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

- In Europa Zu Hause [DE]
- L'Europe Chez Soi [FR]
- At Home in Europe [EN]
- In Europa Thuis [NL]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pharaonic US Embassy in Baghdad

The NeoCon-driven US imperial policy is building its pharaonic monuments, it's own Babel Tower, even before it can show any tangible positive result. I mean: a positive result measured at it's own designs. No cheap oil is flowing. No secure permanent military bases have been established. No way to intimidate Syria and Iran. No Iraqian oil money to pay for the astronomic costs (and wasted money) of the Iraq adventure, as promised by Paul Wolfowitz in 2003.

No better illustration of this, than the effort to build a Mesopotamian palace with tennis courts, swimming pools in the Baghdad Green Zone, under mortar fire, truck-bombs and failing supply of hamburgers by the Kowayt convoys that should arrive every week. That palace, cost: $592 millions, is to house "the largest embassy in the world". The Mother of All Embassies, so to say.

Tom Engelhardt, in the Tomdispatch Blog, writes about it in a superb style. Here is the beginning of his text:

Tomgram: The Mother Ship Lands in Iraq

The Colossus of Baghdad

Wonders of the Imperial World
By Tom Engelhardt

Of the seven wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, four were destroyed by earthquakes, two by fire. Only the Great Pyramid of Giza today remains.

We no longer know who built those fabled monuments to the grandiosity of kings, pharaohs, and gods; nowadays, at least, it's easier to identify the various wonders of our world with their architects. Maya Lin, for instance, spun the moving black marble Vietnam Memorial from her remarkable brain for the veterans of that war; Frank Gehry dreamt up his visionary titanium-covered museum in Bilbao, Spain, for the Guggenheim; and the architectural firm of BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation's world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah's Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, turns out to have designed the biggest wonder of all -- an embassy large enough to embody the Bush administration's vision of an American-reordered Middle East. We're talking, of course, about the still-uncompleted American embassy, the largest on the planet, being constructed on a 104-acre stretch of land in the heart of Baghdad's embattled Green Zone, now regularly under mortar fire. As Patrick Lenahan, Senior Architect and Project Manager at BDY, has put it (according to the firm's website): "We understand how to involve the client most effectively as we direct our resources to make our client's vision a reality."

And what a vision it was! What a reality it's turned out to be!

The Legal Alien wanted to know for himself, and went to the BDY website. We found a map of the construction area in Baghdad, along the river:

The (walled) area has the size of an urban district. The about a 1.000 strong staff (not counting family members to be housed in villas and apartment blocks on the site) and several 1.000s of other personnel (local staff, guards, maintenance) and protection (US army, American contractors). The building itself is done by kowaitian firms, employing cheap east-asian workers. It is not difficult to imagine, what the Baghdad man in the street feels about all that. Those feelings are probably stronger even, than they had against Saddam Hussein's frenetic palace-building. I suppose, that the New Orleans Katharina-victims, who are still waiting for reconstruction, will share those feelings.

The following images from the BDY Architects' website, need to be clicked on, to see them in full splendor:

1. An overview of the site.
2. residence of the Deputy Ambassador.
3. A Marine Guards an entrance.
4. Tennis- and Basketball facilities.
5. Apartments Building with palm garden.
6. Swimming Pool.

Accompanying text by BergerDevine+Yaeger Architects, Kansas, USA:
Baghdad US Embassy

Following successful completion of the preliminary concept plans and the full embassy master plan, Berger was commissioned to prepare the design-build “bridging documents” (based on 35% design) for construction of the self-contained embassy compound. Berger Devine Yaeger, Inc. (BDY) was the architect for this work. The construction (currently underway) is being executed in four concurrent packages. This self-contained compound will include the embassy itself, residences for the ambassador and staff, PX, commissary, cinema, retail and shopping, restaurants, schools, fire station and supporting facilities such as power generation, water purification system, telecommunications, and waste water treatment facilities. In total, the 104 acre compound will include over twenty buildings including one classified secure structure and housing for over 380 families.
In short: This construction was designed to symbolise the New American Century, the power of intimidation of the sole "superpower". It goes along with the huge US military command center "Camp Victory" that is housed, somewhat to the Nort-East of Baghdad, in a former Saddam palace, complete with zoo.

Imperial Isolationism?
During my whole life, from when I was a pupil in an Amsterdam high school, until the end of the century, when we criticised US policies, we were told that, perhaps we were right, but that it was dangerous to say it too loudly, for, otherwise, the US could return to "isolationism" - one of the causes of the European crises, leading to the Second World War, in the 20s and 30s.

The new European generation can no more be convinced of that: The US have, since 1990, and à fortiori, since 2001, already returned to an isolationism that is more agressive than 75 years ago. They are not only celebrating it at home. Now, they have also exported it.

A new phenomenon in history: An isolationist imperium!

Like Nietzschean "Übermenschen", unmoved by the feelings of others, even provokingly humiliating them, they offend allies, pretend to rob nations of their wealth in the name of some free-market principle.

No isolationism so dangerous as an exported isolationism...

Originally posted in A Legal Alien in New York

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wolfowitz: "Shaha told me that Iraqi oil would pay for the Iraq occupation"

Wolfowitz and Riza (photo msn)
I am disappointed.

I had expected Wolfie to come up with a better justification for his wasting of public money on a pay rise for his 'long time companion' at the World Bank staff, than this:

"My girlfriend forced me to grant her that salary increase".
(Huffington Post, introducing a Washington Post comment, May 15, 2007).

How mean! How insipid! Even Bill Clinton, when blamed over Monica, never went as far, as to blame her for his break of ethics.

Remembering, how, as an assistant-defense minister in 2003, Paul Wolfowitz got the American Senate to accept another irresponsible spending of public money, saying that "Iraqi oil wealth would compensate largely" for the 31 billion dollars, the Pentagon was going to 'invest' (mostly via Halliburton's KBR and Bechtel) in Iraq, I expected an equally creative and original statement over this new unethical overspending issue.

Wolfowitz got a week extra to respond to the blame of the World Bank investigation commission over the exceptional pay rise he gave to his girlfriend Shaha Risa, when she had to leave the World Bank staff over the incompatibility of her function and her relationship to the newly appointed president.

He did not spend that week well. I suspect, he quarreled endlessly with Shaha, over the kitchen table. She can be terribly "intractable", when she is "extremely angry and upset".
(Quotes are from the 15 page written response by Wolfowitz to the WB investigation committee, as quoted by Peter S. Goodman in the Washington Post.)

Wolfie should have followed his own analysis of the reasons why the Bank's Ethics Committee did not want to deal with the harpy themselves: "It would only be human nature for them to want to steer clear of her." (Wolfowitz in his written response).

The bitch! She even scares to death a complete and very ethical consistory of bankers! Why, by all means, did you stay with her in such "a longtime relationship", Paul?

Maybe, Paul's famous 2003 Iraqi oil statement will provide a clue to that burning question. Few people know it, but I know for sure, that, basically, Paul D. Wolfowitz is a timid intellectual, absolutely unfit for a role within the jungle of dominating males that populate the Washington Administration and the Neocon cabals. Shaha, the untractable bitch, compensates for that otherwise potentially lethal handicap.

(Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in the Defense Secretary's office at the Pentagon, March 21, 2003, Photo D.H. Kennerly. [This is a placeholder for the copyrighted photo I will buy from that photographer, if it is not too expensive...] It illustrates perfectly the the relation between the two men. Wolfie arrives with a problem, gesticulating. Rummy, annoyed, stands up and starts arguing, dominating the scene with hard words words and broad gestures. It will take the genius of BagNews Notes to interpret the scene correctly. Note the little statue of Theodore Roosevelt in the corner. Th. Roosevelt was, during the first years of the XXst century, the first American president who extended the Monroe Doctrine to other parts of the world, colonizing the Philippines, for instance.)

When Donald Rumsfeld, his boss at the Pentagon (photo) had, once again, verbally abused his egghead assistant, urging him to speak plainly and strongly and not giving lectures, but to be quotable and soundbiting, a subdued Paul went home to his Washington suburb house, wanting to quit altogether and go fishing.

This is where Shaha comes in. She is indeed an intractable housewife, never doing the shopping for the household herself (that would be a "career break"). So, she started sending quivering Wolfie to the local supermarket to buy dinner.

It was at one of those many occasions of hubby been sent shopping, that a writer for the Dutch left-leaning weekly "De Groene Amsterdammer" met him and got charmed by Wolfowitz' helpless intellectual behavior. (Article, in Dutch, by the Washington correspondent of the weekly, May 2003).

Apparently longing to "stay clear" for a moment, from the company of dominating males and females, Paul D. had a little chat over coffee with this intelligent young man and was happy to make a show of his vast intellectual luggage, suggesting at the same time, how open he is to discussion with people from different intellectual and cultural horizons.

Wolfowitz' mood thus being restored, he could live up to go and see Shaha again. He told her his nightmare of having to meet with the Senate committee over the 31 billion dollars for Iraq (correction: for the Pentagon and its contractors). And how Donald Rumsfeld had offended him.

Shaha, probably entering once again into a fit of "extreme anger", then must have lectured Wolfowitz as follows: "I am the Middle East expert of the World Bank!", she cried, "I know everything about oil. For that is what the Middle East is about! Donnie Rumsfeld is right. Do like him! He told those sissy European diplomats the difference between 'old' and 'new' Europe. A truth, so embarrassing, that nobody dared to discuss it. That is how he got away with liquidating NATO. You, you try to get your way all the time by being nice, by trying to convince people. Sometimes, you have to be a nuisance, you have to offend, to shock, telling them the untold truth!"

"But, Shahi-dear," replied Wolfowitz, "we have been told by Cheney, that we should strictly avoid to use the word 'oil' in relation to the occupation of Iraq. If, ever, we are in a situation that we cannot avoid the o-word, we should say that we are talking about the protection of the property of the Iraqi people...".

- He couldn't finish his explanation, as Shaha Risa interrupted him: "And that is exactly what you are going to say, dumbhead! Tell the Senate, that the Iraqis are going to pay themselves for our occupation of their country. I am a banker. I can tell you that it is a clear-cut win-win situation. Your 31 billion will flow back into the American economy through the extra profits our oil companies are going to make on Iraqi oil."

"You know, there are many things they know,and also a lot that they know they do not know. There are even more that they do not know they do not know. But the most effective for you in keeping them quiet, are the things they know well, but do not dare to say! "

And she added: "Just as nobody is going to expect you to mention the embarrassing oil side of the question, nobody will dare to follow you on that tricky field. You'll have your famous quote. I give you a soundbite (this time, exceptionally, for free) that will ashame even Donnie. - And now, Paulie, do the dishes. You're interrupting my career."

And this is why I believe, that, when, some time soon, an investigating committee into the ethics of misleading the American people, Congress and the world, over the Iraq occupation, will grill Mr. Wolfowitz, he will again excuse himself, saying:

"It was Shaha who told me that Iraqi oil would pay for the Iraq occupation!"

Monday, May 07, 2007

Roaming Charges Alert 2!: EP has to delay vote...

The Financial Times continues the saga of the last-ditch effort of big Telecom companies, who found support among some big European countries (i.e.: their governments).
The Eurpean Parliament, who approved the Commission proposal for a cap on roaming tariffs, has had to delay its vote, as negotiations with the EU governments are trailing.
Satisfaction with investors and speculants in telecoms (FT, 3 May:)

Nick Delfas, a telecoms analyst at Morgan Stanley, said: “Things appear to be moving back towards the operators’ interests in some important respects as the roaming regulation grinds through the institutional process.”

This could assist “good near-term performance” by the telecoms sector, as he predicted companies would report revenue and profit in line with expectations.

And here are somle quotes from the Financial Times article:

Cheap mobile phone calls unlikely

By Sarah Laitner in Brussels and Andrew Parker in London

Published: May 3 2007 20:21 | Last updated: May 3 2007 20:21

European plans to force cheaper holiday mobile phone calls this summer were thrown into doubt on Thursday after talks to finalise the legislation broke down.

The failure to agree on how far to slash customers’ “roaming charges” threatens to delay promised price cuts of up to 70 per cent beyond the original July deadline.

The collapse of negotiations could offer a short-term reprieve over the lucrative July to September period for mobile operators such as Vodafone and Orange, whose revenues would be hit by the tariff caps.

Maximum charges to receive a call while abroad should fall to €0.45 a minute, while an incoming call should cost no more than €0.20 a minute, the European parliament insisted on Thursday.

These sharp price cuts have put the assembly on a collision course with some heavyweight European Union countries, with whom it must agree for the plans to come into force.

As we argued long ago, the roaming charges are a problem for the citizens of smaller countries in the first place. That is why large countries feel free to bow to the pressure of their large Telecoms companies:

The UK, France and Spain have in the past favoured higher maximum tariffs than the parliament, while member states such as the Netherlands and Denmark want the lowest possible fees. Their citizens might typically travel to these popular tourist destination countries for foreign holidays.

For the moment, the EP stands strong on its position:

Paul Ruebig, the Austrian MEP steering the controversial legislation through parliament, warned EU countries after Thursday’s talks in Brussels: “This position [on prices] is take it or leave it.”

After the failure of negotiations with member states, the parliament on Thursday postponed a crunch vote on the legislation that had been pencilled in for next week.

Another trick of the telecoms companies, has been a proposal to have customers obliged to ask for the new tariffs, ostensibly hoping that they would forget to do so, before leaving for their (holiday) destinations. >Or, worse still, only going to allow the roaming tariffs, if they agree to pay higher tariffs at home.

MEPs and member states are also at loggerheads over whether the lower rates should apply automatically to all customers, or only to those who request it.

Why is the European roaming charges capping debate so important?

We pointed out, beginning last year, that this drive by the Commission (and its Commissioner Viviane Reding in the first place) is not only of great interest in itself, but also for the future of the European Union as a whole. The mobile phone companies profit, like the banks tried to do after 2001, from the disunity of the Common Market. For it is only because of the allotting of telecom-concesions by the national states, that (technically) artificial borders are put up within this market. It is the task of the EC (and of the governments who created it) to eliminate such barriers, in this case in the interest of the overcharged consumers.

The Companies are fighting a rearguard-combat. If they would manage to keep the compartmentalisation of the market in place, they will soon loose all of most of the roaming market to internet-based providers like Skype. A process that is already going on. All money they are putting in lobbying is utter ly wasted money, for their shareholders as well as their customers.

This struggle has therefore a high symbolic value. The FT agrees:

It is an unusual example of an EU law that has won widespread consumer backing. However, EU mobile phone operators have lobbied hard over the plans to slash roaming fees, which are worth a total of €8.5bn ($11.5bn, £5.8bn) a year to their industry. They fear that the caps will force them to operate below cost and question Brussels’ role in regulating prices.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
And we repeat: Intervene with your government and make them change their position, in line with what an overwhelming majority of citizens want!

Update 6.5.07, 21:52:
Sarah Laitner continues EuroCommission-bashing in her blogpost "Has the European Commission Misdialled?" in the Blog, criticizing the "precocious" announcement of the roaming charges capping by July this year.

It really is not the Commission or Viviane Reding, who is to blame here.

The Hannover meeting (March) of the competent telecoms ministers of the member states had accepted the Commission proposals. The Commission announced then confidently the capping Directive for July this year.

It was only a month afterwards, that, suddenly, the presiding German Telecoms Minister announced that he intends to follow the Companies' proposals.

On top of this undemocratic move (undemocratic, for the Governments know very well, that a large majority of their citizens are in favour of capping the roaming charges), this issue is also being turned into another eurosceptic cabal.

No objection at all against the FT's position as business paper. But if it would make an effort to serve business interests well, it would have to point out, that the Companies are fighting a lost battle, a battle against a free market, clinging to historical market compartmentalisations that have no technical reason any more.

If the Companies would "win" this round by means of their expensive lobbying, they will soon loose the whole market segment of international roaming to internet-based calling. That will do them much more harm than the Commission caps will do.

A sound and independent judgment in that sense should have come from the FT experts.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Roaming Charges: Renewed drive on mobile costs

There is a compromise in the making, that doesn't seduce us : (The Financial Times)-

By Sarah Laitner

Published: May 3 2007 03:00 | Last updated: May 3 2007 03:00

Vital talks resume in Brussels today aimed at reaching a deal to cut sharply the cost of international mobile telephone calls in the European Union after negotiations faltered yesterday.

EU member states and the European parliament must agree on the plan to reduce by up to 70 per cent the fees consumers pay to make and receive calls while travelling elsewhere in the union.

The sides differed on the levels of the price caps to be imposed on operators such as Vodafone and clashed on whether customers should be switched to lower charges automatically or choose them voluntarily.

Sarah Laitner, Brussels

We, consumers, have to wait this out. What'll be the outcome? We do not settle for less than the European ministers and the Parliament decided upon, last month.
Otherwise, what will we do?

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Sarkozy won. A fundamental change?

I wasn't a fan of Ségolène. I saw her performing once, in 1994, on a meeting in Bourgogne, of young entrepreneurs. Horrible.
But I preferred her to Nicolas Sarkozy, you'll understand.
Now, five years of Sarkozism must be taken into account in France.
The New-Labour-Fans expect a friend who modernises France's economy. You should not be too sure about that. He is a French nationalist and his actions are limited by the forceful French Trade Unions. My expectations are, that he won't change so much.
Anyhow, in order to change the suburban neighbourhoods, you need emancipatory workers.
There are some, terrible, in France. He'll have to use them, if he wants to show any real progress.
That is what keeps me going, tonight. France won't change so much. You'll see...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Roaming Charges Alert! Governments are watering down the Cap...

The EP agreed. We warned here in At Home in Europe, that the Providers and the Governments could try to water the legislation down, invoking "transitional" mitigations.
That is, what happens now.
The German telecoms Minister two weeks ago, suddenly announced that he wants the cap on 65 cents, and not at 40 or 35 cents as the EP had decided.
As Germany is EU President at this moment, this is a grave move.
The Minister maintained his view in a Strasbourg meeting with the EP commission.
The Financial Times commented some days ago, that European consumers have to forget the illusion, that they may call home this summer at reasonable rates.
The article cites not so much the Minister as well the Company representatives, who, expectedly, argue, that
  • their losses would be unbearable, if a cap as originally decided would be imposed,
  • they need a transitional phase of several years, in order to reorganise...
There are practically no reactions from the public.
That should change.
Trade Unions, consumer organisations, committees have to act. NOW!
National parliaments must ask their Governments to be transparent in their positions, and, when necessary, impose on them a vote in favour of the original EC proposals!

There is no justification for political parties and social organisations to stay passive, and, when the decision will have been taken, start to balk at the European Union. The moment to position oneself is: NOW! Even if, as it happens, this means siding with the European Union and its Commission.
Do not join certain governments, who like to make, at any occasion, the EU (the EC) a scapegoat for all what goes wrong...

Bush Terminator: How many Friends Eliminated?

This post originally appeared in "Legal Alien in New York". It may be interesting to our European friends, too.

Bush consulting angrily with officials (November 2006), while signing a law that protects his Guantanamo and torture politics. (BagNews)

The extremely good blog by Tony Karon: Rootless Cosmopolitan, publishes on May 2, "The Blind Spot in Israel's War Probe". What is the blind spot? It is the US intervention into Israeli politics and warfare during the Summer War of 2006 against Lebanon. The first part of the official report of an Israeli government-appointed commission about that war was published some days ago. It deals with the first five days of that catastrophic event. Calls for Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to step down are as yet unheeded, but a Tsipi Livni ultimatum (today, May 3) will probably do the job.
Olmert with his Patron...

How many foreign Friends of the Bush administration's casualties will add up, before there will be put an end to it? Olmert will for sure have to step down. He will neither be the first-, nor the last one of the leading politicians of a number of countries who'll have to pay a heavy penalty for their trust in Bush.
Blair with Balkenende, April 2007: Both will have to step down, sooner or later, because of their alliances with Bush.

Tony Blair, the British prime minister, will be the next one after Olmert. He announced that he will fix a date for his abandonment of power in Great-Britain one of the next days.
Former victims of loyalty to Bush were Spanish prime minister Aznar and Italian prime minister Berlusconi.
José Aznar, staunch supporter of Bush. Was ousted as PM in Spain in 2004, after lying about the background of the 11/3 terrorist murders in Madrid. Is now a featured speaker of the Washington Speakers Bureau.
Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister. Was outraged as he was NOT invited to the Madeira conference in March 2003. A top secret agent of the Italian SS was killed by American soldiers in 2005. His distancing from the US afterwards did not help him: He lost the 2005 elections to Prodi, who retired all Italian military from Iraq.

A holocaust of falling heads of government accompanies the sunset of the Bush administration. Ironically, while Bush started his tenure with the objective "to take out Saddam", his list of persons taken out is populated mostly by his friends. In the US, we should mention Powell and Rumsfeld, Tenet and Harriet Miers. Although the latter never had a chance. John Bolton had to be added to the list a year later.
Tenet, former CIA director, who took his distance from Bush and Cheney recently, writing a book.
My favored portrait of Miers and Bush, announcing her candidature for the Court. Bush, just after his election for a second term, was confident, that he could do anything he wanted. Poor Miers was his first victim then.
Bolton - another victim of Bush' hubris. We are waiting for HIS version of what happened. His neocon friends at the Weekly Standard already let Bush' handling of Iraq and the Middle East down. What is he going to say for himself?

In Iraq itself, Allawi was abandoned, as well as that great friend of the neocons, who was to be president of the new Iraq, Achmad Chalabi, of whom we did not hear much, these times.
Allawi with friends, 2004, in the provisional authority of Iraq, at the signature of the new Iraqi Constitution ceremony.
Achmad Chalabi, master intriguer, who, as an Iranian agent, bedeviled all NeoCons in Washington. Was to become the first president of American Iraq, but ousted, when the Pentagon, who paid for his non-existent movement, discovered the truth in April 2003. Was offered a prominent seat behind president Bush when he gave his State of the Union in January 2004. His ties to the Mollahs were discovered, and, spring 2004, his offices raided by American troops. At this moment, he is biding his time, somewhere behind the screen of Grand Mollah Sistani.

Who will be the next on the list?
Mr. Balkenende, Dutch prime minister since 2002, is a fair candidate. A parliamentary commission will soon be created to research into his stubborn refusal to reveal the "personal", "for your eyes only" letter that he says, Tony Blair sent him in 2003, to make him join the Iraq coalition.
Balkenende with Dutch military in Afghanistan, 2006.

And what about the Polish twins? Poland set high hopes on its substantial contribution to the Iraq occupation. It was bitterly disappointed to discover, that all interesting contracts went to US firms. The former government was busy to reduce their implication to zero. The new, ultraconservative government resulting from the last elections froze that. Polish public opinion is vehemently opposed to the Iraq adventure. Will they stumble also over their alliance with Bush?

The twin Polish president and PM - next victims?

We may have missed some victims of Bush' mess. But it is an impressing list as it is.
Mr. Caligula will normally stay in power until 2009. We have space to make additions to our list...
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