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The Daily Briefing 25/11/05

FRIDAY 25TH NOVEMBER 2005          

Your round-up from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's email:
1    Peter Botsman on Labor, party democracy and Whitlam/Australian Prospect
2    Report on US forces in Europe/PINR (2 links below)
3    Boris Johnson on Bush and Aljazeera/Daily Telegraph (3 links below)
4    Rob Reiner says neoliberalism causes crime/The Guardian
5    Report on the clash of cultures within the EU/IHT
6    Mark Steyn in support of Conrad Black/Spectator (2 links below)
7    Sean Carroll reviews books on space and hidden dimensions/American Scientist (link below)
8    AC Grayling on humanism and religion/New Humanist (link below)
9    Report on Buy Nothing Day/Wired (2 links below)
10    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1Labor, democracy and the legacy of Whitlam
The last time TDB heard from Labor's intellectual/activist Peter Botsman, he was explaining the inner workings of the NSW ALP. This time the former head of the Whitlam and Brisbane Institutes turns his attention to the national party, and look at Gough Whitlam's legacy as a party reformer for ideas on how to bring about the internal changes he says are needed to make Labor truly democratic, relevant and politically successful. This article is a great mix of research, passion and ideas. (The link below will take you to a substantial excerpt from the article (top and tail), but to read the whole thing, with footnotes, asides and the bibliography, you will have to go here.)
2 Isolationism and the US empire
The Power and Interest News Report (link below), "an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations", looks at US geostrategic interests following its agreement with Romania to build American military bases near the Black Sea, and talks with Bulgaria about using its bases.

In The New Republic John Judis looks at the return to isolationism he finds evidence for, and at its likely impacts on US politics and foreign policy. "Under the impact of the administration's failure in Iraq, the public has become wary of American involvement overseas. It increasingly rejects both a liberal internationalist and a neoconservative approach to foreign affairs. Instead, its attitude is similar to the prevailing outlook of the 1920s and '30s and to the worldview held by many Americans in the '90s. Voters, in short, are becoming more isolationist. This change in mood will likely affect the elections of 2006 and 2008; and more important, it could affect how future American administrations conduct themselves in the world."

And in the NYTimes, David Lipsky reviews "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground" by Robert D. Kaplan, and is seriously unimpressed. "And it turns out we've been too thrifty with our troops; to prevail in the war on terror, he advises, we ought to become more tolerant of American casualties. So what's the holdup? "It was the elites that had a more difficult time with the deaths of soldiers and marines." Their concern is misplaced. The grunts have an "unpretentious willingness to die," which is in part "the product of their working-class origins. The working classes had always been accustomed to rough, unfair lives and turns." This isn't anti-elitism: it's the regular old callous elitism in new packaging, and it sends one back into a consideration of the author."
3 Bush, Aljazeera and Boris
The world is still trying to make up its mind about the story, linked to yesterday, reporting that Tony Blair had to talk George Bush out of bombing Aljazeera's offices in Qatar. But Conservative MP and Spectator editor Boris Johnson has made up his mind about one thing - if he can get his hands on anything relating to the story, he will ignore the ban on publishing it, and be damned. Johnson also notes on the way through, that the US has, in the recent past, killed journalists, including some from Aljazeera. "But if there is an ounce of truth in the notion that George Bush seriously proposed the destruction of al-Jazeera, and was only dissuaded by the Prime Minister, then we need to know, and we need to know urgently. We need to know what we have been fighting for, and there is only one way to find out ... If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence."

Over at the possible target of the attack, Aljazeera, the story is the most emailed article, which means it is probably not doing US standing in the Arab world any good.

The Times reports that the publication ban was designed to spare George Bush some embarrassment, but in the short term at least it has given the story added momentum and credibility.

And the left-leaning Nation looks at the case for thinking Bush was serious. It points out that the suggestion was made at the height of the assault on Falluja, which is now said to have been where the US military used White Phosphorous. "What Al Jazeera was doing in Falluja is exactly what it was doing when the United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001 and when US forces killed Al Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent, Tareq Ayoub, during the April 2003 occupation of Baghdad. Al Jazeera was witnessing and reporting on events Washington did not want the world to see."

4 Neoliberalism causes crime
TDB can't resist a good stir, and there is certainly one in here. Robert Reiner is a professor of criminology at the London School of Economics, and he argues that good policing is largely a smoke and mirrors myth - that low crime rates depend on social capital and a sense of social cohesion. Those have been undermined, he argues, by neoliberalism, which therefore leads to higher rates of crime. "The crucial shift underlying the current crisis came in the early 1990s, when New Labour accepted the economic and social framework of Thatcherism. This meant that the second half of the celebrated slogan "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" could only have a very narrow meaning. The basic driver of crime, triumphant neoliberalism, was deemed beyond government control. So the police had to start living up to their myth, delivering the effective crime control once produced by the social cohesion that was being ripped apart."
5 Poles part: Poland and the EU
A clash of cultures is now occurring within the EU, according to this report, as the religiously conservative countries of Eastern Europe exercise their newly won power as full members of the organisation. ""However, since the election last month of President Lech Kaczynski, a conservative defender of family values and a critic of abortion and homosexuality, concerns are being voiced that, on social policy at least, Poland is on a collision course with Brussels. "This is for real," said Christopher Bobinski, director of Unia I Polska, a pro-European research organization in Warsaw. "This is a very reactionary, conservative group of people that have taken the helm, and on these issues we are going in the reverse direction to the direction everyone else in Europe is going." The effects of Poland's religious conservatism were felt in 2003, during the drafting of the European Constitution, when Warsaw led the argument that the preamble should refer to Europe's Christian heritage. After much debate, the reference was not included."
6 Conrad Black and the US media, part two
Conrad Black, the neo-conservative former media magnate sometimes known as Lord Black of Coldharbour, is in a spot of bother as you may have noticed, fraud charges involving something like US$50 million, give or take. Nonetheless, Black still has his supporters, Mark Steyn (link below) foremost among them. Steyn's column is in part a response to this one in The Independent by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne (gotta love that name), but now unfortunately available only if you pay £1. Steyn thinks that Black will get off if he gets a fair trial, and wonders what all the fuss is about. "The implications of this pseudo-judicial usurpation of a functioning business ought to alarm anyone who wants to do business in the United States. The pursuit of Conrad Black is like a corporate version of those FBI sieges that every hapless survivalist compound or kooky cult was on the receiving end of back in the Nineties. Remember Waco? Or Ruby Ridge in Idaho, where the Feds entrapped Randy Weaver into a very minor technical firearms infraction and then gunned down his wife and kid? Weaver wasn’t the most likable cove, and what was remarkable was the number of people prepared to say, oh, well, he’s a white survivalist gun nut, so it’s OK to kill his wife and child. Likewise, because the Blacks charged their under-butlers to the company, it’s apparently OK to gut the business, sell it off for parts, leave it in an ownership limbo, and lend the full force of the state to a boardroom coup that makes a travesty of traditional concepts of capitalism."

TDB recently pointed readers in the direction of part one of Michael Massing's examination of the performance of the US media. For Those who want to find out how it all ends will find part two here. "For many reporters, the bold coverage of the effects of the hurricane, and of the administration's glaring failure to respond effectively, has helped to begin making up for their timid reporting on the existence of WMD. Among some journalists I've spoken with, shame has given way to pride, and there is much talk about the need to get back to the basic responsibility of reporters, to expose wrongdoing and the failures of the political system. In recent weeks, journalists have been asking more pointed questions at press conferences, attempting to investigate cronyism and corruption in the White House and Congress, and doing more to document the plight of people without jobs or a place to live."

7 Space and dimensions
Sean Carroll, assistant professor of physics, reviews two books exploring the concepts of extra, hidden dimensions, the possibility of which were opened up by Einstein's theory of general relativity and are a requirement for string theory.  The books are "Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions" by Lisa Randall; and "Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos" by Michio Kaku. "Both of these books do an excellent job of explaining very esoteric concepts. As a theoretical physicist myself, I would be cheered to notice someone sitting at my local coffee shop engrossed in either book. "Parallel Worlds" is somewhat easier to dip into and provides a nice overview of many interesting ideas in modern physics. "Warped Passages", however, is useful and important both as an introduction to some key ideas in modern physics and as a window onto the way that physics is really done. Let us hope that the tradition of accessible books written for the general public by accomplished scientists continues to thrive."

Randall is considered one of the leading researchers in the field and was recently the subject of this profile in the NYTimes (now available only as a pay-to-view article).

8 Humanism, religion and Jesus
A charge much levelled of late against science (notably evolution) and environmentalism is that they are secular religions or faiths and that their adherents are true believers. AC Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at the University of London, challenges that notion. "The point of the Doubting Thomas story, remember, is that it is more blessed to believe without evidence than with it, as Kierkegaard likewise later insisted with his ‘leap of faith’ doctrine. No such leaps are required to ‘believe in’ science or reason. Science is always open to challenge and refutation, faith is not; reason must be rigorously tested by its own lights, faith rejoices in unreason. Once again, a humanistic outlook is as far from sharing the characteristics of religion as it can be. By definition, in short, humanism is not religion, any more than religion is or can be a form of humanism."

And in the NYTimes, Jonathan Rosen 'Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine,' by Harold Bloom. "Bloom calls himself a cultural Jew who does not "trust" in the covenant, trust being for him the hallmark of the normative Jew. And yet what dominates this book isn't the figure of Jesus or Yahweh. It is the image of Bloom, filled with post-Holocaust anguish and outrage, awakened at 2 a.m. by nightmares of Yahweh. What ultimately gives this book its power and poignancy is the image of a 74-year-old Jew, crying out to a silent God who nevertheless "won't go away." What could be more normative than that?"

9 Buy nothing or buy the best
Today is a busy day. As well as being International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (as The Age notes on its business pages, see below) it is also Buy Nothing Day. Wired interviewed Kalle Lasn (link below) who started the whole thing off, and talked about the internet's role in spreading the message and about the laziness of many bloggers and the digital generation's disengagement from the real world. "Founded 14 years ago by an ex-advertising executive, BND is now celebrated in more than 65 countries by millions of people -- who participate by not participating in the shopping orgy."

But perhaps the magazine is not totally committed to the anti-consumerism cause. Wired also has "the ultimate geek gift guide" to what it thinks are the best gadgets and gizmos on offer.

10 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

The main message from the papers this morning may be that supporters of the Iraq war have spelled out their new line of defence - "watch this space". In short, that things are slowly going well but that they will take time and patience - see Tony Parkinson and Michael Costello below. And while down there fishing around among the columnists, Dennis Shanahan's take on the politics of the industrial relations changes worked for us.

As for the headlines, they are all over the place. The Herald gives a big run to an interview Annabel Crabb has conducted in London with a former 'Gitmo' inmate, reporting that David Hicks is a misfit in Guantanamo Bay, a Southern redneck "who is learning to write a fishing novel and who loves to talk about hunting”, says one of his former fellow inmates. The paper revisits one the ugliest moments in Australian politics, the bashing of Peter Baldwin, and reports allegations that Tom Dominican organised it at the suggestion of Graham Richardson; and continues its close scrutiny of Sydney's proposed desalination plant (which everyone but the Government seems to thinks is a bad idea) and reports that desalination on the scale now planned by the State Government would cost almost double that of a similar sized recycling scheme and consume more than three times as much energy, Sydney Water papers reveal. It also reports that thousands of unfair dismissal cases will be shut down by the Federal Government's overhaul of workplace relations, with sacked workers losing the money they spent mounting their claims; that controversial magistrate Pat O'Shane has been scolded by NSW's top court for behaving "in an inappropriately adversarial way" towards a man who alleged defective work in refusing to pay a bill; and that Peter Costello has refused to say whether he will remain as Treasurer to deliver the budget next year, intensifying pressure on John Howard to make up his mind about whether to serve his full term as Prime Minister.

The Australian's lead says Jemaah Islamiah mastermind Azahari bin Husin was planning a suicide bomb attack on the memorial service held in Kuta last month for the 202 people who died in the Bali nightclub bombings three years ago. It also reports that Christina Rich is pursuing a $10 million claim against 20 PriceWaterhouseCoopers partners - including chief executive Tony Harrington and the entire board led by chairman Paul Brasher - over allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination, victimisation and bullying; that the lawyer for a German woman freed after facing execution in Singapore on drug charges has criticised Australia's last-ditch bid to save Nguyen Tuong Van as too late; that a landmark agreement promoting Aboriginal home ownership through easy access to low-cost loans aims to make indigenous families economically independent; and that plans to cut a quarter of the tax act would reduce the size of the law but do little to fix complexity in the personal and corporate tax systems, business and accounting firms said yesterday.

The Age reports that Gough Whitlam has hit out at the "Chinese rogue port city" that will execute Nguyen Tuong Van, saying John Howard should raise the case and capital punishment at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta; that Commonwealth Games teams may be forced to rent hotel rooms for some athletes, or to give them only brief rotational stints in the Parkville Village, if demand for beds continues to outweigh supply; that Susanna Jovicic is petrified her Melbourne brother will freeze to death on the steps of Australia's embassy in Serbia unless the Australian Government relents and allows him to come home; and that Imams in mosques throughout Melbourne will preach against domestic violence in their Friday sermons today as part of a United Nations campaign to eliminate violence against women.

Media Watch is again hunting for a host after Liz Jackson decided to return to Four Corners in 2006; incoming Labor Party president Warren Mundine will remain on the Howard Government's advisory council on Aboriginal affairs, ignoring calls for him to step down; and Brendan Francis McMahon, 36, of Tamarama, who is charged with mutilating to death 17 rabbits and a guinea pig, thought he was a "tool for the universe".

Roy Masters takes a break from reporting on "thugby league" to look at the experience of a Croatian family during Australia's last great terrorism scare (Ustasha), which may serve as a warning for what will happen under the proposed new anti-terrorism laws.


The Age: David Neal looks at failures of justice that have occurred under anti-terrorism laws overseas and argues that similar things will happen in Australia because of a lack of safeguards; Muriel Porter says Christian Churches should be wary of getting caught up in internal debates and of failing to speak out against the proposed anti-terrorism laws; Tony Parkinson thinks the history of slow progress in Bosnia and Kosovo serves as a lesson for what may yet happen in Iraq; and Paul Austin looks at Liberal leader Robert Doyle’s woes and thinks any backlash of the industrial relations laws will only make things worse.

The Australian: Dennis Shanahan delivers a great piece of political analysis based on recent opinion polls showing falling support for John Howard over the industrial relations changes, which, he argues, has the potential to snowball in ways similar to the rise in support for Pauline Hanson; Michael Costello, who supported the war in Iraq, has been to a Lowy Institute seminar on values and foreign policy, and reports that the prevailing mood on Iraq was one of "I told you so", but concludes that this may yet be premature; Jacquelynne Willcox looks at the Vatican's new, hardline policy toward gay priests and thinks that "as with most purges, (it will) destroy what it set out to protect"; James Morrow says Nguyen Tuong Van broke the travellers first commandment, "their country, their rules", and should get what is coming; Kevin Donnelly, education ideologue, is back to warn of the crisis in our classrooms caused by outcomes-based education.

The SMH: Richard Ackland says the Federal Government's response to the barbaric and disproportionate punishment handed down to Nguyen Tuong Van has been mealy-mouthed and explains why he thinks there is some "dog whistle" politics involved; Peter Hartcher looks at who is winning the 'war on terror' and says George Bush and Osama bin Laden have punched out a draw to date; Joy Goodsell calls for national action to curb growing domestic violence; and Kate Mizerski (a marketer) says scapegoating the marketers and manufacturers of junk food is not the answer to childhood obesity.


Telstra's hugging the limelight, again for all the wrong reasons. The Herald reports that Finance Minister, Nick Minchin, yesterday appointed UBS, ABN Amro Rothschild and Goldman Sachs JBWere as joint global managers for the "possible" sale of the Federal Government's controlling stake in Telstra late next year - but the T3 sale is looking more like mission impossible after the stock closed at $3.90 yesterday. Elizabeth Knight looks at what's in it for the companies handling the sale and says Minchin has pared fees for all the various parties that are to get a piece of the action.

The Herald also reports that all it took was the whiff of a takeover rumour and investors piled into St George Bank yesterday, lapping up speculation that British bank HBOS was doing the numbers on Australia's fifth-biggest bank; and that the retail sector's woes are again in the spotlight, after two private equity firms picked up for a song the struggling discount operations of Miller's Retail and the Australian business of The Warehouse Group. Stephen Bartholomeusz says the purchase of not one, but two, distressed retail chains by two private equity firms marks another stage in the evolution of the rapidly growing private equity market in this country.

The Australian reports that BHP Billiton and Woodside have committed $US600 million ($811million) to develop the Stybarrow oil field on the North West Shelf; and that the Commonwealth Bank is girding itself for a possible assault on parts of its sprawling property empire, yesterday retaining investment bank UBS to advise on possible bids for its $3.8 billion CFS Gandel Retail trust, which owns some of Australia's biggest commercial property assets. Bryan Frith (who refuses to let this one go) says the Lion Nathan bid is the only reason that shareholders now have the chance to obtain a price approaching fair value for their shares, and it's shone a probing searchlight on to the administration of the company's antediluvian and inequitable pre-emptive rights regime.

The Age points out that today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, but it will go unnoticed in most businesses. It also reports that Toll Holdings has gone on the offensive against Patrick Corp, cutting its $4.6 billion bid for the group by 32¢ a share — the same amount Patrick paid its shareholders as a dividend; and that after more than a year spent running the ruler over the London Stock Exchange, Macquarie Bank is unlikely to make a bid for the company.


The Daily Telegraph: "The Tax Cut You Deserve" - Every Australian can look forward to a substantial tax cut next year after Treasurer Peter Costello yesterday committed himself to using the multi-billion-dollar surplus to deliver genuine relief; The HSC is set to evolve into a standardised national course under radical changes aimed at producing an Australia-wide end-of-school qualification.

The Herald-Sun: Flinders St Station will get a $10 million facelift, including an urgent clean-up in time for the Commonwealth Games; Khoa Nguyen said last night the impending execution of his twin, Tuong, for drug smuggling had inspired him to turn his life around.

The Courier-Mail: The Liberal Party's pursuit of a former One Nation candidate yesterday sparked calls within the Nationals for Liberal leader and Coalition partner Bob Quinn to stand down; The Queensland Nationals have demanded that tough new industrial relations laws be watered down to protect public holiday penalties and shield first-time jobseekers from exploitation.

The Advertiser: A group of 18 students from Ashford Special School was rushed to hospital last night after a bus flipped near Waikerie; The State Opposition's dismal performance has plunged the Liberal Party into a financial crisis.

The West Australian: Home handymen and building workers have emerged as WA's alarming new wave of asbestos disease victims, with figures to show they now account for more cases of deadly mesothelioma than former Wittenoom workers; A new threat to the Swan River has emerged as experts reveal acid flowing off low-lying residential developments is killing fish and leaching into groundwater.

The Mercury: Labor has been rocked by a new poll showing its popularity in Tasmania has plummeted; Tasmania yesterday became the first state in Australia to license an online betting agency with the passing of its controversial Betfair legislation.


Victorian paceman Mick Lewis has been called into the Australian one-day side to replace a resting Glenn McGrath for the three-match Chappell-Hadlee series in New Zealand next month; The new-look Australian team that steps out at the Adelaide Oval this morning has been instructed to go for the wounded West Indies' jugular while looking beyond this third Test to the next - hopefully more competitive - series against South Africa; Greg Norman bites back at Hensby over criticism; Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles kept their cool in testing conditions to salvage a draw after England's top batting order collapsed on the last day of the second Test against Pakistan yesterday.

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