5 December 2003

New Evidence: U.S. OK'd Argentina's 'Dirty War'

At the height of the Argentine military junta's bloody ''dirty war'' against leftists in the 1970s, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Argentine foreign minister that ''we would like you to succeed,'' a newly declassified U.S. document reveals.

The transcript of the meeting between Kissinger and Navy Adm. C�sar Augusto Guzzetti in New York on Oct. 7, 1976, is the first documentary evidence that the Gerald Ford administration approved of the junta's harsh tactics, which led to the deaths or ''disappearance'' of some 30,000 people from 1975 to 1983.

Kissinger and several top deputies have repeatedly denied condoning human-rights abuses in Argentina.

The document is also certain to further complicate Kissinger's legacy, which has been questioned in recent years as new evidence has emerged on his connection to human-rights violations around the world -- including in Chile, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

I wonder if the neotrot neoconservatives ever feel wistful about the good old days of an earlier forward strategy of freedom?

Escape from Iraq...

This strategy is now being rammed down the throat of the Pentagon proconsul in Baghdad, Mr Paul Bremer, by Mr George W Bush's new 'realist' Deputy National Security Adviser, Mr Bob Blackwill. He answers to Ms Condoleezza Rice, not Mr Donald Rumsfeld, and is the new boss of Iraq. The Pentagon, Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Paul Wolfowitz, architects of the old 'idealist' strategy, are in retreat. The Iraqi Governing Council, which Mr Bremer reluctantly created, will be disbanded. Washington must find someone with whom it can do business, someone who can deliver order in return for power. That search is Mr Blackwill's job.

In a nutshell, Washington has bought the old British West Asia strategy, that you deal with local leaders and leave them to it. The fantasies of Mr Rumsfeld and of Mr Bush's recent 'world democracy' speech are at an end. There must be no second Vietnam in Iraq. Necessity has become the mother of humiliating invention.

We shall never know if Mr Rumsfeld's adventure could have turned out otherwise. As his weapons of mass destruction vanished in the desert air, so has his belief in a 'new democratic beacon in West Asia'. That collapsed from the minute he peremptorily tore up the State Department's Future of Iraq Project shortly before the invasion and ostracised its staff. His faith in corrupt expatriates was crazy. His post-invasion demolition of Mr Saddam Hussein's state apparatus removed the institutions and disciplines on which any government depends.

Well that would explain the mystery of Paul Bremer and the Forgotten Census of Doom.

France links fatal floods to global warming

'As far as Marseilles and the Rhone Estuary is concerned, we are over the worst. But around the Herault the catastrophe is continuing,' the Deputy Foreign Minister, Renaud Muselier, a regional deputy, told France 2 television.

'It seems clear the climate is changing,' he said when asked to explain flooding that has ravaged this part of south-east France two years in succession.

In September 2002, the nearby Gard region was hit by similar floods.

President Jacques Chirac announced on Wednesday that the state had set aside � million ($19.75 million) of immediate aid to the region. Mr Muselier pledged the Government would ensure that compensation for flood damage would be swift.

Road, rail and air traffic have been disrupted by rain and high winds, and four nuclear power reactors were shut down as flooding along the River Rhone and its tributaries between Lyon and Marseille turned the region into a disaster area.

Extreme weather events are increasing. They cost the economy. An economic model that says Kyoto is bad for the GDP but ignores the cost of extreme weatehr events is short-sighted to say the least. Falling back on pseudo-science is just a form of psychological denial.

At the same time as the floods in the south of France we hear:

"There is no doubt that the composition of the atmosphere is changing because of human activities, and today greenhouse gases are the largest human influence on global climate," Thomas Karl said, director of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Centre, and Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

The likely result is more frequent heat waves, droughts, extreme precipitation events, and related impacts, eg, bushfires, heat stress, vegetation changes, and sea-level rise," they added in a commentary to be published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

They estimate that between 1990 and 2100, there is a 90 per cent probability that average global temperatures will rise by between 1.7 and 4.9 degrees Celsius because of human influences on climate.

There is a middle course between shutting down the economy and disregarding the environment. Australia has yet to find it.

Latham and O'Brien on the politics of language

KERRY O'BRIEN: There's private and there's public.

If you ever have to meet the Queen, talking about the English upper class, as Australian PM, I wonder if her background notes on you would include your reference to Tony Abbott and the Queen in June last year where you described Tony Abbott as, quote, 'Basically hanging out of the backside of the British monarch whenever he can.'

What is this obsession you have with bottoms?

MARK LATHAM: I've no particular obsession with bottoms, it's a figure of speech --

KERRY O'BRIEN: Howard the arse-licker and the brown nose kissing bums, as you put it, Abbott hanging out of the Queen's backside, the conga line of suckholes.

MARK LATHAM: Well I think 'bum' is a word that gets used a bit in this country.

It's not a swear word.

I'm sure you have used it yourself, so --

...you take together a full public life.

I have been in public office for 16 years.

I will go through your tapes and have a look at some of your commentary --

KERRY O'BRIEN: Feel free, but I'm not aspiring to lead this country.

MARK LATHAM: No, no, but you're leading a fine current affairs program.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I'm glad to eventually have you on it.

MARK LATHAM: I'm very pleased to be here and let's keep talking about the Australian language.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Someone who has known you very well says this has all been a calculated act on your part, what you apparently call controlled aggression ... although the taxi driver wasn't exactly controlled.

But the taxi driver aside, is that right, it's all a bit of calculated attention getting?

One thing that tends to happen in public life is that the media will put a simple label on someone.

MARK LATHAM: I used to be a maverick backbencher and then I got the bovver boy tag.

You move through responsibilities.

I'm like anybody else, I'm complex, multidimensional.

I don't live my life in a simplistic way.

Sometimes I drop a clanger, sometimes I make a mistake other times I get it right.

I'm not different to anyone else in that regard.

If you want me to be some predictable, orthodox, white bread politician, that is not Mark Latham.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I think the media, at least, will appreciate you the way you are Mark Latham.

MARK LATHAM: You're having fun, Kerry, that's the thing, you're having the fun.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've certainly given me plenty of material to work with.

MARK LATHAM: I've given you a couple of days to work it through.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Hopefully, next time, we can talk about policy when you're getting some of those down the pipeline, but for now thanks very much for talking with us.

MARK LATHAM: It is a pleasure, thank you, Kerry.

I've had more fun watching Australian politics in the last week than I've had for a long, long time. It's extraordinary how a single week suddenly has the coalition looking like a tired, silly government. Their latest, attacking Latham as a divorcee and relying on recriminations from his first wife, is the lowest of the low and unlikely to stop them bottoming out.

4 December 2003

Australia in US missile defence program

Australia has agreed to participate in the United States missile defence program, Defence Minister Robert Hill said today.

Senator Hill said the US had invited Australia to join the program, along with unspecified other nations.

He said the government was looking at a long timeframe, but did not envisage a ground-based missile defence system on Australian territory.

But it would involve assisting with research and could involve incorporating a missile defence system into three planned air warfare destroyers for the Australian navy.

'We have given that careful consideration and we think that we can play a part, obviously a small part in terms of the massive overall program,' he told reporters.

'We think that with the proliferation of long-range missiles and trends towards proliferation of mass destruction warheads, it is a sensible decision for Australia to take.

Idiocy, pure idiocy to join a system that does not work to combat a problem that is being exacerbated by the Bush administration's passion for unilateralism.

U.S. Rejects Iraqi Plan to Hold Census by Summer

Iraqi census officials devised a detailed plan to count the country's entire population next summer and prepare a voter roll that would open the way to national elections in September. But American officials say they rejected the idea, and the Iraqi Governing Council members say they never saw the plan to consider it.

The practicality of national elections is now the subject of intense debate among Iraqi and American officials, who are trying to move forward on a plan to give Iraqis sovereignty next summer. As the American occupation officials rejected the plan to compile a voter roll rapidly, they also argued to the Governing Council that the lack of a voter roll meant national elections were impractical.

The American plan for Iraqi sovereignty proposes instead a series of caucus-style, indirect elections.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric, is calling for national elections next June, not the indirect balloting specified in the American plan for turning over control of the country. But American officials, and some Iraqis say the nation is not ready for national elections, in part because the logistics are too daunting.

In October, Nuha Yousef, the census director, finished the plan for a quick census, which lays out the timetable in tabular form over several pages.

'After processing the data, the most important thing is the election roll, and that would be available Sept. 1,' she said. Full results, she added, would come in December.

One American official acknowledged in an interview that American authorities had been aware of the quick census plan but rejected it.

Informed of the proposal this week, several members of the Governing Council who advocated a direct national ballot next June 30 said they were upset that they had not seen it. The Census Bureau said it had delivered the plan to the Governing Council on Nov. 1, but apparently it was lost in the bureaucracy.

Lost in the bureaucracy? Proconsul Bremer told the IGC there could be no elections without a census and then persuaded them to unelections in June when the census is going to be ready in September?

This is deceit of the first water. The technical problems do not exist. Iraq is already divided into 18 governorates whose boundaries are well-known - so well-known they are being used for the unelections under the Bremer plan. If Bremer 'forgot' to tell the IGC about this then he should resign for incompetence. It passes belief that the able and distinguished viceroy did not ask the census director the earliest time that a census and electoral roll could be ready.

There must be at least a dozen ways to elect delegates from the governorates by using the census. It is not practicalities but the Bush cartel's fear of the election outcome that is behind Bremer's plan.

One for the money

Australia was one of the first nations to introduce plastic banknotes, and our coinage is not far behind in breaking new ground - the Royal Australian Mint has released a set of proof coins for 2004 featuring a holographic $1 coin.

First leaping kangaroos on holographic passports, now this? What next? Cast-iron election promises?

The Thinning Blue Line

The Australian Defence Force will always have their crucial logistical role to play in such deployments but, with the safety of Australians and the security of Australia now inexorably linked to the long-term stability of our nascent, neighbouring states, it is Australia's police forces, primarily the AFP, who in the years ahead are likely to bear the greatest burden of this new task of nation-building. Although there is recognition of the vast experience in community policing and criminal prosecutions which state police would bring to such exercises.

Just last week, federal cabinet agreed in principle to the deployment of a further 300 police overseas - most likely a mix of federal and state personnel - this time to the high-risk environment of Papua New Guinea. With years of police corruption, brutality and ineffectiveness gradually destroying Australia's former colonial territory, the cabinet probably had little choice other than to green-light the operation but it is one fraught with danger and political difficulties.

Coming straight on the heels of the extensive demands now being placed upon Australia's police forces by the �government's counter-terrorism assault, the result is a thinning blue line of highly professional men and women who, according to Hugh White, the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, are being asked to do far more than they should be at home and abroad.

'Over the last few years in East Timor and Bali and now in the Solomons ... we have been expecting our police to perform functions that frankly they were never trained to perform in terms of the political and operational environments they have been placed in,' White says.

Read this, as well, for the description of one Australian cop's time in East Timor as an unarmed peacekeeper.

The thinning line is green, not blue. The Howard government seems to believe it can do expansive and expensive foreign policy while continuing tax cuts forever at home for domestic political gain. The overstretch is much less because our economy is much better managed than America's but the principle is roughly the same.

3 December 2003

Govt says Latham a danger to Australian-US alliance

CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Government wants to neutralise Mark Latham as soon as it can and in Question Time the frontbench focussed on his comments about George W. Bush.

The Prime Minister.

JOHN HOWARD: I take the view, and I believe that most Australians take the view, that it is not in Australia's interest, Mr Speaker, it is not in the national interest of our country that the alternative Prime Minister of this country should describe the current American President, no matter what that American President's politics may be, as being the most dangerous and incompetent President in the history of the United States.

But that is what, that is what the Leader of the Opposition sought to do this morning and by doing it, Mr Speaker, he's demonstrated that in his new position he is dangerous so far as the American alliance is concerned, Mr Speaker.

More on this when the 7.30 Report transcript of their Costello interview is available. Meanwhile true political junkies could always download Hansard and read the Man of Steel's proclamation.


PETER COSTELLO: Well, I think Mr Latham was probably lucky to be elected.

I think he's lucky to have got to the leadership of the Labor Party without having any experience at all.

He's never had --

KERRY O'BRIEN: He's been in the Parliament 10 years.

He's been on the front bench and in the Shadow Treasury portfolio and other portfolios.

PETER COSTELLO: He's never been in government.

I watched him very carefully when he was Shadow Treasurer and he never produced a policy.

Most of the things that he called policies were revoked or overruled in one way or another.

So, I think he's very untried, very untested and to that degree he's a lucky politician.

KERRY O'BRIEN: When were you elected with the so-called dream team with Alexander Downer as deputy leader in Opposition, you had not been government and hadn't had that experience.

Surely there are many people elected to Opposition Leader who have not had experience in Government.

Is that the measure?

PETER COSTELLO: I think the Labor Party is putting Mark Latham forward as an alternative PM.

Now bear this in mind.

If Labor were elected to Government, he would presumably want to go to the White House and discuss the American alliance.

And I think a lot of people should be very concerned about the views that he has expressed on the American alliance.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I notice that the US ambassador rang up and congratulated him.

PETER COSTELLO: Of course he would, because that's the job of an ambassador -- to try and mend fences.

But can you imagine what the view of the American Administration would be?

We know Mr Latham's views about President Bush because he reaffirmed them today.

What I would find more interesting, frankly, is to know what President Bush's views were on Mark Latham.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Is that important?

The alternative leader of the government proving he is unlikely to trouble the Man of Steel's hold on the party leadership in the near future.

You can hype national security to some of the people all of the time...

Phase three: civil war

A parallel, political battle for control is also gathering momentum, as Iraqis contemplate life after the Coalition Provisional Authority. Members of the US-appointed governing council are manoeuvring for position in a future, interim or directly elected government, reneging on their agreement last month to give up power. The Shia leadership, representing a majority of the population, is beginning to flex its political muscle, particularly in respect of establishing the 'Islamic character' of any new constitution and leadership. It is clear, as always, that the Kurdish north will not accept future political arrangements that in any way diminish its considerable autonomy.

And then, at the heart of the matter, figuratively and geographically, stand the Saddam Fedayeen of Samarra and the Sunni Triangle, the infamous, elusive 'Ba'athist remnants', and all those many Iraqi nationalists and resistance fighters who never accepted the US intervention and still reject it and all its works. These groups see no reason why they should forego the decisive power to which many have been accustomed. From their viewpoint, it is their attrition and their blood sacrifice that has been decisive in pushing the Americans into surrendering the political reins.

Despite all the events of the past 12 months, this next phase of the Iraq conflict could yet prove to be its most dangerous. The big picture, to the extent that it can be made out, suggests Iraq's future is still very much in the balance. An orderly transition and the assertion of legitimate, democratic governance is by no means assured. Continuing, escalating civil strife, scattering the seeds of a possible civil war, could yet turn out to be the Bush-Blair legacy in Iraq.

It's amazing that Straw can talk of an 'elected' government in which only 15 people will be allowed to vote in each of Iraq's 18 governorates. That is a definition of 'elected' that belongs with not in the last century but in the one before that. It is equally extraordinary that the agreement is said to be set in stone - except for the part abut dissolution of the unelected governing council. Really, you'd think ambitious IGC members could just arrange to have their nominees in the the provincial caucuses elect them to the transitional national assembly.

The PBS Newshour ran a longish interview today with Juan Cole and Gary Sick:

JUAN COLE: Well, Sistani is a genuine democrat. He believes that sovereignty resides in the body public. And so if you're going to have a government that's legitimate, it has to be elected by the people on a one-person/one-vote basis.

JIM LEHRER: And no other political agenda other than that?

JUAN COLE: Well, he knows, obviously that the majority of Iraqis is Shiite and therefore a one- person/one-vote type of election will return a majority Shiite government and certainly he believes that that's what Iraq should have.

JIM LEHRER: Gary Sick, how do you see this?

GARY SICK: You've got to remember that Sistani is perhaps the sole legitimate force in Iraqi politics today. Ayatollahs are not appointed; they are elected by their own people. Their people basically vote by giving them respect and money and support. And so he represents a body of people who in effect have elected him, and he is perhaps the only elected official -- he's not an official -- but he's the only elected person in Iraqi politics. That gives him tremendous legitimacy, much more so than any of the other institutions. And I think what we're seeing here is a struggle between his concept of legitimacy and that of the governing council and the American occupying force.

Juan Cole is not unknown to the blogosphere. Eric Sick has a long record of various national security jobs under Ford, Carter and Reagan. They both describe the situation in the same way.

The technical problem with the elections can be cured. The political problem is that a free and fair election is unlikely to produce a government friendly to the occupation or to continue the political careers of the IGC members. Vietnam and the rotating door government here we come.

Pain Merchants: Security equipment and its use in torture and other ill-treatment

'It's possible to use anything for torture', says a US manufacturer of electro-shock riot shields, 'but it's a little easier to use our devices.' (1)

Amnesty International has campaigned for many years to end the trade in torture equipment. In Arming the Torturers: Electro-Shock Torture and the Spread of Stun Technology(2) and Stopping the torture trade(3), Amnesty International detailed the largely unregulated business of manufacturing and trading electro-shock weaponry and other devices which are ostensibly designed for security, but which in reality lend themselves to serious abuses of human rights.

The prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment extends to all circumstances, even during war.(4) The right to freedom from torture is so absolute that it can never be restricted. Torture is always, in every situation, unacceptable.

Yet torture continues in many countries despite the fact that it is absolutely prohibited under international law. During 2002 Amnesty International reported torture or ill-treatment by security forces, police or other state authorities in 106 countries. (5) A study of Amnesty documentation for the years 1997-2000 showed that torture was reported in more than 150 countries. In more than 70 of them, the reports were widespread or persistent. In more than 80 countries, people reportedly died as a result. Most of the torturers documented by Amnesty International were police officers.(6) In the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the USA, some US commentators have even argued that law enforcement agents should be allowed to torture suspects: 'torture-lite' is the new entry in the lexicon of abuse.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) which 134 states have ratified, forbids torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Likewise, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), which 151 states have ratified, requires that: ''No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment''. The prohibition in Article 7 is complemented by the positive requirements of Article 10 which states that: ''All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.''

Are there specific tools of torture? As the president of Nova Products said, almost anything can be used to inflict pain, including fists and feet. But in this report, Amnesty International is concerned particularly with the misuse of security equipment ostensibly designed or promoted for law enforcement, security or crime control purposes.

This report is not easy reading but it is probably necessary reading. Amnesty's case for prohibiting or regulating this trade is just about unanswerable.

Death knell for the Kyoto treaty

Fifteen years of international effort to combat climate change appeared doomed last night after Russia said it would not ratify the Kyoto protocol, the world treaty on global warming.

Russian ratification is necessary for the treaty to take effect. Andrei Illarionov, a senior economic adviser to President Vladimir Putin, said in a surprise announcement in Moscow that Russia was refusing to sign the agreement, because to do so would threaten the country's economic growth.

The decision means the collapse of the mechanism, agonisingly constructed by thousands of officials from more than 150 countries over a decade and a half, for the world to try to deal with its greatest threat.

United Nations scientists now predict that global average temperatures may rise by up to 6C by the end of the century in a profound climatic destabilisation that will result in fiercer storms and rising sea levels.

The death of Kyoto is a good case of how bad policy can drive out good. The international scientific consensus says global warming is happening. I am not aware of any independent scientific voices saying that it is not.

The Howard government's rejection of Kyoto was driven by the belief that Kyoto would effect our economy adversely. That is not an open and shut case. Business was not unanimous in backing a decision not to ratify.

The real economy has to be sustainable. Australia has the frailest hydrology of any continent. The job numbers do not look good if you factor in the increase in extreme weather events which is already happening. We do not have to wait for doomsday scenarios to know that.

A Yank in Oz | Custer had a plan too.

I would attempt to restore the proper role of the United States Congress as the crucible of our democracy, in which our plans and policies are debated, tested and improved, in order to avoid a repeat of the current situation - where our post-war plans for Iraq were not subjected to scrutiny, and popular support for our Iraq policy is not as robust as we'd like. This would require both of America's major political parties to put the national interest ahead of partisan politics - or, perhaps, would require a renewed sense of civic duty from the American people.

I would make a sharp distinction in the armed forces between warfighting and peacekeeping troops, and develop our capacities for peacekeeping independently of our combat roles. This would probably result in creating a separate peacekeeping entity that had more in common with the Peace Corps than the Army; it would handle the tasks required to create a democracy, vs. those required to destroy a tyrannical regime. It would be centered on the current Civil Affairs and Engineering corps, and would ultimately correct the morale-draining problems we currently have with combat troops assigned to ill-fitting roles.

To the extent possible, I would restore America's influence and support for multinational organizations, including NATO, the EU, and the United Nations, and seek to expand the number of countries involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. By 'involved in the reconstruction' I mean not only materially involved (i.e., sending troops), but also convinced that promoting democracy and stability in Iraq is essential to the well-being of all nations. I would open a sincere dialogue with our allies about the conflict between America's desire to respect international sovereignty vs. our right to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks, and how we may be able to accommodate, or at the very least listen, to the concerns of other nations.

Go read...

The road to riches we didn't take

Australia is today negotiating a free trade pact with the United States, which could well be useful. But a trade pact with the US is no kind of substitute for trade pacts with Asia.

Australia exports more than five times as much to Asia as to the US, and while exports to Asia have been rising exports to the US have been falling.

The real importance of a trade pact with the US is that while it is not Australia's biggest export market it is usually the biggest or second biggest for East Asian economies.

At the end of the day most East Asian economies will not only want trade pacts with each other, but with the US as well.

An Australia-US free trade agreement might offer Australia a seat at the table if and when all the agreements now being negotiated within the region are rolled into one overarching regional agreement.

A region-wide trade agreement would certainly be in Australia's interests, because the more widespread and comprehensive the agreement the greater the probability that Australia could talk its way into it, and the bigger the gain to our trade.

But it is not yet part of Australian policy to encourage the creation of such a wide and comprehensive pact in the Asia-Pacific region. It should be.

Australia should now be exerting whatever influence it can to encourage the making of agreements consistent with the ultimate goal of creating a free trade community embracing all of East Asia and North America. It would be an ambitious goal, perhaps romantically so.

But so too were the projects to create APEC in the first place, and the annual leaders' meeting which gave it authority. They were ambitious ideas, both achieved, and both Australian.

The Asian economies would probably not devote quite so much energy to subverting the PBS and our film and television produciton either. There's almost a case for the USFTA just being more of the Howard habit of government-by-vendetta. Neither the PBS nor the arts stand high in the Man of Steel's view of things. Why worry about the real economy when you can shove one up the alleged elites?

Another patsy? Dream on, PM

Those with doubts must surely have known Labor had got it right politically as soon as the House got down to business after lunch yesterday. Latham by then had been leader a mere four hours.

Yet from the moment the Speaker opened proceedings, some of the Government's most senior ministers, with John Howard leading, were railing away at Latham as if the devil himself had suddenly appeared in their midst. And, of course, for them he had.

Even before this, Howard and the Nationals' John Anderson, a nice man but another political dunce, made soothing noises about poor Simon and dear Kim and their wives and families in a too-cute show of Government concern for their former punching bags' welfare and future. It was all such a charade.

The Government's obvious strategy to paint the two Labor losers as good men and true, both of them experienced ministers and parliamentarians, whom their party has turned its back on for this dreadful tyro with the foul mouth, is just a blind for what is, suddenly, all their nightmares possibly come true.

Despite the bravado, Latham scares the bejesus out of the Coalition. He really does. He is not another Labor leadership patsy and the Government knows it. Whatever you've heard and whatever self-serving hysteria the Government goes on beating up, Latham is the real thing. He is not Simon the dead or Kim the wimp.

He might well crash and burn one day, but if he does it will be because he's trying like blazes and not because he's sitting there, like a rabbit in the headlights, waiting to get run over.

I watched question time. Naturally as soon as Iron Mark sat down I found myself dozing, then dreaming about sometime in 2005...

HOWARD DEAN: Did you really call your predecessor an arse-licker to George Bush?

MARK LATHAM: Yes, Mr President. I called him a suckhole too. Of course, once I was opposition leader I had to stop using crudity.

DEAN: I'm told you had things to say about my predecessor too.

LATHAM: All I said he was 'the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory'.

DEAN: Yeah, actually fighting your opponent doesn't get you anywhere, does it?

Now this might not be a very civil dream, but it felt like a good idea at the time.

2 December 2003

Wikipedia | Mark Latham

Mark William Latham (born 28 February 1961) is an Australian politician. On 2 December 2003, only nine years after entering Parliament, he was elected leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, following the resignation of Simon Crean.

A reasonable bio, updated with amazing speed. And, yes, it does include the A-word he used about the Man of Steel.

Geneva Accord points way to Arab-Israeli settlement

In light of the failure by Mr Sharon and Yasser Arafat to offer a way out of the violence that has left more than 3,000 people dead after three years, the accord offers a concrete alternative. It has also shown up the limitations of the US-backed 'road-map' peace plan. The 'road-map' calls for a Palestinian state, but leaves the question of its borders to be settled at a later date. The Geneva Accord maps out definitive borders, down to the empty desert land in Israel the Palestinians agreed to accept in exchange for some Jewish settlements in the West Bank being annexed to Israel.

While Mr Sharon has failed to live up to his promise to dismantle a few illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, the Geneva Accord calls for the evacuation of all settlements except those close to the internationally recognised Green Line border - which has enraged the Israeli right.

'There remains one basic choice for the Israelis,' Mr Carter said in a speech at the Geneva ceremony yesterday. 'Do we want permanent peace with all our neighbours, or do we want to retain our settlements throughout the occupied territories? And it is of equal importance that the Palestinians renounce violence against Israeli citizens in exchange for the commitments of this Geneva initiative. It is unlikely that we shall ever see a better foundation for peace. The people support it.' With a subtle swipe at Mr Sharon, he added: 'Political leaders are the obstacle to peace.'

Fifty-eight former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other leaders, including former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, South Africa's FW de Klerk, and Mexico's Ernesto Zedillo, released a statement yesterday expressing their 'strong support' for the accord.

'The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taken far too great a toll already,' said the statement. The ceremony was lent a veneer of Hollywood glamour by actor Richard Dreyfuss, who acted as master of ceremonies. 'Peace is far too serious to be left exclusively to governments,' said Mr Dreyfuss. 'People are terrified of the world they seem to be leaving to their children.' He said the accord was 'the people's claim to their place at the table'.

That claim has not been borne out in Israel, where a poll by Ha'aretz found that 38 per cent of Israelis are against the accord, and only 31 per cent support it. However, those figures represent a major swing towards the peace plan since it was unveiled in October, when 54 per cent were against and only 25 per cent in favour.

Really, what is the alternative? Israel creates a pseudo-state from the Egyptian border to the Jordan and uses fraudulent measures to deny an Arab majority within those borders the vote?

Council In Iraq Resisting Ayatollah

U.S. officials have opposed keeping the council around after a provisional government is formed because of concern that the two bodies might squabble and that the entire process could lose legitimacy if an American-appointed council continued to hold power. But several council members, particularly those who do not lead large political parties, are concerned about their ability to be selected through the caucuses.

Some of them now want Bremer to guarantee members a role in the provisional government in exchange for their support of the caucuses.

Several members also want the council to play a greater role in selecting people for the caucuses. Under the Nov. 15 plan, the Governing Council would appoint only five of the 15 members on each of the 18 caucus organizing committees. The 10 others would be drawn from provincial and city councils.

But Governing Council members contend the provincial and local councils, several of which were formed by military commanders with minimal popular consultation, are not sufficiently representative and are rife with loyalists of former president Saddam Hussein. As a consequence, many members want either the Governing Council to have a greater role in the selection process or the local councils to be dissolved and assembled from scratch.

Council leaders say they believe revamping the local councils or diminishing their role could affect Sistani's position. 'He is concerned about the local councils,' said a Shiite politician who recently met with Sistani. 'If we could reform them, maybe even by holding some local elections, it might satisfy him.'

Elections mean elections. Making the IGC some kind of upper house for life because the IGC and the CPA are both frightened of open elections is an extremely silly plan. Admitting that the policy is driven by the US electoral cycle doesn't do anything for the credibility of either the CPA or the council.

The technical problems can be overcome. After 10 years of the most brutal civil war Sierra Leonemanaged to register and then poll its electorate between February and May 2002. In Timor Leste the same process took only 2 years although during that time the country experienced widespread massacre and the total destruction of its infrastructure before the UN takeover.

The technical problems could be cured. Its' the election outcome that both the occupation and the IGC fear.

Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things | Half Life mod based on notorious Aussie detention camp

Escape from Woomera is a first-person video strategy game (based on Half-Life) in which you play a refugee in the notorious Australian detention center. The idea is to call attention to the deplorable state of Woomera and the inherent cruelty of the detention process.

I can feel a burst of inquisitorial outrage coming any moment now. But that may only be the result of blogging with one ear on Iron Mark's first Question Time.

Latham wins Labor leadership

Mark Latham is the new leader of the federal Labor Party after defeating Kim Beazley in a ballot this morning.

Mr Latham won the contest narrowly, attracting 47 votes compared to Mr Beazley's 45 votes.

I'm astonished, but pleased. I'd expected Beazley by a wider margin. I'd have blogged this contest more but the process is so secretive, stately and wrong that getting excited about it is impossible. At least they have black and white smoke to break the tedium in St Peter's Square, the two elections are otherwise identical.

I'd expect Latham to do well if he can keep himself from frightening the horses. The palpable sense of a major break of the frightened leadership that followed Paul Keating is like breathing fresh air. People complain about Latham's presentation, but we've had larrikin prime ministers before and we might have another one in the near future.

1 December 2003

Arts has good access to US: Vaile

The Australian film and television industry already had good access into the United States and a trade deal was aimed at helping farmers gain the same access, Trade Minister Mark Vaile said.

Mr Vaile said a trade deal with America would also prove a bonus to Australian car part manufacturers, particularly those in regional areas.

Negotiations get underway later on Monday in Washington for the final round of talks for the proposed free trade agreement (FTA).

Australia's film and television industry has raised concerns it will be used as a bargaining chip by the federal government to gain improved access for farmers to key American agricultural markets.

Mr Vaile said negotiations were coming down to sensitive issues.

He said improving farm access was a core objective of the government, and getting that access to a level equivalent to that enjoyed by the film and television sector.

Short version: We fold on the arts issues because artists are part of the evil elites and hold firm on the PBS and farming because we need to hold seats in rural Australia and everybody uses the PBS.

Long version: We know that the arts actually face large, if non-tariff, barriers (production run issues, the US media oligopsony, coordinated production and distribution chains) to the US market but with any luck non-tariff protection will prove very difficult to explain to the electorate. So we can betray the artists (who are all elitist lefties anyway) while pleasing the farmers (who are all solid upright sons of the soil) and promote our nationalist credentials by perhaps maintaining the PBS.

Now if Cousin George will just do the decent thing for his Little Mate...

The Man with Night Sweats

I wake up cold, I who

Prospered through dreams of heat

Wake to their residue,

Sweat, and a clinging sheet.

My flesh was its own shield:

Where it was gashed, it healed.

I grew as I explored

The body I could trust

Even while I adored

The risk that made robust,

A world of wonders in

Each challenge to the skin.

I cannot but be sorry

The given shield was cracked,

My mind reduced to hurry,

My flesh reduced and wrecked.

I have to change the bed,

But catch myself instead

Stopped upright where I am

Hugging my body to me

As if to shield it from

The pains that will go through me,

As if hands were enough

To hold an avalanche off.

Thom Gunn

World AIDS Day 2003

US Congressman discusses US-Aust free trade deal

LEIGH SALES: Security and economics are obviously two different issues, but do you think that Australia's strong support of the United States and alliance in strategic and security areas will convince any people to vote for this economic agreement?

CAL DOOLEY: Well, I certainly think that there is a great deal of respect among a lot of my colleagues because of the unwavering support that Australia has provided for the United States, not just recently but really for the last 100 years, and it's that bond of friendship and respect I think is going to allow us to put together the bipartisan coalition that will ensure the passage of a US-Australia FTA.

But I think all of us recognise is that it really is going to be, the decisions are primarily going to be predicated upon the composition of the agreement, and we have to be prepared that there might be some sectors, certainly in the United States, that aren't going to be happy, they aren't going to see the benefits of an FTA.

If the President makes a decision that this is going to be very difficult, especially in an election year, that he might make a decision that we'll be better off delaying this for a few months before we brought it up for congressional approval.

But what I can say with great confidence is there is absolutely no question in my mind that we will pass a US-Australia FTA if the negotiations are finalised. The only question will be when. Will it prior to the November elections, meaning will it be in June or July or August of next year, or will it be delayed into the following year.

TONY EASTLEY: California Democrat Congressman Cal Dooley, speaking to Washington Correspondent Leigh Sales.

I'm actually uncomfortable with linking security and economic issues. I would hope that when Australia fights it fights for more basic principles than sugar quotas or preferential access for dried fruits.

The president's decision on when and how to present the FTA will be an interesting test for the Howard-as-hypercobber school of international diplomacy, as will the final clauses of the agreement on the PBS, services and cultural diversity. I would be really surprised if the agreement gets us serious and immediate access to the heavily-protected US agriculture market. Without that access I just cannot see that the benefits of the agreement can outweigh the costs. 2004 is an election year for Howard and I cannot see him wanting to offend the rural electorate.

We already practice free trade in almost all sectors. If the US wants to maintain an old economy of quotas and non-tariff protection is that our problem?

The Leiter Reports | Weapons of Math Instruction

At New York's Kennedy airport today, an individual later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare, a slide rule, and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney general John Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious al-Gebra movement. He is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.


Tourists rue 'curse' of Ayers Rock

The managers of Uluru, the monolith that used to be called Ayers Rock, are being inundated with stones and dirt stolen from the site and sent back by tourists who claim they have been plagued by bad luck.

Many of the packages, which are received daily by national parks staff from as far afield as Europe and the United States, are accompanied by contrite notes and apologetic letters. Some pieces weighing up to 20lb have arrived in the post.

Southerly Buster is, as you know, far too politically correct to snaffle chunks of Uluru. I just wonder what happens to people who climb the rock despite Anangu requests to the contrary. A 20-lb chunk of rock is serious cultural vandalism, whether it brings you bad luck or not.

No Way to Make Friends

There is a lack of empathy emanating from Washington. After the Bali bombings, which were Australia's 9/11, the administration did not bother to send a high-level envoy to a steadfast ally for condolences. Australians had to make do with a videotape of George Bush. Even last week, Bush could surely have arranged to meet in Baghdad with a few troops from allied countries who are also fighting and dying in Iraq.

What is most dismaying about this state of affairs is that for the last 50 years the United States has skillfully merged its own agenda with the agendas of others, creating a sense of shared interests and values. When Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy waged the cold war, they also presented the world with a constructive agenda dealing with trade, poverty and health. They fought communism with one hand and offered hope with the other. We have fallen far from that model if the head of the Chinese Communist Party is seen as presenting the world with a more progressive agenda than the president of the world's leading democracy.

Bush distinguished himself in other ways. His address to parliament is the first in which a foreign chief of state ever effectively gave a political endorsement to an Australian political leader. It is certainly the first in which he greeted the governor-general although that dignitary was not present or in which he got the president of the Senate's title wrong.

Bungled protocol and partisanship is not going to end Australia's friendship with the US, but it certainly speaks of a lack of empathy driven by a blatant attitude of 'because I can'.

Countdown to 20 million

In Michael Shreeve's 44 years, Australia has doubled its population. He was born in 1959 in the midst of the populate-or-perish mood. The country was riding a baby boom and had just welcomed the 1.5 millionth migrant since the war. The population reached 10 million that year.

Some time this week - probably Thursday - it will hit 20 million, says the Australian Bureau of Statistics. During this week, a Herald series will examine what this means.

The prospect of another doubling appears unlikely, at least this century. The postwar period has seen a population boom unlikely to be repeated. Now there is a baby bust, and immigration is unlikely to make up the difference. Even if the immigration rate doubled to 200,000 a year, it would take about 80 years to reach 40 million.

Most projections see the population levelling out at about 23-25 million by the middle of the century. Fertility rates declined past the replacement point in the 1980s and continue to drop. It now stands at just over 1.7 children a woman and is forecast to dip to at least 1.65.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is running a clock. The continent's ecology is already under severe stress because of governmental inaction. Doubling from 20 to 40 million is just not feasible.

30 November 2003

Iraq's Shiites Insist on Democracy. Washington Cringes.

The Shiite ayatollahs say they want any constitution to be based closely on Islamic law, while still respecting individual and minority rights. What that means in practice is less clear, and may not be entirely to the liking of the United States.

Ayatollah Sistani has said constitution should guarantee individual liberties as long as they are consistent 'with the religious facts and the social values of the Iraqi people.' At the same time, he said elected leaders, not clerics, should have the final authority to make laws in a democratic Iraq. 'The authority will be for the people who will get the majority of votes,' he said in response to questions last month.

Bridging the gap between Islamic values and Western views of human rights will not be easy, said Noah Feldman, an assistant professor at New York University and expert on Islamic law who is advising Iraq on the drafting process. But Mr. Feldman said he believed the clerics would not demand an Iranian-style theocracy.

'It's going to be tricky and it's delicate, but it's going to be solvable, because in the end the Shia clerics are open to a state that's a democratic state but is also respectful of Islam,' Mr. Feldman said. 'No one around Sistani is saying, `Rule of the clerics.' '

Perhaps not, but the coalition official acknowledged that the coalition would have little control over an elected assembly and that it might result in a government unfriendly to the United States.

The US invaded Iraq with a terrifying ignorance of why it was there and what it would find. Paul Wolfowitz, for example, told the US congress that Iraqis are:

secular and "overwhelmingly Shia, which is different from the Wahhabis of the peninsula, and they don't bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory."

No doubt that is news to the Shi'i majority in Iraq, especially those who live in holy Najaf and the other shrine cities.

Yet even now, when the cakewalk myth is dead and the occupation faces growing resistance, we read in the New Yorker:

According to a senior Administration official, not long ago in Washington, Cheney approached Powell, stuck a finger in his chest, and said, �If you hadn�t opposed the I.N.C. and Chalabi, we wouldn�t be in this mess.� But one Pentagon official acknowledged that his agency was responsible for the debacle. �It was ridiculous,� he said. �Rummy and Wolfowitz and Feith did not believe the U.S. would need to run post-conflict Iraq. Their plan was to turn it over to these exiles very quickly and let them deal with the messes that came up. Garner was a fall guy for a bad strategy. He was doing exactly what Rummy wanted him to do. It was the strategy that failed.�

The agreement with the IGC reads like a recycled treaty from the century before last. The CPA appoints the IGC who then appoint the provincial caucuses who then appoint the transitional assembly. This system of pyramids of indirect election is about as democratic as what prevailed in the old Soviet Union, the evil empire of Ronald Reagan. It would be laughable, were it not lamentable that an Iraqi cleric, feared for his medievalism, has to teach the US occupation that elections mean elections.

The road has only two forks and they lead to Najaf or Tikrit. Either the US finds another Saddam to rule in the same way Saddam did or they deal with Sistani. Elections have risks. Elections with safe (because predetermined) results are not elections, just fraudulent attempts to avoid elections.

Iraq actually does not have a bloody communal history in the same sense as Yugoslavia. The bloodshed was much more between political factions than communal groups. The International Crisis Group finds that the ethnic divisions, especially the Sunni/Shi'i division, are less significant than is often assumed. There is at least a limited prospect for an electoral democracy that recognises both the primacy of Islam and the rights of non-Muslims. The Malaysian constitution, (although I would not call Malaysia an ideal state it is an electoral democracy) provides that:

Section 3(1) Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.

In the forward strategy of freedom speech Bush said:

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty

Excusing and accommodating a system of caucuses to evade the popular will in Iraq would be a classic example of purchasing stability at the expense of liberty. The road to Tikrit, it should be remembered, also leads to Halabja.

Terror camp Britons to be sent home

A deal to return British terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay is to be sealed before Christmas, according to officials from America and the United Kingdom.

The 'returns policy' is now believed to be the leading option being considered in Washington which has made clear that it wants to end the tension between the US and Britain over the issue.

Under the agreement, the nine British detainees will be sent back to Britain, either after pleading guilty to charges in America and being sent to serve their sentences in British prisons, or without being charged.

Pity that Howard's government regards human rights as negotiable.

R�volution g�orgienne entre deux grandes puissances

Aux premiers jours des manifestations autour du Parlement, les forces sp�ciales - form�es par les Etats-Unis - avaient �t� rappel�es des gorges du Pankissi, � la fronti�re de la Tch�tch�nie, pour se rendre dans les faubourgs de la capitale. En outre, des centaines de CRS �taient d�ploy�s autour de l'assembl�e. Mais, le 21 novembre, M. Tedo Djaparidze, chef de la s�curit� nationale, d�clarait que � la s�curit� de la G�orgie avait �t� secou�e � et demandait � un certain compromis lors du processus �lectoral �. Le lendemain, au moment o� de gigantesques manifestations se regroupaient place de la Libert� pour se diriger vers le Parlement, les forces arm�es n'ont pas r�sist�. Leur neutralit� a conduit � la chute de M. Chevardnadze. Washington a-t-il fait pression sur elles pour qu'elles ne repoussent pas les manifestants ?

Au printemps 1992, M. Chevardnadze faisait son retour en G�orgie. Nombre d'observateurs pensaient qu'il y apporterait un renouveau de l'influence russe dans le Caucase. En quelques mois, il devint pourtant le meilleur alli� de Washington dans la r�gion. Apr�s le 11 septembre 2001, les forces sp�ciales am�ricaines lui fournirent une protection et form�rent l'arm�e g�orgienne. Les r�cents �v�nements peuvent-ils mener � un durcissement de l'incessant bras de fer entre Russes et Am�ricains pour le contr�le de ces terres eurasiennes, ou permettront-ils au contraire � la G�orgie de trouver enfin une certaine stabilit�, apr�s des ann�es de troubles ?

Since independence from the old Socviet Union, there's been a remarkable tendency in CIS nations for domestic instability to rise whenever the government opposes Moscow. Georgia did not join the CIS at first and paid for that with the Ossetian and Abkhazian risings. CIS governments trying to get out of the Russian embrace have turned, as Shevardnadze did, to the US.

If Vicken Cheterian's claim of an iron hug between the US and Russia proves right then CIS leaders pursuing genuine independence have nowhere to go.

Fanatical Apathy | The Big Turkey

He had to sneak into a country that he 'conquered' half a year ago. The cover of night and ultra-high security and secrecy were needed to make this surprise visit possible. And now it turns out that President Bush didn't wanna go.

That's a pretty sad way to effect what his aides are calling 'a public-relations coup' and everyone else is calling 'weird and vaguely creepy.' Thanksgiving surprises like this happen all the time - but usually they're made by divorced deadbeat dads without visitation rights who show up at the back door for a quick, drunken 'How ya doin'?' while Mom's off stuffing the turkey. The kids may be happy to see Daddy, but it's a sad and fleeting pleasure. A visit that doesn't take responsibility for itself is little more than a furtive prank.

But Bush's aides were desperate for any kind of image to replace the 'Mission Accomplished' flight suit fiasco. And this was a more appropriate moment, amply illustrating how Shock and Awe has been replaced by Duck and Cover. I doubt even the extraordinarily unreflective American public can help noticing the fact that Bush came in through the bathroom window because the front door wasn't really an option.

And, as Wesley Clark, John Kerry, and others keep pointing out - this was a covert visit to a theater that was a sideshow in the first place. And that the four evil-doers are still out there, somehow eluding our grasp. I'm talking, of course, about Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and whoever hung that 'Mission Accomplished' banner.

I'd add the election supervisor who designed the ambiguous ballots, and the secretary of state who unlawfully disfranchised large numbers of voters, and...

Drug Industry Seeks to Sway Prices Overseas

The legislation passed by Congress this week to establish a prescription drug benefit in the Medicare program specifically forbids the government to use its influence to negotiate lower drug prices. That provision was a top goal of the drug industry in its lobbying on the measure.

The Medicare bill also requires the Bush administration to apprise Congress on progress toward opening Australia's drug pricing system. Drug industry executives said that provision was a sign of how badly their backers on Capitol Hill want to see trade agreements used to challenge foreign government's price-control systems, especially when Americans are flocking to Canada to buy inexpensive medicine.

In the free trade talks, drug industry executives said, the United States is asking that Australia agree that its Pharmaceutical Benefits System pay higher prices for new medicines and make other changes in how it sets the prices of prescription drugs.

We'll just have to trust the Man of Steel and hope the US congress doesn't legislate about Australian wheat, movies, television or anything else before the FTA is signed.

Spying: U.S. Is Worried Foe Is Tracking Targets in Iraq

Bush administration officials are increasingly concerned that anti-American forces in Iraq are using simple but effective means to monitor activities and coordinate attacks against the American military, civilian administrators and visiting dignitaries.

As evidence, Pentagon and military officials cite a recent raid by troops of the 101st Airborne Division during which they broke up an apparent plot to assassinate an American colonel. The would-be assailants, they said, had observed and charted the Army officer's daily routine %u2014 including his jogging route and schedule of public appearances %u2014 to plan their attack.

I had to read this article 2 or 3 times because the first time round I could not believe it was being printed as some kind of insight. The article tells us that the Iraqi insurgents watch US forces. Well, yeah... Is that really a surprise?