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The Daily Briefing 19/10/05

WEDNESDAY 19TH OCTOBER 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    Ross Gittins on the irrational world of economics/Age (link below)
2    Alan Kohler on the impact of technology on media laws/SMH (3 links below)
3    Robert Reich on the replacement for Alan Greenspan/American Prospect
4    Report says China to tackle economic inequality/Economist (2 links below)
5    Hatem Mukhlis says Iraq constituion will breed chaos/NYTimes (2 links below)
6    Paul Krugman on free-trade and the US wage freeze/NYTimes
7    Correct link for the devil and the school band/WaPo (2 links below)
8    Report says Bush to appoint someone to run the US/Onion (satire)
9    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 Irrational rationalist, free speech and the ALP
Human beings or cogs in an economic machine? There is nothing startlingly new in Ross Gittins' column this morning, but his iconoclastic take on the "faith-based religion" of economic rationalism  that dominates Western society is succinct, well argued and a contribution to the debate about the proposed industrial relations changes. "Trouble is, doing so puts means ahead of ends. It focuses on the income, forgetting why we want it. It makes us the servants of factories and offices rather than their masters. It robs us of our humanity, taking away our leisure and making us more like robots. The thing about robots, of course, is that they don't have families and don't need relationships."

Another reason for highlighting this column, is to point out that The Age opinion page (see round-up below) is a great read this morning with Michelle Grattan on the ALP, Ben Saul on freedom of speech and the anti-terrorism laws and Ross McMullin on Gallipoli.

In an entirely different category altogether is the profoundly ignorant and dangerous piece of right-wing social engineering dressed up as an essay on the source of "great art" in The Australian's editorial - a Titanic conceit indeed. Whoever wrote this awful nonsense knows nothing of art and is apparently ignorant of the echoes it contains of the Nazis approach to art - lauding the "volk" while attacking modernism in all its forms. They certainly know nothing of James Joyce and his thoughts about the Ireland of his time.

2 Technology, media laws and newspaper tone
The obvious area that Alan Kohler doesn't touch on in the column linked to below is editorial content (news, information and comment) as he considers the impact of new technology on the political byplay involved in setting the Federal Government's new media laws. In the end Kohler expects that John Howard and Helen Coonan will not make way for increased competition and will allow media mergers to go ahead, "since internet TV from all over the globe is just around the corner, plus TV shows being downloaded to iPods. The media moguls will need all the mergers they can get." Well, perhaps in a business sense, but what will it mean for diversity of opinion.

For a taste of the extraordinarily rapid pace of technological change Kohler is referring to, have a look at this NYTimes report on original programming made specifically for mobile phones; Slate's look at the impact that the internet and digital programs and movie downloads could have - "The Death of Television".

And then there is the troubled newspaper industry. Frank Ahrens in The Washington Post says the industry is experimenting with BlackBerry delivery and video scrolls as it struggles to adapt and survive. Even the authoritative tone newspapers use is up for grabs. "In this way, the Web may change the tone of newspaper writing, as in this story. Among mainstream communications outlets, newspaperese is pretty much the last outpost of such strictly formal use of English. Think of how your nightly newscast sounds -- anchors speak of "your neighborhood," for instance. Now think of how many times real people use common newspaper words such as "slate," as in, "I'm slated to see a 7 p.m. showing of 'Wallace & Gromit.' "

3 No crony to replace Greenspan
Alan Greenspan retires as US Federal Reserve Chairman in December after 18 years in the job. Robert Reich, editor of the liberal journal American Prospect, looks at some players who will have a say on his successor, while making the obvious point that this is no job for yet another Bush crony. "This means the stakes for Greenspan's successor are huge. The American economy is now on the verge of something we haven't seen in 30 years -- the dread beast called "stagflation." The growing budget deficit combined with soaring energy costs are pushing prices upward. Meanwhile, consumers are watching their pocketbooks. Higher prices for oil, food, and health insurance are making them wary of buying anything they don't have to."
4 China looks to equality, not growth
The look at the Chinese economy linked to below focuses on what The Economist says are moves by the Chinese leadership to tackle the growing social inequality left by rapid economic growth, a concern motivated by growing political unrest. At the same time, it as a typically tight and readable account of wider economic and global issues at play both within China, and affecting its dealings with the outside world, the US in particular. "Nonetheless, China's leaders may finally be readying themselves for a change in the mercantilist, growth-at-any-cost model that has prevailed for decades. The Communist Party leaders' annual meeting on economic policy ended last Tuesday with word of a strategic shift: from now on, there will be more emphasis on redressing the inequality and social disruption that market reforms have left in their wake. "

For an insight into those social inequalities and the rate of economic change, the NYTimes reports on the Chinese real estate bubble, which some fear (as they inevitably do) is about to burst. "China's real estate market is so hot that miniature cities are being created with artificial lakes, and the country's nouveau riche suddenly seem eager to put down as much as $5.3 million for a luxury apartment in skyscrapers with names like the Skyline Mansion."

And Mr Rumsfeld goes to Beijing. The International Herald Tribune previews the first visit by the US Secretary of Defence to China, and suggests that "naïveté" could be a problem. (So many "unkown unknowns" when you are dealing with those inscrutable Chinese?)

5 Iraq constitution
TDB has a certain regard for Mark Steyn who is linked to regularly, but his column today (see round-up below) is a desperate attempt to shore up his support for the invasion of Iraq following the vote on the Iraq referendum. It is also another blatant attempt by The Australian to disparage the reporting of Fairfax's Paul MeGeogh (who has been closer to the money on Iraq than the national daily, with its sychophantic support for the US and the neo-cons). The original version of Steyn's column was published in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, without any mention of McGeough. (Did the call go out from Holt Street in Sydney - "hey Mark, luv yer work, but could you insert a couple of pars belting up on McGeough?") And given his criticism of McGeough's record, it is worth remembering that Steyn was loud, confident and tragically wrong when he predicted at the time of Saddam Hussein's arrest that the Iraq insurgency would peter out within six weeks of that event.

Steyn's view of events in Iraq (reported from the comfort and safety of New Hampshire) is not universally supported - in fact, he is increasingly becoming a lone voice outside fully paid-up neo-con ranks. And it is good to be able to link to an Iraqi voice on the subject. Hatem Mukhlis, the chief executive of the Iraq National Movement, a Sunni political party, says the federal system contained in the constitution was designed to favour the Kurds, the US allies, and that it is a recipe for chaos (link below). "Anyone who thinks that such a constitution would calm the insurgency has probably been spending more time than he should have reading about Alice in Wonderland. I believe that should the constitution pass, the next few weeks will see an escalation of the unnecessary violence that has ripped my country apart. Unnecessary, because the ordinary citizen has no political agenda, and has found himself amid a war he neither understands nor cares about - a war waged by foreigners who could not care less about Iraq or Iraqis. All he seeks is the most basic necessities of life: electricity, security, a job, food, health care, clean water and working sewers."

Bear in mind of course that the Sunnis are seen as the big losers in any new Iraq given their power under Saddam, which may colour Mukhlis' views. But then again, someone else who knows a bit about the region takes a similar view. David Hirst, we are told, reported from the Middle East for almost 40 years. Hirst joins the voices predicting not just future chaos in Iraq, but throughout the entire region. "On the Shia front, if sectarian identity is to become the organising principle of Arab polities, Syria is the most vulnerable to the convulsions that it will unleash. A small minority, the Alawites, has in effect run the country for more than 40 years. It is a predominantly Sunni society, which, historically, represents an even greater anomaly than the Sunni minority rule, also in Ba'athist guise, that the majority Shias and Kurds dispensed with in Iraq. A Sunni majority restoration will become unstoppable if, with the eventual break-up of Iraq, its disempowered Sunnis turn to Syria, of which, but for Sykes-Picot, a great many would long have been citizens anyway."

6 The wage squeeze
In the context of the debate about industrial relations changes, this Paul Krugman column may be worth consideration. Krugman (a Princeton professor said to be in the running for a Nobel Prize for economics) points out that US wages have barely kept pace with inflation since the 1970s. (The lead story on the business pages of The Age today, see below, says that profits as a share of GDP have risen to 27.4 per cent up from 22.6 per cent in the mid-1990s; while the wages share has fallen to 53.2 percent from 61 per cent of GDP in the early 1980s.) Krugman, who describes himself as a free-trade liberal, is worried that continued downward pressure on US wages will lead to increased demands for a return to protectionism. "But it has been a generation since most American workers could count on sharing in the nation's economic growth. America is a much richer country than it was 30 years ago, but since the early 1970's the hourly wage of the typical worker has barely kept up with inflation. The contrast between rising national wealth and stagnant wages has become even more extreme lately. In 2004, which was touted both by the Bush administration and by Wall Street as a year in which the economy boomed, the median real income of full-time, year-round male workers fell more than 2 percent."
7 The devil, the band, Wales and aging husbands
Apologies for messing up with the link to "the devil and the school band" story yesterday. It could have been a nasty shock for some finding themselves face to face instead with Charles Krauthammer. (And, let me check to make sure - yes the correct link is the one below this summary.)

And an article for those who have ever wondered Felly beth mae'r Cymry erioed wedi ei wneud drosom ni? (So what have the Welsh ever done for us?) A £30m National Waterfront Museum highlighting Welsh industry and innovation has just opened in Swansea. Jonathan Brown looks at the country's other gifts to the world (and now is not the time for that joke about whores and rugby players.) Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl get a mention.

And this one struck a cord with Washington Post readers, where it hovered around the top of the most-viewed list for days. The world has a new disorder, diagnosed by experts in Japan, retired husband syndrome, or RHS. "Feeling chained to the tradition of older women remaining utterly dedicated to their husbands' well-being, Terakawa said, she devoted herself to her spouse. Retirement cut him off from his longtime office social network, leaving him virtually friendless and her with the strain of filling his empty time. Within a few weeks, she said, he was hardly leaving the house, watching television and reading the newspaper -- and barking orders at her. He often forbade her to go out with her friends. When he did let her go, Terakawa said, she had to prepare all his meals before leaving."

8 Bush to appoint someone to run US
Now here's an idea. "In response to increasing criticism of his handling of the war in Iraq and the disaster in the Gulf Coast, as well as other issues, such as Social Security reform, the national deficit, and rising gas prices, President Bush is expected to appoint someone to run the U.S. as soon as Friday." (Onion, satire.)
9 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

The Australian's lead reports that Australia is opening a third front in the war on terror as the Howard Government prepares to send troops, patrol boats and surveillance aircraft to The Philippines. The paper also reports that the proposed anti-terrorism legislation would be refined but not substantially altered, John Howard declared yesterday as the Government continued to fend off criticism that the new laws would curb civil liberties; that proposed welfare changes face a stumbling block with rebel Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce demanding changes and insisting the issue is linked to the industrial relations debate (this story includes the Salvo's attack on the IR changes); and that the car industry has reversed its opposition to ethanol-blended petrol, in a victory for the Nationals and the fledgling ethanol industry (and a defeat for the newspaper which campaigned - regrettably with some skewed news reporting - against it).

Both Fairfax papers give a big run to the Falconio murder trial, with the Herald reporting that Joanne Lees did not hesitate in identifying the man who she claims attacked her on a dark and lonely stretch of outback highway four years ago. The paper also reports on the extraordinary scenes in the NSW Parliament when National Party MP, Andrew Fraser manhandled Roads Minister Joe Tripodi - he "grabbed him around the neck and chest and pushed him around". And it reports that the NSW Government has agreed to release Cross City Tunnel papers it said it could never make public because they were commercial-in-confidence; that the first Australian arrested, and then acquitted, under Australia's new terrorism laws - Zeky "Zak" Mallah - has been released from prison and says he suffered mistreatment there "just like in Guantanamo Bay"; and that Sir Michael Somare says most of Australia's aid money to Papua New Guinea is spent on contracts awarded to Australian companies and consultants who attend AusAID-funded workshops.

The Age reports that high-profile Liberals (Georgiou and Brandis) and Muslim community leaders warn of the potential adverse consequences of the proposed anti-terrorism legislation. (Two points from this story - the ALP has been so spooked into playing "me too" tough-guy on terrorism that it again vacates the field to dissident Libs; and Brandis argues for the laws, but makes the stunningly simple and sensible call for a corresponding expansion in safeguards.) The paper also tells us that Korean War veterans are three times more likely to suffer from medical conditions including cancer, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes and arthritis than other Australian men of the same age ; that Labor has drawn up a list of "ten commandments" aimed at restoring its battered economic credibility before the 2007 federal election; and that Australia will be as soccer mad as Brazil if the Federal Government, the Australian Sports Commission, the Football Federation of Australia and Telstra get their way.

In other bits 'n pieces, most of the papers report that the Bali 9 walked into a trap set by the Australian Federal Police, which is the subject of Sean Leahy's cartoon; a casino croupier grew to hate his employer so much that he paid gamblers on losing bets; big mayoral cars are out and bikes are in, except if you are the Mayor of Randwick - he has rejected his predecessor's fuel-efficient Toyota Prius in favour of a Holden Senator with a five-litre V8 engine; and there is mounting evidence that JT LeRoy is the latest literary hoax.


The Age: Ben Saul says the world-wide move to ban comments seen to be supportive of terrorism is a dangerous and potentially counter-productive attack on freedom of speech - "a  robust and mature democracy should be expected to absorb unpalatable ideas without prosecuting them" (must be nice to live in a robust and mature democracy); Michelle Grattan again shows why she is the best political reporter around with a great column in which she provides a short and long-term diagnosis of the problems facing the ALP, following on from Barry Jones's comments yesterday; Ross McMullin says Danna Vale's idea for a Gallipoli theme park in Victoria is just the latest example of the Howard Government's lack of imagination and ideas when it comes to protecting the real thing; and Ross Gittins see above.

The Australian: Peter Browne looks at Philip Ruddock's record of wildly exaggerating the minor problem posed by asylum-seekers when he was Immigration Minister and asks why should he be taken on trust to manage the proposed anti-terrorism laws; Alan Wood details an exchange of letters between Nick Minchin and Lindsay Tanner on the chart of budget honesty, which he thinks should be reviewed before the next Federal election; Emma Tom is outraged by recent figures that showed one in ten babies under 12 months old was abused; Janet Albrechtsen worries that too many laws and regulations are leading to a risk-averse society (wonder if that applies to the new anti-terrorism laws? Silly question.); and Mark Steyn, not one of his better efforts, makes a desperate attempt to explain why the US is doing the right thing in Iraq.

The SMH: Geoff Masters (Australian Council for Educational Research) considers the options, benefits and the questions that arise from the proposed national senior school certificate; Tony Harris (former NSW auditor-general) says current property taxes are inefficient and that an "efficient land tax would have a broader tax base and a lower rate"; Wendy Orent with The Washington Post column on bird flu included in TDB on Monday; and Ross Gittins see above.


Let's turn first to the odd one out, The Age which reports as its lead that the record slice of economic prosperity enjoyed by Australian companies could be set to expand if the Government's controversial industrial relations overhaul tamps down wages. And Josh Gordon comments that evidence does not support the Prime Minister's assertion that countries with inflexible workplaces tended to have higher unemployment, raising questions about one of the Government's key justifications for its controversial industrial relations overhaul.

The other two broadsheets lead on the Patrick's-Toll battle, with The Australian reporting that Patrick Corp has upgraded its full-year profit guidance and forecast annual earnings growth of 22 per cent, in a target statement that values its shares as much as 26 per cent higher than Toll's hostile takeover offer; while the Herald says Patrick Corp's chief, Chris Corrigan, has ridiculed Toll Holdings' $4.6 billion takeover offer as an "ill-conceived" and desperate attempt by the transport company to prop up its weak growth outlook. Elizabeth Knight says truth has been the first casualty in the battle between the two, and that Corrigan stretched credibility to the limit when he delivered growth prospects for the 62 per cent-owned Virgin Blue. Bryan Frith says Corrigan came out swinging yesterday, but failed to deliver a knockout blow to Toll Holdings's $5 billon takeover bid.

THE REST: Australian Gas Light Company Ltd has started preliminary engineering and design work on the $4.5 billion natural gas pipeline from Papua New Guinea to east Australia; Kerry Stokes yesterday denied he tried to "abort the competitive process" during the 2000 tender for rights to broadcast the AFL on pay television; AGL, the nation's biggest energy retailer, says the lack of a national energy market is affecting the price of every product and service in the country and increasing costs to consumers; The battle has intensified for the 105-year-old Myer department store chain with up to 20 companies now expected to sign formal expressions of interest; and a KPMG study has found that Australian business is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on compliance with little to show for it.

Alan Kohler, see item above.


The Daily Telegraph: Denmark's Princess Mary and her son have made their first public appearance, with the Tasmanian-born princess showing off her baby just 84 hours after birth; First-home buyers may soon be able to dip into their superannuation to scrape together a mortgage deposit under a plan being considered by the Federal Government.

The Herald-Sun: Joanne Lees faced the man accused of murdering her boyfriend Peter Falconio in a dramatic confrontation in a Darwin courtroom yesterday; All residential and commercial developments -- from building an extension to a housing estate -- will be checked for sensitive Aboriginal links before approval, under proposed planning laws.

The Courier-Mail: The Australian Federal Police tipped off Indonesian authorities at least a week before the Bali Nine were arrested, a Bali court was told yesterday; Australian car makers will attach pro-ethanol stickers near the fuel cap of all locally-made vehicles from next year.

The Advertiser: Australia's last World War I fighting man has died in Melbourne, aged 106; Irrigators and community groups will be encouraged through special incentives to donate water to save the Murray.

The West Australian: Labor's share affair widened yesterday to ensnare two more Gallop Government ministers but unlike the hapless former sports and recreation Minister Bob Kucera, Planning Minister Alannah MacTiernan and Justice Minister John D'Orazio will not lose their jobs; WA could run out of fresh milk this summer and may have to import reconstituted milk from interstate or overseas, WAFarmers said yesterday.

The Mercury: In an extraordinary attack on some of Tasmania's most eminent judges and lawyers, Attorney-General Judy Jackson has accused them of not believing domestic violence is a real crime; All stops have been pulled out to organise tonight's activities on the Hobart waterfront to mark the birth of a son to Crown Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.


Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns is prevaricating but indicating he might be coming around to the idea, but Graeme Smith has no doubt: Australia should continue playing Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill - at the SCG and elsewhere; The Socceroos will be prepared for any orchestrated intimidation they may face ahead of and during next month's World Cup play-off in Uruguay and could even walk from the pitch in extreme circumstances, said Football Federation Australia chief executive John O'Neill yesterday; Australia coach Wayne Bennett yesterday hit back at critics calling for his sacking and warned that the Kangaroos would not dominate international rugby league forever.

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re: The Daily Briefing 19/10/05

Why not have a look at what the ordinary Iraqis think of the new constitution. You will notice the vast majority of people from Iraq are very happy with it.

re: The Daily Briefing 19/10/05

James Squires, of course I may well be wrong, but I somehow doubt that 'personal' contributions to a BBC Comments web site reflects 'the vast majority of people from Iraq'.

How many Iraqi's have access to computers these days?

How many have access to the net - what is the current state of their telephony system, as I somehow doubt they have Unwired in Baghdad?

How many have access to electricity - I thought it was being rationed across much of the country, because the insurgency keeps attacking power stations and the grid?

By all means be pleased for those that voted, that made a contribution, and that are striving for a better Iraq, but please don't make exagerated claims like that.

Yours, wearing the pedants hat as usual...

re: The Daily Briefing 19/10/05

Actually Adam, that article you supplied is a very good example of what's wrong with mainstream media reports on Iraq. The actual statement issued by the electoral commission states that in any vote where one side receives more than 90% of the vote, it is investigated. The writer(s) of that article added their own speculation of fraud to it, without stating that in any country it is standard practice to investigate such a high turn out. If you had a vote asking whether people enjoyed living as opposed to death, you would more than likely get over a 90% vote in favor of living. This, under the rules for elections, would need to be investigated. Doesn’t mean there is fraud involved, but it means it needs to be checked.

Have a look at what was reported, and what was said: ”Iraq's independent electoral commission says statistical irregularities in last week's referendum could indicate fraud.”

And the quote they got this from: “The IECI said votes in several governorates required "re-examination, comparison and verification because they are relatively high compared with international averages for elections".

The commission said in some areas nearly all votes indicated a "yes", and in others a "no", and that in such circumstances the ballots would have to be audited, in line with international practice.“

Not a mention of fraud at all! Basically they made it up (rather fraudulently, pardon the pun). The SMH article is more accurate, and makes mention that fraud hasn’t been mentioned by the electoral officials. But thanks for bringing it up, as I said, it’s a good example of ideology influencing reporting (BBC article).

“On the subject of writing, poor or otherwise, or even reporting, should not all sides, all opinions, be canvassed?”

Yes they should. But in this case the implied viewpoint was one representative of the Iraqi people: “And it is good to be able to link to an Iraqi voice on the subject,” was the line to introduce it. Another example of journalism as above.

re: The Daily Briefing 19/10/05

It seems James Squires that maybe all is not above board with regard to the recent referendum in Iraq, judging by this report on the very same BBC. There was another article in the SMH yesterday.

I doubt there is a pure "'Iraqi' point of view" either way, over the referendum, as - and I agree with you on this - that is what elections are all about.

Some, probably the majority, will be pro, and some will be con.

It may well be divided upon religious, or even ethnic, diferences, but it is still conjecture to speculate as to who voted for whom, or for what outcome.

On the subject of writing, poor or otherwise, or even reporting, should not all sides, all opinions, be canvassed?

re: The Daily Briefing 19/10/05

Just want to say how much appreciated was the mellow Ross Gittens overview of neo-lib "thinking". Keep up good work, Wayne.

re: The Daily Briefing 19/10/05

Actually Adam, I meant the vast majority of contributors to the BBC website were happy with it. But on that note, seeing as 63% of the voters voted, and they voted in favour (early results) of the Constitution, I would say it is the only way it can be interpreted is that the Iraqi people are happy with it. Anyone else saying otherwise is using pure conjecture based on their own personal opinion. That's what elections are about you see.

Using a member of a Sunni political party which campaigned for a No vote in the election to give the "Iraqi" point of view was very poor writing to say the least. As the election showed, most Iraqi's are in favour of it. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

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