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The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

MONDAY 7TH NOVEMBER 2005          
Your round-up from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's email:
1    Barton Gellman on increased surveillance under anti-terror laws/WaPo
2    David Broder on Bush's falling popularity/Washington Post (6 links below)
3    Maureen Dowd on why men are not fit for high office/NYTimes
4    Naomi Klein on Latin America's anti-Bush revolt/Guardian
5    Report on why Poland's new leaders make Europe nervous/Der Speigel
6    Kofi Annan on future control of the internet/Washington Post
7    Byron Calame on journalists and advertorials/NYTimes (link below)
8    MUSIC: Stephen Metcalf on rock snobs/Slate (7 links below)
9    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 Data mining and anti-terrorism laws
Because of the debate about Australia's current anti-terrorism laws, TDB is looking from reports from the US and the UK on how similar laws are working there. Yesterday's Washington Post front page lead was a major investigation into the exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act, which marked its fourth anniversary on Oct. 26. In particular, the report looks at the use of "national security letters", created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, but now widely applied to ordinary citizens, with the information gathered being collected on a government data base. "Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot."
2 Iraq is leaching Bush's presidency
Putting good judgment to one side for a moment, TDB recently ventured into the intellectual squalor of Australia's shallowest and nastiest public affairs blog (oh you know who it is), to find a lame excuse for the lack of posts on his former love-interest George Bush, now that his popularity is headed for the cellar. In what is merely the latest show of political ignorance from this same quarter, the excuse given is that popularity is not important because Bush doesn't have to face re-election. You might think that someone who presumes to write about such topics would have stumbled across the expression "politics is the art of the possible" by now, and know that not so much is possible for unpopular presidents, and that this has implications for everything from the conduct of the war in Iraq to getting appointments confirmed (or not, as in the case of Harriet Miers). But don't worry, this person is only the news editor for Australia's leading news magazine. (Hope the spelling was fine in there.)

Fortunately, David Broder at The Washington Post (link below) has a better grasp of political realities in the real world. After a visit to Ohio, Broder reports that it is Iraq that is doing most damage to Bush. "Far more than anything else, the voices in Columbus suggest that the president's biggest problem -- and therefore the Republicans' biggest worry -- is the unresolved and uncertain struggle in Iraq. Bring it to some sort of satisfactory conclusion, and all the other issues confronting the administration at home and abroad probably become manageable. But let it drag on for another year of deaths and frustrations, and you are really tempting the fates."

The Post reports on recent polling of US voter discontent, and finds that the only thing going for Bush and the Republicans is their political opposition. "One bright spot for the Republicans is the low regard in which many Americans hold the Democrats. The public sees the Democrats as disorganized, lacking in clear ideas or a positive alternative to the GOP agenda, and bereft of appealing leaders."

And Dam Fromkin in the same paper reports that another significant comment by Lawrence Wilkerson has been largely missed by the US media. In a radio interview, Wilkerson linked torture and prisoner abuse directly to Dick Cheney. "... the former chief of staff to the secretary of state (Wilkerson) said that he had uncovered a "visible audit trail" tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office."

And apologies if non-subscribers to The Atlantic Monthly are unable to read this one, but Jack Beatty says that it was obvious from Bush's character and history before becoming president that he would be a failure. "Historians will make this generation of Americans answer for George W. Bush. You let us down, they will say. You afflicted posterity with Bush's blunders and damaged the morale of democracy by letting him into office. Caligula appointed his horse as consul. You elected George W. Bush!"

And this is something TDB would pay to see - Karl Rove being given ethics lessons. The NYTimes reports that following the indictment of Lewis Libby, Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material. (And after teaching "T*rd Blossom" ethics, the person concerned will move to the much easier task of teaching sharks to be vegetarians.)

3Men are not fit for high office
Maureen Dowd is attracting even more attention than usual at the moment, courtesy of her book, "Are Men Necessary?" Howard Kurtz profiles her for The Washington Post, picking up on her sensitivity to criticism, the price she has paid for being "no-holds barred", and on her affair with Michael Douglas.

And from the woman herself (link below), her latest column (available for free at truthout.com) picks up on the latest on Dick Cheney and his fondness for torture, to turn the old sexist attitude on its head and argue that men are not fit for high office. "Unless it's some catty attempt to undermine someone you're pretending to like, how to explain the Mean Girls cabal headed by Dick Cheney, Rummy and the Rummy aide Douglas Feith? These hawkish Heathers lured W. into war with hyped intelligence and then clawed out Colin Powell's eyes to take charge of the occupation, only to bollix up the whole thing beyond belief and send the president's ratings cratering."

4 Latin America's anti-Bush revolt
TDB recently linked to a piece by Rebecca Solnit on the political changes underway in Latin America. Naomi Klein writes on the same subject in the context of the week-end's anti-Bush protests, to explain why the US has lost the debate about free trade, in the streets and the ballot box. "Across Latin America a similarly explosive multiplier effect is under way, with indigenous movements redrawing the continent's political map, demanding not just "rights" but a reinvention of the state along deeply democratic lines. In Bolivia and Ecuador, indigenous groups have shown that they have the power to topple governments. In Argentina, when mass protests ousted five presidents in 2001 and 2002, the words of Mexico's Zapatistas were shouted on the streets of Buenos Aires."
5 Why Poland makes Europe nervous
Not your average (and often boring) international politics report - lots of history, character analysis and social insights in this one. Lech Kaczynski was recently elected as the head of a right-wing government in Poland, with the help of his younger by 45 minutes brother Jaroslaw. According to Der Speigel, the combination of their conservative social policies and desire to deal with left over issues from WWII has much of Europe concerned. "The Kaczynskis have caused confusion also with regards to foreign affairs in the past weeks. While mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski calculated how much the Germans owe the Poles for damage caused to the city during the World War II. While it was an easy way of drumming up support, it was never seen as a dire threat. But that could change. If the Germany-based Prussian Claims Committee continues to insist on giving back land to Germans who were expelled from Poland after the war, the idea of reparations could rear its ugly head."
6 UN and the internet
TDB has followed the debate about future control of the internet with links to both sides of the debate (see archives). Currently the US controls the net, and whether that should continue into the future is to be debated at the World Summit on the Information Society to be held this month in Tunisia. Kofi Annan outlines the issues at play and says the UN is not intent on taking over the net. "The need for change is a reflection of the future, when Internet growth will be most dramatic in developing countries. What we are seeing is the beginning of a dialogue between two different cultures: the nongovernmental Internet community, with its traditions of informal, bottom-up decision making, and the more formal, structured world of governments and intergovernmental organizations."
7 Sources and advertorials
Both these articles relate to the work of readers' representatives on newspapers, and are included because the lack of similar positions on Australian newspapers is rapidly becoming a hobby horse for TDB. Hey, everyone needs a hobby, and something needs to be done about our crappy, insular, smug and parochial newspapers. In the article linked to below, the Public Editor for the NYTimes Byron Calame reports on how pressure from shrinking readership and competition for advertising is blurring the lines between advertising and editorial content.

And Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell discusses the use of anonymous sources, which has been highlighted by the Valerie Plame affair.

8 Rock snobs, Bogle, Paul and Yoko
A while back TDB linked to an essay by Michael Crowley in The New Republic predicting that iPod would kill off the rock snob. Stephen Metcalf reviews a book on this species, "The Rock Snob*s Dictionary" and likes to think that reports of their (and his) demise are greatly exaggerated. "As delightful as The Rock Snob*s Dictionary and Crowley's essay are, I think such fears are overblown, myself. I'd love to say it's because genuine pleasure-that enemy of both snobs and satire alike-will always take precedence over the need to condescend. But the reality, alas, is otherwise. At some point, drag-and-drop deposits will overwhelm even the most cavernous hard drive; a person will have to choose, and then their true colors will out: The Killers? Lenny Kravitz? Dave Matthews??? Because let's face it, only one thing is more incorrigible than my snobbery, people, and that's your indefensibly crappy taste in music."

In the New Statesman, Lynsey Hanley reviews "The Dark Side of the Moon: the making of the Pink Floyd masterpiece" by John Harris, and even wanted to listen to the album after reading it. (Smart move)

The NYTimes, reporting on Eric Bogle's current tour of the US, says that some good judges (including Pete Seeger) rate "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" as the best protest song ever written.

The Washington Post reports that Yoko Ono has apologised for insinuating that Paul McCartney songs are trite (there is something wrong with that statement?).

The Times reports that Madonna has recorded her gayest album ever: "the great thing about being a gay icon is that a few wrong turns and public mistakes serve only to make you even more of a gay icon."

The NYTimes reports on the almost 40-year-long battle between John Fogarty and his record company; and on the success of the Swedish indie-rock band, the Shout Out Louds.

And The Guardian reports that it's 1967 revisited for The Beach Boys. "Beach Boy Mike Love has fallen out with fellow Beach Boy Brian Wilson over the band's legendary 60s concept album Smile."

9 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

The Herald's lead reminds us (it has already been widely reported) that arrests might not follow the hurried passage of an amendment to counter-terrorism laws, the Federal Government has admitted just days after the Prime Minister justified the rush on the basis of "specific intelligence" on a terrorist threat.  So, what's the latest from "stunt-watch" - an assessment of wisdom and validity of John Howard's "clear and present" terrorism danger warning last Wednesday? That'd be the one The Australian reported had "forced" the Federal Government to act, as if it had no choice; the move Dennis Shanahan (who in reality knew nothing more than you or I) reckoned was spot on. Matt Price was still inclined to give John Howard the benefit of the doubt on "Insiders" yesterday, and he is not to be ignored lightly. But really, if it quacks like a stunt, and waddles like a stunt ... then journalists might do well to remember that it is not unknown for politicians to be careless with the truth, or indeed on occasions to be lying, scheming, manipulative, duplicitous, mendacious, side-winding sons 'a bitches. All in the national interest, of course.

The Herald also reports that the national construction union challenged the Government to use its tough new industrial laws to prosecute the estimated 100,000 building workers who will stop work to join a national day of protest next week; that NSW Premier Morris Iemma has moved to staunch a damaging split in his cabinet, telling colleagues to stop undermining the former roads minister, Carl Scully, over the Cross City Tunnel affair (the Tele has an even stronger report on Iemma, see below); that Australia should double its population by 2050, allow young Pacific Islanders into the country to work, take up nuclear power, increase defence spending and become more than just a middle power, according to former ambassador to the US, Michael Thawley.

The Australian appears to have the strongest news story of the morning (again) with its lead reporting that single parents will be given two extra years on higher welfare payments to retrain and prepare for a job, as the Howard Government softens its welfare package. The paper also reports that extra counter-terrorism police have arrived in Sydney to take part in the 24-hour surveillance of two suspects believed to be planning an attack on Australian soil; that businesses will be able to impose workplace agreements on staff without seeking their approval -- or even consulting them - under John Howard's new industrial changes; and that the federal Government faces a damages claim that could exceed $30million after five fishermen were acquitted of charges over a $1million haul of rare Patagonian toothfish.

The Age reports that former federal Liberal Party president John Valder has launched a blistering attack on the Howard Government (be news if he didn't) which, he said, had betrayed the principles it once stood for; that the Howard Government's anti-terrorism laws are abhorrent to Australia's liberal democratic values and "could not and would not be passed" in the US, according to a leading defence lawyer; that more frequent trains through the City Loop, an extra rail track between Caulfield and Dandenong and redevelopment of North Melbourne station will be key parts of a pre-election transport statement from the State Government early next year; that more than 1000 people filled Australia's biggest church yesterday to pray for the life of Nguyen Tuong Van.

In other bits and pieces, the Queensland Government has defended a three-month police investigation into a constable who was transformed into Mick Jagger at a hypnotism show; David Smith tells of his role in the sacking of the Whitlam Government; Australians are swapping stubbies for semillons as a new image-conscious consumer lays the traditional Aussie beer-swigging stereotype to rest; Australians are recycling more of their rubbish than ever before but they cannot keep pace with the amount of waste they are producing; and an author thinks drought is as traumatic as war.


The Age: Mungo MacCallum maintains the rage at the sacking of the Whitlam Government (there were some aspects of it he says were inexcusable), but still has some left over for the behaviour of the current government - "the Right in full and untrammelled flight, the Right relieved of the need to play Mr Nice Guy to minorities in the Senate"; Robin May says the Fair Pay Commission will be a vehicle for reducing  minimum pay that will create greater inequalities in Australian society; Michael Fullilove gives his account of the woes facing George Bush (which tells us nothing much that is new); and Alan Taylor will tell anyone who is interested about Britain's pub smoking ban.

The Australian: Glenn Milne saves his harshest criticisms for the industrial relations bill, but also makes room to give the anti-terror laws as swipe as he takes to the Federal Government for arrogance; James Morrow sets out to make the conservative case against the anti-terrorism laws, but offers more cheap shots than substantial ideas; Michael Sexton thinks Labor needs to develop some ideas for Australia's future if it wants to win office (and he should have a chat to Evan Thornley, below); and Craig Emerson sees signs of life in Australian regional cities and thinks that a nation building plan should be based around them.

The SMH: Evan Thornley says three Labor Party related think tanks are being resourced as part of moves to regenerate the ideas base of the party; Paul Sheehan has some angry question about the Sydney cross city tunnel; David Copolov (Professor of Psychiatry) says while community care is ideal, psychiatric hospitals have an important role in caring for the mentally ill; and Olara Otunnu (Sydney Peace Prize winner) on efforts to protect children, usually the ones most affected by war.


The Australian's lead report that as China nurses a slap in the face over the Gorgon gas field's $8 billion deal to sell LNG to Tokyo Gas, federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has warned China it risks missing out on further Australian LNG deals if it does not sign up soon; it also reports that Greek shipping tycoon Gregory Hadjieleftheriadis has sold a huge swath of land around Rockhampton in Queensland in a $100 million-plus deal, three weeks before the properties were due to go to auction; and that the Reserve Bank is expected to signal a growing anxiety about inflationary pressures as higher energy prices feed into the economy and could reinstate its bias to raise interest rates in its quarterly monetary policy statement today.

The Herald reports that a loophole allowing foreign insurance companies to operate unregulated in Australia is still open more than four years after the collapse of HIH; that Macquarie Bank is a step closer to launching a bid for the London Stock Exchange with the appointment of Goldman Sachs as its financial adviser; that shoppers who for years have gone to Gowings may soon find themselves at Lowe's; and that Rupert Murdoch narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat over plans to tighten his grip on BSkyB after investors almost voted down his proposal for a share buyback scheme in London on Friday.

The Age is worried about the possibility of power shortages, reporting that steps taken three years ago to prevent the BassLink cable from corroding pipelines and oil platforms have significantly reduced its ability to provide back-up electricity supplies to Victoria. The paper also reports that senior managers face jail for disclosing the identities of people on Australian workplace agreements under the Federal Government's new industrial relations legislation, lawyers have claimed; and that National Australia Bank's annual result this week will be a story of two halves, with the first six months poor and the second half showing regained momentum.


The Daily Telegraph: After less than 100 days as leader, Premier Morris Iemma has been warned by his own party machine to change policy direction because of a voter backlash; Scared residents of the Lane Cove unit block nearly swallowed by a giant hole refused to return home yesterday despite engineers declaring half the building safe.

The Herald-Sun: Former attorney-general Jim Kennan has told the coroner there is enough evidence to find Greg Domaszewicz killed Jaidyn Leskie; Taxpayers are footing the bill for veterans and war widows to be flown to Melbourne for hospital treatment because Tasmanian doctors won't accept the Gold Card.

The Courier-Mail: Gulf of Carpentaria fishermen could be paid up to $1000 a day to patrol Australia's northern waters following claims they are already taking matters into their own hands and seizing gear from illegal vessels; Nearly 200 communities across Queensland are in danger of running out of a reliable water supply by the middle of next year, official figures show.

The Advertiser: Schools will have the right to appoint their own teachers for the first time under unprecedented changes to the state education system; Parents fear children will be able to build a digital library of iPod pornography after the launch of a website.

The West Australian: WA was on the brink of an environmental disaster because successive Federal and State governments had failed to prevent dieback from killing vast chunks of forest, a leading academic warned yesterday; Western Power has called on the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to terminate its workers' right to strike, claiming strikes would damage the economy and endanger lives.

The Mercury: Betfair is set to sponsor major sporting events if Tasmania grants it a licence; Huon residents are angry that a 1080 baiting program had been set in motion without a permit.


Brett Lee has now been given clear instructions by his captain to return to his most basic instincts, the pace and swing that yesterday produced his first bag of five Test wickets in four long years and helped Australia inflict on the West Indies a crushing 379-run defeat; New Australian halfback Scott Prince will ask coach Wayne Bennett to play him against France this weekend in a bid to secure his No.7 Test jersey for the remainder of the Tri-Nations tournament; Wallabies coach Eddie Jones echoed the sentiments of every Australian rugby follower when he said shortly after his team's sixth successive Test loss: "I don't think it gets much worse than this"; A strong ensemble effort enabled Australia to beat Jamaica 59-44 in Kingston and clinch victory in the three-Test netball series after just two games.

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re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

If a school was firebombed in Sydney or Melbourne, the rednecks would be all about 'Terror in the suburbs!'. So, why so little (if any) commentary on the riots in Paris?

From France's Clashes Spread To Paris On 10th Night Of Destruction:

"In this era of Internet, text-messages, cellphones and television, everybody knows what's going on," said the chief, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. "The coordination comes mainly from the information revolution. The methods are similar because their social class is similar…. I don't justify it at all, but there is an element of social demand here, of social distress. The message is: Our life is [expletive], so we are going to destroy everything."

re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

Trevor Kerr, I don't personally see the fire bombing of a French car as a crime. Not being a fan of them myself it is more than likely a sign the education system is working.

They bagged one thousand of them last night, what's the betting they get two thousand tonight? I have always said that youth need clear and defined goals.

I can just picture Micheal Moore heading there now to do the documentary at the local Citroen factory. A French car mixed with a wuss 35 hour week sending even the most sane talented youth in to a riotous molotov throwing frenzy.

re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

Memo to Jay White:

'Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.'

Mark Twain.

re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

Trevor, the briefing is not a news service, and the Paris riots have been widely reported. I'm waiting to chance upon a quality piece of writing on the subject, which is all but certain to come in the next day or two. Nial Ferguson had a piece in the week-end Telegraph, not brilliant, which I've put to one side, hoping to collect another one or two pieces on the same subject.

And Stuart posted below a recent edition urging the inclusion of Herald Sun opinion writers. If I was to do that, why stop at the Hun - why not The Daily Telegraph, The Courier-Mail and so on? In part it is a question of time, in part it's because the state papers focus mainly on state issues, and in part it's because whatever their merits, they lack the influence on the national discussion that the broadsheets have.

re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

Here are some of our beloved leader's words of wisdom on tonight's 7.30 Report. They make an interesting patchwork.

"One thing I've triued to say all along that decisions on operation matters.. are not taken by the Government.. at no stage last Wednesday did I say that certain people were going to be charged. That is a matter for the the authorities."

"I did what I believe what I had to do in the national interest. I was not trying scare people, or divert them rom a reform which I have believed in for two decades."

"We don't control newspaper headlines. I'd be the last bloke in Australa to say that I could dictate headlines personally."

"I think anything related to terrorism.. is going to create headllines."

Methinks the Pee Emm doth protest too much.

Margo: And, yet, again, no question on whether there's a criminal investigation underway into all those leaks from 'government sources' on details Howard and Ruddock said had to be secret for operatonal reasons. Are there club rules in play here betwen pollie/journalist?

re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

Hundreds of pneumonia cases are already being treated in Pakistan's earthquake zone and hundreds of thousands risk death or disease unless they move below the snowline or get emergency shelter. With many survivors in the highlands without food, shelter or medical treatment four weeks after the devastating Oct. 8 quake, underfunded relief workers speak anxiously of a "second disaster in the making".

See here.

Have we forgotten Pakistan, hundreds of thousands at risk of death and we hear very little in our newspapers or Webdiary?

re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

Terry Embling: 'Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.'

Lucky I am not a French socialist making policy then? My foolish words won't destroy a city now, will they?

re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

Jay White: "Terry Embling: 'Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt."

"Lucky I am not a French socialist making policy then? My foolish words won't destroy a city now, will they?"


re: The Daily Briefing 7/11/05

Jay White: "My foolish words won't destroy a city now, will they?"

But your foolish support for a liar and war criminal has helped destroy a number of cities. See the Irises thread for the latest news.

Apparently the smoking gun came in the form of melted Iraqi women and children.

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