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Wednesday, October 28

Bill Ayers, Bill Gates, and an answer to the question Glenn Beck posed during his last bout of weeping

February 4, 2009:
TED, the annual gathering of the most pretentious people from the fields of technology, entertainment, and design, just got punk'd. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates released a swarm of mosquitos into the crowd. Ending malaria is a particular passion of Gates's, whose Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent millions fighting the disease. But he apparently didn't feel like TED attendees were taking the threat seriously.

"Not only poor people should experience this," Gates said as he let the bugs loose on his audience [...]
From a January 2004 review of Bill Ayers's memoir:
[...] America deserved hatred, Ayers explains. He thought the government fascist, its leaders obsessed with bombing foreign countries (from Hiroshima to Hanoi), and its society a sick class system run by loathsome whites.

[A FBI informant remembers Bill Ayers]:

Larry Grathwohl found Ayers hard to love; he seemed self-important, a controller of subordinates, the type who loved to give orders. Ayers was a key leader [of the Weatherman and Weather Underground radical organizations]. Grathwohl, a government informant, wrote that Ayers had helped direct a pair of attempted police building bombings in Detroit in February 1970:

After doing his assigned job in reconnaissance, Grathwohl disagreed with Mr. Ayers over the placement of one bomb, which could easily kill black patrons who favored an adjacent restaurant, but Ayers dismissed such sentimentality as unrevolutionary.

The informant was glad to be dismissed from the operation by Ayers. Forty-four sticks of dynamite were then formed into two bombs and put into place before Grathwohl’s information allowed police to dismantle both. Ayers’ memoir -- which freely admits to incompleteness -- says nothing of this episode, or Detroit, or the month of February 1970.
On a Sunday afternoon in March, the RBO blogger, Brenda J. Elliott and I got into an email conversation about Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and globalization. After I told her a couple stories she suggested I write an essay on the topic and offered to research background articles for the piece. I replied:

"There is one thing you can do for me, although if you can find this information I'll keel from shock because I and one of my readers tried to find it on the internet and failed. A couple weeks there was a debate about protectionism on cable (Fox, CNBC or maybe CNN) in which one of the debaters said that 68 percent of the jobs for scientists and engineers in the USA were held by foreigners.

When the other person said that there weren't enough Americans to fill the jobs, the first man returned that this was not the case; it was just that U.S. companies wanted to hire foreigners.

He also said that when Microsoft and other companies were confronted about this, they replied in essence, 'We're not accepting TARP money so we can hire who we want and we want to hire foreigners.'

By the time I decided to make a note of the discussion I wasn't certain about the number the man quoted. The 68 percent was so staggering I worried I might have remembered it wrong. I haven't been able to find data that supports what he said -- and, no, I didn't get the man's name or his opposite in the debate."

Within moments of my request articles began appearing in my email in-box. As Brenda continued to tear up the internet looking for the quotes I'd mentioned, I read with a mounting sense of concern the articles she found. The following passages from an August 2008 column jumped out:
Wealthy advocates of H-1B visas have industriously worked to keep this employer-designed program hidden from middle-class Americans, who are outraged when they learn how it harms them.

In 2002, Nobel economics laureate Milton Friedman correctly identified the 1990 H-1B visa program as a "government subsidy" because it allows employers access to imported, highly skilled labor at below-market wages.

False allegations of worker shortages have been a popular approach. But American colleges and universities graduate four to six times the number of students needed to fill openings in technology fields that are generated by retirements and business expansion.

Consequently, since 1960, there have been more than 30 million graduates with bachelor's degrees who are qualified to work as scientists, engineers, computer programmers and mathematicians (the STEM fields) pursuing approximately 8 million "high tech" positions requiring this level of training. The importation of foreign technical professionals further swells the job-seeker ranks.

Between 1975 and 2005, more than 25 million admissions were approved in just five highly skilled visa programs.

Former Microsoft lobbyist Jack Abramoff helped direct $100 million in political expenditures between 1995 and 2000, enabling Microsoft and other employers to procure employer-friendly changes to H-1B visa legislation in 1996, 1998 and 2000. As a result of this work force glut, real wages in STEM fields have remained flat since at least 2000.

Contrary to Stuart Anderson’s claim, this program prevents innovation since American citizens are typically discarded by employers by age 35 — before their inventions can be turned into practical revenue generators.

It facilitates hiring discrimination against Americans. In the April 15, 2007, edition of the New York Times, Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath called H-1B the "outsourcing visa."

This program also undermines national security, as 200,000 U.S. science and engineering jobs have already been lost to communist China.

In the late 1980s, bureaucrats at the National Science Foundation found that they could increase the supply of technical professionals by importing them — offering foreign nationals the prospect of remaining in the United States.

This increase in supply depresses wages — an important policy objective.

One measure showing that this government intervention was successful (at least from the employers' perspective) is that a typical postdoctoral research or teaching position in a STEM field (requiring 12 years of education after high school) offers pay and benefits comparable to what a high school graduate earns managing a fast-food restaurant.

[...]
The transcript that Brenda found from a Lou Dobbs show on January 7, 2009, which I post at the end of this essay, helped fill in more of the story.

For all the wealth of material she turned up Brenda never did find the debate I mentioned because I was paraphrasing. But she came close enough to validating my key question; from various sources, it's a good guess that roughly 68% of the scientists and engineers working in the USA are indeed foreigners.

Yet the full story didn't come into focus until that Sunday afternoon. The story is that Americans who own many of the nation's most successful companies began dismantling the American science and engineering communities more than a decade ago.

And they did everything within their power to destroy the impetus for Americans to study science and engineering subjects; they did this in part by slashing wages in those fields to the point where the time an American invested in education for such careers translated to salaries that could be earned for a fraction of the educational investment.

The CEOs could get away with their actions because the foreigners they hired would work for peanuts -- and sometimes almost literally so; they would even work for free.

Yet these same American captains of industry, among them Bill Gates, lavished hundreds of millions of dollars in donations on American public education and lectured on the need for America to increase its investment in science and engineering education.

Why did Gates and his fellow travelers act in the way they did, when there were other ways to cut U.S. labor costs to stay competitive with foreign companies (e.g., offering stock to highly skilled American workers to make up for lower wages)?

Why did they open the floodgates for industrial spies who report to foreign governments, so the spies could easily steal U.S. research and technology?

Why did they betray the country they were born and raised in, and which protected them all their lives? Why did they betray the Americans who chose to work in engineering and science fields?

You might as well ask why Bill Gates found nothing unethical about helping to support his foundation's charitable giving to the world's poorest by investing for profit in vaccine research.

You might as well ask why he found nothing wrong with releasing mosquitoes, which carry diseases other than malaria, because he wanted a wealthy audience to turn out its pockets more.

He did it for the same reason Bill Ayers and his cadre found nothing wrong with the idea of murdering innocents to protest the Vietnam war.

They did it because they wished to do it; they did it because their wishes form their concept of morality and ethics.

That might be another way of describing a sociopath. But looking at the Fortune 500 companies that followed the Microsoft employment model, and at Bill Ayers's American sympathizers and apologists, that would mean America has raised up so many sociopaths during the past half century that the term is a poor guide to understanding what happened to us as a nation, how we go to this point.

That was what Glenn Beck tearfully asked, on the day he first showed a video of White House interim communications director Anita Dunn praising Mother Teresa and Mao Zedong in the same breath; this, while she stood in a cathedral and lectured American schoolchildren on striving to overcome great odds.

So how did we get to this point, where Americans could show such poor judgment they'd proffer the name of a mass murderer as a guide for schoolchildren? And where their wishes are the only moral guide that makes sense to them?

I believe the unvarnished answer is found in a segment aired by the "60 Minutes" TV news show a decade or so ago. An internet search for the transcript came up dry (I'm not in Brenda Elliott's research league), so you'll have to rely on my memory:

A series of murders occurred at a wildlife preserve in Africa -- this might have been in Kenya. The victims were different kinds of wild animals on the preserve. We don't usually refer to such deaths as 'murder' but the killings were so gruesome, so wanton, that to speak of them as anything other than murder isn't descriptive.

The preserve's authorities assumed at first that the murderers were poachers but on further investigation they realized that nothing was taken from the corpses -- not skins, glands, or tusks. The victims had simply been horribly mutilated.

So when the murders continued the police were called in and they set up clandestine surveillance. They didn't have long to wait before they discovered the identity of the murderers. It wasn't humans; it was a gang formed by all the young male elephants on the preserve. They sneaked around the preserve at night, then ganged up on the most defenseless animals they could find and ruthlessly slaughtered them, just for entertainment.

The investigators were incredulous. It was unheard of for elephants to act in such manner. They were acting in the manner of the most depraved human juvenile delinquents. Yet this kind of behavior was thought impossible for elephants, who are highly civilized.

The authorities separated the juvenile delinquents from the rest of the animals. Then they called in the psychiatrists and wildlife experts to study the perps, in the attempt to understand why the elephants, and just the males, had seemingly gone crazy.

All that the experts could figure was that the preserve lacked an old male elephant, which were in short supply; the available ones had been shunted to other preserves. The complexity of elephant society means that much elephant behavior isn't instinctual, it's learned.

So the experts theorized that without a respected elephant patriarch to show them proper behavior for a male elephant the youngsters had descended into a Lord of the Flies situation. Left to their own devices, perhaps the young elephants had fallen behind the most aggressive one among them, and thus soon turned to gangsterism and murder.

To test the theory an old bull elephant was imported and placed with the perpetrators. He immediately commanded their respect and affection. Then he quickly got them in line, showing them how a civilized male elephant acts. With that done, the young elephants were returned to the preserve (under close surveillance). Lo and behold their juvenile delinquency and murderous ways were a thing of the past.

The "60 Minutes" episode concluded with the observation that there might be lessons for humans in the tale of the murderous young elephants. Ya think?

I know this is unwelcome news for feminists. But there is much in addition to the elephant tale to suggest that unless young human males have a very strong patriarchal influence in their lives, they tend to rely on their wishes for moral guidance. This doesn't always work out well for society.

(I interject this doesn't let females off the hook; it's just that in general we're less aggressive than males unless we've had special training or been indoctrinated into a violent gang.)

The postwar Baby Boomer era in America saw public schools stuffed with many children and few adults -- usually one adult teacher to a room full of child students. This reversed the atavistic order of human society, where children were surrounded all day by many respected adults bossing them around and in the process teaching them appropriate behavior.

Particularly in the large cities, American Boomer public schoolchildren fell greatly under mob rule -- the rule of their peers -- a very unsettling situation for children and particularly males. Then, with the end of military conscription and the lessening of the authority of religious institutions, two more struts to a strong patriarchal influence on American males were kicked out.

That is why so many American males are converting to Islam. Whatever can be said against its practices and beliefs, the religion has retained a strong patriarchal influence, with rigid rules covering just about every aspect of human conduct. The rules at least provide guide wires for how males should act.

And that is also why American children schooled on military bases in the USA are remarkably free of the neuroses and behavioral problems that afflict so many children in American public schools. The children are always surrounded by highly respected male authority figures -- and female ones.

And because the schools are on the base, at least one parent can drop in on their child's classes or lunch periods every day, if only for a few minutes. This social order mimics the atavistic human tribal one: the young are constantly getting moral guidance from respected adults while at the same time they feel greatly protected -- not only from the worst of life in the adult and natural world but also from each other's worst sides.

To put all this another way, you can only thumb your nose at Mother Nature so much before you end up with large numbers of human specimens, both male and female, who bear a psychological resemblance to Bill Gates and Bill Ayers. Intelligence is not the issue here; character is.

Assuming for the sake of discussion my answer to Glenn's question is the ballpark, how do we back away from the abyss? The same way our society got so close to the edge: one step at a time. There's no going back to our tribal roots and we can't all raise our children on a military base. But there are several easy fixes that can be instituted in public schools, and which mirror the best aspects of tribal society to give children a sense of order and help instill good character. I'll discuss those fixes in a future post.

And we can recognize that American children who're placed in public school situations and exposed to classmates and teachers from a multitude of national and ethnic backgrounds and cultural assumptions need a unifying, shared core knowledge base. A good place to look for inspiration for such a base for all American schoolchildren is the work of education reformer E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

Surely the best introduction to Hirsch's accomplishments is written by Sol Stern, a political scientist who writes extensively on American education issues, and whose criticism of Bill Ayers's education ideas is well known to those who were reading htis blog last year.

Writing for this month's issue of City Journal, Sol observes in his essay titled E. D. Hirsch’s Curriculum for Democracy: A content-rich pedagogy makes better citizens and smarter kids:
At his Senate confirmation hearing in February, Arne Duncan succinctly summarized the Obama administration’s approach to education reform: “We must build upon what works. We must stop doing what doesn’t work.”

Since becoming education secretary, Duncan has launched a $4.3 billion federal “Race to the Top” initiative that encourages states to experiment with various accountability reforms. Yet he has ignored one state reform that has proven to work, as well as the education thinker whose ideas inspired it. The state is Massachusetts, and the education thinker is E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

The “Massachusetts miracle,” in which Bay State students’ soaring test scores broke records, was the direct consequence of the state legislature’s passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act, which established knowledge-based standards for all grades and a rigorous testing system linked to the new standards. And those standards, Massachusetts reformers have acknowledged, are Hirsch’s legacy. If the Obama administration truly wants to have a positive impact on American education, it should embrace Hirsch’s ideas and urge other states to do the same.[...]
A bonus is that Sol's article on Hirsh breaks down into simple English the 'Progressive' approach to public education, which for a quarter century has sown no end of confusion in young American minds.

Not content with confusion, Bill Ayers wishes to use the American public education system to accomplish what the Weatherman's violence couldn't, which is the destruction of American democracy.

So it's wise for parents with school-age children to learn about Ayers's education reform ideas and the inroads they've made in teacher education. After reading the article on Hirsch, parents might want to study Sol's writings about Ayers's education ideas and the writings of law professor Stephen Diamond's on the same topic. Between them, Steve and Sol raised the alarm last year, yet the general public has a way to go before it's aware of the ideas taught by Ayers and his cadre.

While Steve's 2008 reports about Ayers were focused on his relationship with Barack Obama, they're invaluable aids to understanding the complex 'race-based' ideas of Ayers's education cadre, and which Sol doesn't address separately from the cadre's interpretation of "social justice."

See Steve's May 21, 2008 essay, The "Monster in the Room": Does Obama Support Reparations? at his Global Labor blog and the October 06, 2008 The New York Times Magic Act!

1) January 7, 2009 Lou Dobbs show transcript:


LOU DOBBS: [...] Also, corporate America's aggressive campaign to drive down the wages of American scientists and engineers. That's not what they've been telling everybody. We'll tell you the truth, next.

LOU DOBBS: New evidence tonight there are enough American scientists in this country to fill job openings in science and engineering and in science and engineering companies, despite many industry claims to the absolute contrary. Those companies actively discourage American workers by keeping wages lower than they would otherwise be without foreign workers being imported. They keep wages low by exploiting visa rules and bringing cheap foreign workers into this country. Bill Tucker has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This fact from the National Science Foundation highlights a serious problem. "The number of foreign post-docs has increased by 52 percent since 1996, whereas the number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident post-docs has grown by nine percent."

The conventional wisdom is that that data shows a shortage of scientists and a dire need to bring in as many foreign scientists on H-1B visas as we can. Science professionals see it very differently. Beryl Benderly writes a monthly column for science careers on science labor force issues.

BERYL LIEFF BENDERLY, SCIENCE CAREERS COLUMNIST: There is no shortage of people. There are thousands of people who cannot find careers as scientists after they've been through years of training.

TUCKER: Studies from the Urban Institute, the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation all agree, the United States produces more scientists annually than science jobs. There is no shortage reflected in the pay they receive either. Ellis Research Services (ph), which has been doing wage studies in the science and engineering fields for 20 years, has consistently found pay for scientists to be in line with or lower than the average for all fields.

RON HIRA, ROCHESTER INST. OF TECHNOLOGY: There's no premium to these careers, and at the same time, what's happened is that there's been an increase in the risk to those workers, right, as employers cut, for example, benefits, as employers start to look to move work overseas, and a lot of science positions are vulnerable to being moved overseas.

TUCKER: In other words, there's a disincentive for choosing a career in science.

PROF. NORM MATLOFF, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA: The first thing the Obama people should do is take a hard look. Ignore the PR and take a hard look at what's really going on in terms of wages and job opportunities and science today.

TUCKER: There are winners. Just not the scientists.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: A typical post-doc in their early 30s, after years of school, earning a PhD will earn about 35,000, maybe $40,000 a year in a research position. Helping keep those wages low, the fact that research institutions have unlimited access to H-1B visas. And according to Ron Hira, some 60 percent of post-docs are foreign students, Lou, here on guest worker visas.

DOBBS: I'm not sure I quite understand this. You're telling us that a person with a doctorate in this country, roughly 30 years of age, late 30s...

TUCKER: Right.

DOBBS: ... early 30s -- I mean late 20s, early 30s is making just about the same as the median household income in this country?

TUCKER: They're making about 35 or $40,000 a year, after all of those years of schooling...

DOBBS: That's incredible.

TUCKER: ... which really is below what a Bachelor...

DOBBS: So let me ask a question.

TUCKER: ... make.

DOBBS: Why would it not occur to geniuses like Bill Gates, who's had the tamari to stand in front of Congress and demand an infinite number of H-1B visas, why would it not occur to such a genius as Bill Gates and others in corporate America and in academia to perhaps offer greater pay for higher education in corporate America?

TUCKER: Well I can't speak for them, but they're the ones who benefit from the lower wages, Lou, so I would imagine they're acting as they would say in their own self-interest.

DOBBS: Well a horrible -- a horrible construction of self-interest, denying an incentive for people to move into those jobs and give them a living wage, outrageous.

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: And I really would love to hear from the Chamber of Commerce -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable. We invite you to come here and demonstrate to us the error of our ways because you've been among those, Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and Bill Gates, I want to invite you too, Bill, because you and I have known each other a long time and you know I'm a straight shooter and I know that you can be when you're wrestled to the ground.

So why don't you come here and we'll talk about what's really going on, and how the American interest and American middle class workers can best be served. Because it looks like, frankly, folks, you're doing the nation a great disservice by distorting what is happening in this country for higher education, graduates, particular post-docs in corporate America.

Well there are right now 23 guest worker programs. By the way, I know you're one of those people, I'll bet you, who like me has listened to the president say we've got to have a guest worker program. Well, let me repeat that number. We keep trying to keep -- to figure out how many there are. And the number right now is just 23 guest worker programs.

So, Mr. President, I know you only got a couple of weeks left, a little less than that, but I want you to hear me loud and clear. As you've been going around the country saying this nonsense, there are 23 guest worker programs, folks. Foreign workers enter here under an alphabet soup of different visas in those guest worker programs.

In addition to the H visas there are also the E, the G, the I, the O, the P and there's an R-visa as well. There's also a visa for workers covered under NAFTA. In total, almost 810,000 foreign worker visas were issued in 2007. H-visas accounting for more than 400,000 of those workers and eight of the top 20 companies requesting H-1B visas last year -- are you ready -- those American companies looking for that skilled talent that Bill Gates talked about and the Chamber of Commerce wants, well, eight of the top 20 -- that's right, they were based in India. They were outsourcing jobs. Just thought we'd bring that to your attention as well, Mr. Gates.[...]

Friday, October 16

Stephen Diamond on the impact of William Ayers's education ideas

"Ayers has been peddling a heavily racialized, even racist, view of American life since his days in the SDS and Weather Underground in the late 1960s. That historical background is actually far more important to understanding the relationship between Ayers and Barack Obama than is widely understood."

Steve Diamond writes at his King Harvest blog:

The “Renaissance” of Bill Ayers
by Stephen Diamond, October 15, 2009

In the recent hubbub about whether or not Bill Ayers really admitted to a conservative blogger in the Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington D.C. his actual role in the writing of Barack Obama's memoir Dreams from My Father little attention has been paid to why, exactly, Bill Ayers happened to be in Washington, D.C. that day.

It turns out Ayers was one of three keynote speakers at a major conference organized by a consortium of schools of education at some 30 or so middle sized universities called The Renaissance Group. Ayers was given the only keynote luncheon speaker spot at the conference. The two morning keynote speakers were none other than Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education - and former foe of Ayers (and Obama) in the Chicago School Wars, and Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter.

Both Duncan and Kanter come from segments of the education policy world that are distinctly separate from the world of people like Bill Ayers, Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, and Berkeley law professors Chris Edley and Goodwin Liu. Darling-Hammond, Edley and Liu were among the most important players in the Obama campaign on education issues and yet none of them received appointments in the new administration.

A major theme of the Renaissance organization is finding ways to educate the "New American Student," as described in a statement published a few years after the founding of the group in 1989. Prominent among the themes in this analysis - beyond the standard concern for early childhood education and math and science issues - are the significance of poverty, diversity and multiculturalism and the consequent alleged inability of white teachers to deal with the impact of such issues on their students.

The report states:

"Students [in schools of education] who are preparing to become teachers need a set of experiences that reflect multiculturalism, ethnic pluralism, and sex equity awareness...It is significant that the principles upon which the Renaissance Group was founded recognize multiculturalism as a campus-wide responsibility."

And thus the job of Education Schools, among other things, it argues, is to diversify their faculty and staff in order to reflect the new racial make up of students in the K-12 environment.

Of course, "multiculturalism" is, as the post-modernists like to say, "contested terrain." It is as much an ideology as it is a scientifically established fact. It would seem to me - and I admit I am only a law professor and political scientist, not an education school expert - that debate and free inquiry about controversial subjects would be at the top of the agenda of any education school and certainly of any consortium of education schools.

Multiculturalism, of course, is a theme dear to the heart of Bill Ayers. His most recent book co-authored with his wife and Weather Underground comrade Bernardine Dohrn argues that the original sin of American life is white supremacy and that this continues to be central to what ails this country.

Ayers has been peddling a heavily racialized, even racist, view of American life since his days in the SDS and Weather Underground in the late 1960s. That historical background is actually far more important to understanding the relationship between Ayers and Barack Obama than is widely understood. Most on the right have followed the lead of Sarah Palin with her "paling around with terrorists" line during the campaign. But that actually played into the hands of Obama defenders such as the New York Times which had little trouble "proving" that there was no serious relationship between Obama and Ayers, at least when it came to Ayers' violent political history.

Ayers' and Dohrn's bizarro view of American life grew out of their original experience in Students for a Democratic Society which was the major student anti-war organization for most the of the 1960s. As activists in SDS began to look for other issues to tackle they happened upon a combination of "community organizing" in poor neighborhoods and "local control" of urban schools. In both cases SDS activists tried to lead their own alternatives in poor and largely black parts of cities like New York and Chicago, ignoring the kinds of organizations such as unions and other non profit entities that had already established a presence there.

In New York SDS backed a reverse racist attack on the teachers' union that led to a controversial strike in 1968. That same year, Dohrn backed a controversial proposal that aimed to undermine SDS support for the industrial labor movement - just as that labor movement was about to enter one its most active phases since the Great Depression.

To have participated in the already well established labor and other movements, of course, would have meant a long hard slog through those institutions. That was not the kind of patience found in authoritarian "r-r-revolutionaries" like Dohrn and Ayers.

Thus it was not a big leap for Ayers to the Chicago School Wars in which he worked side by side with Barack Obama. They shared, and likely share, a deep affinity for what the Obama camp calls "race based" approaches to education and other aspects of American life. Ayers and Obama were both active in lobbying for local control of the Chicago school system in the wake of an unpopular teachers strike in Chicago in 1987 and 1988.

Six years later, Ayers secured a $50 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation to establish the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Ayers appointed Barack Obama as the Chairman of the Challenge board. A major focus of the Challenge was to funnel money to the same local control structure that the 1988 legislation established as well as support for a wide array of multicultural programs in the school system. At its heart the "local control" agenda of the Annenberg Challenge was to watch dog teachers and principals, many black, in the wake of the heat the Teachers Union had taken after the 87 strike.

The reform drew the attention of the Heritage Foundation and was in some ways a forerunner to the school choice, charter school and voucher movements that many on the so-called left in education say they militantly oppose. In many ways the Annenberg Challenge was, in fact, a conservative even authoritarian project. The Chicago Teachers Union had attempted themselves to gain support from Annenberg but it is not a surprise they chose Ayers instead.

The joint effort of Ayers and Obama was opposed by Mayor Richard Daley who was engineering the gutting of the failed local control experiment and re-centralizing governance of the troubled school system under his new hand picked CEO, Paul Vallas. Arne Duncan began his career in education management working under Vallas and later became CEO himself of the Chicago system before being tapped by Obama as Education Secretary.

Thus, the prominent participation of Ayers in the Renaissance conference comes as no surprise. What is notable, though, is that Duncan and Kanter were also participating. Clearly the White House has no problem being associated with Bill Ayers. Ayers, it would appear, is being allowed a "renaissance," so to speak, now that the potential of their shared history to undermine Obama has receded for the time being.

Tuesday, October 13

Don't watch us, don't criticize us, don't bother us, just shut up. SFU.

Bad FOX! Bad! Bad!


Sunday, October 11

Obama switches out NATO policy for European Parliament policy; otherwise, it's business as usual for U.S. foreign policy

In his ongoing quest to figure out the Obama administration's foreign policy, Washington Post columnist and associate editor David Ignatius has analyzed several Obama speeches and found a recurring theme. In his October 8 editorial for The Washington Post he summarizes the theme, which is fast gaining coin in the Obama camp, and which the U.S. Department of State is pushing. So whether or not you agree with David's analysis, it's important to learn the lingo he discusses because it's going to play a huge role in U.S. foreign policy patter during Obama's presidency:
[...] To take the version that the president used in his inaugural address: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility." This involves a reciprocal exchange -- "mutual interest and mutual respect" is how Obama put it that cold day in January, and he has returned often to that formulation.

This idea -- of balancing rights and responsibilities -- strikes me as a central pillar of Obama's foreign policy. Iran has the right to civilian nuclear power but the responsibility to abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty; Israel has the right to live in peace but the responsibility to refrain from building settlements, which Obama rejects as illegitimate.

[...]

In Obama's formulation, America has regained its authority because it has returned to the global framework that the Bush administration disdained. Obama said this plainly in his Sept. 23 speech to the United Nations General Assembly. He talked about how the United States has "re-engaged" the world by dealing with issues that "fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism." Obama listed his deliverables -- banning torture, ordering the closure of Guantanamo, withdrawing from Iraq, embracing negotiations on climate change and even paying America's bills at the United Nations.

Now it's your turn, was Obama's corollary message. For nations that defy international norms (read: Iran, North Korea), Obama warned of isolation: "America intends to keep our end of the bargain," he said. "Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations [as signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty] must face consequences."

You can find similar language in almost every major address Obama has given. In his June 4 speech in Cairo, he spoke of Israeli and Palestinian "obligations" under international agreements. In a July 11 speech in Accra, Ghana, he told Africans that partnership with the United States "must be grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect." When he disclosed Iran's secret enrichment facility on Sept. 25, he blasted Tehran for "refusing to live up to [its] international responsibilities."

This vision of a global rule of law exemplifies what we are coming to understand as Obama's way of thinking -- optimistic, rational, practical.[...]
I don't want to short David's analysis so I hope you'll read the entire essay, which isn't long. But leaving aside that he inadvertently points to President Obama's knack for drawing false parallels, I think he's wrong when he concludes that Obama's foreign policy "is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with the details of real life."

Stephen Diamond's latest post, which I cross-posted earlier today, provides four "details of real life" from the Obama administration's playbook; together, they point to the operational end of Mr Obama's doctrine, which is the inverse of the human-rights oriented cast of Obama's speeches.

So I think it's now possible to perceive the outlines of the Obama Doctrine, which stripped down is pretty much the same as the Bush Doctrine: one set of principles for the tourists, another set for procedural matters.

I have no doubt that Obama will deliver, or at least try to do so, on items that are dear to the heart of the European Parliament, including shutting down Guantanamo and pushing for climate change legislation. But just as Soros & Co. were orchestrating phony democratic elections in Georgia and Ukraine for the State Department while President Bush was preaching the virtues of genuine democracy, recent actions of Obama administration officials mock his talk about responsibilities.

At this point, the only real change I see represented in Obama's approach is that it's moving away from NATO policy, which dominated U.S. foreign policy for more than a half century, and moving toward 'harmonizing' with EU policy. That is why Obama scuttled the missile defense shield project in Poland and the Czech Republic: it was a product of NATO policy but a major headache for the European Parliament, which is trying to engage more 'constructively' with Russia.

The project was a bad idea to begin with -- a brainchild of the 'Get Russia' faction in NATO -- but it had created such friction with Moscow that it boomeranged and opened a wedge in NATO. (Reference the 'Germany-Russia dyad' that John Batchelor noted several weeks ago.)

If you ask whether Americans will ever see an American foreign policy -- don't make me roll on the floor with laughter. Listen, there's a war going on in Mexico, a really scary one; how scary the American public has no idea because the nightly news hasn't been reporting on it.

Bush tried, okay? He really tried to construct an American foreign policy. He was demonized for it, even within his own party, when he wasn't being ignored. In the greatest irony of the Bush presidency, in the end it fell to Vladimir Putin to defend the failed attempt. He did it with his trademark sarcasm, but he wasn't far off the mark when he said that Bush had to learn the hard way that the U.S. president doesn't run things in Washington.

Obama is more pragmatic in this regard; he knows he can get much further by not antagonizing the Eurocentrics in Congress, his party, and the defense establishment.

Speaking of Mexico, last week Mark Safranski's ZenPundit blog linked to Dr. Max G. Manwaring's paper for the Strategic Studies Institute titled A “New” Dynamic in the Western Hemisphere Security Environment: The Mexican Zetas and Other Private Armies. Mark observes about the Manwaring paper:
This is good. Why Mexico and the war next door gets less media coverage than Iraq amounts to a case of national denial. Things are getting worse south of the border and we are not prepared.
That's saying a mouthful but it's not so much denial as the NATO-centric U.S. news media, which except for Fox News Channel is busy retooling for the EU-centric era of American news.

Nobel Peace Prize: Steve Diamond catches Barack Obama palming an ace; Pundita catches up with Nobel Peace Committee advisors

Thanks to RBO blogger Procrustes for fashioning the pictures and text I sent her into a right proper blog post; visit RBO at this link to see the fun I had tracking down some Norwegian advisors to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

Professor Stephen Diamond's latest post at his King Harvest blog, which he's given me permission to republish here, is his take on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. This is not the first time Steve has spotted Obama and his advisors practicing verbal sleights of hand but in this case the rigged card game has gone global; that's very bad news for human rights advocates around the world.

Obama gets the Nobel - human rights movement gets the boot
by Stephen Diamond on October 9, 2009 ·

Norwegians must not be reading the papers these days. Consider Obama's recent record:

1) Sending Valerie Jarrett to Dharamsala to tell the fellow Nobel Prize winner Dalai Lama that he was not welcome in Washington D.C. until after the visit of Obama to Beijing later this month. To the Dalai Lama's credit he came anyway. The Dalai Lama, together with Vietnamese Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh, is the symbolic representative of a massive Asian Buddhist movement for peace and democracy particularly in countries like Tibet, Burma and Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Nobelist Martin Luther King.

2) The Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center, a widely respected human rights NGO based in New Haven, CT, has lost its multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of State, as Obama presses his case to talk to the Iranian mullahs. The Center is widely seen as one of the few independent western voices that keeps an eye on human rights violations in Iran, particularly important in the wake of the repression of the mass uprising there recently.

3) A decision to "engage" the Burmese generals while they continue to jail Burmese leader and fellow Nobelist Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since she won an election in Burma in the early 90s. Her detention was recently extended on trumped up charges in order to prevent her from participating in upcoming elections.

4) Hilary Clinton told the world that the US would not allow human rights concerns to interfere with efforts to negotiate with China on other issues such as financial relationships and climate change. Even the Washington Post admitted the negative impact of her words: "Ms. Clinton's statement will have an effect: It will demoralize thousands of democracy advocates in China, and it will cause many others around the world to wonder about the character of the new U.S. administration."

The "theory" behind these moves appears to be something the Obama regime is calling "strategic reassurance" and liberal support for it is manifest. Yet the democratic left should be concerned. This is a rehash of what we in the anti-apartheid movement of the 70s and 80s ridiculed as "constructive engagement." Back then the argument was that American corporations should pull out of apartheid South Africa. The standard corporate response was "we do more good than harm." It was likely true that inside a GM plant in South Africa conditions were slightly better for some black South Africans, but the legitimacy thereby gained by the racist government far outweighed that advantage, and the movement based in South Africa itself supported our effort to force divestment.

Engagement, then, is a myth. The primary concern in places like central Asia and Asia proper for both the Chinese and the Americans is stability. Mass movements for democracy and human rights -- like those underway in Iran, China, Burma, Tibet, Vietnam and elsewhere -- threaten stability.

This suggests to me that the reason the Obama regime has taken on board such prominent advocates of human rights as Samantha Power (at the NSC) and Harold Koh, Sarah Cleveland and Michael Posner (at the State Department) is that their job, whether they realize it or not, is to help Obama pare back US support for human rights in order to support the new policy of "strategic reassurance" -- and it is clear who they are reassuring, not the mass movement but the authoritarian regimes in power over so much of Asia and elsewhere today.

cpdlogoadam
Fortunately, an alternative approach -- the withdrawal of US military might in order to allow genuine democratic movements to flourish -- is being articulated by some such as this statement from the New York Campaign for Peace and Democracy.

This year, 20 years after the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Chinese Communist Party suppressed the Tiananmen democracy movement, Oslo should have taken more seriously the nomination of Chinese human rights activists, which is rumored to have occurred. [1]

1) Associated Press: China dissidents top Nobel Peace Prize speculation; October 8, 2009

Wednesday, October 7

The Dollar's Demise: Glenn Beck and Larry Kudlow get sucked into Robert Fisk's brain

"[O]ld Bob has become something of a bellwether. At the time of the Gulf war he wrote incredibly despondent articles predicting the annihilation of the western powers. He found a group of British soldiers lost in the desert and extrapolated defeat for the whole of Desert Storm. At the time of the Kosovo crisis he reported that the bombing would only make things worse.

Since September 11, he has been dreadfully pessimistic, predicting that the West was about to bring total disaster upon its own head.

In short, he is that most valuable resource, a journalist whose judgments are not just mistaken, but reliably mistaken. If ever Fisk predicts that the Americans will walk it, that will be the time to put on the tin hat."


-- Simon Hoggart, (UK) Guardian, November 2001

Robert Fisk's war reporting has made him one of Britain's most honored journalists, but he is also so notorious for taking liberties with the concept of reporting that a form of literary criticism was devised and named just for him; it's called fisking, whereby the critic publishes an entire Fisk article then does a sentence-by-sentence deconstruction.

I will not attempt to fisk Mr Fisk's October 6, 2009 The Demise of the Dollar for The (U.K.) Independent, any more than I would attempt to draw a perfect circle freehand while drunk.

But in brief he took a dollop of fact from here and a smidgen of fact from there and conjured a soupcon of something from somewhere. Then he crowned the mishmash with a tale told to him by unnamed "Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong."

The tale involved secret meetings among Gulf Arabs, China, Russia, Japan and France "to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar" to go into effect in 2018.

A senior Gulf OPEC official told Dow Jones in Dubai that he had no idea where Fisk got his information but that Arab Gulf members of OPEC were not in talks about dropping the U.S. dollar in favor of a basket of currencies in the trading of crude oil. And Kuwait's oil minister assured a Reuters reporter that there were no talks among Gulf Arab exporters to replace the U.S. dollar for trading oil.

The denials were of course ignored. The Drudge Report picked up Fisk's tale and headlined it, "Arabs plot to drop dollar." And so it came pass on Tuesday night that Fox's Glenn Beck and CNBC's Larry Kudlow based their dire warnings about the state of the U.S. dollar on a Fisk tale. (1)(2)

Robert Fisk is a 9/11 Truther; given how much derision Glenn heaped on Van Jones for Jones's association with the Truthers, I surmise that Glenn or his research team were so riveted by Fisk's assertions they didn't pay attention to the author.

And Larry Kudlow has expressed so much worry in recent weeks about the dollar's weakness that it's likely he saw the article as grist for his mill, but without his noticing the name of the author or researching him.

As a general rule the more controversial the claims in a news story, the more one needs to consider the source. And given the source in this case, and that he didn't name his sources, the Fisk article makes for fish wrap even though it contains bits and pieces of facts.

Robert Fisk is proudly unapologetic for his view of journalism, which is that it must "challenge authority, all authority, especially so when governments and politicians take us to war." According to the Wikipedia article about him, "He has quoted with approval the Israeli journalist Amira Hass: 'There is a misconception that journalists can be objective ... What journalism is really about is to monitor power and the centres of power.'

I interject that it's just such agenda-driven approaches to reporting that have wreaked havoc on the journalism profession and sowed great mistrust for the news media among the public.

In Mr Fisk's case he is so eager to believe that America will collapse any day from the sheer weight of its sins that he's an easy dupe.

As to why "Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong" would tell Mr Fisk such a story at this particular time, there could be any number of reasons. And given his tendency to listen to the voices in his head it's not clear as to exactly what he was told. His article does not provide direct quotes from those unnamed banking sources.

I've made an issue of Mr Fisk's article because it was picked up by two influential American commentators. They and their researchers need to take particular care at this juncture; that's because a big trade in rumor-mongering has arisen from the uncertainty about the direction of financial and currency markets. The only protection is to read and listen defensively to news reports about those sectors.

None of the above means there isn't discussion about diversifying more from the U.S. dollar; the discussion, and diversification, have been going on openly for years. That's not a bad thing; it's good thing, and a natural development if it's allowed to proceed naturally. However, it's also no secret that OPEC members who like the United States least, such as Iran and Venezuela, want to abruptly end OPEC's formal pricing of oil in dollars.

Would OPEC be self-destructive enough to destabilize the international monetary system by suddenly refusing to accept dollars for oil? I don't think they're suicidal. As to whether they might try to put a scare in everybody by hinting they're crazy enough to do something like that --

Well, some OPEC members are still pretty steamed that the USA went around them earlier this year when the cartel jacked up the oil price. The U.S. began pumping more oil and turned to Russia and Brazil for oil; those countries were all too happy to deal. That forced OPEC to back down.

As to how happy the British government is to see the United States getting cozier with Russia, gee, maybe Mr Fisk can find out the answer and report back.

1) Larry Kudlow, The Kudlow Report, October 6, 2009, CNBC Transcript:
Two big economic stories today. The first is about the demise of the dollar. According to London’s Independent, the Arab oil producers in the Gulf are planning with China, Russia, Japan, and France to end dollar transactions for oil and move instead to a basket of currencies that might include the Japanese yen, the Chinese yuan, and the euro, along with gold and some kind of regional Gulf state currency. [...] As far as the currency story goes, I say where there’s smoke there’s fire. [...]
2) Glenn Beck, October 6, 2009, Glenn Beck Show, Fox News Channel Transcript:
[...] OK, that's nice optimism. I'm sure you are going to be a favorite with Lindsey Graham — he's optimistic about stuff too. But that doesn't quite provide comfort after what I read in The Independent on the "Demise of the Dollar." The British paper claims that Arab states have launched secret moves with China, Russia and France to stop using the U.S. currency for oil trading. They plan to instead move towards a "basket of currencies." Oh, that sounds so inclusive, doesn't it? The basket includes the euro, yen, pound sterling, Canadian dollar, Swedish crown krona and the Swiss franc. [Fisk's article does not mention all the currencies Glenn named] Hmmm, what's missing?

Now, just so you know, the Saudi Central Bank governor denies the secret talks took place. Oh, well if they said so, we can all assume the dollar is here to stay and everything is peachy. But, in the off-chance the Saudi Central Bank governor isn't *reliable*, what does that mean for our dollar and our country if it is no longer pegged to oil? What does that mean for you? [...]"

Tuesday, October 6

High intrigue and Iran's nuclear weapons program: The case of the semi-missing nuke technicians

Regarding the mention of David Hoffman's Dead Hand in John Batchelor's post today, which I publish below, I recommend that you first read an excellent New York Times review of the book. Hoffman's book is the first full account of how the Soviet-US arms race finally ended. That will set the stage for John's post about the intrigue surrounding the development of Iran's nuclear weapons.

John recently interviewed Hoffman about Dead Hand; the book and their discussion underscore that the Cold War casts a long shadow on today's thorniest defense issues, including Iran's WMD programs.

Torn Nukes
By John Batchelor, October 6, 2009 12

Worst Case Scenario

"Torn Curtain" was the Cold War in startling Hitchcock style, and now we have the New Cold War in high tension drama in the case of 'missing' ex-Soviet nuke techs.

Bibi Netanyahu traveled quietly to Moscow recently in order to confront the Russians with the names of four ex-Soviet nuke technicians that Israeli intelligence asserts are working with Tehran to engineer their centrifuges and produce highly enriched uranium in mass production for bomb-making.

Missing technicians? No. Moscow knows where they are. So does Jerusalem. There are more than four, and the seriousness of it is that Moscow is not running the operation. I am told these are ex-Sov techs from Kazakhstan and Ukraine. There is much more.

David Hoffman's thrilling and highly crafted new book, "Dead Hand," includes several anecdotes, supported by named informants, that point to Tehran shopping for Soviet nuke and biowar technicians in the 1990s in Kazakhstan.

I add the Ukraine detail on advice, without naming sources. The Netanyahu trip to Moscow on September 7, two years after the IAF strike on the nuke facilities built by North Korea and Iran in the eastern Syrian plain, was a declaration by Jerusalem that it no longer needed to keep its penetration of Iran's nuke ops secret from anyone. Jerusalem wanted Moscow to know it knows. And the US, too. Why? This is a thriller.

George Friedman at Stratfor argues right now that the revelation of the nuke techies makes the worst case scenario credible for Iran's nuke program. I agree with George Friedman. Paul Newsman agrees with George Friedman, and so does Julie Andrews. Hitchcock calls this movie "Torn Nukes."

When U.S. interests clash with freedom: "Obama tells Dalai Lama to sit in the back of the bus"

This is to introduce Steve Diamond's latest post at his King Harvest blog, which he's given me permission to republish here. For many years Steve has worked to support democracy in countries with authoritarian regimes. So he would have written exactly the same in this case no matter who sat in the White House, if the Dalai Lama had received the same treatment as he did from the Obama administration.

What's particularly important about the writing is the background it provides, which will come as a revelation to Americans who're unaware of the influence of Buddhist democracy activism on Martin Luther King's thinking and the important role that Buddhist democracy activists are playing in current civil rights movements around the world.

Buddhists are carrying the standard that Western governments dropped in favor of lip service to democracy because of trade and geostrategic considerations. It's always a hop and a skip from expediency to repression. So this is not just about the Dalai Lama and Tibet. This is about your freedom as well.

Obama tells Dalai Lama to sit in the back of the bus
by Stephen Diamond, October 6, 2009

dalailamaIn perhaps the most cynical move of his young Administration to date, Barack Obama is refusing to welcome the Dalai Lama to the White House this week, a courtesy the United States has extended to this symbol of peace and human rights for nearly two decades.

Obama's argument is that it is more important for the United States to throw a bone to his new partner in international relations, the authoritarian Chinese "communist" regime, than signal his support of movements for democracy and human rights in Burma, Vietnam, Tibet and elsewhere throughout Asia.

The news is a significant setback not just to the Tibetan national liberation movement but to human rights on a global scale. While the Chinese communist regime, and their lackeys in Western academia, attacks the Tibetan monks led by the Dalai Lama as a "feudal" institution, in fact, Asian buddhists have been at the forefront of movements for peace, democracy and human rights for nearly fifty years.

Perhaps unknown to Barack Obama, the Asian buddhist movement had a significant influence on the American civil rights and anti-war activist Martin Luther King. As is well known King delivered a speech in New York in 1967 announcing his, then quite controversial, opposition to the U.S. war against Vietnam.

thich-quang-ducLess well known today is the fact that King cited in his speech the influence of discussions he had had with Thich Nhat Hanh, a leader of the Vietnamese buddhist movement. Thich Nhat Hanh had fled Vietnam to the United States when he was threatened with assassination by BOTH the south Vietnamese regime and the stalinist movement from the north.

Why? Because his Buddhist movement stood for an independent but also democratic Vietnam. The monks who famously engaged in self-immolation in south Vietnam in the early 1960s to protest both the war and the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime were part of the order organized by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Here are the words of Thich Nhat Hanh cited in King's speech:

"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

King was so impressed by Thich Nhat Hanh that King nominated him for the same Nobel Peace Prize that King himself had been awarded. In his nomination King said:

newnewnew2"I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity."

Can we not easily transpose the words of Thich Nhat Hanh to the situation of Afghanistan today or indirectly to US acquiescence in Chinese oppression of Tibet or China's backing of the generals of Burma?

Is not Barack Obama sacrificing the potential moral authority of the global movement for peace, democracy and human rights by siding with the Chinese regime as opposed to the people of Tibet, of Burma, of Vietnam?

What makes this situation more galling is the apparent support for, or at least acquiescence in, the policy of Obama coming from some of our most prominent legal advocates of human rights. Harold Koh of Yale Law School, Sarah Cleveland of Columbia Law School, Michael Posner of Human Rights First, Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University, and Samantha Power of Harvard University all hold senior positions inside the Obama/Clinton State Department. Together these individuals represent decades of advocacy for human rights yet they now appear to be providing a thin form of political cover for the Obama Administration's cynical real politik.

This is a State Department that has itself concluded that the human rights situation inside China has worsened recently. According to Bloomberg:

"China’s human rights record worsened last year in areas that included harassment of dissidents and repression of ethnic minorities such as Tibetans, the State Department said today.

"Chinese authorities committed killings and torture outside the legal system, coerced confessions of prisoners and used forced labor, the department said in its 2008 report. The government also “increased detention and harassment of dissidents, petitioners, human rights defenders and defense lawyers,” the department said in the study."

If any of these prominent human rights supporters has already resigned in protest over the Obama decision then I apologize in advance. But as of tonight no word of such a protest has emerged. A deeper concern emerges now that their actual approach towards human rights is to make it a part of the exercise of state power - to be brought forward when the interests of state power dictate and tossed aside when it becomes inconvenient.

photo01Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia made the critical point, tonight the prison guards in Burma and China rejoice:

“Dissidents in Lhasa will know exactly what it means. Guards will come by their cells and laugh at them. It’s a mistake and the ramifications are going to be felt for months ahead.”

As hundreds of Buddhist monks are in prison for their support of democracy movements in Tibet and Burma, those guards are using the new Obama policy of "constructive engagement" (they call it "strategic reassurance" in a particularly dreadful Orwellian rhetorical manner) with China to try to break the spirit of those monks.

These jailers - and those in the U.S. government who appease them - are this generation's equivalent of "Bull" Connor and other opponents of the American civil rights movement.

The democratic left owes the Dalai Lama their strongest support. From Aung San Suu Kyii to Vietnamese textile workers to the Tibetan liberation movement, the buddhists are critical sources of inspiration.

015monks_468x286It could be argued that the buddhist movement is today the backbone of movements for democracy across Asia. To be silent in the United States about this outrage is to throw overboard the decades of good will built up between the American democratic left and global movements for freedom and human rights reaching back to the 1960s civil rights and anti-war movements.

Then as now we must side with those who are willing to put their lives at risk for democracy and human rights not with those in power who work to preserve the narrow interests of their state and its corporate and military establishments.

Monday, October 5

Threading the needle in Afghanistan, Part 2: The tale of the purloined election and the truthful public servant

Karzai Fraud
By John Batchelor on October 5, 2009

Washington Accepts the Lie

The dogged, dangerous diplomat, Peter Galbraith, former deputy of the UN mission in Afghanistan, that was in charge of the recent presidential elections, has now launched a frontal assault on the UN, his former boss in Kabul, the Norwegian UN diplomat Kai Eide, and on the US envoy Richard Holbrooke as well, by declaring in copy and on TV in London and Washington that Hamid Karzai stole the election, that the election results are fraudulent, and that the UN, NATO and the US are going along with a disgraced lie. Karzai is not the elected president of Afghanistan.

Ann Marlowe told me in August, the weekend of the election, that preliminary results show that Karzai had taken up to 72% of the vote and that Dr. Abdullah, the major rival, was down to 24% -- with the other dozen or so canditates showing minute results. All a fraud, Ann Marlowe reported. She pointed to the province of Khost, with one million residents all told, where the intial results show one million votes for Karzai. Laughable, disgraceful.

Since then there have been adjustments to Karzai's vote total (reduced to the less ridiculous 54%, as the Karzai machine can claim any number it wants) yet there have been consistent and widespread and documented reports of ballot-stuffing after a low voter turnout.

Galbraith made his charges of fraud in September and was fired by the Norwegian Eide in retaliation. Last week, before Galbraith wrote in London and Washington, the Obama Politburo decided to accept Karzai as the winner of the fraudulent first round of voting.

The [Obama administration] Politburo needs Karzai in place so it can go ahead with its plan to buy off the Taliban, using Saudi Intelligence and Pakistani Intelligence, and then leave Afghanistan to the offices of the UN and NATO and other international bodies.

The Obama administration's needs are for the mid-term election of 2010, not for Afghanistan or Pakistan, not for the hunt for al Qaeda and the completion of the mission in the region, not even for the integrity of the American military mission. The Politburo's mission is for the Politburo's success -- to get out of the Gulf and get the power to reshape the American economy to its imagination.

Now Comes Galbraith

Peter Galbraith stands in the way of the Politburo because he insists, as above, that the election was fraudulent and corrupt and a lie and is therefore useless for legitimacy. Peter Galbraith's charge is not in a vacuum. The so-called second-place candidate, Dr. Abdullah, has written UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon that Eide was "giving a green card for fraud to determine the outcome of the election."

Abdullah wants a second round of voting, with Karzai and him in a run-off that is monitored correctly by the UN. Will Abdullah get his run-off? Not likely. The Politburo needs Karzai now. I am told again this day, after Galbraith's salvos, that the Politburo will ignore the corruption and force its will on the UN and NATO and Kabul because it believes it must have a viable government in place now.

Because of the winter weather, no new election can be held until the Spring, which is much too late for the Politburo's desires to get out of Afghanistan before the 2010 election. The UN is caught now between three immovable voices:

The truth-teller Galbraith, who will not back off and has now been given the forum of ABC "Good Morning" with Diane Sawyer; the Karzai mob in Kabul, that has been handed the presidency and its renewed license to steal aid and run the narco trade, and which will not back off; and then there is the Obama Politburo, that continues to rethink and rethink and rethink its strategy on Afghanistan.

Of these three immovables, Galbraith is the most vulnerable to attack and smear and dismissal. There is the complication that Galbraith published a blistering attack on the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, "The End of Iraq," and is therefore not easily stuffed in a box labeled "right-wing critic." Galbraith does not look vulnerable this day. Also, there is the detail that he is speaking a truth that is widely known.

Rotten

The veteran American aid worker and observer Rufus Phillips, author, "Why Vietnam Matters," told me again on Saturday 3 that the election was a well-known fraud (he was an observer in Kabul) and that Karzai is not legitimately the president.

Wise men like Rufus Phillips, who mentored the young Richard Holbrooke in Saigon in the 1960s, have potent voices in American foreign policy. Rufus Phillips told JFK the grim, complex, discouraging facts of the Saigon Delta in the summer of 1963, before the disaster of the Diem Brother murders; and Rufus told JFK during a Cabinet meeting in front of Maxwell Taylor, Dean Rusk, Ted Sorenson, McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara and other luminaries of the Vietnam war. From the description of the scene in Rufus's book, it was a message that made everyone unhappy, especially Rufus's boss at AID.

Peter Galbraith's message to the UN makes everyone unhappy in Washington, in the UN, in NATO -- in the Politburo. It is a direct blow to POTUS. Galbraith's statement comes to a simple formula that fraud is fraud. A presidency built on fraud stains and weakens any democracy that tries to negotiate with it.

Karzai at Kabul does and will weaken the Obama administration at Washington if and when the Politburo puts Karzai in the Dayton Accord-like deal to appease the Taliban and exit Afghanistan. Rotten fruit from the poisoned election. Bad policy and bad times and bad ends. Not Vietnam. Not yet. Pakistan has not spoken. Pakistan can make a bad situation much, much worse.

Threading the needle in Afghanistan: Is McChrystal's plan a replay of the Vietnam Strategic Hamlet Program?

Up until reading Stephen Diamond's latest post at his King Harvest blog I've resisted putting stock in attempts to draw significant parallels between the present Afghan conflict and the U.S. one in Vietnam.

One can always find similarities between wars in which guerrilla and conventional forces clash over prolonged periods. But to the best of my recollection there was no copper mining in Vietnam and in any event U.S. troops in Vietnam weren't helping to guard China's copper mining operations, as they are in Afghanistan.

And no matter how much I dredge my memory I cannot recall that the Vietnamese were sitting on huge reserves of oil, natural gas, gold, copper, iron ore, rare earths and just about every other coveted strategic natural resource you can think of. The Afghanis are sitting on such reserves; just about the only thing they don't have -- or which geologists haven't found yet -- are diamond lodes.

I've also been unable to recall that the Viet Cong made a fortune by guarding U.S. supply routes in Vietnam, as the Taliban have been doing for NATO supply routes in Afghanistan.

There are many other profound differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam, the eras in which the two wars were fought, and the peoples of the countries. But by gum after reading Steve's post I realized some things never change, including the famous human tendency to attempt to superimpose the past on the present no matter how much the present differs.

General Stan’s Afghan Plan: Déjà vu, all over again
By Stephen Diamond, October 4, 2009

images-1So this is the plan: move our troops back into Afghan population centers to break the link between the Taliban army and the local population.

And here I thought the one thing that Generals of the post-Vietnam War era had learned was not to repeat the mistakes of America's defeat in Asia.

But the proposal by General Stanley McChrystal about how to fight the war in Afghanistan sounds an awful lot like the "strategic hamlet" tactics the US tried and failed with in Vietnam in the 1960s. It's no wonder Gen. McChrystal is getting such strong support from the British military. They invented the strategic hamlet approach in their crushing of national liberation movements like that of Malaya back in the 40s and 50s.

Here is how the Vietnam era plan was described in The Pentagon Papers:

The Strategic Hamlet Program was much broader than the construction of strategic hamlets per se. It envisioned sequential phases which, beginning with clearing the insurgents from an area and protecting the rural populace, progressed through the establishment of GVN infrastructure and thence to the provision of services which would lead the peasants to identify with their government. The strategic hamlet program was, in short, an attempt to translate the newly articulated theory of counter-insurgency into operational reality. The objective was political though the means to its realization were a mixture of military, social, psychological, economic and political measures.

images3

But then as now we underestimated two things: first, the ability of the Viet Cong to resupply endlessly from the North and two, more importantly, the close family, ethnic and nationalist links between the VC and the local Vietnamese population.

The corrupt South Vietnamese regime tried to turn the program into its personal property thus further undermining its effectiveness.

The Pentagon Papers concluded: The weight of evidence suggests that the Strategic Hamlet Program was fatally flawed in its conception by the unintended consequence of alienating many of those whose loyalty it aimed to win.

Today, the Taliban are increasingly recognized as a Pashtun force, however reactionary, with deep ties in that entire region even on the Pakistani side of the border. Thus, barricading some Afghan villages may 'protect' them from the Taliban but they are not likely to lose touch entirely and it is hardly going to starve the Taliban fighters.

And who can guarantee that corrupt warlords in and around the Karzai regime, like the Diem regime in Vietnam, won't be able turn the program into a means to strengthen their fiefdoms?

Of course, more likely, the McChrystal 'plan' is a gauntlet thrown at the inexperienced inner circle surrounding Obama - Valerie Jarrett, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. McChrystal is saying it's time to make good on that campaign promise that got you elected. The Pentagon is cashing the check that Obama wrote in the campaign.

Joe Biden was right about that foreign policy challenge early in the Obama Administration - it's coming from the US military, however, not Afghanistan.

Sunday, October 4

Indonesia earthquakes: As an army of international aid workers converges on Padang city, hard-hit villages don't see a single aid worker

Just as we curse lawyers until we need one, we tend to have nothing good to say about reporters until we realize how much we depend on them to be our eyes and ears on the ground. So while the news that two Associated Press reporters bring us is upsetting, I want to start on a positive note by thanking Eric Talmadge and Irwan Firdaus for doing a great job. Their on-the-ground reporting for AP in this case is literal; the team had to walk four miles for 1-1/2 hours to investigate because landslides had cut off the road to a village they sought out.

Their exertions have brought to light that four days after an earthquake struck Indonesia, badly hit villages haven't received a bit of help from the outside world, unless we count packages of instant noodles dropped from a helicopter. Meanwhile so many rescue teams from around the world descended on Padang, the capital city of Indonesia's Western Sumatra province, that gridlock and chaos ensued.

Yet if Willie McMartin, operational director for International Rescue Corps is to be believed, the quakes were not as devastating to Padang as first feared. Willie's disaster team arrived in Padang on Saturday. He told the BBC that there were up to 30 teams like his in Padang and that some medical teams were spending their time "giving sweets to local kids" because the number of injuries was not as bad as had been feared. Willie also told the Beeb:
"The city has not been wiped out. I would say between 80 and 90% of it is still standing. Most of the damage is in shopping precincts and at a hotel and university building."

[...]

He said: "I'm pretty certain that the rescue work will finish today and we'll move into the relief and rebuilding phase to help those that survived."

Mr McMartin said two key roads linking outlying districts had been reopened. There are fears that rescue teams will find more casualties in the isolated villages but Mr McMartin was more optimistic.

He said: "Many people here live in single story homes so generally speaking they have suffered cuts and bruises. Yes, they need help, but so far there haven't been the fatalities we feared that you get from being crushed by concrete."
Yes, well, if you're buried by a landslide, I can see how being crushed by concrete wouldn't be an issue for you. From the AP report, filed about 2:00 AM EDT Sunday
JUMANAK, Indonesia — With no outside help in sight, villagers used their bare hands Sunday to dig out rotting corpses four days after landslides triggered by a huge earthquake obliterated four hamlets in western Indonesia.

Officials said at least 644 people were buried and presumed dead in the hillside villages in Padang Pariaman district on the western coast of Sumatra island. If confirmed it would raise the death toll in Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude earthquake to more than 1,300, with about 3,000 missing.

The extent of the disaster in remote villages was only now becoming clear. So far, aid and rescue efforts have been concentrated in the region's capital, Padang, a city of 900,000 people where several tall buildings collapsed.

But the quake was equally devastating in the hills of Pariaman, where entire hillsides were shaken loose, sending a cascade of mud, rocks and trees through least four villages.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said there was little hope of finding anyone alive.

"We can be sure that they are dead. So now we are waiting for burials," he told reporters.

Where the villages once stood, there was only mud and broken palm trees. The mountainsides appeared to have been gouged bare by a gigantic backhoe.

The villages "were sucked 30 meters (100 feet) deep into the earth," said Rustam Pakaya, the head of Indonesia's Health Ministry crisis center. "Even the mosque's minaret, taller than 20 meters (65 feet), disappeared."

In Jumanak village, some 200 to 300 wedding guests at a restaurant were buried alive, including the bride, her 15-year-old brother, Iseh, told The Associated Press.

[...]

The adjacent villages of Pulau Aiya, Lubuk Lawe and Limo Koto Timur were also swept away.

[...]

Survivors in the area said no government aid or search teams had arrived, even four days after the quake. Only about 20 local policemen had come with a power shovel and body bags.

"My relatives were all killed, washed away by the landslide," said Dola Jambak, a 48-year-old trader, picking through the rubble of his house. "I lost seven relatives. Now all I can do is wait for the search teams. But they don't come."

The landslides cut off all roads, and the villages were accessible only by foot. An AP team reached Jumanak after walking about four miles (six kilometers) for 1 1/2 hours.

[...]

Aid also had not reached Agam district, which is much closer to Padang.

Laila, a villager in Agam district, said she and hundreds of others had no food, clothes and clean water.

"Our house is gone ... everything is gone," she sobbed.

She said a helicopter dropped some instant noodle packets Saturday. "But we need clean water to cook it," said Laila, who also uses one name. She said the local river had become dirty as people were using it to wash.

According to the National Disaster Management Agency, 83,712 houses, 200 public buildings and 285 schools were destroyed. Another 100,000 buildings and 20 miles (31 kilometers) of road were badly damaged, and five bridges had collapsed.

Meanwhile, hundreds of doctors, nurses, search and rescue experts and cleanup crews arrived Saturday at the Padang airport from around the world with tons of food, tents, medicine, clean water, generators and a field hospital.

But with no electricity, fuel shortages and telecommunication outages, the massive operation was chaotic.

Deliveries came on C-130 cargo planes from the United States, Russia and Australia. Japanese, Swiss, South Korean and Malaysian search and rescue teams scoured the debris. Tens of millions of dollars in donations came from more than a dozen countries to supplement $400 million the Indonesian government said it would spend over the next two months.

The U.N. said there are sufficient fuel stocks in the area for four days, but with the road to a major depot cut off by landslides, gasoline prices had jumped six-fold. [...]
The gridlock in Padang that Eric Talmadge and Irwan Firdaus describe is a common occurrence when aid organizations descend en masse on a disaster area. But as Willie McMartin points out about Padang's residents, "Life is getting back to normal for most people if they haven't lost a loved one. These people are used to such incidents."

Of course they'd be used to such incidents. Indonesia is Earthquake Central; it's located on one of the world's most active fault lines. So one would think that after all these many years and disasters, and given that governments and aid agencies now have access to things like instant internet connections, they'd be able to better coordinate their relief efforts in Indonesia.

Wikipedia's article, 2009 Sumatra earthquakes features a table of countries that have sent aid to Indonesia and a detailed description of the type of aid each country is providing. The descriptions suggest there's no chain of command and that there's considerable redundancy of effort. That's an old story.

Everyone descends on the disaster area and does their own thing. Eventually it gets sorted out. On-site aid workers from different countries coordinate with each other and the local relief agencies, or at least make a stab at doing so, but this can take several days or weeks.

And as you can see from the AP report the sorting-out process can leave hard-hit regions without help in the early days of a disaster, when assistance is most needed.

The AP report also underscores that the arrival of so many aid workers (all of whom need to be housed, fed, and supplied with safe drinking water) places great strain on a disaster region's very limited supplies.

Given that a string of natural disasters has hit various Asian countries during the past month, I hope this galvanizes cash-strapped governments and international aid organizations to better coordinate their relief efforts.

The coordination should include prioritizing tasks based on a country's proximity to a projected disaster region. For example, the Wikipedia table shows that Saudi Arabia and Russia sent search-and-rescue ("sniffer") dogs to Indonesia. Given that every minute counts when trying to find people trapped under rubble, it would make better sense if Malaysia was the country to send sniffer dogs.

If Malaysia doesn't have such dogs, that's the point if countries coordinate responses to disasters. In the case of an earthquake in Indonesia the country closest to the archipelago should train sniffer dogs and have them and their handlers ready for rapid deployment.

The United Nations and other international organizations are always dialing for dollars when a disaster strikes. But disaster survivors can't sleep under money tents, drink money, or eat it.

What the survivors need most in the aftermath of a disaster are rapid response teams that arrive on the ground already coordinated. So, first do better advance planning, which will make cash donations for disaster victims go further.

I will close by mentioning the Associated Press staff writers in Jakarta who helped Eric Talmadge and Irwan Firdaus prepare their report. Thank you to Ali Kotarumalos, Anthony Deutsch, Niniek Karmini and Vijay Joshi.

Saturday, October 3

Indonesia's earthquakes and President Obama's promise of American aid. Not so fast, sir.

Akhiruddin displayed the list of 15 contractors on his Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, showing a web of companies and subcontractors. Most appear to be controlled by a few individuals related to one another. “They were supposed to sink foundations up to 60cm,” he said. “But we found they’d just propped wooden stilts on stones and dug no foundations at all. The timber was substandard and already warping.”

A tragedy is unfolding in Indonesia, which was hit by powerful earthquakes on Wednesday and Thursday in the country's Sumatra region. The current death toll is around 750 but the United Nations estimates that as many as 4,000 people could be buried under rubble.

The impulse for those standing outside the tragedy is to race to help, and aid organizations from around the world have already converged on Indonesia.

Yesterday President Barack Obama spoke with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and according to a White House statement "offered, on behalf of the United States, to do everything we can to help alleviate the suffering and provide assistance to the relief operation."

I appreciate that he made the offer. Yet the story unfolds with sickening predictability, an old story, always the same story in Indonesia and in many parts of the world. In one area the only people who survived the earthquakes were those who were not caught in the death trap of their houses. Concrete, particularly sub-standard concrete and building practices, earthquakes, and humans don't mix well.

The stench of corruption in Indonesia is as strong as the stench of decomposing corpses after every natural disaster to strike that country, which sits in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," and which sees frequent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis.

This is not the time for recriminations but it's never a good time. Aid workers and government officials can become furious when the subject of corruption is broached, particularly while a disaster is unfolding. They say, 'Yes, forty percent of all aid is stolen, but that's not a reason to withhold aid to the neediest.'

The problem is that the theft of forty percent (the figure is just an estimate; in many instances theft from an aid/loan project is much higher) has become the global standard. This is because aid from wealthy governments, and the NGOs that work with them, has been based largely on defense and trade considerations.

The desire of the wealthy donor governments to buy influence with the recipient governments, not the desire to help the neediest, has been the motive for much charity and many development loans. Given that mindset, corruption has been greatly tolerated by the donor governments because it's considered part of the cost of doing business.

So over the past half century, which saw the veritable industrialization of international aid and development loans, corruption that was spawned by stealing from such funds spread like a cancer across the world; it financed criminal networks and terrorist organizations, which are now threatening to destroy civilization.

Another argument is that emergency relief assistance is a special category of aid that shouldn't be constrained by draconian attempts to rein in corruption. The spirit of the argument has merit but it doesn't square when donor governments are deeply in debt and have to borrow in order to give aid.

The page has turned. We're in a new era, and foreign aid initiatives of all kinds must adjust to the new realities. For the Americans, that means every aid dollar from public and private sources is precious.

Indonesia's government has been working hard in recent years to address their country's corruption, which is so endemic that President Suharto once told Paul Wolfowitz, "What you Westerners consider corruption we call taking care of family."

I can't speak for the entire West but what we Americans should consider corruption is the theft of our dollars from us.

I once suggested on this blog in all seriousness that Soccer Moms be put in charge of budgets for U.S. aid projects. I'm talking about the kind of mothers who calculate whether driving ten miles to a sale is worth the price of the gasoline used in the round trip.

That penny-pinching attitude must rule U.S. foreign aid from here on out. It's based on the view that only by conserving our funds can we afford to donate to a host of good causes in other countries. That means we develop zero tolerance for corruption no matter how awful the tragedy crying out for aid. On a very limited budget, we can only afford to help the neediest when we don't let ourselves be robbed blind.

To pound home the point I've dredged up this April 16, 2006 report from the (London) Sunday Times Online
Massive fraud hits tsunami aid
Michael Sheridan, Banda Aceh

THIS was supposed to be the scene of the world’s greatest aid effort, but endemic corruption has drained it of millions of pounds while leaving tens of thousands of tsunami victims stranded in tents.

Banda Aceh was ground zero in the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, which claimed more than 200,000 lives across the Indian Ocean. More people died here than anywhere else.

Now two charities that raised unprecedented sums in Britain have fallen victim to rip-offs that ruined their efforts to house the survivors and have forced them to suspend key projects.

Save the Children and Oxfam were both targeted by unscrupulous building contractors who took their money, only to build structures so flimsy that a new wave would wash them away.

Save the Children may have to write off more than £400,000 worth of building contracts. Oxfam, which counts its losses in “tens of thousands of pounds”, has stopped its construction work around Banda Aceh until investigators establish the extent of the abuse.

Indonesian anti-corruption campaigners, who uncovered the Save the Children case, have also assembled a dossier of fraud and incompetence that reveals why the Jakarta government and international aid agencies have failed in their promises to the survivors of Aceh.

“We calculate that 30% to 40% of all the aid funds, Indonesian and international, have been tainted by graft,” said Akhiruddin Mahjuddin, an accountant who investigates aid spending for the Aceh Anti-Corruption Movement.

The movement is partly funded by foreign donors and its findings are regarded as credible by embassies and aid agencies.

The betrayal is all the more cruel because it has been committed, in the main, by the Acehnese themselves. Indonesia, which lost more than 131,000 people, got the most pledges of aid, totalling $6.5 billion (£3.7 billion). It has already collected $4.5 billion in funds.

The aid effort won praise for saving thousands of lives by prompt action to stop disease and to restore clean water supplies.

Yet the bereaved, the orphans and the dispossessed are eking out their 16th month in tents and shacks flung down amid palm groves and rice paddies around this sweep of ravaged coast, ringed by sharp-toothed green mountains, in the north of Sumatra.

Funds have been frozen. Projects wait on hold while worried aid administrators fly in and out of Banda Aceh clutching audit reports. Bureaucratic and political paralysis means only 10.4% of the funds allocated by the government have actually been spent, said Akhiruddin.

Of the 170,000 homes promised to the people of Aceh, only about 15,000 have been built, one year and four months after the tsunami.

Save the Children intended to help bridge the gap by funding 741 buildings, including schools, in the Bireun, Pidie and Lhokseumawe districts of the province, issuing contracts worth £404,000.

Akhiruddin displayed the list of 15 contractors on his Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, showing a web of companies and subcontractors. Most appear to be controlled by a few individuals related to one another.

“They were supposed to sink foundations up to 60cm,” he said. “But we found they’d just propped wooden stilts on stones and dug no foundations at all. The timber was substandard and already warping.”

His team recommended that Save the Children demolish all 741 buildings and start again. The contractors have been dismissed but neither compensation nor criminal proceedings are likely, he said.

Save the Children issued a statement to the Indonesian media, acknowledging problems with the Aceh projects and promising to put them right.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children, said this weekend: “During routine evaluation and monitoring, we discovered the poor workmanship and immediately took steps to rectify the situation, including terminating the contract and instigating repairs. We will tolerate nothing less than the most efficient and effective use of money.”

Oxfam has sent in five investigators, including a former police officer, to unravel the skein of apparent corruption that has led to losses in its Banda Aceh office and forced it to suspend construction.

“We took the decision because of the need for accountability and also to make it clear that aid agencies are serious about these issues,” said Craig Owen, a spokesman. “We are committed to spending £42m here over three years and you have to remember that this is like rebuilding an area the size of Birmingham: it’s a challenge.”

Oxfam plans to resume work in phases while the investigation team prepares its report and recommendations.

According to Akhiruddin, however, these woes are a mere fraction of the frauds. Among the cases that his investigation uncovered were:

o Indonesia’s government reconstruction agency spent £6.3m on temporary housing that was either overpriced or fictitious. “I went to one site in Aceh Besar and found no barracks had been built at all,” said Akhiruddin.

o More than £40,000 was embezzled from a children’s food distribution centre.

o One aid group paid for 70 new houses, only to find that its own local staff had occupied most of them.

o Another bought 100 new fishing boats for £1,166 each when a fair price was £800 per vessel. The cost difference came to £86,600.

o A German aid group sent £1.4m raised from provincial newspaper readers, promising to rebuild 400 homes. So far one has been built.

The government reconstruction agency is trying to fight internal corruption, said Akhiruddin. It cancelled 90% of tenders in one two-month period last year. But having issued a blacklist of 18 companies deemed unsuitable for contracts, it hastily withdrew the list. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the agency’s head, is respected for his personal honesty and has pledged to clamp down.

Last week Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s president, vowed there would “be no safe haven” for the corrupt. He was backed up by Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, who has spearheaded tough lending guidelines for borrowers such as Indonesia.

But the politics and scrutiny all take up time. “The consequences are that people’s suffering is being prolonged unnecessarily,” said Akhiruddin.

While the contractors and their accomplices enjoy the fruits of their misdeeds, one young survivor, a girl named Fajriyana, is still living in a blue plastic tent in the mud.

The Sunday Times found Fajriyana there last December and told her story of miraculous survival, of the loss of her mother and her reunion after many months with her father and sisters, who had believed that she was dead.

Fajriyana celebrated her fourth birthday in the tent on February 4. “I have scraped together all our savings to buy us a small piece of land,” said her father, Nasruddin, a mechanic. “Now we are waiting for the government, God willing, to build us a new house.”

It may be a long wait. And the soaking rains, with their cargo of dampness and disease, are coming over the teeth of the mountains soon.

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