Saturday, June 30, 2007

Archbishop Tutu sets his sights on poverty and corruption

First, Tutu blasts the Mbeki government of South Africa for not keeping the AND promise of reducing economic inequality:

"Most [people] are languishing in the wilderness," the archbishop said of the slow pace of wealth redistribution since the end of white rule 13 years ago. Using a Biblical analogy, he said South Africans had crossed the Red Sea in their struggle against apartheid but that very few had reached the promised land.

The archbishop, one of the most inspirational leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, was, not for the first time in the eight-year-old presidency of Thabo Mbeki, wading into an acutely sensitive political debate. His warning came as the ruling African National Congress held its five-yearly policy conference against the backdrop of savage criticism from the left, which argues the government's pro-business policies have not helped the poor.

In the past, almost all the affluent were white, now they had been joined by a few black people, Archbishop Tutu said. But most of the people living in shacks before the end of white rule were still living in shacks.

"I'm really very surprised by the remarkable patience of people," he told the Financial Times at the launchof the Tutu Foundation in London on Wednesday. It was hard "to explain why they don't say to hell with Tutu, [Nelson] Mandela and the rest and go on the rampage."
Second, Tutu goes after liberation here-turned-tyrant Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe again:
South African Nobel peace prize laureate Desmond Tutu said on Wednesday Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe needed face-saving options for there to be a chance of him stepping aside.

Tutu said the replacement of Tony Blair by Gordon Brown as prime minister of Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler, could help the situation but much depended on negotiations to resolve the crisis being mediated by South Africa.

"A change of cast might have an important bearing on how things develop," Tutu told Reuters in an interview.

"I would hope that there might just be a way of providing face-savers that would enable people to exit without feeling that they had lost a great deal of personal stature," he said.

"We need to provide that for the sake of the people and it may be that [Britain's] new prime minister just might have a way of saying things that would be slightly more acceptable."
The man (Tutu) is a light in the dark, telling it like it is with dignity.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fisk on envoy Blair

Tony Blair is the newly appointed envoy for the Middle East. I'm not sure exactly what the US, Russia, and the EU ewre thinking, but I don't think its a very good choice. I was already thinking, what does Robert Fisk think about it? Well, here we go:

Can this really be true? I had always assumed that Balfour, Sykes and Picot were the epitome of Middle Eastern hubris. But Blair? That this ex-prime minister, this man who took his country into the sands of Iraq, should actually believe that he has a role in the region - he whose own preposterous envoy, Lord Levy, made so many secret trips there to absolutely no avail - is now going to sully his hands (and, I fear, our lives) in the world's last colonial war is simply overwhelming.

Of course, he'll be in touch with Mahmoud Abbas, will try to marginalise Hamas, will talk endlessly about "moderates"; and we'll have to listen to him pontificating about morality, how he's absolutely and completely confident that he's doing the right thing (and this, remember, is the same man who postponed a ceasefire in Lebanon last year in order to share George Bush's ridiculous hope of an Israeli victory over Hizbollah) in bringing peace to the Middle East...

Not once - ever - has he apologised. Not once has he said he was sorry for what he did in our name. Yet Lord Blair actually believes - in what must be a record act of self-indulgence for a man who cooked up the fake evidence of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" - that he can do good in the Middle East.

For here is a man who is totally discredited in the region - a politician who has signally failed in everything he ever tried to do in the Middle East - now believing that he is the right man to lead the Quartet to patch up "Palestine".

Fisk concludes by drawing an unpleasant comparison to another certain historical figure:

I recall another man with Blair's pomposity, a certain Kurt Waldheim, who - no longer the UN's boss - actually believed he could be an "envoy" for peace in the Middle East, despite his little wartime career as an intelligence officer for the Wehrmacht's Army Group "E".

His visits - especially to the late King Hussein - came to nothing, of course. But Waldheim's ability to draw a curtain over his wartime past does have one thing in common with Blair. For Waldheim steadfastly, pointedly, repeatedly, refused to acknowledge - ever - that he had ever done anything wrong. Now who does that remind you of?

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It was 10 years ago today: OK Computer

Well OK, 10 years ago two days ago, arguably the greatest album of the '90, one of the greatest in the history of modern music. I realize a lot of people don't "get" Radiohead, and I respect that. It took me awhile to get them myself. When OK Computer first came out, loved Karma Police like everyone else did of course, but I didn't know what to make of the whole album. So, this is not a case of me just following an "in" crowd. Over time, I have been entranced with the dark,desperate lyrics, the incredibly moving medlodies, and the sometimes achingly raw sound of the album, to the point where I consider it one of the very best CD's in my collection.

PS, look for a new release from them later this summer.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Two takes on the conflict in Gaza

There are, in my mind, two equally important takes on the events in Gaza. One is a political one, as articulated by Robert Fisk:

How troublesome the Muslims of the Middle East are. First, we demand that the Palestinians embrace democracy and then they elect the wrong party - Hamas - and then Hamas wins a mini-civil war and presides over the Gaza Strip. And we Westerners still want to negotiate with the discredited President, Mahmoud Abbas. Today "Palestine" - and let's keep those quotation marks in place - has two prime ministers. Welcome to the Middle East.

Who can we negotiate with? To whom do we talk? Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn't like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognise Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.

No one asked - on our side - which particular Israel Hamas was supposed to recognise. The Israel of 1948? The Israel of the post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds - and goes on building - vast settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, gobbling up even more of the 22 per cent of "Palestine" still left to negotiate over ?

And so today, we are supposed to talk to our faithful policeman, Mr Abbas, the "moderate" (as the BBC, CNN and Fox News refer to him) Palestinian leader, a man who wrote a 600-page book about Oslo without once mentioning the word "occupation", who always referred to Israeli "redeployment" rather than "withdrawal", a "leader" we can trust because he wears a tie and goes to the White House and says all the right things. The Palestinians didn't vote for Hamas because they wanted an Islamic republic - which is how Hamas's bloody victory will be represented - but because they were tired of the corruption of Mr Abbas's Fatah and the rotten nature of the "Palestinian Authority"

Fisk is right. We in the West are upset with Palestinians because they voted for the wrong party. We have no right to commplain. Like it or lump it, Hamas is in control in Gaza, and we will have to deal with them.
So what will we do? Support the reoccupation of Gaza perhaps? Certainly we will not criticise Israel. And we shall go on giving our affection to the kings and princes and unlovely presidents of the Middle East until the whole place blows up in our faces and then we shall say - as we are already saying of the Iraqis - that they don't deserve our sacrifice and our love.

How do we deal with a coup d'├ętat by an elected government?

As a human rights activist, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other take on events in Gaza. This is expressed in a press release from Amnesty International, concerning violations of international law and disaregard for human life on the part of both Fatah and Hamas in the conflict in Gaza:
Amid unprecedented political violence in the Gaza Strip, both Fatah and Hamas security forces and armed groups have shown utter disregard for fundamental principles of international law and have committed grave human rights abuses.

The indiscriminate attacks and reckless gun battles in residential neighbourhoods have left a beleaguered civilian population, already suffering from a year of international sanctions and continuing Israeli military blockades, virtual prisoners in their own homes. Both parties have killed captured rivals, and have abducted scores of members of rival groups and held them hostage, to be exchanged for friends and relatives held by their rivals, Killing captured fighters and hostage-taking are war crimes.

Rival security forces loyal to the Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas party of Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyeh, have signally betrayed their responsibility to uphold and enforce the law and to protect the population. Instead, acting in concert with the armed groups which serve as their proxy militias, they have engaged persistently in armed clashes, killing and injuring civilians not involved in the clashes with complete impunity.

Now that Hamas has gained control of Fatah' security forces installations in Gaza and repudiated President Abbas' decision to dissolve the coalition government and impose a state of emergency in the OPT, fears are growing that the fighting will spill over into the West Bank. In recent days Fatah's gunmen have been abducting Hamas members and holding them as hostages and ransacking Hamas offices in Nablus, Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank, deepening concern that abuses will increase if the fighting escalates there.

Here is what Amnesty is calling for:
to take immediate action to ensure that their forces and the armed groups acting as their proxy militias cease endangering civilians and violating international law through their reckless, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force in Gaza, and to prevent further abuses in the West Bank - notably:

* to assert control over the security forces and ensure that they uphold the law and respect human rights, including international standards relating to the use of force and treatment of prisoners, and ensure that members of their security forces who abuse human rights or fail to carry out their duty are held to account;
* end impunity, by establishing effective mechanisms to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses, irrespective of their political affiliation;
* instruct their security forces that the armed groups who commit human rights abuses or crimes must be apprehended and brought to justice, irrespective of their political affiliations, in accordance with international human rights law and standards;
* put in place a mechanism to ensure independent, impartial and non-partisan oversight of the security forces and ensure that all killings, abductions and other attacks on civilians are investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Palast on Vulture fund companies

I urge every person of conscience to learn more about this. This is despicable.

Vulture fund companies are companies that buy up the debt of third world countries at very low prices and then sue for the full amount. Muckraking journalist Greg Palast has been following this issue for awhile now. I blogged about it first in February. Today, he was on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast reporting. He joins us in studio now. Right now, where does it all stand, Greg. Who has the power and the damage that’s being done?

GREG PALAST: It’s all up to George Bush right now. This is what is driving the other members of the G8, that is, the incoming Prime Minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, has made this like number one priority. I mean, you have to understand, debt relief for Africa is real serious business for Europe. And about half – about half of the money for aid to Africa is being sucked up by these “Vultures” who are seizing the funds. It all comes down to George Bush. It’s also driving Congressman Conyers crazy. And he’s basically said, “Look. If Bush doesn't do the right thing, this is the next investigation. He just made a big splash with investigating the prosecutor firings. That ain't done yet. But as soon as that’s done, he moves right into “Vultures” if Bush doesn't act. Now what is it – what’s the deal with Bush? You see – under US – what’s happening is these “Vultures” are seizing the money from US bank accounts, principally. And George Bush can - of these poor nations. In other words, they’re given money to buy AIDS drugs, they have resources to, you know, for - basically earmarked for education, AIDS. They're sucking up the AIDS money. Bush can put a stop to it tomorrow morning. No one can sue a foreign government in the United States without the approval of the US government, in particular the President of the United States. Its under the Separations of Powers clause of our Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did Bush respond to, Conyers?

GREG PALAST: Well you know, it’s been the, he does that, you know: “I missed school that day. I don't know what’s going on.” You know, deer in the headlights. “I’ll check it out. I’ll do something about it.” Now, as you know, we had this dramatic situation, which both Congressman Conyers, the chairman, powerful chairman, and Don Payne, head of the Africa Committee, two powerful cats, were both heading to the White House for meetings, both of them listening to Democracy Now!. They both had the same idea: “We don't care what’s on the agenda with the President. This, the “Vultures” is what we have to talk about at – these billions of dollars. And, as Conyers said, until they heard the Democracy Now! report, a lot of members of Congress listen to this program! They had no idea that the money was being sucked up. They were voting for billions of dollars for Africa, and they didn’t know that Bush’s friends – now when I say Bush’s friends – you have to understand, the biggest single “Vulture Fund”, the biggest predator is, uh, operations owned by a guy named Paul Singer, who is the number one donor for George Bush and the Republican Party in New York. He’s also the big fund-raiser, he’s raising 10 million dollars for Rudy Giuliani. This isn’t the sidelight for this guy, this is the only way he makes money. So George Bush has to know that his big money is basically coming from kickbacks, from money taken from aid for Africa. If he didn't know before, Conyers and Payne, after hearing Democracy Now! put it right in his face. The reason is, they didn’t want they don't want the President to say “I don't know, it’s a lower-level thing.” The President knows. And the G8 members, personally. When I say G8 – these are the world leaders, Chancellor Merkel in Germany...

AMY GOODMAN: Did Bush do something about it at the G8 summit?

GREG PALAST: Um, I think he hid in the boy's room. He didn't come out when they were supposed to some discussions, you know. So it’s been this kind of, you know, duck and run operation.

Read the transcript here.

CIA secret relationship with Sudan.

The Los Angeles Times reports that despite US condemnations of the Sudanese government regarding the genocide in Darfur, the CIA has had a secret relationship with the Sudanese government in the war on terror:

And at a time when Sudan is being condemned in the international community, its counter-terrorism work has won precious praise. The U.S. State Department recently issued a report calling Sudan a "strong partner in the war on terror."

Some critics accuse the Bush administration of being soft on Sudan for fear of jeopardizing the counter-terrorism cooperation. John Prendergast, director of African affairs for the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, called the latest sanctions announced by Bush last month "window dressing," designed to appear tough while putting little real pressure on Sudan to stop the militias it is widely believed to be supporting from killing members of tribal settlements in Darfur.

"One of the main glass ceilings on real significant action in response to the genocide in Darfur has been our growing relationship with authorities in Khartoum on counter-terrorism," said Prendergast, a senior advisor to the International Crisis Group. "It is the single biggest contributor to why the gap between rhetoric and action is so large."
Read the whole article here.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Tiananmen Square 18 years later: Let us never forget

The Chinese government is still ruthless, autocratic, ignorant, and corrupt in so many ways. Let us never forget what those students died for.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A new arms race?

The Russian goverment has tested a new missile that it claims can overcome a missile defence system.

Russia's hawkish first deputy prime minister, Sergei Ivanov, said the country had tested both a new multiple-warhead intercontinental missile, the RS-24, and an improved version of its short-range Iskander missile.

He said the missiles were capable of destroying enemy systems and added: "As of today Russia has new missiles that are capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defence systems. In terms of defence and security, Russia can look calmly to the country's future."

The missile tests follow months of anger in Moscow over the Bush administration's determination to install parts of a controversial missile defence shield in eastern Europe.

President Vladimir Putin has been incensed by the Pentagon's plans to site missile interceptors and radar shields in Poland and the Czech Republic. The row has contributed to the worst relations between Russia and the west for 20 years.

It seems we are indeed headed for a new arms race. I am not enthusiastic about any country adding to their nuclear arsenal. Putin, in many areas ervolving around human rights violations and all-around thuggery, leaves alot to be desired in my mind. That said, what did Bush think would happen? For years now, Russia and China has expressed concern about a proposed US missile defence system, and not without cause. It further destabilizes the balance of military power in the world. According to Bush:"

"The Cold War is over," Bush told foreign reporters in an interview Thursday that previewed an eight-day trip to Europe next week. "We're now into the 21st century, where we need to deal with the true threats, which are threats of radical extremists who will kill to advance an ideology and the threats of proliferation."

Well, the Cold War was over. Maybe it still is. It was entirely up to Bush. It still mostly is, and it is certainly his administration that has gotten us into the pickle we're in now. As I said, I don't like any example of nuclear proliferation, and certainly if the US reneges on missle defence, I would expect Putin to do likewise with respect to his new missile. However, in a unipolar world, other countries, including Russia, see it as a way of protecting themselves.