Hard News by Russell Brown


Richard Prebble and Ken Shirley can claim to have been vindicated as many times as they like: the Act Party's little dodge with electoral offices was an abuse of taxpayers' trust.

A group of party researchers and press secretaries were nominally based in a spare bedroom at a Wellington house owned by Prebble's family trust (which even collected rent) - allowing Act to claim for their salaries under funding provided for electorate offices. That is, offices away from Parliament and accessible to the members of the public Act is supposed to represent.

Reality: the "electorate agents" worked as Parliamentary staff. Meanwhile, Act claimed another lot of taxpayers' money actually designated for Parliamentary staff, giving it a double-dip advantage of about $100,000.

The Auditor-General has stayed his hand with the observation that the rules on this were somewhat unclear: but Prebble and Rodney Hide didn't seem to think that was an excuse in the case of Marion Hobbs' and Phillida Bunkle's claiming of housing allowances, which looks somewhat less calculated (especially in Hobbs' case) than this particular dodge. As the Herald noted in an editorial back in March, "one way or another, it is becoming increasingly rocky inside the Act glasshouse."

It could actually have been even worse: Act's leadership is probably lucky that the Auditor-General declined to interview the former staff involved, who were "nervous" about the propriety of what they were doing.

Nice columns in the Herald this week from Brian Rudman (on yet another unfortunate data loss in John Banks' brain) and Tapu Misa, who says what needs to be said about the way Pacific Islanders are exploited and abused by their "leaders" in the church.

The Memory Hole has a lovely page of family photographs under the snappy title Senior US Officials Cosy up to Dictator Who Boils People Alive. Yes, everyone's favourite psychopathic Central Asian leader President Islam Kari of Uzbekistan, is shown smiling, shaking hands and sharing tips with George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Paul O'Neill and General Tommy Franks. Jeez - maybe we should send Denis Dutton over to sort things out?

British military officials are starting to get mouthy over the shambolic American-led reconstruction operation in Iraq.

The BBC has released the results of a poll conducted for its programme What The World Thinks of America. Nobody else likes George, it seems …

There's a nice roundup of the lies and flimsy rumours churned out by Fox News over the war season.

In protest-just-a-bit-too-much rants like this one and this one, US conservatives and their media chums have been crying foul over the "liberal media's" misreporting of the looting of the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad. Two things need to be pointed out here. The first is that the original reporting was hardly a liberal media plot: Fox News carried the same stories at the same time. The second is that although the damage is not as bad as initially feared at the museum, it is still pretty bad. And in other parts of Iraq it is simply a disaster.

British archaeologist Eleanor Robson provides a commentary in The Guardian. And Hard News veteran Adam Bogacki sent me a link to The 2003 Iraq War & Archaeology site, whose owner is compiling news stories on heritage losses, keeping a total of losses from the museum (his guess is 12,817 pieces missing and 24,896 damaged) and listing archaeological sites looted since the US victory: currently 20.