Friday, August 31, 2007

AmeriNZ #36 - Forever Young

Episode 36 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

I had some computer issues this week, and I was a little under the weather earlier in the week. So, this episode is a bit of a mixed bag. First up, there's a new tourism commercial for NZ coming soon to highlight New Zealand as the newest nation on earth (geologically speaking). It's sparked a small controversy. I talk about that at 4.28. At 6:32, I talk about the poll on my blog for your favourite Kiwi, and tell you who those people were. Around 10:23 I give a little more—and simpler—information about the structure of local government. What do Australians think of America and Americans? At 11:59 I'll tell you. Comments are up next at 15:37. Then I tell you why I didn't podcast on Tuesday; that's at 23:06.

Leave a comment, or send an email to me at amerinz[at)yahoo.com.

Mentioned in this episode:

Controversy over the new commercial promoting New Zealand. See the new commercial here. For more about Dave Dobbyn (who wrote the former commercial song), go here.

To read biographies about New Zealanders from the past, go here.

A higher turnout is expected in this year's local elections.

Australians like Americans and America, but not George Bush. A fundamentalist preacher in South Australia had a bizarre excuse for molesting his daughters.

Leave a comment—if you want to...

Update: This post has received a lot of hits because the "Forever Young" commercial is playing overseas. I have an updated post about this, which included a video of the commercial and more information about it.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Toilet training

I admit it: I had no idea that tapping your foot while sitting in a public toilet stall was some sort of sexual signal. Touching foot-to-foot, okay that makes more sense, and the fingers under the partition, yeah I can see there might be something more to that than just an unsanitary wave.

So US Senator Larry Craig has helped to educate millions of men about sexual signals in the men's room. But what, exactly, has he done beside that? What crime?

He supposedly engaged in “lewd behaviour”, but what's “lewd” about tapping your foot? Let's be clear here: He did not engage in any sexual act while in that stall. As I heard someone recently remark, how is what he did really any different from asking someone in a bar to go home with him?

Well, it is different. Craig was in a public place where most people would have the expectation of being able to use the facilities for their intended purpose. Also, as an apparently deeply closted man, he'd never go to a bar or any other establishment where he could openly seek sex with similarly minded men in a place where those who aren't interested won't be around.

These days, most men caught in these situations lead lives that make them appear heterosexual, even to the point of marrying and having children. Being so deeply closeted, the only way they can act on their sexual nature is to seek out these clandestine (and dangerous) meeting places. Openly gay men have plenty of other options.

However, for years police have used these entrapment techniques and before the advancement of gay liberation their crusades caught plenty of gay men. These men would be charged with criminal offences and, even without any evidence, they would often plead guilty to avoid exposure. In some places, the men would face felony charges. In others, their offences landed them on “sex offender” lists, even decades after the events.

Entrapment like this is still used as a tool of oppression. All too often, as in this case, there's no real crime committed, and the police still rely on closted men paying any fines to try and avoid being outed, as Larry Craig did.

So, while I'm always glad to see some rabidly anti-gay wingnut exposed as a hypocrite, I'm not too thrilled about how his hypocrisy was revealed. Entrapment is entrapment, no matter the ideology involved, and its long use to harass and oppress gay men is an issue that still hasn't been dealt with.

Mind you, if America had healthier attitudes to sex and sexuality in general, then it's likely that these events would never have happened, and it would've taken more than a tapping foot to see Larry Craig arrested or exposed.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cat update

I took Curzon into the vet for a re-check yesterday. He's no better, probably not much worse. It's pretty clear now that he does have cancer. The vet prescribed more steroids (which are helping him bulk up and, apparently, give him a sence of well-being), pills to help with lung function and some drops to help with his heart, since breathing problems can damage the heart.

So, he's not in pain, not in any apparent discomfort or any distress, apart from working to breathe, but he's definitely slowed down. The vet gave us meds for three weeks. That may be optimistic.

This is really sad, of course, but we have a responsibility to him to give him as much qaulity life as we can for as long as he has a quality of life. At the moment, he still does. We'll take these days one at a time.

Update 31/08/07: Curzon has started avoiding me, since I'm always trying to put pills down his throat. Nigel says I should just give him his medicine as I'm able because Curzon will see this as just trapping him. I'm not too keen on him avoiding me, either. So, I'm mixing his meds with a little tinned cat meat, which he likes (and the extra calories would be good for him). Hopefully he'll get the medicine that way and stop associating me with the trauma of being medicated. I'd rather rather we both enjoyed whatever days he has left.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Who's next?

I couldn't be happier that Alberto Gonzales has quit as Attorney General. It was way overdue.

Actually, he never should've been confirmed in the first place because the man's only qualification, apparently, was that he was unfailingly loyal to Bush. That's hardly a good quality for an attorney general.

Gonzales backed illegal warrantless wiretapping, apparently trying to get then-Attorney General Ashcroft to back it, too—applying pressure while Ashcroft was in his sick bed recovering from surgery. Gonzales was also apparently the main backer of the US engaging in torture, re-defining torture so that the US could do it while saying it wasn't—because Gonzales had re-defined the word to exclude the means of torture used by this administration. Gonzales apparently was deeply involved in establishing the whole “extraordinary rendition” torture programme.

Gonzales' downfall began when he fired US Attorney's for purely political reasons—they weren't being sufficiently aggressive in pursuing Democrats—and then he allegedly lied to Congress about his involvement in the scandal. This was only the most visible of Gonzales many faults.

The real tragedy of this is that if Gonzales had been any kind of real, qualified Attorney General, if he had even a smidgen of integrity about him, he could have played a role in derailing much of the anti-Hispanic prejudice surrounding the immigration debate. But Gonzales was only worried about loyalty to Bush.

So, once again, good riddance to bad rubbish. Since people in the Bush Administration have been told to leave by Labor Day or stay to the end, one wonder's who will resign next. Any chance we could convince both Bush and Cheney to leave now? Please?

Winter Cold, Human

I seem to have a late winter cold, lucky me. I feel pretty miserable, mostly due to my sinuses. I’ll persevere. Still that, and extensive work on computer files meant that I just didn’t get time to blog or record a podcast yesterday.

That also explains the grumpy tone of posts I’ll make later today.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sick Children 2

Three weeks ago, I wrote about how George Bush’s ideological game playing threatens the health and safety of millions of American children from families that can’t afford health insurance. America’s ABC News is focusing attention on the plight of uninsured children, including a report on tonight’s World News Tonight (the complete series of stories is here).

ABC News also has a map of Uninsured Children State by State. It paints a grim picture highlighting the question the Bushies refuse to answer: How can the richest nation on earth fail to provide even basic healthcare for those who cannot afford it, especially children?

Actually, Bush did have an answer: He claimed there is access to healthcare:
“After all,” Bush jauntily declared, “you can just go to an emergency room.”

Three weeks ago, I had to ask “
What colour is the sky on that man’s planet?” Clearly I still can’t answer that question.

Let me say this clearly so that even an idiot like George Bush can understand it: Emergency rooms are the worst, most expensive and least appropriate means of healthcare delivery for anyone, especially children. People delay healthcare until their case is critical because if their situation isn’t critical, they can be turned away. Too often by the time people go to emergency rooms, it’s too late to do anything. Even when treatment is possible, very often it’s more expensive and involved.

Bush and his far-right buddies need to stop playing games with children’s lives. Countries throughout the developed world don’t have the problem delivering basic healthcare that
America has. All that’s missing in America is the will to change things, but change will never happen while Bush and the neo-cons maintain control.

In the meantime, they’re quite happy to let the children suffer. To me, that’s sick.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Broken China and paradigms

Recent events have shown a major weakness of capitalism’s current business paradigm. The scandals about tainted products from China and the panic of gamblers in share markets, especially New York, have demonstrated the need for reform.

To hear some people talk about it, the recent scandals involving Chinese products with dangerous and banned components or tainted with chemicals is all about the Chinese, as if they’re uniquely corrupt. I have a different view: It’s the logical extension of unfettered capitalism and the current business paradigm.

I’ve written before about how the old business paradigm of a fair return on a fair investment has changed drastically into one in which… the only thing that matters is maximising profit and the return to shareholders. Screw everything and everyone that gets in the way of that goal.

I’ve also written as recently as March about share market investors who caused a global financial panic with their greed. The same thing has been happening lately.

The manufacturing scandals caused by rampant greed and the financial panics caused by greedy gamblers are not the fault of capitalism itself, but of the gutless wonders in governments around the world who have allowed themselves to become the enablers of whatever greedy pursuit big business wants.

No government is immune from giving big business a pass, but some are worse than others. We ordinary people rely on our governments to protect us from the excesses of big business and if they don’t we have nothing. The thing is, legitimate businesses—those that don’t buy into the current business paradigm of greed first, second and third—also rely on governments to keep everyone honest.

The current model, the current business paradigm, is doomed to failure. It’s time for change.

First, to deal with greed encouraging dangerous products and manufacturing practices, strong regulation will be required with international cooperation. The cost of taking greedy shortcuts must become too high for greedy businesses to even think about. This ain’t gonna happen.

Second, there needs to be an entirely new model for raising capital that avoids sharemarkets altogether, or, failing that, some way must be found to exclude gamblers. Sharemarkets were intended as a way for companies to raise needed capital by sharing the risk and reward, but they’re now little more than high-stakes poker games. Companies, ordinary small shareholders, workers, consumers and society at large all lose out under the current structure. This reform could happen, but probably won’t.

One final thing that’s needed is for speculative trading in currencies to be banned. These currency gamblers produce nothing, create nothing and do nothing apart from spread misery and destruction in their wake. They are the very epitome of the “evil capitalist” that the far left rails against. Banning gambling on currencies actually might happen.

People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake and we simply cannot allow greedy robber barons to get away with their crimes anymore. Reward the true capitalists—those who create value and opportunity, especially through entrepreneurship—and punish the ones who destroy value and opportunity through their unfettered greed.

Creating reform or a new paradigm will be very difficult to achieve, but the alternative would be far, far worse.

Friday, August 24, 2007

AmeriNZ 35 – Election

Episode 35 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.
I begin today by updating earlier topics. That’s at 1:58. Then at 7:47 I talk about the extended topic for today, New Zealand’s local elections. Finally, it’s comments at 15:05.
The opening track today was by a terrible new recording artist. Bridge music is the same.

On Tuesday I talked about how staff at Air New
Zealand apparently edited Wikipedia to make the airline look better in an entry about the 1979 crash at Mount Erebus in Antarctica. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (via Stuff), it turns out that people in Australia’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet made 126 changes to Wikipedia articles to remove things that were damaging to the government of current Prime Minister John Howard. But people in Australia’s Defence Department made 5,000 edits! The article says:

Other curious—though apparently non-political—edits by department employees include adding sentences on various sites, including the additions "Freemasonry is the work of Satan", "Mormonism is the work of Satan" and "Jesus is god".

Meanwhille, in
Canada it’s been revealed that Parliamentary computers were used to add anti-gay comments to Wikipedia articles.

Back in episode 33, I talked about the religious right in
New Zealand, and I mentioned that a secretive right wing christianist group tried to influence the 2005 NZ general election by spending over a million dollars on an advertising smear campaign against Labour and the Greens. That group is called the Exclusive Brethren, and they’re back in the news. Australian Prime Minister John Howard met with them recently, as have other members of his government. He defended doing so, calling them, basically, an “ordinary Christian” group. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has called the group and extremist cult and refused to meet them.

The extended topic for today is the start of the campaigns for local government elections.

Leave a comment or take part in the current poll. You can also send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

The Bush show

My friend Jason put a post on his blog about the Bush administration’s attempts to hide and disrupt anti-Bush protests at public events. These efforts led to the unlawful and unwarranted arrest of two protestors for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts. The federal government eventually settled a first amendment (freedom of speech) case with the protestors, paying them $80,000 without admitting guilt.

Jason makes a great point:

It again shows the influence of Karl Rove. The Bush presidency has been nothing more than one continuous campaign. The problem is at some point they have to govern the country. Maybe they'll try that sometime before they leave office.

That’s well put, because the tactics he quotes in his post are standard fare at campaign rallies. But campaigning is not the same as governing, and that’s one of the many reasons this administration has failed so miserably.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Booby prize

Yesterday Auckland again had the Boobs on Bikes parade to promote the adults-only Erotica Expo. Last year, Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard called the parade “morally repugnant”. This year he called it “Auckland’s day of shame”. Last year, he tried to ban the parade, but this year he bowed to legal advice that banning the parade wasn’t legally possible.

New Zealand, exposing female breasts isn’t considered “indecent exposure”; exposing genitals is. However, if a group of women walked down the street topless, they could be charged with disorderly behaviour. Women riding bare-breasted on the backs of motorcycles (or on military tanks, dubbed “tits on tanks” by some) can’t be charged with that because, as a public and publicised event, people had the option of avoiding the event.

Mayor Hubbard has pledged to revise bylaws to again attempt to ban the parade next year, if he wins re-election this year. He has two opponents, an extreme right wing (and widely despised) former mayor and the other is the organiser of the Erotica Expo and Boobs on Bikes parade, who is always called a “porn king” by the media. Should be an interesting election.

The usual suspects condemned the parade, predictably. Boring! On the other side, the NZ Herald said a 21-year old man commented that “breasts were natural and should be allowed to be shown in public”. Because they’re “natural”—yep, I’m sure that’s what he was thinking about.

Anyway, most Aucklanders gave the event a big yawn, not caring whether it happened or not. Once again, ordinary people are clearly far more sensible than politicians and self-appointed moral guardians.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

News we missed

The American news media has often been accused of being nothing more than a cheering section for Bush and his Iraq war. It’s only been recently that any mainstream news media organisation has offered even weak criticism (apart from Faux News, of course, which cheerleads so loudly that all other war supporters look like opponents by comparison).

When two Brookings analysts, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, the mainstream news media positively wet themselves with excitement at two “vocal war critics” who supported the war and Bush’s escalation of it. Trouble was, it was all a lie. As Think Progress pointed out, the two have an established record as vocal supporters of the war.

So when a group of honest-to-goodness soldiers in
Iraq publish a New York Times Op-Ed piece that’s strongly critical of Bush’s Iraq war, you’d think the mainstream news media might pay at least a little attention, wouldn’t you? After all, soldiers like these are constantly sainted as heroes, right? So surely their on the ground, in the line of fire observations might carry a bit more weight than some pundit or journalist who’s never been to Iraq or, at most, who’s only done a carefully scheduled whirlwind visit. You’d be wrong.

The silence greeting the soldiers’ honest appraisal of the situation in
Iraq has been deafening, as TPM’s The Horse’s Mouth pointed out. The soldiers directly contradict the propaganda from the Bush White House, and the mainstream news media seem determined not to allow anything to do that—just like many of them continue to promote the myth that the September report on Bush’s “surge” is coming from General Petraeus when, in fact, the White House will be writing it “with input” from General Petraeus.

If there’s no effective political opposition in
America, maybe part of the reason is that there’s total lack of objective mainstream news media. It takes real guts to stand up and declare the emperor has no clothes. The soldiers essentially did that with their Op-Ed piece. The mainstream news media seem determined to make sure no one hears them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

AmeriNZ #34 - Knocks

Episode 34 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Today was a warm, sunny, beautiful late winter day in Auckland, and I’m back—and probably back on my normal schedule, too. I’ll talk a little bit more about that, and other things going on with us, starting at 1:19.

Tony Orlando is touring New Zealand at the moment for the first time in his career. At 3:10 I’ll update a couple of the things I talked about last week. New Zealand and Australia have issues at the moment. I’ll tell you about that in the extended topic, at 5:58. Finally, it’s on to comments at 10:35.

I put a new poll on my blog, “Who’s your favourite Kiwi?” Vote for as many as you want. It’s completely anonymous.

Leave me a comment and take part in the poll. You can send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com.

Related links for this episode:

Price rises on the way after dollar's big dive and Dollar in 'scary' dive.

Tough US entry law creates rift with EU.

Australian army won't use Air NZ again and Clark tells Aussie minister to stop meddling in NZ. Erebus article censor found at Air NZ.

Mike Hipp’s Podcastsoup.net

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Monday, August 20, 2007

Strippers and politicians

The Australian media is buzzing with the news that the Leader of the Oppostion, Kevin Rudd of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), visited a New York strip club when he was on a government-funded trip to the city in 2003 to observe the UN. The news was first reported, not surprisingly, by Rupert Mudoch’s papers also suggested that management cautioned Rudd about his behaviour. No one who was there would verify that version.

For his part, Rudd says he was “too drunk” to remember much about the visit, and that it was the second time he was drunk. Rudd, who is a conservative Christian, despite his Labor Party politics, had previously been viewed as being fairly wholesome. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said this would show Rudd had "blood in his veins".

Rudd blames Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for the leak. While Downer didn’t deny the allegation, he said through a spokesman that he wouldn’t dignify the suggestion with a response.

Green Party Senator Bob Brown said:

Four years ago Kevin Rudd got drunk and took himself into a strip club. Four years ago John Howard, sober, took Australia into the Iraq war. I think the electorate can judge which one did the more harm.
Prime Minister John Howard, who has been courting right wing Christian voters lately, declined to comment on the matter, a tactic followed by others in his government.

If I were an Australian, I'd be more concerned that Rudd claimed to have been drunk only twice in his life, and that maybe John Howard hasn't been drunk nearly enough.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Quiet time

These days, our cat Curzon is on my mind quite a lot. That’s just the way it is, and the way it’ll probably remain for awhile. Not talking about it is like ignoring the big elephant in the room.

This morning I posted an update to my post (at the end of the post) about him being sick. That update mentioned all the optimistic bits, and ignored the parts that were less so. But I can’t ignore them.

Last night, Curzon hung around inside the house and at one point even slept in my lap while I was at my computer (Jake was outside at the time). This was unusual, and it crossed both our minds that he was hanging around to say goodbye. But then this morning he seemed much better, as I wrote in my update.

This afternoon he came into the house and went into the master bedroom to sleep. He did that sometimes last winter, and today was a cool, windy, rainy day, so there’s nothing unusual about that. And yet…

Despite eating, drinking and grooming, there still seemed something not right, almost like there was a sadness in him. A little before five, I saw he was under the bed, so I went into the bedroom and lay on the bed. A couple minutes later he jumped up and curled up against me and went to sleep.

I lay there, felt his warmth, the softness of his fur—and the breathing that was much faster than normal. I counted his breaths, several different times, all with the same result: Too fast. I looked out the window and watched the trees swaying in the wind, the dance of their leaves and branches silhouetted against the white-grey sky. Sea gulls floated in the wind, rising, falling, seemingly moving single feathers to change direction. It was a nice, quiet time.

And I lay there, even though there were many things I could be doing and probably a few I should have been doing. I felt Curzon laying against me and I couldn’t help but think that I may not have many more opportunities to do that. Right then, it seemed like the most important place to be, the most important thing to be doing.

We’re not giving up on him. We’re going to continue with his medicine and hope with all our might that it works, no matter how much we might be afraid it won’t. And I’ll continue to grab some quiet time with him when I can. Right now, we both seem to need that.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Family ties

The news today reported that George and Laura Bush’s daughter Jenna is engaged to be married. Already speculation is flying that there may be a White House wedding; Jenna would the first president’s daughter to be married there since Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia.

What struck me about the story was the supreme irony: Bush’s daughter will be able to marry the person she loves, something that Bush and Dick Cheney made sure was denied to Cheney’s daughter, Mary. In the Bush-Cheney universe, some people are simply more equal than others, and Jenna Bush is automatically superior to Mary Cheney, thanks to the work of their fathers.

In this tale of two fathers, Dick gave his daughter away—or her human rights, anyway. What George does at the wedding is just symbolism.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sick Cat

Now, it’s our cat.

Curzon developed a kind of cough a few days ago, and on Sunday night I thought he wasn’t eating as much as usual. The next night I felt him, and he was definitely thinner than normal.

Tuesday morning I took him to the vet, who was concerned. An x-ray showed probable lung cancer. We were given several options, including the final one, but Curzon is still acting basically normal. So, we looked for more options.

Today I took him to a specialised vet clinic that could do more advanced x-rays, and the much clearer results showed the nodules in his lungs that are consistent with cancer—but it’s possible it’s from another cause. They did an ultrasound and found that the cancer, if that’s what it is, hasn’t affected any other organs.

It’s possible that this is merely an inflammatory respiratory disease, or even lung worm, but the vet is about 90% certain it’s cancer. So, we’re giving Curzon an anti-biotic to clear up any secondary infection and an anti-inflammatory to deal with inflammation. If it’s cancer, it’ll make it manageable for a bit longer. If it’s disease, this will help.

Cancer would mean we’d have him for a few weeks to months. Respiratory disease can be dealt with. Apparently, lung cancer in cats has no known cause and can take only weeks or at most a few months to become serious, almost always without symptoms. But, the specialised clinic recently had a case very similar to this that looked like cancer, but which turned out to be respiratory disease. I never thought I’d see the day I’d wish my cat had a disease, and I’ll gladly grasp at any straw that comes my way.

Curzon is our cat, but Nigel gave him to me as a fortieth birthday present, so he’s always been my special boy. He cuddles up with me every night and I have trouble sleeping on the rare nights he stays out all night. I can’t imagine more than one night without him meowing at me, demanding scratches under his collar before he curls up against my side and goes to sleep. I’m hoping that it’ll be years before those empty nights arrive. We lost Saibh only three months ago; I’m simply not ready to lose another.

Update 18 August:
Curzon is eating and drinking water pretty normally, he's grooming and his breathing seems better. He also hasn't "coughed" in a couple days. This morning, he allowed me to give him his medicine without fighting me too much, almost as if he understood that it was helping him. In around ten days we'll take him in for another check and we'll know if this is all clearing things or merely making him feel better. We’re still hoping for the best.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

AmeriNZ #33 – Religious Right

Episode 33 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.
There was no podcast on Friday because I simply ran out of time. It’s possible that I also won’t have time to record this coming Friday.

Should I keep the twice-weekly schedule, or does the sort of limited scope of this podcast make more sense in weekly doses? What do you think? Obviously I’ll do what makes sense for me, but I’d really like to know what you’d prefer, so vote in the anonymous poll at the top right of this blog.
Today I go over a selection of recent news stories about or affecting
New Zealand, all of which have something to do with US influence on New Zealand. That starts at the 2:03. Then, I’ll go into more detail about one of those stories on the religious right in New Zealand, my main topic today, at 8:55. Finally, it’s comments at 15:43.
Please leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz[at}yahoo.com, and be sure to vote in the poll at the top right of this blog.

Links from today’s episode:

About travel rules—Democracy Now! for July 31, new rules for travelling to the US. Immigration changes proposed in
New Zealand. Copyright law changes in New Zealand. Low unemployment rate in NZ continues. Slap Upside the Head on the Gay Pride Flag. Incidental music this episode by Nick Murray from the Podsafe Music Network.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Truth about labelling

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about the proposal to require country-of-origin labels on food sold in supermarkets, and in an update I mentioned that in my experience at a local store run by Australian-owned Progressive Enterprises, fresh fruit and vegetables only were only sometimes labelled with country of origin, despite the company’s claim that it was their policy.

Well, today I had to go to that store, so I counted: In the main section, there were 62 signs above the loose fruits and vegetables (things not packed into bags). The country of origin was noted on only 13 of those—and that includes, generously, those simply labelled “imported” (like bananas, which aren’t grown here) and Coconuts, which were labelled “Island”, without saying which one(s). In case your arithmetic is as bad as mine, that works out to less than 21 percent of all loose fresh fruits and vegetables being labelled with country of origin.

Why do I care? Because the company claims to be doing something when, in this store, it clearly wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t even close to doing what it said it was doing. Fortunately, there’s no extra charge for the hypocrisy that goes into the shopping bag, too.

Good riddance

Karl Rove is leaving the Bush White House the end of the month. Finally.

He’s been called any number of names—among those without expletives are “evil genius”, “Bush’s Machiavelli”, “Voldemort”, “un-indicted co-conspirator” and “Bush’s brain”.

Certainly a name that the left and the right can both agree on is the one Bush used to describe him: “The Architect”. Rove was responsible for the strategies that got and kept Bush in power, and laid the groundwork for an unprecedented concentration of power in the Executive Branch.

For Rove, there was no tactic too low, nothing too despicable to be beyond contemplation or use. He managed to steer Bush toward election in 2004 (because it’s impossible to be re-elected to an office you were never elected to…), and did so by launching the most vile and contemptible scaremongering, scapegoating and focus-shifting I’ve ever seen.

He’s been mentioned again and again and again as being at the centre of any number of scandals in the Bush White House but, like Cheney, he’s managed to emerge without a scratch. Whatever else, that’s a mark either of sheer genius or luck.

So, I’m not the least bit sorry to see him go. That’s one less self-loathing, bigoted opportunistic Bushista in the White house. With 525 days to go, the doors to the White House are likely to swing wildly as staffers get out while they can—the proverbial rats deserting a sinking ship, except that rats everywhere would be insulted to be compared with Karl Rove.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Monday, August 13, 2007

LAX procedures

Adding to the hell that is ordinarily Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), 20,000 passengers were stranded on Saturday local time when a customs service computer system broke down for around ten hours. The passengers were kept in four terminals and in 60 planes.

An AP story said:

A major switch in the system, which contains names of arriving passengers and law enforcement data about them, including arrest warrants, had failed and had to be replaced, said Mike Fleming, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

This is 2007: Hasn’t the customs service ever heard of backups? Wouldn’t you think that if this “switch” is so important that they’d have some sort of contingency plan? Or is stranding 20,000 people acceptable operating procedure for them?

Add this to the list of reasons why I’m determined to avoid flying into LAX the next time I come to
America. I hate every second I spend in that airport; the risk of spending ten hours stuck there is too much to even contemplate.

Romney spins

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is trying to spin his dismal showing in an Iowa straw poll as being a huge victory. He’s spent millions of dollars on his campaign in the state, yet only received 31.5 percent of the vote against a pack of lesser rivals, not including frontrunner Rudy Giuliani nor former frontrunner John McCain.

Romney blamed the heat and the fact that he was expected to win as reasons for the low overall participation among Iowa Republicans, and for his low result in which not even a third of Iowa Republicans supported him. My friend Tim Drake summed this up well when he said, “Put another way, 68% of Republicans voted for nobodies instead of Romney.”

Still, it may be a bit early to be planning Romney’s political funeral. At the moment, the first real votes in the race for the nomination won’t be counted for five months, and the new president won’t be elected for nearly fifteen months. That’s a long campaign to go—and to endure.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Professional blogs

The mainstream media has now firmly embraced blogs as a way of extending their content—and making it more relevant to modern, web-connected readers. Virtually every newspaper that has any pretence of being serious now has one or more official blogs written by their journalists or columnists.

Personally, I think that’s a great thing, but maybe not for the reason the newspapers might hope. By reading these professional blogs, I can get a glimpse of the way the journalist really thinks, like their biases, their political viewpoint—the sorts of things that most journalists try to mask.

A case in point is the New Zealand Herald’s Audrey Young, who I’ve quoted in my own blog. Reading her articles, I thought she was right of centre, and from reading her blog, I’ve become convinced of it. But, I couldn’t care less. At least now I feel I know where she’s coming from, whether I agree with her or not (mostly not).

Whether or not I agree with her viewpoint generally, I think she was correct when she wrote in her blog for today,

It’s odd how so many people have issues about me writing a blog but few acknowledge the hard work that still goes into the newspaper. I firmly believe they can complement each other.

They absolutely can compliment each other, as well as add to the greater public debate. I hope newspapers don’t give up on their support for blogs because most journalists seem to feel freer to say things in a blog than they would even in a column. Given that many (but not all) journalists are better informed than the public in general is, that has to be a good thing.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pacific freeze

It’s beginning to look as if New Zealand and Australia may be on their own in their attempts to isolate Fiji while it remains under military dictatorship. The two countries wanted to keep Fiji isolated, at the least, at the upcoming Pacific Forum Leaders’ Meeting, but according to the New Zealand Herald, Pacific Island nations don’t seem keen on that idea.

Make no mistake:
Fiji is ruled by a military dictator. If the Commonwealth, and New Zealand and Australia in particular, want to be seen as defenders of democracy, there really is no alternative than to keep the pressure on Fiji to return to democracy immediately. You can’t do that by playing footsie with dictators.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Maori Interference?

Fair’s fair, right? I’ve criticised Australia’s Howard government for seeming to interfere in the domestic politics of other countries, so when a Member of the New Zealand Parliament does the same, they should be criticised, too.

Naturally, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Parliament’s justice and electoral select committee had gone to Australia on a four-day trip to study election funding law and victim’s rights. Two days into the trip, Maori Party MP Hone Harawira flew to Alice Springs to meet with Aboriginal leaders. Harawira said it was a last-minute decision—and only told his colleagues Tuesday night—but he bought the ticket while he was still in New Zealand.

About a month ago, Harawira, a former Maori activist, called Australian Prime Minister John Howard a “racist bastard” for Howard’s heavy-handed response to yet another report of sexual abuse and violence among Aborigines in the Northern Territory (I criticised Howard’s actions here). Harawira’s outburst prompted a rebuke from New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark who reminded Members of Parliament not to interfere in the domestic politics of other countries.

Harawira, reportedly with film crew in tow, visited Aborginal communities because, he said, “I wanted to discuss the racist piece of legislation that no one out here has been consulted on.”

The NZ Herald reported:
Mr Harawira told the ABC on Wednesday he wanted to highlight what he described as a racist military invasion by the Australian Government. He also accused the Labor opposition of political cowardice.
Some—including other Maori Members of Parliament—have criticised Harawira for interfering in Australia’s domestic politics while “ignoring” similar issues among Maori here in New Zealand. Others will, no doubt, defend his actions, perhaps arguing that it provides a balance to both the Howard Government and the opposition Australian Labor Party, which supported Howard’s moves.

Most people would have to agree—whether they agree with Harawira or not—that were he still just an activist, it would have been acceptable for him to criticise the Howard Government’s actions or meet with Aboriginal leaders. Any private person has that right, and some would argue that indigenous/first nations peoples have a special duty to speak up for each other.

However, as a Member of the New Zealand Parliament he’s also part of the governing body of New Zealand and as such his actions imply support from that body—especially since he was in Australia on a taxpayer-funded trip (though he paid for the flight to Alice Springs himself). Does that mean Harawira checked his freedom of speech at the doors of Parliament?

The reality, we are told, is yes, he did. Politicians aren’t supposed to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries. But that’s simply not true, is it? It depends on who’s criticising whom.

American Members of Congress criticise other countries—even allies—all the time. Howard criticised US Senator Barack Obama. This sort of thing goes on frequently. So why is it any different for Harawira?

Is it because his views are so forcefully and bluntly expressed? Is it because those views aren’t popular with some Australians and New Zealanders? Or is it because of his brown skin?

I think Harawira was justified in his criticisms, but he should have known better than to drag the NZ Parliament into it. He ought to pay back the full cost of his trip to Australia. NZ politicians should also feel free to criticise Harawira all they want—just don’t pretend that there’s really any rule about non-interference by ordinary Members of Parliament.

The issue with Howard and Downer interfering in other countries’ domestic politics is that they’re leaders of their country, not ordinary Members of Parliament outside of Government. Ordinary MPs can (and do) criticise other countries all the time, and I for one am glad they do. If they lose their freedom to speak, what hope do the rest of us have?

Update 11/08/07: While reaction continues to be mixed, Harawira has had some support from Aboriginal leaders. What I found especially interesting was that on last night's TV news, he was shown accompanying Aborigines on a nighttime patrol, and he was obviously shocked at the level of drunkenness he encountered. He had to admit that it was far worse than in Maori communities. All of which would seem to suggest that he should have done this personal investigation before he started shooting his mouth off.

Rising interest

NewstalkZB radio station reported this morning that a condom manufacturer has developed a version of their product that they say leads to firmer, more long-lasting erections without drugs. Apparently, interest in the product is swelling, leading to the company’s share price is rising.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bush backs hate

George Bush has pledged to veto any bill with the Matthew Shepard Act (MSA) attached to it (via Joe.My.God). JMG quotes White House spokesperson Tony Fratto as saying:

The qualifications [in the bill] are so broad that virtually any crime involving a homosexual individual has potential to have hate crimes elements. The proposals they're talking about are not sufficiently narrow.

That, of course, is either ill-informed nonsense or a deliberate lie. What’s really going on here? Does George Bush back hate—or is he merely pandering to the frothing extreme right christianists in his party? Certainly he’s pandering, as he always does when he can (as when he and Karl Rove federalised the issue of same sex marriage to use as a wedge issue to divide

The far right opposes the bill because it treats GLBT Americans as deserving dignity and respect. Their excuse for opposing it, however, is simpler: They claim that it’ll forbid free speech, which is a lie being deliberately spread by extremist christianist organisations in the
US. The media has so often repeated the lie that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) had to issue a special alert to journalists. It quotes one of the bills sponsors, Senator Gordon Smith (a Republican from Oregon) as saying:

This act is about the prosecution of crime, not prohibition of speech. Unless they believe part of their religion is the practice of violence against others, they should not be affected by this bill.

Others have pointed out that similar hate crimes legislation exist in many states and no church has ever been prosecuted for speech, no matter how anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-racial minority, etc. The reason is simple: The act doesn’t try to prohibit any speech—it can’t, actually, since the free speech protections of the First Amendment to the US Constitution trumps all.

Democrats in Congress don’t have enough votes to over-ride any presidential veto, and they’ll promptly remove the MSA from anything Bush vetoes—if it can get past Republican filibustering in the first place. It’s been suggested that Democrats should attach the MSA to every bill it sends to Bush, but they won’t do that, of course.

So, in the end, the backers of hate will triumph—for now. The hope is that the 2008
US elections will sweep aside every remnant of the current regime and those in Congress who back it so strongly. Until then, a word of advice to the Bushies: You’re either with us, or you’re on the side of hate. But, then, they may have heard that kind of wording somewhere before.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

AmeriNZ #32 – More Expats

Episode 32 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

After a journey through comments, it’s today’s Tuesday Talk segment. Today’s guests are Dawn and Darren, an American Expat couple in
Wellington. We had a lot of Skype problems, but persevered. I tried to fix some of it in the editing.

What made them move to
New Zealand? What do they miss about America? What couldn’t they do without from New Zealand? They share some of their observations about New Zealand, Wellington, music, food, rugby and more. Will they stay in New Zealand permanently?

Dawn and Darren’s blog is called Kia Ora…Bitches!

Opening music segment—from the appropriately named song “Moving to
New Zealand”—is by Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band from the Podsafe Music Network. The entire song in on Episode 23.

Leave a comment, or send an email to me at amerinz[at)yahoo.com.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Publicity stunt

An anti-gay, right-wing NZ religious-based “family” group is seeking to capitalise on a recent high-profile case of extreme child abuse to promote itself. It’s sponsoring a publicity stunt tomorrow urging people to “stand up against child abuse”, apparently without any irony at all.

The group, called “Family First NZ”, was a leading opponent of the recently enacted ban on smacking children.

It may seem a bit rich for a group that promoted the right of parents to use “reasonable force” (the defence in the law they were trying to preserve) against their children to now urge people to stand up for three minutes in “a symbolic ‘stand’ against child abuse”. The joint statement issued with other supporters of the stunt says, among other things:

We are sick and tired of doing nothing while our babies and children are being beaten and murdered… We have allowed political correctness to get in the way of speaking the truth… We have allowed a succession of policies over the last 30 years to diminish the significance of family structure.

They hardly “did nothing”: They promoted the right of parents to smack their children as long as it was “reasonable force”. In so doing, they promoted a climate where people think it’s okay to beat their children—even if they have no concept of what’s “reasonable force”.

And doesn’t some of that rhetoric sound awfully familiar? What are they really all about?

The group’s registration with the Charities Commission includes “religious activities” as one of its charitable purposes, and it’s easy to see what political viewpoint those religious activities promote. Consider these excerpts from their “Principles on Family” (PDF available here), in which they seek to define “family” by affirming:

1. …that the natural family, not the individual, is the fundamental social unit.
2. …the natural family to be the union of a man and a woman through marriage…
3. …the natural family is a fixed aspect of the created order… the natural family cannot change into some new shape; nor can it be re-defined by eager social engineers.
4. …the natural family is the foundational family system. While we acknowledge varied living situations caused by circumstance or dysfunction, all other “family forms” are incomplete or fabrications of the state.
6. …the marital union to be the authentic sexual bond…
7. …the sanctity of human life from conception to death…
9. …the world is abundant in resources. The breakdown of the natural family and the consequential moral and political failure, not human “overpopulation,” account for poverty, starvation, and environmental decay.

Okay, I only put the last one in because it’s so truly nutty: Climate change is happening, they say, because their “natural family” is breaking down. Yeah, okay then…

In general, the group promotes the same fundamentalist christianist political positions as a similarly named group in
Australia, along with any number of groups in the US. In addition to opposing same-sex marriage (and even civil unions, which they dismissed as “a total waste of time”) and same-sex families, they’re also anti-abortion, anti-“pornography” and—like all right wing christianist groups—oppose the vaccine against cervical cancer because giving it to girls “is like giving a 12 year old a condom and saying ‘just in case’.” Apparently the fact that their daughters may become infected with HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer, doesn’t matter to them.

“Family First”? Give me a break. They’re just another right-wing christianist group promoting their political-religious viewpoint. In principle, I have no problem with that. Freedom of speech demands that they have the right to promote their views, no matter how loony I might think they are.

But I do object to a group that advocated the right of parents to smack their children now promoting some phoney publicity stunt as if it would actually do anything to stop child abuse. Most of all, I object to the mainstream media letting them get away with it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Key points

Yesterday, leader of NZ’s conservative National Party, John Key, delivered his first speech as leader to his party’s annual conference. The coverage in the news was mixed, and so was the substance. But there was little in either to frighten the horses—I know, since I actually read the speech.

Key is from a more centrist orientation than his predecessor who, whatever his personal beliefs, aligned himself and his party with far right extremists both from
New Zealand and overseas. Key is said to be aligned with the so-called “Blue-Libs”, National party supporters who are social liberals and fiscal conservatives—a bit like “Blue Dog Democrats” in America, except that those Democrats tend to be conservative on most issues—“Republican Lite”, they’re often called.

In his speech, Key announced that if National wins the 2008 election there would be substantive tax cuts (the cornerstone of his predecessor’s failed election campaign), but not until their first post-election budget, the year after the election. This is what the TV news focused on that night—their headline ignoring the delayed implementation.

Today, the newspapers were focusing on Key’s pledge to promote home ownership, long a party priority. Some of it was standard fare and standard rhetoric—tax cuts to make mortgages more affordable and increasing productivity to lower interest rates. He also pledged to help people in public housing buy the houses they rent.

However, he and his team signalled other approaches that might raise an eyebrow: Changes to the Resource Management Act to make things easier for developers and opening up more land for development. All of which would seem to help developers more than ordinary homeowners. As Housing Minister Chris Carter said:

Selling off state houses, encouraging urban sprawl and deregulating the building sector led to a complete mess in the 1990s.

More worrying, however, was National’s pledge to increase involvement by the private sector in
New Zealand’s public health system. While the entire policy won’t be released until closer to the election, they’ll need to assure voters that fundamental concepts such as universal access won’t be endangered in any way. When I hear “private sector” mentioned alongside “healthcare system”, I immediately get suspicious. The former leader planned to privatise the healthcare system, apparently with the aim of ultimately turning it into an American-style mess.

Key used a lot of the standard conservative rhetoric about the family, another area that makes me suspicious, since among conservatives “family” is usually a code-word for “anti gay”. He said:

Families are tremendously important. I think most New Zealanders would agree that the security, happiness and welfare of their family are the most precious things to them in the world.

He then went on to talk about a recent horrific case of child abuse in the news, before adding:

Families are, in my view, the greatest institution in our society, however they are made up. A government I lead will support them. [emphasis added]

This doesn’t sound like the frothing of a homophobic bigot, though the context of caring for children doesn’t mean that National isn’t anti-gay. For me, this is another area where Key is going to have to be explicit about his vision (back in November, I wrote about similar wording by Key in another speech).

Here’s a common sense warning to National and John Key: At the moment, we have to read into Key’s words to get his meaning, if we have to guess their philosophies on issues important to us, many will err on the side of caution and suspect he and his party are more right wing than we’ve been led to believe. In the absence of real substance, the question then will be, how many voters will be sceptical like this and how many will buy vague hype? The answer to that question could very well determine the winner of the next election.

More Aussie Interference?

Like a lot of others, I criticised Australian Prime Minister John Howard for his idiotic attempt to influence the American presidential election by attacking Senator Barack Obama (those posts are here and here). Now, it looks as if his government is attempting to interfere in New Zealand’s internal politics.

The conservative National Party held their annual conference this past weekend, and special guest speaker was Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. NZ Herald political writer Audrey Young summed it up best in her newspaper blog when she wrote:

I don't care how it is justified in theory, in practice it feels wrong that Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, is in New Zealand lending his weight to the National Party bid to get rid of the New Zealand Government.

And there is no other way to interpret his acceptance of an invitation to speak at the National Party conference. An Australian Transport minister fine. A Local Government fine. A doesn't-matter finance minister. But Foreign Affairs Minister or Prime Minister, the people in charge of the relationship, no.

The problem is Downer’s high status as arguably one of the two most important people in Howard’s government—the other being Howard himself—and the fact that the two of them manage Australia's relationship with New Zealand. As Young also notes, it would be just as wrong for NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark to address the Australian Labor Party, and for the same reason.

When two countries are as close and intertwined as are
New Zealand and Australia, it’s important to avoid even the appearance of interference in each other’s domestic affairs. Hopefully the Howard government will remember that and won’t cross the line again over the coming year, should they win re-election, as New Zealand draws closer to its own election.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Not courted yet

I think I’ve pretty well established that when it comes to American politics, I can fairly be described as “liberal”. So when I saw a news story headlined “Democrats court liberal bloggers”, and knew no Democrat had courted me, I felt positively jilted.

Okay, I didn’t really, but what a spectacle it must have been: A parade of Democrats were seeking the support of bloggers, not long after they courted the support of YouTube users, something Republican candidates can’t seem to even grasp (like Mitt Romney confusing YouTube with MySpace. I mean really, how out of it can you get?)

Were the candidates pandering? Some probably were. Was it a legitimate campaign stop? Well, would you want to run the risk of pissing off liberal bloggers?

The writer of the article, the AP’s Ron Fournier, displayed a temptation to veer toward right wing perspective: “Plunging headlong into the Internet era, all seven candidates fought for the support of the powerful and polarizing liberal blogosphere…” What, like right wing bloggers aren’t polarising? Despite that, the article was generally balanced, especially in observing:

Clinton is viewed skeptically by the the blogging community, mainly for her history of hawkish views on Iraq. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of Daily Kos and spiritual leader of the convention, said Clinton still might be able to mitigate her problems… "We may decide she's not our first choice, but she's not a bad choice," he said.

Maybe so. But this is one non-courted liberal blogger who will criticise any candidate of any party if I feel they deserve it. But I’ll also praise them when they’re right. There I go—being all polarising again!

Friday, August 03, 2007

AmeriNZ #31 – Weather

Episode 31 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

What’s the weather like in
Auckland? Well, it’s way better than Chicago! I tell you what it’s like here, what that means and, well, how much better it is than Chicago. A revelation about how Kiwis are in winter! But what does that mean, practically speaking? Ice scrapers?

Changes are coming for the Tuesday edition of the podcast: Conversations, I hope. Fridays will be as they have been. It’s an adventure!

From there, it’s comments. Then, a look at what I take from download statistics. Or, maybe I shouldn’t—what do you think?

A big shout out (and much love) to Tom the Ramble Redhead.

Please leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com (anonymous comments are okay, and emails are kept confidential).

Update: I'm one of the participants on this week's ArcherRadio group show, AR503 Gay Republicans.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Jake graduated

Okay, so it’s not like a child who’s graduated or anything, but our puppy Jake graduated from Puppy Pre-School, as the certificate above shows. Did it do any good? Well, the puppies were far less interested in each other at the end than they were at the beginning, so if socialisation was the goal, it succeeded (even if Jake hasn’t quite mastered the “sit” command—gimme a break—he’s not even four months old yet!).

If I were Jake, I’d miss the friends but—being a dog—he’ll soon forget. Lucky boy?

Truth in labelling

The Green Party of New Zealand wants to have compulsory country-of-origin labelling of all “single component” food (things like meat, fruit and vegetables and seafood. Predictably, there is strident opposition from the food industry.

According to the New Zealand Herald article on this, nearly 1.5 million tonnes of food are imported into New Zealand annually, which last year included 149,462 tonnes of fruit, 32,207 tonnes of meat, and 39,996 tonnes of vegetables.

Federated Farmers food safety spokesman Frank Brenmuhl told the Herald that labelling would increase the cost of food. Yes, well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? According to the Herald:
Mr Brenmuhl said the Greens were very careful about what they did not tell people— "such as how much it will cost to implement".
Really? They’re that careful, are they? As careful as the industry is? Again according to the Herald, apparently quoting Frank indirectly:
There was also a problem getting accuracy in the labelling when foods could include ingredients from many different sources.
Pardon? Does Frank mean to suggest that food just shows up in New Zealand and they have no idea what comes from where? That idea is scary in itself.

The Green’s safe food spokeswoman, Sue Kedgley, said:
"There are a multitude of reasons New Zealanders want to know where their food comes from… Some people want to support local producers, others like to avoid food from countries with poor safety records."
Who could argue with that—apart from Frank? Well, the government, for one, which considers this a matter for business, not government, even though few businesses want to provide that information.

The Herald ends their article with a curious thing. It says:
"The Herald bought five food products at random yesterday to check country of origin labelling. Packaging on all five stated clearly where the product was made—two in Australia, one in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients, one in California and one in Italy.
So? It could just as easily have been that none of them showed country of origin. What difference does this “test” make—unless the intent is to show that the Green’s proposal is unnecessary? I always check the label for country of origin, and I often choose which product to buy based on that information. I can assure the Herald that there are many, many products sold with no country-of-origin listed on the label.

Maybe we need labelling in politics—and media, too.

Update 11/08/07: Foodstuffs, New Zealand's largest supermarket chain (and it's NZ-owned) has announced that it will put country of origin labels on all single-ingredient foods it sells due to "customer pressure". The NZ Herald
"Foodstuffs NZ hopes to have the new labelling policy fully implemented by December for its stores nationwide. It will apply to fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood sold in Pak 'N Save, New World, Write Price, Shoprite supermarkets and Four Square stores. It will not apply to processed foods, which often have more than one ingredient."
According to the article, Australian-owned Progressive Enterprises, the second-largest supermarket operator…
"…has a policy of using country of origin labels on fresh fruit and vegetables imports. It has no plans for now to spread the policy to meat and seafood."
In my own experience at a Progressive store, fruit and vegetables are only sometimes labelled.

Apparently the market is delivering what the politicians would not. Again.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sick children

America’s healthcare system has been in crisis for a long time and it shows no sign of improving anytime soon. Republicans have been leading the charge against real reform, insisting instead on protecting the profits of the healthcare corporations and insurance companies.

Think that’s just partisan rhetoric? I wish. George Bush is the main cheerleader for the status quo.

Bush last week promised to veto the
State Children's Health Insurance Program (also known as SCHIP, pronounced “ess-chip”) after Congress began work on a bipartisan plan to increase funding by $35 million. The programme helps working families who make too much money for Medicaid (welfare) and too little to buy private health insurance. It covers 6.1 million children.

But Bush says taking care of vulnerable, sick children will lead to “less quality care and rationing over time”. Why? Because he seems to believe it’s a Government programme. He’s wrong (lying?) about that, of course; it provides money for people—working people—to buy health insurance.

Bush says taking care of sick children “
would entail a huge tax increase for the American people”. Well, he’s right about that: Congress plans to fund the increased spending by raising taxes on cigarettes—undeniably a good public health move in its own right. Tax a dangerous unhealthy practice to provide healthcare to children: A good trade-off.

Bush is planning the same lame-brained “plan” as Rudy Giuliani: He wants to give tax credits to people to buy private health insurance. As I said before about Rudy’s crazy “plan”, this will do nothing for working people who can’t afford health insurance in the first place. Bush says government assuring access to healthcare would “distort the market,” but boosting the profits of the existing insurers—profits they wouldn’t have otherwise—through “tax credits” wouldn’t.

What colour is the sky on that man’s planet?

What Republicans apparently don’t—or refuse—to understand is that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Relying on profit-making entities to deliver healthcare will benefit not one except the profiteers. The Bush-Giuliani plan will “distort the market” every bit as much as any miniscule programme to help the children of the working poor, only those “distortions” will go straight into the pockets of the insurance companies.

How many children will die preventable deaths because of Bush’s partisan bullshit? Too many.

Whenever I hear people complain about
New Zealand’s healthcare system—and it does have problems—I’m at least comforted by knowing that it could be far, far worse: It could be America’s system.