Category Archives: America

Emma Alberici strikes again

EMMA ALBERICI: And the question is: can air strikes drive the Islamic State out of the Middle East? – The ABC’s Lateline programme on August 13, 2014

I KID you not. This was a serious question put to David Kilcullen, a so-called counter-insurgency expert, by Emma Alberici, one of the most glorious examples of incompetence at the Australian national broadcaster.

Now Alberici, one would assume, has some idea about the size of the Middle East. One would also assume that she is aware that in no conflict has air power, no matter how awesome, been able to drive an enemy out of a battle zone.

How did she ask such a dumb question?

Despite her stupidity, this is the woman chosen to front one of the ABC’s national programmes twice or thrice a week. She draws a salary of around $190,000 per annum and sits there, tilting her head from side to side, and asking stupid questions. And this is not the first time I have had occasion to point this out.

The discussion revolved around the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – which now calls itself Islamic State – a militant group which has made rapid gains in taking over towns and cities in Iraq, and some parts of Syria. It is also fighting in the south of Lebanon. The US has launched air strikes on the group to protect minority sects which are being terrorised and fleeing their residences.

The choice of Kilcullen to discuss matters relating to militancy is questionable. According to a genuine expert, Kilcullen was one of those, who along with John Nagl and other counter-insurgency “experts”, devised a strategy in Afghanistan that aimed to unite Afghans by trying to Westernise them via popular elections, installing women’s rights, dismantling tribalism, introducing secularism and establishing NGO-backed bars and whorehouses in Kabul. When the West finally leaves that war-torn country later this year, the Taliban will be back within another six months.

But let’s leave that alone; maybe the choice of Kilcullen was made by someone else. However, no matter who chooses the guest to be interviewed, it is the presenter’s choice to do some preparation and not end up looking stupid. Alberici is a master of the art of putting her foot in her mouth.

A week ago
, a young man named Steve Cannane presented Lateline. He had as his guest Martin Chulov, the Middle East correspondent for the Guardian. Chulov is an old hand in the Mideast and very sound on the subject. Cannane did not put a foot wrong; he had prepared well and asked intelligent questions. The whole interview was gripping and highly informative stuff.

And then we have Alberici. Why, oh why, can the ABC not find a better presenter? In the past, the likes of Maxine McKew and Virginia Trioli were excellent presenters on the same programme; Tony Jones does an adequate job on other nights of the week now.

What is the hold that Alberici has on the ABC top brass? She was a miserable failure at hosting a programme called Business Breakfast which gave many people indigestion. For that, she has been made the presenter of what is arguably the ABC’s second-most important news and current affairs programme after 7.30. At the ABC, it would appear, nothing succeeds like failure.

Rather than sell his budget, Tony is busy grandstanding to boost his poll numbers

WOULD Tony Abbott be indulging in all the grandstanding he is doing abroad if his government had brought down a budget that was, in the main, acceptable to the people and had cleared parliament with a few changes here and there?

One really has to wonder.

After the budget in May, the popularity of the prime minister dropped like a stone. Little wonder that this happened, given that the budget had several measures that would hit the poorer classes. All of it was done in the name of sorting out a budget crisis which the government insisted existed. Financial experts are still trying to find the reason for the use of the word “crisis”.

Three months later, the budget is still hanging around the government’s neck like an albatross. But Abbott’s poll numbers are up as he has grasped every possible chance to boost them.

The poll standings of any leader tend to rise during periods when the country is under threat. So Abbott has manufactured one; the Islamic militancy in Iraq and the emergence of Australian citizens playing a role in it has given him a handy prop.

He’s also announced a data retention scheme – though what will be retained is unclear. Never mind, it adds to security, says Abbott. The presence of the US State Secretary and Defence Secretary this week, for the annual bilateral ministerial talks, hasn’t hurt.

But before that, the downing of a Malaysian passenger plane, killing 298 people including 38 Australians, came as a godsend to Abbott. He fronted up to indulge in some chest-thumping and fuming against Russia, whom he accused of being responsible. The missile that shot down the plane came from an area in Ukraine which wants to revert to Russian control, hence Abbott’s claims.

Abbott made his foreign minister, Julie Bishop, a show-pony of the highest order, take the lead in pushing an UN security council resolution condemning Russia. And as soon as he could, he imposed sanctions on Moscow. Never mind that Russia’s retaliation, which cuts off something like $500 million of imports from Australia, is going to hurt a lot of small farmers.

Now Abbott has dashed off to the Netherlands, to express gratitude to the Dutch for taking the lead in getting the bodies of the plane crash victims back for examination.

Tony is also threatening to send troops to Iraq – for humanitarian reasons, he says, because the Islamic militants there are threatening a tribe called the Yazidis who live in the north. The fact that the US, which has begun bombing the militants to protect the Yazidis, has ruled out sending ground troops doesn’t bother Tony one bit.

There have been plenty of false leads thrown here and there but with the Murdoch media firmly in his pocket, Tony is going places.

And the budget? Oh, don’t bother, that’s Joe Hockey’s baby. Tony has bigger fish to fry.

When the US bombed Al Jazeera, were journalists not prevented from doing their jobs?

The moment a Western journalist is treated in the Middle East in a manner that is deemed to be different to that in his own country, the West does tend to get rather heavy on the moralising and judgemental pronouncements.

Peter Greste, a journalist for Al Jazeera, the TV network that has revolutionised coverage of the Arab world, was given a sentence of seven years jail on what seems to be trumped up charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood came to power in elections in Egypt after the so-called Arab Spring had resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak who, at one stage, looked like having a permanent mortgage on leading the country, either on his own or through his descendants.

Unfortunately, the Brotherhood began to do what all governments do – govern for themselves – and discontent grew among people who believed all the propaganda that had been spouted in the run-up to the elections. Finally, the military, sensing the mood and knowing that their intervention would be welcome, took over and installed Abdel Fattah Al Sisi as the ruler. One thing has changed – the chief financier. In the days of Mubarak, it was the US; the Brotherhood had a money tap in Qatar and the military that toppled it owes its sustenance to Saudi Arabia which abhors the sight of an administration run by the Brotherhood. The Al Saud know that the day that fundamentalists take power in the Miuslim world, it will spell the end of their own reign and hence they do whatever they can to keep this brand of Islam in the cupboard as far as possible.

Greste has been caught up in the middle of this political snakepit. Egypt’s current administration wants to send a message to Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, and that is what this is all about.

But in the midst of all the Western raving about the seven-year sentence meted out to Greste, one fact has not been mentioned: when Al Jazeera was doing some pretty robust reporting on the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Americans had no hesitation about bombing the rooms in which the staff of the TV network were staying. One journalist was killed. There was no hubbub at the time about the Americans getting in the way of journalists who were just doing their job. Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair were in on this act.

Of course, this is not the first time, the US has attacked Al Jazeera.

That same US is now crying foul about the sentences meted out to Greste and two of his colleagues and claiming that journalists should be allowed to do their jobs! So who showed Egypt the way?

That the US has no influence in the Middle East has never been demonstrated in a starker manner. The secretary of state, John Kerry, did try to intervene, but was brushed aside. Why should Sisi listen to someone when he has a money spigot that leads to someone else? The Saudis have indicated that they will prop up any government that keeps the Islamists at bay and Sisi is perfectly happy to do just that.

Iraq: the Americans sowed the wind and now the whirlwind has arrived

IRAQ was a curiously complicated country; one uses the past tense because of the turmoil the country is going through and the likelihood that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militia will ensure its break-up.

The tragedy that is unfolding had its genesis in the period after World War I when Britain and France sliced and diced up the Middle East, often at right angles, to satisfy imperial ambitions and reward those who had supported them during the conflict.

In the process, many tribes found themselves forced to join countries which were really not attuned to their beliefs or their culture. The classic example is the people who lived in the Shouf Mountains and the Bekaa Valley, areas which today are part of Lebanon. These people would have been much more at home in Syria but pressure on France by the Maronites for more land mass and population – these are always seen as guarantees against an invasion by a neighbour – resulted in them being made part of Lebanon.

When so many tribes which hate each other are crammed close to each other in a country, only a strongman, a dictator, can prevent civil war breaking out. Saddam Hussein performed this role admirably; and, apart from being brutal to his enemies and eliminating them clinically, he looked after his people pretty well. There was 95 per cent literacy in Iraq, every child was immunised, everybody had potable water, religious minorities were not harassed and the country was prosperous due to its oil wealth.

Once the Americans started lusting after the oil in Iraq, and invaded in 2003 under false pretenses, they destroyed the entire structure of government and all the strictures that Saddam had imposed. Every tribal leader could now say what he wanted and act it out too. All the old hostilities and hatred had a chance of free expression.

It is, thus, not surprising that various factions have taken the chance to express themselves and try to rule over the rest. The Shias have taken power and form the government which is now looking very shaky. Various other groups have indulged in violence to settle old scores.

And now, the grand encore, the ISIL is slowly taking over town by town and is close to Baghdad. ISIL is the rump of the Al Qaida movement in Iraq which was reduced greatly due to attacks by American forces who acted on intelligence provided by Sunni groups opposed to it. The rump moved into Syria and has been rejuvenated by the conflict in that country. Now it has moved back into Iraq.

No matter where the Americans put their fingers and try to meddle, they create nothing but a mess.

Gates: profit should not be the only motive. Yes, he said it

Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, giving the commencement address at Stanford.

Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, giving the commencement address at Stanford.

At the beginning of the year, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was making pronouncements about poverty coming to an end. Now, he is advising graduates at Stanford that profit should not be the only motive for innovating.

What is it with this man? Having made billions by unloading poor-quality software on the world by using monopolistic practices, why doesn’t he just buy an island somewhere, disappear into obscurity and stop his malign influence on others?

Or why not follow the example of fellow co-founder Paul Allen who has been quiet for most of his adult life?

Gates offered the advice when, along with his wife Melinda, he gave the commencement address at Stanford University on Sunday. This is the first time that a joint address has been given – but that doesn’t mean it was any better than the usual pap that is spouted on such occasions.

Both the Gates spoke of the admiration they had for Stanford and the “innovation” that emerges from its portals; at the same time, they told the students not to avoid tackling problems like disease and poverty because they could not profit from it.

This was the biggest joke of the 24-minute address. Every time I read something about Gates, his fortune seems to have increased by quite a large amount, despite his so-called philanthropic work. If he’s giving so much money away and not profiting from it, how come his bank balance seems to be growing so fast?

The truth of the matter is that Gates is into philanthropy because he is now bothered about his legacy. It is a good path to tread because it costs him nothing; indeed, it enriches him. Having used methods that bordered on the illegal to amasss a fortune, he now wants to be thought of as a good guy. Most people who have done shady things in their lifetime have similar desires – my favourite examples are Richard Milhous Nixon and Robert McNamara.

Philanthropy is a paying concern. Donate computers running Windows and Office to all and sundry – and when they come back for upgrades, your Microsoft stock will benefit. Gates still does own stock in the company he co-founded.

Investments in pharmaceutical companies ensure that when vaccines made by these companies are used in poor countries, the investor benefits. Of course, the investor can go around giving speeches in a whiny voice about how much good he is doing. The world, for the most part, swallows what the rich say hook, line and sinker.

Melinda Gates spoke about her interaction with poor people in India. Of course, when a rich woman tells a tale like this to students at one of the most privileged educational institutions, it goes down well. The reality of it is very distant. But her presence made for a much better photo opportunity; Gates, himself, cannot be exactly described as photogenic.

Years ago, I recall that two very photogenic women, Tansu Ciller, and the late Benazir Bhutto, who were at that time the prime ministers of Turkey and Pakistan respectively, visited Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war. Their picture appeared on the front pages of many newspapers the next day; I myself used the picture on the front page of the paper I was in charge of in the Middle East. It made no difference to the war. It looked good.

The same thing applies to all that Melinda Gates spoke about; she is as much committed to her husband’s agenda as he is. But you can only hide the reality by talking about the poor and under-privileged.

When Gates talks about innovation, does he really understand the meaning of that word? Microsoft has been a company that has copied things from others right through its existence, and paid to settle cases when matters went to court. There has been no innnovation – all that the company has done is take from others without acknowledging the source, and paying up only when forced to do so.

It speaks volumes for the kind of global society we have become that people like Gates are even called upon to speak to students. The man screwed up one generation; surely we can keep him from spoiling the next?

Writing the occasional article doesn’t make one a journalist

THE explosion of online publishing has seen a breed that knows little or nothing about journalism assume posts as editors, writers, and so on.

But when one comes to such positions without understanding the finer points of the craft – as those who have either worked for, or been trained in, full-time publishing ventures do – the danger of overstepping one’s bounds is very real.

Writing is a tricky business: English is a highly ambiguous language. That is just the beginning of the area where one can sink.

There is also the area of where one draws the line – there are very real laws against defaming and libelling people. Even veterans of journalism sometimes go a mite over the line and face problems.

There are some writers who make a habit of pushing the envelope – here, their editors have to serve as the sluice gates and reduce the chances of a legal issue arising.

In other cases, the editor should decide what is relevant to the story and not invade other areas which do not impact on the topic under consideration.

Caleb Hannan, a writer for Grantland, an online website that concerns itself with sport, and is affiliated with the ESPN sports network, appears to have made a habit of going too far, with disastrous results.

Recently, Hannan wrote a piece about the development of a golf club – and ventured into the background of the person behind the club, discovering that it was a transgender individual. A few days after publication, the transgender person committed suicide.

Hannan’s editor-in-chief (yeah, he’s that high up) Bill Simmons made a long explanation after the deed was done. And the site also ran a guest editorial detailing the problems with the piece.

The whole business is one that resembles a situation that would eventuate if a butcher was doing a tailor’s job: these people have little idea about journalism, they are just amateurs with great titles.

It’s a timely warning to all those who think they can publish and be damned.

As Australian Open winds down, where are the Americans?

THE Australian Open tennis tournament, the first of the four grand slams, is slowly coming to an end. The women’s finalists have been decided – Li Na of China will face Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia for the title.

Li went through with a victory over Canadian Eugenie Bouchard; Cibulkova thrashed Agnieska Radwanksa of Poland.

And on the men’s side, it will be Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland) or Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) against Roger Federer (Switzerland) or Rafael Nadal (Spain).
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TSA goons add to the US’ bad name

PUBLIC relations was born in the United States with its father being Edward Bernays, the grandson of Sigmund Freud. As a result the US is extremely good at projecting itself as this, that and the other.

But in recent years, no matter the excellence of the spin, the US is getting a bad name. And one of the agencies responsible for this is the Transport Security Administration.

The TSA was set up in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Its responsibilities are ostensibly to provide security for airlines and to screen passengers.

It does such a ham-handed job that it is universally hated. But it seems to revel in being disliked and, in fact, often tries to make itself more unpleasant than it needs to.
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US must take responsibility for the mess in Egypt

SOME people say that the US is always blamed for what happens in the Middle East. And they argue that laying blame in such a manner is not really justified.

But in the case of Egypt, the US must take the blame. There are no ifs and buts about it. The 400-odd people who have died would still be alive if the Obama administration had indicated clearly that it did not approve of the people’s choice of leaders being ousted in a coup.

That never happened. From the time the military ousted Mohammed Mursi, Obama and his cohorts began to indulge in semantics. By not condemning the coup, and even refusing to class it as one, the US clearly gave the military its support. Aid was not cut off as would have been necessitated had the Obama administration labelled the toppling of Morsi as a coup.
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Back to the good old Mubarak days in Egypt

SO Egypt’s mild flirtation with democracy a la West is over. And it is unlikely to ever return. It’s happened on a good day too – the US celebrates its independence day and Egypt celebrates military rule. What a coincidence!!!

The problem is that the West wants its own systems imposed on other countries – in order to benefit economically. The idea that one cannot bring in a Westminster system and superimpose it on a different model does not really register with people at the US state department.

Mohammed Mursi is from the Muslim Brotherhood. He may be less extreme in his thinking than others in the same movement. But, obviously, he has never been a candidate of choice for the folk in Washington.
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