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The Daily Briefing 27/10/05
1 Message and feedback
TDB is not yet back to best form after yesterday's technical glitches and late edition. And a lot of time was expended this morning on the Niger yellowcake affair, which looks like becoming significant. Readers whose interests lie outside US politics and the unfolding revelations about the lead-up to the war in Iraq have been somewhat neglected of late, and that balance will be redressed in the days ahead.
And do have a look at some of the recent feedback that has come in, particularly the response to an article that mentioned Tycho Brahe. TDB does not want to leave readers with wrong impressions or information.
THE DAILY BRIEFING
2 The Yellowcake forgery
Even before the Valerie Plame affair comes to anything resembling a conclusion, prepare for another, linked scandal, about how the report that Iraq was trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger gained credence in the first place. The report was based on documents now proven to have been forgeries, and an investigative report in Italy's La Repubblica says they were channelled directly into the Bush administration "cabal" (according to Lawrence Wilkerson) that was pushing for the invasion of Iraq by Nicolo Pollari, the head of Berlusconi's military intelligence. Laura Rozen (link below) has a concise version of the story for American Prospect.
One of the intriguing aspects of the whole saga are reports of meeting between Pollari and one of the leading proponents of the Iraq invasion, neo-conservative mouthpiece Michael Ledeen from the American Enterprise Institute. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has had a long-term interest in the story, and if you follow the previous link and scroll down, you come across this: "Remember, Pollari had good contacts with folks at Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans. At the end of 2001 one he had attended a secret meeting in Rome with OSP stalwart Harold Rhode, the now-indicted Larry Franklin and neo-con regime-change-everywhere-at-once guru Michael Ledeen."
Associated Press is reporting that Pollari is to be questioned by an Italian Parliamentary commission next week.
At the bottom of all of this lies what would normally appear to be one of the most outrageously unbelievable conspiracy stories ever - that is the forged documents may have been purposely created (by the Italians? by the neo-cons?), then pipelined (bypassing the sceptical CIA) into a White House desperate for anything to help make its case for war. Normally outrageous, but in these strange times, of 'sexed-up' dossiers and official (Blair) government briefings based on a student's PhD thesis, most anything is worthy of consideration.
Laura Rozen has more on the story at her website and there was this earlier mention at TPM.
LAURA ROZEN/THE AMERICAN PROSPECT
3The Plame affair - so what?
As Washington waits for the final report and perhaps indictments out of the Fitzgerald investigation in the Plame affair (not expect for another 24 hours, NYTimes), two contrarian views about the whole affair have been expressed on the Times' opinion page. Nicholas Kristof (normally seen as a liberal, although he is too intellectually independent for any tag) and John Tierney, the other conservative-in-residence (after David Brooks) have both questioned whether the affair warrants a criminal investigation. Both concede that the affair involves politics at its ugliest and most brutal and that sackings should perhaps follow, but not criminal sanctions. (And because Times' columns are pay-to-view, substantial excerpts only appear at the link below.)
American Prospect editor Michael Tomasky has this response to Tierney and Kristof, arguing that in fact it was George Bush who took the case out of the political realm and into the criminal.
In The Washington Post, respected conservative commentator Robert Kagan comes to the defence of Judith Miller, the NYTimes reporter jailed during the Plame investigation.
KRISTOF & TIERNEY/NYTIMES
4 The challenge facing Bernanke
Just because previous US Federal Reserve chairs have been faced with a major challenge they were ill-equiped to handle early in their tenure, does not mean the same will happen to Ben Bernanke. (It's like those sporting "hoodoos" so beloved by lazy sports journos - you know, "such and such a team have not won at Frog's Hollow for 10 games and must overcome the hoodoo to beat ...") Anyway, Stephen Roach, chief economist for Morgan Stanley, thinks he will, and it is the obvious one - the massive US current account deficit, the source of the world's global fiscal imbalance. "In short, the U.S. is going to be asking a lot more of the foreign investor at precisely the moment the Fed is transitioning from Greenspan to Bernanke. As the maestro leaves the building, the hard-won aura of foreign confidence that surrounds him could be quick to follow. Bernanke could be faced with a dollar crisis and the related need on the part of foreign investors to seek compensation for taking currency risk. That compensation invariably spells higher interest rates - the last thing the nation's housing bubble and overly indebted consumers need."
And The Times reports that the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has advised Bernanke to be dull and not attract the cult of personality that grew around Alan Greenspan.
5 Time for action against Burma
Conservative MP John Bercow makes the case for action against Burma. "At the Millennium Summit in September, the UN accepted collective responsibility to protect populations from genocide and war crimes, promising timely and decisive action through the Security Council. If this is to prove anything but the most sanctimonious twaddle, let it start with Burma, whose long-suffering people have been shamefully abandoned by the international community."
JOHN BERCOW/THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
6 Rice and racism in the US
In the week that Rosa Parks died, a couple of pieces on race in American. Post columnist Eugene Robinson (link below) recently went back with Condoleezza Rice to her home town, Birmingham, Alabama and tries to answer the question "How does she work so loyally for George W. Bush, whose approval rating among blacks was measured in a recent poll at a negligible 2 percent?" "When Rice was growing up, her father stood guard at the entrance of her neighborhood with a rifle to keep the Klan's nightriders away. But that was outside the bubble. Inside the bubble, Rice was sitting at the piano in pretty dresses to play Bach fugues. It sounds like a wonderful childhood, but one that left her able to see the impact that race has in America -- able to examine it and analyze it -- but not to feel it."
And Laura Wexler in the same paper reviews "Sundown Towns" by James Loewen, about towns that set out to become "whites only". "Loewen reports that -- beginning in roughly 1890 with the end of Reconstruction and continuing until the fair-housing legislation of the late 1960s -- whites in America created thousands of whites-only towns, commonly known as "sundown towns" owing to the signs often posted at their city limits that warned, as one did in Hawthorne, Calif., in the 1930s: "Nigger, Don't Let The Sun Set On YOU In Hawthorne.""
EUGENE ROBINSON/THE WASHINGTON POST
7 Aljazeera and Australia's anti-terror laws
In truth, the Aljazeera report linked to below is nothing more than a curio, a straight report on the debate about the proposed anti-terrorism laws that does nothing more than note Muslim concerns.
And Cilina Nasser reports from Damascus on Syria-Lebanese relations following the UN report on the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. (Again, nothing startling, other than it is a look at how these events are being reported by local voices for the local media.)
A much more interesting read is this long feature on the power and impact of Aljazeera by The Independent. Sir David Frost has announced he is to join the Qatar-based broadcaster, and the BBC will axe 10 of its World Service radio services to find the money to launch an Arabic-language television station. "The decision is powerful testimony to the extraordinary growth of al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite station which in less than a decade has developed from the personal indulgence of the Emir of Qatar into a global player on the international broadcasting stage."
8 Small is beautiful again
At last, someone has remembered E. F. Schumacher and his 1973 best-seller, "Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered". TDB linked to the NYTimes article (unfortunately now in that paper's pay to view archives) referred to in this one, about a conference held in Nova Scotia looking at how governments might quantify and increase contentment. Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index was the subject of much discussion. Alexander Zaitchik traces the ideas back to Schumacher's book. "If Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index is right out of Small is Beautiful, conferences like the one in Nova Scotia are themselves right out of the era of Schumacher's peak influence, namely the mid to late 1970s. It's perhaps no coincidence that interest in Schumacherian ideas seems to be emerging from the margins just as talk of looming permanent oil shock gets louder. For while E. F. Schumacher's assault on traditional economics is at heart a humanist-spiritual one, its urgency and appeal have always shared their roots with harder stuff. Small is Beautiful proposes a scaled-down, resource-thrifty version of modernity not just because the author thought we'd all be happier (much), but because he felt it would eventually be forced upon us anyway, the result of a forceful revelation Schumacher had in the 1950s."
9 Gotcha! The mud-wrestling continues
The intellectual mud-wrestling between Respect MP George Galloway and one-time contrarian Christopher Hitchens continues. Hitchens has pounced on the latest allegations out of the US Senate against Galloway over the oil-for-food scandal, and rushes to 'convict' him (link below). "For George Galloway, however, the war would seem to be over. The evidence presented suggests that he lied in court when he sued the Daily Telegraph in London over similar allegations (and collected money for that, too). It suggests that he lied to the Senate under oath. And it suggests that he made a deceptive statement in the register of interests held by members of the British House of Commons. All in all, a bad week for him, especially coming as it does on the heels of the U.N. report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, which appears to pin the convict's badge on senior members of the Assad despotism in Damascus, Galloway's default patron after he lost his main ally in Baghdad."
The full report of the US Senate's findings are available here; and transcripts of the famous New York debate between the Hitchens and Galloway can be found on Hitchens' website. Hitchens is a great cultural critic, and his pursuit of Henry Kissinger was superb. But he seems to have lost all of his contrarian faculties when it comes to analysing the botched invasion and occupation of Iraq, something that Tim Piatak indirectly highlights for that bastion of traditional US conservatism, The American Conservative in this article, "The Purest Neo-Con".
As for Galloway, he is fighting back in typically pugnacious fashion, challenging Senator Norm Coleman to repeat his allegations outside the Senate. He also says the UN's Volcker inquiry will today report that he in fact received no money. Yet again, it may be too early to count Galloway out - he has a way of confounding his many critics.
10 Formula for a wobbly table
A minor matter perhaps, until your coffee gets slopped all over the "must read" article in your favourite, and perhaps expensive, foreign magazine - how do you stop cafe tables from wobbling? Wrong, you do not fold a coaster and put under one leg. Physicist André Martin says you simply rotate the table because a "stable state" always exists, and being a rigorous scientist, he has developed a formula to prove it.