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It grew legs, then wings | Apr 29, 2004 12:32

Cash for comment version 2.0 is here. After plugging away at the story for months, teasing extra details out about the relationships between talkback jock Alan Jones, Macquarie Radio and Telstra, ABC's MediaWatch has finally broken through.

Alan Jones is the ultimate big-noter. John Laws, who spilled a pile of dirt on Jones yesterday, on ABC TV last night agreed disarmingly there was an element of sour grapes in what he had done. But he insisted his differences with Jones were religious:

"I just refuse to treat him like God," he said.

The story is that Jones was at a party in 2000. He allegedly claimed he had waltzed into Kirribilli House, John Howard's gaff, and insisted Howard reappoint David Flint as head of the "light-handed" broadcasting regulatory body the ABA (Australian Broadcasting Authority). Now Jones and Howard deny this, in a sort of "I have no recollection" kind of way.

Interestingly Jones has never, as far as I can see, denied he said what Laws says he said at the party. Given the man's enormous ego it seems likely he may have said what Laws and others present suggest, even if he never spoke to Howard.

What isn't in doubt is that Jones has power and neither party wants to upset him. Given the demographics of his audience, however, you'd have to say his days as a powerbroker are numbered.

Equally clear is that Flint is an admirer of Jones. He'll take on Laws, but not Jones.

Sound corrupt? Well it is, in a very Australian old school tie, you-scratch-mine-and-I'll-scratch-yours kind of way. There's a lot of that here mainly caused by the fact Australian government is so BIG. Over here, unlike in NZ, even the regulators have regulators and there are at least three layers of government dealing with any given issue - not to mention the myriad quangos.

Laws was flushed out by a string of leaks, presumably out of the ABA itself. These included the media plan behind the Telstra/Macquarie deal and the contract itself. Damning stuff.

Now there are plenty around who hate Marr and MediaWatch - including a lot of journalists. He is unforgiving about slackness, plagiarism and a host of other modern media failures. But this is his story and he has forced all the other media outlets to fall in behind and start digging after most assumed the issue was dead.

The scrum is on.

Australian radio is in a sorry state. Jones is benefiting albeit indirectly from the Telstra deal and the deal was based on leveraging his opinion, not just the company positioning itself as sponsor of his show. Nobody comes out of this looking good - except David Marr whose persistence and clear enunciation of the issues can only be admired.

Margo Kingston gives her views here.

Now, back to my stinky socks. The Case of the Slippered Darner just got even more mysterious. My old Mum emphatically denies she secretly darned my socks …


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The Mystery of the Slippered Darner | Apr 21, 2004 15:26

A few weeks after I came back from my last trip home I was scrabbling through the detritus on my bedroom floor looking for a clean, or at least cleanish, pair of socks. I wasn't having much luck. The sniff test created a pile of disgusting heaving rejects and I was getting anxious.

If you'll pardon me getting philosophical, socks, I think, don't need to be as clean as other items of clothing. The reason is simple: you wear them very far from your nose. So if they are a bit whiffy, that's okay. But all the socks in my room were more than a bit whiffy. Let me tell you, they were foul.

Desperation sent me to my drawer, where all the socks I never wear are kept. All my good socks end up stinking on the floor and all my horrible, brightly coloured or worn out socks go in the drawer. Even though I never wear them, I still can't throw them out. And there, on top, was my oldest pair of greys, at least a decade old and full of holes. Could I tease one more use out of them?

With great care, lest they disintegrate altogether like some ancient fabric from a Dead Sea cave, I slowly pulled them on.

But wait; there were no holes at all. My old greys were, if not like new, at least very acceptable.

It was early in the morning and my mind wasn't clear. I found myself doubting my sanity. I took the old greys off again and inspected them closely in the dim morning light: they'd been comprehensively and professionally darned.

In my confusion I wondered if the Girlie, the little darling, had been furtively taking home economics classes at night and sneaking into my room to apply her new needlecraft skills. But surely that would require a total change in personality and a considerable boost in her energy levels?

I hadn't been spending much time at home recently, but that couldn't be the answer. No. It was a crazy idea - the thoughts of a madman.

I sat down to ponder the possibilities and slowly, through the gloom and the panic, managed to piece it all together:

1. My old greys had been hastily stowed in my bag before I went home to NZ;
2. I'd visited my Mum and Dad in Whangarei;
3. I'd unpacked them into my drawer when I got home.

Watson, there could be only one answer: my Mum is the dread Slippered Sock Darner of Old Whangarei Town. Somewhere, somehow, while I was out doing the many attractions of Whangarei or, more likely, having a run in prep for my triathlon (have I mentioned my triathlon, dear reader?), the dread Slippered Sock Darner sneaked into my bag and did mother-stuff to my socks.

The Girlie is acquitted once more of doing anything helpful, useful or caring. Imagine her teenage relief!

In contrast, my Mum is the gift that keeps on giving. Love you Mum! Love your work!

Anyway, as I said I haven't seen much of the Girlie of late. I receive, on average, a couple of calls a night asking me, at two in the morning, to pick up laundry powder and vanilla yoghurt or somesuch on the way home.

"Sure. No problem."

Never happens. The Girlie is on holiday and her biological clock has gone all weird, but we all have our crosses to bear.

Meanwhile, for a laugh and great use of Microsoft clip art, check out the Presidential Daily Briefing in Powerpoint.


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Giving democracy a bad name | Apr 12, 2004 11:17

As refugees from Saddam Hussein's terror took to the streets of Sydney yesterday - to protest the US occupation of Iraq - quiet, if not peace, was descending on their homeland.

Just as the US has alienated most of its international support, it is in the process of alienating its Iraqi support as well. I have long felt that for freedom to be appreciated it has to be earned. It's pure Milton Freidman - if you don't pay for it, you don't value it. Right? The problem the US faces is the Iraqi people haven't earned their freedom. The US has delivered them from Saddam, but the Iraqis didn't have to fight for it - they have yet to create their own liberation story.

Increasingly, to the man in the street, the fight for freedom in Iraq is becoming a fight to oust the US occupier.

While officials and rightists continue to characterise the Iraqi fighters as extremists, even terrorists, the evidence is mounting that they have significant and growing public support. Even moderate members of the Iraqi Governing Council are now criticizing the US approach to democracy in Iraq.

So what is that approach? Here's (registration needed) one Pentagon official's version from the New York Times:

Our challenge is to win their hearts and minds, to convince them that a better Iraq is in their future. But the challenge in that is to convince them while they're shooting at us and we're shooting back.

And here's how it works on the street from Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Paul McGeough:

When the GI challenged him, Sadeer tried to explain in his limited English that he entered the hotel routinely. But he was barked at, shoved away and then belted on the foot with a rifle. He used to slow in traffic to greet the US troops. Now he has turned: "Americans bad for Iraq - too many problems."

Leaving the hotel on foot, we had to go through the same streets to get to his car. I tried to explain our movements to the officer in charge of a US tank unit, but we were greeted with a stream of invective.

As I thanked the officer for his civility and moved on, one of his men fell in beside me, mumbling. Asked to repeat himself, he exploded: "Don't you f---in' eyeball me."

Nodding to his officer and raising his weapon, he shrieked: "He has rank to lose. I don't. I'll take you out quick as a flash, motherf---er!"

Sadeer had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Americans.

If you are wondering where the strategy is in all this you are not alone. Now that plan A (Iraq as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East) is well off track, George Bush simply doesn't have a plan B. From here on everything that happens in Iraq will be based on limiting political damage at home in the run-up to the election.

A couple of days ago I was asked if I thought the insurgents could win. My immediate reaction was "no". Of course not. But I've had a rethink and it comes down to what "win" means. Just as the US rewrites its goals so does the Iraqi resistance. If their aim is to expose the occupation as a military imposition, the raw use of force against militants and civilians alike, then they can certainly succeed. If their aim is to force the US to act as an oppressor rather than a liberator, they can and are succeeding there too.

And what's the likely outcome? Try this:

The grimmest lesson of Fallujah? Will any democratic government we could conceivably leave behind in Iraq be strong enough to stop Sunni towns like Fallujah - filled with well-armed, well-trained America-hating young men - from becoming ongoing hotbeds of terrorist plotting? The lesson of recent events in Iraq would seem to be a pessimistic one in this regard. (You'd need a strong, non-American military force able to thoroughly police Fallujah and Tikrit. But the Iraqi national forces haven't exactly proven to be a mighty hammer. And the Sunnis, in a loose federal system, seem unlikely to want to crack down on their own.) ... That's true even if the Marines are able to completely clean out the current Fallujah "vipers' nest" - something that also looks increasingly unlikely, given the political pressure for a cease-fire. ... It means that the Iraq War - even if we basically succeed in nation-building - could result in the creation of a new series of towns that - like the towns on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border - are a terrorist Petri dish.

The incompetence of the current administration is also increasingly being laid bare. A lot of words have been spent talking about who is toughest on terror - the Democrats or the Republicans. Both will have to look and be tough on the issue to win the next election. But it seems a bigger issue could be who is the most competent. Without management competency any amount of toughness will mean nothing. That's the point Mark Steyn missed when he wrote this in The Spectator recently:

If you want to argue that the Clinton team had a better policy on gay marriage or the environment, that's one thing. But when you suggest they were stronger on terrorism, and you put Gore, Albright, Cohen and Berger on one side of the screen and Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice on the other, it's no contest.

Personally I'd put Albright up against any of Bush's men for toughness. I had the honour to see her in action opposite Vlad Putin in a press conference a few year's back. She was, shall we say, Churchillian. Clinton was a known workaholic. Despite finding time for cigar antics, he was absolutely on top of the key issues of his time. You can't say that for Bush.

As to Berger v Rice, well:

As it turned out, the FBI did very little while Rice went off to concentrate on the big issues of missile defence and China. Meanwhile, reports coming in from FBI field offices warning that suspicious Middle Eastern men were attending flight schools around the country escaped the notice of the FBI director and his counter-terrorism team.

By contrast, the commission has heard, when a lower "spike" of terrorist threats was picked up by Bill Clinton's White House, the national security adviser, Sandy Berger, personally called in the Attorney-General and the heads of the FBI, CIA and every relevant agency. A plot to bomb Los Angeles airport was thwarted, albeit with a good deal of luck.

However, Rice saw dealing with the domestic agencies as a job to be delegated.

Slate's Fred Kaplan draws this conclusion:

One clear inference can be drawn from Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission this morning: She has been a bad national security adviser-passive, sluggish, and either unable or unwilling to tie the loose strands of the bureaucracy into a sensible vision or policy. In short, she has not done what national security advisers are supposed to do.

It looks as if it's time for Rumsfeld to be sidelined as well. As the months have worn on the tough guy has begun to look surprisingly lost. He's gone from being the driver of Iraq strategy to being almost totally reactive.

Retired General Barry McCaffrey is being extraordinarily polite in suggesting:

We should also transfer authority for security policy in Iraq from Rumsfeld to Secretary of State Colin Powell because the most important tasks are now diplomatic.

Hmmm, Powell actually knows a thing or two about military matters as well, which would be refreshing.

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Who said Quagmire? | Apr 07, 2004 15:35

It's time to officially announce my retirement from all corporate triathlons, fun runs, half marathons, and related forms of mass hysteria. I have done this before but always weakened as a new event approached. Not this time. I'm outta here.

Having at the weekend knocked a magnificent six minutes off my time of two years ago, completing the St George Bank/BRW Triathlon in 46 minutes and six seconds, it's time to hang up my trainers.

Also my knees can't take it any more.

The triathlon is a feature of business in Sydney, competed off Lady Macquarie's Point opposite the Opera House with an alleged 400 metre swim, 8 kilometre cycle and 4 kilometre run. I say alleged because my times were just too good for those measurements to be accurate. But there is something to say for being up and about at 5.30am, in the harbour by 7.30 and on the piss by 9.

From now on I'll have to forgo the first two. Mind you, there is a half marathon over the bridge on my birthday…

That's tempting, but just about the only event that would bring me out of retirement now would be the Kellogg Brown & Root Baghdad Fun Run or the Bechtel Fallujah "Around the Mosques" Triathlon. Now those would be a real challenge. It looks, however, as if I'll be waiting some time.

Readers of New Zealand's leading right wing weblog may recall Gordon King's euphoric post-war prediction of a fun run and maybe even a half marathon in Iraq by the end of 2003.

Never happened. We, the athletes of the left, are still waiting.

There may have only been a minimal, even imaginary, connection between Iraq and terrorism before last year's US invasion, but there sure as hell is a connection now. In fact, "terrorism" (loosely defined as anything in opposition to US occupation), rather than democracy, seems to be breaking out all over.

Apart from the foreign insurgents, we now have all sorts of local groups springing up to do their bit for the cause. Not only that but the radical Sunnis and Shiites, despite still hating each other's guts, appear to be moving closer together in opposition to the US invasion. Who ever would have thought?

In The New York Times today:

"Fierce Fighting Spreads to 6 Iraqi Cities"

"BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 6 - American forces in Iraq came under fierce attack on Tuesday, with as many as 12 marines killed in Ramadi, near Baghdad, and with Shiite militiamen loyal to a rebel cleric stepping up a three-day-old assault in the southern city of Najaf, American officials said...

It was one of the most violent days in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, with half a dozen cities ignited. One of the biggest questions at day's end was the role of most of the majority Shiites previously thought to be relatively sympathetic to American goals."

The pictures tell a sad story.


"At Word of U.S. Troops, a Baghdad Militia Erupts"

"BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 6 - The word went out on Tuesday at noon, with the blast of the call to prayer: American soldiers had raided an office of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, and torn up a poster of his father, one of Iraq's most revered martyrs.

The Khadamiya bazaar exploded in a frenzy. Shopkeepers reached beneath stacks of sandals for Kalashnikov rifles. Boys wrapped their faces in black cloth. Men raced through the streets, kicking over crates and setting up barriers. Some handed out grenades. Within minutes this entire Shiite neighborhood in central Baghdad had mobilized for war."

Of course, that's probably all left wing, surrender-monkey spin, right?

As the evidence mounts that George and Condoleezza, as well as Bill Clinton dropped the ball on security, here's an interesting analysis of the collective "flip flops" from Slate's William Saletan:

"What do all these flip-floppers have in common? Not subject matter: DiIulio worked on social policy, O'Neill on economics, Clarke on national security. Not party: Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt are Democrats; O'Neill is a Republican; Clarke worked for President Reagan and both Bushes as well as for President Clinton. The only thing they have in common is that they all cooperated with this administration before deciding they'd been conned. Flip-flopping, it turns out, is the final stage of trusting George W. Bush."


Oh, and if you haven't seen the Bush Economist cover, check it out now! (Click past issues below the current cover).

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