Syria

Stop The War: Parroting The Arguments Of A Thuggish Putin

The premier antiwar movement in Britain, the Stop the War Coalition, are in a bit of a bind.

They owe their existence to campaigning against the invasion of Iraq. They actively campaign on the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Yet for years they were silent on Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians. For the first years of the Assad dictatorship campaign of mass murder not a word of criticism was heard from Britain’s Stop the War Coalition.

They were always very quick to criticise British and US governments, but could barely mumble a single scornful word against Assad.

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Nevertheless, this time around they have learnt their lesson.

So instead of shuffling their feet and talking about anything else they have issued a statement on the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s military involvement in the Crimea.

It is a pitiful piece, that could have been written by one of Putin’s trusted advisers. It is basically soft propaganda for the Russian regime, full of disjointed arguments and non sequiturs

The Economist has thankfully fisked it:

8) The historical divisions within Ukraine are complex and difficult to overcome. But it is clear that many Russian speakers, there and in the Crimea, do not oppose Russia. These countries have the right to independence, but the nature of that independence is clearly highly contested. There is also the reality of potential civil war between east and west Ukraine. The very deep divisions will only be exacerbated by war.

This comment is perhaps the easiest to rebut: Ms German is mistaking the Ukrainian protest movement for the aggressors in the current crisis. The new government in no way threatens Russian-speakers in the Crimea. Moscow, not Kiev, is the preeminent belligerent thus far.

9) Those who demand anti-war activity here in Britain against Russia are ignoring the history and the present reality in Ukraine and Crimea. The B52 liberals only oppose wars when their own rulers do so, and support the ones carried out by our governments. The job of any anti-war movement is to oppose its own government’s role in these wars, and to explain what that government and its allies are up to.

Ms German does not enlighten us on how, precisely, the British government is guilty of “war” against Ukraine or Russia. She also fails to explain why the “job” of an “anti-war” movement is to attack its own passive government while parroting the arguments of a thuggish, illiberal power threatening its neighbour with invasion.

10) The crisis in Ukraine has much to do with the situation in Syria, where major powers are intervening in the civil war. The defeat for intervention last year has infuriated the neocons. They are determined to start new wars. After the US failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the neocons are looking for a defeat of Russia over Ukraine, and by extension, China too. The situation is developing into a new cold war. The rivalry between the west and Russia threatens to explode into a much larger war than has been seen for many years.

Again, Ms German conveniently ignores interventions in Syria by those “major powers” that she finds more palatable than the US or Britain—Iran and Russia. That, and her comment about China, suggests a preference for illiberal non-Western powers over liberal Western ones. It is an oddly one-sided comparison: she delights in listing Western flaws (real and imagined) while unquestioningly accepting anti-Western dogma. For one who leads an organisation committed to “stopping the war”, it is a fatal error.”

Update 1:I have commented on Russia’s role in Syria before.

Refugees From Assad’s Campaign of Murder

The level of ambivalence found in the West towards the mass death of Syrian civilians is truly grotesque.

In March 2014 it will be the three year anniversary of the conflict, which started with peaceful protests and continues with the Syrian government dropping barrel bombs.

Nearly three whole years of slaughter. A point to ponder.

This map shows only one aspect of the conflict, mass refugees.

HIU_syria1

We need to be under no illusion that the cause of suffering in Syria is placed squarely at the feet of the Assad government and their allies, Russia, China and Iran. The latter countries have fuelled the conflict from the outset and propped up Syria’s murderous dictatorship.

What I find most galling in the West is the denial of basic facts about the Assad regime. Westerners seem to have an infinite amount of concern about the Middle East until it affects real people.

Hussein Ibish, one of the most intelligent Middle East commentators, re-enforces that point by asking “Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk are being starved to death by the Syrian regime. Does anyone care?”

Please do read it:

“There isn’t much the Palestinian people haven’t suffered. But the use of enforced starvation against them by the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad at the Yarmouk refugee camp breaks new ground in cruelty. Hundreds are said to be facing imminent death by starvation, lack of water and medical care, and the loss, for almost a year now, of all heat and electricity.

The crucial thing is not simply that Assad and his allies – Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia – must be held fully and completely responsible for this outrage. It must also be noted that the international community and the Arab world are not doing enough to respond to it, practically or politically. They have done virtually nothing as Yarmouk’s pre-war population of 250,000 has shrunk in the past three years to 18,000 famished, cowering, and shivering souls.

Those who still worship at the altar of the false idol of “resistance” and see Assad, Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies as the embodiment of the Arab cause are not simply disingenuous or delusional propagandists. Their thinking – not even, but especially, if it is sincere – is profoundly sick.”

I have covered Syria elsewhere.

World Socialist Web Site: Doing PR for Assad

Cherry picking is not just confined to fruit.
cherry1
It is incredibly popular amongst politicos. Such an approach can be seen from the World Socialist Web Site’s defence of the Assad government on the Houla massacre.

A copy is left below as a public record, as the original was recently removed!


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung confirms: Houla massacre committed by Syrian “rebels”

By
Clara Weiss

16 June 2012

On June 13, journalist Rainer Hermann confirmed his earlier report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung refuting the official version of the Houla massacre in Syria.

The media have almost unanimously described the May 25 events in Houla as an atrocity committed by the Syrian government, relying almost exclusively on reports from the so-called “rebels.” Western powers have used the massacre as a pretext to whip up pro-war sentiment and intensify their pressure on the Assad regime. The US and UK reacted to the massacre by withdrawing diplomats from Syria.

In his June 7 report, Hermann asserted that the victims of the massacre in Taldou, a village in the Houla region, were members of the Alawite und Shi’ite minorities and that the killers were not troops loyal to the Assad regime, but forces aligned with the Sunni-based sectarian Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Although the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is one of the most prominent German-language newspapers and Hermann a well-known journalist, the report has largely been ignored by the German and international media and criticized in a few reports.

In his new article June 13, Hermann defends his reporting and adds further details about the massacre. This report has also been met largely with silence.

The Houla plains region, Hermann writes, “is burdened by a long history of sectarian tensions. … Of the names of the civilians killed, 84 are known. These are the fathers, mothers and 49 children of the Al Sayyid family and two branches of the Abdarrazzaq family. … Additionally killed in Taldou were relatives of the … member of parliament Abdalmuti Mashlab.”

Hermann goes on to describe what happened: “The family members were targeted and killed with only one exception. No neighbour was injured. One had to have knowledge of the place to carry out these well-planned executions”.

Hermann then quotes 11-year-old Ali, the only member of the Al Sayyid family to survive the bloodbath: “Those responsible had shaved heads and long beards”. In Hermann’s opinion, this points to “fanatical jihadists” and not the Shabiha militia.

The version of the event advanced in the global media, in particularly lurid fashion by Britain’s Observer and Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, blames the Shabiha militias, regarded as assault detachments of the Assad regime. These articles rely on the testimony of a Major Jihad Raslan, said to have first served in Assad’s army, who then deserted because he was so appalled by the “events in Houla”. Hermann’s article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung exposes these reports as a bunch of lies.

Hermann reconstructs the sequence of events as follows: “After the Friday prayers on May 25, more than 700 armed people led by Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf, forming three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba, attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the (mostly also Sunni) soldiers fought bloody battles in which two dozen soldiers, mostly conscripts, were killed. During and after the fighting the rebels, supported by residents of Taldou, wiped out the Al Sayyid and Abdarrazzaq families. They had refused to join the opposition”.

In his article, Hermann refers to earlier reports by other journalists and nuns from the Jacob Monastery in Qara. Nuns had described to Dutch journalist Martin Jannsen how the “rebels” piled the bodies of dead soldiers and civilians in front of the mosque and told UN observers their version of the alleged massacre in front of cameras from “rebel”-friendly television channels.

The nun Agnès-Maryam had already described the escalation of sectarian violence around Homs in an open letter toward the end of April. She warned of a step-by-step liquidation of all minorities by the Sunni “rebels” and described the displacement of Christians and Alawites from their homes and the rape of young girls who had been given to the “rebels” as spoils of war.

Herman also refers to Russian journalist Marat Musin, who works for the Anna news agency and was in Houla on May 25 and 26, thus becoming an eyewitness to the events as well as a reporter. So far, Musin seems to have given the most detailed description of what took place. His version coincides with Hermann’s and that of the nuns on all decisive points.

These reports and the latest article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung confirm that Syria is being ravaged by a civil war deliberately promoted by Western powers to destabilize the country and prepare it for regime-change. The rebels do not speak for the majority of the population. They are made up of former members of the regime, soldiers, mercenaries, terrorists and secret agents pursuing a reactionary political agenda, many of them using the support by the West to settle old scores and carry out sectarian conflicts.

International news media are supporting the war preparations of US imperialism and its allies in an unprecedented campaign of agitation and propaganda. That is why Hermann’s article and the well-documented reports of other journalists and eyewitnesses are mostly being hushed up.

Human Rights Watch on Syria:

“On May 25, at least 108 residents of Houla near Homs were also killed, most shot at close range. According to survivors and local activists, it was pro-government armed men who were responsible for the executions. In late August, residents from the Damascus suburbs of Daraya and Moadamiya also described finding hundreds of bodies following ground operations there. Some of the victims appeared to have been executed by government forces.”

I have covered Syria many times before.

On Syria

Syria and the West are intimate friends. For years Western leaders courted Bashar Assad, arguing he was a moderate and a vehicle of change. Vogue even produced a propaganda edition on the Assad family. Elsewhere, Russia and China continued to support and supplied buckets of armaments to the Syrian dictatorship or shuffle their feet at the UN.

queenAssad1a With a few notable exceptions, many Western activists simply coughed and looked the other way when the various Assads committed atrocities, as Galloway argued in June 2011:

“The BBC, Galloway complained, is denouncing Syria for using Apache helicopters to attack its own people. “I’ve never understood,” said Galloway, “why it is worse to kill your own people than other people’s people.” The BBC had cheered a week or 10 days earlier for Apache helicopters used by Britain to kill Libyans. The problem with Syria, Galloway said, is not that it’s run by the latest Adolf Hitler of the month, but that it harbors Palestinian leadership, supports Lebanese national resistance, and refused to participate in the attack on Iraq.” [My emphasis.]

That was good enough for them, deliberately forgetting Assad’s unsavoury allies.

Yet there is a foul stench that pervades any discussion on Syria, the inability to stop a dictator from openly murdering civilians for 2½ years. The West in terms of political leaders and supposed “activists” have given this smiling dictator an easy time. Complacency has rules from March 2011 onwards, with Westerners largely hoping that the slaughter in Syria would go away, all by itself.  MIDAEST SYRIA UK

Syria is not far from Europe. A mere 300 miles from Cyprus. A relatively quick trip from Italy, under three hours in a plane. Just over 4½ hours from London but it could as well be a world away, whilst the Assad regime carried on torture and murder, under Russia and China’s protection and it slipped down the media priorities.

Leaving aside the question of intervention for the moment, the inability of Westerners to inform themselves on the nature of the Assad dictatorship is exceedingly troubling. From 1963 coup d’etat to the later one in 1970 when Hafez Assad took power, civil rights were never on the agenda. However, Western Human Rights organisations have covered abuses over the years and those with access to the Internet have no excuse.

Human Rights Watch reports on Syria: 1997, 2000,2002,2010,2013.

Amnesty International reports on Syria: 1995, 2000, 2007, 2011, 2012.

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Greenbelt: British Christians, Syria And Assad

A yearly Christian festival has come in for criticism to the extent that Greenbelt felt compelled to put out a Statement on Israel/Palestine programming by Greenbelt. Whilst there is the broader question of, whether or not Westerners should be interfering in the Middle East, there should be no circumscription on criticising the human-rights record of any governments. Any.

cross1 There is much to criticise in the Middle East and the Israeli government is not immune from it. The continued occupation in the West Bank. The treatment of immigrants to Israel and the rise of right-wing racist ideas. However, we must not forget that it has been Israelis at the very forefront of these issues and opposing their own government.  That opposition takes various forms from the human-rights organisations, such as B’Tselem to Rabbis For Human Rights and beyond.

Where it is, Syria?

Except that Israel is not the only country in the Middle East.

Nor is it the only one connected to the Christian faith and therefore of interest to many Westerners or festivalgoers at Greenbelt.

I could not help notice a strange omission from the festival programme, any mention of Syria. Whilst it has slid down the news agenda, the 2½ year conflict involves many millions, with probably over 120,000 dead, millions of refugees flooding into neighbouring countries and should deserve at least one word of commentary. I thought it was a peculiar oversight, but then, is it?

I wondered, could it be that those fixated with Israeli misdemeanours give the rulers of Syria an easy time? There is one whole article on the Greenbelt site relating to Syria, whereas the search result on “Israel” amount to 7 pages of searches, 63 entries.

A Hypothesis.

The  hypothesis, that strident and negative views on Israel would lead to a bias in reporting of the Middle East needed testing, the question was how?

Well, I supposed that choosing the most strident Christian critics of the Israelis I could think of might prove illuminating. Surely, I reasoned, they could not fail to indict Bashar Assad for instigating the conflict in Syria? Or using tank shells and aircraft on unarmed civilians?

All of this did not happened overnight. The conflict started in March 2011 when the Syrian government decided to shoot peaceful demonstrators. The Western media begun to document the abuse by the Assad regime, including disappearances and regular use of torture.

I thought that even the harshest adversary of the Israelis would not be so lopsided as to moderate their acerbic attitudes when it came to the quasi-dictatorship in Syria.
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The “Israel Apartheid Week” And “Don’t buy from the Jews week”

Over at Engage, David Hirsh’s acid wit skewers the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with, “Israel Apartheid Week” – Don’t Buy from the Jews Week.

syria_week1

I looked in at the PSC’s site, to see if they had covered the recent death of Palestinians in Syria, but alas couldn’t find anything. Conceivably, just possibly, something is hidden beneath the mountain of vitriol aimed at Israelis, but I doubt it.

I couldn’t see any genuine concern for Palestinians, outside of the West Bank and Gaza. Even Google couldn’t draw out any articles on the on-going slaughter in Syria from the PSC.

The PSC’s feed on Twitter was barren and bereft of any mention of Syria over the past month.

As Reuters reported a few weeks ago, some 10,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of 2013.

Still, the PSC were probably more interested in organising “Don’t buy from the Jews week” and must have missed what has been going on in Syria.

I think we know where the PSC’s priorities lie, all in all, David Hirsh was too kind to them.

Update 1: Liberal Conspiracy has surprisingly given Matt Hall the chance to put a persuasive argument, Pro-Palestinian activists are wrong to shut down debates by pro-Israelis.

Orwell, Atos and The Tories

Like many, I have read most of Orwell’s work, discussed and debated what he was trying to get at and even questioned some of his later decisions. Not unsurprisingly there is a lot to get to grips with. He was a multifaceted character living in turbulent times and profoundly affected by it.

David Aaronovitch does an excellent job in presenting the views of various scholars, friends and associates of Orwell. Nicely balanced. Over at the BBC Iplayer, The Road to Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Readers will remember how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) outsourced to Atos, eligibility assessments of the disabled. Atos, in return, have been roundly criticised for declaring people to be “fit for work” only to have them die a few weeks later. Charities and other organisations connected with disabilities have pointed out the flaws in Atos’s methodology.

But now, in a bizarre twist, Atos are outsourcing many of those assessments to the NHS.

So the Public sector outsources to the private sector, a nasty task, who in turn outsource it back to parts of, the once, Public sector.

Atos is using this to deflect criticism on how many of those declared fit either die or end up destitute, whilst Atos rakes in millions.

From Lebanon, Hezbollah has been attacking Syrians with rockets.

Mapping child poverty, not something the Tories or their LibDem allies will welcome.

In other news, a UN official wonders about food banks in Britain. I am just waiting for some idiot Tory to trumpet them, saying “…at least we are world leaders in food banks!”

The privatisation of education continues a pace as Gove brings in help to sack people.

Polly Toynbee on the bedroom tax and housing.

Not above shelf stacking.

Finally, NHS privatisation: Compilation of financial and vested interests, well worth a read. I can’t even imagine how scathing George Orwell would have been, of a society which attacks the poorest and weakest whilst selling off the family silver, and for once a Tory was right about something.

French Imams, Sellafield Dumping And Syria Round Up

So much to blog so little time to do it. I have been meaning to do a couple of posts and roundups, but never finally get round to finishing off. In the interim, this is a meagre effort.

Given the background to recent events, this visit was a very positive move:

“(JTA) — Dozens of imams have commemorated the Holocaust at a monument near Paris.

Monday’s event took place at Drancy, a suburb of the French capital where tens of thousands of Jews were confined in 1942 before being transported to extermination camps during the German Nazi occupation. The French paper Le Figaro called the event unprecedented.

France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, who also attended the cermony, said the imams’ presence there made for “a very strong image that speaks better than words and speeches,” according to the website of the French television station TF1. He added: “The world needs peace and harmony, people who engage in dialogue and listen.”

Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy and a veteran activist for dialogue between Muslims and Jews in France and against anti-Semitism, hosted the imams.

Le Figaro reported at least 100 imams were expected to arrive to Drancy. The event, according to the report, was the initiative of Chalghoumi and the French Jewish novelist Marek Halter.”

Despite six decades of experience, the management Sellafield (Windscale) do not really understand their duties and responsibilities. They have been dumping nuclear waste in landfill sites.

Even Centrica are walking away from these failures.

The tame Public Accounts Committee have criticised the inability to deal with nuclear waste:

“An enormous legacy of nuclear waste has been allowed to build up on the Sellafield site. Over decades, successive governments have failed to get to grips with this critical problem, to the point where the total lifetime cost of decommissioning the site has now reached £67.5 billion, and there’s no indication of when that cost will stop rising.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority believes that its decommissioning plan is credible but it has not been sufficiently tested and uncertainties remain – not least around what precisely is in the waste that lies in the legacy ponds and silos. “

The situation in Syria worsens by the day. The International Rescue Committee’s report made grim reading. Only recently some 800 people were killed in one week. Eight hundred.

Coverage in the Western media barely reflects the seriousness of the situation. Nearly 5,000 are estimated to be killed, every month in Syria. The Daily Beast’s coverage is better than most, but hardly what is needed.

In other news, Chris Huhme won’t be expelled from LibDems for bare faced lying.

Charley Windsor screws the workers.

The F-Word’s Caring and living in poverty is an absorbing piece. Robert Reich’s new documentary, Inequality for All, looks at the issues from an unconventional angle.

Finally, NBC reports on the full-on crisis in Syria:

“”This is a full-on crisis,” Adrian Edwards, spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told a news briefing in Geneva. “There was a huge increase in January alone; we’re talking about a 25 percent increase in registered refugee numbers over a single month.”

Since the conflict began two years ago, more than 787,000 Syrians have registered as refugees or are awaiting processing in the region, mainly in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, he said.

In Syria, water shortages are worsening and supplies are sometimes contaminated, putting children at an increased risk of diseases, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Friday.”

Ed Balls, Timid Labour And China

Ed Balls is not an impressive politician, not by virtue of his shrewdness, delivering or occasional principles. Still, you might hope of paid politician, someone who does it for a living, would eventually get the hang of it.

But no, Balls doesn’t, as Neil Schofield argues:

“There’s some nice triangulation there. Balls is trying to play both sides of the street on welfare and benefits, and manages to get in a bit of One Nation rhetoric as well. But the point is that his underlying assumptions are both wrong and, in my view, counter-productive.

The problem with Ed Balls really lies in that second quote, where he continues to use the rhetoric of austerity. Austerity is failing, and there is an increasing body of evidence to show why that is the case – I’ve referred to the IMF’s evidence about the multiplier before. The evidence is increasingly showing that we need precisely the opposite of spending cuts, and that any tax increases should fall overwhelmingly on the wealthier, for reasons of both equity and to ensure that they do not damage demand (Balls’ argument that his scheme should be paid for by reducing the pension tax advantages of those on the highest incomes is very welcome, but misses the point – more spending and an end to austerity would increase tax revenues across the economy as a whole). “

Any compassionate person reading the Where’s the Benefit blog would be struck by the ferocity and persistency of government attacks on the disabled, a Testing Journey and If you can only walk twenty metres you’ll get no help :

“When PIP starts to replace Disability Living Allowance next year anyone who can walk just twenty metres will not qualify for help with mobility. Twenty metres is less than the distance most of the disabled parking bays at my local Tesco are from the door. It’s really not much. Hundreds of thousands of people will no longer get a mobility allowance and as a result will no longer be eligible to lease a Motability car. One day it might be you that needs this.

The government has also left out the phrase “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner” from the PIP regulations. This means that if a person can do something just once, or can push through pain to do it, they might not get help and can’t even challenge it at tribunal. “

The Labour Party has a problem challenging the Tories on this issue, they essentially agree with the Tories’ underlying assumptions as Liam Byrne’s thinking has shown.

It’s a pity that it takes The Children’s Society to point out the downside of Tory policies:

“Half a million soldiers, nurses and teachers will have their income slashed under the coalition’s benefits crackdown, according to a new report. The chancellor’s sub-inflation rise in benefits and tax credits over the next three years will hit a whole range of the country’s most trusted professionals.

Up to 40,000 soldiers, 300,000 nurses and 150,000 primary and nursery school teachers will lose cash, in some cases many hundreds of pounds, according to the Children’s Society. The revelation appears to contradict the government’s stated intention to target shirkers and scroungers, and will raise the temperature of the Commons debate and vote on the plan on Tuesday. “

A reminder, for timid Labour, of what Tory attacks really mean:

“On Friday night Christina Martin posted a link which caught my eye. It was a few lines from a local paper which said that a blind, deaf, tube-fed, non verbal, disabled man from Scotland had been deemed fit for work by the DWP. As a result of not completing the form correctly his benefits will be stopped on 7th June and he will have to access the appeal process to have this decision over turned.

This man has to have 24 hour care and the person who had completed his form for him as his disability prevents him had not included something in the 30 page form which meant that due to that error his money will stop. “

That was not an isolate incident:

Elsewhere, Syrian journalists caught in middle of conflict

In the US, Who Is The Smallest Government Spender Since Eisenhower is surprising.

Austria still has issues:

“(JTA) — The number of anti-Semitic incidents documented in 2012 by Austria’s Jewish community has doubled from the previous year, the leader of Vienna’s Jewish community said.

Oskar Deutsch told the Kurier newspaper that the Jewish community registered 135 such incidents last year, compared to 71 in 2011.”

Tom Pride’s post on China is worth thinking about:

  • China is the world’s largest authoritarian dictatorship.
  • About one third of the industrial waste water and more than 90 percent of household sewage in China is released into rivers and lakes without being treated.
  • Half of China’s population lacks safe drinking water.
  • China’s incredibly high rates of liver, stomach and esophageal cancer have been directly linked to contaminated drinking water.
  • In China, in 2008 six babies were killed and 300,000 were left sickened after consuming infant formula contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine.
  • In summer of 2011, the China government reported 43 percent of state-monitored rivers are so polluted, they’re unsuitable for human contact.
  • Most of China’s rural areas have no system in place to treat waste water.
  • An estimated 980 million of China’s 1.3 billion people drink water every day that is partly polluted.
  • In October 2009, Greenpeace identified five industrial facilities in southern China’s Pearl River delta that were dumping poisonous metals and chemicals—such as beryllium, manganese, nonylphenol and tetrabromobisphenol— into water used by local residents for drinking.
  • In March 2010, more than 3.5 tons of “yard-long” green beans contaminated with banned pesticide isocarbophos, were destroyed after being discovered on sale in the central city of Wuhan.
  • In Shenzhen, southern China, nearly one third (28pc) of food made with rice flour were found to have levels of aluminium above national standards.
  • An undercover investigation in March 2010 estimated that one in 10 of all meals in China were cooked using recycled oil, scavenged from the sewerage drains beneath restaurants.
  • Research showed that 10 per cent of rice sold in China was contaminated with heavy metals, including cadmium, some contained up to five times the legal limit.

Bloomberg’s Mapping China’s Red Nobility is excellent for detailing the interconnections and relationships amongst China’s elite.

Chagossians, An innumerate Iain Duncan Smith And More

I had hoped to start 2013 on a better footing, with longer, more thoughtful post but time and life are not so generous. I think the plight of the Chagossians deserves a wider audience:

“For the uninitiated, in the 1960s, the US wanted Diego Garcia (one of the Chagos Islands) as a major air base. It spoke nicely to the UK, its owners, who consequently evicted and banned all the inhabitants from it and the neighbouring islands. The constitutional arrangements were apparently decorous. A new UK colony was established (the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT) with a Commissioner to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Territory. “

Iain Duncan Smith is a loathsome politician, but he’s also innumerate as Channel 4′s Factcheck shows:

The claim

“Tax credit payments rose by some 58 per cent ahead of the 2005 general election, and in the two years prior to the 2010 election, spending increased by about 20 per cent.”

The verdict

We asked the Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which administers work and child tax credits, how much has been paid out since the current system started under Labour in 2003 (before that it was the Working Families Tax Credit).

It said that in 2003-04, £16.4bn was paid, and the following year – the one that included the general election to which Mr Duncan Smith refers – £17.7bn.

That’s an increase of 8 per cent, not 58. “

The German army still has a problem with neo-Nazis as Zeit On-line points out, original in German or the Google translation.

In the US, White Supremacists are planning an anti-immigration rally according to the ADL.

The Guardian looks at the companies set to benefit from the privatisation of the NHS.

The Automatic Cat’s commentary is to the point:

“That doesn’t matter, anyway. The purpose of his statement was to demonise a section of the public in order to justify cuts which themselves are aimed at proving to ‘The Markets’ how fiscally astute and fearless we are. ‘The Markets’ being, in large part, the global banking system which brought us to the edge of catastrophe in the first place.

We’ve seen this kind of demonisation before, with the unemployed and the long-term ill. The suggestion that they’re really putting it on somehow, or shirking, or somehow otherwise undeserving of any help at all. It goes hand in hand with the policy that the safety net has made us all soft and needy and that taking it away will get us off our lazy behinds and make us take all those jobs which are out there.

It really won’t do. Personally I’m rather insulted that the government thinks so little of us that it believes we’ll swallow this nonsense. It shows a rather interesting lack of sophistication and, indeed, compassion. A government which believes we can be so easily manipulated is really not a government worth having. “

Reuters reminds us of the ever increasing death toll in Syria: 60,000 at the last estimate.

Will 2013 be better than 2012? Not looking good thus far.

Rev Stephen Sizer: More Anti-Israeli Than Pro-Palestinian

Rev. Stephen Sizer is once more indulging in victimhood and self-promotion. He has managed to convince some worthy individuals to write him references.

Ever shy and retiring Rev. Sizer has published them on his website.

They say, essentially, ‘he’s a jolly good fellow, not a racist, but a fighter for human rights’.

This is an extract from Rev. Dr. Don Wagner of Chicago:

“I have known and worked with Stephen for nearly 15 years and have the utmost respect for his writing, pastoral ministry, and his speaking around the globe on behalf of the victims of persecution and human rights violations.

I suppose, in part, that might be true, however, Rev. Sizer silent criticism of the Assad regime is noticeable.

You might, not unreasonably, think that in 21 months of slaughter in Syria that Rev. Sizer could have made a critical comment of the Syrian government. After all, he’s immensely capable of criticising Israelis, but suddenly acquires writers’ block when it comes to Assad and Syria.

It is a symptom which seems to inflict many Western “pro-Palestinian” supporters, capable of criticising Israelis at the drop of a hat, yet barely able to muster any criticism whilst Assad is slaughtering civilians.

Just to be clear, I am not accusing Rev. Sizer of hypocrisy, racism or anything else. Merely observing that in 21 months he might have at least commented once on the hundreds of Palestinians killed in Syria.

Rev. Sizer has written on Syria, but I can’t find any criticism of Assad. In fact, the opposite when he uses a proxy to say in June 2012:

“Revd Awad insists Qatar and Saudi Arabia along with the US are funding mercenaries from Libya and Iraq to attack civilians in Syria and that the army are not responsible. He is convinced the President enjoys the support of at least 75% of Syrians. He insists none of Syria’s diplomats around the world has defected to the opposition. He is confident that the Kofi Annan report will exonerate the Syrian government and that the external forces seeking to destabilise Syria will not succeed. “

It drips of paranoia and defensiveness, but later on of that month, June 2012 invokes Robert Fisk to argue Syria: Its all about oil.

For want of his own opinions Rev. Sizer employs Elizabeth Kendal’s Syria: The Lies Being Told.

Unfortunately, it appears that Ms. Kendal is a conspiracy theorist and believes that the Houla massacre committed by the Assad regime’s forces was a contrivance:

“For more on the Houla massacre, now exposed as a false flag operation wherein Free Syrian Army forces disguised as pro-Assad ‘thugs’ massacred unsympathetic mostly non-Sunni families and blamed the regime…”

So as far as I can see Rev. Sizer has written nothing to criticise Assad or his dictatorship which brought about the events in Syria after massacring peaceful protesters in March 2011.

In August 2012, Rev. Sizer utilises the words of others and latterly employing a questionable photograph to hint at something else:

“The first reaction of President Bashar al-Assad was to initially respond with hints of reform. But soon he launched violent crackdowns that could have dispensed with the opposition if not for outside support.

So what we see is conscious effort to blame everyone else, but the repressive Syrian government. The idea that people could rise up against a dictatorship, of their own free will, after being shot at, murdered and tortured seems to have escaped Rev. Sizer and these various proxies.

Despite 21 months of conflict Rev. Sizer can’t say a single word against Assad.

In short, Rev. Sizer is proclaimed as “speaking around the globe on behalf of the victims of persecution and human rights violations” yet I have not read one word from Rev. Sizer critical of Assad on the hundreds of Palestinians killed, the 40,000+ Syrians dead, hundreds of thousands injured and millions displaced within the country.

A curious omission?

Update 1: Whenever I post on Rev. Sizer’s antics the blog gets a lot of spam, incoherent or abusive comments. I would remind potential commentors to read, disgest and understand the Comments Policy.

Update 2: You might almost say “the world goes to hell in a handbasket whilst Rev. Sizer has other preoccupations”. Despite the mounting death toll in Syria, Rev. Sizer’s main concern is, somewhat predictably, Rev. Sizer.

More recently he has cajoled some friendly clergy into supporting him, Bethlehem Bible College, Canon Dr Mike Butterworth, Friends of Sabeel, Revd. Phil Hill, Manfred W. Kohl, Professor Scott Elias, Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church USA and Bishop Riah Abo El-Assal.

The excuse “some of his best friends are…” is threadbare by use, but I am sure these theologians will be able to explain why Rev. Sizer continually, regularly and mistakenly posted links to vile, hardcore, antisemitic filth.

Laurie Penny, Chagos Islanders And Mormon women

Jake Wallis Simons is better than the average Tory, certainly the Daily Telegraph could do with better writers and a wider intellectual pool of ideas.

Nevertheless I was somewhat shocked and pleased to read his In defence of Laurie Penny:

“Call me contrarian, but I quite like being friends with people who come at life from markedly different perspectives. Not only does it broaden one’s own point of view, but it prevents one from plumping for one’s political preconceptions, and instead consider each issue on its own merits. If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I feel an Adorno quote coming on: “Thought that does not capitulate before wretched existence comes to nought before its criteria, truth becomes untruth, philosophy becomes folly”. Indeed. Facebook is nothing if not a stream of “wretched existence”, and sometimes it is wise to allow thought to capitulate before it – or at least allow for that possibility.

Here’s the thing. In recent weeks and months, it has been impossible to read Laurie’s status updates without being shocked at the sheer volume and viciousness of the hatred she is subjected to online. If you have the stomach for it, google something like “Laurie Penny hate”. The results are appalling. People have threatened and insulted her in the very worst terms, and have even gone so far as to post cartoons of her being abused and beaten up.

Now, Laurie Penny is a provocative and controversial figure, and a lot of people find her intensely irritating. It is only to be expected that she will attract a fair amount of friction. Even David Starkey took leave of his manners and tried to intimidate her in the most atrocious way. But look: call me old-fashioned, but didn’t there use to be such a thing as a civilised disagreement? “

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In Short: Syria And Egypt

Despite the many benefits of the Internet, access to news from all parts of the world and almost instantaneous translation, it is sometimes difficult getting a grasp of what is really happening in a certain country, particularly those in the Middle East.

Syria is but one example. After nearly 20 months, tens of thousands killed, millions of people displaced and hundreds of thousands injured, there is lethargy in the Western media concerning the fate of Syrians.

It used to be said that in journalism, what bleeds leads, but that clearly isn’t the case when it comes to Assad’s victims.

Yet as NPR reports things are changing, Project Looks At A New Way To Report On Syria.

Watch Syria Deeply for more developments.

The people in Egypt have been, rightly, demonstrating against authoritarianism, in the form of President Morsi and the new, proposed, constitution.

I am not a fan of the Middle East Research and Information Project but Ahmad Shokr makes some intelligent points:

“The draft constitution does not reflect a democratic consensus, as many in the opposition have argued that it should. It reflects an emerging relationship between the Muslim Brothers and existing state institutions, like the army, along with a great deal of appeasement of the salafis, whom the Brothers have embraced as junior partners. The rush to a referendum suggests a deep anxiety among the state elites about continuing instability and a desire to seize the opportunity to cement a new political framework as quickly as possible. More worrisome than the text itself is the vision these leaders have for which voices count and which alliances matter in the new Egypt. Should this vision go unchallenged, the losers would be all those who have been calling for more pluralistic and inclusive system.

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An Occasional Murdoch, NHS and Misogyny Roundup

Rupert Murdoch ate a mountain of humble pie at the Levinson inquiry and looked distinctly uncomfortable with his newfound humility.

That’s a thing of the past. Murdoch reveals his true feelings on Twitter:

“Told UK’s Cameron receiving scumbag celebrities pushing for even more privacy laws. Trust the toffs! Transparency under attack. Bad.”

Charlotte Church was a bit annoyed.

Over at the NHS they are not happy, according to one of its honchos:

“The head of the NHS has laid bare his fears that the government’s controversial reforms of the health service could end in “misery and failure”.

Women in the media, why the disparity?

An ex-Wikileaks supporter explains why:

“For a long time now I was a strong supporter of Julian. I used to donate regularly to him. I defended and supported his actions because I believed in the cause that he was fighting for. Since the days of the original attack I ran the primary South African Wikileaks mirror (www.wikileaks.za.org). Back in those days thousands of us rallied to support Wikileaks when it was under constant DDOS attack.

Now I see the absolute disdain the Assange`s treat this cause with I can no longer put my support behind the idea. To the Assange’s it has become the Assange Road Show. Wikileaks is all about them and their own personal agenda. “

Malatesta covers the activity of the British Far Right with humour, look out for Mike Mosley, yet another neo-Nazi that likes guns.

This is a piece of understated reporting if ever there was one.

French antisemitism comes to the fore on Twitter.

An indicator, if one was needed, of Tory failures, food banks serving more.

In Australia, the definition of misogyny is being updated.

When Universal Credit is introduced in Britain, the disabled will lose out.

Radovan Karadžić’s lying know no bounds.

When you think about buying an iPhone remember that Foxcon are still using youngsters to make their bits.

Worried by Americanisms? Linguistic traffic is not one way, as the Beeb shows.

Good news, neo-Nazi’s plans for social media thwarted by Twitter.

Tens of thousands have disappeared in Syria.

Paramilitary abuse and raped in Colombia, one woman’s tale.

Thanks to the UK Human Rights Blog and Irène Solomon there is an unofficial English translation of the Rachel Corrie judgment.

The Beeb and its mistakes over the Jimmy Savile investigation.

The New Yorker on Romney:

“Romney’s conviction is that the broad swath of citizens who do not pay federal income tax—a category that includes pensioners, soldiers, low-income workers, and those who have lost their jobs—are parasites, too far gone in sloth and dependency to be worth the breath one might spend asking for their votes. His descent to this cynical view—further evidenced by his selection of a running mate, Paul Ryan, who is the epitome of the contemporary radical Republican—has been dishearteningly smooth. He in essence renounced his greatest achievement in public life—the Massachusetts health-care law—because its national manifestation, Obamacare, is anathema to the Tea Party and to the G.O.P. in general. He has tacked to the hard right on abortion, immigration, gun laws, climate change, stem-cell research, gay rights, the Bush tax cuts, and a host of foreign-policy issues. He has signed the Grover Norquist no-tax-hike pledge and endorsed Ryan’s winner-take-all economics. “

Finally, the CST’s Online radicalisation. ‘Lone wolves’ of all stripes.

An Orwell, The Middle East And Boycotts Round Up

There is never enough time to read, reflect and blog, so whilst I think over other posts here is a quick round up of stories that caught my eye.

I was surprised to find that George Orwell had a piece on antisemitism. In many respects, it is as if it were written yesterday:

“I could fill pages with similar remarks, but these will do to go on with. Two facts emerge from them. One — which is very important and which I must return to in a moment — is that above a certain intellectual level people are ashamed of being anti-Semitic and are careful to draw a distinction between “anti-Semitism” and “disliking Jews”. The other is that anti-Semitism is an irrational thing. The Jews are accused of specific offences (for instance, bad behaviour in food queues) which the person speaking feels strongly about, but it is obvious that these accusations merely rationalise some deep-rooted prejudice. To attempt to counter them with facts and statistics is useless, and may sometimes be worse than useless. As the last of the above-quoted remarks shows, people can remain anti-Semitic, or at least anti-Jewish, while being fully aware that their outlook is indefensible. If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues. “

At Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundel is direct in his criticism, Publicity-hungry extremists to protest at US Embassy London.
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The GOP Convention And More Racism Round Up.

[Trigger warning, Assange related material.]

When the GOP Convention comes around there is almost the feeling that America has stepped back in time, not by the technology employed or the showmanship, but the underlying ideas.

Issues that many might think are uncontroversial provoke alarm and worry amongst the GOP, the Pew Research Quiz is just one indicator.

But a deeper whiff of bigotry and reaction clings to GOP events, as TPM reported:

“An attendee at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Tuesday allegedly threw nuts at a black camerawoman working for CNN and said “This is how we feed animals” before being removed from the convention, a network official confirmed to TPM. “

And more, Nativism 101:

“There were energetic shouts of “Aye!” and “Nay!” as a Puerto Rican party functionary—Zoraida Fonalledas, the chairwoman of the Committee on Permanent Organization—took her turn at the main-stage lectern. As she began speaking in her accented English, some in the crowd started shouting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

The chanting carried on for nearly a minute while most of the other delegates and the media stood by in stunned silence. The Puerto Rican correspondent turned to me and asked, “Is this happening?” I said I honestly didn’t know what was happening—it was astonishing to see all the brittle work of narrative construction that is a modern political convention suddenly crack before our eyes. None of us could quite believe what we were seeing: A sea of twentysomething bowties and cowboy hats morphing into frat bros apparently shrieking over (or at) a Latina. RNC chairman Reince Priebus quickly stepped up and asked for order and respect for the speaker, suggesting that, yeah, what we had just seen might well have been an ugly outburst of nativism.”

Meanwhile, for would-be GOPers, Ayn Rand and a discussion of her “philosophy”, which seems to have all of the depth and consistency of L.Ron. Hubbard’s Scientology, albeit without the UFOs.
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Why Occupation Is Wrong

“Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency.” Anon

Corruption and abuse of power are fairly commonplace in the world. Some examples we hear of, whilst others are conveniently brushed under the carpet.

From the Vatican to Burma and brown paper envelopes corruption goes much further, even the work of Transparency International only scratches the surface.

We can see this particularly when armies and occupation is involved.

Within living memory who can forget the slaughter at Tiananmen Square? Or how the US army acted in Vietnam? In Northern Ireland human rights abuses by the British Army and the RUC are well documented, but they only tell part of the story.

We have yet to hear testimonies from those soldiers involved in the slaughter of civilians in Sri Lanka or the abuses conducted by Syrian forces during the occupation of Lebanon, which ended around 2005.

So it is beneficial to hear the testimonies of Israeli soldiers, however, distressing they are.

They demonstrate, if that point needed reiterating, how destructive an occupation is, to the societies who conduct them and those that suffer under subjugation.

Many sources have noted how corrosive the occupation of the West Bank has been on Israeli society. Israelis themselves debate these issues on a daily basis, something that you don’t see much of in other societies. British brutality, castration and torture during its rule of Kenya is kept tidily within law courts.

Israeli society is divided, but the fact that so many Israelis are involved in pointing out abuses by the IDF and the Israeli government is a healthy one. This type of activity came very late to British society and only then when pressurised by the citizens of Northern Ireland.

It is worthwhile reading these accounts and remembering the longer lasting effects:

“For the past eight years, Breaking the Silence has been taking testimonies from former soldiers who witnessed or participated in human rights abuses in the occupied territories. Most of these accounts deal with “rough justice” administered to minors by soldiers on the ground, often without specific authorisation and without recourse to the military courts. Reading them, however, it’s hard not to recall the Sedley report’s shocked reference to the “belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist’”.

The soldier puts it differently: “We were sort of indifferent. It becomes a kind of habit. Patrols with beatings happened on a daily basis. We were really going at it. It was enough for you to give us a look that we didn’t like, straight in the eye, and you’d be hit on the spot. We got to such a state and were so sick of being there.”

Some time ago, after he had testified to Breaking the Silence, we had interviewed this soldier. As he sat nervously one morning in a quiet Israeli beauty spot, an incongruous location he had chosen to ensure no one knew he was talking, he went through his recollections about the incident – and several others – once again. His account does not match the Palestinian’s in every detail. (Hafez remembers a gun being pressed to his temple, for example, while the soldier recalls that the commander “actually stuck the gun barrel in the kid’s mouth. Literally”.)

Breaking the silence: soldiers’ testimonies

First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade

Salfit 2009

“We took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50. When these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason, and there was nothing that would legitimise hitting them. An Arab was taken to the bathroom to piss, and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. The guy wasn’t rude and did nothing to provoke any hatred or nerves. Just like that, because he is an Arab. He was about 15, hadn’t done a thing.

“In general people at the school were sitting for hours in the sun. They could get water once in a while, but let’s say someone asked for water five times, a soldier could come to him and slap him just like that. I saw many soldiers using their knees to hit them, just out of boredom. Because you’re standing around for 10 hours doing nothing, you’re bored, so you hit them. I know that at the bathroom, there was this ‘demons’ dance’ as it was called. Anyone who brought a Palestinian there – it was catastrophic. Not bleeding beatings – they stayed dry – but still beatings.”
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Rape And Sexual Violent in Syria

I recently read a disturbing and under-reported aspect of the conflict in Syria, violence against women.

Video: WMC’s Women Under Siege director tells CNN of the horrors we’ve documented in Syria.

Lauren Wolfe in the ultimate assault: Charting Syria’s use of rape to terrorize its people
writes:

“A woman swathed in black squares her shoulders and calmly looks into a camera. She holds a Quran. Only a sliver of her face—her eyeglasses—shows. “What happened to me hasn’t happened to anyone, or if it has affected anyone else I do not know,” she says. “But I will speak and let all the people know what [Syrian leader] Bashar al-Assad and his men are doing.” Over the next four minutes, her breathing grows labored and her voice breaks as she describes how, in May 2011, five men wearing black entered her home on the outskirts of Homs and raped her.

“This is my message to the world,” she says. “Let all the world hear what is happening to us. And I might not be the first one nor the last who was treated in this way.”

The still-unidentified woman posted the video to YouTube on February 11, 2012. It is one of the earliest reports on our live, crowd-sourced map of sexualized violence in Syria. The Women’s Media Center project Women Under Siege has been collecting reports out of Syria for three months, during which time we’ve seen many stories similar to this, in which multiple attackers, usually government forces, are said to gang rape a woman in her home. We have also mapped stories at the extreme edge of nightmares; of teenage girls given shots that immobilize them while their genitals were burned or filled with mice. Government forces and others appear to be carrying out appalling sexualized attacks against women, men, and children in Syria as the conflict there continues. Although we are unable to independently confirm these stories—Syria is simply too dangerous, and our research staff too small—they are consistent both internally and within the news and NGO reports telling similar stories from the Syrian conflict.”

Also, see documenting sexualized violence in conflict: Syria.

Not forgetting Mika Yamamoto’s death in Syria.

Rounding Up The Absurd And Not Julian Assange, Much.

There is a lot going on in the world, aside from Julian Assange and his antics.

Spiegel Online finds an ex-Jihadist making peace with the Far Right in France.

CNN’s Ben Wedeman in Aleppo:

“What we saw during our trips in Aleppo were not images of the city I knew: The shelling, the snipers, the destruction. I never imagined this city would be standing in the middle of warfare. Nobody imagined it would turn into this.

Some parts of Aleppo are complete battle zones. Shells and rubble litter the streets. Cars are blown to pieces.

This beautiful city is where we raised my daughter for her first years from 1990 to 1993. When I was at work my wife went everywhere shopping with my daughter and going to markets. “

HRW has harrowing details of a government attack:

“Azaz residents told Human Rights Watch that, at around 3 p.m., they saw a fighter jet drop at least two bombs on the residential area. Within seconds, dozens of houses in an area of approximately 70-by-70 meters – more than half a football field – were flattened. Houses on the surrounding streets were significantly damaged, with collapsed walls and ceilings. On the streets around the bombed area, windows were broken and some walls had collapsed. “

In Britain, the Stop the War Coalition thinks Assange is right to avoid addressing allegation of rape in Sweden.

Fancy owning a fire engine (or a fleet of them) for £2, the absurdities of privatisation laid bare.

The Guardian editorial on Assange.

A racial attack in Israel.

Where are Assad’s billions? Like most dictators he has stolen his share and kept it out of harms way, but what happens when he leaves Syria?

A crazed neo-Nazi in Peru thinks that the conquistadors were Jews.

The Extremis Project looks promising, but we will have to see.

What happened to a real asylum seeker in Ecuador.

After Assad, We’ll miss Bashar Assad when he’s gone.

Racists beat their daughter for choosing a black boyfriend.

Norm on alibi Antisemitism.

A very understated, Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, on Julian Assange case – The World at One, BBC Radio 4.

Frank Bajak has a local(ish) perspective on granting Assange asylum and the reasoning behind it.

President Ahmadinejad spouting racism yet again, will we be told this is a mistranslation (sic) too? Juan Cole is still deciding.

Meanwhile in Bahrain, the West is silent.

Being young and poor in Egypt.

A library in Israel.

Finally, increased sectarianism is killing people in Pakistan.