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?

Australia’s medical research fund is made up of funny money

AUSTRALIA normally does not keep talking about its annual federal budget much longer than a week or 10 days. The populace is inclined to look to its own selfish needs and is largely oblivious to the bigger picture.

But this year is different. The budget was presented to parliament on May 13 and nearly a month later, the government is still struggling to sell it to the public.

This is because there are cuts aplenty, largely for the poor and middle-class, and these have not gone down well. The fees in universities will go up due to deregulation. Petrol costs will go up due to the re-introduction of indexation.

Funds to science bodies like the CSIRO have been cut – this is a cabonet which has no minister for science, yet talks of being the government of innovation.

To balance this, the government claims it will create a medical research fund which will reach $20 billion over six years. It is this fund that puzzles me – where does the money come from?

The government has introduced a $7 payment for the first 10 visits to a doctor and says that some part of this, plus other cuts to aspects of health will make up a $20 billion.

The cuts to the health sector are listed here. They are supposed to make up this huge amount. But it just doesn’t compute.

What I have done is to extrapolate the amounts and see how much they will raise over the six years till 2020.

The first amount listed is $197,100,000 being saved over three years. Doubling that gives us $394,200,000 over six years.

Then there are numerous amounts to be saved over four years:

2,300,000
9,900,000
200,000
142,000,000
115,400,000
53,800,000
400,000
2,900,000
367,900,000
201,000,000
390,000,000
89,600,000
4,400,000
14,400,000
229,000,000
1,800,000,000
15,200,000
22,800,000
9,600,000
1,300,000,000

Totalling up these amounts, one gets $4,925,200,000. Extrapolating for six years, one gets $7,387,600,000.

Then the following amounts are listed as being saved over five years.

6,400,000
266,700,000
1,700,000,000
3,500,000,000

Totalling them gives us $5,473,100,000. And working it out to six years, makes a figure of $6,567,720,000.

If all these sums are added up, we get $14,349,520,000. Let’s add a very generous amount of $2 billion as interest over the six years.

That gives us a rounded figure of $17 billion, tops. Where does the other $3 billion come from?