Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Safire - Who will stay, who will go?

It was a cheekly little piece by American political warhorse William Safire (a former speechwriter to Tricky Dicky Nixon, no less) in the op-ed page of Tuesday's Age, and no doubt in the NYT sometime recently.

Check out this bit of crystal-ball gazing...

Dare to think the unthinkable: what would the Western alliance look like if Bush and Blair receive fresh mandates, and Chirac and Schroeder give way to leaders who see the modern collective defence in sponsorship of freedom outside their area?

Truth be known, this possbility is not so unrealistic. Recent Canadian elections saw Paul Martin's Liberal Party reduced to minority government with a big swing to the conservatives, in spite of Martin's opposition to involvement in Iraq, which is supposed to be the make or break issue in polls around the world. Blair is facing a demoralised opposition, who supported involvement in Iraq and so are left with no where to go in opposing Blair.

So will Aznar be the exception or the rule?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Iraq is (re)born

The world welcomes the Independent Democratic People's Confederate Republic of the United States of Iraq.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Campaign in crisis

He tried, and tried, and tried, but alas Republican wannabe Illinois Senator Jack Ryan couldn't save his campaign. After an allegation like this...

CHICAGO — The former wife of Republican Senate candidate Jack Ryan claimed in divorce documents released Monday that he pressured her to perform sex acts in clubs while others watched. was always going to be difficult. Still, the Ryan campaign weren't going to go down without a fight.

First, on Tuesday, this...

Calls for Ryan to leave the race came almost immediately after the revelations, but Ryan rejected them.

"I think this is a new low for politics," Ryan said Tuesday on Chicago's WLS-AM. "It seems to me it's just a new standard, and I don't think it's healthy for our democracy."

"There's no breaking of any laws," he said in an interview on WBEZ-FM. "There's no breaking of any marriage laws. There's no breaking of the Ten Commandments anywhere."

Then on Thursday, this...

Senate candidate Jack Ryan, facing embarrassing sex allegations in his divorce records, canceled his fund-raising trip to Washington on Thursday amid signs of declining support from Republican leaders.

Spokeswoman Kelli Phiel denied rumors that he is considering withdrawing from the race, saying "Jack Ryan is in the race to stay."

But on Friday, in an official statement, it had come to this:

"The debate between competing visions and philosophies is a vital one the voters of Illinois absolutely deserve. Elections, after all, are about choices. But it's clear to me that a vigorous debate on the issues most likely could not take place if I remain in the race.

"What would take place, rather, is a brutal, scorched-earth campaign — the kind of campaign that has turned off so many voters, the kind of politics I refuse to play.

"Accordingly, I am today withdrawing from the race."

An interesting lesson in campaign crisis management, but one that was ultimately unsuccessful. It seems that the complete lack of contrition or regret didn't help Ryan, nor did the sharp contrast between family-values rhetoric and sharing the love in practice. Still, every cloud has a silver lining. Anyone wanna be a Senator for Illinois?

Friday, June 25, 2004

Latham's lines to the True Believers on PBS

Whilst the big guys get to make the tough decisions, it's the little guys who have to do the explaining. This week, Mark Latham and the caucus movers and shakers made an almighty compromise on increasing costs to consumers of listed drugs as part of the PBS scheme, and whilst he might have been a tad red faced answering to the media, one of the Lathamettes needed to draft a credible explanation to the punters. A true believer emailed the Dear Leader with some concerns about the ALP selling out on battlers, and received a template response.

At least they're honest about it:

Labor wants to deliver on the most important priorities for all Australians – such as health, education and families. To do this, Labor has to make tough decisions about spending priorities.

This is one of these decisions. It provides us with $1.1 billion additional dollars to spend.

But then again, some of it is just plain silly:

Labor maintains that a substantial proportion, if not all, of the $1.1 billion of savings can be achieved through:

• administrative reforms to the PBS; and

• making proper allowance for the savings likely to be achieved as a result of drugs moving off patent and the subsequent availability of cheaper generics.

Yep. Sure. No doubt about it. Presumably there was no room for the third bit "Mr Latham believes there is $700 million down the back of the couch in doctors' waiting rooms."

Launch of "Not Happy John" in Melbourne

'Twas an interesting night out on Thursday at Readings on Lygon Street for the launch of Margo Kingston's new book, Not Happy John. The event was scheduled to start at 6:30, got under way at about 6:32, and the Israel-bashing had commenced in earnest by 6:44. It was courtesy of Antony Lowenstein, one of Kingston's contributers, who informed us of how brave he was to be challenging Israel (a room full of true believing lefties and an attack on Israel... real brave, Antony, real brave) and Colin Rubenstein's "hegemony" over Jewish opinion in this country. Of course, we heard about Israel - the apartheid state (y'know, the one which upholds freedom of religion) and the evil Jewish plot to crush dissent vis the Hanan Ashrawi affair. Not sure if Protocols of the Elders is a big seller at Readings, but you never know...

Anyhow, Margo was the feature act whom the crowd had come to see. Those who want to read the book will read the book, but the snippets shared on the night were interesting.

- Margo claims to have approached Robert Menzies' daughter and asked her to launch the book. Ms Menzies was supportive of Kingston's defence of an independant public service as envisaged by her father, and was, from Kingston's report, not happy (John) with the way Howard had politicised it. In the end, for obvious reasons, Menzies didn't end up launching it.

- Penguin, the publishers, initially wanted to present Kingston as the "Michael Moore of Australia" and build a profile for her in that way. Kingston rejected the offer, arguing that "she didn't have a sense of humour." After hearing and reading some of her work, the self-deprecation misses the mark.

- Federal Police have apparently still failed to interview H-S columnist Andrew Bolt over the source of the leak of the Andrew Wilkie document. While most eyes turn to Downer's office, only Bolt can confirm or deny. Much as it hurts to be defending Bolt, the right of a journalist to protect their sources is imperative, and an AFP interview is not likely to reveal much. Still, given Bolt's defence of Abu Ghraib, a rather sinister thought about the interigation comes to mind. Bolt could probably provide his own hood.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Standing firm against August 7

It seems that my well-measured rejection of the "Pssst, Howard's gonna call an election for August 7, pass it on" rumour has stirred up some interest. Crikey's Gr... I mean Hillary Bray has posted a rather fiesty response and insists that August 7 is indeed going to be election day (some might describe it as Howard's End).

Ariontheweb, however, stands by the five reasons against an Aug 7 poll. Briefly a response to Hillary's comments, and then a couple of extra reasons against that poll date, thrown in for good measure.

On the issue of Howard challenging Latham's character, Hillary misses the point by saying that Latham won't blink. Latham can stand firm as much as he likes, people will have their doubts about him when some of his past quotes and deeds are used against him. This stuff will take time, though, to become etched in voters minds.

Hillary argues that there is nothing stopping a massive gap being created over time between Senate elections and the taking up of office. Hillary should check out Section 13 of the Federal Constitution, a fine bit of bedtime reading, recommended to insomniacs.

S.13 reads, in reference to Senate elections:
The election to fill vacant places shall be made within one year before the places are to become vacant.

Therefore, if Howard goes for August this year, and Latham/Costello want to go early in 2007, it would be House of Reps only and a stand-alone half-Senate election would be needed between 1/7/07 and 30/6/08. Everyone got their diary out?

And now a few more reasons for Howard to sta-a-a-a-y, just a little bit longer....

6. The latest Newspoll shows the ALP in the lead on 2 party preferred, 52-48, and the crucial part is that the Liberal/National vote is trending upward. (Take out the complete abberation that was the previous Newspoll, 28-30 May). It is not a scenario where Howard needs to get in quickly before his vote collapses - the vote is heading in the right direction, it just needs a couple of months to get there.

7. Iraq will take a while after sovereignty before things start looking up. Five weeks after it, things are still likely to be rather shakey. Three months, however, and the house will be slowly getting itself in order.

8. Tobacco and alcohol excise increases are the first of February and first of August each year. An extra couple of cents on beer and smokes - it's enough to make a man quit... or vote for Latham at least.

So there you have it - it aint gonna be August. Try again in October.

Flags and Drugs

Full marks to John Howard and Brendon Nelson for keeping a straight face during their Canberra presser announcing the new deal for school funding, requiring (among other things) the Australian flag to be waving in the wind, and kids to play British Bulldogs for two hours a week. The announcement was designed to distract from the struggling state of many schools, and so far it seems to have worked. This one is a Daily Double for Howard, with the wedge issue of expressions of patriotism causing some problems for the ALP, as well as a neat distraction from far more urgent issues.

Still, the issue will probably be lost in the response to the more significant story, the ALP backing down on opposing PBS changes. Surely there would have been a better time for a 'bad news dump' like this one. The best time was a week or two ago, just before the Garrett announcement. Would have been a perfect way to kill the story and not look like nongs. As it is, Labor's Shadow Minister for Bad News, Shit Jobs, and Looking a Bit Like John Howard, Bob McMullan had to run with the message. God forbit Shadow Health Minister Julia Gillard should get her hands dirty with this one.

Monday, June 21, 2004

5 Reasons why we won't have a 7 August election

Ariontheweb loves swimming against the tide, and it's time to do it again. The commentariat have decided that August 7 is the poll date (The Arab Times have even employed a psychic to write headlines about it), and that we should gear up for an announcement in the first couple of days of July. Here's why they're wrong:

1. Howard's best chance is to give himself as much time as possible to expose and reinforce the flaws in Latham's character. The longer he waits, the more likely there will be Latham gaffes and the more chance there is for dirt to be flung and stick. Howard loves a good mudwrestle.

2. The US election is not until the first week of November, and any tricks that Bush has up his sleeve will came out late ("We're all going on Osama holiday..."). If Howard goes early, he will miss out on the massive boost that this will provide.

3. Howard has said in the past he thinks three years between elections is short enough as it is, and that governments should sit for a full term. And Howard would hate to be a hypocrite.

4. The Senate cycle will become unhealthily out of sync. Regardless of the date, the Senators elected at the next election will not take office until 1 July, 2005. With an early election, there would be an 11 month gap between election and taking office. This means that there will almost certainly be a Senate-only election in the next couple of years.

5. August 7 is Bledisloe Cup night. Nuff said.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

What were they thinking??

What a bizarre little third of a page ad in The Age on Tuesday morning (well, okay, I slept in and it was early afternoon, but you get my drift). Australia's nuttiest right-wingers, the Citizens Electoral Council (CEC) had roped in several dozen reputable people to co-sign a protest to the Federal government's Anti-Terrorism Bill 2004, arguing the civil liberties line. There is some merit to the argument made, since the Anti-Terrorism Bill is essentially an ambit claim by the government that is awaiting some watering down in the Senate. But why-oh-why would decent people put their names to a CEC document?? According to one of them, General Peter Gration in The Age on Wednesday:

General Gration said he was concerned on hearing allegations against the CEC. "It is all very disturbing to me," he said.

In other words, Do'h.

A visit to the CEC website, can be quite instructive. Recent media releases include:

New Release To Hit Cheney Hard - The following statement was written by U.S. Democratic Party Presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, on the occasion of the release of the third version of his "Children of Satan" pamphlets. LaRouche has used these pamphlets to spearhead the fight in the U.S. against the Dick Cheney-led neo-conservatives who have hijacked the American Presidency, by exposing their Straussian agenda of deliberate lies (Children of Satan I) and their "Beast-Man" pedigree, which foreshadowed the current torture scandal out of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Children of Satan II).

Why piss off Satanists? They're likely to swing toward LlaR/CEC, surely.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Melbourne Gangland Tours - a good idea gets Moranned

Disappointing to read that the mysterious "Mick from Ringwood" has shelved his MGT idea. The suggestion that it is in bad taste is probably correct, but since when has bad taste dictated what should happen? The fact that busloads of British backpackers get sent all the way to Nunawading to visit Ramsey Street to snap photos of famous fenceposts is a sad reflection on what Melbourne has to offer its visitors, and a Gangland Tour would be perfect to fill the void.

Forget the MCG or Birrung Marr, this is what I'd wanna see if I came here from outer space:

He said he had planned to charge $55 per person for the bus tour which would have included a visit to The Brunswick Club where crime patriarch Lewis Moran was gunned down.

The tour also would have included Cross Keys Reserve in Essendon where Moran's son Jason and his minder Pasquale Barbaro were killed, and La Porcella restaurant in Carlton where alleged underworld assassin Andrew "Benji" Veniamin met his violent end.

If only Lewis or Benji or Alfonse or Graham were able to lead it...

Check out the full AAP story.

Henderson gets stuck into Garrett (and throws in a few pissy dancing metaphors)

Gerard Henderson is the first of the conservatives to get the boots stuck into Garrett. Not the pointy-toed barn dance scrotum-scratchers, mind you, more a pair of tennis shoes with smooth but firm stitching, just to give him a feel of what's to come. In his syndicated column in both The SMH and The Age, Henderson has critiqued Garrett's various public utterances both before and after his decision to join the ALP:

Before he joined Labor, Garrett's world view consisted of an uncompromising left-wing agenda on foreign and economic policy, and a certain moral conservatism on some social issues (ie, abortion, in-vitro fertilisation) along with an overarching commitment to the environment. Now all attitudes will have to be accommodated to ALP policy.

It has taken the media a while to treat Garrett as the politician that he is rather than the rock star that he was. There is no place for fawning interviews or a turn-the-other-way attitude when it comes to exposing Garrett's hypocracies. No doubt we can expect plenty more from conservative columnists and politicians alike.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Scorched Happiness - Adam Nash - Australian Culture Now 2004

Approaching Scorched Happiness on Saturday night, I really desperately wanted to like it. After all there's nothing worse then a good night with good company, but a film that destroys the vibe. Unfortunately, Scorched Happiness spoiled the fun.

Well, at least I think it did. To be honest, I really can't be sure what I saw. There's a segment that occassionally appears on Letterman where Dave and Paul pull up the curtain to see a performer of some sort strut their stuff for 30 seconds, and then discuss the proposition "Is this anything?". If Dave and Paul had have been in the audience on Saturday night, as well as no doubt being the centre of attention, they would have concluded that it failed the 'anything' test.

Artist Adam Nash describes the project thus:

Scorched Happiness is a live performance in 3D multi-user cyberspace based on Julia Kristeva’s text Toccata and Fugue for the Foreigner – a visceral journey into the nature of racism. Defying conventional notions of ‘avatars’ as human representations, the performers, logged in via the web, become huge, layered, temporally chimeric audiovisual events filling up the space, then receding in reaction to each other’s manifestations.


In practice, this amounts to Nash on stage logged on to the internet, interacting with two other performers at a separate physical location but in the same space on-line. The interaction takes places in a 3D cyberworld, and the three players take the form of shapes or objects (avatars, apparently), constantly altering their shape, form and angle as they glide across the giant projector screen. As they move, the shape make strange electronic noises, possibly flatulence. It's a simple as that. No twist, no incisive social commentry, no grand realisation at the end. Just a sophisticated electronic form of the oil-in-a-glass-case executive desk toy.

See if you can make more sense of it through this site here. Good luck

Friday, June 11, 2004

Padded up to play the piccolo

Check out this quote from Howard, so laden with mixed metaphors, cricketing and musical analogies one wonders whether Howard or his Press Sec Tony O'Leary had ODed on Hawaiian pizza on their US adventure:

"I think one of Mr Latham's responsibilities is to walk up to the crease and start explaining why he has this attitude and not think he can slide around it and deal with it by staccato criticism of the Government," Mr Howard said.

Check out the full article from Aunty if you're bored.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The poor are smoking? The real question is who set them on fire

An interesting little sociological discussion has broken out in the UK over poor people and smoking. According to a piece in The Times, Heath Secretary John Reid said:

"I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but that is an obsession of the learned middle class.

"What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette,"

This unexpected outburst from the Health Secretary brought a response from Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in one of the all-time great quotes:

"If John Reid's contribution to the white paper on smoking is let the poor smoke, then his policy on obesity must be let them eat cake."

Boom boom.

It's a tough one to argue that poor people should be freely allowed to commit a slow suicide because they have so little else to live for. Rather than phrasing the argument as a 'health' or 'civil liberties' dilemma, this one is ultimately a question of economics. Rational individuals will look after their necessities before looking after their luxuries. If I can't scrape together the cash to buy my next packet of two-minute noodles for dinner, I'm not likely to be seeing Troy at my local Gold Class cinema. Or smoking a pack of Winnie Blues.

Unless cigarettes are now all of a sudden a necessity, up there with food, shelter and clothing, then their consumption is not one that can be easily justified by those who are going without necessities. Furthermore, the argument for increasing welfare payments (a separate but related discussion) is dramatically weakened if the existing payments are being rolled and smoked (although I wouldn't recommend it with the new polymer notes unless you get high on the smell of burnt plastic). Whilst sympathy is usually deserved for doing it tough, it's a lot harder to be sympathetic when knowing that a fair proportion of welfare ends up being spent on pokies, ciggies and booze. A tough call, perhaps it's the Tony Abbott within, but a fair one.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Republic of New Zulland?

The insightful Republican Roundup newsletter from the Australian Republican Movement alerted me to a slow awakening of the Republican spirit in New Zealand. Historically, republicanism has been lacking in New Zealand, with deference to the monarch most common, even amongst enlightened progressive types.

The thrust of NZ republicanism seems to be a little different from its Australian counterpart, at least according to the the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand:
We believe that a New Zealander should be our head of state. They should be elected democratically and be accountable to all New Zealanders. These ideas are the heart of republicanism – where power comes from the people.

Note that the focus is very much on democracy and accountability, a more radical position than that taken by the ARM, who focus almost exclusively on the need for an Australian as a head of state. No doubt this is a legacy from the Referedum on '99, and in line with the ARM's non-commitment to a particular model. It seems, however, that the RMANZ might be making the same mistake as the ARM did the first time around.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Blue-collar Seat Mining

In a strange way, the local Kingsford Smith branch of the ALP are correct on the subject of preselecting Peter Garrett, but for very different reasons than they probably think. Peter Garrett would do more harm than good as a member of a Latham government, and would be a real distraction on the front bench of a Labor Opposition. There is no reason to think that Garrett's role would be dramatically different from that of Cheryl Kernot.

Both Kernot and Garrett are individualists at heart, and are not used to playing a team game. For Kernot, being a minor Labor luminary rather than the star of the show was a blow to the ego, and Garrett is likely to face the same fate. An honest appraisal of his political potential shows that Garrett would need to build support and experience over time, and grow gradually into the role, which would be supremely difficult given his profile.

Garrett as a Green would work - he'd share a high profile with St Bob and be a senior part of a small group. As an Labor member, he'll be a small part of a big team, and end caught up in internal conflict and finish with a bruised ego. Not a good look.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Seat Watch - Adelaide

Welcome to the seat of Adelaide - Industries: Markets, retail and service industries, newspapers, fashion design, brewery, army depot and military barracks. No kidding. As an official description, it's downright hilarious. This place sounds like it would be the spiritual home of the Village People.

A rather prim and proper Trish Worth represents the drunk toga-wearing Op-Ed writing cadets who populate Adelaide, and has possibly been given a reprieve by the SA redistribution which increased her margin from an anorexic 0.2% to a closet-bulimic 0.6%. The Libs are likely to struggle in SA, with an under-performing local Liberal Party combined with the vulnerable seats of Adelaide, Hindmarsh, and now Makin thanks to the Draper-circus. At least the Libs in SA won't need to pour their resources into defending Boothby and Mayo from a Democrat attack. The ALP candidate is Kate Ellis, who will no doubt put up a good fight, but this quote from her official biog is worrying:

Kate entered the full-time workforce as a Research Officer for State and then Federal parliamentarians, and has subsequently worked as a Ministerial Adviser for South Australian Minister Hon. Rory McEwen, advising on trade related issues.

(Yes this criticism makes me a complete and utter hypocrite, but such is life.)

Prediction - the Libs SA vote to struggle, and this one will fall to the ALP.

Senatorial Mathematics

There are few things sexier in this universe than a discussion of Senate electoral mathematics, and psephologists across the country couldn't help but be a little excited in the downstairs department over the discussion of the lie of the land in the Senate after FedElec04.

The piece by former Greens staffer Ben Oquist in Crikey last week is a good starting point, and Oquist argues that the coalition only need to repeat their 2001 Senate results this time around, and they will have 38 of the 76 Senate seats. If the Libs get over the line in the House of Reps, they will fall short of a Senate majority after they appoint one of their number as the Senate President (37 of 75). Should the ALP win in the lower house, and therefore need to provide the President, then the Lib/Nats would have a Senate majority (38 of 75), and hence an effective veto on all bills. Such a situation is unusual in a proportional representation system, but occurred in Victoria during the first term of the Bracks government, when a single-member electorate system was in place.

The general rule when it comes to determining who will win the 6 Senate seats for each state at each election is to presume that they will split with 3 to the conservative parties (Libs, Nats, One Nation, Harradine) and 3 to the progressive parties (ALP, Democrats, Greens, Murphy, Lees). The territories will split one each along similar lines. Any deviation from this is most unusual.

In 2004, this general rule is likely to hold true. Fortunately for the coalition, with Harradine and One Nation unlikely to make an impact, they have the conservative 20 seats all to themselves. The ALP, however, will need to contend with the Greens, who, like the Democrats before them, will feel quietly confident of picking up a seat in almost every state. If this is to hold true, then in the next parliament the coalition would indeed have 38 Senate seats, and the power to block supply if in opposition. The Libs would never do that. In the Senate. Surely not.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A dose of reality? Euthanasia instead, please.

What a load of crap. Reality TV seems to be in its dying days, and the end cannot come soon enough. The evidence is in abundance that the concept has run out of legs, and audiences have woken up to the fact that whilst the set-ups might be mildly interesting, the completely self-indulgent sycaphants who parade themselves on these shows are near unwatchable.

In the latest sign of desperation, Ten are dropping everyone's favourite pre-operative Mexican trannie Miriam into the Big Brother house (sorry, BB4, obviously the marketing kids at Work4daDole again), presumably to bore the housemates with his vacuous and inane comments. Come on. What a lame and cynical excercise, completely lacking in wit, subtlety or creativity, the very things which made the format work for so long. At least it shows more guts that simply upping the cash.

The reason why the concept is dying is because the latest batch of reality TV shows have missed the point - rather than being about watching ordinary people live their lives, participants are instead placed in bizarre situations, where a normal, human reaction is near impossible because of the ridiculousness of the situation. Extreme makeovers, dating a trannie, a knuckle-dragging fiance are all so far beyond anything likely to be experienced that the shows lack authenticity. Rather than being interesting studies of the human psyche, they instead become b-grade ham acted sit-coms. Unless they will bring back Sylvania Waters, reality TV is dead.

The question is, will anyone miss it?

Seat Watch - Canning

According to the AEC, Alfred Canning was a surveyor who pioneered stock roads and rabbit proof fences in WA, which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the film of the same name. Marginally less irrelevant is the fact that the seat lies in outer metro Perth and is the third most marginal seat in the country, having been won by 0.4% by the Liberal's Don Randall in 2001. Randall did his own personal Lazurus, having heald the seat of Swan for a single term after the Howard landslide of '96.

Canning is one of the seats that the ALP should win if they are to win government. Demographically, it is a good snapshot of middle Australia, with levels of employment, age and income mid-range (see Mumble for actual facts rather than broad generalisations). The ALP have preselected the wonderfully named Cimlie Bowden, a Perth nurse with CPSU connections. The seat includes enough ruralandregionalaustralia to cause the ALP a few headaches.

Prediction - Randall will avoid being a one-term-wonder for a second time and will hold the seat.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

PM, POTUS and the Governator

Is not often one feels sorry for George W Bush, but after the week he's had, it's hard not to. After having breaky with The Man of Steel (and Weetbix and Vegemite, presumably) on Thursday morning, POTUS headed off to the Vatican to meet with another man who was past his peak and of rapidly declining relevance.

But back to Mr Howard goes to Washington. It seems an odd move for Howard to continue to tie himself to a sinking ship. Whilst Bush's fortunes may well change between now and November, at present he is looking like joining his father as a single-term president. Howard would be better off avoiding warm and fuzzy press conferences with the Prez, and instead stay local and focus on domestic issues. As for Bush's attempts to demonise Latham, they are most likely to backfire and give the impression that the PM is seeking out the protection of his older brother in the playground, trying to stop Mark the bully from turning all the kids against him. Saturday's Age editorial captures the mood well.

And for Howard's short and sweet meeting with Governor Schwarzeneggar, there were two very different takes from either side of the Pacific. Writing in The Age, Michael Gordon took a somewhat cynical position:
While he clearly impressed Mr Howard with his knowledge of the BHP Billiton proposal, the Governor was less well briefed on some basics of the Australian political system, asking how many political parties there were in Australia.

The Prime Minister issued the customary invitation to visit Australia and the Governor expressed a desire to accept "in the near future".

...whilst in the LA Times Deborah Schoch played a much straighter bat, but suggested that the LNG project will not be all smooth sailing for BHP-Billiton:

Plans for the terminal, proposed by Australian-based BHP Billiton Ltd., have generated strong opposition among some coastal residents, and the Malibu City Council last week went on record opposing the project.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Asian adventure

As if the very idea of a blog isn't already completely self-indulgent, it's time for just a tad more indulgence.

From November 2004 through February 2005, I'm planning a trip through northern Asia. Initially sparked by my strange obsession with North Korea, the trip has now expanded significantly to include large parts of the region.

Of course travel plans do always change, and it is still five months out, but at this stage the plan is to start in Bangkok, then travel into Burma (I'll give Myanmar a miss), then across east to Vientiane in Laos and possibly to Hanoi. I'll continue onto Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, a brief stop in Japan (which is well worth a long stay, but on another trip), back west through Seoul, and into Beijing. From there I will travel to Pyongyang and back again to Beijing, before heading home through whichever Asian hub can get me back safe and sound as quickly as possible.

With any luck, the trip with be a mental and physical challenge, but also a wonderful opportunity to explore lifestyles dramatically different to anything in my cosy slice of middle class suburbia. There are also plenty of ethical issues to arise, and no doubt they will be explored blogally both before and during the drip.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A Victorian toast to Israel

Wednesday night saw the Victorian Jewish community toast the 56th anniversary of the State of Israel in fine form at the Hyatt Hotel in the Pari... sorry, Tel Aviv end of Collins Street. Whilst the timing was a little perplexing, three weeks after the actual anniversary, the event was well received. The cocktail-sippers consisted of Jewish community leaders, MPs, political hangers-on (which, for tonight, included Ari-on-the-web) various VIPs, and few heavy hitters.

It was unusual to see the perfomances by the two major guests of honour - Steve Bracks, and his opposite number Robert Doyle. Bracks was first up, and seemed to be going through the motions. His speech was heavily detailed and cumbersome and lacked a spark of wit or sponteniety, or even sincerity. He seemed forever on edge, worried about slipping up or uttering something to upset the assembled crowd. Without making excuses, crooked cops rather than Kosher canapes were likely to be on the Prem's mind, but someone in his position should be able to chew Bazooka and walk at the same time. The theory that Bracks is not on top of his brief is growing. As for Doyle, he used his brief time at the podium to tell a few heartfelt stories reflecting his sympathy for Israel and his understanding of the daily plight of terror that ordinary Israelis feel. With less preparation but more sincerity, the Midget for Malvern seemed to hit the mark.

Seat Watch - Dobell

Next up on our Contiki tour of marginal electorates is the central New South Wales coast seat of Dobell. On your left you will see the former member and Next Big Thing Michael Lee licking his wounds after losing the seat by just a handful of votes in '01, whilst on your right you will see the affable incumbant, Liberal MP Ken Ticehurst. Ticehurst won the seat last time by just 0.4% of the two-party prefered vote. This time around the ALP's candidate is David Mehan, who according to the ALP website works for a not-for-profit super fund, and is a bruvva with the Central Coast Trades and Labor Council. It seems unlikely that Ticehurst will be a one-term-wonder in the this seat, and his in an okay position to hold it. Where a personal vote for the Lee would have boosted the ALP vote last time, this time around any personal vote will be going to the Libs.

Prediction - Ticehurst to hold it for the Libs.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Morris on Latham

Former Clinton strategist Dick Morris has always got something interesting to say. Morris has one of the most incisive and tactical views of political strategy and understands the psychology of voters better than most.

Today in The Australian, Morris identifies himself as a big fan of Mark Latham, and argues that he is on the right track is his attempts to follow the Blairite Third Way:
But Latham is on the right track. He is stooping to conquer by daring to address the real problems of actual Australians as opposed to the theoretical concerns of national politicians and party economists. Latham is spelling out precisely what his victory would mean for Australian parents as they battle to raise good children in an age of cynicism and violence. His specific proposals on the environment, health care, education, child care and the like stand in sharp contrast to the bureaucratic programs and shopworn rhetoric with which the Liberal Party greets the voters.

Morris is right on the mark (pardon the pissy pun) when it comes to identifying where Latham stands politically, but he fails to take account of the central importance of the character of leaders. Where Howard is boring but stable, Latham is wildly erratic, prone to verbal outbursts and poor discipline. He has a litany of faux pas, and when elected leader worked hard to distance himself from his pre-leadership statements. Voters are ultimately a conservative bunch, and it will be tough for Latham to convice them that his wild days are over. No doubt that the ALP Third Way platform has plenty of desirable and credible policies, it's the salesman with Tourette's that's the problem.

Morris certainly has a good record on reading this. Check out his comments from last December just two days after Latham took over as leader. Visionary stuff.

Gee I'm sorry I missed that...

Looks like Missy Elliot and her possy (that's with an 'o') were pretty ordinary in Melbourne last week.

Try this on for size:
The fundamental problem was her extreme reluctance to actually perform any of her tracks.

Of the 60-minute set, perhaps a third involved music. The rest was just Missy bumbling about the stage saying "Wassup Melbourne?" a lot.

It sounds a little like Cat Power without the drugs. Read the full review from Luke Benedictus in The Age.