Monday 28 November 2011

Wake up, Australia! The US is playing with fire now, infuriatin​g a nuclear-ca​pable Pakistan

Letter I sent today to the editor of the Canberra Times.  We shall see if they print it!  (Note: they did, after editing out a crucial part!  -Clair)

Dear people:

I'm reflecting on the implications that NATO admits it's probably to blame for that latest deadly helicopter raid on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, that killed up to 28 Pakistani soldiers and injured over a dozen others.

Islamabad responded by cutting off the flow of vital NATO supplies to Afghanistan. The incident deals a serious blow to already-strained relations over lethal incursions in Pakistani territory.

John Rees, a political analyst from the British-based 'Stop the War Coalition', describes how the U.S. and its allies are creating an explosive situation in the volatile region in this video interview.
Clearly this is a dangerous situation and there are indeed implications for Australia because of its close alliance with the US. With an increasingly enraged Pakistani population, this can only mean one thing - more instability and insecurity for Australia's own forces to contend with, and the threat of a devastating regional war brought ever closer to our own doorstep!

Australia would do well to rethink its own policy and develop a withdrawal plan since the government's justification for ongoing involvement in that region grows increasingly fuzzy, the mission is clearly not sustainable, and the entire effort does not have the support of the vast majority of Australians!

Clair Hochstetler
PO Box 827
Mawson, ACT 2607

Sunday 27 November 2011

Implications of a US Marine Base in Darwin, Australia

5 Lessons of U.S. Plan for a Permanent Military Presence in Australia
By Max Fisher
Nov 10, 2011

What Obama's plan to build a marine base here means for ChinaJapanAfghanistan, and global politics

oz nov10 p.jpg
An Australian naval officer watches a frigate arrive in Darwin / Reuters

The U.S. has arranged with Australia to install a permanent military presence near the northern Australian town of Darwin, a move that signals shifts in President Obama's foreign policy and the for its role in the world. Obama will formally announce the new base with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard during his visit to Australia next week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported this morning.

Why is the U.S., at time of economic trouble and declining military deployments abroad, creating an all-new marine base in the land that Australians call Oz? Australia is a small-ish country by any measurement except for acreage, which is actually a poor way to understand the relative strength of nations. The World Bank ranks it 15th by GDP, between South Korea and the Netherlands. It's ranked 52nd by population, less than one tenth the size of its northern neighbor, Indonesia. Its military spending is about on par with Spain.

So this is probably not about protecting Australia itself. But repositioning U.S. forces in this way reveals how Obama sees the world -- and America's place in it -- as changing. Here are five immediate lessons from the plan to build this new permanent base, something that suggests a significant change in long-term U.S. foreign policy.

(1) Yes, it's about containing China's military reach.  
As China rises, the U.S. is attempting to either manage or contain that rise (which you believe depends on whether you see Chinese growth as necessarily threatening to the U.S. -- given how close U.S.-China economic ties have become, it's probably more about managing than containing). But, whatever the overall U.S. strategy on Chinamight be, the U.S. has appeared more eager to deter China's sometimes aggressive behavior in naval disputes with its neighbors, mostly over disputed islands and shipping lanes. These small-scale conflicts, especially if they escalated, could be incredibly damaging to global trade, much of which goes through the South China Sea. A greater U.S. military presence in the region, it's hoped, will deter Chinese aggression against its neighbors (which become relatively weaker as China becomes stronger) and maintain stability in this increasingly important region. "Australian strategic rationale is that we are also hedging against increasing Chinese military power and their capacity to destabilise maritime trade routes," a former Australian senior defense official told the Sydney Morning Herald. Putting troops inDarwin will expand the U.S. military reach in the Pacific, and more importantly it will establish a western Pacific troop presence that is close enough to deter China but far enough away to not have to worry about Chinese missiles.

(2) U.S. focusing away from Middle East to East Asia.  
Obama has been saying for a while that the U.S. should shift its attention away from the Middle East and Central Asia, regions that have often suffered from U.S. involvement and where anti-Americanism persists, toward East Asia. Our clients in the greater Middle East often seem to be more trouble than they're worth. Meanwhile, U.S. alliances in East Asia have been reliable and profitable. So why, Obama seems to be wondering, has the U.S.been investing so much in a part of the world where its returns are so low? This move suggests Obama's administration may be turning its attention away from the Middle East -- withdrawing fromIraq and Afghanistan -- to set America's military emphasis in East Asia.

(3) Obama wants out of Afghanistan
 Though the U.S. has tentative plans to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, it's easy to imagine that the U.S. military will push the White House to push back that schedule (as they've done, successfully, with previous drawdown plans there and in Iraq) or at least elongate it. A number of analysts are understandably skeptical about the fuzzy withdrawal plans, which could suffer as U.S. progress slows. But this suggests that Obama is serious about ending the war in Afghanistan. After all, these new troops in Australia have to come from somewhere.

(4) U.S. concerned about tension with Japan over military base. 
 The U.S. marine base inOkinawa has been politically controversial in Japanese politics for years. No one seems to be crazy about the idea of a few thousand foreign troops on their soil, and a handful of scandals regarding bad behavior by some marines has worsened the tension. Last year, the Japanese Prime Minister resigned after Obama pressured him to renege on his promise to close the Okinawa base. It doesn't take muchto make a Japanese prime minister resign, but it was a sign of how much tension the base brings into U.S.-Japan relations, an alliance that both countries badly want to keep positive for economic and military reasons. There is a movement in Japan right now to relocate part the base someplace less populated, which the U.S. has resisted. But the Darwin base might take some of the pressure off Okinawa and allow the U.S. and Japan to move the base without sacrificing security interests.

(5) Could Australia be the new Saudi-style U.S. client? 
 If the U.S. wants to build the kind of presence in East Asia that it could be closing out of the Middle East, it will need a reliable and pliant client state in the region. Japan is too powerful on its own and too independent; Indonesia might worry about a domestic backlash if it moves too close to the U.S.; South Korea is too worried about North Korea; and the nations of Southeast Asia are still not quite stable enough. But Australians are democratic, speak English, don't have ideological reasons to oppose the U.S., and could really use a powerful sponsor, especially as China becomes more dominant. "Australia is like [the Persian] Gulf, cant possibly defend itself, relies on US protection. Politically can't rock the boat, just like Gulf," Australian journalist Tom Gara wrote on Twitter. This explains why Australia has joined every single American war, including Vietnam, which even the British wouldn't touch." Australia, like the nations of the Persian Gulf, might be willing to hand its foreign policy over to the U.S. in exchange for the implicit security guarantee of a large military base.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Rant Regarding the Spurious Idea That America is "Withdrawing" from Iraq -- is this a "Teachable Moment?"

Should we really be celebrating the President Obama's declaration of an end of the “war” in Iraq? So yes, a decision, long overdue, was finally made that all the troops are supposed to leave by the end of the year. BUT the troops remain in Afghanistan. And we are in essence simply contracting out an ongoing military presence to mercenaries - the continuation of our current policy to "ensure security" in Iraq - and we are going to pay for it out the wazooo for who knows how long.

Is this anything worth celebrating? I think this is one of those teachable moments when peace groups and peace churches could be issuing a statement or comment - but what could/should it be?

Well, at the least, an informed one!

As you might guess by now, I was quite unhappy with this quote from President Obama which beamed to the rest of the world: “The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops."

It's not a good statement at all - and here's why: It is likely that most Americans - and it is among other nationalities as well - think a war becomes "justified" when enough killing and destruction has been wrought to eliminate any effective opposition to "our cause" - or - if an especially despicable leader or two "over there" is assassinated. That is the subtext of many movies, video games, songs, and other aspects of popular culture now - the theme of "redemptive violence." Indeed, it's ubiquitous.

 That is not a good definition of a just war - nor a cause for celebration. It's actually a very dangerous and repugnant value which often issues in decisions and actions completely counter to international law, not to speak of the principles of peace and conflict transformation. This deserves a lot more discussion and re-evaluation at the common people level as well as at the highest decision-making levels of our governments and civil society.

 And let's discuss in open forums the bald facts about this so-called "withdrawal" from Iraq.

 Withdrawal of troops yes, but replacing them with 5,500 "contracted" mercenaries!? (And look how well that has gone in the past!) The source of my information?
Just Foreign Policy:

One can subscribe near the top of JFP's home page for ongoing updates.  For the reader's convenience here, I have posted (at the end of this column) the important set of facts they expose in their current "US/Top News Summary."

Obviously, matters related to this so-called withdrawal are not going to be "settled" at all without directly addressing a very disturbing reality - the heavy presence of private mercenaries - i.e. the contractors who will take over from the troops to protect the extensive network of American diplomatic corp members and other American interests in that land. Iraq has by far the largest American diplomatic presence compared to any other nation in the world! At the end of those bulletin points (below) the extent of ongoing financial entanglement is revealed. When one digs into all the details - and here is a good list it doesn't sound much like "withdrawal" to my way of thinking!

So, an important question becomes "What will be the attitude of the Iraqi people if nothing different is felt or experienced on the ground compared to the last few years when the troops were there, except for changes in the color of the uniform as the mercs replace the troops? (Remember, it’s still a war zone there!)  And...what will be the attitude of Americans in the long run when they begin to realize the billions of dollars that America continues to spend in Iraq to uphold our special "interests" there?

I carry a dim hope that some noisy debate about this will stir soon, but it doesn't bode well that this information got uncovered already, back during Congressional Hearings in the first two months of 2011 --did you hear or know about these details before now? So, I won't hold my breath, because sure as anything the American mainstream media will continue to suppress these realities. This sort of information usually gets discovered and diseminated after investigations by independent media sources and their reporters who aren't "embedded" and dig out the truth. However, vast swaths of the American public are drinking the tainted coolaid of Faux News, Sanitized News, and conglomerate-owned media outlets of similar persuasion.

So, imagine the impact of sensitively-worded public statements by peace groups and congregations or denominations in contrast to the mainstream media news reports about the war being over as the troops come home.

THAT is our challenge. How to support individual war-weary soldiers, many with symptoms of PTSD, while appealing for a real withdrawal. How about this for a start?

We would have preferred the President to say: “The American people stand united in our acknowledgement of the difficulty involved in the Iraq service by our troops and in our desire that they will never be called upon again for such a war. We believe..."

How would you complete that phrase if someone interviewed you on the street regarding your reaction to the President's announcement? I encourage some creative discussion about this amongst our circle of friends and in our congregations between now and the end of the year when the media organizations repeat those deceptive announcements about how America is finally "withdrawing" from Iraq.


The Facts:


1) The Obama administration has decided to withdraw [almost] all [uniformed] U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year, the Washington Post reports. The only [Department of Defense] U.S. military presence that will remain in Iraq after the end of the year will be the roughly 150 troops needed to protect the large U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and its thousands of U.S. diplomats and other personnel, as well as provide training related to new military sales and other tasks.

2) President Obama said: "That is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end," notes Spencer Ackerman in Wired. But it isn't so, Ackerman says. On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas.

The State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security does not have a promising record when it comes to managing its mercenaries, Ackerman notes. In July, the State Department blocked the Congressionally-appointed watchdog for Iraq from acquiring basic information about contractor security operations, such as the contractors' rules of engagement. You can also expect that there will be a shadow presence by the CIA, and possibly the Joint Special Operations Command, Ackerman says.

3) Sens. Jon Tester and Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced legislation to create a new commission to "scrutinize the necessity of the United States' current overseas basing structure" and do a cost-benefit analysis of closing multiple overseas bases, Starts and Stripes reports. This week the pair sent a letter to the congressional supercommittee urging them to make significant cuts in future overseas military construction projects. The letter called into question U.S. military projects in Europe and on Guam, saying the Defense Department has not justified the need for billions more in base spending there.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform earlier this year estimated that "responsible" overseas base closings could save taxpayers $8.5 billion in the next four years. The president's own Commission on Debt Reduction put that figure closer to $9 billion.

Friday 14 October 2011

Wishing I could be there with Leymah Gbowee (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) at EMU Homecoming this weekend!

It’s wonderful to feel some sort of connection with an alumnus from the same university where I graduated who received a Nobel Peace Prize this year!  If I were in America now, instead of back in Canberra already, I would be shaking Leymah Gbowee’s hand sometime this weekend at our annual “Homecoming” in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. 

Monday 10 October 2011

Is the world too big to fail? (Asking the question like that puts it all in perspective, doesn't it?)

Is the world too big to fail? -Chomsky

Planet of the Plutocrats

Paul Krugman has so hit the nail on the head with his latest op-ed in the New York Times, exposing hypocrisy of the highest order.

And it's refreshing to read the text of this powerful speech Naomi Klein delivered at the OWS rally in NYC Thursday night - or at least what she was hoping to deliver had the authorities allowed amplification - which forced the speakers to be all-to-brief as 20,000 people had to rely on the "human microphone."  (Here is an excerpt from her "uncut" version, to help you decide whether it's worth clicking on that link to read the whole thing.)

" be honest with you, while the good times rolled, taking on an economic system based on greed was a tough sell, at least in rich countries.  Ten years later, it seems as if there aren't any more rich countries. Just a whole lot of rich people. People who got rich looting the public wealth and exhausting natural resources around the world.

 The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.

 These are the facts on the ground. They are so blatant, so obvious, that it is a lot easier to connect with the public than it was in 1999, and to build the movement quickly.

 We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite -- fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful -- the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.

The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society -- while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.

 What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I'm not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that's important.

I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it's also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult.

That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and providing health care, meditation classes and empowerment training.  My favorite sign here says "I care about you." In a culture that trains people to avoid each other's gaze, to say, "Let them die," that is a deeply radical statement... (end of quote)

Someone tweeted today how they saw this interesting sign created by one participant at Occupy Wall Street:  "Ten years ago we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash. Today we have no jobs, no hope and no cash!"

Well, what Naomi Klein shared offers a small ray of hope that the message just might be finally getting through...

Friday 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) - focused and reflective on what is truly important in life, with no shortcuts!

In some very touching remarks Steven Jobs made during his memorable commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, he considered his own death and envisioned how his last years at Apple could become his finest (which they were!)

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure —these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

One can listen to some more or read the whole thing here - a very powerful word to us all.

Though they never met in person, Steve even mentored a physician and changed health care!

Steve Jobs ran counter to the shallowness of what many of leaders in business have been about in recent times.  For him there was no seeking of subsidies, no sweetheart deals, no courting friends in Washington, no bailouts.  Just a hard working, gutsy guy with tremendous vision, very high standards, and a solid commitment to his family who kept focused on what would make life better for a huge percentage of the world's population.

So sad he's gone - but long live the spirit of Steve Jobs!

-Clair in Canberra

What "Occupy Wall Street" is all about...

(click on that for a good response)


"I Am That Voice" - a Poem from Spain by Amado

I am the voice that gathers the shouts of the distressed,
the voice that rise your yearning and takes it to the place
where the insatiable liar concealed in his walls
watches you from his fear and ever bleed your dove.

Behind their golden balconies they’ve camouflaged a token
- this it is your god - they say, that gives you joy and work,
in his name we are guiding your breath and your steps,
we have imbibed his chalice and we know where we go.

You see their dazzling balconies that blind your baffled eyes,
it prevents you from seeing the fetish that they hide,
it’s just an earthen idol, a sun without a light
which has darkened your pathway and imbued you with fright.

But we have come today to face of that heap of lie,
we have come front to front, our grasped hands in core
in order to demand the judgment of all measures
for a new dawn of justice and for a peaceful rain.

I am that voice, your voice, which ascends in the hope,
your clamor through the oceans I will take in the winds
to let your seed of promise deluge the continents,
to scatter in this present awaken with your force
so that we all may see the new sun that approaches
and the flight of the songbird, and this dream that spurs.

Thursday 14 July 2011

The True Cost of America's Wars

A few recent excerpts from "Talking Points" by Phyllis Bennis at the Institute for Policy Studies in the U.S. (Source: )...

The dog days of summer have socked in, with Washington’s heat and humidity made far worse by the hot air coming out of corporate board rooms and hearing rooms and White House and Capitol conference rooms, as DC’s powerful debate the budget crisis. One word, of course, largely unspoken: WAR. As in, the costs of:

The decade-long, disastrous war in Afghanistan - 98,000 U.S. troops and 100,000 U.S.-paid contractors at a cost of $122 billion just this year.

The continuing occupation of Iraq - 48,000 troops and administration pressure on Iraq to “request” they remain after the December 2011 deadline at a cost of $47 billion just this year.

The illegal and unacknowledged drone war in Pakistan — killing as many as 2015 people since 2004, of whom less than 2% are militant leaders — at a cost of at least $258 million just for the drone strikes themselves.

The overall Pentagon budget (which does not count the cost of the actual wars) at a cost of $553 billion just this year.

That's just for starters. Seems like some of those here in DC so desperate to figure out how to explain to their constituents why there are no jobs, why they’re losing their homes, and why grandma’s Medicare is being cut should really be apologizing instead for continuing to wage illegal, useless wars at a cost of now trillions of dollars.
(Yes, it's difficult to conceive of one trillion, so here's a practical way to get your head around it: Sixty seconds comprise a minute. One million seconds comes out to be about 11½ days. A billion seconds is 32 years. And a trillion seconds is 32,000 years.)

And just a few eyeopening paragraphs from a great research summary: "The True Cost of America's Wars" by Jack A Smith (Source: )
Instead of just discussing the Pentagon budget, it is essential to also consider Washington's various other "national security" budgets. That of course includes the costs of Washington's 16 different intelligence services, the percentage of the annual national debt to pay for past war expenses, Homeland Security, nuclear weapons, additional annual spending requests for Iraq and Afghan wars, military retiree pay and healthcare for vets, NASA, FBI (for its war-related military work), etc. When it's all included it comes to $1,398 trillion for fiscal 2010, according to the War Resisters League and other sources.

It's not enough just to take note of the money Washington spent on stalemated wars of choice. It's fruitful to contemplate where our $5 trillion Bush-Obama war funding might have been invested instead. It could have paid for a fairly swift transition from fossil fuels to a solar-wind energy system for the entire U.S. — a prospect that will now take many decades longer, if at all, as the world gets warmer from greenhouse gases. And there probably would have been enough left to overhaul America's decaying and outdated civil infrastructure, among other projects.

But while the big corporations, Wall Street and the wealthy are thriving, global warming and infrastructure repair have been brushed aside. States are cutting back on schools and healthcare. Counties and towns are closing summer swimming pools and public facilities. Jobs and growth are stagnant. The federal government is sharply cutting the social service budget, and Medicare et al. are nearing the chopping block.
-Clair in Canberra

Sunday 10 July 2011

FLOTILLAS AND INTERNATIONAL LAW - Civil societies versus Israel lobbies in the US, Europe - and Australia

Introduction by Sonja Karkar, Editor, Australians for Palestine: 
While the title of the following article addresses the US  and Europe, Australia is no less guilty of responding to the Zionist lobby’s  corrupting influences.  While most of the citizenry remains oblivious to the political machinations of our government, there is a growing awareness that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.  It will only be a matter of time, and hopefully not too late, that politicians will have to account to its citizenry for allowing the Zionist lobby to warp the government’s foreign policy in such as way as to abrogate international law and the human rights conventions that are the hallmarks of civilised society.  In the meantime, activists must find ways of winning the hearts and minds of civil society to act for Palestinian human rights and their struggle for freedom and justice.  The global BDS campaign has the potential to do that non-violently through song, film, poetry, dance and art – creative ways that have already captured the imagination of millions just as much as the more dramatic actions of the freedom flotillas to Gaza.  That is where the power of change lies and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” won’t be able to stop the flood when the dam finally breaks.  Hopefully then, we will see a much saner world than one where the bomb darkens every discourse rendering our governments incapable of acting in the public good.

Civil societies versus Israel lobbies in US and Europe
by Lawrence Davidson  -  Redress  -  9 July 2011

The deadly influence of Israeli special interests groups on Western governments, especially that of the USA, means that advocates of justice for the Palestinians have only one  recourse: civil society actions such as the Gaza humanitarian flotillas.

If we persist there will come a time, as was the case with South Africa, when the power of civil society will be such that politicians and bureaucrats will see the cost of defying popular opinion as greater than defying Zionist lobbies.” (Lawrence Davidson)

Civil society movements versus corrupt politics

When it comes to the struggle against Israel’s policies of oppression there are two conflicting levels: that of government and that of civil society. The most recent example of this duality is the half dozen or so small ships held captive in the ports of Greece. The ships, loaded with humanitarian supplies for the one and half million people of the Gaza Strip, are instruments of a civil society campaign against the inhumanity of the Israeli state. The forces that hold them back are the instruments of governments corrupted by special interest influence and political bribery.

Most of us are unaware of the potential of organized civil society because we have resigned the public sphere to professional politicians and bureaucrats and retreated into a private sphere of everyday life which we see as separate from politics. This is a serious mistake.  Politics shapes our lives whether we pay attention to it or not. By ignoring it we allow the power of the state to respond not so much to the citizenry as to special interests. Our indifference means that the politicians and government bureaucrats live their professional lives within systems largely uninterested in and sometimes incapable of acting in the public good because they are corrupted by lobby power. The ability to render justice is also often a casualty of the way things operate politically. The stymieing of the latest humanitarian flotilla to Gaza due to the disproportionate influence of Zionist special interests on US and European Middle East foreign policy is a good example of this situation.

There are small but growing elements of society which understand this problem and have moved to remedy it through organizing common citizens to reassert influence in the public sphere. Their efforts constitute civil society movements. Not all of these efforts can be deemed progressive. The “Tea Party” phenomenon in the United States is a radical conservative movement that aims at minimizing government to the point of self-destruction. But other movements of civil society, in their expressions of direct action in the cause of justice, are much healthier. The worldwide movement for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning (BDS) of Israel, of which the flotilla movement is an offshoot, is one of these.

The forum of international law

The resulting struggle between the corrupt politics that keeps the West aligned with the oppressive and racist ideology that rules Israel and the civil society movement that seeks to liberate the victims of that ideology goes on worldwide and in many forums. One is the forum of international law. Presently, the debate revolves around the legality of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the effort of the flotilla movement to defy it. Let us take a look at this aspect of the conflict.

Wednesday 6 July 2011


The statement below was released today and unequivocally sends a clear message to the Zionist lobby, that complaints of “discrimination”,  “false propaganda” and “hate speech” whenever criticism of Israel is launched, is contrary to freedom of expression and political speech and that the evidence clearly shows Israel to be an apartheid state.  That this decision was reached in South Africa is significant because that country
more than any other would know exactly what are the conditions that constitute apartheid.  This should give heart to Palestinians and Palestinian activists around the world who come up against these spurious attacks in their Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as they struggle for freedom against Apartheid Israel.

This afternoon, in a bold ruling defending the right to freedom of expression and political speech, the South African media watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), unequivocally dismissed all complaints relating to a radio advert that calls for the boycott of Israel and compares Israel to Apartheid South Africa.

In February this year, during the South African tour of the UK dance band,
Faithless, a radio message featuring Dave Randall (lead guitarist of Faithless) was broadcast on 5fm, a mainstream South African radio station
with over 2 million listeners.
 The advert was in support of a local group, the South African Artists Against Apartheid collective. In the advert Randall says:

“Hi, I’m Dave Randall from Faithless. Twenty years ago I would not have played in apartheid South Africa; today I refuse to play in Israel. Be on the right side of history. Don’t entertain apartheid. Join the international boycott of Israel.  I support<> “In an official complaint to the ASA, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) attacked the radio advert and alleged that the view expressed that Israel is an Apartheid State is “untrue, not supported by any evidence… and contains a lie which amounts to false propaganda”.

The SAJBD sought an order requesting the SABC to apologize for broadcasting the radio advert.

Today the ASA dismissed each and every complaint made by the SAJBD against the advert and instead ruled in favor of the submissions made by SA Artists Against Apartheid, who were represented by Webber Wentzel Attorneys. The ASA also refused to provide any sanctions in favor of the SAJBD.

Reggae DJ, “The Admiral”, and member of the SA Artists Against Apartheid collective, welcomed today’s decision:

“The ASA decision is significant due to our own history of Apartheid. The decision sends a clear message to the Zionist lobby that the time has come for an end to the baseless accusations of “discrimination” and “hate speech" whenever criticism of Israel is voiced. Calling Israel an Apartheid state is legitimate because Israel practices Apartheid. The boycott of such an oppressive regime should be supported as it was in our own Anti-Apartheid 
freedom struggle.”

South African Palestine solidarity groups have celebrated the ASA ruling claiming it as a “legal victory” for the boycott of Israel movement. Fatima Vally from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Working Group said in a press release: “This is the second major boycott of Israel decision coming
from South Africa in less than six months. The first being the historic decision by the University of Johannesburg to sever its Israeli ties. The boycott of Israel campaign is the new Anti-Apartheid Movement, and its growing rapidly.”

The SA Artists Against Apartheid collective welcomes this positive decision, an adverse ruling could have had detrimental consequences for freedom of expression in general, and Palestine solidarity in particular.

The original advert flighted on 5fm is available for viewing here:

Below is a short summary of the four main issues dealt with by the ASA.

1. Discrimination 
Responding to the SAJBD complaint that the radio advert resulted in discrimination, the ASA rejected the complaint entirely, stating that the reasonable person would clearly understand that: “[The advertisement] is a call to all listeners irrespective of their circumstances, race, gender and the like, to support the [cultural boycott of Israel] cause…if anything, it [the advert] is condemning the actions and events in Israel, rather than victimizing or castigating people of Israeli 
origin. Put differently, it is condemning oppressive actions…”

2. Freedom of expression and political speech SA Artists Against Apartheid submitted that the ASA should take into account the fact that the radio advert was a form of political speech which is protected by the right to freedom and expression under section 16 of the South African Constitution:
“Political expression is of particular importance in a democratic society because it has a bearing on each citizen’s ability to formulate and convey information, ideas and opinions about issues of public importance.

International campaigns such as the cultural boycott of Israel have a domestic implication as well, as South African citizens are entitled to express their views on the stance that should be adopted by South Africa in relation to Israel.”

3. Offensive advertising Responding to the complaint that the advertisement constituted offensive advertising, the ASA ruled that a reasonable person who is neither hypercritical nor hypersensitive: “…cannot reach a conclusion that this commercial was intended to offend. There are no calls for violence, no derogatory comments flung about, and no implication that all Israelis should be condemned. The commercial states the artists’ reason for not performing in Israel, and invites people to join in the cause promoted.”

4. The claim that Israel is an apartheid state SA Artists Against Apartheid submitted that the view that Israel is an apartheid state “is based on a sound factual matrix and the connection between apartheid South Africa and Israel has been made numerous times in the South African media. The claim is therefore justified […] “

SA Artists Against Apartheid successfully disputed the allegation that the reference to Israel being an apartheid state can only be justified by a ruling of an International Court: “The term “apartheid” is clearly not an exclusively legal term and is recognized as a descriptive term to refer to a
situation that exhibits segregation and inequality.”

The ASA noted that extensive evidence was submitted in favor of the case that Israel is an apartheid state. Some of these submissions included “reports by a UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as a copy of the International Court of Justice [ruling] concerning
the [Israeli Separation] wall in Jerusalem”. In addition substantial academic studies, newspaper articles and political cartoons (several by popular South African cartoonist, Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro) were also submitted justifying the ability to express the view that Israel is an
apartheid state.

Furthermore, sworn affidavits by Israeli Professor, Uri Davis and former South African Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils were also attached to the SA Artists Against Apartheid submission.

Significantly, the 2009 South African government Human Sciences Research Council report, that found Israel guilty of the crime of apartheid, was also an official submission.


Calling for Independence from America on the 4th of July - war protesters at Swan Island plead guilty in court then were immediately discharged by sympathetic Australian judge!

Highlighting the action of some committed friends of mine, several of which are affilated with the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand and with CPT AustralAsia: 

They pled guilty as charged in court yesterday and the sympathetic judge simply released them immediately. Would that happen in America today?  This is the lead story today in a Geelong newspaper today.  Below is a video interview of one of the leaders, Baptist pastor Simon Moyle who explains the purpose of their action:

Swan Island Afghanistan War protests to continue
Four Afghanistan War protestors have vowed to continue demonstrating outside a Swan Island military installation.

And here's a photo of the dramatic symbolic action they took at Flinders Station downtown Melbourne on the 4th of July, declaring "Independence from the United States!"  It created quite the stir!

Monday 23 May 2011

Pondering America & Australia'​s "War On Afghanista​n" and who is taking responsibi​lity for what...

If you only read one article about recent developments in the Coalition forces' war on Afghanistan, then read this one even though by now it's two months old.  It's meticulously researched by "Afghans for Peace" (warning: it's heartbreaking) but you won't likely read much about THIS in the newspapers.

So, we are there to improve security, and win over hearts and minds.  Can anyone say this represents progress - "moving forward" at the real cost of 16 billion dollars per MONTH!?  And...just who are "the terrorists?"  It's beyond the pale to even kid ourselves about that question.

It's also important to ask a couple of other hard questions:  

Besides noting the obvious responsiblity that military and defence forces have to provide support for any depressed or PTSD-afflicted and suicide-prone (soldiers) involved in such carnage.  Just WHO is going to take responsibility for providing the emotional/mental support and care now needed by the multitude of traumatised and injured survivors and family members connected to all these slain innocents throughout Afghanistan?  

How can healing and restoration of trust ever even be imagined?  What process will it require?  (I am truly interested in others' responses.) 

One might also ask "What can I, as just one individual, do about all this?"  Take these good suggestions to heart from thoughtful Afghans for Peace.


Thursday 14 April 2011

The "Mennonite Game" Song in 4-Part Harmony!

Sung by "Spare Parts" from the Lancaster PA area -- a modified version of words (and tune) originally written by Andy Shelly of Kansas. He wrote it while a student at Bethel College and his original version was laced with General Conference-related names and places. Of course now it's been "transformed" by Spare Parts.  Regardless, listening to this - especially the exquisite harmony - sort of warms the heart of anyone who grew up Mennonite!  

I'm not caught up in "The Mennonite Game" here in Australia, since most people here know nothing or very little about that culture.  However, I was able to engage in this game once recently after a friend told me about another Hochstetler/Hostetler she had met in the region.  Stephen is a single fellow originally from Ohio who stayed on after finishing his university degree in geology here.  His current work as a water management consultant is based in Canberra but he drives over an hour to get in from Braidwood (in the rural countryside) to get to his office.

When we invited Stephen over to our home for dinner one evening we played this game a lot - and found that he has relatives living in Millersburg, Indiana quite near where we used to live -  one of whom I knew from work, at the Goshen Health System!   And he told us about another Hochstetler he met once who lives close to Sydney.  So that actually makes for three of us in the whole of Australia (and I know this to be true because I've subsequently researched it after phoning the other Hostetler - who also happens to be a geologist, though retired!)  

People here actually do "play" a name game with me - if you can call it that.  It almost invariably occurs while watching someone try to recover from being startled or from stifling a laugh the very moment I first introduce myself or get introduced.   Many people resort to raising some awkward comment or question like wondering 'why on earth would your parents give you a girl's name?'  After living here in Australia almost three years, I have yet to meet the first Australian who has ever heard of my name associated with a male, or seen it spelled without an "e", yet here there are no women named Laurie - only men.  Go figure!


Friday 25 March 2011

Can anyone explain why the USA spends over a HALF BILLION Dollars PER DAY in Afghanistan and gives $8.2 Million PER DAY to Israel?

America is obscenely wasting billions of dollars every week in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration is actually hard pressed to explain why.  A few weeks ago journalist Chris Hellman, writing for Tomdispatch, calculated that the real annual US military budget is $1.2 trillion -- an astounding and virtually unfathomable number.

This is an amount that would solve virtually every fiscal problem America has -- state budget shortfalls, health care, education, environmental protection and retirement for many, if we ever found the will to emphasize human priorities, not making war and dominating the globe. 

The "giant elephant in the room" is the destructive nature of  American Empire -- the attempt to dominate the world with weapons and mega dollars. With this obscene amount of money going to war and the military, our leaders -- Bush, and now Obama it seems -- are addicted to "endless war" portending destruction of our collective security and a viable future under the pretence of securing it.

Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the United States spends approximately $16 billion a month in Afghanistan, a number equal to the annual budget of the United Nations, or of all but 13 of the US states.  (This fact and the following ones are excerpted from a recent appeal for support from the editors of Alternet.)

The cost of a month in Afghanistan is roughly equivalent to  262,500 teachers; 1,995,000 children in day care;  annual health care for more than 5 million  people -- and this is just one month!  

Some right-wing demagogues are screaming "we are broke!"  But that is mere hogwash.  End the war, significantly cut the incredible trillion dollar annual military budget, and we would have plenty of money to take care of most everyone's needs --  and still be one of the safest countries in the world.

Do you know how much foreign aid the United States is giving the state of Israel currently?  (Most of it now in the form of aide to buy the latest military hardware, provide military manufacturing subsidies and other financial aide enabling Israel to build those illegal settlements - illegal according to United Nations agreements - and pay for the living costs of the settlers -- all of which perpetuates Israel's state-sanctioned Apartheid policies ensuring tight control over the Palestinian population.)

Australia certainly does not have the percentage of its national budget and financial resources tied up like America does, but its policies aren't much better.  Current leaders among both the Liberal (Coalition) and Labor parties are not doing much independent thinking -- they simply walk in lock-step with America (or so it would seem from what I observe living here and absorbing the news) praising and supporting America's military priorities and  every foreign policy move.

Stopping this incredible excessive waste on military and empire is one of the most - if not the most - significant challenge of our lives.  And if Americans (and Australians, as well) can't change their national priorities, there is no light at the end of the tunnel... 

I welcome serious discussion about the best ways to get this message across.  That is THE question burning in my mind and heart of late.  And I think it begs for some creative thinking, mutual encouragement, persistent questioning, AND putting our bodies and our individual commitments on the line.

Let's talk - and act - for justice, for peace, for common sense, and the common good.  What are you thinking and feeling in this regard?  What is the particular bit you feel called to do?

In the short run, I've decided it's worth investing a bit of personal time in two things which enables me to build face-to-face relationships here in Australia with other peacebuilders:  1) I'm preparing for this local endeavour (a special peace lantern vigil on Anzac eve in Canberra) and 2) I'm getting involved in some strategic planning with others - forming the Australasian chapter of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Clair Hochstetler

*This week I attended a local meeting set up by Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine to watch a multiple-award-winning documentary they were showing entitled Occupation101.  It is loaded with well-researched facts, but also deeply moving.  The viewer is challenged to double check whatever he/she thinks they know about the history of the conflict in Palestine/Israel.  (I encourage you to obtain your own copy of the DVD - or at least watch some of the excerpted clips in the online "multimedia" section right here. (The 8 million per day in aide to Israel is cited in clip #4, among other astounding facts.)

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Gene Sharp - key strategist behind the toppling of the Egyptian government! Ever hear of him?


In case you haven't stumbled across this powerful story yet, I thought it was worth passing along.   Gene Sharp, now 83 years old and living in East Boston MA, is a very shy and quiet man. Ever hear of him before? I hadn't - to my chagrin.  I certainly should have been paying better attention.  

Gene is considered the world's foremost contemporary expert on non-violent revolution and his work has been translated into more than 30 languages.  Mr. Sharp's writing has been having a very powerful influence on what has been happening of late around other parts of the Arab world, providing the "blueprint" for how to work together effectively to overthrown dictators.  Many are saying he is the man now credited with the strategy behind the toppling of the Egyptian government!  Here is the article on Gene Sharp which brought me up to speed - a good read all the way to the end!   

I did a bit more research and found out the man is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, a Quaker, and member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  (Quoted from this other recent article I found in the NYT: "Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the 1950s, he wrote for a publication called “Peace News” and he once worked as personal secretary to A. J. Muste, a noted labor union activist, pacifist, and Executive Secretary of the FOR— but Gene insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself now as “trans-partisan.”) 

Here's Gene Sharp's list of 198 "nonviolent weapons" in outline form.

It's been quite the education this evening...

Clair Hochstetler

Saturday 19 February 2011

A True Aussie Love Story! (A great bird story kids will love as well!)

About eight years ago a wild Australian Sulphur Crested Cockatoo flew into a car and broke its wing. The motorist took it to the Vet in Nerang, Queensland, who had to amputate the wing.  We adopted her - for which we needed a National Parks and Wildlife permit - and kept her in a cage outside where she was often visited by wild Cockatoos.  One of the things that impressed us was how she would push lettuce leaves through the bars of the cage, offering food to visitors.  Last Sunday she again had a visitor.

For the rest of the story go here.

(Just keep hitting "Next Page" at the very bottom each time - this story unfolds over many pages!)