Category Archives: America

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. A couple of people were killed. There was no hubbub at the time about the Americans getting in the way of journalists who were just doing their job.

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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Pursuing Armstrong: a journo’s tale of triumph

WHEN journalists criticise something repeatedly, those who read their offerings tend to conclude that the journalist in question has a dislike of the person or people at the heart of that issue – and that is the reason for the criticism.

But that is often not the case.

Irish journalist David Walsh was probably the only one of his tribe to be critical of Lance Armstrong when the American, on his return to professional racing after recovering from testicular cancer, won the Tour de France in 1999.

Walsh took the stand he did because he loved the sport. And he hated the idea that it was being ruined by people ingesting this drug or that and winning without deserving it.

The 1999 event was dubbed the “tour of renewal” following the drugs scandal that hit the event in 1998, when the Festina team was caught with something akin to a drugstore in a van.

But Walsh, noting that Armstrong had recorded speeds even faster than those in 1998, and also gained an incredible advantage over the rest during the most difficult climb of the Tour, reasoned that there had to be more to the story. Armstrong was not known as a climber, but even if he had been proficient in this aspect of cycling, the time he recorded was incredible.

In his recent book, Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong, Walsh tells the story of the problems he faced by taking what others saw to be a stance against Armstrong.

The book is written well and shows the depth of love that Walsh has for cycling, and sport in general. He was fortunate to have a highly supportive sports editor who backed him to the hilt and prevented him from going overboard when the Armstrong issue became an obsession.

Armstrong used every tactic in the book to discredit those whom he perceived to be against him; he would threaten, blackball and use lawsuits when he could. He did what he could to tarnish Walsh’s reputation and blacken his name.

Walsh traces the whole affair from its inception, tells of those who stood against Armstrong – people like US cyclist Greg LeMond and Betsy Andreu, the wife of another pro cyclist, Frankie Andreu. Then there was Emma O’Reilly, a masseuse with Armstrong’s team, who was made out to be little more than a whore by Armstrong when she lifted the curtain about his use of drugs.

Walsh is an old-school journalist, a man with principles. Chasing the story took a toll on him and his family, yet he did not give up. As LeMond put it, he knew that Armstrong’s win in 1999 had either to be the comeback of the century or else the fraud of the century.

As we all know, it turned out to be the latter. Earlier this year, some months after he had been stripped of his titles following an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency, a stony-faced Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he had cheated all through his seven wins.

He lied in that he did not confess to using drugs on his comeback in 2009 – when evidence clearly indicates he did. The statute of limits for legal action is five years – and that’s why Armstrong continues to lie about this.

Walsh’s story serves as encouragement to journalists in a world where telling the truth in print, the web or on TV is becoming increasingly more difficult. It is also an uplifting tale for anyone else, a story that reminds us that there are still people of integrity left in a world increasingly filled with frauds.

Giving women false hope

ONE of the characteristics of the internet age is the lack of thought that is evident in peoples’ reaction to events.

Somehow everyone feels the need to react quickly. This may well be due to the fact that we have grown used to instantaneous gratification.

So many things that once took a long time to obtain or see, are now available at the click of a mouse. It creates a false sense of expectation and also a sense that life can always be lived at that pace.

Thus it is not surprising to see the reactions to the article by actress Angelina Jolie in the The New York Times, announcing that she had undergone a double mastectomy so that she could reduce the chance that she would die of breast cancer.

Nobody has a thoughtful word, everybody has become part of a cheer squad.

Jolie writes that she has the BRCA1 gene and her doctors had estimated that she had a 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Her mother, she writes, died of breast cancer at the age of 56 and she says she can now tell her children that they don’t need to fear they will lose to her to this form of cancer.

Inherent in this statement is the claim, though not overtly, that Jolie has increased her lifespan. But is that really true? Can a human being cheat death? Can we put off the day of reckoning, the day when the grim reaper arrives?

I fear very much that this false impression is being given to whoever reads Jolie’s article. And it is wrong. We all have a time appointed to die. And even if we encase ourselves in concrete, to protect ourselves from any kind of injury, death will come, right on time.

One may even be able to cheat taxes. But not death.

There are a few other disturbing things in Jolie’s essay. She writes that breast cancer kills 458,000 women every year, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Can women from these countries ever entertain the thought of having a gene scan to find out their chances of dying of breast cancer?

The breast cancer genes are patented by a company known as Myriad Genetics and it controls the test for the genes. The test can be done only in the US – a doctor in Australia told a close relative this recently – and it costs a good amount, in excess of $US3000. Certainly, no woman in a poor or developing country would be able to even dream about having the test done.

Not only can Jolie afford to have the test done, she can also get the best possible silicone job after the mastectomy to ensure that, outwardly, everything looks as it was before. Her career will not suffer. Her essay tends to give false hope to many women.

Was there really a need to publicise this in the way it has been done? If it was a matter of reassuring her children would it not have been better kept within the confines or her own family? One wonders.

Given the politically correct era we live in, most people do not dare to contradict anything a woman says or does. Apparently, there can never be a case when a woman says or does something that is wrong, immoral, deceitful or illogical. The response is always that the person who is critical is being so because the speaker/writer is a woman.

Another view of Jolie’s act is here.