Sunday, February 29, 2004

'Britain and US Shared Transcripts After Bugging Blix's Mobile Phone': "Dr Blix said he suspected his UN office and New York home had been bugged by the United States in the run-up to war. He said bugging was to be expected between enemies, but 'here it is between people who co-operate and it is an unpleasant feeling'... Edward Mortimer, Mr Annan's director of communications, said: "There was a telephone call which was apologetic in tone but did not really amount to an admission of substance. Basically, the answer we got was the same as the Prime Minister gave at his press conference [on Thursday]. We are not complete innocents, we do realize these things happen but it was rather a shock to hear that the British government had been spying on the secretary general.""

"Mr Butler, who led the UN disarmament team in Iraq in the 1990s, UNSCOM, said he was "well aware" that he was being bugged. But he said spying on the UN was illegal and harmed the peace-making process. "What if Kofi Annan had been bringing people together last February in a genuine attempt to prevent the invasion of Iraq, and the people bugging him did not want that to happen, what do you think they would do with that information?" he said."

"The alleged bugging of Dr Blix, in charge of the last UN mission before the war, seen as the last chance to avoid war, is being viewed in diplomatic circles as part of a concerted effort to sabotage attempts at a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis. Dr Blix, who retired in June, is highly critical of George Bush and Tony Blair for the claims they made about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. Washington and London, he said, had aborted the search for weapons to pave the way for an invasion... he said he had expected to be bugged by the Iraqis, but the possibility that he was spied on by someone "on the same side" was "disgusting". Dr Blix said his suspicions were aroused by repeated trouble with his telephone at his New York home."

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Spy Charges Dropped for Fear of Exposing Illegality of Iraq War: "The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, agreed that secrets charges against the former GCHQ employee Katharine Gun should be dropped after the defense made clear that potentially hugely damaging evidence about the legality of invading Iraq would be disclosed in court. Serious doubts about the legality of the invasion were expressed in the run-up to war by senior lawyers throughout Whitehall, including the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense. The doubts were expressed by the entire FO legal establishment, and not only Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the former deputy head of the FO's legal team who has said publicly that she resigned last year because she was unhappy with Lord Goldsmith's legal advice."

Michael Hudson analyses Putin's arrest of oligarch Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man: "The question now being asked is whether the oligarchs will sell off ownership of Russia's natural resources to the West as they bail out of Russia, or whether the nation will rescue itself from the insider privatizations by recapturing the revenue and wealth taken by the oligarchs. In the West one hears mainly of reversing and renationalizing the giveaways of the 1990s. But in Russia itself Sergei Glaziev, Dmitri Lvov and other economists are proposing a rent-tax to recapture the oil and gas, land and mineral rent for the economy."

"Mr. Putin governs in much the say that Franklin Roosevelt did. Roosevelt was famous for appointing cabinet members and aides with sharply divergent views... Roosevelt simply wanted to hear both sides of the major issues. He wanted his advisors to "duke it out." And they did."

"But Putin also has another set of advisors. One rising light has been Sergei Glaziev, an early market reformer already before 1990 but opposed to Yeltsin's coup d'?tat in 1993 and the "shock therapy" of "grabitization" that followed. He subsequently saw that a least distorted way for Russia to recover was by a tax on economic rent, that is, the value of land and natural resources that exists independently of labor and capital investment. The aim is to untax industry and labor, and make Russia's natural resources monopolies finance the government. But these are precisely the assets that Yeltsin's kleptocrats were the first to grab. So this intellectual policy fight has now been raging for a decade."

"On December 23, Putin gave a speech to Russia's Chamber of Commerce without mentioning Yukos but clearly referring to it. He reassured his audience that he didn't intend to reverse privatizations, but reminded them that everyone had a chance to follow the law in the 1990s, and it wasn't fair to let those who played by the rules end up losing out to dishonest grabbers. Inasmuch as nearly all the privatizations involved fraud under the anarchic conditions that Yeltsin's neoliberals created, applying lawful standards would seem to imply a reversal of at least the most blatant privatizations, or a demand for enormous fines and paybacks. The implicit threat of this speech was that if any other oligarchs got out of line, their fate would be that of Mr. Khodorkovsky and other Yukos stockholders."

"Mr. Khodorkovsky's fraudulent activities were so blatant that it is amazing that the Western press has been so lax in reporting them. In fact, the fury with which Bush Administration officials and even the normally liberal media have criticized Russia's government for the Yukos arrest reflects the degree to which they backed the kleptocrats from the outset, recognizing that in the end these individuals would cash out their gains by selling Russia's natural resources at prices still so low as to be nearly giveaway prices. The U.S. fear is that now the financial takeover of Russia may be interrupted, and that Western investors may have got all they are going to get."

"The point of this is not to attack Khodorkovsky. It is to make clear that virtually everything he did was directed, supervised and monitored by the very people who are now attacking him... So there is no point in extrapolating from the fall of Khodorkovsky a great animus against 'oligarchs' or 'privatisation'. That isn't what this is about. This is about a man who knows where all the money has gone; who knows who have been the beneficiaries of the greatest money-laundering scheme in the history of the world. If such a man decides to go into politics he is a danger."

"Mr. Khodorkovsky's arrest is not the start of a campaign to 'get the rich' ... We are witnessing the final death agony of the kleptocracy that was Boris Yeltsin's Russia... When you buy state assets in such a dubious backroom deal and at such a steep discount to market, chances are your property rights will never be truly secure. You will always be regarded by the population as a crook and by the government as more of a custodian of state assets than an owner... his arrest certainly looks like a case of selective justice ... but this is still better than no application of justice at all. During the Yeltsin era, well-connected businessmen could routinely embezzle millions from the state treasury or even organize the murder of rivals--all without the prosecutors making a squeak. The result was relentless economic decline and the collapse of the ruble in 1998."

"Putin has not yet moved. An amnesty to Yeltsin's Family and other privatizers would doom Russia to deteriorate into one of the most polarized and impoverished nations in the world. On the other hand, to reverse the privatizations would mean a fight with the United States which had sponsored the "reformers" and their rip-offs from the outset, going back to Yeltsin's military attack on the Duma in 1993 and subsequent seven years of rule by dictatorial decree."

"That is always the important question to ask: "Why just now? Why right at this time?" The explanation almost always is that political action is taken to protect against some imminent danger. To start with, Mr. Khodorkovsky violated Mr. Putin's insistence that the oligarchs stay out of politics. They were about to buy up the Duma and use their power to destroy the powers of the presidency, that is, of Mr. Putin himself. This is the strategy of neoliberalism. It is a two-stage process. The first stage is to make use of centralized state power to promote insider dealings and give a patina of legitimacy to the theft of public resources. Most of the great fortunes have been obtained in this way, including the aristocratic holdings stemming from the Norman Invasion of England in 1066.

"The second stage involves closing ranks to prevent anyone else from doing this, once the prizes have been handed out. A campaign is mounted against government power to reduce and even eliminate the state's ability to exert a countervailing force on the propertied oligarchy. The narrow oligarchy becomes society's new centralized planners, replacing the state. Russia is now in this stage, and the oligarchs are trying to mobilize popular support against the government--while Putin for his part is turning populist to mobilize support against the oligarchy."

"The oligarchs were starting to cash out, selling their holdings for dollars, sterling, real estate, British soccer teams and so forth. Their move to the West would have insulated them from future fiscal and criminal prosecution from within Russia... Legally [a tax on rent] could have done so. But politically, taxing economic rent has become the b?te noir of neoliberal globalism. It is what property owners and rentiers fear most of all, as land, subsoil resources and natural monopolies far exceed industrial capital in magnitude. What appears in the statistics at first glance as "profit" turns out upon examination to be Ricardian or "economic" rent."

"What finally enraged Mr. Putin was a willfully arrogant act by Mr. Khodorkovsky and his Yukos insiders.. an extraordinary $3 billion dividend distribution, an increase of 400 percent over the previous year. Rather than using this money to modernize their oil extraction or invest in the industry, they were simply stripping the company's assets before letting it go."

"[Other oligarchs] quickly fell into line [after Khodorkovsky's arrest]. Everyone feared they would be next if they protested. Almost nobody stood up for Mr. Khodorkovsky--except for Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who seems about to be pushed out of Pres. Putin's administration... Most Western media, along with the Bush administration, adopted the neoliberal line that the oligarchs had stolen their property fair and square, and that to begin enforcing laws at this late date would destabilize Russia's stock market."

"[Putin] needs to come up with a coherent, focused policy to juxtapose to the neoliberalism that Yeltsin forced on Russia after his 1993 coup. I think he now realizes that the Washington-backed destruction of Russian industry and nurturing of an oligarchic class was the final stage of the Cold War. From this perspective his objective is how to rebuild Russia into a world power once again."

"The rent tax [is the first step]. Putin is coming to realize is that it is not necessary for the state to own Russia's natural resources outright. Despite the fact that it has sold them off, the government has the power to tax their rental income."

"During the 1990s I made four trips to Russia with Prof. Tideman, who had initiated the letter. We met many dedicated people at various levels of government and academia who worked to promote the idea of a rent tax. But on balance we found the major problem to lie in the fact that most of the government people we met wanted to get rich off Russia. Yeltsin's supporters were out purely for themselves. The main way they wanted to get rich was to gain control of land or some other rent-yielding resource. They were the last people to put in place a system designed to counter this kind of free-loading."

"[Sacked Prime Minister] Kasyanov had been acting on behalf of the oligarchs to block moves to tax resource rent ever since he was installed by Yeltsin's Family. Two weeks ago he distributed a glossy report denouncing Glaziev's proposal to tax resource rent. The Western press picked it up, imagining that it was an attack by Putin's government on Glaziev -- not realizing that in fact it was an attempt by the oligarchs to keep their money free of taxation. What the Western press did not realize was that Putin saw this as an attack on the policy that he himself was moving toward as he broke free of oligarchic control. Rather than seeing this as a step toward Russian democracy and self-determination, the press sees this as an authoritarian power grab by the silovaki. There simply is no understanding of the idea of land and resource rent as the fiscal basis for Russia."

Friday, February 27, 2004

Unsafe in Any Year: Innovative flash cartoon makes the case against Nader's campaign.

Positives in negative gearing: "SELF-employed Wendy Higgins owns 22 investment properties, worth $5million, but without negative gearing probably the only house she'd own would be the family home... Ms Higgins bought her first investment property in 1999 after spending 24 years working for a bank... She believes any attempt to remove [negative gearing], as the Keating government temporarily did in the 1980s, would be a disaster for both owners and renters [she means owners]."

The rich get richer and the poor get the picture... the wealthy if they do not dissipate their surplus and capital can buy more, add field upon field until they dwell alone upon the earth. The process of land concentration ('accumulation') continues inexorably until it is checked or reversed by some form of land reform, or failing that some sort of war or revolution.

Iraqi Cleric Calls for Elections by Year's End: "Ayatollah Sistani called for 'clear guarantees,' possibly in the form of a resolution by the United Nations Security Council, that elections would be held no later in 2004. He said that the caretaker Iraqi government that will take control of the country from the Americans at the end of June should confine itself to setting up those elections. Ayatollah Sistani used as his starting point a statement last week by the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, that the earliest possible date for elections would be the end of this year.

"'The religious authority demands clear guarantees' such as a Security Council resolution 'that elections will be held according to that date in order to assure the Iraqi people that this issue will not be delayed under some pretext,' Ayatollah Sistani said. While the ayatollah conceded that nationwide elections would not be possible before the transfer of sovereignty took place on June 30, he implied that it was the duty of every organization and foreign government involved in this country to work toward democratic elections by Dec. 31. "Although the U.N. team has dismissed the idea of handing sovereignty over to an elected government," Ayatollah Sistani said, "its decision that it is possible to hold elections at the end of this year is extremely important.""

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Land tax in Merimbula: "'The owners of nearly every commercial building in Merimbula would be paying land tax of between $2,000 and $20,000 a year,' [Merimbula solicitor and property owner Mr Britten] said. 'This is passed on to their tenants in the form of higher rentals, and they in turn pass it on to their customers by increasing the price of their goods. 'So it is having an inflationary effect, and in that way no one escapes its impact.'"

This statement flies in the face of one of the best established principles in economics, that a tax on rent cannot be passed on but must be absorbed by the landholder. A land tax in fact simply collects the rent and deposits it in the treasury, resulting in less for the landholder and lower land prices.

"Mr Britten said that commercial rents here were reasonable at the moment, averaging between $200 and $300 per square metre per annum. "In Batemans Bay they can be up to $800 per square metre."

The Iraq war is the Suez of our time: "On the question of Iraq, Tony Blair isn't so much a deceiver as someone who simply has no grasp of objective truth. The pretexts he has used over the war were so flagrant that it's hard to sympathise with anyone who ever believed them. And even the angry arguments over what the PM really knew about '45-minute' weapons are empty, since they assume that WMD were the real reason for the war. It is - and a year ago was - entirely clear that this was not so: as clear as the truth was at Suez, the episode that Iraq so much resembles.

"In one of the searing columns he wrote in the last months of his life, Hugo Young put his finger on 'the great over-arching fact about the war that Blair will never admit but cannot convincingly deny'. This was that 'he was committed to war months before he said he was'. That is so, but there is more to it. The observable fact is that the decision for war was taken not only before Blair says it was, but for reasons other than those he gave."

"Blair's motive was his conviction - his only real foreign policy - that he must support the US at all times... Suez [is] the comparison that so sharply illuminates Iraq. In 1956 the British and French wanted to destroy Nasser, who had kicked out the British army and seized the Suez canal, and had encouraged the rebellion in Algeria... London and Paris would not avow their true reasons, and instead concocted an elaborate plot: Israel would attack Egypt, and the European armies would then intervene between the combatants. Rarely has anything been seen at once as underhand and as transparent - until Iraq."

Howard's position and attitude is similar to Blair's. Both these contemptible liars will never be able to admit the truth and will go into retirement with the odour of disgrace ever lingering about them.

Chalmers Johnson: abolish the CIA: "In fact, intelligence collecting and analysis would quickly become camouflage for a private secret army at the personal command of the president devoted to dirty tricks, covert overthrows of foreign governments and planting disinformation -- as well as efforts to counter similar operations... Maj. Gen. William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan "saw intelligence analysis as a convenient cover for subversive operations abroad." ... These operations have generated numerous terrorist attacks and other forms of retaliation -- what the CIA calls "blowback" -- against the United States by peoples on the receiving end. Because covert operations are secret from the people of the United States (if not their targets), when retaliation hits, as it did so spectacularly on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans do not have the information to put it into context or understand it."

"Much of what now is clearly true could have been discovered by talking to experts perfectly willing to be on the public record or simply researched on the Internet. Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel who taught for years at the National War College and who compiled a "net assessment" of how Iraq would look after a successful U.S. attack, predicted with devastating accuracy the chaos that ensued and did so on the basis of information freely available. Who needs a CIA that so regularly underperforms in comparison to what is available on the open market? The high-security classifications of national intelligence estimates are not there to protect sources (no sources are ever mentioned in them), but to hide the incompetence and lack of serious effort that goes into producing them.

"If Bush had appointed an investigative commission headed by Valerie Plame (the outed CIA wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson) and composed of such journalists as Seymour Hersh, Jim Fallows, Stephen Kinzer and Paul Krugman, its report would probably be worth reading. Short of that, I propose abolishing the agency and reducing our annual deficit by about $30 billion."

The Iraq war has certainly destroyed the credibility of Western intelligence for years to come, assuming it had any credibility in the first place. The next time there is an intelligence 'assessment' of war or terrorism or WMDs, who is going to give it the slightest credence? The first response will be to discount the political objectives of intelligence's government masters and the next thing is to fact-check and analysis-check everything on the Internet. In fact just bypass government and intelligence announcements and go straight for information from credible sources on the Internet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Sistani will call inifada if US troops stay in Iraq beyond June 30: "Iraqi Shiite Leader Seyyid Ali Al-Sistani yesterday warned that he would call for an intifada (uprising) if American soldiers stayed in Iraq after the handover of power on June 30, 2004. He also insisted that there should be a significant role for the Shiite in the future administration of the country, as they make up the majority of the population. Sistani spoke to the German magazine Der Spiegel and said: 'The U.S. presence in Iraq should not be prolonged. The Iraqi public knows how to act. If the U.S. presence is drawn out longer than necessary, I will call for an intifada.' The necessary posters reportedly have already been printed and are awaiting distribution to every corner of the country."

Cross City tunnel to increase land values“Historically we’ve seen a spike in property values in suburbs serviced by the Eastern Distributor, the M4 and the M5, so there is no reason why the inner-city suburbs will not gain similar benefits from the cross-city tunnel,” Woodbury said. When the 2.1-kilometre long cross-city tunnel is operating by the second half of 2005 it will take 90,000 vehicles a day from the streets of Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo.

"As well as easing congestion and reducing noise and pollution, William Street will receive a $20-million facelift in an effort to turn it into Sydney’s Champs-Elysees. One lane in each direction will be closed, enabling the footpaths to be widened and paved in granite. Trees will be planted along both sides and street furniture, lighting and banners added, transforming it into the grand boulevard it was always intended to be. Real Estate principal Peter Shield predicts values in suburbs that will benefit most from the tunnel and the William Street beautification program could jump by as much as 18% to 25%."

The fact that infrastructure development causes increases in land values is well established. And this points to a reasonable source of funding for infrastructure: land value rating. The government should conceive of infrastructure as a self-funding public investment.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Europe dismisses claims of anti-semitism: "The European Commission's president [Romano Prodi] has dismissed claims by Jewish leaders and top US officials that 1930s-style anti-Semitism has returned to Europe."

"'The Europe of today is not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s. Let us be honest and keep things in perspective,' he said. 'We have no right to insult the memory of the Shoah's millions of victims by putting their sufferings on a par with today's manifestations, as serious as they are.'"

Great Barrier Reef to die in 50 years from rising temperatures: "The authors, the head of Queensland University's Centre for Marine Studies, and his father, an economist, predict, at best, reefs will have about 5 per cent living coral cover by the middle of the century, a predicament that would take the reef 50-100 years to recover from... Water temperature rises of less than one degree coincided with bleaching and coral deaths on the reef in 1998 and 2002. The projected temperature rises this century are between two and six degrees."

Friday, February 20, 2004

The Ultimate Betrayal: "The term 'seriously wounded' does not begin to convey the horror. Sergeant Feldbusch's mother, Charlene Feldbusch, who, along with his father, virtually lived at his bedside for two months, one day saw a young woman soldier crawling past her in the corridor. She had no legs, and her three-year-old son was trailing behind."

"Their families very often understand this before their sons and daughters do, and remonstrate with them before they go off. Ruth Aitken did so with her son, an Army captain, telling him it was a war for oil, while he insisted he was protecting the country from terrorists. He was killed on April 4, in a battle around Baghdad airport. "He was doing his job," his mother said. "But it makes me mad that this whole war was sold to the American public and to the soldiers as something it wasn't.""

Laureates say Bush is twisting science: "More than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, have issued a statement asserting the Bush Administration has systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weapons."

"The documents accuse the Administration of repeatedly censoring and suppressing its own scientists' reports, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice, and refusing to seek independent scientific expertise in some cases. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front," the statement from the scientists said."

No End to War: Patrick Buchanan's very good review of the new book and neoconservative manifesto by Richard 'Prince of Darkness' Perle and David 'Axis of Evil' Frum . A book that is frightening but also slightly ludicrous: "On putting down Perle’s new book the thought recurs: the neoconservative moment may be over. For they are not only losing their hold on power, they are losing their grip on reality... The long retreat of American empire has begun."

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Spanish demonstration against Iraq occupation on anniversary of 15 Feb: "Some 200,000 demonstrators took to the street across Spain on Sunday, protesting the occupation of Iraq by US-led forces and demanding an immediate military withdrawal and the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

"The demonstration, organized by trade unions and several social organizations, came eleven months after the US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq and ousted former president Saddam Hussein. Italso marked the anniversary of last year's massive anti-war demonstration in Madrid and Barcelona. Some 150,000 people, according to the organizer, participated in the demonstration in Madrid, capital city of the country, localmedia Europa Press said. Carrying such banners as 'USA Out' and 'No War, No Occupation,'the demonstrators urged foreign troops, including the Spanish ones,to withdraw from Iraq. Demonstrators also gathered in other major cities like Barcelona, Valencia and Seville as well as smaller towns."

Yes, Minister! (by Uri Avnery): "Clearly, he who appoints a commission of Inquiry decides in advance what the conclusions will be. When a member of the Establishment is appointed to investigate the Establishment , the conclusion will be that the Establishment has committed no wrong.

"In Israel, for example, we had the Agranat commission. Shimon Agranat, a respected Supreme Court judge, was appointed chairman of a commission and asked to apportion blame for the fateful failures of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The inquiry was limited in advance to the first days of the war, so the events leading up to the war (including government decisions) were excluded. The result: The Prime Minister (Golda Meir) and the Minister of Defense (Moshe Dayan) came our white as snow. All the blame landed on some military officers.

"(The conclusions were so scandalous that the general public rose up against them. The commission’s report was thrown into the waste basket, Golda and Dayan were forced to resign.)"

"Common sense would say: Bush & Blair were “deceived”, because they wanted to be deceived. Bush and the Neo-cons who have taken over Washington had decided from the beginning to attack Iraq, mainly in order to control the oil, and the tales of WMD were designed to provide a pretext that would frighten the masses.

"Did the political leaders explicitly demand that their intelligence organizations supply them with mendacious reports? Perish the thought! The commissions of inquiry will affirm that no such thing happened. And correctly so. The leaders did not ask for this, because there was no need to ask. The American, British and Israeli intelligence chiefs knew perfectly well what was required of them and delivered the goods. They knew which side their bread was buttered on.

"Did the intelligence people deliberately falsify their information to achieve this? There was no need. The intelligence community collects enormous quantities of information. From this huge pile they are supposed to extract the items that they consider credible. Surprisingly enough, the credible material is always that which the political leaders desire."

"I predict that all three commissions of inquiry, each in its own country, will come to the conclusion (a) that the political leaders did not ask the intelligence people to falsify their reports and did not exert any pressure on them, (b) that the intelligence people acted honestly and supplied intelligence evaluations according to their best knowledge and abilities, (c) that everybody acted according to the best information available at the time, and (d) that there was a lamentable professional failure."

"Neither of the three commissions will state the obvious: that the intelligence agencies are under the jurisdiction of the President (in the US) or the Prime Minister (in the UK and Israel), and that these bear the responsibility for their deeds and misdeeds. They appoint the intelligence chiefs and are supposed to supervise them. Therefore, in view of this colossal intelligence failure, all three of them should resign. That will not be said and will not happen."

If anyone was serious about an inquiry into the WMD fiasco and the war they could appoint a special commission of Uri Avnery, John Pilger, Seymour Hersh, Ray McGovern, Andrew Wilkie etc. It would be far more credible and thorough than anything that could be produced by the official channels and would in fact be hardly much more than a collation and distillation of the information that has already been published on the web.

An Interview with Michael Hudson on How Privatization Sterilizes Culture: "In the beginning the common aim of culture, along with religion, was to promote altruistic rather than narcissistic values. One finds this objective even in the case of table manners and the etiquette of group meals, as well as in the design of public monuments and of the public sections of cities. Classical drama, for instance, was all about hubris and the destructive effects of egoistic self-seeking."

"The golden age of musical tradition from ancient and medieval times down through the early 19th century is now being marginalized. Live music in these centuries was sponsored by royal patrons, city bodies and especially the church, often on ceremonial calendrical occasions. The privatization of culture has made music one of the casualties of economic change, along with classical drama and even art."

"The mode of access to music, drama and art has changed to reflect their new functions. The new role is not to inspire group solidarity or patriotic feeling. Art forms have been transformed into commodities, and in the 20th century into vehicles to sell products. The mass media's designated role is now primarily to attract peoples' attention to commercials."

"You now have art without the iconographic or social context that gave it a deeper meaning in the past. You do not even have the bourgeois figurative "art of everyday life," but nonfigurative fads that lack either the personal or visibly ideological dimension of symbolic meaning, such as op art and pop art, which merges naturally into celebrity art because there is little other standard of judgment."

"McChesney's and Hermann's account of how corporate conglomerates took over the air waves and popular press parallels the land grants to the railroads in the mid-19th century. One of the best descriptions of these giveaways is Gustavus Myers' History of the Great American Fortunes, originally published in 1907 and reprinted widely ever since."

"Myers wrote at a time when socialists were inspired by Henry George's idea of taxing land rent, and by logical extension natural resource rents and monopoly rents as representing unearned income. Industrial profits were smaller, because the value of capital equipment, machinery and buildings was far less than the value of land and mineral resources. The same is true with the broadcasting spectrum and other assets. For this reason, European and other foreign governments kept them in the public domain until the 1980s."

"Like the railroad land grants, most of the media deals for positions on the radio and TV dial were insider arrangements. This is a common denominator of privatization in almost every country throughout history. What is important to recognize is that the major insiders pulling the strings are the banks and financial companies, which have merged in a symbiosis with the privatizers and rent-seekers. The financial sector has ended up with the lion's share of the gains through its management fees, insider stock dealings, underwriting fees, and of course the notorious stock waterings through which the great railroad barons--basically, Wall Street manipulators--built fictitious costs into their railroad charges. Today's counterpart would be stock options for management, diluting stock ownership."

Hi-Tech Voting Machines with no paper trail or recountable method 'Threaten' US Polls: "In an election for a seat in the Florida house of representatives last month, touch-screen machines recorded 127 blank ballots. The race was won by 12 votes. No recount was possible because there was nothing to recount.

"In an election in Indiana last year, an electronic system recorded more than 144,000 votes in an election with fewer than 19,000 registered voters."

"The system is in crisis," Professor Dill said. "A quarter of the American public are voting on machines where there's very little protection of their votes. I don't think there's any reason to trust these machines."

UK spied on UNSC to wreck compromise propoals: "'A joint British and American spying operation at the United Nations scuppered a last-ditch initiative to avert the invasion of Iraq" - further and damning evidence that the decision for war was pre-made and the UN debate was a charade.

Friday, February 13, 2004

UN backs Sistani's call for election: A difficult situation for the US continues to develop in Iraq. Will they press ahead with their 'caucus' plan for appointing a government in Iraq or will they be forced to compromise or even allow elections?

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Press Freedom Under Fire: "In 2002, a full 1,420 journalists were kidnapped, beaten or detained across the globe, and RSF concludes, "The fight against terrorism launched by the United States and its allies after the 11 September attacks damaged freedom of the press. Many governments stepped up and justified their repression of opposition or independent voices using anti-terrorism as an excuse."

"Just last month, Austrian lifestyle-magazine reporter Peter Krobath flew to Los Angeles to interview Ben Affleck about his latest film. Despite having media credentials and a press junket invitation, Krobath was detained at LAX and interrogated for five hours. He was then body-searched, handcuffed, placed in isolation and taken to a downtown prison where he spent the night in a cell with 45 others, including convicted criminals. Only after the Austrian consulate intervened was Krobath released from prison and placed on the first flight back to Vienna. Krobath's crime? He didn't have a special visa for foreign journalists planning to cover news stories in the States. The catch? No embassies or consulates had been told about this new regulation, so foreign media groups couldn't prepare their staff members."

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Ran HaCohen on Sharon's surprising announcement to evacuate settlers from the Gaza strip: "Official Palestinian sources dismissed Sharon's announcement with disbelief. On the one hand, their mistrust is understandable: Sharon has a lifelong reputation of lying, as his superiors and colleagues have been saying for decades... [on the other] a unilateral Israeli withdrawal would weaken the PA even further: after all, the PA has a record of corruption, it is ineffective in supplying welfare, education and health services, and it cannot give any sense of security against the overwhelmingly superior Israeli military might. If even its function as negotiator becomes superfluous, one may rightly wonder what's the use of the PA at all."

"An astonishing reaction comes from Yossi Beilin, considered to be the left-end of the Zionist peace camp. Beilin objects to Sharon's unilateral withdrawal, claiming there is no reason to leave Gaza without getting anything in return. It is indeed revealing to see that for Beilin, the settlements in Gaza are not a moral stain, a financial burden and a military headache that Israel should get rid of, but a precious asset that should be traded for some worthy "rewards": a precise echo of similar views regularly aired by former PM Ehud Barak, the right-wing extremist who exploded the Oslo process, initiated the Intifada and destroyed the Israeli peace camp from within, to whom Beilin dedicated his last book."

"Barak's views are based on his inherent objection to peace, Beilin's motivation is different: He has a vested interest (politically, and, broadly speaking, also financially) in the well-being of the PA, which is in fact his partner for the Geneva Accords. For Beilin, relieving 1,5 million Palestinians in Gaza of the abusive presence of Israeli settlers and military is not a good idea for Beilin, if its price might be weakening his partners in the corrupted PA."

"Note that Sharon has been talking all along of "moving" settlements, not dismantling them. The difference is now becoming clear: Sharon's plan is to move whole settlements from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank... Almost all the Gaza settlements where created by Sharon following the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai in 1982; many settlers moved there from Sinai. Now they should be moved elsewhere; they were informed about it exclusively by the Israeli media."

"It's the same Israeli media, by the way, which is already shedding tears about the poor Gaza settlers to be "uprooted" for generous compensations, totally blind to the fact that they live amongst 1,5 million Palestinians, 70% of whom are refugees who were violently uprooted from their land within Israel, and trapped in the most densely populated region on earth with not a cent of compensation."

"Don't err in illusions: no one intends to make Gaza a Palestinian State, no one even claims to. Gaza has a very different function. As senior Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea wrote a few years ago, Gaza is Israel's penal colony, its "devil island, Alcatraz" (quoted by Tanya Reinhart). Even now, alleged "terrorists" and their relatives from the West Bank are regularly deported to Gaza, which is surrounded with electric fences, its access to the sea blocked by the Israeli navy, and is thus completely sealed off the outside world. Sharon intends to keep a 100 meter strip along the Egyptian border (where the army has been systematically destroying all Palestinian houses), to make sure Alcatraz is fully contained."

Monday, February 09, 2004

Independent reviews Blair's WMD claims, especially the 45 minute claim: So long as Blair remains in power, it is necessary to forensically examine him. But for most of us, we would have lost interest in the lies, distortions and convolutions some time ago. More than 50% of the British public believes Blair lied and he should resign.

"Just when Tony Blair signed up for "regime change" in Iraq - whether it was in the first weeks of 2003 when the "UN route" failed, or much earlier, in 2002 - remains obscure... "I [a Whitehall veteran] doubt whether we will ever find out what Tony Blair knew at any particular time," he said, "unless he signed a piece of paper which turns up. He believes what he is saying.""

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Interview with two US officers on leave from war in Iraq: "I wasn't even able to eat Christmas dinner because I lost my appetite after seeing the news. I came back home but many of my men will not be coming back, and some will be coming back horribly scarred and injured. Makes you really think about what Christmas means and to value being with your family.

"O2- I started crying in front of my whole family and all my friends when I saw that come on the news. I won't let my wife turn on the news right now. I am going back in a few days and I want to just relax and forget the war for a few days. I don't think I can put it out of my head, but I am trying. I knew one of the guys killed on Christmas Eve, and some of the guys that got wounded in the last week were my friends... I want to talk about this and tell people how bad it really is in Iraq. It is a complete slaughter and it is only going to get worse. The attacks in the last month or so have been meticulously well planned and executed. We are seeing a level of sophistication that the chain of command did not ever expect... These guys have been trained to fight guerilla style and they don't give up. We are in deep sh.t now that they have started to get more organized."

"O1- I don't think that some of the higher level planners expected this kind of resistance and guerilla activity. We tried to tell them months ago that it wasn't just Baath party members and Saddam supporters. Some of the most highly trained guerillas are Shiite and Kurdish. We are going to be in some real trouble if the Kurds ever decide to join together with the Shiites and fight against us. Throw the Sunni radicals into the mix and it's total chaos with our guys stuck smack in the middle. It's one giant cluster f..k and the US soldiers are going to be the one that gets hurt and killed. That country is on the brink of civil war right now. Years of subdued hatreds are now boiling over. That is why you see all the different targets that are being hit by the car bombs."

"O1- You know, right after the invasion, the average Iraqi was happy to see us get rid of the Saddam regime. You ask the same Iraqi how they feel about us now, and they will openly admit that they hate us as bad as Saddam, or even worse than Saddam.

JS- Why is that in your opinion? What made them change their feelings toward US forces?

"O1- You want to know the biggest reason? We still haven't accomplished the mission we started out to do. Iraqis will tell you they don't fell any freer, there is hunger all over the place, over half the country is out of work, there is a huge lack of clean drinking water, and their children are dying everyday from contaminated water, and from our cluster bombs. The people do not see us living up to our promises of liberation and democracy. Until we do what we promised them and get out of there, they will keep killing us and hating us."

"We can't even go out in convoy with anyone from Halliburton or Bechtel without drawing a crowd of angry Iraqis. They hate the Halliburton and Bechtel guys worse than they hate the soldiers. It's like painting a target on your back just to travel with those contractors and try to protect them.

"O2- Let me jump in here. I want to say that I am extremely mad that Halliburton and Bechtel have better equipment than our own troops do. The contractors have fully armored Hummers and the best body armor. The have us escort them in our lightly armored Humvees and they ride in heavily armored vehicles. That is bullsh.t and every American needs to know about it."

"Now I am just about done with the Army's bullsh.t and the Pentagon is about worthless as sh.t. It is going against everything the Army has ever told me. I am just sick of seeing good men and women die. In the end is it going to really mean anything that all these Americans shed their blood in the sand? I don't think most of America really knows how bad it is. We getting our asses kicked and no one is winning this thing.

"O2- If you look at it really hard, the only ones that come out ahead are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of those corrupt old bastards. I mean come on, if all the soldiers who are actually fighting this war can see that, what the hell is wrong with the American citizens? We knew it was about oil from the beginning. Oil and building huge bases that the US will have to staff for years to come. There is no end in sight for the people serving in this war."

"I'm proud that I served my country, I am proud to be an American soldier. That is why it is so hard for me to say stuff like this about our leaders and the government. I hate doing this, but what the Pentagon and Bush are doing to our soldiers makes me sick. I also get sick when I think about how many Iraqi civilians I saw killed and terribly maimed. I have seen hundreds of kids missing body parts or dying from dysentery and diarrhea from contaminated water. I saw orphans who had lost every family member and were starving in the street.

"There are whole packs of orphans roaming around Baghdad and some of the other cities. They scavenge for scraps and beg for food. It got really bad after the Red Cross and the UN pulled out. Seeing hundreds and hundreds of maimed and starving children is one sight you will never forget. I can't sleep sometimes, and I hear the kids crying in my nightmares. I saw little kids with injuries like I never dreamed possible."

"I was near a hospital for a few weeks after the ground war ended. I saw hundreds of dead kids, and kids dying from gangrene and infection. If you ever smell someone who has severe gangrene and flesh rotting you would know what I was talking about. That is one smell you will never forget. To see a little child with their arm or leg rotting off is one of the most gruesome sights I could have imagined."

"The madness and chaos that hit the whole country was completely overwhelming. I know a lot of my guys will come home with PTSD or worse. We had a lot of guys flown out for going off the deep end. You could just see it in their eyes. They were right at the breaking point or already over the edge... I just want to be able to look back on my service with total pride and that is not really what I feel right now. I hate the ones in power that have made me question my sense of duty and honor. I get so confused about it and there is no one you can really talk to about that."

"I think it [post-traumatic stress disorder] is probably affecting at least half the men over there. It's probably way more than that out of the ones in combat situations everyday. They have had to evacuate at least 5000 soldiers for mental reasons already. Who knows how many are having problems and are afraid to tell anyone. I know that I will never be the same again. I have nightmares and can't sleep very well. I know I won't ever forget some of the things I saw, there is no way you can ever wipe out the sight of dead kids and women, or seeing your men get slaughtered."

"I think I said way too much if I know what's good for me. That is one thing that I am really upset about. I go off to fight for democracy and freedom in Iraq, and I am scared to have my name on this interview when I get back home to this supposed democracy. That just pisses me off that I am afraid to speak out in my own country. How the hell are we supposed to bring democracy to Iraq when the government is going after all the soldiers that have been speaking out?

"O2- You have to have been out of the country for a few months to notice it. I almost felt like I was coming home to a police state or something. They were screening everyone at the airport and pulled aside some elderly guy who was a prominent anti-war activist."

"I know that some of my family has spoken out against the war. If they were to try and arrest my mom or dad they would have a real fight on their hands. I don't think the government realizes how volatile something like that would be. How ironic it would be if I go back to Iraq to help them get a freely elected democracy, and they put my family in jail for trying to protect our own democracy? We are in real critical times right now. I don't think many of the military or their families actually support this war. I don't know of any other time of war when so many people with military family have spoken out in opposition of a war.

"Some of the men in my unit have family members that go to all the protests, and are very active with anti war groups. Imagine if the FBI were to just start arresting all those people. That is a very real possibility if you look at the lengths the FBI and Homeland Security has gone to keep track of protestors and activists."

The day Cheney was rocked to the core: "he has faced a seemingly unrelenting succession of disclosures and attacks that appear to get worse with each passing day. What the albatross was to the ancient mariner, Cheney is fast becoming to George W Bush's re-election chances."

Iraq WMD threat was 'almost zero', troops officially told days before invasion: "Australian troops fighting in Iraq were told in an official briefing days before entering the country that Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to launch weapons of mass destruction against its neighbours. Roger Hill, Australia's most experienced weapons inspector, yesterday told The Age that Iraq had possessed the remnants of weapons of mass destruction but its ability to use them on the battlefield was 'almost zero'.

"'There is no question Iraq possessed materials, documents and possibly products,' Mr Hill said. 'But it did not have the ability to conduct attacks on its near or regional neighbours,' he said. 'I told our troops that. I also told people in the other coalition forces. But I was a lone voice.' ... Mr Hill, who is widely acknowledged as Australia's top expert on Saddam's weapons programs, said that during the eight years he spent travelling to Iraq as a senior UN weapons inspector he was asked only once to brief officials in Canberra about the threat posed by Saddam... Mr Hill, a career army officer, had served in the SAS and led the last UN inspection team that went to Iraq in November 1998. But none of Canberra's intelligence agencies asked for his assessment of the Iraq threat before the Government made its decision to send the troops."

"Mr Howard said this week that information that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was one of the principal justifications for sending Australian troops to war. Only days before the invasion he said in a televised speech that the prospect Saddam could arm terrorists with weapons of mass destruction was a "direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people"."

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Blair's Mass Deception - by John Pilger: "Iraq was attacked so that the United States and Britain could claim its oil and its assets. Only Mary Poppins would believe otherwise. For the latest in a catalogue of evidence, turn to the Wall Street Journal, the paper of America's ruling elite, which has obtained copies of the Bush administration's secret plan to privatise the country by selling off its assets to western corporations while establishing vast military bases. The plan was drafted in February last year, just as Tony Blair was assuring the British people that the only reason was Saddam Hussein's 'threat.'

"The Bush/Blair attack on Iraq has brought death, destruction and great bitterness to Iraq. Every indication is that most Iraqis now regard their lives as immeasurably worse than during Saddam Hussein's rule. More than 13,000 people are held in concentration camps in their own country. This is many more than were incarcerated in Saddam's political prisons in recent years. None has been charged; most cannot see their families; the allegations of torture and brutality by the occupiers grow by the day. As the US-based Human Rights Watch reported last week, the worst atrocities were in the 1980s – when he was backed by America and Britain.

"The uprising in Iraq has accelerated and almost certainly strengthened since the capture of Saddam. Drawn from 12 different groups, including those that were always anti-Saddam, the resistance is well organised and will not stop until the "coalition" leaves. The setting up of a puppet "democracy" will merely increase the number of targets. As Blair's knowledge of imperial history will tell him, this is precisely what happened in Britain's other colonies before they threw out their occupiers, and in Vietnam. One piece of intelligence which was true and which we know Blair received is a report that warned him that an attack on Iraq would only increase worldwide terrorism, especially against British interests and citizens. He chose to ignore it. Two weeks ago a panel of jurists called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the British government for war crimes in Iraq."

End to Evil: Monsters of Hardline Ideology tour: "They rock as hard as Burzum and Mayhem. The proof? First, both the Black Metalists and the Republican authors are obsessed with evil, as the title alone shows. Indeed, Frum is the author of the famous "axis of evil" line that has crippled Bush’s room for diplomatic maneuver. And Frum, like the metalists, got in trouble for boasting about how he’d made that line up–the same way that all the Black Metalists eventually got jailed for boasting about their murders. For their boasts, Frum got fired while the Black Metalists got rooms at the Comfort Inn. Gnarly.

"Then there’s Perle, who, like Dead or Euronymous, has his own infamous Black Metal nom de roque: The Prince of Darkness. Arrrggghhh! Launch fireworks and pyrotechnics from front of stage, set off explosions, lower giant skull as The Prince of Darkness and David "Axis of Evil" Frum take to the stage in their End to Evil monsters of hardline ideology tour!"

Monday, February 02, 2004

Bernard Chazelle: Bush's Desolate Imperium: "Ah, the ease with which George W. Bush attracts superlatives! Helen Thomas calls him 'the worst president ever.' A kinder, gentler Jonathan Chait ranks him 'among the worst presidents in US history.' No such restraint from Paul Berman, who brands him 'the worst president the US has ever had.' Nobel Laureate George Akerlof rates his government as the 'worst ever.' Even Bushie du jour, Christopher Hitchens, calls the man 'unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.' Only Fidel Castro, it would appear, has had kind words for our 43rd President. 'Hopefully, he is not as stupid as he seems, nor as Mafia-like as his predecessors were.'

"Vain hopes. In a mere three years, President Bush has compiled a record of disasters that Fidel could only envy. While cutting taxes for the rich, starving out federal programs for the poor, dismantling environmental protections, riding roughshod over civil liberties, and running the largest budget deficit in history, his administration has pursued a 'law of the jungle' brand of foreign policy fueled by overt paranoia and an imperious sense of omnipotence. Its shrill, threatening rhetoric, relentlessly echoed by a gang of media goons, has coarsened public discourse and alienated friends and allies."

US discredited in Iraq: "Asia Times Online has had credible information since late 2003 that Shi'ites of all factions are building a 'secret army' to engage the Americans in case their democratic aspirations are not met. Even with all its military might, the US has never looked so fragile and discredited in Iraq. An occupying power which refuses democratic elections using all manners of excuses is being judged by the Islamic world - and the international community - for what it is: a neo-colonial power. It has now been proved there were never any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - much less the means to deliver them. It is now being proved the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with introducing democracy to the Middle East."

Land reform needed in Nepal: "More than 8,000 Nepalese have died since a civil war broke out in 1996, and the death rate has sharply increased with the arrival of almost 8,400 American M-16 submachine guns, accompanied by U.S. advisors, high tech night fighting equipment, and British helicopters."

"It was the Nepalese government's attempt to crush rural unrest that sparked the civil war in the first place, and virtually no one thinks there is a military solution to the insurrection. "The government forces, under the present policies, could win a couple of battles here and there," writes analyst Romeet Kaul Watt in The Kashmir Tribune, "but will never win the war." The present war finds it roots in both the ongoing poverty of a nation that is 85 percent rural, and the failure of the government to institute land reform measures following the restoration of representative government in 1990."

The usual method of 'land reform' is a redistribution or break up of large estates but the method of land value taxation (and re-investment of the resulting revenue in infrastructure development) must also be considered in addition to or even in place of that approach.

Kay Questions U.S. Pre-Emptive Strike Doctrine: "Bush based his decision to invade Iraq on what he called a 'grave and gathering danger' posed by Iraq's biological and chemical weapons and warranted assertion of his post-Sept. 11, 2001, doctrine of pre-emptive military action to guard U.S. security in the face of new terror threats. 'If you cannot rely on good, accurate intelligence that is credible to the American people and to others abroad, you certainly can't have a policy of preemption,' Kay said on Fox News Sunday.

"'Pristine intelligence -- good, accurate intelligence -- is a fundamental benchstone of any sort of policy of preemption to even be thought about.' Kay, who resigned last week, concluded Iraq had no stockpiles of biological or chemical weapons, and the White House has said it will review its prewar intelligence."

Kay's very public criticism of the intelligence failure and the Bush doctrine itself is remarkable as he was the hand-picked expert to look for WMDs after the US refused to allow the UN and Hans Blix back into Iraq to continue the search.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2004: War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention: "In considering the criteria that would justify humanitarian intervention, the most important, as noted, is the level of killing: was genocide or comparable mass slaughter underway or imminent? Brutal as Saddam Hussein’s reign had been, the scope of the Iraqi government’s killing in March 2003 was not of the exceptional and dire magnitude that would justify humanitarian intervention... The lack of ongoing or imminent mass slaughter was itself sufficient to disqualify the invasion of Iraq as a humanitarian intervention."

Much of Europe Is Derisive About Report on Iraqi Arms: "Much of Europe has given a collective snort to the testimony by David Kay, the former chief United States weapons inspector, that there probably were no illicit weapons in Iraq before the United States-led war there. 'There is a kind of cynicism here,' said Dominique Moïsi, a political analyst in Paris. 'So the Americans lied to their people and to us and maybe to themselves. That's exactly what we already thought.'"

"There was greater bemusement in Europe over Britain's seemingly contradictory report that chastised the British Broadcasting Corporation for suggesting that Prime Minister Tony Blair's administration had hyped intelligence reports of weapons in Iraq. "Especially in France, there is a feeling that if the David Kay report is right," Mr. Moïsi said. "How can the BBC be so severely punished for revealing what was ultimately true?"

"Some German media scoffed at the purported independence of the Hutton report, which led to the resignations of the BBC's board chairman, Gavyn Davies its director general, Greg Dyke, and Andrew Gilligan, the reporter of the original account. "Hutton has been a servant to the crown all his life; he always knows what his duty is," read an editorial in Friday's Die Tageszeitung, a national newspaper published in Berlin. It likened Lord Hutton's role to "a football team putting up their own manager as referee and then celebrating a win on dubious penalties."

The Hutton report certainly presents a bizarre spectacle at this particular juncture. Nothing could be more apparent to the whole world than that the WMDs claims about Iraq were 'sexed up' to say the least, and yet this clown-figure appears to condemn the BBC and totally exonerate the Blair Government.

Blair Fears Being Hung Out to Dry by Bush Over WMD: "Close associates of Tony Blair fear that the Prime Minister is on the point of being hung out to dry by President George Bush over the issue of whether Iraq held weapons of mass destruction when Britain and the US went to war last March."

"The changing message from Washington comes as Downing Street advisers are still recovering from their astonishment at public reaction to last week's Hutton report into the suicide of the weapons expert David Kelly. Instead of seeing the report as proof that Mr Blair believed in the existence of Iraq's illegal weaponry when the took the country to war, the public - according to early opinion polls - thinks that the BBC has been unfairly traduced for trying to uncover the truth behind the decision to go to war."

ha ha ha ha! What a piece of work this Blair is. I doubt that Bush or anyone else would care much about the tattered remnants of Blair's credibility. Might as well rip it away now as any time.

It was a heck of a lie, this WMDs thing, and Blair cannot either live it down or distance himself from it. If he had more chutzpah then he does he would have 'fessed up some time back.

Al-Qaeda plotting to outdo 9-11, warns Ruddock: "Attorney-General Philip Ruddock today warned that al-Qaeda may be planning to outdo its attack on New York, as airlines grounded flights amid fears of chemical or biological attack on an aircraft...Intelligence experts reportedly said possible threats may include the release of a biological agent on a plane so those aboard would spread the infection without knowing it."

I thought the terrorists were coming in in boats? The credibility of the Anglo-Saxon governments and intelligence agencies has been destroyed by the Iraq war and the 'war on terror'. You couldn't believe a word they say. Its as likely to be a re-election or political maneouvre as it is to be a genuine terror alert. We need access to the sources and the analysis to form our own views.