Hard News by Russell Brown

Bad seeds?

Is anyone else wondering if perhaps we overlooked the real story in the midst of last year's Corngate wrangling? While the central contention in Seeds of Distrust - malign corporate influence at the highest levels of government - looks unprovable, the bedlam in officialdom ought to have been evident to anyone who looked.

The problems indicated in the independent review of the Environmental Risk Management Authority released yesterday are almost certainly not new. Many of its findings - poor internal communication, a bitter turf war with MAF, ego clashes, confusion over roles - were present in the fine print of Corngate. Most of this business was about the officials.

Given the probability that its principal sources lay within Erma, it was unlikely that this would be the spin of the book. But the Greens are right: this all has to be sorted out quickly and firmly if there is to be confidence in Erma's ability to assess risk and administer the new rules on GM release from October.

So, will we ever have an immigration regime with a modicum of consistency? I'm angry about this week's sudden diversion - pulling the rug out from under 20,000 applicants pending approval - because I know a family who have been utterly stitched up by it. They are lovely people, they have skills and they would have made fine New Zealanders. Now they have no choice but to walk away from their commitment and go home. It's disgraceful. And I can't help but feel that the new system will prove unsustainable and will itself have to be overhauled sooner rather than later.

Er, what exactly are our soldiers going to Iraq for? Reconstruction or peacekeeping? And why does this Guardian story quote Donald Rumsfeld as saying the foreign force of which they will be part will allow US soldiers to be rotated home for "a rest"? Convince me this isn't Vietnam, please.

On the other hand, co-operative foreign deployments are quite clearly the major demand on the New Zealand military in the current environment. We have pledged more than 700 defence staff to at least 19 overseas posts this year, apparently vindicating the government's strategic emphasis on the Army and on resources for peacekeeping. I suspect a decision to pour hundreds of millions into second-hand F16s would have been looking pretty silly by now. Unless, of course, you figure that fighter aircraft are what we need in the Solomons …

This astounding interview with 27-year CIA veteran Ray McGovern (no hand-wringing liberal, then), arguing that the current US administration has deeply eroded the CIA's ability to give truthful advice, has been mentioned a lot this week. It's really worth reading. (Thanks to Zach Bagnall for the link - he spotted it in the forums at nzgames.com, of all places.)

Salam Pax isn't updating his own blog this week, but he's written good stuff for the Guardian on his current visit to Basra.

And, finally, my old friend Claire Turner is laid to rest in Wellington today, having finally succumbed to an inexorable cancer. It's ironic that someone who poured herself into brightening the lives of HIV sufferers should have had to face her own death so soon. She had the brightest wigs, the boldest attitude and the biggest heart. Goodbye Claire. We will always love you.