Hard News by Russell Brown

Less than free

Another little defeat for free speech in the US, with the extraordinary cowardice of CBS's dumping of The Reagans in response to conservative pressure. My impression is that while The Reagans might not be very good - it's a made-for-TV movie, for goodness sake - it is not terribly inaccurate. Face it - Nancy was a superstitious control freak, Ronald tended to confuse real life and his movies even when he was President, and he was, by both word and example, unsympathetic to AIDS victims.

Anyway, see Cowards at CBS play us for fools, See the Cowardly Eye Blink, 'Reagans' furor reflects larger battle and, most of all, Billmon's elegant work of forward-looking satire on the issue. Very funny. And scary.

Scary GE headline for today: GM pine trees in disease probe in the Herald. The allegation of a historical biosecurity breach seems worthy of further examination, but would it be churlish to point out that the virus is alleged to have come into the country with non-GM pine embryos, and that the only involvement with GM seedlings is a - hotly disputed - claim that the imported seedlings once shared a greenhouse with GM pine seedlings?

I do think it's a good thing that people doing this kind of research are now under pressure to cross all their Ts and dot all their Is - and that Crop & Food had to stop being vague about its deal with its research partner this week. That's what advocacy ought to achieve.

It's a lot more useful than anything achieved by the dickheads who wound up wrestling with a middle-aged woman as they tried to gatecrash the Erma onions hearing this week. Fuck off and donate some time to the City Mission, you idiots. (Sorry, my sincere intent to be respectful and sober on this issue slips occasionally. Must try harder.) I think it's sad that Madge, which was specifically invited by Erma to present a submission, couldn't do so because it is $24,000 in debt. When you walk around Auckland and Wellington and see all those expensive billboards of four-breasted women, you have to wonder about spending priorities. At some point it has to stop being about marketing and start being about engagement with the process.

BTW, typically, the mainstream press hasn't told us much about who did actually address Erma this week. I was starting to wonder whether "University of California genetics professor" David Williams actually existed for a while this week, because I just couldn't find anything about him, apart from the praise in this press statement from Jeanette Fitzsimons.

So, I asked around, and it turns out he's a New Zealand-born medical geneticist based in San Diego who breeds GM mice for research programmes. He has connections with Garth Cooper and the Sustainability Council and apparently his evidence to Erma was very interesting, and, according to someone who was there "amounted to a plea for them to require Crop & Food to undertake detailed laboratory molecular characterisation of each onion line before a field trial rather than using the field trials to determine the lines which should be selected out."

This is an extremely expensive way to go, and according to the crop scientists, a waste of resources. The agribiotech people tend to regard Williams (and Cooper for that matter) as at least partially motivated by a belief that money spent on GM crop research would be better going to GM medical research. The medical GM people don't seem too keen on the crop folks either. I wouldn't know, but scientists will argue, and I'm glad to hear the arguments.

Conrad Heine pointed out The Economist's interview with Michael Cullen from late September. Like Clark, Cullen seems more at ease, and more forthcoming, talking to British journalists. Worth reading.

NZPundit writes warmly of this opinion piece from The Independent by Johann Hari, much of which I agree with. But in his eagerness to reshape reality to meet neocon theory, Gordy ignores all that and concentrates on this:

All decent people - including those who opposed the war - must now work to establish a consensus in Britain and the US behind the path that Iraqis, in every single poll of their opinion, are begging the two countries to take: stay for a few years to ensure a transition to democracy, resist the bombers attacking those who have come to help, and gradually accord more and more power to the Governing Council in advance of elections.

"Every single poll"? Let's take the Zogby poll, the one that Dick Cheney has been waving around as evidence of public goodwill towards America amongst rank-and-file Iraqis. As a new column by Nick Kristoff indicates, Cheney has been very economical with the truth:

Mr. Cheney has cited a Zogby International poll to back his claim that there is "very positive news" in Iraq. But the pollster, John Zogby, told me, "I was floored to see the spin that was put on it; some of the numbers were not my numbers at all."

Mr. Cheney claimed that Iraqis chose the U.S. as their model for democracy "hands down," and he and other officials say that a majority want American troops to stay at least another year. In fact, Mr. Zogby said, only 23 percent favor the U.S. democratic model, and 65 percent want the U.S. to leave in a year or less.

James Zogby has also written about the misuse of the poll figures, oddly enough for the Arab News. Gordy has a useful reply to my somewhat snippy response to his forums, but it's quite clear to me that Cheney misrepresented the poll for his own purposes, and got a free pass from the press for quite a while afterwards. But denial is a river in Iraq these days, isn't it?

For what it's worth, I think the Americans have no choice but to stay, and hope that workable democracy can be forged sooner rather than later. No sane person should want the Baathists and jihadists to hold sway. But claims to be winning the war of ideas just look like more of the same blindedness and bumbling that created the situation in the first place.

You might want to have a read of this column by Patrick Cockburn on CounterPunch:

Saddam Hussein should not have been a hard act to follow. Iraqis know that he ruined their country with his disastrous wars against Iran and Kuwait. But in Baiji a clerk at the local registration office for births and deaths said he noticed that over the last couple of months parents of newborn babies had started to name them 'Saddam'.

Frankly, I'm rather more inclined to trust Salam Pax ("War sucks big time. Don't let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in your name.") than Cheney or Rummy. And speaking of Salam, it looks like he's fixing to break his silence of several weeks, perhaps blogging this conference in Budapest, which looks very interesting. Wish I was there.