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The Daily Briefing 31/10/05
1 This bill is an abomination
As avid readers of TDB know, the editor has something of a soft spot for Boris Johnson (rather like the one Boris has for Cherie Blair really). What's not to like about a bicycle riding, classically educated novelist, columnist, editor, Conservative MP and lad about town? Frankly, Johnson has more going for him than the entire lumpen lot who make up our Federal Parliament. But I digress.
As we also know, our proposed anti-terror laws are modeled on those Tony Blair scrambled together in the political panic following the London bombings (to which everyone else responded admirably). Anyway, our Boris thinks the laws are an abomination, and notes that they were shaped by the desires of the intelligence services (rather like our own) but can't understand why anyone would take a blind bit of notice of that lot. "Who gives a damn what these intelligence charlies want, and what business is it of theirs to be telling Parliament what to do? These are the klutzes who were so pathetic that they could not get a single credible agent into pre-war Iraq, with the result that Parliament and the public were told a load of old cobblers about the state of Saddam's WMD. There is no reason to believe everything they say; there is no reason for either of these provisions, not least since Labour feels so guilty about their impact on ethnic minorities, especially Muslims, that the Government has been symmetrically obliged to come up with an even worse measure, namely the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, thankfully felled by the Lords."
(Oh, yes, and that religious hatred bill that TDB has spoken about often has copped it in the neck, at least temporarily.)
Speaking of the Right Honourable Boris, The Independent reports that he will give up his job as Spectator editor if David Cameron becomes Tory leader. "In the latest chapter of his colourful personal and professional life, Mr Johnson appears to have accepted he can no longer moonlight as a journalist and politician, revealing that his lust for power has eclipsed his desire to be a high-profile editor."
And the NYTimes reports that the case of "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla (which looks as dodgy as all get out from this distance) is set to go to the Supreme Court .
BORIS JOHNSON/THE SPECTATOR
2 The Libby Indictment
If you want just one article on the indictment of Vice-President Dick Cheney's advisor Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Andrew Sullivan column linked to below is the place to go. Sullivan has also been following developments at his blog, although Josh Marshall does it better.
Sullivan said that if he were Cheney, he'd be "sweating a little", and if anything, the focus on the Veep has intensified since the Sullivan column was written.
For those who want "just the facts thanks Ma'am", this is how the NYTimes reported the indictment, this is the transcript of Prosecutor Fitzgerald's remarks and this is the actual indictment (pdf file) and this is The New Republic article referred to as having sparked the investigation.
The NYTimes looks at the challenge to get a conviction: "the special prosecutor is pitting three prominent journalists against their former source, a strategy that experts in law and journalism say has rarely been used or tested".
The Washington Post looks at the impact on Valerie Plame, "the spy who got shoved out in the cold" and reports that the CIA hasn't fully established the damage done by her outing. "There is no indication, according to current and former intelligence officials, that the most dire of consequences -- the risk of anyone's life -- resulted from her outing."
The NYTimes reports that Democrats say the indictment shows the White House was prepared to risk national security to protect the flawed case for the invasion of Iraq; and that the indictment shows just how hard Cheney worked to discredit war opponents.
Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel of Knight Ridder Newspapers report that the indictment does not give any clues to the mystery about who created the Niger yellowcake forged documents. However, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has again denied Italy was involved in this article in which Berlusconi says he was against the war and tried to talk George Bush out of it. (An interesting comment to make just before a visit to Washington, although as the article notes, Berlusconi is up for re-election in six months. The Iraq war has precious few friends these days.)
Editor & Publisher reports that one half of the legendary Watergate reporting team, Carl Bernstein sees comparisons with Watergate and thinks we are watching "the implosion of a presidency".
In the NYTimes, David Rosenbaum gives a history lesson on presidents who have had difficult second terms.
And just for a little balance, or a wry chuckle, a couple of conservative optimists who see silver linings while others are watching the thunder and lightning show. In The Spectator Mark Steyn thinks it is a lot about nothing, although to be fair, Steyn did write before the indictment was published.
And the godfather of US conservatives, William Kristol, the editor of Rupert Murdoch's The Weekly Standard thinks the worst is over, and that really things are not so bad as all that.
ANDREW SULLIVAN/THE SUNDAY TIMES
3Krugman likes Bernanke
Climate change sceptics and Iraq war optimists aside, no group of pundits get it wrong more often than economic commentators. If TDB has a dollar for every useless word read in the past 12 months predicting this economic outcome or the other that did not come to pass, this edition would be coming to you from a cottage in the south of France. And it has to be conceded that NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman has predicted for some years now that the economic sky would fall someday soon, when he is not giving George Bush 'what for'. (It also has to be conceded that a lot of good judges think he will be right, eventually.) He is at it again in the column below in which he welcomes the appointment of Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chair, and gives Bush a bit of 'what for'. "All of this raises a frightening prospect. Has President Bush been so damaged by scandals and public disapproval that he has no choice but to appoint qualified, principled people to important positions?"
Those yet-to-come-to-pass predictions also leave him open to his many critics on the right, and Donald Ruskins takes issue with them, and with Krugman's opinion that Bernancke is not a supply sider, in this column for National Review Online.
And in the column below for The Daily Telegraph, historian Niall Ferguson says the world is run by pols, geeks and wonks. He welcomes the appointment of Bernancke whom he describes as an über-wonk. "On that basis, of course, you could end up handing everything over to the wonks. The result might be an ideal Platonic form of government - rule by an enlightened, omniscient elite. On the other hand, it would be a technocracy, not a democracy. In any case, are we absolutely sure the wonks know what they're doing?"
4 Get real on climate change
Tony Blair has been criticised of late for having gone soft on the issue of climate change and TDB recently linked to this George Monbiot column which suggested Britain's chief scientist had been nobbled. In the column linked to below, Blair gives every impression that the issue is important to him as he previews discussions this week between the G8 and China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. "We also have to recognise that while the Kyoto Protocol takes us in the right direction, it is not enough. We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions radically but Kyoto doesn't even stabilise them. It won't work as intended, either, unless the US is part of it. It's easy to take frustrations out on the Bush Administration but people forget that the Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto when Bill Clinton was in the White House."
And in The Week-end Australian, Matt Price explained Environment Minister Ian Campbell's stance on the issue, and gave a wonderful lesson in how to gently rebuke a fellow columnist - Christopher Pearson. Only one quibble, Matt. You end off by saying "The debate, I suspect, ain't over yet." Maybe not for the climate change deniers it ain't, but out in the real world it was over long ago (see Geoff Strong in The Age this morning). As for the sceptics, well, there are still folk around who believe the earth is flat and that the moon landings were faked on a Hollywood studio set - but who takes a blind bit of notice of them?
TONY BLAIR/THE OBSERVER
5 Iraq: past and future
Both veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter have books out about Iraq, Ritter's having just been released. In this interview, Hersh, the journalist who revealed the abuses in Abu Ghraib, asks Ritter about the weapons inspections and the best time for foreign troops to leave Iraq. Hersh also challenges as "an urban myth" the widely held notion that all of the world's intelligence organisations believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. "One of the things that's overwhelming to me is the notion that everybody believed before March of '03 that Saddam had weapons. This is just urban myth. The fact of the matter is that, in talking to people who worked on the UNSCOM and also in the International Atomic Energy Agency, they were pretty much clear by '97 that there was very little likelihood that Saddam had weapons. And there were many people in our State Department, in the Department of Energy, in the CIA who didn't believe there were weapons. And I think history is going to judge the mass hysteria we had about Saddam and weapons."
And anyone looking for a guide to the best books about Iraq might be interested in the list compiled by NYTimes' Baghdad reporter Robert Worth. Worth says "Arabian Sands" (1959) by Wilfred Thesiger is the pick of them. "I sat up late that night, devouring Thesiger's account of his travels with a group of Bedouin tribesmen through Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter, where he hunted oryx and lived on dates and on water that tasted of camel urine. It was a far, far cry from the air-conditioned compound where I cowered behind my laptop eating PowerBars. It was also my first glimpse of the Arab history that lay beneath the rubble of Baghdad."
SEYMOUR HERSH & SCOTT RITTER/NATION
6 Forget 1916
Perhaps Martin Bell will take this crusade to every other country on the planet, because he doesn't explain why Ireland alone should not remember a violent rebellion that led to it becoming an independent nation - the Easter Uprising of 1916. (It would be interesting to see him trying to sell the argument that the US should not celebrate the War of Independence, for example.) The marvelous irony about the Easter Uprising is that it was a bungled fiasco that had next to no public support at the time and may have been a largely forgotten footnote in history if the British hadn't decided to line the rebels up against a wall and shoot them - a drawn out process over several days that aroused public disgust (especially when one of them was dragged from a hospital bed for the occasion). Nowadays the joke is that the Dublin GPO is so big because it had to house all the people now claiming to have taken part in the short uprising (which Australian troops helped to put down, by the way).
Anyway, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern has announced there will be major celebrations of the centenary in 2016, and Mr Bell is not so sure this is a good idea. "For years, Sinn Féin has been systematically appropriating the militant milestones of an Irish state whose legitimacy it has never recognised. This year it claimed ownership of the centenary of the original - and unrecognisably different - Sinn Féin movement of Arthur Griffith. Next year it aims to annex the 90th anniversary of the socialist James Connolly and to serve it up in a heady cocktail mixed with the 25th anniversary of the IRA hunger strikes. But the biggest target of all is control of the centenary of 1916 itself. To allow Sinn Féin to colonise the events of Easter 2016 as its own would be an existential challenge to the very republic itself."
MARTIN BELL/THE GUARDIAN
7 Newspaper for the global village
A short piece by Guardian editor Emily Bell on the challenges thrown up by editing a paper that is read around the world - of the Guardian Unlimited's 12 million monthly users, the majority are from outside the UK. In particular Bell highlights the recent kidnapping of journalist Rory Carroll in Iraq, in which case everything the paper ran was likely to have been seen by his captors. "Every piece we put out about Rory or abductions in Iraq had to be carefully vetted and considered in the context of how it might be received."
EMILY BELL/THE GUARDIAN
8 Things are great in Godzone
Nothing more than one of those curios linked to occasionally, but in case you are interested this is what Lynton Crosby (ex-Liberal Party campaign director who ran the Tories' losing election campaign back in May) is telling the Brits about our island, girt, as it is, by sea. "Which country will have no government debt within a year, contributed the most to help those in need after the tsunami, and was described by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development as a "model for other countries", America or Australia? You've guessed it. Australia. For so long simply seen as an adventure playground for gap year students or a breeding ground for sportsmen, Australia has now graduated into the world of big players."
LYNTON CROSBY/THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
9 Digital cameras, Palm and Google
With annual sales of digital cameras outstripping film models by 15 to 1in the UK, Nigel Atherton (link below) evaluates the latest digital camera offerings.
The Independent lists the 10 gadgets you'll want next year. "You've got a mobile phone, a camera, an MP3 player, a diary, an address book, a portable radio, and not enough pockets. Nokia is coming to the rescue with the N91. It's a chunky phone with 4GB hard drive, so it's aiming to make your iPod redundant."
In The Washington Post, Rob Pegoraro tries out the latest offerings from Palm. "They're not bad, but they also don't represent any great achievements."
And the NYTimes reports on Google's assault on the world of advertising. "This year, Google will sell $6.1 billion in ads, nearly double what it sold last year, according to Anthony Noto, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. That is more advertising than is sold by any newspaper chain, magazine publisher or television network. By next year, Mr. Noto said, he expects Google to have advertising revenue of $9.5 billion."
THE SUNDAY TIMES
10 The children of the children of the revolution
Ethicist and journalist Christine Rosen uses Christopher Lasch's 1979 book "The Culture of Narcissism" as her stepping off point for the article linked to below which looks at the society being created by the children of that generation. "Today a book about the vagaries of the American character might still have a great deal to say about narcissism, but its subtitle would likely point to something other than diminishing expectations. It would, perhaps, document "Life in the Age of the Overpraised American," for praise (and its kin, attention-seeking), is our common cultural currency. If, in the twentieth century, "character" gave way to "personality," as Lasch and others such as Richard Sennett and Anthony Giddens argued, then in the twenty-first century "personality" exists only if it is broadcast, rated, praised and consumed by as many people as possible - put on display for strangers as well as intimates. In addition, the over-praised American personality expects regularly to assess the worth of others, regardless of his qualifications for doing so."
Paul Harris in The Observer reports on the end of the metrosexual. According to the book "The Future of Men" the übersexual has taken his place, with Bono the ultimate example of this "new" breed.
And coming out from behind the pay-to-view wall that is TimesSelect, Maureen Dowd updates feminism, looking at where things are at for women through a personal prism. "Throughout the long, dark ages of undisputed patriarchy, women connived to trade beauty and s*x for affluence and status. In the first flush of feminism, women offered to pay half the check with "woman money" as a way to show that these crass calculations - that a woman's worth in society was determined by her looks, that she was an ornament up for sale to the highest bidder - no longer applied. Now dating etiquette has reverted. Young women no longer care about using the check to assert their equality. They care about using it to assess their s*xuality. Going Dutch is an archaic feminist relic. Young women talk about it with disbelief and disdain. "It's a scuzzy 70's thing, like platform shoes on men," one told me."
CHRISTINE ROSEN/HOOVER INSTITUTION
11 The White Sox curse
Who better to reflect on the "lifting" of the White Sox curse than author, broadcaster and story-teller Studs Terkel, who think Shoeless Joe Jackson ("say it ain't so, Jo?") and his team were hard done by, and do not deserve to remain as outsiders. "Even with the Chicago White Sox's remarkable World Series sweep of the Houston Astros, ending the Black Sox curse of 1919, we cannot say that a chapter of infamy is over. This is because the players of that infamous team of 86 years ago remain on the outside. I'm only sorry that they (and Bill Veeck, the team's eccentric former owner) aren't alive to see it."