31 Mar. 2008

Compare And Contrast

Rudd meets Obama:
Senator Obama called Mr Rudd this afternoon for an extended discussion but was not able to attend a face-to-face meeting because he was campaigning in Pennsylvania.
Rudd meets Clinton:
KEVIN Rudd and Hillary Clinton hit it off so famously at their meeting in Washington that the former first lady, and candidate fighting to win the Democratic nomination for presidency, fell behind in her crucial campaign for the last ballots in Pennsylvania.

What was meant to be a quick ''meet and greet'' as the potential US president paid her respects to the Australian Prime Minister turned into a 40-minute discussion that had to be broken up by Senator Clinton's aides...

Anxious aides eventually manoeuvred Senator Clinton out of the meeting room and, after a long photograph and farewell session, her cavalcade departed, well behind time for the airport and her resumption of the campaign for Democrat nomination.
To me this says a lot about the candidates' priorities and their attitudes to politics. Clinton would rather mingle with the powerful than get down in the trenches, which explains why she is putting her hopes in the Democrat Party elites.

When Things Go Wrong, Blame The Iraqis

Iraqi Prime Minister Left Politically Battered And Humbled:
Republican Sen. John McCain, who has linked his presidential campaign to the conduct of the war, said he was "surprised" that al-Maliki had ordered an operation in Basra rather than keeping the focus on fighting al-Qaida in Iraq in the northern city of Mosul.
They are all terrorists, you know:
The Iranian general who helped broker an end to nearly a week of fighting between Iraqi government forces and Shiite Muslim militiamen in southern Iraq is an unlikely peacemaker.

Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who helped U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders negotiate a deal with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to stop the fighting in Iraq's largely Shiite south, is named on U.S. Treasury Department and U.N. Security Council watch lists for alleged involvement in terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and missile technology.

Yes, Virginia, Bloggers Do Get Paid To Write Pro-War Propaganda

Whenever I suggest that certain bloggers (and even blog comments writers) might be on the US government payroll, I get ridiculed as a Conspiracy Theorist. So get this, from a 2006 report for the U.S. Joint Special Operations (ZIP file):
"An alternative strategy is to “make” a blog and blogger. The process of boosting the blog to a position of influence could take some time, however, and depending on the person running the blog, may impose a significant educational burden, in terms of cultural and linguistic training before the blog could be put online to any useful effect..."
According to the report's co-authors:
"Hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering."

Howard's Spawn

Meet the new vanguard:
The black posters started cropping up on university campuses early this month. A gagged, wide-eyed youth stares out from the top corner. "Record biased lecturers," the posters scream. "Scan biased textbooks. Report incidents of bias. Education. Not Indoctrination."

It sounds like something from George Orwell's 1984.

But these latest attempts to keep alive the culture wars are the work of Australia's Young Liberal movement...
Actually, this book-burning can work both ways.

I've noticed my local libraries are getting more and more rightwing claptrap, like a DVD called "The Faith Of George W. Bush", or books by Ann Coulter, Mark Steyn et al. I borrowed a book about raising children and it had a list of recommended US preachers who could help your sons stop turning gay, provided you got early intervention.

Was it wrong of me to scratch the DVD, and rip out the offending pages? :-)

April Fool?

Hmmn. Seems like Andrew Bolt is quitting his Herald Sun Blog and maybe taking over as the Liberal candidate for Peter Costello's seat (he would still have to win a by-election, of course). But if Costello is really quitting, he hasn't told Rupert's boys:
FORMER agriculture minister Peter McGauran is expected to quit parliament within a week or two to take up a top position in Australia's multi-billion-dollar bloodstock industry.

But Peter Costello is expected to delay his departure for several months, denying Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson his preferred "Super Saturday" of synchronised by-elections.

Whispers that Mr Costello's departure might be imminent circulated yesterday when it became known he would address his local electorate council in Melbourne on Thursday. But while Mr Costello will give his analysis of the party's federal defeat at the meeting, he is not expected to announce his resignation.
Was it Jeremy's threat to expand his Bolt Watch blog that tipped the scales?

Personally, I'm thinking of running for General Secretary of the UN. But I'll wait till my friend Ban Ki-moon makes the announcement before I undermine him! Whoops - I just did!

UPDATE: Is this a concerted effort by Rupert's boys and 0.07 to push Cossie out?

UPDATE 2: Bolt announces it's his idea of a funny joke.

30 Mar. 2008

The Big Game



From Tom the Dancing Bug.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Greg Sheridan says it's important we listen to our enemies. So let's hear what he has to say:
This column has predicted several times that later this year there will be a massive Israeli ground campaign to rout Hamas, as Israel cannot ignore the many rocket and mortar attacks on its territory from Gaza.
As the political editor of Murdoch's flagship newspaper, Sheridan has some powerful friends in Washington and Tel Aviv. If he's predicting a major Israeli assault, you can assume that planning is already well underway.

Sheridan is still desperately talking up the "thousands of newly translated documents from the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein" (which nobody else, curiously enough, seems very interested in). He's also busy linking Hamas with Iran, accusing them of supplying long-range rockets which will soon be hitting Tel Aviv. He even quotes an "internal Iraqi intelligence report of March 26, 2003", forgetting to mention that the USA had invaded Iraq six days earlier!
As this column has previously assessed, Israel will eventually have to respond. I believe there will be a big Israeli campaign and this will convulse the Middle East. Because to really remove the rocket threat, Israel will have to take back control of the Gaza-Egypt border, establish military intelligence and response posts at least in some parts of Gaza, and possibly occupy some of what have been the rocket launch points in northern Gaza.
It's hard to see how John McCain will be able to run on a pro-war platform through to November without some major new violence to hype. It looks like his friends in Tel Aviv (not to mention Sussex Street, Sydney) are already trying to help him out.

Hush Now Baby

Conspiracy Theorists will be delighted to know that Terence Cole, who made a mess of the Australian Wheat Board inquiry, is going to head the inquiry into the loss of HMAS Sydney in 1941.

His appointment might be a bit more credible if Rudd announced a follow-up inquiry into DFAT and Downer's role in the AWB scandal.

Royal Commission? Anyone???

Send In The Koalas!

So Aussie "combat forces" are on the way out, and our remaining troops are just training Iraqis to take over security, right? So how's that looking? Here's a Progress Report from AFP (via Atrios):
Nationwide security: In the latest shift, the Pentagon's new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when local units will take over security responsibility for Iraq. Last year's reports had forecast a transition in 2008.

Bush's prediction: In January 2007, President Bush said Iraqi forces would take charge in all 18 Iraqi provinces by November. Four months past that deadline, they control nine provinces and none of the most volatile ones.

Cost: At least $22 billion has been spent to train an Iraqi military with narrow capabilities, critics and outside experts say.

Pentagon's view: Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the current trainer, said his team has made "huge progress in many areas, quality and quantity." Still, "we're not free of difficulties," he said, citing as an example a critical shortage of midlevel Iraqi officers that will take years to close.

Iraqi view: Dubik says Iraqi defense officials don't expect to take over internal security until as late as 2012 and won't be able to defend Iraq's borders until 2018.

Outside experts: They say the Iraqi military's list of unmet needs remains long: artillery and modern armor; advanced communications and intelligence systems; a logistics network able to supply everything from food and fuel to transport and ammunition; combat hospitals; and air power.
A lot more "discouraging" info at the link.

Now remember, this is your taxes and mine at work here folks. What's effectively happening is that unemployed Iraqis are signing up for a paycheck, a gun, and some free military training. When push comes to shove, they just swap sides without hesitation (it's an Arab cultural thing, or so I have heard: what might seems shameful treason in the Western military tradition is considered eminent common sense across the Middle East).

Is this money being well spent? It seems the real purpose is not to train Iraqis at all, but to maintain good relations with Washtington. Couldn't we just send them some koalas or something?

Nelson's "Look At Me! Look At Me!" Tour Kicks Off

So I guess the meejah is supposed to "balance" every stop on Kev's three week tour of global capitals with a story about 0.07's three week tour of BBQs and servos? That kind of media whoring is beyond pitiful. I have nothing but contempt for any former Howard ministers, but even I am wishing that Turnbull would put this miserable little worm out of his misery.

Violence Fails (Again) In Iraq


So all that violence in Basra has resolved nothing. If a picture is worth a thousand words, check out this photo from Informed Comment (Courtesy AFP via al-Hayat). It shows Iraqi policemen surrendering to Al Sadr's Mehdi Army in Baghdad.

So Cheney pushed al-Maliki to confront al Sadr, even though al-Maliki's top general said they needed a few more months to prepare the assault. Iraqi police started defecting to al Sadr's side as soon as the fighting started. And all for what? Al Sadr looks stronger now, and al-Maliki's days as PM must now be numbered. We are one day closer to a complete US withdrawal.

Both al Sadr and Iran are now calling for an end to the fighting, on the basis that ANY violence can be used by the USA as a pretext for staying in Iraq.

29 Mar. 2008

WTF Is Going On In Iraq?

It's very sad to see how little real reporting is being done on the current situation. As Joshua Holland and Raed Jarrar say:
The conflict is one that the U.S. media appears incapable of describing in a coherent way.
Joshua and Raed highlight 5 things you need to know.

Al Jazeera has this interview with Moqtada Al Sadr which at the very least gives an alternative narrative:
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera in Damascus, al-Sadr called on the Arab League, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the United Nations to recognise "the Iraqi resistance".

"I appeal to these parties to add legitimacy to the resistance and to stand by, not against, the Iraqi people because the Iraqi people need Arabs as much as they need any other person," he said.

"Iraq is still under occupation and the United States' popularity is reducing every day and every minute in Iraq.

"I call, through Al Jazeera, for the departure of the occupying troops from Iraq as soon as possible."

27 Mar. 2008

Carla Bruni: A New Political Phenomenon?


OK, I didn't really get it till I read this report:
Ah, Carla. She entered, cool, calm and poised, as if nude pictures in the tabloids hadn't greeted her arrival on our shores. (Why do I suspect Sarko doesn't care?) She sat at the back of the stage and her audience seemed transfixed. Crusty old codgers who spend their lives steeped in policy documents smiled for the first time in years.
So then I went googling for some pics...















Now do you get it? What's really interesting is how Carla has captivated the UK press, more or less lubricating the propaganda passage for her husband's political goals. I can't help wondering if this could be the start of a whole new fad for globe-traveling politicians?

NEXT UP: Vladimir Putin's fling with a hot 24-year-old gymnast!

NB: There are a few other more risqué pix around on the net, but I am not sure they are really Carla Bruni. The face never looks quite right.

Let's Make A Deal

So maybe you heard that JP Morgan was buying out Bear Stearns for a miserly $2 a share. And maybe you heard that the figure was later revised upwards to $6 a share. And maybe you even noticed that it's now up to $9.32 a share. But did you know that Bear Stearns Chairman James Cayne and his wife just sold 5.66 million shares at $10.84 apiece? That's a cool $61.3 million dollars in the bank (some other bank, presumably in Switzerland or the Bahamas... and presumably not in US dollars for long).

Not bad money for a guy who turned the USA's fifth-largest investment bank into a laughing stock. But who's laughing now, eh?

Neocon Crazies Running With Nuclear Scissors

After two major nuclear-related "mistakes" (or were they?) in recent months, we hear that US Defense Secretary is ordering a complete inventory of US nuclear material.
"WHAAAAAT???!" I hear you say. "You mean they don't even have this shit under constant control?"
It may not be quite that bad. Or, depending how you look at it, it may be a whole lot worse than that!

I suspect this is just a PR exercise to cover up some more embarrassing "intelligence" blunders. Just look at what these "mistakes" have involved: firstly a B-52 bomber with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles gets airbound - just when the neocons realised their plans to bomb Iran might be thwarted; and then four cone-shaped electrical fuses (as used in intercontinental ballistic missile warheads) get shipped to Taiwan - just as the US economy goes tits up and China starts fretting about loan repayments.

Coincidences? I think not. There are battles being wages within the US military and political hierarchies which we do not even hear about. Maybe some interesting news will come out... in about 30 years.

Photos From Vietnam


John Pilger remembers Philip Jones Griffiths and his war photos:
My favourite was of a large GI in a crowd of busy, opaque Vietnamese faces including a young woman photographed in the act of picking his pocket artfully, elegantly, little finger extended. This was the picture for which he had waited days on the balcony at the Royale. Another was Catch-22 in a single frame – spruce US officers peering at IBM computer printouts which "proved" they were winning the war they were demonstrably losing. It might have been Iraq.

No photographer produced such finely subversive work, knowing that truth in war is always subversive. Also in my brown envelope was the Goya-like picture of a captured NLF (Vietcong) soldier, prostrate, wounded and surrounded in the darkness, yet undefeated in his humanity in a manner his captors did not understand. Philip did.

Lucky She Didn't Have A Pierced Clit

Seriously, how many Islamic radicals wear nipple rings?
She was taken behind a curtain and managed to remove one bar-shaped nipple piercing but had trouble with the second, a ring.

"Still crying, she informed the TSA officer that she could not remove it without the help of pliers, and the officer gave a pair to her," said Hamlin's attorney, Gloria Allred, reading from a letter sent to the director of the TSA's Office of Civil Rights and Liberties.

Hamlin said she heard male TSA agents snickering as she took out the ring. She was scanned again and was allowed to board even though she still was wearing a belly button ring.

"After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing, and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove," Allred said in the letter.
I read the other day where the US Immigration Department is reviewing the way it categorises Iraqi refugees, because at the moment just about every Iraqi living in the USA is technically classified as a "terrorist" (e.g. because they once belonged to the Ba'ath Party, or had a cousin who did, etc).

A stupid President, a stupid "war", stupid people, stupid times.

Murdoch's McFear Machine

Ever more disgraceful journamilism from the Murdoch stable:
FOR the second time this month, nuclear-armed submarines from China and India have toyed with an Australian navy frigate, keeping it in their gunsights and "sinking" it regularly as it made its way up the NSW coast.

At the same time, Indonesia has sought to embarrass Australia's undersized and outdated air force by flying its new generation strike bombers along our northern borders in a display of muscular brinkmanship.
Sounds terrible, doesn't it? Why isn't this on the front page?!

Because it is completely hypothetical bullshit, as the next para reveals:
Hard to believe? Not according to a frightening new defence report that warns that such fictional scenarios could easily become reality long before 2050.
UPDATE: Nice to make Troppo's Missing Link page again, although I wouldn't have expected this post to get much attention. For more of this week's Murdoch madness you can read this or this. Or see the Wendy Deng Watchers Club for longer anti-Murdoch rants.

NB: I'm trying to get Jeremy Sears to take over the Murdoch monitoring work, but with limited success so far...

26 Mar. 2008

How Much Does A Howard Speech Cost?

I ask the question after noting that Howard will be addressing the Yorkshire Business Conference in June. It doesn't sound too prestigious, but it's actually a rather well-trodden path for former leaders: previous conference speakers have included Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton, George Bush Senior, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and FW de Klerk.

Alan Jones Is An Evil Faggot And The Law Is An Ass

Judge Michael Finnane today declared that Alan Jones is a man of good character and dismissed the charge brought against him for broadcasting the name of a child witness in a murder trial.
On December 7, Jones read on air a comment from a listener who recommended that bikie gangs confront "Lebanese thugs" at Cronulla train station.

"It would be worth the price of admission to watch these cowards scurry back onto the train for the return trip to their lairs," Jones read on air.

"And wouldn't it be brilliant if the whole event was captured on TV cameras and featured on the evening news so that we, their parents, family and friends can see who these bastards are."
What a great character! This is a man who has repeatedly vilified ethnic groups, exacerbated community tensions, and incited race riots on our beaches:
“I’m the person that’s led this charge here. Nobody wanted to know about North Cronulla, now it’s gathered to this.”
But the judge says Jones' $1,000 fine is too harsh!

Remember, Jones' charges of soliciting gay sex in a UK public toilet were also thrown out of court. But Judge Michael Finnane wants you to know that he remains a great character:
Lawyers for Jones had argued that a criminal conviction would have "permanent and far-reaching consequences" because of the requirement to disclose a criminal record when travelling.

Judge Finnane said that Jones was unlikely to reoffend.

"As a man of good character and someone who gives much of his time to charitable and community activities, a conviction could have an adverse effect on him, which would be disproportionate to the seriousness of the offence," he said.
Remember, Jones served as a prime cheerleader for Howard's illegal war in Iraq. A million or more are dead, but he is still a great character. Because, like his little mate John Howard once said, "he expresses what a lot of people are thinking". And they are all great characters too, right?

In related news, a US court has just thrown out a $10 million class action brought against AWB.

Howard's Hoes Are Still Putting Out

But Miranda Devine is reduced to taking pot-shots at indigenous museum directors.

And Planet Janet is clearly on the juice, cheering from the sidelines as unpopular UK PM Gordon Brown succumbs to media-generated anti-immigrant hysteria. P.J. thinks it's the first sign of a wholesale Western return to Ye Olde Howardian values (I mean, it's been - what? - four months now):
Old ideas that should have never been discarded are being revisited. Although the Brown Government is pitching this as a "vision of British citizenship for the 21st century", it is, in reality, an old one. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's vision of British citizenship as one "founded on a unifying idea of rights matched with responsibilities" marks a long overdue turning point in Western thinking, a return to more sensible times where basic Western values were asserted with confidence.
Today the UK Immigration Department, tomorrow the world! You will note that PJ's comments section has not been enabled this time around.

25 Mar. 2008

Put A Fork In Her

Hillary's campaign is done. Somebody should put her out of her misery before she does the Democrats any more damage.

Creating Realities In Iraq

Hmmn. So did the Mehdi Army capture 17 US soldiers yesterday or not? Nobody has picked up the story from Al Wasat (a news front for an Islamic religious group) yet. But that doesn't mean it hasn't happened.

Moqtada's group has been claiming that their latest actions are in response to repeated random arrests of their members by the US military and al-Maliki's police. So this would be a predictable response. But if it's true, would Moqtdada, the USA or al-Maliki really want to go public with this story?

Moqtada knows that patience is the key to defeating the USA in Iraq. I don't think he is looking for a prolongued, full-scale, military showdown, especially when the public mood in Iraq is now decidedly anti-violence. Publicly he is only calling for "civil disobedience", even while his rampaging supporters declare that he has officially terminated the cease-fire agreement.

So what's going on? Dick Cheney was just in the Middle East, and violence tends to follow his visits. Did he tell al-Maliki to come down hard on Moqtada (as this WaPo story very strongly suggests)? Is that why the White House keep stressing that this is an "Iraqi-led and Iraqi-initiated" operation?

If that's the case, Moqtada might be keeping these US soldiers in safe storage somewhere, until al-Maliki calls off his attack dogs and things settle down. Someone very senior in the US Green Zone compound might need to make a quiet deal with Moqtada if they don't want this embarrassing story to hit the news stands. That would play into the Mehdi Army's hands quite nicely, wouldn't it?

OTOH the US military could go public themselves, and declare that these soldiers had been "taken hostage" by Moqtada. That would be a great excuse for a full-scale assault on the Mehdi Army across Iraq. But they probably don't have a clue where the soldiers are being kept (still assuming the story is true, of course) so the whole thing could turn into a massive PR nightmare on the only battlefield that really counts: the USA's TV screens.

I mean, for starters, just imagine Bush calling for Moqtada to respect the "quaint" terms of the Geneva Convention. Then imagine a steady stream of videos with bedraggled young US soldiers reading out forced confessions, or tearfully saying farewell to loved ones while hooded thugs with machetes stand behind them shouting "Moqtada! Moqtada!" (as they did at Saddam's hanging). Then think of Reagan's Iran hostage crisis. You get the picture.

Maybe we won't hear any more about these captured US soldiers. Maybe they will quietly return to base in a few weeks, once all the violence has died down again, and be told to keep their mouths shut. Maybe....

WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Joe Hockey:
"Will everyone please stop bashing up the Liberal Party at the moment? It's like a national sport for people, particularly journalists, at the moment to belt up the Liberal Party. I think it's in the national interest that the Liberal Party be a viable, feasible alternative government at state and federal level."
No, it is in the national interest that John Howard's Liberals be held accountable for all their many sins, and then disappear forever from the political landscape.

Goodbye

They write letters:
Hey baby. If you’re reading this, then something has happen to me and I am sorry. I promised you I would come back to you, but I guess it was a promise I could not keep. You know I never believe in writing “death letters.” I knew if I left one for my folks it would scare them. Then I met you. We were supposed to meet, darling. I needed someone to make me smile, someone that was an old romantic like I was. I was going through a very rough time in Iraq and I was startin to doubt my mental state. Then one day after a patrol, I go to my facebook and there you were...

I can’t stop crying while I writing this letter, but I have to talk to you one last time, because maybe the last time I heard your voice I did not know it would be the last time I heard your voice....

I Love You. Go be happy, go raise a family. Teach your kids right from wrong, and have faith, darling. I think I knew I loved you even before I met. I love you, Katy. * Kiss * Goodbye

BTW Iraq Is Still FUBAR

So the bullshit about things getting better in Iraq turns out to be bullshit, and the bullshit about Basra being the calmest place on earth turns out to be bullshit. Atrios links to this quote:
"The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," said one Mahdi Army militiaman, who was reached by telephone in Sadr City. This same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store.
ICH posts this news from Roads to Iraq:
The situation right now is nothing to do with “Iraqi government” or “Iraqi Army”, it is a Shiite-Shiite war, Mahdi Army with primitive arms and “Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution” [formed by Iran] with an army and supported by the Americans.

Remember the so called Iraqi government can not start this campaign without taking accord from Iran and the U.S., I told about the there is some kind of agreement between [The U.S. and Iran] few posts before.
The latest news from RTI is that the Mahdi Army has "arrested" 17 American soldiers. They have also seized 7 Hummers and blown up a bridge. And the Green Zone is still coming under regular rocket attacks. John McCain must be creaming his pants with joy.

Juan Cole notes that the British forces outside Basra remain confined to their base, despite US pleas to Gordon Brown for military involvement:
The US military is concerned that if security collapses in Basra, it could cause the center-north to unravel, as well (this calculation is correct).
Don't they know that all you have to do in these situations is parachute in a team of "crack" Aussie SAS troops and magic ponies will start prancing about everywhere?

Cole also provides a link to the Frontline series Bush's War.

The Duke Of Hurl


WTF? Our new Dutch coach nearly threw up on the press yesterday, and now Harry Kewell is out for tonight's World Cup qualifier against China. That's after we already lost a whole string of top players, including Tim Cahill to injury.

But wait a minute: Mark Viduka is scoring goals for Newcastle? Why isn't he in Kunming?

The New Strategery?

What does former diplomat Bruce Grant know that we don't?
I wouldn't expect the Prime Minister to confront President George Bush in Washington this week with any startling (for the President) new concept of counter-terrorism. He will have more immediate issues to resolve, including pressure on Australia to join a new Asian security arrangement, the detail of which is not yet public. The flaw in our strategy on terrorism needs to be understood and corrected by ourselves. The Americans will make the discovery in their own way.
The rest of the article is good: Grant says it's time to deny terrorists the oxygen of publicity. Hooray for that. But we should also deny our political leaders the oxygen of endless "anti-terrorist" spin, a crude political device foreseen by writers like George Orwell and frequently abused by the world's worst most evil regimes. And the only way to do that is to hold accountable those who have abused their powers for this purpose.

Royal Commission now please, Kev.

Who Will Wipe This Stain From Our Nation's Soul?

”The colonial invasion of Iraq and the ugliest of lies of the lie machine that propagated and justified these barbarous acts will forever remain among the greatest and unpardonable crimes against humanity.”
Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero of Spain, 20 May 2005.
Ghali Hassan examines Five Years Of War Crimes, and Australia figures prominently:
Western leaders would not be able to commit war crimes on such scale and get away with it were it not for the apathy and equanimity of their people. One assumes they share responsibility. After all, George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard were re-elected while their armies were engaged in an illegal and murderous war against Iraqi people.
It's not enough that we have removed Howard, we need to make reparations: we need to acknowledge our involvement in this War Crime, we need to hold those responsible accountable (Royal Commission now please, Kev) and then we need to compensate the Iraqi people.

Protest The Torch Relay In Canberra, April 24th

Here's our chance to show the world that Australia does not support human rights abuses in China and Tibet:
Pro-independence Tibetans are threatening to upstage the Olympic Torch Relay when it passes through Canberra next month on its only stop in Australia.

The torch will visit the nation's capital on April 24 on its way to China for the start of the Olympics on August 8.

24 Mar. 2008

Another Man's Treasure

I spend a fair bit of time at the local Tip Shop, where goods scavenged by the local contractors (you need a license from Council these days) are on sale for next to nothing. Over the past few years I have bought a canoe, a surf ski, several mirrors, doors and other renovation items, furniture, kids toys, gardening tools, and more. Most of my family is vaguely ashamed by my enthusiasm: my wife makes faces whenever I bring something home, and the kids don't value Tip Shop items as much as retail products (no matter what condition they are in). But personally I think this is a great way to keep the planet green. And it's fun too!

I get angry about the amount of household rubbish we have to discard nowadays, either because of increasingly shoddy workmanship (usually "Made In China") or because fixing things costs more than buying new items. I had an old Subaru 4WD, for example, which I sold for $50 to a car removals guy who said it was only good for scrap metal. Although it wasn't roadworthy, it was still going fine: all it needed was some TLC and a few hundred dollars. But we needed a bigger car for a growing family and I didn't have the time to fix it myself.

Then there is the practice of "inbuilt obsolescence" whereby manufacturers build items with parts which are guaranteed to fail after a certain period of time. I once worked with an electronics firm where engineers showed me tiny diodes, for example, which almost always failed after approximately three years of use. When you welded one of these diodes onto a circuit board, you were stamping the product with an indelible "Use By" date!

From an business perspective, inbuilt obsolescence is great: it guarantees repeat business for the industry. But what does it say about our society when we allow such greedy practices to empty our pockets and kill our environment?

Check out this McClatchy article about global scavengers. It suggests we should re-appraise these lowly workers:
In Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, trash pickers recycle a third of all garbage, Medina said.

Trash pickers also reduce emissions of methane produced by rotting garbage in open-air dumps. That's no small contribution, considering methane wreaks more than 20 times the global-warming damage than carbon dioxide does.

"Environmentally, they're having a big effect," Medina said. "But they're not getting the support of governments. The entire system is based around economics, and people only turn to this when they have no other choice. Unemployment and layoffs are what's pushing many people into doing it."
The article focuses on Developing World environments where people have no other choice but scavenging. In Australia, however, there is no such underclass to fulfill this role, so we are literally wasting a huge percentage of our waste! It doesn't have to be this way.
Earlier this month, hundreds of trash pickers from 40 countries met in Bogota, Colombia, for the field's first ever worldwide convention. At the top of the agenda was how to win jobs in professional, city-run recycling programs that are beginning to appear around the world.
If that sounds like a scene from Kenny, there is a similar feel-good ending to the story. The article cites a new co-op in a poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro, where 100 workers salvage about 165 tons of material every month.
Each worker earns on average more than $700 a month, which is three times Brazil's minimum wage and about the country's median income.
Interestingly, Brazil's biggest oil company, Petrobas, pitched in to help set up the co-op (it's state-owned). We need some similarly enlightened thinking here in Australia.

It All Started When A Young Boy Hurled A Sandal At A US Jeep

Winter Patriot looks at the bloody history of Fallujah.

David Hicks' Gag Order Ends This Weekend

But he's still not sure he wants to talk. Well, what would YOU do? As soon as Hicks opens his mouth, certain sections of the media (and possibly the AFP) will come down on him like a ton of bricks. Since Howard has already been dumped, what's the incentive to talk?

If it's just money, he might be better off letting his lawyers do the talking. There's gotta be a big government compo claim waiting for him somewhere. Out of court, of course.

Or maybe he might want to talk to a US audience in the lead-up to the next election? Maybe he might want to speak up for those still being held without trail in Gitmo and elsewhere?

But if he's not up to it, or if he feels that the demons in his closet will prejudice his advocacy, that's certainly understandable.

I'm An Accident

i was driving way too fast



couldn't stop though
so i let the moment last

Saddam Or Uncle Sam? What's The Difference?

This WaPo story - In Fallujah, Peace Through Brute Strength - is TPM's "must read" of the day. It is pretty gruesome reading.
"Since Saddam Hussein until now, Iraq obeys only the force," Yousef said. "We are practicing the same old procedures."
The article suggests that many top Iraqi police in Falluja were converted to US supporters because of Al Quaeda brutality. But will they be able to forget about Al Quaeda now and start hating the new enemy, Iran?

Whether you accept the finger-pointing at Iran or not, the barrage of attacks over Easter surely puts an end to the US media farce about how things are (finally) getting better in Iraq. Surely??? (Not).

Meanwhile Bush let his media slut tell the world how much he grieved the loss of 4,000 US troops. And Dick Cheney has the gall to say:
"It's a tragedy that we live in a kind of world where that happens."
Juan Cole today channels Cindy Sheehan:
The Bush administration still has not told us why they died. It was not to protect the US from "weapons of mass destruction" (see below; that was a fabricated cover story). It was not to spread democracy. It may have been to nail down a major petroleum-producing country for US geostrategic goals (ensuring its resources were available to the US and could be denied if necessary to growing rivals such as China). If so, one has to ask whether the objectives (which were hidden from the American people) were the top priority for the US, or only for the petroleum industry; whether those objectives have been achieved; and whether there was another way to attain them. No such debate has ever been held. Was it in part to ensure Israeli security, as Mearsheimer and Walt argue (and Craig Unger implicitly argues, below)? If so, that should be stated, it should be debated. Even the former head of Shin Bet did not agree that it increased Israel's security. It is not right to ask men and women under arms to die for their country without telling them exactly how they are benefiting their country.
Cole previously posted an excellent excerpt from Craig Unger, who reminds us that "the neocons had been hoping to start the war for roughly a decade before it actually began":
As their policy papers show, they knew they wanted to start the war long before the administration took office and in order to do so they knew they had to control intelligence. That's why Wolfowitz, Perle, and Eliot Abrams began making semi-secret trips to Austin as early as 1998 to convince Bush that an invasion was necessary. That's why, in December 2000, they tried to put Wolfowitz in as head of the CIA. And that's why, when that didn't work, they moved him to the Pentagon where he oversaw the creation of the Office of Special Plans which was in charge of putting out phony intelligence.

Likewise, Cheney put John Bolton in at State to keep an eye on Colin Powell and to make sure that State Department analysts at INR( who had repeatedly discovered the errors in the phony neocon intelligence) were kept out of all the key meetings. As a result, Colin Powell made his presentation to the UN based on intel that came from the neocons in Cheney's office and the Pentagon--not the professionals at Langley and at [the State Department's intelligence analysis branch,] INR.

In other words, we went to war not because of intelligence failures, as X seems to think, but because of intelligence successes--successful black propaganda operations, successful disinformation operations--that were deliberately designed to mislead the American people.

As to why, again, I believe that Jim Lobe is on the right track. One has only to read the various neocon policy papers dating back to the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance papers(aka the Wolfowitz Doctrine), A Clean Break in 1996, David Wurmser's Tyranny's Ally in 1997, the PNAC papers of 1998, and scores of other articles to see that the neocons had been hoping to start the war for roughly a decade before it actually began. According to these papers, the chief reasons for this grand new strategy of overhauling the Middle East were regional security(ie, Israel) and to protect America's strategic resources(ie, oil.)
Remember folks: support the troops!

What If The Olympic Torch Relay Became A Human Rights Relay?

Yesterday's protest could be just the start:
The torch's journey to Beijing is the longest ever, lasting 130 days and covering 137,000 kilometres (85,000 miles) worldwide. Most of it will be on Chinese soil.

Aside from Athens, the flame will only stop in London and Paris among European capitals. It will stop in San Francisco and Buenos Aires in the Americas and just Dar es Salaam in Africa.

Upon arrival in Beijing, one flame will be separated from the torch and kept in a special lantern to be taken to the summit of Mount Everest during early May and then return to Tibet.

Holding The Bastards To Account

Bruce Haigh is only halfway there:
As a result of John Howard's wilfully selfish desire to use the instruments of state to maintain his hold on power, what was once a reasonably functional Commonwealth Public Service is now in need of an overhaul starting at the top.

Rudd, through the Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, needs to look at a range of misadventures that occurred under Howard and ascertain the processes involved so they do not happen again.

These investigations should be undertaken without apportioning blame so they can be as wide-ranging and thorough as is necessary to get to the bottom of what went wrong.
Why on earth should we not apportion blame? How do you get to the "bottom" of things, and make sure such rampant politicisation never happens again, if you are not going to hold the guilty accountable?

If you are going to "start at the top", you need to dumpt a whole swathe of public appointees (like Mick Keelty) who allowed their role to be politicized. These people put their own ambitions ahead of the public good. Dump the lot of them and, if at all possible, bring criminal charges to bear.

In a similar vein, Tony Moore says the entire ABC Board should be sacked, but not for "score settling" reasons. He wants Teh Community involved in choosing appointees. The problem is who choses whom as genuine representatives of Teh Community. Maybe the best thing would be to elicit audience participation over the Net?

Meanwhile, one of Rupert's attack dogs goes after Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, who dared contradict a blatant lie from Moneybags Turnbull last week.

The Vulcan Mind Meld

I think he's being serious:
Those conservative bona fides -- the kind that earn people commemorative crystal bowls from AEI -- were part of what made Howard's relationship with Bush such a close one.

"I like to say that they had a Vulcan mind meld. They were both very similar people, socially conservative as well as politically conservative," said Michael Fullilove, a fellow at Sydney's Lowy Institute for International Policy and at Washington's Brookings Institution. "The challenge is to keep the relationship strong and maintain and increase our level of influence."

Fullilove, who advised Paul Keating, Howard's predecessor, said that while many in the White House probably would have preferred to see Howard stay in office, Rudd's victory is actually, in a sense, better for the U.S.-Australia alliance.

"The previous government was in danger of loving the alliance to death," he said.

23 Mar. 2008

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Five years of talking. You would think the anti-war activists would have run out of things to say, wouldn't you?

But even the talking produces new revelations, like how much basic common sense has been lost in all the endless dialog. Stephen M. Walt's plain-talking is refreshing:
A smarter occupation would not have produced significantly better results... The key mistake was the initial decision to invade, the subsequent errors merely made a bad situation worse.

20 Mar. 2008

Another Good Reason To Boycott The Olympics

George W. Bush is going:
"The President's position is that this should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
So why is he going then? If it's not about politics, surely he should stay away.
But in making the trip, he will be able to speak his mind to President Hu Jintao, spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Hasn't he got Hu's phone number? Can't he book a trip some other time?

And if it's not about politics, shouldn't this trip count as an addition to Bush's already record tally of goof-off holidays?

19 Mar. 2008

An Experiment In Blogging

Posting will be noticeably lighter over the next four days as I take an Easter break.

You might have noticed that I have been blogging like a mad fool the past week or so: think of it as a bit of an experiment. It seems to me there are a finite number of blog readers in Australia today, and I'm just testing the market for a blog with this kind of "Running Commentary".

It's been interesting to see how the stats have climbed (slowly but steadily) as I kept the posts coming hard and fast. I'm even getting comments from more than one person now! But in order to sustain a blog like this I would really need a few thousand visitors a day, rather than a few hundred. I would also need to work full-time at it, which I cannot do at the moment for purely financial reasons.

If I were going to push ahead with this "experiment" I would probably need to revamp the site, be a bit more techno-savvy with news feeds and so forth, and get some paid advertising going. I would also need to seek out a wider audience, probably including people who do not even read blogs at the moment.

It's a nice dream, and I think there is potential to achieve it. But I don't know if I'll be the one to do it. I also think Ozblogistan needs a community blog where anyone can create their own "diary" and interact with other "diarists". Again, I don't know if I'll be the one to implement that. I am also hoping to spend more time on writing a book, which might sounds a lot easier but is not necessarily quite so simple!

So I will take a little break and have a think about it. Let me know if you have any useful ideas or thoughts. Till then, a happy and peaceful Easter to one and all!

Why?

So why, exactly, did the US invade Iraq five years ago this week? Jim Lobe grapples with multiple rationales and comes to this conclusion:
In retrospect, it seems clear that Iraq had long been seen by this group [the neocons], which became empowered first by Bush's election and then supercharged by 9/11, as the first, easiest and most available step toward achieving a "Pax Americana" that would not only establish the US once and for all as the dominant power in the region, but whose geostrategic implications for aspiring "peer competitors" would be global in scope.

For the neoconservative and the Christian Right members of this group, who were its most eager and ubiquitous war boosters, Israel would also be a major beneficiary of an invasion...

Indeed, getting rid of Hussein and occupying Iraq would not only tighten Israel's hold on Arab territories, in this view; it could also threaten the survival of the Arab and Islamic worlds' most formidable weapon against Israel – OPEC – by flooding the world market with Iraqi oil and forcing the commodity's price down to historic lows.

That's how it looked five years ago anyway.

"The Endlessness Justifies the Meaninglessness"

That was just one of the great slogans wielded by thousands of US anti-war protesters yesterday. About 160 were arrested. Watch to see how much coverage your local TV station devotes to these protests.

Howard's Never-Ending Victory Lap

Following that IDU gig on 21 April, he will be taking the stage on May 7th in Sydney:
The $7000-a-table event falls in the week before Federal Parliament next resumes, throwing a spotlight onto such policy differences as Liberal MPs return to Canberra for the budget sitting.

Radio host Alan Jones is billed as master of ceremonies for the NSW branch fund-raiser, which will be held at the Bayside Events Centre in Leichhardt.

One Million Dead: Downer Achieves Parity

Lord Clowner is still busy blaming the USA, the Iraqis and Al Quaeda for everything his government did wrong in Iraq. And his body count of Saddam's victims continues to climb at an astronomical rate:
"In Iraq it is very hard to estimate, but between half a million and a million people had been killed by Saddam Hussein," he said.

Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people, launched the war with Iran and invaded Kuwait.

"Would it have been better just to have walked on the other side of the road and done nothing about it?" he said.
Is he now including the victims of the Iran-Iraq war as people "murdered" by Saddam? In case he dis-remembers, we were on "the other side of the road" back then, helping the USA support Saddam.

Of course Downer knows all that perfectly well. He is just muddying the waters, spreading a new fantasy meme for the chickenhawks to throw back at their critics whenever a new scientific study shows a million Iraqis have died since the invasion.

We need a Royal Commission into our former government's role in the Iraq War and we need it now.

Rudd's Honeymoon Just Ended

"Everything was going so nice. I booted Little Johnny out the door and changed the lock, then made the bed nice and comfy for Cuddly Kev. But yesterday I came home and found him in bed with a Chinese whore!"
- Sheila, an authentic voice of the Oz electorate.
When you start getting headlines like this - Rudd gives no thought to observers in Tibet - you know the media is back in the groove. Rudd can blame China for the loss of his soft and fluffy image: a Mandarin-speaking PM sounds great until the Chinese start killing Tibetan protestors, people start calling for a Beijing Olympics boycott, and everyone suddenly wants to know about Rudd's close personal friendship with Chinese lobbyists.

Ahhh...! It feels good to be able to hate the government again. LOL!

UPDATE: OMFG! Even the MSM bloggers are saying nasty things about China!

For more news on Tibet, or if you wanna get actively involved, check out the Australia Tibet Council.

It's Time To End Bush's News Blackout On US Dead And Wounded In Iraq



E.J. Graff asks the question:
Would more pictures bring more outrage?
You're damn right they would!

I've thrown down the following challenge:
YES! It's time the US media started to ignore Bush's ban on coffins and bodybags, wounded and dead soldiers.

The US media is fully complicit in the lies that lead to this war, and it's time they went out on a limb to make up for their mistakes.

Bring on the photos of the dead "heroes". Bring on the rows and rows of flag-draped coffins. Bring on the video of young men screaming in agony as they die slow painful deaths "for their country". Bring on the lawsuits as Bush & Co try to stop the media from showing the People what is really going on over there.

Remember the outrage when those two US contractors' bodies were shown strung up on a bridge in Falluja? If the people of the USA can get an un-sanitized glimpse of what is really going on today, it could have a similarly jarring effect.

I urge readers to contact their local media organisations and challenge them to defy Bush's ban.

I urge soldiers in the field to take photos and video, and pass them on to the media.
Send 'em to TPM and let Josh Marshall lead the way! What say ye, Josh?

If Josh won't publish the pics, there are hundreds of bloggers like myself who will.
Of course we are becoming used to seeing the dead bodies of Iraqi victims, because they are shown on Arab media. The effect is powerful. For example, Juan Cole today posts a graphic YouTube video extract from an Arab anti-war "opera".
"I urge my American readers to try to watch the clip below even though they cannot understand the lyrics. (Though, note to the squeamish: the explicit violence may be hard for some to stomach.)"
It's time to shake the tree, folks.

NB: The images posted are are all from http://abutamam.blogspot.com - I have no idea who runs that blog and I don't care. There are far more graphic images here. These photos obviously exist - it's time the "respectable" and "established" US media outlets dared to run them.

The Stupidest People On Earth?

“Either you think, or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald.
It may be a new record low, and a 40-point drop since the Iraq War began, but how is it even possible that 31% of the USA still thinks George W. Bush is doing a heckuva job?

In related polls, only 3 in 4 US citizens believe the USA is now in recession, and only 70% believe that spending on the Iraq War is contributing to the USA's financial problems. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

You have to assume that it's the same core 30% who are in denial about all these things simultaneously. And then you have to ask, "What planet do they live on?" How do you get through to them?
What's it gonna take to do it? How's it gonna feel?
Remember, these people are probably all going to vote for John McCain, if they bother to vote at all. They don't care that he pretends Al Quaeda is entering Iraq through Iran. They don't even know what he's talking about. They don't care.

That's it, really, isn't it - they just don't care.

F. Scott Fitzgerald identified these people a long time ago:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

(Ken) Done Like A Drongo

Can't paint, can't invest, and probably can't litigate.

Beware The Wrath Of A Woman Scorned

It wasn't enough to just kill off WorkChoices yesterday, Julia Gillard then passed a motion that parliament should celebrate its demise, causing a major kerfuffle on the floor. Annabel Crabb explains the psychology:
La Gillardine is a member of the ALP's Left faction, and therefore has never had the numbers on anything, ever, until now.

This may help to explain why power has gone to her head a little this week, and why - having knocked the Opposition to the mat - she cannot stop herself from sinking the boot repeatedly into its inert form.
Even coalition supporters were disgusted by their heroes' meek capitulation.

Of interest: apparently Lord Clowner was actually sitting in parliament yesterday.

Shocking

Surprise, surprise, surprise! After all the huffing and puffing about the ACCC and the cartels and increased government powers and watchdogs and responsibility, petrol prices are rising for Easter.

Bottom line: Big Oil is far more powerful than Canberra.

18 Mar. 2008

Sport On TV: The National Interest

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is reviewing which sports should remain free-to-air, and which can be sold off to commercial interests. I would have thought one rule of thumb was pretty obvious: any sport involving an Australian national team should first be offered to the free-to-air stations, and only offered the Murdoch et al if it's not wanted.

I am thinking Socceroos games here, but it surely applies to other sports too. National teams, national interest. Is that too bloody obvious?

Getting Naked On The Beach

To Save Hastings Point!

Rudd And AustChina: "It's Personal"

Just days after being elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd met up with Beijing AustChina Technology founder Ian Tang in Brisbane. Here's how Rudd explains it:
"It was in November, December, something like that, in Brissie, 10 or 15 minutes, cup of coffee, hello how are you. I've known this guy for quite some time. It was a personal meeting."
Not good enough, Kev. As Nigel at RosettaMoon notes, Rudd might want to check those ministerial guidelines that he rolled out last November. Nigel has also investigated AustChina and found some links to the "the defence, security and intelligence sectors". The taxpayers deserve to know what's going on.

AustChina paid for Mr Rudd to visit the United States, Britain, China and Sudan in 2006. Wayne Swan and Agriculture Minister Tony Burke, who also got free overseas trips from AustChina, have also met with Ian Tang since the election. The company has emerged as Australia's fourth biggest corporate political donor. They apparently donated $158,000 to the NSW ALP last year alone!

I don't want to read too much into this. A lot of stuff is coming from unreliable sources like Andrew Bolt. But Rudd clearly needs to come clean and cut all further ties between his government and Ian Tang. As Nigel says:
Does [Rudd] plan to represent the interests of ‘Australia’ or is he beholden to promises and obligations extending from his ever expanding folio of global business connections?
Please explain.

LATE UPDATE: Kev tries to make the problem go away by offering to consider increased travel funds for Opposition MPs. That will probably keep the opposition quiet - now what about the press?

The New New Deal Is Coming

Visa just sold 406,000,000 shares priced at 44 US dollars each, raking in 17.9 billion US dollars, the largest share offering in US history. I guess everyone bailing out of the banks needs to put their excess money somewhere! But is this a smart move? Does it indicate a lack of faith in the market, or just the opposite?

I don't know. I have no idea. I am way out of my depth with this economic stuff. But so are all the "experts" right now. Nobody really knows what's going on, or where it will all end.

But some people obviously have more credibility than others. Take this ABC interview with Steve Keen, who has been warning about dangerously high debt levels in both the USA and Oz for some time. He's talking radical solutions:
STEVE KEEN: The crazy thing is they have to somehow cause inflation; domestically-caused inflation to reduce the debt burden is about the only way out. And this is ultimately ... Bernanke himself concluded this when he was talking about Japan. So, I think he has got an ineffective weapon in his hands.

The one thing they could do - and this sounds quite heretical and in some ways it is - the one way you can actually cause inflation is by putting up the costs of firms and one of the ways that can be done is by wage inflation. But of course in a funk (phonetic) like this, wages go in the opposite direction and they actually compound the problem.

ELEANOR HALL: How likely is it do you think that he might adopt that strategy?

STEVE KEEN: Less than zero probability.

ELEANOR HALL: So Steve Keen, do you see America getting out of this problem in the near future?

STEVE KEEN: No...
Keen says the only solution is to "completely break the monetary rules, and this is what America did during the Great Depression when you had the New Deal coming along, which was really a directing of political power in America back towards workers, away from firms".

Sounds good to me.

Iraq War Crimes: Australia Is Complicit

Chris Doran examines Australia's role in Iraq:
Global cheerleader and spruiker for the invasion, Australia's complicity hardly ended there. Abu Ghraib couldn't have happened if the Australian military hadn't helped keep it secret.

Australia sanctioned the nightmare of Guantanamo by allowing the US to torture its own citizens, Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks, depriving them of the most basic notion of human decency, let alone rights, and then allowed Hicks to be used in a despicable show trial to parade his "guilt".

Fallujah? The attack was designed, carried out, and led by an Australian general, James Molan.

It was an Australian company, AWB, that paid $300million in illegal bribes to Saddam to guarantee wheat contracts. This was followed by Australia's attempt to convert Iraq into a free-market corporate dependent state as a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority after the invasion. The authority put nearly all of Iraq's industries up for sale, with foreigners able to purchase 100 per cent of Iraqi companies, including banks, and export all the profits. Tariffs and duties were practically eliminated.

Australia's most prominent and shameful role in the authority was restructuring Iraq's agriculture, where it focused on guaranteeing AWB wheat contracts while introducing a system of monopoly patent rights over seeds and vastly facilitating corporate dominance of Iraq's agriculture. Iraqi agriculture is now devastated, unable to compete with cheap imports such as Australian wheat.

And then there's the oil. For the past year, the Iraqi Parliament has been under immense US pressure to pass legislation which would essentially privatise oil for Western firms. Iraqi civil society and trade unions are in a desperate struggle to ensure oil remains under Iraqi control. US rhetoric that the law is about ensuring a fair distribution to all Iraqis is laughable. The legislation has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with what the coalition hasn't been able to acquire by force: Iraq's oil.
Doran suggests that the Australia people voted for Rudd because they want us to get completely out of Iraq (whether or not that's what Rudd was really promising), and this democratic wish should not be ignored.

Good Riddance?

WorkChoices is dead.

Or is it? Rachel Siewart doesn't think so:
Sadly, some of the people who voted out Howard, believing that they were getting rid of AWAs, may still be stuck on unfair AWAs come the next election. Under the new so-called Forward with Fairness arrangements, existing AWAs can continue up to and even beyond their five year nominal expiry dates, and workers (in workplaces currently using AWAs) can still be offered a new type of individual workplace agreements called an ITEA (individual transitional employment agreement) – kind of an ‘AWA-Plus.’

This is why there should be an opportunity within the Act for workers who are stuck on an unfair AWA to ask the Workplace Authority to assess it against the government’s new no-disadvantage test. If it fails the new test, then they should be able to choose to unilaterally terminate that agreement.

Who To Blame?

The Times fingers a host of culprits including Alan Greenspan, Bill Clinton, and the US Congress. Not a word about George W. Bush.

And not a whisper about the media's role. Remind me again - who owns The Times? Weren't they part of the press pack who always hailed Greenspan's every cryptic utterance like manna from some ever-expanding financial heaven?

Thickest, oldest sea ice melting: NASA

A bad sign:
Some 2.5 million sq kms of perennial ice have been lost - about one and a half times the area of Alaska - a 50 per cent decrease between February 2007 and February 2008, Meier said.

The oldest "tough as nails" perennial ice has decreased by about 75 per cent this year, losing 1.5 million sq kms, or about twice the area of Texas, he said.

Jumping The Shark

Forget about political analysis, this is just pure comedy gold now. Dennis lauds 0.07%'s "stratospheric rise" in the latest Newspoll and declares "the Liberal leader is on to something" with his new bleeding heart routine. But he warns that Nelson "has to be careful not to overdo the emotion".

As satire, it works beautifully. But this is supposedly "expert" analysis from the Murdoch media barn. Talk about "sitting in a gutter"!

Vanstone's Roman Renovations

Hiring an Australian chef was just the start:
Ms Vanstone complained that the interior "does look a bit bits and pieces", with lighting and furniture not in keeping with any particular theme.

She said the colours of the paint ranged from "two-tone white-cream banding in the foyer, green in the stairwell, white in the main reception room and apricot in the dining room ... nicely (!) set off by a chocolate library".
The library was reportedly "sinking" (presumably before she set foot in it) but Mandy thought the paint job was a bigger priority. No news about enlarging doorways at this stage...

And I thought DFAT was trying to cut costs?

Crisis? What Crisis?

Dan Froomkin calls the panic on Wall Street Bush's Financial Katrina:
'I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for working over the weekend,' Bush said as he met with his economic advisors at the White House.

Dancing With The Devil

The Rudd Government recruits former crucial Howard adviser Arthur Sinodis:
"Arthur kept John Howard in office for more than a decade," said Mr Fitzgibbon. "Since Arthur left, John Howard is no longer with us. His credentials speak for themselves."
Sinodis has been working for NAB, and obviously thinks it's a good time to get out of the banking game. But I ask again: What's Fitzgibbon's Game?

Drowing In A Sea Of Blood

Lord Downer pens a totally misleading Op-Ed about "Toppling Saddam" (not "Invading Iraq"). His four "considerations" are all based on distortion, fantasy and self-delusion:

1. If we hadn't invaded, Saddam would now be more powerful than ever:
"Based on what the UN inspectors had reported, and the analysis of several intelligence agencies, most of the world would have believed that he had survived with weapons of mass destruction. On the basis of what we do know now, he would enthusiastically be rebuilding his WMD capabilities today."
That is total crap. UN inspectors could not find any WMDs, and they reported exactly that. It was Downer and his neocon friends who cherry-picked the intelligence. It was Murdoch and his media friends who helped shape what "most of the world... believed". And the idea that Saddam would be "rebuilding his WMD capabilities today" supposes that the Western world would have just walked away from the problem, which is ridiculous: the UN was all over him, and could easily have maintained the pressure one way or another.

2. No but Saddam really was a terrorist threat:
"Second, a still-more powerful Saddam would have been a major threat to his own people and the Middle East... At a time when moderate Muslims have needed all the help they could get from the West in the struggle against Islamic extremism, there is no doubt an empowered Saddam would have been a major obstacle to successful Arab-Western co-operation."
Yeah, like those "moderate Muslims" are all doing so well after five years of war in Iraq, right? Witness the last Iranian elections. Note how this illusion of a "threat" is built on the first one about "a still-more powerful Saddam". And still the only terrorist connections Downer can point to are an ageing Abu Nidal and payments to the families of Palestine suicide bombers. That's all they ever had, and all they have ever been able to dig up.

3. Everything would be fine by now if the invasion had just been managed a little better:
"Third, there is no doubt the Americans made some mistakes. The most common criticism is that they pursued the de-Baathification policy too zealously... The more serious criticism of the Americans is that they should have sent more troops to Iraq in the first place."
And if the band had just played a different song, the Titanic might never have hit that iceberg. Notice how it's all the fault of US and Iraqi leaders, not us.

4. If foreign troops pull out now, every last Iraqi man, woman and child will die in a spontaneous "genocide":
"A time will come when the Iraqi army and police can handle domestic security alone. At that point there will barely be any need for foreign troops in Iraq."
"Barely"? What does that mean, just enough to guard the oil pipelines?

This is all total crap. Downer compares the invasion of Iraq to genuine humanitarian disasters like Rwanda, the Balkans and Darfur. As if Iraqis under Saddam were all starving to death and killing each other with sticks! He inflates the number of Saddam's victims from 300,000 (the number usually bandied about by wingnuts in 2003) to half a million, presumably trying to maintain parity with the growing post-invasion death toll.

If we had dropped a nuclear bomb on Zimbabwe, would Downer be arguing that "toppling Mugabe was right"? The man has the blood of a million Iraqis on his hands, and all the crocodile tears in the world will not wash it off.

We need a Royal Commission into our government's role in this War Crime, and we need it now.

UPDATE: Now Downer's Saddam Victim Body Count is up to a million!

A Social Evil

Peter Newell, chairman of Clubs NSW, wants you to believe that there is no pokie problem:
Those who speak of the social cost of gambling are quoting the total gambling spend each year in Australia. If we adopt this interpretation the social cost of playing the pokies is $11.28 a week for each adult in Australia. Extending this definition to other items of household expenditure reveals the absurdity of such a measure.

The social cost of takeaway food is $20 a week, and the social cost of having a mobile phone $37. The most popular form of weekend activity is going to the movies or playing video games. The social cost of video games to the nation: $3.8 billion.
But we don't have families breaking down because of takeaway food, or babies left in cars while mum plays video games, or people losing their houses to pay their mobile phone bills.

Obama Goes Large

Even my US friends say that you should never underestimate the stupidity of the US voter. Barack Obama has gone out on a limb with a soaring speech that seeks to transform the level of political discourse (at least till Hillary is out of the way). Greg Sargent at TPM highlights this passage:
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.”
Of course, there are still a few disturbing things about Obama, like the all-too-frequent evidence of US exceptionalism:
"I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible."
Actually there are a lot of multicultural societies with a legacy of slavery. This bit was a little weird too:
"Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. "
Does that last expression have a different meaning in the USA? I wouldn't have thought you'd wanna go there!

Obama's speech reminds me of my own experience traveling through the southern States back in the late 1980's. I remember getting on a bus in San Antonio and feeling this very weird vibe: there was a group of black guys standing in the middle of the bus, chatting to each other in a slang I could barely recognise as English, and the body language of all the white people around them was just extraordinary. At that moment, I realised what a huge racial divide existed in the USA: these people might be sharing the same buses (something unthinkable just a few generations ago) but they were still living in totally separate worlds.

If Obama's candidacy does nothing more than bring these issues to the surface again, it will have been worthwhile.

NB: Watch closely how the media report this speech. For example SMH today runs an AFP feed with the headline "Obama refuses to disown fiery preacher". Fox News takes a similar line: "Obama Seeks to Stop Wright Coverage ‘Loop’".

How Greed Works

Look at them interest rates, baby! 2.25% - another 0.75% off! I could jump in now, buy up big in the fire sales, make a motza...

How Logic Works:

Hang on a minute. The economy is still tanking a billion bucks an hour in Iraq, there have been zero structural chances since Enron, the crazy kids are still in control of the asylum, US shares are considered more volatile than investing in Kazakhstan, China is about to be hit by massive social unrest, and we're heading into an election with a bat-shit crazy guy who wants to invade Iran. Maybe I better hold off...

What's Fitzgibbon's Game?

It seems like just yesterday that Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was telling the media how wasteful the Howard government had been on defence, and how many billions could be saved by some competent Labor management. Now it sounds like he wants to increase the Defence budget instead:
Many new equipment projects inherited from the coalition were problematic and the cost of sustaining defence capability had been alarmingly underestimated and underfunded, Mr Fitzgibbon told an Australian Strategic Policy Institute forum.

He warned that a defence budget of two per cent of GDP might not be enough.
Err, Kev? Are you guys drinking the Kool Aid? I refer readers to an old speech by Peter Costello:
Now in 2003-04, that $15 billion of expenditure will amount to a little under 2 percent of GDP, around 1.9 percent. There are some people that argued that is still not enough, that we should be spending more than 2 percent of GDP. Let me make the point, and I think it is made very well in this paper, that it is a false analysis to determine Defence expenditure as a proportion of GDP, because there are two variables in any such analysis.

The first is Defence expenditure, the second is the size of your GDP. We could cut Defence spending but increase it as a proportion of GDP by throwing the economy into recession. We could cut Defence expenditure but increase it as a proportion of GDP by throwing the economy into recession. Would Australia have a stronger Defence Force? No.
And let's not keep pretending that our armed forces are the key to national security in the 21st Century. I will refer readers to this quote from the top story at antiwar.com today, No Oil for War by Robert Bryce:
In today’s multi-polar world, economic interests, not military force, predominate. “It used to be that the side with the most guns would win,” says G.I. Wilson, a recently retired Marine Corps colonel, who has written extensively on terrorism and asymmetric warfare and spent 15 months fighting in Iraq. Today, says Wilson, the side “with the most guns goes bankrupt.”

Since World War II, America has held fast to the idea that controlling the oil flow out of the Persian Gulf must be assured at the point of a M-16 rifle. But the cost of that approach has been crippling. As the U.S. military pursues its occupation of Iraq—with the fuel costs approaching $1 billion per week—it’s obvious that the U.S. needs to rethink the assumption that secure energy sources depend on militarism. The emerging theme of the 21st-century energy business is the increasing power of markets. The U.S. can either adapt or continue hurtling down the road to bankruptcy.
Where do WE stand, Kev?

UPDATE: Web Diary has Fitzgibbon's speech.

John Howard's Next Big Gig?

I was checking out Prof Q's earliest blog posts when I noticed this one from June 24, 2002 (only his fifth blog post ever), about the (ahem) International Democratic Union, to which John Howard had recently been elected President (taking over from William Hague).

It was a fairly big story back then. Bush introduced Howard at a gala White House dinner, with defiant pre-Iraq War language:
We face cold-blooded killers that hate the freedoms we cherish. And with the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology, freedom's enemies could attain catastrophic power. And there's no doubt that they would use that power to attack us and to attack the values we uphold.

It is our commitment to freedom and human dignity and the strong belief that each individual matters that sets our enemies against us and draws our friends together in a great coalition of liberty. We will oppose the new totalitarians with all our power. We will hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

And we must never hate -- hesitate to speak for what we believe.
Even Clarke and Dawe covered the International Democratic Union story:
JOHN HOWARD: Actually, it's not a union.

I'll have that changed.

It really should be the international democratic enterprise or something.

INTERVIEWER: Right.

What does it do?

JOHN HOWARD: It does whatever America -

INTERVIEWER: Beg your pardon?

JOHN HOWARD: Good question, Brian.
So here's the latest news from the IDU:
IDU Chairman John Howard will chair the next meeting of the IDU Executive, to be held in Sydney on 21 April.
I wonder if Howard will be handing over the reins to a new chairman? And if so, who would want the job? Sarkozy? Rumsfeld? Nelson?