Saturday, December 31, 2011

Doctor, Please Help!

When it was over, he said, he stepped into a shower to wash off the blood and cried for over an hour.
Stress does that to people. Even doctors, who are supposed to step back from emotion and the personal, to immerse themselves completely in their medical professionalism, their purpose to heal, to assist people in physical duress to the best of their abilities as trained physicians. If anyone might be seen as performing his professional role without bias, it should be a doctor.

For doctors, in pursuit of their medical goals, treat the ill, the wounded, the dying without concern of who they are.

Of course there is the recent reports out of Bahrain that doctors treating Shia protesters who had earned the ire of their Sunni rulers, were being singled out for punishment as traitors to the regime. Doctors and nurses and other medical staff who were accused of fomenting problems for the autocratic regime, the minority sect oppressing the majority-sect Shia.

These medical professionals were arrested and are to stand trial. They are themselves Shia, little wonder they responded to the appeal.

The United Nations Human Rights Council - a generally blighted group if there ever was one, among whom Syria and Libya among others were members in good standing - has issued a report with the allegation that in Syria enemies of the al-Assad regime who were injured by government forces, were further abused by the military posing as medical personnel when they were taken to hospitals for treatment.

But it was not merely guards posing as doctors, but also evidently legitimate medical personnel who resorted to ill-treatment of wounded civilians. "Everybody would start beating them, including doctors and nurses", said one guard who had worked at a hospital.

The alternative then, was for doctors willing to place their own security on the line in order to respect their pledge as doctors to serve those in need of medical attention irrespective of who they are, what they represent, to set up medical operations in discreet, secret locations.

These underground 'hospitals', would appear in abandoned houses, where there were scarce medical supplies available, other than smuggling through what little that could be obtained, through sources in Lebanon. And then there is the story of 26-year-old Dr. Ebrahim Othman, the founder of an underground medical network in Damascus. He was not beloved of the regime, and he was killed for his indiscretions.

Witnesses and those who belong to human rights groups insist that any who attempt to assist wounded protesters themselves come under fire. "Anyone who is treating the wounded is regarded as if they are carrying a gun against the regime", explained a member of the Homs Revolutionary Council who works to co-ordinate supplies for the city's clandestine clinics.

Those who have allowed themselves out of desperation for medical treatment to be admitted to hospitals are beaten, and imprisoned. Some of them never emerge alive; their families are contacted and ordered to receive their bodies. The corpses showing the results of torture. And then there are the innocents caught in the crossfire; young children shot, or imprisoned and tortured.

And the Arab League observer mission, members themselves dodging gunfire and hesitating to venture too far afield where the regime's tanks are encircling neighbourhoods known to harbour the more ardent of the committed protesters, find a situation that is troubling to a degree, but nothing to get too excited about. At least they're not too dreadfully excited about it.

Doubtless they will report back to the Arab League that Syrian protesters are a hysterical lot, having fallen prey to mass paranoia.

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Arab League Observer Mission

The Syrian protest movement remains ungrateful to the rest of the world for sitting by, clucking disapproval of the Alawite al-Assad regime's crackdown on their protests, condemning the regime for its brutality toward its own citizens, enacting UN-sponsored human-rights-abuse citations and vowing to isolate the regime and its political and social elite through sanctions, to little avail.

All is not lost, however. Despite the European Union, the United States and Canada's condemnations and partial recognition of the legitimacy of the official opposition coalition, the National Coordination Committee, and its welcome in Turkey, to plan its subsequent steps toward liberation from the repressive regime of President Bashar al-Assad, hope has arrived in the form of Arab League moderators.

The Arab League was finally successful in entreating and coercing Bashar al-Assad to agree to and sign a treaty that would allow observers representing the Arab League into the country for the purpose of assessing the situation. It did seem somewhat concerning to some that the observers were led by Sudan's Lieutenant General Mohammad Ahmed Mustapha al-Dabi,formerly chief of intelligence.

But it makes sense, if anyone would stop long enough to think about it. If anyone is familiar with what atrocities against civilian populations looks like, wouldn't it be General al-Dabi? Hasn't he seen ample evidence of what can only be described as the ultimate in human-rights abuses taking place in Darfur when his government unleashed their military warplanes and attack helicopters along with the Arab janjaweed on black, non-Muslim Darfurians?

General al-Dabi knows menace, danger, brutality, torture, rape and genocidal intent when he sees it. And though the regime of President al-Assad is behaving very badly, it doesn't quite equate with the total abandonment of humanity that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity can boast of.

Little surprise, then, that General al-Dabi commented on his perceptions gained from the original foray into Syria's protest hot-spots with his observer teams that he was pleased to say he saw little amiss; nothing to be overly concerned about. The fact is, for a Middle East or Arab country in turmoil what he and his observer-team have witnessed is not that dreadfully unusual.

A little bit of a nuisance-quality uprising, readily put down by a firm-enough dictator. And President al-Assad is quite firm about the need to halt the disquieting attempt at a revolution. Caused, have no doubt, he assures the world, by terrorists, spurred on by foreign elements whose purpose is to destroy his regime and imperil the stability of the entire Middle East.

That's called perspective.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Suspense of the Unknown

Now isn't that a classic? What's termed being between a rock and a hard place?

Having to carefully assess just which assumes greater moral and practical importance; saving the world from the volatile, irrational behaviour of a potentially nuclear-armed religiously-zealot country eager to bring the current world to a throbbing halt so the next world can take over which will exalt them personally - or having to absorb further financial hardships in an already-beleaguered global economy.

It does, quite, resemble that classic double-edged sword.

In responding to Iran's threat to close off the Strait of Hormuz through forceful mediation, not merely diplomatic and strategic intercession, the developed world faces the very real prospect of inflicting further financial damage upon itself through the heightened cost of energy. (Not to mention the cost of war.)

Should Iran attempt to cut off its nose to spite its face by stopping its oil exports and that of others, it would harm its own economy. But of course its economy is already in a stiff downward spiral due to fairly universal sanctions, which are on the way to becoming even more inimical to its financial stability.
"If sanctions are adopted against Iranian oil, not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz", promises Mohammad Reza Rahimi, an Iranian vice-president.
"Our enemies will only abandon their plots when we give them a strong lesson."
That strong lesson is being played out in the threats that have been timed to coincide with the country's war games in the Gulf of Oman. Complementary to the nuclear program which is paving the way for Iran's eventual success in developing nuclear-tipped missiles, are the naval vessels and exercises testing torpedoes and mine-laying.

Britain, France and Germany are agreed in their determination to mount an EU oil embargo. The U.S. is prepared to sign legislation blacklisting anyone doing business with Iran's central bank, and engaging in oil transactions. Iran is OPEC's second largest oil exporter, and it could be essentially devastated by these moves.

Of course the EU and the U.S. will also stand to be harmed by less oil-energy availability and increased costs.

Which the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have claimed to be able to avoid by increasing their own output in a move to offset that loss of Iranian oil. A claim that seems doubtful since Iran is OPEC's second largest exporter. So oil will be scarcer, and the cost far greater, impacting deleteriously on everything from heating to transportation to production costs.

It's a tough game both sides are playing, with China and Russia on the sidelines, supporting Iran.
"The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity. Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated."
This edgy flirtation with a breakout of violent hostilities and its long-term outcome which no one can possibly visualize with any degree of accuracy, infusing the world with additional uncertainties revolving around the growing need for energy at a time when so much instability is the order of the day, does not speak optimistically for 2012.

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Saintly Brotherhood

Holy Cow! Is it to be believed how utterly petty, truculent and small-minded people can be? All the more so when on this occasion these are men of the cloth, priests and monks, ensconced in one of the most ancient, storied and venerated churches in the world. Located in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity is said to have been built on the very site where Christ was born.

That, for those who are historically-challenged, was two millennia ago. The church was built in the 6th Century; now that is truly venerable. It hasn't had a new roof in 150 years. Agreement must be sought to proceed. Because its custodian-residents simply find it too awkward, too relentlessly irritating to have to deal with one another as co-located, joint responders.

There are three denominations of Christianity represented there.

And their animosity toward one another is legendary. Particularly between the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian denominations who traditionally have beset one another in un-brotherly violent aggression. This is Christian jousting, taking place with crude implements like truncheons or brooms.

There is an annual co-operative' clean-up after Christmas. The Latin, the Orthodox and the Armenian churches agree to tackle the job of bringing some order to the state of the church's tidyness. But the joint cleaning ceremonies seem to bring out the ire in each of the groups, inspiring them to set-to against one another.

A sturdy, determined brawl ensues, and Bethlehem police are called upon to separate the belligerents. Who do their job of bringing peace and tranquility to the site. It is the police who do this. Not the brethren-in-faith whom, it could logically be assumed, might consider that to be their singular preoccupation, not imposing bruises upon one another.

None of whom, obviously, gives thought at that juncture, of the original purpose of the site, where it is believed that a stable had once existed where two tired travellers took shelter when there was none to be had elsewhere, and where Mary, heavy with child and travelling with her husband Joseph, celebrated the birth of that child in a manger.

There, where the Church of the Nativity now stands, and has stood, since antiquity. Rather than be in awe of their surroundings and its meaning for them, and linking themselves in affection and shared trust, these stalwarts of the Christian Church, at a time and in a region where Christianity is afflicted by threats and violence from other religions, battle one another.

Members of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox clergy, zealously guarding denominational turf, scuffle during the annual cleanup of the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Wednesday. 'No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God,' said Bethlehem police Lt.-Col. Khaled al-Tamimi, adding order was quickly restored.
Members of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox clergy, zealously guarding denominational turf, scuffle during the annual cleanup of the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Wednesday. 'No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God,' said Bethlehem police Lt.-Col. Khaled al-Tamimi, adding order was quickly restored. Photograph by: Ammar Awad, Reuters, The Daily Telegraph, With Files From Agence France-Presse

Now really, what would Jesus think?

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N.H. Union Leader Editorial

Joseph W. McQuaid: Ron Paul is truly dangerous


Ron Paul is a dangerous man. While his domestic libertarian views are quite attractive to some voters fed up with politics as usual, it is Paul’s position on issues of our national security that are truly dangerous.

Those views have been largely overlooked by a news media more interested in the presidential “horse race” than in the candidates’ positions on issues. But we expect New Hampshire primary voters will examine the facts and act accordingly.

A Wall Street Journal columnist notes that Paul is “a leading spokesman for, and recycler of, the long and familiar litany of charges that point to the United States as a leading agent of evil and injustice, the militarist victimizer of millions who want only to live in peace.”

Perhaps this warped view is why Paul believes that al-Qaida terrorists caught in the United States ought to be treated as common criminals, not enemy combatants. He wants them read Miranda rights to which they are not entitled and he wants them tried and sentenced in civil courts rather than by military tribunals.

This is nothing short of nuts. What is needed to competently fight a war, and al-Qaida is indeed at war with us, is the ability to gather information. Telling the enemy that it has a “right to remain silent” is absurd.

Paul believes that if a U.S. citizen throws in with al-Qaida or associated groups overseas, where he plots American death and destruction, we need to somehow find him, arrest him, and bring him back to stand civil trial here rather than eliminate him, even if that is the only option.

We are in a much different kind of war than we have ever faced, but Paul doesn’t see it. He has repeatedly said that U.S. aggression is responsible for 9-11 and other attacks on America from radical jihadists.

He has repeatedly said that we should allow Iran to continue to develop a nuclear weapon. This is the same country whose leadership vows death to America, the “Satanic power,” and who wants Israel wiped from the map.

Never mind Paul being the favored candidate of the lunatic fringe (see white supremacists, anti-Semites, truthers, etc.). Never mind his refusal to disavow a third-party run (which would only help President Obama’s reelection).

His defenders say they admire Ron Paul’s “consistency.” It is true, Paul has been consistently spouting this nonsense. It is about time New Hampshire voters showed him the door.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Extremists Excluding Women

Lest there be any who may think that it is only Islamists who verge on the fanatical, with some among them steeply progressing from fanatically obsessed to maniacally extremist, they may wish to alter their perceptions, just a tad. There are, after all, Hindu extremists and Buddhist extremists who insist that the world recognize their warped and stringent view of the divine in a need to victimize and oppress.

And then there are also, unfortunately, the ultra-orthodox Jews who do their best to surpass all others in their urgent extremism that holds the certainty that women are nefarious creatures sent to mankind as a test from God to measure man's goodness; women who are in reality promiscuous temptresses who must be kept at bay and out of sight. They could perhaps, match wits with the Taliban.

It has finally dawned upon secular and reasonable-religious Jews that they have living amongst them warped religious minds who insist on subjecting women to the scorn and misery they deserve in having had the misfortune to be born female, an accursed, inferior gender. Necessary for the perpetuation of the species, but requiring separation from men lest they defile them.

Jewish extremists in Jerusalem neighbourhoods like Beit Shemesh, consider it their religious duty to accost schoolgirls wearing the school uniforms designed specifically for the orthodox in attendance at an orthodox school, but which dress code the extremists find to be unsuitable. The long skirts and long-sleeved shirts, mark these second-grade students as "prostitutes".

And eight-year-old children are accosted by these wild lunatics purporting to represent the pure will of God, who spit upon the girls and rain invective down upon them, cursing and threatening them. "My stomach hurts every time I need to walk to and from the school and I know those men will be there. They are scary", said one child whose daily school-walk ordeal had been video-taped.

None but the obsessed ultra-orthodox are Jewish enough; even those who are of the Orthodox Jewish camp are considered to be unfit to call themselves Jews, to these madmen. Now, finally, ordinary Israelis, proud to be Jews, proud of their Israeli citizenship, content to represent the majority, but appalled at the lunacy in their midst, are joining together to protest the extremists.

The police are pelted by stones and spat upon by the extremists when they take down signage ordering women off the streets, and order them to sit at the back of buses, segregating them from the men. It is time and past time for these extremists to be dealt with in a manner which signifies just how criminally disruptive they are to society, and what a blemish they represent upon the nation's conscience.

"We are fighting for the soul of the nation and the essence of the state. Today is a test in which the entire nation will have to mobilize to rescue the majority from the claws of a small minority that is chipping away at our most hallowed values." The words ring out in a concerned despair at the depth of the depravity of the extremists. President Shimon Peres fully understands how critical this issue is.

"The police kept coming, and the sign would just get put back up as soon as they left. We need a real change here, not just some superficial efforts to take down signs."

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Velayat-90 - Go Ahead, Test Us

Iran is set to hold its war games in the Strait of Hormuz, a 50-kilometre-wide passageway critical to shipping for the international community dependent on oil from the region, that the Islamic Republic of Iran claims to control as its very personal territory. The country is preparing to conduct a military exercise with its considerable fleet of vessels, including some 200 missile patrol boats with sea-skimming anti-ship missiles.

"These light naval forces have special importance because of their potential ability to threaten oil and shipping traffic in the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, raid key offshore facilities and conduct raids on targets on the Gulf Coast", explained Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington.

The Strait of Hormuz sees passage to roughly a third of the world's oil tanker traffic. This is a choke-point critical to the region's oil exports. Whoever controls the Strait, virtually controls the Middle East's economy, politics, power structure. And Iran contends that this is their personal bailiwick to have and to hold. And it will hold the Strait closed as punishment toward those who seek to punish Iran.

"If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure", promised Parviz Sarvari, of the Iranian parliament's National Security Committee. The Strait of Hormuz would be closed as part of the planned military exercise. See our strength, cower before us lest we deem it necessary to shut you out, and you will suffer.

"The importance of this waterway to both American military and economic interests is difficult to overstate", according to a report by geopolitical analysts at the global intelligence firm Stratfor. "Considering Washington's more general - and fundamental - interest in securing freedom of the seas, the U.S. Navy would almost be forced to respond aggressively to any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz."

This is an edgy, dangerous poker game Iran is playing. It is entirely feasible that Iran is not merely bluffing, but plans to close the 'Gulf' for more than a mere few days. Hedging its bets that the U.S. too is bluffing, unprepared with its current financial frailty, to embroil itself in yet another costly war which, like the last two, may have no end in sight, costing American lives and treasury it can now ill afford.

A treasury drained in large part by its recent-past and current embroilment in other Islamic countries, the outcome of which may seem, in retrospect, not to have held the value in what was achieved, that was assumed to be possible. "It would almost certainly lose far more than it gained from such a war, but nations often fail to act as rational bargainers in a crisis, particularly if attacked or if their regimes are threatened."

And no outside observer could ever conceivably err in describing the provocative and volatile decisions made by Iran on the world stage as rational. The world, staggering as it is, in the wake of its global financial downturn, would face the prospect of crude ripping up to $500 a barrel, should the Strait be closed for any length of time, and conflict ensue.

Not a happy prospect in any dimension, for any concerned. Least of all for Iran, for if it did indeed carry through on its threat, it would invite onto itself the wrath of those upon whose fortunes it so carelessly tramples, risking considerable damage from retaliatory attacks. And would this bother Iran? Not particularly.

This is, after all, the fanatical regime that believes anything it does to enhance the prospect of the return of the Hidden Imam - and thus the ushering in of the faithful to Paradise while all others are doomed to perish in the perpetual anguish of living death - could only find comfort in martyring itself so that it may ultimately be raised up in triumph before the throne of Allah.

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Iran "Red Lines" Clarified

Israel, U.S. discuss triggers for military strike on Iran

The Daily Beast reports that the countries are discussing "red lines" in Iran's nuclear program, that if crossed would justify a preemptive strike on its nuclear facilities.

By Barak Ravid Tags: Iran Iran nuclear Israel US

Israel and the U.S. are discussing "red lines" in Iran's nuclear program, that if crossed would justify a preemptive strike on its nuclear facilities, the Daily Beast website reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, filed an official complaint with the administration following a speech by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta a few weeks ago, warning against a military strike on Iran.

The Daily Beast reported that Panetta's statements infuriated the Israeli government, which ordered ambassador Oren to file the complaint. The White House then relayed a message to Israel saying the administration has its own "red lines" concerning a strike on Iran, and that Israel does not need to act unilaterally. Israel's protest also resulted in Panetta reversing his stand in an interview with CBS, saying the U.S. will use any means necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jets

Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jets during a ceremony for newly graduated pilots at the Hatzerim Air Base, June 28, 2010.

Photo by: Reuters

Patrick Clawson from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said in the report that "If Iran were found to be sneaking out or breaking out then the president’s advisers are firmly persuaded he would authorize the use of military force to stop it.” However, he added that "we just don’t know how the president will react.”

The Daily Beast also reported that as part of the strategic dialogue between Israel and the U.S. that took place earlier this month, Israel presented new information about Iran’s efforts to build secret reactors for nuclear fuel production, and showed that these efforts were further along than the U.S. thought. Some of the intelligence was based on soil samples collected near the suspected sites.

Israel and the U.S. disagree about how far along Iran's uranium enrichment program has developed, making it difficult for the two sides to formulate "red lines" concerning the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

As published online at Haaretz, 28 December 2011

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Macabre Farce in Syria

Observers from Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere; generals, human rights observers, politicians, representing the Arab League, have descended on Syria to finally implement the agreement to observe on the ground how the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is handling the protests that have grabbed world attention of late.

Homs, where some of the worst shelling of the city by government forces has taken place, with casualties and killing proceeding apace, is set to be visited by some of the observers representing the Arab League officials. They will be dividing themselves into five groups when they are all assembled, to visit other cities as well. And they will be guided by Syrian representatives.

Their mode of transport will be that arranged by the Syrian regime. But they will be independent and neutral, and observe what has been transpiring. The Egyptian and Tunisian observers, of course, have their own protest occurrences in their own countries to rely upon for experience.

Where even now protests continue and the government forces there deal with them in somewhat similar ways to the Syrian forces. Irrelevant details.

Since they are being led by Sudanese Lieut.-Gen.Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, there is additional expertise in identifying human rights abuses and outright murder of those who protest; Sudan has much experience in this line of government control of those who wish to incite to riot.

As for the group from the Arab League arriving to view the situation in Homs, well they're in good hands.

None other than Gen.Assef Shawkat, President al-Assad's brother-in-law, one of Syria's most powerful military men is there to take charge of the procedure of observing and reaching conclusions. He will be most helpful to the process.

And he will take charge of the situation, awkward as it might seem, of escorting the observers to particular sites.

Perhaps not where lifeless bodies are lying in the streets and alleyways - outside mosques, and close to their homes where people ventured out thinking they must, and this would be the last thing they ever did - to observe these obvious foreign elements, terrorists, jihadists who have entered the country for the purpose of destabilizing normalcy.

"Our Syrian brothers are co-operating very well and without any restrictions so far", said team leader, Lt.Gen. al-Dabi. Assuring any who take interest in what he says that the mission will be fully capable of maintaining the "element of surprise", going wherever it wishes so it will be able to conduct a perfectly impartial process of interviews.

Soldiers of the Syrian army surround neighbourhoods where tanks patrol the perimeter streets. People who live there, Syrian civilians, cower in their bathrooms or basements, hoping to be spared by shots being fired indiscriminately. Food and water is running in short supply. The Arab League observers may observe this.

They also may not, however.

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China's Pollution Revolution

The Centre for Economics and Business Research in its latest World Economic League Table has reported that Asian countries were on the upward swing while European countries, traditionally occupying the high rung of business economies are occupying a downward swing. And while the U.S. economy ,despite its problems, is the largest world economy, it is now closely followed by China.

China also happens to be the largest carrier of American debt in its holding of U.S. Treasury securities, to the value of $1.16-trillion dollars. And despite the global economic downturn, and a slight falling off of export from China, the country is still accelerating its production and export of goods throughout the world thanks to cheap labour and the state of the yuan.

China's burgeoning prosperity has cost the globe production diversification; countries that once held a fair market share of production and export, able to maintain smokestack employment to fuel their economies have surrendered production to China. While unemployment has grown elsewhere in the world, it has provided China with the opportunity to offer employment to more of its people.

Greater numbers of Chinese than ever before are now gainfully employed, and there is a rising tide of middle class Chinese, able to visit as tourists other parts of the world to see how their counterparts elsewhere live. This has introduced the Chinese to the realization that other people live more environmentally normal lives than do the Chinese.

Where industrialization for China has meant smokestacks chugging out black smoke, particulate matter everywhere, dimming the atmosphere. And where foul chemicals pollute waterways creating potable water shortages, and lifestyle and environmental-induced diseases have become rampant. Beijing, like other Chinese metropoli suffers from constant heavy smog days where the sun is hidden for days on end behind choking, lung-strangling pollution.

Levels of particulate matter clouding the atmosphere occur in amounts that would shut down cities elsewhere on the Globe for fear of the health impacts on people and animals. The smog reaches levels that surpass a worse-case scenario, and are then recorded as "beyond index", or as some wags ruefully describe it, "crazy bad".

Despite which, the official Chinese government air quality measurements are bruited about as being "good", even "excellent", occurring at least 80% of the time. Nor is the dismal environmental fallout of having become the world's production centre the only problem that Chinese face. Lead and other heavy minerals in paint - also exported as lead in children's toys.

Melamine-tainted milk, that makes children ill, and can and does kill some; cooking oil from unsavoury sources, including industrial and sewage-derived; and markets brimming with fresh vegetables drenched in pesticides. Quality control is less than dismal; profit is king and must be achieved at any cost.

Mainland China now faces the fact that 600,000 people last year alone contracted lung cancer which has risen by 60% in the past decade. The cause quite, quite explicable. The cost of the steadily rising quality of economic life for people comes at the inexorable cost of their failing health prospects.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Who Rules Pakistan?

Why the military, of course, aided and abetted by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The government is their shield from scrutiny, responsible for passing laws that the military will permit them to pass and the ISI finds itself agreeable with. The judiciary is said to be independent, but who knows? This is not a mutually agreeable situation, but it does represent reality.

The military has at its disposal a quite formidable cudgel in its sole possession of the country's nuclear arsenal which the government enjoys claiming the fiction that it has complete control of, and the military does its bidding. The military and the ISI are committed to Islamism and wrenching Kashmir from Indian hands; indeed inflicting any kind of mischief that would harm India.

That commitment to control of the geography extends to Afghanistan - and the military and the ISI have both formal and informal connections to violent Islamists, guarding and guiding them to a tangent of mutual interests. It will never do for a Prime Minister or President of Pakistan to consider himself to be independent and having authority over the military.

For one thing, the Chief of Army Staff and his high-ranking cohorts will not have it other than as an acknowledged facade of very thin dimensions. There is no organization within Pakistan with the power of the military and/or the ISI. While the government would dearly love to delude itself that power lies ultimately with the elected lawmakers, they know otherwise.

The government of Yousuf Raza Gilani also knows how threatened it is should it seek peace with India and should it become too close with the interests of the United States and the West in battling Islamist terrorism. Nowhere is Islamism and jihad as carefully nurtured as it is in Pakistan in its countless madrassas and terror training camps, supported by the military.

Nothing is forever, it is true, as has been amply testified to by the Turkish military which once proudly maintained its oath in honour of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, founder of modern 'secular' Turkey. It has now seen itself in complete rout, subjected to humiliation and arrest of its top generals and high-ranking officers, retired and currently-serving for purported coup attempts targeting the Freedom and Justice Party of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

In Pakistan General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of Army Staff, has furiously denied talk of a military coup; for the Pakistani military will continue to serve democracy and the elected officials of Pakistan. "The army is fully cognizant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities", he huffed indignantly.

President Asif Ali Zardari is said to have pleaded with the United States to help prevent a military coup which threatened in the wake of the rage manifested by the Pakistani military in the unspeakable adventure of the U.S. Navy SEALS raid that dispatched Osama bin Laden, where he lived for years in peace and security, co-located with an elite military training facility.

Presumably, to entice the United States to enter into a covert alliance with the elected government of Pakistan to protect it from its own military, the U.S. was offered the capture of the al-Qaeda principals still in circulation in Pakistan. As well, entry to Pakistan soil by the U.S. military would be assured to enable capture of terrorists.

Perhaps most enticing of all, the agreement would also permit the United States to work with Islamabad in securing safeguards for the country's nuclear weapons, ensuring they would never fall into hostile hands. News of this missive and its offers spread in Pakistan after it appeared in the Financial Times, and the level of xenophobic anti-Americanism has skyrocketed.

The government has been accused of treason and the ISI has launched a national security investigation. They may investigate whether there is any truth in the claim that Lieutenant-General Ahmad Pasha, head of the ISI, had visited Arab countries to curry their favour for the commission of a coup in Pakistan.

And, good gracious, look at this, former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, who fell out of favour and was replaced with a genuine democratic election, is preparing to return from exile in London to launch a new political party...

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Nations As Criminals

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey can be a most irascible man. Readily riled should anyone whisper of, much less seek to pass legislation recognizing the genocidal massacre of Armenians by Turkish forces across Ottoman-era Turkey during the First World War. It is estimated that one and a half million Armenians died because Turkey considered them to be traitors to the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey has spent a century denying it was ever involved in anything bearing approximation to anything as distasteful as genocide. There are those among the Turks, but not with Mr. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, who believe that it would be in Turkey's best interests to admit its culpability, and thus allow the matter to fade into history, after sincere apologies to the Armenians and suitable reparations.

Mr. Erdogan will have none of it, but he is certainly not alone. His attitude reflects that of his predecessors. This sensitive topic seems to drive official Turkey into paroxysms of denial. France, which studiously has worked behind the scenes to keep Turkey from being admitted into the European Union, has now mortally offended Turkey by passing a bill making it a criminal offence to question the disputed genocide.

Of course, this move by France to officially satisfy the demands of both history and its half-million French citizens of Armenian descent, leaves France open to counter-accusations by Turkey that France was responsible for genocidal massacres in independence-seeking Algeria. "What the French did in Algeria was genocide", Mr. Erdogan fumed.

The official total number of Muslims who died during Algeria's uprising is said to be around a million, revealed through an authoritative study of the war. In return a like number of French settlers were expelled from Algeria upon independence in 1962. France, charged Mr. Erdogan, "mercilessly martyred" 15% of the Algerian population.

On yet another front, Turkey is faced with another country finally recognizing the same charges against Turkey. Israel had long restively put off any such declaration - though it felt an obligation to the Armenians to express the truth - for fear of offending then-friendly Turkey. As Turkey has shed its long-term relationship with Israel under its new Islamist regime, Israel no longer feels constrained.

A simple, official statement is likely all that will proceed from Israel's decision, placing it squarely in the camp that condemns Turkey for not acknowledging this disgraceful human-rights abuse from its recent past. In France, in contrast, a prison term of up to a year and a $60,000 fine for any who deny the event, will become law if the bill is passed.

In the meanwhile, Turkey has cut off all diplomatic relations with France, while Mr. Erdogan foams at the mouth, and he is guaranteed to continue foaming as soon as Israel too, makes it an official national statement.

Sovereign nations officially recognising the Armenian Genocide include:

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Sub-Prime Lives On...

There's one victory for the Obama administration, reflecting concern and a modicum of relief for the true victims of the sub-prime mortgage chaos. Bad enough that people who could not financially qualify for those mortgages were encouraged to own a house of their own, no down payment, low interest rates, and no payments required for the time being; be a homeowner, it's the American dream.

But now it is revealed that Hispanics and Blacks who had jobs and were capable of responsibly managing their financial affairs and who truly did qualify for home ownership were thrown into the pile - deliberately - by those who made the decisions at Countrywide Financial - since bought out by Bank of America Corp.

African-Americans and Hispanics were disproportionately represented by those unhappy home-owners who lost their homes in the financial meltdown accelerated by the sub-prime mortgage debacle. Unknown to those Blacks and Hispanics who were able to qualify and were happy to have approval, they were ushered into those faulty mortgages in their zeal to own a home.

Countrywide was a specialist in sub-prime mortgages, their focus on would-be homeowners who had a record of low credit ratings. And these were the people who were charged higher interest rates; make sense? Non-minority Americans were excused from paying higher fees and interest rates; Hispanics and Blacks were targeted.

Those in the category of responsible homeowner-material with fair credit rating and incomes required to pay mortgages were channelled toward sub-prime mortgages even though they qualified for traditional mortgages. If they were Black, if they were Hispanic. None of this was divulged to them, they thought that everything was conducted conventionally.

"The victims had no idea they were being victimized. They were thrilled to have gotten a loan and realize the American dream. This is discrimination with a smile", said Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil-rights division. It was clearly unspeakably racist.

Although Countrywide's former chief executive Angelo Mozilo has been excused of criminal wrongdoing. Not illegal, simply immoral and unethical. An excess of enthusiasm for the wide range of possibilities available in the free enterprise capitalist system that encourages profit with little thought to the ethics of guiding people down the garden path of ruination to achieve it.

Government investigators undertook reviews of two-and-a-half million loans to discover that African Americans and Hispanics were over three times more likely to receive high-cost sub-prime loans than non-minorities. That's quite an inadvertence.

It smells rather rank, somewhat like the Countrywide decision to illegally foreclose on members of the U.S. military without court orders. Like the decision by the same Countrywide to over-charge homeowners for loan servicing fees, both of which events required the company to face huge fines in civil charges.

This latest, a record $335-million in recognition of its institutionalized gouging of innocent home buyers, leading them to be the recipients of hugely flawed mortgages, risking their investments, while charging them considerably more than should have been done for fees and higher interest rates, reveals the cancerous underbelly of unrestrained capitalism.

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Equal Entitlement Reparations

Gov’t Wants Arabs to Pay for 1948 Pogroms against Jews
by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu Gov’t Wants Arabs to Pay for Pogroms against Jews

The government has decided to tackle head-on the alleged “Arab refugees” issue by renewing efforts for compensation for Jewish victims of Arab pogroms .

Estimates of property losses range from $16 billion to $300 billion in Arab countries where Arab leaders seized their property or took it over after Jews were expelled or forced to flee because of anti-Jewish violence and harassment.

Dr. Avi Bitzur, director-general of the Pensioners' Affairs Ministry, told Voice of Israel government radio it has created a new department to try to collect claims for more than 850,000 Jews from Iran and other Arab countries. Approximately 80 percent of them moved to Israel.

Most of the refugees fled or were expelled after the violent Arab reaction to the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, six months after it was recognized by the United Nations under the Partition Plan that the Arab world rejected.

"Israel has talked about this on and off for 60 years. Now we're going to deal with it as we should have all along," said Bitzur.

He added that the Cabinet is scheduled to decide in the next two weeks to raise the issue of Jewish refugees whenever the Palestinian Authority brings up the “right of return,” referring to nearly five million Arabs living in Arab countries but for whom the United Nations considers Israel as their home. The designation is a result of a unique policy by UNRWA towards Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 at the behest of Arab countries, who promised them they would return quickly after their expected annihilation of the Jewish State.

The policy of the United Nations does not allow the status of “refugee” to be transferred from generation to generation, but it makes an exception for Arabs from Israel.

Bitzur added, “We should know the history of the pogrom in Baghdad in 1941, of the Libyan Jews who ended up in Bergen Belsen. It's time for people to know that there was this part of the Jewish people and its history was brought to an end."

"The UN has dealt at least 700 times with Arab refugees and their property, but not once with the issue of Jewish property.”

As published online at ArutzSheva, 26 December 2011

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The New Syria

"You cannot imagine the feeling of living without freedom. This is my own country but I live in it in fear. I am frightened even in my own home. My dream is to be able to tell you my real name, and for you to visit us in freedom as a journalist, without this disguise." Damascene activist
Only Syrians know what it is like to scurry about, hoping that sharp shooters' attention will be distracted elsewhere, and they will arrive home unscathed, not become another casualty for the UN to rack up in its rising toll of dead among the protesters. "Do you see the army? This is Douma, not Kandahar or Baghdad."

Not finding it in himself to believe that his country had become a rat's nest of military forces surrounding towns and villages to wipe out inhabitants who appear to them to be resisting the legitimacy of the regime. After Friday prayers, the faithful seek to exit their mosques, to make their way quietly along the streets.

Preferably, to gather, still quietly, but holding aloft signs stating their preference for an al-Assad-free Syria. Which bold statement garners them the deadly ire of those forces still faithful to the regime. The locals set up barricades hoping to detain the military vehicle advances. Knowing full well that on the roofs of surrounding buildings are the sharp shooters.

Huddling in the mosque doorway, men gauge their chances, and courage in hand, leap out in straggled groups, to rush in ragged patterns out of the "kill zone", to reach the safety of the alley where their presence can be hidden. Once there, they shout "freedom!" and "down, down, down with the regime!"

It is a play of human drama, danger and wretchedness that brings to mind the similar details outlined in Oriana Fallaci's novel taking place in Lebanon, titled Inshallah. Just alter the place-names and these events could be taking place almost anywhere in the Middle East, with its ethnic and tribal factions, its sectarian rivalries.

The Syrian National Council keeps a running tally of the deadly casualties, the numbers of their "fallen heroes". Ideally, they would dearly like to persuade NATO of its humanitarian obligations; to replicate what they managed to pull off in Libya with the "no fly zone" in protection of civilians. One might assume, incorrectly, that this is precisely what the Arab League should be engaged in.

But no, members of the Syrian National Council opposition movement do not engage in serious discussions visiting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf States; they visit places like Canada, where they seek to meet with government officials, thanking them for agreeing to freeze the Syrian regime's assets, and looking for official recognition for themselves.

"We asked the Canadian government to help convince some countries, some governments in the UN Security Council to bring forward a resolution that will help in the protection of civilians in Syria", said SNC representative Obaida Nahhas. Even if Canada thought it useful and feasible to consider international military involvement in Syria, China and Russia would not.

The Syrian National Council seeks peace, stability, security, liberty and freedom for its countrymen. And if they became the de facto government, dedicated to administering Syria as a democracy, Arab-style, would they end hostilities with Israel and sign a peace accord, they were asked. How awkwardly inconvenient, where did that question come from?

Diplomatically, the response carefully avoided mentioning the name of the Zionist Entity. Instead, responded Ahmed Ramadan,"The new Syria will be a true factor for stability in the region, particularly with its neighbours. The new Syria will demand the return of the territories under Israel occupation", was his closing statement.

How, then, is the new Syria different from the old Syria?

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Shedding The Sunni Contingent

"Nature abhors a vacuum, and the relative power vacuum in Baghdad is going to draw in the neighbours" Stephen Biddle, Council on Foreign Relations
What vacuum? Surely not the stable, democracy-dedicated, politically mature country that U.S. troops were just a week ago eased out of? In a country that had been laid low when its tyrant who maintained a restive peace between its ethnic factions and religious sects had been removed, releasing pent-up hatred and a renewed appetite for revenge?

Despite U.S. President Barack Obama's brave words of encouragement, describing Iraq as "sovereign, stable and self-reliant", the United States had, at this juncture, little other option but to withdraw its troops. Since, rather famously, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet much preferred that they leave, refusing to agree with the U.S. that no American troops be held to Iraqi law superseding that of the U.S.

So withdraw they did. Giving the green light to proceed in an unseemly hurried manner, for the Shia Prime Minister and his Shia cohorts to accuse his Sunni counterpart of having fomented a murderous assassination campaign against his sectarian opposites. Engineering matters so that should the Sunni contingent of the government seek to walk out, they would be summarily replaced.

That's a fairly edgy game Prime Minister al-Maliki is playing, putting out wanted posters for Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, to bring him into custody and try him for sedition, for murder, for plotting against the Shia majority. And since Saleh al-Mutlaq, another member of Mr. al-Hashemi's political party, Iraqiya, accused al-Maliki of being "worse than Saddam", he is accused of complicity with Mr. al-Hashemi.

The country is now riven by Shia and Sunni rivalries brought rather blatantly and unskillfully to the fore once again, each sectarian faction prepared to renounce co-operation, convinced the other is planning to assume the ascendancy at any cost. The cost to the country will be incalculable, with Iran goading the majority Shia, and the Sunni looking to Kurdistan for some advantage.

With al-Qaeda-in-Iraq celebrating another advantage of its own brought its way courtesy of an ambitious Shia-led government which cannot see the future for its own immediate advantage.

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Preventing Environmental Fatalities

In a country where religious conviction runs very deep, this Christmas presents as a time of great loss and sorrow for the people of the Philippines. Flash floods and landslides in the wake of Typhoon Washi sending mud and logs in full motion down hillsides in the thirteen provinces that were affected by the catastrophe killed almost a thousand people on Mindanao.

The cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan the worst hit, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless, finding shelter in evacuation centres. The deadly cascades that washed down from the mountainsides creating deadly crashes that took so many lives, washed out so many homes, is being closely examined by President Benigno Aquino.

A task force has been formed by the Philippines President for the purpose of determining whether a logging ban has been breached. In view of the fact that over 338,000 people were affected, with 43,000 being housed in emergency shelters in schools, churches and gymnasiums, a state of emergency was declared. Restoration of drinking water supplies and power to the villages is a priority.

Over ten thousand homes were damaged by the flash floods, fully one-third of which were completely destroyed. Schools, roads and bridges were badly damaged. Rice and corn crops were damaged as well, but in their early planting stage yet, it is hoped there may be some recovery. Eyewitnesses that survived the deadly event recounted huge logs thundering down the mountainsides, crushing victims.

The two towns worst hit are struggling to control the situation to prevent contagious disease outbreaks, proceeding with burial vaults and public cemetery vaults, burying decomposing bodies.
Evacuation centres are overcrowded with survivors having very little space between them.
"It is really overcrowded, there is almost no space in between people. Diseases are starting to appear. It's really a struggle to manage those evacuation centres, there's a shortage of water and a shortage of food." World Vision
Mines & Geo-sciences Bureau of the Philippines, an arm of the government, had warned of the need to relocate families living along riverbanks, many of whom died when rivers overflowed after a month of steady rainfall.
"This tragedy that happened in Cagayan de Oro ... will be repeated in the future. And therefore, there needs to be appropriate preparation to prevent fatalities."
A poor country, eager to advance its economic future, insufficiently alert to the need to back up its environmental legislation with teeth. A necessity to heavily fine and incarcerate those who seek to profit from illegal logging, leaving mountain slopes vulnerable to wash-outs. And a need to ensure that municipal authorities issue permits for building, denying permits to those who wish to build in vulnerable areas.

A country with an emerging economy can no more take short cuts with its future and that of its citizens than a wealthy one. A lesson brought home in the wake of such disasters; a lesson too dear to occur in wasting human lives in sacrifice to perceived financial benefits.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Utter Compulsion

There is something utterly compelling about books like Trekking in the Everest Region, Living Arctic, Into Thin Air, Icebound, the Arctic Grail, The North-West Passage by Land, Ice: Stories of Survival From Polar Exploration, and The last of His Kind. They grip the imagination, holding the reader spellbound in fascination for the daring, foresight and courage of the human will to explore this world we inhabit.

Humankind's curiosity to know as much as possible about the world's far frozen reaches and the majestic heights, the geological formations, hostile and forbidding, but irresistible, leading people from northern nations to discover, explore and engage with the realities of raw nature never fails to amaze.

Those intrepid explorers who set out with faith in their capacities and abilities to survive the most formidable existential odds; man against nature at its most unpredictable, inclement. Where indeed, humankind and even other forms of animal or bird life avoid being trapped in an environment they will never be able to extricate themselves from alive. These relatively few who set out with mountain conquest in mind, intent on summiting the most impossible heights must be imbued with a special gene rendering them immune to the fears that usually grip others far less adventurous.

That they do fear the unknown but yet convince themselves that the draw of their will to survive equalling the wish to discover and to know, along with the perceived integrity of their search far outweighs the potential for disaster places them in a very special category. To read about their adventurous exploits is to experience a wan reflection of what it is they face against the imperious contours of the Earth's crust, the hostile environments that nature has bestowed upon vast, isolated areas of this Planet we call our home.

The ferocity of their dedication to searching out the mysteries of Earth's natural formations, mapping them, surviving countless ordeals to bring back news to the more timid of us - which describes the huge majority of people - is matched only by nature's own ferocious determination to demonstrate, time and again, her imperial mastery over humankind's ingenuity and stolid perseverance.

The book I've just completed reading, by a master American mountaineer, David Roberts, writing of his mentor, Bradford Washburn, in The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's Boldest Mountaineer; The Last of His Kind, is a lesson in the stubborn resolve and fascinating life-work of one such man. As an explorer extraordinaire, master alpine photographer, geologist, and science museum curator, Bradford Washburn was indeed one of a kind in his huge sense of curiosity, his perfectionism, his assurance that determined will would conquer all.

Leaving behind a legacy comprised of new methods of mountain exploration, concise mountain, glacier and icy-canyon photographs, and detailed instructions to match his experiences with the new generation of enterprising, committed young men and women who are compelled to repeat his, his climbing peers', their predecessors' and successors' fabulous exploits.

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Holding Power

This has been a good year for conspiracy theorists. A good decade, perhaps, starting with 9-11. And closing out the decade, there is another theory being circulated in some quarters, that the death of North Korea's Kim Jong-il was carefully engineered. There are considerable discrepancies between the official version of the sad event and what actually occurred; where and when and how.

It took fully two and a half days before the outside world was given notice of the death of the North Korean tyrant, beloved of his people. Who learned of their great deprivation at the same time the rest of the world did, through a delayed broadcast of the sorrowful event. Nor did the tragedy occur on a train while he was en route to spreading goodwill throughout his country.

The cause of his death could have been, as formally announced, a heart attack, reflecting his actual state of health. But it could also have been helpfully accelerated by 'elements within the regime' whose agenda would be furthered with his sped-up demise. His brother-in-law, for example, Jang Song-thack with whom Kim Jong-il had shared an on-again, off-again relationship.

Mr. Jang does not lack for connection within the military; his two high-ranking military brothers had left a legacy of insider status for their brother. He has also been a member of the country's central committee, and head of state security forces. And latterly, redeemed in relations with his brother-in-law, became an intimate adviser to him, and finally appointed mentor to his youngest son.

Mr. Jang was promoted to vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission, in conjunction with Kim Jong-un, his deceased father's inheritor-to-the-throne, having been made a four-star general. Where he exercised his militant-ruling streak by ordering an attack on a South Korean naval vessel, further estranging the two Koreas.

Kim Jong-il in his great wisdom, looking to his secure his succession, deemed it advisable to create a ruling triumvirate to guide the transition from his ascent to heaven and his son's ascent to Dear Ruling General by anointing his sister, Kim Kyong-hui, a general, and appointing her to the Politburo, with another trusted aid.

It's beginning to look a lot like administrative rule and therefore power, will lie heavily in the capable (whose political orientation remains little-known to the outside world) hands of Jang Song-thack, nursing Kim Jong-un into a role he may never be ready to assume.

The ruling generals may simply feel more comfortable with one of their own.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Fabled Baghdad

Iraq is dissolving into unmitigated chaos and sectarian strife. A reflection of the lasting pacifying effects of the painstaking diplomacy that took place between the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities with the United States acting as goodwill interlocutor. The United States, understandably, wishing to leave Iraq in fine mettle, for the future of democracy in the Middle East, and to assuage a national conscience that their sacrifice of U.S. military and American Treasury was not for naught.

It was, alas, for naught.

There is that about the volatile cocktail of tribalism, religious sectarianism, ideologies, honour, brinksmanship, and human nature, that produces stark instability. There is no shared vision for a united country, a proud nation that has a deep and abiding desire to work one in tandem with the other for the greater good of the people that they represent. Each faction, is entirely concerned with their own paramount self-interest.

And so, immediately upon withdrawal of the United States whose elected administration felt secure in the notion that reason is all-prevailing and in the greater interests of national unity the frail co-operative union they helped usher in, to conclude the Saddam Hussein chapter, would prevail.

And they could withdraw in good conscience, exhausted both militarily and financially.

Surely, they knew better. Hoping that if they articulated forcefully, loudly enough their confidence in the stability of the country and its democratic future, they would impress its importance upon those whom they knew were prepared to see the country implode again.

That withdrawal was the signal, none too soon, for the Shia majority, that their time had come. And Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lost no time in making his move, accusing his Sunni counterpart of having planned and had executed violence directed against the Shia. Unleashing in the process the long-simmering, occasionally erupting hatred between the two.

Which resulted in no fewer than sixteen bombings in various part of Baghdad, hitting mostly Shia enclaves. Almost a hundred killed and 217 wounded. Oh, the Sunni areas were not completely spared; they too were hit. Place your bets; the Sunni Islamists, some of them aligned with al-Qaeda, against the Shia militias, most aligned with Iran.

And the peaceful, intelligent, hard-working, perplexed and concerned Kurds minding their business and doing it very well. A sovereign, separate Kurdistan must look most appealing at this juncture, complete with the oil riches located within that geographic location. They wish.

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Arab League Observers in Syria

What a relief. Finally, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has agreed, under huge pressure and with some reservations, to having Arab League 'observers' enter the country to see for themselves what he has claimed all along, that terrorists, al-Qaeda-connected Islamists, have been wreaking havoc, shedding blood, attacking his troops since March.

And his regime has been courageously facing down this external threat to the stability of his country, while fending off unfair accusations of regime brutality against its own. Why, only yesterday al-Qaeda terrorists had managed to infiltrate a heavily-guarded area of Damascus close to a police station, setting off several car bombs and killing 60 civilian Syrians.

Obviously, the observers - the advance team comprised of military and human rights observers amounting to some twenty seasoned conflict surveyors, followed by another hundred observers in several weeks' time, prepared to fan out throughout the country to do the work assigned to them, will soon conclude that the accusations have been wrong, and Bashar al-Assad's contentions quite correct.

Who would not have confidence in the calibre of the advance team sent out to set up the network and look after the logistics of doing so? In the name of freedom, honour, and Arab-style democracy they are all set to perform and do their duty to the merit of the Arab League. Which in their wisdom selected Lt.-Gen.Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, former head of intelligence of the regime of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, to lead the advance team.

This would be, of course, the very same President Omar al-Bashir who presided over the mass slaughter, rape, destruction and homelessness of the people of Darfur. And for which atrocities the International Criminal Court has sent out a warrant for arrest on the basis of his having ordered, through the activities of the Arab Janjaweed, human rights atrocities against Black Sudanese, Darfurian agriculturalists.

When the slaughter of all these people was ongoing, it was a matter of no concern to the Arab League, for they were neither Arab nor Muslim. President al-Bashir of Sudan is both, therefore the accusations and condemnation of the world at large and the International Criminal Court in particular is of no particular concern to the Arab League, of which al-Bashir and Lt.-Gen. Mustafa al-Dabi are proud and free members.

Trifles, obviously.

Lt.-Gen. Mustafa al-Dabi is now present in Damascus with his advance team skilled in military affairs and human rights obligations. They will be able to judge for themselves, presumably, neutrally, the latest atrocity where over a hundred civilians were besieged, trapped, gunned down in a village close to the Turkish border, with none left alive.

They may have the opportunity to see the 37,000 Syrians remaining in detention after summary arrest for illegal protest. They will not have the opportunity to question the estimated 617 who died under torture, including 39 children whose misfortune it was to be arrested along with adults, tortured and sent to their very early deaths.

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