Saturday, June 30, 2007

Published on Friday, June 29, 2007 by The Independent/UK
Cheney, Master of Stealth, Readies Himself For The Final Act of ‘Imperial’ Vice-Presidency
by Leonard Doyle

Operating in the shadows, where he can best achieve his deeply conservative aims, Dick Cheney enjoys the total confidence of President George Bush and is sometimes described as the “Imperial” Vice-President.0629 04

Towards the end of every re-elected US President’s second term, the opposition in Congress always smells the opportunity to assert itself. This time the target is Dick Cheney and subpoenas are raining down on his head from the Senate for the release of documents that could implicate him in illegal acts. His record for outflanking his enemies is such that there is little cause for optimism among his opponents who would have him impeached.

Whether giving a green light for the US to torture suspects to the point of “organ failure… or even death”, to rolling back environmental measures, or clearing the way for the invasion of Iraq, Cheney’s fingerprints are all over the most controversial aspects of the Bush years.

After more than six years of his rule, the US is waking up to the reality that it has been a Cheney-Bush affair in all but name and despite being written off on numerous occasions, the Vice-President’s ability to influence events remains unrivalled. Although he is approaching the final months of his career and will never run for office again, more surprises may be in store as he seeks to complete his agenda.

Cheney will have his heart pacemaker installed next month and even with mortality knocking on the door, there is every possibility he will engineer yet another foreign policy surprise, possibly against Iran.

Many have made the mistake of underestimating the office of the vice-president, which Franklin Roosevelt’s vice-president John Garner famously said was “not worth a bucket of warm piss”. Al Gore may have had similar thoughts as he operated in the shadow of Bill and Hillary Clinton for eight long years. Other vice-presidents, such as Dan Quayle, remained a laughing stock through their tenure.

Not Dick Cheney. Using a combination of stealth and extreme aggression to achieve his aims, he is increasingly recognised in as a man of near-unrivaled power. A four-part forensic investigation in The Washington Post this week has provided fresh details of the Vice-President’s elaborate network which he uses to control the presidency.

Three days after the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, it was Cheney, rather than Bush who identified that, from Washington’s perspective, the rules of the game had now changed. In a rare appearance on Meet the Press, Cheney explained that the war on terrorism meant: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world.” As the first suspected terrorists had reached the US prison at Guantanamo Bay it was Cheney who shattered the limits on torturing prisoners. Without bothering to inform the then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cheney appeared in the Oval Office with an executive order that would enable the US to keep suspects in detention indefinitely without rights.

“What the hell just happened?” Powell exploded Condoleezza Rice was reported to be “incensed”. But as the former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal commented in yesterday: “Bush never bothered to ask Cheney about their opinions on the executive order or to call them; nor did he seem to care.”

Cheney’s influence seems also to have been under-appreciated by Tony Blair in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Sir Christopher Meyer, the former UK Ambassador to Washington, pointed out in his memoir, DC Confidential, that Blair overlooked Cheney’s ability to force Bush’s hand on the timing and conduct of the war. It was the “dryly humorous” Cheney, not Powell and Rice, that Blair needed to influence on the war.

It is the fresh details of Cheney’s secretive and loyal coterie of officials at work that provides the most telling insight into how he pulls the strings of the federal government.

The Post reveals that he has a “man-sized” safe in his office to keep the ordinary working papers out of reach of the National Archives and Records as provided by federal law. When the Archives demanded access to the papers, he tried to abolish the agency for daring to seek access to his documents.

The biggest charge against Cheney is that he has transformed the executive office into one of unlimited and unaccountable power. “Cheney has viewed recent American history as a struggle between the imperial presidency necessary in a brutish world and the naïve, undependable and in some cases disloyal constraints of Congress,” said Mr Blumenthal.

Most of all Cheney seems to ignore public opinion as he seeks to remake the US way of doing business at home and abroad. As he told Fox News last month: “We didn’t get elected to be popular. We didn’t get elected to worry about the fate of the Republican Party.”

What next? His opponents now wonder in the sunset months of the Cheney-Bush Presidency.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sharp practice of melting coins
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Guwahati

Coins for sale in Guwahati
Coins are much sought-after in India's north-east (Photos: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee)
Millions of Indian coins are being smuggled into neighbouring Bangladesh and turned into razor blades. And that's creating an acute shortage of coins in many parts of India, officials say.

Police in Calcutta say that the recent arrest of a grocer highlights the extent of the problem. They seized what they said was a huge coin-melting unit which he was operating in a run-down shack.

The grocer confessed to melting down tens of thousands of Indian coins into razor blades which were then smuggled into Bangladesh, police said.

"Our one rupee coin is in fact worth 35 rupees, because we make five to seven blades out of them," the grocer allegedly told the police. "Bangladeshi smugglers take delivery of the blades at regular intervals."

Out of circulation

Police say that initially the smugglers took coins into Bangladesh and then melted them down, but as the scale of the operation has increased, more and more criminals in India are melting them down first, and then selling them as razor blades.

To deal with the coin shortage, some tea gardens in the north-eastern state of Assam have resorted to issuing cardboard coin-slips to their workers.

The denomination is marked on these slips and they are used for buying and selling within the gardens.

Bartering for coins in Guwahati

Notes are more common than coins in Guwahati

The cardboard coins are the same size as the real ones and their value is marked on them.

"We will commit an offence if these cardboard slips go out, but we have to use them in our gardens because there are hardly any Indian coins in circulation here," said a manager of a tea garden in northern Assam.

He is not willing to be named because the disclosure could cause legal complications for the estate.

'Do our best'

Indian revenue intelligence officials say millions of coins are finding their way into Bangladesh.

They say they have alerted the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) - which is deployed on the India-Bangladesh border - to check the smuggling.

Coins 'for sale' in Guwahati

Coins can even be seen 'for sale' in Guwahati market stalls

"We are aware of our coins going across the border in some quantities and we will do our best to stop it," senior BSF official SK Datta told the BBC.

Revenue intelligence officials, who do not wish to be named, say criminals can make five to six blades from a five-rupee coin.

"We are investigating this closely," said one official posted in north-eastern India.

Earlier, Indian coins were being melted in huge quantities in places like Calcutta.

The mints took corrective action - scaling down the metal content of the coins - but that has not stopped the shortages.

Distributing coins

The authorities have taken various steps to deal with the problem.

In Calcutta alone, India's central bank - the Reserve Bank of India - has distributed coins worth nearly six million rupees ($150,000) to overcome the shortage in the last two weeks, bank treasurer Nilanjan Saha said.

We have to accept very soiled notes of one or five rupees, so soiled that the banks will not change it
Agartala resident Sushil Choudhury

Long queues form outside the bank's regional office in the city centre every time this happens.

Unscrupulous touts set up makeshift shops and collect as many of the coins as they can, only to sell them later at a premium.

"We stand in long queues but the coins are finished within no time. Those in front pick them up and we can see some of them later selling the coins at a big margin," complained small trader Nitai Banik, who needs a lot of coins for his retail trade in small garments.

Begging coins

Shopkeepers ask customers to buy more to make it a round figure so that small change does not have to be given out.

"The shopkeepers give us toffees or cigarettes to make it a round figure," said student Debolina Sen.

In desperation, some shopkeepers have even turned to beggars to maintain their coin supplies.

The beggars get given coins by passers-by and then sell them on at a profit.

Coins in Guwahati
They are worth more melted down as razor blades

"They charge a smaller premium, much less compared to the touts outside the Reserve Bank," says businessman Tarun Jain.

The coin shortage is most acute in the north-eastern frontier town of Agartala, right on the border with Bangladesh and believed to be a major centre for contraband trade with Bangladesh.

Here, rickshaw pullers tell you that they cannot provide any coins in change because they have none left.

"So we have to accept very soiled notes of one or five rupees, so soiled that the banks will not change it," says Agartala resident Sushil Choudhury.

In Guwahati, Assam's capital and the business hub of India's northeast, small coins like 50 paisa have completely dropped out of circulation.