27 September 2003

Dogging, or sex under the stars - www.smh.com.au

Voyeurs and exhibitionists drawn to outdoor fun have discovered erotic pleasures in normally placid English parks that have nothing to do with walking the dog.

'Dogging', a term that loosely describes a variety of sex acts performed outdoors or in parked cars in front of strangers (and sometimes with them), has become such a craze that health authorities have warned against its dangers. The term 'dogging' apparently comes from those who claim only to be 'taking the dog for a walk' - but are actually on the prowl for something more.

Web sites have sprung up across Britain extolling the pleasures of sex under the stars and online message boards list the best parks and carparks to watch people express themselves.

An academic who set out to study anti-social behaviour in parks and stumbled on a thriving dogging underworld said dangers were also lurking in the bushes.


26 September 2003

Howard in retreat on Iraq arsenal - www.smh.com.au

When Mr Howard committed troops to war in March he said Iraq had 'begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents, probably including mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX'.

Five months before the war, when Australia was already helping the US plan an invasion, he said: 'There is no doubt on the evidence, on the intelligence material available to us, that not only does Iraq possess chemical and biological weapons, but Iraq also has not abandoned her nuclear aspirations.'

During the war, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said: 'I certainly think the chemical, and probably biological, weapons exist. I don't think there's any doubt about that.'

Mr Howard yesterday said he had received credible intelligence on Iraq's 'WMD capability'.

'The intelligence we had at the time about their capability was very credible and very strong and I don't retreat one iota from the decision that we took [to go to war].'

When Howard was confronted with the State Department's questioning of the Iraq war his explanation was that it was only one line in a 66-page report. The ONA director-general threw himself on his sword and said that no-one told the prime minister.

When Howard was confronted with the Nigerien yellowcake fraud his explanation was that no-one told the Prime Minister.

When Howard was confronted with the 14 February JIC report his explanation was that it 'went into the mix' but was not specifically drawn to his attention. No-one has yet told us who it was that had not told the prime minister.

Now we have the ISG draft turning up all over Washington and still, no-one has told the prime minister.

Really, with his failure to keep himself informed on a question of war and peace is it not time the prime minister polished up his management skills? I'm sure there are some basic TAFE courses he could enroll for.

Bush has a battle on his hands

Rather than spurring the creation of a united front, the recurring attacks have seemed to spark infighting among the hawks. After Cheney revived a two-year-old story on a nationally broadcast television news program last Sunday about an alleged meeting between one of the September 11 hijackers and an Iraqi spy in Prague in April 2001, Rumsfeld told reporters three days later he had seen nothing to connect Saddam Hussein to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, an assessment backed up by Rice and then by Bush himself.

At the same time, neo-conservatives outside the administration and close to Cheney, Wolfowitz and Feith kept up an offensive this week denouncing Rumsfeld's refusal to increase the number of US troops in Iraq to reduce insecurity there. Several neo-cons, including Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, also assailed Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, for allegedly warning Republicans that there must be 'no more wars' for the remainder of Bush's first term. The public nature of this infighting is remarkable in an administration that has obsessed about message management and spin control.

I think this is history's first case of rats trying to stay on a sinking ship.

While they flog a dead horse. But then in the Middle Ages dead horses were catapulted over city walls as a way to spread disease. Perhaps the Iraq Survey Group will find some dead horses of mass destruction somewhere in Iraq.

Don't Blame Bush's Speechwriters

These long months of weirdly combining tough talk with inadequate force have not only stood on its head Theodore Roosevelt's sage advice to 'speak softly and carry a big stick' but also seem almost to dare, taunt, and provoke our enemies into renewed attacks on American and British troops, friendly Jordanian officials, and supportive Iraqi police and religious authorities.

Perhaps, in order to induce other countries to send their troops to serve under an exclusive American command in Iraq, the president should promise to keep quiet. Unfortunately, on Tuesday at the United Nations the president was back at it again, declaring, 'Across the Middle East, people are safer' and proclaiming that the terrorists in Iraq 'will be defeated.' So, do not blame the speechwriters for the president's willful, wishful prevarications. Do not blame the US military for his initial unilateralism and inadequate force. And to our critics in Europe, I have this: Do not blame the American people -- they voted for Gore.

Go read...

25 September 2003

Iraqi council backs off foreign ownership

BAGHDAD - Iraq's Governing Council on Wednesday backed off from a pledge by its finance minister to allow 100 percent foreign ownership in most economic sectors here, saying his comments were not 'official.'

A statement issued by the US-installed council distanced it from a key part of a sweeping economic package presented by interim Finance Minister Kamel al-Kilani at the International Monetary Fund meeting in Dubai on Sunday.

The text said only the council president could announce policy, 'and the statements attributed to the finance minister about the law of investment cannot be considered official.'

The minister's announcement that Iraq would be open to 100-percent foreign ownership in all sectors except oil had sparked criticism in Iraqi business circles.

al-Kilani is a Chalabi nominee so his attempt to enact the Washington Cosnensus is not all that unexpected.

Electronic voting: The Empire Strikes Back

Two major fronts have opened up in the battle over the use of potentially vulnerable voting technologies in just the past couple of days. Both of them warrant significant media attention, but seem at present to be going ignored. So we'll document them here in the hopes it will finally surface.

The usual meticulous research from Orcinus.

The hunt for weapons of mass destruction yields - nothing

An intensive six-month search of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction has failed to find a single trace of an illegal arsenal, according to accounts of a report circulated in Washington and London.

A draft of the report, compiled by the CIA-led 1,400-strong Iraq Survey Group (ISG), has been sent to the White House, the Pentagon and Downing Street, a US intelligence source said, and will contain no evidence of Iraqi stockpiles of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

'It demonstrates that the main judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in October 2002, that Saddam had hundreds of tonnes of chemical and biological agents ready, are false,' said the source.

The Security Council was right. The peace movement was right. Howard, Bush and Blair were wrong. The legal case for the Iraq war was built on sand. Australia has fought an unlawful and unjust war. Before the war all three leaders disavowed liberation as a war aim.

Naturally, no-one told the prime minister.

DeadBrain - White House sacks Bush speechwriters after poor UN performance

'We just have to work out the contract details, but we fully expect to have Mr al-Sahaf onboard before next season's campaign against evil-doers begins,' said the official. While no details are available at present there is a growing view in Washington that the US may have to take on a number of other Middle Eastern countries, particularly as it now appears that the Iraq Survey Group's interim report, due to be published next month, will say that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

'OK, so maybe we got the wrong country,' said the official, 'but we know WMDs are out there somewhere, and we'll need a good speechwriter like Mr al-Sahaf to help the President convince the doubting Jacques and Gerhards.'


Guzzlers will pay in drive to save water

Sydney's water-guzzling households will be hit with hefty excess charges under a scheme to be announced by the Carr Government.

The Government also plans to impose tough price penalties on Sydney Water if it takes more from dams than will be replaced naturally.

From 2005, households that consume above the average of 300 kilolitres a year should expect to pay as much as $5 for each additional kilolitre. Water below the threshold will remain relatively cheap at about 98 cents a kilolitre.

Is this what's known as 'soaking the rich'?

More seriously, the top 20% of households use 40% of the water. Conservation is better than straining the Sydney basin with a new dam or importing water from other catchment areas.

Blackbox Voting Scoop

The material suppressed at the instance of Diebold has now been posted by Scoop.co.nz. Diebold can hardly deny the authenticity of the memos they've had suppressed. Their letter of demand asserted copyright in the memos.
Seriously, anyone who thinks electronic voting is a good idea should go read the full article.

More on this at Infernal Press, Seeing the Forest, and The Agonist.

24 September 2003

Bush to World: Drop Dead! - The president lays an egg at the U.N. By Fred Kaplan

Has an American president ever delivered such a bafflingly impertinent speech before the General Assembly as the one George W. Bush gave this morning?

Here were the world's foreign ministers and heads of state, anxiously awaiting some sign of an American concession to realism, even the sketchiest outline of a plan to share not just the burden but the power of postwar occupation in Iraq. And Bush gave them nothing, in some ways less than nothing.

In the few seconds he devoted to that subject, he cited only three areas in which the role of the United Nations (or any other nations) should be expanded: writing an Iraqi constitution, training a new corps of civil servants, and supervising elections. None of these notions is new.

Otherwise, Bush's message can be summarized as follows: The U.S.-led occupation authority is doing good work in Iraq; you should come help us; if you don't, you're on the side of the terrorists.

The best summation of Bush's Manichaean nonsense I've seen.

Alleged trouser snake smuggler refused bail

A man has appeared in a Sydney court charged with trying to smuggle snakes into the country in his trousers.

Per Adolfsson, 28, was arrested at Sydney airport on Monday night after he flew in from Thailand.

Customs officers say they found a total of eight snakes - four cobras and four boas - in cardboard packages strapped to his calves, which protected him from being bitten by the cobras.

The boas are being kept at Taronga Park Zoo but the cobras died en route.

Nice to see a man happy in his work...

Not Science Fiction: An Elevator to Space

SANTA FE, NM With advances toward ultrastrong fibers, the concept of building an elevator 60,000 miles high to carry cargo into space is moving from the realm of science fiction to the fringes of reality.

This month, the Los Alamos National Laboratory was a sponsor of a conference to ponder the concept. Yet, the keynote address was by a titan of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke, speaking via satellite from his home in Sri Lanka. 'I'm happy that people are taking it more and more seriously,' said Mr. Clarke, whose novel 'The Fountains of Paradise' (1978) revolved around such a space elevator.

The discovery in 1991 of nanotubes, cylindrical molecules of carbon with many times the strength of steel, turned the idea from a fantastical impossibility to an intriguing possibility that could be realized in as little as a decade or two.

Proponents say the economic and technological advantages of a space elevator over rockets make it inevitable. They predict it will lower the cost of putting a satellite into space from $10,000 a pound to $100.

'As soon as we can build it, we should build it,' said Dr. Bryan E. Laubscher, a scientist at Los Alamos who organized the conference. Just as the transcontinental railroad opened the West in the late 1800's, 'I feel the space elevator is going to be such a paradigm shift in space access,' Dr. Laubscher said.

Easier economical access to space might also make practical other grandiose projects like solar power satellites that could collect sunlight and beam energy down to Earth.

The conference, a three-day session here, drew 60 people, a mix of scientists and engineers who are working on the concept, space enthusiasts who wanted to hear more and dilettantes from nearby Los Alamos laboratory attracted by curiosity.

The estimate is US$12 billion. That is a lot less than the International Space Station at US$100 billion. The environmental impacts would be radically less than the Shuttle which is also expensive and dangerous. All we need is the polymer/nanotube composite.

Blackbox Voting


Due to a dispute with Diebold, Incorporated, and its wholly owned subsidiary Diebold Election Systems, Inc. (collectively 'Diebold'), which is claiming links to certain materials that do not reside on the blackboxvoting.org website constitute� copyright infringement, blackboxvoting.org has been temporarily disabled.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause visitors and journalists to the blackboxvoting.org site and hope to have this matter resolved shortly.

In the interim, send questions or information requests to admin@blackboxvoting.org.

Link via DailyKOS

Bush isolated as speech to UN falls flat

Both Mr Chirac and the German chancellor Gerhard Schr�der, called for a transition within months, insisting that this was crucial to securing peace. Mr Bush has not laid out a timetable. 'This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis - neither hurried nor delayed by the voices of other parties' he said.

I guess George Bush's staff have told him he is an Iraqi, not an other party.

Water report recommends huge flow

Scientists have recommended a massive 1500 Gl extra flow for the Murray River to achieve significantly improved environmental outcomes, in a report leaked to The News.

The recommendation is likely to increase concern among irrigators who are worried they will have to hand over some of their water to achieve the target.

The scientific report also suggests that a total of 3000 Gl, equivalent to almost the whole capacity of Lake Eildon, would be needed to achieve a goal of a 'healthy, working River Murray system'.

The interim report has been prepared for the Murray Darling Basin Commission, which plans to release it in about three weeks.

Community Foodbowl Alliance chairman Peter Schwarz said the report would be viewed with some concern by irrigators because there was no indication yet where the extra water was going to come from.

He repeated earlier calls for the public release of the whole scientific report.

Murray Valley Community Action Group chairman Lester Wheatley said 1500 Gl was a benchmark figure established by the Ministerial Council without proper scientific consultation.

Fit's a pattern really. Reports contrary to the government's opinion don't get published if at all possible. The planned publication date, to coincide with the meeting of the MDB ministerial council, would have been swamped by the usual glowing reports of the ministerial decisions issued by the ministers. The 1500 gigalitre figure is a minimum to restore the river. Until now it was the maximum the MDB council was prepared to consider.

The 3000 gigalitre figure actually has some scientific basis unlike the lower figure decided by a politician standing blindfolded in front of a picture of a donkey.

Kofi Annan's address to the UN

In short, Excellencies, I believe the time is ripe for a hard look at fundamental policy issues, and at the structural changes that may be needed in order to strengthen them.

History is a harsh judge: it will not forgive us if we let this moment pass.

For my part, I intend to establish a High-Level Panel of eminent personalities, to which I will assign four tasks:

First, to examine the current challenges to peace and security;

Second, to consider the contribution which collective action can make in addressing these challenges;

Third, to review the functioning of the major organs of the United Nations and the relationship between them; and

Fourth, to recommend ways of strengthening the United Nations, through reform of its institutions and processes.

The Panel will focus primarily on threats to peace and security. But it will also need to examine other global challenges, in so far as these may influence or connect with those threats.

I will ask the Panel to report back to me before the beginning of the next session of this General Assembly, so that I can make recommendations to you at that session. But only you can take the firm and clear decisions that will be needed.

Those decisions might include far-reaching institutional reforms. Indeed, I hope they will.

But institutional reforms alone will not suffice. Even the most perfect instrument will fail, unless people put it to good use.

The United Nations is by no means a perfect instrument, but it is a precious one. I urge you to seek agreement on ways of improving it, but above all of using it as its founders intended to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, to reestablish the basic conditions for justice and the rule of law, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

The world may have changed, Excellencies, but those aims are as valid and urgent as ever. We must keep them firmly in our sights.

Okay, in a perfect world the EU would get a single European seat to replace the British and French seats. Latin America, Africa and the Muslim world would get a seat. Brazil, India, Japan and Indonesia have reasonable claims in their own right.

There is just not going to be agreement on the veto staying as it is or on the Big Five keeping an absolute veto while new members get nothing. Let's think about

  • restricting the absolute veto to the existing permanent members on Chapter VII matters only
  • requiring two permanent members for a veto on anything else
    • making any use of the veto conditional on ratifying and observing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    • contributing to UN peacekeeping operations
    • complying with the Security Council's resolutions

Bush extends exemption at Area 51

CARSON CITY, Nev. - Invoking national security, President Bush has renewed an exemption allowing the Air Force to keep mum about top-secret operations at a southern Nevada base.

Bush's memorandum said it was of 'paramount interest' to exempt the Groom Lake base about 90 miles north of Las Vegas from disclosing classified information.

Also known as Area 51, the mysterious base sits on a dry lake bed and is heavily patrolled. The area is in a no-fly zone.

The secrecy has fueled speculation about UFOs, aliens and other strange occurrences around Area 51.

Tempted as I am to launch another allegation of Bush conspiracy, I think I may have been scooped on this one.

Salon.com Technology | An open invitation to election fraud

SALON: But one of the problems with optical-scan ballots is that you have to print up a lot of paper -- and, you know, if this election is postponed until March, a lot of the counties are going to have huge bills because they have to print new ballots.

HARRIS: Oh, goodness! I hadn't thought of that. Huge, huge bills, completely wasted.

SALON: So isn't that an argument for touch-screen voting?

HARRIS: I think the touch screens, if they had a paper trail so that we could do a proper audit, they would be my choice. The thing is if you speak Chinese, they can print something in Chinese. There would be no reason for all these combinations of ballots that folks have. It's kind of a nightmare which would be solved with the touch screens that can print.

SALON: Yes, I imagine that's one of the main selling points for touch-screen machines.

HARRIS: I would think so. It's just that they're not auditable. I'm not opposed to it, and I think it has tremendous advantages, but it just needs to be auditable. That's a deal-breaker -- it has to be auditable. And why I've been so down on Diebold is because they're the poster child for why it has to be auditable.

Strangely enough John Stuart Mill gave the solution to this problem in On representative government:

The most serious, in appearance, of the objections may be the most briefly answered; the assumed impossibility of guarding against fraud, or suspicion of fraud, in the operations of the Central Office. Publicity, and complete liberty of inspecting the voting papers after the election, were the securities provided; but these, it is maintained, would be unavailing; because, to check the returns, a voter would have to go over all the work that had been done by the staff of clerks. This would be a very weighty objection, if there were any necessity that the returns should be verified individually by every voter. All that a simple voter could be expected to do in the way of verification would be to check the use made of his own voting paper; for which purpose every paper would be returned, after a proper interval, to the place from whence it came. But what he could not do would be done for him by the unsuccessful candidates and their agents. Those among the defeated who thought that they ought to have been returned would, singly or a number together, employ an agency for verifying the process of the election; and if they detected material error, the documents would be referred to a Committee of the House of Commons, by whom the entire electoral operations of the nation would be examined and verified, at a tenth part the expense of time and money necessary for the scrutiny of a single return before an Election Committee under the system now in force.

All that's needed is to give each voter a certified copy of their ballot that they can carry away. If there's any variance between the official tally and the certified copies it will show up quite quickly. It would even be possible (assuming a unique number with adequate security) to check individual ballots for their accuracy.

The ACT is investigating electronic voting. It's a rah rah project. I suspect Australia will have similar problems sometime soon.

23 September 2003

Arctic ice shelf splits

The largest ice shelf in the Arctic has fractured, releasing all the water from the freshwater lake it dammed.

The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is located on the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada's Nunavut territory.

The huge mass of floating ice, which has been in place for at least 3,000 years, is now in two major pieces.

The scientists who report the break-up in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) say it is further evidence of ongoing and accelerated climate change in the north polar region.

The researchers - Warwick Vincent and Derek Mueller of Laval University in Quebec City, Canada; and Martin Jeffries of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, US - have been studying the shelf onsite and through satellite radar imagery and helicopter overflights.

This is all extremely reassuring. No wonder the White House finds it necessary to redact environmental studies to show the earth is not warming.

The tangled WMD web

Last month, Kay privately reported successes that were to be revealed to the public in mid-September. Kay told his superiors he had found substantial evidence of biological weapons in Iraq, plus considerable missile development.

Then early this month the Boston Globe reported that Kay was expected to report that although US troops and experts had been unable to find any hard evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or long-range missiles, they had uncovered a vast conspiracy to deceive United Nations inspectors.

But, as Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, pointed out, 'If the newspaper is correct, the Kay Report will mark the official retreat of US and British prewar claims. However unintentionally, it will be a direct refutation of official assertions that we had to go to war to prevent Saddam Hussein from using massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and possibly nuclear weapons. Though weapons stocks may still be found, Kay will focus on 'dual use' capabilities that could quickly be reconfigured to manufacture weapons. Though such plans would have been a violation of UN resolutions, this will also be an indication that UN inspections were working. As long as inspectors were in the country, Iraq apparently did not expect to get away with active weapons production.'

But it is unlikely that the ISG report will even be able to prove the experience of a conspiracy that lasted up to shortly before the war began.

Last week former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, in an interview with Australia's ABC television from Sweden, said he now believes Iraq destroyed its WMD 10 years ago and that intelligence agencies were wrong in their weapons assessment that led to war.

On the same program, another former UN weapons inspector, David Albright, said of Kay: 'He's not finding the kinds of things the [US] administration expected to find, large quantities of biological and chemical weapons or evidence that they were destroyed prior to the war.'

This is getting silly. No report. No WMDs. Why the hell did we fight this war?

That's Life! - The poetry of Donald Rumsfeld, Volume 2. By Hart Seely

On Democracy

People elected

Those people to office.

That's what they think, and

That's life.

Guardian Unlimited | Leader: Say no to Iraqi privatisation

This is where the problems begin. First, these plans have no popular mandate. It would have been better to wait for an elected Iraqi government to produce a national economic plan rather than get a US-appointed Iraqi finance minister to rubber stamp them. Second, any dreams of a rapid transition to a free market in Iraq must be tempered by the fact that most of the population is dependent on state handouts. Not only is the state Iraq's biggest employer but the Iraqi people depend on a heavily subsidised system of inputs to industry and the inexpensive goods and services that result. In privatising Iraq's industries, one would expect businesses to become profitable - by raising prices or cutting costs and staff. The outcome could be unemployment and inflation, a recipe for chaos. Third, there is no effective legal system and Iraqi state institutions are still not functioning - both of which the Russian experiment showed were needed for big structural reforms.

It is true that Iraq's vast oil reserves, the world's second largest after Saudi Arabia's, will remain in government hands. But Washington is inflicting on Iraq what it would never accept itself. The US protects its airlines and media with foreign ownership restrictions, heavily subsidies its farmers and is prepared to slap import duties on steel. The US-inspired tariff-lowering and tax-cutting regime for Iraq is clearly inappropriate - especially when there is a clear need for revenue to finance the health and education needs of 25 million Iraqis. What the US is planning in Iraq is presumably what the world would look like if no one dissented. But they do - that is why the trade talks in Cancun failed. In adopting a neoliberal economic orthodoxy, the US falls into the trap of believing that the state has only to be removed from the sphere of the economy to see a vibrant free market appear. History suggests this process has to be managed by a stable, home-grown government. Iraq deserves to get one before enacting such major changes. In imposing free trade and removing the right to set tariffs, America has written its own unequal treaty with Baghdad. Washington should tear it up, before it is torn up by events.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, as noted by Juan Cole makes it unlawful for an occupation to do more than take essential caretaker decisions. This radical plan violates the convention and fundamentally changes Iraqi society without Iraqi consent.

In addition to the reasons advanced in the Guardian editorial, the plan should be withdrawn because it will make any Iraqi successor government incapable of managing its own economy or satisfying the demands of the Iraqi people and that is a recipe for the deepest chaos.

Big Lie on Iraq Comes Full Circle

Also, the weapons of mass destruction story was never true. It now appears that Saddam panicked in 1995 when his sons-in-law defected to Jordan and revealed the truth about his weapons development. He immediately ordered the destruction of all the evidence. The U.N. team before the war would have no more found any weapons than the Americans after the war.

Again, I'm not sure that the president knew the weapons argument was false. Perhaps some of his advisers believed it, or, as the Irish say, half-believed it. However, the American people now seem to suspect that they haven't been told the truth.

Why, then, did the United States invade Iraq if the reasons given for the war were so problematic? It would seem that the answer was the same as the reason as for climbing Mt. Everest: Iraq was there. The administration recited the ''war on terror'' mantra as a pretext for doing something that its intellectuals had wanted to do for years. No one in the administration expected that such a war would lead to more dangers of terrorism rather than less. The mantra has been used as an excuse for many things, from the Patriot Act to drilling for oil in Alaska. It won the 2002 election for the Republicans. It is supposed to win the presidential election next year. Will the big lie work? Perhaps, though it would seem that some are growing skeptical about its constant repetition.

Moreover, the corollary mantra, which says that Americans must make sacrifices to win the war on terror, is also in trouble. Who makes the sacrifices? The rich Americans celebrating their tax ''refunds''? The Republican leadership who have few if any sons and daughters in harm's way? Giant corporations like Dick Cheney's Halliburton or Bechtel? No, the sacrifices will be made mostly by the sons and daughters of the poor and the working class who must fight the war. Jessica Lynch joined the army so she could get money for a college education. Her roommate Lori Piestewa, who was killed in action, joined because she was a Native American single mother who needed the money to raise her two children.

There will be sacrifices made by schoolchildren who depend on state and local money, which has disappeared into the ''war effort,'' the elderly who will not benefit from prescription drug reform; the working men whose overtime pay the president wishes to cut; the chronically unemployed whose jobs have disappeared, and the future generations who will have to work to pay off the president's huge debt.

''War on terror'' is a metaphor. It is not an actual war, like the World War or the Vietnamese or Korean wars. It is rather a struggle against fanatical Islamic terrorists, exacerbated if not caused by the conflict in Palestine. When one turns a metaphor into a national policy, one not only misunderstands what is going on, one begins to slide toward the big lie. One invades Iraq because one needed a war."

'nuff said, really.

Labor can win, with anyone but Crean

After preferences, the parties would be at 50-50, or even 51-49 to Labor, said the ACNielsen research director, John Stirton.

Not only would 21 per cent change their vote for a generic Crean substitute, a further 13 per cent said they might do so, depending on who it was.

'While votes would shift in several directions [if Mr Crean were replaced] the net impact would be to return Labor to roughly the position they were in at the last election, if not a little stronger,' Mr Stirton said.

'It is important to stress that this probably represents a best case scenario for Labor, as clearly the leader chosen will have a different impact to the generic replacement tested in this poll.'

Approval of Mr Crean's performance as Opposition leader has dropped 2 per cent from the previous poll, on May 16-18, to 28 per cent, and his disapproval rate has risen by the same amount to 58 per cent.

Mr Crean no longer even has a majority of ALP voters behind him. His approval rate in this group plunged 10 points to 40 per cent, a record low. This compares with 59 per cent in January. Forty-five per cent of Labor voters disapprove of the way he is handling the job.

I wish this poll had included the name of some alternative leaders. If Crean were to step down, and ultimately I think he must, replacing him with Kim Beasley might not achieve a great deal.

New doctrine: admission by stealth

The United States Vice-President's retreat from prewar claims that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons appears to be part of a broader Bush Administration effort to abandon disputed assertions without admitting mistakes, experts say.

In an interview on Sunday, Dick Cheney rolled back his prewar claim that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons.

Two days earlier, the Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, had said he was mistaken when he claimed that 'a great many' high-ranking lieutenants of the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, were plotting with remnants of Saddam's regime to kill Americans in Iraq.

Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar who has worked for four presidents, said the Administration's goal 'is not to admit mistakes'.

'Their actions remind me of the old adage that being president is never having to say you're sorry,' Mr Hess said.

Like Geoff Hoon's effort over the 45 minutes it seems odd these mistakes only ever get corrected under pressure and long after their political impact has faded. Our own Man of Steel first mastered this art with the children overboard affair before moving on to forgetting he had met with the Manildra CEO. As far as I know the Man of Steel's allies in Washington and London have not yet mastered the 'no-one told me' technique, but I guess it's coming.

The other variant, mastered by Bush, is the high-level of announcement followed by the low-level disavowal. How many million more people heard Bush say the the WMDs had been found than heard later that the trailers of mass destruction were actually hydrogen generators?

Hoon failed to correct WMD headlines

The [UK] defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, today admitted that he did nothing to correct newspaper headlines about the 45-minute 'threat' from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, despite knowing they were misleading and untrue.

Under cross-examination by QCs for the BBC and David Kelly's family, Mr Hoon confessed that while he knew the 45-minute claim in the dossier referred to chemical shells, he did nothing to correct the mistake when the Evening Standard and other newspapers splashed the claim across their front pages on the publication of the Government's September dossier.

In a damning and unexpected line of questioning from the BBC's QC, Andrew Caldecott, Mr Hoon said he did not think he had any duty to correct the public misconception and that in his experience getting newspapers to print corrections was 'time consuming and fruitless'.

He defended himself by saying the chief of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), John Scarlett, had already explained to the Hutton inquiry that such claims related to battlefield munitions. However, Mr Hoon admitted that the dossier itself was ambiguous on this point.

It is a grave pity that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Howard will never have to face the same damning and unexpected line of questioning for their claims about the Iraq war.

21 September 2003

Report Hussein negotiating with US - www.theage.com.au

Ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had been in secret negotiations with US forces in Iraq for the past nine days, a British tabloid newspaper said today.

According to the Sunday Mirror report, Saddam was demanding safe passage to the former Soviet republic of Belarus in exchange for information on weapons of mass destruction and his bank accounts.

US President George W Bush was being kept up to date on the talks by his national security adviser Condoleeza Rice who was coordinating negotiations led by US general Ricardo Sanchez, the Sunday Mirror said.

Sanchez is the commander of US forces in Iraq.

Perhaps Rumsfeld should handle the negotiations. After all Rumsfeld and Saddam have already met.

historical precedent

I'm ploughing fast through Big Trouble by J Anthony Lukas. Now most of you might think Roosevelt I has very little in common with Bush II. That's certainly what I thought until I read one of Roosevelt I's friends writing about him:

You have to remember the president is about six.

I know this is a totally vacuous post devoid of any serious historiographical content, but it was irresistible.

They are called 'The Searchers'. But what are they looking for

Of the group which replaced his inspectors, Dr Blix said dismissively: 'In the beginning, they talked about weapons concretely, and later on they talked about weapons programmes. Maybe they'll find some documents of interest.'

Confronted by the scorn of the former chief inspector, Downing Street quickly urged doubters to wait for the ISG to complete its work. Mr Blair believed the group's report, due within weeks, would provide clear proof of Saddam's guilt over WMD, said a government source, adding that the ISG could come up with 'interesting findings which will lay those doubts to rest'. But the ISG staff on the ground appear to be in the dark about the outcome of their work. The results of early searches and interviews were fed back to colleagues at the 'analytic centre' in Qatar, since when feedback has been low: staff in Iraq have had little guidance from Qatar about what to follow up.

As for when the group's report will come out, all the searchers know is what they have read in media reports, some of which say an interim report will be produced early this week for Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence. No draft has been seen in Baghdad, however. It will be the Pentagon, not the ISG, which decides how much will be released, and when - though there have also been rumours that there is so little to show from the entire exercise that the ISG's findings will never be made public.

Certainly the main focus of the ISG's work does not point to major new revelations. It has been concentrating on past weapons programmes, with most of the documentary work tracking production before the first Gulf War in 1991. The other principal emphasis has been on how specific facilities could have been switched from civilian use to producing prohibited weapons. Though sources will not talk about specific finds, the phrase employed is 'just-in-time capacity'. All this, however, is highly speculative, and nothing like what the pre-war rhetoric led British and American voters to expect.

This sounds like a repeat of the Bush administration's technique with the trailers of mass destruction, the air pollution at Ground Zero, global warming and a number of other issues. Announce a technical investigation and then issue political judgments in the name of the technical inquiry.

Judging from what happened at Brent East, it's not going to work.

Police to question Downer over Iraq leak - www.smh.com.au

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his staff face police questioning into their role in the leaking of a top-secret report on Iraq prepared by Office of National Assessments (ONA) defector Andrew Wilkie.

Federal police have launched an investigation into how Mr Wilkie's analysis became the basis of an article by journalist Andrew Bolt nearly three months ago.

Attorney-General Daryl Williams last week confirmed the seriousness of the matter when he told Parliament that if there was 'a leak of a document relating to national security, it is required to be referred to ASIO'.

ASIO had considered the matter so serious it recommended to ONA that it refer the matter to the Australian Federal Police.

Police confirmed yesterday that the investigation was under way.

I have no idea where the investigation will go, but it's going to be extremely interesting.