17 May 2003

The Winds
(from the Arabic)

At fifty, the Khamsin can ruin your day
and the foul Simoon poison
a week of revelry. When you were young,
your garments loose, with a curved sword
and a town girl in a swirl of perfume
hanging on each arm, you?d laugh at the wind.
Now, rising from the arms of the rosy-fingered
Goddess of the Egg, the Sirocco
reminds you that here under the dusty sun
in the tent of one you despise
you?re missing out on the F�hn.

Oh, that the Bora, Master of Migraine,
might sweep down from the north
and clear the air. The Mistral is the master here
on this bitter coast, and speaks of yachts
as fodder. But when the sky holds its breath
and a French eucalypt drowsing in the heat
decorates the surf with a fringe of scent
a young man, too long expatriate, dreams
of a Southerly Buster and a cold Australian beer.

John Tranter
Murray-Darling thoughts
Last December my friend David and I were at Kinchega national park in the Western division of NSW. Driving in from Broken Hill, you pass the Menindee sailing club. The Menindee lakes, part natural and part constructed, are big enough for sailing but the drought has left the club house about a kilometre from the water. David and I stopped beside the Darling river to look at a wrecked boiler tank.

In 1872 the paddle steamer SS Providence tied up at the town of Menindee. The river failed during the night and they were forced to stay in Menindee until the river rose enough to float them. They waited a year. When the Darling flowed again they had a drink or two at the Menindee pub and set off. Sadly (it may have been the drink) they fired up their furnace but forgot to refill their boiler. When their boiler exploded it obliterated both the boat and its crew, except for the cook who was thrown clear but died within hours of appalling injuries. All that's left is a rusting boiler which lies where it fell, about 40 metres from the river.

David (an admirably unreconstructed hippie) clapped three times to recognise the dead. It would be a good thing for a few members of parliament to go and look at that chunk of rusted iron because its story tells us a great deal about living in Australia. Our inland rivers are all deeply unstable and they were deeply unstable long before European settlement. Managing them by benign neglect, or worse, by rhetoric without action, does not work. The Murray-Darling basin is dying and, until yesterday, no-one much in parliament seemed worried by that.

Opposition Leader Simon Crean made his speech replying to the budget last night. There was nothing in the budget providing any vision or any resources to keep the Murray and Darling rivers flowing. Crean said:

The Murray River is dying. If we don't restore the health of the Murray, there will not be a river system capable of supporting farmers into the future. It's time for action - not passing the buck.

A Crean Labor Government will:

* Deliver 450 gigalitres of environmental flows within the first term of a Crean Labor Government - enough to keep the mouth of the Murray open;

* Deliver 1500 gigalitres in environmental flows within 10 years - the minimum required to restore the health of the river;

* Create Riverbank to fund the river's restoration and make an initial capital injection of $150 million; and

* Establish the Environmental Flow Trust to manage environmental flows.

Australia is by far the driest continent on the planet. The average annual rainfall is 472 millimetres (18.5 inches). Falls concentrate on the coast leaving the arid interior with even less rain than the average expresses.

Rainfall effects politics. There's no need to start hunting through sources on hydraulic despotism. Robert Kaplan argued in 1995 that any region with an annual average rainfall of less than 20 inches (500 millimetres) 'will sustain a human population only with difficulty.' That's the whole of this nation.

Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic Monthly that:

Indeed, had the United States been settled from west to east rather than the other way around, the big government agencies necessitated by scarce water would have preceded the freeman tradition that took root on the well-watered eastern slopes of the Appalachians in the eighteenth century, and a mild form of hydraulic civilization -- highly centralized and authoritarian regimes, like those that built the great water and earth works in India, China, and Mexico -- might have arisen here.

Treating water as a free resource has been a disaster for inland Australia. The basin is governed by the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement which sets up a joint authority comprising the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT. Federalism may be a good thing but dividing the basin between 6 different governments is not. The upstream states want the water for irrigation. South Australia draws 52% of all its water from the Murray. According to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission: 'irrigation in the Basin accounts for 52.4 per cent of all water used in Australia, and 75.0 per cent of all irrigation water is used in the MDB'. So there are many competing interests all dipping into the same finite supply.

The basin does need investment and Riverbank (if it's ever enacted) could be a good start. The basin also needs serious thinking about water rights. We need to throw money at the problem. We also need to make sure that the mix between public authority and private property is right. Ideally, the basin states should refer their powers to the Commonwealth so that a single agency can fix policy for the whole catchment. We cannot let these rivers die.

When David and I left the rusty boiler with its sad interpretation plaque we moved onto the river itself. Thousands of kilometres from the ocean, a flock of pelicans flying overhead surprised us. There was no river. The Darling was a string of standing pools gone gangrenous with agricultural runoff. On the other side a dying sheep staggered down the steep bank to try and reach the water.

We must learn to understand that this river dries up and ceases to flow as part of its natural cycle. 'Dry' politics - the market is the only way to allocate resources - will not work in this environment. We must stop drawing water from the Darling and its daughter the Murray as if there was no end to the supply. The river is not infinite.
Imperial temptations
Astute strategists learn to anticipate such cooperation and try to use it to their advantage. For example, one of the most successful diplomats in European history, Otto von Bismarck, achieved the unification of Germany by always putting the other side in the wrong and, whenever possible, maneuvering the opponent into attacking first. As a result, Prussia expanded its control over the German lands without provoking excessive fears or resistance. Pressed by his generals on several occasions to authorize preventive attacks, Bismarck said that preventive war is like committing suicide from fear of death; it would "put the full weight of the imponderables . . . on the side of the enemies we have attacked."6 Instead, he demanded patience: "I have often had to stand for long periods of time in the hunting blind and let myself be covered and stung by insects before the moment came to shoot."7 Germany fared poorly under Bismarck's less-able successors, who shared his ruthlessness but lacked his understanding of the balance of power.

A must-read, especially for the blood-and-iron nincompoops in the White House trying to solve 21st century problems by 19th century methods. If these people can't run a garbage collection service in Baghdad what makes them think they can rule the world?
Riverbank and Medicare
The Crean speech was well-delivered. The policies were less well-thought out.

The conventional wisdom is that saving the Murray-Darling basin will cost $600 million. Launching a $150 million initiative on the basis that it's a start will not save the rivers. Opposing land clearing is going to be rough when we clear more land than any other nation and it's being done under the aegis of ALP premiers like Beattie. Land clearing in Queensland effects the basin all the way downstream to the Coorong. Irrigation systems upstream effect what happens when you turn on a tap in Adelaide.

We need those rivers. So really, while we have lots of enthusiasm merely because a federal politician has noticed the state of the basin we actually need a lot more done very soon. A lot of money needs to be thrown at this problem and it will be a brave federal leader who takes on the destructive neglect of the states.

Medicare is a universal health system based on access to the Medicare rebate. Crean should have bitten the bullet on universalism and defended the principle instead of (as with the Riverbank plan) promoting incremental change that will ultimately fail. The most infuriating aspect of the Medicare situation is that the crisis is entirely artificial.

The Parliamentary Library Research Note, Is medicare universal? says:

While bulk billing may not be universally available, it is a key plank of the Medicare system. Certainly it could be argued that one of the primary aims of Medicare was to promote bulk billing by doctors and thus promote the de-commodification of health services. That is, the take up of bulk billing by GPs was seen as a way of breaking the nexus between access to health services and capacity to pay. The steady increase in the percentage of Medicare services bulk billed from the introduction of Medicare in 1984 until 1996 provides some evidence that bulk billing was seen as a central and important component of the Medicare system. Other evidence of bulk billing's importance for the national health insurance system, Medicare, is provided in various statements and speeches made by the Labor government during the 1980s.

Gee whiz, what happened in 1996? And what was the Medicare rebate when Howard took the reins and what is it now? I suspect that spending a lot less money on ideologically-driven subsidies to the well-off such as the health insurance rebate and redirecting that money into raising the Medicare rebate might achieve a lot more than a scheme of special payments to doctors. More later.

And just a quiet word. Medicare is and always has been a Labor project. When suddenly the likes of John Howard and Peter Costello are allowed to lecture the ALP on the 'original intent' of Labor's own program it might be best to start arguing rather than wait for the axe. An energetic opposition might even have kept the falling Medicare rebate before the parliament and the people from the time it started - when Howard and Costello came to power.
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Hassam Hamoud, a waiter at a local restaurant, said the American advance party's interpreter asked him where the hospital was. "He asked: 'Are there any Fedayeen over there?' and I said, 'No'." All the same, the next day "America's finest warriors" descended.

Dr Anmar Uday says they must have known there would be no resistance.

"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie . . ." All the time with the camera rolling.

There was one more twist. Two days before the snatch squad arrived, Dr Houssona had arranged to deliver Jessica to the Americans in an ambulance. But when its driver approached the US checkpoint, the soldiers opened fire. They fled back to the hospital.

This is an outrage. The UN Security Council must insist that Iraqis appearing as involuntary extras in US action/fantasy productions get paid properly in future.

16 May 2003

still $50 million to pay for the inquiry
From media release on the Keep Hollingwood Early Childhood initiative:

Today's announcement is not a one-off. The government has already made a substantial contribution to protecting young children and promoting their interests. The $10 million commitment will be used to build on initiatives that the government has already developed, as part of the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy (SFCS).

The $10 million commitment announced today includes $1.2 million for a range of new projects to support children and families under the SFCS. These include:
Support for young Vietnamese parents, sponsored by the Wesley Uniting Mission in South Australia.
Parent groups and individual support for families at the Cooloon Children's Centre in NSW.
Playgroups for infants and children aged 0-3 with developmental disabilities, providing early intervention, parent education support and networking for families in Queensland.
Working with grandparents and young children right around Australia.
Funds for Professor Fiona Stanley's Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), to improve collaboration in child-related research, policy and practice.

I'm glad the money is being spent on kids. I am forced to ask why this initiative was not included in the budget 3 days ago. Anyone know of a dramatic development in children's policy in the last 3 days? A development so dramatic it could change the government's previous philosophy of leaving it to the states?
The governor-general is on administrative leave, long live the governor-general
From Howard's interview with Ray Martin:


Do you think that he's had a fair go, that the public debate has been fair?


Some aspects of the public debate have been very unfair. Some people appear to pick on him quite unnecessarily, I mean he was attacked for not going to Bali within the first few days of that tragedy. He really couldn't, decisions had to be made and the person who had to go to Bali was the Prime Minister and he had commitments in another part of the world which were important in celebrating a battle 60 years ago in which Australia had been involved and I think that was very unfair. He obviously made a big error of judgment in relation to that case in Queensland, he knows that. But beyond that I really don't want to get into further discussion. He stood aside, the administrator, Sir Guy Green, is being sworn in tomorrow morning, I called on him as a matter of courtesy at Government House this afternoon, life goes on, he'll be picking up Dr Hollingworth's programme and the show goes on.

1. If Hollingworth did make a 'big error of judgment' (Howard's own words) then what is the problem with the church inquiry that found Hollingworth made a 'serious error of judgment'?

2. If we should be spending $60 million on children's services instead of a federal inquiry into child abuse why is that Howard's own budget, like its predecessors, kept such low federal outlays for children's services? Where is the $60 million?

3. I am glad that the prime minister now believes in fair public debate. All he needs to do to prove his conversion is tell us just a little more about the children in the water in the Truth Overboard incident.

4. Is this issue about to become a wedgie for the master of wedge politics?
spare the gun and spoil the child
Tim, over at the Road to Surfdom, blogs:

Well, a euphemism is a wonderful thing, but apart from the use of them ("agressively targetting") the only specific denial given here is that children won't be shot. Those old softies. Other than that, there doesn't really sound like there is a much of a change at all.

I'm appalled. How could Tim accuse that nice Mr Rumsfeld of being an old softie. Next he'll accuse him of being a pointy-headed, panty-waisted, knock-kneed, lily-livered liberal. Secretary Rumsfeld may say that he's not going to shoot children but he obviously means non-threatening children. If any of those dangerous Guant�namo-style children are around they'll be filled full of lead as fast as the secretary can whip out his six-shooter.

Just so we can all sleep safely in our beds, we are told:

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has defended the detention of the boys - aged between 13 and 15 - at Camp Delta, saying they are "enemy combatants", captured while fighting for the Taleban or al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the boys were being held "for a very good reason - for our safety".

"They may be juveniles - but they're not on a Little League team anywhere," he said at a news conference along with Mr Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Friday.

"They're on a major league team, and it's a terrorist team. Some have killed. Some have stated they're going to kill again.

Shame on Tim for misrepresenting the new policy in this way.

15 May 2003

The Southerly Buster
Henry Lawson

THERE'S a wind that blows out of the South in the drought,
����And we pray for the touch of his breath
When siroccos come forth from the North-West and North,
����Or in dead calms of fever and death.
With eyes glad and dim we should sing him a hymn,
����For depression and death are his foes,
And he gives us new life for the bread-winning strife?
����When the glorious Old Southerly blows.

Old Southerly Buster! your forces you muster
����Where seldom a wind bloweth twice,
And your - white-caps - have hint of the snow caps, and glint of
����The far-away barriers of ice.
No wind the wide sea on can sing such a poean
����Or do the great work that you do;
Our own wind and only, from seas wild and lonely?
����Old Southerly Buster! To you!

Oh, the city is baked, and its thirst is unslaked,
����Though it swallows iced drinks by the score,
And the blurred sky is low and the air seems aglow
����As if breezes would cool it no more.
We are watching all hands where the Post Office stands?
����We are watching out hopefully too?
For a red light shall glower from the Post Office tower
����When the Southerly Buster is due.

The yachts run away at the end of the day
����From the breakers commencing to comb,
For a few he may swamp in the health-giving romp
����With the friendly Old Southerly home.
But he never drowns one, for the drowning is done
����By the fools, or the reckless in sport;
And the alleys and slums shall be cooled when he comes
����With the weary wind-jammers to port.

Oh softly he plays through the city's hot ways
����To the beds where they're calling 'Come quick!'
He is gentle and mild round the feverish child,
����And he cools the hot brow of the sick.
Clearing drought-hazy skies, up the North Coast he hies
����Till the mouths of our rivers are fair?
And along the sea, too, he has good work to do,
����For he takes the old timber-tubs there.

- Tis a glorious mission, Old Sydney's Physician!
����Broom, Bucket, and Cloth of the East,
- Tis a breeze and a sprayer that answers our prayer,
����And it?s free to the greatest and least.
The red-lamp?s a warning to drought and its scorning?
����A sign to the city at large?
Hence! Headache and Worry! Despondency hurry!
����Old Southerly Buster's in charge

Old Southerly Buster! your forces you muster
����Where seldom a wind bloweth twice,
And your - white-caps - have hint of the snow caps, and glint of
����The far-away barriers of ice.
No wind the wide sea on can sing such a poean
����Or do the great work that you do;
Our own wind and only, from seas wild and lonely?
����Old Southerly Buster! - To you!
weird little bit of history
By the way, a little bit of history here and just a touch of irony regarding those Abrams tanks on Baghdad streets. Tanks were invented by the British, and originally called "land ships." But in an effort to keep their development secret from German spies, they were said to be mobile water tanks for use in Mesopotamia. The name "tank" stuck and, heh, heh, the name Mesopotamia didn't. In the postwar partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, it became Iraq.

Nuclear watchdog fears terrorist dirty bomb after looting at al-Tuwaitha
United Nations nuclear inspectors, barred from Iraq by Washington, are increasingly worried that the widespread looting and ransacking of Iraq's nuclear facilities may result in terrorists building a radioactive "dirty bomb".

The inspectors' concerns are shared internationally and the British government has reportedly offered to raise the matter with Washington to try to get agreement on a return of the UN nuclear inspectors to Iraq.

The main worry revolves around the fate of at least 200 radioactive isotopes which were stored at the sprawling al-Tuwaitha nuclear complex, 15 miles south of Baghdad. It has seen widespread looting, and reports from Baghdad speak of locals making off with barrels of raw uranium and the isotopes which are meant for medical or industrial use.

"If this happened anywhere else there would be national outrage and it would be the highest priority," said a senior source at the UN nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

Of course, if this nightmare scenario actually happens it will probably be used as justification for an invasion of France or something. Link courtesy of Gyre.
The Unseen War
Before arriving in Doha, I had spent hours watching CNN back home, and I was sadly reminded of the network's steady decline in recent years. Paula Zahn looked and talked like a cheerleader for the US forces; Aaron Brown kept reaching for the profound remark without ever finding it; Wolf Blitzer politely interviewed Washington's high and mighty, seldom asking a pointed question. None of them, however, appeared on the broadcasts I saw in Doha. Instead, there were Jim Clancy, a tough-minded veteran American correspondent, Michael Holmes, a soft-spoken Australian, and Becky Anderson, a sharp and inquisitive British anchor. This was CNN International, the edition broadcast to the world at large, and it was far more serious and informed than the American version.

The difference was not accidental. Six months before the war began, I was told, executives at CNN headquarters in Atlanta met regularly to plan separate broadcasts for America and the world. Those executives knew that Zahn's girl-next-door manner and Brown's spacey monologues would not go down well with the British, French, or Germans, much less the Egyptians or Turks, and so the network, at huge expense, fielded two parallel but separate teams to cover the war. And while there was plenty of overlap, especially in the reports from the field, and in the use of such knowledgeable journalists as Christiane Amanpour, the international edition was refreshingly free of the self-congratulatory talk of its domestic one. In one telling moment, Becky Anderson, listening to one of Walter Rodgers's excited reports about US advances in the field, admonished him: "Let's not give the impression that there's been no resistance." Rodgers conceded that she was right.

I am beginning to understand why my friends in the US had such different views of the war from what I was hearing and seeing. Link courtesy of Dormouse Dreaming.

Read Krugman on this issue as well, although his focus is governmental, not marketing, pressure on the media:

And the implicit trading surely extends to news content. Imagine a TV news executive considering whether to run a major story that might damage the Bush administration ? say, a follow-up on Senator Bob Graham's charge that a Congressional report on Sept. 11 has been kept classified because it would raise embarrassing questions about the administration's performance. Surely it would occur to that executive that the administration could punish any network running that story.

Meanwhile, both the formal rules and the codes of ethics that formerly prevented blatant partisanship are gone or ignored. Neil Cavuto of Fox News is an anchor, not a commentator. Yet after Baghdad's fall he told "those who opposed the liberation of Iraq" ? a large minority ? that "you were sickening then; you are sickening now." Fair and balanced.

We don't have censorship in this country; it's still possible to find different points of view. But we do have a system in which the major media companies have strong incentives to present the news in a way that pleases the party in power, and no incentive not to.

I am beginnning as well to understand why The Australian, Murdoch's Oz flagship, is suddenly getting all neoconservative fair and balanced lately.

14 May 2003

Prime Minister's statement to parliament
In addition to meeting these obligations, the coalition is working hard to rid Iraq of all weapons of mass destruction. The hunt for these weapons will not be easy. We know that in order to protect them from inspectors, the Iraqi regime broke them up and hid them in their disaggregated condition in different parts of the country.

We are starting to uncover the evidence. We have found what appear to be mobile biological weapons production facilities, just like those described by Secretary of State Powell to the Security Council in February.

It is going to take considerable time and resources to complete the investigation and destruction of the regime's weapons of mass destruction. But at least we will no longer obstructed by a hostile regime.

This is just factually wrong. The alleged mobile labs remain in question although alternative explanations have been offered. In his early February address to the Security Council Powell claimed many other things - aluminium tubes, the African uranium procurement, the poison and explosive training center camp - that we now know do not exist. Two mobile labs, now disavowed, do not match what Howard claimed to parliament in his war address on 18 March. In Powell's address, btw, he also complimented the UK on their 'fine paper' which we now know to have been plagiarised.

It's bit sad that the massive programd escribed by Powell is now reduced to 2 mobile labs whose purpose is not beyond doubt. At least the prime minister has abandoned the silly signposts metaphor.
The Balloon of the Mind

HANDS, do what you're bid;
Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed.

W B Yeats
Interesting site that tries to compile a link-based index of similar blogs. My 3 most similar are blogs The road to surfdom, Troppo Armadillo and the eponymous John Quiggin. You'd think all 3 would blogroll me at the drop of a spelling correction...
I hate blogger
I've tried everything to make the damn archives work short of painting myself blue and dancing naked round a whiskey bottle. In this weather I might not need the paint.
Senate lists governor-general's faults as it calls for sacking
The Government also narrowed its defence of Dr Hollingworth. Previously senior ministers had sought to quarantine his actions as archbishop from those as Governor-General, saying he had done nothing wrong in his current role.

However, yesterday the Government leader in the Senate, Robert Hill, refined this further in the face of allegations that Dr Hollingworth may have given inaccurate evidence to the church inquiry while he was Governor-General, saying he had done nothing wrong in his official duties.

Next the Howard government will claim Peter Hollingworth had his fingers crossed when he promised to tell the truth.

13 May 2003

Coalition forces arrest Magneto
Okay, they didn't really. Well not yet. When 'Mrs Anthrax' was arrested a few days ago a number of people blogged that the nom de guerre was a recent invention of the media.

Now we have the arrest of Dr Germ. Step through a Google news search and you'll find that the phrase 'Dr Germ' was first used on 29 April. Somehow no-one ever calls Bush the Illusionist or Mr Chad. I know the media want exciting catchy titles for all these people but do they really need to make the human catastrophe of war palatable by making it read like a comic book?

Now I had to go hunting today because people have been using jump the shark a bit lately and 1. I didn't know what it meant and 2. I felt left out because I couldn't use it. It strikes me that comic booking these previously unknown Iraqis as Mrs Anthrax and Dr Germ gives the impression that 1. the new coinage is of long standing and 2 their crimes are so well-established as to be beyond question.
snark of the week
In Southerly Buster's continuing effort to reward good vitriol wherever it occurs, this week's prize goes to Clare Short:

Mr Blair had failed to stand up to President Bush - and was not so much a poodle ("poodles get off their lead and jump about") as a figleaf. "Fig leaves just stay where they are," she told the Guardian.

An honourable mention to CalPundit:
Bush is aggressive, he gives no quarter, and, in fact, pursues only popular programs. Tax cuts? Check. War with Iraq? Check. Bashing the UN? Check. As Tapped notes, on the only genuinely tricky decision he's had to make, therapeutic cloning, he took a wishy washy stance guaranteed not to offend anyone too badly. The same thing seems to be happening right now in the Middle East too, where Bush has so far been unwilling to take a bold stance that carries with it any serious risk of failure.
Short update
The resignation speech is now available. Link courtesy of DailyKos.

In our first term the problem was spin. Endless announcements, exaggeration and manipulation of the media that undermined people's respect for the Government and trust in what we said. It was accompanied by a control-freak style which has created many of the problems of excessive bureaucracy and centralised targets that is undermining the success of our public sector reforms. In the second term the problem is the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion.

It is increasingly clear, I am afraid, the Cabinet has become in Bagehot's phrase a dignified part of the constitution adjoining the Privy Council. There is no real collective responsibility because there is no collective, just diktats in favour of increasingly badly thought-through policy initiatives that come from on-high.

The consequences of this are serious. Expertise in our system lies in departments. Those who dictate from the centre do not have full access to this expertise and they do not consult. This leads to bad policy.

In addition under our constitutional arrangements legal, political and financial responsibility flows through Secretaries of State to Parliament. Increasingly those who are wielding power are not accountable and are not scrutinised. Thus we have the powers of a presidential type system with the automatic majority of a parliamentary system. My conclusion is that these arrangements are leading to increasingly poor policy initiatives being rammed through Parliament, straining and abusing party loyalty and undermining the people's respect for our political system.

In Australia ministers generally only resign when forced out by their leader, when trying to depose their leader, or when caught doing something unacceptable. Nothing in Short's remarks about the decaying structure of cabinet government in Britain would be unfamiliar to an Australian observer. One suspects that the sovereign's traditional power to be consulted, to advise and to warn is more easily exercised by Elizabeth II than by a governor-general now dependent on John Howard for his continuance in office.

Short's point that a prime minister backed by an automatic legislative majority has much greater powers than an executive president should be drilled into the resisting brains of the delegates at the next constitutional convention. In fact, because party discipline is much stricter here only the continued existence of an independent senate (opposed by the prime minister and his courtiers) acts as any real check to the executive power.
Short resignation letter
Uk International development Secretary Clare Short has resigned from the Blair government. She says in her letter of resignation:

As you know, I thought the run-up to the conflict in Iraq was mishandled, but I agreed to stay in the government to help support the reconstruction effort for the people of Iraq.

I am afraid that the assurances you gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached.

The security council resolution that you and Jack [Straw, the foreign secretary] have so secretly negotiated contradicts the assurance I have given in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the legal authority of the occupying powers, and the need for a UN-led process to establish a legitimate Iraqi government. This makes my position impossible.

"I am sad and sorry that it has ended like this.

This is not rhetoric of the same order as Robin Cook's magnificent speech to the house of commons but it does tell us one thing. Blair gave assurances to his ministers about postwar reconstruction and has breached them, presumably at US instance. Still Blair also gave WMD assurances to the house of commons and deceiving parliament is worse than deceiving a cabinet minister.

Just quietly I also wonder why Australia and Poland are not listed as liberating occupying powers in the Blair/Straw resolution? Maybe some brave soul will ask a ministerial question when the federal parliament resumes today in Canberra.

12 May 2003

how to act on principle
Dr Peter Hollingworth on 1 May:
Dr Hollingworth accepts, as he did in his statement of 20 February 2002 prior to the establishment of the Board of Inquiry, that he made a serious error of judgement.� He acknowledges that he would reach a different conclusion today.

Now we hear that Hollingworth believes he was denied natural justice. I guess his statements of 1 May 2003 and 20 February 2002 are now inoperative. The opposition really should be asking if the taxpayer is funding this nonsensical exercise in spin which seems to be motivated only by a desire to stay in office at all costs.

Standing the governor-general down does not solve the problem. It is only a first step. At his press conference the prime minister said:

It is only when those proceedings have been determined that the Governor General can give proper consideration to his longer term tenure of his office. The Governor General has told me in giving consideration to the longer term tenure of that office that he will place the dignity and the protection of the office above all other consideration. It remains my view that the Governor General has not done anything during the tenure of his office as Governor General to warrant my recommending to the Queen that his commission should be terminated or his appointment ended.

The governor-general has been at best misleading about matters of fact arising from the pedophile protection allegations and has made misleading statements while in office as governor-genral. The claim that the governor-general, far from accepting the church report as he stated on 1 May, believes he was denied natural justice is belied by the church report itself which reads:

5.3 When this was done, a collection of these documented events was circulated to relevant stakeholders, in an endeavour to achieve agreement as to the basic facts. This was accompanied or followed by the Board submitting its preliminary conclusions and perceived areas of potential criticism to the relevant persons. This resulted in a lengthy and relatively complex exchange of correspondence between the Board and the stakeholders which has continued up to this time.

5.4 There has been criticism because it is said that the Board has not conducted hearings. This criticism is misconceived. The Board has been relevantly and adequately informed by reference to contemporaneous documentation concerning the particular complaint, and by written statements of fact, comment and submissions. The Board has also undertaken a small number of recorded telephone conversations. The Board has received a mass of documented information and comments and submissions from or on behalf of relevant persons.

The report continues for many pages discussing its difficult correspondence with Bravehearts Inc. There is nothing of any objection by Peter Hollingworth to the board's method of proceeding. Only now, when the public relations exercise on 1 May becomes unsustainable, does the natural justice claim emerge. Not on 1 May. Not during the board's investigation. Not since the report was released. Spin, pure and simple.

I do not understand why the trial of the rape allegation operates to stay any decision on the governor-general's future. His responsibilities as a public official surely override his private desire to clear his name. But then that would be holding Peter Hollingworth to standards of conduct greater than those he required of others as archbishop of Brisbane.
WMD search goes off the rails
From the UK Independent:

Every day for the last fortnight Salam Salom, a top Iraqi railwayman, has sat down with the Americans. They discussed the bomb-damaged track, the wrecked communications network, and the looters who descended on the rolling stock like a plague of locusts.

But one subject has not come up. There has never been any mention, he says, of chemical or biological weapons.

"They have not discussed this with me," he said, after yet another round of talks with a US army officer in the imperious monolith erected by the British in 1953 to serve as Baghdad's main railway terminal. "Perhaps they talked to the director-general about it, but it has not been raised with me."

If true, this is remarkable. The Americans are supposedly conducting an intensive search to find the illicit weapons programme whose alleged existence served as a pretext for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Three months ago, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, declared that the US had a first-hand description of mobile biological weapons factories that ran on wheels and rails so that they could be moved around to evade detection by UN inspectors.

Mr Salom is the traffic manager for the entire 2,000km rail network ? high up the pecking order in the Baathist-dominated management structure of Iraqi national railways. He may very well be a stranger to Saddam Hussein's closest military secrets, but one might expect him at least to be asked about the issue by US officials. Yet, he insists, there has been nothing.

This is interesting. The occupation has not restored basic services. The occupation has not even put much energy into the WMD search (apart from the prime minister's odd obsession with signposts). Nuclear sites were left unguarded while they were looted. None of the alleged WMD sites have checked out. The recent discovery of the WMD trailers, taken at its highest, would mean only that the arsenal to destroy the world consisted of a couple of molecules on a couple of trucks. If there was a gigantic arsenal you'd expect the liberating occupying powers to be looking for it as their first priority.

At minimum you'd expect the nuclear sites to have been secured against looting and the danger of transfer of nuclear materials to other governments or terrorist groups.

There are only two logical possibilities. The failure to search means either stellar incompetence (never impossible with the Bush administration) or that the occupation did not bother with searching and securing because they already knew there was nothing to search and secure.

Meanwhile the rubbish still rots in Baghdad streets and the Baghdad raj is being reshuffled amid plaintive cries from those being recalled that they were always going to be recalled. it's udnerstood a number of flying pigs have been despatched to Baghdad to bring these people home.
a black and white issue
I guess I (and every other Australian in the blogosphere) will say something about the governor-general in the next few days. For now I confess I am amazed that a government insisting that Geoff Clark stand down during the civil trial of a rape allegation did not immediately apply the same standard to Peter Hollingworth. I do not think the rape allegation alters in any way the case for the governor-general to go. I do think a double standard was in force until the prime minister's press conference and I am glad that is no longer the case.

11 May 2003

they must have run out of signposts
The Washington Post reports that the initial search for weapons of mass destruction is ending.

Army Col. Robert Smith, who leads the site assessment teams from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said task force leaders no longer "think we're going to find chemical rounds sitting next to a gun." He added, "That's what we came here for, but we're past that."

Motivated and accomplished in their fields, task force members found themselves lacking vital tools. They consistently found targets identified by Washington to be inaccurate, looted and burned, or both. Leaders and members of five of the task force's eight teams, and some senior officers guiding them, said the weapons hunters were going through the motions now to "check the blocks" on a prewar list.

U.S. Central Command began the war with a list of 19 top weapons sites. Only two remain to be searched. Another list enumerated 68 top "non-WMD sites," without known links to special weapons but judged to have the potential to offer clues. Of those, the tally at midweek showed 45 surveyed without success.

Task Force 75's experience, and its impending dissolution after seven weeks in action, square poorly with assertions in Washington that the search has barely begun.

In his declaration of victory aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, President Bush said, "We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated." Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that U.S. forces had surveyed only 70 of the roughly 600 potential weapons facilities on the "integrated master site list" prepared by U.S. intelligence agencies before the war.

But here on the front lines of the search, the focus is on a smaller number of high-priority sites, and the results are uniformly disappointing, participants said.

This is what happens when you go to war on the basis of a plagiarised master's thesis and the excitable rabbitings of an administration desperate for war. The shabby record of the PNAC material shows these people wanted to invade Iraq long before 11 September. They justified it on weapons of mass destruction and they cannot find any weapons of mass destruction.

All three coalition leaders, Bush, Blair and Howard claimed to hold intelligence confirming WMD in iraq. I would have thought such intelligence might actually locate said WMD in Iraq. Indeed if there was any real intelligence of such weapons you'd expect the signpost to be a little more specific than 'somewhere in Iraq'. The next few question times in the UK house of commons and the Australian house of representatives should be extremely interesting. Bush is probably fortunate he does not have to face unstaged events and answer unscripted questions.
El p�jaro
Octavio Paz

En el silencio transparente
el d�a reposaba:
la transparencia del espacio
era la transparencia del silencio.
La inm�vil luz del cielo sosegaba
el crecimiento de las yerbas.
Los bichos de la tierra, entre las piedras,
bajo la luz id�ntica, eran piedras.
El tiempo en el minuto se saciaba.
En la quietud absorta
se consumaba el mediod�a.

Y un p�jaro cant�, delgada flecha.
Pecho de plata herido vibr� el cielo,
se movieron las hojas,
las yerbas despertaron...
Y sent� que la muerte era una flecha
que no se sabe qui�n dispara
y en un abrir los ojos nos morimos.

writer's blog
What's so damn seductive about bloggery? When I'm not casting pearls of wisdom into the blogosphere I've been known to write the occasional poem, an almost-finished novel, etc etc. I've even been known to deal with writer's block by dashing off a fanfic story here and there. For some reason I've spent the last few days blocked on one writing issue and instead of getting anything on paper (quaint white stuff you make marks on) I keep on thinking of stuff to post about here.

Fanfic is attractive because the feedback is instantaneous. No more sweating over verse forms at 2 am in the morning wondering if you'll ever get read. I suspect the same thing drives blogitis.

I guess I could ask people to stop reading me here until I get more done there, but then I'm about as likely to do that as Howard is to name Mike Carlton governor-general.
damn, I'm agreeing with Friedman
From Friedman's attempt to channel Saddam:

When you broke my army, you broke the most important secular institution in the country, and the clerics are rushing to fill the void. Some are OK, and some are bad news.

Since the Shiites make up 60 per cent of Iraq, if you're going to let the people here rule, that means the most important question for you is: Who dominates the Iraqi Shiite community? Not only is the future of Iraq at stake in the answer, but also, to some extent, the future of Iran.

How so? Remember, the real academic and spiritual centre of Shiism is the Iraqi town of Najaf, not the Iranian city of Qom. Qom is a backwater that became religiously important only because I crushed my Shiites, while Khomeini created a Shiite theocracy in Iran.

Most Iraqi Shiite spiritual leaders in Najaf have long opposed Khomeini's notion that Shiite clerics should be in power. They think this has corrupted the clergy in Iran, angered the people and driven young Shiites away from their religion.

You've now set off a fight for control of Najaf, between those Iraqi Shiite leaders who believe in the separation between mosque and state, and the pro-Iranian clerics who want to run Iraq Khomeini style.

That's why the Iranians are so concerned about what's happening here. They know if Najaf re-emerges as the centre of Shiism - and if it's dominated by Iraqi ayatollahs who don't believe that the clergy should be in politics - the claim of the Iranian clergy to remain in power will be weakened.

This is the most important power struggle in the Middle East today. For now, the Iraqi Shiite clergy in Najaf are weak. They don't have many senior clerics. I kept it that way. But you can't just install your own Iraqi Shiite leaders. They will have to emerge on their own.

You need to create the conditions in Najaf whereby students can come back and the natural Iraqi-Arab Shiite traditions can flower again to counter the Iranians.

Now a sensible adviser might say to Bush: 'The Shi'ites have divisions and if the Iraqi Shi'ite clergy increase their power that will weaken the Iranian Shi'ite theocrats.' Sadly, such an adviser would probably be accused of being French.