29 November 2003

On this day [29 Nov 03]

1916 - Hussein is proclaimed King of Arabs.

1947 - United Nations announces plan for partition of Palestine, with Jerusalem under UN control.

The Arab kingdom of Sharif Hussein died because the British and French chose instead to partition much of the Middle East into spheres of interest which ultimately led to the current lines on the map.

The 1947 plan for Palestine also failed, for reasons we all know.

I just found it odd that the two anniversaries fall on the same date.

There aint no Sanity Clause (Version 4305) | The turkey has landed

Some others seem to have had similar thoughts on George's�John Wayne in a bubble 'Surprise! Surprise!' Thanksgiving panto performance.

Sedgwick has an amusing collection of (mostly snarky) reports of George's own excellent adventure.

Ozone layer 'sacrificed' to lift re-election prospects

President George Bush has brought the international treaty aimed at repairing the Earth's vital ozone layer close to breakdown, risking millions of cancers, to benefit strawberry and tomato growers in the electorally critical state of Florida, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

His administration is insisting on a sharp increase in spraying of the most dangerous ozone-destroying chemical still in use, the pesticide methyl bromide, even though it is due to be phased out under the Montreal Protocol in little more than a year. And it has threatened that the United States could withdraw from the treaty's provisions altogether if its demand is not met.

Talks on the unprecedented demand broke down without agreement at the conference in Nairobi this month as US delegates refused to consider any compromise. They even rejected a European Union proposal that would have allowed farmers to use the same amount of the pesticide as at present, even though this, itself, would violate the spirit of the protocol.

The crisis has come to a head at a particularly embarrassing moment for Tony Blair, who this week played host to George Bush on the first state visit by a US President. For three years, the Prime Minister has been quietly attempting to persuade him to stop trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol, designed to combat global warming. But now Mr Bush is trying to emasculate what the UN regards as the most successful international environmental agreement ever made.

I think this is known as the bring-'em-on approach to environmental disasters.

PM comes to the aid of your party

Concerned readers have written asking how to prevent the Prime Minister from turning up for a photo opportunity at their holiday social functions.

As we have seen, not a day goes by without John Howard posing for happy snaps somewhere. No wreath-laying, no troop farewell, no international sporting event is complete without him, although it was perhaps a little overdone for one reader to refer to him this week as Gollum, that creepy homunculus who keeps popping up in The Lord of the Rings.

And several have suggested that his sullen presentation of the Rugby World Cup to the English team was the most awkward sporting performance by a world leader since Jesse Owens collected his gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Mrs Stephanie Grumstickler, of Wombat Hills, Victoria, writes: 'We are having our black tie, golden wedding party before Christmas and we are terrified that Mr Howard will arrive in his Vodafone tracksuit and lower the tone of the evening.'

I am sorry, Mrs Grumstickler, but I believe Mr Howard is under contract to Vodafone to appear in the tracksuit at a number of public events. But have you thought of inviting the Governor-General instead? I shall find out if we still have one, and who it might be.

Other readers worry that the Prime Minister might drop in for a photo when they are incapacitated. I suggest you carry a small white card in your wallet or purse, with the following inscription:

'In the event of illness, accident or death, I do not wish the Prime Minister to comfort me at my bedside or to appear at my funeral.'

I understand concerned members of the labor caucus are wondering how to avoid the Man of Steel attending their awards ceremony on Tuesday.

28 November 2003

Crean falls on his sword

Simon Crean has stepped down as federal Labor leader, after losing the support of his Caucus colleagues.

The party will vote for a new leader on Tuesday next week, with former leader Kim Beazley, treasury spokesman Mark Latham and foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd viewed as the frontrunners.

Let's hope the labor caucus does not elect Kim Beazley and put us through another year or so of watching an opposition leader bleed to death.

Guant�namo: A Monstrous Failure of Justice

Looking at the hard realities of the situation, one wonders what effect it may have on the treatment of United States soldiers captured in future armed conflicts. It would have been prudent, for the sake of American soldiers, to respect humanitarian law.

Second, what must authoritarian regimes, or countries with dubious human rights records, make of the example set by the most powerful of all democracies?

Third, the type of justice meted out at Guant�namo Bay is likely to make martyrs of the prisoners in the moderate Muslim world with whom the West must work to ensure world peace and stability.

What other route could the United States have taken? The International Criminal Court could not be used to try the Guant�namo Bay prisoners because the Rome Treaty applies prospectively only, and the prisoners were captured before the Treaty came into force in July 2002. The United States courts could have assumed universal jurisdiction for war crimes. The prisoners would have received fair trials before ordinary United States courts. It would have been an acceptable solution. On the other hand, the Muslim world would probably not have accepted this as impartial justice. The best course would have been to set up through the Security Council an ad hoc international tribunal. That would have ensured that justice is done and seen to be done.

There is, of course, a dilemma facing democracies. Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court of Israel, presided in a case in which the court held that the violent interrogation of a suspected terrorist is not lawful even if doing so may save human life by preventing impending terrorist acts. He said:

'Sometimes, a democracy must fight with one hand tied behind its back. Nonetheless, it has the upper hand. Preserving the rule of law and recognition of individual liberties constitute an important component of its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and strength and allow it to overcome its difficulties.' Such restraint is at the very core of democratic values.

Common Dreams finally has the whole F A Mann Lecture speech by Lord Steyn, a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, he third-ranking judge of Britain's highest court.

Global halt to major greenhouse gas growth

The greenhouse gas, methane, has stopped growing in the global background atmosphere and could begin to decrease, CSIRO researchers announced today.

'Methane is the second most important gas after carbon dioxide - it is responsible for a fifth of the enhanced greenhouse effect over the past 200 years,' says Dr Paul Fraser, a chief research scientist at CSIRO Atmospheric Research.

'Over the past four years there has been no growth in atmospheric methane concentrations compared to a 15% rise over the preceding 20 years and a 150% rise since pre-industrial times. This is a very exciting result,' says Dr Fraser.

The results are from Cape Grim, Tasmania, Australia's important greenhouse gas monitoring facility operated by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.

Methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (some 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide) is released to the atmosphere from agriculture - rice, cattle and sheep - from landfills, and from the mining and use of fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas - as well as from natural wetlands.

'Although we can't be certain why methane concentrations have levelled out, we think it is in response to emissions declining due to better management of the exploration and use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and the increasing recovery of landfill methane,' Fraser says.

'If this global decline in methane emissions continues, global atmospheric methane concentrations will start to fall.'

'Global emissions of the most important greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, are difficult to control, and are set to continue to increase, despite the efforts of the Kyoto Protocol and similar initiatives. This makes the good news on methane all the more important,' concluded Dr Fraser.

Wow, good greenhouse news.

The Left Coaster | White House Scams Media Again Over Bush Surprise Trip to Baghdad

But while the media slavishly covers this for maximum White House benefit, they conveniently forget that Clinton visited another war zone on Thanksgiving only four years ago, and he was able to travel into a war zone only five months after the US-arranged coalition secured the liberation of Kosovo. My how quickly they forget. The big difference was that Clinton was warmly received by a large contingent of troops in Kosovo, but more importantly was also warmly received by the natives prior to the event, who thanked him for their liberation.

Bush was unable to visit with the locals today, for obvious security reasons, and instead had to settle for a staged event in front of 600 troops that gave (from the look of the NBC video) a relatively subdued response.

Unprecedented and extraordinary indeed.

Strange how Bush can manage photo ops, but not funerals...

Past failures are where the real lessons lie for democracy's new enforcers

On the other hand, there is another American experience which seems much more relevant. Long before the US became a global hegemon, it was a regional hegemon in the Caribbean.

Yet from 1900 to this day the region has not produced one genuine, stable democracy. Neither was the US able to lay the foundations for a viable democracy during the three decades that it ruled the Philippines.

That record must surely raise legitimate questions about the capacity of the US - or any other state for that matter - to engage in successful 'nation building' today, in what would be much shorter periods of time.

As they still represent my views, I shall use some words I wrote some years ago, when enthusiasm for exporting democracy was just building up in Washington: 'Americans of all political persuasions believe profoundly that it is their right and duty - indeed their destiny - to promote freedom and democracy in the world.

'It is a noble and powerful impulse. But acting on it ... is a complicated and delicate business, and the dangers are many. Success requires that this impulse be balanced against, and where necessary, circumscribed by, other interests that the United States must necessarily pursue, more mundane ones like security, order and prosperity. For these represent not merely legitimate competing claims but the preconditions for a lasting extension of democracy.

'Success requires, too, an awareness of the intractability of a world that does not exist merely in order to satisfy American expectations. While determination and purposefulness are important ingredients in any effective policy, the attempt to force history in the direction of democracy by an exercise of will is likely to produce more unintended than intended consequences.

'The successful promotion of democracy calls for restraint and patience, a sense of limits and an appreciation of the wisdom of indirection, a profound understanding of the particularity of circumstances.

'As Thomas Carlyle once put it, 'I don't pretend to understand the universe - it's a great deal bigger than I am ... People ought to be modester.'

Let's all be modester.

Top cleric derails US plan for Iraq

Washington's plan to turn over power in Iraq more quickly has been thrown into disarray, with the country's most powerful cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, making public his opposition to a proposal for indirect elections.

'All of us are groping around right now,' a US official said in Washington, conceding that the plan worked out this month by the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, would have to be revised.

Spokesmen for Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who exercises strong influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, said he insisted that the election, planned for June, be a direct ballot and not the caucus-style vote called for in the US plan. He also insisted that the new Iraqi government have a more overtly Islamic character.

'The people should have a basic role in issues concerning the destiny of their country,' said Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric and politician. He discussed the US proposal with Grand Ayatollah Sistani on Tuesday, he said.

The Bush administration has abolished irony.

Despite their bravado about setting Iraq to rights they need a Shi'ite cleric to tell them that a direct election is better than an opaque and unaccountable caucus. The direct election problems identified by the CPA are not insurmountable. I'm sure the AEC could set up a transparent electoral system fairly quickly.

Human rights are not negotiable

The Pentagon said that the USA had provided Australia with 'significant assurances, clarifications and modifications that benefited the military commission process' in the event that either of the Australian nationals is charged. The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Attorney General said that their government had 'reached an understanding with the US concerning procedures which would apply to possible military commission trials of the two Australians detained at Guant�namo Bay, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib.' Their news release stated that the USA had 'made significant commitments on key issues'.

Top of the list is that the USA has promised not to seek the death penalty against the Australian detainees 'given the circumstances' of their cases. The same commitment has been given to the UK government on its nationals. In his speech, Lord Steyn said: 'This gives a new dimension to the concept of 'most-favoured nation' treatment... How could it be morally defensible to discriminate in this way?'

It is not clear if the US government's promise is a genuine concession, or if it had never actually intended to seek death sentences against these particular prisoners. Whatever the concessions agreed by the USA, however, the military commissions remain fundamentally flawed. Inter-governmental discussions should be aimed, not at fixing the unfixable, but at ensuring that the commissions are abandoned before they begin, and that prompt and acceptable solutions to end the legal limbo of the Guant�namo detainees are found.

If the US was not intending to seek the death penalty, then the main concession would be zero, zip, nada. The government has frequently stated that the detainees are guilty. Te government has frequently stated that they cannot be prosecuted under Australian law. Why is that?

Section 24AA of the Crimes Act 1903 provides:

(2)Where a part of the Defence Force is on, or is proceeding to, service outside the Commonwealth and the Territories not forming part of the Commonwealth, a person shall not assist by any means whatever, with intent to assist, any persons:

(a) against whom that part of the Defence Force, or a force that includes that part of the Defence Force is or is likely to be opposed; and

(b) who are specified, or included in a class of persons specified, by proclamation to be persons in respect of whom, or a class of persons in respect of which, this subsection applies.

(3) A person who contravenes a provision of this section shall be guilty of an indictable offence, called treachery.

Treachery carries a penalty of imprisonment for life. Seems to me an excellent charge for Hicks and Habib to face. The government did not bother issuing the proclamation. Our inability to prosecute in Australia is a direct result of the government's own inaction.

The inquisitor-general's statement to parliament includes the tired government furphy that:

But Australians who breach the laws of foreign countries while overseas have no automatic right to be repatriated to Australia for trial. So long as their trial is fair and transparent, those who breach foreign laws while overseas are liable for their offences. The United States has assured the government that Mr�Habib and Mr�Hicks will receive no less favourable treatment before a military commission than other non-US detainees.

The issue, as Amnesty says, is 'international fair trial and detention standards', not some myth that the opponents of the Guant�namo commissions want special rights for Australians.

Lord Johan Steyn, third most senior judge of the UK's highest court, says:

It�s not quite torture but at close as you can get�.

�The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guant�namo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts and at the mercy of victors,� he said.

�The procedural rules do not prohibit the use of force to coerce the prisoners to confess.�

He said that the blanket order issued by President George Bush had deprived the detainees � suspected by the US of links with al Qaida or the Taliban � of �any rights whatsoever�.

�As a lawyer brought up to admire the ideals of American democracy and justice I would have to say that I regard this as a monstrous failure of justice,� he said.

�The question is whether the quality of justice envisaged for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay complies with the minimum international standards for the conduct of fair trials. The answer can be given quite shortly. It is a resounding �no�.

Australia should uphold international standards for fair trials. Instead the government gives us spin in favour of abandoning those standards to cover its own inaction. That's is why the answer the repatriation argument, which no-one is making, instead of the international standards argument, which they cannot answer.

Why, lastly, does Australia, closest US ally and all that, need to go cap in hand to the US. Surely close allies handle these things differently? How would the US react if the ADF had arrested a US citizen in Afghanistan or Iraq, removed them to the Baxter detention centre, and announced an ADF militray tribunal would decide their fate?

27 November 2003

ALP's salvation may lie outside the material sphere

But Rudd's potential candidacy is shaping up to be quite different from that of any of his colleagues. For a start, there is his intellectualism. While many a Labor figure has been lauded for intellectual contributions, including Latham, Bob Carr, Gough Whitlam and Don Dunstan, Rudd's command of foreign languages and international affairs on the one hand, and his articulation of more prosaic social issues such as family on the other, hold appeal for both ends of town - the leafy Liberal suburbs and the struggling Labor fringes.

A second important difference is Rudd's strong sense of spirituality, something that emerges in the McKew interview. Rudd, a practising Christian, recently called for the need for prayer to seek wisdom 'far beyond our own' and to 'help craft a new world where there will be no more Balis'.

Such a sentiment might not sit well with an increasingly agnostic Australia. But those who criticise Rudd for his views are missing the point. Although he might be calling for a specifically Christian response to global and domestic uncertainty -- whether fighting international terrorism or simply defining what it means to be an Australian in 2003 -- his general thrust remains legitimate.

We are probably safe from a religious right takeover while the third graf of this extract remains a valid observation.

The people still support Medicare, even if the PM does not

The promise to maintain Medicare in its entirety was not the only lie. The even bigger lie was that the $2.2 billion-a-year private insurance rebate was designed to 'take the pressure off the public hospital system'. Like everyone else, doctors follow the money.

The Howard Government (and the Fraser government before it) has been undeviating in its central health policy objective: to undermine the universal character of Medicare (and Medibank before it) and turn it into a safety net for the poor - even if the privatised, American-style system the Government wants to create in its place is administratively far more inefficient and removes any semblance of control over doctors' incomes.

Continental European countries provide universal services bases, which means taxes are about 50 per cent of GDP. English-speaking countries tend to target services by means testing, which keeps taxes to about 30 per cent of GDP. Paradoxically, resistance to paying taxes is much higher in low-taxed English-speaking countries than in high-taxed continental European countries, because taxpayers in Anglo-Saxon countries resent paying taxes for services they can't or won't use.

Right-wing governments such as Howard's want the electoral pressure to remain relentlessly on the need for tax cuts, which reinforces social division and two-tier systems. Left-wing parties, defined as those with an ideological commitment to equity and social solidarity, favour universal systems based on the insurance principle that all put in and all are eligible to take out.

Where English-speaking countries have opted for universalist services - most notably the National Health Service in Britain and Medicare in Australia - their popularity has made it difficult for right-wing governments to reverse the policy.

The government is addressing this dilemma in two ways. They have taken actual policy decisions. Their free market theology has not stopped them heavily subsidising private insurance. The constant reduction in the bulk-billing payment to doctors has forced the bulk-billing rate.

The second tactic is to change the meaning of words. Universal and residual do not mean the same thing. To support their shift from universal to residual they have announced that they are providing a universal safety net. That is a little like providing a square circle.

They have also used historical revisionism. Howard, Abbot and Costello have all firmly declared that bulk-billing was never meant to be universal. That is contradicted by Medicare's own architect and by second reading speeches when the system was established. Howard vigorously opposed the creation of Medicare. that has not stopped him knowing better than Medicare's makers what they were doing.

The Senate Committee has the bestd efintion of Medicare's purposes:

At a philosophical level, the government package amounts to a decisive step away from the principle of universality that has underpinned Medicare since its inception. The Committee does not accept the government?s argument that, because everyone continues to be eligible to be bulk-billed and receives the same rebate, universality is preserved. This argument is disingenuous and ignores the reality of the incentive system the government seeks to put in place. In practice, a GP will receive more public money to treat a concession card holder than they will for treating a nonconcessional patient. The fact that the incentive payment has a different label to the rebate payment is of minimal practical significance, particularly given the direct rebate of funds to the practice. A Fairer Medicare is about a return to a welfare system.

Public Opinion has more.

Crean given ultimatum as support base crumbles

Federal Labor leader Simon Crean is holding a crisis meeting at Parliament House in Canberra this afternoon, with the fate of his leadership remaining uncertain.

Mr Crean's leadership is in turmoil after factional powerbrokers told the embattled leader he no longer has majority support in the caucus.

Some MPs have been told if Mr Crean will not budge, then a spill will be called at next Tuesday's caucus meeting.

The number crunching has already started and the contenders include Kevin Rudd, Mark Latham and Kim Beazley.

Sources says the party is looking to a generational change and Mark Latham is the frontrunner.

Mr Crean is currently bunkered down in his office with his advisors and close colleagues.

New South Wales Premier Bob Carr says speculation over the leadership must be settled as soon as possible.

It's not pretty, but it's the way it's done on both sides of the aisle. Along with the absence of any bill of rights, Australia's major parties are the last ones left in the democratic world where the party leadership is decided exclusively by the caucus.

Australia once led the world in popular democracy - first constitution made by the people. first elected upper house, second to recognise female suffrage after New Zealand. It's time we picked up that heritage again. A bill of rights might be nice, but democratic election of party leaders would be an excellent start and much easier to achieve.

Back Pages | Breaking now

A reader has advised (via email) that Crean is about to resign, with Rudd, Latham and Kimbo to run.

You heard it second here. I would hope that Rudd or Latham gets up. I would hope even more that whoever is elected sets out a new policy on mandatory detention.

'Mortgage Stress'

The table below shows that the majority (58 per cent) of homebuyers are paying less than 20 per cent of their monthly income on home loan repayments and that almost three-quarters are paying less than 25 per cent of their income. However, a significant number (180 000 or 11.5 per cent) of homebuyers have loan repayments equal to 35 per cent or more of their income, ie are under stress as defined.(3) Of concern is the fact that there are 88 000 homebuyers paying at least 45 per cent of their income on loan repayments, the majority (two-thirds) of whom are low income households earning less than $36 000 p.a.(4)

That is one hell of a stess for the world's greatest homeowning democracy, especially with interest rates trending up.

In Canberra, no one can hear you scream

Could the nation's capital become a future shock metropolis to rival those of Blade Runner and The Matrix? Mark Juddery talks to a film-maker with a sci-fi eye on Canberra.

The year: 2100. Global flooding has left Sydney and Melbourne underwater, and their populations have rushed to Canberra. The national capital is in danger of collapsing under its own weight, its corporate-ruled government, or the harsh global weather, from which it is protected by geodesic domes.

According to Dean Toovey, the scenario is not just science fiction. He is completing Silicon Spies, a $25,000 short film about two 'info-spies' (played by Canberra actors Nell Shipley and Susanne Cosgrove). Using advice from futurists and academics, he has forsaken flying saucers and robots, aiming for a realistic and action-packed future glimpse.

Some SF dystopias are just too horrible to contemplate.

Iraq: Three from one doesn't add up

Gelb's proposal is the singularly least democratic suggestion offered to solve the Iraq crisis to date. Moreover, no neighboring country would accept the idea of dividing Iraq. How many small, artificial and unviable countries (like Jordan and the Gulf countries) does the West wish to create in repetition of its post-Ottoman errors? Unlike Yugoslavia, Iraq's different groups have no history of separate existence and they have no history of mutual slaughter. It is true that Iraq was to a certain extent an invention. But all states begin as an imagined idea. A state succeeds if its people believe in it. Iraqis believe in Iraq. If anything, the American occupation is only uniting Iraqis in resentment of the foreigners and non-Muslims who rule them, and increasing their desire to be 'free, independent and democratic' as the graffiti says on walls throughout the country. These are the 'ambitions' of the Sunnis that Gelb demonizes, just as they are the ambitions of the Shi'ites and Kurds. Iraqis believe in Baghdad, an extremely diverse capital city, where Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds live together and even intermarry.

Gelb, like all conscientious observers, is seeking a just solution for the debacle that poor planning (as well as poor justification) caused in Iraq. The solution is to build a strong united Iraq. This can be done by empowering the IGC, by establishing a constitution that protects against dictatorship and the domination of the country by one group, by returning sovereignty to Iraqis as soon as possible, and by avoiding the imposition of Washington based ideologies that are disconnected from the reality of Iraq.

The three states idea is getting a trot here, there and everywhere across most of the blogosphere. The proposal has been roundly bagged by Juan Cole. Partition has not been a fantastic success, from India/Pakistan to Bosnia. Partition imposed from outside against the wishes of the Iraqi people and all neighbouring states is a truly dreadful idea.

Partition which would leave an independent Kurdistan without any resource base except oil, no access to the sea and hostile neighbours on all sides. Partition ignores Turkish policy that an independent Kurdistan is a casus belli and Turkey's record of using the water weapon. Partition ignores the continuing water dispute throughout the Euphrates/ Tigris basin where the Southeast Anatolia Project is extracting huge amounts of water upstream and reducing the downstream flow through Iraq and Syria.

Worst of all partition is an American idea drawn for American reasons. Evolving increasingly weird solutions to allow the US to withdraw with honour suggests only that it would have been better not to enter without honour in the first place.

26 November 2003

Trial allowances are marginal, says US lawyer

Daryl Jones, Professor of Law at Pittsburgh University, says he agrees with those who've described the concessions announced yesterday as marginal at best.

Professor Jones is authorised by the United States military to act in cases involving those detained at the US-run prison in Cuba.

He's told ABC radio that however good the ultimate trial is supposed to be, the inordinate delay will prevent a fair outcome.

Attorney General Philip Ruddock said yesterday the US had agreed to a range of Australian requests concerning the trials of two Australian terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo bay.

Why worry about fair trials when Inquisitor-General Ruddock has a chance to tax the opposition with being soft on terror?

Piety's Ruse: Invoking Sanctity to Label Different as Second Class

Bush's statement in defense of marriage is worded in regression. It is masked in such words as 'sacred institution' and 'sanctity,' evoking not just tradition, or constitutional tradition, but fundamentalist Christian tradition. It is a reach for the spiritual, the 'inviolable.' But it is a deceptive reach, because the sentiment behind it is anything but Christian. The strategy has a familiar ring.

'I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ,' Frederick Douglass wrote in his biography. 'I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.' It is Douglass' words that come to mind when the likes of Bush marshal what passes for Christian tradition in defense of what a just law could never uphold. 'Indeed,' Douglass went on, after describing how Christianity was misused to defend slavery, 'I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of 'stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in. I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me.'

Bush's promise to bar gay marriage in the name of sanctity and sacredness is one of our day's 'boldest of all frauds,' one of our day's horrible inconsistencies. Maybe it's unfair to single out Bush. The Democratic presidential contenders are his back-up singers on this one, their tap-dance around gay marriage and for 'civil unions' being a doctrine of separate-but-equal for gays. But the coming debate will pit Marshall's opinion against Bush's 43 words. Bush, the 43rd president, may add numerology to his pomp and show. He'll need to. He doesn't stand a chance on more rational grounds.

Australians are a less religiose people. That is probably why the Man of Steel found it necessary to add science's ruse - the pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo of saying that gay marriage threatens the survival of the species.

I keep trying to tell the pink velicraptors who live across the street that dinosaurs would still rule the world if they hadn't gone in for gay marriage.

Iraq: Targeting of Civilians by Insurgents Must Stop

Insurgents in Iraq are committing war crimes by targeting Iraqi civilians perceived to be cooperating with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Human Rights Watch said today.

'All Iraqi civilians are protected by the Geneva Conventions. It doesn't matter whether they sympathize with the U.S. occupation, or with the insurgents.'

Increasingly, armed opponents of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq are targeting Iraqi civilians whom they perceive as cooperating with the CPA. On November 20, the body of Sargoun Nanou Murado, a member of the municipal council of Basra, was found after he was reportedly abducted on November 18. On November 19, the education ministry's provincial director general was killed in the southern town of al-Diwaniyya.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, absolutely prohibits the targeting of civilians. Civilians working for the occupying power are not legitimate targets of attack.

'All Iraqi civilians are protected by the Geneva Conventions,' said Joe Stork, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division. 'It doesn't matter whether they sympathize with the U.S. occupation, or with the insurgents.'

Sargoun Murado represented Basra's small community of Assyrian Christians on the municipal council. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Basra's Shi`a Muslim religious leadership repeatedly stated its commitment to protecting the rights of the small but economically influential community.

These attacks targeting civilians continue a pattern of bombings and assassinations. Insurgents have warned that they will target anyone who works with the occupation authorities. In one of the more high profile assassinations, Aqila al-Hashimi, one of the three female members of the Iraq Governing Council, was shot by gunmen near her home in Baghdad on September 20, 2003, and died from her injuries five days later.

Read it and weep.

More from the Senate Medicare inquiry

7.37 The chapter considered the danger of 'boundary problems' - of people 'falling through the cracks' of the system. These problems are inherent in any differentiated system that steps away from the principles of universality and, in this respect, revisits many of the arguments made in relation to bulk-billing made in the preceding chapter. The Committee notes here the comments of Mr Goddard:

The role of safety nets is inextricably linked to copayments and a lack of access and a lack of equality of access. The more satisfactory access is, the less need there is for a safety net. However, safety nets become essential if there is going to be a significant level of copayment or out-of-pocket expenses.35

7.38 There is the danger a system focusing on safety nets implicitly serves to separate the wealthier part of society from the benefits of a system they continue to pay for. This was expressed by the Hon. Wendy Edmond:

We all pay taxes, and then people start objecting to paying for a safety net system at the same time as they are paying large amounts for private health insurance and, on top of that, copayments. So cuts happen in those areas that general taxes go towards. That is what happens in the United States. People object to increasing public health care and improving the quality of it for those who are left behind.36

7.39 On the evidence presented, the Committee does not consider inflationary pressures to be a significant concern arising out of the proposed safety nets. However the Committee does share the concerns of the many doctors who fear the potential for increased control over primary care by private health insurers. As Dr Gault, a GP in Port Fairy put it: 'It would be much worse than the HIC would ever be.'37

7.40 The Committee is also sceptical of the effectiveness over time of any reliance on private health insurance safety nets. Experience has shown that rapid rises in private health insurance premiums are likely to erode the affordability of the proposed net for many families, and again, it is those on the boundary � the working poor � who are likely to feel the greatest financial impact.

7.41 Overall, the Committee believes that any consideration of the issue of safety nets must be underpinned by a commitment to the principle of universality and the role of Medicare as a properly funded public insurer. Put into practice, this commitment removes much of the need for safety nets in the first place. However, to the extent that there is a need for safety nets, the Committee considers that any reform should focus on creating a single, simple, and automatic payment system. This would parallel the arrangement for safety nets under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, minimise the wastage of administrative costs, and ensure that those who need the assistance actually receive it.

Recommendation 7.1

The Committee recommends the Senate reject the proposal for an additional safety net that differentiates concessional and non-concessional patients.

Recommendation 7.2

The Committee recommends the expansion of the existing Medicare Safety Net to provide for all out-of-pocket costs in excess of a set amount.

Recommendation 7.3

The Committee recommends that this amount be indexed annually to ensure that the safety net reflects the real costs of health care.

7.42 Were this proposal implemented, it would render the second proposed private health insurance safety net unnecessary.

The Senate has now referred Medicare Plus to the same committee, but it's hard to see how these conclusions on the Fairer Medicare safety net can be any different for the Medicare Plus safety net. In fact, it's interesting to note that Medicare already incorporates a safety net, although somehow the Medicare Plus proposal fails to mention that medicare already includes two safety nets which cut in at $317.70 for out of pocket expenses and a tax rebate that cuts in at $1500.

All we're really seeing is an ideological push to shift costs from the Commonwealth MBS to State hospital emergency departments and from the public sector to private insurance.

Threadbare basis to the homespun yarn that led us into Iraq

The reasons presented to Parliament on February 4 by Howard for joining the invasion were a smokescreen, an attempt to justify a policy determined for other reasons. I believe the Government had decided by July 2002 or possibly earlier to go to war beside the US, if it invaded.

Saddam's regime has been removed from power and that is welcome. There is some hope that the US might, if it stays the course in an election year, produce a soundly based, decent and quasi-democratic government in Iraq. But these were not the objectives advanced by our Government for going to war.

The main argument put to the public was to destroy Iraq's WMDs. Bush alleged that Saddam's WMDs posed a grave danger to the US. John Howard echoed these views, stating in Parliament on February 4 this year that 'Iraq has a useable chemical and biological weapons capability'. He added, 'Iraq continues to work on developing nuclear weapons.'

When, after nearly four months of intensive search by a 1200-strong team led by the CIA weapons expert David Kay, no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons had been found, the spin was that 'evidence of programs' and of 'intentions' to develop them had been found. Howard shifted ground by arguing that the important thing was that Saddam's brutal regime had been removed. He ignored his statement before the invasion that 'our policy is the disarmament of Iraq, not the removal of Saddam Hussein'. Howard said a few days before the invasion that if Saddam got rid of his WMDs he could remain in power. Now he maintains it would have been intolerable to allow Saddam to remain in power because he was a brutal dictator.

No connection between Saddam and September 11 has been established and the London Joint Intelligence Organisation assessment of last February that a war would lead to increased terrorism - not the decrease predicted by Howard - was selectively ignored.

I was amazed when Howard said in New York last May that it was time 'to move forward' on Iraq. There was no point, he said, in continuing to question the legitimacy of the invasion now that the conflict phase of the war had ended.

The legitimacy of an act of war is not a minor matter to be lightly put aside for domestic political convenience under the pretext that the conflict has ended, which is clearly not so.

The foreign policy establishment finally dares to say what the rest of us have been saying for some months now.

25 November 2003

Scaring Up Votes

But the only thing we really have to fear is fearmongering itself.

Australians do not need to share US columnist Maureen Dowd's concern about any local contraction of the national spirit. The government is too busy trying to achieve a contraction of the national borders.

Fraser petition turns world focus on child detainees

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser is turning to the internet to pressure the Howard Government to soften its hardline policy on children in immigration detention.

Mr Fraser has set up an online petition calling for an end to the policy under which more than 180 children are in detention in Australia and on Nauru. 'Damaging children is not acceptable to us as Australians,' the petition says.

The idea was inspired by an online petition launched by Amnesty International against the death sentence imposed on a Nigerian woman found guilty of adultery. It attracted 1.3 million signatures from 100 countries before the conviction was overturned.

'If a lot of people sign this petition, it will say something. If not many people do, it will say something else,' Mr Fraser said yesterday. 'Why not use modern communications techniques and see what results you get?'

Mr Fraser's petition says the oldest children in detention are living out their teens behind razor wire and electric fences. 'The youngest is a baby born a month ago who was placed in detention in Baxter shortly after his birth,' it says. 'Some children in Australian detention centres have been unnecessarily imprisoned for years.'

Mr Fraser posted his petition on the website yesterday.

Mr Fraser was philosophical about the prospects of success. 'One day the policy will change. I don't expect it to be very soon, but it is important to keep these issues alive.'

Go sign...

America gets imperial in Iraq

GNN: Obviously Murdoch has been very powerful in jumping people's passions. Have you seen American media lately? I'll tell you about it, it's very jingoistic, it uses the word patriotism, flags are flying in the base line of the screen. Can you characterize that phenomenon? Is that typical to empire building?

FELIPE FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO: I don't watch these shows. I prefer to keep my lunch in my stomach. I don't watch that stuff, and therefore what I say is very much subject to correction by those who have. But I think, in the case of Fox, it's essentially a commercial decision. Murdoch's a benefactor of mine. I do a lot of work for the Murdoch press myself, but I don't mind saying frankly that I think his guiding principle is good old-fashioned capitalism. He's in the media to make money; he's not primarily there to change the world. The political agendas that he imposes on his media empire, are the agendas that he thinks will be commercially successful, that are going to resonate with the public.

In the case of Fox, it's niche marketing. Fox News programs are exploiting the public that is there for a very upbeat, patriotic, jingoistic, religiously aggressive message. And in a country like America we know there's a very large number of sad, middle aged guys who never really grew up, who sort of like playing with planes and tanks and stuff. I think there's a big constituency for that kind of programming and that kind of entertainment. We shouldn't kid ourselves that it's information - it's entertainment being sold to a public that's up for it. I'm not going to moralize about that. If we've got any sense we know that these guys are in business and what they do they do to make money.

GNN: Can the media be, and has it historically been, a crucial element to driving expansionist empire agendas?

FFA: I don't know any society (this is not peculiar to empires) that hasn't tried to communicate with its citizens or subjects by means of propaganda. I have a really amusing example of imperial propaganda from the empire of Ashoka, the ruler of most of India in the second century BC who was a Buddhist. He embraced Buddhism; he used some Buddhist clergy as bureaucrats. The viability of his state depended to a great extent on its alliance with the Buddhist establishment. All over the empire of Ashoka he erected these rock inscriptions which survive to this day, all about how he was observing Buddhist doctrine. And these were rock inscriptions which you'd find all over the empire to influence public opinion. Even more interestingly, he also uses Buddhism to justify imperialism. He talks about the conquests of dharma. He's actually pursuing a policy which is flatly against the ideology embedded, literally engraved, into these rock inscriptions. It's a classic case of spin. You take the message and massage it.

The whole thing is a must-read. Fernandez-Armesto also talks about the moral impact of empire on the footsoldiers who have to carry it out and suggest My Lai as an example where otherwise normal individuals carry out the gravest crimes. I suspect the difficulties of getting the US into Iraq have another kind of moral impact - degrading the leaders who adopted untruth as a tool of state.

More than half back two-state Israel plan

Support is growing among Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution based on mutual recognition, an almost total Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 war, division of Jerusalem and an end to the conflict.

A poll published yesterday revealed that 55.6 per cent of Palestinians and 53 per cent of Israelis backed the principles of the Geneva Accords, an unofficial peace plan drafted by the ex-Israeli minister Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, formerly a senior figure in the Palestinian Authority.

A Washington think-tank, the Baker Institute, commissioned the survey, which asked 1,241 Israelis and Palestinians for their views on the peace plan's terms without mentioning it by name. More than half of them approved.

All Israeli voters received a copy of the plan in the post last week and radio advertisements are promoting it. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, and his right-wing supporters insist that diplomacy should be left to governments. But the campaign is gathering momentum.

Don't these people, especially the deluded Israeli supporters of Geneva, realise somewhere needs to be conquered first, that the road to Jerusalem runs through Riyadh, or Damascus, or Tehran? Or Baghdad?

Bomber revs for another plunge

So here's the plan. Swan, Smith, Costello and the rest of Beazley's advance team will dispose, simultaneously, of Crean and Latham. Then they'll turn the attack on John Howard. No, it won't involve the vision thing, bold attempts to inspire the electorate. Apart from border protection, Beazley has never been all that excited by policy and his apparatchiks remain poll driven. So we'll have a real ding-dong as both sides of politics try to outdo each other in the war against terror.

I've always believed that Beazley would have been an even more willing member of the coalition of the willing than Howard, that his passion for military history would have had him wanting to make it. So it's odds on we would have sent even more troops to the Middle East had Beazley been PM - and it would have been him having the photo ops with George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

Talking of Bush reminds us that Crean, when feeling confident, can do pretty well. He got good press for his speeches during the Bush visit and I'm reliably informed that even Bush was impressed. But when Crean feels beleaguered, his performance drops.

Any analysis of the polls shows that although Labor's primary vote looks crook, the two-party preferred signifies a threat to Howard's third term. One might have thought that making the best of it with Crean, showing him a modicum of loyalty rather than constantly demeaning him, might have been a sensible tactic. Then Her Majesty's Opposition would be poised for victory.

I am unsure how credible this report is. If it is accurate it seems that Bomber has discovered the road to the prime minister's lodge runs through Baghdad, or Ashmore Reef, or Melville Island or somewhere. I am not sure it will go far. Somehow it seems unlikely to regain many of those voters who abandoned the ALP for the Greens and Democrats over precisely the same election strategy in 2001.

PM signals local content will be traded for farm deal

As the cultural industries protested yesterday in Melbourne, and Labor and the Greens accused the Government of selling out film and television producers, Mr Howard said the key to a successful agreement was getting a better deal for farmers. 'To get something big on agriculture, we will obviously have to agree to some things that the Americans put to us,' Mr Howard told Melbourne radio.

One of those concessions, he said, could be a more relaxed approach to local content on new media, such as video-on-demand and other online entertainment services.

The Government believes the plethora of channels on new media will more than assure opportunities for Australian producers.

But the Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, said Mr Howard was 'intent on selling out Australian culture', noting film and television productions were in a slump and that Australia had offered no such concessions in previous free-trade agreements.

In Melbourne yesterday, actor Geoffrey Rush, flanked by film industry colleagues, opposed the inclusion of Australian culture in the trade talks.

'[Government subsidy] trained me for 25 years for my overnight success in 1996,' Rush said.

'The next generation of Nicoles, Russells, Bazs, Cates and -I dare say, Geoffreys - may not make it as far as Warriewood, let alone Hollywood, if our Government decides to forgo its legacy and give up on them.'

Several pundits spent an exciting weekend (see here, here, and here) denouncing actors who mentioned the free trade agreement at the AFI awards last Friday night. The theme has been either actors are all rich so the cultural diversity rules are bad or the cultural diversity rules are not on the table so why are they complaining and they're all rich anyway. The great majority of actors and filmmakers (like other artists) are actually not rich at all and Australia as a whole is enriched by their work.

I wonder how many pundits will reverse their stand, now that the Man of Steel has extended his government-by-vendetta approach to the evil elites in the film industry.

Senate overturns island excise

The Senate has overturned the federal government's move to cut thousands of islands in northern Australia from the migration zone.

Labor, the Australian Democrats, the Australian Greens, Australian Progressive Alliance Senator Meg Lees and independent Brian Harradine joined forces to disallow the regulations.

The federal government called an urgent executive council meeting on November 4 to pass the regulations to remove the islands from Australia for migration purposes.

It followed the arrival of an Indonesian fishing boat carrying 14 Turkish Kurds and four crew on Melville Island, north of Darwin, on November 4.

They were later towed back out to sea by the Australian navy and sent into Indonesian waters.

The disallowance motion passed in the Senate only comes into effect from Monday, which means the 14 Turkish asylum seekers cannot (not) access Australia's court system because Melville Island was excised at the time of their arrival.

Article 30 of the Geneva Convention reads:

1. No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

The drafters of the convention probably did not envision the ingenuity of a government choosing, instead of moving the refugee across the border, to move the border across the refugee.

24 November 2003

Senate Inquiry into Medicare

The key elements of the government's proposals are a system of incentive payments for practices that agree to bulk-bill all concession card holding patients and the capacity for participating practices to receive rebates for all their patients directly from the HIC.

At a philosophical level, the government package amounts to a decisive step away from the principle of universality that has underpinned Medicare since its inception. The Committee does not accept the government's argument that, because everyone continues to be eligible to be bulk-billed and receives the same rebate, universality is preserved. This argument is disingenuous and ignores the reality of the incentive system the government seeks to put in place. In practice, a GP will receive more public money to treat a concession card holder than they will for treating a nonconcessional patient. The fact that the incentive payment has a different label to the rebate payment is of minimal practical significance, particularly given the direct rebate of funds to the practice. A Fairer Medicare is about a return to a welfare system.

At a practical level, the policy is focused on 'guaranteeing' bulk-billing of concessional patients in a way that is quite simply unnecessary, since the majority of these people are in all likelihood already bulk-billed. The Committee is inclined to agree that the package essentially focuses on a solution to a problem that does not exist.

Far more serious though, are the practical ramifications of the proposals. If put into effect, the scheme will trigger a fall in bulk-billing for all those who are not concession cardholders. Inevitable problems arise at the boundaries of entitlement, and many Australians in genuine need of bulk-billing will fall just outside the threshold of concessional status including many working families and those with chronic illnesses. These people will face both more gap payments, and overall, a rise in the level of such payments.

The report was written before we got the Medicare Plus proposals. Savings to the budget are not necessarily savings to the economy. The Abbot proposals, while a lot better than 'A fairer medicare', still try and solve the fall in bulk-billing by addressing bulk-billing of concession holders when the problem is almost certainly falling bulk-billing for non-concessional patients. 'Disingenuous' is a kind expression for the government's action.

Link runs to a largish PDF.

The Bubble of American Supremacy

The terrorist threat must be seen in proper perspective. Terrorism is not new. It was an important factor in nineteenth-century Russia, and it had a great influence on the character of the czarist regime, enhancing the importance of secret police and justifying authoritarianism. More recently several European countries - Italy, Germany, Great Britain - had to contend with terrorist gangs, and it took those countries a decade or more to root them out. But those countries did not live under the spell of terrorism during all that time. Granted, using hijacked planes for suicide attacks is something new, and so is the prospect of terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. To come to terms with these threats will take some adjustment; but the threats cannot be allowed to dominate our existence. Exaggerating them will only make them worse. The most powerful country on earth cannot afford to be consumed by fear. To make the war on terrorism the centerpiece of our national strategy is an abdication of our responsibility as the leading nation in the world. Moreover, by allowing terrorism to become our principal preoccupation, we are playing into the terrorists' hands. They are setting our priorities.

A recent Council on Foreign Relations publication sketches out three alternative national-security strategies. The first calls for the pursuit of American supremacy through the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military action. It is advocated by neoconservatives. The second seeks the continuation of our earlier policy of deterrence and containment. It is advocated by Colin Powell and other moderates, who may be associated with either political party. The third would have the United States lead a cooperative effort to improve the world by engaging in preventive actions of a constructive character. It is not advocated by any group of significance, although President Bush pays lip service to it. That is the policy I stand for.

John Howard's recent attempt to conflate opposition to the war with support for terror proves one of Soros' points. Howard's own words:

And can I simply say, that I�ve observed in the news bulletins this morning that there are, what 100-200,000 people demonstrating in the streets of London against the President of the United States. Now, like any other political figures he�s used to criticism and he can take it and he can handle it � it goes with the territory. And I don�t seek a particular intercession on his behalf in relation to criticism. But I find it bizarre, even obscene that you could have 200,000 people demonstrating against the democratically elected leader of the largest country in the world, instead of demonstrating against the atrocities that continue to claim the lives of innocent people

I would have thought the London protests were directed against the policies, not the person of George Bush. An election in which the loser by half a million votes nevertheless becomes president is stretching the definition of democracy. The democratically elected leader of the largest country in the world is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister of India. It cannot be George Bush and it is certainly not Hu Jintao. Howard may have meant 'the West' when he said 'the world' and that slip is itself significant because it shows how much we are slipping into a world of Us and Them.

Much of the antiwar movement believes that the Bush policy described by Soros exacerbates the loss of innocent life and exacerbates the atrocities Howard is dedicated to combating. The disagreement is about means, not ends. Suppressing opposition, even at the level of rhetoric, by tarring opponents of war as supporters of terror merely confirms how much the terrorist project of causing changes in the West is succeeding.

The real way to combat terror is to combat its causes along the lines of Soros' advice.

Floating Flock

Certainly the Prime Minister is in no position to give rein to any metaphoric insights he might be glimpsing as he tries to cope with the ramifying problems of the �sheep ship� (as an extraordinarily courageous, sure-tongued ABC reporter referred to it). Mr Howard has had many trials associated with ships on strange, illicit, dangerous or otherwise noteworthy voyages and probably he does not wish to remind either himself or �the Australian people� of past maritime adventures. One of the remedies traditionally available on ships at sea, for example, is to chuck the offending item/person/animal/rubbish overboard. But Mr Howard has good reasons for not wanting us to dwell on what might be called the �defenestration solution�. Nor can he go down the path of maligning and vilifying the sheep�a standard ploy of politicians seeking to demean opponents. �Do we want sheep like this to enter our country?� Mr Howard might have asked, except that that�s a question he has already posed in another context and he won�t want to be reminded about it. As for just knocking them all off�that, says Mr Howard, �is just quite impractical and horrendously difficult�.

Well, one of the difficulties about shooting them, though probably not the one that was uppermost in Mr Howard�s mind, is that even though sheep, having ceased to be lambs, appear unattractive and dumb (and, speaking as one who has run a sheep property, I can guarantee they are both) they do nevertheless have a rather beautiful eye. In panic, or fear or pain their gaze can be affecting to anyone of romantic or poetic inclination�like Mr Truss, say. So when you shoot them, it�s best not to look them in the eye; and don�t look at the others queuing up for the bullet either. In their eyes there will be a knowingness you could do without.

Meanwhile, the ship sails on like a plague ship of old and the gentle-eyed sheep stare inscrutably at the fading ports and anonymous seas and wonder, as well they might, where their shepherd has gone.

The Lord doesn't seem to be my shepherd
Recently I have endured much want
He has made me to lie down not in green pastures but on hot decks
Yea, he has led me beside still waters
But also by rough waters and choppy waters and broad waters and deep waters and endless bloody waters without ports
He does not restore my soul: I am a mere ruminant and therefore without sou
If these are the paths of righteousness that he is leading me in, then he can stick them: five weeks on a bloody sheep ship in the Middle East!
Yea, though I sail through the oceans of death in the world's hot spots, do I fear evil? My bloody oath I fear evil. I'm scared shitless
(Though the state of the decks would suggest otherwise)
I suppose Thou art with me, but the only rod and staff I know are whacked across my backside and they do not comfort me
Thou preparest a Table, but I think it is for roast lamb
Thou anointest my head with oil but it is diesel from this unravelling tub
The ship's bilges runneth over
The decks runneth over
Everything runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me to Kuwait
If not for all the days of what looks like being a short life
And I will dwell on this bloody ship forever.

23 November 2003

A Call for the Complete Elimination of Joke Haiku Production on the Internet

I refer, of course, to the joke haiku.

Like a hideous genetic mutation in a 1950s-era grade-B science fiction film, these seventeen-syllable poems have been borrowed from classical Japanese culture by well-meaning would-be humorists and distorted so completely from their original intended use that they threaten to permanently warp our capacity for humorous expression, if they are not stopped.

I therefore make this proposal to you, my fellow Internet enthusiasts: that as of right now, we agree to completely eliminate the production and propagation of joke haiku on the Internet. Don't write them, don't forward them to your friends, don't even acknowledge their existence. Only through concerted effort can we stamp out this menace completely.

I list my reasons for this drastic step below.

A while ago I blogged on the evils of writing alleged haiku that lack both kigo and a kireji.

Help. however, is at hand. You can write senryu instead.

A War That Can Never Be Won

Coming after the war on Afghanistan, the war on Iraq has made al-Qaida's grisly work easier. Dispersed by American bombing from their remote mountain lairs, they have shifted to the much easier terrain of an urban Arab environment where they can be more readily hidden and helped. Resistance to US forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan as well as terrorist attacks on aid workers and other western soft targets are on the increase, but they appear to come from Afghan supporters of the former Taliban as well as other Pashtun radicals from Pakistan. Most Arabs who were in Afghanistan have moved to Iraq. There they have been joined by new Arab recruits, eager to add their energy to Iraq's local resistance.

In the long history of terrorism, al-Qaida has provided two novelties. One is its global reach, marked by willingness to strike targets in many countries. The other is its use of suicide attacks as a weapon of first, rather than last, resort. Under the broad heading of terrorism as a political and military instrument, suicide bombing is a sub-category, a technique within a technique.

In the post-colonial world its first proponents had nothing to do with the anti-Islamic myth that martyrs are motivated by the hope of being greeted by dozens of virgins waiting in heaven. It began with Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka, an act of martial self-sacrifice by angry women as well as men. When it spread to Palestine over the past decade, it was an act of last-resort desperation by frustrated people who saw no other way to counter Israel's disparity of power, as Cherie Blair once publicly pointed out. Al-Qaida has merely taken an old technique and made it the weapon of choice.

The shock this week is that Bush and Blair not only still believe that war is the way to deal with terrorists but that even when faced by the escalation of Istanbul they think victory is possible. The real issue is how to control risk. Anti-western extremism will never be eradicated, but it can be reduced by a combination of measures, primarily political.

The first is an early transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people and the withdrawal of foreign forces. An arrangement whereby the new Iraqi government 'requests' US troops to stay on will convince few in the Middle East. Second is firm and sustained pressure on Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians, presumably on the lines of the recent accord worked out in Geneva by Israeli and Palestinian dissidents.

There is no guaranteed defence against a suicide attack on a soft target. 'Hardening' targets by turning every US or British building, at home or abroad, into a fortress makes little sense. It is better to try to reduce the motivations (hatred, revenge, or an overwhelming sense of injustice) that make people turn themselves into bombs. That endeavour will also never produce complete success. In Blair's misguided words, it cannot be done 'utterly' or 'once and for all'. But it is the more productive way to go.

Moral clarity and resolve do not win wars. Especially when they are excuses for refusing to think.

Low-Yield Nukes - Why spend money on useless weapons?

Does deterrence really depend on the refinement of a nation's nuclear weapons or on its pure and simple possession of nukes, crude or fine? (The fact that Bush hasn't attacked North Korea suggests an answer to that question.) Will deploying a refined nuclear weapon - say, a low-yield earth-penetrator - deter a foe from even bothering to dig underground bunkers? Or will it spur him to dig deeper or to disguise the bunker better? (The few conventional bunker-busters used in Iraq did their jobs well. The problem was that the bunkers were empty when the bomb struck, if in fact they were bunkers to begin with.) Will deploying such weapons dissuade a foe from building his own nuclear arsenal - or encourage him to develop one as quickly as possible, on the theory that otherwise the United States, newly armed with more usable nuclear weapons, might threaten to lob a few his way?

Finally, is any American president really going to order the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, for any reason, except possibly where not merely the vital interests but the very survival of the nation is at stake? (And if survival is at stake, the refinement of the weapon used is likely to be a peripheral issue.) If we're not going to use these mini-nukes, if having them doesn't enhance deterrence, and if developing them may encourage currently abstaining nations to build nukes of their own - for protection, if not emulation - then what is the point of speeding down this road any farther?

What indeed? But then would any American president ever attack a terrorist network without UN sanction by invading a nation not allied with that network?

Lib Dems ask for investigation into Iraqi WMD claim

When he tried to press Lord Bach on the vehicles, he was told that his questions could not be answered because: 'We would not release information passed to us in confidence by foreign governments.'

Now Lord Redesdale has got his Commons counterpart, Paul Keetch, to ask the ombudsman to investigate, pointing out that the refusal to release information is subject to a 'public interest' test. The ombudsman is entitled to see internal Ministry of Defence papers and correspondence from the US and the Iraq Survey Group.

Lord Redesdale suspects that the equipment - which could have been supplied by Marconi in the UK - is not suitable for making weapons.

He said yesterday: 'Either British companies supplied equipment that was used to make WMD or not. If these vehicles were indeed WMD, then it is in the public interest for the government to release the information. And if these vehicles are actually harmless, there is even more reason we should be told.

'There is no reason why the government should be withholding this harmless information now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone. The only plausible explanation can be that it might be embarrassing to Downing Street and the White House.'

This is, at least on the surface, about the famous trailers of mass destruction. The deeper issue is that the Blair government has apparently agreed that the British parliament is not to have access to certain information.

The parliamentary ombudsman's report should be interesting. It would also be interesting to find out if the Australian government has made similar promises.

Why information made available to the US congress cannot be given to the Australian or British parliaments is a very interesting question, one that the Australian opposition and the senate should pursue.