Saturday, May 27, 2006

Stiglitz: Those Who Must Be Compensated Are the Bolivians, Not the Companies

delooting the gas fields
While W is concerned about the "erosion of democracy in Venezuela and Bolivia", after the "nationalization" of oil and gas resources in Bolivia, some more or less unexpected allies have come to Morales' defence.
First Joseph Stiglitz, former VP of the World Bank who:
...emphasized that the failure of the neoliberal model imposed by the Washington Consensus that set out to reduce the role of the State in national economies to the minimum is evident, and underscored that Bolivia, once one of the best students of the neoliberal model, "felt all the pains (of its application) but has experienced no gains -- it's clear that it must have a change in its economic model."

In this context, Stiglitz did not wish to characterize the new energy policy of Evo Morales as nationalization, but would call it the "recovery" of Bolivia's resources, or the "return to Bolivia of a property that already was hers." Further, he indicated that Bolivia should receive a just value for the exploitation of its natural resources.

"When a person was robbed of a painting and then it is given back to him, we don't call it renationalization, but return of a property that was his to begin with," explained Stiglitz. In the same way, he questioned the existing contracts between the State of Bolivia and petro multinationals, highlighting that "in reality. there was no sale, since it was not made in accordance with laws or approval of the Congress -- where there is no property to be nationalized, there can't be nationalization."

That means that it was necessary to change the previous conditions "one way or another," added Stiglitz...

Then even more unexpectedly French President Jacques Chirac, put in a kind word for Evo:

French President Jacques Chirac said the Bolivian government's seizure of oil and gas assets would help channel more funds to the poor.

"What should be put in place -- and what I understand is the idea -- is that an agreement between the companies concerned for the sharing of profits should be more favorable to the public than is currently the case," Chirac said in an interview with Brazilian television TV Globo...

...Chirac said that he has spoken with Morales who told him the move clearly ``excludes the arbitrary seizing of assets or exclusion of the companies concerned.''

"I have much respect for Mr. Morales who, in a certain way, is showing honor to a people who need it," Chirac said in the interview with Brazilian television.

Meanwhile investment isn't drying up, as IMF credit is cut off and Bolivia responds to Bush that it is his government rather than Morales' who is a permanent threat to democracy in Latin America. (And in his own country one might add..)

In another article, Georges Monbiot points out the egregious double standards involved in Bolivia's treatment in most of the West...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Iran: Consequences of a war

The Oxford Research Group, under the rather unnerving url presents an analysis of things that might happen in case Bush is that crazy:
"This briefing paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the likely nature of US or Israeli military action that would be intended to disable Iran’s nuclear capabilities. It outlines both the immediate consequences in terms of loss of human life, facilities and infrastructure, and also the likely Iranian responses, which would be extensive.

An attack on Iranian nuclear infrastructure would signal the start of a protracted military confrontation that would probably grow to involve Iraq, Israel and Lebanon, as well as the USA and Iran. The report concludes that a military response to the current crisis in relations with Iran is a particularly dangerous option and should not be considered further. Alternative approaches must be sought, however difficult these may be."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Iran deploys its war machine

/ the difference a letter makes /
Iason Athanasiadis is a freelance journalist and photographer residing in Tehran - probably one of the most knowledgable and perceptive western correspondents in the Middle East. In this article in the Asia Times, he describes Iranian preperations for a possible US/Israeli attack, the mentality of the Iranian military and their plans he notes:

...a fundamental transition that Iran's Revolutionary Guard (RG) is undergoing as it moves away from focusing on waging its defense of the country on the borders - unrealistic in view of the vast territory that requires securing and the gulf separating Iranian and US military capabilities - and toward drawing the enemy into the heartland and defeating it with asymmetrical tactics.

At the same time, the RG is moving away from a joint command with the ordinary army and taking a more prominent role in controlling Iran's often porous borders, even as it makes each of Iran's border provinces autonomous in the event of war. Iranian military planners know that the first step taken by an invading force would be to occupy oil-rich Khuzestan province, secure the sensitive Strait of Hormuz and cut off the Iranian military's oil supply, forcing it to depend on its limited stocks.

Foreign diplomats who monitor Iran's army make it clear that Iran's leadership has acknowledged it stands little chance of defeating the US Army with conventional military doctrine. The shift in focus to guerrilla warfare against an occupying army in the aftermath of a successful invasion mirrors developments in Iraq, where a triumphant US campaign has been followed by three years of slow hemorrhaging at the hands of insurgents...

Athanasiadis mentions in passing the fact that Iran is probably in possesion of these nasty little anti-ship missiles, state of the art and currently "unbeatable", which promise to make the Straits of Hormuz a rather dangerous playground - with all that this implies for the worlds energy supply (considering that 40% of it passes through these Straits daily).

Speaking of Athanasiadis and countries that start with Ira: he recently published in Greekworks a very interesting letter from Iraq, offering an unsanitized version of his experiences in the "most terrifying city on earth"... Well worth the read.

Friday, May 12, 2006

ESF demo Athens, May 6 2006

/ We're ready for the Champions League /
Thomas, of Anatomy of Melancholy, has posted in flickr some photos from the ESF demonstration.

I note that we've put up quite a team. An American striker (move over Eto'o):

And a French french midfielder:

Anyway the March last week was quite impressive, all things considered, especially since the police and the media were preparing for and announcing this as if it were the arrival of Attila's hordes. The number of participants was around 40.000 I'd figure, possibly more, because the march seemed to diffuse around the whole area. Included in the march, but ignored by the corporate media, were representatives of the Stray Dog Liberation Front of Athens:

[from nkdx's collection]

Monday, May 8, 2006

Greek wiretaps: calling home

/ wiretap dancing /
Following up the huge wiretap scandal I've posted about previously (1, 2, 3), there are many developments most of which seem not to be widely reported outside Greece.

So lets start with what has been reported. The Guardian, on April 10, wrote, recapping the situation as it stood then, that:
Vodafone faces harsh criticism this week from Greece's independent telephone watchdog for its role in an espionage scandal that has rocked the country.

In a report into the affair, the watchdog, known as ADAE, is expected to deliver a withering verdict on the mobile phone giant following the discovery of more eavesdropping devices lurking in the central system of its Greek subsidiary...

...The watchdog's findings follow what is widely considered to be an inadequate judicial inquiry, ordered by the ruling conservative New Democracy party a year ago when the illegal software was discovered after a barrage of customer complaints.

The scandal has reached the highest echelons, with the prime minister's chief of staff and executives of both Vodafone and its software supplier, Ericsson, being called to testify last week before a parliamentary committee investigating the taps.

The firms gave conflicting accounts of how a rogue bugging program came to be installed in the network. Ericsson's regional chief, Bill Zikou, said the Swedish-based company had openly provided Vodafone with software permitting legally sanctioned surveillance - a claim fiercely denied by the mobile operator, which insisted it was not informed of its existence...

...There were claims last week that while the Americans dismantled the devices after the Games, The Greek EYP intelligence service ordered the eavesdropping operation to be continued through Vodafone.

The death of Vodafone Greece's top technician, Costas Tsalikides, found hanged in his bathroom a day after the bugs were first detected last year, has fuelled charges of a cover-up. A colleague at the company has claimed that the 39-year-old unwittingly discovered the wiretaps and was about to go public. Solving the riddle over the apparent suicide is now seen as key to the whole spy mystery...

This is all quite accurate. But ADAE and the ongoing investigation has released new evidence: We now know for a fact that Tsalikidis phone had been used one hour after his estimated time of death and before the family found his hanging body. This makes, I figure, the "suicide" scenario even more unlikely. The phone had been used the night before his death, at a time when the investigation has shown Tsalikidis was not in his house. For more information on Costas Tsalikidis, you might want to visit the site that his family and their lawyer have created, titled Why Costas? as a tribute to the man and as a vehicle for information they want to make public regarding the case and the murder, quite probably, of their loved one.

If this whole case sounds to you like a spy thriller, you're not alone. According to the Observer:

...After buffeting Athens for nearly four months, the seamy story of intrigue and espionage that has implicated the Greek government and portable phone operator Vodafone has been pinpointed by Hollywood for the big screen.

A leading US film company has dispatched scouts to the capital to see whether the film can be made in situ and whether any of the cast of characters are willing to be involved. These, so far, include Greece's Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, most of his cabinet, the heads of the armed forces, human rights groups, journalists and a host of Arab businessmen.

All share the same fate of having had their mobile phones monitored, by 'persons unknown', both before and after the 2004 Olympic Games. The unnamed film company believes the scandal has all the ingredients of a big spy thriller. The discovery of the illegal wiretaps, and the ruling conservatives' decision to go public, has provided a snapshot of the underhand methods of intelligence services rarely seen in the real world. 'They're calling it "Watergate, made in Greece",' says one insider.

If made, the movie would capture a period of extraordinary dealings for mobile giant Vodafone, whose Greek CEO, George Koronia, has been approached to participate. Greece's independent telecoms watchdog, ADAE, recently issued a withering verdict on Vodafone's role in the imbroglio, claiming the company not only concealed information but erased evidence of its own involvement by destroying the logs of staff visitors to at least one of its four bugged communication centres.

The article goes on to mention some of the new facts that ADAE's investigation has uncovered such as:

"...that the Vodafone mobile phones that intercepted the calls had received text messages from the UK, the USA, Australia and Sweden - an oblique reference to 'foreign secret services'."

But that's not all. What the article does not mention is that we now know where some of the calls from the "shadow phones" used in the wiretap were made to: There were 11 logged phone calls to Laurel Maryland, USA. Now take a look at the map below: Laurel is literally next door to Fort Meade, and that is a "startling" coincidence: Guess which US government agency is headquartered in Fort Mead... Yep, it's them: the most active warrantless wiretappers in the world...

When they found out about it the ADAE people, pretty much peed their pants after which they decided that the best course of action was doing absolutely nothing. I translate from the Greek business daily Imerisia, reporting on ADAE's testimony before a Greek Parliament Committee:

"Answering the insistent questions of the MPs E. Venizelos [Socialist] and L. Kanelli [Communist], about whether ADAE made any attempts to discover who the US phone numbers belong to and whether they called these phone numbers, Mr. Lambrinopoulos [president of ADAE] was blunt:

"We thought about it, but we were afraid about where these phone numbers might lead us. The capabilities from over there are quite extensive. It's one thing if the phone numbers belonged to a private residence, but if they belonged to someone else, like a company or a service?" he asked, causing unease among the MPs.

"What scared you so much that you wouldn't even call 411 over there?" L. Kanelli insisted.

"Don't you understand that we can't compromise ourselves? It could be someone that shouldn't see the number calling. We can't risk it. It's not personal fear. Any action could have turned out undermining the investigation. What if there was somebody "difficult" on the other end?" Lambrinopoulos noted characteristically.

In a related point E. Venizelos claimed that "either [the Greek Secret Service] EYP didn't understand / didn't want to follow this up or it understood perfectly what was happening and was ordered to tamper with the evidence", ADAE's president "left EYP on a limb, stating that they should have had found the card phones and the calls to the US."

Later, Mr. Lambrinopoulos would disavow the obvious, after being careful not to "undermine the investigation" by trivially comfirming it:

In a statement yesterday, ADAE said that the calls to those four countries needed further investigation but added that there was no evidence to suggest foreign agencies had been involved in tapping some 100 phones.

The watchdog also said that it had no evidence to support claims that the calls made to the USA were actually made to the National Security Agency in Maryland.

The investigation is ongoing, but let me tell you something about this story: If the NSA can be shown to have been heavily involved in these wiretaps, and if Tsalikidis was indeed murdered as part of the cover-up - hypotheticals that are not by any means far-fetched - then a US agency is connected - directly or indirectly - with the murder of a citizen of an allied country, a man whose only crime it seems was his professional diligence, and Vodafone, Ericsson and the Greek government by their inaction or collusion, were accomplices and/or the physical perpetrators. And thus this story will never reach the courts, I wager, because someone most excruciatingly "difficult" is, indeed, on the other end of that line...

[crossposted on the European Tribune]

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

The EU's Security Research Programme [pdf]

/ brothers / very big /
Statewatch, has published a report on the development of a European Military-Security complex titled "Arming Big Brother - The EU's Security Research Programme". In it, it presents in rather horrifying detail, the uncelebrated and under-reported story of the EU's efforts at "Security Research", the people who will get rich off it and the bloody scary, undemocratic world of European Lobbying. The whole thing presents a clear and present danger to democracy in the EU, as it entails the development of a host of very sensitive technologies as far as civil rights are concerned:

"...Myriad local and global surveillance systems; the introduction of biometric identifiers; RFID, electronic tagging and satellite monitoring; "less-lethal weapons"; paramilitary equipment for public order and crisis management; and the militarization of border controls -– technological advances in law enforcement are often welcomed uncritically but rarely are these technologies neutral, in either application or effect. Military organisations dominate research and development in these areas
under the banner of "“dual-use"” technology, avoiding both the constraints and controversies of the arms trade. Tomorrow'’s technologies of control quickly become today's political imperative; contentious policies appear increasingly irresistible. There are strong arguments for regulating, limiting and resisting the development of the security-industrial complex but as yet there has been precious little debate..."

Apart from the research itself, the whole process is brimming with practically unaccountable and unelected committees deciding on critical issues, heavy lobbying by powerful corporations and a lack of public scrutiny that is becoming par for the EU course. A brief summary:

The militarisation of the EU is a controversial development that should be fiercely contested. EU funding of military research is also very controversial, from both a
constitutional and political perspective. This Statewatch-TNI report examines the development of the EU Security Research Programme (ESRP) and the growing security-industrial complex in Europe it is being set up to support. With the global market for technologies of repression more lucrative than ever in the wake of 11 September 2001, it is on a healthy expansion course. There are strong arguments for regulating, limiting and resisting the development of the security-industrial complex but as yet there has been precious little debate.

The story of the ESRP is one of "“Big Brother"” meets market fundamentalism. It was personified by the establishment in 2003 of a "Group of Personalities"” (GoP) comprised of EU officials and Europe'’s biggest arms and IT companies who argued that European multinationals are losing out to their US competitors because the US government is providing them with a billion dollars a year for security research. The European Commission responded by giving these companies a seat at the EU table, a proposed budget of one billion euros for "“security"” research and all but full control over the development and implementation of the programme. In effect, the EU is funding the diversification of these companies into the more legitimate and highly lucrative "dual use"” sector, allowing them to design future EU security policies and allowing corporate interests to determine the public interest.

The planned Security Research Programme raises important issues about EU policy-making and the future of Europe. Europe faces serious security challenges: not just terrorism, but disease, climate change, poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, resource depletion and other sources of insecurity. Rather than being part of a broader strategy to combat these challenges, the ESRP is part of a broader EU counter-terrorism strategy almost singularly orientated to achieving security based primarily on the use of military force and the demands of law enforcement. Freedom and democracy are being undermined by the very policies adopted in their name.

Related to this other piece of dystopic europlanning, previously reported here.

Not too many posts lately...

But between a heavy work schedule, family, a busy (but almost equally unattended to) Greek blog and Greek Easter, I haven't had that much time to sit down and blog properly.

However I did manage to post a couple of diaries over at the European Tribune, which might be of interest to some of my readers here:

The Appeal of the Resistance Fighters - about how the surviving protagonists of the French resistance are still in a fighting mood.


Prodi and the European Constitution - in which Prodi suggests a new European Constitution, exactly like the one the Monde Diplomatique predicted, right before the French referendum, will be proposed sooner or later.

I'm not sure how it will go but I hope to be posting more frequently, at least slightly more frequently, from now on...