20 March 2004

Telling a tale with too many words

Studies conducted in the past decade found a high proportion of depressive poets, novelists, composers and visual artists when compared to people in non-creative professions. So, is a certain degree of mental instability, a glitch in the brain, necessary to be an artist? Perhaps not. After all, countless mentally and emotionally healthy artists tell us otherwise. Yet many creative people believe their mood or brain disorders facilitate their work. As the writer Robert Burton said: 'All poets are mad.'

Lesions on the temporal lobe cause TLE. Although it tends to run in the family, there is no known cause of manic depression. In both instances, however, the hypergraphic writer generally does not wish to be cured. In fact, many hypergraphics are quite content with their condition. Unlike writer's block, it isn't painful.

'It felt like a disease: I could not stop,' Flaherty writes. 'It also felt like one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It still does.'

On the off chance this disorder is contagious, any hypergraphics willing to exchange their precious bodily fluids should contact me as soon as possible.

19 March 2004

UFO streaks through Martian sky

The US Spirit rover on Mars has seen a UFO streak across the Red Planet sky.

Astronomers say it could be the first meteor seen from the surface of another world, or a redundant orbiting spacecraft sent to Mars 30 years ago.

'We may never know, but we are still looking for clues,' said Dr Mark Lemmon, from Texas A&M University.

Whatever it was, Spirit was lucky to catch sight of the UFO as the rover's main mission is to look downwards to study rocks and soil on the planet.

I can almost read the argument now about UFOs existing on every planet where we've been. Sadly there are more prosaic explanations. Prosaic explanations are not nearly as much fun.

Spain's response to terror

Independent polls carried out on Wednesday, the day before the bombings, showed the Socialists ahead with a slight majority.

A poll carried out by Noxa Consulting on Wednesday gave the Socialists less than a 2 percent margin, putting them, nevertheless, in the lead. A similar poll conducted Friday -- a day after the attacks, gave the Socialists an even greater lead. The big difference -- and the clear reason of the Socialist victory -- was the nearly 3 million votes the Socialists added while Aznar's now not so Popular Party lost about 690,000 votes.

It follows that the bombing and it's aftermath merely strengthened a swing that had already occurred. No doubt bloggers on the right who have comprehensively sprayed the Spanish people for exercising their sovereign right to be masters of their own house will all rush to apologise.

Link via Center for American Progress

Time will heal Iraq wounds: Armitage

KERRY O'BRIEN: In terms of the support that you've received from your allies in Iraq, you must be worried at the implications of Spain's threat - apparent determination - to withdraw its troops from Iraq, at the spectacle for that matter of an ally like Spain describing the occupation of Iraq as a fiasco?

[US Deputy Secretary of State] RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, we've had conversations with Mr Zapatero.

My own view is a little different from yours.

I saw several million Spaniards holding their hands up the other day in the wake of the terrible Madrid bombing and what I saw was not people holding their hands up in surrender, but holding their hands up against terrorism.

I think in the long run, terrorists have awakened what's going to turn out to be a virulent enemy for them in Spain.

We'll see as we move forward.

It's the Prime Minister's right to remove his troops.

I notice that he did say that he would remove the troops if there were not some sort of unspecified UN mandate.

I think we've got a while to go and we'll see how it plays out.

I'm glad the Bush administration agrees that the Spanish election was about how, not if, terror should be fought.

Poland 'Misled' on Iraq, President Says

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a key Washington ally, said Thursday he may withdraw troops early from Iraq and that Poland was 'misled' about the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

His remarks to a small group of European reporters were his first hint of criticism about war in Iraq, where Poland currently has 2,400 troops and with the United States and Britain commands one of three sectors of the U.S.-led occupation.

'Naturally, one may protest the reasons for the war action in Iraq. I personally think that today, Iraq without Saddam Hussein is a truly better Iraq than with Saddam Hussein,' Kwasniewski told the European reporters.

'But naturally I also feel uncomfortable due to the fact that we were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction,' he said, according to a transcript released by the presidential press office.

Earlier in the day, Kwasniewski said Poland may start withdrawing its troops from Iraq early next year, months earlier than the previously stated date of mid-2005.

'Everything suggests that pullout from Iraq may be possible after the stabilization mission is crowned with success and, in my assessment soon, it may be the start of 2005,' Kwasniewski told RMF-FM radio.

We do not yet know if the Spanish election is a one-off or the beginning of a trend. This statement tend to support the idea that we are seeing a trend. What we are certainly seeing is that the Rumsfeld distinction between old and new Europe seems not to have a lot of meaning for Europeans.

According to the Christian Science Monitor:

In Warsaw, the supposed capital of new Europe, there are signs of opposition to the policy. Opinion polls at the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq showed two-thirds of Poles opposed the war, and even after the fall of Baghdad that figure remains at more than 55 percent.

Le Nouvel Observateur reports that similar doubts are being expressed in Ukraine and Azerbaijan. They mention l'Homme d'Acier as well.

The Polish people were also less supportive of the Iraq enterprise than their government. It looks like coalition governments are beginning to look over their shoulders. This does not mean abandoning the fight against terror. It may mean adopting better ways of fighting it. The European interior and security ministers meet on Friday and that should produce some interesting news. Certainly you'd have to agree that if Iraq is in fact the central front of the war on terror, it is doing little to prevent terrorist attacks in coalition countries or elsewhere.

That was the intelligence before the war. It is proving true.

For US hawks, Madrid 2004 = Munich 1938

But aside from this rather fundamental disagreement over whether Iraq is or is not part of the 'war against terrorism', the eagerness with which the hawks have taken to comparing the Spanish electorate's verdict to the 1938 Munich agreement also betrays a basic distrust of democracy, about which the neo-cons have long been ambivalent.

In their view, it was liberal democracies that appeased Hitler in the 1930s and so paved the way to World War II and the Nazi Holocaust. Indeed, the perception that 'liberals' failed to fight for their principles in the 1960s is what first alienated neo-conservatives from the Democratic Party.

The neo-cons' perception that Spaniards voted for the Socialists out of fear of al-Qaeda's wrath confirms to them that democracy, particularly of the European variety, is weak.

In actuality Chamberlain was a realpolitik conservative and Daladier was a centrist. Neither could remotely be called liberals. They acted over Poland, not Czechosolvakia, because their electorates demanded it. Even after Poland Chamberlain continued to advocate a negotiated settlement with Germany.

For such deep thinkers, the neocons have a surprisingly weak grasp of history.

Shock and Awe, from Mesopotamia toMadrid

Asia Times Online also learned from Spanish sources of the crucial democratic role played by King Juan Carlos of Spain. On March 11, the day of the bombings, the king told the Aznar government to admit the Islamist connection publicly. Angel Acebes, the interior minister, was forced to call an impromptu press conference that evening to announce the finding of the van with the Koran tape and the detonators - which happened, according to the Spanish press, at 11am. Only 10 minutes after the press conference, the king went on national television to express his sorrow. And he never mentioned the word 'ETA'.

March 11 changed Europe - and the world - and that's why there was such thundering silence from Washington, now replaced with the infantile hysteria of blaming Spanish voters. It's unbearable for the neo-cons to see there's now a totally different dynamic in the trans-Atlantic relationship. The Blair-Berlusconi-Aznar pro-Washington axis has been reduced to ashes.

The new Spanish prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, with his name still mispronounced by misinformed White House and State Department officials, has declared that 'the war in Iraq is a disaster, and the occupation continues to be a disaster'. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin added that 'we cannot but see that today there are two focuses nourishing terrorism in the world: the first is the crisis in the Middle East, and the second is Iraq'.

The perception among most European politicians, intellectuals and the overwhelming majority of public opinion is that Washington does not care about what happens in Iraq: the only thing that matters is to repatriate US troops as soon as possible for the electoral benefit of Bush next November. Secretary of State Colin Powell is very much aware of the Franco-German-Russian - and now also Spanish - position on foreign troops in Iraq: a fully sovereign Iraqi government has to request them, and the United Nations Security Council has to approve it.

As well as Tony Blair, Italian premier and 'amico di Bush' Silvio Berlusconi, whose credibility is near zero inside the European Union, is now even more isolated. In an interview to the Italian daily Il Foglio - whose owner is Silvio's wife - the premier proposed 'a pact' to 'exclude terrorism from political debate in Italian democracy'. Meanwhile, EU governments are meeting this Friday to discuss exactly how to fight terrorism. Nobody paid the slightest attention to Silvio's 'pact'.

The report of the king's intervention is new. It would explain a lot about the conduct of the Spanish government in the 48 hours preceding the election. Really, is the best the war party can produce an attempt to exclude terrorism from political debate, and therefore from accountability? Did George Bush feel an urge not to speak about terrorism during the congressional campaign in 2002 when he criss-crossed the US speaking about the Iraqi threat?

18 March 2004

A modest proposal

The Howard government's next budget will increase spending on the security services by $400 million. Southerly Buster is always concerned about wasteful public expenditure. Along with a number of much more illustrious blogs on the left side of Ozplogistan, Southerly Buster has a better record of prediction on the Iraq war than the security services.

The Howard government can thus save a great deal of money by diverting the millions from the fat and bloated public sector of the intelligence community to the thin and ferret-like private sector. They should reduce the spending increase by a factor of 400 and give us the rest. We will provide the government, as we have in the past, with much better guesswork about likely outcomes. And we'll do it a lot faster as well. Think of us as Team B Plus.

The blogosphere would certainly have noticed the caveats and exceptions which the government overlooked, such as the JIC finding that the Iraq war would increase the level of the terrorist threat. We did not predict a cakewalk, or a self-funding war, or a punitive expedition without any blowback at all. We picked up the importance of the Shi'a leadership a lot earlier than the bureaucrats. We even expressed a degree of scepticism about the nonexistent WMDs.

We're self-correcting as my recent blooper of 70 million demonstrators in a nation of 40,077,100 shows. I know how I wrote that, the fingers flew faster than the brain, but discovery of the blooper did not alter the main point, that marching against terror in massive numbers in the face of a recent bombing in a public place, is a brave thing to do. I am sure there is a first assistant secretary somewhere in the prime minister's department who would have picked up the numerical error and noted it did not vitiate the argument.

Besides, every nation should have a chief of intelligence who looks like Quiggers.

Dateline | Gunaratna on threat

MARK DAVIS: Well, you've raised one regional issue, that was Australia's involvement in Iraq, increasing the threat of a terror attack in Australia. Did you discuss this issue with the head of the AFP, Mick Keelty?

DR ROHAN GUNARATNA: Certainly at the conference, the issue of Iraq was discussed and of course I've made my opinion public and to reiterate, I believe that the US invasion of Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism worldwide. It is because the invasion of Iraq has angered the Muslims and there's tremendous resentment and unhappiness, even on the part of the moderate Muslims. And the terrorist groups and the extremist organisations are exploiting that resentment, that anger and generating support and recruiting more people as sympathisers, supporters and members. Iraq has become the new land of jihad. The Islamists desperately needed a theatre after the loss of Afghanistan for them to physically and psychologically water in. Iraq has created that opportunity.

MARK DAVIS: But is this a problem in Australia? This is the core question.

DR ROHAN GUNARATNA: I believe that there's overall increase of threat as a result of US invasion of Iraq and certainly it will have a bearing on Australia.

MARK DAVIS: Do you agree with Mr Keelty's original analysis rather than Mr Howard's?

DR ROHAN GUNARATNA: Yes, I think the AFP Commissioner in this case, he was right.

There's a delicious irony in the Man of Steel suddenly falling afoul of the security politics he's made his trademark. After 2 years of telling us we must save the nation by supporting him suddenly he's telling us that there really is not such a great big threat after all, and if there it's certainly not his fault. This 180 degree reversal is going to make scare tactics a lot harder when the election campaign starts.

I think the war in Iraq was wrong. That judgment does not turn on whether it raised the threat of a terrorist attack on Australia.

I also think the khaki election campaign of 2001 was wrong. My criticism of the Howard government' effort against terrorism is that they should have built on real successes like the Bali criminal work instead of getting caught up in the Bush administration's war of imagery.

Fighting terror is too serious to be left to the spindoctors.

Three-Toed Sloth | Mars used to have an atmosphere, but they didn't listen

Ages ago Notebooks was one of my favourite sites. Naturally it has now reincarnated as a blog.

17 March 2004

Spain Campaigned to Pin Blame on ETA

Immediately after Thursday's bombings, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio telephoned her British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, to say that it was ETA, according to a British official, who added, 'We had no independent evidence of our own that the Spanish were wrong.' Less than two hours later, Straw was on television saying, 'It looks to be an ETA terrorist outrage, and that is the information we've received from Madrid.'

At the same time, the Spanish Foreign Ministry was sending instructions to its embassies, saying diplomats 'should use any opportunity to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks,' according to a copy of the letter published in the Spanish daily El Pais. Spanish officials have confirmed that the instructions went out, but said they were only for 'guidance.'

Meanwhile, Arnaldo Otegi, head of the banned Batasuna party, which Aznar's government alleges to be ETA's political wing, condemned the attack, which experts on the Basque situation said was unusual. Otegi's condemnation was given wide coverage on radio stations outside Madrid. Between noon and 2 p.m. Thursday, Catalan radio was airing discussion programs exploring the possibility of al Qaeda involvement. On one Catalan station, 91.0 FM, Otegi said in an interview that the attacks were carried out by 'the Arab resistance, possibly in retaliation for the Spanish presence in Iraq.'

Just more evidence of the extent to which the Aznar government went in trying to spin M-11 into an electoral plus for themselves. It's also interesting the UN and other coalition governments went along without questioning the Spanish claims at all. Rather the way the same governments treated the Bush administration's claims about Iraq.

But in Madrid, radio stations were referring to 'the ETA attacks' and carried none of the discussion about whether others might have been involved."

Terror risk linked to Iraq: ASIO chief

ASIO chief Dennis Richardson says Australia is a terrorist target partly because of its role in the US-led war against terrorism.

But Mr Richardson's comments have not worried the Government, which has moved to end a rift with Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty over the issue.

Commissioner Keelty won praise from the Government after distancing himself from remarks linking the Madrid bombings to Spain's support for the Iraq war.

Mr Richardson says while Australia would have been a terrorist target regardless of its involvement in Iraq, recent events have had an influence.

"We are a target because we are seen to be part of the 'Zionist Christian conspiracy'," Mr Richardson said. "In other words, because we are who we are.

"The fact that we are in close alliance with the United States and the fact that we were early and actively involved in the war on terrorism does contribute to our being a target."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is untroubled by the spy chief's comments, saying that "what Dennis Richardson says is exactly what I say - we were a target long before the Iraq war".

Mr Downer says terrorists have focused on Australia because it is a Western democratic country.

Traditionally the armed forces and the police stayed out of politics. I doubt Keelty thought he was saying anything especially political until he got the call from Sinodinos, the prime minister's chief of staff. In fact, if you look at his comment he was not. It's also a disgrace that the Man of Steel chose to carpet Keelty by having an unelected political adviser sink the boot.

When Cosgrove entered the debate it was already a topic of partisan controversy and his contribution, as on other occasions, supported the government's position.

That does not detract from the respect earned Cosgrove earned as Interfet's commander. It does suggest he's a better general than politician and that's the way it should be.

The guts of the issue is the government's willingness to politicise intelligence by quoting it selectively. The parliamentary committee noted that before the war the government published intelligence that supported it's position and withheld the qualifications and exceptions that intelligence included. Paras 5.22, 5.23

One deleted qualification was the JIC finding that an Iraq war would increase the level of terrorism. Para 4.29 This current dispute is just a subset of that whole argument. The problem is not Cosgrove commenting or Keelty commenting, the problem is the government's drive to present a partisan opinion as the unanimous conclusion of all intelligence agencies, a process also noted by the parliamentary committee.

It would be better to go back to the old convention that ministers, not officials, speak on government policy, and to set up a system of opposition and third party security briefings (as happens in London) to ensure ministers distinguish between speaking on first principles and quoting official advice.

Keelty retreats on terrorism remarks

Earlier today, Mr Downer told reporters: 'I think (Mr Keelty) is just expressing ... a view which reflects a lot of the propaganda we're getting from al-Qaeda.'

The AFP chief has been at odds with Prime Minister John Howard who insists that Australian involvement in the war has not heightened the risk of a terror attack.

Late today the commissioner moved to douse the political fire by saying his comments had been taken out of context.

Mr Downer tonight said Mr Keelty was doing a wonderful job in the fight against terrorism.

'He is an outstanding Australian, he will go down in history as one of the great police commissioners,' he said.

'I certainly have no intention of reflecting on him and his professionalism.'

Bad enough that the Howard government seems to have no sense of shame. Now they even seem to lack a sense of the ridiculous. Downer's propaganda allegation is unambiguous. He should withdraw it.

Clean and austere: Mexico's next president?

Even as a political scandal consumes members of his party, the mayor's management of the capital has him pegged in most opinion polls as the front-runner to succeed President Vicente Fox when his term ends in 2006.

Mr. Fox is heralded for breaking the 71-year grip on power held by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). But he has shown little progress since taking office in 2000. The economy remains sluggish, unemployment is up, and major reforms are stalled in Congress.

'Mexico is a classic new democracy, and voters are looking for leaders that are both honest and competent. And Mr. L�pez Obrador is all that,' says political scientist Federico Es�vez of the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, a leading university.

The mayor's leftist, anti-US politics sit well with the vast number of marginalized Mexicans, who denounce market policies that skimp on social programs.

L�pez Obrador rejects many of the ideas that Fox supports, such as selling off the state-owned oil monopoly to foreign interests. He questions the benefits of the North America Free Trade Agreement, saying that Mexican farmers have received 'absolutely nothing' from it.

The mayor's harshest critics say he is a quixotic populist, like Venezuela's leader, Hugo Ch�vez, who has sent the once oil-rich economy sinking. Others call him 'Mexico's Lula,' referring to Brazil's President Luiz In�cio Lula da Silva, who softened his radical politics to appeal to both leftists and capitalists.

One Spanish swallow is not a summer, and President Fox's term does not end until 2006, but it seems at least the Iberoamerican world is turning up an interesting set of 'Fourth Way' politicians. That is not good news for the Washington dissensus.

Howard won't face the music on Iraq

Here in Australia John Howard's Government is eight years old, too. Nice coincidence. But what happened on Sunday morning had nothing to do with coincidence when the head of the Prime Minister's personal staff, Arthur Sinodinos, phoned 'to have a word' with the head of Australia's Federal Police, Commissioner Mick Keelty, at the Nine Network's Sydney headquarters.

Keelty had just told the Sunday program: 'The reality is, if this turns out to be Islamic extremists responsible for this bombing in Spain, it's more likely to be linked to the position Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq. And I don't think anyone's been hiding the fact we do believe that, ultimately, one day, whether it be in one month's time, one year's time, or 10 years' time, something will happen.'

Bad move, Commissioner. Honest, but utterly unwanted when your Prime Minister is saying the opposite.

The Australian's Steve Lewis broke the story yesterday of the Sinodinos call. Lewis said Sinodinos had 'rebuked' Keelty. When I asked the Prime Minister's chief spokesman, Tony O'Leary, to comment, he confirmed Sinodinos had phoned Keelty about a 'potential media problem'.

No, not a problem for the Government, insisted O'Leary - for Keelty! What O'Leary called 'a media handling problem' for the commissioner. Wonderful, don't you think? Oh, yes, and one more thing. Sinodinos rang Keelty only 'after a conversation with the Prime Minister'. O'Leary did not have any detail. That is left to our imagination.

Yesterday, according to a Canberra source, Keelty got another call from the Prime Minister's 'office'. This time he was 'asked' not to make any further media appearances for the time being. In other words, please keep his mouth shut, thank you. The pain in Spain is secret Prime Minister's business.

The Man of Steel appeared on 7:30 Report last night:

KERRY O'BRIEN: John Howard, you've said today, quite unequivocally, that there is no link between the Madrid bombings and Australia.

How can you say that, knowing that, like Australia, Spain is a close ally of the United States in Iraq and that Al Qaeda is a strong suspect in the attack?

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Well, for a couple of reasons, Kerry.

The first and the most obvious one is that because an attack occurs in another country, unless there is evidence of some direct implication for Australia, which there isn't, then I can make that statement.

The second reason why I make the statement is that it's my view that Iraq is really irrelevant to the intent and the purposes of Al Qaeda.

It may be something that is used for propaganda and recruitment purposes, and this is not only my view but it's also the view of the Director General of ASIO Dennis Richardson.

He gave voice to this view in a major speech he gave last year.

I think people have got to remember that Australia was identified as a potential Al Qaeda target before 11 September, and that the first time Al Qaeda mentioned Australia in a negative way was in relation to our involvement in East Timor.

That strikes me as a dramatic shift from, for instance 26 February when the line was:

MITCHELL: We'll talk about superannuation in a moment, there's a lot of detail to go through there. But terrorism first, the CIA Director is predicting more terrorism this year, thinks it is inevitable - do you agree?

PRIME MINISTER: Sadly, yes. I hope it doesn't come here but there will be further terrorist attacks somewhere in the world this year. I suppose, people might say given the past couple of years that's a fairly easy call to make. There has been progress made but we're going to have to live with this issue for a lot of years into the future. I know people are developing a bit of weariness with the subject and wonder why we have to keep talking about it - I wish I didn't have to, but it would not be responsible to pretend that the threat has gone away. I can only hope that it doesn't come to Australia and we'll do all we can to prevent it coming to Australia.

Evidently, 18 days can be a long time in politics. Perhaps Madrid makes campaigning on security politics rather less effective.

Taming the prerogative

The Report concludes that a different approach is needed, and that comprehensive legislation should be drawn up which would require government within six months to list the prerogative powers exercised by Ministers. The list would then be considered by a parliamentary committee and appropriate legislation would be framed to put in place statutory safeguards where necessary. A paper and draft Bill appended to the Report, prepared by Professor Rodney Brazier, the specialist adviser to the inquiry, contain these provisions as well as proposals for early legislative action in the case of three of the most important specific areas covered by prerogative powers: decisions on armed conflict, treaties and passports. The Report recommends that the Government should, before the end of the current session, initiate a public consultation exercise on the prerogative powers of Ministers.

The House of Commons public administration committee has written a draft bill which among other things, requires parliamentary approval before going to war or ratifying certain treaties.

The bill would require the consent of both houses before:

  • 5(1)(a)��"armed conflict" means any use of force which gives rise, or may give rise, to a situation of armed conflict to which the Geneva Conventions of 1949 or the Additional Protocols of 1977 apply;

  • 6��Declaration of war

  • 7(1)��Any use of Her Majesty's armed forces in support of the police

That's already required by the US constitution and could be achieved by statute in Australia. The Australian Democrats have proposed changes to the Defence Act in the past without success. Our constitution is silent on the war power because it was written for a self-governing colony within an empire that no longer exists. The Commons committee makes the point that the exercise of the royal prerogative by ministers was never voted by parliament, it just evolved with the disappearance of the Crown's political powers. Rather than being abolished or democratised the royal prerogative was simply shifted to the prime minister.

The Man of Steel sought consent for the Iraq war from both houses. The Senate refused its consent and was ignored. There is no higher decision than going to war and it's an outrage that it remains a thing the prime minister, acting alone, can decide without appeal.

16 March 2004

Madrid: UN's credibility critically wounded

Despite doubts among experts in many corners, the Spanish government's reaction to Thursday's tragedy was immediate. Spain's interior minister, Angel Acebes, demanded that there was 'no doubt' with regard to ETA's responsibility. But while Spanish passions could well be expected to influence judgement, what of the 14 remaining members of the Security Council. And notably, this was the first instance of a terrorist attack where any group was ever explicitly condemned by the council, let alone done so in five minutes.

Explaining how ETA came to be blamed, the council's French president, Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said: 'The Spanish government stated that, and the Spanish delegation has asked the council to put this element in their resolution and members of the council accepted it.' The US ambassador to the United Nation, John Negroponte, explained that blame was assigned to ETA at the Spanish government's urging, and because 'it is the judgement of the government of Spain that these attacks were carried out by ETA and we have no information to the contrary'.

Though repeated questions were raised in many quarters, and the head of Europol, Juergen Storbeck, had voiced reservations regarding ETA's involvement, the Security Council nevertheless chose to condemn ETA. But the fact that council members such as the US and France chose to portray their action based upon the Spanish government's wishes, illustrated a concurrent distancing from the decision. The council's actions were appreciated as questionable from their outset.

On Saturday, as Spanish protesters accused their government of attempting to promote the theory of ETA's responsibility for its political advantage, Acebes repeatedly insisted that ETA was the prime suspect. But on Thursday, the Spanish police had already found a van containing detonators and a tape of Koranic verses, ETA had issued a rare denial of responsibility and concurrently blamed 'an operation of the Arab resistance' and an al-Qaeda related group had claimed the act as their own. Something else was uncovered as well.

I had not realised how shaky the grounds for blaming ETA were. It would have been infinitely better if Spain's allies in the UN had quietly whispered a little sage advice about double-checking the claim. But then it would be better if several US allies had moderated the Bush administration's drive to war rather than going along with a weak case (as Australia now all but admits) for the sake of the US alliance.

The Canadian government asked for watertight secret intelligence. None was forthcoming.

Blow to Bush: Ally Rejected

'Senator Kerry has said that we should treat attacks on our nation primarily as matters of law enforcement and intelligence,' Mr. Cheney told an audience in Florence, Ky. 'He's embraced the strategy of the 1990's, which holds that when we are attacked, we ought to round up those directly responsible, put them on trial, and then call it a day.'

But such a strategy, he said, is insufficient because 'it leaves the network behind the attacks virtually untouched.' He concluded by noting that the attack in Spain 'is a reminder that there are evil people in the world, capable of any atrocity, and determined to take innocent life.'

Mr. Kerry is arguing that the administration is wildly oversimplifying his position, and he, too, would take the war to the terrorists. But he argues that he would do it in a way that preserves alliances and avoids the kind of reaction that Spanish voters expressed Sunday. 'We can only fight terror with the help of our allies,' he said in a recent interview and that means devising a strategy that keeps not only leaders like Mr. Aznar on Washington's side, but their constituencies as well.

There's an old theory that political leaders behave in office according to the way they acquire office. Classically this argues that Malcolm Fraser, who took office in a constitutional crisis, never quite felt himself a legitimate prime minister and was therefore more reticent in policy terms than he might have been otherwise. A measure of that is that the circumstances of 1975 can now never recur because Fraser successfully proposed the Senate Casual Vacancies Amendment.

I suspect George Bush conforms to this theory. No matter what you think of Bush v Gore, half a million fewer American supported Bush than Gore. Bush has responded not by reticence, but by disregarding any questions of legitimacy and advancing a radical program from tax cuts to Iraq.

That's context for the idea that the War on Terror can be fought by a coalition of governments, rather than a coalition of peoples. The Spanish people have given a resounding No. It remains to be seen if elections in other coalition countries give the same answer. Arguing that a war should (or even can) be fought by a democracy without popular consent may be good short term tactics but it seems to make a lousy long-term strategy.

A Yank in Oz | Our sincere condolences, you filthy appeasing bastards

Right-wing crocodile tears for Spain appear to have dried up suddenly now that the election results are in and the Bushistas are on the way out. In less than 72 hours Glenn Reynolds went from sending flowers to the Spanish Embassy to the hyperbolic "Terrorists have succeeded in toppling the Spanish government." Never mind that outgoing PM Jose Maria Aznar and his right-wing Popular Party failed to prevent the March 11 terrorist attacks, played politics with the investigation, and attempted to deliberately mislead the Spanish people: The right wing's moral for this story is that Spain Has Cried Uncle and they're now part of Old Europe again.

Yep, what he said. Go read the rest...

Rumsfeld faces immediate questions

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just ask you this. If they did not have these weapons of mass destruction, though, granted all of that is true, why then did they pose an immediate threat to us, to this country?

Sec. RUMSFELD: Well, you're the--you and a few other critics are the only people I've heard use the phrase `immediate threat.' I didn't. The president didn't. And it's become kind of folklore that that's--that's what's happened. The president went...

SCHIEFFER: You're saying that nobody in the administration said that.

Sec. RUMSFELD: I--I can't speak for nobody--everybody in the administration and say nobody said that.

SCHIEFFER: Vice president didn't say that? The...

Sec. RUMSFELD: Not--if--if you have any citations, I'd like to see 'em.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: We have one here. It says `some have argued that the nu'--this is you speaking--`that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain.'

Sec. RUMSFELD: And--and...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: It was close to imminent.

Sec. RUMSFELD: Well, I've--I've tried to be precise, and I've tried to be accurate. I'm s--

Perhaps the gravity and immediacy of the Iraqi threat is no longer an immediacy-related program activity. It appears never to have been an accuracy-related program activity.

Link via Buzzflash.

15 March 2004

Spun out of office

When the bombers struck on Thursday morning, everyone knew that on top of the human misery there would be electoral consequences. The identity of the bombers was crucial. If they were Basque, voters would punish PSOE; but if they were al-Qaida, the PP would lose seats. Supported by a compliant state media machine which Vladimir Putin would be proud of, the government started spinning.

Following the golden rule that the first impression is what counts, the government set about getting their version into the public domain. So the prime minister quickly phoned round the editors of the four national daily newspapers, who dutifully responded by printing special editions reporting what they had been told: it was Eta.

This was followed by a series of press conferences from the interior minister who, without offering any hard evidence, insisted that Eta was responsible and poured scorn on those who had said otherwise. They were, he said, 'pathetic', and their alternative theories 'poisonous'. As a leftwing radio station started to produce a series of reports casting doubt on the official version, the government refused to acknowledge the Copernican revolution that was taking place around them. The spinning went on.

On the night before the election, a crowd of around 5000 surrounded the PP headquarters in Madrid chanting 'who was it?'. On top of the agony of the bomb, people were furious at government attempts to hide the truth. Yesterday, voters took their revenge.

Of course, what happened yesterday here in Madrid has no direct political equivalent in Britain. Nevertheless, Blair should take note. In contradiction to President Clinton's message, Spaniards showed that 'it's the economy, stupid' is just not enough. The Spanish economy grew by over 2% last year. Unemployment is at a record low. And the government that delivered that is today out of office.

One or two national leaders should give an ear to the chant from PSOE headquarters. Ganamos sin mentiras. We win without lies. And they should remember there was absolutely no warning of this loss in either the opinion polls or even the exit polls. The polls predicted a close result.

The BBC is quoting Zapatero as saying:

The war in Iraq was a disaster, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster.

Apparently Zapatero will stick to his mandate and withdraw the troops.

US corporation puts the boot into Australia's sovereignty

Ms Jackson (ALP WA) told the House of Representatives on 08 March 04:

The issue I will address tonight is one that presents a choice for the Howard government - that is, to back either corporate America or Australian small business. I have previously advised the House that a US company, Deckers Outdoors Corporation, is demanding, with the threat of legal action, that Australian manufacturers and distributors of ugh boots immediately cease and forever refrain from advertising, promoting, marketing, distributing and/or offering for sale their goods by reference to the word `ugh' or any other name incorporating the word `ugh' or its alternative spellings `ugg' and `ug'. Potentially hundreds of Australian small businesses and families now face hardship through loss of distribution outlets and sales, despite having traded using the word `ugh' for decades.

This is more than just another pedestrian IP issue. Te government must not allow this freebooting conduct. These people must be brought to heel. Australian ugh boot manufacturers must be allowed to operate on an equal footing with Decker. The nation's very sole is under threat. I appeal to Lord Sedgwick to speak out against this attempt to cut off the Australian Sheepskin Association at the ankles.

Counting Spain

The Spanish ministry of the interior reported at 21:02 that the PSOE has 43.3% for 162 deputies. The PP has 36.07% for 135 deputies, a swing against the PP of 8.45% in terms of votes. The swing in seats is 183 to 135.


The PSOE is on 43.86 and 162 deputies. The PP is gaining slightly in seats on 36.05% for 138 deputies. 22.33 counted.


PSOE 43.7% and 165 deputies. PP 35.86% and 136 deputies. 29.93% counted.


PSOE 43.79% and 166 deputies. PP 36.32% and 135 deputies. 34.78% counted.


PSOE 43.5% and 164 deputies. PP 36.15% and 135 deputies. 43.29% counted.

I guess at this point you'd have to say that the exit polls understated the PSOE vote significantly and overstated the PP vote, presumably because of a late shift in reaction to President Aznar's handling of the Madrid crime against humanity.


PSOE 43.52% and 160 deputies. PP 36.64% and 140 deputies. 48.39% counted.


PSOE 43.32% and 163 deputies. PP 36.47% and 146 deputies. 56.33% counted.


PSOE 43.4% and 165 deputies. PP 36.81% and 144 deputies. 61.21% counted.


PSOE 43.25% and 165 deputies. PP 36.77% and 146 deputies. 68.46% counted.

As far as I know this is the first election held in a coalition country since the war.


PSOE 43.28% and 164 deputies. PP 37.08% and 147 deputies. 72.15% counted.


PSOE 43.13% and 165 deputies. PP 37.09% and 146 deputies. 76.82% counted.


PSOE 43.13% and 164 deputies. PP 37.26% and 147 deputies. 79.54% counted.


El Mundo reports that the PSOE has claimed victory.


El Mundo reports that interior minister has conceded the ruling PP has lost the election.


PSOE 43.03% and 164 deputies. PP 37.31% and 148 deputies. 83.04% counted.


PSOE 43.01% and 164 deputies. PP 37.47% and 148 deputies. 85.10% counted.

I found a short bio of the new prime minister at Newsday:

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Socialist Party hopes to end eight years of conservative government after promising to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq and address unaffordable housing and job insecurity at home. Zapatero, 43, trained as a lawyer before becoming the youngest Socialist lawmaker in parliament at 26. He rose to national prominence in 2000 when he took over a party stung by a crushing defeat to Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party and still struggling with corruption scandals from its time in government. Zapatero's deliberately quiet, moderate and consensual style has been credited for a revival in the Socialists' fortunes.


PSOE 42.83% and 163 deputies. PP 37.64% and 149 deputies. 93.40% counted.


PSOE 42.77% and 163 deputies. PP 37.64% and 149 deputies. 94.61% counted.


PSOE 42.77% and 163 deputies. PP 37.65% and 149 deputies. 94.89% counted.


PSOE 42.72% and 163 deputies. PP 37.70% and 148 deputies. 96.32% counted.


PSOE 42.69% and 163 deputies. PP 37.68% and 148 deputies. 96.98% counted.


PSOE 42.68% and 163 deputies. PP 37.70% and 148 deputies. 96.98% counted.

The PSOE needs 176 votes to form a government. That means 13 deputies, presumably from the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties. Their policy of withdrawing Spanish forces from Iraq is not good news for the Bush administration. Perhaps a coalition of the willing should include the will of the people, as well as the government. And perhaps governments that manipulate security issues get punished by their electors.


PSOE 42.66% and 163 deputies. PP 37.70% and 148 deputies. 97.94% counted.


PSOE 42.65% and 163 deputies. PP 37.68% and 148 deputies. 98.36% counted.

Russian President Putin won re-election, after intensive manipulation and a blizzard of TV propaganda, by 70%. The Communists ran next with 15%. US Secretary of State Powell expressed concern at the campaign irregularities.


PSOE 42.65% and 163 deputies. PP 37.67% and 148 deputies. 98.45% counted.


PSOE 42.65% and 163 deputies. PP 37.65% and 148 deputies. 98.82% counted.


PSOE 42.64% and 164 deputies. PP 37.65% and 148 deputies. 99.06% counted. Make that 12 deputies to form a government.


PSOE 42.64% and 164 deputies. PP 37.65% and 148 deputies. 99.10% counted.

The Blogging of the President: 2004

In short, the body politic was ready to engage in an shift of basic sentiment, a 'realignment' as political scientists call it.

That is the political question - a referendum, not on combatting terrorism itself - millions marched against terrorism days ago, there is an absolutely unified sense in the Spanish press that such attacks must not be allowed to recur - but on the manner. Governments have fallen - often - for bungling a war.

And even more often for bungling the handling of the news. With a public that is overwhelmingly against the invasion of Iraq, Spain's news media was unusually agressive about pushing the government for proof - and the arrests of five suspects - none of whom had any ETA ties - on Friday seemed to doom the government's case.

But what has changed is the speed of the political response: in a matter of hours after being forced to admit that, despite the Government's protests that it was ETA, that A-Q was now the prime target of investigation - the government found itself with an electoral backlash that seemed far more organized than they had expected. The reaction was particularly swift in Madrid - and early exit polls show the PP and PSOE both taking 16 seats there, again, a significant shift from before, where the PP is associated with centralization, a policy popular in the capital city.

The best analysis I've seen yet of the Spanish result. The right is proclaiming this a case of cowardice, of surrender. When 70 million Spaniards marched, knowing that a mass demonstration was liable to be the target of another outrage, they were not showing cowardice or surrender. they were defying terror and not on any symbolic flight deck. Today they defied untruth and spoke truth to power, not just in Madrid but in London and Washington as well.


PSOE 42.64% and 164 deputies. PP 37.65% and 148 deputies. 99.44% counted.


PSOE 42.64% and 164 deputies. PP 37.65% and 148 deputies. 99.48% counted.


PSOE 42.64% and 164 deputies. PP 37.64% and 148 deputies. 99.56% counted.

There just aren't as many Spanish things to rename as French things. I suppose the US congress could strike the Spanish omelette from its menu but it's just not the same. Afterhtought - 'Hispanic' might need recycling.


PSOE 42.64% and 164 deputies. PP 37.65% and 148 deputies. 99.61% counted.


PSOE 42.64% and 164 deputies. PP 37.64% and 148 deputies. 99.76% counted.

  • PSOE +39
  • PP -35
  • CiU (Catalan centre-right) 10 -5
  • ERC (Catalan leftists) 8 +7
  • EAJ-PNV (Basque moderates) 7 deputies, -0
  • IU (left-socialist) 5 deputies -4
  • CC (Canarian centrists, would have entered a coalition with the PP) 3 -1
  • BNG (Galician socialists) 2 deputies -1
  • CHA (Aragonese regionalists) 1 deputy, -0
  • EA (Basque separatists) 1 deputy -0
  • Na-Bai, 1 deputy -0

All parties, except ERC, EAJ-PNV and the single-member groups, have lost deputies to the PSOE. This is a very broad victory.

That is confirmed when you look at the regions. The PSOE won a majority of deputies in 3 regions, half the deputies in another 7, and minorities in 8. The 8 regions where the PSOE has a minority include the tiny exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta with only 1 seat each.


PSOE 42.64% and 164 deputies. PP 37.64% and 148 deputies. 99.89% counted.

MaxSpeak, You Listen! | Ten million people who don't read Instapundit

Advice to the new government: if the head of state is to receive the U.S. ambassador, make sure he comes alone.

Why do I get an image of a Bush flunkey hissing in the presidential ear: 'Late is the hour in which this conjurer chooses to appear. Larkspell I name him. Ill guest and ill news!' if Zapatero ever visits the White House?

Typo '70 million Spaniards' is a typo. The correct figure is 10 million, a mere 25% of the nation.

Spanish election too close to call

Spain's conservative ruling Popular Party (PP) and opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) were neck and neck today after the close of polling in the general election, television and radio exit polls showed.

Reports variously gave the PP and PSOE between 38 and 41 per cent each, which would translate to 152-161 seats in the 350-seat parliament.

Two television stations, commercial channel Antena 3 and state-run TVE, gave the Socialists around 41 per cent of the vote.

Antena 3 predicted the PP had 38.5 per cent, whereas TVE estimated the ruling party had 36.9 per cent.

An Opina polling institute study for Radio Cadena Ser also gave the PSOE a larger vote share of between 40.5 per cent and 41.4 per cent.

But a Demoscopia poll for private broadcaster Telecinco gave the PP 40.6 per cent to 38.3 per cent for the Socialists.

The ruling PP took 44.52% of the vote in 2000. It follows the most favourable of these polls shows a swing of 3.0% against the PP. The voting system is d'Hondt which slightly favours the leading party. That's why in 2000 the PP took 183 seats out of 350 with 44.52% while the PSOE took 125 seats with 34.16%.

The return of the Queen's representative

The left side of Ozplogistan heaves a collective sigh of relief as His Excellency the Governor-General in and over the Commonwealth of Australia except when the Man of Steel gets to the Microphone First, Lord Sedgwick has been sighted again.

Spanish Election Board

The important result is for the Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados). Aznar's party is the Popular Party, PP. The main opposition is the Spanish Socialist Worker Party, PSOE. 350 deputies and you need 176 to form a government.

As far as the al-Qa'ida/ETA argument goes, I think I'll keep to a string of press extracts that frame the story. Really, no-one outside the Spanish government knows what is happening at the moment.

From the Guardian:

Facing up to terror

It is increasingly clear who Jos� Mar�a Aznar's government wants it to be. Late on Friday night, the Spanish radio network, Cadena Ser, reported that Mr Aznar's foreign minister, Ana Palacio, had sent instructions to all her country's ambassadors instructing them 'to exploit those occasions that arise to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks'. Her telegram left the foreign ministry at 5.28 on the afternoon of the bombings.

In Sunday's general election Aznar's centre-right People's Party could capitalise handsomely on its leader's determined repression of ETA and its apologists if Thursday's bombings are shown to be their work. But, if the attacks were to be laid at the door of Islamists, they could have just as powerful an effect in reverse - focussing the attention of the electorate on Aznar's Middle East policy, and in particular his unpopular support for the invasion of Iraq.

From the LA Times:

Al Qaeda Now Focus of Spain's Bombing Probe

Spanish police Saturday arrested three Moroccans with possible ties to Islamic extremism in last week's train bombings here, and hours later the government announced that it had received a videotape in which a man purporting to represent Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Although earlier official statements designated the militant Basque separatist group ETA as the prime suspect in the carnage that left 200 people dead and 1,500 wounded, investigators said they were increasingly convinced that the masterminds were Islamic extremists.

If true, that would mean that Al Qaeda � or its followers � has committed its first successful attack in Western Europe.

"It's looking more like Islamic groups did it," a high-ranking law enforcement official told The Times.

From Reuters:

Spain Votes After Trauma of Train Bombings

Until the tape was found, Spanish authorities had insisted ETA was the prime suspect for the bombings, drawing thousands to protest at Popular Party offices across Spain.

'Your war, our dead!' protesters chanted at the Madrid headquarters, many convinced the bombs were revenge for Spain's support of the war in Iraq even before the purported al Qaeda claim.

In Madrid, demonstrators took their protest to several monuments throughout the night. In their neighborhoods, people banged on pots and pans in a traditional form of protest.

An editorial cartoon in left-leaning El Pais showed a voter at the polls wondering whether to choose between ETA and al Qaeda.


El Mundo is reporting large increases in the number of people voting.

  • Basque Country 11.01%
  • Catalonia 12.61%
  • Madrid 6.11%
  • Spain 8%

In 2000, the Basque Country elected a majority of PSOE or Basque nationalist MPs. Catalonia went heavily to the PSOE. Madrid voted PP. I don't obsess about elections. Really. Truly.

14 March 2004

Raising Hell

Yet even if declining fertility rates can bring a 'demographic dividend,' that dividend eventually has to be repaid. At first there are fewer children to feed, clothe, and educate, leaving more resources for adults to enjoy. But soon enough, if fertility continues to remain below replacement levels, there are fewer productive workers as well, while there are also more and more dependent elderly, who each consume far more resources than children do. Even after considering the cost of education, a typical child in the United States consumes 28 percent less than the typical working-age adult, while elders consume 27 percent more, mostly in health-related expenses.

Eventually, as the pool of potential mothers diminishes, and as young people find more and more of their income going to support the old, both population loss and economic stagnation become nearly inevitable. Younger workers, finding not only that the economy requires them to have far higher levels of education than did their parents, but also that they must pay far higher payroll taxes, are less able to afford children and so have fewer of them, causing a new cycle of population aging. This in turn requires still more taxes to finance, thereby making the cost of children even less affordable, while also further diminishing the economy's ability to provide jobs for those young people that are left. Today, due largely to the crushing cost of pensions and health care, the oldest countries of 'old Europe,' such as Spain and Italy, have economies that produce double-digit youth unemployment rates, despite a theoretical shortage of youth. In Japan, the combination of a rapidly growing older population and a dwindling supply of new workers has caused what Yamada Masahiro of Tokyo Gakugei University has called 'low birth rate recession' --which has now lasted for more than a decade and that could grow much worse as the population of Japan contracts in absolute numbers.

Adding to the viciousness of the aging cycle is a gradual loss of innovation and entrepreneurialism. In 2002, for example, Babson College and the London School of Business released their latest index of entrepreneurial activity by country which shows a distinct correlation between a nation's high ratio of workers to retirees and a high degree of entrepreneurship. Thus, for example, India and China. which stand among the most entrepreneurial countries on earth, deploy roughly five people of working age for every person of retirement age. Meanwhile, Japan and France rank among the world's least entrepreneurial nations, displaying some of the lowest worker-to-retiree ratios. Countries such as the United States, Canada, Italy, and Germany have levels of entrepreneurial activity that correlate closely to the ages of their populations.

Demography is not destiny. Demography is the outcome of the choices individuals make. A conversation on samesex marriage at the The Road to Surfdom shifted to a strange theory that the demographic collapse of Western societies is due to mounting egoism and the abandonment of traditional values. I think it has a lot more to do with the economic penalties of child-bearing. I doubt the Costello solution of working long past the traditional age of retirement is really going to address the problem. And I seriously doubt that some 'restoration' of traditional values is going to overcome the serious economic costs to the individual.

What kind of policy would neutralise the economic penalties for having children?