Thursday, August 31, 2006

Foreign thoughts on the mid-terms

Sometimes there is simply no alternative; sometimes I just get railroaded into the US media for information.

In this case my curiosity has been driven by a series of posts and responses over on reality-based educator. What are the predictors for a close US mid-term campaign? Is it the economy? The war on terror?

I had hoped to find some academic papers discussing the issue, but they tend to focus on presidential elections rather than the Congressional end.

One thing I did find in a Time article, discussing gas prices (we'll come back to it) back in April, was the comment: Until now, Republicans consoled themselves in this worsening political environment with the belief that congressional elections are local popularity contests.

That explains something to me, in a general sense, but obviously this campaign is going to be different from the norm.

On the economics, the indicator I am really interested in, the same article cites: Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke estimated that the economy grew nearly 5% in the first quarter, while unemployment has fallen to 4.7%, the lowest since 2001.

But finishes that para with: But gas prices are hurting consumers because real wage growth has declined over the past four years.

As reality-based educator recently canvassed, the housing market is in trouble and that is another issue which hurts at the base.

But the article goes on: ...the price of gas isn't a mere macroeconomic figure. It's a pocketbook item that consumers feel every week.

There was another interesting insight in that article:

It's not every day that Karl Rove gets a lesson in politics. But the President's ace strategist was brought up sharply at a recent White House meeting with a group of Republican congressional-staff chiefs when he suggested that the best approach to soaring gasoline prices was this: wait. There's no immediate fix available, so let the market work its magic, Rove said. The stratospheric pricing will reduce demand soon enough, and $3-per-gal. gas will be a memory by summer. It's basic economics.

And from elsewhere:

Voters everywhere are mad about high gas prices. Typically, more than six in 10 of them tell pollsters that recent gas price increases have caused moderate to severe financial hardships in their households. And more than half say they trust Democrats more than Republicans to do something about gas and oil prices.

Independent pollster John Zogby said gas prices have help sour voters on the direction the country is headed in but the negative numbers are "mainly about Iraq and anxiety about health benefits, pensions and downward mobility."

So if a repentant Rove does decide something needs to be done about gas prices where can he go? He can lean on the Industry I guess, to pass some of the windfall profits back into the consumers. But even they can't control the traders or their reaction to such a move.

Even so, just supposing Rove was the gas magician, has he got time now to take the pain away before November? I know voters have short memories, but it seems the gas issue is just one more economic hit for most. It is hard to see how easing one will negate the rest.

Watching from the sidelines, the Democrats don't seem to be setting the world alight, but then they probably don't need to for a mid-term race. The more important factor is that the Republicans simply aren't getting traction. Perhaps Iraq and other non-economic issues simply add to a growing negativity. Rove's April comment on gas suggests he hasn't been particularly engaged with the congressional race, which is fair enough. It just seems odd that the White House would so easily squander their power in Congress.

Given the predictions of a close race my gut feeling is that the Democrats will carry the numbers, for better or worse. The worse being that they in turn squander the opportunity to set up the agenda for 2008.

NYT knows best

The New York Times blocked British online readers from seeing a story about London terrorism suspects on monday.

NYT says it blocked British Internet readers from seeing a story detailing elements of the investigation into a suspected plot to blow up airliners between Britain and the United States.

Under British laws, courts will punish media organisations that publish material that judges feel may influence jurors and prevent suspects receiving a fair trial.

But British newspapers the Times and the Daily Mail published details from the New York Times article this week.

Then the Scotsman published the blocking story which sort of all made the NYT self-censorship effort a bit of a waste.

It is that tendency to self-censorship of news issues which keeps me away from the US media. I know the important stories will break elsewhere and in a more open style.

Thoughts and enumerations

What do voters respond to? Do our blog comments have any value in the vast scheme of things political? Perhaps a boring post, but I feel the need to pass on some of the understandings I've picked up over the years, and it has been a few.

If, as I often posit, economics is the arbiter of electoral sucess, why isn't it screamed from the front pages of every newspaper? Why aren't the network news shows pushing it everyday?

Why? Partly because it's not sexy and for the most part ordinary folk really don't relate to the the complex dynamics of the economy. Another reason is that they are living the bad news, they want some diversion when they hit the media.

That is why the Rove approach is failing to spin the otherwise bad economic news. It just isn't an easy sell. Oh there are sexy economic stories, we've discussed them here before. Those warped comparisons; what did $1 buy 20 years ago type stories. They are the negative ones which reinforce the negatives of a bad economic situation.

But it doesn't need newspapers or TV to tell most ordinary voters that things aren't great. “You don't need a weatherman...”
People don't generally want to hear about those other issues we tend to obsess about either, which doesn't mean we should stop obsessing.

Politics is an insular business and political players don't look very far outside the main game for their clues. That is, they will watch what the five or seven percent of politically engaged are doing and saying and ignore the unstated attitudes of the rest.

Those figures are something I've determined over the years. They are moveable depending on circumstances. The figure for closely or fully engaged is around 2%.

In the pre-internet days there was a rule of thumb that the attitudes expressed in one letter to the editor represented 100 people, which I expect keeps things well within the 7% range, even on the internet.

Even in Australia, where voting is compulsory and media tends to be more politically focussed, selling news is essentially based on two issues; sex and violence. I'm not really sure why this is, just that it is. As these are not the sort of issues we generally canvas in our blogs it is unlikely we'll draw the attention of the majority out there.

But we do draw the attention, at least as a collective, of those 2% of politically engaged. Putting aside obsessions with quantatative polling, shared by the 5-7%, the 2% actually take measurements from just those 3-5% of us who who express opinions.

I'm not saying they agree, or are swayed by our opnions, but the fact is we are all they have to go by. The trick for us is to not become trapped and blinkered by any false sense of power or indeed of powerlessness.

Occasionally the political influence will break out into the wider culture, for a time. The WoT is a good example of capturing the attention of the masses, though that has obviously been mismanaged. The religious right managed for a time to capture an audience of the masses, but they screwed that up.

On the other side Michael Moore and Al Gore have had short runs. But in the end, from WoT to the environment, these issues have as short a shelf life as the latest issue of pop culture.

The only certainty, borrowing from pop culture, is repetition. It seems pointless most of the time but I do believe our repetition of socially important themes eventually helps break down the political barriers.

When a powerful party becomes tired and frrayed, like the Republicans or Britain's New Labour, our constant repetition of their failings helps to entrench their weariness. It also gives fodder to the occasional curious visito from the masses, no doubt confirmning a growing prejudice.

Investing in delusion

1,815 press officers and other public relations staff work in British government departments. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has three press officers, despite no longer having a department.

A further 1,444 are employed by a bewildering array of more than 200 quangos and agencies that are paid for out of the public purse, bringing the total number of press officers to 3,259.

When Labour came to power in 1997, just over 300 fully-fledged press officers were working in Whitehall, although that figure excluded a small number of other public relations staff.
The amount being spent on Government advertising, marketing and public relations has risen three-fold since Mr Blair entered No 10.

All very well, but where is the cost/benefit of the increased PR drive? I guess you can't tabulate the bad news and scandals that didn't get out. But considering the negative stories dogging Blair's government the defence pack don't seem to be performing well.

I though the last terror arrest episode showed that these people don't play as a team, and the confused performance nearly wrecked a carefully prepared snow job (or should that be Rove job?)

The attacking squad don't seem to be fairing much better. I suggest the US approach, relying on a much smaller and targed team is far more effective. I'm not sure where Tony gets his Rove, but he could put Prescott (his underworked number 2) to work straight away on the dirty tricks campaign. That is if Prescott can stop tripping over his shoelaces.

But however you spin it PR will never replace sound policy implementation, it just serves to fool most of the people for a little longer before the house of cards crashes.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Wheels of justice grind

Last week commentators were crowing that the overturn, on appeal, of the terrorism conviction of Jack Thomas (Jihad Jack) was a triumph for Australian justice.

The appeal court judgment says that Pakistani officials threatened to pour water on Thomas, electrocute him and execute him.

They told him on several occasions: "We're outside the law. No one will hear you scream." One of the officials strangled him with his hood until he screamed. Another threatened to send him to Guantanamo Bay. The evidence, thus gained, was ruled inadmissable.

One writer put the scenario: Imagine for a moment that, instead of being found guilty initially of charges connected to possible terrorist activities, Thomas had been charged with another offence that triggered less passion; say, armed robbery. Then look at the way authorities proceeded to gather the evidence against him.
Thomas was arrested by Pakistani immigration officials in January 2003 and held in solitary confinement for five months. During this time he was not charged, was not brought before a judge and was refused access to a lawyer.

Well the Australian government is having no part in that. While they are forced to release Thomas from setention they have now imposed control orders, under the anti-terrorism act, which severely restricts his movements.

It sounds like sour grapes, but it is something worse. Control orders give the Government a second chance to deprive someone of their liberty even after they have been acquitted in a fair trial or had any convictions quashed on appeal.

Now we will find out how secure the Australian justice system really is, because this has opened the real prospect that the High Court could strike down the law as a breach of the separation of powers in the Australian constitution.

The law normally states that someone can be deprived of their liberty only where a jury drawn from the community has found the evidence against them proved beyond reasonable doubt.

With a control order, there is no jury. A judge sitting alone need only find on the balance of probabilities that the order would substantially assist in preventing terrorism or that a person has received terrorist training.constitution mandates a separation of powers between the different arms of government. The High Court has held many times that this means that federal judges can exercise only judicial power. It is arguable that making a control order is not such a power because it is alien to how judges normally carry out their role as part of a fair trial. Such a finding could lead to the law being struck down.

At the first stage, as has occurred with Jack Thomas, a judge can reach this finding without listening to what someone might say in their defence. Thomas will get a chance to contest the evidence against him, but with very little notice and only after an interim control order has been made against him in his absence.

This issue was canvassed heavily at the time the act was passing through parliament. The constitution mandates a separation of powers between the different arms of government.

The High Court has held many times that this means that federal judges can exercise only judicial power. It is arguable that making a control order is not such a power because it is alien to how judges normally carry out their role as part of a fair trial. Such a finding could lead to the law being struck down.

The governments promoting these draconian measures are consitently being knocked down by the courts; the US with Guantanamo Bay and the related kangaroo courts, or wiretapping, orritain with aspects of their terror laws. There might, in the end, be justice in the system; but it is painfully slow justice.

When the neighbours fall out

It always comes down to nasty recriminations in the end. He said, she did, they are & etc. The Brits have been a bit curt about the Yanks of late, even Tony's public ardour has cooled. So it's not surprising to find the boot on the other foot:

Britain now presents a greater security threat to the United States than Iran or Iraq, an American magazine said yesterday.

In an article on Islamists headlined "Kashmir on the Thames", the New Republic painted Britain's Muslim communities as a breeding ground for violent extremism.

Other publications and the think-tanks that shape public debate in America have also issued stern criticism both of Britain's Muslims and of the Government. Nile Gardiner, of the Right-wing Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Telegraph yesterday that Americans were coming to view Britain as "a hornet's nest of Islamic extremists" and thought it posed ''a direct security threat to the US". Daily Telegraph

On the other side of the planet:

Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir claims America's top spy agency was involved in the devastating 2002 Bali bombings.

"The Bali bombing was actually masterminded by America. Well, not masterminded, but hijacked. They planned it, but their plan was hijacked by America."

"So the bomb that killed so many Australians, it was an American bomb. It wasn't the bomb made by Amrozi and his friends." SMH

He's also a bit perplexed that he can't just pop onto Garuda for an hour or so flight across to Australia. Well he can, he can do anything he likes in Indonesia but fears a less than joyous reception at the arrivals gate.

So I expect his revelation is like a little peace offering to his neighbours, US on a plate so to speak.

What with Hassan Nazrallah coming on all lovey-dovey, flinging the olive branches around in the Middle East neighbourhood you have to wonder who is really running the PR department.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Chips have fallen

Back in the late 1970’s we saw him as a real hope, a renegade Liberal who set out with a vision for a new political movement, the Australian Democrats.

I say movement because Don Chipp had clicked into the prevailing feeling that the traditional party system was letting the country down.

Chippie died yesterday aged 81, following a long battle with Parkinson's Disease. It’s not the first long hard battle he fought and I’m lost this last one. The fact is, with all his faults he still stands as a paragon to me.

I first met Chipp when he was Minister for Customs and I was president of a regional Young Liberal’s branch. I was to introduce him to a fund raising lunch, but I screwed it up. My first big outing and I just froze.

It didn’t matter much; Chippie was the star, the one with a face like an unmade bed and a ton of charisma.

The next time I met him he was back in that regional city to launch his new movement there. We’d both left the Liberal’s in disgust and were both ready to fight on in some other way. Again he was riveting; in a hall full of people I still swear he was talking directly to me.

I became the founding president of the new Democrats branch and eventually stood for Federal parliament under the banner.

The thing about Chippie is that he was down to earth, told it like it was. He knew the Democrats would never win government, knew in fact they would be lucky to ever win a lower house seat.

He concentrated on the Senate, and justified that position with the phrase – “We’ll keep the bastards honest!”

Despite attempts to create something above the normal party nonsense, the Democrats were soon swamped by opportunists who couldn’t get a run with the main parties.

I still can’t get over how destructive those opportunists can be for the sake of a tiny bit of power, but they were.

I took the honesty thing to heart. Back then there was a spending limit of $1000 on a campaign, ridiculous but no one seemed to follow the rules anyway.

When I added up my paltry spending it came to a bit over the limit, so I declared it as it stood. The Liberal candidate who won declared that he spent not one cent and the Labor candidate had some ridiculous low figure in her return.

So my little gesture got a great run I the post election press, with obvious comparisons to everyone else. The memory is dull, but I must have made a statement questioning my own colleagues for failing to lodge a return; after all, we were keeping the bastards honest!

The news was picked up by the wires and Chippie was confronted at Melbourne Airport and asked why he hadn’t lodged a return. The reason for the question son became clear and I received a telegram soon after telling me I was no longer a member of the Democrats.

That’s life, or politics. But I never let it reflect badly on Chip. Like I said, for all his faults he was a paragon.

It seems a bit late

British Conservative leader, David Cameron, has come out to say Nelson Mandela’s African Nation Movement were not terrorists and his [party got it wrong all those years ago.

Well, twenty/twenty hindsight is a great thing…

"The mistakes my party made in the past with respect to relations with the ANC and sanctions on South Africa make it all the more important to listen now.

"The fact that there is so much to celebrate in the new South Africa is not in spite of Mandela and the ANC, it is because of them - and we Conservatives should say so clearly today."

So I guess 15 or 20 years down the track another political leaders will be telling us about the mistake of believing all Muslims are terrorists.

The sheriff goes ballistic

Talking of the Sheriff, (see previous post) Rummy put on a great show up in Alaska, according to reports.

He announced a plan to replace the nuclear warheads on some intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional weapons for pre-emptive strikes against terrorists.

Rumsfeld said taking the nuclear warhead off the missiles would make them a less lethal and therefore more practical option for accurately and quickly targeting terrorist groups posing a lethal threat.

What is it they say? Don’t use force, get a bigger hammer!

Apart from blowing more US commercial flights out of the air, or killing more civilians then the Israelis managed, it is difficult to se the point of he plan.

Others are pondering the oversized six gun approach. Rumsfeld was in Alaska for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov.

When reporters asked Sergei what he thought of the plan he said he had concerns. He favours different solutions for pre-emptive strikes, such as the use of intermediate-range missiles, now prohibited by a treaty.

I really can’t understand why they don’t just bog the enemy down in diplomatic talks. Let’s face it, the way industrialized countries are destroying the planet it’s only a matter of stalling them until there is nothing left to defend.

Shooting the deputy sheriff

Reports out of Papua New Guinea (PNG) are claiming that John Howard is making the big push for his status as South Pacific policeman.

He actually verbalised the dream a few years back, styling himself the US's deputy sheriff in Asia. That went down like a lead balloon and he quickly pulled his horns in.

New plans to boost Australian Federal Police and troop numbers to strengthen up the Pacific role are seen as the re-birthing of the petty despot's dream.

PNG's Post-Courier said Australia could play a vital role in boosting regional security by helping to strengthen the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), rather than assisting in its downsizing.

It said the tone of Howard's announcement seemed to be that Australia did not want to have any joint role with Pacific Island security forces in maintaining regional security.

"In other words it wants to play the role of a regional sheriff, taking pre-emptive strikes against the smaller nations of this region as and when it sees fit."

In a coup for diplomacy Howard also called PNG "inherently unstable", triggering even more vitriol from the Pacific neighbours.

Howard's reasoning that Australia was seen as the responsible nation in the region was not far removed from accepting the "role of South Pacific policeman, a sort of pale imitation of [US President] George Bush's image of his country's global role", the editorial said.


So what does the Deputy Sherriff do? Well it’s more the posse -

An Australian federal policeman allegedly demanded that a senior East Timorese police officer take off his uniform in public in an incident that has angered Timorese MPs and may lead to a diplomatic protest.

The head of the East Timorese police academy, Julio Hornai said that he was humiliated by the incident, which, he said, "violated the dignity of East Timor".

"I don't have a problem with the Australian police who came to help solve our problems," Inspector Hornai said. "But it doesn't mean that they can come here and not respect us."

Yes, they blunder about annoying everyone they come in contact with. Howard is going all out to emulate George, it seems.

Monday, August 28, 2006

PC Politically Convenient

There is an increasingly valid argument for ditching the hypocrisy of political correctness. I am not advocating an open go for hate and vilification of racist or any other of the myriad points of prejudice.

What I do argue is that PC is little more than a cover, the whipped cream which hides the faults of the pudding beneath.

The fact is that every level of a society the strong will attack the weak below them, with the very weakest regarded as fair game for all.

But more to the point it is not simply fear and ignorance, governments regularly target and vilify weak groups within societies.

Structural unemployment, for example, is an economic too, yet governments are quick to demonize those they force out of the workforce. They are easy targets and the public laps it up.

The latest one, with the WoT, is legitimized racism and religious prejudice. As one top English cop complained, we now have laws which make it a crime to 'fly while Asian.' An to the British Asia takes in everything from just North of Australia across to the Mediterranean Levant.

Airline passenger profiling is racism, something that is otherwise proscibed under most of our laws, but it is racism by stealth.

For Muslim Asians all bets are off when it comes to political correctness, it is official vilification.

PC also provides cover from real and deserved criticism. Anyone who dared to question Israel's recent little adventure was quickly proclaimed to be anti-semitic.

Even though I did not attack Jews, did not attack the right for Israel to exist, in fact criticized perceived failures in Israels leadership I was branded anti-semitic.

They are easy labels and exactly the nonsense PC was supposed to curtail. Instead PC makes them weapons to attack with.

But still, anyone who is interested, and reads what I really have to say, knows where I am coming from. I'm not hiding behind anything.

Know the enemy

You can stop people wearing white sheets and pointy hats, but it is harder change the poison that infects their sick minds. Using them as an example, I would feel a lot safer if I could see who they were, pick them by their hateful costume.

Society and governments will continue to hold and support views which the PC doctrine seeks to deny. Better we see and hear clearly, know what people really think rather than constantly be ambushed with illogical hate under the guise of sanitized language.

Just ask the gays who have had very little protection from law or concepts of PC. They adopted the very terms of vilification and threw it back at their attackers. It is those attackers, stripped of their epithets, who most often look the fools now.

The fact is, revealed and challenged, haters can rarely ever ascribe any real and logical basis for their warped beliefs. Saying that all Muslims are terrorists is a plain nonsense, but wild generalization is the cousin of PC when it comes to justifying the unjustifiable.

I realize that anti-PC arguments are conservative territory, but suggest so-called liberals cannot call for greater transparency in the community then justify driving bad attitudes underground. Far better that we have full transparency - don't ban the bigots reveal them to the world.

Odd response to terror threat

The Australian Government has announced that it will not upgrade airport security in response to the alleged London bomb plot, as the liquid explosive said to be involved would have been detected by equipment here.

The Federal cabinet's national security committee decided that measures adopted in Britain and the United States, such as banning liquids and gels on flights, were not required downunder.

Unlike Britain, which does not use explosive trace devices for hand luggage and passengers, Australia does, albeit randomly.

The British 'liquid bomb' is said to be based on an hydrogen peroxide-based formula which Australia says they can monitor.

The comments caught my attention because they follow recent articles which claim that newly required scanning equipment is still sitting in packing cases at major airports. That claim was confirmed by management at Sydney airport who say the equipment will be installed before Christmas.

The vulnerability of internal flights and especially security at regional airports is consistently raised by critics, and just as consistently fobbed off.

From the official Australian response which is at such variance with Britain and the US, there are a couple of conclusions to draw.

First that the Australian government are actually inviting a terrorist attack for reasons which I can't possibly comprehend (but I'm sure I'll be told).

Or alternatively, much of the anti-terrorism carry on is just so much window dressing, used as a cynical political device. That is, the actual risks are small and probably known.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Power of economics

I know it is a tired tune I keep playing over and over, but only
because it is true! Percieved economics is what drives voter concerns.
More than that, according to the Sunday Times:

10million want to quit UK

One in five Britons — nearly 10m adults — is considering leaving the country amid growing disillusionment over the failure of political parties to deliver tax cuts, according to a new poll.

Now the Brits run polls quicker than I can change underwear, and I'm
not sure which offers greater opportunity for offence.

The extensive survey conducted by ICM, the polling company, shows that — contrary to the current approach of both Labour and the Tories — an overwhelming majority of voters do want to seecuts in income and inheritance tax.

The poll found that a large majority of people — 81% against 9% — supported a
“significant” increase in the £32,000 threshold for the 40% tax band, which would take more people on middling incomes out of that bracket.

It's not like these people, the ordinary voters anywhere, know a great
deal about economics; but they know what effects their spending power.

One of those key factors is the 'wage bracket (or band)', the points
where income tax can become onerous because of historical 'bracket
creep', where low or middle wage earners find they are thrust into a
higher tax bracket.

But the poor Brits might as well dream of Xanadu, because wherever they
go they will find governments who are unwilling to imp[ose fair tax

The Israeli debacle

The London Times has a gripping article: Israeli army morale shattered. which sheds some insight into failures of the Lebanon adventure.

Even as Halutz was declaring victory, [early morning of the first 24 hours of the war against Hezbollah] 12 Israeli soldiers from the Maglan reconnaissance unit were already running into an ambush just over the border inside Lebanon near the village of Maroun a-Ras.

“We didn't know what hit us,” said one of the soldiers, who asked to be named only as Gad. “In seconds we had two dead.”

With several others wounded and retreating under heavy fire the Maglans, one of the finest units in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), were astonished by the firepower and perseverance of Hezbollah.

“Evidently they had never heard that an Arab soldier is supposed to run away after a short engagement with the Israelis,” said Gad.

“We expected a tent and three Kalashnikovs - that was the intelligence we were given. Instead, we found a hydraulic steel door leading to a well-equipped network of tunnels.”

I won't quote too much of it, but suggest it's worth a look. Even after this, well into the second week, Israel announced preparations for heavy ground fighting in Southern Lebanon. That was delayed at the time, presumably because someone thought to point out the Hezbollah dug in positions again.

It seems that it was not simply that the intelligence was poor; what was obviously known after the first few days seemed to be quickly forgotten.

Halutz's early false optimism should have served as a wake up call, instead it presaged a series of miscalculations and blunders.

They might be in a bit of a mess, but...

Israel has appointed a top general to oversee a war against Iran, prompting speculation that it is preparing for possible military action against Teheran's nuclear programme.

Maj Gen Elyezer Shkedy, Israel's air force chief, will be overall commander for the "Iran front", according to military sources spoken to by The Sunday Telegraph.

Incumbency and a buoyant economy

I'm watching the current round of Australian state elections with some interest. The main game is to spot those factors that are consistent across the broad range of electoral dynamics.

The Queensland poll is bearing down with the incumbent Labor government still looking strong, despite a host of eminently attackable weak spots.

NSW faces up early next year, with polls showing their incumbent Labor crew in a good early position, despite an equally iffy record.

One of Australia's top strategists, sort of a Rove with class, is Grahame Morris. He usually tweaks the Labor side, but is always ready with sage advice.

For example he told the Liberal (opposition) leader, Peter Debnam, that he had to "throw a few more ideas into the melting pot" if he wanted to defeat Iemma's Labor at the election due on March 24 next year.

Morris also reflected that "even the worst Labor government in the country looks good if the national economy looks good".

Looks good for who? Apart from that the economy is largely seen as a Federal issue even though NSW is the largest portion of it. But Morris insists that "incumbency is a very powerful weapon" in a buoyant economy.

It is all optics I guess, or as one guy once told me, "if it isn't logical it's politics."

In fact another key issue counting against the state NSW Liberals is that the organisation has essentially been kidnapped by the religious right.

NSW is neither profoundly religious or particularly right wing so the Liberals, regardless of how centrist their parliamentary Representatives might be, have a hard sell on that basis alone.

NSW voters not easily ruffled by anything which does not touch impinge on them personally. Both side will no doubt launch a major 'law 'n order' attack closer to polling day, but that will cancel itself out as each strive to outdo the other in idiotic claims.

So it does keep coming back to economics from the voters perspective, and if their is no real need for economic change they will just vote for the incumbent and head off to the beach.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Four legs good - two legs...

They might not like George Bush very much, but most Britons now believe the Muslim faith is a threat to Western democracy, according to a new survey.

Apparently increasing numbers think "a large proportion" of British Muslims feel no loyalty to the UK and are ready to condone or even carry out terrorist atrocities, while far more people feel threatened by Islam itself than was the case five years ago.

According to the Daily Mail report, the survey asked almost 1,800 people across Britain for their views on terrorism and the "Muslim connection", and compared the findings with identical surveys taken in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, and immediately after last year's July 7 bombings in London.

The starkest finding was that 53 per cent of people now agreed that Islam itself - not just fundamentalist groups - posed a threat to Western liberal democracy, while only 34 per cent disagreed.

Britain’s Communities Secretary, Ruth Kelly, believes that the country is becoming polarised between Muslims and the rest of the population, which is suspicious of them, and that a belief in "a clash of civilisations" has taken root.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A word from the Gleaner

Every so often I come across something interesting in the Jamaica Cleaner, the latest of which takes a swipe at the US’s nonsensical policy toward Castro’s Cuba.

The writer, a rasta looking Melville Cooke, starts out: “…while the obsessed (and I believe at least slightly demented) in the U.S. who see a fabricated world only through television lenses (one way, to boot) have salivated over the thought of Castro dying since he overthrew Uncle Sam's stooge Fulgencio Batista in January 1959, they seem to not have thought that, just maybe, they have been totting up a few dead presidents themselves.”

A tortured sentence, but you sure get the drift. He goes through the five dead presidents who had dealings with Castro, from Eisenhower on. Then takes a delightful swipe at the incumbent: … Bush the dumbest (he must be; there can't be another person in the family who would do something sillier than wave to Stevie Wonder elected by thievery in 2001 and subsequently re-elected by terrorising the electorate about terrorism, is slated to leave office by 2009.

He does balance the score sheet with a similar list of Russian leaders, but that somehow lacks the bite of the US job, which speculated on Castro surviving till 2009: that would make double figures of dead Presidents he has outlasted and, if he quits at nine, with four dead, that is a darned good scoresheet.

The US Cuba policy has always sounded a trivial, historical idiocy to me; perhaps justified on the basis that America always needs an enemy ‘so we’ll just keep Cuba tucked away for a rainy day’.

Though I’m inclined to think it’s more about an embarrassment that just won’t go away. Besides outlasting a bunch of presidents, Castro has also managed to outsmart most of them at one time or another.

Obfuscation and dissembling

A KEY House of Representatives committee has issued a stinging attack on US intelligence on Iran, saying the CIA and other agencies lack the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgements on Tehran's nuclear program or even its ties to terrorism. SMH

As an old cold war history junkie, I still find it fascinating to note how far intelligence services have degraded. I’m not talking about the ‘James Bond’ spooks here, but those shadowy ‘deep background’ people, the analysts and signals experts.

There has always been a comic sideshow aspect to the visible spy game, but in the background were invisible and officially non-existent armies of information gatherers and analysts. We speculated about the existence of various agencies and were hardly surprised as various of them were exposed to some daylight.

If they weren’t effective then I guess no one would ever have known, but given comparisons with today’s clowns I suspect they were highly efficient.

The Lebanon fiasco, at least I part, was an indictment on the once ‘faultless’ Mossad. A handy little outfit that was, able to operate without all those pesky rules, the only rule was success. They almost put the intelligence into intelligence.

In the shadowy world of intelligence we can only judge how effective they are by the observable results. It is guesswork at best, but guess work on actual events, which don’t cast those services in a particularly good light.

So what happened to the efficient spooks of old? They have been politicized! If they still provide substantially sound assessments, and there is no reason to suppose they don’t, then the results are being corrupted somewhere along the information chain.

It must be the case; how else would military and political planners be getting it so wrong? It is either poor information to begin with or it is being massaged to suit political and commercial agendas.

Of course it is most likely a bit of both. The Plame saga makes it clear that information, intelligence, is manipulated to political ends. On the other hand it is madness to think that Israeli intelligence would have held back vital information about the strength of Hezbollah’s armaments and fortifications in Southern Lebanon.

Obfuscation and dissembling

The accusations of who knew what prior to 9/11 and the London train bombings tumble over the politically timed arrests of the alleged plane bomb plotters all raise more questions than answers.

The political agenda is clearly to maintain an atmosphere of fear in the various electorates where the method is being practiced.

Media reports even give a sense that those who should know what is going on have no idea at all. The increasing use of suggestive as opposed to qualified language is testimony not just to poor journalism and readership gullibility, but to the uncertainty of our political leaders.

(Mike over at Born at the Crest of the Empire has a slightly different take on this issue: Frederick Fleitz reappears - Neocons at work on Iran)

The increasing use of qualifying words such as; probably, possible, plotters, intended, might have, among others have no place in our journalism of political language.

Information by suggestion is no real information at all. To imply without supporting argument shows either basic ignorance or dishonest intention. Again it is probably a bit of both, but it is something the media should be jumping all over, not simply repeating verbatim.

In the end, if the CIA and other agencies lack the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgements the fault must come back to their political masters. Bush and Blair et al appear to have gutted sound intelligence gathering services for their own political ends.

Technorati Profile

Plotting the flight path

Police arrested 12 of the 149 passengers on Northwest Airlines flight 42 to Mumbai on Wednesday after the crew reported suspicious passenger behaviour.

Passengers on the plane said air marshals intervened after the men began fidgeting with mobile phones and plastic bags.

Two Dutch F-16 jets accompanied the 273-seat DC10-30 plane which had reached German airspace before it turned back.

But don’t panic…

Dutch authorities said on Thursday there was no threat of terrorism when a U.S. airliner bound for India was forced to turn back to Amsterdam over security concerns.

"It does not appear to be terror related," Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner told journalists in The Hague.

There have been several scares since the British plot was uncovered, including at the Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia; on a Pacific Blue flight from Fiji to Sydney and on a British plane from London to Egypt diverted to Italy.

What I’m wondering is how long airlines and private airport corps are going to put up with the enormous cost and disruption of these political stunts. Governments can’t even get their stories and responses to gel:

Washington Looking for US Connection to UK Plane Terror Plot

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says his top priority, following the uncovering of an airplane terror plot in Britain, is to learn if the plotters have any links to people in the United States.

The US admin must be really pissed off over being sidelined on this one, but their planes will keep diverting to keep them in the game. I guess most of the US airlines are in hock and just tow the line.

The Dutch are far more concerned about not disrupting commerce, and I can see their point. Airports depend on tight scheduling to ensure profitability. Disrupting those schedules, particularly in Europe with numerous international entry/exit points is not good competitive practice.

British airlines are already threatening to sue their government over disruptions. Hell, business is business, and the airline business is fragile, without the loyalties of old.

While US airlines might be willing to play the admin’s game other carriers won’t be so easy to suck in. Just the enormous cost of diverting a flight, in terms of money and passenger’s confidence is enough to ensure that terror focused governments won’t get an easy ride.

A BIT of cross pollination here. Blognonymous (Kvatch) took this issue from another interesting angle which UI found intriguing - Kvatch Kvestions - Security.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

UK Bush attacks

Whew, got it back. I converted to the beta blogger and discovered the bugs :) So on with the posts -

Once the tiles begin to tumble there is no stopping them.

While the Daily Telegraph is on a straight Blair hunt, chortling with Embattled Blair prepares for his swan-song, other papers have Bush in their sites.

Bush is fair game after the Prescott attacks which have been blostered by: A report from the Royal Institute of International Affairs. This is a PDF version of the report attacking US policy in the Middle East.

Iran's influence in the Middle East has been bolstered by America's so-called war on terror, according to a new report.

The report, by researchers at think-tank the Royal Institute for International Studies in London - also known as Chatham House - says: "There is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East. Independent

Or as the Times puts it: Strategic errors by the Bush Administration have left Iran in the strongest position in the Middle East, a respected UK think-tank said today.

The Guardian: US interventions have boosted Iran, says report. The US-led "war on terror" has bolstered Iran's power and influence in the Middle East, especially over its neighbour and former enemy Iraq, a thinktank said today.

I guess this is the sort of split Bush and Blair would rather keep hidden. It does suggest a certain strategic win for the terror states, and adds to the successful destruction of liberties and lifestyle values in the West. None of it new, simply out in the public arena now.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Voting dynamics

There seem to be some fixed dynamics in the way people vote, ballot rigging or its technological equivalent aside.

Clever politicians understand most of the tricks, and use them. In our Commonwealth countries a visit from the Queen in an election lead up period is almost a rolled gold guarantee of success. Don’t ask why, it is hardly relevant to anything.

She (the queen) lives in England, so all bets are off there. But that faux queen, Maggie Thatcher proved the old rule that a war will guarantee success when she took on Argentina over the Malvinas (Falkland Islands). Ronny Regan picked up on that one to good effect.

The economy appears to have an overriding effect, if you accept data from Australia where every Federal government has one or lost on economic performance since at least 1961.

But I suspect Australia is a slightly different dynamic, where voters tend to be fairly schizophrenic. That is, with the Federal election taking the lead, voters tend to opt for the non-federal government parties at state level.

Voters also tend to deny any party a majority in both Federal houses, with governments rarely carrying the Senate.

Of course rules do get broken. The Howard government holds, if not enjoys, a majority in both Federal houses now. A looming Queensland election is going to give us a chance to see if the Fed/State dichotomy holds as well.

On paper the incumbent Labor government in Queensland looks set for an easy win. Not only do Howard’s Liberals hold the fort in Canberra, but his state party colleagues are uninspiring klutzes.

But even with factors in their favour, and polling showing the Labor team streets ahead, there is caution. Savvy politicians know that it pays to go into election day as the underdog, to do otherwise is to invite a protest vote. The stronger the prospects the bigger the protest vote that can be expected.

Malcolm MacKerras, Australia’s leading election forecaster, has been busy reading the entrails of red kangaroos; he says Queensland Labor will probably lose 12 seats to the coalition parties. That still gives them a handy, if reduced majority in the unicameral parliament.

I tend to accept MacKerras’ predictions because he mainly tends to be on the money. But the one dynamic every politician is firm on is that anything can happen on polling day.

Then there were eleven

All 11 suspects charged in connection with the airline terror plot have been remanded in custody.

The predictions were that just half those rounded up last week would be charged with anything, and unless you half charge one of the 23 this is close.

I’m waiting for one of the famous English betting companies to start making book on final prosecutions and convictions.

Even putting aside the fact that John Reid (Home Secretary) has prejudiced the case against all of the suspects, there was more politics than sound policing behind these charges.

For example: Among those charged is a 17-year-old youth who cannot be named for legal reasons. He is accused of possessing a book on improvised explosive devices and the names of people prepared to commit acts of terrorism.

Mrs Ali, 23, who has an eight-month-old son, is accused of failing to disclose information which she believed would be useful in preventing an act of terrorism. Her husband, Ahmed Abdullah Ali, also known as Abdullah Ali Ahmed Khan, was charged as part of the main plot.

I don’t, for a moment, deny that there is a very real threat posed by fanatic terrorists. Instead of dealing effectively with the core threat our governments are simply creating more willing tools for terrorism by there political bungling.

Funny bone ain't funny

I was a bit quick jumping on annonny-maus’s piss-taking effort below. Given that piss taking is the ‘Great Australian Pastime’. (Comments The wolf again?)

Sometimes the sense of the ridiculous wanes a little, especially in a world leaning more toward ignoring reality than to facing mistakes and fixing them.

I will say, however, it is possible to regard our Western leaders with the same disgust as the terrorists and their sponsors. That is, criticizing one is not automatic support for the other.

It seems more and more that reality is becoming our enemy rather than ally, lies and cover up, used as part of the terrorist armoury, are becoming the standard for our own governments.

For reality try today’s Daily Telegraph (London) - Israeli soldiers attack 'dithering' leadership.

Israeli reservists demanded a formal inquiry yesterday into the Lebanon war as returning combatants re-counted stories of shocking military incompetence.
One group spoke of how they were sent to war in the choking summer heat without water. They had to grab canteens from the bodies of Hizbollah fighters. They staged protests in several ways.

They charged that Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and his security advisers provided dithering and incoherent leadership and must be held to account.

Hundreds of members of the Spearhead Brigade, a reserve unit that fought in south Lebanon during the month-long conflict… attacked the "cold feet" of their commanders. "We were unwilling to accept indecisiveness.”
"The war's aim, which was not defined clearly, was even changed in the course of the fighting. The indecisiveness manifested itself in inaction, in not carrying out operational plans, and in cancelling all the missions we were given during the fighting.
"The government didn't take seriously the lives of our troops," said Zvi Marek, a reserve infantry soldier.

This is the war George Bush claims as won by the good guys! That is the kind of unreality that gets up my nose. If the Israeli government is tottering, on the brink of collapsing, over the conduct of this war then Hezbollah can claim a pretty decisive victory I would say.

And I can say that as a fact, not something which can be implied to mean support for terrorism. Hiding from the truth seems to me to be a greater form of support for terrorists.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

It comes in threes

Israeli soldiers shoot three Hizbollah gunmen

Israeli troops shot and wounded three Hizbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon on Monday, an Israeli army spokesman said, as the army maintained positions in the territory ahead of a planned pullout.

Al Arabiya television reported that three Hizbollah fighters were killed in the clash and four Israeli soldiers were wounded. (Scotsman)

Talk about coming in threes! What fascinated me were the euphemisms, three of them, for Hezbollah combatants. (I just made it four!)

Remember these were the guys who tied Israel down for five weeks? Bloodied they might have been, but they weren’t bowed.

However you view their legitimacy, the Hezbollah have earned their stripes. Gunmen sounds like they are some kind of gangsters rather than, and guerrillas is the term they used as a put down for Vietnamese soldiers.

Fighters is marginally better, but lets face it, uniforms or not, these are well disciplined military combatants. Playing with words doesn’t take the sting out of their bite.

Side note: Yes, I’ve changed it again. I got sucked into the Blogger beta upgrade. The only positive is that I have my real estate back; I hate the half page thing. But I’ll try and leave it alone for a bit now.

The wolf again?

Nearly three-quarters of the public believe Tony Blair's foreign policy has made Britain more of a target for terrorists, according to a poll.

Just 1% think the Government's actions in areas such as the Middle East have improved the country's safety, while 72% think they have made Britain more of a target.

The latest Guardian/ICM survey - carried out over the weekend in the aftermath of the alleged terror plot - also suggests voters are suspicious of what ministers tell them about the national security threat.

While a fifth believes the Government is telling the truth about the threat from terrorism, 21% think it has actively exaggerated the danger.

On the other hand (with reference to reality-based educatorMore on The "Bigger Prick Foreign Policy" Theory) most Brits are just amused by Blair’s curious description of his member.

Don’t let conflict ruin trade

One of the bits in an earlier post today, WoT up in the air?, mentioned Britain winning a contract to supply Saudi with fighter planes. I know all Arabs aren’t equal, but my concern was with the fact that extreme elements have gained before from Western supplied weapons.

Well no Britain is in the shit because they apparently supplied Hezbollah with night vision equipment.

The equipment was actually found by Israeli troops in Hezbollah command bunkers in southern Lebanon. Each set was stamped "Made in Britain".

British Foreign Office officials said early indications seemed to suggest the night-vision equipment found by the Israelis was not part of the batch sold to Iran in 2003.

Good one! and Iran is considered to be a little less stable and friendly than Saudi Arabia. I guess it is a matter of ‘trade is trade’, regardless.
This is the kind of issue which makes a mockery of the WoT. It's bullshit to push the fear and at the same time supply the weapons. Unless no one finds out, of course.

Not cricket as I know it

Oh dear, international tensions are catching up with that old sport of gentlemen, cricket.

I’m not your universal sports fan, but I am partial to cricket and have belief that sports serves as a release of aggression which could otherwise manifest itself in more nasty ways.

Pakistan has been playing a test series in England over the past few months. England had already won the series, so the final game wasn’t of major importance.

But there is obviously widen tensions at play, with the game turning into a major confrontation of a different kind.

Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq has been charged with bringing the game into disrepute by the International Cricket Council.

Inzamam is deemed responsible for the actions that led to his team forfeiting the fourth Test against England at The Oval yesterday. Pakistan did not return to the field after the tea interval in protest at the umpires' decision to change the ball on suspicion it had been tampered with.

Former captain Imran Khan (now an Independent in Pakistan’s parliament) insists umpire Darrell Hair of Australia should be punished if he cannot prove Pakistan were guilty of ball tampering in the fourth Test against England at the Brit Oval.

The Pakistan Cricket Board have since stated they will not take part in any future match where Hair is standing as umpire, and Khan believes the Australian official has some very serious questions to answer.

WoT up in the air?

It's been a busy weekend, but I've grabbed some WoT pieces that struck me as interesting. I'm trying to do catch up and not getting anything really finished, so I'll just throw these out there:

* Michael O'Leary, the outspoken chief executive of British ‘no-frills’ carrier Ryanair, described the new security restrictions as "farcical Keystone Cops security measures that don't add anything except to block up airports".

He also threatened to sue the government for compensation unless airport security measures are returned to normal within seven days. Ryanair threat to sue government

* BAE Systems today received a substantial boost when the government announced the agreement of a £10bn deal to sell Eurofighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is buying 72 Eurofighters to replace its Tornado aircraft. The deal is a coup for the consortium consisting of BAE, the Franco-German aerospace group EADS and Finmeccanica, of Italy. BAE buoyed by £10bn Eurofighter deal

* A Pakistani woman whose daughter's carry-on luggage caused an airport to shut down for more than nine hours says it was her ethnic background, not a few bottles of suspicious liquids, that set off security officials.

Initial laboratory testing by the FBI turned up no evidence of explosive materials in the bottles carried at Tri-State Airport in West Virginia by Rima Qayyum, a 28-year-old Pakistani woman dressed in the traditional Islamic headcover. Airport terror scare shutdown 'was racist'

* THE airline suicide-bomb plot was ordered at the highest level by Al Qaeda, it was claimed last night.
Terror chief Osama Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, "probably" cleared the attack which was allegedly planned by British Muslim Rashid Rauf.
Jet bombs plot was ordered by Al Qaeda chief

* A bomb threat scrawled on a sick bag caused a British passenger plane from London to Egypt to be diverted to southern Italy on Friday, but police said it appeared to be a false alarm. Note on sick bag sparks bomb scare on plane

* Making more friends?

One of China's most senior diplomats has made an extraordinary attack on America, saying that it should "shut up" about China's growing military capacity when America dominates global military spending.

Sha Zukang, China's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, launched his diatribe in an interview with the BBC yesterday during a progamme about China's booming economy and military strength. Shut up, Chinese diplomat tells US

Monday, August 21, 2006

Wolf Wolf

It doesn't take too much imagination to translate this Daily Telegraph cartoon to a more general view the War on Terror.

Secrecy Wars

Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been accused of covering up Iraq and Aghanistan casualties figures.

They had promised to post figures on their web site, and are reporting fatalities but say that no figures for combat injuries are currently available.

Senior officers have said that up to 40 soldiers may have been injured in a series of bitter battles with militants in the southern province of Helmand since the arrival in May of the 3,600 strong British task force.

An officer was also reported saying that there was a great deal of "bad feeling" within the military over the treatment of casualties, many of whom believe they have become the forgotten victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In keeping with that secrecy British anti-terror cops have taken a swipe at the FBI.

Security services, MI5 and MI6, are understood to be angry that a number of sensitive details surrounding the alleged plane bomber plot were leaked to the media.

FBI sources confirmed to The Observer that the bureau had been ordered to stop briefing at the request of the British authorities. 'The shutters have come down,' a bureau source said. 'We have been told not to discuss the case any more.'

Looks like the next step when the lies stop working, just turn off the information flow. Not that I can see it working, there are just too many disgruntled people involved in both issues to sustain a cone of silence.

Even Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has hinted several of those arrested will not face major charges. So far there has been one further arrest while two have been released without charge. There are also reports that only half of the arrested suspects are expected to be charged.

And pissed off military officers will keep releasing casualty figures, regardless of the coyness of MoD, which makes the ploy pretty pointless.

Laws aren't for the Aministration

The US Government has seized privileged legal material from the Australian Guantanamo Bay prisoner David Hicks and fellow inmates.

Lawyers have labelled it the latest abuse of legal process concerning the prisoners. The material was seized with all other possessions, including blankets and books, as part of an investigation into the suicides of three inmates in June. (SMH) The abuse of legal process is obviously set to continue by a government determined to set its own rules.

Hick's lawyer, Major Michael Mori, said the privileged material was "the last legal right that was being respected". Now it appears that that's been violated as well."

Hicks won't get an open and fair trial because the trumped up charges just don't sustain. But legality is not the strong-point of the Bush administration, nor of Blair's or Howard's.

The British courts ordered Hicks be given back his British citizenship. But within hours of achieving that, and without reference to Hicks or his lawyers, Britain's Home Secretary Reid summarily rescinded it under new powers enacted for the purpose.

Never mind the umpire, if the law gets in the way ignore it or change it.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A US Major wins Aussie hearts

PIC from the Melbourne Age
It’s funny the people who rally make a big splash downunder, but I can’t recall a US military Major ever making the big-time before.

Major Michael Mori has been building up to it, with his spirited defence of Australia’s Guantanamo detainee, David Hicks.

He’s been in Australia to talk to the Federal Government who don’t want to talk to him. But he’s also doing the rounds of public speeches.

The vice-president of the NSW Law Society, Hugh Macken, summed up the general consensus saying Major Mori had done "what is right, regardless of the conduct of others."

But Mori has also been urged to run for the presidency of the United States by supporters in Canberra, compared with Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird fame in internet chat rooms, but also one in which his client has been compared to a gang rapist by the Attorney-General.

If Australians are taking Mori to heart the same can’t be said for the government.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer explaining why he is not meeting the major: “I don't see other defence counsel for other Australians incarcerated around the world.”

Aforementioned Attorney-General Philip Ruddock is not scheduled to meet the lawyer either.

“He's meeting government officials (from the Attorney-General's Department),” we were told.

Mori had been campaigning for a fair trial, now he's campaigning simply to bring Hicks home. Telling his story is part of that campaign.

"It's important because it's important to get David Hicks home to Australia. And it's important that people get the full story about David Hicks, that they understand the facts," he says.

As with any war, Major Mori says the facts have been the first casualty in his long and bitter dispute with the Australian and US governments over how Hicks should be handled and whether he can be brought before a US military commission.

The problem for Hicks, and by extension Mori, is that he’s not a war prisoner, but a political prisoner. The WoT coalition governments have politicized the whole terrorism from the outset.

Many of their actions, which are increasingly being revealed as illegal, contributed to the fear which ensured election wins for Bush, Blair and Howard.

But the strategy is wearing thin and David Hicks, among others, is becoming a major liability, imprisoned illegally or free.

But like so many actions of these bankrupt administrations, it is easier to leave things as they are rather than risk creating a new set of problems. In short, they have painted themselves into a corner and are hanging onto the brush - David Hicks.

Australia country still admires a champion of the underdog, and Howard’s hardball terror line is staring to wear as thin as the country’s economy.

I suspect, if he could also talk economics, Mori could stand for leader of the Labour opposition and win the next election by a landslide.

More importantly, the goodwill felt towards him could further undermine the Howard government’s intransigence and force them to repatriate Hicks.

Good on you Mori, and thanks. I’d probably vote for you myself, except that there are already too many lawyers in government.

Bush has been called worse things, says aide

The Bush administration reacted to John Prescott's frank assessment of the President's abilities by saying he had been called worse in the past and would likely be called worse in the future.

What? I really want to know what he has been called, though crap and cowboy is pretty lame. There must be better insults out there than that!

Okay, all I can offer here for a prize is a one way ticket to Guantanamo Bay (can’t guarantee the balls in the vice thing – sorry), what has Bush been called that is worse than crap?

Come to think of it, we probably can do the balls in a vice thing, for originality.

But what we really want is your actual, real life insults. Personally I agree with the aide, given Bush’s imbecilic behavior I’m sure he has earned a few choice epithets.

So come on, let’s have them!

CIA 'will put tits in a vice'

The first man jailed under Australia's new anti-terror laws was set free tonight after an appeal court quashed his convictions.

It seems that anti-terror laws still need to apply the rules of evidence. Joseph Terrence Thomas, 33, [often called Jihad Jack] was sentenced to five years in jail in March for receiving funds from al-Qaeda and for holding a false passport.

Previously suppressed court documents revealed graphic interview records in which Thomas claims that a CIA agent threatened to torture him and rape his wife.

Thomas, a Muslim convert, told Australian police that during one interrogation an American agent said he would "put my balls in a vice'' and "my wife's tits in a vice".

But it wasn’t the delicate interview procedure tat saved his bacon, according to analysts. Thomas claims he took part in the interview in Pakistan on March 8, 2003, without a lawyer, because he feared being sent to Guantanamo Bay or held indefinitely if he did not cooperate.

But there was no lawyer present! That is the law for, forget the duress, get him a lawyer!

Crown prosecutors said police tried to obtain a lawyer for Thomas but were thwarted by

I guess we’ll hear more about the CIA methods after this, and any evidence is now highly debatable. Bloody good one!

Some story links:

'Jihad Jack' walks free

Interview without lawyer was key

'Jihad Jack' terror conviction thrown out

Friday, August 18, 2006

Would Al Kyder please board ...

From a story in the SMH

A Sydney comedy team pull a wonderful stunt yesterday, gulling airline staff to make a 'final boarding' call for Al Kyder and Terry Wrist.

The airline and security were ticked off, but the stunt proved a point. You can fly anywhere in Australia without real security checks. Order your tickets online, pick up your boarding pass from an electronic kiosk and Bob's your uncle!

Personally I think anything that shows the stupidity of the system is good. Apparently airports still haven't installed new scanning equipment required under Australian law either. They admit they have it all in crates, and it should be installed by Christmas. So Al and Terry, or even the real thing, have got a few months to play with that one too.

(View the clip here.)

Then when it comes to the crunch…

The Italians have announced that they are/aren’t engaged in military action to disarm Hezbollah.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Thursday that a "political solution" should be found to disarm the militant group Hezbollah.

Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi said Thursday that Italian troops deployed in Lebanon as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force will be involved in a "military mission" and may have to use force.

France are just sending a token force to Lebanon, just enough to run the show without actually getting into the dirty end of the business.

French President Jacques Chirac assured U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan by phone that his government might yet send in more soldiers depending on the precise mission and rules of engagement, Chirac's office said.

Likewise Germany are sending customs officers and border guards. Germany pledged on Thursday to provide police, customs agents, aircraft and ships to a U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon to prevent arms from flowing into the country by land from Syria or by sea.

Germany's offer was contingent on parliamentary approval

A spokesman for Australia’s PM Howard said that he was busy at the moment, but Foreign Minister Downer was talkative. He said the Government was not enthusiastic about sending significant numbers of troops to join the stabilisation force.

"In fact, the best we could do would be to provide some kind of a niche capability," Downer said. "I think it's much less likely than likely that we will send any troops at all."

Maybe Australia can fill the catering niche, and they have great experience at repatriating bodies.

Diplomats told the U.N. meeting of dozens of potential troop contributing nations that they were studying sending forces.

Most countries are waiting for firm affirmation that the Americans won’t be there. One diplomat said, “It is bad enough exposing out troops to enemy fire. We don’t relish losing any to ‘friendly fire’!”

Russia is expected to make a commitment not to veto peace keeping efforts in Lebanon. But that commitment is said to be contingent on trade with Tehran.

Hezbollah seems to be the only player willing to make a firm commitment on fighting forces. Most analysts agree that they will be ‘off like a dirty shirt’ when it comes to a good battle engagement.

The recent successful met against Israel has ensured that they have an endless stream of recruits whose only disappointment will be coming off the field alive. For their part, that added commitment is bound to give whatever troops, who actually do show up, an exciting time.

Ah, if only it were a replay of the world cup, or a Parents and Freinds pot luck dinner.

Poor George, it’s getting lonely at the top

I wonder what it feels like to be deserted by your friends. I know alliteration is crude, but I don’t do it often:

The Israelis are irritable over the poor conduct of the war. They know they should have won; instead they are ready to dump their leaders, George’s pals.

The Turks are tormented by their leader’s decision to send peace keepers to Lebanon. You an only play all sides against the middle for so long, but George Bush is not the pin up boy of the moment there.

The Iraqis are being irksome with their constant intercine battles. They want George and his gang to piss off so they can get on with their own slaughter.

The Iranians are being irascible as usual. If they can get up George’s nose they will, at the drop of a keffiyeh.

The Bits are bristling at Tony’s unseemly dalliance with his buddy George. They think they can stuff things up very well on their own, thank you very much!

Europe is thinking eugenics; creating a better world by breeding out American accents and the supposed brutish behavior that goes with them.

Australians are just astounded that they would be asked for more troops, more support for madcap wars when they are trying to get next months mortgage payment together.

The Kiwis were always quirky, and never did like big countries telling them what to do. But they don’t mind telling George to stuff off!

Canadians are careless, or at least don’t want to offend. But then no one asked them to the party either.

Mexicans are mired in electoral foul play and far too busy to notice their neighbor at the moment.

Pakistan is in paralysis, also trying to play both ends against the middle. But they will still give George a cut price on torture tainted intelligence. George wants evidence; they’ll get it, but again, for a price.

All in all, alliteration aside, the man who would be leader of the free world has taken on the distinct odour of last weeks fish. Even if a handful of leaders still get their rocks off at the sound of his voice, their followers don’t follow to the same beat.

It must be lonely at the top, George.

Cracks in the veneer

Labour Party:

"Most of Mr Prescott's gaffes — failing to pronounce words properly, for instance — have a tendency to make him a figure of fun. But for the first time, it looks like he has made a slip that has much of the Labour Party and the country saying 'Good on you'. So it's ironic that he's now claiming that he never made it.

see previous post: Prescott: Bush is crap

In a statement last night, Mr Prescott stopped short of a total denial. He said: “This is an inaccurate report of a private conversation and it is not my view.”

Bush once said he would devote as many hours to securing peace in the Middle East as Mr Blair did in Northern Ireland, but he's done nothing like that. The Prime Minister's own frustration seemed to boil over during his recent visit to California, where he gave a speech saying that opportunities had been missed in the region, and he was not talking about his own efforts.

John Prescott's use of the C-word about the Bush administration will remind Tony Blair that before he headed for the beach, he faced a cabinet revolt over his support for George Bush on the Middle East.

The uneasy ceasefire in the Lebanon bought him a breathing space, but he will return to a party still seething with anger at the way he has allowed Britain to be seen as "Bush's poodle".

The People:

Four out of five Britons believe the west is losing the "war against terror" and want Tony Blair to distance British foreign policy from the United States. The GUARDIAN

A new poll suggests that Britain is increasingly preparing for a long, bitter and potentially bloody struggle, with 60 per cent of respondents saying that they expected the threat from terrorist groups to worsen and 79 per cent arguing that the Government was not winning the war against terrorism.

A large majority, 86 per cent, predicted a terrorist attack within the next 12 months. TIMES

… by a margin of more than five to one - the public wants Tony Blair to split from President George W Bush and either go it alone in the "war on terror", or work more closely with Europe.

Some 69 per cent said that the police should be able to hold suspects for up to 90 days without charge, rather than be bound by the current 28-day limit. DAILY TELEGRAPH

Britain also has its economic woes. That the national economic outlook is sound is not reflected evenly through the population. Home loan defaults and bankruptcy are increasing at an alarming rate, driven by a £1,200bn consumer debt mountain.

Earlier this month, the Insolvency Service said a record 26,021 borrowers filed for bankruptcy between April and June. Two months ago Debt Free Direct, the debt adviser, estimated that 2 million people were facing irreversible financial problems while a recent report from the Financial Services Authority said almost 3 million consumers face a constant struggle to keep up debt repayments.

There is almost a sense that the terrorism issue, with its apparent immediacy, is a welcome diversion for most Brits. For Blair, at the moment, it is more like lose – lose. Whichever way he faces, as with his ‘coalition of the willing’ partners, there is only the prospect of policy failure.

But his greatest concern, having cemented old enmities within the EU, must be the public’s growing disenchantment with Bush’s America.