Saturday, October 23, 2004

The non-arguable case against the Bush administration

Via comes 101 facts about the Bush administration, all with sources linked. It makes for unsurprisingly enraging reading. Why are people still planning on voting for this guy?

Some choice facts:

1. The Bush Administration has spent more than $140 billion on a war of choice in Iraq.

5. During the Bush Administration's war in Iraq, more than 1,000 US troops have lost their lives and more than 7,000 have been injured.

9. The Bush Administration has spent just $1.1 billion of the $18.4 billion Congress approved for Iraqi reconstruction.

12. After receiving a memo from the CIA in August 2001 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack America," President Bush continued his monthlong vacation.

16. The Bush Administration has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money.

21. Despite repeated calls for reinforcements, there are fewer experienced CIA agents assigned to the unit dealing with Osama bin Laden now than there were before 9/11.

24. The Bush Administration granted the 9/11 Commission $3 million to investigate the September 11 attacks and $50 million to the commission that investigated the Columbia space shuttle crash.

25. More than three years after 9/11, just 5 percent of all cargo--including cargo transported on passenger planes--is screened.

30. The Bush Administration awarded a multibillion-dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton--a company that still pays Vice President Cheney hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred compensation each year (Cheney also has Halliburton stock options). The company then repeatedly overcharged the military for services, accepted kickbacks from subcontractors and served troops dirty food.

35. The Bush Administration let disgraced Enron CEO Ken Lay--a close friend of President Bush--help write its energy policy.

40. The Bush Administration turned a $236 billion surplus into a $422 billion deficit.

43. President Bush is the first President since Herbert Hoover to have a net loss of jobs--around 800,000--over a four-year term.

46. In 2000, candidate George W. Bush promised to pay down the national debt to a historically low level. As of September 30, the national debt stood at $7,379,052,696,330.32, a record high.

49. In 2000, candidate George W. Bush promised to protect the Social Security surplus. As President, he spent all of it.

66. Since President Bush took office, more than 5 million people have lost their health insurance.

81. Since 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft has detained 5,000 foreign nationals in antiterrorism sweeps; none have been convicted of a terrorist crime.

84. The Bush Administration, without ever charging him with a crime, arrested US citizen José Padilla at an airport in Chicago, held him on a naval brig in South Carolina for two years, denied him access to a lawyer and prohibited any contact with his friends and family.

88. President Bush opposed the creation of the 9/11 Commission before he supported it, delaying an essential inquiry into one of the greatest intelligence failure in American history.

90. President Bush said he was committed to capturing Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" before he said, "I truly am not that concerned about him."

92. President Bush said, "You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror," before he admitted Saddam had no role in 9/11.

GOP electoral intimidation fun!

Well this couldn't possibly lead to intimidation and abuse... (NYT reg req)

Yep, the Republicans planning on are going back to 18th century electoral tactics - positioning their people around the polling booths in the key swing state of Ohio and challenging voters about whether or not they are eligible. They don't like the look of someone (perhaps because they're black - who could say?), these GOP stooges will hassle them until they either go away, vote for George, or start a fight (at which point they will no doubt be arrested and prevented from voting).

Of course, the Republicans don't see it like this. "'The organized left's efforts to, quote unquote, register voters - I call them ringers - have created these problems,' said James P. Trakas, a Republican co-chairman in Cuyahoga County." In other words, the Republicans want as few voters as possible - largely because the Democrats have traditionally benefitted the most from large turnouts, and also because the irritation with Bush has been great enough to mobilise a load of people who previously couldn't care less about politics and have been life-long non-voters.

"'Our concern is Republicans will be challenging in large numbers for the purpose of slowing down voting, because challenging takes a long time,' said David Sullivan, the voter protection coordinator for the national Democratic Party in Ohio. 'And creating long lines causes our people to leave without voting.'" Let's face it, if you're voting after work and want to get home for your dinner, you aren't likely to stick around for an hour or two to cast your ballott when this should really only take a couple of minutes.

"Ohio election officials said that by state law, the parties' challengers would have to show "reasonable" justification for doubting the qualifications of a voter before asking a poll worker to question that person. And, the officials said, challenges could be made on four main grounds: whether the voter is a citizen, is at least 18, is a resident of the county and has lived in Ohio for the previous 30 days." How can all these be proved? Well, I guess everyone's going to have to turn up to the polling station with their rent agreements, mortgage documents and passports just to be on the safe side...

After the closeness of Florida last time, the Republicans aren't going to take any chances. In 2000 they managed to get several thousand black voters taken off the electoral register, most of whom would have voted for Gore. This would have swung the state, and the election, to the Democrats. So the GOP has decided to play it a bit harder this time:

"The Republican challenges in Ohio have already begun. Yesterday, party officials submitted a list of about 35,000 registered voters whose mailing addresses, the Republicans said, were questionable. After registering, they said, each of the voters was mailed a notice, and in each case the notice was returned to election officials as undeliverable.

"In Cuyahoga County alone, which includes the heavily Democratic neighborhoods of Cleveland, the Republican Party submitted more than 14,000 names of voters for county election officials to scrutinize for possible irregularities. The party said it had registered more than 1,400 people to challenge voters in that county."

At least there is some good news: Ralph "fucking idiot who gave Bush the election last time" Nader has failed to get his name on the Ohio ballot, saving a bit of worry.

God, this is going to be close. Close and nasty. Close and nasty and probably decided by the courts again. I'm dreading this...

Friday, October 22, 2004

Bush and Kerry, sitting in a tree...

Via MeFi, and probably slow off the mark, but damn it, posts have been getting too serious on here of late...

This amused me.

Commission corruption?

It's hardly a new allegation that the European Commission has a tendency towards what many would judge dodgy dealings, but it is fairly rare for a former high-up official to make the claims, especially when the official in question is the Commission's ex-chief accountant.

The Marta Andreasen business has been going on for a couple of years now, since she was suspended by Commission Vice President and former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock in May 2002. But last week she was finally sacked (and - apparently - they did it by email, which was nice).

Why? Well, because she "repeatedly and knowingly acted in disregard of her obligations, particularly those set out in Articles 11, 12, 17 and 21 of the Staff Regulations. Those articles are expressions of the duty of loyalty incumbent upon every official. According to the case-law, the relevant obligations are intended primarily to preserve the relationship of trust between the institution and its officials or other employees, which is fundamental."

In other words, Andreasen seems to have been sacked for uncovering potential for corruption (her job) but then not keeping her mouth shut about it.

In a press conference yesterday (hat-tip to North Sea Diaries), Andreasen made the unusual decision to appear alongside former UKIP MEP Ashley Mote, who was booted out of UKIP because of an upcoming fraud trial in which he is the defendant. When attacking fraud it might be best to avoid appearing with n alleged fraudster, and when attacking the European machine it might be best to avoid apearing with a staunch Eurosceptic. People may think there's politics going on here, not the selfless sense of duty Andreasen claims to be her motive.

But even so, some interesting points have been raised, and will continue to be now that she has handed over a pile of documents to the Serious Fraud Office.

Now that this seems to be hotting up, it could prove to be catastrophic, and the Eurosceptics are sure to latch on to Andreasen's allegations with full force. Can this be countered? Corruption and incompetence at the heart of Europe is just what we don't need in the run-up to the battle for the constitution. But at least this might force the incoming commissioners to take a stand and finally break with the past.

In any case, Andreasen's findings have mostly uncovered the potential for fraud, not necessarily fraud itself. Is the Commission corrupt?

Well, shall we say that when I did some work there a few years back I was paid cash-in-hand... It doesn't look good for Brussels.

At last! A voice from the wilderness of Colorado sounds out like a foghorn; Hunter Thompson, notorious gonzo journalist and author of one of the best insider guides to late twentieth century American politics speaks out about the upcoming election.

Unsurprisingly, he's not pleased. Most surprisingly he seems to have revised his thinking on his old nemesis:

"If Nixon were running for president today, he would be seen as a "liberal" candidate, and he would probably win. He was a crook and a bungler, but what the hell? Nixon was a barrel of laughs compared to this gang of thugs from the Halliburton petroleum organization who are running the White House today -- and who will be running it this time next year, if we (the once-proud, once-loved and widely respected "American people") don't rise up like wounded warriors and whack those lying petroleum pimps out of the White House on November 2nd.

Nixon hated running for president during football season, but he did it anyway. Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for -- but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush-Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him."

Well, maybe so.

The US, Japan, and the War(s)

The fact that the Japanese Prime Minister - in a move widely derided as unconstitutional at the time - sent 600 ground troops and 400 air and naval personnel from Japan's tiny Self-Defence Force to help out in non-combat roles in Iraq has already led many to fear that the era of a peaceful Japan is over. Now is the US out to re-write the avowedly pacifist constitution of Japan to gain a new military ally in the war on terror? Either way, it looks like the Japanese government is about to experience divisions similar to that taking place within the British Labour party over the role their country should play in this apparently never-ending conflict.

Thanks to Article IX of the Japanese Constitution, "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a mean of settling international disputes... In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

This, of course, could have left Japan open to attack, so a treaty was signed by which US occupying forces would provide the protection traditionally held by a national military. The last version of this treaty was signed on 19th January 1960, stating that "For the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East," Article VI granted the US "the use by its land, air and naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan," governed by a separate agreement, signed in Tokyo on February 28, 1952.

This agreement stated that these US forces could only be used to defend Japan from attack or act to preserve the peace in the Far East - hence Japan being used as a staging post during the Korean and (to a far lesser extent due to public protest) Vietnam wars.

However, Japan is now under pressure from the US to allow a shift in the terms of the treaty, especially since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's meeting with President Bush in New York on Tuesday. The US wants to transfer the headquarters of the the U.S. Army's I Corps from Washington state to Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, setting up new command centres for the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. This new base would be used to help conduct the "war on terror", and troops stationed there might be sent anywhere in the world.

According to the Japan Times the head of the Japanese Defence Agency, Yoshinori Ono, has told the House of Councillors' Budget Committee that it is his personal view that allowing this redeployment will not violate existing treaties. But Ono's comments were quickly disavowed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, who has stated catagorically that the government will not allow the Japan-US Security Treaty to be altered, and that US troops stationed in Japan will still be bound not to venture beyond the region.

Yet Hosoda has hinted that America might still use the country as a staging post for troop movements from the west coast of the US towards the Middle East, something which some argue is technically inconsistent with the treaty: "the United States is engaged in global security operations, and Japan-U.S. cooperation in the global context should be separated from (the context of) the bilateral security treaty... I think they should not be mixed."

This is a significant shift from the the Japanese government's line after US troops were transferred to Iraq from Okinawa, where the official statement was that Japan was not aware of their destination when they left. A somewhat convenient get-out which gave Koizumi's government a bit of breathing space to work on their excuses for flaunting the constitution's central pacifism.

The proposed new US military bases are set to heighten already existing tensions within Japan. Some critics of Koizumi's closeness to Bush (a relationship which has forced official denials that Koizumi is backing Bush in the upcoming US elections) are already raising awkward questions - why, after all, should Japan welcome yet more US troops when they still have 50,000 stationed there nearly 60 years after the end of WWII?

The US in turn is tapping in to this on-going resentment of its troops' continued presence, with US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage hinting in a press conference held at the US Embassy in Tokyo on 13th October that any transformation of the US' military role in Japan "had to be done in a way that enhanced our deterrents and that lessened the burden on the people of Japan." Might the US be offering to withdraw its unpopular troops in exchange for more Japanese co-operation in the war on terror, perchance?

The Japanese government has already started to stifle attempts at protest and revive long-forgotten militaristic tendencies, despite the fact that a majority of Japanese are opposed to the Iraq war and to any changes to the constitution. Koizumi has packed supposedly bipartisan "expert" panels formed to discuss the country's future military role with his allies, and former advisors of the Prime Minister's have gone on the record to state that they feel Japan should take a more active military role alongside the US.

In short, Japan is coming under a lot of pressure to shift its attitutde to war - an attitude, lest we forget, which was initially forced on the country by the US itself. Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura has already hinted that the Japan-US alliance is more important than the legalities of Japan's own constitution, which is ringing a few alarm bells amongst those (such as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Security Council of which Japan is aiming for a seat on) who feel that the Bush Doctrine of "pre-emptive defence" is somewhat in breach of international law.

So, could there really end up being such delicious irony? Could it really be the case that the only country the US has ever successfully managed to pacify and Americanise is going to be forced into becoming belligerent again in order to help the US pacify and Americanise another? Is a constitutionally pacifist nation going to be forced to build up a military and wage war to help President Bush spread his own uniquely destructive form of peace?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

UKIP's founder fed up with UKIP

Much like the rest of us... Yes, this article's from The Guardian, which is hardly sympathetic to the UK Independence Party's cause, but even so... Good stuff:

"Over the past seven years the disasters - many of them self made - have come thick and fast. Ukip has seen at least three leadership challenges, been infiltrated by racists, had a mass walkout of its national executive committee, faced allegations of intimidatory tactics, fought off claims of financial wrongdoing and battled threats of expensive legal action...

"Alan Sked, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, who founded the party, yesterday said Ukip was filled with the politically naive and intellectually challenged. Dr Sked had left the party in 1997 complaining of extremists and electoral doom. 'I kill myself laughing when I look at it now," he said yesterday. "It is a Westminster farce except it's not in Westminster.'

"It was all a long way from the ideals discussed in the party's infancy, when Dr Sked hoped to attract brilliant young graduates, political thinkers and intellectuals. Instead, he claims, Ukip was taken over by a group of 'aged xenophobes ... meaningless fuddy duddies with very little intelligence' who brought the Eurosceptic movement into disrepute.

"'There is a perfectly good intelligent case for Britain coming out of Europe, but people ... stand back in horror. I look at them and think if this bunch get into power I will flee to Brussels,' he said."

Damn straight. The rabid nonsense spouted by so many Eurosceptics is one of the major reasons I started to look at the other side of the argument - I simply didn't want to be associated with those people any more. Their alarmist, factually inaccurate rants against everything European were what turned me pro-EU.

There are still some very compelling Eurosceptic arguments, but the likes of UKIP simply aren't putting them forward, instead preferring to make headline-grabbing, often plain wrong pronouncements. Just as us pro-Europeans need a more effective "Yes" campaign, so too do the Eurosceptics need better spokespeople for the "No".

Presidential campaign roundup

For those who haven't been receiving the Washington Post's US election campaign emails for the last couple of years, you've missed out. But the latest one provides a handy summary. This policy comparison device is particularly useful for a quick reminder - even if most people seem to be voting on one issue only in this election. (Isn't democracy grand?)

Well worth checking out, even though the Post - thanks to the influence of Bob Woodward - seems to be leaning towards Bush, their coverage normally manages to give a good impression of striving towards objectivity.

MPs not as corrupt as sin shock

Political cartoonists who find themselves in a bit of a fix for deadlines might like to check out the report on MPs' finances due out today. Go on, just throw in a trough labelled "taxpayers' money" and some porcine politicians - please, it'll make a change from all the bloody chimps. In the meantime, the rest of us can all look forward to a good nosy.

MPs are in general good value, especially in comparison to certain other countries. Perhaps we should pay them more, to ensure that they really are independent, and have no need to go off cap in hand to tobacco companies (for example). They might not need to go through all the impertinence and bother of declaring their interests.

Or perhaps we should bring back something along the lines of the Property Qualification Act of 1711, to ensure the right sort of people for the job.

Nosemonkey addition: Straight Banana has a good post comparing UK MP and MEP cash situations here (although the page formatting seems to bugger up when doing direct links).

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

BBC = filthy propaganda-merchants

At least, that's the inevitable reaction of any rabidly pro-Bush right-wingers who get a chance to see (or hear about) the superb documentary The Power of Nightmares: The Politics of Fear which just aired on BBC2. If you missed it, leave it a couple of days and hope it appears online. If not, part 2 can be seen at 9pm next Wednesday.

According to the superbly-researched film, and the many high-profile interviewees contained within, our current fucked-up situation can basically be blamed on Leo Strauss - the inspiration for NeoCons like Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz - and Sayyid Qutb - the bloke who inspired the bloke who inspired Osama bin Laden. I would go into more detail, but I'm tired, it's late, and this Guardian article summarises it fairly effectively anyway:

"Straussian conservatism had a previously unsuspected amount in common with Islamism: from origins in the 50s, to a formative belief that liberalism was the enemy, to an actual period of Islamist-Straussian collaboration against the Soviet Union during the war in Afghanistan in the 80s (both movements have proved adept at finding new foes to keep them going)."

This is - sadly - no sloppy conspiracy theory, but strangely compelling, and almost cliched in its Orwellian tone. The war with the Soviet Union is over. The war on terror has just begun.

It's all rather scary, but then again we knew that anyway, and as this superb documentary demonstrates pretty much conclusively, that's the whole point...

This is not a war on terror, it's a war on liberalism. Bush and bin Laden want the same thing.

(Disagree with the BBC? Disagree with me? Are you a NeoCon?)

Update: Interesting, if long, article on Bush's faith in himself and his NeoCon outlook. (Reg req)

Perhaps a phrase with fewer associations, Mr Blair?

Yep, the PM has once again displayed his singular lack of historical awareness.

As World War One kicked off in 1914, and the British Expeditionary Force disappeared off to fight on the Western Front, the soldiers and the country were promised that they would be "home for Christmas". The trouble is, the few that managed to survive what are still the most bloody and intense battles the world has ever seen didn't make it back until Christmas 1918. Hundreds of thousands had died in the meantime.

Now Blair has promised the same about the battalion which seems to be about to be committed to intense fighting in Iraq. It hardly inspires much confidence...

Then there's also the pertinent question, raised by Tory leader Michael Howard, of precisely what help a battalion of 600 British troops are going to be to an American force of 138,000... The answer? Practically none, but they'll sure help Bush to show the voters that he's got international support...

This whole situation just gets more and more depressing. Iraq is in chaos, it needs to be sorted out. But the people who triggered the chaos are not the people to do it.

There needs to be full international backing for a major peacekeeping operation. But this is not going to happen as long as the US - and specifically as long as Bush - seems to be calling the shots.

The world's dislike for the American President and his corrupt, unpleasant and ineffective administration is helping to allow the killings and the kidnappings and the terrorists' recruitments to continue.

This dislike isn't going to go away, so let's hope the President does.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Kilroy and UKIP saga continues

Anthony Wells points out that Mystery Bob's Kilroy/UKIP spoof site and Kilroy's response to it has been spotted by The Guardian, who have tracked down the mysterious one's secret identity and got a quote.

Wells also has a very good summary of the UKIP's recent troubles - good background reading for anyone confused about what the hell I'm talking about when I start slagging them off for being shit again.

Another new writer

This blog will shortly benefit from the input of a new writer from north of the border, which will hopefully ensure further regular updates about items of interest from around the world from a slightly less London-centric perspective. Plus it may allow me to get on with writing things that I actually get paid for for a change...

No jokes about haggis and caber-tossing, please...

"It is possible to say no"

So said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday about the proposed deployment of British troops into the part of Iraq affectionately known as "the triangle of death". So why do I get the distinct impression that we aren't going to? And why can't I help feeling that - even though support for such a barking right-winger should go against everything Labour is meant to stand for - the decision is being taken in part to bolster George Bush's re-election campaign?

This news has unsurprisingly been picked up on in the US, where one of the major lines of attack for the Kerry campaign has been that in Iraq it is US troops who are doing most of the dying. While some of the US media acknowledges this, perhaps unsurprisingly certain US papers don't seem to realise that the accusations that the move is in support of the Bush campaign aren't coming from the "opposition", but from Labour itself. A number of MPs have already spoken out against the proposal, and more will follow.

Which leads me to wonder - as, if British troops are deployed, this will certainly be used by Bush for political gain, will the response from America bemoaning how other countries are trying to affect their election be as rabid and vocal as it was in response to the Guardian's letter-writing initiative?

Update: Considering we don't have to get any more involved, why would we commit our troops to areas where this kind of thing is happening? As part of a UN - or even NATO - peacekeeping force, fine. But as the current occupation is illegal, why unecessarily put our soldiers in a position where they are not only far more likely to be killed (just before Christmas), but also where they are more likely to end up committing war crimes alongside their American allies?

I'm afraid I don't accept Jack Straw's claim that "we have a responsibility for sorting the situation out" in the north of the country. British troops have stuck to the south, and have - for the most part - done a damn fine job of maintaining control. I'm quite happy for the mess in the north to be sorted out by the US - whose heavy-handed techniques have at the very least been a contributing factor to the level of resistance they are facing - until such a time as there is a clear mandate for multilateral peacekeeping action.

For the record, however, I do agree that it's about time the UN got up off its arse and did something about the chaos the invasion has caused - in spite of the fact that the US-led incursions were not supported by it in the first place. sadly, the US doesn't seem to be trying too hard to gain the UN's support.

Maybe if Kerry gets in, eh? (The wishful answer to everything...)

Monday, October 18, 2004

The chaos of crusties and communists

The European Social Forum was going on in London this weekend - effectively an excuse for crusties and filthy pinko liberals to rant on about the perils of globalisation, the illegality of the Iraq war, and how much they hate Bush. Sponsored by The Guardian, it has received practically no coverage in the rest of the mainstream press despite having been attended by 20,000 people from 65 countries (hence pretty much all the links in this post pointing there) - over the three days it was on, there was remarkably little coverage.

In fact, so sparse has been the coverage everywhere other than The Guardian that the National Union of Journalists has apparently issued a press release denouncing this apparent censorship of the views of the participants (although this has yet to appear online at the time of writing). There hasn't even been much notice taken in the right-wing press which one would have expected to leap on the chance to slag off all these people they disagree with.

The brief summary of events on The Guardian's website hints why it may have been ignored - the entire event sounds like it was utterly chaotic. Ending yesterday with an anti-war march, it was marred by poor organisation and petty demonstrations - the poor organisation even affecting the demonstrations so that there ended up being demonstrations about the lack of demonstrations. There is a bit more coverage here, which only adds to the vague sense that the whole thing was somewhat pointless.

In short, the entire thing sounds like it was a rather pathetic waste of time and money. It has received no coverage, most of the debates seem to have achieved little in the way of a consensus, and whatever message the delegates were trying to get across has been singularly ignored. What could have been a great opportunity to send a clear message to the powers that be has ended up a farce which will only serve to provide ammunition for the opponents of the attendees to lay scorn and ridicule on the causes the forum was supposed to be promoting.

Good work, chaps...

Update: More on the ESF by attendee Dead Men Left can be found here, here, here and here.

"Unless the wounds of the Iraq war are healed there will be no progress"

More interesting articles from yesterday's Sunday Times which deserve a bit of attention - though it must be remembered that the Times, like all Murdoch papers, is fundamentally anti-EU...

First up, an interview with outgoing Commission President Romano Prodi which will give comfort to many Eurosceptics:

"Unless the wounds of the Iraq war are healed there will be no progress, because this has broken the spirit and divided the European countries. It has caused real discord and unhappiness among partners; it is terrible. It is all so personal... I hope tension will decrease but it will not be a short endeavour. There are long-term consequences... This war should never have been started."

(Read more at the Eurosceptic EU Referendum...)

And then an immensely flawed analysis of Britain's relationships with Europe and the US from TV historian David Starkey (met him - nice chap), which will no doubt provide ill-educated Eurosceptics with supposed "historical" evidence that Britain has few ties with Europe.

The fact that Starkey makes the classic error or attributing any importance to the Magna Carta, seems to think that the Stuart dynasty was "expelled" from the country, and conveniently ignores all the incredibly close cultural and economic ties Britain has had with France, Holland, Spain, Italy, Germany and pretty much every other country in Europe during the last millennium, demonstrates at its most obvious how selective looks at history can build a case for pretty much anything.

His claim that the "special relationship" between Britain and the US is like a marriage especially amused me - in particular the fact that he accepts it as a given, despite this being one of the most disputed ideas of 20th century international relations. If the UK/US supposed bond is like any family relationship, Britain is like the crotchety parent, the US like the wayward teenage child which has broken off from mummy. Britain has experience and wants to help the US with friendly advice, while knowing that this will mostly be ignored; the US - like all teenagers - thinks it knows best, yet still has a certain amount of love and respect for the parent whom it rebelled against and listens to them occasionally, but mostly acts like a petulant brat who is determined to get their own way.

At some point I may do a counter-article showing how Britain and the rest of Europe have been inextricably linked for centuries, taking it right back to the Celts (who despite popular belief that they are Britain's "natives" actually came from Germany) via the massive impact of the Roman Empire, the Anglo-Saxon and Viking incursions, the coming of the Normans and the Frankification of the country, the Angevin Empire which united England and France, our Dutch King William III, our German King George I (and every one since), and so on and so on...

Lack of historical awareness is one thing, but professing to be an expert and yet still making such sloppy arguments is shocking. The fact that many will see Starkey's name, think he knows what he's talking about, and so absorb his well-written but factually flawed arguments is extremely depressing...

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Halliburton: wholesaler to the axis of evil

Considering how Rupert Murdoch's Fox News is so rabidly pro-Bush, it's somewhat surprising to learn that his Sunday Times has been conducting an investigation designed to politically harm Vice President Dick Cheney.

Everyone knows that Cheney's connection to oil company Halliburton sounds a tad dodgy, especially considering the fact that his former employer is now the biggest private contractor for the US armed forces, but The Sunday Times has uncovered evidence that the company is also flaunting US trade sanctions, and has been supplying Iran - part of the axis of evil - with oil drilling equipment for the last nine years. Coincidentally, it was nine years ago that Dick Cheney became Chairman and CEO of the company...

In case it gets moved to the subscription-only section, here is an edited-down (and slightly re-arranged) version:

A Sunday Times investigation has established that Halliburton has been supplying Iran with oil drilling equipment through its companies based in Arbroath and Leatherhead.

The exports — estimated to be worth more than £30m a year — have continued despite sanctions introduced by the US government nine years ago barring Americans from trading or “facilitating” business with the Islamic state.

The subsidiary’s trade with Iran soared after Cheney took over as chief executive of Halliburton in 1995. Last year it shipped more than $6m in drilling equipment and goods to Iran, but trade has grown substantially this year. The Sunday Times has learnt that the company has orders worth $2.6m for October alone.

Although he resigned as Halliburton’s chief executive four years ago, Cheney has retained a substantial interest, owning an estimated $18m (£10m) in share options... He earned $44m during his tenure at Halliburton and continues to collect deferred compensation worth approximately $150,000 a year as well as the options he retains.

Halliburton's trade with Iran was acknowledged in a confidential letter from Halliburton to one of its shareholders in October last year. It listed five subsidiaries involved: three in Britain, one in the Cayman Islands and another in Sweden.

The company said the contracts were not a breach because the subsidiaries were operating independently and no US citizens had carried out or “facilitated” the work.

However, inquiries by The Sunday Times have revealed that the company does appear to be flouting sanctions because some goods and equipment supplied to Iran were manufactured and designed in America.

The exports range from high specification oil drilling equipment, such as pumps, castings and “hole completion screens”, to domestic toiletries. They are imported into Britain from the United States by Halliburton Manufacturing and Services Limited (HMSL) in Arbroath. According to company insiders, the goods are then shipped on to Iran.

The company believes this is not a breach of the sanctions because it is supplying Britain with what it calls “stock items”, rather than equipment that was deliberately earmarked for Iran.

The Arbroath subsidiary is one of the area’s biggest employers, and Iran is a growing market for its engineering and manufacturing services.

The unit makes high-grade drilling, boring and well completion tools and equipment. But according to company insiders, they are made to Halliburton’s US designs with cosmetic modifications to make them appear British.

A former director of HMSL said the Arbroath subsidiary in fact reported directly to senior Halliburton staff at its US manufacturing base in Duncan, Oklahoma. “Our firm in Arbroath is a manufacturing base, so it reported to our main manufacturing base in the US,” he said.

Another senior figure at Arbroath said: “There is a dotted line from Arbroath to the US because it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of an American company. We are a part of the Halliburton organisation and at some point everybody reports back to the US.”

These latest disclosures come as the company faces fraud, corruption and overcharging inquiries in the US, France and Nigeria. President Bush has ordered an investigation into the firm following allegations that it overcharged the American government by $90m to supply equipment for troops in Iraq and to revive the country’s war-damaged oil industry.

The company’s trade with Iran is already being investigated by the FBI for a federal grand jury inquiry ordered by the US Justice Department.

The company has already been fined $7.5m by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for secretly changing its accounting practices, which resulted in exaggerated earnings. The charges amounted to misleading shareholders about the value of the company and related to accounting practices in 1998 when Cheney was chief executive.

If the company is found to have broken sanctions, former or current Halliburton executives could face penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $50,000.

Cheney could well be screwed. Couldn't happen to a nicer fella...

Update: Rising Hegemon has more on axis of evil corruption - including the news that Halliburton has received $18million of "reparations" from Iraq since the ousting of Saddam Hussein...

John Kerry, Lesbians and Ohio

Post-debate poll results are hitting in force, and it looks like Kerry managed to piss just about everyone off with his reference to Dick Cheney's daughter. For those who missed it, the candidates were asked if they thought homosexuality was a choice; Kerry went for the rather underhand political point-scoring by saying "I think if you talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she'll say she is being who she was, she's being who she was born as". His point is, of course, valid, but the aim of this was simply to point out to the Republicans' rabid homophobic Christian supporters that there is a sinner in their midst.

It was a cheap shot, and has backfired quite badly. 64% of voters felt his comments to be inappropriate - including half of all swing voters. At the same time, "Since the debate, the Christian right has been rallying to the side of Mary Cheney. Well-known political preachers like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson have gone out of their way to defend her right to privacy. Conservative radio talk shows and Web sites have been flooded with denunciations of Kerry and support for Mary."

But some people reckoned it was a fair point, and have pointed out the hypocracy of the Republicans in asking whether the Cheneys "upbraided Illinois Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes, who labeled homosexuality 'selfish hedonism' and said that Cheney's lesbian daughter is a sinner."

Yet despite this negative response to one aspect of Kerry's speech, at it is noted that "Kerry has regained his lead in New Jersey albeit by only 2% according to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University poll. More important, we now have Florida as an exact tie. A strategic Vision (R) poll taken Oct. 12-14, puts Bush ahead by 4%, 49% to 45%. But an Insider Advantage poll, also taken Oct 12-14 puts Kerry ahead by 4%, 48% to 44%. I guess we could use the Oct. 4-10 Washington Post poll of Florida to break the tie, but unfortunately it says Florida is 47% to 47%. It will probably be a real squeaker again in Florida. The results could depend on the turnout and in which counties the most voting machines fail."

So, to do the maths, "If Kerry wins WA, OR, CA, NV, NM, HI, MN, IA, WI, IL, MI, PA, NY, NJ, DE, DC, MD, CT, RI, MA, NH, VT, ME, he'll have 269 electoral votes. Take away WI and give Kerry OH and he scoots to victory with 274. (270 needed.) Give Bush everything else, and he's at 249. With OH, he's at 269. Tie. Tie favors Bush. Election decided by members of new Congress, plus each state delegation, where GOP has 2-1 advantage."

It's still as close as we always knew it would be. As long as Kerry can avoid making any more stupid comments, it's still possible - albeit highly unlikely - that he may just be able to pull this off. If you know anyone in Ohio, phone them. Tell them to get out there and vote for Kerry. Tell them to tell their friends to vote for Kerry. Tell them to tell anyone they meet to vote for Kerry. Ohio could be where this election is won or lost. Hell, even if you don't know anyone in Ohio, tell them to vote for Kerry...

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