14 August 2004

Democrat pleads for rethink on gay marriage ban

As a new law banning gay marriage raced through the Senate yesterday, Andrew Bartlett stood on the floor of the chamber choking back tears.

Overcome as he tried to read speech notes contemplating how he would have felt if he had been banned from marrying his wife, Julie, the Democrats leader spoke instead of how the new laws might hurt gay teenagers contemplating suicide.

'It offends me so much - it is so disgusting, this legislation,' he said. 'It can not only be hurtful - it can be fatal.'

Emotions were just as strong on the other side, with Nationals senator Ron Boswell saying the overwhelming majority of Australians wanted marriage preserved as an institution between a man and a woman.

'The people that elected me feel very strongly about this issue,' he said.

The emotional debate came after the Government reversed its bid to prioritise a ban on gay marriage above new terrorism laws. After The Age asked on Thursday whether the Government thought gay couples were a greater threat to Australia than terrorists, tacticians reorganised the Senate agenda yesterday to pass the anti-terrorism laws first.

Gee it's a great feeling knowing that rights are safe in the bosom of Australia's parliament and we don't need a bill of rights. I mean it's not as if Labor would trade off anyone's rights for mere electoral gain.

I suppose I still want Labor to win. Maybe all the religious right voters streaming into the Labor column will compensate for a lot of very angry perverts. Not.

Do pigs fly? Never mind

Once upon a time, Cowboy George bragged about the 80 COWs (Coalition of the Willing) in his ranch. He and his Halliburton pals were whooping it up so much they didn't notice that a lot of COWs were jumping over the fence and going home. Last week, he counted his COWs and discovered he had only 32 left. Bush realized his Iraqi barbecue would end if all the COWs went home so he decided to try a new way to herd them back into his corral.

Everybody knows that pigs don't fly, so what would attract more curiosity than pigs sitting on a fence?

Iraqi sovereignty is one such pig on a fence. A recent cartoon describes it best. The cartoon shows two men talking on the phone. One man says, 'What the heck? They transferred sovereignty two days early? Now I have to cancel my Iraqi Sovereignty party!'

The man on the other end of the line asks, 'What happens at an Iraqi Sovereignty party?'

The first man replies, 'You tell your guests they're in charge, but they can't drink without your permission.'

Nevertheless, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) gave wings to the pig. According to our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), 'The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1546 last month that restored Iraqi sovereignty, pledged international assistance to the Iraqi reconstruction, and delineated the role of the U.S.-led multinational force in keeping the peace in the embattled country.'

Then, I guess, you go to Najaf and explain that some pigs are more equal than others.

The Real Farm Subsidy Scandal

From 1995 to 2002 the U.S. taxpayer doled out more than $114 billion to farmers, and in 2002 President Bush upped subsidies to $190 billion over the next ten years. For perspective, consider that in 2000 alone U.S. spending on farm subsidies exceeded the total output of more than 70 nations.

With so much money being freely handed about, the GAO report should lead to some tough questions for USDA officials on Capitol Hill. Yet for all its detail, the 75-page report artfully avoids the bigger question that no lawmaker wants to hear: why do we even have farm subsidies?

One popular misconception that contributes to support for farm subsidies is that because they result in lower food prices, they are a boon to consumers. This ignores the fact that taxes pay for these subsidies. Any reduction in supermarket prices is paid for by your taxes -- or someone else's -- whether you buy that ear of corn or not.

Farm subsidies are not intended to reduce the cost of food significantly. If prices fell too much, farmers would lose money. To prevent this, Congress also has 'environmental' conservation subsidies that pay farmers to not cultivate their land, resulting in higher prices for crops made more scarce. Consequently, from 1995 through 2002 we paid $14 billion for farmland conservation subsidies that increased the price of our food!

And remember, folks, the free trade treaty that says not one word about US agricultural subsidies. In fact the treaty maintains quotas and traiffs on beef, dairy and sugar. Fortunately the treaty places no limits on trade in smoke and mirrors (unless they're the subject of a copyright or patent).

Sauron Pie

A long long time ago
I can still remember how that Ring used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
I could make those Numenorians dance
And maybe they'd be off my case, for a while.
But Isildur made me shiver
With every digit he did sever.
Elf host on my doorstep
I couldn't take one more step
I can't remember if I cried
When I heard that my Balrog died.
But something touched me deep inside
The day the One Ring fried.

There's more, a lot more...

10 August 2004

IP overreach

Copyrighting the President
In practice, however, the matter isn't that simple. Because copyright law is so uncertain, and because insurance companies that indemnify films don't much like risk, the practice among auteurs seeking major distribution is to cut any clip for which permission isn't granted - fair use notwithstanding. The costs of defending a fair use right in court - and, more important, the costs if any such defense should fail - make the risk prohibitive for most filmmakers. Defense of fair use could run hundreds of thousands of dollars - several times the budget of a typical documentary. And losing this type of claim could expose the filmmaker to $150,000 in damages for each copyright infringed. In a world in which Fox News sues comedian and author Al Franken for parodying 'fair and balanced,' a cautious director can't be too careful.

Greenwald's struggle demonstrates a more fundamental point. Many are concerned about the ever-expanding reach of copyright law. More are concerned about the ever-increasing concentration of the media. Greenwald's dilemma highlights how the two trends are linked: As media becomes more concentrated, competition to curry favor with politicians only increases. This intensifies during an election cycle. Networks able to signal that they will be 'friendly' - for example, by ensuring that embarrassing moments from interviews won't be made available to others - are more likely to attract candidates for interviews and so on, than networks that don't. Concentration tied to copyright thus gives networks both the motive and the means to protect favored guests.

Media Watch | Politicians in the ABC archive
Not nearly as unorthodox as the ABC's plan to let politicians veto the use of news footage in documentaries.

Robyn Watts tried to convince Media Watch that unless Howard, Ruddock, Reith and Vanstone gave the OK before footage was sold to Judy Rymer �

�the ABC could be exposed to the risk of claims under the Trade Practices Act or pursuant to the tort of Passing Off.
Robyn Watts fax to Media Watch, 23 July 2004

Here's some free legal advice Robyn: that's rubbish.
No one has, no one will rush off to court because some old news clips turn up in a documentary.

Perhaps the ABC could offer its assistance to Iraq's new higher media commission.

Iraqi commission to restrict media coverage

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has established a new media commission that will impose restrictions on print and broadcast media, the London-based Financial Times reported.

Media advocacy groups are worried that the committee will threaten press freedom in the war-torn country.

The Higher Media Commission will issue a set of restrictions -- called 'red lines -- for Iraqi media. Ibrahim Janabi, who heads the new committee, said the restrictions are not yet final but will include unwarranted criticism of Prime Minister Allawi.

Media groups are criticizing the decision. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent an open letter to Allawi on July 29, saying the commission is a potential 'threat to press freedom.' CPJ urged Janabi to to ensure that any actions of the Higher Media Commission comply with international standards of free expression.

'The restrictive media regulations and censorship described by Janabi would undermine the very foundation of a democratic society by restricting the free flow of information,' CPJ Executive Director, Ann J. Cooper, wrote in the letter.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is also urging Iraqi leaders to abandon plans for new media bodies that might compromise free speech and press freedom.

'Democracy in Iraq will be won by defending human rights and the people's right to know, not by returning to the bad old days of censorship and intimidation of journalists' said IFJ General Secretary, Aidan White.

Just more of the inevitable advance of democracy in the new Iraq. The Iraq Transitional Administrative Law's bill of rights is proving about as effectual as the same lists in other Middle Eastern constitutions, such as the one in Kuwait which has just banned Fahrenheit 911.

No doubt human rights crusader George Bush will shortly be acting on his principles and speaking truth to power about these attacks on the freedom of the press.

Whatever happened to Fay Wray, That delicate satin draped frame

Fay Wray, who played the screaming girl kidnapped by the giant ape in the 1933 film King Kong, has died aged 96.

9 August 2004

Coalition of the nation-building

Judge: Warrants issued for Chalabi and nephew
Iraq has issued an arrest warrant for Ahmed Chalabi, a former governing council member, on counterfeiting charges and another for Salem Chalabi, the head of Iraq's special tribunal, on murder charges, Iraq's chief investigating judge said Sunday.

The warrant was a new sign of the fall of Ahmed Chalabi from the centers of power. Chalabi, a longtime exile opposition leader, had been a favorite of many in the Pentagon but fell out with the Americans earlier this year.

His nephew, Salem Chalabi, heads the tribunal that is due to try Saddam on war crimes charges.

"They should be arrested and then questioned and then we will evaluate the evidence, and then if there is enough evidence, they will be sent to trial," said Judge Zuhair al-Maliky.

The warrants, issued Saturday, accused Ahmed Chalabi of counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars -- which had been removed from circulation following the fall of Saddam's regime last year, he said.

Ahmed Chalabi appeared to have been hiding the counterfeit money amid other old money and changing it into new dinars in the street, he said.

Police found the counterfeit money along with old dinars in Ahmed Chalabi's house during a May raid, he said.

Salem Chalabi was named as a suspect in the June killing of the Haithem Fadhil, director general of the finance ministry.

Both men were reportedly out of the country Sunday.

Government shuts down Al-Jazeera offices in Baghdad
Reporters Without Borders today denounced as a "serious blow to press freedom" the Iraqi interim government's order to the pan-Arab satellite TV network Al-Jazeera to close its Baghdad office for a month and called for an immediate explanation.

"We are extremely concerned about persistent episodes of censorship in Iraq," it said, noting that the government has obstructed Al-Jazeera's work before.

Interior minister Falah al-Naqib told the US TV network CNN that the 7 August order was aimed at protecting Iraqis and that the government did not want Al-Jazeera or anyone else endangering civil peace in Iraq. The minister had said a few days earlier that some stations were encouraging kidnapping by showing pictures of hostages under threat of execution.

Reporters Without Borders strongly protested against a month-long ban in February on Al-Jazeera covering the activities of the then transitional Governing Council.

The Council had also shut down the local operations of the satellite TV station Al-Arabiya on 24 November last year until it promised in writing not to encourage terrorism.

Iraq Transitional Administrative Law
Article 13
(A) �Public and private freedoms shall be protected.

(B)� The right of free expression shall be protected.

Not only is Ahmed Chalabi, once the trusted white knight of the coalition, now wanted for counterfeiting, but his nephew, the director of the tribunal to try crimes against humanity, is charged with murder. meanwhile the TAL's guarantee of press freedom is being ignored. All in all, not a terrific few days for the glorious and inevitable progress of democracy in Iraq. And that's without mentioning the recent dead in Najaf.

Full text of the 'truth in government' declaration

We believe a re-elected Howard Government or an elected Latham government must give priority to truth in government. This is fundamental to effective parliamentary democracy. Australians must be able to believe they are being told the truth by our leaders, especially in situations as grave as committing our forces to war.

We are concerned that Australia was committed to join the invasion of Iraq on the basis of false assumptions and the deception of the Australian people.

Saddam Hussein's dictatorial administration has ended, but removing him was not the reason given to the Australian people for going to war. The Prime Minister said in March 2003 that our policy was 'the disarmament of Iraq, not the removal of Saddam'. He added, a few days before the invasion, that if Saddam got rid of his weapons of mass destruction he could remain in power.

It is a matter for regret that the action to combat terrorism after September 11, 2001, launched in Afghanistan, and widely supported, was diverted to the widely opposed invasion of Iraq. The outcome has been destructive, especially for Iraq. The international system has been subjected to enormous stress that still continues.

It is of concern to us that the international prestige of the United States and its presidency has fallen precipitously over the last two years. Because of our Government's unquestioning support for the Bush Administration's policy, Australia has also been adversely affected. Terrorist activity, instead of being contained, has increased. Australia has not become safer by invading and occupying Iraq and now has a higher profile as a terrorist target.

We do not wish to see Australia's alliance with the US endangered. We understand that it can never be an alliance of complete equals because of the disparity in power, but to suggest that an ally is not free to choose if or when it will go to war is to misread the ANZUS Treaty. Within that context, Australian governments should seek to ensure that it is a genuine partnership and not just a rubber stamp for policies decided in Washington. Australian leaders must produce more carefully balanced policies and present them in more sophisticated ways. These should apply to our alliance with the US, our engagement with the neighbouring nations of Asia and the South West Pacific, and our role in multilateral diplomacy, especially at the United Nations.

Above all, it is wrong and dangerous for our elected representatives to mislead the Australian people. If we cannot trust the word of our Government, Australia cannot expect it to be trusted by others. Without that trust, the democratic structure of our society will be undermined and with it our standing and influence in the world.

I'm still hunting for a full list of signatories.

8 August 2004

Labor hails former public servants' attack on Howard

The Federal Opposition Leader has accused the Prime Minister of barely being able to 'lie straight in bed', after reported criticism of John Howard by more than 40 Australian military chiefs, departmental heads and diplomats.

The high profile group is expected to release a statement claiming voters were misled over the reasons for going to war in Iraq, and calling for Australia to stop 'rubber stamping' United States policies.

The signatories include former chiefs of the Australian Defence Force, six former department heads and prominent figures in the intelligence and diplomatic communities.

They want 'truth in government' from whichever party wins the election.

Serving officers share concerns: ex-ADF head
A number of serving defence force officers shared the concerns of a group of 43 former defence chiefs and diplomats who wanted a return to truth in government, retired defence chief General Peter Gration said today.

Mr Gration, who headed the Australian Defence Force from 1987 to 1993, said he and the other signatories believed Australia joined the invasion of Iraq on the basis of false assumptions and deception of the Australian people.

'I can tell you that number of serving offices do share these concerns and serving diplomats too, I guess. But quite properly in their present positions, they can't speak out,' he told reporters today.

'Demonstrably, over the last year or two, truth in government has been less than it should be.

Earleir this week the Man of Steel produced 'legal advice' that the Labor amendment on patents could not be drafted. Now he's ready to agree to the undraftable amendment. Perhaps it was noncore legal advice.

The prime minister has rejected the statement 'on its merits' without reading it. That is par for the course for a guy about to pass an amendment he said on Thursday his departmental advisers told him was undraftable.

Evidently it's a tough thing when you got excoriated for noncoring.

Dramatic differences found in matter and antimatter

The international BaBar collaboration working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in the US has found the most dramatic evidence to date for the difference between matter and antimatter. The experiment has found that the number of decays observed for a class of particles known as B mesons is 13% higher than for their antiparticle equivalents -- anti-B mesons (arXiv.org/abs/hep-ex/0407057). The results could help explain why the universe is dominated by matter, rather than anti-matter, or why it does not contain equal amounts of both.

That's a really, really understated headline...