Wikileaks is fighting the power (with able assistance by Rap News)

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Leading Israeli journalist persecuted for doing his job

Like the Western elite campaign against Julian Assange and Wikileaks, power hates being exposed and embarrassed. This news is therefore worrying but unsurprising. Democracy it is not (via +972):

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced his intention to indict Uri Blau, one of Israel’s top investigative reporters, for possession of classified materials without permission. The materials in question are documents given to Blau by whistleblower Anat Kamm; Kamm, then a conscript clerk in the office of GOC Central Command, copied them from the GOC’s computer, believing they constituted evidence of war crimes carried out in defiance of international law and Israel’s own Supreme Court, including summary executions of terrorism suspects who could have been detained.

Kamm is presently serving a four and a half-year prison sentence following a plea bargain in which she admitted to possession and transfer of classified documents.

The decision today marks a crucial milestone in a process that has been dragging on for more than two years, as prosecutors considered the implications of indicting a journalist for doing something well established in his trade. Almost every journalist with claims to be anything but a stenographer for the army spokesman has held onto classified information – written or otherwise – that was received outside official channels, without authorisation.

Although Blau, in the early days of the investigation into the leak, had already given over to the state all the documents he used to publish the story on summary executions, the state demanded the rest of the cache. During the investigation, Blau spent time in political exile in London, waiting while his lawyers negotiated with the state the terms of a deal under which he would not be prosecuted. Once the deal was struck and Blau did his part, however, the state got greedy, and demanded full access his entire archive, amassed over a decade of investigative work. Then it said it might prosecute him anyway. Blau remained in limbo, his ability to work severely curtailed: few sources would go out on a limb for a journalist likely to be tightly monitored by the security agencies. He only began writing regularly a few months ago, publishing a few stories on the behind the scenes workings of the Israeli right, mostly through deft use of freedom of information requests.

Obtaining and retaining classified information is the bread-and-butter of a civilian journalists monitoring the country’s most powerful and insulated institution – the military. Although Israel has no laws to protect journalists, in most cases (barring one prosecution concerning the revelation of cooperation between the Israeli and Morrocan intelligence agencies half a century ago, and an attempt to prosecute a senior military correspondent after the Gulf War for revealing the regrettable fact the much-lauded “Patriot” missiles failed to intercept a single SCUD), the state has not gone after journalists for doing something so essential to their work – until now.

Danny Zaken, Chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), released a statement condemning the decision. “The decision of the attorney general to file an indictment against Uri Blau brings Israel back a generation, and casts into doubt its definition as a real democratic state. The decision joins a string of legislative moves designed to harm the status of journalism and its critical role in ensuring the existence of a democratic regime. Uri Blau’s articles went through the censor, and the Haaretz journalist did what any good journalist must do: expose to the public what is being hidden from it, for it to judge.

“It is disappointing that the attorney general is joining the ranks, through his decision, of those who hurt freedom of expression, instead of being the one to defend it from governmental forces seeking to restrict it. The Union will work to reverse the decision and will use all of the tools at its disposal to protect Blau and free journalism in Israel,” the statement continued.

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#LeftTurn editors talk to each other

Following the very positive of my new book Left Turn from leading independent bookstore Readings this week, here’s an interview between co-editor Jeff Sparrow and myself:

Editors Antony Loewenstein and Jeff Sparrow discuss Left Turn – a collection of essays from our leading political writers, including Larissa Berendht, Christos Tsiolkas, Guy Rundle and more

Antony Loewenstein: You were an activist before you became a writer and editor. Why do you think the Left still matters?

Jeff Sparrow: Because Australian politics has reached a dangerous impasse. The world situation is becoming increasingly fraught, and yet the simplest of reforms now seem entirely off the table. Climate change provides an obvious example of the growing gulf between what needs to happen and what’s actually being offered but there are plenty more instances.

Crucially, the range of ideas given serious consideration in Australian public life has become scarily narrow. In some ways, you could say the real division today lies not between the two main parties, but rather between the beliefs accepted by all political insiders (neoliberal economics, support for the US alliance, moderately conservative social norms, etc) and any other ideas whatsoever.

What’s more, the central tenets of that insider consensus seem impervious to external challenge. In other fields, being wrong about everything would be considered a career handicap. In Australian politics, the pundits who touted for the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have only become more influential, just as the economists who entirely failed to predict the GFC or the European meltdown dominate the discussions.

That’s the idea behind this book. It’s an attempt to open up debates, to give to voice for arguments from the Left, positions that generally don’t get much of a hearing.

JS: As an independent journalist, how do you think the Left should react to the deep distrust of the mainstream media, especially when it comes to war, politics and protests?

AL: Not just whinge about it but both better critique the failings of the corporate media and support alternatives to it. Take the post 9/11 period. Far too many mainstream journalists haven’t just been physically embedded with the American and Australian military in Iraq or Afghanistan, they’ve been embedded psychologically with patriotic fervour. ‘Our’ side doesn’t commit crimes, we’re told, it’s an aberration if soldiers massacre civilians. This is pure propaganda and not the impression of civilians in a range of countries we’re occupying, including Afghanistan (I just returned from there and heard it myself).

In Australia, there are few Leftists given space to challenge the establishment line over war and peace. There are occasional voices contesting this policy or that strategy but few who have consistently claimed that the ‘war on terror’ is more about instilling fear in the community than killing our enemies.

The writers in Left Turn don’t merely complain about the status-quo; they try to give alternatives to wilful, mainstream media blindness.

AL: Why hasn’t the Left been more successful in articulating alternatives to the GFC? Does the Occupy Movement represent an answer?

JS: The general cynicism about so many institutions, from newspapers to politicians, often translates into a disengagement from politics of any kind. Voters disenchanted with the major parties are just as likely to tune out from political discussions as they are to explore alternatives.

That’s why the Occupy phenomenon was so important, since it managed, even if only briefly, to capture the political imagination. In my chapter on Occupy, I quote the American writer Barbara Ehrenreich: ‘Perhaps the best kept political secret of our time,’ she says, ‘is that politics, as a democratic undertaking, can be not only “fun”, in the entertaining sense, but profoundly uplifting, even ecstatic.’

There was certainly something of that in the Occupy protests. It’s the sentiment the Left needs to recapture — an ecstatic sense of the possibility of real change.

JS: Are you optimistic about the political future?

AL: I have no faith that the major parties in the West are interested in or capable of serious reform. We see this in Australia, Britain, America and much of Europe. These are political hacks who live and breathe the neo-liberal agenda despite its public popularity being at an all-time low. In my view, third or fourth party alternatives are vital to resurrect of true democracy.

But I have some hope in independent and online media to investigate parts of our world that can inform a deeper political understanding in our own country. In a globalised media environment, we can see instantly the failings elsewhere and hopefully learn from them.

A largely unregulated market system remains in place across the West and Occupy offered a small window into a far more equitable system. An issue like climate change will only be solved this way. Furthermore, if more people realised the realities of our foreign policy on the nations suffering because of them, I like to believe the political elites would be forced to adjust accordingly.


Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland literary journal. He is the author of a number of books including Killing: Misadventures in Violence and the forthcoming Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of two best-selling books, My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution. He is currently working on a book and documentary about disaster capitalism.

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Blogging our way to freedom isn’t so easy in 21st century

The following interview appears in the Australian online legal and human rights journal Right Now:

Samaya Chanthaphavong spoke to Antony Loewenstein, author of The Blogging Revolution about the use of the internet, in particular blogging, as a communicative tool to promote self-representation, democracy and human rights in areas where excessive regimes impose strict censorship over most forms of communication.

RN: We know that as part of your book The Blogging Revolution that you have travelled to Iran, Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to look at how these societies blog under excessive regimes. How important do you think blogging and self-representation is for people from those countries, and also for people that are interested in getting news as to what’s going on in those countries?

[Antony Loewenstein]: There has been no doubt in the last five years all those countries except Cuba have had a vastly important and growing internet culture-I will put Cuba aside and explain why in a second.  We shouldn’t forget that in those countries most people didn’t use the internet and were not online, whereas obviously in the West we are. So the voices that we often have and hear are only the elite and not the majority.

So the voices that we often have and hear are only the elite and not the majority.

Most people online aren’t engaged in politics. In China, which is the biggest internet community in the world with roughly 450 million internet users out of a population of roughly 1.4 billion, the vast majority of those people are not engaging in politics. They are downloading music, films, meeting guys and girls. What most people on the internet do.

However in all those countries, with the exception of Cuba, there is a growing space that is repressed to have political discussion and political debate. The reason why I said Cuba was an exception is that it has the lowest internet penetration in that part of the world roughly equating to two to four per cent due to two main reasons: firstly with the US embargo on Cuba it is very difficult to get reliable technology for the regime to use for access to the web.  But more importantly in my view, it’s because the Castro brothers are fearful of free speech. So few Cubans have access to the internet so the blogging reach is very small. There is a lack of free speech culture in the public arena which has been a disaster for that country. There are however Cuban political bloggers. Often they are unable to leave the country to get awards that they have won overseas, however their reach within Cuba is miniscule because most people don’t access the web there.

I am saying all of this not to argue that the internet has no influence anywhere – it has massive influence. But I do think that many in the West, particularly since the Arab Spring that started in late 2010, have exaggerated the influence of the internet. For instance, websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc have been spoken of almost as a way to explain what’s happening as opposed to arguing that the internet is an important part of challenging state power and state repression.

But it’s not the only way. In countries where internet usage is either very much censored or repressed, like in Iran, people often have other ways of communicating. Mobile phones, for example, were far more important to talk with and get information. This was seen particularly during the Arab Spring.

Do you think it’s up to the Western media to provide a spotlight on issues such as repression, censorship and free speech or do you think it is something that will gain momentum from within these countries?

The Western press is not homogenous but part of the problem that the Western media has – and this has come out since the Arab Spring – is how little it understands what is happening in those parts of the world.

Far too often, in places like Egypt or others, the Western press has a responsibility to speak honestly about the Western role in maintaining regimes for so long. I am not suggesting the endurance of repressive regimes is solely the West’s fault or responsibility but if you, as a Western country – I am talking particularly about the US of course but not just America – fund, arm, train and support dictatorships and for that matter allow Western security firms, many of whom are based in the States, to provide and support internet censorship in these countries, it will not end well.

The evidence of that was clear before the Arab Spring but since the Arab Spring public documents have emerged from Egypt, Libya and elsewhere of Western (American and European) so called “internet censorship” companies who of course don’t advertise themselves publically as helping dictatorships. They advertise their tools as helping schools censor information from young kids or helping libraries, but the evidence suggests that these corporations have assisted regimes in censorship.

In my view, this has been talked about for years and I discuss it in my book The Blogging Revolution, that there needs to be far more aggressive regulatory legislation in the United States and elsewhere to prosecute corporations that are based in the US or other Western countries that collude with dictatorships in repressing free speech. This doesn’t occur at the moment despite talk about it, and I think it should.

Obama has in fact deepened and worsened that situation rather than making it better.

Do you think from a grassroots level, taking into consideration global internet activism, that people could get momentum going for pressuring governments to introduce legislative measures on companies that provide censorship measures to support regimes?

Yes I do, I think unfortunately to some extent that people are still in shock from eight years of the Bush administration, the last three and a half years of Obama and the election this year, on many of these kinds of issues. Obama has in fact deepened and worsened that situation rather than making it better.

There is an idea somehow that the Bush administration was the worst that it could get; this is a complete myth. The Obama Administration has nationally expanded the monitoring of US citizens. There was a talk from a whistle-blower at the National Security Agency (NSA) about this to media program Democracy Now which is saying that in the last few years the US has collected 20 trillion emails, phone calls etc. This data is not necessarily being actively used but the US is collecting every single email or phone call that everyone makes in that country.

Now that’s happening undeniably illegally, though of course the Patriot Act exists which is a piece of legislation that the Bush Administration initiated post-2001 and the Obama Administration deepened. Many of these companies that are assisting regimes overseas, such as Egypt, Libya and Iran, generally speaking feel protected, though occasionally Hillary Clinton speaks about internet censorship because other Americans believe that America is doing hideous things to their own people and therefore don’t care about what happens in other countries. It is rhetoric that they use when speaking out about censorship.

Telecommunication companies in the United States have been co-opted willingly by the US Government to essentially be involved in monitoring American businesses. Some of these have also been active in countries overseas and colluding with repressive regimes to censor the internet but also to monitor mobile phone calls and text messages. This has become clear in the Arab countries in the last 18 months.

If you speak to many people from those places – and I have and continue to do – they do think solidarity matters.

If we consider all of the censorship and monitoring issues do you think that there is a future in blogging to make a difference to what is presented in Western media? Do you think that there is any point to blogging if (a) no one is really listening or (b) people are pretending to listen or (c) everything is under surveillance? Where is blogging headed?

I don’t want to give the impression that people shouldn’t bother so let’s further explain my points on censorship. There is no doubt that in the last 18 months in many countries there has been a profound shift in the power of citizens to be able to effect change – obviously in the Arab world, though these countries are still in flux – it’s almost like the revolution has happened but they are still in progress. Egypt is in a very difficult situation, Libya is as well, and these countries haven’t come through a dictatorship into a democracy.

It’s all very much a work in progress but I see the role of Western activists who are interested in raising a voice, or giving a voice to the voiceless individuals who don’t get much press or coverage in the West, should continue to reach out and build connections and relationships with people in those countries.

Western media should talk about censorship on the web but they should also try to highlight stories outside the West, not just about support by the US of oppressive practices which happen throughout the Arab world. But also to let people feel that they are not alone.

If you speak to many people from those places – and I have and continue to do – they do think solidarity matters. It matters because you feel like you are not alone, and that people outside your country are listening. We also shouldn’t forget that in many of these places in the last 18 months, since Tunisia had their revolution in late 2010, there are numerous examples of repressive states that are desperate to not show the West their censoring behaviour. They are embarrassed and ashamed and would rather keep those practices hidden.

It’s the rule of independent media to highlight that. This is something that I speak about in The Blogging Revolution. A lot of the Western press reporting on repressive states far too often – and there are many exceptions to this – but far too often echo the perspectives of the US State Department. So in one sense the media agrees that torturing is terrible but have excuses like “it’s a difficult part of the world, America needs to have reliable allies” etc. This is echoed countless times throughout Western press likeWashington Post and The New York Times. It is not just the concept of embedding journalists with the US military in Iraq or Afghanistan that is concerning, it is the mindset that is concerning when dealing with embedding, as they feel the desire and need to be close to power and have access to power.

After all these years since 9/11 and the changes that have occurred across the Muslim world we still rarely, if ever, hear an Arab person in their own voice in the media. Of course you sometimes hear them being interviewed but let’s talk about Iraq for a moment. You rarely see Iraqis in the press, you may hear them for five seconds but we do routinely hear Western analysts talking about Iraq in Washington, London or Canberra. I think the role here of Western activists, bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers, YouTubers etc is to try to bypass that blindness that exists in most parts of the Western corporate press and simply connect with people in these countries and give them a voice because ultimately that’s what media democracy should be.

We still rarely, if ever, hear an Arab person in their own voice in the media.

Where does human rights blogging sit in Australia?

Clearly being in a county like Australia which nominally is a democracy and not a repressive state the role of blogging on the internet is very different to places like Iran and China.

There is a growing push by private companies here in Australia and much of the West – particularly coming out of the US – towards a surveillance state to monitor and collect all electronic communication that you have.

This could be as simple as a phone call made on a mobile to booking travel; everything that you could possibly do online would be collected and stored.

I am not suggesting that Australia is becoming like North Korea but what I am saying is that there is a growing desire by security agents and private companies to do that and is something, in my view, that should be strongly resisted.

What role can Australian bloggers have in spreading Human Rights awareness or activism within Australia?

The role of the Australian blogger can be made up of two things: one, to show the degree of solidarity with people in repressive states because we have a relatively open internet to be able to build some kind of support network for people in rather difficult circumstances and two, to raise awareness of issues in Australia.

Australia clearly has a range of issues and one example that comes to mind is Indigenous Australians being able to be represented in their own voice. There are of course a handful of Aboriginal activists and academics that you hear all the time but you can pretty much count them on the one hand and the image we get otherwise is of drunken guys or women somewhere. Those images, though not untrue, are related to wider issues such as alcoholism etc in Aboriginal communities.

I believe that activism should start at home so these kinds of issues and questions should be spoken about here.

Antony Loewenstein will be speaking about “Freedom of Expression in a Time of Complacency” at PEN Free Voices at 6:30 on 20 June at Trades Hall, Melbourne.

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American Jews demand space to discuss BDS

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Scahill on Obama’s drone war doctrine; kill, kill and kill some more

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Who believes that NATO won’t continue terrorising Afghanistan for years to come?

Despite much of the media coverage recently that suggested America and its Western allies would largely leave by the end of 2014, Thomas Ruttig from The Afghanistan Analysts Network – I spent time with this valuable NGO while in Kabul in April – offers the reality:

When President Barack Obama stated at last weekend’s NATO summit in his hometown Chicago that the Afghan war ‘as we know it’ will be over in two years, some media only got half of it. And they are spreading a truncated message in their headlines that will stick in readers’ minds: War will be over then. ‘The countdown to Afghanistan withdrawal begins’says ITV NewsUSA Today sees the Afghanistan war heading to a ‘messy ending’, but an ending, nevertheless. Deutsche Welle, the foreign office-financed, official German broadcaster for the world even titles, completely ignoring reality: ‘NATO to quit Afghanistan in 2014’. Moreover, they already start discussing the logistics of what in fact is only a partial withdrawal, or ‘drawdown’, as if there were no more pressing issues: through Pakistan? through Uzbekistan? ‘Pakistan wants USD 5,000 per container!’ 

Unfortunately for Afghans, the AFP called them the ‘NATO summit’s forgotten people’ very properly, the stress in Obama statement is on ‘as we know it’, not on ‘over’. Neither will war be over around Christmas 2014 nor will the last Western troops have left Afghanistan by then.

Yes, a lot will change in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. ISAF with its logo ‘kumak wa/au hamkari’ will disappear from what the military calls the Afghan ‘theatre’. (‘Arena’ would be more to the point). Most combat troops will be withdrawn indeed. Afghan forces, and the Afghan government, will be in the lead and responsible, which is not a bad thing, as long as they hold together.

But NATO won’t leave. There will be another NATO mission, starting in 2015, under a training-and-mentoring label, as in Iraq. President Hamed Karzai called it a ‘training, advising and assistance mission’ in his Chicago speech. It probably will not be really small, either. Media reports from the Chicago summit were talking about somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 soldiers, trainers, mentors and other soldiers to protect them.(1)

Additionally, the new NATO mission will be accompanied by another one composed of US and other countries’ Special Operations Forces (SOF)(2) and even more special CIA operators (see earlier reporting about this here and here). US media reports expect something in the range of 6,000 SOF and ‘other agencies’ staff. They will continue to focus on what the US government and military see as their most effective means against the insurgents, night raids and kill-and-capture operations, even after they now need the approval of the Afghan government. That the US seems to attempt to keep control over high-value prisoners at Bagram (possibly including those snatched in future operations) – see our latest blog about this issue – fits into this picture.

The new mission will be smaller and less visible. The war as we know it, will morph from a counterinsurgency/counter-terrorism war (the experts are even undecided about what of both) that is still based on conventional forces mainly, at least when it comes to quantity, to a ‘special operations’ war.

As it has been attempted in Iraq, this is supposed to get Afghanistan off the front pages and out of voters’ minds, whose support has been ‘tumbling to all-time lows’ even in the US, as The Hillblog from Washington DC put it. With a smaller and less visible mission, there will be less embedded reporting and less media-accompanied trips of politicians and, given the low number of permanent correspondents on the ground, less reporting at all about Afghanistan. At the same time, Afghan journalists ring the alarm bell that western funding for them is drying out and threatens to close one of the last channels through which information on the country still could get through.

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Assange interviews #Occupy

Another week and another fascinating The World Tomorrow (past episodes here). This week it’s the #Occupy movement from Britain and America talking capitalism, mass movements and dissident:

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This isn’t democracy, no matter what IMF/EU/”sensible” capitalists tell you

Slavoj Žižek in the London Review of Books highlights issues that are covered in Left Turn, namely that so-called austerity is a disaster and vulture capitalism must be resisted:

Greece is not an exception. It is one of the main testing grounds for a new socio-economic model of potentially unlimited application: a depoliticised technocracy in which bankers and other experts are allowed to demolish democracy. By saving Greece from its so-called saviours, we also save Europe itself.

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#LeftTurn gets a thumbs-up

The book I co-edited with Jeff Sparrow is called Left Turn and is released across Australia this week (as well as an e-book edition).

I’m pleased to say that the first review, by the head of one of Australia’s leading independent bookstores, Readings, Mark Rubbo, is very positive:

I ran into Antony Loewenstein at the Sydney Writers Festival and mentioned I was reviewing this collection of essays. ‘You have to remember Mark, that it’s not a manifesto and it doesn’t present a program; it’s a collection of interesting ideas that don’t necessarily get aired or discussed.’

Loewenstein and his co-editor hope it generates debate and Chris Graham’s essay, ‘Violence, Non Violence and Aboriginal Australia’ will be sure to be attacked. Graham argues that Aboriginals are daily subjected to violence and that violent reactions by Aboriginal communities may not only be justified but politically necessary. He cites the famous Doomadgee case where it was only an organised attack by the community on the local police that exposed the flawed inquiry into Doomadgee’s death.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon ponders the future direction of the Greens in the face of declining Labor votes and how it copes with differences within the party and deals with the prospect of, at times, supporting minority governments whose agendas may differ from theirs. Also at issue is how a party that was born out of environmental battles can develop policies that are more broadly-based and an ‘organic part of progressive movements’.

Guy Rundle takes on the mall and the erosion of time and, indeed, the nature of existence. The mall and its attendant emphasis on consumption dominate the landscape. The growth of the mall and it’s emphasis on branded consumption dominates many of our cultural experience through music, movies and television.

In one of the more interesting essays, Jeff Sparrow looks at the decline of Left politics in the context of the Occupy movements in societies where the market becomes the default setting for most organisational relationships. In the Occupy movement, Sparrow sees some hope for the politics of the left in that its utopian anarchic representation raises the question of what kind of world lies on the other side of neoliberalism.

Some of this is echoed by Christos Tsiolkas who questions the smugness of the affluent left and their attitudes to Howard’s battlers who are suspicious of multiculturalism, migrants and refugees. Unless progressive politics can involve these communities, then they are not progressive.

The essays cover a broad range of issues including the media, refugees, economics, gender issues and industrial relations. It is to the editors’ great credit that they have managed to pull together such a range of provocative commentary that will stimulate and lead to further debate and discussion. For many people the markets do not provide the answer to achieving just, humane and equitable societies: what political and economic structures might?

Left Turn doesn’t provide the answers but it certainly raises some questions!

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On the massacre in Houla, Syria

Strong piece by Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker:

Sooner or later, every armed conflict in which victory is determined by control of the civilian population—as opposed to, say, physical territory—has its My Lai, its Srebrenica, its Sabra and Shatila. And Syria’s civil war (because that, in the end, is what it is) now has a hallmark bloodbath—its before-and-after moment. Saturday, in the small town of Houla, some hundred and eight civilians, including at least thirty-two children, were killed at the hands, apparently, of the Syrian army and the shabiha thugs who often do its dirty work. It’s not that there haven’t been previous atrocities in this fifteen-month-old conflict; there have been scores of them, each adding its quota of blood and agony and vengeance. Houla’s hundred-odd dead may offer a mere shiver of horror to deadened and bewildered onlookers, and statistically may represent only a fraction of the mounting casualties—Syria’s number of dead is calculated by the U.N. to be over ten thousand, but there may well be a thousand or so more, depending on who is doing the counting.

It’s been a month since the arrival in Syria of two hundred and seventy or so U.N. observers, the result of a partial agreement between President Assad and Kofi Annan. The observers have not stopped the killing, and have not reduced it, either, despite some initial wishful claims to the contrary. (Where have U.N. observers, or peacekeepers, for that matter, ever stopped anything?) The killings in Houla took place a mere fifteen miles from the U.N. observers posted in Homs. Unlike in an old Western, the cavalry never arrived. In this gruesome reality show that we all now inhabit, the U.N. men arrived afterwards, in time to film the bodies left behind by their killers, with the merit of at least having confirmed that an atrocity took place. In Houla, the videos show that some of the civilian victims—with pieces of their bodies missing—were probably nonspecific, by which I mean that, as in all wars, they were simply killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the men who pressed the “fire” buttons on the artillery piece, or on the tank that fired the shells that ripped them apart, meant them no specific harm, per se, as individuals. Others, though, seem to show the telltale traces of up-close murders—the result of guns pressed against people’s heads and fired, and of knives drawn deeply across throats.

These latter victims, who include some of Houla’s dead children, are the most troubling of the deaths that are occurring in Syria today. They raise the question of whether there is any kind of peace plan, at this point, that is viable, at least in the minds of the actors in the conflict. That is why Houla is such a watershed event (and why the regime is claiming it is a set-up, to make it look bad).

Ban Ki-moon has said that there is no U.N. “Plan B” in Syria. Plan A, to sum it up roughly, relies upon goodwill and a change of heart on the part of the Assad regime and the rebels fighting it. The thing is: What does one do when men become capable of cutting the throat of a small child?

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People of PNG question whether LNG boom will help them

This is the key question for poor nations with resource wealth. Beyond all the energy company rhetoric and government spin, how do average people benefit?

This report, in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, asks the same kind of questions I discussed recently with Green Left Weekly:

A failure to work with the community could undermine the $16 billion project.

”Hela society is very unpredictable, like the weather is unpredictable. But one thing I can say is that if the people see they have been cheated, if the people see that their rights have been deprived, then there may be problems.”

Community leader from Hela Province, the heartland of the $16 billion PNG LNG project.

Three years after work began in earnest building the hardware to extract and pipe gas from the mountains of Papua New Guinea, initiating what is spruiked as a game-changing bonanza for the fragile nation, many local people remain excluded, frustrated and suspicious about the $US16 billion project.

The PNG LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project has already utterly changed their lives, according to an academic investigation.

Failures to better inform the local Hela community about the project, together with flaws in the critical processes of identifying landowners entitled to a share of the windfall and concerns about how the benefits will ultimately be shared, are identified in the new report as potentially damaging concerns in a region infamous for volatility and violence.

Causing particular anxiety was that the failure – blamed largely on the PNG government – to facilitate a full landowner identification process and legislate around creating landowner companies threatened to ”undermine the LNGP and future progress”.

The report – to be launched in Canberra today by parliamentary secretary for Pacific island affairs Richard Marles – says that although the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project represents a significant opportunity for PNG, one which has already yielded benefits for some in local jobs and a boosted economy, these gains are at risk of being undermined if local disenchantment and simmering social tensions ignite the powderkeg Highlands region.

The report lays out a detailed examination of some of the challenges to development in a country such as PNG.
Despite its bountiful resources – PNG is an island of gold, floating in a sea of oil, surrounded by gas, so the ritual boast goes – in terms of exploitation the result over the years ”has at best been mixed, with few long-term benefits being passed on to the wider population”, the authors write.

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