1 November 2003

Another fine mess, chaps

An independent think tank in Massachusetts suggests that as many as 15,000 Iraqis have died since the coalition invasion. Bush's repeated assurances that 'progress' is being made ring increasingly hollow.

The question now is, can the US stay the course it has set? I turn to an expert in these matters, the late General Vo Nguyen Giap, the victor of Indochina.

The enemy will pass slowly from the offensive to the defensive,' he said in a landmark speech to his troops. 'The blitzkrieg will transform itself into a war of long duration. Thus, the enemy will be caught in a dilemma: he has to drag out the war in order to win it but he does not possess, on the other hand, the psychological and political means to fight a long, drawn-out war.'

Giap was assessing the French in Vietnam in 1950, and he got it right again with the Nixon administration in 1970, predicting that American public opinion would eventually want out.

Studying this lesson of history, we should expect the Bushies to declare in about the middle of next year that sufficient 'progress' has been made for them to pack up and go home. They can then get on with the campaign to return George to the Oval Office. Middle East peace may take a little longer. What we might as well call the New McCarthyism spreads ever wider through politics and the media. Unable to drag Reds from beneath beds with any conviction these days, the New McCarthyites have developed other tactics of smear and denunciation, as the Queensland Liberal George Brandis demonstrated in the Senate on Tuesday with a disgusting savaging of the Greens' Bob Brown.

Note that I do not think the Vietnamese Stalinists are a good regime. That does not mean Giap's comment can be ignored as a reasonable summary, from an experienced strategist, of the way a guerilla war works. Denouncing the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese did not win the war in Vietnam. is it really going to win the war in Iraq?

The total failure of colonialism in the last century should make us understand its weakness. The success of the Rumsfeld blitzkrieg has not led to the establishment of security in Iraq. What is different about the colonial adventure in Iraq that exempts it from such weaknesses?

The bugout option reportedly under consideration in the White House is not a solution, it is only passing from the offensive to the defensive stage of guerilla war.

Radio play upsets Americans

Tuesday November 1, 1938 A wireless dramatisation of Mr G. W. Bush's fantasy, 'The War of the Worlds' - a work that was written at the end of last century - caused a remarkable wave of panic in the United States during and immediately after its broadcast last night at eight o'clock.

Listeners throughout the country believed that it was an account of an actual invasion of the earth by warriors from Iraqion. The play, presented by Mr. George Bush, gave a vivid account of the Iraqionite invasion just as the wireless would if Mr. Bush's dream came true.

The programme began with music by a New York City hotel dance band, which was interrupted suddenly by a Columbia news announcer who reported that violent flashes on Iraqion had been observed by Princeton University astronomers. The music was resumed, but was soon interrupted again for a report that a meteor had struck New Jersey. Then there was an account of how the meteor opened and Iraqian warriors emerged and began killing local citizens with mysterious death-rays. Iraqionians were also observed moving out with the intention of destroying cities.

Many people tuning in to the middle of the broadcast jumped to the conclusion that there was a real invasion. Thousands of telephone calls poured into the wireless station and police headquarters. Residents of New Jersey covered their faces with wet cloths as a protection against poisonous gases and fled from their homes carrying with them their most valuable possessions. Roads leading to a village where an Iraqite ship was supposed to have landed were jammed with motorists prepared to repel attackers.

Or something like that. Today is the anniversary of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast.

It's the Leadership Stupid

'Bush's leadership in the White House has thus become a national Rorschach test. Depending on our perspective, we are drawn to or repelled by him. Rarely in modern American history has any president become as polarizing. Scholar George C. Edwards III pointed out a decade ago that approval ratings for recent presidents tend to run about 35 percentage points higher among members of their own party than among people identifying with the out party. For Bush Sr., for example, the average gap between Republicans and Democrats was 37 percentage points. Reagan and Clinton, more divisive leaders, often drove the gap to 50 percentage points or more. But George W. Bush's gap is off the charts: his approval rating among Republicans hovers in the high 80s; he's down in the 20s among Democrats - a chasm of more than 60 percentage points. Increasingly, people like him or they don't; the not-certains are disappearing.'

Really interesting numbers. I guess if you start with a base gap of 35% between parties, you'd have the Clinton/Reagan gap 15 points above that and the Bush dissensus a whopping 4 times that of Reagan and Clinton. It's a good thing, he's a uniter, not a divider. If he was trying to divide the US who knows how far off the scale he would run?

31 October 2003

Our strategy helps the terrorists - army chief warns Sharon

The criticism is made all the more searing because Gen Ya'alon is not known for being soft on the Palestinians. As deputy chief of staff, he called the latest conflict the second stage of Israel's independence war.

The general warned that the continued curfews, reoccupation of towns and severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, combined with the economic crisis they have caused, were increasing the threat to Israel's security.

'In our tactical decisions, we are operating contrary to our strategic interest,' Gen Ya'alon said. 'It increases hatred for Israel and strengthens the terror organisations.'

Earlier this week, army commanders in the West Bank told the military administration in the occupied territories that Palestinians had reached new depths of despair, which was fuelling a hatred for Israeli that had little to do with the propaganda so often blamed by the government.

'There is no hope, no expectations for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, nor in Bethlehem and Jericho,' said Gen Ya'alon.

The commanders warned that the situation was strengthening Hamas, a view the Israeli intelligence services agreed with. But while the army sees the solution as easing most oppressive elements of occupation, the Shin Bet argues that rising support for Islamist groups is a reason to keep the clampdown in place. This is the preferred option of the defence minister and Gen Ya'alon's predecessor as army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz.

Mr Sharon and Mr Mofaz were reportedly furious at the general's statements and initially demanded that he retract them or resign. But the political establishment apparently decided it would be better to deride Gen Ya'alon.

Despair? I thought we had no idea of why the Palestinians behave as they do. I thought they hated what we are, not what we do. Now we have the head of the IDF admitting there may even be some logic to Palestinian behavior.

A Chinese lesson for the US: how to charm South-east Asia

In addition, the post-9/11 respite China received from adverse US scrutiny has provided room for Beijing to pay more attention to cultivating its stature as a regional leader.

When Mr Hu assured the Australians that China would conduct serious business with the country in spite of its status as the US' 'sheriff' in the region, he was conveying a message to the US regarding both China's intention to play a constructive role in the region and to work with the US' regional leadership.

At the same time, however, it could not have escaped Chinese leaders' minds that regional divisions vis-a-vis perceived current US unilateralism may play to China's advantage, as some countries evince a preference for developing better working relations with China as a hedge against American arrogance and other problems in relations with the US.

Mr Bush's unprecedented visits to Manila, Bangkok, Singapore and Bali, in association with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, were designed first to demonstrate a high regard for its friends and allies from the region in the wars on terrorism and Iraq; and second, to press home Washington's expectations of continued or increased support from them.

All told, Hu Jintao had a fairly successful visit all round. He even, thanks to the energy of Speaker Andrew, managed to escape and parliamentary quibbles over China's atrocious human rights record.

HRW Weekly Digest: October 23, 2003 - October 30, 2003

In this issue:

  • Turkey: Acceleration of Reforms Needed Now for EU Bid
  • China's Epidemic of Secrecy
  • Saudi Arabia: Arrest of Protesters Belies Reform Pledges
  • Afghanistan: Death Threats Imperil Constitutional Drafting Process
  • Malaysia: New PM Should End Mahathir-Era Abuses
  • Nepal/Bhutan: Bilateral Talks Fail to Solve Refugee Crisis
  • Venezuela: Official Press Agency Distorts Human Rights Watch's Position
  • Russia: Pretrial Detention Excessive in Espionage Case
    Russia's "Spy Mania"
  • D.R. Congo: U.N. Must Address Corporate Role in War
  • Zimbabwe: Food Used as Political Weapon
  • Iran: Detained Professor Should Be Freed

One of the blogosphere's sillier cacomemes is that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights NGOs focus exclusively or preponderantly on the US and its allies. I thought it would be worthwhile to run a little comparison on which countries do get critiqued.

Rather than start an argument about which nations are or are not US allies, just read the list and decide for yourself.

Is the US crypto-socialist?

So just how lean and mean is the US free-enterprise machine that President George W Bush and his conservative allies celebrate as the most efficient and beneficial way of delivering government to the people? Not very, according to economist James K Galbraith, in a provocative paper published recently.

It is an argument that Asian governments, annealed in the disaster of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, would do well to listen to. In a 28-page policy brief titled What Is the American Model Really About? written for the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in New York, Galbraith argues that the United States is hardly an untrammeled model of free enterprise. Quite the contrary.

And, he writes, those nations seeking to emulate the US model should look far beyond the capitalistic rhetoric that has come to be known as the 'Washington consensus'. The Washington consensus generally encompasses the development strategy articulated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Its stern prescription includes deregulation, privatization and the free setting of prices and especially wages in competitive markets, without interference from labor unions or concern for the shape of the resulting distribution, Galbraith writes.

I would have thought crony-capitalist was a btter description than crypto-socialist.

Look who's not coming to dinner

Mightily embarrassed by the controversy raging over the recently-publicized anti-Islamic views of the US general in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, administration officials no doubt were looking for ways to mitigate the damage.

But a denunciation of the White House event by a number of national US Muslim organizations just hours before it took place received more attention in the media than the dinner itself, blunting whatever favorable impact Bush had hoped the gesture might make.

'It seems that the only time this administration wants to meet with us is for photo opportunities, not to hear our concerns about policies here at home and abroad,' Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, said at the National Press Club.

He and the leaders of several other Muslim organizations held their own Iftaar dinner across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park.

The incident spoke volumes about the growing anger felt by US Muslims, a fast-growing and increasingly politicized minority of as many as 5 million citizens, towards the Bush administration.

That Bush's 'war on terrorism' and his almost total backing for the right-wing policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has alienated Muslims abroad, especially in the Arab world, has already been well established by polling data and media coverage.

Indeed, on his recent trip to Asia, Bush himself emerged from a meeting with top Muslim clerics in Bali, Indonesia clearly taken aback by what he had just heard. 'Do they really believe that we think all Muslims are terrorists?' the president was heard asking his aides.

The Indonesians had reportedly pressed him about US intentions in the 'war on terrorism', as well as his support for Israel in the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. But they were also provoked by reports about the incandescent comments of Lieutenant-General William 'Jerry' Boykin, Bush's undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the Pentagon's man in charge of tracking down high-profile targets in the anti-terrorist campaign.

Yes, Mr President, Muslims do judge you by what you do, not what you say. That's what happens when you push who-we-are-not-what-we-do rhetoric, and condemn Mahathir while keeping Boykin.

Free trade alarm between America and Australia

A free trade agreement with the US could see foreign companies suing the Australian Government for loss of profits from domestic laws and programs, according to new research.

A report to be released today by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Liberty Victoria says there has been an explosion of litigation against governments under the North American FTA.

Private companies have won tens of millions of dollars in compensation after suing the US, Canadian and Mexican governments over domestic social and environmental laws.

Anne O'Rourke, of Liberty Victoria, said claims by companies against governments had run to more than $38 billion since the NAFTA was signed in 1992.

The Canadian Government has been ordered to pay $38.6 million in damages, and the Mexican Government has had to pay out $26 million.

They have argued that domestic laws have reduced their profit-making ability.

'We don't want this sort of thing happening in Australia under a free trade agreement with the US,' Ms O'Rourke said.

High-profile cases include a $228.6 million claim by the US courier company United Parcel Service against Canada Post's public service monopoly, which is still to be decided.

A Canadian company has lodged a $19.4 billion claim against US bans on the disposal of radioactive waste at sea.

In light of these concerns, Liberty Victoria and the CCJDP will call for more transparency about negotiations and public input before the FTA is finalised.

I'll add a link to the paper when it becomes available. This far the government is refusing to promise that the parliament will have a chance to vote on the US FTA. It is disgraceful that Australia's cosntitution does not require a parliamentary vote before a treaty as important as this is implemented.

Around the World, Politics of Iraq Occupation Hit Home

'Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator in Iraq, recently claimed that the country's sensitivities on Turkish troops stemmed from 400 years of 'colonialist' Ottoman Empire rule,' writes columnist Derya Saza in Milliyet, one of the country's biggest circulation newspapers.

In a translation by Turkishpress.com, Saza asks, 'If the Iraqis still feel this way about the Ottoman Empire after almost a century later, I wonder how many years it will take them to forget the current occupation? History will never forget the colonialists of the 21st century who bombed and destroyed a country for weeks, using falsified horror stories about alleged weapons of mass destruction.'

Saza says Turkey should now withdraw its offer to send troops.

'Bremer recently stated that Turkey must solve its problems on the troop deployment issue by negotiating directly with Iraq's Governing Council. The only proper response to this demeaning statement is sending the issue back to our Parliament. It seems that not only Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, but also Washington opposes Turkish troop deployment! So, what's Ankara waiting for to declare that our soldiers won't go there after all?'

Why does the war party believe no-one ever reads their stuff? Does Bremer imagine that Iraqis are incapable of reading the statement about their hatred of the Ottomon occupation and not applying it to the US occupation?

Second solar storm hits

A second solar eruption has caused a massive magnetic storm that should reach Earth later today, hot on the heels of a previous eruption that jangled telecommunications and sparked a burst of the Northern Lights.

Fallout from the second eruption at 2048 GMT (1100 AEDT) were expected to reach Earth's atmosphere late today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

The Japanese space agency yesterday reported losing communication with one of its satellites, Kodama, at the beginning of the magnetic storm, the biggest in some 30 years.

The storm erupted from the sun around 1100 GMT (1100 AEDT) Wednesday, firing electronically charged gas straight towards the Earth.

Scientists said the sun's eruptions were significantly stronger than recent blasts, and that the magnetic storm reached the Earth's atmosphere just about 19 hours later.

I'm off to Mittagong tonight. With luck the the second storm might give us another burst of the aurora australis. More seriously, solar storms generate communications failures and one may have knocked out the Qu�bec power grid in 1989. I myself tried to blame a spectacular example of ADHD bumbling on the solar activity yesterday. I wasn't very successful.

30 October 2003

War widow's long wait for PM's apology

Mr Howard did not invite the widow of SAS officer Andrew Russell, the only Australian to die in combat in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, to a wreath laying ceremony by President Bush in honour of her husband last Thursday. He also failed to invite her to watch the Bush speech thanking Australia for its sacrifice, or as a guest at his barbecue for President Bush. She learned of the ceremony after it had taken place while doing her shopping in Perth.

Mr Howard's office said at first that Mr Howard had not known about the wreath laying ceremony for Mr Russell before Mr Bush mentioned it in his speech to Parliament, then claimed that the omission had been 'an oversight'. Mrs Russell has been a public advocate for better entitlements for the families of SAS officer killed in training or combat.

Asked how the letter would be delivered, Mr Howard's most senior spin doctor Mr Tony O'Leary said: 'We just put it in the mail.' Asked why the letter had been sent by standard post, Mr Tony O'Leary replied: 'What do you suggest?' When I suggested express post, Mr O'Leary replied: 'It will be there shortly.'

For sure. I mean it's not as if Australian officials would not have been over the Bush speech and itinerary wth a fine tooth comb or anything. But then Howard might be more believable on this if so many other people, including the opposition leader and the governor-general, had not been excluded from his excellent adventure with the president.

The night's work done: IDS out, Howard ready to take the crown

It must be the silly season. For about 15 nanoseconds I thought the Ever-Victorious Prime Minister had decided to displace the royal family.

Hu visit inquiry

The Senate's Privileges Committee has decided to investigate claims that improper influence was used to exclude critics of the Chinese government from parliament during last week's speech by visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao

The Committee will also examine whether Greens Senator Kerry Nettle was jostled after she interrupted American President George W Bush's speech to parliament a day earlier.

Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown claims China insisted three of the party's invited guests be excluded from the public gallery during the Chinese President's speech.

Privileges Committee chairman Senator Robert Ray says Senator Brown's concerns will be impartially investigated.

I've been amazed that we're hearing so much about how embarrassing the Green stunt in parliament was to Australia, but absolutely nothing that it might affront our basic values that the Speaker apparently put in the boot at the urging of the Australian executive in order to please a couple of visiting presidents. I would have thought freedom to speak in parliament was a fairly basic value.

It's radical, but it might just work: try a bit of decency

Me? On balance, I think I'd still rather live in Australia. It's possible, I suppose, that we'd all be marginally more secure living in a land where our own forces would be free to 'work the dark side of the street' to use the the words of the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, but would that kind of 'security' be worth it?

At the very least, at the bare, hungry sniffin' minimum, can we acknowledge that there really is some defence in decency?

I refer to a story written by Herald journalist Tom Allard this month, where he quoted a leading South-East Asian terrorism academic, Dr Rohan Gunaratna, speaking at the National Press Club, saying that though there had been sleeper cells of Jemaah Islamiah in Australia in the late 1990s - including around Dee Why - the problem is they had essentially gone troppo and enjoyed their time here too much to go ahead with the dastardly terrorist plans they were meant to execute.

'Australian ethos had dulled their ideological convictions,' Gunaratna said. 'They were sympathetic to the cause but didn't want to die for it.'

Maybe life is a comedy and mercy beats at the heart of the universe.

29 October 2003

Bush in Bali: Hello, you must be going

Indonesia is the nation with the world's largest Muslim population, more than 80 percent of its estimated 220 million people classify themselves as followers of Islam. It also exemplifies that rhyming mantra from the Bush presidential campaign: 'I'm a uniter, not a divider.' Thanks to policies put forth by the Bush administration, 85 percent of Indonesians hold unfavorable views of the United States, according to a US-sponsored survey.

In early 2002, 61 percent of Indonesians polled expressed favorable views of the US. Then came the attack on Iraq, which undermined sympathy for the US that had followed the attacks of September 11, 2001, and fueled the belief that the US 'war on terrorism' was really a war on Islam.

Western media presume that Bush's visit was staged to boost Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's standing in next year's election. The poll numbers, however, suggest Bush's that visit will be anything but helpful to Megawati. Besides, Bush and Megawati were just in Bangkok at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, where they could have talked and created photo ops with far less trouble.

This gives the lie to the 'who we are not what we do' cacomeme. Similar declines in US standing throughout the Muslim world suggest that Muslims may have roughly the same ability to judge political issues as say, Americans or Australians. They may actually care about policy. About what we do, rather than who we are.

US probing Pak link in 9/11

A US team is here [Pakistan] to investigate a possible link to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But according to Dawn newspaper, the visit is being kept under wraps with neither the Pakistan government nor the US embassy here willing to reveal any details about the investigating team.

According to the paper, the members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the US have reportedly been provided with full access to certain classified information, documents, institutions and individuals in different parts of the country. They have also been granted permission to go to the tribal areas.

The Taliban was, at inception, a creature of ISI, Pakistan's Inter Srvice Intelligence. Where that insight leads is going to be interesting. Permission to visit the Pashtoon tribal areas on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is very rare.

A Willful Ignorance

The answer is that in these cases politics takes priority over the war on terror. Moderate Muslims would have more faith in America's good intentions if there were at least the appearance of a distinction between the U.S. and the Sharon government - but the administration seeks votes from those who think that supporting Israel means supporting whatever Mr. Sharon does. It's sheer folly to keep General Boykin in his present position, but as Howard Fineman writes in a Newsweek Web-exclusive column, the administration doesn't want 'to make a martyr of a man who depicts himself as a Christian Soldier, marching off to war.'

Muslims are completely wrong to think that the U.S. is engaged in a war against Islam. But that misperception flourishes in part because the domestic political strategy of the Bush administration - no longer able to claim the Iraq war was a triumph, and with little but red ink to show for its economic plans - looks more and more like a crusade. 'Election Boils Down to a Culture War' was the title of Mr. Fineman's column. But the analysis was all about abortion and euthanasia, and now we hear that opposition to gay marriage will be a major campaign theme. This isn't a culture war - it's a religious war.

Which brings me back to my starting point: we'll lose the fight against terror if we don't make an effort to understand how others think. Yet because of a domestic political struggle that seems ever more centered on religion, such attempts at understanding are shouted down.

Hear John Howard, during his gush to parliament before the Bush address:

George Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, rallied his own people and the people of the world in the fight against terrorism. He reminded us then, as we should be reminded today, that terrorists oppose nations such as the United States and Australia not because of what we have done but because of who we are and because of the values that we hold in common, and that terrorism-and we should remind ourselves of this again and again-is as much the enemy of Islam as it is the enemy of Judaism or

Howard, of course, adduced no evidence in support of his high rhetoric. Why? because even arguing his case would reveal that his rhetoric has a single purpose, to place not just our commitment to the War on Terror, but the tactics we use, beyond question.

28 October 2003

Black Box Voting Blues

Unfortunately, the machines have "a fatal disadvantage," says Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, who's sponsoring legislation on the issue. "They're unverifiable. When a voter votes, he or she has no way of knowing whether the vote is recorded." After you punch the buttons to choose your candidates, you may get a final screen that reflects your choices - but there's no way to tell that those choices are the ones that ultimately get reported in the final tally. You simply have to trust that the software inside the machine is doing its job.

It gets scarier. The best minds in the computer-security world contend that the voting terminals can't be trusted. Listen, for example, to Avi Rubin, a computer-security expert and professor at Johns Hopkins University who was slipped a copy of Diebold's source code earlier this year. After he and his students examined it, he concluded that the protections against fraud and tampering were strictly amateur hour. "Anyone in my basic security classes would have done better," he says. The cryptography was weak and poorly implemented, and the smart-card system that supposedly increased security actually created new vulnerabilities. Rubin's paper concluded that the Diebold system was "far below even the most minimal security standards." Naturally, Diebold disagrees with Rubin. "We're very confident of accuracy and security in our system," says director of Diebold Election Systems Mark Radke.

Newsweek discovers the chaos in US voting machines. At last.

Attorney-General's: Security Planning

The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1)Beyond broad guidelines, the Australian Government does not disclose specific security planning for Heads of State. In any event, the security preparations for the visit are only at the preliminary planning stage, and it is not yet possible to ascertain the extent or cost of the security requirements.

(2)Beyond broad guidelines, the Australian Government does not disclose specific security planning for Heads of State.

The question was asked on 11 September, the Bush visit happened on 23 October and Justice Minister Ellison provided this less than helpful answer to the Senate on 27 October. Timing is everything.

Forget FTA without agriculture, say farmers

Australia should walk away from a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States if it fails to comprehensively cover agriculture, the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) said today.

Federation president Peter Corish said unless there was open access for Australian farmers to American markets, an FTA could actually hurt Australian agricultural industries.

'NFF has accepted that the FTA will not address the unfair and inefficient farm subsidies in the US, but at the very least, if it is a genuine free trade arrangement, then we call for unimpeded access for Australian farmers exporting to the US market,' Mr Corish said in a statement.

'Importantly, we seek this access up front and not subject to the long phase-in times which have characterised other FTAs reached by the US.

'These negotiations are not called 'one-tonne more' agreement negotiations or 'partial trade' agreement negotiations.

'They are free trade agreement negotiations and an outcome less than that for agriculture would be unacceptable, and in fact would discriminate against Australian farmers.'

The fourth round of negotiations between Australia and the US are underway in Canberra this week, with agriculture, intellectual property and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme key sticking points.

Fortunately we have the Man of Steel's Best Friend to protect us from predatory US trade negotiators.

Big stakes for lab to build battle laser

The general then strode into a convention room and told 640 top U.S. directed-energy experts that Livermore's laser -- today, a profusion of wires, crystals and diodes on a tabletop -- was ready to be shoehorned into a Humvee and prove its mettle as a tactical weapon.

'We are no longer technology-limited. We are resource-limited,' Urias said by phoneFriday. 'I think we should charge on.'

If he gets the money for Livermore and its team of defense contractors, the general suggested, the Army would get a prototype weapon that could open the military's imagination to what mobile lasers can do on the battlefield.

'I am convinced personally that the technology is evolving fast enough that we can do this,' he said.

Yikes! Maybe Patrick is right...

Ethanol-blended Fuel policies: when will the cheap tricks end?

So, who is really benefiting from the Howard government's policy? None other than the generous Liberal Party donour and close friend to the Prime Minister, Dick Honan. Honan owns Manildra. Manildra is the dominant market producer of ethanol in Australia, accounting for 90 per cent of market share. Manildra produces ethanol from the by-products of its wheat production. It is in the position to gain the most benefits from the industry subsidies, unlike the smaller sugarcane and wheat farmers do not have the expertise or the resources to establish an ethanol plant and compete against Manildra.

The cost of these industry subsidies is considerable. It costs about 70 cents to produce one litre of ethanol-blended fuel, compared to 35 cents for petrol. The government currently subsidises 16 cents per litre of ethanol until June 2007, or until production capacity reaches 310 million litres. Current total ethanol output is around 135 million litres of which around 50 million litres are used for fuel blending. The Department of Treasury estimates the cost of the subsidy to be $62 million in 2006-07. In addition, the one-year domestic production subsidy, which expired in September this year, has been extended to 2008. This domestic production subsidy imposed an excise of 38.143 cents on imported and domestic ethanol fuel. At the same time, the government introduced a production subsidy of the same amount for domestic producers. The Fuel Taxation Inquiry estimates that the total value of the excise exemptions for petroleum product substitutes over the period 1994-95 to 2004-05 was about $8.7 billion (in 2000-01 prices).

Not only is the cost of subsidising ethanol production from sugarcane and wheat is enormous, the touted environmental benefits are minimal. While there are reduced tailpipe exhaust emissions, for example, carbon monoxide, there is little or no benefit in reduced tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide compared with unleaded petrol. Further, ethanol produced from wheat and sugarcane does not produce significant full fuel cycle greenhouse gas savings over conventionally produced gasoline. Full fuel cycle emissions take account of all emissions including aspects such as production, refining, distribution and tailpipe emissions.

The Howard government is getting classic at making policy, not to achieve anything, but to retain power.

Never mind the talk, Mahathir's legacy is Muslim democracy

The path of Islamic modernisation is a balancing act that Western nations should encourage. The only alternative is to continue to cultivate pro-Western regimes that don't rely on popular support. That is a short-term solution. All dictators fall on their sword eventually, and the result is usually more turmoil rather than less.

This is a lesson that we should have learnt after the collapse of the Soeharto regime in Indonesia, and again when the pro-Western Saudi Arabia and Egypt produced the bulk of the September 11 terrorists. Moderate Muslim governments, not Western belligerence, will win the war on terrorism.

The prickly relationship that all contemporary Australian prime ministers have endured with Mahathir is curious in light of the 30-year lovefest our leaders enjoyed with Soeharto. He was responsible for the deaths of as many as a million Indonesians and left a legacy of militarism, social division and an economy in smoking ruins. And we wonder why Indonesia's President Megawati Soekarnoputri continually snubs Australia - our once friend Soeharto deposed her father in a coup. Such is the morality of international affairs that our leaders threw barbs at Mahathir while toasting Soeharto.

Putting aside the shocking treatment of Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian Government's treatment of its opposition is positively respectful in comparison with its neighbours where torture, exile, repression and civil war have been the norm. Opposition parties do win elections in some states. And it's not a pretty sight. PAS, the Islamic party, is held back from implementing a brutal form of sharia law in the states it controls, Kelantan and Terengganu, by only the strictures of the federal constitution.

Condemn his racist words, by all means, but remember that Mahathir's Malaysia is the most successful model of a modern Muslim nation that the world has to offer.

The most extraordinary part of the Mahathir incident has been that Mahathir and Howard have a great deal in common, including a willingness to troll votes from the alienated by saying outrageous things and a distinct taste for the main chance. Perhaps John Howard is a modernising Occidental leader.

A consistent policy based on human rights (perhaps starting at home with certain detention centres) is going to enhance our standing a lot more than these occasional and inconsistent flurries of finger-wagging. Someone more cynical than I am might even mutter that the finger-wagging plays to a domestic audience, as did the Howard doctrine, the Tampa incident and one or two other things.

27 October 2003

Row over US General's comments on Iraq nuclear weapons

Those claims prompted the Federal Opposition to question the Defence Minister in the Senate, today.

[Labor Senator] JOHN FAULKNER: Is the Minister aware of reports in the Australian and US media citing Australian Brigadier General Stephen Meekin who said that the aluminium tubes, which were used as evidence of Iraq's attempts to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs were quote, 'innocuous' and quote, 'were used for rockets'?

Does the Minister recall statements by the Foreign Minister that, and I quote him, 'Iraq's attempt at acquisition of very specific types of aluminium tubes' - this was said on the 17th of September 2002 - 'maybe part of Iraq's attempts to acquire equipment that could be used in uranium enrichment'.

Given that Brigadier General Meekin is from your department, can you advice the Senate who is right? The Brigadier or the Foreign Minister?

[Defence Minister] ROBERT HILL: Brigadier Meekin is the Commander of the Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Centre, which has the mission of examining and locating Iraq's conventional weapons, and is only peripherally involved in the investigation of Iraq's WMD programs.

I'm told that Brigadier Meekin spoke only about Iraq's conventional military capabilities. Unfortunately, the journalist inaccurately and wrongly used the comments to make assertions about Iraq's nuclear programs. I'm told that he made no judgment, no judgment on the suitability or otherwise of aluminium tubes for Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

This gets curiouser and curiouser. If Meekin did not make the statement why did Anon say he was not qualified to make it? Wouldn't it have been better to just say Meekin did not say what the Washington Post reported?

41 federal Labor MPs write to George W Bush opposing the war in Iraq

Dear President Bush,

The friendship between our countries is longstanding and deeply felt. We have a great deal in common, particularly our commitment to democracy. We retain our commitment to the ANZUS alliance.

That's why we feel it's important for you to understand why so many Australians opposed the war on Iraq.

Australians have a history of support for international efforts to stop the spread of weapons including weapons of mass destruction and landmines. Weapons inspectors should have been given the time they asked for to peacefully disarm Iraq. No evidence of a massive weapons building program nor capability has emerged since the war. Australia, the US and Britain went to war because of a 'clear and present danger' which just did not exist.

The ALP firmly believes that international conflict should, wherever possible, be dealt with peacefully and through international co-operation under the auspices of the United Nations. When all attempts for a peaceful resolution have been exhausted, United Nations sanction is vital if force is to be used.

What is to prevent other countries from following the example of our attack on Iraq, and arguing the right to preventative self-defence? Why shouldn't North and South Korea attack each other using the template we developed in Iraq? Or India and Pakistan?

The precedent we have set is a very dangerous one, and there is every indication that the world will become less safe, not more, because of our actions. Certainly the British Joint Intelligence Committee believes the risk of terrorism will increase due to the war with Iraq.

Our own government knew of this increased risk before the war and refused to tell the Australian people.

Many Australians have continuing concerns about what will happen in Iraq now. Civil unrest continues. The death toll for Iraqis and US, UK and allied troops mounts. The bombing of the United Nations headquarters shocked the world, and it seems that instead of eradicating terrorism in Iraq the country has become a terrorist magnet.

The United States must now redouble its efforts to enlist the help of the world community to bring peace and rebuild Iraq, and then withdraw as soon as practicable. Iraqis must regain control of their destinies and their resources as soon as possible.

While many of us didn't support the war on Iraq, all Australians welcome the end of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime.

Our hope for Iraq is that there will be a strong, stable, democratic government which represents all the people of Iraq, including the ethnic and religious minorities.

Our hope is that the people of Iraq will have control over the rich resources of their country and be able to use those resources for their collective benefit. Our hope for the world is that this mistake will lead us to renew our commitment to the United Nations and its processes for promoting and maintaining global peace.

Signed by 41 Labor Members

Four Corners: Spinning the Tubes

How Australian intelligence was seized upon on by the CIA, spun and gilded, then presented to the world as the best evidence that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction.

The transcript should be up shortly. It is a must-read.

Snub for war widow

Western Australian Labor MP Graham Edwards, a Vietnam War veteran, broke the news to Mrs Russell after Bush's speech. He wrote to the Prime Minister the next day:

Hon John Howard

Prime Minister

Parliament House

Canberra 2600

Dear Prime Minister

I write to urge you to contact the widow of Sgt Andrew Russell and apologise for her not being not invited to attend the wreath-laying ceremony in honour of her husband at the War Memorial.

Mrs Russell was distressed that she had no prior knowledge of this event, until she was advised by media outlets about the mention of her husband in President Bush's address to Parliament.

I am not sure whether Mrs Russell would have wanted to make the trip. I am sure, however, that she would have liked to have been advised and at least invited.

I contrast your dealings with her to your dealings with the victims of Bali. Those who lost loved ones and those who were victims in Bali have been brought to Canberra on two occasions and quite deservedly treated with a great deal of compassion, sympathy and given much support in the process of healing.

Why was Mrs Russell not extended the same comfort and support at this most important time when both you and the President of the United States made much of the sacrifices of our Defence personnel?

Mrs Russell is a constituent of mine and I know she has been very active in seeking a better deal for war widows and that she has at times been critical of you, your Government and your Ministers.

I believe the people of Australia would be affronted if this is the reason she was not invited to attend the ceremony at the War Memorial or the barbeque at The Lodge.

You may not have known that the President was going to mention Sgt Russell, although I would be surprised if you did not. You certainly knew, however, that members of the Australian Defence Forces who have been involved in the war against terrorism were invited to the Australian War Memorial for the wreath-laying ceremony.

Mrs Russell should have been extended the same courtesy and she deserves your apology.

Yours sincerely

Graham Edwards

Join the army. Serve your country. There should be something here about the thanks of a grateful government but I can't write anything.

Free-trade clause would be a dangerous weakening of the law

US corporations are not afraid of using these new rights to protect their investments, particularly from laws designed to protect the environment and public health. For example, in 1997, the Canadian Government imposed a ban on the import and interstate transport of MMT, a fuel additive containing manganese. The ban was imposed because of public health concerns. Ethyl Corporation, a US chemical company which produces MMT, sued the Canadian Government, arguing the ban was an expropriation of its investments and was therefore illegal under NAFTA. The claim was for $US251 million in compensation. The Government eventually settled the case by reversing its ban on MMT and paying $US13 million in legal fees and compensation to Ethyl Corporation.

It is highly likely the Australian-US FTA will include an investment chapter that would permit US companies to bring similar legal actions against the Australian Government. The US Government is pushing for the inclusion of a NAFTA-style investment chapter, and the Australian Government has quietly slipped a similar investment chapter into the recently signed Australian-Singapore FTA.

These new rights for US corporations go far beyond those enjoyed by Australians. In most cases, Australian law recognises the right to compensation only when property is taken by government. The FTA will extend the right to compensation for US companies when an Australian law seeks merely to regulate the use of property.

This is a dramatic departure from a legal principle that was designed to protect private property interests from unjust government acquisitions, while also balancing the need of Australian governments to freely regulate the use of property in the public interest. The FTA rules threaten this balance.

The nasty SAFTA chapters are Chapter 11, especially Article 6 and Chapter 8. It's worth considering what a USFTA might look like. Australia and Singapore negotiated in relative parity. That is not the case with the US.

Will a US free trade agreement be good for us?

A presidential favour to Howard is not necessarily a favour to Australia. That question will only be resolved when the fine detail of AUSFTA is revealed.

In the meantime, it is interesting to look at what the US corporate promoters of AUSFTA have been saying about the proposed agreement, and what was reported about what Bush said in his private meeting with Howard in Canberra last week.

The American-Australian Free Trade Agreement Coalition (AAFTAC) put out a report in July that said: 'It is apparent that the US agricultural subsidies, which Australia wants reduced or eliminated, will most likely be addressed as part of the multilateral process rather than part of an FTA.' (We know what happened at the Cancun trade meeting: the developing countries were told, by the US and the EU, to open up their financial markets and service industries to the developed countries and forget about any liberalisation of agricultural markets. As a consequence, the Third World, led by India and Brazil, walked away from the global trade negotiations.)

The AAFTAC report also said: 'Recent analysis by the Centre for International Economics found that US exports to Australia would increase by $US1.9 billion ($A2.7 billion), compared with an increase in imports from Australia of $US1.2 billion.' (Is this infinitesimal gain worth risking our film and television industry and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for?)

The report went on: 'A US-Australia FTA will have some negative impact on other trading partners as US exports displace those of other countries in the Australian market, and Australian exports displace those of third countries in the US market.' (Nobody gets hurt except our other trading partners. Will they passively accept this?)

Of course, the real gains for the US in the AUSFTA lie elsewhere - in opening up Australia's services industries, including public services, to US investors where most of the opportunities lie with the US and most of the risks lie with Australia.

I am getting both alarmed and alert about the whole FTA thing. More later when I've done a little digging, but I doubt the benefits advertised are worth giving away the PBS, the cultural diversity rules, or US access to the services sector.

I also need to do a little research on the treaty-making power. I'll very alarmed and alert indeed if the treaty-making power authorises our Man of Steel to ratify an FTA (as was done with the Thai and Singapore FTAs) by royal, I mean prime ministerial, preorogative.

26 October 2003

Iraq Weapons Debate

Powell told the UN that Iraq possessed as many as 500 tons of chemical weapons, was actively producing more and had authorized its field commanders to use them. Kay reports that no such weapons have yet been found; that large-scale Iraqi production of chemical weapons ended in 1991; that the capacity to resume such production had been 'reduced if not entirely destroyed' by subsequent sanctions, inspections and hostile military action; and that his team had found no evidence 'to confirm prewar reporting that Iraqi military units were prepared to use' chemical weapons against U.S. forces.

Powell told the Security Council that Hussein possessed warheads containing biological weapons, was actively producing more and had constructed mobile laboratories to carry out production surreptitiously. Kay reports that no such weapons have been found, that his team has 'not yet been able to corroborate the existence' of a mobile production effort - and that two trailers found by U.S. forces and called bioweapon labs by some U.S. intelligence agencies are not well suited for that purpose or any other.

Powell portrayed Iraq's nuclear weapons development program as a full-scale effort that was ominously close to success, asserting that Hussein 'already possesses two of three key components' to achieve that goal. Kay reports that while Hussein had shown interest in restarting his nuclear weapons development program, no evidence has been found to show that Iraq had in fact done so, nor any indication Hussein took advantage of the absence of UN inspectors between 1998 and 2002 to 'actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material.'

Sadly Newsday does not mention the massive terrorist facility, also known as the poison factory, that not only was not a massive terrorist facility but lay in Iraqi Kurdistan outside Saddam's control and was run by Ansar al-Islam who were violently opposed to Saddam.

This stuff needs to be hammered again and again until the lies are exposed to the conventional wisdom.


If insults are detected, no words can be too harsh to describe this vile Brown, this deflowerer of our hard-won national dignity, this despoiler of the restraint and courtesy that characterises the Australian parliamentary tradition.

To add injury to insult, one of Brown's foul accomplices had the temerity to brandish a piece of paper at the President. As well as deploring the real physical danger involved (paper-cuts can be very nasty), one can only marvel at the insensitivity of those who would publicly wave printed matter at a man clearly burdened by chronic dyslexia. No wonder alert government members, led by our doughty PM, swiftly formed a barrier around the President's frail form to save him further humiliation.

If only our nation were so spared. These shameful events were broadcast internationally, inviting condemnation from the three people not watching reality television at the time. Mme Lebrun, of Dijon, found herself 'stupefied', Herr Kreis, of Dortmund, sadly averted his gaze from his Grundig and Mr Watanabe, of Kobe, raised his left eyelid, indicating crushing disdain. Thanks to you, Senator Brown, the flicker of interest in Australia kindled during the Sydney Olympics telecast, and tended so carefully since by our fine young sporting ambassadors, has died in three foreign hearts.

What ordinary Australian could possibly disagree?

Thorpedo dives into undies

WORLD champion Ian Thorpe has followed Elle Macpherson and Kylie Minogue into the underwear industry.

Some headlines just cry out to be blogged for posterity.


Iraq Survey Fails to Find Nuclear Threat

No evidence mattered more to the nuclear debate than Iraq's attempt to buy aluminum tubes overseas. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, among many others, scorned the Baghdad government's explanation that it sought the tubes as artillery rocket casings. By August, news accounts made clear that the U.S. government's top nuclear centrifuge experts dissented strongly from the claim that the tubes were meant for uranium enrichment.

Meekin, whose remarks were supported by other investigators who said they feared the consequences of being quoted by name, is the first to describe the results of postwar analysis.

'They were rockets,' said Meekin, 48, director general of scientific and technical assessment for Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation, speaking by satellite telephone from Baghdad. 'The tubes were used for rockets.'

A U.S. government official, who was unwilling to be identified by name or agency, said Meekin is not qualified to make that judgment. The official did not elaborate. Kay's interim report this month said the question remains open.

Does Anon have any evidence to support his claim? Is he saying Brigadier Steve Meekin is a bad officer or a bad investigator? Is Anon, in fact saying anything at all that could lead us to accept his claim? Or is this just another example of Bush people editing the facts to support their own claims?

PM commits to shared values

George Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, rallied his own people and the people of the world in the fight against terrorism. He reminded us then, as we should be reminded today, that terrorists oppose nations such as the United States and Australia not because of what we have done but because of who we are and because of the values that we hold in common, and that terrorism-and we should remind ourselves of this again and again-is as much the enemy of Islam as it is the enemy of Judaism or Christianity.

The boldface is mine, because it's the crux of Howard's justification for the extreme measures in the War on Terror. I have not sought any actual evidence that terrorists think in this way, but it does authorise nations like Australia to concentrate on fighting 'terror' or 'evil' to the exclusion of direction their efforts to the development of peace or human rights in the Middle East.

Administration Faces Supoenas From 9/11 Panel

Mr. Kean's comments on Friday came as another member of the commission, Max Cleland, the former Democratic senator from Georgia, became the first panel member to say publicly that the commission could not complete its work by its May 2004 deadline and the first to accuse the White House of withholding classified information from the panel for purely political reasons.

'It's obvious that the White House wants to run out the clock here,' he said in an interview in Washington. 'It's Halloween, and we're still in negotiations with some assistant White House counsel about getting these documents %u2014 it's disgusting.'

He said that the White House and President Bush's re-election campaign had reason to fear what the commission was uncovering in its investigation of intelligence and law enforcement failures before Sept. 11. 'As each day goes by, we learn that this government knew a whole lot more about these terrorists before Sept. 11 than it has ever admitted.'

This is getting interesting. Of course, it would be unkind to subject the White House to loose forensic standards such as those used in either the kay report or the White House's various claims grossly exaggerating the contents of the Kay report.