Hard News by Russell Brown

And a party too!

Assuming it was accurate, last night's 3 News report on the Waiparera Trust seems to indicate that somebody stole money from the trust in 1999. There can be no other gloss put on the revelations of invoices from bogus companies and matching cheques made out to cash.

This was, presumably, the final zinger the government was wearily anticipating from 3's rolling story - and if it's not, the 3 News team should probably drink a toast to its own enterprise and get the rest of it out the door. There's an inquiry on, after all.

If John Tamihere is found to be linked in any way to the apparent invoice scam, which took place in his final month as CEO of the trust, he's dog tucker, obviously. But he hasn't. And it's yet to be shown that he did anything wrong in accepting a golden handshake on his departure from the trust after 10 years' service (although accepting a payment you initially said you would not accept can only be cause for embarrassment).

The payment was widely reported at the time, and explained, in part, as recompense for Tamihere's acceptance of below-market salaries for much of his time as CEO. It was also quoted, at the time, as one of $280,000 - which would seem to lend weight to Tamihere's position that the $195,000 he received was an after-tax sum. But it's not the only issue, and speculation over the trust's affairs is such that we do now need the (relative) swiftness of an independent QC's inquiry.

Although the government's response since the story broke has been fairly textbook - a ministerial stand-down until the inquiry delivers a result - it will doubtless cop a pasting in Parliament this afternoon. Or perhaps what passes for a pasting from the National Party. Gerry Brownlee's talking point for the week - "John Tamihere is in Parliament because Helen Clark wanted him in Parliament" - is accurate, but a bit disingenuous. In the late 90s, Tamihere could have stood for almost any party of his choice - National included.

Good news: of yesterday afternoon (well, that's when it worked for me), if you type "Lange Oxford Union speech" into Google, our Great New Zealand Argument transcript is the first result (oddly, if you include "David" in your search string, the Hard News post of the same day takes top slot) . Google has reconfigured around us, and you just have to love that. The speech has been viewed more than 6000 times, and I'm expecting it to truck on for ever. I've also made inquiries about the right to put the audio of the speech online, but the wheels turn slowly in these things.

Public Address seems to be the top referrer to the fund-raiser for the civil unions newspaper ad, and some of you have been quite generous. If you haven't yet clicked through to donate (and, if you wish, have your name in print in the ad), please feel free to do so.

Much as I feel the frustration that the job of most powerful elected official in the world is left to America's broken-down democracy, the Guardian's stunt in inviting well-meaning poms to write to voters in Clark County, Ohio - to pass on thoughts about how they ought to vote - was patronising and misconceived. I don't think I'd take particularly kindly to someone from another country telling me how to cast my vote. At the same time, some of the responses from Ohio tend to feed the perception of an almost feral xenophobia in the American electorate. The fencing around the presidential debates - John Kerry as president would listen to foreigners! - left the impression that the USA in 2004 distrusts and despises not only its potential enemies, but its allies too.

Of course, the allies aren't too keen on the current American leadership either, as yet another global poll shows:

The results show that in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Spain and South Korea a majority of voters share a rejection of the Iraq invasion, contempt for the Bush administration, a growing hostility to the US and a not-too-strong endorsement of Mr Kerry. But they all make a clear distinction between this kind of anti-Americanism and expressing a dislike of American people. On average 68% of those polled say they have a favourable opinion of Americans.

The 10-country poll suggests that rarely has an American administration faced such isolation and lack of public support amongst its closest allies.

Jonathan Freedland put it thus:

Besides, every good Republican knows the world is solid Kerry territory. A survey by pollsters HI Europe earlier this month found that, if Europeans had a vote, they would back Kerry over Bush by a 6 to 1 margin. Bush would win just 6% in Germany, 5% in Spain and a measly 4% in France. No Republican is going to cede turf like that to the enemy.

You would think those numbers would hurt Bush, making clear how unpopular he is in the world. But they don't. If anything they hurt Kerry, suggesting he is the candidate of limp-wristed foreigners and therefore somehow less American. We may find that a sorry state of affairs. But there is little we can do about it. In the democratic contest that matters most to the world, the world is disenfranchised.

While we might be astonished that Americans would be prepared to re-elect an administration that appears to almost everyone else to be both mendacious and incompetent, it's their choice. It's just a shame that they seem to be having trouble raising their democratic process to the level expected of a modern Western nation.

In Salon, Gary Younge looks at the various Republican Party attempts at suppressing the vote. And this site lists quite a few more - including the astonishing case of the private voter registration firm, funded by the Republican party, which has been soliciting registrations, and then shredding the forms of those who registered as Democrats. It gets worse: a Republican state judge has said that those whose forms were shredded cannot re-register.

Josh Marshall also noted the weird lack of action against Republican campaign operatives who, during the 2002 mid-term election, paid a telemarketing firm to jam the phone lines their Democrat opponents were using to get out their vote.

Anyway, that's almost enough for now. I'm very croaky after going to the Little Brother show last night - most from having to shout to be heard over the music. It was fun, though.

But one more thing: we're having a party! Our first event, The Great Blend: Public Address Live, will be held at the Grey Lynn Bowling Club (yes, it actually is a bowling club), 112 Surrey Crescent, from 4pm on October 31.

There'll be a little speech by me, a light-hearted bloggers' panel, a couple of cultural offerings (the poems of Allen Curnow read by his grandson, Nat Curnow, and a sneak peek at a documentary on the 1970s New Zealand skate boom) and performances by artists from Lil Chief Records (including members of the Brunettes and the Tokey Tones) and Ladi Six. There will be a cheap bar, some food and, thanks to our sponsors Karajoz Coffee Company, great complimentary coffee. It will be a relaxed, but stimulating affair.

It's free - and you, dear reader, can come if you're quick enough. Capacity is strictly limited, but you can click through here to get yourself on the door list (please don't do it unless you're actually going to come). I couldn't think of any better way to do it, so it's first in, first served. Best wishes, and perhaps we'll see you at the end of the month.