22 November 2003

US Seeks Israeli advice

Facing a bloody insurgency by guerrillas who label it an 'occupier,' the U.S. military has quietly turned to an ally experienced with occupation and uprisings: Israel.

In the last six months, U.S. Army commanders, Pentagon officials and military trainers have sought advice from Israeli intelligence and security officials on everything from how to set up roadblocks to the best way to bomb suspected guerrilla hide-outs in an urban area.

'Those who have to deal with like problems tend to share information as best they can,' Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, said Friday at a defense writers breakfast here.

The contacts between the two governments on military tactics and strategies in Iraq are mostly classified, and officials are reluctant to give the impression that the U.S. is brainstorming with Israel on the best way to occupy Iraq. Cambone said there is no formal dialogue between the two allies on Iraq, but they are working together.

This is a disaster. Israel's occupation technique has succeeded only in radicalising the resistance to it and in violating the international law of human rights. The failure of Israel as an occupying power has been noted by four former Israeli heads of security. So Israeli advice is not likely to be of high quality.

The second point is that Israel's interests are not the same as the US national interest. Israeli military advice is more likely to serve Israel's interests.

Lastly, it's a disaster to be pushing a forward strategy of freedom to Arabs by methods and tactics recommended by Israel. Gaza on the Tigris used to be a bad joke. Now it's merely the military policy of the occupation.

Game talk a winner

Ellis, for those who like this sort of historical minutiae, went on to become vicar of St Clement Danes, now the RAF church in The Strand in London, near Australia House. This might be useful trivia for dinner parties, whether noodles are served or not. THE Prime Minister will present the Ellis trophy to the victorious Wallabies this evening, and I hope the crowd hoots as rudely as it did when he declared the tournament open.

As I wrote then, this is not a personal shot at John Howard. There is a proud Australian tradition of booing all and any politicians who take the stage at great sporting occasions to hog the limelight where nobody wants them.

Other people might find it puzzling. Nobody boos the American president when he throws out the first ball of the baseball season, for instance. If the president of China whacks the first ping-pong ball over a net in the perfumed Beijing spring, I dare say he is greeted with rapturous applause. But that should not stop us. We are young and free and, better still, girt by sea. Let the jeering echo around the world.

Hear, hear! Oi, oi oi! And stuff like that.

Crean attacks FTA

The federal government must include an exclusion clause in a free trade deal with the US to protect Australia's film and television industry, Opposition Leader Simon Crean said.

'I want a prime minister in this country that actually sticks up for our industry and doesn't roll over to the Americans,' Mr Crean said in Melbourne before the Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards.

'I think it's about time we understood the importance this industry has been to identifying what we are and presenting it in a talented way and in a creative way.'

Mr Crean said the government had sold the industry out in its free trade negotiations.

'It is outrageous that the Howard government is prepared to trade away that industry.

'Prepared to trade it away in the name of a free trade agreement with the United States.'

He warned that the industry was in jeopardy unless the Howard government fought for it in the free trade negotiations.

I can feel an attack on the elites who watch Australian films or television coming on as we speak. Somehow I expect it's not going to be a winner for Howard among ordinary Australians.

Brain Imaging Targets ADHD Differences

Investigators at UCLA used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brains of 27 children with ADHD to those of 46 children without the disorder. They found that the region of the brain associated with attention and impulse control, located on the bottom of the frontal lobes of the brain, was smaller in the ADHD kids than in the other children.

'We would expect that the abnormalities would be in this region, and this is what we found,' lead investigator Elizabeth Sowell, PhD, tells WebMD.

The researchers also found that children with ADHD had larger areas of the outer layers of the brain.

Previous research has indicated that the differences were limited to the right side of the brain, but Sowell and colleagues found that they occurred on both sides.

ADHD has an image problem, in the media, not the frontal lobes. A disease that gets diagnosed on interviews is easy to debunk and a disease that involves drugs as about the only effective therapy is easy to beat up. If the brain imaging studies lead to an objective way to diagnose the thing, a lot of the controversy will go away.

What was I talking about?


This is the Australian Minister of Defence's transcript of the conference. Note that 'defence' and 'defense' have different spelling sin the US and Australia. Go tool up your search functions and run them through the transcript.

This also gives you the full ext of a journalist asking about the intelligence-sharing problem, Hill not knowing about it, and Rumsfeld confirming it. General Cosgrove, our Chief of Defence Force, has since denied it.

One wonders, if intelligence is not being fully shared according to Rumsfeld, how Hill or Cosgrove would know. At the outset of the Pentagon conference Rumsfeld clearly did and Hill clearly did not.

How US kept Australians in the dark

Mr Rumsfeld told Australian reporters: 'After the war I heard discussions about ways that information could be better exchanged and in some cases it required some administrative actions, and that, in some instances, those administrative actions have been taken.' However, he added, some legal changes might also be needed to overcome the problem.

But Senator Hill appeared unaware of the intelligence problems that have been of serious concern to US, Australian and British military intelligence officers.

When asked to comment on the problems, he said: 'I'm not sure what you're talking about. I don't know of any dissatisfaction in communication of intelligence between our agencies.'

At this point, Mr Rumsfeld explained to Senator Hill the concerns about the blocking of access to intelligence during the war, especially when the material originated from the allies' own sources.

General Crawford, who is head of the US Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Centre, told his Australian and British counterparts at the conference that there were only two solutions to the problem. The first was for the US 'to change their dog-gone policy'. The second way, he joked, was 'to make the UK, Canada and Australia the 51st, 52nd and 53rd states'.

This is probably (although I am not sure) the same Senator Hill who happily gives the parliament confident assurances about the quality of US intelligence, assurances he is obviously unqualified to give.

21 November 2003

Istanbul: The enemy within

The IBDA-C was established in 1975 by a breakaway faction of the youth group of the then Islamic Salvation Party headed by former Turkish prime minister Necmettin Erbakan. It is a strong critic of secularism and Mustafa Kemal Pasha, and advocates the restoration of the Ottoman Empire just as the LET advocates the restoration of the Moghul rule in India.

The IBDA-C's anger over the perceived British role in the break-up of the Ottoman Empire could explain its motive for attacking British personnel and interests, if it is established that it also had a role in Thursday's blasts. Were the blasts timed, at the instance of al-Qaeda, to coincide with President George W Bush's high-profile UK visit to embarrass him and Prime Minister Tony Blair? Difficult to answer. In the past, the IBDA-C had attacked members of the Greek Orthodox community, secular journalists etc, but had not shown till now an inclination to take to suicide terrorism. However, in February 2000, it claimed responsibility for a quadruple bomb attack in Istanbul, not involving suicide bombers.

Sections of the Turkish media have contradicted reports of the involvement of the IBDA-C. They have quoted police sources as saying that the suspects were really members of a little-known group called Beyyiat el-Imam, meaning 'allegiance to the Imam', which, it is claimed, was formed in the al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and is reportedly led by a Saudi cleric identified as Abu Musab. He is believed to have taken shelter in Iran after the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan.

According to the media, Ekinci had flirted with a hotch-potch of Islamic groups, including Hezbollah, a violent Turkish Sunni group unrelated to the Shi'ite Lebanese group of the same name. He had travelled to Iran, received jihadi and explosive training in Pakistan between 1997-99, and fought in Chechnya.

The fact that neither the Turks nor the British nor the Americans had the least inkling of the goings-on in the world of jihadi terrorism in Turkey and of the preparations for the terrorist strikes in Istanbul speak disturbingly of the inability of their intelligence agencies to penetrate the IIF either electronically or through human sources. While some electronic penetration has definitely been achieved in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Southeast Asia, resulting in some successes, there are other areas such as Iraq and Turkey where they seem to be groping in the dark, as the Mumbai police are doing in India.

Ownership of the War on Terror is interesting. Raman cites 20 000 victims in India. All killed by al-Qa'ida allies rather than al-Qa'ida itself. One way to read the war is that it's about building ever-higher barriers between Us and Them. Raman's numbers do not add up to the status of supreme victim for the US, but if you say that, or argue that the focus on Iraq or al-Qa'ida is wrong, you start encountering arguments about resolve.

Thus far, mere resolve, whether it masquerades as moral clarity or not having a reverse gear, is not doing all that well. The people of Istanbul, like the people of Mumbai, are probably about as attached to the flypaper theories as the coalition forces in Iraq itself.

Get smart or lose the war

Meanwhile, the forces of terror are trying to destabilize those neighbors who are siding with the US. In other words, the US is on the defensive whereas the terrorists are on the offensive, both in and around Iraq. And there is no solution in sight.

Attacks on the US and its allies are growing in number and intensity, not decreasing. More anti-terror forces are being committed to combat this, but their quality is decreasing. The new US troops who are going to Baghdad are from the National Guard. They will live in their barracks, completely separated from the rest of Iraq, feeling more and more besieged, more and more in hostile territory, more and more controlled by the enemy. Besides, it is not clear whether there is an exit strategy.

How can America stabilize this Iraq? The growing number of attacks proves that the US-led forces know less and less about what is going on in Iraq, not more. Iraq, in other words, looks like a trap about which the US and its allies, their soldiers and their people know little. They don't know about the country its rules and customs, its intricacies, its snares. In short, they lack intelligence.

Al-Qaeda managed the September 11 attacks not because of its powerful military but because it beguiled US intelligence. The US failed to preempt September 11 not because of lack of guns, but because of lack of intelligence in the broad sense. In Iraq, the situation grows worse by the day for the same reason: the US certainly has enough guns, but not enough intelligence. North Atlantic Treaty Organization General Fabio Mini, in his latest book, La Guerra dopo la Guerra, stresses that the threat of global terrorism has to be met with much better information networks. John Keegan in his The First World War points out that the armies had enough shells to kill each other many times over, but lacked information on where to direct their shells.

This seems to be happening in Iraq now. Soldiers are busy defending themselves and people are coming from outside to join Saddam's supporters.

Why don't we know? How can we know? How can we use the knowledge to win over the uncertain and isolate the die-hard enemies? These questions have to be addressed very seriously as they are more important than any quarrel about the number of people in the field.

The answer is not stirring speeches in London. The answer is fact- not Feith-based intelligence.

...entire nation of Australia founded on sodomy

The transportation of convicts to Australia was eventually ended in large part because of the loud and bitter complaints from clerics and respectable Australians -- there were some, apparently -- about how widespread the sin of sodomy was among prisoners and how this was lowering the tone of the continent. Perhaps because of an Australian guilty conscience, or ancestral sore arse, today it is a well-known Australian-born media magnate who is most keen to use the 'Carry On up the Valet' scandal to ridicule the British in general and bring down the monarchy in particular by lashing them in his newspapers around the world. The New York Post recently ran the puerile headline 'PRINCESS CHARLES.' I'd like to see him tell those Outback sheep shearers there's something essentially effeminate about a spot of situational sodomy.

Well it's one theory...

On Post-Fascism

We are, then, faced with a new kind of extremism of the center. This new extremism, which I call post-fascism, does not threaten, unlike its predecessor, liberal and democratic rule within the core constituency of 'homogeneous society.' Within the community cut in two, freedom, security, prosperity are on the whole undisturbed, at least within the productive and procreative majority that in some rich countries encompasses nearly all white citizens. 'Heterogeneous,' usually racially alien, minorities are not persecuted, only neglected and marginalized, forced to live a life wholly foreign to the way of life of the majority (which, of course, can sometimes be qualitatively better than the flat workaholism, consumerism, and health obsessions of the majority). Drugs, once supposed to widen and raise consciousness, are now uneasily pacifying the enforced idleness of those society is unwilling to help and to recognize as fellow humans. The 'Dionysiac' subculture of the sub-proletariat further exaggerates the bifurcation of society. Political participation of the have-nots is out of the question, without any need for the restriction of franchise. Apart from the incipient and feeble ('new new') left-wing radicalism, as isolated as anarcho-syndicalism was in the second half of the nineteenth century, nobody seeks to represent them. The conceptual tools once offered by democratic and libertarian socialism are missing; and libertarians are nowadays militant bourgeois extremists of the center, ultra-capitalist cyberpunks hostile to any idea of solidarity beyond the fluxus of the global marketplace.

Post-fascism does not need stormtroopers and dictators. It is perfectly compatible with an anti-Enlightenment liberal democracy that rehabilitates citizenship as a grant from the sovereign instead of a universal human right. I confess I am giving it a rude name here to attract attention to its glaring injustice. Post-fascism is historically continuous with its horrific predecessor only in patches. Certainly, Central and East European anti-Semitism has not changed much, but it is hardly central. Since post-fascism is only rarely a movement, rather simply a state of affairs, managed as often as not by so-called center-left governments, it is hard to identify intuitively. Post-fascists do not speak usually of total obedience and racial purity, but of the information superhighway.

The Web is a wonderful place. The trail to this article led from Oiling a tribal society, to googling for Karl Renner, to The Two Hundred Years War and on to this piece.

The worry, of course, is that this week the High Court is tying itself in knots over the ancient common law of alienage. One judge speculated that an alien can be held in detention for life without committing any crime, merely by virtue of being an alien. That is what the federal government is putting to the court, an argument identical with the government's position in the s 51(xxvi) cases where another group of heterogeneous Australians were treated to a different legal regime from the rest of us...

So even Howard's 'ordinary Australians' might perhaps worry that the joys of the normative state seem to be available only to citizens and residents while the rigours of the prerogative state apply to everyone else.

Healthy debate good for Labor

Not a bad trifecta. Dearer drugs, public hospitals less available and of lower quality, and GPs more expensive for large numbers of Australians. The curious thing is that Howard's obsession with destroying Medicare has such potentially disastrous financial implications for Australia. The Medicare system and the PBS, properly implemented, keep down costs of doctors, drugs and health services generally.

That is why, in 1996, Australia spent only 8.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on health. Now it spends 9.3 per cent, a truly significant increase -- and that before the baby boomer bulge hits old age. These latest changes are going to drive us even more towards the US system, where 14 per cent of GDP is spent on health.

Ideology trumps the facts on the ground yet again.

The Buck House Stops Here

There was a dispiriting contrast between G.W.B. shutting out the world and avoiding the British public, and the black-and-white clips this week of J.F.K. reaching out to the world and being adored by Berliners.

There was also a dispiriting contrast between the Bush administration, hiding the returning coffins of U.S. soldiers and avoiding their funerals, and the moving pictures of the Italian politicians and people, honoring their dead with public ceremonies and a week of mourning.

The bubble in London is just an extension of the bubble the Bush team lives in at home. It superimposes its reality on the evidence for war, the ease of the occupation, the strength of the insurgency and the continuing threat from Saddam and Osama.

Isolationism has been a foreign policy before. But for this administration, it seems to be a way of life.

Apparently loving free speech and subjecting yourself to it are different things.

The Vanishing Case for War

Byrd blamed the emotion of the moment, and that is surely part of it; but for the bigger part I blame the insistence of the President that Iraq threatened America, the willingness of the CIA to create a strong case for war out of weak evidence, and the readiness of Congress to ignore its own doubts and go along. Their faith in the case for war confirms that something has been going on deep in the American psyche since the beginning of the cold war, a progressive withering of the skeptical faculty when 'secret intelligence' is called in to buttress a president's case for whatever he wants. The vote for war on Iraq was not unprecedented; forty years ago Congress voted for war in Vietnam in the Tonkin Gulf resolution, too timid to insist on time to weigh reports of an attack on American ships at sea%u2014reports that were either plain wrong or misleading. Again and again throughout the cold war Congress voted billions for new weapons systems to meet hypothetical, exaggerated, or even imaginary threats - routinely backed up by evidence too secret to reveal.

Years of talk about sources and methods, spies and defectors, classified documents and code-word clearances, spy satellites and intercepted communications, have generated a mystique of secret intelligence that chills doubt and freezes debate. The result is a tiptoeing deference which treats classified information as not only requiring special handling, but deserving special respect. 'As always,' George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee during the war resolution debate last fall, 'our declassification efforts seek a balance between your need for unfettered debate and our need to protect sources and methods.' The committee might have balked and asked for a closer look, but did not. When Congress voted last October it seemed to have lost some fundamental equilibrium - as if caution itself were aid to an enemy. A Congress so easily manipulated has in effect surrendered its role, allowing presidents to do as they will.

'My colleagues,' Colin Powell said at the UN, 'every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources.... What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.' But now, only six months later, we have ample reason to conclude that the intelligence wasn't solid at all, there was no need for war, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction didn't exist. This discovery ought to put the American people on constructive notice that the functioning of our democracy is threatened by the nexus of the White House and a too-pliant CIA - a closed loop of presidents who know what they want, intelligence chiefs willing to make the argument and classify the evidence, and members of Congress under their spell. The hazard in this mix shows itself early - when the briefers assure Congress that their high confidence rests firmly on evidence too secret to share.

It is worse for a US hyperally which relies on an unquestioned intel feed from the US and Britain and then accepts uncritically the solutions and actions propsoed by the US.

20 November 2003

PM urged to bring home Hicks, Habib

But [Mr Howard] said the US had not offered to return the two men.

He said their return was unlikely because it would be difficult to bring a successful prosecution under Australian law.

'The reality is that these people appear to be in breach of laws for which they can be prosecuted in the United States,' he told reporters.

'There is no automatic right to repatriate an Australian to this country who is charged with an offence in another country.

'We are working with the Americans to ensure that any military commission trial of these two people is conducted in a way that guarantees that justice will be done.'

In Adelaide, Mr Hicks's father Terry Hicks said Mr Howard should push to bring the two men home for trial.

'If the British have been offered back, then I should say the Australian prime minister should be saying, hey, get our people back,' Terry Hicks told ABC radio.

Greens Senator Bob Brown said the move to return British detainees proved Mr Howard was content for Australia to be second-rate in its treatment of prisoners held overseas.

'Mr Howard is saying Australian citizens and our laws are subservient to America's,' Senator Brown told reporters.

The Howard government did not arrange a S24AA(5) proclamation under the Crimes Act which would have activated the offence of treachery. That's characteristic bungling, like the Brigitte deportation, for their actual conduct of national security, as opposed to their chest-beating in the parliament.

However, there is a way around the Howard dilemma that would be consistent with human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not imply 'any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein'. (Article 30) The Bali bombers were prosecuted under retrospective laws.

The Australian parliament can make retrospective laws. Perhaps a bill from the opposition or one of the minor parties?

A question of Ruddock's discretion

Mr Ruddock told Parliament in May the reason he granted the visa after receiving representations by Mr Kisrwani - having refused his fellow Liberal Mr Cameron's application twice - was because new information that Mr Hbeiche had three sisters already in Australia surfaced.

But it was later revealed Mr Hbeiche had referred to his sisters on his original application for protection submitted to the Immigration Department in 1996.

The tribunal also rejected a number of claims made by Mr Hbeiche, including that he could not find employment in Lebanon, saying he admitted to working up to six days a week and earning $300 a month.

I am looking forward to the Ruddock explanation of his explanation to the parliament.

Government secretive on boatpeople: judge

Justice Mildren today published his reasons for the dismissal, saying he could not issue the writ because it had not been sought to secure the release of the men.

The writ had been sought to enable the NT Legal Commission to obtain instructions as to whether the men wished to apply for refugee visas for Australia, where they would be placed in immigration detention anyway.

However, he also said he was 'far from satisfied' the detention of the men was lawful.

Justice Mildren described the government's handling of the case as secretive.

'The policy of the government was to operate as clandestinely as possible and to provide no access to the (men by the) plaintiff (NT Legal Aid) ... and no information to the plaintiff or to the public through the media to the extent that this could be avoided,' he wrote in his judgment.

'Not only were the plaintiff and her officers deliberately given the run around ... but attempts to prevent the media from coming anywhere near the vessel were made by the imposition of a 3,000 metre exclusion zone over the island and the closing of the airport to prevent the media as well as others from getting to the island.

'Behaviour of this kind usually implies that there is something to hide.

'Even to this court the information provided ... was quite minimal.'

Justice Mildren said he found it 'incredible' that the government's chief witness, John Eyers from the Department of Immigration's legal section, did not know whether any of the 14 had asked for legal assistance or asylum.

The 14 Turkish Kurds and four Indonesian crew briefly landed on Melville Island, north of Darwin, on November 4 before being towed back out to sea by the Australian Navy.

Perhaps the government could introduce a bill excising Darwin from the Australian judicial zone.

We are Australian

Aren't all children born in Australia, 'Australian'? Not necessarily.

This used to be the case. Until 1986 every child born in this country automatically became an Australian citizen at birth%u2014no matter who the parents were. Only children of foreign diplomats and 'enemy aliens' did not become Australian citizens.

The High Court is shortly to hear the case of Plaintiff S441/2003, in which a five year old girl born in Sydney will challenge 1986 laws that restricted the automatic right to citzenship at birth. The girl's parents fled anti-Sikh persecution in India in 1997. She 'speaks with an Australian accent and thinks Brett Lee is the best cricketer in the world'.(1) But if her parents are denied refugee status they will be deported. And as a 'non-citizen', their daughter - despite her birth in Australia - will also have to leave.

Plaintiff S441/2003 involves fundamental issues about Australian identity that the High Court has never had to confront before. Most important is whether there is an Australian 'nationality' protected by the Constitution - separate from 'citizenship' under the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 - which confers rights and freedoms that Parliament cannot touch.

The Citizenship Act was amended in 1986 to remove automatic citizenship at birth from children of 'illegal' immigrants and temporary visa holders, including visitors and refugees. Now such children only become citizens if they are 'ordinarily resident' in Australia for the first ten years of their lives.(2)

The High Court has been asked to declare the 1986 amendment unconstitutional. The outcome is not straightforward.

At the time of the 1986 amendment, there was anxiety in the media about the number of illegal immigrants in Australia.(3) There was also concern about 'contemptible queue jumping' by parents who used the citizenship status of their Australian-born infants to gain permanent residency and avoid deportation. (4)

Excision seems to be the order of the day. Troublesome kids? Excise them! Troublesome islands? Excise them! The 1986 amendment passed under the Hawke government seems like a PR response to immigration anxieties rather than serious policy. How the High Court rules remains to be seen.

Apparently the decision will turn on what meaning of 'alien' to use. If we already have an implied bill of rights why not just go the whole hog and adopt one made by the people instead of implied by the court?

[Israeli] Supreme Court Orders Broadcast of 'Geneva Accord'

Israel's Supreme Court, this morning, overturned the Broadcasting Authority's ban on airing advertisements for the 'Geneva Accords.' The Authority had refused to broadcast advertisements for Yossi Beilin's 'Geneva' initiative due to its controversial political nature and suspicion that the funding for its publicity in Israel was coming from foreign sources.

This morning, however, Israel's Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Ahron Barak, ordered the broadcasting authority to broadcast the advertisements.

The 'Geneva Understandings' were compiled by Israeli left-wing activists and Arabs from Yesha, to be sent to every home in Israel this week at a cost of 3 million shekels.

Why did this basic free speech issue need to go to the Supreme Court?

CPS plea on hyperactive juveniles

Two Lancashire police officers are establishing a pilot scheme to improve screening for ADHD among young offenders to help reduce juvenile crime.

After a recent facting finding trip to the United States, Inspector Phil Anderton told 5Live: 'This condition exists, it's blighting people's lives and disrupting whole families.

'We need to get on top of ADHD. There are also strong links to addiction, particularly drugs and alchohol as a way of self medication.

'If we can get on top of ADHD we can get on top of a significant amount of juvenile crime.'

In the United States various intervention projects have been established.

Dr Dwaine McCallon used to run a pilot scheme at a US prison.

He said: 'It showed that with intervention only one in 20 former inmates with ADHD went on to reoffend.

'The rate would normally be much highter. One offender told me, 'Dr McCallon I never learned to learn.'

In Britain, the Youth Justice Board has commissioned research based at young offender institutions and youth offending teams to see how prevalent ADHD is.

Somehow, I keep forgetting to blog more about ADHD. More seriously, the overrepresentation in the prison population is massive, both because of the tendency to addiction and to impulsive behaviour. A Norwegian study found a prevalence of 46% in their prison population compared with 3% in the general population. That makes ADHD a serious social problem, not fodder for anti-Ritalin pieces on infonews programs.

Bush's Gated Community

The Bush impulse to shut down the world, I suspect, combines many urges at once. Certainly, there's the urge to stamp an imperial imprint of power on the world, and allied to it, the urge to control. The desire to cut off information, to rule in silence and secrecy, must undoubtedly have allures all its own. And then there's also simple fear (a feeling not much written about since our President and his administration quite literally took flight on September 11, 2001). Underneath the 'bring 'em on' mentality -- frightening in itself -- seems to lie an urge, when 'they' actually come 'on,' to flee. Have you noticed how quickly all that 'we-won't/can't/mustn't-cut-and-run' language cropped up -- and in administration mouths no less, even if projected onto others? Such warnings preceded the first significant mainstream calls for any kind of withdrawal from Iraq.

Only this week, L. Paul Bremer, who has reportedly 'grown deeply pessimistic about his job in Iraq,' snubbed visiting ally, Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, a foreign leader who has put his own reputation on the line by sending significant numbers of troops to Iraq. Their meeting in Baghdad was cancelled so that Bremer, who may soon enough go back to selling counter-terror strategies on the free market if rumors prove true, could rush back to Washington in what looked distinctly like panic bordering on flight.

As we live in a hideously over-determined world, god knows what other urges go into the urge to shut the world down, lock it up, and throw away the key. What can be said, however, is that the Bush administration has shown a remarkable across-the board consistency in its lock-down acts.

Take the upcoming Bush visit to London. American presidential trips abroad increasingly remind me of the vast, completely ritualized dynastic processionals by which ancient emperors and potentates once crossed their domains and those of their satraps. Our President's processionals are enormous moving bubbles (even when he visits alien places closer to home like the Big Apple) that shut cities, close down institutions, turn off life itself. Essentially, when the President moves abroad, like some vast turtle, he carries his shell with him.

In Australia, for the first time in its history, Parliament was shut down to the public so that the President could 'address' Australians.

Apart from the gated community, an apt metaphor for the Bush approach, the scary thing is the assault on language itself, a technique not unknown to the Howard government. Back pages has an item on how Medicare, a universal health system, is being transformed into a residual health system called a universal safety net. A little historical revisionism allows Howard (who opposed Medicare at its inception) to annoucne it was never intended to be a universal system. Let's dig a little, the second reading speech on the Income Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy) Bill 1983:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

By this Bill, and the other that I have just introduced, it is proposed to impose a Medicare levy of one per cent of the taxable income, as determined for income tax purposes, of people residing in Australia. The Bills are a finance- raising complement to other measures designed to implement the Government's universal Medicare scheme. Other basic features of the scheme are contained in legislation that has been introduced by my colleague, the Minister for Health, ( Dr Blewett). Introduction of the levy is timed to coincide with the coming into operation of the main Medicare legislation on 1 February 1984.

Apparently the ministers responsible for the creation of Medicare were wrong when they said it was to be a universal system and John Howard (then deputy leader of the opposition )and a vigorous opponent of Medicare, was right.

More and more, the court bulletins are written in a ceremonial language where meanings get reversed on a regular basis. The latest from Howard is defending Australia by altering the meaning of the word "Australia'.

Dux of the school but he can't stay

Despite his astounding academic success, Yazdan may not be allowed to study at an Australian university.

Underdale Year 12 coordinator Peter Briggs said that Yazdan � who would like to study dentistry or engineering � would be forced to pay $70,000 if he applied for a course as an international student.

'We were told by TAFE and all the universities that they can't do anything about it because you can't allocate any HECS places for visa students,' Mr Briggs said.

'The Government always talks about how we've got a shortage of skilled young people and the population is ageing.

'But even when you get someone like Yazdan, who has been really successful, the Government just isn't interested.

' He's a wonderful role model for our community so why shouldn't we take him?'

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs would not comment on Yazdan's case.

However, she said if a visa holder chose to access further education 'they are free to do so on the same basis as any other non-permanent resident'.

This is what temporary protection for refugees actually does and what it is designed to do � try and cut down the number of asylum seekers by imposing a daily regime of misery and exclusion.

19 November 2003

The poll that doesn't matter

Newspoll 26-28 September 2003 50 50

Newspoll 17-19 October 2003 49 51

Newspoll 31 October - 2 November 2003 54 46

I've been peering at Newspoll because The Age and The Australian had wildy different readings. Because table HTML makes my eyes go funny, you'll just have to bear with me. The Coalition figure is first and the ALP figure is second.

The 5-point surge should be read as the Bush visit and not much more. The last poll was taken before the 14 Kurds threatened the total overthrow of Australian civilisation as we know it, and the subsequent revelation that a certain number of ministerial statements were terminological inexactitudes.

Oleum indigeat!

In 1095, Pope Urban II assembled a council of bishops and abbots, with a sprinkling of important knights, and gave at Clermont in Auvergne ( France ) the speech of his life. Vividly, he told the gathering how the Seljuk Turks had desecrated and polluted the altars of the Church, circumcised Christians and cut open their bellies, with an endless litany of loathsome practices. The inspiration for the crusades was at that moment born with the battle cry of Deus vult! (God wills it!).

Nine centuries later, President Bush II, without the eloquence of Urban, is also granted by Congress the power to conduct a 'holy war,' a war against Iraq , a rogue nation; a vertex in a triangle of evil; a menace to its neighbors and the US ; a country led by a ruler despised by his dad. The battle cry this time was Novem undecim! ( Nine eleven !) � although many cynical critics prefer the battle cry of Oleum indigeat! (Oil requires it!)

The start of the crusades finds all Europe inebriated with naive Christianity and ready to follow the lead of the pope blindly and trustfully, rendering the close of the 11th century in Europe as a time of ignorant and confiding men without an iota of skepticism. With an unquestioning following, and a request for help from Alexis Comnenus, the emperor of Byzantium, Urban was ready to give his blessing to the first expedition against the Moslem world, not a menacing force to Christianity but a scapegoat for the papacy.

Nine centuries later, President Bush rallies Americans around the flag with lie after lie (let's stop politely calling them exaggerations!) until Americans had surrendered the essence of civilized men: their ability to question and reason. With an unquestioning citizenry, and an ongoing helping hand for Ariel Sharon, the 'other Judeo-Christian emperor,' Bush gave his blessing to the invasion of Iraq , not a menacing force to its neighbors or the US , but a nation ruled by a cruel dictator that could easily become America's scapegoat.

Gosh... Latin-speaking snark...

Not much of a Plus for Medicare

Mr Howard also promised that under MedicarePlus what he called the three pillars of Medicare would be retained: free treatment for public patients in public hospitals, a rebate of 85 per cent of the scheduled fee for doctors' visits outside hospitals and the provision of affordable medication through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. But there is a fourth pillar, bulk-billing, that has always underpinned the universality of Medicare, and MedicarePlus would do little to stem the decline in bulk-billing. Doctors will get incentives to bulk-bill children and concession-card holders, which is an improvement on Senator Patterson's scheme, but the level of funds remains insufficient to make bulk-billing attractive to doctors in treating all categories of patient. As The Age has argued before, however, there is a source of funds that could be used to make bulk-billing viable. Abolishing the private health insurance rebate would relieve the taxpayer of the burden of propping up inefficient private funds and allow $2.2 billion a year to be diverted to Medicare. That really would be a plus.

I have never understood why subsidising the private health insurers is somehow exempt from the neoliberal policies otherwise held sacred by this government.

Hill, Rumsfeld talk over military bases

The Australian and US governments have confirmed they are holding talks about building new military training facilities in Australia as part of a push to more closely integrate the two nations' armed forces.

The revelation came after the Herald reported on a US proposal for a 'logistics and training facility' in northern Australia where supplies and equipment, including tanks, would be housed and exercises undertaken by US and Australian forces.

The option is understood to be linked to a US push for Australia to buy its M1-Abrams tanks, although US defence sources said the plan for the facility in the Northern Territory could still go ahead if Australia opted to buy lighter tanks from Germany or Britain.

The US - which says the staging post would not be permanently staffed by American troops and could not be described as a base - is reviewing its force structure in the Asia-Pacific region amid mounting anger in Japan and South Korea about its large military presence in those countries.

The Minister for Defence, Robert Hill, will meet the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, tomorrow morning and his spokeswoman said he would seek an update on the US force structure.

While the base is not necessarily a bad idea, depending on the agreement controlling its use, I boldfaced some of this extract because I am more and more fascinated by the role of parsing in politics. I find it hard to think that a military staging post cannot be called a base, as hard as thinking that there is a difference between deploying the ADF to the Persian Gulf and predeploying the ADF to the Persian Gulf, or that Bush's Nigerien claim in the state of the union message was truthful because the British did believe what the US government knew to be untrue.

Obviously the citizen of the twenty-first century needs an excellent grasp of advanced grammar.

High security for Bush arrival

Conservative MP Michael Portillo was also drawn into the debate when an open letter published in the Guardian suggested Mr Bush should not rely too heavily on the Metropolitan police because they had failed to protect the Royal Family from 'a joker dressed as Osama bin Laden'.

A spokesman for the force said: 'We have been protecting the Royal Family and the Cabinet for over 100 years, and if you can name any of them who have been assassinated, you tell me.'

Tory peer Lord Tebbit said that Mr Portillo was becoming 'increasingly eccentric'.


Joe Conason's Journal

Most of the rest of the story -- and apparently the most damning items in the Feith memo -- is old material. The Standard story offers up its chestnuts in a breathless tone that sometimes verges on the comical. To explain why more evidence of the al-Qaida connection has yet to surface, Hayes notes that 'both Saddam and bin Laden were desperate to keep their cooperation secret. (Remember, Iraqi intelligence used liquid paper on an internal intelligence document to conceal bin Laden's name.)' Obviously, those villains assumed that nobody would have a penknife handy to scrape away the White-out.

Still, the nation's intelligence agencies were clearly alarmed by the leaking of the Feith memo, which names various important sources. On Saturday, with a screaming New York Post front-page headline on the newsstands, the Pentagon issued this statement:

'News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate ...

White-out? Will these fiends stop at nothing? Cannot the UN immediately declare the use of White-out a crime against humanity? Meanwhile the right hemisphere of blogland is busy circulating and recirculating this exciting material, even after the White House and the US Defence Department have disavowed it. Perhaps they have confused velocity with veracity...


MARSHALL, C.J. Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens. In reaching our conclusion we have given full deference to the arguments made by the Commonwealth. But it has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.

Someone add it to the list of things not to tell the Man of Steel.

18 November 2003

Uzbekistan: Secret executions in a corrupt and flawed justice system

Since Uzbekistan emerged as a sovereign state following the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, the government has responded to some of the concerns about the death penalty raised by local human rights activists and the international community. At least 11(2) death sentences have been reversed in cases that have been raised by local activists and the international community in the past three years and the authorities of Uzbekistan have announced an intention to abolish the death penalty by stages. Since 1994 the number of capital offences under the Criminal Code has been reduced from 13 to four. In 1995 the government ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), allowing individuals in Uzbekistan to bring complaints about human rights violations to the (UN) Human Rights Committee, the expert body that monitors states parties' implementation of the ICCPR. Men under 18 or over 60 at the time when the crime was committed are exempt from the death penalty by law, as are women.

However, the authorities have failed to acknowledge the fundamental nature of the problems surrounding the death penalty. They have not shown sufficient political will to systematically reform domestic law and institutions and to bring them in line with the country's obligations under international human rights standards.

In addition, the government has shown contempt for its voluntarily made legally binding commitments as a party to the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, proceeding with the executions of at least nine men while their cases were still under consideration by the (UN) Human Rights Committee.(3) By failing to consistently adhere to its commitments, Uzbekistan has deprived death row prisoners and those entitled to act on their behalf of this crucial mechanism to seek international redress for human rights violations which occur in Uzbekistan's gravely flawed criminal justice system. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture raised his own serious concern in February 2003 "at what appears to be a lack of appropriate consideration of, and action in relation to, requests [by the (UN) Human Rights Committee] on behalf of individuals at risk of torture or even of execution, or who have been victims of acts of torture".(4)

Statistics on the use of the death penalty have been kept secret, despite requests by the (UN) Human Rights Committee, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and the (UN) Committee against Torture, the expert body that monitors state parties implementation of their obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture). Uzbekistan has also ignored its commitment to exchange information "on the question of the abolition of the death penalty" (5) as a member state of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Other states have also failed to uphold their obligations to protect the people of Uzbekistan under international law. States have forcibly returned people to Uzbekistan in spite of clear evidence that they were at risk of serious human rights violations. Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have been involved in returning people who were sentenced to death on their return to Uzbekistan after unfair trials, often accompanied by credible allegations of torture.

Uzbekistan is a member of the Coalition of the Willing.

Bush Visit Spurs Protests Against U.S. in Europe

'What scares people is Bush's unilateralism,' said Javier Noya, a political analyst in Madrid.

Indeed, one recent opinion survey of 7,500 Europeans, conducted on behalf of the European Commission in Brussels, ranked the American leader No. 2, along with Kim Jong Il of North Korea, as a threat to world peace. (Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel ranked No. 1.)

Even in Britain � by far Washington's staunchest ally in the Iraq war � thousands of people say they will take to the streets to protest President Bush's state visit here. Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, will stay at Buckingham Palace as guests of Queen Elizabeth II.

Partly, hostility by Britons � unlike that of some other Europeans � is colored with a profound resentment that, having sent troops to fight and die in Iraq and having provided unfailing political cover and support, Prime Minister Tony Blair seems to reap so few American rewards for tying his political fortunes to an unpopular alliance with Mr. Bush.

'It is all too clear what Britain has done to advance U.S. foreign policy,' said Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary who resigned in protest over the Iraq war. 'It is hard to spot what President Bush has done in return to assist British interests.'

In an effort to soften the harsh and simplistic contours of his image here, Mr. Bush embarked on an unusual publicity campaign, giving interviews in Washington to two British newspapers and a news agency. He also plans to appear on Sir David Frost's television talk show.

'The president is entitled to a fairer hearing than he has received and to be treated as a politician on his merits rather than be caricatured as a cartoon figure,' said an editorial in The Times of London, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

The editorial appeared, though, opposite a cartoon showing a confused-looking Mr. Bush in camouflage military gear pondering how the letter X in the phrase 'Exit Strategy from Iraq' would look as the X on a ballot for the presidential elections in 2004.

Mr. Bush will find it hard to shake the perception among European critics that he is anything more than a tool of oil interests and a coterie of close, neoconservative advisers and an implacable opponent of many cherished European ideas on the environment, the Middle East and other issues. His frequent allusions to his own Christian faith may not have won friends, either.

'He thinks the same way as Philip II did in the 16th century: as long as we believe in God we're going to win,' said Mayte Embuena, a 43-year-old tour guide in Madrid. 'He doesn't know anything about history, economics or sociology; he's governing thanks to his faith, his mother's advice and the help of four friends.'

Mr. Bush's visit was planned long before the war in Iraq at a time when British sentiments toward Washington were molded by sympathy after the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then, attitudes have changed. In particular, the arguments offered by both Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair to justify the war %u2014 that Iraq had chemical, biological and potential nuclear weapons, that there were links between Iraq and Al Qaeda and that a smooth victory was likely %u2014 have not been borne out for many Europeans.

'If we had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, if the transition was going well, what would be the atmosphere around this visit?' Mr. Garton-Ash said. 'If things had gone well, if Blair and Bush had been proved right, you wouldn't have had anything like the kind of resistance that you have now.'

By memory, Felipe II expected Catholics in England to rise and shower his troops with flowers. And he knew his victory was inevitable. Otherwise he would not have launched the Armada.

Tampering with asylum: confessions of a Jesuit priest

BARISTA points to Frank Brennan's article on Webdiary today. Like almost everything Brennan writes, it is a must read.

Three year temporary protection visas denying the right to travel and return to Australia (in breach of the Convention on Refugees), denying the right of family reunion and denying access to permanent protection and residence if the person transited a country such as Malaysia for seven days where they could be deemed to have had the opportunity to seek protection. This deeming exercise is very artificial when you consider that Malaysian minister Dr Rais Yatim explained last week why Malaysia would not sign the Refugee Convention:

We have had a series of understandings with (other countries), that once their people come here and claim asylum, we automatically tell them to return. Our policy is very simple, those who have no valid documents will not be allowed to stay in our country.

Usually, you'd expect the Malaysian policy to be heavily criticised in Australia. It is not because it is so very close to our own.

The Mal Colston Memorial Bill?

Queensland is holding an inquiry into a bill whose guts says:

72A Vacating seats of members if change of political status
�(1) A member�s seat in the Assembly also becomes vacant if�

(a) for a member who was elected as the candidate of a political party�the member resigns as a member of the party or becomes a member of another political party; or

(b) for a member who was elected as an independent member�the
member becomes a member of a political party.

The federal constitution has a provision like this at S15 which says that a senator must be replaced by a member of the same political party. If Meg Lees, for instance, left the Senate she would have to be replaced by a Democrat.

The Queensland bill is a good idea. When Senator Lees accepted the Democrat nomination she agreed to resign if she left the party. I can't see any real reason why members of either house should retain their seats if they break the contract with their electors that they made by running on a party ticket. Pauline Hanson, elected as a Liberal but sitting as herself, would also have had to face a by-election. In Australia's early history MPs had to face a by-election if they accepted ministerial office.

This is 2003 and Australians vote by large majorities for party candidates. Much of the more famous skullduggery in our history, like the Field affair and the Colston affair, would have been prevented by this rule.

Sydney terror suspect linked to al-Qaeda bombers

The deported French terrorist suspect Willie Brigitte has been linked to the most senior echelons of al-Qaeda. One of his associates counts Osama bin Laden and September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed as confidants, a French terrorism expert close the investigation told the Herald.

Pierre Conesa, a former terrorism adviser to the French Government, said yesterday that Brigitte, 35, had been targeted after his name featured on a list of people contacted by two men accused of plotting a synagogue bombing that killed 21 people in April 2002 in Tunisia. Those men, Christian Ganczarski and Karim Mehdi, were arrested in Paris in June this year, a month after Brigitte arrived in Sydney. Searches of the pair's phone records, and subsequent interrogations by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere - the same man leading the Brigitte investigation - renewed interest in Brigitte, his contacts and training.

Brigitte is first believed to have featured in French intelligence reports in 1999, after he embraced radical Islamic beliefs.

'Perhaps he could be very important, or perhaps he is the second-hand logistics guy who was just offering a home for the bigger player,' said Mr Conesa, who recently left the public service after 16 years advising defence and presidential aides on terrorism.

What a good thing Inquisitor-General Ruddock deported this guy without questioning him and then cited provisions passed through parliament without amendment or objection as an example of powers the opposition had evilly denied the government.

Possible U.N. Role in Iraq

[UN Secretary-General] Annan said he had also spoken over the weekend to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the senior British official in Iraq, as well as Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader who is this month's president of Iraq's interim Governing Council.

Talabani told him the Governing Council would 'need U.N. assistance and advice in implementing the new decisions which have been taken.' And Powell foresaw 'an important role for the United Nations, Annan said.

Talabani has agreed with the Bush administration's plans to broaden the membership of the Iraqi Governing Council and create a provisional government by June.

'I think we have always indicated that we are prepared to play our role but of course the security condition has to be appropriate,' Annan added.

The Bush administration's decision last week to speed up the transfer of power won praise from Annan. He had long agreed with France, Germany and others in advocating quicker restoration of Iraqi sovereignty.

Annan has never championed a U.N. administration or military role for Iraq, as in Kosovo or East Timor. Instead he has argued that the United Nations play an independent political role in organizing a broad-based interim Iraqi government.

A U.N. official noted that the leading Shiite authority in Iraq, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has refused to speak to U.S. officials but did talk to the U.N.'s Vieira de Mello before his death.

Stephen Hadley, the deputy U.S national security adviser, is expected to discuss Iraq in detail on Monday with Annan and other U.N. officials as well as key Security Council ambassadors.

Stalin once asked: 'How many divisions has the Pope?' And neocons have been talking about the UN's death...

Voyager into Pacific's prehistory

'If you had to pick within that core region, Samoa is, on every bit of evidence I know of, the homeland for the Eastern Polynesians,' says Green.

The place names themselves give the game away: Savai'i (Hawaiki) in Samoa, with Tonga ('south') to the south and Tokelau ('north') to the north.

Gradually the early Polynesians improved their canoes. Although their ancestors probably had outriggers and sails from the time they left Taiwan, it was not until about 2000 years ago that they developed double-hulled sailing canoes up to 24m long, almost as big as the European ships that explored the Pacific from AD1520.

In an extraordinary burst of voyaging, they travelled to the Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Marquesas and the extremities of Hawaii and Easter Island, all probably before AD900. Only New Zealand remained unoccupied until AD1200-1300, although visitors may have got here earlier.

The evidence of the kumara shows that Polynesian traders got as far as South America and returned with the gourd and the harpoon as well as the sweet potato. Two American scholars are to publish an article suggesting they also reached California.

Yet this remarkable voyaging era did not last. Limited contacts persisted, such as marriages between chiefly families in Tonga and Samoa. But by the time Europeans arrived, the outliers of Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand had all lost contact with the outside world. Sails disappeared from Eastern Polynesia as populations grew and became self-sufficient.

Pottery was abandoned, possibly because earth ovens did not need clay pots, or possibly for social reasons. 'Who made the pots? It was the women,' says Green. 'Who makes wooden vessels? The men.'

On the other hand warfare, which does not show up in the archaeological record of the Lapita period, became dominant as population pressure rose in the isolated societies of New Zealand and Easter Island.

Almost everyone, including me, has pontificated on how terrorism and big government destroyed the social order and its underlying environment on Rapa Nui. Pacific history should be studied a lot more widely than it is.

Anti-separatist militias form in Aceh

Pro-military groups critical of human rights activists are emerging in Indonesia's conflict-ridden Aceh province, raising fears of a resurgence of East Timor-style militias.

Last week a group calling itself Berantas, or the People's Anti-Separatist Front, announced its formation and immediately issued a warning to Indonesia's government-funded but independent National Commission on Human Rights.

It called for the commission (also known as Komnas Ham) to be 'realistic and objective in carrying out its duties'. It warned: 'If not, Berantas and HBMB (a related group) will urge Komnas Ham to pack their bags and leave Aceh.'

The new groups have been endorsed by the military in Aceh, which this week begins its second six-month period of martial law as the Indonesian Government continues its campaign against separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Although the new groups say they have no links to the military, they have an office in a building that until recently housed the army's Aceh media centre and that still accommodates the army-controlled radio station. Their members also attend military social functions.

Army-backed militias in East Timor helped destroy infrastructure and killed hundreds after the 1999 vote for independence.

The terrible thing about what is happening in Aceh, and beginning in West Papua, is that both sides of Australia's parliament are ignoring human rights in favour of a need to get on with the government of the day in Indonesia. They tried the same policy, to their disgrace, for 25 years in East Timor and sat on their hands while genocide killed one East Timorese in 4. How many Acehnese or Papuans need to die for the Coalition and Labor to relearn the lessons of East Timor?

Speaker is stifling Parliamentary debate

In 'the good old days', question time was not to be missed. While still at primary school I used to tune into the ABC's rebroadcast of question time and marvel at the wit and humour of Menzies, Calwell, Killen, Whitlam and Daly.

When I watch question time today I feel like reaching into the screen and throttling Mr Speaker! And that is probably quite unfair as he is undoubtedly doing what he believes to be right.

The electoral redistribution commissioners have ensured that Speaker Andrew will not be Speaker in the next Parliament.

It is not a matter of trying to get an 'independent' Speaker but simply getting one who applies common sense, as well as long-established rich parliamentary practice and tradition, and not just rigid standing orders!

We don't need to descend to fist-fighting on the floor, as is common in the Parliaments of Taiwan and South Korea! We don't need the boringly scripted US House of Representatives. What we need is a Parliament that is alive and well, robust and challenging, for government and opposition alike.

The sooner the House of Representatives draws on its wonderful traditions, and consigns to history a current practice that can only further erode the poor standing of our national legislature, the better.

I'd say 'Hear! Hear!' to this but I dare not for fear of interjectors in the comment box.

Get mad - and get even

In fact, it is a challenge more pertinent to Britain than anywhere else. For unlike Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, Jose Maria Aznar or John Howard, Blair - ostensibly - comes from the left. So, unlike the anti-war demonstrators in the US, Italy, Spain or Australia, most of those who oppose the war also supported the man who is prosecuting it. And unless they come up with an alternative they may well end up doing so again.

It is in this one crucial respect that America remains a far more hopeful place than Britain. For there is little confusion in the American anti-war movement about whom the enemy is and what needs to be done about him. Their protests are having real consequences in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination, where anti-war candidates are making all the running and lifted the level of debate to a far higher level than we are currently seeing in the Labour party.

This is what makes the charges that the demonstrations are anti-American as ridiculous as they are predictable. Americans are not the problem: Bush is. The majority of Americans disapprove of his handling of the war. As the bodybags and the bill for occupation mount, so the opposition keeps rising. If anyone is bucking the tide of US public opinion it is Blair and Bush, not the protesters.

Apparently Bush will no address parliament while he is in the UK. They have a tradition of independent presiding officers in Britain which would make the Brown fiasco impossible there. I'm fascinated by the extent to which political manipulation is being dressed up as security in order to further the Bush election drive.

17 November 2003

Agreement on formation of Iraq's new government

The agreement between the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi Governing Council on the formation of Iraq's new government.

1. The ''Fundamental Law.'' To be drafted by the Governing Council in close consultation with the Coalition Provisional Authority. Will be approved by both the GC and CPA, and will formally set forth the scope and structure of the sovereign Iraqi transitional administration.

Elements of the ''Fundamental Law'':

Bill of rights, to include freedom of speech, legislature, religion; statement of equal rights of all Iraqis, regardless of gender, sect, and ethnicity; and guarantees of due process.

Federal arrangement for Iraq, to include governorates and the separation and specification of powers to be exercised by central and local entities.

Statement of the independence of the judiciary, and a mechanism for judicial review.

Statement of civilian political control over Iraqi armed and security forces.

Statement that Fundamental Law cannot be amended.

An expiration date for Fundamental Law.

Timetable for drafting of Iraq's permanent constitution by a body directly elected by the Iraqi people; for ratifying the permanent constitution; and for holding elections under the new constitution.

Drafting and approval of ''Fundamental Law'' to be complete by Feb. 28, 2004.

2. Agreements with Coalition on Security. To be agreed between the CPA and the GC. Security agreements to cover status of Coalition forces in Iraq, giving wide latitude to provide for the safety and security of the Iraqi people.

Approval of bilateral agreements complete by the end of March 2004.

3. Selection of Transitional National Assembly. Fundamental Law will specify the bodies of the national structure, and will ultimately spell out the process by which individuals will be selected for these bodies. However, certain guidelines must be agreed in advance.

The transitional assembly will not be an expansion of the GC. The GC will have no formal role in selecting members of the assembly, and will dissolve upon the establishment and recognition of the transitional administration. Individual members of the GC will, however, be eligible to serve in the transitional assembly, if elected according to the process below.

Election of members of the Transitional National Assembly will be conducted through a transparent, participatory, democratic process of caucuses in each of Iraq's 18 governorates.

In each governorate, the CPA will supervise a process by which an ''Organizing Committee'' of Iraqis will be formed. This Organizing Committee will include five individuals appointed by the Governing Council, five appointed by the Provincial Council, and one appointed by the local council of the five largest cities within the governorate.

The purpose of the Organizing Committee will be to convene a ''Governorate Selection Caucus'' of notables from around the governorate. To do so, it will solicit nominations from political parties, provincial-local councils, professional and civic associations, university faculties, tribal and religious groups. Nominees must meet the criteria set out for candidates in the Fundamental Law. To be selected as a member of the Governorate Selection Caucus, any nominee will need to be approved by an 11/15 majority of the Organizing Committee.

Each Governorate Selection Caucus will elect representatives to represent the governorate in the new transitional assembly based on the governorates percentage of Iraq's population.

The Transitional National Assembly will be elected no later than May 31, 2004.

4. Restoration of Iraq's Sovereignty. Following the selection of members of the transitional assembly, it will meet to elect an executive branch, and to appoint ministers.

By June 30, 2004 the new transitional administration will be recognized by the Coalition, and will assume full sovereign powers for governing Iraq. The CPA will dissolve.

5. Process for Adoption of Permanent Constitution. The constitutional process and timeline will ultimately be included in the Fundamental Law, but need to be agreed in advance, as detailed below.

A permanent constitution for Iraq will be prepared by a constitutional convention directly elected by the Iraqi people.

Elections for the convention will be held no later than March 15, 2005.

A draft of the constitution will be circulated for public comment and debate.

A final draft of the constitution will be presented to the public, and a popular referendum will be held to ratify the constitution.

Elections for a new Iraqi government will be held by Dec. 31, 2005, at which point the Fundamental Law will expire and a new government will take power.

This is not an especially good process. The International Crisis Group released a report on 13 November which says, among other things, that:

As this report goes to press on 13 November 2003, the latest indications are that Washington has broadly accepted the need to decouple governance and constitution-making, but that it is no closer than before to accepting a wider oversight role for the UN in either area. Several options are to be the subject of further consultations between CPA head Paul Bremer and the Interim Governing Council. They include elections in the first half of 2004 for a body that would both appoint a transitional government and act as a constituent (ie. constitution-writing) assembly or, alternatively, immediate efforts to transfer power to a revamped and broadened Interim Governing Council acting as a provisional government until a constitution is drafted. As the U.S. Administration moves forward, it will be important that it not rush into a decision, but rather keep an open mind on the full range of options canvassed here. This is its second chance to get it right; there may not be a third.

The occupying powers have a continuing responsibility to provide Iraqis with a secure environment in which orderly government can be conducted, consultations on the constitutional process held nationwide and elections organised safely. Because the constitution-making endeavour is and should be a strictly Iraqi-owned project, the U.S. and other states should resist the temptation of interference or, worse, micro-management. Most importantly, Iraqis should be free from the kinds of unhelpful pressures � in the form of demands for unrealistic timetables and deadlines � that threaten to undermine not only the constitutional process but, through it, the future stability of the country.

Decoupling the issues of governance and constitution-making is a good thing. The use of the caucuses is likely to lead to questionable legitimacy. The ICG's concern with Shi'a dominance is understandable but it's hard to imagine a system of majority rule where the majority does not rule. Equally it's hard to understand why the US fought so hard to exclude UN participation when that could only add legitimacy and expertise to this process.

US agrees to international control of its troops in Iraq

The United States accepts that to avoid humiliating failure in Iraq it needs to bring its forces quickly under international control and speed the handover of power, Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, has said. Decisions along these lines will be made in the 'coming days', Mr Solana told The Independent.

The comments, signalling a major policy shift by the US, precede President George Bush's state visit this week to London, during which he and Tony Blair will discuss an exit strategy for forces in Iraq.

Mr Solana underlined the change of mood in Washington, saying: 'Everybody has moved, including the United States, because the United States has a real problem and when you have a real problem you need help.' There is a 'growing consensus' that the transfer of power has to be accelerated, he said. 'How fast can it be done? I would say the faster the better.'

He added: 'The more the international community is incorporated under the international organisations [the better]. That is the lesson I think everyone is learning. Our American friends are learning that. We will see in the coming days decisions along these lines.'

The Bush administration spelt out over the weekend its new plans for the faster transfer of power from Americans to the Iraqis, with a transitional government now scheduled to take over from the end of June. Before, US officials had said that Iraqi leaders should write a constitution first, then hold elections.

Maybe the Europeans were right after all.