Sunday, October 30, 2005

Logging The Shame

Scandal Files’ USA Corruption Roll Call for October is due to be published next Tuesday. The focus this month is fair and square on the White House. Roll Call shows that the ‘Scooter’ Liddy fall is just the beginning for the beleaguered Bush Administration.
Scooter has taken the fall for this one. Apparently 'ministerial responsibility' or 'the buck stops here' is no longer operative. If it was Cheney would be gone as well.However, for Cheney and the rest of the administration, this is just the beginning. The raft of scandals, indictments and investigations, many reaching into the White House, promise a rocky ride for the Bush team.
Rove is on notice that he is under scrutiny over the CIA leak affair. But that is just one issue on Rove’s plate. His dealings with lobbyist ‘Casino Jack’ Abramoff have caught him up in a web of suspected corruption.

You could say the Bush administration are the architects of their own potential downfall.
The crazy part, for the US and its economic partners around the world, is that the woes of the White House are based in their focus on dubious social and ‘defense’ priorities. The Iraq war, investigations are slowly revealing, was prosecuted on a package of lies and misinformation.
The social agenda, part of the cost of Bush’s support base, is further destabilizing the administration.
Social issues, such as abortion, might quickly raise the political temperature, but they are not, at heart, valid political issues. Where this administration should have had its eye on matters economic, they have been diverted by ‘lifestyle’ issues which can never be successfully legislated.
In the meantime the economy is, at best, shaky. This has serious consequences far beyond US borders. As the self proclaimed keeper of the dollar, the US has a responsibility to the rest of the world to ensure sound economic policy.
The war ‘that should never have been’ has led to Liddy’s fall. Rove’s much trumpeted dalliance with the religious right will lead to more scandal in the coming weeks.
Overriding all of that, the greed implicit in the second area of electoral support, the big money, has been tendered to so conscientiously, good sense and probity was all but forgotten.
Yes, the Bush Administration is in deep kakka. It is not something to gloat about. The fallout from their time in office will hurt far more people that the trumped up war on terror.Clinton said, ‘it’s the economy stupid!’ It sure is.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Where have all the political giants gone?

All of my life, it seems, there have been giants of the political stage to look to and admire. More often than not, to be sure, they each showed their feet of clay at some time.
For the current crop those feet seem to extend to their ears.
I was born into a world of remarkable, firebrand pollies in Australia. The notorious ‘Doc’ Evatt, who on the plus side, moved heaven and earth to see his dream of the United Nations Organisation come into being.
The giant figure of Robert Gordon Menzies dominated the Australian stage during my childhood. His gray conservatism was challenged by a new American president in the early 60s.
The Vietnam War spawned an array of giant figures, on the Australian scene again, one Edward Gough Whitlam. Throughout the years there were many either in power or simply powerful, to give some impression of leadership.
Even the ‘less than upright’ showed qualities which made politics compelling to many of us.

Watching today’s lot is like watching a top football series plagued with second rate players. These thoughts were spurred by a headline in Newsday: A 'brain' drain if Rove goes, by Ellis Henican.
For a start, if Rove is credited with having brains, that leaves Bush looking dumber than he actually seems. The actual article was more circumspect on mental powers, referring ‘to the crafty mind and nimble arm twists’ of Karl Rove
The point is, it doesn’t take brains or intelligence to exert enormous power, simply guile and numbers. Current methodology is more often related to bully tactics than intelligent strategy.

The fundamental shift in politics, in part, has much to do with the ‘robber baron’ mentality which now dominates our institutions of power. The delegate authority to govern for the common good has been hijacked for the acquisition of personal wealth.
The political culture of individual selfishness and self-absorption, Margaret Thatcher’s "There is no society there are only individuals" is empty of the ‘duty of care demanded of those in power.
When our lawmakers, and by extension their advisors, believe it right to break the law to achieve their ends we are in real trouble.
Worse is the way errant political troops are simply cut adrift when corruption is exposed in high places; sacrificed on the alter of the false gods of politics.
There was a convention in western politics famously encapsulated in Truman’s ‘The buck stops here!”
The convention was based on the fact that responsibility in politics devolved to the top.
Under the Westminster System of Government, and to a degree the US model,
“even without knowledge of an infraction by subordinates the minister [secretary] approved the hiring and continued employment of those civil servant.
If misdeeds are found to have occurred in a ministry the minister is expected to resign. It is also possible for a minister to face criminal charges for malfeasance under their watch.”
It makes sense in systems where civil servants and non elected officials have no real voice with which to defend themselves. But more to the point, the individual given the delegated authority, on our behalf, was expected to take full responsibility for those under that charge.
We have allowed our elected leaders to slowly but surely escape that responsibility. We have allowed them to get away with as much as possible, until such times they can no longer simply pass the blame on to underlings.

Deflecting and diminishing
The indictment of ‘Scooter” Liddy is a case in point. Robert Parry in makes the point:
“One of the common myths of official Washington is that most political scandals result from overly aggressive aides operating out of control – the Watergate “third-rate burglary” or Iran-Contra’s “men of zeal” – with top officials getting in trouble only later by trying to cover the mess up.
But the reality – which is relevant again amid the probe into the outing of a CIA officer – is that a principal official is almost always lurking somewhere in the background of the original crime, sending signals or pulling strings with the expectation that, if caught, a subordinate will take the fall.”
Then there are the degrees of corruption, according to said Joe Lieber, a political analyst at Washington Analysis:
“If it's just Scooter Libby that gets indicted, it's a minor scandal. If Karl Rove gets indicted, that will be a little more damaging.”
No, it is not simply a minor scandal; it is a corruption symptomatic of political leadership around the world.
The US media, at least the Washington arm, has, to a great extent, tried to hide from this particular affair. S
ure it is complex, but it is also vitally important. Not enough it seems for any media organisation to put any real resources into the coverage.
In fact, the main role of the media has been to deflect rather than demand answers.

All in all, this latest imbroglio highlights the moral corruption we the voters, the media and our representatives, have allowed to develop.
Unless we all demand better it will surely get worse.
The implications of this ‘scandal’ are far reaching, well beyond the borders of the USA and well beyond mere cynical use of power. Over 2000 US servicemen are dead as a result of a war justified by the lies uncovered in this saga.
The US and other allies’ populations have been cowered by fearsome predictions of terrorist retaliation. Retaliation for actions taken on the basis of lies.
President Bush and vice president Cheney, if they had an honour and calling, would take responsibility for this mess. Instead of perpetuating this age of second rate political figures, they should resign.

Volcker's greed report

Now the Volcker catalogue of Iraqi oil corruption is final, everyone is talking about the money and the companies. I want to get down to the nitty gritty and look at how all the schemes involved really worked, the mechanics of the corruption.
In 1996 the world community, through the UN modified sanctions, on Iraq’s shipment of oil to address a growing humanitarian need in that country. Cut off from oil income the people of the country desperately needed food and medicine.
While the UN was to oversee sales and shipping of oil, and the purchase of bona fide food and medicines, Iraq had control over buying and selling.
It is this control which allowed the regime to turn a humanitarian plan into a vast money grab. Saddam’s regime received $1.8 billion in illicit income from surcharges and kickbacks on the sales of oil and humanitarian goods during 1996-2003.

International Intermediaries
First up, Iraq used a system of little known intermediaries companies to affect the initial sales. These companies then sold the oil on to established industry players. The process was a smoke screen to make monitoring of sales as difficult as possible. The oil went from A to B, but the paperwork went through a confusing chain of people.
For Iraq, the benefit of this method was in their ability to impose an illicit surcharge, which could not be easily spotted.
Those manipulating the program ranged from established trading companies to front companies set up for the purpose, and included some companies of international reputation as well as many well known in their home countries.
The scheme came to the UN’s notice at the end of 2000 when the Iraqis got greedy and demanded as much as 50c a barrel surcharge. When many buyers balked at paying the extra, Iraq concentrated on four buyers who would play their game.

War Profiteering
All the oil companies’ contracts included a no premium clause. This, despite the well know fact that Iraq would not deal unless the extra payments were made.
As the premiums were illegal, the companies needed to find ways of hiding them.
These payments were often disguised as items such as ‘commissions’ and ‘loading fees’.
The companies saw these charges as simply ‘commercial transactions’ despite the fact that the money was being used for military rather than humanitarian purposes. In other times these actions would have been called ‘war profiteering’.

Two other oil companies devised a scheme, in 2001, to smuggle oil out under the noses of the UN. The scheme basically revolved around ‘topping’ up ships which had already taken on a load of authorized oil.
Apparently it was easy to bribe the UN ‘contracted’ inspector to go for a coffee while this extra oil was loaded. The scheme came under very quickly when a tanker captain complained to authorities outside Iraq.

Aide profiteering
The other side of the coin was the ‘foods and medicines’ being purchased with the oil money. To a great degree, these were legitimate purchases. The Iraqi regime developed ‘kickback’ schemes, often paid into Iraqi controlled, offshore bank accounts. The schemes were simple enough, suppliers were obliged to pay the extra secretly or lose the deal. Other schemes to defraud the humanitarian program include:

The regime would instruct suppliers to use certain trucking companies whose prices were wildly inflated. The difference was funneled back into the regime’s banks to fund for armaments. While Iraq could have claimed these ‘extra’ costs directly from the UN they preferred to have the money deposited secretly in off shore accounts.

A web of agents
Like the oil sales, purchases were often handled through a web of agents and third parties. In this way, although brazen, the trail was difficult to follow or disrupt. They used ‘front companies’ partly owned or controlled by the government or compliant suppliers and agents overseas.
Inspection contractors, rather than overseeing the proper working of the program, are alleged at times, to be involved in the illicit trade and payments

I’m going to keep reading this fascinating document. There are sure to be some gems of malpractice still to come. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Corporate Theives

The final Volcker Report into the oil-for-food scandal promised to be a real eye opener. It is not the UN, which comes out of this scandal fairly cleanly, but big business which will take the knocks.
Critics of the Iraq war have consistently argued that the war had little to do with terrorism and everything to do with business profits.
Americans, mourning the deaths of over 2000 servicemen in Iraq, might like to dwell on the growing evidence from Volcker, the CIA leak enquiry and other sources, as to the reasons behind that needless toll.
The actual corruption in the program was almost all between the regime of Saddam Hussein and international bankers, energy traders and other assorted hucksters, some connected to the Bush administration.
The report will reveal more than half the 4,500 companies which took part in the U.N. oil-for-food program paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein.
Those manipulating the program ranged from established trading companies to front companies set up for the purpose, and included some companies of international reputation as well as many well known in their home countries, the investigators said.

Bringing Corporations into line
The governments of the ‘coalition of the willing’, specifically the USA, British and Australian governments, should respond with sanctions against named corporations.
Those corporations cited should be immediately stripped of any government contracts and barred until such time as they either clear their names or make positive social restitution for their corrupt activities.
This is profit by deception, theft and murder! These corporations must pay back in full, to their own nation’s and Iraq’s citizens before they should be allowed back into the game.
The ‘corporation’, as an entity, has now grown to rival many ‘sovereign states’ in economic clout. The problem is they seem to be accountable to no one, and use their influence to subvert our democracies.
Government must develop the guts to demand compensation for corporate corruption and institute independent oversight programs to keep them in reign.

The difficulties, however, are manifest. Corporate influence has become so intertwined with government that it is becoming impossible to see the edges anymore.
One of the architects of the Iraq war, Dick Cheney, dragged a bag load of corporate interest into the White House. He had already been involved in dubious corporate practices before becoming VP.
"When Cheney was running Halliburton, it sold more equipment to Iraq than any other company did. As first reported by The Financial Times on Nov. 3, 2000, Halliburton subsidiaries submitted $23.8 million worth of contracts with Iraq to the United Nations in 1998 and 1999 for approval by its sanctions committee.” Press Action.

Halliburton also has had dealings with Iran and Libya, both on the State Department’s list of terrorist states. Halliburton’s subsidiary Brown & Root, the Texas construction firm that does much business with the U.S. military, was fined $3.8 million for re-exporting goods to Libya in violation of U.S. sanctions.

In Australia, the old flagship Australian Wheat Board, now corporatised as the AWB, is on the Volcker list.
The Australian government is currently trying to ram through highly restrictive anti-terrorism legislation. To counter resistance, the government is using all the terrorist scare tactics it can muster to reign in detractors.
In that climate it is not surprising that Australian farmers are furious that their produce might be funding the bloody insurgency in Iraq.
Desperate to develop new markets, AWB became the largest supplier of wheat to Iraq under Saddam, and sold about 10 million tonnes of grain under the oil-for-food program.
Chairman of West Australian farmers group Western Grain Growers, Leon Bradley, said
"This destruction [Iraq] has been partly funded courtesy of the AWB, It's ironic that our Government forces farmers to supply their wheat to an organisation that steals food out of the mouths of children."

AWB has always strongly denied any deliberate wrongdoing in its dealings with Iraq, saying it never knowingly paid kickbacks. For the country's grain growers, they had better be right. It is difficult to see how the major grain marketer of a country could be penalized without hurting thousands of growers in the process.
Penalising after the fact is never as satisfactory as proper oversight and avoidance of implications of corruption.

Act of Will
It will take a massive act of will, and a process of instituting strong anti corruption agencies with a brief for corporate as well as public sector governance to beat the greed and corruption infecting our institutions.
It will also take a massive act of will by ordinary people to get of their behinds and start demanding change.

The Political Machine Stinks

So Dick Cheney laments the weakening of the presidency after Watergate. “In 34 years, I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job,” Cheney declared on ABC in 2002.
One report has it:
Avoiding scandals has become one of Cheney's obsessions, and the vice president has repeatedly fought to expand executive privilege to create an informational firewall around the presidency.
Therein in, one would think, might be the problem. Politics, in the US and elsewhere, accepts that corruption is a serious problem, and steps need to be taken to protect from being caught.

With a former aide to French President Jacques Chirac was found guilty of corruption, we are seeing the same misuse of office being played out in Europe.
Michel Roussin, who was Chirac's chief of staff when the president was mayor of Paris before becoming head of state in 1995, was found guilty of involvement in a kickback scheme run between 1989 and 1995.
The scam provided illegal funds to politicians in exchange for contracts to build or repair Paris-area schools.
By the end of the trial both right and leftwing political parties were revealed to have received illicit donations from companies tendering for public contracts.
While these politicians and their cronies line their pockets the rest of the community suffers.

If you take the Cheney line, however, the real crime is getting caught and implicating a President.
So how have we reached this stage where our body politic (speaking here of my very own Australian governments as well) have developed such a skewed view of probity and ethics?
How is it that the job of elected representative has evolved (or is it intelligent design?) into outright plunder of the public purse?

It seems that we are kidding ourselves with the sham of public election. It would be far more cost efficient, leaving even more plunder, to simply appoint known crooks and thugs.
The worst part now is that when a politician utters the words ethics, probity or voices opposition to corruption, there is no guarantee of how they define the terms. But in all probability you can expect a self serving definition.
The standards of the body politic stink! The ethics of those ‘buying’ high office are not in accord with real community leadership. And we won’t get any better until people start screaming from the rooftops and demanding better.
It’s the old question of ‘why do dogs lick their privates?’ Because they can! We let them!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Corruption Canada

Canada is economical with its scandals. The long running ‘Sponsorship Scandal’, and the ensuing Gomery enquiry, are crawling toward resolution.
Every possible ounce of righteous indignation will be drained from the sorry affair.
The processes involved in the various enquiries should, of itself, constitute a scandal, but I suspect everyone has just about had enough.
Regardless of the ‘Gomery’ outcome, the few heads which might ‘sort of’ roll; the payoff must be the establishment of effective oversight measures.
Treasury Board President, Reg Alcock, has been charged with putting a structure in place within his office. While I don’t doubt Mr alcock’s integrity or efficiency, this is an approach fraught with potential dangers.
Chief among the problems the proposed structure faces is that the civil service will be called on to investigate themselves. This, with the best will, is always a questionable practice.
A second issue, evident already in the process, focuses on rules of conduct puts the cart before the horse. We are talking about responsible adults here; they know the consequences of their behaviour. Specify the elements of corruption then prosecute those who breach that code. That is how the law operates.

Effective anti-corruption agencies must be both independence and stand alone. They must have a brief which details what constitutes corrupt behaviour. They must have the teeth to investigate and compel witnesses to testify, under standard perjury rules.
Experience has shown that the most effective model is an independent, standing commission. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) offers a ready made blueprint on how an effective agency is constituted.
During the legislation phase of ICAC’s creation, the NSW Premier Nick Greiner said:
"Nothing’s more destructive of democracy than a situation where people lack confidence in those administrators that stand in a position of public trust. If a liberal and democratic society is to flourish we need to ensure that the credibility of public institutions is restored and safeguarded and that community confidence in the integrity of public administration is preserved and justified."
Ironically, Greiner, a popular and likeable leader, was among the first victims of ICAC following a charge of cronyism. Charges of corruption against Greiner were later dismissed in court.

The ICAC have an established definition of corruption. You can find it on their web site. ICAC also have the powers of a commission which allow thorough investigation of issue to the point of recommending prosecution.
Canada’s Treasury Board has been promised the resources to establish an effective oversight. Those resources should now be transferred to a properly constituted, independent standing commission with the power to fight corruption within the system

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Big Lie

Outside the body politic it is called lying. It is part of the political culture which holds that the ends, their ends, justify the means.
The truth isn’t the only thing massaged, so does language. Lying to their constituents becomes; massaging the truth, spin, damage control, leverage, news management, issues management and on it goes.
Ironically, the word spin is said to have first appeared in the New York Times, sometime in October 1984, following the Reagan/Mondale debate. The irony being that the NYT is now deep in kakka for failing to detect one of its own journalists peddling spin.
We are talking here of the bias put on an issue, in order to make people believe an interpretation of events favourable to the teller, but not necessarily the full truth.

The question is, if these spinmeisters, beloved of the modern politician, are so good why are the ‘flak catchers’ of the world so busy at present?
In the US Bush’s pals ‘turd blossom' as he apparently calls his chief Aide Karl rove, Dick Cheney VP and his offsider ‘Scooter’ Liddy, are all supposed to be experts at political dissembling.
The current ‘scandal’ in the White House is a direct consequence of the lies and manipulations employed to sell the war in Iraq.
This was a cynical use of power, manipulation of information and potentially illegal activities. The latter, of course, is a matter for the courts, but the corruption is in misleading the public.

What I find particularly amusing now is the cry of ‘no fair, perjury was never part of the prosecutors brief.’ Perjury, by the way, is a legal word for lying.
We are all aware of the hapless burglar, jailed for ‘possession of house breaking tools’. This minor charge settled for because the prosecutor could not furnish the material evidence of the greater crime. ‘Never mind, he was bad and we nailed him anyway.’
Of course it would be better all round to ‘nail’ the guilty parties for their true misdeeds. Even so, the lies are part of their tool kit. If they lied on oath it is merely an extension of the underlying, corrupt, activities.

Australian’s gave a sort of tacit approval to the lies exposed prior to that country entering the alliance in Iraq. It is part of the national psyche; it seems, to accept the obvious lies dished up to them.
Security is a ‘hot word’ in Australia, as it is in the US. Having accepted the lies which led them into the war, then to its consequences of the frightening terror attacks in nearby Bali, they will accept the lies leading to a diminution of civil liberties.
They will willingly accept all of this, until it dawns on them just where their politicians have led them. What then? I can’t imagine under the proposed, draconian laws there will be much leeway to protest after the fact.
A terrorist will be whatever the Australian authorities deem to define a terrorist. If it means controlling a dissatisfied populous, or part thereof, by using anti terror laws, the government of the day will have the means.
These are dark days when countries are willing to surrender hard won civil liberties to political forces of dubious intent.
And behind it all, the spin, the lie, the fundamental corruption of our democracies.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Demise of the Christian Right?

There is a certain smell in the air which predicts the decay of the Bush administrations alliance with the Religious Right.
Lest my joy at these turn of events be taken the wrong way, let me say; I am in no way anti-American or anti-Christian.
What really concerns me is the enormous influence events in Washington have on other countries.
These influences in particular seem to embolden religious and economic conservatives where they might otherwise simply hover in the background.
But back to George W and his unholy alliance; with some notable exceptions, there has been a strange silence from leaders of the Christian right in recent times.
Doubtless many are wary of becoming tainted by the growing revelations and allegations surrounding senior Republican figures.
Some commentators go further, claiming that the CR feels betrayed by the Bush administration ‘which it put in power.’ That Bush is not delivering the agenda which was the basis of support.
Of course some are still in the fray. James Dobson, it seems, jumped into the Miers debate without looking first.
Ralph Reed is far too mired to simply extricate himself, unseen, and ride off into the sunset.
Pat Buchanan, rather than play the invisible man is sending a clear message, with comments like:
“While President Bush and his War Cabinet bear full moral responsibility for Iraq, they could not have taken us to war without the complicity of the ‘adversary press’ and ‘loyal opposition’.”
But don’t look at me, he seems to be implying.

Growing Unease
Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at The New Republic, cites the judicial line for growing unease:
“Mr. Bush's betrayal of the social conservative cause did not begin with Ms. Miers. His previous high court appointment, John Roberts, ought to have been taken as such. Mr. Bush all but explicitly promised to nominate justices like Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia, but Chief Justice Roberts is not in that mold.”
That is to suggest an honorable retreat in the face of betrayal by Bush. After detailing a raft of CR policy failures, by the bush Administration, he asks:
“Why do social conservatives keep accepting this rotten deal? It's not because there are fewer of them than there are economic conservatives.”
Of course there are other, more fundamental, issues with economic conservatives which upset the CR agenda. In the old days of politics it was understood that an honest politician, when bought, stayed bought. Economic conservatives have changed market rules completely. Free trade is now the rule, a deal is only a deal until a better offer comes along.
Conservative leader Paul M. Weyrich says membership rolls and donations to groups on the right have fallen off. Conservatives fear increase of dissent in the ranks
“The conservative movement was on an upward path, even after the 2004 elections, but the growth has stopped," said Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation.
''People now say, 'I'm not sure that this is the right gang to belong to,' "
Weyrich, who runs a weekly strategy session, said last week.
That ‘gang’ is the White House and GOP leadership, both of which rely on a loyal cadre of self-described conservatives to win elections.

The alliance between the Christian Right and Republicans was a cynical exercise on both sides. Bush might talk the talk, but he will always put his own interests, as he perceives them, first. He won’t ‘walk the plank’ for the sake of policies imposed on him by these unelected partners.
Much the same can be said for each of the prominent CR leaders. They will not continue to expose themselves, and risk their own power bases, when they fail to deliver on the promises made to their own supporters.
In the quest for power, in a basically conflicting alliance, there can be no real compromise; there is too much at stake on both sides.

But slowly it will fall apart. From these first cracks in the alliance rifts can only grow. The scandal spreading through conservative politics will make it unsafe territory for the most desperate Evangelical power seeker.
Even in Australia where darling of the CR and bush toady, Prime Minister Howard, is showing signs of losing grip, the signs of decay are starting to show.
This trend of allowing sectional interests to control national agendas through legitimately elected governments is troubling.
The Christian Right has the same rights and opportunities to sell their values into the community as any other secular interest.
Like the economic conservatives, they do not have the right, in a democracy, to buy governments in order to set national agendas.
As this latest adventure begins to crumble my hope is that it will proceed with such
commotion as to alert all but the most deaf to the dangers inherent in allowing narrow sectional interests to influence policy.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Positive side of Scandals

There is a very positive aspect to seemingly endless news stories of political scandal around the world. Corruption is not a new phenomenon, and by its very nature it is a secretive one.
That so much official fiddling is being exposed does not suggest a growth in the trade, simply a greater awareness.
Organisations like Transparency International are, in part, responsible for driving public awareness. Although their ‘imperfect’ Corruption Perception Index is not well understood by the general public, it is eagerly sought out by media and political pundits.
The real danger now is that of ‘corruption fatigue’. Citizens everywhere have a right to expect their representatives to act in good faith. The constant publicity, now being given to corruption, tends to lead to hopeless cynicism in electors.
That is why it is vital that jurisdictions known for serious levels of public sector corruption must act immediately to put independent oversight structures in place.
These bodies, properly constituted, get on with the business of auditing malfeasance, regardless of public mood or political climate.
Sadly, many of our lawmakers seem incapable of operating honestly without someone watching over their shoulders. If this is the case then the creation of these bodies must be the positive outcome of the negative behaviour.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Bit of parliamentary biffo…

Given the tag, the ‘Bear Pit’, there is no doubt an expectation of some fairly robust debating in the parliament of NSW.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion of a linear progression from the oppressive administration of a penal colony to the bully tactics common in the legislature.
Last weeks unedifying scene, with one angry member attempting to throttle another, is not all that unusual.
Frustration, taunting, and it seems excessive drinking during sessions almost guarantee these outbursts.
In fact, it is hardly surprising that the failure of one member to behave with parliamentary dignity promotes a ‘pissing competition’ rather than solutions.
The episodes are frequent enough that a set of informal ‘rules’ have developed, albeit, of playground logic.
It seems, if you are to attack another member, it is safe to attack one who has transgressed in the past. This apparently has to do with the likelihood of an apology being accepted by the ‘victim’ of the attack.
In this latest incident the ‘victim’, the taunting and bullying Joe Tripodi, has a seamy past himself. Like it or not, he was bound by his own misdeeds to accept an apology. End of story, more or less.
The hapless John Brogden (See previous blog) insulted a former Premier who was not tainted and who saw no reason to accept an apology. For him the results were more dire.
Of the rules allow buster and threat, but… “What was unusual about the Fraser incident was not that he acted disreputably or even that he threatened violence, but that he actually took hold of Tripodi.

“Incidents of politicians reportedly almost coming to blows are more common, including a 1996 confrontation between Tripodi and a fellow Labor MP, Tony Stewart, after a caucus meeting. According to reports, the men shouted at each other and had to be restrained.”

Federally, Tony Abbott, then employment services minister, was kicked out by the Speaker after moving menacingly towards Labor MPs who were insulting him on a fiery day in Federal Parliament in 2000.At the time, Mark Latham, then a backbench MP and newspaper columnist, wrote:
"The sight of a federal minister moving around the House of Representatives like Mike Tyson was a low point in our parliamentary history."

The ever affable Australian newspaper thinks it is all great sport. This conservative publication trumpeted: Bear-pit baiters deserve whatever biff they get. “BRING back the horsewhip and promote Andrew "Wild Bull" Fraser. It's about time we stopped pussyfooting around in politics and journalism and started calling a spade a spade again.”
Perhaps they are right, but surely it would be far better for everyone to lift their game, rather than simply escalate the violence.
My old mate, independent member for Port Macquarie Robert Oakeshott put the latest issue into perspective:
“It's a pretty emotive issue for all north coast ministers ... but nothing justifies physical assault and that's pretty much what happened.
“At best it (Mr Tripodi's comments) was something to trigger a point of order. But nothing justifies walking around the chamber in an unprecedented fashion and grabbing someone by the throat and basically trying to choke them."

The Shadow Leader of the House, Andrew Tink, took the ‘pissing completion’ route.
He raised a previous sexual misconduct allegation against Mr Tripodi involving a woman in Parliament and an apprehended violence order taken out against him.The Leader of the Opposition, Peter Debnam, who during question time referred to the Attorney-General, Bob Debus, as a "moron", told reporters that "the Government and the media should have a close look at the behaviour of government MPs".Perhaps it is time someone had a close look at the behaviour of all MPs. As my old Mum used top say as she gave all and sundry a clout, “I don’t know who started it, but you are all involved!”

Australia, it's your money!

THE Howard Government's multimillion-dollar industrial relations advertising blitz has failed to win over the public, with a clear majority of Australians believing the workplace changes would make Australian society less fair.
Cartoon by Tanberg - Sydney Morning Herald

That lovable Australian despot, Uncle John, has just spent "somewhere in the 30s or 40s (millions of dollars)" to assure the country that he knows what is best for all.Unfortunately, despite them funding the advertising, the ungrateful citizens refuse to accept his argument.Life must be difficult for a despot in a country fully of intractable bastards. First they get uppity about a simple ‘shoot-to-kill’ law. Now they are finding fault with handing wages and conditions decisions over to their benevolent employers.According to the poll, conducted exclusively for The Age, fewer than one in five voters (19 per cent) believe the changes will make the country fairer.
The question is, how much of this negative public opinion is Uncle John willing to take before he starts smacking bottoms?
Remember, this is a man who suffered the political gulags for over 40 years, dreaming of bringing his ‘grand plan’ to fruition.
Uncle John Howard was born to be the Emperor of all Australias and the Deputy Sheriff of Asia. He suffered untold misery and hurt, in his journey to eventual vindication.
You don’t think he is just going to sit back let public opinion sour his final glory? I think not!
Uncle John had to suffer, and it is now only proper that the rest of the country should suffer. Just watch out for the $100 mill ad campaign on why low earners taxes are suddenly being raised.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

It is Friday - Saturday in Australia

A little light reading?
Re theories that don't add up
If it's time to teach intelligent design, let's rewrite all the syllabus.
I don't see why this egalitarian approach to education should apply solely to the evolution-versus-intelligent-design flap. I think parents should take a close look at what their children are being taught about mathematics, and consider whether the present teachings are in their best interest. I propose an alternative called Agreeable Arithmetic. More…

More Than My Jobs Worth

There is a wonderful British phrase for a ubiquitous, if minor form of civil sector corruption, jobs worth. These are the people on the public payroll who are anything but civil.
Generally the job’s worth has a little ‘vested’ authority which they misuse in a variety of ways.
It could just be an ego thing, using the power to delay and frustrate. Others are just plain lazy, and use their limited power to cover up.

Dead Lazy Jobsworths
In a recent Australian news report a body lay in the driver's seat of his car for up to a week, unnoticed by the council parking officer who stuck a ticket to the vehicle's windscreen after first chalking its tyres.
A friend of the deceased reported: "From what the police had told me, it would have been very obvious he was deceased, so I'm really disgusted."
Mayor, Paul Denham, said “But the car's tinted windows made it difficult for the parking officer to see inside.” He said Maroondah Council's local laws officer, who patrolled the car park weekly also noticed nothing out of the ordinary and was distressed to learn of the situation.
The mayor’s excuse seem as much ‘on the nose’ as the poor old dead guy. But why should a jobsworth be concerned about that…

More about jobsworths: Are you being served?
More than 20 million men and women work in what economists misleadingly call the service sector, doing everything from checking out your goods at the supermarket to working in old people's homes.
Yet though Britain has a vast service sector, it sorely lacks an accompanying service culture, a fatal weakness in a world in which that part of the economy is inexorably the future.

Polish Connections

Rywin's List
He brought you Schindler's List and The Pianist. The Polish movie mogul, Lew Rywin, might well have been writing the scenario for his next ‘block buster’ over the past few years.
Rywin, 59, was convicted last year of being an accessory to influence peddling. He was found guilty by a Warsaw court of trying to solicit a $17.5 million bribe from a leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, in 2002.
Poland's supreme court upheld the conviction on bribery charge, concluding a three-year case that helped undermine the outgoing government.
Rywin was convicted soliciting a bribe of $17 from a newspaper editor in return for promoting changes to Polish media law. He was also fined $30,000 (GBP16,700) told the editor he was acting on behalf of senior politicians including then-prime minister LESZEK MILLER.

While in Poland
Alexander K - the president of all swindlers
News that outgoing Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski might run for the post of UN Secretary-general is causing a stir in some parts.Kwasniewski, a former communist apparatchik, is about to leave his presidential office this fall.
Scandals and corruption that have figured heavily in his administration; it is alleged that Kwasniewski used his position to influence the sell-off of a state-owned oil refinery to the Russians.
He is expected to be brought before the State Tribunal, the Polish judicial body that rules on the constitutional liability of people holding the highest offices of state. Kwasniewski’s name is associated with the politicians accused of profiteering on the war in Iraq.
He also tried to cover up a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal in which film producer Rywin solicited a $17.5-million bribe from the Polish daily “Gazeta Wyborcza” in return for favorable changes to media laws.
The election for the next U.N. secretary-general will take place in fall next year. Kwasniewski, who has recently expressed interest in the UN job and frequently visits the U.S. campaigning for support, will be the candidate with a background of scandals and hypocrisy.

Lawmakers sounds good

On words related to governance, and by extension, to corruption.
During my travels around the web I have been impressed by the way US media use the word LAWMAKER to denote, in the broadest sense, their legislators and administrators.
I guess, under the Webster concept, it is direct. It is also descriptive and fairly specific, to the point that it covers those who make laws.
Synonyms can include: administrator, alderman, assemblyman, congressman, councilman, deputy, lawgiver, leader, member, parliamentarian, senator.
Not all lawmakers are elected. In the US Federal cabinet posts are appointed. These people are powerful lawmakers. There and elsewhere statutory laws or regulations are often created by civil servants.
This all becomes highly relevant in the area of corruption. We should be able to expect our lawmakers to be the most vigorous in obeying law. Alas, as we are finding, ‘it ain’t necessarily so.

Which leads us to:
Lawyers and Lawmakers
Tennessee House Majority Leader Kim McMillan Thursday defended her right to be a lawyer and a lawmaker. McMillan, D-Clarksville, has come under fire for representing a Bristol utility company before the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, the state body that governs utilities.
She serves as "of counsel" with the Nashville law firm, meaning she is a salaried employee and not a partner. She works in the firm's litigation section.
McMillan in her role as majority leader also sponsored the overall state budget, which includes funding for TRA. She also is sponsoring legislation that could expand the powers of the authority, give it seven more employees and increase its spending by $363,000. She is co-chair of a joint House-Senate committee trying to write tougher ethics legislation for the state.
An exemption for lawyers in the ethics reform bill was controversial. Former Sen. John Ford, D-Memphis, who was indicted in the Tennessee Waltz bribery scandal, criticized the exemption earlier this year as "patently unconstitutional," saying many of the lawyer legislators do consulting work.
Some have called for lawyers to choose either practicing their profession or being lawmakers, but it could be seen as discriminatory in a citizen legislature. Of the 132 legislature members, 26 are lawyers, according to state disclosure records.

Refco's trickle down effect

There is a litany of names in the financial world, which, when uttered in a single list, inevitably conjures thoughts of several deadly sins – namely envy, greed and pride.
Depending on your longevity in the market, it might start with BCCI, Blue Arrow, Barlow Clowes or even Ivan Boesky. To that unholy gang you would have to add Barings, Maxwell, LTCM, and, more recently, Enron Worldcom and Parmalat.
The latest name in the hall of shame is Refco, the futures broker whose chief executive has been accused of fraud, putting in sequence a chain of events which is making world markets, regulators and accountants edgy in the extreme. Story: Sunday Herald UK

Corporations were, not so long back, considered to be private organisations. Given the huge influence of many corporations now, and the apparent culture of corruption, this view is changing.But what to do with them, how to ensure oversight and transparency, is the difficult part. Money buys the power to insulate many of these big players from the laws of normal people.
The real problem seems to be that these sprawling groups often know no national borders. They are able to move their activities around to obscure malfeasance or even ‘legalise’ it under some national laws.
Corporations have their own problems with this dynamic. As hard as it might be for governments to monitor a company’s activities, the corporation faces the same problem with its own people.
The current Refco  scandal is a case in point. Former chief executive of the major futures broker, Phillip Bennett was able to shift money from hiding place to hiding place.  Big money, which at last count was $430 million, given reports from Refco and US federal.
Bennett is said to have slipped the debt off Refco's books into a New Jersey hedge fund, Liberty Corner Capital Strategy, and then into a company he controlled.
The loan was passed around so that when it came time to report Refco's finances, the debt was nowhere to be found.
Bennett says he isn't guilty, and it will take all the dishonest guile of his colleagues to work out the complex moves and trace the money. We do not yet know where, if any, blame lies, nor who might join Bennett in the dock.
The auditors involved maintain ‘we were tricked.’ They are the ones who are there to ensure this kind of thing can’t happen. They have failed again, failed because this is business and they are part of the whole game.
So where are these so called protectors? According to Harry First, New York University law professor and expert in business crime, they are lined up filing suits to regain their own money.
“You have all of these gatekeepers -- the auditors and the underwriters -- who are supposed to be there for us watching these transactions”

So who does it hurt, thieving from the corporate thieves? Refco has 2,390 employees, about 1,168 in the United States. It goes deeper into the economies of a number of countries. “The best way to think of the Refco meltdown is as a modern-day bank run,” says our former banker and Capital and Crisis’ editor, Chris Mayer.
This is where the much touted ‘trickle down effect’, beloved of economic conservatives, really makes itself shown. Only there are no benefits to trickle down, just more plunder of ordinary pockets while these high flyers protect their own accumulated wealth.
Mechanisms, and political will, must be found to control the excesses of corporations. Obviously commercial auditors, essentially self-regulation, are not the answer. There is too much at stake to trust these people to control their greed.
Perhaps it is time for organizations such as the World Bank to stop plundering developing economies and begin moderating the behaviour of corporate pirates. But that still seems a little like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Don't call it 'shoot-to-kill', says Ruddock

The Australian Government is busy fending off objection to the explicit linking of shoot-to-kill powers with preventative detention; the Government's proposed method for apprehending terror suspects or their associates.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock doesn’t like the shoot-to-kill tag being used, declaring it simply a matter of assessing how a person could be brought into custody. He says; "The point I would make is it quite inappropriate to refer to it as a shoot-to-kill provision. This is the issue relating to the use of force to detain a person to prevent the commission of terrorist attacks. The question is how do you bring somebody into detention? You need to detain them. You need a proper basis for being able to do that”
Well that is as clear as mud… Sounds like he proposing laws which allow police to shoot to kill!
Meantime Rupert Murdoch’s Australian minions are busy spreading his faith downunder…
“OPPONENTS of the proposed anti-terror legislation should get a grip, because the debate on how to protect Australia against attack is being lost in hyperbole and hysteria.” Editorial The Australian October 21, 2005

And here I was thinking that this overreaction to a terror threat created by Howard and his mates, Bush and Blair, was hyperbole and hysteria. Rupert will put us all straight.

Shoot to Kill

Here is another collection of comments. Again, in no particular order; but possibly reflecting my personal opposition to draconian new anti terrorism laws in Australia.

Howard backs shoot to kill laws
"For centuries, law enforcement officers have had the right at common law to use deadly force if necessary to protect life or to prevent serious injury depending on the circumstances,"
"London drove home, more than any other terrorist attack, drove it home to us that it could happen here."
On the prosed anti terrorism laws: "Now I acknowledge they are unusual … and it's necessary because we live in unusual times." John Howard Australian Prime Minister

“These are powers whose breadth and arbitrary nature, with lack of judicial oversight, should not exist in any democratic country. If one says, "But they will not be abused," I do not agree. If arbitrary power exists, they will be abused.” Malcolm Fraser Former conservative Prime Minister

“I think the shoot-to- kill provision is meant to set the style for this whole suite of measures eroding civil liberties. Bob Brown, Federal Greens leader

"Shoot-to-kill was not part of the discussions; it was not part of the communiqué." Morris Iemma NSW Premier

"To have a provision like that exposes us to the sorts of risks that we saw in the UK." Geoff Gallop West Australian Premier

"The Government should leave the laws alone because existing laws can cover the situation. It currently doesn't make any difference if you pull a gun and you're Saddam Hussein or a shop-lifter. There is not much difference in how the police would respond." John North Law Council president

"If the [police] are armed with one of these [orders] ... and if this person attempts to flee the arrest, he can be shot and fatally shot." John McIntyre president of the NSW Law Society.

“Laws which are non-discriminatory on their face may be applied in a discriminatory way by the security and police agencies.” Petro Georgiou, Government backbencher

“The legislation, as we now have it, certainly is a violation of human rights. And that what the Prime Minister said was going to be in there - judicial review, as an example - simply isn't there.” Professor Hilary Charlseworth, International Human Rights Lawyer

We have a terrorist threat to our community. And in these circumstances, people are going to be jumpy and jittery in police forces and everywhere else. Kim Beazley Federal Opposition leader

“Politicians, not terrorists or trade unions, are the biggest threat to Australian democracy today.” Kenneth Davidson The Australian

“ I don't see the need for the preventive detention measure - unless it is designed to deliberately target people who aren't suspected of an offence - a dragnet operation, to round up, say, a whole Muslim group.” Ben Saul law lecturer, University of NSW

“It should, of course, be illegal to encourage other people to kill Australian soldiers. However, I have very grave concerns about constraining the freedom of people to support views and polices that may not coincide with the views and policies of the Australian Government…” Allan Behm strategic analyst

“Imagine that: ringing your wife or your husband after you've been detained and saying, 'Look I won't be home for 14 days'. They'd say, ‘where are you?' and you'd say, ‘I just won't be home. Don't worry about it'” Jon Stanhope ACT Chief Minister

"In our view, state Labor governments, including obviously the Victorian Government, should not express any position in relation to the Federal Government's proposed extension of anti-terror laws until the Federal Government has produced a bill, or a draft of a bill," ALP's justice and democracy policy committee

“Last Thursday in the Senate, the Government sneakily tried to ram through plans for a quick-and-dirty Senate review of the anti-terror legislation.” Steve Lewis The Australian

"The devil is in the detail and there are plenty of devils in this legislation. Frankly, we are disappointed because while the Prime Minister said there would be lots of safeguards, there don't appear to be that many." Waleed Kadous Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network

"Putting people under house arrest for a year by a control order is tantamount to jailing people without trial," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"There is no racial profiling. If there were to be, in the conduct of these laws, racial elements taken into account we would have to amend the Racial Discrimination Act and we have no intention to do so." Philip Ruddock Australian Attorney General

“I for one, as well as other Muslims, had reservations in that the laws were… seemed to target Muslim young people and Muslim people. And then the other side of the spectrum was that the laws, no they're not targeting Muslim people, but the implementation inevitably will target them.” Iktimal Hage Ali Muslim Community Reference Group

“The laws proposed allow children to be subjected to both preventative detention and control orders. Children as young as 16 could also face house arrest for up to 12 months.”Amnesty International Australia

Kicking the Journalist

Miller is a blip to soured public
“Ask some experts why the public seems uninterested in the mounting criticism of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, and their answer is simple: People already have a low opinion of the media's credibility.” St. Petersburg Times, FL 

As an avid ‘(print) media watcher’ I feel a touch defensive of journalists, as a group. Mind you, I would never rely on the US news sources alone. The system of ‘partisan’ media is known elsewhere, but no where as ubiquitous as the US.
The real point is, at its very best, media reporting is subjective. My first job as a media stringer came with just one concrete rule; ‘you do not make news, or comment on news. You report the facts!”
Still, it didn’t take long to find, with a few pages of notes and a strict word limit, the journalist must pick which ‘facts’ will go into the story. Even subconsciously, the most upright reporter can skew a story with that choice of facts for inclusion.

But don’t shoot the messenger! And don’t simply rely on one source for vital information.
So Miller was probably in bed with the administration. Surely the trick of following the media is to understand the leanings of writers and their publications.
I find it difficult to believe that the American media didn’t know that ‘embedded journalists’, during the Iraq war, were propagandists for Bush’s regime. I guess, in the lottery to select participants, it might have bad form for the losers to say too much. But they are allowed to think.
One of the issues discussed, at least in media outside the US, was the difficulty of living with troops and still giving unbiased reports. Far from criticism it was a look at the reality of the system the US Government adopted for news coverage of the war.
In some ways the ‘embedded’ system worked against the Government, who wanted to control the news. Let’s face it, stuck in terrible conditions with a bunch of grunts for days on end, you would tend to share the sentiments of your fellow sufferers.
Yes, the journalists were restrained by their signed agreement with the government. That cannot stop stories being skewed, to some extent at least.
As to Miller, well the NYT is just one of many publications out there. Miller might well have been a propagandist, but the news reports were not significantly different from others around the country.
If Americans wanted real news during the Iraq war they had to look elsewhere. If they wanted body counts, for example, or real ‘unsettling’ facts, they were not going to get them from the US media.
That is not the fault of journalists. The blame must slate back to the publishers who steer the content and position of the publications.
The concern of the publishers is their prestige and advertising revenue. It is they who will toe the line and deliver all the news the government wants. It is they who will obscure those things the government would rather people didn’t see.

Soviet Revisited

Australian ‘terror suspect’ David Hicks has been held at Guantanamo Bay for over four years, under the medieval US ‘rules of war. Now he is facing a secret trial in which, if convicted, that time will count for nothing.
We really don’t know very much about his charges, his defense or any other circumstance of his incarceration.
The sycophantic The Australian government, and PM John Howard, has simply acquiesced to this outrageous behaviour by the US government.
What is really frightening is that this is the behaviour of the former Soviet regimes: foreign nationals, along with their own people were simply disappeared into prisons.
Torture is cleverly ‘contracted out’ to countries that seem to excel at this kind of thing. Although we note that the US jailers, Guantanamo, are not too far behind in more subtle tortures.
Trials were a secretive farce then too, showing no regard for rule of law. The only difference is that we do know these people are their. Albeit, as shadows, beyond our reach in every way.
While the USA, Australia and Briton tout themselves as free societies they are behaving very much in the manner of that old, evil empire of the Soviet Union.
Anti terror laws, enacted and proposed to not increase the security of ordinary citizens. Again, they are getting close to old Soviet measures used to control wayward citizens, rather than to protect them.
All this is being led by an increasingly discredited regime in Washington, a regime whose lies and manipulations are the stuff of racy political fiction.
All too ready to follow, sadly, are compliant (no sycophantic) client states such as Australia and the UK.
We, the people, are being duped in the name of security. Just say NO to the excesses of authoritarian governments and fight like crazy to protect what freedom we still have left.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Judging Harriet

Just for the heck of it, I thought I would do a scan of comments on Harriet Miers. No particular order or agenda here:

"She's a born-again Christian, owns a handgun, and headed the Texas Bar Association. I have a hard time understanding why this is a bad thing," Ed Naile, chairman of the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers

The rush to judgment on Miers from the president's allies has been striking. Not only has it been immediate and widespread, it also has been - in many cases - extraordinarily immoderate," Ronald Cass, dean emeritus of Boston University School of Law and co-chairman of the Committee for Justice, writing for the website RealClear Politics, which is widely read by conservative activists.

“We are going to take as much time as we need. We do not have much paperwork. We do not have much of a record.” Senate Judiciary Committee, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter.

“We don't confirm justices of the Supreme Court on a wink and a nod. And a litmus test is no less a litmus test by using whispers and signals.” And “The comments I have heard range from incomplete to insulting. Certainly it was inadequate, and it did not give us enough to prepare for a hearing. We will have to have more.” Sen. Patrick Leahy. Ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Apparently the White House believes she doesn't have any burden to prove she deserves a lifetime appointment,'' Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.

"Setting a date for the hearing before we have gotten any information or documents is putting the cart before the horse. We know less about this nominee than we knew about any previous nominee." Sen. Charles Schumer D-N.Y.

“She was the nominee of the president of the United States who has consistently given us excellent nominees to the bench.” Sen. Jeff Sessions, a pro-life lawmaker from Alabama

"She has taken a public position as a candidate for Dallas City Council," [referring to a 1989 questionnaire she completed that shows she opposed abortion.] "She assures me these public positions are her own personal views, and as a judge she will look at the facts of a case, both pro and con, and then make her decision based on the law." Sen. Wayne Allard

“Nominating a constitutional tabula rasa [blank slate] to sit on what is America’s constitutional court is an exercise of regal authority with the arbitrariness of a king giving his favorite general a particularly plush dukedom.” Columnist Charles Krauthammer

“People want to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers’ background. Part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion. Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas.” President Bush

“In a way, you can't blame the Bush administration for turning the conversation to Harriet Miers' religion. What else are they going to talk about? Her qualifications? Those, as we have learned in the two weeks and counting since President Bush nominated her to the Supreme Court, are a trifle thin.” Leonard Pitts Jr

“Just about everybody, except President Bush who has known and worked closely with Harriet Miers for many years, says that not much is know about what the Supreme Court nominee thinks.” Donald Lambro, Washington Times' chief political correspondent

"The tipping point in Washington is when you go from being a subject of caricature to the subject of laughter. She's in danger of becoming the subject of laughter." Bruce Fein, a Miers critic who served in the Reagan administration's Justice Department and who often speaks on constitutional law

As if to prove it… " the court may need a woman who's had more courtroom experience, like Courtney Love." Jay Leno

"…relentless march of vapid abstractions “whose” quality of thought and writing doesn't even rise to the level of pedestrian…" David Brooks, a conservative New York Times columnist

"The way she's being beaten up by the far right is very sexist. People should hold their fire and give people an opportunity to come before a hearing," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California

"She's got a very probing mind and a probing intellect. She is the kind of person who is, if there have been four arguments given; Harriet's going to look for the fifth," Condoleezza Rice

"Here's what I know about Harriet Miers. I know that she's a crony of the president. I know she thinks he's the most brilliant man she's ever met. I know that she was head of the search committee and wound up being the nominee, and I know that she is personally anti-choice. Those are things I know." Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat

"We are the last people on Earth to object to the news that she is a committed Christian. By the same token, this fact is not grounds for certifying her to us or to the public. ... Inferences drawn from an individual's religious affiliation have no place in decisions to nominate or confirm a judicial appointee." Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council

We find it patronizing and hypocritical to focus on her faith in order to gain support for Miss Miers." Jan LaRue, chief counsel of the conservative Concerned Women for America

Finally, with thanks to David Brooks, a few words from Harriet Miers herself:
"More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems."

"We must end collective acceptance of inappropriate conduct and increase education in professionalism."

"When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved."

"We have to understand and appreciate that achieving justice for all is in jeopardy before a call to arms to assist in obtaining support for the justice system will be effective. Achieving the necessary understanding and appreciation of why the challenge is so important, we can then turn to the task of providing the much needed support."

Politics, over the top

Here is a grab bag of stories which illustrate the problem of ethically challenged politicians. I’m sorry that it is US centric Bruce that is the way it panned out. The fact is, this mess is reflected worldwide.

Wish We Could Trust Them
I'm tired of political scandals, aren't you? I don't mean that I'm tired of scandalous behavior coming to light. I mean, I'm tired of people in power acting scandalously. Now we're in the midst of the Tom Delay-Bill Frist-Scooter Libby-Karl Rove accusations. Before you start your e-mails, I know that none of these guys has been found guilty of anything. All of the alleged improprieties might turn out to be groundless. But if they are, I guarantee there will be others either in the administration or in Congress who will be found to have committed crimes and/or ethical lapses. That's just the way it's been with all the administrations in recent memory. Now, you can say that some people in all walks of life commit crimes. But doesn't it seem that the people we have entrusted with power are crooks at a higher rate than the rest of the population?

Politicians ethically challenged
A Recent poll of Wisconsin voters shows them increasingly cynical about and weary of the way politicians conduct business.
Almost half, or 47%, said elected officials were representing their own interests, while 41% said public officials are attuned to special interests; 6% didn't respond to the question.
Only 6% of residents said they think elected officials most often represented constituents' interests.
Those surveyed also share the sense that politicians increasingly have become ethically challenged.
Similar to other polls, within and outside the USA, the figures raise a spectre of voters simply losing interest in the system.
Mike McCabe, executive director of political watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a government watchdog group said “Frustration among voters is ‘off the charts,’. But the worst possible scenario would be for voters to turn away from the process. That creates a vacuum that these special interests want to fill," he said.

Debra Pickett SUN-TIMES Chicago (Will lessons in hiring make city a class act?) reports:
This week, Chicago aldermen and other top city workers started remedial courses in how to hire people for city jobs.For the most part, though, you have to wonder just how useful these classes will be. It is, after all, pretty hard to argue that a rigorous selection process is needed to find a secretary for the deputy assistant vice commissioner for neighborhood art fairs when, if you're filling a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, a simple "she's real nice" is supposed to be enough.

Protesters demand refund
A protest at U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, office in Norwich Friday turned into a brief but heated exchange between the congressman's staff and a protester. District Manager Jane Dauphinais and protester Jim Eaton of Norwich exchanged words as a dozen members of descended on the office to demand Simmons return campaign contributions from former House Majority Leader Congressman Tom DeLay, indicted in Texas for engaging in illegal campaign fund-raising activities.

Rep. Green refuses to give up
GREEN BAY - Rep. Mark Green is rebuffing calls by Democrats to divest campaign funds donated by former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Green's campaign manager, Mark Graul, says all but $2,000 of the money has been spent and the campaign will keep the money until there is a clear determination of DeLay's guilt or innocence.

Nashville, Metro Council are having problems with an ‘Ethics Bill’, which some regard as ‘too strict’. The new version of the bill requires less frequent and less thorough financial disclosures from council members and their families. But some say it still may be too onerous.
If passed, the bill would require quarterly disclosure of financial interests and place limits on gifts and benefits to council members.
It would ban the meals that special interest groups have traditionally served the lawmakers on the nights they meet to make decisions for the city. And it would make it more difficult for a wayward lawmaker to hide potential conflicts of interest.
The bill comes at a time of low public trust in government, just months after indictments at the statehouse in a federal bribery sting. Some Metro council members flinch when their actions are put in the context of events unfolding on the state level.

You can’t trust them!
What are you going to do about it? People everywhere should be absolutely bloody furious that, having entrusted their representatives, they now face a constant barrage of scandal. No, not simply scandal, theft, bribery, cover up and a whole litany of base criminal activities.
This when we should, as sophisticated nations, be discussing deeply fundamental issues of human progress; or alternatively getting on with our lives in the knowledge that entrusted authorities are doing their jobs.
It seems the lot of this generation to either root out this epidemic corruption and enforce greater standards of behaviour, or cede the future well being of future generations to crooks.
If the current mess doesn’t make you angry enough to act than we truly deserve our miserable fate.

The Bear Pit - Parliament Rules

They call it the ‘Bear Pit’, that is, the Parliament in NSW Australia. Again this week the house lived up to its reputation with debate turning to physical scuffle.
Government leader in the chamber, Carl Scully, argued that "Parliament is a conflict of ideas but it is a conversation, not a brawl”. But drop into question time in Macquarie Street and you could be mistaken for thinking you'd stepped into a classroom when teacher is absent.
There are some who point to the speaker, John Aquilina, saying he has allowed the standard of what passes for debate in Macquarie Street to degenerate so much. No doubt he has done little to help, but the problem is hardly a new one.
This incident began with the usual taunting, albeit over the very serious issue of road deaths on a major highway. A bit of point scoring hit home and the feathers flew.
Andrew Fraser denied he had been drunk on Tuesday night when he lunged at the Roads Minister, Joe Tripodi, called him a "bloody liar" and assaulted him.  Fraser received an eight-day suspension for his outburst.
He hopes that now, at least the incident might get the issue of upgrades on the Pacific Highway into the media.
"All I'd say to you lot, do what you can to get this bloody highway fixed. I mean, you've got the opportunity now, I'm your scapegoat … but go out there and talk to those people who have lost kids, who have lost parents."
Well, it has been the ‘Bear Pit’ for many years now. It is difficult to image any great change in that in the future. Potential members must know what they are getting into. Still, it would be interesting to see the place operate with some sense of decorum.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

It is Criminal

Talk around the blogosphere is suggesting that conservative defenders of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby have settled on their No. 1 talking point: the grand jury investigation into the CIA leak scandal represents the “criminalization of politics.”
“According to a database search, every single television reference to the CIA leak scandal as the “criminalization of politics” in the last 30 days has been on Fox. Even more stunning: on every occasion, the phrase was introduced into the segment by a Fox News anchor or correspondent, never by a guest.”

The message seems to be that all those who now find themselves in hot water really didn't do anything wrong, other than engage in rough-and-ready, and successful, conservative politics. Star Tribune

I can accept that such a poorly scripted, ambiguous approach could emanate from the White house minders. Their track record on spin is shaky, after all. What I find difficult is that it would get past Rupert Murdoch and into his media outlets.
Don’t get me wrong, Rupert is right up with the pack in the political dirty tricks department. It is simply that messages sponsored by him are generally better crafted and targeted.
As one commentator pointed out, this message is so ambiguous that the average Fox News viewer will totally misunderstand its intended meaning.
Personally, I like the alternative interpretation, the suggestion that the White House might be ‘criminalising politics’. One thing is very obvious; there is a campaign afoot to criminalise a prosecutors investigation.

Jury out on Judge Harriet

Before the lid is firmly screwed down on Miers background, here are a couple of excellent articles by Jerome R. Corsi of WorldNetDaily.

Miers meant to 'keep lid' on lottery scandals
Is Miers firm under criminal investigation?
Jerome R. Corsi received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in political science in 1972 and has written many books and articles, including the No. 1 New York Times best-seller, "Unfit for Command – Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry." Dr. Corsi is an expert on political violence and terrorism and founder of the Iran Freedom Foundation.

Australia's Bad Law

Australia’s saga of the fight against phantom terrorism shows the absurdity of introducing draconian laws. Sponsors of the new laws, the Liberal Federal government, are not totally gung ho about the Prime Minister’s new police state.
A call from the high-profile Liberals for an independent watchdog to “Parliament so that any "unintended adverse consequences" of the counter-terrorism legislation were identified and promptly rectified” highlights internal concerns.From Michelle Grattan’s Melbourne Age article, prominent Liberal Petro Georgiou, says; “One concern was that laws that were intended to be non-discriminatory might be applied in a discriminatory way —
"that the security and police agencies will use their powers against people who are suspect because of their actual or presumed religion or ethnic background, not on the basis of information about behaviour of particular individuals".

This is bad law which is becoming increasingly cumbersome and problematic. When you need watchdogs to watch the watchdogs there is serious cause for concern.  In defending the provisions of the proposed anti-terrorism laws, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, insists that the proposed law has exactly the same power as in the existing Crimes.
If that is the case, and I highly doubt it, then why do we need a new law which duplicates an existing law? A spokesman for Mr Ruddock also played down the need for such statutory monitor, saying a number of "review and oversighting mechanisms" were already in operation.
Not that good old Phil has a great deal of credibility these days. He spends a good deal of time defending Howard’s position, only to find that Howard has shifted while Phil was talking. It must be disheartening for the AG.
The bottom line is that this is draconian legislation from a government with a poor record on civil rights and concerns.
Putting aside the worry of putting such powers into the hands of already tainted police, there are other negative aspects.
Australia’s Muslim community, like any other sector, has its unstable rump. Largely young people, who are on the outer edges of the socio/economic scale, these trouble people have already demonstrated their instability.
Whether intended or not, there is a belief that these laws target Muslims. Rather than control terrorism, the laws threaten to incite those on the fringes; to give them a ‘real’ agenda.
They don’t need to be political or radicals to find this, apparent attack, ample reason to ‘join the fight’. We have already witnessed similar responses from young people on the fringes in Australia, people of all backgrounds.
This is bad law. It does nothing for the security of Australia and Australians. In fact, it does nothing more than harm what security already exists.

TI Corruption Report

Transparency International’s 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index holds no real surprises. Bearing in mind that perception is the keyword in all of this.
TI says “The TI Corruption Perceptions Index is a composite survey, reflecting the perceptions of business people and country analysts, both resident and non-resident.”
Canadian can beat themselves up over their newfound status, but their increase in perception reflects events which occurred over a previous decade. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
I don’t really know the methodology of this survey, but there are two factors which make me wary of taking the TI list at face value:
First, this is just perception. The list must reflect, in part, expectations for a given country’s behaviour, or conversely an acceptance of some forms of corruption as ‘normal’.
The second issue is ‘what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve’. Canada is now responding to what is essentially old activity. Although having rooted that out there seems to be skeletons in every other closet.
On the expectations issue, you have to wonder if some of the poorer countries feature badly on the list because they can’t really defend themselves through sophisticated PR. No doubt there is more visible corruption in these countries (perceptions?), but the difficulty for them is still one of recourses. That includes the ability to gloss over.
The invisibility issue, which must skew perceptions, seems to be built into some of the more sophisticated economies. I would have thought, from real reports, Australia was at least equal with Canada.
Australia has been dealing with corruption, in a highly visible way, since the 1980s. Perhaps some areas of corruption really do lose their bite with familiarity.
Having said all of that, I applaud TI for making this effort to expose public and corporate corruption and encourage transparency. Pricking the balloons of some of the rich, complacent countries is never a bad thing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Speaking of unethical laws

Way off in distant BC Canada the Liberal premier Gordon Campbell is screaming ‘you are breaking the law!’ at striking BC teachers.
This is the same Premier who was done for drink driving a couple of years back; the same Premier who sheepishly slid out from under his little encounter with the law.
In doing so, while visiting Hawaii, this premier lawmaker visited shame on his own province.
The difference here Gordon is that drink driving laws actually deliver a positive result for the community. They fall well into the category of sound, just laws.
The Campbell agenda in BC has been notable for a number of other ethical, if not legal, ‘breaches’.
The Liberals ripped up mutually negotiated contracts between employers and hospital workers, nurses, teachers and health sciences workers, despite explicit Campbell’s promises by not to, before he was elected premier.
From doctors to ferry workers to teachers, this government is fundamentally unwilling or unable to allow collective bargaining to work.
He has imposed two contracts on public-school teachers, stripped them of their right to bargain learning conditions and severely restricted their right to strike by designating education as an essential service.
The whole process is one of bullying and overriding acceptable and ethical practices.
For a man who would berate others for breaking the law, Campbell’s record is far from pure.

Legalised Corruption

Legalised Corruption
A case against Magistrate Ruben Galvan has exposed holes in state laws that some people say would allow a judge to demand or receive a bribe without committing a crime.An official from the NM attorney general's office has said that two statutes could let judges off the hook when it comes to bribery.
One of them exempts judges from being charged with bribery, and the other says a public official has to make good on their promise in order to be found guilty of the crime.
Whether New Mexico laws, which apparently allow judges to take bribes, are intentional or inadvertent is irrelevant.
The law is an instrument which people everywhere should be able to trust as ethical and reliable.
The problem is, governments make the law and can do so, at times, unconstrained by ethical considerations. Rather than protecting those of us subject to unethical or unfair law, partisan or ideology driven courts can exacerbate the injustice.
Debate on ethical law making is rare to nonexistent. The system depends greatly on testing law against basic instruments such as constitutions and statements of rights; or to higher authorities in some jurisdictions.
Seldom is there a guiding document setting out the ethical parameters of law making.

The central question is; can governments be trusted to make laws without having a strict ethical code to work within?
The answer, all too often it seems, is they cannot. The New Mexico example, serious as it is, is just one of a long chain of laws which, apparently, legalise corruption in various ways.
The law should not be a ‘political’ tool, but it is. It can be used, or misused, in this way because there are no real restraints in our systems to prevent it.
Maybe it is time to move the focus of anti corruption and consider the hows ands whats of ethical lawmaking frameworks.

More Miller

Just watch the pea and thimble trickery here. Honest spooks at the CIA; information leaked/not leaked to a journalist willing to go to prison rather than tell who did not give her the scoop.
What is really interesting is that the US media and blogs have just caught on to the presence of journalists with ‘classified status while embedded with troops in Iraq’ during the initial assaults.
These reports were bigger than the war story itself in the press of other countries. Reporting on the compromised US media was a major angle. How on earth did that little gem eventually leak out to the US media?
In its breathless report; Judith Miller: The 'Classified' Angle, the Editor Publisher says:
“One must assume that Ms. Miller was required to sign a standard and legally binding agreement that she would never divulge classified information to which she became privy, without risk of criminal prosecution.”
Sorry E&P, one must assume that all embedded journalists were required to sign such documents.
The question of why Miller would assist the Bush Administration, as a supposedly ethical journalist, to execute their war on the dissemination of honest information, still remains.
The world is well versed in the peculiarities of politically partisan media. For the most part this is a transparent process which many real journalists, not the specially selected opinion writers, will always seek to subvert. In places other than the US, that is.
It is nonsense to think that the media, individuals and corporations, did not understand the rules of close involvement in the Iraq War coverage.
Reporters were not rejected on whim or selected at random. The embedded reporting team played by the rules, the others simply didn’t get to play.
The real scandal is that this situation was denied or ignored at the time and that those relying on US news sources were fed on officially cleansed bullshit. But then, perhaps that was nothing more than responding to the public expectation which has be moulded by this kind of misinformation.

Shock Horror

Recent reports have suggested that the CIA have been compromised by dangerous, ‘honest’ spies. There are suggestions that dangerous dissident moles have been subverting the US Governments entrenched policy of lies and disinformation to its people.These moles appeared to work even behind the back of the CIA director to debunk the notion Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
This latest revelation, from the ‘Leaky White House Affair’ casts doubt on the integrity of the worlds premier spy agency. Disseminating truth, it seems, poses a danger to the future of world democracy.
As an old cold war buff your correspondent is surprised that these shadowy, contumacious figures should eventually make their presence felt inside the CIA.
Somehow the suggestion simply seems too good to be true. It strikes more as a plot for a Superman movie than a refection of reality.
What next, truth, honesty and justice in government?

Monday, October 17, 2005

A journalist’s notes

The Miller affair, as recently reported in lengthy article the New York Times, the reference to interview notes was highlighted.
During my time as a newspaper reporter, interview notes were expected to be treated much like tax records. That is, they were filed and kept for a suitable period.
In my case, and it seems with Miller, these notes don’t hold much value as a reference. The real reason for holding them is the potential of future complaints to the newspaper in question.
With no real training, my note taking consisted of an almost illegible scrawl interspersed with my own version of shorthand. The notes were intended, after all, as a short term memory prompt.
In the short time available for most interviews grammar, spelling and full sentences are not an option for some of. Short phrases and key words were the norm for me.
Instances when editors called on my notes to settle a dispute were faced with doubt and a touch of humour. Said notes made most doctors prescriptions look like crafted calligraphy.
Still, to my surprise, the notes satisfied all parties each time. Perhaps it was a case of reading what you will into the mess.
Miller’s showed some of referring back to these notes. Once the story is written, the journalist moves on to the next, and then quickly, to the next. The prompts, useful in the short term are forever lost in the mists of time.
So Miller couldn’t really explain why the words Valerie Flame appeared in those notes. Neither could she explain if this should have read ‘Plame’.
According to the Time article, when the prosecutor in the case asked her to explain how "Valerie Flame" appeared in the same notebook she used in interviewing Mr. Libby, Ms. Miller said she "didn't think" she heard it from him. "I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall."
Maybe, in fact probably, Millers notes are far more accessible than mine ever were. However, given the importance of this case, are they really good enough to rely on as evidence of anything?
It’s one thing pulling the wool over the eyes of ‘yeoman farmers’ and other yokels in local government. Expecting them to stand up to the scrutiny of teams of Washington lawyers is a bit much to ask.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Scandal Spin

Sorbara case doesn't fit the scandal definition, asserts Ian Urquhart in Saturday’s Toronto Star newspaper.
Before we question Urquhart’s fanciful notions, let’s review the episode.The case involves Mr. Sorbara, who this week resigned as Ontario’s Treasurer, subject to an investigation into companies he was associated with.
The Premier, McGuinty , argues that Sorbara was not the direct target of an Ontario Securities Commission investigation into Royal Group Technologies, a company of which the Finance Minister had formerly been a director.
"I said [last year] that if I became the subject of an investigation, I would step down," Sorbara said, prior to his dramatic move. "This afternoon, I learned that I was the subject of an investigation and I decided to step down."
An RCMP raid took place earlier in the week, on the offices of the Sorbara Group in Vaughn, Ont. Police were acting on a judicial search warrant that names Mr. Sorbara and four other men with links to Royal Group. It alleges the men broke the Criminal Code some time between 1996 and 2002 by publishing for prospective shareholders a prospectus that contained "false" material. Another allegation relates to fraud in the sale of a Brampton property.The first Urquhart assertion questioning whether this is a scandal:
That depends, of course, on your point of view. If you are inclined to give Sorbara the benefit of the doubt, as I am, you will answer no to the first question and yes to the second.”
No Ian, it depends on the definition of scandal, which certainly does not imply active corruption or misdeeds. It does imply that there are issues, serious or otherwise, which are generating negative attention.
The reason I would jump on this one is that it seeks to dilute our language. The mere fact that a major government figure is implicated in an investigation constitutes scandal.
Now whether there is corruption or not remains to be seen. The police are obviously carrying out extensive investigations, which might in fact clear the former treasurer.
A further aspect of scandal in these issues relates to the weak attempt at cover up by the Premier.
Probity demands open and transparent action on any dubious positions. Sobara did the right thing, but obviously there were the normal thoughts denial or simply riding out the storm.
Urquhart obviously admires the ‘best defense is offence’ approach:
"But if you are one of the many people out there who have been egged on by the corrosive chorus of talk radio and see all politicians as scumbags, your answers will be reversed.
The opposition Conservatives at Queen's Park seem to lean toward the scumbags view. In the wake of Sorbara's resignation, they filed a non-confidence motion declaring that the Liberals must go because Premier Dalton McGuinty "has failed to ensure the highest level of integrity for his ministers" and his government is operating under "a cloud of scandal."

No, Sir, name calling does not alter the truth. To be sure, many out there are addicted to the predigested opinions of mass media. That is why you have a regular column Mr Urquhart.
To draw a conclusion that because the media say it it must be wrong is self defeating.As to the politicians who jump on the slightest whiff of a scandal, well no one ever said that was a smart thing to do.
Unfortunately it has become political capital, and what is sauce for the goose… In the end, it is one of the less edifying of current political tactics.
But you see, Mr Urquhart , we are suddenly arguing a host of different issues here. It seems to me that your initial premise is baseless so we need to be diverted by side issues.
Your thoughts on the mass media rabble and questionable partisan advantage would make an interesting read. Without, I might add the venom and vilification.
This is, to all intents and purposes a scandal! Even by the weakest of definitions: “Talk that is damaging to one's character; malicious gossip.”
That does not presume guilt, which is basic to your premise.
That baseless charges have, historically, hurt politicians is not the issue.
That politicians might cynically use dirt as a tool of their trade is not the issue.
That the media is not always terribly responsible in a chase for a good lead is not the issue.
The issue you raised Sir, is a question of the definition of scandal, and you missed the mark by a country mile. Regardless of guilt or innocence, the Sorbara affair is a scandal.