Saturday, May 03, 2008

Vancouver's Olympic Secrets

Olympic Secretariat stops keeping minutes
David Eby
25 Apr 2008

Secretaries at British Columbia's Olympic Secretariat are celebrating the $40m provincial government department's decision to stop keeping minutes at meetings. NDP critic Harry Bains suggests the reason the minutes are no longer being kept is not out of concern for admin assistant workloads at the BCOS, but actually due to concerns that Freedom of Information requests would reveal embarrassing information to ranting gripers about the upcoming 2010 Olympics.

For those not in the Olympic loop, which included me, the Olympic Secretariat is apparently "the provincial agency responsible for overseeing British Columbia's Olympic financial commitments and ensuring British Columbia's Olympic vision is achieved." Which is a pretty cool job, especially if you don't have to write anything down about it.

As to why the department is no longer keeping minutes, Secretariat rep Don McDonald (no relation to official Olympic sponsor Ronald) told the Vancouver Sun that keeping minutes was a big waste of time: "The secretariat was keeping minutes but found they were not an effective management tool."

He also suggested that their approach was "consistent with cross-government practices and legislation." Really? Wow. A whole provincial government of non-minute taking departments. What was it we were talking about last time? Was it something about transportation?

Interestingly, in the same article, NDP Olympic critic Harry Bains alleges that VANOC has stopped sending copies of its minutes to the Secretariat as well, not to save money on postage as one might expect, but also because of Freedom of Information request concerns. Whatever you say HB...
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Pictures of the DTES and homelessness

Posted: 25 Apr 2008 06:26 PM CDT

For those of you reading this blog from out of town, it may be difficult to imagine the situation in a neighbourhood whose AIDS rate is equivalent to that of Botswana, in buildings where people are being displaced into street homelessness by gentrification, and in a city where homelessness doubles in a two year span. Fortunately, some interested photographers have taken the time to document some of the remarkable people and places that personify this crisis.

First, the Pivot Legal Society [Disclosure: I work there] hands out disposable cameras every year to community members to document the bonds and humanity in the DTES. The best pictures end up in their annual calendar. They've just launched a book, available for $20, that tells the stories behind the pictures. You can find out more about it and buy it online here, or from a street vender or a local bookstore.

Second, the Vancouver Sun did a great photo essay on homelessness you can check out online here.

Finally, The Blackbird, as he likes to be known, has done a photo essay on gentrification in the DTES filled with remarkable images available on Flickr here.
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Olympic traffic lanes

Posted: 25 Apr 2008 11:48 AM CDT

For a city that apparently waged an entire election on the issue of converting two of six traffic lanes to bike lanes on the Burrard Street bridge, coverage of Olympic designated traffic lanes for 2010 has seemed, well, somewhat less controversial.

Although this is a touch out of date, last week the Province tabled legislation that would permit the City to close traffic lanes to all but Olympic traffic. The Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act isn't about traffic interruption on just one bridge; we're talking about closing a lane all the way from Richmond to Southeast False Creek, says Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon: "We're talking about taking existing roadways and reserving lanes for special use. It could be, say, to get to the Richmond Oval from the athletes' village for example."

Don't worry though, because access to the specialized lanes is going to be totally transparent and accountable. The Sun has guaranteed as much: "Access to the specialized lanes would likely be overseen by staff working for Vanoc." Perfect.
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City drops ball on social housing opportunities

Posted: 24 Apr 2008 05:36 PM CDT

Seems like every time I turn around these days, someone is telling me about how Vancouver could have built more housing for the homeless, but dropped the ball. Check out this throw away paragraph from the Vancouver Sun about how there could have been social housing in the new Concord Pacific development at Abbot and Hastings, but the City couldn't figure out their policy on the matter:

Concord had at one point considered asking the city for significant additional density, for which it had been willing to provide some low-income units in the project. But [Concord's Senior Vice President of Development Peter] Webb said the company abandoned that idea when it became clear that it was going to take city planners some time to decide on an overall policy about trading density for social housing.

Hmmmm....should we trade density for social housing? I don't know. Tough question. Doesn't seem to me that Vancouver is facing a density crisis, but it sure is facing a homelessness crisis.

Check out this info, from an anonymous source, about the Pantages Theatre renovation at the corner of Main and Hastings:

[The proponents are] still only mentioning something like approx 135 "affordable housing" units to be built on the 4 properties to the right of the theatre. [. . .] The 2 story Chinese association bldg next to Pantages was to become a part of the package, and were to have seniors housing within the development as payment for their property being assembled, but after a while they settled for cash in lieu of housing units. [. . .] At the beginning of this 2 years ago, it was touted as being social housing but fairly early on became "affordable housing."

If the City can't get its act together to jump on the opportunities people are presenting to them, let alone advocating to make sure they're even better than what is proposed, then who will?
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Sochi residents feel DTES pain

Posted: 24 Apr 2008 01:11 PM CDT

According to the Internet, which is usally pretty accurate, residents of the Nizhneimeretinsky (Lower Imeretinsky) Bukhta, the low-lands area where most of the Olympic village will be built for the 2014 Sochi olympics, have written an open letter to plead against the forced eviction of locals.

Highlights of the letter are as follows, and the similarities to the displacement going on in the DTES is eerie. From swampland to highly valuable real estate:

We, the residents of the Nizhneimeretinsky Bukhta, address this to you personally with belief and hope. Help us to protect and save our "SMALL HOMELAND"!

It is clear, that in our modest lives, we don't fit in with the grandiose plans of the "powers that be." When the prices for land in Sochi grew beyond belief, our land, right on the sea, sparked many people's interest. Now it holds tremendous worth, and not for the Olympics, but for business. At one time, this land did not exist. There was impassable malarial marshland and swamp, which our grandfathers and great-grandfathers drained and cultivated, dying from malaria and fever. This land was obtained not only with an exchange of life, but also with gold paid to the Russian government.

[. . .]

According to the talk, the Olympics serve people, bringing them health, happiness and joy, but in fact they are remaking the destinies of hundreds of Sochi families, and as it looks to us, not for sport, and not for the prospect of developing our city of SOCHI. The Olympics will pass through in two weeks, while we will lose our "SMALL HOMELAND" forever!

By law, properties of equal worth must be provided. But where can they be found for Everyone, if [those providing them] need [the land] themselves? The relocation of people from private homes into apartments. Presenting people who live on the sea with lands remote and distanced from it. Compensation with a fair price? Such a thing is completely unequal!! And it is not at all clear why land immediately on the coast of the Black Sea is needed to conduct the winter Olympics in Sochi.

[. . .]

We would even understand the necessity of tearing down one house, as with the building of the airport, if it stood at the center of the state's interests in relation to solving Olympic problems. But we cannot understand how a whole village could interfere (with more than 100 houses, with several families living in each house).

Whose interests are the Olympics, which must bring peace to the whole world, pursuing, if they are denigrating their own people in this way!!!
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Let the accurate reporting begin

Posted: 24 Apr 2008 12:38 PM CDT

Jeff Lee, the Sun's Olympic reporter, appears to be feeling a bit tender about the recent decision by the Sun's parent company, Canwest, to buy into the Olympics.

In a recent blog entry, Lee seems to recognize the clear conflict of interest he has been placed in by his employer: "What an interesting situation I find myself in," he writes. He describes how, on hearing the announcement, he "specifically braced Skulsky [President of Canwest] and Bent [President of the Pacific Newspaper Group] on how they will assure readers that the newsrooms will be free from interference on Olympic coverage."

From a clear recognition of the conflict, Lee then descends into name calling for others who dared to ask the same questions he did. In analyzing my post about Canwest's sponsorship of the Games (Lee is hopefully a regular reader), he suggests that this blog used to be called "David Eby's Rant Blog," which is totally untrue (although it may contain the odd rant). He also suggested that the questions asked in the post on the Canwest sponsorship are mere "griping." Fortunately, he appears to believe that I am entitled to my rants and griping.


In any event (no pun intended), I hope that Jeff, as the official Olympic reporter for the Official Newspaper of the 2010 Olympic Games, is going to ask hard questions about the Olympics of more people than just his employers. It's going to take more than a couple of low blows in a blog entry, and a feel good story about a drunk driving editor, to convince me and other skeptics that the millions paid out by Canwest aren't going to affect his coverage of the Olympics, whether intentionally or otherwise. Good luck Jeff.

Personal message to Jeff: If things go sideways because you write too honestly, you can always write with us. No hard feelings; you're a talented writer. So long as you don't mind being the number two reporter on the actual Official Vancouver 2010 Olympics Newswire.
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The Terror Master

The Terror Master: Bush Orders Covert 'Surge' Against Iran, with Dem Support
by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 03 May 2008
The world's most dangerous terrorist, who has already slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent people, has launched yet another campaign of murder and destruction.

A few days ago, we wrote that the Bush Administration has systematically removed the last remaining barriers for a military attack on Iran. Now Andrew Cockburn reveals in Counterpunch that George W. Bush has ordered a major escalation of the long-running covert war the United States has already been waging inside Iran itself.

With the approval of top Democrats, Bush has ordered vast new support for extremist terrorist groups operating inside Iran, and has okayed the assassination of Iranian officials. Here's Cockburn:

Six weeks ago, President Bush signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents, "unprecedented in its scope."

Bush's secret directive covers actions across a huge geographic area – from Lebanon to Afghanistan – but is also far more sweeping in the type of actions permitted under its guidelines – up to and including the assassination of targeted officials. This widened scope clears the way, for example, for full support for the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, the cultish Iranian opposition group, despite its enduring position on the State Department's list of terrorist groups.

Similarly, covert funds can now flow without restriction to Jundullah, or "army of god," the militant Sunni group in Iranian Baluchistan – just across the Afghan border -- whose leader was featured not long ago on Dan Rather Reports cutting his brother in law's throat.

Other elements that will benefit from U.S. largesse and advice include Iranian Kurdish nationalists, as well the Ahwazi arabs of south west Iran. Further afield, operations against Iran's Hezbollah allies in Lebanon will be stepped up, along with efforts to destabilize the Syrian regime.

MEK, as you'll recall, is the strange quasi-religious, quasi-Marxist cult of Iranian exiles who were cultivated for years by Saddam Hussein, and used by him as vicious enforcers against his internal enemies. They were warmly embraced by the Bushists after the invasion of Iran, and are now serving Bush as they once served Saddam.

Bush's directive represents an intensification of the drive for open war with Iran, but it is not a new development; rather, it is a major "surge" in a state terror campaign the Administration has been waging against Iran (among others) for years. As I wrote as along ago as August 2004, the Bushists have openly sought, and received, big budgets and bipartisan support for terrorist groups and extremist militias all over the world. Here's an excerpt from that 2004 report:

If you would know the hell that awaits us – and not far off – there's no need to consult ancient prophecies, or the intricate coils of hidden conspiracies, or the tortured arcana of high-credentialed experts. You need only read the public words, sworn before God, of top public officials, the great lords of state, the defenders of civilization, as they explain – clearly, openly, with confidence and pride – their plans to foment terror, rape, war and repression across the face of the earth.

Last month, in little-noticed testimony before Congress, the Bush Regime unveiled its plans to raise a host of warlord armies in the most volatile areas in the world, Agence France-Presse reports. Bush wants $500 million in seed money to arm and train non-governmental "local militias" – i.e., bands of lawless freebooters – to serve as Washington's proxy killers in the so-called "arc of crisis" that just happens to stretch across the oil-bearing lands and strategic pipeline routes of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South America.

Flanked by a gaggle of military brass, Pentagon deputy honcho Paul Wolfowitz told a rapt panel of Congressional rubber-stamps that Bush wants big bucks to run "counter-insurgency" and "counter-terrorist" operations in "ungoverned areas" of the world – and in the hinterlands of nations providing "sanctuary" for terrorists. Making copious citations from Bush's 2002 "National Security Strategy" of unprovoked aggressive war against "potential" enemies, Howlin' Wolf proposed expanding the definition of "terrorist sanctuary" to any nation that allows clerics and other rabble-rousers to offer even verbal encouragement to America's designated enemies du jour....

There's nothing really new in Bush's murder-by-proxy scheme, of course; America has a long, bipartisan tradition of paying local thugs to do Washington's bloodwork. For example, late last month, Guatemala was forced to pay $420 million in extortion to veterans of the U.S.-backed "paramilitaries" who helped Ronald Reagan's favorite dictator, right-wing Christian coupster Efrain Rios Montt, kill 100,000 innocent people during his reign, the BBC reports. The paramilitaries, whose well-documented war crimes include rape, murder and torture, had threatened to shut down the country if they weren't given some belated booty for their yeoman service in the Reagan-Bush cause.

But Wolfowitz did reveal one original twist in Bush's plan: targeting the Homeland itself as a "terrorist sanctuary." In addition to loosing his own personal Janjaweed on global hotspots, Bush is also seeking new powers to prevent anyone he designates a "terrorist" from "abusing the freedom of democratic societies" or "exploiting the technologies of communication" – i.e., defending themselves in court or logging on to the Internet. As AFP notes, Wolfowitz tactfully refrained from detailing just how the Regime intends to curb the dangerous use of American freedom, but he did allow that "difficult decisions" would be required.

Wolfowitz himself is gone, but this program has continued to grow over the years. In February 2007, we examined the implications of Sy Hersh's report in the New Yorker about an earlier "surge" in the wide-ranging state terror operation that Cockburn describe:

There are really no words to describe how morally depraved and monumentally stupid this policy is. It is of course not all that surprising that it springs from a family whose political fortunes are founded, at least in part, from the financial fortunes it reaped from helping build the Nazi military-industrial complex; a family that continued trading with the Nazis even after Americans were in battle against Hitler's forces. The Bushes and their outriders have always been attuned to the kind of brutal realpolitik that is willing -- at times eager -- to see American blood shed in order to advance their elitist agenda. (Which they have of course internalized as being identical with the "national interest.")

But as we've also noted many times, this political "philosophy" is by no means unique to the Bush Family faction. It is resolutely bipartisan, and deeply embedded in the mindset of the American Establishment. The Bushes are nothing but second-rate camp followers, empty shells and non-entities, originating nothing, ignorant and cynical in equal measure, their only unusual trait being how open they are in their scorn for the worthless rabble and the bullshit Constitution that the crypto-Commies like Madison and Jefferson foisted on the proper rulers of the country. Otherwise, they simply regurgitate the unprocessed prejudices, unexamined assumptions and vulgar ambitions of the clique that spawned them.

Of course, at times the idiot George W. Bush and the criminally ignorant crew that surrounds him have brought the inherent lawlessness, greed, brutality and incompetence of the American elite to what seem like new heights -- although even the sick-making murder of the Iraq campaign has still not approached the genocidal fury of, say, the bipartisan bombing of Indochina, and the millions of dead that the "best and the brightest" left behind there. Nor have Bush's domestic repression and flagrant abuse of authority -- as bad as they are -- yet approached the toxic and all-pervasive level of the "Red Scares" launched by Democratic icons Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman. (Joe McCarthy merely took the ball that Truman put into play and ran with it.) And sufficient unto the day is the trouble thereof; the crimes of the Bush Administration are not any less heinous -- and the people they have murdered are not any less dead -- just because these crimes are not some aberration of the idiot and his crew but are instead continuations and at times accelerations of long-standing Establishment thinking and policy.

But with each passing decade, the technological tools of repression and militarism grow more overpowering and far-reaching. With each passing decade, the pernicious aftereffects and blowback from past depredations build up and compound, breeding new evils. With each passing decade, the societal rot engendered by the rapacity of the elite spreads deeper, eating away at the foundation of the Republic and the fabric of our communities, and weakening or destroying the social and institutional counterbalances to unchecked greed and ambition.

Thus in one sense it doesn't matter if the Bush Faction is any more or less criminal and destructive than other administrations. The world in which they are blundering around killing people is far more unstable and dangerous than before, because it is filled with the compounded evil and folly of previous times.

But back to the present danger. As Cockburn notes, the Democrats are fully on board with the new state terror campaign, laying out big bucks to grease the killing machine:

All this costs money, which in turn must be authorized by Congress, or at least a by few witting members of the intelligence committees. That has not proved a problem. An initial outlay of $300 million to finance implementation of the finding has been swiftly approved with bipartisan support, apparently regardless of the unpopularity of the current war and the perilous condition of the U.S. economy.

He also notes the acceleration toward war now that Bush factotum (and future Caesar?) David Petraeus is now in charge of the region:

Though Petraeus is not due to take formal command at Centcom until late summer, there are abundant signs that something may happen before then. A Marine amphibious force, originally due to leave San Diego for the Persian Gulf in mid June, has had its sailing date abruptly moved up to May 4. A scheduled meeting in Europe between French diplomats acting as intermediaries for the U.S. and Iranian representatives has been abruptly cancelled in the last two weeks. Petraeus is said to be at work on a master briefing for congress to demonstrate conclusively that the Iranians are the source of our current troubles in Iraq, thanks to their support for the Shia militia currently under attack by U.S. forces in Baghdad.

Interestingly, despite the bellicose complaints, Petraeus has made little effort to seal the Iran-Iraq border, and in any case two thirds of U.S. casualties still come from Sunni insurgents. "The Shia account for less than one third," a recently returned member of the command staff in Baghdad familiar with the relevant intelligence told me, "but if you want a war you have to sell it."

And as we noted the other day, the hard sell is definitely on now. Many people comfort themselves with the idea that the Bush Regime won't really pull the trigger on Iran; that, somehow, reason and good sense will convince them of the monumental folly of this course. But as we have noted over and over here, the fomenting of constant war, bloodshed, chaos -- and crippling domestic debt -- is not folly to the Bushists and the elite interests they represent. It is pure profit, and the game is always worth the candle -- because they never, ever have to face the consequences of their filthy ambitions. It is always others who pay, in rivers of blood and mountains of treasure.

But by all means, take whatever comfort you can now from hopes that there will be no war on Iran. God knows there will be little comfort to be had afterward.

[for complete reference links see source:


Fours Years On: Canadian Detainee Trial Date Set

Ruling clears way for Khawaja trial
Judge upholds decision to keep some evidence secret; Ottawa terror suspect's trial to begin next month

Ian MacLeod
The Ottawa Citizen

Friday, May 02, 2008

After 1,494 days, the final pre-trial legal hurdle in the case of Momin Khawaja has been resolved, clearing the way for Canada's first prosecution of an accused Islamist terrorist.

Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley has upheld a federal government request under the Canada Evidence Act to keep secret several case documents containing RCMP information, on the grounds their release could harm national security and relations with foreign governments.

"I am satisfied that the information ... would not be of assistance to the defence in the underlying criminal proceedings and does not meet the low threshold of relevance," he wrote in a decision released yesterday.

The verdict, which defence lawyers say they will not appeal, ends 20 months of intense legal skirmishing between the government and Mr. Khawaja's lawyers over various issues, including constitutional fights arising from the fact Mr. Khawaja is the first Canadian to be charged under the new Criminal Code terrorism provisions created under the sweeping Anti-terrorism Act of 2001.

The software developer was working at Ottawa's Department of Foreign Affairs on March 29, 2004, when the Mounties walked in as part of an operation code-named Project Awaken.

Hours later, with Mr. Khawaja in custody and incommunicado, hundreds of British police and MI5 security service officers fanned out across London for the British end of what was known as Operation Crevice, then the largest counter-terrorism effort in British history.

They arrested several people and seized 600 kilograms of ammonium nitrate that was to be used in bombings against public sites in and around the British capital.

On April 30, 2007, five young British Muslims were handed life sentences in a London court for plotting to blow up a famous London nightclub, a 330-store shopping complex southeast of the city and parts of the country's electrical and natural gas system. Two others were acquitted.

Mr. Khawaja, now 29, was formally named by the British as a conspirator in the plot -- the London trial heard prosecution evidence that he was allegedly making bomb-detonating devices in the basement of his Orléans home -- but has never been charged with a crime there.

Instead, he is to stand trial before a judge alone in an Ottawa court beginning June 23. The case is expected to last for months and draw international media attention. The trial was originally to begin Jan. 2, 2007.

Mr. Khawaja has pleaded not guilty to seven offences related to participating in the activities of a terrorist group, financing of terrorism, facilitating a terrorist activity, the commission of an offence for a terrorist group and providing instructions to carry out activity for a terrorist group.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008


Indonesia: U.S. Navy Infectious Disease Lab Under Microscope

US Navy research lab under microscope in Indonesia
1 day ago

JAKARTA (AFP) — The future of a major US Navy research laboratory in Indonesia is in doubt amid allegations, dismissed as "crazy" by US diplomats, of espionage and secret experiments.

Negotiations between Washington and Jakarta over the renewal of the operating contract of US Naval Medical Research Unit-2, or Namru-2, have stalled over a range of issues including diplomatic immunity for its US staff.

Established in Indonesia in 1970 and charged with researching infectious diseases of military importance, the facility employs 19 Americans and more than 100 Indonesians and is based in Indonesian health ministry grounds.

Its operations have attracted suspicion from a number of quarters in the world's largest Muslim country, from anti-US religious hardliners to outspoken Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari and Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono.

"We'll conduct some checks on their presence in Indonesia," Vice President Jusuf Kalla said after Friday prayers last week.

Supari, whose ministry has worked with the US laboratory on projects including malaria research and bird flu early warning systems, has thrown fuel on to the diplomatic fire.

"Until today there have been no significantly useful results for the people (from Namru-2's research)," she said last month.

"Problems with contagious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are still relatively the same... My people ask me why is there a health laboratory working together with a foreign military?"

Some parliamentarians have demanded the laboratory's operating contract, which expired in 2005, be torn up and its facilities taken over by Jakarta.

Parliamentary foreign affairs commissioner Mutamimul Ula called Thursday for an "investigation into allegations that Namru-2 staffers were involved in intelligence operations."

"There is this flavour of intelligence activities... This can't be avoided in the eyes of the public. It is part of the defence organism of a foreign country," Ula said.

The controversy and the delays in the renewal of the contract appear to be causing a degree of angst among US officials in the departments of health and state, reflecting the importance Washington attaches to the facility.

Namru-2 has been a major point of US-Indonesian cooperation over the years, including times when relations over other issues were strained. US President George W. Bush mentioned the facility in a joint statement with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when he visited Jakarta in 2006.

Apparently stung by the latest whirlwind of allegations, some of which stretch back several years, the US embassy has issued a statement entitled "The Truth About Namru-2."

"There's been rumours over the last 10 years that we had to respond to," US embassy deputy chief of mission John A. Heffern told AFP.

"It's just crazy," he said of the allegations of spying and secret experiments, adding that Namru-2 was "totally unclassified, totally transparent."

"If the Indonesian ministry of health wants the raw data, it's totally open to them," he said.

"Hopefully we will resume our negotiations. This doesn't help."

Sticking points in the negotiations have included the US's insistence that all American staff at the laboratory be given diplomatic immunity.

Complicating matters is a separate dispute between Washington and Jakarta over bird flu samples.

Jakarta is insisting on "the recognition of sovereign rights of states over their biological resources," and fears the flu samples will be used by foreign companies to make vaccines, which will be too expensive for Indonesians.

US officials have slammed the position, with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recently stressing the importance of international cooperation to tackle the bird flu threat.

"The United States has very important relationships here in Indonesia, that involve joint work in laboratories in various levels of research, and we have pledged to continue that," Leavitt said after meeting Yudhoyono last month.

Indonesia has the highest number of human bird flu victims, with 108 people known to have died in the sprawling archipelago from the disease.

The World Health Organisation, which has designated Namru-2 as a Collaborating Centre on disease research, has warned that Indonesia is putting its own population in danger by failing to share its samples.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Latin America: the attack on democracy

John Pilger argues that an unreported war is being waged by the US to restore power to the privileged classes at the expense of the poor

By John Pilger

24/04/08 "ICH" -- -- Beyond the sound and fury of its conquest of Iraq and campaign against Iran, the world's dominant power is waging a largely unreported war on another continent - Latin America. Using proxies, Washington aims to restore and reinforce the political control of a privileged group calling itself middle-class, to shift the responsibility for massacres and drug trafficking away from the psychotic regime in Colombia and its mafiosi, and to extinguish hopes raised among Latin America's impoverished majority by the reform governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In Colombia, the main battleground, the class nature of the war is distorted by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the Farc, whose own resort to kidnapping and the drugs trade has provided an instrument with which to smear those who have distinguished Latin America's epic history of rebellion by opposing the proto-fascism of George W Bush's regime. "You don't fight terror with terror," said President Hugo Chávez as US warplanes bombed to death thousands of civilians in Afghanistan following the 11 September 2001 attacks. Thereafter, he was a marked man. Yet, as every poll has shown, he spoke for the great majority of human beings who have grasped that the "war on terror" is a crusade of domination. Almost alone among national leaders standing up to Bush, Chávez was declared an enemy and his plans for a functioning social democracy independent of the United States a threat to Washington's grip on Latin America. "Even worse," wrote the Latin America specialist James Petras, "Chávez's nationalist policies represented an alternative in Latin America at a time (2000-2003) when mass insurrections, popular uprisings and the collapse of pro-US client rulers (Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia) were constant front-page news."

It is impossible to underestimate the threat of this alternative as perceived by the "middle classes" in countries which have an abundance of privilege and poverty. In Venezuela, their "grotesque fantasies of being ruled by a 'brutal communist dictator'", to quote Petras, are reminiscent of the paranoia of the white population that backed South Africa's apartheid regime. Like in South Africa, racism in Venezuela is rampant, with the poor ignored, despised or patronised, and a Caracas shock jock allowed casually to dismiss Chávez, who is of mixed race, as a "monkey". This fatuous venom has come not only from the super-rich behind their walls in suburbs called Country Club, but from the pretenders to their ranks in middle-level management, journalism, public relations, the arts, education and the other professions, who identify vicariously with all things American. Journalists in broadcasting and the press have played a crucial role - acknowledged by one of the generals and bankers who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Chávez in 2002. "We couldn't have done it without them," he said. "The media were our secret weapon."

Many of these people regard themselves as liberals, and have the ear of foreign journalists who like to describe themselves as being "on the left". This is not surprising. When Chávez was first elected in 1998, Venezuela was not an archetypical Latin American tyranny, but a liberal democracy with certain freedoms, run by and for its elite, which had plundered the oil revenue and let crumbs fall to the invisible millions in the barrios. A pact between the two main parties, known as puntofijismo, resembled the convergence of new Labour and the Tories in Britain and Republicans and Democrats in the US. For them, the idea of popular sovereignty was anathema, and still is.

Take higher education. At the taxpayer-funded elite "public" Venezuelan Central University, more than 90 per cent of the students come from the upper and "middle" classes. These and other elite students have been infiltrated by CIA-linked groups and, in defending their privilege, have been lauded by foreign liberals.

With Colombia as its front line, the war on democracy in Latin America has Chávez as its main target. It is not difficult to understand why. One of Chávez's first acts was to revitalise the oil producers' organisation Opec and force the oil price to record levels. At the same time he reduced the price of oil for the poorest countries in the Caribbean region and central America, and used Venezuela's new wealth to pay off debt, notably Argentina's, and, in effect, expelled the International Monetary Fund from a continent over which it once ruled. He has cut poverty by half - while GDP has risen dramatically. Above all, he gave poor people the confidence to believe that their lives would improve.

The irony is that, unlike Fidel Castro in Cuba, he presented no real threat to the well-off, who have grown richer under his presidency. What he has demonstrated is that a social democracy can prosper and reach out to its poor with genuine welfare, and without the extremes of "neo liberalism" - a decidedly unradical notion once embraced by the British Labour Party. Those ordinary Vene zuelans who abstained during last year's constitutional referendum were protesting that a "moderate" social democracy was not enough while the bureaucrats remained corrupt and the sewers overflowed.

Across the border in Colombia, the US has made Venezuela's neighbour the Israel of Latin America. Under "Plan Colombia", more than $6bn in arms, planes, special forces, mercenaries and logistics have been showered on some of the most murderous people on earth: the inheritors of Pinochet's Chile and the other juntas that terrorised Latin America for a generation, their various gestapos trained at the School of the Americas in Georgia. "We not only taught them how to torture," a former American trainer told me, "we taught them how to kill, murder, eliminate." That remains true of Colombia, where government-inspired mass terror has been documented by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and many others. In a study of 31,656 extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances between 1996 and 2006, the Colombian Commission of Jurists found that 46 per cent had been murdered by right-wing death squads and 14 per cent by Farc guerrillas. The para militaries were responsible for most of the three million victims of internal displacement. This misery is a product of Plan Colombia's pseudo "war on drugs", whose real purpose has been to eliminate the Farc. To that goal has now been added a war of attrition on the new popular democracies, especially Venezuela.

US special forces "advise" the Colombian military to cross the border into Venezuela and murder and kidnap its citizens and infiltrate paramilitaries, and so test the loyalty of the Venezuelan armed forces. The model is the CIA-run Contra campaign in Honduras in the 1980s that brought down the reformist government in Nicaragua. The defeat of the Farc is now seen as a prelude to an all-out attack on Venezuela if the Vene zuelan elite - reinvigorated by its narrow referendum victory last year - broadens its base in state and local government elections in November.

America's man and Colombia's Pinochet is President Álvaro Uribe. In 1991, a declassified report by the US Defence Intelligence Agency revealed the then Senator Uribe as having "worked for the Medellín Cartel" as a "close personal friend" of the cartel's drugs baron, Pablo Escobar. To date, 62 of his political allies have been investigated for close collaboration with paramilitaries. A feature of his rule has been the fate of journalists who have illuminated his shadows. Last year, four leading journalists received death threats after criticising Uribe. Since 2002, at least 31 journalists have been assassinated in Colombia. Uribe's other habit is smearing trade unions and human rights workers as "collaborators with the Farc". This marks them. Colombia's death squads, wrote Jenny Pearce, author of the acclaimed Under the Eagle: US Intervention in Central America and the Caribbean (1982), "are increasingly active, confident that the president has been so successful in rallying the country against the Farc that little attention will shift to their atrocities".

Uribe was personally championed by Tony Blair, reflecting Britain's long-standing, mostly secret role in Latin America. "Counter-insurgency assistance" to the Colombian military, up to its neck in death-squad alliances, includes training by the SAS of units such as the High Mountain Battalions, condemned repeatedly for atrocities. On 8 March, Colombian officers were invited by the Foreign Office to a "counter-insurgency seminar" at the Wilton Park conference centre in southern England. Rarely has the Foreign Office so brazenly paraded the killers it mentors.

The western media's role follows earlier models, such as the campaigns that cleared the way for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the credibility given to lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The softening-up for an attack on Venezuela is well under way, with the repetition of similar lies and smears.

Cocaine trail

On 3 February, the Observer devoted two pages to claims that Chávez was colluding in the Colombian drugs trade. Similarly to the paper's notorious bogus scares linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda, the Observer's headline read, "Revealed: Chávez role in cocaine trail to Europe". Allegations were unsubstantiated; hearsay uncorroborated. No source was identified. Indeed, the reporter, clearly trying to cover himself, wrote: "No source I spoke to accused Chávez himself of having a direct role in Colombia's giant drug trafficking business."

In fact, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that Venezuela is fully participating in international anti-drugs programmes and in 2005 seized the third-highest amount of cocaine in the world. Even the Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has referred to "Venezuela's tre mendous co-operation".

The drugs smear has recently been reinforced with reports that Chávez has an "increasingly public alliance [with] the Farc" (see "Dangerous liaisons", New Statesman, 14 April). Again, there is "no evidence", says the secretary general of the Organisation of American States. At Uribe's request, and backed by the French government, Chávez played a mediating role in seeking the release of hostages held by the Farc. On 1 March, the negotiations were betrayed by Uribe who, with US logistical assistance, fired missiles at a camp in Ecuador, killing Raú Reyes, the Farc's highest-level negotiator. An "email" recovered from Reyes's laptop is said by the Colombian military to show that the Farc has received $300m from Chávez. The allegation is fake. The actual document refers only to Chávez in relation to the hostage exchange. And on 14 April, Chávez angrily criticised the Farc. "If I were a guerrilla," he said, "I wouldn't have the need to hold a woman, a man who aren't soldiers. Free the civilians!"

However, these fantasies have lethal purpose. On 10 March, the Bush administration announced that it had begun the process of placing Venezuela's popular democracy on a list of "terrorist states", along with North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Sudan and Iran, the last of which is currently awaiting attack by the world's leading terrorist state.

This article was first published by the New Statesman

Blackwater Fails to Lull Cerberus

Exclusive: Investment Giant Ends Talks With Blackwater
Private Equity Firm Was Pondering $200 million Investment Into Controversial Security Firm
April 30, 2008—

After news broke this morning on the Blotter on of the ongoing talks between the investment giant Cerberus and the controversial security firm Blackwater, the talks have now ceased, and there will be no deal.

Late today a spokesperson for Cerberus told that they have decided not to pursue a transaction with Blackwater. The spokesperson declined to reveal the reasoning behind the decision.

Cerberus, which owns a controlling stake in Chrysler, had been in negotiations to buy the controversial security firm Blackwater USA, which has millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts in Iraq, according to sources familiar with the talks. Other sources said auditors from Cerberus had been examining Blackwater's books since the beginning of the year.

Blackwater did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The reclusive founder of Cerberus, Stephen Feinberg, reportedly told his investors in a letter earlier this year that he hated all the attention the company was getting.

"We do our best to avoid the spotlight," wrote Feinberg, "but unfortunately, when you do some large deals, such as Chrysler and GMAC, it is hard to avoid."

Owning control of Blackwater would certainly have attracted even more attention to Cerberus. Blackwater has been accused of tax fraud, improper use of force, arms trafficking and overbilling connected to its work for the U.S. government in Iraq. A grand jury, federal prosecutors and congressional investigators are all currently probing allegations against the company.

Despite the controversy, however, Blackwater was recently renewed for a $1.2 billion private security contract with the State Department. The one-year extension is worth an estimated $240 million.

The chairman of Cerberus is former Treasury Secretary John Snow, and former Vice President Dan Quayle is also a prominent figure in the company. Cerberus holds controlling or significant minority interests in companies around the world that in aggregate currently generate more than $60 billion in annual revenues, according to their Web site.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

If I Were President: Karzai Criticizes Bush and Nato Saturday, Sunday Flees Suspected Assassination Attempt

News Updates from Citizens For Legitimate Government
27 Apr 2008
All items are here:
Afghan president flees as gunfire breaks out at ceremony --Hundreds take cover during automatic fire in Kabul --Two lawmakers reported wounded 27 Apr 2008 Automatic gunfire broke out Sunday at a ceremony marking the defeat of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, forcing dignitaries including Afghanistan's president [Hamid Karzai] to take cover. Hundreds of people fled in chaos as shots rang out. It was unclear where the firing was coming from. [Blackwater? See: Karzai slams USA, UK 26 Apr 2008.]

Afghan Leader Criticizes U.S. on Conduct of War 26 Apr 2008 President Hamid Karzai strongly criticized the British and American conduct of the war here on Friday, insisting in an interview that his government be given the lead in policy decisions. Mr. Karzai said that he wanted American forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban and their sympathizers, and that the continued threat of arrest and past mistreatment were discouraging Taliban from coming forward to lay down their arms. [Criticize the Bush regime on Saturday - get gunned down on Sunday!]

Karzai slams USA, UK 26 Apr 2008 Afghanistan President Mr Hamid Karzai has strongly criticised the American and British conduct of the war in his country, and demanded that his government be given the lead in policy decisions.

Leave Taliban alone, Afghan president tells West --Karzai says US and British troops are undermining his authority and stopping insurgents from laying down their arms 27 Apr 2008 Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has called on British and American troops to stop arresting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, saying that their operations undermined his government's authority and were counter-productive. The stinging attack, made in an interview with the New York Times published yesterday, is the latest in a series of rows between Western governments with troops in Afghanistan and the elected leader of the country.

US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for 1st time in years 26 Apr 2008 U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower. They hope to retake the 10 percent of Afghanistan the Taliban holds.

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CLG Newsletter editor: Lori Price, Manager. Copyright © 2008, Citizens For Legitimate Government ® All rights reserved. CLG Founder and Chair is Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D.