25 October 2003

Giant bubbles could sink ships, say maths experts

Methane bubbles from the sea floor could be responsible for the mysterious sinking of ships in areas like the Bermuda Triangle and the North Sea, new Australian research confirms.

Computational mathematics honours student David May and supervisor, Professor Joseph Monaghan of Monash University in Melbourne report their research in the American Journal of Physics.

Their modelling suggests that giant bubbles are much more likely to sink ships than previously thought, adding new weight to warnings about ships travelling in areas where bubbles are likely to be.

Huge bubbles can erupt from undersea deposits of solid methane, known as gas hydrates. The methane - found as an odourless gas in swamps and mines - becomes solid under the enormous pressures at the deep sea floor. Under the sea, however, the ice-like methane deposits can break off and become gaseous as they rise, creating bubbles at the surface.

This research is obviously wrong. There is nothing in the Kay report about Saddam working on bubbles of mass destruction. It follows they cannot exist.

In mugsville, where payback beats politeness

The shenanigans by the Greens' Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle were obvious kindergarten stuff when it came to the shameless and arrogant stunting carried out, at your cost, by our Prime Minister. Simon Crean might not be much of a leader, but he displayed more dignity and quiet good manners than all that raucous triumphalism orchestrated by the Government for the Government. This had nothing to do with a goodwill visit to the Australian people. This was as blatant a political exercise as ever you will see on the very grandest of grand scales.

Crean was relegated to two minor bit parts in the 20-hour visit. He was included in the small phalanx of political pooh-bahs who welcomed Bush on his arrival Thursday morning at Parliament House. And he was accorded a meeting with Bush and his people in Crean's office as Opposition Leader that was extended from 10 minutes to 'almost 20 minutes', according to the Government. And Bush, would you believe, wanted to know why Howard wasn't going along to the Crean meeting as well!

Otherwise, the Opposition Leader was left out in mugsville. He was not included in the welcome at Canberra airport, in the farewell, in the ceremony at the War Memorial, or in the barbecue at the Lodge, the only social occasion Bush would agree to. Even the press gallery was represented at the lunch by its president, Malcolm Farr of The Daily Telegraph. But not the Leader of the Australian Opposition. If nothing else, you'd have thought protocol if not manners might have extended an invitation to Crean.

Not a bit. When I asked Howard's office why, I got some smart lines about 'so you want to go in to bat for them do you?' and 'we know his office has been trailing its coat around the gallery'. And, most pertinently, 'we don't forget how John Howard was left standing on the tarmac at Canberra airport' in 1995, at the time of Yitzak Rabin's assassination in Israel and prime minister Paul Keating wouldn't take Howard, then Opposition leader.

Don't ever say Howard isn't motivated by payback. He never forgets a bad turn or who did it to him. Neither does his staff. And in my anger I was moved to tell his office I thought it had behaved towards Crean like 'miserable little turds'. After all, who paid for the cosy 'private' barbecue lunch behind the Lodge walls? Not John Howard, rest assured.

We should just have another republic referendum and make an honest president of John Howard.

A little constitutional nonsense...

The SPEAKER�Order! On behalf of all senators
and members, I extend to the President our thanks for
his address, and wish him and Mrs Bush a very pleasant
and successful time here in Australia.

Before I adjourn the House, all senators and members
will be well aware that under the standing orders
both Senators Brown and Nettle leave me no choice
but to name them, having defied the chair. Senators
Brown and Nettle are therefore named.

Mr ABBOTT (Warringah�Leader of the House)

(11.54 a.m.)�I move:

That Senators Brown and Nettle be suspended from the
service of the House.

Question agreed to.

I think this makes Senators Brown and Nettle the first members of the Senate to be suspended from the service of a strange unicameral body unknown to the constitution.

Thursday's proceedings were not a joint sitting under Section 57 of the Constitution. In fact the two houses have held joint meetings (as opposed to sittings) in this way on 5 occasions, to receive a mace from a House of Commons delegation, and to hear addresses from Presidents Johnson, Bush the Elder, Clinton, Bush the Younger and Hu. There are standing orders for a Section 57 joint sitting and for the opening of parliament. There are none for a joint meeting on other occasions. Just for the record, the arrangements agreed to for the joint meeting are available.

The only body that can suspend a senator is the Senate. A show of hands by members of the two houses is legal and constitutional nonsense, in keeping with much of what happened that day. John Howard is a desperate advocate of the monarchy. Apparently that means an invisible governor-general whose sole function is to disappear whenever the prime minister so directs.

It goes without saying, that a mere simple majority of both houses cannot alter the constitution and confer parliament's power on a body outside the constitution. But then it should also go without saying that the doors of the parliament should not have been shut by the presiding officers on the demand of the executive. That the opposition leader should not have been excluded from the reception. And on and on and on.

US Intelligence Chiefs Facing Broadside over Iraq

The report comes against the backdrop of a blame game in the US, with intelligence sources privately claiming the Bush Administration exaggerated the threat posed by Sadam Hussein, and vice-versa.

It also comes as the CIA-led weapons search team, the Iraq Survey Group, has so far failed to find any stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Senator Roberts told the Washington Post: "I worry about the credibility of the intelligence community.

"If there's stuff on the fan, we have to get the fan cleaned."

At the centre of the row is a 100-page top secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) document which was produced in October 2002.

Such reports usually take months to compile, but a senior intelligence expert was quoted by the newspaper claiming that the NIE was a "cut and paste job", completed in just three weeks and reviewed in only one day.

The document analysed the threat posed by Saddam and the risks of staging an invasion.

I would have thought the problem lay in a White House determined to cherrypick the intelligence advice it was given, not the intel itself. And a president determined to cherrypick what his palace staff fed him.

24 October 2003

The main game

The pundits' claims that September 11 made terrorism the defining issue of the Bush presidency are completely wrong. The Bush Administration deliberately rejected the counter-terrorism opportunities of post-September 11 to return to its pre-existing agenda of extraordinarily aggressive political and geopolitical activism: an agenda not even remotely connected to terrorism; an agenda squarely devoted to entrenching Republican power at home and US power abroad.

Of course, the administration is also pursuing some genuine counter-terrorism measures. But these are the added extras, not the core agenda. And even the counter-terrorist extras were not enough for Bush's White House chief of counter-terrorism, who resigned in a fury of frustration and went to work for the Democrats.

The full scope of the Bush agenda may also flow in part from the personal convictions of the president himself. In his 1999 pitch for office, a book titled A Charge to Keep (Perennial, 2001), Bush wrote that he learned from his father's experience as president that political capital was not a collectible to hoard but a currency to be used. His father had not spent the political capital he had earned in winning the first Gulf War, and W was determined not to make the same mistake.


"My faith frees me," George W. Bush wrote in his memoir. "Frees me to make the decisions that others might not like." The world, preoccupied with Bush's apparent feeble-mindedness, has failed to grasp the true breadth and boldness of his ambition. Bush is a shrewd and ruthless risk-taker. Not content to be in power, he is using his presidency to make the Republicans the party permanently in power. Not satisfied with America's status as the superpower, he is working to make it an unchallengeable superpower. Bush might not have hit on the precise formulation but he certainly does seem to have reached the right conclusion about the way the world views his presidency: "They misunderestimated me.

We are a strange people. We are unsurprised when politicians behave badly. We seem to have made two senatorial hecklers into national heroes. I suspect much the Bush speech fell on deaf ears because messianic arrogance and blatant partisanship just does not fly in Australia. Howard has, until now always, carefully avoided it, although he did indeed, as one letter to the Canberra Times said, look as if he'd died and gone to heaven.

The alleged security measures, closing the parliament and removing demonstrators out of sight and sound, could perhaps have been justified. But why was it necessary to insist that if any loudspeakers were used they must be turned away from Parliament House?

This was not security, it was propaganda. As Salon reports today:

Since then, Presser charges, the Bush administration has continued the strategy of using the Secret Service and cooperative local police departments to keep protesters at bay, and not incidentally, out of easy range of the media. "People used to say that Ronald Reagan's was the most scripted administration we ever had," the attorney says, "but this Bush administration has gone way beyond that." Presser adds that he was told by William Fisher, a senior Philadelphia police captain and head of the department's Civil Affairs Unit, that the tight restrictions and decision to cordon off protesters during presidential visits have come "at the Secret Service's direction." Fisher declined to be interviewed for this article, but when asked, did not deny Presser's account of their conversation.

But then the entire visit, like the War on Terror, seems to be about politics rather than policy. Once upon a time a visiting chief of state would not have dreamed of offering political support to a domestic political leader. Times have changed. But the Russian for 'Man of Steel' has not, and it does not mean 'fair dinkum'.

Rumsfeld's war-on-terror memo

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions.

This is a much more important document than a certain speech in Canberra, because it is much more truthful on progress in the War against Terror. I might have been more moved by the Rumsfeld cost/benefit metrics if they had included the human, as well as material costs. I might have been more moved by the Bush address if it took any account of reality. Instead, as Fred Kaplan
writes :

It [the Rumsfeld memo] puts the lie to the Bush administration's PR campaign that postwar Iraq is progressing nicely and that the media are exaggerating the setbacks. (If the media are exaggerating, this memo indicates, then so, too, is Secretary Rumsfeld.) It reads eerily like some internal mid-'60s document from The Pentagon Papers that spelled out how badly things were going in Vietnam (just as President Lyndon B. Johnson and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, were publicly proclaiming tunnel light and victories). To use a phrase coined during LBJ's tenure to describe the ever-widening fissure between rhetoric and reality, Rumsfeld's memo marks the first unconcealable eruption of a 'credibility gap' in the wartime presidency of George W. Bush.

Notice of Motion 24 October 2003

Mr Bevis to move:

That this House:

(1)notes with grave concern the detention of two Australian citizens, Mr David Hicks and Mr Mamdouh Habib at Guantanamo Bay Cuba by the United States administration;

(2)notes that even the worst war criminals from Nazi Germany were afforded a full court hearing open to public scrutiny;

(3)notes that David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib have received only very limited access to legal advice;

(4)notes that David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib have been denied access to their families;

(5)notes that David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib have been denied natural justice and are being held at the sole discretion of the President of the United States of America in whatever circumstances he deems fit; and

(6)calls on the President of the United States of America either to lay charges immediately against these Australians to be heard in an open court of law or release them for return to Australia where any legal proceedings can be pursued in accordance with Australian law.

I would not hold your breath waiting for Prime Minister Howard's passion for robust democracy to see this one debated.

22 October 2003

Why is Bush avoiding the Australian media? Don't ask

George Bush's word is apparently beyond question. At least, by the Australian press.

The US President has declined a customary joint press conference after his address to the Federal Parliament tomorrow.

The media event, which normally allows two or three questions from Australian media and an equal number from the visiting press, would have been the only official opportunity for Australian journalists to quiz Mr Bush on the Iraq war and its aftermath.

It would also be the only opportunity to ask the US President about the two Australian citizens being detained without charge at Guantanamo Bay.

Australian journalists have also been denied any place in a so-called 'close-up media pool' that will follow Mr Bush on all his official stops on the day. All positions in the four-member pool have been allocated to members of the White House press corps.

The US Secret Service rejected an application from the Canberra press gallery for equal access, on the basis that the journalists did not have the required US security clearances. The Secret Service then declined to allow the journalists to apply for those clearances; no reason was given.

A marquee has been set up in the grounds of The Lodge to allow the American journalists to file their stories. No Australian media will be allowed on the grounds.

A member of the team put together by Mr Howard's department to make press arrangements for the visit conceded yesterday that Australian media will learn of events at Government House and The Lodge from news reports filed in the US.

What a gutless wonder! Correction, it is hard to tell whether Bush is more gutless for evading questions or Howard is more gutless for allowing him to do it. When did the US Secret Service acquire the right to close our parliament without asking permission from either house or to decide which journalists are allowed to attend a press conference?


How odd of God

To choose to use

Boykin and Bush

To air His Views

Australia's Treatment Of Asylum Seekers: The View From Outside

The universal declaration of human rights is the most widely accepted international convention in human history. Most countries in the world are parties to it. Article 14 of the universal declaration of human rights provides that every person has a right to seek asylum in any territory to which they can gain access. Despite that almost universally accepted norm, when a person arrives in Australia and seeks asylum, we lock them up. We lock them up indefinitely and in conditions of the utmost harshness.

The Migration Act provides for the detention of such people until they are either given a visa or removed from Australia. In practice, this means that human beings - men, women and children innocent of any crime - are locked up for months, and in many cases years.

They are held in conditions of shocking harshness. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has described conditions in Australia's detention centres as "offensive to human dignity". The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has described Australia's detention centres as "worse than prisons" and observed "alarming levels of self-harm". Furthermore, they have found that the detention of asylum seekers in Australia contravenes Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bans arbitrary detention.

The Delegate of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner who visited Woomera in 2002 described it as "a great human tragedy". Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly criticised Australia's policy of mandatory detention and the conditions in which people are held in detention.

In short, every responsible human rights organisation in the world has condemned Australia's treatment of asylum seekers. Only the Australian government and the Australian public are untroubled by our treatment of innocent, traumatised people who seek our help.

While John Howard has never said that refugees rule the world by proxy, he has come close to it. Go read Debunking More Myths About Asylum Seekers. (PDF) Most of the government's public claims about refugees have been simply untrue or wildly misleading.

Even the famous: 'We will decide who comes to Australia' is wildly misleading because the refugee convention does not prevent us doing that. What are the real facts?

  • 71 countries accept refugees and asylum seekers in some form or other
  • Of the 71 Australia is ranked 32nd;
  • On a per capita basis Australia is ranked 38th, slightly behind Kazakhstan, Guinea, Djibouti and Syria;
  • Of the 29 developed countries that accept refugees and asylum seekers Australia is ranked 14th. Per capita, the US takes twice as many refugees as Australia.

The truth will out, eventually. Sometime. I hope.

Organic Farming Yields new Weapon against Global Warming

After 23 years of field studies on organic farming practices, researchers at The Rodale Institute have announced exciting new findings with profound implications in the battle against global warming.

The Rodale Institute's groundbreaking Farming Systems Trial, the world's longest running study of organic farming, has documented that organic soils actually scrub the atmosphere of global warming gases by capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and converting it into soil material. This is the first study to differentiate organic farming techniques from conventional agricultural practices for their ability to serve as carbon 'sinks.'

'Organic farming is a powerful new tool in the global warming arsenal,' said Anthony Rodale, chairman of The Rodale Institute. 'It puts agriculture into a lead role - in regenerating the environment.'

Through a process called carbon sequestration, plants and soils act as 'sinks' for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Carbon 'sequestered' in vegetation and soil is not readily released as carbon dioxide, providing a significant boost in the efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. While carbon helps stimulate plant growth, scientists estimate carbon dioxide may be responsible for more than 80 percent of global warming.

What organic farming cannot do is churn out large amounts of the homogenised but less value-added mush that corporate agriculture is so good at. So go eat at an organic tomato and help save the planet.

Conspiracy theories

We have uncovered one, incontrovertibly true, conspiracy involving MI6, the Libyans and the royal family. It seems that the Queen [this section has been redacted by the Guardian's legal team]. You read it here first.

I denounce the conspiracy to make 'redact' an everyday English word.

21 October 2003

Holding leaders accountable for untruths about war

While the pot continues to boil in Washington and London over the manipulated evidence used to ''justify'' attacking Iraq, an equally passionate debate has been taking place in Australia, where former Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie resigned before the war and immediately went public about the lying.

That the Australian Senate saw fit, in a rare move on Oct. 7, formally to censure Prime Minister John Howard for misleading the public shows that truth can win out even in a country with a largely apathetic populace and a mainstream press all too eager to parrot the official line. There are lessons for us, of course, but Americans cannot be accused of apathy in this particular instance because the U.S. media have largely ignored the story.

The Australian Senate censured Howard for producing no evidence to support his claims last March that Iraq had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and for suppressing Australian intelligence warnings that war with Iraq would increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks. One senator accused Howard of "unprecedented deceit."

Sadly, the deceit was all too precedented. Tampa. SIEV-X. The Nigerien yellowcake. Abbot's involvement in the destruction of One Nation. The Manildra meeting Howard forgot he had attended. The 14 February JIC report. The qualifications to the US analysis. The whole sorry invention of 'pre-deployment' - the war you've committed the nation to without telling the nation.

I've previously blogged about why Howard is escaping the popular outrage emerging in the US and Britain. We'll see whether you can found a government on fooling all of the people all of the time between now and the next election.

Time for reckoning

Intelligence is meant to inform government decision-making, not to be invoked or discarded selectively to justify predetermined political decisions. The unjustified claims of the Bush administration on Iraq's illicit weapons capabilities have severely damaged the credibility of the U.S. government and the U.S. intelligence community.

The Kay report offers nothing to vindicate or excuse the administration in this matter. Congress, in whom the Constitution has invested the war powers function, has the responsibility to initiate an independent investigation on how and why the administration used discredited and disputed claims to launch a war, which continues to impose a costly and destabilizing burden on this nation.

Greg Thielmann was a senior official in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association.

We do not really need to look far beyond the Kay report. Comparing the contents of that report (including the botched botulism allegation) with what the coalition governments have claimed it says reveals a leadership that will say or do anything to retain power. They should all get reverse gears installed, and quickly.

The Poor Man: "The Stovepipe"

Fans of cheap irony may wish to read Pollack's "The Threatening Storm", particularly those bits (pgs. 248-280) which discuss how Saddam's unwillingness to accept intelligence he doesn't want to hear, and the willingness of his operatives to furnish him with only the stories he wants to hear, make him a particular danger. Hard-core irony fanatics should focus on page 255, where mention is made of punishments handed out to the bearers of unwanted news, and wonder aloud if these punishments ever included jeapardizing the safety of said bearer's wives by outing them as undercover agents. Those of a more serious mind should content themselves with noting the rather dismissive attitude towards the idea of objective reality implied by such an approach, and, weaving together (oh, for example) the 2001 demotion of the position of national science advisor, and the editing of EPA reports on the scientific consensus on climate change by political officials, and wonder if it wouldn't just save everyone a lot of needless aggrevation by skipping the middleman and just having Ralph Reed and Fred Barnes dictate to everyone how the world works. Most people think conservatives long for the 1950's; some radicals think they may secretly be pining for the days before the New Deal; I'm becoming convinced that their real ideal may be even a bit earlier.

Personally, I love cheap irony. I'd say the Kay report is fast turning into a third example of editing by political officials.

To Some in GOP, Bush's Troubles Become a Liability

Although many Republicans are optimistic that Bush will win reelection next year, all nonretiring House members (and a third of senators) have their own 2004 reelection campaigns to worry about. Some GOP incumbents -- especially those in the several dozen House districts that Democrat Al Gore carried or nearly won in 2000 -- are showing an increasing willingness to vote against key White House initiatives and to reassure constituents that they think and act independently of the president.

Leach was among 21 Republicans who joined most Democrats when the House voted 221 to 203 to bar the administration from implementing the overtime revisions. Scores of Republicans bucked the White House by voting to overturn a Federal Communications Commission rule making media mergers easier, and several also voted, against Bush's wishes, to allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

Such erosion of GOP solidarity was rarely seen when Bush's approval ratings were higher, but it hardly signals a deep or permanent break between the White House and congressional GOP moderates. Republican lawmakers from swing districts say that Bush generally remains popular with their constituents, and that jobs, not Iraq, are number one on voters' minds. Many GOP House members are taking a cautious line: focusing on the possibility that Bush can't help them at reelection time, yet continuing to support him as much as possible.

Rats. Ship. Sinking. Enough said.

Listening to Mahathir

What became clear watching Mr. Mahathir back then was that his strident rhetoric was actually part of a delicate balancing act aimed at domestic politics. Malaysia has a Muslim, ethnically Malay, majority, but its business drive comes mainly from an ethnic Chinese minority. To keep the economy growing, Mr. Mahathir must allow the Chinese minority to prosper, but to ward off ethnic tensions he must throw favors, real and rhetorical, to the Malays.

Part of that balancing act involves reserving good jobs for Malay workers and giving special business opportunities to Malay entrepreneurs. One reason Mr. Mahathir was so adamantly against I.M.F. austerity plans was that he feared that they would disrupt the carefully managed cronyism that holds his system together. When times are tough, Mr. Mahathir also throws the Muslim majority rhetorical red meat.

And that's what he was doing last week. Not long ago Washington was talking about Malaysia as an important partner in the war on terror. Now Mr. Mahathir thinks that to cover his domestic flank, he must insert hateful words into a speech mainly about Muslim reform. That tells you, more accurately than any poll, just how strong the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among Muslims in Southeast Asia has become. Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low.

Dead right. Reading the whole speech does not excuse, but does explain, Mahathir's use of racist appeals to his electorate,. As I blogged earlier, it's strange how quick Bush was to denounce Mahathir (on whom Bush has no influence) while treating Boykin to faint criticism and retaining him in office.

Instead of taking Mahathir on for his attack on Jews, I would much prefer to see the Australian government affirming the universality of human rights and the wrongness of any form of racism. But wait...

The Peoples' Voice

The Peoples' Voice is a new, broad-based civil initiative whose founders recognise that a way exists to bridge the intolerable impasse between Israelis and Palestinians.

Difficult though it may be to admit, a compromise based�on the�"two states for two peoples" formula is the only way to ensure the continued existence of Israel as a democratic state and Jewish homeland.

Palestinians�are also realising the need for compromise -- that the�abandonment of violence is their only feasible way of achieving�political independence and a stable economy.

The Peoples' Voice is intended to persuade leaders on both sides to end the conflict by means of mass signatures on a joint statement of principles.

In Israel there will be a national petition campaign, with a kindred movement on the Palestinian side. The signatures will then be submitted to the leaders of both nations as a tangible expression of the will�of the majority of both peoples, and with a view to changing diplomatic policy.

The Peoples' Voice will succeed.�Israelis and�Palestinians understand that there is only one solution!

History teaches us that the power to enact change lies with the people as well as with politicians.�Israeli and Palestinian leaders�are at present locked in situations and coalitions that do not allow them to abandon the vicious cycle of hostility. This is the time and�way to begin a sweeping, grassroots initiative�to end the bloodshed,�insecurity and economic problems affecting each and every one of us.

First hopeful sign in this conflict in many years. The remarkable thing about these principles is how obvious they sound the first time you read them. Except to the leadership on each side of the dispute.

name of blog

Sy Hersh's latest, on Iraq, intelligence, WMDs and the like. Wow.

My favourite grafs are:

The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic�and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book �The Threatening Storm� generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was �dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.

�They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,� Pollack continued. �They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn�t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.

It is terrifying that this president does not read the newspapers. Instead, like a Qing emperor, he relies on palace staff to tell him what happens outside the walls of the Great Within. About the only difference is that Bush does not demand the anatomical sacrifice the Qing dynasty demanded of members of the inner court.

Eunuch domination was always the beginning of the end for a dynasty, because it meant the emperor could no longer make his own decisions.

name of blog

Sy Hersh's latest, on Iraq, intelligence, WMDs and the like. Wow.

My favourite grafs are:

The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic�and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book �The Threatening Storm� generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was �dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.

�They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,� Pollack continued. �They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn�t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.

It is terifying that this president does not read the newspapers. Instead, like a Qing emperor, he relies on palace staff to tell him what happens outside the walls of the Great Within. About the only difference is that Bush does not demand the anatomical sacrifice the Qing dynasty demanded of members of the inner court.

Eunuch domination was always the beginning of the end for a dynasty, because it meant the emperor could no longer make his own decisions.

The Decembrist: First Draft of History

That's something I suspected. The tightest, most command-and-control administration in the history of democracy is coming apart at every seam, and it does seem like the word is out that there will be no personnel changes until the election. I can see why: ever since President Carter's big cabinet reshuffling in July 1979, changes in the second half of the term have been seen as admissions of failure, or opening the door to new problems that will take time to work out. I haven't done the math, but this administration has probably had less turnover in almost three years than any in recent memory. Other than Karen Hughes, Ari Fleischer (both burnout jobs) and Christie Whitman (who may not have had cabinet status), they're all still there.

One senses that there is also, in this refusal to accept any change, a fearfulness that is not exactly presidential. The refusal to accept a new voice is of a piece with the president's lack of interest in new ideas or alternative viewpoints. Now that the White House has finally devolved into leaks and recriminations, this will be a terrible trap.

I've only just discovered The Decembrist. It's going straight on the blogroll in a couple of minutes.

Mystery of the Vanishing Weapons

The latest and least defensible defense of the CIA has been to flatly deny administration spokesmen ever claimed Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons or that such weapons posed any imminent threat. A Wall Street Journal editorial thus claims, 'The Imminence Test and the Stockpile Standard... are postwar inventions, and political transparently political inventions.' That is a remarkable remark, and one that relies entirely on extremely short memories.

On Jan. 23, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz addressed the Council on Foreign Relations. He claimed that 'in 1997, U.N. inspectors found Iraq had produced and weaponized at least 10 liters of ricin. In concentrated form, that quantity of ricin is enough to kill more than 1 million people. Baghdad declared to the U.N. inspectors that it had over 19,000 liters of botulinum toxin, enough to kill tens of millions; and 8,500 liters of anthrax, with the potential to kill hundreds of millions. And consider that the U.N. inspectors believe that much larger quantities of biological agents remained undeclared. Indeed, the inspectors think that Iraq has manufactured 2 to 4 times the amount of biological agents it has admitted to and has failed to explain the whereabouts of more than 2 metric tons of raw material for the growth of biological agents.

Despite 11 years of inspections and sanctions, containment and military response, Baghdad retains chemical and biological weapons and is producing more.' Mr. Wolfowitz was clearly claiming Iraq still 'retains' sufficient biological weaponry to kills 'hundreds of millions' -- a number large enough to wipe out the entire population of North America. To make it even scarier, Mr. Wolfowitz added Iraq 'is producing more,' so the dangers today 'are far greater now than they would have been five or 10 years ago.'

Yet even this very public claim that Iraq has more than enough weapons to kill 'hundreds of millions' failed to meet the Wall Street Journal's 'Imminence Test and Stockpile Standard,' since the Journal now assures us talking about stockpiles and imminent threats is just a transparently political postwar invention.

Go read, as much because it comes from the Cato Institute as for the excellent analysis of the various excuses advanced to justify the furphies of mass destruction. In particular the article rips the invention of imminence excuse apart. The Cato people, until recently, were among Bush's most vigorous supporters.

I have the feeling the wheels are falling off the whole Bush coalition, not just the administration itself.

Whose god is 'real' and 'bigger'?

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, in an interview on October 19, reiterated her boss' position that the US is not at war with Islam. However, she did not answer the question whether Bush would condemn Boykin's statements made in and out of uniform, in churches and elsewhere. At the same time, there is no anticipated move to remove him from his current sensitive post.

A number of newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq reported Boykin's earlier remarks without comment. One can ignore Boykin's lack of knowledge about Islam as a private person. But there is no excuse for using his public position and visibility to spread hatred and disinformation about a great religion, such as describing Islam as an 'idolatrous' religion, which goes against its very grain as a monotheistic faith. Equally important, this certainly is not the time to raise questions about whose god is 'real' or whose god is 'bigger'.

Bush's reaction to the Boykin comments are going to be read in the Muslim world. So are his somewhat different reactions to the Mahathir comments.

I'd blog more, but my head is still spinning on how size can be a relevant characteristic of a transcendent divinity.

20 October 2003

Global pushback against 'Titanic' culture

If you were watching television Sunday night in Sydney, Australia, you had a choice between the American sitcom 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' and a couple of US movies: 'Meet the Parents' and 'Coyote Ugly.'

In fact, 76 percent of all new programs launched on Australian TV in the eight months prior to April 2003 were foreign shows, mostly American. Australia's largely Made-in-USA television diet is part of the background to a new round in the global culture war begun here last week.

Talks are starting on a United Nations treaty designed to help countries protect their native cultures in the face of what many characterize as the homogenizing effect of Hollywood. It's the kind of pact that Washington sees as likely to hamper free trade and free expression - as well as hurt profits.

The UN convention on cultural diversity, championed by Canada and France at the head of some 60 European and developing countries, would take cultural goods, such as films, plays, and music, out of the realm of trade negotiations. It would exempt them from free-trade rules, allow governments to protect and support their cultural industries, and enshrine the 'cultural exception' that European nations have defended in international law.

Behind this emerging conflict in UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, lies a debate over whether trade in cultural products should be governed by different rules from those for other commercial products, and what role governments should play in protecting national identities in the face of globalization.

The clash, pitting the United States and a handful of other skeptics against the majority of UNESCO members, comes less than a month after the US rejoined the UN agency after a 19-year absence.


The view from the tarmac, they argue, makes it clear that far from limiting choice, government intervention is the only way to guarantee it in many countries.

In Australia, for example, which is about to finalize a bi- lateral free-trade agreement with the US, negotiators are fighting for the right to extend government policies to support local filmmakers into new delivery systems such as the Internet.

Australian broadcasters must ensure that 55 percent of their daytime and evening programming is locally made, and pay-TV drama channels must spend 10 percent of their program expenditure on Australian drama.

"The market today has failed to deliver a level of choice including a minimum of Australian content, and we can assume the market won't deliver on the Internet either," says Kim Dalton, head of the Australian Film Commission. "It will deliver American products.

The French government offers an outline of a Draft International Convention on Cultural Diversity: French proposals . Culture is more than just the profit motive. Hollywood is a major source of US soft power and that needs to be measured by more than just cash flow. I wish I could read an equally thoughtful analysis about the diversity convention in an Australian paper.

The Texas Constitution - Art 3 - Sec 16


The sessions of each House shall be open, except the Senate when in Executive session.

Keeping the parliament's doors open is a fairly basic concept in democratic governance. If we were really as 'like Texas' as President Bush keeps telling us we would be making different security arrangements on Thursday.

Howard's friendship with America does not go as far as China

But any benefits of the Thai deal would be dwarfed by those arising from a free-trade agreement with China or the US, two deals the Government is pursuing with vigour in the face of the World Trade Organisation's lack of progress towards trade liberalisation. Australia has been locked out of a proposed free-trade zone among South-East Asian nations, a failure that has spurred the Government's drive to negotiate bilateral free-trade agreements.

In a rare departure from support for US policies, Mr Howard backed China in its strong resistance to US pressure.

'We don't automatically take sides with the US in relation to the currency levels of other countries,' Mr Howard said here yesterday.

US politicians are blaming competition from cheap Chinese goods for their stalled economy, and unions in Australia are also concerned that jobs are being lost as manufacturers switch their operations to China.

I had thought the onyl disagreement between Howard and Bush would be over US requests for the ADF to go back to Iraq (although 1200 ADF personnel remain in non-combat roles). This is almost a textbook case where security politics (the only kind the Bush administration seems to know about) bumps directly into economics and does not come off very well.

Are you suffering Celebrity Worship Syndrome

At the entry level, one in five people followed celebrities for 'entertainment-social' reasons. Anyone burning to know every detail about a favourite star, such as which Madrid mansion Posh Spice and David Beckham will buy, falls into this category. Such fan worship might seem harmless but even these individuals are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and social dysfunction than non-worshippers, say the researchers.

Worshippers who took the next step developed 'intense-personal' attitudes towards an idol. The survey indicated that 10 per cent of people were at this point, where celebrity worship was becoming an addiction.

The 'borderline-pathological' condition was the final, most intense stage of celebrity worship and could be marked by criminal or dangerous behaviour.

Dr Houran said: 'Just worshipping a celebrity does not make you dysfunctional, but it does put you at risk of being so. There is this progression of behaviours, and if you start, we don't know what's going to stop you.'

Houran and McCutcheon suspect that an interest in celebrities may start with a 'search for identity and a sense of fulfillment'.

Worshippers then get so absorbed in the details of the lives of their idols that they start to feel emotional attachment, leading to obsession. The psychologists call this the 'absorption-addiction' model.

I'd ask if the CWS survey produced any strange results in California, but then someone might ask if I really said I'd vote for Legolas.

It's the economy that dispatches governments

The obvious candidate here - the only obvious candidate - is the extraordinarily long boom in house prices and the related rapid growth in household debt. Surely the housing bubble will bust eventually and when it does, the fallout will transform all the presently self-satisfied two-bob capitalists into angry voters looking for a pollie to punish.

Well, you'd imagine so - but the more you think about it, the harder it is to see. It's not hard to see a lot of negatively geared investors in rental apartments getting their fingers burnt, but they'd constitute just a few per cent of households.

When you think about the group that matters from a macro-economic perspective - the owner-occupiers - it's hard to see many of them in serious difficulties without a big rise in interest rates and a jump in unemployment.

And why would the Reserve Bank want to raise rates to recession-precipitating levels without it first having a mighty inflationary breakout it was struggling to control? Do you see that looming on the horizon? I don't. Inflation's set to fall.

All I know is, all good things come to an end. All economic expansions end in recession and all governments eventually get swept away - usually by the first recession that occurs on their watch.

Salon carried an interesting piece on the housing bubble in the US:

Today's families are in financial trouble, because they're spending so much more on big fixed expenses -- mortgage, health insurance, car, preschool, after-school care and college.

What's happened is that the cost of being middle-class has shot out of the reach of ordinary families over the past generation.

It would be good to know if Australian families are suffering from inflated housing prices in the same way. It might be bad news for the government.

Close Enough

I'm not a haiku.

I have too many syllables

In my second line

I've been letting my pedantry quota decline lately almost as fast as I've been letting my poetry quota decline. Both declines can and will be reformed.

The haiku form is not just defined by syllable counting. A haiku must contain a caesura at the end of the second line and a reference to the season.

Draft Wesley Crusher For President

With these words, retired Ensign Wesley Crusher began his address to supporters on Deep Space 10, officially entering the race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Crusher said he resents the idea that he only got where he is because of his family ties; Crusher's mother was a high-ranking official on the USS Enterprise.

In a world where the Terminator can govern California, what else can be a surprise? Personally I'd vote for Legolas...

Link courtesy of The Covenant of the Lost Ark.

19 October 2003

Did the Saudis know about 9/11?

In his book 'Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11,' Gerald Posner makes an explosive allegation: Top figures in the Saudi and Pakistani governments had been directly assisting Osama bin Laden for years and knew al-Qaida was going to strike America on Sept. 11. Posner cites two unnamed U.S. government sources, both of whom he asserts are 'in a position to know,' who he said gave him separate, corroborating reports. One source is from the CIA and the other is a senior Bush administration official 'inside the executive branch,' he told Salon in an interview.

According to Posner's account, four Saudi princes and the head of Pakistan's air force were deeply involved with Osama bin Laden for years, some of them meeting with him well after al-Qaida began its terror attacks on U.S. targets overseas in the mid-1990s. The fact that some of the figures were so highly placed makes it hard to dismiss the possibility, if the allegations are true, that the heads of the Saudi and Pakistani governments signed off on the policy.

I suspect this is going to be a huge story if Posner can make his case.

Premier: Turkey will scrap Iraq deployment if unwanted

Turkey (AP) Turkey's prime minister said Saturday that his country would scrap plans to send troops to Iraq if Iraqis continue to oppose the deployment.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government supports sending peacekeepers to Iraq, as requested by the United States, and parliament approved a deployment last week.

But the proposed deployment has met vocal opposition from many Iraqis, who fear Turkey will pursue its own agenda. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council has come out against having Turkish troops or troops from any neighboring nation on Iraqi soil.

''The demands of the Iraqi people are very important for us,'' Erdogan was quoted as saying in Mallorca, Spain by Turkey's semiofficial Anatolia news agency. ''We aren't longing to send soldiers to Iraq. There was a request from the United States and we're evaluating it.''

''If the Iraqi people say, 'We don't want anybody,' there's nothing else we can do,'' Erdogan was quoted as saying. ''If wanted, we'll go, if not wanted, we won't go. We haven't made a definite decision.''

Erdogan added: ''The requests of the United States are very important us.''

The United States has welcomed a possible deployment by Turkey, hoping the Turks would become the first major contingent from a Muslim country.

But Washington is now proceeding cautiously amid opposition from members of Iraq's Governing Council and Iraqi Kurds. Some Turkish officials have downplayed the council's opposition and have said Iraqis would welcome Turkish troops.

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council also unanimously passed a resolution authorizing a multinational force in the neighboring nation. That has apparently boosted Washington's hopes that other nations might now contribute to a peacekeeping operation.

The world is complex. Moral clarity does not make it any simpler. The Bush administration seems to think that putting a Muslim face or a UN face on the occupation will make to acceptable in the Muslim world or inside Iraq itself.

I do not think that is the case. Military occupations generate inevitable friction between the people and the occupying troops. Muslim occupation troops will ultimately suffer the same unpopularity as other occupation troops. The antagonistic history that Turks and Iraqis share makes the choice of Turkish troops incredibly foolish.

George Bush launched this war saying the US is not subject to the decisions of others. That was always untrue. Its untruth is proved by the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow the northern attack to happen through Turkish territory.

Now the US has an ambiguous UN resolution that enables it to retain the appearance of all power in Iraq. It will not attract any troops or money but the US does get the right to keep the CPA in power while it can. And the Turkish government is saying the IGC has a say no matter what the UN resolutions and CPA decrees might say.

No amount of public relations is going to change that, the starin on the US army,or the inevitable transfer of power from the CPA to the IGC.

The UN's Big Five supply 88% of all killer arms

Lydia and Cecilia's suffering is repeated in dozens of other countries throughout Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, which are awash with weapons. Millions of weapons seep through porous and unguarded borders on every continent each year. There are a staggering 639 million small arms in the world, one for every 10 people.

The onus to control the proliferation of weapons lies with all governments that export or re-export arms. Rich governments are constantly urging developing countries to become less reliant on aid and to become accountable for improving their own country and regional security, economies, education and health. Yet, in what can only be seen as enormous hypocrisy, the very countries that are urging self-reliance are helping to fuel the conflicts that destroy people's livelihoods and trap countries in a cycle of violence and poverty.

In the past four years, Britain, France and the US earned more income from arms exports to Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America than they provided in aid.

The hypocrisy cannot go on. Rich governments must admit the role they play in allowing the deadly and global trade in arms to go unchecked. Organisations such as Oxfam Community Aid Abroad and Amnesty International Australia are calling for an arms-trade treaty to stop the flow of arms to abusers. The treaty must be agreed to by governments around the world and provide a universal standard for all arms exporters to comply with.

The argument is unanswerable. I guess that is why the question is never raised. See Control Arms for much more detail.

Jesus' General rises from the dead!

Militia commander Gen. JC Christian provides fair and balanced commentary on the news.


I don't really expect to be, but I will be guestblogging at Seeing the Forest this week along with Raena Armitage and a few other members of Dave's Blogging Proliferation Initiative.

I'll crosslink my stuff here. A cowboy comes home is the first of a couple of longer pieces I'll be posting there.