern, indigenous and convict stock to stand proudly together and call for calm, understanding, tolerance and belief in multiculturalism.

For a news report, see here. For more photos, see here and here.

Around 3000 people gathered in Sydney's centre to hear various speakers - young and old, students and activists, white and dark - articulate how the recent mob violence in Sydney does not represent more than a small minority of Australians. We then wandered down to Belmore Park for a more relaxed gathering.

The state and federal government were blamed for stirring up racial divisions and the media was accused of benefiting from the fall-out. 2GB radio was particularly targeted and the baiting of presenter Alan Jones.

But racial tensions cannot be solely blamed on governments or the media. This is a much more complex issue and requires greater understanding between Australia's ethnic groups. The stereotyping must stop. And so must the calls to end multiculturalism, usually based on little more than preserving an antiquated and utopian view of Australian identity. All groups - including Lebanese youth and Howard's suburban "battlers" - need to realise that Australia's past is nothing to which we want to return.

Today was a celebration and a wake-up call. I was proud to be Australian.

Torture goes on

The US has ended the use of torture? Not even close, writes Martin Garbus, one of America's leading trial lawyers:

"The media has been totally misled on the alleged Bush-McCain agreement on torture. McCain capitulated. It is not a defeat for Bush. It is a win for Cheney.

"Torture is not banned or in any way impeded.

"Under the compromise, anyone charged with torture can defend himself if a 'reasonable' person could have concluded they were following a lawful order.

"That defence 'loophole' totally corrodes the ban. It is the CIA, or the torturing agency, who will decide what a "reasonable" person could have concluded. Can you imagine those agencies in the interrogation business torturing on their own in trying to decide what is reasonable or what is not? What is not 'reasonable' if the interrogator (wrongfully or rightfully) believes he has a ticking-bomb situation? Will a CIA or military officer issue a narrow order if he knows his interrogator believes, in this case, torture will work?

"The Bush-McCain torture compromise legitimises torture. It is the first time that has happened in this country. Not in the two World Wars, Korea, the Cold War or Vietnam did the government ever seek or get the power this bill gives them.

"The worst part of it is that most of the media missed it and got it wrong."

The world's only superpower will continue to use torture and export individuals to be tortured.

Spreading freedom, indeed.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Game, set and match

Who says money doesn't buy you influence with the Murdoch press? FrontPageMagazine reports:

"Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal boasted in Dubai earlier this week about his ability to change the news content that viewers around the world see on television.

"In early September 2005, Bin Talal bought 5.46% of voting shares in News Corp. This made the Fifth richest man on the Forbes World's Richest People, the fourth largest voting shareholder in News Corp., the parent of Fox News. News Corp. is the world's leading newspaper publisher in English. It operates more than 175 newspapers, in the UK, Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the US, and distributes more than 40 million papers per week. In addition, News Corp. owns and operates an international collection of TV outlets, radio stations, magazines, book publishers and film studios.

"After bin Talal purchased his voting shares in News Corp., on September 23, 2005, he stated in an advertising supplement to the New York Times, 'When I invest in a group like CITICROUP, the Four Seasons, the News Corp. or Time Warner, my objective is not to manage those companies.' But this is not quite accurate, considering the Prince’s December 5, 2005 statement given to Middle East Online regarding his ability to change what viewers see on Fox News. Covering the riots in Paris last November, Fox ran a banner saying: 'Muslim riots.' Bin Talal was not happy. 'I picked up the phone and called Murdoch...(and told him) these are not Muslim riots, these are riots out of poverty,' he said. 'Within 30 minutes, the title was changed from Muslim riots to civil riots.'"

Fox News - unfair, unbalanced and bought.

The bottom-up approach

The BBC director of nations and regions has called for an end to "air-conditioned journalism", which, simply put, is related to "hotel journalism" and "mouse journalism."

Journalists should get out of the office. Reporting political and business leaders sprouting daily drivel may be what corporate media encourages, but this is not what journalism should be about. As John Pilger told me late last year:

"...Journalism is reporting from the bottom up, not from the top down. And it seems to me that once within the system, young journalists are groomed to report from the top down, not from the bottom up. Their scepticism is aimed not at power, but at people. You hear their contempt for readers, viewers and listeners; they call them apathetic and say they don't care and all they're interested in is the footy. They rarely disparage those at the top in the same way."

Taking on the bigots

An unfortunate, but perhaps understandable, situation:

"Arab governments appeared reluctant Thursday to condemn Iran's president for calling the Holocaust a 'myth' used by Europeans to create a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world.

"While official Arab reaction in such cases is usually slower than international reaction, any issue involving a defence of Israel is a thorny one for Arab governments, who risk appearing to side with Israel against a Muslim nation."

Al Ayyam newspaper, close to the Palestinian Authority, was a notable exception.

Fighting shadows

Juan Cole, December 15:

"The Iraqi 'government' is a failed state. Virtually no order it gives has any likelihood of being implemented. It has no army to speak of and cannot control the country. Its parliamentarians are attacked and sometimes killed with impunity. Its oil pipelines are routinely bombed, depriving it of desperately needed income. It faces a powerful guerrilla movement that is wholly uninterested in the results of elections and just wants to overthrow the new order. Elections are unlikely to change any of this.

"The only way in which these elections may lead to a US withdrawal is that they will ensconce parliamentarians who want the US out on a short timetable. Virtually all the Sunnis who come in will push for that result (which is why the US Right is silly to be all agog about Fallujans voting), and so with the members of the Sadr Movement, now a key component of the Shiite religious United Iraqi Alliance. That is, these elections lead to a US withdrawal on terms unfavourable to the Bush administration. Nor is there much hope that a parliament that kicked the US out could turn around and restore order in the country."

With news that Iraqi security forces caught, then released, alleged terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last year, Cole explains the issue:

"What I take away from this report is that if the Iraqis cannot recognize a Jordanian master terrorist, the American military has zero chance of fighting the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement in Iraq, because most of them don't even know enough Arabic to distinguish an Iraqi from a Jordanian accent. And if all it takes is putting on weight and growing a beard to disguise oneself, then we're in deep trouble."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Find them, search them, jail them

Anti-war and anti-nuclear protestors are dangerous, according to the Pentagon:

"Earlier this week NBC News exposed the existence of a secret Pentagon database to track intelligence gathered inside the United States. The database including information on dozens of anti-war protests and rallies particularly actions targeting military recruiting.

"The list included: counter-military recruiting meetings held at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Forth, Florida. Anti-nuclear protests staged in Nebraska on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki. An anti-war protest organized by military families outside Fort Bragg in North Carolina. And a rally in San Diego to support war resister Pablo Parades. The Pentagon database described all of these events as threats.

"The documents obtained by NBC also indicate the Pentagon is now conducting surveillance at protests and possibly monitoring Internet traffic. One Pentagon briefing document stamped "secret" concluded: "[W]e have noted increased communication and encouragement between protest groups using the [I]nternet." The same document indicated the military is tracking who is attending protests in part by keeping records on cars seen at protests."

After all, military families against the war are terrorists just waiting to explode at Wal-Mart.


"'Terrorism' is what we call violence of the weak, and we condemn it; 'war' is what we call violence of the strong, and we glorify it."

- Sydney Harris, "Nations should submit to the rule of the law", Clearing the Ground (1986)

News bytes

- An update on the current situation in Nepal. Is the King serious about peace and democracy? Don't count on it.

- In violation of international law and the so-called "Road Map", Israel announces construction of yet more houses in West Bank settlements and Hamas wins big in local Palestinian elections.

- Israel's former top general claims that Saddam moved his WMD to Syria before the 2003 invasion. This story has circulated for years, despite no evidence, but the mainstream media keeps printing it.

- The Iraqi elections saw a large turn-out and a likely win for religious parties closely aligned with Iran. Many Iraqis want an end to the US occupation, though this election will not lead to a full US withdrawal. That will not happen for years, if ever. If the US wanted to create a Western-friendly state in the Middle East, they will be sorely disappointed. So much for building "democracy" in the region. There have been so many "milestones" since 2003, it is difficult to believe this election will bring any relief from the insurgency, Shiite backed militias, a largely unreported air war and privatisation of the country's oil.

- Australia is not a racist country but the greatest place on Earth, says John Howard. And the fairy godmother is Jewish.

- Bush says the Iraq war is good for Israel, but many American Jews aren't so sure. An Islamic state aligned with Iran. Yep, score one for the Zionists.

Same old story

At least somebody in the Israeli political mainstream is telling the truth:

"Labor Party's campaign manager Motti Morel's comments insinuating that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wished to cause a flare up in the territories on Thursday raised a political storm, as Kadima officials urged Labor Chairman Amir Peretz to fire Morel, to prove that he does not support Morels views.

"Morel told Israel Radio on Thursday that the renewal of the targeted assassinations policy was intended to cause an escalation of the security situation on the eve of the elections, an escalation which would serve Sharon.

"Morel said that Sharon was trying to divert public discourse from the social to the security arena, and intimated that Sharon has the power to influence the number of terror attacks which take place. According to Morel, several months ago, when targeted assassinations were not employed 'there were no Qassams and no terror attacks.'"

Morel was simply articulating typical Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. Before the outbreak of the 2000 Intifada, the Israeli establishment was determined to escalate the troubles and cause an uprising, crushing Palestinian ambitions once and for all.

They failed.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The other side of fear

Former Labor leader Mark Latham has become a best-selling author with his tell-all Diaries and vehemently disliked by the political and media establishment. After seeing him last night in Sydney - looking tanned and fit - he appeared to exude an air of confidence. He has, after all, left politics and now spends his days with his two young boys and wife. Past worries and obsessions perhaps seem now irrelevant, or at least much less important.

This was his only Sydney appearance to promote his book. Gleebooks was packed. I'd say evenly split between ALP supporters who hate Latham for revealing the parlous state of the party and others who find his insights both compelling and necessary. I'm certainly in this category, though I've never been a fan of Latham nor his policies while in politics. His Diaries, however, remain the most compelling Australian political book of the year.

The Australian reports on the evening as if Latham said something controversial. Instead, he argued that John Howard was "happy" about the recent Sydney riots and still held "racist" views. The Oz explains:

"He [Latham] repeatedly referred to Mr Howard's 1988 comments about the need to slow down Asian immigration and insisted the Prime Minister would still hold these 'racist' views.

"'If you want to have a look at Howard's Australia, you should have been down at Cronulla.'"

Latham was simply stating a political reality. Politicians manipulate fear to create uncertainty and citizens are therefore less likely to change parties during such times. The "war on terror" has been grossly exaggerated and he said he was more worried about the competency of ASIO than a terrorist attack. There is a terrorist threat, he said, but it's minimal and the mainstream media and political elites continually stir up imaginary threats to scare voters and keep readers buying their products. He said that during ASIO briefings while he was leader, he came away feeling unsure about what they actually knew, their ability to catch "terrorists" and the vagueness of their reports.

Ariel Sharon benefits politically when terror attacks hit Israel and successive Israeli leaders have provoked Palestinian militants to provide the necessary political cover. Likewise in the US. Bush benefited after 9/11 and another terror attack on US soil - unless the administration could be proven to have been asleep at the wheel - would likely benefit Bush. Howard is no different, and saying so should not be controversial.

Latham discussed the recent Sydney race riots and claimed that Howard's Australia produced them. He believed that the political system was dead and incapable of change. He urged - not unlike his recent talk at Melbourne University - that young people interested in politics should avoid the major parties and instead work in community groups and building social relations. The system was so corrupt, Latham warned, people shouldn't waste their time even trying to solve it. He, of course, thought he could change the ALP, though failed miserably.

Question time was intriguing. Some were mightily pissed off with Latham and wondered how he could take so much from the ALP, then trash it so thoroughly. He said that everybody had had their say, so why shouldn't he? Fair enough answer, I thought. He was accused of not having enough "discipline" during the 2004 election campaign, "because if you had, we could have won." One ALP member after another stood up and asked what grass-root members were supposed to think of the party now. Surely they didn't need Latham to tell them the hard truths.

He was asked about his views on Howard. "I once called him an arse-licker", he said, "and I have no reason to change my view now."

The assembled crowd were agitated and frustrated. Howard's Australia has become unsettling for a large minority of the population and some people seemingly wanted Latham to find a way, any way, out.

Latham's observations were astute and honest. Since leaving politics, he has nothing to lose and therefore his comments carry more weight than most serving politicians. "The thing that has sustained multiculturalism, until the past week, is Australian apathy", he said. Perhaps he is right. The kind of Australia that is likely to emerge in the coming years is still being created. We should reject the politics of fear. It will only lead us down the path towards an insular, small-minded and exclusionary future.

Australia can be much better than that, but do enough people agree?

Tale of two papers

Sydney Morning Herald, December 15:

"Malaysia has delivered a blow to Australia's East Asian aspirations, saying it is not part of East Asia and should not expect to become part of a future community."

Murdoch's Australian, December 15:

"Malaysia yesterday formally buried its opposition to Australia's continuing involvement in East Asian affairs."

Hope springs

As corporate media becomes less reliable by the day, the web has allowed lone voices of dissent to surface and be read worldwide. Take this stunning recent editorial by the Idaho Mountain Express and Guide:

"Rather than gutting news budgets, great newspapers should be providing wider ranging coverage and explanation of events that are reshaping the world. Instead, they are leaving the public largely in the dark about Iraq, the consequences of climate change and U.S. industry being shipped overseas. They are failing to examine a military-industrial complex seeking to dictate social policy. They are reluctant to probe the nation's reliance on military power rather than diplomacy or the creation of an American society with more wildly separated haves and have-nots."

It's like music to the ears of cynics everywhere, myself included.

Getting a grip

Conservative American commentator Andrew Sullivan thinks the US should "fight this war the way Americans have always fought: humanely but relentlessly, for a better, freer world."

Sullivan's delusion rests on one false presumption: the Bush administration has sullied the good name of the US - with torture, rendition and the like - and if only we could get back to "the good old days."

The "good old days" were, in fact, just as filled with illegal behaviour, torture, rendition and military interventions. The only difference now, however, is that the media has started discussing the excesses of the current US administration.

Sullivan, like many liberals and conservatives alike, need to refresh their history and understand that the US has been consistent, if not secretive.

Entering the maze

Israel's finest journalist, Amira Hass, explains the reality behind the Gaza "disengagement":

"The Supreme Court justice's response to the legal claim that Israel effectively has control over the Gaza Strip contained a mocking note. This is what transpires, at all events, from a short report in the Hebrew edition of the Haaretz of December 12, in reference to a petition against the pinpoint assassinations policy.

"Attorney Michael Sfard claimed that Israel has 'effective control' in the Strip, even though it does not have a physical presence on the ground there. Justice Mishael Cheshin is quoted as saying that 'perhaps we also have effective control in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and wherever it is that the cannons fire.'"

Israel has effective control over anywhere it wants simply because of US strategic interests. A rogue state doesn't gain legitimacy simply because it's supported by another rogue state.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

One major step back

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice predicts that this week’s Iraqi elections will bring the most democratic government "in the entire Middle East."

Israel has been officially side-lined as an autocracy.

Two killers get together

Shulamit Aloni, Ynet, December 13:

If we thought the strategy of power and more power and still more power had come to an end, that the policy of destruction and assassination "over there" and terror attacks here in response had come to an end, if we'd hoped we'd reached the end of the systematic extra-judicial violence, with no judge or jury - guess again.

The addition of Shaul Mofaz to Kadima, and the apparent promise made to him that he would be defence minister in the next government, should set off many flashing red lights amongst those who hope for an end to bloodshed, to the lawlessness in the occupied territories, to deceit, to lies, to abuse and to unnecessary danger of " the best soldiers" being sent to kill and be killed for the satisfaction of Mofaz and his chief of staff.

Yes, for Mofaz's satisfaction, as well as that of his emissaries. For there is no existential need for the provocations undertaken again and again by the IDF amongst the Palestinians in the West Bank – provocations that do much to perpetuate feelings of fear and hatred.

Unite against racism

Following the ongoing racial violence in Sydney, something positive:

Close to one hundred activists, students, ethnic community reps, Union reps and a handful of Shire locals gathered in Sydney's University of Technology last night to discuss a unified response to the deplorable events at Cronulla last weekend.

The consensus?

The Unite Against Racism Rally

WHEN: Sunday 18th December 2005

TIME: 1pm

WHERE: Town Hall Square, Sydney

Stay tuned for more updates.

Confused messages

It seems like Ariel Sharon is a man of peace? Well, not quite:

"Prime Minister Ariel Sharon published a special statement Tuesday night in which he totally dissociated himself from quotes in Newsweek attributed to his pollster, Kalman Gayer, in which Gayer claimed the prime minister was ready for territorial concessions.

"'The remarks attributed to Kalman Gayer are in total contradiction to my positions and opinions,' Sharon's statement read. 'If, indeed, these remarks were made, they were made strictly on Mr. Gayer's initiative, and they are senseless and absurd.

"'The entire united Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel forever. The road map is the diplomatic plan that will guide Israel in the years to come, and whosoever says anything different is doing so of his own accord and in total contradiction to my position; and that is how the remarks should be treated,' Sharon's statement added.

"In the remarks attributed to him by Newsweek, Gayer said, 'Sharon would accept a Palestinian state in Gaza and 90 percent of the West Bank, and a compromise on Jerusalem, in exchange for peace.'

"In the meantime, Gayer added, Sharon wanted to 'lay the contours of an agreement with the Palestinians,' by creating a Palestinian state in half the West Bank and implementing confidence-building measures, Newsweek said."

Is this Sharon's true agenda? Unlikely. Settlements in the West Bank continue being build, as does the "security" barrier around Jerusalem. There is no evidence whatsoever that Sharon has any intention of moving towards a true two-state solution. But this is a curious development.

Get in line

PR Watch is conducing an annual "Falsies Awards", those individuals and organisations that lie, misrepresent, misinform and con the public through media and government.

It's a long list.

1000 days

1000 days after invasion, some facts on the Iraq war:

$204.4 billion The cost to the US of the war so far. The UK's bill up until March 2005 was £3.1 billion
2,339 Allied troops killed
98 UK troops killed
30,000 Estimated Iraqi civilian deaths
0 Number of WMDs found
8 per cent of Iraqi children suffering acute malnutrition
$35,819m World Bank estimated cost of reconstruction
53,470 Iraqi insurgents killed
67 per cent Iraqis who feel less secure because of occupation
$343 Average monthly salary for an Iraqi soldier. Average monthly salary for an American soldier in Iraq: $4,160.75
66 journalists killed in Iraq. Journalists killed during Vietnam war: 63
5 foreign civilians kidnapped per month
47 per cent Iraqis who never have enough electricity
20 casualties per month from unexploded mines
20 per cent Inflation rate 2005
25-40 per cent Estimated unemployment rate, Nov 2005
251 Foreigners kidnapped
70 per cent of Iraqi's whose sewage system rarely works
183,000 British and American troops are still in action in Iraq. There are 162,000 US troops and 8,000 British with 13,000 from other nations
90 Daily attacks by insurgents in Nov '05. In Jun '03: 8
82 per cent Iraqis who are "strongly opposed" to presence of coalition troops
15,955 US troops wounded in action

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Us and them

Sydney continues to experience racial tensions:

"Sydney erupted in a second night of racial violence last night as Middle Eastern mobs fired shots into the air, attacked women and smashed shops around Cronulla, while up to 600 young men - armed with guns and crowbars - prepared for a battle."

al-Jazeera wonders why:

"...Tensions between youths of Arabic and Middle Eastern descent and white Australians have been rising in recent years, largely because of anti-Muslim sentiment fuelled by the attacks in the United States in September 2001 and subsequent bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali."

A combination of machismo, racism - on all sides - and an Australian community that has never fully come to terms with immigration from the Arab world, especially in a post 9/11 environment, all contribute to this unhealthy situation. Prime Minister John Howard might argue that the riots do not reflect deep-seated racism but he knows full well that a great many non-Middle Eastern Australians feel distinctly uncomfortable with the Arab world and its myriad of problems. The Howard government itself stands partly to blame for whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment during the asylum seeker debate.

The issue, however, is far more complicated than that and requires a great deal of self-reflection within the Muslim community and the wider community. Australia's multiculturalism is not yet a completed picture.

They're only Iraqis, George

The US President wants the world to understand that Iraqi deaths are a price worth paying for "liberation":

"U.S. President George W. Bush said on Monday about 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since the Iraq war began and predicted this week's election will not be perfect but will be part of a Middle East turning point."

A "turning point" that will benefit Iran and Islamists across the world.

Making peace with ourselves

Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, December 12:

"It can be said that in comparison to the old Sharon, the new Sharon is a man of the centre. So what? One can wager that Kadima will dismantle a few outposts and will maybe even cut into the settlements. However, it would be seemly for a party that has only just now joined the political market not to sell this merchandise under the brand name of "peace." No country will recognize a border that is determined by one side while annexing territories that are at the heart of the conflict. Even the United States will not relocate its embassy to the capital of Israel until an agreement on the holy places is achieved.

"An all-inclusive movement that calls itself a 'centre party' can at most help us to make peace with ourselves."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Guilty as charged

Good night, and good luck

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty...We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men - not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular. This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent...We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

Edward R. Murrow, champion of free speech

Good Night, and Good Luck is the stunning new film by George Clooney and tells the story of CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and the struggle against Senator Joseph McCarthy's paranoid anti-Communism campaign. Murrow and his team brilliantly dissected the lies and distortions told by McCarthy and his media-cheerleaders and found a generally willing CBS management to back them. How things have changed. "Terrorism" is the new Communism and hysteria is always a fresh headline away.

Today, corporate news values dictate that "consensus" is reached with government and controversy avoided. Clooney may have made a film about a different age but it's quite clear he's aiming his anti-censorship message at today's self-appointed moral guardians and continual attempts at banning "seditious" speech or content.

Clooney focuses solely on the team's journalistic struggles and barely acknowledges personal lives. It's a successful ploy, and allows the striking cast room to develop their own personal reasons for challenging McCarthyism.

Now is the time to dissent, challenge and agitate, in an age where lies seem to carry more weight than truth. "Good Night, and Good Luck" shows us the way.

Rough music

Political dissent has a noble literary tradition and after reading Tariq Ali's "Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror", there is yet another title for the list. It's a short read - only 100 pages - yet covers much ground.

Written in the wake of the London bombings, Ali lays the blame squarely at the feet of Tony Blair, a compliant media and Western inability to deconstruct political exceptionalism. Ali laces his text with references to the former troubles in Northern Ireland - and finds disturbing similarities to the "war on terror" - and explains how Blair was re-elected in 2005 "by less than 22 per cent of the overall electorate (the lowest percentage scored by any governing party in recent European history.)" The result is diminished democracy.

Political pamphlets have a noble tradition and Ali makes a fine contribution. Nobody is spared, including the so-called "liberal press" of the Guardian and Independent, and the writer provides a welcome perspective on the widespread amnesia within popular, Western culture, from Iraq to anti-terror laws, the BBC's occasional bravery to New Labour's bastardisation of Thatcher's sordid legacy.

Taking stock of the Jewish state

The UK Sunday Times reveals Israel's latest Zionist-inspired mayhem:

"Israel's armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran, military sources have revealed.

"The order came after Israeli intelligence warned the government that Iran was operating enrichment facilities, believed to be small and concealed in civilian locations."

The US would approve any such behaviour, though Israel's sabre-rattling is likely to inflame regional tensions, if not cause massive retaliation. If Israel truly believes that bombing Iran would bring peace, its leadership is even more delusional than I thought. Aside from the illegality and immorality of the move, Israel's strength in the region is only allowed by the US, so any mission against Iran would inevitably leave the Jewish state even more vulnerable than before. The US is so bogged down in Iraq, its regional capabilities are severely limited. Israel's election is also at the end of March, so this story could simply be little more than scaring voters.

For many Israelis, however, more basic issues are on their minds:

"Some 38 percent of respondents in a Haaretz-Dialogue poll taken on Tuesday night said socio-economic concerns would most influence them if the elections were to take place now.

"Twenty-seven percent cited security-political issues, and 21 percent gave preference to corruption in the public sector.

"Poverty finished ahead of government corruption, the problems of the education system and security in the rankings."

Increasing the pressure

Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK) is encouraging a consumer boycott of Israeli goods:

"Focusing on oranges, dates and avocados, the central aim of the campaign is to build the boycott of Israeli goods and encourage shoppers to let supermarkets know they will do this.

"Consumers in at least 15 cities across the UK will be highlighting their boycott of Israeli goods, and persuading others to do the same, to create solidarity with the Palestinian people. Activists in city centres including London, Brighton, Bristol, Bucks/Berks, Camden, Durham, E.London, Exeter, Hackney, Oxford, Stevenage, W. Kent, W London, W Midlands, and York, will be visiting supermarkets to hand out leaflets. Campaigners in Hackney will take to the streets in a mini-bus, dressed as fruit, to bring their anti-apartheid message to the public in front of supermarkets in the area.

"They cite the words of Nelson Mandela who visited Occupied Palestine and declared that Israel's occupation with its Wall, hundreds of checkpoints and rampant discrimination against Palestinians was worse than the Apartheid experienced in South Africa. A widespread, international consumer boycott, sanctions and divestment can do what governments refuse to do, end Israel's impunity."

Israel's brutality will only end through economic pressure. In time, I believe this will have an effect, like in apartheid South Africa, and the campaign therefore deserves our support.

Saying "no" to Uncle Sam

Perhaps Australia's military future is in worse shape than we thought:

"Young Australians are becoming too drugged and too fat to join the military.

"Overuse of recreational drugs - particularly marijuana - among 15-year-olds and junk food-related obesity are expected to worsen over the next decade, according to an Australian Defence Force (ADF) internal recruiting plan for the next five years, it was reported today.

"'The high incidence of non-medical drug use among young people (recent studies suggesting up to 50 per cent of 15-year-olds smoke marijuana at least once a month) severely limits the pool of recruitable candidates,' the recruiting report says."

Less able soldiers to fight imperial wars? Sounds ideal to me. How about a plan to reduce excessive recreational drinking, surely a far worse problem than smoking pot?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

For all of us

Every now and then, Australia's racist underbelly appears in full public view:

"New South Wales Police say several people of Middle Eastern appearance have been attacked by a mob at Sydney's Cronulla Beach.

"Thousands of people have gathered at the beach in response to calls to retaliate for the bashing of two lifeguards a week ago.

"Assistant Commissioner Mark Goodwin says several people have been the victims of racial attacks.

"'In terms of crowd swells against some people of Arabic extraction...some of those people that have been targeted have been Australian-born people that attend this beach in a quiet and relaxing manner,' he said."

Demonising an entire ethnic group - people of "Middle Eastern appearance - has no place in a civilised, multicultural democracy.

Misinformation rules

The US military, industrial complex believes in propaganda, and not always the transparent kind:

"Hoping to counter anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, the Bush administration has been conducting an information war that is extensive, costly and often hidden, according to documents and interviews with contractors, government officials and military personnel."

All governments engage in propaganda - though the desperation of the US to increase its support is telling - but if the US administration wants to truly counter anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, ending persistent meddling and looting would be a good start.