NYTimes reporter blames Wikileaks for govt not giving her more information

Elisabeth Bumiller, Pentagon correspondent with The New York Times, spoke recently at Brigham Young University and seemed to blame Wikileaks for the lack of transparency at her workplace. This is a curious defence of reporters who simply can’t get information without it being passed by compliant officials. It’s not as if the Pentagon was this wonderfully transparent organisation before Wikileaks and how much have the corporate media allowed that to fester, wanting to foster close ties to officials for sanctioned leaks?

DU: Working with the Pentagon, how much information do they willingly give you?

EB: Not a lot. It’s changed a lot. Because of WikiLeaks, [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who is former CIA director — and a big believer in secrets — has really clamped down on information. The Obama administration has been pretty tough about leakers. There’s been a chilling effect, so it’s hard. [Covering] Egypt was very tough. Gates [was] on the phone fairly often with counterparts in Egypt, and we had absolutely no light on what was being said. So it’s a problem. The WikiLeaks really shook them up at the Pentagon.

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NSW Greens don’t see their job as solely defending brutish Israel

The decision of Sydney’s Marrickville council and the NSW Greens to back BDS against apartheid Israel continues to generate predictable hysteria from the Murdoch tabloids (and that’s to say nothing of the racist, anti-Muslim diatribes being circulated by many Jews and bigots across Australia):

The Greens have threatened a trade boycott against the world’s second-largest economy in an attack on China by one of its high-profile NSW candidates.

Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne, who is running for the state seat, has revealed her council would consider boycotting China out of sympathy for Tibetans.

Labor labelled the policy as “stupid and dangerous” and warned such a ban could threaten Chinese trade with NSW – worth more than $3.2 billion to the state’s economy – and damage cultural and student ties with China.

“This is one of the most destructive policies announced by any mayor in Australia’s history,” Labor’s campaign spokesman Luke Foley said.

He has called for Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown to step in and rule out suggestions of a boycott of Australia’s largest trading partner.

Ms Byrne’s backing for a China ban follows her boycott of Israel last month over its treatment of Palestinians.

In retaliation, Labor and Liberal councillors have already joined forces on neighbouring Randwick Council to boycott Marrickville Council.

Her latest threats against China were recorded at a candidate forum on Wednesday night in Sydney.

Ms Byrne said her council had expressed solidarity with the local Tibetan community. While the Tibetan community had not asked specifically for a boycott, Ms Byrne said council would adopt one if asked.

“If the local Tibetan community came to us and asked us to look at boycotting China, I’m sure council would do that,” Ms Byrne said.

“So we actually have done things [for] our local community … provide action, and support our local community around those issues and I’m quite proud of that, quite proud to do that.”

Fiona Byrne should be praised for raising the issue of universal human rights, something most Western elites oppose when it affects allies. So Libya is awful and should be condemned but occupying Israel is a glorious nation struggling for its life.

And here’s a tip for Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph hack that wrote the story; getting a Labor figure to condemn the Greens, in an election where Marrickville may well fall to the Greens, isn’t really a credible source. It’s blatantly obvious and therefore simply an easy kick against an enemy your dear leader Rupert hates.

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What Israeli left?

Many in the West, including the Zionist Diaspora, talk about the Israeli Left as bravely challenging Israel’s descent into a fascist nation.

Hugh Naylor writes in The National that this is a convenient myth:

Left-leaning Jewish groups in the United States defied the pro-Israel lobby and criticised the US veto last week of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

In Israel, however, the veto was hardly mentioned. Few among the country’s peace groups and rights organisations chose to publicly condemn it, prompting concern about the country’s ability, and willingness, to come to a negotiated peace with the Palestinians.

Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian politician who maintains ties to Israeli activists, said: “It’s amazing. I expected that they would have said something immediately. I really think there is self-censorship, intimidation. The peace movement has become quite reticent.”

Yet for many Israelis, the muted response comes as no surprise.

Israel’s peace movement and many human-rights organisations have downsized and receded in influence since the Oslo peace accords negotiations in the 1990s.

This mirrors a similarly dramatic decline of Israel’s left-leaning political establishment in a Knesset increasingly filled by right-wing, pro-settler parliamentarians.

Gershon Baskin, the Israeli co-director of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, said: “You have to put this in context. There is no peace camp anymore. The progressive part of Israeli society is disjointed, fragmented and small. The majority of Israelis since the second intifada have certainly turned into peace sceptics.”

The blunt indictment of Israeli society offered by Ronnie Barkan, an Israeli who belongs to the Anarchists Against the Wall, a fringe group of activists, would seem to embody this polarisation. “The vast majority of Israelis are nationalistic and racist,” he said.

“There is nothing new in the absolute, unconditional support coming from the US toward Israel and its crimes.”

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Oscar winning director of Inside Job reminds us that no financial crooks are prosecuted

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Defending Wikileaks is what matters

More here.

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What Shell is trying to do in Ireland

The Pipe, the trailer:

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The long reach of Serco into the Australian political hierarchy

British multinational Serco is constantly in the news, the company that runs all of Australia’s detention centres with little or no accountability; just the way they like it.

And now this:

The mastermind behind the sacking of more than 50,000 public servants during the Greiner and Fahey Liberal governments has been quietly advising Barry O’Farrell’s team on how to streamline the public service when, as expected, the NSW Coalition takes power in a month.

Gary Sturgess now works for Serco, the multinational services company that runs Villawood detention centre and has recently replaced workers with robots in British hospitals. He has met shadow treasurer Mike Baird a number of times over the past 12 months.

Mr Sturgess engineered the dumping of 2000 teachers, 5000 school cleaners and more than 8000 rail workers within a year of Nick Greiner becoming premier in 1988.

The re-emergence of Mr Sturgess has heightened fears among the public service over what plans Mr O’Farrell might have for redundancies and the privatisation of government services. Mr O’Farrell is also being advised by Max ”the axe” Moore-Wilton, John Howard’s job-slashing department head.

Mr Sturgess confirmed he had met Mr Baird a number of times, the last time in November.

”The message I’ve been giving them is there’s an awful lot of interesting things happening in [Britain] … not just outsourcing, but some interesting private sector contracts where payment is dependent on outcome,” Mr Sturgess said from London.

”My job is to help explain how this stuff works so that government feels it can make voters and unions feel more comfortable about it.”

Mr Sturgess was referring to the debt-mired British government, which recently revealed plans to open up virtually all public services to private companies. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron will cut about 500,000 British public servants by 2015. Serco is at the forefront of outsourcing around the world, managing everything from satellites to prisons and traffic light systems. Greens MP John Kaye memorably described Serco as like a ”living organism that has found a very rich payload of nutrients”.

In August last year, Serco put robots into a Scottish hospital to move waste, linen and clinical supplies at the expense of human workers.

”Should NSW have robots in its hospitals?” Mr Sturgess said. ”It might be good but it can’t put them into existing hospitals. Like the experience in [Britain], you have to have a government wanting the best possible way to contain disease and waste and prepared to allow the private sector to solve the problem.”

He stressed he was not lobbying on behalf of Serco Australia, rather sharing his expertise from the Serco think tank.

”Serco doesn’t have a view about what services should be put to the private sector, it’s not for us to decide should be put to the market. When government makes that decision it’s for us to tell them how we think it can be done. I’ve known a lot of the [Liberal] guys for a very long time so it would be improper for me to be lobbying on behalf of Serco and I don’t.”

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The shock doctrine is alive and well in the world’s super-power

I’m currently working on a book about disaster capitalism and rampant privatisation, diseases that seemingly sweep all before it. The idea that selling everything into private hands will solve our economic problems is ludicrous and yet both major sides of politics in many Western states back the idea.

Resistance is key, so here’s Paul Krugman in the New York Times writing about the current waves of delusion in his nation:

Here’s a thought: maybe Madison, Wis., isn’t Cairo after all. Maybe it’s Baghdad — specifically, Baghdad in 2003, when the Bush administration put Iraq under the rule of officials chosen for loyalty and political reliability rather than experience and competence.

As many readers may recall, the results were spectacular — in a bad way. Instead of focusing on the urgent problems of a shattered economy and society, which would soon descend into a murderous civil war, those Bush appointees were obsessed with imposing a conservative ideological vision. Indeed, with looters still prowling the streets of Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, the American viceroy, told a Washington Post reporter that one of his top priorities was to “corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises” — Mr. Bremer’s words, not the reporter’s — and to “wean people from the idea the state supports everything.”

The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.

Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display.

In recent weeks, Madison has been the scene of large demonstrations against the governor’s budget bill, which would deny collective-bargaining rights to public-sector workers. Gov. Scott Walker claims that he needs to pass his bill to deal with the state’s fiscal problems. But his attack on unions has nothing to do with the budget. In fact, those unions have already indicated their willingness to make substantial financial concessions — an offer the governor has rejected.

What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.

If this sounds to you like a perfect setup for cronyism and profiteering — remember those missing billions in Iraq? — you’re not alone. Indeed, there are enough suspicious minds out there that Koch Industries, owned by the billionaire brothers who are playing such a large role in Mr. Walker’s anti-union push, felt compelled to issue a denial that it’s interested in purchasing any of those power plants. Are you reassured?

The good news from Wisconsin is that the upsurge of public outrage — aided by the maneuvering of Democrats in the State Senate, who absented themselves to deny Republicans a quorum — has slowed the bum’s rush. If Mr. Walker’s plan was to push his bill through before anyone had a chance to realize his true goals, that plan has been foiled. And events in Wisconsin may have given pause to other Republican governors, who seem to be backing off similar moves.

But don’t expect either Mr. Walker or the rest of his party to change those goals. Union-busting and privatization remain G.O.P. priorities, and the party will continue its efforts to smuggle those priorities through in the name of balanced budgets.

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Why did most Western elites not want to see Arab anger?

Al-Jazeera’s director general Wadah Khanfar on the Arab revolution that most in the West simply didn’t expect. Why? Because we fear Islamists, because we hate the idea that Arabs may vote for parties we don’t like and because we fear that poor little undemocratic Israel may be challenged. Times are changing:

Indeed, it should surprise no one that so many Western analysts, researchers, journalists and government experts failed to recognize the obvious signs of Arab youth movements that would soon erupt into revolutions capable of bringing down some of the most pro-Western regimes in the Middle East. That failure has exposed a profound lack of understanding in the West of Arab reality.

U.S. and European allies, supporters and business partners of the Arab regimes persistently preferred to deal with leaders who were entirely unrepresentative of the new generation. They were detached from the emerging reality and had no way to engage with the social forces that now matter. It is the growing periphery of the Arab world – the masses at its margins, not its feeble and decaying center – that is shaping the future of the region.

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TehelkaTV interview on Israel/Palestine and changing Jewish views

During my recent appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India I was interviewed by TehelkaTV, one of the country’s leading current affairs magazines (my recent article with them about the Egyptian uprising is here).

We talked about the Middle East, why the Tunisian revolution would spread and the rise of dissenting Jewish voices:

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PressTV interview on Australian aid to the Middle East

Why is it acceptable for Australians to donate money (and receive tax deductions) to illegal settlements in the West Bank but the Australian government isn’t able to openly provide aid to citizens living under the rule of Hamas and Hizbollah? The corruption of international aid by politics. Here’s an interesting report on PressTV and my interview:

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Vogue gives template example of sychophantic writing

The Arab world is exploding against its dictators but Vogue is seemingly oblivious. Here’s a nauseating profile of Syria’s First Lady Asma al-Assad. Somebody should tell the “journalist” that Syria is a brutal police state that tortures its own citizens. But not to worry, she lets her children play with Lego:

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.

Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark. Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary. The country’s alliances are murky. How close are they to Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah? There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case. The United States has just posted its first ambassador there since 2005, Robert Ford.

Iraq is next door, Iran not far away. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is 90 minutes by car from Damascus. Jordan is south, and next to it the region that Syrian maps label Palestine. There are nearly one million refugees from Iraq in Syria, and another half-million displaced Palestinians.

“It’s a tough neighborhood,” admits Asma al-Assad.

The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls “active citizenship.” “It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.”

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