Correction and retraction:

CRIKEY: Last Wednesday, in a work commemorating the impending nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Crikey cartoonist First Dog on the Moon used the registered service mark of The Franklin Mint.

Crikey has now removed The Franklin Mint registered trademark and would like to make clear that The Franklin Mint does not in any way endorse nor manufacture the following products:

  1. William and Kate Royal Wedding Commemorative Gigantic Pile of Animal Excreta, collected by hand from the perfumed bottoms of endangered animals carefully selected by David Attenborough.
  2. William and Kate Royal Wedding Commemorative Self Harm Kit, or gold planted diamante tipped stick to stab your eyes out, including pretend encrusted silver canister containing a mixture of industrial grade epoxy and finest gravel to stick in your ears, encased in a velvet lined spatter proof box of endangered wood.
  3. William and Kate Royal Wedding Commemorative Desire to Drink Yourself to Death with Cheap Scotch and then Punch Yourself in the Face Heirloom Quality Collector Plate (or maybe tankard).

Crikey apologises to The Franklin Mint and in no way suggests that these products are the perfect way to remember this special and memorable fairy tale occasion.

Elite soldiers and the Alliance Base:

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Re. “Elite Oz soldiers in covert operations for top-secret Alliance Base” (yesterday, item 1). As the independent, non-partisan, national public-interest watchdog for defence and wider national security issues, can we point out that the article by Antony Loewenstein in yesterday’s Crikey suffered two substantial and serious flaws that surely should have been challenged and corrected during the Crikey editorial process. Or else the whole article should have been spiked as crap, not journalism, or even as reasonable comment in public debate.

First, the article was merely a mixture of undergraduate-level urban rumours, historical myth (especially about the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War) and left-wing conspiracy theory, flavoured by numerous factual mistakes, misrepresentations and misunderstandings about our defence force, its compliance with international law and, indeed, the way Australia actually works as a democracy ruled by law.

Even the two Australian sources cited, such as an equally fact-free, six-year old, long-discredited Brian Toohey article in the Australian Financial Review, and a more recent but also unbalanced and quite factually erroneous article by Sally Neighbour in The Monthly, provided no actual basis for the specific and general claims made. Journalists quoting other mistaken journalists is not substantiation.

Second, everyone is free to write such tripe but it was plainly very irresponsible of Crikey to publish it. Our soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan fighting a UN-endorsed war at the lawful direction of our elected government, and on our behalf. It is unfair at best for any Australian to make their job harder or more dangerous by writing or publishing biased nonsense that can be so easily misused in Al Qa’eda propaganda. There is no excuse to betray the men and women of our defence force by such stupid, thoughtless and irresponsible claims. If you disagree with the war in Afghanistan, argue with our government (using facts), not endanger our troops (by wild claims).

Let us also be clear here about what Crikey has boldly stated. “Crikey understands Australia has been engaged in such behaviour [alleged assassinations contrary to the Laws of Armed Conflict] in the past decade in the Middle East, leaving Canberra and its officials open to potential charges of war crimes and prosecution in an [sic] international criminal court”.

Previous Ministers for Defence and the current Chief of Defence Force have pointed out on several previous occasions — when journalists have made incorrect claims about “assassinations” — that the ADF, including its Special Forces, have not and do not ever assassinate anybody. They do not even deliberately kill anyone, except in battle, and where authorised by Australian rules-of-engagement grounded in the Laws of Armed Conflict and the ethics of a professional defence force made up of fellow Australians.

Similar denials have been made by Ministers responsible for ASIS. No journalist, or polemicist, has ever been able to back up such a claim with a single substantiated fact. Furthermore, as in this case, every journalist’s sole defence when challenged to prove it has been merely to cite older unsubstantiated claims by other unprofessional journalists or ideologues.

Then there is the determined lack of balance that permeated the article. The numerous denials by the Ministers and CDF are not even mentioned. No military or intelligence historian was cited either. The only two academic experts consulted, a defence finance expert and a lawyer who does not specialise in LOAC, naturally commented on a hypothetical basis only (and I suspect were not quoted accurately anyway). Both made the unsurprising qualified observation that, if true, such acts would be illegal.

Neither, however, offered any confirmation of the wild claims made or that they considered such claims might or could be true. Moreover, neither the ADA as the relevant public-interest watchdog, or the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers as the relevant professional body, were asked for an opinion. Antony has consulted us before so the omission this time is puzzling if one assumes he approached the topic objectively.

And just in case someone claims that the ADA is somehow biased, may I point out our extensive record of condemning the use of torture, rendition and assassination in the UN-endorsed international campaign against Islamist terrorism (usually referred to incorrectly by polemicists as the supposed “war on terror”).

Professor Douglas Kirsner, School of International & Political Studies, Deakin University, writes: Antony Loewenstein suspects that Australian SAS soldiers are committing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. His evidence: a six year old article by Brian Toohey claiming that Australian soldiers are being clandestinely trained in assassination preparations, and, Loewenstein says with no evidence, that it’s gone beyond that. He makes allusions to US Phoenix operation during Vietnam and to such operations being carried out currently by the US, through Wikileaks. So what has this to do with Australia?

The evidence is nothing but the usual Loewenstein conspiracy theory innuendo. “Unspoken and unasked”, Australian soldiers are involved in “preparations for assassinations”. When Crikey (i.e., Loewenstein) contacted national security reporters, they knew nothing about it. Sounds sinister? Sally Neighbour’s Monthly cover story mentioned little about illegal activities. (Still more sinister — what are they hiding?). Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Mark Thomson knew nothing about it and thought it a silly idea anyway. (It must be true then). Ben Saul from the University of Sydney knew nothing of any such activities of Alliance Base. (Therefore true) If it were true, then that would be bad, etc., etc.

There is a credibility gap here, but it lies with Loewenstein and Crikey. This appalling investigative journalism is not even fit for your rumour bin. Israel-obsessed Loewenstein has crossed the line with outrageous allegations about our defence forces, based only upon innuendo and far-left conspiracy theories.


Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Ireland rescued: don’t blame the euro — blame regulators, bankers” (yesterday, item 4). Glenn Dyer’s commentary on Ireland is contradictory. He concludes: “But don’t blame the euro alone, or economics or free markets. Blame incompetence in government and regulation and greed and self interest in the banks and among their business clients.”

But of course it is impossible to untangle these issues.  The cheerleaders of “modern market theory” encouraged the government’s “light touch” regulation which unleashed “free markets” which are by their nature driven by “greed and self interest”.

His defence of the euro is hollow because of the weasel word “alone”.  No one has blamed the euro alone, and, in fact, the problem of its “rigidities” lies more in preventing an escape from the mire than in “creating the conditions”.  Furthermore, every accusation he aims at Ireland and Greece is a nail in the coffin of his own argument. Yes, their political and economic standards are very different from France and Germany, so why yoke this mismatched team together with a monetary union?

Finally, while he blames Ireland  and its “blarney stone kissers”, he can’t avoid the obvious parallel:  “the central bank and the financial regulator slept, just as the Bank of England and the FSA in London slept while a similar boom in banking happened in the UK”. So the Irish crisis is not a “home-grown failure” but merely a local manifestation of a global crisis.

Blaming individual countries, governments, and “spivs” is a red herring. It’s a world problem:  a real estate crisis has become a financial crisis and then a fiscal crisis and now a currency crisis.  The hot potato is being thrown from hand to hand without being cooled.  If it’s dropped, we’ll all be in the Irish stew!


Steve Hambridge writes: Re. “Banking competition — forget the propaganda, look at the spreads” (yesterday, item 2). Forget the piddling few dollars or couple of percent on domestic banking transactions. I transferred USD500, via internet banking, to a US account and it cost a whopping 15%.

$24 for the transfer, USD25 from the receiving bank and the ANZ sold me the greenbacks at 95.5c when the exchange rate was almost at parity (apparently this doesn’t constitute a fee) a total of $47.40 to the ANZ and USD25 to Citibank.

The reaction from “Customer Service”? “Well it would’ve been more if you’d gone into the branch”.

Cutting out the middle man:

Peter Luetjens writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 12). It’s not only foreign aid recipients who benefit from cutting out the middle man. This recent article in The Economist sheds light on the extraordinary effectiveness of a program which simply gave cash directly to the homeless in London, for them to spend on whatever they desired.

Guess what, it worked! Funny what happens when you give people the power and responsibility to take control of their own lives. Of course, even though this is the mantra of conservatives, handing out strings-free cash to bums would no doubt be anathema to all on the right of politics.

Climate change:

Jonathan Doig writes: Hallelujah! The Australian actually published an article on the weekend exposing the campaign of lies peddled by so-called climate sceptics. With the exception of this one piece by Mike Steketee, the silence of Australian commercial news outlets on Professor Naomi Oreskes’ profoundly important research speaks volumes about the anti-science right-wing strangle-hold over the Australian media.

Oreskes finishes her week-long speaking tour in Australia today. Steketee aside, her tour and her book Merchants of Doubt were covered only by the ABC and the Fairfax papers. The early lead provided by Lateline on Monday night was not picked up by a single tabloid. Oreskes appears on no commercial TV or radio websites in the first five pages of this targeted Google search.

2GB is a case in point. Their guest on Wednesday was not Oreskes but climate denier Prof Bob Carter, who has written just one paper on present-day climate change in a genuine scientific journal. Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature (McLean, de Freitas and Carter, 2009) was rebutted almost immediately in the Journal of Geophysical Research because it was so full of basic errors. (It uses fancy maths to remove the upward slope from the temperature graph, then declares that the result correlates with ENSO. Duh!)

The other papers on modern-day climate change which Carter lists on his website did not appear in reputable science journals but in economic publications like the second-ever journal of the Economic Society of Australia (Queensland branch).

Yet 2GB’s Chris Smith introduced him as “one of the world’s most respected authorities on the great climate change debate (sic)” and egged Carter on as he spouted lie after lie to his gullible listeners. 2GB has hosted a predictable trail of prime-time climate deniers — Monckton, Plimer, Bolt —with just one exception: Prof Matthew England appeared once last year on Rev Bill Crews Sunday night slot.

No wonder a sizable minority of Australians are still blissfully unaware that the climate crisis is real and demands urgent action.