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The Daily Briefing 17/11/05

THURSDAY 17TH 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    Ross Gittins responds to The Daily Briefing (and message below)
2    Helene Cooper on the lot of Africa's women/NYTimes
3    Kevin Drum on Iran and Bush's credibility gap/Washington Monthly (link below)
4    Report on the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah/Aljazeera (2 links below)
5    Dan Balz on the tide turning against Bush & Iraq/WaPo (11 links below)
6    Matt Steinglass on the Zen response to terrorism/Salon
7    Ishtiaq Ahmed wonders if humans are united or estranged/Daily Times
8    Jack Shafer on how we'll know the boomers have moved on/Slate
9    Jon Pareles on Springsteen's 'Born to Run' box-set/NYTimes
10    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 Today, messages and feedback
This may well be a new record for having TDB out late. At the risk of being accused of repeatedly tugging on the heart strings, this one man band is getting a little on the exhausted side of buggered - and counting down the days to the holiday break. It was a mistake not to have taken time off mid-year, and having a disrupted night with a baby in pain didn't help. Hope springs eternal that we can get back to producing one email a day, at the start of the work day, but it may be that the flesh can not match the willing spirit.

Feedback: To readers who have sent recent messages and comments, apologies for the lack of a response to date, but see above for some sort of explanation. I am working through them.

And do follow the link below to some recent feedback from Ross Gittins and James O'Neill, if for no other reason that it provides the perfect opportunity to link to Gittins's column yesterday on vested interests and fear mongering about terrorism .

2 Women in Africa
NYTimes columnist Nicholas Kristof recently declared the situation of oppressed women in the third world to be the great moral challenge of our time. Helene Cooper grew up in Liberia, and with the recent election there of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the continent's first female president, sees signs of hope. A striking piece this one. Given its subject, it is free of bathos or sentimentality. "She carried so many logs that her chest almost seemed to touch the ground, so stooped was her back. Still, she trudged on, up the hill toward her home. Her husband was walking just in front of her. He carried nothing. Nothing in his hand, nothing on his shoulder, nothing on his back. He kept looking back at her, telling her to hurry up. I want to go back to Bukavu to find that woman, and to tell her what just happened in Liberia. I want to tell her this: Your time will come, too. "
3 The credibility gap
A boy trying to do a man's job. Let's not make that the official verdict from TDB on George Bush just yet, but there is every chance that is how he will be judged by history. Even though many Australian commentators (witness Greg Sheridan in today's Australian) still hang on his every word, they are in an ever smaller minority and that could present real problems given he has three years to serve in the White House. The NYTimes recently reported US intelligence officials "unveiled the contents of what they said was a stolen Iranian laptop computer" that proved Iran was trying to build a nuclear warhead. As Kevin Drum points out, the reaction in Europe has been more than sceptical. "This is what it's come to. A European diplomat talks openly about the possibility that the entire thing is a U.S. fraud. The Bush administration is forced to lean on France to establish its own credibility ... As recently as five years ago, none of this would have even occurred to anyone. Today it's the first thing that comes to mind."
4 White phosphorous and hasty retreats
The scandal over the use of white phosphorous by the US in the attack against Fallujah last November seems to be slowly gathering momentum - it may well be a war crime. For sure the Aljazeera report linked to below is not going to help win Arab hearts and minds (assuming there are any left to be won). The last time TDB looked it was on their "most emailed" list. "Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday that while white phosphorous was used most frequently to mark targets or obscure positions, it was used at times in Falluja as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants."

On the same issue, The Independent has embedded journalist Damh Jamail reporting "... I spent hours talking to residents forced out of the city. A doctor from Fallujah working in Saqlawiyah, on the outskirts of Fallujah, described treating victims during the siege "who had their skin melted"."

Historian Sir Simon Jenkins, who opposed the invasion from the outset, and wrote some of the best columns anywhere on the reasons not to invade. In his latest column, Jenkins argues that the US is using Britain and NATO as a smokescreen to get out of Afghanistan - and remember, that NATO forces will reportedly include additional Australian troops. Very well, Jenkins says, use the same rationale to get out of Iraq. "The default mode of American foreign policy is isolation and of British policy continued intervention. America is shrewdly retreating from Afghanistan, knowing that the place is heading for trouble. Britain is the fall guy. Will the same happen in Iraq? Reid should explain why he is really committing 4,800 troops to act as Taliban targets in Helmand and why he is so sceptical of Talabani's offer. He might also ask himself why Rumsfeld is laughing."

5 The tide turns against Bush and Iraq
The "disintegration of an American presidency", which TDB suggested months ago was what we may now be witnessing, appears to be gathering pace. The US Senate - which had previously granted George Bush the freedom to pretty much to conduct the Iraq war exactly as he chose (and, for better or worse he did - all the mistakes are therefoe his own) - has "called on President George W. Bush to explain his strategy for ending the war in Iraq and report every three months on progress until all U.S. troops stationed there are redeployed." That passed 79-19, and its significance in terms of Bush's standing, and the conduct of the war from here, can be measured in William Kristol's hostile reaction in the conservative, Murdoch-owned journal he edits, The Weekly Standard. "Pathetic. One expected no better of the Senate Democrats, who want to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, or sooner than possible--most of them don't really care--and who want to embarrass president Bush. But couldn't the Senate Republicans have stood and fought against passing an irresponsible resolution suggesting that Americans want to get out of Iraq more than we want to win?"

The telling thing about the vote is that it is but one more sign that Bush is being abandoned by moderate Republicans, leaving only the hard-core right (who scare the US public, remember the Gingrich era) to support him. They might not be his best allies right now, and even some of them are having second thoughts. Slate has added right-wing "attack dog" (his term) and Islamophobe Daniel Pipes to its Bush abandonment watch for an article he wrote for Commentary (TDB did link to it weeks back).

In the article linked to below, Dan Balz says the Senate's "rebuff to the White House was muffled in the modulated language of a bipartisan amendment, but the message could not have been more clear. With their constituents increasingly unhappy with the U.S. mission in Iraq, Democrats and now Republicans are demanding that the administration show that it has a strategy to turn the conflict over to the Iraqis and eventually bring U.S. troops home."

Michael Klare, Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, thinks the situation is getting so bad for Bush that he is looking for ways in which Bush could try to "wag the dog" to distract attention. The Mother Jones article includes numerous links to a host of good reads on related topics.

In other indications of how the ground is shifting rapidly under George Bush's feet, Bill Clinton has declared Iraq 'a big mistake' and John Edwards, John Kerry's running mate in last year's presidential election, has declared that he was wrong to support the Iraq invasion in a column for The Washington Post. (TDB is interested to see who might be the first Australian politician or commentator to make a similar declaration, although intellectual courage seems to be in short supply in "the lackey country", as TDB dubbed it some time back.)

Last week The Washington Post broke the story that the CIA was running secret prisons, some in old Russian gulags, for terrorism suspects. The NYTimes reports that Spain is to investigate "accusations that planes used by the CIA to transport terrorism suspects had made stopovers at a Spanish airport, saying that the matter was "very serious" and that the practice would not be tolerated if proved." (Other EU countries are also investigating.)

This isn't America, Jimmy Carter says. No surprise that Carter should be critical of the US under Bush, but many would argue, as they look back at the past 50 years of American foreign policy in Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Middle East (for starters) that "this is America". But then, there are so many Americas rolled into one extraordinary nation. Carter currently has a book on top of the NYTimes best-seller list, "Our Endangered Values", from which the LATimes column linked to below comes. "Regardless of the costs, there are determined efforts by top U.S. leaders to exert American imperial dominance throughout the world. These revolutionary policies have been orchestrated by those who believe that our nation's tremendous power and influence should not be internationally constrained. Even with our troops involved in combat and America facing the threat of additional terrorist attacks, our declaration of "You are either with us or against us!" has replaced the forming of alliances based on a clear comprehension of mutual interests, including the threat of terrorism."

To gain a sense of where Carter stands in the spectrum of US politics, check out this appraisal of him and his latest efforts in the ultra-conconservative Front Page magazine. "The 39th president has been testing our endangered patience by delivering homilettes on any mainstream media outlet that will have him (which is all of them), hawking his newest book .... "

6 Be Zen about terrorism
(Non-subscribers to Salon should be able to read this one - you may have to sit through an ad first. If not, editor@thedailybriefing.com.au will send you a copy.) Matt Steinglass tries to play hard-bitten Westerner, but in the end can't hide his enthusiasm for the fact that Buddhist sage Thich Nhat Hanh might have something useful to say in his book "Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism". Hanh is a veteran of the Buddhist revolt against the Catholic government of Ngo Dinh Diem during the Vietnam War, and this review contains an interesting, if brief, look at that disastrous period in US foreign policy. "Misunderstanding, fear, anger, and hatred are the roots of terrorism. They cannot be located by the military … To uproot terrorism, we need to begin by looking in our hearts." This kind of statement is guaranteed to cause steam to pour from a lot of ears, and not just pointy Vulcan neocon ones. Anyone who acknowledges the occasional necessity of organized violence in the political sphere will find it exasperatingly reductive. But what's perhaps most exasperating is the suspicion that at some level, Hanh is right. Who could deny that misunderstanding, fear, anger and hatred are the roots of terrorism? Who, in the midst of our woebegone misadventure in Iraq, could deny that the military is a poor tool for winning hearts and minds?"
7 Alone or together?
Ishtiaq Ahmed, associate professor of political science at Stockholm University, looks at the response to the recent earthquake in Kasmir and considers various views (neo-liberal, Marxist) as to whether human beings are united or estranged. "Consequently all philosophy and religious beliefs should be judged as benign or malevolent on the basis of how ideas are used to either advance the notion of a common humankind with the same needs for respect, love and security or to preach permanent war and hatred deriving from differences of faith and colour and so on. We can also safely assume that although each individual is unique, our survival as a species has been possible because of our ability to cooperate. We are united in our essence and not estranged."
8 How to tell when the boomers move on
You are at their funeral? Could be one sign. (Old boomers never die, they bore everyone else to death talking about how great the '60s were. And why not?) Jack Shafer gives the provisional findings from his ad-hoc under-40's panel on how to tell when room has been made on the public stage for other generations. (Easily shocked readers should avoid following the link in this story to a hand gesture known as "the shocker".) "Seth Stevenson points to two post-boomer developments that boomers don't get and don't particularly care to get-namely video games and rap music-as a rich source of future heds. Such references will be a slap at all boomers, who will grab their walkers and storm out en masse for a Don McLean concert."
9 Springsteen, reborn to run
Music to put TDB together by. The multimedia feature link beside this Jon Pareles article includes a 1975 live version of "She's the One". Pareles reports that 30 years after the release of "Born to Run" (ouch! was it that long ago?) "Mr. Springsteen is rereleasing "Born to Run" in a box set (list price $39.98) that Mr. Landau described as a "victory lap." It includes a remastered CD of the original album and two DVD's: "Wings for Wheels," a documentary on the making of the album, and "Hammersmith Odeon, London '75," a two-hour concert film of Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band going all out to win over a skeptical audience at his first concert in England. Tucked at the end of "Wings for Wheels" is another performance: Mr. Springsteen leading his 1973 band in Los Angeles, playing three songs, including "Thundercrack," which wouldn't surface until Mr. Springsteen released his collection of outtakes, "Tracks," in 1998." (So now you know what TDB wants for Christmas.)
10 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

The round-ball game makes the front pages. Big time. In a sports mad nation, all shapes and sizes have their day sooner or later, and Australia's win over Uruguay (4-2 in a penalty shoot-out after extra time) to make the World Cup finals for the first time in 30-odd years results in an orgy of football stories. How to choose, especially when you are not convinced that blokes kicking a piece of inflated leather around a park should dominate newspapers for grown-ups? John Huxley is a soccer fan and an otherwise sensible journalist, so why not try him. Michael Cockerill wins the sentimental twaddle award for his report - "this one's for you, Johnny" ... "Johnny Warren - who played in both teams and cried on national television when we lost to Iran on the Socceroos' darkest night - wasn't there, of course. (being dead is surely a good enough excuse for not turning up to a soccer game?) But we all cried for him." (ah, no we didn't Michael. You may have, perhaps one or two others, but "we all"? No.) You will find more, including a very exuberant photo, here.

For a more serious example of journalism behaving badly, have a look in the Business section for coverage of the "Channel 7 big media trial", where The Australian stands accused of using its front page to pursue the business and legal interests of News Ltd. (Shock would be the only reaction, if not for the fact that TDB has highlighted numerous examples of the paper corrupting journalism for some agenda or other - think ethanol, Kevin Donnelly, climate change, George Bush, the Paris riots and fear mongering on terrorism. And be thankful for the internet that frees you from having to rely on one, or even two newspapers.)

On the flip side, The Australian has a track record for breaking strong stories (although being on the government drip does help). This morning's lead reports that an Australian Defence employee has become embroiled in an international espionage scandal involving the alleged sale of top-secret US B-2 Stealth bomber technology to foreign powers. It also reports that it is not certain the 450 Australian troops protecting Japanese military engineers in southern Iraq will return home in the middle of next year; that unions have seized on soaring executive salaries to back their final attempt to lift the minimum weekly wage over $500 before the Government's industrial relations changes take affect; and that revenue losses on income tax breaks and other concessions have jumped in the past two decades, with benefits and deductions growing by more than a quarter since the mid-1980s.

The Age reports that alleged terrorist leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika appears to have embarked on a distorted and fabricated concept of jihad, according to Melbourne's senior Muslim cleric; that a group of six women, two of them from Victoria, have been intercepted trying to board an aircraft in Syria; that the Victorian Government's vow to curb Melbourne's urban sprawl has been jeopardised by its decision to release 25 years worth of new development land on the city's fringe, critics have warned; and that John Howard faces a party revolt over the ban on abortion pill RU486, with one senior Liberal threatening to cross the floor on the contentious issue.

The Herald reports that one of the Sydney terrorism suspects with links to the alleged French terrorist Willy Brigitte has become the first committed to stand trial, on separate charges that he lied to ASIO about the extent of the relationship; that the Auditor-General has delivered a scathing attack on the State Government for failing to meet its own guidelines on releasing summaries of major partnerships with the private sector soon after they are signed; and that it is harder than ever for teenage girls to find a full-time job once they leave school, but teenage boys are having more success, a report shows (just one of a series of reports on society and demography which you will find here.

You may be interested to know that Keith Urban has won two major US Country Music Association awards; and that the mystery of how drinking alcohol prevents heart attacks may be one step closer to being solved with a Sydney doctor's discovery that the blood of even light drinkers is less likely to clot abnormally.


The Age: Kenneth Davidson, self-confessed trade unionist, believes that workers will not accept the proposed industrial relations changes because whereas the American poor accept that their poverty is their own fault ...  the poor in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Western Europe believe their poverty is due to injustice or misfortune; Maher Mughrabi uses his "Handy Islam Template" to explain the simplistic stereotyping of Muslims in varying situations; David Young says the interest in nuclear energy shows how seriously climate change is now being taken, but that it is not the solution; and Michael Richardson thinks moves to halt an avian flu outbreak at its source in Asia need greater regional co-operation.

The Australian: Mike Steketee dares to contradict John Howard's assertions about Tony Blair's approach to industrial relations (safe enough given the sedition laws haven't kicked in yet) by reporting that Blair "is using some of the dividends of economic reform to help those left behind; Australia is telling them their main pathway to work is to accept lower wages"; Greg Sheridan, who is yet to be unimpressed by anything George Bush has to say, thinks his speech on China and Taiwan will have a big impact in Asia; Barry Hing praises John Howard's handling of Australia's relationship with Asia; and Dean Parham disagrees with assessments that Australia's productivity miracle is over and that the gains from microeconomic reforms during the 1980s and '90s have been greatly overstated.

The SMH: Devika Hovell argues that if David Hicks was a member of the Taliban, then he is entitled to prisoner of war status, in which case subjecting him to trial by the military commission as presently constituted would constitute a war crime; Julia Baird looks at the impact of the invasion of Iraq on individual soldiers by reviewing some of the books written by those who experienced it up close and personal; Miranda Devine reports on, and praises, efforts by Noel Pearson to improve literacy and education standards on Cape York; and Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington think that Tony Abbott's attempted use of medical advice to justify banning RU486 is a rationalisation of a pre-existing religious position that will not go down well with an increasingly secular electorate.


Telstra rules again this morning, at least in terms of prominence. Otherwise it's all bad. The Australian's lead reports that fresh questions have emerged about the price the Government will get for its controlling stake in Telstra after brokers issued a raft of downgrades prompted by Sol Trujillo's big-spending, high-risk strategy for the company; and the Herald reports that Telstra's share price crashed below $4 yesterday as investors woke up to the cost of the phone company's ambitious $26 billion recovery plan. Oh well, perhaps Rupert can help. Both Fairfax papers are excited by the prospect that Rupert Murdoch may have a new vision of a hugely powerful alliance between Telstra's next generation digital network and News Corporation. Stephen Bartholomeusz declares the notion that T3 can occur as planned late next year is effectively dead and buried.

The Age lead says wages are growing at their fastest pace for eight years, but workers appear increasingly jittery about long-term job prospects as the Government ushers in the biggest industrial relations changes for decades. It also reports that some of Australia's biggest companies leading the charge on corporate social responsibility (CSR) have come out against plans to create legislation that would force directors to meet certain levels of corporate largesse; and that Lion Nathan's $352 million, $260-a-share bid for Coopers Brewery might have been dealt a double blow because the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has raised questions whether the deal might create barriers to entry by removing an independent distributor and take out a "growing and potentially significant brewer" . Which might have disappointed Bryan Frith, who has been running a one man campaign against Coopers (why, TDB would like to know). Frith says that contrary to some claims, the competition watchdog did not knock the bid on the head.

Both the Fairfax papers report that the possibility that News Ltd might have used one of its newspapers to put improper pressure on the Seven Network to settle its $1.1 billion pay TV damages case has been raised by Justice Ronald Sackville. Strangely enough there is no sign of the story online (at least not yet) in The Australian, which does find room however to report that Rupert Murdoch yesterday conceded that News Corporation's share price was "rotten", but insisted it failed to reflect the media group's financial strength and growth prospects (a good company down on its luck huh?).

In other bits and pieces, Stephen Ellis reports on the damage the net is doing to newspapers, focusing on Knight Ridder's proposed sale; and Woodside is close to reaching gas marketing agreement with customers in Asia that will underpin development of the $5 billion Pluto LNG project


The Daily Telegraph: You little beauty. Australia is off to the soccer World Cup finals for the first time since 1974 after a sensational victory over Uruguay in Sydney last night; A Sydney butcher will face trial next year for allegedly lying to ASIO officials about his close relationship with French terror suspect Willie Brigitte.

The Herald-Sun: Australia's passage into the 2006 World Cup finals at last ends 31 years of heartbreak and near misses; Hundreds of thousands of new-home buyers in Melbourne's boom outer suburbs will be hit with an $8000 tax to pay for roads, schools and services.

The Courier-Mail: Australia made it through to the World Cup soccer finals in the most dramatic way possible last night, ending a torturous wait of more than 30 years; A power plant touted by the State Government as pioneering renewable energy generation is a multimillion-dollar flop.

The Advertiser: They chanted, cheered and sang - and the South Australian soccer fans were half the country away from the Socceroos' play-off decider against Uruguay in Sydney; agents are today expected to be overrun with bookings to Germany for the 2006 World Cup after the Socceroos booked their place in the finals last night.

The West Australian: The main contractor on the Perth to Mandurah rail line fears city roads and multi-storey buildings would be damaged if workers strike during crucial times of the tunnel's construction; The outcry over WA's controversial outcomes-based education system has spread to Thailand, where one of the country's leading newspapers has warned parents against sending their children to school in Australia because of fears of falling education standards.

The Mercury: Police Commissioner will not investigate allegations of bribery made against Racing Minister Jim Cox after receiving legal advice that there is no Tasmanian law under which he could be charged; Tears flowed in a Hobart court yesterday as a mother dying of cancer revealed plans to make sure her young daughters remembered her.


In other sports news, Michael Clarke's spell in Australia's important No.4 batting spot looks over before it really began, with the out-of-sorts batsman expected to be shifted from the role for today's second Test against the West Indies in Hobart after only two matches in the position; Peter Roebuck previews the test; Parramatta have decided next year will be Brian Smith's last as coach of the team.

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re: The Daily Briefing 17/11/05

Off topic but what the f**k has Rupert done to his hair? Late onset mid-life crisis? Couldn't take my eyes or my mind off his 'titian' hair and eyebrows when I saw him on the news last night.

re: The Daily Briefing 17/11/05

Financial Review also gives a lot of space to Murdoch and Telstra. For a shareholder (not me), the coverage of Telstra alone (stories in six sections) would be worth the $2.50.

From the leading article, 'Telstra steps up pressure on Howard':

One person close to the government discussions said Telstra was likely to lodge a formal proposal on the regulation issue within two to three weeks in order to get the issue on the federal cabinet agenda before the May budget begins to take up all the government's time.

Telstra regards the fibre-optic network as a landmark infrastructure project that warrants direct consideration by the Prime Minister, who could refer the matter to a committee representing senior cabinet ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, Treasurer Peter Costello, Finance Minister Nick Minchin and Communications Minister Helen Coonan.

The committee's deliberations could extend over three to six months and it would refer the matter to federal cabinet so that a decision could be made well before the privatisation begins.

Telstra's specific proposals on the fibre network are still being drafted but are understood to be based on the request put to Mr Howard and senior ministers on August 11 for an exemption from existing access rules.

No wonder Rupert was happy.

re: The Daily Briefing 17/11/05

Good to see Kennneth Davidson's article getting a mention for at least a couple of reasons.

Firstly, he again gets stuck into the bogus unemployment figures, suggesting a more accurate and reliable calculation of Prof. Fred Argy, of closer to 900,000 "jobless", as opposed to "unemployed", much lower, thus favourable to the government, when it is both trying to persecute welfare recipients AND pass shonky IR on the basis of worker shortages.

Davidson explains "jobless" is:

"...a broader concept than unemployment, which excludes people who work more than an hour a week..."

Later commenting on the sort of mean spirited thinking underpinning what passes for the government's thinking on the above, Davidson observes:

"High wage earners and rentiers, who have done very well under this government through a blow-out in executive salaries, the asset price bubble and a regressive shift in the tax regime, are reluctant to back any kind change that might undermine the prospect of furthur tax cuts.
This attitude is stupid as well as immoral. At best the ...changes will produce labour market churning at the expense of productivity..."

Davidson's article sits well with Ross Gittins' comments, as well as Prof. Stuart Macintyre on Brendan Nelson and Paddy MacGuinness' censoring of uni post-grad programs grants and Grattan on Abbott's equally mulish interference concerning women's fertility issues; also Manne, Colebatch and several others making it a big week for The Age, as per solid commentary (did someone actually say a while back they actually prefer the likes of Bolt and Ackerman to this more objective stuff?).

re: The Daily Briefing 17/11/05

Now Brendan Nelson wants the power to dismiss the objections of the NT Govt and the traditional owners, so they can set up a nuclear waste dump on their land.

How many more civil rights does this Govt have to stomp all over before Australia has had enough.

Obviously they don't want the inconvenience of opposition which stopped them going ahead in South Australia.

"But under legislation to be debated by Parliament this week, Dr Nelson will gain the power to dismiss all objections to the site he eventually chooses for the nuclear waste dump."

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