Saturday, September 30, 2006

The joke about ethnic cleansing

Given enough stimulus my passions can still be ignited.

Australia's Cole Inquiry has ended its public hearings with some of the most explosive and disgusting revelations staining the country's public and corporate institutions.

John Howard and his cronies will barely be touched by the news, the AWB patsies will take to whole fall, by the politicians are revealed for the murderous liars they truly are.

Commissioner Cole has signalled that he will be looking at recommending charges under the anti-terrorism act. The International Court of Justice might well be urged to look at crimes against humanity and include that slimy toad, Howard, among the defendants.

These self-righteous bastards, in the name of commerce and politics, knowingly provided foreign currency to build 2,000 concrete bunkers, amongst other things.

The evidence shows that these creeps were actually willing to abet ethnic cleansing - Genocide.

"The bunkers will have cement walls and floors so they are actually designed for burying the Kurds," the email from AWB executive Daryl Borlase to a range of other AWB staff said.

"Under the cement??

"They intend to build them with fumigation capability so the mind boggles as to whether they are fumigating insects or any other pest that pisses them off."

The emails were, no doubt, attempts at black humour. But they don't sit well when Saddam is currently on trial in Iraq for the genocide of 182,000 people in a 1987-88 campaign against the Kurds.

Faced with this evidence, the champion of the hearing's "I don't recall" stakes, faced with hard proof he couldn't deny, former CEO Andrew Lindberg broke down and wept.

Poor bastard, though he wasn't weeping for the potential plight of thousands of ethnic Kurds, rather it was his own black future, doing time for terrorist crime, that upset poor Andy.

His former boss and chairman, Trevor Flugge has no qualms about continuing his denials, but I expect that he has a good deal more to hide.

It is poetic justice that these criminals should be caught up in the terrorism farce, but real justice would see them in the ICJ facing crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile those slimy toads of government will slip the net. Perhaps Australia's strong Kurdish community should be launching their own campaign for justice, goodness knows they have suffered enough injustice.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Anti Terror laws come back to haunt

I'm still here, sort of... Most free time is being spent on the flagship site - GP Background Stories; with a bit of overflow to Grub Street.

I know the Oil for Food scandal is still largely irrelevant to most, but I see so many parallels with the broader political/social issues out there I can't help but be drawn to the ongoing drama.

In the past few days the Australian inquiry has been high drama, tangling leading lawyers and now the country's UN ambassador and former Howard minister into the plot.

Okay, so we know lawyers are liars and politicians are crooks; but how do these corrupt activities stand up to the rule of anti-terror laws? Remember, Australia, with the tacit approval of Bush's administration, were funding Saddam's regime.

From Rupert's Australian stable:

"THE Iraqi kickbacks inquiry has been asked to consider whether AWB executives could be charged under anti-terror laws that carry penalties of up to life imprisonment.
The laws, introduced in 2002, make it an offence to fund a regime that supports terrorism.
In particular, Cole [the commissioner] has been asked to consider the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism Act, which makes it a crime to provide funds, even indirectly, to regimes that support terrorism.
The criminal offence also applies "where the person is reckless as to whether those funds will be used to facilitate a terrorist act". HERE

AWB is accused of funnelling more than $290 million to Saddam's regime in the lead-up to the war in Iraq by massively rorting the UN's oil-for-food program."

The terrorism issue was raised by a Victorian MP, Tony Robinson in December. Robinson asked the Australian Federal Police to examine the kickbacks scandal for evidence of a breach of the terror laws.

So that starts to put the anti-terrorism laws to the test. If they are more than just domestic political window dressing, here is the real opportunity to prove it. But of course the AWB executives are only part of the story. We now have prominent lawyers, one since elevated to Federal court judge; and of course politicians have been implicated from the outset.

Apart from the clumsy handling of the Jihad Jack case, the draconian anti-terrorism laws Australia had to have so urgently have never been used.

Unlikely as it is, what sweet justice it would be for those Howard ministers who pushed for these laws, while tangled in the Oil for Food scandal, were among those to prove those laws do have a place in the system.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Churches taxing credulity

I note with interest that the IRS is keeping a close eye on churches and charity groups in regard to election funding. Apparently this comes off the back of some disturbing behaviour in the 2004 poll.

The IRS finished investigations into 40 churches after the 2004 election and found that 37 had violated the law, according to one report. The offenders were 'penalized' but none lost their tax-exempt status.

It is that tax exempt status which is at issue; by claiming that benefit these organizations elect to put themselves outside the system. I effect they are using publicly granted funds to influence the outcome of elections, despite opting out in order to gain those benefits.

Personally I have never seen the justification for churches to claim tax immunity. Let's face it, some of these organizations have become major businesses with large investment portfolio's.

I guess it was an accident of history in the first place, but in our plural societies the whole idea seems a farce. Bona fide charities might have a point, but neither should be permitted to promote sectional or partisan interests, that is not their purpose.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Talking about a revolution

There are few societies where you can take political comment at face value. Thailand is no different, but the reason for the double speak has more of a cultural base than the normal spin and blame passing we are used to in the West.

Thai culture demands that every transition is dealt with in a level of respect due to each class and level in the society. Overt attack is simply not practised in any way we are familiar with or recognise easily.

That difference creates a few difficulties in second guessing the dynamics of the recent military coup in the country. However in the end, behind the local code of respect, the realities do appear to be playing out as one would expect.

There has been no ranting condemnation of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin, but equally there has been little show of support for him in the country either.

While coup leader, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, refers to Thaksin as 'like a brother' and welcomes his return home on that basis, the machinery to investigate and prosecute the former PM is being put in place.

The new ruling body, Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy, is doing what Thaksin failed to do as Prime Minister; they are attacking the corruption which has been crippling Thailand's growth, just as it cripples any economy it sets its teeth into.

Even before a new, interim civil government is in place, the military rulers have appointed a long-awaited anti-corruption body.

The National Counter Corruption Commission includes a graft-buster who led a probe of Thaksin in 2001 and eight current or retired senior civil servants, according to the army announcement.

The assets of deposed the Thai caretaker prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and 15 former cabinet colleagues will be investigated by a new anti-graft panel as new questions are raised about who orchestrated the alleged car bomb assassination attempt on the controversial leader.

Critics of Mr Thaksin say he used his five years in power to corruptly accumulate great wealth. Thaksin's family - his wife, Pojaman, children and his sister, will also be investigated by the six-person panel set up by the coup leaders, who now call themselves the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy.

In a separate investigation, the Auditor-General, Jaruvan Maintaka, will pursue cases of alleged corruption during construction of Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Airport, which was overseen by the Thaksin government. Ms Jaruvan will focus on the purchase of CTX bomb scanners and the rail link.

She will also look at the January sale of the Thaksin family company that netted 73 billion baht ($2.6 billion) almost tax free.

It is easy to understand just why Western leaders have been so quick to condemn this coup. No right thinking person can easily justify the overthrow of a legitimate government, but Thaksin left himself exposed on the issue of legitimacy.

There is good argument that our Western governments are on equally shaky ground as they ride roughshod over the rule of law, in the name of a dubious War on Terror. The WoT is constantly being exposed for what it truly is, a dangerous game of domestic politics.

Having said that, fears of coups are not the real issue in the West, thank goodness. Unlike Thailand, none of our countries have the circuit breaker of a right minded monarch who cares passionately for the people and country.

They do need to fear the example of political corruption being dealt with openly by the network news shows. They need to fear the seeds of doubt that are cast about when political corruption is put on public show.

We need a bloodless revolution as well, to clean out the stables and put power back in the hands of right thinking people. That will only come when the public finally cottons onto the notion that we are being robbed blind by our leaders, our societies sucked dry to the benefit of a few.

It must come through the ballot box; and sooner rather than later. How soon depends on just how quickly the 'followers' latch on to a new concept to follow; political responsibility and probity.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Anyone for a coup?

It has been a little quiet on Grub Street, a consequence of life's ebb and flow. Maintaining the GP Background Stories site has had precedence for the time that has been available.
I hope, once I get through the current obstacle course, to be back in the swing soon.

I have also been following dramatic events in Thailand. It's been 15 years since the citizens of Bangkok last saw the tanks roll out in the dead of night. Prime minister Thaksin has been holding onto office doggedly in the face of serious corruption and electoral fraud allegations. But for many in Thailand, it was a clash between two men: an arrogant prime minister and a humble king who always wins.

Not that the much loved king has said a word about anything yet, but speaking out is not the style of the 78-year-old monarch, who has shown that he remains the most powerful man in the country.

Coups are not new to Thailand, but the relatively long respite of 15 years reflects a serious effort to establish solid democratic government. His critics say Thaksin undermined those efforts by setting himself up as some kind of CEO rather then a standard parliamentary leader.

In that he was probably just following the current paradigm, neo-liberalism is after all government on business principals as opposed to socially responsible economics.

I'm not a big fan of military coups overthrowing legitimate government, but there is much about Thaksin's rule which is not legitimate. In the end he became a caretaker prime minister, hanging on grimly to de facto power. In fact he spends more time in London than in Bangkok.

There is every sign that the military leaders will be handing control back to a civil, interim government within a few weeks; an aspect which also signals the involvement of the silent king.

Creating a democracy is no easy task, but there seems to be a genuine will in Thailand to go the hard yards to make it happen. Unlike our Western governments who seem intent on destroying our democracies.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Wading into torture

I doubt the debate over torture of terror suspects will have any real impact on US election, despite the many fundamental moral issues it raises. still, it remains a vital discussion issue.

I read that Bush, even as he insisted that the United States does not condone torture and that he would never condone it, asked Congress to pass legislation that would give immunity from prosecution for war crimes to those CIA operatives and others who have engaged in what Bush described as "tough" interrogation of senior al-Qaeda operatives.

I guess the criteria will be subjective, dependant on how a detainee might conceivably be linked into the tenuous web of terrorism.

It strikes me that these laws are aimed at going out to places, where we perhaps should not be at all, and subjecting our personnel to hideous acts of reprisal. Acts ranging from perceived self defence in its broadest sense to suicide bomb attacks.

Now where they are occurring on home turf there is an unquestioned imperative to act, although torture is still a questionable approach. But no, we have already accepted a doctrine of preemptive strikes.

It is dangerous territory; it ignores the rule of law and the moral imperatives which are the framework of our laws. But, of course, there is no black and white in a debate fraught with difficult shades and hues.

To be honest, I would have given Bush more points if he had simply stated the aim without qualifying it with a transparently false disclaimer. You cannot refuse to condone an action, but go ahead and do it anyway.

The United States is right in the first instance, that is not condoning torture. That should be the end of the story.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dr King had better dreams

I had a remarkable dream, for me at least who usually has boring planning dreams, which left me waking with a powerful feeling of outrage.

I was with a group of younger people, which seems to be normal at my time of life, observing a worldwide protest.

It was a sort of electronic age version of the Vietnam moratorium marches of the 'ban the bomb' marches of that former era.

Except that it was one of those electronic global affairs we have become so used to, protest at arms length.

As the event came to an end there was a outpouring of delight, by my young group, at a job well done - a blow against the prevailing powers that was well delivered.

I wasn't about to burst bubbles, but inside I was feeling an incredible grief. The reactions of the group were so familiar - that joyous sense of victory and and the change such a massive protest action must bring.

Worst of all in some ways was an implied belief that these electronic protesters were doing something no one else had ever done, which apart from protesting by proxy is far from the truth.

I wanted to scream out the litany of incredibly brave protest events, facing down authority in person, and how those victorious passions all simply melted away into the bland mediocrity which inevitably rules us.

Our protests did not lead to withdrawal from Vietnam, they might have played a part but the horror continued for far too long, and in the end targeted the wrong people - the warriors instead of their masters.

The nuclear threat has changed, but only because it has become viral, spreading through to more and more trigger happy moronic petty chieftains.

The forests are still being ripped out out a mind blowing rate with the environment deteriorating rapidly, despite vigorous and passionate protest.

Yet despite this I know that protest is in some way essential, as are those false perceptions that go with it. For a media focused political establishment electronic protest would also be quite appropriate.

The first news piece I looked at today, with all this fresh in my soul, only increased a sense of futility. Some of us even spoke out against the 2000 odd Indian Ocean Islanders living on the Chagos archipelago who were 'relocated' back in the '60s and '70s.

Britain decided back then to simply clear away these people because the US wanted a a military base there, on the island of Diego Garcia.

I read today that these people are still fighting through the British courts for the return of their homes. They don't have much hope because Diego Garcia is, as they say, strategically important for assaults on the Middle East. (Actually I believe they use the word defence)

In 2000, Britain's High Court ruled the islanders should be granted full British citizenship and that their removal was illegal. But they were blocked by Britain which said repopulating the islands would be "precarious and costly".

They are still dragging through the court process, a generation lost to struggle for their homeland they will never win. So much for our brave protests.

To be honest, I don't know how to wear this coat of futility and negativity. It's not something I'm used to or comfortable with. The emotions are not familiar to me or easy to accept.

There will be changes, especially US led as that country readjusts from the experience of two incredibly polarising presidents, back to back. But with essentially bland western electorates, unwilling to commit any energy to demanding better political performance and outcomes, I fear we will continue to allow disastrous policies to destroy our civilisation.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Even his friends reject him

Even a natural ally is turning his back on George. Britain's Conservative leader, David Cameron has strongly criticised the foreign policy of George Bush and Tony Blair and said the Tories would pursue a more independent line from Washington than the present Government.

Declaring that he was a "liberal conservative rather than a neo-conservative", Cameron rejected the hawkish approach favoured by some senior Tories. "We must not stoop to illiberalism - whether at Guantanamo Bay, or here at home with excessive periods of detention without trial," he said.

"We must not turn a blind eye to the excesses of our allies - abuses of human rights in some Arab countries, or disproportionate Israeli bombing in Lebanon. We are fighting for the principles of civilisation - let us not abandon those principles in the methods we employ."

I thought the most telling line was: The Bush administration's strategy lacked patience and humility and had been presented through "unrealistic and simplistic" soundbites.

Any hope of some respite from the 'old dart' as Britain is sometimes referred to by we convict colonials, looks sunk.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Exporting US terrorism

The translation was a bit dodgy in the Bulgarian FOCUS News Agency site, but the meaning came through okay.

Six US citizens and their friends in Montenegro planned to carry out an anniversary attack in Malesia and Tuzi, Montenegro on September10 and 11.

Four of the US citizens have been arrested, the other two are in hiding still.

According to the Chief of the criminal police in Montenegro, Ivan Masulovic, 12 people were arrested in relation to the drama.

He said that former members of the Army for Liberation of Kosovo /AOK/ have also been intended to participate in the terrorist attacks and were expected to illegally enter Kosovo and Montenegro.

Some of the weapons intended for the attacks were found in the homes of the detainees. The larger part was found in a cave near Tuzi, where the suspects were supposed to hide after the attack.

The 'Americans' originate from the territories of Malesia, Tuzi and Kosovo.

I'm not sure if this is the Rove plot for September, I don't thing he is quite that dumb, but you never know. Nothing seems to be working at home and Britain is too busy to play. Still, with the US record for training future enemies anything is possible. (tongue firmly in cheek!)

It takes a thief

So the dejected John Bolton, on behalf of the good American people, is threatening again to deny funding to the UN unless they fix their corrupt ways.

"Is good management and lack of corruption too much to ask for?" he asked, calling the United Nations "severely challenged from a management and accountability point of view."

Bloody good point John boy, and interesting in the light of allegations about the US made by a former high-ranking official in the United Nations Iraq Oil for Food program.

The official, who has intimate knowledge of the Oil for Food finances and has asked for confidentiality, claims that the Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer, was left "$10 billion in unencumbered cash" by the United Nations.

Ten? And here I was looking for nine billion. But one billion aside, this report has been around for months now and the US authorities are simply ignoring it, not even bothering with denial.

In a report by former U.N. investigator Paul Volcker, it is stated that on several occasions, CPA officials in Baghdad refused any cooperation with his accountants seeking Oil for Food records.

Volcker also charged that on numerous other occasions, CPA officials shredded documents being sought in the U.N. investigation.

So in effect, the money Bolton is threatening to hold back was stolen from the UN in the first place, by the 'holier than thou' US administration.

All I can say is it takes a thief to know a thief!

A load of pompous twaddle

Australia's apologist for all things neo-con, Gerard Henderson, has an interestingly Rovian take on the 9/11 anniversary.

Curiously he writes, in the SMH: After September 11, taking Saddam Hussein at his word was far too great a risk. Oh how short and selective are those right wing memories?

That is the very same Saddam Hussein who was receiving kickback that if not approved by ministers in Howard's government, were at least politely ignored.

Well after 9/11 the Aussie monopoly wheat exporter, AWB, was continuing what it began in the late 90s, and funnelling hard cash through to the treacherous dictator.

But then it is probably more convenient for Henderson to accept the government's approach to this sleazy issue and just fall back on bad memory and lack of interest in the affair.

If that's not enough for this oxymoronic right wing intellectual, try this: Most critics of the decisions taken in response to September 11 by George Bush in the US, Tony Blair in Britain and John Howard in Australia were commentators, lawyers, academics and the like.

What unites the critics is that virtually none is in a position where they have to make decisions - or not make decisions - for which they will be held responsible by their fellow citizens.

Did you get that? The great unelected, according to Henderson, are disqualified from having an opinion because they don't make the political decisions. Bullshit!

Amusing because Henderson goes on to conclude that there was no risk, but insists we could not take Iraq's word for that. So the great unelected were right, but their view still does not count.

I do hope a few of Australia's legendary lefties of the media rip Gerard to shreds for this pompous twaddle.

Look what they've done to security

CIA officers involved in the Bush Administration's secret prisons program have consulted lawyers after being told they could face prosecution for illegally detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects.

The CIA officers will have to pay for their own defence if they face legal action. CIA recruits are advised on joining to take out private liability insurance against the risk of lawsuits.

"It's bad," said Robert Baer, a former CIA agent specialising in the Middle East. "You get the [White House] Office of Legal Counsel telling the CIA something is legal, and then someone changes their mind. But it's not the counsel that's held responsible, it's the CIA employee."

Some CIA officers, concerned about becoming caught up in a scandal, refused to take part in meetings to discuss secret prisons, controversial interrogation methods that may breach the Geneva Conventions, or the "extraordinary rendition" of prisoners between countries.

That would have to be one of the major hallmarks of the Bush administration - if their is a problem blame someone else.

I understand the Nuremberg defence, and personal responsibility; but would argue that these people were acting in the same wave of crazy paranoia that Bush visited on the rest of the country. It is high time the blame was directed to where it rightfully belongs, right to the White House.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Watch your Ps and Qs

Passengers recorded to foil hijackers
Air passengers could have their conversations and movements monitored as work intensifies to design the terrorist-proof aeroplane.

I'm not sure what a computer would make of my utterances on aeroplanes. Generally the tend to the dad's joke through to a bit of black humour. "a few potholes in the road," is always good for an extra groan when the turbulence hits.

There are always those share observations: "Bit chilly out today" or "Don't worry, you won't feel a thing when we hit!"

But it isn't all fun and games, ignorance in close confines tends to get the normally placid me a bit rattled. Like the last long haul when we'd just cleared Sydney and the seat belt sign was turned off.

As it is I had my knees around my ears in the tight seating and the joker in front of me did a full seat recline. I did a polite thump on the back of the seat, just a hint that there might be a problem. No movement.

I twisted, the parts of my body I could move, so that I could see the guys face: "Not time for sleeps china," I offered. "You can put your seat up until they turn the lights out."


A bit louder, "It is still full bloody daylight, put you effing seat up!"

Response, "you talking to me?"

"No, I was shouting. The next step will be..." I didn't finish because he put his seat up at that point.

As I sat back the light of my life pointed out that that was a perfect way to begin 14 hours cooped in close quarters. I agreed with her, perfect! At least the seat didn't come back to attack me, not through the whole flight.

Now if those computers at the other end of the microphones had been listening in I suspect they might have detected a problem with my tone. Could my helpful suggestion be taken as some kind of terrorist threat?

I know I'll need to be a little more circumspect in future, the options are becoming limited. I can't even carry a bottle of water, which might accidentally spill over anyone invading my extremely limited space.

st-proof aeroplane.

I'm not sure what a computer would make of my utterances on aeroplanes. Generally the tend to the dad's joke through to a bit of black humour. "a few potholes in the road," is always good for an extra groan when the turbulence hits.

There are always those share observations: "Bit chilly out today" or "Don't worry, you won't feel a thing when we hit!"

But it isn't all fun and games, ignorance in close confines tends to get the normally placid me a bit rattled. Like the last long haul when we'd just cleared Sydney and the seat belt sign was turned off.

As it is I had my knees around my ears in the tight seating and the joker in front of me did a full seat recline. I did a polite thump on the back of the seat, just a hint that there might be a problem. No movement.

I twisted, the parts of my body I could move, so that I could see the guys face: "Not time for sleeps china," I offered. "You can put your seat up until they turn the lights out."


A bit louder, "It is still full bloody daylight, put you effing seat up!"

Response, "you talking to me?"

"No, I was shouting. The next step will be..." I didn't finish because he put his seat up at that point.

As I sat back the light of my life pointed out that that was a perfect way to begin 14 hours cooped in close quarters. I agreed with her, perfect! At least the seat didn't come back to attack me, not through the whole flight.

Now if those computers at the other end of the microphones had been listening in I suspect they might have detected a problem with my tone. Could my helpful suggestion be taken as some kind of terrorist threat?

I know I'll need to be a little more circumspect in future, the options are becoming limited. I can't even carry a bottle of water, which might accidentally spill over anyone invading my extremely limited space.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A glimmer of light?

'My time as editor has been overlapped by a crisis - a prolonged, labyrinthine, tragic, seemingly non-ending crisis - that involves the prehistory of 9/11, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, fraught histories between the United States and almost everyone.'
David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker

I figure it's worth leading with a quote from a guy who edits a a magazine that sells over a million copies a week. Someone has their finger on the pulse.

With that anniversary almost on us there are growing signs that events as so often related are starting to unravel, at least as a political PR exercise.

Remnick lays out a handy trail to follow. For example I was interested to read, in passing, that the planning for an Iraqi invasion was well advanced prior to 9/11, but it was facing significant opposition in Congress, including among Bush's own Republicans.

There are many who simply could not see the urgency in the plan of attack. History shows that 9/11 changed, or at least silenced, that opposition.

Of the event itself, the rumblings of a conspiracy are threatening to become a full blown quake as doubts are more freely aired now. Even Madame Coulter is finding that the ability to lambaste critics, more especially widows of the Twin Towers, has become a game fraught with danger. The attack dogs are losing their bite.

Those rapid successes in the War on Terror, the glory of wiping out the Taliban and Saddam's regime are now bogged down in seemingly unwinnable conflicts.

As time distances us from the tragic event of 9/11 we our country's engaged in conflicts which have little or nothing to do with global terror and 'homeland' security. Well not initially at least, but those conflicts have spawned a new generation ready to play on the obvious fears of the west, to join in the terror game.

Those promoting terrorism must be thrilled to stand back and watch western leaders systematically destroying all those things we hold dear in our supposed free and democratic countries.

The spectre of internal spying on citizens, the bizarre regulations which make any travel into an ordeal rather than a pleasure, the growth of racial and religious based hate and fear. The list goes on and 'we the people' remain powerless, in the face of the great con, to insist on our rights.

The terrorists really need to do very little to keep the fear alive, they have willing governments to do that job for them.

A good conman, as we are all taught, mixes lies with the truth in a way which makes it seem churlish to question, even if you do spot the lie.

We have been conned by unprincipled leaders, and no amount of intimidation and threat to silence us will change that fact.

Even those Congressional Republicans seem to be regrowing their backbones and finally saying no to the con. Like them or not, there must be a measure of respect for the actions which very well cost majority in November and the presidency in 08.I don't really know if the pendulum has started to swing back yet, but it has certainly slowed down a lot. There is some glimmer of light showing.

Bursting bubbles

Sydneysiders are losing their homes at a record rate, forced out by crippling mortgage payments, exorbitant petrol prices and high personal debt.

The latest NSW Supreme Court figures show repossessions by financial institutions are approaching an annual total of 5000 - more than twice as many as three years ago.

At the same time the market had slumped by up to 25 per cent in some pockets of Sydney, which had added to the panic in the housing sector.

There is no discernibly pattern to those defaulting on their loans; they include families, singles, investors and retirees.

Sydney, not the state of NSW, but Sydney itself is Australia's major economic driver. PM Howard is well aware of what a downturn in that one city means nationally, which is why he is so keen to pass the blame.

But in the end it is Howard who has sold the message that the economy is good, so he will pay the price at the polls.

As a side issue, the state election in Queensland delivered an historic fourth term for Premier Beattie and third straight landslide.

As counting closed, Labor had retained its 60 seats in the 89-seat single chamber Parliament and preserved its thumping 31-seat majority.

In a swipe at Prime Minister John Howard's WorkChoices, Beattie said average Australian families did not like the laws of the jungle and did not support American-type industrial relations laws.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I stand corrected

I stand corrected, having recently warned Americans not to attempt to emulate the intercine war raging through Britain's New Labour.

To be honest I really could not see how the US system could possibly accommodate such a lusty political affair.

Happily Americans are an adventurous and innovative bunch, who have proved me wrong. You can imagine my mixed feelings coming across the headline: Bush faces Republican revolt over terror trials

But there you go, on the eve of a carefully prepared rehash of 9/11, designed to solidify a flagging vote ahead of the mid-term elections decency strikes.

The Rovian strategy misfired, with key Republicans balking at a White House proposal for legislation on military tribunals that would deny Guantánamo detainees the right to see classified evidence against them.

"It would be unacceptable legally in my opinion to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never had heard the evidence against them," Lindsey Graham, a former military judge and a Republican senator from South Carolina who is a member of the armed services committee."

Onya Senator! You get my vote.

The report goes on that legislation authorising the National Security Agency wiretaps was also stalled yesterday after three Republican members of the Senate judiciary committee joined Democrats in demanding tighter controls on the administration's powers to order surveillance of phone calls and email of US citizens.

I don't know, but I'm starting to think Tony and George are those mythical twins separated at birth. Still, I did make some odd noises about the potential for the wheels to fall off Georges waggon in the lead up to this election.

Those Boring Fundamentals

The trouble with politics, or at least the election component, is that the most influential factors on outcomes simply aren't sexy.

I've been in the middle of a few campaigns and in reality, although every single campaign is approached as the single most important thing on earth, you usually know deep down from the outset what the result will be.

Still, with a win or a loss looming, the battle is fought to the bitter end, ignoring the obvious facts. Yes, there are borderline cases which make the fight vital, but for the most part the result is virtually set.

Putting aside those few entrenched electorates, or districts, there is a growing trend to swing voting because the political establishment is losing touch with the people.

So enamoured are we of the PR, the pitch, we ignore the science which shows us the un-sexy reality. In my experience, the first task is always to manufacture a short list of 'selling' policies, and we are generally encouraged by people eager to engage in the debate.

In going down this 'flashy' track we fail to relate campaigns to the certainties esp[oused for example by powerful theories like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Here we find that universally, once basic physiologial needs are met as they are with most voters, the safety needs come into play: Security of employment, Security of revenues and resources, Physical security - safety from violence, delinquency, aggressions, Moral and physiological security, Familial security, Security of health.

In short social economics. Boring as bat shit, and nearly impossible to sell. In fact it is very much a case of show, not tell. Even our most successful leaders have been failing to keep track of those needs, in their haste to divert attention with international power games.

It is in this context I was interested to see an unholy battle develop between Australia's PM Howard and not his opposition but the country's foremost investment bank, Macquarie .

Caught on the hop over housing issues (boring fundamentals) Howard claimed that state government land release policies are the main cause of high property prices locking first-home buyers out of the market.

"Not credible!", says Mac Bank economist Rory Robertson.

He says: federal policies that fuel demand for housing, including capital gains tax discounts and high immigration, have had a greater impact on housing affordability than land release on urban fringes.

Howard said the "main cause" of the high cost of housing was a shortage of land caused by state government land release policies and state levies on building new houses.

The bank's interest rate strategist, Rory Robertson, says federal policies that fuel demand for housing, including capital gains tax discounts and high immigration, have had a greater impact on housing affordability than land release on urban fringes. Interest rates were "not the issue" driving up costs for first-home buyers.

But figures released yesterday suggest higher interest rates have driven many first-home buyers out of the market. First-time borrowers accounted for just 16.7 per cent of new home loans in July, the smallest proportion for more than a year.

Robertson estimated the average price of an Australian home had risen from about four times pre-tax annual wages to about seven times over the past two decades.

Robertson said the needs of first-home buyers were being ignored because most voters were home owners and therefore had an interest in higher, not lower, property prices.

Now I dare say Howard will keep on arguing and duck-shoving; but what is the point? The average voter has no idea what he or Robertson are talking about, but they know something is shaking their pyramid, their hierarchy of needs.

While Bush, Blair, Howard et al are telling the world that their economies are going 'gang busters', ordinary voters know something is wrong, at least for them as individuals.

"If it's so great, how come I'm going backwards?" The feeling won't manifest itself in a sense of personal failure, well not for long anyway. If we are told we are doing well, and we obviously are not doing well, the politicians will pay regardless of clever distractions.

I guess that's why I keep walking away from the political coal face. It is the realization that nothing I do, no matter how clever, is going to make a great deal of difference because I have no control over those fundamentals. Besides, they are boring as bat shit and I always did prefer the good old rough and tumble campaign.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tomorrow is another day...

Tony Blair's enemies on the Labour backbenches were in smug mood last night. Their coup attempt, launched on Monday, has failed to oust him from Downing Street, they believe his political assassination is all but accomplished.

"There is no need now to finish him off completely," said one. "He can't control events any more. The necessary damage is done."

The view of most Labour MPs last night was that Mr Blair had little chance of getting through to next May - his favoured date for triggering a leadership contest.

They believe his authority is so diminished that government will be all but impossible as MPs, ministers, and the Whitehall machine turn their minds to the post-Blair era.

Brown might be favoured by the party, but a poll shows that voters asked if the Chancellor would prove a more successful occupant of No 10 than Mr Blair, resulted in just only 20 per cent who said he would.

Almost two thirds of those polled think the "wheels are falling off" the Government, and half think Mr Blair is a lame duck.

Personally I think he should just hand over to young Tom, at least the former junior minister has guts and timing.

Curiosities from the trenches

Bursting the weather balloon

Outraged scientists stormed out of a government-sponsored climate change conference dinner in Canberra recently.

Obviously organisers are working on dissuasion tactics and have found a pretty good one, strippers.

Many of the women who attended the dinner at Old Parliament House left the room in horror...

Okay, it doesn't put everyone off, just the minority female climate scientists, but that isn't a bad start.

It must be a great result for the anti climate change lobby. Rather than reports on the actual conference we get girls in balloons. I hope they were filled with friendly gasses at least.

Headlines - well those ones that make you look twice:

Lady Thatcher's friends wanted in US

We know George isn't big on making friends and influencing people, but this is not the attempt to find some willing buddies fro the beleaguered prez. In fact its the second use of those summary, one sided extradition laws Britain now has. Apparently a couple close to Maggie, the Tollmans, are facing charges in the US.

Further down the story was another line that caught my interest:

Lawyers for the Tollmans are expected to appeal to the House of Lords

I suppose lawyers need to appeal to someone besides their nearest and dearest.

Blair's days are numbered

Conjure with it, but he was still there when I woke up today.

And finally, because it goes on and on:

Top 200 users of water hide behind secrecy provisions

In my day it was cupboard drinkers hiding their habit.

An alarming comparison

Two remarkably different results of court cases have come out of Indonesia this week. One was the sentencing of Australian drug mules, the other of Indonesian terrorists. The disparity really underlines how seriously Bush allies take their war on terror.

Indonesia's police chief defended an appeals court decision to execute members of an Australian drug-smuggling ring, saying his nation could not afford to take a soft stance on the illegal narcotics trade.

General Sutanto made the comments as he headed into a cabinet meeting, believed to discuss issues including Canberra's reaction to a ruling yesterday to place four Australian heroin smugglers before a firing squad.

At the same time three JI terrorists were sentenced following an earlier conviction for heir role in the 2005 Bali restaurant bombings.

Bombmaker Muhammad Cholily, 28, was sentenced to 18 years over the suicide attacks on crowded restaurants in Kuta and Jimbaran Bay last October, which killed 20 people, including four Australians.

Cholily, who shook hands with the judges after their verdict, just smiled and gave the thumbs up.

Later, asked if he felt any remorse, the bombmaker who will spend his 29th birthday tomorrow in jail told reporters: "What did I do wrong?".

Associates Dwi Widyarto, 34 and Abdul Aziz, 33 were sentenced to eight years.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Party is revolting

Don't try this in America! You have the wrong system...

The might of Tony Blair's once-feared spin machine was outmanoeuvred by a junior minister working from the back of his car during a family holiday in Scotland.

While Tony and his crew were busy jiggling potential quitting dates Tom Watson, a junior defence minister sent off his resignation letter via cell phone. Word is Tony was livid and threatening all sorts of calamities on young Tom. (I've no idea how old the junior minister is.)

So here is Tony, fresh from telling Gordon Brown what he can do with his threats, a shiny new ex-junior minister for a punching bag now, and feeling ready to take on George Bush single handed.

Except when the news broke at Westminster, about young Tom jumping ship, it provoked a stampede of disenchanted junior ministers (of all ages I guess.) Half a dozen jumped into the life-raft after Tom. Others less inclined to heroics simply went to the nearest media outlet to tell the world they thought Blair was a pompous arsehole.

Now headlines are still screaming Blair gone by June - or Brown says go by April. Tony isn't going to have a party to lead by next month the way he is going.

But all is not lost for him yet. What am I saying, he sacked Jack Straw and made him government leader of the house. That messes up one escape route, simply not calling parliament to session. I guess Jack won't play that game.

The only reason I'm putting this up tonight is because when i wake up tomorrow it might well be redundant.

We used to make jokes about 'the party is revolting', but rarely ever got to see it quite this dramatically.

A fascinating diversion

Poor Grub Street got ignored today while I crafted a couple of feature pieces from GP Background Stories.

I had commented recently on Silvio Berlusconi, then came across a piece about him being prosecuted in Spain after they decided his immunity no longer held.

I got curious about Silvio's sins so when and did a bit of looking. The result is at Battling Berlusconi faces immunity deficiency

Try this lot : There have been 13 criminal cases against Berlusconi. Among the accusations was Berlusconi's alleged complicity in 2 car bombings back in 1992. Those were the ones that killed anti-Mafia judges Falcone and Borsellino together with their police escorts.

received an initial sentence total of 77 months from 3 of these cases. Sixteen months were dropped after he won an appeal.

The remaining 61 months were eventually annulled by Italy's statutory law of time limitations.

Apart from the normal daily additions to the site I thought that would suffice. But a contact in Chicago had different thoughts and got me running on a story about BP Amoco Corporations; the new thugs?

The company took on an immigrant Pakistani gas station operator in Chicago. Apparently some execs had already been leaning on him for bribes and the like. Then they decided to close down his 10 leases. He bit back and sued them for extortion and racketeering. Great story, but I never did find out what happened in the end.

Johnny one note

Indonesia might not be exactly a hot bed of terrorism, but they do breed and house a few nasty types; note the Bali bombings and other odd happenings.

Their brand is called Jemaah Islamiah and loosely allied to the rest. With pressure from the US and Australia Indonesia do track down and arrest the nasties, but whenerver you see them in the company of the police it's all laughing a joking, just a game.

They send them to jail (we think) but not for long, there always seems good reason to release them again.

These are guys who plot, bomb and kill innocent people.

I guess you could say drug runners were doing their fair share of killing, innocent or otherwise. When they are arrested in Indonesia they are given the death penalty.

When the Indons let a terrorist free John how wrings his hands and says how bad it is. No real pressure, just a moan and on with business.

When a bunch of young Aussies are confirmed for a death sentence he says, "don't expect any leniency."

Howard said his government would appeal for clemency, but he had "no sympathy for drug traffickers and nor do millions of Australians".

About the same response really. Useless as tits on a bull!

Hell! We're just having too much fun

You have to wonder why, given the increasing pressure on their administrations, so many of the 'coalition of the willing' leaders are so desperate to hold on to office.

Berlusconi had to be levered out with a shoe horn, giving rise to thoughts that he might have something to hide. Well he had lots to hide, but it seems to be mainly about his well known penchant for corruption.

Australia's Howard keeps muttering his own version of 'hell no! I won't go!' But the greatest show of all is our boy Tony in Britain. He's sticking like shit to a blanket, even in the face of party revolt.

Blair finally announced, this week, he's be out by June, hoping to assuage growing concern in his party. Likely successor, Gordon Brown, says "Pig's bum Tony! Move it or lose it!"

But Brown was the least of Blair's problems after seven members of his government quit. They want Blair out and don't mind bringing in the wrecking ball to dislodge him.

Blair's own supporters had been busy preparing a 'send him off with style, let him go as a winner' campaign. It makes you wonder when they can't even read the mood of their own party.

My money is still on Tony going sooner rather than later. He needs to to keep his little secrets safe within a Labour government rather than handing them all to the Conservatives in an electoral slaughter.

The US is stuck with Bush for a couple more years, perhaps. But he is increasingly a lame duck and November should generate 'interesting times' for the great democracy.

Little Johnny Howard is another issue. Cunning as a gutter rat, the Aussie PM is still outclassing his rivals from all sides.

Still, all this will pass. Dogged they might be, but they are sort of human, and given to the entropy that goes with that.

History won't reflect well on the past few years, on these intrepid leaders, but their time is coming.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Psssst don't tell anyone but...

US spy bases in Australia have been a sore point for years, and now the Internet is stirring things up even more.

Pine Gap, an eavesdropping facility somewhere out in the desert wilderness of the Northern Territory is off limits to Australian. We aren't even supposed to know it's there, certainly not what goes on there.

So when Negroponte made a secret visit last December, of course, 20 million Australians weren't told, but more than a billion Chinese were.

A Labour party staff member doing a Google search turned up a report from Chinese news agency Xinhua, revealing that US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte had flown from Alice Springs to Manila to discuss joint US-Philippines counter-terrorism efforts.

In turn Xinhua got this tantalising information from the Philippine Star newspaper, which said Mr Negroponte brought 18 US officials with him aboard his giant C-17A Globemaster transport plane.

Asked, in parliament, if Negroponte visited the Australia-US joint defence facility at Pine Gap in December, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said: "The Government does not comment publicly on matters of intelligence including the details of Australia's intelligence relationships."

Then PM Howard explained that Mr Negroponte made a working visit to Australia in December 2005. He met the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.

Well now we know, and it didn't hurt a bit; did it?

Withdraw from Iraq - sometime - maybe

Australia's Federal Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, is now calling for withdrawal from Iraq. I must have missed his earlier call, but this one comes with an announcement to increase troop numbers from Australia.

Beazley has been a bit wishy-washy on the issue up to now, fearful of voter backlash, but obviously the polls are looking ripe for a bit of backbone.

THe troop build up is token at best; 38 troops and four Bushmaster armoured patrol vehicles would join the 480 Australian troops and 19 Bushmasters at Tallil, in the southern province of Dhi Qar.

But it was enough for 'Bomber' Beazley to get a handle on. He now says this is an 'escalation', and the need for more troops in the country's south showed their new mission was more dangerous.

All in all the call for withdrawal is about impressive as the so called escalation. There are powerful reasons to argue against the country's involvement in Iraq and this must be about the weakest of them.

To be fair, the Bomber did have another constituency to suck up to at the time. Beazley met with the new US ambassador Robert McCallum and was quick to assure him that Labor is committed to a close relationship between Australia and the United States.

The big man squeaks a lot, but to little effect. Asked, back in January, about Labor's timetable for the withdrawal of Australian troops in Iraq, Beazley sidestepped the question and said Australians needed to start making clear arguments to the Americans.

There is only one sure result from sitting on the fence. Doctors will start removing splinters from the opposition leaders backside next week.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Flogging a dead horse

When Bush's outfit, or maybe one of the allied countries, pulls the big September terror threat here are some numbers to conjure with.

They come from a new report from an out fit called the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University

According to their report, nearly three-quarters of terrorism suspects seized by the US in the five years following the September 11, 2001, attacks have not even made it to trial because of lack of evidence against them, a new report based on government data says.

I'll cut to the summary here:

In 64 per cent of the cases, federal prosecutors decided that they were not worth prosecuting, while an additional 9 per cent were either dismissed by judges or the individuals were found not guilty.

Only 27 per cent were convicted, and just a small number of them received heavy sentences commensurate with charges levelled against them, according to the document.

Only 14 people were sentenced to 20 years or more. Another 67 received sentences of at least five but less than 20 years. Overall, of the 1329 individuals who were sentenced, 704 received no prison time at all, and an additional 327 received sentences ranging from one day to less than a year, the report said.

I don't deny a terrorist threat, in fact some are saying that the aggressive approach of the US administration is increasing the dangers. The cynical manipulation of the threat for domestic political considerations can only make matters worse.

Mike at Born at the Crest had an instructive post - Americans know the Iraq war causes terrorism

I still don't believe security will be the primary voting motive, but it is doubtlessly in the mix. Americans need to be told again and again that the Bush admin is flogging a dead horse on this issue.


I thought some comparisons might be helpful.

BRITAIN: Between 11 September 2001 and 31 December 2004, were 701 arrests in the UK under the Terrorism Act.

Only 119 of these had faced charges under this legislation, with 45 of them also being charged for other offences.

A further 135 people were charged under other legislation - including terrorist offences covered in other criminal law, such as the use of explosives.

Only 17 have been convicted of offences under the Act.

AUSTRALIA: Despite the fanfare, just three people have been convicted of terrorist charges under Australia's tough security laws, which came into effect in 2002.

Pity poor East Timor

The situation in East Timor (Timor Leste) is unravelling again. On any reading of the situation it is clearly another botch up in the Australian approach to protecting the troubled country.

Rebel leader, Major Reinado, and his followerd were being held in the Dili jail waiting for a UN trial. The Australian Army's peace keeping force was asked by the ET government to help guard the place.

No way, they say, they are mobile troops not prison guards. Well they are mobile now after Reinado and his follows set up a commotion then walked out of the place.

Reinado says he wants the current Fretilin government toppled but President Guzmao and PM Ramos-Horta are still holding to the correct constitutional approach and looking to a coming election for change.

Meanwhile the Aussie troops are trying to find a trace of the escaped rebels, who are not particularly set up for an attack but more likely to stir up unrest again.

In the end it's the arrogance and shortsightedness of the Australian approach. Arrogant in that they steadfastly ignore those in ET who really understand the cultural dynamics at play; square pegs in round holes.

Certainly Gusmao and Ramos-Horta are taking the difficult approach, but then the right way is often the difficult way. They want to create a solid foundation for the country, not continue the rebellion and conflict approach.

I guess the 'Pacific Sheriff' is so entrenched in dirty politics they really have no idea of what the ET leadership are striving for.

Australia's FM Downer wants "a more robust military presence there than that proposed by the United Nations." Perhaps he should be thinking in terms of a more responsive presence and stop blaming the UN.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bought to book! Tagged

Okay, I've been tagged! Thanks Abi. At least it is on a subject I actually care about - books. One of the (many) odd things about me is that I almost go into panic mode if I don't have a book close by.

A book that changed my life: A Study of History by Arnold Toynbee. It depicts the rise of every known civilization as the result of extraordinary creative responses to physical and social challenges. As if that is not enough, Toynbee made some fairly strong points on what we are doing to our environment, and that was back in the '80s.

A book I've read more than once: Except for reference I rarely go back, there is just too much available to read. Henry Lawson, an Australian poet and rat-bag. First read his collected works at age ten and have never stopped.

A book I would take with me if I were stuck on a desert island: Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. Mainly because as often as I try I cannot read it with the distractions of life, it seems to need total concentration.

A book that I wish had been written: A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay - Watkin Tench, written during the first convict settlement in Australia in 1788. He was a marine officer with a remarkable social outlook and 'modern' writing style, given the time. An Aussie scientist, Tim Flannagan got the privilege of prepping the books rerelease a couple of years back..

A book I wish had never been written: Two come to mind, for different reasons. Lord of the Rings, because a brilliant work has been totally trivialized. The Da Vinci Code because it is trivial twaddle purporting to have merit.

A book I've been meaning to read: I'm still looking for the last of Gore Vidal's US president's series. I know, they are formula, but I was deprived of a lot of American writers downunder, and I really enjoyed the first four.

I'm currently reading: Congo - Michael Crichton. Lately I've been taking pot luck at the local thrift shop. Nothing to lose and I occasionally discover a gem. This isn't one of them.

A book that made me laugh: Any of the works of Spike Milligan, English tragi-comic. His little books have made me laugh and cry at the same time, his mastery of nonsense is legendary.

A book that made me cry: Okay, I can't cite the last... Solzhenitsyn, August 1914. I can't recall any one passage, but his writing conveyed such a depth of grief and passion in parts, I became pretty well immersed.

Oh so many potential victims, but I would like to know what an English teacher reads reality-based educator

A Gaza Strike?

If Israel's spy chief, Yuval Diskin, can be believed Hezbollah will make their next strike from Gaza. Given the information comes with a veiled call for a preemptive strike it tends to twitter the 'wolf cry' radar.

But taking into account the damage Hezbollah have done to themselves in Lebanon, and regional pressure that will be on them to advance the cause, the claim is oddly credible.

Diskin says Egypt's Sinai Peninsula was being used as a terrorist base and fast becoming a haven for arms smugglers preparing to shift their wares into the Gaza Strip.

He adds that within Gaza terrorists were building rocket hideouts, a bunker network and an anti-tank missile arsenal as they prepared for an escalated confrontation with Israel.

Given the current political disarray in Israel it's hard to accept Hezbollah as chastened in any way. What Diskin is describing is pretty much a mirror of the build-up in Southern Lebanon.

Still, claims from one source don't amount to fact. At this stage it's probably just something worth watching for.

Good cop - bad cop or tactical disconnect?

The British government was warned more than two years ago that Iran had illegally acquired a missile system capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

According to the Times, the system was sold to Iran by a former senior member of the Ukrainian security service in a deal was brokered by an organised crime boss.

The Times says: Britain's policy of trying to use quiet diplomacy to curb the Iranian plans has been in stark contrast to the more bellicose rhetoric coming from America.

British ministers have never disclosed, however, that they were given warnings as long ago as 2004 that Iran had gone to the extent of covertly acquiring missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

They say the Ukrainians were supposed to have destroyed or transferred to Russia their share of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal. The Americans funded a massive disarmament project, but considerable amounts of weaponry are thought to have disappeared in the interim period.

Now I will grant that there is much we ordinary mortals simply aren't privy to, and who knew what when is often high on that list.

It's hard to believe that Blair, if he was actually briefed, would have held this information back from Bush Co.

That potential situation makes a potential, if ultimately doomed, 'good cop - bad cop' scenario look attractive.

On the other hand, given the increasingly weird political/intelligence dynamic within Britain and with their allies the disconnect can't be discounted either.

If British intel had a problem with the CIA et al there is plenty of historical precedent for vital information to be held back, even held back from a Prime Minister.

Given the high stakes in this game, and the looming consequences of failure vis a vis Iran, the revelations are at least interesting.

That there is a parallel universe inhabited by intel spooks and bureaucratic intrigue is hardly news. In fact the only time it becomes an issue is when those intrigues fail miserably and threaten the very security they claim to protect.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Where is Karl?

So George Bush is either in denial or the spin is spinning out of control. The record of false calls stretches back at least to 'mission accomplished', if not further, and denial is probably the most charitable explanation.

Just recently good old George exposed himself as one of the few people on Earth who saw an Israeli victory. His latest position, despite high level advice to the contrary, is to reject the idea that Iraq had descended into civil war despite bloody sectarian fighting in Baghdad.

The real question is, outside his core fan club, will Americans believe him?

The issue is getting coverage in the US, at least judging from my online queries; right through from the Pentagon statement to the denials.

That should mean people are getting both sides through the evolving story, rather than simply fed one sided BS.

Just the fact that he needs to come out, again, to deny reports must be a negative for him in the eyes of many; even if they don't really understand complexities of the issue. The decider being forced to deny and explain must undercut his position.

This, of course, comes on the heels of memories of Katrina, another failure actually acknowledged to an extent.

While I'm wondering what ordinary Americans are making of all of this the question also rises; where is Karl? Where is the magic spin of old, the surefire antidote to presidential goof-ups?

Karl's trick is to stay in front of the news and guide it, not be forced to respond.

All very strange and worrying...

A stench of corruption in the club

We still intend to do the odd corruption story on this re-badged site, and there are a couple of rippers at present.

The Corrupt Bastards Club, or Caucus, of the Alaskan political establishment should provide some great copy for the next few weeks at least. No doubt the FBI will go into deep cover after that while they sort out the mass of evidence from their raids this week, including a raid on the State's Capitol.

I'm sure the Repubs are cringing at the tie in with another 'culture of corruption' revelation, even if it is way off in mythical Alaska.

(A series of my original articles have now been reposted at

Corrupt Bastards Club Redux)

The other story that caught my eye was out of Britain where John Christensen, of the Tax Justice Network, criticised the ranking of the world's most corrupt nations compiled annually by Transparency International.

That is something I've be know to do myself in the past. Although I admire the efforts of TI the index is merely perception and tends to cloud the reality.

Christensen cuts through that, maintaining that: Britain is high on a list of the world's most corrupt countries, along with the United States and Switzerland, because of the refuge it offers to dirty money in tax havens such as the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man.

He says Britain deserves inclusion high on any list of corrupt countries because of its "pinstripe infrastructure" of financial advisers squirrelling away money offshore and because of its reluctance to close down its tax havens.

But the major point, to my mind, is a recognition that the rich western economies are essentially corrupt, regardless of perception.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Mired in the electoral swamp

Oh dear readers, I made a frightful blunder - Foreign thoughts on the mid-terms - which was overlooked by my regular critics. In trying to understand the dynamics of a US mid-term election I accepted the following as having some veracity:

Until now, Republicans consoled themselves in this worsening political environment with the belief that congressional elections are local popularity contests.

On further reading it becomes clear that the 'local popularity contests' was a piece of tactical puffery which some Republican candidates have accepted as gospel. They have fallen for their own bullshit!

I've been trying to tease out the reality of the much trumpeted threat to incumbents. That is appears is another groundless myth.

But first the local angle. It seems that was dreamed up as an antidote to the anti-Bush factor, deny deny! One article headed the Republican campaign tactics - There's No "We" in Team.

Once you take away the local personality issues, most polls show national security is just about the only issue where Democrats don't have a substantial lead.

So Bush's crew, content to butt out at the start have ridden back in with the old admin terror theme, confusing the campaigners, if not the voters.

CNN [well we are talking national] says:

Individual Republicans in tough swing districts will still try to run local races and pretend they've never met either Jack Abramoff or the president. But the new White House strategy virtually guarantees that voters will see the midterms as a national election.

Well that clears that up for me. Now to these incumbents...

A governor, two House members, 17 state legislators in Pennsylvania, a U.S. senator -- maybe two.

What do they have in common? They're all incumbents who lost (or may well lose) a primary. As they say in the news biz with barely contained lust: "Is this a trend?" [CNN again]

The Anti-Incumbent Mood Is Exaggerated, claims Human Events Online.

CNN agrees: The trouble with extrapolating from these and other incumbent defeats, though, is that there seems to be no common explanation. Sometimes it's a question of character or personality.

Lieberman lost in Connecticut for not being enough of a "real" Democrat, for being out of step with his party's antiwar sentiments on Iraq, as well as for views he's held on everything from affirmative action to school vouchers to the Terri Schiavo case.

In Rhode Island, Chafee is being pushed for not being Republican enough. He's the most independent, or least loyal, Republican in the Senate. He didn't even vote for President Bush in 2004, announcing he'd written in Bush's father. And on and on...

What seems to be coming clearer is a widespread antipathy towards the whole Middle East debacle; that despite the 'national security' fears, across the country.

Now here is where I would claim that Iraq, security et al were merely presenting issues, and the underlying issue is economic. But I can't do that with any confidence in the absence of reliable data.

Although I would cite: 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.

With an additional quote: But gas prices are hurting consumers because real wage growth has declined over the past four years. [TIME]

The real question is who do the voters blame; Bush? Congress? A mixture of the two - and even crossing party lines? It seems the pollsters and analysts are locked into the presenting thorns and not looking far beyond, not asking the tough economic questions.

Well, to be fair, some are: 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."

To repeat another quote from Time: ..the price of gas isn't a mere macroeconomic figure. It's a pocketbook item that consumers feel every week.

So my gut still says economy, still says a Democrat majority. If the Democrats don't try and steer their primaries and accept some sacrificial attrition among incumbents that majority could be a full ten seats, but a simple majority will probably suffice.

Middle East - Fresh Perspectives

There are some interesting perspectives coming out of the British media now that the dust is steeling in Lebanon.

I mentioned maverick Brit MP, George Galloway, yesterday. He quit Blair's Labour over the Iraq war. Now he has a thing or two to say about Israel; as has a leading Christian politician, Samir Geagea, about Hezbollah.

Galloway said Israel's 39-year occupation of swathes of Arab territory had spurred militants to attack the West. Galloway says Israel poisoning West-Islam ties

"The poison which circulates as a result of this unresolved conflict is poisoning our own lives in the West and making our people more endangered.

"Every time we see a martyrdom video from a young Muslim who was ready to swap his life for many of ours it is Palestine at the heart of this man's motivation.

"It is now the duty of the backers of Israel to impress upon the Israeli leadership... a comprehensive peace." he said at the end of a visit to Lebanon and Syria.

The basics aren't new and have been canvassed here and elsewhere, but not with such precision.

A post-Blair foreign policy, Galloway said, should re-engage Syria, which he described as "moderate, progressive, secular, nationalist" and respect the fact that the country, ruled by the Baath Party since 1963, is not a U.S. "slave"

"Israel lost but it does not mean Hizbollah won," said Samir Geagea, chief of the Lebanese Forces political movement. Lebanese Christians "don't like this triumphalism", he said. Christians deny Hizbollah victory

"First of all they don't see that it was a victory. They feel on the contrary that it was a big loss for Lebanon, even though they acknowledge that the guerrillas of Hizbollah have done well on the battleground."

"On the Arab and Islamic front they gained fame and Sheikh Nasrallah has become a celebrity," he said. "But this is not something you can touch or spend.

"Inside Lebanon, the Lebanese who didn't agree with the strategy of Hizbollah have become more open in their position." These include Shia critics of the organisation "who are now much more outspoken then before".

For Lebanon to progress, Mr Geagea says, Hizbollah will have to give up its weapons. The paradox is that having proclaimed victory it has now less justification than ever for maintaining its arms.

"Its strategy has been shown to be faulty," he said. "They said they should be allowed to keep their weapons to maintain an 'equilibrium of terror' with Israel. As long as they had them, Israel would not dare to attack. This has been shown to be an illusion.

"They justified not handing their arms to the state by saying that if they used them the Israeli response would be localised rather than affecting the whole country. This has also been shown to be wrong. Many things have been broken by this war. Not only the Lebanese infrastructure but many theories and assumptions."

Geagea believes that with Hizbollah now under pressure to become a conventional political party, the war may have created an opportunity for progress. "The road is open for us to have the Lebanon the majority dream of," he said. "We have the potential to be a real democracy in the Middle East - pluralistic, scientific and modern."

All that depends on Hizbollah disarming, however

No need for my two cents...