Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Big Brother is Alive & Well &...

... living  in Sydney, Australia:

"A leading Australian intelligence company is selling state-of-the-art surveillance technology to Bahrain amid concerns it could be used to target pro-democracy campaigners, according to an investigation by international human rights advocates. Published on Thursday, the report by London-based non-government organisation Bahrain Watch found that iOmniscient, which has its headquarters in Sydney, has since April partnered with US company Pelco and Bahrain's LSS Technologies to provide the Bahrain Interior Ministry with enhanced surveillance equipment. This includes 2000 CCTV cameras and facial recognition software. 'The rollout of this technology means at least one camera for every 650 Bahrainis, allowing nationwide, real-time tracking of the population,' said Bahrain Watch's Travis Brimhall, noting prior use of police video to indict protesters in the Gulf kingdom. 'Given the government's well-established record of targeting opposition and human rights defenders, we fear this will provide an advanced dissident-capture system where anyone found to be speaking out can be recognised and intercepted on a scale previously unseen.'

"Bahrain, home of the US Fifth Fleet, was in 2011 the site of mass demonstrations demanding political reform by the country's Shiite majority population. The protests were violently put down by security forces with assistance from neighbouring states [namely, Saudi Arabia], but dissent and repression have persisted...

"A global leader in video analytics, iOmniscient confirmed that it has projects with Bahrain's Interior Ministry to the value of 'several million dollars'. In particular, the company's chief executive, Rustom Kanga, noted the company's facial recognition software provides unique capacities to identify individuals in crowds. However, Dr Kanga said concerns about the misuse of iOmniscient's technology are unwarranted. 'If a person of interest shows up, he can be apprehended by the authorities while the general public is totally protected and their privacy is never compromised,' he said. 'The system essentially helps the human operator to be more effective more quickly, especially in emergencies. Innocent citizens have nothing to worry about'." (Warnings over abuse of Aussie technology, Zoe Holman, Sydney Morning Herald, 25/6/16)

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Very British Coup in the Making

A backgrounder from Craig Murray's It's still the Iraq War, stupid:

"No rational person could blame Jeremy Corbyn for Brexit. So why are the Blairites moving against [UK Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn now, with such precipitate haste?

"The answer is the Chilcot Report. It is only a fortnight away, and though its form will be concealed by thick layers of establishment whitewash, the basic contours of Blair's lies will still be visible underneath. Corbyn had deferred to Blairite pressure not to apologise on behalf of the Labor party for the Iraq War until Chilcot is published. For the Labor Right, the moment when Corbyn as Labor leader stands up in parliament and condemns Blair over Iraq is going to be as traumatic as it was for the hardliners of the Soviet Communist Party when Khrushchev denounced the crimes of Stalin. It would also destroy Blair's careful planned post-Chilcot PR strategy. It is essential to the Blairites that when Chilcot is debated in parliament in two weeks time, Jeremy Corbyn is not in place as Labour leader to speak in the debate. The Blairite plan is therefore for the parliamentary party to depose him as parliamentary leader and get speaker John Bercow to acknowledge someone else in that fictional position in time for the Chilcot debate, with Corbyn remaining leader in the country but with no parliamentary status.

"Yes, they are that nuts.

"If the fault line for the Tories is Europe, for Labour it is the Middle East. Those opposing Corbyn are defined by their enthusiasm for bombing campaigns that kill Muslim children. And not only by the UK. Both of the first two to go, Hilary Benn and Heidi Alexander, are hardline supporters of Israel." (craigmurray.org.uk, 26/6/16)

Worth a read in its entirety.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Chip off the Old Blockhead

From Greg Sheridan, OA, Jerusalem Prize:

"Once, a Greenpeace fundraiser came to our door, seeking a donation. 'Look, old boy,' my father said, 'I'm a bit busy at the moment. I'm cooking a whale in the back yard on my woodchip barbecue.' Another thought, another world view, so succinctly summarised." (The Forum, The Weekend Australian Review, 25/6/16)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Almost as Cute as Israel

"Establishing an embassy in Morocco will address a major gap in Australia's diplomatic network. Across North and West Africa, Australia now has embassies only in Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana. Given the centrality of the Arab world in global politics, the government has recognised that this is inadequate and the joint parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, trade and defence this year recommended the establishment of a resident embassy in Morocco. Morocco is a key nation among moderate Arab powers and emerged from the Arab Spring with serious democratic reforms and political and social stability. It is also a key player in regional counter-terrorism efforts and a generally pro-Western and friendly power in the Arab world." (Libs plan 24/7 'global watch' and new eyes overseas, Greg Sheridan, The Australian, 23/6/16)

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Price of Politics

Here's Wendy Carlisle's introduction to Background Briefing's latest (19/6/16) feature, The Price of Politics, on Radio National:

"If you want to know who's funding your politician's election campaign before voting on Saturday week, you'll be waiting a very long time. In fact, you'll have to wait a year after next. Australia's political donations laws are so lax the full list of donors and what they've spent won't be known until February 2018. But now there's a new report into political spending by the big end of town which shows just how little we really know about what our top companies are up to. For the first time the top ASX companies have been given a transparency score which is designed to measure just what those companies are up to and what they're telling their shareholders about their political spend. Di Martin has this report for Background Briefing.

"This federal election will be the first since explosive allegations about political donations were made in NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). It heard how the Liberal Party got around the strictest donation laws in the country, laws that banned property developers' donations in NSW. Yet donations made by property developers to a federal Liberal fundraising body were then routed back into NSW party coffers."

Then came a familiar, gravelly voice:

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to welcome you to the 2016 annual general meeting of Westfield Corporation."

Di Martin continued:

"Frank Lowy's Westfield is one of the property developers whose donation of $150,000 ended up with the NSW Liberals."

Lowy again:

"The meeting is now open for questions and general discussion."

Then Martin:

"One of the first is from Stephen Mayne. He's standing in the federal election on a ticket of reforming political donations law. He's also a Westfield shareholder: 'When we made that donation in December 2010 were we aware that that money was going to be finishing up with the NSW Liberal Party when developer donations in NSW had been banned at that point?'"

To which Lowy predictably replied:

"We made the donations appropriately according to the law and the inquiries that were held after that have said we have not been advised of anything that we have done contrary to what is expected of us."

The underlying assumption here, of course, is that Westfield's 2010 donation was all about greasing the wheels for more shopping malls. But is there any real need to keep a naturally neoliberal, Liberal government sweet? Could there, perhaps, be another reason for the donation?

I have no idea. None whatever. But what I do know is that Lowy is an unabashed supporter of Israel and that the Liberal regimes of NSW premiers Barry O'Farrell (2011-15) and Mike Baird (2015-) have outdone all previous NSW and other state governments in demonstrating their love and affection for the apartheid state. (Simply click on the O'Farrell/Baird labels below and marvel at its manifestations and extent.)

Needless to say, this bizarre phenomenon is not touched on in Background Briefing's otherwise invaluable report.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Michaelia Cash: No Gertrude Bell

Last week's Kitchen Cabinet with Annabel Crabb on ABC TV proved definitively, if proof were necessary, that travel doesn't always, as the old adage assures us, broaden the mind.

Annabel's guest, the frenetic Minister for Women & Cats, Michaelia Cash, is described on the program's website as "whipping up a salmon bake and talking about her travels in the Middle East." But don't let your imagination run wild. Michaelia's no Gertrude Bell. Here's the relevant transcript - with annotations: 

MC: I went backpacking for 3 years.
AC: But that's such a long time to go backpacking...
MC: It is a long time to go backpacking.
AC: But why'd you go to the Middle East?
MC: Oh, I actually went to London first... I then met an Israeli girl and she said to me 'Look I live on a kibbutz in Israel... in the Golan Heights.' When you're a backpacker the beauty of it is you just go with the flow.

The Golan Heights is not in Israel. It's occupied Syrian territory.

AC: You just go with the flow?
MC: You just go with the flow, quite literally.
AC: Wow...
MC: And so it was fantastic.
AC: And did you venture into Palestine?

*Sigh* If you're in 'Israel', you're in occupied Palestine.

MC: I did go into Palestine. I lived in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the Muslim section, for 3 months.
AC: Right... and did you see much of the conflict first hand?
MC: I had arrived just after the intifada had ended, and so if you went out, basically everybody was armed.

Cash is referring here to the first intifada (1987-1993). "Everybody," of course, means Israelis.

I remember you'd go to nightclub after nightclub after nightclub.

Night clubs are such great places to learn about a country. Just remember: wherever you go, if you want to know what's going on - for example, why, in this case, "everybody was armed" - just go to "nightclub after nightclub after nightclub, OK?"

People would literally just be there with their machine guns and, you know, playing with them as though they were guitars. It was quite bizarre. So yeah, it was an interesting time to be in Israel. It was an interesting time to be there.

AC: Obviously, in Australian politics, there's always, um, you know, a fairly spirited debate about the Middle East. So where does it leave you?
MC: I very much believe in the two-state solution. I very much believe in the two-state solution.

Good grasp of the mantra there! Watch your back, Julie Bishop... 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bill Shorten Gives Bibi the Biff

The Israeli colonisation of the Israeli-occupied West Bank rolls on and on and on:

"The Israeli government has approved an additional $18m to pay for West Bank settlements." (Israel approves extra $18m for West Bank settlements, AFP, theguardian.com, 20/6/16)

But wait... what's this?

The formidable, utterly fearless Bill Shorten, armed with federal Labor's awesome July 2015 policy on Israeli settlements is, even as I type these words, on the blower to Netanyahu:

Listen up, Bibi, I'm going to read the riot act to you, OK? Here goes:

"Labor... recognises that settlement building by Israel in the occupied territories... is a roadblock to peace. Labor calls on Israel to cease all such settlement expansion... If... there is no progress in the next round of the peace process, a future Labor government will discuss joining like-minded nations who have already recognised Palestine... "

So stop it, OK?

Bibi? Bibi? Are you there, Bibi?

***

Just kidding.