Sunday, May 31, 2009

"We are all Rwandans now"

Part 2 of Alex Wynter's blog based around his visit to Rwanda's Genocide Museum.

Rwanda is now often described as a “development model”, even if malnutrition lingers in the countryside, but that dry phrase fails to begin to do it justice.


CEOs the world over seeking ways to boost their organizations’ productivity could do worse than take a look at the new Rwandan concept of imihigo. An essentially untranslatable Kinyarwanda word, it’s usually rendered as “performance contract”; sometimes just “goal” or “target”.


But signed imihigos carry far greater moral force and, increasingly prevalent in the public sector in Rwanda, they indicate an utterly unshakeable determination to succeed in one’s objective, come what may. And the spirit of imihigo seems visible in every immaculately manicured public garden, every mown verge, every neatly painted kerbstone, every storm drain into which not so much as a cigarette butt has been dropped.


Kigali must be one of the most litter-free cities in the world.       


This all stems, Rwandans indicate, from their feeling that not much short of total perfection can atone for the country’s history and ensure it will be remembered for something other than the genocide. “We want to turn this whole country into a garden,” one Rwandan Red Cross worker told me.


The new dispensation, to outsiders at least, looks simple: the genocide is remembered, memorialized, even to an extent relived during regular commemorations. But as an act of will, the old “tribal” distinctions between Hutu and Tutsi, which Rwandans regard as largely colonial creations anyway, are to be forgotten, expunged, once and for all.


The Rwanda Red Cross (RRC) plays a typically eclectic role in all this. In one branch I visited, Kayonza in the east of the country, they do everything from reforestation to renovation of water sources, from helping people deal with wild animals straying from the Akagera national park on the Tanzanian border to – one of the branch’s proudest boasts – zebra crossings.


They are also still very actively dealing with the legacy of genocide.

The RRC began work with tracing and what are called in the jargon “OVC” – orphans and other vulnerable children – when Rwanda’s new era started in 1994, assisting nearly 9,000 OVC in a variety of ways in 2008 alone, according to the society’s annual report. More than 600, for example, got RRC vocational training in tailoring, carpentry, cooking, mechanics and – in what is still a poor country where broken electrical appliances have to be fixed if possible – soldering.


“Even if you weren’t there during the genocide you still feel the trauma, the branch president, Anita Mutesi, told meYoung children, she explains, somehow absorb the trauma of their parents, including the children of people who took part in the killing, who are cared for equally.


The Red Cross message, delivered mainly in schools where it undertakes psychosocial work, is simple: “We teach them how to live together,” says Mutesi, “telling them ‘we are all Rwandans now’.”


Friday, May 29, 2009

Remembering when “the world withdrew”

Visiting Rwanda's Genocide Museum: Part one 
by Alex Wynter in Kigali.

Unlike the extraordinarily brave reporters who risked their lives to cover what they could of the Rwanda genocide on the spot, I lived through it in the comfort and safety of an international newsroom in London. But it was a newsroom with a small difference: a wholesale television news agency which dealt in raw video containing the sequences broadcasters felt unable to air on the grounds of “taste”.

My memory is that we realized something exceptional was going on in Rwanda. But did we spend much debating whether it should be called “genocide”? I honestly don’t recall. And that probably testifies to the intensity of the debate.

There was lots of news in the world at that time, spring 1994. Some real, some not so real: historic elections in South Africa, the war in Bosnia, “OJ”, and a dozen other things we instinctively knew our editors cared more about than Africans killing Africans in a country most people had never heard of.

Any journalist, any humanitarian, any politician who visits Kigali’s wrenchingly upsetting genocide museum, set on a hill above several large terraces of mass graves, should be prepared to be confronted with the consequences of the international community’s moral failure over the Rwandan genocide when, as the exhibition’s commentary puts it, “the world withdrew”.

It’s not so much the physical exhibits: the glass cases full of neatly arranged skulls, the boxes of pangas and clubs with which people were killed, the clothes victims were found in, the blood-stained identity cards that marked people as Tutsi and doubled as death warrants, the testimony of survivors played on TV monitors around the halls.

Or even the detail in the commentary about how exactly people were butchered. They were not just cut down with machetes. Genocide victims were often thrown into cesspits and stoned until they lost consciousness and stopped struggling; people’s tendons were cut so they could not run away as they waited to be killed; women were raped by men known to be HIV-positive; parents were forced to kill their children before being killed themselves.  

You’re mentally prepared for these things. Sort of. 

But in one masterstroke of design, the Kigali museum manages, in effect, to reverse the process that necessarily precedes all such mass slaughter: the dehumanization of its victims, which thanks to Hollywood the world now knows were described as “cockroaches” in Rwandan “hate media” (mainly radio). At the centre of the circular building is a photogallery of personal family pictures of the dead – digitized, neatly reprinted on standard 6 x 4 paper and hung on wires with small metal pegs. An entire exhibition hall full of them: row upon countless row, thousands upon thousands, perfectly embodying the human individuality and variety of the murdered subjects. College portraits, wedding photos, christening photos, pictures taken at parties and on family outings. Each shot, in its own way, a monument.

It is utterly heartbreaking to look at these photos in the knowledge that all these people were savagely killed for no reason whatever; impossible to linger in the photogallery for long without feeling overwhelmed. 

Quite rightly, photography inside the museum is not allowed. But outside you can take pictures and wander freely around the immaculate gardens and what, at first glance, look like small parking lots but which turn out to be mass graves. As (to this day) burial pits are found in Rwanda, the dead are brought to Kigali and given a dignified place in which to rest – as they were murdered – together. The concrete bunkers are closed with plain metal lids until full, then sealed for good.

Bouquets tied with mauve ribbon, the Rwandan colour of mourning, speckle the grave lids. Simple messages in Kinyarwanda read things like, “We will never forget you”. At an ornamental fountain, a traditional clay statue of a mythical creature clasping his paws over his ears represents anxiety. A commemorative flame dances in the breeze on the hillside.

Across the valley is essentially the same cityscape you vaguely remember from television news in 1994, except then the view might have been through a telephoto lens, of a killing field. Now the crest of the far hill is dotted with cranes as new high-rise buildings go up in the centre of Kigali, a city that displays a spectacularly impressive level of civic pride and is full of hoardings for things like BlackBerry mobile phones. 

Part 2 of this blog will appear in the coming days


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Storm hits millions in South Asia

A powerful cyclone tore across parts of coastal Bangladesh and eastern India on May 25, triggering tidal surges and flooding that killed nearly 200 people and left millions marooned by floodwater or forced to take refuge in shelters.

Officials in both South Asian countries said they feared the death toll from Cyclone Aila would rise, despite intensifying relief and rescue efforts.

Army, navy and coastguards helped civil officials and volunteers search for the missing and pick up people marooned in hundreds of villages, caught in chest or shoulder-high waters.

The authorities in Bangladesh moved some half a million people to temporary shelters after they fled their homes to escape huge tidal waves churned by winds of up to 100 kph (60 mph).

Heavy rain triggered by the storm also raised river levels and burst mud embankments in the Sundarbans delta in the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal. The affected area is home to hundreds of thousands of people as well as the world's biggest tiger reserve.

Many of the dead drowned, were killed when their houses collapsed or were crushed by uprooted trees. Witnesses said many survivors faced a shortage of food and drinking water.

The cyclone destroyed large areas of crops in both countries. Storm surges washed away dozens of shrimp farms and inundated rice fields in Bangladesh, which is battered by storms every year.

Aila ripped through many areas still recovering from Cyclone Sidr in November 2007, which killed 3,500 people in Bangladesh and left at least a million homeless.

This article appears compliments of our friends at
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cholera still stalks Zimbabwe

It is likely that at some point in the coming week, the 100,000th case of cholera will be officially reported in Zimbabwe. So far, 98,309 cases have been reported, with some 4,283 deaths. The last time I posted on this topic, Zimbabwe was making news and the cholera crisis was top of the news agenda. Yet, in the interim three months, while Zimbabwe has faded as a news story cases of cholera have doubled and nearly 4'300 people have now died from a disease that is easily prevented.

100,000 cases: The spectre of cholera remains in Zimbabwe - is the name of a report issued today by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). It warns that although rates of infection have slowed down over the past months, serious risk remains.

“(The) eradication of cholera in Zimbabwe or the complete conclusion to this current epidemic is unlikely unless the underlying causes of the health crises are addressed,” the report states.

“Central to this outbreak remains the almost complete collapse of Zimbabwe’s basic water, sanitation and health infrastructure. Communities across the country are still without access to potable water and basic sanitation, and health facilities continue to be understaffed and under resourced.”

The issues that have driven this health crisis have not been addressed. Zimbabwe’s cholera crisis was born largely out of the country’s almost complete lack of functioning water and sanitation infrastructure. The emergency response was about mitigating these gaps. These efforts now need to be extended into the mid and long-term.

Genuine efforts must now be made to ensure that communities have access to basic amenities such as clean water and basic sanitation. The threat of cholera will not abate unless these fundamental, structural issues are addressed. Even if basic water and sanitation infrastructure was repaired, such a process would take many years. This gap needs to be bridged.

Complicating and Contributing factors

This outbreak is now the worst in Africa for almost 15 years. The previous worst was an outbreak in Zaire in 1994, where an estimated 12,000 people were killed by the illness. More recently, in 2006 and 2007, Angola experienced an outbreak of an estimated 80,000 cases.

But the cholera situation is but one of several severe humanitarian issues in the country. Zimbabwe is now, per capita, the country most dependent on food aid. The World Food Programme estimates that seven million people are now in need of food assistance. 

The country’s HIV and AIDS prevalence rate officially sits at 15.3 per cent. There is increasing anecdotal evidence that Zimbabwe’s once successful anti-retroviral roll-out has begun to regress (latest official figures estimated ART coverage of approximately 19 per cent). Hyper-inflation has seen distribution of these life-preserving drugs dry up in some areas, whilst the wide-spread food insecurity has contributed to an alarming increase in people defaulting on their treatment.

The Politics of Aid?

The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe coincides with ongoing political tensions and developments. Governments around the world are monitoring these situations, and global media continues to provide analysis.

But while the international community continues to wrestle with the politics of Zimbabwe, a Zimbabwean is infected by cholera every minute.

Calling governments to account and campaigning for change is the hallmark of a civil society. Yet this should not be confused with the mandate of organizations like the Red Cross, which is to provide aid on the basis of need, and need alone, without recourse to ideology, politics or difference.

In the coming days, Zimbabwe will record its 100,000th case of cholera. Already, almost 4,300 people have died from this entirely preventable and treatable illness. This isn’t about politics, it’s about basic and urgent humanitarian need. It has rarely been more vital that a neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian space be fostered and protected.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Abuse was the System" - The Dark Shame of Systematic Abuse, Torture and Slavery in Modern Day Ireland

This week the Ryan Commission, which was established 9 years ago to inquire into the systematic abuse of children in Irish religious institutions, issued its 2'565 page report. The findings are simply horrific. Ryan went so far as to say that not only was there systematic abuse but "abuse was the system". 

As an Irish citizen I feel an unsettling mix of extraordinary shame and a rasping relief that the contents of this report are now open to public scrutiny. It causes deep shame but could deliver us into a truly modern era, free and healed from the hypocrisy of the Catholic clergy. 

The report investigated the known chronic abuse carried out by religious orders throughout Ireland when they were charged with the care of vulnerable, poor and uneducated children. It paints a dark picture of a priest-ridden country where children were systematically abused and the population systematically turned a blind eye. It portrays a country at the genesis of its independence which chose to hand unaccountable power to the self-declared omnipotent church, perched on its unassailable moral highground, and a State that ignored its own responsibilities to its citizens. A State that covertly colluded with child abusers over some 60 odd years. 

The report churns out horror after horror perpetrated by pervert priests. From forced labour, separation of siblings, young children being lied to about thier parents being dead, brutal beatings and endemic sexual and physical abuse. The investigation categorically tracked down more than 800 abusers in some 200 institutions over 30 odd years. These are most likely a representational ratio from a statistical certainty of a mob of molesters which was so widespread that it touched every community and town in Ireland.

The Irish Times, in a poignant editorial, had this to say: "There is a nightmarish quality to this systemic malice, reminiscent of authoritarian regimes. We read of children “flogged, kicked . . . scalded, burned and held under water”. We read of deliberate psychological torment inflicted through humiliation, expressions of contempt and the practice of incorrectly telling children that their parents were dead. We read of returned absconders having their heads shaved and of “ritualised” floggings in one institution.

We have to call this kind of abuse by its proper name – torture. We must also call the organised exploitation of unpaid child labour – young girls placed in charge of babies “on a 24-hour basis” or working under conditions of “great suffering” in the rosary bead industry; young boys doing work that gave them no training but made money for the religious orders – by its proper name: slavery. It demands a very painful adjustment of our notions of the nature of the State to accept that it helped to inflict torture and slavery on tens of thousands of children. In the light of the commission’s report, however, we can no longer take comfort in evasions."

The Report's findings will not shock many people in Ireland, merely the fact that they have now seen the light of day. We have all grown up with the untouchable power of pompous priests. In my own school we had a serial abuser. All parents knew and opted to ignore it, to carry on in denial, such was the punitive power of theology over the huddled masses of a nation coming out from under its colonialist yoke. We all heard the stories of young girls, raped and impregnated by uncles or neighbors (or priests on occasion) and sent to industrial homes run by nuns to live out their institutionalized days in servitude to the very people who demonized them.

Ryan goes to some lengths to point out the rays of hope and light. The rare, humane company of a kind priest or nun that maintained the sanity of so many. We don't want to paint a picture of a completely tarnished religious order throughout the country; but in essence that is what it is. So widespread and deeprooted was the abuse that it required thousands of non-abusers to turn a blind eye, a degree of abuse in itself.

The report will have a great effect on Ireland in both a cultural and spiritual sense. Gone is the hubris and abuse of power of the Catholic church and gone forever the remants of reverence and deference that so many Irish communities had for their priests - a trait handed down from the schools and pulpits governed by the very same preachers.

This week I am thinking of Mannix Flynn, a man whose company I kept in Dublin in the nineties after I had read his novel 'Nothing to Say'. Mannix was a great writer and playright whose work brilliantly depicted his days as a former resident of one of Ireland's more infamous industrial schools in Letterfrack, savagely run by the Christian Brothers. Drinking with Mannix one night in Dublin after his biographical one man play James X had received standing ovations, he said something to me like: I was abandoned and brutalized by my country so I have abandoned and brutalized myself (in reference to his hard drinking and drug taking). 

I also remember one of our recently departed writers John McGahern who tried so hard to hold a mirror up to Irish society and to hold its clergy accountable. His own childhood was deeply marked by predatory priests and a family fully in thrall to the Church's twisted morality. He once remarked for instance: "When I was in my 20s it did occur to me that there was something perverted about an attitude that thought that killing somebody was a minor offence compared to kissing somebody."  And writers like John Banville who wrote movingly on this topic in the New York Times today. Am not sure why writers are providing such solace or reference during these times, but so be it. Maybe the new spiritual void will be filled by people far more worthy.

Finally of course, such a post would be erroneous without mentioning all the victims of abuse who have had to suffer in silence for decades. Those who have had to relive the horrors of their abuse as they cooperated with the Ryan Commission and, maybe worst of all, have had to suffer further indignities and humiliations at the hands of the Catholic church who chose denial, collusion and cover-up as their preferred approach to deal with the victims of thier systematic abuse. Shame on them, it's a legacy from hell.


Monday, May 18, 2009

A Fairytale of Moscow

HDEO's good mate Bob McKerrow posted on facebook the other day the well-worn but oft-neglected maxim of Voltaire's "I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it".
Like Bob, we at Headdowneyesopen are inveterate breeders. Five kids and counting between us. As red-blooded as the next guys. And we feel the need to stand up and shout 'stop' for our friends and brothers who got beaten and arrested in Moscow over the weekend. Not that we, nor Bob, disapprove of what they were saying, just of how they were treated.
Using the special forces of OMON to "deal with" forty or so "gay activists" (why do they have to be activists, and how does the media know they were all actively gay anyway?) is a retrograde move. But it seems to work. Looking at the footage some of the few attendees were carrying flags from Belarus and Ukraine. Did Russian gays know better?
But come on. Breaking up a rally by a group of citizens who do no harm to anyone, who just want to be able to fully love whoever it is they happen to fall in love with is bad enough at the best of times, but sending in OMON was an over the top reaction from the authorities. At least there were no reports of serious injuries. Wow. Progress.
OMON, or Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznechenia is a special purpose police squad, whose motto is "we know no mercy and do not ask for any". They have done some wonderful work in their time, such as being instrumental in getting hostages out of the horrific theatre siege in 2003. They continue to protect Moscow from terrorist threats, and no one would dispute their effectiveness in this regard.
The gay and non-gay protesters who defied a ban on their march managed to do one thing - unite neo-nazis, ultra-nationalists and so-called Christian groups, as well as the city mayor who describes gay pride marches as "satanic". (Insert your own joke about horns here). Of course the BBC is accused of being a hotbed of homosexuality, but still, this Youtube report is a good piece of old-fashioned on-the-spot work.
The ultimate irony was, as winner Alexander Rybchak noted, that in Eurovision, Moscow was hosting "the biggest gay party in the world" and had lavished 24 million euro on a week of decadence, the like of which only Moscow knows how to do. Paul and I have both done long stints in the capital of "Asiopa"and can attest to the fact that the party scene in Moscow is wild, wild, wild. Gay, straight or whatever your having yourself.
But where, oh where was Graham Norton's outrage? Or the rest of the international glitterati and apparently Andrew Lloyd Weber thought the march had been broken up to stop traffic congestion.
Two anecdotes. A friend of mine was a tour guide in Moscow in Soviet times. One day, two young men Dutch tourists asked her if she knew any gay club in Moscow. Her reply came straight from the textbook: "Comrades! There are no sufferers from that disease in the Soviet Union, or if there are I've never met any."

"Well you just met two of them," giggled the lads.
Second. I had the good luck to attend the McCartney concert in Red Square (and was right at the front, ahead of the politicos who included President Putin). Macca  says "here's a song from Sergeant Peppers that no Beatle has ever performed live." Cue the wonderful fluttery mandolin that heralds "She's Leaving Home". Two men in their fifties next to me turned to one another, hugged, and tears spilled down their faces as they held each other. 
They survived the Soviet Union and it's ban on who they were, and heard their song played live, by the author, floating over Lenin's tomb on that balmy Moscow night.  
I'd say that was a pretty magical feeling. I hope they managed to avoid the batons on Saturday.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Boom or Doom for Dubai's Desert Dreams?

A lot of hysterical doomsday scenarios have been written recently about the glitzy metackopolis of Dubai. Like the celebrities it loves to court, Dubai has been extolled in recent years and is now being knocked off its pedestal by a throng of told-you-so hacks. I have read so much in recent months about Dubai's apparent downfall. The FT even joined the schadenfreuders and pouted (based on little hard evidence) that Dubai would be lost to the sandunes in thirty years. 

Dubai has its dark side, what city doesn't. Its hoardes of migrant workers for starters have been treated dismally in the past and continue to fight against discrimination and dead beat wages. This is a story that is well documented but it is a story not unique to Dubai and journalists writing from the UK, US or Germany for instance could also look closer to home and save themselves the airfare and expense of going to the Gulf.
Maybe I have found myself being an accidental apologist for Dubai. I have had a long held fascination founded mainly on being in awe of its unbridled ambition. The scale of the projects undertaken in Dubai often verge on sheer folly but they never fail to stimulate and impress. The way the city state has strategically and successfully positioned itself to compete with its wealthier oil baron neighbours shows a wreckless cavalier attitude that I can't but admire.

I was again in Dubai last week and attended a media forum (the best organized event of its type I have ever been to) in a spectack hotel called the Atlantis. This place typifies much of the tasteless superficiality that annoys many of Dubai's detractors. But it is also daring, audacious, fun and even daft. 

They spent about $20m dollars on the opening ceremony last year - as much as many of my celtic tiger brethern have spent on the shoddy hotel developments that have fallen off the backs of trucks around Ireland during our recent rush to bust. 

The Atlantis cost $1.3 billion to build. Crazy? Maybe, but also extremely bold in business terms. It continues to have 80% occupancy. I enquired, for the craic, about one week in December for myself and the family. The price tag? $7,000 for the week, breakfast not included. 

It seems there are still plenty of customers for such hair-brained schemes. Meanwhile back in Ireland, we are arguing now for about 10 years on whether we will spend $300m on a national soccer stadium. Maybe a bit of Emirati brio could help the dithering suits at the Football Association of Ireland make up their minds (I'd better be careful or they will use this post as justification for on an all-expenses paid, fact-finding mission to Dubai).

For sure there are many hard luck economic stories coming out of Dubai but what I witnessed does not match up to the dire reports I have read in some newspapers. Yes, some of the more extravagant and crazy projects are at a standstill, such as the World - a fake island in the shape of the globe, sold off to unlucky punters who will never get a dime back. I heard of one 'overseas' investor who personally lost $50m on this never-to-be deal. But no, cranes are not at a standstill all over Dubai. Next to my hotel there was a massive skyscraper being completed in 24 hour shifts. I scanned and scoured several big building sites and all but one were bustling. 

I want Dubai to scrape out of this current crisis because I don't want its adventurous, brassy, courageous and enterprising spirit to be punished. It is somehow inspiring to think that only thiry odd years ago Dubai was a dustbowl of around 180'000 citizens. Today it is some 1.3 million people from all walks of life cooking up some of the greatest, tastiest, inventive, fusion dishes on the planet. 

Ten years of consolidation and survival before a strategy of controlled growth - that's what Dubai's future should be and that's what I hope it will be. Dubai's dreams should not be dashed in the desert. And HDEO does love dreamers. It can be a wonderful Arabian oasis in the heart of the Middle East (with all the mirages that such a metaphor implies). And now that it's bigger and more sensible brother Abu Dhabi has agreed to extend a helping hand, Dubai should look back on 2009 as nothing more than the year they received a much-needed reality check.


Friday, May 15, 2009

A conversation with Seymour Hersh

In a HDOE special report, eminent journalist Seymour Hersh talks about Obama’s mistakes, America’s moral responsibilities and the wonders of Al Jazeera.

As a lifelong media junkie I have always had some journalist pin up idols that I have avidly consumed, tracked and studied. Robert Kaplan and Mark Bowden (both, by coincidence contributors to the Atlantic magazine, my favourite by far) rank among the best investigative journalists of the times in my opinion. But Seymour (aka Sy) Hersh is the journalist that sits atop that exclusive group of reporters who can lay claim to original writing, meticulous research and fact-checking, illuminating analysis, dancing prose and, maybe most important of all, a scribe whose writing actually means something, stands the tests of time and becomes a catalyst for deep-seated change.

Hersh’s Pulitzer winning writing has always been a mirror to society (usually American society, but not only). It always challenges our comfort zones, presumptions and prejudices. For 45 years Sy has been banging out his master pieces. His style is quiet unique in modern-day journalism. He can spend the best part of a year methodically researching a story before publishing articles the likes of which expose the My Lai massacres during the Vietnam war, the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the real reasons behind Israel’s bombing of Syria in September 2007

He has always been a living hack hero of mine. And it’s not often you get to meet your heroes, which is what happened to me on the 12th of May in Dubai where I encountered Sy at the Arab Media Forum. Here are a few notes that I jotted down during and after, scrawled out here more or less verbatim.

Sy claimed that he came to the Arab media forum out of gratitude for the ‘empirical evidence’ they have presented during the Bush-Cheney adminstration. “Evidence that clearly showed us the brutal truth about the worst government in our history. We (the American media) failed in our mission. The press did not challenge Bush-Cheney but instead became cheerleaders after 9/11 for their WMD lies and blindly hooted for a war we were never going to win . The US press has lost so much credibility with the American people, and after the blind dance with Bush-Cheney, we are now doing the same with Obama just because he isn’t Bush!”

Obama’s deeds do not match his words

“Obama’s words are wonderful. I love them, who couldn’t? But his deeds are very unsatisfactory and he is making a hypocritical and terrible mistake in Afghanistan. He is perpetuating the Bush-Cheney mentality that force works. He is continuing with the arrogance of empire by telling the Afghans and Pakistani’s “we know what’s best for you”. Afghanistan is a war that cannot be won yet Obama has agreed to a surge of 17’000 troops. This will in essence be 17’000 more dead civilians, 17’000 more Taliban and God knows how many more body bags filled with young American men. Obama has jumped feet first into the trap that airpower and military strength are all that is needed to defeat the Taliban. It is very upsetting to watch our President going down a one-way road to Hell.”

Al Jazeera’s leading light

“Al Jazeera has had an enormous impact and has broken the west’s monopoly on how the world views conflicts in the Middle East and beyond. Their coverage of Gaza was nothing short of remarkable. While most American people are still denied the right to view Al Jazeera many networks were forced to carry their reports and images simply because they were so insightful. Gaza also proved, if needed, the objectivity and professionalism of Al Jazeera – a media organization that Bush-Cheney planned to bomb into oblivion at one time simply because its coverage exposed their lies about how the consequences of war on civilians in Iraq. 

Al Jazeera still knocks out great reporting from Gaza but the world doesn’t seem to care. Why don’t more media write about Gaza? Why don’t more media write about what is not happening in Gaza (movement of goods and people, employment, education, health) – where people are being daily denied their basic rights. And why do the media not write about the collaboration of Egypt in all this? Why is that story not confronted? When is Israel going to realize that all it takes is to provide people with what they need to live their lives in dignity? Obama should realize this fact in Afghanistan instead of stacking up the military might.” (Head down Eyes Opener in Chief, during a recent visit to Al Jazeera hq in Doha).

What is this New America?

“The truth about Afghanistan raises questions about what the new Obamamerica will be. In America there is no discussion on what is our moral obligation to the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan whose societies we have bombed and whose loved ones we have killed and tortured. All we talk about is “bringing the troops home” but nothing about what we are leaving behind or what responsibilities we have to right the wrongs of our violence on innocent civilians. I often try to picture an Iraqi child who was around three or four years of age when Rumsfeld arrived with his shock and awe. That boy is about ten today. What is his world view? What sort of a man will he grow into?”

Hersh concludes with unveiled counsel to Obama: “In America today there is still a collective fear based on ignorance about the Middle East – fear is dominant. George Bush helped my career enormously. I just hope Obama doesn’t!”


Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's Next?

It's not been an epic year in the sense of the sort of epic year that saw the Berlin Wall come down, or the Tianenman Square massacre, or the death of Princess Diana, but something is happening dammit, and here at HDEO we want to try to catch the Zeitgeist, whatever it may be. There's a smell in the air, a crackle, a whiff.


Take a look around you. Market capitalism in tatters. A black president shaking hands with Hugo the Chavez. A German Pope calling for a Palestinian state. British MPs caught in the strobelight guzzling from the honey jar. And peppering the mix, a global pandemic poised to strike in November and leave us all with a nasty dose of the sniffles, or much worse.


And yet the moneymen and women - the bread heads as the Young Ones called them when they grew up - are telling us that we've turned the corner, weathered the storm, bottomed out, and so on.


The Financial Times that I picked up in Minsk's gargantuan but eerily empty airport a couple of days ago told me cheerily that when stocks rally, as they appear to be doing now, then an economic recovery is but six months away.


Hurrah! Let joy be unconfined! In six months then we'll all be reverting to type, snapping up bargain villas in Bougainville and jetting off to Frijiliana, cigars chomped in our golden teeth, gargling with Krug. Well yes, some of the fatter cats certainly will, as they have been all through this crisis.


But what HDEO sees coming is a jobless recovery. Where money will continue to make money, and winter will breed discontent. The stimulus, the stress tests, the bailouts are very very good for management consultants, accountants and other bottom feeders, and it is they, their ilk and their white collars who will jump aboard this heaven-sent gravy train. They will continue to preach the gospel of caution and live high on the hog without reinvesting and creating the jobs which are being whittled away right now. And they will deny, negate and repudiate the simple truth - if Joey Sixpack ain't got a job then there's no one to buy, sell, invest, renovate, consume, create.


Look around you again. Corporate kidnapping in France. Chinese workers striking, soup kitchens in central Moscow, riots in the Baltics and windows smashed in the City of London.


The plain fact is we don't trust the bread heads any more. We don't believe the nice young men in suits and big shiny chins who shout "RECOVERY" on TV business programmes. What we do believe is the depressing stuff, that joblessness is way up, double digit stuff in many places, and we've all got less of the folding stuff in our pockets.


For many its a case of tightening the belt and going back to the way we lived in the 80s. Jus the two TVs then, and the one car, and the one holiday. Shopping in Lidl rather than Tescos. A bit of a pain in the arse to have to wallow in that gloom and doom again, but no biggie.


But for many millions more it means the loss of the roof over their head, the dissolution of the family, the end of education for the kids, the death of hope. And how long will those millions stay cowed? Can they be fobbed off with a fabled recovery in six months when the rain is pouring down on them right now? And don't forget, in six months - ACHOO!


I'm humming a Kirsty McCall lyric right now, and it goes sumthin like this:


From the sharks in the penthouse to the rats in the basement
It's not that far

To the bag lady frozen asleep on the church steps
It's not that far
Would you like to see some more?
I can show you if you'd like to

The new Red Cross Red Crescent campaign  says "our world is in a mess".  Amen.