Daily Archives: April 7, 2009

Tony Blair earns nearly £400,000 for two 30-minute speeches


“Politicians are a very strange people”… Former British prime minister and current Middle East Envoy Tony Blair gestures as he delivers a lecture on Faith and Globalisation at the National University in Singapore March 26, 2009. Reuters

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair earned more than £6,000 a minute for giving two half-hour lectures, making him the world’s most expensive public speaker, according to reports.

Telegraph | Apr 5, 2009

by Ian Johnston

Mr Blair, who is thought to have earned more than £15 million since standing down, gave the speeches during a 36-hour visit to the Philippines, where he arrivedby private jet on March 23.

He was paid £182,000 for giving a talk called ‘The Leader as Nation Builder in a Time of Globalisation’, according to Manny Pangilinan, chairman of telecommunications company PLDT, which sponsored the lecture, and is said to have received a similar amount for a a talk entitled ‘The Leader as Principled Negotiator’ in a luxury hotel in Manila later the same day.

“Politics really matters, but a lot of what goes on is not great,” Mr Blair was quoted as telling his audience.

Other remarks included “politicians are a very strange people”, “religion [can be] a source of inspiration or an excuse for evil” and “helping people is a noble profession, but not noble to pursue”.

Mr Pangilinan said the fee for the first speech, which took place at Ateneo de Malina University, was 200,000 euros.

A spokesman for Mr Blair denied the former premiere had requested or received payment in this currency, but would not say whether the cash was paid in pounds sterling or US dollars.

However he added: “He is in great demand for his insight and analysis, which is a tribute to the high esteem in which he is held.”

Mr Blair stayed with the British ambassador during the trip and also had lunch with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the Malacanang Palace, previously home to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

The fees dwarf those offered to even former US presidents such as Bill Clinton and George W Bush. Mr Clinton earned about £100,000 for a speech until cutting back on public speaking after his wife Hillary became US secretary of state. Mr Bush is said to charge a similar amount.

Blair steps up fight to be crowned first ‘President of EU’


Middle East Quartet Representative Tony Blair (L) is received by EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana at the EU Council Headquarters in Brussels April 1, 2009. Reuters

Brown gives grudging blessing to his old rival’s return to new job at centre of the global stage

Independent | Apr 6, 2009

By Jane Merrick

Tony Blair has emerged as the leading candidate to become the first permanent president of the European Union after Gordon Brown gave his grudging blessing to the plan. The former prime minister has stepped up his campaign for the job, which he wants to use to build a bridge between Europe and the new Obama administration.

His return to the global stage would be a shock to his critics over the Iraq war and dismay many in Europe.

But The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Mr Brown has accepted that his old rival should be in pole position for the appointment, on the basis that Britain needs to have a key figure in the architecture of the “new world order”.

A senior British official said: “He [Brown] will have to swallow hard to sit down in meetings once again with Blair. But he accepts that there needs to be someone from the UK in the new global architecture. There is no opposition to the plan. Things have moved on, people have moved on.”

Other European leaders are also broadly supportive because they want a high-profile figure to represent the 27-nation bloc in the new alliance with the US administration. Mr Blair remains a popular figure in the US.

After initially trying to block Mr Blair as a possible candidate last year, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has thrown his weight behind the former prime minister.

As the eyes of the world were on London’s G20 summit last Wednesday, Mr Blair held private talks with the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso in Brussels. The talks focused on his work as Middle East envoy to the quartet of world powers, but it is almost certain that the two men discussed his candidacy. The former premier also visited Sweden last week, where he shared a platform with Bill Clinton at a climate change conference.

The presidency job is dependant on Ireland voting “yes” to the Lisbon Treaty, which creates the position. The Irish referendum will take place in the autumn.

But Mr Blair’s plans could still be scuppered if Angela Merkel loses the German general election in September. She is thought to have a strong desire for the job in the event of defeat.

Britain has already thrown its weight behind Mr Barroso to serve a second term as Commission President. His re-appointment would also strengthen the chances of a British name for the new job.

Mr Blair will have spent two years in the Middle East role by July, giving him a legitimate opportunity to claim he has devoted enough time to the job.

But critics will say Mr Blair has failed to make any significant breakthrough. There is also little chance of progress towards the two-state solution under the new hardline Israeli government led by Binyamin Netanyahu.

In a sign that Mr Blair’s mind is on an exit from the Middle East, he said in Brussels: “I think the next six months will be completely critical in determining whether this process will move forward or whether it will slip back. I do believe that if there is not significant progress in the year 2009, the peace process will be in very great jeopardy, because there are decisions that have to be taken.”

Cheney still a ‘Supreme Operator’ in Obama government

Press TV | Apr 6, 2009

Cheney_foamingA one-time insider in the Bush administration suggests that former vice president Dick Cheney has a strong say in the Obama White House policies.

“He still has people in the Obama administration, in the bowels of the bureaucracy and he is still impacting the American policy. . . This is a supreme operator,” claimed former chief of staff to ex-US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson speaking to Russia Today on Sunday.

He described Cheney as the time’s “very powerful vice president backed by a very naïve president who went along mostly with what the vice president said.”

Wilkerson is the second official to recently torpedo the former second-in-command’s reputation after investigative journalist Seymour Hersh suggested that Cheney was supervising an ‘assassination ring’.

Wilkerson took Hersh’s allegations a step further, suggesting that Cheney was a principal director of the brigade.

“This is nothing new that someone would pour covert operations into the White House and Cheney was the perfect person to do it. He had the mindset for it. He had the dark-side philosophy for it and so forth. I have no problem believing that. They wanted their own intelligence and so you get the transfer of CIA-blessed techniques over to the Pentagon.”

Green pressure growing for flatulence tax

Scotsman | Mar 24, 2009

By Dan Buglass

THE UK government and the devolved administrations must avoid the temptation to introduce a “flatulence tax” on cows and other farm livestock, according to Struan Stevenson, a Scottish Conservative MEP who takes a keen interest in farming and rural affairs. The very notion may seem decidedly obtuse to practical farmers, but it is under consideration in both the Irish Republic and Denmark.

Stevenson said: “According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), livestock are responsible for around 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. A cow can emit up to four tonnes of methane each year in burps and flatulence, compared to 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide from an average car.

“This has led environmental fundamentalists in Ireland and Denmark to demand a flatulence tax as a means of combating global warming and avoiding stiff penalties from the European Commission under the EU’s emissions trading scheme.”

It has been suggested that there should be a tax of as much as £75 on each and every cow. However, there is considerable scientific research being conducted – some of which is based in Scotland – aimed at reducing emissions both through genetics and improved feeding regimes. The odds are that there will be no levy on the livestock industry in the immediate future, but Stevenson remains concerned.

He said: “Any tax would be a catastrophic mistake. Green taxes like these would kill off our dairy and beef industries and hand a gift to our direct competitors in Latin America and other countries outside the EU. At a time when less and less British food is being sold in our supermarkets, this would be the final straw.”

Stevenson has repeatedly argued that far more attention should be devoted to “food miles”. The UK is now less than 70 per cent self-sufficient in food and is increasingly reliant on imports from a wide range of countries. It would make much more sense, he contends, to increase domestic production than depend on supplies from countries where production standards fall below what is permissible within Europe.

Obama’s Blackwater? Chicago Mercenary Firm Gets Millions for Private “Security” in Israel and Iraq


AlterNet | Apr 2, 2009

By Jeremy Scahill

Federal records obtained by AlterNet reveal a multi-million dollar contract for a private U.S. paramilitary force operating out of Jerusalem.

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama’s advisers said he “can’t rule out [and] won’t rule out” using mercenary forces, like Blackwater. Now, it appears that the Obama administration has decided on its hired guns of choice: Triple Canopy, a Chicago company now based in Virginia. It may not have Blackwater’s thuggish reputation, but Triple Canopy has its own bloody history in Iraq and a record of hiring mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records. What’s more, Obama is not just using the company in Iraq, but also as a U.S.-government funded private security force in Israel/Palestine, operating out of Jerusalem.

Beginning May 7th, Triple Canopy will officially take over Xe/Blackwater’s mega-contract with the U.S. State Department for guarding occupation officials in Iraq. It’s sure to be a lucrative deal: Obama’s Iraq plan will inevitably rely on an increased use of private contractors, including an army of mercenaries to protect his surge of diplomats operating out of the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

The Iraq contract may come as no surprise. But according to federal contract records obtained by AlterNet, the Obama administration has also paid Triple Canopy millions of dollars to provide “security services” in Israel. In February and March, the Obama administration awarded a “delivery order” to Triple Canopy worth $5.5 million under State Department contract SAQMPD05F5528, which is labeled “PROTECTIVE SERVICES–ISRAEL.” According to one government document, the contract is scheduled to run until September 2012. (Another document says September 2009.) The contract is classified as “SECURITY GUARDS AND PATROL SERVICES” in Israel. The total value of the contract was listed at $41,556,969.72. According to a January 2009 State Department document obtained by AlterNet labeled “Sensitive But Unclassified,” the Triple Canopy contract is based out of Jerusalem.

According to federal records, the original arrangement with Triple Canopy in Israel appears to date back to at least September 2005 and has been renewed every year since. The company is operating under the State Department’s Worldwide Personal Protection Program (WPPS), which provides for private security/military companies to operate on the U.S. government payroll in countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and Israel. Triple Canopy, according to an internal State Department report, also worked under the program in Haiti, though that task order is now listed as “closed.” In State Department documents the WPPS program is described as a government initiative to protect U.S. officials as well as “certain foreign government high level officials whenever the need arises.” The State Department spent some $2 billion on the WPPS program from 2005-2008.

Triple Canopy’s Growing Footprint in Iraq

Triple Canopy is hardly new to the Iraq occupation. Founded in Chicago in 2003 by “U.S. Army Special Forces veterans,” the company won its first Iraq contract in 2004. In 2005, with its business expanding, Triple Canopy relocated its corporate headquarters from Obama’s home state to Herndon, Virginia, placing it much closer to the center of U.S. war contracting. (On several U.S. government contracts, however, including the Israel security contracts, its Lincolnshire, Illinois address is still used.)

Along with Blackwater and DynCorp, Triple Canopy has had armed operatives deployed in Iraq on a major U.S. government contract since the early stages of the occupation. At one point during this arrangement, Blackwater was responsible for Baghdad (the largest share of the work), DynCorp covered northern Iraq and Triple Canopy southern Iraq. Triple Canopy also worked for KBR and other corporations. As of 2007, Triple Canopy had about 2,000 operatives in Iraq, but only 257 on the State Department contract. However, its new contract, which takes effect May 7, will greatly expand Triple Canopy’s government presence in Iraq. (Meanwhile, Blackwater is scheduled to continue to work in Iraq under Obama through its aviation division and in Afghanistan, where it has security and counter-narcotics contracts. It also holds millions of dollars in other U.S. government contracts around the world and in the U.S. In February alone, the Obama administration paid Blackwater nearly $70 million in security contracts.) The Obama administration may have traded Blackwater for Triple Canopy in Iraq, but it is likely that some of Blackwater’s operatives, too, will simply jump over to Triple Canopy to keep working as armed security guards for occupation officials.

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Khmer Rouge jailer says U.S. contributed to Pol Pot rise


Pictured is a live feed of former Khmer Rouge chief torturer Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, during his trial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh April 1, 2009. The chief Khmer Rouge torturer formally apologised on Tuesday for the deaths of more than 14,000 people at S-21 prison, the first Pol Pot cadre to accept blame for crimes committed by the regime 30 years ago. Reuters

Kissinger “allowed the Khmer Rouge to grasp golden opportunities.”

REUTERS | Apr 6, 2009

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Pol Pot’s chief torturer told Cambodia’s “Killing Fields” tribunal on Monday that U.S. policies in Indochina in the 1970s contributed to the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

Duch, the first of five Pol Pot cadres to face trial for the 1975-79 reign of terror in which 1.7 million Cambodians died, said the Khmer Rouge would have faded if the U.S. had not got involved in Cambodia.

“Mr Richard Nixon and Kissinger allowed the Khmer Rouge to grasp golden opportunities,” the 66-year-old former jailer said at the start of the second week of his trial by the joint U.N.-Cambodian tribunal.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, was chief of the notorious S-21 prison where more than 14,000 enemies of the revolution were tortured and killed.

Last week, he apologized and begged forgiveness for his crimes. Duch faces life in prison if convicted on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and homicide. When asked by a judge to explain how he joined the Khmer Rouge, Duch gave a long, rambling answer that included references to former U.S. President Richard Nixon and ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Cambodia became a Cold War battlefield in 1969 when the Nixon administration began bombing routes in the east of the country that Soviet-backed North Vietnamese troops were using to transport men and supplies for their war against the U.S.-backed regime in Saigon.

In 1970, then Prince Norodom Sihanouk was ousted in a coup led by U.S.-backed General Lon Nol, who cranked up the war against Vietnamese and Cambodian communists.

Sihanouk later formed an alliance with the Khmer Rouge and he urged Cambodians to join the fight against Lon Nol’s regime, which fell to Pol Pot’s army in 1975.

“Prince Sihanouk called on the Cambodian people to go and join the communist Khmer Rouge in the jungle and that allowed the Khmer Rouge to build up their troops from 1970 to 1975,” he said.

Without these events, Duch said: “I think the Khmer Rouge would have been demolished.”

The tribunal, set up to prosecute those deemed most responsible for Khmer Rouge atrocities, can only pursue individuals for crimes committed in Cambodia between April 17, 1975 and January 6, 1979, when the regime fell to invading Vietnamese troops.

After Pol Pot’s death in 1998, Kissinger defended the decision to bomb Cambodia as part of the Vietnam War and said it could not be linked with Pol Pot’s killings later on.