Feb 28, 2009

King county deputy recorded punching15 year old girl

King County deputy punching girl

Deputy Paul Schene is the latest cop to star on YouTube. Schene was caught on video brutally beating a minor.

The attack took place in a cell at suburban SeaTac City Hall in Seattle. The victim of the attack, a 15-year old girl, apparently annoyed Schene by kicking off her shoe in his direction. He backs the girl against a wall, grabs her hair and slams her to the floor. A second deputy appears and gets in on the action.

This is a criminal assault... a view supported by King County Prosecutor Daniel Satterberg who said "We believe this is beyond just a case of police misconduct, it's criminal misconduct. This is clearly excessive force."

Schene has previously been investigated for shooting two people, killing one of them. The incidents occurred in 2002 and 2006. Both times his actions were found to be justified, according to Ian Goodhew, prosecutor's deputy chief of staff.

After the incident in Seatac Hall medics were called when the girl complained of breathing problems.

She has been booked for investigation of auto theft, but pleads not guilty to taking a motor vehicle without permission. She has also been booked on third-degree assault. Seems her offense amounted to kicking off the shoe, and if there was more to it Schene was still in no way justified in using excessive force.

Assaulting a fifteen year old kid who has been restrained is about as low as it gets. Prosecutors say Schene had no explanation for why he struck the girl after he had her in the holding position.

More on the story - Huffington Post

European GM workers stage mass protest

Opel workers protest


Employees of GM subsidiaries in Europe took part in protests this week.

With General Motors struggling to survive in the economic downturn, employees of the company's European subsidiary Opel turned out in force in an effort to save their jobs. Workers gathered in Rüsselsheim near Frankfurt. where some 15,000 demonstrated at Opel's flagship factory. They were supported by 60,000 workers at Opel factories across Europe.


Photobucket


Photobucket


Photobucket


In addition to the Opel protests, workers were also set to walk out at Saab in Sweden, Vauxhall in the UK and at other factories in Austria, France, Spain and Hungary.

Some of the German protesters carried signs that echoed the words of Barack Obama, but with a twist - "Yes We Can, Without GM."

Part of the problem as the protesters see it is that GM built up overcapacity around the world without regard for losses. Head of the union IG Metall, Berthold Huber, said that GM has "... built models with the aerodynamics of a barn door and the weight of a small tank." He added that, given high fuel costs and growing unemployment, such cars are "as necessary as freezers at the North Pole."

Berlin is waiting for Opel and GM to present a plan to streamline the company before deciding how to proceed.

Related Der Spiegel article here.

Feb 27, 2009

Sarkozy's ex-wife to head up campaign against domestic violence

Cecilia Attias

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ex-wife, Cécilia Attias, is heading to the USA to work full time on a campaign that aims to curb domestic violence against women.

Cécilia married multi-millionaire businessman Richard Attias shortly after divorcing Sarkozy. She will be residing in New York where she will spearhead the Cécilia Attias Foundation for Women. She told Gala magazine she is making the move to the US in order to "give everything" to the foundation.

The cause chosen by Cécilia has fueled speculation about what actually went on behind closed doors when she was married to Sarkozy.

Sarkozy's temper has become a talking point. Carla Bruni recently said in an interview "A lot of people are scared of him, not just because of his position, but because of his temper. I don't think he ever had the time for la dolce vita. I showed him how."

It got bad at times between Sarkozy and his ex - bad enough that at one point Sarko had to make an exit from the home he shared with Cécilia in Neuilly-sur-Seine and spend cooling-off time with a friend. Police received notice of 'brutal exchanges'. No official action was taken but it was sufficiently serious that then interior minister, Francois Baroin, warned Sarkozy about the complaint.

Tensions in the marriage were made public. Cécilia refused to vote for Sarkozy in the presidential elections and then drove home the point with a no-show at his victory celebrations. Following this when she did appear in public she appeared tearful at times and distressed. She was briefly admitted to hospital and put on anti-depressants.

The vicious row that led to Sarkozy absenting himself from the home, is mentioned in the book Love, Rupture and Betrayal by the French author Hubert Coudurier.

In his book Coudurier gives an insight into Sarkozy's expectations of the women in his life.

For a period Sarkozy had a relationship with Anne Fulda, a political reporter for Le Figaro. She claims he was accustomed to 'being served' and would request that she get his things ready in the morning. When Fulda refused to comply, Sarko would complain "But Cécilia used to do it".

Coudurier's take on it: "The man of power often behaves like a child when he is told 'no'."

Feb 26, 2009

Swedish police investigate 'Anti-American' attacks in Sodertalje

anti-American attack Sweden

Swedish police said Thursday that arsonists had set four supermarkets on fire in the city of Sodertalje in what may be an anti-American attack. Three of the stores have been destroyed and a fourth damaged.

The supermarkets targeted on Thursday were branches of Willys, Ica and Tempo. The chains are all Swedish, but sell American goods.

Flyers have been showing up in Sodertalje urging people to target stores selling American goods. The flyers are signed by a network named Global Intifada. Last year the network claimed responsibility for two fires in Sodertalje.


Sodertalje


Sodertalje


Global Intifada is a loosely knit network - a self-described "network of independent groups and individuals". It uses the anarchist 'direct action' methods.

The term Global Intifada is thought to be linked to union activities and to the Palestinian activist, Andreas Malm - a former chairman of the syndicalist youth. The Syndicalist Youth League has been using the term "global intifada" since 2002. Prior to that it was used on a booklet published in 1993 by the anarchist organization Labor Front.

In 2003 and 2004 a series of incidents in Sweden were related to protests against the wars in Iraq and Chechnya. The Polish Consulate in Sundbyberg was targeted, also Bofors in Stockholm and Gothenburg, the arms company Aimpoint in Malmö and the Danish Embassy in Stockholm.

GI members are alleged to have been involved in a firebomb attack on automobiles belonging to the Danish and Russian Embassies in 2005. Denmark was targeted because of its support for the Iraq war and Russia, as a protest against the war in Chechnya.

Members of GI were also involved in a firebomb incident at the Defense Material Administration (FMV) in Stockholm, August 28 2006. The reason given for the attack was that FMV was engaged in trade with Israel.

Police say they have no suspects in the Sodertalje fires but are investigating whether an anti-American group was responsible. Swedish Security police are also involved in the investigation.

Sodertalje is an industrial town of around 60,000 people. It received worldwide attention in recent years after accepting nearly 6,000 Iraqi refugees.

Feb 25, 2009

Bobby Jindal blows it

Bobby Jindal exorcism


An article in the Daily Beast takes an intriguing look at Bobby Jindal's past - including info about his activities as an amateur exorcist bent on casting out Satan.

Whatever special powers Jindal might possess didn't come through for him on Tuesday night. His follow-up speech after Obama's major speech on the economy was less than inspirational. For some reason Jindal is something of a golden boy in certain Republican circles. It's hard to know what it is about him that excites enthusiasm.


Bobby Jindal


Jindal appeared on-camera following the president's address to Congress. Conservatives who were hoping for an oratorical blast that would take some of the sheen off Obama's speech were disappointed - instead they were treated to an amateurish effort.

American Spectator's Philip Klein wrote: "The substance of his speech read fine, but his delivery was absolutely awful. His delivery was flat and his jokes and anecdotes were awkward, his grin childish."

On Fox news, Juan Williams also had a stinging remark: “It came off as amateurish and even the tempo in which he spoke was sing-songy." Williams added: "He was telling stories that seemed very simplistic and almost childish.”

Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin was one of the few on the right with nice things to say about Jindal's sub-standard performance.

Jeff Crouere, a former executive director of the Louisiana GOP is quoted in the Daily Beast article. According to Crouere, Jindal is right up there in the party ranks alongside Palin and Romney. Crouere even described him as 'the rock star of the Republican Party.'

Stories from Jindal's early years make interesting reading. His given name was Piyush. He decided to adopt "Bobby" after watching a particularly enthralling episode of the The Brady Bunch.

When he converted to Christianity, his Hindu parents were less than enthusiastic. In describing their reaction he says - “My parents have never truly accepted my conversion and still see my faith as a negative that overshadows my accomplishments...”.

While attendeding Brown University Jindal became something of a Christian zealot, even to the point of grappling with the powers of 'evil' in what can only be described as a hands-on fashion. In an article titled “Beating a Demon: Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare” that appeared in a Catholic magazine, Jindal reflects on his struggle to free a classmate named Susan from the grip of Satan.

We are informed that 'sulfuric scents' hung over Susan wherever she went. When Susan collapsed on the floor during a prayer meeting, the exorcist-within leaped into action as Jindal cried out “Satan, I command you to leave this woman!”

Daily Beast:

While under the supposed control of satanic demons, Susan lashed out at Jindal and his friends. “Whenever I concentrated long enough to begin prayer, I felt some type of physical force distracting me,” Jindal reflected. “It was as if something was pushing down on my chest, making it very hard for me to breathe… I began to think that the demon would only attack me if I tried to pray or fight back; thus, I resigned myself to leaving it alone in an attempt to find peace for myself.”

Rick Santorum: Islamic expert... not

Rick Santorum

Senator Rick Santorum who has a wire about himself at the best of times, has been putting himself forward as a self-appointed expert on Islam. He recently delivered "a lecture on Islam" no less at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In the course of the lecture he said that the Qur'an is written in Islamic. This is a bit like saying the Bible is written in Christian or that the Talmud is written in Jewish. Islam is of course the religion. The Qur'an is written in Arabic.

The Senator has attracted quite a few political enemies over the years. Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, after sharing the floor with Santorum for the first three weeks of his term in the Senate, remarked "Santorum - That's Latin for asshole."

YouTube link here.

Santorum informs audience Qur'an is written in Islamic

 Rick Santorum fancies himself as an Islam expert

Feb 24, 2009

The Jews of Iran

Jews of Iran

The view most people have of Iran in the west has been heavily conditioned by media coverage that tends to play up the 'mad mullah' stereotype and the alleged horror-awaiting-us if Iran gets the bomb.

Contrary to common perception, Iran has a long track record of peaceful co-existence with its neighbors. The war against Iraq was brought about by Saddam's provocations, backed by America.

In an article titled "What Iran's Jews Say" writer Roger Cohen sheds light on a country that is in many ways complex and paradoxical. Judging Iran simply by the rhetoric of its leaders is too easy... too convenient. Reducing Iran to a caricature suits the purposes of people eager to paint the country as a threat.

Along with others I've had concerns about human rights violations in Iran. The treatment of homosexuals and religious minorities such as the Baha'i community for example. But such policies lie in the realm of officialdom. Iran has another face. Cohen captures a side of the country and its culture that people in the west too rarely see.

There is a large Jewish population in Iran, estimated to be around 25,000. There are more than a dozen synagogues in Tehran alone.

At the beginning of the article the writer mentions a synagogue in Esfahan with a banner over the entrance that reads : "Congratulations on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution from the Jewish community of Esfahan."

Okay, so maybe the Jews living amongst a multitude of Muslims are just doing what it takes to survive. Not exactly. There seems to be a genuine respect, even warmth between Iranian Jews and their Muslim customers and neighbors. Much in the way of the civilized graces.

Cohen paid a visit to an antique dealer named Soleiman Sedighpoor, 61 years of age. When he asked Sedighpoor if he was bothered by the occasional chants of "Death to Israel" - the dealer's response was surprising to say the least: "Let them say 'Death to Israel. I've been in this store 43 years and never had a problem. I've visited my relatives in Israel, but when I see something like the attack on Gaza, I demonstrate, too, as an Iranian."

Three paragraphs in Cohen's article should be read by anyone hasty to leap to judgment on the subject of Iran, because importantly this opinion comes from a Jew who is speaking from personal experience:

Still a mystery hovers over Iran's Jews. It's important to decide what's more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations - or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshiping in relative tranquility.

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran - its sophistication and culture - than all the inflammatory rhetoric.

That may be because I'm a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran. Or perhaps I was impressed that all the fury over Gaza, trumpeted on posters and Iranian television, never spilled over into insults or violence toward Jews. Or perhaps it's because I'm convinced the "Mad Mullah" caricature of Iran and likening of any compromise with it to Munich 1938 - a position popular in American Jewish circles - is misleading and dangerous.

When Cohen asked a man named Morris Motamed, if as a Jew he felt used... a quisling... Motamed replied "I don't. In fact I feel deep tolerance here toward Jews." Motamed also referred to the "double standards" that allow Israel, Pakistan and India to have a nuclear bomb, but not Iran.

On this point Cohen elaborates:

Double standards don't work any more; the Middle East has become too sophisticated. One way to look at Iran's scurrilous anti-Israel tirades is as a provocation to focus people on Israel's bomb, its 41-year occupation of the West Bank, its Hamas denial, its repetitive use of overwhelming force. Iranian language can be vile, but any Middle East peace - and engagement with Tehran - will have to take account of these points.


This is an important article written from a perspective we rarely get in the media.

For Roger Cohen's article in full - link here

Photos beneath feature scenes from a synagogue in Tehran.

Jews of Iran



Jews of Iran



Jews of iran

Seven Jewish Children: anti-Semitic accusations

Seven Jewish Children

The play Seven Jewish Children was performed recently at the Royal Court theater in London. It is a short play, just ten minutes long and it has been labeled by some critics as anti-Semitic.

The play by Caryl Churchill, covers short scenes marking time periods in the history of Israel, from the Holocaust through to the present day. It can be seen as a theatrical response to the violence in Gaza. It is written from the standpoint of Israeli families. Parents and grandparents debate how much children should be told... how much they should know of what is going on.

Churchill has succeeded in condensing essential truths about the conflict. Self-preservation becomes a dominant theme, to the point of justifying acts of barbarity... "Tell her we're the iron fist now, tell her it's the fog of war, tell her we won't stop killing them till we're safe".

The play reflects reality. Security in Israel is being used as justification for acts of militarized violence that have resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties. Yet in Israel reports of the deaths of Palestinian civilians are greeted with callous indifference by many, even with celebration in some quarters. Hearts have been hardened to such a degree that Israeli news readers who showed empathy toward the victims were singled out for criticism. In one case the Channel One anchor Yonit Levy was made the target of an online poll to blast her for showing empathy for Palestinians. The poll drew 30,000 respondents before it was shut down.

Israel apologists in the UK such as Melanie Phillips and Howard Jacobson have suggested that Seven Jewish Children is anti-Semitic. Israel can apparently engage with impunity in acts of militarized violence that scandalize the world, while an eight minute play that reflects moral outrage is "a problem."

The anti-Semitic slur is too often used as a form of political intimidation. It risks undermining freedom of speech by attempting to create linkage between criticism of Israel and anti-Jewish motivations. Yet another exception we are supposed to grant Israel - a state that in the eyes of some can do no wrong - even as voters in that country raise the racist Avigdor Lieberman to a position of national prominence.

Feb 22, 2009

Italy: citizen patrols raise fears of vigilantism

Italian citizen patrols

In Italy Berlusconi's cabinet has given the go-ahead for mayors to enrole citizen patrols to combat crime. Local officials will be tasked with organizing the patrols.

There have been a number of sexual assaults recently in Italy allegedly carried out by immigrants. The incidents have been used by anti-immigrant factions out to whip up xenophobia amid calls for a crackdown.

Violent incidents directed against immigrants have increased in Italy. Roma camps have also been targeted by gangs of thugs. Lega Nord (the Northern League) has helped to fuel much of the anti-immigrant feeling despite its laughable claims to be non-racist and non-violent. A while back League head, Umberto Bossi, referred to African immigrants as "bingo-bongos" and suggested opening fire on the boats of illegal immigrants.

Lega Nord racist poster
Northern League poster

Another League xenophobe in a class of his own is the former mayor of Treviso Giancarlo Gentilini... read some of the unbelievable comments this guy has made over the years - here.

Giancarlo Gentilini
Gentilini the crusader waving sword

The backlash against immigrants even extended recently to cuisine. Foreign foods have become as suspect as foreigners. The food offensive began in Lucca, where the council banned any new ethnic food outlets from opening - details here.

Given the climate that currently exists in Italy, anyone who believes that citizen patrols will just be benign back-ups to the local constabulary is being extremely naive. Even police unions in Italy have warned that the decree will encourage vigilante behavior.

Feb 21, 2009

Mexico: drug war spinning out of control

Mexican army and drug war

More than 5,400 people were killed in drug war related violence in Mexico last year. The violence has been exacerbated by Mexican President Calderón's decision to send in the troops. There have been incidents in which enforcement units have been fighting each other, with one or other group in the pay of the traffickers.

In the past Calderón has made efforts to crack down by conducting purges. In 2007 he purged 284 federal police commanders, including federal commanders of all 31 states and the federal district. In 2008 'Operation Cleanup' resulted in officials being arrested and charged with selling information or protection to the cartels.

These measures are bandaids that don't get to the root of a problem that tracks back to Washington. It is a policy failure - a view supported by César Gaviria of Colombia who said: "The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war."

Former US drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffery, has been talking in dire terms about Mexico devolving into a narco state. The US joint Chiefs of Staff take a similarly bleak view. In their report - The Joint Operating Environment 2008 - they warn that Mexico is one of two countries liable to become failed states. The other country mentioned is Pakistan.

Tomás Ayuso, Mexico analyst for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, has also been sounding the alarm:

If this isn't addressed now, Mexico could really descend into chaos. The drug cartels have virtually unlimited funding, their coffers are overflowing. The shadow economy in which they operate is booming, their operatives are armed to the teeth, and the next step is to set up a shadow government. It's very easy for them to influence people. They say: 'Accept our bribes or we'll kill you and your family.''


The Washington-led war on drugs is not the answer.

Meanwhile the death toll continues to rise. One of the cities most seriously impacted by the plague of killings is Ciudad Juarez. It is a city on the US-Mexican border. Recently the police chief stepped down after the gangs acted on a threat to kill one of his officers every two days until he quit.

Link here for more detail on the drug wars at Alternet.

Lior Shlein: Israeli Channel 10 host mocks Jesus

Lior Shlein

Christianity has been taking a few hits in Israel. Recently I posted on a story via Haaretz of religious Jews in Jerusalem who have been accused of spitting at Christians. In a recent case, flying spittle was aimed at a cross carried in a procession by Armenian Christians. In the subsequent brawl the 17th century cross was broken.

This week a show on Channel 10, one of Israel's three main TV stations, drew attention around the world by ridiculing and 'blaspheming' Jesus and Mary.

The show was hosted by well-known Israeli comedian Lior Shlein. Mary is described as an unwed mother who got knocked up at 15 by a classmate. Jesus was too fat to have walked on water, in fact "he was so fat he was ashamed to leave the house, let alone go to the Sea of Galilee with a bathing suit."

Some of this is a reaction to the Pope's decision to reinstate Bishop Richard Williamson who claimed during an interview broadcast on Swedish TV that no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust and that only 200,000 or 300,000 were killed. Shlein said that his sarcasm was "a lesson" to those Christians who deny the Holocaust. A misdirected reaction at best because Williamson is hardly representative of Christian views - in fact he would be viewed as a crank by most.

The Vatican's representative in Israel has lodged a complaint about the show. However the Israeli government's hands are tied on the matter to some extent because Channel 10 is a private station.

A few dozen Christian residents of Galilee held a protest against the late night talk show, and claimed Shlein had insulted their religion.

Christianity - religion in general - is a legitimate target for satire. But this episode isn't just about religion, it has broader political implications. Christian Americans are Israel's greatest backers. I wonder how Shlein's sarcasm is going over with them? Imagine a goy comedian with an attitude about Israel, mocking the Jewish religion and its God along the same lines on a major American network. He/she would be branded anti-Semitic and worse.

All those starry eyed American Christians with an unquestioning devotion to Israel are more than a little naive. Truth is, there are quite a few Israeli Jews who think Christianity is a joke. It just takes an episode like the Williamson affair for some of the underlying attitudes to surface.

Feb 20, 2009

Lieberman backs Netanyahu for PM

Avigdor Lieberman

Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of center-right Likud party, is on track to become Israel's next Prime Minister. On Thursday Netanyahu's position was strengthened when the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor 'the sphinx from Minsk' Lieberman offered his support.

Lieberman's support didn't come easily. According to Haaretz, in an earlier phone conversation Lieberman refused to come across with his support. It was only after Netanyahu threatened him in a message sent by a mutual friend that Lieberman agreed to come onside. The message warned Lieberman that if he didn't come through, he would find himself outside the government.

Netanyahu has been making noises about forming a broad coalition, but Livni doesn't appear willing to play along. She is threatening to go into opposition.

There was talk of a secular coalition of Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu, 70 MK's in all with no Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. A more secular arrangement would suit Lieberman, he's not a fan of the Orthodox.

He has been carrying a grudge against Shas' spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef because the latter branded him "Satan" during the election campaign. Word is the sphinx is looking for a chance to get revenge.

On Sunday Netanyahu is meeting with Livni for coalition talks.

One of the best analysis I've read of Lieberman and what he stands for, comes from the Israeli activist and writer Uri Avnery in an article titled Dirty Socks:

Liberman has created a party that is simply and thoroughly racist. Its election campaign is centered on the demand to annul the Israeli citizenship of “non-loyal” people. Meaning: the Arabs, who constitute 20% of Israel’s citizens.

In every other country, Liberman’s program would be called fascist, without quotation marks. Nowhere in the Western world is there a large party that would dare to advance such a demand. The neo-fascists in Switzerland and Holland want to expel foreigners, not to annul the citizenship of the native-born.

The core of the party is made up of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom have brought from their homeland an utter contempt for democracy, a desire for a strong leader (a Stalin or a Putin), a racist attitude towards brown-skinned citizens and a taste for brutal, Chechnya-style wars. They have now been joined by young, native-born Israelis, who have been radicalized by the recent war.

When Joerg Haider was taken into the Austrian cabinet, Israel recalled its ambassador from Vienna in protest. But compared to Liberman, Haider was a raving liberal, and so is Jean-Marie le Pen.

Avnery says that "Fascism has become a serious player in the Israeli public domain. The three main parties have now legitimized it. This phenomenon must be stopped before it is too late."

The next couple of years in the region with Netanyahu at the helm are liable to be eventful.

New incarnation of the Israeli right

Feb 19, 2009

Christopher Hitchens takes a beating in Beirut

Christopher Hitchens takes a beating

There is a touch of the masochist in Christopher Hitchens. Not so long ago he volunteered to be waterboarded and looks, even on good days, like someone who has been beaten up by a few bottles the night before - but most people wouldn't add "stupid" to his list of character traits.

Seems though while in Beirut at the invitation of the Harri-Saudi group, Hitchens came across a poster for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and decided to deface it - allegedly with the words "fuck the SSNP".The abu muqawama website has an update on the incident:

Update: This story has now been confirmed. Look, it's widely known that since the May 2008 events the SSNP guys have behaved like thugs in Hamra (where the ass-kicking took place). But seriously, would you roll into East L.A. and start writing over gang signs? I mean, is that smart? C'mon, Brother Hitchens, we're rootin' for you, but have a little walkin' around sense. He was probably at De Prague. Where the wait staff is, like, 90% SSNP. Abu Muqawama's Top Three West Beirut Watering Holes: 1. Barometre (cheap arak, great fattoush); 2. Captain's Cabin; 3. Danny's. (In response to a reader, the great Chez Andre closed sometime a little over a year ago. That hole-in-the-wall was great.)


Sounds as though Hitchens was in the wrong area and was being watched when he began scrawling. This is a bit like going pubbing in a loyalist area of Belfast back in the day and defacing a UVF mural with local hard men loitering outside a pub watching. Hitchens may not have been heard from again - so all things considered he got off fairly lightly.

But poster defacement wasn't the only provocation offered by Hitchens. He also got into a brawl with backers of the pro-Syrian SNPN. Word is Hitchens insulted their flag and received gashed knuckles and bruises in the subsequent brawl. I have to admit, it's hard to imagine Hitchens "brawling" more like flailing. He looks so out of condition you wonder if a lively TV debate might do him in.

The Angry Arab news service says he has been left with a bit of a limp. Nothing I'm sure that a few scotches won't take care of.

Feb 18, 2009

Peter Mandelson slams Starbucks boss

Schultz Starbucks

On the business TV channel CNBC, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said that "the UK is in a spiral" and consumer confidence is 'very, very poor'. Times are tough all around, but few Brits want to receive a diagnosis from coffee-king Schultz, least of all UK business secretary Peter Mandelson.

The comments by Schultz infuriated Mandelson who hit back with a few choice words:

"Who the fuck is he? How the hell are they (Starbucks) doing?"

Mandelson was in New York recently. His remarks were made in front of journalists outside the official residence of the British consul-general. Mandelson said Schultz was spreading unnecessary misery and speaking out of turn.

The comments are typical of Schultz. He has waded into politics in the past, in particular with comments on the conflict in the Middle East. Some activists have dubbed Starbucks coffee "Zionist coffee" with calls for a boycott against the company. Schultz' politicking could well be one of the reasons his company profits are down.

Starbucks revealed a 69% plunge in profits over three months to December. This month the company announced it is closing 300 coffee shops.

Mandelson noted the drop in Starbucks profits in comments he made on CNBC, shortly after Schultz appeared on the show:

The UK is not spiralling, although I've noticed Starbucks is in a great deal of trouble – but that might be because of their over-expansion given the state of the market.

So please don't project Starbucks on to the UK economy as a whole.

There are larger problems with the system itself. It was after all the poorly regulated 'cowboy' market in the US that helped to precipitate the nosedive. Happy days definitely won't be returning any time soon - mocha java or not.

Guardian article on the story here.

Feb 17, 2009

Elizabeth Wong: nude photos surface on internet

Elizabeth Wong

Elizabeth (Eli) Wong, a prominent and well respected Malaysian opposition legislator, has offered to resign after photos of her asleep in the nude circulated on the internet without Wong's knowledge or consent. The photos were taken with a cellphone - some reports implicate an unnamed ex-boyfriend.

Ms Wong described the photo-sabotage as an attempt to discredit her party.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the People's Justice Party has told Ms Wong to take an extended leave. It announced that the party would decide at a later date whether to accept her resignation from the central Selangor state assembly.

The leader of the PJP, Anwar Ibrahim, has himself been the target of sex smears. He was accused of sodomy of two occasions. There are suspicions that members of the governing circle had a hand in targeting Wong.

Lurid accusations are nothing new in Malaysian politics - details here.

Elizabeth Wong's supporters don't want to see her resign, but the party is likely calculating what the political fall-out might be. Perhaps they are letting some time pass to see how the incident plays out. She appears to be willing to defer to her party in the matter and will proceed accordingly.

The best comment on the affair via Malaysian news sources came from Ivy Joseph, Women's Aid Organization president. She said:

"If whoever behind this thinks that they have succeeded in humiliating Elizabeth Wong, they're wrong! They have humiliated themselves through this vile, despicable and irrelevant act."

Link here to Eli Wong's blog where she states her position in a recent post.

Running for office in Malaysia

Sex scandals in Malaysia

Feb 16, 2009

Billions of Iraq reconstruction dollars missing

misused cash in Iraq

In what is being described as the makings of the greatest fraud story in US history, senior US military officers are being investigated in the misuse of $125 billion - funds directed toward the reconstruction of Iraq.

A report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests that the amount of money missing could be in excess of $50 billion.

An article in the UK Independent quotes a US businessman active in Iraq since 2003 as saying: "I believe the real looting of Iraq after the invasion was by US officials and contractors, and not by people from the slums of Baghdad."

Independent:

In one case, auditors working for SIGIR discovered that $57.8m was sent in "pallet upon pallet of hundred-dollar bills" to the US comptroller for south-central Iraq, Robert J Stein Jr, who had himself photographed standing with the mound of money. He is among the few US officials who were in Iraq to be convicted of fraud and money-laundering.

Despite the vast sums funneled into reconstruction since 2003 , there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline - except those working on the new US embassy.

Iraqi leaders have believed for some time that the misappropriation of reconstruction money involved corrupt US officials. Ali Allawi went so far as to say that Iraq was "becoming like Nigeria in the past when all the oil revenues were stolen". They believe US officials were in on the racket - possibly using Iraqi appointees as front-men in shady deals.

Independent:

In 2004-05, the entire Iraq military procurement budget of $1.3bn was siphoned off from the Iraqi Defence Ministry in return for 28-year-old Soviet helicopters too obsolete to fly and armoured cars easily penetrated by rifle bullets. Iraqi officials were blamed for the theft, but US military officials were largely in control of the Defence Ministry at the time and must have been either highly negligent or participants in the fraud.


A US businessman named Dale C. Stoffel who was murdered after leaving the US base at Taiji north of Baghdad in 2004 made accusations of corruption. His evidence is now being re-examined.

Stoffel claimed that a network of bribery existed that involved companies and US officials. He said that bribes in the tens of thousands of dollars were regularly delivered in pizza boxes and sent to US contracting officers.

Dresden: neo Nazis mark anniversary of allied bombing

neo-Nazis in Dresden

Saturday was the 64th anniversary of the allied bombing of Dresden. For years neo-Nazis have used the anniversary as an occasion to stage a "march of mourning."

Dresden has become a symbol for neo-Nazis, a rallying point. They refer to the air assault on the city as a "Bomb Holocaust" and claim hundreds of thousands were killed. The official count is around 25,000.

This year neo-Nazis showed up in force - estimates put the number as high as 8,000.

A Guardian article captures the mood:


Large numbers of riot police were drafted into Dresden as several hundred anti-fascists hurled abuse at the far-right marchers and shouted: "Nazis out!"

The neo-Nazis marched to the music of Wagner and Bach, blaring from loudspeakers. As they crossed the Elbe towards the old city, they encountered several hundred anti-fascists. The organisers merely turned up the volume and played the Ride of the Valkyries.


A counter-protest that included leaders from the Greens, Social Democrats and Left Party attracted 10,000. People from across Germany answered the call from church organizations, political parties and trade unions to come out and demonstrate against the neo-Nazis.

Beneath are photos from Saturdays events in Dresden:


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Neo-Nazis gathering in Dresden


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Police attempt to keep the neo-Nazis and
counter-demonstrators apart.

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Attempts to block the neo-Nazi march


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Opposing groups face off in the inner city close to the
Zwinger Palace and Semper opera house


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Counter demonstrators out in force


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Reps from the Greens, Left Party and
Social Democrats took part


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Nazis : Nein danke! (no thank you!)


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Anti-Nazi protesters clash with police


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Feb 15, 2009

Avi Mizrahi: comments anger Turkey

Avi Mizrahi

Israeli ambassador Gabby Levi was summoned to Turkey's foreign ministry in Ankara Saturday to explain comments made by Major General Avi Mizrahi. During a speech at the Gelilot military base Mizrahi accused Turkey of oppressing Kurds and Armenians.

This was perceived as a shot aimed at Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan walked out of the Davos Economic Forum following a spat with Israeli President Peres, during which Erdogan made pointed criticisms of Israeli actions in Gaza.

After the Davos incident, Mizrahi's comments were a bit like throwing gas on simmering embers. He said Erdogan should "look at himself" before criticizing others - a reference to the Armenian genocide - long a touchy subject for Turks. He also said that Turkey should be removed from the UN.

Turkey's military said the remarks "cannot be accepted under any condition" and "can harm national interests between the two countries."

The IDF has issued a statement saying Mizrahi's views do not represent their position.

On returning home after his dramatic departure from Davos, Erdogan was hailed as a "Conquering hero." His stance in Davos has drawn praise from all quarters of the Islamic world. Demonstrators in Yemen and Syria took to the streets holding up his pictures The mayor of Tehran even named Erdogan an honorary citizen of the city.

Mizrahi's comments will likely add to the already strained relations between Israel and Turkey.

Hampshire College divests from Israel

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On Feb 7 the board of trustees of Hampshire College in Massachusetts approved a proposal that would divest school assets from an investment fund that includes companies that violate the college's standards of social responsibility. Violations cited include unfair labor practices, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing and unsafe workplaces.

The proposal resulted from a review of the college's investments by Students for Justice in Palestine. A spokesperson for the campus group said more than 800 students, professors, and alumni signed a petition calling for the divestment, which was presented to trustees.

University officials say that the decision to divest from the fund was made "without reference to any country or political movement".

However the SJP group released a statement that heralded the move as "the first of any college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies on the grounds of their involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine." They also named six companies on the list complicit in the occupation - Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corp., Motorola and Terex.

Hampshire was the first college to divest from the South African apartheid system in the 1970's. As with S. Africa back in the day, a broad movement has been taking shape on college campuses protesting Israeli policies toward Palestinians and calling for divestment.

Students at Hampshire who led the campaign drew negative attention from none other than Zionist apologist Alan Dershowitz.

You can link here for the account of Dershowitz' odd phone outreach.

Arkansas House OK's bill that would allow guns in churches

pistol packing Jesus

The Arkansas House has approved a bill that would allow concealed guns in churches. The bill would remove churches and other houses of worship from the list of places where concealed handguns are banned.

Representative Beverly Pyle who sponsored the bill, said she introduced the measure after a number of church shootings across the country.

In defending the bill, Pyle said that citizens should be given the right to defend themselves if a situation occurs in a church. She said that at least 20 states have introduced similar laws that allow churches to choose whether or not to allow concealed guns.

Nathan Petty, a pastor at Grove Baptist Church in Fordyce presented legislators with a petition from 40 preachers who support the bill.

Pastors are divided on the issue. John Phillips, a pastor opposed to the bill, thinks that guns in churches could exacerbate potentially volatile situations.

This is a uniquely American debate because in other parts of the world the idea of parishioners singing "Rock of Ages" with concealed Glocks, Colts, Magnums and Smith & Wessons would be beyond bizarre.

In parts of the US violence and the expectation-of-violence has become woven into the fabric of life. It comes as no surprise that some worshipers might feel more comfortable showing up for service with their trusty firearm.

Jesus of the New Testament is on record teaching non-violence. Gun-toting American Christians sends a message that comes close to making a mockery of the faith they profess. But apparently pro-bill pastors can live with the inherent contradiction.

Currently in Arkansas, holders of concealed weapons permits can take their guns anywhere they want except bars and houses of worship. The bill in the state Senate would let churches decide for themselves whether weapons should be allowed.

Just a little add-on

Some evangelicals want guns in churches in the USA

Feb 14, 2009

American Jews protest outside the World Zionist Organization

jewish protest

There are those who believe that if you are critical of the state of Israel, you are to some degree anti-Semitic. The problem with this line of thinking is that many Jews have profound issues with Zionism and the state of Israel, yet proudly call themselves Jewish.

Jewishness and Zionism are not synonymous or even necessarily compatible.

Throughout the Gaza campaign I have been inspired by the conviction and courage of Jews who stood up and said "not in our name."

Yesterday in New York, over 1,000 Jews demonstrated outside the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency against Israel’s policies in Gaza.

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