Hard News by Russell Brown


Unhappy Birthday

This is the week for reflection on five years of the Iraq adventure. The New York Times has invited nine "experts on military and foreign affairs" to think again. The Times' definition of "expert" includes such interested actors as Paul Bremer and Richard Pearle, so you can well imagine that there is some selective memory at work.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has released a report entitled Carnage and despair: Iraq five years on. It is withering. From the press statement:

Five years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the country is still in disarray. The human rights situation is disastrous, a climate of impunity has prevailed, the economy is in tatters and the refugee crisis continues to escalate …

With the rise of fundamentalist religious groups, conditions for women have also worsened. Many have been forced to wear Islamic dress or targeted for abduction, rape or killing. A survey conducted by the World Heath Organization (WHO) in 2006/2007 in Iraq found that 21.2 percent of Iraqi women had experienced physical violence.

The situation in Iraq has not been helped by the Iraqi government’s failure to investigate effectively the many incidents of human rights abuse - whether committed by security forces or militia groups – and to bring those responsible to justice.

Economic conditions also remain very poor, with most Iraqis suffering from lack of food, shelter, water, sanitation, education, healthcare and employment.

The Red Cross also released a report on Iraq, which remains its largest single commitment. The organisation says "the humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world," and that Iraq’s health care system is "now in worse shape than ever."

A McClatchy story contends that the cost of the war has been to America's power, prestige and influence.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney has declared a "remarkable turnaround" and a "successful endeavour" that has "been well worth the effort."

Staying with the US, two key Clinton advisors convened a conference call over the weekend to warn reporters that the Obama camp had decided to go "consistently negative".

The occasion for this unusual claim? What appears to have been a remarkably successful bid by Obama to make full disclosure and thus end the chatter about his relationship with a crooked Chicago businessman. He allowed himself to be questioned by journalists from the Chicago Tribune, a conservative paper that has pursued him for some time over the issue. Having apparently accepted his response, the Tribune then ran a story saying that his camp was preparing "a full assault on [Clinton] over ethics and transparency." Translation: he's disclosed everything, including tax returns and earmark requests, and now he's going to ask Clinton (and probably McCain) to do the same.

Meanwhile, a Clinton-supporting Daily Kos diarist walks away in protest at the site's tenor and Kos says, whatever.

And finally, what on earth is John Ansell on about? The adman who designed National's 2005 campaign has decamped to the Act party (The Standard is claiming sources that say National showed him the door). He has given an interview to Claire Trevett in the Herald which contains this rather odd section:

In 2005, Mr Ansell's ads attracted some vitriolic responses from the left. He said he was attacked for being "dishonest" with his billboards comparing Labour and National policies such as "iwi/ kiwi" and the education "excuses/exams." He is expecting more of the same this election.

"You do have to steel yourself when the people like the Russell Browns [Public Address blogger] attack you. You get used to it, but I didn't realise I'd get used to it quite so quickly. It really stung the first time."

Actually, so far as I can tell, I've never even mentioned Mr Ansell by name, let alone attacked him personally. And the "first time" I commented on the iwi-versus-kiwi billboard, on June 3, 2005, I don't think I was unduly mean:

I genuinely despair of this. Apart from being inaccurate and dishonest, National's billboard sets New Zealanders against each other. It is simultaneously cute and very ugly. Someone should ask Georgina Te Heu Heu what she thinks about it.

A handful of subsequent comments also revolved around the clever-but-creepy theme. Is the man who conceived those divisive billboards really still nursing his wounds because someone criticised them? How bizarre.

I might add that the party to which Mr Ansell has staged his prodigal return enjoys the support of a group of online cheerleaders who cough up abusive and invective on a roughly hourly basis. Perhaps he shares with them an embarrassing tendency to lapse into victim mode when challenged.

Meanwhile, Poneke works a useful history of Roger Douglas's contributions into a conclusion that Act is "destined to become a curious footnote in the history books, a party started with great promise, but ending a disappointment."

PS: The winners of the Dimmer/Spectrum double passes (chosen from all entries up till this morning with the help of a random number generator) are Tim Owens of Christchurch and Lissa Chong of Wellington.

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