Wednesday, May 23, 2007

With Cerberus Group

BCE in talks with Cerberus group
Wed May 23, 2007 4:52 PM EDT

By Lynne Olver and Nicole Mordant

TORONTO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - BCE Inc. , Canada's biggest telecoms company, said on Wednesday it is in talks with a consortium made up of U.S. private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management L.P. and a group of Canadian investors about taking BCE private.

The Cerberus consortium is one of three groups that may be in the running to buy BCE, which has a market capitalization of C$31.6 billion ($29.2 billion).

BCE's stock closed up 50 Canadian cents, or 1.3 percent, at C$39.26 on Wednesday. Its shares have soared by 22.5 percent since March 29, when rumors of a buyout first surfaced.

BCE did not name the Canadian investors in the Cerberus group, and a BCE spokesman would not provide further details.

A Cerberus spokesman said the firm had no comment.

By law, foreign entities cannot own a majority of a Canadian telecommunications company.

BCE, which owns Canada's biggest phone company, Bell Canada, has said it is reviewing all strategic alternatives, and expects to complete the process in the third quarter.

It reiterated on Wednesday that there is no certainty that a transaction will take place.

In April, BCE said it was in nonexclusive talks about a going-private transaction with a group made up of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, U.S. takeover firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., and the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec.

"Our consortium is still engaged in extensive due diligence with regard to a potential transaction. There is no change to our plan," Ian Dale, spokesman for the CPP Investment Board, told Reuters.

The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, BCE's biggest shareholder, has also expressed interest in mounting a bid with U.S. private equity firm Providence Equity Partners. Ontario Teachers' is still evaluating the opportunity to make a bid, and is not part of the Cerberus group, spokeswoman Deborah Allan said. She declined to say whether Ontario Teachers' was still recruiting investors for a consortium.

The Globe and Mail newspaper has reported that Calgary, Alberta-based Shaw Communications or Winnipeg, Manitoba-based CanWest Global Communications could be tapped as a Canadian partner for a U.S. bidder.

A spokeswoman for Canwest had no comment, and a Shaw representative was not available.

($1=$1.08 Canadian)

Justice Denied

In the ongoing Congressional investigation, the woman who earned her law degree from a school that teaches courses on how lawyers in positions of authority can use their power to identify and punish "sins," confirmed the crisis in the Bush administration's Justice Department.

Justice Politicized

John Nichols

Regent University School of Law graduate Monica Goodling, whose meteoric rise to the highest levels of the Department of Justice put her in a position to aid and abet a program of politicizing prosecutions by US Attorneys, opened her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday by invoking her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to make statements that might incriminate her. Committee Chair John Conyers, D-Michigan, then delivered to Goodling a grant of immunity that allowed her to do something that is rare indeed for Bush administration true believers: Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Goodling was right to be concerned about incriminating herself. Under questioning from Democratic committee members, the former political commissar for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeatedly admitted to "crossing the line" that separates legal and illegal activities by federal officials. In so doing she offered another powerful insight into the way in which the Bush administration, to which Goodling says she was unquestioningly loyal, has replaced the rule of law with political calculations.

Whether Goodling met the "truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth" mandate remains open to question. Like her former boss, she suffered from convenient memory loss at times regarding critical questions. But Goodling's "I don't recalls" came far less frequently than those of Gonzales. And she was willing to take a good deal more responsibility for what went awry in the Department of Justice than has the man who remains, tenuously, in charge of the agency.

Goodling opened her testimony with a declaration that she had "no desire" to speak negatively about those she worked with in the Bush administration. She then proceeded to point fingers of blame at members of what she described as her DOJ "family," including those who had revealed details of her role in the scandal over the hiring and firing of US Attorneys for political reasons.

Goodling went on to:

• confirm that former DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson had compiled a list of US Attorneys who would be fired -- apparently for being insufficiently partisan in their inquiries and prosecutions -- and that Gonzales had been aware of the list and involved in meetings about it;

• place White House political czar Karl Rove in a room where the firings were discussed;

• acknowledge that, as early as 2OO5, there was talk about forcing US Attorneys out to make way for White House favorites; and,

• explain how US Attorneys were "rewarded" for helping to promote and defend the Patriot Act, at a time when that law was under attack as an assault on basic liberties.

The former White House liaison for the DOJ told the committee she never attended meetings with top White House aides involving the areas for which she was responsible. At several turns, Goodling portrayed herself as a strangely disconnected and powerless underling who was left out of meetings, told to stay in the shadows, sent away from important sessions in taxis and otherwise neglected, dismissed and overlooked. Yes, she may have had the title of Director of Public Affairs, but, "no," Goodling told the committee, she was "not a decision-maker." Rather, she at one point presented herself as a sort of departmental cheerleader who would send out e-mails to political appointees asking "Hey, who wants to go up to the White House...?"

But the woman who earned her law degree from a school that teaches courses on how lawyers in positions of authority can use their power to identify and punish "sins," confirmed the crisis in the Bush administration's Justice Department, and the manner in which she perpetuated it.

"I do acknowledge that I may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions, and may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions," Goodling told the committee early in her testimony. She said she made "snap judgments" to block qualified applicants because they were Democrats. Only under intense questioning from committee members Linda Sanchez, D-California, and Jerry Nadler, D-New York, did she offer the details and perspective that made it clear her so-called "mistakes" were part of a deliberate and ongoing pattern of politicization of the hiring process at the nation's chief law-enforcement agency.

Goodling, a former opposition researcher for the Republican National Committee, explicitly admitted to applying political and ideological litmus tests when interviewing applicants for key federal positions.

Even when Republican committee members attempted to diminish the significance of her admissions, Goodling repeatedly acknowledged that she had "crossed lines" of right and wrong.

Later, Goodling said that she did not believe she had violated any laws. In fact, the Hatch Act and a host of other civil service laws and federal rules make it clear that the aggressive politicization of federal agencies is illegal. Under questioning from Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott, Goodling admitted as much -- albeit, grudgingly.

Noting that the former Justice Department aide has acknowledged making personnel decisions based on political considerations, Scott asked, "Do you believe that it was legal or illegal for you to take those political considerations into account?"

Goodling stumbled several times before admitting, "The best I can say is that I know I took political considerations into account."

"Do you believe they were illegal or legal?" asked Scott.

"I don't believe I intended to commit a crime," she answered, confirming that Regent University graduates are indeed trained to speak in a lawyerly manner.

Scott pressed: "Did you break the law? Is it against the law to take those considerations into account?"

"I believe I crossed the lines," Goodling replied, "but I didn't mean to."

By "crossed the lines," Scott asked, did she mean that she had violated federal civil service laws?

Goodling responded: "I crossed the line of the civil service rules." Scott clarified that those "rules" are, in fact, "laws." The congressman got to the point of the inquiry into US Attorney hiring and firing issues when he said that it appeared that in Alberto Gonzales' Department of Justice "the culture of loyalty to the administration was more important than loyalty to the rule of law."

Nothing in Monica Goodling's testimony contradicted that impression.

John Nichols is the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine.

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The Siege of Nahr el-Bared
A Front Row Seat for the Bloodbath in Lebanon


There is something obscene about watching the siege of Nahr el-Bared. The old Palestinian camp--home to 30,000 lost souls who will never go "home"--basks in the Mediterranean sunlight beyond a cluster of orange orchards. Soldiers of the Lebanese army, having retaken their positions on the main road north, idle their time aboard their old personnel carriers. And we--we representatives of the world's press--sit equally idly atop a half-built apartment block, basking in the little garden or sipping cups of scalding tea beside the satellite dishes where the titans of television stride by in their blue space suits and helmets.

And then comes the crackle-crackle of rifle fire and a shoal of bullets drifts out of the camp. A Lebanese army tank fires a shell in return and we feel the faint shock wave from the camp. How many are dead? We don't know. How many are wounded? The Red Cross cannot yet enter to find out. We are back at another of those tragic Lebanese stage shows: the siege of Palestinians.

Only this time, of course, we have Sunni Muslim fighters in the camp, in many cases shooting at Sunni Muslim soldiers who are standing in a Sunni Muslim village. It was a Lebanese colleague who seemed to put his finger on it all. "Syria is showing that Lebanon doesn't have to be Christians versus Muslims or Shia versus Sunnis," he said. "It can be Sunnis versus Sunnis. And the Lebanese army can't storm into Nahr el-Bared. That would be a step far greater than this government can take."

And there is the rub. To get at the Sunni Fatah al-Islam, the army has to enter the camp. So the group remains, as potent as it was on Sunday when it staged its mini-revolution in Tripoli and ended up with its dead fighters burning in blazing apartment blocks and 23 dead soldiers and policemen on the streets.

And yes, it is difficult not to feel Syria's hands these days. Fouad Siniora's government, surrounded in its little "green zone" in central Beirut, is being drained of power. The army is more and more running Lebanon, ever more tested because it, too, of course, contains Lebanon's Sunnis and Shia and Maronites and Druze. What fractures, what greater strains can be put on this little country as Siniora still pleads for a UN tribunal to try those who murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005?

We read through the list of army dead. Most of the names appear to be Sunni. And we glance up to the fleecy clouds and across the mountain range to where the Syrian border lies scarcely 10 miles away. Not difficult to reach Nahr el-Barad from the frontier. Not difficult to resupply. The geography makes a kind of political sense up here. And just up the road is the Syrian frontier post.

The soldiers are polite, courteous with journalists. This must be one of the few countries in the world where soldiers treat journalists as old friends, where they blithely allow them to broadcast from in front of their positions, borrowing their newspapers, sharing cigarettes, chatting, believing that we have our job to do. But more and more we are wondering if we are not cataloguing the sad disintegration of this country. The Lebanese army is on the streets of Beirut to defend Siniora, on the streets of Sidon to prevent sectarian disturbances, on the roads of southern Lebanon watching the Israeli frontier and now, up here in the far north, besieging the poor and the beaten Palestinians of Nahr el-Bared and the dangerous little groupuscule which may--or may not--be taking its orders from Damascus.

The journey back to Beirut is now littered with checkpoints and even the capital has become dangerous once more. In Ashrafieh in the early hours, a bomb explosion--we could hear it all over the city--killed a Christian woman. No suspects, of course. There never are. Posters still demand the truth of Hariri's murder. Other posters demand the truth of an earlier prime ministerial murder, that of Rashid Karami. Several, just the down the road from our little roof proudly carry the portrait of Saddam Hussein. "Martyr of 'Al-Adha'," they proclaim, marking the date of his execution. So even Iraq's collapse now touches us all here in our Sunni village where the Sunni dictator of Iraq is honoured rather than loathed.

A flurry of rockets rumbled over the camp before dusk. The soldiers scarcely bothered to look. And across the orange orchards and the deserted tenement streets of Nahr el-Bared, the sea froths and sparkles as if we were all on holiday, as this nation trembles beneath our feet.

Robert Fisk
is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Fisk's new book is The Conquest of the Middle East.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Does Evil Have the Right to Exist?

Does Evil Have the Right to Exist?
C. L. Cook
Jun 30, 2006

One of the most bitter condemnations of the duly-elected Hamas government of Palestine coming from Israel, and duly echoed in the press of the world, is that organization's steadfast refusal to recognize Israel's "right to exist." As with their many well-aired grievances with the "prison populations" of Gaza and the West Bank, Israel's outrage is as ingenuous as the Jewish State's averred desire for "peace."

"You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?" - Matthew 7:15

The 'Big Question' of Israel's right to exist is never put in a context broader than the familar iteration. So, what does it mean? "Israel" is unique among entities claiming statehood, being the only "nation" in the world with no defined borders. If Hamas, or anyone else, was to answer "Yes, it has the right to exist" what would they be recognizing, and what would it constitute?

Where does "rightfully extant" Israel begin, and end?

When Hamas answers "No," what they mean is: "Israel does not have the right to exist in my homeland."

It's a sensible response, one I'm sure every other nation in the world would too assert, should they wake to find a foreign occupation in their living room. The much media-maligned president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised a salient point when asked his views on Israel and its rights. Ahmadinejad said, to the effect: "If America and Europe feel so guilty about the Holocaust and are so concerned for Israel's right to exist, why don't they offer them space in America, or Europe?"

Yes, why not cede Maine, or Vermont, Monte Carlo, or Belgium to the creation of the New Jerusalem?

Of course the press had a field day with Ahmadinejad's comment, contorting it into a denial of the Holocaust, and a call to "wipe Israel off the map." There appears another attack piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, a more respectable paper than it's tabloidesque masthead would imply, though a fact belied by a comment piece printed today and artfully titled: 'Iran's President is Cherishing Fanned Flames,' Its author, Frida Ghitis repeats the so-oft-said-it-must-be-true misquotation of Ahmadinejad's statement, then suggests it is Iran, not Israel responsible for the bombs, missiles, and bullets raining down upon the Palestinians!

But, dodging criticism of Israel's long litany of evil deeds is a hallmark of the western press; as indeed it's so for Israel itself: Israel is unique among entities claiming statehood in other, instructive ways.

Israel holds the record for ignoring U.N. resolutions regarding it's nearly sixty year annexation and occupation of Palestine. Though it was Saddam's well-publicised refusal to heed U.N. resolutions that led to sanctions and invasion, no-one down at the U.N., or in the war cheerleading western press, is calling for 'Shock and Awe' in Tel Aviv because Israel refuses to heed international law.

Israel is unique among Middle-East nations in having the most nuclear weapons, largest military, and an unknown array of WMD; another thing that proved so costly to Hussein's Iraq.
Israel claims it is unique in being the only "democratic" country in the ME, though the laws favour the Jewish majority, being officially and avowedly a "Jewish" nation. Just today, four Israeli-Palestinians from Jerusalem were stripped of their citizenship"right" to live within the walls of the city of their respective births without permits, not likely to be issued any time soon, for the heinous crime of being elected members of the Hamas government.

Ain't democracy grand.

I suppose, if they are released from prison, those representatives of the people will be sent packing to the target range also known as Gaza, to eke out a living on whatever scraps can be smuggled in, and what few crumbs Israel allows to penetrate the walls and watchtowers surrounding it.

The Jewish State government, and its supporters and enablers in the press and within the American Christian fringe say God promised the Jews' antecedents the land known as Israel today (and much more land besides). Jehovah couldn't be reached for confirmation at the time of writing, but it seems a thin case for ownership. I'm no lawyer, but if, "God said I could have it" is the gist of Israel's argument I don't think it would hold up in court.

Equally, "the Devil made me do it" would be a weak defense in the war crimes tribunals trying the many instances of brutality meted upon the heads of the innocent in Palestine. But there's yet to be a case made for the thousands killed, and hundreds of thousands routinely brutalized, incarcerated, and scattered into exile over the decades of Israel's rule in Palestine. The Belgian court had had the temerity to level charges against the now infirm former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon for his culpability in the infamous slaughter of the women, children, and old men at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in southern Lebanon in 1982, but pressure brought to bear shut that challenge down.

With the possible exception of its major benefactor, the United States of America, Israel alone among "nations" commits serial crimes against humanity with impunity. Its lies and "regrettable mistakes" are legion, all carefully transcribed by the major television networks and dutifully repeated in the newspapers. "It isn't Israel's fault," they contend, it was those devilish Palestinians, Iranians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans that made them do it."

A part of being a grown up, whether for an individual or a nation state, is learning to take responsibility for ones actions. We would not say; "children, because they're yet responsible, shan't have the right to exist," but we don't generally give them loaded guns, the keys to the car, or a bank card; not until they can prove they can handle these things and understand there are consequences to be paid for irresponsible behaviour can they be trusted.

Israel has yet to learn that lesson.

Like a petulant, spoiled child, Israel refuses to accept responsibility for its actions, opting instead to lie bald-faced, as a child might deny stealing the cookies, while her face bears the crumbs, and her hand is in the jar. She may blame a sibling, or the dog, or the guy living next door, and should she persist in the lie long enough, she may even convince herself it is "true," but that does not change the facts.

The facts today in Gaza are clear: Innocent women, children, and men are dying for no other reason than they are Palestinians, with the misfortune to have been born upon coveted ground. They are killed with horrible regularity. So often do they die in fact, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's reporter in the field, Adrienne Arsenault, while reporting from the Israeli side of the issue, quite innocently, unconsciously, informed Canadians that Israel's artillery barrages and air raids over Gaza could be bad for its image if the numbers of civilian deaths there proved "significant." No word on where Adrienne's line lies: How many dead, maimed, and traumatized equals "significant," Adrienne?

Though the hated Hamas had called a unilateral cease-fire in it's ongoing resistance to occupation for the last 16 months, Israel continued to assassinate the party's leaders, and a commando kidnapping raid into Gaza snatched two high-ranking Hamas officials just days before the now world famous grabbing of young Corporal Shalit, a provocation apparently made to order for one desiring cover to punish further the Palestinian people.

So the question: "Does Israel have the right to exist?" still stands unanswered. But a better question, given Israel's record of the unrepentant killings of innocent women, children, and men with impunity might be:

"Does Evil have the right to continue?"

Chris Cook is a contributing editor to, and hosts Gorilla Radio, a weekly public affairs program, broad/webcast from the University of Victoria, Canada.