Saturday, June 05, 2004

From "deputy sheriff" to "watchdog" 

Are we seeing the start of a new media myth in Australia?

This headline from the "Sydney Morning Herald": "Hill: we'll be US's watchdog in Asia."

The article, based on an AP newswire, doesn't actually quote the Australian Defence Minister, Senator Robert Hill, as saying that Australia will be the US's watchdog in the region. The word "watchdog" is in fact not mentioned at all. The actual story is quite prosaic:

"Canberra will help the United States to maintain its security interests in the Asia Pacific as Washington moves to realign troop movements in the region, Australia's Defence Minister, Robert Hill, said today.

" 'If we can assist in any way, then we will do it,' Hill said after a bilateral meeting with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the sidelines of an Asian security meeting here."
But "watchdog" sounds good, doesn't it, with all its subservient connotations and canine associations (watchdog, lapdog, nice doggie, geddit?)

Remember the controversy about Australia being America's "deputy sheriff" in Asia? Except that of course the Prime Minister Howard never actually said it. But it too sounded good, and provided the media and John Howard's critics with some great ammo for cheap shots.

In the meantime, I'll be awaiting the transcript of Minister Hill's press conference with some interest.


Bush: liberation of Rome a "mistake" 

ROME (Agence Fraude-Presse) US President declared the liberation of Rome from Nazi occupation 60 years ago a "mistake" and vowed to invite the German Army to resume their positions north of the famous Gustav Line.

"I came here to celebrate our two nations' commitment to freedom, forged in blood six decades ago, but all I see is some freaks in masks setting fire to rubbish bins and chanting 'No Bush, no war'," President Bush told the gathered media after an hour-long private meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "Fuck that for a joke."

The spokesman for the German Defence Ministry said the Ministry had no immediate comments, but that President Bush's proposal would be given "all due consideration."
Meanwhile, like loaves and fishes, the number of anti-Bush protesters in Rome just keeps multiplying. Police estimate the crowd at 25,000, the organisers at 150,000, while some reports put the figure at 500,000. Crowds are notoriously difficult to estimate - must be difficult to see through all that smoke of burning rubbish (even though the authorities made sure that "[t]he city center was cleared of thousands of trash cans and 600 garbage containers" they obviously haven't quite succeeded).

Regardless, those crowd estimates compare favourably with 300,000 Italians who came out on the streets of Rome in December 1999 to protest the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein. Just kidding.

P.S.: For the record, AP reports that "[m]any leaders of the centre-left opposition who strongly opposed the Iraq war have urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully and stressed their gratitude for the U.S.-role in liberating Italy." That's alright guys, I was only joking; you're not all bad. Iraq finally has a chance to become a normal, decent country, but no thanks to you - so go back to waving your rainbow flags.


Sneak preview 

Just to whet your appetite, coming up soon on Chrenkoff:

Good news from Iraq, Part III - all the good news that's not fit to print just keeps rolling in.

All in the same EU-boat now - a new round-up on what those zany Europeans, God bless 'em, get up to.

Stay tuned.


Friday, June 04, 2004

Should I be overjoyed or scared? 

"Don King steps into the ring to help win black vote for Bush" writes the "Daily Telegraph":

"There are millions of black Republicans in America, according to Bishop R T Jones, a leading member of the party in Philadelphia. There is only one catch: they vote Democrat.

"Bishop Jones, the black patriarch of the Christian Tabernacle church in Philadelphia, lamented: 'Our family values are Republican, our social values are Republican. We think Republican, but only a few of us have the nerve to vote Republican'."
Now apparently, Don King is joining in the good Bishop's vote drive for Bush. The man, who as the "Telegraph" kindly reminds the readers, "once served three and a half years for manslaughter and who has been indicted - though never convicted - on federal charges including tax fraud and racketeering" (hey, I'm sure the Democrats will not want to throw any stones in glasshouses) now proclaims proudly: "I'm a Republicrat. I'm for whoever is going to deliver for our people."

All I can say is, should Mr King use some of his former clients in the election campaign, there won't be any chads left hanging after they finish punching those votes.


Is "disastrous" "highly unusual" or "extraordinary"? 

How the Australian media is spinning the Prime Minister John Howard's visit to the United States. The "Sydney Morning Herald" - breathlessly:

"US President George Bush has delivered an unprecedented blow to the Labor Party, describing Mark Latham's policy of withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq as 'disastrous'."
An unprecedented blow? How will the poor Latham recover? "SMH" also called the remarks "a highly unusual intervention in Australian domestic politics" (Melbourne "Age" agrees, calling it "the extraordinary intervention"). As highly unusual an intervention in other country's domestic politics, as Mark Latham calling George Bush "the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory"?

Further from the "SMH": "The remarks will provide a stark contrast in the coming election between Labor and the Coalition's policy on Iraq and relations with the US." Personally, I think that the contrast was already quite stark without the remarks.

"The Australian", on the other hand is quite adjective free and straight to the point. Labor, by the way, still support withdrawing Australian troops by Christmas.

And then there's this curious mix of news with light-hearted political commentary about John Howard's previous American appointment:

"Mr Howard, who has become a kind of international Tory pin-up boy in recent years, was also able to offer some elementary political lessons to the Governor [Schwarzenegger], explaining that a 'Liberal' in Australia connotes a different meaning to that of a 'liberal' in America.

" 'It's a slightly different thing ... Liberal in Australia is Centre-Right,' he told Mr Schwarzenegger."
Not that Schwarzenegger, who's been accused of being a "liberal" himself (small "l") would probably mind.

But "a Tory pin-up boy"? That's almost cute.

UPDATE: The walking digrace that is the Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown can't stay out of the media spotlight too long, today defending Mark Latham from President Bush's "attack":

"Senator Brown said the president had crashed into domestic politics in a way which was insulting and patronising... 'President Bush should pull his head in. This is Australia. It's not Florida or Alaska or Texas... When the president criticised, quite clearly, Mark Latham and the Australian opposition and that large body of Australian opinion wanting the troops withdrawn from Iraq, Prime Minister Howard should have admonished him ... right there and then'."
Bow Brown, of course, never criticises foreign leaders or their policies, right?


Australian Democrats acting again in national interest 


Australia's Confused Left alternative to something ventures into trade and foreign policy arena. Buried in the last paragraph of a news story about the Prime Minister John Howard's visit to the United States:

"Australian Democrats trade spokesman Aden Ridgeway yesterday sent an open letter to the US Congress asking members to oppose the [Australia-United States free trade] agreement or risk harming bilateral relations in the longer term."
At least they're persistent - having given up hope of blocking the Free Trade Agreement in Australian Senate, there's always some other foreign Senate that might help. The Australian Democrats also don't like the idea that the Prime Minister can send troops overseas without the Senate's approval. Why don't you lobby the US Congress instead? That might be the easier way to stop any Australian deployments.

Some Democrats, by the way, believe that the Bush Administration is playing dirty tricks on them, as the leader of the Australian Democrats in South Australia, Mike Elliott, told the media two years ago:

"The American government would love to see the Democrats fail. All I would say is I wouldn't be surprised if there are agent provocateurs at work. Who has put them there I don't know."
No Mike, the Democrats are doing fine enough job of infiltrating themselves and making themselves look stupid.

UPDATE: Niner Charlie is not happy about the whole thing either: " 'Sabotage' and 'treachery' are words that immediately come to mind."


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Remaking the Middle East - I've got the region, you've got the suggestions 

About a week and a half ago I decided to celebrate my eight weeks in the blogsphere and 40,000 visits to my blog with a little competition: Remaking the Middle East. Now, with 80,000 clicks under the belt, it seems the good time to revisit the issue. As I wrote then:

"Let's face it - the British and French imperialists have stuffed up the job after the First World War, and most political developments in the region since then have largely served to make the situation even worse.

"To our numerous enemies we are already neo-conservative neo-imperialist Orientalist crusaders who want to impose their radical vision on the Middle East and remake the region in our own image. So why not actually pretend for a minute we're God (or a god), and have a think about what to do to make the Orient a bit less of a mess than it is now (or better still, to actually make it work for its long-suffering residents)."
Here's some of your input:

A few of you considered the whole idea to be misguided: "Uh.... How about we get the hell out of there and let these people settle their own problems?" wrote one reader. 9C, in turn, advised that we should

"Stop believing that there is a 'solution.' One of the great mistakes made in the West, particularly in intrinsically problem-solving societies like the United States, is to fall into the trap of 'solutionism' - the proposition that getting the participants talking around the table, perhaps facilitated, can result in a deal that all can agree upon."
In a twist on the non-interference idea, some readers suggested that we also stop subsidising both sides to the Middle Eastern conflict, let them fight it out unaided and let the winner take all. Methinks slightly unfair to Israel, but then again, they've done the whole David and Goliath thing once before.

The most ambitious proposal came from Quentin George:

"Remove, piece by piece, all of Israel - buildings, landmarks, people, farms etc, and relocate it to an uninhabited portion of Australia so that Israelis can get on with their lives without having to worry about hundreds of millions of Arabs staring them down."
The added bonus, of course, would be that it would quickly become apparent whether or not the presence of the state of Israel in the midst of Arab lands was merely an excuse for the political and economic failure in the region.

In turn, the most cruel solution came from Gnu Hunter: for him Google offered a tempting solution. The most unrealistic solution involved "Terminator"-style time travel back into the region's rich history - as such it was discounted out of hand. So were suggestions to re-create the old map of the Middle East with kingdoms of Hittites, Phoenicians and Ammonites. There are enough problems in the region as it is.

Rather than resettling the Jews, other readers wanted to do the opposite - remove the Palestinians to, variously, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Jordan. Not sure whether the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Jordanians were going to be consulted about this one. Another reader, Ken, thought that the Palestinians should stay - they should "dissolve the Palestinian authority and demand full rights as citizens of Israel. Then they should focus on out-populating the Jews." That one, I think, is already on the drawing boards - the Palestinian negotiators call it "the right of return."

Speaking of Kuwait (and speaking of Ken), Ken wanted to give it to Iraq, so that Iraq "can have a decent coastline." I think I've heard that one before - Saddam, anyone?

Others, too, went for the task of remaking the Middle East armed with maps, rulers and pencils. Ruemers proposed moving certain boundaries northwards:

"[E]vacuate Lebanon into Syria since for some odd reason Syria seems to actually want to govern the Lebanese people and it would be much easier from within their own country."
The Jewish state then moves up, and the Palestinians get what is now southern Israel. In addition, "the UN will create, maintain and pay for a DMZ between Israel and Palestine and for every bombing inside Israel Palestine will lose a square kilometre of land to Israel and vice versa." Who would have thought to introduce economic incentives into the region? Another reader, Jono, also had Lebanon in his sights, proposing a division of that country into Christian and Muslim parts.

Many readers also thought that partitioning Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines would be a good idea. Even more readers supported giving the Kurds a state of their own.

Of the less political and more economic solutions, Daniel suggested that the United States develops an alternative source of energy and gets the hell out of the Middle East. 9C thought that Israel should wean itself of dependence on Arab labour, as a pre-condition to constructing the security barrier separating Jews and Palestinians. Gary Lambert came back to oil as the source of all evil - or rather its mismanagement as a source of revenue. His solution bears quoting at length:

"A designated percentage of oil revenues (say ½) would be set aside for the general population, divided equally between all adults of a minimum age. The states that come to mind are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, Oman, Algeria, and Libya. I like the age of 25 or above because it means that the recipient has a higher probability of being married (and in the case of women in that part of the word, to have children) and thus increasing the size of the grants to a somewhat more responsible age group.

"50% of the amount is paid as an annual or semi-annual check. The other 50% is deposited in an individual trust account (like an IRA) and can only be tapped once every 5-10 years. The funds can be invested or merely kept in an interest bearing savings account. The total funds are not as much as many would think in most of those countries - especially Iran, but even if it was $1,000 a year, that is a lot in the Middle East. It would do the following:

"- Equally distribute at least ½ of all oil wealth, which is routinely stolen, squandered, mismanaged by governments and insiders

"- Directly increase the income of all single adults and families

"- The trust accounts would provide a ready pool of investment capital for entrepreneurial activity, and create wealth for families.

"- Periodic availability would ensure the pool of capital described above, promote more thoughtful consumption when larger sums are available for withdrawal - at least some of those periodic withdrawals would be used for private investment in housing, or to start businesses – particularly if pooled among extended families and tribes."
Finally, a philosophical solution from Francis:

"Convene a world conference to explore the theme of 'death to the infidels' in the Koran. Explore its metaphorical dimensions because surely this must be some sort of misunderstood metaphor, much as I think the death and resurrection of Christ is a misunderstood metaphor for enlightenment (death of the ego and rebirth into higher consciousness). While we're at it drop pamphlets all over the middle east explaining that it isn't 'virgins' awaiting them in paradise - its 'raisins' or 'dates'. Just a big mistake in translation, as I read somewhere recently. Maybe they would be less willing to commit suicide for raisins and dates. Finally, the west should announce that they will be collecting all body parts of suicide bombers and bathing them in pigs blood or whatever it takes to keep them from getting to paradise. If the jihadists can't overcome their literal reading of their religious texts then we will have to use their own naivete to defeat them."
Ah, if only it were that easy.

Now you see why so many have failed before. Thanks for trying anyway.


Spain - from New to Old Europe in 100 days 

In case you wonder if Europe is truly screwed: the Spanish Prime Minister José Zapatero has awarded medals - Cross of Military Merit - to his Defence Minister and three generals, not for anything as mundane as bravery or distinguished service, but... wait for it... for withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq!

The controversy that consequently erupted, has forced the Defence Minister to hand his medal back, but if the trend catches on across the continent we can surely expect the French to introduce the new Médaille pour la Collaboration.

Speaking of Spain:

"The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that the Syrian intelligence service ordered Hizbollah to cut ties with the Basque terrorists while President President Bashar al-Asad, of Syria, and his wife, Ashma visited Madrid."
Why not give them medals instead?


The UN - as relevant and important as ever 

Aren't you glad that the Security Council members have nothing but the best interest of Iraqi people at heart? I get all warm and fuzzy reading stuff like this:

"As the United States struggles to win world support for its transfer of authority in Iraq, the Bush administration is running into diplomatic payback at the United Nations, senior U.N. diplomats said yesterday...

"Demands for further changes [in the draft resolution on Iraq], the U.N. envoys said, reflect the diplomatic cost the United States incurred when it intervened in Iraq without U.N. approval: Security Council members want to help Iraq, but they are now wary of the Bush administration and do not want to let the United States easily get its way on this resolution without more detailed pledges of long-term intent."
"But they are now wary"? As opposed to before the invasion, when they were so supportive?

I guess at least France, Russia, China (and the current non-permanent members of the Security Council, Germany, Chile and Algeria) are consistent - they didn't give a flying fuck for the people of Iraq when Saddam was in power, and they still don't, now that he's gone. Furthermore, they're not actually interested in doing anything constructive to help Iraq, whether within or outside the UN framework. So once again, the world's premier political forum has become merely the arena for "get America" games. I'm sure that this what the UN's founding fathers had in mind as its main purpose back in 1945.

But at least we have the definition of "international legitimacy": a cynical and half-hearted approval by the disinterested and the impotent for somebody else to do something that the whole international community should be doing instead. Why do we still bother?


Around the world in 10 blogs 

What others are cooking on Thursday...

In the United States, Dean Esmay, a liberal repeatedly mugged by reality, is having second thoughts about John Kerry. Meanwhile, the ever-dependable Iowa Hawk writes about Al Gore's alternative past and alternative future (was there ever any other?). And Clayton Cramer muses on how gay was Philadelphia (hint: not very).

Merde in France writes on our friends, the French. Zeyad at Healing Iraq has some thoughts about the new Iraqi government. Kennett looks at the much under-performing South Korean banking system. How does Korean economy actually work?

In Australia, Tim Blair comments on the media's attempts to implicate the Howard Government in the prisoner abuse cover-up. Meanwhile, Gnu Hunter asks an important question: did the ethnic vote-chasing by Australian Labor politicians endangered our security? Blow-back anyone? Israellycool is onto the same story - and he's not happy. And Niner Charlie finds out that for some at the Australian public broadcaster, "terrorist" is the hardest word to say.


All about perspective 

Andrew Sullivan asks a question on his blog:

"If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no WMDs had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out... well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success."
For his efforts, Andrew got some predictable responses from some of his readers:

"If someone had said in February 2003 that in June 2004 there would be: 140,000 American troops in Iraq, just a smattering of foreign troops, heavy fighting leading to significant monthly casualties... a significant presence of foreign fighters and terrorists... a huge prisoner abuse scandal... no WMD's, no progress in the Israeli-Palestenian conflict... oil prices over $42 a barrel, over $120 billion spent on the war, over 800 soldiers dead, over a hundred American civilians killed in Iraq, over 4000 casualties ... well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary ... failure."
Just goes to show that for some people every barrel of oil is only half-full, not to mention bloody expensive.

But let's cast our minds back even further... If somebody had said in August 1939 that by May 1945 there would be around 60 million dead on every continent, large swaths of Europe and East Asia totally devastated, millions of refugees and displaced people on the roads, whole populations forcibly shifted, whole countries on the verge of starvation, and half of Europe under the communist boot... well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary... failure, too.

I'm not comparing the Second World War to Iraq, God forbid. But it's all about perspective, isn't it?


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Tired of "chicken-hawks"? How about "bear-bulls"? 

Tired of all that "chicken-hawk" thing? You know how it goes - George W Bush spent his time in National Guard playing cards with his mates, while John Kerry bled in Vietnam, ergo Bush doesn't have any credibility on defense issues, and only Kerry's got the moral right to send our boys and girls in uniform to risk their lives overseas. Repeat the exercise inserting the names of your other favourite bellicose right-wingers who have never heard a shot fired in anger. Then repeat some more.

Makes for nice politicking, but shouldn't the left at least try to be consistent? How about this radical idea: only people who have contributed to economy in productive ways (creating jobs, growing businesses, making inventions, etc.) have the right to credibly speak up on economic matters. As for the others, people who "made love, not jobs" - let's call them (to borrow from the stock-market jargon) the "bear-bulls".

You know who you are - you, Mr Kerry, who have spend your entire post-university working life as a lawyer and a professional politician (not that I'm picking on public prosecutors, but their input into making American economy stronger is zero). Or you Mr Paul Krugman, the professional academic whose great contribution to private sector economics was as a consultant to Enron.

Feel free to go on, but you get the drift - having chickened out from serving the American economy and their fellow Americans in practical, productive ways, the "bear-bulls" nevertheless aren't to reticent about coming forward and telling everyone else how the economy (and their lives) should be run.

Do I believe this is the way public debate should be conducted? Jokes aside, no. It might make for cheap laughs and good point-scoring, but it doesn't make much sense when you actually look closely into it. Take the "chicken-hawk" tag again and then have a look at the actual war-time performance of the Commanders-in-Chief. Lincoln and FDR, no military experience, great war-time presidents. On the other hand, those who have served their country in uniform, all the way from Grant and Eisenhower, to JFK and Bush Sr - well, make your own comparison and own judgment.

Then remember other crap arguments the left makes using similar logic - only gays people can write gay history, only women can write women's history, etc. (and isn't it funny how the left doesn't defend the logical extension of this argument; only men can write men's history, and so on) - and you'll have one more reason to shrug your shoulders the next time somebody brings up the "chicken-hawk" argument. But if they do, feel free to hit them back with "bear-bull."


Al Jazeera: all the news that's fit to put in quotation marks 

The Arab world's favourite incitement provider, Al Jazeera, simply cannot contain its enthusiasm for the changes occurring in Iraq: "Iraq gets new 'president' ". I know, I know, just like many other heads of government in the region, Ghazi al-Yawir hasn't been actually democratically elected, but unlike many other heads of government in the region, there are actually plans to make it happen.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong, maybe it's a start of a welcome new trend at Al Jazeera, which will from now on call, for example, the Syrian leader, "President" Assad.

Meanwhile, to the west of Iraq

"Trauma and stress-related troubles have risen among Palestinian children since the beginning of the Intifada, according to psychologists at the Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank.

" 'Palestinian children have lost all sense of normalcy. They don't know whether they'll be able to go to school, whether they'll come home safely because of curfews and (Israeli) army incursions,' Yoad Ghanadreh told reporters."
Or indeed, whether they will be asked to blow themselves up by people who should know better. Pity the Palestinian children. Less guns, more textbooks (although probably not these).


Another triumph for one of the Willing 

The increasing prominence of Australians on the world stage continues:

"Miss Australia Jennifer Hawkins, a statuesque 20-year-old from Sydney's beach suburb of Bondi, has been crowned Miss Universe at the competition final in Ecuador."
Meanwhile, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard is meeting Gov Schwarzenegger today. One of the items on the agenda, a massive gas plant off Malibu coast that would pump A$15 billion back into Australia in export earnings. The celebrity residents of Malibu are up in arms - fearing such an important facility will become a likely terrorist target. Surely one of the locals, Bruce Willis, will protect everyone from the threat. "Die Hard IV" anyone?


On too much, and too little history 

There's a bit of history everywhere, even in the United States:

"Alberta Martin was 21 when she married 81-year-old former confederate soldier William Jasper Martin in the 1920s.

"The marriage of convenience ended almost five years later when Martin died, but his young bride lived long enough to earn the symbolically important title of last widow of a Civil War veteran.

"Dixie is in mourning after Mrs Martin died yesterday - fittingly on Memorial Day - after suffering a heart attack on May 7. She was 97."
When at the Versailles peace conference in 1919, the upstart Woodrow Wilson was starting to get on Clemenceau's nerves, the French Prime Minister put him in place with the line: "I've known men who have seen Napoleon with their own eyes." Well, Mrs Martin had lived with a man who might have seen General Lee with his own eyes.

Many Europeans still tend to snigger at the United States as the New World, devoid of its own history, and ignorant of others' history. But for all their castles, cathedrals and museums, should Europeans really flaunt their superiority? Europe today seems to me to be indeed divided into a New and an Old part, but not along the lines popularised by Donald Rumsfeld recently.

For the Old Europe the past is still very much a part of the present; for the New Europe, future is. The Old Europe remembers too much, the New Europe too little. The Old Europe is mostly composed of countries of eastern and southern Europe, which see themselves as victims of history. There, old grievances are still remembered and old glories still treasured. The past is valued because the present is so precarious and the future so uncertain. The heart of the New Europe on the other hand is largely in the western and the northern part of the continent, among nations who have transcended their past to enter into a post-modern utopia of timeless here and now. The past is quaint and charming, but only as a sprinkling of spice to make the diverse, multi-cultural dish even more colourful and exotic; it's a decoration, not a teaching tool that can offer valuable insights and lessons.

There's something to be said for either approach: too little history can be as bad as too much of it. The Western Europe has learned the latter lesson rather well. I fear that it will only learn the former the very heard way.


Tuesday, June 01, 2004

How the allies are faring 

The left seems to wet its pants with joy at the prospect of voters in the Coalition of the Willing countries punishing their governments at the polls for their support of the United States and involvement in the war in Iraq (ironicaly, while being huge fans of democracy in action at home, the left appears to be somewhat nonplussed that such choices have now been extended to people of Iraq). Even the old war horse "The Economist" couldn't help itself with its famous cover celebrating Aznar's downfall in Spain and hoping for the trend to continue in Australia, Great Britain and elsewhere.

But how are the Willing governments actually doing at the moment?

In Great Britain, Tony Blair is not traveling too well. His personal popularity is down and he might well get punished by the voters. The problem for the left is that it's the Conservatives who are the beneficiaries of the trend. In case the left has forgotten, the Conservatives are the people who despite their criticism of Blair over war strategy, are "reiterating [their] backing for the war to oust Saddam Hussein... [and their] unqualified and rock solid support and admiration" for Britain's Armed Forces.

In Australia, the media's wishful thinking over the last few months about PM John Howard's demise appears to be premature. "The Australian" reports on the latest opinion poll: "In what appears to be a delayed reaction to the budget, there has been a startling 13 percentage-point turnaround in the primary vote, giving the Coalition a 10-point lead over Labor." Labor, by the way, remains opposed to war.

In Poland, the social democrat (but pro-US) government is on track to lose the next election. Just as in Great Britain, however, the leading opposition party, Citizens Platform, is also pro-American and in favour of war (I can't locate any English-language sources, so you either have to trust me, or read this and this in Polish).

Associated Press writes that "Staunch Support of Bush on Iraq May Put [Japanese PM] Koizumi in Awkward Position at G-8 Summit". Fortunately France and Germany don't vote in Japanese elections; the Japanese people do, and back home Koizumi is enjoying resurgence in opinion polls.

In all cases, there are many other factors beside the involvement in Iraq that account for the governments' popularity or lack thereof. The coming elections might or might not necessarily turn out to be referenda on the war. But the left should perhaps start preparing themselves for the possibility that in elections, unlike in media coverage, not everything always goes your way.


Australian Greens and their priorities 

Do you ever wonder why they still call themselves the "Greens"? I do.

"The Greens and the Democrats called for Australian military lawyer Major George O'Kane to be allowed to give evidence on prisoner abuses in Iraq to a senate inquiry...

"Australian Greens leader Bob Brown condemned the government for not allowing Maj O'Kane to front the committee. 'It's a political decision and the Senate shouldn't be trammelled from getting evidence from Maj O'Kane by the decision of the minister to defend the government by preventing that evidence from coming forward'."
Too preoccupied with the prisoner abuse in Iraq, the Greens have again been too busy to turn up at the Senate Estimates hearing this week, when the environmental issues were actually discussed and deliberated upon. Environment, anyone?

Meanwhile, the news report quoted above nicely buys into the Greens' line:

"Maj O'Kane visited Abu Ghraib Prison near Baghdad where US guards abused Iraqi inmates five times between last August and January, casting doubt on government claims to have been unaware of the abuse until this year."
Because I'm sure Major O'Kane was each time given a special presentation of abuses on offer at Abu Ghraib, and was made to pose for an obligatory "thumbs up" photo with a pyramid of naked bodies, something that happens to all the military brass visitors at that prison. How low can the media go in their attempt to get the Government on this issue? My guess is, very low.


"Every war with fascism is our business" 

Marek Edelman is the last surviving military leader of the heroic Jewish Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. He recently spoke to a Polish television channel TVN24, and the interview has been re-published in a Polish weekly "Przekroj". It's not available anywhere else in English (or for that matter electronically), so I take this opportunity to translate and publish extensive excerpts from the interview. Edelman experienced evil many times in his long and distinguished life; he has also faced it and fought it bravely. What he has to say bears listening to.

Interviewer: Not a day seems to go by in Iraq without a terrorist attack, and in the last few days two Polish soldiers and a Polish journalist have died.

Edelman: And do you know any war where nobody dies? I don't. Alas, it's in man's make-up; there's a fatal flow there that makes him kill, for pleasure or over some silly beliefs.

Interviewer: So this war is one over some silly beliefs?

Edelman: Now, now. Who started killing people? Americans didn't invade a wonderful democratic Iraq. There was a dictatorship there, torture, terror.

Interviewer: But there are people who say it's not our business.

Edelman: And whose business is it? Every war with fascism is our business. In 1939 there were also many people who said that the war in Poland was not their war, and what happened? Great nations fell because politicians listened to those who were saying that it's not worth dying for Gdansk [Danzig]. If only we'd intervened militarily after Hitler re-entered Rhineland we probably would not have had the war and the Holocaust.

Interviewer: Many people do understand that, but they don't understand why the Americans have to go to the other side of the world and fight over Iraq now.

Edelman: And why did they go to Europe then? Who defeated Hitler and saved Europe from fascism? The French? No, the Americans did. We thanked them then because they saved us. Today we criticise them because they're saving somebody else.

Interviewer: Returning to the question about having Polish soldier on the ground in Iraq. Many Poles don't want them there.

Edelman: If they don't want them there, let's just keep waiting and then let's see from which direction the rockets and the bombs will come from - will we in the end be lorded over by Saddam's viceroys or Bin Laden's, just as we were once lorded over by Hitler's viceroys.

Interviewer: Do you really believe in such a scenario?

Edelman: It's possible. If we will keep closing our eyes to evil, then that evil will defeat us tomorrow. Unfortunately there's more hatred in men than love. Those who murder understand only force and nothing else. And the only force that is able to stand against them is the American democracy.

Interviewer: But the Americans aren't going too well with introducing democracy in Iraq.

Edelman: That's true, but it's a difficult war. The Second World War went for five years. Democracy tends to be structurally weak. Dictatorship is strong. Hitler was able to mobilise several million people and chase another few million into gas chambers or slave labour. But only democracy saves the humanity and saves millions of lives. The more I see people getting murdered the more I believe that we need to put a stop to that. The murderers understand only deeds.

Interviewer: What about the photos from Abu Ghraib - don't they cause you to start question that American democracy?

Edelman: Well, it happened. Among several hundred thousand American soldiers there were a few perverts...

Interviewer: But the incident nevertheless seriously damaged America's standing. What to say to Polish people after the death of several more of our soldiers?

Edelman: But they died fighting for their freedom. How many thousands of people died in the Warsaw Uprising [in 1944]?

Interviewer: But those people then were fighting for their country.

Edelman: They were fighting for their world. Free and democratic. Just like those who died during the martial law [in Poland in 1981-3]. Did they die only for Poland? No. They died for the freedom of the whole Europe, for the freedom of all those enslaved behind the Iron Curtain.

Interviewer: But the Spanish withdrew their troops from Iraq after the terrorist attack in Madrid.

Edelman: Please don't tell me what the Spanish did. So what? Do you seriously think that it will save them from further attacks? No. The weak just get punched in the head. Pacifism lost a long time ago.

Interviewer: There are more and more voices saying that Poland shouldn't work so close with the Americans and that instead we should get closer to France and Germany.

Edelman: France used to be a great power, culturally and intellectually. And what happened to them? They didn't want to fight for their own democracy, they thought it wasn't really their war [in 1939]. And they lost everything, because when you bend over and take it - even once - then you're finished. And what's that whole talk about the difference between American politics and European politics? There is no other politics but international democratic politics. If we withdraw from Iraq now, what do we have left? Cosying up to Iran and Saudi Arabia? ...

Interviewer: Is it possible to introduce democracy by force?

Edelman: Yugoslavia showed that it's possible...

Interviewer: You used your own personal history and your moral authority to appeal for the intervention then.

Edelman: Yes... Those who say that you don't have to fight for freedom, don't understand what fascism is. I do.
Edelman is no stranger to talking strong and principled stances. Having survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, he came back to Warsaw the following year to fight in the Warsaw Uprising. In the 1980s he was an anti-communist activist in the "Solidarity" movement, and in the late 1990s he wrote an open letter to President Clinton urging him to take action to stop the slaughter in Kosovo. Last year, at the start of the Iraqi war, he already spoke out in support of the Coalition action.

Marek Edelman is a man of great courage and moral conviction. His voice needs to be heard.


Monday, May 31, 2004

The Weasels Watch 

In France, "Architect 'humbled' by Paris airport collapse." For God's sake, this is not an award, it's a disaster. "In his first extensive interviews in the French press, Andreu said he did not think he had made any error in designing the EUR 750 million (USD 900 million) building, 'but an accident such as this imposes a certain level of modesty'." Not to mention, potential criminal or civil liability.

Still in France, an official parliamentary report comes to a conclusion that "the country has only itself to blame if its 'golden age' of power has waned":

"It claims France's refusal to implement European Union regulations, its 'arrogant' reputation and the poor work record of French Euro-MPs - among the laziest in Europe - has damaged its credibility and undermined its authority."
Good God, so now it's official.

Meanwhile, "German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Friday his invitation to 60th anniversary ceremonies of the D-Day landings in France next month marks Berlin's acceptance as an equal partner by its former enemies." Although, sadly, probably not as a reliable ally anymore. "The real meaning of this invitation is that the Second World War is over - once and for all," Schroeder told the media. With the Second World War now officially over, the world media will now be free to move onto Vietnam. The report doesn't say whether Schroeder is planning to drop by the Netherlands, where it now transpires, German soldiers might have fathered 50,000 illegitimate children (and not 10,000 as previously thought) during that conflict which is now officially "over - once and for all."

Europe overall continues to enjoy a low growth and high unemployment (make that also higher than expected inflation) economic environment, as jobs keep migrating East:

" 'Our politicians tell us we're getting 75 million new customers' in the new EU countries, said Alfons Thijs, a shop steward for Ford Genk's midlevel management. 'But at this moment we realize we have 75 million potential new employees who will take our jobs'."
It might have something to do with the fact that Eastern European corporate taxes are half of what they are in France and Germany - how do you compete with Estonia's zero corporate tax? Rethinking your own tax regime would be too logical, so instead you claim that low taxes "are tantamount to unfair fiscal 'dumping', luring investment away from higher tax countries." Precisely. How very unfair of the Easties to try to stimulate economy.


Another Hollywoodian comes out of the closet... 

... sort of. This from Tom Selleck, a "National Review" subscriber from the age of 17, talking about his new role as General Eisenhower in a new movie "Ike: Countdown to D-Day":

"[S]ome liberals who have seen the movie say it validates the need for broad coalitions in war fighting. One of the things I wonder about, though, is whether the D-Day invasion could happen today in a 24-hour news cycle. The media would be asking all time about the exit strategy. Remember, 1944 was an election year. There would probably be a December 7 commission running around. Reporters would be saying that Patton doesn't have an army up north and you've been lying to us for two years, and that you can't put our boys in those firetrap Sherman tanks. We're living in a different world now...

"I'm a registered independent with a lot of libertarian leanings. I think we should have stoplights, fire departments, and strategic missile defense. I'm keeping quiet about a lot of that right now but I'm becoming so concerned that I might have to speak up. I don't know if that will help me get more work in Hollywood. So be it.

"I'm proud to say I was in the Army National Guard, infantry, for six years, from 1967-73. I'm sick of hearing people trivialize that service. It was a tremendous honor to put on the uniform."
That seems to be the difference between entertainment liberals and entertainment conservatives: the latter are "keeping quiet about a lot of that." Still, it's good to know that, just like yours truly, Selleck thinks that the context and perspective are important when looking at the world.


"...and you can almost see a puff of smoke from the second gun..." 

You probably would have heard by now (via Tim Blair) about a rather disgusting piece of journalism a few days ago in "The Sydney Morning Herald" asking "Who killed Nick Berg?" It's a question I have to say I don't ask myself too often, but then again, I'm obviously not as inquisitive as Richard Neville who exuberantly goes through all the evidence for the nefarious CIA conspiracy.

It's sad, but for some, the Berg video has already become the new Zapruder film, analysed frame by frame to spot inconsistencies and "curiosities", as Neville describes them (did you know that there are Russian and English voices heard on the tape? and that there is too little blood?) Just in case you were still wondering how low the Satan-worshipping-aliens-on-the-Grassy-Knoll crowd can go, wonder no more - expert photographic analysis (all three words deserve parentheses) had determined with "NO DOUBT" that the video of the beheading and the video of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib was shot on the same camera.

I'm hardly surprised that usual maniacs on the net are masturbating over the Berg video trying to catch the glimpse of the Great Satan, but that a respectable broadsheet daily should publish this sort of trash surely marks the new low for Australian journalism. By the way, Neville promises on his website "the longer, in-depth article with links to sources" to appear on June 1. I can hardly wait. By the way, here's some sites analysing and debunking the Berg conspiracy theories.


The dumb al Quaeda and a "refinery too far"? 

Al Quaeda associates have just slaughtered 22 people, including 19 foreigners, in Saudi Arabia (being particularly careful this time to only kill infidels, and not Muslims). The overall target, of course, was the Saudi's number one money spinner - the oil industry. Now the papers report that

"Intelligence agencies fear that the Islamic terrorists behind the deadly kidnappings in Saudi Arabia over the weekend are planning a 'spectacular attack' in the country... Key oil installations or the causeway linking Saudi Arabia to Bahrain were among the possible targets of a future attack, according to the British newspaper's intelligence sources."
Now the Saudi authorities are vowing to crush the terrorists. An interesting twist, this. You see, nothing motivates like self-interest. Bombs going off in foreign countries are really somebody else's business, a few expats working in Saudi Arabia being shot here and there creates a nuisance, but you never ever mess with the economy. The Saudis won't particularly mind if the oil prices go up as a result of all this mayhem, but they might draw the line in the sand (so to speak) if the thousands of foreign experts start leaving the country, and if major oil infrastructure gets damaged (unless you're into conspiracy theories and believe in an alliance of convenience between al Quaeda and some sections of the Saudi establishment, whereby the former gets all the infidels out of Saudi Arabia, and the princes get more buck for their oil at the price of some minimal structural damage, enough to fool the observers).

Conspiracy theories aside, has al Quaeda committed a strategic blunder, pushing the Saudi authorities too far? We can only hope. I wrote some time ago about a "smart al Quaeda" and a "dumb al Quaeda". Smart al Quaeda bombs Spain a few days before the election, dumb al Quaeda beheads Nick Berg on video. This might well be another dumb al Quaeda strike.

Meanwhile, Daniel Pipes argues that in the civil war between the Saudi monarchy and Islamofascists we should support the lesser evil.

UPDATE: Niner Charlie doesn't think that al Quaeda is all that dumb - after all why even bother to stage a frontal attack on the US and other Western democracies, when you can potentially affect the election result by playing around with the other end of the pipeline?

UPDATE II: Some Middle Eastern experts agree.


Sunday, May 30, 2004

Bush's base holds - but will it be enough? 

There's at least one poll that George Bush can take heart from:

"The Gallup Poll reported last week that 89 percent of Republicans give Mr. Bush high job-performance marks — four points higher than President Reagan had five months before his re-election in 1984."
In another poll quoted in the story, 78% of those intending to vote for Bush "strongly" support him (an increase of 5% since early April), and 21% "somewhat" support him. Only 59% of those intending to vote for John Kerry "strongly" support him (an increase of 7% from April) and 40% "somewhat" support him.

Overall, contradictory signals:

"Since 1972, incumbent presidents with an intraparty approval rating of at least 85 percent have managed to hold off the furniture movers for another four years. However, beginning with Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, no president has won re-election with an overall approval rating of less than 50 percent this late in a presidential election."
The fact that Bush's base seems quite energised is good news; he obviously needs all those people to turn up on election day and motivate others around them to do likewise. But it might not be enough should the independents and swinging voters decide to strongly support Kerry.

Will the disengagement from Iraq, which is inevitable after June 30, if not in substance then at least symbolically, turn the voters' attention back to domestic arena, where the economic news is quite positive? The problem for Bush is that negativity is contagious - the bad perceptions of Bush's handling of Iraq might quite easily colour the perceptions of other aspects of his presidency, to the extent where the people will not even want to listen to and accept the good news elsewhere.

We can only hope that over the next few months the attention and focus shift back on Kerry. In the end though the challengers don't win elections, the incumbents lose them. The problem for Bush is that he didn't have a great starting base to come back to, and his moments of greatness, and thus popularity, were a function of events beyond his control (that's not to say that he didn't make the best of what was given to him when it was given to him). The challenge will be to somehow recreate that "high" at a time when the train of events has left the roller-coaster and is now moving on a straight track.


Horny-cons vindicated 

Breaking news:

"Research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States has found a strong link between people's happiness and the amount of sex they have.

"Although the research also shows that people with high incomes are happier than people with low incomes, it found that there is no relationship between people's earnings and the amount of sex they have.

"It is not money but quantity that counts. Happiest are those who have sex more than four times a week. They are about 6 per cent of the population. Unhappiest are the 22 per cent of people in the study of 16,000 Americans who didn't have sex at all in the previous year.

"However, the relationship between sex and happiness does not extend to the number of sexual partners a person has a year.

"The more sexual partners one has (several respondents to the survey reported more than 100 in the past year), the unhappier."
Lots of monogamous sex as a recipe for happiness - such results are bound to bring some cheer to "horny conservatives".

After Rod Dreher's discovery of "crunchy conservatives" some two years ago (they're into organic food, elite culture and "authenticity"), his National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg took him to task for falling for the old lefty stereotype of the right as dumb, joyless, boring, and homogeneous, and thus underestimating the variety within the movement (in effect Dreher has built a straw conservative). Goldberg chided: "what's to stop future NR cover stories about that rogue fifth column of conservatives who 'actually enjoy sex'?" Well Jonah, an idea whose time has come?

As for the original story, the National Bureau of Economic Research proudly boasts that "twelve of the 31 American Nobel Prize winners in Economics and three of the past Chairmen of the President's Council of Economic Advisers have been researchers at the NBER." All I can say that in a think-tank, which routinely publishes papers such as "Dealing with Destabilizing 'Market Discipline'" and "The Value of Phased Retirement", someone must have finally thought: "Fuck this, let's research something fun!"

One other thing: since the left champions egalitarianism and redistributing wealth, I'm waiting for the champions of the oppressed to use this latest research to call for government programs to redistribute sex in order to achieve a more just spread of happiness across our society. If that ever comes to be, it's going to be another sad example of the government robbing Bill to pay Hillary.


A tale of a terrorist 

(Alleged, that is.) An interesting story from the far southern front of the war on terror.

Meet Saleh Jamal, a 29-year old Sydney resident, "a devout Muslim and father of one". In 1999, Jamal pleaded guilty and served one year in jail for supply of cannabis. Recently, he was awaiting trial for three offences committed in 1998 in Sydney - "the shooting of a man at Greenacre in October, discharging a firearm in Eveleigh Street, Redfern, in October and the shooting at the Lakemba police station in November." His first trial was aborted and the second one was set for October. Jamal was granted bail but in March his family reported him missing.

Well, now Jamal has resurfaced in Lebanon, and on Friday has been arrested together with several other people, including another Australian national. It transpired that Jamal is wanted in relations to a bombing of Beirut McDonalds in 1993. Lebanon's military prosecutor Judge Jean Fahd said that Jamal was also accused of "belonging to a terrorist organisation, holding weapons and planning to carry out terrorist acts in Lebanon and abroad". The judge said that Jamal and friends are believed to have links to al Quaeda.

And so another day goes in this nefarious little war (for a previous update on Australian jihad go here).


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