Friday, March 31, 2006

Farmers, lock up your piggies

WE sometimes wonder at out naiveté, we being you humble correspondent. Of course I think of myself as worldly and savvy, then something crops up to highlight the limits of my understanding.

What kind of a world do we live in where animal owners need to be on watch to prevent sick perverts forcing sex on the poor beasts?

I was truly amazed late last year at news that a man just across the border from my abode, in Washington State, died after having sex with a horse. Okay, I know all the Foreign Legion/Camel jokes, but they are jokes – I’m certain.

The WA story was revisited recently after that State’s legislature passed a law banning sex with animals. Now I see Arizona is going down the same track which if I remember correctly, will make bestiality illegal in about 37 states in the US.

Come on people! Sex with animals? Just the fact that laws are needed is bad enough, what kind of sick bastard has fantasies about getting it on with an animal? Okay, I warned you about my naiveté, but really.

In the AZ hearings the Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said his agency has rejected job applicants because they have had sex with animals. I’m pleased to hear there is no discrimination law to force these sickos to be accepted for employment. I have trouble accepting them as fellow human beings.

But if you ‘Google’ bestiality on the search engine's news, there it is, a new crop daily of sick reports. It’s not even about pets, although that wouldn’t make it any more acceptable.

In WA the reports talked about actual farms whose business was providing animals for these animals. The mind boggles at how someone could pull into one of these animal brothels and retain any sort of human dignity.

Other reports, including in WA talk of desperate men hopping farm fences to get to poor unsuspecting animals. Often the only charge for their offensive behaviour has been trespass.

We refuse to post images of children on our various websites because even the most innocent image can apparently be arousing to another set of sick bastards, the pedophiles. But now I’m wondering about all those cute cartoon images of animals. You know, like the pigs wearing jackets and no pants or the roly poly elephants. Were our childhood cartoonists actually promoting some kind of weird fantasy primer?

Somehow I don’t see how rushing laws through will make a great deal of difference. I expect that anyone desperate enough to pork a pig or dink a donkey has lost that vital spark of humanity which might otherwise allow respect for laws.

Let’s face it, if they are so driven by sick fantasies they are well beyond concern over the social consequences of their actions. Even with the risk of public humiliation these sick folk still persist in their deranged acts.

As a topic for Talk About Corruption, I admit it is one I would not normally be inclined to visit. But corrupt acts they are, as they undeniably constitute abuse of power. It is, after all, difficult to believe these can be conceptual relationships; the human perpetrator has power and advantage.

Personally I remain bewildered by the whole concept.

Great Indonesian Cartoon Scandal

As an addendum to the ‘Great Indonesian Cartoon Scandal’ reported yesterday (below) at some tedious length; we now have Australian Prime Minister’s response:

"I have been in this game a long time," Mr Howard said. "If I got offended about cartoons, golly — give us a break."

I have been working all night to translate this response for both Australians and all you foreigners out there. The fact is, Australia has a foreign head of State, the Queen of England, and a PM who speaks some strange foreign language.

It should also be noted that Howard is not entirely cognizant of elements of the sexual act, with animals or otherwise. He probably holds the record as the most asexual leader that robust country has ever had.

So my rendering of his response into Australian is something along the lines of: "Bloody hell, give us a break. Look, why don’t you all just fuck off – and get a dog up ya!”

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Cartoons a real Downer

Out of fairness, given comments in the story below, I thought it only right to provide you with some of the aforementioned depictions of Australia’s Foreign Minister, The Hon Alexander Downer.

Democracy for Sale

Democracy, or the idea of it, is something we in western economies tend to regard with almost religious fervor. Yet like religion, rather than truly engaging with it, most are along for the ride, content to be taken where the leaderships (church and/or state) command.

Sure they are both complex animals, but that is the function of those holding power not of the basic concepts themselves. I intend, largely for my own satisfaction, to take a look at democracy; the myth and the reality. I’m sure to tread on some toes along the way, but seeing as it is just you and me reading it there is no real damage meant or done.

We are going to start way down South, toward Antarctica, in the Island state of Tasmania where corporate interests have already shown a flair for buying government: Read more here

Muslim cartoon attack a joke

After all the carry on over the infamous Swedish cartoon, Indonesians Islamists have launched their own toon offensive, or is that offensive toon?

It is difficult to know just who they are trying to offend however. Australian’s have a different view of their elected officials, and depicting PM Howard and FM ‘Piggy’ Downer as dingoes screwing is pretty lame by that country’s standards.

Downer is often depicted, cartoon wise, in net hose and heels. In a tough ‘blokey’ country ‘Piggy’ is already seen as a bit of a ‘nancy’, and needless to say, a joke.

Depicting the Prime Minister ‘sexually’ is offensive to some of who simply can’t imagine anything more gross. The man was not elected for his sexual charms. In fact it is rumoured that even his hand goes to sleep first in bed.

But there is a serious side to this issue, and it’s about Indonesia’s continued hegemony over West Papua (New Guinea). This latest ‘storm in a tea cup began when Australia signaled that it would give refuge to a group of Papuan refugees.

Even John Howard was not so base as to send these people back to almost certain execution. On the other hand Howard, and Indonesian Authorities understand this well, will in no way entertain independence for West Papua.

I guess what the Indons are really worried about is the Australian people. Howard wasn’t too keen on helping East Timor gain independence either, and was forced only by massive public opinion to take action.

Once that tiny nation came into being the Howard Government made the best of the situation and raped them for the lion’s share of the Timor Sea oil wealth.

It’s more about Oriental fireworks and noise making than any political realities. West Papua should have the right to self determination, but it is not going to happen soon.

Inane cartoons could well prove counter productive so far as the Australian public is concerned. For most, the hapless West Papuans barely exist. If it wasn’t for activists like science personality Tim Flannery few Aussies would have a clue or even care what was beyond their Northern coast line.

So good on you Indonesia for lifting this subject into the light and allowing people a closer look at how brutally the worlds fourth largest population views the wider world.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Idiocy of voting technology

I’ve been musing privately of late over the inane introduction of electronic voting in the US. You can get all sorts of electronic gadgets these days, but research shows that most of them end up idle at the back of a cupboard.
“Why on earth,” I keep asking myself, “do you ignore a tried and true method of registering a vote and toy with gadgets?”
Fair enough that those of us from countries aligned with the British Commonwealth are considered a tad backwards to some Americans. It took us years to before we made cars with chromium fins. Some of us didn’t even have TV before the late 1950s.
Not that there is a blanket repudiation of technology under British influence, more a tendency to stick with what works. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…
Voting is one of those areas we, that is Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other places, where simple is still seen as best.
No need expensive network infrastructure, no machines, computers, punches or things that can go wrong. We don’t tempt Murphy’s or Sod’s law. If it can go wrong it will, and voting is too important.
Polling places supply ‘hard copy’ lists of enrolled voters. Officials use a good old wooden rule to sight across the page, Surname, given name and address. Then they use a good old pen to mark through the details once a ballot paper is issued.
Note: Ballot PAPER. Yes a piece of ordinary paper with the candidates names printed on and handy little boxes to tick or number to signify the voters choice. Voters can mark these pieces of paper with a pen or pencil supplied or their own.
When the polls close officials gather these papers, in the presence of scrutineers, and separate them, in the first instance to piles representing the first preference the voter has marked on the paper.
True the results are fed into a computer once the count has been completed to each level, but afterwards there are these bits of paper which act like a receipt, something which can be checked and rechecked.
Sure things can go wrong, a pen can run out of ink or a lead break on a pencil, but I’m sure these officials, clerical types that they are, have plenty of backup in that department.
The thing is it is uncomplicated, it works and it costs a fraction of the price to set up and maintain.
What I really enjoy about paper ballots, having had the opportunity to scrutineer a few times, are the terse messages written on some papers. It’s a waste of time of course, as they go into an invalid vote pile. But they are entertaining for those who do see them.
Come on America; take a step back from technology to something that really does work. I vote for paper and pen voting!

Don't look now, but you are being screwed

There is an interesting piece from CBC News and various other places:
Why Do Some Dictators Escape Justice?

The spotlight of international justice has shone on Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic to hold them accountable for alleged war crimes.
But many are asking: What about Suharto in Indonesia, Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Charles Taylor of Liberia?

Interesting, but facile! Why not ask the wider, more relevant question: Why Do Some Leaders Escape Justice?
Sure we are schooled to believe all that comes under the banner of democracy, or at least Western Democracy, is good and wholesome, whereas those who do not pay lip service to democratic principles are the clear baddies.
It is simplistic! Can we really say our system is any less totalitarian than a number of non-democracies? Do they lack the sanctioned violence of other types of regime? Is democracy really practiced to the fullest, at all levels?

My previous rant talks about a number of ‘democratic’ leaders who spend a good part of their time dodging bullets. These are people who have sought and accepted the delegated responsibility to act on behalf of their citizens. There should be no question that there behaviour is above reproach.
I don’t know if the folk at CBC have the wit to understand any of this. Even if they don’t, these types of stories are fed into the system as some kind of diversion.
Abuse of authority, corruption, sanctioned violence and selling influence are all part of our culture. Making an example of a few ‘black hats’ and pinning it all on them is a shallow but obviously successful tactic.

Asbestos coated leaders

It is curious that a number of world leaders and their lackeys are up to their armpits in allegations of playing fast and loose with their responsibilities. It is equally curious that most will walk into history untouched.
An exception, if you can call losing government a penalty, is the former Canadian Liberal government. Oh there will be penalties aplenty in Canada, but the can there is to be carried by non-politicos like soon to be sentenced advertising executive, Jean Brault.
I Australia PM Howard and his team seem to lurch from one drama to the next, with nary a stain on their collective shirts. The incompetence, ducking and weaving and just plain dishonesty are mind-blowing, perhaps the secret of their success; ‘Keep it too complex for the majority to follow.’
Britain’s Blair has finally been wounded by his ‘peers for cash’ scandal, but is playing by the current rules; ‘no fear, no admission, no responsibility.’ Analysts say that Blair will need to be caught with the now ubiquitous smoking gun in hand before he flinches.
George W lives amid a dizzying swirl of scandal and allegation. Even so some observers reflect on an historic comeback, ignoring Nixon of course, following the fourth quarter congressional elections of their terms.
I’m starting to believe anything when it comes to public reactions. To express my most deeply cynical beliefs; politicians, aka lawmakers, can and do largely immunize themselves against the law. They, more than anyone, will argue technicality in place of innocence, and most often win.
The real test, the mother of all tests; is yet to visit the above named leaders. Not that I am willing to suggest the asbestos coated paragons will not simply walk through the fire of Iraq unscathed.
As the truth about their Iraq misadventure slowly leaks to the wider public and that hapless country fragments into total chaos, voters will be forced to ask why we were drawn into this mess on a raft of lies.
But sadly, I believe the whole story will be too complex for most people to be able to sustain the required concentration. At best it will signal a changing of the guard, the same ethics with different badges. Life will limp on in our wounded ‘pseudo democracies’ much like it always has.

Which brings me to the point I guess: Today I am posting the first of a series of mental meanderings on democracy. Are we kidding ourselves or can it really work. First I intend to reflect on some real life situations, then perhaps – if I can sustain the concentration – look at the reality of our democratic processes.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Vote for me or go to hell!

If you had and doubts the Israeli election offers a timely reminder that the wrathful god of the Old Testament still rattles his ancient stamping ground in Israel. According to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jewish party Shas, God is concerned enough about the election outcome he is willing to personally(?) intervene.
Regarded as God's man on earth by many ultra-Orthodox Jews of non-European origin, Rabbi Ovadia has long played an active role in Israeli politics.
"I hereby issue a religious ruling that everyone must vote for Shas," commands the modern Moses.
He has previously said that anyone who votes for Shas will go to heaven, whereas supporters of Mr Olmert's Kadima party will be consigned to hell.
The good Rabbi’s rantings have put this blogger into something of a personal quandary.
To show the power of his relationship with ‘he who’s name shall not be spoken’, Ovadia cursed former PM Sharon for the "disengagement" from holy Jewish soil, saying Sharon would "sleep and not wake up" — this was taken by many supporters to foreshadow the stroke that has left Mr Sharon comatose since January 5.
There are also reports that "a series of astrologers, future-tellers and various mystics interviewed by the media in the past few days" have all predicted a massive last-minute upset for Kadima, which has already seen some slide in its support in recent days.
Oddly for a party with such a direct line to the eternal one, they need to rely on various other supernatural sources as well, but then it would be wrong for someone who thought corruption immoral to question the greater wisdom of God.
You heard it right, old Yahweh, it seems, is quite well disposed to a bit of odd corruption.
The Rabbi’s party has been partially fighting its own corruption scandals. A month ahead of the 1999 election, the star of the corruption headlines was Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who was convicted of bribery and sentenced to four years in prison.
Added to this is the resentment of many secular Israelis. There is a view that most ultra-Orthodox Jews are taking advantage of the state's largesse to avoid military service and live on welfare while ostensibly studying religion.
But the Rabbi doesn’t have the religious field to himself. One naysayer goes so far as to make some interesting, if unsupported points against the spiritual intervention argument. His claims:
1. There is no clear relationship between political affiliation and God. 2. It is a promise that can only be validated by a visit to the Garden of Eden itself after the elections – a journey most of us will try to stave off as long as possible. Even we journalists would forego the scoop of a lifetime in order to avoid that journey.

I guess there always has been and always will be ready followers of religious whackos. The culture is alive and well in our supposedly sophisticated western democracies, in which I guess Israel should be counted.
In fact out Christian nutters are far more closely aligned with the Raving Rabbi than with any real Christian teachings. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if our American cousins were didn’t start receiving threats of eternal darkness if they stray from the overtly corrupt Republican regime so fiercely supported by the religious right.
It’s got me worried now; I don’t recall any biblical entreaties to go forth and corrupt. But then again, I tend to have a rather simplistic view of biblical interpretation and I never actually perceived of a God who had the time and patience for petty intervention.

Tracking elections

NewsHound now tracks elections around the world, advising upcoming polls, final results and brief backgrounders.
You will find all the major election events on Election Watch, as well as polls from out of the way places.
Today’s issue features a facts list for the Israeli elections, due on March 28. Israeli polls can always be expected to have wide impact across the middle-east region.
Among the less visible elections is the upcoming Solomon Islands poll. If that election does not have the impact of the Israeli counterpart it is no less fascinating to the dedicated poll watcher.
Some basic facts about the Solomon Island election:

  • A total of 453 candidates in the Solomon Islands will contest the April 5 polls – 125 more than the number that contested the 2001 elections.

  • Of the 453 candidates, 24 are women.

  • Only 13 women contested the last elections.

  • Of the 24 female candidates, eight will contest in Malaita, five in Guadalcanal, four in Honiara, three in Isabel, two in Makira/Ulawa and one each for Western and Central.

  • A total of 140 candidates will contest the 14 constituencies in Malaita.

  • The highest number of candidates to contest a seat in Guadalcanal is 13, which is for South Guadalcanal, home of now jailed militant Harold Keke.

  • Former West Kwara’ae MP Benjamin Una and former Small Malaita MP Alex Bartlett are not defending their seats. Both men are facing criminal charges...

Among other sidelights of the pre-election period:

Multi-party candidate
The North West Guadalcanal Constituency voters are in total confusion over one of the general election candidate who was selected as the official candidate for 3 political parties. His name appears on the list for Lafari, PAP, and Solomon Islands First Political Parties.It is rumoured that the same candidate held a meeting a Maravovo village and all he did was swore at the people. His next meeting schedule for Visale was not attended by the public as they have heard enough abusive and rude languages from the candidate.

Women urged to reject bribes
Women candidates are being challenged to campaign clean.Solomon Islands National Council of Women acting president Anne Saenemua said this in the light of growing bribery activities by some candidates around the 50 constituencies. “Women candidates must campaign clean so that you win clean or if you loss you loss clean,” she said.

PM faces corruption allegationsSolomons Prime Minister, Allan Kemakeza is directly implicated in a scheme of corrupt ‘aid’ payments made to Solomon Islands politicians by Taiwan, the President of the Solomon Islands Labour Party Joses Tuhanuku alleged.
In a detailed report, Tuhanuku outlined how the scheme based on the funding of so-called ‘Special Projects’ was used by the Prime Minister’s Office. He claims to have uncovered details of the scheme from information gathered from outgoing members of parliament and intending candidates in this year’s general election.

Australia interfering claim
Former MP Alfred Sasako has claimed Australia is interfering into the country’s domestic affairs. He said in July/August last year, the 49 Members of the immediate past Parliament passed an amendment to the Shipping Act, which paved the way for Solomon Islands seafarers to work onboard overseas vessels.
“Unfortunately, Australia through its High Commission in Honiara has torpedoed this well-meaning endeavour.
“Because of Australia’s interference, the amendment could not be promulgated into law and so it remains in abeyance,” he said.

Constituents intimidating
Residents in the Solomon Islands province of Makira are being warned that they cannot intimidate candidates in next week's general election.
The provincial police commander, George Guna, says three communities put up notices informing candidates that if they did not attend a public forum at the end of this week, they would be fined hundreds of dollars.
He says these kinds of activities amount to intimidation and they want a free and fair election.
Guna says the communities do not have the right to demand that candidates turn up when they want.
So drop over to NewsHound and get the low down on world elections.

Monday, March 27, 2006

War pitch wearing thin

BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair is nothing if not persistent. In Australia for the close of the Commonwealth Games, Blair continued to trumpet his failed Iraq policy, to the consternation of his counterpart Australian Labor leader.
The Bush sycophant predictably championed close ties with the US, saying: "When I look at the problems of the world today, none of them can be solved without America."
Defending the Iraq adventure, Blair said; "This is why this global terrorism is so anxious to stop us in Iraq and Afghanistan - because if they succeed in that then they stop the possibility of democracy taking the place of religious fanaticism in these countries.
"The essence of the winning strategy is to say that our ultimate security lies in the spread of our values. These are not Western values. They are actually universal values, and the key to winning this battle is to match our concern with security and finding security with concern for democracy and justice," He added
All this from a man who is increasingly in the spotlight for his questionable election funding ‘values’, among other things. Tony ‘the wonder boy’ is rapidly becoming Tony the walking disaster.
No doubt Blair is looking to generate some positive media from the colonies to bolster his flagging popularity at home. It’s hard to see just why Brits would give a tuppenny damn about what Australian’s think, but Tony is getting desperate, obviously.
In truth, the former colonials, with the exception of his fellow sycophant John Howard, would more than likely be inclined to tell the British PM to ‘go to bloody hell’ and take his pissweak justifications with him.
He is, as the robust Australians would have it, ‘on a hiding to nothing!’

Corruption smoke and mirrors

If you really want to know how serious our, worldwide, lawmakers are about fighting corruption here is a tip; look at the official reaction to any given scandal involving administration and legislative bodies.
It won’t take long before you see an interesting pattern emerge. The scandal becomes focused on one key group or activity. That is, the scapegoat is quickly identified and the complexity of a given scandal is rendered simple.
Well take the US congress and the penchant for some members to accept bribes and kickback to advance the interests of various sectors. You will not that the lawmakers, apart from the overly avaricious Randy Cunningham, the baddies were all from this ill-defined group called lobbyists.
Take the focus off the lawmakers and transfer it fully onto a bunch of faceless baddies.
In a current South Korean scandal, the game being played out in much the same way. In that country nearly all power is vested in the president.
Facing their own lobbying and kickback drama, the scapegoats are the now former and largely powerless Prime Minister, and golf. Never mind that the cream of SK’s consummately corrupt corporate world under a cloud of ‘influence buying’. They, like the President, must be protected.
Now the ex PM has been given his travel orders on the country’s strike bound transport system, the focus is squarely on golf. A recent announcement has indicated that any officials caught hitting a little white ball will face severe disciplinary action.
It would have been the same scenario in Australia, where the government is scrabbling to distance itself from the UN oil for food scandal. But an overconfident administration, one used to lying its way out of trouble, simply denied any basis whatsoever to scandal claims.
As that drama unfolded the government has changed the focus, leaving wheat cheat executives out to dry, and are now ready to do the same with its bureaucrats. From a wrong start the Howard Government is progressively sidestepping responsibility, and loading it onto others.

Smoke and Mirrors
In each case, the smoke and mirrors, the distraction from the core issue, is about buying time. True it was a bad strategy in Australia, as time is proving to be their enemy. For the others, there is almost guaranteed to be sufficient diversion to allow the issues to die a natural death. In sort, they are relying on your inability to maintain interest and focus in such a turbulent world.
It might all catch up eventually, or it might just pass into history, but one thing you can rely on, the game will be played over and over.
So next time an elected official looks you in the eye and croons, ‘trust me’, at least think about those games and said officials infallible drive for self preservation and self enrichment.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

South African rape takes second place

The trial of former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma was never going to be straight forward see blog Power, Sex and South African. For one thing a female defendant taking on a powerful political force in that country is asking for trouble.
Trouble she has had in bucket loads: The politician's supporters have burned photographs of her outside the courtroom - even though her identity was meant to be a secret - and depicted her as a traitor and a tramp.
The other major aspect is the underlying political power struggle associated with the trial, a power struggle reaching into the secretive precincts of the National Intelligence Agency.
Director-general of National Intelligence Agency Billy Masetlha was fired by President Mbeki in October last year. This was after he was caught up in apparent hoax e-mails generated by the spy agency against Zuma.
At the time Mbeki is quoted as saying: "The president as head of state and head of government is the principal client of civilian intelligence … Now you can imagine what would happen if the president is fed false information.”Masetlha is blamed by intelligence inspector-general Zolile Ngcakani, and also by intelligence sources, for:

  • Authorising the unlawful surveillance of ANC executive and businessman Saki Macozoma under the pretext that the he was involved with foreign intelligence.

  • Being involved in the fabrication of the e-mails that purport to implicate senior government and ANC officials in a plot to sideline and incriminate embattled former deputy president Jacob Zuma.

  • Being highly involved in party political squabbles by colluding with politicians in the divisive succession battle that has polarised the ruling party between Mbeki and Zuma camps.

  • Abusing intelligence and state resources for personal or political gain.

  • Acting ultra vires in bugging and intercepting individuals' communications for the same purpose, which could have contributed to the fabrication of the e-mails.
The list of accusation goes on, and becomes a little confusing to outsiders, but you get the idea. This case should be about a rape, which is a daunting enough challenge in South Africa. On that issue alone, one activist Johanna Kehler says:
“What happens in the Zuma case happens in many other cases all over the country on a daily basis.” Well, what happens on the rape aspect at least.
The violence South African women face remains a secondary issue in a trial Zuma's supporters claim is part of a campaign to ruin his political future. The 63-year-old former freedom fighter had once been widely seen as President Thabo Mbeki's successor.

Corruption: some timely tales

When I began Daily Juice, with promises to provide daily updates on corruption around the globe, I feared suffering from a lack of stories. No need to fear, as it turned out.
There are at least a dozen fresh stories every day, to add to significant updates on existing issues. Rather than a drought it has been a flood.
The part I’m enjoying, with both serious and cynical eye, are the ‘good news’ bites on anti corruption efforts.
Today, in Daily Juice, is a story from Bangladesh, where the anti corruption agency is publishing contact info for the public to snitch on corrupt officials. It is a problematic approach, but still a positive one in that part of the world.
Another charmer was the news that a moderate Islamist party looks set to come to power in Morocco next year. Good news on two fronts; first the lesson that Islam has a socially responsible side, which it undoubtedly has. The second, is that parties determination to address rampant corruption in the country. That story appears under our ‘Election Watch’ section.

Other stories tend to give rise to wry amusement, not by intent (I hope) but more in the vein of inanity. One such is out of Zambia, where the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) chairperson Nellie Mutti claimed: Prevention is Best Way to Curb Corruption.
I don’t doubt the lady, just the fact that simple aphorisms rarely reflect deeper truths. But let’s go beyond the headline and see if there is some merit to the teaser.
Speaking to a group of trainee journalists, Mutti says:
"It is very difficult to detect corruption which is not reported, that is why we want to work on preventing it. We can only reduce corruption and not wiping it completely. Prevention is better than cure."
"Awareness on its own will not be adequate that is why we are working with children in schools.”
“…corruption is a criminal offence and it was not justified to steal from others.”
"Freedom of information law is important for the media to be able to discharge their function freely without interference. No documents should be treated as secrets to journalists. Access to information should not only be for journalists but also for the people to criticise and make informed decisions."
"You won't be objective if you accept that money. Poor working conditions and remuneration of journalists if not addressed would impede the work of journalists in being effective partners in the combat of corruption."
"Exposure of the people and institutions in the media for corruption acts as a deterrent and restricts the possibilities of corruption.”
Well those are some of the gems of wisdom from Chairman Mutti. I doubt many people could really argue with anyone of the points made, which is perhaps where her problem lies.
There are issues touched on which call for expansion. “…working with children in schools,” is one long term approach which must be examined more closely. Advocates of early childhood development will argue that much of and adult’s behaviour is set at an early age. But isolating social imperatives from family influences is problematic and the process is very long term.
For the rest, the value of words in the corruption debate can only be measured by the level of counter attack. Provocation is not the aim of the game, but if words and actions don’t threaten sufficiently to expose and pull down the corrupt elements; to invite some kind of fight back, then they are just empty gestures.
All power to Mutti and all those anti-corruption fighters around the world; but please, don’t just fill the world with more noise when real action is needed.

Games within games

The Commonwealth Games, quickly coming to a close in sports mad Melbourne, Australia, might not be on the radar of non-commonwealth countries. Though give some of the performances, sports elites everywhere will have been watching carefully.
The games have had the normal whiff of controversy, common to high level competition. It began under the cloud of sexual assault allegations against an India team manager. Doping managed to steal a few of the glory headlines, ensuring the drugs scandal is well entrenched in international competition.
The most fascinating story, for this non-sporting observer, is the defections. We are no longer in that intrigue riddled cold war mode, besides, we are talking former British colonies here, not a bunch of eastern European enclaves.

Half of Sierra Leone's athletes missing

Half of Sierra Leone's contingent of athletes is missing from the Commonwealth Games village after four more were reported absent today.
Two unnamed cyclists are the latest to disappear, having phoned the team camp last night and said they planned to stay in Australia.
Sierra Leone attache Robert Green confirmed that 11 Sierra Leone team members have been reported to police as missing.

Where is Sierra Leone? Let’s go to the CIA fact book; Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Liberia.
The next question is why these defectors are so keen to give up their places on the starting blocks and seek to disappear into pleasant, but decidedly ‘white’ Melbourne.
Again the CIA fact book gives a political overview:
The government is slowly reestablishing its authority after the 1991 to 2002 civil war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (about one-third of the population).. The last UN peacekeepers withdrew in December 2005, leaving full responsibility for security with domestic forces, but a new civilian UN office remains to support the government. Mounting tensions related to planned 2007 elections, deteriorating political and economic conditions in Guinea, and the tenuous security situation in neighboring Liberia may present challenges to continuing progress in Sierra Leone's stability.

Okay, that is broad brush and they don’t mention that; Sierra Leone is one of the world's poorest nations and has been torn apart by decades of civil war.
Seventy per cent of the Sierra Leone team - 21 of the total 30 - went missing during the Manchester Commonwealth Games team four years ago.

A search found little of immediate consequence, no war or coup; no famine or natural disaster. But thee was one interesting insight, an opion piece in a local paper:
The Good the bad and the ugly in Sierra Leone!
Some excerpts: What is so ugly here? We have a very pathetic economy…’
… children, as young as 12 years parade the beaches in search of men to the extent that they have gained the derogatory name of ‘Kolonkos’- a reference to their being prostitutes.
Violence of course in all facets of this society is now a fashion. The experiences gained by these boys and girls during the rebel war has transformed them into professional war-mongers, trained and skilful in perpetuating mayhem.

Well, perhaps it is no paradise, but it is difficult to see what are essentially ‘economic refugees’ gaining any sympathy from the Australian Government. They are the ones with the record of throwing real refugees to the sharks, real sharks!
It is sad that a country’s elites, sports or otherwise a so keen to abandon ship rather than help build something better. But then if we hardly even know of their existence, and leaving the development support to the likes of the World Bank, they can’t really be blamed.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Show me an honest country

In shades of Diogenes wandering the streets of Athens, lantern in hand, looking for a honest man, I have been issued a challenge.
Our news site, NewsHound, presents a dozen or so new scandal and corruption stories from around the world. A quick survey for our March coverage to date we have posted stories of official corruption in some 40 countries.
A visitor to the site, dismayed by the widespread malfeasance, asked us to find a country clean of public, or corporate for that matter, corruption.
I immediately thought of the tiny European nation Andorra, nestled between France and Spain in the Pyrenees, and far from trouble.
A quick search ruled them out because according to UK customs officials Andorra was the largest source of [cigarette] smuggling in Europe.
In the same vein we tried Monte Carlo, though the gaming history made us wary. Indeed, it was the casinos and the temptations that come with them that ruled that principality out.
Those Scandinavian states always seem so clean and wholesome, with Finland ranking well on the TI index, along with norther neighbour Iceland.But even they have a dark underbelly.
Emerging economies are said to be natural prey for both internal and introduced corrupt practices.
Rich western economies have had many years to hone and develop corruption skills to a fine art.
Transparency International is a great source for information on corrupt countries, but the ‘perceptions index’ doesn’t really reflect non corruption well.
The International Anti Corruption conference quotes James D. Wolfensohn President The World Band: A corrupt Country doesn't grow as fast as a non-corrupt Country. That reports goes on:… it's an issue which transcends the distinction between developed and developing countries. There is corruption everywhere. It is not a developing country issue.

It beats me, I already feel like I’m morphing into Diogenes. So here we go, a challenge to the bologshere: Is there a country out there lacking in corrupt public and/or corporate practices?

Risky Global Adventures

The quarterly national journal of the Australia Defence Association, Defender, has criticised the Howard Government for its failures over the wheat sales scandal, saying the lives of Australian troops in Iraq were put at risk.
The journal said Australia's wheat exporter AWB was still a government agency when it began paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein in 1999.
"Australians were serving with the multinational inspection force enforcing the sanctions," the journal said in an editorial.
"If the ADF (Australian Defence Force) is to be tasked with enforcing UN resolutions or sanctions, every available step must be taken to ensure that the rest of the government apparatus, and indeed the rest of the country, is supporting them fully."

However, revelations from Australians inquiry into Oil for Food scandal reveal the Howard governments total contempt for it’s obligations to the Australian or International communities.
Despite repeated and vehement claims by the Government on its co-operation with the UN’s Volker Inquiry, evidence shows that the government tried to block Volker’s access to trade officers and damning documentation related to the scandal.
Volcker complained to Australia's ambassador to the UN, John Dauth, at a meeting on February 7 last year that the Howard Government was not providing sufficient co-operation, and that its approach was "beyond reticent, even forbidding".
Volker told Australia’s UN Ambassador that his inquiry had evidence that AWB had corrupted the oil-for-food program and that it would be in the Howard Government's best interests to co-operate.
On November 7 last year, Downer told parliament that he had told his department "quite some time ago that I wanted them to co-operate fully, to pass all documents they could possibly find to the Volcker inquiry".
However, a classified document tendered to the Cole inquiry yesterday shows that Mr Downer agreed on November 19, 2004, to provide the UN "with assistance but not to the requests to interview officials, provide material already held by the UN (such as contracts) or access to classified transmissions (such as cables)".

If the Australian Government believed it had nothing to hide, as Ministers have asserted from the beginning of this saga, it had a strange way of showing it. More likely it was a strategy designed around denial and bullying, hoping all along the issue would simply wither on the vine.
The evidence, hard evidence, of what this writer has consistently claimed, is now in the open. The Howard Government had known as early as 1998 that a company AWB regularly did business with the Jordan-based firm Alia and was "involved in circumventing UN sanctions on behalf of the Iraqi government".
The ace up the government’s sleeve, the one they are still relying on, is that the people they represent couldn’t care less. The Australian voters, it would seem, have not the slightest qualms that the Federal government has brought the country’s international trade and diplomatic sectors into serious disrepute.
The international community might not have a say at the polls, but the potential economic fallout, the reluctance to deal with Australian exporters, will bite in time. The voters will care when it hits them personally, in the back pocket.

Sydney Morning Herald

Cole Inquiry Transcripts

Thursday, March 23, 2006

GERMANY: Massive Iran arms scandal unfolding

A scandal is shaping in Germany over alleged weapons smuggling to Iran, which threatens the survival of the German foreign minister.
New claims say the European country is home to some 100 arms-smuggling shell companies that funnel restricted technologies, such as night-vision equipment, missile technology, and F-14 Tomcat parts, to Iran.
President of the Federal Customs OfficeKarl-Heinz Matthia claims:
"We're talking about companies made up one to three persons who don't necessarily produce anything themselves but rather order something from the producers and then conceal where the stuff is going."
A TV report, which alleged that the German government has known about these companies since 2002, sparked a buzz across the country, with the obvious question being: If the government has been aware of these firms for four years, then why did the previous government allow them to operate so freely?
The as-yet-unspoken answer is that former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government did not mind allowing things to happen that annoyed Washington.
Johannes Schmalzl, president of Germany's Office for the protection of the Constitution in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, told the program 'Report Mainz' that the German authorities were having difficulty tracking the scale of the illegal exports by front-companies.
Iran has been sending agents on shopping trips to Europe and to Germany, in order to improve the reach and precision of their missiles, it was reported.
Most of the Iranian spies disguised the arms exports through a maze of small trade firms and distribution points, both within Iran and abroad. Such networks served to mislead the authorities and facilitate the illegal exports, according to the German authorities.
German firms' involvement in illegal arms exports is not confined to Iran alone. Since the 1980s, German firms and middlemen, along with counterparts in other European countries, have been suspected of smuggling nuclear technology to regimes in Pakistan and North Korea.

When politicians obsess about money, corruption is inevitable

This is a fascinating British take on political corruption. It comes in the wake of the ‘cash for peerage’ scandal in that country.
Corruption in our political life is more prevalent now, and in relative terms more shocking, than it has ever been. I know about your Walpoles, but that was in an age before the Reform Acts, when everything about the acquisition of power, in either House, was as bent as a nine-bob note. More…

Power, Sex and South African

Those patterns which fascinate your correspondent keep on emerging. The latest to spark interest is the number of sex related scandals coming out of that country and the underlying attitudes.
It is almost ironic that a country striving to rebuild after throwing off the shackles of white oppression should fall so easily into gender oppression. It is all, it would appear, about sex being a weapon or a power trip.

Most recent is the revelation of the KwaZulu-Natal Province Culture Minister’s fling with a Durban socialite. The hapless minister, Narend Singh, was forced to resign over what was a consensual sex episode.
The whole episode looks to have been a set up and the former minister was hounded out by a storm of dubious moral outrage. The issue should have been between Him, his family and the Durban frock shop owner, not the ever present moral police.

By contrast, and underlining the vast double standards at work, former deputy president Jacob Zuma is accused of raping the 31-year-old woman at his Johannesburg home in November.
He denies the allegation and says the two had consensual and unprotected sex, and along with his many supporters is having a field day.
Rape of not, Zuma’s admission of ‘unprotected sex’ should say something about a man who headed the Moral Regeneration Campaign and the South African Aids Council, whose message is ABC (Abstain, Be faithful and Condomise).

Rape is reported to occur in South Africa every five minutes.

The real dilemma for this country, steeped in double standards, is not a question of morality but of the use sex as a ‘power trip’ and the unrestrained spread of Aids throughout the country.
On the second point, "In South Africa, Zambia or Zimbabwe women between 15 and 24 years of age are three to six times more likely to get infected with HIV than men are,” according to Dr. Wolfgang Rennert, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital.
He added, “They are more likely to have been forced to have sex before their 16th birthday and more likely to drop out of school. And they are often subjected to cultural norms that define them through their ability to bear children.”

An excerpt from an article by Pregs Govender and referring to Zuma’s alleged vicytim:
“In our country, where violence against women and girls is widespread, a rape survivor used her democratic right to charge her alleged perpetrator, a very powerful man.
For her courage she has paid a very high price.
Her home has been burgled and ransacked twice, she and her mother have faced death threats, and she has lost her freedom as she has been forced to seek police protection. Under the protection of the state, her police “minder” tried to “persuade” her to drop the charge.
“…Supporters of the alleged perpetrator, wearing “100% Zulu Boy” T-shirts, burnt her photocopied photograph with her name clearly displayed as they chanted “burn the bitch”
“…In this same week, the grand-daughter of the judge who had issued the search warrants in the arms-deal corruption case against Jacob Zuma was murdered by thugs who gang-raped the childminder. When the child’s body was found she was half-naked.
“…In a society where most girls’ first sexual experience is one of coercion, rape is confused with sex. We can use this moment to clarify the distinction between sex and rape — rape is the abuse of power, in which the penis, instead of creating mutual pleasure, is used, among other things, as a weapon of war. We can clarify and change the power inequalities and definitions of masculinity that increase levels of HIV infection. We can affirm that women and children are not objects to be owned and disposed of as men please.

A 1999 survey carried out in the South African city of Johannesburg has uncovered an alarming picture of sexual violence.
One in three of the 4,000 women questioned by CIET Africa, non-governmental organisation, said they had been raped in the previous year.
In a related survey conducted among 1,500 schoolchildren in the Soweto township, a quarter of all the boys interviewed said that 'jackrolling' - a South African term for recreational gang rape - was fun.

Teaching them youngThere is nothing like example to teach the young about social behaviour:
The head boy of a rural high school in the Northern Free State has lost his title after allegedly sexually harassing schoolgirls.
The boy among other things apparently sent naked photographs of himself to some of these girls with his cellphone.
Two of them were receiving counselling to help them cope with the traumatic experience.
One of the parents said some of the Grade 11 pupils who had been drinking at a rugby day last year, were forbidden to make themselves available as candidates for the student council. "I'm not in favour of drinking, but blatant sexual harassment surely deserves a harsher punishment."
Note the reference to rugby, but read any of the high power male sports. In SA it is rugby and from a recent news piece:
SA Rugby managing director Johan Prinsloo confirmed that the union had received two anonymous letters, believed to be from a player in the union, telling of orgies and adultery at the Bosman Stadium in Brakpan, involving players, coaches and officials.

Building a new South Africa out of the disaster of Apartheid was never going to be an easy process. The initial example of those two great men, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu set a path which sadly has not held up.
The promise of their vision has degenerated to the lowest social imperatives, in many ways. But the problems faced by that country are not unique to them. Sexual abuse is alive and well and subject to double standards thoughout the world.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Britain's 'cash for peerages' mess

Given the traditional values of Britain’s Labor Party, you might expect them to be busy working to abolish the privilege ridden House of Lords. There was a time when Tony Blair did have the power to bring this about.
But observers will not that under a Prime Minister who obsequiously courts George W Bush, New Labor is only a shadow of its traditional roots.
The fact is, rather than an anachronism and an insult to ordinary Britons, the House of Lords is a repository of influence and cash.
It is the milking of this cash cow – the selling of the peerages which entitle its members – which keeps Blair’s election coffers topped up.
There are many aspects to the steady decline of Blair’s once rosy fortunes. The cash for peerages is simply the latest. But it is one which should send shivers through Labor ranks.

The lack of a viable alternative government ensured Blair, cashed up or not, survived the last election. A ‘new’, younger and more dynamic Conservative party has been emerging over the past weeks, since the election of a new leader in David Cameron.
Good government requires a strong opposition and the Conservatives have not been providing that stabilizing factor. So regardless of partisan outlook, a strong Conservative Party is good for Britain’s future.
But all that promise, all that energy waiting to be unleashed, and the Conservative Party treasurer, Jonathan Marland, suddenly has a crazy fit of ‘foot in mouth’.
In a nonsensical and hubristic aside, Marland said “We are not in this mess,” he said. “…because we are not in power.”
This is all about perceptions. Marland should have been able to claim they were not in this mess because their money raising efforts were transparent and beyond reproach. He couldn’t claim that, but he probably could have kept his mouth shut.
In the event, his comments have exposed the Conservatives to their own shortcomings in the fundraising area.

You can bet London to a brick that Labor will tease this crack wide open, if only to take the heat off themselves for a while. The hapless Cameron has inherited a predictable mess with his new leadership. He will have to answer for what has gone before and he will have to rein in undisciplined party hacks.
In the meantime the Brits are left with the certain knowledge that self serving politicians and crooked businesspeople are likely to be the only benefactors for some time to come.

Poor cops make poor cops

The police in Rivers State, Nigeria, have blamed the public for inducing police personnel to engage in unwholesome acts.
Mr. Godwin Achom, Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Administration in the Rivers Police Command, said this in Port Harcourt on Wednesday while inaugurating the command’s Police Community Relations Committee.
“The truth of the matter is that most times it is the members of the public who induce the police to do most of the things for which they are criticised.”

Corruption is well acknowledged as a problem in Africa, unlike the developed western world, of course.
But cynicism aside, things are taking an interesting turn when the public is supposed to be keeping the cops honest.
I’m sure Assistant Commissioner Achom is right in suggesting the wicked public is tempting his poor charges. The problem is, his officers have a clear duty to uphold the law, not be accessories to crime.
Compare the situation with US congressmen caught taking kickbacks then blaming the lobbyists for the tempting them. If those in positions of responsibility cannot avoid temptation, especially when they are supposed to protect the community from potential corrupt activities, they simply should not be there.
But then the comparison falls down when you compare the lot of relatively wealth US politicians and the borderline poverty of a Nigerian policeman receiving N50,000 (392.084 US Dollar ) per month.
There had been moves this week by the rank and file of the Nigeria Police Force to embark on a nationwide strike.
It failed as all policemen went about their duties after the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, introduced roll call in all police formations to ensure that the planned strike was not held.
The battle on rank and file police to sustain bare living conditions no doubt makes corruption tempting. That temptation is exacerbated when senior police are seen to be illegally lining their pockets. The trial and eventual conviction of former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, gave an insight into how high corruption extends in the force. In many instances, allowances meant for the welfare and operational efficiency of the rank and file are embezzled by their senior colleagues.
That, we are told, coupled with the poor pay in the ranks has become an inducement to more than simple bribe taking. Extortion and contract killing are among other methods of income enhancement.
Given our continual experience of greed in high places in our developed Western economies, it is difficult to argue that better pay and conditions in developing countries will solve the corruption problem.
Better pay, coupled with real leadership would make a difference, but both seem equally impossible in a world increasingly in need of ‘material show’ to enhance feelings of self worth and ego.

Sex and politics South African style

The South African province of KwaZulu-Natal has thrown its hat into the scandal ring with the resignation of the Arts and Culture minister. It’s a full blown sex scandal, no less, involving you actual sexual intercourse.
Appropriately for a n Arts minister, Narend Singh was featured, on a DVD, in compromising positions with a ‘married’ Durban socialite. It showed Singh and Rosanne Narandas in a lengthy sex session at Durban's Elangeni Hotel.
Narandas apparently fondled Singh, kissed him and repeatedly rubbed her pelvis against him before they had intercourse.
It appeared Narandas was conscious of the cameras, first preening herself and later turning towards Singh so his face was captured.

Singh said he was not prepared to "sacrifice the pride and dignity of my family at the altar of blackmail and political backstabbing".
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said he respected and accepted Singh's resignation from his post in the legislature. "Minister Narend Singh's decision to stand down from public life is a typical example of his selflessness and dedication to his country and party."

Political Motives?
Okay, for a sex scandal it probably has some good juicy elements, but even in South Africa it is not a hanging offence to ‘have a bit on the side’. So what is the real angle here?
Reports say the DVD was pushed through residents' personal post boxes, handed out at some taxi ranks and even exchanged among pupils at some high schools.
Narandas denied she had a spy camera in her handbag, telling the Sunday Times newspaper she was being framed.
The Durban boutique owner is furious at suggestions that she is behind the controversial recording. "I come from a very prominent South Coast family, why would I want to distribute this, knowing full well it would cause hurt and embarrassment to my family.
"I received the package in early December and handed it to Mr Singh's department because it had political motives behind it."

Singh had also been put into a tight spot in view of the comments made by Narandas to newspaper, an advisor said; "Until she spoke, he had denied this matter and said his face had been placed on somebody else's body."
A police spokesperson Bala Naidoo said: "We know who made this video and we are in the process of obtaining statements from several witnesses."
Singh received the DVD in early December accompanied by serious threats that unless he withdrew from politics by December 9, the relevant footage would be distributed to the public and the media.
Singh "cannot hide behind the notion that this is a private matter, its affects the public, affects the voter, and is of public interest", says Naeem Jinnah, from the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI).

I will be following the story with interest. With respect Jinnah’s assertion of ‘public interest’ is bullshit. The political knives are out in South Africa and sex, as ever, is a handy political weapon.
Sources are various. The story can be tracked on Google News.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cyclone Devastation

A Mission Beach resident rescues his clock, which stopped when the storm hit.

Australia has just endured a fierce tropical cyclone, which caused tremendous havoc in Northern Queensland. It might be worth putting this into context for some of our overseas readers.

Brisbane is around 1000kms (624 miles) north of Sydney. The Cyclone struck the coast a further 1700kms North of Brisbane.

This is not a heavily populated region, thankfully, but there are people there. Cairns, the major city of the region has around 60,000 people.

Significantly it is also a key sugars cane and banana growing region, much of the crop being devastated by the cyclone.

Just a few points about this wild tropical storm:

It made landfall as a category five storm with wind gusts up to 290kph (180mph).

The cyclone weakened to 150kmh as it moved inland.

In Innisfail, (Pop. 8100) about a third of the houses reported have lost their roofs.

According to early reports the repair bill for homes, businesses and farms devastated by Cyclone Larry could top $1 billion.

At least $500 million will be required to assist the banana and sugar cane recovery.

There are many interesting observations and comments on the Sydney Morning Herald News Blog.

The small coastal community of Mission Beach was one of the first to feel the impact of Cyclone Larry.

Troops buckle under Iraq fiasco

Australian Defence Forces (ADF) troops deployed in Iraq are racking up a marked increase in medical discharges.
One should bear in mind Australian’s small contingent, compared with the US and Britain when considering the figures.
3000 or so soldiers who have served in Iraq over the past three years, 121 of whom have been medically discharged from the military, many of them for psychological trauma.
That number represents 4 per cent of the deployment, and four times higher than the normal medical discharge rate for the military.
Medical discharges from the entire ADF have grown 43 per cent since 1999. In 2004, 723 servicemen and women were discharged; 1.3 per cent of the entire ADF. In 2003 1.18 per cent were discharged and in 2002, 0.99 per cent.

I haven’t seen the corresponding figures from the US or UK so can’t really judge whether this is reflects a general trend or is more about different outlooks.
I pulled an old story out of the box of tricks which shows a basic cultural difference, at least with the US:
Australia's F/A-18 pilots defied the orders of American commanders and refused to drop their bombs on up to 40 missions during the invasion of Iraq.
Squadron Leader Daryl Pudney has described how he and other Australian F/A-18 pilots were forced to weigh up the risk of civilian casualties in a split second before dropping their bombs.
He said pilots broke off many missions after they saw the target and decided there was not a valid military reason to drop their bombs.
Under Australia's rules of engagement pilots had to ask themselves on each mission whether it was right to drop their bombs.

Not to suggest some universal reticence toward violence in the country of surf and sun. Australia’s ‘premier fighting force’ the SAS, will hold their own with the worlds best. Although only a small part of the ADF, this hand picked group represent the very sharp edge of the Australian military.
If there were an Olympic gold medal for aggressive military assault units, the SAS would be well in contention.
So how many of them sought medical discharge? We don’t know because the ADF won’t provide a unit breakdown. My best guess is that any member of that unit who displayed such ‘weakness’ would be shot by his own colleagues.
But they are no more representative of the wider Australian military units than the Aussies are of their US counterparts. Education and personal responsibility are characteristics of the countries military training. Perhaps, and rightly so, that is a result of the many years the ADF had been, primarily, a peace keeping force.
Forgetting the oxymoronic ‘defence’, Australian’s simply aren’t infused with the ‘no guts no glory’ mindset. Faced with the horror of war itself and tragedy occupying forces are subjected to on a daily basis in post war Iraq, it is highly surprising the attrition rate is not greater than reported.

Australia sponsored terrorism claim

A former Australian Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld has claimed that Australia was among the Western powers to have financially backed terrorist regimes. Einfeld also said that the countries anti-terrorism laws leaned toward autocracy.
In an address on the war on terror and civil liberties at the University of Western Sydney, Mr Einfeld said there was plenty of evidence that sponsors of state terrorism, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Peru and Guatemala had been backed and financed by Western powers, including Australia.
"What very few people know or understand, even though the evidence is plain and plentiful, is that many of these countries have been backed and financed by the US and other Western powers, including Australia…” he added
He also blserved that:
“…political transparency is a democratic ideal to which we only pay lip service these days.”
He said terrorism was an age-old phenomenon that was to be condemned in all its guises, and that too often went unpunished.
At the same time, he said, we have to ask how far we can allow ourselves to be led away from fundamental liberal and democratic tenets in the name of the fight against terrorism. Report from the Melbourne Age

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Transport Rip-offs

Look at something long enough and strange patterns begin to appear. Thus it is with corruption. I don’t mean the obvious patterns, like South Korea’s sporting politicians. If you missed that, The Prime Minister and his sidekick were recently kicked aside for playing golf on a public holiday.
To be fair, it wasn’t just the golf although that, oddly enough, was close to a hanging offence. The bright pair made up a team with a bunch of businessmen who are being investigated for buying government favours.
That was closely followed by the Mayor of Seoul, in trouble for his regular games of tennis, or the fact that the tab was picked up by other people. Politicians obviously come cheap in SK.

A more subtle pattern which has been threading through the world of corruption is Transport Authorities. I’ve been noticing this trend for some weeks, but only just got around to looking closer. On the face of it, transport would seem to be one of the less sexy responsibilities of government. Responsibilities can range through from Highway, port and airport infrastructure down to driver licensing and vehicle registrations.
There is, no doubt, plenty of room for corruption in that mix, from tendering and contracts for the big boys to simply bribes for the clerks.

The stories still current include:
Romania where politicians, including an ex transport minister, are under investigation.
Czech Republic: Where two Transport Ministry officials whom the police detained on suspicion of corruption.
Ghana: Road Transport Minister defending his ministry against charges.
Kenya where corruption is rampant in the registration and licensing of vehicles, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission says in an investigation report.
Viet Nam where the general director of the transport ministry’s management unit 18 who was arrested last month for gambling, ‘lent’ the cars worth around US$1.25 million.

These are all, to some extent, developing economies supposedly rife with corruption. I’m inclined to think they are simply less sophisticated in the art. Developed economies have had far more experience in mitigating or shifting the focus from corrupt activities.
But they still have their share.
In Australia the NSW state government transport ministry has been a traditionally stormy sector. Currently the heat is on over a series of ‘Private Public Partnership’ projects, including an airport railway tunnel built for the 2000 Olympics and various city traffic tunnels and freeway projects.
PPP might be a great way to sell big infrastructure projects to financiers, but they a fraught with trouble, with the taxpayer picking up the tab for substandard projects and white elephants.
The USA, of course, has its celebrated Ports deals gone wrong. The scandal in that episode is very much a matter of perspective, but looks to be about an administration crippling itself and the country through paranoia generating, anti terrorism rhetoric.

Note to self: You will not get into cross-indexing charts showing the relative corruptibility of various areas of governmental responsibility.

Fighting the Christian Right

An unreconstructed enemy of the religious right, I was fascinated to find a new online community which seems to be dedicated to dumping the bucket on the US wing of this aberration.

Okay, so we are wary of single focus outfits, and the jury is still out. But I will be keeping an eye on this one.
Their Ad campaign certainly catches the eye and intrigues, though I haven't really seen the claims elsewhere.

What they say about themselves:

The Campaign To Defend the Constitution is an online grassroots movement combating the growing power of the religious right. We will fight to uphold the First Amendment's guarantee of separation of church and state and will oppose efforts to control and distort religion, education, science and culture in ways that ultimately threaten the health and well-being of American society.

DefCon: The Campaign to Defend the Constitution will work around the clock to:

  • Alert the public to the dangers and risks posed by the growing fundamentalist influence in our nation;
  • Build and mobilize an online community of concerned Americans willing to raise their voices;
  • Mobilize concerned scientists, political leaders, and theologians to help Americans understand what is at stake.

DefCon will provide mainstream America with a countervailing voice rooted in original American principles, focusing on respect for:

  • Separation of church and state as a core value in law and public policy;
  • Independence of the judiciary – safeguarding the courts from archconservatives who wish to undermine the Bill of Rights;
  • Science, medical research and technology and their crucial role in economic prosperity;
  • Individual privacy including the right to decide for oneself whether to have a baby or how to die and equal rights for all couples regardless of gender.

The Boy Who Saw Too Much

THIS is Ibrahim Sa'ad Al-Jabouri. At just five, a Shiite boy cannot be expected to comprehend what the past three years have been about in Iraq.

But it is not surprising he has retreated into his own very small and empty world. Ibrahim became an orphan when Sunni insurgents forced him to watch as they executed his father, a brother and two uncles. He had already lost his mother to illness.

The killers compounded this unbelievable cruelty by then abandoning the helpless child where wolves and wild cats roam the empty river flats on the eastern fringe of

For more...
The boy who saw too much Sydney Morning Herald

Friday, March 17, 2006

New Public Interest interactive site

We have been busy upgrading our daily scandal news site, renamed NewsHound.
Getting a handle on the fundamentals of a php backend has been a real task, but it is now functional.

The idea is to be able to deliver daily briefs of public and corporate scandal from around the globe. This is augmented with some in-depth articles on selected issues.

The new site allows interactivity and even a direct content building role by visitors. In fact, dependent on interest, we hope to see this site build as an independent portal on issues of public interest.

Come over to NewsHound, have a look and share your ideas with us.

Canadian high risk war games

Canadian soldiers expressed bewilderment, surprise and anger that people back home would question their role in Afghanistan. Brandon Sun, Canada

There is a very fundamental clash of cultures happening in Canada right now. Not an ethnic divide, but a lack of understanding between the wider public, political leaders and the military.
No doubt the latter two are happily in step for their own reasons, but the wider public find it hard to accept that the ‘peace keeper’ nation should suddenly morph into a front line fighting nation.
Like Australia, Canada has a long and proud history as a peace keeping force. The military and police from both countries have often stood side by side defusing dangerous situations.
In trouble spots, such as Cyprus, these two forces have stuck to the often thankless task, finally winning high praise from all quarters. Peace keeping is a dedicated business.
Unlike Canada, Australian forces are always ready to take up arms, which is a constant source of social tension downunder.
It does lead to a quite different view of military roles in Australia. Ironically, for a political leadership happy to send the troops off, it took massive community opinion to get the Australian government to take military action to gain independence for East Timor. So the community there is not adverse to a stoush, just selective.

That is the public perspective, for the soldiers it is often quite different. Both countries have voluntary military forces. Some join up for educational or other opportunities. Many join the military to see action; they are highly trained in aggressive fighting techniques.
The question is; can you, fairly, train a dog to bark and then deny it the right to bark? Australia seems to have solved that problem to some degree, developing a highly specialised assault force, the SAS.
The SAS were, it has been reported, deep in Iraq days before the last war was actually declared. These people are trained for stealth and aggression, they are trained killers. The real problem with that kind of force is finding some fulfilling role in between times.
The same must be true, if to a lesser degree, of all fighting forces. There is only so much marching up and down before boredom sets in, and with boredom there is the potential for strife.
No doubt Canada’s military elite are keen to test themselves in real action and were more than ready to convince a new and sympathetic government of the need of their fighting services.

As to the government’s perspective, we were warned well in advance, despite his denials, that Stephen Harper would promote the military into fighting zones. The election was not fought on that issue and there was no real announcement of the scope of the role of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
An unwitting public simply assumed this was another of the proud peacekeeping roles, not a front line fighting role. As news began leaking through of casualties in Kandahar the wider public started to understand the ramifications of this deployment.
Harper has not misjudged the national psyche on this issue; he understands it all too well. His dramatic trip to visit the troops in Afghanistan and the language of his statements issued from that tour say as much.
They are littered with vague, unsubstantiated comments about security threats to Canada. Canadians have not been accustomed to these kinds of threats in the past and can probably only see them being the result of a more aggressive military stance.
Harper can well afford the risk of military adventures this early in his incumbency.
It is a gamble, but does mark him as different to a string of leaders before him. I don’t see the nation becoming comfortable with the position, but that, in the end is something he will have to answer to.

No doubt the ordinary Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan are perplexed by the attitude of their fellow citizens back home. It is a perplexity born out of a totally different cultural perspective.
I guess, in a sense and given the intensity of front line action any criticism will be taken to heart. It shouldn’t be.
I have heard no criticism or bad feeling aimed at those soldiers in the front line. The only references to the soldiers have been concern for safety rather than attacks on them.
Canada was not prepared for this eventuality, it was delivered by stealth. There has been no debate, either during the recent election campaign or since. The dawning realisation of the situation took most people by surprise.
The debate is slowly gaining momentum now, after the fact, and is odds on to become an angry one. Perhaps Harper didn’t foresee this from the usually placid Canadian populace.
The only shame is that the soldiers, doing what soldiers do, will be caught in the crossfire, and nobody really wants that.

Condi woos an unlikely crowd

Well Condi finally made it to Australia, after several postponements. Lucky country indeed; with a new ambassador finally being appointed in the same week.
The US Secretary of State made a splash in Sydney, at least as feted as frequent visitor, Bill Clinton, even if the welcome was a tad more robust than Bill usually gets.
There were protests, especially around the venue of her address to Sydney students. The clash was more heat than substance and Condi is reported to have weathered it well.
What I found significant was the grilling by the students. Earlier in the day, after a meeting with Australia’s Foreign Minister, reports asked two questions. In contrast, Rice went on to take 45 minutes of tough questions from the students.
A Sampler:
“…why the US, currently "ranked as one of the lowest OECD nations as far as foreign aid goes" didn't commit to a higher percentage of its gross national income.
“…what [did] Dr Rice meant by her oft-used term "freedom" when people were locked up indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay without charge.
Do “the US's policies on rendition and the abuses at Abu Ghraib didn't "undermine what America stands for".

Americans should know and be aware that their actions are scrutinized by people in other countries. The policies of the US have a very real impact and the US administration a profound responsibility to the rest of the world.
Condi acquitted herself well, as did her audience, though it is doubtful there was great satisfaction on either side.
Australians recognise and love great political performers, even if they disagree with the fundamentals of policy. As a population they enjoy robust interaction with political leaders.
Although often heated and to the point they will readily accept political performers who can hold their own.
Condi, unlike many of her colleagues, is seen downunder as a great performer. She’s Bill of course, but still comes away with a kangaroo stamp of approval on her hand.
Some links to the Condi show:
I'm proof of democracy in action SMH
Protests disrupt Rice visit Melbourne Age
Condi stands calm in the eye of her storm AUSTRALIAN

Wheat Cheats expose government

Fifteen intelligence reports on the corruption in the UN's oil-for-food program were earlier suppressed by the Cole inquiry at the request of the Government on national security grounds.
The released summaries of these reports will put the Prime Minister, John Howard, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, and the former defence minister Robert Hill under renewed pressure over the scandal.
The damning material was supplied by foreign intelligence services between 1998 and 2004 and then distributed throughout the bureaucracy.
According to a sworn statement to the Cole inquiry, it was passed to "departments, other agencies and certain ministerial offices in accordance with normal agency practice and as shown on each document distribution list".
Despite these reports, the Government did not order its own agencies to collect intelligence on AWB and other Australian companies dealing with Iraq under the oil-for-food program.
Nor did the reports provoke the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department to take steps to ensure there was no breach of UN sanctions.
[Foreign Minister,] Downer has repeated his claim that the intelligence had not raised any concerns about AWB. "There wasn't any Australian intelligence reporting and there wasn't any intelligence reporting from our foreign partners … that specifically mentioned AWB."
However, the reports set out in precise detail the system of kickbacks now known to have been used by AWB. Alia was identified as early as 1998 as "part owned by the Iraqi government and … involved in circumventing UN sanctions on behalf of the Iraqi government". Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Tom DeLay show

For some of us the perversity of politics is endlessly fascinating; the odd twists and turns which should spell doom, but more often entrench wily pollies.
On that score there could be few subjects more relevant than the machinations of Tom DeLay.
Following the “ass whoopin” as one of his apologists recently described DeLay’s defeat of three challengers for his Sugar Land stronghold, I for one was left perplexed.
I thank fellow blogger, mikevotes, for his helpful comments on Curious Doings in Sugar Land. He gave a useful insight into DeLays phenomenal 62% win.
But I have to admit, I am still perplexed by the DeLay phenomenon.  Chris LaCivita, a former head of the Virginia Republican Party and author of the “ass whoopin” quote says: “Republican voters ultimately would vote for the candidate who represents their values.”
Now if I were a Republican voter I’d need to think long and hard about having the same values as a man indicted for corruption. Obviously some of his opponents in the recent primary feel the same way.
Even given that they were soundly badmouthed by DeLay after the primary result was announced, and branded ‘Liberal Democrats’, there is a ring of truth to comments like: “I cannot endorse any felon.” That was from Michael Fjetland, an attorney who knows the difference between a felon and someone simply indicted and as yet to face trial.

Delay still has big troubles on his plate, politically if not legally. He is tangled in the Abramoff net in a big way, both personally and through associates. His patron, George W is sinking fast in the polls as the half term election looms. Finally he will be up against a well financed and experienced campaigner in former Rep. Nick Lampson.
I guess what is so perplexing is just why DeLay saw fit to make his primary opponents potentially very real opponents in an election environment.
Perhaps there is no logical explanation. Could be old Tom really is feeling the pressure and is simply reacting, letting it all out. On the other hand, being a political bully doesn’t seem to have harmed him so far.

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Congressmen make ethics laws?

I hate to sound like a Jeremiah, but here goes: However much congress toys with ethics they will always come up short. It is not that they, the lawmakers, are inherently dishonest. It is the nature of the beast, the culture of ‘entitlement’.
To borrow another OT allusion; these are the Pharisees in the system; it is their job to argue every ‘jot and tittle’. We are not talking ‘Thou Shalt Not…’ Every ethical rule will be fashioned against what they might or might see themselves to be entitled to.

The only proven way to ensure a reasonable level of ethics is to put the whole issue in the hands of a third party. The same goes for a number of other contentious issues which should not be within the realm of self-interest.
Here we can include electoral law, remuneration and of course entitlement. Of course the natural, self-interest argument against independent umpires is that they too have self interests.
That is no doubt true, and we do see instances of corrupt corruption fighters. More often though, regardless of possible partisan background or other influences, appointees generally adopt these roles with sincere passion.
I have no allusions that US lawmakers are hanging on my every word here. It is a bit like pissing into the wind, but it still needs saying. When we see the headline: House Leaders look to establish Independent ethics commission I will start to see some hope for the future of the nation which has such enormous influence, for good and bad, across the globe.