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The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

FRIDAY 18TH 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    Timothy Garton Ash on the end of freedom in the West/Guardian (2 links below)
2    Frederick Kagan on the terrorism-communism connection/AEI (6 links below)
3    David Brooks says Israel now ignores Palestinians/NYTimes
4    George Will slams Bush and the Republicans/Washington Post
5    Rami Khouri on religion in the Arab world/Daily Star
6    Jonathan Chait on changing political sides/LATimes
7    Michael Massing on the end of news/NYRB (5 links below)
8    Report say US will retain control of the net/Wired (2 links below)
9    Mary Ann Sieghart on the Christian pagans of Mexico/Times (link below)
10    Adam Gopnick on the life of CS Lewis/New Yorker (3 links below)
11    Catherine Bennett on her fight with Cherie Blair/Guardian
12    One woman against Coke, triumphant/Aljazeera
13    Town sells itself for satellite TV service/Sploid (link below)
14    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 Marching backwards into tyranny
Contemporary historian Timothy Garton Ash is dismayed at the West's response to terrorism, judging it as marking the end as what had been the spread of freedom to more societies toward the end of the last century. Australia doesn't get a mention, but what he has to say about the US, UK and France applies equally well here given the proposed anti-terrorism laws. "There may be a lesson here from the past century. That American writer's two-word summary - "freedom won" - was actually not far wrong. It wasn't any of the CIA's covert assassinations or dirty tricks that won the cold war. It was the magnetic example of free, prosperous and law-abiding societies. That was worth a thousand nuclear bombs or stealth bombers. No weapon known to man is more powerful than liberty in law."

Victoria Brittain, also in The Guardian, reports on the fate of Fawzi al-Odah who has been locked up in Guantanamo Bay for four years and is now on a hunger strike. "He appears to be completely innocent: his story has been investigated and told in detail twice, by two respected US journalists, Roy Gutman in Newsweek and Peter Jennings in a special TV report on Guantánamo. Both reports were devastating to the official line on the war on terror. Fawzi was also the man named in one of the supreme court cases that successfully challenged the refusal of habeas corpus to the prisoners. Is he still being held precisely because his case has deeply hurt the Bush administration's credibility before the country's highest lawyers, and in the mainstream media?"

CNN reports that the war for freedom has so far resulted in 83,000 people being locked up.

2 Marx, al-Qeada, Robert Fisk and getting out
TDB will yield to no-one when it comes to the number of words read about Iraq and terrorism. Yet, for all of that, the suggestion that al-Qaeda is "so similar in structure to basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism that the comparison is unavoidable", as conservative military historian Frederick Kagan would have us believe ("reds in robes" perhaps?), had escaped our attention. This article for the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute is, in short, a call to "stay the course" in Iraq, otherwise the terrorists will take over in no time, just like the Bolsheviks did in Russia. You have been warned, slackers. "The struggle to establish stability in Iraq and Afghanistan is thus at the very heart of any war against jihadism. Zarqawi, bin Laden, Zawahiri, and many others repeat over and over again that this is their view. They are right. If they could ever take advantage of a significant period of chaos in either of those states, they could establish themselves anew and reverse the current disarray of their movement, probably very quickly. It took the Bolsheviks, after all, eight months to go from a position in which almost every Bolshevik leader was in jail or in exile to holding the seat of power in Russia with a mass following. Collapse and reorder can come very rapidly with a thoughtful, organized, and intellectually prepared revolutionary group. And that is precisely what we face in al Qaeda."

For all his time and experience in Iraq, Robert Fisk has failed to notice that the insurgents are 'commies in drag'. Fisk is also not so sure about this idea that the West must "prevail" in Iraq. In fact, to judge by this column, he appears to believe that the US has lost its way entirely. "What Americans do to their prisoners is "abuse" and there was a wonderful moment last week when Amy Goodman, who is every leftist's dream, showed a clip from Pontecorvo's wonderful 1965 movie "The Battle of Algiers" on her Democracy Now program. "Col. Mathieu" -- the film is semi-fictional -- was shown explaining why torture was necessary to safeguard French lives. Then up popped Bush's real spokesman, Scott McClellan, to say that while he would not discuss interrogation methods, the primary aim of the administration was to safeguard U.S. lives."

The Washington Post reports that, despite the prevailing theory, the vast majority of insurgents are Iraqis. The point being of course that the insurgency therefore may be more about nationalism and therefore have more support than the "foreign fighters" the US has been blaming would have. " ... analysts say the focus on foreign elements is also an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the insurgency in the eyes of Iraqis, by portraying it as terrorism foisted on the country by outsiders."

Richard Cohen, also in the Post, responds to George Bush's recent speech accusing critics of the war of rewriting history, and thinks he'd be better served looking to his own pre-war mistakes. "It would be nice, fitting and pretty close to s*xually exciting if Bush somehow acknowledged his mistakes and said he had learned from them. But more important -- far more important -- is what this would mean for the conduct of foreign policy from here on out. Repeatedly in his speech, Bush mentioned Syria, Iran and North Korea -- Syria above all. If push comes to shove there, it would be nice to have absolute confidence in American intelligence and the case for possibly widening the war. If we are to go to the mat with North Korea or the increasingly alarming Iran, then, once again, it would be wonderful to have the confidence we once had in the intelligence community -- as imparted to us by our president."

In another indication that the US might not be running the smartest campaign in the history of warfare, the LATimes reports that the reason insurgency mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi has eluded capture is because his network has a much better intelligence-gathering operation than the US does. (Better? Than the mob who knew about WMDs that didn't exist? Now that's intelligence for you.)

The clamour for the US to get out of Iraq continues to grow. The Washington Post reports that an influential Democratic congressman known for his pro-defense stance called today for the immediate withdrawal of American troops. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who served 37 years in the Marine Corps said the future of the nation and the U.S. military are at risk.

And Post columnist Terry Neal looks at the possible political ramifications of the change of the shift in Democrat mood.

3 Pretending Palestinians don't exist
David Brooks is the NYTimes senior conservative columnist in residence, and a strong supporter of Israel, if not quite in the same category as the now retired William Safire. Brooks is also a good observer who doesn't allow his politics to cloud his vision, at least not all the time. He has just returned from Israel, which he says is getting on with life behind the safety of the security barrier, and trying to ignore the Palestinians all together. "The dream of peace has been replaced by another dream, the dream of disengagement. Until I spoke to people here, I thought the Gaza disengagement might lead back to the peace process, but now I realize it's a replacement for that process. It's a step toward a new (and even more illusory) dream: the dream of disengaging Israel from its geographic and historical situation."
4 George does not love George
Crusty old conservative George Will gets a mention this morning as part of TDB's long-term tracking (it began sometime last August) of the split between conservative intellectuals and political conservatives in the US (which obviously has impacts on conservatism everywhere, and on the future shape of American, and therefore world politics). There was a time, not so long ago, when Will would have been counted among George Bush's staunch allies, but he has lost those loving feelings. "Conservatives have won seven of 10 presidential elections, yet government waxes, with per-household federal spending more than $22,000 per year, the highest in inflation-adjusted terms since World War II. Federal spending -- including a 100 percent increase in education spending since 2001 -- has grown twice as fast under President Bush as under President Bill Clinton, 65 percent of it unrelated to national security. In 1991, the 546 pork projects in the 13 appropriation bills cost $3.1 billion. In 2005, the 13,997 pork projects cost $27.3 billion, for things such as improving the National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio (Packard, an automobile brand, died in 1958)."
5 Religion in the Arab world
TDB long ago adopted respected Middle East commentator Rami Khouri as "our man in Beirut", and given the amount of stupid things being said by otherwise sensible people about Islam (as David Aaronovitch said yesterday), it seemed like a reasonable idea to link to his latest column looking at a study into religion in the Arab world. "Three important overall results struck me (and many others) as significant, suggesting that the issue of religion in public life is more nuanced and less frightening than it is often made out to be by many people both in the Middle East and beyond. The three are that, first, Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East hold a very wide range of views on religion's role in their lives and do not share monolithic perspectives; second, religion is an important part of people's identities and therefore should apply to business and governance in a manner that raises the quality of life; and third, people should continue to interpret religious law and its everyday applications."
6 No-one will trust you
There's been some discussion recently about people changing their political allegiances, Robert Manne's book on the subject as one example. Jonathan Chait, who most often writes behind a pay to view wall at The New Republic, says it is a tricky business that could see you ending up a real Neville No-friends. "There seem to be two key elements to a successful switch. The first is timing. You want to hop from the losing team to the winning team, obviously. Kelly endorsed Bush at a time when pundits were suggesting the Democratic Party was doomed to extinction everywhere but in a few coastal enclaves. Since then, Bush's popularity has withered. The second is opportunity. You can't abandon your old supporters until you can be reasonably sure that there are new ones - preferably more numerous, richer and/or more powerful than the old ones - ready to embrace you. This was Kelly's most obvious blunder. Once you've alienated the voters in your town, you can't very well pack up and go become mayor of some other town."
7 Unfairly balancing the news
From Tricky Dicky's vice-president Spiro Agnew (but no mention of his great quote about journalists, "the nattering nabobs of negativity") to right-wing bloggers, Michael Massing traces the changing media landscape in America and the attacks on sceptical journalism. "The central question, in light of these difficulties, is how the press will respond. The environment in which the press works is often inhospitable, but it's precisely in times of crisis and upheaval that some of the best journalism gets done. Unfortunately, a look at the press's recent performance -including that of our leading newspapers-is not encouraging."

The NYTimes reports that investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which runs the Public Broadcasting Service) have found that its former chairman, Bush administration appointee Kenneth Tomlinson, "repeatedly broke federal law and its own regulations in a campaign to combat what he saw as liberal bias."

The Financial Times reports that China has halted plans to allow foreign papers to publish there, citing concerns raised by recent "colour revolutions" against authoritarian governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

One half of the legendary Watergate reporting duo, Bob Woodward, has become part of the Valerie Plame scandal. As with anything to do with "Plamegate", it's a somewhat complicated business, so perhaps the best thing for it at this late stage of the morning is to link to Arianna Huffington's take on it, not necessarily because it is the best, but because it has so many links in it that it will keep even the most obsessed occupied all day.

Woodward's own paper, which seems less than happy with its former hero's behaviour, reports that this new development might help Lewis Libby's defence.

And this Guardian feature on "the new commentariat" will tell you much that you may have wanted to know about blogging (including the origins of the word) as well as providing a guide, with links, to various political blogs in the US and UK.

8 US retains control of the net
In a compromise deal ahead of the U.N.'s World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, the US will maintain ultimate control of the internet (link below) "A U.N. working group, followed by governments including China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and the 25-member European Union, had all proposed taking away control of the domain name "root zone file" from the United States and handing it off to a multinational agency. The root file is the master list of allowed top-level domains -- currently numbering nearly 300, including generic domains like .com and .info, and hundreds of two-letter county codes like .uk and .au."

Victoria Shannon in the International Herald Tribune reports that all sides are claiming victory. "But it was the European Union whose behind-the-scenes drafting of key and subtle language in the Internet governance policy statement allowed the delegates to reach an accord".

In The Guardian, Jack Schofield reports on the net's next big thing - Web 2.0. "Much of the new investment is going into companies that are leading the way in what is being called Web 2.0. No one is quite sure what that means, but it is certainly the most fashionable label to slap on any cool new website or, more importantly, venture capital request. But before you invest your pension fund in its future, keep in mind that it could also mark the start of Bubble 2.0. The websites may be new but, as Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research points out, "the business models are still built the old- fashioned way"."

9 The Christian pagans
A post card from Mexico, where Mary Ann Sieghart had been 'a wandering, and reports on the local variation of Catholicism, apparently not much in favour with the Vatican. "The Mayan Indians, who predominate in Mexico's Chiapas and Guatemala, are highly spiritual and nominally Catholic, for the Spanish conquistadors imposed their religion on the indigenous people just as they imposed everything else. Every cemetery is a thicket of crosses; every village contains a church. The casual eye might mistake this for Catholic piety. But the Maya, who craft colourful masks to sell at market, have turned Catholicism into a mask of its own. From the outside, each church looks like a standard Spanish place of worship. Go inside, though, and you often discover that it is being used instead as a Mayan temple."

And staying with the Mayans for a moment, The Washington Post reports that archaeologists are investigating a 9th century "war crime" that may explain the collapse of their civilisation. "Whoever they were, the invaders made short work of the enormous palace in the Mayan lowlands, ignoring half-built ramparts to corral nearly three dozen members of the royal household, systematically murder them with spears and axes, then dismember the corpses and dump the pieces into a ceremonial cistern."

10 CS Lewis, Lolita, and Frank McCourt
At the risk of stepping onto donn's Tuesday books territory, a few literary offerings. Even if you have no interest in CS Lewis, although there is a bit of it about given the Narnia movie, Adam Gopnick's New Yorker essay on this troubled man is a great read, covering more territory than the life of his subject. "A bright and sensitive British boy turned by public-school sadism into a warped, morbid, stammering sexual pervert. It sounds like the usual story. What was special about Lewis was that, throughout it all, he kept an inner life. Joy kept him alive-and it is possible that the absence of happiness allowed an access of joy. When he served on the Western Front, in 1917, he got what every soldier wanted-an honest wound honestly come by but bad enough to send him home."

For those who find an interest in such things, Slate has compiled a list, from the great and good, of life-changing books. For Seinfeld writer  Peter Mehlman it was Fear of Flying by Erica Jong.

If The Atlantic Monthly won't let you read this one for free, send an email to editor@thedailybriefing.com.au and it's yours. Christopher Hitchens revists "Lolita" and proves yet again that he should stick to literary criticism and give over being a neo-con apologist until his contrarian instincts have returned. "Then we must approach the question of how innocent we are in all this. Humbert writes without the smallest intention of titillating his audience. The whole narrative is, after all, his extended jailhouse/madhouse plea to an unseen jury. He has nothing but disgust for the really pornographic debauchee Quilty, for whose murder he has been confined. But he does refer to him as a "brother," and at one point addresses us, too, as "Reader! Bruder!," which is presumably designed to make one think of Baudelaire's address of Les Fleurs du Mal to "Hypocrite lecteur,-mon semblable,-mon frère!""

And the NYTimes looks at the life of Frank McCourt, school teacher, before he became known as the author of "Angela's Ashes".

11 Why you should never fight with a journo
They always get the last word, that's why. And it doesn't matter if they suffer from "staircase wit" and don't think of what they should have said at the time until they have left the room - they get to say it to the world in a column. Catherine Bennett reports that she was recently summoned to the presence of Cherie Blair at a party. Why, Blair wanted to know, had Bennett been writing such terrible things about her? "It was an impressively straightforward opening pleasantry, and how I wished, in the following bout of esprit d'escalier, that I had responded with equal honesty, itemising 1) her exploitation of her husband's public position for private gain; 2) her undignified enthusiasm for anything gratis or discounted; 3) her worrying reliance on individuals of extreme flakiness; and 4) the Blairs' numerous taste issues including the deployment of their family life for promotional purposes, and apparent delusion that they constitute some sort of royalty, a point that could not have been better illustrated than by Cherie's presumably recently acquired habit of sending for her subjects."
12 The woman who beat Coke
Raquel Chavez owns a small store in Mexico, and at the request of her customers, began selling sugary gut-rot other than Coke. The multinational peddler of tooth decay insisted that she stop selling Big Cola, which has been cutting into Coke's market with lower prices, otherwise they would cut off her supply of the real rubbish. Raquel stood firm, had her day in court, with the end result that Coke is facing anti-monopoly fines totalling about $68 million.
13 Dish for sale
When the Sheffield Shield was renamed The Pura Cup after a sponsorship deal, Leunig did a memorable cartoon which ended with the question: "Is this proof that the world is going mad at a faster than usual rate", an expression TDB has taken on board. The story linked to below removes all doubt. "Joining a small group of shameless American townsfolk who have happily sold their history and dignity for a day's worth of publicity and a consumer prize of some kind, the tiny Texas town of Clark has renamed itself "DISH, Texas." Yes, that's "DISH" as in DISH Network, a provider of consumer satellite television service. (Why not "DISH Network," Texas? Would that make it too easy to understand the gimmick?) As part of the idiotic scheme, the 373 or so residents of this "bedroom community" north of Dallas will get basic satellite TV for 10 years."

And in more proof of the old line that the cops always sell the best dope, Wired reports that the Guatemala anti-drug chief has been arrested on charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the United States.

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

Before we all head off to get the next dose of media-injected terror hysteria (and the tabloids below are even worse), a couple of columns below deserve a mention. John Stone is looking for members of the Queen Isabella Society (where John gets to dress up as a 15th century monarch?) to relive Spain's victory over the Moors (I am not making this up) and TDB is urging people everywhere to join up. What fun, such larks. Just like playing cowboys and indians as kids. More members are needed to ensure John doesn't always get to be Queen. (Does this mean that Stone is two-timing our very own Majesty, Lizzie?). Then there is Jillian Abbott's effort in The Age which defies brief description but does raise one serious question - is the paper's opinion page editor, um, well? Of sound mind and not at all under the influence of mind altering substances whilst in charge of an important piece of media real estate? Perhaps she just had the day off.

In what passes for the real world in this "age of terror", that spooky guy in the black tea-cosy gets a big run in all the papers. The Australian reports that Asia's most-wanted terrorist, Noordin Mohammed Top, has warned Australians to expect more attacks unless John Howard withdraws troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. And imagine the joy and excitement, dear reader, as Greg Sheridan sat down to interview Donald Rumsfeld! Greg gazed into Donald's eyes ... and was obviously so beside himself that he forgot to ask why Iraq has turned out to be such a mess, why the job wasn't completed properly in Afghanistan, why the US had used white phosphorous in Fallujah, nor anything about torture and abuse and how that is not really helping to win friends and influence people. But Greg studiously took notes while Rummy said wonderful things about Australia's contribution to the invasion and occupation (wonderful soldiers, not at all a token effort), although he would like us to spend more money on war toys - which inspires Rocca's cartoon. (This interview was not journalism's finest hour, and you can bet the word "quagmire" was never mentioned.)

The Australian also reports that Sarah Burke is running as WA's ALP president and that she is proud of her father Brian; that  CSIRO scientists have abandoned a decade-long GM crop project in its last stages of research after learning that peas modified to resist insects had caused inflammation in the lung tissues of mice; and that tax experts calling for flat personal income tax have warned that Australia is out of step with regional competitors with lower taxes and simpler laws (always with the warnings these experts, especially when they are calling for something).

The Age leads on the news that Singapore has set the execution date for Nguyen Tuong Van. It also reports that Liberal politicians may be granted a conscience vote on the contentious issue of legalising the abortion pill RU486; that the controversial industrial relations laws will be amended to tackle a suite of technical problems ("devastating impact on family life") and ensure the bill's smooth passage through the Senate; and that Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon is expected to return home today, more than four years after she was deported in an immigration blunder.

The Herald reports women aged 43 or older will no longer be accepted for IVF treatment at Westmead Hospital after an audit showed their chances of having a baby with the procedure was less than 1 per cent; that the draft anti-terrorism law is so broad it could even be used to jail members of the Australian Wheat Board accused of paying Saddam Hussein $290 million through a front company, a government committee has been told; and that the average pay packet of the full-time worker continues to swell, but women have yet to crack the $1000-a-week ceiling.

In other bits 'n pieces, sucking up to the boss outranks office gossip and frequently being late for work as one of the most hated behaviours at work (guess that explains Greg Sheridan's unpopularity); that men are just as prone to hormonal-related irritability and not just during one particular part of the month either; that snow resorts are set to follow the American ski industry, with a campaign telling snowboarders and skiers that global warming will cut short their winter play time (so now it gets taken seriously?); and that Ken Palmer has developed a gadget he says will save up to nine litres of water every time a conventional single-flush toilet is called on to dispose of liquid waste.


The Age: Tony Parkinson wonders about the wisdom of the timing of George Bush's remarks about China (as does The Australian's editorial in what could be a first - doubts about the wisdom of Dubya, in The Oz - who'd have thought it?), fearing they could derail the APEC summit which could play an important role in global trade talks; Natasha Cica talks up the rewards from multiculturalism, which she says is having a hard time of it in the current climate, which she illustrates with some ugly examples; Jillian Abbott comes up with the most bizarre column TDB has seen in many a long year, rolling the abortion debate in the US, together with the nomination of Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court, the weakness of the Democrats and narcissism into a concern that when she's old there won't be enough young men to become soldiers and protect the country; and Paul Austin looks at Victorian Liberal Party infighting.

The Australian: Michael Costello spells out eight myths about the proposed IR laws and says it is a recipe for a low-wage, low-knowledge, low-capital-intensive country - the exact opposite of the path we need to follow; Dennis Shanahan takes an interesting look (yes, interesting) at the dilemma's facing John Howard given the expectation that he will reshuffle his Cabinet before Christmas, and the difficulties that will present in light of Peter Costello's leadership ambitions; John Mearsheimer (professor of political science) sees tension, fears, gloom and perhaps even doom as China grows increasingly powerful; and John Stone (long-retired abacus operator, ex-Joh for PM flunky, now self-appointed expert on Islamic migrants) is looking for members for his yet to be established Queen Isabella Society to fight the arrival of the Muslim horde in Australia (there is no obvious sign that this is deliberate satire, but it's a hoot).

The SMH: Ron McCallum (professor of law) believes trade unions will be so weakened by the proposed IR laws that the democratic right to bargain collectively will be reduced to collective begging; Peter Hartcher thinks the proposed IR and anti-terrorism bills fix problems that don't exist, or don't fix problems that do exist, and are political in their nature; Richard Ackland looks at the Channel 7 and "lawyers, Gunns and money" cases to consider the high cost of litigation; and Dhurva Davis says the fate of various drug couriers in South-East Asia highlights the growing gap between the temptation to take risks and the consequences when they don't come off.


Chris Corrigan has grabbed the lead on all the business pages with his various announcements and comments yesterday. The Herald's lead says Patrick Corp has declared it would flick its $163 million dividend cheque from Virgin Blue straight on to its own shareholders, brushing off claims from its takeover suitor Toll Holdings that it desperately needed cash to prop up its balance sheet. Elizabeth Knight thinks the sad part about this offer is that both target and predator are prepared to destroy shareholder value in order to win; and Matthew Stevens says it is just hard to see how, over the long haul of Virgin Blue's battle to survive Geoff Dixon's furious defence of Qantas' patch, paying a dividend 2.5 times the size of VB's annual profit makes any sense at all.

The Herald also reports that Qantas and Singapore Airlines should merge into a great regional airline, the Prime Minister, John Howard, said yesterday after meeting Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong; and that baby boomers aged 55 years and over will be able to sacrifice 100 per cent of their salary into their superannuation fund and gain windfall tax benefits under a tax minimisation scheme allowed by the departing tax commissioner, Michael Carmody.

The Age reports that Peter Costello sent a blunt message to Telstra management yesterday: concentrate on restoring value to the shares and providing good services and stop complaining about the regulator; that Macquarie Bank's newest satellite fund, Macquarie Media Group, attracted less than stellar interest on its market debut, continuing the lacklustre performance of Wednesday's initial public offering; and that Communications Minister Helen Coonan has promised to press ahead with across-the-board changes to media laws, flagging the release of a detailed policy paper in January followed by the introduction of legislation in the second half of next year.

The Australian reports the federal Government hopes to encourage more wireless telecommunications projects in the bush, with up to half the $1.1 billion put aside to smooth the passage of the Telstra sale legislation to be spent building new regional telecommunications infrastructure projects; that Coles Myer plans to unveil its next five-year strategy early next year, turning its attention to growth after the completion of a turnaround program that began in 2001, shareholders of the nation's second-largest retailer were told yesterday; and that Australia's resources industry has successfully lobbied the federal Government to extend the life of union agreements on resource and infrastructure developments beyond the 12 months stipulated in its proposed Work Choices legislation.

Stephen Bartholomeusz says the $550 million float of Macquarie Media Group has provided an insight into the confused relationship developing between Macquarie Bank and local institutions; and Bryan Frith thinks the fight between the Takeovers Panel and Swiss commodities trader and miner Glencore International is reminiscent of Johnny Mercer's refrain about what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object - something's gotta give.


The Daily Telegraph: Thousands of Sydneysiders turned The Domain into a sea of green and gold yesterday to honour our Socceroos' sensational World Cup finals triumph; A chilling new terror tape has warned Australia to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan or risk more Bali-style bomb attacks.

The Herald-Sun: John Aloisi's golden boot and Mark Schwarzer's giant hands have poured millions of dollars into Australian soccer; Drug mule Tuong Van Nguyen has two weeks before he faces the hangman. Nguyen, 25, will be taken to the gallows from his cell at Singapore's Changi Prison at dawn on December 2.

The Courier-Mail: A multimillion-dollar project involving genetically modified food has been scrapped by the CSIRO after an altered pea produced lung inflammation in mice; The words from one of the region's most wanted and dangerous terrorists were chilling, to the point, and mentioned Australia and its leaders specifically.

The Advertiser: George W Bush has ordered an extensive upgrade of Australia's access to U.S. intelligence, the country's Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed yesterday; A chilling video message from one of Asia's most wanted terrorists has singled out Australia for joining the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The West Australian: Western Power last night struck an eleventh-hour pay deal with a blue-collar union to avoid extended blackouts - but walked straight into another row with white-collar workers which could affect power supplies from Monday; Pressure is mounting on the Federal Government from within over its decision to axe a widely supported anti-truancy scheme for Aboriginals in the State's north, with WA Federal MPs Ross Lightfoot, Alan Eggleston and Barry Haase venting their anger yesterday.

The Mercury: Tasmania's methadone program has been closed to new patients amid warnings the decision will lead to increased crime, deaths by overdose and the spread of disease; Dirty politics, sleaze and smear look set to dominate the looming state election campaign, with Liberal leader Rene Hidding crying foul about gutter tactics.


Glenn McGrath yesterday led the dismembering of a West Indian team so poor that the only real resistance was offered by a batsman who will require heart surgery at the end of the series; Peter Roebuck thinks saving cricket in the Caribbean should now be everyone's business; Richard Hinds says the great thing about everyone feeling so good about what the Socceroos have achieved is that, with the likely exception of some NRL, AFL and even ARU marketing men, everyone feels so good; Warriors captain Steve Price has been dropped from the Australian team to make way for Penrith forward Trent Waterhouse in this weekend's vital Tri-Nations match against Great Britain at Hull; and a Guardian report on England's loss to Pakistan in the first test.

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re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

Tom Cowen, hold down the Ctrl key whilst you move the scroll wheel on your mouse, the fonts will get bigger.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

The last three decades of the past century did see an extraordinary spread of freedom, from Greece, Portugal and Spain throwing off their juntas and dictators, through Latin America turning to democracy and velvet revolutions in the Philippines, central Europe and South Africa, right up to the toppling of Slobodan Milosevic. For lovers of liberty, history seemed to be going our way. In Britain, the advent of Tony Blair brought promises of constitutional reform and more freedom of information, as well as the writing of European rights guarantees into national law in the Human Rights Act. It looked as if we would become more free.

Then came the fall of the twin towers in New York - the true beginning of the 21st century. Ever since, we have been going either sideways or backwards, as we struggle to respond to a real threat. We got off on the wrong foot on the very first day. As America's former anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke records, when George Bush was reminded of the constraints of international law on the evening of September 11 2001, the president of the United States yelled: "I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass."

Dreams of liberty have been smashed; Australia blindly followed the United States into Iraq. Now the Iraqis are saying it is time for us to withdraw.”

The spokesman for the prime minister of Iraq says Australian troops stationed in the south of the country could withdraw because they are no longer needed (ABC Asia Pacific)

There is no longer any justification for Australian troops to remain in Iraq the “democratically” elected government is asking for us to withdraw. We have managed to alienate thousands of Iraqis; the US is thanking us by trying to ban Australian wheat exports to Iraq. We have wasted millions of dollars, and created a nightmare in the Middle East. It must be time to bring the troops home before we end up paying for our folly in Australian lives.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

****** STOP PRESS ***** STOP PRESS ****

Prince Charles has quit polo.

****** STOP PRESS ***** STOP PRESS ****

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

The Washington Post piece is right on the money.

I see Cheney has come out punching today and is behaving like a cornered man. The word is he is fighting for his life. If he doesn't get his exemption for the CIA in the anti-torture bill he could be prosecuted for the torture that has taken place already, he being the instigator of the memo authorising "torture lite". This memo said if you cause pain less than than with death or organ failure, it is not torture. Since organ failure leads to death, then any injury caused in interrogation that didn't kill was not illegal. This was clearly wrong.

Cheney is apparently angling for immunity from prosecution of any high up politicians who were implicated, such as he.

It's all falling apart.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

The font's a wee bit too tiny och.

ed Kerri: Hi Tom. I've wound it up a notch... (@6pm edst)

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

Following on from the comments made here about the readability or otherwise of The Daily Briefing's text formatting, I have made some alterations to today's early edition. Let me know if these changes help or hinder. Ta.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

Financial Review has run George
Will's Washington Post column
(requires free registration) on the editorial page.

"It does me no injury," said Thomas Jefferson, "for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." But it is injurious, and unneighborly, when zealots try to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education. The conservative coalition, which is coming unglued for many reasons, will rapidly disintegrate if limited-government conservatives become convinced that social conservatives are unwilling to concentrate their character-building and soul-saving energies on the private institutions that mediate between individuals and government, and instead try to
conscript government into sectarian crusades.

I reckon the Jillian Abbott article in The Age is out of the same stable. True libertarians are discovering that theocratic zealots are doing their best to stuff the world. Tony Abbott guiding the hand of Pell onto the restriction of therapeutics, is a recent example.

Who would want to rush into procreation, and risk breeding another George W Bush?

Jillian Abbott is not loopy, Wayne, she is right on the money. Perhaps she has been reading Spengler.

Given the prominence of what Westerners call "Islamic fundamentalism", it seems odd to speak of a crisis of faith in the Islamic world. Several authors, including George Weigel [1] and Phillip Longman [2], support my contention that death of religious faith in Western Europe underlies its demographic decline. In slower motion, Islam faces a
crisis of faith that will bring about a demographic catastrophe in the middle of the present century.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

Last weeks change of leadership of the Israeli Labor Party (Shimon Peres was ousted after a challenge by Amir Peretz) and its subsequent withdrawal of support from Sharon’s extreme right-wing Likud-led unity government has really set the cat among the pigeons in Israeli politics. Sharon is said to be considering leaving the Likud party (which would give Binyamin Netanyahu, who is even more to the right than Sharon, the leadership) in order to start a new party.

The election called for by Sharon and to be held early next year, means that what little progress there was toward some kind of ‘peace’ will now be put on hold. The result of the election, however, will be absolutely crucial to the future of both Israel and Palestine. Likud are unlikely to be returned in their own right to govern but the right-wing of Israeli politics generally could be returned in which case there will be a continuation of the right-wing factional infighting that has been predominate in Israeli politics for years. That will mean simply even more of the same. There may even be swing even further to the right – especially if Netanyahu somehow manages to get up in any leadership battle. In that case expect more of the same but worse.

On the other hand Labor could get in with a left coalition government. Israeli’s are generally cheesed off with the tit-for-tat violence that’s getting nowhere and succeeding only in killing off innocents on both sides. A left-centrist government could see the start of a new and genuine quest for peace. In the past what Sharon says and what Sharon does has often been two different things and both the Palestinian’s and the Israeli’s are getting fed up with it. Now is the Israeli’s big chance to change things.

The hard man of Palestinian politics, Arafat, has been gone for a year now. If the Israeli people can get rid of the hard man of Israeli politics, Sharon and his right-wing coalition, we might – only might – begin to see some real progress toward peace.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

There seems an interesting variation of opinion between Wayne and Trevor Kerr concerning the Age article by Jillian Abbott (read it to see if she was any relation to the Health Minister).

I can see where both might be coming from (I think).

Trevor is right insofar that the article, within its own frame of reference, is coherent and relevant enough. It's more the Julia Baird or Maureen Dowd slightly snotty I'm an Academic/"Post" sort of stuff, with at least a bit of content, than, say, dull-Right Angela Shannahan or Blessed Miranda of the Burbs' "Trish Draper/ Dee-Anne Kelly" hysterical-reactionary spiel.

Abbott herself employs the word "narcissism", so is well-enough aware of both the wannabee mortgage-belt self-absorbed types and more self-reflexive thinking types who will read the piece.

But if Wayne is getting at the limited nature of women's writing within a narrow middle-class spectrum of readers and issues, that repeats ad infinitum in middle class newspapers, I'd go along with his point, too.

Are suburban women not capable of better than Jacinta Tynan, Pamela Bone, Virginia Haussegger, Albrechtsen, Baird and the rest, who serve up morbidly sexuality and appearance filled self-obsessed treacle for the female readership?

Do circulation figures not hold out even the hope that mortgage-belt women might be more interested in the wide world around them than the puff-pieces that only pander to their harried fixations relative to their bodies?

I must admit, that although Abbott's article was reasonable enough within its own contexts, where were the other pieces sitting side by side with it, to finish the set?

You know, from, say, some of the women out in the battling outer suburbs or regions faced with the brutal side of government IR or social security legislation, as at least happened in WD threads provided by Marie Coleman's think-tank recently.

Let alone, the story of some woman somewhere in Pakistan with ten kids, half of whom are buried along with the bread-winner under the ruins of some hovel after the quake.

No, I suppose these sorts of things are not pretty enough or glamorous enough failing to pander to, alternatively, conceit OR self-pity. Nope, bring back some more stuff on Julia Roberts. More leeway for glamour or drama, for fantasy and escapism.

Anyway, the sisters will shortly and rightly reply that commercial newspapers are full of sports and automobiles, let alone political crap, for male self-image.

Never let it be said that the truth is sacrificed for circulation, or substance for style and the imperatives of sponsors, relating to ANY class of reader.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

Paul Walter, I'm glad you went to the trouble. I'd like to recommend Karen Kissane as someone who is prepared to research a subject, and dig into the important detail. Her latest is R
U serious?

There are still no abortions in Bendigo, despite the fact that it is a town of just under 100,000 people serving a wider catchment area of 300,000. "The Catholic church looms large on the hill overlooking the city," says one health worker who has lived there. "It has one of the largest Catholic cathedrals in Australia." She is one of several people interviewed for this report who claimed that local strongholds of Catholic opposition to abortion have influenced the health policies of state organizations in several rural areas.

A lone voice on a topic that cuts to the heart. Now I am wondering how Bronwyn Pike (Health Minister and no stranger to the perils of procreation) is going to deal with the administration at Bendigo (and, no doubt and God help us, Ballarat) hospital.

A few weeks ago, Kissane wrote on the school principal in little town that had been affected by the accidental deaths of young brothers. Superb.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

I see Richard Ackland's latest gets a guernsey here. I absolutely enjoyed the gleeful kicks aimed at the shins of unsavoury Murdoch’s and Gunns.

I posted just a while back about the discussion concerning the limitations of certain species of op-ed pages women columnists, but the Ackland article reminded me of an article, "Pulp Friction", buried in the business section of The Age, 6/11, by one Claire Miller, who demonstrated comprehensively just how good a woman writer can be, when given a substantial subject she can get her teeth into. If you wanted a good snapshot of the real mentality of organisations like Gunns and their friends, you'd look no further than this article for a paradigm.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

I believe Clare Quinn's assessment of Kagan is actually spot on. This is not to say that Kagan has not written a fascinating article, but the cart is before the horse in the end.

Kagan firstly, correctly, observes that the Muslimist response derives from astonishment at the West's excesses; the realisation of the impact of this on the rest of the world's peoples, yet eventually contradicts himself to claim that the modern troubles have not derived as a response to the West, but are some sort of cheeky endeavour of conquest against the poor, innocent little West. Readers may read Kagan and judge for themselves.

Has Kagan ommitted any disclosures that reflection might otherwise lead him to believe readers may need to know of, on more sober reflection? Is there some other explanation we should know of for the clumsiness?

Of course, the historical context of Lenin, Stalin and the underlying catastrophic conditions that gave rise to Stalinism immediately after WW1 are conveniently ignored in favour of an unconsidered dismissal of Marxism; ANY Marxism. This includes Euro-Socialism as critique Clare mentions, which is odd when so much of Kagan's own argument is derived of this foundation and consciousness. If Lenin and later Trotsky had been engaged with intelligently by the likes of closed minded Churchill, instead of Russia's problems being multiplied by Western sponsored white terror and civil war, what chance history might have turned out absolutely differently than to the mess it has become.

But then the West went on the make the same errors of contempt prior to investigation pro Hitler, and against Mao, Ho Chi Minh and the Muslim world, determined as they were, it seems, to prove the old adage of de Tocqueville, that reactionaries never forget and never learn.

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

Mr Kagan glosses over the main similarity between Marxism and Islam: both are antithetical to consumerist capitalism (the US's main limb of global hegemony*).

Marx envisaged a society where considerations other than the market dictated people's lives. Mohammed (who if not channelling something divine was a superlatively enlightened man) prescribed a simple lifestyle and respect for nature.

As both Marxist and Islamic societies mean a large group of people more immune to US economic imperialism than most, it is no wonder that 'jihadists' have replaced 'Bolsheviks' as the fascist US state's scapegoat and source of inciting paranoia.

(*And that of certain other regimes - how many Australians eschewed social justice, the environment, health, education, civil liberties, industrial relations and constitutional givens like separation of powers in favour of their mortgages at the last federal election?)

re: The Daily Briefing 18/11/05

Thanks, Trevor.
The Karen Kissane article is a chiller, the unmitigated arrogance of the response from Bendigo Hospital, in particular, being quite astonishing; being only matched by its inanity.
On the subject of noteworthy items, was an update on the sacking of journos from Fairfax, justified barefaced by executives Kirk and Walker in a similarly illogical manner, as the sackings are fore grounded against the cavalier and excessive $4.5 million payout to Fred Hilmer.

Goodness. Cars with no wheels, pubs with no beer, newspapers with no journalists. What next?
A society with no info; no oxygen for thought and discourse to plan a future or live a meaningful life with, like Stalin's Russia? Where will it all end up... death from within?

Prof. Amin Saikal relates yet another form of micro-management in play just now, as he relates his experience of obnoxious Muslim profiling at a US airport on the way to an Academics conference in the US, and Tracee Hutchison tells of the Pakistan debacle; not that one expects that she will be especially heeded in places where this desperately needs to happen. Still, they just announced they'll dole out $100 mill for bird flu research, so WE'LL be alright.
The funniest story this week though, was Labor premier Gallop criticising a liberal opposition leader in WA, for trying to add civil liberties safeguards to the sedition bill.
Now I've seen it all!

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