Michael Darby

Observations on politics and poetry by Australian bush poet, Michael Darby.

Michael was born in Sydney in 1945 and is a former Australian Army Officer who has been writing and broadcasting on politics and economics since 1972.

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Saturday, January 18, 2003


Poem by Henry Lawson, Australia’s most acclaimed poet (written in 1907):

So I sit and write and ponder, while the house is deaf and dumb,
Seeing visions "over yonder" of the war I know must come.
In the corner - not a vision - but a sign for coming days
Stand a box of ammunition and a rifle in green baize.
And in this, the living present, let the word go through the land,
Every tradesman, clerk and peasant should have these two things at hand.

No - no ranting song is needed, and no meeting, flag or fuss -
In the future, still unheeded, shall the spirit come to us!
Without feathers, drum or riot on the day that is to be,
We shall march down, very quiet, to our stations by the sea.
While the bitter parties stifle every voice that warns of war,
Every man should own a rifle and have cartridges in store!


Indonesian Human Rights Tribunal A Sham, Critics Charge

By: Patrick Goodenough (CNSNews.com Pacific Rim Bureau Chief)

January 03, 2003

FRIDAY MARKS THE END of the mandate for a special ad-hoc Indonesian court set up to punish abuses in East Timor, a process that human rights groups have dismissed as a sham.

Out of 18 defendants - soldiers, policemen and militiamen - accused of leading roles in the bloodshed unleashed during East Timor's 1999 break from Indonesian rule, the court has convicted just three.

Of the rest, 12 have been acquitted and the remainder await verdicts.

Early this week, the court found Lieut.-Col. Yayat Sudradjat not guilty of failing to stop his subordinates from participating in an April 1999 attack on a church, in which at least 22 pro-independence East Timorese were killed.

Sudrajat was appointed as a task force commander for East Timor during the violence perpetrated by pro-Jakarta militia angered by the territory's vote, in a U.N.-sponsored referendum, for independence after 24 years of Indonesian rule.

The judge said the court had found "no effective command relation" between him and the militia that attacked the church.

Following the bloodshed, which cost up to 2,000 civilian lives and prompted more than 250,000 people to flee their homes, Jakarta set up its own court to forestall a move by the U.N. to establish an international tribunal.

But the workings, terms of reference, and trial outcomes have drawn flak from Indonesian and international rights campaigners.

Only one military officer and two other men have been convicted so far, all receiving lighter sentences than expected.

Former East Timor governor Abilio Osario Soares was jailed last August for three years for failing to prevent subordinates from committing abuses including murder and torture.

Prosecutors had called for a 10-year sentence, which was itself just above the minimum penalty. Abilio had faced the possibility of a death sentence.

Another accused, Lieut.-Col. Soejarwo, was jailed for five years - half of the term asked for by prosecutors - for failing to stop a militia attack against the home of Catholic bishop and Nobel laureate Carlos Belo. At least 13 civilians were killed in the attack.

The third convicted man, a notorious Timorese militia leader named Eurico Guterres, received a 10-year sentence - the minimum allowable - for letting men under his command kill and torture people taking refuge in the house of a pro-independence leader.

All three remain free men while awaiting appeal.

The fact that two of the three are East Timorese rather than Indonesian has also upset observers such as the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), a U.S.-based campaign group.

The results, it said, "reinforce the Indonesian military myth that the violence in East Timor resulted from intra-Timorese conflict rather than orchestration by the Indonesian occupiers."

ETAN has called on the U.N. to go ahead with the earlier plan to establish an international tribunal.

Also highly critical of the Indonesian court was Human Rights Watch, which said U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan should commission an expert's report into its failings.

"The trials in Jakarta have been a whitewash," said HRW Asia division executive director Brad Adams.

"Indonesia has failed in its promise to hold the military accountable for the atrocities in East Timor."

Adams noted that, in 2000, Annan had pledged to monitor the trials closely to ensure that there was "a credible response" to the violence and in line with international human rights principles.

Aside from the acquittals, the process itself had been flawed, HRW claimed.

Senior suspects had not been indicted at all, and those who had been were accused of failing to control their subordinates, rather than planning and ordering attacks themselves.

Adams said HRW did not believe the tribunal's mandate should be extended when it expires Friday, "since this process has proven to be fatally flawed."

Instead, the U.N. and donor nations should come up with "a different means of achieving justice based on international standards."

To HRW's complaints about the process, ETAN added charges of harassment of witnesses and intimidation of judges by senior military officers.

ETAN called on the U.S. to make the credible prosecution of Indonesians officials involved in East Timor violence a condition of restoration of Washington-Jakarta military relationship.

The U.S. broke military-to-military ties over the East Timor crisis, but is moving slowly toward resuming them.

The Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association called outcomes of the trials disappointing, but said the attention of the international community had now shifted to terrorism and it was unlikely pressure would be brought to bear on Jakarta.

The most recent U.S. State Department annual report on human rights, released last March, says that although Indonesia's constitution provides for an independent judiciary, "there are a few signs of judicial independence, and in practice, the judiciary is subordinate to the executive and the military."

During the trials, lawyers for some of the accused claimed they were the victims of a political conspiracy, and said that Indonesia was bowing to pressure from the outside world.

East Timor (officially Timor-Leste) became the world's newest independent nation last May.



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Friday, January 17, 2003


Q: Back in May you posted a piece titled The U.S. Will Not Go To War Against Iraq. Do you still believe this?

A: Yes. I think the chances of war have improved slightly — I'd put them as currently about one in four, maybe one in three. But what, exactly, is the casus belli? That Saddam Hussein is a really, really nasty person? That won't wash. That he's cheating on these weapons inspections? Prove it. And even if you do prove it, do you think the limp willies on the Security Council will accept your proof without a six-month scrutiny? The thing in war is to strike while the iron is hot. When I wrote back in May, the iron was still warmish. Now it's stone cold. Even U.S. public opinion is swinging against a war. The moment has passed.

Q: Do you yourself favor a war with Iraq?

A: Yes, but only if we have the will to really do it, ruthlessly and unapologetically, slaughtering masses of the enemy. Of which I see little evidence.

Q: Don't you know that it's all about oil?

A: Phooey. And even if it was, so what? We need oil, don't we? Stealing is of course bad. There are degrees of badness, though; and stealing oil from Saddam Hussein is of a degree so low it barely registers with me. Better the stuff should be enriching American capitalists (very nice people, most of them) than building Saddam a sixteenth palace.

Q: What about the suffering people of Iraq?

A: What about them? It's a hard thing to say, I know, but people bear some responsibility for who they let govern them. It was tough on the inhabitants of Dresden and Hiroshima to be drowned in a sea of fire for the crimes of their leaders — but heck, they were their leaders. It's tough what the Palestinian Arabs are suffering under the present horrible situation; but that situation was brought about by the folly, corruption and cynicism of Arafat and Co., who the Arabs still insist on supporting. So... I don't care.

Q: Don't you know that we supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, and supplied them with intelligence?

A: Again: So what? People keep telling me this as if it were an argument against striking Iraq. Look: If I perceive it to be in our national interest to be chummy with some rattletrap dictatorship on a Tuesday; and if, the following Thursday, I perceive it to be in our national interest to carpet-bomb that same country, on what grounds can I be faulted? Betraying a friend? "Countries don't have friends, they have interests."

Q: Why are you such an uncritical supporter of Israel?

A: I am an uncritical supporter of Western Civilization, of which Israel is an outpost. If Israel goes down, the West has suffered a defeat. I don't think we can afford any defeats in our present enervated condition.

Q: How can you stand up for Islam the way you did? Do you really believe this "religion of peace" flapdoodle?

A: As a large general principle, I think the more religion there is in the world, the better. That includes the uncivilized part of the world. In fact, it especially includes that part. To be sure, horrid things have been done in the name of religion — things like 9/11. That is to be expected, though. Religion is a human thing, and partakes of the weaknesses and follies that inhere in all human things. I don't think there is any question that on balance, the human race is better off with religion than without it. We take our cues from our times, and I take mine from the 20th century, whose greatest, most prolonged horrors all arose from godlessness. While people believe in God, there is always hope for redemption and improvement. If God is dead, everything is permitted, as Dostoyevsky noted, and as the 20th century abundantly demonstrated.

Now, is Islam a nice religion, or a naughty one? I have no idea, not being well read in Islamic theology. If I could get through the Koran and a few dozen of the better-regarded exegeses, I might be able to offer an informed opinion, but I can't; life is too short. However, even if you could prove to me that Islam is the most aggressive, most warlike religion ever devised, it seem clear to me from my own acquaintances, and on general principles, that the overwhelming majority of Muslims — like the overwhelming majority of people everywhere — prefer peace to war, prosperity to poverty, law to crime, civilization to barbarism, and reason to madness.

And Islam isn't going away. Nothing would please me more than to see them all convert and become good Episcopalians, but that's not going to happen. You work with what you've got. What we've got is, on the one hand, a billion ordinary Muslims trying to live through their lives without disasters, sustained by an ancient and profound faith; and on the other, some tens of thousands of glittering-eyed lunatics who need to be methodically hunted down and killed. Let's show respect and humanity to the one, and cold unflagging ruthlessness to the other.

More here


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Thursday, January 16, 2003

Erich Kern's comment:
Here's Steven Emerson's account of how he became aware of the presence of Islamo-fascists as he happened upon a convention of Jihadists in Oklahoma City in December 1992. He's been tracking and documenting their agenda ever since. Please read this, it's a chilling wake-up call. Author Steve Emerson says the United States has become home to hundreds and probably thousands of terrorists, and it has become a central node in their international network. Read an excerpt of "American Jihad" to learn more about the threat from within.


By: Steven Emerson

IN DECEMBER 1992 I was a staff reporter for CNN, covering what I consider one of the worst stories imaginable _ a press conference for pool reporters. In this case the conference was given by Lawrence Walsh, the former special prosecutor for the Iran-contra affair, who was issuing a statement in reaction to then-President George Bush's pardon of former secretary of state Caspar Weinberger. It was the kind of situation where more than a dozen reporters ask the same question over and over, then go back and write the same story.

In short, I was bored. In Oklahoma City, I found myself with nothing to do on Christmas Day. As I walked around looking for a place to eat, I passed a large group of men dressed in traditional Middle Eastern clothing.

These men had congregated outside of the Oklahoma City Convention Center. I realized there was some kind of convention going on. Drawn to the scene, I wandered inside and found a bazaar of vendors hawking all kinds of radical material. There were books preaching Islamic "Jihad," books calling for the extermination of Jews and Christians, even coloring books instructing children on subjects such as "How to Kill the Infidel." It was a meeting of the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA), an umbrella group that included many smaller groups.

When I asked admittance to the main meeting hall, I was told that as a non-Muslim I couldn't enter. But I found my way into a group of "recent converts" where I was befriended by a man who sponsored my admission. I ended up sitting through the entire program. It was a shocking experience. Given simultaneous translation by a jihadist next to me, I was horrified to witness a long procession of speakers, including the head of Hamas, Khalid Misha'al, taking turns preaching violence and urging the assembly to use jihad against the Jews and the West. At times spontaneous shouts of "Kill the Jews" and "Destroy the West" could be distinctly heard. I had heard such declamatory speakers many times in the Middle East, but it was astonishing to hear it all being preached here in a Middle American capital such as Oklahoma City.

I had some contacts in the FBI at this point and called one to see if he knew that all of this was going on. He said he didn't. Even if the FBI had been cognizant, however, there wouldn't have been much they could do about it, owing to the FBI's mandate to surveil criminal activity and not simply hateful rhetoric.

Just how far behind the FBI had fallen in keeping abreast of these potentially dangerous subversive groups became clear a year later when I attended a five-day Muslim conference in Detroit in December 1993. This annual gathering featured speakers and representatives from some of the world's most militant fundamentalist organizations, including Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and many others.

After five days of listening to speakers urging Muslims to wage jihad, I was startled to hear that a senior FBI agent from the Detroit office would be making an unscheduled appearance on the program. Sure enough, the official showed up. After making some perfunctory remarks about civil rights, the official asked for questions from the visibly hostile audience. A series of scornful responses followed, including that of one audience member who asked, tongue in cheek, if the agent could give the group any advice on "shipping weapons" overseas to their friends. The FBI official said matter-of-factly that he hoped any such efforts would be done in conformance with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms guidelines.

Returning to Washington again, I asked FBI officials if they knew that their Detroit colleague had spoken at this radical gathering. They assured me it was impossible. After checking, however, they admitted within a few hours that their man had indeed been there, mistakenly thinking it was "some kind of Rotary Club."

Read more here




Dear Mike
I wish to congratulate you on an excellent and well researched commentary exposing the truth behind the myths about vegans. I wish to further draw to your attention a historical inaccuracy on your part when describing the Khmer Rouge as being vegetarian.

My understanding is that the Communist Khmer Rouge engaged in eating the livers of some of their "Capitalist" and “Imperialist” enemies (estimated at about half of the population of the then Democratic Kampuchea). K.R. Cadres would torture their enemies by cutting out the livers of the victims, who would watch their own livers fried and eaten by the Cadres as they themselves slowly and agonisingly passed away. I do not believe that such cannibalism was limited to the livers exclusively.

Neil B Bidder


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Wednesday, January 15, 2003


From: The Sunday Independent (SA), 5 January
By Basildon Peta and Caroline Hooper-Box

In a bizarre twist to the cricket World Cup row involving Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe's cabinet this week talked him out of forbidding the English and Australian cricket teams from entering Zimbabwe. But in return for backing down and to quell his security fears that the arrival of multitudes of British and Australian cricketers, officials and fans would provide cover for British MI6 agents to unleash its operatives to carry out a plan to kill him, elaborate security measures have been agreed.



Erich Kern writes:
No matter what your views on President Bush's statement of upcoming war, this, from an English journalist, is very interesting. Just a word of background, for those of you who aren't familiar with the UK's Daily Mirror. This is a notoriously left-wing daily that is normally not supportive of the Colonials across the Atlantic:

UK View of USA
By: Tony Parsons, Daily Mirror, September 11, 2002

ONE YEAR AGO, the world witnessed a unique kind of broadcasting ----the mass murder of thousands, live on television. As a lesson in the pitiless cruelty of the human race, September 11 was up there with Pol Pot's mountain of skulls in Cambodia, or the skeletal bodies stacked like garbage in the Nazi concentration camps. An unspeakable act so cruel, so calculated and so utterly merciless that surely the world could agree on one thing - nobody deserves this fate. Surely there could be consensus: the victims were truly innocent, the perpetrators truly evil.

But to the world's eternal shame, 9/11 is increasingly seen as America's comeuppance. Incredibly, anti-Americanism has increased over the last year. There has always been a simmering resentment to the USA in this country - too loud, too rich, too full of themselves and so much happier than Europeans - but it has become an epidemic. And it seems incredible to me. More than that, it turns my stomach.

America is this country's greatest friend and our staunchest ally. We are bonded to the US by culture, language and blood. A little over half a century ago, around half a million Americans died for our freedoms, as well as their own. Have we forgotten so soon? And exactly a year ago, thousands of ordinary men, women and children -not just Americans, but from dozens of countries - were butchered by a small group of religious fanatics. Are we so quick to betray them?

What touched the heart about those who died in the twin towers and on the planes was that we recognized them. Young fathers and mothers, somebody's son and somebody's daughter, husbands and wives, and children, some unborn. And these people brought it on themselves? And their nation is to blame for their meticulously planned slaughter?

These days you don't have to be some dust-encrusted nut job in Kabul or Karachi or Finsbury Park to see America as the Great Satan. The anti- American alliance is made up of self-loathing liberals who blame the Americans for every ill in the Third World, and conservatives suffering from power-envy, bitter that the world's only superpower can do what it likes without having to ask permission.

The truth is that America has behaved with enormous restraint since September 11. Remember, remember. Remember the gut-wrenching tapes of weeping men phoning their wives to say, "I love you," before they were burned alive. Remember those people leaping to their deaths from the top of burning skyscrapers.

Remember the hundreds of firemen buried alive.

Remember the smiling face of that beautiful little girl who was on one of the planes with her mum. Remember, remember - and realize that America has never retaliated for 9/11 in anything like the way it could have. So a few al-Qaeda tourists got locked without a trial n Camp X-ray? Pass the Kleenex...

So some Afghan wedding receptions were shot up after they merrily fired their semi-automatics in a sky full of American planes? A shame, but maybe next time they should stick to confetti.

AMERICA could have turned a large chunk of the world into a parking lot. That it didn't is a sign of strength. American voices are already being raised against attacking Iraq - that's what a democracy is for. How many in the Islamic world will have a minute's silence for the slaughtered innocents of 9/11? How many Islamic leaders will have the guts to say that the mass murder of 9/11 was an abomination? When the news of 9/11 broke on the West Bank, those freedom-loving Palestinians were dancing in the street. America watched all of that - and didn't push the button. We should thank the stars that America is the most powerful nation in the world. I still find it incredible that 9/11 did not provoke all-out war. Not a "war on terrorism." A real war.

The fundamentalist dudes are talking about "opening the gates of hell," if America attacks Iraq. Well, America could have opened the gates of hell like you wouldn't believe.

The US is the most militarily powerful nation that ever strode the face of the earth. The campaign in Afghanistan may have been less than perfect and the planned war on Iraq may be misconceived. But don't blame America for not bringing peace and light to these wretched countries. How many democracies are there in the Middle East, or in the Muslim world? You can count them on the fingers of one hand - assuming you haven't had any chopped off for minor shoplifting.

I love America, yet America is hated. I guess that makes me Bush's poodle. But I would rather be a dog in New York City than a Prince in Riyadh. Above all, America is hated because it is what every country wants to be - rich, free, strong, open, optimistic. Not ground down by the past, or religion, or some caste system. America is the best friend this country ever had and we should start remembering that. Or do you really think the USA is the root of all evil? Tell it to the loved ones of the men and women who leaped to their death from the burning towers. Tell it to the nursing mothers whose husbands died on one of the hijacked planes, or were ripped apart in a collapsing skyscraper. And tell it to the hundreds of young widows whose husbands worked for the New York Fire Department.

To our shame, George Bush gets a worse press than Saddam Hussein. Once we were told that Saddam gassed the Kurds, tortured his own people and set up rape-camps in Kuwait. Now we are told he likes Quality Street. Save me the orange center, oh mighty one!

Remember, remember, September 11. One of the greatest atrocities in human history was committed against America. No, do more than remember. Never forget.


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Tuesday, January 14, 2003


I have strongly expressed the view that Australian cricketers should not play in Zimbabwe while the illegal Mugabe regime holds power. I understand that Peter Oborne of The Spectator who entered Zimbabwe undercover has confirmed reports appearing previously here to the effect that Mugabe is using starvation as a weapon against his political opponents much as Stalin did (especially to the Ukrainians). Following are yet some more reasons for Australian cricketers to stay away.

Harare police manhandle Harare Mayor

From: Paul Themba Nyathi
MDC Secretary for Information and Publicity.
January 11, 2003

HARARE MAYOR Engineer Elias Mudzuri was today savagely manhandled by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police who arrested him for addressing residents of Mabvuku. The police tore the Executive mayor's shirt as they sought to bundle him into a police vehicle. This was despite the fact that he informed them that he could go to the police station where they wanted him.

The police also arrested Deputy Mayor Sekesai Makwavarara, and three councillors, Falls Nhari, Benjamin Maimba and Oscar Pemihwa. They also arrested Deputy Director of Housing a Mr Chiyangwa and at least 17 other residents who were in the hall.

At the time of the issuing of this statement all were being held at Mabvuku police station were the police officers informed them that they were awaiting members of the Law and Order Section, from Harare Central.

According to lawyers who are representing them Beatrice Mtetwa and Romaldo Mavedzenge, the mayor was being charged under Section 25(1) of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) for addressing an illegal gathering.

It is important to note that the mayor was holding the meeting in the confines of Council property, Mabvuku council hall. The meeting was set discuss three issues: 1) water crisis in Harare 2) Sewage 3) Roads. These are all real and clear concerns of the residents of Harare and Mabvuku in particular. The Council hall is clearly an extension of the mayor's office and he has been basically arrested for doing his work in serving the people of Harare.

This is yet further evidence of the regime's determination to interfere with the efficient running of the cities by MDC mayors which is in total contrast with the shambolic way that Mugabe has ruled this country and brought all the hunger and starvation we are in today. We condemn this harassment and call on the people of Zimbabwe and the residents of Harare to stand resolutely against the subversion of their will.

What is Happening?

By: Eddie Cross (Bulawayo, Zimbabwe)
5 Jan 03

Events move fast and yet too slowly for those of us who are actually here in Zimbabwe. It's January 2003 and it seems like yesterday when the present crisis started in 1997. At that time we were self sufficient in all foods, exporting on a scale that gave us enough foreign exchange to meet our needs. The economy was growing rapidly and it seemed as if the adjustment programs introduced in 1990 were at last starting to work.

Now we are 5 years on - we are importing all our basic foods - even milk. 8 million people are suffering from serious shortages of food and malnutrition. Our economy is shrinking at 10 to 15 per cent per annum and our exports no longer cover even our most basic needs. Our currency has collapsed and nearly a third of all workers in the economy have lost their jobs. Our Government is no longer recognised by the major developed countries and will shortly face expulsion from the Commonwealth. Almost all the basic rights taken as the norm in other countries are being denied Zimbabwean citizens.

This week I must now include drought in this litany of problems and the failure to get anything like a decent crop into the ground this summer. Just how serious this is has not yet dawned on the majority of those who have responsibility for feeding Zimbabwe whilst we try to find a way back to normality. We are now two months into our normal wet season. Whilst we have had about a third of our normal rainfall, in many areas - especially here in the south of the country, the falls have been light and spaced by hot dry weather. I think we can now predict with some confidence that the southern half of the country will not reap any significant food crops this year unless they are irrigated.

In the north things have been a bit better - but we still face the reality that very little has been planted and what is in the ground is pretty pathetic. I doubt if we will in fact produce more than we grew last season - about 500 000 tonnes of grain over all. If this is the case then we are faced with the need to continue importing grain right through until June 2004. Not just grain but oilseed or vegetable oils, fats and wheat. Unlike last year when we had ample stored water, this winter, unless it pours with rain from now on, will see real shortages of stored water across the country. In fact, in my view, Bulawayo should already be looking at restrictions.

So we face another 18 months of the food crisis, the international community reluctant to provide the resources to fill the gap and the government continuing to restrict supplies of commercial grain to people it views as its opponents.

Corruption within the food system is endemic and prices for what is available are three times the official prices laid down by the State. South Africa is also caught up in this dry weather and it is now unlikely that they will have any surplus to export - in fact South Africa may have to import and this will further exacerbate the problem of rising basic food prices in South Africa.

To break even, bakers in Zimbabwe must sell a loaf of bread for about Z$110.00. There is a lot of profiteering going on and actual market prices are well above this in many cases. Flour is still being supplied at about Z$65 per kilogram, subsidised by the GMB and local wheat producers who got a lower than break even price for the crop reaped last year. When this is finished (in February or March 2003) we then go onto 100 per cent imported wheat. Unless this is also subsidised (either by using low cost foreign exchange forcibly taken from exporters or by printing money or simply allowing the GMB to borrow huge sums of money it can never repay) then flour will have to treble in price and we will see bread products rising to Z$400 per loaf or more, just to stay in business.

In the next fortnight, business will face the task of reopening their factories under conditions where they will not be able to keep their doors open for very long if they obey the rules. If they are exporters they will find that virtually all their export proceeds are being converted by their banks at the official exchange rates and this will make all export activity totally unviable. They will then have to consider what to do - break the law and keep their foreign earnings off shore or simply stop exporting - or do a deal with someone.

Every business needing imports of one kind or another is going to find it virtually impossible to get foreign exchange from their banks and in the informal markets they will find what is available is so expensive that they simply cannot afford to buy it for local use. Already locally manufactured products are very much more expensive than they should be because of the huge premiums being paid in the market.

On top of these problems there is the issue of the price freeze. On the day before Christmas a new Gazette notice came out listing literally hundreds of products. In many cases the new prices are well below the actual cost of production. In a bizarre operation the Police are raiding retailers throughout the country and imposing fines on them for selling products above the controlled price even though the stock in question was purchased at much higher prices and well before the festive season.

Manufacturers have only three options - sell at the controlled price and go bust, break the law and tell the authorities to take them to court or to do a deal. In the latter case it's always with a shadowy group of business people linked with Zanu PF and having good relations with those in positions of authority. Then problems with foreign exchange and price control disappear and the business starts functioning again. The list of such deals grows daily and includes many of the best known names in the Zimbabwean economy.

And then there is the problem of liquid fuels - aided by South Africa we can get by as far as electricity is concerned and in that case the demands for foreign exchange are only a fraction of the demand for liquid fuels. It now looks as if the Libyan deal is definitely dead and we are dependent on South African sources and the Kuwait Petroleum Group, IPG. Whatever we do however, its cash up front in both cases and so far there are no signs of any help from South Africa. At present supply levels (20 per cent of normal demand) we simply cannot operate as a country. Our bus systems are shut down and most private vehicles spend their days in queues. Noczim is now notifying retailers that they will only be getting limited supplies and are making arrangements for bulk rationing on a long-term basis.

Any one of these problems would confront a normal country with headaches - all together they now constitute an insurmountable hurdle. A business executive said to me after the ANC meeting in Cape Town where Mbeki formally abandoned any pretext of impartiality in the contest for power in Zimbabwe - "well now Mbeki has to help overcome our problems or else those are empty words". We are about to find out which category they fit into. I think it's "D" day for the region and Zimbabwe. "D" standing for decision.


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Monday, January 13, 2003

Excerpts from a Washington Post story:

U.S. INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS have identified approximately 15 cargo freighters around the world that they believe are controlled by al Qaeda or could be used by the terrorist network to ferry operatives, bombs, money or commodities over the high seas, government officials said.

American spy agencies track some of the suspicious ships by satellites or surveillance planes and with the help of allied navies or informants in overseas ports. But they have occasionally lost track of the vessels, which are continuously given new fictitious names, repainted or re-registered using invented corporate owners, all while plying the oceans.

Concerned about the vulnerabilities of American shipping since Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officials have started paying more attention than ever to what cargo is loaded onto ships entering U.S. waters, and to who serves on crews, as well as to stowaways and individuals who appear to be surveying U.S. ports.

In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies have set up large databases to track cargo, ships and seamen in a search for "anomalies" that could indicate terrorists on approaching ships, said Frances Fragos-Townsend, chief of Coast Guard intelligence.

"If all you do is wait for ships to come to you, you're not doing your job," she said. "The idea is to push the borders out."

Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda's leader, and his aides have owned ships for years, some of which transported such commodities as cement and sesame seeds. But one vessel delivered the explosives that al Qaeda operatives used to bomb two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, U.S. officials said.

As Western societies have "hardened" their facilities on land against terrorist attack, al Qaeda has escalated its attempts to launch assaults at sea because it believes waterborne targets are easier, terrorism experts said. Starting with the suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen in 2000 by al Qaeda men in an inflatable dinghy, a strike that killed 17 sailors, U.S. officials have discerned a steady increase in nautical attacks, some of which were aborted by the planners or uncovered by authorities at the last moment. The latest attack came in October, when the hull of the French oil tanker Limburg was blasted by a speedboat off Yemen, causing a widespread oil spill.

Cruise ships are another worry. The concern is not so much that al Qaeda would hijack hundreds or thousands of passengers while making political demands, as Palestinian terrorists did with airliners in the 1970s, and the Italian Achille Lauro cruise ship off Egypt in 1985. The most feared scenario is that terrorists in speedboats or a cargo vessel would pull up alongside a cruise ship and blow a hole in it.

But cruise industry executives point out that their vessels can outpace most ships in the water, and that they are designed to be so secure and ride so high above the waves that a sea-level blast is unlikely to sink any cruise ship -- and in any case would explode far from passengers. Security at cruise ship terminals is as tight as it is at any airport, industry sources said.

For decades, U.S. intelligence focused on foreign shipping only sporadically. Soviet vessels were the main target for years, and later U.S. officials traced ships concealing cocaine and Chinese missiles. But after Sept. 11, U.S. officials realized the danger of terrorists attacking from the sea, and rushed to gain expertise about the world's commercial shipping industry.

Now Navy and Coast Guard intelligence have the unenviable job of sorting through the corporate papers of the world's 120,000 merchant ships, many of which hide their ownership under layers of corporate subterfuge -- a centuries-old practice in a trade that thrives on lax regulation and independence from governments. U.S. intelligence officers also must collate the names and mariner's license numbers of tens of thousands of seamen from around the world, a sizable percentage of whom carry fake documents and use pseudonyms because of criminal pasts.

"This industry is a shadowy underworld," said a senior U.S. government official knowledgeable about the effort. "After 9/11, we suddenly learned how little we understood about commercial shipping. You can't swing a dead cat in the shipping business without hitting somebody with phony papers."

But U.S. government officials said they have made up for lost time in the past 15 months. Working out of its headquarters in Suitland, Navy intelligence has struck data-sharing agreements with dozens of allied navies, and enlisted tipsters among port managers across the globe, as well as shipping agents, crew manning supervisors and seafarers unions.

Within weeks after Sept. 11, the Coast Guard established new rules for medium- and large-size ships. Ninety-six hours before reaching a U.S. port, they now must provide data about their cargo, the names and passport numbers of the crew, the ship's corporate details and recent port calls. This information is fed into computers at a new intelligence facility in West Virginia, and merged with other data, such as satellite photos of ships or ports.

Sometimes the evidence is misleading. In September, Coast Guard officers spent a day searching a 700-container ship in New Jersey because it had taken on cargo at two ports deemed a concern -- in Pakistan and Iran -- and because officers' radiation-detectors buzzed when they boarded. But the radiation came from ceramic tiles, not a nuclear weapon.

At times the Coast Guard has underreacted. In October, a 50-foot wooden freighter, undetected by the Coast Guard, ran aground near downtown Miami and its 220 undocumented Haitian passengers clambered ashore. Some U.S officials expressed concern that al Qaeda fighters could infiltrate the country via the same route.

"If the Coast Guard can't stop 200 people on a freighter from coming into the port of Miami, how can they stop a terrorist with a dirty bomb?" asked Bruce Stubbs, a former Coast Guard captain and now a security consultant.

In that part of the world, U.S. naval officers suspect they are as likely to find terrorists aboard a 300-foot freighter as they are aboard a dhow, the small sailing vessel common along the coasts of the Indian Ocean. U.S. officials believe traders sailing small craft have been bribed for months to help al Qaeda fighters escape from Pakistan to Yemen and other countries.

U.S. efforts to track al Qaeda's activities at sea received a boost last month with the capture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an alleged mastermind of al Qaeda's nautical strategy who officials say is now cooperating with U.S. interrogators.

U.S. officials say they are on alert for signs that al Qaeda would use exotic craft to launch underwater attacks -- small submarines and "human torpedoes," underwater motor-propelled sleds that divers use. Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger terrorist movement has been developing such equipment for years, said Tanner Campbell, vice president of private Marine Intelligence Group, which consults for shipping interests.

Captured al Qaeda operative Omar al-Faruq has told interrogators that he planned scuba attacks on U.S. warships in Indonesia, Campbell said. Apparently as a result of his confessions, U.S. officials recently visited hundreds of scuba shops nationwide asking about suspicious visitors.

The alarming scenario of al Qaeda operatives infiltrating freighter crews and seizing the cargo ships -- which range in size from 100 feet in length to more than 1,000 -- has led Navy and Coast Guard intelligence analysts to pore over the student lists of hundreds of seaman's academies worldwide. Diplomas from these schools are needed for work on most ships, and trade in fake certificates is brisk in many port cities.

In August, the captain of another of Nova's freighters, the recently renamed Sara, radioed to maritime authorities in Italy that 15 Pakistani men whom the ship's owner had forced him to take aboard in Casablanca, Morocco, were menacing his crew. Although the 15 claimed they were crewmen when questioned by U.S. and Italian naval officers, the captain said they knew nothing about seafaring.

U.S. officials say they found tens of thousands of dollars, false documents, maps of Italian cities and evidence tying them to al Qaeda members in Europe, and concluded that they, too, were possibly on a terrorist mission. The 15 were charged in Italy with conspiracy to engage in terrorist acts.


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Sunday, January 12, 2003

Thankfully, the EU will begin negotiations in two years for the accession of Turkey. It's about time. France and others have long gagged at the thought of letting this Muslim nation into their club. They recently professed their righteous indignation toward the White House for urging that Turkey be brought into the fold.

But such a move makes all the sense in the world. To qualify, Turkey will continue internal political and judicial reforms, especially in the area of human rights. This is the same process once-less-than-democratic nations such as Spain and Portugal went through when they joined the Community 17 years ago. To demonstrate to Muslims around the world that a democratic, secular Muslim state such as Turkey can become a full-fledged member of the West economically and politically, as well as militarily (NATO), would be a profoundly positive step. Other Mideast states might then try to emulate the Turkish model, which would be an enormous blow to anti-modernist, anti-West terrorists and fanatics.



Do you realize how much the government charges you for talking and flying these days? Use the telephone, and you get hit with a 3% federal excise tax on local, long distance and wireless services. Washington also collects a "universal connectivity fee," as well as a "subscriber line charge" that can end up costing consumers $6 per phone line. Then there is a dizzying array of state and local taxes, access fees, relay fees, line charges, 911 service fees and so on. The average tax burden on phone service is now 18%, and in some states, such as Virginia, it's almost 30%.

Rueful consumers can testify to the same phenomenon in air travel. A ticket for domestic or international travel can carry an effective tax rate of 25% or more, including a tax of 7.5% of the purchase price, "segment charges," passenger facility charges, passenger security surcharges, international arrival and departure fees, Immigration & Naturalization Service and customs fees and, of course, the jet fuel tax that is passed along to consumers.

One way for Washington to help the beleaguered airline industry would be to pull the Air Traffic Control System out of the Transportation Department and set it up as an independent entity, freed from pork-barrel-minded politicians. That way ticket taxes would actually be used to upgrade Air Traffic Control facilities instead of being diverted to politicos' pet projects that are utterly unrelated to air travel. A number of other countries, including Canada, the U.K., Germany, Australia and New Zealand, have done this with terrific results in efficiency.

A helpful step for the battered technology sector would be to repeal that 3% federal excise phone tax that was originally enacted to help finance the Spanish-American War of 1898.

From Forbes


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