Hard News by Russell Brown

And it gets worse ...

Oh great. The first day back in Parliament and the National Party's new Maori Affairs spokesperson asks if he can call a Maori MP a "black fella". Ever get the feeling your country is being flushed down the toilet?

Gerry Brownlee has, of course, apologised, as has his party leader (although Brash's apology in an interview with Linda Clark this morning was so qualified and full of pleading for his own hurt feelings that it barely counted) but he knows damn well that, especially in the current climate, referring to someone as "the big fella", as John Tamihere did (it sounds almost chummy in the audio clip) is a world away from referring to a Maori MP as a "black fella". It was a sad example of how debased and stupid this so-called debate has become. Presumably, it'll get worse yet.

Meanwhile, Brash's headline-grabber last week - his claim that a rational employer would hire a Pakeha over a Maori under proposed new employment law because the Maori would be entitled to "unlimited tangi leave" - turns out to have no factual basis. He hasn't apologised for that. Could these people please for a moment put aside their excitement at having got themselves an issue and think a little more clearly about where this is all heading?

The local press has, perhaps understandably, missed one of the more interesting elements of the US-Australia "free" trade deal - the stealthy export of America's controversial copyright law, the DMCA. But it has attracted attention - and plenty of comment - over at Ars Technica. The Australian government's reference to the major shift on copyright - which effectively reverses legislation passed only last year by the Australian Parliament - is vague, but it appears to be along the lines I predicted in an Unlimited column last April.

The US press appears to have decided it's safe now to hold the White House to account on its WMD claims. A Knight-Ridder story headed Doubts, dissent stripped from public version of Iraq assessment outlines what it describes as "stark differences" between the classified version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate and the one shown to the public in justification of the war policy. Oddly, both versions have been available to the public for months, but until now, no one seems to have been bold enough to compare them. The Centre for American Progress has links to both documents.

Meanwhile, FactCheck.org takes serious issue with Bush's claim in his TV interview this week that the growth of discretionary federal spending has slowed markedly since he took office: "In fact, annual growth has been in double digits for the past three years, far higher than in any year of the Clinton administration."

The White House continues to stonewall the commission investigating the September 11 attacks - and may face a subpoena in pursuit of the intelligence reports it is withholding. And the man appointed by Bush to head the investigation into intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war is one dodgy geezer.