Since February 2009 , this blog and Huib's 3 other Euroblogs are together at:

AT HOME IN EUROPE [EU] (at EURACTIV)
- In Europa Zu Hause [DE]
- L'Europe Chez Soi [FR]
- At Home in Europe [EN]
- In Europa Thuis [NL]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dutch torture in Iraq: New developments confirm it.

The Dutch prominent daily "NRC" today confirmed that Dutch army security agents tortured Iraqi detainees in 2003.
The paper obtained documents from the The Hague Defense Ministry (under a Law for Government Transparency, the "Wet Openbaarheid Bestuur" or "WOB") that tell a part of the story that was left out of the comments of Dutch Government in November, when the scandal broke.
The Dutch Marine Batallion that controlled the southern Al-Muthanna Province during eighteen months in 2003/2004 had a particular status. It was not part of the occupying powers (the "Coalition"). It had to restore and maintain law and order in the province under British supervision. Eventual detainees had to be handed over to Iraqi authorities (common criminals) or to the British army with headquarters in Basra (insurgents, Baath people, intruders from other countries).
The Dutch miltary Intelligence "MIVD" ("Militaire Inlichtingen- en Veiligheids Dienst") people were also subject to those rules. In spite of that, they set up their own headquarters in the "Coalition" post in the provincial capital, where they "interviewed" detainees for some days, between their capture and their transfer to the British military in Basra.
When the Dutch commander was alerted about the "robust" methods of interrogation being used by the MIVD, he asked expanations, which he got.:
  • Waterboarding of detainees was explained in that report as "the need to keep the detainee awaked" during nocturnal interrogations,
  • while the use of deafening sound was justified by the need of avoiding communication between detainees.
  • The use of darkened ski-goggles on detainees (as blindfolds) was needed to avoid identification by them of their interrogators.

The man accepted this, until he got another report from his liaison officer in Basra, saying that the MIVD had explained to the British, that the mentioned interrogation "techniques" had been used as a means of coercion. That was not only in contravention to the Dutch rules of engagement, but also of the Geneva Conventions.
The commander alerted the General Staff in The Hague. An inquiry was ordered by the Minister to be done by the Military Police.

And, after that, NOTHING. The stories differ. The Minister (still in office as caretaker after the general elections lost by his party, and the fall of the Balkenende III government), says that he got no further information and assumed, that a conclusion had been reached that there had not been any reprehensible conduct. The (former) Commander in Chief says that Military Justice did not see a reason to act in this case, while the Chief of the MP thinks, that the report wasn't even transmitted to Military Justice.

Our opinion is, that this is not merely a sad story of overzealous intelligence people.
It shows a state of mind that points to:
  1. Contamination by the Guantanamo methods, transmitted by the American Commander of that camp to Iraq during his 2003 mission;
  2. an undisciplinary attitude of the intelligence agents
  3. their probable coverage by elements within the armed forces and, perhaps, the minister himself;
  4. and, as their exactions remained unpunished, a probable continuation of those practices in Afghanistan during the Dutch "commando" support to the American campaign "Enduring Freedom", and:
  5. a documented follow-up of these doings during the Dutch "reconstruction" mission in Afghanistan (Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan), where they effectively terrorize the populations, thus making any effort by the regular Dutch troops to do some peaceful reconstruction work, ineffective and impracticable.
My supposition is, that the actual General Staff provoked the "leak" about Iraq, in order to get rid of these undisciplined contingents in Afghanistan, and, probably, at the same time, of the Minister, who condoned tacitly this devious practice, in order to please the US, without hurting the Dutch Parliament, that had insisted on a peaceful mission, completely separate from the "Enduring Freedom" campaign.

The cunning Government Minister, Mr. Henk Kamp, may expect a similar fate as has befallen to his colleague Rumsfeld. The newly elected Parliament has a tiny progressive majority, and it seems improbable, that his party will take part in Government during the coming four years.

(This article was crossposted from A Legal Alien @ New York)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Roaming Charges: Mobile Phone Companies score via EU Governments against Consumers

At Home in Europe announced it some time ago: The proposed EU regulations for limiting the excessive rates, mobile phone companies are charging their customers for "roaming" (making calls and being called abroad), run a great risk to get watered down in the consultation process that is actually going on with the member states' governments.

The "informal" Council meetings of, in this case, the 25 transport- and communication ministers, are a chosen spot for heavy lobbying by the concerned companies. These meetings are not public, and the positions the ministers defend, are, in most cases, not discussed with their national parliaments. Public opinion plays virtually no role in this process.
In former posts, (for instance: "Roaming Charges: EU Plans under Attack by Telecoms" [september 24, 2006]) we discussed all of the reasons, Mobile Phone Companies are putting forward, to stick with the technologically irrelevant national domains (markets).

The market fragmentation along artificial national frontiers enables mobile phone companies to charge very high rates for cross-border calls (outgoing AND incoming). The same is true for G3 roaming (mobile internet).

Technically, treating a cross-border call, automatised as it is, is but a little bit more expensive than a national call within or without the company's network. The networks are automatically linked. Computers do the work. Treating wireless calls is even less complicated than treating internet traffic, which is, as we all know, completely free of charge, and independent of the number of national borders that are crossed.

The following report by our favoured EU news source, the EU-Observer, shows, that the lobbying activities by the mobile phone companies, using the old propositions, that have been refuted long ago, have met their goal, for the moment:

EU-Observer: Brussels clashes with UK and France on mobile phone rates
11.12.2006 - 17:37 CET | By Lucia Kubosova
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - A majority of EU member states have rallied behind the joint proposal by the UK and France on how to force mobile operators to cut charges for cross-border phone calls, with the European Commission suggesting this approach would lead to delays in real price cuts of several years.

EU transport ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday (11 December) in principle supported a commission plan to introduce legislation to clamp down on charges for calling and receiving calls on mobile phones while abroad.
However, the bloc is divided on whether or not to water down the proposal, with most countries voicing concerns over
  • possible damage to the telecom business if regulations narrow down the space for competition and harm innovation and investment in the sector. Several ministers also pointed out that
  • the pressure for lower roaming charges could potentially spill over into higher prices of national calls - and so negatively affect citizens who do not travel a lot and use their mobile phones outside their home country.
We dealt earlier with those two points:
  1. "Narrowing down the space for competition": Absolute nonsense - a regulation imposing lower and objective rates, would enable not only national competition, but also cross-border competition, as successful and effeicient foreign mobile phone companies will be able to offer interesting rates to consumers abroad, something they cannot do now, because of the foreign roaming charges. And imagine, what huge investment and innovatiive technologies will be generated through such a process! Forced to work as cheap as possible, new computerized nodes will be installed, bringing forward European IT technology.
  2. "Higher prices for national calls" - as much nonsense! The actual rates for mobile calls cover largely the investments in infrastructure, the existing one as well as the coming one for G3 communications. The roughly 30% of their income, the mobile phone companies generate through roaming charges abroad or from foreign consumers who (are obliged to) use their networks, are mainly used for the amortisation of the gigantic debts they contracted in buying G3 licences in 2002/2003 for fancy prices. For many of the companies, those charges are far too onerous. The excessive roaming charges are permitting them to finance their debts. Governments, who profited some four years ago from that windfall, are probably afraid, that, in cutting off those sources of excessive income, some mobile phone companies will become unable to pay those debts and go bankrupt. This might be a reason, why a number of national governments feel obliged to follow the nonsensical reasoning of the companies. They might get to feel it in their own budgets.
According to the report in the EU-Observer, the Commission did not give in, however:
But EU information society commissioner Viviane Reding insisted that it is primarily European citizens who would benefit from the plan as outlined by the EU executive."I know you have been lobbied before this meeting," she told the ministers ahead of the discussion, adding that while this pressure on governments was just minor on behalf of the consumer protection groups, they were lobbied "heavily by big market players." Mobile operators have strongly rebuffed the commission's initiative, arguing that the regulation would harm the mobile services markets and dubbing Ms Reding as "populist commissioner."
You might think, that this issue is a minor one, affecting only individual business people and tourists (large international companies have at this moment already reduced tariffs, negotiated individually with groups of mobile phone services providers). And another side of the problem is the injustice done to inhabitants of smaller countries: they run substantially more risk of crossing their borders and being charged fancy rates. Anyhow:
According to a commission study, excessively high international mobile roaming charges currently affect at least 147 million EU citizens - 37 million tourists and 110 million business customers.
Not being inclined to discuss the heart of the matter (for reasons mentioned before), the ministers discussed the problem under an easier viewpoint:
Which solution less bureaucratic?
For, as you'll understand, that approach offers an opportunity to join the eternal scapegoating tactics. EC = "bureaucracy", worse: "Brussels bureaucracy"! So, why not take a ... "populist" tour, and be severe about "bureaucracy"?
The main point of division among the member states was whether to introduce price caps on both wholesale and retail roaming fees straight away and whether to give the mobile companies another chance to cut charges without EU regulation. Most member states supported London and Paris in suggesting that the EU's new legislation should initially cover only wholesale fees that one operator charges another within the bloc.Under the proposal, only those operators who would refrain from voluntarily cutting the roaming rates below an agreed ceiling within six months would then have to face EU cap retail prices.
Do you understand? Let me tell you how I read this.

Capping only the wholesale tariffs, i.e.: the rates the companies charge each other for transfrontier connections, would not change a iota to the exploitation of the consumer. Now, the companies are pumping money around, paying each other high wholesale tariffs, thus receiving much money from abroad as well as paying much money to, the foreign companies. It is not there, that they make much money. The money they make, comes from the overcharged roamers.
If you leave the detail price setting for roaming, "free", the result will be, that, besides some symbolical cuts (like the ones Vodafone promised for 2007 to its clients), there will be no effect whatsoever on consumer prices. The answer of Commisioner Reding to this, seems correct to me:
The commission by contrast wants to introduce the cap retail tariffs straight away, in a bid to ensure that lower wholesale rates have a positive direct affect for European consumers. On this particular issue, Brussels has the support of Germany, Estonia, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy and Slovenia.

Commissioner Reding said that the states that insist on the six-month "sunrise clause" in fact argue in favour of a further delay of the roaming charges reduction, stressing that Brussels had called for years for voluntary action by mobile operators - with no real progress on their part."

Those who want less red tape and eliminate administrative burdens cannot support the sunrise clause because it would create the opposite," she said.
And, indeed, if more or less bureaucracy and administrative complexity is the "real" issue, then, the proposal of the UK and France is a good example of bureaucratic complexity and lack of transparence. For, who is going to decide (and when?) if, and in what measure, retail prices do not reflect the lower wholesale prices? One would expect, that the same rules and limits will be applicable to all companies. But that is apparently not the intention of the "sunrise" states. Exceptions, transitional pricing, juridical battles, will prevail.

This will occupy 20 to 30 times more bureaucrats during the coming years, than the simple rates-cap will do. And, with previsibly much less effect. I hear the complaints coming once again, from the same people who would have imposed this way of dealing, over too much bureaucracy in Brussels.

Finally, the real and undeniable problem of small states-small networks-much foreign roaming, got some attention at the meeting. But here also, the risk of much bureaucracy, non-transparent arrangements between companies and between states, looms:

Regional roaming-free blocs?
Meanwhile, Latvian minister Ainars Slesers highlighted a regional model between the three Baltic states pointing out that that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia introduced a rule of no extra charges for incoming calls when people move within the Baltic region. Slovakia's transport minister Lubomir Vazny said that the Visegrad group - along with Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary - and possibly including Austria - has been also contemplating a similar regional approach." If the EU talks turn out to be too sluggish we could consider this way to push forward the issue," he told EUobserver.
Most people do not get information about negotiations as they are going on on the actual issue. If it were otherwise, a common outcry would produce itself in Europe. For, if the "danger" of rising retail prices for national use would really rise, if the roaming charges would be cut, why can the Baltic states afford themselves that risk, or, even the whole East Central Europe group of countries? It is a prompt proof of the inaneness of that argument.

Conclusion: The European Commission, in the person of Commisioner Reding, are only doing the job they are hired for. A number of European Governments, who hired them in the first place to that end, do not like the consequences of their own free-market choices. Or, let us suppose that they are blackmailed by the indebted mobile phone providers. Anyhow, the charges are being transferred to the consumers, the charges of slower and incomplete liberalisation of the market AND the extra charges of a complicated process that has all the risks of not, or but partially, working.

Particular arrangements between providers and big companies, between governments and companies, between governments amongst themselves, will, if the Commission won't have its way, produce an hitherto unknown amount of non-transparency, clientelism and bureaucracy.

The issue of the mobile phone international roaming rates is crucial, as important as the abolition of euro-euro banking transfer tariffs. It will decide, if Europe is going to be a democratic free market or an authoritarian one.

In short: if Europe will be allowed to have its citizens profit (get justice) from the unification, or if the EU will fall back into autocratic dealings behind the screens.

This issue is serious!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pakistani Governor: Britain will never win in Afghanistan.

Sometimes, an evident truth has to be repeated.
The centrist Pakistan DAWN daily cites prominently governor Aurakzai of the Pakistan North West Territories as saying that British (and NATO) efforts in Afghanistan (Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan), are hopeless and dangerous.
Aurakzai confirms, that the afghan insurgency is not primarily a Taliban war, bur a traditional Pashtun guerrilla war of defense against intruders. Every day, NATO troops continue to fight their lonely battle in the region, the Taliban will regain more influence and power over the resistance movements.
And Mr. Aurakzai is in an excellent position to know about the issue. The Pashtuns have their bases in his territory. Their training camps, their hospitals etc., are located in the unruly tribal zones in Pakistan.

Link:
Britain will never win in Afghanistan: Aurakzai -DAWN - Top Stories; November 27, 2006

By M. Ziauddin
LONDON, Nov 26: The British will never win in Afghanistan by military means and should open negotiations with the Taliban, the Sunday Times has quoted NWFP Governor Lt-Gen (retd) Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai as saying.

In an interview given to Sunday Times reporter Christina Lamb, the governor said: 'Bring 50,000 more troops and fight for 10 to 15 years more and you won't resolve it. The British with their history in Afghanistan should have known that better than anyone else.'

He said Nato was ignoring the realities on the ground. The reason Taliban numbers had swelled was because moderates were joining the militants, he added.

'It is no longer an insurgency but a war of Pashtun resistance exactly on the model of the first Anglo-Afghan war,' he said.

'Then too (in 1839-42) initially there were celebrations. The British built their cantonment and brought their wives and sweethearts from Delhi and didn’t realise that in the meantime the Afghans were getting organised to rise up. This is exactly what Afghans are doing today and what they did against the Soviets,' said Mr Aurakzai.

'The British should have known better. No country in the world has a better understanding of the Afghan psyche, and very little has changed there in the past couple of centuries," he added.

Rather than fighting, he said, the only answer was to talk to the Taliban.

Over the past few months, he has negotiated a series of peace deals in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

"This is the only way forward," he said, adding: "There will be no military solution, there has to be a political solution. How many more lives have to be lost before people realise it’s time for dialogue?"

According to the Sunday Times, Nato commanders have questioned Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror, claiming it is providing a safe haven and training for Taliban. Aurakzai dismissed the criticism.

"We are doing far more than the whole coalition put together," he said.

Pakistan had 80,000 troops in border areas, more than twice as many as Nato, and had lost about 750 soldiers, more than the entire coalition, he added.

"It pains me to hear people accusing us of allowing border crossing," he said.

"We're physically manning the border; our troops are sitting there on the zero line ... Damn it, you also have a responsibility. Go sit on the border, fight like soldiers instead of sitting in your bases.

"The Americans say they can see even a goat on a hillside with their electronic surveillance, so why don’t they tell us where crossings are taking place and we will plug those gaps and kill those people?

"Either they (Nato) are trying to hide their own weaknesses by levelling allegations at Pakistan or they are refusing to admit the facts."
The Americans left a poisonous present to NATO, this year, when they transferred the commando over the Southern Afghanistan operations to the NATO-countries that had been begging for an adult role in the "war on terrorism".
Has NATO even a policy, a strategy, an objective over there?
it is al about power relations within the NATO-alliance.
The leading idea seems to be, that, in doing dutifully their job, the aloofness of the US will subside, everybody wake up out of an ugly dream and NATO will be again as it was in 1988.

The most probable outcome, however, will be that the allies will have to take the blame of defeat and act as scapegoats for the failures of the Bush administration in the eyes of the American public opinion.

Why should our soldiers die for this accumulation of stupidity and selfishness?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Uruzgan: Dutch commandos out of control

A 25 minutes television report "09.11 Zulu" on Dutch television (watch it here at uitzendinggemist.nl in Dutch) confirms the tensions that exist between the small commando unit at Tarin Kowt and the 1.200 strong Dutch Provincial Reconstruction Team at the same location. The PRT has rules of engagement that strictly forbid an active combat role. The Dutch Government promised Parliament in February 2006, that its PRT operation would be completely separated from the American-led "Enduring Freedom" operation.

But, apparently, at the same time they promised the US and/or NATO that they would join the struggle against "Taliban". But - stealthily. Method: Put local commanders in a position where they have to act aggessively and leave reponsability to them. Afterwards, either Parliament agrees with slice after slice of the salami leading to full-fledged participation in Enduring Freedom, or it doesn't, and then the political leadership washes its hands in innocence.

So it happened that we could see the Dutch Defence Minister, Henk Kamp, visiting the compounds, actually encouraging the Commandos to do their work "aggressively", and at the same time a lawyer of his ministry explaining to the commanders of the Special Forces Unit, that they could not open fire on insurgents, only in case they were directly attacked themselves.

This tongue-in-cheek method may work between state and local authorities in case of "tolerating" hash-vending coffeshops, or illegal brothels - it is absolutely irresponsible , when a military mission is at stake.

The film shows the frustrations of the bearded fighters. Their commanders, avoiding the risk of becoming scapegoats for the Government's hypocrisy, ask a "green light" from The Hague for every action. Thus returning responsability to the supreme command and the political level. Decision making takes weeks and most decisions are negative. In the field, the commandos are harrassed by the American units, with whom they cooperate, to act more aggressively.

Special Forces out of control....
So it is no wonder, that the commandos start risky provocations, exposing themselves in an open field, hoping to be attacked, so that they can "return enemy fire", make prisoners, interrogate them "robustly" (the film shows some examples of intimidation of witnesses and suspects).

Another alarming aspect is the relation that the commandos are developing with the Afghan police ANP. Like in Srebrenica for the local bosnian self-defense units, the Dutch are full of contempt for "those corrupt brigands", lead by commanders who have all their own lover boys with them. One of those boys is shown in the report. All of it seems to be true. Worse still, often local police seem to have an understanding with local insurgents.

The question is: Whom are you fighting FOR? - If you are all alone as an expeditionary force in a guerrilla war, your only chance is to get allies within the population, who eventually will help you isolate the insurgents. If you cannot trust your allies, if you loathe them, you are lost on beforehand.

A perfect example of 'double-dutch' ...
The image of two conflicting policies, personified
  • by the PRT and the SF-Commandos in the field,
  • by, roughly, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry on Government level, and
  • by the majority of Parliament and a combative minority consisting of VVD and CDA-parliamentarians on the political level,
that we sketched in former posts, is confirmed. It is even worse than we imagined. They cripple each other. Such conflicts are a worse enemy than the enemy in the field.

The "leak" came from alarmed army staff, stuck in a deadlock ....
That is why it is very probable, that it was the Army Central Command in The Hague itself, who "leaked" the story about torturing practices on prisoners in Iraq in 2003, in order to put pressure via the press and via Parliament on Government, resulting in a clear choice for or against participating in "Enduring Freedom", for or against following a "German" peaceful PRT-strategy. Commander in Chief Dick Berlijn couldn't get such a decision from his Minister, nor from NATO (10 days ago), and he must fear for serious disciplinary problems with his Special Forces, that are left bungling. So somebody must have decided, to force a decision this way.

Parliament decided to discuss the problems with Government only next week, after the Wednesday parliamentary elections. Only the VVD-representative pleaded for a complete engagement of the Dutch forces with Enduring Freedom. A large majority seems to be set to put an end to the typical double-dutch situation, in favour of a reconstruction mission.

As one of the commando's in the film says: "If they really want to have a peaceful reconstruction team here, they should send us elsewhere and replace us with a team of social workers. I am here to kill Taliban. We have to show them, who is boss here."

Until the next elections, Mr. Karzai is boss in Afghanistan. Other bosses should leave.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Uruzgan: Dutch Military Intelligence tortured prisoners in 2003 - Is it still going on?

De Volkskrant, Dutch national daily, had a scoop today: Nederlanders martelden Irakezen. ("Dutch tortured Iraqis").
It happened in November 2003, during the 1,5 year Dutch pacification mission in the Southern Iraqi province of Al-Muthanna. Although the Dutch general Command in The Hague was alerted by the Military Police (marechaussée), it did not inform the miltary court, as it should have.
The description of the torturing methods ressembles awfully the Abu Ghreib practices that happened at the same time.
  • Was the Dutch Defence Minister Henk Kamp informed?
  • Is the Dutch Military Intelligence (MIVD) continuing those practices in Afghanistan?
The then Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant-Admiral Kroon, retired, indirectly confirmed the facts.

As the coming 22 November Dutch Parliamentary elections are heating up the political climate in the country, a proposed parliamentary debate (Monday), if it takes place, will be dominated by the need for the Government parties CDA (Christian Democrat) and VVD (Conservative Liberal) to limit the damage to their election results.

The Balkenende Government got in 2002 and in 2005 a faltering parliamentary green light for its military support to the American-British interventions in respectively Iraq and Afghanistan, by declaring its position as "political, not military" support and as an UN-conform pacification-reconstruction mission.

It becomes clear now, that, from the beginning, both missions were also meant as a (stealthy) delivery of unconditional human and material reinforcements to the US (and the UK).

The Dutch MIVD torturing of Iraqis happened in a "Coalition Provisional Authority" facility in As-Samara, capital of the province Al Muthanna. The CPA was the American-led provisional Government of occupied Iraq at that time. It ended in 2004. It was utterly corrupt and its books are still under scrutiny.
Torture: From Iraq to.....>

A possible line of defence for the Dutch Government and its defence minister, is saying that they were not responsible for what the British, who led that CPA facility, did or commanded. That, however, would contradict many statements of the same Government, that the Dutch troops were exclusively governed by the Dutch rules of engagement. Rules that explicitly confirm the Geneva Agreements and make any transgression punishable.

The Dutch Governments' position is the more lamentable, while the same British, in contrast to the Americans, actively pursue in justice their soldiers and officers who have been engaged in torturing or indiscriminate killings. Several severe condemnations of British troops are already definitive.

And in Afghanistan?

....Uruzgan in Afghanistan? >

Since 2004, a mistery-clouded Dutch commando-engagement is going on at the side of the American Enduring Freedom operation in South-East Afghanistan. After the Bush proposals on the legalisation of torturing, and their partial acceptance by Congress, there is no more doubt that those practices have been going on (and still are) in that region.
  • Is Dutch Military Intelligence still engaged in it?
It is more than probable. The Dutch commando units, even after the takeover by NATO, are being advised by an embedded American officer and are roaming around in the neighbourhood of the Dutch "reconstruction" mission at Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan.

Several witnesses confirm, that they are terrorizing the population and provoking engagements with "Taliban". In doing so, they minimize any chance of effective "reconstruction" in the region. It is an outright example of sabotage and American stubbornness.

The Afghan Government of Karzai itself, has objected to those practices. To no avail.

As we said earlier, NATO has become nothing more than an US frontshop for hiring mercenaries to do the dirty work.

Now, there is a clear-cut choice for the Dutch parliament: Either to go overtly along with the Bush-Cheney style terror, or to opt out, as the Poles, the Spanish and the Italians did before, and seek an European platform for military intervention on a civilised basis, and in the interests of collective European security.


[An earlier version in Dutch and Netherlands-oriented, appeared in De Lage Landen and in In Europa Thuis]

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Roaming Charges: Tracing the Blogs



Technorati is so helpful.
Here is a chart about the number of blogs, talking these last three months about the roaming charges subject in Europe.
Not as many as you would want to see. Maximum two a day...
That has to change.
In the heading of At Home in Europe, you'll find a dynamic Technorati chart, keeping trace of this subject.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Roaming Charges: EU plans under attack by Telecoms

It was to be expected.
There is a long delay between the EU Commission's announcement of a price control regulation to ban excessive roaming charges and its (hoped for) approval by Council and Parliament.
That delay will be fully exploited by some Telecoms interests to influence decision making.
As their position on the matter is of course very unpopular with the general public, lobbying takes place behind the screens.

The following article in the FT.com - Brussels has got it wrong on roaming charges (Financial Times of London, September 22 2006) is a mixture of two main tactics of the companies:
  • a. It sums up ideological (free market) arguments and cites some short term national interests in maintaining this extra source of income for country-based, sometimes ailing, telecompanies so as to convince governments in the Council to disapprove of the price cap, and
  • b. It tries to confuse issues for the greater public, mobilising the general aversion against 'Brussels' and its bureaucrats.
Saddam Hussein inspires telecom lobbying against roaming charges cap
Have a look yourself. The author is Stephen Littlechild.
Brussels has just invented the mother of all price controls. A control that specifies the same maximum price across the whole of Europe. Not just wholesale price; retail price, too. This weapon is aimed at mobile telephone operators. Brussels says their roaming charges - the charges made for using mobile phones overseas - are too high. Its solution is to regulate so that all roaming charges in Europe are the same.
Six sentences - three untruths. No wonder that the text starts with a quote from Saddam Hussein. (The Gulf War, 1991: "The mother of all wars").
  1. Setting maximum prices for roaming, doesn't mean that prices are to be identical. Companies can continue to offer prices lower than the maximum and compete liberally!
  2. The "weapon" is not aimed at mobile telephone operators - it will help them to compete on equal footing outside the boundaries of the countries where they are established - it opens huge opportunities for market enlargement.
  3. "Brussels says that ... charges ... are too high": It is not "Brussels" who are saying that - it is a widely accepted truth, even by telecom companies themselves, who announced a 40-50% rebate in 2007 (why not immediately?)
The Financial Times external commenter continues in a more reasonable tone:
Some customer concern about roaming charges is understandable. In the past, prices seem to have been considerably above costs. But the situation is now changing dramatically. Leading mobile operators have committed to reducing roaming charges by 40-50 per cent in the next 12 months. Are these merely temporary and expedient responses to the prevailing political concerns? Would roaming charges increase again if Brussels withdrew?
Yes. They certainly would.
Real problem is artificial market compartementalisation along national borders
We went into that subject before, explaining that the maintenance of technologically redundant national frontiers is the real disturbing factor in the development of a free competition. Telecoms should not be permitted to hide behind national barriers where their (foreign) customers cannot punish or recompense them for their price policies.
That is the reality on the roaming charges market, this day.
People who are living in small countries, with a vast foreign world, where roaming charges have to be paid, are unduly charged, the moment they move some hundred or two hundred kilometers from home.

It is indeed the role of the EU and its Commission, to make disappear or limit unnatural competition obstacles, in order to reinforce the European Economy and the Lisbon Objectives, making the European work force more mobile. The roaming charges cap is a good example of such an intervention.
A comparison: The banks' euro/euro international exchange rates
The Commission's proposal should be compared to the Commission's successful intervention in 2001/2002 against the efforts of most European banks, to maintain exchange rates for international transfers of money between countries using the Euro-currency. The reasonings of the banks were as conservative and futile as those inspired by the telecom companies today:
  • The banks said that they couldn't miss that source of income, but had to admit, that the costs of national and international interbank transfers, given the unique currency and the computerization of the entire process, do not significantly differ. The same is true for international calls compared to inner-country calls from company network to company network.
  • The banks asked for a much longer transition period during which they would have maintained their international transfer charges.
Both types of argumentation were rejected by the competent European authorities. And that were no loony leftists: Frits Bolkestein was competion commissioner at that moment.
Where a convinced free market fan has to stand on this issue...
But, times have changed. Retrograde and conservative lobbying is made easier by the rise of Euroscepticism and populism. That is the reason, why "At Home in Europe" has singled out the struggle around the roaming charges as a symbolic topic, hoping that the utter unreasonability of the telecom companies' stand will bring about a turning point in these developments. Every sincere free market believer will have to agree with the Commission's standpoint. so, we hope, we will be and remain in good company during our intervention into this debate!

A last point, the FT-commentor tries to make:

Price controls reduce communication and co-ordination between operators and customers. There is less awareness of what different customers want, less incentive and ability to provide it. Increasing reliance on regulators and politicians means prices and services determined by bureaucrats instead of customers.

And again, completely false! Lowering roaming charges to a reasonable level, as close as possible to the national charges, would -on the contrary- enormously increase the opportunities for well-scaled and well-organised telecom companies to win clients in other European countries. Their efforts would (will) pay off and conservative, non-dynamic and lazy market parties would be severely punished by the customers.

For, we repeat, the European regulation only caps the prices. Nobody will forbid companies to offer lower prices for roaming than the European maximum...

Author is a paid Vodafone lobbyist
And here is our final shot at the telecom lobby and the paper that offered them so willingly a tribune. The article ends with:

The writer is former UK electricity regulator and was author of the report that led to the introduction of the first retail price controls for BT in 1984. He has been invited by Vodafone to look at roaming charges.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Well, as a Vodafone customer, I intend to formally protest against any payment being made to this biassed hack called Stephen Littlechild.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bulgaria - Mani Pulite?

No doubt with us, that countries like Bulgaria should be part of the European Union.
And it is not bad, that the European Commission, Council and Parliament are using the accession process to help modernising forces in the country, to combat corruption, enhance democratic representation, empower civil society, create correct market conditions and make the justice stronger.
A Bulgarian observer said (31/8/2006) in EUobserver.com:
"It would be fair to mark the latest positive developments, something that has escaped from the attention of Western media."
Indeed, a difficult accession process as the Bulgarian and the Rumanian ones, could be helped enormously, when public opinion in the EU would get acquainted with successes, failures and dilemmas that come up during it. Only specialised (web-) publications like TOL (“Transitions On Line”) follow these processes with attention.
"For the first time in its difficult transition, Bulgaria will see a number of high officials appearing in court and probably being sentenced to years of imprisonment. The move may look designed to appease Brussels ahead of its crucial report, to be made public on September 26. But the real reason for these developments taking place now is the arrival in office last February of a new chief prosecutor - Mr. Boris Velchev, former counsellor to president Georgi Parvanov.

Seven lost years
His predecessor Nikola Filchev was a total failure, he was suspected of mental problems and even complicity with the mob. This may not be proven, but in any case his style, adopted by many other high prosecutors, have caused great harm to Bulgaria and its image. The procedure for having the prosecutor general replaced being too complex, the whole country had to wait until the expiration of his seven-year term.

Mr Velchev managed very quicky to rid himself of undesirable prosecutors after exposing to the media the vast record of their 'unfinished business.' We learned from Mr Velchev what everyone suspected: dozens of highly sensitive investigations had been 'forgotten' for years in drawers by the magistrates. "
Here seems to come up an operation like Italy’s « Mani Pulite », an action led by courageous prosecutors and judges, that cleaned up a great part of the corrupt mess in (Northern) Italy.

As we know, what dangers the prosecutors and their families got exposed to in eighties and nineties’ Italy, a vigilant public attention to what is happening, could help to suppress slander, sabotage and even life attempts by some established authorities.

If we do nothing now, it may be too late.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

‘Appeasing Fascism’ - Rumsfeld

War Cabal at the White House, 2002
The more you say about it, the more the Karl Rove-lead spin will work, we thought.
So we kept this subject for almost a month in the vault of our unpublished posts.
The spin is outrageous.
The accusation calls for an impeachment.
But everybody remained silent (including me), until former president Clinton, two days ago, broke the "enthrallment" (dixit Civil War president Lincoln in 1862), "so as to save the country".
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann honored Clinton for his courage to tell -finally- the truth about the "1984" Bush manipulation of public opinion.
This is a great moment.
Bush and Rove have gone too far.
Rumsfeld is exposed as a liar and a demagogue. Listen to what he said:
FT.com / World / US & Canada - Rumsfeld accuses critics of ‘appeasing fascism’: "Rumsfeld accuses critics of ‘appeasing fascism’

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP)

Published: August 29 2006 19:26 | Last updated: August 29 2006 19:26

US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday accused critics of the administration's Iraq and counterterrorism policies of trying to appease ‘a new type of fascism.’

In unusually explicit terms, Mr Rumsfeld portrayed the Bush administration's critics as suffering from ‘moral or intellectual confusion’ about what threatens the nation's security and accused them of lacking the courage to fight back.
[...]
Mr Rumsfeld spoke to the American Legion as part of a coordinated White House strategy, in advance of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, aiming to take the offensive against administration critics at a time of doubt about the future of Iraq and growing calls to withdraw U.S. troops.

Real America, "l'Amérique profonde", reacts. I have always kept my trust in it.
It will have been a long waiting. From 2001 to 2006.
But the tides turned.
The American Army protests. The CIA agents are striking. A National Intelligence Evaluation (NIE) states, that the Iraq invasion engendered more terrorism, dangerous to the US (and still more to Europe), and not less, as the Bush administration repeats.

Candidates for removal are: Rumsfeld, Rove, Cheney - all have to go the way Ahmad Chalabi went.
A propos: Where IS Chalabi at this moment?
And: What is Tony Blair going to do?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Disputes Spur His Critics, Karzai Says - New York Times

Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter balkenende, among his troops, last Saturday (Photo NRC, Holland), click on image to see the sunglasses...

The announced disaster - it happened.
After a visit to the 1.400 strong Dutch NATO-ISAF contingent in Tarin Kowt (Uruzgan, Southern Afghanistan), Dutch PM, Jan Peter Balkenende, participated in a press conference with Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
Karzai complained, that US-led forces had provoked Pakistan critics who support "taliban" insurgency. The Dutch are into the Afghan morass over their (horrible) sunglasses and ears.

Disputes Spur His Critics, Karzai Says - New York Times:

"Disputes Spur His Critics, Karzai Says
By SULTAN M. MUNADI

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 26 — President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that recent criticism of his leadership and his administration stemmed from disagreements that he had had with some partners of the United States-led coalition in Afghanistan over the conduct of military operations.

“For some time, some circles of the Western media have started special propaganda against me and the Afghan government,” he told journalists at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands.
There is no record of Balkenende refuting these statements. It is an implicit condonement of the "run-and-kill" tactics that British and Australian military are applying in their Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Dutch F16s are already participating in these killing parties. Dutch commanders of the ground forces are proposing their participation in those actions. Like the Germans (see In Europa Zuhause). Karzai continues:
“We had some disagreements with some members of the international coalition against terrorism concerning counterterrorism, and maybe they did not like those arguments,” he said. “And their media, because of that, started propaganda against us.”
Translation: The Indian secret service, in order to create diversion from the Kashmir rebellion, supports anti-Pakistan movements in Baluchistan and the Pashtun area and the military government of Pakistan has a policy of severe repression against those rebellions.
Saturday, the Pakistan army killed a former minister and important Baluch clan leader, Bugti.
Demonstrations, strikes, manifestations all over the Baluchi Sindh, the Baluchi and Pastuni areas.
A connection with the "Peters" document, published recently in the Pentagon Army Weekly, which proposes a "Free Baluchistan" country, independent from Pakistan, cannot be excluded.
Mr. Karzai has recently come under sharp criticism at home and abroad for failing to protect the country from violence and manage the economy, and for allowing widespread corruption in his government. And as the insurgency has worsened, confidence in his leadership has fallen.
In the real world, the "Taliban" are virtually non-existant. It is all about clanic rule. Pakistan's military ruler Muzarraf does not control the powerful secret service ISI, that foments tribal insurgence in Afghanistan. After the American retreat, the European NATO-ISAF forces are left to deal with their creations. No help from the powerless Karzai.
In response, he has repeatedly blamed the worsening insurgency in southern Afghanistan on infiltration from Pakistan, and has called on the United States and its coalition"
Again: A unified EU policy to stabilise Afghanistan, promote talks with local lords in the way Karzai has repreatedly proposed, combat Indian as well as Pakistani ingerence, could still work. Left alone, the English-Australian-Dutch military will not be able to do anything else as to terrorize local insurgents and create a strong movement against the West.
Some imagination and courage is needed. Could it come from Brussels?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

EU: A common policy for the Middle East, before sending troops!

Next Wednesday, August 23, an EU-meeting in Brussels will deal with the conditions for a military contribution by European countries to Unifil II, the "robust" UN force to be deployed in South Lebanon.

A blessing in disguise, this face-saving manoeuver.

An eager France, during the dealings in the Security Council, hoped to resurrect its colonial role in Lebanon, to suppress Hizbollah and reinstaure the "Lebanon de Papa", its ninteenth century protectorate, led by a Maronite élite.
But the French Army, who did not forget its Bosnian frustrations and aware of the carnage in 1983 of 88 French parachutists in Beirut at a similar ill-defined "peace"-mission in Beirut (Le Monde, 21/8/06: Les réticences des miltaires français, hantés par le syndrôme 'Drakkar'), revolted.
And, what is more: French Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy, on visit in Beirut, had to accept, that the whole Lebanese political spectrum is against disarming its coalition partner Hizbollah. After 15 years of civil war, national unity has become a priority for all Lebanese factions, Hizbollah not excluded, as it has shown convincingly during the so-called Cedar Revolution of last year.

Without the Lebanese, the French would find themselves doing the dirty work for Bush and the NeoCons, as a temporary replacement for Likud. The French are proud and stubborn, but not silly.
So they called, too late, "Europe" to save their faces.
Which means, that, for some wrong reasons, the problem has been transferred to the only forum, where it belongs. No hard feelings, please. Let's see what opportunities this offers.

Neither France, nor the UK, and certainly not Italy or Spain, could handle this situation on their own. Maybe, the EU as a whole, can.

But it is necessary, then, that a common EU-policy for the Near-East is laid down first.

For, without a framework of a common political objective, a military operation is senseless, counterproductive and doomed to turn into a great failure. It would help in one way or another those people who actually have an agenda for the Middle East, that is to say, the Bush administration and/or Israel. There are only two days to go until Wednesday. A short time. Too short?

An EU-roadmap
UNSC Resolution 1701could become a foundation for an EU roadmap. A programme ("process") of mutual steps in the direction of a stabilisation of this part of the Middle East.
F.i.:
1. Demilitarisation of the area south of the Litani river as a condition for redeployment of the Israeli Army 15 KMs from the Lebanese border.
2.Restitution of the Shebaa Farms as a condition for swapping hostages.
These small steps could be monitored and secured by the projected UN army, it is strong enough for that, not for controlling the Hizbollah armament at this moment.
In the mean time, restart of the Israel-Palestine Roadmap. Work with the Fatah-Hamas coalition.
But an EU-policy for the region will have to deal with Syria also:
3. The Avi Dichter (Haaretz today) proposals for an arrangement on the Golan Heights with Syria.
4. Guaranteeing Israel's borders with Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, with an effective border-control by the greater Unifil II (25.000). A control, that guarantees both sides of the border.

In order to stabilize really the region, a nuclear disarmament of Israel (and the whole M-E) would be unavoidable. Here, only an intervention with the USA could bring a solution.

But the procedural steps mentioned before, lie within the power of a solid EU, alone, without American support, or even more or less against it. Important will be an effort to engage Turkey into the EU effort. The Turks have diplomatic, military, economic and nuclear relations with Israel.
Their army is well-equipped and competent, and, something that is not often discussed, their nuclear capabilities are strong enough, to neutralize an eventual Israele nuclear blackmail.
Maar de voorgaande stappen liggen binnen de macht van een gezamenlijk optredende EU.

In this way, an UN-covered strategic intervention by the EU, could secure the state of Israel step by step, and secure other countries in the region as well.
It would offer an opportunity to realize the Cohn-Bendit plan to have Joschka Fischer as an omniguarantee between Israel and its neighbours, including Palestine.

Wednesday, this could start, in Brussels.

Translingual crossposted to L'Europe Chez Soi, In Europa Thuis, In Europa Zuhause and http://huibusa.blogspot.com/.




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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mark Mazower: Europe should use its leverage to lean on Israel

Historian Mark Mazower is a professor at Columbia University and at a College in the UK. He is the author of a History of 20th century Europe ("The Dark Continent") and of a captivating history (1400-1950) of multicultural Salonika (Thessaloniki, Greece).

In today's FT.com his call for a new, more active European role in the Middle East: Europe should use its leverage to lean on Israel, that ends with (numbering and bolds are mine):

"What would a more ambitious European stance on the Middle East look like?
  1. Beyond the current Lebanon crisis, it would prioritise the need for an Israel/Palestine settlement and would seek to convert its economic power into diplomatic clout. With its massive humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, the EU already has considerable leverage there.
  2. In addition, its significant trade relationship with Israel should allow it to lean much harder on Israeli governments than it – or anyone else – has done for a long time. This requires urgent institutional reform within the Union itself, in particular overcoming the traditional rivalries between the Council of Ministers and the Commission that still stymie the emergence of a common foreign and security policy.
What, though, is the alternative? Stripped of its rhetoric, US policy currently holds political and economic development in the Arab world hostage to a peace settlement with Israel without ever putting sufficient pressure on its ally to effect this.
If Europe does not recognise its own pressing need to change this dynamic, the alternative is likely to be instability, regional repression and economic stagnation on its doorstep for the indefinite future."
Indeed: The failure of the American-Israeli intervention in Lebanon, designed as a further step to create a "New Middle East", is, after the failed occupation of Iraq, the failed "democratization" diplomacy aimed at Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, and after the failing efforts to isolate Iran and Syria, a not-to-be-missed opening for Europe to step in.
No more as a divided and subordinated reserve of allies, but as a responsible and powerful bloc that protects the vital interests of its inhabitants.
For the Europeans, there is much more and much longer at stake, than for the USA.
It is all happening on our doorsteps. And it will last much longer for us, than for the Americans. Deep into the coming after-oil aera.
That is why the August 2 Los Angeles speech of Tony Blair ("value change" replaces "regime change") is so hollow. Blair pleaded the same solutions as Marzower does, but he takes no responsability for building the necessary European bloc. And no concrete proposal for common action is to be found in his speech.
And what to say about the French? Their option boils down to a "classic" French imperialist restoration of the Lebanon inter-community balance, with the Maronites in the role of, let us say, the Iraqian Sunnis before 2003. "Disarming" the Shiites is an impossibility and is rejected, even by their most rabiate Lebanese enemies, the Druzes and their leader Walid Jumblatt.
The French got the room to play that role, only because it presents to the Americans another way (the Israelian having temporarily failed) to possibly isolate the Shiites.
The most daring European proposal, I heard of, was Daniel Cohn-Bendit's idea of sending former German minister Fischer as an European envoy to the region, in order to "secure the borders of Israel". As Dany knows, a secure border has to be secure for both sides of it, to be really secure. That means....: "leaning on Israel" in order to get secure borders for Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and ... Palestine. A huge task. An effort that needs a seamless cooperation of the EU and its allies (Turkey, for instance).
As this condition is far from existing, friend Joschka has apparently said "no" to the invitation.
But there is still some room for less spectacular moves in the good direction.
A first step could be a strong mandate for the Middle East to Xavier Solana, EU external policy coordinator. Another one, would be a common EU command over the UN forces in Southern Lebanon. No French "Alleingang".

I wonder, if somebody is going to do something with Mazower's plea.

(Crossposted at "Legal Alien @ NY")

Monday, July 31, 2006

Is Israel Fighting a Proxy War for Washington?

Desperately looking for a comprehensive insight into the apparent contradictions and paradoxes of the ongoing bundle of conflicts in the Middle East, I first discovered in Ha'aretz, today (30/7), Ze'ef Schiff's analysis of Israelian misjudgment and failure, including an insight into the role of the Bush administration in using Israel as a proxy against Iran. Very worthwile, for Schiff is not a peacenik at all, but a staunch supporter of the use of military force. (See below: link).
And then, tonight, Tony Karon's ultimate analysis of what is happening. The article, copied below, appeared yesterday on his website ("Rootless Cosmopolitan") and resumes the content of two recent articles he wrote for TIME.com, the web-based edition of TIME/CNN. But in this text he developes his diagnostics into a masterpiece of insight. It is published below.
Tony Karon came to the US from South Africa, and his perceptions are influenced by the downfall of the Apartheid Regime he experienced. He is of Jewish descent and certainly no enemy of Israel.
Please, read his brilliant analysis.

Rootless Cosmopolitan : "Is Israel Fighting a Proxy War for Washington?
by Tony Caron, USA.

Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said a curious thing Saturday: Israel has recognized reality and is ready for a cease-fire in Lebanon, Nasrallah claimed, but it is the U.S. that insists that it fight on.
And if you read the analysis of Ze’ev Schiff, the dean of Israeli military correspondents and an enthusiastic advocate of the military campaign against Hizballah, there’s a remarkable confirmation of Nasrallah’s analysis.

Schiff writes: (in Ha'aretz, 29/7/06, hr):
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the figure leading the strategy of changing the situation in Lebanon, not Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or Defense Minister Amir Peretz. She has so far managed to withstand international pressure in favor of a cease-fire, even though this will allow Hezbollah to retain its status as a militia armed by Iran and Syria.

As such, she needs military cards, and unfortunately Israel has not succeeded to date in providing her with any. Besides bringing Hezbollah and Lebanon under fire, all of Israel’s military cards at this stage are in the form of two Lebanese villages near the border that have been captured by the IDF.

If the military cards Israel is holding do not improve with the continuation of the fighting, it will result in a diplomatic solution that will leave the Hezbollah rocket arsenal in southern Lebanon in its place. The diplomatic solution will necessarily be a reflection of the military realities on the ground.
Listening the millenarian rubbish pouring out of the mouths of Bush and Blair last Friday about this being a fight led by the U.S. and its allies for a “new Middle East” of freedom from tyranny blah blah — oblivious to the reality that every time Arab electorates have been given the option to vote in a democratic election, they have returned governments profoundly at odds with U.S. and Israeli policy, and the U.S. has ended up ignoring them, or trying to overthrow them… But repudiating Bush’s increasingly brittle and shrill rationalizations is not my purpose here (and Blair, quite frankly, knows better, which is why the court of history will judge him even more harshly).

I’ve always maintained that the “pro-Israel” position of the Bush administration, formulated and influenced by hardline American Likudniks (whom, it must be said, are hardly representative of mainstream Israeli thinking) is actually fundamentally bad for Israel.

Its infantile, aggressive maximalism precludes Israel from doing what it will take to live at peace with its surroundings, instead demanding a confrontational approach in keeping with Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” in which Israel’s survival depends on crush and humiliating the Arabs.

Bush may talk the language of “Arab liberation,” but his contempt for Arab democracy is plain — just look at his response to the Hamas election victory. His administration appears to be dedicated to a remaking of the Middle East on America’s terms through violent social engineering. The depth of their failure in Iraq appears not to have deterred them from another adventure in Lebanon, this time using Israel as their agent of “change.”

Plainly, the region has no interest in being remade in the manner in which Bush envisages. I strongly recommend the coverage of Rami Khouri, the excellent Jordanian analyst of Arab affairs at Beirut’s Daily Star, who makes clear that the region’s politics have indeed been remade, with the pro-U.S. autocracies having discredited themselves beyond repair, and the new motive force of Arab politics is the Islamist movement representing resistance to Israel and the U.S. and responsive, clean government in comparison to the autocracies.

Mark Perry and Alistair Crooke have argued thoughtfully that the most credible and viable policy for the U.S. to follow in these circumstances is to promote democracy and acknowledge that it will bring Islamists to power, and seeking to engage with that reality rather than continuing the vain path of seeking to violently suppress an increasingly popular movement.

Yet the Administration appears to have clung to its old instincts in the case of Lebanon. Indeed, they appear to have framed their response to the crisis as an opportunity to wage proxy war against Iran by seeking to militarily eliminate what they see as nothing more than an Iranian proxy. So when Israel launched its retaliation, probably expecting the Bush administration to set the limits and demand restraint, instead it found Washington saying “Don’t hold back on our account, in fact, make sure you finish them off…”

And seeking Hizballah’s defeat on the battlefield remains their objective. But with the zealous delusion that has characterized so much of what this Administration has done in the Middle East, it simply failed to reckon with reality and consequence. It’s premises were faulty, as we’ve discussed in a previous post — Hizballah can’t be beaten on the battlefield, it seems, and Israel very quickly began looking to a NATO force to pull its chestnuts out of the fire

  • (As I noted in my TIME.com piece after the Rome meeting, this gives the Europeans far more leverage than washington would like over the shape of a cease-fire — they’re not about to go and fight Hizballah on behalf of Israel or the U.S. so they’re demanding a cease-fire as a precondition for going in. A cease-fire that would have to be agreed by Hizballah, in other words, that fact alone giving Hizballah a remarkable victory over the U.S. and Israel.)

After its air campaign failed to even slow the rate of Hizballah rocket fire into Israel, it sent in ground troops. They managed to capture Maroun al-Ras, but after days of fierce fighting in which they took heavy casualties, the Israelis actually pulled out of the battle for Bint Jbail. And Israeli officers had freely admitted there are at least 170 such towns controlled by Hizballah in southern Lebanon. And Israel has no appetite for reestablishing roots in the quagmire of southern Lebanon. That’s why it suddenly finds itself needing the international force more than anyone.

So, not only is Hizballah going to emerge stronger, having survived the onslaught and therefore have a substantial hand in shaping the cease-fire that will follow — and politically, while the Administration may have been hoping the Israeli campaign would turn Lebanese against Hizballah, the opposite has occurred:
A poll last week found that a solid 70 percent of Lebanese, across the board, supported Hizballah’s capture of the two Israeli soldiers that started the current confrontation: That breaks down as
  • around 95 percent of Shiites,
  • 70 percent of Sunnis,
  • around 40 percent of Druze and
  • 54 percent of Christians.
Far from turning on Hizballah as a result of its provocation, instead backed it to the hilt after two weeks of bombing. (Bombing will do that, I suspect — two dramatic terror hijack-bombings on 9/11, and the U.S. population was ready to follow Bush into an entirely unrelated military adventure in Iraq, remember?)

Not surprising, also, 86 percent of Lebanese in the same survey don’t believe the U.S. is an honest broker. And frankly, the Lebanon debacle will have sealed America’s fate in Arab eyes for a generation: When the next al-Qaeda attacks come on U.S. soil, I don’t expect there’ll be much hand-wringing or denial in the Arab world, blaming the Mossad for something they didn’t want to believe Arabs were capable of and so forth. And media outlets wanting to run “Why do they Hate Us?” specials can probably start writing them already.

I also noted in a different Time.com piece how the Lebanon crisis has further weakened the U.S. position in Iraq, particularly its ability to influence the Shiite-led government (whose leaders, after all, are ideological fellow travelers of Hizballah).

There will be other regional implications, such as gains for Syria. And I want to return to the issue of the cease-fire and prospects for Hizballah — it wouldn’t surprise me to see new proposals from the Lebanese government under which Hizballah’s armed forces would be incorporated into those of the Lebanese army. Probably not exactly what Condi had in mind.

But it also seems clear that Israel’s own position is weakened. It has once again aroused the hatred of the Arab world, and the disdain of much of the international community for its plainly excessive response, all in pursuit of reestablishing its “deterrent” capacity — but if Hizballah is left standing, and indications are that it will be, that deterrent capacity itself will have been undermined. And Israel will have to pay a diplomatic price too, being forced back into internationally supervised peace discussions with a view to settling the conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders, as Brent Scowcroft, of the grownup Bush [father, hr] administration so forcefully argues.

I can’t help thinking that for all of the enthusiasm of the neocon Likudniks, the Bush administration’s “New Middle East” policy is not only bad for the Arabs; it’s bad for Israel, too.
-------------------------

So far, Mr. Karon. At the moment I write this, Israel has agreed to a 48 hours' "suspension of aerial activity over Southern Libanon" over an UN enquiry into the Qana massacre. At the same time, it "orders" all civil population (one million persons!) to leave southern Libanon within 24 hours. Apparently hoping to get "a licence to kill" afterwards.
Let us hope, that a cease-fire will be imposed before that!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lost in the Hypes - Gaza

Lost in the Hypes : Gaza
Few people think about the continuing Israeli invasion in Gaza and its incursions into the West Bank. Understandable. All eyes are on Lebanon and on the US.
But on a daily basis, people are killed, wounded, starved and deprived of medicaments in the Gaza strip.  
Imagine the outrage in the world, if the Lebanon invasion wouldn’t be there?
One of the possible explanations for the completely un-Israeli show of incompetence that is going on in Lebanon at the moment, could be, that it conveniently diverts the attention of the world from what is being done to Palestine.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Lebanese right of self-defense?

"Israel has a right to defend itself", it is said and repreated by Bush, every time he prefers to keep his hands clean in the Middle East.
And the Lebanese Government, democratically elected, victim of indiscriminate attacks on its energy infrastructure, its roads, its television stations, has it also such a right?
Who will be pleading for Lebanon's right on self-defense?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Energized Neocons Say Israel's Fight Is Washington's

The story of the Neoconservative plot to lure the U.S. (and its allies) into a new Middle East adventure (view our yesterday's post), is best told by an expert in Washington.
Here is Antiwar.com article by Jim Lobe (July 18, 2006):

Energized Neocons Say Israel's Fight Is Washington's

by Jim Lobe

Seeing a major opportunity to regain influence lost as a result of setbacks in Iraq, prominent neoconservatives are calling for unconditional U.S. support for Israel's military offensives in Gaza and Lebanon and "regime change" in Syria and Iran, as well as possible U.S. attacks on Tehran's nuclear facilities in retaliation for its support of Hezbollah.

In a Weekly Standard column entitled "It's Our War," editor William Kristol Sunday called Iran "the prime mover behind the terrorist groups who have started this war," which, he argued, should be considered part of "the global struggle against radical Islamism."

He complained that Washington recently has done a "poor job of standing up and weakening Syria and Iran" and called on President George W. Bush himself to fly directly from the "silly [Group of Eight] summit in St. Petersburg … to Jerusalem, the capital of a nation that stands with us, and is willing to fight with us, against our common enemies."

"This is our war, too," according to Kristol, who is also a founder and co-chairman of the recently lapsed Project for the New American Century (PNAC)."

All of us in the free world owe Israel an enormous thank-you for defending freedom, democracy, and security against the Iranian cat's-paw wholly-owned terrorist subsidiaries Hezbollah and Hamas," echoed Larry Kudlow, a neoconservative commentator, at the Standard's right-wing competitor, National Review.

"They are defending their own homeland and very existence, but they are also defending America's homeland as our front-line democratic ally in the Middle East," according to Kudlow who, like Kristol and other like-minded polemicists, also named Syria, "which is also directed by Iran," as a promising target as the conflict expands.

The two columns are just the latest examples of a slew of commentaries that have appeared in U.S. print and broadcast media since Israel began bombing targets in Lebanon in retaliation for Hezbollah's fatal cross-border attack last Wednesday. They appear to be part of a deliberate campaign by neoconservatives and some of their right-wing supporters to depict the current conflict as part of global struggle pitting Israel, as the forward base of Western civilization, against Islamist extremism organized and directed by Iran and its junior partner, Syria.

This view was perhaps most dramatically expressed by former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, in an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday when he described the conflict as "the early stages of … the Third World War."

The effort to frame the current round of violence as part of a much larger struggle – and Israel's role as Washington's most loyal front-line ally – recalls the neoconservatives early reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Just nine days after 9/11, Kristol and PNAC – whose charter members included Vice President Dick Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and half a dozen other senior Bush administration officials – released an open letter to Bush that called for the U.S. to retaliate not only against al-Qaeda and Afghanistan, but also against Israel's main regional foes, beginning with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat.

In addition, the letter advised, "any war against terrorism must target Hezbollah. We believe that the administration should demand that Iran and Syria immediately cease all military, financial, and political support for Hezbollah and its operations. Should Iran and Syria refuse to comply, the administration should consider appropriate measures of retaliation against these state sponsors of terrorism."

"Israel has been and remains America's staunchest ally against international terrorism, especially in the Middle East," the letter asserted. "The United States should fully support our fellow democracy in its fight against terrorism."

While the Iraqi and Palestinian components of PNAC's agenda were soon adopted as policy and essentially achieved, neoconservative hopes that Bush would move on Hezbollah – as well as Syria and Iran – eventually stalled as U.S. military forces became bogged down in an increasingly bloody and costly counter-insurgency war in Iraq.

As the situation in Iraq worsened, neoconservative influence in and on the administration also declined to the benefit of "realists" based primarily in the State Department who favored a less aggressive policy designed to secure Damascus' and Tehran's cooperation in stabilizing Iraq and strengthen the elected Lebanese government of which Hezbollah was made a part.

In that context, the current conflict represents a golden opportunity for the neoconservatives to reassert their influence and reactivate their Israel-centered agenda against Hezbollah and its two state sponsors.

"Iran's Proxy War" blazed the cover of this week's Standard, which also featured no less than three other articles, besides Kristol's editorial, underlining Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas and the necessity of the U.S. standing with Israel, if not taking independent action against Tehran and/or Damascus as recommended by Kristol himself.

A major theme of the new campaign is that the more-conciliatory "realist" policies toward Syria and Iran pursued by the State Department have actually backfired by making Washington look weak.

"They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago," wrote Kristol. "Weakness is provocative. We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak," he went on, adding that, "[T]he right response is renewed strength," notably "in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran [and] consider[ing] countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

"The notion that U.S. policy in the region has become far too flaccid and accommodating is echoed by a number of other neoconservatives, particularly Michael Rubin, a prolific analyst at the hard-line American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and protégé of Cheney confidante and former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle.

In a companion Standard article, Rubin qualified recent State Department policy as "All Talk and No Strategy" that had emboldened enemies, especially Iran, to challenge Washington and its allies.

In another article for National Review Monday, bluntly titled "Eradication First," he elaborated on that theme, arguing diplomacy in the current crisis will only be successful "if it commences both after the eradication of Hezbollah and Hamas, and after their paymasters pay a terrible cost for their support."

"If … peace is the aim, it is imperative to punish the Syrian and Iranian leadership," he wrote.

Above all, according to the neoconservatives, the U.S. position in the region is now inextricably tied to the success or failure of Israel's military campaign.

In yet another Standard article, titled "The Rogues Strike Back: Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah vs. Israel," Robert Satloff, executive director of the hawkish, pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued that "defeat for Israel – either on the battlefield or via coerced compromises to achieve flawed cease-fires – is a defeat for U.S. interests; it will inspire radicals of every stripe, release Iran and Syria to spread more mayhem inside Iraq, and make more likely our own eventual confrontation with this emboldened alliance of extremists."(Inter Press Service)

Read more at www.antiwar.com/lobe/?a...


Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.


My comment: A strong European reply to this adventurous spinning is needed. But it seems far away.

France pursues its own agenda in Libanon, Blair ("Yo Blair!") goes along with Bush and Angela Merkel has other priorities.

What a mess!

Monday, July 17, 2006

William Kristol gone completely mad in the Financial Times of London

Thank you, FT, for printing timely this outrageous opinion article. It explains, from whom president Bush got the idea to say, several times during the last days, that Israel shouldn't forget that the real enemies are Iran and Syria. Bush is the weakly standard. Here we get the real one.

But: Beware! In the fall of 2001, few people took the Neocons' appeals for an attack on Iraq seriously. It seemed then as outrageous as "Weekly Standard"'s Kristol's actual outcry for a nuclear war in the Middle East.

And, ironically, the heading in the Financial Times has it wrong: Kristol doesn't say that Bush should go to Tel Aviv , but:

"to Jerusalem , the capital of a nation that stands with us, and is willing to fight with us, against our common enemies. This is our war, too."

Europe has to be unambiguous, united and outspoken, this time: No second Iraq in our backyard!

Read more at www.ft.com/cms/s/d1e915...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Roaming Charges: Mandelson and Verheugen against Reding?

Sources: Sarah Laitner for the FT in Brussels (July 4)
and: EU Oberver.com (see left column)
Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for telecommunications, stands firm for her proposals to cap the extra charges Telecom Companies impose on their customers, when they call to or from foreign networks in Europe.
Viviane Reding
After attacks from the interested companies (who claim that 15% of their profits originate with roaming charges) and from the class of mediators (see preceding post), now, two heavyweights in the European Commission, Mandelson and Verheugen indicate that they will not support the Reding proposals entirely.
The most recent discussions deal with the question, if it would be sufficient, to cap the extra costs companies are charging each other, or if the EU should cap the extra charges for consumers.
In the first case, companies would remain free to charge their clients whatever they like. In the second one, consumers with contracts with smaller companies (mainly from smaller countries), would be effectively protected against this anomaly. For, we should repeat it every time, these consumers have no other choice than to contract with one of the local companies that provide mobile telephone.
It is worthwile, to follow closely these developments. And that is what we are going to do here. As long as necessary.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Roaming charges: "Outsourcers" afraid of becoming redundant

Today's Financial Times picks up again the subject of roaming charges (access to FT.Com is limited). Previous posts on this blog: June 13, May 10, and March 20.

Reading the introduction to the article, one asks oneself: "What is the problem here?":

Moves by the European Commission to cut roaming charges will have a big effect on consumers but do little for Europe’s biggest users of roaming service, its multinational corporations.

But these "moves" by Communications Commissioner Viviane Reding have already seen their first successes, as five of the biggest European Mobile Telephone Companies announced, that they are cutting their roaming tariffs by 45% in 2008.
- Of course: It is too little, too late and it complicates the market, for individual consumers who have no way to know, for which one(s) of the mobile telephone providers in a foreign countries they would have to choose in order to have some benefit of the tariff cuts.
And, as we explained earlier, it is another penalisation of the smaller providers (located mostly in smaller countries) and their clients. (This last subject has been adopted by my preferred MEP Max van den Berg, who cites the example of Dutch KPN.)

The FT continues:

But Ms Reding’s battle seems to be ignoring business users, who represent 75 per cent of roamers, according to consultancy AT Kearney.

“Roaming typically makes up 30 to 40 per cent of a multinational’s mobile spend, though it represents just 10-12 per cent of its call volume,” says Nigel Springhall, general manager of Mobile Partners at BT Global Services, BT’s outsourcing unit. For some, the burden can be far greater. One consulting firm reported that roaming accounts for nearly 70 per cent of its total mobile budget.

“Cheaper roaming costs remain enterprise users’ prime concern. This would come in the form of better tailored voice tariffs – for example global and multi-country tariffs – and a consistent service in all countries where the multinational is present,” says Richard Ireland, Ernst & Young’s UK head of telecommunications.

But, whom are we listening to, here? Not the Big international Businesses themselves, but "consultants", mediators and the consultancy firm of Ernst & Young.

We discovered easily, why those people are protesting against the Commission's efforts to simplify and unite the market. The answer is: they will lose their jobs.

For, why should big international companies, who have already obtained reduced roaming "bulk" tariffs from internationally operating providers amounting to about 30%, have objections against a further reduction, up to 45%? As the BT-spokesman says:

“We think this will result in a 10-15 per cent reduction on the bill for companies,” says Mr Springhall.

Here comes the heart of the matter:

Some large enterprises are turning to outsourcers to manage these matters. For instance, Unilever outsourced management of 30,000 mobile phones in more than 70 countries to BT Global Services, as part of a communications outsourcing deal.

Mr Swift at BT says a quarter of outsourcing tenders ask for mobile service management, which tends to represent 15 per cent of the contract value.

"Outsourcers".

The artificially compartmentalised market (along national borders, ever changeing and absolutely impenetrable individual tariff structures, etc.) creates an opening for mediators, consultancy firms, who specialise in making deals between business corporations and providers, taking a visible part of 15% of the contract value for "mobile service management", and some more, invisible, percentages from fees that providers hand out to them.

A transparent European mobile roaming market would make their services redundant. Corporations wouldn't need them any more.

However, the "outsourcers" cannot say so openly. They succeeded into making believe a Financial Times journalist, that their commissioners are angry at the European Commission.

If I were a corporate topmanager, I would free myself instantly from my "outsourcers", now that they are harming my public relations and are pleading against lower and uniform rates that are to my benefit!

Source:
FT.com / Technology - Roaming charges: Business calls for cut in tariffs

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

380m EU mobile phone owners claim roaming freedom abroad

Source: FinancialTimes.com / Europe / Brussels briefing - EU simplifies plan to scrap mobile roaming costs

Two weeks ago, after Vodafone (see post in this blog), some more European Mobile Phone Companies agreed to cut "volunarily" their roaming charges for clients using their phones abroad. At the same moment they attacked the EU Commission's plans to impose a "cap" on roaming charges, saying that they were unnecessary, now, that "the market demonstrates that it can govern itself". The companies are hoping that we have a short memory. For, what happened? (FT, 12.6.06, by Sarah Laitner in Brussels :)
Viviane Reding, EU telecoms commissioner, pledged in February to outlaw roaming fees, the add-on costs consumers pay to make and receive calls on their regular mobile phones while in other EU countries.

She argues that Europe’s 380m mobile phone owners are charged unjustifiably high costs to use their handsets while abroad, and her plan has won consumer backing.

But the industry, facing a slowdown in the growth of European revenues, has vigorously fought the proposed bar on roaming fees, which analysts estimate account for 10 to 15 per cent of operators’ profits. In an effort to undermine the case for legislation, companies such as Vodafone and Orange have pledged to slash the costs, and the suggested tweaks to the proposal will be closely monitored by the industry.

Well, they will be closely monitored by consumers' organisations and 'At Home in Europe', too!

For, like during the struggle with the banks of the Eurozone, who wanted to continue to charge change fees for transborder payments from one euro-country to another (!), the private telephone companies are not, as they say, championing "free market" ideas, but, on the contrary, fighting for maintaining an artificial and redundant compartmentalisation of the markets, just to keep some artificial extra benefits! Here is, why.

Mobile telephone traffic works, like the internet, as a network of networks, where data are sent from one point to another, without any human intervention. Everything is steered by computers. At this moment, the software is so far developed, that errors have become extremely rare. When you are calling, you are paying for the investments in hard- and software and for the use you make of sender-receiver capacities. Fundamentally, the distance between the caller and the called plays but a subordinate role in the total real costs of a call. National borders between networks in different countries play no role at all any more. Just like in the case of the banks' "change" rates between the eurozone countries.

So, who is trying to impose "artificial" charges here? Not the EU Commission! Their idea was originally, to forbid all extra roaming charges. Now, the FT announces a study into a "simplification" of this point of view. How? (FT:)

At the heart of the changes are fresh plans to introduce a cap on the wholesale fees companies charge each other to use their networks.

This will be calculated on an average of certain rates in the union’s 25 member states. Retail charges for consumers can be up to 30 per cent more than this wholesale cost.

Ms Reding had initially proposed that, while abroad, consumers were charged the same price they paid to use their phones in their home countries. Operators argued this move would lead consumers to register with mobile phone groups abroad to benefit from lower fees.

So, is this what you call a "simplification" of the original idea? I have a simpler idea of what simplification means: I cannot imagine a simpler idea than the initial idea, i.e.: abolition of all extra roaming charges!

And, maybe my mind is too simple too, to understand, why champions of free markets can be against freedom for consumers "to register with mobile phone groups abroad to benefit from lower fees". I have always learned, that freedom for buyers to buy at the lowest price offered on the market for the same product, was not less than the "engine" of innovative markets!

And it is worse still: As most of the operators ARE already working in different countries, why should Vodafone be afraid when I register, not in Belgium, where I am charged with "roaming", the moment I am 100 KM away from my office, but for instance, with their company in France (SFR) or with Vodafone DE (Germany) or with Vodafone-Britain? I am still their client. I make the same calls. Only, they can charge less "roaming extras". Is the freedom of one European market only a freedom for providers, and not for consumers?

The FT again:

One industry analyst said on Monday night that the changes gave companies more scope to recover costs in particularly competitive markets. He said: “This is good news for the operators. Overall they will benefit from this.”

Yes, I am sure they will. THEY will. It will help to keep alive small local oparators, who benefit from the compartmentalisation of the European market along national borders. Who else will benefit from such a half-measure? And, stagnation will be the result:

However an industry representative argued: “The Commission seems to be back-pedalling. But it is putting in place something even more prescriptive. If this comes into place there will be no incentive for any operator in Europe to innovate.”

Well, that is simple enough for me, to understand. And I am curious, to read the "economic analysis" that points to another outcome:

A Commission official said on Monday night: “We have fine-tuned our proposal to make sure that this regulation is based on a sound economic analysis.”

We will continue to watch!

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