Thursday, July 31, 2008

$12 Billion Is Not Enough

Greed knows no boundaries:
Exxon Mobil Corp has reported second-quarter earnings of $US11.68 billion ($A12.38 billion), the biggest profit from operations ever by any US corporation, but the results were well short of Wall Street expectations and its shares fell.

Teh Legacy! Teh Legacy!

Condi's talk of a final push for Middle Eastern peace is not fooling anybody:
According to a press release sent out by Time, this Friday's edition of the magazine will reportedly include a article that describes how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is deeply involved in an effort to "clean up [President] Bush's foreign policy legacy."

But one newspaper in the Persian Gulf believes the negotiations are tailored for the benefit of John McCain during the fall election season. In a Thursday editorial entitled "Negotiations for the Sake of Rice," the UAE's Al-Khaleej writes that leaders in the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Territories all know that no breakthroughs can be expected in President Bush's last few months in office.

"But since the attention is focused on helping the Republican candidate John McCain in the presidential election in November, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will increase her pressures in an attempt to change some positions and facts, and sign a document - a mere document - that would be regarded as an accomplishment," the paper claims, adding that the negotiations are "pointless."
It's tempting to think that the Bush team's sudden and dramatic turn towards realism on multiple fronts might signal a change of heart within the administration, some desperate acts of contrition, a belated recognition of widespread and sometimes horrific errors, and an attempt to at least salvage something of worth from their remaining months in office. It would be nice to think so.

But the fact is that this is all just political theater designed to help John McCain win office.

Too Clever By Half

I hate it when I reach a new milestone in understanding how things work in this sorry, fucked-up world. But here we go again...

First, take a look at this mushy interview with Frank Lowy:
The Australian tycoon's cheery optimism in the face of the present pessimism about British prospects may well stem from the almost biblical narrative of his life. Born into a Jewish family in Hungarian-speaking Czechoslovakia, he survived the Holocaust along with his mother, brother and sister. 'My father was taken to Auschwitz and never returned,' he states sparely.
Now ask yourself why is Frank Lowy doing an interview like this right now? Shouldn't he be busy trying to fend of that US Senate investigation?

Lowy is doing the interview because he's in trouble. He has already put a lot of money into these London developments, and he stands to make a lot more. But if his financial backers get cold feet, the whole deal could collapse.

So he's gone to his friends, calling in favours:
Lowy (a former director of DMGT, the owners of the Mail and This is Money) is remarkably optimistic about the future of shopping in Britain...
Yeah, that's right, he's a former director of the company publishing this drivel. Well, at least they had the decency to mention that fact, even if they conveniently forgot to tell their readers about Lowy's big tax troubles.

Now pay careful attention to this bit at the bottom of the interview:
At a time when much of the property world is struggling to secure loans, he seems to be able to finance his projects. Westfield has been a customer of the National Australia Bank since 1960, although these days his bankers are spread across the globe and the company has debt outstanding in Britain, the US and Australia.
See that? OK, now read this:
NAB's new chief executive Cameron Clyne and chairman Michael Chaney today left open the option for NAB to finally bite the bullet in relation to the UK market and either make an acquisition or get out.

At a media conference in Melbourne, Clyne said he would be reviewing the bank's strategic direction in response to changed market conditions.
You see? NAB is getting cold feet. And why wouldn't they, especially given their own difficulties of late?
Chaney made clear today that NAB is not going to launch into an acquisition frenzy under Clyne's leadership with the sort of silly “double the business” target that has caused trouble at other companies. He did not rule out the sale of assets.

Clyne made reassuring noises about his commitment to reviewing risk management at NAB after last week's sudden $830 million provisioning charge. He said reviewing risk management was “one of my priorities”. That contrasts with Stewart's comment last week that risk management was fine.
"Stewart", of course, is the NAB director who just resigned in disgrace. And Frank Lowy is now categorized as a "risk".

PS: Seriously, I hate this shit. What sort of dumb bastard stays up till 11:30 pm joining these kind of dots, unless he is making a lot of money out of it himself? (I am not). I must be stupid, or mad, or both. Good night.

Oh and by the way, the new head of NAB is only 40 years old but already making $7.5 million per year.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Whitney Down Under

Mike Whitney says the NAB's recent move was a "game-changer" which will send shockwaves through the global markets:
The scariest news of the week comes from down-under, where the National Australia Bank (NAB) announced it would "slash a £400m bond sale by two thirds. The retreat comes days after the Melbourne lender shocked the markets by announcing a 90pc write-down on its £550m holdings of US mortgage debt, an admission that it AAA-rated securities are virtually worthless....The decision by National Australia Bank to make drastic provisions on its US mortgage debt could have ramifications in the US itself. It opted for a 100pc write-off on a clutch of "senior strips" of collateralized debt obligations (CDO) worth £450m - even though they were all rated AAA. (Ambrose Evans Pritchard, "Australia faces worse crisis than America", UK Telegraph)

This is a huge story with grave implications for America's struggling banking system. No wonder the establishment media is avoiding it like the plague. If AAA rated CDOs are worthless, then some of the biggest financial institutions in the country will be packed off to the boneyard feet-first.

The original article appeared in the Business Spectator and was titled "NAB will shock Wall Street", by Robert Gottliebsen. "Shock" is an understatement. This is more like a meat cleaver crashing down on a butcher block. Schwook! This is a must-read for anyone who is following the meltdown in the financial markets. Here is an extended excerpt from Gottliebsen's article:
"The National Australia Bank's decision to write off 90 per cent of its US conduit loans will have dramatic repercussions around the world. Wall Street will be deeply shocked when they understand the repercussions of what NAB has done. It is clear global banks have nowhere near provided for their exposures to US housing loans which in the words of John Stewart are experiencing a “meltdown”.

We are now way beyond sub-prime. NAB says that it is suffering a 55 per cent loss on American housing loans – an event that has never happened in the history of a developed country in recent memory. This is an unprecedented event and means that the cost of bailing out the US financial system is now far beyond the highest estimates. A US recession is now locked in, but more alarmingly, 55 per cent loan losses point to the possibility of a depression.

It means the cost of bailing out housing exposures to the two mortgage insurers will be so great that it will leave no room to bail out anything else and there are several US banks that are now in big trouble. NAB says that the dislocation in the residential market is separate from the corporate market, but the flow on is inevitable." ( The Business Spectator,"NAB will shock Wall Street")
The conduits are off-balance sheets operations run by the banks which contain hundreds of billions of dollars of bonds which are now essentially worthless. So far, many of the banks have not accurately reported the losses from these operations hoping that the housing market will stabilize and the value of the bonds will rebound. The action taken by the National Australia Bank is a "game-changer"; it's like the Grim Reaper swooping down on Wall Street and lopping-off the top of every big investment bank in downtown Manhattan.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Teh Anti-Semitism! Teh Anti-Semitism!

TIME's Joe Klein comes under attack for daring to point out an unspeakable truth:
There is a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who unsuccessfully tried to get Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and then successfully helped provide the intellectual rationale for George Bush to do it in 2003. Their motivations involve a confused conflation of what they think are Israel's best interests with those of the United States. They are now leading the charge for war with Iran.
He is talking about the Richard Perle, Netanyahu and others involved in A Clean Break. And yes, the similarities with the PNAC ideological manifesto are more than a little bit interesting (e.g. Perle helped author both docs).

Via Joshua Micah Marshall (another self-hating Jew, I suppose).

A Vote Of Confidence

Not! A big fund just completely dumped 3,211 shares Westfield Group shares. One would assume that any serious investigation of the Lowy family's tax affairs is going to affect the share price.

Frank Lowy's Fat Lawyer Caught Out

This is pretty funny. The Real News Network has video of Frank Lowy appearing before the US Senate, where Lowy refused to talk but his fat lawyer waved papers in the air claiming the subpoena was based on mistaken assumptions. But the NPR film crew followed Lowy and his lawyer into the lift after the hearing, and their cameraman caught Lowy's lawyer whispering to him:
"This will be the story."
Confronted by the film crew, Lowy's lawyer lies:
Q: "Sir, did you just say 'This will be the story'?"

A: "No. (shuffles in front of Lowy) No I said the... this will be the... People will focus on the... this statement, which is false, is what I am talking about..."
You can watch the video here.

The program points out that the estimated $100 billion per year lost to US taxpayers (that's just the annual interest on an estimated $1.5 trillion hidden in these havens) is more than the US government budget spends on education, triple what they spend on the environment, and nearly five times what they spend on helping the needy.

From the comments:
The smirk on Mr. Lowy's face most of the time says pretty much all that needs to be said of what these people's attitudes are.
I have just added The Real News to my bookmarks.

I See Dead People

Haiti has always been the canary in the coal mine of global poverty, and people there are now eating mud:
As desperation rises so does production of mud cakes, an unofficial misery index. Now even bakers are struggling. Trucked in from a clay-rich area outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, the mud is costlier but cakes still sell for 1.3p each, about the only item immune from inflation. "We need to raise our prices but it's their last resort and people won't tolerate it," lamented Baptiste, the Cité Soleil baker.

Vendors of other foods who have increased prices have been left with unsold stock...
How did it come to this?
Haiti's woes stem from global economic trends of higher oil and food prices, plus reduced remittances from migrant relatives affected by the US downturn. What makes the country especially vulnerable, however, is its almost total reliance on food imports.

Domestic agriculture is a disaster. The slashing and burning of forests for farming and charcoal has degraded the soil and chronic under-investment has rendered rural infrastructure at best rickety, at worst non-existent.

The woes were compounded by a decision in the 1980s to lift tariffs, when international prices were lower, and flood the country with cheap imported rice and vegetables. Consumers gained and the IMF applauded but domestic farmers went bankrupt and the Artibonite valley, the country's breadbasket, atrophied.

Now that imports are rocketing in price the government has vowed to rebuild the withered agriculture but that is a herculean task given scant resources, degraded soil and land ownership disputes.
So what's the alternative?
Walk along a beach in the morning and you find Haitians gazing at the azure ocean horizon, dreaming of escape. They are fiercely proud of their history in overthrowing slavery and colonialism but these days the US, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic - anywhere but home - seems the best option.

The only thing stopping an exodus are US coastguard patrols, said Herman Janvier, 30, a fishermen on Cap Haitian, a smuggling point. "People want out of here. It's like we're almost dead people."
More here.

UPDATE: And of course, let's not forget why Bush dumped Aristide. From Common Dreams:
Haiti is sending approximately $1 million each week in debt service payments to the World Bank and other creditors...

Nice Dream

From Ted Rall:

And - blow me down with a feather - Bill Leak actually has a funny cartoon again in Teh Organ:

I have been watching Leak on a near-daily basis and I reckon he averages about one funny cartoon every three months. Maybe he'd be funnier if his job spec didn't include parroting the Murdoch talking points of the day.

LowyGate: Spotlight On The ATO

Australia's Tax Commissioner, Michael D'Ascenzo, turned down a request to appear before the US Senate commission looking into tax havens:
In a letter dated July 15 to Senators Carl Levin and Norm Coleman, D'Ascenzo thanked them for the invitation "to attend and give testimony".

"Unfortunately, a prior commitment in Australia prevents me from attending at this time," he wrote, noting that "the Australian Taxation Office is very supportive of the good work of your subcommittee".
But the ATO is also conspicuously silent on this issue. The Australian arm of Swiss banking giant UBS is still providing offshore banking services, despite its US counterpart banning the practice:
"Our business model is not going to change," a UBS spokeswoman told The Australian.

The spokeswoman said the Australian offshore investment model was different from that of the US because of different reporting requirements, but he was unable to explain further.

Repeated requests for further information from UBS offshore investment experts went unanswered.

According to the Australian Taxation Office, $5 billion flowed from Australia to known tax havens each year, with much of that driven by wealthy individuals.
The ATO says "most" Australians using tax havens are doing so within the law. So it's pretty obvious that we need to change the law! Why isn't Michael D'Ascenzo pressuring Kevin Rudd on this issue?

UPDATE: Interesting that this innocent little blog post has sparked a flurry of interest from readers in Canberra. Who says Big Brother is not watching very carefully indeed? Hey guys! You should be watching the look on Frank Lowy's face when his lawyer gets caught out.

See that jugular vein popping out? That's your target, right there. Now go for it - that's why I am paying you guys. To work for me, not them.

A Fucking Medal

OK, so you have been blogging against Bush for what? Three, five, eight years? So what do you want...?

Actually, this idea is not as cynical as it might sound. I think all of us who have worked so hard to bring the Bush regime to its knees deserve some recognition, respect, and reward.

This medal is my way of saying "Thank You" to everyone who joined the anti-Bush online throng. If you think you deserve the medal, save it to your blog. If you think someone else deserves it, send it to them (along with a big thank you).

But be warned: posting this image in Bush's USA could bring you a fine and even a 6 month jail term. I am not kidding. It is based on the US Medal Of Honour, "the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government". Given that the US military has been busy killing innocent civilians and invading sovereign countries while the rest of us went after the real criminals, I think we have a right to claim the image for our own purposes, don't you? In fact, given the upside down, right-is-wrong, good-is-evil madness that is and was BushWorld, I think it is a totally appropriate form of much-needed celebration, which simultaneously rewards the true heroes of the day while giving the finger to the military stooges and the legal eunuchs who let Bush and his gang get away with it all.

And as a special bonus, just for you my dear readers, I am also giving away Presidential Pardons.

That's right, anyone who has done anything even remotely illegal (as long as it was not violent) while blogging against Bush is welcome to cut-and-paste the following text, insert their name, print it out on a piece of paper, and present it to a judge in a court of law:
"By the power endowed in me by the overwhelming forces of public opinion, I hereby declared that [INSERT NAME HERE] was momentarily overcome by the daily horrors of cognisant existence in the reality-based zone of BushWorld. I hereby decree that [INSERT NAME HERE] is pardoned for any non-violent crimes he/she may have committed during this horrendous period in US history.

Yours Presidentially,


Monday, July 28, 2008

Is This The End?

Mike Whitney gets apocalyptic:
Bank runs are a direct hit on the foundation of the free market system. Unchecked, the tremors can ripple through the entire society and trigger violent political upheaval, even revolution. The public may not grasp their significance, but everyone in Washington is paying attention. They take it seriously, very seriously. It is a sign that the system is disintegrating and it may be irreversible.

An article in the San Francisco Business Times said that the FDIC is worried about the reporting on Internet blogs. They'd rather keep banking system's troubles out of the news. The publicity just further undermines the publics confidence and spreads fear. Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., summed it up like this after the run on Indymac:
"The blogs were a bit out of control. We're very mindful of the media coverage and blogs in controlling misinformation. All I can say is were going to continue to stay on top of it. The misinformation that came out over the weekend fed a lot of depositors' fears."
Is that a threat? The cure for a failed banking system is adequate capital and prudent oversight not threats to critics of the system.
It's ironic, isn't it? Those who turned to fear as their main political weapon are now afraid that widespread fear of an economic crash could signal the end of the world as they know it.

From the comments at ICH:
What is $20,000 worth of debt when it will cost that much for a bag of groceries.
There's one case where I'd work very hard to eliminate debt: if I'd bought a fully loaded SUV on poor terms last year. It's way past time to unload that for an economical second hand car or if homeless looms as a potential, a van you can sleep in.
The american dream was sold to the ignorant, and now they will pay for there easy life. They will pay for the blood of 20,000,000 human beings the CIA/Pentagon has murdered with their tacit consent of the last 60 years. They will pay and their children will pay with poverty, disease, and violence. I am in Argentina looking at the history of the monetary devaluation which the Chicago Boys orchestrated here in 2002 when the peso was devalued from 1 to 1USD to 4 to 1 USD overnight.
People should start eating alot while they can. Put some weight on if you're not fat.
Take your pick of the free advice on offer!

No More Mandatory Detention

Suddenly it becomes clear how stupid and unnecessary the whole thing was:
"Desperate people are not deterred by the threat of harsh detention - they are often fleeing much worse circumstances."
But it sure did bring in the votes when it mattered.

Is It Even Possible For Bush's USA To Experience a Brain Drain?

Australians with the greenback blues:
"We joke that America is the new Thailand: a great place for a cheap holiday."

Oliver Stone's "W"

Here's the trailer, via HuffPo.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Crazy RightWing Paranoid Conspiracy Theorists

It's good to know that "leftwingers" (like me, I suppose) are not the only ones going crazy these days. As Jane Mayer explains, even Bush's top-level DoJ lawyers started talking to each other in code because they were in fear for their lives.

The comments on that post at Digby's are interesting. There seems to be a widespread feeling that we are all "moving on" now that the election is only 100 days away. Will all these Bush/Cheney crimes and misdemeanors be forgotten? That question was a recurrent theme in this recent interview with Glenn Greenwald:
You know, I think this mentality that we're hearing is really one of the principal reasons why our government has become so lawless and so distorted over the past thirty years. You know, if you go into any courtroom where there is a criminal on trial for any kind of a crime, they'll have lawyers there who stand up and offer all sorts of legal and factual justifications or defenses for what they did. You know, going back all the way to the pardon of Nixon, you know, you have members of the political elite and law professors standing up and saying, "Oh, there's good faith reasons not to impeach or to criminally prosecute." And then you go to the Iran-Contra scandal, where the members of the Beltway class stood up and said the same things Professor Sunstein is saying: we need to look to the future, it's important that we not criminalize policy debates. You know, you look at Lewis Libby being spared from prison.

And now you have an administration that -- we have a law in this country that says it is a felony offense, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, to spy on Americans without the warrants required by law. We have a president who got caught doing that, who admits that he did that. And yet, you have people saying, "Well, there may be legal excuses as to why he did that." Or you have a president who admits ordering, in the White House, planning with his top aides, interrogation policies that the International Red Cross says are categorically torture, which are also felony offenses in the United States. And you have people saying, "Well, we can't criminalize policy disputes."

And what this has really done is it's created a two-tiered system of government, where government leaders know that they are free to break our laws, and they'll have members of the pundit class and the political class and law professors standing up and saying, "Well, these are important intellectual issues that we need to grapple with, and it's really not fair to put them inside of a courtroom or talk about prison." And so, we've incentivized lawlessness in this country.
I think that is the key issue right there: if you do not hold Bush and Cheney accountable, if you let rich bastards like Frank Lowy thumb their nose at the law, then what incentive is there for ordinary citizens to obey the law?

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who is described as "an informal adviser" to Barack Obama, argues in that interview that Greenwald and those who talk about impeachment are getting "emotional". He says Amerika cannot afford such partisan "divisiveness".

You know, if I had a big cancerous growth in my rectum, I guess it would be pretty painful to cut it out. I guess I would be pretty emotional about the whole thing. And it would certainly be divisive! But if I didn't cut it out, it would kill me.

What's Going On?

Richest Get Richerer:
In a new sign of increasing inequality in the U.S., the richest 1% of Americans in 2006 garnered the highest share of the nation's adjusted gross income for two decades, and possibly the highest since 1929, according to Internal Revenue Service data.

Meanwhile, the average tax rate of the wealthiest 1% fell to its lowest level in at least 18 years.
The British government's IRS is now offering tax haven clients another amnesty deal:
The move is designed to flush out those with secret savings in offshore bank accounts ahead of legal moves by the Revenue to force 117 foreign and UK institutions to disclose customers’ details.

It raised £400m last year after taxpayers with money in offshore accounts operated by five high-street banks — Barclays, HBOS, Lloyds TSB, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland — were offered leniency in return for voluntary disclosure. Most account holders with those banks who took up the offer paid 10% of outstanding tax, rather than 100%.
I wish I could get away with not paying tax, then declare that I had been avoiding tax, and only pay back one tenth of what I originally owed!

Speaking of tax dodgers, 1974 World Cup Socceroos coach Rale Rasic today takes a shot at Frank Lowy:
“I honestly think there is a lot of bullshit under the cover, put it that way. I think people are speechless, people fear something: no-one is saying anything. But you cannot ignore history: I tell you, the bubble will burst as soon as people wake up and say to themselves ‘what is going on?’”

MUST WATCH: Bugliosi Demands White House War Crimes Be Punished

Via Juan Cole, here are Vincent Bugliosi's opening statements during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the constitutional limits of executive power:

Watch this explosive testimony, hear the bursts of applause (admonished by John Conyers) from the public gallery, and then go do a Google News search on the name "Vincent Bugliosi" and ask yourself why not one single mainstream media corporation is going anywhere near this story.

Then ask yourself why all the top "progressive" leftwing bloggers in the USA are not all over this story today either. I can't see anything on HuffPo, Atrios, Kos or TPM, for example.

Yeah, it's all about Teh Credibility. Teh Realism. Teh Campaign. Teh Politics.

Ye Olde Corruption: Nothing Changes

Two years after his father's funeral, Abe Saffron's son comes clean:
Despite Saffron's lifelong denial of involvement in criminal activity, in Gentle Satan Saffron's only son, Alan, 59, says his father controlled the vice trade, including illegal gambling and prostitution, in every state except Tasmania and the Northern Territory, and bribed a host of politicians and policemen to ensure he was protected.
Not just any politicians and policemen: the former Liberal premier Sir Bob Askin and the police commissioner Norm Allan.
"There have been many accounts of my father's relationship with these two men but none realised the depth of his association and influence. Both were totally corrupt ...
And of course it was not just these two men, but many others who still cannot be named:
"I wish I could tell you who they are," he said, but lawyers for his publisher, Penguin, had asked him to remove a number of names from the book.
This is from Saffron's wiki page:
In an interview with Lisa Carty of The Sydney Morning Herald, Alan Saffron said that he had received death threats over the book because it would name some of the people involved the conpsiracy, and that he was unable to name everyone involved for legal reasons, because some were still alive. Saffron claimed he could name people "much bigger" than former NSW premier Robert Askin and former police commissioner Norman Allan, with whom his father corruptly dealt to protect his gambling, nightclub and prostitution businesses. Saffron specifically referred to:
"... one particular businessman I was desperate to name, and there's one particular police officer who is extremely high ranking. They're the biggest names you can imagine in Australia".
According to the Herald article, all the conspirators are named in the original manuscript of the book, which is now in the possesion of Saffron's publishers, Penguin, and that the book will be re-published after as the others allegedly involved in the Nielsen case die.
Well, the biggest name I can imagine in Australia's police forces is AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty:
Commissioner Keelty is the Chair of the Board of the Australian Crime Commission, membership of which includes his counterparts from State and Territory Police and the heads of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australian Securities & Investment Commission, Australian Customs Service and Attorney-General's Department.

He also Co-chairs with Indonesia the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering, which comprises 32 member countries and is affiliated with the Financial Action Taskforce - the international policy making body on money laundering.

Commissioner Keelty is a member of the Business Government Advisory Group on National Security. This group provides a forum for high-level dialogue between business and government on national security, which works closely with bodies such as the Trusted Information Sharing Network for Critical Infrastructure Protection (TISN). He is also Patron of the Australian Section of the International Police Association.

As AFP Commissioner, he assumes the role of representative of Interpol in Australia, and as a result of the collaborative relationships formed between the AFP and the Asian region, he represents Australia at ASEANPOL which includes the heads of 10 Asian police forces.

Commissioner Keelty is one of 21 members on the Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police Committee and holds a position on the Board of Government of the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC). A joint training and capacity building initiative between Australia and Indonesia, JCLEC is situated in Semarang, Indonesia.

In addition, the Commissioner chairs the Australian Institute of Police Management (AIPM) Board of Control. The AIPM provides executive training courses for emerging managers from Australasian police services, and the Board of Control comprises Commissioner Keelty’s counterparts from State, Territory and New Zealand police jurisdictions.

Commissioner Keelty also joins State, Territory and New Zealand Police Commissioners as a member of the Australia and New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA) Board of Management. ANZPAA provides cross-jurisdictional policing services including input into the strategic direction of Australasian policing. It also critically reviews issues to improve cross-jurisdictional information exchange and to provide an independent perspective for significant policing and law enforcement matters.

Commissioner Keelty holds a Master of Public Policy and Administration, a Graduate Certificate in Criminal Justice Education, is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management. He also is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and an Advisory Fellow of the Australian National University Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet).

In 2003, Commissioner Keelty received the Bintang Bhayangkara Utama Medal – Indonesia’s highest policing award - from the President of Indonesia, in recognition of the AFP’s close cooperation with the Indonesian National Police (INP). He was awarded an Australian Police Medal for distinguished service in 1996 and in 2003, the Centenary Medal for service to the AFP. In 2008 the President of the Republic of Singapore, Mr Sellapan Ramanathan, presented Commissioner Keelty with Singapore’s Distinguished Service Order, in recognition of his contribution to strengthening the working relationship between the AFP and Singapore’s Police Force.

In addition, Commissioner Keelty has been recognised by the Australian Financial Review (AFR) Boss magazine as one of Australia's 25 True Leaders. Furthermore, the 2007 AFR Power issue – profiling Australia’s major ‘power players’ across politics, business, the professions and the cultural arena - has highlighted the Commissioner as one of Australia's Top 10 most influential people.

The Commissioner was also named by The Bulletin as the fifth most powerful person in the Government category for the magazine's first Power 100 edition in 2007. The category judge, former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chief Allan Fels, recognised the Commissioner for his part in the transition of the AFP from "an unimportant role to a central position of power in security crime detection, dealing with our South Pacific neighbours and the rising tide of global crime".
Now I do not personally know if Mick Keelty is the man to whom Alan Saffron is referring, but certainly it is Keelty's job to ensure that person is exposed to justice.

UPDATE: Antony Loewenstein quotes a Green Left Weekly letter suggesting that a Sydney charity was recently raided by the police because it supported the Palestinians. According to the Murdoch media, they must be terrrrrsts:
The NSW Government, through its Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, confirmed it would examine MAA following The Australian's revelations that the Sydney charity worked with Interpal earlier this year to distribute aid in Gaza.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs is also considering whether to refer the case to the Australian Federal Police.
So here's the official government line in Australia:
Give money to Israeli Zionist expansionists = good.

Give money to Palestinians = bad.
Clearly, the USA is not Israel's only client state.

To be clear: if any charity is supporting violence by anyone, it is to be deplored. But we do not seem to have a very open and honest debate about these issues within Australia, where our most powerful political and business leaders (and seemingly our military and police forces as well) are clearly taking sides with Israel. Given that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is at the heart of the West's "war on terror", which dominates all talk of global security these days, it is clearly in the best interests of ordinary Australians if we can at least have a balanced approach to the issue. That does not seem to be happening.

We are still waiting for the Lowy family to name the Israeli "charities" to which they donated $62 million in Australian taxpayer funds.

UPDATE 2: This story in the Age really nails the substance and urgency of Saffron Jnr's allegations:
Mr Saffron said he had received death threats and that copies of his unedited manuscript had been handed to police in Australia and California so suspects could be identified if he met foul play.

Mr Saffron got a police escort when he landed in Sydney on Thursday to launch the book, and his publisher has hired bodyguards to attend public appearances.

Mr Saffron said he feared some people might try to suppress the book's publication with endless court action designed to keep it off the shelves. Publisher Penguin had promised him it would re-release the book with a new name every time one of his targets died.

"I have countless names and Penguin has them all," he said. Mr Saffron said the corrupt officials were "much bigger" than former Premier Bob Askin and one-time Police Commissioner Bill Allen, whom Abe Saffron bribed to protect his gambling, nightclub and prostitution businesses. Both are dead. He said he wanted to name "one particular businessman" and a high-ranking police officer. "They're the biggest names you can imagine in Australia and it's really sad that I can't come out and tell the truth."
Saffron Jnr also says his father forced him into electric shock treatment in Sydney's infamous Chelmsford Hospital:
Alan Saffron says he escaped with the help of his mother just before a lobotomy was due to be performed by Dr Harry Bailey, who took his own life in 1985 after the hospital's bizarre psychiatric practices and deep-sleep therapy were exposed.
My epileptic grandfather died in Sydney after similar prolonged electric shock treatment in the 1960s.

Obama Versus McCain The Corporate Media

McLellan admits that the Bush White House issues talking points to Fox News. Think Progress has more on this story.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign trainwreck rolls on. As Josh Marshall says:
McCain has now abandoned virtually everything he's been campaigning on for the last year.
But the media is still not calling him on it. Instead they keep pretending this election will be a cliffhanger:
"Trumpeting this race as a toss-up, almost certain to produce another nail-biter finish, distorts the evidence and does a disservice to readers and viewers who rely upon such punditry. Again, maybe conditions will change in McCain's favour, and if they do, they should also be accurately described by the media. But current data do not justify calling this election a toss-up."
And even FAUX NOOS can't help:
A Fox News Poll found that 51 per cent of Americans think Senator Obama will win. Only 27 per cent pick Senator McCain (from 32 per cent last month).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Peter Lowy Takes The Fifth

They are so bloody predictable, these immoral braggarts, aren't they? After complaining that their case has been pre-judged and telling everybody they want to explain their side of the story, the Lowy's get their day in front of the US Senate and... refuse to speak.
Peter Lowy's decision to take the Fifth means there is still no public account from the Lowys of why the files of the LGT Bank in Liechtenstein recorded a corporate trail involving two Liechtenstein foundations, a Swiss trust, an Australian trust, three Australian companies, two British Virgin Island companies, a US company and two Liechtenstein foundations to manage between $US54 million and $US68 million on the family's behalf from 1996 until 2001.
That's a pretty complicated way of giving money to charity, especially when donations to charities are tax-deductible under Australian law. Elisabeth Sexton in SMH today goes into a lot more detail on how the money was moved around.

And get this ATO response:
This week's submission from the Tax Office suggests that even if it manages to uncover the details of a Liechtenstein foundation, an Australian taxpayer might be in the clear.

"The ATO has encountered difficulties in applying Australian taxation laws to non-common law entities, such as Liechtenstein foundations," the submission said.

"These hybrid entities possess characteristics of both a common law trust and a corporation" - and therefore do not fall squarely within the rules intended to prevent taxpayers indefinitely deferring their tax.

"Until legislative or judicial clarification is provided on this issue, the ATO will continue to characterise these hybrid entities on a case by case basis," it said.
You see, corporations have more rights than individuals under ATO laws.

If you don't know what this is all about, see a movie called "The Corporation" (youtube part 1 below) which explains how millionaires over many decades have successfully lobbied politicians for more and more corporate power, so that their corporations were first treated like individuals under law, and then got even more rights. So now we ordinary taxpayers are really second-class citizens.

Adele Horin today has more on tax havens:
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development lists 38 countries that are tax havens, and that's not even including Switzerland, Austria or Luxembourg, for heaven's sake, although their bank secrecy laws are pretty dependable. If you don't fancy a bank in the Cayman Islands, Jersey or the Isle of Man, there are plenty closer to home - Vanuatu, for example - that offer depositors anonymity and banking secrecy. A cluster of Pacific micro-states has leapt on board. Why sell bird droppings or sullenly watch your island sink into the ocean when you can make some money robbing other countries blind?...

Liechtenstein is not on every traveller's itinerary, but it is the supreme destination for tax tourists. The OECD classes it as one of the world's three "unco-operative" tax havens, absolutely steadfast and zealous in its passion for banking secrecy. The other recalcitrants are Andorra and Monaco...

Liechtenstein has more companies than citizens (35,000), is only twice the size of Manhattan island and has a crown prince who has a view of tax that would make Kerry Packer smile in his grave. He said recently: "We just don't behave like a nanny and ask people continuously, 'Have you paid your taxes?' "...

An analysis of tax dodging by the international charity Christian Aid published in May says the practice has become so popular and widespread that it is tantamount to "a new slavery".

It estimated more than 5 million children could be saved in the developing world if the super-rich and the world's biggest companies paid their fair share in tax.

It also estimated that governments in the poorest countries are being cheated out of at least $165 billion a year in tax revenues, much more than the World Bank estimates is needed to halve poverty by 2015.

The report, called Death and Taxes: the True Toll of Tax-dodging, says: "The inescapable fact is that there are only four reasons for banking 'offshore': to avoid tax, to evade tax, to function in secret, [and] to sidestep regulations controlling financial services or monopolistic practices. In each scenario, the pursuit of profit outweighs all other considerations, including good citizenship and social responsibility."
For all his high profile talk about feeding the world's poor, U2's lead singer Bono is one of those cited as a leading tax haven culprit. I guess he will be staying silent about that too.

Money talks, but those who have it don't.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's Time To Go...

Gordon Brown.

The Independent calls this East Glasgow by-election defeat "a devastating blow":
The defeat means Mr Brown faces the real threat of an attempt by senior Labour figures to force him out of office as alarm intensifies over the party's plight.
The Guardian says Labour now faces either defeat or "obliteration" at the coming election, where Brown looks likely to lose his own seat:
Every part of Britain has turned against the party. The opinion polls have been showing it for months. Last night brought the proof.
Brown should have strung Tony Blair up by the balls over Iraq, but of course he had blood all over his own hands as well. Now they can both face the dock together.

The British people seem to have a much firmer grasp on basic concepts of their democracy than either the US or Australian public.

Let's Have A Caption Competition!

This photo of two sad old has-beens is just begging for a bit of editorial input!

Howard and Costello were at the funeral of former Victorian premier Lindsay Thompson. And they had lots of party invites to hand around:
In the great tradition of political egotism, there is growing tension between the pair over who will stage the grander farewell in Canberra in coming weeks.

Mr Costello has invited hundreds of Liberal Party supporters to a swanky $150-a-head fundraiser in Canberra on August 29. Mr Howard, meanwhile, is planning a blockbuster farewell in Parliament's Great Hall on September 3.

It is not yet known whether either man will be on the other's guest list.
Howard's victory lap of the world must be just about over. Tickets to last night's post-funeral bash in Tassie were a miserly $120 a head. And what's Johnny planning for this "blockbuster farewell"? Will Dubya be jumping out of a cake, or Osama even?

Anyway, here's my effort:

Look Kev! Over Here!

As you decide on your new Defense White Paper options, you might want to take a good look at what France is doing:
France's military will slash its ranks by 54,000 personnel and close dozens of air, army and other bases in an overhaul meant to slim forces at home while making it easier and faster to deploy troops abroad, the prime minister announced Thursday.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the 15 percent cut in manpower and base closings will save billions of dollars but still permit an agile military suited to the country's security needs.

No One Can Sing The Blues

Like Blind Willie McTell:

Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, "This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem."
I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard the hoot owl singing
As they were taking down the tents
The stars above the barren trees
Were his only audience
Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
(And) see the ghosts of slavery ships
I can hear them tribes a-moaning
(I can) hear the undertaker's bell
(Yeah), nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

There's a woman by the river
With some fine young handsome man
He's dressed up like a squire
Bootlegged whiskey in his hand
There's a chain gang on the highway
I can hear them rebels yell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in heaven
And we all want what's his
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is

I'm gazing out the window
Of the St. James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell.

Why The Rich Dont Pay Taxes

In February 1988, an ATO officer named Bob Fitton discovered a log book recording the details of faxes sent out by an accountancy firm, including dialling codes for tax havens against some client names. This was the start of the ATO's investigations into Mr Frank Lowy.

Yesterday Bob Fitton made a scathing submission to a parliamentary inquiry on ATO policy:
"It is my submission that the system cannot continue in its present form," Mr Fitton told the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audits suggesting a review process independent of the tax commissioner was needed.

"At the moment, the commissioner hides behind the mask of the secrecy provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act when it comes to large settlements," he said.

There appears to be continual leaks concerning these large settlements to the point where the average Australian citizen is convinced that the big end of town is treated more generously by the commissioner than they," said Mr Fitton.
Peter Lowy is due to testify in front of the US Senate tonight. But nobody seems to be expecting anything to change:
So far, Westfield investors have shrugged off the matter. While the affair has made headlines in Australia and the U.S., it has barely rated a blip on the radar for Australian equities managers, none of whom has revised advice as a result of the scandal. The Sydney-listed Westfield Group owns 118 malls in the U.S., Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The portfolio includes 55 properties in the States, covering 63 million square feet of retail space, including the 1.5 million-square-foot San Francisco Center and the 874,000-square-foot open-air Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles. The company has committed $635 million to the redevelopment of the retail precinct at New York's World Trade Center site.
Tomorrow's media coverage in Australia should be interesting.

Intelligence and Ethics

Nancy Pelosi has chosen Porter Goss as head of a Congressional ethics office. What can you say?

Porter Goss.

Porter Fucking Goss.
On the morning 11 September, 2001, Goss and Graham were having breakfast with General Ahmad. Ahmad's network had ties to Osama bin Laden and directly funded, supported, and trained the Taliban.
Now shut up, you fools, and go vote Democrat. And make sure you don't miss Obama's speech in Berlin. That boy sure can talk the talk, know what I mean.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The "No Fun" Olympics

I couldn't have thought of a better slogan. What with all the drugs and professionalism and government interference (not just Chinese, but all the world leaders eager to attend) this is definitely NOT shaping up as a "fun" Olympics. Via
These Games are the most politically charged ones we have seen in a long time, and the entire world seems to be waiting for some event to spoil the party for Beijing. But China is using all the tools a Communist dictatorship has at its disposal to ensure that this does not happen.

It's Not All Judith Miller's Fault

But that might be a good place to start working out what went wrong at the New York Times and other media outlets. The NYT's quarterly profits are down 82% and the paper is now cutting staff, outsourcing IT work (to India, I presume) and raising it's newstand price to $1.50. Here's how the NYT stock price is going this year:

Meanwhile the Tribune newspapers chief tells reporters:
"We're looking at some of the worst advertising numbers in the history of the world."
Here's the standard expert analysis:
The main reason why newspapers have lost so much ground over the past 20 years is that the adults who grew up reading a daily newspaper with their cornflakes and toast in the 1930s and 1940s (and so made reading a newspaper a daily habit) are dying off, and they are not being replaced. The growth of radio and the Internet are other factors behind the decline in newspaper sales, as is the shortage of time for newspaper reading.
What didn't get a mention there is Teh Credibility! The fact is that people don't trust politicians, but now they are less likely to trust their newspaper or other media sources too.

Now, it seems to me that in this current climate, there is a massive opportunity for credible, independent, progressive and informative news-based websites to grow.

The problem with traditional newspapers like NYT is that they have always operated as both content providers and public portals. That is, they have reporters on the ground providing news stories, and they publish that news in their papers (with their own political slant, of course). Compare that with the business model of wire services like Reuters, AP and AFP, who just supply information to others but do not publish their own papers.

Both traditional newspapers and wire services now have online portals. But a lot of the traditional papers' content is coming from the wire services. And they have to pay for that.

Mind you, wire service profits are also dramatically sinking nowadays. But to get a realistic picture, you have to factor in the obscene financial bubble manufactured by Alan Greenspan over the last eight years. Just take a look at this graph, which compares WaPo's 5-year share price (blue) against the New York Times (grey) and and Thomson-Reuters (black):

It's pretty obvious that NYT is The Biggest Loser. And it also seems clear that the wire service business model looks stronger in the long term.

Just by way of comparison, here's the News Corp graph. But remember, Murdoch makes a lot of his profits nowadays from movies and other ventures, which subsidize his losses on newspapers like the New York Post:

(That big jump occurred when Rupert Murdoch bent over one day on late 2004, and people realized that the sun really does shine out of his arse.)

Anyway, my point is that the traditional newspaper business seems to be shrinking, and personally I think Teh Credibility is a big part of that. Meanwhile, people are going online searching for news from sources they can trust. Look at the phenomenal growth of HuffPo, for example, or Josh Marshall's TPM. If you build it, they will come.

Isn't it way beyond time that somebody did the same thing in Australia? I know - Crikey have tried. But their subscriber-dependent business model is only one of that site's big problems. And Lawd knows I have made my own efforts in that direction, with very minimal success.

I think it's time somebody else with some high ideals and a bit of cash to spare gave it a shot.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

LowyGate: The Nation's Take

The Nation has an information-packed article on the Lowy Senate hearings. For example:
The theatrics included ... Douglas H. Shulman, our sixth IRS commissioner in eight years, who conceded that offshore tax evasion must be a "serious, growing" problem even though the IRS has no idea how large it is; and Mark Branson, CFO of UBS's Global Wealth Management group, who apologized profusely, pledged to cooperate with the IRS (within the limits of Swiss secrecy) and surprised the Committee by announcing that UBS has decided (for the third time since 2002) to "exit" the shady business of providing new secret Swiss accounts to wealthy Americans.
Also missing from the roster were two prominent UBS executives: Robert Wolf, CEO of UBS Americas, who has bundled more than $370,850 for Barack Obama so far this year, making UBS his fifth-largest corporate donor; and former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, vice chairman of UBS Securities LLC, a leading lobbyist for UBS until March, and until recently, John McCain's senior economics adviser.
I've seen Gramm's name in the news a lot lately without realising he was connected to this. Another top McCain fundraiser, James Courter, also resigned last week after his telecom firm was fined $1.3 million by the FCC for using a haven company in the Turks and Caicos to pay bribes to former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

And that's just in the first few paras... Read the rest here, including some intriguing post-WWII history of the Swiss banks' attempts to get US millionaires to invest there.

The Invisible Enemy Is Always There (And Can Never Be Defeated)

And you thought YOU were the crazy Conspiracy Theorist! What to make of these addle-brained war "experts" in media, politics and the military? Today Rupert's Paul Kelly backs up retired Major General Jim Molan's assessment of the modern Australian "defence" forces:
Molan argues that Australia’s political and military mindset has a view of the ADF “skewed too far towards humanitarian operations, peacekeeping and peacemaking, and away from war-fighting”...

In his book, Molan says: “Iraq confirmed my long-held belief that even a small country such as Australia needs to be up to world standard in the fighting part of operations. Every soldier’s bone in my body tells me that modern counterinsurgency operations in what may be a long war will require the ADF, not just our special forces, to fight jointly as well as do all the other clever things that are necessary in a three-block war."
Yes, folks, it is imperative that our troops go and put their lives on the line in places like Falluja - not necessarily to help win that war, but just so that they can get some practice at this kind of urban warfare. Kelly/Molan says "the enemy knows Western technological advantage is weakened in urban warfare" and "it is Australia’s enemies that will have a major say in dictating our future military engagements, not Canberra’s strategic experts."

Who are these "enemies"? It doesn't matter! There will ALWAYS be enemies to fight, otherwise... err... we, umm.... well, wouldn't need to spend billions of dollars on the military, would we?
"We delude ourselves to think Australia can just decide how and when to fight."
So we can decide who comes into our country, when and how, but not when our own soldiers go abroad to kill? Oh come on! As if we Aussies had no choice but to invade Iraq, and Afghanistan!

Thank goodness there are still decent ordinary folk like Marilyn out there, speaking up in the comments:
Bleat and babble. We don’t have any enemies and if we stopped and said no to Britain and the US we would never have any enemies.

I prefer the humanitarian stuff, less people are murdered.
I wonder if Marjorie realises this "bleat and babble" is actually part of a concerted effort to ensure that Rudd's upcoming Defence White Paper gives lots and lots of taxpayer money to a certain "class" of people?

The Business Of Oz Soccer

Channel 7 is in trouble again with soccer fans, after deciding not to live broadcast the final 15 minutes of an Olyroos game:
Channel 7 has enjoyed a fractious relationship with many Aussie football fans.

This stems back to the network's coverage of the NSL at the turn of the century - a coverage that was widely panned by football fans as being half-hearted.

That contempt for the sport appeared to have been revealed during a court case at the turn of the century.

Seven took action against Foxtel partners over claims they conspired to drive its pay-TV sports channel C7 out of business by ensuring it did not win bids for the NRL or AFL rights in December 2000.

During the court case a C7 executive Steven Wise revealed in one email that the AFL was not giving Seven credit for virtually killing off football by buying the rights to NSL - and then keeping it off TV.

His email said: "We have secured the soccer rights and suffocated the sport, much to the chagrin of its supporters (by giving AFL games preference)".
Despite its widespread support in the community, Australian soccer remains in media oblivion. This is from my comment at FourFourTwo magazine's website:
Whatever happened to Frank Lowy's magic business touch, which was supposed to ensure that Big Media got behind soccer at last?

Oh yeah, they pulled the game from SBS and sold the exclusive rights to Rupert Murdoch. Now even registered soccer clubs have to pay a fortune just to get a FAUX subscription.

Now we find out that Frank Lowy has been screwing us in both holes, giving millions of dollars or Aussie taxpayer money to Zionist "charities" in Israel.

Can we get a new King Of Soccer please???

Soccer is only ever going to enjoy the status it deserves (and enjoys in the community) when every A-League, Socceroos and Olyroos and Matildas game is on Free-to-air, just like the other codes.

Make it happen, Soccer Football Australia, or resign.
Speaking of Frank Lowy, it seems a few other big Aussie businessmen will be named by the US Senate on Friday. Get yer popcorn ready.

UPDATE: Well, you gotta laugh! I have just been labeled an anti-Semite and then banned... from a SOCCER website!

People's religion has nothing to do with football.

I'm going to make it very easy for you not be called a anti-Semite again. You're banned. Easy.


Edited by Kevin Airs: 23/7/2008 11:39:56 AM
My crime, of course, was criticising the God of Australian Soccer, the Messiah himself, Frank Lowy. Who says soccer is not a religion???!

Here's a simple question: if Frank Lowy is not a Zionist, just a good Jew who gives millions to harmless charities, then why did he vigorously oppose moderate Palestinian Hanan Ashrawi's 2003 Sydney Peace Prize award (as detailed to death in Antony Loewenstein's My Israel Question)?

Why doesn't he name the "charities" to which he donated Australian taxpayer money? Was one of them perhaps the United Jewish Israel Appeal, which just happened to have Lord Levy (to whom he quietly gave $500,000) as its Honorary President at the time?

Bush Is No Longer "The Decider"

Caught off camera again...

Bush says Wall Street "got drunk" without admitting that he hosted the party.

Via Greg Mitchell at HuffPo.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More Charges Against Frank Lowy?

Stephen Mayne suggests Lowy may have breached the rules for RBA Chiefs:
Ryan and Lowy would also presumably know a bit about the responsibilities imposed by the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 on Reserve Bank directors.

One section explains that a Commonwealth officer "must exercise his or her powers and discharge his or her duties with the degree of care and diligence that a reasonable person would exercise".

The business judgment rule makes mention of Commonwealth officers requiring decisions to be made with “good faith for a proper purpose”.

Section 26 deals with "good faith, use of position and use of information" and section 27F goes to “material personal interest -- director’s duty to disclose”.

If the RBA board ever discussed Commonwealth revenue, tax havens or related subjects it would be interesting to know if Lowy declared his "material personal interest" during his "active" and “vigorous” board contributions.

Frank Lowy's Cash Connection To Blair's Lord Levy

Remember Tony Blair's big "cash for peerages" scandal? I was taking another look at this page on Frank Lowy and noticed the Frank Lowy connection to Lord Levy, which I'd missed and/or forgotten to note:
LORD LEVY, one of Tony Blair's closest and most trusted aides, was paid at least £250,000 by an Australian property group headed by one of the world's richest men.

The payments, which the company has attempted to keep private, are far higher than previously thought and began in 1999, the year Levy was appointed Blair's envoy to the Middle East, reporting directly to the prime minister.

They were authorised by Frank Lowy, the head of the Westfield corporation, who has business and political interests in Israel and whose company is seeking planning permission to develop shopping centres across Britain...

The disclosure has raised questions of "cash for foreign policy". MPs expressed concern at Levy's potentially conflicting roles as a consultant for a powerful multinational company and supposedly impartial and unpaid envoy. Levy said he paid privately for trips he made on behalf of Blair. In a letter to Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said:

"I am concerned the Foreign Office's diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East should apparently be so closely tied to the aims of one of the world's richest men."

Baker said Levy appeared to be "simultaneously a quasi-minister, Labour fundraiser and consultant to a company seeking to influence government policy".

MPs have also demanded to know why a company with big expansion plans in Britain should employ a man with no obvious expertise in the field. Levy has earned up to £3,800 a week since 1999 from Westfield, the world's biggest developer of shopping centres. Over the same three years, Levy made 45 trips to 19 countries, meeting Arab and Israeli leaders and reporting back to Blair and the Foreign Office. He terminated his arrangement with Westfield last month, shortly before he would have been under pressure to make it public by tighter rules on parliamentary disclosure...

Westfield refused to elaborate on its relationship with Levy, saying only that he was retained "to advise on and identify potential business opportunities or partners". His payments over three years totalled "at least £250,000", according to Whitehall sources.
Lord Levy's history is one of being a pop impresario, starting off Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea.

At the time this story broke, April 2002, it was assumed Lowy's main interest in Levy was to build more and bigger Westfield stores in Britain, in the face of growing community protests. But wait a minute...

Levy was getting this money throughout 2001, when the 9-11 operation was unrolled. This means Lowy had personal access to the UK's top man in the Middle East as well as control (with Larry Silverstein) of the WTC site. Think about that.

Also from the Crimes of Zion page:
Frank Lowy funded and launched the Israeli Institute for National Strategy and Policy, which operates within the framework of Tel Aviv University in Israel. Lowy is the Chairman and former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk is Vice-Chairman.

Furthermore, he is a founding member of the International Advisory Council of the pro-Israel Brookings Institution in Washington. According to wikipedia, "Brookings is generally considered one of the three most influential policy institutes in the U.S", and focuses on five main areas of research: Economic Studies, Foreign Policy, Governance, Global Economy and Development, and Metropolitan Policy. The aforementioned Martin Indyk, Vice Chairman of Lowy's Institute for National Strategy and Policy at Tel Aviv Uni and former US ambassador to Israel, is also a Director at Brookings. You can read about Indyk here.
Indyk was born in London but raised in Sydney, gaining a BEcon from the University of Sydney in 1972 and a PhD in international relations from the Australian National University in 1977. He served two stints as United States Ambassador to Israel, from April 1995 to September 1997 and from January 2000 to July 2001.

Finally a bit more on Frank's local Australian connections:
Lowy was vice president of a publication called the Australia/Israel Review (AIR), whose parent body is AIJAC (Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Council), the Australian counterpart of its US equivalent, AIPAC. The AIR is a right-wing Zionist publication whose editor, Michael Kapel, was forced to quit in '98 after the magazine published stolen membership lists of the One Nation party, an Australian nationalist political group.

When Palestinian political activist and politician Hanan Ashrawi was awarded the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize, Frank Lowy was one of the most vociferous among the chorus of Zionist protestors and Jewish lobbyists that decried the result and tried to dissuade NSW premier Bob Carr and members of the Sydney Peace Foundation from giving the award to Ashrawi. Lowy, among others, claimed Ashrawi 'supported suicide bombings' and opposed the two-state solution set out in the 1993 Oslo Accords. Sydney-based Jewish-Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein shows how fraudulent these claims are in the opening chapter of his book My Israel Question, arguing that the real reason behind Lowy and co's objection is her support for the Palestinian cause and anti-Zionist disposition.

Nelson Threatens To Kill Costello (And Other News)

Well, that's one way to read Nelson 's talk of a Costello handover:
"I can assure you he'll be on to the frontbench with a bullet."
Time to round up the wagons, Malcolm.

Meanwhile, some good news from the Rudd team:
Federal cabinet has backed the abolition of the "conclusive certificates" which give ministers the power to block access to documents requested under FoI legislation.

Decisions on whether to release the documents would fall solely to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which could no longer have its rulings overturned by government ministers keen to keep documents private, Senator Faulkner said.
I wonder if that article by Richard Ackland had anything to do with this?

And I wonder if any reporters at today's Inside Kevin 07 book launch asked Mr Rudd about his plans for Australian troops in Iraq if the USA withdraws by 2010, as Obama is promising and the Iraqis are demanding?

Soccer Politics

Plus Ca Change

The New York Times explains why they knocked backed MCCain's Op-Ed: if you want to talk about "victory" in Iraq, you have to explain what you mean by that. Jason Linkins says the Times was actually doing McCain a favour (again):
The Times put bros before prose, and in so doing, spared McCain no end of embarrassment, because the op-ed is rivetingly dumb and laden with inaccuracies.
Dumb and inaccurate? That's McCain's whole campaign strategery, isn't it? Who cares if it makes sense, as long as it's red, white and blue! The reality-based community is for wimps! Hey, it worked for Dubya for nearly 8 years...

Funny how the NYT calls McCain "the presumptive Republican nominee". Is anybody else still in the race?

Also, it looks like Condi might be angling for a job under President Obama. You go, girl! But first get those stains off your dress.

Elsewhere, Juan Cole notes that - for all the talk about less violence in Iraq after Teh Surge - there were actually more deaths in the month before this Obama visit than in the month before his January 2006 visit.
Why a return to the bad situation in late 05 and early 06 should be greeted by the GOP as the veritable coming of the Messiah is beyond me. You have people like Joe Lieberman saying silly things like if it weren't for the troop escalation, Obama wouldn't be able to visit Iraq. Uh, he visited it before the troop escalation, just fine.

The troop escalation, which actually allowed the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis of Baghdad and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from the country, has largely been pushed as propaganda by the White House and the AEI.
I guess it's like the price of oil. After going so high for so long, a little drop in prices is hailed like a return to the 1960s. "The sense of relief throughout the land is palpable," says a wary Raymond J. Leary. Yeah, we have all been there before.

Who Pays The Piper? And Who Listens?

Ian Verrender doesn't expect Peter Lowy will have much to say to the US Senate on Thursday:
Peter, who has not taken a high-profile role in business since his less than spectacular performance as the head of Northern Star Holdings - the owner of the Ten Network in the late 1980s - was unavailable to appear before the committee last week.

Perhaps he's been busy rehearsing his answers. Perhaps they go something like: under the advice of my lawyers, I decline to answer that question on the grounds it may incriminate me.

He wouldn't be the first to "take the fifth". The Lowy case is one of just seven test cases US authorities have decided to put to the blowtorch of public examination. Of the three others that so far have been compelled to appear, two have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights - refusing to answer - and the other failed to show.

Peter Lowy hasn't played a prominent role in the Westfield juggernaut for quite some time.

His younger brother, Stephen, is the Lowy who has been in control of the rapidly growing US operations for most of the past decade. But unlike Stephen, Peter became a US citizen. That puts him in the firing line of US authorities, And it is Peter who was the chairman of a Delaware corporation that has attracted the attention of the Internal Revenue Service.

According to US authorities, the Delaware-based company, Beverly Park Corporation - owned by another Lowy trust - was directing Luperla, an entity run through the tax haven of Liechtenstein which US regulators allege was established to hide assets and avoid tax.
Verrender also has this observation:
It is fair to say the Lowys would never have been subjected to this sort of public scrutiny in Australia.

Despite being the bastion of free enterprise, America takes a much harder line on corporate behaviour. Any form of malfeasance is pursued vigorously and in public.

That's not always the case here. Australia's corporate regulation is among the most lax in the developed world. White-collar crime is not taken as seriously as in other OECD nations. And unlike actions in the US, big corporate cases take far longer to bring to prosecution and often have a lower success rate.

Perhaps it is partly because Australia is a smaller pond. And the bigger fish in the business world often forge close links with both sides of politics, neither of which is keen to pursue tougher corporate regulation.
Indeed. I was looking at Westfield's political donations over the years to both Labour and Liberal parties, at both state and federal level. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars, year after year, to numerous party offices around the country.

As Liberal backbencher Ken Aldred told Parliament on October 25, 1995:
"The Government owes honest Australian taxpayers an explanation for the Lowy taxation scandal."
We are still waiting. Verrender says Peter Lowy might provide an explanation this week. But don't hold your breath.

I am surprised (I know - I shouldn't be) that this story is not getting more attention in the blogosphere. Have we all become so conditioned to corruption that we no longer even hope for justice to prevail?

Are people scared to criticize a man as powerful and rich as Frank Lowy in public? Is it the fear or being labelled an anti-Semite? Or do they just not realize the potential implications of this story?


Here's a thought-provoking video from Nasking "elevated from the comments" (I've alwasy wanted to say that):

And here's Robert Fisk on air:

QLD Prepares For A Lynching

So there's this Ferguson guy, a child molestor on the run from angry mobs. That's the media story. And now Dr Patel lands, and is granted bail.

Seriously, would you want to be him, wandering "free" in QLD? I ask that as a man whose own father died at the hands of QLD Health. The man should not be granted bail, for his own safety.

Goodbye, Tehran?

I almost feel guilty for bothering Justin Raimondo yesterday.

Today, Raimondo latches onto a critically important "rationale for mass murder". WP, you know what I am talking about here - blatantly obvious broadcasting of intent to kill:
In what has to be the most widely circulated blackmail note ever written, Morris announces, "It is in the interest of neither Iran nor the United States (nor, for that matter, the rest of the world) that Iran be savaged by a nuclear strike" – so take out the Iranians, or we will. To be fair, he also says it won't be a good thing if "both Israel and Iran suffer such a fate," but since Iran has no nuclear weapons and has given up all attempts to make them, this is just window-dressing for a genocidal agenda.
Here's what troubles me.

Israel has no skin in the game of rising oil prices, right? I mean, high oil prices benefit Israel's oil-producing neighbours, right? So how can that be good for Israel?

Or do Israeli-friendly interests have so much invested in oil companies that it's still considered in their interests to push the threat of war with Iran?

I don't understand this. The Bush-Cheney US cabal might push the threat of war as a means of pushing up oil prices, in which they and their gang members own stock, but for the Israeli people it's surely a no-brainer. Right?

What if Israel really does control the US government? What if Israel just thinks it does?

In either case, here's Raimondo's conclusion:
We must forget our national interests and go to war for Israel's sake, or else the Israelis will unleash their illegal and unaccounted-for nukes, killing tens of thousands, poisoning the atmosphere, and forever scarring human history with the mark of their heinous crime. This is like one of those hostage dramas in which a mad gunman grabs someone and uses them as a human shield, braying his demands to horrified onlookers.

Americans must reject this attempt at moral blackmail with the contempt it deserves – and perhaps begin to reexamine the "special relationship" that enables Israel to even contemplate such crimes against humanity. As for Morris, he should be shunned by every decent human being, although perhaps that description doesn't apply to the editors of the New York Times.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Black Rudd

My January characterisation of Obama as "The Black Rudd" (Bukko's term) is now looking even more prescient. The US election seems to be following the last Australian one in many ways.

Libs Cling To Burning Deathstar Debris

After Johnny's emotional plea last week, it was interesting that the Libs chose Howard's boy (who helped build WorkChoices) for the seat of Mayo. It shows Howard still has influence, even if that's mostly due to the power and policy vacuums elsewhere in the party. Now, with Vaile following Downer out the door over the weekend, the pressure is on Costello to go.

Let's hope the Libs ensure their political demise by sticking with Johnny until the grave. Death to all the heretics like Costello, whose lack of focus allowed Kevin Skywalker to use Teh Farce against us! All who have ever criticized Howard must be jettisoned! We shall rebuild the Deathstar as a pantheon to Howard's memory! Grab all the floating debris you can find, my friends!

Who Cares What Iraqis Want?

The big story over the weekend was al-Maliki in Der Spiegel agreeing with the Obama timeframe for withdrawal, and the US media trying to ignore that, and then US officials in Iraq leaning on al-Maliki, and then an al-Maliki spokesman issuing a denial, which curiously came via Centcom, and then the US media using that as the headline, and burying it anyway. When it comes to exposing US lies about Iraq and the US media bias, you just don't get much more transparent than that.

TPM was on the case. I had to send an email to, who had swallowed the CNN line (their headline has now changed).

The GOPers are soon going to realise that they need a new Iraqi PM. And quickly. Is it assassination time?

Lowy's 1995 Canberra Deal

SMH follows up on that old story:
The Tax Office file was passed to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, who initiated an investigation into possible corporate and tax offences.

Investigators combed the world to trace the money trail.

They believed it originated in the US, where Westfield had completed its first large international acquisition at Garden State Plaza in New Jersey in 1986.

Investigators suspected the money was moved from the US through Caribbean and Liechtenstein tax havens to Sydney but they received little co-operation from US authorities and could not penetrate Liechtenstein's bank secrecy laws.

In May 1995 the Chatswood office's deputy commissioner Jan Brady received a call from Canberra to say the case had been settled for $25 million, roughly the amount of primary tax that should have been paid on the original $48 million deposit without any penalties.

According to Jill Margo's biography Frank Lowy: Pushing The Limits, Mr Lowy "was flooded with relief at being saved from having to defend himself in a public court". The DPP eventually dropped its investigation for lack of evidence.
What's the bet Westfield made some very large political donations ahead of the 1996 elections?

Friday, July 18, 2008


Josh Marshall today notes that that some major Bush backflips (talking to Iran and setting a "time horizon" for Iraq withdrawal) are a sign that the Bush and McCain camps are now working together to neutralize Obama's big winning issues. It doesn't matter if it completely contradicts everything you have ever said, it's all about maintaining that GOP elite grip on power. It's sad that US foreign policy is based on this.

SMH today leads with the Frank Lowy story, which is good to see. The Herald has been on the story for a while:
The Herald reported in 1995 that Lowy had paid $25 million to settle a dispute with the Tax Office involving Yelnarf in May that year, a month before he was appointed to the board of the Reserve Bank, where he served for a decade.

Federal Parliament was told in October 1995 that Yelnarf was involved in a dispute with the Tax Office over $48 million relating to the 1987 and 1988 tax years.

Ken Aldred, who was then an Opposition backbencher, said Frank Lowy had told an Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing that the money was a capital injection from "unknown international sources".

"How lucky can you get?" Aldred said. "A settlement was reached only a few days after the AAT hearing. Why? If the money paid to Mr Lowy was from 'unknown international sources', as he claimed, why was he willing to pay $20 million if it was not his money?

"Can anyone seriously believe that 'unknown international sources' based in the tax haven of Liechtenstein would provide Lowy with $47.8 million?"
A month later, Lowy was appointed to the Reserve Bank Board anyway. And I am still waiting to see which Israeli "charities" were the lucky beneficiaries of this Australian taxpayer money. It'll also be interesting to see if Peter Lowy has anything to say to the US Senate next week: he's had a year to prepare his story, but others in the chair this week invoked the Fifth (nice to see one quaint old US law still survives).
The Sydney tax barrister Michael Inglis stayed up overnight on Thursday to watch the "historic" Senate committee hearings. "This is not just the wheel turning, it's not just the tipping point, it's not just a sea change, I think this is in the realms of a seismic shock."
Well, at least somebody is paying attention.

Meanwhile, I just realised that the funeral for SAS Signaller Sean McCarthy, who died in Afghanistan recently, was just held yesterday less than a kilometre from my place of work. Rudd, Nelson and all the other warmongers were in attendance. If only I'd known, I might have gone and paid my respects.