24 January 2004

Vowel wars heat up

The defense minister of Mvpxilrzv issued a strongly worded statement today after Mvpxilrzvn police arrested Archbishop Vlnitrpqn (The Valiant) of Svpxilrzv yesterday.

Saying that Archbishop Vlnitrpqn was in the country trying to steal its vowel, Defense Minister Mkil (The Archangel) Bviltnkpz said, "We will not have our national treasure stolen by these barbarians."

Conflict between the two countries over the vowel dates back millennia. Mvpxilrzv and Svpxilrzv were particularly hard hit by the Polynesian vowel raids that left much of Eastern Europe and Russia vowel-impoverished and the South Pacific flush with the sounds. By the time the raiders had left their area, Mvpxilrzv and Svpxilrzv had one vowel between them. For centuries, the Kingdom of Svpxilrzv held the vowel, and thus the key to the two countries' common culture, in an underground chapel deep in the Dvpxilrzv Mountains.

I dn't knw wht t mk f this...

For Brazil Voters, Machines Rule

While Diebold's touch-screen voting machines cost an average of $3,000 in the United States, the urnas (which have no touch screen) cost $420 on average, according to Justica Eleitoral, the nation's electoral commission. Buying machines in large quantities lowers their cost, authorities said. The two manufacturers, Unisys and ProComp, won public bids to make the machines, a spokesman said.

Brazil, which has alternated between military dictatorships and democracy since the fall of the imperial monarchy in 1889, has a long history of election fraud. A judge in this state of cows and grains was killed for contesting the results in one local election. Pre-urnas elections were easier to rig, said Daniel Wobeto, chief of technical operations at the electoral commission in Rio Grande do Sul. 'Paper ballots were stuffed in canvas pouches, and people would switch ballots from one candidate's pile and put it in another pile,' he said.

First introduced in some precincts in 1996, urnas were used in all precincts in 2000. Voting officials took them on road shows, setting them up in bus and train stations and banks so Brazilians could have easy access to them.

Voters punch in digits for their candidate of choice (lists with numbers that match candidates' names are available at precincts). The name and a picture of the candidate appear after the number is punched in. Voters confirm their votes by pressing a green button.

There's no turning back once the green button has been pressed -- one of the system's drawbacks, said Wobeto.

Before elections, machine software is posted on the Internet, Wobeto said. Voting data on machines is stored on a floppy disk inserted at the back of each machine box and sealed inside with tamper-evident tape.

Brazil can do it. The Australian Capital Territory can do it. Why can't sophisticated corporations with the most advanced technology in the world do it?

Halliburton tells U.S. of suspected kickbacks

Halliburton Co. workers may have taken kickbacks from a Kuwaiti subcontractor aiding U.S. troops in Iraq, causing a potential $6 million overcharge to U.S. taxpayers, the company said on Friday.

Auditors at the Houston-based company found the questionable payments and potential overbilling and alerted Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz, said a company spokeswoman, Wendy Hall.

Halliburton, once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, is the largest contractor in Iraq with over $8 billion in potential work doing everything from laundry to repairing damaged oil fields.

If Halliburton now admits the overcharges, what does that do to the weeks of vigorous denials they've issued? Or the Pentagon's waiver of the overcharges?

German trial hears how Iranian agent warned US of al-Qaida attack

The United States was warned of impending September 11 terrorist attacks by an Iranian spy, but ignored him, German secret service agents testified yesterday in the trial of an alleged al-Qaida terrorist.

The spy, identified as Hamid Reza Zakeri, tried to warn the CIA after leaving Iran in 2001, but was not believed, two German officers who interviewed him told the Hamburg court.

Zakeri worked in the department of the Iranian secret services responsible for 'carrying out terrorist attacks globally', one of the officers said.


Eggheads unravel chopstick secrets

'Most of the formula is serious physics,' says Dr Al-Khalili. 'Mass of the food, the size of the food; how slippery it is between the sticks. Then we had to put in the texture of the food, how crumbly it is and so on.'

They also found that if your fear of using chopsticks runs deep, you might have some serious practising to do. 'If you wanted to pick up a piece of chicken of appropriate size ... it would take you 20 years eating one Chinese meal with chopsticks per week for the comfort factor to be the same as picking the bloody thing up with your fingers,' said Dr Al-Khalili.

Fortunately, Southerly Buster has no trouble with sticks of mass consumption program related activities, apart from a pathetic incident in a Belgian restaurant when his scant vocabulary forced him to ask him for les batons de chop.


When a small number of terrified people seek our help, we are told it is a threat to our borders; when 60,000 backpackers from Europe stay on for years, there is no mention of border protection. Australia's human rights record has been damaged by our treatment of refugees. It will not be repaired by the cinematic simplicities of Russell Crowe.

Utilitarianism was used in the 18th century to justify slavery, in the 19th century to justify child labour and in the 20th century to justify the Nazi's treatment of the Jews. Abbott shows that it can be used in the 21st century to justify the Howard Government's record.

Julian Burnside

Melbourne, Victoria

Apart from the special case that Abbot argues I would have thought a government so focussed on 'values' would have thought through its approach to certain universal values like telling the truth before trying to conflate the Aubrey dilemma with fairly marginal policy issues. All Abbot really is doing is recycling the ancient 'There is no alternative' argument that dates back to Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps unconsciously, Abbot is actually speaking in defence of the same relativism his leader fears is rife in the public schools.

Political correctness on the right is just as PC as political correctness on the left.

Interview with David Kay

Q: What happened to the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that everyone expected to be there?

A: 'I don't think they existed.

'I think there were stockpiles at the end of the first Gulf War and those were a combination of U.N. inspectors and unilateral Iraqi action got rid of them. I think the best evidence is that they did not resume large-scale production, and that's what we're really talking about, is large stockpiles, not the small. Large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the period after '95.'

Q. After '95?

A. 'We're really talking about from the mid-90s, when people thought they had resumed production.'

Q. What about the nuclear program?

A. 'The nuclear program was as we said in the interim report, I think that will be a final conclusion. There had been some restart of activities, but they were rudimentary.

'It really wasn't dormant because there were a few little things going on, but it had not resumed in anything meaningful.'

Q: You came away from the hunt that you have done believing that they did not have any large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the country?

A: 'That is correct.'

Q. Is that from the interviews and documentation?

A. 'Well the interviews, the documentation, and the physical evidence of looking at, as hard as it was because they were dealing with looted sites, but you just could not find any physical evidence that supported a larger program.'

Q: Do you think they destroyed it?

A: 'No, I don't think they existed.'

Q. Even though in the mid-1980s people said they used it on Halabja?

A. 'They had stockpiles, they fought the Iranians with it, and they certainly did use it on the Kurds. But what everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s.'

Boldface mine. What a long way from the smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud. It's even qute a long way from dozens of weapons of mass destruction program related activities.

Howard may pay for misjudging US free-trade mood

After three years of talking free trade, the Bush Administration now faces its moment of truth. Will it commit to removing its own trade barriers to Australian farm exports? Or, when the chips are down, is its priority to protect jobs in United States industries, whether competitive or not?

With a year of intense negotiations for a US-Australia free-trade agreement to end on Friday, the answer now seems clear. And John Howard's Government is in a dilemma after seriously misjudging the Bush team's commitment to free trade.

US negotiators have offered only modest openings for Australian exports of beef and dairy products and none at all for sugar. Washington seems to be angling for an agreement for freer, not free, trade.

Australian negotiators expect US trade representative Robert Zoellick to raise the stakes in his final offer next week - although yesterday he was reported as confirming that the US would give nothing on sugar - but they are perplexed and concerned.

Washington's mood has changed. The Bush Administration is under heavy attack for agreeing to even a modest expansion of sugar imports in a trade deal with Central America. It seems in no mood to risk it again.

For three years, Trade Minister Mark Vaile and his team have been fending off criticisms that the deal would mean radical changes to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, film and television production and the rest. Now they are staring at the opposite problem: this agreement might not change much at all.

Perhaps the congaline approach to foreign relations does not work so well after all, or perhaps the Man of Steel is about to get a Dear John letter.

Aboard Air Force One, En Route Roswell, New Mexico

9:18 A.M. MST

MR. McCLELLAN: Now, when we land today there are certain things that we may ask you not to report, that you may see. (Laughter.)

Q I'm not playing that game. If there's a flying saucer, it's going on the wire, man. (Laughter.)

But did they find any unidentified flying object program related activities?

23 January 2004

I believe in conspiracies

Similarly, it is a matter of public record that the Americans pumped at least $100 million into Serbia in order to get rid of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, and huge sums in the years before. (An election in Britain, whose population is eight times bigger than Yugoslavia's, costs about two thirds of this.) This money was used to fund and equip the Kosovo Liberation Army; to stuff international observer missions in Kosovo with hundreds of military intelligence officers; to pay off the opposition and the so-called 'independent' media; and to buy heavily-armed Mafia gangsters to come and smash up central Belgrade, so that the world's cameras could show a 'people's revolution'.

At every stage, the covert aid and organisation provided by the US and British intelligence agencies were decisive, as they had been on many occasions before and since, all over the world. Yet for some reason, it is acceptable to say, 'The CIA organised the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq in Iran in 1953', but not that it did it again in Belgrade in 2000 or Tbilisi in 2003. And in spite of the well-known subterfuge and deception practised, for instance, in the Iran-Contra scandal in the mid-1980s, people experience an enormous psychological reluctance to accept that the British and American governments knowingly lied us into war in 2002 and 2003. To be sure, some conspiracy theories may be outlandish or wrong. But it seems to me that anyone who refuses to make simple empirical deductions ought to have his head examined.

Conspiracy theories make me nervous and I'm broadly prepared to accept that the choice between a conspiracy and a cock-up should always favour the cock-up, but there are limits.

Bush's Iraq: An Appointocracy

Mr. Bremer wants his Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to appoint the members of 18 regional organizing committees. The committees will then select delegates to form 18 selection caucuses. These selected delegates will then further select representatives to a transitional national assembly. The assembly will have an internal vote to select an executive and ministers who will form the new government of Iraq. That, Bush said in his address, constitutes 'a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.'

Got that? Iraqi sovereignty will be established by appointees appointing appointees to select appointees to select appointees. Add to that the fact that Mr. Bremer was appointed to his post by President Bush and that Mr. Bush was appointed to his by the U.S. Supreme Court, and you have the glorious new democratic tradition of the appointocracy: rule by appointee's appointee's appointees' appointees' appointees' selectees.

The White House insists that its aversion to elections is purely practical: there just isn't time to pull them off before the June 30 deadline. So why have the deadline? The most common explanation is that Bush needs 'a braggable' on the campaign trail: When his Democratic rival raises the specter of Vietnam, Mr. Bush will reply that the occupation is over, we're on our way out.

Except that the United States has absolutely no intention of actually getting out of Iraq. It wants its troops to remain, and it wants Bechtel, MCI and Halliburton to stay behind and run the water system, the phones and the oil fields. It was with this goal in mind that, on Sept. 19, Mr. Bremer pushed through a package of sweeping economic reforms that The Economist described as a 'capitalist dream.'

But the dream, though still alive, is now in peril. A growing number of legal experts are challenging the legitimacy of Mr. Bremer's reforms, arguing that under the international laws that govern occupying powers -- the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Geneva Conventions -- the CPA can only act as a caretaker of Iraq's economic assets, not as its auctioneer. Radical changes such as Mr. Bremer's Order 39, which opened up Iraqi industry to 100 per cent foreign ownership, violate these laws and could therefore be easily overturned by a sovereign Iraqi government.

That prospect has foreign investors seriously spooked, and many are opting not to go into Iraq. The major private insurance brokers are also sitting it out, having assessed Iraq as too great an expropriation risk. Mr. Bremer has responded by quietly canceling his announced plan to privatize Iraq's 200 state firms, instead putting up 35 companies for lease (with a later option to buy). For the White House, the only way for its grand economic plan to continue is for its military occupation to end: only a sovereign Iraqi government, unbound by the Hague and Geneva Regulations, can legally sell off Iraq's assets.

But will it? Given the widespread perception that the United States is not out to rebuild Iraq but to loot it, if Iraqis were given the chance to vote tomorrow, they could well immediately decide to expel U.S. troops and to reverse Mr. Bremer's privatization project, opting instead to protect local jobs. And that frightening prospect -- far more than the absence of a census -- explains why the White House is fighting so hard for its appointocracy.

Under the current U.S. plan for Iraq, the transitional national assembly would hold onto power from June 30 until general elections are held no later than Dec. 31, 2005. That's 17 leisurely months for a non-elected government to do what the CPA could not legally do on its own: invite U.S. troops to stay indefinitely and turn Mr. Bremer's capitalist dream into binding law. Only after these key decisions have been made will Iraqis be invited to have their say. The White House calls this self-rule. It is, in fact, the very definition of outside-rule, occupation through outsourcing.

The joke in all this, although the saddest of jokes, is that George Bush is getting very close to making himself Iraq's new man with a moustache. Saddam was a deeply evil man, but the structure of his government was created by Iraqi history and geography, not the state of Saddam's conscience. manipulating language by calling an appointment an election is not going to fly. Neither is governing Iraq by force while claiming to govern by consent of the people.

The long string of US interventions in Latin America from Panama in 1903 to Panama in 1989 did not democracies. Why is Iraq different? Democracy is hard. Democracy also cannot be imposed by force.

WMD sceptic will head search team

A former senior member of the United Nations weapons inspection team has been appointed by the US government to lead more than 1,000 scientists combing Iraq for evidence that Saddam Hussein produced illegal weapons.

The choice of Charles Duelfer, reported last night by ABC television, appears surprising. Earlier this month, he asserted that the claims about weapons of mass destruction used to justify the war in Iraq would never be substantiated. 'I think it's pretty clear right now that they're not going to find existing weapons in Iraq of either a biological or chemical nature,' he said.

Mr Duelfer, 51, was picked by George Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He will replace David Kay as head of the Iraq Survey Group, charged with finding evidence of such weapons. Mr Kay had already indicated that he intended giving up the position in February.

The Vice-President Dick Cheney said two days ago that he still believed some evidence would be found. 'It's going to take some additional considerable period of time in order to look in all of the cubby holes and ammo dumps in Iraq, where you might expect to find something like that,' he commented.

Well, it's a surprise, as are Cheney's continuing claims about WMDs, the Saddam/al-Qa'ida linkage, and a number of other things.

The Advocate interviews Wesley Clark

In a testament to how much has changed in the decade since "don't ask, don't tell" was born, all nine of the Democratic presidential candidates who are currently elbowing their way across the country say the policy is discriminatory. But the 59-year-old Clark, a retired four-star general and former NATO commander, could be the only one with enough brass to make a difference. As Steve Rawls of the military watchdog group Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund explains, "Military leaders will have a lot of sway in convincing Congress to change the policy, and General Clark obviously has a lot of stature within the military community."

The cover photo is pretty interesting, as well. The times, I guess, are a-changing.

Archbishop Tutu Calls on Blair, Bush to Admit Iraq War Was Wrong

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says Tony Blair and George Bush should admit the war in Iraq was wrong.

He said such a move would help persuade the people of Iraq the coalition is serious about the future of the country.

Archbishop Tutu, now visiting professor on post-conflict societies at Kings College London, has told the BBC: 'I think the coalition would show considerable magnanimity if it was, in fact, to acknowledge that in the first place the assault on Iraq was wrong.

'If they were able to bring themselves to do that, it would go a very long way to making people say these people are, in fact, serious, they are not merely concerned about face-saving.

'The fact that the coalition has returned to the UN underscores precisely what people kept saying: that if the war was going to be legitimate, it needed to be declared by a legitimate authority, in this case the UN.'

I've always suspected the archbishop of being a secret al-Qa'ida sympathiser. Proof at last!

Military trial only option for Hicks, says Ruddock

But Mr Ruddock yesterday dismissed criticisms of the military tribunals, saying Major Mori was merely doing his job as a defence lawyer.
But legal experts said it was unusual for a defence lawyer to criticise the system in which an accused was being tried.

"Mr Ruddock clearly does not understand the immense pressure from the Pentagon to prosecute defendants at these military tribunals," said the chairman of the International Commission of Jurists' Australian section, Steve Mark.

"Major Mori is in the US Army and would not have spoken out unless he was speaking from conviction rather than expediency.

Boldface mine. Philip Ruddock once practiced as a solictor. I wonder how many cases he opened by saying this court is not competent to try this case because of its inherent unfairness? Ruddock's claim is nonsense. As a lawyer he knows it's nonsense.

Hicks lawyer unimpressed with legal process

MAXINE McKEW: The immediate response, Major, from our Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, to your comments today really is it see them in the context of pre-trial jockeying, the normal things that one would hear from a defence advocate in the run-up to a trial.

MAJOR MICHAEL MORI: That's criticism that's very hard to address in this sense because I am a defence counsel and that's usually what the government says whenever the defence counsel points out that something's wrong.

But let me go back to -- first, to the rule that I cited to you, the rule where the appointing authority decides motions raised by the defence.

Can anybody sit back and objectively say that that is an independent system -- to have the person who initiated the charges and approved the prosecution be the one to rule just on specific defence motions?

Everyone out there, your viewers, can make their own determination.

They don't need to believe me.

Look at that situation and think that it's fair.

Second -- I'm not asking that David Hicks not go to trial.

I'm saying, if we're going to send him to trial, send him to a court martial that has the type of protections and established rules that -- for the past 50 years -- the current military court martial system has been around and it's got years of appellate review.

MAXINE McKEW: So are you surprised somewhat that the Australian Government has not made stronger representation about this to the American authorities?

MAJOR MICHAEL MORI: I really don't want to speculate on the reasons that the Australian Government did or did not do anything.

All I can say is the assurances between the Australian Government and the United States Government -- I have not seen those.

MAXINE McKEW: You should have a copy of those guarantees?

MAJOR MICHAEL MORI: I think I should have if they are supposed to provide guarantees for my client.

MAXINE McKEW: And you've requested them?


MAXINE McKEW: From whom?

MAJOR MICHAEL MORI: I requested them from the chain of command within the commission process and I was provided, basically, the news releases.

I'll check if a transcript's already posted before I mutter about it next time. I am in awe of Mori's courage in raising these matters in public. Four points:

To summarise, Grand Inquisitor Ruddock apparently thinks it's normal for the prosecution to rule on defence motions. Ruddock opposes retrospectivity in prosecutions, even though the various military commission orders are themselves retrospective and can be altered at any time. If the agreement guarantees fairness, why not just publish it? The government has simply been deceitful in characterising these rules as fair and then citing retrospectivity as the reason these offences cannot be tried in Australia.

Why does the phrase 'congaline of suckholes' spring to mind?

US military lawyer labels Hicks trial process unfair

MICHAEL MORI: Are we going to be given the time to prepare? Don't forget, the Government's had this for, you know, two years. Who knows how many investigative agencies have been working on this - unlimited resource - as they should. But what assets will the defence get? What resources? What experts will be allowed? How freely we're going to be able to move and obtain evidence?

LEIGH SALES: Despite his concerns, Major Mori intends to remain with the Hicks case.

MICHAEL MORI: I'm not going to abandon David Hicks.

LEIGH SALES: Major Mori has now been to Guantanamo Bay to see David Hicks three times, and offered this assessment of his client's condition.

MICHAEL MORI: Physically, he's fair as to be expected when you don't, you know, the conditions he's being held at. Mentally, he is probably - best way to describe it is degenerated to the point where his main concerns are the basic human instincts, desires - what he needs.

LEIGH SALES: He sees no reason David Hicks shouldn't be tried in Australia under Australian law.

MICHAEL MORI: In fairness, if David Hicks has violated a law of war, an international law, there's no reason why it would not apply in Australia - that's universal jurisdiction, and so he should be tried in his country.

LEIGH SALES: The military lawyer says he wishes the Australian Government had spoken to defence counsel before it agreed to the US Government's proposals for trying David Hicks. He says it will be worth noting what the British Government secures for its nationals at Guantanamo Bay, a matter still under discussion between Downing Street and the White House.

More on this when the transcript of Mori's appearance on the 7:30 report tonight is available.

22 January 2004

Bush leaves no bride behind

Signaling that the Pander Countdown to Election Day 2004 has begun in earnest, President Bush spiced up Tuesday's State of the Union speech by tossing a bone, if not a garter belt and a Bible, to his conservative base, which is up in arms over the thought that gay people may soon have the right to legally tie and untie the knot -- and thus make a mockery of the sacred institution that Britney and Jason are such big fans of. He did this by tiptoeing up to the edge of saying 'I do' to supporting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the exclusive province of heterosexual couples.

'Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage,' he declared to ringing applause from Tom DeLay and the 'Amen' chorus on the right.

The Bush speech must be deeply worrying to the government of Canada which allows samesex marriage. They should beef up their border defences immediately and prove to the UN that they are not engaged in marriages of mass same-sex related programme activities.

Costello joins in Qld campaign

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello joined the Queensland election fight today, warning that Labor would lack accountability if it won a third term.

Mr Costello visited a shopping centre in the inner northern Brisbane seat of Clayfield, a one-time blue ribbon Liberal seat snared by the ALP in Premier Peter Beattie's landslide win in 2001.

The treasurer urged Queenslanders to hold Labor accountable on February 7.

'If you miss it in this state election, if Mr Beattie gets another thumping big majority, there won't be too much accountability coming out of the government,' he told reporters.

I guess this means Costello will not be seeking re-election when the Howard government runs for a fourth term of office with a thumping big majority at the end of the year.

CIA warns of Iraq civil war

'The discussion, which has been stimulated by Ayatollah Sistani, is whether there could be an element of elections injected into the earlier part of the process,' Straw said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

'We have to work with great respect for him and similar leaders,' he said. 'We want elections as soon as it is feasible to hold them.'

Shiite clerics have become more forceful in their denunciation of the caucus plan and have organized increasingly large, albeit peaceful, demonstrations demanding elections.

State Department officials said no changes to the Bremer plan are being formally considered. They said much depends on the findings of a U.N. assessment team that the Bush administration has asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send to examine the feasibility of elections.

One option being informally discussed is to delay the transfer of power until later in 2004, which might give the United Nations time to organize some sort of elections, said one official.

But that is almost certain to be opposed by White House political aides who want the occupation over and many U.S. troops gone by this summer to bolster Bush's re-election chances, the official said.

'It's all politics right now,' he said.

Other options are to go ahead with the June 30 turnover as planned, whatever the fallout, or to accelerate it by handing over power to the Iraqi Governing Council in March or April, he said.

The option of transferring power to the IGC ( a wholly-owned -appointed and -operated subsidiary of the CPA) reads as a threat to the Shi'ites to go along or be forced to negotiate with the IGC without the CPA as honest broker. It is petulance dressed up as policy.

Does democratising Iraq really mean transferring sovereignty to an unelected body chosen entirely by the US despite the wishes of the Iraqi people? Is there a better recipe for civil war?

What's Bush Hiding From 9/11 Commission?

But the President's political advisers, concerned about the political impact of the commission's report, are unsympathetic to its requests for additional time - and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who would have to approve an extension, is perfectly obedient to his masters in the White House. According to Newsweek, the administration offered Mr. Kean a choice: Either keep to the May deadline, or postpone release of the report until December, when its findings cannot affect the election.

Mr. Bush doesn't want his re-election subject to any informed judgment about the disaster that reshaped the nation and his Presidency. But why should such crucial facts be withheld from the voters? What does the President fear?

Perhaps inadvertently, Mr. Kean provided a clue to the answers in his Times interview. Asked whether he thinks the disaster 'did not have to happen,' he replied, 'Yes, there is a good chance that 9/11 could have been prevented by any number of people along the way. Everybody pretty well agrees our intelligence agencies were not set up to deal with domestic terrorism %u2026. They were not ready for an internal attack.' Then, asked whether 'anyone in the Bush administration [had] any idea that an attack was being planned,' he replied: 'That is why we are looking at the internal papers. I can't talk about what's classified. [The] President's daily briefings are classified. If I told you what was in them, I would go to jail.'

But the commission's final report may well indicate what the President was told in his daily briefing of Aug. 6, 2001, when he was sunning himself in Crawford, Tex - as well as the many warnings he and his associates were given by the previous administration. That kind of information could send him back to Crawford for a permanent vacation.

Go read, and bear in mind that we know there were multiple warnings of both an imminent attack and of weaponsied jetliners. Then ask yourself how say, Clinton, might have been treated if he'd tried to stonewall an inquiry into a certain White House intern.

Ruddock rejects Hicks' lawyer unfair trial claim

"Our view has always been that if we were to return Mr Hicks and Mr Habib to Australia there are no charges that we would be able to bring against them under our law as it was at that time," Mr Ruddock told ABC radio.

"There would be under our law as it is now, but there wasn't in terms of our law at that time."

Mr Ruddock said Major Mori was just doing his job as Hicks's lawyer by criticising the American military tribunal system.

"It says that he is giving Mr Hicks the best defence that he can and one of the ways in which defence lawyers often put their case on behalf of their clients is to advocate about the nature of the system which is dealing with them," he said.

Mr Ruddock said it was appropriate for the US to use military commissions to try suspects who had committed crimes during the War on Terrorism.

"Military commissions have been the normal way in which matters that require a trial (are) addressed," he said.

"They are part of the American system, they have certainly been used in an Australian context where we are trying people who have committed offences in a war situation."

Hicks is yet to be charged with any offence.

Major Mori later told Sydney radio 2UE that he did not understand Mr Ruddock's reasoning.

"David Hicks has never injured any US citizen or service member. Why is the US holding him to try him?" Major Mori said.

"If he hasn't violated his country's laws, to the country he owes allegiance, if he hasn't violated any of their laws, why is he being criminally held responsible for anything?"

He said if Hicks had to be tried, he should be tried in a military commission in Australia.

"I know Australia has done those types of military commissions in the past," he said.

The executive order by which George Bush created the military commissions is dated 13 November 2001. It is retrospective with respect to offences committed before that date. In any case, the Australian parliament has power to make retrospective laws and could easily authorise trial by military commission or otherwise in Australia.

What the Australian parliament could not do is oust the power of the High Court to review any military commission's decisions for jurisdictional error. The US Supreme Court has not yet decided the jurisdiction issue in the USA. In any case, Australian law already provided for the offence of treachery. Sadly the Australian government did not bother to activate that offence with respect to the Taliban or al-Qa'ida.

Ruddock's position on retrospectivity is as ingenuous as his earlier claims that the military commission process is fair. And why are the British Guant�namo detainees to get different treatment from the Australian detainees?

Lastly, it's simply untrue (Ruddock, himself a lawyer, knows this) to say that lawyers frequently question the process by which a defendant is tried. In most jurisdictions that is known as contempt of court.

School study contradicts PM's stance

A study commissioned by the Federal Government last year found that state schools were doing a good job teaching 'values' - contradicting Prime Minister John Howard's claims that they are 'too values-neutral'.

The study found that schools in all sectors, including state and private, had good systems to promote and foster values such as tolerance and understanding, social justice and respect.

While the report found some improvement was needed in all sectors, it said there were 'a broad range of varied and excellent practices and approaches to values education in Australian government and non-government schools'.

The findings are in apparent conflict with the Prime Minister's recent criticism of the state school system. Mr Howard came under fire from private and public school teachers and the Opposition this week after commenting that parents were moving their children out of the state system because the schools were 'too politically correct and too values-neutral'.

Mr Howard's position was endorsed yesterday by his two most senior Liberal cabinet ministers, Peter Costello and Tony Abbott, with both agreeing that political correctness in government schools had gone too far.

The study contradicting Mr Howard's view was commissioned by Education Minister Brendan Nelson and backed by all state education ministers.

Whoops! Now we'll hear that the study was wrong because it was prepared by black armband sociologists or something.

Update The full report, (861 k PDF) with its glowing endorsement by Federal Education Science and Technology Minister Brendan Nelson is available.

Open-Source E-Voting Heads West

Unlike U.S. voting systems, which use proprietary, secret software written by private companies, the Aussie system was created by Software Improvements in conjunction with an independent government body. The government placed draft and final versions of the source code on the Internet so the public could review it and provide comments.

The system took only six months to create and runs on Linux, an open-source operating system that also is in the public domain for anyone to use.

Ritchie plans to modify eVACS to include a voter-verified paper audit trail, or VVPAT, which California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley mandated must be included with all e-voting machines by July 2006.

The VVPAT would let voters independently verify that the machine cast their ballot correctly before the paper receipt goes into a secure ballot box to serve as a backup of the e-votes.

Ritchie's group plans to build the system for California first and then offer it to vendors to modify it for use in other states. He said several computer experts have expressed interest in helping to write and review the code. He also expects vendors, in keeping with the open-source ideology, will let the public see any modifications they make to the code.

'The goal of the foundation is to oversee the project and tell the programmers what they need to do according to California law, and then to build a prototype machine,' he said.

I'd be a lot happier with eVACS if it included a paper trail, but the weird part of this story is that writing software to count elections just should not be so complex as to require large corporations. The use of proprietary and unauditable software is an abomination.

21 January 2004

US set for Iraq election retreat

The US-led coalition in Iraq is on the verge of bowing to Shia Muslim pressure for direct elections before the handover of power on June 30, the Guardian has learned.

According to British officials, the Blair government has been swayed by Shia arguments and the US is also shifting ground.

They believe that Paul Bremer, the US head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) running Iraq, has been persuaded of the need for direct elections, provided it can be shown that they are practicable.

'Iraq could become a reasonably functioning democracy, or else it will eventually fall apart,' said one senior British official. 'Democracy loosens things up.'

The official added: 'Jack [Straw, the foreign secretary] has been telling Colin Powell [the US Secretary of State] that the process is a bit like riding a bike. You've got to keep it moving, even if it wobbles all over the place.'

A shift in plans for elections follows a series of abrupt policy changes made by the coalition over the last few months, mainly forced by events on the ground, and will add to the sense of disarray in the CPA.

Let's hope the next step is not a contract for Diebold to conduct the elections.

Interactive Electoral Map

The Edwards campaign has an interactive map that shows the Gore/Bush results and registers the changes if any state moves from the Republican column to the Democrat column. Most obviously if Edwards carried all Gore states plus his own North Carolina he'd carry the electoral college by 275 to 263. If Clark carried all Gore states plus Arkansas he's lose 266 to 272. Kerry and Dean don't change much as both their states voted Democrat in 2000. Of course, if so many minority voters had not been illegally disfranchised in 2000 then Gore would have won (butterfly ballot shambles or no) by 293 to 245.

I read the Iowa result as a nightmare for the Bush campaign both because they really want to run against Dean and because the sudden openness in the contest will keep media attention on Democrats at the expense of Bush.

Rebate may not help bulk-billing

The federal government's $935 million GP rebate scheme was unlikely to improve bulk-billing and could see the bulk-billing level slip to 60 per cent, health experts said.

Health academics, appearing before a Senate committee examining the government's revamped $2.4 billion Medicare Plus package, agreed the $5 rebate would do little.

The rebate is an incentive for GPs to bulk-bill children and the poor and is a key component of Medicare Plus.

Professor Jane Hall, from the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation, said the rebate may halt the decline in bulk-billing - which is at 14-year lows of 67 per cent - but would not reverse the trend.

Australian National University professor John Deeble, the architect of Medicare, predicted bulk-billing levels would stabilise around 60 per cent with the introduction of the rebate.

'The $5 is not going to lure back people who have reduced or ceased bulk-billing but I think it would hold the proportion up,' he said.

Academics pointed to doctor shortages rather than increased costs as the driver for falling bulk-billing.

'What seemed to be driving down the rates of bulk-billing was the fall in supply,' Canberra University health economist Ian McAuley said.

Prof Hall agreed doctor numbers were to blame but he was doubtful increasing the supply was the answer.

The Senate committee already concluded that special arrangements for concessional bulkbilling are an answer to a nonexistent problem because the vast majority of concession cardholders are already bulkbilled. The real answer is to restore the bukbilling fee to its 1996 level (adjusted for inflation). Even a $5 increase in the bulkbilling fees would be better than what the government is proposing.

On another issue, I blogged a few days ago about the need to include at least concessional dental services in Medicare. I had missed the fact that we already pay massive subsidies for dental care through the private insurance rebate. If we already have an anticoncessional dental service, the ALP would do well to transfer the anticoncessional dental expenditure to concessional dental expenditure.

Go home, Molly, you're not a hit here, says US security

Australian officials tried in vain to have the decision reversed. The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who was also in Los Angeles on Monday, said US authorities had been too tough on Meldrum. 'I think it's a little bit too tough. I'm sorry that this has happened. Molly Meldrum's a pretty respectable and popular character in Australia and I'd like to do everything I can to help him but at this stage we're not having a lot of success.'

The Australian consul-general made representations to US authorities on Meldrum's behalf, a departmental spokeswoman said. 'They are unable to reverse the decision.'

Meldrum was expected to fly to Australia last night.

I tremble for the state of US security if they think Molly Meldrum is a threat. I also tremble for the state of our US alliance if our foreign minister can be ignored by a minor immigration official at LAX.

20 January 2004

US Dems express FTA drug fears

Senior United States Democrats have raised fears the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) will push up the prices of Australian medicines as final talks over the deal get underway.

In a letter to President George W Bush, nine ranking Democrats, including House leader Nancy Pelosi, have criticised America's proposals to change Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

They said the American proposal appeared aimed at pushing up Australian medicine prices.

It is the first evidence of a determined push by the US to change the PBS, a move so far resisted by the federal government which maintains the FTA will not change domestic medicine prices.

The final round of formal talks began in Washington, with about 50 Australian negotiators sitting down with their American counterparts.

Trade Minister Mark Vaile will head to the US at weeks' end to work through any sticking points in a round of talks with his American counterpart, Robert Zoellick.

Access to American farm markets, the PBS and government contract access have slowed down the negotiations which were hoped to be completed by the end of last year.

The letter by the Democrat Congress members is based upon a confidential outline of America's position on the PBS.

The Democrats said the American proposal was inconsistent with US policy and would harm Australia's system of affordable health care.

I seem to remmber being assured by John Anderson that the PBS would not be touched. Remmber that the Man of Steel can sign and ratify any FTA without parliamentary consent. If it contains NAFTA-style arbitration proceedings, the big US drug corporations can then try and achieve through arbitration what the Man of Steel could never get through parliament - abolishing the PBS or perhaps moving to 'PBS Plus'.

BTW, before anyone gets too excited about conspiracy theories, I'd point that the history of the common law is replete with collusive proceedings including (my personal favourite) ejectment:

Prof. Robertson notes that disputes concerning title to land were resolved by an action in ejectment. One claimed a trespass vi et armis (driven out violently), that is, a fictional tenant of the plaintiff was ejected from the land violently by a fictional tenant of the defendant. Under English common law, this common law writ was triable only to a jury of the vicinage, or neighborhood (because only neighbors would know enough to determine who was the rightful owner of the land).

PM slammed for 'anti-public school snob' remark

Prime Minister John Howard was today branded an anti-public school snob by the Australian Greens over his views on the state education system, which is says is too politically correct.

Mr Howard has attributed the shift of students from public to private schools to too much political correctness in the government school system.

He told The Age and The Australian newspapers the state system was also too values-neutral.

I wonder if the Man of Steel also believes that parents who send their children to State schools are always renters.

Shivering Gore

Some pundits (using the term loosely) have drawn a certain joy from Al Gore speaking about global warming on one of the coldest New York days on record. If you assume that global warming means a uniform temperature across across the whole planet then Gore looks a fool. But if that assumption is wrong then the pundits are merely showing their own ignorance.

The assumption is wrong, according to the Ocean & Climate Change Institute - Abrupt Climate Change

Here is a simplified description of some basic ocean-atmosphere dynamics that regulate Earth's climate:

The equatorial sun warms the ocean surface and enhances evaporation in the tropics. This leaves the tropical ocean saltier. The Gulf Stream, a limb of the Ocean Conveyor, carries an enormous volume of heat-laden, salty water up the East Coast of the United States, and then northeast toward Europe.

This oceanic heat pump is an important mechanism for reducing equator-to-pole temperature differences. It moderates Earth's climate, particularly in the North Atlantic region. Conveyor circulation increases the northward transport of warmer waters in the Gulf Stream by about 50 percent. At colder northern latitudes, the ocean releases this heat to the atmosphere - especially in winter when the atmosphere is colder than the ocean and ocean-atmosphere temperature gradients increase. The Conveyor warms North Atlantic regions by as much as 5 degrees Celsius and significantly tempers average winter temperatures.

But records of past climates - from a variety of sources such as deep-sea sediments and ice-sheet cores - show that the Conveyor has slowed and shut down several times in the past. This shutdown curtailed heat delivery to the North Atlantic and caused substantial cooling throughout the region. One earth scientist has called the Conveyor 'the Achilles' heel of our climate system.'

It's often best to do a little research before you laugh too loud.

Link via City Comforts

19 January 2004

Three-fifths of Americans oppose Bush's mission to moon, Mars

More than three-fifths of Americans oppose President George W. Bush's proposal to return to the moon and eventually put a human on Mars, according to a poll released Sunday.

His plan to spend billions of dollars to manned mission to the moon and eventually to Mars drew opposition from 61 percent of the 1,003 adults surveyed January 14-15.

Damn, and that picture of the astronaut-in-chief landing on the deck of the Enterprise in a trekkie uniform would have been electoral gold...

More seriously this is a reverse for space exploration. There is now little chance that NASA will receive any additional funding, but the Hubble Telescope has already been scheduled for mothballing.

Status of Farces

Bremer's trips to Washington are developing into a record of disaster. Adnan Pachachi seems to be joining the circus.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

Pachachi said there could be changes in the selection of the members of the organizing committees, in the nomination of people to the caucuses, and in the selection process for delegates within the caucus.

One idea under discussion would be to stick with the caucus approach ? although with a broadened membership ? but to hold a popular vote on the representatives chosen in each governorate.

If the slate was rejected, then the caucus would have to choose a new group.

Another option would to allow a three-week period of popular consideration of the delegates chosen by the caucus and if there was a movement against any members, then the caucus would have to vote a new slate.

This is idiocy, pure and simple. If a popular vote can be held, then why not a free and direct election? So are we to assume that the US is engaged in idiocy or are we to assume some other motive for the desperate drive to transfer sovereignty to an unelected government?

The truth, as blogged below, is that the technical issues would only require postponement to September, that Bremer failed to tell this to the IGC before persuading them to sign up to the November agreement, and that IGC members are on record as saying the possibility of a September electoral roll would have made a difference to their decision.

The other item on the CPA agenda is an agreement, by March, on the future of US forces in Iraq. According to Jonathon Steele:

The other new element in the US plan was that power would be transferred to the new government at the end of June. This would allow Bush to claim mission accomplished. Barely a year after the invasion, Iraqis would have a legitimate government at last. It would invite US troops to stay, but these could gradually be reduced in number or pulled back to bases in Iraq, as new Iraqi security forces were built up. US casualties would fall, the invasion would have been legitimised, and Messrs Dean and Clark would have to shut up.

Now the whole thing is in ruins. Ayatollah Sistani refuses to drop his opposition, and people were out on the street in Basra last week to support his line. Protests may spread to other Shia cities. The latest allegations of US and British torture of detainees will only inflame passions. Worst of all for Washington, Sistani has made it clear that no government which is undemocratically appointed will have the right to ask American troops to stay.

My guess is that March agreement, when and if we see it will commit any future Iraqi government, elected or unelected, to accepting the occupation into the longterm future. I seriously suspect any IGC member on record as consenting to that limit on Iraqi sovereignty will find that smoke and mirrors do not go over well when and if a free and fair election is ever held.

This is a long way from the highminded rhetoric of democratising the entire Middle East. But then that's what happens when moral clarity and the forward strategy of freedom are only a smoke screen for electoral clarity.

18 January 2004

U.S. rejected plan for quick Iraq census

'This could have changed things,' said T. Hamid al-Bayati, a senior aide to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Governing Council member who announced last week that Shiite religious leaders opposed the indirect elections. Perhaps, he and others suggested, some council members would have argued last month that the vote on self-government should be delayed until September when the voter roll became available.

Some Iraqis have said they wonder why U.S. officials called for caucus elections in June, in part because a census could not be completed in less than a year, while at the same time rejecting a plan to produce a census more quickly.

Louay Hagi, who oversees the Census Bureau in the Planning Ministry, said the plan was not rushed. In an interview, he said his staff had prepared a detailed timetable for a census that was stripped down from the 73 questions asked in the last census six years ago, to 12 basic demographic queries, enabling the work to be done much faster than the normal two-year time frame.

As it had in the past, the bureau would use 400,000 school teachers to visit every household in Iraq on one day, June 30, said Yousef, the census director. The plan would cost $75 million, Hagi said, in part to buy 2,500 computers. 'We sent the plan to the Governing Council on Nov. 1 and asked for an answer by Nov. 15,' he said. 'We are still waiting for a response.'

Just a necessary reminder that there is an alternative to the caucuses - a free and direct election in September. The Bremer excuse that the census bureau's advice got 'lost in the bureaucracy' passes belief and, in any case, does not explain current US opposition to a free and direct election. Their plan could have been revised once they discovered their error.

America stirs up a sugar rebellion

'After we produced the 916 report, the lobbying was quite extraordinary, particularly when they threatened to withdraw US financial support to WHO,' recalled Puska.

'We had done everything possible to be transparent, to be fair and rigorous, and we held meetings around the world on it. Ours was a balanced road-map to help individual nations decide how they could combat this trend. Every third person in the world has cardiovascular disease - how can we stand by and not try to do something?'

The decision by the US government to fight the global strategy has come as a major shock to many experts in the field. Bruce Silverglade, of the US health campaign group Centre for Science in the Public Interest, said that the influence of 'Big Sugar' in the about-turn was obvious.

First global warming is not happening despite the international scientific consensus. Now global guzzling is not happening either. Sugar apparently does not cause any weight gain at all. Once upon a time, tobacco, we were told by the same people for much the same reasons, did not cause lung cancer. Before we get any cute lectures about dinosaurs or the nanny state, all we we are really talking about is fair notice to the public.

Australia has significantly reduced smoking by an effective public education campaign and bans on smoking in restaurants and offices. A similar public campaign gained us the lowest HIV infection rates in the world. A similar campaign could drastically reduce growing obesity rates.

US stars hail Iraq war whistleblower

Legal experts believe that her case is potentially more explosive for the Government than the Hutton inquiry because it could allow her defence team to raise questions about the legality of military intervention in Iraq. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is likely to come under pressure to disclose the legal advice he gave on military intervention - something he has so far refused to do.

At a hearing last November, Gun's legal team indicated that she would use a defence of 'necessity' to argue that she acted to save the lives of British soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

At the time Gun, who was sacked after her arrest and whose case is funded by legal aid, said in a statement: 'Any disclosures that may have been made were justified on the following grounds: because they exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the US government who attempted to subvert our own security services; and to prevent wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces in the course of an illegal war.'

She added: 'I have only ever followed my conscience.'

This is going to be worth watching...

War of Ideas, Part 4

In sum, Israel should withdraw from the territories, not because it is weak, but because it must remain strong; not because Israel is wrong, but because Zionism is a just cause that the occupation is undermining; not because the Arabs would warmly embrace a smaller Israel, but because a smaller Israel, in internationally recognized boundaries, will be much more defensible; not because it will eliminate Islamic or European anti-Semitism, but because it will reduce it by reducing the daily friction; not because it would mean giving into an American whim, but because nothing would strengthen America's influence in the Muslim world, help win the war of ideas and therefore better protect Israel than this.

As it happens I agree with each of Friedman's points. I have one small problem. Why hasn't he written:

In sum, America should withdraw from Iraq, not because it is weak, but because it must remain strong; not because America is wrong, but because the War on Terror is a just cause that the occupation is undermining; not because the Arabs would warmly embrace a smaller America, but because a smaller America, in internationally recognised boundaries, will be much more defensible; not because it will eliminate Islamic or European anti-Americanism, but because it will reduce it by reducing the daily friction; not because it would mean giving into an American whim, but because nothing would strengthen America's influence in the Muslim world, help win the war of ideas and therefore better protect the United States than this.

Seriously, the Iraq exit is getting to be a mess. The occupation has succeeded this far because of the Kurdish alliance and Shi'ite acquiescence. The second factor is about to run out if Bush continues to ignore the al-Sistani demand for fair elections.

Instead of serious dialogue with the Shi'ite leadership we are getting pabulum like:

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said he is optimistic the current plan can work, though it could require modification.

"We're going to have to tweak this thing for years," he said. "It's not going to be us walking away July 2, thinking that everything is fine and that the elections are going to be called for and the constitution's going to be drafted and America's going to have no more involvement in this."

How, precisely, will the US continue its electoral tweaking once Iraq is again a sovereign state? By enacting a Platt Amendment?