Monday, February 27, 2006

(S)UN Spots, Katrina, Dubai & Dubya

The irrationality of some people about the United Nations leads one to impertinent questions. Did a UN peacekeeper wearing nothing but a blue UN helmet jump out of the woodpile today and frighten them when they were children?

The New York Sun led with what has to be one of strangest and stretchiest attacks on Kofi Annan yet. The UN Secretary General had won a half million dollar environmental prize from Dubai and therefore kept silent about the whole ports affair.

Why Annan should adumbrate on the affair at all is a mystery. And since the rest of the article bashes the UN for being anti-Israeli, one could assume that Annan's default position would be pro-Arab and thus supportive of Dubai against the waves of xenophobia slurping oleaginously around the US. Why would Dubai bribe someone who the New York Sun is accusing of being prejudiced in favor of Arabs anyway?

What complicates this perfect conspiracy theory even further is that Annan was donating the prize to charity, as he did, for example the Nobel peace price he won, which personally I think is pretty noble, what with his retirement looming at the end of the year. But then the Sun spots, what about the interest on the money while it is waiting?

Obviously the Sun has Kofi Annan confused with some Congressman or other whose voice and votes await the drop of a lobbyist check.

So consider the news values inherent in the selection of stories. AP last week ran a story that seemed to be confined to the back pages of most papers. Ten years ago, some of the UAE sheiks had sent at least a million dollars to the George H.W. Bush memorial library. Which of course had nothing to do with Dubya's decision to do the right thing by Dubai about the P&O ports takeover.

The AP reported, less than half a year ago, the UAE, including of course Dubai, sent a $100 million in cash donation to the US after Katrina. The Bush administration could have given it to charities for discretionary spending, but instead sent two thirds to FEMA and one third for educational expenditure in the New Orleans region.

To take a sneering tip from the Sun, one cannot help wondering if the checks were just endorsed to Halliburton to save on accounting costs and bank charges.

However, sneering apart, that means is that they took Dubai's generously donated money, and used it to reduce Federal expenditure, in other words to help finance their tax cuts. Think about this carefully. This is not understandable materiel, logistics supports and aid in kind to meet unprecedented shortages.

It was cash. That puts the US in the same position as a third world country that needs budgetary support to carry out its duties to its citizens after a disaster.

Perhaps that is one reason it has taken almost half a year for this news to leak out. At least the administration was not as stupid as Giuliani, who returned a multi-million dollar Arab check because it did not come with a round of applause for Ariel Sharon.

But there are a lot of homeless people from New Orleans who would have thanked the Emirates for their kindness, if any of it had trickled in their direction. So why did the administration keep it secret? And why did it appropriate it for Federal Agencies instead to using it supplement Federal cash?

And while I still think Bush is right about the Dubai World Ports, I do indeed suspect he was right for the wrong reasons, and that he went about it in the same arrogant and secretive way he has transacted most of this administration's business.

Annual Report from George W. Tinytree

This is my Speculator column in the February 2006 IR magazine which is a homage, sort of, to the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett. It's the State of the Union as a CEO's letter to shareholders.
It can be seen in its full graphic glory at

The Sage of Texas
Ian Williams passes on this year's letter to shareholders
from the CEO of Tinytree Holdings

Well, it's that time of year again, and our vice president Dick and I were sitting by the fire chewing the fat about the corporation. We don't have time for fooling about with interns at the White House, writing books and all that kind of stuff.

Even during the holidays we were thinking of you all the time here at the ranch, and one of the things we've been mulling is how the media is always so negative, adding all kinds of bull manure to our news releases and advertorials. For example, you may remember that our New Orleans plant took a bit of a beating this past year and, wow, so did we. But it was so unfair!

As part of our streamlining, we'd introduced just-in-time techniques for disaster management. I am not saying there weren't a few hiccups in this pilot program but, even so, events there showed how we had successfully cut the inventory down so we did not have to pay for keeping rescue equipment and personnel hanging around idle most of the year. Did the media give us any credit for that? No, of course not. Those reporters just focused on the few weeks it took us to get things ready.

See what I mean? Negative.

As you know, our strategy is growth by acquisition, and some of our takeovers have been a little bit hostile. The media has been suggesting we did not practice full disclosure when we took over Mesopotamia – but what the heck, we had copyright on that WMD thing. Our experience is that whenever we are considering a hostile takeover, talking about WMDs is better than saying 'underlying synergies', and let me tell you, it's a lot easier to pronounce.

What's more, we were right about unlocking hidden value. All those underlying oil reserves we acquired are now worth twice as much as when we started. To fight back against all this media negativity, our corporate secretary, Condoleezza Wheat, recently went on a European roadshow to see some of our subsidiaries and other stakeholders.

Between you and me, I've had some lectures from her in the past, and I feel sorry for those Europeans. That Condie really knows her stuff. She hasn't allowed any negative remarks about management here, and won't allow it out there, either.

The things people worry about! Our headhunting, interviewing techniques and personnel acquisition policies may be innovative, but they are very, very effective, according to our backroom boys. Of course, the results are proprietary, so I am sure I can rely on the discretion of our American stockholders in not asking too many questions. Not like those French and Germans.

The media also have some folks fretting that we are outsourcing too much. Well, it's no biggie. Alan Greenspan, our CFO, was explaining this to me over a burger recently, and it's fascinating. Did you know that most imports come from abroad? That was a revelation to me. I was pretty worried to begin with, until Alan explained.

The deal is, we get what we need from China and pay for it with paper, which China really likes. At Chinese funerals they burn paper money, so maybe it's a cultural thing.

On a final note, Dick and I can reassure you that when it comes to burning money, our company can hold its head high against any Chinese competition, as a quick glance at the red ink in the annual report will prove. So don't you guys worry your pretty little heads none about that. We're in charge, come high water or hell.

George W Tinytree,
President, chairman and CEO, Tinytree Holdings, Texas

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dubya on Dubai

In Dubyious Battle

I haven't had so much fun since I was invited into the cockpit of a Cubana Airbus and told the pilot to take me to Havana. (He did, but it was a scheduled flight). On MSNBC's Scarborough Country, I declared that George 'Dubya' Bush was right. I was sure it was an accident, but like the proverbial stopped clock, for once he was indeed correct.

(See the link for a somewhat inaccurate transcript where Charles Schumer has become 'Barbara Shumer.' I am happy to accuse the Senator of deserting his principles, but not his gender

We were of course talking about the invented furor against handing over six American ports to Arab terrorists, or, in the real world, the purchase by Dubai World Ports of the British company P&O, which owned terminals in five ports.

The fuss seems to have originated with the Democrat legislators, who, if not as all-round xenophobic as the Republicans, do not usually have to be pushed hard to grandstand on an anti-Arab platform. While most of their voters, for example, considered the Iraq war a disastrous mistake even before it was started, neither New York Senator Charles Schumer, nor Hilary Clinton have yet to withdraw their support for it. And they led the charge against Dubai, almost the only ally the US has in the region. For a New York politico, the only good Arab is a pilloried one.

Throw together the American fear of terrorism and Arabs, and the resulting heady brew drives out all reasonable discourse. No wonder the Republicans, already wondering whether the Bush administration was a lame duck or a paraplegic parrot, broke ranks to join the silliness.

Anti-Arabism is the only form of racism socially permitted in the US. For example, Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign returned donations from Arab-American groups, and that was ten years before September 11. It is unimaginable for that to happen to any other ethnic group in the USA.

While we now hear many patriotic effusions about any foreigners operating terminals in the ports, no one has shown any signs of apprehension hitherto. A Chinese state owned company has a terminal in Los Angeles for example.

All these politicians who watched American exports disappear as they applauded the off-shoring of manufacturing to China, customer care to India, and going into deep hock to Asian banks, now want to resort to the last refuge of the scoundrel, patriotism.

So hysteria apart, in Dubai, most of the productive economic work is done by expatriates such as American David Sanborn who recently left the offending company to become the U.S. maritime administrator. Brits staff the London headquarters of P&O, and Americans do the port work in the USA. The customs, policing, coast guard are also American.

It is worth remembering that Dubai also owns the Emirates airline, one of the fastest growing in the world, with at least two flights a day, direct from what some people seem to think is terrorist central, straight into New York.

You would never guess that Dubai has never been at war with the US and provides huge logistic backup for US forces in the Gulf. And certainly the White House is unlikely to explain that its allies can do that because, in common with the other Emirates. it is a feudal monarchy that has never bought into the democracy thing, and so does not have to worry about what the Arabs on the ground think.

In contrast, the Britain, home to the previous owners of the ports, once burnt down the White House. (Come back Admiral Cochrane, all is forgiven.)

We should not get dewy eyed at the thought of brave Bush standing up for the underdog. For a start, it would be foolish not to assume that there isn't a dynastic, Texan, or Republican connection between Dubya and Dubai. Halliburton's Dubai subsidiary alone is enough to get any conspiracy theorist a good head of steam.

Even so, in the larger scheme of things, the barking in Congress sends signals across the world. It reinforces the perception that the globalization that successive US administrations have been forcing down other countries' throats, means that they have to allow US companies to buy any asset they want, but that foreigners need not apply in the US itself.

In the Arab world it reinforces the idea that Arabs and Muslims are special, suspected and reviled group. One conclusion for a sensible Arab ruler would be that if he can't spend his dollars in the US, he would be much better off demanding Euros, Yen or gold for his oil. And then we will see what Wall St has to say to Schumer and Clinton.

But in the meantime, the one sane point in the point-scoring is that more should be done on port security. And the solution is simple. Stop pouring hundreds of billions into occupying Iraq and fomenting terrorism, and spend a fraction of it on port security. Sadly, I do not expect to hear it anytime soon from the New York Senatorial delegation.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Axis of Emulation: Bushido, Bush or Die and All That

Well folks, you owe this one to MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and his other guest Claudia Rossett, both dedicated to the principle that if the UN says it's winter, it must be summer. When I was on doing my lion thrown to the Christians act last Thursday, they managed to excoriate the Human Rights Commission for a) not functioning properly, and b) functioning properly over Gitmo. Ironically they correctly condemned the Commission for having human rights violators as members - but did not seem to mind that the US has been practicing "Rendition" to the same torturers. Go Figure.
Ian Williams
Books I am Reading

An imperial power was invading and occupying other countries, and since it was convinced that its troops were invincible, it never bothered with the Geneva Conventions when it took combatants prisoners. It treated them as if it were outside the law.

Welcome to the Bushido Empire of Japan from 1941 to 1945. Welcome to the Bush Empire of America from 2001 to now.
Click to buy
Ulrich Straus's well-timed book, The Anguish of Surrender, is about Japanese prisoners taken in the Second World War, how their own leaders had indoctrinated them, and how the Allies treated them. It is more than an academic treatise on an obscure nook of the past. Even more than most histories it has lessons for today, not least if read in conjunction with the report of the UN Human Rights Commission experts on Guantanamo Bay last Thursday which concluded that "Terrorism suspects should be detained in accordance with criminal procedure that respects the safeguards enshrined in relevant international law." The experts also demanded the detention facility in Guantanamo should be closed, since it was clear that its sole purpose was evade those safeguards.

A reader of either work can only conclude that there was much less externally applied anguish for a captured would-be kamikaze pilot then than there is now for a suspected Taliban. Needless to say, the Bush or Die night crowd, ignoring the recent revelatory pictures from Abu Ghraib, shamelessly attacked the messenger, used the occasion to attack Kofi Annan and the UN.

Author of Anguish of Surrender, Ulrich Straus is a German born Jewish American retired diplomat who is wryly aware of the absurdities of prejudice in his adopted USA, as well as the rest of world. He had spent seven years in Tokyo with his family before coming to the US as war loomed. As an "enemy alien" he was unable to volunteer for military service where he could use his knowledge of Japan, although, with engagingly xenophobic logic, he was still liable for conscription. Despite the bureaucratic obstacles, he managed to enroll in a Japanese language program designed to provide trained linguists for military intelligence. As he points out, the US did not intern him as a German enemy alien, although it did intern all citizens of Japanese origin en masse. The Nisei were highly unlikely to become commissioned officers. Straus finally qualified.

In contrast, almost the only way out of the internment camps for Japanese Americans was to allow themselves to be conscripted to join the armed forces. And even then, as they fought abroad for the four freedoms, their families remained encaged until the end of the war. Then as now, there was a fear of the other. It was as perilous to your civil liberties to look Japanese then as it was to be visibly Muslim now. As feet of clay for idols like FDR go, this has to be a size fifteen..

However, as Straus points out in his fascinating study, the US was scrupulous in its official attachment to the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war when it captured Japanese. I say official, since his research backs up what I have heard from some veterans of the time, that in the immediate heat of battle GI's were less likely to have international law at the forefront of their thoughts and so prisoners were not exactly guaranteed safe transit to the rear.

Nonetheless, his book indicates that the US treatment of Japanese prisoners once they were officially processed, was immeasurably more moral, civilized, and effective than the Troll-like behavior now condoned and encouraged by the White House. Japanese prisoners were fed, clothed and, if wounded, hospitalized alongside wounded GI's. They were not shackled, hooded, sense-deprived, or locked in open cages, let alone subject to the varying degrees of torture from the admitted at Abu Ghraib to the re-defined in Guantanamo.

Since the expectations of capture fostered by the Imperial Japanese command were pretty dire, prisoners' main worry seems to have been how to look each other in the face with the shame of not fighting to the death. However, it seems that many, impressed by the humane conduct of their captors, ended up cooperating to an amazing degree, even in some cases to the point of helping target artillery against their own fortifications, or providing much sought details on the capabilities of the Japanese Navy's super-dreadnoughts. "The fact that humane treatment came as a total surprise only added to its effectiveness," Straus writes. That it is still a total shock six decades later to the US administration is a testament to how vindictiveness can always induce amnesia about historical lessons.

Straus's conclusions deal with the legacy of the Bushido-era no-surrender policy on present and future Japanese policy. "Sooner or later, the issue of how to treat its own and its enemy's POW's will have to be addressed even in a Pacifist Japan," he concludes, correctly, since some Japanese politicians have as much difficulty about addressing their past as some American politicians have in dealing with their present.

However, with the present degree of militaristic hubris and lawlessness of the Supreme Commander of the US forces, one might also almost recommend Straus's book as the core for a guidebook for GI's taken prisoner in the many future wars the White House seems to envisage, since they may be captured by enemies who think that Washington has effectively abrogated its commitment to the Geneva conventions.

There is in fact a clear precedent: as I reminded readers of the previous incarnation of Deadline Pundit on ( the Allies tried Wermacht General Alfred Jodl at Nuremburg. The charges included shackling captured Canadian commandos and passing on Hitler's orders that commandos, partisans and the like should not be treated as POW's, refusing them the benefit of a tribunal to determine whether they were in fact enemy combatants.

The Nuremberg Court's judgment said, "Jodl testified he was strongly opposed on moral and legal grounds, but could not refuse to pass it (Hitler's Order) on. He insists he tried to mitigate its harshness in practice by not informing Hitler when it was not carried out."

Nonetheless the Allied judges concluded, "Participation in such crimes as these has never been required of any soldier and he cannot now shield himself behind a mythical requirement of soldierly obedience at all costs as his excuse for commission of these crimes." Jodl was hanged in 1946. Bush was re-elected President in 2004.

Click on "Books I am Reading" link on the left to see my other reviews.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blair: Tony the Tank Engine heads for another Train Wreck in Iran

The famous 'Special Relationship' between Britain and America is now in its most grovellingly servile form since the dark days of World War II. As a result, there is every indication that, if Prime Minister Tony Blair has his way, British forces will be joining the Americans in some form of military action against Syria or Iran.

Even former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson had the sense and strength to refuse to follow the USA into Vietnam, despite some horrendous arm-twisting by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.It is past time for Britain to reconsider whether the alleged special relationship with the US makes sense any longer for the country or the world. In World War II and its aftermath there were indeed rational arguments for tying Britain's waning fortunes to America. It certainly made more sense than either joining the Axis or signing up for the Warsaw Pact! But since the fall of the Soviet Union, the basic premise of the American Alliance has changed. No longer was the issue the defence of the British Isles against an existential threat, it was a discretionary tie, a linkage to the one power that had the potential to make the world a safer place.

That excuse even made some sense when Bill Clinton was President, when Tony Blair was able occasionally and importantly to affect American policy. Notably, he was able to persuade Clinton to intervene in Kosovo at a time (it seems so long ago) when the only thing the Pentagon was aggressive about was its budget.

There are some on the alleged left who think that Milosevic should have been allowed to carry on murdering his neighbours, but thanks to the intervention in Kosovo, ill-executed though it was because of Clinton's primal fear of American casualties, Milosevic is now in the dock at the Hague and a lot of Kosovars are alive who would not have been if he had remained in power. The results are far from perfect, but much more so than they would have been otherwise.

Even at the UN, for many years Britain served a useful function in acting as a bridge between the US and the rest of the world. It was a position for which it gained some respect, albeit much as one respects sewer cleaners, an essential job but not necessarily a profession that one would aspire to oneself. Sadly, the world's only Superpower is almost as indispensable to the UN as it thinks it is, although it does no service to the UN or to its own diplomatic standing by behaving the way it does.

But when Tony Blair claimed that going along with Bush on his rush to war with Iraq gave him a hand on the steering wheel, it was clear, as I wrote in the time, that he was actually on a runaway train, with no hand on the brake and the complete absence of a steering wheel. From the still smouldering ruins of that train-wreck in Iraq, all the signs are that, despite Jack Straw's resistance, Tony the tank engine is building up steam for another high speed run at the buffers. Even more so than Iraq, in Iran the issues are not of British national interest. Indeed, it is difficult to see what rational American interest there is, either in the attack on Iraq or a putative one on Iran.

Blair's support is a case of slavish pandering to a President who shows clear signs of not being in full possession of his faculties. A real ally of the United States would join the increasing number of Americans, and the vast majority of foreigners, in saying no to the White House ideologues.

There were other signs of how this servile policy is having bad effects. For example, for decades both Tory and Labour governments held firm on some principles, one of which was the application of United Nations resolutions to the Middle East question. Right through Robin Cook's tenure at the Foreign Office, the British supported resolutions that called for their implementation, even in the face of American vetoes. Even Margaret Thatcher voted against her political paramour Ronald Reagan on Middle East issues, without disturbing what many of us thought was an unhealthily close personal relationship.

Former British governments did not see that the presence of a hugely powerful pro-Israeli lobby in Washington was sufficient cause to rewrite International Law, let alone to forget the plight of the Palestinians, for which, after all Britain has more than a little historical responsibility.However, since Robin Cook left, whenever the Americans veto a resolution on Israel and Palestinian issues – and that is pretty much every time one is moved - the British now abstain instead of voting with the rest of the world.

Of course, that may be that the conjoined influence of Blair and Levy as much as dancing to the American tune. But it plays havoc with the European positions. German diplomats complain that while they could hide behind a common European position, for fairly obvious historical reasons, they are not really in a position to appear more pro-Palestinian than the British.We have already seen some of the consequences of this especially spineless approach to Washington. The Palestinian electorate, or least a very substantial proportion of it, passed a vote of no-confidence in Oslo and the Road Map with its vote for Hamas.

It was understandable. Since Oslo, life in the territories, in terms of safety, living standards, and freedom of movement, has nosedived. Israel has broken every commitment it made in the Road Map. And the Europeans have gone along with it, in large part because Britain was acting exactly as De Gaulle feared it would when he vetoed British membership of the European Com, as an American Trojan Horse inside Europe.Even on issues like Kyoto, the Prime Minister shows signs of prevarication in the face of the essentially irrational faith based approach of President Bush.

No one who saw the pig's ear of a policy that the Europeans put up at the time of the Balkan Wars would want to put all of Britain's eggs immediately in the European basket. However, any rational British foreign policy has to move that way in the future. Certainly both the US and Israel, more of whose trade is with Europe than with the US, would be inclined to listen to a unified European position, and such a unified position would be possible if Britain's prime minister were not in some form of feudal bond to the American President.

On the Middle East, on Iraq, Iran, Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, and many other vital issues for Britain, the lesson is the same. In Washington, door mats do not get listened to. They get walked over. It is time that the word 'No' was put back into Britain's diplomatic vocabulary instead of 'Up to a point, President Bush.'

Based on Tribune column, 3 February 2006

In the interests of full disclosure for pseudo-media critics, Ian Williams was paid for many years by British Rail, but it did not influence his opinions of trainwrecks in the slightest.