Saturday, December 31, 2005

Democracy out the window

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about U.S. president George W. Bush's secret domestic spying program, Justice officials said Friday.
The Times revealed the existence of the program two weeks ago in a front-page story that acknowledged the news had been withheld from publication for a year, partly at the request of the administration and partly because the newspaper wanted more time to confirm various aspects of the program.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Justice undertook the action on its own, and the president was informed of it on Friday.
"The leaking of classified information is a serious issue. The fact is that al-Qaeda's playbook is not printed on Page One and when America's is, it has serious ramifications," Mr. Duffy told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where Mr. Bush was spending the holidays.
The administration formally defended its domestic spying program in a letter to Congress last week, saying the nation's security outweighs privacy concerns of individuals who are monitored. Associated Press

There is a disconnect here. Or, in the words of Lord Acton of ‘power corrupts’ fame:
“The man who prefers his country before any other duty shows the same spirit as the man who surrenders every right to the state. They both deny that right is superior to authority.”
No doubt there is a law which prohibits the revealing of official misdeeds; governments seem to delight in enacting such provisions. At the same time, government must be open to public scrutiny without the doublespeak and intrigue.
It is all too easy to whip out the bogeyman in order to avoid proper scrutiny. Regardless of secrecy laws the NYT was quite right, in the interests of democratic principle, to bring this ‘domestic spying’ issue to light. The administration is quite wrong in it’s cynical efforts at deflection.
US media have been all too compliant in towing the official line up to now. The result is a presidency which has run away with its own sense of importance.
The US proudly proclaim: government of the people, for the people, by the people.
The actions of the Bush administration are not meeting that principle and the populous are not demanding it; a dangerous set of circumstances.
It is troubling for those of us from countries under heavy US influence. If this is the path the ‘Great Democracy’ is taking out cherished rights are in deep trouble.
What is difficult to comprehend is that we are more concerned than US citizens appear to be about this slide into authoritarian government.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Politics of Corruption

Most governments claim to be fighting public sector corruption within their jurisdiction. Being a curious type, I have decided to have a closer look at how well the various attempts succeed, and what stands in their way.
From India:
“To date, none of the major cases of “corruption in high places” has been solved. This, of course, may signal either the inadequacy of official investigative agencies or the success of the allegedly corrupt in covering up their traces. But the scams have also served to cover up other issues of greater import.” J Sri Raman journalist and peace activist based in Chennai, India

India does have a range of agencies whose primary or partial charter is to fight corruption. These have been recently augmented by growing media attack on corrupt politicians.
With all that activity there is still enormous frustration at the inability to deal with the core issues of corruption, because of political distraction. This situation is not reserved for India, or simply for developing economies. Political meddling and point scoring continue to retard corruption fighting around the world.

Canada is currently in election mode following the highly efficient Gomery inquiry into government corruption. However, inquiries are limited to fact finding and recommending prosecutions. The opposition parties in Canada, rather than allow the process to proceed without distraction, used it as an opportunistic excuse to point score.
In the ensuing ‘corruption inspired’ power grab, the opposition parties have done littler more than increase voter cynicism toward the whole political establishment. It is yet to be seen just how far the election will derail the prosecution process, but it has already taken much of the bite out of the key issues by changing the focus.

There is a powerful argument that all aspects of investigation and prosecution of political corruption should be taken completely out of the political sphere.
As an extension of sub judice laws, politicians and lawmakers should be prohibited from all comment and action on any issue of political corruption under investigation or prosecution by bona fide anti corruption agency.
Ideally each jurisdiction should have a specific agency, with wide powers to fight corruption. Failing that, special inquiries and prosecutors should carry the same level of autonomous powers as purpose agencies; and all should exclude political interference of any kind.

With an increasing level of media focus on political corruption, the time has never been better to push for standing ‘watchdog’ organisations to monitor unethical behaviour. Ad hoc investigations are generally established by governments, far better an agency with a charter to constantly monitor and attack corruption.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Who needs watching?

"I fully understand everybody's not going to agree with my decisions. But the president's job is to do what he thinks is right, and that's what I'm going to continue to do."
"It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy." Bush refutes `unchecked powers' in wiretap debate
So there you go you ungrateful pack of hyenas, George said so.
I don’t ‘fully understand’ why, judging from most of the blogs I have seen on the issue, most people are quite happy to accept the President ignoring legal imperatives.
Mind you, I don’t understand my many compliant, fellow Sydneysiders, simply handing over mobile phone to police on request, following the riots in that city.
Surely it is not a question of security; it is a question of how much citizens of our ‘free’ societies are willing to surrender freedoms.
A president or a policeman is part of the law; they are part of society, not apart from it. I understand the Sydney situation was urgently passed into law, a continuation of the knee jerk stripping of citizen’s rights.
As I understand the situation, current US law does not accept unauthorised intrusions.
In admitting to authorising the eavesdropping program, Bush says he did it to protect the American people from terrorists determined to destroy the US.

Bush forcefully defended his administration's eavesdropping program for terrorist suspects living in the United States as an essential element of protecting Americans from a new enemy, and he said whoever unmasked the secret plan had committed a "shameful act."
"To say `unchecked power' basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject. I am doing what you expect me to do, and at the same time, safeguarding the civil liberties of the country."
Good on you America! If you, expect and choose to allow the office of the president to trample over your basic rights you will no doubt get what you deserve.

I know it is difficult to hear and understand the flow of information when your head is lodged firmly in the sand. In the Patriot Act speech by Bush in April last year, two years after he gave the NSA the authority to wiretap without FISA approval, he stated:
"Any time you hear the US Government talking about wiretap, a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
Then the spin doctors get into the act: “Bush's comments referred to the roving wiretaps allowed for law enforcement under the Patriot Act, not wiretaps for foreign intelligence.”
Now that is just too cute for words. Let’s just cause as much verbal mayhem as our language will allow.
Meantime the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Jay Rockefeller is saying, “I told you so Dick!” Senator Rockefeller sent Cheney a handwritten letter July 2003 (Download pdf ) saying he couldn’t endorse these secret plans, basically because they were so secret.
He couldn’t discuss the issue with anyone and therefore couldn’t take advice on legal and technical issues involved. That put a hole in White House claim that senior Democrats had endorsed the surveillance program.

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham added his two cents, saying that the Bush administration never briefed him, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, about a covert domestic wiretap program. He went on to suggest the possibility that it grew out of “a creep of presidential authority.”
Graham recalled being summoned to a classified briefing by Vice President Dick Cheney in late 2001 or early 2002. He was informed about a presidential directive that let the National Security Agency eavesdrop on overseas calls that moved through U.S. communications lines, not people speaking on the phone inside the United States.
Well George, Dick, I guess that would blow you out of the water, if you actually respected the laws you are supposed to be administering.

I find the issue distressing as I watch George’s mate, John Howard introduce increasingly totalitarian rule in Australia. I find it distressing when citizens in both countries blandly accept increasingly harsh laws to control problems largely created by those governments, an exacerbated by their actions.
What is happening to the spirit of democracy that we are so spineless that we simply tune out while it dribbles away?

Personally I don’t really care if they tap my phone; I detest the instrument and rarely ever use it. Likewise with emails, my most seditious thoughts are here online for anyone to see.
But the principle that I cherish; if it seditious, unpatriotic, or as they are fond of saying in my country ‘UnAustralian’, so be it!
We can wring our hands and moan about politicians robbing us and our country’s blind. They are robbing us of money, which in the end is simply an allusion created to grease the wheels of our societies.
If these thieves really believe the wealth they gain through theft will advance them in any way, good on them. The fact is it will only rot their miserable souls even more.
It is the power, or more to the point, misuse of power which will have an enduring effect on our lives. Our democracies might not be the best models of government, but they seem to be the nest we can achieve at this stage. If we are to vest authority in elected representatives, it is no good simply voting then going back to sleep.
The evidence is clear that our representatives simply can’t handle the authority we give them without constant monitoring and surveillance.
Hold on a minute. Isn’t that what they think about us, the citizens?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Petty President

I know I have noted it before, but it never fails to fascinate me: the Republicans truly believe that “the democrats do it too,” is a defence for corrupt behaviour.
This time it was no less a personage than the President of the United States of America, George W Bush. Now I don’t follow Fox news particularly, preferring ‘real’ news, but just sometimes even they hit the mark.
A Bloomberg article, Lobbyist Abramoff's `Equal Money' Went Mostly to Republicans, pontificates on Georges appearance on Fox where he is said to assert that; indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff is, “an equal money dispenser” who helped politicians of both parties.
He could be right, although the article suggests otherwise; “Bush's comment about Abramoff in a Dec. 14 Fox News interview was aimed at countering Democratic accusations that Republicans have brought a “culture of corruption” to Washington. Even so, the numbers show that ``Abramoff's big connections were with the Republicans,'' said Larry Noble, the former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, who directs the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
“Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff gave more than $127,000 to Republican candidates and committees and nothing to Democrats, federal records show. At the same time, his Indian clients were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors in the U.S. to donate more money to Republicans than Democrats.”

Do we really have a ‘disconnect’ here? Can it be that these people who administer the world’s most powerful country can’t determine basic ethical concepts?
“They did it too!” is not a reasonable justification, and certainly doesn’t lead to the moral high ground the president would like to claim. That he even made this assertion should send waves of concern throughout his subject people.
This is schoolyard justification is not the behaviour of a world leader. Still, in the end, I doubt that anyone will remember George W administered a crooked and corrupt government. There will be far too much angst over the lies and distortions which led the country into a war.
The focus will be, not on the criminal elements in his government, but on the degree his government took the country towards totalitarian type rule. Perhaps that is also about schoolyard behaviour, the bullies who believe they can get away with anything.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Magisterial Record

Wu Chun-li, who won the election for Taidong County [Taiwan] magistrate, will become the shortest-serving magistrate in Taiwan's history as he has been suspended for involvement in a corruption scandal.
Is this a record? Well, from reading the story it seems the hapless Wu wasn’t even sworn is, so he was only elected but never appointed. In fact it was more a dissapointment for him.
But Wu isn’t taking this lying down; he intends to appeal the decision to dump.
Wu was sentenced in a High Court trial to 7-1/2 years in prison for involvement in a corruption scandal during his tenure as county council speaker. In his first trial, at the district court, he was found guilty and given a 13-year sentence. He is appealing his corruption verdict, but new regulations stipulate that people who are convicted of corruption and run for elected official posts should be barred from taking office after they win.
Wu can only return to his post if and when a higher court acquits him. It is unclear when that court will hand down a verdict. Wu criticized the central government's decision to suspend him from his post as improper since the existing laws on the matter are, he said, vague and controversial, as they do not stipulate what should be done if a person is still in the process of appealing.
The only part of Wu’s story I find appealing is the potential ‘world record’. For the rest we are seeing too many officials, convicted of corruption, then using legalisms and loopholes to try and wriggle out of it.
There is rarely a clear innocence involved, or even an assertion of innocence. Rather some sort of manipulation to twist the law, or ethical considerations, to fit shady dealings.
This idea of electing the judiciary is always an odd one to me. Wu was ousted in good time, but the idea of electing a fox to run the chicken coop is a little iffy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Spy Games

New revelations of spy games, in Northern Ireland and the US, not to mention the rest of the undercover antics involved in the ‘war on terror’ got me thinking about ‘spy scandal’. As a class of scandal that is, and what aspects of spying might really constitute scandal.
For those interested in such things, and I confess I am, Sam Neill’s ‘Sydney Riley’ was a far more instructive informant on espionage than was Connery’s ‘James Bond’.
Of course the period and the methodology differed greatly; the latter tailored more to entertainment.
Riley not only epitomised to espionage community, he was actually at the genesis of the modern manifestation of the game. The Great Game (Wikipedia) was a term used to describe the rivalry and strategic conflict between the Britain and the Tsarist Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia in the early 1800s.
Sydney Riley was one of the first of the modern breed of spies, and doubtless more a free agent than his modern counterparts. Ironically, or perhaps not, a good deal of the Great Game was set in places like Afghanistan, a country which still confounds those who seek to control it.
But I digress. Is spying, per se, scandalous? So far as the great game, the international spy game is concerned, it seems to me to be an ‘opt in’ activity. It’s on the same scale as biker gangs doing harm to each other. It’s almost the original ‘reality games show’, fascinating but not quite relevant to everyday life.
That is, until the tools of the trade are used on domestic populations, used for domestic political ends as opposed to those the abstract international games.
When intelligence communities are used to manipulate domestic populations we start to sail dangerously close to the Soviet Union model of political control. If we cherish the limited freedoms we do have in our democracies, those assaults are indeed scandalous.
I would assert that there is a definite element of corruption involved in misinforming lawmakers and the wider population with massaged or misleading intelligence. I would also assert that using intelligence agencies to spy on citizens is in breach of law in most western democracies, therefore corrupt practice.
Sometimes it can be argued that means justify ends, but to quote US Ambassador Wilkins, “it is a slippery slope.” This is not a game, the cost is real lives, innocent lives, lives of people who did not ‘opt in’. But worse, it undermines our societies, the next step, and it is already happening, is the call to ‘dob in’ ‘fink on’, whatever the term you use, friends, family and neighbours.
The end of that game is national paranoia, fear to speak or express opinions of any kind; the creation of a totalitarian state.
Allegations of British spies operating, within a bona fide political party, Sinn Fein, raises other serious concerns; And yes, constitutes scandal. While it is a fact that Sinn Fein is the political arm of the IRA, the fact they are allowed to operate suggests their very legitimacy in the system.
Well, it seems now that it suggests something else. Obviously the Brits saw the value of allowing Sinn Fein to operate in the open, where they could be watched publicly and covertly.
When governments see it as acceptable to insert spies into political parties the whole edifice of democratic government is corrupted! It is a game fellas, you are supposed to be sending your goons and thugs out against ‘their’ goons and thugs, not your own people.
I get the sad feeling that we have reached a stage where we are electing leaders whose development was arrested somewhere in the adolescent years. Surely it is time for them and our countries to grow up, to develop into mature entities. Or maybe I’ve been suicking on the wrong side of the mushroom again.

Monday, December 19, 2005


I wrote recently, urging the need to maintain outrage against the misdeeds of those we vest with delegated power, those who ‘rule’ on our behalf. I also bemoaned the apparent loss of ‘the silly season’, a traditional break from harsh reality.
This is a year when revelations continue to roll, without regard to season. For goodness sake, we even have an election campaign in Canada.
However, it was not a primary event which has swamped me in this past week. It is the fallout, the collateral damage, the madness inspired by the reckless behaviour of national and world leaders.
I was, and I am still stunned at the mindless violence across parts of Sydney and flowing at least verbally, across the ‘wide brown land’. There has always been an undercurrent of violence in the otherwise easy going Australian makeup. Before the ‘wogs’, the ‘slopes’ or the ‘Lebs’ to focus hate on, there were always those simply from another part of the city, from another state.
There were always minor, stupid eruptions between ‘tribes’ of youths. There were the predicable clashes between rival biker gangs, or territorial (down to the wave) clashes between surfers.
It is in recognising the past patters that we can fairly safely posit that the recent disgusting behaviour in Sydney was not race hate, but a sort of continuum, of historic ‘culture clashes. I know it sounds pedantic, but there are fundamental differences.
But thee is another frightening element in these events, one which goes to the heart of how our community leaders behave, the leads they give, the not so subtle messages behind their actions.
Financial corruption sends a clear message that in some strange way it is okay to steal. But it is very wrong to get caught. But the real danger, the trigger for these recent events, is the use and misuse of power.
Australia’s Prime minister has deftly ducked and weaved through the fallout from the riots, denying everything and waiting for calm to return. Yet he, John Howard, is the one who said (of boat people) ‘we will decide who comes here and who doesn’t,) which allows an easy step in the small minds, from country to beach.
Howard is the one who, while pushing through needless anti-terrorist legislation, managed to convey (quite correctly) that the target groups were Muslim immigrants in the main. The target groups, created by that governments stirring up sentiments, are a few people of Muslim background (and some who have adopted a twisted version of that faith) who do not practice the faith or attend the mosque particularly.
So Howard managed to turn the soft minds in one group against all people of ‘middle eastern appearance’ even people who are the result of generations here. He managed to ignite the anger and frustration of young ‘Lebs’ who already feel as though they have nothing to lose. What a legacy John Howard.
But Howard is just following the lead of his good buddy, George W.  Now isn’t that some message to send the world, it is justifiable to spy on your friends and family, by extension, if you feel threatened. Like most intelligent bloggers, I steered way clear of a reported quote from Bush on his feelings toward the constitution. The story sounded too good to be true and had no verifiable source. But it didn’t really matter, because his attitude to the US constitution was later revealed by the NYTs in his actions rather than his words. Not only can you justify spying on your own, you are allowed to lie about it.
How about some real leadership! How about a bit of decency, probity, and an effort to build our societies rather than this focus on destruction.
Yes, it did get me down a little. When I was asked to write a murder mystery play for our New Years Eve party I jumped at it. A bit of useless trivia is great medicine. Even better, it is creative. No need to verify or be rational or even kind. I’ve taken out my frustrations by creating a charming little tableau of greed, envy, and death. I might style my next little effort – Murder in the white House (Lodge - Australia).
Happy Christmas all. Spread some peace and joy.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Americans Behaving Badly

The U.S. ambassador to Canada rebuked Canadian politicians who criticize the United States for their own political gain, in remarks that appear to be aimed at Prime Minister Paul Martin.

It is a brave, or stupid, ambassador who gets himself involved in the election campaign of another country. Ambassador Wilkins' little foray has done little to warm Canadian hearts towards the Bush administration.

Wilkins kicked off his remarks, to the Canadian Club in Ottawa, by cracking a "beer and popcorn" joke at the expense of Scott Reid, Prime Minister Martin's director of communications, who is in hot water for a derogatory comment he made about parents and child care.

Wilkins quotes:

"It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner. But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship.”

"It's easy to criticize the United States; we're an easy target at times...”

"I would respectfully submit to you that when it comes to a global conscience, the U.S. is walking the walk. And when it comes to climate change, we are making significant progress, greater progress than many of those who have been most critical of the U.S."

"…a toxic attitude that I fear can't help but hurt the relationship unless all of us make a concerted effort to simply tone it down."

Is this the new diplomacy? It sounds more like the bully threatening and whining in turn.

There are two salient points here:

1/ Martin’s offending comments were made, not in an election speech but in the context of an International forum on climate change. Is the US so insecure that they must bully leaders of other countries to their way of thinking?
As a side comment, most Canadians would have missed Martin’s comments if the Ambassador had not highlighted them.

2/ It is Wilkins who has drawn the US into Canada’s election debate. His ingenuous opening remarks were extremely political. In a very real sense, this undermined any credibility his following comments might have.

In his own words: “The last time I looked the United States was not on the ballot."

For his part, Martin has repeatedly criticized the United States over softwood lumber and environmental policies during the election campaign. The offending remarks, however, were made at the UN conference on climate change.

"To the reticent nations, including the United States, I'd say there ... is such a thing as a global conscience and now is the time to listen to it."

To underline his position, Martin says:

"I will defend Canada – period. I will defend the Canadian position, and I will defend our values, and I will defend our interests against anybody.
“I have not made the United States or any country a target in this campaign."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Global Corruption

9 December 2005 - International Anti-corruption Day
The 2005 Global Corruption Barometer, based on a Gallup International survey conducted on behalf of Transparency International for International Anti-Corruption Day 2005, reveals widespread concern about corruption around the globe.
Transparency International reports the survey that:
“…shows that people believe corruption is deeply embedded in their countries. When a poor young mother believes that her government places its own interests above her child’s, or that securing services like that child’s basic health care requires a hand under the table, her hope for the future is dampened. But embedded corruption can be rooted out when people join together to change the system that facilitates it.”

Major points from the survey:

Asked to indicate the degree of change over the past three years, the overall view of citizens in 48 countries out of 69 is that corruption has increased.

In six countries, citizens’ views overall are that corruption declined over that period: Colombia, Georgia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Kenya and Singapore.

In 13 countries – Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, India, Israel, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines and Venezuela – more than 50 percent of those responding feel that corruption increased a lot.

Africans and Latin Americans are the most negative about the past.
In 12 countries, respondents overall expect corruption to decline, with Indonesians being the most optimistic (63% expecting corruption to decrease a lot).

The most optimistic countries according to the survey are: Indonesia, Kosovo, Nigeria and Uruguay.

In 34 countries respondents are clearly pessimistic about the future for corruption levels.
The most pessimistic countries are: Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, Nicaragua and Philippines.

From a regional perspective, Africa stands out as a region of relative optimism. Of the eight African countries covered in the Barometer, five take an optimistic view, especially Nigeria and Ethiopia, where about half the respondents feel that corruption will decrease in the next three years.

In the United States and in Germany, 65 and 66 percent respectively of those surveyed believe corruption has worsened in the past three years, and 56 and 57 percent respectively expect this to continue.

You can take a look at Global Corruption Barometer 2005 for further information.

I admire the work TI do in raising the issue of corruption and providing tools to combat it. I’m not so sure about the ‘perception’ concept, though it is a difficult area to pin down to pure, evidence based data.
My research indicates an unacceptably high level of public corruption in the developed economies, but the nature of public perception would tell us another story. I expect this disparity has a lot to do with a greater sophistication in methods of corruption.
At the same time, the more ‘sophisticated’ public seems to more easily justify or ignore the excesses of their public sectors, while countries struggling with a whole range of development issues carry the can.

How good are your police agencies?
The 2005 world barometer of most corrupt institutions shows that the Cameroon police force is the most corrupt institution in the world. The ranking by Transparency International, TI, published on Friday, December 9, shows three other countries namely: Nigeria, Ghana and India on a bracket score of 4.7 on 10 respectively.
The world survey on most corrupt monitored thirteen institutions in 36 countries, where corruption thrives. These institutions include; political parties, parliament, the police, the judiciary, administration, private sector, customs, medical services, the media, education, public service, army, NGOs, state corporations and religious organisations.
While the police occupied the first position in Cameroon, and in the world, they are closely followed by customs, the judiciary and the Cameroon administration, none obtaining less than 4 on 10 score. The least corrupt in Cameroon are religious organisations that scored 2.0. The media scored 2.9.

Okay, so a scan of news stories on Google (search: police scandal) turns up this lot:
East St. Louis: This city's former police chief engaged in "old-fashioned corruption" when he tried to shield a volunteer officer from possible deportation, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
"The tale of corruption you're going to hear in this case reaches to the highest level of East St. Louis" government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said in opening statements at the trial of former police chief Ron Matthews.
San Francisco police investigating what top city officials portray as racist and sexist videos produced by Bayview District officers said Thursday that new clips had come to light -- including an image of a black officer eating from a dog bowl and one of an Asian officer having difficulty riding a bicycle.
The Louisville metro government will pay $30,000 to settle a pair of lawsuits involving two former narcotics detectives accused of falsifying warrants and using them to search people's homes
Florida: A Broward sheriff's deputy is expected to plead guilty Wednesday to charges he fabricated confessions, including pinning one burglary on a dead man and others on a guy who was in jail when the crimes occurred.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators turned over the results of a 19-month investigation into the Edmonton Police Service photo radar scandal to special prosecutors with Alberta Justice Criminal Special Prosecutions. Justice officials will consider whether criminal charges are warranted in a case involving a no-bid contract and a $400,000 police slush fund.

South African editors have sent a strongly worded lawyer's letter to police commissioner Jackie Selebi, giving him a week to act against senior officers who illegally blocked reporters covering former deputy president Jacob Zuma's rape-charge court appearance last week, or face possible further legal action.

Korea: The prosecution's arrest yesterday of a senior police officer in connection with a lobbying scandal triggered strong protests from the nation's police force.

Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian authorities said yesterday they had identified a Chinese woman who was forced to strip and perform squats in police custody, but sought to keep her name a secret.

It seems wherever there is delegated authority you can expect to find corruption, and not just in developing countries.

Cobra Sting

11 MPs from India’s leading political parties have been caught taking bribes to ask questions in parliament.

Codenamed "Operation Duryodhana”, the sting was carried out over eight months, by an internet media portal, Cobrapost and a TV channel. (Note: Indian websites tend to be heavily loaded with pop-ups and other crap.)

Journalist Aniruddha Bahal, who spearheaded the sting operation, said:

“the probe logged more than 56 videotapes and 70 audiotapes besides recording over 900 phone calls.
"At times we thought our cover would be blown. But we stuck in there and finally it came through well.”

A dangerous rivalry broke out between two of the principal middlemen, Gupta and Dinesh in May when Dinesh realised Gupta was undercutting and double crossing him by introducing us to MPs without his knowledge, putting the whole operation in peril.

The team posed as representatives of a fictitious lobbying organisation called the North Indian Small Manufacturers' Association (NISMA).
They succeeded in having the MPs submit more than 60 questions in the rigorous question balloting system of parliament, of which 25, at the last count, were selected.
Sometimes, the same set of questions was put in by more than one MP.

(1 US Dollar = 46.15506 Indian Rupee INR)

The going price for questions ranged between INR15,000 and INR 110,000.
Several MPs even wanted an "annual fee" of INR 500,000 to INR 600,000 from NISMA to put in as many proxy questions as it wanted.

MPs caught on tape range across India’s political parties: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Cobrapost paid a total of INR 500,000 to the MPs for asking questions. Manoj Kumar, the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJD) MP from Palamau, topped the list with INR 110,000, said post on the website.

'The particular configuration of MPs that finally emerged had all to do with the particular middlemen that the team came into contact with. If it had been a different set of middlemen, the configuration of MPs would obviously have reflected that.' Cobrapost

Among the questions commissioned:
Has the ministry lifted the 1962 ban it imposed on the book "For whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway and the 1975 ban on Ken Kesey’s book "One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest" and Hunter Thomson’s book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"? If so, when were the bans removed?

A Reason to Rort?

There was a side report on what an Indian MP gets paid. The salary of an MP in India is INR 144,000 per year (about $3,200), which works out to just INR 12,000 (about $266) per month. This is supplemented by a range of benefits:

* INR 14,000 (about $311) for office expenses every month, which includes INR 3,000 for stationary items, INR 1,000 on franking of letters and INR 10,000 for secretariat services.

* A monthly constituency allowance of INR 10,000.

* A daily allowance of INR 500 when Parliament is in session. Parliament has three sessions every year. The Budget Session (February to May), Monsoon session (July to September), and Winter session (November and December).

* A daily travel allowance of INR 8 per kilometre.

* Each MP and his spouse or companion is entitled to unlimited, free, first class railway travel anywhere in the country.

* They can also travel anywhere in India, with a spouse or companion, 40 times by air free of cost every year, business class.

* An MP gets a sprawling bungalow in the heart of New Delhi for which he pays a rent of just INR 2,000 (about $44) per month.

* Each MP gets near-free electricity of 50,000 units every year, and free water.

* The MP's bungalow is furnished, with air conditioners, refrigerators and television sets; free of cost. Maintenance of the house, including washing of sofa cover and curtains, is done free of cost by the government.

* MPs are entitled to three phone lines and 170,000 free local calls every year.

* When an MP travels abroad officially, he is entitled to free business class air tickets. He is also paid a daily travelling allowance, which varies depending upon the country being visited.

* Most medical expenses of MPs are taken care of by the Contributory Health Service Scheme of the Union government.

* Each MP also gets INR 20 million (about $434,782) each year from the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Fund. But the MP does not get the money directly. Instead, it is transferred to respective district headquarters where projects are being implemented.

* After an MP completes a term in office, he is entitled to pension. The basic monthly pension amount is INR 3,000 (about $66). But it goes up according to the number of years an MP has served in Parliament.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India last year alleged that many MPs have violated the intention of these extra benefits and money.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Surf Sand and Riots

I personally find the Sydney riots profoundly disturbing. As an Australian and a native of the region which is at the epicenter of the trouble it ranks as a ‘worst nightmare’. As a friend to a number of wonderful Lebanese Australians I am fearful for their security.

As a commentator I can only repeat my Jeremiah like warnings that the Federal Government under John Howard, and the Labor opposition, are driving an ugly agenda, purporting to be anti-terrorist but in reality racist and hateful. To say I am angry at the political establishment of my native country is a wild understatement; mindful of that, rather than irate ramble, I offer views and quotes from others. I’ll risk posting the graphics, they speak volumes.

For about 12 hours mobs rampaged through Sydney's southern beach suburbs of Cronulla, Maroubra, Brighton-le-Sands and Rockdale hounding, harassing and beating those who fitted their Middle Eastern stereotype. Women were not spared. Then came the inevitable revenge raids later in the day when some 60 cars were trashed by carloads of youths from the western suburbs, the homeland for some 200,000 Muslims. (Bali, Tampa, 9/11: a potpourri of causes. The Australian)

They called it a day of pride, but it will go down as a day of national disgrace. Nation's day of shame

"I believe yesterday's behaviour was completely unacceptable but I'm not going to put a general tag of racism on the Australian community. I think it's a term that's flung around carelessly and I'm simply not going to do it." Prime Minister Howard. We're not a bunch of racists, PM says

On the money? Racism? Alcohol? Just plain youthful stupidity? Nicholson's cartoon doesn't seem far from the mark.

"Mr Howard is very slow to call a racist spade a racist spade ... he has taken Australia backwards from the last half-century which celebrated multiculturalism in our nation” Greens senator Bob Brown (We're not a bunch of racists, PM says)

Chris Mogan, the Melbourne Clinic's head of psychology,
said global terrorism fears had exacerbated the usual tribal tensions.

"I don't think it matters what your background is. To see those sort of events is not what we understand Australia is all about." Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, who is of Lebanese descent.

"To be an Aussie is about looking out for your mates, protecting our beautiful land; and if ever something stops us enjoying our quality of life, we shall prevail over all …
"To anyone who thinks they can overcome an Australian that has a fire in their belly and a passion to see our land remain exactly the same way it was when we entered into this world, you underestimate the ferocity we can create using our hands." Attributed to a group called a group called White Sydney. (Who'd have thought it - Blinky Bill, the face of race hatred)

Arrests on the beach

The Patriotic Youth League, whose members handed out "Aussies Fighting Back" pamphlets at Cronulla, said it had been inundated with callers wanting to riot in Melbourne.

"If it wasn't for the massive police presence there already, and the fact that it's mainly confined to a peninsula, we really could have had a Paris situation on our hands (in Cronulla)," league spokesman Luke Connors said. (Melbourne Age)

"Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the shire get down to North Cronulla to support the leb and wog bashing day …" SMS message.

"All Arabs unite as one, we will never back down to anyone the aussie's will feel the full force of the arabs as one 'brothers in arms'..." SMS message.

“Rioting at Cronulla Beach, in Sydney, is revenge for the Bali bombings and the September 11 attacks.” Federal Liberal backbencher Bruce Baird.

"I've sensed within some elements of this (Middle Eastern) community a hate. It's a hate that I don't understand, I don't understand it as a man," NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney.
Mr Moroney added that there was clear fault among the two groups who carried out the Cronulla violence and talks between the sides were vital to solve the problem.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hallelujah! There is a silly season!

Hardly scandalous, just dumb, are two stories of ‘political correctness’ and Christmas.  The first was noticed in a Sydney, Australia, newspaper:
"In 1915 two ammunition ships collided in Halifax harbour, Nova Scotia. The blast totally flattened Halifax, with hardly one building left standing.
Good American neighbours in Boston were the first and most generous providers of help. Ever since, Nova Scotia has sent the finest, most perfect Nova Scotia pine Christmas tree to Boston as a token of thanks. Farmers compete for the honour of being the donor.
This year Boston announced that it was no longer a 'Christmas tree' but, so as not to embarrass ethnic groups; it would become a 'Holiday Tree'. The Canadian farmer asked them to send it back." Boston has now changed its mind - it's a Christmas tree again.My Boston correspondent advised me that: “No one really noticed until the ‘Canuks’ kicked up a stink.

The second story, again an Australian newspaper, tells of George W. Bush and Laura sending out their Christmas cards to 1.4 million of their closest friends, without mentioning Christmas. Instead, they wished everyone a happy "holiday season".

I don’t see the problem with Christmas. For those who can derive a spiritual message from the event, I say; “Good on you.” For most it is, and was created in the ‘good old USA’, to be a commercial cum sentimental celebration, The reason for the season is to generate retail sales, and possibly spread a bit of good spirit.
Of course George W is in trouble with his ‘evangelical’ fans, but it will be ever thus in a pluralist society. Someone is going to object no matter what you do. Why not leave as Christmas and simply invite all and sundry to make of it what they will.
I was struck by a discussion on thanksgiving recently, and how it has become a widely accepted tradition. The comment was that it reflected the fact that everyone, pilgrims notwithstanding, has need to stop and give thanks.
In the same way Christmas, for most, is nothing more than an opportunity to take a break from crazy reality and indulge in a bit of unreal generosity of the spirit and material. So call it Christmas, reach out and hug someone. But be careful; check out the crazy sister in law and the demented brother for hidden weapons.

Driving Miss Appropriation

Sorry Mike, the potential for scandal overload looks like becoming dangerously terminal.

mikevotes (Born at the Crest of the Empire) is among the few regulars who comment on this blog, and one of the very few who does so publicly – take note you cowardly email responders.

This has to be one of the strangest Decembers in my memory. I noted on November 10, privately, that it was the ill anniversary of an ill fated election bid back in 1977.

Always being on the foolhardy side, I contested the Federal seat of Bass, in Tasmania.

Each year, without realizing why, the looming date still fills me with a mix of anticipation and dread. It was a great experience, but one I was never tempted to repeat.

The December which followed the campaign was spent tidying up the election debris. The debris included electoral expenses returns and, appropriately enough, my own mini scandal.

Back then there was a $1000 spending limit on election campaigns. It had been in place for many years and was woefully inadequate. I didn’t have a big problem with it, we ran a very colourful, dollar shop campaign, and spent $1100. What to do? Declare it of course. If I spent that on my cut price campaign, surely the big parties spent far more.

When the returns where published, spurred by my declaration of overspending, it turns out that the two major spent; $0 and $110 in that electorate. For the most part candidates ignored the reporting requirement entirely, as no one had ever been prosecuted for that breach.

Well, it was a storm in a tea cup. During the next parliament the duly elected members miraculously agreed to abandon the pesky spending limit altogether. Why should they, after all, have to account for everything they must do to become a noble elected representative?

I note that, in the same spirit of noble endeavour, parliament is to vote to lift the ‘undisclosed’ cap on corporate donations. Well as the Classical Greeks were wont to say; ‘bad laws are made to entrap the lawmakers’. It will come to pass.

But I digress (it’s Friday), back to this December. We are used to the media winding down this time of the year. Christmas advertising is diminished by diverting news stories, and advertising is the engine which drives the media.

But here in Canada we have an election campaign. The US and Australia are embroiled in the fallout of the Iraqi adventure. Not only that, the US lawmakers seem to be taking ‘friendly fire’ from domestic corruption on top of their adventurism.

Of course that dreaded ‘political correctness’ has a role to play in creating an ‘around the calendar’ news feast. We stopped calling it Christmas because of some misguided idea that the name suggested a religious holiday. Adopting the ‘festive season’ nomenclature has simply opened the floodgates to a further corruption of our R&R season.

It’s hardly fair, either, on those who traditionally use the media ‘silly season’ to gain their 15 minutes of fame, to have the whole year dominated by professional publicity hounds. Besides, we have become accustomed to this idle period, the eventual yearning for some real news to break the spell of nonsense. Ahhh for the good old days!

Meanwhile, I am doing follow up on a series of stories in the Melbourne Age on even more revelations of corruption in the Iraq saga. US queried over $20b war spoils. There is also the story on David Hicks, the harebrained Australian detainee at Guantanamo Bay. The only westerner left in detention and the only one totally ignored by the government of his own country. Even Hick’s American Defense Counsel thinks it somewhat odd that a country would not speak out for one of its citizens. He obviously doesn’t know Australia very well.

The Australian inquiry (whitewash) into the UNScam is about to get underway, and things are looking very interesting in Britain. No silly season here for a while.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Scandal fatigue be Damned

Your elected leaders are encouraging you to lower your expectations on their ethical practices. There is no reason they should invite scrutiny of their behaviour, equally there is no valid reason for you to cease your vigilance of, and your outrage at corruption of public institutions.
Corruption, in all its manifestations, is spreading like a rash across the planet. The odd thing is, just like each generation believes they invented sex, there is a conviction we have just invented corruption.
For what its worth, the first laws aimed at mitigating public corruption date back to the Code of Hammurabi, circa 1780 B.C. The Babylonians were well aware of public scandal.
Societies require rules if they are to function in an orderly way. As soon as we have rules we have a basis, a definition of expected behaviour, which can be corrupted.
Most of the time we can ignore, or ‘tut tut’ revelations of corruption. We all know how scandalous behaviour is manipulated for political reasons, resonant of the ‘boy who cried wolf’. So the temptation is to revel in, or ignore completely, the game playing.
Periodically, the sheer magnitude of a ‘scandal’ forces us to pay attention. Generally, before there is any real resolution, various gambits and stalls take the heat and immediacy out of allegations. A few scapegoats are sacrificed, ‘mea culpas’ are issued, life returns to normal and corruption continues.
What those at the heart of corruption scandals rely on, why they are so deft with obfuscation and stalling tactics is they know that ‘scandal fatigue’ will soon set in. As soon as the media sense that their readership is no longer fascinated, that a story has lost its selling power, the news feeds stop.

This latest rash of scandal, breaking out like boils across the globe, could well go the same way. There is already talk of the UN’s Volker report being little more than a whitewash, for all its dramatic revelations.
Indeed, the games are evident in the comments of Leaders like Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard on the allegations against that country’s monopoly wheat exporter. Howard told the Australian Parliament, this week:
"…there is no proof the AWB was involved in giving kickbacks" to Saddam Hussein's regime.” And "It has not been established AWB paid any kickbacks."
Howard’s concern is not for the company executives, who he would happily sacrifice on the issue. His concern is to head off the implication that his own government, ministers and departments will be caught up in the affair.
His response: Set up a whitewash inquiry, skate awfully close to outright lying then stall and stretch until everyone is thoroughly sick of the discussion - scandal fatigue. It’s worked for him before.

The US administration and Congress heavies are working the same kind of tactics. The danger there is that the disease has gone rampant through the body politic. The boils and ulcers of scandal are erupting in so many places at once; it will take a deft hand to control the infectious spread.
That is, of course, unless scandal fatigue swamps the whole mess, with the people simply turning away and losing interest.
To be sure, there will still be those out their fighting for justice to be done, for those who have corrupted the intuitions of government to be brought to book. It is to be seen if their outrage and perseverance can prevail over wider apathy.

At the root of the current outbreak of this disease, corruption, ravaging the US and its allies, is that obscene military action, the Iraq war, and the political culture which spawned it.
As much as Bush, Blair or Howard deny the fact, the war was based on false premise; lies! One of the fiercest advocates, and after the fact, beneficiaries of the war is the shady Dr. Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), now a deputy prime minister of Iraq. Unlike his patrons, he makes no bones about the basis of the adventure:
"We are heroes in error. As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important."
But it is Dr Chalabi, it is vitally important to the health and vitality of our democratic institutions. We invest these people with the authority to govern on our behalf, which is the nature of democracy.
If those leaders choose to lead us with lies and distortions in something as crucial as prosecuting a war, why should they concern themselves about any other ethical considerations?
To be sure, it is an underlying culture of greed which set the scene for this war. It is that culture which made lies, apparently, acceptable. It is that culture which decreed; ‘win at any cost’, leading to the excesses of the kind for which Tom DeLay has been indicted.
It is the culture which seduced the previously honoured, Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham, to become the ‘most corrupt member of Congress in the history of the institution’.  

By succumbing to scandal fatigue, tiring of the whole mess, we become implicated in the corruption of our democratic institutions. The sad part is, we are not really asked to do anything other than be outraged, and to express that outrage.
While people show interest, and at least a level of emotional involvement, media will continue to cover these issues. While the media reflect the public interest investigators and prosecutors are encouraged to keep digging to uncover the truth.
While you are expressing outrage, jurists are more inclined to recognise and respond to the standards demanded by the public at large. It is a self feeding cycle. Fail to feed it and it dies, the crooked public officials win and you can start to kiss the fundamentals of democracy goodbye.
Develop and maintain the outrage. Lift the bar of acceptable public sector, ethical behaviour high, and keep it there. The disease of corruption can only spread in a disinterested society.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Australia, Saddam's best friend?

"If the allegation is that DFAT [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] was helping AWB sell wheat - good on them, that's its job. And I will always support departments promoting and assisting the legitimate business activities of Australian agencies and Australian companies." John Howard, Australian Prime Minister

Prime Minister Howard is steadfast in his refusal to widen the terms of a judicial inquiry into Australia’s role in the UN ‘Oil for Food’ scandal. This refusal is despite increasing indications of tacit approval for the role of wheat exporter, AWB, by DFAT and government ministers.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd today said Howard could not sustain his defence the United Nations had sole responsibility for policing the now discredited oil-for-food program.

"This is starting to fall apart at the seams, when he had his own officials into Iraq at this time in the company of the wheat board and the government has now confirmed that. That's why this commission of inquiry can't simply be allowed to turn into a cover-up."

There are new allegations that kickbacks paid by AWB, to Saddam’s regime, were put into a bank account used to finance a $10million slush fund for families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

US Government and CIA documents reveal a trail of blood money flowing from companies now known to have taken bribes into bank accounts in Jordan, which were then used by the Iraqi Government to pay money for deadly bombings or to buy weapons.

“A separate CIA report suggests Saddam used the payments into the Jordanian bank accounts to buy weapons, which could have been used against US-led forces, including Australian soldiers, which invaded the country in March 2003.” Wheat bribes funded bombers The Australian

"Three hundred million went off into Saddam Hussein's back pocket to buy guns, bombs and bullets, thereby making the Howard Government, by definition, the best friend Saddam Hussein has ever had."
Kevin Rudd said, adding that the Government had at the least approved "culpable negligence" by turning a blind eye to the AWB's practices.

THE Pakistani Government has launched an inquiry into kickbacks made to government officials by the Australian monopoly wheat exporter, saying it believes several "very senior" officials were involved.
They are looking at allegations that officials from Pakistan's Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) had demanded payments from the AWB in exchange for wheat contracts.

My Rendition

Why does George W say these things? He was reported yesterday, claiming: The United States does not secretly move terrorism suspects to foreign countries that torture to get information.

I guess it is for home consumption, because few people outside the US believe it. But even for home consumption, he must know by now that these kind of statements will come back to bite him on the bum.

He made the same claims about torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. They were bad enough; little wonder he is now denying ‘rendition’wich is far more sinister than earlier revelations.

The question is, what shape will a brutalised democracy take at the hands of those willing to ignore its fundaments, to adopt authoritarian methods, in the supposed effort to protect it? You can't simply put the principles of our democracies 'on the shelf' for the time being, then roll them out when all is safe. All will never be safe for the ambitious, avaricious politicians.

Condoleezza Rice is a little more direct, at least while in Europe, in defending the ‘justifiable’ practice of rendition, at least so far as she will define it. That is as the covert capture and transfer of terrorism suspects without the involvement of a court.

I think the CIA should be prosecuted for taking perfectly good words and assigning them to horrendous operations. It’s a form of sanitizing and deception which has long been recognised around the planet. The modified language invariably signals a problem; it also screws up perfectly good language. But I digress…

Let’s start with a few fact about the practice:

* It was first authorised under President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s to counter the threat of Islamic terrorism and overcome CIA difficulties in obtaining a conviction against suspects.

* It was expanded hugely under President George Bush, who gave the CIA sweeping new powers after the September 11 attacks.

Since then the staff of the Counter-Terrorist Centre, the CIA branch that oversees renditions, is reported to have quadrupled to more than 1000 people.

* More than 100 more people have disappeared or been "rendered" in the past few years, in addition to the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.

* The most common destinations are Egypt and Jordan, which are known to have tortured prisoners.

I have a sneaking respect for Condoleezza Rice, though I’m not sure how far I would trust the emotion. Still, she’s out there, super salesman for what is proving to be a super lemon.

Trying to justify the unjustifiable, she says: ''The United States, and those countries that share the commitment to defend their citizens, will use every lawful weapon to defeat these terrorists. Sometimes these efforts are misunderstood."

Are they? For a country which speaks of liberty, of rule of law, of innocence until proven guilty, there isn’t much to misunderstand. Pre-emptive justice is dangerous territory. It must presume guilt which sadly, many Americans appear ready to do.

To allow the diminishing of these basic standards to fight unseen enemies invariably makes lowering the standards against ordinary citizens easier. If you can justify ignoring basic principles abroad, even the ordinary citizen will soon believe it can be justified at home. But then it already is, isn’t it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Where is that Nine Billion Dollars?

Call me nosy, but I’m still curious about what happened to the missing $9 Billion the Volker inquiry ignored. Volcker had admitted that the inquiry was not even going to look into what happened to the $9 billion in OFF surpluses that were handed over to the American occupation authorities.

No one else seems particularly interested in asking the question, and sadly, I doubt anyone is going to be the slightest bit concerned if I keep raising it. It just bothers me.

There is a chart at A brief history of the United Nations Oil-For-Food Program website which clearly shows the missing slice of the pie. Here is a taster, but you need to go to the site for the full thing.

This must be the ultimate in ‘pay to play’ politics. We aren’t happy with Saddam, so we declare war and wreck what Saddam hasn’t already destroyed in the country.

“But wait fellas! It’s going to cost you NINE BILLION DOLLARS because we had to do this the hard way. So forget the desperate need to feed people and rebuild a country, we’ll just take the money out of this here humanitarian Programme.”

Of course the UN could probably even see the point of that, although I’m surprised they didn’t take their cut first.

Talk about hypocrisy! Now some countries are going to find some nice crooked businessmen to take the heat for the ‘oil for food’ scandal, while they, the governments, have been milking the Programme all along.

The truth is the last thing we are likely to hear. But you get that much greed happening at one time and the slow leaks will emerge.

Corruption and the polls

If corruption does not serve the wider community well, the negative election campaigns it often produces add an additional layer of unnecessary pain and dislocation.
Oppositions don’t win government; governments lose it
Tracking the ‘scandal’ induced Canadian election BLOG presents a great opportunity to reflect on the wider fallout from corruption on voters.
In this marathon, eight week campaign, early polls are unlikely to give any real clues to the outcome. I’m not even convinced that they have any great value in fine tuning a campaign.
Without the pressure of a looming election day, the pools are simply a vent for feelings rather than a considered, final intention.
Viewed in that way, they might have something to tell us. Conservative’s leader, Stephen Harper, no doubt with encouragement from his backers, has been chafing at the bit to force this election. He, they, can smell opportunity that must not be missed, an opportunity to win government.
All it will take, in their view, is to push the electorate just a bit further in their perception of how rotten the Liberals really are.
That means a negative campaign, one continually promoting the idea of corrupt politicians and a corrupt political party. Those negative concepts must be cemented into the minds of voters to the extent that they override any other electoral imperatives.
You see, people don’t generally vote on single issues, they make their final judgment on a whole complex of factors.
What invariably happens, when a negative campaign is pursued, is that it simply confirms a widely held belief that ALL politics is rotten and ALL politicians are tainted.
The early polling clearly shows the negative effect the campaign strategy is having on Harper and the Conservatives. If the Liberals are suspect, there is very little trust building for the Conservatives either, in fact they are slipping in key regions of the country.
The personal image of leaders, Harper and Martin are taking a beating. Martin is coming across as weary and hesitant; no doubt the result of holding together a party and parliament through the sponsorship scandal mess.
Harper cannot seem to break through the bogey of being extremist, with a secret agenda to be unleashed on the country if he were ever elected.
These feelings are exacerbated by comments, like a recent article in the Washington Times, which link the Conservative agenda too closely to the Bush Administration. Canadians want good relations with their neighbours, but the fear being melted, irretrievably, into that pot at the cost of their own identity.
Harper hit the ground running, releasing a new ‘promise’ every day, from day one. It seems a strange strategy for such a long campaign and has done nothing, yet, to ameliorate the negative basis of his campaign.
It is a grave mistake to predicate an election campaign on the negative! The Democrats must also think twice before they rush down that road. Let the courts, the prosecutors, the media even, drive the negative message.
The old political truth stands: Oppositions don’t win government; governments lose it.
If the politicians would just get out of the way, give reasons to support them, and let peoples good sense judge those who abuse the trust, we might begin to see some better performances all round.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Put a crook in charge at the bank?

Australia now has its very own pay-to-play political drama playing out. It’s hardly a new phenomena downunder, but is resonant with the current scandals surfacing in the US.

The basic scenario is: Local industrialist make good; donates wads of cash to major political parties; falls foul of the taxman over bags of bucks sent offshore for cleansing; is appointed to the Reserve Bank board as a thank you.

The Liberal Party, Prime Minister Howard’s party, had already offered Industrialist, Robert Gerard, position as the party’s treasurer. Gerard, obviously cognizant with ethical sensibilities, declined the position, citing his $150million battle with the Australian Taxation Office.

Not to worry young Robert, came the reply. We have a pozzie on the Reserve that should suit nicely. “No worries me, mate,” was Robert’s warm response as he grabbed his new seat.

Odd isn’t it? Considered too shady to be party treasurer, but just fine to sit in on the country’s central bank board. Perhaps it was thought that Gerard could add some experience in the field of tax free investment. Well, fairly tax free. The Tax office settled for a good deal less than it claimed he owed them.

One of Australia’s most respected commentators, Alan Ramsay, takes this story far deeper than the Reserve Bank fiasco; deep into the political life of his home state, South Australia – A little dirty laundry in Adelaide It is a fascinating look at the way its done elsewhere.

Anyway, our friend Robert is exposed as ethically challenged, but the government are wary of responding to the charges and looking bad in the process. So they defend the guy, tell us why he’s just the man for this job, and make themselves look worse.

“He is a major employer, a major manufacturer,” Costello told parliament.” He brings a great deal of understanding about the Australian manufacturing industry to the Reserve Bank board.”

Actually, suggestion has it that they didn’t really know how to dump him anyway. This is the government rewriting workplace laws so employers can dump employees at will, and they were worried he’d attack them if they sacked him.

They didn’t have much to worry about on that score. Gerard was appointed to the board in March 2003, and had the worst attendance record of any board member in the year ending June 30, 2005, going to seven of the 11 meetings, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia's annual report. Under the Boards own rules he could have been dumped for non attendance alone.

Well they finally give him his marching orders and things really take a turn for the worse, becoming a regular French farce. You see there are sub plots, even more sub plots than in the above quoted Alan Ramsay story.

For a start, Treasurer Peter Costello wants Prime Minister John Howard’s job. He’s been waiting in the wings making impatient noises and irritating the PM. So said PM says, rather publicly, that appointing Gerard was all Costello’s fault.

A not surprisingly upset Peter Costello told Parliament how the PM had enthusiastically embraced the idea. "I have never seen such an enthusiastic response in all my life, in all my life". He chortled to the House.

So on top of the appointment of a crooked businessman to the central bank board, we now have to watch as the Prime Minister and his heir apparent go at it hammer and tongs.
Shadow treasurer Wayne Swan said the finger pointing suggested the affair had become a major leadership issue in the Liberal Party.

"We saw back-biting and finger pointing at its highest levels of the Government, and we saw it for all to see on the floor of the Parliament," he said.

Happy Christmas Australia! Just think, it could be worse, Canada was forced to a Christmas election, you’ll get a break while these combatants go off to the beach, or wherever summering pollies go.

Duplicitous Governments

First it was the Volker Report, now the AWB (Australian Wheat Board), is alleged to have paid kickbacks to Pakistan, Indonesia and Yemen in order to gain lucrative grain contracts.
Describing a system of kickbacks for contracts within the Australian Wheat Board when it was still under government control in the 1990s and after it was privatised in 1999 to become AWB, one former employee with direct knowledge of the payments said bluntly,
AWB managing director, Andrew Lindberg said the company was "forced" to deal with regimes in the Middle East and other developing markets because of the "unfair [farm] subsidy regime" in the US, EU and Japan.
"We deal with regimes as best we can: we try to understand and observe the customs of each country in which we operate. We have a code of conduct and we ensure that it's followed," he said.
In Indonesia, under President Soeharto, the AWB paid a special rebate on its wheat contracts to the Bogasari Flour Mills. The company was controlled at the time by a close friend of Soeharto and the rebate was paid into an offshore account that avoided government taxes and charges.
"...a was a deal that would not have reached Australian business practice standards"
It was a deal that "would not have reached Australian business practice standards", said one former AWB employee.
Pakistani and Indonesian kickbacks were reviewed in 2000 after the Government passed new laws making it a criminal offence to bribe foreign officials anywhere in the world to win or retain business. AWB held internal meetings with a law firm and the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, to brief employees on the anti-bribery laws.

The Australian government has established a judicial inquiry to look probe three local companies cited in the Volker report, including AWB. In the process they have attempted to insulate ‘government ministers, their staff and public servants,’ from the scope of the inquiry.
These latest allegations drop the government, including Trade Minister, Mark Vaile and his department, right into the thick of it. If there were doubts previously, and this correspondent certainly canvassed doubts, the inevitable leaks are destined to disavow them.
The actions of Vaile and his Trade officers must come under the scope of the judicial inquiry. They can no longer simply hang the board and management out to dry. Documents already show that US authorities were aware of the Iraq allegations back in 2002. You can bet they were quick to take their Australian counterparts to task at that time.
In fact, the collusion and deal making goes right to the US administration, but you can bet that they won’t submit to any investigation. The UN is also cited, by AWB officials, as implicit in some way, in at least turning a blind eye to the alleged illicit payments. But again, the UN is in no hurry to investigate their own.
What is developing is a sordid picture of carving up lucrative international trade markets, dealing these ‘murky’ markets out to Australia, and then blindly accepting the unethical activities which accompany the shitty end of the stick.
That was until Iraq became a more acceptable market for US wheat traders. That is when the US lobby screamed for their share, in the process, outing the AWB’s shady dealings. Everyone who mattered knew. This, it seems, will emerge as a sick reality of international trade. For all that laws might be enacted to curb corruption in International trade, as many meetings the ‘oh so respectable’ developed nations lead on teaching ethical behaviour to our disadvantaged neighbours, the stench of corruption is entrenched in the system.
To Paraphrase:
"The culture of the trade is: get the job done."
While in Australia, and discussing duplicity: Reports reveal, that while forcing draconian anti-terrorism laws onto the hapless people of that country, the government has actually allowed Oday Al Tekriti, a former Saddam henchman, to settle peacefully in an Australian suburb.
Prime Minister has now called on the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, to tell him of "any further options" available for handling the case of Saddam Hussein's former bodyguard, who is living in Australia on a temporary protection visa.
No doubt, having drawn the short straw with the US and UK, to harbour this criminal, for reasons we can only guess at, the PM now must see the difficulties the disclosure poses for his new laws.
I’m not sure why the governments of the UK, US and Australia even bother with the window dressing of anti terrorism laws. Their respective populations seem to be suitably gullible and cowering already. Totally gullible if the accept that ‘the butcher’s apprentice’ can quietly be accommodated in a coalition country while the high farce in Iraq and elsewhere continues.