31 January 2004

The shadow of Iraq

We have been here before. In April 1972, the former brigadier Lord Widgery published his now notorious report into the killing of 14 unarmed civil rights demonstrators by British paratroopers in Northern Ireland three months earlier on Bloody Sunday. Widgery cleared the soldiers of blame, insisting, in defiance of a mass of evidence, that they had only opened fire after coming under attack. The Widgery report was so widely seen as a flagrant establishment whitewash, and continued to be such a focus of nationalist anger, that a quarter of a century later Tony Blair felt compelled to set up another Bloody Sunday inquiry under Lord Saville, still sitting today.

Lord Hutton - a scion of the Northern Irish protestant ascendancy who himself represented British soldiers at the Widgery inquiry - has, if anything, outdone Widgery in his service to the powers that be. Hutton's embrace of any construction of the evidence surrounding David Kelly's death that might be helpful to the government is breathtaking in its sweep. Instead of a prime minister who took the country to war on the basis of discredited dossiers about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, it is the BBC that now finds itself in the dock - and its chairman who was last night forced to resign. Hutton's report could scarcely have been more favourable if it had been drafted, or even sexed up, by Tony Blair's former spinmeister Alastair Campbell himself. The prime minister certainly knew his man when he appointed the one-time Diplock court judge to head the inquiry into Dr Kelly's death.

Tony Blair cannot quibble with this analysis of the Widgery inquiry, because Blair himself recognised that inquiry's deficiency when he appointed the Saville inquiry to take a fresh look at the events of Bloody Sunday. Hutton's appearance at the Widgery inquiry does not necessarily mean he was incapable of delivering a fair report, but the Hutton report simply does not accord with the evidence Hutton heard.

'Save the Hubble' campaign soars

Mr Ribeiro first heard about Hubble's demise from the internet.

'I sat in front of the monitor and stared at it for several minutes recollecting all the facts I knew about Hubble; its planning, building, the flawed mirror, the device to fix it, the book I had: Gems of the Hubble. I thought about the loss it meant to the whole human race.'

So www.savethehubble.com/ was born.

'I imagined that it could be a good idea to build up a site where people could voice their feelings and ideas about the whole story. My role would be to put together as many references as I could about the struggle to save the telescope.

'There has been an exponential growth of the public outcry in favour of the instrument, and it is just the beginning. Since the matter is obviously political, public pressure will certainly play a big role, especially in an election year.'

The petition will be sent to Nasa and US politicians.

'Let the voters say: 'We don't want to go to the Moon! We want to go to infinity and beyond!',' said Mr Ribeiro.

Go sign up and save the gyroscopes from spin.

Staff Overboard

Now there's nothing wrong with that except that Mr Latham in trying to explain away the leak has said: 'Oh look, these earlier drafts were the enthusiastic work of my staff. In a separate parallel exercise I was handwriting the whole lot which I delivered.' Well, if he was hand writing the whole lot, why was he bothering to correct drafts? This man has a dangerous tendency when something goes wrong that embarrasses him to blame his staff. Some poor staffer got the blame for putting that American flag in the Labor Party room. I think this is a dangerous tendency on his behalf.

I really think John Howard might find that blaming Latham for blaming his staff turns out to be dangerous waters. The kind of dangerous waters that children get thrown in. Or not.

This is almost as rich as Costello condemning the re-election of third term governments with large majorities.

30 January 2004

Lord Denning -a tribute

In 1980, Lord Denning quashed a civil suit brought by six men convicted of Irish Republican Army bombings in Birmingham, rejecting their claims that they had been beaten and abused by police.

"If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were involuntary and were improperly admitted in evidence and that the convictions were erroneous," Lord Denning said in his judgement. "This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say, 'it cannot be right that these actions should go any further.' "

However, the six men were released and their convictions overturned in 1991 after the Court of Appeal ruled that police had fabricated evidence and that scientific tests used by the prosecution were unreliable.

I'm still reading, but that phrase 'appalling vista' keeps troubling me more and more. This would not be the first British judicial whitewash in recent years. Apparently Denning, then Master of the Rolls and head of the Court of Appeal, did not feel that keeping innocent men in jail was an appalling vista, although ultimately the Court of Appeal accepted that Denning's putative appalling vista was no more than simple truth.

Heavy Going

I am reading the Hutton report. It will take a while. More when I'm done. I'm up to page 239 as we speak and I've yet to find a case where Hutton does not prefer the official version of events to any other version.

I am not quite ready to say a dingo sexed up the dossier but I do seem to remember a number of judicial and coronial processes that established beyond any reasonable doubt that Lindy Chamberlain was guilty of an offence for which she was ultimately exonerated.

I have, however decided I should unreservedly apologise to John Howard if I ever implied that he sexed up the September dossier.

27 January 2004

Overweight America is Hooked on Sugar

The U.S. secretary of health actually claims, in the face of a mountain of scientific evidence to the contrary, that it's fine to get 25% of one's calories from refined sugar!

The real reason for the administration's preposterous position is that the powerful U.S. sugar industry is one of its biggest financial backers, and a major power in the key electoral state of Florida. The sugar industry is also one of Washington's most successful lobby groups and a huge contributor to congressmen and senators of both parties.

The result: the federal government subsidizes U.S. sugar producers to the tune of $1.4 billion US annually. Import restrictions protect them from foreign competition and keep domestic sugar prices three or four times higher than world prices. Sugar remains the nation's most heavily subsidized crop at almost $500 per acre per annum.

So American consumers pay inflated prices for sugar while tiny West Indian sugar-producing islands, that depend on the crop, are shut out of the U.S. market. Worse, sugar cultivation has damaging environmental effects. In Florida, 500,000 acres of the Everglades wetlands, one of America's natural treasures, have been destroyed to make room for growing sugar.

Joining the sugar industry in opposing the WHO campaign are America's biggest food and drink producers, led by the mighty Coca-Cola Company, and sugar exporting nations.

The WMD debate is shifting fast from whether they existed to why the intelligence was so bad. I suspect part of it is reliance on electronic and satellite intelligence to the exclusion of human intelligence. Another part of it is the Bush administration's enthusiasm for sugaring the pill when it suits.

After hearing the Bush administration on the US deficit, free trade, on global warming, on air safety at Ground Zero, why are we surprised when empirical evidence gets ignored?

War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention

However, in extreme situations, Human Rights Watch does not insist on Security Council approval. The council in its current state is simply too imperfect to make it the sole mechanism for legitimizing humanitarian intervention. Its permanent membership is a relic of the post-World War II era, and its veto system allows those members to block the rescue of people facing slaughter for the most parochial of reasons. In light of these faults, one's patience with the council's approval process would understandably diminish if large-scale slaughter were underway. However, because there was no such urgency in early 2003 for Iraq, the failure to win council approval, let alone the endorsement of any other multilateral body, weighs heavily in assessing the intervenors' claim to humanitarianism.

We recognize, of course, that the Security Council was never asked to consider a purely humanitarian intervention in Iraq. The principal case presented to it was built on the Iraqi government's alleged possession of and failure to account for weapons of mass destruction. Even so, approval might have ameliorated at least some of the factors that stood in the way of the invasion being genuinely humanitarian. Most significantly, a council-approved invasion is likely to have yielded more troops to join the predominantly American and British forces, meaning that preparation for the post-war chaos might have been better.

In sum, the invasion of Iraq failed to meet the test for a humanitarian intervention. Most important, the killing in Iraq at the time was not of the exceptional nature that would justify such intervention. In addition, intervention was not the last reasonable option to stop Iraqi atrocities. Intervention was not motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns. It was not conducted in a way that maximized compliance with international humanitarian law. It was not approved by the Security Council. And while at the time it was launched it was reasonable to believe that the Iraqi people would be better off, it was not designed or carried out with the needs of Iraqis foremost in mind.

Go read. I agree with the conclusion, but not with all the report. Especially I do not see why HRW does not concern itself with the the US' previous engagement with Saddam. The report is extremely valuable in setting out how recent, how thin and ultimately how ineffectual the attempt to manufacture a humanitarian argument - an argument specifically disavowed before the war - really is.

Intelligence services 'must answer for Iraq WMD claims

Intelligence chiefs should explain why they believed Iraq possessed banned weapons of mass destruction before the coalition invasion, outgoing US weapons inspector David Kay said.

Mr Kay, who now believes that Saddam Hussein did not have WMD stockpiles, asked: 'Why could we all be so wrong?'

Speaking on US National Public Radio Mr Kay said of the much-vaunted WMDs: 'I don't think they exist. The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist - we've got to deal with that difference and understand why. It's an issue of the capabilities of one's intelligence service to collect valid, truthful information,' he said.

Asked if President George W Bush owed his nation an explanation Mr Kay said: 'I actually think the intelligence community owes the president, rather than the president owing the American people.'

The White House needs to explain the absence of weapons of mass destruction. Sovereignty returns to Iraq in less than 6 months. Presumably the transfer of sovereignty is the final cut-off when the White House and Number 10 will stop telling us to wait for the ISG report.

If this was a failure of the intelligence agencies they need to start making changes to the intelligence system. If they do nothing they admit that US intelligence was as sexed-up as we now know UK intelligence was.

26 January 2004

Latham plans review of 'better parenting' measures

Federal Opposition leader Mark Latham says a Labor government would look at various measures if parents fail to properly supervise their children.

Mr Latham, speaking at a citizenship ceremony in his electorate in Sydney's south-west this morning, said Labor would make a commitment to expand a Western Australian scheme.

He says measures such as parenting court orders could be introduced, as it is evident that good parenting is not an optional extra.

'I believe very strongly that all parents should know where their children are at night, all parents should be ensuring their children go to school every day,' Mr Latham said.

Parenting orders are a good idea and they work fairly well. The NSW Children's Court already makes such orders under S73 and S78 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. I'd be surprised if other states do not have similar provisions.

Given the flurry of spectacular media ignorance on the subject, you cannot really blame Latham for not knowing about these orders.

Push to keep trade litigation floodgate closed

A briefing paper from rights groups Liberty Victoria and the Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace has claimed that NAFTA's investor-state clauses have interfered with legislative, executive and judicial systems in the treaty's partner countries and have allowed companies to challenge measures aimed at protecting health, safety and the environment.

It says that, while many of the cases will fail, these huge damages claims made by private investors have affected the willingness of governments to legislate in the public interest.

Companies have sought to sue governments after they had been prevented from selling fuel with additives deemed harmful to people's health, while a California water utility has claimed $US10.5 billion for lost profit from Canada after a provincial government banned the export of bulk water from its rivers and lakes.

May I make a small suggestion to the negotiators struggling to find a dispute settlement system? there are these things called courts of law. They make decisions in public. They do not always privilege investors over public policy. They have established rules and procedures. I know it's radical, but it's a thought.

25 January 2004

Keep our flag flying: poll

Australians want to keep our flag and national anthem - 2013 but are more determined than ever to have their own head of state.

An exclusive Newspoll conducted to mark Australia Day reveals fewer than one in three Australians want the Queen to be the nation's head of state.

Only 30 per cent believe the Queen should remain in the role while 64 per cent favour an Australian for the job.

The national poll of 1200 people shows that support for removing the Queen has grown significantly since the referendum on the republic in 1999, which was defeated 55 to 45 per cent, and a Newspoll in December 1995, when 56 per cent supported the change.

The 1999 vote was a classic example of John Howard as tactical genius and constitutional dope. At one point then Special Minister of State Nick Minchin wanted the referendum to be 10 questions. To create a republic the Australian people would need to vote No 9 times and Yes on Question 10. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed.

Less fortunately, the Man of Steel, and his allies in the Australian Republican Movement, put to referendum the one model that the Australian people were determined to reject. This clever strategy ensured that the republic was rejected, that the current unsatisfactory form of government would continue a few more years.

Public opinion has caught up with the Man of Steel's constitutional settlement. Shortly he will have to make a choice between his allegiance to the Crown and his standing in the polls. His choice is entirely predictable.

In fact, Australian governance has evolved significantly since the 1999 referendum and we have now become a prime ministerate, not a monarchy. The unexplained disappearance of the governor-general from public life, and his replacement as chief of state by the prime minister on all national occasions, seems like a little issue but I suspect is a very big issue among the Man of Steel's older and more traditionalist voters.

Cook: Blair Must Admit Iraq War Was Mistake

Mr Cook continued: "I have always believed that the difficulty was not that Tony was behaving in a way which was deceiving the world. He was behaving in a way which had a missionary zeal, an evangelical certainty ...

"The reality of course is that No 10 was keen to get into the war, not frankly because they were particularly concerned about WMD - I suspect by March they also knew that the September document had over-egged the case - they were keen to get in to impress President Bush that they were a reliable ally. That is not a good basis on which to run British foreign policy.

Mr Cook said that Mr Blair should use the opportunity of the publication of the Hutton report next Wednesday to set the record straight.

"I believe that Tony Blair has been a very good Prime Minister, and his domestic record is a very good record. I will judge him on the totality of that. But on this he made a wrong call, and frankly in his own interests as well as in the interests of Britain, and to make sure that we never do this again, he really does need to face up to that, and he has got a good opportunity this week to say so.

The Man of Steel should probably take a good hard look at his war policy, the progress of the FTA negotatiations and then follow Cook's advice as well. A fair dinkum Man of Steel would have the spine to do so.

Global warming will plunge Britain into new ice age

Britain is likely to be plunged into an ice age within our lifetime by global warming, new research suggests.

A study, which is being taken seriously by top government scientists, has uncovered a change 'of remarkable amplitude' in the circulation of the waters of the North Atlantic.

Similar events in pre-history are known to have caused sudden 'flips' of the climate, bringing ice ages to northern Europe within a few decades. The development - described as 'the largest and most dramatic oceanic change ever measured in the era of modern instruments', by the US Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which led the research - threatens to turn off the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe's weather mild.

If that happens, Britain and northern Europe are expected to switch abruptly to the climate of Labrador - which is on the same latitude - bringing a nightmare scenario where farmland turns to tundra and winter temperatures drop below -20C. The much-heralded cold snap predicted for the coming week would seem balmy by comparison.

This follows from the Woods Hole report on the likely future of the Ocean Conveyor, a worldwide system of ocean currents. Global warming would not bring a uniform increase in temperature across the planet. The clearest global warming result is failure of the Ocean Conveyor. We know that has happened several times within the last 100 000 years. The immediate impact is a little ice age in Western Europe and North America.