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January 31, 2005

currency disputes

I see from news reports that the US's large current account and budget deficits were a cause of concern at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Heng Kim Song, Editorial Cartoonist; Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore.

When will the US budget deficit start putting pressure US interest rates? Should we start thinking of the US in terms of a wrecked economy? Will the "government-is-the-problem" Republican administration sacrifice US manufacturing?

There has been a 25% decline in the US dollar in the last 3 years and the country is importing more than it exports. Though that means the US dollar is no longer a stable currency, the Bush Administration's policy is one of benign neglect toward the dollar. If the U.S. is borrowing from Asian central banks to finance record budget and trade deficits, can the US afford to allow its trade deficit to continue to widen for the next four years?

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors around the deficits in the Republican Whitehouse. An example. The US budget deficit will hit a new record of $427 billion this year. Last year's deficit was $412 billion. Yet White House officials continue to say that they are on track to fulfill President Bush's campaign promise of reducing the budget deficit in half by 2009!

The US has continued to maintain that it was up to others, especially China, to fix things. China needs to revalue its currency as it is undervalued and cheap Chinese goods are flooding the US and world markets. A renminbi revaluation would help reduce the US trade deficit is the US argument. Behind it sits muscle.

Muscle will not work because China will not bow, or cave into, US political pressure. China is not a compliant ally of the US empire like Australia.

China has strong economic growth (9.5% in 2004) and is attracting enormous capital inflows. Foreign investment in China's export sector is being organized to ensure technology or intellectual property transfer and there are rapid increase in productivity. China is running a trade surplus of 2% of GDP, (and a slightly larger current account surplus) and has massive foreign exchange reserves ($600 billion).

China is the new economic powerhouse even if it is an authoritarian regime, where political liberalism, (i.e. freedom of speech and freedom to assemble is traded off for high economic growth. China may well be a new form of capitalism. I would sugggest that China will make up its own mind about what it will do about its currency and when it will introduce greater exchange rate flexibility.

China will not cave in just because the American bully flexes its biceps. A more accurate model of the politics of currency disputes is a game of chicken, as it presupposes more evenly matched plaaaaaaayers.

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January 30, 2005

Iraq: democratic gamble

Iraq's Jan 30th election is the first step in establishing democracy. The new parliamentary body will devise a constitution, then a national referendum on the constitution, new elections under the constitution, then a new Government. The plan is for these steps to grow liberal democracy in Iraq to be all completed by December 31 2005.

Michael Ignatieff says:

Never....has there been such a concerted attempt to destroy an election through violence - with candidates unable to appear in public, election workers driven into hiding, foreign monitors forced to 'observe' from a nearby country, actual voting a gamble with death, and the only people voting safely the fortunate expatriates and exiles abroad. Just as depressing as the violence in Iraq is the indifference to it abroad. Americans and Europeans who have never lifted a finger to defend their own right to vote seem not to care that Iraqis are dying for the right to choose their own leaders.

It is a historic day for the Kurds and the Shia.

This cartoon captures one dimension of a historic day in Iraq: the effect of the violence of the Sunni insurgency against the US occupation, and the failure of the US occupying forces to provide security.

Steve Bell

Will the elections provide an exit strategy for embattled US forces?Or will the occupation become a trustiship that involves handing ver sovereignty and power in a timely way?

These elections will produce a largely Shia parliament representing Iraq's largest religious community. What the Bell cartoon does not capture is the significance of the Shi'ites coming to power in Iraq through free elections. As Robert Fisk observes, the Jan 30th elections open a possibility of a:

Shia "Crescent" that will run from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon via Syria, whose Alawite leadership forms a branch of Shia Islam. The underdogs of the Middle East, repressed under the Ottomans, the British and then the pro-Western dictators of the region, will be a new and potent political force

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January 29, 2005

Language and death

Well, it's all signed, sealed and delivered then on the ALP leadership question. Kim Beazley recycled with fire in his belly.


The functioning of the political machine has been restored, even if it is currently running on empty. Running on empty because the ALP is floundering on finding an issue to run on against the Howard Government.What are the issues it will a Beazley ALP fight on at the political barricades.

We should not forget the past. Remember Mark Latham? Alan Ramsay gives an accurate description of what happened:

It was a public execution, not a resignation...A year later, after he'd failed to deliver in 12 months the electoral gratification that the fumblings of Kim Beazley and Simon Crean had been allowed to bury, ever deeper, across almost eight years, Labor did to Latham what in a more primitive age was done to heretics. It burnt him at the stake, in front of us all, to the applause of a mostly accommodating media and those interests, internal and institutional, that Latham's confronting leadership style had so offended.

I agree. What comes to mind is Fascination, ecstasy, explosion, abandonment, dying, madness. The vortex of the void sucked them in to such an extent that we witnessed a spectacle of the ALP eating its own.

Now Latham made mistakes. And he was a lone wolf. But why the need to behead him? What happened to his friends? Should not the senior ALP leadership and campaign team take responsibility for losing the election? Why the evasion?

So why this bloodletting form of political madness?

There is an eerie silence about this public execution. We know that few are going to speak about it. Most are going to pretend that it never happened. A veil will be drawn over it. So Alan Ramsay should be applauded for saying that it was a public execution.

The unity of the normal political discourse was fragmented by the lethal violence.It has been restored. Things have now settled down. They can now pretend that it never happened.

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January 28, 2005

ALP: advice galore

The awful bashing of a sick Mark Latham appears to have died down. In the end he had few friends. Presumably, everybody in the media and the ALP is feeling a whole lot better after the catharsis of their beheading a wounded Leader. Well, not all.

Things are rapidly shifting to new concerns, namely the credibility of the ALP as an alternative government concerned with Australia's future. Kevin Rudd, the former leadership contender and foreign affairs spokesman, has spoken some more home truths.

What I'd like to say to all of my colleagues in the parliamentary Labor Party is it's time we stopped talking about ourselves and it's time we started talking about Australia's future.I think it's time everyone took a very long cold shower and shut up.

The advice on how to do this is beginning to circulate. Tony Parkinson at The Age trots out his standard 'you gotta put a lid on the "blame America first" lefty faction' who are so in love with the cheap thrills of domestic point scoring. Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald reminds them of the light on the hill.

What is more interesting is the Australian Financial Review advice to Beazley Labor, as it indicates that the pressure to box the ALP into a corner is now on in earnest. Thurday's AFR editorial states:

Mr Beazley needs to do things differently this time if he is to drag Labor into the 21st century in time to make a contest of the 2007 election. And the first thing he must do is put the faction chiefs on notice that he will put the best people in the most important portfolios and shed cabinet deadwood regardless of factional nicieties.

That means dumping Macklin and Crean and putting Rudd in as Treasurer. He deserves a key domestic portfolio and needs one to establish his leadership creditionals in parallel with Julia Gillard.

What then?

The AFR is forthcoming on the advice:

With the best shadow cabinet it can muster, Labor should turn its attention to developing a policy platform that will appeal to voters as they are, not as party apparatchiks might wish them to be.

What does that mean? The AFR is quite forthright:
As Mr Rudd said last week, what Labor needs is a program of fundamental reform in areas such as education and health within a reformist policy framework that cares for the weak but also unapologetically rewards hard work. That means big changes to the tax, welfare and workplace relations systems and to the way in which the commonwealth and states fund and operate schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure.

The AFR reckons that the ALP should support the right wing pro-business reform agenda. There is no need to devote any time to the environment.

There ends the advice. Why should the ALP become a clone of the Coalition? How is that going to ensure its re-election in 2007? Not even the ALP right would fall for that line of seduction.

The AFR is diplomatic. It does not say. What it does say is that Howard's electoral positioning may involve using the control of the Senate to aggressively advance new reforms. It acknowledges that is tricky terrain for Beazley, and it says that navigating it without dropping into cracks will take all the skill they can muster.

It is a good account of how the conservstyives will try to beat up the ALP. The pressure that is on will try to box the ALP into the corner, poke sticks at it, and then weaken it's body by making it slowly bleed. You can be sure that Howard will position things over the next 3 years so that the skin on the ALP's body cracks open, it loses its foothold, the old wounds open up and then start to fester.

So what is the alternative pathwayto the pro business conservative domestic agenda?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

Andrew Sullivan on torture

If you have a moment this article is a good read. It is a review of two books by Andrew Sullivan in The New York Times on the US use of torture in Iraq. Sullivan is a neo-con in foreign policy, was a cheerleader for Irag the war and a libertarian yet he is critical of the use of torture as standard operating procedure in the war on terror.

Referring to the photos of Al Ghraib prison Sullivan says:

But the photographs lied. They told us a shard of the truth. In retrospect, they deflected us away from what was really going on, and what is still going on. The problem is not a co-ordinated cover-up. Nor is it a lack of information... Whatever happened was exposed in a free society; the military itself began the first inquiries...I confess to finding this transparency both comforting and chilling, like the photographs that kick-started the public's awareness of the affair. Comforting because only a country that is still free would allow such airing of blood-soaked laundry. Chilling because the crimes committed strike so deeply at the core of what a free country is supposed to mean. The scandal of Abu Ghraib is therefore a sign of both freedom's endurance in America and also, in certain dark corners, its demise.

The photos are the counterpoint to President Bush's 2nd inaugural speech arguing the cause of freedom around the world as they highlight the unfreedom of techniques, such as waterboarding, forced nudity, threatening the death of family members, use of dogs to induce stress, use of electric shocks, beating to a pulp, hooding and rape etc.

There is little wriggle room on that contradiction. The apologists try with a variety of dodges and there is a history of Congress going along with Presidents to put in place an extremely narrow definition of torture in the U.S. criminal torture statute.

As Marty Lederman points out Sullivan misses the central role of the CIA in the current legally sanctioned regime of highly coercive interrogation--interrogation that borders on torture. Marty Lederman points out that:

...the Bush adminstration Administration has worked assiduously to preserve the legal authority of the CIA to engage in highly coercive, often inhumane interrogation techniques against suspected Al Qaeda operatives at secret locations outside U.S. jurisdiction.

The Bush Administration has talked in public about how it is committed to treating detainees "humanely," whilst it has fought tooth and nail to be able to treat detainees inhumanely, i.e., in a manner that would be unconstitutional if done in the U.S. Hence it has fought to preserve the CIA "loophole" of using torture to treat detainees inhumanely outside the US.

Here we have what some political theorists call a state of exception,

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Auschwitz & Remembrance

We should remember the liberation of Auschwitz, sixty years ago, in January 1945 as it a clear symbol for the modern loss of faith in progress. We should remember the history of the Holocaust by listening to the stories of the survivors as their experiences of grief and suffering express many different and complex emotions.

The survivors and their children may well have have different memories and narratives of past and present persecution to the narrative of the State of Israel.The latter is a heroic epic representation of the Holocaust. It is about a heroic Jewish resistance in the Ghettos involving great sacrifice and hardships, and the dire, terrible struggle against the Nazi regime against overwhelming odds. The narrative is about it happening again--even in Australia-- with the destined to wander as perpetual outsiders until they return to their homeland where they belong.

We should also remember that Auschwitz was a killing machine, whilst the death camps were run in accord with the ethos of the enlightenment's conception of a value-free instrumental reason. It is the machine and camps not just the place that we should remember.


We should also remember that anti-semitism means hatred of Jews, not being anti-Zionist; not being opposed to Likud policies for a Greater Israel; nor anti the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

We should remember the differences between Jews living in Israel and those in the diaspora. In a multicultural Australia we should remember the differences between those who talk in terms of English, French, Australian or American Jews; and those who say that there are only Jews living in England, France, Australia or America. These differences give rise to different identities.

We should remember that not every Jew is, or need be, a Zionist or that they need accept the Zionist narrative as the historical truth.

Consider the very fine article by Julie Szego in The Age that I linked to earlier in the post. Julie writes that:

Even more frightening for most Jews is Israel's vexed place in the world. Sixty years after Auschwitz, the Jew among nations is the target of a virulent and menacing form of anti-Semitism in the West. ... It would be nice to brush this off as the product of angry youths, but such sentiments are gaining resonance among Western intellectuals. It is almost fashionable these days to attack Israel's legitimacy, to scorn and demonise.

We do not need to accept the traditional Zionist national narrative of the birth of Israel as a nation state; a narrative built around the myth of "a people without a land and a land without a people". This narrative has a structure of a past Eden when there was a state and people; of the diaspora as the fall; of the Holocaust as the culmination of the error of way of life of the diaspora; and the foundation of the state of Israel as the redemptive moment.

In the Zionist narrative the answer is Israel. As Julie Szego puts it:

Israel is the ultimate insurance policy against another Holocaust...Israel symbolised the new dawn after a long night in hell; the end of the Jew as sitting duck.

We do not need to accept the Zionist narrative because there are non-Zionist narratives of history.

How then is Auschwitz relevant to Australia?

One suggestion is that Australians need to remember that the Holocaust should be a concern for Christians as well as Jews. The fact that a world that had become fully Christian, that gave us a Christian civilization unchallenged by any other religious tradition (for the war against Islam was won by the beginning of the 20th century), could deteriorate into the idolatry/paganism of the Nazis is a significant challenge to any form of Christianity, which holds that the duty of Christians as Christians is to act in the world. For Christians, especially Catholics, the Holocaust is, or at least should be, a central concern.

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January 26, 2005

Australia Day

Hmmmm. Some historical forgetting below, don't you think?

Sean Leahy

They also enacted another kind of ritual. Raising the flag on foreign soil with not an aboriginal figure in sight. The continent is a terra nullius.

That flag ritual signified an imperial land grab to protect British interests: to take possession of the eastern half of the 'Australian' continent to give Britain a strategic presence in the Pacific. A consequence of Britain acquiring a strategic presence in the Pacific was the destruction of the first people's society.

The cartoon's conception of history is the white settler one based on the terra nullius fiction. The key issue of Indigenous sovereignty is dodged by Leahy.

Should not the day of celebration also be a day of mourning or remembrance? A remembrance that there is still ‘unfinished business’ between settler and Indigenous peoples: the recognition of Indigenous people as prior sovereigns of the continent. Should not our celebrations of Australia Day be based on historical truth as rather than discredited national fictions?

Oh, I know what the objection to my pointing out the dodge. This is an emotional issue. It is all about pride, anger, shame, guilt and hate etc. Public policy has naught to do with emotion. It is about reason.

In response I would point out that the emotional language in Australian political discourse is very evident--eg.,conflict over Tampa, John Howard and Mark Latham. And we are dealing with nationality on Australia Day. Is not nationality emotionally based?

Update: 27 Jan
The issue is also raised by Paul Kidd. He says:

Commemorating as it does an act of colonisation rather than of real nationhood, it's a troublesome anniversary for many. On the left it is widely referred to, perhaps unhelpfully, as "Invasion Day", but even the aborigines have moved on from that position: "Survival Day" is the preferred moniker these days.

Ours is a troubled history. So why not have a day off work, a day of fun, surf and sand etc.,a day of griefing, and fly the Australian and aboriginal flags.

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January 25, 2005

Iraq: no water

President Bush's big idea: "The idea of democracy taking hold in what was a place of tyranny and hatred and destruction is such a hopeful moment in the history of the world."

Now have a read of Riverbend's latest post on the situation in Iraq over at Baghdad Burning.

There hasn’t been a drop of water in the faucets for six days. Six days. Even at the beginning of the occupation, when the water would disappear in the summer, there was always a trickle that would come from one of the pipes in the garden. Now, even that is gone. We've been purchasing bottles of water (the price has gone up) to use for cooking and drinking. Forget about cleaning. It's really frustrating because everyone cleans house during Eid. It's like a part of the tradition ... It's maddening to walk up to the sink, turn one of the faucets and hear the pipes groan with nothing. The toilets don't function… the dishes sit piled up until two of us can manage to do them-- one scrubbing and rinsing and the other pouring the water.

I presume that the city's water supply has been cut off. How can you live without water?

Riverbend concludes: "We've given up on democracy, security and even electricity. Just bring back the water."

Seems like the imperial president has forgotten about Iraq's needing water. No matter, the lack of water can be blamed on the Iraq's.

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ALP: 'a God-awful shambles'

I personally find all the spin about the ins and outs of the ALP leadership rather boring and tedious. This game is about numbers: Kim Beazley has the numbers, the Right rules the machine and it is behind Beazley. That's it.

The rest is blah blah blah put out by the competing camps whilst they keep calling for unity, make a public show of harmony, and say they desperately need a healer to fix the gaping wounds. Presumably, they've given up looking for a prophet to lead them out of the wilderness to the light on the hill.

Honestly, who cares about every nuance in the eternal, internal jostling inside a crisis ridden ALP? Only the political junkies. Yet the media flows are filled with every nuance of the leaking and ongoing destablization of a splintered culture riven with vile. What we are witnessing is a political spectacle stirred along by the media. It is their kind of show.

Kevin Rudd, an aspirant for the ALP leadership, speaks the truth:

We are the ALP, we are the alternative government of Australia, and frankly, right now, we are in a God-awful shambles.We need to patch this up straight away in order to lift ourselves out of the muck and become a viable alternative government for this country. This country deserves better than we are currently delivering.

That needs repeating and repeating and repeating. Gillard has been saying something very similar as she positions herself as a key politiclal player in the public's mind.

Is anybody in the ALP actually listening? Knock knock. Hello in there.

The way the factional warriors have been conducting themselves of late indicates that the ALP is in no position to become a credible alternative government for Australia. It will have great difficulty become a unified political party.

Update: 26 Jan
Julia Gillard withdraws. She will not contest the Labor leadership. She marketed herself as a lefty with a bold policy vision. That needs to be questioned. I do remember her "close the borders lets have detention camps" refugee policy. There was little political courage or bold vision there. That was about political expediency.

So that leaves the field open for the triumphant return of Tampa "flip-flop" Beazley. He faces a daunting task of unifying a fragmented Labor caucaus. The simmerings and tensions in the caucus indicate that a simmering underground civil war is going on. The ALP has kissed its renewal goodbye.

I suspect the calls for unity will be meet with loyalty not unity. The ALP is not unified in purpose, policy or vision. Did not the Beazley camp say that Gillard could not be a leader becase she was single and childless? That opens a window on the boysie culture of the ALP right and the deep antagonisms between the Right and Left.

I just cannot see the ALP culture being transforming into a culture of mutual respect and shared conviction. I see bushfires flairing up all over the place with little empathy or sympathy for the victims.

They seem to have forgotten that the electoral clawback for the ALP is big. A tough ask to get the 18 seats required. You can already see Howard beginning the positioning that will take place over the next three years. It is taking place aroung the economy. Howard will use the economic reform legislation and control of the Senate to paint the Coalition as the party of opportunity, ownership, dynamism, and forward thinking; and to make the ALP appear to be against economic reform, and the defenders of old, boring, inadequate safety net programs.

The ALP may will be caught, as it is too busy fighting itself to contest the rightwing reform agenda of big business. Honestly, I cannot a disunited ALP defending the public interest in the face of the Howard Government's executive dominance over the legislature.

Can you?

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January 24, 2005

Democracy, Iraq-style

According to the news reports violence is building in Iraq in the run-up to Iraq's first democratic elections on Sunday. Support the Democrats against the murdering terrorists William Shawcross thunders.

Keefe, Denver Post

Okay William. No problems. It's an easy choice for a lefty to make.

What about the little matter of democracy giving rise to a Shi'ite government though? Have you considered that? Even though that government looks to be secular, with an Iranian-style theocracy rejected, some of the Shi'ites want the US out of Iraq as soon as possible. And they reckon that Syria and Iran should have a role in ensuring Iraq's security.

Not very pro-American is it? Does that make them anti-American? Okay that's a cheap shot.

Does the above Shi'ite desire mean a repeat of what happened in India 1947 or Palestine 1948-- after an imperial Britain withdrew: i.e., massive bloodshed, ethnic based conflict, political partition(Kurds, Sunni's, Shi'ites) and subsequent regional wars. Have you thought about that Mr Shawcross?

Juan Cole thinks that it is a realistic option. Would it not be better to consider this scenario rather than having a go at western critics and scoffers?

The Australian reports Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a leading figure in the United Iraqi Alliance (the UIA is a largely Shiite party that is likely to form the next Iraqi government, saying that:

No people in the world accepts occupation and nor do we accept the continuation of American troops in Iraq ... We regard these forces to have committed many mistakes in the handling of various issues, the first and foremost being that of security, which in turn has contributed to the massacres, crimes and calamities that have taken place in Iraq against the Iraqis.

That is pretty clear is it not?

It would indicate that, though the Shi'ites back elections, and so tacitly aligns themselves with the U.S. vision for Iraq as a government with democratic legitimacy, they do not want foreign troops in the country to help them battle the insurgency.

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January 23, 2005

Israel: peace circle

One reason for the awry circle is this kind of politics. And this. And Auschwitz casts a very long shadow.

Clay Bennett

If Israel withdraws from the Gaza will it demolish the Palestinian homes in the territories and in a massive razing of dwellings in the Gaza Strip?

Peter Hansen, the Danish Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), who will be leaving his position in March, said:

If you wanted to go into Gaza today you wouldn’t be able to because there are tanks along all along the main road to Gaza. All along the road you will see houses that have been bulldozed. As you move down through Gaza the situation gets even worse....As you approach the southern end of Gaza--where Kann Yunis and Rafah have seen continued destruction, where the numbers of people who have been made homeless by bulldozers exceeds 25,000--we have managed to re-house 8,000 of them but we are fighting a losing battle. We can not build as fast as the destruction takes place. So, Gaza is in a very, very poor state. Everybody there hopes that this conflict can end so not only their suffering can end but the deprivation of a dignified human life after decades.

One reason for hope is this. The document in question--Document of Dignity"- is here. The key phrase is ambiguous:
6-- Commitment to the goal of dislodging the occupation, and the establishment of an independent, fully soveriegn Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.

What does dislodging the occupation mean?

Some more questions.

Is the split in the governing Likud Party in Israel good news? Or is Sharon hanging on by a thread? What will the hard Israeli right, which is deeply opposed to disengagement, do with its political muscle? Will it try and bring the Sharon government down to make sure that the disengagement plan is a thing of the past?

Would the Bush administration go along with that? Or will Washington support Sharon? Who supports the moderate Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas?

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January 22, 2005

the religious right

The Christian Fundamentalists say that our nation is premised on Judeo-Christianity and that Australia's political system must maintain that heritage. We should not kiss it goodbye or hurl it into the dusbin of history. Judeo-Christianity is the mythos of our society as it provides people with a context that enables them to make sense of our day-to-day lives.

Soon we will begin to hear the line that maintaining the Judeo-Christianity heritage was the intent of the Founding Fathers of the Constitution. Theology underpins the constitution.

This fundamentalist co-mingling of Judeo-Christianity and government--you can see it with biopolitics and the regulation of the body----undermines the liberal wall of separation between state and church.

What then is the agenda of this political movement. A suggestion from the US:

The religious right is fundamentalism's political arm. It seeks objectives that are depicted in fundamentalist literature as being derived from, or consonant with, biblical prescriptions, and prophecies. Statements of these objectives vary considerably, but the principal goals are constant and prominent: a fundamentalist theocracy -- that is, a government operated according to fundamentalist readings of the Bible; an economy of capitalism, more or less unrestrained; a foreign policy based on nationalism and chauvinism reinforced by militarism; a social organization in which women would be subordinate to men and would focus their lives on reproduction; a system of education that would discourage analytical thinking in all realms except the purely technical ones; a system of science that would serve only to support commerce and to generate sophistic demonstrations that facts of nature conform to biblical narratives; and theocratic suppression of cultural, intellectual, ethical, or sexual departures from the prescriptions of biblical authorities.

I find that understanding of the religious right persuasive, even though it is very American orientated. Does fundamentalism have roots in Australia? Is it more than a US import? Should we be concerned about fundamentalism in Australia? How do conservatives understand the relationship between reason and revelation?

I reckon that fundamentalism does have roots in Australia and that we should be concerned about fundamentalism in Australia? Here is an argument.

Fundamentalism is a response to the threat of both the logos of secular modernism and secular modernism. This logos is a scientific approach to knowledge, a rejection of myth-based thinking, an expectation of ongoing technological progress, and an ever-growing capitalist economy. Liberal modernism is constituted by a market-based, capitalist economy that places a high value on individualism, materialism, and pluralism. It assumes the individual's right to choose, whether in the marketplace of goods and services, opinion or religion.

The argument is that mythos is the language of meaning and, if a secular liberal culture in modernity leaves no place for mythos, then we rightly fear a devastating loss of cultural cohesiveness and unity. This reason for the sacralization of life in Australia can be seen in the institution of a biopolitics that seeks to administer and control life and the parallel establishment of a "bioethics" that renders the protection of bare life its privileged object.

Hence the passion-informed religios fundamentalism is more than social conservatives and "power puritans" adopting a faith-based politics of different politicians. The biopolitics of the sanctity of life, which initially appeared to stop euthanasia and stem cell research and to roll back the reproductive rights of womenis broadening out to regulate everyday life (pornography, marriage, homosexuality etc).

It is a form a conservatism, which views society as an organic whole within which individuals have assigned roles and responsibilities. This conservatism s concerned with the "collective moral fabric" and it sees government as having "the right to establish norms for the conduct of social life."

Fundamentalism, which is a puritanical version of conservatism, gives the state and religion a strong role in legislating or dictating matters of morality about desiring bodies. It's biopolitics is a mode of governance, as it holds that individuals cannot be left to go their own way, but need elite guidance and control over issues such as death, sex and violence in the mass media, gambling, drug use, prostitution, etc.

So religion plays a strong role in governance.

The classic instrument of governance is censorship, which is used to set politically legitimate boundaries or limits to individual rights and liberties, and to give Christian churches the prominent role in providing moral direction and regulation of desiring bodies.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:42 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 21, 2005

US: Condoleezza Rice's confirmation hearings

This is a transcript of Sen. Barbara Boxer's remarks and Condoleezza Rice's response at Rice's confirmation hearing. Reading it indicates that the Democrats' bulldog role was assigned to Senator Barbara Boxer.

Remember it was Rice herself who evoked the spectre of the mushroom over the US even though the evidence was weak. Though she now acknowledges that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, Rice's justification for the invasion of Iraq are weak. Try this one:

Saddam Hussein was a threat, yes, because he was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And, yes, we thought that he was -- that he had stockpiles, which he did not have. We had problems with the intelligence. We are all, as a collective polity of the United States, trying to deal with ways to get better intelligence.

Trying to acquire? How does 'trying' constitute a significant threat to the national interest of the US as a superpower? It's a joke as trying to acquire relies on Saddam Hussein being evil to carry all the weight.This is comic-style thinking.

Rice continues on her merry smoke and mirrors way:

But it wasn't just weapons of mass destruction. He was also a place -- his territory was a place where terrorists were welcomed, where he paid suicide bombers to bomb Israel, where he had used Scuds against Israel in the past, and so we knew what his intentions were in the region, where he had attacked his neighbors before and, in fact, tried to annex Kuwait, where we'd gone to war against him twice in the past.
We invaded Iraq to protect Israel!

Gee, I cannot recall that one being mentioned before. How then does a civil war in Iraq, which gives rise to Sunni and Shi'te fundamentalism, protect Israel? That is the US strategic aim is it not--to protect Israel as the dominate regional power?

Nor would Rice acknowledge that Iraq is a mess partly because of the policies of the Bush Administration. Who is she trying to con? Iraq is a basket case.

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speaking the truth

I've been critical of Richard Armitage, the US Under Secretary of State, for his partisan interventions into Australian politics on behalf of the Howard Government during an election. But the man is leaving his post and is speaking his mind. So the Washington spin has been dropped and the mask taken off.

In an interview with Greg Sheridan in The Australian Armitage says:

I'm disappointed that Iraq hasn't turned out better. And that we weren't able to move forward more meaningfully in the Middle East peace process.The biggest regret is that we didn't stop 9/11. And then in the wake of 9/11, instead of redoubling what is our traditional export of hope and optimism we exported our fear and our anger. And presented a very intense and angry face to the world. I regret that a lot.
My my.

The US presented more than an intense and angry face. It also presented a very self-righteous fundamentalist one. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is the outcome of its unilateralism: a messy civil war, increasing Sunni and Shia fundamentalism, body bags and the rise of a defensive jihad around the world.

Will the unilateralism be toned down in Bush's second term? Isn't Iran being lined up?

Seymour Harris thinks so. More regime change of countries in the Middle East based on more fictions? What way will it be done in Iran? What we suspect is that the Bush administration has some sort of a plan about destabilizing, or even bringing about regime change, in Iran.

Ehsan Ahrari writing in Asia Times Online says that:

What hasn't been clear, however, is whether [the Bush addministration] would follow the Afghan model of a military campaign, or the Iraqi version of it. Considering the fact that the US military is innovative and prolific about coming up with sui generis campaigns for different military operations, chances are that if Washington indeed has plans for regime change in Iran, it might not follow either of the two preceding operations. That is why the recently published essay of Hersh about a potential US military action against Iran is read with considerable interest and attention worldwide.

Eshran says that it is necessary to factor Israel into the equation as the core of Israel's position is that no Middle Eastern country, save itself, has the right to possess nuclear weapons. He adds:
Israel is afraid that if a Middle Eastern country becomes a nuclear power, it could forever lose its freedom of action in the Middle East. The specifics of such a scenario are not important because Israel will do everything in its power, including preemptive attacks, to make sure that no Middle Eastern country ever develops nuclear weapons. The US, regardless of who is sitting in the White House, has no problem with such a frame of mind.

Richard Armitage is silent on all this, even though Washington would not rule out military action against Iran. US Vice-President Dick Cheney is not silent though.

Maybe in the next interview Armitage will engage in more truth telling to his friends. He could, for instance, acknowledge that it is legitimate for Australia to have an independent foreign policy. He could pause, then add that this option would be better for Australia's national interest than being a deputy sherriff of the US in Asia Pacific Rim.

Now that would be speaking the truth.

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January 20, 2005

painting the town red

In Washington the Republicans are going to celebrate the inaugral of President Bush's second term big time. The east coast US papers are full of stories about the Republican euphoria sweeping through the capital and painting the town red.

Bush's second term is going to be more focused:


The Republicans promise to overhaul Social Security, cut taxes, and finance the war in Iraq without increasing the budget deficit. Huh? They're dreaming.

I reckon those dreams are going to hit the cold hard reality that reducing the US trade deficit is going to be a very painful process.

But it's party party party in wartime for the funloving Bushie boys and girls. The flagwaving, nationalistic rhetoric is about American liberty depending on spreading freedom to the darkest corners of the world.
What now?

The political reality in Washington is that the poor Democrats are left shivering in the cold rain and snow. They are in a bad shape. As Josh Marshall points out:

the Democrats... [are] completely excluded from power in Washington. The only effective power they have is the ability to deny the president the cover of bipartisanship in enacting his agenda when his agenda conflicts with their fundamental principles ...

Bush will just roll right over the Democrats. And in a sense, why shouldn't he? One doesn't have to see this as a matter of President Bush's excessive partisanship or divisive governing style. True negotiations are seldom possible when there is a fundamental disparity in power between the two sides negotiating, as there is today between President Bush and his Democratic opposition ....

....most of President Bush's major legislation has gone through without 'politics' in this sense of [the organized tussle of debating and changing minds] ever even happening. In almost every case, President Bush had his bill, he had compliant majorities in each chamber, and he just passed it.

Sound familar?

Is this not what is going to happen in Australia after June 30?

Update: 21 Jan
The text of Bush's inaugral speech can be found here.

Underneath the rhetoric is the message: This is a war against terrorism. The naysayers have no credibility. The US has declared war and it is out to get the bad guys. The Iranians are now in the good guy's gun sights.

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January 19, 2005

ALP: executions & stasis

It has always suprised me how an undemocratic ALP lost its way after 1996. How come?

The media accounts of this usually focus on the leader's flawed character of the leader. This involves an intrusion into the politicians private life, herd mentality, the use of comment, rumor and leak and the creation of a media spectacle based on the blood and gore of sacrifice. It is not pretty to watch.

The media cut Latham down as much as the toecutters in the ALP party machine. Well, they danced that tango together, whilst celebrating their street cred. and parading their political nous. Both groups hungered for, and demanded, the appropriate sacrifice with its symbols of sovereignty, blood, sword and executioner.

John Quiggin has some remarks in the role of the media in the fall of Mark Latham. He alludes to, rather than explores, the dark, demonic and mythical aspects of the public execution.

Two examples of what I mean by the ALP losing its way after 1996 can be found on the next page.

Public policy issues. The ALP was, and is, committed to a globalised market economy with a reformed welfare system. But what did that mean apart from ladders of opportuntiy, easing the squeeze, Medicare Gold etc.? You don't much idea from the Chifley Research Centre. It is not producing work like Demos did for the Blair Government in the UK.

The current account deficit is a big problem, due to the collapse in export growth.The Howard Government has pulled down the policy structure by which the ALP promoted manufactured experts when it was in government. Where is the federal ALP on this today? Where is the federal ALP on the need to develop a knowledge economy? Where are the big ideas as opposed to the spin of the media release and the media driven rhetoric?

Secondly, the clever political strategic thinking by the hard heads of the party failed to identify a classic Howard wedge: using Family First as a political halfway house for conservative blue collar Christian voters to leave the ALP. These voters give their primary vote to the Family First, and then allocate their preferences to the Liberals. Instead of countering this the hard heads supported Family First and gave the Liberals control of the Senate.

Real clever huh? But then the ALP always though the political battle tok place in the House and the Seante was irrelevant.

The significance of these two examples?

With control of both houses of federal Parliament the Howard Government can now set its enterprise culture policy agenda for the next 4-8 years, box a defensive ALP into the corner and keep it there. Easing the squeeze now takes on a whole new set of meanings. It means a struggle to develop credible policies on economics, health education, environment and energy and infrastructure renewal.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:12 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 18, 2005

the circus continues

It cannot get much worse, can it?


Apparently so. They have been busy fighting themselves they've forgotten that they are expected to fight the Howard Government. Isn't that what oppositions do in a liberal democracy?

The corporate media have stirred the story along, filling the Xmas vacuum created by Latham, with their kind of political pressure about leadership. However, the media is not self-reflective about its role.

The situation is at breaking point now. Something has to give. Everyone says so.

And I'm in sensory overload from all the chatter, and tired from keeping up with who said what to whom about drowning not waving.

It is said that the sacrifice has to be made. The new must make way for the old. In the interests of the party, of course. And the nation?

Oh no, not Kim again.

Give the leadership to the women I say. The men cannot sort the mess they created. But they lack the courage to get behind Julia Gillard.

What are others saying?

Michelle Grattin's mind is made up. And the rest of the Canberra Press Gallery and mainstream journalism? Have they kissed Mark Latham goodbye too after they built him up?

The fallout from going backwards in the last federal election is continuing to create havoc inside the ALP. The internal bitterness is very deep and widespread. The hole they are busily digging for themselves just gets deeper. They are in a self-destruct mode.

Will Kim Beazley--the unity and stability candidate for the ALP leadership-- be able to stop the party's self-destruction?

Mark Latham has kissed it all goodbye. He announced he will resign as federal Opposition Leader and quit politics due to ill-health.He needs to look after his health and live a normal life with his family.

Update: comments
Andrew Bartlett has a good post on this.

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leaving Iraq

Well now. The classic image of the smoking gun becoming a mushroom cloud has been laid to rest as a myth. The other fiction, that invading Iraq was about protecting the American people, has been buried as well.

What is revealed behind the myths and fictions for democratic citizens used to justify conquering a nation that posed no threat to the United States, is ongoing cycles of violence and killing. An election looms; but an we election conducted without candidates revealing themselves for fear of being killed cannot possibly have much legitimacy; and it certainly will not be a circuit breaker in resolving the guerrilla war. Nor is it a pivot point.

The neocons still reckon that all Iraqis want the Americans to stay around.

So have a read of this roundtable discussion put on by the New America Foundation involving two former National Security Advisors. The message? The US should withdraw from Iraq.

Brent Scowcroft, the voice of Republican realism:

With Iraq, we clearly have a tiger by the tail. And the elections are turning out to be less about a promising transformation, and it has great potential for deepening the conflict. Indeed we may be seeing an incipient civil war at the present time.

And the Democrat voice of Zbigniew Brzezinski, after suggesting that the US could get the Europeans involved after the Iraqi election, said:
If that doesn't work, then I would think that sometime in the course of this year, if there is something which vaguely approximates an Iraqi government – in all probability a Shi'ite theocracy, as a consequence of elections – then I think we should disengage because staying longer will dig us deeper and deeper in the conflict.

It is close to civil war in Iraq. First Faujah, now Mosul. It is becoming an increasingly untenable situation.

The least worst alternative may well be a calculated retreat by the US. Tell that to a wingnut.

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January 17, 2005

storm clouds

Storm clouds are gathering around the embattled US dollar.

They are caused by the the US budget deficit, the large current account deficit that is now around 3% of GDP and rising to 5.5%. the drying up of private sector investment into the US, and some central banks selling US dollars as they switch out of US dollars into euros.

Dollar weakness the approaching storm is called. The metaphor is meant to indicate the seriousness of the problems facing the US. It's trade deficit is still growing very, very rapidly.

As Brad Setser points out

...if the dollar's value truly was set in the markets, it would have fallen much more than it already has. We now know Asian countries spent almost $530 billion propping up the dollar in 2004. $530 billion! The sums are staggering: Japan, almost $180 billion; China, $200 billion, other emerging Asian economies, another $150 billion.

Are we not talking about economic fundamentals here? Is not the US Treasury in favour of sound economic fundamentals at home and abroad?

The common argument that unpacks the storm cloud image is that as the USD falls, foreigners will not fund the US current account deficit, inflation and interest rates will rise in the US, tanking the US and world economy.It’s a US problem.This argument is rejected by Stephen Kitchner over at institutional economics.(see post on 20.12.04) He says:

The world economy could well be headed for a recession, but the decline in the USD is not the causal mechanism: it is merely symptomatic of the monetary train wreck unfolding in East Asia... The problem is not that the US has saved too little, but that East Asia has saved too much as a result of the state sponsored mercantilism that is the fundamental cause of global imbalances.

Whatever the fundamental cause, the US dollar is going to continue to decline.

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January 16, 2005

Tsunami & giving

photo wall, waves of destruction

Dear John Quiggin is offering to donate one Australian dollar for every comment on this post at his site to the Australian Red Cross tsunami appeal... Click on the hyperlink, and when there, post a comment. Please do it now as he only has 342 comments. More are needed.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 15, 2005

Israel: new narratives?

Are things beginning to shift between the Palestinians and Israel?

With the election of the Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinians caught a whiff of fresh air of democracy, and the possibilities of a new beginning that points to a free and democratic Palestine.

Is it?

Does the shift also mean that Israel will quickly complete its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip? Maybe.

The Israelis living in Gaza Strip villages, which a former Labor government built for them in the 1970s, have all but lost their battle for majority Israeli public support. They never won much understanding anywhere else.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, argues that relinquishing Gaza has guaranteed Israel’s retention of large settlement blocs in the West Bank, will lead to secure borders more generous than the pre-1967 lines, and contribute to Israel’s economic recovery.

Will there be an accelerated resumption of political negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, leading rapidly to discussions of a formula for a two-state solution?


Clay Bennett

The settler movement continues to campaign against disengagement and to oppose the state. That means Ariel Sharon is waging a war against the settlers.

Now that is an irony of history is it not?

So what does that mean?

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January 14, 2005

the return of the self same

The ALP party machine cannot help themselves can they? Even when their leader is sick they put in the stick. Especially when their leader is sick.

Here they are, once again, tearing themselves to bits in public for all to see. All sorts of resentments, discontents and hatreds are now in play in public for all to see. The factions appear to be out of control.They are feeding the media to create the image of crisis and Latham being political dead meat. The factional machine doesn't seem to care about the effect this self-destructive spectacle has on Australian citizens. All they desire is to put the boot in, even though everyone desperately yearns for unity. They want blood.

This is a political illness.A fallout from a traumatic electoral loss. And it is the party that has created the downward political trajectory that Latham now faces.


Latham appears to be the scapegoat for the discontent and resentment about the state of the ALP. It looks to be deepest amongst the Queensland and NSW right who desire a cross dressed conservative party. New leaders are being drafted.The numbers are being countered. Phones are ringing. Options canvassed. Caucus votes secured.

It is surreal and excessive.

Latham issues a statement saying that he is ill, needs a rest, wants to have a holiday with his family over Xmas and will be back at work at the end of January. He's off the job until Australia Day. Doctor's orders.

The party response? Radical surgery is required. Off with Latham's head. Redemption wil only come from killing off Latham's leadership of the party. It is now just a question of when and how he is to be replaced, and who will replace him. By all accounts this is the only kind of politics fo reconcilation that the party machine understands.

The rationales for the necessary sacrifice are flimsy, nonsensical and self-serving. Latham is damaging the party it is said.

Huh? Is it not the factional-driven spectacle doing the damage? Do the factions think that a disappearing/sick Mark Latham is its only problem? Is there not a small problem of the process of renewal of the party? Is it not the divided party factions creating the Latham vs the party scenario? Was it not the party machine that handed over control of the Senate to the Howard Government?

The ALP is handling the post-election period very badly. As hatred continues to seep out from body of the machine, the party has become a collection of antagonistic, self-moving mechanical parts (factions) that grind against, and then repel, each other.

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January 13, 2005

freedom of sorts

Military prosecutors with the US Office of Military Commissions informed the Australian embassy in Washington last week that it was dropping charges against Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who has been locked up for three years in foreign countries (Egypt, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay)without proper legal rights. Habib had been apprehended by Pakistani officials in 2001, and sent to his native Egypt, where he alleges that he was tortured. He has been detained for more than three years on suspicion of aiding the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Habib has not been charged with any offence in Pakistan, Egypt, America or Australia.


A hostile Australian Government will offer no apology or compensation.Instead it will ensure that Habib is kept under surveillance by the national security state because of his alleged associations with terrorist networks and because of assurances given to the US.

It looks as if the homeland security apparatus will continue to make his life a misery. Habib is still seen by the national security state to be an enemy combatant in the war agaisnt terrorism. Does this mean increased state repression of Muslims?

Update 14 Jan
Julian Burnside, writing in The Age, says that the US:

...decision to send Habib home is the result of two US court decisions in 2004...In US courts, evidence illegally obtained must be excluded, because the state should not break the law. Both in American and Australian courts, confessions obtained under duress must be excluded, because of their inherent unreliability.Confessions obtained by use of torture are excluded on both grounds.
Burnside says that the Americans had planned to try Guantanamo prisoners in military commissions that would not be bound by the ordinary rules of evidence so that the commissions could receive evidence of confessions obtained by use of torture.

And Australia? How much did the Howard Government know about the treatment of Habib? Why did the Government ask for his return only when evidence obtained by torture was ruled out? Why has Attorney-General Philip Ruddock been so guarded in his comments about the treatment to which Habib has been subjected? Burnside adds that:

The overwhelming inference is that the Australian Government knew or suspected that Habib had been tortured, but believed that a military commission could use evidence obtained this way. .....The Australian Government must have known of the mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo; it must have known that the mistreatment was designed to obtain evidence that could only be admissible in a trial that lacked the basic requirements of fairness. And it certainly knew that the victims of this mistreatment included two Australian citizens. The alternative, only slightly less disturbing, is that our Government simply did not care how the Americans treated Australian citizens.

The inference is that the national security state is willing to suspend the law of law because the war on terrorism is a state of emergency.

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January 12, 2005

Bush fires

It was between 40-44 degrees in South Australia yesterday with raging, hot north winds and dry air. Bush fire weather.The extreme conditions meant that yesterday was a total fire ban day across the state. Bushfires are the quintessential Australian disaster

BushFires3.jpg And it happened in the Adelaide Hills, around Adelaide and on Eyre Peninsula.

The firestorm on the lower Eyre Peninsula moved with incredible speed, up to 70km/h, fanned by winds approaching 100kmh. The 20-kilometre wall of flame jumped the containment lines, injuring many people and destroying homes, vehicles and stock.

It is the deadliest bush fire Australia has seen since Ash Wednesday 22 years ago.The death toll from the firestorm currently stands at nine, with many people burnt whilst trying to flee the fire in their cars.14 people are still missing.

At North Shields, a tiny settlement north of Port Lincoln, many people jumped off cliffs into the nearby sea to escape the flames and smoke sweeping down to the coast.What saved the towns was the wind turning. The fire is still burning in the scrubland.

The worst possible situation in a bushfire is to be caught in the open on foot. The second worst is to be in a vehicle as it offers only limited protection from radiant heat.

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January 11, 2005

Iraq: elections

A background article on the flaws of the Bremer plan for the elections.

Riverbend over at Baghdad Burning says:

The elections are set for the 29th...We're being bombarded with cute Iraqi commercials of happy Iraqi families preparing to vote. Signs and billboards remind us that the elections are getting closer...

Can you just imagine what our history books are going to look like 20 years from now?

"The first democratic elections were held in Iraq on January 29, 2005 under the ever-watchful collective eye of the occupation forces, headed by the United States of America. Troops in tanks watched as swarms of warm, fuzzy Iraqis headed for the ballot boxes to select one of the American-approved candidates..."

It won't look good.

Mike Thompson
The alternative to elections could be chaos, given the drum beat of violence.

Could the Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the potential for deepening the conflict?

It increasingly looks that way with the increasing likelihood of a Sunni Arab boycott of the elections.

Bob Herbert's judgement is that America is locked in a war that's going badly with the military strained to breaking point.

Is the imperial power looking like a lame duck?

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January 10, 2005

Distributed Denial of Service attacks

Hosting Matters, my hosting company, has been the subject of two Distributed Denial of Service attacks.

At its most basic level, a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack overwhelms the target system with data, such that the response from the the hosting company is either slowed or stopped altogether. A distributed DoS attack occurs when a hacker hijacks machines across the Internet and uses them to send a flood of requests to Hosting Matters server.

The result is that valid traffic, unable to compete with the malicious flood, has little chance of obtaining useful service. Eventually Hosting Matters becomes overwhelmed and stops functioning for several hours at a time (8 hours on Saturday and 4 on Monday).

In order to create the necessary amount of traffic, a network of zombie or bot computers is often used.
Zombies or botnets are computers that have been compromised by attackers, generally through the use of Trojans, allowing these compromised systems to be remotely controlled. Collectively, these systems are manipulated to create the high traffic flow necessary to create a DDoS attack.

The nature of the attack is such that it is very difficult to stop and next to impossible to prevent single-handedly.The core problem is the existence of the compromised computers used to create the attack.
The computers used in the attacks are compromised several ways including remote attacks on vulnerable, defective software and taking advantage of computers whose owners have loaded remotely controllable software such as remote control trojans and IRC bots. Many of the systems are compromised because patches for software defects that were reported and fixed months ago are never installed, because anti-virus tools are not kept up to date, and because the computer owners give away control of their computers by indiscriminately running unknown programs.

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a failure to lend a hand

I've raised this issue on an earlier post.


This sentiment or opinion is reinforced by Peter Bergen's op-ed in the New York Times. He says:

While 100,000 of the victims are from Aceh, the most Islamic of Indonesia's provinces, Muslim countries are contributing a relative pittance. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is contributing the most: a paltry $30 million, about the same as what Netherlands is giving and less than one-tenth of the United States contribution. And no Arab governments participated in the conference in Jakarta on Thursday where major donors and aid organizations conferred over reconstruction efforts.

This anemic effort on the part of the richest countries is emblematic of a wider political problem in the Islamic world. For all of the invocations by Muslim leaders of the ummah, or the global community of believers, they typically do little to help their fellow Muslims in times of crisis.

An opportunity exists for oil rich Arab Gulf states like Saudi Arabia to improve their image with the world. Maybe the Arab rulers will change their emergency aid policies in south east Asia in response to the stinging public criticism in the Arab media?

Bergen finishes his piece by saying that:

The Persian Gulf countries that are reaping a bonanza from record oil prices should send a meaningful percentage of those windfall profits to their fellow Muslims devastated by the tsunami, rather than lining the pockets of their ruling families. After all, zakat, the giving of charity, is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Even self-interest says the Arab governments should give more through charity. After all, Southern Asia supplies the super rich Gulf states with much of their domestic and manual labor force.

What appears to be happening is that fundamentalist (?) Islamist preachers have cast the tsunami as a manifestation of divine wrath at the decadence, nudity, and immorality of now devastated tourist resorts as Phuket Island and Sumatra.

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January 9, 2005

being ground down

Whilst John Howard has been playing the statesman in his exercise of knowledge and political power in Indonesia, the ALP has been living in the shadows contemplating the eightfold path to economic enlightenment.

Such contrasts in the art of politics based on sound judgement and practical shaping can fill even the true believers with nagging doubt:


The federal ALP seems to have disappeared on the tsunami issue. They are not even raisng issues about emergency relief versus development or the effect of the civil war in Aceh on the provision of emergency relief.They've gone missing in action says Crikey.

Little seems to be going the ALP's way.

WA and NSW elections? It would appear that WA will probably be the first to fall. Do we have a domino effect?

David Burchill has written an op-ed in the Australian Financial Review (Jan 8-9,2005,p.62) on things not going well for the ALP. No, it is not about factional dinosaurs and warlords and their masculinist culture and big dick practices. Burchill explores the ALP's relationship to the moral traditionalists and economic aspirationals in the outer suburbs.

Burchill says that, though Latham was the ALP's aspirational leader, his explicit appeal to the outer suburban voters failed. Burchill then says:

If Latham was Labor's "aspirational leader", then what went wrong? Why did outer Sydney and Melbourne show their backs to the lad from Green Valley? With the benefit of hindsight, part of the answer now seems obvious.It was the economy, stupid.

Burchill goes to say that Latham neglected the economy because he felt that Labor had little new to say.It had done the hard yards in 1983-96 and the rest was pure gravy. Burchill then adds:

And so he focused on personal matters--but purely in the social sphere, without recognizing the personal impact of economics on people's lives. Yet for folk in the outer suburbs economics is personal.It is the linchpin of their endeavour to "get things in order"--to put their lives in good order and get their families on the up and up.

So the ALP tried to appeal to the outer suburban apirationals in terms of the welfare of their families and localities without talking about the economic conditions that made this getting it together possible.

Burchill sums up well.It is less a case of Labor putting the social cart before the economic horse, and more a case of Labor forgetting to hitch the cart and horse together.

He ends on a depressing note:

Latham gave the aspirationals his best shot, but failed. Nobody left in Labor's decimated ranks is nearly so well qualified to pull it off....If Latham's moment has indeed passed, then get get ready for the long haul.


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January 8, 2005

Tsunami Relief: UN v US

There has been a bit of politics being played out between the UN and the US around the emergency relief for the countries devastated by the tsunami. President Bush initially said that the US was in charge:

"We've established a regional core group with India, Japan and Australia to help coordinate relief efforts."

As Simon Tisdall, writing in The Guardian, observes Bush made no mention of the central coordinating role of the United Nations, nor did he offer direct assistance to the several UN agencies that were already tackling the disaster. The impression given was the ambivalence of the US to the UN's leadership role. The US did a big emergency number with money ships, marines and helicopters.

After the Jakarta summit the "core group" was disbanded and the UN's overall control of reconstruction was acknowledged. The UN sees this as an opportunity to regain some credibility.

At issue are long-standing, fundamental tensions between the world's only superpower and the pre-eminent global political organisation. Tisdall says:

The Bush administration craves the legitimacy that only the UN can confer on its policies in places such as Iraq. On the other hand, it resents attempts by other countries, acting through the UN, to place restraints on its exercise of power.

Since the cold war ended, the UN has become the principal battleground where states' practical and ideological differences over the application of international law, multilateralist versus unilateralist solutions, and the "Bush doctrine" of pre-emptive force are fought out.

However, the conflict is more than this.It is also about the kind of development of the Southeast Asian region that needs to take place to restore lost livelihoods. The UN is going to use the reconstruction to go beyond delivery aid to push for its Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women.

The US and Australia are not that happy about this socially driven agenda since this kind of reconstruction delinks aid from western business interests, American influence in the region, and Washington's demands for US-style democracy and a market economy to be imposed everywhere.

Australia has already opted out of the UN with its bilateral arrangment with Indonesia. No doubt the US will seek to head off a revitalised UN. The UN will be allowed some independence but only up to a point.

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January 7, 2005

Relief for tsunami-ravaged nations

From the air Aceh looks to be worse than a war zone, so comprehensive is the scale of destruction. Greg Barton observes, if it were not for the overwhelming response of the international community, then the suffering of the Acehnese would have been many times worse than it is.
Mike Thompson, The worst is yet to come

The situation in Muslim Aceh in the absence of the international relief effort would be unspeakably bad.

In a previous post I raised the issue of the absence of the Arab states in the Middle East in the international community. The response from Muslims of Asia, where most of the world's Muslims live, and the Muslim diaspora of Europe, the US and Australia, has been to give generously and to send volunteers to pull bodies from the wreckage and to feed and treat the survivors. This is very different from the minimal response by the conspicuously silent Arab world in the Middle East.

Barton addresses this paralysis of generosity on the part of certain Arab states. He says:

"The traditionalist Muslims of Aceh, with their mystical, Sufistic approach to life and faith, are a world away from the fundamentalist Islamists of Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states. The Acehnese have never been particularly open to the bigoted "reformism" of radical Islamist groups linked to Saudi Arabia.....Perhaps it is for this reason that aid for Aceh has been so slow coming from wealthy Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia."

However, Juan Cole puts the lack of generosity into context with the generosity of the US. Maybe, but Saudi Arabia, which receives around $100 billion a year from its oil wealth, only gave $30 million. According to Abu Aardvark some Arab commentators are raising the issue of the failure of Arab states and publics to offer substantive assistance.

Greg Barton does say that these differences between Muslims over the generosity of tsunami aid undermines the conservative discourse that juxtaposes Islam and Western civilisation in a simplistic dichotomy.

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January 6, 2005

livelihoods gone

It is clear that Short-term relief is not going to be enough when livelihoods and fishermen's hamlets have gone:

Waves of Destruction

So what next? Maybe we need a bit of debt relief?

An argument can be found here. A counter argument. Others say that trade is more important. However, both aid and trade are needed. Europe, for instance, could acknowledge that far-reaching debt relief and the opening of its markets, would start countries such as Sri Lanka on the slow ascent out of chronic poverty. The G7 should grant debt relief.

It is also clear that the region needs more than debt relief.

It needs long-term development assistance to help restore livelihoods and enable shattered communities to get back on their economic feet:

Jeff Danziger

So the Australian Government's $1billion reconstruction and development package to Indonesia is to be welcomed.It will be administered by Indonesia and Australia, not the UN; and it places an emphasis on the reconstruction of the devastated region of Aceh and its future development. More detail on the package can be found at Geoffry MG's Beyond Wallacia.

I presume the focus of this package is on restoring livelihoods. Can we so presume, given the ongoing military operations still being conducted by the Indonesian military in Aceh?

However, we should retain a critical eye. Will the emergency relief, when channelled into this conflict zones, serve to feed armed conflict and undermine the ability of local economies to recover and develop?

What is clear is that Indonesia should lift its military state-of-emergency in the tsunami-devastated Aceh province and allow aid groups should not be pressured, and even forced, to turn over aid to the military for delivery.

It is clear is that there is national self-interest as well as the good neighbour humanitarianism at work in Australia's long-term development assistance to Indonesia. The development package gives Australia lots of benefits.

It enables greater cooperation with Jakarta in the war against terrorism; it helps to ensure that a viable Indonesian economy provides benefits for Australian trade and investment;it provides opportunities for Australian companies to be involved in rebuilding key insfrastructure in a devastated Aceh province; and it ensures that Australia becomes a key regional player playing a different role to the deputy sheriff of the US willing to launch pre-emptive strikes against Australia's neighbours.

Australia is doing good deeds in Indonesia. Read the Diplomad for an embassy perspective on the good on the ground work being done by the Australians and Americans, in contrast to the slow moving UN.

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January 5, 2005

band aids & vaccines

A bystander looks on as bodies recovered from under debris are cremated near the sea at Nagapattinam, India, one of the many places hit by the tsunami.
AP, Gurinder Osa

Whilst The Hindu offers some good advice to the Indian government America is boosting its image amongst Muslims in the south east Asia region. The US is anxious to present a generous and compassionate face.

Jeff Danziger

Danziger is right. It is a bit of a show.

The Amercians are still touchy about the European stingy criticism. The Bush administration does have a track record of promising a lot in front of the cameras then not delivering when the cameras have move on.

We are still hearing a lot about the emergency aid (band-Aid) and little about development aid (the vaccine.

Where are the contributions from rich Arab gulf states? Why don't they help to ease the debt burden of the countries stricken by the tsunami? Whey are they not advocating a debt moratorium in the first instance to ease the burdens of the past, then a Marshall Plan for the future. Their silence about Aceh is puzzling.

A Marshall Plan. That is something you'd think rich Arab nations in the Middle East would run with as it is about the development of Islamic countries.

So why their silence? It is very noticeable.

Someone else has noticed:

Signe Wilkinson

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Tsunami #8 in memoriam

I reckon that Alan Moir is the best cartoonist in Australia engaging with the tsunami disaster:


An earlier Moir is here.

The above image captures the minutes of silence for those who have died from this terrible natural disaster.

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January 4, 2005

the politics of aid

Pat Oliphant

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todays quote

From Paul Sheehan writing in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday:

"It was an auspicious week to be reminded that Australia has never had so much material wealth yet so much environmental poverty.

For more than a hundred years, a slow-motion natural disaster has been unfolding in this country - you could call it a dry tsunami - mostly invisible, but deadening over the long term, as uncountable millions of tonnes of topsoil have blown away, never to be replaced, as a result of profound ignorance of the landscape. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have left the land, unable to make a living in an environment of wasting soils, dying rivers, changing climate, eroding coasts, disappearing species, plunging biodiversity, salinisation, desertification and factory farming."

The dry tsunami image is unfortunate. But he is right about Australia being in a long-term environmental decline that has not been arrested.

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January 3, 2005

Tsunami#5 lending a hand

Whilst both Banda Aceh and Meulaboh in Sumatra, Indonesia will probably be reconstructed, the survivors of the destroyed towns inbetween will be evacuated.

Will the towns be rebuilt? No one is sure. That means a shift from providing emergency relief to development.

What we do know is that massive emergency aid is the content to Cox & Forkum's excellent 'lending a hand' editorial cartoon about the Indian Ocean tsunami:

Cox and Forkum

It is the international community--not just south Asia---that is lending a hand to the devastated region Australia is a part of. The tsunami narrative includes the way the US was shamed by the UN into increasing its financial support from $35m to $350 million.

As an aside, a post on Cox and Forkum's weblog consists of a cartoon and some writing about the cartoon's subject matter.This is a similar way of working to what is sometimes done here at public opinion.

Editorial cartooning is a difficult profession these days. The job of an editorial cartoonist is to reveal the awkward truth when everybody else would prefer a tactful silence. Alas local editorial cartooning is dying, and the newspaper publishers are killing it. So says Malt Priggee.

This is a pity because an editorial cartoon can say things that a photo cannot:

Tab (Thomas Boldt), The Calgary Sun, Alberta, Canada

What does lending a hand mean? Does it mean that development is more important than relief? Does it mean helping to rebuild affected nations. So how does international community lend a reconstructive hand beyond the immediate $2 billion in emergency relief? Aid agencies work well as emergency relief agencies, as they can operate on a more local and intimate scale than government or international institutions can reach.

And development? Here is a suggestion from the Los Angeles Times. A multibillion-dollar Marshall Plan for South Asia. The Los Angeles Times says:

"The U.S. spends a bit over one-tenth of 1% of its national income on aid, less than any other developed nation. A massive American-led Marshall Plan for South Asia would cost only a fraction of the nearly $225 billion requested so far to pay for the Iraq war.And, without a doubt, it would be a far wiser investment in the war on terror."

Sounds good advice to me. Will the neocons hear it?

I would add two things.The UN should not be sidelined on this kind of generational rebuilding. Secondly, Australia should substantially increase its direct aid to Aceh and play a leading role in re-building water supplies, roads, telecommunications, schools and hospitals. Both could help prevent the Indonesian military from playing politics with aid.

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January 2, 2005

Tsunami#5:good news

Indonesian news reports say that cholera-like symptoms have already begun to show up among homeless people gathered in camps near the devastated provincial capital of Banda Aceh in north western Sumatra.

Along the west coast of hard-hit Aceh province many survivors, cut off from the outside world, are threatened by starvation and sickness.

The town of Meulobah on the coast of the Aceh province in western Sumatra before the Tsunami hit.

By all accounts Meulobah is gone. An ariel image of Meulobah.

The good news is that US. Navy helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier began arriving in Banda Aceh on Saturday. They are also beginning to run much needed missions along the west coast of the Aceh province.

It may be to late to deal with some of the infected wounds.

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January 1, 2005

Tsunami#4 Aceh

Aceh has borne the brunt of the devastation from the undersea earthquake 160 miles south of Banda Aceh and the huge tsunami it triggered on Sunday. Around 80,000 people are now recorded as perishing in Aceh province. The number of dead victims in Aceh and North Sumatra are expected to reach 100,000. Between one and three million of those affected by the tsunami in Aceh and North Sumatra are homeless.

Basically all the villages on the coastal line are completely gone.In some coastal towns there is nothing, as even the foundations of the houses have disappeared. Entire swaths of coastline are reduced to sprawling rubbish dumps.

NewsTsunami6. jpg.jpg
Reuters, Satellite images show Aceh on northern Sumatra, Indonesia before and after the tsunami hit on Sunday.

More satellite images of Banda Aceh before and after the tsunami can be found at junk for code and many more over at Digital Globe.

The coastal town of Meulaboh in Sumatra has been destroyed whilst Banda Aceh, the provincal capital, is a wrecked city.

As the Jarkata Post says:

"The entire southern part of Indonesia, starting from Sumatra, Java, Bali, Nusa Tenggara to Maluku and Papua and also the northeastern part of the country -- Sulawesi and North Maluku -- constitute active seismo-tectonic regions. Potential volcanic dangers exist at places along these lines.....movements on the bed of the Indian Ocean can cause tension on either side of the fault line. If the accumulation of tension and energy at the sides of the tectonic lithospheric plates or the subduction zone becomes unbearable, more fresh earthquakes may occur."

Sunday's quake in Sumatra has increased the chances for more major earthquakes there.

Aceh has become a focus point. People will judge whether the new government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, can really deliver by what happens in Aceh. At the moment the Indonesian government is being rightly criticized. Four days after the tsunami struck, only 60 volunteers from the government had been deployed, bodies are still strewn all over the city and there was an acute food shortage.

From what I can make out relief supplies sent from national and foreign organizations and governments are reaching the Banda Aceh airport. In fact, supplies are piling up there. But they are not being distributed quickly to the intended targets.

According to Doctors without Borders the population of Aceh has received no international humanitarian aid at all since the disaster struck four days ago. They are the first international organization to begin working in the area.

Why the delays and disorganization in Aceh?

The politics explains some of the inaction. Aceh is a region long caught up in armed rebellion against Jakarta's oppressive authority that is justified by a strident nationalism that has been unwilling to recognize regional differences in the nation state.

This political conflict has meant that the Indonesian government initially kept the international community at bay as it debated whether to open Aceh up to foreigners. The province had been almost entirely closed to any international presence due to military operations there.

Consequently, the Indonesian government's response has been slow and uncoordinated. This is the reaction of the Indonesian press to the disaster in Aceh.

Breaking news can be found at the The SEA-EAT blog,the Wilkinews and Tsunami-info.org

Video streams can be viewed at Cheese and Crackers.

For accounts of what is happening in India see Kiruba Shankar, who is blogging from Chennai in India at KirubaShankar. For Malaysia see KTemoc at Bolehtalk and Jeff Ooio over at Screenshots.

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