25 September 2004

interest rates of mass destruction

Fresh from his triumphant discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Man of Steel has turned to finding interest rates of mass destruction. The travelling media were driven to a secret location to meet all the economist who concur with the prime minister in this dire scenario. Sadly, no-one was there.

This should, of course, not be taken as a pattern. It is mere accident that these thngs the Man of Steel delights in trying to scare us with some how, seem, um, not to exist. There is definitely no pattern. Meanwhile, in an unusual campaign move, the Man of Steel will tomorrow abandon conventional jets and use a flying pig to whiz about the country hunting for the missing economists.

24 September 2004

Google Mail

I have a Liliputian number of Gmail invites. If you want a Gmail account, leave a comment with a valid email address or email me.

23 September 2004

If Australia was Iraq, what would it be like?

President Bush said Tuesday that the Iraqis are refuting the pessimists and implied that things are improving in that country.

What would Australia look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of Australia and Iraq are roughly the same, so a lot of statistics are directly comparable.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week. What if 300 Australians had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths in the Bali bombing, and if Australia were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, including in Canberra, in Melbourne, Adelaide, Mt Isa, and Brisbane?

What if the grounds of Parliament House and the government buildings near the Parliamentary Triangle were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the Prime Minister's Department at Red Hill, the Treasury, or the Defence Department dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Belconnen or Tuggeranong?

What if all the reporters for all the major television and print media were trapped in five-star hotels in Sydney and Canberra, unable to move more than a few blocks safely, and dependent on stringers to know what was happening in Adelaide and Brisbane? What if the only time they ventured out of New South Wales was if they could be embedded in Australian Defence Force units?

There are estimated to be some 25,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totalling 25,000 men, armed with machine guns, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar launchers, hiding out in dangerous urban areas of cities all over the country? What if they completely controlled Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide and Darwin, such that State police and Commonwealth troops could not go into those cities?

What if, during the past year, the Governor-General, General Jeffery, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock. had all been assassinated?

What if all the cities in Australia were wracked by a crime wave, with hundreds of murders, kidnappings, burglaries, and carjackings in every major city every year?

What if the Air Force routinely (I mean daily or weekly) bombed Broken Hill, Alice Springs, Dubbo, Armidale, Redfern in Sydney, Melbourne, Belconnen in Canberra, and other urban areas, attempting to target 'safe houses' of 'criminal gangs', but inevitably killing a lot of children and little old ladies?

What if there were virtually no commercial air traffic in the country? What if many roads were highly dangerous, especially Highway 1 from Sydney to Canberra, and on down to Melbourne? If you got on Highway 1 anywhere along that over 800-kilometre stretch, you would risk being carjacked, kidnapped, or having your car sprayed with machine gun fire.

What if no one had electricity for much more than 10 hours a day, and often less? What if it went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to grind to a halt and air conditioning to fail in the middle of the summer in Darwin and Townsville? What if the Moomba pipeline were bombed and disabled at least monthly? What if unemployment hovered around 40%?

What if state elections were cancelled and cliques close to the new 'prime minister' quietly installed as 'premiers?' What if several of these premiers (especially of Queensland and Western Australia) were assassinated soon after taking office or resigned when their children were taken hostage by guerrillas?

What if government was insisting the federal election will go ahead on 9 October, but most people believed the security crisis would stop that happening?

What if the President of Indonesia maintained that the Australian people are, under these conditions, refuting pessimism and that freedom and democracy are just around the corner?

With the kind permission of Juan Cole, whose If America were Iraq, What would it be Like? seems to be becoming justly famous.

MPR down, college of cardinals and US electoral college still kicking

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is the first president of Indonesia elected by popular vote. Until now, Indonesian presidents had been named by the MPR, an electoral college in which legislators were joined by army delegates and presidential appointees. That leaves the Vatican and the United States as the only countries that elect their rulers in an electoral college.

22 September 2004

Indon's party

In a matter of months Indonesia has gone from a history of rigged and fraudulent elections to a prouder history of free and fair elections. The large reasons are the reformasi movements which drove Suharto from office in 1997 and the failure of the three presidents since to assert any real control over the course of e events or to support the reform measures Indonesia drastically needs. A small reason is Australia's passion for election night parties.

Indonesia's year-long festival of democracy and its hopes for free and fair ballots have been influenced in subtle ways by the Australian style of elections.

For one, the ABC's election polymath Antony Green and his encyclopedic knowledge of the Australian electorate, backed up by the Australian Electoral Commission's and the ABC's computer fire-power, impressed an extraordinary Indonesian political scientist, Chusnul Mar'iyah.

Green's capacity to summon up and analyse statistics from remote and inner-city Australia, then to be trusted by politicians and consumers alike, dazzled Chusnul. This was the model she carried home to Jakarta in 1998, fresh from seven years at the University of Sydney, completing her PhD on Sydney's urban politics.

"Election nights in Australia were so exciting. Antony Green ... he gave so much information. I thought, if I could have this in Indonesia, it would be wonderful, so yes, I learned all these lessons in Australia," she says. "But my country is not just interesting. It is so dramatic. I am happy that I have become one of the dots in the process of democracy in Indonesia. It is my contribution to my beloved country."

The first Indonesian woman to hold a political science doctorate, Chusnul could not have imagined how she would later be invited to apply this model to Indonesia. For the past 12 months in her role as one of nine electoral commissioners, she has been in charge of logistics and information technology for the Indonesian Electoral Commission (KPU). She has had the rare pleasure of seeing theory turned into practice, of devising the mechanics of an emerging democracy.

And just for the record, the KPU count has reached 90 833 246.

  • Megawati 35 465 040 votes, 39.0441%
  • Yudhoyno 55 368 206 votes, 60.9559%

Bali, Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara are the only provinces where Megawati has a lead. Bali rioted in 1999 when dirty dealing in the MPR, the electoral college that used to choose the president, resulted in Gus Dur getting the presidency ahead of Megawati. Maluku has been plagued by sectarian strife for two years, much of it promoted by members of the Jakarta political elite for their own purposes.

The Asia Times has a reasonable view of what's happened. I suspect we are going to get a lot of puns about Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's middle name over the next few years.

Yudhoyono's unofficial victory indicates that voters opted for the hope of change and a stronger leader. "It's time for a change. Maybe things won't get better, but I don't think they'll get worse," another voter said. "Megawati hasn't done enough to deserve another five years." That point highlights one key element of Yudhoyono's appeal: he's not Megawati. Despite his high post in Megawati's administration, Yudhoyono avoided blame for its mistakes, just as he's avoided the taints of corruption, human-rights abuses and authoritarianism common among Suharto-era generals. Yudhoyono seems to have a high Teflon content that the presidency will test severely.

Voters ignored a rash of rumors spread by mobile-phone text messaging that Yudhoyono had a Christian wife and was an agent for the US Central Intelligence Agency. Those charges underscored his potential vulnerability as a foreign tool: Yudhoyono was the favored candidate of Jakarta's diplomatic community and foreign investors; he attended a military college in the United States; and he led a United Nations force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But those international links didn't produce a nationalist backlash among voters. Yudhoyono's lead after a peaceful vote has produced business-community optimism, a stronger rupiah and a stock-market bounce. But the joy won't last without key reforms, starting with a real war on corruption, that Yudhoyono didn't pursue as a top minister.

All in all it's a great day for Indonesia. Is someone going to mount a Bahasa version of Don's Party?

21 September 2004

signposting Family First

Signposts has dirt on Family First. No-one can object to a Pentecostal push into Australian politics, although personally I'd never vote for any confessional party. On the other hand, an undeclared Pentecostal push is a completely different thing. Someone with more time than I have right now should really investigate any linkages between Family First here and the organisation of the same name in the US.

the little constitution that couldn't

To my amazement I read a blog item by Ken Parish this morning that quoted the Iraq Transitional Administrative Law as though it was in force. It is not. as US diplomat Peter Galbraith writes The Bungled Transition:

To mollify Iraq's Kurds, who had placed great stock in the TAL, Allawi agreed to "apply" it for the duration of his government. He has turned down Kurdish requests that it be enacted into law. And even if he did enact the TAL, he cannot commit the elected assembly that will follow his interim government to accepting it. For the Kurds, the most important provisions of the TAL were precisely those that ensure the continuation of a secular and democratic Kurdistan even after the national elections.

How did the Bush administration invest so much in the TAL and then find itself forced to abandon it? It appears that Bremer never realized that his decrees would not legally outlast the occupation. It was a rookie's mistake caused, as with so many other CPA failures, by the lack of expertise on the part of his staff. The TAL was largely the responsibility of two of Bremer's assistants (dubbed "the west wingers"), one an extremely capable but relatively junior Foreign Service officer and the other a young political appointee from the Pentagon's stable of neoconservative nation-builders. Imbued with grand ideas such as remaking the Iraqi judiciary with a US-style Supreme Court, they apparently neglected to consult an international lawyer.

Bungling the basic law (while claiming credit for said law) is about par for the course for the record of incompetence and dishonesty that is the Bush raj's only real claim to fame.

20 September 2004

Counting Indonesia

The KPU (electoral commission) in Indonesia is reporting:

  • Megawati 1 780 154 votes, 41.2564%
  • Yudhoyono 2 534 700 votes, 58.7436%

These results show a clear victory for Yudhoyono, although not as great as the polls predicted. That's on 4.3 million votes out of the the 130 million expected. International monitors have already certified the ballot.

On a count of 6 624 456 votes:

  • Megawati 2 746 222 votes, 41.4558%
  • Yudhoyono 3 878 234 votes, 58.5442%

Yudhoyono is leading all provinces except Bali, North Sumatra, Central Kalimantan, Kepri and Papua. In Aceh he's leading by more than 3 to 1. The Balinese result is probably because of Megawati's family connections there. The Papuan figures are incredibly early.

Sometime I must scribble something about crossover leaders and national independence. The Nehrus were high caste Hundus from Muslim Kashmir. Sukarno was half Javanese and half Balinese.

On 9 808 016 votes

  • Megawati 4 038 379 votes, 41.1743%%
  • Yudhoyono 5 769 637 votes, 58.8257%

Megawati's lead has disappeared in North Sumatra, Central Kalimantan, and Papua.

This result probably means the end of Golkar. They were the party of power under Suharto. They lost the presidency when Habibie's government collapsed in 1999. This year they could not get Wiranto, their candidate, into the runoff election. They then threw their support to Megawati who is suffering a landslide defeat. Golkar seems to be following other parties of power, like the NP in South Africa, into oblivion. The BBC has a good profile of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

On 15 626 656 votes:

  • Megawati 6 428 367 votes, 41.1372%
  • Yudhoyono 9 198 289 votes, 58.8628%

The perils of blogging are much to be feared. It's so easy to google yourself to instant expertise. I was calling the new province of Kepalauan Riau 'Riau Islands' or 'Riau Archipelago' until I discovered it's usually shortened to Kepri.

Megawati is carrying every district in Bali so it looks like she will retain her lead in that province. In Kepri she's only carrying one district and there are no votes at all from the main town, so her lead can be expected to disappear by the time the count is finished.

On 54 061 429 votes:

  • Megawati 21 508 381 votes, 39.7851%
  • Yudhoyono 32 553 048 votes, 60.2149%

Megawati now leads in Bali, Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara. The last two are early results from a single district so they will probably disappear in due course. The most spectacular provincial result is probably Aceh where Yudhoyono has 80.6188% of the vote. There's no way, at this stage of the count, that Megawati can stop the Yudhoyono landslide. The issues Yudhoynono will need to address are a different story entirely. More when the figures are finalised.

all quiet on the election

Not a lot has really happened in the election campaign. That should change over the next few days now that the preference allocations are known. Anthony Green has published his Senate prediction. It's also worth looking at how preferences changed the 2001 election.

The two party preferred vote is more or less tied. Neither of the major party leaders has landed a knockout blow on the other. National security is not nearly as solid an issue for the Coalition as the Man of Steel expected. The Great Debate was largely a washout, although the consensus is that Latham won. Latham is campaigning rather better than expected and the gaffes so far have all been on the government's side. The surplus (althought it ignores the Commonwealth's superannuation liabilities) has largely neutralsied economic scare tactics.

Neither side has really given us a vision for what Australia should or might become.

19 September 2004

Hu takes over Jiang as China's military chief

Hu Jintao succeeded Jiang Zemin as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Fourth Plenum of the 16th CPC Central Committee, which concluded here Sunday.

The four-day plenum approved Hu to take over the CMC chairmanship after accepting Jiang's resignation.

The plenum also approved Xu Caihou, 61, as CMC vice-chairman.

Hu, 61, is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and president of China. He was vice-chairman of the CMC previously.

Jiang, 78, had held the CPC's top military position since November 1989.

Jiang, after serving as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee for 13 years, bowed out of the Party Central Committee at the 16th CPC National Congress held in Beijing in November 2002. He went on to relinquish the state presidency he had held for 10 years at the annual full session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in March 2003. Hu took over both positions.

"The plenum unanimously agreed that this (Hu's becoming CMC chairman) is conducive to upholding the fundamental principle and system of the Party's absolute leadership over the military, and is also conducive to the strengthening of the military's revolutionization, modernization and regularization process," said a communique released after the closing of the plenum.

The communique also noted that the plenum had "highly evaluatedComrade Jiang Zemin's outstanding contributions to the Party, the state and the people."

This may be less important than it sounds. Deng Xiaoping famously ruled China from the exalted post of chair of the China Bridge Association. The Cultural Revolution was launched by a literary controversy over the play Hai Rui dismissed from office.

This one started with Hu declaring the seaside resort of Beidaihe, traditional scene for inner party meetings, as off-limits. Jiang then met there with several members of his Shanghai faction. It was widely assumed that Jiang would win and retain control of the central military commission and command of the armed forces. Instead, Jiang has retired. the Asia Times said on 20 August:

When China's Xinhua news agency published an adulatory report of a conference at the seaside resort of Beidaihe on August 5, [1] I was puzzled. Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao had banned these meetings as a waste of money and time - they were boondoggles. And China's media (at least the press that wasn't totally in the control of the Central Propaganda Department) praised President Hu's policy as a "populist measure in support of good government" (qinmin qinglian).

Now, it is true that Hu is in a weak position. He is heavily outnumbered in the Politburo of the party Central Committee by disciples of China's strongman, Central Military Commission chairman Jiang Zemin (who was also Hu's predecessor as president and party boss). But certainly Hu should be given due deference. He is, after all, the titular chief of the party and the government.

Which is why I was bemused that there was a report of any kind of meeting at Beidaihe, a famous resort and annual leadership retreat on the Bohai Gulf, 280 kilometers east of Beijing. I recalled that as a result of Hu's proscription, most governmental and party organizations, central and political, had shied away from Beidaihe. Just to confirm my recollection, I went to the People's Daily Net (www.peopledaily.com.cn) and pasted "Cancel Beidaihe to handle affairs" (quxiao Beidaihe bangong) into the search engine. Sure enough, a string of stories from the summer of 2003 popped out. In September, for example, there was an entire issue of the China Economic Review [2] devoted to the hard times at Beidaihe due to the government vacation ban. The article's big question: "Would China's 'Summer Capital' become history?"

It will be months before we can tell if this is a real retirement or just a formal transfer of power. Broadly, Hu is more reformist than Jiang and a real transfer would be a good thing.

Susilo successfully earns PhD in Ag-Econ at IPB

Presidential hopeful Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono succesfully defended on Saturday his doctoral dissertation on agricultural and economic development at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) in Bogor, West Java, some 60 km south of here, Metro TV reported.

I'm not sure an Australian prime minister or opposition leader would take time out to defend a doctoral thesis this close to an election. All polls predict a massive majority for Yudhoyono. I expect him to win, but not by as much as the polls say. Indonesia has had only 5 presidents. If Megawati loses the election she will become the fourth president since 1997 to lose office. When Suharto fell the Jakarta political elite managed to keep control of the succession. Each attempted successor to Suharto has failed, essentially because of incompetence. While Yudhoyono is also a member of that group his positions and career suggest he is capable of launching the necessary changes to complete Indonesia's democratic transition.

Blair 'warned over Iraq post-war chaos'

The reports, from papers leaked to the Daily Telegraph, claim Mr Straw predicted a post-war Iraq would cause major problems, telling Mr Blair that no-one had a clear idea of what would happen.

And he questioned the US claims that an invasion would eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction, saying "no one has satisfactorily answered how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be any better."

In a "Secret UK Eyes Only" paper, senior ministerial advisors are said to have warned that "the greater investment of western forces, the greater our control over Iraq’s future, but the greater the cost and the longer we would need to stay."

The only certain way to create a new government, they said, would involve "nation-building" over many years.

The papers also warn that any "Sunni strongman" put in power to replace Saddam could face a series of military coups, which would leave the country as unstable as it was before the war.

Another leaked confidential memo by a senior Foreign Office official written in March 2002 questioned the idea that regime change in Iraq was the real reason for war.

"Military operations need clear and compelling military objectives. For Iraq, ‘regime change’ does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam (Hussein)."

The revelations were described as "devastating" by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell.

"If these documents are accurate they provide a devastating insight into the political run up to war in Iraq," he said.

The Independent has more details, including actual quotes:

An extraordinary cache of leaked documents this weekend forced Mr Blair to deny that the planning for post-invasion Iraq had been inadequate. Amid a deteriorating security situation in the country, Mr Blair blamed terrorists for trying to stop the creation of a stable and democratic Iraq. But the leak also lays bare the gulf between what Mr Blair and his aides said in public about Iraq and their private discussions with the White House.

On the eve of Mr Blair's visit to Mr Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in March 2002, for example, Mr Blair's official spokesman dismissed suggestions that he was going for a "council of war". The leaks show, however, that Sir David Manning, his foreign policy adviser, had already assured Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush's National Security Adviser, that Mr Blair was fully signed up to toppling Saddam.

In a memo to the Prime Minister dated 14 March 2002, Sir David says he told Ms Rice "you would not budge in your support for regime change". Four days later, Downing Street received a despatch from the then British ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer, detailing how he repeated the commitment to Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary. The ambassador added that Mr Blair would need a "cover" for any military action. "I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN Security Council resolutions."

Taken with the Joint Intelligence Committee's warning at the same time that intelligence on Iraqi WMD was "sporadic and patchy", the account appears to prove the charge that Mr Blair's use of the issue was purely tactical.

The question of Iraqi WMD comes back sharply into focus next week with the final report of the Iraq Survey Group. An early draft of the report said to be circulating in Washington concludes that the regime was working on only small amounts of biological and chemical agents probably for use in assassinations.

Equally embarrassing are leaked documents showing that Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, repeatedly warned Mr Blair that the US was failing to answer the "big questions" about what would happen after Saddam was overthrown.

On 25 March 2002, in a private note to the Prime Minister, Mr Straw detailed the difficulties he faced in winning over his own MPs and the public. "What will this action achieve?" he asked. "There seems a larger hole in this than anything." The US, he said, had failed to answer the question of how "there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be any better".

A recent briefing paper marked "Secret UK eyes only", and also leaked this weekend, warned that Iraq could "revert to type", with "coup succeeding coup" if Saddam was replaced with another Sunni "strongman".

Australians are entitled to know if the Man of Steel also leapt on board the Bush drive for war a year before publicly admitting it. Blair denies there was no planning. If this is planning, what would an unplanned occupation look like?

Iraq had no WMD: the final verdict

The comprehensive 15-month search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has concluded that the only chemical or biological agents that Saddam Hussein's regime was working on before last year's invasion were small quantities of poisons, most likely for use in assassinations.

A draft of the Iraq Survey Group's final report circulating in Washington found no sign of the alleged illegal stockpiles that the US and Britain presented as the justification for going to war, nor did it find any evidence of efforts to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear weapons programme.

It also appears to play down an interim report which suggested there was evidence that Iraq was developing "test amounts" of ricin for use in weapons. Instead, the ISG report says in its conclusion that there was evidence to suggest the Iraqi regime planned to restart its illegal weapons programmes if UN sanctions were lifted.

Charles Duelfer, the head of the ISG, has said he intends to deliver his final report by the end of the month. It is likely to become a heated issue in the election campaign.

How the hell did it come to this? For the record there is no evidence of the famous human shredder and the mass graves were grossly exaggerated. The real figure was 5000 and dates from the Shia/Kurdish uprising after the First Gulf War.

The level of mortality since the Coalition of the Willing is estimated between 12778 and 14820. Iraq was a rogue state but it was contained. Now, according to the US national intelligence estimate, Iraq hovers between fragmentation, instability and civil war. It seems a high price to pay for a mistake, a mistake the leaders of the Coalition of the Willing insist they would repeat.

They are digging mass graves in Fallujah today. How long will we stay the course?