Hard News by Russell Brown

Queen Street 3: Safe from the Natives

All right folks, you can come out now. The mayor has promised that no fine, upstanding European tree in Queen Street will be replaced by a dirty, swarthy native. If any exotic tree has to go it its place will be taken by another exotic, like God intended. The "new primitivism" has been halted in its tracks. We're off Owen McShane's "new road to Serfdom" and the city is safe for decent folk and proper flora. Etcetera.

Further, a trio of independent arborists selected by the mayor and the save-the-trees group (and paid for by us ratepayers) will re-assess all 20 of the trees earmarked for removal. Lesley Max told the Herald she'd have to think about the deal offered by Dick Hubbard - but really, a group of people who didn't bother to participate in the original consultative process but came in at the last minute with a court action that would cost ratepayers tens of thousands of dollars would do well to show some flexibility here.

Bernard Orsman's story goes heavy on the yet-another-council-flip-flop angle. But it might have been useful for him to point out that this project actually began with the last council, under John Banks (which established a dedicated rate to pay for it) and has, until very recently, enjoyed something like universal support. If it was so terribly faulty, you have to wonder why not a single councillor, from any party, thought to blow the whistle.

Nonetheless, it's now fairly clear where the hole in the council's consultative practice is. It's not that the council doesn't consult, but that it seems only to consult at one end of the process. People are asked what they want to see - and more than 200 submissions were taken on this project - but not adequately presented with the conclusions.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the tree that most of the fuss has been made about: the liquidambar (and no, if you'd asked me a week ago what a liquidambar was I wouldn't have known) outside the Methodist Central Mission, which was to be removed not in favour of a filthy nikau, but to make way for extension of the street canopy up a stretch of Queen Street where there is no shelter from the elements. The desire for extended canopies seems to have come through strongly in the original consultation: it would be rather odd if it were to be turfed out at the last moment to keep the exotic tree-huggers happy.

Anyway, Simon Bidwell remembered his post about Rosemary McLeod's save-us-from-the-natives column, which I mentioned earlier this week. Her crazy rhetoric (people who plant native trees are "fascists") makes a nice match for McShane's. "McLeod," Simon wrote, "has neglected to consult with reality."

Anyway, the Abramoff affair in the US is shaping up as the biggest corruption scandal ever to strike the US Congress. The huge Washington Post story from a few days ago provides a useful backgrounder on the fraud, corruption and murder. Read that first.

Since the bent lobbyist's plea deal was announced, the right-wing blogosphere has been dutifully on-message. Instapundit and the reliably deranged Michelle Malkin have been conveying the White House message that, hey, Democrats were involved too. Amazingly, neither of them think to mention the apparently significant involvement of until-recently House Republican leader Tom Delay, who is already under indictment for his activities in Texas and took no fewer that three overseas junkets at Abramoff's expense.

And in a positively stellar leap away from reality, NewsMax claims that ranking House Democrat Harry Reid is the "most prominent player" in the affair. Reid is among quite a number of congressmen who have returned donations from Abramoff's clients - native American gambling interests, who were royally screwed by him - but Abramoff was always a Republican lobbyist, and the list of those who received disbursements from Abramoff's personal slush fund doesn't include a single Democrat. That's probably not the full story, however: the WaPo's accounting of total donations from Abramoff clients runs about 2:1 in favour of Republicans. Much of that may prove to be just the normal kind of palm-greasing that goes on every day in American politics, and the prosecution seems to be focusing on more obvious examples of corruption involving six Congressmen, the only one of whom to be named so far is Ohio Republican Bob Ney (the moron behind the "Freedom Fries" business), who seems to have been pretty much up for sale. Another notable figure in the case is former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, who emerges already as a lying, cheating scumbag.

The LA Times story is worth reading:

The corruption investigation surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff shows the significant political risk that Republican leaders took when they adopted what had once seemed a brilliant strategy for dominating Washington: turning the K Street lobbying corridor into a cog of the GOP political machine.

Abramoff thrived in the political climate fostered by GOP leaders, including Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who have methodically tried to tighten the links between the party in Congress and business lobbyists, through what has become known as the "K Street Project."

GOP leaders, seeking to harness the financial and political support of K Street, urged lobbyists to support their conservative agenda, give heavily to Republican politicians and hire Republicans for top trade association jobs. Abramoff obliged on every front, and his tentacles of influence reached deep into the upper echelons of Congress and the Bush administration.

The latest Washington Post report is useful too. TPM Café has more.

This is going to be spectacular, of that there is no doubt. The hope would be that it will actually prompt real reform of America's awfully compromised legislative process.

And finally, before I go back on blog holiday, the January edition of Harper's magazine notes a document that simply must be appended to recent debates about coffee. It's a petition from 1674 entitled THE 
to their SEX from the Excessive Use of that Drying, Enfeebling 
LIQUOR. It was published online by Thomas Gloning and Janet Clarkson as part of a collection of early texts about coffee, yea and chocolate and it is absolutely bloody priceless.