Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

8th March 2002 - Going to Hell

Copyright © 2002 Russell Brown

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can we make it official now? The United States of America is in the hands of a bunch of dangerous lunatics. First, the nonsensical threat of a military war against a so-called "Axis of Evil". Now, it's a trade war against the rest of us.

The new system of tariffs of up to 30 per cent on steel imports to the US has done more to wreck prospects for an orderly international trading system than all the anti-capitalist protests of the last two years.

The potential for a descent into protectionism is deeply unnerving. The White House says it still wishes to pursue trade deals - and it's not hard to work out what kind of deals they will be. Since September 11, the White House has shown no compunction about tying its economic relations to its perceived national interest.

The new ethos is plain in the move on steel - duties apply to New Zealand, to Europe, but not to Turkey, where America needs a landing strip for its forthcoming adventures in the Middle East. Welcome to the world without the World Trade Organisation. All those anti-capitalists might want to be careful what they wish for.

Just like the "Axis of Evil", America's new trade philosophy is driven by the Bush administration's internal needs rather than any real thought of global citizenship. Bush is seeking to shore up support in so-called "rust belt" states such as West Virginia, a traditionally Democrat state that swung Republican in the last presidential election. He's just fixing the next election. And the rest of the world can go to hell.

And this isn't an aberration. Ever since these freaks took office they have sabotaged every multilateral initiative that gets in their way. Global warming, nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, international court of justice, you name it. I'll wait eagerly for the US government's local cheerleading squad to explain to us why all this is really good for us.

More worringly, cynical economic nationalism appears to be catching. Act's Stephen Franks, having apparently got over his obsessions with conspiracy theories about Justice Fisher and women's fashion tips, had a good point this week. Australia, which tends to consider itself an America with training wheels, is at it again.

Air New Zealand may be facing a suit from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission over disclosure before the collapse of Ansett. On the face of it, it shouldn't be happening. But it probably will - and it's hard not to perceive that the Australian government, which created the whole mess by forcing Air New Zealand to buy Ansett in the first place, is pulling the strings.

But Franks doesn't know what he's talking about when he says the government should have let Air New Zealand die and funded a replacement airline to escape the mess. If only it were that simple. The value of a modern airline lies in its brand and its air rights. There is no guarantee that either could be passed on to a new airline. Indeed, you could pretty much guarantee the air rights would go west.

Act's prospective coalition partner, National, rumbled into life this week and unveiled the first of its education policies. It would repeal the government's school zoning policy and give parents the choice of sending their children to any school.

Or, to put it another way, give a handful of "top" schools the chance to maintain their status in perpetuity by cherry-picking the best students, no matter how far away they live - at the expense, if necessary, of less attractive students down the road. National says it would still guarantee children the right to go to their local school, but it's hard to see how. That's precisely what's causing the problem right now. You can't have it both ways.

Frankly, some of those top schools are popular at least as much because they offer a leg-up into the establishment than because they provide a better education. So under zoning, house prices in the Grammar zone shoot up and parents lie about where they live in the hope of getting into an already crowded school. But if zoning is abolished again, those state schools out west and south can count on being bled of their best - or most athletic - students. They will stay at the bottom of the league tables because all their best players get transferred.

Meanwhile, Fran Walsh, co-writer of the Lord of the Rings screenplay and longtime companion of Peter Jackson, is suing The Listener. Her beef? A story on the local film industry by Auckland journalist Frances Walsh.

She is claiming the magazine deliberately led readers to think that the story was her work, noting that the word Lord appears in the headline and that there are, inevitably, images from Lord of the Rings in the montage with the story. Certainly, someone who hadn't read any other stories by Frances Walsh - and she's fairly prolific - might have wondered if this was the famous screenwriter - but it quite clearly wasn't.

For one thing, the idea that The Listener would score a story by "The" Fran Walsh - who has barely been photographed, let alone interviewed, in recent years - and not bother to identify her and brag about it is silly.

Walsh now wants, an apology, a retraction, damages and costs. It has already been noted that her action follows a series of stories last year about the role tax breaks played in financing the Rings - by Gordon Campbell, who, as is his way, resolutely refused to join the love. But it also follows a lesser-known suit slapped on The Listener several years ago by Peter Jackson himself, who - quite wrongly - perceived that a review of The Frighteners accused him of plagiarism. I guess nobody's perfect - and artists are more inclined to control their own press than most people.

But, hey: Fran, you don't know me but we have a number of acquaintances in common and I'm old enough to remember the Wallsockets and I deeply admire your work. Don't do this. You could have written a polite letter and requested its prominent publication and it would have happened. Perhaps you still can. It's certainly a better option than calling in the lawyers.

So, that's it. I'll save the fulsome tributes to our "lateral and sophisticated" - Ian Fraser said it, so it must be true - breakfast host until closer to the time of his departure, but I have to say I'm delighted by the way another little tribute is going. Say Yes to Apes' 'This is Your Lucky Night ' - disguised as a Hard News for technical reasons - continues to command the charts at 1100 downloads and still going! Excellent!


Russell Brown

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