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The Daily Briefing 21/10/05


FRIDAY 21ST 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    Brief message - no link, see below
2    Matt Welch on the Miller-Rove-Plame scandal/Reason (18 links)
3    George Packer on the state of US politics/New Yorker
4    Irvine Welsh on crime and violence in Scotland/Guardian
5    David Jaffe on scholars, jazz and Sonny Rollins/Chronicle Review
6    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 More to come?
The long piece on US politics below, (and a messy head cold), slowed things down this morning, and means that a number of articles have not made it into this edition. Two editions in one day are never ideal, but if the energy levels hold up, that's what will happen today.
2 Miller, the NYTimes and the Bush scandal
The scandal that has grown from the investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame by conservative columnist Robert Novak, who surprisingly seems to have disappeared from the story, has presented TDB with something of a dilemma this week. On the one hand it is the most written about Washington story, bar none. On the other hand, as a service that is meant to help save time, TDB tries to avoid mere speculation and wait for those definitive pieces, preferably with some insight and analysis, that sum up the situation. In this case, practically everything written so far is speculation - the key player, Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, has said nothing and is yet to issue a report or indictments. But there will surely be a development soon, and besides, there are all these links sitting in the "unpublished stories file".

The person central to the drama is Judith Miller, the NYTimes reporter who spent 85 days in jail apparently for refusing to reveal to Fitzgerald who told her Plame's name - even though she didn't write a story and her source was seemingly happy for his name to be revealed for most of that time. (Nothing about this story is simple.) For a short overview with a lot of internal links to other significant stories, the Matt Welch piece linked to below is a good place to start. As Welch hints, Miller is a contentious character. An account of the story so far for Editor & Publisher describes her as "Miss Run Amok". The Columbia Journalism Review also offers some background and insights into Miller, a former Pultizer Prize winner and author of the book "Germs" about biological warfare. 

The most controversial part of Miller's career was in the lead up to the Iraq war when she used Iraqi exile and anti-Saddam activist Ahmad Chalabi as a source (and was used by him) for a series of stories that supported the Bush administration's case for the invasion of Iraq. The NYTimes subsequently apologised for those stories in May last year, without mentioning Miller by name.

And from here on in, it quickly gets into the realm of conjecture and partisan argument, although there is almost universal agreement that Miller has not handled herself well, and that she has damaged the reputation of the NYTimes. Although, check out the paper's Public Editor's Web Journal castigating the Times on October 13 for failing to have given an explanation of why Miller had been released from jail two weeks earlier, and answered question from the prosecutor in front of a Grand Jury on September 30. Byron Calame rips into the paper that employs him for that failure - "Now is The Time" - again underlining the value of having such a position. No Australian newspaper has a Public Editor and you have to give some credit to a paper that both has one and allows him to be independence. Calame's regular Sunday column should be interesting after the events of this week, and will be in TDB Monday.

Finally, on October 16, the Times' published a long story about Miller and her evidence; Miller wrote a personal account of events; and the Times' published a useful graphic tracking the timeline of the story, right back to the journey to Niger by Plame's husband Joe Wilson looking for evidence that Saddam was trying to buy uranium yellowcake. Those accounts satisfied almost no-one, with Editor & Publisher saying many questions remained unanswered; and Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post having an even stronger response (in a piece with numerous links to other reactions).

Miller's source was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief-of-staff to Vice-president Dick Cheney, and best of all, so far as liberals and Democrats are concerned, there are suggestions the Karl Rove, otherwise known as "T*rd Blossom", might also be involved. This Washington Post story from a couple of days back suggesting that Cheney himself might have been involved got the whole world talking, but like everything else, it is so much speculation no matter how well informed. It is the sort of speculation Liberals love of course, and the story has given a huge boost to Arianna Huffington's newly set-up Huffington Post blog which has covered the story in great detail. (An even better blog for coverage is Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo, but that's a personal preference.) Tina Brown in The Washington Post looks at the role the bloggers have played, and also at why she thinks the NYTimes' has tried, and failed, at being open about the whole business.

Even better news for the left was this Financial Times report that the investigation was being widened to "include questioning about the administration's handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence." And Rove himself has now been called back to give evidence four times, again exciting speculation about his role in it all.

It's widely accepted the Plame's name was leaked as pay-back after her husband Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed for the NYTimes undermining a plank of the Bush case for invading Iraq, and naming a covert CIA operative (as Plame was) is an offence, if it is done knowingly - so there is doubt in some quarters as to whether any crime has actually been committed. Yes, it's hard-ball politics, but should it even be an offence? Jacob Weisberg in Slate says it's "an illiberal prosecution" that undermines important liberal values. "Anyone who cares about civil liberties, freedom of information, or even just fair play should have been skeptical about Fitzgerald's investigation from the start. Claiming a few conservative scalps might be satisfying, but they'll come at a cost to principles liberals hold dear: the press's right to find out, the government's ability to disclose, and the public's right to know." For another contrarian take on the business, Slate blogger Mickey Kaus thinks it could backfire on the Democrats if they use it to "refight the war", and if you scroll down further you'll see he argues that the liberal media is targeting Miller for her "treason": "Miller wasn't just perceived as in cahoots with neocons in foisting the war off onto the public. She was doing it from within the New York Times, which the Left correctly perceives as one of "its" institutions. As a traitor within the liberal camp, she has to be expelled and punished, in a way she wouldn't be punished if she'd been an equally mistaken and influential reporter for National Review. The host body rejects her."

There is something for everyone in this yarn, but the bottom line is that it comes at the worst possible time for George Bush and the Republicans, who are not short of political woes; and Bush would be the lamest of lame-duck presidents if Libby, Rove ("Bushes brain") or even worse, Cheney, were indicted. Andrew Sullivan in The Sunday Times looked at the impact all this may already be having.

The main reaction to writing that long account is that nobody emerges unsullied from the whole tawdry business - trying to understand it all is like hacking through a jungle of lies and half-truths where you keep wishing that more of the players were trying to tell it like it is, and not push an agenda. Oh, and that the pubic interest and good policy outcomes are but nothing compared with winning short-term political battles and the wider culture wars that have corrupted US public life.

3 The state of play
If the summary above on US politics was too much, George Packer's New Yorker essay covers the main points. Packer is a superb journalist, who has won praise for his coverage of the US invasion of Iraq, a war he supported, and is the author of "The Assassins' Gate", an account of the war (TDB recently linked to this review of it by Michael Hirsh in The Washington Monthly.)

In this article Packer looks at the conservative-Republican implosion in the US and at how the Democrats can benefit from it. "Above all, the Democratic Party needs to overcome its own self-esteem problem. Its leaders have to show imagination and take risks, to be confident and aggressive, to proceed as if the current occupant of the White House no longer mattered-as if the Democrats fully intended to win and govern. The Democratic Party has to speak for the common good in a moral language; and it has to believe what it says, so that when the opposition's attacks come, as they will, it can find the heart and the courage to fight back."

One quibble. Packer says the "Republican implosion has come with startling speed". Not sure about that. This final phase of it has, but it has had a long slow build up, particularly on fiscal policy, that TDB has followed since last year.

4 The dark heart of Scotland
The UN has described Scotland as the most dangerous country in the developed world (2000 serious assaults every week); it is said to have a murder rate higher than America's. Novelist Irvine Welsh looks at culture, history and politics as he looks for causes and solutions. "Scottish sectarianism operates in the same way as racism. When you continually dehumanise somebody by labelling them as an "Orange" or "Fenian" bastard, on the basis of their surname, the school they attended or the colour of the daft Carling beer top they sheepishly wear, it makes it all the easier to abuse them in other ways. One factor again comes shining through here: alcohol and our twisted association with it. But that relationship might be a little more appropriate if some Scots had better homes, jobs and educational and cultural opportunities. In other words, if many of our people had the chance to genuinely celebrate life rather than simply getting out of it."
5 Rollins, Sartre, scholars and jazz
David Yaffe, assistant professor of English at Syracuse University, has written "Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing" and presumably this is taken from it. Yaffe recalls a meeting between Sartre and Sonny Rollins, looks at the impact of an academic essay on Rollins by Gunther Schuller, and takes a suitably scholarly approach to it all, even though he remembers the influential tenor sax wanted no part of it. "For his part, Rollins resolved never to read reviews of his work again. He also never played "Blue 7" again and soon after embarked on his two-year commercial sabbatical of silence, exile, and cunning. Even though he now insists that it was not Schuller who drove him to the bridge, the timing has made many Rollins watchers think otherwise. "It was too close of an examination of the artistic process," Rollins recalled. "It made me think too much about what I was doing. When I'm playing, I don't want to think. I want to be on a 'beyond' level."
6 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

The Fairfax papers have a bad case of bird flu, with The Age reporting that Indonesia covered up a bird flu epidemic in its poultry industry for nearly two years until the disease began infecting people; and The Herald reporting that one hundred and two pigeons exposed to the bird flu virus have been seized by Australian quarantine inspectors.

The Australian's lead says Qantas plans to send more than 3000 highly skilled maintenance jobs overseas unless it receives concessions from its workforce. It also reports that Customs Minister Chris Ellison was last night considering shutting down the new $250 million computer system at Australia's major sea freight terminals as delays in shifting goods plunged ports into chaos; that Kim Beazley has thrown his support behind a directly elected president as the head of an Australian republic - a different model to the one supported by Labor, and defeated by voters, in the 1999 referendum; and that Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, denied yesterday that violent border clashes in the country's northwest were linked to former pro-Indonesian militia - directly contradicting the head of national security and his own complaints to the UN mission in Dili.

The Herald reports the NSW Government would have to buy out the Cross City Tunnel operators and pay expected profits of up to $100 million a year for the next 30 years if it broke undertakings to funnel cars into the tunnel; that intelligent design is as unscientific as the flat Earth theory and should not be taught in school science classes, a coalition representing 70,000 scientists and science teachers has warned; and it details, as much as it can, where some of the $15 million spent on the IR ads is going.

The Age reports that the premiers' revolt over the "shoot-to-kill" power for police in the new terror legislation is gathering momentum with NSW, South Australia and Western Australian joining calls by Victoria and Queensland for it to be scrapped; that Melbourne could run out of water in 11 years if the worst climate change impacts eventuate; and that the Australian Government has been caught by surprise by the Pentagon's insistence that if Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks is convicted by a US military commission the four years he has spent in custody will not be deducted from his sentence.

The State Library of NSW wants to solve one of the mysteries of Australian symbolism: the very earliest origins of the national coat of arms; Barnaby Joyce was surprised last week to receive an email from the office of his leader, Mark Vaile, detailing how to criticise him in public;  and after years of talks, NSW farmers say they cannot support the Government's pending rules that are supposed to put an end to broadscale land clearing.


The Age: Amir Saikal is pleased to see the current good-will gestures between India and Pakistan after the earthquake, but says it will take more (including a return to democracy in Pakistan) for relations to be normalised; Tony Parkinson thinks all is on the up in Iraq after the referendum and with the trial of Saddam; Paul Austin looks at the difficulties faced by Victorian Liberal leader Robert Doyle; and John Cameron attempts to take the mickey out of the teaching of "intelligent design".

The Australian: Dennis Shanahan has sympathy for 'go the biff' NSW MP Andrew Fraser, but wants none of the self-righteous moralising that has been the hallmark of subsequent newspaper coverage and commentary (go Dennis - by the way, he also criticises his own, and other News Ltd papers); Michael Costello says we shouldn't take John Howard on trust on the anti-terrorism laws which he says should be scrutinised and that the concerns of the Muslim community should not be dismissed (he refers to yesterday's SMH column by Ed Husic); Waleed Ally is outraged that Islam is misused as a defence in criminal trials when, he says, Muslims do not except pathetic excuses for barbarism; Hal G.P. Colebatch thinks the obesity problem, if one exists, is cultural and can not be solved by banning junk food ads; and Kevin Donnelly, our old mate the right-wing social engineer, again uses his direct pipeline onto The Australian's opinion page to push the same old argument about literacy and teaching standards (if The Australian must corrupt the normal standards  that should apply to what runs on this page, in its effort to change the education world to suit its own desired image, is there no other voice but Donnelly it could use - he is by now such a tedious and tiresome fellow.)

The SMH: Richard Ackland is pleased to highlight a speech by Brett Walker, SC, Peter Hartcher looks at the two reports released this week which show a reduction in global conflict and poverty (without adding much to them); Chris Rau says it is time for governments to spend some money (he suggests forgoing tax cuts) and put some effort into mental health; Bob Beale is over the hype about the Wollemi Pine which he says is disproportionate given the lack of attention to other important but neglected trees.


China is where it is at, the business editors have decided. Certainly The Age has with six stories on doing business there, including its lead which says that gaining entry to the Chinese market is becoming easier for Australian companies, but there are still some perils for the unprepared. The Australian's lead reports that the high-stakes race to supply China's voracious demand for Australian iron ore stepped into overdrive yesterday as BHP Billiton committed $US1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) to expand its West Australian production, just one day after rival Rio Tinto announced plans to inject $US1.35 billion into expanding its neighbouring operations.

The Age also reports that the failure of the new integrated cargo system implemented by the Customs Service a week ago has produced "a catastrophe" on the wharves of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth; and that more than half Australia's companies have increased their prices because of high petrol costs and if oil goes to $US80 a barrel it could slash up to $12 billion a year from the economy, a survey has found.

The Herald reports on a  Reserve Bank survey to find out exactly what Australians did with the $20 billion withdrawn from housing equity. It also reports that Toll Holdings has gone on the counter-attack by attempting to discredit Patrick Corporation's bullish profit forecasts; and that a wine glut, described as the worst in decades, has caused retail prices to plummet.

The Australian reports that Rupert Murdoch has taken his late-blooming embrace of the internet to new heights, describing the net as the ultimate expression of News Corp's 40-year corporate philosophy of offering media consumers more choice; and that Commonwealth Bank asset management boss Warwick Negus yesterday defended the appointment of two merchant bankers to head a new property, infrastructure and private equity division at fund manager Colonial First State, in a dramatic restructure which ousted former property chief Geoff McWilliam.

Stephen Bartholomeusz looks at the timelines for the Patricks-Toll battle of which he says "the market doesn't appear to need convincing that the combination of the two companies makes strategic sense"; Elizabeth Knight says Patrick's problems don't really begin until the offer on the table is seriously tempting and until the ACCC surprises us all and gives the deal a green light; and Bryan Frith thinks shareholders of takeover target Patrick Corp arguably are not properly informed as to the company's intentions in relation to one of its major assets, and an important profit contributor - the Pacific National rail operation which it jointly owns with its unwelcome bidder, Toll Holdings.


The Daily Telegraph: A drunken student who assaulted a taxi driver escaped conviction yesterday after a magistrate blamed bar staff for serving him eight pints of beer; The State Government signed a secret deal with Cross City Tunnel operators to pay them as much as $45 million if improved public transport hit tunnel profits.

The Herald-Sun: Pigeons exposed to bird flu have been quarantined in Melbourne in the first local scare since the outbreak hit Asia and Europe; Tennis superstar Lleyton Hewitt last night appealed to former best mate Andrew McLeod to discuss their bitter split before it is aired in court.

The Courier-Mail: Labor MPs will today be urged to hold their nerve as the Beattie Government rolls out its painful solutions to the Queensland hospital crisis; Pigeons exposed to bird flu have been quarantined in the first Australian scare since the outbreak struck Asia and Europe.

The Advertiser: Adelaide Anglican Archbishop-elect Jeffrey Driver has moved decisively to weed out pedophiles in the church by introducing strict new screening and professional standards; Lleyton Hewitt wants a legal dispute over a DVD featuring former best mate Andrew McLeod settled quickly so he won't miss out on lucrative Christmas sales, a court has heard.

The West Australian: The true extent of the crisis in WA hospitals has been revealed for the first time, with figures showing there are thousands more people waiting for surgery than official statistics claim; Struggling dairy farmers want WA to adopt a European scheme under which consumers choose to buy a marginally more expensive brand of milk in return for a guarantee that a set amount of the price will go to farmers.

The Mercury: An unholy row within Tasmania's Greek Orthodox faith has erupted again after a four-year-old girl was barred from communion; A man aged 55 died in an horrific car smash on the Midland Highway yesterday - a tragic event likely to renew calls for a major upgrade of the troubled road.


Trevor Marshallsea on the great mint, reverse swing, ball tampering mystery; Kangaroos captain Darren Lockyer has admitted tonight's Test in Auckland is "make or break" for the world champions; Ireland coach Pete McGrath says one name sums up Australia's intent in this year's International Rules series - Kevin Sheedy.

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re: The Daily Briefing 21/10/05

I'm not sure if this has been covered before, but Fitzgerald has just opened an official web-site. Straight from the horse's mouth - no questions regarding conspiracy.

re: The Daily Briefing 21/10/05

I could scarcely believe Kevin Donnelly was getting another run, Wayne, he's as dull as dishwater and twice as predictable. He makes Louise McBride look rivetting. Surely Imre could write something along the same lines but more entertainingly?

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