Hard News by Russell Brown

Just a location

I was obliged to swot up on the brief visit to these shores of Cherie Blair for my Breakfast slot this morning. I quite quickly realised that New Zealand has been no more than a fleeting location for a story that wasn't really about us at all.

Apparently - according to newspapers as far afield as Australia, Britain and India - we're angry that La Cherie couldn't remember what country she was in when she made her charity speech in Auckland on Monday night. Bemused would be more like it.

That didn't stop Stephen D'Antal, who seems to be filing pool reports for half of Britain's dailies, declaring that her arrival in New Zealand "was treated with all the excitement of a royal visit". Was it? Clearly, I was distracted and missed the schoolchildren lining the streets eagerly waving miniature union jacks.

The Sun said Blair "began her controversial tour Down Under with a blunder last night - by calling her Kiwi hosts Australians" - and then went on to spell our Prime Minister's name wrong. "Celebrity chef" Peta Matthias has been quoted rubbishing the speech in six different newspapers by my count, and 34 year-old insurance executive Caroline Canning's comments in a similar vein have earned her a mention in even more stories (her friends should definitely be teasing her about being briefly world famous). One paper called Peta "Peter" and another called Canning "Cunning". Like I said, we're just a location …

The PR consultant behind the whole business, Max Markson, has, meanwhile, been discovering what it's like to be involuntarily sodomised by a rampant British press. The Times had the lowdown on her fee before she even flew out, and journalists have had so much leaked material in hand that Markson has claimed that documents were stolen from his office in a burglary. Embarrassingly, the Sydney police have rather pointedly said they don't think so.

And Blair/Booth herself? Train wreck. Did she really not think that taking nearly a quarter of a million dollars for a tour on which she chose to use her husband's surname would drop her in it? Did she do any research on Markson - who has previous organised charity speaking tours in which the nominated charity has come a distant third to himself and the guest celebrity when it comes to divvying up the cash? And whose charitable practices have been discussed in two Australian Parliaments? (The Daily Mail has the full, grisly scoop.) And did she have to plug her damn book so hard?

The normally mild-mannered Juan Cole has climbed right into self-inflated conserva-pundit Jonah Goldberg. It's really worth reading. The spat between the two blew up over Goldberg's explanation that he couldn't possibly have volunteered to fight in Iraq, what with a lifestyle to maintain and everything.

The Middle East ceasefire - a move the Palestinians have been seeking for a while - has to be a good thing. And Condoleeza Rice appears, at the least, efficient in her new job.

On the other hand, Bush's new Budget is simply a sham. His plan to cut federal deficits in half rests on leaving out any cost associated with the wars in Iraq or Aghanistan, the huge short-term cost of his flagship social security reform, or the impact of making his tax cuts permament, which he's already said he will do. Worse, he has actually raided the social security trust fund to the tune of $170 billion to try and balance his books.

The San Francisco Chronicle lashed it in an editorial headed Bush's bad math.

The Economist also analysed George Bush's "lean" budget:

Mr Bush’s new-found fiscal conservatism is patchy. His current deficits are primarily the result of a collapse in tax revenues, down from 20.8% of GDP in 2000 to 16.8% this year, yet he intends to make his tax cuts permanent. Security spending is also largely exempt from his tight-fistedness. Next year, defence spending will grow by 4.8% in nominal terms, to $419 billion; homeland-security outlays will go up by 1.2%, to $29 billion. And the budget does not include likely “supplementals” for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress has already approved one such supplemental, of $25 billion for fiscal 2005, and is preparing to consider another $80-billion request from Mr Bush.

Josh Marshall puts it this way:

Back in the day (you remember the day, right?) every time a president came forward with a budget, reporters would pore over the thing. And any line item or provision or assumption that wasn't based on the most rock-solid accounting or didn't take into account the most pessimistic prognosication was instantly given that most infamous of DC budgeting sobriquets: the dreaded "smoke and mirrors."

Nowadays I guess you could say things have changed. How else can it be when an OMB Director can simply state that borrowing a trillion dollars doesn't count as new debt?

Under the circumstances, it's a good thing that Blue State ingenuity will continue to make Bush some money. This way geeky article tries to get to the bottom of a media player patent secured by Apple Computer.

And some smart kids are running the Flat Earth Award for the greatest climate change denier. AlterNet's Matt Wheeland notes, among other things, an analysis for Science magazine of 928 peer-reviewed studies on climate change.

And the number of those 928 studies that "disagreed either explicitly or implicitly with the consensus position, as stated by the UN's panel on climate change, that the observed global warming over the past 50 years has been caused by human activity"?