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The Daily Briefing 10/11/05
1 Blair, freedom and terrorism
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin's quote is getting a well-deserved work out these days, and it starts off the Economist's report (link below) on the terrorism-freedom debate in the US, the UK and Australia.
In Britain, Tony Blair has suffered his first ever Parliamentary defeat on his anti-terrorism bills, with the Commons voting down (322 to 291) his proposal to introduce a 90 day detention period for terrorism suspects (The Commons agreed to 28 days.). Blair has said he won't resign. Coverage in The Guardian can be found here, and in The Times here.
2 The world can't afford Bush
And Tony Blair is not the only member of the "Coalition of the Willing" doing it tough. Some time back TDB said "we may be watching the disintegration of an American presidency". Things have gotten much, much worse since that observation was made. In a series of elections across the US yesterday, Republicans have done badly, with the NYTimes reporting that "Democrats, already emboldened, hailed the results as the first shots in the battle of the 2006 midterm elections, when control of the House and Senate will be at stake." In California, the "Governator", Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has lost four special election ballot initiatives despite a big spending campaign. Liberals are exultant, as evidenced by The Huffington Post's coverage, where one contributor says "If Democratic Values Were A Stock, Now Would Be The Time To Buy." Maybe.
In its editorial on the result, the NYTimes says "George Bush's political capital turned into a deficit". (He knows a lot about those.) And in an even more hard-hitting editorial the day before the election (link below) the paper said of the fact that Bush still has three years in office: "An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long."
Just days before the election, William Kristol at The Weekly Standard was surveying the troubles Bush was in and urging him to "fight back, Mr President". (And best be quick about it.)
3 Media complicit with war crimes
In October last year, the British medical journal Lancet published a report calculating that is was likely about 100,000 Iraqis had been killed, up to that point, as a result of the US-led invasion. That was a particularly politically sensitive time to be saying such things, just weeks out from the US election, and right-wing commentators around the world piled onto the report, successfully discrediting it in the eyes of most media outlets. But the fact is, the report stands up to close scrutiny, and no-one has done more analysis of it than Tim Lambert at his blog Deltoid.
In the article linked to below, George Monbiot argues that by ignoring the report, and otherwise playing down or failing to report Iraqi deaths, the media is collaborating with those who "seek to minimise the extent of their war crimes". And by the way, Monbiot draws on the work of the blog Medialens, which is highlighting a response from Noam Chomsky to an article about him in The Guardian which TDB linked to. It seems Chomsky was unfairly quoted out of context. (And you can find a link to the original article at Medialens.)
GEORGE MONBIOT/THE GUARDIAN
4 Lying about the intelligence for war
Perhaps non-subscribers to the Atalntic Monthly might want to think about signing up or buying this month's edition. Apart from the essay on religion mentioned in an item below, it is worth getting for this investigation by James Fallow: "Why Iraq has no army." Fallows is a great journalist whose work has been linked to a number of times by TDB, and on this issue he deserves credit for warning ahead of the invasion that rebuilding Iraq would be the hardest part of toppling Saddam's regime. While this article focuses on the sad state of the Iraqi army, which is supposed to take over so the US can leave, it is in fact a damning indictment of the occupation (of which Australia is a part, lest we forget.) "How the Iraq story turns out will not be known for years, but based on what is now knowable, the bleak prospect today is the culmination of a drama's first three acts. The first act involves neglect and delusion. Americans-and Iraqis-will spend years recovering from decisions made or avoided during the days before and after combat began, and through the first year of the occupation. The second act involves a tentative approach to a rapidly worsening challenge during the occupation's second year. We are now in the third act, in which Americans and Iraqis are correcting earlier mistakes but too slowly and too late."
One of the great lies told in the lead up to the invasion was the (secular) Saddam supposedly had links with (fundamentalist) Osama, and was likely to pass on WMDs (which he didn't have) so that terrorists could bring death and destruction to the West (notwithstanding the fact that it is extraordinarily difficult to deliver a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon to a target in a way that does real damage). Anyway, liberal journalist Robert Scheer (he also moonlights at The Huffington Post", reports (link below) that a recently declassified document, "widely circulated in Washington" months before the war, demolished "the credibility of the key Al Qaeda informant the administration relied on to make its claim that a working alliance existed between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden".
5 Get real about Darfur and Ethiopia
Still the world does nothing about the genocide in Darfur. While he may use the situation there to prosecute his argument against foreign policy realists (and therefore in favour of the Iraq invasion) as least Christopher Hitchens (link below) is keeping the issue alive. "The actual killers and cleansers, the Arab janjaweed militias, are a "deniable" arm of the Sudanese authorities. Those authorities pretend to negotiate with the United Nations, the United States, and the African Union, and their negotiating "card" is the control that they can or might exercise over said militias. While this tap is turned on and off, according to different applications of carrot and stick, the militias pretend to go out of control and carry on with their slaughter and deportation. By the time the clock has been run out, the job is done."
And in The Times, foreign editor Bronwyn Maddox reports that the violence in nearby Ethiopia is providing a challenge for the British government. "The Gleneagles principle was to reward Africa for good governance. Britain is loath, these days, to behave like a colonial power and tell a country how to spend money. As Triesman put it, "there is always anxiety about intervening in the internal affairs of African countries". But money remains one of the few levers a donor has over a country - even though, as Ethiopia shows, it is not a very strong one."
6 The harvest of subsidies
While millions starve to death, or work for nothing because they can't compete with cheap imports from wealthy nations that subsidise their farmers. The US is struggling to deal with a near-record corn harvest of 10.9 billion bushels. "But this season's bumper crop is too much of a good thing, underscoring what critics call a paradox at the heart of the government farm subsidy program: America's efficient farmers may be encouraged to produce far more than the country can use, depressing prices and raising subsidy payments. In other words, because the government wants to help America's farmers, it essentially ends up paying them both when they produce too much and when their crop prices are too low."
THE WASHINGTON POST
7 Dalai Lama, science, belief and superstition
Three articles on the relationship between science and religion (although yes, strictly speaking Buddhism is not a religion). In the article linked to below, Marc Kaufman reports on the Dalai Lama's interest in science and technology, which is becoming a somewhat controversial subject in the US. Kaufman attended a symposium between the Dalai Lama and scientists, hosted by the Mind and Life Institute. "By day's end, it was more clear why the Dalai Lama finds his scientific explorations to be so compelling. What the scientists were discussing -- and with the help of the Mind and Life Institute are increasingly researching -- is the most current biological, chemical and psychological findings about how certain kinds of human suffering can be understood and alleviated. Precisely what might appeal to the man known as the present-day Buddha of compassion."
This fascinating essay, "Is God an accident?", on the origins of religious belief by Paul Bloom will probably be available only to Atlantic Monthly subscribers, but if you want to read it, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll let you read my copy. " Enthusiasm is building among scientists for a quite different view-that religion emerged not to serve a purpose but by accident. This is not a value judgment. Many of the good things in life are, from an evolutionary perspective, accidents. People sometimes give money, time, and even blood to help unknown strangers in faraway countries whom they will never see. From the perspective of one's genes this is disastrous-the suicidal squandering of resources for no benefit. But its origin is not magical; long-distance altruism is most likely a by-product of other, more adaptive traits, such as empathy and abstract reasoning. Similarly, there is no reproductive advantage to the pleasure we get from paintings or movies. It just so happens that our eyes and brains, which evolved to react to three-dimensional objects in the real world, can respond to two-dimensional projections on a canvas or a screen."
The Washington Post reports that Kansas will teach "intelligent design". "The Kansas Board of Education voted Tuesday that students will be expected to study doubts about modern Darwinian theory, a move that defied the nation's scientific establishment even as it gave voice to religious conservatives and others who question the theory of evolution."
But it could well be a short lived victory. The NYTimes reports that all eight members up for re-election to the Pennsylvania school board that had been sued for introducing the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in biology class were swept out of office yesterday by a slate of challengers who campaigned against the intelligent design policy. (You can't fool all of the people all of the time.)
MARC KAUFMAN/THE WASHINGTON POST
8 Joining up the dots
Great to be able to link to an article that shows the depth and breadth of Germaine Greer's intellectual interests a day after Janet Albrechtsen let fly with the usual cheap shots. Since there are no art experts at TDB, the best we can offer is that Greer certainly sounds like she knows what she is talking about as she explains, and suggests that the market bubble for it has burst. "It looks as if the Aboriginal art craze may have run its course. The punters may have realised that Aboriginal art, in common with all other art, is mostly bad. What they have now to learn is how to recognise the relatively high proportion of Aboriginal art that is not just good but sublime."
GERMAINE GREER/THE GUARDIAN
9 The way cities should be
Bill McKibben takes time out from crusading on climate change to tell the story of how Curitiba in Brazil became one of the best cities in the world to live, thanks to its unlikely mayor, Jaime Lerner. "Maybe an effort to convince myself that a decay in public life was not inevitable was why I went back to Curitiba to spend some real time, to see if its charms extended beyond the lovely downtown. For a month, my wife and baby and I lived in a small apartment near the city center. Morning after morning I interviewed cops, merchants, urban foresters, civil engineers, novelists, planners; in the afternoons, we pushed the stroller across the town, learning the city's rhythms and habits. And we decided, with great delight, that Curitiba is among the world's great cities."
BILL MCKIBBEN/MOTHER JONES
10 Harriet no longer loves George
A lovely piece of satire this one, but its full delights require a knowledge of the cringingly fawning and sycophantic letters from Harriet Miers to George Bush back in the days when he was Texas governor. Since Miers was forced to stand down as Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, it seems she has been reconsidering her attitude to .. well, Bush mainly, but also God, alcohol and Michael Moore.
JOHN KENNY/THE NEW YORKER