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The Daily Briefing 20/10/05
1 Politicians grab for power
Kenneth Davidson may be unduly worried of course, but when someone in his position, with his experience, argues that our politicians are undermining the rule of law and attempting to destroy trade unions, deny the right to strike and strip Parliament of its financial accountability role so as to benefit the "modern day barons", then perhaps he ought to be given a hearing (and you'll find the link to his article below.) Davidson of course refers to the proposed anti-terrorism and industrial relations laws, but goes on to say that "a more insidious threat to democratic process has been the so-called reforms to budgetary processes at both the state and federal level". This lack of acountability, Davidson says, relates in particular to "lucrative infrastructure projects", and given that John Howard has been talking up the use of "public-private partnerships" (see National round-up below), then perhaps we best get used to hearing more about this "commercial in confidence" blather. (Which is a polite way of saying "sit down and shut up, you no longer have the right to know".)
Davidson's comments also come as Malcolm Fraser (see below) is warning about the threat to traditional freedoms posed by the anti-terror laws (the ones Gerard Henderson wants us all to sit down and shut up about - not many things left for a concerned citizen to speak up about are there?) and as The Australian reports (see below) that the Australian Crime Commission is to be given draconian "star chamber powers".
And into that mix, you might like to add Bill Garner's column in The Age, which looks at the cutbacks to the ABC. While he focuses on the impacts this is having on drama production, he also makes the point that the Government has cut funding despite overwhelming public support for the organisation. "This highlights the startling disconnection between parliament and the people we are witnessing. The political culture is now so dysfunctional that democracy has been subordinated to political managerialism. Only by reinvigorating the democratic process itself will we have a chance of saving the ABC. Perhaps that is the way it should be."
KENNETH DAVIDSON/THE AGE
2 The geo-politics of global warming
While the Australian media still gives a disproportionate amount of space to the few remaining nutters who dispute global warming - or who want to discuss the amount or rate of change - debate in the real world is quickly moving on. Last week TDB linked to a report on businesses seeking to cash in on areas around the Arctic no longer covered by ice. Today, Scott Borgerson, who teaches maritime studies, political geography and American foreign policy at the United States Coast Guard Academy, says foreign policy will increasingly have to adjust to factor in the changes (link below). "Because the Arctic lacks a comprehensive legal framework akin to the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, which ended territorial claims and established Antarctica as a demilitarized region of international scientific cooperation, the United States should play a leading diplomatic role in adjudicating the growing international contest over the Arctic. It should also negotiate an Arctic security arrangement with Canada."
Until now the belief has been that the northern extremities of the planet would be most effected by warming, but the latest findings from the British Antarctic Survey, as reported by The Guardian, indicate that this may not be the case. The rise in temperatures is expected to have a dramatic impact on sea level rises. "Scientists working in Antarctica have discovered an alarming rise in sea temperature that threatens to disrupt populations of penguins, whales, seals and a host of smaller creatures within a few decades."
And as the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin heads for Mexico, The Washington Post reports a university finding that it may be just a taste of things to come. "Extreme weather events -- including heat waves, floods and drought -- are likely to become more common over the next century in the United States because of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study by Purdue University researchers."
And all of that before China reaches its full industrial potential. The Independent reports that it is poised to become one of the greatest environmental threats the world has ever faced. "An ominous sign of the danger is given in a groundbreaking report from Greenpeace, published today, which maintains that China is now by far the world's biggest driver of rainforest destruction. The report documents the vast deforestation driven by the soaring demands of China's enormous timber trade - the world's largest - as the country's headlong economic development sucks in ever-more amounts of the earth's natural resources."
And then there is the increasing problem of bio-invasion in an interconnected world, the spread of non-native species. In American Scientist, Professor of Environmental Biology Harold Mooney reviews "Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion" by Alan Burdick. Mooney says Burdick tries to play down the problem, but he is anything but convinced by the attempt.
3 How is it going in Iraq?
Just swimmingly, according to Greg Sheridan and Mark Steyn in The Australian. Oh alright, perhaps not exactly swimmingly, but things are on the up and anyone who argues back is just a no-brain, knee-jerk, tyrant-appeasing anti-American. (Don't you love the sophisticated analysis and intellectual rigour that comes with geo-political debates?) Unfortunately for these learned gentlemen, there is a lot of back chat around. Michael O'Hanlon at the respected Brookings Institution (link below) has been tracking progress in Iraq for years (his studies used to be reproduced as graphics in the NYTimes, and TDB has linked to many of them.) In his latest assessment, O'Hanlon says things do not go well. "There is still considerable hope, and much that does go well in Iraq. But on balance, there is more reason for worry than optimism right now."
In The Guardian, Simon Jenkins (that's Sir Simon to you young lady), has recently been back to Iraq and says it is time for Britain to get out and if the Americans want to stay, then more fool them. "I could no longer walk the streets or visit friends. Anyone associating with foreigners risks execution. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, academics are fleeing abroad for fear of kidnap. The National Museum has closed. Visiting VIPs must go everywhere by helicopter. The Iraqi head of Baghdad's military academy must change into civilian clothes before leaving his base. After nearly three years of American rule, Baghdad is simply the most terrifying city in the world. Not surprisingly the chief topic among the occupation forces is how to get out."
This article by Christopher Hitchens for Slate had already been set aside for today's edition when The Reader arrived, and opened up by saying "Of the many pages of commentary we read about Iraq this week, it was our old favourite, Christopher Hitchens, who provided the most insight, laying into the "boring and philistine habits of our media" for using partitionist and segregationist language when writing about Iraq's plural society. He makes a good point." Dear friends at The Reader, you really need to read more widely, and perhaps you could have explained what this good point is that Hitchens is making. If the "media" is "boring and philistine" for referring to the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, then suddenly just about every foreign policy analyst, think-tank fellow, Arab commentator ... oh, and the occasional Iraqi politician like Hatem Mukhlis yesterday, is a boring media person, because every single one of them makes the same distinctions, using the same terminology. Anyway, it's Hitchens, so its a lively read, but whether he has a point that is entirely to the point at this particular time is entirely a matter for you.
MICHAEL O'HANLON/THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
4Europe moves to the right
Roger Cohen has become a TDB favourite in the last 12 months, both because he can craft a column and because he has built a trust in what he has to say. This time around he reports on the move to the right in European politicians, which has been given a push by home-grown terrorism, concerns about immigration and stagnating economies. "But the left now sees that it is possible, indeed critical, to confront the grave failures of immigration policy without adopting the bigoted excesses of the right. For one thing, the welfare state that is the great creation of European social democracy depends on change because a welfare system supporting out-of-work immigrants in disproportionate degree tends to stir resentments that are explosive."
ROGER COHEN/INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
5 What to do about our thug
Max Boot is probably the most conservative, pro-George Bush fellow at the centrist Centre for Foreign Relations, but he seems to have left most of his ideological baggage behind on his trip to Azerbaijan. The country is, he says, one of the more corrupt and repressive places on Earth, but that thanks to its sizeable oil reserves, it is also a place of considerable strategic and economic importance. It also is an ally in the "global war on terror", which means it poses a problem given the challenge to all dictators Bush made in his "freedom is on the march" inauguration speech. "The U.S. reaction to this thuggery has been muted, to put it kindly. Two years ago, when Ilham Aliyev was anointed president in a rigged election following his father's demise, the State Department appeared to offer congratulations rather than criticism. Nowadays, U.S. Ambassador Reno L. Harnish III speaks highly of Aliyev's supposed moderation and is not protesting too loudly this "reformer's" rampant rights abuses. The ambassador tried - unsuccessfully - to block a group of Western think tanks from holding a conference last weekend in Baku that featured leading opposition figures."
6If this is democracy, let me out of here
The facts on which this column by Thomas Friedman is based are all accurate, but he puts them into a mock news report out of Baghdad about an Iraqi fact finding mission that went to the US and left early for fear of the damage the experience might do. Because Friedman's columns are covered by TimesSelect, excerpts only appear below. The full article appears here.
7 Darfur and Somalia
As the NYTimes reports on a dramatic development in the chaos in Darfur ("The fact that militias trained and armed by the government are now emboldened enough to turn their guns on the government is a sign of trouble. It was government support of the janjaweed at the outset that ignited the fighting in Darfur that killed tens of thousands of people and displaced two million villagers."), Der Spiegel - one of the more pro-American outlets in Germany - tries to understand why "Washington's new ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, barred a UN representative from giving a report on the mass killings in Darfur before the Security Council" (link below). The magazine speculates that the US may not want to take action because it is otherwise occupied. "Washington currently has 150,000 troops in Iraq, 18,000 in Afghanistan and, these days, the Bush administration fears any kind of deployment in Africa."
Staying in the same region, the Power and Interest News Report offers this ''Intelligence Brief: Somalia'' "Although it is most frequently called an "anarchy" or a "failed state," Somalia is most accurately described as a society with varying degrees of regional political integration and no effective and legitimate central authority. Along with Somaliland, the region of Puntland has a functioning government and other regions have incipient authorities. As Somalia's complex clan-based society has adapted to statelessness, it has slowly emerged from chaos into a pattern of imperfect decentralized order that might eventually result in national political integration, a break-up into mini-states or a chronic condition of political indetermination."
8 Getting perspective on the flu scare
Having entered the debate about how real the threat of an avian flu pandemic may be, for its sins TDB felt obliged to refer to the following. The Washington Post has interviewed John Treanor, a professor of medicine at the University of Rochester and lead investigator in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored trial of a prospective avian flu vaccine. Treanor doesn't think a pandemic is inevitable, and answers a range of other questions about how to deal with it (eating chicken is not, he says, a problem).
The Times reports that David Nabarro, the UN system senior co-ordinator for avian influenza, thinks every country should appoint a minister for flu.
Also in The Times, David Aaronovitch (link below) is bemused by the reaction to the estimate that a possible pandemic may kill 50,000 in the UK, when many times that number die each from causes that individuals, companies and governments are reluctant to act on. "These companies lie and dissemble in their packaging, dispute until they can dispute no longer every bit of research that links their horrible products with modern ill-health, and they suborn or browbeat government and agencies. Take the Advertising Association and its attitude to the marketing of junk food - food which is high in sodium and fats, low in nutrition and which, together with our sedentary lifestyles, is killing us. The Director-General of the AA recently described as "unproven" the idea that junk food advertising contributed to ill-health. Only if it is "unproven" that advertising leads to sales - a proposition that would bankrupt the entire ads industry."
DAVID AARONOVITCH/THE TIMES
9 Guantanamo torture
TDB can not vouch for the journalism of Reem Nafie, nor does it know anything of the torture and abuse allegations made by Sami El-Leithi after nearly four years in Guantanamo Bay. But, Al-Ahram Weekly is a respected journal in the Middle East, this is what it is telling its readers, and that is why it matters. "During one of these sessions, El-Leithi said interrogators stomped on his back, dropped him on the floor and repeatedly forced his neck forward, which resulted in two broken vertebrae and his confinement to a wheel chair. He said he was then denied the necessary treatment and operation that would have saved him from permanent paralysis."
REEM NAFIE/AL-AHRAM WEEKLY
10 Pamuk, Turkey and the EU
It took a while for The Daily Star to discover the plight of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk ("Instanbul", "My Name is Red") but it has done so in a big way. First is spoke with Pamuk just ahead of his trial on charges of denigrating Turkish national identity for raising the issue of the Armenian genocide (link below). The novelist says he expects to be acquitted, and discusses the implications the case has for Turkey's bid for EU membership. "Pamuk said he felt disturbed over what he described as attempts by opponents of Turkey's EU membership to use the court case against him for their own political ends. "I support Turkey's bid to join the EU ... but I cannot tell those opponents of Turkey, 'It's none of your business whether they try me or not' ... so I feel stuck in between. This is a burden," he said."
The paper was obviously pleased with its efforts. When Pamuk won Germany's highest literary honour at the Frankfurt book fair the next day, it began its report by saying "A day after The Daily Star reported on the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk's upcoming trial for belittling Turkish identity, the author was awarded ... " It is most unlikely there was a connection, but it is something newspapers the world over love to do.
THE DAILY STAR