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The Daily Briefing 11/10/05

TUESDAY 11TH OCTOBER 2005          
1 The Senate, the ALP, Howard, Bush and democracy
Three substantial, or otherwise interesting articles on Australian politics from this morning's papers. The first you may wish to approach cautiously, dear reader, because it contains a shock - Phillip Adams has something positive to say about John Howard. A couple of positive things actually. Of course, context is everything, and in this case the context is a comparison with George Bush. "Praise the Lord that he's not born again but a practising pragmatist."

In The Age, Dennis Altman, activist, author and professor of politics at La Trobe University, takes a considered look at how Labor should rebuild, post-Latham. In short the message is do what you do best, don't try to beat the conservatives at their own game. "Labor will not win by trying to combat the Liberals in appealing to individual greed and security: why change governments if Labor will only rearrange the fine print of the tax forms? Thirty years ago Gough Whitlam convinced Australians that they could demand more from governments. In a very different context, Labor today can only win by appealing to a sense of common interest in equity and the sharing of resources, and it will only succeed in doing this when it persuades voters that government matters not just because it taxes and controls, but also because it is our collective means of enriching our lives."

And Steve Lewis in The Australian (link below) paints a picture of a rampant John Howard, determined to use his Senate majority to change the political landscape, some of the fundamentals of the democratic process and in the end, the country itself. It is slightly at odds with the benign "pragmatic Howard" Adams is talking about, carrying a hint of Whitlam's "crash or crash through" approach - and with it the risk that voters will regret taking control of the Senate away from the minor parties.

2 The Bush revolution is over
Right-wing disenchantment with George Bush appears to be growing at an exponential rate. Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at American Enterprise Institute, one of the neo-conservative think-tanks that created and pushed the foreign policy agenda that culminated in the invasion of Iraq. In this commentary, Pletka says Bush's "freedom is on the march" foreign policy agenda promised in the State of the Union address, is over. "The lesson from Iraq is clear: the United States' staying power is waning, and the commitment to setting in place the fundamental building blocks of democracy is weak. For Syrians who hate their regime, for Egyptians who consider how to proceed in loosening their president's tight grip on power, there is a warning in the air. When the going gets tough, the Americans will waver. One of the starkest betrayals of the ideals of the Bush doctrine is in Libya."

(When TDB began tracking it almost a year ago, criticism from the right came from hard-core conservative intellectuals, dismayed that their small government vision was being swamped by the Bush administration's big spending, big deficit approach. The "spend whatever it takes" promise for post-Katrina restoration gave it more impetus, and the clincher was the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Now this. Democrats have always loathed Bush with intensity. If Republican congressman up for re-election next year think they have a better chance by putting distance between themselves and the president, Bush will rapidly become a solitary figure. And he still has three years of his second term to run.)

3 Inside Guantanamo Bay
James Yee is the former Army captain and Guantanamo Bay Muslim chaplain who was later charged by the US military with mutiny and sedition, and had his life and career destroyed even though he was subsequently exonerated. The Sunday Times has published a lengthy extract from his forthcoming book, "For God And Country". It details the abusive practices in Guantanamo Bay, backs up reports of s*xual humiliation and of the systematic denigration of Muslims and Islamic religious practices. "By the time I got to Guantanamo, Camp X-Ray was too small for the number of prisoners coming in. When I saw its remains I couldn't believe that humans were once held here. It looked like a cattle yard. There were hundreds of cages in rows. The only protection from the blistering sun was a tin roof. Dozens of enormous rodents crawled throughout the camp. I was told that these were banana rats and would attack if provoked."
4 Bolt and talking to terror
References to Andrew Bolt are rare in TDB, in fact, this might be the first. But the dear fellow is quite beside himself at the suggestion, apparently made on ABC radio, that perhaps some effort should be made to engage with the Islamic jihadists causing death and destruction from Baghdad to Bali. Bolt has written not one, but two columns banging on about what a silly, leftie, elite, ABC, airy-fairy, wouldn't have a clue suggestion it is.

Well, perhaps some helpful reader might like to pass this article on to him - should really set him off. (And in fact, other foreign policy experts have made similar suggestions, but this one was recently published.) Robert Collier (link below), who has actually reported from Iraq, writing in the respected magazine Foreign Policy (read by a more serious class of grown up than the Herald Sun, which apparently is rarely seen in Washington, hard to believe though that may be for Andrew) says that is exactly what should happen. "Almost entirely missing from this debate are those who presumably might know how best to stop the violence-the Sunni hard-liners and other nationalists who are closest to the insurgency. Largely unnoticed by Americans, these Iraqis have reached tacit consensus over the broad outline of an interim program to end the fighting, stabilize the country, and thus enable the U.S.-led coalition troops to begin a gradual withdrawal."

We are all anti-Americans now. Remember back when saying that George Bush was incompetent, gutless and made stupid choices would get you a belting and stern lecture from Henderson, Bolt, Albrechtsen and probably a few others about being anti-American. Today that is exactly what US conservatives are saying about him. As for the left, The Daily Star reports that there is a dollar to be made attacking Bush: "Sales of anti-American paraphernalia has become somewhat of a booming niche business at a time when anti-Bush sentiment is running high. If home-grown "anti-Americanism" has a region it calls home, it might well be the left-leaning West Coast, where vehement opposition to Bush and his policies is overt."

Although be careful where you wear that T-shirt. The International Herald Tribune reports (unfortunately not available online, that: "Last week, Lorrie Heasley was forced to leave a Southwest Airlines flight departing from Reno, Nevada, because she was wearing a T-shirt featuring pictures of President George Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice with a phrase playing on the title of the movie 'Meet the Fockers'," reports the paper. "Southwest passengers are forbidden from wearing clothing that is 'lewd, obscene or patently offensive', said a spokeswoman."

5 Cashing in on the melting Arctic
Now this is the entrepreneurial spirit at work for you. Dills like Christopher Pearson are still talking down climate change (a subject he knows nothing about - zilch, zero) while in the real world, the rush is on to make a dollar out of it. The NYTimes (link below) reports on the impact the melting of the Arctic ice is having. "With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even before the polar ice began shrinking more each summer, countries were pushing into the frigid Barents Sea, lured by undersea oil and gas fields and emboldened by advances in technology. But now, as thinning ice stands to simplify construction of drilling rigs, exploration is likely to move even farther north."

Mike Davis in The Nation has been reading some of the scientific literature, specifically the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union (pdf document) and is horrified by the prospects. "Where other researchers model the late-twenty-first-century climate that our children will live with upon the precedents of the Altithermal (the hottest phase of the current Holocene period, 8,000 years ago) or the Eemian (the previous, even warmer interglacial episode, 120,000 years ago), growing numbers of geophysicists toy with the possibilities of runaway warming returning the earth to the torrid chaos of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM: 55 million years ago), when the extreme and rapid heating of the oceans led to massive extinctions."

6 Craigslist and the death of newspapers
Almost as dramatic as the change in fortunes for George Bush, are the changes in media culture. The NYTimes (which is cutting staff and trying to turn a buck out of TimesSelect) reports on newspaper job losses and efforts by the industry to adapt to the changing marketplace. David Carr in the same paper wonders whether print doesn't need to skip blogging and become the news version of iTunes to cash in. "Print's anachronisms, whether it is the last-mile delivery, the slaying of forests, or the sale of thick packages that most consumers use only small slices of, make change inevitable once a better answer is available."

And in the Sacremento News & Review, R.V. Scheide(link below) profiles Craig Newman and reports on the success of his venture Craigslist, "the enormously popular Web site that offers community-specific free classified ads and discussion forums to millions of people in more than 190 cities worldwide". Online operations like Craigslist are eating into the "rivers of gold" classified ads that once funded broadsheet newspapers. "It's been called the scourge of newspaper classified advertising. Kryptonite for newspapers. One publisher compares it to "Sherman marching through Georgia.""

7 End to trendspotting
Some of us have barely gotten used to the idea that there was an industry out there devoted to spotting trends that could quickly be turned into ads and products, and here's Gina Piccalo predicting their demise - or at least, radical changes in the way they go about their work because of, naturally enough, the internet. "In a way, this desperate need among advertisers to "divine" our intimate truths has indelibly linked consumerism to culture. Now, there's hardly time to discover and explore a new experience or a new approach to living without also considering the new line of products, technologies or services that has been tailored to that discovery. Life is being captured, repackaged and sold back to us as quickly as we live it."
8 Intellectuals and the culture of celebrity
Without doubt the most engaging essay TDB has come across in The Weekly Standard, Rupert Murdoch's conservative pamphlet. Joseph Epstein, a contributing editor to the magazine ranges widely over politics, literature, history and popular culture to explore celebrity,  the difference between it and fame, and its impact on intellectual life. "One might once have assumed that the culture of celebrity was chiefly about show business and the outer edges of the arts, occasionally touching on the academy (there cannot be more than twenty or so academic superstars). But it has also much altered intellectual life generally. The past ten years or so have seen the advent of the "public intellectual." There are good reasons to feel uncomfortable with that adjective "public," which drains away much of the traditional meaning of intellectual. An intellectual is someone who is excited by and lives off and in ideas. An intellectual has traditionally been a person unaffiliated, which is to say someone unbeholden to anything but the power of his or her ideas. Intellectuals used to be freelance, until fifty or so years ago, when jobs in the universities and in journalism began to open up to some among them."
9 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

Industrial relations dominates the papers one way or another, and we'll get to that in a moment. But, the lead in The Australian is striking, reporting that Peter Costello has "savaged" Malcom Turnbull over his proposed tax changes. Analysis of them is back from Treasury, and Costello told Liberal MPs that its officials had found Labor MP Craig Emerson's rival tax plan costings were "more accurate". Curious stuff, assuming the report is accurate. Perhaps Costello is using Turnbull as a warm-up act, proving his macho credentials before he gets around to "savaging" John Howard? Why else does a politician chasing the numbers go out of his way to humiliate a powerful figure in his own party?

Industrial relations, and my, but didn't Kerry O'Brien fire up for his interview with John Howard last night. And  overall, it was a taste of things to come in this morning's papers, where the proposal gets a baptism of fire. The Herald reports that church leaders have strongly attacked the Federal Government's new workplace plans, with Sydney's Anglican Archbishop warning that changes that affected the sanctity of Sundays risked turning workers into robots. The Age reports that deals between employers and unions to protect workers from unfair dismissal will be outlawed under the Federal Government's new workplace laws. Tim Colebatch is scathing of the proposals saying they give employers the whip hand; while Michelle Grattan wonders if Kim Beazley will live to regret his promises to rollback the changes. The Australian is, of course, most supportive on its editorial and opinion pages, but it reports that employer groups have confirmed that conditions such as public holidays, overtime, meal breaks and allowances can be negotiated away under the Howard Government's workplace reforms. Matt Price says the IR battle has fired up Kim Beazley, and it would want to have. According to the latest Newspoll, support for his leadership is the worst it has been since he took over from Mark Latham, even though backing for Labor has recovered slightly after the allegations in The Latham Diaries.

The Australian also reports that former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr has sparked a row by becoming the latest politician to take the corporate dollar from a company closely connected to his previous government responsibilities, scoring a lucrative consultancy with Macquarie Bank (a practice that should be banned for at least two years); and that a deal between commonwealth and state governments has handed NSW judges the full flow-on of a 4.1 per cent pay rise that was based on the productivity of their federal counterparts.

The Herald reports that the number of political parties would be culled, as would the number of voters, under electoral changes proposed in a parliamentary report; that the federal and NSW governments are battling backbench concerns about the details of legislation being drawn up to combat terrorism; and that Sydney is getting enough rain and faces a water shortage only because of the way the city consumes and wastes water.

The Age reports that genetically modified mosquitoes could soon be released into the wild in an attempt to combat malaria; that Kim Beazley has used the first possible opportunity in Parliament to condemn Mark Latham's book, saying many people have been hurt and offended by it; and that Virgin Blue has been found to have discriminated against womenon the basis of their age during job interviews in which applicants were required to dance and sing.

Elsewhere, the high-profile American preacher Pat Robertson says recent natural disasters around the globe point to the end of the world and the imminent return of Jesus Christ; young Japanese women have stopped having babies; and hits by Blondie, the Eurythmics and Natalie Imbruglia could soon be employed in the business of hard sell after researchers found that airing popular songs in shops led to significantly higher customer satisfaction levels.


The Age: Carla Lipsig-Mumme (professor of labour relations, Monash University) thinks the proposed IR changes are a radical move to an unregulated, disorganised and individualised workplace, much like the US in the 1920's; Tony Parkinson hopes the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, will help the agency in its efforts to ensure nuclear material does not end up in the hands of terrorists; Brian Caldwell says Victorian students and teachers deserve a better deal than they are getting from the state school system; and Dennis Altman, see above.

The Australian: Mike Nahan (Institute of Public Affairs) says the Government's IR changes are not at all radical; William Rees-Mogg (conservative former editor of The Times) praises Henry Kissinger, Lee Kuan Yew, Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher as he marks the Iron Lady's 80th birthday; Phillip Adams and Steve Lewis, see items above.

The SMH: John Buchanan says the adverse effects of the Government's IR changes will hit workers over time, and that they will be part of the problem in work-life balance, skill shortages and productivity growth, not part of the solution; Gerard Henderson attacks most anyone who has dared question or criticise the Government's IR changes, especially the churches, although notably he doesn't take on economist Professor Mark Wooden (this bloke used to write a decent column before he became a slightly more urbane Andrew Bolt); Louise Dodson sees a pattern in the way the Howard Government goes about pushing its reform agenda (solid reporter, dull columnist); and Bruce Loder enters the debate about Sydney's much hated Cross City Tunnel (which has become an issue for the Tele, see below, perhaps spelling real trouble for the Government.)


The lead in both Fairfax papers reports that five months after announcing plans to split the company to create better value for shareholders, the outgoing management of Mayne Group has again fumbled on delivery - shareholders in the domestic healthcare business have been told they face a year without dividends. The Herald reports that Babcock and Brown Capital has made its first acquisition, more than nine months after asking investors to cough up $1 billion on a "trust-me" basis, picking up a strategic stake in Ireland's biggest telephone company, Eircom; that Kerry Stokes "may well have" asked a public relations consultant to brief journalists about the Seven Network's bid for the rights to broadcast rugby league matches on pay television in late 2000, he told the Federal Court yesterday (that was despite all directors signing a confidentiality agreement); and that Lion Nathan has obtained transfer notices and pre-bid agreements from shareholders holding almost 11 percent of Coopers Brewery in its $352 million, $260-a-share bid to buy the Adelaide brewer.

Uranium mining is the major story for The Australian, which reports that millions of dollars in capital raisings for uranium floats in South Australia are under a cloud following the State ALP's unannounced decision to block new uranium mines in the State; and that twenty-five per cent of tightly held uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia is about to come on the market -- but there is no guarantee that the stock will be much more liquid as a result. Bryan Frith says the decision by three minority shareholders to sell their holdings in the Rio Tinto-controlled Energy Resources of Australia represents a rare opportunity for institutional investors to invest in a stand-alone uranium producer. The paper also reports that Brian Evans hit the stop press button at Fairfax yesterday, resigning after less than six months as chief operating officer to become chief executive at PMP Ltd.

Stephen Bartholomeusz says the decision by the Australian Council of Super Investors and a group of international pension funds to launch legal action against News Corp - for breaches of promises it made to them to defuse their threat to its transfer of domicile to Delaware last year - is as much about the future as it is the past (and that it could be the start of a campaign).


The Herald-Sun: Motorists are paying 50c extra for every trip to use the Cross City Tunnel because of a hidden $105 million cash payment its owners gave the State Government; A $2 million fuel bill has convinced the NRMA to switch its 400-strong patrol vans over to liquid petroleum gas.

The Daily Telegraph: A gang of double-storey house burglars has stolen millions of dollars in cash and jewellery from homes across Melbourne; Eight "mature" women were celebrating last night after proving Virgin Blue refused to hire them because of their age.

The Courier-Mail: A "select group" of sitting Gold Coast councillors secretly plotted to oust colleagues and replace them with pro-business candidates, a Crime and Misconduct Commission inquiry was told yesterday; Labor has promised to reverse the Federal Government's industrial relations changes, warning they will lead to the victimisation of young Australians seeking their first jobs.

The Advertiser: Embattled Opposition Leader Rob Kerin has dared party dissidents to come and get him; A warning about possible fuel shortages was handed to the State Government in February last year, a leaked report shows.

The West Australian: Construction giant John Holland has launched unprecedented legal action against WA's biggest building union and its top officials in a move which could leave them facing potentially unlimited fines for allegedly encouraging employees to stop work; The State Government could be forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to Aboriginals claiming native title over most of the South-West, including Perth.

The Mercury: A $40m hotel and apartment complex is planned for the centre of Hobart; Laws to ban br*thels and limit prostitution to home-based self-employed s*x workers face a new hurdle in the Legislative Council this week.


Cricket Australia has a fight on its hands to stop the game's showpiece tournament, the World Cup, slipping away from its expected location of Australia in 2011 to the Asian subcontinent; Australia's international rules squad to take on Ireland will feature 19 speedy first-timers; David Lyons and Clyde Rathbone have joined the long list of Wallabies who will miss next month's four-Test European tour.

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re: The Daily Briefing 11/10/05

Good to see Bob Carr getting some post Government work. With Macquarie Bank no less. Dont they own infrastructure projects that put up tollways? Onya Bob.

I wonder when Carl Scully will begin his new job as a toll collector? The way he negotiates contracts he should be at least barred from going anywhere near a pen or paper.

re: The Daily Briefing 11/10/05

A terrific article by John Legge, on IR reform, in Financial Review. (Ideology runs rampant in IR reforms for those with a subscription.)

"... Right across the economy in Australia, there are people who are doing what they are told to do, rather than what needs to be done, or looking away as mistakes are made rather than causing trouble by pointing them out. The current IR reform program will cause productivity-sapping mistakes and omissions everywhere, and occasional but unnecessarily often lethal disasters. These are the product of theory without facts, and ideology without reason."

re: The Daily Briefing 11/10/05

Wayne, thank you for digesting the papers so I don't have to.

Your briefing keeps Webdiarists abreast of some of the chatter in the dying, lying pulploids while saving trees and fossil fuels. It also helps us avoid paying tribute to Emperor Rupert (not that I'm prejudiced against Americans as such).

In short, a useful service, IMO. Well done and congratulations on the new job!

re: The Daily Briefing 11/10/05

"Lorrie Heasley was forced to leave a Southwest Airlines flight because she was wearing [an offensive] T-shirt..." - a local post of that story from The Age online is available here.

No info given on where said T-shirt might be obtained.

re: The Daily Briefing 11/10/05

Good on you, Daily Briefing, you're now my second-favourite daily ritual.

Ain't it strange that Bolt and Pearson continue to go so far out on a limb attacking global warning? Of course , theirs was always a knee-jerk, ideological position. An occupational hazard of self-proclaimed right-wing (or left-wing) commentators. Tim Flannery says Bolt's in first-stage denial:

"British environmenalist George Monbiot has documented the four stages of denial experienced by the climate change nay-sayers. First they said that climate change didn't exist. Then that it wasn't caused by human activity. As the proof of human involvement became overwhelming, they switched to saying that climate change would bring some benefits. Now most are saying that it's simply too late to act to avert climate change, so let's do nothing. Of course, they are dangerously wrong on all counts.

Andrew Bolt is still stuck in stage one of the denial game. He is, however, part of a shrinking and discredited minority - which has to be a good thing in a country that is still, per capita, the worst greenhouse polluter on the planet."

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