4 October 2003

Blix warns inspectors on dangers of spin

Hans Blix warned the US-led experts hunting for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq yesterday to beware the dangers of 'spin' when presenting their findings to their political masters anxious to justify the invasion of Iraq.

'We don't want another epidemic of spin,' the former chief UN weapons inspector told The Independent, as President George Bush seized on the interim report to justify his decision to go to war.

David Kay, the American- appointed head of the search teams, said in his interim report that in the first three months of his work no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, undermining a plank in the pro-war case.

Mr Bush said: 'The report states that Saddam Hussein's regime had a clandestine network of biological laboratories, a live strain of deadly agent botulinum, sophisticated concealment efforts, and advanced design work on prohibited longer range missiles.'

But Mr Blix pointed out that none of this constituted the 'serious and current threat' used by the British Government to justify war. Although Mr Blix did not accuse Tony Blair of lying, he said the Government 'should have exercised more critical judgment'.

He said: 'There was not a serious or imminent threat. They could have carried on with the policy of containment.'

This gets sillier and sillier by the hour. The war party has lived off the missing WMDs for months. Now that they have found none they've revived the ancient furphy that the weapons were moved to another country.

Now a cynic might think that holding a succession of 9-month inspections in a succession of invaded Middle Eastern countries is a tad excessive. Before we launch that expensive and time-consuming exercise, let's ask a simpler question.

Are there any claims by the war party which can be tested against known and existing facts? If there are such issues do they tend to show the war party as truthful or untruthful?

Did Iraq seek uranium from Niger or did it not? Did Rumsfeld claim to know the location of WMDs 'around Tikrit and Baghdad' or did he not? Was the 45-minute claim sexed up or was it not? Did Bush claim the trailers of mass destruction were WMDs or did he not?

But we can test further. We can ask if any single factual error, out of the legion of factual errors, tended to weaken the case for war?

The answers are easy. No contested factual claim by the war party has proved accurate. No disproved claim has ever tended to weaken the case for war. These guys are spinning so fast the planet will start falling apart if they're not stopped soon.

Oh, and by the way, botulinium occurs naturally in almost all soil. As Kay himself says, according to the The Age:

Kay, in a briefing later with reporters, said the Iraqi scientist who had the vial had been given it for safekeeping at his home by another, senior scientist, in 1993. He initially had other samples, most of which he quickly returned.

"He was storing them in his refrigerator," Kay said. "He had small children."

Although tests showed that the one vial of bacteria that the scientist kept was still viable, Kay offered no evidence it had been used in a weapons program during the last decade.

Bush has advisers on science issues. If he'd asked they could have told him about the lethality of the stuff. Even today, within 24 hours of his WMD sham being exposed, he's manufacturing more half-truths out of whole lies to try and make the whole shambling story live another day.

Inquiry over war

General Wesley Clark, the front-runner in the Democratic race for the White House, launched a high-risk attack on American foreign policy yesterday when he said the Bush administration should face an investigation into possible 'criminal' conduct in its drive to war.

Gen Clark, who as Nato supreme commander led the war in Kosovo, accused the Bush administration of entering office already determined to attack Iraq, then seizing on the September 11 attacks as justification.

He called for an independent review of what he called the 'possible manipulation of intelligence' to convince the American people that war with Iraq was necessary.

'Nothing could be a more serious violation of public trust than consciously to make a case for war based on false claims,' he was due to say in a speech last night. 'We need to know if we were intentionally deceived.

'This administration is trying to do something that ought to be politically impossible to do in a democracy, and that is to govern against the will of the majority,' he said. 'That requires twisted facts, silence, secrecy and very poor lighting.'

This is strong, strong stuff.

Global warming 'will hurt Russia

The 1997 Kyoto protocol to combat climate change will only come into legal force when countries responsible for more that 55 per cent of rich nation's greenhouse gas emissions have ratified it in their parliaments. Ratifications now cover 44 per cent; Russia would add 17 per cent and hence activate the protocol.

This week's conference seemed like the perfect occasion for President Vladimir Putin to announce that he was putting the protocol before his parliament. But instead he told delegates he had not yet decided whether to propose ratification.

Putin pointed out that 'an increase of two or three degrees wouldn't be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up'.

Delegates took this as a joke. But some of his scientists make the argument seriously, although others believe the grain harvest would suffer. His economic advisers, headed by Andrei Illarionov, argue that Russian might gain from global warming.

In 2002 year ago, prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov told the Johannesburg World Summit that Russia would ratify the protocol 'soon'. And until recently, most observers believed it would happen - if only so Russian could sell 'spare' pollution permits under the protocol's complex rules for carbon trading.

Terrible news...

Iraq war: PM sticks to his guns

Prime Minister John Howard has defended the federal government's decision to take part in the war against Iraq, despite the latest report that experts searching the country have still not found any weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Howard said when the government decided to join the US-led coalition that invaded Iraq it had clear intelligence assessments that the country had a weapons of mass destruction capability.

'That was unambiguous, it was clear and that was the basis of the judgement that we made at the time we joined the coalition, and I don't retreat from that one iota,' he said on Friday.

The head of the US inspectors who have been searching Iraq said in Washington on Thursday that they had not yet found any actual weapons of mass destruction, although they had found evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime intended to make such weapons.

The Australian Financial Review carries the most infelicitous headline yet on the ISG report. The prime minister cannot be sticking to his guns. No guns were found.

People-Smuggling: National Myths and Realities

Given the proportionately big increase in irregular immigration to Australia by boat since 1998, the asylum seeker issue was set to figure prominently in the 2001 election. It was always going to be difficult for the opposition parties to get the focus onto more important issues like the environment, education and health.

With SIEV 10's arrival the asylum seeker issue domination of the last couple of days of the campaign was assured. No other issue came close. Talkback radio stations were jammed with calls vilifying asylum seekers and expressing support for the PM's apparently strong stand on border security. SIEV 10 sealed the election for the Coalition.

Of course this prompts the obvious question of why the boats did eventually stop. Well yes Relex played a part. But I make the point again that it was the post-election towbacks that sent the strongest signal, along with SIEV X, Tampa, offshore processing and disruption operations, along with the improved inter- as well as intra-government cooperation.

The other obvious question is whether or not the pre-2001 election roll back of Relex was intended to increase somehow the Government's chances at the polls. Well I don't know the answer to that. But in light of the Government's habitual dishonesty on other issues, I couldn't blame some people from drawing that conclusion. Certainly such behaviour would have been consistent with the Government's broader and enduring preparedness to manipulate national security issues for its own benefit.

Looking ahead, the current lull in boat arrivals is very fragile. Recent Government successes mask the fact that Australia is not immune from the global trend towards increasing people movement. Nor is it immune from the increasing trend towards irregular migration facilitated by people-smugglers.

The traditional sources of irregular immigration to Australia - Afghanistan, China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam - will probably continue to feature in the flow of people to Australia.

Afghanistan and Iraq in particular will continue to be big potential sources of asylum-seekers, at least so long as serious doubts remain over those countries' stability and prosperity. The morality of the Government's haste to return asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq in particular is especially dubious.

And new sources of people flows to Australia are bound to emerge, sometimes with little or no warning. Significantly, the scale of potential flows from non-traditional sources like India, Indonesia and Africa are far in excess of anything Australia has ever experienced.

I thought it was more than faintly disgusting to watch the Howard government demonise Iraqi and Afghan refugees while denouncing the Iraqi and Afghan regimes from which these people were fleeing. I did not then realise that Operation Relex was a tap the government could turn on and off at will.

Why then did the government announce it was shutting off the tap while actually it reduced the commitment to Relex and enabled the arrival of more boats in good time for the election? Were they using security politics as a way to achieve a preferred electoral outcome?

What we need is a healthy debt

This is because Australian budgetary policy is in a political straitjacket.

Here the old saying that the only things certain in life are death and taxes has a modern parallel: the certainties of modern Australian political life are that no one dares speak of 'debt or taxes'.

The guiding principles of Australian political economics are that all government debt is evil and you can only talk about taxes when you are promising to cut them.

This has produced a totally skewed definition of economic responsibility in Australia to which no serious economist would ever subscribe: that government borrowing is always a bad thing and lower taxation is an economic imperative.

These arbitrary political constraints have been called the 'democratic deficit' - the gap between what politics will allow and what the community needs. A prohibition on government borrowing but ever lower taxes would mean that the funds for the things communities need which can only be provided by governments would compete for a share of an ever shrinking pool of funds. Of course, this isn't really how it works because governments increase taxation by stealth.

But this political straitjacket has meant that governments - federal and state - are only prepared to pay for things that can be paid for from the annual budget. And when major new demands come along, such as the resources needed for more spending on defence and counter-terrorism or the need for an election-year cut in personal taxes, other things gets squeezed.

Public anger about a more expensive and less accessible health system, about schools that can't cope, about water supply and electricity systems that break down and transport systems that are overtaxed and more expensive will force political responses.

Tax cuts are not the answer. And mean and tricky doesn't matter. What's important now is a debate about how to tackle a growing national crisis. And it's time to allow (government) debt to become a respectable four-letter word again.

Here's a splendid opportunity for the Labor opposition to prove what stern stuff it is made of and how policy-driven it is. They could start a national debate on whether endless tax cuts (also known as tax expenditures in favour of the wealthy) are the sole possible definition of the public good.

Simon Crean could make his point even more drmatic by flying to the press conference where he launches this debate by winged pig.

Straw defends 'justified and essential' war

And Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector, said the US has failed to produce any evidence to prove Iraq posed a great enough threat to justify war.

Dr Blix said the coalition had not proved there was a 'manifest and imminent' threat from Saddam Hussein's regime.

And he maintained that military action went against the UN charter and that UN criteria for action had not been met.

'One is that there should be a manifest threat,' he told the BBC.

'The intelligence was not so strong in reality that it could be said to be manifest.

'And the second one would be the imminence of it. If they can develop weapons of mass destruction in five years or 10 years, well, that certainly is not imminent. So I think it probably failed, in my view, on these two accounts.'

Dr Blix said the UN charter allowed action in self-defence against an attack.

'It is contended now that in the day and age of biological weapons and weapons of mass destruction, one must interpret this more liberally, and that one cannot just sit and wait for them to develop their weapons fully and then attack.

'All right, if one begins to discuss that, I think one will have to put up new criteria: when would pre-emptive action really be permissible?'

Go read...

Howard makes good

No, seriously. He supports Walk to Work Day and makes a point of of being seen walking. Walking for half an hour every day is great for your health. I thought about blogging that it's an evil plot to reduce the health budget by creating a healthier nation but decided that would be extreme. Shrill, even...

3 October 2003

PM faces censure over WMDs

Labor and the Greens said the interim report of the Iraq Survey Group showed that Mr Howard had misled parliament and the people over the reasons Australia went to war.

Senator Bob Brown said the Greens would move a censure motion against Mr Howard in the Senate on Tuesday and he hoped for Labor support.

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said the report was the fourth torpedo to Mr Howard's credibility on the Iraq war and a party spokesman said a number of parliamentary options were being considered.

But Mr Howard continued to defend his decision, saying the Iraq Survey Group had found substantial evidence that Iraq planned to make chemical and biological weapons.

He said the 1,200 strong US-led group, that includes Australian experts, needed more time.

After making an interim report to congress, report leader David Kay told journalists in Washington that no actual weapons had been found.
But that did not mean the US had concluded there were no weapons and it would take another six to nine months to give a firm indication of the state of Iraq's weapons program.

'We have found substantial evidence of an intent of senior level Iraqi officials, including Saddam Hussein, to continue production at some future point in time of weapons of mass destruction,' Dr Kay said.

Mr Rudd said the group's failure to find weapons followed Mr Howard's false pre-war claim that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear capability by trying to buy uranium from Africa.

He said the prime minister had also falsely claimed that attacking Iraq was necessary to reduce the threat of terrorism, and would lessen the risk of WMD coming into the hands of terrorists, when British intelligence had said exactly the opposite in both cases.

I know Sunzu said war is about attacking the enemy's plans, but this is ridiculous. In the 18 march war speech there was nothing about attacking Iraq's plans for WMDs. What the prime minister said then was:

In the final analysis, the absolute conviction of the government is that disarming Iraq is necessary for the long-term security of the world and is therefore manifestly in the national interest of Australia. The events of the last four months, Iraq�s history, and its 12 years of defiance have convinced the government that the only way to deal with this challenge is by force. Sadly, the government is not surprised that it should have come to this. Force has been the only language that Saddam Hussein�s regime has ever understood.

For 12 years, Saddam Hussein has forced his nation to endure stringent economic sanctions and pariah status rather than give up his weapons of mass destruction. The presence of weapons inspectors has hindered and irritated him but has never stopped his weapons programs. Even during the first four years of weapons inspections, when the inspectors perceived they were making real progress, Iraq continued to develop and successfully conceal biological weapons. Luckily, a series of defectors blew the whistle on some of Iraq�s prohibited weapons programs, forcing the Iraqi regime to reveal one of the most sophisticated and expansive offensive biological programs in the world; but we cannot expect always to be so lucky. Inspectors were ordered out of Iraq before they could finish dismantling it. The available intelligence indicates that, since the departure of inspectors in 1998, Saddam has continued to work on his chemical and biological capabilities and has maintained his nuclear aspirations.

Even under the threat of force he has only engaged reluctantly in token, piecemeal destruction of weapons and continues to deny the existence of weapons programs. Even with over 200,000 coalition troops massed at his borders he quibbles about how interviews are to be conducted with his scientists and how many of the reconnaissance aircraft supporting the inspectors can fly at any one time. After 12 years, he does not believe that the international community has the will to act. In that he has made a terrible error of judgement.

When you look at Howard's actual words he says that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. If he had told the parliament and the country that all Iraq possessed were plans or programmes for weapons of mass destruction he would not have persuaded the country to go to war.

Lastly, the most recent spin:

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd says you�ve misled the public and misled Parliament.

PRIME MINISTER: Well that�s very interesting, I was doing a bit of research on Mr Rudd, Mr Rudd himself declared on numerous occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, so Mr Rudd is therefore contradicting himself. Mr Rudd and Mr Crean both said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, their disagreement with us was not as to whether the weapons existed but how you dealt with the problem, they wanted it left interminably to the United Nations and if their advice had been followed Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq.

But then neither Rudd nor Crean had access to the intelligence available to Howard. Most especially Rudd and Crean did not have the access to the cautionary advice which Howard expected would never be made public. We know about the 14 February JIC report and other cautionary advice only because of the Hutton inquiry and the ISC report.

Rudd and Crean have the ultimate and compelling defence. No-one told the opposition leader.

More vicious than Tricky Dick

Regardless of whether or not a special prosecutor is selected, I believe that Ambassador Wilson and his wife -- like the DNC official once did -- should file a civil lawsuit, both to address the harm inflicted on them, and, equally important, to obtain the necessary tools (subpoena power and sworn testimony) to get to the bottom of this matter. This will not only enable them to make sure they don't merely become yesterday's news; it will give them some control over the situation. In the case of the DNC's civil suit, Judge Charles Richey, a good Republican, handled it in a manner that was remarkably helpful to the Nixon reelection effort. But any judge getting a lawsuit from Wilson and Plame today would be watched a lot more carefully.

While I have made no effort to examine all the potential causes of action that Wilson and Plame might file, several come to mind. For example, given the fact that this leak was reportedly an effort to harm them, a civil action for intentional infliction of emotional distress could be appropriate. (Because I am not aware of their residence -- the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia -- I will only state the law generally.)

The author, Nixon's White House counsel, is reasonably well-versed in Watergate history and the political impact a civil suit could have by giving subpoena powers to Wilson and Plame. This is the second time today I've found myself blogging something containing the W-word. And I don't mean Dubya.

Now if only Andrew Wilkie had access to the torts available in the US.

Kay: Little evidence of Iraq weapons

DAVID KAY, who is leading the CIA team searching for the weapons, told reporters after testifying before lawmakers in closed-door meetings that his team had found 'substantial evidence of an intention ... at a future point in time' to produce chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

But Kay said 'we can say at this point in time we know most of what we're going to know about the program, and we have not found, at this point, actual weapons. Believe me, we're working as hard as we can,' he said. 'We have a lot more work to do before we can conclude that we're at the end of the road instead of at the beginning. ...

'Surprises do happen.'

Kay appeared to go further in his secret testimony to Congress. A congressional staff member who heard Kay's presentation told NBC News that Kay testified not only that his team had found no banned weapons, but that the evidence found so far did not point to the existence of large stockpiles of weapons at all.

Kay stressed that his inspection team was not lacking for leads, which he said were being aggressively pursued. But evidence is emerging slowly, and he encouraged lawmakers to be patient, the aide said.

I seem to recall US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld announcing that he knew the location of the weapons. I seem to recall remarks in the last few weeks by Howard, Downer, Blair and Straw that we would see something in this report. We have. It's called duplicity by those same men when they argued in favour of war.

Hardball with Chris Matthews for Sept 30

[Republican National Committee Chair] GILLESPIE: I think if the allegation is true, to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA operative is abhorrent. And it should be a crime and it is a crime.

MATTHEWS: It would be worse than Watergate, wouldn't it?

GILLESPIE: You know, I just-yes, I suppose in terms of the real world implications of it.


GILLESPIE: It is not just politics. It is people's lives...


MATTHEWS: Is it hard for a president to ask someone to walk a plank when the end of the plank is 10 years in jail?

GILLESPIE: Again, I believe that if the Justice Department concludes that someone violated the law in this way, I do not believe it would be hard for President Bush to ask that person to walk the plank.

This item has been blogged previously by Atrios, but now we have the transcript. The solution to a crime that endangers lives is not a presidential dismissal, but criminal prosecution.

Goodbye cruel world

Life's richest places are also those where humans are poorest. Africans are already struggling against hunger, poverty, Aids, malaria, cattle diseases and - in many cases - civil war. Nobody knows how this one is going to end. 'It is all very well for you and me, but if I was some poor, oppressed farmer in Africa I am not so sure I would look kindly on the elephants that trample my crops,' says May. Nor have Europeans and Americans held up much of an example. When western governments began pressing African and Asian nations about the fate of the elephant, developing nations retaliated by suggesting that the Atlantic cod, too, should be protected. The point is well made. Developed nations with sophisticated fishing technology have knowingly put cod and tuna at risk, and had begun to wipe out the barn door skate and great white shark as their nets swept through the seas. 'There is a real irony,' says Mace.

The lions of Africa - and the wild creatures further down the food chain - can only be saved by money and political will from both national and international communities. The developing nations do have an incentive to protect their biodiversity. It represents potential wealth, one way or the other. Some extinctions of already rare creatures are inevitable. But spend on the lions, says Lawton, and you could save a lot more besides. Committed spending saved the black and white rhino - targets of poachers as well as victims of human pressure - but the sums of money invested were critical.

'If you create big, effective reserves for these charismatic guys at the top of the food chain, huge numbers of other creatures we don't even know exist could just slip through to the end of the century on the coat-tails of the lions,' Lawton says. 'So it is a matter of putting enough resources in. In a world which is prepared to spend an extra �55bn on a war in Iraq, we are talking about peanuts.'

If the choice is between a world without lions and tigers and bears or a world without Bechtel and Halliburton and MCI, I think I know which I'd want. In fact that is not the choice. The US is ready to spend 350 times as much on conquering Iraq as on conquering AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, so the choices are actually easier. A few things might need to be put in reverse gear, that's all.

Ruddock's law: his tyranny is our democracy

'Three years later, the Minister's powers have grown exponentially as those of the ordinary migration officer have diminished in inverse proportion,' said Professor Crock, senior lecturer in law at Sydney University.

'Although the Minister speaks of government 'policy' his ultimate contention is that democracy requires that as the elected representative, his should be the final word in any administrative process.'

The whole process now needed to be reversed, Professor Crock said.

'There is a pressing need to diversity the nature and range of persons capable of responding with humanity to migration applicants in situations of need,' she said.

This could be done 'without opening the floodgates and losing precious control of the migration process'.

Over the years since 1989 'a legislative vortex' had been created around our immigration system, 'funneling all meaningful power back to the Minister'.

'The process has been a gradual one that has been no less radical because of the subtlety and incremental nature of the changes made,' she said.

It had happened because 'the courts were seen to be usurping the power vested in the administration every time they ordered a decision to be re-made on grounds of denial of natural justice or other form of illegality'.

Mr Ruddock's 'ultimate contention is that democracy requires that as the elected representative, his should be the final word in any administrative process'.

His thinking was based on 'very simplistic notion of both democracy and the rule of law,' Professor Crock said.

This whole trust-the-leader thing is getting out of hand. Democracy is not about trusting the leader. Democracy is about parliamentary and judicial checks to ensure that leaders act within the law and for the public interest.

The traditional function of an attorney-general is advocacy in cabinet for the rule of law. Darryl Williams' consistent failure to do this marked him as our worst attorney ever. I expect him to lose that distinction next Tuesday.

It's the US policy, stupid

'Public opinion in the Arab world and Muslim world cannot be cavalierly dismissed,' according to the report, which stressed that the gap between professed US values - which are widely appreciated among Muslims - and actual policy is often too deep to ignore or paper over.

'Citizens in these countries are genuinely distressed at the plight of Palestinians and at the role they perceive the US to be playing, and they are genuinely distressed by the situation in Iraq,' it said.

Publication of the report, entitled 'Changing Minds, Winning Peace', comes amid growing concern among US policy elites about a rising tide of anti-US feeling in the Islamic world.

Just last week, a second task force of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York reported that the rise in anti-Americanism in Muslim countries and beyond was so great that it was 'endangering our national security and compromising the effectiveness of our diplomacy'.

'Growing anti-Americanism means that foreign leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to cooperate with us,' said CFR chairman Peter Peterson, who served as Treasury Secretary under former president Richard Nixon. 'That is a sober and practical reality.'

Perhaps the neoconservatives should have considered that opinion leaders in the Middle East can read the US press. Perhaps they should have factored in the expanding anti-American system as part of the costs of their cost-free war.

Stop Wasting Money

This shortfall in oil earnings, not the lack of foreign assistance, is the real cause of Iraq's financial crisis. Each reduction of one million barrels per day translates into lost revenues of about $30 million at today's world market price of $30 per barrel. If Iraq increased its oil exports by one million barrels a day -- which it could achieve with a cessation of attacks on its infrastructure -- it would have about $10 billion per year in additional revenues to begin reconstruction.

Iraq's oil production could probably rise to about five million barrels per day within three years, or an extra $30 billion to $40 billion per year -- enough not only to restore basic services, but to achieve big improvements in living standards and economic growth in the medium term. Iraq would not need official development assistance at all.

The biggest costs in Iraq are not for reconstruction but for U.S. troops. America will pay an astounding $51 billion per year for 140,000 troops. If the United States withdrew its troops and gave just a fraction of the financial savings to Iraq in 2004, there would be plenty of revenue to run the Iraqi government.

By focusing global attention on an economic crisis that does not really exist, America has diverted public attention from serious crises that do. Consider the battles against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. About eight million people will die of these preventable and treatable diseases in 2004.

In 2001, the world created a global fund to fight them. Yet for fiscal year 2004, the Bush administration is committing just $200 million to that fund. For every one of these dollars, the administration is committing $350 to Iraq. These are grotesquely distorted priorities.

It's time for the world to tell America some hard news: Stop wasting so much money on military spending and redirect your efforts toward the world's poor. That's a financial effort that the world can and should join.

There's just so much wrong with the theory that we broke Iraq and must fix it. It puts the private conscience of Westerners ahead of the political will of the Iraqis. It continues the imposition of the Washington Consensus without Iraqi consent.

But the real reason is that the Iraq project would be hard to achieve under a competent and disinterested leadership. A president who lets his staff tell him what the world is thinking, and leaves a major breach of US law unaddressed for months, just does not have the competence or disinterest to do anything for Iraq.

2 October 2003

MI6 flaws exposed by former diplomat

[Sir Peter] goes on: 'It would make a huge difference in assessing the value of a report from say 'a source close to the president', to know whether that source is the vice-president, or a household servant, or someone with whom the president lunches occasionally.'

This attack is aimed directly at Sir Richard and Mr Scarlett, who assured No 10 that their second-hand source for the claim that Iraqi forces could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes was 'an established and reliable line of reporting'. The threat was then hardened up under political pressure from Downing Street.

GCHQ, which provides electronic intercepts, is dismissed by Sir Peter as rarely useful. He monitored foreign wars from London and found it impossible to distinguish the flood of inaccurate or misleading intercepts from accurate ones.

The intelligence agencies offered to monitor secret talks he was having with one foreign delegation, he says, when they reported back to their own capital. But the only intercept they produced after weeks of expense was a single paragraph of a draft agreement, which turned out to have been originally drafted by Sir Peter himself.

I hope the wife of Sir Peter does not same the same fate as She Who Must Not Be Named. More seriously the intel collection for Iraq seems to have suffered all those faults and then been seen by credulous political leaders desperate for a reason to invade Iraq.

Bush Orders Full Cooperation in Leaking of Name

The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it had begun a full investigation into whether Bush administration officials illegally disclosed the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer to journalists, and the White House directed its staff to cooperate.

I suspect the New York Times meant this headline to say: 'Bush Orders Full Cooperation in Investigation of Leaking of Name'. If I'm wrong, do they know something we don't?

A bad day at 1600

I sometimes wish the Bush Administration would stop self-destructing for day or two, just so I can get some sleep.

Definitely the snark of the week.

Blair: I've not got a reverse gear

'I can only go one way. I've not got a reverse gear.'

Mocking his current standing in the polls, Mr Blair told delegates: 'The time to trust a politician most is not when they're taking the easy option. Any politician can do the popular things. I know I used to do a few of them.'

'We've been far better at defeating ourselves than the Tories have ever been,' Mr Blair said.

The Prime Minister delivered his much trailed uncompromising message on Iraq saying: 'Iraq has divided the international community. It has divided the party, the country, families, friends.

'I know many people are disappointed, hurt, angry. I know many profoundly believe the action we took was wrong. I do not at all disrespect anyone who disagrees with me.

'I ask just one thing: Attack my decision but at least understand why I took it and why I would take the same decision again.

'Imagine you are PM, and you receive this intelligence and not just about Iraq but about the whole murky trade in WMD .... So what do I do?

'Say 'I've got the intelligence but I've a hunch it's wrong'?' he asked the conference.

I am alarmed. I am not sure Australia would allow the sale of cars without a reverse gear on safety grounds. British traffic must be horrendous if the cars are unable to ever go backwards.

I am equally alarmed that Blair claims to have 'got the intelligence'. He did not, and no amount of splendid rhetoric and flashing eyes will long conceal the plain fact that no WMDs have been found. Once you read the speech in light of that fact, all you have is the same silly claims based on patent untruth that we've heard since the UN debate last year.

Why Costello's $7.5b surplus is a burden, not a boon

Underneath the rhetoric of fiscal rectitude, the Government's fiscal strategy is the same as the mug householder - to retire debt at any cost. For instance, the dividends forgone from the sale of half of Telstra are greater than the interest saved on the retirement of debt. The leaseback arrangements from the sale of Government property such as the Foreign Affairs headquarters are far more expensive than the previous situation in which the Government owned the buildings.

In order to meet these self-imposed burdens, Commonwealth taxation has increased from 23.5 per cent of GDP in 1996 to 25.4 per cent of GDP in 2003 after adding back in the proceeds of the GST, which is a Commonwealth tax that replaced the wholesale sales tax in 2000.

But as a result of this policy, households have an additional burden. As the Government undermines Medicare (eroding the real value of the scheduled fee for medical consultations so that fewer doctors bulk-bill), underfunds public hospitals so that more patients are forced to use private hospitals in order to get timely elective surgery and education funds are switched from government to private schools to encourage the middle class to shift their children from government to private schools, the burden of debt is shifted from the Government to households.

This cost shifting (along with the housing bubble caused by permissive monetary policy) has contributed to the explosive growth in household debt, from $290 billion in 1996 to $660 billion now.

The 2002-03 $7.5 billion surplus should be seen as a burden rather than a boon. It is money that has been taken from the income-expenditure stream unnecessarily because it could have been used to create extra economic growth and jobs.

The latest exercise in cost-shifting is the medical insurance levy. Doctors are going to have little choice but to pay up. That will make the declining value of the scheduled fee (PDF) even less attractive. As a direct result of government policy, then, bulk-billing will fall even further and that can fuel further claims that Medicare is hopelessly broken and should be scrapped outright.

Actually spending the surplus to plug the growing gap between rich and poor would interfere with the Howard government's re-election drive.

The Green Man: Art - Ethics - Culture - Science

Attempts to repatriate the live sheep stuck on a ship somewhere in the Arabian Sea have come unstuck. Allegations have been made that some of the sheep have thrown their lambs overboard.

'We don't want that sort of sheep in Australia' said an outraged John Howard.

What's more, rumors are spreading that some middle eastern terrorist sheep have infiltrated the flock.

'Scare mongering on border security served the Liberal Party at the last election and it will form an important part of the strategic approach we will be taking at the next election. Just let those namby pambies in the Labor Party try and win when we have fear on our side.' he went on to say.

I'm appalled at The Green man's suggestion that the Man of Steel would attempt to fleece the electorate by pulling the wool over our eyes yet again.

1 October 2003

No Comment

Blogspeak had a hiccup because of a troll who started posting evil code into comments. Harry's fixed it, although some of your deathless prose (and mine) might have disappeared. Along the way my blogger template got very weird and I did not have the heart to fix the poor thing or put it out of its misery.

And you thought this was all going to be about Australia's failure to ensure sheep ships are shipshape or something...

Shades of Kelly

In a twisted play on a game that governments have recently become fond of, officials of the Bush administration may have deliberately disclosed the identity of their own undercover CIA agent - to get even with her husband.

The incident has echoes of the David Kelly case in Britain, where the weapons expert was named and shamed after the administration realised he had told the media that the Iraq dossiers were 'sexed up'. Dr Kelly later committed suicide.

The American case, now gathering steam, may claim political victims as a Justice Department inquiry is underway and an outcry is building up over the dirty tactics. The Democrats are milking the political fallout while a defensive President George W Bush has reportedly threatened to fire anyone responsible for the leak.

To outsiders, however, the episode signals that the Bush administration will play hardball with its critics at home - just as it will crush its enemies abroad.

If this ends up before a congressional committee or a criminal court it will be interesting to see what extra documents our prime minister will discover no-one told him about.

Who's Sordid Now?

For example, in July two enterprising Middle Eastern firms started offering cellphone service in Baghdad, setting up jury-rigged systems compatible with those of neighboring countries. Since the collapse of Baghdad's phone system has been a major source of postwar problems, coalition authorities should have been pleased.

But no: the authorities promptly shut down the services. Cell service, they said, could be offered only by the winners in a bidding process - one whose rules, revealed on July 31, seemed carefully designed to shut out any non-American companies. (In the face of strenuous protests the rules were revised, but still seem to favor the usual suspects.) Oddly, the announcement of the winners, originally scheduled for Sept. 5, keeps being delayed. Meanwhile, only Paul Bremer and his people have cellphones - and, thanks to the baffling decision to give that contract to MCI, even those phones don't work very well. (Aside from the fact that its management perpetrated history's biggest accounting fraud, MCI has no experience in building cell networks.)

Then there's electricity. One reason Iraq still faces blackouts is that local experts and institutions were excluded from the repair business. Instead, the exclusive contract was given to Bechtel, whose Republican ties are almost as strong as Halliburton's. And if a recent story in The Washington Post is accurate, Bechtel continues to ignore pleas by Iraqi engineers for essential spare parts.

Meanwhile, several companies with close personal ties to top administration officials have begun brazenly offering their services as facilitators for companies seeking Iraqi business. The former law firm of Douglas Feith, the Pentagon under secretary who oversees Iraq reconstruction, has hung out its shingle. So has another company headed by Joe Allbaugh, who ran the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000 and ran FEMA until a few months ago. And a third entrant is run by Ahmad Chalabi's nephew.

There's a moral here: optimists who expect the administration to get its Iraq policy on track are kidding themselves. Think about it: the cost of the occupation is exploding, and military experts warn that our army is dangerously overcommitted. Yet officials are still allowing Iraqi reconstruction to languish, and the disaffection of the Iraqi public to grow, while they steer choice contracts to their friends. What makes you think they will ever change their ways?

Traditional liberal democratic measures, like open tendering for contracts, work better because they're more efficient. The The New Right project seems to have a lot to do with cronyism and not much to do with getting things done quickly and well. You would expect people who worship so sincerely at the altar of the market to advocate competitive tendering.

You'd also wonder why the Bush administration seems incapable of functioning under the same democratic checks and balances as, for instance, the Roosevelt administration fought World War II. A commission of inquiry met within days of Pearl harbour. Somehow I suspect Osama bin Laden might be slightly less dangerous than were Germany and Japan. But I could be be wrong...

30 September 2003

Shorter Right-Wing Punditry's Reaction to the Valerie Plame Affair: An Internal Dialogue

Why would master do this? Why he tricks us, and betrays us?

No, it couldn't have been master! Master is good and kind, and gives us wriggly fishes from his table, so juicy sweet! No, no, never master!

But why would the names of lady spiesies be in the newspapers? It's so confusing, it makes our brainses feel all swirly and bad!

No, master never said those nassty things! Never! It was the lady spysy herself who did it, never master! Gollum! Gollum!

It must have been ... libruhlss!! Yes, libruhs, all conspirings and scheme-ings! Tricksy, sneaksy, and false! Libruhls have always hated the precious! They want to destroy the precious! But we won't them, will we, precious! We will wring their necks!

This puts a whole new spin on a late-night conversation with a friend passionate about theology and Tolkien. 'Bush is a wraith', my friend said, 'he's told so many lies to get where he is that there's nothing left of him.' After Wilsongate I am beginning to agree.

29 September 2003

Consider this baby's plight, judge asks Ruddock - National - smh.com.au

The department's plan to help S included buying her a toddler's walking aid called a Jolly Jumper, which Family Court judge Richard Chisholm felt inadequate.

'The important thing in this regard is how it came about that S's care was so poor that her muscle development came to be delayed,' he noted in a judgement over their release.

'Inserting a particular device into an unsatisfactory environment seems to me so far from any real solution that it does not warrant detailed discussion.'

Justice Chisholm concluded he did not have the power to make interim orders for the family's release.

But he asked the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, to give careful and compassionate consideration to the family's urgent needs.

This appalling story is a suitable memorial for Philip Ruddock's administration of the immigration portfolio, now that he is moving to attorney-general as part of the reshuffle

Is Bush's War in Iraq A "Brain Fart"?

Do you think Zinni is angry over the war? He did get worked up as he ended his speech:

'We should be...extremely proud of what our people did out there....It kills me when I hear of the continuing casualties and the sacrifice that's being made. It also kills me when I hear someone say that, well, each one of those is a personal tragedy, but in the overall scheme of things, they're insignificant statistically.' (Perhaps he had in mind the comment Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made in June, when he played down attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq by saying, 'You've got to remember that if Washington, D.C., were the size of Baghdad, we would be having something like 215 murders a month; there's going to be violence in a big city.') Zinni continued: 'When we put [our enlisted men and women] in harm's way, it had better count for something, It can't be because some policy wonk back here has a brain fart of an idea of a strategy that isn't thought out.'

Brain fart? That's not quite a military term. But those are fighting words. And Zinni practically counseled his audience to rebel against the Bush administration. U.S. troops, he said, 'should never be put on a battlefield without a strategic plan, not only for the fighting--our generals will take care of that--but for the aftermath and winning that war. Where are we, the American people, if we accept this, if we accept this level of sacrifice without that level of planning? Almost everyone in this room, of my contemporaries--our feelings and our sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and lies, and we saw the sacrifice. We swore never again would we do that. We swore never again would we allow it to happen. And I ask you, is it happening again? And you're going to have to answer that question, just like the American people are.'

Brain fart. Garbage and lies. Never again. This was harsher rhetoric than Zinni deployed on Nightline, though his message was essentially the same. With such talk, he is in sync with Senator Ted Kennedy, who was blasted by Republicans for calling the war a 'fraud.' Note to Kennedy and other critics of the war: Fire away. If a Republican counter-attacks, you can always reply, at least I didn't say Bush is asking Americans to give their lives for a war based on mental flatulence.

It's a lovely phrase, but I think it should be roundly condemned as inaccurate. The phrase is dependent for its force on the dubious proposition that those responsible for this war have a brain between them.

Rewriting history could leave museum looking past it

The National Museum of Australia risked becoming a political plaything if it attempted to sanitise Australian history, according to the former head of Washington's Smithsonian Institution.

Professor Frank Talbot made his warning in a submission to the controversial inquiry into the National Museum's review of exhibitions and public programs.

The review's findings, released in July, found the institution was not politically biased but recommended more emphasis on early European migration.

Talbot's letter is among more than 100 written submissions posted on the museum's website.

'A museum that follows the political line of whatever group happens to be in power is not a museum. It is a disaster, and becomes part of public propaganda,' the submission says.

'One is reminded of museums, art and science being deformed in communist Russia. We do not want our museums to be playthings in the political arena.'

Talbot, director emeritus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, is a former director of the Australian Museum and a member of the Pigott committee that led to the establishment of the museum.

Seems to me that the History Wars should be resolved by debate. This effort to rework the NMA is getting dangerously close to history by fiat.

28 September 2003

Universal Church of the Interactive Network - prayer

Our future, which art within us,

Hallowed is our aim�

Thy gateway come�

Thy downloads done�

As Earth be worthy of heavens.�

Give us this day our daily bandwidth.�

And protect our addresses,�

as we forgive those�

who spam against us.

Lead us not into frustration,�

but deliver us from Microsoft:�

For thine is the client,�

The server and the protocol�

forever and ever.�



Slaughter of great whales leads to marine life decimation

The wildlife of the north Pacific has been devastated by a remarkable 50-year chain reaction set off by commercial whaling, scientists claimed yesterday. Numbers of sea lions, sea otters and several species of seals have crashed in recent years, because of the mass slaughter of more than 500,000 whales in the Pacific between 1949 and 1969, the researchers believe.

As the great whales such as sperm, fin and sei whales disappeared under the harpoon, killer whales, which used to prey on them extensively, were forced to find new food sources and switched to the smaller marine mammals, causing their numbers to plunge in turn, the group of American marine biologists say.

Harbour seals declined first, followed by fur seals, then sea lions and most recently sea otters. Their alarming declines had been a mystery.

The scientists, whose theory is in The Journal of the US National Academy of Sciences, contend that a 'domino effect' set off by the huge post-war whaling boom, led by Russian and Japanese whalers, is the real root cause.

If true, it is one of the most chilling examples yet of how man's large-scale interference with ecosystems can have unintended and terrible consequences elsewhere.

Bugger! I thought I was part of an irresponsible rent-a-crowd opposed to whaling because whales are big, cuddly and cute. Now it looks like they actually play a serious environmental function. I'll just have to find another cause.

TV ads blamed for rise in child obesity

The [British] government's food standards watchdog yesterday published the first hard evidence blaming television advertising for the excessive consumption of junk food that is causing an increase of obesity among young people.

The Food Standards Agency said it commissioned the big research programme to look into the possibility of a link between the promotion of foods and children's eating behaviour.

In spite of protestations of innocence by the food manufacturers and advertisers, it established beyond reasonable doubt that advertising influences what children eat as well as the brands they prefer.

The agency said it may consider recommending health warnings on packets of soft drinks and snacks, or restrictions on the advertising of these products as well as of fast-food chains such as McDonald's.

There must be some reason that Big Food spends so much on advertising. A subsidy to advertisers perhaps?

Bush's mourning-after blues

On the home front the President's approval ratings were positively dizzying, in the high 80s. No doubt John Howard hoped he would bathe in the reflected glory of a presidential tour.

How the landscape has changed.

The US leader is likely to touch down in Australia on October 22 for less than 24 hours. Unlike Bill Clinton's 1996 visit to Australia, when adoring and swelling crowds thronged around him, there will be no majestic speeches with Sydney Harbour as a backdrop, no long walks along the beach at Port Douglas. And certainly no midnight jam sessions with jazz musicians at The Basement club in Sydney as there was on a recent post-presidential Clinton visit.

Bush will address the Federal Parliament but it will be an almost perfunctory occasion.

The reality is that the George Bush who will arrive in Australia next month is a shrunken figure, suffering plummeting opinion poll ratings and skyrocketing unemployment at home, and mockery abroad. His domestic opponents characterised last week's speech to the United Nations, in which he sought its financial, military and civilian aid for the rebuilding of Iraq - although without relinquishing any US control - as 'begging'.


If Bush thinks his visit to Australia will provide some relief from such scepticism and hostility, he is deeply mistaken. It is not the usual suspects he needs to worry about - the undergraduate anti-Americans who would protest against the presence of any US president.

Extensive Roy Morgan research for the BBC says that while Australians continue to feel a deep fraternal bond to the American people - 63 per cent feel favourable towards them - Australians just don't like Bush: 49 per cent actively dislike him, compared with 45 per cent who don't mind him. They consider him arrogant in his unilateral use of power and in the thrall of right-wing religious fundamentalists.

The US President will receive a cordial reception when he addresses Parliament, but even inside the building, away from the baying crowds of extreme protesters, there will be dissent.

The really interesting question is why we don't feel the same way about John Howard.

[US] House Probers Conclude Iraq War Data Was Weak

Moreover, Goss and Harman dispelled the assertion, made frequently by administration officials, that they possess more concrete information about Iraq's nuclear intention, but are unable to disclose it because it remains classified. 'We have not found any information in the assessments that are still classified that was any more definitive,' the two wrote Tenet.

On this point, the letter said the committee 'had reviewed extensively the allegations that there was a disconnect between public statements by administration officials and the underlying intelligence.'

The letter continued: 'We do believe . . . that if public officials cite intelligence incorrectly, the IC [intelligence community] has a responsibility to go back to that policymaker and make clear that the public statement mischaracterized the available intelligence.' It does not say whether Tenet fulfilled that responsibility.

The authors are the Republican chairperson and the Democratic vice-chair of the US House intelligence committee. Australia's public officials and intelligence agencies have clearly failed to carry out this duty, beyond the avalanche of statements telling us that no-one told the prime minister.

When John Howard made his statements before and during the Iraq War he had no idea that any of the raw intelligence would ever become public knowledge. The Hutton inquiry is the only reason we know (for example) about the 14 February JIC report which said that that a war was likely to exacerbate the chance of any WMDs falling into the hands of terrorists.

We need an independent judicial inquiry to tell us precisely what the prime minister was told. It is clear the WMDs either do not exist or are no longer in Iraq. If they did exist their absence means the JIC report was correct and they are now in the hands of terrorists.

Clearly the prime minister's prewar account of the WMDs was badly wrong. If so, the Australian people are entitled to know whether that results from incompetence or duplicity.