Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Will the Indian government be able to do this?


 

Sebi for ban on Price Waterhouse

 
K V Ramana / DNA
 

Even as the tainted auditors of scam-hit Satyam Computer Services (now Mahindra Satyam) are languishing in jail (Andhra Pradesh High Court on Monday rejected the bail pleas of two former auditors of PriceWaterhouse, S Gopalakrishnan and his deputy Talluri Srinivas), the stock markets regulator Securities Exchange Board of India (Sebi) is all for prohibiting Price Waterhouse and the jailed auditors from any further  issuance of compliance certifications to listed companies in the country.

The regulator is also of the view that PW and auditors should be restrained from accessing the securities market henceforth.

In an investigation report on the Satyam scam, which has been sent to the CBI, the stock markets regulator has taken serious view of the discrepancies in the performance of the auditors and the auditing firm while certifying the documents of Satyam.

"Action may be taken against Price Waterhouse and its two partners in accordance with the provisions of Section 11, 11B and 11 (4) of the Sebi Act, 1992 and Regulation 11 of SEBI (Prohibition of Fraudulent and Unfair Trade Practices Relating to Securities Market) Regulations 2003," the report said.

Sebi has recommended two actions against PW and the auditors, including "prohibiting PriceWaterhouse and both the partners (S Gopalakrishnan and Srinivas Talluri) from issuing any certificate with respect to compliance of obligations of listed companies and intermediaries registered with Sebi and requirements of those made under securities laws (Sebi Act 1992, the Securities Contracts (Regulations) Act, 1956, the Depositories Act, 1996 and the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956, which are administered by SEBI under Section 55A thereof), the rules, regulations, guidelines made under these Acts, and the listing agreement for a certain period."

In addition, the investigation report has also called for "restraining PriceWaterhouse and both the partners from accessing the securities market and prohibiting them from buying, selling or dealing in the securities of Satyam and its associate listed companies in any manner or whatsoever for a particular period".

The 30-page report, extracts of which are available with DNA, observed several violations on part of the auditors in verifying the documents. "PW has overlooked such starkly visible indicators that should have aroused the suspicion of any prudent person but more so that of a professional auditor which has intimate access to all the records of the company that is being audited, at its disposal," the report observed.

According to the report, "there are grave professional lapses on the part of the auditors revealed (in the investigation), which are inseparably a part of the fraud perpetrated in the capital market."

The regulator has found the violations on four counts including the failure on part of the PW India and the two partners to be vigilant in the conduct of their professional duties for performing mandatory procedures with regard to dispatch of letters and receipt of external confirmations of balances from the banks in which Satyam had claimed to have maintained deposit accounts.

The report also felt that the auditors failed to obtain sufficient information and give due regard to the significant materiality of the particular item of assets as mandated by AAS 13 that warranted careful scrutiny before expression of opinion.

"The gross negligence displayed during the conduct of their audits in Satyam for the period of March 2001 to September 2008 has led to accumulation of false balances in deposit accounts in the books of the company. This led to certification to false financial statements which threw a veil over the overstated assets in the form of bank balances and debtors, fictitious sales revenues and inflated profits. This resulted in publication of substantially incorrect annual financial statements. The role of the auditors in failing to be vigilant and perform their duties as per their mandate has caused untold loss in the confidence of investors and irreparable damage to the integrity of the market," the report said.

Holding PW and auditors totally responsible for the Satyam scam, the Sebi report felt that the auditors' negligence in verifying the material facts before certifying the accounts led to false and misleading price discovery for the Satyam scrip in the stock market.

When asked to comment on the recommendations of the regulator against PW, the auditing firm said, "Price Waterhouse can confirm that it received a notice from Sebi some months ago as part of its investigation into the situation at Satyam Computer Services Ltd. We are actively responding to Sebi in relation to its enquiries. This is an ongoing investigation that is some way from being completed. We are not aware of any Sebi report making any recommendations."

However, it said, PW is committed to cooperate with various agencies looking into the Satyam scam including Sebi.




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Yes, addicts need help. But all you casual cocaine users want locking up

 

 

I know people who drink fair-trade tea and coffee, shop locally and snort drugs at parties. They are disgusting hypocrite

 

George Monbiot

guardian.co.uk, Monday 29 June 2009 20.00 BST 

 

It looked like the first drop of rain in the desert of drugs policy. Last week Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UN office on drugs and crime, said what millions of liberal-minded people have been waiting to hear. "Law enforcement should shift its focus from drug users to drug traffickers … people who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution." Drug production should remain illegal, possession and use should be decriminalised. Guardian readers toasted him with bumpers of peppermint tea, and, perhaps, a celebratory spliff. I didn't.

 
I believe that informed adults should be allowed to inflict whatever suffering they wish – on themselves. But we are not entitled to harm other people. I know people who drink fair-trade tea and coffee, shop locally and take cocaine at parties. They are revolting hypocrites.
 
Every year cocaine causes some 20,000 deaths in Colombia and displaces several hundred thousand people  from their homes. Children are blown up by landmines; indigenous people are enslaved; villagers are tortured and killed; rainforests are razed. You'd cause less human suffering if instead of discreetly retiring to the toilet at a media drinks party, you went into the street and mugged someone. But the counter-cultural association appears to insulate people from ethical questions. If commissioning murder, torture, slavery, civil war, corruption and deforestation is not a crime, what is?
 
I am talking about elective drug use, not addiction. I cannot find comparative figures for the United Kingdom, but in the United States casual users of cocaine outnumber addicts by about 12 to one. I agree that addicts should be helped, not prosecuted. I would like to see a revival of the British programme that was killed by a tabloid witch-hunt in 1971: until then all heroin addicts were entitled to clean, legal supplies administered by doctors. Cocaine addicts should be offered residential detox. But, at the risk of alienating most of the readership of this newspaper, I maintain that while cocaine remains illegal, casual users should remain subject to criminal law. Decriminalisation of the products of crime expands the market for this criminal trade.
 
We have a choice of two consistent policies. The first is to sustain global prohibition, while helping addicts and prosecuting casual users. This means that the drugs trade will remain the preserve of criminal gangs. It will keep spreading crime and instability around the world, and ensure that narcotics are still cut with contaminants. As Nick Davies argued during his investigation of drugs policy for the Guardian, major seizures raise the price of drugs. Demand among addicts is inelastic, so higher prices mean that they must find more money to buy them. The more drugs the police capture and destroy, the more robberies and muggings addicts will commit.
The other possible policy is to legalise and regulate the global trade. This would undercut the criminal networks and guarantee unadulterated supplies to consumers. There might even be a market for certified fair-trade cocaine.
 
Costa's new report begins by rejecting this option. If it did otherwise, he would no longer be executive director of the UN office on drugs and crime. The report argues that "any reduction in the cost of drug control … will be offset by much higher expenditure on public health (due to the surge of drug consumption)". It admits that tobacco and alcohol kill more people than illegal drugs, but claims that this is only because fewer illegal drugs are consumed. Strangely however, it fails to supply any evidence to support the claim that narcotics are dangerous. Nor does it distinguish between the effects of drugs themselves and the effects of the adulteration and disease caused by their prohibition.
 
Why not? Perhaps because the evidence would torpedo the rest of the report. A couple of weeks ago, Ben Goldacre drew attention to the largest study on cocaine ever undertaken, completed by the World Health Organisation in 1995. I've just read it, and this is what it says. "Health problems from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use. Few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health. Cocaine-related problems are widely perceived to be more common and more severe for intensive, high-dosage users and very rare and much less severe for occasional, low-dosage users … occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems." This study was suppressed by the WHO after threats of an economic embargo by the Clinton government. Drugs policy in most nations is a matter of religion, not science.
 
The same goes for heroin. The biggest study of opiate use ever conducted (at Philadelphia general hospital) found that addicts suffered no physical harm, even though some of them had been taking heroin for 20 years. The devastating health effects of heroin use are caused by adulterants and the lifestyles of people forced to live outside the law. Like cocaine, heroin is addictive; but unlike cocaine, the only consequence of its addiction appears to be … addiction. 
 
Costa's half-measure, in other words, gives us the worst of both worlds: more murder, more destruction, more muggings, more adulteration. Another way of putting it is this: you will, if Costa's proposal is adopted, be permitted without fear of prosecution to inject yourself with heroin cut with drain cleaner and brick dust, sold illegally and soaked in blood; but not with clean and legal supplies.

 
His report does raise one good argument, however. At present the trade in class A drugs is concentrated in the rich nations. If it were legalised, we could cope. The use of drugs is likely to rise, but governments could use the extra taxes to help people tackle addiction. But because the wholesale price would collapse with legalisation, these drugs would for the first time become widely available in poorer nations, which are easier for companies to exploit (as tobacco and alcohol firms have found) and which are less able to regulate, raise taxes or pick up the pieces. The widespread use of cocaine or heroin in the poor world could cause serious social problems: I've seen, for example, how a weaker drug – khat – seems to dominate life in Somali-speaking regions of Africa. "The universal ban on illicit drugs," the UN argues, "provides a great deal of protection to developing countries".
 
So Costa's office has produced a study comparing the global costs of prohibition with the global costs of legalisation, allowing us to see whether the current policy (murder, corruption, war, adulteration) causes less misery than the alternative (widespread addiction in poorer nations)? The hell it has. Even to raise the possibility of such research would be to invite the testerics in Congress to shut off the UN's funding. The drug charity Transform has addressed this question, but only for the UK, where the results are clear-cut: prohibition is the worse option. As far as I can discover, no one has attempted a global study. Until that happens, Costa's opinions on this issue are worth as much as mine or anyone else's: nothing at all.
 


 


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Color Revolutions, Old And New


 

 

By Stephen Lendman

29 June, 2009
Countercurrents.org

 

In his new book, "Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order," F. William Engdahl explained a new form of US covert warfare - first played out in Belgrade, Serbia in 2000. What appeared to be "a spontaneous and genuine political 'movement,' (in fact) was the product of techniques" developed in America over decades.

 

In the 1990s, RAND Corporation strategists developed the concept of "swarming" to explain "communication patterns and movement of" bees and other insects which they applied to military conflict by other means. More on this below.

 

In Belgrade, key organizations were involved, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and National Democratic Institute. Posing as independent NGOS, they're, in fact, US-funded organizations charged with disruptively subverting democracy and instigating regime changes through non-violent strikes, mass street protests, major media agitprop, and whatever else it takes short of military conflict.

 

Engdahl cited Washington Post writer Michael Dobbs' first-hand account of how the Clinton administration engineered Slobodan Milosevic's removal after he survived the 1990s Balkan wars, 78 days of NATO bombing in 1999, and major street uprisings against him. A $41 million campaign was run out of American ambassador Richard Miles' office. It involved "US-funded consultants" handling everything, including popularity polls, "training thousands of opposition activists and helping to organize a vitally important parallel vote count."

 

Thousands of spray paint cans were used "by student activists to scrawl anti-Milosevic graffiti on walls across Serbia," and throughout the country around 2.5 million stickers featured the slogan "Gotov Je," meaning "He's Finished."

 

Preparations included opposition leader training in nonviolent resistance techniques at a Budapest, Hungary seminar - on matters like "organiz(ing) strike(s), communicat(ing) with symbols....overcom(ing) fear, (and) undermin(ing) the authority of a dictatorial regime." US experts were in charge, incorporating RAND Corporation "swarming" concepts.

 

GPS satellite images were used to direct "spontaneous hit-and-run protests (able to) elude the police or military. Meanwhile, CNN (was) carefully pre-positioned to project images around the world of these youthful non-violent 'protesters.' " Especially new was the use of the Internet, including "chat rooms, instant messaging, and blog sites" as well as cell phone verbal and SMS text-messaging, technologies only available since the mid-1990s.

 

Milosevic was deposed by a successful high-tech coup that became "the hallmark of the US Defense policies under (Rumsfeld) at the Pentagon." It became the civilian counterpart to his "Revolution in Military Affairs" doctrine using "highly mobile, weaponized small groups directed by 'real time' intelligence and communications."

 

Belgrade was the prototype for Washington-instigated color revolutions to follow. Some worked. Others failed. A brief account of several follows below.

 

In 2003, Georgia's bloodless "Rose Revolution" replaced Edouard Shevardnadze with Mikhail Saakashvili, a US-installed stooge whom Engdahl calls a "ruthless and corrupt totalitarian who is tied (not only to) NATO (but also) the Israeli military and intelligence establishment." Shevardnadze became a liability when he began dealing with Russia on energy pipelines and privatizations. Efforts to replace him played out as follows, and note the similarities to events in Iran after claims of electoral fraud.

 

Georgia held parliamentary elections on November 2. Without evidence, pro-western international observers called them unfair. Saakashvili claimed he won. He and the united opposition called for protests and civil disobedience. They began in mid-November in the capital Tbilisi, then spread throughout the country. They peaked on November 22, parliament's scheduled opening day. While it met, Saakashvili-led supporters placed "roses" in the barrels of soldiers' rifles, seized the parliament building, interrupted Shevardnadze's speech, and forced him to flee for his safety.

 

Saakashvili declared a state of emergency, mobilized troops and police, met with Sherardnadze and Zurab Zhvania (the former parliament speaker and choice for new prime minister), and apparently convinced the Georgian president to resign. Celebrations erupted. A temporary president was installed. Georgia's Supreme Court annulled the elections, and on January 4, 2004, Saakashvili was elected and inaugurated president on January 25.

 

New parliamentary elections were held on March 28. Saakashvili's supporters used heavy-handed tactics to gain full control with strong US backing in plotting and executing his rise to power. US-funded NGOs were also involved, including George Soros' Open Society Georgia Foundation, Freedom House, NED, others tied to the Washington establishment, and Richard Miles after leaving his Belgrade post to serve first as ambassador to Bulgaria from 1999 - 2002, then Georgia from 2002 - 2005 to perform the same service there as against Milosevic.

 

Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" followed a similar pattern to Georgia and now Iran. After Viktor Yanukovych won the November 21, 2004 run-off election against Viktor Yushchenko, it erupted following unsubstantiated claims of fraud. Yanukovych favored openness to the West but represented a pro-Russian constituency and was cool towards joining NATO. Washington backed Yushchenko, a former governor of Ukraine's Central Bank whose wife was a US citizen and former official in the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations. He favored NATO and EU membership and waged a campaign with the color orange prominently featured.

The media picked up on it and touted his "Orange Revolution" against the country's Moscow-backed old guard. Mass street protests were organized as well as civil disobedience, sit-ins and general strikes. They succeeded when Ukraine's Supreme Court annulled the run-off result and ordered a new election for December 26, 2004. Yushchenko won and was inaugurated on January 23, 2005.

 

In his book, "Full Spectrum Dominance," Engdahl explained how the process played out. Under the slogan "Pora (It's Time)," people who helped organize Georgia's "Rose Revolution" were brought in to consult "on techniques of non-violent struggle." The Washington-based Rock Creek Creative PR firm was instrumental in branding the "Orange Revolution" around a pro-Yushchenko web site featuring that color theme. The US State Department spent around $20 million dollars to turn Yanukovych's victory into one for Yushchenko with help from the same NGOs behind Georgia's "Rose Revolution" and others.

 

Myanmar's August - September 2007 "Saffron Revolution" used similar tactics as in Georgia and Ukraine but failed. They began with protests led by students and opposition political activists followed by Engdahl's description of "swarming mobs of monks in saffron, Internet blogs, mobile SMS links between protest groups, (and) well-organized (hit-and-run) protest cells which disperse(d) and re-form(ed)."

 

NED and George Soros' Open Society Institute led a campaign for regime change in league with the State Department by its own admission. Engdahl explained that the "State Department....recruited and trained key opposition leaders from numerous anti-government organizations in Myanmar" and ran its "Saffron Revolution" out of the Chaing Mai, Thailand US Consulate.

 

Street protesters were "recruited and trained, in some cases directly in the US, before being sent back to organize inside Myanmar." NED admitted funding opposition media, including the Democratic Voice of Burma radio.

 

Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Washington tried to embarrass and destabilize China with a "Crimson Revolution" in Tibet - an operation dating from when George Bush met the Dalai Lama publicly in Washington for the first time, awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal, and backed Tibetan independence.

 

On March 10, Engdahl reported that Tibetan monks staged "violent protests and documented attacks (against) Han Chinese residents....when several hundred monks marched on Lhasa (Tibet's capital) to demand release of other monks allegedly detained for celebrating the award of the US Congress' Gold Medal" the previous October. Other monks joined in "on the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule."

 

The same instigators were involved as earlier - NED, Freedom House, and others specific to Tibet, including the International Committee for Tibet and the Trace Foundation - all with ties to the State Department and/or CIA.

 

The above examples have a common thread - achieving what the Pentagon calls "full spectrum dominance" that depends largely on controlling Eurasia by neutralizing America's two main rivals - Russia militarily, China economically, and crucially to prevent a strong alliance between the two. Controlling Eurasia is a strategic aim in this resource-rich part of the world that includes the Middle East.

Iran's Made-in-the-USA "Green Revolution"

 

After Iran's June 12 election, days of street protests and clashes with Iranian security forces followed. Given Washington's history of stoking tensions and instability in the region, its role in more recent color revolutions, and its years of wanting regime change in Iran, analysts have strong reasons to suspect America is behind post-election turbulence and one-sided Western media reports claiming electoral fraud and calling for a new vote, much like what happened in Georgia and Ukraine.

 

The same elements active earlier are likely involved now with a May 22, 2007 Brian Ross and Richard Esposito ABC News report stating:

 

"The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a 'black' operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com. The sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity....say President Bush has signed a 'nonlethal presidential finding' that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions."

 

Perhaps disruptions as well after the June 12 election to capitalize on a divided ruling elite - specifically political differences between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader/Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on one side and Mir Hossein Mousavi, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri on the other with Iran's Revolutionary Guard so far backing the ruling government. It's too early to know conclusively but evidence suggests US meddling, and none of it should surprise.

 

Kenneth Timmerman provides some. He co-founded the right wing Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI) and serves as its executive director. He's also a member of the hawkish Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) and has close ties to the equally hard line American Enterprise Institute, the same organization that spawned the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), renamed the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) for much the same purpose.

 

On the right wing newsmax.com web site, Timmerman wrote that the NED "spent millions of dollars during the past decade promoting color revolutions in places such as Ukraine and Serbia, training political workers in modern communications and organizational techniques." He explained that money also appears to have gone to pro-Mousavi groups, "who have ties to non-governmental organizations outside Iran that (NED) funds."

 

Pre-election, he elaborated about a "green revolution in Tehran" with organized protests ready to be unleashed as soon as results were announced because tracking polls and other evidence suggested Ahmadinejad would win. Yet suspiciously, Mousavi declared victory even before the polls closed.

 

It gets worse. Henry Kissinger told BBC news that if Iran's color revolution fails, hard line "regime change (must be) worked for from the outside" - implying the military option if all else fails. In a June 12 Wall Street Journal editorial, John Bolton called for Israeli air strikes whatever the outcome - to "put an end to (Iran's) nuclear threat," despite no evidence one exists.

 

Iran's rulers know the danger and need only cite Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous other examples of US aggression, meddling, and destabilization schemes for proof - including in 1953 and 1979 against its own governments.

 

On June 17, AP reported that Iran "directly accused the United States of meddling in the deepening crisis." On June 21 on Press TV, an official said "The terrorist Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) has reportedly played a major role in intensifying the recent wave of street violence in Iran. Iranian security officials reported (the previous day) that they have identified and arrested a large number of MKO members who were involved" in the nation's capital.

 

They admitted to having been trained in Iraq's camp Ashraf and got directions from MKO's UK command post "to create post-election mayhem in the country." On June 20 in Paris, MKO leader Maryam Rajavi addressed supporters and expressed solidarity with Iranian protesters.

 

In 2007, German intelligence called MKO a "repressive, sect-like and Stalinist authoritarian organization which centers around the personality cult of Maryam and Masoud Rajavi." MKO expert Anne Singleton explained that the West intends to use the organization to achieve regime change in Iran. She said its backers "put together a coalition of small irritant groups, the known minority and separatist groups, along with the MKO. (They'll) be garrisoned around the border with Iran and their task is to launch terrorist attacks into Iran over the next few years to keep the fire hot." They're perhaps also enlisted to stoke violence and conduct targeted killings on Iranian streets post-election as a way to blame them on the government.

 

On June 23, Tehran accused western media and the UK government of "fomenting (internal) unrest." In expelling BBC correspondent Jon Leyne, it accused him and the broadcaster of "supporting the rioters and, along with CNN," of setting up a "situation room and a psychological war room." Both organizations are pro-business, pro-government imperial tools, CNN as a private company, BBC as a state-funded broadcaster.

 

On its June 17 web site, BBC was caught publishing deceptive agitprop and had to retract it. It prominently featured a Los Angeles Times photo of a huge pro-Ahmadinejad rally (without showing him waving to the crowd) that it claimed was an anti-government protest for Mousavi.

 

Throughout its history since 1922, BBC compiled a notorious record of this sort of thing because the government appoints its senior managers and won't tolerate them stepping out of line. Early on, its founder, John Reith, wrote the UK establishment: "They know they can trust us not to be impartial," a promise faithfully kept for nearly 87 years and prominently on Iran.

 

With good reason on June 22, Iranian MPs urged that ties with Britain be reassessed while, according to the Fars news agency, members of four student unions planned protests at the UK embassy and warned of a repeat of the 1979 US embassy siege.

 

They said they'd target the "perverted government of Britain for its intervention in Iran's internal affairs, its role in the unrest in Tehran and its support of the riots." Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hassan Ghashghavi, wouldn't confirm if London's ambassador would be expelled. On June 23, however, AP reported that two UK diplomats were sent home on charges of "meddling and spying."

 

State TV also said hard-line students protested outside the UK embassy, burned US, British and Israeli flags, hurled tomatoes at the building and chanted: "Down with Britain!" and "Down with USA!" Around 100 people took part.

 

Britain retaliated by expelling two Iranian diplomats. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded an immediate end to "arrests, threats and use of force." Iran's official news agency, IRNA, reported that the Iranian Foreign Ministry rejected Ban's remarks and accused him of meddling. On June 23, Obama said the world was "appalled and outraged" by Iran's violent attempt to crush dissent and claimed America "is not at all interfering in Iran's affairs."

 

Yet on June 26, USA Today reported that:

 

"The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to fund groups that support Iranian dissidents, records and interviews show, continuing a program that became controversial" under George Bush. For the past year, USAID has solicited funds to "promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran," according to its web site.

 

On July 11, 2008, Jason Leopold headlined his Countercurrents.org article, "State Department's Iran Democracy Fund Shrouded in Secrecy" and stated:

 

"Since 2006, Congress has poured tens of millions of dollars into a (secret) State Department (Democracy Fund) program aimed at promoting regime change in Iran." Yet Shirin Abadi, Iran's 2003 Nobel Peace prize laureate, said "no truly nationalist and democratic group will accept" US funding for this purpose. In a May 30, 2007 International Herald Tribune column, she wrote: "Iranian reformers believe that democracy can't be imported. It must be indigenous. They believe that the best Washington can do for democracy in Iran is to leave them alone."

 

On June 24, Brent Scowcroft, former National Security

Advisor to Gerald Ford and GHW Bush, told Al Jazeera television that "of course" Washington "has agents working inside Iran" even though America hasn't had formal relations with the Islamic Republic for 30 years.

 

Another prominent incident is being used against Iran, much like a similar one on October 10, 1990. In the run-up to Operation Desert Storm, the Hill & Knowlton PR firm established the Citizens for a Free Kuwait (CFK) front group to sell war to a reluctant US public. Its most effective stunt involved a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl known only as Nayirah to keep her identity secret.

 

Teary eyed before a congressional committee, she described her eye-witness account of Iraqi soldiers "tak(ing) babies out of incubators and leav(ing) them on the cold floor to die." The dominant media featured her account prominently enough to get one observer to conclude that nothing had greater impact on swaying US public opinion for war, still ongoing after over 18 years.

 

Later it was learned that Nayirah was the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, a member of Kuwait's royal family and ambassador to the US. Her story was a PR fabrication, but it worked.

 

Neda (meaning "voice" in Farsi) Agha Soltani is today's Nayirah - young, beautiful, slain on a Tehran street by an unknown assassin, she's now the martyred face of opposition protesters and called "The Angel of Iran" by a supportive Facebook group. Close-up video captured her lying on the street in her father's arms. The incident and her image captured world attention. It was transmitted online and repeated round-the-clock by the Western media to blame the government and enlist support to bring it down. In life, Nayirah was instrumental in Iraq's destruction and occupation. Will Neda's death be as effective against Iran and give America another Middle East conquest?

 

Issues in Iran's Election

 

Despite being militant and anti-Western as Iran's former Prime Minister, Mousavi is portrayed as a reformer. Yet his support comes from Iranian elitist elements, the urban middle class, and students and youths favoring better relations with America. Ahmadinejad, in contrast, is called hardline. Yet he has popular support among the nation's urban and rural poor for providing vitally needed social services even though doing it is harder given the global economic crisis and lower oil prices.

 

Is it surprising then that he won? A Mousavi victory was clearly unexpected, especially as an independent candidate who became politically active again after a 20 year hiatus and campaigned only in Iran's major cities. Ahmadinejad made a concerted effort with over 60 nationwide trips in less than three months.

 

Then, there's the economy under Article 44 of Iran's constitution that says it must consist of three sectors - state-owned, cooperative, and private with "all large-scale and mother industries" entirely state-controlled, including oil and gas that provides the main source of revenue.

 

In 2004, Article 44 was amended to allow more privatizations, but how much is a source of contention. During his campaign, Mousavi called for moving away from an "alms-based" economy - meaning Ahmadinejad's policy of providing social services to the poor. He also promised to speed up privatizations without elaborating on if he has oil, gas, and other "mother industries" in mind. If so, drawing support from

Washington and the West is hardly surprising. On the other hand, as long as Iran's Guardian Council holds supreme power, an Ahmadinejad victory was needed as a pretext for all the events that followed. At this stage, they suspiciously appear to be US-orchestrated for regime change. Thus far, Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Basij militia, and other security forces have prevailed on the streets to prevent it, but it's way too early to declare victory.

 

George Friedman runs the private intelligence agency called Stratfor. On June 23 he wrote:

 

"While street protests in Iran appear to be diminishing, the electoral crisis continues to unfold, with reports of a planned nationwide strike and efforts by the regime's second most powerful cleric (Rafsanjani) to mobilize opposition against (Ahmadinejad) from within the system. In so doing he could stifle (his) ability to effect significant policy changes (in his second term), which would play into the hands of the United States."

 

Ahmadinejad will be sworn in on July 26 to be followed by his cabinet by August 19, but according to Stratfor it doesn't mean the crisis is fading. It sees a Rafsanjani-led "rift within the ruling establishment (that) will continue to haunt the Islamic Republic for the foreseeable future."

 

"What this means is that....Ahmadinejad's second term will see even greater infighting among the rival conservative factions that constitute the political establishment....Iran will find it harder to achieve the internal unity necessary to complicate US policy," and the Obama administration will try to capitalize on it to its advantage. Its efforts to make Iran into another US puppet state are very much ongoing, and for sure, Tehran's ruling government knows it. How it will continue to react remains to be seen.

"Swarming" to Produce Regime Change

 

In his book, "Full Spectrum Dominance," Engdahl explained the RAND Corporation's groundbreaking research on military conflict by other means. He cited researchers John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt's 1997 "Swarming & The Future of Conflict" document "on exploiting the information revolution for the US military. By taking advantage of network-based organizations linked via email and mobile phones to enhance the potential of swarming, IT techniques could be transformed into key methods of warfare."

 

In 1993, Arquilla and Ronfeldt prepared an earlier document titled "Cyberwar Is Coming!" It suggested that "warfare is no longer primarily a function of who puts the most capital, labor and technology on the battlefield, but of who has the best information about the battlefield" and uses it effectively.

 

They cited an information revolution using advanced "computerized information and communications technologies and related innovations in organization and management theory." They foresaw "the rise of multi-organizational networks" using information technologies "to communicate, consult, coordinate, and operate together across greater distances" and said this ability will affect future conflicts and warfare. They explained that "cyberwar may be to the 21st century what blitzkrieg was to the 20th century" but admitted back then that the concept was too speculative for precise definition.

 

The 1993 document focused on military warfare. In 1996, Arquilla and Ronfeldt studied netwar and cyberwar by examining "irregular modes of conflict, including terror, crime, and militant social activism." Then in 1997, they presented the concept of "swarming" and suggested it might "emerge as a definitive doctrine that will encompass and enliven both cyberwar and netwar" through their vision of "how to prepare for information-age conflict."

 

They called "swarming" a way to strike from all directions, both "close-in as well as from stand-off positions." Effectiveness depends on deploying small units able to interconnect using revolutionary communication technology.

 

As explained above, what works on battlefields has proved successful in achieving non-violent color revolution regime changes, or coup d'etats by other means. The same strategy appears in play in Iran, but it's too early to tell if it will work as so far the government has prevailed. However, for the past 30 years, America has targeted the Islamic Republic for regime change to control the last major country in a part of the world over which it seeks unchallenged dominance.

 

If the current confrontation fails, expect future ones ahead as imperial America never quits. Yet in the end, new political forces within Iran may end up changing the country more than America can achieve from the outside - short of conquest and occupation, that is.

 

A final point. The core issue isn't whether Iran's government is benign or repressive or if its June 12 election was fair or fraudulent. It's that (justifiable criticism aside) no country has a right to meddle in the internal affairs of another unless it commits aggression in violation of international law and the UN Security Council authorizes a response. Washington would never tolerate outside interference nor should it and neither should Iran.

 

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.



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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Impact of water privatisation!


 

Mark Steel: You can't bath with one jug of water?

 

A vital commodity will soon only be available to the privileged few

 
If this was a business column I'd suggest one industry to invest in would be bailiffs. A few years ago it was hard work to be so late in paying a bill that you'd get referred to bailiffs, but now if you're 15 minutes late paying your gas bill or council tax, you get a letter saying "IF YOU DO NOT PAY THE SUM OF £253.74 PLUS £8,000 COSTS WE WILL REMOVE YOUR FLOORBOARDS, HOUSEHOLD PETS, DIALYSIS MACHINES, AND SOUL... DO NOT IGNORE THIS NOTICE."
 
But for Thames Water, it seems even this practice isn't threatening enough. They're pressing the Government to change the law, to allow them to punish late-payers by cutting off their water. In case we consider this a tad harsh they explain they wouldn't cut it off altogether, just "reduce it to a trickle," of around a jugful a day. Because they're full of compassion. They'll probably add, "There's no reason why this would prevent children from washing. If you look at cats for example, they lick themselves spotless, and we don't charge them anything (though we are looking at demanding a nominal charge from April next year)."
 
They also emphasise removing the water supply would only be a "last resort". That's reassuring, although even that's probably because if cutting you off was the first thing they did they wouldn't be able to move on to waterboarding, as they'd be holding you down while trying to wet the rag and grumbling, "This trickle's taking ages – I think we're doing this the wrong way round."
Also, anyone who's had to contact a utility about a problem with their bill knows the frustration of trying to reach them at all. We'll soon be forced to listen to a silky voice between hours of Vivaldi, telling us, "We are currently receiving a high level of calls from dying customers. Why not try later, or log on to our cholera information website."
 
With superb timing, this tweak to the law was suggested on the same day that Thames Water announced record profits of £605m, along with a rise in charges of around 17 per cent, from a company that in 2007 was fined £12.5m by the regulator for providing a dreadful service, and then lying about their performance on their reports. But back then they had a more liberal attitude to the law, objecting that the fine was ridiculous because, "That money could be spent improving the service for customers." Which is like someone who's fined for mugging an old aged pensioner saying, "That's ridiculous, I was planning to spend that money on improving the life of that old aged pensioner."
 
Maybe there's a logic to their outlook. For them water isn't so much an essential substance, it's a commodity to be sold to satisfy shareholders. Walter Letwin, the investment banker, told a conference recently that "investors will embrace this opportunity to invest in companies involved in one of the world's most vital industries – water, with its positive price dynamic, limited global supply and increasing global demand". Or he could have just said, "It's drying up but the bastards die without it – WE CAN'T LOSE – YAHOOOO!"
 
So before long water will be a privilege for those who can afford it, with Thames Water offering gold accounts for customers who wish to enjoy skinny latte showers, or their toilet flushed with holy water so their waste is redeemed of sin. Then Thames will branch off into life-support machines, calmly suggesting they should be allowed to turn them off if the bill isn't paid, because, "those people not paying are causing prices to rise among the honest coma community."


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Monday, 22 June 2009

An Iraq inquiry should examine Murdoch’s role


 

Stephen Glover: 

Some newspapers, various ex-generals and assorted other worthies have complained about the Government's decision to hold an inquiry into the Iraq war in private.
 
The Times, however, thinks there should not be an inquiry at all. In a first leader last week the paper grumbled that there had already been two of them, and it doubted that a third could tell us anything we don't already know.
 
I disagree. There are many aspects of this affair that remain unexamined. One of them is the attitude of some newspapers, in particular the Murdoch-owned Times and Sun, in uncritically promoting the Government's flawed case for war, and defending, or even omitting to report, its mistakes.
 
The new inquiry is unfortunately most unlikely to investigate the role of these powerful newspapers in legitimising the war. It is true that Tony Blair was supported by other titles, but one wonders whether Britain could have gone to war at all unless the US-based Rupert Murdoch had thrown his powerful divisions behind the Government.
 
For many months before the invasion in March 2003 both papers repeatedly told their readers that Saddam Hussein possessed potentially lethal weapons of mass destruction. Admittedly there was then a widespread view in Britain and other countries that Iraq had WMD, but there was room for reasonable doubt which neither The Sun nor The Times chose to reflect.
 
In the months leading up to war The Sun regularly reported every British or American claim about WMD without the slightest
reservation, and a succession of editorials declared that these weapons existed. On 10 September 2002 – a couple of weeks before the Government's infamous, mendacious dossier – the paper wrote that, "recognition of the necessity of an allied air strike is growing as more chilling details of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction are revealed". A week before the invasion The Sun stated that, "Saddam has stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, and he's not going to give them up".
 
The Times was scarcely less categorical about the existence of WMD, though it did run occasional columns, including ones by Simon Jenkins and Timothy Garden, expressing doubts. On 7 September 2002 the paper referred to, "Saddam's current drive to create even more terrible weapons of mass destruction". The 2002 dossier I have mentioned was greeted by a story describing it as "sober" beneath the headline "Blair dossier proves Baghdad's 'lies' ".
 
The BBC's Andrew Gilligan was almost entirely right about the "sexed up" 2002 dossier. During the row between the Government and the BBC in July 2003, both papers took the Government's side. After No 10 had revealed the identity of the weapons inspector Dr David Kelly, subsequently found dead near his home, they attacked the Corporation. The Times's Tom Baldwin, a friend of Alastair Campbell, shamelessly wrote that, "some BBC journalists seemed to have abandoned objectivity".
 
The Sun was even more aerated, suggesting that, "this is the time for root-and-branch reorganisation of the news department at the BBC." This from a newspaper which in February 2004 did not even report Tony Blair's amazing confession that when Britain went to war he did not know that so-called WMD ( had they existed) were considered by the western military to be battlefield weapons which could only be fired a relatively short distance.
 
The Times complains that every aspect of the Iraq war has already been discussed. No. Rupert Murdoch's role as chief cheerleader for the war has hardly even been considered.



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Sunday, 21 June 2009

Oil rush: Scramble for Iraq's wealth

 

Critics said the war was all about the nation's lucrative fuel industry. Are they now being proved right? Patrick Cockburn reports from Baghdad

 
For many Iraqis, the reason the US invaded their country in 2003 was to get control of their oil. I never believed this at the time. I thought that the US overthrew Saddam Hussein and occupied Iraq primarily because it wanted to reassert its power after 9/11 and believed the war in Iraq would be easily won.
 
It is only now, six years after the American invasion, that the battle for the control of Iraqi oil production is moving to the centre of politics in Baghdad. On 29 and 30 June, the Iraqi government will award contracts under which international oil companies will take a central role in producing crude oil from Iraq's six super-giant oilfields over the next 20 to 25 years. By coincidence, 30 June is also the date on which the last American troops will be leaving Iraqi cities. On the very day that Iraq regains greater physical authority over its territory, it is ceding a measure of control over the oilfields on which the future of the country entirely depends.
 
The contracts have been heavily criticised inside Iraq as a sell-out to the big oil companies, which are desperate to get back into Iraq – oil was nationalised here in 1972, and Iraq and Iran are the only two places in the world where immense quantities of oil might still be discovered. Several of those criticising the contracts work in the Iraqi oil industry. "The service contracts will put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years," said Fayad al-Nema, head of the state-owned South Oil Company, which produces 80 per cent of Iraq's crude. "They squander Iraq's reserves."
 
The government made a serious miscalculation last year. It believed the oil price would stay around the $140-a-barrel mark. It raised government salaries and hired more employees – who now total at least two million, double the level under Saddam Hussein. Some 600,000 people work in the army, the police and the security apparatus. Expensive contracts were signed for the supply of electric plants and aircraft.
 
When the price of oil unexpectedly collapsed – though it has risen again in the past few months – the Iraqi government found itself broke. Its revenues are being swallowed up by the higher salaries, the rationing system and recurrent costs. It has frozen government hiring, but it dare not cut the number of state employees because the availability of new jobs is one reason that levels of violence have fallen. Cut-backs might damage the government's prospects in the crucial parliamentary election next January that will decide who holds power in Iraq for years to come.
 
Government in Iraq is all about oil, because it produces 95 per cent of the state's revenue. Saddam accused Kuwait of deliberately driving down the price of oil in 1990 to wreck the Iraqi economy, and this was one of the reasons he gave for invading the emirate.
The fall in the price of oil is bad news for Iraq, but more disastrous is the decline in its output, which has been dropping sharply owing to years of neglect. Out of 1,400 oil wells in southern Iraq – an area responsible for 80 per cent of production – a third are no longer working. "It's a fearful situation," says Jabbar al-Luaibi, a former head of the South Oil Company and a government adviser.
Iraqis and non-Iraqis alike have come to think of crises in Iraq in terms of people slaughtering each other. This has been the pattern over the past six years. But Iraqis are now waking up to the fact that they face a different type of crisis, one that will profoundly affect their future. Aside from oil, Iraq exports very little apart from dates. Most of the crude is pumped out of super-giant oilfields such as Kirkuk and Bai Hassan in the north and Zubair, Rumaila, Missan and Qurna in the south. It is their output which is now in disastrous decline.
 
In the last year of Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq, and despite UN sanctions, the country produced 2.6 million barrels a day of crude. This compares to 2.4 million today, and both these figures are well down on the 3.5 million Iraq produced in the 1970s.
The government's desperate need to increase oil output, at a time when it does not have any money to invest, has given it no option but to turn to the international oil companies. The Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussain Shahristani, says he needs $50bn for investment which he does not have. Under the service contracts to be signed at the end of the month, the companies do not get a share of Iraq's oil, but they will get a fee for halting the fall in output and then increasing production. The deal is not perfect from their point of view, but such is their eagerness to return to Iraq that they will go along with it.
 
The government feels it has no choice but to give up a measure of control over its one asset in return for expertise and investment – though this situation is partly of its own making. The economy is a barely floating wreck. It has suffered from 30 years of war, sanctions and occupation. For six years the US and successive Iraqi governments have talked about reconstruction, but they have done little. I long ago developed a simple test for propaganda claims about reconstruction: I climb on the roof of my hotel in the Jadriyah district of Baghdad and study the skyline to see if any cranes are visible. To this day there are almost none – aside from a few rusting ones where Saddam was building a giant mosque, and, until recently, a cluster where the US was erecting a giant new embassy.
 
There are improvements in Baghdad: security is much better than last year. But the two million refugees abroad are still not coming back in large numbers, and it is easy to see why. There is more electricity, but still less than in Amman or Damascus. The petrol supply is better and you only occasionally see long queues of vehicles outside petrol stations. But not all the change is in the right direction. Iraq now has about 18 million mobile phones compared to none under Saddam Hussein. They are essential for communication in a country where violence, checkpoints and traffic jams make it difficult to see people in person. But over the past six months, the mobile phone system has got worse and worse. Often I dial half a dozen times before getting through, and then it is like talking to somebody at the bottom of a mineshaft.
 
I have been driving around Baghdad to see how far ordinary life is returning. I live in Jadriya, in a loop on the river Tigris, which I always hoped was as safe as Baghdad was ever going to get because it is overwhelmingly Shia – the uprising against the US in 2003-07 was Sunni – and President Talabani has his own heavily guarded district across the road from my hotel. These days there are people on the streets at midnight sitting in simple cafes with glaring lights. The same is true in parts of the Karada district where shopkeepers normally live above their shops. But this is not typical. On the other side of the Tigris, in mixed or Sunni areas, restaurants close at nine in the evening. This is inconvenient as people in Baghdad used to be nocturnal at this time of year, to avoid the intense summer heat.
 
I am wary about what restaurants I go to. This is partly because I am invariably the only foreigner. Many of them also have bad memories. I have started going again to the White Palace restaurant, which I had deserted after an Iraqi journalist was shot and wounded there a few years ago. In west Baghdad the Sumad, a Kurdish-owned restaurant, was hit by a car bomb and several killed, but they have reopened with a comforting brick wall just inside the plate glass window.
 
Some areas have gone up and others down in the years of violence. Shurja, once the centre of Baghdad's great markets, is much emptier these days and the big merchants supplying Iraq often live in Dubai. Everywhere there are signs of poverty. In the centre of the city my car had to manoeuvre between a donkey cart and a tricycle rickshaw, one of many being imported from China. Almost nothing is made in Iraq. Even the heaps of watermelons by the fruit stalls are often imported from Syria.
 
Only the rationing system has kept many Iraqis from starvation in recent years, and this alone costs $6bn annually. The government cannot afford to see its oil revenues go down, which explains why it is ignoring criticism of the new oil contracts. The US may not have invaded Iraq in order to control its oil reserves, but a consequence of the invasion has been to bring back the international oil companies.


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Saturday, 20 June 2009

Iranian Elections: The ‘Stolen Elections’ Hoax


  

By James Petras

20 June, 2009
Countercurrents.org

 

"Change for the poor means food and jobs, not a relaxed dress code or mixed recreation…Politics in Iran is a lot more about class war than religion."
Financial Times Editorial, June 15 2009

 

There is hardly any election, in which the White House has a significant stake, where the electoral defeat of the pro-US candidate is not denounced as illegitimate by the entire political and mass media elite. In the most recent period, the White House and its camp followers cried foul following the free (and monitored) elections in Venezuela and Gaza, while joyously fabricating an 'electoral success' in Lebanon despite the fact that the Hezbollah-led coalition received over 53% of the vote.

 

The recently concluded, June 12, 2009 elections in Iran are a classic case: The incumbent nationalist-populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (MA) received 63.3% of the vote (or 24.5 million votes), while the leading Western-backed liberal opposition candidate Hossein Mousavi (HM) received 34.2% or (3.2 million votes). Iran's presidential election drew a record turnout of more than 80% of the electorate, including an unprecedented overseas vote of 234,812, in which HM won 111,792 to MA's 78,300. The opposition led by HM did not accept their defeat and organized a series of mass demonstrations that turned violent, resulting in the burning and destruction of automobiles, banks, public building and armed confrontations with the police and other authorities. Almost the entire spectrum of Western opinion makers, including all the major electronic and print media, the major liberal, radical, libertarian and conservative web-sites, echoed the opposition's claim of rampant election fraud. Neo-conservatives, libertarian conservatives and Trotskyites joined the Zionists in hailing the opposition protestors as the advance guard of a democratic revolution. Democrats and Republicans condemned the incumbent regime, refused to recognize the result of the vote and praised the demonstrators' efforts to overturn the electoral outcome. The New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, the Israeli Foreign Office and the entire leadership of the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations called for harsher sanctions against Iran and announced Obama's proposed dialogue with Iran as 'dead in the water'.

 

The Electoral Fraud Hoax

 

Western leaders rejected the results because they 'knew' that their reformist candidate could not lose…For months they published daily interviews, editorials and reports from the field 'detailing' the failures of Ahmadinejad's administration; they cited the support from clerics, former officials, merchants in the bazaar and above all women and young urbanites fluent in English, to prove that Mousavi was headed for a landslide victory. A victory for Mousavi was described as a victory for the 'voices of moderation', at least the White House's version of that vacuous cliché. Prominent liberal academics deduced the vote count was fraudulent because the opposition candidate, Mousavi, lost in his own ethnic enclave among the Azeris. Other academics claimed that the 'youth vote' – based on their interviews with upper and middle-class university students from the neighborhoods of Northern Tehran were overwhelmingly for the 'reformist' candidate.

 

What is astonishing about the West's universal condemnation of the electoral outcome as fraudulent is that not a single shred of evidence in either written or observational form has been presented either before or a week after the vote count. During the entire electoral campaign, no credible (or even dubious) charge of voter tampering was raised. As long as the Western media believed their own propaganda of an immanent victory for their candidate, the electoral process was described as highly competitive, with heated public debates and unprecedented levels of public activity and unhindered by public proselytizing. The belief in a free and open election was so strong that the Western leaders and mass media believed that their favored candidate would win.

 

The Western media relied on its reporters covering the mass demonstrations of opposition supporters, ignoring and downplaying the huge turnout for Ahmadinejad. Worse still, the Western media ignored the class composition of the competing demonstrations – the fact that the incumbent candidate was drawing his support from the far more numerous poor working class, peasant, artisan and public employee sectors while the bulk of the opposition demonstrators was drawn from the upper and middle class students, business and professional class.

 

Moreover, most Western opinion leaders and reporters based in Tehran extrapolated their projections from their observations in the capital – few venture into the provinces, small and medium size cities and villages where Ahmadinejad has his mass base of support. Moreover the opposition's supporters were an activist minority of students easily mobilized for street activities, while Ahmadinejad's support drew on the majority of working youth and household women workers who would express their views at the ballot box and had little time or inclination to engage in street politics.

 

A number of newspaper pundits, including Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, claim as evidence of electoral fraud the fact that Ahmadinejad won 63% of the vote in an Azeri-speaking province against his opponent, Mousavi, an ethnic Azeri. The simplistic assumption is that ethnic identity or belonging to a linguistic group is the only possible explanation of voting behavior rather than other social or class interests. A closer look at the voting pattern in the East-Azerbaijan region of Iran reveals that Mousavi won only in the city of Shabestar among the upper and the middle classes (and only by a small margin), whereas he was soundly defeated in the larger rural areas, where the re-distributive policies of the Ahmadinejad government had helped the ethnic Azeris write off debt, obtain cheap credits and easy loans for the farmers. Mousavi did win in the West-Azerbaijan region, using his ethnic ties to win over the urban voters. In the highly populated Tehran province, Mousavi beat Ahmadinejad in the urban centers of Tehran and Shemiranat by gaining the vote of the middle and upper class districts, whereas he lost badly in the adjoining working class suburbs, small towns and rural areas.

 

The careless and distorted emphasis on 'ethnic voting' cited by writers from the Financial Times and New York Times to justify calling Ahmadinejad 's victory a 'stolen vote' is matched by the media's willful and deliberate refusal to acknowledge a rigorous nationwide public opinion poll conducted by two US experts just three weeks before the vote, which showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin – even larger than his electoral victory on June 12. This poll revealed that among ethnic Azeris, Ahmadinejad was favored by a 2 to 1 margin over Mousavi, demonstrating how class interests represented by one candidate can overcome the ethnic identity of the other candidate (Washington Post June 15, 2009). The poll also demonstrated how class issues, within age groups, were more influential in shaping political preferences than 'generational life style'. According to this poll, over two-thirds of Iranian youth were too poor to have access to a computer and the 18-24 year olds "comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all groups" (Washington Porst June 15, 2009). The only group, which consistently favored Mousavi, was the university students and graduates, business owners and the upper middle class. The 'youth vote', which the Western media praised as 'pro-reformist', was a clear minority of less than 30% but came from a highly privileged, vocal and largely English speaking group with a monopoly on the Western media. Their overwhelming presence in the Western news reports created what has been referred to as the 'North Tehran Syndrome', for the comfortable upper class enclave from which many of these students come. While they may be articulate, well dressed and fluent in English, they were soundly out-voted in the secrecy of the ballot box.

 

In general, Ahmadinejad did very well in the oil and chemical producing provinces. This may have be a reflection of the oil workers' opposition to the 'reformist' program, which included proposals to 'privatize' public enterprises. Likewise, the incumbent did very well along the border provinces because of his emphasis on strengthening national security from US and Israeli threats in light of an escalation of US-sponsored cross-border terrorist attacks from Pakistan and Israeli-backed incursions from Iraqi Kurdistan, which have killed scores of Iranian citizens. Sponsorship and massive funding of the groups behind these attacks is an official policy of the US from the Bush Administration, which has not been repudiated by President Obama; in fact it has escalated in the lead-up to the elections.

 

What Western commentators and their Iranian protégés have ignored is the powerful impact which the devastating US wars and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan had on Iranian public opinion: Ahmadinejad's strong position on defense matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense posture of many of the campaign propagandists of the opposition.

The great majority of voters for the incumbent probably felt that national security interests, the integrity of the country and the social welfare system, with all of its faults and excesses, could be better defended and improved with Ahmadinejad than with upper-class technocrats supported by Western-oriented privileged youth who prize individual life styles over community values and solidarity.

 

The demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented, capitalist individualists against working class, low income, community based supporters of a 'moral economy' in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts. The open attacks by opposition economists of the government welfare spending, easy credit and heavy subsidies of basic food staples did little to ingratiate them with the majority of Iranians benefiting from those programs. The state was seen as the protector and benefactor of the poor workers against the 'market', which represented wealth, power, privilege and corruption. The Opposition's attack on the regime's 'intransigent' foreign policy and positions 'alienating' the West only resonated with the liberal university students and import-export business groups. To many Iranians, the regime's military buildup was seen as having prevented a US or Israeli attack.

 

The scale of the opposition's electoral deficit should tell us is how out of touch it is with its own people's vital concerns. It should remind them that by moving closer to Western opinion, they removed themselves from the everyday interests of security, housing, jobs and subsidized food prices that make life tolerable for those living below the middle class and outside the privileged gates of Tehran University.

 

Amhadinejad's electoral success, seen in historical comparative perspective should not be a surprise. In similar electoral contests between nationalist-populists against pro-Western liberals, the populists have won. Past examples include Peron in Argentina and, most recently, Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and even Lula da Silva in Brazil, all of whom have demonstrated an ability to secure close to or even greater than 60% of the vote in free elections. The voting majorities in these countries prefer social welfare over unrestrained markets, national security over alignments with military empires.

 

The consequences of the electoral victory of Ahmadinejad are open to debate. The US may conclude that continuing to back a vocal, but badly defeated, minority has few prospects for securing concessions on nuclear enrichment and an abandonment of Iran's support for Hezbollah and Hamas. A realistic approach would be to open a wide-ranging discussion with Iran, and acknowledging, as Senator Kerry recently pointed out, that enriching uranium is not an existential threat to anyone. This approach would sharply differ from the approach of American Zionists, embedded in the Obama regime, who follow Israel's lead of pushing for a preemptive war with Iran and use the specious argument that no negotiations are possible with an 'illegitimate' government in Tehran which 'stole an election'.

 

Recent events suggest that political leaders in Europe, and even some in Washington, do not accept the Zionist-mass media line of 'stolen elections'. The White House has not suspended its offer of negotiations with the newly re-elected government but has focused rather on the repression of the opposition protesters (and not the vote count). Likewise, the 27 nation European Union expressed 'serious concern about violence' and called for the "aspirations of the Iranian people to be achieved through peaceful means and that freedom of expression be respected" (Financial Times June 16, 2009 p.4). Except for Sarkozy of France, no EU leader has questioned the outcome of the voting.

 

The wild card in the aftermath of the elections is the Israeli response: Netanyahu has signaled to his American Zionist followers that they should use the hoax of 'electoral fraud' to exert maximum pressure on the Obama regime to end all plans to meet with the newly re-elected Ahmadinejad regime.

 

Paradoxically, US commentators (left, right and center) who bought into the electoral fraud hoax are inadvertently providing Netanyahu and his American followers with the arguments and fabrications: Where they see religious wars, we see class wars; where they see electoral fraud, we see imperial destabilization.



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Beijing, USA, Iran, Thailand, Moldova.....in perspective

Beijing cautions US over Iran
By M K Bhadrakumar

China has broken silence on the developing situation in Iran. This comes against the backdrop of a discernible shift in Washington's posturing toward political developments in Iran.

The government-owned China Daily featured its main editorial comment on Thursday titled "For Peace in Iran". It comes amid reports in the Western media that the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is rallying the Qom clergy to put pressure on the Guardians Council - and, in turn, on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei - to annul last Friday's presidential election that gave Mahmud Ahmadinejad another four-year term.

Beijing fears a confrontation looming and counsels Obama to keep the pledge in his Cairo speech not to repeat such errors in the US's Middle East policy as the overthrow of the elected government of Mohammed Mosaddeq in Iran in 1953. Beijing also warns about letting the genie of popular unrest get out of the bottle in a highly volatile region that is waiting to explode. Tehran on Friday saw its sixth day of massive protests by supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom they say was cheated out of victory.

A parallel with Thailand
Meanwhile, China's special envoy on Middle East, Wu Sike, is setting out on an extensive fortnight-long regional tour on Saturday (which, significantly, will be rounded off with consultations in Moscow) to fathom the political temperature in capitals as varied as Cairo and Tel Aviv, Amman and Damascus, and Beirut and Ramallah.

Beijing also made a political statement when a substantive bilateral was scheduled between President Hu Jintao and Ahmadinejad on Tuesday on the sidelines of the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Conceivably, Hu would have discussed the Iran situation with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev during his official visit to Moscow that followed the SCO summit. Earlier, Moscow welcomed Ahmadinejad's re-election. Both China and Russia abhor "color" revolutions, especially something as intriguing as Twitter, which Moscow came across a few months ago in Moldova and raises hackles about the US's interventionist global strategy.

China anticipated the backlash against Ahmadinejad's victory. On Monday, The Global Times newspaper quoted the former Chinese ambassador to Iran, Hua Liming, that the Iranian situation would get back to normalcy only if a negotiated agreement was reached among the "major centers of political power ... But, if not, the recent turmoil in Thailand will possibly be repeated". It is quite revealing that the veteran Chinese diplomat drew a parallel with Thailand.

However, Hua underscored that Ahmadinejad does enjoy popularity and has "lots of support in this nationalist country because he has the courage to state his own opinion and dares to carry out his policies". The consensus opinion of Chinese academic community is also that Ahmadinejad's re-election will "test" Obama.

Thus, Thursday's China Daily editorial is broadly in the nature of an appeal to the Obama administration not to spoil its new Middle East policy, which is shaping well, through impetuous actions. Significantly, the editorial upheld the authenticity of Ahmadinejad's election victory: "Win and loss are two sides of an election coin. Some candidates are less inclined to accept defeat."

The daily pointed out that a pre-election public opinion poll conducted by the Washington Post newspaper showed Ahmadinejad having a 2-1 lead over his nearest rival and some opinion polls in Iran also indicated more or less the same, whereas, actually, "he won the election on a lower margin. Thus, the opposition's allegations against Ahmadinejad come as a trifle surprising".

The editorial warns: "Attempts to push the so-called color revolution toward chaos will prove very dangerous. A destabilized Iran is in nobody's interest if we want to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East, and the world beyond." It pointedly recalled that the US's "Cold War intervention in Iran" made US-Iran relationship a troubled one, "with US presidents trying to stick their nose into Iran's internal business".

Theocracy versus republicanism
Beijing understands Iran's revolutionary politics very well. China was one of the few countries that warmly hosted Ruhollah Khomeini as president (in 1981 and 1989). In contrast, India, which professes "civilizational" ties with Iran, was much too confused about Iran's revolutionary legacy to be able to correctly estimate Khamenei's political instincts favoring republicanism. Most of the Indian elites aren't even aware that Khamenei studied as a youth in Moscow's Patrice Lumumba University.

Be that as it may, the Hu-Ahmadinejad meeting in Yekaterinburg on Tuesday once again shows Beijing has a very clear idea about the ebb and flow of Iran's politics. Hu demonstrably accorded to Ahmadinejad the full honor as Beijing's valued interlocutor.

Chinese media have closely followed the trajectory of the US reaction to the situation in Iran, especially the "Twitter revolution", which puts Beijing on guard about US intentions. Indications are that the US establishment has begun meddling in Iranian politics. Rafsanjani's camp always keeps lines open to the West. All-in-all, a degree of synchronization is visible involving the US's "Twitter revolution" route, Rafsanjani's parleys with the conservative clergy in Qom and Mousavi's uncharacteristically defiant stance.

Obama faces multiple challenges. On the one hand, as Helene Cooper of The New York Times reported on Thursday, the continuing street protests in Tehran are emboldening a corpus of (pro-Israel) conservatives in Washington to demand that Obama should take a "more visible stance in support of the protesters". But then, a regime change would inevitably delay the expected US-Iran direct engagement and upset Obama's tight calendar to ensure the negotiations gained traction by year's end, while Iran's centrifuges in its nuclear establishments keep spinning.

Also, a fragmented power structure in Tehran will prove ineffectual in helping the US stabilize Afghanistan. However, top administration officials like Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would like the US to "strike a stronger tone" on Iran's turmoil. Cooper reported they are piling pressure on Obama that he might run the risk of "coming across the wrong side of history at a potentially transformative moment in Iran".

A Thermidorian reaction
No doubt, the turmoil has an intellectual side to it. Obama being a rare politician gifted with intellectuality and a keen sense of history would know that what is at stake is a well-orchestrated attempt by the hardcore conservative clerical establishment to roll back the four-year-old painful, zig-zag process toward republicanism in Iran.

Mousavi is the affable front man for the mullahs, who fear that another four years of Ahmadinejad would hurt their vested interests. Ahmadinejad has already begun marginalizing the clergy from the sinecures of power and the honey pots of the Iranian economy, especially the oil industry.

The struggle between the worldly mullahs (in alliance with the bazaar) and the republicans is as old as the 1979 Iranian revolution, where the fedayeen of the proscribed Tudeh party (communist cadres) were the original foot soldiers of the revolution, but the clerics usurped the leadership. The highly contrived political passions let loose by the 444-day hostage crisis with the US helped the wily Shi'ite clerics to stage the Thermidorian reaction and isolate the progressive revolutionary leadership. Ironically, the US once again figures as a key protagonist in Iran's dialectics - not as a hostage, though.

Imam Khomeini was wary of the Iranian mullahs and he created the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as an independent force to ensure the mullahs didn't hijack the revolution. Equally, his preference was that the government should be headed by non-clerics. In the early years of the revolution, the conspiracies hatched by the triumvirate of Beheshti-Rafsanjani-Rajai who engineered the ouster of the secularist leftist president Bani Sadr (who was Khomeini's protege), had the agenda to establish a one-party theocratic state. These are vignettes of Iran's revolutionary history that might have eluded the intellectual grasp of George W Bush, but Obama must be au fait with the deviousness of Rafsanjani's politics.

If Rafsanjani's putsch succeeds, Iran would at best bear resemblance to a decadent outpost of the "pro-West" Persian Gulf. Would a dubious regime be durable? More important, is it what Obama wishes to see as the destiny of the Iranian people? The Arab street is also watching. Iran is an exception in the Muslim world where people have been empowered. Iran's multitudes of poor, who form Ahmadinejad's support base, detest the corrupt, venal clerical establishment. They don't even hide their visceral hatred of the Rafsanjani family.

Alas, the political class in Washington is clueless about the Byzantine world of Iranian clergy. Egged on by the Israeli lobby, it is obsessed with "regime change". The temptation will be to engineer a "color revolution". But the consequence will be far worse than what obtains in Ukraine. Iran is a regional power and the debris will fall all over. The US today has neither the clout nor the stamina to stem the lava flow of a volcanic eruption triggered by a color revolution that may spill over Iran's borders.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey

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Friday, 19 June 2009

Boss-class hypocrisy

 

 

Managers who have long defended their huge pay have a cheek asking staff to work for nothing

 

Mark Lawson

 

There's a cheery ­cliche popular with top ­entertainers and sports stars: "I love this job so much that I'd still do it if they didn't pay me." But people only say this if they know there's no risk of it happening. Those British ­employees now being asked to come in and work for nothing would never have thought to make the offer.

 
The novelty of the economic crisis has been a series of schemes encouraging staff to take unpaid leave, salary reduction or to work for a month without money as an alternative to being laid off. In the most high-profile example, British Airways has won substantial pay cuts from its pilots while encouraging other staff to work gratis for part of the year.
 
In some cases – principally, the ­highest-paid radio and TV presenters – the victims of thrift simply have to accept that their losses will be widely viewed as a necessary market ­correction. In the same way, the only rapid way for MPs to begin to restore public confidence would be to vote through a self-flagellating pay cut.
 
But the obvious objection to this popular gateau analogy is that the plates were not equally filled before the redistribution began. As BA staff have pointed out, a hairshirt month for the airline's senior management still leaves them with as much annual cash as the lowest names on the payroll would earn in a decade. At different ends of the corporate pyramid, there is a vivid difference between putting on hold plans for a second holiday house and being unable to pay the mortgage on your only home.
 
Even without the understandable fear that those who insist on keeping their contracted wad may later be punished with redundancy, there is something fundamentally queasy about presenting as equality a scheme in which the impact varies so widely.
The biggest obstacle to these pain-sharing schemes is the instinctive psychological and moral resistance that most people have to the idea of working for nothing. From Dr Johnson's ­frequently-quoted advice that only blockheads write for anything but money to the Roman Catholic catechism's warning that one of the highest sins of all is to "defraud labourers of their wages", respectable economies have been built on the concept of turning brain or muscle power into spending power.
 
One of the great shames of the past decade – most prevalent in the media sector – has been the practice of using young people on unpaid or barely-paid "work experience", sometimes extending for months or even years as tolerated slave labour in a post-union world. So we should flinch at the idea that such sneaky cheapskating may now become an accepted corporate tactic.
Inconveniently for the managers now promoting the benefits of ­allowing the bank account some downtime, the ­captains of industry are lengthily and noisily on record with the idea that there is a direct relationship between income and incentive.
 
For decades, these bosses have argued against higher taxation on the grounds that a reduction in take-home rewards would result in the drivers of society idling at their desks because there was no longer any point in making money. Yet now they have harnessed precisely the argument previously used against them – that work can have a larger purpose than personal gain – to propose what amounts to a recession tax on their employees. People who refused to earn less for the good of ­society now preach the beauty of taking a cut for the company.
 
At the risk of encouraging my employers and enraging my agent, I probably would be prepared, having had some very good and lucky years, to do much the same work next year for less than the fees paid this. But I would agree to this from the visceral, Dickensian fear of all employees that the workhouse looms as the alternative, and would nurse the angry suspicion that the superiors benefitting from our sacrifices were not suffering as much themselves. When the upturn comes, will they raise the payments or smirkingly continue with a cheaper workforce? (The BA pilots have at least been given shares as the price of their privation.)
 
Horrible as high unemployment is, an economy that suffers it is at least being honest about the gap between supply and demand and the failures of its systems. A state that reclassifes salary as charity is simply disguising its failures. Except for the super-rich who can do it as a populist gimmick, there is nothing to be said for working for nothing.




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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Iraq is handing over control of its fields to foreign companies


 

Iraqi Oil Minister accused of mother of all sell-outs

By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad

 

Furious protests threaten to undermine the Iraqi government's controversial plan to give international oil companies a stake in its giant oilfields in a desperate effort to raise declining oil production and revenues.
 
In less than two weeks, on 29 and 30 June, the Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussain Shahristani, will award service contracts to the world's largest oil companies to develop six of Iraq's largest oil-producing fields over 20 to 25 years.
 
Senior figures within the Iraqi oil industry have denounced the deal. Fayad al-Nema, the director of the South Oil Company, which comes under the Oil Ministry and produces most of Iraq's crude, said on the weekend: "The service contracts will put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years. They squander Iraq's revenues." Mr Nema is reported to have since been fired because of his opposition to the contracts, which he says is shared by many other officials in Iraq's state-owned oil industry.
 
The government maintains that it is not compromising the ownership of Iraq's oil reserves – the third largest in the world at 115 billion barrels – on which the country is wholly dependent to fund its recovery from 30 years of war, sanctions and occupation.
But the fall in the oil price over the past year has left the government facing a financial crisis; 80 per cent of its revenues go to pay for salaries, food rations and recurrent costs. Little is left for reconstruction and the government is finding it hard to pay even for much-needed items such as an electrical plant from GE and Siemens.
 
The development of Iraq's oil reserves is of great importance to the world's energy supply in the 21st century. They may be even larger than Saudi Arabia's, as there was little exploration while Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein. International oil companies are desperate to get their foot in the door.
 
"Everyone wants to be in Iraq," says Ruba Husari, an expert on Iraqi oil. "Together with Iran, this is the only oil province in the world that has great potential. It is a great opportunity for oil companies because nobody knows the size of Iraq's reserves. Iraq itself needs to know what is under its soil."
 
But Iraqis are wary of the involvement of foreign oil companies in raising production in super giant fields like Kirkuk and Bai Hassan in the north and Rumaila, Zubair and West Qurna in the south. They suspect the 2003 US invasion was ultimately aimed at securing Western control of their oil wealth. The nationalisation of the Iraqi oil industry by Saddam Hussein in 1972 remains popular and the rebellion against the service contracts has been gathering pace all this week.
 
Parliament is demanding that bidding be delayed. MPs summoned Mr Shahristani, a nuclear scientist imprisoned and tortured under Saddam Hussein, to answer questions about the service contracts and the fall in Iraq's oil production and exports. Jabir Khalifa Kabir, the secretary of parliament's oil and gas committee, says the contracts will "chain the government with complex contractual terms" and will abort South Oil Company's own plans to raise production. The government says the bidding must go ahead.
The contracts are not particularly favourable to the international oil companies. They are rather the outcome of the companies' extreme eagerness to get into Iraq and the government's attempt to obtain expertise and investment without ceding control. The companies will be paid a fee linked to first restoring and then increasing oil output. They will, however, have greater control when there is a second round of bidding for oilfields which have been discovered but not yet developed. Separate again is the question of exploration for as yet undiscovered oil reserves.
 
Critics of the deal in parliament say that Iraq has already invested $8bn (£4.9bn) in developing its super giant fields. But Mr Shahristani needs $50bn over the next five or six years to raise current production levels from 2.5 million barrels a day of crude and knows the money and expertise can only come from outside Iraq.
 
The government in Baghdad may be near broke but Iraqis ask whose fault that is. The Oil Ministry, like much of the government, is dysfunctional when it comes to carrying out long-term projects. Mr Shahristani is blamed for poor management skills, though he eloquently defends himself by saying that when he took over the ministry in 2006, he had to cope with attacks by guerrillas who once were blowing up a pipeline every day.
 
This explains Mr Shahristani's problems in northern Iraq, where the Sunni Arab insurgency of 2003-08 was strong, but not in the far south, where the Shia community is dominant and there was no uprising.
 
Jabbar al-Luaibi, the former head of the South Oil Company, who battled to maintain oil production in these years, gave a devastating interview detailing the failings of the Oil Ministry to provide the most basic equipment needed to monitor the oil reservoirs.
 
"It's like driving your car without any indicators on the dashboard," he said, adding that if mismanagement continued in the same way as in the past "who knows, we might have to start importing crude oil".
 
The Iraqi government made two other mistakes for which it is now paying. It optimistically believed the price of oil would stay high at $140 a barrel. Instead of investing extra revenues by paying for outside expertise and equipment to raise production in the oilfields, it spent the money on raising the pay of government employees and increasing their number.
 
This increased Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's popularity in the provincial elections in January but left the government short of cash when oil prices collapsed. Prices have risen since then, but not nearly enough to solve the government's problems.
In June 2008 the Iraqi oil industry seemed poised to receive foreign help by signing two-year technical support contracts with oil companies. Control would have remained with Iraq. However, at the last minute, the contracts were cancelled despite being supported by Mr Shahristani and the council of ministers. The reason why this happened explains much about why the state machine is unable to carry out long-term policies. Jobs are allocated to members of political parties regardless of their experience or abilities. After 2003 the Oil Ministry had been the fief of the Fadhila, a Shia Islamic party strong in Basra, and, though it left the government, it never wholly accepted Mr Shahristani as minister.
 
Showing a certain cheek, Fadhila members – having sabotaged the plan to acquire foreign expertise when money was available to buy it last year – now criticise the government for being forced to accept worse terms because it cannot invest itself.
Many Iraqis will be angered to see their historic oilfields being partially run by foreign companies. But the government believes it has no choice.



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