14 November 2003


The firststuffs have their being as motes called unclefts. These are mighty small: one seedweight of waterstuff holds a tale of them like unto two followed by twenty-two naughts. Most unclefts link together to make what are called bulkbits. Thus, the waterstuff bulkbit bestands of two waterstuff unclefts, the sourstuff bulkbit of two sourstuff unclefts, and so on. (Some kinds, such as sunstuff, keep alone; others, such as iron, cling together in chills when in the fast standing; and there are yet more yokeways.) When unlike unclefts link in a bulkbit, they make bindings. Thus, water is a binding of two waterstuff unclefts with one sourstuff uncleft, while a bulkbit of one of the forestuffs making up flesh may have a thousand or more inclefts of these two firststuffs together with coalstuff and chokestuff.

And that is all I am going to say, in Ander-Saxon or otherwise...

Israeli memo suggests failure to honour road map commitments

Amid signs of a faint thaw in Israeli-Palestinian relations, details are emerging of an Israeli Government memo which admits that Israel failed to honour key obligations under the stalled 'road map' for peace.

Leaked to Reuters, as Palestinian MPs were endorsing a new prime minister and a fresh push for peace, the memo says that instead of honouring its commitment to evacuate new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel had 'sought in every way to whitewash their existence and build more'.

The news agency says the memo, leaked by 'government sources', concluded Israel lacked international credibility because of its failure to follow the road map or come up with its own 'creative ideas' to end the conflict.

News of the memorandum's existence follows recent Israeli Government decisions to build hundreds of new homes in existing settlements and extend recognition and support to several new 'outpost' settlements slated for demolition under the road map.

The Roadmap is probably dead anyway, but this memo gives the lie to people who try and make the Israeli/Palestinian conflict into either angelic Israelis attacked by satanic Arabs or some kind of eternal law that has existed since time immemorial (or 1947 whichever last happened).

Some time soon one of these peace plans will work. That is because it will contain commitments to human rights and enforcement mechanisms though the UN or NATO. Until then we'll keep on getting fabrications and evasions from both sides.

Refugee story torpedoed by PM's taskforce

The Federal Government has admitted its blunt assertion that 14 Kurdish boat people had not sought asylum was wrong and should never have been made.

In an embarrassing backdown, the people-smuggling taskforce that masterminded the Government's response to the arrival of the Kurdish boat off Melville Island said the men had, in fact, sought sanctuary in Australia.

The taskforce's report into the arrival of the vessel, Minasa Bone, torpedoes the claims by the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, and Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, that the 14 men had not claimed asylum.

It says the 'unauthorised arrivals' had repeatedly stated their desire to land and live in Australia. This included statements that 'we are from Turkey, don't want to go back, no good. We want to go to Australia.'

One man had brandished an English-Turkish dictionary and pointed to the word 'refugee'. Others had claimed to be Kurdish refugees and that they wanted to go to Australia because Turkey was 'no good'.

The development has echoes of the 'children overboard' affair before the last election when ministers made statements, subsequently proven to be false, that asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea.

The latest revelation has led to demands from the Opposition parties for an inquiry.

It also comes as the United Nations issued a scathing indictment of the Government's handling of the boat people.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees accused Australia of jeopardising 'the proper functioning of the international protection regime'.

A UNHCR spokesman, Kris Janowski, said Australia's actions were at variance with the 1951 Refugee Convention, and its shifting of responsibility set a 'negative precedent worldwide'.

Evidently no-one tells the foreign minister or the immigration minister anything either. After the Senate, as they certainly will, retrospectively excise the retrospective excision, where will the government's latest excuse be? And is this why the 14 appear to have been told they could seek refugee visas in jakarta, a concession not made to any other group of unauthorised arrivals?

Occupation enters critical phase

The clashes between resistance fighters and US forces in the streets of Iraq continue to anger the Iraqi population, who blame the US for the current instability in the country. Recent polls from Iraq show that much of society now views US forces as occupiers rather than as liberators. These feelings of distrust can be expected to intensify the longer US and guerrilla fighters continue to battle in the cities of Iraq.

The source of many Iraqis' anger is the overwhelming force frequently used by US soldiers in response to attacks and civil disruptions. While this strategy is effective in large, open terrain such as the desert and when dealing with regular military units, it is typically ineffectual when used in dense urban environments filled with people carrying out their daily lives. Instead, this policy may virtually guarantee otherwise avoidable losses of civilian life and also add to an increasingly negative image of the US presence.

The more Iraqis who have a negative image of the US presence, the greater the risk that otherwise uninvolved Iraqis will either cooperate, support or sympathize with anti-US guerrillas. This is already evident in cases of resistance by Iraqi civilians; for example, in the Sunni triangle city of Abu Ghraib, US troops have been consistently fighting both residents and guerrillas. Unless US forces are willing to lock down these cities completely, conducting operations in places such as Abu Ghraib seems counterproductive and may only embolden the guerrillas.

In addition to stimulating resistance, operations in cities such as Abu Ghraib, along with the use of overwhelming force, hurt the image of US involvement in Iraq. For instance, New York Times reporter Alex Berenson recently reported that in Abu Ghraib US troops 'fired on a photographer trying to cover the fighting and barred reporters from viewing the scene'. While such controversial images may be suppressed in the US, they are not elsewhere; as well as on Arab television, European news networks frequently show videos of US troops responding with overwhelming force in the middle of busy market streets. Instead of attempting to prevent these images from reaching the outside world, greater peacekeeping training must be given to US forces to prevent their fighting methods from turning off not only Iraqi society, but also the wider world.

I suspect most Americans are unaware of the levels of violence being used in Iraq. That may even include the president. Who on the palace staff would be brave enough to tell him?

Increasing the levels of violence is just going to create more revenge groups. We were told this occupation, this 'liberation' would be different, although we were never told how or why. So far all we've seen is bungled colonialism and ineffectual resorts to overwhelming force - resorts that only serve to increase resistance. The occupation might have had a chance if they'd shown signs of governing in the interests of Iraqis. Halliburton put an end to that scenario.

Thought is more important than force.

The case for a provisional government

Pachachi, who served as Iraq's foreign minister from 1965 to 1967, says that many challenges must be met before Iraq can achieve full sovereignty. An election law should be adopted, a voting system established, the judiciary reformed, and a draft constitution submitted for a referendum.

But Iraqis, he says, are growing impatient under CPA rule - something a provisional Iraqi government could solve. The Sunni statesman adds that the UN Security Council resolution passed last month sets the conditions needed for such a government. Resolution 1551 says that the CPA will cede authority 'when an internationally recognized, representative government established by the people of Iraq is sworn in', Pachachi said.

'It will mark the end for the CPA,' he added. 'Once there is a representative Iraqi government, provisional or not, and internationally recognized, that's the end for the CPA because it is said very clearly in the council [resolution] that when this happens, the CPA has to transfer all its power to the Iraqi government.'

Such a government, Pachachi stresses, does not have to be elected in a popular vote. Its members can be appointed by the IGC, which could then expand in size and act as a legislative body in tandem with the provisional executive.

Asked whether the IGC has the authority to appoint a provisional government, Pachachi turns again to Resolution 1551, which states that the IGC is the principal body of the Iraqi interim administration and 'embodies the sovereignty of the state of Iraq during the transitional period'.

Still, it is the approval of the US, and not the UN, that Pachachi's proposal will need before it can move ahead. The IGC member says that the idea has been under discussion with CPA officials, but that a clear 'yes' or 'no' has yet to be heard: 'We have been discussing this with them for some time now. It's nothing new, you know. And we hope that perhaps finally we may have persuaded them. I don't know. We'll see, we'll keep on trying.'

This really marks the collapse of the neotrot fantasy. If they cannot govern without a provisional government then what is the rationale for the whole bloody adventure, anyway? The CPA's failure was always predictable. Dumping a few US bureaucrats into the republican palace and assuming everything would be wonderful, even though neither the CPA or the US command has much understanding of Iraq, was a fool's project and a fool's policy.

Australians in Iraq

Australia has about 800 personnel, 260 of them in Baghdad.

At Baghdad International Airport, there are 14 air traffic controllers and 48 support staff.

The latest rotation of airport personnel arrived in August and is due to leave in January.

A security detachment of 70 provides security for Australian diplomats in central Baghdad.

About 15 analysts and technical experts are involved with the Iraq Survey Group -- looking for weapons of mass destruction.

Australia also has about 270 personnel aboard HMAS Newcastle, and 280 personnel flying, maintaining and supplying four aircraft.

It's worthwhile keeping track of how many Australians are still in Iraq after the withdrawal announced by the prime minister. It's also interesting that we have 15 analysts and technical people involved with the ISG but our senior analyst and technical person in the country is not involved with the ISG.

13 November 2003

Fighting to let refugees stay

On the latest (October) figures, 8860 people have been granted TPVs, including 3658 Afghans and 4254 Iraqis. More than 90 per cent of TPV holders have applied for further protection visas; 350 have had decisions. Of these, 342 were refused (about 130 due to them choosing to leave).

It is important to remember that those on TPV holders are people whose refugee status was initially accepted. They came illegally, but they had valid claims. Ironically, the wars Australia fought against Afghanistan and Iraq have disadvantaged refugees from these countries in their claims to stay, because the regimes from which they fled have been ousted. While the Afghans are losing their claims to a new visa, the Iraqis are moving more slowly through the system, because of the difficulty of getting accurate information about the situation in the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for a ban on the return of any Iraqis, whether refugees or failed asylum seekers. The UNHCR urges a review of the TPV system. Spokeswoman Ellen Hansen says: 'We're particularly concerned at the Australian practice of denying recognised refugees family reunion and travel documents and forcing them to reassert their claims to refugee status after an arbitrary time period.'

On November 23-24, organisations from various parts of the country will send a group of TPV holders, supporters and employers to Canberra to lobby for change. Delegates will also give 'thank you' certificates to MPs for them to present to refugee support groups in their electorates.

They will be a reminder that while most Australians want a tough border protection policy, many of them are willing to extend a helping hand to people who, once here, have shown themselves worthy residents who don't deserve the treatment they're getting.

Temporary Protection Visas only happen in Australia. A TPV holder has been recognised as a refugee by the Australian government. They have a well-founded fear of persecution on returning to their own country. Sadly, under Ruddock's rules, they have a well-founded fear of persecution if they attempt to stay in Australia, where their refugee status gives them a lawful claim.

Now government supporters might say, but what about the queue. The fact is that there is no queue. There is no system for the orderly processing of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan outside Australia. That is answered by Human Rights Watch:

The government of Australia has argued that when someone's refugee status - in this case a TPV - is withdrawn, and that individual is subsequently returned to their country of nationality or former habitual residence, this somehow "frees up space" for other, new and more needy refugees. There is no direct way in which this statement is true, as extra refugee quota places are not added as a consequence of each departure. If an individual TPV holder were dependent on long-term welfare, his or her return might conceivably free up some welfare resources, but it is questionable whether the administrative costs of re-assessment, detention and deportation would outweigh any such savings. Nor is there any budgetary mechanism for such welfare savings to be reinvested in future refugee resettlement or international aid benefiting refugees. It is therefore an illusory trade-off.

The last leg of the government argument is that refugees who arrive without authorisation pre-empt the quota places of other refugees. That is also untrue. The minister can and does expand and contract the quota at will. I do not know if amanda Vanstone has a retinue of colourful Sydney identities that she takes recommendations from. Certainly Grand Inquisitor Ruddock did. Did anyone ever hear Ruddock, in discussing his hundreds of special ministerial exemptions, worry that he was going over the quota?

Why? Because the quota is as much a myth as the queue.

Guantanamo escape may be justified: Kirby

If a cell in Guantanamo Bay, the American prison holding two Australians captured in the war on terrorism, had a broken toilet, was full of vermin, rats and cockroaches, and bread was the only food, would a detainee not be justified in law to try to escape?

This was the question Justice Michael Kirby threw at the Federal Government's barrister, the Solicitor-General David Bennett QC, in a ground-breaking case heard in the High Court yesterday, testing for the first time Australia's mandatory immigration detention scheme.

The hearing involved three separate cases.

In one, asylum seekers who escaped from the Woomera detention centre claimed as their defence that conditions were so bad their detention was invalid.

The Solicitor-General argued that if conditions were bad in prison, a person had the right to seek remedies in either tort or criminal law; but no matter how bad the conditions, it did not make the detention itself illegal.

His argument divided the bench. Justice Kirby said he had seen prisons in Cambodia which were so bad that if he were detained in one he would 'feel duty-bound, as a human being, to remove myself from it'.

'If you say that if conditions fall below those standards, which are standards of human dignity, are so awful that they do not then respond to the word in an Australian statute - 'prison', 'detention', 'punishment' - then a person is not in prison, detention or punishment but in a vermin-infested cell and therefore entitled to walk away from it, because that is not the lawful punishment for which Australian law provides,' Justice Kirby said.

However, some of his brother judges took a different view.

Can't wait for Philip Ruddock, Australia's own grand inquisitor to read this one.

Brain furrow may cause maths problem: Dyscalculia appears to cloud number images.

Dyscalculics have abnormal pulses of activity in a brain furrow called the right intraparietal sulcus, find Nicolas Molko of INSERM, the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, and his colleagues. The fissure helps the mind to conjure spatial images.

It was also unusually shallow and short in the 14 women that Molko's team scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging. The women had a genetic condition called Turner's syndrome, which is linked with dyscalculia.

The finding supports the idea that dyscalculics have difficulty conceiving arrangements of numbers, such as a line stretching from one to 100. 'It goes very well with what has been found before,' says neuropsychologist Monica Rosselli of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Molko hopes that brain imaging could eventually diagnose dyscalculics better than today's cognitive tests. The finding might also inform educational schemes that encourage affected children to use different strategies to number lines, say.

All very nice to know. Now if they could just tell me how to deepen my right intraparietal sulcus a tad...

More Iraqis supporting resistance, CIA warns

A new, top-secret CIA report from Iraq warns that growing numbers of Iraqis are concluding that the U.S.-led coalition can be defeated and are supporting the resistance.

The report paints a bleak picture of the political and security situation in Iraq and cautions that the U.S.-led drive to rebuild the country as a democracy could collapse unless corrective actions are taken immediately.

L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, who arrived unexpectedly in Washington for strategy sessions yesterday, essentially endorsed the CIA's findings, a senior administration official said.

The report's bleak tone and Bremer's private endorsement differ sharply with the upbeat public assessments President Bush, his chief aides and Bremer are giving as part of an aggressive publicity campaign aimed at countering rising anxieties at home over increasing U.S. casualties in Iraq.

Iraq is a mess. We have this CIA report on the state of the resistance. We have more from Juan Cole on the composition of the resistance. The Italians and Iraqis killed today died in Nasiriya, a long way from the Sunni triangle.

None of this matches the stream of sunny spin flowing from the White House. Nor does Bremer's sudden trip to Washington.

And what is the outcome of all this? From the New York Times:

"I'll be taking them a message from the president that he remains steadfast in his determination to defeat terrorism in Iraq and steadfast in his determination to give the Iraqis authority over their country, authority they're already beginning to assume very quickly in the area of security and in the area of running the Iraqi ministries," Mr. Bremer said.

Mr. Bremer repeatedly declined to discuss the substance of his talks at the White House, saying only that he had had "some very good discussions in the last couple of days with the president and his advisers." But the urgency of those discussions, on a hastily arranged visit to Washington that began even before today's deadly attack on an Italian police post, was self-evident.

"I'll be taking them a message from the president that he remains steadfast in his determination to defeat terrorism in Iraq and steadfast in his determination to give the Iraqis authority over their country, authority they're already beginning to assume very quickly in the area of security and in the area of running the Iraqi ministries," Mr. Bremer said.

We should be very afraid, every announcement of progress in Iraq seems to lead more bloodshed.

Rudd demands facts on asylum seekers

KEVIN RUDD, SHADOW FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, it could well turn out to be another situation of the Howard Government being loose with the truth on border security and national security.

We don't know the facts.

That's our problem, Tony.

Mr Downer, I think, said on Sunday that they definitively did not seek asylum, and now we hear from Senator Vanstone, the Immigration Minister, today, that they may have sought asylum.

Mr Downer then comes out today and says he's now going to look into it, and now this further report on Lateline tonight from the Indonesian immigration authorities, and I think the Turkish individuals themselves, saying that, in fact, they may well have sought asylum -- or did in fact seek asylum.

Look, this I think has a grave danger of trashing Australia's international reputation if you've got the Howard Government being flip, flop, flap and loose with the truth on such basic facts concerning this case.

TONY JONES: Well, Mr Downer, as you've pointed out, has now called for an investigation into what exactly was said to Australian authorities by these people.

But in the end he says, at the same time, it won't make any legal difference because of the excision of Melville Island from the migration zone.

Is that so?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I'm not briefed on that.

I'm in London and I don't know the precise legal status of the Government's proclamation of this excision from the point of the proclamation until the Senate does what it's about to do in a couple of weeks time.

But I think the whole broader question of excision is brought sharply into relief by this entire matter.

I mean, for goodness sake, Tony, we have a boat of 14 Turks arrive 20km off the Northern Territory coast, having breached John Howard's sort of iron cordon sanitaire across the air/sea gap between ourselves and Indonesia.

And what does the Howard Government then turn around and do?

It says, 'Wow, we can't in fact defend our sovereignty for 4,000 northern islands and we're going to excise them from Australia'.

Well, I think this is a dumb response and the way in which this entire matter is working out will reveal it to be even dumber.

We all know the Senate will disallow the excision of the 4000 islands, some of them as far south as Mackay. When that happens the government's retrospective excision will itself be retrospectively excised. If these people did ask for refugee status then the government violated the Refugee Convention by returning them to Indonesia.

PM - Breakthrough decision to boost Murray River flow

South Australia's Murray Darling Basin Commissioner is Rob Freeman. He says it is vital that the health of the entire river system is not lost.

ROB FREEMAN: You can imagine we could actually use all the water on these sites, very healthy for oases, but we have an unhealthy river, so the fifth site, which is the river itself, that always needs to be considered in the context of each of these initiatives.

NANCE HAXTON: South Australia's Environment Minister John Hill says while the 500 million gigalitres falls well short of what is needed, he hopes all state ministers will agree to it.

JOHN HILL: Well, I wouldn't describe what the Commonwealth have done as a back flip at all, that's the first time they've committed themselves to anything. And they also would agree that this is a first step, so that means that more water will be required, so I'm very happy about the outcome from Canberra.

This is really a dramatic breakthrough if we can get this agreed to on Friday. Two years ago it wasn't even on the agenda, we were just getting over congratulating ourselves for having a cap put in place which stopped new extractions.

We're now talking about putting more water back into the river for environmental outcomes. This is a big breakthrough and it will develop a head of steam now that nothing can stop.

NANCE HAXTON: If the Ministers agree to the plan on Friday, action on turning around the dire state of the Murray may still be some time off. The proposal has to be fully costed by the Murray Darling Basin Commission, before being put out for public comment at the Ministerial Council's next meeting in March next year.

Well, it's a start...

Howard, Blair press prisoners' cause

Earlier this year, both countries persuaded the US not to apply the death sentence, if the prisoners were found guilty.

'A lot of the debate in Australia seems to have proceeded on the basis that if you're arrested for something overseas you can demand that you be brought back to Australia to be tried. That's not true,' he said.

But Mr Howard said Australia had made 'some progress' with the US and would continue to discuss the trial of the prisoners.

I do not know anyone who claims that Australians arrested overseas have a right of repatriation. I do know many people who wonder why Australians arrested in a coalition operation cannot be tried in Australia.

Howard attacks trade restrictions

Speaking to Australian and British business leaders at an investment breakfast in London overnight, John Howard said Australia's already strong trading performance would be significantly improved if the EU was forced to lower tariffs.

Mr Howard said Australia's trading relationship with Britain was growing strongly despite the 'unacceptably restrictive practices of the European Union'.

'Just think what we could achieve if the mandarins of Brussels had a more accommodating view,' he said.

Mr Howard said the US was in the best position to apply pressure on the EU. However, the recent failure of the World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun to make any ground on the issue did not give him any confidence that a breakthrough was imminent.

I'm confused. The US is on the edge of a trade war with the EU. Perhaps the Ever-Victorious Prime Minister believes that Bush will abandon his steel tariffs in return for the EU lowering its agricultural protection?

12 November 2003

For Bush, a Janus-Like View of Trade

The administration faces the prospect of a trade war with Europe if the president fails to lift his temporary steel tariffs, which were ruled illegal on Monday by a World Trade Organization panel. A week from now, talks are to resume to extend the North American Free Trade Agreement throughout the Western Hemisphere, a proposal that has been protested by labor unions, small farmers and environmental advocates.

Even the staunchest allies, like Australia, have complained that the farm bill President Bush signed into law last year is an impediment to new global trade agreements.

All countries will be watching to see if Mr. Bush, the leader of a nation that has profited substantially from global trade, defies the W.T.O. and accepts $2 billion of European sanctions rather than lift the 30 percent tariffs that are meant to protect the American steel industry as it consolidates.

Politics will naturally play an important role in that decision, just as it did when the administration decided to impose the steel tariffs and accept new American farm subsidies as the necessary price to pay for the authority to negotiate free trade agreements with little interference from Congress.

The steel tariffs went a long way to winning votes from lawmakers representing manufacturing states. The farm states, led by Representative Larry Combest, Republican of Texas, made it clear that their votes depended on support for the 2002 farm bill. At one stage, Mr. Combest removed his name from the legislation for trade authority until the president assured him of his support for the increased farm subsidies.

Now the bargain struck for trade promotion authority is threatening to backfire.

Sebastian Mallaby, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr. Bush and his trade representative, Robert B. Zoellick, had committed the classic mistake of free traders who thought they could 'buy the allegiance of protectionists, whether they are big farmers or the steel industry, to make some advance in their long-term trade policy and not become captives of the protectionists.'

"It was na�ve of them to think there wouldn't be a price for all of this," Mr. Mallaby said. "Now, they've disillusioned people in their own free trade camp."

Let's imagime the FTA leaves cultural diversity, investor rights, and the PBS alone. Let's imagine it actually includes farm tariff cuts that take effect in the present century. Then let's imagine what will happen the first time the FTA provisions bump into the political ambitions of George Bush. The EU and WTO have a little more clout than we do. Their clout is not getting translated into free trade very well.

US ups pressure on Iraqi council

Insisting that relations with the Americans 'are not difficult,' Mr. Noor Alzin says nevertheless that the Council has made many decisions that have yet to be implemented because Bremer has not signed off on them.

Some Iraqis say the members of the governing council are thieves, 'Ali Babas' who are only interested in creating jobs for their family. But a surprising number praise a group that was only assembled in July, and are impressed when disputes and political differences are played out publicly in a country that is accustomed to a monolithic political face.

At the same time, however, there is a strong sense that in the end, the Americans remain all-powerful and will have their way - a perspective that would only be cemented if the US decided to alter or replace the council.

'America wants Iraqis to lead Iraqis, but we know America wants a president who will do what America wants,' says Mr. Hussein, the mechanic. 'If the Americans want my father to be president,' he says grinning, 'he will be president.'

I doubt much will come of this. Despite the Bush administration's obsession with its own autonomy, there's a limited number of people who would make credible IGC members. The IGC already contains a number of marginal figures like Ahmed Chalabi who owe their seats exclusively to US patronage.

Think about the Kurds. They have an established leadership. Are other Kurdish figures going to betray their leaders in order to serve the CPA? Are the Kurdish IGC members to be retained while others are dismissed? Indeed what authority is the council as a whole going to hold if it's arbitrarily dismissed by the US?

The Bush administration has a long record of blaming others for their own failures. I guess they could try it in Iraq, but finding others willing to serve them might be a challenge. Finding others to constitute some kind of valid IGC would be impossible.


Luskin's Krugman-baiting - though more or less a hobby, while he works as an investment consultant - is the latest incarnation of an old tradition, dating back to the days of that great Colonial pundit Thomas Paine, who was hounded relentlessly by William Cobbett, a.k.a. Peter Porcupine, in the Porcupine's Gazette. The bird-dogging game abated over time, but it has been revived in the internet era, with the proliferation of nitpicking bloggers, or what you might call "blalkers".

At last! An uglier word than Iraqificaiton, although a word that is probably needed.

Link via Fables of the Reconstruction

And the winner of the 2004 Sydney Peace Prize is...

It took courage to oppose the war in Iraq when not a single Israeli politician came out against. It took courage a few days after the 1967 war to say Israel must immediately withdraw from the territories, and to be one of the first to condemn the Lebanon war. One has to admire his unrepentant bluntness.

For him the conflict is between right and right, as each side has its grievances, its folly and its justice: 'This is not a Hollywood movie with good guys and bad guys. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a black-and-white film.'

He demands Palestinians disarm the terrorist organisations, while at the same time insisting Israelis remove the unauthorised settlements. Reflect on his rare non-partisan views. Listen to his balanced voice of moderation.

A tower of peace, Oz pleads with us to stop wagging our fingers at Islam or the Jews or the West and seek out the moderates in every society. Only those who possess moderation and determination, Oz observes, deserve to inherit the earth. And it is only once we accept that the tiny land is the homeland of two wounded people, Oz has said, that we will be able to begin the long road towards healing.

Audaciously he challenges governments and leaders, raising ethical issues without mercy. A true man of peace amid the disharmony of Middle East radicalism.

The weird thing about the Geneva Accord is how obvious its provisions feel when you read them. Now the hardliners on both sides condemn Geneva as hopelessly idealistic. That may be true, but the hardliners have yet to produce anything that ends the bloodshed.

Saudi blasts: More than meets the eye

It is similarly difficult to accept at present that the car bomb which killed the foreign Sunni workers at the Riyadh housing complex was designed to deliberately kill them. A more convincing explanation is that the real targets were - either the members of the Saudi ruling families or foreign diplomats and their families - elsewhere. There is reason to believe that the car bomb fitted with the explosives was being taken to the housing complex to be kept there before being taken to the real target. The explosion seems to have been caused by accident or by the interception of the vehicle by the security guards at the complex.

There is no doubt that since February last, there has been an intensification in the activities of jihadi terrorists in Saudi Arabia - partly to destabilize the kingdom and partly to set up a rear base there for organizing jihad against the US troops in Iraq. Al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) have been in the forefront of these activities. There have been unconfirmed reports that Osama bin Laden is no longer in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and that he might have moved to Yemen or Saudi Arabia to coordinate the jihad against the US troops in Iraq.

For some years now, the LET has had an active presence in Saudi Arabia, which has not been neutralized by the Saudi authorities. There is a growing threat to the stability of the kingdom. The LET and al-Qaeda want to capture power in Saudi Arabia, proclaim the establishment of a caliphate there with bin Laden as the amir and use Saudi Arabia as the rear base for the jihad against the crusaders and the Jewish people.

If they succeed, it is likely to aggravate the already existing threats to the peace and security of the region from the jihadi terrorists and affect energy security.

I know Raman is not trying to defend the jihadis but it it's still necessary to make the point that if you're running a terrorist attack and you kill the wrong people, your unintended victims are still dead.

11 November 2003

A strategy for a post-terrorist world

The "War on Terrorism" as currently formulated by the Bush Administration is a war that in its own terms cannot be won. Because its true enemy is the very adversary it is continuing to create by its policies of marginalizing local cultures and fostering top-down forms of economic dependency, the war can only continue indefinitely, eroding traditional democratic values and alienating ever larger numbers of peoples by increasing the inequitable and oppressive dominance of a hierarchical globalist economic system. Moreover, insofar as this evanescent war takes the form of overt military combat involving territorial conquest as a substitute for addressing the conditions that produce and reproduce cadres of terrorist and terrorism as an instrument of the otherwise political powerless, it is a war that creates its own growing enemy as consequence of its implementation. Because there is now only one global super power and only one dominant economic system, such a war cannot be successfully confronted by alternative forces. There is however, a local alternative. A bumper sticker in the 1960s read, "What if they held a war and no one came?" Perhaps the only way to end this war is to opt out of it.

The only way to end this war is remove political leaders who use fear as their principal weapon for appealing to their electorates.

Israel May Soon Take Path U.S. Can't Follow

If a two-state solution is indeed no longer possible, the occupied territories would in essence become a permanent part of the state of Israel, creating a country that reaches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. That additional territory, however, also comes equipped with so many Palestinians that by the end of the decade, the enlarged Jewish state would actually contain more Arabs than Jews within its borders.

To preserve its Jewish character, Israel would then have two choices:

  • It could deny citizenship and voting rights to its Arab majority, thus surrendering any right to call itself a democracy. Given the difficulties inherent in a minority trying to permanently repress a majority, Israel would also be forced to deny basic human rights to its Arab subjects. Israelis would reduce themselves to the Jewish equivalent of white South Africans, who for so long sat uncomfortably astride a black majority. U.S. support for Israel would inevitably erode under those conditions.

  • Israel could try to rid itself of the problem of long-term repression by forcing the Palestinians to leave the country, either directly through threat of violence or indirectly by making life so difficult they would flee. In other words, ethnic cleansing, although the preferred term in Israeli policy debate is 'transfer.' There is no question that today a strong majority of Israelis find that option all but unthinkable. It is also true, however, that Israel is today employing brutal tactics against Palestinians that were unthinkable back in 1985 or 1990.

After another 10 years of repressive occupation and suicide bombing by Palestinians, attitudes about 'transfer' could change as well, again forfeiting the support of many millions of Americans.

For the moment, Israel would seem to be making no choice whatsoever. But as is often the case, no choice is in fact a choice. The settlements are growing, increasing in population by more than 30 percent in the past five years. In a recent poll, 40 percent of Israelis feared a civil war was probable if their country ever tried to evacuate the settlements. The wall is growing longer, the concrete is setting. Quietly, almost unconsciously, Israel is making choices that will set it on a course that the United States should not follow.

It is a course that makes many of Israel's friends despair for its future.

I seem to have got sucked into an extended polemic on this topic at The Road to Surfdom so I might as well throw in my two cents here. I think it's a horribly complicated issue and one-dimensional solutions will not work. Among those failing solutions are doing nothing while Israel drifts into incorporating the West Bank and Gaza and then tries to deal with a permanent disfranchised majority within its expanded borders.

Armistice Day

In the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

Kaiser Bill threw in the towel,

threw in his spiked helmet,

said, 'I'm gone to Holland,'

said, 'Ain't gone study war no more.'

Bill, I can dig the fact

that without some kind of serious reinforcement

the mortal scuffle is too much.

I'm standing in front of the liquor store now,

which is closed because it's Armistice Day,

which has been changed to Veteran's Day,

which has been moved to October 25th,

because your trip struck someone in power

as archaic.

Bill, I don't care: I know

how you felt when you fled across the Rhine,

soggy, without benefit of reindeer.

I'm through, too:

ain't gone study war, nor love,

nor anything now, except snow and the other

obvious trappings of despair.

Everette Maddox

10 November 2003

Harry Evans on Senate Reform

The discussion paper refers in its last passage to faithfully reflecting the �will of the people�. In fact, it seeks ways of giving effect to the will of the prime minister. As has already been noted, while the discussion paper contemplates giving effect to the will of the current prime minister, if the proposed changes were made to the Constitution, these powers would be conferred on every future prime minister, and never surrendered.

If the aim really is to find a better method of resolving disagreements between the Senate and the government than the current double dissolution mechanism, there is a readily available alternative. This alternative would really reflect the �will of the people�. As was suggested during the framing of the Constitution, disputed legislation could be put to a referendum. The government could be given a choice of holding a separate referendum on disputed legislation within the parliamentary term, or holding such a referendum in conjunction with the next general election. The first option could be chosen for legislation which the government considers to be urgent. The government�s fate would not be tied to that of its disputed legislation, and the electors could retain a preferred government while not being forced to accept its legislation.

The only arguments against this alternative boil down to an unarticulated view that the people are too stupid to know what is good for them.

If a piece of government legislation is as essential to the well-being of the country as governments often claim, there should be no difficulty in persuading the voters directly to accept it.

I would be pleased to elaborate on any of these matters should the consultative group so require. I presume that comments provided to the group will be made public.

Yours sincerely

(Harry Evans)

Clerk of the Senate

This Evans response to the Howard proposal for a de facto unicameral parliament advocates roughly what happens in NSW when a bill is deadlocked between the legislative assembly and the legislative council. It's democratic, it's consistent with our traditions and has some chance of getting passed by the people. Whether the elite in parliament assembled will agree to it is another matter.

I'll hotlink this if and when it is made public, along with other submissions, by the prime minister. John Quiggin has a link to the full Word document on his site.

US turns wrath on resistance fighters

US troops yesterday unleashed their most furious attack in Iraq since the official end of the war. The attacks, which happened in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit, were carried out in response to the killing of six soldiers whose Black Hawk helicopter was shot down near the town on Friday.

As F16s jets dropped 500lb bombs on the area where the helicopter was shot down, US troops launched a massive sweep operation, designed as a show of force against resistance fighters based in the Sunni Triangle, which saw the arrest of several dozen alleged fighters and the death of five more.

Last night a loud explosion echoed across Baghdad. The sound came from the West bank of the Tigris River, where the coaltion has its headquarters. It follows mortar attacks on the complex earlier in the week.

This kind of response is known as collective punishment. The Fourth Geneva Convention provides:

Art. 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Collective punishment is also foolish. In the vast majority of cases where occupying armies have resorted to it all that has resulted has been a growth in resistance.

In the sheiks' hands

'This is what the British did in the 1920s - they supported Sheik Abdul Razak Ali Sulieman. He was the Sheik of Sheiks of the Dulame tribe and they gave him the authority of a governor over the western region of Iraq.'

Important question: could today's sheiks stop the attacks on the US?

Says Al Rawi: 'Of course - if there was a deal between the US and the sheiks to serve Iraq. The sheiks have the power to declare that there will be no more attacks on the Americans.'

Can he control local democratic votes?

'But of course! If the US is serious in wanting good relations with the Iraqi people, then it must have good relations with the sheiks. It is my considered view that loyalty to the tribes is bigger than ethnic or religious loyalty in Iraq.

'And since the fall of Baghdad the tribes and tribal law have become even stronger because of the political vacuum - there is no direction or security for the people and they have no one to follow except the tribe and their sheik.'

Iraq is a complex place. A government that thought Iraq would be a fine place to invade because of the absence of holy cities and which does not speak the language is unlikely to even know it needs to engage traditional leaders.

9 November 2003

Mossad chief: invasion has created a holy war

A former chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, has accused the United States and Britain of lack of foresight over the Iraq invasion and warned of even greater violence unless the civic infrastructure is established quickly.

Major General Danny Yatom said the presence of Western forces in Iraq has presented the opportunity for a holy war, or jihad, by Islamists in a country surrounded by Muslim neighbours.

Speaking during a visit to London, Gen Yatom said: 'Colin Powell has always said that if the coalition went into Iraq, they had to get out. But it seems America did not have such a plan in place. They are lacking such a plan, and that is what is urgently needed now.'

Not really fresh news, but the source is interesting.

The Hunt for Iraq's Weapons

On the issue of Iraq's use of aluminum tubes, I did confirm, in response to a question by Gellman, that aluminum tubes form the body of Iraqi 81mm battlefield rockets and that my teams had recovered some of these rockets for technical examination. Further, I stated that the empty tubes were innocuous in view of the large quantities of lethal Iraqi conventional weapons such as small arms, explosive ordnance and man-portable air defense systems in this country. I did not make any judgment on the suitability of the 81mm aluminum tubes as components in a nuclear program.

In discussing the disbanding of the Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Center, I told your reporter that the center's work was largely complete, and I made clear that its role was in the realm of Iraq's conventional weapons and technologies.

Stephen D. Meekin

The writer, a brigadier in the Australian Army, is commander of the coalition's Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Center in Iraq.

ISG Head David Kay has also issued a denial in which he says Meekin is not part of the ISG.

I blogged the original Washington Post report.

The Washington Post's Ombudsman comments:

Asked about this, Gellman says: "Meekin works under Kay in any ordinary understanding of the words. Meekin told me on the record that he was 'integrated into the command structure of the Iraq Survey Group in June.' "

"I'm the senior Australian in the ISG," Gellman quotes Meekin as saying, and Meekin's immediate superior commands the ISG.

I find a number of things about the denial very strange. If Meekin is not part of the ISG why did the Anon who originally dismissed his comments not say so? All the Anon did say was that Meekin was not qualified to make that judgment. Brigadier General Meekin is also director-general of scientific and technical analysis for Australia's Defence Intelligence organisation.

In March this year, Australia's Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill commented:

The analysts and technical experts, led by the Director General Scientific and Technical Analysis, BRIG Stephen Meekin, were expected to depart Australia on May 11.

Their task is to support coalition efforts to locate, identify, account for and destroy Iraq�s existing EMD and EMD capable programs.

They will be based in various locations in Iraq.

So what do we have? Meekin is the senior Australian Defence Force intelligence officer in Iraq by authority of Australia's Defence Minister. There is no Australian in Iraq as part of Operation Catalyst more qualified to serve as the senior Australian in the ISG. Ideed Operation Catalyst includes only 16 intelligence personnel and I have trouble finding anyone among them senior to Meekin.

How likely is it that a senior military officer with Meekin's technical qualifications would not know the difference between nuclear-capable rocket tubes and non-nuclear-capable rocket tubes? Meekin would certainly not report to Kay, he would report to the Australian TJF and ultimately to the Minister.

I am going to do some more digging in Canberra and see what I can find. We have not previously heard about 2 sets of aluminium tubes in Iraq. The denials strike me as unpersuasive for the moment.

Not talking out of rear

Herrings communicate with one another by emitting high-pitched sounds from their anuses, according to Canadian researchers.

Odd as this may seem, the team at the University of British Columbia that made the discovery insists it is true. 'It sounds just like a high-pitched raspberry,' said Ben Wilson, a member of the group.

Fish have long been known to communicate with potential mates by making grunting and buzzing sounds by wobbling their swim bladders - bags full of air that control buoyancy - but fishy flatulence adds a whole new dimension to their vocabulary.

This item might seriously influence my ideas on the fishy origin of certain techniques of political communication.

9/11 White House Subpoena Omits Classified Briefings

An independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks announced yesterday that it will issue a second subpoena for documents from the Bush administration, but the legal demand does not include classified intelligence briefings that have been the focus of an ongoing dispute with the White House.

The new subpoena, for Pentagon records about U.S. air defenses on the day of the attacks, follows a demand last month for similar material from the Federal Aviation Administration. The commission said in a statement that it 'has encountered some serious delays in obtaining needed documents from the Department of Defense' and that 'records of importance to our investigation had not been produced.'

The Pentagon said in a statement that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has pledged cooperation and 'has directed that the department be responsive to help ensure the commission can meet its deadlines.'

The FAA and NORAD chronologies (which contradict each other) have been on the public record for a long time. The explanation for refusing official copies to the commission is going to be fascinating.

Indignant Arabs Say Bush Democracy Speech a Sham

"Bush's speech is like a boring, broken record that nobody believes,'' said Gulf-based political analyst Moghazy al-Badrawy.

"He wants democracy and the U.S. is occupying Iraq and its ally Israel is killing Palestinians? Arabs just don't buy it.''

Abdel-Monem Said, director of Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political Strategic Studies, said the perceived U.S. dishonesty in justifying the Iraq war had also tarnished its credibility.

"Democracy is all about legalities, rule of law and legitimacy,'' he said. "There is an issue of double standards.''

Mohammad al-Bsairi, a Kuwaiti member of parliament and spokesman for the Gulf state's Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters Washington's blind bias for Israel -- battling a Palestinian independence uprising -- also flew in the face of democracy.

No-one should be surprised by the Arab reaction. The real surprise is why the White House might think the speech would be received well in Arab countries, by the elites or their oppositions.