31 December 2003

Happy New Year

Ah Xmash, which you spend with your family, and New Year which you shpend with people you actually like. And Xmash New Year blogging when people attribute your shilence to falling into a vat of brandy. I didn't. It'sh jusht not true. There'sh no truth in Gianna'sh shpecious allegationsh at all.

And if the fireworksh and pyrotechnicsh in my shkull shtop long enough I'll go shee the real thing over Shydney Harbour. Enjoy your New Year feshtivities ash mush ash I mean to enjoy mine.


The resht is shilence...

...at leasht until next year.

Air traffic controllers in the dark on Sept. 11

At La Guardia, the tapes make clear, officials in the tower knew very little. Just after 9 a.m., shortly before the second plane hit the trade center, an unidentified woman in the La Guardia control tower spoke by phone with a Port Authority police officer, also unidentified on these transcripts.

'Do you know what happened at the World Trade Center?' the woman in the tower asked the policeman. 'Yeah, we ... we just got it from what we are getting on the news,' he responded. 'We are sending a whole bunch of people down there, just so you guys know. We think a plane crashed into it.'

'A plane crashed into it?' she asked.

'A plane crashed into the World Trade Center, yeah,' the officer said. The trade center's twin towers could be seen from the tower at La Guardia, and as smoke billowed from the north tower, one supervisor looked at Lower Manhattan through binoculars and saw the second plane circling around the towers, according to an aviation official.

At that moment, fighter jets from Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts were racing toward the city and were about 71 miles, or 114 kilometers, from the trade center, eight minutes' flying time, according to testimony at a 9-11 Commission hearing.

Nothing on the tapes shows that the La Guardia controllers knew that the planes flying into their airspace had been seized by terrorists, or that military aircraft were screaming in pursuit over the Hudson River. Commercial airliners continued to line up at La Guardia for takeoff, the transcripts show, as the second hijacked plane plunged into the south tower of the trade center at 9:02 a.m. Four minutes later, the air traffic in the area was grounded.

At 9:07 a.m., a Federal Aviation Administration ground dispatcher contacted planes getting ready for departure. 'There's nobody that's going to be leaving La Guardia,' the dispatcher said. 'Everybody just stand by.'

The US response on 9/11 shows a pattern of isolated agencies which were neither communicating with each other nor getting any central direction from the president. The traditional no-one could have imagined defence has been proved untrue. The choices remain incompetence or negligence.

How the British Spy Agency MI6 Secretly Misled A Nation Into War With Iraq

SCOTT RITTER: Well, it's absurd in the extreme. The allegation that I was using MI-6 material. First of all: what allegation that I was using MI-6? In regards to Mass Appeal, the statement of fact that I put forward is that UNSCOM provided data to MI-6, which then MI-6 used in the press. That's no longer unfounded. The British Government has acknowledged this. They have acknowledged the existence of Operation Mass Appeal and its role in, you know, serving as a conduit of propaganda information to the media.

So, I believe that what we're talking about here is that the British Government needs to be careful here, because, remember, there was an inquiry by Lord Hutton into the death of David Kelly, the former British scientist, who tragically took his own life after he was exposed by the British Government as a source of information to the BBC. During this inquiry, MI-6 was called to testify, and MI-6 stated on record that it played no role in shaping public opinion, that all it did was provide, you know, intelligence assessment to the British Government, and that was all its job was: collecting intelligence data and then providing assessments on this data and giving it to the British Government. Now, you know, after being summoned to testify under oath for an official committee, the British Government has to acknowledge that: "No, wait a minute, there was an intelligence operation run by MI-6, which did involve, you know, passing intelligence to media outlets for propaganda purposes." The revelation of Mass Appeal has totally contradicted, you know, sworn testimony of British intelligence services, and this should cause great consternation not only for Lord Hutton and his inquiry, which it appears now they were misled or lied to, but also the British Parliament, which needs to take a closer look, in my opinion, at how public opinion was shaped by the British Government in regards to, you know, alleged threats coming from Iraq in the form of weapons of mass destruction. Let's keep this all in focus, by noting that Tony Blair said that there were massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. His government published a dossier which backed up these unfounded allegations.

Now, we are almost ten months into an occupation of Iraq, and no such weaponry has been found. That should be everyone's focus. Where are the weapons? Why did the British Government say these weapons existed before the war, and if the British Government didn't have the data necessary to sustain these allegations, were they lying when they made their assessments or were they simply manipulating the public? This is something that should be looked into. The existence of operations like Mass Appeal run by British intelligence services designed to manipulate public opinion should be examined in great detail.

Witnesses denied anything like Operation Mass Appeal before Lord Hutton and now its existence has been confirmed. We have a documented case of the British intelligence agencies lying about the political preparation for the Iraq war. The whole case for that war was built on intelligence reports by the same agencies.

Both the Blair and Bush governments have devoted a lot of energy to destroying traditional checks and balances. When questioned they have tended to come up only with further passionate avowals to try and make true what is untrue.

W B Yeats said it much better than I ever could:

The best lack all convictions, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

30 December 2003

Goodbye sunshine

It turns out that Ohmura was the first to document a dramatic effect that scientists are now calling 'global dimming'. Records show that over the past 50 years the average amount of sunlight reaching the ground has gone down by almost 3% a decade. It's too small an effect to see with the naked eye, but it has implications for everything from climate change to solar power and even the future sustainability of plant photosynthesis. In fact, global dimming seems to be so important that you're probably wondering why you've never heard of it before. Well don't worry, you're in good company. Many climate experts haven't heard of it either, the media has not picked up on it, and it doesn't even appear in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

I will blog more on global dimming (the reduction in sunhsine not the dominance of George Bush) just as soon as I find a way to blame someone for it. I am thinking especially of people who break their eggs at the wrong end.

Re-insurer counts cost of global warming

The [Munich Re] report says the natural disasters have also claimed at least 50,000 lives worldwide.

A senior research analyst for Australia's AMP capital sustainable funds team, Ian Woods, says the insurance industry is recognising the impact of global warming.

'I think Munich Re, like other re-insurance companies, are really starting to realise the extra costs of global warming on the insurance industry due to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, hailstorms and drought,' Mr Woods said.

Mr Woods has analysed the methodology Munich Re used to reach its conclusions about the dangers of global warming and he says it is well founded.

'Munich Re have done some really interesting studies on this particular issue and looked at the occurrence of major natural disasters over the years and they've seen the frequency of these disasters increasing over the last couple of years and they said it's strictly related to climate change,' he said.

If Munich Re is correct, the world can expect a sharp increase in insurance costs and the toll of human misery unless governments and industry take steps to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

That is a view contested by some scientists and companies in the mining and resources sector.

Swiss Re seems to agree.

28 December 2003

Bremer contradicts Blair on mass destruction weapons in Iraq

The US civil adminstrator for Iraq has denied the existence of laboratories in Iraq making weapons of mass destruction for which British Prime Minister Tony Blair says US-led teams have massive evidence.

But in a pre-taped interview scheduled for transmission on Sunday, Paul Bremer retreated when he learned that it was Blair who had made the claim.

Asked about the claim without being told first of the source, Bremer said: 'I don't know where those words come from but that is not what (Iraq Survey Group chief) David Kay has said.'

The US-led Iraq Survey Group is hunting for weapons of mass destruction.

'I have read (Kay's) reports so I don't know who said that,' Bremer said in an interview on the British ITV1 channel with Jonathan Dimbleby.

'It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me,' the American continued. 'It sounds like someone who doesn't agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down.'

But Bremer retreated when told the claims were made by none other than President George W. Bush's staunchest ally Blair.

'There is actually a lot of evidence that had been made public,' he said.

Amazing. Apparently the massive laboratories network is a red herring and is supported by a lot of evidence.

The real herring, for which there is an amazing amount of evidence, is the continuing inflation and fabrication of the WMD claims.

27 December 2003

The Very Secret Journals of the Fellowship of the Ring

I am happy to announce (over much coffee after spending 23:30 to 03:13 watching the Return of the King that the The Very Secret Diaries of the Fellowship of the Ring are to be continued by a different writer as The Very Secret Journals of the Fellowship of the Ring...

Anyone know a good way to get some sleep after raving about the film over way too much coffee at 03:30 in the morning?

24 December 2003

Happy Christmas

Thanks for reading my stuff, thanks for commenting. I hope everyone survives the relatives you only see at Christmas and the season brings you everything you want.

D�clarations, Mises au point, Messages, Lettres de Sa Majest� Norodom Sihanouk

The king of Cambodia has a blog (you'll need to read French) but the governor-general of Australia is silent. Why is this?

PM asked if he could borrow plumed hat. Told him to get a grip.

PM asked if he could open parliament. Told him to get a grip.

PM suggested he get an official uniform including an ornamental circlet or head covering, made of precious metal set with jewels. Told him to get a grip.

PM suggested that next time he gets sworn in by several archbishops in a cathedral with an ecstatic crowd yelling: 'Vivat primum ministrem!' at the top of their voices. Told him to get a grip.

The viceregal blog is perhaps not such a great idea after all...

Heat is on in the great 600-metre dog paddle

It's a unique variation on the traditional Christmas Eve get-together, a chance for the spectators to catch up with friends and family.

Today Roger Harvey is hoping his affectionate mongrel, Teddy, can swim to his third successive win in the small-dog category.

'Before it starts, they all start to scrap and sniff each other,' said Mr Harvey, 47, a cartoonist from Bangalow, on the far North Coast.

'But then they all become very focused and bark hysterically. Teddy didn't know he could swim until three years ago when he chased another dog.'

When Mr Harvey first entered the contest a few years ago, his mother-in-law, Madeleine Gilmour, gave him 'a withering stare' - upset that a dog swim had taken priority over a family gathering. But these days, with Teddy's success a source of pride, and given the popularity of the competition, the family drinks and dinner have been postponed - if only for a few hours.

Watching Teddy go through his paces yesterday was Ben King, a Scotland Island local and wharf builder whose legendary black kelpie, Diesel, is a repeat winner in the big-dog category.

Mr King, 28, said he was not keen to enter this year's competition, but cited no particular reason. 'Who knows, though? I might have change of heart,' he said, eyeing off a smaller rival.

The Great Scotland Island Dog Paddle is one of Sydney's sillier institutions. That's why it's important. Legend has it that some years ago a famous champion died before the race, was fibreglassed by his owner and then towed to victory on a long rope. And I had to blog something in case anybody thought I'd been taken by a shark.

Xmas is strange in this part of the world. We sing endless songs about snow, which most of us have never seen, and fantasise about a white Christmas when the thermometer is registering around 35 Celsius. You used to be able to buy spray cans of artificial snow to apply to your windows...

After that, competitive dog paddling even by deceased dogs, seems less surreal.

22 December 2003

US Saddam claims being challenged

US intelligence officers have concluded that Saddam was directing the postwar insurgency inside Iraq, playing a far more active role than thought.

Despite his bewildered appearance when he was hauled from his hiding hole last weekend, he is believed to have been issuing regular instructions on targets and tactics through five trusted lieutenants.

Documents found in Saddam's briefcase indicated that he had been kept informed of the progress of the insurgency, but did not suggest he had overall control of operations by former Baath Party loyalists. But since the arrest and interrogation of guerilla leaders named in the paperwork, US investigators now believe Saddam headed an elaborate network of rebel cells.

The investigators have put together a picture of Saddam's support structure, enabling him to issue commands without using satellite phones, which monitoring devices can hear.

McGeough stayed in Baghdad throughout the war as an independent journalist. His analysis has generally been reliable. It's another question that will play out over the next few weeks. My first impulse is to ask how Saddam, a strategic and tactical moron who had alienated most of his armed forces by privileging the SRG, somehow turned into a competent guerilla commander with the loyalty of his irregulars.

20 December 2003

Surf's Up

I'll be posting at The Road to Surfdom while Tim goes off and does Xmas stuff. I'll still do things here, but certainly not as much. I might even venture out into the big blue at some stage. I understand there are actually people who step away from their comp long enough to shoot the breeze and smell the roses for, well, hours at a time. It all sounds a bit too spontaneous and unprocessed but I'm determined to try it out.

America's credibility gap: U.S. image, ideals take a hit

Today it is the United States that finds itself alone. In recent weeks, there were two votes on the Middle East in the U.N. General Assembly. In one, the vote was 133 to 4, and in the other, it was 144 to 4 - the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. Japan and all of our NATO allies, including Great Britain and the so-called 'new' Europe, voted with the majority.

The loss of U.S. international credibility and the growing U.S. isolation are aspects of a troubling paradox: American power worldwide is at its historic zenith, but American global political standing is at its nadir. Maybe we are resented because we are rich, and we are, or because we are powerful, and we certainly are. But I think anyone who thinks that this is the full explanation is taking the easy way out and engaging in a self-serving justification.

Since the tragedy of 9-11, our government has embraced a paranoiac view of the world summarized in a phrase President Bush used on Sept. 20, 2001: 'Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.'

I suspect officials who have adopted the 'with us or against us' formulation don't know its historical origins. It was used by Lenin to attack the social democrats as anti-Bolshevik and justify handling them accordingly. This phrase is part of our policymakers' defining focus, summed up by the words 'war on terrorism.' War on terrorism reflects, in my view, a rather narrow and extremist vision of foreign policy for a superpower and for a great democracy with genuinely idealistic traditions.

Our country suffers from another troubling condition, a fear that periodically verges on blind panic. As a result, we lack a clear perception of critical security issues such as the availability to our enemies of weapons of mass destruction. In recent months, we have experienced perhaps the most significant intelligence failure in U.S. history. That failure was fueled by a demagogy that emphasizes worst-case scenarios, stimulates fear and induces a dichotomous view of world reality.

John Ralston Saul wrote in 1995 (using neoconservative to mean the New Right rather than the Wolfowitz claque) that:

Neo-conservatives are the Bolsheviks of the Right. (�) The first step in the advancement of a Bolshevik movement is the establishment of intellectual respectability. This was achieved by hiring bevies of ACADEMIC CONSULTANTS to lay out a marginal idea - that the West should revert the rough capitalism of nineteenth century - as if were not only an historic necessity but a natural inevitability.

It's a sad joke on both the intellectual pretensions and the historical ignorance of the neocons that by using the with us or against us argument they prove the Saul thesis. All they have done is added a second rough idea - the white man's burden - to their first rough idea that everything in Victorian capitalism was wonderful until it became even more wonderful.

Axis of Avarice

Speaking of marvels of hypocrisy, the U.N.'s books on who dealt with Iraq are not all that shrouded. For example, one of the disgusting companies actually making profits from dealing with the despicable dictator in the 1990s - long after his depravities had become evident to even the less attentive sectors of the world - was, well, golly, look at this, Halliburton. Between 1997 and 2000, while Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, the company sold $73 million worth of oilfield equipment and services to Saddam Hussein.

At least Halliburton was not selling luxury cars to the Baathist elite. Halliburton, the oilfield equipment company, merely kept Saddam Hussein's oil fields pumping, the only thing that allowed the s.o.b. to stay in power. Halliburton cleverly ran its business with Saddam through two of its subsidiaries, Dresser Rand and Ingersoll-Dresser, in order to avoid the sanctions.

Unlike the Germans, the French and the Russians, Halliburton was not punished by the Bush administration for dealing with the dictator. Instead, it got the largest reconstruction contract given by this administration, with an estimated value between $5 billion and $15 billion. And the company got the contract without competitive bidding.


The Death of Horatio Alger

Put it this way: Suppose that you actually liked a caste society, and you were seeking ways to use your control of the government to further entrench the advantages of the haves against the have-nots. What would you do?

One thing you would definitely do is get rid of the estate tax, so that large fortunes can be passed on to the next generation. More broadly, you would seek to reduce tax rates both on corporate profits and on unearned income such as dividends and capital gains, so that those with large accumulated or inherited wealth could more easily accumulate even more. You'd also try to create tax shelters mainly useful for the rich. And more broadly still, you'd try to reduce tax rates on people with high incomes, shifting the burden to the payroll tax and other revenue sources that bear most heavily on people with lower incomes.

Meanwhile, on the spending side, you'd cut back on healthcare for the poor, on the quality of public education and on state aid for higher education. This would make it more difficult for people with low incomes to climb out of their difficulties and acquire the education essential to upward mobility in the modern economy.

And just to close off as many routes to upward mobility as possible, you'd do everything possible to break the power of unions, and you'd privatize government functions so that well-paid civil servants could be replaced with poorly paid private employees.

It all sounds sort of familiar, doesn't it?

Where is this taking us? Thomas Piketty, whose work with Saez has transformed our understanding of income distribution, warns that current policies will eventually create 'a class of rentiers in the U.S., whereby a small group of wealthy but untalented children controls vast segments of the US economy and penniless, talented children simply can't compete.' If he's right--and I fear that he is--we will end up suffering not only from injustice, but from a vast waste of human potential.

Goodbye, Horatio Alger. And goodbye, American Dream.

Untalented children inheriting America from their dear old dad? There's no way that could ever happen? Is there? Um...

British Royal Mail sticks it to Australia rugby fans

Australians with friends or relatives in the United Kingdom should brace themselves for some unwelcome reminders of last month's Rugby World Cup final defeat at the hands of England.

On Friday Britain's Royal Mail issued a set of commemorative 68 pence ($1.63) stamps featuring scenes from England's nail-biting 20-17 victory in Sydney.

'In case you hadn't realised, the 68p stamps are just the right value to send to any friend you might have in Australia,' helpful Royal Mail bosses pointed out.

We should ignore this. The Brits would gloat less if they were more used to winning.

Hutton Inquiry

[Inquiry Secretary] Hughes said: 'Lord Hutton is well advanced with the writing of his report but it now looks likely, as he indicated might happen when he last sat on 13 October, that it will not be published until the New Year. We are unable to state the precise date when the Report will be published.'

The tension, the tension...

A year long enough to send you batty

It has been a long year, my 16th here on Saturday. [A reader] of South Penrith is not impressed. In August he wrote, in defence of Pauline Hanson: "You remind me of a fruit bat, the only animal on the planet that doesn't have an anus. Instead it hangs upside down and spews faeces from its mouth." [Another reader] of Panania was of similar mind. "You may have helped crucify Peter Hollingworth," she wrote in March, "but you will never be big enough to crucify our great John Howard, Prime Minister."

[A reader] of South Tweed Heads shreds me often, and after I wrote on November 29 that all Simon Crean had shown, in two years as Labor's leader, was 'barely the ability to find his backside with both hands', she replied furiously: 'I enjoin you to find your backside, with both hands, and shove them up it as far as they can go.' She regularly denounces what she sees as my 'giving the worst PM we have ever had an easy ride to the next elections', an observation that would bemuse him.

Alan Ramsay on the agony of the long distance political reporter.

Parents prey and unto them a chick is born

In July this year the raptors tried again and, from a distance through binoculars, Mrs Harrington watched their progress. After a 40-day incubation a chick was born. In mid-November Harrington saw it perched on the edge of its eyrie, ready to fly.

'It has definitely flown and there have been reports of the young eagle,' she said. Now Sydney Olympic Park is calling on residents near the Parramatta River to report any sightings of the teenager. Its size would already be identical to its parents but its plumage will not yet be as snow white as the adults'. Instead, its wings will be covered in brown blotches and its life will be hanging in the balance for the next few months while it learns to hunt and fend for itself.

Its parents will feed it for at least the next couple of months, during which time the young bird will keep a low profile - perhaps hidden somewhere deep in the vast mangrove forests along that reach of the river. 'There's a lot of pollution and contamination but a lot of that has also been cleaned up,' Mrs Harrington said. 'It may still be a problem for the young bird.'

In its favour is the dramatic recovery of the area's wetlands and fish stocks for the eagle family to feed on. If it survives, the eagle will find its own mate and a new home, hopefully expanding the range of the species.

'The young bird is huge, unmistakable,' Mrs Harrington said. 'It's not as big as a wedgy. But the species is the biggest eagle we have around here.'

And you thought this blog was obsessed with bad news...

Rumsfeld Visited Baghdad in 1984 to Reassure Iraqis, Documents Show

Donald H. Rumsfeld went to Baghdad in March 1984 with instructions to deliver a private message about weapons of mass destruction: that the United States' public criticism of Iraq for using chemical weapons would not derail Washington's attempts to forge a better relationship, according to newly declassified documents.

Rumsfeld, then President Ronald Reagan's special Middle East envoy, was urged to tell Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz that the U.S. statement on chemical weapons, or CW, 'was made strictly out of our strong opposition to the use of lethal and incapacitating CW, wherever it occurs,' according to a cable to Rumsfeld from then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

The statement, the cable said, was not intended to imply a shift in policy, and the U.S. desire 'to improve bilateral relations, at a pace of Iraq's choosing,' remained 'undiminished.' 'This message bears reinforcing during your discussions.'

The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the nonprofit National Security Archive, provide new, behind-the-scenes details of U.S. efforts to court Iraq as an ally even as it used chemical weapons in its war with Iran.

The press really shoud start hotlinking items they take from the blogosphere. And Rumsfeld really should explain why he's never mentioned the 1984 visit before now.

Who needs WMD when you've got Saddam?

The effort so far has taken two forms: the suggestion by administration officials, including Bush himself, that ousting and capturing Saddam were ample justifications for going to war; and the quiet dissolution of the nearly billion-dollar effort to find WMD in Iraq.

In a nationally televised interview earlier this week, Bush appeared to dismiss the relevance of whether Iraq actually had WMD and the possibility that Saddam might eventually have moved to acquire them. 'So what's the difference?' asked Bush, who later added that he was persuaded Saddam constituted 'a gathering threat, after 9/11 [September 11] ... that needed to be dealt with. 'And so we got rid of him, and there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone,' he went on.

At the same time, the reported decision by David Kay, director of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), to step down as early as next month appeared to confirm that US intelligence agencies have concluded there are no WMD to be found in Iraq.

Is the world actually a safer, freer place? Did abandoning the UN charter really enhance safety and freedom? Has exacerbating Islamist hatred fro the West by invading Iraq really achieved very much?

I am not objectively pro-Saddam. I am tempted to say that Bush, Blair and Howard are objectively pro-Hu Jintao because they are doing nothing to remove him from power. They are objectively pro-Kim Jong-il because they are doing nothing to remove him from power. The idiocy of with us and against us arguments can run a long way.

Starting a war without reasonable prospects of success is wrong. Baghdad has been occupied and the Ba'ath has been driven from power. Whether a new and better Iraq emerges is yet to be seen. I do not think anyone still claims that Iraq is going to be a shining beacon of democracy or that the road to peace runs through there.

And, if WMDs make no difference, why did Bush not go before Congress and ask for a war resolution to liberate the Iraqi people? Why did Howard specifically disavow liberation as a war aim?

Howard's deft political decision on Iraq

As November passed with the greatest number of coalition troops lost in the war since the commencement of hostilities, Howard's commitment of Australian forces to the invasion of Iraq - but not the occupation - emerged as a decision of considerable political foresight. Howard minimized damage both to his domestic political standing and to the long-term security relationship. His handling of the Iraq crisis warrants further study as an adept play of alliance politics.

Every alliance involves a cost-benefit relationship. In security alliances, states forgo a certain level of sovereignty, entailing a political cost in return for the benefit of a security assurance. Committing armed forces to alliance operations is one example of cost. Successful alliance management necessitates minimizing the perceived cost to alliance partners. This can be partially achieved through ensuring that the national interests of all alliance partners are perceived to be served in coalition operations.

The administration of US President George W Bush failed to do this. The failure to organize a convincing raison de guerre prior to the invasion of Iraq resulted in allied support coming at a much greater political cost - a cost far too great for most leaders in Asia. The complexity of the occupation has further necessitated the administration putting increased pressure on allies to contribute to a cause they could not support in the first instance, once again increasing the cost of participation in the alliance.

The increased political cost of participation in an alliance relationship inevitably results in the usefulness of the alliance being questioned, particularly at a time when the perception of threat, and hence the need for a security assurance, is declining. This is the case now across the Asia-Pacific, where supporting the US has arguably never been more unpopular.

Howard was deft. His deftness also shows the up the ineptitude of the Bush doctrine. The political cost to allies, whether it's Blair's declining standing in the polls or Musharraf's recent brush with assassination is considerable and the Bush administration ignores that at its own risk. Losing Blair would not end the alliance. Losing Musharraf would be a catastrophe.

19 December 2003

Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?

Berger had left the room by the time Clarke, using a Powerpoint presentation, outlined his thinking to Rice. A senior Bush Administration official denies being handed a formal plan to take the offensive against al-Qaeda, and says Clarke's materials merely dealt with whether the new Administration should take 'a more active approach' to the terrorist group. (Rice declined to comment, but through a spokeswoman said she recalled no briefing at which Berger was present.) Other senior officials from both the Clinton and Bush administrations, however, say that Clarke had a set of proposals to 'roll back' al-Qaeda. In fact, the heading on Slide 14 of the Powerpoint presentation reads, 'Response to al Qaeda: Roll back.' Clarke's proposals called for the 'breakup' of al-Qaeda cells and the arrest of their personnel. The financial support for its terrorist activities would be systematically attacked, its assets frozen, its funding from fake charities stopped. Nations where al-Qaeda was causing trouble-Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Yemen-would be given aid to fight the terrorists. Most important, Clarke wanted to see a dramatic increase in covert action in Afghanistan to 'eliminate the sanctuary' where al-Qaeda had its terrorist training camps and bin Laden was being protected by the radical Islamic Taliban regime. The Taliban had come to power in 1996, bringing a sort of order to a nation that had been riven by bloody feuds between ethnic warlords since the Soviets had pulled out. Clarke supported a substantial increase in American support for the Northern Alliance, the last remaining resistance to the Taliban. That way, terrorists graduating from the training camps would have been forced to stay in Afghanistan, fighting (and dying) for the Taliban on the front lines. At the same time, the U.S. military would start planning for air strikes on the camps and for the introduction of special-operations forces into Afghanistan. The plan was estimated to cost 'several hundreds of millions of dollars.' In the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to 'everything we've done since 9/11.'

The Rice memory problem strikes again. Perhaps her subordinates minuted the meeting and sent her a memo.

18 December 2003

Tracing the Asian terror links | CNN.com 22 Sep 2001

A chemical fire in his apartment alerted authorities to his hideout and helped uncover three terrorist plots:

-- an attempt to assassinate the Pope during his 1995 visit to Manila;

-- a conspiracy to bomb US airliners in Asia called Operation Bojinka ('loud explosion');

-- and a plan to recruit pilots to hijack US jetliners in the continental United States and slam the planes into government and commercial buildings.

Philippine authorities turned their evidence over to the U.S. government, providing evidence which led to the NY conviction of Yousef and his cohorts for 'Operation Bojinka.'

While in the Philippines, Yousef traveled to the Abu Sayyaf base in Basilan and trained about 20 members in 1994.

A year later, he gathered about 20 men in Matabungkay, near the capital, Manila, and trained them allegedly to help assassinate the Pope.

I guess we can expect to hear a great deal more about Operation Bojinka over the next few months.

Earlier Hijackings Offered Signals That Were Missed

The authorities appeared to draw no lessons from the two attacks in 1994. But one of them, in hindsight, had striking similarities to those of Sept. 11.

That was the December 1994 hijacking of an Air France flight in Algiers. The sponsor of the hijacking was an organization called the Armed Islamic Group, which said it was trying to rid Muslim Algeria of Western influence, specifically from France. Four young Algerians, members of a subgroup called Phalange of the Signers in Blood, commandeered the plane at the airport and ordered it to fly to Marseille, from which they said they wanted to fly to Paris.

But they demanded that it be loaded with 27 tons of fuel -- about three times as much as required for the flight to Paris. The plane was an Airbus A300, which is nearly as large as the Boeing 767's that struck the World Trade Center. The French authorities determined from hostages who had been released and from other sources that the group planned to explode the plane over Paris or crash it into the Eiffel Tower.

Condi's contention looks stranger and stranger. After the Kean statement I suspect a few lights are going to shine into a few gaps in the record. I do not expect them to find conspiracy. I do expect them to find stunning negligence at a level that approaches criminality.

Living with Climate Change

The global climate is changing and there is now strong evidence and international consensus that a significant part of this change is due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Elevated levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases also mean that our climate will continue to change throughout this century and beyond. The question is not will the climate change?, but rather how will it change? and what are the consequences? for regions and sectors.

Adaptation to climate change impacts will require an understanding of projected changes and impacts on regions of Australia, sectors of economy and society. It also requires an understanding of how effective our current approaches to managing climate variability and extremes are, and assessment of the range of management and policy tools available to help reduce future vulnerability to climate change. Adaptation will allow the costs of climate change impacts to be minimised and any opportunities and benefits to be realised. It is therefore important that we move to address the information gaps and uncertainties that exist around potential climate change impacts on Australia and the adaptation tools and options available.

The Government stated in its 15 August 2002 announcement entitled Global Greenhouse Challenge: The Way Ahead for Australia that it will implement policies and programs that will assist adaptation to climate change.

The Australian Greenhouse Office, under the direction of Australia's conservative government, has produced a lengthy and detailed report. I am going to try and summarise it over the next few days and look at how the government is responding. I am bemused that Environment Minister Kemp proudly tells us that Australia is close to achieving its Kyoto targets.

We did not ratify Kyoto. Why, then, are the Kyoto targets worth chasing? If they are worth chasing why is Kyoto not worth ratifying?

Chirac backs ban on headscarves

French President Jacques Chirac has voiced support for a law that would ban the wearing of headscarves in schools.

He was giving his reaction to last week's report by a government commission, which proposed a ban on conspicuous religious signs in schools.

Jewish skull-caps and large Christian crosses would be affected, as well as headscarves worn by Muslim girls.

Some religious leaders have objected to the idea, but polls suggest a majority of voters would back it.

'Discreet' medallions and pendants which merely confirm a person's religious faith would be allowed.

This is a truly bad idea. Secularism does not mean privileging one religion or culture over another. Chirac should be ashamed of himself.

Jet crash on stadium was Olympics nightmare | Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Sep 2001

The claim that no-one imagined a hijacked jet being used as a weapon is belied by planning for precisely that eventuality at the Sydney Olympics. The Sydney Morning Herald reported (charge applies) on 20 September 2001:

A fully loaded, fuelled airliner crashing into the opening ceremony before a worldwide television audience at the Sydney Olympics was one of the greatest security fears for the Games, the Olympic Security Commander, former chief superintendent Paul McKinnon, says.

Mr McKinnon said that Osama bin Laden had been the number one threat.

The combined security forces had also prepared for marine hijackings or a hijacked plane smashing into the central business district.

Mr McKinnon said there was a constant aviation security overlay during the Games if a hijacked or wayward plane strayed into restricted airspace.

'We did not have the authority to shoot at it, but the plan was to run something in its path and we had a collection of aircraft in the sky at any time ready for that.'

The alternative argument would be that the intelligence resources available to the government of the United States are less than those available to the state of New South Wales. Now I like my state a lot, but I'm not sure I'd take my loyalty to NSW that far.

9/11 Chair: Attack Was Preventable

For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

'This is a very, very important part of history and we've got to tell it right,' said Thomas Kean.

'As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done,' he said. 'This was not something that had to happen.'

Appointed by the Bush administration, Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame.

'There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed,' Kean said.

To find out who failed and why, the commission has navigated a political landmine, threatening a subpoena to gain access to the president's top-secret daily briefs. Those documents may shed light on one of the most controversial assertions of the Bush administration - that there was never any thought given to the idea that terrorists might fly an airplane into a building.

Well, this should set the cat among the stool-pigeons.

New find, old tomb, and peeks at early Christians

Like Puech and Zias, he says the building is from the 1st century and the inscription is from the 4th century. But Jim Strange, a professor of religious studies at the University of South Florida, says the recovery of the inscription is 'quite amazing.'

'Here you have something showing 4th-century Christians were trying to locate the traditional places of the gospels,' he says. 'We don't know if it actually is Zacharias's tomb ... but it is clear someone in the 4th century was convinced it was. This suggests that the Byzantine Christians had some piece of intelligence to make the identification. They spoke to locals who told them, 'We know where Zacharias and Simeon are buried.' '

He is calling for more searches for inscriptions nearby. 'The Kidron Valley could be full of sites offering insights about what 4th-century Christians believed.'

Zias says his discovery also tells us about the futility of disputes over sacred sites in the Holy Land. 'If the Absalom Memorial is not Absalom's tomb, but rather Zacharias's Tomb, then we could ask, What about David's Tomb, or Rachel's Tomb, or Joseph's Tomb in Nablus? The question of whether we are killing each other over something authentic is highly relevant.'

When the Crusaders occupied Jerusalem they convinced themselves that the Dome of the Rock, built 684 CE, was the actual Temple of Solomon (of which no evidence has ever been found) and promptly converted it to a palace.

I'm not sure which armband theory of history that fits but it clearly shows that ascriptive history can be problematic.

13 December 2003

Global warming kills 150,000 a year

At least 150,000 people die needlessly each year as a direct result of global warming, three major UN organisations warned yesterday. The belief that the effects of climate change would become apparent in 10, 20 or 50 years time was misplaced, they said in a report. The changes had already brought about a noticeable increase in malnutrition, as well as outbreaks of diarrhoea and malaria, the three 'big killers' in the poorest countries of the world.

The report was published at the climate talks in Milan, where ministers are trying to put the finishing touches to the Kyoto protocol, designed to put legal limits on developed countries' greenhouse gas emissions. Russia's ratification of the protocol is needed for it to come into force.

Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a World Health Organisation scientist, said the estimates of deaths were extremely conservative and the reality was probably far higher. They were expected to double in the next 30 years. 'People may say that this is a small total compared with the totals who die anyway, but these are needless deaths. We must do our best to take preventative measures,' he said.

The Bush administration is calling Kyoto a straigtjacket. That might be appropriate treatment for an insane policy that continues to claim global warming is not happening or is having no impact.

Climate change 'cost $60b' in 2003

Climate change may have cost the world over $60 (AU$81) billion in 2003, triggering a spate of natural disasters from a deadly heat wave in Europe to massive flooding in China, the United Nations has said.

In a report released on Wednesday, the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) said the cost of natural disasters had risen 10 percent from $55 billion in 2002 and was part of a worrying trend of climate change.

The agency, which is hosting a 12-day climate conference that ends Friday in Milan, called on nations to make a greater effort to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, as a way of tackling the crisis.

'Climate change is not a prognosis, it is a reality that is, and will increasingly, bring human suffering and economic hardship,' UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said.

'Developed countries have a responsibility to reduce their emissions, but also have a responsibility to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of global warming.

Seems like a lot of money to pay for not ratifying Kyoto or acting on global warming.

A Baghdad Thanksgiving's Lingering Aftertaste

Of more concern, air traffic controllers in Britain are seething over the flight, in which the president's 747, falsely identified as a Gulfstream, traveled through British airspace. Prospect, the controllers union in the United Kingdom, says the flight broke international regulations, posed a potential safety threat and exposed a weakness in the air defense system that could be exploited by terrorists.

'The overriding concern is if the president's men who did this can dupe air traffic control, what's to stop a highly organized terrorist group from duping air traffic control?' asked David Luxton, Prospect's national secretary. Luxton said the flight was in 'breach' of regulations against filing false flight plans set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which he said should apply to a military aircraft using civilian airspace.

Luxton said that by identifying itself as a Gulfstream V instead of the much larger 747, Air Force One could have put itself and other airplanes in danger. The Gulfstream can climb faster and maneuver more nimbly than a 747, which means controllers could have assumed the president's plane was capable of a collision-avoiding maneuver that it couldn't actually do. And the 'wake vortex' of a 747, much larger than a Gulfstream's, could jeopardize smaller planes that were told by unsuspecting controllers to follow in the mislabeled plane's wake.

Let's see. The turkey was fake. The flight plan was fake. The BA encounter was fake. The spontaneous cheering by pre-selected and pre-warned troops was fake. Meanwhile air security was imperiled and non-selected US troops missed out on any turkey at all. Doesn't the generosity of George Bush just warm the cockles of your heart?

12 December 2003

The Nobel Lecture by Shirin Ebadi

In the introduction to my speech, I spoke of human rights as a guarantor of freedom, justice and peace. If human rights fail to be manifested in codified laws or put into effect by states, then, as rendered in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human beings will be left with no choice other than staging a 'rebellion against tyranny and oppression'. A human being divested of all dignity, a human being deprived of human rights, a human being gripped by starvation, a human being beaten by famine, war and illness, a humiliated human being and a plundered human being is not in any position or state to recover the rights he or she has lost.

If the 21st century wishes to free itself from the cycle of violence, acts of terror and war, and avoid repetition of the experience of the 20th century - that most disaster-ridden century of humankind, there is no other way except by understanding and putting into practice every human right for all mankind, irrespective of race, gender, faith, nationality or social status.

In anticipation of that day.

With much gratitude, Shirin Ebadi.

Go read.

Howard's latest cosying up to Bush is madness

It shouldn't be too difficult for Latham to sell the idea that Australia, by endorsing NMD, is aiding and abetting the Bush Administration in an adventure that will trigger a nuclear arms race centred on this region.

The real target of NMD is China, which has the capacity to deploy 1000 thermonuclear warheads on ICBMs by 2015. The strategic purpose of NMD is nuclear offence, not defence.

In theory NMD provides an anti-nuclear shield behind which a pre-emptive nuclear strike can be safely launched without fear of retaliation.

But in practice, the shield can be breached by low-flying cruise missiles launched from submarines close to shore or by terrorists carrying a nuclear device into the US (or Australia) in a suitcase.

NMD is a trillion-dollar fantasy. It is well outside the square of Dr Strangelove, which at least operated within a framework of the balance of terror provided by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD for short).

When pressed, Hill could not even say against whom NMD is to protect Australia beyond 'rogue states'. Forget that NMD does not work. Forget that NMD drags us further into a dangerous alliance - dangerous because of Howard's failure to articulate a foreign policy beyond doing whatever the Bush administration asks. What rogue state would choose a missile launching system over sub-launched cruise?

And if NMD's real target is China what is that going to do to our new relationship with China?

Museum's blue poles cause a whole new row

David Barnett, John Howard's authorised biographer, in a previously secret submission on the controversial National Museum of Australia, has objected to a sculpture of blue telegraph poles in the Garden of Australian Dreams because he sees it as a monument to Gough Whitlam.

I understand Barnett is also asking tv stations not to broadcast Abbot and Costello movies lest it remind the masses of the Man of Steel's treasurer and his health minister. Really this is garbage of the first water. Like terminating the director of the ANM without any stated reason apart from not accepting the Whig armband theory of history - that everything in Australia was wonderful until it got even more wonderful. More here.

Global trade = global warming

Merchandise trade currently accounts for only about 20 percent of global GDP, with agriculture representing just a small part of global trade. But even at these relatively low levels of trade, the transportation sector consumes nearly 60 percent of the world's oil and produces a quarter of all energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions. Oil use by transportation has almost doubled since 1973. Transportation-related emissions are growing at about 2.5 percent annually -- faster than any other sector in the economy.

Any dramatic increase in global trade could add substantially to the world's annual carbon-dioxide emissions. Particularly problematic is the growing use of trucks and airplanes at the expense of slower and more efficient trains and ships. Technological breakthroughs for freight transport are not yet on the horizon. Improvements in fuel efficiency are possible, but studies show that they would encourage more long-distance transport due to lower operating costs and are unlikely to prevent emissions growth in the face of increasing demand.

Given the general scientific consensus that carbon-dioxide emissions will have to drop below 1990 levels within a few decades in order to stabilize the climate at the lower end of various warming scenarios, long-distance trade poses a serious challenge. If the world's future economic development depends largely on global trade, then in the absence of radically new transportation technologies, we are likely to face the ultimate conflict between the economy and the environment. If global trade in agricultural products is the only way out of poverty for hundreds of millions of rural poor in developing countries, the conflict may well turn out to have an additional tragic dimension.

More later.

11 December 2003

The Australian Bill of Rights

Legislative powers of the Parliament 51.(xxiiiA.)The provision of maternity allowances, widows' pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances

(xxxi.) The acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws:

(xxvi.) The people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws

Trial by jury. 80. The trial on indictment of any offence against any law of the Commonwealth shall be by jury, and every such trial shall be held in the State where the offence was committed, and if the offence was not committed within any State the trial shall be held at such place or places as the Parliament prescribes.

Trade within the Commonwealth to be free. 92.Trade commerce and intercourse among the States shall be absolutely free.

Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion. 116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Rights of residents in States. 117. A subject of the Queen, resident in any State, shall not be subject in any other State to any disability or discrimination which would not be equally applicable to him if he were a subject of the Queen resident in such other State.

Section 51(xxiiiA) seems to protect only doctors and dentists. Section 80 has been held to apply only to those offences declared indictable by the parliament, not to other offences no matter how serious. Placitum (xxvi) has been held not to require that the special laws be for the benefit of the people it is made for.

Section 116 prohibits the Commonwealth from making laws about religion, although Section 51 does not give the Commonwealth any such power.

The High Court has implied a freedom of political communication but its limits are uncertain.

This is not a bill of rights we can be proud of. Strangely enough, a bill of rights (PDF) we could take pride in does exist. It�s just not current law anywhere in Australia. The ACT has now passed a statutory bill of rights, but it does not bind the ACT legislature. We are the only electoral democracy without a constitutional or statutory bill of rights. We should fix that.

The Second Battle of Agincourt

A British businessman intends leading 5,000 archers to a second battle of Agincourt in an attempt to defeat plans for a windfarm at the historic site in France.

Amateur historian Don Baggs, 59, of Monmouth, south Wales, sent out a call to arms after friends in the village, in northern France, asked for his help.

Plans to build four 459ft wind turbines near the site of Henry V%u2019s victory over the French, in 1415, have united villagers in opposition.

Now Mr Baggs is planning his own expeditionary force in a modern-day show of strength aimed at demonstrating the international opposition to the plan.

He claims the village of Agincourt, spelled Azincourt in French, should be saved for future generations and made a world heritage site.

This guy should be careful or the White House will list him as a member of the CoW.

Mandela on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

What I am trying to say is that all these social ills which constitute an offence against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not a pre-ordained result of the forces of nature or the product of a curse of the deities.

They are the consequences of decisions which men and women take or refuse to take, all of whom will not hesitate to pledge their devoted support for the vision conveyed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This Declaration was proclaimed as Universal precisely because the founders of this Organisation and the nations of the world who joined hands to fight the scourge of fascism, including many who still had to achieve their own emancipation, understood this clearly that our human world was an interdependent whole.

Necessarily, the values of happiness, justice, human dignity, peace and prosperity have a universal application because each people and every individual is entitled to them.

Similarly, no people can truly say it is blessed with happiness, peace and prosperity where others, as human as itself, continue to be afflicted with misery, armed conflict and terrorism and deprivation.

Thus can we say that the challenge posed by the next 50 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the next century whose character it must help fashion, consists in whether humanity, and especially those who will occupy positions of leadership, will have the courage to ensure that, at last, we build a world consistent with the provisions of that historic Declaration and other human rights instruments that have been adopted since 1948.

Human Rights Day 2003

Saddam's Labor Laws Live On

Most Iraqi workers hoped the fall of Saddam Hussein would liberate them, enabling them to recover their lost rights. Chief among them was the right to an independent union. In 1987, the regime of Saddam Hussein reclassified most Iraqi workers--those who labored in the huge state enterprises that are the heart of the country's economy--as civil servants. As such, they were prohibited from forming unions and bargaining.

The occupation, however, didn't lift this decree. It is still in force, as privatization looms like a sword of Damocles over those workers and the factories on which they depend for survival. And while keeping in place the ban on unions, the occupation authorities have kept wages low and unemployment high.

For Iraqi workers, the signal could not be clearer: The overthrow of Saddam did not bring liberation.

This is the guts of this story to me, although the attack on IFTU headquarters by the occupation kinda reinforces the CPA's attitude to unions. Go sign the petition

More on this here, here, and here.

These Squirrels Are Super Cool

Arctic ground squirrels are one the coolest critters around -- literally. That's because during their hibernation in arctic climates, they can cool their body to below freezing and still survive.

They manage this through a process called supercooling, in which a liquid can reach sub-zero temperatures but still remain fluid. This is possible by reducing the temperature very slowly.

The arctic ground squirrel can drop its internal temperature to as low as minus 6 degrees Celsius. While another animal's blood would freeze in its veins, the hibernating squirrel's keeps right on flowing.

Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks want to tap into these supercooling talents for human use. One of the applications they foresee is long-distance space travel.

'Humankind is destined to be imprisoned on Earth until we can devise a way to induce a hibernating-like state in people,' said lead researcher Brian Barnes, from the university's Institute of Arctic Biology.

Phooey. The Australian government has been using this technology for several years. Does anyone seriously believe that warm blood flows in the veins of Inquisitor-General Ruddock?

10 December 2003

Al-Sistani's Call for Democratic Elections

Another powerful Shi'a leader in Iraq is Moqtada al-Sadr, an outspoken critic of the U.S. occupation and son of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, a highly venerated cleric assassinated in 1999. Moqtada al-Sadr, whose base is the al-Kufa mosque in Najaf, has been urging the creation of a Shi'a guerrilla army. If the Americans are faced with a decision of choosing to support either al-Sistani or al-Sadr, they will have to turn to the former.

Yet if Washington is willing to support al-Sistani's calls for democratic elections, it could lead to a constitution with strong religious undertones, possibly threatening the secularism of Iraqi society. Shi'a leaders may also ease diplomatic relations with neighboring Iran, a country ruled and populated by Shi'a. If Iraq and Iran were to greatly improve relations, it could threaten to destabilize the current balance of power in the Middle East. The Bush administration may consider this result untenable. William Beeman, the Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University in Rhode Island, recently warned, 'Washington may consider it untenable, but Washington will be unable to prevent such a development if they support true democracy in Iraq.'

There still is hope in Washington that al-Sistani will remain an acceptable figurehead. Al-Sistani recently assured Washington that his proposed version of a new government in Iraq would not model the theocracy found in neighboring Iran, but that 'authority [in Iraq] will be for the people who will get the majority of votes.' If the Bush administration wants to create an Iraqi government in line with U.S. interests, it will have to work with al-Sistani and consider his demands.

I've given into my sad propensity for puns too much lately so I won't revive the old joke about Iraq and a hard place. If the Bush administration runs true to form they will treat al-Sistani as an opponent for opposing their ridiculous plan for show elections and then suddenly notice, when it is far too late, that their only choice is between al-Sadr and al-Sistani, not between a US proxy like Chalabi and al-Sistani.

The new Iraq will almost certainly be an Islamic republic, although it will not follow the Knomeini model of velayat-al-faqih. The new Iraq will not be especially friendly to Israel. The road to Jerusalem still runs through Jerusalem.

Latham puts republic on agenda

A federal Labor government under Mark Latham would make the republic a priority in its first term, the party's new political leader said today.

'People will know well in advance of the next election the timetable we would set out to advance (for) this very important issue, for the independence of our nation, pride of our nation' Mr Latham said in Melbourne today.

He said a Labor government would let the public decide on a model for a republic through three separate plebiscites.

Most, 'if not all', of this process would be completed in the first term of a Labor government, he said.

Mr Latham said he supported the direct election of an Australian president.

'We need a head of state who is one of us,' Mr Latham said.

'That truly means, in my assessment, that we all have to have a sense of participation, a sense of belonging to the process by which that person would be selected.'

Iron Mark is dangerous. The idea that the Australian people should get to vote on a republic they want instead of one the political elite wants could lead to all sorts of unmitigated catastrophe and unparalleled disaster. Next he'll be advocating democracy.

Clear as Mud

Talk about a curious policy. The Roadmap is dead on the ground, but Washington refuses to endorse an alternative. It nonetheless annoys its key regional ally by expressing an interest in the alternative. Yet it insists that nothing has changed. When the Bush team was running for office in 2000, they used to disparage that kind of nonsense as a feckless foreign policy. Above all else, the Bushies have prided themselves on moral clarity in dealing with the rest of the world. No matter how moral they now feel, clarity is almost entirely missing from their Middle East policy.

The Bush opposition to any pace plan that does not establish peace before it goes into effect is crazy. Although I happen to agree with this graf I am blogging it mainly because it's suck excellent snark.

A taste of things to come

The heatwave was record-breaking in its extremity, with temperatures exceeding 100F (37.78C) across a vast area of Europe, and the prolonged period of drought made it worse. Parts of eastern France had been without rain since February, the longest spell in a century. There was no feed for livestock; nothing was green any more.

In Feurs, in the Loire d�partement, a 34-year-old man was arrested for killing his horse in public, cutting it in four pieces and putting in his freezer. He said the drought had shrivelled all the grazing and he had no more grass or feed to keep the animal alive.

In France's south, the tinder-dry brush went up in flames at the hint of a spark and by the third week of July, 40,000 acres were burning between Toulon and Saint Tropez; the Massif des Maures, the chain of hills that form a noble backdrop the Riviera, was burnt to a cinder.

Two Britons, Margaret Timson, 63, and her granddaughter,15-year-old Kirsty Egerton, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, were killed when they tried to escape from the fires, close to La Garde-Freinet, near Frejus, by car. Other tourists from the Netherlands and Poland also lost their lives.

Rivers dried across the continent; in Spain and in Italy there were electricity shortages as hydroelectric power stations ceased to function when the flow dropped.

The Po, Italy's greatest river, was reduced to a trickle. As the rivers began to vanish, so did the Alpine glaciers. Many Swiss glaciers showed dramatic retreats, melting at a rate 10 times that of a normal summer. Italians scientists estimate that their own country's glaciers are now 20 per cent smaller than they were in 1987.

And the old and the infirm, at the heatwave's height in early August, simply keeled over. The French estimate an extra 15,000 deaths during the summer period across the country, but with the largest numbers in Paris.

And here in OZ we learn that one greenhouse impact will be a significant increase in bushfires. Joy. That will certainly fire up the Kyoto-free economy. Federal Environment Minister Kemp has just released an Australian global warming scenario. More when I've read it.

Public backs Latham's Bush attack

Almost half the Australian public agree with Mark Latham that US President George Bush is "incompetent and dangerous", according to a poll.

An ACNielsen AgePoll of 1363 people taken last weekend found that 45 per cent of Australians agree with the blistering attack by the new Opposition Leader on the head of Australia's most important ally, while 52 per cent disagree. Mr Latham made the comment well before he became Opposition Leader.

The poll found that 51 per cent of Australians believe Labor was right to oppose Australia's involvement in the Iraq war, while 45 per cent say it was wrong.

In January, when debate centred on whether the UN would sanction force against Iraq, only 6 per cent of Australians responding to an AgePoll were prepared to send Australian troops to war against Iraq. On April 1, 12 days after the first bombs had dropped, support for the war had grown to 44 per cent.

In the latest AgePoll, opponents of the war outnumber supporters in every state except Queensland and in every age group.

The startling findings suggest that Mr Bush's decision to invade Iraq despite global opposition has badly damaged his support within Australia, one of his country's closest allies.

It also indicates that the Iraq war has polarised Australians, and not only on party lines.

The poll found 26 per cent of Coalition voters believe Mr Bush is incompetent and dangerous, and 31 per cent think Labor was right to oppose Australian involvement in Iraq.

If this is Bush's popular standing in a nation counted among the closest allies of the US then what is it in the Arab world?

9 December 2003

Will the counter-insurgency plan in Iraq repeat the mistakes of Vietnam?

One step the Pentagon took was to seek active and secret help in the war against the Iraqi insurgency from Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East. According to American and Israeli military and intelligence officials, Israeli commandos and intelligence units have been working closely with their American counterparts at the Special Forces training base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and in Israel to help them prepare for operations in Iraq. Israeli commandos are expected to serve as ad-hoc advisers - again, in secret - when full-field operations begin. (Neither the Pentagon nor Israeli diplomats would comment. 'No one wants to talk about this,' an Israeli official told me. 'It's incendiary. Both governments have decided at the highest level that it is in their interests to keep a low profile on U.S.-Israeli co�peration - on Iraq.) The critical issue, American and Israeli officials agree, is intelligence. There is much debate about whether targeting a large number of individuals is a practical - or politically effective - way to bring about stability in Iraq, especially given the frequent failure of American forces to obtain consistent and reliable information there.

This is crass stupidity of the highest order. Israel's record as an occupying power is not especially stellar, even at the level of merely securing the Occupied Territories. The real idiocy, though, is imagining that this is not something the Muslim world will hear about. And what price on any Iraqi cooperating at all once they learn that Gaza on the Tigris is not just a metaphor?

Gay asylum bid clears first hurdle

The High Court, by a 4-3 majority, allowed the men's appeals.

It held that the tribunal should have considered what might happen if they had lived openly as a homosexual couple. The majority held that the tribunal also fell into jurisdictional error by dividing Bangladeshi homosexuals into two groups - discreet and non-discreet - and failed to consider whether the men might suffer harm if police, employers or others became aware of their homosexuality.

'By declaring that there was no reason to suppose that the appellants would not continue to act discreetly in the future, the tribunal effectively broke the genus of homosexual males in Bangladesh into two groups - discreet and non-discreet homosexual men in Bangladesh,' the High Court said in its judgment.

'By doing so, the tribunal fell into jurisdictional error that renders its decision of no force or effect.'

The High Court ordered the RRT to redetermine its review of the Immigration Department's decision.

More later, perhaps. when I've read the decision.

Secrets And Spies

Meanwhile, Newsweek reports that Luti was a recipient of intelligence passed on to him by the Washington office of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the former Iraqi exile group led by Ahmad Chalabi, the darling of the neocons and their candidate to be Iraq's next prime minister. The INC - whose intelligence was widely considered bogus and unreliable by the U.S. intelligence community - served as a conduit for hair-raising but unproven (and later disproven) reports about Iraq WMD and terrorism links. Now, Newsweek has obtained a memo from the INC's Washington rep that claims the INC fed its intelligence to Luti and directly to Vice President Cheney's office.

Heaping more doubts on the integrity of the fact-finding process is new information from Israel suggesting that Israeli intelligence officials, too, joined U.S. and British intelligence in exaggerating the threat of Iraqi WMD. A report by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University last month called for an official investigation of how Israeli intelligence assessed the Iraqi threat. According to informed U.S. sources, a secret intelligence team was set up in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office before the war in Iraq to generate data adding yet more justifications for war - intelligence that Sharon;s office then shared, in English, with Luti's OSP - even though the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, was said to be much more cautious and restrained about the threat to Israel from Iraq.

Curiouser and curiouser? Or more and more lupine?

US, Britain pressed on Iraq arms hunt

Controversy has raged over whether the Baghdad regime had WMD, cited as a main reason for the US-led war that ousted Saddam Hussein earlier this year. The Iraq group's report in October said none had been found so far.

The two countries told the closed-door meeting that they want the report to be handed over to UNMOVIC, the UN arms team which monitored Baghdad's weapons programmes but left before the start of the war in March.

A US spokesman at the United Nations downplayed the requests and said the US-led coalition in Iraq had been regularly 'supplying information' about the hunt for the alleged banned weapons.

The call from Russia and France followed a presentation to the council from acting UNMOVIC chairman Demetrius Perricos, who was introducing the latest update report from the still-functioning UN inspection team.

Among other details, the update noted that 1.5 million dollars per month is now being spent on UMMOVIC, which says it is ready to resume the search if authorised to do so by the Security Council.

It is unclear if the Man of Steel or his government have had access to the body of the ISG interim report.

The problem with crying Wolf! whether it's Nigerien yellow wolf or aluminum wolves is that you can only do it once or twice with any effect. The conclusions in the ISG interim report are not supported by any evidence that goes beyond conjecture. Some statements, such as co-storage of conventional and unconventional weapons are outright false. If the body of the interim report supports the conclusions why is it not released to the Security Council? One would have thought the last tactic was sewing further doubt among US allies about US veracity.

Or is the US merely yelling about wolves of mass destruction?

Building a Better Occupation

This is bad business on two counts. First, it reinforces the myth, propagated by radical groups in the region, that the United States is waging a war against Islam. American officials showed they understood this danger earlier in the year - and during the first Gulf War in 1991 - by going out of their way to keep Israel out of the conflict. Why are they so openly aligning with Israel - and emulating its methods - during the equally sensitive post-battlefield phase of this war?

Second, Israel is a poor model on substantive grounds. Even when such a heavy hand has succeeded at swatting foes in the short run, it has tended to alienate more Palestinians in the medium-to-long run. The idea is to isolate the guerrillas from the population, but the result is often to turn the population into guerrillas.

The U.S. Army has had its own woeful experiences with attempts at this strategy. In Vietnam, it was called the 'hamlet' strategy. It didn't work. In early 20th-century Philippines, the cordoned-off villages were called 'concentration camps.' It did work in the Philippines, but only after two years of savage brutality, followed by 40 years of occupation - more time, at either task, than anyone wants to spend in Iraq.

The current phase of the Iraqi war is complicated. It requires American soldiers to kill a band of insurgents while, at the same time, a half-mile down the road, other American soldiers are fixing a water pump or painting a schoolhouse. In this sort of warfare, such strange anomalies are not just inevitable but appropriate.

However, the two activities shouldn't work against each other. The soldiers shouldn't blow up the water pump - or, to put it more concretely, shouldn't tick off the same people that the new water pump is meant to please. It's one thing for the left hand and the right hand to be doing different things. It's another for the left hand to mangle the right hand's fingers in the process. That's what seems to be going on in Iraq now.

Back in February and March the war party was asked why this war and this occupation would be nay different from previous colonial adventures. There was never any answer. There is even less of an answer now.

The spreading meme that we should declare martial law or institute some dramatically repressive policy does not answer the question. Why should what failed for the Russians in Afghanistan or the French in Algeria work for the coalition in Iraq? Why is the enterprise of Iraq different?

South of my days' circle

South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country,

rises that tableland, high delicate outline

of bony slopes wincing under the winter,

low trees, blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite-

clean, lean, �hungry country. The creek's leaf-silenced,

willow choked, the slope a tangle of medlar and crabapple

branching over and under, blotched with a green lichen;

and the old cottage lurches in for shelter.

O cold the black-frost night. the walls draw in to the warmth

and the old roof cracks its joints; the slung kettle

hisses a leak on the fire. Hardly to be believed that summer

will turn up again some day in a wave of rambler-roses,

thrust it's hot face in here to tell another yarn-

a story old Dan can spin into a blanket against the winter.

seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones,

seventy years are hived in him like old honey.

During that year, Charleville to the Hunter,

nineteen-one it was, and the drought beginning;

sixty head left at the McIntyre, the mud round them

hardened like iron; and the yellow boy died

in the sulky ahead with the gear, but the horse went on,

stopped at Sandy Camp and waited in the evening.

It was the flies we seen first, swarming like bees.

Came to the Hunter, three hundred head of a thousand-

cruel to keep them alive - and the river was dust.

Or mustering up in the Bogongs in the autumn

when the blizzards came early. Brought them down;

down, what aren't there yet. Or driving for Cobb's on the run

up from Tamworth-Thunderbolt at the top of Hungry Hill,

and I give him a wink. I wouoldn't wait long, Fred,

not if I was you. The troopers are just behind,

coming for that job at the Hillgrove. He went like a luny,

him on his big black horse.

Oh, they slide and they vanish

as he shuffles the years like a pack of conjuror's cards.

True or not, it's all the same; and the frost on the roof

cracks like a whip, and the back-log break into ash.

Wake, old man. this is winter, and the yarns are over.

No-one is listening

South of my days' circle.

I know it dark against the stars, the high lean country

full of old stories that still go walking in my sleep.

Judith Wright

New England

I'm in New England for a week. I did not want to confuse any Australian readers who might have thought I'd gone overseas where I understand there may be a second New England.

New England is the name given to a region in the north of the state of New South Wales, Australia. New England has no defined boundaries, and the term has several possible definitions. At its narrowest, New England may be defined as the area of the New England Ranges, running south from the Queensland border to about Quirindi, and including neither the coastal regions of northern New South Wales nor the Western Slopes region west of the line Inverell-Gunnedah. A broader definition would include the region bounded on the north by the Queensland border, on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Liverpool Range and on the west by the line Boggabilla-Moree-Narrabri-Coonabarabran.

Armidale has sprawl. For a town of less than 30 000, that's terrible.

The loss of independence to the Australia Museum is dangerous to Australian culture

Deputy Secretary of the Department, Dr Stretton, is an observer on the Museum Council. It was revealed that departmental officers through Dr Stretton, played an improper role in drafting the Museum Council's response to the Carroll Review. In other words a key mechanism to facilitate the 'Howard-isation' of the Museum was prepared within the Department!

Our cultural agencies must surely be alert and alarmed by now, all the more so because the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts seemingly has the Minister's permission to participate in this politicisation.

The story of the Museum is frightening and raises serious concerns about the ability of any institution or agency to effectively maintain its cultural independence.

I have outlined the chain of events which have unfolded during the life of the Museum because I think it is a story which needs to be told. Dawn Casey's lament of the Museum being the battle ground for the Howard government's war on culture constitutes a warning for other institutions - a warning to be heeded.

I believe that the ramifications of this government exerting its influence in such a partisan way damages the Museum and is designed to prevent the honest exploration and portrayal of Australian cultural heritage and identity.

The National Museum of Australia has become John Howard's personal story board through which he can make his image of Australia and pretend it is real: an anglo-centric society, patronising of migrants, in denial of indigenous injustice and glory for those who share this narrow, ill-informed conservatism.

John Howard has cultural pretensions of his own. That's why he was in a position to overrule Les Murray on language issues for the constitutional preamble and recently withdrew the commission for the London war memorial over artistic disagreements. As both rather stodgy examples of the Man of Steel's artistic ability demonstrate, John Howard is no Thomas Jefferson.

The level of interference in the museum is a disgrace.

Me of the never, ever: Costello uses language Howard would rather forget

Mr Costello also ignored Mr Howard's weekend direction against personal attacks on Mr Latham by suggesting the Opposition Leader should have been dumped after a 'drunken' incident involving a Sydney cab driver two years ago.

He suggested Mr Latham was taking a hypocritical stance over Democrat leader Andrew Bartlett's drunken accosting last week of Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris.

'Well, Andrew Bartlett gets drunk and assaults someone and he is compelled to stand aside,' Mr Costello said.

'Another person gets drunk, has a fight over property and assaults someone and they make him party leader.'

He added: 'I heard Mr Latham said yesterday that he would sack a frontbencher that behaved like that.

'Well, which frontbencher do you think he might have had in mind? Himself?'

Mr Howard was forced at the weekend to pull the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, into line after he attacked Mr Latham in Parliament over his first marriage.

Costello's allegation is untrue. Latham was not charged with assault. The police investigated. Latham said he was defending himself from an attempted robbery. The police laid no charges. Trying to draw a moral equivalence between Latham and Bartlett is drawing a very long, and very dishonest bow.

Generational change seems to be generating a certain instability within the Liberal Party.

Rich lifestyles cannot go on, says EPA

The amount of land needed to produce the goods and services we consume, known as an ecological footprint, has increased by 23 per cent in five years. In that period the population grew by only 7 per cent. It now takes 7.4 hectares of land to maintain each Sydneysider's lifestyle, an increase of 16 per cent on five years ago. Regional residents saw their footprint grow by 15 per cent to 7 hectares.

The deputy director general of the Department of Environment and Conservation, Simon Smith, said: 'We take out too much of the good stuff and put back too much of the bad stuff.'

While per capita consumption of water has dropped, total consumption is increasing due to the growth in population. The current per capita use of 412 litres a day in Sydney is far above the target for 2005 of 364 litres.

The report notes that while it is possible to maintain existing levels of consumption in the short term, 'it means that water restrictions will occur more frequently in the future'.

'This, together with the need to increase the amount of water left in rivers for environmental flow, climate change and natural variability means that there is an urgent need to reduce consumption through such measures as water conservation and recycling.'

More energy is also being used, with electricity sales up by 4.5 per cent in the past two years, driving up greenhouse gas emissions produced by coal-fired power stations.

The report is available for download. This is a case of competing policies working at cross purposes. Raising public transport fares always shifts people out of buses and trains and into cars. That will increase the environmental footprint. Falling usage will exacerbate State Transit's fiscal situation. That will lead to further demands for fare rises. The vicious cycle is easy to establish and very hard to break away from. Fiscal and ecological rectitude are not always the same things.

8 December 2003

Should the Thylacine be cloned?

What are the moral implications of cloning an extinct species as opposed to an existing species?

MIKE ARCHER, DIRECTOR OF THE AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM: I'm not big on cosmic morality, believing it to be very much a personal and subjective matter, often culture-specific. But in this case, most people agree that the 'immoral' act' was extermination of the Tasmanian Tiger in the first place; to bring it back, if we can, would be to me a moral imperative aimed at undoing that black act. Most churches agree. Even a poll run on the internet in the United States, a country traditionally conservative about things like genetic engineering, was highly supportive of the Tasmanian Tiger Project with more than 75 percent of respondents in favour. Some Biblical fundamentalists have accused us of 'playing God,' a view which I reject utterly for the reasons just noted. In contrast, other more mainstream theists draw attention to the fact that the teachings of Jesus are about giving life, not taking it away. There are even Biblical comments that could be cited as encouragement for this project such as The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (New Testament, 1 Corinthians, Chapter 15, verse 26).

What will the social impact be in bringing the Tasmanian Tiger back to life?

ARCHER: For the Tasmanian Tiger's social life (because if we can bring back one, we can bring back a population - there are other specimens), it will be one heck of a stimulus!� But what social impact will it have on us?� Enormous I would have thought. To name just a few, tourism to Tasmania would massively increase, if the project against all odds is successful and Tasmania is where Tasmanian Tigers are re-established. To actually reverse extinction, even if it is in just this one special instance, would be the biological equivalent of the first walk on the moon - something thought to be way beyond dreams. And, like the moon walk, it would do extraordinary things to kids' brains. They will be far more inclined to look beyond present limits, beyond prohibitions, to dare to try things that may result in equally awesome leaps in human capacity.

The world is a poorer place without Tasmanian tigers. Let's make it richer.

The Archaeology of Maleness Reaches Back ... and Back Again

The emperor Elagabalus appointed ministers in Rome through a competitive appraisal that Edward Gibbon, the 18th century historian of the Roman empire, described delicately as one based on 'enormitate membrorum.'

While this criterion for appointive office may not seem much more absurd than measuring candidates today by the enormousness of their campaign war chests or the telegenicity of their coiffures, it resembles a tiresome male fixation that is now stirring competition in a surprising arena: the staid field of paleontology.

A few months ago Dr. Jason Dunlop, of the Humboldt University in Berlin, announced in the journal Nature that he had found a fossilized penis, indeed 'the oldest fossilized example of such an intromittent organ,' he declared. No matter that it belonged to a minuscule spider-like creature known as a harvestman or daddy long-legs, a mere 6 millimeters in length. The fossil was 400 million years old, and evidently the find gave Dr. Dunlop and his colleagues bragging rights in paleontological circles.

But not for long. In last week's Science, Nature's rival publication, Dr. David J. Siveter of the University of Leicester, says he has found an even older intromittent organ, this one belonging to a minute crustacean known as an ostracode. Though Dr. Siveter's ostracode is only half the size of Dr. Dunlop's harvestman, it is older by 25 million years. This trumped the earlier discovery as the oldest known evidence of definitive maleness - a state that possession of a penis puts beyond doubt.

This rivalry would doubtless have been deeply perplexing to a man like Elagabalus, but in paleontology, age matters.

I am not going to touch this one with a 10-foot pole.

The end of political orthodoxy

Latham presents himself a stranger in a strange land, an outer suburban boy who worked his way to where he is, and who, as an outsider, calls it as he sees it in the nation and the polity that has been shaped by John Howard.

Everything about the Howard orthodoxy is predicated on the safe pair of hands argument, an experienced leader providing economic certainty in a frightening international climate. It's a powerful prescription.

But everything loses its lustre eventually. The American public faced a similar formulation in 1992, with the experienced Washington insider George Bush the elder facing off the younger, brash, outsider Bill Clinton. Clinton won that election by putting forward an audacious economic and social plan while providing an unflinching critique of the present. Interestingly, Clinton was also subjected to a sustained attack over what was referred to as the character issue, just as Latham is.

We will see how Latham's leadership will play out. But it is difficult to see how choosing Latham over Beazley, the experienced loser, was a crazy gamble, as some have suggested. As Ron Barassi told his players before they walked on to the MCG to win the 1977 premiership, the greatest risk is to take no risks at all.

Even if Labor is defeated at next year's election, it will have lost on its own terms and not those of the man it underestimated so grievously back in 1996.

The government has done a great job of projecting Iron Mark onto centre stage. It's also done a fantastic job of projecting its own prejudices into exactly the same place. Abbot's extraordinary play for the non-divorcee vote may tell us more about Abbot than about how the Australian people feel on divorce. That can only be very bad news for the coalition.

Abbott shoots from lip, hits large foot

Most people knew almost nothing about Mark Latham a week ago. Now they know he is a human being with an interesting past who makes Peter Costello and Tony Abbott froth at the mouth.

Perhaps someone in the Coalition ought to be wondering if this is such a great political achievement? Surely Pauline Hanson showed that there are dangers in making an ordinary sort of person look like a victim by over-reacting to them?

A lot of people I have spoken to this week have volunteered the opinion that the thrashing Latham has received this week - and the grace with which he has copped it - have wiped out a lot of the negative things they knew about him.

As David Penberthy noted on this page yesterday, there is a growing groundswell of voter discontent with the Government's arrogance.

The Government's ham-fisted assault on Latham this week provides more evidence of just how out of touch it is.

At week's end three things were established in the public mind, each of them potentially vital to winning marginal seats. One, Mark Latham is entertaining: when he comes on the TV, people are going to watch and listen. Two, his big theme is about climbing the ladder. And three, he is about the future and not the past.

As Latham sits down this weekend to celebrate the birthday of his son Isaac Gough, this is not a bad place to be at all after only four days in the job.

And he has the Government to thank for much of it.

Media mirrors (perhaps as much as it moulds) public opinion. If the Daily Telegraph is writing about the grace of the opposition leader then it is time for the government to reconsider their tactics. I cannot remember a week when the news cycle was so dominated by the opposition leader. I also cannot remember an interview so embarrassing as when Costello did his goldfish out of water impersonation after challenging Latham's inexperience and then being asked about his own identical inexperience when deputy leader of the opposition.

The Howard government is about feeling comfortable with a safe pair of hands on the driving wheel. Getting shrill sits ill at ease with comfort. Getting shrill in a way that reveals the prime minister's personal headkicker to be a prisoner of some fairly old-fashioned prejudices does nothing to preserve the comfort zone.

7 December 2003

Latham already swaying voters

Self-declared larrikin leader Mark Latham has already pushed Labor towards a winning position, the first opinion poll since his election showed.

Taken in the battler heartland that deserted Labor in 1996, an exclusive Sun-Herald survey of five crucial western Sydney electorates showed a major shift towards the new leader, despite his turbulent first week in Parliament.

In a stunning endorsement of last week's bold caucus move to elect the 42-year-old maverick, more than two-thirds of respondents applauded the choice.

The poll results came as Mr Latham continued to pound the Coalition on the key issue of Medicare.

I guess this is what happens when the coalition launches attacks on someone's marital record and security trustworthiness. A lot of Australians have been through divorce and a lot dislike the government's supine approach tot he alliance.

Evidently Western Sydney is ceasing to be a coalition stronghold. That is not good news for the government.