Take it as read. Australia will be sending more troops to Afghanistan. The subject was not raised publicly by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after his meetings with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but the message was clear enough. Anything other than joining in with whatever the new US strategy in Afghanistan is would make a mockery of this little exchange which followed a working lunch:

“America doesn’t have a better friend in the world than Australia, a friend through good times and hard times on so many of the historic and difficult challenges that have faced the United States and Australia, both singly and together,” Ms Clinton said.

“We have reaffirmed our commitment to working closely on the range of difficult problems, but also exciting opportunities that lie ahead,” Mr Rudd said.

Legacy assets? You just know it is nonsense when the politicians are not prepared to call a spade a spade. Bum bank loans first became toxic assets and now are being transformed into legacy assets.

A lot of bells and whistles to finesse the fact that the government will wind up paying well above market for crappy paper is the more accurate description used by Naked Capitalism.

Martin Wolf puts it more politely in The Financial Times of London:

The conclusion, alas, is depressing. Nobody can be confident that the US yet has a workable solution to its banking disaster. On the contrary, with the public enraged, Congress on the war-path, the president timid and a policy that depends on the government’s ability to pour public money into undercapitalised institutions, the US is at an impasse.

It is up to Barack Obama to find a way through. When he meets his group of 20 counterparts in London next week, he will be unable to state he has already done so. If this is not frightening, I do not know what is.

Try incentive compensation. A Mr Bob Diamond. the boss of British Bank Barclays’ investment banking arm, has a nice way of words too. On the release of the company’s annual report overnight he had this to say about the bonuses worth £600m handed out to the investment banking staff of Barclays Capital: “I would prefer the phrase incentive compensation,” he said.

The report showed his own pay for the year was a mere £17 million made up of a much reduced annual salary of £250,000 with the balance being some of that incentive compensation.

Pretty pictures by a midshipman? I am looking forward to my bookseller delivering my ordered copy of the National Library Australia publication First Fleet Artist George Raper’s Birds and Plants of Australia. I am intrigued to see what the author, the Library’s Curator of Pictures, Linda Groom, tells us about the remarkable journey to Canberra of the 56 watercolour paintings described as being by First Fleet artist George Raper. For there is, I hear, some doubt in the somewhat arcane world of the rare book market about what they call the provenance of what the NLA paid several millions for.

In its press release announcing the publication the Library says Linda Groom, traces the remarkable life of a young man now recognised as Australia’s best First Fleet artist. It also tells the story of the paintings and how they found their way from an outbuilding at Tortworth Manor in Gloucestershire, during a routine valuation of the estate of the Earl of Ducie, to the other side of the world and the National Library’s collection.

The paintings have been described as one of the most important collections to have come on to the market in 50 years.

The National Library began negotiations to buy the paintings in January 2005 after being approached by trustees of the estate who wanted an Australian institution to purchase them rather than being split up. The Library acquired the paintings in October 2005.

To establish their authenticity, National Library conservators and curatorial staff examined the drawings in April 2005, with an analysis of the watermarks in the paper confirming a probable date in the First Fleet period.

With the intense interest in the acquisition in 2005, came requests for a book featuring the images. The new book also contains the results of the author’s research in Australia and England which brought to life new facts about the little-known midshipman George Raper.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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