Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Signs and wonders

The signs of a pendulum swing just keep on coming. I’ve tended to watch the bigger events, like the defeat of Berlusconi in Italy, Blair’s immanent downfall in Britain and recent trebling in the Republicans over the potential loss of CA-50, Duke Cunningham’s can’t lose district.

Equally fascinating ‘micro’ indicators are being thrown up by a few other bloggers.

The quirky kvatch sees; Early Signs of Desperation in the Nutsphere, the increase of pathetic blog attacks by the bottom feeders of the right.

I guess we owe these cretins some thanks for this sign that all is not going well for them.

Mike at Born at the Crest sees signs in the tabloids: Bush Marriage Breakup!!!! Strange days indeed when the bottom feeders of the media turn on their own, and a certain sign that the pendulum has started swinging.

I am still inclined to look to the wider picture, if only because of the grief caused by Bush camp followers, my Australian Prime Minister Howard and my apparently ill timed conservative PM Harper.

If all goes forward according to current signs our Mr. Harper could well find himself just a little lonely out there as the last of a dying breed.

John Howard’s Australian Liberal Party, which is about as conservative as they come, is sinking like a stone in the polls. Like Bush’s administration, Howard has been faced with one blunder after the next.

Of course people will endure and excuse a lot so long as the economic perceptions are optimistic. Never mind that life is a struggle, if the indicators suggest potential for something better then voters will stick with it. The thinking always seems about as real as spending next weekend’s big lottery win.

But the economic outlook is no longer positive. The spin has spun and the potential windfall has evaporated like the smoke it always was.

I was tentative, hopeful, but tentative before. I do believe now that those signs and wonders, predicting the end of a morally and ethically bankrupt cycle are becoming more trustworthy.

In the end there is only one poll that counts, so here is looking forward to some exciting election results over the next couple of years. The attack of the wingnuts is a more than acceptable sacrifice to endure if the result is some political sanity.

Dili Update

Feuding mobs, armed with machetes and other hand weapons, give chase to rivals in Dili today. Photo: Adrees Latif

Rival Timorese gangs and masked gunmen waged war on Dili's streets today just hours after Australian commanders declared the violence was coming to an end and it was safe for families to return home.

Groups of young men set fire to houses and attacked one another as gunfire rang out in at least three clashes.

On a main road linking the city and airport, two gangs of around 30 men fought with machetes and bows and arrows before so-called "westerners" with guns arrived to force rival "easterners" to flee, witnesses said.

The westerners then went on a rampage, burning four homes and smashing their way into a supermarket in a looting spree.

A teenage girl, Rosalina de Sousa, 14, was hospitalised with horrific knife injuries after a communal fight in the Quintal Boot district on the city's western outskirts.

She had four fingers cut off one hand, while her left ear was severed, a nurse said.

Rival gangs are countering efforts by President Gusmao and Ramos Horta to find a political solution to the crisis in East Timor; "Viva Xanana Gusmao! Viva (Jose) Ramos Horta!," they shouted in support of the president and foreign minister. "Mari Alkatiri no good!"

Gusmao and Ramos Horta are reported to be negotiating a ministry reshuffle, but are unable to force out the still stubborn Prime minister, Alkatiri, under the country’s constitution.

Gusmao says he's taking over "sole responsibility" for the country's national security in a bid to end more than a week of swirling unrest.

Jose Ramos Horta, the country's Nobel peace prize-winning Foreign Minister, acknowledged that his government had "failed miserably" to prevent the unrest. He directed the blame toward Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. "In some areas, particularly in political dialogue in embracing everybody, in resolving problems as they arise, well, the government has failed miserably," Ramos Horta said.

Mobs torched houses and ransacked government offices, including that of the attorney-general where they succeeded in breaking into the Serious Crimes Unit.

Files involving all of the most prominent Indonesian defendants in the 1999 massacres that followed the East Timor's bloody vote for independence, including former Gen. Wiranto, were stolen, said Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro.

Obviously Gusmao is attempting to see East Timor come out of this crisis with the country’s constitution still in place. There is no room, without a UN mission in place, to invoke extra-ordinary emergency powers without ceding control even in the short term, to foreign powers.

Although the Australian military is steadily disarming rampaging youth, they are playing a cat and mouse game, chasing down gangs using cell phones to direct their movements away from the military units.

The major problem, at present, seems to be controlling youth gangs. The government has given the Australian military power of arrest and detention for up to 72 hours. With the dismantling of the East Timor military, and more particularly the police, that doesn’t really give much breathing space to force changes in government which might calm the situation down.

For Gusmao and Ramos Horta it is a matter of damned if you do and damned if you don’t as they strive to save their fledgling country from destruction.


An interesting look at the two key players in the East Timor crisis.

On the one side there is Gusmao, 59, former leader of the pro-independence Falantil guerillas who fought the Indonesian army in the mountains of East Timor for 15 years, and now universally loved and admired as the country's first President.

On the other side is Fretilin leader Alkatiri, 56, a wily Marxist who spent 24 years studying and working in political exile in Mozambique before making a triumphant return to East Timor in 1999.

The origins of the dispute between Gusmao and Alkatiri, both of whom were born and reared in Timor, go back a generation to Fretilin's struggle against Jakarta.

In the years immediately after the Indonesian invasion in December 1975, Falantil (the armed wing of Fretilin) was decimated as a fighting force, with its key leaders, including Nicolau Lobato, killed. In March 1981 a youthful Gusmao was promoted to become Falantil's commander-in-chief.

Gusmao set out to challenge Fretilin's orthodox approach to the resistance struggle by opening a dialogue with Indonesian military leaders. He brokered a ceasefire with Indonesian commanders in 1983 in defiance of the views of his three Falantil deputies. The Australian

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ignorant, gutless Bigots

Anonymous kindly left another comment, this time on the post "Lessons from Dili", as follows:
Amazing. You aren't very smart. Not a peep mention that the biggest problem in East Timor is called Islam. that's because you kow-tow to the media, and refuse to identify the biggest problem there, because the media doesn't want to piss off the Islamists.

I posted it as an example of the sort of ill-informed, ignorant, bigoted morons doing the rounds at present. I hope anonymous comes back and learns something about his world.

I guess the coward assumed, if he has the thinking capacity – Eat Timor is near Indonesia. Indonesia is Muslim, so East Timor is Muslim. Sorry champ, no cigar!

The majority of the population is Roman Catholic. According to the 2002 statistics, 749,000 of the country’s total population of 792,000 are Roman Catholics.

Current statistics are not yet available about the other religious minorities represented in East Timor, mainly Protestants, Muslims and Hindu-Buddhists. A smattering of Muslims and Buddhists are also present in Dili.

Now our religio/geography master probably didn’t know, or care that the Prime Minister of East Timor is a Moslem.

Not a peep mention that the biggest problem in East Timor is called Islam… Well an informed media would hardly report a situation which only existed in the mind of a gutless bigot.

But there is hope for everyone to better their knowledge and understanding. Here are a couple of links which might explain the interplay of religion and politics in East Timorese society.

East Timor (09/05)

East Timor - People and Culture

I think, after this episode, I might just quietly delete any idiotic anonymous posts. I guess most people have seen enough by now.

UPDATE: Our friend the IGB has been back to visit the previous post, Lessons from Dili, with some more corrections to my story:

the East Timor massacre of thousands of Christians occurred at the hands of Muslims. Are you denying this fact?
Blaming me as being a bigot is showing your readers that you are nothing but a liberal smokescreen and it also proves that you can't take criticism without tossing up the smokescreen act and admitting that you know less about East Timor than you make out to know.
I'm reposting here in case any more IGB come past. Fact:
The actual slaying was of East Timorese by the predominantly Muslin Indonesian and West Timorese.

It also jogged my recall:

Be mindful on this Memorial Day that the East Timorese people fought bravely beside the allies during the Second World War.

True, like me, they were Australians the ET’s fought with. But also remember how closely our countries were linked in that struggle. Australian and American veterans still come together annually in remembrance of those battles. As they do for Veitnam, and will do for many of the current actions.

Lessons from Dili

Restoring order … an Australian soldier stands atop a troop carrier to control crowds queuing for rice at a warehouse in Dili. Photo: AP

AUSTRALIAN forces have detained and disarmed more than 130 rebel police and military personnel after negotiations that involved Australian military leaders and East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao.

The breakthrough was the first positive news after days of bloodshed and anarchy in Dili, especially as it was accompanied by an agreement from military and police loyal to East Timor's embattled Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, to stay in barracks.

There was also relative calm on the streets, although there were wild scenes at food stores, were hungry citizens lined up for food, much of which was handed out by Australian soldiers.

The fledgling East Timor has fallen into the same traps and distortions of democracy plaguing the institution around the world. The problem, at the heart of much unrest, is that a vote is not seen so much as a commission to represent the aspirations of the people as a personal ‘winner takes all’ prize.

The Problem for East Timor, for a Prime Minister who holds doggedly to office despite the unrest that stubbornness generates, is that they do not have a sufficiently mature infrastructure to enforce acquiescence.

Even for a very young nation, East Timor boasts two leaders of International stature, but President Xanana Gusmao and Foreign Minister, Hose Ramos Horta, were left isolated to guide the inexperienced nation when the UN withdrew their support last year.

Peter Galbraith, director for political, constitutional, and electoral affairs for the UN transitional administration in East Timor in 2001, has said; “I had grave misgivings about the departure of UN peacekeepers.

“The truth is, by the end, the peacekeeping mission was very small, it was inexpensive, it was providing stability to a country in which Australia and other members of the international community had invested heavily.

"And it seemed to be really pennywise and pound foolish to terminate the mission early. It's a very small price to pay as compared to what happens if the country deteriorates and you have to send in large numbers of troops.”

The trigger for the current violence revolved around an intransigent Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri. A significant number of East Timorese have lost confidence in his leadership, but rather than respond he has simply dug his heels in. Well, he has plenty examples of how democracy really works, that it devolves down to power above all else.

Once elements of the military and police voted with their feet and took to the hills, quite literally, the way was left open for undisciplined and unfocused gangs to run wild. So much for nurturing and guiding democracy, the world community has been left wanting yet again.

There are many lessons, for the world community, to be drawn from the East Timor experience. First of all is the obvious, don’t start what you are unwilling or unable to finish. East Timor was not a complex issue to manage, nor as we have seen, an expensive one.

Assuming everyone shares the same definition of democracy is a problematic notion. In a relatively small community like East Timor, loss of public confidence in a leader can be swift and certain. Clinging to the paradigm; ‘I was elected, I can’t be unelected!’ is a folly.

There can be no justification for one person or one political grouping to claim a mandate and hold it doggedly in the face of disintegrating civil order. ‘By the people, for the people’ must be the only acceptable standard and no one is expendable when it comes to the greater good.

Democracy depends not on rules and conventions, but in the end, on men and women, on leaders who will put the interests of the nation before their own.

Sound, balanced policing, as opposed to military intervention, is essentially in a society at any level of development. Military simply have no role in maintaining the internal structures of a country.

The most immediate and obvious lessons from East Timor will relate to the far more complex Iraqi situation. But they are also lessons which can be and should be applied to our developed nations.

Democracy, as currently practiced, is a sham. It is not about winning the privilege of leading and fulfilling the aspirations of the people. It has become a greedy path to self enrichment at the cost of those, forced by lack of alternative choices, to elect self serving crooks.

Perhaps, as is often claimed, we elect the governments we deserve. Despite a seeming willingness to accept the unethical behavior of our leaders, I don’t think that is a fair claim any longer.

Democracy has been degraded to such an extent by those chosen to uphold it, the people really have little choice over who is ‘elected’, or more commonly, put in positions of power.

There is simply too much personal gain to be had from ‘democratic’ power to leave the choices to the voter.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Sunday Diversion

Engaging with the serious issues of our times, as many bloggers do, must lead to occasions of anger, frustration and helplessness for the essentially isolated commentators.

I’ve never really asked the question but hazard that most, like me, post as a personal expression, always hoping and delighted when others respond and share thoughts on issues. The response is gratifying, though even without it there is still the satisfaction that someone out there is looking.

The anger, for the year or so I’ve been blogging anyway, has been isolated and sporadic. Just lately those stronger emotions are being expressed more widely, both in primary blogs and in comments.

The interesting part is that, at least in my chosen circle of commentators, each tends to focus on their own set of perceived outrages.
For the most part that means individual elements of both national and international affairs.

True the Americans tend to focus on their national situation, and there is plenty there to focus on. Some of us have a wider view of the landscape, with a correspondingly different, but interlocking set of issues.

Regardless of which part individuals feel moved to respond to, there is an increasing sense of outrage building.
Balancing that is something even more precious, mutual support and encouragement which transcends agreement, engagement or any other potential barrier.

Mike, over at Born at the crest, disdains lists – I guess sees them as too confronting and distracting, but I can see his point.
Still, avoiding listing issues, Mike’s blog is where I know I can feel the pulse on the wide scope of Iraq issues. But not limited to that mess.

Abi has recently entered my part of the blogging galaxy, bringing in discussion on Israel, and the Middle East; fielding views on the spread of weapons and defensive systems.
A refreshing addition, even if it does add more disturbing facets to a barely manageable agenda.

Reality Based Educator is like a dog with a bone on aspects of US domestic policy, where it borders on the illegal and unethical. RBE’s posts stir up a deep level of discussion, with comments more often becoming mini-blogs.
I guess it is the educator who’s role is to make people think. Sure makes me think.

Even Kvach, the quirky froggy who is so adept at subverting with humour, is not immune to the growing sense of anger. Kvach’s Kommandos might well be capturing minds across America as you read, but the plastic soldiers don’t divert the lightning rod effect from blognonymous.

There are many more, argumentative, supportive, informative and increasingly angry bloggers in the ranks. Lurkers would do well to visit the many valuable links off these sites.

In many ways I can relate best to PragueTwin, an American living in Eastern Europe. We share the view from the outside, which forces quite a different perspective on events.

True our posts tend to be more eclectic, and slightly out of focus at times. The fact is, when you are looking at the globe rather than one spot on that globe there are a vastly increased range of distractions. So many more issues in view to feed the incipient anger.

The display of mutual support and respect represents everything we look for fail to find in our wider communities. Thank you for making it a reality in this small corner of the cosmos.

Timor burns

Across Dili, anger grew at the failure of Australian troops to halt the carnage. About 30 Australian armoured personnel carriers rumbled through the city's streets, but did little to halt the violence or the mass exodus of terrified citizens.
Houses and shops were set on fire as ethnic gangs ran amok, while as many as 50,000 people have now been made refugees.

Across Dili, anger grew at the failure of Australian troops to halt the carnage. About 30 Australian armoured personnel carriers rumbled through the city's streets, but did little to halt the violence or the mass exodus of terrified citizens.
Houses and shops were set on fire as ethnic gangs ran amok, while as many as 50,000 people have now been made refugees.

HEAVILY armed East Timorese military personnel went to Dili's national hospital and threatened to storm the wards if they were not given the names of the injured police officers recuperating inside.

URGENT: ***as many as 50,000 people have now been made refugees***

The Australian Red Cross is providing assistance to those displaced by the current unrest in Timor-Leste. Chech it out and please support them here...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

More than 60 children held at Guantanamo

More than 60 minors, some as young as 14, have been held as prisoners at the US detention facility for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a London-based human rights group says in a report.

Those detainees were under 18 when they were captured by US forces, and at least 10 of them still being held at Guantanamo were 14 or 15 when they were seized, held in solitary confinement, subject to repeated interrogation and allegedly tortured, the charity Reprieve was reported as saying.

I really can't begin to imagine how much worse this insanity can get.

What kind of societies have we allowed ourselves to become? Are we so paranoid that children now must be our targets?

Leave Leo Da Vinci alone

A diversion from the political, but I’m getting a little weary of people thrusting the Da Vinci Code at me, describing it the most incredible superlatives and exhorting me to read it.

I have a reputation as a reader, which is sad when you think about it. Apparently people read so infrequently that someone who prefers a book to other media is considered somehow different.

But no, I haven’t read the book and I have no intention of doing so.

Mind you, I’m not dismissing the book for the same reason as some vocal church groups.

In the end, I cannot see how the trust of the Gospels would be altered one bit by a revelation that Jesus had ‘a significant other’.
His domestic lifestyle really had little bearing on the key messages; it was Saul of Tarsus who introduced personal lifestyle issues to the scriptures.

In a way, when the book first hit the public eye, I was a more stuck by the feeling of; “been there, done that,” and with more compelling and perhaps scholarly writers.

Names like Barbara Thering, the controversial Australian biblical commentator. Even more profound to me, on these issues, was Robert Graves.

Graves was forthright about the shortcomings of his novel ‘King Jesus’, which was a vehicle for his theory of ‘sacred kingship’.

I was fascinated to find a comment on Daily Kos recently: A more serious look at the maelstrom of 1st century AD Jewish, pagan, Christian, Roman and Greek theology is to be found in Robert Graves historical novel "King Jesus".

In fact, if anyone was being ripped, it was the distinguished author of " I Claudius " and "Goodbye To All That"...

"King Jesus" is either consided to be unreadable or the most controversial and brilliant of his books.

That sums up
That comment sums up my views on the matter nicely.

The other major issue I have is a personal aversion to conspiracy theories. Admittedly, my record on things empirical is patchy.
I admire the ‘evidence based’ concept, but too often run with a gut feeling first and catch up with hard fact later.

However I cannot be accused of going so far as to promote wild conspiracies, no matter how attractive they might appear.

The fact is, the shadowy conspiracies, which I am told underpin the Da Vinci Code, have been around for many years, and long ago discounted.
As for Da Vinci himself, there is simply no documentary evidence existing, or even reported as existing, which would support the claim.
It is a fictional construct, pure and simple. He was brilliant in his own right, so leave the poor bugger alone.

In short, the Da Vinci Code is a fiction, albeit into one which has tapped into the spiritual vacuum of our times. There are many works which posit a different, and perhaps more identifiable Jesus than the dominant church view would allow.

Unlike the ‘Code’, these works generally suffer the stigma of scholarship, rendering them inaccessible to the majority. A majority, it would seem, who have been bought up on a diet of pre-chewed, predigested and entertaining beliefs.

I would encourage anyone to read, even the Da Vinci Code.

Reading is a great way of seeing the many facets of this complex Further, I would encourage people to read critically, to question. Not in the ‘if black was really white’ or that sounds plausible; but to really think about ideas in the context of the real world.

Either that, or just enjoy the ideas as entertainment and move on.


Diggers strive to quell violoence
The 3rd Battalion's Delta company came face-to-face with the reality of Dili's descent into chaos yesterday.

It began as a routine patrol, with the 70-strong company fanning out from its base at Dili airport to secure the Australian embassy down the road, where the throngs of refugees escaping the bloodshed had begun to gather.

The plumes of billowing smoke were the first warning, then came a flood of panicked residents down Banana Road in the suburb of Delta-Comoro, where arson attacks and incursions, by forces linked to rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado and gangs from the west of the country, had terrorised residents for days.

On Banana Road, Delta company encountered a stand-off between about 50 armed rebels and hundreds of furious locals wielding machetes, spears, slingshots and handmade clubs studded with rusty nails.
Read more SMH...

Gang violence out of control

More than half of Dili's population has fled spiralling carnage and chaos, with militia gangs defying Australian forces to conduct a rampage of violence across the city.

East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta has blamed the slow pace of the Australian intervention for the violence and panic.

PORTUGAL'S Foreign Minister Diogo Freitas de Amaral has lashed out at Prime Minister John Howard for criticising the authorities in violence-torn East Timor, which Lisbon ruled for four centuries.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Dili Update 2

WIDE-EYED youths brandish machetes, armed militias rampage through the streets, terrified civilians flee, soldiers lay siege to police headquarters and your sleep is broken by rifle bursts, heavy machine guns and the thump of grenades. Welcome to East Timor, the world's youngest nation on the brink of becoming its next failed state.

Chaos and violent madness greeted the arrival of Australian commandos in Dili, walking into a country racked with political, military and ethnic divisions. There are no battle lines here, no rules and no certainty military intervention will calm the violence spiralling out of control for the past month.

East Timor's Foreign Affairs Minister says some elements of the nation's Army are acting arbitrarily.

A dispute over pay and promotions in the East Timorese Army that began two months ago has become widespread fighting between rebel soldiers, loyal troops, police and civilians in Dili.


* MARCH 2 600 East Timorese soldiers strike over work conditions.

* APRIL 28 Rioting by soldiers from the west leaves two dead, 29 hurt.

* APRIL 30 Hundreds of sacked soldiers flee into mountains.

* MAY 3 Australia seeks extension of United Nations mandate.

* MAY 11 Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta says soldiers will talk.

* MAY 12 Australia sends 2 warships.

* MAY 15 Australian troops arrive to protect Australian interests.

* MAY 19 Fretilin party endorses Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

* MAY 20 Fourth anniversary of independence.

* MAY 22 Peace deal brokered.

* MAY 23 Australian troops on standby as fighting erupts again.

* MAY 24 The fledgling nation’s leaders call for assistance.

* MAY 25 More than 1000 Australian troops begin arriving in Dili as part of
a military-led intervention.

* MAY 26 Evacuations to Australia of expats, East Timorese, Canadians, Indonesians,
a New Zealander and a Portuguese begin as heavy fighting is reported around

Dili Update

Security in the East Timor capital appeared to worsen despite the presence of
Australian troops at the airport. Leaders on all sides of this bloody dispute
were confident that the situation would calm as soon as the Diggers landed in
the capital.

East Timor has strong ties with Australia, stretching back to World War II. Many
ET officers, including the current rebels, were trained by the Australian military;
and some of the political leadership spent their years of exile in Australia.

The Australian military led the relatively clean operation, which establish independence
for the tiny country.

As it turns out, the appearance of the Diggers has not been the simple solution
hoped for.

Reports aren’t clear on where the continued unrest stems from, but there
are numerous mentions of ‘gangs of armed youths’ rampaging through
the capital and outlying areas.

The Australian wife of President Xanana Gusmao says the country's armed forces
do not appear to be taking orders from anyone.

It seems the trained officers might be welcoming the Diggers, but they are unable
to control other elements, whether notionally under their command or not.

Australian military have been given well defined ‘terms of engagement which
include, ultimately, lethal force.

From the reports:

Timor's military has armed the militias ripping the country apart, presenting
a major challenge to the Australian-led international intervention, the Foreign
Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, has revealed.

Brigadier Michael Slater, the commander of the Australian forces, said he did
not want to disarm the warring parties but get them to return to barracks.

Charred bodies of mother, children found Militias appear to be targeting police
and their families in revenge attacks.
– Sydney Morning Herald

East Timorese army is being ordered back to barracks to quell the nation's killing,
but troops on the ground last night continued to fight rebel soldiers.

Senior Government sources said military commander Taur Matan Ruak had given
the order to force soldiers back to barracks. It came after revelations that
soldiers had armed civilian militias, according to East Timor Foreign Minister
Jose Ramos Horta.
– The Age

troops take control in Dili
– The Australian

Aust troops
patrol Dili street
s The Australian ABC

Disinformation and power hungry mongrels

There is an increasing feeling of the return of the Cold War from the current

US administration. True there have been other attacks on alleged freedoms enjoyed
by the citizens, but those like McCarthy’s were essentially offensive.

The Bush administration seems to have adopted the Cold War tactic of disinformation
for use against their own people. I know we use other terms now, like spin and
damage control, but it amounts to the same thing.

One suggestion I came across for the Porter Goss dismissal has it that his
role was to steer a severely truncated CIA away from intelligence gathering
and into disinformation production. Not merely aimed at supposed enemies but
at citizens of the US and allied countries.

The failure of Goss, in that regard, can probably best be illustrated by the
continuing controversy over the actual existence of super insurgent, Abu Musab

Admissions of other propaganda episodes have led to the questioning of the
existence of al-Zarqawi as anything more than an American invention to put a
face to an otherwise intangible enemy.

The whole WMD episode was another monumental, disinformation cock-up. One which
could still lead to serious trouble for the administration and significantly
one which the CIA was somehow instrumental in exposing.

Disinformation over the NSA surveillance program is surely not the fault of
the CIA, but raises the spectre of an increasingly active, domestic intelligence
operation. Arguably, much of the active intelligence gathering function of the
CIA is being transferred to other, undefined agencies.

The fact that DoJ investigators have been barred from looking at information
and documents relating to the National Security Agency's surveillance program
that were already in the Justice Department's possession, underscores that concern.

It could be argued that the intelligence services of the Cold War era were
not especially efficient or effective. It was a spy Vs spy game which, to a
great extent, had little impact on our daily lives.

This current crop of spooks, apparently as inept as their predecessors, is
of a greater concern because they are bringing the game right into the homes
of ordinary people.

Like the US, the Australian and British governments have promulgated draconian
laws which severely undermine concepts of liberty and freedom. On top of that
they would seek to steer public opinion and support to increase the erosion
of citizen’s rights.

What I can’t understand is just what is the madness driving this quest
for total power over citizens who generally couldn’t care less what their
governments do, so long as they are relatively comfortable?

Are the egos of these power hungry mongrels so fragile that they need to totally
cower the masses to satisfy their own lack of self esteem? Events of this whole
dark period are just beyond imagination and belief.

A Blow to Democracy

So the great leaders in Washington are showing their feet of clay.

Forget the entrenched petty pilfering; the real corruption is that of democracy.
It might be bough about by the same base desires and rank arrogance, but the
diminution of freedoms and democratic rights will always be far more alarming
than the theft.

I don’t know if Hastert is guilty of petty corruption or not, I don’t
really care. I do no he is guilty of that greater corruption, subverting the
claimed equality of the people.

Believe me, this is a concern which spreads well past the US borders.

My Australian Prime Minster and my Canadian Prime Minister are currently in
the thrall of the lawless Washington push, as is the Prime Minister of my many
British friends.

When the House leaders cried foul over a DoJ on an office attached to the House,
and were backed up by a now largely ineffective President, we were told the
real truth; there are now two laws, one for the powerful and one for the rest.

True, we have suspected that was the situation for some time, but this is clear
and unassailable proof. It means that in the USA, certain groups of powerful
people exist outside the laws which govern everyone else.

My collective Prime Ministers have been traveling that road more and more frequently,
as well.

Now don’t give me any clap trap about the American Constitution, it does
not provide blanket indemnity for lawmakers, and neither should it.

If a lawmaker gets caught with their hand on the money, they, more than anyone
should be held to account. They are the ones who fashion the law, who decide
what is right or wrong for society, they are the architects of the law.

WE, as ordinary citizens of our respective countries can question, protest
or disagree with their laws, but we are bound by them in the end. So should
they be.

That one move, the sequence from the House leaders crying unfair to the President
stepping in to put a stop to justice being done, represents the saddest moment
for modern democracy.

It is the final affirmation of power corrupting totally.

Friday, May 26, 2006

ABC blogging, bloody cheek

The ABC revelations of an FBI investigation into House Speaker Dennis Hastert
raise serious issues in the journalism and blogging spheres.

The ABC and the rest of the big media players might run close to the margin
at times, to break a hot story, but they operate under a defined legal and ethical

They not only have vast resources to validate reports, they have a serious
responsibility to use those recourses honestly and transparently.

The ABC and other news organizations have every right to use the blog format
as part of their overall presentation. To use the blog to float a dodgy story
is unethical and misleading.

Of course it could be that they see blogging as a free for all, but they have
a boody cheek, joining in and adding to that perception

Tickled as I was by the Hastert revelation, something held me back from running amok
with it. The story didn’t appear in the mainstream of the ABC's site, but
on what passes for a media blog.

There is a world of difference between a large media organization and the average
web log owner.

I can, as a blogger, tell the world that I think Hastert is a first rate arsehole;
it’s my opinion worth nothing more nor less than that. I can suggest that
the FBI are probably going through Hastert garbage cans as we speak; again, that
is my opinion, for what it is worth.

If I should ever be so fortunate to have a reliable source (even a dodgy source
would do) close the action, I could blog that ‘I have heard reports that…”
or if I was fairly certain, go the whole ABC route and declare that the FBI
were investigating Hastert.

But I am not a major news organization, I don't have sources. My blog is 'my' personal outlet, my means of communicating my understanding and opinions.

As a blogger I could report breathlessly that the President has been caught
in a compromising position with his dog. I would soon gain a reputation, but
not the one I would prefer.

Of course there is always the compliment paid by a major news network joining
the ranks of bloggers. It obviously means that despite their greater resources,
access to a PC has made us simple folk competitive at last.

Lawmakers Destroying Presumption

Presumption of innocence is one of the cornerstones of most well regarded systems of law. In an age when the presumption is more and more dependent on the ability to afford a clever legal team, it is becoming more a privilege than a right.

Now, the lawmakers who have administered the shift in presumption, who have divided society for their own advantage, championed the ‘user pays’ ethos to gain kudos with ‘big money’ look set to pay for their erroneous path.

In a nationwide poll conducted last month in the US, 75 percent of those surveyed said they had less trust in government than they did five years ago. Only 3 percent, according to Zogby International, indicated they generally trusted Congress to act properly.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dispatches from Dili - Troops move in

There is confidence on all sides that peace will be returned to East Timor
quickly as troops are deployed. The current conflict appears to be three way
between splintered army faction and police.

The following are word bites from the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Full reports
can be found at: Sydney Morning Herald - The Age - The Australian (photo source)

A team of 130 commandos flew into Dili this afternoon, securing the international
airport for the evacuation of Australians and the arrival of Lieutenant-General
Ken Gillespie, who is negotiating the conditions of the mission. They arrived
amid reports of 20 Timor police being injured in the fighting.

The violence first erupted last month when 600 of East Timor's 1400 troops
were dismissed after they deserted, complaining of alleged discrimination because
they came from the western part of the country.

The commandos will soon be joined by up to 200 troops from the frigate HMAS
Adelaide, which sailed into Dili harbour today.

Malaysia says it will also send troops, with Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak
telling reporters it will send about 275 military soldiers and 200 police officers.

Australia had been waiting to sign off on the details of the mission before
sending troops in but the escalating death toll forced the government to change

Howard said the change of circumstances did not alter the legality of the mission.

"We respect the sovereignty of East Timor and we are acting in response
to a clearly articulated, properly and legally-based request," he said.

Blood-spattered bullet cases, boots and communication radios lay scattered
on the street outside the Justice Ministry as the East Timorese capital descended
into chaos.

Rivalry between army and police has been an undercurrent of the present conflict
in East Timor, with pro-government FDTL soldiers frequently accusing the police
of having collaborated with the Indonesian army which occupied East Timor between
1975 and 1999. Army commanders were largely drawn from ex-guerrilla fighters.

East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri says the deadly clashes there between
security forces and disgruntled former soldiers are linked to a failed coup

Many of the soldiers of the East Timor Defence Force (ETDF) were trained by
the Australian Defence Force, including the rebel leader Alfredo Reinado.

Known among the Timor military as "Major", Reinado is in fact a navy
Lieutenant Commander.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was invaded in 1975 by Indonesia, which
held the territory until 1999, when a vote for independence descended into brutal
violence by Indonesia troops and pro-Jakarta militias.

UPDATE: Australian ABC

Just to add to the confusion -

The leader of the rebel military faction in East Timor says Australian soldiers
on deployment have nothing to fear from the troops he commands.

Major Alfredo Reinardo (pictured above) says he will work with troops, who have begun arriving
in the capital, Dili.

"They didn't worry about my side. Don't worry, I'm with you. I'm with
Australia. I'm with peacekeeping forces. I'm ready to cooperate with them based
on any agreement that will be reached by our President," he said.

FBI probe on Hastert?

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is under investigation by the FBI, which is seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress, ABC News has learned from high level government sources.

Federal officials say the information implicating Hastert was developed from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

An early report. Intersting...

Hacker warning

Strange things have been happening with my blogger. I received an email from the 'blogger team' in response to a password retrieval request I had not made.

I logged in several times before I gained access to my account. I don’t know what is happening, but after recent ‘flaming’ events, I wouldn’t be surprised if the vandals are trying a different approach.

If I disappear off blogger please try my alternative sites at

Vegemite sandwich for Men out of Work

US food giant Kraft is winning hearts and minds in Australia by axing a quarter of its Australian work force, at Port Melbourne and the country town of Strathmerton.

The company said yesterday that some specialty cheese manufacturing would move from Strathmerton to the Middle East and South Australia.

But they have assured us that they will to make Vegemite in Australia. So it is the bloody Americans who are trying to poison us Australians with the high salt yeast extract so loved downunder.

Regional Pacific Hot Spot flares

EAST TIMOR: Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, conceded intervention is needed to restore order after police defections and assaults by rebel troops yesterday, including on the home of the military chief, Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak.

Australia received a formal request for military assistance from Dili last night and the acting Prime Minister, Peter Costello, said cabinet's national security committee was disposed towards sending troops, subject to appropriate conditions being agreed between the two governments.

Portugal, the former colonial ruler, said yesterday it would send 120 military police, while New Zealand and Malaysia were also invited, Ramos Horta said.
He said Australia would join East Timor and the other nations to call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to endorse the operation.

East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao, and Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, called for an international force during a meeting with the United Nations, the Australian ambassador and others. SMH Australians will lead East Timor intervention

I have been a critic of military intervention, and still have reservations. However, my main issue has been the gung ho attitude of the Australian government in the region; an attitude more likely to increase tensions rather than subdue.

At the heart of the matter is self determination – allowing identifiable and geographically defined cultures to choose the path of their own future.
East Timor was necessarily born out of a long, violent struggle against oppressive and unwanted Indonesian rule. Near neighbor, West Papua is currently undergoing the very same struggle to loose the bonds of the regional monster.

The problem for East Timor is what do you do with a generation of freedom fighters who endured years of dislocation and hardship to win independence? How do you simply integrate them into the peaceful process of building a brand new, peaceful country?

Not with the help of the US, the UN and Australia, that is obvious. The East Timorese leaders did not want a military force, did not need one. A well trained, disciplined police force was ample for their needs.

The tiny country could never effectively defend itself against an invasion, so a army, by default, becomes a policing arm or just plain restless. Using any military force for civil control is fraught with dangers all too well known.

But the powers, perhaps seeing the advantage of harnessing these former freedom fighters for their own benefit manipulated the country into establishing their army, the one which has now turned around and reverted to jungle rebels.

East Timor was never going to have an easy road to achieving their goal of stable self government. Meddling by the big powers has made the task even harder.

Keeping up the proud tradition of regional policeman:

The [Australian] federal government has refused to grant a temporary visa to the last of a boatload of 43 asylum seekers from the Indonesian province of Papua.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone today said the man's application for asylum had been refused because he was found to be eligible to live in another country.

Bribes and kickback’s tax deductable

For all you Americans out there, don’t try this at home, at least until it has been proved through the high court.
In Australia, a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, businesses who engage in bribery in foreign trade are open to litigation. Although it is not clear if the Federal law would hold, State laws are effective.
At the same time, the Australian Tax Office currently deems such ‘expenses’ as a claimable cost.
I guess it is a bit like the old prostitution laws, the act was outlawed but the income was required to be reported for tax assessment.

Read more…

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Political Prostitutes and Pirates

While other countries are seeking ways to control big money influence on government, Australia is preparing legislation to increase the corruption risk.
Most multi party systems tend to evolve into two major parties with the same interest in cementing their power and access to ‘entitlements’. The process generally ensures minor parties remain minor and unable to engage effectively on issues of doubtful ethics.
Using the two party rubber stamp, the Australian parliament is expected to lift the corporate donation requirement from $1500 to $10,000.
Read more at Pundit's Blog

Sooner rather than later: Iraq

THE new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, had a surprise for his British counterpart, Tony Blair, when he announced at a joint news conference in Baghdad a much speedier and more ambitious timetable than the US and Britain have so far admitted to.

The announcement on Monday was news to Mr Blair and his team. Mr Maliki said there was an agreement with the British: but British officials said there was no agreement. And he said the withdrawals would be in June; officials say it will be July.

And the American Way

There is a very real danger for the US in assuming the role of world policeman. Extolling US values tends to look and sound like “don’t do as we do, do as we say.” More and more, these pronouncements on electoral probity, on ethics and corruption ring hollow.

In an article on Venezuelan, commentarist Mary MacElveen took Bush to task for his statement that he was concerned about an "erosion of democracy" in Venezuela and Bolivia.

Message to Bush ... don't dare lecture any nation on what democracy means!

“In both Venezuela and Bolivia, people vote directly for their presidential candidate instead of having to go through an Electoral College as we do here in the United States. In the United States in any presidential election, the voter does not directly vote for his or her candidate. “

The story MacElveen commented on was: Bush decries 'erosion of democracy' in Venezuela, Bolivia

In Nigeria, where a probe is underway into bribery allegations during a parliamentary vote to extend the presidency to three terms, the US was again taken to task:

Head of the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, told his story to the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations.

Ribadu said that US legislators can help Nigeria fight corruption, "Maybe as much as 80 percent of corruption that takes place in Africa goes out, and it goes to the West.

And indeed, some of it also finds its way into the US. Shut it out. Don't allow them.

And I told them that corrupt people and corrupt leaders, particularly from Africa, are as bad as terrorists. If it is possible that a corrupt despot, a person who is looting the treasury of his own country, could be treated as a terrorist, it will make a huge difference in the fight we are waging back home. I also asked them for technical support because some of this criminal activity is very complex. We need technology that will assist us in the war."

Just looking at the headlines, you really need to ask; who are the US to be preaching on ethics and probity.

It would not be any issue to anyone else but the US, nobody else’s business, if the American way was kept at home. Globalization has made sure US business ethics impact widely, US foreign adventures impact on people in allied as well as enemy countries.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for a moment suggesting other countries aren’t capable of concocting their own ethical and political sewers. Neither do the ordinary people of those countries have any more control over the powers than do ordinary Americans.

The point is if leaders, political or corporate, are going to preach to the world, then they need to get their own house in order first.

From The Calcutta Telegraph India
If legislators in the world’s most populous democracy got caught on film taking cash for asking questions in parliament, can their counterparts in the world’s most powerful democracy be far behind?

Reminiscent of last year’s “questions for cash” scandal involving Indian MPs, a US Congressman has been videotaped accepting $100,000 from a “businesswoman”, who was, in reality, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant.

So you are crooks, but were is the policy.

For Democrats, a Scandal of Their Own
Obviously the congressional Republican strategists don’t talk to Karl Rove. It would also seem that there are no decent poker players among them either.
This Jefferson thing has been around for months, well before his aide fessed up, and the cat was out of the bag.
My guess is that the Repubs are getting skittish with the polls, this current fuss smacks of a little engineering and a lot of beat-up, especially in the Repub media.
For starter, and this is no great credit to the Dems, they are not clean. Jefferson is one of a handful already under a cloud. But the approach seems to be to pull the Dems down from the greatest possible height.
Now Rove would put them straight on a few of these panicky strategies. They represent a serious case of premature ejaculation by the spooked majority. Karl would explain quietly that there is only one poll, and that is the one they should be targeting.
As a matter of fact, my guess is that Rove would sit tight on this sort of issue, refrain from beating it up, until the last possible moment. He would aim at winning that November poll in the shiftiest way possible.
As it is, this bunch have shown their hand now, leaving months for the Dems to regroup, leaving months for more Repubs to be dragged through the shit, leaving months for voters to work the whole thing out for themselves.
If voters were intelligent, and nobody is accusing them of that, they would already be saying: “Well, you are all a bunch of crooks, so what are your policies? Where am I going to benefit from choosing between you?”
But the policy cupboard seems to be as empty as the rhetoric about ethics. There is another truism: Oppositions don’t win, governments lose. That might be so, but an opposition must have a credible plan, a platform that will give at least a little confidence to potential voters.
For now, the Dems would be wise to cut loose any member or candidate who is under a cloud. Clear the decks in a positive, forthright way. Then they should get out there and tell the people what they can offer as an alternative majority. Keep it simply and keep it tidy.

Blair and Bush to discuss early Iraq exit

PRESIDENT George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will use talks in Washington to discuss an accelerated withdrawal of troops from Iraq, starting in July, a UK newspaper says.

The two allies, due to hold talks by the end of the week, will also call on world leaders to help with their withdrawal, according to another newspaper.

The Guardian reported that Blair and Bush's withdrawal plan would be much faster and ambitious than expected. It said officials hoped Britain's forces could be cut from about 8000 to 5000 troops and the US contingent from about 130,000 to 100,000 by the end of this year.

Britain will be out soonoer or later, depending on how long Blair can hold onto office. It might be more difficult for the US to cut and run.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Will the real Iraq please stand up?

May 22, 2006
'We have a government of national unity that crosses all boundaries. Iraqi people are able to write the next chapter of their history themselves' - Tony Blair on a visit to Iraq yesterday.

"I can understand why people are concerned about whether or not our strategy can succeed because our progress is incremental. Freedom is moving but it's in incremental steps, and the enemy's progress is almost instant on their TV screens." Bush in his first speech since the swearing in of a new government over the weekend.

Administration officials have said the establishment of a new government is a key step toward stabilizing Iraq and making discussion of an eventual American troop pullout possible.

Two car bombs explode in Baghdad, killing nine. At least 23 more die in attacks elsewhere, bringing the death toll in May to 848 as sectarian violence spreads.

Blair arrived in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, to greet the new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, by helicopter.
Anybody entering the zone on foot has to negotiate eight checkpoints defended by heavily armed troops and guards surrounded by sandbags, razor wire, sniffer dogs and X-ray machines.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, played a crucial role in getting rid of the last duly elected prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. His officials do not conceal that the envoy has been what The New York Times described as "a tireless midwife in the birthing of the new government".

The problem for the US and Britain in Iraq is at one level quite simple. " If you have democracy in Iraq it will be in the interests of Iran, religious organisations and the Shia," said Sami Shoresh, a commentator on Iraqi affairs.

All in all there is little optimistic sign of a sovereign and independent Iraqi administration in the near future.

Various sources, including the Independent, UK

Lawmakers vocal on protecting their own

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich led the charge of loud howls over the FBI raid in a congressman’s office: "The protection of the legislative branch from the executive branch's policing powers is a fundamental principle which goes all the way back to the English Civil War."
Never mind the matter of existing evidence of a crime having been committed. Never mind that the House Ethics Committee has been asleep at the wheel for 16 long months. No, this hallowed precinct is obviously beyond the law, as Gingrich and others see it.
"The president should respond accordingly and should discipline (probably fire) whoever exhibited this extraordinary violation," he wrote.
According to reports, House officials were given short notice of the FBI's intentions Saturday, and neither Jefferson's attorney, Robert Trout, nor the general counsel of the House were allowed to monitor the search.
"The government's actions in obtaining a search warrant to search the offices of a United States congressman were outrageous," Trout said in a statement. "There were no exigent circumstances necessitating this action."
I guess Trout would be one of those holding the view that there were no exigent circumstances necessitating any action against the buildings inhabitants.
Charles Tiefer, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who served as solicitor and deputy general counsel of the House for 11 years, said the incident "raises some serious separation of powers questions when extraordinarily harsh and extreme tactics are used on the legislative branch."
Tiefer said the raid could set a chilling precedent. Like more congressmen being made to answer for their lack of probity, for their separation from reality.

Britain leaves US holding the monster

The occupation of Iraq has not been a shining example of leadership by the US. The promised to install an ‘American’ style democracy proved to be all to true, when the Bush administration jockeyed to have its own favorites take the reins of power.

These ‘favorites’ were invariably former exiles, he likes of the problematic Ahmed Chalabi. The US choices were clearly not the choice of the fragmented Iraqis, who still resent having leaders foisted on them.

Chalabi was one of the key architects of a war promoted on lies, and has since claimed that having won that war there is no need to justify the means.

Once in Iraq, the US occupation forces and administration have distinguished themselves with corruption, torture and recklessness no better than Saddam’s regime.
Bricks of US dollars, floating freely around occupation personnel, have led to every possible mischief, from petty pilfering to murder.

Bush’s occupation team have been aided and abetted in all of this by the major ally, Britain; although the latter has managed to distance itself from the worst of the excesses.

Under intense pressure of his own domestic scandals and a distinct lack of public enthusiasm for the Iraq adventure, Blair has signaled that it is time to pull out.

The opportunity for Blair comes with the final emergence of an elected government in Iraq, as though that minor miracle is enough to actually stabilize the country.

It does no such thing of course, the disastrous occupation performance only adds to the deep underlying tensions tearing Iraq asunder.

The fact is, with or without Britain, Iraq will continue to be dangerously unstable. The coalition of the willing was always going to bite off more than they could chew.

Britain will soon be out, Italy’s new centre left has said it wants out, Spain pulled out months ago, Australia are only there in a minor role, mainly trying to protect whatever spoils are left for them.
I guess that leaves George W, or more to the point, the American people, holding the baby. There is no easy exit strategy for Bush, nor will there be for his successors. The war on terror and the Iraq adventure have proved to be a brilliant example of judo politics.

A tiny group of well disciplined and committed terrorists have taken on the US and her allies and let the mighty weight of the coalition do enormous harm to itself.

So much for intelligence, planning and tactics, so much for might and fire power; in the end the terrorists best weapon has been the stupidity and greed of the US and her allies.

The awful part of it is that this out come was predicted and predictable. Those of us who spoke out were lambasted and pilloried from the outset, and no doubt will be blamed in some way for the failure of our so-called leaders.

But being right is no bonus once this enormous mess has been created. The monster is lose now and we must all pay the price.

Adding to the list of endearing behaviour by the US

EVIDENCE to support controversial claims that napalm has been used by US forces in Iraq has been brought to Australia by an Iraqi doctor.

Dr Salam Ismael, of the Baghdad-based group Doctors for Iraq, said the evidence pointed to the use of napalm on civilians during the second siege of Fallujah in November 2004.

The Melbourne Age article went on to report: Dr Ismael said the napalm was a modification from the 1990s of the wind-driven napalm chemical bombs used by the US in Vietnam in the 1960s.
The US Government admits using white phosphorus in Iraq but denies using napalm.

Presumption takes second place

Presumption of innocence is an important element of the law, but it must not supercede the trust placed in lawmakers. The Democrats now have a very real challenge to show they are serious about cleaning out the stables:

Allegedly scamming a Virginia businesswoman could prove to be a major mistake for a Democratic congressman from New Orleans.

The FBI revealed Sunday that Rep. William Jefferson, under investigation for bribery, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded. Agents later found the cash hidden in his freezer, according to a court document released Sunday.

A major mistake? At a time when his party must show a real determination to address the corruption rampant among lawmakers, even the whiff of scandal is intolerable.

The Jefferson issue has been around for some months now, overshadowed by the antics of the majority members.

Perhaps the Democrats should have moved earlier to quarantine themselves from this scandal. Presumption or not, they must hit the ejection button now.

This is about optics in a supercharged atmosphere of privilege and excess. Public trust should always come before legal niceties and game playing.

Any elected representative who would expose themselves to the degree that an enquiry is called for has crossed the line, regardless of any legal outcome.

More to the point, if the Democrats are to be seen as seriously committed to clearing out the political rot then home is a great place to begin.

As reality-based educator noted here, …at least they can say "Yeah, but once we knew he was dirty, we tossed him out."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Blair prepares Iraq pull-out

TONY Blair will use the restoration of a democratic government in Iraq to activate a pull-out programme that could see UK troops start to withdraw within weeks.
Although Iraq remains convulsed by violence and under constant threat of civil war, Blair and US President George Bush will this week thrash out the final details of their plan to leave Iraq.

Slowly, slowly the support base shrinks for Bush.

FBI First? A Raid on Congress

There are a few versions of Saturday night's events. This from -
FBI raids office of lawmaker Houston Chronicle

The FBI raided the congressional offices of Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La., on Saturday night as part of a corruption investigation focused on him and a Kentucky businessman who has already pleaded guilty to trying to bribe the lawmaker.
The FBI said in a statement that the unusual raid on a congressional office began about 7:15 p.m., when agents entered Jefferson's suite of offices in the Rayburn House Office Building, and was being conducted as part of an "ongoing corruption investigation." The statement offered no details of what was being sought in the raid.
An FBI official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said it was the first time the agency had raided a lawmaker's office on Capitol Hill.
Jefferson, whose homes in New Orleans and Washington were raided by the FBI last year as part of the investigation, has proclaimed his innocence.

Other reports were more circumspect, particulary on the actual office raided, also suggesting Ney's digs as a possible target. The claims against Jefferson should be investigated, but then so should all those under a cloud of suspicion, regardless of party.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Is the writing on the wall?

Self interest apart there seems little that will the excesses of many politicians. So often, confronted with unassailable evidence of questionable practices, our elected representatives will simply shrug, lie or otherwise brush the issue off.
The incredible thing is, for an assortment of reasons, voters will let them. Let them for a while, that is, until the weight of dubious behavior becomes too much to ignore.
The self-interest cuts in when opinion polls start to show the voters getting restless. The thing about ethical behavior, regardless of codes or any other formula is that it is only really defined by voter acceptance or rejection of certain behaviours.
If the electorate is content to overlook gross attacks on public trust; lies, theft, abuse of liberties and democratic rights, even murder, then they don’t effectively constitute corruption.
Which brings us to the previous post - Lawmakers in corruption spotlight.
An AP-Ipsos poll conducted at the beginning of this month showed a 71 percent disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job, while only 25 percent of those surveyed approved.
The House Ethics Committee has risen from a 16 month coma to address what is now becoming a worrying (to them now) public opinion of the behavior of members.
One of the obvious worries, beyond just losing power, is losing control of the potential to investigate and prosecute corruption among their number. A power shift from the Republicans to the Democrats in November will open up vest opportunities for outing unethical members.
Given recent episodes we can be certain that no amount of shredding will destroy evidence which pure arrogance has allowed to be spread wide and deep. Yes, they should be worried.
The White House, like Congress, is embroiled in its own ethical mess, which is even more curious. I’m not sure of the historic probability of a party to dominate beyond a couple of presidential terms.
The probability is clear for presidents. Apart from the bundle of Republicans who held the White House through 1896 to 1912 and the marathon 12 years for Franklin D. Roosevelt, a party is lucky to come unscathed through two terms, never mind holding the crown for a third.
I would like to think that corrupt representatives of any party, indeed any country, had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. We know that is a pipe dream, but to dream that this one bunch of ethically challenged politicians will soon be pulled up short.
At the very least their destructive, divisive self serving policies will be bought to an end. It is time the people, like the House Ethics Committee, woke from their slumber and acted.

Lawmakers in corruption spotlight

With the Lazarus like rising of Congresses House Ethics Committee come a flow of names of those facing investigation now or in the near future.
Full-blown investigations have been announced into Representatives Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and William Jefferson, D-La.
After a technology company executive has pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson and a former Jefferson aide has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting bribery of the congressman.
There is a preliminary inquiry into whether other House members were bribed by the defense contractors who corrupted former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California.
Authorities want to know whether Representative Alan B. Mollohan, a West Virginia Democrat and Appropriations Committee member, used his clout to hand government contracts to nonprofit groups run by his friends; whether disgraced former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff bribed Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio; and whether the House Appropriations Committee chairman, Jerry Lewis of California, also a Republican, improperly awarded contracts sought by a lobbyist who has been linked to Cunningham.
Rep. Katherine Harris received $32,000 in campaign funds from Mitchell Wade, court documents say. Virgil Goode of Virginia has also been implicated in the Wade saga.
There is no indication that Harris or Goode are targets in the investigation, but when asked whether it was safe to presume that Goode's statement confirms that he's one of the unnamed congressmen mentioned in the Wade charges, a Goode aide who furnished the statement said, “I don't feel comfortable answering that.” Neither, it appears to federal prosecutors, is the House ethics committee.
Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) stepped down as the ethics committee's ranking Democrat after his business dealings with recipients of federal funds that he appropriated became the subject of a federal investigation.

A report, entitled "Beyond DeLay: The 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress", was released in September 2005 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says in its report that the 13 members, among them Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), might have violated a variety of congressional ethics rules.The bipartisan list includes three Californians: Reps. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe).Others on the list include:Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), and Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Tom Feeney (R-Fla.).
The Ethics committee, it seems, has just scratched the surface of an issue which cannot possibly be addressed before the November elections.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Former Senator in Oil for Food probe

The chairman of a Senate investigative panel said on Friday that it was looking into the actions of former Senator Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey in connection with the United Nations oil-for-food program for Iraq.

"We've received allegations about Torricelli and oil-for-food," said Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, the chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "We take this very seriously. We are pursuing the matter at this point." Mr. Coleman, in a telephone interview, declined to say what the allegations were. He said they had come from the United Nations' Independent Inquiry Committee.

Senator Coleman's committee have finally got someone they can get their teeth into with the UN scandal. They have had to drop their investigations into the Australian angle, but hey! They have themselves a Democrat to pillory now. I guess George might just let them go ahead with this one.

It's all Rumsfeld's fault after all

Here we go! According to General Michael Hayden: A special intelligence unit set up by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, before the invasion of Iraq selectively used intelligence to support the White House's claim of clear links between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda.

Hayden's comment came during his confirmation hearing and was the first time a senior Bush Administration official has said intelligence was selectively used to support the view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and close links with al-Qaeda.

Asked by Senator Carl Levin, the committee's ranking Democrat, whether he felt comfortable with the approach to intelligence by Mr Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans, General Hayden replied "No, sir, I wasn't … No sir, I wasn't comfortable."

I wonder if he feels more comfortable, now he’s shot himself in the foot?

If Bullshit were music…

(Disclaimer: If you find shit offensive then you will probably find this rant offensive. Read on at your own risk.)

Australia's mission to the Solomon Islands has a long way to go to ensure corruption does not flourish in the Pacific nation, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says.

So there you go! Piggy Downer, the bloke who couldn’t lie straight in bed, the one up to his shiny pink earlobes in the Oil for Food corruption, has become the champion of anti-corruption.

Of course, given his track record as a lying sleaze bag, the Solomon Islands political establishment is really going to sit up and take notice.

This is the very same maggot who is crapping over the self determination aspirations of the Solomon’s Melanesian mates over in West Papua. The same net stockinged nitwit who is covering the international but of the toad supreme, PM John Howard, as he sends the gun boats off to East Timor, against that country’s wishes.

This is the Australian version of Wolfowitz and his World Bank attack on corruption. Talk about ‘set a thief to catch a thief!” The only credible thing about these self proclaimed, international, ethics police, is that they have a wealth of first hand experience.

Doesn’t it just break you up when Bush or one of his flakes starts preaching to the world about ethics? When the US send of a team of specialists to some downtrodden country to conduct seminars on ethics and probity? It has me rolling around the floor!

The funny thing is, despite obvious perceptions curiously held by the ‘creationist’ types in our Christian society, these underdeveloped nations so subject to corruption are not populated by near relatives of the apes.

Melanesians, Africans, South Americans and all those assorted non whites actually exhibit a similar ratio of intelligence to imbecility as the US national capital. Perhaps that is a bad analogy, especially as an example for the Southern Baptists.

Quote of the week

John Howard can be such a toad.

Alan Ramsey Senior political writer for the Sydney Morning Herald

Dreams of a psephologist

Like every boy, I dreamed of being a psephologist when I grew up. I found out later that it is one of those niches where many might be called, but few are chosen. Needless to say, I was not one of those few, but still have enduring fascination with the political election process.
Okay, I will come clean. I was discouraged in my aim by the fact that everyone of my acquaintance thought that psephology was either a) an exotic sexual preference b) an obscure religion.
To my delight, I did discover that it was an interest, a passion, available to the ‘gentleman amateur’, although interest in things electoral still carries the perception of perversion.
That is a quick way of saying the impending, and wonderfully extended, vote fest in the USA will probably generate more than a few observations, in this blog, which are only marginally related to corruption.

The US federal electoral system is largely a mystery to me, sort of a psephologist’s ‘Karma Sutra’ in scope and weird details and arrangements. I can, from the outset, thank the Republican Party for simplifying the process somewhat, in that they seem to have found the key to registering votes many months ahead of e-day.
It is the mini-elections, a strange concept to me, that I will probably enjoy most, given early indications. News of these primary battles already has my saliva dripping obscenely.
Take this headline for example: Primary shakeout bodes ill for incumbents.
Okay, it was my headline, but the gist of the story is: Seventeen legislators, including the top two Senate leaders, were ousted Tuesday (May 16) in the biggest upheaval in a Keystone State primary in more than a quarter century.
Let’s put Joe Lieberman’s upcoming battle in Connecticut aside, I realize his case is different, and American’s deal out swift justice for those perceived to be traitors, political or otherwise.
The general, albeit early, trend of dumping incumbents raises questions in the mind of this observer. Is this where democracy actually occurs in the US federal system, or is it just ‘shuffling the deck chairs’ because voters can, or is a genuine exercise of democracy?
If primaries voters choose to dump their chosen parties incumbent, an obvious protest at something, will they throw their vote behind the usurper, switch parties along the process or simply not bother come November?

Throwing state races into the mix must present a high degree of confusion in the electorate. In civilized, Westminster type systems, elections for the various tiers of government are clearly separated.
The result of that separation is generally a sort of electoral schizophrenia, like in Australia with a conservative (Liberal) federal government and notionally leftist (Labor) state governments; or Britain where voters ten to punish the government of the day at the mid term municipal elections, as we recently witnessed.
I will be watching closely to determine if, when all the batter is thrown in one bowl, the buns come out of the oven uniform or reconstituted into their separate parts.
The Lieberman episode is throwing up one interesting observation on the efficacy of mixing elections in one pot. There should be a ‘battle royal’ in Connecticut to choose a successor to the corrupt (we managed linkage!) former governor Rowland.
By staging the big fight at the same time as the gubernatorial fight, promoters are failing to focus voter attention on the vital local bout. These are the primaries and already there is observable electoral overload.
I assume things well get even more difficult for the local support bouts as the major tussle, the presidential primaries, begin to bight.
I still hear the tired old catchphrase, “all politics is local.” I expect the big party steamrollers killed that notion off long ago. True there are pockets of resistance, pockets of special interests, but the ‘one size fits all’ campaign seems destined to swamp real local issues.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Excuse me while I puke

THE Prime Minister [Australia, John Howard] has launched a tirade against anti-Americanism, saying the world needs US influence as much as it ever did, if not more.

In an address to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations John Howard aimed his comments at those inside and outside the US unhappy with the Bush Administration's foreign policy direction.

It is not my responsibility

Discussion of probity, or lack of it, in public life inevitably comes down to who, in the end, is responsible.

Under English parliamentary convention, which in this instance extends to the US, as well as British Commonwealth legislatures; final responsibility rests with elected officials and leaders.

To underscore the US aspect of this code, or convention is the famous Truman precedent; The Buck Stops Here.

Sadly, given the obviously loose interpretation of ‘buck’, Truman might have been better advised to use the word responsibility.

Legislators now argue that the size and complexity of the public services is such that they can no longer bear the responsibility for wrongdoing under their watch.

That is akin to saying their jobs are now redundant because the expectations are impossible to fill.
That might be so, but that does not stop people stepping forward to accept these impossible missions.

But is it impossible to implement and administer an effectively functioning public sector? Certainly the corporate giants don’t seem to have any great difficulty doing so, even if aspects of corruption are, at times, seen as the price of doing business.

But duck shoving (or buck shoving?) responsibility is rife throughout most government administrations. I was partly spurred to these thoughts by a blog post: Kvatch Kvetches 10 states including New York and California are suing the EPA

But Kvatch, of course, would never accept full responsibility, and nor should he with so many ripe examples available.
That example is one where the EPA and every other agency involved in various environmental issues all claim to lack the responsibility to act.

The recent Congress in Vietnam threw up a prime example when members discussed the rampant corruption in that state controlled country. In that regime, like governments of all colours, party membership obviously implies entitlement, but not responsibility. ODA corruption talk riles National Assembly

While speakers were unable to dismiss the level of corruption throughout the country, no one was willing to actually take the responsibility for effectively addressing the problem. Probity, it seems, is always someone else’s issue.

In the USA the potentially powerful Congressional Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has reneged on its vital role. Apparently the members of that body see their responsibility as protecting fellow lawmakers rather than the interests of the people who elected them (‘them’ in both senses).

Equally, the ongoing saga of corruption in the White House is not seen as a responsibility of the Administration to abide by the law, but as the responsibility of the media and others not to destabilize government.

In keeping with shifting responsibility to self-interest rather than community interest, the Australian government has gone through a blatantly transparent process of shifting both blame and ultimate responsibility in that countries ‘oil for food’ scandal.

Having consistently proclaimed his faith in the final outcome of the judicial inquiry, after facing the commission himself PM John Howard turned around and blamed the country’s wheat exporter, AWB, for the whole issue.

Meanwhile, Howard’s Foreign Minister was busy sheeting blame back to the UN who were busily deflecting it elsewhere.

We elect them, deputize them as it where, to act on out behalf. Even the most honest starters seem to be seduced by personal interest and party imperatives. And we let them continue to screw us, with little more than the odd show of disgust.