John, we need to talk

Judith Ireland is a final year journalism student at the University of Sydney and is doing a stint with Webdiary.


Five years ago, a young, single woman had an epiphany in New York. And for once, it wasn�t Sex and the City�s Carrie Bradshaw.

Fresh from yet another New Year�s Eve without someone to pash at midnight, Sasha Cagen came to the conclusion that whilst she was almost always without a boyfriend, she wasn�t abnormal. She was just �quirkyalone.�

According to Cagen, quirkyalones are independent people who would prefer to wait for Mr or Ms Right than settle for someone ugly, stupid or just plain inferior.

Following Cagen�s epiphany and the essay she wrote about it, quirkyalone-ness has become something of a grassroots movement. Her book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics was published in Australia in March.

Her web site, celebrating single life and love, has up to 5,000 �quirkyvisitors� a day. And on February 14, the second annual International Quirkyalone Day (IQD) was celebrated in over 40 cities around the world.

Thanks to Cagen, being single is no longer seen a failure; it�s something to be proud of. �Quirky� just might be the most liberating thing for relationships since the pill or Cosmopolitan magazine; doing for Bridget Jones what the term �metrosexual� did for straight men who like wearing pink shirts.

Eight years ago, Australia woke up from a wild night at the polls beside its very own Mr Right.

Whilst for some voters it was an arranged marriage and for others it was economic convenience after the �recession we had to have�, he was still ours. And we have stayed with him for three terms.

But as we head toward the altar of elections again, with the prospect of renewing our vows for a whopping fourth time (here�s looking at you, Menzies), it�s all beginning to feel a little bit Anita and Paul.

Mr Right is used to having things his own way. Until recently he has been able to ignore dissent within the community and side step his critics. Tampa, schmampa. We have still voted for him. After all, the man has given us tax cuts.

But all of a sudden, there�s another man on the political scene. The polls are looking shaky. And the unresolved issues are adding up.

John, we need to talk.

There are some serious problems with trust in this relationship. A GST was introduced after you promised it wouldn�t be. You deregulated university fees when you said it wouldn�t happen. Then it was children overboard, ethanol and weapons of mass destruction.

And you won�t say sorry.

Mr Right has always been good at talking his way out of trouble. In a recent opinion piece for theSydney Morning Herald, Labor�s Kevin Rudd noted Howard�s knack for “choosing words carefully to make sure there is a linguistic escape route”.

Just look at what Mr Right did to the Republic referendum question. Or the �deep and sincere regret� he expressed over the Stolen Generations.

But after eight years of playing verbal Houdini, Howard is running out of things to say. As Rudd said, “The political script is starting to look as threadbare as its author.”

In parliament when Mark Latham fired question after question asking for details on the gagging of Mick Keelty, Howard�s big tactic was to say nothing at all. And he used the same approach over Lance Collins� call for a Royal Commission into Australia�s intelligence agencies.

And when he�s coming up with comments like legislation banning same-sex marriage �is not directed at gay people�, maybe he is better off giving us the silent treatment.

But there is hope yet for our Mr Right. Not only is he free to wear pink shirts without sending the �wrong signal�, but as we move ever closer to the polls, using the budget surplus to re-elect himself can be quirky.

That makes the m�nage with Alan Jones and David Flint s little bit quirky. And the one with Blair and Bush very quirky indeed.

So what if Army intelligence simply has a few quirks? And yes, that�s right, they were just weapons of quirky destruction.

Or perhaps it�s time for Australia to stop settling. Granted, we don�t have the option of going without a Prime Minister until someone absolutely perfect comes along. But at the very least, we need to see other people.

Sorry John. It�s not me – it�s you.


Cagen�s essay

Deputy PM confirms oil crisis

At last, some honesty from the Government on oil! Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson confirmed the guts of my column today, Oils ain’t just oils, they’re to die for. He said on the ABC’sInsider�s program this morning (with no follow up from Barrie Cassidy!):


I do share the community’s quite deep concern about the outlook (for oil prices) because it really is related to very heavy demand for fuel around the place, limitations of global refining capacity and, I have to say it, the very real prospect that at some stage in the next few short years global production may very well peak and it may be hard to increase it further at a time when countries like China, of course, are looking for a lot more fuel and even in places like Australia our dependence on oil, on petrol and transportation continues to increase.

This is one of the reasons why I believe, in common with legislators in most other Western countries, that we need to be determinedly looking at alternative fuels, both extenders and new fuels and that includes biofuels. But I don’t want to fudge and say that there is an easy answer to this. The realities of global fuel refining are quite stark.

I got some fantastic feedback to the column, with lots more links and information. Here we go, after general recommendations.



Tim Gillin: The new bombshell from Seymour Hersh, that Rumsfeld authorised torture in Iraq, is atThe New Yorker. Hersh has been wrong before. I am thinking of his “The Dark Side of Camelot” and the claim that JFK had been secretly married before his marriage to Jackie: see smokinggun.

Scott Burchill: See Pioneers Fill Campaign War Chest, Then Capitalize, on how Bush buys his donations.

Allen Jay: See Brian Cloughley on the Patriot Act in the US at Where are you heading, America?. If he can write for Janes, then I doubt that even your most conservative readers would find reason to object, although they may choke on the opinions expressed. Given a background in the British and Australian Army and a specialist in the region, his views are always worthy of consideration – even if he has taken up exile in NZ. His home page is briancloughley.


Kerryn Higgs

Your piece on the oil question is very timely. I was taken aback this morning when John Anderson appeared on the ABC�s Insiders and warned of:

…the very real prospect that at some stage in the next few short years global production may very well peak and it may be hard to increase it further at a time when countries like China, of course, are looking for a lot more fuel and even in places like Australia our dependence on oil, on petrol and transportation continues to increase.

As Webdiarist David Mieluk pointed out last week in George Bush: the crouching man is naked, this concern has been raised for many years, by oilmen and geologists in particular, and decades ago by the Club of Rome researchers. Your Cheney quote indicates that the US administration is as well aware of it as the craziest of doomsayers.

If the Iraq strategy has been directed at cornering what�s left � or the greater part of it � it�s still very odd when you realise that, even if the USA did succeed in controlling the declining resource, there�s a big crisis coming in a matter of years, or decades at best, not centuries. Common sense might suggest that now is the time to prepare for a more orderly transition, rather than profiteer from the guzzling of the last of it.

The world�s oil, by the way, is the distilled product of tens of millions of years of plant growth in geological history. That�s way beyond ordinary human comprehension, but what we�re doing is burning millions of years of plant growth every decade � and it�s accelerating.

David�s paragraph which you quoted in your article reminded me of what I felt in 1967 or so when I first came across critics of the Vietnam War. These loonies told me that there was no actual threat to anyone from Vietnam, there were no dominoes and we were being led along by the nose. Our leaders (and US leaders for that matter), I thought, would surely not deceive us and launch a war for spurious reasons. It was shocking, a stretch of the imagination. For quite some time I simply could not credit the allegations.

So, if the world is about to face a crisis of its energy supply (and it�s more than the transport and trade that Anderson mentioned � the entire mass-production sector in agriculture is based on oil-derived fertilisers, pesticides and mechanised farming); why wouldn�t our leaders look for solutions? And how do we force them to do this?


Anthony Rizk: Just shut up will you………for God sake.

Peter Brown: I thought you might like to read Kurt Vonnegut’s view on this in Cold Turkey: “Here�s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we�re hooked on.”


Andrew Mamo

Finally somebody in the Australian media has had the guts to discuss Peak Oil!! Like your reader from Terrigal (my suburb coincidentally), I am constantly confounded by the willful ignorance of our politicians and journalists to deal with the devastating potential of this threat. Well done for breaking the silence, and I hope to see this become the real focus of government and public concern over the next 10 years, rather than any phony wars on terror. (Margo: Andrew is an artist who organised Garage doors against the war before the invasion of Iraq.)


Michael Ekin Smyth

Yeah, Margo, you�ve finally nailed it. It�s just a giant American conspiracy � powered by those evil Jewish neo-cons.

Congratulations. You just leapt over neo on the path to fully blown Nazi ideologist. I�ll bet there is a good Chinese tailor in Sydney who can run you up a nice black uniform in no time.

The armband? Well, that is a little more difficult. Some find even them morally repugnant. But there are plenty like you lurking in the depths of liberal central Europe. They�ll be able to get you fully kitted out in uniforms, military equipment and anti-American, and free market bigotry in no time. Whoops! No need for the anti-American bigotry is there? You�re fully armed with that already � and a hatred of the Jews, and of capital markets.

Hell, we�ll get a Krystallnacht organised in no time! Sieg Heil!


Dave Worth, convenor of the Sustainable Transport Coalition, WA

I agree with your comments on what is happening re global oil demand. We organised a conference last year called WA: beyond oil, and we�ll have another one in August called “Oil: Living with Less”. Webdiarist Carmen Lawrence launched our new policy of the same name two weeks ago here in Perth.

I have personally lobbied a number of federal MPs as well as appeared at a House of Reps enquiry in Adelaide 2 weeks ago, and no one wants to know about this topic and its implications for car-using Australians. We have issued a number of media releases which The West Australian has never run. So yes, people just don�t want to know, and when oil goes to the level of what they are paying NOW in Europe- AUS$1.60 to $1.85- they will scream for governments to subsidise the petrol price, especially those with large engined cars and 4WDs.


Geoff Davies of Canberra (on leave in California)

Thanks for stating the rarely-stated though blindingly obvious about oil and Iraq, and for moving on to the topic of how we can begin to wean ourselves off oil.

In case you missed the brief review of my recent book Economia: New economic systems to empower people and support the living world by Bruce Elder (SMH 24-25 April), check it out atgeoffdavies. It’s a complete reconception of how economies really work, how we can redirect and restructure our societies to have much less impact on the world, how many innovations already move us in that direction, and how ultimately we can aspire to promote the regeneration of cultural diversity and biodiversity.


John Omaha, an American in Sydney

I appreciated your article in today’s Sun-Herald regarding the place of oil in the causes for my country’s unprovoked, illegal, and immoral attack on Iraq.

There is another cause for the attack however. By attacking defenseless countries the American military-industrial complex successfully hijacks the U.S. budget, diverting billions of dollars into the treasuries of Martin-Marietta, General Dynamics, Boeing, Halliburton’s Brown-Kellog-Root, North American-Grumann, and several hundred other corporations.

This process was begun in Vietnam. Before the Gulf of Tonkin (non) incident, the U.S. defense budget stood at $80 billion (US) per year. At the termination of the invasion, the budget was $400 billion, and it has remained in that range ever since. Regularly, the U.S. military-industrial complex succeeds in duping the easily-flummoxed citizens and the duplicitous Congress into attacking yet another defenseless nation. You may recall that our ambassador suckered Hussein into invading Kuwait by telling him the U.S. would not respond if he did invade, and the instant he took the bait, Desert Story was on.

I think that many citizens around the world do not realize the true horror of the actions of the military-industrial complex. You touch on the issue in your column today. No American commentators ever mention the fight for survival of U.S. corporations.

I believe we no longer live in a democracy in America. We live in a corporatocracy which serves solely the interests of corporations, bureaucracies, congress, both political parties, and the media.

Citizens do not count. Our needs are never considered. We exist solely to fund the corporatocracy. When we get too old to work, we are cast aside without medical care, our pension funds looted, our benefits attenuated.

This is the view of one disgusted American citizen. The majority of my countrymen are too dumbed down to appreciate this argument.

Cordially from Sydney, where I am delivering a couple of workshops in my field of psychology.


Ian McPherson

Congratulations! Your oil article goes right to the heart of the matter. Australia is as reliant as the US on foreign oil, and we import most of our needs. That will only increase until world oil supplies are seriously depleted, around about 2050.

NOW is the time for alternative energy solutions.

If you are interested in the link between the placement of US troops (usually couched as military assistance [sic]) and the US’s oil requirements, the expert is Michael T. Klare.

I have assembled as many reliable links as I can on this subject, as I believe it is the most important problem facing mankind (water depletion is possibly the second). From oil dependence stems global warming, global dimming and massive pollution.

For me, one of the most convincing and intelligent articles is by George Monbiot in The Guardian.

It is past time to deal honestly with the issue of oil depletion, whether it occurs within 20 or 50 years. NOW is the time to invest in alternatives, and legislate against oil wastage. The federal government must lead and not just follow the lead of the US – which will lead to endless war.

We must look for energy alternatives now, solutions that do not suffer from the side-effects of war, human rights violations, pre-emptive invasions and the support of dictatorships. Some of these alternatives are now available and there is reason for hope, as shown in How many windmills would $87 billion buy?

The next step, necessarily, will be to research, develop and present real-life solutions. This is the challenge that is facing mankind. If we solve the issue of oil depletion, it is more than possible that we will solve the issue of endless war.


Tim Gillin in Sydney

Geologist Colin Campbell, quoted in your article on oil, may or may not be proven right, but one thing is for sure, he is certainly adding another repeat to the chorus of the “we’re going to run out of oil and have a disaster” refrain that has been recycled every decade or so since oil was first discovered. And to date the track record of that refrain has been pretty poor ( see

In 1875, John Strong Newberry, the chief geologist of the state of Ohio, predicted that the supply of oil would soon run out. The alarm has been sounded repeatedly in the many decades since. In 1973, State Department analyst James Akins, then the chief U.S. policymaker on oil, published “The Oil Crisis: This time the wolf is here,” in which he called for more domestic production and for improved relations with oil-producing nations in the Middle East. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter, echoing a CIA assessment, said that oil wells “were drying up all over the world.

In 2003, world oil production was 4,400 times greater than it was in Newberry’s day, but the price per unit was probably lower. Oil reserves and production even outside the Middle East are greater today than they were when Akins claimed the wolf was here. World output of oil is up a quarter since Carter’s “drying up” pronouncement.

For an alternate take on oil, it is worth examining the myth repeated endlessly by the media that the Middle East is home to two thirds of the world’s oil reserves. A good place to start myth busting is Radford: “The oil reserve estimates …all refer to a narrow category of “proven” oil reserves, not to “every … barrel of oil in the world”

Left, right and center, the messengers who have analysed global energy supply have all focused on the problem through one optic.

According to a US Geological Survey report quietly published in 2000, there is more oil outside the Middle East than inside the region. Certainly two thirds is not at all accurate – it’s 54 percent of identified reserves, possibly 40 percent of ultimately recoverable reserves, and possibly 30 percent or less if you include unconventional heavy oil fields.

As Standard Oil executive Wallace Pratt said in 1944, it is a “fallacy [to] cite proved reserves as a measure of available future supplies.” Yet this is exactly what has animated US policy in the Middle East.

The news media nearly always use the proven reserve figures and omit other categories because the Department of Energy and the oil industry publish reports that include only “proven” oil reserves – as if that is all there is. Most people do not realize that other petroleum geologists – most notably those at the USGS – take a different view.

The war in Iraq may or may not be “for” oil, but there is no question that at some level, it is “about” oil. What if Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Middle East are NOT the home of the world’s largest oil reserves? What if decades of American foreign policy are based on a faulty premise?

Your column reminded me of a quote from Admiral Gene La Roque of the Center for Defense Information, commenting on the first Gulf War (the one endorsed by the UN and the ALP):

This is a war over the price of oil and I don’t think we want to sacrifice the life of one American boy to keep the price of oil down or the king of Saudi Arabia on the throne.

Is the current “bad” war in Iraq about “oil”? I think the real way to answer that question is to look at other wars in history, like the Great War, WW2 or the American Civil War, and determine if they were about one thing. The answer is “no”.

Oil is a factor in the current war, along with terrorism, islamism, Israel and even the need for the US military industrial complex to maintain its relevance in a post-Cold War world (see Dick Cheney�s Song of America ).

And what do we mean by a war for oil? For control over future supply or for control over current oil profits and revenues? Those two issues are quite different.

The following quote from Gulf War 1 critic, economist Murray Rothbard, emphasises the revenue angle:

… Since the oil shocks of the 1970s, more oil has been discovered, and produced, in non-OPEC countries (such as Mexico, the North Sea), and U.S. and other consumers are using less petroleum per product. The OPEC proportion of world oil output fell from 56 percent in 1973 to only 32 percent today. And since 1973, the amount of oil and gas needed to produce a dollar of GNP in the United States has been cut by 43 percent. All this can be predicted from economic theory: that higher prices call forth a greater supply, and that consumers and other buyers restrict their demands for oil and move to other sources or to more oil-efficient energy uses.

…if oil price increases are the problem, why didn’t the U.S. move in force in 1973 against the OPEC countries, sending troops into Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to take them over and force them to lower the price of crude oil? Why should the U.S. balk at a few dollars a barrel now when it stood still for a quadrupling of the price of oil two decades ago?

The war against Iraq, …has nothing to do with any “national interest” that Americans may have in abundance of oil and in keeping its price low. Does that mean that this war is in no sense an “oil war?

No – it means that it’s a very different – and far more sinister – kind of oil war: a war not for the American consumer but for the control of a supply and of the vast profits from oil. A war, in short, for narrow economic interests against the interests of the American consumer, the taxpayers, and of Americans who will die in the effort.

Specifically, why the U.S. hatred of the cartelist Saddam and its great tenderness and concern for the cartelist Saudis?

First, the long-term “friendship” with the “pro-West” despots of the Saud family. This “friendship” has been concretized into Aramco (the Arabian-American Oil Co.), the Rockefeller company that has total control of Saudi Arabian oil – and long-time heavy influence, if not control, over U.S. foreign policy. After World War II, Aramco (owned 70 percent by Rockefeller companies – Exxon, Mobil, and Socal, and 30 percent by Texaco) produced all of Saudi oil.

Originally, Aramco owed King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia $30 million in royalty payments for the monopoly concession. And so, James A. Moffet, former vice president of Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon), who had been appointed as Federal Housing Administrator in World War II, used his influence to get the U.S. Treasury to pay Ibn Saud the $30 million. In addition the King got an obliging “loan” of another $25 million from the Rockefeller-dominated U.S. Export-Import Bank, at taxpayer expense, to construct a pleasure railroad from his capital to his summer palace. In addition, President Roosevelt made a secret appropriation out of his boodle of war funds, of $165 million to Aramco to do preparatory work for its pipeline across Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the U.S. Army was assigned to build an airfield and military base at Dhahran; the base, after costing U.S. taxpayers over $6 million, was turned over gratis to King Ibn Saud in 1949. Dhahran, not coincidentally, was close to the Aramco oilfields.

During the 1970s, Aramco was “nationalised” by Saudi Arabia, a process completed in 1980. But the nationalization was phony, because the same Aramco consortium immediately obtained a contract as a management corporation to run the old, nationalized Aramco. More than half of Saudi oil production goes to the old Aramco-Rockefeller consortium, which sells the oil at a profit to whomever they wish, in obedience to Saudi cartel regulations. The remaining part of Saudi oil is run and distributed by the Saudi government directly, through Petromin (the General Petroleum and Marketing Organization), the marketing arm of the Saudi Petroleum Ministry.

It all boils down to a happy case of the “partnership of industry and government” – happy, that is, for the Saud family and for the Rockefeller oil interests.

Iraq, on the other hand, has very little dealings with the Rockefeller Empire. In contrast to heavy dealings with Iran (in the Shah’s day), Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Gulf states, the big Wall Street banks reported that they had virtually no loans outstanding or deposits owed, to Iraq. Thus, Citibank (Rockefeller) reported that its risk of loss to Iraq was “zero,” and similar reports came from Chase Manhattan (Rockefeller) and the rest of Wall Street.

And so: the war against Iraq is a war over oil, all right, but not on behalf of cheap oil or abundant oil to the U.S. consumer. It is a war of the Rockefeller Empire against a brash interloper. Bush’s Pentagon speech takes on heightened meaning when he talks about everyone suffering “if control of the world’s great oil reserves fell into the hands of that one man, Saddam Hussein”.

Whether Rothbard, who was talking about the first Gulf War, is right or not, is not my main point. I’m not sure. When blaming war on oil we need to remember that that small word is not so much a definitive answer, as merely a prompt for a lot more questions.

Oils ain’t just oils, they’re to die for

This piece was first published in the Sun Herald today. It was inspired by an email from David Mieluk in Terrigal published in George Bush: the crouching man is naked.


Most Europeans have never been in doubt that Iraq is an oil war. As the latest ludicrous excuse for the war lies in ruins – that it is a selfless American crusade to civilise the Middle East – perhaps we can finally start to think about the real issues and what our “leaders” are doing about them in our name.

The mainstream media has hardly touched the looming oil supply crisis, but if you look hard enough, the mastermind of the war, Bush’s Vice-President Dick Cheney did in 1999, as chairman of giant oil services company Halliburton, now ensconced in Iraq. Cheney warned that by 2010 the world would need another 50 million barrels a day, way above our known reserves.

“The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil, is still where the prize ultimately lies,” he said.

“Even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow.”

The US props up the corrupt Saudi regime in return for co-operation on oil – despite its funding of extremist Islamic groups abroad – but to insure against an uprising by the unfortunate Saudi people, Bush replaced America’s former proxy Saddam Hussein in his palaces and his torture chambers under cover of September 11.

Cheney’s war plan to put Iraq’s oil in the hands of American companies was counterproductive – the mind bogglingly incompetent Anglo imperial war now threatens to drive US business out of the Middle East altogether.

At a conference on oil depletion in Berlin this year, Colin Campbell, a world-renowned geologist and founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, said: “There are vested interests on all sides hoping somehow to evade the grip of oil depletion, or at least to put it off until after the next election or until they can develop some strategy for their personal or corporate survival. As the moment of truth approaches, so does the heat, the deceptions, the half truth and the flat lies.”

The biggest of the flat lies so far is the Iraq war, where Bush was prepared to increase recruitment to terrorist organisations and increase the risk of terrorist attacks to secure oil.

Bush is so desperate for oil and so unwilling to ask his people to reduce their gluttonous oil use that he tried to allow drilling for oil in one of America’s great natural wildernesses, Alaska.

The Los Angeles Times revealed last week that the US oil industry employed influential former government officials to help mount a successful campaign after 1998 in partnership with the president of Kazakhstan to “convince the world that his oil-rich, authoritarian regime was actually a budding democracy”.

The campaign “seized on America’s need for oil to win US support for a government with a penchant for shuttering newspapers and manipulating elections”, and included commissioning positive stories by corrupted journalists in the mainstream media.

What to do? Enslave the people of oil-producing nations to keep living how we live and abandon our values for the purpose? Have a world war? That’s where we’re heading. How about spending our money not on oil wars, which make the world a much more dangerous place for ordinary people, but on a war against the need for so much oil?

How about spending billions on alternative energy? How about telling citizens the truth about the realities we face, and bring us in on the conversation of how we might be prepared to change our lifestyle and the way our cities are organised to meet the threat through peace, not war?

You know how much the Australian Government spent in the budget to promote renewal energy research? Nothing, effectively. More incentives for oil exploration, of course, but it hasn’t even spent the small amounts it had already allocated for greenhouse abatement to stop our world warming up – partly due to our over-reliance on oil. And shouldn’t we be spending billions on city and country trains, not more road tunnels?

The world can descend into hell to fight over oil, or we can start now in reducing our reliance on it. We can live in peace with less oil, or we can die in war to try to maintain our lifestyle for a little while longer at the expense of our core values.

“Those in power want the bland illusion of ‘business as usual’ so that they may continue to extract support from their traditional constituencies, rather than face the reality of natural depletion imposed by nature,” Colin Campbell said.

“In this they underestimate the resolve of the deprived electors, who would much prefer to be told the truth. ‘Put your trust in the people,’ Winston Churchill said when facing an earlier crisis.”

Reader quote of the week

David Mieluk in Terrigal on the oil crisis:

I do not understand why this situation is not the main current public debate. I am, perhaps, in my young years, poisoned by naivety into believing that if a truly devastating threat lurked on the horizon, politicians would cease playing politics and work together to find a solution. That appears not to have happened.

Regime change in America its last hope?

So, the bloke who designed America�s debacle in Iraq and sent kids without training to Abu Ghraib goes to the scene of the crime to tell his troops that while the small fry will fry, �I�m a survivor�. (See A deepening rift at the Pentagon: Rumsfeld’s surprise visit to Iraq should help buoy troops, but DOD is still riven by the scandal.)


I don�t think so. Incredible stuff is going down in America as the nation comes to terms with the fact that its rulers have destroyed the myth Americans live by and are in the process of destroying American power as well. Many Americans will mourn the fact that they didn�t listen to the stream of whistleblowers before the war � the sacked generals and the diplomats who resigned. And maybe some will even read Chomsky as they try to work out how America came to this.

But the idealistic America is fighting back hard, and winning over distraught former believers in the sinister and stupid administration they unwittingly elected.

Tonight, some important and fascinating links to America�s struggle to work out its values in the 21st century.

To begin, prominent pro-war commentator Thomas Friedman of the New York Times writes an extraordinary mea culpa under the headline Dancing Alone:

Do we have any chance of succeeding at regime change in Iraq without regime change here at home? “Hey, Friedman, why are you bringing politics into this all of a sudden? You’re the guy who always said that producing a decent outcome in Iraq was of such overriding importance to the country that it had to be kept above politics.”

Yes, that’s true. I still believe that. My mistake was thinking that the Bush team believed it, too. I thought the administration would have to do the right things in Iraq � from prewar planning and putting in enough troops to dismissing the secretary of defense for incompetence � because surely this was the most important thing for the president and the country. But I was wrong. There is something even more important to the Bush crowd than getting Iraq right, and that’s getting re-elected and staying loyal to the conservative base to do so.

I admit, I’m a little slow. Because I tried to think about something as deadly serious as Iraq, and the post- 9/11 world, in a nonpartisan fashion � as Joe Biden, John McCain and Dick Lugar did � I assumed the Bush officials were doing the same. I was wrong. They were always so slow to change course because confronting their mistakes didn’t just involve confronting reality, but their own politics.

Yes, that’s true. I still believe that. My mistake was thinking that the Bush team believed it, too. I thought the administration would have to do the right things in Iraq � from prewar planning and putting in enough troops to dismissing the secretary of defense for incompetence � because surely this was the most important thing for the president and the country. But I was wrong. There is something even more important to the Bush crowd than getting Iraq right, and that’s getting re-elected and staying loyal to the conservative base to do so.

…Why, in the face of the Abu Ghraib travesty, wouldn’t the administration make some uniquely American gesture? Because these folks have no clue how to export hope…

Why didn’t the administration ever use 9/11 as a spur to launch a Manhattan project for energy independence and conservation, so we could break out of our addiction to crude oil, slowly disengage from this region and speak truth to fundamentalist regimes, such as Saudi Arabia? (Addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.) Because that might have required a gas tax or a confrontation with the administration’s oil moneymen….

… And, of course, why did the president praise Mr. Rumsfeld rather than fire him? Because Karl Rove says to hold the conservative base, you must always appear to be strong, decisive and loyal. It is more important that the president appear to be true to his team than that America appear to be true to its principles. (Here’s the new Rummy Defense: “I am accountable. But the little guys were responsible. I was just giving orders.”)

In George Bush: the crouching man is naked, I reported the torture view of the Bush admin�s favourite right-wing shock jock Rush �they were just letting off steam� Limbaugh, and that Bush wouldn�t repudiate his remarks. The new website monitoring the right wing media has launched aTV ad to let decent Americans know what they�re up against.

In Leaking self-doubt, spiked-online points out that the American (And our) media laid low on the torture for months, and that it was people inside the system who finally forced the truth out:

Tracing how the photos became such hot public property reveals something striking, not only about the torture scandal, but about the coalition itself. This is a story, not of investigative journalism or antiwar activists exposing imperialist America to the world, but rather of America exposing its own uncertainty for all to see. The photos appear to have come from within US military or political circles; they were effectively volunteered for public consumption by elements within the military or higher up in the Pentagon, seemingly as part of a process of internal unravelling and deep disagreement over aspects of the war. In a sense, the publication of these photos to international outrage can be seen as the externalisation of America’s own self-doubt about Iraq, and about its own mission in the world…

‘The leakers are driving the story’, says Connie Coyne of the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah. ‘I do not think the press would have moved on this story if the leakers had not provided photographs of what was going on.’ Coyne points out that reporters have known of allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib for months, but did little to investigate…

The failure of the media to expose the torture story earlier, even as Pentagon sources and soldiers’ families leaked information about the torture, reveals much about the balance in this story. It suggests that it came about less as a result of campaigning journalism and more as a result of pushiness on the part of aggrieved elements in the military or close to the military.

Tony Dutton recommends On thinking about war crimes.

And Ross Sharp writes:

I’ve just stumbled across the wackiest thing – apparently the abuses in Iraq are the fault of gay liberals. According, at least, to Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute in the US, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America.

“None of this happened by accident. It is directly due to cultural depravity advanced in the name of progress and amplified by a sensation-hungry media.”

“We were told homosexuality is harmless and normal, and the military should live with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows homosexuals to stay in the barracks. We were told that men “marrying” men and women “marrying” women is inevitable � not only for America, but for the world. Imagine how those images of men kissing men outside San Francisco City Hall after being “married” play in the Muslim world. We couldn’t offer the mullahs a more perfect picture of American decadence. This puts Americans at risk all over the world, especially Christian missionaries who are trying to bring the Gospel to people trapped in darkness for millennia.”

Right. That sorts that out then.

In Britain, the New Statesman in America’s gulag, reports on “a secret global network of prisons and planes that allows the US to hand over its enemies for interrogation, and sometimes torture, by the agents of its more unsavoury allies”.

British conservative MP and editor of the conservative Spectator magazine Boris Johnson wrote an incredible mea culpa called How could I have been such a mug?:

I was sitting in the Commons tea room last week, munching a mournful rock cake and studying the accounts of the American bombing of Fallujah. I looked at the charred Humvees, the mutilated corpses, the unnumbered dead, the wailing women and the expressions of immortal hate on the faces of the Iraqis; and perhaps unsurprisingly I found myself cast into a terrible gloom.


Just remind me, I said, turning to a colleague and friend, what is the case for this war in Iraq? You voted for it. I voted for it. We both spoke in favour of it. We both saw the merits of sticking with the Americans. We both believed that it was a good idea to get rid of Saddam.



But is there not a time when we have to admit, in all intellectual honesty, that our positions have been overwhelmed by countervailing data? How on Earth can we now defend what seems – admittedly at some distance – to be a total bloody shambles?



“Oh come off it, mate,” he said, because he is not only a hawk, but has a keen and impatient mind, “don’t be so wet. You want a single big argument for the war? The key point is that people are no longer being tortured in jails in Baghdad. That’s what we have achieved.”



It was as if the clouds had rolled back. I felt a sudden burst of optimism. “You’re right!” I said, and thought how silly I had been to ignore that gigantic fact, that we had introduced new values to Iraq, of civilisation and decency.



The following day I saw the pictures from the Abu Ghraib jail.



And in Australia? Tony Yegles writes: “Today I heard Howard the lapdog plagiarising best using Rummy’s words – again! Even Rummy’s style of asking the questions himself! Why do we need Howard as a mouthpiece when we have Bush and Rumsfeld doing the thinking and the talking – in other words the spinning?”


Prime Minister John Howard says the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners by the US military is a “body blow” in the fight against terrorism, echoing the words of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr Rumsfeld, during a surprise visit to Iraq on Thursday in which he toured the Abu Ghraib prison, said: “It’s been a body blow for all of us”.

…”If you ask me ‘Do I like it?’, no I hate it, ‘Do I think it is a setback?’, yes it is, ‘Do I think it alters the overall moral case?’, no, but I certainly think it makes it a lot harder to argue and I think it’s certainly reduced a lot of the goodwill that did exist in Iraq.”

(In his latest evidence to the US Senate, Rumsfeld said of the planned tranfsfer of ‘sovereignty’ on June 30: “Will it happen right on time? I think so. I hope so. Will it be perfect? No. Is it possible it won’t work? Yes.”)



Dave Kirkby

There was a time that I found your comments amusing, however recently you have degenerated into farce and hypocrisy. Your constant tirades against the governments spin doctors would be far more believable if you were not engaged in exactly the same practice.

Presenting information on your web site which emphasises certain “facts” and ignores or minimises other “facts” in order to inform your readers is text book spin doctoring. You choose to present only that information which supports your case whilst stridently condemning the government for the very same thing.

I have spent a large part of my time in third-world countries (including Iraq) and have many colleagues still working in Iraq. Your articles reveal a complete lack of understanding of the issues involved and an unwillingness to look beyond the tabloid journalism to find out.

You are entitled to your opinion but as a journalist you also have a duty to present the public with all the facts. While-ever journalists continue to pass off personal opinion as fact, they will continue to suffer the lack of creditability that your Webdiary suffers.

One other small thing. Common courtesy is a small thing that goes a long way. It takes very little effort to address the people you are writing about by their full names. “Howard” is actually John Howard, our Prime Minister, and whether you like him or not a little common courtesy goes a long way. The truly great debaters and wordsmiths never resort to cheap discourtesy as a way to make a point and their arguments were stronger for it.

Margo: I’d be happy to publish your views on Iraq.

Wilkie: Blame ‘outrageous’ PM, not top spies

Former ONA strategic analyst Andrew Wilkie says that the government rather than the nation�s top spies should bear the most criticism for �politicisation� of Australia�s key intelligence agencies.


Wilkie was strongly critical of the Prime Minister�s role in exposing the nation�s leading spy organizations to growing public concern about their independence, pointing to Mr Howard�s decision in December last year to promote his own senior advisor on international affairs directly into the Director-Generalship of the Office of National Assessments (ONA) as an �absolutely outrageous� example of his �arrogant decision-making� on national security issues.

Wilkie said that he was anxious to avoid his criticisms being seen as any reflection on Mr Peter Varghese personally or professionally, but that growing perceptions of government interference in the intelligence community�s activities meant that such a career progression for a public servant � from Mr Howard�s personal policy team direct to atop the nation�s peak intelligence analysis agency � was unacceptable given the current security climate.

�To appoint a member of your personal staff to head ONA in these times is outrageous, it�s absolutely outrageous,� he told Webdiary. �It�s not sensible, it�s arrogant decision-making.�

�…regardless of how good or bad Mr Varghese is, at a time in our history where there are so many concerns about the honesty and the accountability of government, and the performance of intelligence agencies, and the relationship between the government and the agencies, it is just wrong to appoint a man from the PM�s staff. It�s just wrong.�

Wilkie worked as an ONA analyst under Varghese�s predecessor Kim Jones before resigning in protest in March 2003 over the government�s public �exaggerations� of the intelligence community�s pre-invasion assessments of Iraq�s WMD capability and links to al-Qaeda.

He said that especially in a time of high risk and security anxiety, every aspect of a government�s management of its spy agencies had to be �squeaky clean�, or else � as they had under the Howard government � they would sooner or later become politicized. But he said that when it was recognized that such an �unhealthy� development had occurred it was also important to ensure that the fiercest criticisms were aimed towards the politicians, and not the senior intelligence professionals.

�I�m the first to acknowledge that the intelligence agencies let us down over Iraq, but I also heavily qualify that by saying it was a limited failure, versus a major failure by the government. I�m also the first to acknowledge that one of the problems in the intelligence agencies is that they have become politicized. Not like in the US, where we heard stories of [Vice President] Cheney going out to [CIA Headquarters] Langley and looking over analysts� shoulders � it hasn�t reached that stage. But [here] it�s politicized none-the-less, for a wide range of [reasons but]…in essence, [the problem] is that the senior management of intelligence agencies are not inclined to confront the government, and they�re too inclined to second-guess the government – to conform to the government�s policy line, to run with it.�

But Wilkie suggested that a key factor in this lay in the way the Howard government appointed its senior public servants. �You don�t get to be the head [of an agency like ONA] � the equivalent of a [departmental] secretary, a four-star [general] � unless you have a career track record of not getting the government off-side.�

Wilkie cited his former boss and Varghese�s predecessor Kim Jones as an example of a career diplomat who, despite the Iraq war differences which led to Wilkie�s protest resignation, had never-the-less always impressed him as possessing the right blend of intelligence acuity, public service experience, bureaucratic skill and leadership.

�Despite the fact that he was involved in the government�s attacks on me [after I resigned], I remain loyal to [Kim Jones]. I still have enormous respect for him, even though that respect�s been a bit tested lately when I think of the problems ONA had that happened on Kim�s watch, and [for which] Kim ultimately must accept some responsibility. And I bet he does – he actually is a leadership figure, and I suspect he�ll be heartbroken by what�s happened [at ONA] on his watch. But on balance he always impressed me. Although he was a professional diplomat, he had a keen eye, a sharp eye and a good understanding of the intelligence agencies.�

While the government naturally denies that any �undue� interference comes down the line from them, recently the public was given a rare insight into how Mr Howard and his ministers have applied pressure to the nation�s spy chiefs in the past.

Last week The Bulletin published In-Confidence interview transcripts that reveal how Foreign Minister Downer was so angry about the leaking of �Secret� Defence Intelligence Organisation material to the Opposition and the press in 1999/2000 that he rang DIO Director-General Frank Lewincamp and berated him for running an �awful� organization.

Mr Downer conceded on ABC radio that he had got �pretty heavy� with Mr Lewincamp, even though Lewincamp’s agency had not been the source of the leaks. It’s not known if the Foreign Minister exerted greater pressure on Lewincamp�s peer, the ONA’s chief Kim Jones, following the leak of Wilkie�s even more sensitive (�Top Secret�) report to Bolt in June 2003.

The Bulletin transcripts of interviews conducted by RAN Captain Martin Toohey as part of his investigation into the Redress of Grievance of Army intelligence whistleblower Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins also reveal that Cabinet had wanted to close DIO down altogether over the leaks. In Mr Lewincamp�s interview the DIO supremo tells Captain Toohey that during the leak crisis “we were under enormous pressure from government at the time”.

“You know, Cabinet was on our backs, we were on the nose basically over the leak, it was all our product over all of the national papers.”

That �product� was highly-damaging to Mr Howard and Mr Downer, showing that contrary to its public stance throughout 1999 the Australian government was aware of the Indonesian Army�s sponsorship of pro-Jakarta militia violence during the independence transition. The leaks became the subject of a hunt by the Federal Police and ASIO which was so intensive that it sparkedaccusations that the investigating team had sought foreign intelligence agency assistance and asked Defence Signals Directorate to conduct electronic surveillance of Opposition MP Laurie Brereton.

The leaks also caused DIO to upgrade the security classification of information sent from East Timor from �Secret� to �Top Secret�, saw raids made on Army and intelligence officers� homes and involved the �counter-leaking� and publishing in the Sydney Morning Herald of a search warrant list naming source �suspects�, which included Lieutenant Colonel Collins�s name.

His home, however, was never searched.

The latest Bulletin transcripts � themselves yet another leak to the press of sensitive intelligence community material (albeit this time not classified) – are bound to fuel further the accusations that undue political interference by government is hampering the proper functioning of Australia�s intelligence community. They also reveal the full extent of the personal and professional pressure placed upon Lieutenant Colonel Collins after he began challenging official DIO intelligence analyses on East Timor.

Like Andrew Wilkie, his mental and emotional stability and his professional credentials have been attacked, his intelligence career effectively ended and his personal life strained.

Collins, who at his professional peak was the Army�s top on-ground intelligence officer throughout the most intense period of the INTERFET operation, recently wrote a blistering letter to Prime Minister Howard informing him of �the failure of the institutional controls over the Australian intelligence system,� and urging the government to �appoint an impartial, open and wide-ranging Royal Commission into intelligence�to do otherwise would merely cultivate an artificial scab over the putrefaction beneath�.

The Prime Minister has rejected his call, saying that the enquiry currently being conducted into Iraq war intelligence by Phillip Flood will be sufficiently muscular to frankly and fearlessly identify any problems arising from either the �politicization� of agencies such as ONA or the influence of what Lieutenant Colonel Collins has called a �pro-Jakarta lobby� at DIO.

Mr Flood is a former ONA Director General and a former Ambassador to Indonesia.

Mr Wilkie also made new allegations about internal ONA distribution records that may cast fresh light on a stalled Australian Federal Police investigation into the leaking of a classified ONA report last year.

The leaked copy of the Top Secret report, which Wilkie prepared in late 2002, was used in June by the pro-Howard Melbourne journalist Andrew Bolt as the basis of a Herald-Sun article ridiculing the former analyst�s intelligence credentials. The Opposition suspects that the government leaked the report as part of its campaign to neutralise Wilkie�s now vindicated criticisms over its Iraq policies.

Mr Howard�s, Mr Downer�s and Mr Varghese�s offices have each refused to comment specifically on Wilkie�s new claim of potential importance to the Bolt leak investigation, which relate to what the ONA record shows with regard to the issuance of a single copy of his Top Secret just a few days before 23 June 2003.

The AFP has said only that: “As this is an ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate to make any comment about the enquiries being conducted or provide any other information relating to this investigation”.

Making it right: what Michelle will do

On the day the war officially started I remember listening to talk back radio in Melbourne. One caller said something to the effect “I looked at my children, and quickly had to turn away in tears – such was my shame”. Another caller said she was “seething with anger”. I share the shame and the anger.


You say blame the government – I do.

You say blame the media – I do.

You say blame ourselves – I do.

I decided from that very first day that I would do something every single day to change the situation in Australia.

I will vote so hard at the election that my pencil will snap – maybe some short term gratification – but as I live in a Peter Costello’s electorate, hardly effective.

I have started to write to Newspapers, but this has focused my attention on the editorial directions of the Major Australian Broadsheets (adding to my frustration).

I have made many financial contributions to organisations.

I have marched.

I discuss issues ad nuseam with friends and family (lest we forget).

And now I am very pleased to be able to offer my support to Brian Deegan in his efforts to win in Alexander Downer’s seat of Mayo. I was impressed with a brief interview he gave on radio in Melbourne announcing his intention to run.

He spoke of his feeling of impotence and disappointment in the face of this government’s lies and deceit. He spoke of his determination to make this country better for his children. I sent off an email and offered my support. He phoned me the next day to thank me and I once again pledged to support him.

Oke doke – now what do I do? I have never been politically active (nor has he I understand). Well trust my instincts and start with writing letters like this. This is as grass roots as it gets. Political virgins coming together and finding a voice – I am already feeling more empowered and confident.

Alexander Downer, you will not go to war in my name. I will do whatever it takes for you to hear my voice. I will specifially target you and make you my personal scapegoat. I believe that this will be the most effective use of my limited financial and human resources. I encourage as many of you who feel the same to join in this campaign (especially those of you who like me live in safe urban electorates where your vote is less effective).

Manana journalism after Jayson Blair

Antony Loewenstein writes the Engineering Consent column on the workings of the media.

“Nowadays I think of Jayson Blair as an accident that ended my newspaper career in the same unpredictable way that a heart attack or a plane crash might have.”
Howell Raines, former Executive Editor of The New York TimesThe Atlantic, May 2004

Throughout his autobiography, Burning Down My Masters’ House: My Life at The New York Times, former journalist, Jayson Blair, is in confessional mode. Rarely a page passes without an admission of unethical behaviour during his years at the paper that claims to print “all the news that’s fit.” Remarkably, however, Blair emerges from the 298-page book as a generally sympathetic character, a man all too aware of his mental breakdowns and drug and alcohol addiction. There are exceptions, however.

Blair was not beyond taking advantage of his position at America’s most respected newspaper: “Public relations people substituted theatre tickets, free meals and drinks, and, sometimes, even sex for mentions”, he writes. “Journalists at The Times were considered to have a weak spot for sex, just like the nerds so many of them once were in high school. There were many stories.” Blair then recounts a time he slept with a blonde PR girl in exchange for positive spin in the paper.

Conservative journalist, Andrew Sullivan, writing in March this year, says Blair is a character without remorse for his “crimes” against the Times (namely plagiarising, lying and creating characters on 35 stories). “You might imagine”, writes Sullivan, “that a young man like Blair might feel the slightest twinge of gratitude for an institution that gave him an extraordinary opportunity at a young age, that gave him front-page treatment, forgave a catalogue of errors, granted him easy access to employee support (including drug treatment), and pioneered the idea of giving minority reporters [Blair is black] the best changes imaginable.” Alas, Blair is no such person.

In his only Australian interview, Blair told Webdiary that despite the massive controversy of his story and the forced resignation of two senior Times executives (Executive Editor and 1992 Pulitzer Winner, Howell Raines and Managing Editor, Gerald Boyd), he wonders how much has really changed at the paper. “There has been little done to address journalistic fraud and bias in news reports. It’s really hard to say because in a campaign year people are always going to take unfair swings at the paper. It is something that is going to be judged in the long-term – not so much by whether there is another scandal, but by whether people begin trusting newspapers again.”

Howell Raines was one of the victims of the Blair scandal, leaving after 25 years of service to The Times. Breaking his silence in The Atlantic magazine this month, in a long, passionate and angry essay, Raines argues that the newspaper has been in denial for years of the need to modernise and appeal to a wider audience, rather than just the traditionalists. He paints a picture of a dysfunctional internal system of favouritism and lazy journalism and “the enveloping attitude on the newsroom-floor has become ‘we can do it slower, because by and by, someone on this great staff will do it better.'” Most damningly, however, he cites the mantra of the majority at the Times: “it’s not news until we say it’s news.” This “manana journalism” has left the paper open for reporters who stand out. Jayson Blair was one such reporter.

When the Times printed an unprecedented 14,000 mea culpa on May 11, 2003, Blair had truly brought the paper to its knees. “A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation byTimes journalists has found”, began the apology. “The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

In his book, Blair acknowledges his mistakes, but questions the gravity of his transgressions when compared against others in the papers’ past. He cites Walter Duranty, a Times reporter who “denied the existence of a government-induced famine that starved millions of Ukrainian peasants” between 1932 and 1933. Stalin’s purge killed roughly seven million people during a period when children were left to die while their parents were taken away and killed for the crime of simply owning property. Many historians claim that the (Pulitzer-prize winning) Times coverage contributed to the West’s lack of intervention. Astoundingly, Blair says that a few months after he left the Times, the Pulitzer Board investigated Duranty’s work, concluding it “falls seriously short” but refused to recall the prize.

A more recent example is Judith Miller, star reporter on the Times and principle writer on Iraq’s supposed WMD before the Iraq war. It has emerged that her sources were primarily the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and Ahmed Chalabi, the discredited Iraqi exile and once the doyen of the Washington, neo-conservative set. (The Herald‘s Alan Ramsey provides background on Chalabi atThe ‘top’ Iraqi who has no credibility. To this day, Miller has been supported for her WMD coverage by senior editorial staff at the Times.

Blair now sees the Miller style of journalism as a key failing in the current culture at the Times, of supporting, rather than questioning, establishment power and agendas. “The paper lost several key editors in 2001 and 2002 who were strong critical thinkers who would have questioned many of the claims made in Miller’s stories. Among them was Stephen Engelberg, Judith’s long-time editor, who went to become the managing editor of The Oregonian in Portland. There is some question about whether she would have been allowed to run wild if he was still there.”

“On a more global front”, continues Blair, “[Miller] fits within the argument about elitism. The Timeseditors and reporters operate within certain circles and the members of those circles supported the idea of ousting Saddam Hussein. The bottom line was that the paper did not look for a second opinion, and therefore mislead its readers and the international community.”

It is a point reiterated by Raines and sounds a warning to newspaper proprietors and editors everywhere – great institutions need multiple voices and backgrounds to prosper. “I watched, with increasing alarm, chain ownership [of newspapers and media outlets] wring higher profits out of local newspapers by cutting the newsroom budgets on which sound journalism depends.” Furthermore, the importance of fully resourced publications was even more important, according to Raines, “as tabloid television, Britain’s declining newspaper values, and the unsourced ranting of Internet bloggers polluted the journalistic mainstream of the United States.” Perhaps Raines doesn’t like the accountability and speed at which media players, from bloggers, outsiders and commentators, can comment and critique the performance of the Times. The rise of the internet, email and search engines has left newspapers no longer able to get away with the inaccuracies and biases of yesteryear.

The release of Burning Down My Master’s House drew the predictable responses from the mainstream media outlets, says Blair. “It has been criticised by reviewers who are journalists and received a lot of support from people who are interesting in the media, mental health issues, race and other topics discussed in the book. I receive a lot of notes from students, journalists and those who are struggling with mental health issues or have family members who struggle with mental health issues. I also, on the other side of the coin, receive emails from people who like to throw around the word ‘nigger’. One area of support that I did not expect was the positive reception the book has received among American conservatives who can relate to the idea of bias being a big problem in the American media.”

One of the themes of Blair’s book is his claim that the Times is an elitist paper, blissfully unaware of, and unwilling to, report issues from a variety of perspectives. He now says that the paper is vital around the world in “pushing American foreign policy and supporting the establishment.” Moreover, people at the Times, though generally liberals, according to Blair, are “out of touch with conservatives, minorities and any other group that is considered outside the East Coast liberal mainstream.” For this reason, the paper is under increasing pressure to diversify its pool of reporters.

With incalculable demands to perform in a highly competitive newsroom, Times staff are frequently encouraged to cut corners to break stories. Blair tells the story of “toe touching”, where journalists hurriedly booked flights into places where freelancers had already produced news reports, and then rewrote the stories to create the impression that the bylined journalist had done the original reporting. It is these kind of inside tales that makes the Blair book an invaluable insight into Timesculture.

When asked about the day-to-day lifestyle as a Times journalist, Blair is brutally honest: “Reporters are very much motivated by beating their competitors and proving their own intelligence ahead of anyone else. That’s the problem you see in the Times weapons of mass destruction coverage. You had a group of reporters who wanted to prove that the weapons existed because everyone else said that they did not. They let their own biases, and close relationships with their sources, cloud their judgement.”

In the fall-out of the Blair scandal, the newspaper instituted an ombudsman, the public editor .

Executive Editor, Bill Keller, said in late October, 2003 that, “we wanted someone with the reporting skills to figure out how decisions get made at the paper, the judgment to reach conclusions about whether and where we go astray, and the writing skills to explain all of this to our readers.” Daniel Okrent commenced the position on December 1 last year.

Blair is not optimistic that the Times have learned the important lessons from his scandal. “The problem with my class and those of other journalistic war criminals is that the American journalistic community would like to paint us as far-out aberrations in an attempt to insulate themselves from damage. This has the affect of causing many to put on blinders about the root causes, the pressures and so on, that cause things like this to happen. It’s an industry that’s still in denial.”

Studies suggest public trust in the media is at an all time low. Since the Blair controversy, a number of high-profile journalists in America have been fired for plagiarism and inaccuracies, including Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize winning Times journalist, who had placed his byline on pieces largely written by a freelancer. In late April this year, the top editor of USA Today, Karen Jurgensen, resigned after it was discovered she had allowed or ignored a senior correspondent to fabricate major parts of at least eight stories in the past 10 years. Mainstream news journalism is in trouble, and Australia is not immune.

Blair offers a solution to this current malaise. “I believe that the answers to solving the problems involve re-examining fairness, balance, objectivity and internal controls just as police departments had to do after brutality and corruption scandals in the 1970s, and as the executive branch of the American government had to do after Watergate and in other similar situations.”

The Sydney Morning Herald is planning to release more stringent editorial policies in the near future in reaction to the Blair scandal. These changes intend to clarify the use of unnamed sources and unattributed quotes. It is only through pro-active actions such as these that mainstream newspapers have any hope of regaining the ever-decreasing faith of the general public. Journalists are supposed to be suspicious of those in power and question their motives and background. The frequency of these fundamentals is becoming ever more hidden in spin.



� Extracts of Howell Raines writings in The Atlantic, May 2004 on his times at The New York Times:

� Sydney Morning Herald review of Burning Down My Master’s House:

� Andrew Sullivan, journalist and blogger, writing on the Jayson Blair scandal:

� Hugh Pearson, of The Washington Post, on the ethics of Jayson Blair:





“We’re functioning … in the Information Age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.”

Not just ‘running around’, but emailing them, sending CD�s, posting them on the internet. What is more, soldiers are using emails to stay in touch with families, beg for care packages, tell the truth to their friends, send their own unit atrocity snaps, and just plain blog.

The war in Iraq is leaking like the proverbial sieve, and digital communications has created a whole new nightmare for the spindoctors.

This email, for instance, (via Soul Pacific) came from an unnamed official in Iraq to inspire stories in the alternative media:

Despite the progress evident in the streets of Baghdad, much of which happens despite us rather than because of us, Baghdadis have an uneasy sense that they are heading toward civil war. Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds professionals have say that they themselves, friends, and associates are buying weapons fearing for the future. CPA is ironically driving the weapons market: Iraqi police sell their ‘lost’ U.S.-supplied weapons on the black market; they are promptly re-supplied. Interior ministry weapons buy-backs keep the price of arms high.

Now, according to Kathryn Cramer, it seems as if the US Department of Defence has ordered private supplier Kellogg, Brown, & Root to cut the email service to ordinary soldiers.

Hence, the frontline blogger Ginmar is left to say:

I might be getting transferred within the next week to another post. At the very least, KBR is not allowing any private computers on their system for the next ninety days.

Meanwhile the Seymour Hersh article in the New Yorker which first blew the story of Abu Ghraib in detail is available around the world � it’s currently top of its page on Google.

The Bush administration is losing the propaganda war in a breathtaking tangle of disgusting images, shot on and transmitted by digital technology.

The American blogosphere has gone berserk about Abu Ghraib. Cursor, in one sustained passage across the first half of May nails the whole story from left to right, dignified to sleazy.

Kevin Drum adds a lucid analysis of the Right’s response – they are busy deciding that the War is still good and noble but the Bushites are too stupid to run it – and points to The New Republic’sOnline Campaign Journal which looks at Bush’s popularity figures at this stage of the campaign. 46% and sinking.

Josh Marshall adds a wonderful detail � the father of Major-General Antonio Taguba who wrote the damning Army report on Abu Ghraib was the son of a WW2 prisoner of war � who survived the Bataan Death March. I can imagine the values he got from his kitchen table. Colonel David Hackworth, who has spent a lifetime fighting for front line soldiers against an incompetent army,helped the story to go public. In a democracy, sooner or later evil collides with righteousness, which has been waiting in the wings for decades. Mind you, the result is never really justice.

An Australian perspective comes from Gary Sauer-Thompson. The Howard government is running exactly the same line as the Americans � it�s a few bad apples, it’s being dealt with, it’s abuse not torture, nothing to see here move along move along you’re obstructing the pavement.

Cursor sums up so much in a single bitter remark:

Pat Tillman’s younger brother delivers an anti-eulogy at a memorial service for the former NFL player-turned-soldier. “Pat isn’t with God,” he said. “He’s f — ing dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s f — ing dead.

Road to Surfdom shares a job application for a private enterprise torturer (sorry, ‘Interrogator/Intel Analyst Team Lead Asst’) and continues the Dunlop analyses of adminstration meltdown accounts, this time concentrating on Joseph Wilson’s book which is not called ‘Suckered In Niger by a Certain Adminstration’ but could be.

Blogger on a Cast Iron Balcony is inspired to celebrate the approaching Danish Royal wedding, particularly by the Prime Minister�s gift of a stand of trees. How can she avoid a small segue into environmental politics, and some ironic remarks about the law of the sea and a certain ship from a neighhbouring country?

The much respected Virulent Memes has spiffed up the site so it is much more readable, and posted a nationally fascinating item on the nightlife in Albury. Fortunately, he also finds an accountof British charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s fabulous (or stupid) outbreak of moral integrity. They turned down a one million pound donation from Nestle, makers of infant baby formula in the developing world.

Back Pages muses over Costello’s rattling of his leadership cage, Catallaxy reflects on our undergraduates’ desire to stay at Uni in their home towns, The Daily Slander wants New Zealand PM Helen Clark to go, Bargarz is tracking the questions about the possibly faked Daily Mirrortorture photos, while Boynton brings peace to the blogosphere with a gracious study of ping pong and Laputan Logic meditates on Francis Galton’s camp in Ovamboland.

On more political matters, Kim Weatherall is covering the submissions to the Senate Select Committee to the Free Trade Agreement, while Hot Buttered Death pokes fun at Fred Nile (such a sweet old man), Southerly Buster shows us that the Timor Gap dispute is an issue that Will Not Die, and Kick and Scream runs amok with a new digital camera.

Ken Parish brings his experience as a lawyer for Aboriginal communities to the problem of indigenous social structures in the deployment of government resources. He calls it ‘gross inefficiency and corruption’:

These problems are too seldom discussed. Few people “down south” even know about them, and many of those who do are reluctant to highlight them for fear that they’ll be seized on by latter-day Hansonites for short-term political advantage.

Most wonderful bent post award of the week goes to Soul Pacific, for an exhaustive but concise study of ways of dealing with your data if you die. Safety deposit boxes? Cryogenics? How about software which automatically sends death notice emails and contacts your bank, employer and personal blog if you don�t use the system for a set period. It’s a nightmare if you get stuck away from your computer for too long.

Lest we feel too grim, the Anglo-American-Australian group blog Crooked Timber resurrects a statement from English television writer in an interview three weeks before his death from cancer:

I can celebrate life. Below my window there�s an apple tree in blossom. It’s white. And looking at it, instead of saying, “Oh, that’s a nice blossom’, now, looking at it through the window, I see the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be. The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous. If you see the present tense, boy, do you see it. And boy, do you celebrate it.

Custody of Blogjam now passes from my wearied hands to Sedgwick. He will bring the dignity of a true Governor-General while I shall go back to polishing the silver.


Margo: Thanks David. Great work!

Springing the money trap while the world begins to burn

G’day. Here’s my budget piece, published elsewhere on the site last night. No structural reform, no addressing of the intergenerational crisis Costello used to talk about, no big measures to save our rivers or reduce our reliance on oil, no investment in health and education. Sad, really.


I felt almost indifferent to the budget, as if we’re dancing around to the same old tune as the world becomes more frightening and dangerous by the day. There doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do to stop the slide into world war. I’ve just heard about the beheading of an American hostage in purported revenge for American abuse of Iraqi prisoners. A colleague saw the actual beheading on TV, so be careful if you’d prefer not to have your dreams invaded by the horror.

There doesn’t seem to be any hope for any good coming out of Iraq. The neocon bible in Washington, The Weekly Standard, has published a piece called Democracy Now by the neo-cons’ most authoritative writers, Robert Kagan and William Kristol, which argues that Bush is in denial and that something drastic needs to be tried. They suggest bringing forward the Iraqi elections to September.

I’ll be in Brisbane tomorrow for a forum on journalism education. It’s at Customs House, 399 Queen Street in the city at 2pm. Email or call 07-33469564 for more info.


Springing the money trap

The last time I can remember a political party so blatantly bribing voters it wants to win over was the NSW election before last. The Liberals offered cash to voters once it sold the public’s electricity system. Voters were insulted that the Liberals thought their opposition to privatisation could be bought off, and Labor won in a landslide.

This time, Howard and Costello are combining bribes with blackmail. Here’s $600 in lots of voters’ pockets before June 30, and lots more later. To Labor – feel like saying no to preserve some money for substantial boosts to public health and education? Feel like doing some solid, long-term reform for all of us? Are you that brave?

To voters they want to swing to them – have a beer on us. Have several.

But what’s to stop voters taking the bribe and voting Labor anyway? How many will be peeved that all of a sudden there’s money to burn to ease their budgets? Will they believe that the Libs will keep their promise for ongoing increases in family payments and tax cuts? Is Labor game to take the Libs on?

Basically, the Libs want to give lower income families more for kids, get the middle class to work harder, and give the rich a tax cut. Yeah! Pity the kids won’t have decent public health care or education, but heh, we’ve got an election to win here.

How brave is Latham? Crazy brave? Howard and Costello have laid the same trap for him as they did for Beazley in 2001. Will he cave in, as Beazley thought he had to, and thus leave no surplus for Labor to do important, long-term things for our health and education?

One thing’s for sure. Howard and Costello want Labor to think an early election is on. Mid July for August, during the Olympics, perhaps? They want them to panic, and they want them to split, especially on the tax cuts for people earning over $62,500 a year.

Will Latham dare try to persuade Australians that it’s not worth it to accept bribes to keep this government, and actually proves that the Government deserves to be thrown out? Is he prepared to lay out how Labor would spend the $37 billion Howard’s promised to spend in the next five years? Is there a real difference between the parties?

Underlying all the calculations is Iraq. Howard is to meet Bush in the US next month. As yet, neither he nor Bush have taken responsibility for the nightmare Iraq has become. Will Iraq and the broader issue of how to fight Muslim extremists break through to become the defining issue of the election campaign, dwarfing voters’ consideration of whether this or that dollar will be in their pockets?

Yes, if they come to believe that the stark differences between the parties could mean a safer or more dangerous future for their children. Then, money in pocket won’t make the difference. Maybe Howard and Costello are hoping they’ll so dazzle voters with cash and promises of more that they’ll forget the really big issue of our time.

But that can’t be true, because they’ve given $35 million “for values, civics and citizenship education in our schools”.

George Bush: the crouching man is naked

The news on America�s torture practices in Iraq keeps getting worse. The latest picture, of two dogs threatening a naked man, and an update by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker are at CHAIN OF COMMAND


And, via Lynette Dumble, see `Our dignity cannot endure this humiliation’:

BAGHDAD, MAY 9: The crouching man is naked, his hands tied and his head covered with a hood. The alabaster sculpture on display at a Baghdad gallery bears a striking resemblance to some of the shocking photographs that emerged last week of Iraqi prisoners abused by their American guards at the Abu Ghraib prison. But the 15-inch sculpture, with the words “We are living in American democracy” inscribed on its base was fashioned two months ago.

“We knew what went on at Abu Ghraib,” Abdul-Kareem Khalil, the artist, said on Saturday. “The pictures did not surprise me.”

Antony Loewenstein recommendsMedia matters, which monitors the right wing media. See White House refuses to repudiate controversial Limbaugh remarks for its refusal to disavow the comment of the Bush administration�s favourite shock jock Rush Limbaugh, who makes Alan Jones sound like a bleeding heart. Rush said of the tortures:

CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank that stacked up naked men –

LIMBAUGH: Exactly. Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?

Makes you winder what the Administration is really sorry about, doesn�t it? The torture, or the fact that it got out? An excellent blog on US politics, talking points memo, is publishing good detail of the unfolding scandal. It published this, from �The Nelson Report�:

We can contribute a second hand anecdote to newspaper stories on rising concern, last year, from Secretary of State Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage about Administration attitudes and the risks they might entail: according to eye witnesses to debate at the highest levels of the Administration…the highest levels…whenever Powell or Armitage sought to question prisoner treatment issues, they were forced to endure what our source characterizes as “around the table, coarse, vulgar, frat-boy bully remarks about what these tough guys would do if THEY ever got their hands on prisoners….

Let’s be clear: our source is not alleging “orders” from the White House. Our source is pointing out that, as we said in the Summary, a fish rots from its head. The atmosphere created by Rumsfeld’s controversial decisions was apparently aided and abetted by his colleagues in their callous disregard for the implications of the then-developing situation, and by their ridicule of the only combat veterans at the top of this Administration.

Another good blog to follow the story through American eyes is Kevin Drum�s washingtonmonthlyblog. Kevin cites prior warnings of prisoner abuse to the Bush Administration by former US weapons inspector David Kay and Paul Bremer, to no avail.

We now know the Red Cross warned the Yanks about systemic prisoner abuse in Iraq a year ago (see Red Cross report describes systematic U.S. abuse in Iraq and Jailed Iraqis hidden from Red Cross, says US army:

US military policemen moved unregistered Iraqi prisoners, known as “ghost detainees”, around an army-run jail at Abu Ghraib, in order to hide them from the Red Cross, according to a confidential military report.

The report on abuses at Abu Ghraib prison – a copy of which was obtained by the Guardian – described the practice of hiding prisoners as “deceptive, contrary to army doctrine, and in violation of international law”.

Last night on Lateline, Geoffrey Robertson QC said he would expect Australia to have got a copy, as we are also obliged to respect the Geneva Conventions as an occupying power. Did we get it? If not, why not? When did Howard and Downer know this was going on, and did they protest to the Americans? When is the Australia media going to get stuck into this story on the home front????

Over to you.


Denise Parkinson

Some years back I did a prep course to enter Sydney Uni in psychology, where we were shown a film on the Stanford Prison Experiment which got out of hand in 6 days and had to be closed down. With the recent events in Abu Ghraib jail, it stuck me that an almost identical situation occurred happened during this experiment. I have just gone through the site on the prison experiments and found this photo. The homepage is prisonexp


Louissa Rogers

My son is two and a half. Due to his age and his developing language skills, sometimes, when frustrated or angry or both, he hits or throws things. I have been teaching him that in no circumstances do we hit, no matter how angry we get. It is okay to not like what someone is doing but we do not use violence, we use our words to sort it out.

My darling young child saw those photographs on the news and heard my gasp of horror. “What’s happened Mum” “Some people have hurt some other people” I told him. “They still learning not to hit Mum?” In the words of an innocent, shouldn’t they have learned this already? How can we expect children to believe violence is not okay, when those very people governing our nation obviously condone it. I’m not talking about the photos; I’m talking about being there in the first place. Shame on you Howard.


Sally McLaren in Kyoto, Japan

Even before I read Torture as pornography, I was thinking – why are we seeing so many images of Lynndie England and Sabrina Harman and why do we now know so much about them? The writer put it well why we shouldn’t be surprised about these images, and what they tell us about western society, torture and sexuality. However, she is talking about the images in general and what they mean.

I want to know – why are the same images of two female soldiers being used repeatedly by the media? What does this tell us about how the media are constructing the story?

The other degrading images of the Iraqi detainees show male soldiers either posing with the now infamous two female soldiers, or in groups. But we these men do not appear to be named in the published or broadcast images as often, if at all, as England and Harman are. These two faces are representing the disgrace of the US Army and they are female faces.

In patriarchal societies, and I don�t just mean Muslim or Middle Eastern ones, there couldn�t be a more inflammatory image � a female soldier humiliating male captives. I think it says on the most basic level � �look what women with power can do�.

These images are powerful and like disturbing and violent images from other conflicts they will remain with us for a very long time.


Jenny Green

A bunch of my friends suggested that I read the Taguba report and do a summary, since I�ve nagged them about needing to be aware of what was going on. I am horrified beyond words, and I just want to go home and have many, many gins and get it all out of my head.

It’s full of military abbreviations, and the first few pages are hard going because of it, but around page 15/16 and 18/19, there are quotes from witness statements and from the American suspects. One particularly horrifying thing is that several suspect reservists – although since basing their defence on the line that they were ordered to do these things by military intelligence (who are described as actually being present at one of the interrogations) – claim that they can’t remember who exactly from MI gave them the explicit order.

The report finds that the military police in charge of Abu Ghraib were given no training or instruction on the applicable rules of the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war. And no copies of the Geneva convention were available to either MP personnel or detainees. In fact, if the excerpts of MP statements I read were anything to go by, the MP would have barely been capable of reading it, let alone understanding it. As for the detainees, I hardly think it would have OCCURRED to the MI or MP that they should provide a copy of the convention in Arabic.

But the most disturbing aspect of the report by far is the suggestion that several mini-investigations were conducted into complaints of abuse within the compound, and although court martial was recommended, there is no evidence that Brigadier Karpinksi ever reminded MP soldiers of the conventions regarding detainee treatment or took any steps to ensure that the abuse was not repeated. THE ABUSE WAS TACITLY APPROVED, EVEN AFTER THE DIRECT COMMANDER OF THE SOLDIERS INVOLVED AND THE BRIGADIER HE REPORTED TO WERE WELL AWARE OF WHAT WAS GOING ON.

The most concrete recommendations are that 1) a “multi-discipline mobile training team” is sent to conduct short training courses for the MP on the relevant Geneva Conventions; and 2) that a single commanding officer be responsible for overall detainee operations throughout the “Iraq theatre of operations”.

The running of several detention facilities, but particularily Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca are described as inconsistent from detention facility to detention facility, from compound to compound, from encampment to encampment, and even from shift to shift. NO MENTION IS MADE OF THE FACT THAT THESE ARE RESERVISTS, NOT CAREER SOLDIERS!

The whole NDRS (the US system for registering and recording the arrival, processing and transfer of detainees) is fucked. Often detainees are not listed until 4 days after their arrival. Transfers are omitted – on a massive scale. Both Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca are well and truly over their maximum capacity.

In November 03 the detainees of an entire encampment of Abu Ghraib rioted in protest of their living conditions. The MP battalion attempted something called “Golden spike” – a containment plan (which according to the times listed cannot have gone for that long). When this failed, the use of deadly force was authorised. Twelve detainees were shot – of these, 3 shot dead. This is only one of a lengthy list of escapes. In more than once case, the escape attempts

In one case, 5 detainees were wounded (June 03) during a riot. The riot was said to have been sparked by one of the detainnee’s being subdued by the MP’s after striking one of them. Once the detainee was subdued, a MP took off his shirt and paraded himself in front of the detainees, which further escalated the riot. The guards fired live rounds into the crowd.

The reasons given for these incidents are listed as poor lighting around the compound, overcrowding, poor communication amongst guards and MPs, no clear chain of command between guards and MPs, facility-obstructed view of posted guards, outdated and inadequate emergency procedures, lack of comprehensive training of guards, no formal guard-mount conducted prior to shift, no rehearsals or ongoing training, rules of engagement, unclear lines of responsibility, and ambiguous relationship between the MI and MP, complacency, and lack of leadership presence.

The investigation pointed out that rules and guidelines were not posted in the camps in the detainee’s native languages.

And I’m only halfway through the report. Dear God.

Glenn Condell

I read Cameron Jackson’s comments in The Human Spirit one year after war on Iraq with interest and foreboding. I tried to access the site he mentioned ( and was likewise unable to get through.

My first thought was admittedly Orwellian but then I found the site’s homepage, albasrah. The photos of the carnage in Fallujah are shocking, more shocking for me than the torture images, which I found disturbing and sad but unsurprising.

Partly the shock comes from the fact that no amount of looking at pictures of mutilated children can inure a normal person to it; but mostly it comes from the absence of these proofs of our atrocities in our media. The torture images shocked because they were images, because they gave flesh to our nightmares. They were impervious to interpretation and spin. Written and oral allegations of abuse had been ignored for months. In a landscape if lies, the photos at least were true.

And that truth, having broken out of the apparatus of news control via the courage of whistleblowers, permitted long dormant American consciences to thaw, as your citation of the piece ‘Lew Rockwell’ site points out:

And now, taking everyone by surprise, a relatively insignificant element in the myriad of blunders that the invasion has visited on that unhappy desert land has brought the entire imperial enterprise in Iraq to teeter on the brink. Corruption, slaughter, and deception all failed to ignite the American domestic imagination. But the revelation that a few Iraqi prisoners might have been tortured by a few inexperienced noncoms from the Appalachian backwoods (where I live), has suddenly brought the careening imperial juggernaut of the world�s sole superpower to a screeching halt.

If the world’s media had front paged the images from Falluja the day after it happened, and emphasised the appalling ratio of US revenge, then the reaction would have rivaled, perhaps even surpassed that afforded the torture pics. They too may have ignited ‘the American domestic imagination’ (and the Australian one too) something this administration, even more than most, has tried desperately to avoid.

It is his responsibility for this ignition that has Donald Rumsfeld on the ropes, far more than any responsibility for the actual crimes.

If the world’s media had front paged the images from Falluja the day after it happened, and emphasised the appalling ratio of US revenge, then the reaction would have rivaled, perhaps even surpassed that afforded the torture pics.

They too may have ignited ‘the American domestic imagination’ (and the Australian one too) something this administration, even more than most, has tried desperately to avoid. It is his responsibility for this ignition that has Donald Rumsfeld on the ropes, far more than any responsibility for the actual crimes.

The regular publication of photos like these would provide a reminder of what we are a party to, of what sticking around to ‘finish the job’ might mean, and a graphic illustration of what feeds the terrorist imagination.


David Mieluk in Terrigal, NSW tunes into the overhanging issue in Iraq � OIL

I have stumbled upon an argument that has questioned my whole outlook on the war in Iraq, the politics of oil, and the U.S. government policy of hegemony.

A number of commentators on the internet are presenting evidence that the global ability to produce oil will soon fall beneath the global demand. That is, whilst historically, when demand for oil rose it was possible that increases in world oil production could satiate that demand, this may soon not be possible. The consequences would be a rapid, continuous, and sizable escalation of oil prices in the short and long term. A rapid escalation of the price of oil has the potential to catastrophically affect world trade, and if the argument presented, the likelihood is a devastating decrease in standard of living for the entire world population.

One very readable summary of this argument (though four years old) is worldoil and gas. See alsohubbertpeakpeakoil and lifeaftertheoilcrash(Margo: And see economist Paul Krugman�s latest column, The oil crunch.)

I am not a �protesty� type of person. I consider myself to be extremely sceptical of arguments that might be considered �doomsday-ish�.

I write because I have been deeply affected by this argument. On the one hand, this is because I have been unable to flaw the reasoning presented in the argument. On the other hand, I am utterly flabbergasted that, if the argument is valid, I have not heard about it.

I do not understand why this situation is not the main current public debate. I am, perhaps, in my young years, poisoned by naivety into believing that if a truly devastating threat lurked on the horizon, politicians would cease playing politics and work together to find a solution. That appears not to have happened.

If this argument is accurate, then, dare I ask, how much do things like the ethics of Australian party politics and human rights abuses in Iraq really matter?

Margo: Webdiary discussed this argument at length before the war � it is partly why most people in Europe believe that Bush invaded Iraq for its oil. For example, see Controil. You�d think we�d be focusing on reducing or reliance on oil, wouldn�t you? Not a bar of it.


Matt Southon

I was hoping that my next comments on this forum would be a retrospective, a ‘what if’ had Jeb and the chads had not seen an illegal occupation of the White House, and instead September 11 had occurred on Al Gore’s watch. The global outpouring of sincere support may have seen us still united behind the US, however, watching Paul Bremer join the growing list of ‘apologists’ for the recent disgusting photos to come from Iraq, I was again struck by the hollowness of the rhetoric. It got me thinking – what is the point of emotionally based language when emotion is no longer a part of leadership?

There have been many comprehensive articles written examining the ‘spin’ of our current crop, but why do we buy it? Why do we continually allow these blatant manipulations of language to enter our thought processes and ‘assist’ us in reaching ‘educated’ decisions? Apart from the fact that we have little choice currently, it has been a long process of doublespeak that has subconsciously trained many to either shut it out or try so hard to glean truth that it becomes a draining exercise in cynicism (at which time one can be easily dismissed as being far too cynical).

These days it is easier to switch to brain candy mode and see what our gardens and houses should be looking like this week, or staring at people we feel have less control over their lives as they compete with, then against, each other in a microcosm all to often designed (supposedly) to reflect the ‘real world’.

I know its a long bow to draw, but public/political life, the area in which people traditionally felt a nation is defined, directed and led, has become a vacuous spin hole, seemingly now all about political survival for the self absorbed individual and not anything to do with the above long held premise.

Therefore, people are (or were) flocking to reality genres in order to replace the distinct lack of leadership that defines our national values. If our leader won�t tell us or listen to us, at least Don Burke and Jamie Durie will give some direction to tide us over till next week. More broadly, reality TV shows are the pointy end of materialism replacing national identity as worn out people define themselves not in the collective Aussie vernacular of past identity, but by their couch or their BBQ or the label on the clothing. Everything else is just too removed from their daily existence.

Nobody really expects politicians to be absolutely free of moral quagmires – politics in the age of globalisation is a vicious game. But at least traditional battles were fought with some sense of moral rightness, therefore the language that stemmed from that essential human belief echoed the emotional sentiments of a person caught up in a difficult process.

We cannot blame spin on this outbreak of war in Iraq. What we can say is that spin has been creeping into every facet of interaction in our lives, personal and political, so that when the spin meter is severely cranked up such as the current case, we yawn and distrust what we are hearing (unless it is about a nice new cafe or product).

War is peace love is hate blah blah blah. It is a bit like that old anecdote about frogs and boiling water, you put a frog into a pot of cold water and slowly boil it, the frog will happily swim about until its environment is toxic to its existence and it dies unaware. Chuck the frog into hot water and it jumps straight back out again unscathed.

We are the frogs, the cold water is the government spin. Our death will be the failure of democratic principles, so spun they (and we) don�t know what they stand for, or who they really should be, leading to a crisis of confidence.

On the current disgusting crisis and the empty language of absent morality, we all now now that the reason for this invasion was not WMDs or terrorism (as Gore Vidal said, how do you declare war on a noun?), not the desire to impart democracy in any real way, not even regime change -except to install a regime nicer to the US.

The most likely reason is to get a strategic position in the Middle East through which to protect the Saudis and Israel, and to prepare for the peak oil crisis that may have already begun. It is also about protecting the outflow of oil being traded in Euros. Perhaps this is a reason why France and Germany were not forthcoming – hardly a humanitarian reason, but what spin did they employ? Humanitarian of course.

Very few in the Western world would regard this these reasons as just, therefore an incredible amount of spin is required. The only way to sell an unjust, sinister war is to telllie upon lie upon lie until the truth is just one more subjective take on events and it too can be clouded by spin – “With us or against us” “Un Australian” “Questioning the war is not supporting the individual on the ground” etc. All these statements force an opposing view to begin from a basis of unpatriotic, treasonous thought processes, thus weakening any cohesive argument put thereafter.

“Yes sir, you might be right but we are there now so there is no point arguing anymore, don�t you want the US to win?� or “We must stay until the job is done”.

By the time we wade through half truths, half facts, internal investigations and half apologies, we have forgotten what all the fussin, feudin and a fightin was about. Or as Homer put it “Before, before! Quit livin in the past Marge”.

In the past, the buck stopped here. Now the world�s most powerful man sees the worlds most powerful army committing terrible acts on 60 Minutes!! C’mon now, really? If that is true, it is appalling, if it is false, it is equally appalling, but in the meantime the finger pointing continues until a good news story rings the Pavlovian bell and the game begins again.

Our leader blames everyone but himself every time. I was not told, I did not know, on and on. And what happens when he finds out? Prevarication to the point that people forget what was going on, realise a dead horse can only be flogged so much, or something else happens – like Ian Thorpe falls into the pool.

Just recapping, spin is in, truth is subjective, reasons for conflict were hidden, reasons given for the conflict were largely ‘humanitarian’ as we were ‘liberating’ Iraqi’s from tyranny. But, as Margo mentioned on Sunday, the only protection afforded in Baghdad was for the Oil Ministry, and undeniably, atrocities are occurring. It is not, I expect, a truly apologetic nation we are now seeing, but a red faced petulant child caught with its hand firmly in the cookie jar. Of course they are sorry, sorry they were busted.

Many opposed to the war were aware of the potential threat of words and actions not matching, and many knew the humanitarian arguments were false. If the Iraqis knew months ago what was happening how can G W Bush not know? My feeling, he did. Further, he is not sorry. Were those that took part in the crusades apologetic for the barbaric conduct in the name of God? No, they believed they were right. Again we have a geo-political situation whereby ideologies are the sock puppets, while under the surface the power brokers get what they came for, oil…power…control.

Herein lies the dilemma. The ideologies have now been unarguably stripped back to reveal the true intention of the power brokers. Unlike any other war, these power brokers are also responsible for perpetuating the myth.

Frighteningly, they are the government! They do not ‘know’ the government, they are it. They peddled one story while acting out another. This time however, the images are too graphic, too cut and dried, too obviously illegal. What has been the response? Some ‘sorries’ mixed in with a further politicisation and filibustering. Some buck passing to the lowest level of authority in Iraq (the soldiers, who get what they deserve), Rummy running out of patience with questioning of his methods and a President going on Arab TV and not saying sorry!

He did eventually but it isn�t washing. No one is buying it. The lead up to these acts has pared back the authority or legitimacy of words, because the acts themselves contravene everything asserted. The lewdness and vulgarity jar the senses, the fact that these methods are thought up by those who purport to believe in democratic principle are shocking and sickeningly awe inspiring in their degrading intent. The repulsion is deeper than political or religious divides now, and a comment from the Iraqi governing council that all prisoners should be released as a show of good faith (not forgetting that many are held without charge) was met with a big fat no.

They did apologise again though, but what�s the point? Paul Bremer may well have come out and said he was a chicken and his favorite past time was taxidermy, George Bush may as well have ignored the issue, or red-necked it up to incite further voter parochialism. What difference do words now make, when the globe has witnessed an illegal conquest so askew with purported truths that no one could believe any word spoken by those at the helm any longer.

PS: I thought recently that Latham�s call to remove troops came after a briefing with Intelligence Agencies and was driven by a fact or facts he was told but could not repeat. There would be nothing to gain in Australia’s opposition exposing these crimes, but plenty for an opposition if they were made public eventually. Do you think maybe that Latham knew or was told what was happening and decided to base his policy on that, while waiting for the public to catch up when the truth comes out as it has now?