Hard News by Russell Brown

Not so rough trade

Yes, it'll take another two years at least to conclude negotiations, and as long as the rich countries can wangle to properly implement, but the outcome of the Geneva WTO round - which finally puts agricultural export subsidies on the block - is both a vindication of the process and a good thing for the developing world. Getting the US to take even half a step back on its disgraceful cotton subsidies was probably more than could have been hoped for.

I didn't expect her to have anything positive to say, but I Googled up Jane Kelsey anyway to see what her response would be. Nothing yet: although there's an ARENA press release from last week in which she confidently predicts the failure of everything, fumes about "power brokers behind the scenes" and demands that the WTO be "put out of its misery". Sigh …

More measured responses from Africa dwelt on the gap yet to be filled between the promises of Geneva and concrete action from the rich nations, and the Christian Science Monitor hailed a new lease on life for world trade. China was sort of pleased. The Australian hailed a little shift in power towards the poor nations. The BBC has a Q&A on the agreement.

Back home in the Herald, we were, rather prematurely, busy totting up the extra export dollars.

Speaking of the dollars, you might wish to buy The Listener this week and read Gordon Campbell's story on the nation's remarkable economic run and the business lobby's curious determination to continue to behave like things are all perfectly awful. Honestly, some of those people need a clip upside the head …

Remember the New Republic's July Surprise story from a couple of weeks ago? The one that claimed that instructions had gone out from the White House for Pakistan to procure a major Al Qaeda arrest in time for Democratic convention? Well, it happened - although with Bin Laden apparently otherwise engaged, it was Ahmed Khalfan Ghailan, a suspect in the 1998 African embassy bombings.

The Western press seems to have steered clear of overt comment on the, er, coincidence, but an Indian news service and Democracy Now! are speculating on the timing, both noting that news of the arrest was delayed four days, until the convention was underway. It does, it must be said, make the current New York terror alert seem a bit whiffy too.

Ron Reagan, the late president's son, appears to have been saving both barrels for his op-ed in Esquire: The Case Against George W. Bush, which is pretty much all of this tone:

Politicians will stretch the truth. They'll exaggerate their accomplishments, paper over their gaffes. Spin has long been the lingua franca of the political realm. But George W. Bush and his administration have taken "normal" mendacity to a startling new level far beyond lies of convenience. On top of the usual massaging of public perception, they traffic in big lies, indulge in any number of symptomatic small lies, and, ultimately, have come to embody dishonesty itself. They are a lie. And people, finally, have started catching on.

That's hardly Dubya's biggest problem in the media, though. What's the guy gonna do now that Garth George has turned on him?

Meanwhile, inveterate flag-burner Paul Hopkinson has done it again in Parliament's grounds. I'm not particularly offended by the burning of the flag - it seems to me a relatively harmless means of protest against the state - but it's more than it seems a bit obvious and embarrassing, the act of someone more infatuated with his own ability to protest than anything else. I did have to smile when I noticed that Nick Kelly, the annoying man who kept trying to be a Labour Party member when no one wanted him, was involved. Like I said, infatuated with their own protest …

Thanks for all the responses to last week's blogs - too many to reply to individually, especially when I'm catching up after a few days away. Amusingly enough, a few readers were fixing to switch their vote until they got to the line that noted that Nick Smith and Ken Shirley's furious church-bashing statements were in fact satire on my part.

While I was away I did my usual trawl around Wellington's second-hand bookshops for forgotten and mouldering snatches of the national conversation, and came up with a couple of gems, but more of that tomorrow, probably.

There were a few responses to my query about the strangest places people had read Hard News: "How about in a bar in an ex-church in the cloister of a converted Catholic girls' school in Singapore at 2am on Rugby World Cup night, thanks to my mate Simon who discovered the WAP site," offered Greg Wood. "And then again while eating Coco Pops in a wall-less Japanese restaurant, in the rain, on the beach, on Bintan, with a mighty hangover after a huge 80s-style house party in an Angsoka villa: I guess the really weird bit was my headspace, rather than the location!"

Ivan Bruce told of reading it "in a tourist only cybercafe/guarded room in Barracoa Cuba. Topic = Don Brash most popular for Prime Minister. Result = return home in panic."

Pete Darlington was closer to home, and "not too weird actually; on a handheld PC (HP IPAQ) over Mobile Jetstream in the middle of Cook Strait at 5.45 AM with a strong cup of Interislander tea (cos their coffee's undrinkable). Worked a treat I might add as well."

Robin Paul got the blog in "Chabarosk in the far east of Russia, a couple of hundred miles north of Kobe, Japan. The sort of place where I hear the have microbreweries. Or Bishkek, north of Afghanistan, where they definititely do. I was with Jungin at the time, and I believe she mentioned the word 'Turkmenistan', but I have a gut feeling that I am wrong. One lives and learns. If you google Bishkek, it's much better than it sounds."

Rob Hargreaves read it in "a cafe in La Paz, Baja, Mexico just me and the cockroaches dodgy email at its best," but good old Christiaan Briggs takes the hand with "a Baghdad internet cafe, in the lead-up to the invasion."