Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ryszard Kapuscinski is dead

The Polish writer and journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski died on 23 January. Kapuscinski, who gained international acclaim for his books chronicling wars, coups and revolutions in Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world, died of a heart attack, his literary agent said. He was 74.

Kapuscinski was born in 1932 in the then Polish (now Belarusian) city of Pinsk. When Hitler invaded Poland from the West in September 1939, Stalin lived up to his part of the infamous non-aggression pact by invading Poland from the West. The eastern border city of Pinsk was among the first to fall to Soviet forces. Aged 7, Kapuscinski became a starving refugee and fled the city with his family ahead of the Soviet invasion. His father, a teacher and Polish army officer, was captured and interned by the Soviets but escaped to fight in the Polish underground. After the devastation of World War II, young Ryszard became a poet and earned a history degree at Warsaw University. He married a paediatrician, Alicja, with whom he had a daughter.

But Kapuscinski was never much of a family man. He joined the official Polish news agency PAP. Aged 23, he was posted to India, his first trip outside Poland. It was to start a life-long love affair with travel. From 1958 to 1981, he was PAP’s sole foreign correspondent. In that time, he witnessed 27 coups and revolutions, befriended many leaders, and was sentenced to death four times, according to his American publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. One of his first assignments was to Africa. He covered the independence of the Congo crossing illegally into the country from Sudan. He stayed in Africa for several years because the PAP could not afford to send him home until he became seriously ill with malarial meningitis.

Kapuscinski recovered and continued to travel to the world’s hotspots in Africa, Asia and South America. As a representative of a Communist country, Kapuscinski gained access to leftist revolutionaries across the world: Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Ben Bella in Algeria, Che Guevara in Cuba. He immersed himself in the locality of each country and would never contact home except to file his news reports.

He eventually decided Communist newspaper articles could not do justice to the complex political situation he encountered across the globe and the notes he took on them. Kapuscinski began to document his experiences in the 1970s with a series of insightful books. One of his most famous was “The Emperor” which was published in 1978. It described the atmosphere at the court of Haile Selassie towards the end of the Ethiopian leader’s reign. Ostensibly a straight forward account of Selassie’s trouble, the book was also a sly critique of Kapuscinski’s native Communist Poland. Fellow journalist Frank Bajak described the book “a meditation on the mechanisms of authoritarian rule and the retinues of unpopular regimes”.

Kapuscinski himself admitted “it's not about Ethiopia or Haile Selassie — rather, it's about the Central Committee of the [Polish] Communist Party”. In the same interview, he described his writing as the combination of three elements. These elements were travel as exploration (not as a tourist), reading literature on the subject of his travel and reflection on the places and readings he experienced.

1978 was a fruitful year for Kapuscinski. As well as “The Emperor” he also published a series of stories called “The Soccer War.” The book is a collection of dispatches from his postings in the Third World. The title story is about the 1969 six-day war between El Salvador and Honduras. The war was fought over immigration and land rights but was exacerbated by World Cup qualifying games between the countries. In 1982 Kapuscinski wrote “Szachinszach” (Shah of Shahs in English). Kapuscinski was in Iran when the Shah was toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The book documents the immediate events surrounding the revolution and also traces the history of British and American interference in Iran.

Kapuscinski travelled and wrote into his old age, although he no longer visited what he called the "really wicked places". In 1993, he wrote "Imperium" about the fall of the Soviet Union. His friend, the sociologist and writer Jadwiga Staniszkis told Polish Radio that Kapuscinski died before he could write a book about Poland. "I think Kapuscinski was planning eventually to write a book on Poland, in a sense waiting to find a key, because usually he worked by finding some concrete event which was at the same time a sort of symbolic moment," she said. "Kapuscinski was looking for something like that in Poland. He was enthusiastic about Solidarity. For him it was not solidarity of intelligentsia. He was conscious of the deep moral transition inside the common people."

Kapuscinski’s books were translated into more than 20 languages. “The starting point is observation, travels, that which I see, that which I encounter, people, what I myself live through,” Kapuscinski said in a 1994 interview. “But all of that is to be able to impart universal truths, to lead to wider reflection, historical reflection.” Ryszard Kapuscinski died in Warsaw on 23 January, 2007 after complications with heart surgery.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Alinta gets ready for a Mac Attack

Alinta and its ex-adviser Macquarie Bank struck a deal yesterday that allows work to continue on a management buyout of Australia's biggest owner of energy transmission assets. The deal is aimed at overcoming the apparent conflict of interest after an announcement earlier this month of a $10 billion Management Buyout (MBO) of Alinta, Australia’s largest energy infrastructure company. Macquarie has a detailed knowledge of Alinta's corporate affairs after working on some of its biggest deals, including the recent $6.5 billion asset swap with the NSW gas provider AGL.

Macquarie Bank has been a long-term adviser of the Perth-based Alinta. But the company was rocked on 9 January 2007, when Macquarie Bank Limited advised them of the MBO which was being developed by a group that included Alinta Chief Executive Officer Bob Browning and Chairman John Poynton. With three days of the announcement, Browning and Poynton both quit Alinta due to a perceived conflict of interest over the bid. Poynton told the ABC it was a difficult decision to step down from his position on the board. "I thought the protocols that had been put in place were going to be fine, but there's obviously been a lot of criticism and comment," he said.

Although Alinta also dumped Macquarie as its adviser, the two parties continued to negotiate an agreement that would allow the bank to act as the key adviser to the MBO. Macquarie stated it would not act for the buyout group until it had the Alinta board’s consent and assurance that it considered the buyout proposal “friendly”. Alinta was worried that Macquarie would have a competitive advantage over rival bidders but was also keen to ensure one of the country’s most aggressive investment banks remained involved in the bidding process to fuel competitive tension.

With relations remaining friendly between the two parties, an early solution was always likely. According to an Alinta news release of 29 January, Macquarie has now agreed to five conditions to allow it re-enter the negotiations. The conditions are
(i) Macquarie to return all information that was the product of its advisory work for Alinta
(ii) Macquarie to not make any use of any of this information except under conditions Alinta will prescribe for all potential bidders
(iii) If Macquarie is admitted to an Alinta “dataroom” then it is only permitted to use information which is in the dataroom
(iv) Macquarie confirms to Alinta that it does not have any additional non-public information of potential use to a rival bidder.
(v) Macquarie to provide list of potential conflict of interest employees to be excluded from the sale process.
As a result, the Alinta Board has allowed Macquarie to participate on the buy side of any ensuing transactions. According to the news release, “Macquarie may participate in the development of a proposal on the condition that it will not participate in any bid for Alinta except through the sale process organised by Alinta”.

Alinta was a Western Australian gas distributor that has been transformed into the largest energy infrastructure company in Australia in the last four years. Macquarie Bank were at the heart of the deals that make this possible. In 2003, Alinta doubled in size and gained an east coast presence with the $629m takeover of the Australian assets of the troubled US energy group Aquila. A year later, they took on a second US company’s local assets, Duke Energy. Alinta paid $1.7 billion to acquire Duke's portfolio of three major gas pipelines and four gas-fired power stations in Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, NSW, Tasmania and New Zealand and the strategic Eastern Gas Pipeline connecting Bass Strait to Sydney.

Then in November 2006, Alinta announced a restructure after its $6.5 billion infrastructure asset swapping merger/demerger with Australian Gas Light (AGL). With Alinta owning the WA market and the Sydney-Bass Strait pipeline and AGL (through subsidiaries) in control of Victoria and NSW, the combined company now owns almost 90% of Australia’s gas transmissions industry.

Alinta has been in the financial wars ever since. Through the AGL deal, Alinta inherited 30% of Australian Pipeline Trust (APT). On August 3 Alinta gave the ACCC legally enforceable undertakings to dispose of AGL's 30 per cent stake in APT as the quid pro quo for the competition watchdog agreeing not to oppose the Alinta and AGL merger. But then CEO Bob Browning raided the APT and bought another 10 %. However this was ruled invalid by the Takeovers Panel after a protest by APT. The Panel made a declaration of “unacceptable circumstances” on the basis that the acquisition breached the ‘spirit’ of the legislation and the effect this had on control of APT. The Panel ordered that the 10% security holding acquired by Alinta be vested in ASIC to be sold.

Shares in Alinta were trading at $13.82 at close of business yesterday, up $2.70 since the September Takeover Panel ruling.

Monday, January 29, 2007

carrying the kirpan

Sikh priests carrying their ceremonial daggers caused alarm on a New Zealand internal flight last weekend. NZ Civil Aviation Authority is now looking at airport security after five priests wore their daggers onto the flight from Auckland to Napier. Hastings priest Jarnail Singh says a woman on board noticed his dagger, creating an unnecessary fuss. Singh told NZ3 TV priests normally keep the knives in their check-in luggage on international flights and now they will do the same for domestic travel.

The ceremonial dagger is called a “kirpan”. New Zealand is not the first country where the kirpan has caused strife. In northern California Sikh children have been forbidden from carrying kirpans to school. In Canada, the Supreme Court ruled a Quebec school board was wrong to tell a 12-year-old Sikh boy he could not wear it in the classroom. The knife must now be worn under the clothes and sewn into a sheath befitting its role as “a mark of a citizen’s honour rather than a soldier’s vocation”.

The kirpan is one of the five k’s, the symbols of the Sikh faith. The others are kesh (uncut hair), kanga (a wooden comb tied behind the turban), kacha (unisex undergarments) and kara (an iron bracelet). The word Sikh means teacher in Sanskrit and the religion of Sikhism began in Northern India in the 16th century. The Guru Nanak Deva (1469-1539) received a vision at Sultanpur to preach a new way to enlightenment and God. He taught a strict monotheism, the brotherhood of humanity. He rejected idol worship, and the oppressive Hindu concept of caste. The stories of his life are collected in two sets of writings. The first known as the Janamsākhīs. The scribe Bhai Gurdas also wrote about Nanak's life in his vārs.

Historians believe that Sikhism is a syncretistic religion, a cross between the devotional Bhakti movement of Hinduism and the psycho-spiritual Sufi branch of Islam. However many independent beliefs and practices have since been added that now make Sikhism different from both. There are now an estimated 24 million adherents worldwide making it the world’s fifth largest religion. 21 million of these (90%) live in the Punjab region of northern India.

The holiest temple of the Sikhs is in the Punjab. This is the Golden Temple, (Harimandir Sahib) in the Punjabi capital city, Amritsar. In 1984 the temple was the site of a massacre by the Indian army. The Sikh militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was the spur for the attack. He was a supporter of the notional state of Khalistan, an independent Punjab. After a crackdown on Sikh militants Bhindranwale holed up in the Golden Temple along with 600 of his supporters. The army launched Operation Blue Star to remove them. The army grossly underestimated the defensive capability of Bhindranwale and his supporters and suffered major casualties. They eventually brought in tanks to crush the rebels. Bhindranwale was killed in the action along with 250 rebels and 48 Indian troops and the temple was mostly destroyed.

The desecration of the temple had far-reaching consequences. Two months later the army chief of staff and planner of Operation Blue Star Arun Shridhar Vaidya was killed by Sikh militants while driving his car home from the market. After another two months Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. In revenge, nearly 3000 Sikhs were massacred in the days that followed in systematic anti-Sikh riots that were tacitly supported by the Congress government. The riots caused many Sikhs to emigrate to USA, Europe, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

According to the Sikh Council of Australia, there are now 22,000 Sikhs in Australia. NSW has by far the largest population with half the total population. The first Sikhs arrived in Australia in the 19th century to work as hawkers, cane cutters and camel drivers but their numbers were curtailed by the White Australia Policy of the newly federated nation in 1901. The next wave of Sikh immigration came in the wake of the British Colombo Plan scholarships for emerging commonwealth nations. Sikh numbers expanded again due to violence in East Africa against Indian families.

After the Second World War and the partition of India, many Sikh migrants started to congregate around the northern NSW towns of Woolgoolga and Coffs Harbour to work on the banana farms. The great upheaval in Punjab at the time of Partition of India in 1947 provided the impetus for many family members to come and join the earlier migrants to Australia. There are now 2,500 Sikhs in Woolgoolga, approximately 50% of the town’s total population. The town has two Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) both of which are prominently visible from the Pacific Highway which passes through the town. Today over 95% of Woolgoolga's banana industry and 10% of Coffs Harbour is owned and operated by Australians of Sikh ancestry.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Taliban eyes on the Pakistani prize

Afghanistan’s foreign minister accused Pakistan on Friday of not doing enough to fight the Taliban and “using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy”. Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said “Pakistan doesn’t do enough” to combat terrorism and “from our point of view [are] part of the problem — they have to stop interference ... in Afghanistan”. His exasperated call comes as the Taliban shore up support in the border regions of Pakistan ready for a renewed assault on Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been long prized through history due to its strategic position on the caravan routes between the Mediterranean and India to the south and China to the north. The Achaemenids of Persia ruled the area in the 6th c BC. Cyrus II the Great established satrapies in Herat, Kandahar and Bactria. Alexander the Great overthrew the Persians on his way to India in 327BC. The Seleucids ruled after he died before being overwhelmed by Parthian invaders. A transplanted Buddhist culture thrived leaving many stupas and monasteries. Finally Islamic armies arrived in 642AD leading to a long line of various dynasties. Genghis Khan and Tamerlane both conquered the country on their long way west. Tamerlane’s descendents ruled Kabul and Kandahar before conquering India to give rise to the Moghul empire.

Afghanistan was united in its modern form in 1747 when a group of regional rulers appointed a shah over the entire country. Britain, worried about Russian encroachment of India, brought pressure to bear on Afghanistan which resulted in the Anglo-Afghan wars of 1839-1842 and 1878-1880. In the first war, British troops occupied Kabul before withdrawing. The second war was costly and inconclusive. Finally Russia and Britain concluded a treaty in 1907 that recognised Afghanistan as a buffer state. Britain retained de facto foreign control. They would fight one more war there in 1919 after the shah attempted complete independence but that too was inconclusive. Afghanistan was allowed to go its own way after this time. It remained neutral in World War II and the regime lasted until 1973 when it was overthrown by the Soviet-trained Afghan army.

The Great Saur Revolution of 1978 saw a soviet-style government imposed as the only legal political party with the support of the USSR. This new Marxist state was immediately opposed by Muslim tribal communities. When the government could not quell the rebellion, the Soviets sent in an invasion force of 30,000 troops, executed the president and installed a new man, Babrak Karmal, at the helm. The force was increased to 115,000 as opposition grew. The rebels were known as the “Mujahideen” (holy warriors) but were far from united. Their strength lay in the remote mountainous regions near the Pakistani border and they were supplied by US and Chinese arms through Pakistan.

The war meandered on through the 1980s with the Russians gradually losing the will to fight. Meanwhile Karmal was overthrown by General Najibullah who tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with the Mujahideen. The UN brokered a Soviet withdrawal in 1988-89. But the fighting continued until the Mujahideen took Kabul in 1992. They proclaimed an Islamic state but remained fractionalised and sporadic fighting continued. By 1994, the peace accord had collapsed and fighting between rival Mujahideen forces escalated. Around this time the Taliban emerged, quickly capturing Kandahar and Charasiab in the south. They eventually took Kabul in 1996 to take de facto control of the country.

The word Mujahideen means 'strugglers' and is derived from jihad, a Quranic term denoting the battle against Allah’s enemies. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan was preceded by a cultural Islamic revivalism in the 1970s. Muslim intellectuals saw Marxism and secularism in general as a threat to traditional values. The Afghan Mujahideen had between eight to ten factions who fought with each other as much as they fought the alien infidels. The Taliban movement was a new demonstration of the Islamic faith. They announced their task was to purify the country from the stains of hypocrisy due to Mujahideen internal conflicts.

Their religious theology ultimately derives from the Hanafite school of Islam. The 8th century theologian and jurist Imam Abu Hanifah acknowledged the primacy of the Koran and the Hadith but crucially allowed for personal opinion to prevail in the absence of precedence. Hanifah’s school was a breakaway from tradition, was linked with Shi’ite theology and most importantly in the Taliban context, he was Persian with cultural links to Afghanistan.

The word Taliban is Arabic for “students”. They studied not only the works of the Hanafites but were also strongly influenced by Wahhabism, a highly puritanical and orthodox Islamic strain. Wahhabism emerged from Arabia in the mid 18th century and its basis was a condemnation of what were considered polytheistic practices such as praying to saints, making pilgrimages to tombs and mosques, venerating tombs and sacrificial offerings. It promoted the oneness of God and purifying religion. The movement revived in the newly independent Saudi Arabia of the 1920s and earned the sobriquet of “Muslim Calvinists”. Wine and tobacco were forbidden, modest dress was prescribed for men and women and music, dancing, loud laughter and excessive weeping were all condemned.

When the Taliban took Kabul they took little time to institutionalise their own form of Wahhabism in Afghanistan. Even with civil issues such as the economy, they handled them within an Islamic framework. The US claimed poppy cultivation for opium and heroin skyrocketed under Taliban rule, though this was denied by Taliban leaders who maintained they would eradicate the crop once they brought the entire country under their rule. And their prediction was borne out. By 2001, UN drug control officers said the Taliban had nearly wiped out opium production in Afghanistan since banning poppy cultivation the previous summer.

But it was their treatment of women which attracted most attention. When they took Kabul, they shut down all girls schools claiming the curriculum was against the tenets of Islam. They claimed the move was temporary until they found an appropriate system to replace it. Women in Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere were ordered through loudspeakers to stay indoors and only be allowed out in the company of a close male relative and wearing the all-over burqa. According to the Attorney-General’s office “the face of a woman is a source of corruption for men who are not related to them”. In Kabul 225 women who defied Taliban edicts on clothing were punished by being lashed on the back and legs. Another woman was stoned to death for adultery in Laghman province in 1997.

Along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Pakistan was the only country in the world to recognise the Taliban administration as the government of Afghanistan. Russia accused Pakistan of sending troops to fight with the Taliban militia. Many Pakistani politicians called for the introduction of Taliban style rapid justice in their own country. The Pakistani government were happy to see a stable administration next door. But all that changed with Osama Bin Laden.

Bin Laden had called for a holy war against the Americans "who are occupying the land of the two shrines.” The shrines were Mecca and Medina in his own native land, Saudi Arabia. Throughout the eighties he was a major financier of the Afghan Mujahideen and he participated in the battles for Jalalabad in 1986. The Saudis cancelled his passport in 1991 when he left the country for good. He moved to Afghanistan where he declared a fatwa against the US. He was alleged to be behind the attacks of US military personnel in Riyadh, the USS Cole, and the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Taliban refused to hand Osama over to the Clinton administration after the US uncovered evidence he had acquired WMDs and chemical weapons. The Taliban defended Osama saying the US charges were unfounded.

The 9/11 attacks gave the new Bush administration the chance to take out Osama and remove the Taliban in the process. By December, Kabul was in the hands of the old Northern Alliance, backed by the power of the US. They retreated to the inhospitable hilly wildernesses of the Pakistan border where they regrouped as a guerrilla fighting force. While the US lost interest in the attempt to unseat Saddam’s regime in Iraq, the Taliban began to mount a revival boosted by Afghan corruption, US interference and an influx of Pakistani volunteers. Sheltered by tribal leaders in Pakistani border enclaves, they are now the defacto ruling group in many parts of Waziristan and threatening the North West Frontier Province capital of Peshawar.

Afghan foreign minister Spanta is right to be concerned by Islamabad’s inaction. However Pakistan’s President Musharraf may find his own regime’s understated tolerance of the Taliban backfires if they take a major prize such as Peshawar. It could unleash demons in the country that would be difficult to put back into the bottle.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Abu Sayyaf on the run

The Philippines military has stepped up its campaign to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf Group, a local ally of Jemaah Islamiyah. The army is carrying out Operation Plan Ultimatum, a campaign against the group’s base in the southern island of Sulu. The operation started in August and involves at least 7,500 soldiers. The military believe they have Abu Sayyaf on the run after killing many of its leaders in the last few months.

Abu Sayyaf is a small offshoot of a larger rebel group with only about 400 core members. However it has been held responsible for the Philippines' worst terrorist attack, the bombing of a ferry near Manila Bay in 2004 that killed at least 100 people. It became known in the West after a series of high profile tourist kidnappings from Malaysian resorts in 2000. It was originally a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), but split off in 1991 to pursue more fundamentalist goals.

The group has links to the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah whose long-term objective is the creation of a Pan-Asian Islamic state. The top leader of Abu Sayyaf was Khadaffy Janjalani. His elder brother Abdulrajik Janjalani was the founder of the group and leader until he was killed in 1998 by Philippines security forces. Khadaffy then took the helm. The younger Janjalani was a student of Mindanao State University before dropping out to join his brother’s group. It was alleged was killed in a gun battle with elite Marine soldiers in the outskirts of Patikul town in Sulu in September. Finally on 20 January, the government released the result of a DNA test to prove indeed it was Janjalani who was killed.

A week ago, Philippines President Gloria Arroya vowed to wipe out the country’s Islamist rebel groups a day after the military killed 10 Abu Sayyaf separatists in an hour-long gun battle on the southern island of Jolo. The engagement came in the week after day after the military killed two of Abu Sayyaf’s top five leaders, Abu Suleiman and Binang Sali.

In the Jolo incident a team of marines encountered 30 Abu Sayyaf rebels, and killed ten of them and captured two others. Three marines were also killed. The marines were part of a 6,000 strong group who are in pursuit of the rebel group. Two days earlier on the same island, troops clashed with about sixty Abu Sayyaf members, and killed Abu Sulaiman.

Sulaiman was a prize catch. The US had put a bounty of $5 million on his head. Nicknamed “the Engineer” Sulaiman was wanted on 21 counts of kidnapping, murder and “conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction”. He was one of the masterminds of the 2004 ferry sinking. He was also the logical successor to Janjalani.

Abu Sayyaf has been active since the early 1990s. The Janjalani brothers founded the movement in Isabela City on the small island of Basilan off the coast of Zamboanga City. The original Abu Sayyaf (Arabic for “bearer of the sword” or "father of the swordsman", according to the BBC) was an Afghan mujahedin fighter against the Russians in 1980s. The Philippine version is based in the south of the country’s Muslim heartland. A Saudi businessman living in the Philippines, Muhammad Jamal Khalifa provided crucial finance in the early days.

With the two leaders Janjalani (pictured) and Abu Sulaiman now dead, the group has no obvious successor. Romeo Ricardo, chief of the national police's Intelligence Group, said the two were the main contacts to Islamic militants in Indonesia and Middle Eastern donors who have provided funding and combat training. Two Indonesians on the run from the 2002 Bali bombing, Umar Patek and Dulmatin may yet provide the outside links and bomb making skills. Both are believed to be in Jolo. In the meantime, it is likely that the remaining militants will split into even smaller groups in order to evade capture.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Five Minutes to Midnight

The Doomsday Clock was moved forward two minutes earlier this week. According to the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the time is now 11.55pm – barely five minutes to nuclear annihilation. The Bulletin cited North Korean nuclear tests, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the US’s recent use of "bunker buster" nuclear bombs as the reasons for the change. They also cited human related climate change as a growing danger. "We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age," the group said in a statement read in New York and London. It was the first adjustment since 2002.

The Doomsday Clock is a peculiar hangover from the Cold War. The Clock evoked both an image of doom (midnight) and a nuclear launch (countdown to zero). Created in 1947, it was initially set to seven minutes to midnight. This week marks the 18th adjustment of the clock in the last 60 years. It has been as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 when the US and USSR tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of one another, and as far away as seventeen minutes in 1991 after the same two countries signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (SALT).

The custodians of the clock are the board of directors of the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists”. Founded in 1945, the Bulletin is a magazine that covers global security and public policy issues, especially related to the dangers of nuclear weapons. The original founder and editor was biophysicist Eugene Rabinowitch, a professor of botany and biophysics at the University of Illinois near Chicago. It has an impressive list of contributors over the years that include Albert Einstein, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Carl Sagan, Wernher von Braun, Al Gore, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Bunker buster bombs
are the newest threat identified by the Bulletin. These are bombs designed to penetrate hardened targets or those buried deep underground. Barnes Wallis designed the first bunker buster bombs for the British in World War II. The US military updated Barnes Wallis’s original designs for use in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The American looked at plans to develop nuclear variants in order to access the so-called Al-Qaeda underground complexes in Tora Bora as well as Iranian nuclear industry which is also mainly underground. In 2005, the Bush administration requested Congress approval for $4 million dollars to research the technology. Congress refused and the idea was abandoned after criticism of potential nuclear fall-out. The military analysts Jane’s suspect however that the research may still be continuing under a different name.

The bulletin believes we are now at the cusp of a Second Nuclear Age. Many felt that the nuclear threat was eradicated by the fall of the Soviet Union as a world superpower in 1991. But many new dangers emerged to fill the void. The ex-Soviet states suffered a partial breakdown of command and control systems leading to the “disappearance” of former Soviet nuclear weapons. Israel nuclear ambitions are matched by many of its Arab enemies. The 50 year old feud between India and Pakistan is now a nuclear standoff. And Pakistan’s chief nuclear technician A Q Khan has sold secrets of nuclear technology to many smaller countries in Asia and Africa worried about American hegemony. Meanwhile the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) could disintegrate due to the lack of good will among its members.

The climate change rationale is also adding new relevance to the Cold War institution. The statement released this week claimed global warming poses a dire threat to human civilisation second only to nuclear weapons. It cited flooding, desertification and threats to habitats and agricultural resources which are likely to contribute to mass migrations and wars over land, water, and other natural resources. Stephen Hawking told the London gathering “as scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth. As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

God Save the Queen

In an early signal of intent for the Oscars, Helen Mirren made off with best actress at LA's Golden Globe awards overnight. Mirren won the award for her starring role as Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears' "The Queen". The film tells the story of the days following Diana’s death in 1997 and the Queen’s awkward relationship with the newly elected Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. Accepting the award Mirren said Elizabeth Windsor at the age of 25 walked into the role of a lifetime. "I honestly feel this award belongs to her, because I think you fell in love with her, not with me," Mirren said.

Whether you fell in love with her or not, “The Queen” is an excellent treatise on three forms of power. These are the unwritten constitutional power of the monarchy, the executive powers of the Prime Minister and the social and commercial power of the Fourth Estate; the media that set the agenda during the tumultuous week after Diana died. The Queen badly misread public opinion, the flames were fanned by the attack dogs of the media and the media-savvy Blair came to the royal rescue, saving the Windsors from themselves and gaining giddy new heights of popularity for himself.

The narrative starts three months earlier on the day Blair is elected to end 18 years of Tory rule. On his way to Buckingham Palace to accept his appointment he is coached by royal flunkeys on the correct way to address Her Majesty: “It is ma’am as in ham, not marm as in farm”. Meanwhile the Queen bemoans to her artist she not allowed to vote and enjoy the thrill of “being partial”. The Queen has the upper hand at the first meeting. She tells Blair that he is her tenth Prime Minister and the first of those, Winston Churchill, coached her well in the ways of life.

Both the Queen and Blair are woken up in the early hours of Sunday 30 August 1997 to hear the news Diana was in a car crash in Paris. The royals and the Blairs are glued to the 24 hour news stations to watch the consequences just like all their subjects. When the news comes through that Diana is dead, Blair is quickest to read the public mood. His media chief and spin doctor Alastair Campbell coined the phrase “people’s princess” for Blair’s first speech on the morning of Diana’s death. That sound byte and Blair’s interview are repeated ad nauseum on media outlets for the next few days.

Meanwhile the Windsors are holed up in their summer retreat at Balmoral Castle stalking deer. Remote from the goings-on in London, the Queen has no desire to make a public statement, return to Buckingham Palace or show any public sign of grief. Diana is no longer a member of the Royal Family and therefore there is no reason to change plans one iota. While the crowds gathered on the Mall in an astonishing outcry of public grief for an ex-Royal, the sitcom Royal/Royle family gather around a TV set watching the coverage with disbelieving eyes and expressions of ingratitude. When a commoner grumbles about the lack of a half-mast flag on the empty palace, Prince Phillip is exasperated about the media and public’s lack of knowledge of royal protocol. When Blair rings the Queen to complain about her inaction she tells him how her family prefers to grieve quietly and with dignity. "That’s how we do things in this country, and that’s what the rest of the world admires us for," Mirren's Queen says.

But even if that were true, the Queen could not grieve quietly. The royal family became caught up in the politics of global mourning. Australian academic Rosanne Kennedy perceptively noted that Diana, unlike Charles, had a remarkable ability to re-invent her image, and in that regard, was a very modern figure. According to Kennedy, Diana’s 16 years in the media spotlight saw her represented as “a naive nineteen-year-old kindergarten teacher, a fairytale princess, to a depressed, bulimic wife and mother, to an angry divorcee, to a confessional talk show interviewee, to a glamorous cover-girl with a humanitarian message and a political mission”. Diana’s use of the confessional genre enabled ordinary people to feel that they knew her and could identify with her. But it put her starkly at odds with the preferred Royal approach of “quietness and dignity”.

Eventually the pressure is overwhelming and the Windsors agree to London and a public funeral. Prince Philip rages against the decision and the fact the funeral will be full of “homosexuals and celebrities”. But they had to bow to the power of the media and public pressure. The Queen had to grin (or smile politely) and bear it as Diana’s funeral was a global event watched by billions.

The film concludes with a postscript several weeks later. Recalling the first scene, Blair goes to the Palace to visit the Queen. The dynamic of their relationship has changed drastically as a result of Diana’s death. Though the relationship remains frosty, there is a new mutual respect between sovereign and executive leader that emerges in their curious circular conversation. The Queen has a prophetic message for Blair that he too might some day become a media figure of hate. The parallels between Diana and the current fuss over Prince William's girlfriend Kate Middleton are also striking. But although the ghost of Diana haunts the film, "The Queen" remains Helen Mirren’s film. Hers is a superlative performance inking out the depths of an unfathomable enigma. Throughout the whole ordeal, her Elizabeth remains a cool, stoic figure capable of evoking sympathy from even the most ardent republican for her dedication to what she saw as her oath of duty.

Mirren fully deserves the Golden Globe for her performance. Shawn Levy of the Oregonian has perhaps the most perceptive commentary on her performance: “Through her diplomatic tussles with Blair, her rustic Highlands romps, her firm dealings with her frustrated son and opinionated husband, her quiet colloquies with her shrewd mother, and her gradual recognition that her stolid response to Diana's death has pained her subjects, Mirren plays an otherworldly woman in a fashion that's palpably real and human.”

The remarkably adaptable veteran director Stephen Frears throws in some cinematic flourishes along the way. Frears contrasts the grand pomp of the Queen’s scenes by filming them in 35mm against the informality and fish finger dinner scenes of the Blair household shot on handheld Super-16. Most scenes are handled deftly with clever, believable and often hilarious dialogue. Only the allegory of the “14-pointed” stag (for the huntress Diana) is clumsy and ill-conceived. Frears reprises his work with writer Peter Morgan and actor Michael Sheen from the 2003 British telemovie The Deal which tells of the Machiavellian shenanigans between Blair (again played by Sheen) and Gordon Brown that led to Blair’s ascent to the leadership of the Labour Party. The film “The Queen” is, in many ways, Act 2 of The Deal.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


As yesterday was the third Monday in January, it was Dr Martin Luther King Jr Day in the US. This year the holiday corresponded with King’s actual birthday of 15 January. Observed since 1986, it is one of only three American federal holidays that is named for a person (the other two are Washington’s Birthday and Columbus Day).

It took 15 years of lobbying to achieve, only the third new national holiday of the twentieth century after Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. MLK Day was initially founded by labour unions as a contract negotiation tool. Democrat congressman John Conyers (the man who appeared in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 to state members of Congress "don't read most of the bills") introduced a bill to make King’s birthday a national holiday barely four days after King’s assassination in 1968. In 1970, they submitted petitions to Congress carrying six million signatures. Though support on the Hill was slow in coming, the pressure was maintained by Mass marches in 1982 for voting rights and again a year later for the 20th anniversary of King's “I have a dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

Some conservative senators such as Jesse Helms and John P East questioned whether King was important enough to merit a holiday. Senator East argued that to establish a special holiday just for King was to "elevate him to the same level as the father of our country and above the many other Americans whose achievements approach Washington's”. Others objected that King’s birthday was too close to the Christmas and New Year holidays. However many senators of both parties were keen to court the black vote and anyone who questioned the need for the holiday was likely to be accused of racism. Finally Democrat rep Katie Hall from Indiana brokered an agreement by moving the observance to the third Monday of January each year. The idea of a three-day weekend, plus the fact that the third Monday often follows Super Bowl Sunday, helped gain the necessary numbers for success. President Reagan (himself an opponent of the day) signed the legislation in November 1983.

King is one of the few social leaders of any country to be honoured with a holiday (Gandhi in India is another). Such status by a member of a country's racial minority is almost unheard of. As these honours are usually reserved for military or religious figures, this holiday is a powerful tribute to King's philosophy and stature.

King was born in 1929 with the name of Michael Luther King Jr in Atlanta, Georgia. His father Martin Luther King snr claimed the doctor mistakenly put Michael on the birth certification. King was from a line of pastors. His grandfather, father and Martin himself all served as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Young Martin attended segregated public schools in Georgia. Aged just 19, he received a BA in sociology in 1948 from Atlanta’s all-male all-black Morehouse College. King then went north to do post-graduate studies and earned his Ph D in 1955 studying Systematic Theology at Boston University.

By now King was also a church pastor, based at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. 1955 was a watershed year in US race relations and Montgomery was at the epicentre. On 1 December 1955, Montgomery seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested and charged for violating racial segregation laws when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. This was a calculated act by Parks to challenge the Jim Crow laws. She had just completed a course in race relations and her arrest was a NAACP plan to test the laws using a guinea pig that was above reproach. The Monday after her arrest, she was found guilty in a local court and fined $10 plus a court cost of $4. Parks appealed. Meanwhile the black community launched a bus boycott. King quickly became a leader and spokesman for the protest.

The boycott lasted over a year. Black taxi drivers lowered their fare to the same price as a bus ticket until the city forced them to increase their fares. When the city then pressurised insurance companies to stop insuring cars used in carpooling, the boycott leaders arranged policies with Lloyds of London. A Montgomery grand jury indicted King along with 88 other boycott leaders for ignoring a state statute that barred boycotts without due cause. King’s parsonage was bombed and his wife and daughter narrowly escaped injury. Finally the protest ended in victory when the US Supreme Court decision outlawed racial segregation on public transport.

Buoyed with this success, King created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He became a national black leader, organising marches for the right to vote, desegregation and labour rights. The FBI, under the paranoid leadership of J Edgar Hoover, began to take an interest in King. Hoover had strong personal animosity against King and his agents routinely broke into SCLC premises. The FBI started wiretapping him in 1961 fearing that communists were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement. They found no proof of this but used incidental material found in the taps to eventually discredit King. This was deliberate. In 1964, Hoover asked his agents to gather “information concerning King's personal proclivities ... in order that we may consider using this information at an opportune time in a counterintelligence move to discredit him.”

1963 was a watershed year for Martin Luther King Jnr. He was arrested after a protest in Birmingham, Alabama. There he wrote his "Letter From Birmingham City Jail," which advocated civil disobedience against unjust laws. In order to pressure congress to pass a Civil Rights Act, black leaders arranged a march on Washington. An estimated quarter of a million people marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where they heard speeches including King’s most famous words which with his dream they would all be “"Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

For his gains in the South, King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In the years that followed, King and others tried to spread the movement north. King moved into a Chicago slum tenement to attract attention to the living conditions of the poor in the big cities of the North. But King alienated the mainstream media after making comments critical of US involvement in the Vietnam War. Time magazine criticised his “Beyond Vietnam” speech as “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi".

On 3 April 1968 King went to Memphis to make a speech in support of striking black sanitary public works employees. There he said “Longevity has its place, but I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain! And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land”. His impassioned oration was prophetic. King was shot dead one day later on the balcony of the Lorraine motel.

Because escaped convict James Earl Ray confessed to the crime and pleaded guilty to avoid the death sentence, there was no trial. Ray was sentence to a 99-year prison sentence. He admitted owning a rifle similar to the one used in the shooting and he also rented the room at the flophouse where the shot was fired. Later he recanted his confession and told a 1977 House Select Committee on Assassinations that he did not shoot King. A former Missouri deputy sheriff Jim Green claimed to be part of an FBI conspiracy to kill King and Ray was just a ‘patsy’ for the crime. Ray had all requests for a trial rejected and he died in 1998 still proclaiming his innocence.

King’s legacy is immense. His gifted oratory has inspired millions around the world to action. He was instrumental in destroying the Jim Crow laws with the passing of two key pieces of legislation, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, both passed in 1965. He was a major influence on the civil rights movement in apartheid-era South Africa. His boyhood home in Atlanta and nearby buildings are now deemed a national historic site. He was turning into such a dangerous radical, it is likely the FBI had him killed. But more than anything else, King was a consummate man of action and an inveterate optimist. When faced with a moment of doubt a few days before he died, he talked himself out of it “We must turn a minus into a plus," King said, "a stumbling block into a steppingstone--we must go on anyhow." Martin Luther King Jnr Day is a fine tribute to his honour.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Do or Dubai for Liverpool

Rick Parry, the chief executive of Liverpool FC, has revealed that his club are on the verge of completing a takeover deal by Dubai investors. Parry told the BBC Sunday morning radio program Sportsweek, “A huge amount of work has been going on from both parts. I imagine we'll have something concrete to say relatively soon on that.” The Liverpool board has accepted a $450 million bid and the process is now going through due financial diligence. The new owners of England’s most successful football club will be Dubai International Capital (DIC), owned by the Government of Dubai.

DIC was established in 2004 as the international investment arm of Dubai Holding. Dubai Holding belongs to Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and is an umbrella company created to consolidate Dubai’s large scale infrastructure and investment projects. DIC owns several international brands including the former British budget chain Travelodge, the Tussauds Group and the London Eye. It is also the third largest shareholder in Daimler Chrysler with 2% of the company.

These investments fit in with Al-Maktoum’s plans to turn Dubai into one of the world’s great financial centres. In just 30 years, Dubai has morphed from a sleepy port with a population of a few thousand people into a thriving business hub, with a population of three million and a diversified economy that is the envy of the Gulf states. Dubai is obsessed with its status. It has two towers under construction which will vie for the largest building in the world when complete. One of these is the Burj Tower scheduled for completion in 2008 with an estimated height of 800m (almost 300m taller than the current tallest Taipei 101). The city is also home to the three largest man-made islands in the world, visible from outer space. With its oil reserves dwindling, Dubai is basing its future economy on real estate, aerospace, technology and tourism.

Tourism will be the key. Dubai attracted 30 million travellers in 2006, up from 13.5 million five years ago. It is building new airport facilities capable of handling more than 200 million passengers by 2015. Dubai is spending $30 billion on planes capable of flying halfway around the world which will make the city no more than 15 hours from key cities globally. Though only founded in 1986, Emirates Airlines low-cost model, widebody fleet, and central location has seen it emerge as a major threat to the established European carriers.

The country's leader Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is not listed in the Forbes rich list because it is impossible to work what belongs to him and what belongs to the Government of Dubai. He has a fortune estimated to be worth $14 billion of “family money” and another $13 billion of personal wealth. A combined value of almost $28 billion would put him in the top five richest people in the world.

Al Maktoum is 57 years old. He is the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates as well as being ruler of Dubai. His elder brother Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum ruled the emirate until January 2006. He died of a heart attack when on holiday in Queensland’s Gold Coast. Brisbane airport was put on alert so his entourage of 33 family members and 300 bags could rush back to Dubai so the Sheikh's body could be buried at home within 24 hours.

Sheik Mohammed was immediately promoted to prime minister after his brother’s death. The sheik was educated in Britain at the Sandhurst Military Academy and retains a love for British traditions. Liverpool is not his first sporting investment. He is most renowned for his love of horse racing and his family own 3,000 horses worldwide mostly in Britain at the Godolphin stable. The family also owned the horse Jeune which won the Melbourne cup in 1994.

Liverpool is another thoroughbred and a blue chip football brand. They have won more leagues, European Cups, UEFA Cups and League Cups than any other English team. The enduring bond between the club and its supporters were forged on the field but also in the moral ambiguities of the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters. The Sun's treatment of Hillsborough gave Liverpool fans a finely tuned sense of victimhood based on their own guilt about Heysel. And that is matched by lack of ultimate success on the field. Despite their shock Champions League triumph in 2005, they have not won the English league since 1990. Liverpool's resources are dwarfed by Manchester United’s massive fan base and the wealth available to Chelsea through its Russian benefactor Roman Abramovich. Al-Maktoum will change all that. He will provide the finance for a new 60,000 seater stadium near Anfield and provide the funds for a squad capable of challenging United and Chelsea. The fans will overcome the feeling that an asset has been sold overseas. And Al-Maktoum will find Liverpool are a perfect fit for DIC’s expanding Best of British portfolio.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Egypt detains Al Jazeera journalist

In what can best be described as a battle of Arab powers, Egypt has detained an Al Jazeera journalist they believe is fabricating evidence. The Egyptian Interior Ministry said they stopped Huweida Taha Metwalli on her way to Qatar and found 50 video tapes in her luggage. Egypt claims that some of the material in the tapes is “tarnishing Egypt's reputation and harming Egyptian national interests.”

The debate framed by Mubarak’s Egypt and his pharoahs-in-waiting is an effort to combat Al Jazeera’s growing power in the region as well as hide embarrassment at some of the country’s rougher tactics in maintaining power. It will be a fascinating battle of wills to see how this story unfolds. Egypt is a massive symbolic power both in the Arab world and the world beyond.

Egypt is geographically powerful. Mis’r is the name of Egypt in Arabic, the language spoken by Egyptians and Qataris alike. Mis’r. The name is old, slow and miserly like Egypt herself. Egypt has always been precious. It is where the world’s largest river reaches the sea. It helped formed the Mediterranean. The Nile’s slow warm current fed gentleness into the sea all the way to Gibraltar. It may even cause the Med to dam up.

Egypt was always politically powerful. Luxor is still the largest temple in the world. Egyptian paws and papyrus are all over the bible. The Jews lived for four hundred years under the Egyptian yoke. As the Greeks did to the hated Turkish Ottomans, the Jews picked up the culture of their conquerors. Joseph and Moses spend their formative years learning bad Egyptian habits which they took abroad. Though diminished by Roman times, Egypt retains that era’s most potent sex symbol – Cleopatra. But Egypt’s ultimate tragedy was not Biblical plague or Roman snake. Instead it was mostly likely a fire that burned books. No one can agree when the legendary destruction of Alexandria’s library occurred. Romans, Christians and Muslims have all copped the blame at one point or another. But whenever it happened, it was the consequential loss of its compendium of human knowledge led to the inexorable decline of the dream city named for one of the earliest Greats. Alexandria.

Modern Egypt is justly proudly of its ancient evenings. But Muslim Egypt and its 80 million people remain geographical and politically vital at a point on the Earth where three continental plates collide. It has Suez and Sinai. Britain and France duked out for it in Napoleon’s day. It has the magical Cairo. Australian troops got trained, drunk and laid there prior to Gallipoli. By 1956 those old imperial rivals Britain and France had so successfully patched up their differences to pal up with Israel and snatch the Suez Canal back from Nasser who nationalised it. But they were defeated by a rare strategic alliance of the two superpowers, the US and the USSR. The UN managed it until the Israelis parted the Red Sea once more in 1967. Egypt didn’t get it back until Carter wanted a pin-up moment to define his presidency. He brought Begin and Sadat together at Camp David in a move that proved fatal to all three. But Sadat’s replacement Hosni Mubarak has now been in power for over 25 years. That makes him one of the world’s statesmen despite the obvious lack of democracy that facilitated his long stint in power.

Mubarak has “won” re-election four times and critics say his latest victory in 2005 was tarnished by fraud, vote-rigging, police brutality and violence. Al Jazeera represents a new challenge to Mubarak’s authority with its apparent willingness to report on such matters. Al Jazeera has not been so forthcoming with the democratic challenges faced by their host country Qatar.

The capital Doha is a modern technological powerhouse on the Persian Gulf and home of Al Jazeera, Arabic for “The island”. Qatar is on the mainland of the Arabic Gulf but its capital Doha is an island in the desert. 80% of Qatar’s almost a million inhabitants live there. Unlike the ancient history of Egypt, Qatar is a new emirate. It was a useful stopping point for the sea-journey to India.

The British were here, like everywhere else. But the sun had set on the Empire, by the time Qatar struck oil. The end of World War II pumped up demand for new uses of petroleum. Newly independent Qatar got an increasing share of the profits of oil. After OPEC defeated the West in the oil crisis of 1973-1974, the country became seriously wealthy. Qataris are now a minority in their own country but still control most of the land. Doha, like Dubai, is moving away from the petrodollar and but not into tourism like Dubai. Instead it is spending big on education, infrastructure and sport. Doha is likely to bid for the 2016 Olympics.

Like Egypt, Qatar has a long-term leader. Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani has ruled Qatar since 1995. Al Jazeera was launched with his support a year later from the shells of a failed BBC experiment to broadcast an Arabic news channel. The BBC pulled out after Saudi Arabia objected to BBC coverage of a beheading. Most of the journalists ended up at Qatar’s new alternative. Now Al Jazeera is an international brand playing the BBC and CNN at their own game and beating them in many countries. But it is not yet a money-making organisation. Al Jazeera’s budget is still topped up with the Emirs hard-earneds.

Qatar does not have democracy, and Al Jazeera is not likely to bite the hand that feeds it. Its foray into Egyptian politics may well be seen as a personal insult to Mubarak from the Emir. There is bad blood between the two countries that date back to Qatar's 1998 accusation that the Egyptian government contributed to a failed coup attempt in Qatar at the end of 1996. Bad blood indeed. Watch this space.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Santamaria: Your Most Obedient Servant

Last week saw the release of the private letters of one of Australia’s most influential unelected political activists. Bartholomew Augustine "Bob" Santamaria was a highly divisive figure. He became one of the country’s most reviled people in politics after he engineered the 1950s split in the Australian Labor Party which effectively kept it out of power until 1972. Santamaria died in 1998 aged 82 and was a backroom operator for most of life.

was born in 1915 in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. He was the first of six children of greengrocer Joe Santamaria and his wife Maria Terzita. His parents migrated from the Aeolian island of Salina off the coast of Sicily. They emigrated to Australia just before the First World War. Bartholomew was educated at St Kevin’s Catholic school and Melbourne University where he studied law. He did an MA thesis on Italy’s blackshirts. He was politically active at university and spoke in favour of Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. Although he supported fascism in Spain and Italy, he was anti-Nazi.

In 1936 Santamaria helped found the Catholic Worker, a newspaper influenced by the social teaching of Pope Leo XIII and his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. This encyclical addressed the condition of the working classes. Rerum Novarum ("On New Things") supported the rights of labour unions, but rejected socialism and affirmed private property rights. It is generally regarded as the founding document of Christian Democracy. In 1931 Pope Pius XI re-issued the document which was updated in the light of the great depression.

Thus, Santamaria was one of Australia’s first Christian Democrats. He gained exemption from World War II service for reasons that have not been fully explained. He had influential Catholic friends including the 1930s Labor Prime Minister James Scullin, 1960s Labor leader Arthur Calwell and the towering Irish Archbishop Daniel Mannix who ruled the Melbourne diocese with an iron hand for 46 years. In 1941 Santamaria founded the Catholic Social Studies Movement, known simply as "the Movement," which recruited activists to oppose the spread of Communism, particularly in the trade unions. After the war, Santamaria became disillusioned with the Labor government which was not anti-Communist enough for his liking. This became a divorce with the party after Doc HV Evatt was elected leader in 1951.

Evatt publicly blamed Santamaria for Labor’s loss in the 1954 federal election. At the next party conference in Hobart in 1955, Santamaria's parliamentary followers were expelled from the Labor Party. His supporters founded the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) dedicated to opposing both Communism and the Labor Party. The split not only kept Labor in federal opposition for a generation, it also caused the fall of Labor governments in Victoria and Queensland. Santamaria’s power base remained in Victoria where Archbishop Mannix supported him. In Sydney Cardinal Gilroy supported Labor and the DLP never took root in NSW. Oddly enough, Santamaria never joined the party he was instrumental in creating. Instead he created a policy thinktank known as the National Civic Council (NCC).

In his later years, Santamaria strongly supported the US war in Vietnam. His political influence waned after Mannix died in 1963. Then in 1974 the DLP lost its last Senate seats. The defeat effectively sent the party into mothballs. The NCC also went into decline when many of its trade unionists left the organisation in the 1980s. Despite this, Santamaria’s public profile was higher than ever. He wrote a regular column in the national “Australian” newspaper and had an opinion program on Channel Nine called Point of View. In his later years he opposed liberal trends in the Catholic Church and founded a magazine, A.D. 2000, to argue for traditionalist views.

Santamaria’s letters have now been published by Melbourne University Press. “Your Most Obedient Servant: B. A. Santamaria Selected Letters 1938-1996”. The collection spans sixty years showing facets of his personality and activities not previously disclosed. His correspondents included prominent politicians, Malcolm Fraser, Bill Hayden and Clyde Cameron, religious leaders, including Archbishops Mannix and Pell, as well as influential media and social commentators such as Kerry Packer and Phillip Adams. Although Santamaria died in 1998, his political legacy is still alive. The DLP shocked everyone by coming from nowhere to win a seat in Victoria’s upper house in the December 2006 election.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ceasefire in Darfur

The government of Sudan has agreed a sixty day ceasefire with the troubled rebel province of Darfur. The news was announced by a US politician visiting the country. Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson said Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had agreed to the start of a peace process. Richardson and al-Bashir issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying both sides in the Darfur conflict had agreed to a 60-day cessation of hostilities.

Richardson also announced that both sides had agreed to attend a peace summit to be sponsored by the African Union (AU). While it is not yet clear when the ceasefire will commence, the joint statement represents success for Richardson’s mission. He won other concessions too from the central government such as allowing the rebels to call a conference in the field under the jurisdiction of the AU, allowing foreign journalists visit Darfur after a two-month ban and removing the requirement for exit visas for aid workers.

The next thorny issue to resolve is putting a peacekeeping force into Darfur. UN Special envoy Jan Eliasson is also in Sudan and he held talks with the president to discuss a way forward. Eliasson is trying to get commitment from the various parties for the deployment of a hybrid UN and AU peacekeeping force. He has already travelled to AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and will meet Darfur rebel leaders next. He said President al-Bashir had agreed with him that the conflict could only have a political solution and not a military one. Last month al-Bashir told the UN Sudan supported the plan to eventually replace an understaffed AU mission with a joint UN-AU force of about 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers, though subsequent reports say he may have backed away from this position.

Darfur is an arid and impoverished area in the far west of Sudan. Rebels from the region's ethnic African community took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in February 2003. The rebels accused the government of oppressing non-Arabs in favour of Arabs. In revenge for rebel attacks, the Government armed a counter-insurgency force of itinerant Arab-speaking tribes who became known as the Janjaweed. The word Janjaweed is an Arabic colloquialism which means "a man with a gun on a horse”. With the support of the Sudanese army, these men with guns on horses became a fearsome militia and launched reprisals against Darfur farmers. The US has accused Janjaweed of genocidal atrocities and over 200,000 people have died while another 2.5 million have fled their homes in the last four years.

Yesterday’s joint announcement has yet to be confirmed by the rebels themselves but Richardson said he had been to Darfur earlier and met rebel commanders who have agreed to the ceasefire. There are two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the smaller Justice for Equality Movement (Jem). Both groups, like the Government they are fighting, are Muslim. The SLA was established after a 1987 famine when the central Government armed an Arab alliance to oppose African farming communities. The SLA united the farmers of Fur, Zagawa and Masalit against the Government. Jem have their roots in the black Islamist community of western Sudan. Jem leaders were originally part of a government faction but lost their place at the seat of power after their sponsor Hassan al-Turabi was sacked by President Al-Bashir. Though SLA and Jem are ideologically different they have co-operated in the fight against the government and Janjaweed.

The war in Darfur has spilled over the border into Chad and the Central African Republic. Civilians fled across the border into refugee camps already crowded from earlier fighting in the area. In June 2006, the UN Security Council asked the U.N. Peacekeeping Department to explore protection of the camps, and an initial assessment mission was sent in late November. The situation in Chad was deemed too dangerous for the UN with fighting on the ground stopping the mission from visiting the border camps. The report recommended against a peacekeeping force in Chad until rebel groups stop cross-border incursions. The UN is now reassessing the report.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

analysis of a Saddam execution media log

In the book Journalism: Ethics and Practice, professor Frank Morgan asked the question “what is journalism”? For him, the answer is a complicated entity that must ultimately be expressed as theory. The theory should be a coherent set of ideas that explain not only the media form, its contents but also crucially the audience and the culture they share. This paper therefore is a study not only of a week’s worth of media consumption, it is a study of the consumer and the culture the consumer resides in. This essay will therefore concentrate on the discourse of seeing the media log in terms of theory of journalism. It will examine how log items display characteristics of several aspects of the Four Theories of the Press. The paper will also examine how these theories are now fusing into one comprehensive theory of communication by finding examples of collaboration, surveillance, facilitation and criticism in the week’s media consumption.

The media log tracks the Saddam Hussein execution story from Thursday 29 December 2006 to Wednesday 3 January 2007. The consumption log of 69 media items is shown in Appendix A. In Australian media terms, this period between Christmas and New Year is called the “silly season”. Because many news outlets are on holidays or skeleton staffing, the stories that dominate in this period tend to be time dependent such as the Boxing Day Test and the Sydney to Hobart race. Apart from the random pure news events such as the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, this period does not have the usual newsmakers dominating. The Sydney to Hobart race and the test cricket are usually the only stories that last all week. However on Tuesday 26 December 2006, the Iraqi appeal court announced they had turned down Saddam Hussein’s appeal against his execution. This looked to be a story that had a good chance of lasting all week.

Saddam Hussein has long been a newsmaker. A member of Iraq’s ruling Arab Sunni elite, he came to prominence in the 1970s on the back of Iraq’s oil profits. He was de facto ruler well before becoming president in 1979. Iraq grew wealthy after the 1973 oil crisis and Saddam became a Pan-Arab hero for spending much of his country’s wealth on economic development and education. But he also spent big on arms. Saddam’s most fateful decision came in 1979 when he used Iran’s new Islamic regime as the excuse to renege on a four year old agreement to set the border as the thalweg (midpoint) of the Shatt Al-Arab waterway. The resulting eight year war crippled both countries. This war eventually led to the invasion of Kuwait, which in turn led to the first Gulf War, UN sanctions and then the second Gulf War, leading to capture and trial. Saddam has strong news value of prominence and it made him one of the most talked-about people in Australian media in 2004.

The story of his death took three major phases in the week under examination. The first phase, lasting three days, was the story of whether he would be executed at all and if so when. The second phase was the coverage of his death, a review of his life and immediate reaction to his death. This phase lasted approximately two days. The third phase is analysis and reaction to video footage of his final moments. This phase lasted three days and overlapped with the end of phase 2. See appendix B for the key daily points in the story development.

The story of Saddam’s execution was major news across the world. It not only had the three core news values: interest, timeliness and clarity but it also had five of the six major news criteria: Consequence, Conflict, Human Interest, Novelty and Prominence. Many Australian media built the sixth criteria, Proximity, into the story. On Thursday, the story was in phase 1 and the news was Hussein “could be marched to the gallows any day now” (Australian, 28 December 2006, p.6). For some media, phase 1 did not fit the news criteria. According to the gatekeeper model of journalism a news story must survive a series of discriminating filters in a news organisation. Most TV news stories are visual and much Australian news is local and trivial. However the Saddam story was happening mostly beyond the glare of cameras in a foreign country. As a result, the phase 1 story did not survive the Thursday TV news gatekeeping process on Sky News, Channel Nine and the ABC. Only SBS, established with the specific purpose of countering the myth of monoculturalism picked it up. In the written media, there was more coverage. Saddam had written a goodbye letter to Iraqis. Legal arguments persisted as to whether court needed the signature of the Iraqi president (Sydney Morning Herald 2006, online). On the Friday, speculation continued despite the Iraq’s justice ministry denying he was about to hang. All these stories show the surveillance and facilitation role of the media. The media also played critical roles with opinion pieces taking sides on the merits of capital punishment.

The story shifted dramatically into phase two on Saturday with news of his death. The news broke in the early afternoon which was too late for the daily newspapers and too early for the evening news. The internet broke the story. The online Age told the story in classic hard news format with the most important information first and with verifiable facts and identifiable sources: “Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been executed, Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abbawi told the BBC.” (Age online) The sources used demonstrate an example of the authoritarian theory of news where authority rests in the state. The story has immediate credibility due to the Government source revealing the news to one of the world’s most respected media, the BBC. The story also shows the complexity within international news. The average international news item has been through as least four separate newsrooms. In this case, the Government tells the BBC, the story is picked up by Reuters who then forward a copy to the Age for publication in Australia. News Corp immediately found a local angle with the story of a Sydney man who fled Saddam’s regime ( Proximity acknowledges that the impact of an event is subject to how close the audience is to the event. This angle was followed up by all the TV evening news services who showed pictures of joyous Iraqis celebrating in the streets of the Sydney western suburb Auburn.

The language used by TV media on the night of Saddam’s death bears exploration. Each television network carries its own bias inherent in the choice of language used. Language is not a mirror of reality but a “shaper of reality” for those who use it. Channel Nine led with the headline “Death of a Tyrant” and they framed the narrative as the just death of a hated despot. Saddam was the “butcher of Baghdad” who “met the same fate as his victims”. For Iraqi history it was a “dark chapter” that had now closed. These examples show the media not only defining what significant events are taking place but also offers powerful interpretations of how to understand these events. Channel Nine left the viewer in no doubt that Saddam’s execution was just and proper.

Both SBS and ABC followed the Channel Nine lead in terms of proximity and also of government collaboration. All three had the cheering Auburn footage as well as a sound byte from John Howard. But SBS and the ABC also presented more complex reactions to Saddam’s death. They both interviewed Professor Clive Williams an intelligence analyst at the Australian National University. Williams suggested that the real reason for his early execution was to “silence Saddam before he could talk about his links to the US and in particular to chemical suppliers” in the unfinished Kurdish massacre trial (Williams on SBS News World Australia 30 December 2006). This is critical and dialectic journalism that provokes debate about society’s prevailing political order.

SBS demonstrated an example of the social responsibility theory of the media on the day after the execution. They had procured unauthorised mobile phone footage of the execution however the newscaster warned viewers that they, like “other major broadcast media” would not be showing the exact moment when Saddam died. In the libertarian tradition of John Stuart Mill, this could be construed as censorship or “the peculiar evil of silencing an opinion”. However the wording of SBS decision to edit the footage was framed in terms of their status as a major broadcast media. In this example absolute liberty to show shocking footage is moderated by social responsibility.

Due to cultural factors, phase 2 ended after just two days. Although Gerald Ford and James Brown both died a week before Saddam, reactions to their death continued due to a long period before interment. Saddam, however, was buried according to Muslim tradition within a day of his death. While immediate international reaction was still coming in on the Sunday, Saddam’s early burial left the newsmakers quickly moving on the next phase of the story. Phase 3 moved the story on to higher levels of inquiry where journalists challenge initially “authoritative” accounts of events.

A slightly more sympathetic portrait of Saddam was emerging. The unauthorised video of the execution had shown him defiant as his executors hurled insults at him. On Monday night, the ABC 7.30 report had an in-depth interview with John F Burns, a multi-Pulitzer Prize winning journalist of the New York Times. Burns notes that Saddam acted honourably in death unlike the “bullying thugs” that executed him (Burns on ABC 7.30 Report, 1 January 2007). By the end of the week, the execution video became the story as criticism increased around the world and Iraq conducted an enquiry into how it was filmed (Sydney Morning Herald 2007, online).

Although this study is by no means a comprehensive account of media coverage of the story of over the week (only one radio program featured in the log), the coverage shown demonstrates that journalism is inextricable from international politics interacting with society via collaboration, surveillance, facilitation and criticism. Future media log studies should include newer news media. Many weblogs, video logs and podcasts covered the Saddam execution. These newer technologies demonstrate a media convergence as ‘the crossing of paths that results in the transformation of each entity as well as the creation of new ones’.

Appendix A:
Chronological index of news consumption 28/12/2006 to 03/01/2007
Number Date Time Source Format Headline
1 28/12/06 am Australian Newspaper Saddam to die within a month
2 28/12/06 am Australian Newspaper Editorial: Saddam Hussein’s fate
3 28/12/06 am Courier-Mail Newspaper Saddam to die ‘any day now’
4 28/12/06 am Sydney Morning Herald Internet Saddam’s goodbye letter
5 28/12/06 am Al Jazeera Internet Saddam hanging date unclear
6 28/12/06 am BBC Internet Saddam lawyer in last ditch plea
7 28/12/06 0900 Sky News Australia TV No coverage
8 28/12/06 1800 C9 Brisbane TV No coverage
9 28/12/06 1830 SBS World News TV European human rights concerns
10 28/12/06 1900 ABC Brisbane TV No coverage
11 29/12/06 0800 ABC RN news Radio No coverage
12 29/12/06 1000 Sky News Aus TV No coverage
13 29/12/06 am Australian Newspaper Opinion: Hanging Saddam will make it worse
14 29/12/06 am Courier-Mail Newspaper No coverage
15 29/12/06 pm Sydney Morning Herald Internet Saddam farewells family
16 29/12/06 pm IHT Internet Saddam’s execution date uncertain
17 29/12/06 1800 Sky News Aus TV Breaking news: Saddam handed over to Iraqi custody
18 30/12/06 am Australian Newspaper Saddam could die within days
19 30/12/06 am Courier-Mail Newspaper Opinion: Don’t hang Saddam
20 30/12/06 am Courier-Mail Newspaper Saddam execution date doubt
21 30/12/06 pm Age Internet Saddam executed, officials say
22 30/12/06 pm Nine MSN Internet Saddam execution too late for expat
23 30/12/06 pm NPR Internet Iraq executes Saddam; challenges remain
24 30/12/06 1800 C9 Brisbane TV Tyrant executed
25 30/12/06 1830 SBS TV Saddam dead, Iraq high alert
26 30/12/06 1900 ABC Brisbane TV Saddam dead
27 31/12/06 am Sunday Mail Newspaper No Remorse
28 31/12/06 am Sunday Mail Newspaper Revenge Fears after hanging
29 31/12/06 am Al Jazeera Internet Saddam buried in Awja
30 31/12/06 am Al Jazeera Internet Iran welcomes Saddam execution
31 31/12/06 am CNN Internet Hussein buried in same cemetary as sons
32 31/12/06 am Sydney Morning Herald Internet Saddam laid to rest
33 31/12/06 am Age Internet Hanging one man won’t fix the mess
34 31/12/06 am Age Internet World divided over Saddam’s death

35 31/12/06 am Herald Sun Internet Saddam dies a broken man
36 31/12/06 1800 C9 Brisbane TV Iraqis celebrate Saddam’s death
37 31/12/06 1830 SBS TV Final taunts
38 31/12/06 1900 ABC Brisbane TV After Saddam
39 01/01/07 am Courier-Mail Newspaper No fanfare as tyrant buried with sons
40 01/01/07 am Courier-Mail Newspaper Buried at dawn but few mourn Saddam
41 01/01/07 am Australian Newspaper Saddam supporters vow revenge on US, Shiites
42 01/01/07 am Australian Newspaper I destroyed Iraq’s enemies: Saddam defiant until the end
43 01/01/07 am Australian Internet Nurse tells: Poetic Saddam
‘didn’t complain much’
44 01/01/07 am Australian Internet Millions watch images of death
45 01/01/07 am Australian Internet Countries divided on execution
46 01/01/07 am Sydney Morning Herald Internet Insults on the gallows for Saddam
47 01/01/07 1800 C9 Brisbane TV US death toll in Iraq above 3,000
48 01/01/07 1830 SBS TV Saddam reaction
49 01/01/07 1900 ABC Brisbane TV Insults at execution
50 01/01/07 1930 ABC 7:30 Report TV Interview with John F Burns
51 02/01/07 am Australian Newspaper Tyrant wrote poetry and fed birds in his final days
52 02/01/07 am Australian Newspaper My father a martyr, says dictator’s daughter
53 02/01/07 am Australian Newspaper Saddam taunted on the gallows
54 02/01/07 am Australian Newspaper Opinion: moral defeat at the end of a rope
55 02/01/07 am Courier-Mail Newspaper 3000th US soldier killed on Iraq soil
56 02/01/07 am Courier-Mail Newspaper Editorial: Another Iraqi death sparks more killing
57 02/01/07 am Courier-Mail Newspaper Opinion: No capital in hanging
58 02/01/07 am Sydney Morning Herald Internet Saddam’s last humiliating moments fire Sunnis
59 02/01/07 1730 Sky News Aus TV No coverage
60 02/01/07 1800 C9 Brisbane TV No coverage
61 02/01/07 1830 SBS TV Sunni anger
62 03/01/07 am Sydney Morning Herald Internet Iraqi inquiry into Saddam hanging video
63 03/01/07 am Age Internet Saddam’s race to gallows anger US officials
64 03/01/07 am Age Internet Saddam’s party faces upheaval
65 03/01/07 am Australian Newspaper Iraqi inquiry into Saddam gallows taunt
66 03/01/07 am Courier-Mail Newspaper Anger festers on Iraq streets
67 03/01/07 1800 C9 Brisbane TV No coverage
68 03/01/07 1830 SBS TV Saddam video
69 03/01/07 1900 ABC Brisbane TV Execution anger

Appendix B
Key points in Saddam story development 28/12/06 to 03/01/07
Phase 1: When will he die?
Thursday 28/12/06:
His court appeal is turned down, goodbye letter released to media, execution “soon”,
Friday 29/12/06:
lawyer pleads for clemency, Saddam says farewell to family, could die “within days”
Phase 2: Saddam is dead.
Saturday 30/12/06:
execution, obituary, immediate reactions.
Sunday 31/12/06:
burial, mixed world reaction
Phase 3: The consequences
Monday 01/01/07:
supporters vow revenge, unofficial video footage shows insults
Tuesday 02/01/07:
criticism of executioner taunts and insults on unofficial video
Wednesday 03/01/07:
growing anger around the world about video