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The Daily Briefing 10/11/05

By Wayne Sanderson
Created 11/11/2005 - 00:10

THURSDAY 10TH NOVEMBER 2005          
Your round-up [2] from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's email:
1    Report on Western responses to terrorism/Economist (3 links below) [3]
2    Editorial says world can't afford a president this bad/NYTimes (5 links below) [4]
3    George Monbiot says media hides Iraq war crimes/Guardian (2 links below) [5]
4    Robert Scheer on lies and Iraq war intelligence/LATimes (link below) [6]
5    Christopher Hitchens on the failure to deal with Darfur/Slate (link below) [7]
6    Report on subsidies and record US corn harvest/Washington Post [8]
7    Marc Kaufman on the Dalai Lama and science/Washington Post (3 links below) [9]
8    Germaine Greer says the Aboriginal art bubble has burst/Guardian [10]
9    Bill McKibben on the world's best city, Curitiba/Mother Jones [11]
10    Satire: John Kenny uncovers more letters from Harriet to George/New Yorker [12]
11    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up [13]

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 [14] 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 [15], and in The Times here [16].

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 [18], 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 [19] despite a big spending campaign. Liberals are exultant, as evidenced by The Huffington Post's coverage [20], 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". [21] (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 [22] 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 [24].

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 [25], 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.)

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 [27]: "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 [29] 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."
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?" [32], 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 editor@thedailybriefing.com.au 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" [33]. "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 [34] 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.)

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 [36] 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."
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."
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 [39] 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.
here [41] and the SMH here [42] lead on the apparent death of "the most feared terrorist in Asia", Azahari bin Husin (suspected Bali bomb maker), even though it seems he has not been identified. Readers also get to choose the cause of death, with The Oz reporting that he blew himself up, and the Herald that he may have been killed in a shoot-out with police. (But it seems we can be certain the someone who might be somebody was somehow killed. In Indonesia.)

Then there is the ongoing coverage of the counter-terrorism raids, and the as ever prickly and defensive Australian is going all out to have you believe, according to today's editorial [43] that it gets all its stories on terrorism through "a lot of unglamorous legwork", that it is not on the government drip (perish the thought! But, I'll bet you any money it is so too) and that "what the public needs from the media, more than ever in the age of terror, is fewer ethical gatekeepers and more reporters". (Really? Says who? If this be true, although TDB would argue to the contrary, then The Australian is succeeding admirably - precious little sign of ethics over that way.) The paper also reports as fact, without qualification or attribution, that "fair trials are still possible [44] for the 17 men arrested over alleged terrorist offences in Sydney and Melbourne, despite the widespread media coverage". (That's how it works in journalism - stamp all over the right of accused persons to be presumed innocent and not have the "stream of justice contaminated at its source" one day, and the next day report that it doesn't matter anyway. This is not journalism, it is self-serving humbug and hypocrisy - you can bet the editor would feel differently were he ever to face a criminal charge.)

The Fairfax papers join the lynch mob this morning reporting that the Sydney arm of the alleged Islamic terrorist group raided this week had stockpiled enough chemicals to make at least 15 large bombs [45] to be used against selected targets, police say. (But of course. That is the very thing that police would say. And they'll get their chance to say it, and have it tested and challenged in court. Just imagine for a moment that you are an innocent person caught up in these raids, watching these impressions being pumped into the minds of potential jurors. Any chance that everyone could just shut the f*ck up and let the justice system do its work.) Speaking of that system of justice, the first time some evidence is actually put before a court -  a magistrate questioned the timing of the arrests of the nine alleged Melbourne terrorists, and described the case against them as a "work in progress" [46]. The Herald reports that leading Sydney Muslim cleric Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, has publicly disputed the Prime Minister's assertion [47] that the anti-terrorism laws were not aimed at the Muslim community.

Perhaps we best move to other matters before more rude words are spoken. The Herald reports that five Aborigines received an apology [48] from the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens and the Environment Department yesterday after they were told to drink no alcohol, eat only leftovers and sit at a separate table in the rain at an event to celebrate Aboriginal culture; that the State Government announced plans to allow 11-1 verdicts for all criminal trials [49], against the recommendation of the NSW Law Reform Commission and to the disgust of the legal profession; and that a resurgence in home borrowing and consumer confidence could prove short-lived, with some economists warning that it may smooth the way for an interest rate rise in the first half of next year [50].

The Age reports that Victoria's economic growth rate has plunged to a four-year low of 2.3 per cent [51], as the flood of imports, plunging State Government investment and the end of the housing bubble dragged down the state's economic activity; that hundreds of motel and hostel beds have been booked and paid for by the State Government to house homeless people during the Commonwealth Games [52]; and that the father of alleged Bali nine drug courier Scott Rush has told a court he planned to travel to Indonesia to stop his son committing any offences [53] but cancelled when he was told police had already warned the 19-year-old.

The Australian reports that John Howard has declared that his workplace reforms will help protect people from a future economic recession, and warned that the world had changed from a "five-day-week society" [54] (and he'll make sure it has); that the Government has linked its new welfare reforms to the industrial relations changes by demanding that pension recipients take a job at the new minimum wage [55], not the relevant award rate; and that Aboriginal elders are being abused in their own communities [56] - blatantly harassed for their money on pension days, physically and sexually assaulted, robbed and neglected.

And if you have ever wondered why most sports journalism is so lame and craven, have a look at Richard Hinds report [57] on the demands being made of SBS by soccer authorities. (Journalism. The mere mention of the word brings on waves of nostalgia.)


The Age: Hugh White [58] looks at the lessons learned from the counter-terrorism raids, one of which is that terrorism does not threaten the very existence of our society, and emerges proud of our system of justice; David Neal [59] (barrister) says the counter-terrorism raids, under current laws, are proof that the proposed new ("brutal but fair") laws are not required; Sushi Das [60] looks at racism in the context of Rosa Parks' death and the Paris riots and says there are tensions just below the surface in Australia; and Kenneth Davidson [61] gives Victoria's longest-serving Transport Minister Peter Batchelor a belting for his handling of public transport.

The Australian: Waleed Ally [62] is exuberant about the anti-terrorism raids, which he says are supported by most Muslims and will finally provide the chance for competing claims to be tested in court; Mike Steketee [63] explains why  the dismissal could happen again and wonders if some of the issues it raised will finally be settled when Australia becomes a republic; Tim Fischer [64] breaks his self-imposed post-political silence to plead the case for the CDMA network; Emma-Kate Symons [65] tells us not a lot about the riots in France, apart from the fact that resident Jacques Chirac has been useless; and Ross Fitzgerald [66] (Australia's most tedious columnist?) says Morris Iemma needs less substance and more style.

The SMH: Julia Perry [67] says the Government's welfare changes are tough on sole parents and will further cut their living standards; Miranda Devine [68], who puts the threat of terrorism into the same context as the threat from Nazism, says Australians would rather give up some freedoms than risk being blown up on a bus going to work; David Brown [69] (law professor) argues against majority jury verdicts and sees a connection with the proposed anti-terrorism laws; and Hugh White [70], see Age above.


All the papers go big on the NAB's profit result with the Herald reporting that National Australia Bank yesterday regained the mantle of Australia's most profitable bank with a record $4.13 billion net profit [71], although the result was boosted by a couple of large one-off transactions. Elizabeth Knight [72] comments that yesterday we received the first real evidence that in Australia and New Zealand NAB is moving towards being a solid competitor in the market again; and Stephen Bartholomeusz [73] says the effort to rehabilitate the once-dominant bank is still very much a work in progress.

The SMH also reports that just as Patrick Corp boss Chris Corrigan's defence against Toll Holdings' $4.6 billion takeover offer appeared to crumble, rumours surfaced yesterday that Linfox and Macquarie Bank were preparing a rival $5.5 billion joint bid for the stevedore [74]; and that angry smash repairers who claim they are getting a raw deal under IAG's vehicle repair policy [75] dominated the questions at yesterday's three-hour annual general meeting but chief executive Michael Hawker defended the policy as being in the best interests of policyholders and the company.

The Australian's lead says investors are on notice to expect a spate of new profit warnings [76] from listed companies before the end of the year after slackening domestic demand yesterday forced three market leaders to foreshadow slowdowns in their core markets. It also reports that online job search company Seek said yesterday the employment market was set to remain strong, with anecdotal evidence from clients pointing to escalating wages pressure across most sectors [77]; and that  PMP chief executive Brian Evans warned yesterday the troubled printer's first-half earnings would fall 20 per cent [78] as efforts to engineer a turnaround took longer than expected.

The Age reports that a multi-million dollar petrol price-fixing case being led by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in the Federal Court has been seriously jeopardised by admissions that one of its investigators made up some of the evidence [79]; and that Qantas is facing an uphill battle [80] to stave off renewed efforts from Singapore Airlines and Emirates to convince Canberra to open up Australian skies.

And Bryan Frith [81] continues to belt up on Coopers.


The Daily Telegraph [82]: They're accused of hiding a deadly secret but Australia's terrorist suspects are ordinary citizens - an electrician, a panel beater, a rock singer, a would-be actor and a Muslim cleric; Revolutionary changes to the court system, announced yesterday, will prevent rogue jurors from hijacking criminal trials in this state.

The Herald-Sun [83]: A Melbourne office tower housing many hundreds of public servants was among possible targets of an alleged terror plot foiled by raids this week; Seven years after the tragic Silk-Miller police killings, their families have joined forces in a remarkable love story. Carmel Arthur, widow of Rod Miller, has married Gary Silk's brother Peter.

The Courier-Mail [84]: The Federal Government will attempt to ram its tough new terror laws through Parliament today; Indonesia's most wanted man and the terrorist blamed for a string of attacks including the Bali bombings is believed to have blown himself up to avoid capture.

The Advertiser [85]: A Melbourne office tower housing many hundreds of public servants was among possible targets of an alleged terror plot foiled by raids this week; Infrastructure Minister Patrick Conlon has called on local councils to stop "bickering" and offer their support for a state body to co-ordinate stormwater management projects.

The West Australian [86]: WA's $700 million live-sheep export trade could face extinction as a result of a landmark decision to lay animal cruelty charges over the transport of sheep from Fremantle to Kuwait; The Gallop Government has offered to forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in mining royalties from one of the world's biggest mining companies to help keep the Argyle diamond mine open.

The Mercury [87]: A dress-up day at a Tasmanian high school sparked a terror alert yesterday with armed police surrounding the school after reports of gunmen in the playground; Plunging passenger numbers and a write-down on the value of the three Spirits of Tasmania have resulted in the TT-Line losing $79 million in 2004-05.


Eddie Jones, who fervently believes he is still the best man to coach the Wallabies, will persist with George Gregan but drop Matt Giteau and Wendell Sailor [88] among five anticipated changes for the England Test on Saturday; Socceroos stars Vince Grella and Marco Bresciano have issued a blunt message to World Cup play-off rivals Uruguay [89]: play all the pre-match mind games you want, we'll see you out on the field; West's Tigers halfback Scott Prince will shift to five-eighth [90] for the remainder of the Tri-Nations tour if Trent Barrett fails to recover from the foot injury that has sidelined him from Saturday's Test against France.

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