Hard News by Russell Brown

Late run

Christine Fletcher won last night's Holmes Auckland mayoral debate by a country mile. She had a better grasp of the issues than either of her rivals, and got her points across effectively. Unfortunately for her, her goose was cooked some time ago in the only two published polls on the mayoral race.

Fletcher failed to get near enough to Banks in the first, independent poll, and ran a distant third in the poll taken by the Herald after Dick Hubbard announced his candidacy. Now, with the postal vote already in progress, it's just a bit late for her to be finding form. And I personally am not going to risk a vote that might have the effect of returning the incumbent mayor. Politics is a cruel business. Perhaps now that they've made up, Hubbard could offer her a job.

Hubbard himself seemed largely intent on keeping it simple and staying out of trouble. As John Banks has been doing for the whole campaign, he mostly trotted out canned talking points.

And Banks just looked rattled. When Fletcher asked him the question that interviewers haven't been asking - with the exception of the new sand on Kohimarama Beach, what current city project can you honestly claim is the initiative of your council? - Banks changed the subject. He seems to have decided that he can no longer get away with claiming credit for the achievements of others. When he returned to the topic later on to declare that he'd put sand on several other beaches as well, it was finally established on television that the council that has "achieved more than any council in living memory" has in fact done bugger-all. Hallelujah.

The fourth man in the room, Paul Holmes, performed quite well too. Speaking of which, no indignant phone calls or emails. I was determined not to make my Holmes story for this week's Listener a hatchet job, which seemed to me a little too easy and too expected. Then when I picked it up last Friday I wondered whether I'd been a bit soft on him. When you file a cover story less than 48 hours after the interview it can be hard to tell. But people seem to like it. And seeing Cate Brett describe me as "the acerbic Russell Brown" in the SST on Sunday was most amusing.

Meanwhile, in Stuff's wrap-up of the dodgy mail drop, Metro editor Nicola Legat says Banks' claim that copies of the magazine's story about him were distributed to Auckland residents is news to her ("I would have thought if it was circulating by now someone might have phoned the magazine to say `do you know this is happening'") and the Herald newsdesk is actively appealing for sightings. No luck yet, apparently. Would it be rude to suggest it only happened in the mayor's head?

Ross from Dorking Labs has a blunt cartoon about the whole business.

One more thing before we leave the mayoral brawl. Journalists with a moment or two might like to amuse themselves by connecting the dots between Graeme Colman (works for Auckland City doing media management and communications for John Banks) and his brother Barry Colman (owns a large boat, publishes the National Business Review). Just a thought.

Anyway, while we're worrying about elections in Auckland, or Iraq, what about America? Nick Turner pointed me to Jimmy Carter's column in the Washington Post, in which the experienced election observer looks at the federal fumbling since the botched vote in 2000 and frankly declares that "some basic international requirements for a fair election are missing in Florida".

Knight Ridder's correspondents in Iraq continue to make the others look lazy. Check this:

Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis - most of them civilians - as attacks by insurgents, according to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Health Ministry and obtained exclusively by Knight Ridder.

According to the ministry, the interim Iraqi government recorded 3,487 Iraqi deaths in 15 of the country's 18 provinces from April 5 - when the ministry began compiling the data - until Sept. 19. Of those, 328 were women and children. Another 13,720 Iraqis were injured, the ministry said.

And Pakistan's leader Pervez Musharraf clearly didn't get the same script as the accommodating Mr Allawi. This from an interview with CNN's Paula Zahn:

ZAHN: Is the world a safer place because of the war in Iraq?

MUSHARRAF: No. It's more dangerous. It's not safer, certainly not.

ZAHN: How so?

MUSHARRAF: Well, because it has aroused actions of the Muslims more. It's aroused certain sentiments of the Muslim world, and then the responses, the latest phenomena of explosives, more frequent for bombs and suicide bombings. This phenomenon is extremely dangerous.

ZAHN: Was it a mistake to have gone to war with Iraq?

MUSHARRAF: Well, I would say that it has ended up bringing more trouble to the world....

ZAHN: Has that happened in Iraq?

MUSHARRAF: Well, there are difficulties. One can't predict. Maybe the difficulties are surmounted and then it ends up with a victory, with a success. But, at the moment, we are bogged down, yes, yes indeed....

ZAHN: Do you think that the war in Iraq has undermined the overall war on terror?

MUSHARRAF: It has complicated it, certainly. I wouldn't say undermined. It has further complicated it. It has made the job more difficult.

And Colin Powell and General John Abizaid appear to have missed the script-drop too:

US Secretary of State Colin Powell says he sees the situation in Iraq “getting worse” as planned elections approach.

And the top US military commander for Iraq says he expects more violence in the months ahead.

Their comments yesterday followed a week in which President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi spoke optimistically about the situation, despite the beheadings of two more Americans and the deaths of dozens of people in car bombings.

Raed Jarrar and others are pointing to this video. If it is what it is purported to be - cockpit video from a US fighter plane firing on dozens of protesters in Fallujah in July - then it is unspeakably chilling. As chilling, indeed, as any of the atrocities committed by the bad guys. It's also here.

Riverbend is fuming.

You may have heard discussion on Chris Laidlaw's show on Sunday about the Bush administration's consistent perversion of science. Scientists and Engineers for Change (who count the mighty Vint Cerf among their number) have more information and comment on the topic, including The Bush Record on US science issues, which ought to alarm anyone who cares about this stuff.

PS: How exactly does being a former Miss New Zealand qualify you to have your extreme and alarmist views on the Civil Union Bill splashed across the front page of the New Zealand Herald? And to another opponent of the bill, Jennie McKeown of Kaukapakapa, who had this to say to the select committee:

"What on earth are you doing, dealing with less than 1 per cent of the nation's concerns? They are not being killed or burned or beaten up …"

Does the name David McNee ring a bell?