Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Canada's Scandalous Election

I was struck by the Globe and Mail photo, juxtaposing Paul Martin and Stephen Harper, during the non confidence vote in the Commons. The vote was hardly a surprise to anyone; this train had been screeching its warning whistle for days.
Martin looked his normal, weary of late, self as her conferred with colleagues sitting behind him.
Harper, sitting across the Table, seemed to have more of a ‘I hope I’m doing the right thing here,’ look about him. Gone was the boyish cockiness, replaced with boyish doubt.
I can hardly blame him. Having jumped at what he sees as a real opportunity to trounce the Liberals, on the back of the sponsorship corruption scandal, he puts everything on the line, including his leadership.
No doubt, somewhere in the back of his mind, Harper does understand the harsh realities. He has launched a negative campaign, a campaign which relies heavily on voters perceptions of public corruption. To run solely on this negative agenda he must successful isolate and smear the Liberals on questionable ethics.
The problem with that scenario is that once the mud starts flying the public have difficulty discerning the supposed ‘black hats’ from the ‘white hats’, or ‘all cats are grey in the dark’, as my old Granny was fond of saying.
To illustrate this we only need to look at the polls, which show all the major parties separated by a whisker on the issue of ethical perceptions. Stephen, if you belittle one group of politicians, you belittle them all. That is the reality of public perception.
On the other side of the coin, there is an issue supporting Harper, another perception; the public are ready for change. Martin’s perpetual look of weariness, of late, suggests a party which is tired. I’m not convinced that is the case, but it’s easy to see why it might be a common conclusion.
Evidence against that argument is the masterful way the Government has led the opposition by the nose over the past months. An election was inevitable, and for the Liberals, almost better that it is forced at this time of the year.
Far better for Martin’s team to defend themselves against this premature dismissal then to defend calling an election, early next year, on the basis of the corruption argument.
Martin, on the face of it, has been handed the right to proceed with his statesmanlike, ‘more on sorrow than anger’ approach.
There is one certainty in all of this; a week is a long time in politics, eight weeks is an eternity. I expect Martin’s team will goad Harper to keep firing wildly during this early part of the campaign. They will be looking for him to exhaust his ammunition and bore the country with his corruption arguments. After that we will all be looking to see if the Conservative actually have any positive policies.

Independent oversight
The lamentable aspect of politicizing corruption is that while it resolves nothing, it drives the public to deeper cynicism and weariness on the subject. All the bluster of ‘getting to the bottom of the scandal’, is just that in the end, as long as politicians interfere and disrupt the judicial processes.
The only way of minimizing the temptation towards corrupt activities is to have powerful, independent anti-corruption agencies. Typically these bodies have the power to initiate investigations and force testimony. They act right up to the stage of recommending prosecution and providing gathered evidence to support it.
Agencies in other countries have shown an ability to go beyond partisan interests and focus purely on unethical and illegal behaviour whenever it surfaces.
The great benefit is that the issue of corruption and scandal is largely taken out of the political arena. It cannot be hindered by political interference; it cannot be employed as a political weapon.
Certainly corruption will always accompany opportunity, but an independent watchdog has the ability to react to the slightest whiff of malfeasance throughout the public sector. Indeed, the best of these agencies are empowered to investigate high level crime of all types, particularly where the public and private sectors interface.
The current scandal would have been uncovered and stopped years ago with the proper mechanisms in place. Then we might be fighting an election over real policy, not the pissing competition we are going to subjected to now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Inviting Repression

The Australian government, in the face of criticism from legal circles and now a joint Senate committee, is determined to ram harsh anti-terrorism laws through parliament.
Two recent, and seemingly unrelated incidents, should have the Australian people in an uproar over the potential of these laws.

First is the impending hanging, in Singapore, of convicted Australian drug courier, Nguyen Tuong Van. True, anyone stupid enough to carry drugs into that ruthless city state doesn’t conjure immediate sympathy. But hanging?
The Australian Government, under John Howard, has been reluctant to involve themselves on Van’s behalf. Given the laws they are proposing, one should accept tacit approval of Singapore’s merciless approach.
And where will Prime Minister John Howard be when the hapless Van faces the executioner? Watching the cricket!

The second story broke at the weekend, out of neighbouring Malaysia. Complete with video footage (BBC Britain) is a story of a female detainee to strip naked and squat repeatedly while holding both ears. Note, detainee, not convicted prisoner.
The country's deputy inspector general of police said the practice was standard procedure.
A warm and friendly (that is sarcasm unless you missed it) Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the action of the policemen involved did not reflect the Government’s policy towards Chinese citizens.He said Malaysia did not have any policy stopping Chinese nationals from visiting the country. Instead, it encouraged and welcomed their visits. But they do have a policy of abuse of detainees it seems.Malaysian MP, Teresa Kok, and lawyer Sankaran Nair are raisng hell over three Chinese nationals who took their case to Kok alleging that they had been forced to strip after being detained for alleged visa violations and then spied upon by male police personnel.

The Proposed Australian Laws

The link between Australia and these two tiny, but economically dynamic countries is trade. Singapore, for one is talked of as a 'corporate society'. That is, it is run like a business, without the burden of regulation. John Howard likes that model.

That could be why, in the face of mounting criticism, but with the numbers to achieve success, Howard is ramming draconian anti-terrorism and workplace laws through the parliament. The latter we will deal with later, but the anti terrorism laws are ready to go.

The issues of concern, raised by a Senate committee and others:

■Preventive detention orders should not be issued on the basis of hearsay evidence.
■Minors should be segregated from adults in detention.
■Detainees should have the right to make representations before a continued preventive detention order was issued.
■Detainees should be told why they were being held.
■The Ombudsman should oversee the detention process.

The committee was also united in urging withdrawal of the sedition section of the new laws, pending review by the Australian Law Reform Commission. They propose extensive changes to the section if the Government won't do that.

The committee's argued that;
a delay would not weaken Australia's anti-terrorism capacity "given the nature of the existing law in this area… The committee is not convinced of an urgent need for the provisions in light of existing laws such as the offence of treason . . . and the crime of incitement."
These are the laws the Government tried to force through the legislature without time for proper review. As a package, they give Australian governments incredible powers of arrest, detention and abuse.
They begin to emulate the restrictive Malaysian and Singaporean regimes, and are a good long step in that direction. These laws might be promoted as an anti-terrorism tool, but once in place, government can target anyone (or group) it sees as a threat or critic.
Of course the Australian people won’t cop that easily, but if they allow this legislation to succeed there is little they will be able to do about it.
No point crying about it when you are stripped naked in a cell, holding your ear lobes, doing sit ups!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

US Media scandal

LONDON – A civil servant has been charged under Britain's Official Secrets Act for allegedly leaking a government memo that a newspaper said today suggested that Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded President Bush not to bomb the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera.
The Daily Mirror reported that Bush spoke of targeting Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, when he met Blair at the White House on April 16, 2004. The Bush administration has regularly accused Al-Jazeera of being nothing more than a mouthpiece for anti-American sentiments. (Story as syndicated by AP)

This is an important story, by any measure. It suggests a willingness by the US administration to bomb innocent people to achieve its ends.
Yet a survey of Google news (using search terms Bush Blair – and/or Al Jazeera) threw up over 300 stories just in the ‘all related>’ section.
Of those stories just 16 were 15 were from US media outlets (see below).

‘…bomb innocent people to achieve its ends.” Does that phrase sound familiar? It is the claim the media regularly use to justify this so called war on terrorism. Yes, a description of those lunatics we call terrorists.
Is that the level Bush aspires to? Is that how the American people want to be known?

A look around the blogs, trying to get a handle on the US attitude to this event was a real eye opener. The general trend, summed up by the comments of one avowed ‘liberal’: “I don’t have much time for Al Jazeera. They promote terrorism.”

How in God’s name would any American, kept in the dark, ‘the mushroom club’, promoted by the scandalously selective reportage of the US media, know the truth?
All you know about Al Jazeera, about terrorism, about any of those ‘fear’ issues which rule your life is what comes 'filtered' through your 'sanctioned' media.

It was a standing joke, in the rest of the world, that US media not only avoided reporting casualties during the Iraq war, they also acceded to the administrations desire that flag draped coffins, arriving at US airports, should not be photographed. I shudder to think that the American people actually endorse this officially sanctioned ignorance.

Al Jazeera, like the New York Times and Washington Post, harbour zealots and misguided staff. You can’t tell me that the games being exposed in the Plame Affair display a laudable media, intent on honest and informative reportage.

In Qatar, as in New York and Washington, those media offices house many ordinary people, simply striving to do their job in a professional way as possible. They are decent people with families, not raving lunatics.

Google News: Bush/Blair search

The 16 US media reports.
Al Jazeera wants bomb memo explanationBoston Globe, United States - 23 hours ago
British paper: Bush wanted to bomb Al JazeeraChristian Science Monitor, MA - 23 Nov 2005
Britain seeks to protect memoWashington Times, DC - 23 Nov 2005
Did Blair persuade Bush not to bomb Al-Jazeera?Seattle Times, United States - 22 Nov 2005
Did Bush Want Al Jazeera Bombed?CBS News - 22 Nov 2005
London Bureau Chief Responds to Report of Memo Alleging Bush ...Bay Area Indymedia, CA - 23 Nov 2005
British newspaper: Bush spoke to Blair of bombing Arab TV network ...Helena Independent Record, MT - 23 Nov 2005
Bush, Blair should set record straight on leaked Al-Jazeera threatCPJ Press Freedom Online, NY - 23 Nov 2005
Bush Targets Al Jazeera? CNN Head Should Get Job, WI - 23 Nov 2005
Report: Blair halted Bush planColumbia Daily Tribune, MO - 23 Nov 2005
British lawmaker calls for publication of document alleging Bush ...WTNH, CT - 22 hours ago
Lawmaker urges release of bombing documentNews & Observer, NC - 22 hours ago
Beyond That Memo: Bush Wanted al Jazeera GoneNYC Independent Media Center, NY - 24 Nov 2005
Britain Blocks Press On Bush-Blair MemoHartford Courant, United States - 24 Nov 2005
Britain threatens newspapers with prosecution if leaked memo is ...Austin American-Statesman (subscription), TX - 23 Nov 2005

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bush Bombs Again

George W and his regime are increasingly seen, by many people around the world, as a danger to decent civilised standards.
News that he had discussed a plan to bomb the Al-Jazeera satellite channel's headquarters in Qatar, while not surprising, is nonetheless horrifying.
We are talking here of the self appointed saviours of the free world, the President and administration of the USA. Those wild adventurers, who in the name of a war on terrorism have put us all into personal peril of savage reprisal.
Bush's alleged comments about bombing Al-Jazeera's building in Doha are reported to be contained in a note of the meeting, with Britain’s Tony Blair, at the White House on April 16 last year.
Fortunately leaders of other allied countries face far more thorough scrutiny and criticism that that allowed in the US.
Criticism is not met, as in the US, with personal attack and vilification. The kind of attacks, on the likes of Murtha in the US, those who would question policy, would be a costly political exercise.
What is curious is that a country which glories in the language of free speech and free press is so ready to be cowered by their own leaders who demonstrate a willingness to attack those very freedoms at home and elsewhere.

Strategically, in the so called ‘war on terrorism’ the fact of the plan, revelations aside, evidences an unspoken agenda by the Bush covin.
Al-Jazeera is not friendly to the Bush administration, but that does not mean they are actively supporting terror campaign.
They are journalists, reporting events to their readership, as they perceive them. Much like US media outlets, which tailor the news you get, filtering out anything which might give cause for doubt.
The US administration would have us believe that all Islamists are terrorists, but Al-Jazeera does not hold the reverse, they simply report the truth they see.
There have been strong suspicions that their offices in Kabul and Baghdad were deliberately targeted by the Pentagon in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
This leaked memo gives currency to those suspicions, and widens the rift created by the ill-founded strategies to date.
The scandals surrounding the Washington political establishment are a mix of, terror related, double dealing and financial plunder.
That in itself creates a picture of policies based, not in security and freedom, but personal gain and enrichment of the elite few.
Again, I give thanks to those of other countries who simply won’t wear bullying of a crooked leadership. Time and again, these revelations come from outside the US and are largely ignored inside. I wager that this the White ‘House of Cards’ is about to fall.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Queensland Cowboy Politics

The Queensland (Australia) Liberal Party has been caught up in a bribery scandal after an independent MP yesterday alleged she had been offered a $50,000 inducement to join the Liberal/National Coalition.
Responding to a question in Parliament, Ms Roberts (Independent MP for Gympie) alleged that the Liberals had offered her repeated inducements over a lengthy period of time, and singled out a senior party figure who allegedly offered the $50,000 bribe.
Liberal leader Bob Quinn would not return calls last night but through a spokesman denied the allegations. Liberal Party state director Geoff Greene insisted the allegations were "completely false".
The Australian political scene is still in transition from a sordid past. Queensland’s reputation just happens to be enriched by a measure of approval by its citizens for political waywardness. Queenslanders have, seemingly, applauded a robust, if shady, approach to government over the years.
Times have changed, following inquiries, prosecutions and a serious effort to clean up the system. Still, it seems, old habits die hard.
But there is a noticeable difference now, in the way things are conducted. The alleged offer is standard fare. What is different is the response. Having been accused, and with three investigations into the allegations under way, Liberal leader Bob Quinn has actually denied the charges.
Quinn confirmed that he had held talks with Roberts in the lead-up to a Coalition agreement being signed with the National Party in late September. But Quinn insisted yesterday that he had not offered Ms Roberts any bribe or inducement, or sought to pressure her, and would defend his reputation.
That beats the hell out of the old, arrogant – So what? You see, these people, in the past, could not even se the wrong in manipulating the electorate. It was cowboy rules all the way; if the electorate didn’t complain too much anything was fair.
Roberts, a product of a short lives party from the ‘wooly’ right, is also a new breed of politician in that state, more in the amateur class. Roberts said:
"…Quinn kept telling me that I couldn't win my next election and, because Peter Beattie was on the nose, the election would be polarised and no one would vote for an independent and my only chance was to be with a party."
Although there appears to have been a benefit to her to take the bribe and play the game, she responded with a righteous indignation in the end. That is not to say that she was clear about how to deal with the issue.
"I have a number of, at least 15 people, who I spoke to about that and who are prepared to sign *stat decs about the amount of money.
"There was another amount of $10,000 for polling as well. I kept putting him off. I never gave him a response because I didn't know what to do."
If Roberts is right, and can prove the fact, Quinn adds lying to Parliament to to accumulating sins.
"At no stage was any inducement of any kind offered to the Member for Gympie. I absolutely repudiate any suggestion that involved offering $50,000.
"My position is absolutely clear, I completely repudiate any claim that I've engaged in any kind of inappropriate or corrupt behaviour."
Again, that is not new or unusual in that state. However times are changing and the old ways are passing. The right to rule, by any means available, is even becoming obsolete in Queensland.

* For readers not familiar with Australian terms; stat dec or statutory declarations is a form of affidavit. This instrument is in effect, a sworn statement which is accepted which is equal to giving evidence under oath.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Exploitative Sex

We have ignored, thus far, the numerous sex scandals in the US involving teachers and/or school children. To be sure, these are matters of great concern, but are a product of a society steeped in hypocrisy and double standards.
Contrast this against a poor rural and devoutly Muslim district of Indonesia, where aberrant sex is not just a scandal; it invites severe ostracism and punishments.
The Indonesian ‘scandal’ was made public after a teacher reported to the media that 11 students and a teacher were expelled from the senior high school after they were found to have been involved in an orgy in a classroom during which some of the students were reported to have kissed each other and had oral sex in the classroom. (SEX SCANDAL ROCKS WEST JAVA)
Sources at the school said a teacher, who was also a school counsellor, summoned two students, after they were caught smoking in a classroom. As the two young girls were reprimanded and labelled slutty by the teacher, in an act of defiance they revealed that many more students in the school and also a teacher there had been involved in prostitution.
Fortunately the Indonesian legal system is based on an amalgam of Roman-Dutch law, custom and Islamic law. Fortunate, because there is a good deal more latitude to deal with behaviour of this type in a reasonable way, depending of course on the local religious climate.

Still, regardless of cultures, there is the wider issue of authority and responsibility. As far as young people are concerned, adults be they teachers, parents or priests, have an unquestionable duty of care.
We might reasonably expect that children and young adults will have some difficulty separating fantasy and acceptable behaviour as they experiment with the world around them. There is simply no such leeway for adult/authority lapses.
The double standards, bred out of puritan mores and religiosity, cause enough grief in the adult world. It breeds an inability, by some in society, to accept that the private behaviour of consenting adults should be just that, private. At the same time, it ignores the treal problem at issue, exploitative sex.
What I cannot understand is the reluctance of these people to attack ‘exploitative’ sex with the same passion and venom as they do with their view of 'imoral' sex.
I cannot claim to be an expert on this, but it has been long understood, that ‘exploitative’ sex is essentially about power and control. Doubtless the raging against homosexuals and adulterers, or whatever ‘consenting adults’ activities they choose, is a manifestation of feelings of powerlessness in these attackers.
Given our societies obsession with underage sex, perhaps the issue and potential is just too close to the surface to allow for close scrutiny.
There is a problem in all this is defining underage and maturity. These are, by any measure, subjective concepts. They are confused by the sometimes, apparent, maturity of a young person. It is forgotten that these ‘pups’ are simply role playing at being mature, part of the learning and growing process.
It seems both children and adults are equally susceptible to confusion over the role of sex in our lives; the potential beauty of sexuality in a fulfilled and fulfilling relationship.
As adults, it must be our role to protect the vulnerable. That, in part at least, overcomes question of maturity. This is bsis of fighting any public corruption; because it exploits the vulnerable.

I can, almost, accept the pleas of some who claim they were victims as well. Not victims of the children, however, but of society’s inability to come to grips with the fundamentals of sexuality.
For the sake of the vulnerable, the exploited, let’s start getting some real sense into this discussion.
Children learn all too soon, the rudiments of sex. In teaching the realities, the wonders and it’s place in our lives and relationships, we might begin to teach ourselves something of the issue as well.

Nigeria and British Patronage

The Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, of Nigeria’s oil rich Bayelsa state, arrested in London on money laundering charges, skipped England dressed as a woman.

The temptation to parody this latest corruption scandal to hit the beleaguered nation of Nigeria is great, but perhaps ill-founded.
The culture of corruption is a very real tragedy for Nigeria, considered one of the most corrupt nations on Earth. Officials like Alamieyeseigha, and the country seems plagued with them, openly plunder the countries wealth, leaving much of the population in squalor and despair.
Not that these ‘robber barons’ have a totally free hand, corruption fighters and outraged citizens are starting to make some progress in reigning in these excesses.

Angola Press reported:
Some indigenes from Nigeria’s oil-rich Bayelsa state Tuesday staged a demonstration in the state capital of Yenagoa to protest Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha`s escape from justice in London, where he had been standing trial for allegedly laundering 1.8 million pounds sterling.

Alamieyeseigha believes he is protected by the constitution, which prevents prosecution while he is governor. However, reports out of Nigeria say that impeachment proceedings have started: The speaker of the National Assembly, Peremobowei Ebebi, said the assembly had served impeachment notice on the governor.

"He has to resign within two weeks or face impeachment," the speaker said in remarks broadcast on television.

"A governor who disguised himself as a woman to run away from justice in London should not be our governor. It is slap on our collective dignity as a people and our sensibilities as a people."

There are further reports that Nigerian president, Obasanjo, is moving troops into Bayelsa, however it is not clear whether that action is related to the impeachment or other unrest in the area.


A former police chief was recently convicted, in a $150 million money-laundering case, but anti-corruption campaigners said the jail term was so short it undermined the war on corruption.
Tafa Balogun, the most senior official to be convicted in a corruption case, will spend six months in jail as his eight sentences of six months each are to run concurrently. He was fined 4 million naira, while about $150 million in cash and property will be confiscated by government.

Corruption is a deep rooted problem for this formerly British controlled nation.
Colonial rule plundered the natural wealth of the colony for many years. When the British handed over, the lessons were well learned. ‘Ownership’ of the wealth appears to have made a smooth transition from colonial interests to Nigerian leaders, the people apparently ignored in the process.
I don’t profess to understand the culture of this or other African nations, but it is clear that a groundswell of resentment is building. The least we can do is encourage those who are willing to take up the fight locally.

A British Lapse?

It is curious, given the security umbrella over Britain, just how the governor managed to sneak out of the country, even dressed as a woman. He had been granted bail and had his travel documents were confiscated. He was barred from going within three kilometres of any port.
The British High Commission said that it was disappointed that Alamieyeseigha chose to escape instead of honorably facing the criminal charges against him. The British authorities are either naïve or complicit for reasons of their own. He added:

“The Metropolitan Police in London will apply to the court that granted him bail to issue a warrant for his re-arrest if he ever ventures to step his feet on London soil.”

However it is taken, the failure of the security system should be a concern to Brits who have been convinced by their government that a heavy blanket of security is in place.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Australian argument ingenuous

Make no mistake, the Australian government will face allegations of involvement in the AWB oil for food scandal or be smeared by lingering doubt about its complicity. The issue has enormous ramifications for the Government’s ability to maintain vital trade links, particularly with the US.  
Acting Prime Minister Mark Vaile’s ingenuous claims that the Government has already been cleared of any wrongdoing by the UN's Volcker inquiry are not going to avert the pressures to come clean.  
There is already documentary evidence, implicating both the Australian and US administrations in this outrage. More to the point, the US wheat lobby wants blood, and will use all its resources to get it.
Mark Vaile has been Australian Trade Minister long enough now to know how the system works. If he has been lured into the bully politics which typifies Australian government now, he also knows that the US are bigger bullies.
Of course the tactics employed by the Australian Government are transparent enough; feed a few scapegoats into the fire, then stall until the whole thing dies down. Lie? Well why not if lying is going to help the process.
The tactics are becoming second nature to this essentially corrupt government. They are spawned out of the second rate politicians, we seem to be elevating the world over to, who lack the ability and the balls to discharge their wider responsibilities effectively.
The point Vaile, Prime Minister Howard, and the rest of the government, must realize that they are trying to play against the experts and they will fail.
It is bad enough that Australia’s biggest agribusiness is mixed up in corruption. We used to expect something better from our national leaders.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Woodward a Mouthpiece?

Bob Woodward's status should always been that of conduit; mouthpiece for someone who wanted information in the public arena, anonymously. ‘Deep Throat’ fed Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, and they were eager to lap up the glory as their own.
If there had been any sense of ethics in that original episode, and if Woodward had been privy to information, as he claims, we would not be having this discussion.
It appears all too convenient for the former media ‘golden boy’, to come forward with his half-baked story. Shades of being a conduit, or mouthpiece, for someone who wants to make a point while remaining anonymous.
It is easy to gain the impression that dealing with deep background sources is potentially addictive. Woodward has to do more than make lame excuses to show that there might be limits to how far he will go to ensure his next fix.

Rise of the Conservative Intellectual

Australia used to suffer an affliction known as ‘cultural cringe’. I guess I was too young to really understand the concept, but I am starting to feel something now which might qualify.
I can only presume, until John Howard gained full control of the Federal government earlier this year, that right wing ‘intellectuals’ in Australia have suffered their own dark age.
There are not too many of them, not because the right lacks intelligence, but because conservatives openly distain ‘intellectuals’.
One relict of this breed, the conservative intellectual, Gerard Henderson, is generally given to fairly sensible comment, but now is apparently eager to seize his laurel at the cost of logic.
His recent comments (SMH Coalition troops ill-equipped for battle of ideas) would have us believe Senator Vanstone’s comments on the idiocy of some of her governments ‘security’ measures reflects a weakness among members of the ruling coalition to “intellectually defend their government's decision.”
Interestingly, Henderson reflects on the conservatives of the 1960’s and their need, to co-opt right wing spokesmen from outside the party and parliament, people like Henderson.As an example, Henderson’s comment fails the test of intellectual integrity.
Without adding one iota to the debate in favour of the imposition of dubious security measures, he merely manages to show that the governing coalition is failing in a fundamental way to defend their position.
I guess, for those of us who long for more sane and forward looking policies to quell the social division and unrest conservative policies have created, Vanstone’s comments were on the flippant side.
Vanstone’s revelation that the security measures are a farce, while perhaps not intellectual, was telling. Henderson used his space, not to argue for the terrorism measures of the government, but against continued funding of the national broadcaster, his favourite hobby horse.As of today, it is Vanstone #1 and conservative intellectuals still trying to find the starting line.

Part II
Richard Harris is executive director of the Australian Screen Directors Association. I expect Australia’s conservative intellectuals, the likes of the aforementioned Gerard Henderson, would roll their eyes at this ‘artsy’ lefty.
They would no doubt be wrong. Richard achieves what Henderson right wing politicians fail to do, by his own measure. Harris articulates the failing in the Australian governments plan to resurrect sedition laws to fight terrorism.
Supporting Henderson, Harris asserts;
“Observing the sedition debate over the past few weeks it has been hard not to notice that other than the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, there have been few commentators willing to argue in favour of reviving Australia's sedition laws.”
In his article, (SMH Anti-democratic provisions fall on the wrong side of the law), Harris launches a well considered argument, revealing the follies of the proposed law changes.
“What has become increasingly clear is that these new sedition provisions are recognised across the political spectrum as problematic at best, dangerous at worst. This is because they not only wake up "dead-letter" sedition laws that had been assumed to be moribund, but also expand them in ways that threaten the reasonable rights to freedom of speech and expression that we do - and should - expect.”
The sad fact is, the conservative agenda, in Australia, Britain and of course, the USA, is cynical and self serving. The current leaders of those countries would thrust the world into total turmoil, in the process, pulling the wool over their publics’ eyes.
They are not about human rights, they are not about national security, they are about further enriching a small group who currently own and control those governments.
There can be no intellectual defense of this process. It is grounded not in any viable social imperative, but in base greed. Henderson’s defense cannot be based on any sustainable logic, purely on the ability to effectively argue.
The issue reflects the inherently corrupt nature of an overriding economic program based on monetarism, greed and its rejection of the value of people.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Shooting the Messengers

It seems there is no grater sin for politicians than telling the truth. Australian Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, is proving the fact. Vanstone was caught out giving a rather insightful address to Adelaide Rotarians, unaware of the presence of a journalist. During the speech she questioned federal airline security measures and questioning increased spending on national security.
The senator, in dismissing many commonwealth security measures as essentially ineffective, said;
"To be tactful about these things, a lot of what we do is to make people feel better as opposed to actually achieve an outcome..."
The Federal opposition, who should be looking for the truth in Vanstone’s statements, is instead baying for her blood. The fact is, the revelations show the majority of legislators willing go along with these extreme measures, knowing they are a sham.
Window dressing, for the sake of assuaging public concern, is playing a greater role than ever at present.

Fowl Problems
Not surprisingly, the other great issue is about public safety as well. Avian flu has the potential to cause wide spread devastation, similar to the 1918 ‘Spanish’ flu pandemic.
To show how far we have progressed in addressing these health threats, the sorts of ‘remedies’ so far put in place are nothing short of window dressing. They protect nothing, and simply don’t know how to counter the threat.
China has announced a plan to inoculate their domestic fowl population. That hardly addresses the wild bird population, the carriers and spreaders of the disease. Australia has vowed to throw ‘millions’ of dollars at the issue, although no effective plan of action has been revealed.
The US has announced closing their borders to foreign fowl. That sounds as effective as Canada’s farm quarantine Program, which relies on controlling farm to farm transmission by vehicles and people. None of the programs can effectively control the wild bird spered of the disease.

Efficacious remedies
So in both cases, window dressing is offered in place of the realistic, if more difficult approaches. In the case if bird flu that could well be a much needed improvement in health care delivery around the world. While it flies in the face of monetarist policies, which spread faster than flu and deplete public services, improved public health care might be the only viable answer.
A former British colonel who served in Iraq suggests that the ill founded war, part of the ‘war on terrorism’ “…was a mistake, and history will judge that". Speaking of Iraq, he says, "The Americans really only understand subjugation.” ”It now falls on Australia and the United Kingdom to persuade the Americans not to blight the 21st century with a war which involves future generations."
Rather than continue to build barriers, called security, against the threats of terrorism; rather than fashion more and more window-dressing to cover this fraud, it is time we started talking about how wee meet the concern which drive the attacks.
To be sure, there will always be hot heads and terrorists. Let us not forget that America and Israel were founded by terrorists. But the core of terrorism is small, and depends on support from the wider communities they are engaged with.
By looking to the needs and justice within those communities, by giving those people less reason to be dissatisfied, the head of the terrorism snake is isolated from any base of support.
These are the hard roads, but they are also the right roads to take. The world does not need placebos, we need truly efficacious remedies.
Rather than shooting the messengers, we should be praising the likes of Vanstone and Collins for revealing the truth. The waste being generated on public relations games must be redirected to solving problems.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Look at governments in Oil for Food

The Volcker report exposes the corporate corruption associated with the UN Oil-for-Food Programme, but vas the brief too limited? I predict, as the various national investigations into the named companies proceed, serious questions will emerge over the roles of the US, Australian and other allied government administrations.
I have previously pointed to the potential complicity of the US and Australian governments, in the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) allegations. There is clear documentary evidence that those governments were alerted to the problem as early as 2003. In choosing to ignore the claims then they have left themselves open to suspicions of involvement in, or at least tacit approval of the corruption.
American lust for Iraqi oil is often cited, by opponents of the Iraq adventure, as the primary objective of the war. Looking at distribution of the Oil for Food money (, perhaps the focus needs to change a little. Self serving? No doubt, but not purely oil perhaps.
The 1990 Kuwait war, the US Department of Defense estimated the costs at $61 billion; others said $71 billion. About $53 billion was contributed by various countries, and if we accept the estimate of $71 billion, we get a deficit of $18 billion. Is this deficit sufficient motive to plunder Iraqi funds under the Oil-for-Food Programme?
According to the UN website, the Programme legally yielded $69.4 billion, which was meant exclusively for food, medicines and other necessities. But only $38.6 billion was actually spent on so-called "humanitarian purposes". Although not sanctioned by any UNSC Resolution, $18 billion was grabbed as Reparations for the Kuwait war.
About $1.3 billion was spent on oil transportation, $1.1 billion on operational costs, $0.6 billion on repayment to unidentified member states, and $0.5 billion on UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.
There are suggestions being bandied about that at least half of $69.4 billion 'legal' funds from the Programme were misappropriated.
The world has a right to a proper accounting of these funds, not simply the prosecution of a bunch of cowboy corporations. As the Australian government has already shown, they are not prepared to be subject to inquiry.
There is simply too much shady business being done by governments entrusted to act on our behalf. While this apparent plunder continues the hapless Iraqi people are left to rebuild something from the mess which ‘responsible’ governments have left behind them.

No place for trust

In an ideal world, self regulation and self investigation might be appropriate. The reality, slowly dawning across the planet, those to who we entrust authority are simply not good enough to deserve our trust.
We are seeing government at all levels, and those corporations with the power to affect peoples lives, cannot be taken on good faith alone.
The awareness of the need for independent auditing and oversight for these authorities is growing rapidly. At the same time politicians and executives, jealous of protecting their perks and keen to cover mistakes, fight the concept.
We have, particularly since the 1980s, been going through a cycle of greed and excess. Yes, corruption has been with us since the earliest organised societies, but this recent cycle of greed goes against everything modern society teaches us.
Clearly those with authority are not to be trusted. The proof of that is in the pudding. When caught out malefactors will put aside any pretence of innocence, instead depending on crafty legalisms to protect them.
These same people would then, quite solemnly, have us believe they are capable of operating honestly under their own supervision.
Two recent cases, small on the scale of things, highlight the needs and directions we are facing in developing functional governance.
In Florida, suspended Davie Town Administrator Chris Kovanes, council members want to bring in a consultant to help fix their bidding process.Kovanes, 34, who earned $148,000 a year, was suspended Oct. 18, after being accused of embezzling at least $360,000 from town coffers. Investigators think he has fled Broward County.
Mayor, Tom Truex took the predictable stand in his comments:
"Obviously we have some holes, and we have to fix some problems…"
Stanley Foodman, a forensic accountant and former FDLE fraud investigator, took a different stand, one we are hearing more often from this new breed of public accountants. He asserts that Davie might need a full-time internal auditor or general inspector, saying: "The government has an obligation to do a better job protecting its citizens' tax revenues,"
North to British Columbia and we have a provincial government which has steamrolled controversy by the sheer power of numbers, they totally dominated the legislature. Until recently that is, and now we have a government trying to figure out how to effectively deal with administration scandals.
There it has come to light that under the Campbell administration the deaths of 713 children were not properly reviewed after the provincial government shut down the Children's Commission in 2002.
Campbell’s Liberal government closed down the Children's Commission as part of a cost-cutting program implemented shortly after taking office in 2002.
Under a process intended to eliminate duplication, the government transferred responsibility for the review of child deaths to the coroner's office but did not transfer its funding.
Campbell had admitted. This week, that there was a "systemic breakdown" in the government plan to have the coroner's office take over the files on children's death reviews.
When asked whose decision it was to shelve the investigations, the premier says that while it wasn't his decision, ultimately he is responsible.
The point is Campbell’s government, until elections earlier this year, operated in a vacuum, free from oversight and proper audit. Now, with a strengthened opposition many of the excesses of that period are bound to surface.
While the government is insisting that it will carry out its own review, and the opposition are baying for blood, are the people really any better off? Without independent oversight, it is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot expect to have efficient governance. Without it we will continue to have poor delivery of services and scandal stacked on top of scandal.

Friday, November 18, 2005

B2 Bomber Spy

Around the end of October the FBI revealed that a Maui man has admitted to trading classified military secrets to at least eight foreign countries. With the only reference coming from a Hawaiian regional newspaper we were a little reluctant to pursue this one too quickly.
Recalling previous US spy scandals, such as Christopher Boyce, the stories were typically given blockbuster treatment in the press.
Here we are with an ex Los Alamos National Laboratory engineer, and the B2 Stealth Bomber. Surely this has the makings of a big media story, but simply hasn’t taken off.
Not until the Australian link was revealed, then the Aussie media were all over the story.

Defence staffer in spy scandal: report: Ninemsn, Australia
US spy accused sought $3m here: The Australian, Australia
Australian defense figure caught up in US spy affair: Forbes
Govt probes defence staffer's 'spy link': The Age, Australia
Australian linked to B-2 espionage case: United Press International

Well it’s out there now. With so few good spy yarns since the end of the cold war, I’m just curious as to why the US media sat on this story. No doubt it is commercial espionage, which is currently the primary motive for such activities.
There could be some cultural sensitivity involved. The alleged spy, 61 year old Noshir Gowadia is an in Indian born and naturalized U.S. citizen.
Perhaps it is straight embarrassment that the system has become so lackadaisical that this guy could traipse around the world at will, freely peddling US military secrets.
I look forward to watching this one unfold.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Volcker Extension

The UN is considering extending the term of Volcker Committee, which ends on November 30, at least by a month.
This could be crucial to national inquiries into ‘Oil for Food’ corruption allegations now underway. A number of countries have already begun probes into misconduct stemming from the Volcker investigation, including the United States, France, Britain, Switzerland, Australia and India.
Documents collected by Volcker’s team over 18 months were set to revert back to their initial sources on November 30, when the inquiry’s mandate expires.
One Volcker panel member Swiss, Mark Pieth, has called on the UN to ensure that a part of the investigation’s secretariat remained in place for three months to manage access to the documents for prosecutors around the world.
Transparency International has also called on the UN to “keep all evidence compiled in a probe of the scandal ridden oil-for-food program”.
A UN spokesperson said the Committee, which inquired into allegations of corruption in the now defunct Iraqi oil-for-food programme, will not take up new issues, indicating that the purpose would be for the UN to try to get as many documents as possible.
The Committee is expected to return to the concerned governments and agencies the documents which were given to it on the understanding that their sources would not be shared or revealed.
The spokesperson said no decision has as yet been made on which documents would be transferred and discussions are ongoing between UN’s legal department, the Volcker Committee and the Iraqi government, indicating that consent of Baghdad would be necessary for transfer of some of the documents.

Is Canada Worst?

We received a fascinating comment on our article, Scandal Spin. The comment was in response to our report on the Ontario’s Treasurer Sorbara stepping down from office in the face of a certain police investigation.
The commenter asserts: More public money is stolen here by our Civil Servants than in any other country on earth in total.
There is also a request for more on Canadian corruption, and I can happily direct the reader to a Canadian feature The wheel of Shame.
In our research at, Scandal Files, I honestly cannot say that the ‘perception’ of corruption in the Canadian public sector is especially outstanding.
To our uncertain knowledge, there is no objective data which would support the assertion and subjective data, in the form of Transparency International's ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’ comes no where close to supporting it.
Mind you, we gently salivate at the thought that such objective evidence might be out there somewhere.

The real issue is, however, not the level of corrupt activity, but that it should happen at any perceptible rate, in privileged democracies such as our. There can be little or no argument for need driving malfeasance, as is often the case in transition economies.
More often, those caught with their fingers on the public purse are already well rewarded for their troubles. The rest, symptomatic of the currently entrenched monetarist economics, is simply greed and avarice.
That countries such as Canada, Britain and European powers, the USA and Australia are regularly reporting this kind of corruption says little for our social development. It also reflects badly on transition economies, showing them that they are merely developing towards grander levels of public theft.
I would not be so harsh in signaling Canada out from the rest. On the other hand, we must demand better from Canada and the rest of the Western Democracies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

First class hypocricy

The US ban on Australia’s AWB over UN scandal allegations is the height of hypocrisy. AWB faces investigation by a judicial inquiry into their role in the scandal. Despite their protests of innocence, documentary evidence weighs heavily against the company. That same evidence puts neither the Australian government, nor the Bush Administration in a good light.
Officials in both administrations knew of these allegations in 2003. No doubt the US Wheat Associates will be delighted with this action; they first bought the issue to the US government attention in June 2003. With this foreknowledge the US government is at least as culpable as the Australian on this matter.
The question is, why did they choose to clam up at the time, and ignore the excesses being bought to their attention? There are two reasons that I can see, both involving crass self interest over ethics and probity.
The first issue I visited in the post, Putting Trade before Lives. As the title suggests, this was dealt with as a trade war between the countries, but I doubt that is the whole story.
A second aspect would surely be related to the Iraq war and the ‘coalition of the willing’. The sick, cynical part is that the money being funneled to Saddam’s Regime was being used to prepare that country’s military for war. Either way there was little regard for the folk sent of to fight this ridiculous war.
Now, with all that behind us, and Australia still hogging the Iraq wheat market, the US has decided to make its move.
Sorry but it stinks it high heaven! It is cynical and hypocritical. Americans should be just as angry about this as I am.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Putting Trade before Lives

Scandal Files has started an in-depth look at aspects of the UN ‘Volcker Report’. The main focus is on the Australian wheat exporter, AWB, and just what is involved in the allegations.
Our background briefs, the long and winding road, are a work in progress, but already show reason why the Australian Government must extend the terms of reference for the inquiry it has launched to investigate this affair.
The conditions set out for the inquiry specifically preclude it from looking at the involvement of ‘government ministers, their advisors or public servants.’ Yet there are clear indications that officers of the department of Trade and Foreign Affairs were complicit to some degree and that Minister for Trade was aware of the allegations in 2002.
Although outside the scope of an Australian inquiry, it is clear that members of the Bush administration were also aware of the allegations at that time.
It seems that, rather than treat this as a scandal potentially undermining war plans by those countries, it was merely seen as a trade war. That perception speaks volumes about the values of the countries involved; obviously dollars are worth more than lives to out leaders.
We will be following this story closely, and updating regularly on Scandal Files.

Blood Money

JOHN Howard's refusal to allow a proper investigation of his Government's role in Saddam Hussein's $300 million Aussie slush fund is becoming a scandal in its own right. The commission of inquiry that has been established will only investigate the Australian Wheat Board's actions. It does not have the power to investigate the role of the government that approved the Wheat Board's actions. Kevin Rudd Australian Federal Member for Griffith and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and International Security.
The Howard Government, in Australia, has an appalling record when it comes to probity and transparency. Elected partly on a platform or ‘cleaning up’ government, a flurry or early scandals and ministerial resignations modified it to a platform of self preservation.
Handling of the AWB scandal is consistent with John Howard’s contempt for transparency. The Judicial enquiry terms of reference specifically rule out investigation the role of members of the government or the public service. Rudd argued the case against the government in The Australian; Pig-Iron John has a lot to hide over Saddam kickbacks

Running down Rudd’s list:
  • UN Security Council Resolution 661 imposed an obligation on the Australian Government to prevent its nationals or its companies breaching the UN sanctions against Iraq. . Foreign Minister Alexander Downer confirmed the Government's role telling the parliament that his department examined each contract to ensure that they did not "infringe the sanctions regime".

  • In January 2000 the Government was explicitly warned by the UN of concerns about exactly what the AWB was up to in Iraq. The Australian Government's response was to simply dismiss these concerns out of hand

  • I in October 2000 the AWB wrote to the Government asking for explicit, written endorsement of its proposal to engage Jordanian trucking companies to provide internal transport of Australian wheat within Iraq. Despite the warnings by the UN nine months earlier, the Howard Government assured the AWB that the proposed arrangement "would not be in violation of UN sanctions against Iraq".

  • The Government's own statutory authority -- the Wheat Export Authority -- not only examined the Iraq contracts but has confirmed that it also separated out the freight and non-freight components of each contract.

  • The Government ignored public warnings about Saddam's abuse of the oil-for-food program in the lead-up to the war in Iraq? In April 2002, while Australian cash was still flowing into the regime's coffers, Howard was preparing Australia for war against the very same regime.

  • Finally Rudd charges that the hard currency sent to Saddam by Australia gave the dictator the capacity to buy guns, bombs and bullets for use against foreign forces, both during the war of March-May 2003 and now still during the insurgency
Notwithstanding the obvious partisan rhetoric in Rudd’s article, the claims are on record and present a compelling argument for the government’s role to be examined.
This is a government which is currently trying to introduce draconian ‘sedition’ laws into the country.
At the same time, it appears, they are willing to condone funding and arming a regime, Australian military personnel will be facing.
That the Howard government specifically rules out an investigation of these allegations is more than just double standards; it is more than just a scandal.
It talks of the contempt this government has for the Australian people. The very same people it piously claims to be protecting.
Protecting from what? Certainly not from th ‘war profiteers’ they call their mates.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Terror Bill

The dynamics of the proposed introduction of Australia’s anti terrorist bill is a curious affair.  
A simple legislative change from ‘the’ to ‘a’ in a Federal bill allows recent raids to take place. Apparently by no designating a specific threat, police were able to justify their arrests.
That in itself does not remove the claimed need for a sweeping Anti-Terror act, until it is coupled with the other odd circumstances leading to its introduction.Defending the bill Attorney general, Ruddock, continually claims that various measures being attacked already exist in other legislation. That includes the now deleted ‘shoot to kill’ provision.
Recent raids and arrests appear to testify to this belief. This operation, under existing laws, has proceeded reasonably efficiently.
Why then, is the government so intent on ramming this new legislation through parliament? In their own words, it is all there anyway.
Another fascinating aspect is that the Prime Minister and the investigators would not be able to use the media, cynically in the first instance, perhaps intelligently by the investigators.  
The level of information being offered or leaked to the media, to facilitate the ‘fight against terror’, would be strictly proscribed under the new laws.
The media would have been restricted from revealing Howard’s dubious use of ‘inside’ information. The Prime Minister actually use the ‘serious’ issue of terrorism, announcing the impending raid, to divert from other unpopular legislation being pursued.
The investigators will lose an important crime fighting tool, which is their ability to manipulate of the media to massage their investigations.
Many of the news reports contain obvious ‘inside’ information. That includes the given name of a supposed ‘supergrass’. The sort of leak intended, no doubt, to stir something among the targeted groups still free in the community. It is a normal, and at times valuable, policing technique.
Under the new laws, absolute secrecy is demanded in the face of very stiff penalties. Surely those provisions would severely inhibit the police in using all the tools available to them now.
It seems to me, as events unfold, these new laws only hamper the fight, not to mention the cynical politicking. I have asserted before that this is a bad law. Now I am convinced it is a totally unnecessary bad law.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Presidential Irresponsiblity

I get a strange sense of disbelief about relationship expected between Americans and their president. I can understand that it the office not the person held in reverence.

However when the office holders continually fail the people, it must reflect on the office itself.

“President Bush on Friday sharply criticized Democrats who have accused him of misleading the nation about the threat from Iraq's weapons programs, calling their criticism "deeply irresponsible" and suggesting that they are undermining the war effort.´ New York Times article

One of the great barriers to fighting corruption, or any other crime, is getting the perpetrators to understand the difference between right and wrong. Above all others, the ‘Office of the President of the United States’ must be seen to be transparently honest in all its dealings.

As a safety check, one of the evolved roles of an opposition or alternative government is to monitor and speak out about wrong doing. That is just what the Democrats have been doing. It is what the Republicans did under the previous administration. It is the right and proper thing to do!

As time goes by it is becoming evident that the Iraq's weapons programs were beaten up to justify a war in which many young Americans have died. The Office of the President must answer for that situation, just as the opposition must question it.

To do less is to undermine the trust of the people. It is not good enough to say “it is right because I am the president”. What is essential is that the people know that the President and ‘the Office’ are above reproach on all things.

I am not an American, but like many in the world, my life is impacted by many decisions emanating from that office. I would, at the very least, like to know that decisions are reached honestly; and if not, are exposed and dealt with.

Mr President, wrong is wrong! You diminish everything that you stand for with this bluster and posturing.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sex Scandal Let Down

There I was, getting excited at the prospect of an honest to goodness sex scandal. As usual, just below the surface, is the real story of corruption. The case of Michigan attorney general Mike Cox and protagonist, Geoffrey Fieger is not about an errant fling but campaign spending irregularities.
Fieger, apparently Michigan's best-known attorney, “allegedly covertly and illegally funded a campaign to defeat a Republican-backed state Supreme Court candidate in 2004.”
That a scoundrel would use the sex scandal in an attempt to avoid justice shows just how shallow we voters are considered by the body politics. There is nothing new in the approach, except perhaps a growing awareness of the ploy.
That voters can still be duped into using the information as a basis for political choice is more of a worry. The only people with any real right to be concerned, or otherwise, are Mrs Cox and the offspring.
For all that I enjoy the search for a real, honest to goodness sex scandal, I know that they are as likely as rocking horse shit.
We have said before, in this blog, look for the corruption under the sex scandal. It is there, somewhere, every time.
Fieger is, it seems, fearful of facing prosecution over campaign funding irregularities in 2004. He says the campaign-finance violations under investigation by the Attorney General's Office are like those routinely committed by political candidates and rarely result in prosecution.
Cox says Fieger, through a surrogate, threatened to expose an extramarital affair Cox had if he didn't drop a criminal campaign-finance investigation against Fieger.
Lee Michael O'Brien, the lawyer said to have played a role in an extortion attempt involving the state attorney general, has a shady reputation to uphold. Fieger and his attorneys are ready to hang him out to dry. They said if O'Brien made threats, he acted on his own.
We will be watching with fascination as this drama plays out, alas, without the sex.

Friday, November 11, 2005

AWB and Volcker

About AWB, from their web site

What AWB say about the allegations:

October 28 2005 Media Release
The Board and management of AWB welcome the finding of the IIC that AWB was not knowingly involved in schemes implemented by the former Iraqi regime to circumvent the UN Oil for Food Program.
Notwithstanding, the thorough and rigorous investigation conducted by the IIC, it has not found that AWB knew of the matters now alleged. This has confirmed AWB’s position.
AWB has consistently maintained its position that it did not know, and could not know, what Alia did with the money AWB paid to it by way of transport fees.
AWB sold wheat in accordance with the UN guidelines. All AWB contracts, including those with an inland transport component, were approved by the UN.
Throughout the OFF Program AWB operated in the belief that Alia was a genuine transport company providing an effective service. We paid for a trucking service and clearly the wheat was delivered the hundreds of kilometres from port to inland Iraq.
We were surprised to learn of the fact that Alia did not provide a trucking service.

November 1 2005 Media Release
…It should be noted that the Volcker report did not find that AWB was knowingly involved in any scheme or arrangement to channel funds to the former Iraqi regime.
It is of concern to AWB that allegations are being made against the company and anticipates the inquiry to address them.

November 10 2005 Media Release
AWB Managing Director, Andrew Lindberg said the company would cooperate fully with the Federal Government Inquiry in relation to the United Nations Oil-for-Food program.
The terms of reference were announced today by the Attorney General, Mr Ruddock.

What they say about themselves:

* AWB Limited is Australia's leading agribusiness and one of the world's largest wheat marketing and management companies. It is also one of Australia's top 100 publicly listed companies.
* AWB is the exclusive manager and marketer of all Australian bulk wheat exports through what is known as the Single Desk system. It also markets and trades a range of other grains including barley, sorghum and oilseeds.
The acquisition of Landmark in August 2003 was clearly a major milestone for AWB. * Landmark is Australia’s largest supplier of farm inputs and rural merchandising supplier, handling approximately 20% of the national wool clip and 20% of livestock trading and supplying a significant amount of the country’s fertiliser, through an extensive network of 430 outlets.
* AWB is also one of Australia’s primary providers of financial services and risk management to rural Australia, providing a range of competitive cash flow, finance and underwriting products tailored to suit domestic and international customers.

  1. Pool Management Services – primarily involves the aggregation, management and global marketing and distribution of Australian export wheat

  2. Finance and Risk Management – provides finance and risk management products to growers and end users

  3. Grain Acquisition and Trading – consists of trading, as principal, of grains and grain related trading flow

  4. Supply Chain and Other Investments – consists of the development of, and direct investment in, supply chain infrastructure and end use grain businesses

  5. Grain Technology – consists of the development and Australian application of leading edge grain related technologies

  6. Landmark – provides customers with rural merchandise, fertiliser, livestock, wool, agronomy, insurance, real estate and financial services.
AWB’s who’s Who

Directors Profiles
Executive Profiles

The Board’s History

In 1915, during World War 1, an Australian wheat pooling scheme was created to assist wheat growers.
This pool was administered by an Australian Wheat Board, comprising the prime minister and a minister from each of the wheat growing states.
In 1921 the wheat board ceased to operate, as it was always intended that the pooling scheme would end after the war.
The Australian Wheat Board was established as a statutory authority by Wheat Acquisition Regulations contained in the National Security Act 1939.
It continued in existence as a Government controlled marketing authority under successive legislation until July 1 1999.
The Australian Wheat Board was established as a statutory authority by Wheat Acquisition Regulations contained in the National Security Act 1939.
It continued in existence as a Government controlled marketing authority under successive legislation until July 1 1999.
In August 2001, AWB was publicly floated with B-Class shares listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Iraq and the Australian Whitewash

The Australian Government has announced a judicial enquiry into three companies named in the Volcker report into the UN's 'Oil for Food scandal'.
One of these companies, AWB, is alleged to have funneled almost $300 million to the Iraqi Government through a Jordanian front company, Alia.
Interesting are reports that the terms of reference for the enquiry exclude investigation into the role of ‘government ministers, their advisers and bureaucrats’.
Why, you might ask, are these people excluded? What role is it they might have played in this UN scandal?
AWB was formerly the Australian Wheat Board, a semi government marketing board for the country’s wheat growers. That was in the old days when agrarian socialism, a form of market protection, was in vogue. The emergence of monetarism or what is lately styled as 'crony capitalism' meant that boards like AWB were privatised, so that it is now a listed company.
In essence the government should no longer have anything to do with AWB, except that the board of directors is stacked with their buddies.
Where government does have a role is through DFAT, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. DFAT essentially grease the wheels for the country’s international trade.
Spelling out the enquiries limitations, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which advised AWB it could enter into a commercial agreement with the Jordanian trucking company that turned out to be a front for Saddam's regime, was not likely to be investigated.
"I don't know that there is a role to look at departmental matters," Ruddock said. "We were asked to establish an inquiry into the corporations."
There are already claims that government departments and ministers turned a blind eye or were culpably negligent in relation to an Australian "Saddam slush fund" despite warnings. Yet while the inquiry will be able to call Government ministers and public servants, including diplomats, it will not be allowed to probe their role.
On top of that cover up, Ruddock could not guarantee whether the inquiry would take all evidence in public. Let’s just keep it limited and behind closed doors.
This is the same government who rejected public opinion to join with his buddy George W in their cynical little Iraqi adventure. They sent Australia to war while at the same time being implicated in funding the Iraqi military build up.

The enquiry is headed by Justice Cole, a former NSW judge who previously headed a royal commission into the building and construction industry.
PM, John Howard said the inquiry was not a "royal commission" but a "commission of inquiry with royal commission powers".
Howard said that he did not have "unqualified faith" in the UN, but said the UN's chief investigator, Paul Volcker, had not made a "zephyr of criticism" of his Government. "That is the reason why the terms of reference are entirely appropriate."
Queensland-based Alkaloids of Australia and Melbourne-based Rhine Ruhr were also named in the Volcker report. Both have denied wrongdoing

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Let the Games End

The fallout from the Canada’s Gomery Report has been fairly predictable and lamentable. Hypocrisy and opportunism are no stranger to politics, and the country has had them in spades over the past week.
Opposition politicians have attempted to drown the report with their clamour for an election. That noise has not completely drowned the trenchant criticism of Gomery’s findings.
I’m sure Justice Gomery is well capable of defending himself against the voluble critics of his first report.
The real danger of these diversions is that the vital reforms this report could generate might be doomed in the name of transient, partisan and ego driven issues.

A Week Is a Long Time In politics
That is the fear of Stephen Harper’s Conservative. With an eye to the polls, Harper’s bunch has seen their first real opportunity to wrest power from the Liberals. Even so, the polls have dipped and started shifting back within a week, with the conservatives fearful of this chance rushing past them.
Perhaps Mr Harper would do well to take a long hard look at the performance of his party and work out why they have not made major inroads into the shaky support the Liberals have maintained.
He’s right in a sense, given the sad history of corruption they hardly deserve even the tenuous grip they have. On the other hand, the Conservatives are not really offering a credible alternative government either.
However Harper, as much as he would like to capitalise on the Liberal’s current woes, he knows that forcing an election is politically problematic. Forcing a campaign which would extend through the Christmas period is close to political suicide.

Jack Layton is a far more astute politician, able to call the bluff of each side at will, with his own party’s agenda always at the forefront. Having now been spurned by the liberals, Layton is not going to play Grinch either; he is game to move for an election, timed to begin after Christmas. But then, apart from not annoying the electorate, timing is not really a vital issue for the NDP, who will gain somewhat, regardless.
The Bloc have their own agenda and seem willing to punish the Liberals on behalf of Quebec. This could raise problems for Harper, in the western provinces, if the Conservatives appear too cozy with the Bloc.
At a distance Quebec is perceived to be as tainted as the Liberals in the scandal. The ordinary voter is not big on nuance. The ‘Quebec’ names coming out of the report merely confirm existing prejudices.
So for the moment, for the opposition, is appears ‘opportunity lost’ and an increase in public cynicism.

Tainted Parties
Criticism of Gomery, or at least his report, is equally as diverting as the power play. The limits imposed on the enquiry by the terms of reference are conveniently overlooked by many who crave more meat.Punishment, apart from dented egos, could never come out of this enquiry. That is the province of the RCMP and Public prosecutor’s Office. Gomery’s report is merely the base from which these further actions can take place. Although it is curious that many of the previously know information was not acted on.
Therein lies the task for our erstwhile elected representatives, to monitor and ensure these investigations and resulting prosecutions proceed without fear of favour.
Criticism of Gomery’s position on PM Martin is understandable on the face off it. It would be incredible to believe Martin was totally unaware of the antics involved in the Sponsorship Program.
However the danger for the opposition, in pursuing that line, is that they are equally tainted. There have been enough signals along the way to raise the alarm among the sleepiest of MPs. Duceppe told Parliament, late in 2004;
…the first articles on the sponsorship scandal appeared in the press as far back as December 1999. In 2000, the Bloc Québécois spoke out in its campaign platform against the somewhat dubious administration of the sponsorship program, even identifying some advertising firms involved in the scandal.”
Is that it? Spoke out? There is an expectation that opposition MPs, among the few valuable roles they do have, will busy themselves in an effort to uncover potential government corruption. The signals were there, where was the action?
Was it ‘expedient’ for opposition MPs to just let this continue, in the hope of getting their hands on this ‘honey pot’?

Getting Value
Conjecture is a two edged sword and the Canadian public have the right, at least, to know why MPs were asleep at their post through all of this. They also have the right to expect an attempt be made to cure the disease of corruption in this country, not just treat the symptoms.
The diversions and opportunism are part of the self serving culture which created this mess.
The cost of this scandal is now far greater than the dollar value, which has since been inflated by three enquiries. There is a cost in loss of confidence in parliament and MPs. There is a cost in the growing weariness and cynicism of a public who expect decent behaviour from political leaders. If that cost is to be repaid, it must be in tangible efforts to manage public affairs in a decent, honest manner.
Government is not a personal piggy bank and MPs and administrators must be made fully accountable for how they use public monies.
Mechanism need to be in place which gives proper oversight to government and administrative activities. We expect that as a matter of course, now it is time to for elected representatives to put themselves fully behind the efforts to bring that about. The country wants real value from its MPs. Anything else will simply feed the growing discontent of the electorate.

Seeking Asylum Down Under

Seeking Asylum Down Under

A Diminishing Intelligence

“This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughingstock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that,” said board member Janet Waugh.
Janet was responding to the 6-4 vote was a victory for intelligent design advocates in Kansas.
Supporters of the new standards said they will promote academic freedom.
“It gets rid of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today,” says board member John Bacon.
The corruption in this is a fundamental issue of law courts believing they can adjudicate the laws of nature. By admitting to this ID nonsense there is a rejection, not simply of one aspect of science, but of science per se.
That is sad. Of course, nature, science, is not subject to the whims of the law courts, or narrow religious definitions. Regardless of the court finding, truth is truth, plain and simple.
More than anything, this is the desperate response from those so fearful of the realities of life they would see us all revert to superstitious reflections of some imagined past.
We should take heart however. It was just a decade or so ago that the Roman Catholic Church finally admitted they were wrong and Copernicus was right. The earth does indeed revolve around the sun and not the opposite.
The ‘church’ is guilty of many, many errors of judgment in the past and will doubtless continue to take and enforce wrongheaded positions.
In part, the errors of ‘the church’ are based on the rejection of their own theologians, the ones who subject the Bible to standards of reason. The ones who attempt to untangle the additions and errors, the politically inspired corruption which plagues the ‘word’.
Instead, these narrow, bible focused ‘believers’ prefer to accept a mish mash of belief which is often relevant to nothing other than a desire to control.
Yes Janet, it is sad. But take hope. My God is not limited by the narrow definitions of these backwoods believers. My God is not subject to the findings of a court room. Our faith must be a true faith and trust, not just words to be repeated ad nauseum, but never practiced.
The wheel will turn, as it always does.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The terror of corruption

Indonesia is a mystery to most people. This sprawling archipelago of some 17,000 islands, span more than 5000 km (around 3,200 miles) with a population around 242 million people.
Indonesia’s resort Island is only 900 kms from Australian’s north coast, but a world away in cultural difference.It is this very proximity and exotic nature which draws thousands of Australian every year; drawn increasingly into the dark side of the culture.
Terrorist attacks on Westerners have increased in a country where police and military, at least parts of them, share sympathy with the attackers.
More fundamental is the corruption which is deeply rooted in the country. The latest incident, involving Indonesia’s ridged drug laws, is turning into yet another example of how treacherous the country can be for foreigners.
Michelle Leslie is an Australian actress and model.
During a visit to Bali in August 21 2005 two pills were found in Leslie's Gucci handbag. Tests by Indonesian police proved they were Ecstasy. It is difficult to have sympathy for anyone trafficking drugs into the region, but with two pills Leslie was hardly a trafficker.
In fact, she claimed very early on that she was given the pills, in the car, on route to a nightclub, the car which was subsequently pulled over and searched by police.
Facing anywhere from three months to 15 years in jail for allegedly possessing ecstasy tablet, Leslie has finally told the full story. Why did she take so long? Perhaps she could be forgiven for being fearful of her security in prison; her story threatens to drag of Indonesia's richest and most powerful politicians into a drugs scandal.
Economics Minister Aburizal Bakrie is the patriarch of one of the country's old conglomerates, with stakes in everything from media to natural resources. He's a great survivor. His family's private television station, ANTV, lists Rupert Murdoch as a 20 per cent investor.
He once said he was not embarrassed to be called a "crony" of the country's toppled strongman, General Soeharto, although he denied the obvious fact that he could rely on any unsavoury connections being silenced by a phone call.
The link between Leslie and the highest levels of the Indonesian Government was exposed in Bali newspapers recently. The Den Post reveals that when Leslie was arrested she was in a Toyota Kijang car bearing the logo of a luxury Bali resort, and with the son of Aburizal Bakrie who has a financial interest in that resort.
Bali newspapers carry reports on Leslie's friendship with the son of a minister; with "a large asset in Bali"; saying the son organised Leslie's accommodation in Bali.
The Den Post cites an unnamed source as saying the son of the minister and two other men in the car with Leslie are "the protected children".
Details of her arrest, and who was with her at the time, have been clouded in confusion. And the mystery deepened on Tuesday when the two officers who arrested her gave vague and contradictory testimony, including claiming they could not recall who was with Leslie in the car.
One policeman, Bogiek Sugiyarto, explained his poor memory by telling the court: "We searched a lot of beautiful girls that night."
Needless to say Bakrie is using all his authority, both as a government minister and media owner, to squash these reports. He is as aware as anyone in Indonesia; corruption is something to be kept in the family. The crime is being caught out and gaining international attention.
The question now is; will Leslie get a fair trial? Or more to the point, will she survive to have a trial at all. The only real hope of that is to bring international attention and pressure down on the countries authorities to ensure a proper investigation of all the allegations.
Left to their own devices, the Indonesian authorities have a long record of cover up.
Much of the background material for this comment comes from the Sydney Morning Herald

The sick truth

The best Paul Volcker could ever achieve was naming names. Beyond that, the potential for justice is out of his hands. That responsibility falls to the UN, for its internal staff and officials, and home nations of the various corporations named.
Now comes the political game, and the ‘essential’ compromise which is at the heart of that game; protecting the ‘family’; and if need be, finding suitable sacrifices to satisfy the appearance of justice done.
France was quick to arrest a U.N. ambassador, Jean-Bernard Merimee, who is charged with receiving kickbacks fro the Iraqi regime. He might well be guilty, but he is likely to be that countries token sacrifice.
The Australian Government, under John Howard, is trying to mitigate the damage which threatens one of that countries major wheat exporters. AWB is one of those privatized government instrumentalities. They are also alleged to have funneled the largest portion, $US221.7 million, to Saddam’s cause. Someone will have to suffer, but finding a credible scapegoat appears to be a difficult call. The stooge certainly won’t come from board level. No doubt some troublesome manager will be rewarded with that task.
Switzerland of course, is well and truly implicated, but that ‘squeaky clean’ country is well versed in covering and dodging corruption charges. The Swiss national wealth is based on being a safe haven for corrupt money. Secrecy is the stock in trade, a product which must be protected above all else.
Russia will investigate allegations that Russian companies and politicians were part of the massive corruption…” That should make everyone feel so much better. Volcker’s report named more than 2,200 companies and prominent politicians of colluding with Saddam’s regime. Out of those numbers we should expect a handful of ‘politically vulnerable’ suspects to be paraded before the world as a show of Russian justice.
India has managed to turn the whole affair into an ‘all singing, all dancing’ film scenario. If you can’t work out the characters, or the language, it doesn’t matter; the ensuing circus should be sufficiently entertaining. Implicated Foreign Minister ‘sacked’ – ‘resigned’ – ‘removed’ – ‘ousted’ – because he screwed up over Iran. ”India's ruling Congress party intends to investigate the involvement of any Indian individuals and companies who have been accused in the Oil for Food scandal.” The result should be the arrest and imprisonment of a group of totally unrelated miscreants. Let’s face it, plot is not the big issue in Bollywood, it is colour and movement.
The US have been quick to grab the ‘legendary Houston oilman’ Oscar Wyatt Jr. and two others - David Chalmers of BayOil (USA) and Bulgarian-born Ludmil Dionissiev of Houston and British citizen John Irving. Yes that is three others, but US justice tends to ‘overcharge’ in the first instance in the hope that something will stick. Wyatt, allegedly a loudmouthed 81 year old, has obviously annoyed someone in the US political/oil complex.
Not satisfied with their own ‘big catch’ the US is also going after British MP George Galloway. While Galloway is not a, best buddy of Blair, but he is a fellow member of parliament and we wouldn’t like to get to political in good old England. Besides, Galloway is anti-American and pro-Saddam, so he is fair game in every way for the US.
Paul Volker did a great job, within the limits of his brief. He exposed the rampant corruption and named names. More to the point, he has opened us up to the essential corruption which underpins governments, national and transnational corporations.
This is not a pretty sight and is bound, as it should, to undermine public trust in these powerful institutions. If, before this, you only thought that we were being manipulated by a bunch of self serving crooks, you no longer have any basis for doubt.
As for the UN, as it is structured, it is merely the sum of its member governments.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Probes or Damage Control?

There has been a request for more on the Volcker Report. With three major corruption findings as well the myriad minor stuff, there is something of an overload at the moment.
Each of the big three is a major research effort, but the Volcker Report stands out as problematic for the UN. The UN do not have the authority to litigate against alleged miscreants, they can only penalise by banning miscreants from future UN Contracts.
That in itself is problematic when corporations seemingly have the means to change shape at will.
It is up to member countries to investigate and prosecute their own nationals, named in the report. If and how that is done is subject to the political and ethical strengths within individual countries.
The real stories will emerge over time as countries react to the report in their own ways.
The Australian Government was quick to initially dismiss claims against AWB (formerly the Australian Wheat Board). The knee jerk reaction was to protect billions of dollars of annual wheat exports.
However, in the face of overwhelming proof, and still to protect future export potential, the government did an abrupt about face. The three main Australian companies named in the report will now be subject to further enquiries.
Russia, on the other hand, is rife with denial and counter attack.
“Volcker's list of schemers who profited in various ways from oil-for-food includes prominent diplomats in Russia and France…”
“Russia could demand the Volcker Commission that probed alleged kickbacks received by foreign entities and individuals in implementing UN oil-for-food programme for Iraq to disclose its sources, as many of the documents it produced regarding alleged Russian involvement were ‘dubious’.”
“Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov accused the intelligence services of concocting the report saying, “It is the handiwork of their special services (spy agencies) to destroy the foreign political rivals challenging the US policies.””
France is, just a little, preoccupied with internal turmoil and riots to make any meaningful response. Even so, the stain goes to high levels in the government and will most likely be smothered by bureaucracy.
The USA, mired in home grown scandals, have taken steps and even made arrests on the basis of the report.
The positive fallout from the US response is that they are intent on seeing other countries, like France and Russia, do the right thing.
India is mired in their own unique style of scandal. If nothing else, the forests’ being converted to newsprint, in order to accommodate this scandal, is almost a scandal in itself.
Like a number of other countries, the involvement of high government and establishment figures gives the saga a special twist in that vast country.
The real stories, from Volcker, are legion. They promise to be highly charged and highly damaging in some quarters.
I am just hoping they dribble out in some manageable order. Another flood of complex scandals is just too much to contemplate.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

It's the Lies

One of my pet hates is when someone hears a piece of music, particularly a classic, and assigns it to some recent movie as though it had just been purpose written. History, even pop history, gives a sense of dimensions.
The same can go for other cultural issues, such as politics. Lazy assumptions don’t really enlighten anyone, simply encourage shallow thinking.
This rant developed when I started reading comments like ‘current scandal echoes Watergate.’ All political scandals echo Watergate in many aspects, but they are all different in detail. It is a silly as the comparisons drawn between the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy. Any aspect apart from their assassination is pure circumstance.
Watergate and the CIA leak certainly share cover up and lies, but then so do most scandals. That is how most miscreants are finally brought down.
Nixon and Bush might equally have not been involved in the actual deed. They both shared the overall responsibility for what occurred during their watch. They also had the opportunity to affect they way business was done, while maintaining Nixon’s famous ‘plausible deniability’.
The only way the involvement issue differs from the Clinton Scandal is that Bill didn’t seem too interested in delegating the perks.
The clincher, from The Penn Online KENDRA SLEDZINSKI
“Sound familiar? It’s because similar charges were brought upon Libby: one count of obstruction of justice, two counts perjury (lying under oath) and two counts of making untrue statements. After the charges were announced, Libby, like Nixon, resigned.”
Wow Kendra, there should be some kind of Nobel Prize for that. I repeat, most political miscreants are brought down by those kinds of charges in lieu of the hard evidence which is so difficult to find in these secretive affairs.
I might also point out, Nixon was a president of the United States; Liddy was a White House dogsbody, albeit powerful, who was appointed and not elected.
Kendra continues: “Nixon lied about knowledge of the burglary. Clinton lied about with whom he was intimate. But the lying that happened in the Libby scandal may have resulted in the death of more than 2,000 American soldiers.”
…and Jefferson might well have lied about bedding Sally Hemmings; Mary Todd Lincoln might have lied about her spending on White House spending; Ulysses S. Grant might have lied about his involvement in the Crédit Mobilier Affair; William Rufus De Vane King, the only bachelor Vice President might have lied about having sex with his plantation slave boys and we can go on. It seems de rigeur for politicians to resort to telling big porkies (pork pies = lies) when they are caught with their fingers in the cash drawer, or other body parts where they ought not be.
A common factor, in the majority of political scandals is the lies. Apart from that, if we are to learn anything about how to overcome the entrenched corruption, we must consider the unique information in each and take steps to avoid repetition.