Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Regular posts will resume as soon as we manage to work our way through the arcane languages of PHP and SQL. In the meantime you might all join in for a chorus or two of ‘we shall overcome’.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
[I won’t go into the grizzly details which can found at the links below or Google news keywords: skeleton body elderly death Sydney.]
Death is a reality of our existence. People die everyday, there is no argument about that. Some of our sophisticated societies still actually kill people.
Death in and of itself is not the issue, the fact that people can live and die in busy communities, without anyone noticing either state, is a tragedy.
Society, it seems, has become obsessed with acquisition and consumption. The ‘must have’ culture is driven by modern governments under the aegis of the so-called economics of monetarism.
‘So-called’ because true economics recognises both fiscal and social aspects of an economy; monetarism recognises only narrow material aspects such as wealth generation.
From the outset, under such leaders as Regan and Thatcher, monetarism gave governments the authority top shed social responsibilities. It gave them authority to ‘rationalise’ government services into a ‘corporate approach. Social responsibility was replaced by concepts such as ‘user pays’ (ignoring the fact that many services are already paid for in taxes) and ‘volunteerism’ and ‘mutual obligation’. The latter a real curiosity as it suggests that a mere individual can have a mutual contract with government or society as a whole.
Margaret Thatcher summed up this ‘economic theory’ in a nutshell: "There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families."
Still, our leaders can’t be blamed entirely when the people have so readily accepted the dream of personal wealth at the cost of responsibility.
The dehumanising culture monetarism has created has resulted in a pack of inward looking, mean, grasping and greedy individuals. It cuts off real social interaction, and cooperative existence, at the roots. It is about ‘me’ and to hell with the rest.
This fundamental change has not been forced on individuals; it has largely been adopted voluntarily. Monetarism does not provide any more certain road to personal wealth generation than did preceding models. But the promise was obviously enough to fuel latent greed.
Scientists monitor the health of amphibians, such as frogs, to determine the health of our environment. Perhaps if sociologists and politicians were monitoring people in the same way they would see a pattern emerging and be concerned.
Even just the spectre, riches or not, of a sad lonely end, should inspire some consideration of the corruption of the glue which holds our social structure together.
The lonely lives and deaths of those on the fringes of our golden culture of monetarism might shake up some. But we all need to take stock, clear the glitter of riches from our eyes and see where we are heading.
Some stories on the Sydney deaths:
Skeleton finds: awareness the key, say Salvos
The issue has been raised again in New South Wales, where six bodies have been found over the last two weeks.
Parallel deaths and no lessons learnt
Friday, February 24, 2006
We refer, of course, to the sale of British-owned P&O Ports to Dubai Ports World; a sale which would give the United Arab Emirates-owned company management of the ports in Baltimore, New York, Newark-Port Elizabeth, Philadelphia, Miami and New Orleans.
It is ingenuous for US law makers to claim security implications in what is nothing more nor less than an investment proposal by a ‘friendly’ Arab ally. But then this is politics of the lowest common denominator, as played by the president.
Policy in the US has been driven, under this administration, by extreme simplification. The US constituency seems to have quite happily absorbed the simple approach, ie, there are Arabs are mainly Muslim, some Muslims commit terrorist acts, so all Arabs are terrorists.
This ignores many realities, but then that it George W’s MO, don’t spoil a good policy with the truth. We are seeing something of the same game being played out by George W’s obsequious ally and Australian PM, John Howard.
The satisfaction, I guess, is in seeing these greedy, grasping administrations being denied the big money deals their policies were meant to capture. The Middle East is both immensely poor and immensely rich. But tapping in to those riches has become problematic.
The sooner we see the back of this kind of world leadership, the better off we will all be, and as my old Granny used to say; all this will pass. Not too soon for me.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
There were, of course, many more
Soldiers' offspring asked to join fight
If that is not sick enough, try this little political masterpiece. In order to garner support for the continuation of the monopoly wheat export system in Australia, the system at the heart of all this duplicity, senior government ministers are organizing the descendants of the struggling soldier settlers from previous wars.
Hundreds of returned soldiers were granted land after World War I and resold later to World War II veterans in what has become rich wheat growing country. Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Mark Vaile will address farmers, as will Senator Bill Heffernan, a close ally of John Howard.
Vaile is to call on the history of the wheat industry before World War II and during the Depression to highlight the difficulties before the establishment of a single desk.
Heffernan says "While ever the United States and Europeans have corrupt markets based on farm subsidies and cartels running fertilizer costs there cannot even be a remote chance of Australia giving up the single desk.”
If you were ever in any doubt about Iraq being a trade war, they should be dispelled now. Not that it really matters. Where once these cynical bastards might appeal to patriotism and other abstract emotions today the appeal is obviously and directly to greed.
Lobbyists hired by AWB – Sydney Morning Herald
AWB enlisted the help of an influential Washington lobby firm headed by the former US defence secretary, William Cohen, to deal with a United Nations investigation into kickbacks paid to Saddam Hussein.
Everyone in Canberra knew of kickbacks - The AUSTRALIAN
JOHN Howard, senior ministers and dozens of senior bureaucrats were warned five years ago Iraq was trying to corrupt the oil-for-food program by forcing Australia's wheat exporter, AWB, to pay kickbacks to Iraqi officials.
The scam was outlined in a diplomatic cable dated April 10, 2001 from Bronte Moules, an official at Australia's permanent mission to the UN in New York.
Among the slew of reports of yesterday's proceedings was a side note:
Department arrives to defend its own – Sydney Morning Herald
The witness Tim Snowball asked the question on all our minds. A strange and rumpled figure had risen from among the lawyers to quiz him. Snowball asked: who do you work for?
"It is of no concern to you, Mr Snowball," snapped the commissioner. "Mr Snowball, your obligation is to tell the truth, no matter who asks you questions." Terence Cole, QC, is known as one of the hard men of the law. He's sharp. He snaps. He asks withering questions. But this was ugly.
Snowball's Melbourne barrister, Lachlan Carter, protested: "What is wrong with him knowing the answer to that?" Cole ordered the questioning to proceed.
But then the mystery lawyer, Alan Robertson, SC, courteously apologised to the tall man in the witness box. "I didn't hear that question, Mr Snowball. I represent the Department of Foreign Affairs."
Who is Snowball?
Torture under cross-examination - The AUSTRALIAN
"I'm just acting as a postbox here (New York) under direction from (AWB's former manager of marketing for the Middle East) Mark Emons and (colleague) Andrew McConville and Bronte Moules at the mission (Australia's permanent New York mission to the UN)," a desperate Snowball told the hearing, as a relentless Agius all but skinned him alive.”
…Snowball is relatively young - late 30s, early 40s at most. Two days in the witness stand revealed him as a polite, deferential person who doesn't appear to have done anything much in New York except what he was told from AWB's Melbourne headquarters.”
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
AUSTRALIAN government officials have known for at least five years that Saddam Hussein was corrupting the oil-for-food program but, like the UN, turned a "blind eye to it", according to evidence at the Cole inquiry.
The evidence is mounting, and as we have previously observed, embattled witnesses are going to start talking. The fact is, sooner or later given the evidence the Australian (Cole) Inquiry into the UN Oil for Food scandal has; somebody was bound to se the light.
Apart from those witnesses who had left AWB because of the unethical behaviour, a Mr Snowball had to come along.
Tim Snowball worked in AWB's New York office until 2001. In his own words his role was "to liaise with the Australian mission to the United Nations in New York (but not the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)"
As the links get bigger, the idea of any form of real justice becomes more remote. The Australian government look set to walk away from this barely singed. The UN will most probably escape scrutiny, despite growing evidence of duplicity.
No one will be game enough to raise the question of the Bush Administrations role inj this scandal, but the cover-up is there.
Unless those AWB executives who are set to take the fall for this scandal become miraculously credible, they will go down on their own. Its like the old spy movies where the main character is warned, “don’t get caught. You will be on your own. We don’t know you.”
The real problem for the executives is that corporate misdeeds are a great let out for governments. The public, even with the facts, is reluctant to pin too much on government authorities, but they are more than willing to allow the corporate clowns to take the heat.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
THE Bush Administration has dismissed as a "discredit to the United Nations" a Human Rights Commission report that calls for the immediate closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.
A White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, hit back, saying: "These are dangerous terrorists that we're talking about." He made it clear that President George Bush was determined to keep the prison camp open. Sydney Morning Herald
To paraphrase one time scandal pin-up girl, Mandy rice-Davies, “they would say that, wouldn’t they.” The Bush administration have dug themselves a nice deep hole with their whole terrorism distraction routine.
It’s interesting to note former staunch supporter, Britain’s Blair, is conceding to public pressure and walking away from his buddy Bush’s problems. Blair: Guantánamo is an anomaly. Although Britain has never supported of the Guantanamo approach.
It seems Australia’s Prime Minister and slimy toad supreme, John Howard, is all Bush has left in the world opinion stakes.*
Inside the US there are some straight news reports mixed in with the more predictable disclaimers: Annan Distances UN From Report On Guantanamo Bay New York Sun.
Then there are the genuine surprises, like: Former chaplain says closing Guantanamo wouldn’t fix problems.
Closing the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be a “great symbolic gesture” but wouldn’t necessarily improve the harsh conditions for detainees, said former Army Capt. James Yee, who once counseled there.
*Unlike Britain’s Blair, who refused to let his nationals be held at Gitmo, Howard has expressed his satisfaction with the incarceration of Australia's David Hicks. Hick’s, reportedly not the most sympathetic character, has simply been left to rot by his own government.
In fact, the only real champion Hick’s has had through this episode is his US military lawyer. I guess that is another reminder that there are real people, with real souls behind all the myths and generalities.
Friday, February 17, 2006
The basis of the argument is that any supposed crimes are little more than the cost of engaging in international trade.
We discussed some of the public perceptions and reasoning recently in Another View of Corruption.
In a show of gross hypocrisy, this same augment is also coming from Australia’s Howard government, as they weave precariously through the Cole Inquiry fallout.
AWB, Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter has been shown to have a long history of doing ‘whatever it takes’ to gain markets. If that means supporting Saddam’s regime while the government is at war with them, so be it. If it means breaking UN sanction laws, so what?
That they have done so with some measure of government complicity should raise serious questions, and not simply be fobbed off with – ‘well, that’s just the way things are done.’
A record of hypocrisy
There have, by now, been as number of books written, with reference to the Howard government’s record of hypocrisy and double standards. Rather than catalogue the list, I want to focus on those issues related to the former Australian Wheat Board, AWB Ltd and the surrounding mess.
1/ Australia is a signatory to the OECD Anti-bribery Convention, and has enacted national laws in line with this Convention.
2/ Australia is a member of longstanding of the UN and was a supporter of the Iraq sanctions and the Oil for Food Program.
3/ The Howard government has driven a National Competition Policy throughout all sectors of its economy, with one exception; it has maintained AWB’s monopoly on wheat exports.
Is that the way things are done?
What the Australian government is saying is that they can enact laws, support conventions and International programs, but they are not bound, themselves, to the limitations imposed. “We will make the law and the policy, but we don’t have to abide by it.”
It would seem that many ordinary Australians are ready to accept that approach, and perhaps adapt it to their own needs. The seeds of wider corruption are sown from the very top.
Personally I have real problems with John Howard’s approach to government. Not forgetting the encouragement of corrupt practices, the issue goes far deeper.
The very honesty, the veracity of every utterance of government must be in doubt, given their stand on these major issues.
What can you actually believe when a government refuses to uphold its own laws? More troubling is what can be done about it when a population seems content to accept such transparent dishonesty?
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Who Do You Love?
Red, White, and Booed
The United States’ standing dropped sharply as a result of the Iraq war, and it hasn’t hit bottom yet. Australians, French, Italians, and even the British grew even more hostile to the United States in 2005.
The notable exception was Poland, which grew even more pro-American, perhaps because of U.S. support for Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, with which Poles can identify, and renewed authoritarianism in Russia.
The poll of 39,435 people was conducted for the BBC World Service by international polling firm GlobeScan, together with the Program on International Policy Attitude (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. The 33-nation fieldwork was coordinated by GlobeScan and completed between October 2005 and January 2006.
I Love a Good Poll
I only have difficulty with the ‘sensationalism’ associated with media presentations of poll results. Where possible, to cut through the simplified generalities, I prefer to get my hands on the raw data and sort it myself.
This one is a great example, from both the Sydney Morning Herald and US magazine Foreign Policy, pushing the ‘we hate you America!’ line.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some Australians and Brits and especially French and Italian folk who think the hate Americans.
If life were only that simple.
Personally I don’t care much for Neil diamond, or at least his music. I certainly harbour a certain loathing for some members of the US Administration, or at least what they stand for. Mind you, in the case of VP Dick it’s more a case of blind fear in every regard. But I have a sneaking admiration for good old Connie.
But wait! My son in law is American, and I love the kid! I also think his family rate among the seriously likable people I have known.
Not having seen the raw data yet, I wonder if the poll actually distinguished between the American people and the American Administration, or even corporate or ‘pop’ America?
The last three have a tremendous influence on how a culture is viewed. None of them give any real insight into the character of your ordinary American, if there is such a beast.
Before I started blogging I leaned towards the idea that the US was totally devoid of any left wing thinkers.
Well, that misconception has been shattered by a small army of US bloggers styled as liberal. Not liberal in the sense of benignly conservative and rapacious, but more a left leaning sort of concept.
I’ll probably never meet the people behind Born at the Crest of the Empire or Blognonymous (Kvatch) or the rest of this bold front, but I often feel I would like to.
No, I don’t hate Americans, or even Poms. (Brits hold a special role in every Australian’s love/hate scheme.)
What I do maintain is the right to judge anyone, of any nationality, who elevates themselves to any leadership role. Leaders are public property, and in this global age, they have become global public property.
The behaviour of leaders in any field tends to reflect well or badly on their fellow nations, if not humanity in its entirety. Meanwhile I’ll keep searching for the raw data behind this poll.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Monitoring scandal and reducing results to bight sized chunks tends to leave your reporter with a dazed look after a few days.
There seem to be a couple of strains of public and corporate corruption.
The first usually generate a sad shake of the head, they are typically just greedy, bumbling fools making taking advantage of opportunities of office.
Like the recent story about the Florida charity worker’s son, who took over when his mother fell ill then helped himself to children’s charity funds - Good Causes.
There are bucket loads of these greedy, weak souls who simply can’t resist the easy pickings that come with their responsibilities.
The bigger concern is the relatively large number of powerful characters who seem to see their corrupt activities not as wrong, but as their right! For these, often well-off to begin with, greedy bastards, election or appointment to an ‘office of opportunity’ is a god given license to help themselves.
For sheer self-righteous arrogance there is nothing as sickening as a top politician or executive under investigation or trial for corrupt practices.
That society would even see their base theft as an issue seems to bring out the most indignant responses from these paragons. We, the hidden victims, are regarded as scum for even questioning the rights of the mighty to plunder our recourses.
When faced with hard evidence of illegality, these cretins will put on their very best indignant displays. The fact is, most do not see their actions, theft, influence buying, bribery or whatever, as a crime. It is just the way you get things done.
Worst of all are those who will look a judge in the eye and calmly claim, ‘it is my right!’
The current Australian wheat cheats drama is a prime example - Gag hard to swallow.
There is a growing cast in this local production of the infamous Oil for Food scandal. Players include leading corporate figures, top politicians and public servants and diplomats.
Nearly everyone involved in this scandal shares that common ‘bemused’, ‘what is the big fuss, anyway’ attitude. That most could easily pass a lie detector test doesn’t testify to their cheating abilities, but to the fact that they truly believe they are justified in their actions.
The Howard government, the one which enacted legislation outlawing bribery and corruption in international trade, have even been self righteous to the point of gagging Senators from quizzing public servants on the scandal.
It is very much a case of two laws, one for the powerful, and the other for the rest of us. And what makes this marvelous system possible is the easy acquiescence of the voting public.
The voters don’t really give much credence to the corruption issues. True, here in Canada the Liberal government was just dumped. But don’t believe for a moment it was a reaction to scandal. Voters were simply tired of the old government.
That attitude, in itself, is a recipe for more corruption and scandal, and its an attitude common around the globe.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Here is a run down from recent media reports:
South African President Mbeki Friday appointed a commission of inquiry to probe the alleged corrupt involvement of South African companies in the scandal.
Advocate Michael Donen to head a commission of inquiry into the alleged illegal activities of local companies mentioned in the report; including Imvume and Mocoh, which had been linked to holding company Mvelaphanda. Imvume and Mvelaphanda are headed by Sandi Majali and Tokyo Sexwale respectively.
As reported in The Daily Juice: Indian officials were red faced when it was revealed that one of their Oil for Food Scandal investigators has his own corruption record.As an officer of the enforcement Directorate (ED) SC Adlakha was set to investigate the role of former foreign minister Natwar Singh in the UN scandal.
Adlakha, who has already traveled to London on the investigation, was caught accepting a bribe of 10,000 Rhupees in a recruitment scam in 1985.
A departmental enquiry conducted against him led to his suspension for more than a year.
He was also indicted in an internal enquiry and sent on a punishment posting to the country’s North-east.
Meanwhile the Enforcement Directorate on Tuesday began proceedings to obtain a Letter Rogatory (Letter of request to competent authority for investigation in a country or place outside India) from a criminal court in the Capital in its bid to freeze bank accounts of Andaleeb Sehgal and Aditya Khanna, both close associates of former external affairs minister Natwar Singh, who were involved in the oil-for-food scam.
Tyco International Ltd., a conglomerate that operates hundreds of subsidiaries, said it received a US Securities and Exchange Commission subpoena for information about any participation in the United Nations’ Iraq oil-for-food programme.The Bermuda-based company will cooperate in any investigation, Tyco said in a regulatory filing yesterday. The SEC made a request on January 31 for additional documents regarding three of Tyco’s businesses. The probe started in November 2004, Tyco said. The UN began the oil-for-food program to let former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein use oil revenue to buy food and medicine. Investigators in the US Senate have said Hussein stole $21.3 billion through the program, which was supposed to support UN sanctions on Iraq from 1996 to 2003.
Tyco receives SEC subpoena
A second SEC probe involves Innospec Inc., the U.K. chemical maker that last week changed its name from Octel Corp.
Innospec said it got a subpoena from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission related to a probe of the United Nations' oil-for-food program.
Regulators are probing transactions involving Innospec and a Swiss subsidiary, Alcor Chemie Vertriebs Gmbh, Manchester- based Innospec said today in a regulatory filing. Innospec said it plans to cooperate with the investigation.
Innospec Gets SEC Subpoena
South Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park recently pleaded not guilty to charges linked to the United Nations' Iraqi oil-for-food scandal and a U.S. judge denied him bail, saying there was a risk he would flee the country.
Park, 70, is under indictment for conspiracy to launder money and to secretly lobby on behalf of the former government of Saddam Hussein.The court is concerned about Park's past travel with large sums of cash -- he was arrested while carrying $46,000 (26,000 pounds) -- and that Park may have lied to federal officials about his previously stated intention to cooperate in the case.S.Korean lobbyist denied bail in oil-for-food case
Park claims that he was “kidnapped” by US authorities investigating possible pay-offs to top UN officials. Lawyer, Randy Schaffer, said his client never intended to travel to the United States. At a bail hearing yesterday, he argued that the arrest was illegal. He said that Mr Park had been travelling from Canada to Panama, but was taken off the plane when his flight stopped in Mexico City. “The guy is picked up in Mexico against his will and brought here,” Schaffer said.
MP George Galloway is still under a cloud and could be investigated by the Serious Fraud Office as part of an inquiry into the Iraq oil-for-food corruption scandal. A spokesman for Galloway, now Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, dismissed the new inquiry as a "complete waste of time" and claimed it was being launched "at the behest" of the US.
US investigators claim to have discovered £85,000 in Iraqi oil money in Mr Galloway's former wife Dr Amineh Abu-Zayyad's bank account.Galloway may face fraud inquiry
DaimlerChrysler AG has put nine senior managers on leave as a result of an investigation into the company's participation in the United Nations' sponsored 'Oil for Food' program by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC is investigating whether DaimlerChrysler bribed officials in former Iraqi president Sadam Hussein's government in order to facilitate swift delivery of products exported to that country under the program.
DaimlerChrysler puts 9 managers on leave
Eight United Nations managers have been suspended with pay as part of an investigation into the world body's procurement services following scandals in the oil-for-food program in Iraq, UN officials say.
The investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services is the result of a probe into contracts in the UN peacekeeping department, which is fielding about 85,000 troops, police and civilians around the world.
Four of the suspended managers are in UN Procurement Services and four were recalled from peacekeeping missions.
UN officials suspended during oil-for-food probe
The French justice system is investigating the alleged involvement in the scandal of two former foreign ministry officials, Jean-Bernard Merimee and Serge Boidevaix.
Allegations made by Didier Houssin, a high-level French official connected to the program claim authorities knew of fraud being committed by government officials involved in the oil-for-food program.
The Swedish truck and construction equipment manufacturer AB Volvo has said that a few executives involved in the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq have left the company. A Volvo spokesman, Marten Wikforss, said that several employees in the group's construction equipment subsidiary had been disciplined for not asking questions about possible bribery by an agent helping it to secure deals with the former Iraqi regime between 2000 and 2001 under the United Nations' oil-for-food program.
AB Volvo executives leave following Iraq oil-for-food scandal
The Public Citizen group has launched its Hall of Shame - http://www.cleanupwashington.org/hos/
They say: An unprecedented wave of corruption, cronyism and special-interest sleaze has gripped our nation’s capital in recent years.
To bring greater public attention to the individuals involved in these ethics scandals – in the hope of preventing such abuses of the public trust in the future – Public Citizen has established the Ethics Hall of Shame.
To be included, a member of Congress must have committed illegal acts or engaged in conduct that is highly abusive of the public trust in the service of special interests.
Those members of Congress in the "dishonorable mention" category have been involved in activity that is ethically questionable or offensive to the public trust.
“Ethics Hall of Shame”
More scandal at The Daily Juice
They do it differently over there. "I'm currently living in Dresden, and recently witnessed a raid by the German police," writes Ben Jenkins, an Aussie expat. "At 6am there was a knock on our apartment door. My girlfriend opened it to be confronted by about 15 police and a dog. They asked quietly if we knew if our neighbour was at home. I told them I had heard the TV at about 1am, they said thank you, and asked us to close the door. They then banged loudly on the neighbour's door and said: 'This is the police! Open up or we will be forced to get a locksmith at your expense!"' Column 8 SMH
Friday, February 10, 2006
As well as background information the site also carries pictures of the main players. As the details unfold we will be updating these background files.
The harsh light of the inquiry has already forced the resignation of monopoly wheat exporter AWB’s managing director, Andrew Lindberg. It is threatening to entwine the government and crippling the country’s wheat export trade.
Heady stuff, but for some it is just another crock.
I had the opportunity to quiz a fairly typical Australian guy the other day. Russell’s response, when asked about the scandal, went something like this:
“I don’t see the problem with AWB when I weigh it up against Germany, France and America giving Saddam weapons.That was not, I might add, one articulate string. I have re-layed the comments into that order.
It’s all out of perspective.
I see people do what it takes to get somewhere and when they do they give back.
We live in a world of corruption and still thing get done we move through the shit to the shore and always land safe.”
Russell gave an inkling of why people readily accept corruption as part of life.
“…if you accept a cop letting you go and not fining you for, say speeding, because you spin him a good story he is corrupt and you are so that’s where it starts and we all think nothing of being lucky not to get a fined. We are all alike.”What was interesting is that, in the middle of the scandal comments Russell said;
“I worry more about the Muslims trying to tell us what we can say. If we give in to them we are in trouble.Russell’s is not a minority view, and perhaps reflects quite a different perspective on what acceptable ethical practices really are. If for example, you accept that shady business practices are an essential part of the game, then duding the UN, or the Australian taxpayer for a few hundred million is not really a big issue.
They should get a life. I think they are getting to a point, they think they can tell us what to do in our own house.”
After all, under this premise, the law is an unfair burden and everyone has the right to avoid the obligations imposed.
This understanding is no doubt behind the Howard government’s approach to this scandal. They are taking a transparently cynical approach because they can!
The opposition attempts to expose government wrongdoing is seen as an even more cynical exercise; to gain power.
Meanwhile the Muslim bogey is trotted out, just to keep everyone on their toes. It is clearly a totally irrelevant bogey, but it seems to work well for most parties.
I didn’t debate Russell on any of this. I simply wanted to gather his views. I don’t berate the millions of Russell’s out there, but try and remember the words of corruption fighter, Lord Acton:
“There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.”
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Given the history of AWB, formerly a government owed corporation, and an intrinsic, vested interest in its dealings, this is no easy task.
However this is a government well used to mitigating the fallout from charges of corruption. Mere evidence that they knew, or should have known about AWB’s sanction busting activities, counts for nothing.
The closest they have come to any sort of admission was Deputy Prime Minister Vaile’s response to questions in parliament; "Through all this entire process the objective of our Government has been to look after the interests of Australia's wheat growers."
As to any specific culpability, the response has been along the lines of; “show us the documentation, show the memoranda or notes.” Because if it discussions are not recorded they are deemed unofficial and subject, of course, to denial.
To further distance themselves, the government makes another ingenuous claim: it was the job of the United Nations, rather than government officials or ministers, to make sure contracts under the oil-for-food program were legitimate.
The fact is, the UN sanctions expressly charged sovereign countries with the responsibility of ensuring the legitimacy of Oil for Food contracts with their own nationals.
This has been, pretty much a ‘drip drip’ affair. The post war Iraqi government has carefully orchestrated the release of vital evidence, entrapping company executives in their lies.
We don’t know if they have similar evidence against the politicians, but it might not matter when the executives start trading information for lighter penalties, once they are charged.
Former AWB boss, Trevor Flugge is a case in point. Flugge is no mere flunky; he is arguably the most influential figure in Australian agribusiness circles. Casting Flugge as puppet master to the Howard government does not even begin to stretch the imagination. What does stretch the imagination is the idea that he might carry the can and let the government off the hook.
Flugge is yet to face the Cole Inquiry. Perhaps they are saving the best, or at least managing the flow of new revelations. When his turn comes there he will not be afforded the memory lapses of earlier AWB management.
He will be faced with hard evidence of his and AWB’s sins.
Other company people are already showing that this evidence is conducive to a freer flow of information, information with has already started to implicate the government.
My guess is that Trevor Flugge will not simply accept blame and carry the can for it. He won’t go down without a whimper, and he won’t go down without taking a few government scalps with him.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Alarm bells were ringing at key points of that trail, ringing for the Australian and US governments as well as the UN.
See why Howard and Bush could become implicated with this timeline of the ‘wheat cheats’ scandal on Scandal files.
When Tracy raised his concerns, back in 2002, he was fobbed off by the Australian’s and presumably then Sec Powell.
Justice Cole has now received damning evidence from two former executives of AWB, but worse than that for the beleaguered company, he has now taken in evidence from two of Saddam’s former henchmen.
The first is a record of interview with Iraq's former Trade Minister; Mohammed Medhi Saleh was interrogated by a panel of UN investigators in November 2004
Saleh told them AWB had for years been making payments to a Jordanian trucking company known as Alia, which kicked the money straight back to Saddam's regime.
That has now been supported with a sworn statement from Othman al-Absi, the general manager of Alia.
al-Absi said in the statement his company had always been part-owned by the Iraqi government, that it never provided genuine transport services in Iraq to AWB and it was simply a funnel to send money to Iraq in breach of UN sanctions.
All of which leaves AWB in a bit of a pickle. There is little doubt that Justice Cole will recommend prosecutions of a number of company officials, but the big question now is,; will it stop there?
For Tracy and USWEA to stop there represents nothing less than a pyrrhic victory; one which ignores the involvement of Australian and US administrations, and perhaps the UN itself, by commission or omission.
The Howard government will be under intense pressure in parliament this week, caught in a pincer between a junior coalition party condoning AWB’s actions and an opposition wanting to dig out evidence of government complicity.
John Howard has much to defend, and will do so with great skill. Did he, his ministers or public servants know? He will demand nothing less than written proof, relying on the argument that verbal briefings are not official acts.
More difficult will be how the government explains the inflating, against world benchmark prices, the Australian wheat price by nearly $50 per tonne. Blind Freddy, and indeed, Alan Tracy could see the discrepancy in that.
If Howard sinks into this mess he will take George Bush along for the ride, as the same argument applies to the administration which dismissed Tracy’s concerns. If that happens it is odds on that both will be laying off blame to the UN, where these incredible deals were finally approved.
Good on you Tracy! But don’t stop now; if you keep digging we might just get to the bottom of this whole fiasco. We might even reach a point where world trade is based on some semblance of the mythical ‘level playing field’.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
So we are into the ‘theoretical physics’ here, but the fact is, the scandal could not get to this stage unless there was some as yet unknown factor existed. Let’s call it the ‘dark matter’ of international trade.
The theory goes something like this:
There is now hard evidence of some five instances which would have rang alarm bells for US, Australian and UN trade officials and administrations. Let us enumerate them:
- December 1999 Canada raised concerns with the UN that the AWB was using Jordanian front companies to fund interests associated with the Iraqi regime.
- 2000, PM Howard, Vaile, who was trade minister and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer received a copy of a cable from the Australian mission to the United Nations, in January of 2000, which contained a formal warning to the Australian government from the United Nations about what the wheat board was up to.
- March 2000, Austrade commissioner Alistair Nicholas called Trevor Flugge AWB Chairman) and other AWB executives to a "briefing" in Washington DC. Nicholas asked whether there was any truth to rumours circulating at the UN that Australia was paying kickbacks to Saddam's regime, in exchange for wheat contracts.
- June 2003 AWB’s Peter Long ‘passed information about the kickbacks to DFAT (Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) - 10 weeks after the war started. Long said, he received a report, while in Baghdad, from the ruling Coalition Provisional Authority, made up of Americans and Britons, that clearly stated Saddam had been stealing from the UN's oil-for-food program, by adding a "kickback or surcharge, often 10per cent" to the price of contracts.
- November 2003 US Wheat Associates (USWA), representing American growers lobbied then Secretary of State, Powell, claiming Australian exporters overcharged for sales to Iraq. October 2004 Australia's former US ambassador, Michael Thawley, allegedly misled a powerful Republican senator in the US in that the Government had no knowledge of the kickbacks scheme.
To make the theory work we must make a wild assumption here. We must assume that the political leadership and senior public servants of three substantial countries (USA, Australia and Canada) and those of the UN, are not naïve, blind or stupid.
None of these incidents were simply odd notes among a pile of notes, passing over desks. Each incident was raised and dealt with to the apparent satisfaction of all involved. Yet each incident was a clear signal that something was seriously amiss.
Into this equation we must add comments on the seriousness with which this trade game is played.
“You have to bear in mind that the United States is a trade competitor for the Iraqi wheat trade. They might be a good friend, but they are also a bitter commercial rival. Let’s not kid ourselves. The American were doing everything…the American wheat industry has done everything it possibly can to criticise the Australian wheat industry in order to take the Iraqi wheat market from us. And in fact, in both 2002, 2003 the complaint by a lot of people was that the Americans were trying to steal our market.” Australian Prime Minister John Howard 31 January 2006
Discussing the charges by U.S. Wheat Associates, the U.S. trade marketing group, that AWB may have been involved in kickbacks to the former Iraqi regime, Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said, "This is just a little bit of commercial rivalry, I think, between the two industries and two very strong exporting industries. We have answered all these questions, as has AWB, in the past.
“We were concerned an American congressional or senate inquiry would be an inquiry driven substantially by American commercial interests. The U.S. is our principal competitor on the international wheat trade. I'm much more in favor of an independent inquiry that is unlikely to be driven by U.S. commercial interests,'' Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer.
So we have a high stakes game, but laced with endless rhetoric. If the US were so completely and aggressively competitive we should have seen the hammer come down on these crooked Australian deal as early as December 1999.
USWA were certainly ready to use the rumours and allegations, which were floating around from ‘99, to advance their claim on the Iraq wheat market. A number of US senators picked up the ball and started to run with it.
It beggars belief that a few lame ‘explanations’ out of DFAT and AWB could be enough to head off, even bury, rising concern over the AWB wheat cheat’s obvious signs of malpractice. If nothing else, the exorbitantly inflated prices charged back to the UN signalled a serious problem.
True, there are other ‘domestic’ political issues at play in all this. For example, the governing Australian Liberal’s were in a run up to election when US Senator Coleman started stirring the muck. Doubtless Bush fully supported returning the Liberals in Australia. But that is only one point in a long saga, and doesn’t really answer the rest of the issues.
Leaving Canada aside, (they had made their point and backed off,) Australia, the US and UN clearly chose to ignore, bury, dismiss the mounting stream of evidence of corruption. Complaints were quickly silenced, even from powerful interests like USWA and the US Senate. There is clearly something else at play here.
My assertion is that the ‘dark matter’ in this saga involves some kind of secret trade off between the USA and Australia. The simple fact that the US went ahead with the Australian - USA Free Trade agreement despite Australia not conceding the US’s principle demand; the dismantling of Australia’s monopoly wheat marketing, supports the assertion of ‘another factor’.
I rather fear, in the arcane world of international trade and diplomacy, we will probably never know exactly what is behind all of this. In the end, the hapless stooges of AWB will carry the can and the governments will simply get on with ‘business as usual’. Not a very satisfying result, but one we are becoming well accustomed to.Meanwhile, seven US senators have joined calls to reimpose a ban on AWB's US subsidiary from export credit programs.
The seven senators are all from major farm states - six from major wheat states.
Agriculture Committee spokesman, top Democrat Tom Harkin, argued last month it was premature for the US to again sanction the AWB through its US subsidiary, for alleged bribes to Iraq under the former oil-for-food program.
But not anymore, according to aide David Townsend.
"At the time, he wasn't fully aware of exactly what the Cole inquiry had uncovered over in Australia but, since that time, it seems like the prudent thing to do to, at least for the time being, not give AWB access to these USDA [US Department of Agriculture] programs," Mr Townsend said.
US Wheat Associates, which is also a critic of the AWB, is also calling for Congress to look at whether the US can suspend AWB from futures trading.
Friday, February 03, 2006
AWB is under investigation for paying $290 million to Jordanian trucking company Alia, which funneled the money to the Iraqi government.
The senior prosecutor for the inquiry, John Agius has been dogged and meticulous in his examination of ‘wheat cheat’ witnesses.
Often many steps ahead of the witness, Agius nonetheless backtracks and teases at specific questions. He often offers witnesses the opportunity to change their positions, their statements, much to the chagrin of defence lawyers.
Whether it was going to be documents or a live witness was not clear, until former AWB executive Mark Emons took the stand.
His evidence now puts intense pressure on the government; it was their man in Baghdad, Trevor Flugge, who is the link.
Trevor Flugge was Director and then Chairman of the AWB Limited for seventeen years until 2002.
In 2003 Trevor Flugge was appointed by the Howard Government to go to Iraq post-war and help re-establish their agriculture. Flugge is big in the Australian Agribusiness sector, and has a record of a close working relationship with government ministers.
One piece of the jigsaw which emerged in from Emons witness statement:
“It was common practice to speak with Mr Flugge about significant contracts. Mr Flugge was interested in trading generally and the Middle East section in particular.I now cannot recall where or when I spoke to Mr Flugge about trucking fees. I do recall discussing those and related matters with him on a number of occasions. I recall saying in relation words to the effect:
"The contract is subject to UN approval. If that comes through, it's all well and good."I also recall saying to him words to this effect:"We are looking at various methods to facilitate this."It was during those discussions that I refer to, that Mr Flugge said to me words to the following effect:"We have to find a way to pay this money. As long as it's not costing AWB any money, you have to find a method of paying it."
Trevor Flugge’s day in the witness box has been postponed until next month. It has become clear that Commissioner Cole and the prosecuting team are getting weary of the lack of promised cooperation from AWB witnesses.
While Cole voiced his frustration at the inquiry the tactic now seems to be to simply confront witnesses with hard fact. Time will tell if our Trevor is smart enough to just come clean, or risk being dragged through the muck for days.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
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Without condoning Australia’s dubious practices in international trade, the country doesn’t deserve to take to whole rap for what is fairly common practice.
Modern ‘Free Trade’ is a game the Americas created and wrote the rules for. The land downunder simply plays them as well as the rest. The fact is, there is a basic dichotomy in the US version of ‘Free trade’.
Take this definition from of Free Trade (From Wikipedia):
It is a concept in economics and government that refers to:
- international trade of goods without tariffs (taxes on imports) or other trade barriers (e.g., quotas on imports)
- international trade in services without tariffs or other trade barriers
- the free movement of labor between countries
- the free movement of capital between countries
- the absence of trade-distorting policies (such as taxes, subsidies, regulations or laws) that give domestic firms, households or factors of production an advantage over foreign ones.
- government protection of property rights to enforce the above conditions
Bush’s argument was largely targeting a domestic audience, which no doubt reflects the sanitized language, e.g.: ‘fair trade’.
The rhetoric on ‘buy American’ is made suspect by the continuing shift of manufacturing to ‘low income’ economies such as china and India. That move is reflected in the growing debt owed by the US to those countries.
Leaving the local implications aside, it also introduces a basic dichotomy into the free trade debate. Bush’s call for a level playing field is hardly possible, or acceptable, to trading partners given; “With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker.”
It is highly unlikely that any trading partner will allow the US to bully them into an untenable trading position. Whatever trade agreements are in place, the even more sacred cow of, competition will always prevail. It is called survival.
The reality of US sponsored ‘free trade’ is that US industry lobbyists continue to throw tantrums and distort the market to their own need and to hell with level playing fields.
The US is quick to apply ‘sanctions’, protection by a different name, at will. Witness the Canadian softwood lumber dispute. Even when NAFTA and WTO find against the American position the industry screams and cries, and the protection remains.
What is really wanted by Bush’s puppet masters is ‘US Trade Agreements’, which bear no relationship to free or fair for trading partners.
While that position holds other countries might enter agreements but in the end will do all in their power to gain market share in their sectors of interest. That is exactly what Australia was doing in the Oil for Food fiasco, wrong as it was. The culture of corruption which is being highlighted in that scandal is one spawned by the US economic bully tactics.
Government credibility still on line
SADDAM Hussein and his henchmen manipulated the UN oil-for-food program to "peddle influence and reward friends around the world" and "to reap billions and billions" from the people of Iraq. Perhaps the money he stole has funded the insurgency which has cost thousands of lives in Iraq since the war to remove him. These are not our allegations. They are statements made last November by US senator Norm Coleman whose committee has investigated the worldwide rort.
(Note: RORT is a delightful Australian term for ripping off a system.)
Norm Coleman must be reeling with the latest revelations stirred by Australia’s inquiry into the Oil for Food fiasco. At best Coleman took his eye off the ball, at worst he was nobbled not just by Australian interests but by his own administration.
Lets go back to: CNN.com - British MP denies oil-for-food charges - May 17, 2005
May 17, 2005 Senate panel probing alleged corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq. Galloway, an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, called the panel's investigation the "mother of all smokescreens" used to divert attention from the "pack of lies" that led to the 2003 invasion.
"I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001," he told the panel's Republican chairman, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota.
Galloway was probably always a non-issue, but he represented everything the Bush Administration perceived as evil; that is he disagreed with them. Grandstanding with Galloway was no picnic.
Coleman, the former chief prosecutor and solicitor general of Minnesota found Galloway open and direct, and feisty. That particular inquiry generated copious headlines, but little substance.
Back to the Australian angle: That AWB officials were anxious to avoid appearing before Senator Coleman's investigative committee in 2004 is not surprising. That the Howard Government tried to shield them is.
But in the lead-up to the 2004 election, Australian ambassador Michael Thawley lobbied Senator Coleman, arguing AWB officers should be left alone, that making them appear would help their competitors, that the company had done nothing wrong in Iraq.
While Mr Thawley undoubtedly acted honestly, and according to his instructions, his involvement raises questions of what Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's department was doing in directing diplomats to defend what the Government keeps saying is a private company.
No doubt Coleman will find it ‘out of order’ to call on former ambassador Thawley. The simple fact is, he was not acting as a private individual, but as an instrument of the Australian Government.
There is no real reason to expect Thawley to know anymore that those things he was instructed to say. What he thought, or even knew, really has no relevance. His bosses are the only ones who can give Coleman any definitive explanations. They are Prime Minister Howard, Deputy PM and Trade Minister Vaile and Foreign Minister Downer.
Now a bit of advice to the hapless Senator from Minnesota:
The US has been played for idiots in this affair. Ego has blinded Bush et al to just how slimy these three toads really are. They are past masters at dodging bullets and trading on lies.
Yes Norm, they are probably guilty as hell, but you and the whole weight of the US administration will never nail them. My best guess is the ‘best friends’ of US, in the Pacific region are about to become their fiercest enemy, trade being the weapon of choice.
They will run you ragged like a bunch of pesky terriers, yapping and snapping. I guess it is like judo politics in the end. The US might have the weight, but that is rarely enough against a nimble, wily opponent.
Oh, and norm, watch your back at home too. You were probably warned off this trail once, and there are no doubt far more powerful folk with a lot to protect. I’m sure they use that old saying where you come from Norm: If you sup with the devil, use a long spoon.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
It is fascinating to see how the US administration will screw their own as quickly as they will screw free trade partners. Even more interesting is that lobby groups like US Wheat Associates will just roll over and take it.
Who knew what, about Australia’s ‘wheat cheats’ and when is bound to become a major embarrassment in the US as well as Australia. Patty Murray might not have had the clout to stand up to the obvious lies and duplicity of the Administration. Coleman, on the other hand, still doggedly pursued British Member of Parliament George Galloway and others.
“Since the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Coleman, began its investigation of the U.N. oil-for-food program in early 2004, it has scored some impressive findings. Earlier this summer, the committee presented evidence that French and British government officials had received multimillion-barrel oil allocations from Saddam Hussein's government, as did several Russian politicians and government officials.” Duluth News Tribune
Of course Galloway was anti the Iraq war while the Australian Government could not move quickly enough, on that front, in their efforts to please Bush’s team.
We can only suspect that former Secretary Powell was caught between a rock and a hard place in this saga. He has already made his overall concerns clear, but there are some details from this inquiry which are bound to make him feel uncomfortable.
In the end it is about the lies perpetrated to ‘justify’ a war which should never have happened. The mess left behind goes much further than a dysfunctional post wear Iraq; the fallout undermines any trust in our governing institutions and corporate giants.