25 March 2006

congressional obsolescence ..... 

‘When President Bush signed the re-authorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.

The bill contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. The provisions require Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations. Under the law, the administration would have to provide the information to Congress by certain dates.

Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it ''a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a ''signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."’

Bush Shuns Patriot Act Requirement

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24 March 2006

the view from the parallel universe ..... 

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so many whodunits ..... 

‘They keep telling us 9/11 changed everything. But even in this Photo-shopped age of unreliable narrators, much remains the same. The assassination of President John Kennedy, the Crime of the Last Century, occurred in plain sight, in front of thousands - yet exactly what happened remains in dispute. The Warren Commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald, fellow traveller of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, shot Kennedy with a cheap Mannlicher-Carcano rifle from a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. The commission found that Oswald, who, two days later would be murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, acted alone.

Yet, as with so many such events, there is the sanctioned history and the secret history - players hidden from view. In the Kennedy murder, the involvement of shadowy organizations like the Mafia and the CIA came into question. This way of thinking came to challenge the official narrative put forth by the Warren Commission. It is not exactly clear when the grassy knoll supplanted the sixth-floor window in the popular mind-set. But now, four decades after Dallas, it is difficult to find anyone who believes Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

But if Oswald didn’t kill the president, who did? So 11/22 remains an open case, an open wound.’

The Ground Zero Grassy Knoll

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wakey, wakey ..... 

‘Two of America's top scholars have published a searing attack on the role and power of Washington's pro-Israel lobby in a British journal, warning that its "decisive" role in fomenting the Iraq war is now being repeated with the threat of action against Iran. And they say that the Lobby is so strong that they doubt their article would be accepted in any U.S.-based publication.

Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, author of "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics" and Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kenney School, and author of "Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy," are leading figures American in academic life.

They claim that the Israel lobby has distorted American policy and operates against American interests, that it has organized the funneling of more than $140 billion dollars to Israel and "has a stranglehold" on the U.S. Congress, and its ability to raise large campaign funds gives its vast influence over Republican and Democratic administrations, while its role in Washington think tanks on the Middle East dominates the policy debate.

And they say that the Lobby works ruthlessly to suppress questioning of its role, to blacken its critics and to crush serious debate about the wisdom of supporting Israel in U.S. public life.’

Pro-Israel Lobby In US Under Attack

Read the full report written by Mearsheimer & Walt here - "The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy"

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caesar augustus ..... 

‘Never has sociologist Franz Oppenheimer’s view of the state been more clearly on display: it is there to dominate, exploit, and protect itself against any challenges to its power. It clings to power like Gollum holding the ring. And that power is deployed not for the purpose of protecting people but for protecting the state and its interests. When Oppenheimer theorized in 1908 that this was the true nature of the state, he was shouted down and pilloried for denying the doctrine of government as a social compact. Now his claims read like a description of the day’s political news.

Most Americans are aware that something has gone very wrong, but they are at a loss to sort of out the causes, especially the ones that are most invisible. This is where the smashing book by William Bonner and Addison Wiggin, titled Empire of Debt, performs an extraordinary service. In addition to being accomplished financial analysts, Bonner and Wiggin are talented historical writers. And they put this talent to work in the cause of examining the political and economic effects of empire.’

An Empire Built Of Paper

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on staying the course ..... 

Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), suggested recently that the U.S. may maintain permanent bases in Iraq. But the U.S. has even grander plans in the region, according to Washington Post blogger William Arkin. "The U.S. military has developed a ten-year plan for 'deep storage' of munitions and equipment in at least six countries in the Middle East and Central Asia to prepare for regional war contingencies," according to Arkin.

The plan is revealed in March 2006 Pentagon contracting documents, and it calls for "the continued storage of everything from packaged meals ready to eat (MREs) to missiles in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, as well as the establishment of two new storage hubs, one in a classified Middle Eastern country 'west' of Saudi Arabia ('Site 23') and the other in a yet to be decided 'central Asian state.'"

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on preaching temperance from a bar stool ..... 

‘Under these circumstances, any U.S. deliveries of nuclear technology to India will constitute a significant breach of Article 1 of the NPT, which prohibits participating states from transferring such technology to another state if the transfers would assist or encourage the recipient's nuclear weapons endeavours. "If this nuclear deal stands," Cirincione declared, "the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is going to fall."’

Ending Non-proliferation

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23 March 2006

just another flim flam man ..... 

‘All public discussion on how to defeat terrorism, in what Tony Blair terms the unique conditions of modern society, is now couched in a simple dichotomy: the tension between civil liberties and security. Yet this formula is old, centuries old, as is the philosophy that underpins it.

Articulated by Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century, this ideology sets out a cold contract among individuals to form the state: the individual surrenders part of his liberty to purchase security, which it is the sovereign's job to determine.

It is this model that has been reinstated in force by the government of the day, without adequate resistance from either the left or the right. Yet to accept this representation of the modern political realm as an inevitable conflict between security and liberty - or even accepting the debate on these terms - means yielding to the highly limited framework in which it is set.

In order to make the argument for such a social contract persuasive, Hobbes portrays a dangerous world filled with unknown enemies perpetually striving to murder one's family and destroy one's property, a nation filled with untrustworthy neighbours, isolated individuals who live in fear of each other, and only the power of the state to protect society from the evils inherent in human nature. How much of your liberty do you yield to your protector? As much as he says he needs to provide you with protection.’

Don't Sign Up To This Upside Down Hobbesian Contract

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hello: is there anybody out there ..... 

‘Readers tell me that Americans don’t live here any more. They ask what responsible American citizenry would put up with the trashing of the Bill of Rights and the separation of powers, with wars based on deception, and with pathological liars in control of their government? One reader recently wrote that he believes that "no element of the U.S. government has been left untainted" by the lies and manipulations that have driven away accountability. So-called leaders, he wrote, "talk a great story of American pride and patriotism," but in their hands patriotism is merely a device for "cynical manipulation and fraud."

The Bush regime acknowledges that 30,000 Iraqi civilians, largely women and children, have been killed as a result of Bush’s invasion. Others who have looked at civilian casualties with greater attention have come up with numbers three to six times as large. The Johns Hopkins study accounted for 98,000 civilian deaths. Patrick Cockburn, using more sophisticated statistical analysis, concluded that 180,000 Iraqis died as a result of Bush’s invasion. The former prime minister Iyad Allawi says that Iraqi sectarian violence alone is claiming 50–60 deaths per day, or 18,000–22,000 annually, a figure that could quickly worsen.’

What’s Become of Americans?

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22 March 2006

yet another silent catastrophe ..... 

‘Across the frozen North Slope of Alaska, the region's largest oil accident on record has been sending hundreds of thousands of litres of crude pouring into the Arctic Ocean during the past week after a badly corroded BPO pipeline ruptured.

The publicity caused by the leak in the 30-year-old pipeline could seriously damage BP's image, which has been carefully crafted to show it as a company concerned about the environment. Unlike other major oil companies, BP boasts that it is fully signed up to the dangers of global warming and it makes a conspicuous effort to flaunt its green credentials, tackling local environmental problems and erecting wind turbines above its petrol stations.’

Oil Gushes Into Arctic Ocean From BP Pipeline

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the evil within ..... 

‘The security of Americans has nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq. Iraq cannot overthrow the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, and American civil liberties. Iraq cannot illegally spy on American citizens, declare them to be "suspects" and detain them forever without warrant or charges. Iraq cannot put American critics of the Bush regime on "no-fly" lists.

The real dangers to Americans reside in the neo-con Bush administration. This delusional warmonger administration believes it has the power and the right to dictate to Muslim countries their political and social institutions. This extraordinary arrogance and hubris breeds opposition where there was none. The world is not going to obey Bush and a handful of stupid neo-cons.’

Deranged, Disconnected & Dangerous

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a dangerous club ..... 

‘A National identity card scheme will be a "present" to terrorists, criminal gangs and foreign spies, one of Britain's most respected former intelligence agents has told ministers.

The warning from Daphne Park, who served for 30 years as a senior controller for MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, came as the parliamentary power struggle over the identity cards bill dragged on.

The House of Lords once again defeated the government last night. Peers backed a joint Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendment that would prevent ministers making identity cards compulsory until at least 2011.’

Identity Cards A 'Present' To Terrorists & Criminals

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harpo, chico & groucho ..... 

‘And now, along comes the former prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, who says the country has fallen into civil war. Not so, claims the vice president of the United States of America. "What civil war?" asks the man who mistook a lawyer for a quail, "I don't see any civil war.”

A civil war was not supposed to happen. According to new conservative theory when a nation finally gets the golden gift of democracy, history comes to a halt. No more civil wars. No more revolutions. No more upheavals.

Why bother with bloodshed when you can just go to the polls and rob your neighbours legally?’

Some Still Resist The Empire’s Benevolence

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21 March 2006

from the cuckoo's nest ..... 

‘What possible version of reality could Cheney be referring to? And they say he wasn't drinking before he blew the old lawyer's face "clean-off," as Dirty Harry once said. Cheney is a member of what is, perhaps, the most self-deluded and delusional administration in the history of human civilization. It is no easy feat that something uttered by any member of this gaggle of goofballs could ever stand out in comparison to the rest, but Cheney's insanity is beginning to command attention like a slow-speed car-chase on a Los Angeles freeway.

Cheney isn't merely trying to convince the world and American people that Iraq is on the verge of utopia. He, like most crazy people, actually believes the strange voices in his head - he listens to them just like Pat Robertson attends to those in his empty skull. Not convinced Dick Cheney is certifiably insane?

"I think we are going to succeed in Iraq, I think the evidence is overwhelming," Cheney said.

What more proof is required?’

Cheney Certifiably Insane

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gollum unmasked ..... 

‘George Bush said today that the war was going to take more fighting and more sacrifice. I want to know who is fighting? I want to know if the members of the executive and legislative branches that are so willing to leave our troops in the middle of sectarian violence and a militarily undefeatable resistance are willing to send their children and other of their relatives over to the dessert to take the place of the at least 72% of soldiers who want to come home? Are they willing to go over there themselves to fight? George Bush didn't finish his commitment to the country when he went AWOL from the Alabama National Guard, why hasn't he been called back up to go and fight and die in his own "noble cause?" I have heard of other men and women his age who have been called back up. This is not our children's fight. As in all war, the only people who benefit are the war profiteers.

I would also like to know who is sacrificing in this country besides the soldiers and their families? Where are the shared sacrifices of the past? There was a USA Today poll recently which said that at least 50% of our population has "cried" because of the war and so many more have put magnets on their cars. I wonder how many of our citizens wake up everyday with broken hearts and holes in their lives that can never be filled? I wonder how many wake up missing arms, legs, or both? I wonder how many can't sleep because they are afraid of the nightmares that haunt even their waking hours? George Bush is sacrificing squat and it is easy for him to keep the people of Iraq and our troops in harm's way because it costs him absolutely nothing.

Finally, today George said that the temptation to abandon "our" commitments is strong. Did he have a mouse in his pocket? I never made a commitment to preemptive war. I didn't authorize Congress to abrogate their responsibilities to declare war. I didn't give the orders to invade a country that was absolutely no threat to the USA. I also didn't give the orders to use depleted uranium and wmd in Iraq. I wasn't the one who devoted myself to torture and imprisoning people without due process. I didn't lie to the world about the reasons for the invasion. I have no commitments to honor in Iraq but I believe George's commitments are criminal and they should be abandoned as swiftly as humanly possible.’

The Bodies Are Piling Up

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what do we call this value ..... 

‘Bush says: "I reserve the right as commander-in-chief to do what I need to do to defend America." He has given the CIA carte blanche to continue torturing, also coming up with a "Pacific solution" argument he might have borrowed from his friend John Howard. For the purpose of the McCain bill, Guantanamo Bay is excised from US territory. The same applies, of course, to the vast number of "black sites" the US has arranged for the specific purpose of torture across the world.

With an Australian at Guantanamo, did the PM take up torture with Condoleezza Rice during last week's visit? Did Kim Beazley? In Europe, she was confronted with the torture issue by leaders, including the new leader of Germany, but I very much doubt that happened here. And if not, why not? Our country is deeply involved in a widening horror, and David Hicks is one of its victims.’

Torture As American As Apple Pie

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20 March 2006

the bonesman cometh ..... 

It’s been said that there are two essential qualifications that a US ambassadorial aspirant must possess: they must be a personal friend of the President & a significant donor to the President’s political party. Diplomacy doesn’t rate a mention.

After allowing the position to languish vacant for more than a year, the US has now announced the appointment of Robert McCallum as its Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to Australia.

Whilst details of Mr McCallum’s record of generosity to the Republican Party haven’t been disclosed, there’s no doubt he is a personal friend of the US President, George W. Bush. Indeed, they would seem to be more than just friends, given that both are initiates of the secret Yale society, “Skull & Bones”.

McCallum is a lawyer & Rhodes Scholar, previously responsible for defending the White House in the Cheney Energy Task Force / Enron legal proceedings; heading-up the initial Valerie Plame investigation on behalf of former US Attorney-General, John Ashcroft, & defending the Bush administration’s right to prevent news organisations from accessing information about terrorist suspects held by the US.

He was also responsible for the US government’s US$130 billion anti-racketeering prosecution launched against the tobacco industry. Members of the anti-smoking lobby & health professionals were deeply suspicious of McCallum’s involvement in the suit, given that he formerly represented tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds when in private practice. Their concerns proved to be well founded when McCallum ordered the size of the government’s suit to be reduced to US$10 billion.

Given the strength of Australia’s relationship with the US, it would be easy to assume that life for the incoming Ambassador, a Bush administration “insider”, would not be particularly challenging.

Except, of course, for small matters such as Australia’s ban on the importation of US beef & beef products, in place since an incident of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was reported in December 2003.

Following the BSE incident, many countries, including Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia & Singapore announced bans on the importation of US beef & beef products.

For its part, the US has done little in subsequent years to address the effective regulation of its beef industry, choosing instead to pursue a watering-down of international trade regulations / standards, whilst applying diplomatic pressure to have the bans dropped.

In the above context, the Australian government initiated a Cabinet level review of our US beef import restrictions in late 2005, with rumours at the time suggesting that the restrictions might be relaxed or dropped altogether (see background piece "A Real Weapon Of Mass Destruction", Your democracy, October 6, 2005).

Whilst the federal Cabinet review was underway, the Bush administration continued to place enormous diplomatic pressure on both Japan & Korea to lift or ease their bans on US beef & beef products, even going so far as to threaten Japan with trade sanctions if it refused.

Needless to say, whilst Australia’s bans remained in place, US diplomatic pressure on Japan ultimately paid off, with the ban on imports of US beef & beef products being lifted late last year. But the US reprieve was short-lived & the bans were quickly reinstated in January of this year, after imports of veal cuts were found to contain backbone material.

Last week, US Agriculture Secretary, Mike Johanns, sat down with Japanese officials at a trade conference in London, once again intent on having the US beef import restrictions lifted.

In the event that Japan bowed to US pressure, it was expected that Korea & other countries with bans in place, including Australia, would quickly come under pressure to do likewise.

As luck would have it, the US / Japanese trade talks in London were wrecked at the outset by a fresh FDA announcement that a new incident of BSE had been detected in Alabama. As a result, the Japanese bans, along with those applied by other countries, including Australia, remain steadfastly in place.

Whilst Australian growers doubtless breathed a sigh of relief on hearing this latest news from the US, the fact remains that the Bush administration will not resile from its attempts to have the import bans dropped.

Indeed, only last week, Terry Stokes, Chief Executive Officer of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said: “evidence that the prevalence of this disease in the United States is extremely low. The bottom line for consumers remains the same. Your beef is safe." ("Third Mad Cow Case In US Raises Questions About Testing", The Christian Science Monitor, March 15, 2006)

Today, Australia’s relationship with the US has never appeared stronger, with the exception of an occasional misunderstanding over defence procurement issues.

In the face of the AWB / UN Oil-For-Food revelations, the US has remained curiously quiet & has politely not sought to add to the Howard government’s serious international public embarrassment over the ongoing scandal.

On Australia’s part, John Howard was quick to inform US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, last week that he was “pleased” with the new US / India nuclear co-operation agreement & that his government was even prepared to consider reversing its policy of not supplying uranium to countries who are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, so we could supply our yellowcake to India.

All this in spite of the fact that, under the co-operation agreement, India will be permitted to keep eight of its 22 reactors under wraps as secret military sites, whilst remaining free to decide whether it will open any of its new, weapons-friendly, "fast-breeder" reactors to inspection as civil sites, or to classify them as exempt secret military installations.

No concerns were expressed by the Howard government over the impact of the agreement on stability in our region: in particular between India & Pakistan. No concerns were expressed over further nuclear proliferation outside the framework of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. No concerns were voiced over our relationship with China.

And, in the background, our unswerving support of the US in the face of the disaster that has become Iraq continues to serve us in good stead – at least with the Bush administration; a position made easier to maintain by the ineffectiveness of the Labor opposition, a complacent citizenry & the absence of casualties.

But in spite of the fact that things appear to be going so well, the beef issue may ultimately prove to be more difficult for the government to successfully manage than any of the other issues at hand in our relationship with the US.

It will not be long before the US is back on Japan’s doorstep with fresh demands that it drop its import bans. Other countries will feel compelled to quickly fall into line.

For Australia, this issue could significantly test the real strength of our relationship with the US for the first time in many years.

The Howard government will have to decide whether it is willing to compromise our historical high standards of quarantine protection & food safety standards, in order to drop the current bans on US beef & beef product imports, or, if it’s not prepared to do that, work out how it will successfully resist US pressure to do so.

When vitally important Australian beef export markets, such as Japan (currently generating A$1.8 billion in export sales for Australia), are forced to drop their import bans on US beef & beef products, as they will inevitably have to, our government will be expected to find ways to secure & protect our existing interests by effectively managing our bilateral trading relationships with those countries, in the face of new & vigorous US competition.

In his welcoming remarks to US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, last week, our Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said: “So I would just say in a overall sense it won't surprise any of you to hear me say that the relationship between the Howard & Bush administrations is a very close relationship. We work together as, of course, allies. We work together as a bit more than that. We work together as friends & people who share many common perspectives both in the region & beyond the region around the world & we work together very hard on trying to achieve an agenda that both of us very passionately believe in & that it's an agenda to see greater not just peace but greater freedom & democracy in many different parts of the

Notwithstanding the strength & warmth of our relationship with the Bush administration, as reflected in Downer’s remarks, there can be no doubt that the US will vigorously pursue its interests, including the removal of beef import restrictions, & that the “Bonesman” would seem more than adequately qualified to pursue that task.

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on intelligent designs ..... 

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