Hard News by Russell Brown

Pleas for attention

Phillip Layton Edwards, having been convicted of manslaughter rather than the murder of David McNee, has now been sentenced to nine years' jail, with the (relatively unlikely) possibility of parole after four and a half years.

It's less the sentence I find troubling - in that it's commensurate with the offence of manslaughter - than the basis on which the manslaughter verdict was reached. If you haven't read Peter Wells' essay for The Listener, A lonely death, then I would recommend it. It's beautifully written and offers a perspective on the trial that didn't really come through in the other media.

Winston Peters, on the other hand, appears to have had his own interests uppermost as he has pursued an alleged scandal related to police handling of the case. From the safety of Parliament he has made a string of unsubstantiated allegations, moving on from one to another before the fizz goes out of it - and not being too bothered about who gets hurt along the way.

Yesterday, he claimed that the police withheld information that Edwards had shared amyl nitrate and Viagra with McNee before services were performed, and "experts know that it leads to psychotic behaviour." Meanwhile, the police held a conference to list and refute the previous allegations.

Peters won't care. Unlike the New Zealand Herald, he's in no danger of having legal action taken against him, and he's had plenty of headlines out of it all. Which was, of course, the point.

Speaking of desperate pleas for attention, at least Rodney Hide is being consistent. If you're going to urge the government to send troops into Iraq when it seems like a good way to curry favour, the least you can do is hold the line when the idea has become ridiculous.

Thus, Rodders called defence minister Mark Burton a "pinko pacifist" in Parliament yesterday, and was then obliged to withdraw the comment. There's an MP3 of the exchange here.

He's crowing about it in his blog, to the feverish agreement of some of his regular comments crew.

Look, these soldiers are engineers: they entered Iraq on a basic assumption of having the security to do their jobs. They simply don't have that, and things are getting worse. It makes a lot more sense to bring them home now than to wait until something ghastly happens. Perhaps Rodney and his team could form a brave battalion of their own, because it certainly appears that there will be few if any other governments putting their people into Iraq now.

Sticking with the all-turning-to-shit theme, Sydney Blumenthal's Far graver than Vietnam story for The Guardian is pretty mind-blowing, if really just a straightforward consult-the-experts yarn:

But, according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."

Retired general Joseph Hoare, the former marine commandant and head of US Central Command, told me: "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."

Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College, said: "I see no ray of light on the horizon at all. The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after the second world war in Germany and Japan."

Adam Bogacki noted this Sydney Morning Herald story in which a commercial trend-spotter says that US foreign policy is now hurting American's brands.

Does John Banks run an office, or a personality cult? For the second time this week, one of his staff has become involved in the maoyal campaign in a rather strange and possibly inappropriate fashion. First it was his press secretary Cameron Brewer, supposedly on his lunchbreak, heckling the Dear Leader's opponents on his boss's behalf and then, more seriously, trotting off and using the ratepayers' time to upload his pictures from the mayoral debate to Banks' campaign website. How often has this sort of thing been happening?

Then, last night, his "long-serving" ("long-suffering", surely?) personal assistant Trish Wanden was shouting and finger-pointing at Dick Hubbard at another mayoral debate. This is, presumably, all quite deliberate. It suits Banks to make the campaign as nasty, angry and irrational as he can. David Farrar begs to differ, congratulating the pair for "exercising their civil rights".

If you say so David. But really, this is silly: " It is interesting though that Banskie's staff are out there supporting their boss, while Hubbard's staff are not, presumably as they are too busy stopworking and/or striking!" No David, it's more probable that in the first case they were actually working, and in the second they were home with their families. I presume Hubbard doesn't feel the need to draft in his staff as a campaign rent-a-crowd. It is, after all, not what they're paid for.

Riverbend is back, talking about the brain-boiling heat in Baghdad last month and watching a bootleg of Fahrenheit 9/11 …

And, finally, who would've thought that it would be Jim Anderton who would front the really quite enlightened Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill? Changes to the bill will allow the government to restrict or otherwise manage the supply of some recreational drugs without outright criminalising them. BZP-based party pills, and solvents, will be the first two substances to be treated this way (although, really, that's about the only thing they have in common). Other drugs (2C-I, perhaps?) could be added to the new categories in future. Interesting.