11 October 2003

Labor as much at sea as the sheep

The sheep, the war and the White House. The phrase has rhythm but the story is a pretty shabby one. It is about political priorities these days and the spineless people who shape them. On Tuesday, in your national Parliament, the Senate debated John Howard's deceit and the worthlessness of his word on Iraq, before voting 33 to 30 to censure him. Parliamentary censure of a prime minister rarely happens. Yet it has happened twice in six months to this Prime Minister. The issue both times has been Iraq. And public reaction? Zilch. This newspaper covered the censure in three sentences. Most newspapers ignored it.

Nobody cares, it seems. In Britain and the US, government verbal 'enrichment' (as the White House has conceded) and/or intelligence failures involving the invasion of Iraq have badly damaged Tony Blair's and George Bush's leadership credibility, and continue to be a live issue of the gravest consequence. Yet in this country Iraq and the deception that justified Australia's involvement has all but faded completely.

Britain's Hutton inquiry ended its sensational public hearings during the fortnight's adjournment before the Australian Parliament resumed sitting on Tuesday. So, too, in that fortnight the interim report of the five-month search to date by 1200 US-led scientists for Iraq's mythical stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction was released. Conclusion: no WMD of any sort. Not one. Some weasel words interpreted as planned WMD programs, but they were little more than attempted face-savers. And did our Parliament take up either issue this week? Did the Labor Opposition ask even one question, make even one speech?

Not in the House, it didn't. Simon Crean and his band of lemmings stayed well away from Iraq all week. In the Senate, nobody raised Iraq during any of the three days of parliamentary questions, but the Greens' Bob Brown initiated the two-hour debate on Tuesday that ended by censuring Howard. Eight senators spoke, among them Labor's Senate leader, John Faulkner, and its defence spokesman, Chris Evans. Remarkably, only a single Government speaker defended the Prime Minister.

I'm confused. Does Alan Ramsey expect parliament to debate the great issues of the day or something?

'Resolving Deadlocks' or death knell to dissent?

It is appropriate that the political mechanism do the bulk of the work in resolving conflicts between the Executive and the Parliament. That's why the Prime Minister's first option fails the test. It would reduce enormously the incentive of the Executive to cut a deal to have a Bill pass the Senate, as a relatively short delay can trigger the joint sitting.

The second option maintains most weight on the political mechanism but gives some real meaning to the constitutional mechanism. It means that a government which wants to govern will need to negotiate to get its legislation adopted. Allowing a standoff to go to the people for resolution in the following parliament has real risks for both the government and the opposition parties in the Senate.

The government might not be re-elected. The Bill might be electorally unpopular, like selling the balance of Telstra, and not the kind of measure the government wants running as a de-facto referendum during an election campaign. The opposition parties face equal pressures of risking electoral setbacks by staring down Bills.

But there will be 'icon' type issues which the political mechanism will never resolve. Labor will not accept the sale of Telstra, or the unfair dismissal laws which limit workers job security. On these issues, the government can legitimately claim to have a mandate, while the Senate opposition parties equally claim a mandate to reject them.

Conflicting political mandates over icon issues need a constitutional mechanism to come into play. The second option in the Discussion Paper has the core of the solution, but it needs the four year term component to get the balance right.

I disagree. The prime minister has an almost unlimited right to call early elections. All I can see happening under Option 2 is that every deadlocked bill will become a whip over the Senate and a strong temptation to call an early election. It's like catching goldfish with a shotgun.

Diebold and the California vote

One of Miller's correspondents performed some number-crunching of the Diebold counties and concluded:
The probability of scoring twice the expected average county % could charitably be construed as the upper limit of the possible. Some candidates exceed that figure in Diebold counties by a four or five fold margin. If you have done statistics, you know that is so far beyond what might be expected that you would reject it as defective data. If it happened to one candidate in this election, I would be surprised but might accept it. There are a large number of candidates who have this same systematic pattern of receiving skimmed votes.

The California recall shows Diebold trying to affect the election outcome by moving votes from high ranked candidates to low ranked candidates.

By doing this, Diebold keep the total number of votes cast constant but rob some candidate of their votes.

At this remove, it's impossible to assess the accuracy of the analysis, but it certainly appears valid, and moreover bears investigating.

I'm sure the California media will get right on it.

The Diebold story gets curiouser and curiouser. More on this here

10 October 2003

Bad King John and the Australian Constitution

In one respect Australia could benefit by a large injection of the charter tradition. Perhaps because of our convict origins, when we started with governors possessing absolute powers, we do not have a great understanding of the virtues of limiting governments and putting safeguards between the state and the citizen. We tend to think that, provided that governments are democratically elected, they should be able to do anything. In short, we do not have a strong tradition of constitutionalism properly so called. Our version of the so-called Westminster system encourages our leaders to think that, once they have foxed 40% of the electorate at an election, they have the country by the throat. Our prime ministers and premiers are averse to being told that anything is beyond their lawful powers, and are angered by restraints applied by upper houses or judges. They frequently behave in ways which make King John and Charles I seem moderate by comparison. When they have majorities in both houses of parliament they become more like those monarchs' eastern contemporaries. We have not had a Magna Carta, or a Petition of Right, or a Bill of Rights as part of our own history, and we have not sufficiently valued what we have inherited from those great events. We should, particularly at this time, tap into that inheritance.


Governor-General's Address to RUSI

The second matter for possible discussion - and this has already been recognised by the Government - is to take the opportunity to support reform of the Security Council of the United Nations.

It seems to me that if the world does not want a superpower of the day to take unilateral or multilateral action against threats that it perceives to be inimical to its national interest, then the UN must be given the authority and the appropriate tools to ensure that human rights and the dignity of the individual under Article 10 are maintained.

In time, this may require the UN to consider cooperative, interventionist action in potential or active trouble spots with a view to pre-empting the genocidal bloodbaths that we have witnessed in parts of Africa, Europe, the Middle East and, indeed, our own region.

It may well be that the East Timor and Solomon Islands examples will provide possible models for UN intervention.

A third consideration is to continue to develop, maintain and strengthen links and dialogue with strategic-partner countries - such as the United States.

We share many values with the US, and we have mutually reinforcing interests - interests that, importantly, needn't conflict with our building up strong relations with countries, such as Indonesia, in our more immediate region.

While His Excellency's opinions are not all that unreasonable, this is a direct endorsement of government policy. It is improper in a neutral head of state. I took voices opposed to this appointment with a grain of salt. I was wrong.

The offence is compounded because the government has seen fit to endorse the political opinions of the governor-general. I am beginning to think we need a new governor-general. Again.

At least I fought down the temptation to name this item after Donald Horne's seminal work, His Excellency's Pleasure.

Can a tiger ever make a good pet?

'Even if it's been brought up in captivity, [a tiger has] still got its wild instinct to a certain extent,' says Adam Woodward, team leader of the carnivore section at Chester Zoo. 'It still needs to make a territory and_ they aren't animals to become pets.' And it's not as if the tiger needs to be feeling aggressive to do any damage. 'If it plays with you it can kill you,' says Miranda Stevenson, director of the British Federation of Zoos.

To keep a tiger as a pet, you need permission from your local authority under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. You're unlikely to get it, but if you do, good luck.

Some people have no ambition. The Green Man dreams of a pet elephant.

Beware Senate reform that seeks to only block the block

At least four further changes are necessary to bring about appropriate reform of the Senate.

First, elections for the Senate and House of Representatives should be required to be held simultaneously. There is no justification for separate elections for the two houses - and indeed the enormous cost of doing so means that, in practice, the ballots are usually now held together.

Second, the budget bills must be seen as a special case. These need to be enacted with greater urgency and certainty than other bills and cannot be delayed for months lest the government run out of money and face dismissal. No matter which party is in government, it ought to be able to enact its budget without having to go to an election. In this case, the Howard proposal has merit. Budget bills ought to be able to be enacted at a joint sitting after being twice rejected by the Senate.

Third, there should be fixed terms for both houses. While the term should be set at four years, it may be sensible to give a government some leeway, such as the capacity to call an election up to six months before the set date. This would reduce the power of governments to manipulate the electoral cycle to their advantage, including using it to threaten the Senate with an early election.

Fourth, all senators should serve four-year terms and not, as is currently the case, double the length of the members of the lower house. Eight years is too long for any parliamentarian to go without seeking re-election. This change would mean having to choose all senators at each election, rather than only half. It would give some advantage to the minor parties because they would need to get fewer votes to achieve a quota for the election of a senator.

I'd add the Australian Democrat proposal for proportional representation in the House, parliamentary consent to treaties and military action. Really, the prime minister of Australia is probably the most autocratic office in the democratic world.

Our prime minister can make war at will, can sign and ratify treaties at will, can name judges without legislative confirmation, controls the career path of every senior public servant, has absolute control of the House of Representatives which can be dissolved at will, has no bill of rights to contend with, and has the right not to be told anything by the intelligence agencies.

What happens when the Pope dies?

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., editor in chief of America, a Catholic Weekly, has written an excellent explanation of what happens next if the pope goes into a coma or dies. See complete report.

There are lots of rules-of-thumb for papal elections. My favourites are that fat popes are always succeeded by thin popes and whoever goes into the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal.

The fat pope/thin pope rule would make us expect a progressive, probably from the Third World or Western Europe, to emerge from the next conclave. However the rules have been changed.

For the first 12 days you need a 2/3 vote to be elected. After that:

If no candidate receives a two-thirds vote after all of these ballots, the camerlengo invites the electors to express an opinion about the manner of proceeding. It is at this point that John Paul II dramatically changed the election process by allowing an absolute majority (more than half) of the electors to waive the requirement of a two-thirds majority vote. Thus, an absolute majority of the electors can decide to elect the pope by an absolute majority. They can also decide to force a choice between the two candidates who in the preceding ballot received the greatest number of votes. In this second case only an absolute majority is required.

That probably favours the conservatives and may put an end to the thin pope/fat pope rule. The other interesting detail is that if the new cardinals, including the fell Dr Pell of Sydney, are not sworn in before the pope's death they have to wait for the next pope before they get the red hat, or a vote in the election.

Russia bares its military teeth

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has said his country does not rule out a pre-emptive military strike anywhere in the world if the national interest demands it.

He said that Russia faced foreign interference in its internal affairs and instability in neighbouring states as well as classic threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism and the drugs trade

President Vladimir Putin, who met Mr Ivanov on Thursday, added that the Russian military still possessed a formidable nuclear arsenal.

A report by the Defence Ministry also called on Nato to review its strategy, warning that otherwise it would be necessary to pursue 'a radical reconstruction of Russian military planning, including changes in Russian nuclear strategy'.

This is just more fruit falling from the neocon tree. Evidently Israel has adopted the preemptive war doctrine. Who next? China? Pakistan? Iran? We had a world of imperfect law. Now we are fast drifting into a world of total anarchy.

Letters - Sydney Morning Herald

California voters save the world from another sequel.

Obviously the best outcome of the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California is the likelihood that he won't be making any more films.

India offers Arnie a pointer or two

NTR and MGR did extremely well in buttressing their screen image to further their political ends. NTR played God in several of his movies, produced at his own studios, and built temples for people to worship him, and he played a similar role as a higher being while in office. MGR, meanwhile, portrayed the role of the savior of Tamil pride perfectly whenever his political stakes were down. The tactic worked a charm.

Schwarzenegger could also learn that in politics, the spicier the better. The current chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalitha, was the top actress of her time, and she also happened to be a mistress of MGR. She fought a bitter political battle of legacy with MGR's widow, who was herself chief minister for a short while before Jayalalitha took over.

For further micro studies, Arnold could brush up on the political history of several other stars - Shabana Azmi, Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Vyajantimala Bali and Raj Babbar, to name a few.

Due to their larger-than-life presence, plenty of literature delves into the role of film stars in politics. Arnold could study this as well. What emerges from this knowledge bank is that when people in the past voted for stars, they did so for style rather than substance, for image rather than reality.

However, the Indian electorate has evolved. It has come to realize that it is the person who delivers that matters. The mantle of NTRs party has been taken over by his technocrat son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu, who dreams of modeling his state on Singapore by making it the hub of India's information technology boom.

Jayalalitha was voted back into power not because of her star status, but due to the ineptitude of the previous government, as well as her reputation as an iron-fisted leader.

Actors, like anybody else, have the right to stand for elections, and like anybody else they need to perform or they will be shunted out. No doubt they have an initial advantage, but honeymoons have a horrible habit of ending all too soon.

Actors, like everybody else, also need to understand that you can't balance the budget by raising spending and cutting revenue. The new fiscal technique of waving a broom about has not been tested yet.

Catholic Churches Say Condoms Don't Stop AIDS

The World Health Organization, guardian watchdog of global wellbeing, rejected the Vatican view.

'These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million,' the WHO told the program.

It conceded condoms could break or be damaged and permit passage of semen, but said they reduced the risk of infection by 90 percent and were certainly secure enough to prevent passage of the virus if not torn.

[BBC's] Panorama said scientific research had found intact condoms were impermeable to particles as small as sexually transmitted infection pathogens -- a view rejected by Trujillo.

'They are wrong about that...this is an easily recognizable fact,' he told the program.

From Nicaragua to Kenya and the Philippines, the Panorama team found the same tale from the Catholic church -- that condoms can kill.

No official comment from the Vatican was immediately available on Thursday.

Still shaking my head in disbelief...

9 October 2003

Clare Short: The U.S. needs the world's help -- now

Salon: Given that he didn't believe Iraq was an imminent threat, why did Blair go to war, anyway?

[Former UK Secretary of International Development] Clare Short: There are six points that he supposedly wrote down and was working with throughout the crisis. He never shared them with the Parliament or his cabinet. But one of them, apparently, was that after Sept. 11 it was inevitable that America would go to war in Iraq. It would be better if they went through the U.N., but it would be very dangerous if they went alone, so Britain would have to go with them. I don't understand this logic. I don't understand why if America makes a mistake Britain doing it with them would make it any better.

He has said that the danger of America is that it becomes isolationist, so we have to remain engaged with America. But then his logic fails completely, because by that logic, to stop America from being isolationist, Britain will always do whatever America says.

Britain's role should have been to say that if you do this right and go with the United Nations and keep the international community involved, we will be your strong supporter, and this time we will deal with Iraq and not let pass another 12 years of sanctions and suffering for the Iraqi people.

If America had had no allies, the American people would have had more doubt, and they might have taken more time and done it right. We didn't have any leverage to correct mistakes. That was Blair's error, and he lost the support of his country. It's a tragedy for everybody.

Blair's position fascinates me. John Howard's decision was clearly based in beliefs about Australia as the hyperally. You'd expect Blair to know better. Despite his various prose rhapsodies and his channeling Margaret Thatcher's 'The lady's not for turning' I still don't understand why he joined Bush, far his intellectual inferior, in this madness.

The aftermath has been a disaster and Britain stands in danger of becoming as isolationist as the US.

Hear Me, California!

Let me speak to you all individually, my Californian friends. Your Governor ought to be smart. Really smart. Preferably smarter than you. Not just savvy, not just clever, but the kind of book-readin', history knowin', problem solvin', degree earnin', flexibly thinkin' smart that will ensure a measured and creative approach to whatever arises. If George Bush has proved anything, it's that a likable Regular Guy can't really balance the budget, or protect our interests, or refrain from pissing off our allies, or navigate the tricky waters of domestic and global affairs. No, only in the movies can a Regular Guy do that. A Regular Guy (if he's lucky) can become a movie star, or work out a lot, or buy a baseball team, or get rich, or be the last person standing on a reality TV show. And yes, a Regular Guy can develop very strong 'leadership skills.' But a Regular Guy really, truly isn't qualified to run a major state or a nation. Please, please, stop electing Regular Guys. They're making things worse. Much, much worse.

Is Arnold dumb? Despite the horrible scripts he accepts, probably not. That's not the point. The point is that the unnominated, unqualified, and under-educated Candidate Schwarzenegger has given you absolutely no reason to think that he's got what it takes. Sometimes political outsiders are a boon. But sometimes they're outsiders for a reason. Arnold's given you nothing to go on except the obvious opinion that he's too Big to accept anything from the government of California short of the starring role.

This is probably a useless and overlong entry, and it's a little self-defeating: As a comedy writer, naturally, Arnold's election would be a windfall. But the same could be said for President Bush's rise to power, and at some point the tragedy of the decline of the United States of America starts to outweigh the punchline bonanza.

Curing Cailfornia's problems will take more than a broom and a movie script. They still have a deficit. They still need a 2/3 vote in each house of their legislature to pass a budget or increase taxes. The Enron allegations are still out there.

Vatican: condoms don't stop Aids

The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk.

The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to the HIV virus.

A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are untrue.

I am not going to try and pick holes in the Vatican's argument. They only took 300 years to admit they were wrong about Galileo.

Pity that this scientific error, unlike the geocentric theory of the universe, will kill people.

Honest John and the Chamber of Horrors

On 8 October 2003 the Prime Minister released 'Resolving deadlocks: a discussion paper on section 57 of the Australian Constitution'. This paper considers additional options for resolution of deadlocks between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Section 57 currently provides for deadlocks between the House of Representatives and the Senate to be resolved by a double dissolution election.

The first option canvassed by the discussion paper would allow the Governor General to convene a joint sitting of both houses to consider a deadlocked bill, without the need for an election. The second option would allow the Governor General to convene a joint sitting of both houses after an ordinary general election.

The discussion paper is fairly light reading. Its case is persuasive only if you accept that the national interest and government policy are always the same thing. If you accept that governments are occasionally wrong then you probably want the Senate to have a second look at government bills.

Option 1 would simply abolish the power of the Senate while keeping the appearance of a second chamber. An upper house without power to stop government bills is pointless and a better approach would to honestly and openly advocate abolition of the Senate.

Option2 is more interesting but ultimately would just generate more and more elections. The effective term of the House is already shorter than 3 years:

Since 1901 the average elapsed time between elections has been 30.7 months, though if the six double dissolution elections are not counted, this figure climbs to 32.5 months.

If we look at specific periods over the years, we note that there has been a marked reduction in term length during the past 25 years. The average for all elections during this time is only 28.5 months, though the holding of four double dissolution elections no doubt distorts the figures. Even with these four elections removed from the figures, the average parliament (ignoring the current parliament) has lasted barely 31 months (see Table 4).

Under Option 2 the prime minister gets a chance to pass all government bills rejected by the previous Senate. The effect is that the prime minister has a heavy temptation to call extra general elections because, after every such election, the deadlocked bills can be passed in a joint sitting.

The Australian people like divided government:

Of course, the winning threshold for Senate elections (14.3 per cent) is far less than the tentative figure given above for House of Representatives elections. Still, the votes have shifted, and the consequence has been the inability of the major parties to gain a majority in the Senate.(41) The well-publicised consequence has been the increasingly interventionist style of the Senate when performing its review role. An obvious way of dealing with this is to alter the voting method arrangements, but such an approach would simply turn a blind eye to the seepage in major party votes that seemingly reflects long-term changes in voting behaviour.(42)

The discussion paper admits, by implication, that more Australians vote for opposition and minor parties in electing senators than in electing MHRs. It follows that many Australians vote for a major party in the House and for a minor party in the Senate. That's their choice. That choice coud be seen before the increase in the size of the Senate.

Adopting Option 2 would not cure the propensity of the Australian people to elect divided parliaments. It would merely ensure even more frequent elections than now, driven by prime ministerial ambition.

8 October 2003

Berkshire Eagle Online - Today's Editorials

The White House did not equivocate while making its case for war. President Bush asserted that Iraq had reconstituted a nuclear weapons program and could have a bomb within a year. The president claimed Iraq had 500 tons of chemical weapons, 25,000 liters of anthrax and 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin. Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed U.S. troops would discover four chemical munitions bunkers in Taji, a factory for making poisons and explosives in Khurmal and a center for testing biological and chemical weapons in Amiriyah. None of the above were found, and chief inspector David Kay's assertion that evidence was discovered of Saddam Hussein's 'intent' to develop such weapons is too feeble to take seriously.

The next time someone tells the prewar WMD claims are confirmed by the Kay report I will run through:

  • 500 tons of chemical weapons
  • 25,000 liters of anthrax and 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin
  • four chemical munitions bunkers in Taji
  • factory for making poisons and explosives in Khurmal
  • a center for testing biological and chemical weapons in Amiriyah
  • the massive terrorist facility in Iraqi Kurdistan

The last 4 are rather large items and (I would have thought) somewhat difficult to conceal. That is probably why the massive terrorist facility was exposed as a myth before the war even began. We are not told the size of the vial of mass destruction, but I suspect it does not hold 35 000 litres.

Troppo Armadillo: Supporting Rimmer

...hype to fill the tabloid columns. For instance, a headline in today's NT News;

Pom fans spark kinky sex boom

Australian brothels are stocking up on whips and chains for the World Cup in anticipation of a boom in business generated by posh English fans.

Some blogposts just cry out to be quoted word for word.

How Blair Lost by Winning

Someone who saw through this was Hugo Young, the longtime columnist for The Guardian, who died last month. Mr. Young was a man of very high principle, who despite all he had seen retained a capacity to be shocked by political mendacity. He was also a liberal centrist with much fondness for America, if not for the Bush administration.

Shortly before his death (when Tony Blair, needless to say, fulsomely joined in the tributes to Mr. Young's career), and maybe with an urgent sense of mortality, Mr. Young wrote a series of devastating columns. He put his finger on 'the great overarching fact about the war that Blair will never admit but cannot convincingly deny.' This was that 'he was committed to war months before he said he was.'

He was committed because he had persuaded himself - though not the British people - of the necessity of following the United States, come what may. Mr. Blair even elucidated this (albeit only in private, as reliably recorded by the journalist Peter Stothard): 'It would be more damaging to long-term world peace and security if the Americans alone defeated Saddam Hussein than if they had international support to do so.'

And so what he insistently calls 'my decision' was, in truth, made for him in Washington. After that, it was simply a matter of finding what the deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, has called 'bureaucratic reasons' for war. And on that count, Mr. Blair performed a very useful service for President Bush.

When the Cuba correspondent in 'Citizen Kane' cables back to the newspaper that he could 'send you prose poems' about the scenery but that 'there is no war,' Charles Foster Kane replies, 'you provide the prose poems - I'll provide the war.' That, in effect, was the deal between George Bush and Tony Blair.

And provide them Mr. Blair duly did, even if some of the prose rhapsodies - particularly those about 45-minute missile deployment and exotic minerals out of Africa - were just a little too fanciful. Now even the prime minister must begin to see the perverse consequences of this: far from a greater closeness between the two countries, there is now a palpable estrangement.

Although no cleverer or nicer than the Americans, the British are perhaps more literal-minded, with an innate distaste for being misled. More and more they sense that they were taken into war on false pretenses. And, no, they do not think that this was such a beautiful thing.

I think this is broadly true of John Howard as well, although his chances of managing a prose rhapsody are perhaps more limited. The Howard government has been more fortunate in that the ADF has suffered no casualties, the war has had little impact on our budget, and there was probably a bipartisan consensus on the importance of Australia's role as hyperally. Those saving factors do not exist in Britain and Australia has yet to see opposition to the war from people at the same level as Robin Cook.

Despite that, I suspect the long run will be no kinder to Howard's government than to Blair's. Life will get tougher as more information emerges about the actual date on which Howard committed Australia to war - presumably not long after Blair. Life will get even tougher once the Hutton inquiry reports and the number of occasions that Howard was not told anything grow and grow.

Pentagon offers 'bioterror kit' online

The Pentagon has been selling surplus laboratory equipment that could be used to make biological or chemical weapons, according to a congressional investigation released yesterday.

Defence officials were called in to answer questions before a congressional inquiry about the sale of the army surplus, which included centrifuges, evaporators, bacteriological incubators, and protective suits to unknown customers in other countries, including Egypt and the Philippines, where terrorist groups have been known to operate.

The news is particularly embarrassing, coming only days after the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group claimed the discovery of similar equipment in Iraq was evidence that the Saddam Hussein regime had a covert weapons programme.


Letwin pledges to send asylum-seekers 'far, far away

A Tory government would slam the door on all asylum-seekers, automatically deporting them to a foreign island 'far, far away' for processing, the shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin said yesterday.

The scheme, which would give Britain the hardest stance on refugees in the Western world, provoked ridicule and anger after Mr Letwin admitted he did not have the 'slightest idea' where the island would be. The Government denounced it as laughable and refugee groups said it would be illegal and inhumane.

There are historical precedents for Britain transporting prisoners overseas, but I'm not sure they'll work in the 21st century.

Iraq/ It was never about Sept. 11

The PNAC adherents also predicted that Russia, China and France would raise a stink about unilateral action, but quickly would come around when the dust settled. They also asserted that the other nations in the Middle East would demonstrate heightened respect for a United States willing to use its military power.

As is clear now, France and the others didn't come around. Nor have other nations in the region professed great admiration for the United States for its actions in Iraq.

As is clear now, Saddam was nowhere near achieving a WMD capability. The best evidence suggests his WMD programs ended following the Gulf War and the arrival of U.N. inspectors, and were never restarted.

As is clear now, Clinton's policy of containment had worked pretty well.

As is clear now, the American people were sold a bill of goods by a small cadre of PNAC ideologues, bent on attacking Iraq, who latched onto the opportunity provided by Osama bin Laden and his crew of suicidal, airplane-hijacking terrorists. The price? Scores of billions of dollars, hundreds of young American lives, the standing of the United States in the world, plus the credibility of President Bush and his neocon cronies.

Um, let us add the young British lives and the many, many more Iraqi lives of all ages. Let us also ask what happened to the neocon claim that the road to peace runs through Baghdad?

The Iraq Sanctions Worked - And other revelations from David Kay's report

'At least one senior Iraqi official believed that by 2000 Saddam had run out of patience with waiting for sanctions to end and wanted to restart the nuclear program,' the report notes.

However, the evidence that Saddam acted on this impatience is flimsy at best. 'Starting around 2000,' the report states, Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Sa'id, Saddam's senior atomic-energy official (who was killed during the fall of Baghdad when his driver tried to run a U.S. roadblock), 'began several small and relatively unsophisticated research initiatives that could be applied to nuclear weapons development.'

The report adds, 'These initiatives did not in and of themselves constitute a resumption of the nuclear weapons program, but could have been useful in developing a weapons-relevant science base for the long-term.' This sentence, which seems very carefully written, is so devoid of meaning that it could accurately be invoked to describe the purchase of a college-level textbook in nuclear physics.

I've now been through this report 3 times. Each time I read it the avalanche of qualifiers and hedging strikes me more and more. If the published report, or even the classified sections, contained serious evidence of weapons of mass destruction, I think we would have heard something more persuasive than attempts to conflate botulinum B with botulinum A or to describe a vial as equivalent to the famous 10000 tons plus of chemical weapons.

Kaplan also addresses the missile development program in fairly damning terms:

The evidence garnered on behalf of Saddam's ballistic-missile program is similarly weak. Beginning in 2000, Saddam "ordered the development of ballistic missiles with ranges of at least 400km and up to 1000km." However, according to "a cooperating senior detainee," the report goes on, "Saddam concluded that the proposals from � missile design centers would take too long." Saddam wanted the missile built within six months, but one of his design centers told him it would take "six years."

Kay's teams discovered that, in 2000, Saddam sought to buy Scud-type missiles from North Korea (a finding that, by the way, suggests Iraq couldn't build them itself). However, the report admits that, by the time the war started, "these discussions had not led to any missiles being transferred to Iraq."

At a news conference shortly after his testimony, Kay shed more light on this curious connection within the "axis of evil." Saddam paid North Korea $10 million for the missiles. However, the North Koreans decided delivering the missiles was too risky because they thought the rest of the world was watching Iraqi transactions too closely. (North Korea kept the $10 million, though. Some axis.)

The Kay report claimed a network of safe houses, a miissile program, and the vial of mass destruction. Kaplan's article destroys the missile program. The vial of mass destruction is an absurdity and its absurdity is proved by the efforts to misrepresent it.

I am still trying to chase down the network of safe houses. The more I examine this stuff, the more I am reminded by one of those alleged TV documentaries that strings together unrelated facts for half an hour and then suddenly asks: 'Could Martians have constructed the Sydney Harbour Bridge?' Kay's discourse and rhetoric is the same.

7 October 2003

White House's Cynical Iraq Ploy

It's hard to believe that it was just a slip of the tongue rather than a calculated lie when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sullied the memory of those who died on 9/11 by exploiting their deaths for propaganda purposes. The brainwashing of Americans, two-thirds of whom believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks, is too effective a political ploy for the Bush regime to suddenly let the truth get in the way.

'We know [Iraq] had a great deal to do with terrorism in general and with Al Qaeda in particular and we know a great many of [Osama] bin Laden's key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime ' Wolfowitz told ABC on this year's 9/11 anniversary.

We know nothing of the sort, of course, and the next day Wolfowitz was forced to admit it. He told Associated Press that his remarks referred not to a 'great many' of Bin Laden's lieutenants but rather to a single Jordanian, Abu Musab Zarqawi. '[I] should have been more precise,' Wolfowitz admitted.

Even if the leaders of the Bush team were half as smart as they think they are, it would be amazing that they 'misspoke' as often as they have. As happened Sunday when Tim Russert challenged Vice President Dick Cheney to defend his claim, made on 'Meet the Press' before the war, that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. 'Yeah, I did misspeak,' Cheney admitted. 'We never had any evidence that [Hussein] had acquired a nuclear weapon.'

The pattern is clear: Say what you want people to believe for the front page and on TV, then whisper a halfhearted correction or apology that slips under the radar. It is really quite ingenious in its cynical effectiveness, and Wolfowitz's latest performance is a classic example - even his correction needs correcting.

The Zarqawi connection has been a red herring since Colin Powell emphasized it in his prewar presentation to the United Nations Security Council, telling the world how Zarqawi was running a chemical weapons lab. Problem was, the site was not in Iraqi control but was in the U.S.-patrolled no-fly zone, and when reporters visited it in the days immediately after Powell's speech they found nothing that indicated anything like a chemical weapons lab.

The fundamentalist militia known as Ansar al Islam that controlled the area, meanwhile, was supported by Hussein's enemies in Iran.

Nor has any evidence of connections between Ansar al Islam and Hussein's regime surfaced since the U.S invasion, as Wolfowitz conceded in congressional testimony last Tuesday.

The most egregious example of this tactic since this article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times on 16 September is the vial of mass destruction whose precise contents seem to change at will. The British government has called it a WMD, as has President Bush, although even the ISG's David Kay later admitted that was not the case.

Powell's original claims about the 'massive terrorist facility' in Iraqi Kurdistan were twice repeated during the war by high CENTCOM officials and then disavowed later by more junior officers.

Universal Declaration of Ovine Rights

Article 1

All sheep are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Every sheep is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Every sheep who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

Speaking in Canberra, Prime Minister John Howard warmly welcomed the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Ovine Rights while affirming that his government would be enacting special legislation to ensure that no human refugee was able to assert any rights under the declaration.

Stranded sheep offered to 25 countries

Australia had gone back to 25 countries to try to sell them 52,000 sheep stranded aboard a ship for the past two months, Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said today. But he admitted an analysis on the quarantine risk was not yet complete.

Mr Truss said Australia was using an independent veterinary report to prove to potential customers that the sheep were disease-free and fit for human consumption.

He said a vet from the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) had given the sheep, stuck aboard the MV Cormo Express, a clean bill of health.

Countries which had initially expressed interest in the sheep but were concerned about their disease status had now been presented with the OIE report.

I wonder if they've tried Nauru?

It's all LanguageHat's fault

LanguageHat turned up in the Snopes Urban Legends pages! What did Steve do this time? Snopes has pinned him as the popularizer of the "rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy" text which illustrates scrambling word order has little effect on comprehensibility provided the first and last letters are in place. The Snopes article can be found here.

Tim may be innocent...


Go type "once in a blue moon" into Google. I'm serious, go do it.



Revelation casts doubt on Iraq find

While presenting his progress report to Congress, Mr Kay did not say when and where the botulinum had been hidden but he told a television interviewer on Sunday that the scientist involved said he was asked to hide the botulinum in his refrigerator at home in 1993. Iraq admitted pursuing a biological weapons programme to UN inspectors two years later. It is unclear whether the Iraqi scientist had received any orders from the regime after that date.

It is also unclear whether the vial contained the bacteria botulinum, from which the toxin is drawn, or the toxin itself, as Mr Kay claimed in interviews over the weekend.

Furthermore, the most lethal form of the germ is the A strain, while the form found by the ISG was the B strain.

Mr Kay admitted that 'we have not yet found shiny, pointy things that I would call a weapon', but he insisted there was plenty of evidence of Saddam's intentions to reconstitute weapons programmes once free of international scrutiny. He said the scientist who had the botulinum toxin in his refrigerator had also been entrusted with many more strains of biological weapons, including anthrax, but had given them back 'because he said they were too dangerous; he had small children in the house'.

More evidence of such programmes was included in a 200-page classified version of the 13-page report made public, but experts in the ISG, including former UN inspectors, have so far not been allowed to read the classified version, according to one of their former colleagues.

The refusal to allow ISG experts to read a report on their own work adds weight to suspicions that the report has been manipulated. 'They're under huge pressure to come up with whatever,' the ex-colleague said.

Mr Kay has said privately the report's publication was held up for about two weeks while more work was done on it at CIA headquarters.

Boldface mine. If the ISG's own experts were not allowed to read the report, then what are its conclusions worth? If there was serious evidence why do we end up with jack Straw misrepresenting the vial of mass destruction? If the vial dates from 1993, when we know Iraq was working on WMDs, why is it's 'discovery' 10 years later probative of anything happening in 2003?

Survey Group head's link to arms industry

For at least 10 years David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, has staked his professional and business reputation on the case that Iraq was a serious threat.

He was a frequent pundit on US television shows, making the case for regime change in blunt language. He called the attempt by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, to broker an effective inspections process in 1998 'worse than useless'; claimed in 2002 that Iraq was pursuing its weapons of mass destruction in order to bring about the elimination of the state of Israel; and said before entering Iraq that the Coalition would find not just a 'smoking gun', but a 'smoking arsenal'.

Until October last year, Mr Kay was the vice-president of a major San Diego-based defence contractor, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), co-ordinating its homeland security and counter-terrorism initiatives. It was while he held this role that he claimed that Iraq could launch terrorist attacks on the US mainland.

SAIC was in the headlines earlier this year when it was revealed that the US government had given it a contract three years ago to produce mobile biological vans for training purposes. Until February SAIC's corporate vice-president was Christopher Ryan Henry, now a senior policy official at the Pentagon.

SAIC's spokesman acknowledged earlier this year that the company is deeply involved in the current war in Iraq, including its role in leading a $650m contract for services and support for the US army. Among other activities, the company runs the US-funded radio station in Umm Qasr, 'Voice of the New Iraq', and helps to provide senior advisers to the US occupation authorities in Baghdad. It is not known if Mr Kay retains financial interests in SAIC.

It's especially interesting that Kay's company has a contract to make 'mobile biological vans' for the US government. You'd expect him, then, to have a very good idea of what a trailer of mass destruction might look like.

A billion live in slums: UN

About a sixth of the world's population , nearly 1 billion people, live in slums, and that number could double by 2030 if developed nations fail to change course and start giving the issue serious attention, a United Nations report says.

The UN Human Settlements Program's report is the first to assess slums and examine how widespread they are. Its main concern is the developing nations in Asia and Africa because the migration from rural areas to cities in Europe and the Americas has largely played out.

The report's main finding is stark - almost half the world's urban population lives in slums. Asia has the largest number of slum dwellers overall, with 554 million, while sub-Saharan Africa has the largest percentage of its urban population living in slums, about 71 per cent.

'In some developing country cities, slums are so pervasive that it is the rich who have to segregate themselves behind small, gated enclaves,' the report says.

The report describes slums as poor areas that lack basic services or access to clean water, where housing is poorly built and overcrowded. Developed nations are not immune - 54 million people who live in cities in richer countries do so in slum-like conditions.

The whole report is available. It's worth asking whether slum-dwellers are more or less likely to support terrorist networks and if so, whether the resources of the War on Terror would be better devoted to sustainability.

New team to oversee Iraq effort

Publicly the White House says the new management group reflects the turn towards greater emphasis on reconstruction and political reform efforts that will follow passage of the president's supplemental budget.

But the president is also said to be frustrated with lack of a more solid sense of progress in the two countries. At the same time, opinion polls indicate similar frustration among an American public whose confidence in the president's ability to manage the postwar period is flagging.

Dissatisfaction has also surfaced within the administration over management of the Iraq reconstruction effort, with State Department officials especially unhappy at the fact the Pentagon was made the lead agency for rebuilding work.

But the new focus appears to be a tweak of the State Department as well, since it is running Afghanistan's post-conflict reconstruction.

That explains why a particular emphasis of the new coordination will be communication. Administration officials, moreover, have been frustrated that the public is not picking up on signs of hope in Iraq. 'There's a feeling in the administration that the great progress we've made in Iraq in may ways has not been reflected at home in the media, and they want to see that the word gets out better,' says James Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

'Their real goal is to stabilize Bush's public approval rating,' says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. This, he adds, means 'sending the message [to people on the ground] to produce - and fast.'

A good first move for the Iraq Stabilisation Group would be a memo from NSA Rice directing everyone to read their memoes.

Daily Mislead

President Bush's decision to attack Saddam Hussein was made within days after the September 11th suicide hijackings, even though Bush claimed on the eve of his invasion 'the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war.'

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has acknowledged that in the first weekend after September 11th 'the disagreement was whether [invading Iraq] should be in the immediate response or whether you should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first.'

No-one would ever believe such a disgraceful allegation, if only the Bush administration showed some slight capacity for veracity.

6 October 2003

Selective reading and choice friends

The key document - shown to Asia Times Online by a Jordanian intelligence source - is in the form of an internal UNSCOM/IAEA report classified as 'sensitive'. On page 13 of what is the transcript of the UNSCOM/IAEA interview with Hussein Kamel, he categorically says, 'I ordered the destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.' He also says that 'not a single missile was left, but they had blueprints and molds for production. All missiles were destroyed.'

Kamel discloses that anthrax was 'the main focus' of the Iraqi biological program (pages 7-8). He confirms all weapons and agents were destroyed: 'Nothing remained after visits of inspection teams.' Kamel also says, 'They put VX [nerve gas] in bombs during the last days of the Iran-Iraq war [of the 1980s]. They were not used and the program was terminated.' On page 13, Rolf Ekeus asks Kamel if Iraq had restarted VX production after the Iran-Iraq war. Kamel says, 'We changed the factory into pesticide production. Part of the establishment started to produce medicine [...] we gave instructions not to produce chemical weapons.' On page 8, Kamel insists that 'I made the decision to disclose everything so that Iraq could return to normal.'

In August 1995, both the Bill Clinton administration in the US and the John Major government in the UK took Kamel's assertion that Iraq had destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles - as Saddam's regime claimed - very seriously. But this 'sensitive' interview was kept secret for more than seven years. It was only leaked in early 2003. Kamel's interview was then endlessly spun by Bush and Blair. But the key point remains undisputable: Saddam's regime destroyed all its WMD after the 1991 Gulf War.

This was not the soundbite that the Pentagon neo-conservatives wanted. So they listened instead to their lone 'humint' (human intelligence) on Iraq - which entirely consists in the person of Ahmad Chalabi, founder of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) - an organization basically created by the US - a convicted fraudster in Jordan, and rotating chairman during the month of September of the 25-member, American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel, Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law briefly defected in 1995, then returned to Baghdad on Saddam's promises of safety. They were then shot. UNSCOM and IAEA interviewed Kamel in Amman. The Kay report might be persuasive if it contained anything new, or anything that disproved the Kamel interview, but it does not. One vial of precursor does not a WMD program make. That the Bush administration has represented Botulinum B, a much less toxic substance, as if it was Botulinum A suggests their addiction to spin is not approaching cure.

If any concrete evidence contradicted the Kamel interview we might take it less seriously. If the content of the Kamel interview had been published in 1995 when it first became available we might not wonder why its contents had to suppressed. If the Kamel interview did not make a joke of the Bush/Blair argument on Iraq's CBW capacity it might have seen the light of day earlier.

The Bush administration has had months to disprove the Kamel interview by producing such evidence and all we have is one little vial that's been misrepresented.

DailyKOS today blogged on the Bush mediaeval presidency, citing an article from the Los Angeles Times:

His self-confidence is certainly admirable at a time when most politicians mistake opinion polls for empiricism. It is also scary. As writer Leon Wieseltier recently observed, this is a presidency without doubt, one entirely comfortable with its own certainties, which is what makes it medieval. But as Wieseltier also observed, it is doubt that deepens one's vision of life and often provides a better basis for acting within it. It is doubt that helps one understand the world and enables one to avoid hubris. A presidency without doubt and resistant to disconcerting facts is a presidency not on the road to Damascus but on the road to disaster. By regarding facts as political tools, it compromises information and makes reality itself suspect, not to mention that it compromises the agencies that provide the information and makes them unreliable in the future. And by ignoring anything that contradicts its faith, it can vaingloriously plow ahead � right into the abyss. The president and his crew may well live within a pre-Enlightenment lead bubble where they are unwilling and unable to see beyond themselves, but their fellow Americans must live in the real world where even the most powerful nation cannot simply posit its own reality. If you need proof, just read the newspapers.

A presidency, or a premiership, without a reverse gear does not need facts, just a foot on the accelerator. If either Bush or Blair were operating within the empirical reality where the rest of us have to live we might expect them to agree on a few issues. They do not. Britain, according to Jack Straw's evidence (QQ1186) before their foreign affairs committee, does not accept any Iraq/al-Qa'eda link or any Iraq/11 September link. The US no longer accepts the Nigerien yellowcake allegation.

So we have a war where the two leaders of the military coalition did not agree on the factual reasons for the war. Why?

'Too little' oil for global warming

Oil and gas will run out too fast for doomsday global warming scenarios to materialise, according to a controversial analysis presented this week at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. The authors warn that all the fuel will be burnt before there is enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to realise predictions of melting ice caps and searing temperatures.

Defending their predictions, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say they considered a range of estimates of oil and gas reserves, and point out that coal-burning could easily make up the shortfall. But all agree that burning coal would be even worse for the planet.

The IPCC's predictions of global meltdown provided the impetus for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an agreement obliging signatory nations to cut CO2 emissions. The IPCC considered a range of future scenarios, from profligate burning of fossil-fuels to a fast transition towards greener energy sources.

But geologists Anders Sivertsson, Kjell Aleklett and Colin Campbell of Uppsala University say there is not enough oil and gas left for even the most conservative of the 40 IPCC scenarios to come to pass.

I suppose this is good news, although I somehow doubt the anti-global warming lobby will take it too enthusiastically because it implies we should burn less, not more, oil and gas.

Tiger found in NY unit

Police have removed a 180-kilogram tiger from a New York apartment in a commando-style operation.

Authorities investigated the home, in a public housing complex in New York's Harlem neighbourhood, after a man checked into a nearby hospital seeking treatment for bite wounds that he said came from a pit bull.

Valerie Plame is clearly the guilty party.

5 October 2003

Scrambled words can be hard to read

An email has been doing the rounds, claiming that 'Aoccdrnig to rsceearh at an elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer is in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit graet porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.'

Not so, says Martin Turner of the Dyslexia Institute. 'There is a spectrum of truth here, and that is towards the lower end, because actually sequence is about the only thing that is important.'

Experiments with so-called format distortion can change the appearance of a word drastically - alternating letters in capitals, lower case, superscript and subscript, for instance, or in a huge Gothic typeface to disguise the lettering - but in experiments young children can still read such disguised words, says Turner. What throws them is a change in the sequence of letters, hardly surprising because letters represent a flow of speech sound. The first letter is an important clue to a scrambled word, the last much less so.

In fact, the exact way in which the letters are scrambled can be extremely significant. For example, with plurals, leaving the 's' at the end, but not the letter that should have preceded it, can make the word hard to decipher.

'All you need to do is try and read that email,' says Turner. 'Immediately, you discover it is quite difficult to read. And secondly, you get very fed up with it after two or three sentences. What you have done is put yourself in the position of a dyslexic or poor reader, who loses interest jolly quickly.

All this is obviously an evil plot by Tim to spread weirdnesses of mass decipherment among the populace for his own nefarious purposes.

ADD humor

From the Gay-ADD List:
Can someone tell me how many ADDers it takes to change a lightbulb?

I gave it some thought and it actually takes 7 ADDers to screw in a lightbulb, all roommates:

#1 notices the room's dark, and leaves the house intending to buy lightbulbs. He forgets his errand and buys a CD instead.

#2 finds a lightbulb in the toaster but forgets to screw it in because the phone rings.

#3 notices the room's dark and goes out to buy lightbulbs, but when he gets to the store he finds that his bank account is overdrawn and he's broke.

#4 is writing a play and can't be interrupted by darkness- he goes to the corner cafe with his notepad.

#5 is fascinated by the interplay of moonlight and shadow and prefers the room dark. He sits in the corner and makes shadow puppets.

#6 decides to get lightbulbs once and for all, but he trips on a pile of junk on his way out of their apartment and is knocked unconscious.

#7 finds the lightbulb dropped by #2, and he goes to the closet for a ladder. In the closet he finds an old jacket he forgot he had, and decides to call his ex-boyfriend. He gets #2 off the phone. #2 notices the ladder and lightbulb, remembers what he was doing before and carries it into the living room.

#1 has put his CD on. #2 can't concentrate with music playing, and #1 and #2 start arguing in the dark. #7's ex isn't home, so #7 logs onto the internet and starts posting on gay-add. #3 returns home, finds #6 unconscious, and drags him in. Both trip over #5 in the dark. #7 comes rushing in to see what the noise was, trips over #5 and beans his head. All six of them argue for the next hour while #1's CD plays. Then #4 returns home, he's written his play and wants to read it to all of them. Sure! They respond, but we should have light. They set up the ladder, screw in the lighbulb, turn the light on and wait for the play to begin... but...

#4 has left his notepad at the cafe.

ISG Interim Progress Report

I thought I had already blogged this, but I was wrong. I've always made a point of linking to original documents as soon as they become available, as I did with the House of Commons FAC report, the British ISC report and a few others. A couple of my more excitable readers seem to think I've discussed this report without reading it. I read it carefully at the first chance I got.

Vegas will have to wait

But how cheering to read that the Foreign Minister, Lord Downer of Baghdad, thoroughly approves of this latest appointment to the Curia.

'The Government regards him as a good choice. We are delighted there is a new Australian cardinal, and such a distinguished Australian,' Lord Downer announced during a visit to the Vatican this week.

'I certainly want to congratulate the Pope on the appointment.'

I am unsure what qualifications the Foreign Minister brings to assessing princes of the Roman rite. He is an Anglican. If I am not wrong, the Downers of South Australia, in all their pomp, were one of the last landed Adelaide families to have a parson's living in their gift, as in Victorian England. Perhaps that is enough.

But no doubt the Pope will be thrilled that his decision to elevate Pell has got such a distinguished thumbs up.

Although the last time I saw the Pontiff on television he looked so pitifully decrepit that I don't think he'd notice if Downer drew up in St Peter's Square atop a caparisoned elephant with a Jamaican steel band and a troupe of acrobats.

I'm not sure what else anyone can say on this subject.

The spies who clutched at straws

What has appalled the British and US governments is that such incompetence was supposed to have been a thing of the past. After the intelligence community was caught flat-footed by the events of 11 September, 2001, everything was supposed to have changed.

Instead, the intelligence services appear to have no better idea of what is going on in those parts of the world hostile to them than they had before the planes smashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

In February, the CIA was said to believe that al-Qaeda was planning major attacks against Americans in the US and in the Middle East to coincide with the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. None materialised. Intelligence reports suggested there were concerns about al-Qaeda's ability to deploy a dirty bomb. Nothing came of it. The reports were compiled from interviews with captured al-Qaeda members, clearly eager to hand over the information their inquisitors wanted to hear.

Later the same month, intelligence services claimed Iraq was moving some of its weapons of mass destruction 'every 12 to 24 hours' to avoid UN inspectors. No evidence has ever materialised to support this contention. In Britain, intelligence reports prompted the arrival of troops at Heathrow airport to thwart what was described as a serious threat. But planes were not grounded and, after a few days, the soldiers left.

Before Mr Powell's UN speech, the US National Security Agency produced tapes purporting to be of Iraqi officials discussing how they had thwarted the weapons inspectors. The recordings included such gems as: 'Move that', and: 'Ha! Can you believe they missed that?'.

None of the threats materialised. As for the tapes, they have been forgotten. The theory that the intelligence services are now touting is that they have been the victims of a very effective bit of bluffing, that Saddam duped them into believing he had weapons of mass destruction to save face in the Middle East and to try to stave off the threat of invasion. If the Arab world believed he possessed weapons of mass destruction, it is argued, it would boost his standing in the region, although how this fits with the assertions of Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, that no such weapons existed is not explained.

There is an alternative theory - that they are just not very good at their jobs.

That really is quite a lot of forgotten allegations. You'd think, for example, that chasing down the Iraqi officers on the tape Powell produced at the UN would have been a priority. Why then, have we never heard about it again?

Poland Apologizes for French Missiles Report

WARSAW/ROME (Reuters) - Poland apologized to France on Saturday for claiming that its troops had found advanced French-made missiles in Iraq that had been produced this year.

The report sparked strong criticism from French President Jacques Chirac, who called it wrong and drawn up without proper checks.

However, neither Polish nor French authorities denied that the Roland-type anti-aircraft weapons were discovered near the Iraqi town of Hilla in a zone controlled by the Polish-led military force.

'Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski expresses regret concerning the information on the alleged date of the production of these missiles,' the ministry said in a statement, adding that a investigation had been ordered.

The Polish Defense Ministry said on Friday that Polish troops in Iraq had discovered four French-made Roland missiles, which are part of short-range air defense systems in many countries including France and Germany.

Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak told Reuters the missiles were manufactured in 2003, but the French Foreign Ministry promptly denied that, saying production of the most modern Roland 3 rocket ended in 1993.

'There could not be any 2003 missiles because those missiles have not been manufactured for 15 years,' Chirac told a news conference at a European Union summit in Rome.

'I believe the Polish soldiers have created confusion that could have been avoided with thorough verification,' he said, adding that he had made the point to Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller 'in a friendly but frank and firm way.'

Why, I wonder, did the Poles report that a missile that went out of production in 1993 was still in production in 2003? If the Poles did not have the date it ceased production, I find it hard to believe the ISG did not.

No uranium, no munitions, no missiles, no programmes

Those who staked their career on the existence in Iraq of at least chemical and biological weapons programmes have latched on to three claims in the progress report.

First, there is the allegation that a biologist had a 'collection of reference strains' at his home, including 'a vial of live C botulinum Okra B from which a biological agent can be produced'. Mr Straw claimed the morning after the report's release that this agent was '15,000 times more toxic than the nerve agent VX'. That is wrong: botulinum type A is one of the most poisonous substances known, and was developed in weaponised form by Iraq before 1991. However, type B - the form found at the biologist's home - is less lethal.

Even then, it would require an extensive process of fermentation, the growing of the bug, the extraction of the toxin and the weaponisation of the toxin before it could cause harm. That process would take weeks, if not longer, but the ISG reported no sign of any of these activities.

Botulinum type B could also be used for making an antidote to common botulinum poisoning. That is one of the reasons why many military laboratories around the world keep reference strains of C botulinum Okra B. The UK keeps such substances, for example, and calls them 'seed banks'.

Second, a large part of the ISG report is taken up with assertions that Iraq had been acquiring designs and under- taking research programmes for missiles with a range that exceeded the UN limit of 150km. The evidence here is more detailed than in the rest of the report. However, it does not demonstrate that Iraq was violating the terms of any Security Council resolution. The prohibition on Iraq acquiring technology relating to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons was absolute: no agents, no sub-systems and no research or support facilities.

By contrast, Iraq was simply prohibited from actually having longer-range missiles, together with 'major parts, and repair and production facilities'. The ISG does not claim proof that Iraq had any such missiles or facilities, just the knowledge to produce them in future. Indeed, it would have been entirely lawful for Iraq to develop such systems if the restrictions implemented in 1991 were lifted, while it would never have been legitimate for it to re-develop WMD.

Third, one sentence within the report has been much quoted: Iraq had 'a clandestine network of laboratories and safe houses within the Iraqi intelligence service that contained equipment subject to UN monitoring and suitable for continuing CBW research'. Note what that sentence does not say: these facilities were suitable for chemical and biological weapons research (as almost any modern lab would be), not that they had engaged in such research. The reference to UN monitoring is also spurious: under the terms of UN resolutions, all of Iraq's chemical and biological facilities are subject to monitoring. So all this tells us is that Iraq had modern laboratories.

The world of 'plausible confirmability' is a wonderful place. Botulinum B can mysteriously transmogrify into botulinum A, not by the complex process of fermentation, extraction, and weaponisation, but by by a mere slip of the tongue. By the time said slip is chased down another will-o�-the-wisp of mass destruction can be on the wing.

Botulinum A, incidentally, is found in enormous quantities in certain hotbeds of terrorism such as Hollywood. Expect a US invasion of southern California any day now.

By the time a few days have passed, the supporters of 'those who staked their careers' will be cheerfully denying the claim was ever made and supporting whatever the claim of the day is that day.

We have these 3 points, apparently:

  • botulinum type B toxin
  • the missiles
  • the network of safe houses
. Let's hold onto them and do a little chasing down. More later.

When is a spam bill not a spam bill?

EFA has a rather harsh report on the new "anti-spam" bill going through Federal Parliament at the moment.

I think it says pretty much all you need to know that it exempts anything sent by "registered political parties" from ever being spam. But it's much, much worse than that. It allows the Australian Communications Authority to search and seize computer equipment, without a warrant. I'm sure our new Minister for IT, Darryl "Never saw a warrantless search he didn't like" Williams will be fixing that soon

This leads right back to my argument that Australia badly needs an enforceable bill of rights so that we would not have to worry, for example, about the enthusiasm of politicians for warrantless searches.

Barely Managing

In the Reagan administration, this management style contributed to the Iran-Contra fiasco. In the Bush administration, the battles over Iraq's WMD program have led to open hostility between the Defense Department and the CIA. The leaks and counter-leaks over Nigerien yellowcake have escalated to the point where the Justice Department is investigating whether anyone in the White House violated federal law and jeopardized national security by outing the identity of an undercover CIA operative. What's amazing about this episode is that, if true, a felony was committed over what was truly a minor dispute. Which leads to a troubling question--if an administration official was willing to commit an overtly illegal act in dealing with such a piddling matter, what lines have been or will be crossed on not-so-piddling matters?

Many have given the president a pass on these issues and blamed NSC advisor Condoleezza Rice for the kinks in the policy process. That would be grossly unfair. The only real leverage an NSC advisor has is the ear of the president, and that only matters when the president takes an interest in the process. George W. Bush has done a fine job of articulating the goals of U.S. foreign policy. He needs to spend some more time on how to negotiate the means.

Drezdner puts up an attractive analysis, but I am not sure it's a persuasive analysis. Both Blair and Howard have committed essentially the same mistakes as Bush. Blair has the Kelly affair and Howard has the whole Bolt/Wilkie incident. Neither has ever, to my knowledge, been questioned on their intelligence or their ability to handle the levers of government.

The real (and much more frightening problem) may be bright people whose ideology blinkers them to empirical reality.