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The Daily Briefing 7/12/05


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    Anne Perkins on new Tory leader, David Cameron/Guardian (2 links below)
2    George Monbiot says biodiesel is a problem, not a solution/Guardian (link below)
3    Charlie Cooks on Bush's political dilemma/Off to the Races (5 links below)
4    Christopher Hitchens on buying favourable Iraq coverage/Slate (link below)
5    Interview with George Packer re "The Assassins' Gate"/SFGate (link below)
6    Report on the pressure on traditional telcos/NYTimes
7    Verlyn Klinkenborg on the season for lists/NYTimes (4 links below)
8    Calamity Jane, the Courtney Love of her day/Salon
9    Katernine Seelye on making Wikipedia more accurate/NYTimes
10    Anita Sethi confesses to being a Take That groupie/Guardian
11    Shane Warne on England's tour of Pakistan/Times
12    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 The man more likely
After a rank and file ballot, much like the Democrats here, the Conservative Party has a new leader - David Cameron. The Times has this profile and in the assessment of Cameron linked to below, and written before the announcement was made, Anne Perkins says he is the best man for the job of taking on Tony Blair. "Attacked for lacking policies, he looks certain to become leader of his party as the candidate who can express a recognisable and widespread sentiment: sympathy with Blair's objectives, but growing doubt about his methods. History suggests this ability to personify the national mood is the most important component of political success."
2 Biodiesel is not the answer
From peak oil to the increased use of nuclear power and research into the various extraordinary possible alternatives to fossil fuels, TDB has linked to them all this year. (Those wondering what all the references to "debates followed this year" are about obviously missed the note saying that an effort was being made in the remaining days before the summer break to update as many of those subjects as possible.) Biodiesel has come up a few times, and is currently getting a big push in Australia. George Monbiot has also touched on the subject a couple of times, the first in this column linked to last year. He refers to it again in this column, link below, saying that it touched off a storm of abuse, but that he remains convinced that biofuels are part of the problem and not the solution. "The last time I drew attention to the hazards of making diesel fuel from vegetable oils, I received as much abuse as I have ever been sent for my stance on the Iraq war. The biodiesel missionaries, I discovered, are as vociferous in their denial as the executives of Exxon. I am now prepared to admit that my previous column was wrong. But they're not going to like it. I was wrong because I underestimated the fuel's destructive impact."
3How big is the hole Bush is in?
George Bush's dramatic fall from the political heights of his inauguration at the beginning of the year, to one of the most unpopular president's of all time has been great theatre, and the source of some great writing. The seeds of that fall were there, perhaps, in the disenchantent with Bush that libertarian and conservative intellectuals and activists began to express openly last year. Among those is Andrew Sullivan, who has gone from Bush booster to vociferous critic in 18 months. This is his latest update on Bush and the Republicans ("The party of Watergate") at his blog. Sullivan, a former editor of The New Republic, recommends this article by Rick Perlstein, a historian of conservatism since Barry Goldwater, over at The Huffington Post.

The most recent problem bedevilling the Republicans is corruption, notably involving former House Majority leader Tom ("The Hammer") DeLay and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Then there is Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who pleaded guilty this week to accepting bribes. His case, Michael Kinsely argues in Slate tells you everything you need to know about what is wrong with "conservative Washington".

Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post talks about Washington's "new gilded age".

Can Bush come back? One of the ways TDB follows American politics is via Charlies Cook's weekly "Off to the Races" email, which you can sign up for here. It's free, and Cook, one the most respected US political analysts, urges that you share it with friends and colleagues. The link below is to his most recent offering, in which he looks at just how bad a trough Bush is currently in, and what it might take for him to get out of it.

4 On Iraq paid for stories
Christopher Hitchens has probably had more links from TDB than any other individual writer, for both his cultural critiques and his commentary on Iraq. On the latter, we've expressed surprise that this self-styled contrarian has been thus far been unable to be critical of the occupation of Iraq. Perhaps the column linked to below, on the revelation that the Pentagon has been paying Iraqi journalists and media outlets for favourable coverage, represents some sort of turning. (And by the way, is there any chance that this could explain coverage at The Australian. Yes, that was low blow. ) "If there was one single thing that gave a certain grandeur to the change of regime in Baghdad, it was the reopening of the free press (with the Communist Party's paper the first one back on the streets just after the statue fell) and the profusion of satellite dishes, radio stations, and TV programs. There were some crass exceptions—Paul Bremer's decision to close Muqtada Sadr's paper being one of the stupidest and most calamitous decisions—but in general it was something to be proud of. Now any fool is entitled to say that a free Iraqi paper is a mouthpiece, and any killer is licensed to allege that a free Iraqi reporter is a mercenary. A fine day's work. Someone should be fired for it."

Hitchens' support for the war has famously cost him friends and supporters on the left, and there have been a number of take-downs of him for that reason. However, none that TDB has seen are as thorough as this one by Richard Seymour "The Genocidal Imagination of Christopher Hitchens". It contains numerous links to other articles and a summary of events in Afghanistan and Iraq on the way through. "Coterminous with Hitchens' shift on imperialism was a definite move to the right. He ceased, for instance, to call himself a socialist.  He began to reminisce about his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, and expatiate on the virtues of capitalism.  Capitalism was more revolutionary than its opponents, he suggested.  In fact, Hitchens went so far as to say that he regretted not having voted for Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and that he had actually wanted her to win.  Unemployment, union-bashing, homophobia, and nationalism are of little consequence in this equation, since the "radical, revolutionary forces" were led by the Right, who broke the "political consensus." This is a fairly consistent theme for Hitchens, inasmuch as he needs to believe that whatever his position is on a given topic on a given day, it is contrary to whatever the consensus is."

5 Interview with George Packer
TDB will have an update on Iraq and related issues tomorrow, but in the meantime, we keep seeing references to "The Assassins' Gate" by George Packer, which looks like becoming the "must read" book about the war, much as "Dispatches" by Michael Herr was about Vietnam. There are links to reviews of the book in archives, as well as to articles by Packer, who works for The New Yorker. The link below is to an interview with him, and at his blog for The Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum explains why he thinks those who opposed the war need to read it. (Packer supported it, but now says that was a mistake.)
6 The pressure on traditional telcos
A sign of things to come here, where Telstra is already planning to shed around 15,000 workers in the years ahead, and where its copper wire network is still considered one of its most valuable assets. "The leap from copper cable to fiber is just one of the many changes facing telecommunications companies like BellSouth and the hundreds of thousands of workers they employ. Traditional phone companies are moving from vast and costly networks - systems that were managed by legions of workers who received long-term job security, decent pay and good benefits - to new, cheaper technologies that require fewer workers."
7 'Tis the season for lists
Always with the lists, TDB observed the other day. Verlyn Klinkenborg (link below) feels the same way as he lists the number of lists that are about at this time of year "when the enormous, interlaced construct of our culture collapses into a pile of top tens, top dozens and top hundreds".

In other bits 'n pieces you may care to read, the NYTimes tells the tale of the couple who won a fortune on the lottery, only to end up with a bigger house to die of an overdose in.

The Washington Post reports on the need for nanotechnology to be regulated; on more good news for coffee addicts - researchers have found caffeine is  good for the liver; and on people who like their hotel room so much, they want to buy it. Or at least buy the furnishings in it. "Among the furnishings being bought and sold are Marriott's red acrylic teardrop lamp ($190) and Kashwere Chenilla chaise ($1,795). From Westin Hotels and Resorts, guests can buy a California king-size bed ($1,450) and the Heavenly shower curtain and liner ($35). The W Hotel has acrylic I-beam side tables ($290 each). The Nine Zero Hotel in Boston is offering a Macassar veneer desk ($3,600), a pair of wall sconces ($2,400) or an 18-by-18-foot area rug from the lobby ($14,000)."

8 Calamity Jane, the Courtney Love of her day
Trust Salon non-subscribers will be able to access this one, which will have a niche audience perhaps. (Blame this indulgence on TDB editor finding himself singing "The Black Hills of Dakota" as one member of a family singing group as a child, if you will.) Margot Mifflin reviews "Calamity Jane: The Woman and the Legend" by James D Mclaird and finds a woman she describes as the Courtney Love of her day. "A talented pioneer in a man's world, she was a chronic substance abuser prone to outrageous behavior and forever linked in the public mind to a dead man whose fame overshadowed her own. The difference between them is found in Canary's private acts of kindness. In a 1924 book, two pioneers who wrote about the Black Hills gold rush attempted to debunk Canary's myth, claiming she was "nothing more than a common prostitute, drunken, disorderly and wholly devoid of any conception of morality." Still, they said, she deserved recognition as a Black Hills luminary because of her humanitarian gestures: When hundreds of Deadwood residents were struck by a smallpox scourge in 1878, for example, other women in the camp refused to help them for fear they would contract it, but Jane cared for them, day and night, over the course of weeks."
9 Can you believe what you read?
Can you trust Wikipedia a Crikey reader asked the other day? The NYTimes asks the same question following the discovery of false and defamatory information in it that a retired newspaper editor was linked to the Kennedy assassinations.  The article, which reports on efforts to make it more accurate, also reports that "Wikipedia is now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months."
10 Confessions of a Take That groupie
Much as Anita Sethi can't explain her teenage devotion to Take That, TDB can't really explain why her "confessions of a teenage groupie" worked for us. But it did, so here it is. (Perhaps it is because I just do not get the obsessive, screaming groupie-fan thing, at all.) "I spent as many as 2,000 wistful hours of my childhood outside Take That's houses, travelled 18,000 miles to see them, went to 15 concerts, and poured away so much of my hard-earned wages from the chemist down the road that I would rather not recall. When they finally split up (one moment, please, while I dash for a hanky and dab my swollen eyes) I shed 15 gallons of tears. As far as Take That are concerned, I was there and had the T-shirt. Six T-shirts no less, and the scarf, stickers, cushion, dolls, board game, mugs, watch, pencil case, pendant, limited edition pocket-size action movie."
11 England are spinning themselves
You need to run more on sport, TDB has been told a number of times this year, and probably there is some truth in that. As a nod in that direction, and because Shane Warne has a sharp cricket brain, this is his assessment of why England lost the recent test series against Pakistan. "Relying on the sweep is asking for trouble. I was disappointed that England did not use the shot more often in the summer because when a batsman sweeps I always think it is a matter of time before he is bowled, leg-before or gets a top edge. It is a sign that he is not confident enough to read the ball and use his feet to get to the pitch. There is always a safer, alternative stroke."
12 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

Peter Costello is reportedly thin-skinned about criticism (a theme Ross Gittins has pursued in the past) so he is not likely to enjoy reading the papers this morning. While all the papers find their leads elsewhere, the Costello-Robert Gerard-RBA story continues to dominate. The Australian reports on dealings between Costello's office and the Taxation Commissioner, "Costello seeks new scapegoat at tax office"; Matt Price, in a typically fine sketch, says the affair has done the Treasurer's leadership ambitions no good, a theme taken up by his paper's editorial, and by Michelle Grattan, see Opinion below. The Age reports that Costello was accused of lying yesterday as he continued to insist he knew nothing of Robert Gerard's tax issues before appointing him to the Reserve Bank board; and the Herald reports that Gerard's appointment to the RBA should have been blocked by the Treasury's screening process, a former senior Treasury official says.

The Australian's lead reports that Australian government officials travelled with AWB employees in Iraq at the time the monopoly wheat exporter was paying tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein. It also reports that the Howard Government is considering spending more than $1 billion compensating divorced parents, mainly single mothers, who will lose up to $50 a week under far-reaching changes to the child support system; the universities will secure extra grants to fund sporting clubs and campus services under a last-ditch plan to secure support for voluntary student unionism laws before Christmas; and that babies born in large city hospitals are more likely to die in their first month than those born in smaller rural centres, a comprehensive analysis of Australian births has revealed.

The Herald continues its investigations into the Immigration Department, reporting on the case of Christian Lebanese Toufic Daher, a member of the Phalangist militias that attacked Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Chatila, who has not been issued a visa, but has never been detained as a war criminal. It also reports that the Cross City Tunnel owners say they would not demand compensation from the State Government if dozens of road changes across Sydney were reversed; that Bob Carr appear before a Parliamentary committee to back the tunnel (which didn't win him any brownie points with the Telegraph, link below); that the electoral rolls will be closed to new voters on the day federal elections are called, enrolments will require proof of identity and political donations of $10,000 or less will not have to be disclosed, under changes announced yesterday; and that a police officer brought in to help quell the Macquarie Fields riots told an accused teenager during a justice conference that police had talked about shooting, and if he had "received the order, he would have had no trouble".

The Age reports that open warfare has broken out at the top of the Victorian Liberal Party, with president Helen Kroger branding former premier Jeff Kennett a hypocrite after he launched a broad attack on the party's leadership; that lending to owner-occupiers buying existing homes has soared to new record levels, shooting up 12 per cent in just five months — and by a massive 22 per cent in the past year; that an assessment by ASIO which led to removal of US political activist Scott Parkin on national security grounds on national security grounds was based on "credible and reliable information", an independent inquiry has found (but it's all a big secret so we don't know what was in the assessment); and that the length of time Privacy Commissioner Paul Chadwick is taking to complete investigations into the two biggest leaks of police files in Victoria's history is concerning legal experts.

Monica Attard will present Media Watch next year; all the paper's report the death of Big Kev (why?); The Australian notes the death of Gerry Humphries from the 60's band the Loved Ones; and  eBay is copping flack for helping to scalp U2 tickets.

Before moving onto the commentariat, a pointer to a couple of items from the state papers.  The Advertiser is claiming an exclusive for an interview with the ex-Liberal MP who married Saddam Hussein's ex-bodyguard. And for some real gag-gag bumpf and sentimental twaddle, try The Mercury on the Royal baby; although, when it comes to nonsense, perhaps the Herald-Sun does it better: "The future of Denmark will rest in these tiny hands one day." (The elected government might have something to say about that, unless the Hun is predicting another Restoration.)


The Age: Alan Kohler says one of the most powerful themes in global capital at the moment is called "de-equitisation", and warns it "has haunting echoes of the great gearing up of the world's balance sheets during the 1980s, driven by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Michael Milken, Alan Bond, Christopher Skase and the rest"; Michelle Grattan trawls through the Gerard affair, which she thinks has done Peter Costello no good, and says pressure within the Liberal Party for John Howard to stay on as PM will have increased; Tony Parkinson looks at future prospects for relations between Taiwan and China, and says the political resurgence of the Kuomintang will help ease tensions in the short-term; John Fitzgerald takes an interesting look at the international drug trade, which he says "are insinuated through the very market economies that are meant to sustain us" (a column that is a good companion to this article in Foreign Policy linked to yesterday); and Chris Evans (Labor Senate leader) outlines his complaints and concerns about how the Government is using its control of the Senate (wouldn't it be nice to believe that Labor would behave any differently if its "unrepresentative swill" had the numbers).

The Australian: Tony Nicholson (Brotherhood of St Laurence) says child poverty has reached dangerously high levels, and outlines suggests for dealing with it on the eve of a conference sponsored by The Australian as it explains its editorial; Paul Kelly, in a column that reeks of an official briefing and does not stray too far from the official line, spells out the scenario in Iraq as it relates to continued Australian involvement (thanks for nothing much Paul); Emma Tom lets loose on SA Premier Mike Rann for his comments about Nguyen Tuong Van as she highlights the absurdity of trying to kill the things that kill us; Janet Albrechtsen covers familiar territory (Miranda Devine wrote a similar column recently) in support of Noel Pearson's campaign to reverse the social impacts of "sit down money" in Aboriginal communities.

The SMH: Peter Martin offers a challenging read as he examines a US study by economists that shows  each execution of a convicted murderer results in 18 fewer murders; James Dunn warns that genuine peace for East Timor will be difficult while elements of the Indonesia military "harbour a brooding resentment at their humiliating and ignominious departure"; Alan Ramsey pays tribute to Peter Cook, whom he describes as a "lovely bloke"; and Andrew Stevenson explains why he thinks child care has been a wonderful experience for his two daughters.


First the news that affects most people, and The Australian reports that home owners who have watched their houses shrink in value in the past year are expected to get some yuletide relief this morning when Reserve Bank leaves interest rates unchanged at 5.5 per cent. On a similar theme, the Herald says home buyers have ignored reports of a housing bust to borrow more in October than any previous month, but those signs of life will not prevent disappointing economic growth figures today.

The Australian's lead reports that the Australian Stock Exchange is softening-up the broking industry for a hike in trading fees, possibly to be announced before the end of the year; and the paper reports that the saga of the long-troubled Sydney Gas Company took a sensational turn yesterday when Michael Knight - Mr Olympics - said he would resign as chairman and demanded ASIC investigate whether control of the company had passed from its shareholders without their knowledge. Bryan Frith says now that the Sydney Gas board has fallen on its sword, corporate regulator ASIC should take over the task of discovering whether or not control of the company has secretly changed hands without shareholders having received a takeover bid.

The Age reports that a swag of large companies planning to float before Christmas will take the initial public offering market to record levels, with $15.3 billion likely to be raised this year; that Singapore Airlines has hit out at Virgin Blue's attempts to win a slice of the lucrative trans-Pacific route that Qantas and United Airlines dominate; and that high fuel costs and weak commodity prices have hit rural confidence, leaving farmers more uncertain about the short-term outlook.

The Herald reports that the NSW Supreme Court yesterday was told of a meeting where a critically ill Kerry Packer, heavily intubated in his hospital bed, trawled through details of One.Tel's cash flow with his son, One.Tel director James Packer, and other executives; that junior goldminer Gallery Gold said a $270 million takeover bid from Canadian miner Iamgold Corp was a good value opportunity that would greatly improve its prospects for growth; and that the biggest hurdle for exporting iron ore is the huge cost of building the necessary port and railway - just ask Fortescue Metals, which has so far found it tough to raise $2.3 billion for its project.

Elizabeth Knight says what is s most interesting about the Future Fund (legislation to be introduced today) at this stage is how it will deal with the large rump of Telstra shares that the Government will ultimately pass to it; and Stephen Bartholomeusz looks at the impact of the British Government's decision to change the tax treatment of listed property entities, a move that could ignite the securitisation of property across Europe and provide an opportunity for our property sector entrepreneurs.


The Daily Telegraph: The leadership sham marriage - near and yet so far apart, John Howard and Peter Costello yesterday stuck out what they hoped were the last embarrassments of the Gerard affair; For the first time in 30 years primary school teachers will be told how much time they should allocate to core subjects in the classroom.

The Herald-Sun: A dispute about smoking allegedly started a deadly chain of events that left a taxi driver accused of using his cab to mow down and kill a teenage passenger; The future of Denmark will rest in these tiny hands one day. Proud parents Crown Prince Frederik and his Australian-born wife Princess Mary have released fresh pictures of their "little Kingaroo" as they finalise preparations for his christening next month.

The Courier-Mail: The Federal Opposition called for Peter Costello's sacking last night as the Treasurer struggled to explain why he did not know that a Liberal Party donor he appointed to the Reserve Bank Board in 2003 faced tax-avoidance allegations; A Current Affair will have a new host next year – Today's Tracy Grimshaw will take the seat next month as Ray Martin becomes senior network correspondent for all Channel 9 news programs, including 60 Minutes.

The Advertiser: Former South Australian Liberal MP Dr Bernice Pfitzner has revealed she married Saddam Hussein's ex-bodyguard because she loved him, denying it was a marriage of convenience; Labor has made a strong recovery from problems with health issues, taking a big lead in a new poll which shows it would have easily won an election held this week.

The West Australian: The construction union has been banned permanently from staging strikes on the Perth to Mandurah railway line in an historic industrial decision aimed at getting the $1.5 billion project finished on time; Australia's consumer watchdog will investigate misuse of the State's controversial Buy WA First scheme after warning yesterday that some companies might be breaching the Trade Practices Act by wrongly attaching the loyalty logo to products.

The Mercury: Hobart bus drivers are so afraid of schoolchildren on some routes they are physically ill before they set off, a leaked report reveals; Random attacks on strangers that led to the stabbing of a young man in the street were crimes that struck fear into the community, a court was told yesterday.


Ricky Ponting has called for changes to new rules aimed at spicing up one-day cricket, saying captains should be able to name supersubs after the toss and batting sides able to nominate one "power play" fielding restriction; Peter Roebuck has a wonderful column about Merv Hughes, selector; Former top-ranked Australian and Fed Cup regular Nicole Pratt admitted yesterday she would be "very disappointed" if Jelena Dokic received one of the four wildcards into next month's Australian Open at her expense; Leading football figures in Australia are staggered by the arrogance of US coach Bruce Arena's dismissal of the Socceroos as likely World Cup easybeats; and Richard Hinds thinks Melbourne's Commonwealth Games "will be alright on the night".

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re: The Daily Briefing 7/12/05

I am so sorry... and thankyou.

ed Hamish: please use a full name next time you post Michele - and I hope there is a next time - as per Webdiary Ethics.

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