The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brownlee jumps too

Just heard on Nat Rad 3pm news that Brownlee has announced in a press conference he called this arvo that he is standing down from the Deputy Leadership of National and will not contest it tomorrow at caucus.

The news item also stated that the expectation is now that Key and English will be elected to the two top spots tomorrow, with the Leadership going to the MP for Helensville.

So it looks like the caucus may have done the real decision- (and deal-) making over the weekend and tomorrow will be designed to show that National is stable, united, able to move forward together, marching in step, signing from the same hymn sheet, and generally all on the same page.

Those pesky unionists

Recently I heard Don Brash defending the sources of his (former) party's political funding by saying that Labour had funding from (shock, horror) unionists!*

I know, this is pretty stunning news, and we all await the best-selling expose book with glee. (Suggestions for the title welcome in comments.)

But there is rather a big difference between the kind of secretive business funding that Idiot/Savant has summed up well today, and the donations unions give to Labour (and other centre-left political parties).

1. Unions are run by their membership through democratic structures, meaning the people who fund unions (members) say how those funds are spent. This extends to donations to political parties for election spending. Union's financial statements are published and easily accessed.

2. Everyone knows unions give money to Labour. In fact many people assume that all unions give a great deal more to Labour than they actually do.** In particular Kiwiblog commenters.

3. Unions do not publicly distance themselves from their donations through anonymity or trusts. The donations are instead publicly declared.

None of these three points apply to all businesses who give donations. I'm sure there are many who do it above board, but Hager's book is purported to show evidence that there are some notable exceptions. And that is Not Good for our democracy.

I'd also note that the kind of returns for investment that Idiot/Savant is talking about in his post, for business donations, aren't really available to unions. A union could not make hundreds of millions of dollars from a change in Government policy, unless that policy remained unchanged for a considerable period of time. And that extra money wouldn't come directly from tax-payer funds, unlike the sort of business advantages I/S details.

Right, now that I've nipped that one in the bud I'm off to bash a tennis ball repeatedly against a wall. Yay!

* In the interview I heard, which I think was on Nat Rad, and definitely pre-dated his resignation, Brash actually said "unionists and communists" fund Labour. I find the communist accusation so funny - I hear that God loves a trier.
** And in fact, to the best of my knowledge public sector unions (who have the most dosh) don't give money to political parties at all.

National-related natterings

Regretfully I was away from keys for several days recently. Luckily Danyl Mclaughlan wasn't. He's read The Hollow Men already and has his initial impressions up on Public Address.

While who will be the new National leader is of some interest to me, it seems Key is almost inevitable. I've long wanted to see the return of English, not because I think he'd be bad for National (if that was my motivation then I'd say bring it on, Judith Collins), but because I think he's one of the few National MPs who could actually do the job. Key, like Brash, has a lack of experience. As time goes on fewer and fewer National MPs have ever been in Cabinet. I think it's important, for our democratic process, that the other candidate in the Prime Ministerial stakes has a range of political experience, beyond being a relatively new MP. Brash didn't and it showed. In this regard, Key is in the same category as the man he wishes to succeed.

For the sake of showing unity and stability, National really needs the leadership to be uncontested. For this reason English may decide to forgo an attempt, unless he knows he has the numbers. For every National leader since Bolger it has felt like there was a clear successor always waiting in the wings - someone we all knew by name and face long before the knife went in. You can hardly say the same of Labour in the last decade, and it has been a definite strength for the centre-left, long accused of division.

The Deputy Leadership will possibly be more interesting though. I've heard media commentary that Brownlee has done a deal to sew it up for himself, and Russell Brown has blogged that, but since then there has been speculation that English may win the spot. Collins has also indicated she'll be in, and there are rumours about Katherine Rich too. Again, lack of contest would be a good sign to the public that National can provide a viable and secure alternative Cabinet, but it seems unlikely.**

But perhaps the aspect of this that fascinates me the most is what will happen to Brash now, an element STC has also been musing on. Given his age, and the damage that politics so far has wrecked on both his personal and professional lives, Brash may be set to stand down, bringing Katrina Shanks in on the list (the one advantage I guess of having a leader without an electorate). How will a new leader reshuffle portfolios to show some change to the public, assert their authority, reward their friends, safe-guard against their enemies, and also deal with Brash in a way seen as fair (from many different angles)? Speculation in the Herald yesterday (offline) was that English might be brought back into Finance and Brash thus given education (shudder) or economic development.

Whatever happens it will be interesting to watch how it unfolds, when it unfolds, and whether National's poll ratings hold up. I suspect that poll-wise any damage to National will mean voters either switch off in disgust or attach to United, Act or NZ First instead, rather than heading to Labour. If Labour's percentage stays stable, or improves slightly, it could well still end up ahead of National if the Tories shed enough.

We're still a long way from the ballot box anyway, but if Labour could end the year ahead that will be a psychological advantage.***

* Not least because I'd like to know what to name the new category I'll now need
** In general I think contested elections, in any environment, are A Good Thing, as they show the health (or otherwise) of democracy within an organisation. But in terms of The Game, electoral contests can be more wounding than winning.
*** And put the new National leader on the back foot. Key/English must be a bit miffed at the timing - I'm sure any leadership hopefuls would have wanted Brash to carry the poll drop that was likely to come out of The Hollow Men and other recent troubles (and a slightly resurgent Labour), rather than presiding over it themselves.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brash's short memory

Campbell Live tonight showed media questioning of Don Brash as part of today's frenzy (which I've already blogged about) and included Brash denying that National had done anything unlawful before the 2005 election.

Instead the National Leader claimed that we all knew Labour was the only party who did anything unlawful.

This is despite the fact that actually all parties in Parliament, except the Progressives, were tarred in the Auditor General's report on unlawful election spending. Yes Labour was the worst, but hardly the "only".

It also flies in the face of National's admission that they didn't pay the GST on their broadcasting spending.

Not to mention Brash's misleading statements over his relationship with the Exclusive Brethren. I note that he further repeated tonight on telly that he didn't know about the Exclusive Brethren's pamphlets ahead of time, which contradicts his statements prior to the last election on bfm.

This reinvention of history is frustrating. Somehow Brash, and by extension his party, seem to think that if they just repeat something enough we will believe them.

Regrettably I suspect they may be right.


So who else was riveted to the spot, listening to Mary Wilson on Checkpoint this arvo interviewing first Nicky Hager and second Don Brash, about Hager's injucted new book, modestly titled The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception.

Ye gads.

I even began to warble my special Toast song, usually reserved for the walk to the staff room from my office every morning to turn my Vogels bread into toast with jam for breakfast. Somehow melodically singing "toasty toasty toasty, toast toasty toast toast toast" seemed appropriate to the occasion, not just for Brash but also for John Key.* Oh I do so like toast.

Hager's claims seem to be, from what I've read and heard so far:

- Brash, Key and Steven Joyce (National's campaign manager for the 2005 election) had medium-term associations with the Exclusive Brethren, with regular contact from at least May of 2005, not August as Brash has previously claimed (and indeed continued to claim tonight on Checkpoint). All three were "explictly and totally" aware of the EB's pamphlet campaign, is what Hager said on the wireless tonight.

- That the policy intentions of the National leadership differed significantly from the published and promoted policy of party

- Widespread Exclusive Brethren donations directly to individual MPs, as part of the association with the EB that National leadership were aware of

- National's strong links to neo-conservatives in the USA, including input to their 2005 campaign from both American and Australian soucres

- Dodgy dealings in terms of industry lobby groups and National's big donors

Now some of this stuff is by no means illegal (and nor should it be). But the bigger issue will be how National portrayed themselves publicly and how they responded to specific questions about these issues. Brash has already been caught over the Exclusive Brethren once before. How he can possibly continue to say to the media, and I heard him say it to Mary Wilson today, that he has never misled the NZ public is completely beyond me. (And I'm a little frustrated he doesn't get called on it more often by journalists, but anyway.)

It's important to note that Hager didn't seem to be saying that this book is based solely, or even wholly on the stolen emails. What I understood from listening to the interview was that some of the research involved emails, given to Hager by National sources, and for this reason he is concerned that the book breaches the injunction. Hager made it clear that he's been researching this book since after Brash's first Orewa speech, which significantly predates the stolen email saga, and that he has done a great deal of research apart from reading and analysing emails, such as looking at other internal correspondence and conducting interviews with National party sources. Hager's clear message was that it had come from National insiders, and that all source material had been returned to the person providing it already.

This is all fitting rather too well with Jordan's past point about Brash believing in a "moral obligation to lie." Idiot/Savant has pointed out umpteen examples of this and has written about this new development twice already today, on both the hypocrisy of Brash's action in seeking the injuction when National uses leaks frequently (lots of great links in the comments), and Brash's defence that publishing the emails will invade the privacy of others. Bomber over at Tumeke has Marilyn Waring's forward to The Hollow Men, as well as linking to the Herald article covering Hager's situation which clearly states "the majority of the book was based on documents other than Dr Brash's emails."

DPF has already posted once with the announcement that Hagar has a book "based primarily on the Brash emails" (which doesn't seem to be the case) and posted again using Russell Brown quotes about Hagar, in relation to Corngate, to try to discredit him.** Spin spin spin. Jeremy, who describes Hagar as "a low-grade sensationalist writer" speculates a little on what may be in these emails that is so damaging.

Well it will be interesting to see what happens next. As Brash got his interim injunction in a John and Jane Doe order the judge was not able to consider arguments against the injunction. But now that Hagar is on the case, it will be interesting to see how the interim injunction holds up, especially as Hagar claims the book doesn't cover Brash's private life.

Update, 8.02am 22nd Nov: David Slack has some other books possibly caught by the injunction. My favourite is Tze Ming's.

* Rumour within the Beltway has said for some time that Key was strongly implicated in the EB scandal last year, and that there was email proof in the stolen emails. I bet Bill English is smiling on the inside right about now.
** Good luck with that - Corngate reminds us all that Hager is hardly a Labour hack, and RB has commented on No Right Turn already as follows:
"I was critical of the way Nicky Hager sprang his Corngate documents. I didn't think the possibility of an injunction was real enough to justify the way he acted. I think Don Brash has now vindicated that action, and I'll be saying so in the blog tomorrow."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Powerful Fellas

Jeremy has the Listener's latest Power List over at Aucklander at Large.

Jeremy's struck by the absence of unionists, as am I. Particularly as unionists have become more prominent in recent times, even outside of specific disputes, eg Laila Harre's current stint on National Radio up against Matthew Hooton.
Also of note is the influx of Maori figures new to the list. Perhaps the Maori Queen's funeral and the media frenzy around the Kahui twins has brought them more to mainstream media prominence.

There's rather a lack of Cabinet Ministers, or indeed politicians in general, reflecting the shift in power from democratically elected people to private individuals that privatisation inevitably seems to bring. It would be interesting to do some kind of analysis comparing the Power List and the Rich List methinks.

But the one thing that really stood out for me, and I'm sure this will come as no surprise to regular readers, is the lack of women.

Sure the top spot is a woman, but I agree with Jeremy; you would expect the Prime Minister to be in or close to number one in any year.

You have to go down to 14 for the next woman - Paula Rebstock, who is apparently the Commerce Commission Chair and is new to the list. Then at 21 and 28 are Dame Sian Elias (Chief Justice) and Heather Simpson (H2 as she's known) respectively. Neither are new and neither are suprising. Julie Christie in 30th place rounds out the five women, and twenty-five men, in the top 30.

In total there are 8 women on the list, 16%. Out of 50 people altogether. It's almost as bad as the National Party front bench before the last election!

Mind you, it is an increase of 1 on 2005's list.

Here's a few ideas, of some other powerful women who perhaps should have made it:
  • Carol Beaumont - Secretary of the Council of Trade Unions

  • Margaret Wilson - Speaker of the House

  • Ann Sherry - CEO of Westpac

  • Laila Harre - already mentioned for her media role, also National Secretary of the National Distribution Union

  • Theresa Gattung - CEO of Telecom (who has featured in the last two years, in 2005 at 8)

  • Jeanette Fitzsimmons - Co-leader of the Greens

  • Kim Hill - or another of the large number of prominent women journalists
I may not like all of these women, or agree with them, but they are powerful in our country. A Power List is always going to be a subjective thing, but surely more than eight women would show up on anyone's list of their top 50? After all, isn't this Socialist government we suffer under supposed to be run by a lesbian sisterhood?

If you consider the list reasonably accurate then it's depressing - so few women, so few people outside business, so few who aren't Pakeha.

And if you don't think the list is on the mark, then that's depressing too - that the people who are perceived to be powerful in our society, by a supposedly liberal magazine, are still largely so like the be-suited, clubbable, older men that would have dominated a list of this nature twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago.
Update, 2.38pm 20th Nov: DPF has also posted on this topic, with similar points about the lack of representation from the public sector.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Oh rapturous wonder!

Whilst looking for Deborah Coddington defending herself against Keith Ng's excellent fiskings of her latest faff* on National Radio this arvo** I stumbled across a review this morning of a new Lolly Leopold book.

A NEW Lolly Leopold book!!

Much excitement in the Span household. I adored Clubs, which won the Book of the Year in the 2005 NZ Post Children and Young Adults' Book Awards and really is a work of art, and not just for the drawings either.

The new book is called Billy (scroll down) and it's out sometime this month in hardback.

One part of me is persistently whispering Buy It, Buy It, You Wants It, Buy It, BUY IT!

But another part is aware of the proximity of that orgy of gift-giving, tree-wasting and generally spending money on useless unwanted pap also known as Xmas.*** And that sector of my brain is far more cunning than the profligate part that would see me rushing down to St Lukes right now with the $10 Paper Plus voucher I won yesterday and poking the unaware shop assistants with the corner of said voucher hissing "Billy, Billy, BILLLLLLLYYYYYY!"****

So, if you are a reader who is inclined to purchase Span a small token of acknowledgement of her wonderfulness on the occasion of the inaccurate anniversary of the birth of a carpenter, or indeed you know someone else who is so disposed, then kindly head in the direction of Kate de Goldi and Jacqui Colley's new book with the lovely blue cover.

Thank ye kindly.

* Asian immigration + former Act MP = zany statistical mastication and racism masquerading as journalism
** It's not up there yet.
*** Yes, yes, crossing out the Christ, blah blah.
**** I tried something similar when Clubs came out, after hearing the authors interviewed on the radio. Now when I worked in a bookstore I did actually bother to keep a bit informed about books. I can understand why many who work in such soulless chain stores don't, but disavowing all knowledge of any book called Clubs when it had just won a rather big book prize really took the chocolate eclair.

Weekend Weather Talisman the Second

Well it worked sufficiently last time and I'd really like nice weather tomorrow, for entirely selfish reasons, so I'm going to give it another go:

Plus I always like reminding Stef that she really does want to come home at some point.

Line in the ether

Nevermind that it was in the latest "newsletter" that comes with my Telecom bill, Swarmsketch is actually quite nifty.

You get to draw one continuous line, of 100px, in a collaborative drawing. 100px is not very long, so I'm pretty impressed with the person who managed to draw a feather in the hat of the current artwork, titled Renaissance Costumes.

The best feature though is looking at the history of the pictures, watching them come together over time. Quite the worthy procrastination tool, methinks.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Just looney tunes"

Usually my father and I don't agree on much that has a political element.*

And in general my reaction to Stadium Madness is similar to Idiot/Savant's; I don't really care.
Don't get me wrong, I do care about rugby. So does my Dad. I care so much that these days I cannot actually watch a game. I get so wound up by half time (even if my team is winning) that I can't watch the second half. On the occasions Nickname Pending watches a game I will do a crossword or read a book and glance at the screen from time to time, lest I turn into The Incredible Span, all green of skin and exploding with rage.

But to get back to the point - at last Dad and I agree on something. We don't need a new stadium. Let's just use Eden Park, as we promised in our World Cup bid, and spend the dosh on something else.
  • A decent public transport system for Auckland - one that is actually accessible from most suburbs, and goes to places other than a big Grey Elephant on waterfront
  • Pay increases for some of those workers funded by the Government who are currently campaigning for them - aged care nurses and caregivers, radiotherapists, kindergarten head teachers, support staff in schools, hospital staff, I'm sure there are many more.
  • Funding more than one parks officer in the whole of Auckland City - with that kind of money we could fund several for over a decade
  • Commissioning some really crash hot research to find out how to actually address our drinking culture problems (without giving in to the simplistic, knee-jerk and ineffective option of raising the drinking age). I suspect this may need to start with that earth-shatteringly obvious step of actually asking people why they do/don't drink. I'm prepared to give them that starter for free. Just part of the service here at Spanblather.
  • Shortening waiting lists - hip ops, cataracts, breast reconstruction, some men's health operation thingy - half a billion wouldn't even touch the sides in the health budget, but it could make a practical difference to the people (both patients and staff) who would get those ops.
And that's just a few minutes worth of thought. No doubt everyone else has their own ideas, although if your idea is a tax cut then you haven't thought hard enough.
I do know that we'd have to spend money on Eden Park regardless. But it's a lot less and there's a lot less risk of it blowing out. And there was Professor Andrew Zimbalist on National Radio yesterday talking about the really quite large number of stadiums of the Stadium New Zealand genre that have gone bust. For a real life example not that far from our fair city, you could have a look at this article from last year, about Telstra Stadium, aka Stadium Australia. Dad reckoned he heard today somewhere that they had gone bust recently, but a quick google didn't turn it up. Update, same day 7.51pm: DPF has it though, so it must be true.

So for someone who doesn't care I've written quite a bit, above. I guess ultimately I won't care if they don't go with the waterfront. I will care if they do, because I'll resent it.

But either way, is there not some other news in this damn country, besides where we put a building for a one off sports event in five years time?

PS Dad also reckons any new stadium has to have a roof on it. So if anyone reading this is ever talking to Mr Mallard about this, you might want to pass that on.

Update, 19th Nov 10.55pm: The Red Letter is keeping a tally of bloggers for, against and undecided.

* Case in point, I rang him last week and he said it hadn't been a very good week for his side politically. I immediately assumed he was talking about the Republicans losing control in the USA and said " well I don't think it's that bad that the USA has it's first ever female Speaker". He immediately interrupted me and said "no, I don't care about that, I'm a New Zealander." He was down in the dumps about the drinking age, so we had a good ol' disagreement about that. We never even got to disputing the 100 MPs Bill Dad's side lost the same night. I remember many many moons ago when my boyfriend at the time wasn't allowed to come into the house until he signed the 99 MP petition. I was perversely proud that Dad's copy of the petition never got more than two signatures - his own and that of my intimidated boyfriend.

Monday, November 13, 2006

If you're a leftie and you know it raise a hand

Is it just me or do there seem to be a lot less left commenters around the blogs than there were a few months back?

I feel as if whenever I post something political most of the responses are from right wingers (hence a certain feeling of frustration and demotivation to post) and I've noticed a similar trend over at Capitalism Bad. No Right Turn has long attracted commenters from all over, but there too I feel as if there are considerably more right than left, in an imbalance not so noticeable in the past.

Partly I wonder if the advent of Public Address System will consolidate many left wing commenters in one site, although from what we're seeing so far there don't seem to be too many of the usual suspects from here over there (although the request for real names makes it hard to tell).

Anyway, that's my impression, based purely on not much at all. What have other readers observed? Has there been a left exodus off the blogs?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Kit kat time

I'm writing this for two reasons:
1. I really am struggling to find a) time and b) inspiration to write much here at the moment
2. Usually when I put up one of these "I'm not going to be posting for a little while" posts something happens pretty quick smart to get me off my lardy arse* and back into active blogging.

Here's hoping...

* Hmm, I guess that ought to be "get me onto my lardy arse", but hey, I'm happy to pretend blogging is exercise if you are.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Being bothered

Well the problem is that I'm not really. Bothered that is. There's a few things I'd like to post about, but haven't been able to find the time in a very busy work schedule and I seem to be currently un-afflicted by the usual compulsion to blog, as my job is taking all of my mental energy.

What I would have written about if both factors were present might have included:

  • The possible (probable?) Key leadership challenge on the back of the TV3 TNS poll - actually I've recently been thinking that Brash has held on a lot longer than I'd thought he would.
  • The Sunday programme on the meningitis vaccine tonight - there may be a case to make for the vaccination programme being a mistake, but the standards of journalism in that show really let their side down. I've had ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) - no one knows what causes it, although there are various theories. Sunday failed to really show causal links, and they certainly didn't show that the NZ authorities were aware of the cases from Norway that the telly went on about. At one point they said that 33 people had been paid out compensation in NZ for side effects, when in fact we know from earlier media coverage as a result of Tony Ryall's questions to the Minister that these were almost all reactions to having an injection (any injection). I'm reasonably sure that it wasn't so much that people were being paid compensation as they were having their medical costs covered under the ACC scheme, as they should be. Anyway, I'm not an expert, and it would have been nice to see some NZ expert comment in the doco. (No I do not count Sue Kedgeley as an expert.)
  • Jordan's recent post defending himself against the trolls (yet again) and encouraging others to keep blogging. I really have reached the conclusion that many of those who comment on various blogs just wish those of us in the minority here in the 'sphere (that would be those of the left leaning inclination) would migrate to Mars at the earliest possible opportunity. Thanks to Jordan for the much-needed bolster.
  • And a surprising bouquet for Xtra. Yes, don't fall off your chair and rip your pjs, those letters were X, T, R and A. I'm very sceptical about the upgrading of their broadband speeds, as we got a letter from them a few months back saying that our line couldn't go as fast as our plan allowed at that time, so assumedly we haven't seen any improvement now. But a very very welcome side-effect seems to be that they have finally addressed the spam problem. Instead of getting 150-200 spams a day now I'm now getting one or two. Single figures! The spam filter was my main reason for shifting to Xtra in the first place and I'm finally seeing the benefit - hurrah!
Hmm, that's a bit longer than you'd expect from someone who can't be bothered...