Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Master strategy or shoot from the lip?

In a serious blunder John Howard has revealed how much his national security credentials have been undermined by the elevation of Kevin Rudd, the Iraq fiasco and the anti-war mood in the US.

It is an extraordinary attack on a potential US president. Such comments tie Howard more closely to President George W. Bush when the American people are deserting him. They tie Howard more closely to Bush's present Iraq strategy that is certain to be opposed by whoever becomes the Democratic Party's nominee. Paul Kelly The Australian

That’s one take on Howard’s extraordinary outburst aimed at Barak Obama.

I’m sure the Howard/Obama tiff had more play in Australia than elsewhere, so if Howard intended to shore up his mate George it was a dicey strategy.

Others suggest it was a well designed plan to shift domestic election year talk away from climate change and the growing water crisis.

Like Bush, Howard has always felt most comfortable on the Iraq/war on terror agenda. As one report puts it” Trust my courage under fire: PM

New Labor leader Kevin Rudd has been all over Howard on a number of fronts and is well ahead in the polls. This gave Howard the dubious opportunity to turn the tables, attack back.

Howard called Kevin Rudd gutless over Iraq, signalling he intends to crash through on this issue despite voters' increasing opposition to Australia's role in the conflict.

It is now up to how the voters see these conflicting issues. Iraq is certainly nothing to brag about, but attack could cloud the failures on that front. The emotive language, courage, gutless and more can be dragged out on these issues.

But there are still ongoing failures to address, including the domestic terror front where military weapons are still being seized around the country. How serious is the Howard government if they can’t keep their military hardware safely locked away?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Australian war crimes?

Some prominent lawyers in Australia are warning members of the federal government that they could face war crimes charges over Guantanamo bay.

To add to John Howard’s miseries, it seems he has made a quick enemy of Barack Obama, who has his own version of war crimes charges against the PM.

In a new found understanding of the issues, Howard says he's very unhappy about the US handling of the case against Australian terrorist suspect David Hicks.
"I am very unhappy. We are unhappy, frustrated, at the amount of time it's taken. I don't think the Americans have handled that part of it well."

That turn around, the boot rather than the nose up Bush’s rear, comes after some serious warnings that the government could be charged under their own laws if detainee David Hicks is tried under retrospective laws.

Peter Vickery, QC, said members of the Government were at risk of breaching the Australian criminal code as well as Australia's international treaty obligations by urging the US to proceed with the present draft charges against Hicks.

Mr Vickery, an International Commission of Jurists special "rapporteur" on Hicks, said the charge of "material support for terrorism" against Hicks was a classic retrospective law which did not exist in 2001.

"It was created by the Americans to apply to David Hicks and others on 17 October 2006 when President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law in the United States," he said. "However, Hicks is alleged to have committed the offence in Afghanistan in 2001."

The part of the code that could put the Government at risk of committing a war crime was a section relating to the actions of a party who might "counsel" or "urge" another party to conduct a trial that does not meet the mandated standards of fairness.

"By pressing the United States to proceed with this charge, members of the Australian Government are at serious risk of committing a war crime under the Australian Criminal Code," he said. "If that occurs, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court could initiate charges, or provided the Federal Attorney-General consents, charges could be laid before an Australian criminal court.

Obama got stuck into Howard over what he called "empty rhetoric", an attack on Obama’s plans to bring US troops home from Iraq.

"I think it's flattering that one of George Bush's allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced," Mr Obama told reporters in the mid-western US state of Iowa.

"I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1,400, so if he is ... to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq.

John Howard is starting to look jittery as his opposition opponent rockets ahead in the polls. I guess elections always make incumbents jittery, though Howard rarely shows it. I’m not sure why he is now, polls aside the economic indicators are still favouring the government.

The country might actually see Howard now for the slimy toad he is, but that in itself does not translate to a potential election loss. True the key economic indicators are bumping along the danger line, with the governments biggest problem being to keep the eye on the ball while the diversions hammer in at them.

We know there will be an election sometime in the final three months this year. That still leaves lots of room for both economic perceptions and reality to turn in favour of the opposition.

A few serious war crimes charges wouldn’t go astray either.


Howard has risked a rift with a future US government after attacking Obama's policy to pull US troops out of Iraq according to the opposition.

Labelling a victory for the high-profile Democratic Party senator in next year's US presidential election a triumph for terrorists, the Prime Minister said the strategy to pull troops from Iraq would embolden Southeast Asian terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiah.

"If I were running al-Qa'ida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats," Howard said.

Kevin Rudd (opposition leader) accused Howard of risking the strength of the US alliance, branding his attack on Senator Obama as "short-sighted and irresponsible". The Opposition Leader called on Howard to immediately withdraw his comments, saying he must not allow his personal relationship with President Bush to affect Australia's long-term alliance with the US.

"The Prime Minister's partisan attack on Obama and the Democratic Party risks the strength of the US alliance," Rudd said.

Howard said the Labor Party had no right to attack him because it often criticised US President George Bush over the Iraq war and no one accused Labor of putting the US alliance in jeopardy.

The US/Australia alliance has been a political piñata since my earliest days as a political activist. I’m old enough to have been a spectator of the LBJ storm here in Australia. Funny think is the alliance sticks with the same tenacity of shit to a blanket. Indeed, what alliance of any value won’t exist through political/social turmoil?

But the fact remains that Howard would be isolated under a Democrat president just as much as Labor would be under a Republican one; and the world would keep spinning and the bullshit would continue to fly.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The dingo dropping ate my country

So Grub Street is still existing in sweltering Queensland, for another week at least. So we might just as well look at some of the local colour which might at least equal kvatch’s ‘avin's Glass Ceiling’. Though there might be a stretch between uttering the words and accomplishing the actions.

We have in Australia, a robust society. One might say we are more attuned to oral sex; we discuss it often enough. But sexual allusion aside, and before we visit the fact that our PM (prick meister) might actually retain his current position, a little cultural background might be in order.

These bits emanate from my current geographical/political home Queensland:

Dumped Johnstone Shire councillor George Pervan is hopping mad.

He's vowing to get square with "hairy-legged mongrels" he accuses of conspiring with "bureaucratic boofheads" to abruptly sack him and the rest of the elected leadership of one of Australia's most colourful shire councils.

"I can't believe it - I even got in trouble for calling the girls here 'birds' and 'sheilas'," Mr Pervan, a former deputy mayor, told The Weekend Australian yesterday.

"What's the problem? People can call me anything as long as they don't call me late for dinner or a beer. The bloody silvertails are taking over. I'm a mad Yugoslav. But I'm having a bad run right now

Behaviour in the Queensland Parliament reached an all-time low yesterday [ no one really knows where the bottom of this pond really is] as the Nationals' Rob Messenger compared Premier Peter Beattie to a prostitute and "one of the most disgusting and contemptuous (sic) people to have ever drawn breath in Queensland".

In scenes reminiscent of schoolyard bullying, he was in turn accused of having "ape-like manners" and "low intellect".

While debating extra protection for whistleblowers, Mr Messenger on Wednesday night likened the Premier in a dinner suit to "watching a prostitute dressed in a ballgown talking about celibacy"

Conservative MPs went on with their descriptions labelling the government as "crooks", "baboons" and "lower than a dingo's droppings"


So don't worry that I'm slower than a bush fly drinking sweat! I’d still prefer my reps were out screwing their brains out! Well some of them; no one wants John Howard to get that close to their body!

Which brings me to the Prick Meister who will more than likely retain his tax free rental accommodation for the next few years. Sure he is way behind in the polls, but did unpopularity ever worry our John Howard? He has been give a less than 100,000 chance, but I’m not running off to the local bookie!

This is the bloke, back in the dreaded 60s who would turn up at branch meetings in his grass stained cricket whites! The rst of us might have had various grass stains, but they held some semblance of honour.

He was perceived then as lower than dingo droppings, but he still became PM! He is currently detested on his ‘position’ (the sad equivalent of missionary position) on a range of vital international issues.

The simple fact is, and I hate the whole idea, he will win because of those bloody economic indicators.

First Examining elections from 1966, Simon Jackman of Stanford University and Gary Marks of the Melbourne Institute found that for every one percentage point fall in the unemployment rate, an incumbent government can expect to be rewarded with a swing in its favour of 0.75 percentage points in its share of the two-party preferred vote.

So what does that tell us? Australia's unemployment rate has fallen by 0.8 of a percentage point since the 2004 election. Based on the economists' modelling, the Howard Government could expect a swing in its favour of about another half of a percentage point in its share of the vote, based on the jobless numbers so far.

Second the interest rates, hurting or not, are holding.

The numbers aren’t with change yet. The bloody silvertails are taking over. I'm a mad Yugoslav (well it is a good line!) We are watching a prostitute dressed in a cricket whites talking about celibacy" (or no balls); and a government of "crooks", "baboons" and "lower than a dingo's droppings"

But unless the economic indicators are wrong PM Lazarus will rise again.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Turn turn turn

I am on the road again and might not post for a while, so it seems apt and timely to recap a major issue I have been prodding since I began this blog in September 05 and before that on the site.

The new Democrat majority is finally getting a handle on the $ billions missing from the earliest stages of the CPA occupation in Iraq.

Stories began surfacing almost immediately, about the apparent waste occurring in Iraq, but were largely ignored. .

In December 2005 I posted Where is that Nine Billion Dollars? On this blog, and the question is still relevant, though the amount appears to have blown out.

My frequent comments on the Oil for Food scandal, particularly in relation to Australia’s wheat cheats, the AWB, raised more questions about squandered cash.

Two former executives where levered into key positions in the Coalition Reconstruction Authority, by the Australian government, and against strong US opposition.

Trevor Flugge, (above) had been Chairman of the newly privatised AWB, the country’s monopoly what exporter. He proved to be a bit of a cowboy in Baghdad, looking after his own interests as well as assuring further wheat sales to the country.

As early as 2003 questions were being asked - Iraq: the missing billions /23.10.03

“A staggering US$4 billion in oil revenues and other Iraqi funds earmarked for the reconstruction of the country has disappeared into opaque bank accounts administered by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the US-controlled body that rules Iraq. By the end of the year, if nothing changes in the way this cash is accounted for, that figure will double.”

But it was Flugge’s colleague, Michael Long, who jangled the alarm bells with pictures of him distributing boxes of cash (right).

His first trip to Iraq was 1997 and he took over the Middle East desk in 2001. In January 2002 Mr Long was appointed as the first Australian representative to the peak international grain body, Grain and Feed Trade Association.

Well versed in the ways of Iraq, Long was entrusted with distributing cash which has never really been accounted for.

It has been a long and frustrating story, and It is great to see some serious effort to investigate it now. I doubt the cash will be recovered or the real story known, but other uncomfortable aspects will certainly be canvassed.

Chief among them should be the real reason Iraq was invaded in the first place.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Connecting the disconnects

Some issues are challenged, others slide, but the increasing disconnects with Australia’s Howard government deserve serious scrutiny. Two immediate issues come to mind, terrorism and climate change.

In the ongoing drama over local ‘terrorists’ and stolen rocket launchers we have a new Australian Federal Police report that one such weapon belonging to “a Sydney man with alleged links to a terrorist cell was "active" and could have been fired.”

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson earlier tried to downplay the issue by claiming the weapon was “was probably manufactured around 1990.” The inference being that it was no longer dangerous.

But neither statement goes on to explain how “the recovered rocket was from Australian Defence Force (ADF) stocks” Or indeed who might have been responsible for these weapons getting into the hands of local ‘terrorists’.

The closest we have come to knowing how our military weapons can be traded on the open market is the fact that ordnance stores are contracted out to private operators.

I guess the short answer in Howard parlance is ‘free trade’.

Dry economics

Howard himself is having a hard time catching up with current international trends in climate policy mitigation. While he is still coming around to a now dubious position of trading carbon credits he did show his hand answering a question in parliament.

He said, during question time yesterday, that the "jury was out" when asked about the connection between emissions and climate change.

He later returned to the national forum to explain: "Just for the record I do believe there is a connection between climate change and emissions, I don't really think the jury's out on that."

Climate change and the 'war on terror' are both vitally serious issues, and both apparently subjects for spin rather than serious consideration.

We are part of the coalition engaged in the so called war on terror, but more intent all the same on chasing bogeymen then ensuring security and our own weapons.

Our country is suffering the ravages of climate change now, but the big earners are not about to risk profits and talk about policies to mitigate the threat.

The two issues are closely tied, in that they effect everyone’s quality of life, not to mention massive profits for well placed corporations.

Versifying for justice

Blognonymous (Kvatch) has been on a ‘say it in poetry’ push of late, inspired by a fellow blogger under the guise of A Poetic Justice.

I don’t regard myself as a poet of any great note, but I do occasionally get a kick out of reducing ideas to rhyming couplets or worse - January 26.

Everyone has a bit of a poet in them and A Poetic Justice is providing an open forum for you to give it a bash - Saturday Sonata.

I guess as the muse takes me I will be submitting the odd verse. I hope you will to, or at least go and take a look each Saturday at the musings of others.

And thanks to APJ for Saturday Sonata and kvatch for prodding some of into verse.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Apoplexy outbreak scare

There is mounting anger, in Britain, over the official response to the outbreak of bird flu at a poultry farm last night after it was confirmed that the strain of disease is the deadly H5N1 virus.

It took a full five days before European Union scientists managed to conduct tests and were able to confirm that the virus at the farm, in Holton, near Halesworth, was H5N1.

Having been through bird flu and mad cow scares at close quarters, in BC Canada, I expect there will be more casualties from apoplexy than H5N1 in Britain.

I have commented before about the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) agents, decked out in moon walking suits nailing quarantine signs on farm gates; drivers putting on a great show of spraying vehicles at the gate; of those farmers who boosted the threat in the hopes of boosting compensation payouts.

It was a circus and the showmanship was superb, but that is all it was. Of the two outbreaks in BC, the first occurred in the provinces highest area of bio-security. An area which had been constantly subject to quarantine rules. The second an open duck farm on the Chilliwack River.

In both cases the infection was introduced by wild birds, not from ground level carriers. You know those wild birds which tend to shit indiscriminately, even in high bio-security areas? The first incident caught everyone by surprise, it happened during the 2004 Canadian election campaign. Hundreds of thousands of birds were needlessly killed for the sake of optics.

The second outbreak was more managed, the hysteria kept under control. Only flocks with signs of the virus were destroyed, the rest was sideshow.

There is a real danger in communities where ‘farmers’ live among their flocks. Those are the areas where transmission become a real problem.

In reasonably well managed farming regimes, the only way to stop the introduction of these diseases is to destroy all wild birds, and that is not going to happen. But there is still no need for mass hysteria. A well managed and targeted cull is the only reasonable response.

The problem isn’t going to go away and it isn’t going to be helped by screaming headlines and public hysteria.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bitten by an icon

There was a time, not so many years back, where a national airline was seen as an essential element of national identity.

For Australia that airline was Qantas, born just a stretch up the road from where your correspondent is sitting in rural Queensland.

Now ‘just a stretch up the road’ in Queensland is not a Sunday afternoon drive, you generally need to pack more than just a picnic lunch, so despite the sparse population it is a fitting place for the birth of this once proud national icon.

Qantas began with fragile biplanes carrying one or two passengers in open cockpits, and serviced the vast outback as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd.

Despite the fact that the airline has now become just an airline to many Australians, an election year is not a clever time to see it fly overseas for good into the hands of foreign investors.

Now the international group behind an $11 billion takeover bid are attempting to stare down the Howard Government as nervous backbenchers agitate for restrictions on the deal.

It is all a bit late of course, Howard signed off years ago on liberalising foreign investment, without too much pressure from the US and others.

In fact he has been a major advocate, and still is, of increased trade liberalisation – just not the family silver in and election year. But regardless of bluster it is highly unlikely the takeover can be stopped under revamped laws.

Ironically, if the flying kangaroo was to move offshore it would be a great help to Howard or his successors Australia’s trade balance widened last month, with drought being cited as a primary cause. But on the other side, purchases there is always a spike when new aircraft are bought by out various airlines.

The biggest and most expensive, of course, are the international monsters preferred by Qantas. Okay, it was only a couple of hundred million bucks, but the we are just 20 million people.

There was some irony in the other spike factor as well, oil. While Howard just shaved through on avoiding a rate hike, because of lower fuel prices it is claimed, higher oil imports added to the debt imbalance.

There are enough indications that, like the US, Australia is on treacherously thin ice economically. It is all very well to massage one indicator, but the reality soon starts leaking out of another.

Bush is not the only leader being isolated by the current trend within the new Democratic majority to jettison trade liberalisation and revert to protectionist policies, the Howard government is also caught with its pant down.

Thus exposed, those trade liberalisation policies are turning around to bite Howard on the bum, in an election year.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Comment function down/up

It seems like I have a small problem with comments at the moment. I have advised blogger support and I’m looking at the issue from my side. It’s a worry…

It was down, seems to be working now.

Government responsible to who?

"I don't tackle the nation's problems by handing over responsibility to an unelected body, and I'll never agree to do that," says the Prime Minister John Howard. He was referring to Australia’s water crisis, which might be diverting enough that people will forget AWB and other ‘hand over to unelected bodies’ under his tenure.

Howard’s new found respect for responsible government is being challenged by another ‘unelected body’ which seems to have control over, if not always responsibly – mining giant BHP Billiton. .

BHP-B has enormous power over the plunder of the country’s natural resources, and they are ready, it seems, to tell Howard and the public at large they have no intention of sharing in any resolution of the country’s worsening water problem.

Howard floated a balloon to the mining giant, which uses millions of litres of water a day without paying for it, ‘seeking’ agreement “to establish proper entitlements, metering, pricing and reporting arrangements for water extracted from the Great Artesian Basin.”

The basin is a giant aquifer which runs beneath NSW, Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia.

No way Hose, according to BHP. "We have operated in the Great Artesian Basin on the basis of the agreement with the South Australian Government that doesn't require us to pay for the water."

“BHP's Olympic Dam uranium, gold and copper mine and the neighbouring town of Roxby Downs draws 33 million litres of water a day from the basin free of charge.

If a Sydney household or business managed to use that much water, its daily bill would be more than $52,000.” SMH


The Howard government are in a similar squeeze on the WTO Doha Development Round. Having enthusiastically jump aboard the trade liberalisation train, again with the exception of that unelected AWB, Australia has been caught with its trade pans well and truly down.

Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss has found that the new Democrat majority in the US is not willing to continue “handing over responsibility to an unelected body” the WTO for their countries economic management.

Collin Peterson, the new chairman of the House of Representatives agricultural committee, who says the benefits of trade liberalisation has been oversold to Americans.

Truss is trying hard to find some positive news in all this, holding out for the new US Farm Bill to leave space for the prospect of the Doha round succeeding. Of course he could take heart that Peterson has been too busy with the Farm Bill to think about AWB.

Unlike the Howard government the US Democrats are recognising that you cannot, despite the rhetoric, hand over responsibility for commodities and resources to unelected bodies. As Peterson says the benefits of trade liberalisation has been oversold to Americans, and he might well add Australians.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Seahorses get it off

I normally leave things of the natural realm to ‘creepy crawly’ enthusiast, romunov, unless it is the ‘creepy crawly’ things of our social, political cultures.

The long cherished monogamous reputation of Australian seahorses has been soundly debunked by British researchers. Of course it could be a plot by the Poms, but they say they have proof that cute little seahorses are raging tarts who swing both ways!

Mate for life? We have been duped by at least three species according to the English aquarium voyeurs. They have been getting excited over their observations that seahorses are both promiscuous and more than a little bit gay.

They have been watching and are pointing the long bony finger at three seahorse species: the Australian big-bellied, the Caribbean slender and the British spiny.

I know science is quirky, I once had a partner who was into helping fruit flies mate. All in the line of duty I was assured. But these Brits admit to observing more than 3100 sexual encounters, and recorded that 37 per cent were same-sex liaisons and seahorses were found to be flirting with up to 25 potential partners a day.

Now here is the part that starts to ring alarm bells: The Australian seahorse was the most indiscriminate, mating with females and males several times a day. Well I know the Australian male is alleged to think about sex once every three seconds, but seahorses?

Paul Bullimore, a marine curator, said the bisexual activity was "both a great surprise and a shock to many of us" and observations of the big-bellied seahorses indicated they were "indiscriminate and shameless creatures".

Well Paul, with all due respects, why is a grown man watching these little guys getting their rocks off? Is it personal Paul, or is it a plot to further defame your Australian cousins?

The questions have to be asked, in light of the finding: Of the three species studied, only some of the British spiny seahorse were faithful to one partner. But faithful Paul? Or simple not particularly tempting. Cold fish, those Poms.