Hard News by Russell Brown

Threats and stuff

I've been telling people that tonight's address in Orewa will be the don't-scare-the-ladies speech; that National has acknowledged that its campaign rhetoric on race, the Treaty and belonging to the "mainstream" deterred women and urban voters and possibly lost it the election last year. That Don Brash would hammer the economy instead.

But today's Herald claims in a front-page story that Brash is "likely to take a tougher line on immigration", and to suggest "that Western ideals such as personal liberty and New Zealand's belief in the importance of a secular society could be compromised by immigration."

Followers of conservative intellectual fads will know the score here. It is fashionable in such circles to state that immigrants - translation: Muslim immigrants - must assume the values and customs of their host countries, lest those values and customs be trampled underfoot in the clash of civilisations.

I do personally treasure a belief on a modern, secular society. But I believe it to be more imminently compromised by a major political party secretly getting into bed with an authoritarian religious sect like the Exclusive Brethren, than by a tiny handful of immigrants.

Perhaps the Herald is overplaying this; perhaps Brash will concentrate on the economy and the health bureaucracy, and will manage to get through one of these speeches without actually scapegoating any sector of New Zealand society. I certainly hope so.

Anyway, there was a Kiwiblog discussion on Google vs China which had its moments. But it bears noting that the Chinese government is hardly the only one keen to control the flow of information to the public. I am quite outraged by the White House clampdown on James Hansen, NASA's most senior climate scientist, who persists in saying things about climate change that the administration would not wish the public to hear.

Last month, Hansen published data indicating that 2005 was the warmest year for at least a century - and was ordered to withdraw it by officials. Since then, a series of directives have seen Hansen's lectures, papers and website postings vetted, and some bizarre exchanges between public affairs officials and journalists seeking access to Hansen. Hansen claims to have been warned of "dire consequences" if he continues to speak frankly.

The Washington Post has a story on the debate over the global warming "tipping point" that also quotes Hansen:

"They're trying to control what's getting out to the public," Hansen said, adding that many of his colleagues are afraid to talk about the issue. "They're not willing to say much, because they've been pressured and they're afraid they'll get into trouble."

Well, let's hear it for a free and vigorous press …

Meanwhile, Stuart Page directed me to an extraordinary story about the contents of Information Operations Roadmap, a 2003 Pentagon report obtained under the US Official Information Act.

The report acknowledges that bogus information generated as part of "psyops" projects is already finding its way onto the computer and TV screens of "much larger audiences, including the American public." But I found this part the most unnerving:

[The document] seems to see the internet as being equivalent to an enemy weapons system.

"Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will 'fight the net' as it would an enemy weapons system," it reads.

The slogan "fight the net" appears several times throughout the roadmap.

The authors warn that US networks are very vulnerable to attack by hackers, enemies seeking to disable them, or spies looking for intelligence.

"Networks are growing faster than we can defend them... Attack sophistication is increasing... Number of events is increasing."

And, in a grand finale, the document recommends that the United States should seek the ability to "provide maximum control of the entire electromagnetic spectrum".

US forces should be able to "disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum".

Consider that for a moment.

The US military seeks the capability to knock out every telephone, every networked computer, every radar system on the planet.

Newsweek's Palace Revolt story seems exquisitely informed: it backgrounds the battle in the White House between executive power absolutists and those who believed that presidents ought to be constitutionally accountable - a battle that turned loyal troops into whistleblowers.

Tim Cavanaugh has a pungent column on Reason.com about the "good news from Iraq" movement, noting a piece by Bill Crawford in the National Review that, in the now-familiar style, rounds up a bunch of press-release-derived happy tidbits from Iraq:

That’s what you’ve bought with more than $220 billion and 2,000 American lives: a set of process-oriented half-measures so humble they wouldn’t have made it into a Brezhnev-era progress report to the Supreme Soviet. War supporters counter that while these achievements may look pathetic to Americans, they’re vital to Iraqis. That may or may not be true, but the point is whether this stuff is worth it to Americans. Can any American worthy of the name suggest that public-works boondoggles in a foreign country are worth a red cent or a drop of American blood?

The story isn’t that the media ignore the good news out of hatred for President Bush. It’s that, just as in the prewar period, the media are doing the president a huge favor. If the good news were regularly circulated, if the American people were daily presented with the idea that this is what success looks like and that teacher training programs are the payoff for a grim toll of blood and treasure, they’d be abandoning the war effort even faster than they are now.

Britain's Mail on Sunday makes whoopee with an updated version of Philippe Sands QC's book Lawless World, which claims, unsurprisingly, that Bush and Blair's public undertaking to go to the UN for a mandate on Iraq was a charade.

The WaPo has graphs demonstrating the extraordinary growth in "pork barrel projects" (that is, otherwise related sweeteners tacked onto US federal legislation) in the past 10 years, and more particularly since 2000, where the number of such legislative favours has more than doubled.