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The Daily Briefing 7/11/05
1 Data mining and anti-terrorism laws
Because of the debate about Australia's current anti-terrorism laws, TDB is looking from reports from the US and the UK on how similar laws are working there. Yesterday's Washington Post front page lead was a major investigation into the exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act, which marked its fourth anniversary on Oct. 26. In particular, the report looks at the use of "national security letters", created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, but now widely applied to ordinary citizens, with the information gathered being collected on a government data base. "Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot."
BARTON GELLMAN/THE WASHINGTON POST
2 Iraq is leaching Bush's presidency
Putting good judgment to one side for a moment, TDB recently ventured into the intellectual squalor of Australia's shallowest and nastiest public affairs blog (oh you know who it is), to find a lame excuse for the lack of posts on his former love-interest George Bush, now that his popularity is headed for the cellar. In what is merely the latest show of political ignorance from this same quarter, the excuse given is that popularity is not important because Bush doesn't have to face re-election. You might think that someone who presumes to write about such topics would have stumbled across the expression "politics is the art of the possible" by now, and know that not so much is possible for unpopular presidents, and that this has implications for everything from the conduct of the war in Iraq to getting appointments confirmed (or not, as in the case of Harriet Miers). But don't worry, this person is only the news editor for Australia's leading news magazine. (Hope the spelling was fine in there.)
Fortunately, David Broder at The Washington Post (link below) has a better grasp of political realities in the real world. After a visit to Ohio, Broder reports that it is Iraq that is doing most damage to Bush. "Far more than anything else, the voices in Columbus suggest that the president's biggest problem -- and therefore the Republicans' biggest worry -- is the unresolved and uncertain struggle in Iraq. Bring it to some sort of satisfactory conclusion, and all the other issues confronting the administration at home and abroad probably become manageable. But let it drag on for another year of deaths and frustrations, and you are really tempting the fates."
The Post reports on recent polling of US voter discontent, and finds that the only thing going for Bush and the Republicans is their political opposition. "One bright spot for the Republicans is the low regard in which many Americans hold the Democrats. The public sees the Democrats as disorganized, lacking in clear ideas or a positive alternative to the GOP agenda, and bereft of appealing leaders."
And Dam Fromkin in the same paper reports that another significant comment by Lawrence Wilkerson has been largely missed by the US media. In a radio interview, Wilkerson linked torture and prisoner abuse directly to Dick Cheney. "... the former chief of staff to the secretary of state (Wilkerson) said that he had uncovered a "visible audit trail" tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office."
And apologies if non-subscribers to The Atlantic Monthly are unable to read this one, but Jack Beatty says that it was obvious from Bush's character and history before becoming president that he would be a failure. "Historians will make this generation of Americans answer for George W. Bush. You let us down, they will say. You afflicted posterity with Bush's blunders and damaged the morale of democracy by letting him into office. Caligula appointed his horse as consul. You elected George W. Bush!"
And this is something TDB would pay to see - Karl Rove being given ethics lessons. The NYTimes reports that following the indictment of Lewis Libby, Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material. (And after teaching "T*rd Blossom" ethics, the person concerned will move to the much easier task of teaching sharks to be vegetarians.)
DAVID BRODER/THE WASHINGTON POST
3Men are not fit for high office
Maureen Dowd is attracting even more attention than usual at the moment, courtesy of her book, "Are Men Necessary?" Howard Kurtz profiles her for The Washington Post, picking up on her sensitivity to criticism, the price she has paid for being "no-holds barred", and on her affair with Michael Douglas.
And from the woman herself (link below), her latest column (available for free at truthout.com) picks up on the latest on Dick Cheney and his fondness for torture, to turn the old sexist attitude on its head and argue that men are not fit for high office. "Unless it's some catty attempt to undermine someone you're pretending to like, how to explain the Mean Girls cabal headed by Dick Cheney, Rummy and the Rummy aide Douglas Feith? These hawkish Heathers lured W. into war with hyped intelligence and then clawed out Colin Powell's eyes to take charge of the occupation, only to bollix up the whole thing beyond belief and send the president's ratings cratering."
4 Latin America's anti-Bush revolt
TDB recently linked to a piece by Rebecca Solnit on the political changes underway in Latin America. Naomi Klein writes on the same subject in the context of the week-end's anti-Bush protests, to explain why the US has lost the debate about free trade, in the streets and the ballot box. "Across Latin America a similarly explosive multiplier effect is under way, with indigenous movements redrawing the continent's political map, demanding not just "rights" but a reinvention of the state along deeply democratic lines. In Bolivia and Ecuador, indigenous groups have shown that they have the power to topple governments. In Argentina, when mass protests ousted five presidents in 2001 and 2002, the words of Mexico's Zapatistas were shouted on the streets of Buenos Aires."
NAOMI KLEIN/THE GUARDIAN
5 Why Poland makes Europe nervous
Not your average (and often boring) international politics report - lots of history, character analysis and social insights in this one. Lech Kaczynski was recently elected as the head of a right-wing government in Poland, with the help of his younger by 45 minutes brother Jaroslaw. According to Der Speigel, the combination of their conservative social policies and desire to deal with left over issues from WWII has much of Europe concerned. "The Kaczynskis have caused confusion also with regards to foreign affairs in the past weeks. While mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski calculated how much the Germans owe the Poles for damage caused to the city during the World War II. While it was an easy way of drumming up support, it was never seen as a dire threat. But that could change. If the Germany-based Prussian Claims Committee continues to insist on giving back land to Germans who were expelled from Poland after the war, the idea of reparations could rear its ugly head."
CHRISTIAN NEEF AND JAN PUHL/DER SPEIGEL
6 UN and the internet
TDB has followed the debate about future control of the internet with links to both sides of the debate (see archives). Currently the US controls the net, and whether that should continue into the future is to be debated at the World Summit on the Information Society to be held this month in Tunisia. Kofi Annan outlines the issues at play and says the UN is not intent on taking over the net. "The need for change is a reflection of the future, when Internet growth will be most dramatic in developing countries. What we are seeing is the beginning of a dialogue between two different cultures: the nongovernmental Internet community, with its traditions of informal, bottom-up decision making, and the more formal, structured world of governments and intergovernmental organizations."
KOFI ANNAN/THE WASHINGTON POST
7 Sources and advertorials
Both these articles relate to the work of readers' representatives on newspapers, and are included because the lack of similar positions on Australian newspapers is rapidly becoming a hobby horse for TDB. Hey, everyone needs a hobby, and something needs to be done about our crappy, insular, smug and parochial newspapers. In the article linked to below, the Public Editor for the NYTimes Byron Calame reports on how pressure from shrinking readership and competition for advertising is blurring the lines between advertising and editorial content.
And Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell discusses the use of anonymous sources, which has been highlighted by the Valerie Plame affair.
8 Rock snobs, Bogle, Paul and Yoko
A while back TDB linked to an essay by Michael Crowley in The New Republic predicting that iPod would kill off the rock snob. Stephen Metcalf reviews a book on this species, "The Rock Snob*s Dictionary" and likes to think that reports of their (and his) demise are greatly exaggerated. "As delightful as The Rock Snob*s Dictionary and Crowley's essay are, I think such fears are overblown, myself. I'd love to say it's because genuine pleasure-that enemy of both snobs and satire alike-will always take precedence over the need to condescend. But the reality, alas, is otherwise. At some point, drag-and-drop deposits will overwhelm even the most cavernous hard drive; a person will have to choose, and then their true colors will out: The Killers? Lenny Kravitz? Dave Matthews??? Because let's face it, only one thing is more incorrigible than my snobbery, people, and that's your indefensibly crappy taste in music."
In the New Statesman, Lynsey Hanley reviews "The Dark Side of the Moon: the making of the Pink Floyd masterpiece" by John Harris, and even wanted to listen to the album after reading it. (Smart move)
The NYTimes, reporting on Eric Bogle's current tour of the US, says that some good judges (including Pete Seeger) rate "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" as the best protest song ever written.
The Washington Post reports that Yoko Ono has apologised for insinuating that Paul McCartney songs are trite (there is something wrong with that statement?).
The Times reports that Madonna has recorded her gayest album ever: "the great thing about being a gay icon is that a few wrong turns and public mistakes serve only to make you even more of a gay icon."
The NYTimes reports on the almost 40-year-long battle between John Fogarty and his record company; and on the success of the Swedish indie-rock band, the Shout Out Louds.
And The Guardian reports that it's 1967 revisited for The Beach Boys. "Beach Boy Mike Love has fallen out with fellow Beach Boy Brian Wilson over the band's legendary 60s concept album Smile."