Archive for June, 2005

Simulated oil meltdown shows U.S. economy’s vulnerability

Monday, June 27th, 2005

WASHINGTON – Former CIA Director Robert Gates sighs deeply as he pores over reports of growing unrest in Nigeria. Many Americans can’t find the African nation on a map, but Gates knows that it’s America’s fifth-largest oil supplier and one that provides the light, sweet crude that U.S. refiners prefer.

It’s 11 days before Christmas 2005, and the turmoil is preventing about 600,000 barrels of oil per day from reaching the world oil market, which was already drum-tight. Gates, functioning as the top national security adviser to the president, convenes the Cabinet to discuss the implications of Nigeria’s spreading religious and ethnic unrest for America’s economy.

Should U.S. troops be sent to restore order? Should America draw down its strategic oil reserves to stabilize soaring gasoline prices? Cabinet officials agree that drawing down the reserves might signal weakness. They recommend that the president simply announce his willingness to do so if necessary.

The economic effects of unrest in faraway Nigeria are immediate. Crude oil prices soar above $80 a barrel. June’s then-record $60 a barrel is a distant memory. A gallon of unleaded gas now costs $3.31. Americans shell out $75 to fill a midsized SUV.

If all this sounds like a Hollywood drama, it’s not. These scenarios unfolded in a simulated oil shock wave held Thursday in Washington. Two former CIA directors and several other former top policy-makers participated to draw attention to America’s need to reduce its dependence on oil, especially foreign oil.

Fast-forward to Jan. 19, 2006. A blast rips through Saudi Arabia’s Haradh natural-gas plant. Simultaneously, al Qaida terrorists seize a tanker at Alaska’s Port of Valdez and crash it, igniting a massive fire that sweeps across oil terminals. Crude oil spikes to $120 a barrel, and the U.S. economy reels. Gasoline prices hit $4.74 a gallon.

Gates convenes the Cabinet again. Members still disagree on whether America should draw down its strategic oil reserves. Homeland Security chief James Woolsey, who ran the CIA from 1993 to 1995, argues that a special energy czar is needed with broad powers to bypass the bureaucracy and impose offshore oil drilling and construction of refineries.

That won’t help now, though, or resolve any short-term issues, counters Gene Sperling, who was President Clinton’s national economic adviser.

The energy secretary suggests that relaxing clean-air standards could help refiners squeeze out every last drop of gas. That makes the interior secretary, former Clinton Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner, bristle. She blames Detroit for the mess because automakers failed to develop hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars.

The Conduct of the UN Before and After the 2003 Invasion

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

by Hans von Sponek
In discussing UN involvement before and after the 2003 invasion of US, UK and other coalition forces into Iraq, a clear distinction has to be made between the policy makers and the civil servants expected to carry out the policies, i.e., between member governments in the UN Security Council and the UN Secretariat.

If this is done, it quickly becomes clear that primary responsibility for the human catastrophe in Iraq lies with the political UN, with those member governments in the UN Security Council who had the power to make a difference. The failure of the Council to make a humanitarian, ethical and legal difference is much more monumental than is commonly known. There is not only the betrayal of the Iraqi people but also the betrayal of the UN Charter and the betrayal of the international conscience.

Why is this so?

World leaders were hiding behind the curtain of the UN Security Council to premeditate their betrayal before and after the illegal war of 2003. There can be no more doubts, the facts are present, that the US and UK governments were actively pursuing regime change by force at a time when the world was made to believe that international law, peaceful solutions to the conflict and the protection of the Iraqi people, were part of the US and UK governments’ approach. They were not. Once the asymmetrical war was over, it also became clear to the international public that those who carried out this war had reached higher heights of irresponsibility by fighting this war without a strategy for peace.

The objective was to maintain a strangle-hold on Iraq. Means of ‘disarray’ and ‘deception’ were deployed to justify the end of ‘domination’. Iraq’s armed forces were sent home. Civil servants were retired without evidence of wrong doing, simply because they had belonged to the Baath Party. New laws, the Transition Authority laws (TAL) were introduced by decree. These laws tried to re-colonize Iraq economically and institutionally and create dependence even in such areas as agriculture by banning local seed stocks in favour of genetically modified seeds to be imported from the Unites States. The ensuing Iraqi opposition and chaos left the occupying powers stymied and bewildered.

How did the UN Security Council and the UN Secretariat react to these bilateral aberrations?

Over a decade, the UN Security Council condoned what two permanent members, the US and the UK, were doing to pursue, first, their Iraq containment policy and later their regime replacement agenda. This amounted to nothing less but the de facto bilateralization of the Security Council. The rhetoric of the Iraq debates in the Council showed that there was an abundance of awareness of the evolving humanitarian crisis in Iraq. At the same time there was a severe shortage of political will to take timely steps to redress this situation.

It was known to all members of the Security Council that the linkage between disarmament and comprehensive economic sanctions meant that the people of Iraq were made to pay a heavy price in terms of life and destitution for acts of their government. It was known to all members of the Security Council that the inadequacy of the Council’s allocations for the oil-for-food programme and the bureaucracy with which this humanitarian exemption was implemented worsened the chances of survival of many Iraqis. It was known to all members of the Security Council that the refusal by the Council to allow the transfer of cash to Iraq’s central bank needed to run the nation, to pay for training, installation of equipment and institution building, encouraged the Government of Iraq to increase illegal means to obtain cash.

It was known to all members of the Security Council that the establishment of the two no-fly-zones within Iraq had little to do with the protection of ethnic and religious groups but a lot with destabilization. All members of the Security Council were aware that following ‘Operation Desert Fox’ in December 1998, the US and the UK governments, giving their pilots enlarged rules of engagement, used Iraqi airspace as training grounds, eventually in preparation for war. The Security Council had access to air strike reports when such reports were prepared by the UN in Baghdad and therefore all members of the Security Council knew of the destruction of civilian life and property. Yet, the Security Council did not ever debate the legality of the no-fly-zones to challenge two of its members that they maintained these zones without a UN mandate.

All this was known.

Another G8 shell game

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

Bob Geldof and Bono may have screwed it for the world’s poorest countries. These are two well-meaning guys, and they certainly deserve kudos for the attention they have helped to focus on the plight of the world’s poor. But when they offered flippant sound bites last week about plans to relieve some of the debt of poor nations, they set back the path to economic justice by huge strides. It must be assumed they did not do so deliberately, but their fame and their ability to buttonhole the leaders of the wealthiest nations may have clouded their judgment enough to prevent them from remembering that they are spokespeople, not experts.

On June 11, the finance ministers of seven of the world’s leading industrial nations (the G8, minus Russia) agreed to write off the debt of the 18 poorest countries (14 of them in Africa). It is expected that a further nine African countries may qualify for similar relief over the next 12 to 18 months. Although the agreement still needs formal approval at the G8 Summit to be held in Scotland in early July, it sounds like good news and a noble humanitarian gesture. But is it? And what is actually to be written off?

Anyone with even a simple grasp of the issues will recognize that the conditions attached to the alleged debt relief are actually more onerous than the debt they relieve. When Geldof pronounced the deal as “a victory for millions” and Bono described it as “a little piece of history”, they set back by large strides the hard work that has been done round the world by those fighting to end poverty. For those workers know, even if Geldof and Bono don’t — or didn’t remember — that the enforced economic liberalization and privatization are not designed to ease third world debt, they are designed to open further lucrative investment opportunities for the West in a form of econo-colonialism. Geldof and Bono are running the risk that they will defuse the political campaign toward global justice and relegate any aid or relief to philanthropy.

‘Well meaning guys’?? The best that can be said of these two is that they are fools, and that’s a charity…

Iran’s President – Elect Expected to Take on West

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

Iran’s conservative press hailed president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday as a man who could take on the United States and uphold the moral principles of the Islamic revolution.

The hardline conservative mayor of Tehran defeated moderate cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a landslide election win, but has sparked concerns that his brand of conservatism will enflame a row over Iran’s atomic program.

Ahmadinejad has struck a defiant stance on Iran’s nuclear fuel program, that Washington argues is needed for atomic weapons, saying Tehran could never surrender its technology.

The conservative Kayhan newspaper wrote Ahmadinejad’s win would scupper U.S. attempts to flex its muscles in the Middle East under what it called a smokescreen of spreading democracy.

“The recent election and the people’s leaning toward a devout man … means America’s plot of democratization in the region has backfired,” wrote editor Hossein Shariatmadari.

The Tehran Times said the new president would put Islamic principles back at the center of policy making.

“The election signifies a return to the idealistic principles that have been forgotten over the past few years,” read an editorial in the conservative newspaper.

Ahmadinejad, 48, has already called for the nation to unite behind him in a spirit of solidarity, saying: “We have to forget all our rivalries and turn them into friendships.”

Major policy decisions on the nuclear program, which Tehran denies is a ploy to get atomic weapons, are ultimately taken by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said his over-arching policy was unlikely to change and a new president would not be able to strike a harder line independently in nuclear negotiations with the European Union.

The European Union reacted warily to Ahmadinejad, who takes office in August.

“From the new President Ahmadinejad we are waiting for clear words on human rights and the nuclear issue. But if the replies are negative, the European Union will have no choice but to freeze dialogue with Iran,” European commissioner Franco Frattini told Italy’s La Repubblica daily.

He sounds like the CIA candidate to me…

Japan Suspects Iran – N.Korea Missile Link

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

Japan is worried that technology for a long-range cruise missile that can carry nuclear warheads may have been leaked to North Korea from Iran, a Japanese daily said on Sunday.

At issue is technology used in cruise missiles known as Kh-55s that Ukraine exported to Iran in 2001 under former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the Sankei Shimbun daily said, quoting Japanese government and ruling party sources.

“They are linked by a network beneath the surface regarding the development of weapons of mass destruction,” Sankei quoted a Defense Ministry source as saying about Iran and North Korea.

The possible leak of technology was conveyed to Japan by a U.S. intelligence agency, said Sankei, a conservative daily.

Developed in the late 1970s in the former Soviet Union, the Kh-55s have a range of 3,000 km (1,864 miles), long enough to hit any part of Japan if deployed by North Korea, Sankei said.

Ukraine said in March that cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads had been “smuggled” out of the country to Iran, but denied a report they had been exported with official sanction.

You can just hear the wheels in motion…

The pirate who inspired the bankers: The roots of Ecuador’s crippling debt go back two centuries

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

by Colin MacInnes
I have watched a young mother die because she did not have the money for a simple appendix operation, and neither did I.
I have looked on in despair as whole families were thrown on to the street because they could not pay their rent. Of the 700,000 Ecuadorean children whose parents could not afford to matriculate them for this school year, I know that many are from the barrio where I have lived and worked for the past 20 years.

Why refer to these facts? Because they remind me of one element that will continue to condemn the young and innocent to permanent poverty, to disease and to life on the margins of civilisation – the country’s external debt, often referred to in Spanish as the eternal debt.
The Ecuadorean, and indeed Latin American, foreign debt has a long history, but I believe that as a world community we are quite capable of solving the human, social and economic problems of our times. I also believe that we are doing very little about it. I consider that our politicians, bar a few exceptions, do little more than parade on the world stage. They have betrayed their vocation towards humanity. They are cowardly, incompetent and incapable of facing up to the challenge of world poverty.

There is a desperate need to construct a world where justice is not just another supermarket commodity to be bought by the rich and powerful but denied to the poor and marginalised; a world where poverty is not just another topic for presidents and prime ministers who have lost their scripts; where solidarity is not merely preached from the pulpits but practised in the streets and in the Wall Streets of the world. I am convinced that if the people of Britain knew of the unjust manner in which the debt was accrued, of how it is used to perpetrate a system of exclusion and oppression, of how it affects the dignity and self-esteem of peoples and nations, they would become unrelenting crusaders in the fight to solve this problem.

Our mistake is to consider the foreign debt as a mere mathematical calculation illustrating how much is loaned by one party and therefore to be paid back by the other. It is far more complex than that; it is a socio-economic and human tragedy going back more than two centuries to a time when many Latin American countries were involved in wars of independence against Spain and needed arms. It was also a time when Britain wanted to exploit the weakness in the Spanish empire and so bundles of pound notes were dangled before the eyes of desperate peoples in need of ready cash to finance their wars.

At times ignorant of financial transactions, of the impact of interest rates that could rise as high as 40%, Latin American leaders were only too ready to sign along the dotted line. After all, as a General Trujillo remarked: “These English gentlemen are so generous with their money.” The more astute Andean liberator, Simon Bolivar, was soon to comment: “We have more to fear from the English debt than the Spanish sword.” How right he was.

British interests were well served. Apart from weakening Spanish power in the region, the British opened up lucrative markets for their developing industries. They were able to gain rights to gold and silver mines and the extraction of pearls and other raw materials for their more advanced industries. Areas of land with no predetermined valuation were often negotiated as collateral.

“With conscience wide as hell,” as Shakespeare wrote in another context, English bankers and entrepreneurs floated around Latin America trading pounds for inestimable political and commercial advantages. The Scots did not lag behind, and, in the person of Gregor McGregor, provided a bizarre example of the exploitation that was rife at the time. McGregor was a soldier in the Colombian patriotic army and later a pirate on the Caribbean. In 1820 he negotiated a treaty with the Miskitos indians of Nicaragua and obtained the title of “Prince of Poyais”.

With this most prestigious position, he was made more than welcome in the British court and the London financial world and so was able to negotiate loans and underwrite bonds to the tune of £200,000. With money so readily available on the London markets, it is little wonder that he felt disinclined to return to pirating in the Caribbean.

These initial experiences in the international credit market were just a taste of what was to follow. Corrupt dictators were desperate to borrow money to secure their often precarious political posts. “Borrow now and someone else will pay later” was their persistent ideology.

The frequent revolutions and civil wars in Latin America were ready-made territories for the arms traders, who became international bankers overnight. The international corporations could not miss out on the spoils. One outrageous example happened when an ingenuous government signed an improbable contract to build a railway across the mountains of Honduras to transport “ocean-going liners” from the Atlantic to the Pacific and secure perpetual prosperity for the country.

There is, however, a growing awareness among ordinary people of this type of blatant misappropriation and the injustices of the international money-lending system. The peoples of Latin America have moved from questioning the debt to outright declarations of protest. Ecuador paid 57% of its national income in the jubilee year of 2000 for the interest on its debt, and this year will have to borrow money in order to meet premium debt payments. The foreign debt is an immoral imposition, an illegal burden, a death sentence on future development and prosperity.

All Ecuadorean children are saddled with a debt of $1,212 the day they are born. This debt will increase to $25,000 before they receive their first wage. No wonder a litany of protest is spreading: “We have already paid the borrowed money many times over. We should not be made responsible for money that we never had access to nor ever benefited from. They stripped us of our gold reserves as war booty. They exploited our wealth in minerals and raw materials. Their industries have caused unknown ecological damage. Our forests have been savaged to extract oil, our mountains to open mines. Our coasts and seas have been plundered by industrial fishing. We say that we are not the debtors.” What do you say?

Anglican share vote angers Israelis

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

Anglicans yesterday voted to urge their member churches to consider disinvesting from companies involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

The Anglican consultative council voted unanimously for the measure, which was opposed by the last archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi, who fear it will damage Jewish and Christian relations. Among those voting for yesterday’s measure was Dr Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, a council spokesman said.

U.S. Court Backs Bush’s Changes on Clean Air Act

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

WASHINGTON, June 24 – A federal appeals court sided with the Bush administration on Friday, upholding its revisions of the Clean Air Act to allow plant operators to modernize without installing expensive new pollution control equipment. The ruling turned back challenges to the revisions by New York, California and a dozen other states.

In upholding central provisions of the regulations known as New Source Review, the court concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency had acted within its rights in issuing rules in 2002 that allowed operators of power plants, refineries, and factories greater flexibility in controlling emissions of air pollutants than they had previously.

Representatives of the electric power industry, which had strongly supported the new regulations, hailed the ruling as a victory. The new rules require owners of older plants to upgrade emission-control equipment to standards for new plants only if they make substantial improvements. Plant owners and the E.P.A. have consistently disagreed over how to differentiate between routine maintenance and large-scale upgrades.

Ashcroft Gone, Justice Statues Disrobe

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

WASHINGTON — With barely a word about it, workers at the Justice Department Friday removed the blue drapes that have famously covered two scantily clad statues for the past 3 1/2 years.

Spirit of Justice, with her one breast exposed and her arms raised, and the bare-chested male Majesty of Law basked in the late afternoon light of Justice’s ceremonial Great Hall.

The drapes, installed in 2002 at a cost of $8,000, allowed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to speak in the Great Hall without fear of a breast showing up behind him in television or newspaper pictures. They also provoked jokes about and criticism of the deeply religious Ashcroft.

The 12-foot, 6-inch aluminum statues were installed shortly after the building opened in the 1930s.

With a change in leadership at Justice, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced the question: Would they stay or would they go?

He regularly deflected the question, saying he had weightier issues before him.

Paul R. Corts, the assistant attorney general for administration, recommended the drapes be removed and Gonzales signed off on it, spokesman Kevin Madden said, while refusing to allow The Associated Press to photograph the statues Friday.

In the past, snagging a photo of the attorney general in front of the statues has been somewhat of a sport for photographers.

Crimes against humanity and treason are not obscene, female breasts are. These are nightmare people.

Italian judge orders CIA team arrested over kidnap

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

MILAN/ROME (Reuters) – An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of 13 people linked to the CIA for “kidnapping” an Egyptian terrorism suspect in Milan and flying him to Egypt where he said he was tortured, judicial sources said on Friday.

“In the judge’s order, it (the abduction) is clearly attributed to the CIA,” a source said.

Confirming the arrest warrant without mentioning the U.S. intelligence agency, the prosecutors office said the 13 suspects were believed to be behind the abduction of imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who was grabbed off a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003 and stuffed into a white van.

Nasr was then taken to a U.S. air base in Aviano, Italy and flown to Egypt, stopping over on the way in Ramstein, Germany, to change planes, the prosecutors’ statement said.

The judicial source cited the warrant, which has still not been made public, as saying a CIA agent known to Italian authorities coordinated the operation.
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