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The Daily Briefing 23/11/05



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WEDNESDAY 23RD NOVEMBER 2005          
Your round-up from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's email:
1    Alan Kohler on gold and the crunch to come/SMH (4 links below)
2    Eugene Robinson on the mess Bush is in/Washington Post
3    George Monbiot on the illegal use of White Phosphorous/Guardian (3 links below)
4    Ghaith Abdul-Ahad goes inside Baghdad's hospitals/Guardian (5 links below)
5    Investigation into the faulty evidence used for Iraq/LATimes (5 links below)
6    Patrick Goldstein on end of mass movie going/LATimes (3 links below)
7    Jack Shafer sees an ugly future for Google/Slate
8    Report on the affects of hypnosis on the brain/NYTimes
9    MUSIC: Sasha Frere-Jones on Damon Albarn/New Yorker (3 links below)
10    The depiction of UFOs and aliens in cartoons/New Yorker
11    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up


1 Gold, inflation and the crunch to come
Alan Kohler is a class act, simply one of the best journalists going around anywhere. But if TDB had followed up immediately on a backdeck conversation with subscriber Kurt M., it could have beaten him to the punch on this story. Kurt was talking about the rising price of gold, and how it has broken free of its usual pattern of being the inverse of what's happening with the US dollar. "Something big is happening," he said and immediately passed on the following three links: a constantly updated measure of US debt, currently $8,084,858,891,735.31 (it's the 31 cents that I'm worried about); a report that central bank representatives told an industry conference Tuesday they will maintain gold holdings as a proportion of overall reserves because of the increasingly important role it plays as a hedge against currency volatility; and an announcement from the US Federal Reserve that it will cease publication of the M3 monetary aggregate which some commentators (though not all by any means) have interpreted as a sign that it is running scared and has something to hide. Before getting to Kohler, one more straw blowing in what looks like an economic ill-wind - the NYTimes is reporting that the Federal Reserve is worried about inflation, and that more interest rate rises are on the way. "Minutes of the Fed's closed-door meeting on Nov. 1, released Tuesday, underscored that policy-makers were more concerned more about the prospects of resurgent inflation than a serious slowdown in the wake of a trio of deadly hurricanes that ravaged the Gulf Coast."

Kohler refers to none of that, apart from the gold-dollar linkage, but says that "the US dollar is overvalued and the country's competitiveness has eroded to the point where the cash rate arbitrage will be pitifully inadequate to hold the currency. This has occurred because Asian central banks, led by China, have been buying US bonds at ridiculously low interest rates in order to keep their own currencies and improve their own competitive position." Kohler goes on to say "This situation cannot last. American financial assets will have to be repriced eventually, either directly or through a depreciation of the currency, or both" and that "the timing and force of the American reckoning will be the key to investment markets in 2006."

(Memo to self: take more notice of Kurt.)

ALAN KOHLER/THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
2 No exit that way
Every once in a while, you get to experience the joy of a column that rolls some part of the universe into a little ball and deftly rolls it to you. Eugene Robinson does just that, and with an enjoyable "a fine mess you got us into this time Ollie" tone to it. "George Bush will inevitably get out of the mess he has made -- he leaves office in three years and two months, not that anyone's counting. But the rest of us will be left with his handiwork: crushing national debt, rising economic inequality, a poisoned political atmosphere and, oh, yes, the war in Iraq. We're the ones trapped in the dark with no exit sign in sight."
EUGENE ROBINSON/THE WASHINGTON POST
3 White Phosphorous and faulty intelligence
The NYTimes came late, and cautiously, to the debate about the use of White Phosphorous in Fallujah, sometimes referred to as this generation's Guernica. And it may be one of the reasons that George Monbiot (link below) says "the media couldn't have made a bigger pig's ear of the white phosphorus story". What's well established is that WP was used in the attack, but not, the Pentagon says on civilians. That is an important, but ultimately irrelevant distinction, according to Monbiot. "The US army knows that its use as a weapon is illegal. In the Battle Book, published by the US Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, my correspondent David Traynier found the following sentence: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets"."

Another from the ingenious ways to kill and maim file, The Independent reports that  Tony Blair is facing fresh fury over the use of controversial munitions in the Iraq war. "The dispute over British use of cluster bombs will be intensify this week with the publication of a report by the pressure group Landmine Action, which raises questions over the efforts made to ensure that the weapons did not harm civilians. It comes as international signatories to the international convention on conventional weapons meet in Geneva this week, amid pressure for a moratorium on the production of cluster bombs and tough new limits on their use."

And thanks to subscriber and occasional contributor, James O., this link to The Democrats Diary blog which argues that "the media's near total failure to report on the bloodshed caused by our side in the ongoing conflict that keeps many current US-UK government officials in their jobs, if not out of the International Criminal Court on charges of committing war crimes" and provides more links and references on the subject than any gainfully employed person could possibly follow. (So many links, so little time.)

GEORGE MONBIOT/THE GUARDIAN
4 ER in Baghdad
The only thing TDB knows about Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is that he has produced three of the best pieces of reportage to have come out of the Iraq war (links to the other two can be found in Archives). This one goes inside Yamouk hospital for a look at the medical front line in the "war on terror". (Perhaps George Bush and John Howard should pay a visit.)  "What's even more frightening for these doctors is that they get casualties in from "commando" units, part of a feared paramilitary group with links to a Shia militia, which has a base a few hundred metres from the Yarmouk hospital. One night when I was about to leave the ER there was a burst of gunfire - heavy machine guns roared at the entrance of the hospital. The doctors started running around urging patients, if they were well enough, to clear out. Moments later, a group of masked young men in army fatigues and black T-shirts burst into the ward. Two went to where people had gathered in the hallway, pointing guns at them and telling them to look away. Three others carried between them a piece of cloth in which one of their comrades, badly injured, was lying."

Aljazeera reports on the call, largely symbolic, from Iraqi leaders attending an Arab League sponsored summit in Cairo, "for the withdrawal of US and British forces from Iraq by immediately setting a timetable for gradually rebuilding Iraq's armed forces". (If, has been widely speculated, the US is looking for an excuse to leave sooner rather than later, this could help by giving them some political cover.)

The Bush administration has tried a number of strategies for dealing with growing calls to withdraw from Iraq since respected Democrat hawk, Congressman John Murtha, gave that cause momentum by joining it late last week. The first response was to describe criticism of the war as "unpatriotic", but when that did go down to well, the line of attack was changed, and people arguing the war was a mistake were accused of trying to "rewrite history". Dan Froomkin in The Washington Post looks at the changing response and notes that "fully 55 to 57 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration was intentionally misleading in the run up to war".

Tom Engelhardt in Mother Jones says the key to explaining the White House response is simple: fear. Englehardt, a long-time critic of the war, says the "Bush administration got spooked" because its main weapon in the debate, fear, was no longer working for it. "Starting on September 11, 2001 -- with a monstrous helping hand from Osama bin Laden -- the Bush administration played the fear card with unbelievable effectiveness. For years, with its companion "war on terror," it trumped every other card in the American political deck." (Seems to works a treat in Australia as well, with more than a little help from journalists.)

On the other side of the debate, Robert Kagan & William Kristol in The Weekly Standard, the magazine recently credited with bringing about the invasion of Iraq, are careful not to attack Murtha while arguing that "his outburst last Thursday was breathtakingly irresponsible."

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD/THE GUARDIAN
5 Curveball and the case for war
Ah, our old friend Curveball, haven't heard from you in a while. But you are back with a vengeance, we noticed. Curveball was the Iraqi defector whose information was used as the basis for the US to claim "Saddam has WMDs and could use them in 45 minutes" (OK, it was the Brits who peddled the 45 mins bit.) This long investigative story from the LATimes, which has been much commented upon in the blogosphere, looks at the gap between what he actually told intelligence officials and claims that were pushed on the public to make the case for war. "An investigation by The Times based on interviews since May with about 30 current and former intelligence officials in the U.S., Germany, England, Iraq and the United Nations, as well as other experts, shows that U.S. bungling in the Curveball case wa worse than official reports have disclosed. The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball's account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq's biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years."

In The Washington Post, Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the run-up to the Iraq war, says that this privileged position gave him access to information others did not have, and led him to vote against invading Iraq. "From my advantaged position, I had earlier concluded that a war with Iraq would be a distraction from the successful and expeditious completion of our aims in Afghanistan. Now I had come to question whether the White House was telling the truth -- or even had an interest in knowing the truth."

There is a massed debate happening over at the new OSM blog, essentially about whether the Bush administration lied to make its case for war. Defenders argue that Bush and co made their case genuinely believing it to be true, therefore strictly speaking it was not a lie. Perhaps, but that last quote from Bob Graham may be more to the point - everything points to the fact that the Bushies were hell-bent on going to war and manufactured the case for it.

Which is the subject of this investigation for Rolling Stone by James Bamford on the role played by John Rendon. "One of the most powerful people in Washington, Rendon is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management," manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve the desired result. His firm, the Rendon Group, has made millions off government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help "create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power." Working under this extraordinary transfer of secret authority, Rendon assembled a group of anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set out to engineer an uprising against Saddam."

Not that it had anything to do with oil of course, although The Independent is reporting that Iraqis face the dire prospect of losing up to $200bn (£116bn) of the wealth of their country if an American-inspired plan to hand over development of its oil reserves to US and British multinationals comes into force next year.

And Col. Larry Wilkerson, former aide to Colin Powell, has told CNN that the "philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order" that lead to torture and abuse came from (Greg Sheridan's love interest) Donald Rumsfeld.

BOB DROGIN AND JOHN GOETZ/LATIMES
6 Fade to black
Patrick Goldstein says the "era of moviegoing as a mass audience ritual is slowly but inexorably drawing to a close", killed off by the same forces that are radically and rapidly reshaping music, television and newspapers, and by the industry's own failings. "As it stands, Hollywood has become a prisoner of a corporate mindset that is squeezing the entrepreneurial vitality out of the system. It's not just that studios are making bad movies - they've been doing that for years. They've lost touch with any real cultural creativity. When you walk down the corridors at Apple or a video game company, there's an electricity in the air that encourages people into believing they could dream up a new idea that could blow somebody's mind. At the big studios, the creative voltage is sometimes so low that you wonder if you've wandered into an insurance office."

Part of Hollywood's problems come from video games, and the NYTimes reports that "three decades after bursting into pool halls and living rooms, video games are taking a place in academia. A handful of relatively obscure vocational schools have long taught basic game programming. But in the last few years a small but growing cadre of well-known universities, from the University of Southern California to the University of Central Florida, have started formal programs in game design and the academic study of video games as a slice of contemporary culture."

The LATimes Microsoft's new Xbox 360. "The powerful but expensive Xbox 360 is the first entrant in what's expected to be a ruthless fight for dominance in the $25-billion global games market. Rivals Sony and Nintendo Co. are readying their own next-generation consoles for release next year."

And John Hood at Reason looks at growing calls for restrictions on product placement in film and television, but true to the magazine's libertarian bent, he is not partial to the idea.

PATRICK GOLDSTEIN/LATIMES
7 Google dreaming
Jack Shafer has a dream. Or he had a dream, that Google has peaked, and that newspapers, led as always by canny and ruthless Rupert, fight back. "Like the Apple iTunes operation only bigger, RupeWeb was a sort of "Club Web." Its content was for members only and invisible to the Web spiders of Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc. (Some people call this kind of Web the "invisible" or "deep" Web.) Many RupeWeb users started helping themselves to the new search engine he had purchased in his acquisition of Lycos. Capitalizing on plummeting hard-disk prices, faster processors, growing bandwidth, and sleek new algorithms, the RupeGrab search engine ran loops around Google. People didn't even seem to mind that RupeGrab billed its search results as "Fair and Balanced"."
JACK SHAFER/SLATE
8 Brain and hypnosis
The power of suggestion. Sandra Blakeslee reports that hypnosis is receiving some new respect from neuroscientists, who are learning something about it, the brain and perhaps human behaviour along the way. ""In medical hands, hypnosis was no laughing matter. In the 19th century, physicians in India successfully used hypnosis as anesthesia, even for limb amputations. The practice fell from favor only when ether was discovered. Now, Dr. Posner and others said, new research on hypnosis and suggestion is providing a new view into the cogs and wheels of normal brain function. One area that it may have illuminated is the processing of sensory data. Information from the eyes, ears and body is carried to primary sensory regions in the brain. From there, it is carried to so-called higher regions where interpretation occurs."
SANDRA BLAKESLEE/NYTIMES
9 Albarn, Wray, Turner and jazz
TDB is a fan of Sasha Frere-Jones who has provided some good hints for improving the selection of music playing in the background. In the article linked to below, he reports on the eclectic career of British musician Damon Albarn of Blur fame ("Song 2"). "As Blur stalled out, Albarn went to Africa and made an album with Afel Bocoum, who trained with the legendary Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and helped produce reissues of Trinidadian calypso and reggae music for Honest Jons, a London record label that he co-founded. In 2000, Albarn and a friend, Jamie Hewlett, formed a new band, Gorillaz, officially consisting of four cartoon characters: 2D, a spacey blue-haired singer; Murdoc, a creepy bassist; Noodle, a Japanese female guitarist; and Russel, a hulking black drummer."

The Globe and Mail reports on the death of Link Wray, the guitar legend said to have inspired many other rock musicians, including Pete Townsend, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Steve Van Zandt and that man Bruce Springsteen

The Independent takes a look at Alex Turner, the 19-year-old lead singer of Sheffield's Arctic Monkeys, who was yesterday named by NME the coolest man on the planet.

And not sure if donn has linked to these, but David Yaffe in The Nation reviews four books on jazz. "For the jazz musicians and jazz journalists struggling for mainstream attention, the sky could appear to be falling, but judging from the deluge of recent books, the music's shelf life is just beginning. Jazz, more than any other musical genre, currently dominates academic presses; compared with pondering the use of the grace note in Haydn, chasing the path of Django Reinhardt or a riverboat band might even seem sexy. Hip-hop is so recent, rock and roll so flaky and ubiquitous. Scholarly presses are more willing to admit jazz's importance today than they were when the music was at its most vital stages of development."

SASHA FRERE-JONES/THE NEW YORKER
10 Cartoon aliens
It's not yet available online, Tom Reiss in the current New Yorker "writes about invasion novels and what they tell us about the modern world". Until it becomes available, you might get something out of cartoon editor Bob Mankoff's look at how aliens and UFOs have been depicted in the magazine's cartoons in the past 60 years.
THE NEW YORKER
11 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up
IN THE BROADSHEETS

Singapore's intention to proceed with the barbaric execution of Nguyen Tuong Van dominates the papers. The Herald reports that the Federal Government has received legal advice that it could attempt to prevent the execution of the Australian Nguyen Tuong Van by going to the International Court of Justice even if Singapore did not recognise its jurisdiction; The Age says Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls will fly to Singapore in a last-ditch mission to stop the execution; and The Australian reports that while Singapore has an unwavering policy of hanging drug mules such as Australia's Nguyen Tuong Van without mercy, it has for years been one of the strongest backers of Burma, the world's second-biggest producer of heroin. (Ouch! The papers obviously believe this issue matters to the public, and are going in hard on it. Great to see when it's for a good cause - but this is also an easy cause, no courage required to champion this one. The down side is that this sort of populist crusading on other issues produces lazy, yellow journalism - and a lack of courage when it comes to tackling unpopular causes.) There are also a couple of great columns on this one this morning - Paul Kelly in The Australian and Donald Rothwell in the SMH (opinion below).

The Australian's lead says Brendan Nelson has outlined a second wave of higher education reforms that would encourage students to do generalist first degrees at outer-suburban and regional campuses before entering elite graduate schools at the nation's sandstone universities. It also reports that the most powerful indigenous body in the Northern Territory has backed a controversial bid for a nuclear waste dump on its land, breaking ranks with the Territory Labor Government and environmentalists; that almost 60 per cent of Australians support increased penalties for the sale or supply of cannabis amid findings that more 12- to 15-year-olds use cannabis than smoke cigarettes (the Oz seems to be running an anti-marijuana campaign); and that John Howard's campaign on industrial relations is battering his personal standing, with voters increasingly thinking he is less caring, likeable and trustworthy (Newspoll findings via Dennis Shanahan - it also has a story about why Newspoll is better than Fairfax's ACNielsen); and that James Packer broke down and cried as he repeatedly apologised to Lachlan Murdoch over the impending collapse of One.Tel, the NSW Supreme Court heard yesterday (hey, so even tough guys can get a little loose over a couple of hundred million dollars going down the gurgler).

The Age reports that it took John Howard 31 years to bring his radical rewrite of workplace relations laws to the brink of reality; it took the Senate less than a week to probe the impact of those sweeping changes on millions of workers and their families (Matt Price neatly sums up that farce of a process); that teenagers are at risk of internet addiction; and that three West Timorese asylum seekers are the sole occupants of the Christmas Island detention centre after a family with two infant children were released yesterday.

The Herald reports that indigenous leader and ALP vice-president, Warren Mundine, has rebuked Aboriginal men for the horrific level of domestic violence in many communities; that NSW taxpayers face paying millions of dollars in compensation to the owners of Sydney's main water filtration plant at Prospect because the planned desalination plant at Kurnell will breach their contract; that Sydney home owners have given up on the market improving in the near future, and have accepted that if they want to sell they will have to reduce their prices, new property figures show; and that the Government's plunge in the polls has fuelled speculation that the Prime Minister, John Howard, will reshuffle his front bench before Christmas - a move that would affect the leadership plans of the Treasurer, Peter Costello.

You might also be interested to know that George Bush has been taken to court; that Malcolm McDowell's daughter Lilly didn't know he was star of A Clockwork Orange until she went to college and saw the famous poster image of his face plastered on her classmates' dormitory walls; and that Aunty Jack is back, available on DVD (and you know what will happen to your arms if you don't buy it).

One of the most viewed stories in the Herald features a spectacular photograph of last night's storm.

OPINION

The Age: Michelle Grattan thinks those ugly opinion polls yesterday may be a false dawn for Labor, and that John Howard will quickly move on from the IR debate once the legislation is passed; Peter Coghlan enters the intelligent design debate, which he thinks is a philosophical and not a scientific one; and Ross Gittins and James Fallows, see below.

The Australian: Paul Kelly offers a telling account of the geo-political issues at play between Australia and Singapore over the proposed execution of Nguyen Tuong Van and says Singapore is trapped by its authoritarian mindset (great read, Kelly at his best); Emma Tom comes to the nub of the great terrorism scare, commenting that Amanda Vanstone is "the only one willing to risk vilification by telling the terrible truth: that a large part of the Government's anti-terrorism agenda is about helping us sleep better at night rather than keeping us unexploded"; Janet Albrechtsen (who owns Telstra shares) is angry at the coalition of dopes from all sides of politics and their best obstructionist efforts to stop the sale of Telstra, which means the Government is left holding what may be a dud of a stock; Alan Wood comes out in favour of urban sprawl and says "high density, high-rise living loved by Labor governments and European-influenced urban planners" is not working; and Barry Rubin looks at the shake-up in Israeli politics, which he thinks will result in Ariel Sharon winning the election, but otherwise, not much change because Palestinian politics is not ready to grasp the opportunity.

The SMH: Ross Gittins feels the pain of Australia's CEOs (all that stress and performance anxiety) and comes to understand why the average total remuneration of the chief executives of Australia's largest 300 listed companies rose by 16 per cent to $1.9 million last financial years ("In John Howard's classless society, greed is a virtue to be fostered and the greatest sin is envy of the rich"); James Fallows (fresh from writing The Atlantic Monthly piece on Iraq's army TDB linked to yesterday) reports on the increasing rancour of the debate in the US about Iraq, and says its outcome will be decided by what values the US public thinks are more important; Alan Ramsey sides with Amanda Vanstone and says her comments about terrorism (and HB pencils) were nothing more than common sense and plain speaking (here, here!); and Donald Rothwell (professor of international law) says if Australia takes human rights seriously, then the Federal Government must use all legitimate means at its disposal to stop the execution of Nguyen Tuong Van, including taking the case to the International Court of Justice.

BUSINESS

Alan Kohler says the gold price is an indication of some big forces at work in global markets and economies, that the US dollar is overvalued and the country's competitiveness has eroded to the point where the cash rate arbitrage will be pitifully inadequate to hold the currency, and a major correction is on the way.

Both Fairfax papers lead on the news that Harvey Norman is interested in Myers, with the SMH reporting that Gerry Harvey has signalled his interest in buying the money-losing Myer department store chain, saying he could team with a private equity firm to bid for the retailer, which bears the name of one of Melbourne's great families. Elizabeth Knight thinks someone forgot to tell Gerry Harvey that the biggest secret in town is the identity of those seeking from Coles Myer an application to take a copy of the information memorandum on the Myer business which is now on the blocks - a case of commercial secrecy gone mad.

The Herald also reports that David Coe's Allco Finance Group more than doubled its net profit last financial year to $13.9 million as it raked in fees for finding and structuring deals; and that Australian car and spare parts makers are at the start of a massive transition and some, perhaps all, could fall by the wayside, says industry veteran Ivan Deveson.

The Australian's lead says New Zealand has intensified negotiations with Optus and junior listed telco SP Telemedia over a deal worth as much as $850 million to offload its struggling Australian business. It also reports that Chevron, the operator of the proposed $11 billion Gorgon export LNG project, has set itself a target of winning contracts for the rest of its share of production by the middle of next year, after yesterday reaching the halfway mark; and that new Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ralph Norris has identified poor customer satisfaction levels and a long-term erosion in the bank's share of business lending as his early priorities.

The Age says the click of a button is taking away the drudge of Christmas shopping for a growing number of people, with the number of online shoppers this festive season expected to reach 2.3 million - almost double that of last year; that a partnership between Sol Trujillo and Rupert Murdoch is expected to be announced as early as next week that could see TV, movies and other multimedia content from the Fox stable moving on to Telstra's 3G mobile network and then into the terrestrial broadband fibre system the company will run out over the next three to five years; and that the London Stock Exchange has reportedly told Macquarie Bank to add 30 per cent to our market value and then we'll talk about selling.

Bryan Frith thinks that before Chris Corrigan's Patrick Corp refers the leak of Virgin Blue's surprise $262 million dividend payment to ASIC, it should take a deep breath because it's arguable that Patrick should have made disclosure of the pending dividend before the leaks occurred.

STATE ROUND-UP

The Daily Telegraph: A group of country surgeons has not been paid for four months because their hospital, which also was refused supplies of surgical sutures, can't meet its bills; From a peak of more than 5000 troops in East Timor in 1999, Australia's military contribution to its newest neighbour has fallen to just three people.

The Herald-Sun: A raid on the home of a policeman's mother by Office of Police Integrity investigators has angered police and prompted a probe into the corruption watchdog; Khoa Nguyen showed no emotion after coming face to face with his twin brother Tuong Van Nguyen on death row in Singapore yesterday.

The Courier-Mail: A Federal Government senator has been accused of breaching parliamentary rules by tipping off the Government about the secret findings of an inquiry into its proposed industrial relations reforms; Queensland is reeling from the worst period of road carnage in memory, with 10 dead in seven accidents in just 27 hours.

The Advertiser: The state's anti-terror laws should be scrapped, according to an influential legal body which claims they are unjust and ignore fundamental human rights; A South Australian man arrested in Indonesia for drugs use relied on crystal meth - known locally as shabu shabu - to beat stress, his lawyer said yesterday.

The West Australian: Nearly 80 per cent of State school teachers have either decided to quit or are contemplating it as a result of the stress being placed on them by the outcomes-based education system, a survey conducted by their union has found; The union representing WA's 33,000 public servants claims about half of them would be forced into the controversial new industrial system after legal advice overturned a widely held belief they would be sheltered from the changes.

The Mercury: A complaint about unlicensed forklift drivers was made to the workplace safety watchdog at least six weeks before the tragic death of a 16-year-old Tasmanian; Royal Hobart Hospital medical staff yesterday wore red armbands in a symbolic, silent protest against "stifling red tape".

SPORT

The Wallabies would have every resource they require to restore their cohesion and confidence on the path to the 2007 World Cup, Australian Rugby Union chief executive Gary Flowers promised yesterday; Having become just the second regular Australian opener to survive beyond 35 since World War II, Justin Langer claims it takes more than money to maintain the desire to play for your country; Greg Norman has been voted Australia's greatest golfer of the past century, but Peter Stone thinks Peter Thompson also had claim to the title.

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re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Singapore must be close to John Howard's ideal society, so his milking of the Nguyen case is pathetic. It seems like he is building up to do a Bob Hawke, or a James Packer. Sob, sob. All mock sorrow, but where's the anger? Come Dec 3, it will be - "let's move on, volk". There must be some propitiousness about the date of the execution, that he can work it into his agenda to advantage. Is that about when the Costello camp is going to bring on its case for a pre-Easter handover?

I'd like to see Rob Hulls up against Costello, except Van is on death row because of his brother's gambling debts. Victoria, gamblers paradise. Oh well, win some, lose some.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

60% of Aussies may want increased penalties for those using drugs - presumably some are their own kids, but there are many unforeseen side effects. Most retailers, coffee shop owners and hostels in the Kings Cross and Oxford Street areas of Sydney are complaining bitterly that the persistent visits by police with sniffer dogs have almost killed off the international backpacker trade. In the Cross alone, one estate agent has 300 commercial premises available to rent with few offers.

Still, we could all go to Singapore with it's splendidly clean, crime free streets, the result of hundreds of hangings, or so we are led to believe. A visit to the local Westfield would be just as exciting though, save money and has a similar atmosphere.

No-one picked up on the obvious with Amanda Vanstone's admission that most of the "terrorist" measures put up by the government are pure show, although one hopes the safeguards on airline travel are for real. Most of us don't travel Business Class so we still only get to use plastic beakers in Cattle Class, unlike our pollies. We should be on guard though in case an overweight minister, high on red wine decides to break free from the pointy end and run on a rampage brandishing a smashed crystal wine glass and a pencil.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

HI Wayne, not sure if you already posted this elsewhere, but significant as far as world movements of spheres of influence. More so as the importance it was for Afghanistan operation.

Last briefing had an important word or two from Gerard Henderson about Amanda Vanstone and "intellectual" and gov funded information services. No better summary of the Sydney Institute and it's backer's views could be found anywhere. The double speak was beautiful: "intellectual" meaning stooge stupid parroting of government policy - and "nonintellectual" meaning, in Amanda's case, the calling to question of ridiculous spin that the sports-doped public had accepted without question or criticism. "Nonintellectual", thus in Gerard's world means the use of intelligence, good education, informed debate and questioning of moronic views and policies. His list of "intellectuals" as per Gerard's double speak is reavealing, ie who is toeing the line best and speaking like an unthinking, uncritical mouthpiece for the interests served. No surprises there, except missing Kim.

Henderson's attack also upon government funded institutions that dare to criticise the Howard Government shows what he thinks such money buys and shows how he serves his master - ie government funded advertising from acolytic, abased journalists and compromised academics. The Rio Tinto scientist once shared by the PM office comes to mind as an "intellectual".

Nice one Gerard, bring on some more of how the world is according to the SI. Now, does anyone take them seriously anymore? Still, it is pleasant to have a shortcut to know the policies in place of those who fund it. Then again, I hear it all at tennis. Ho hum. Cheaper labour, less control of business, more monopolies and power, narrower political power and media information, ally briefly with interest groups like religious to push policies through, private schooling to narrow education opportunities and views, remove dissent and acountability. Ho hum.

We fund it by the way. Nice thought. Now there's a tax deduction, that for think-tanks, that should be removed, and how much would it return to the coffers?

Cheers.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Hi, thanks for the link from the SMH:

"Some of the advice the Government has received says it would be possible for Australia unilaterally to ask the court to direct a stay of Nguyen's execution, pending hearings on whether Singapore's system of mandatory capital punishment breached international law. This argument centres on Singapore being bound by several treaties to which it is a party - including the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, which it has signed but not ratified. Sources said the legal opinions sought by the Federal Government had come from a range of sources, including international law experts."

This reminds me of the WMD issue, where the government hears different advice but chooses that which serves it's purpose. There is nothing serious about Howard et al to prevent his execution. There is everything serious about Howard et al to play with Singapore to gain favour and the deal with Qantas, another board seat coming up. Again covered with the human loss from in selective scrutiny of choices and advice.

If there is a chance then it must be grasped. What would they be doing if it was their child with the noose around their neck? No, instead their kids are receiving dubious scholarships, inner circle positions with the Republican party and dancing with foreign spies while their parents lie to us and cover up war mongering crimes of their own and their international mates. Nice symmetry there.

Downer, Howard and Ruddock may one day be held accountable for their crimes but Van Nuygen will long be dead for his crime. It is hard to come to terms with the injustice in this world, perhaps that is why people seek comfort in religion hoping there is an ultimate justice. Hmm.

Cheers.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

I just had a call from Optus enquiring what I want to do about my account, since I'm no longer under any contract with them. I said that I would be looking for another carrier due to the impending execution of Van Nguyen. Embarrassed pause. Then the call was politely ended.

Anyone recommend a good cheap carrier?

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

From Wayne's link to the SMH article:

"Mr Costello said if he started talking about his discussions with Mr Howard, 'the next thing you know I will be producing a diary like Mark Latham … It will be one of the world's great sellers.'"

Well! There you have it! If Howard doesn't keep his promise to hand the leadership over to Costello early next year, Costello will publish a diary!

God, can you imagine how lurid that would be?! At last we'd hear about all the behind the scenes deals and skullduggery that got us into the Iraq war and got those innocent kids in jail and who wanted what and how Howard conned them into voting against their consciences and... EVERYTHING!

Common on, Johnnie, don't hand the leadership over. I want to read that diary! Please!

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Margo this comes under the heading ... I just had to!

For the record I sent this off to Singaore's AGC this morning and just wonder what it takes to change politicians minds. A "stroke on paper stuff" and a life is lost!

Not too different to some "me to" strokes that got us into Vietnam, Afganistan and Iraq, I don't think JWH can be too proud over his input to this debacle. The "sad dad thing" I saw on TV just doesn't wash. The rammifactions of trade (Qantas+SIA), overide those of an Australian Citizen. I've got to ask the obvious. If it was his kin, what the hell would he be doing?

Singapore AGC
http://www.agc.gov.sg/
To the Minister,

I have agonised over the execution this coming Friday and felt deeply the need to go on record as being surprised and saddened by the black and white reaction to your Statutes/Laws. But none the less, statutes which are there as a framework for orderly governance. Not, a set in concrete way of having to carry out the letter of the law.

What will this execution honestly achieve? Will it truly change the drug trafficking patterns or simply cost a young and potentially valuable life. A life which as a result of your clemency, become of infinitely more value in this regard and only God knows what else.

That this young man was committed to his brother’s future and that he went to this length is very sad and wrong. I don't think there's much argument there.

However TERMINATING, KILLING, HANGING, or however the Administration cares to describe the taking of this life, is no less correct. It's just another wrong, supported by a piece of paper (statute).

I always come back to asking myself, if this were my son or daughter what would I be doing? I ask you to ask the same question of yourself!

This type of situation can suddenly affect all of us unfortunately. Certainly this situation was no accident in one sense, but still an aberration of his normal behaviour.

I add my voice, asking for a very human Singaporean response. I'm asking for his pardon or that the death penalty be commuted to imprisonment.

I believe this will gain a positive reaction from not only Australian people, but from around the world.

Sincerely,
Ross Levinson (parent of three)

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Angela Ryan, the Singaporean Government must firstly decide if they wish to take part in any international court as is their right. They quiet rightly will decide against it. This however does not mean this man should be hung.

Any decision made has nothing to do with what John Howard does or does not do. Trying to blame John Howard for another country's system of law is a stretch even for some on this site.

He also has no control over the daily weather, that I'm afraid is down to mother nature.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Speaking of aliens, here's the reported new pictures from the Mars Rover doing the rounds at the minute. Enjoy.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

It annoys me when people like Peter Coghlan can write an opinion piece on something like ID but only do a superficial investigation of it. If he had dug deeper he would find that there is no controversy. Behe and Dembski first put forward their ideas 10 years ago and scientists have dealt with and abolished most of their arguments over the last 10 years. They have in fact found that parts of the flagellum are used as systems in other types of bacterium so I don't think that Behe can claim that it is irreducibly complex.

The only thing that ID is left with is that some things "look designed" which is totally unscientific. For people interested in more about the refutation of ID please go to www.talkorigins.org. This site also has the court transcripts from the Dover trial. The cross-examination of Behe is quite enlightening and quite funny. Steve Millers discussion about ID shows how science has considered ID and why it has rejected it.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Hooray, hooray, Aunty Jack is back. I know what my xmas pressie to myself will be.

Jacob A Stam (23/11/2005 12:23:51 PM), What is Optus' connection to Singapore and Van Nguyen?

Michael de Angelos (23/11/2005 10:43:30 AM), The report didn't say people were supporting harsher penalties for "use", but for "sale or supply". Important difference.

I am always sceptical of such surveys and accompanying media reports and political/moral grandstanding, and would like to see the survey questions used before accepting its results.

Of course heavy use of cannabis is potentially very problematic, no one is suggesting otherwise. But so what? Heavy use of almost any (legal or illegal) chemical, from cannabis to alcohol to thorazine to salt to hairspray, is potentially very problematic. Light to moderate cannabis use is not medically problematic for the vast, vast majority of people, despite frequent desperate claims from the anti crowd. (It is true that there are always one or two vulnerable individuals with predisposing problems which cannabis use, particularly heavy use, can trigger or exacerbate. But again, so what?) If the medical situation is otherwise then the critics should show us the evidence, or shut up and direct their 'reformist' moralistic zeal towards the real problems our society faces.

Cannabis use is here to stay. The best approach is education and harm minimisation, and it always has been. The proscriptive legal approach has clearly been a gross failure (not to mention a complete waste of precious law enforcement resources). Cannabis use is more widespread and accepted than it ever has been. Making it more illegal ain't gonna help anyone, except the black market profiteers.

And yes, I have inhaled, and still do occasionally. I also don't drink alcohol, and regard it as a far worse medical and social problem than cannabis ever will be. Cannabis has three big advantages over alcohol:

1) Stoned people are not predisposed to aggression and violence, unless they mix cannabis with other intoxicants such as alcohol or amphetamines.

2) There is no 'hangover' from cannabis use the next day.

3) Cannabis use is largely self-limiting in two ways. a) Excessive acute cannabis use merely makes the user veg out, and often fall asleep. (There are NO confirmed deaths due to acute cannabis toxicity.) And b) cannabis is predominantly used by younger people and its use declines steeply with age, with the vast majority of users giving up completely by their thirties.

Compare and contrast with the problems caused by (legal) alcohol use.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Jacob A Stam: "I said that I would be looking for another carrier due to the impending execution of Van Nguyen. Embarrassed pause. Then the call was politely ended.

"Anyone recommend a good cheap carrier?"

To be consistent, I trust that you will be refusing to deal with any company/product with connexions to any of the 70 or so countries which have the death penalty. According to Amnesty International's website, around 10,000 are executed each year in China. Or do only Australian deaths count?

Regarding the phone. If you use the phone just for infrequent, short calls, emergencies and the like, AAPT pre-paid is good.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Optus is Singapore Based?? Thanks Jacob!

That's who I am with. Just as we are deciding which of the tightly running broadband companies we will go with along comes this poignant piece. As part of my personal action against this government I am not flying Singapore airlines this Christmas - booking flights next week, and not choosing Optus.

Any other products out there for my two bob's worth of blackbans. Imagine if all started to look at this action. Time for Amnesty International to play hardball with governments who kill and still deal.

When Greenpeace started naming names about the PNG actions of our companies the tennis crowd were jittery. He will be killed, and hence I find so distasteful spending money that supports such a regime. Sticks in the throat.

Oh and Jay, thanks. But I respect Dr Wood's advice above yours, with all respect, but Howard weather report? Maybe quite appropriate, I thought you did believe the sun shone from that there varmint's nethers.

Singapore is a little country desperately reliant upon trade and the good will of the neighbours. Funny it's close relationship with Burma, so well known for it's heroin production. Funny it wants to execute those willing to testify against the Mr Bigs. Funny it doesn't want to grant clemency despite the prisoner fitting the very requirements for this in Singapore's own law. So who does get clemency if not this lad?

Repeatedly the Australian government has failed to point out how the law in Singapore can be respected and our citizens saved. Instead saying there is no hope and no reason to expect such - lies as usual from this group, but what can we expect. A citizen in trouble, then hang 'em high seems to be the attitude of this propunishment regime in charge here. One day they may wish they supported a more merciful way of looking at severe crimes.

The failure of our leadership to point this out ,that (Singapore) their very laws allow for this clemency and he has indeed fit the described situation where it may be granted, this failure to point this out at every opportunity to allow clemency and save face too is a diplomatic failure of Downer - but why am I not surprised? Of course it has not been emphasised, more just some kind of crocodile tears from whingey Downer. How can anyone take him seriously?

It's Singapore leadership may be a big fish and a little dank pond, but I thought deputy dawk Johnny was here to keep all in line.

How many, just for interest sake, Americans have been executed?

So much for the spin, "if people commit crimes here we would punish them under our laws", the line used to justify all these slayings of Australians in Singapore and Indonesia. But are they? Are US citizens beholden unto our laws if they transgress here? Oh no, the US soldiers are whisked away back to base and OS then given a slap on the wrist - drugs? No penalty here, rape and assault? No penalty here.

Cut all the spin lies. Work properly to save this boy and show there is spine, not spin, and compassion there. Not just greenhouse gas and sun shining frrom the same weather station that Jay loves.

Cheers.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Nguyen was trying to make a profit from the devastation and potential death that his drugs would have wrought in Australia. He was trying to turn a buck on the backs of those addicted to drugs which is, if you believe the doctors, an illness on the part of the drug users. The sympathy that people feel for someone who would try and make money by taking advantage of sick people in this society is, for me, difficult to understand. He was caught trafficking in death and should pay the price.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Angela Ryan, I don't agree with hanging this fellow either. However, your attempt at blame shifting on to the Australian Government is delusional.

"Singapore is a little country desperately reliant upon trade and the good will of the neighbours".

It may be small in population; it is however by every standard a very wealthy first world nation. It is not reliant on any one nation. It is also a big player in the Asian business region.

"The failure of our leadership to point this out, that (Singapore) their very laws allow for this clemency and he has indeed fit the described situation where it may be granted, this failure to point this out at every opportunity to allow clemency and save face too is a diplomatic failure of Downer - but why am I not surprised? Of course it has not been emphasised, more just some kind of crocodile tears from whingey Downer. How can anyone take him seriously?"

Don't be silly. everything that can be pointed out to the Singaporean Justice system has been. They are not a mob of second rate mugs and are quiet capable of working things out for themselves.

They have a mandatory sentence of death for people caught in possesion of certain amounts of drugs. Many people in this nation have been hung already for a lot less than this unfortunate fellow was caught with.

At the end of the day, Singapore will decide on this persons fate irrespective of what Australia thinks. However Australia, behaving like a spoilt white western nation, is not only being racist but will, frankly, only hurt not help the situation. The only thing the Government can now do is what it is doing. That is, to show some humility and hope for a better outcome.

Firstly, I do not understand what the US has to do with this situation at all? Secondly, I also do not know how you think that the hanging of this fellow will be a positive outcome for either John Howard or his Government?

It is big and diverse world out there Angela. Australia nor its Governments have ever been able to, nor will they ever be able to, control every situation both good or bad.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Alan Kohler TDB, and “This situation [The US dollar’s present rise - along with gold – because of a short-term arbitrage on cash rates] cannot last. American financial assets will have to be repriced eventually, either directly or through a depreciation of the currency, or both.” And “…the timing and force of the American reckoning will be the key to investment markets in 2006.”

But “Australia is about the only commodity exporting nation still running a deficit (because we are bigger consumers [of a lot of sickening, useless crap, for the large a part]).”

That’s nothing to do with Howard’s ugly budget surplus folks – the pea and thimble trick which allows him to tax the people’s brains out, while he and his mates piss it all up against the wall or pinch every widow’s mite like the dirty gombeens they are.

And not invest in the country’s “soft” infrastructure like health and education and research, or the hard stuff like roads, rail, ports and public transport.

And here we all were. Relaxed and comfortable. Except for the poorest, and despite our monster Current Account Deficit (WHERE’S YER FECKEN STUPID TRUCK NOW, HOWARD, YER WEAK KIRRIBILLI WANKER?), we’re in the biggest consumer splurge in Australia’s history.

And despite being in a costly, illegal and seemingly unwinnable war, because we are in the hands of “good economic management.” Now we can use that term for “thieves,” much as we use “tired and emotional” for “pissed.”

And, Alan Kohler, in what currency are those export contracts for all our commodities written? Not the US$ vs gold pakapoo tickets, is it, mate? Oh dear, oh dear. A cuckoo’s egg in Howard’s lush exports nest.

Ah, and by the by, no wonder all those Liberal Party mates in the Reserve Bank unloaded Australia’s gold reserves at Howard’s celebratory Lodge garage sale in 1997. Not the Downies’ auction coming up in a few days, or even the Reserve’s pre-auction sale of melted coin, although both are of interest.

We’re talking 167 tonnes or $2.4 billion, to “non residents” up to September 1997, which according to the Bureau of Stats was used to fiddle the … wait for it … current account.

And in the run-up to the Indian gold-buying season, too.

Howard’s scrawny arse had barely been sat in its official chair when this gold demutalisation racket was pulled.

Mind you, the Poms and others were soon at it too, as they would, wouldn’t they? Threadneedle Street bullion, going cheap. Cor blimey. Gee, fanks, guv.

The rats must have been swimming up the Thames against the tide for that one.

And it must all be coming in VERY handy nowadays, eh boys? Gold on a near two-decade price high and inching closer to US$490/oz.

Should be enough to keep the average rodent happy for 100 years.

Peter "Glitteringly Idiotic" Woodforde.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

I'm with Optus. Good enough for me. If this poor young bloke dies I will be changing carriers too. Not as some kind of boycott. Just so I can go on living with myself.

Please try to understand this is not an anti-Asian thing. The death penalty appalls me everywhere; just as much in the US as Singapore or China.

This case, however, is particularly sickening for a number of reasons. Besides he's an Australian and if we don't care who will?

There are already too many young Australians who have suffered horrific and violent deaths in Singapore. Including a relative of mine. I am certain he would not mind me invoking his name for the first time.

Please do not hang Van Nguyen.

In honour and memory of Gerald Letwin. Australian Army Medical Corps.
Born Melbourne 1920 - Died Changi 1942.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Margo, what's the story on this long standing permanent resident that was deported on the basis of unsavoury character. Deported to Bosnia where he has no citizenship. Seems amazing? Amazing when it's been his country since he was 2 years of age and deported after 33 years! How can this be so?

Same old same old ...

Bully boy Downer! Appears to me, the bloke who was victimised at boarding school. He just isn't a savoury individual. Surprise ... Ruddock was the man who did the deed.

Doesn't make much of a difference. I know what it was like at boarding school putting up with types like JWH, AD, Bloody Ruddock and huge Vannystin. Scary!

More scary is that they're in government!

Now shut up Ross.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

The actions of the Singapore government pale into (relative) insignificance compared to the AFP's appalling decision to dob the Bali Nine in to the Indonesians rather than arresting them on arrival in Australia. Mick Keelty and his gang knew full well the potential deadly consequences of that decision. Despicable.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Thanks for the correction name supplied but I think if 60% of Aussies want penalties increased for the supply of drugs then they should be demanding an increase in penalties for use as well.

Where is the concept of personal responsibilty here - so beloved of Liberals like John Howard? If no-one took drugs, no-one would bother supplying them, just as no-one would break-in and steal if everyone refused to buy stolen goods. And that is why there is a heavy penalty to be in possesion of stolen goods.

Alternatively, the government and Australians could face reality and realise that those who support the hanging of one man will find it does nothing to solve this problem, nor does the sacrifice of nine young people in Bali to a firing squad produce an outcome apart from some morbid satisfaction for the head of the AFP who may delude himself he is acheiving something on behalf of his political masters. Even worse, I will continue be pay my inflated insurance policies, huge taxes to fund police in their bogus anti-drug campaigns, still have my house or car in danger of being plundered all so a bunch of fools with their heads in the sand can continue to delude themselves something is actually being achieved.

It's about time those who think it's OK for a corrupt dictatorial nation like Singapore to hang people, pulled their collective fingers and produce some positive results. I'm sick of my tax dollars being wasted on this rubbish. If they want to allow these fool's errands to continue, let them pay for these bogus "drug wars" out of their own pocket. Let them finance their own hypocrisy.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Dylan Kissane, you sound as one who has some experience?

You also sound as one who is without sin?

If not, maybe you'd care not to cast the first stone?

If Van were my brother or son I'd feel quite differently to the way you apparently feel.

If it was your son or daughter, I can see you saying, "Well they broke the law in that country and therefore it's Karma." I think not.

Check in the crevases of your humanity and adjust your humanity.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Someone advise me how the following situations all demonstrate that justice is being served equally. A man is to hang in Singapore for drug trafficking, a man is deported to a strange land after 36 years of living here - a lifetime, for a number of drug offences involving personal use. Two lives destroyed.

Three boys from a private Sydney school are allowed to return home from Fiji with a slap over the wrist after smoking illicit drugs.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Hi Jay, really? Give me one quote from Downer or Howard where they have told the Australian people that Van Nguyen has fulfulled the criteria for clemency and as such should be considered for it? Just one will do. Usually it is "we have asked for clemency but it has not been granted and we can do no more, he broke the law and unfotunately the laws are harsh and it is a hard lesson ... blah blah blah."

Missed them all myself but heard lots about how he broke their law and has to face the consequences, just as "if our laws were broken by foreigners they would have to face our legal system" - the lies in that was why I mentioned the US servicemen who have not faced the consequences of their crimes here. No, US do deals with Howard regime and why not Singapore?

If Singapore lost it's trade place in the Asian area what exactly would they produce? SFA. Trade is through good will and international approval with backroom deals no doubt too boosting the movements.

Howard is not even raising the issue with the UK and Canada, both staunch anti-death penalty and pro-human rights. Why not? Why is Howard so afraid of upsetting this little country and it's hubristic nepotic leader? Imagine if Singapore came on the list for democracy changes/improvements, an orange revolution there as has happened elswhere recently.

Let's look at the logic here.

Singapore has a clemency provision. What are the critieria? Mainly, in layman terms: repentance, cooperation with authorities, possibility of rehabilition of character, and information to lead to conviction of those higher up the line of drug dealing.

Why? These critieria show the government is still tough on drugs but also encourage the capture and dismantling of drug networks for the greater good. If one knew there was no hope why would anyone tell the authorities anything about these organised crime groups and risk the consequences to one's familiy? Keep quiet and they may be looked after.

Instead what is happening? He has told all, won't be around for the cases so they may fail in prosecution, and his family may suffer now. Any criminal who may think of singing has got the message, there are some people you don't sing about. Why? Is it logical that this should be the action chosen by the Singapore government?

What are the possible explanations?

1. Protect the criminal cartel involved;
2. Punish for some other reason, personal/family/enemy/criminal group enemy;
3. Punish because of nationality Australian/Vietnamese;
4. Embarass our government, show Howard as a weak unimportant leader in the region despite his deputy dawk US wish. Is their a change in international power balance occuring?

The last would explain Howard's acceptance as not wishing to further embarass himself as his impotence (figuratively speaking) is revealed.

I bet Keating could have got him released. Much better at diplomacy and communicating in the face saving manner needed for these demigod leaders.

"A big world" gee Jay, perceptive. Feel free Jay to intellectually (or "non-intellectually" in Gerard Henderson doublespeak) discuss this. I know this is hard when dogma is so easy but you are not a dogma person.

Dylan Kissane however is hilarious. Naughty naughty naughty, punish punish punish, are you a school master from the 1800s? Every topic so crystal clear about respect for the law and face the punishment, yet never a mention of the illegal war and those actions leading to it being punished. "They were caught trafficking in death and should be punished," yep. Had a look at Haliburton profits? Guess that's for the school board to sack the principal. Sorry Dylan the real world is not black and white (even if Jay says it's "big"), that's what's so hard for fundamentalists of whatever persuasion and children to understand. Thus, they make terrible judges.

Van Nguyen broke the law, allegedly to help his twin brother caught in gambling debt with nasty threatening people. Wonder if they helped organise the heroin trafficking themselves? That would explain a local connection needed to be protected with his silence. Have the AFP Victorian/NSW police investigated them?

He was caught. How? Just lucky or was he shopped as is the usual means of catching. Let's hope the AFP didn't tell the authorities to pick him up too.

He was tried and found guilty, agreed to cooperate fully, named names despite the risks, fulfilled the requirements for clemency - all Singapore's laws.

Why despite all this has he not been granted clemency?

Why does Howard and Downer downplay the clemency provision and the fact that he has fulfilled it? Never mentioning it amopngst all the crocodile tears.

Why do they ignore and downplay the advice that the execution can be affected by the ICJ, accoring to Dr Ward and Robinson? Just like it all to go away would they, and WHY do they refuse to bring it up with other like minded governments at CHOGM? It is already being discussed in these (UK and Canada) communities. Why not increase international pressure for the clemency to be granted as it is due?

Why not? What is it that Howard et al fear, financial or political? Or do they just not care? Not empathatci enough? Why are they not going in to bat for an Australain citizen with everything that can be used?

He is not just Australian, he is a human being, a loved son and brother. That should always be enough. We are happy to invade countries when they are inhumane to their people, yet cannot even mount international pressure for one of our own about to be unhumanely treated.

Is the AFP going to still prosecute people here that were named as gangsters? Is the VIctorian/NSW police aware of the allegations and have they been investigated?

Is it just the usual sloppy offhand effort that anyone can expect from our government when in trouble overseas?

So many lovely questions for journos to ask, yet so often it is "how do you feel Mr PM?" Reply: "I am so sad," blather blather. Translation: "My bunion hurts in these shoes". Man of rust. Tin. Why can't we have a real leader, a statesman? Why just this 1950s throwback with corporate crony backroom. You see the difference when it really matters to our people.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Angela Ryan, firstly with regards to US citizens I recall some time back a US boy of about sixteen recieving the ratan (latter day whip) for the crime of graffiti. I remember that it caused quiet a stir it however did not change the result.

"If Singapore lost it's trade place in the Asian area what exactly would they produce? SFA. Trade is through good will and international approval with backroom deals no doubt too boosting the movements".

Why would it lose its trade place in Asia? Most other Asian nations have capital punishment. With regards to this I'am afraid Australia is the odd man out.

"Howard is not even raising the issue with the UK and Canada, both staunch anti-death penalty and pro-human rights. Why not? Why is Howard so afraid of upsetting this little country and it's hubristic nepotic leader? Imagine if Singapore came on the list for democracy changes/improvements, an orange revolution there as has happened elswhere recently".

Why would he raise this issue with two nations that have nothing to do with the situation? The Queen has already spoken up on Van's behalf along with the Pope.

"Singapore has a clemency provision. What are the critieria? Mainly, in layman terms: repentance, cooperation with authorities, possibility of rehabilition of character, and information to lead to conviction of those higher up the line of drug dealing".

Who are the "higher ups" that this person can give information on? According to the AFP there is nobody in Australia this man has information on. This man also has no information on any "higher ups" in Singapore since he did not purchase the drugs there.

"Instead what is happening? He has told all, won't be around for the cases so they may fail in prosecution, and his family may suffer now. Any criminal who may think of singing has got the message, there are some people you don't sing about. Why? Is it logical that this should be the action chosen by the Singapore government?"

What the hell are you talking about? There is no person in Singapore he can give up. His flight when he was captured was in transit through Singapore. The drugs were purchased in Laos a seperate nation.

Singapore as I have already pointed out has a mandatory death penalty for those convicted of drugs. This is not a unusal case nor is there a conspiracy theory at work.

Angela it is time for you to grow up. The facts are this person was caught red handed partaking in a capital offence. Laws in nations around the world differ widely from those in nations such as Australia. This will not be changing anytime soon.

As for Paul Keating being able to make a difference I would remind you of Barlow and Chambers in Malaysia whilst he was Treasurer. The result was the same.

The worst part is that people will continue to ignore the message. I bet at this very moment somebody is planning to take their chances in this region doing exactly the same thing. If caught the results will also be the same. I also have no doubt you will be looking to blame everyone but the fool silly enough to put his or her life at extreme risk.

I hope this fellow does not get hung. I personally think the punishment is too harsh. However Australia running around the world like a spoilt brat is not going to help the situation for either him nor any future Australian.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Dylan Kissane “He was caught trafficking in death and should pay the price.” Mewl, mewl, puke, puke.

Why not fecken torture him first, apart from the current torture that is? Cut his dick off. Shoot his mother, too. We are all barbarians now.

After all, anything goes, don’t it?

And by the way, 400 grams of smack wouldn’t buy a miniscule holding of Alexander Downer’s immense spread. Or even a fraction of Kirribilli’s wine cellar.

It was good enough only for the condemned man to pay off his brother’s debt to Melbourne’s gambling goons.

No matter what price the Singapore PM and his cronies put on the Nguyen package.

The other two might just as well stay silent.

We are all hangmen now.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

A Vanstone’s celebrated remarks to the PM, quoted by A Ramsey, in TDB:

“…if I came and grabbed him (Howard) by the front of the head and stabbed the HB pencil into your eyeball and wiggled it around down to your brain area, do you think you'd be focusing?”

We’d all be focusing Amanda. And cheering.

But you would tidy, wouldn’t you, luv? Women’s work, really, isn’t it?

And don’t leave a mess, especially with ANZAC Day coming up.

Peter "2H" Woodforde

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

I take your point Jay but for the sake of the record the kid (Michael Fay?) was 18, from memory the crime was throwing eggs at cars, and the Singapore Govt did reduce the penalty from six strokes to four under US pressure.

And the US President was Clinton.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Geoff Pahoff, thanks for setting the record straight. How time flys I cant believe that took place over six years ago!

I think we can all agree that even if the lashes so to speak were reduced, four of them still would not be any picnic. Also for the crime of throwing eggs at cars just goes to show how tough on law and order this nation is. Overly tough some would say and I would tend to agree.

The point I'am trying to make is not that I think the punishment is the correct one. The point is that in the end the decision rests with the Singaporean Government. If Australia took action against every nation that has capital punishment there would be few nations left to trade with.

Australians just have to except that the outside world is not always the way we would like it to be. That I'am afraid is just the facts of life.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Hi Jay, obfuscating as usual. So where is the quote?

Justice should be done. He fit the criteria for clemency, so why is he not receiving it? I hardly think someone about to hang should be called a spoilt brat, nor those questioning the legal and political mechanisms when there is a life at stake and justice questioned. Every point I made stands, despite your protestations. Do you still believe in WMD, Jay? And the tooth fairy?

Of course, not all care about life and justice. Truth is another curious casualty. We must be still at war as it hasn't revived yet.

Cheers.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

I wonder how fast time is flying for Tuong Van Nguyen? And his mother?

Singapore is hardly the only country that has the death penalty. This is hardly the only injustice in the world. There are more serious threats to humankind from within and without. Some ugly new strain of fascism is loose in the world and no doubt some innocent people will fall victim to it tonight. Like every night. If that was not enough the genocide in Darfur rages on with barely a murmur from any of us.

But all of this is irrelevant to this case. I have said before that the brutal cold process of an execution, such an extraordinary and horribly accurate word, fills me with a numbing dread as if I hearing news of the worst kind of murder. For the most part we turn the page and carry on. But every now and again we need to take a stand for the sake of our own humanity.

I agree that probably right now there are people willing to take their chances on the same mission as Van Nguyen. This is another fact we should confront. The minds of young people, especially it seems young men, are immature. They simply cannot fully process the connection between action and consequence. We might not have been involved in drug running through Singapore in our youth but I invite you to search your memory for what you did get up to. Van Nguyen could be anybody's son.

The value of every life is infinite. It is just so easy to take a life. Often it is enormously difficult to save one. But we do our best. We do not hesitate for a moment to give a young girl two heart transplants to save her and then we all rightly rejoice in her life. In this case all it would take is a nod from the right man.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Beautifully written Geoff. Cheers.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Ah Peter W, thanks for the quote from Alan Ramsay of what Amanda said. No wonder she is still my hero, of all the mottley lot on both sides she says it best. No more integrity than any other but intelligent and competent and fires off salvos that Bomb-it-all Beazley would be jealous of. Savoir faire.

Have just purchased some HB pencils in her honour.

Shall definitely not take them on board that Qantas flight tomorrow, I know the security staff will be a wake up to that one now. Shall we practice on avocados? Gazpacho John. A new dish for leftwing and disident liberal restaurants. Ah the crass uni student comes out again.

The war on terror, about an eight billion dollar farce so far and we haven't even got airport security to stop drugs moving on demand. And we even had to get a Pom to tell us that. That was the cruncher. And now terrorists know to buy first class tickets to get the real glass - wasn't any last time I flew business class though. But really, did anyone believe the boxcutter story anyway?

Farcical. ASIO used to be so good at planting, eavesdropping and intercepting, who needs all the other rubbish unless you want to stop dissent or create villains/enemies. Who would believe all this if they read it in a novel 10yrs ago, the lack of critical thinking and foolish acceptance of everything told by such known liars for their benefit. And paid for by the tax payer via the Rendon group.

Ho hum. Now it will be art shops and HB pencil purchases.

What is really interesting is how did Bamford get to publish his article in Rolling Stone about Rendon and all the lies? Sad that some actually believed it all at the time. Is a tit for tat going on?

Cheers.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

I agree, Angela - "Beautifully written Geoff." Perhaps you should write an article for Webdiary, Geoff.

Jay, many of your assertions here are perfectly correct. You would make an excellent administrator - you don’t let emotion get in the way of the facts (except when it’s about you know who). However, if you could only ratchet up the communication of your undoubted compassion about three notches, then we would all find it easy to agree with many of your points here and in other areas of discussion as well.

For the record (although no closed mind can hear it), heroin doesn’t kill people, it’s drug laws that kill people. People die because of impure heroin arising from non-professional production. If drugs were legal and prescribable by doctors, then there would be almost no deaths.

The ineluctable conclusion is that Moral Society is responsible for the deaths of those who take heroin. They pat themselves on the back for it too. They could even go to God when they leave this life and say with full conviction that they did the right thing. Ah, the bliss of ignorance. Perhaps God introduces them to the dead addicts.

In Singapore this week, those who should know better and who have the power to save many lives plan to execute a foolish man who obeyed society’s primary instruction - to worship money.

Also, did anyone else notice this quote from Wayne's link to the SMH article: "Mr Costello said if he started talking about his discussions with Mr Howard, 'the next thing you know I will be producing a diary like Mark Latham … It will be one of the world's great sellers.'"

That is, Costello is apparently warning JWH and the Liberal Party that he will publish a diary if he doesn’t get the leadership. Isn’t this page one news? And Margo and Webdiarists will have no more JWH to rail against – he’ll just be bowing out quietly.

And Labor will have delivered its election promise of Costello being the nation's next PM.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Geoff Pahoff, I respect your position on capital punishment however I do not hold it. I do think though capital punishment should only be used in the most extreme cases and those cases are still quiet rare.

For example do you not think it a correct decision that the war criminals of Nazi Germany were executed? My persoanl opinion is that not to have executed these people would have not only shown an extreme lack of honour but also would have been a major insult to their victims some of which are still living.

I also believe Sadaam if convicted of his alleged crimes should also face execution. Again for exactly the same reasons. There are people in life who through their actions forfeit the right to share what is remainder of it with any other living being.

To allow them to do so is offensive and an insult to not only those that must continue to deal with them but humanity as a whole.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Okay I do not agree with hanging this man. I think the punishment is too harsh. I also would like to see this execution called to a halt.

The questions we as Australians that wish to see it halted should be asking ourselves is how best to reach the conclusion we desire. I'm afraid empty threats and emotional rants just will not cut it in this particular situation.

I have thought about Singapore's position as a nation in all this and I think they are in a catch 22 situation.

1. This man has been through the full processes of their justice system.

2. It is their nation and justice system and they would wish to project themselves as being fully in control of both.

3. They have executed their own citizens for much lesser offences than the one Van has without doubt been found guilty of.

4. By showing favour to Van do they not send a message to their own citizens that Australian life is worth more in Singapore than Singaporean life?

5. Does this not send a message to Western drug runners that the death penalty is off limits to them?

6. I don't think it is the interests of Singapore to execute Van. It causes unnecessary bad blood in Australia at a time when relations between the nations are very good.

7. How can Australia and Singapore reconcile all these things to find the solution desired?

When the people working on the case can find a suitable way around these catch 22 positions a positive outcome may be found. This will not happen by emotional superiority games and attempting power play games when in this situation Australia is not in a powerful position.

The Government is right not to link trade or special favours to this case. One reason is what does a special favour really mean? For example could it mean down the track a Singaporean Government business is given special treatment over its competition? By linking trade to this case Australia may well effect trade with many other nations in Asia, a terrible outcome for all Australia.

Australia is in a situation where running off half cocked insulting all and sundry would not only be counter productive but reckless and self defeating. You simply do not attain the things you want by behaving like a brainless goon in these situations.

The Australian Government certainly should never behave in the manner that Phillip Adams after reading his article today seems to want them too. I now know for sure that the understanding he has of today's world climate and international relationships would not fill the back of a beer coaster.

I guess though he is still morally superior, jolly good show Phillip.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

For the sake of strict intellectual honesty I should make this admission.
I would not have been in the frontline of any "Save Himmler" campaign.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Geoff Pahoff well fair enough at least you are consistent with your views. I cant say I agree I think a rare few deserve to hang for their crimes. Although Van is not one of them.

I think it is about time some common sense came into this situation. At least there should be a stay of execution until a few things can be properly talked over. I believe to a large extent Singapore has proved the points they wish to make.

I also don’t think some people in both Singapore and Australia have fully thought through the implications of hanging this man. This decision could well later go on to be a very troublesome issue for what in fact in the larger scheme of things is a minor issue.

As I say it is about time common sense prevailed and everybody apart from the criminal who will than be properly punished walks away from this with their heads held high.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

I cannot agree that capital punishment is correct in any circumstances, Jay. I have to take a deep breath to say this but that includes the examples you mentioned.

To refuse to kill other than in defence does not dishonour or insult the victims. On the contrary it shows a determination to utterly repudiate the standards of the criminals and an optimism that humankind has a better future.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

It was Goebbels who had himself and his wife shot by an orderly after an SS doctor poisoned their six kids. Himmler poisoned himself with cyanide after being captured in heavy disguise by the British.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

War Criminals like Himmler, hmm didn't he suicide in the bunker with his wife and ?6kids or was that Goebels? Imagine killing your kids! What did they think was going to happen to them?

One has to stick to one's values. If one finds excuses to compromise them and those excuses are enough for us, then we need to consider accepting the excuses of the criminals for what they do.

The front line politicians were executed but there was little justice against those who backed them and funded them. War Criminals don't just happen, they are chosen to be supported by many people around them, thought to be someone who will further their cause or make money and the backers are willing to compromise their values(if they did have any) for these causes.

The napalm bombing of Dresden is a war crime act by any definition yet there still has been no accountability for Churchill et al. Is it only the vanquished who face justice? is it only the victor who writes the history? Can we never move on from this-if so there is no hope for humanity. There will continue to be dehumanising propaganda to justify heinous deeds and manipulation of populations to created war and those responsible will know they will not be held to account if they win, so .....logic...what weapons would they hold back to not win? Is altruism their strong point?

The Nazis rotting in gaols would have been valuable, perhaps a more fitting punishment and not a compromise of one's own values, as would the industrialists and financiers sitting beside them. Interesting to have as a resource for information about the whole thing too, how such events can build in the backrooms and maybe be prevented.
A short stint and shame for Churchill would have been icing on the cake and who would consider breaking international weapon and genocide conventions knowing vanquished and victor face justice from the mass of informed humanity?

Looking at the flagrant breaking of the Geneva convention and weapon conventions by the US and UK in Iraq and elsewhere it is a time to carefully assess whether one has the spine to hold to one's values in the face of fascism, as the German people faced. We are better informed than they were and even see pictures of the horrible deeds yet do nothing.
Yet for 60 yrs the German people have been shouldered with some kind of collective responsibility for what happened. Not so the Italian nor the slippery Franco nor those who financed it.

OK, if that is just, the collective price the German people pay for Hitler et al, then we have a greater responsibility and must face it for what is done in our name with our tax dollars. Or do we assume to be victors? So can do what we like? Hold none accountable? That is the danger. Warmongering is like planning the execution of thousands at a time. Collateral to some.

And back the individual tragedy ,the pending doom of an Australian lad, collateral damage to some Howard huggers.

The "oh well, do-nothing approach" of Howard and his supporters when the hangman’s noose is ticking is insupportable and savage in it's amoral ruthlessness. No-one should be hanged-a cruel death-,nor in my opinion executed. He will be unless there is reason for the Singapore leader to change his mind. There has been no real pressure from our government, in fact instead subservient ingratiation to gain a Qantas merger with Singapore airlines-so nauseating a little Rodent-a board job maybe?-, so only wisdom as to the consequences and how they might be used may help.

And those who think it may not happen, imagine if it was planted on your kids? Hung. There is no going back from a death sentence. Disgraceful that people still support it even knowing how many were wrongly hung in the US after the shocking US study.

A great leader would show mercy as that is the hall mark of greatness. Some merciful are great, but all great are merciful. Only they can be without fear. It would be such a wise thing to do and would be understood by the average Australian and respected. Hanging would not. To use false polls and troll journalist writings to fool the Singapore people won't work because of the internet.

He shall be hung. Howard huggers will all hope we will forget quickly the duplicity and nastiness of the leadership of our country. I just look at his hands and wonder how long he takes Janet to wash them each night.

cheers
ps goodbye optus. F-o Singapore airlines. I am so angry at such injustice and at the powerful allowing it.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Thanks Geoff. Fitting end ... in a way. Reality of losing a war after doing very evil deeds.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Geoff Pahoff: "For the sake of strict intellectual honesty I should make this admission. I would not have been in the frontline of any 'Save Himmler' campaign."

One would take the odds to that being the smallest club in the world. I would suspect they would waive the membership fees. I would be surprised if they could even talk his mother into joining.

re: The Daily Briefing 23/11/05

Angela Ryan as I have said repeatedly John Howard is not in control of what happens in other nations around the world. Australians in Singapore have no more rights than any other citizen of that nation.

I would suggest if any Australian feels the need to commit crime abroad and does not trust the Australian Government to bail them out of trouble they should consider not travelling. In no way is the Howard Government to blame for this situation.

If this man is hung it will be down to the Singapore Government and the Singapore Government alone.

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