Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are they insane?

One could easily think that Americans have gone insane, if a new poll reported by Yahoo News is to be believed. The poll found that John McCain was “more trusted” by Americans than either Democrat on virtually every issue.

Relax: It’s a Rasmussen poll, one of what I consider to be the least reliable polls out there. Their widely-reported “Daily Tracking Poll” is based on phone surveys among 900 “likely Democratic voters” and 800 “likely Republican voters”. But their poll features a high margin of error of +/- 4% with a 95% level of confidence.

This particular poll was conducted among only 400 “likely voters” (in all cases, they don’t tell us how they determine the voters are “likely voters”). Despite the tiny sample, they claim a margin of error of only +/- 3.5% with a 95% level of confidence. Quite frankly, I don’t have any confidence in this poll.

It claims that a majority of their respondents trust Democrats to handle the economy, but they trust McCain more than either Clinton or Obama. You remember McCain, the man who admitted that he doesn’t understand economics at all? So, we’re supposed to believe that Americans trust Democrats, just not these two Democrats; they’d rather trust a man who admits economic ignorance. Okay, then.

Other polls have found that easily 60 percent of Americans want the US out of Iraq. Polls—including this one—have found that Americans trust Democrats on Iraq more than the Republicans. Yet this poll claims that Americans trust McCain on Iraq more than either Democrat. Oh come on now, we’re supposed to believe Americans trust the man who said 50 or 100 more years in Iraq was a good idea? Get real.

The mainstream news media is obsessed with trying to reduce the election to a horse race, with bookies laying odds at every turn. They seldom ask questions about polls, maybe because they don’t understand statistics or the mechanics of polling. They shouldn’t be allowed such shallowness. In this case, it appears the story comes from Rasmussen itself, and not a reputable news organisation, so obviously there wouldn't be any critical analysis. Even so, the mainstream news media seldom analyses polls.

Even the best poll is only a simple snapshot of a single moment in time, a moment that’s passed even before the poll is published. We all must remember that. And, because the mainstream media either can’t or won’t scrutinise polls, we must assume that any poll reported is flawed, inaccurate and, basically, useless. In my opinion, all three would apply to this latest poll. Yahoo should never have posted it directly in a section with the title "News", because that's one thing it definitely isn't.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Onward Christian soldiers?

There’s the old saying that “there are no atheists in foxholes”. It’s meant to suggest that even the most ardent atheist will become religious when surrounded by the dangers of war. Like so many truisms based on religion (and American Christianity in particular), it’s nonsense, of course.

But America’s fundamentalist Christians ardently believe it. Their belief is largely based on the notion, it seems to me, that everyone is a Christian—or would be if only they were preached to and/or stopped being stubborn. That may not be even close to what they’re thinking, but it probably is. Listen to ordinary American fundamentalist Christians talk and you'll see the attitude that their Christianity is superior, all other religions are inferior, lack of religion even more so, and that the US government should be in the business of promoting their version of Christianity.

So it should come as no surprise that America’s CBS News has reported on the growing emphasis on conservative Christianity in the US military. Increasingly, the report suggests, it’s not just atheists you won’t find in foxholes, but anyone except fundamentalist Christians.

As evidence of right wing Christian evangelising with the full support of military brass, CBS reported that a group shot a religious recruitment video inside the pentagon featuring several generals. Deputy Defense Under-secretary Bill Carr, who deals with personnel issues, was reported as claiming that the generals were told they were out of line. CBS also mentions a website that lists as a goal, "a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform.”

However, it’s important to remember that many of the recruits in the current US military come from lower socio-economic (often rural) backgrounds, and often from fundamentalist homes. That means they may not need much proselytising to become “soldiers for Christ”. For them, the military is being transformed into a right wing christianist organisation from the inside.

All of which is a concern for so many reasons, none the least of which is the fact that islamist extremists are already portraying the US military as mounting a christianist crusade. Even worse, if the military becomes an armed—and official—Christian army promoting a fundamentalist theocracy, it could pose a threat to American democracy, particularly if the Bush-Cheney regime’s anti-democratic policies aren’t overturned by the next president.

There have been so many warning signals sounded during the Bush-Cheney regime, and this is just one more. Whether anyone is listening, and whether there’s still time to rescue American democracy, are still open questions. I suppose we’ll know the answer in November.

Worst NZ television

This has got be a good thing, really: It took me nearly thirteen years before I saw a New Zealand television programme that was so bad, so cringe-making, so bloody awful that I count it among the worst television programmes I’ve ever seen. Thirteen years is a pretty good run, but it had to end.

Television New Zealand has inflicted a home-grown version of the British series, “Stars in their Eyes”, in which amateurs “transform” to perform as someone famous. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the stars imitated on this programme should rightly feel deeply insulted.

It wasn’t just that the performers sounded (and looked) very little like the famous person they were trying to imitate; the pain was in their inability to stay on pitch on in tune. On the debut episode, the Freddie Mercury imitator even sported fake Freddie teeth, making him look like he was going to a fancy dress party.

Host Simon Barnett gamely tried to keep the show moving forward, though he was a bit cheesy in doing so, but his efforts were comparable to prolonging a root canal. Barnett is best known as a radio host and a sometime venturer into politics, backing the people who promote smacking children. But it’s this show that may do the most to tarnish his reputation.

I suppose I could have avoided all these deep cuts if I’d simply said I hated the programme and won’t be watching again. But TVNZ has been inflicting several awful programmes on us: A NZ version of “Dancing with the Stars [sic]” and lately—and most inexplicably—a new remake of the old American game show, “Wheel of Fortune”. So part of it is that this latest show is just one bad programme too many. Mostly, though, it’s just that this programme is so incredibly bad.

One truly awful show in thirteen years. I still say that’s pretty good.

Friday, April 25, 2008

McCain and hate

The words “politician” and “hypocrite” so naturally fit together, that is seems almost unnecessary to mention it when a politician is a hypocrite. That’s particularly true among the Republicans in the US, of course. But their anointed presidential nominee, John McCain, is promoting himself as a “different kind of Republican”. Too bad it’s all meaningless hype.

McCain, aided and abetted by the right wing media, has been demanding that Barack Obama repudiate 1960s radical Bill Ayers. Obama and Ayers live in the same neighbourhood and served on a charity board together three years ago. Therefore, McCain and the media say, Obama must repudiate everything that Ayers has ever said, and even his very existence.

However, McCain apparently has no need to repudiate the beliefs of any right wing nutcases. Indeed, he’s refused to do so. McCain lobbied hard to get the endorsement of far right preacher John Hagee to deal with McCain’s weakeness among far right christians. But it turns out that Hagee has a history of spouting hate-filled rhetoric against Catholics and gay people.

Hagee, whose endorsement McCain was “very honored” to have, said in 2006 that Katrina was God’s judgment against New Orleans: “New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God” because “there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.”

Hagee repeated this bile just this week when talking to a right wing radio host (Hagee didn’t even know what he was talking about: There was no plan for a parade or rally, but instead a social event). Hagee uses his religion to spout hatred against gay and lesbian Americans, but John McCain is still “glad to have” Hagee’s support, as he reaffirmed last Sunday when asked about Hagee's hatemongering.

The right wing media demanded that Obama repudiate Louis Farrakahn. They demanded that Obama repudiate Jeremiah Wright. Faux News has been crusading against Obama over the extremely tenuous, largely imaginary link to Ayers. But McCain can be “glad to have” the support of the hatemonger Hagee, and, well, that’s just fine and dandy.

The hypocrisy here is oozing everywhere: McCain for demanding what he himself will not do and the media for playing along with McCain and giving the Republican a free ride. The whole thing sounds to me like a typical Republican tactic, but this time we shouldn’t let them get away with it.

If McCain really is a “different” Republican, he has to prove it. He can’t say weakly that he “disagrees” with some of what Hagee says, he must repudiate Hagee’s hate-filled rhetoric. I won’t even demand he personally repudiate the hatemonger Hagee, though if the situation was reversed, McCain and the Republican media machine would be demanding full repudiation.

No, I just want to see McCain stand up to the thugs in his own party and repudiate—specifically and completely—the hate of Hagee. If he doesn’t we must assume he completely agrees with Hagee’s hate, and we’ll know that he’s just the same kind of Republican, that he's “John McSame” in every possible way.

Another busy week

This has been another of those busy weeks in which life presents more things to do that there’s time to do them. Blogging and podcasting had to be removed from the list. I guess I should expect that from time to time.

Monday, April 21, 2008

When greed sometimes isn’t

This was going to be a post about corporate greed. Partly, it still is. But it’s also a slap at the media.

First the greed: Food prices, especially prices charged for dairy products. Most of New Zealand’s dairy food is produced by the farmer-owned cooperative, Fonterra, which is New Zealand’s largest company. As world demand for New Zealand dairy products has grown, the company has started selling more and more overseas, with a corresponding skyrocketing of prices NZ consumers pay for staples like milk and cheese.

This is on top of price rises caused by rapidly soaring world oil prices, so Kiwi consumers have been hit by food prices rising nearly three times faster than inflation generally. Not all of that can be blamed on either farmers’ greed or “world markets,” but both have a role to play.

Still, no one could blame Fonterra from selling their products to the highest bidder. After all, it’s what traditional capitalism demands. Supermarkets pass on their increased costs to consumers, which is also to be expected. Consumers are left struggling to cope.

This morning’s TVNZ programme Breakfast reported that New Zealand’s largest supermarket chain, New Zealand-owned Foodstuffs, planned to import cheese to lower the price to consumers. New Zealand provides 40% of the world’s dairy products, yet a retailer was looking at importing cheese so ordinary people could afford it! The hosts were outraged.

But Breakfast got it wrong.

Rob Chemaly from Foodstuffs appeared on the Business Breakfast programme, and it’s that interview that the later Breakfast programme was referring to. Here’s a transcript I made after watching the interview online:

Chemaly: We’ve looked at other options, we’ve looked at import options, but those aren’t feasible, so we have to live with what we (have).

ONE News: So, you’ve actually looked at importing cheese?

Chemaly: Yeah, we’ll look at all options. Why wouldn’t you if there’s the possibility of bringing in products that might be potentially cheaper into the New Zealand market, we will.

Reading the transcript, it’s pretty clear that Foodstuffs rejected the idea of importing cheese, but would keep an open mind for the future, as you’d expect any capitalist company to do. That’s completely different from actually planning on doing it.

It’s hard enough for ordinary people to understand the Machiavellian world of corporate greed when the news media so often ignores what’s going on. But when they also do their job poorly, it makes matters worse.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

AmeriNZ 85 - Caveman talk

Episode 85 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 I tell you about an iconic Kiwi company that’s decided to ditch New Zealand for Asia. Then, underwear boy may be heading for France. Did cavemen say, “G’day mate?” The ANZAC Day Public Holiday is a week from today, and I may not be posting an episode that day. So, I may only have one episode next week.

Slap Upside The Head just celebrated a birthday—congratulations! Then, I tell you the truth about iTunes reviews. I mention a few emails, then go on to comments.

My outtro today is “Bearing Witness” by Kiwi performer Monique Rhodes from the Podsafe Music Network on music.podshow.com (complete links below).

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email me (won’t be read on the podcast) at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 32:15 (29.7 MB)

Links for this episode

Carter offered biggest contract in world rugby

“Neanderthals speak out after 30,000 years” from NewScientist

Slap Upside The Head

Monique Rhodes: Podsafe Music Network, Monique’s website or the Amplifier music site.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Friday, April 18, 2008

Puppy path of destruction

Jake isn’t a destructive fellow. He doesn’t go around chewing up things or wrecking things. We’ve had other dogs that have done all of that. However, sometimes even Jake can’t avoid his nature.

The photo above shows what used to be a toy rhinoceros…I think. We have a small box of toys for when our young nieces come to visit, and this was one of the little toy plastic animals in it—except that it wasn’t. Somehow, this one wasn’t found and put away, so Jake found it and this is the result.

Jake also sometimes likes picking up socks from the floor, or even removing clean ones from the top of a dresser. He’s less interested in other clothes lying on the floor, and even this interest seems to be waning, unlike his late sister who was quite keen on pinching socks.

Jake usually sticks to playing with his own toys, leaving the human stuff alone. He is, in fact, probably the best-behaved dog we’ve ever had. So, really, the fact that he chewed the toy just gives me an excuse to talk about him and post a new photo of him.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Greed in NZ, too

I've written about corporate greed many times. I've been critical about corporate ethics, and about the modern business paradigm in which nothing matters to corporations except maximising return to investors.

Today, there was an example of what I've been talking about.

New Zealand appliance manufacturer Fisher & Paykel has announced that it's shutting factories in Dunedin in New Zealand, Brisbane in Australia and one in California, shifting the jobs to Asia. 1070 people will loose their jobs, 430 of them in New Zealand. Last year the company announced that it was eliminating even more jobs in Auckland, shipping them to Asia.

In justifying its shipping jobs to what Fisher & Paykel referred to as "low cost labour countries", the company said, "Our products are innovative and high end but unless we can reduce some of the cost disparities in the manufacturing process, particularly the cost of labour, we will not be able to continue to provide an adequate return to our shareholders."

It's refreshing, in a weird way, for a corporate to admit that it's exporting jobs in order to maximise payments made to shareholders. Usually, they just talk in vague terms about "maximising return" or something similar.

This highlights exactly what I've been criticising about the modern business paradigm. While I don't know for sure what economic impact the company's moves will have in other countries, the loss of so many jobs in Dunedin will be painful.

The company will also seek suppliers close to their new manufacturing facilities, and that will mean a loss of business—and jobs—for many more companies. By the time all the dust settles, hundreds more jobs will probably be lost. And all of this to guarantee "an adequate return" to their shareholders.

There has got to be a better way. All the bright sparks among the world's universities and thinktanks have got to be able to come up with a better way to capitalise business that doesn't involve using the money of greedy people who put their own profits ahead of the interests of society and the commonwealth. This is the 21st century—why are we still using 18th century economic ideas?

This is a problem that goes far beyond one company or one factory, but extends everywhere. It includes: Oil companies making obscene profits, paying their executives obscene salaries and refusing to invest in new energy technologies; food being diverted from people to "bio fuels"; pollution being tolerated because cleaning up would reduce payouts to greedy investors.

Without real change, all we'll be left with will be the scraps the greedy people leave us. That's not a situation that's sustainable or justifiable. I hope it's not inevitable.

And as a final underscore to this story, after Fisher & Paykel made their announcement, their share price shot up 15%. Clearly they pleased their greedy shareholders.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

AmeriNZ 84 – Tim too

Episode 84 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.

This is part two of a two-part conversation with Tim Corrimal (There Are Some Who Call Me Tim and Go Rainbow Radio podcasts). You can find part one over at Tim’s site. In part two, we turn a little serious, talking about the circus that is the US presidential election. The media plays games, and often favourites. Perceptions affect a lot. People need to pay close attention to whoever McCain picks as his running mate.

There’s plenty of silliness, too, and we end the conversation talking about time differences, which leads us to Trek-out. A phone message and a few comments on my episodes follow. There’s even a WMBYS-style outtake at the very end.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email me at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 31:42 (29.2 MB)

Links for this episode

Blue Savannah by Erasure iTunes USA Store or iTunes NZ Store. You can also buy Blue Savannah through Amazon.com.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Taxing Day

Today, April 15, is tax filing day for Americans. What many Americans and New Zealanders like may not know is that expat Americans still have to file US tax returns, even though they don’t necessarily pay any US taxes.

New Zealand and the United States have a tax treaty, which means that taxpayers aren’t double-taxed—they pay taxes to only one country. Any American planning on staying here permanently is probably only paying income tax to New Zealand. But they still have to file a US tax return, along with another form declaring their NZ income so it can be excluded from US income tax.

Naturally, it’s not as simple as that. The US only allows a certain amount of NZ income to be excluded (currently US$85,700, and indexed to inflation). Some expat Americans may have other income (like investments, for example) that may still be taxed by the US (be sure to see a competent tax professional for advice). For most expat Amercians, the main burden is the is the filing requirment.

There are only two ways to escape this burden: Renounce US citizenship or die. Neither one strikes me as a workable solution.

As a side note, the US online tax-paying system is positively antique compared to New Zealand. Many lower-level taxpayers can “file online” for free, however, that’s not open to taxpayers who live in foreign countries, and the taxpayer has to choose among several companies to file the form for them.

Here, of course, we can fill out our forms (much, much simpler than the US, to start out with) online quickly and easily—and directly with Inland Revenue. Mind you, most NZ taxpayers don’t file income tax returns at all, since the system is now finely tuned so neither tax nor a refund is owed.

I like New Zealand’s system much better than America’s. But like everyone else, I’m not keen on paying taxes to anyone. Who is?

National’s welfare for the rich

National Party Leader John Key has announced that if his party wins the elections later this year they will double taxpayer funds given to private schools. Critics have called it a tax break for the rich—and it is.

The government already gives money to private schools, but its main emphasis, of course, is on state schools. As a government, that’s its main function.

Unlike America, where this debate would be about giving taxpayer money to religious schools, most New Zealand private schools aren’t necessarily religious. Instead, this debate is whether taxpayer funds for education should go to schools attended by the children of rich people (like John Key, for example).

In the 2005 election campaign, the neoconservatives running the National Party campaign planned to privatise education, at first by giving taxpayer money to private schools. Already the current version of National wants the private sector to own school buildings. Does their announcement mean that they still plan on privatising education in New Zealand?

So far, National still sounds like it could be the same old National.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I call him Tim

I recorded a special two-part podcast with Tim Corrimal from There are Some Who Call Me Tim and Go Rainbow Radio podcasts. Part One is available from Tim, and part two will be on my podcast tomorrow.

Update 15/04/08: I posted this using a new draft Blogger feature that allows the user to specify a future date and time for an entry to be posted (instead of it appearing immediately, as is now the case). It worked perfectly. Somehow, it just seemed appropriate for a post about Tim...

National Party snake oil?

The leader of the conservative National Party, John Key, was reported to have announced an abrupt U-turn in he party’s polices: There would be no sale of state-owned assets during a first term, should they win the next election. Key said on TVNZ’s, "I don't want us to spend a whole lot of time skirting around the edges of something that won't ultimately make the New Zealand economy go a lot faster. We're not back in 1984."

He was asked if that meant there would be asset sales in a second term, and Key responded, "If there's any change to the position, then we'll come back to the people and seek a mandate for that."

This sounds like something positive, the party backing down from policy stretching back nearly a generation to sell off everything that’s not nailed down, plus many things that are. Can we believe them?

Personally, I find it hard to believe that they’re abandoning core policies of the party. But maybe they’ve found a way around the issue.

On TVNZ’s “Breakfast” programme today, Prime Minister (and Labour Party Leader) Helen Clark suggested that Key may have been meeting with merchant bankers with an eye toward increasing outside investors in state-owned assets (like companies). This would have the effect of diluting the government’s shareholding meaning a sale of assets without actually selling them. Key could have his cake and eat it, too.

But another reason I’m sceptical is that only recently National announced plans for school buildings to be privately owned and rented back to schools. A separate plan to end of any limits on what doctors can charge for primary healthcare reminded me of how in the 2005 campaign, National Party leaders planned on moving the country to an American-style privatised healthcare disaster system.

John Key has been working to convince New Zealanders that the party he leads has moved back toward the centre. Given its history, and especially its recent history leaning to the far right, I have trouble believing that this change of heart and direction is genuine. I’m just not buying it.

Australia gets a woman

For the first time in its 107 year history since Federation, Australia’s Governor General will be a woman, Quetin Bryce. Bryce has been a lawyer specialising in anti-discrimination and human rights law before becoming Governor of Queensland in 2003.

The position of Governor General in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada is a largely ceremonial role with constitutional duties. The person is also known as a “vice regal” or “vice royal” and represent Queen Elizabeth—sort of a “deputy monarch”.

Their constitutional duties include providing royal assent to legislation passed by Parliament, and other duties on advice of the government of the day. They spend much of their time touring the country, attending official functions of various sorts. Governors General often use their position as a kind of bully pulpit to promote the issues they’re interested in, usually non-controversial.

New Zealand has already had two female Governors General, as well as ones who weren’t of European descent (sorry, but I don’t know the history of Canada’s Governors General), so for us, frankly, Australia’s move is a bit of a yawn.

Still, this is progress and should be recognised as such. Whether there ought to even be a Governor General is another issue entirely, and a topic for another day. For now, though, I say well done, Australia and Kevin Rudd.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Surprises still

The New Zealand government is considering requiring that all drivers be required to carry third party insurance, at a minimum. Apparently, New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have a mandatory insurance system.

Some thirty years ago, New Zealanders approved ACC, which includes what is essentially a “no fault” insurance system for accidents and injury. If you’re hurt in a car accident, for example, you’ll be treated and won’t have to try and get the other person to pay for it if they caused the accident. It’s a good system.

But that doesn’t cover damage to the car. Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven says that about a third of New Zealanders have no insurance, meaning the insurance industry has to spend millions and millions each year to try and collect from uninsured drivers.

When I lived in Illinois, we had similar system of minimum compulsory insurance. Called “liability insurance”, this covered drivers for any damage they caused to other cars or property, but not to their own.

Here in New Zealand, Duynhoven feels that the system will encourage young drivers to be more responsible in order to get lower insurance premiums. This was the case in Illinois. Insurance companies offered discounts to young people who completed an authorised driver training course, and discounts to students who maintained at least a “B” average in their grades. I got both discounts, much to my parents’ relief.

What surprised me, though, was that I assumed there already was compulsory insurance. So, naturally, I think requiring it is a good idea. But it just goes to show that there are still opportunities to be surprised by what I don’t know about my new home. In a way, that’s kind of nice.

About media bias

Yesterday, I wrote about the New Zealand Herald using its website to promote its pet crusade against the Electoral Finance Act. I mentioned how this is part of an anti-Labour pattern at the Herald. What may be surprising is that I actually don’t have a problem with that; it’s the Herald’s dishonesty that’s so wrong.

In a perfect world, all news media would be fair, balanced and unbiased in reporting simple verifiable facts. There are still plenty of editors who believe in the concept of “unbiased” reporting. I’ve always thought that was a nonsense: Human beings all carry biases and prejudices so it is, in my view, impossible for any journalist to produce truly unbiased reporting, particularly when not all facts are either simple or easily verified.

In most news environments, the challenge for journalists is to recognise their biases and work to make sure that their reporting is as fair and balanced as they can make it. Often they succeed. When they can’t, or feel they may not have fully succeeded, they have an obligation to share their biases with news consumers who then have the information they need to determine if the reporting is valid.

When business writers report on a company, journalistic ethics compel them to reveal if they hold shares in the company or its competitors. If a features writer gets a free air ticket to write a tourism story, they must reveal that fact. But for some reason, writers are free to write about politics without being clear about their own affiliations.

For most news organisations, this isn’t necessarily a problem. The Herald, however, often uses its news pages to promote partisan views, as I point out from time to time. Sometimes, it’s “news” writers offer blatant partisan commentary in news stories (Bernard Orsman is particularly bad about putting his own partisan comments into what are supposed to be news stories).

If the Herald can’t present the news in a fair and balanced way, then they have an obligation to be upfront with news consumers about the biases of their contributors. Trouble is, if they actually did that, the credibility of the paper would be shot.

So maybe there could be a compromise, and the Herald could introduce a little balance into their reporting. For example, they could report on the rightwing and far rightwing allegiances of the people championing their pet crusade. They could avoid unsupported cheap shots at Labour, the Labour-led government or any local government. They could also forbid Bernard Orsman from including his own partisan comments in news stories.

Biases are human. Openly revealed, they don’t form the debate, but actually add to it. The New Zealand Herald, however, is using its bias to slant the news, often subtly, and that’s never acceptable.

The author is a member of the New Zealand Labour Party and has worked in the graphics/production side of the printing and publishing industries, including newspaper production, for more than twenty years. There: See how easy that is

Saturday, April 12, 2008

NZ Herald shows bias—again

The New Zealand Herald just can’t help pushing its right wing ideology. When they’re lucky, they get to do so with unsuspecting readers completely unaware of the game they’re planning.

Today the New Zealand Labour Party held its conference in Wellington. Protesters were there, as you’d expect, covering many different issues, not all of them rightwing. Allegedly, one of the protestors tripped the building’s fire alarm, forcing the delegates, including government ministers, outside where some were jostled by protestors. That much is fact.

Fairfax New Zealand’s Stuff news website accurately reported all this, but the NZ Herald chose to run an early report from NewstalkZB radio that began, “A handful of protesters have gathered outside the Labour Party conference at the Town Hall in Wellington to demonstrate against the Electoral Finance Act.” The story further reported that the protest was led by John Boscawen, who was indirectly quoted in the story. The report ignored all the other protesters, and NewstalkZB later replaced that story with a complete and balanced report.

The NZ Herald, however, didn’t update its website—for an obvious reason: Starting late last year, the paper ran a crusade against the Act before it was adopted, and it’s still pushing that cause. It also never reported the rightwing and far rightwing connections of the protest campaign organisers. Boscawen, for example, has ties to the right wing Business Roundtable, which supports the conservative National Party and the neoconservative Act Party, for which Boscawen was a major fundraiser. This makes the protesters motives suspect.

In addition to its crusade against the Electoral Finance Act, the NZ Herald has had a near vendetta among its commentators directed against the Labour Party and the Labour-led government. Their news reporting has, in general, been far more favourable to the National Party, and unfavourable toward the Labour Party, as even a casual content analysis reveals.

As New Zealand’s dominant newspaper, the Herald influences public perceptions. It has a duty to remain fair and to reveal its bias. If it actually ever does so, and stops picking stories to reinforce its political agenda, that will be front page news. That’s a front page I don’t expect to see.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Get a grip

The right wing in New Zealand—aided and abetted by the mainstream media—has gone apoplectic after the government decided to prevent a foreign takeover of Auckland International Airport. Get a grip, people.

Fact number one: The right to make a profit at any cost is not a fundamental human right. I know that will come as a surprise to National Party supporters, but it’s true. Second, all the government did was prevent our main international airport—the gateway to New Zealand for the vast majority of foreign visitors—from falling into foreign hands.

There is nothing in the government move that would prevent treasure-seekers from selling out to Kiwis—you remember them? Here’s a clue: They’re the people who actually live here, they’re the people who stand to lose from foreign takeover of strategic assets. They’re also, in many cases, the people who built the assets that the right wing in general, and the National Party in particular, are so keen to sell off to the foreigners with the fattest wallets.

After the poor rich people are done whingeing and moaning about how hard done by they are, the rest of us can consider buying shares in the airport: Kiwis investing in a strategic Kiwi asset—what a radical concept! And apparently too bloody obvious for the frothing right, the National Party or the mainstream media.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

AmeriNZ 83 - Normal Day

Episode 83 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 is a normal day, so I’m going to tell you about a few things in the New Zealand news. New Zealand has become the first developed country in the world to sign a free trade deal with China. What does that mean? A NZ professor has called for a tax on butter (it won’t happen). A new survey claims that about 20% of New Zealanders back nuclear energy—or do they? There’s also a New Zealand fact with a Google tip. Comments follow next, with more about the topics discussed in them.

The outtro today is “I Still Remember” by Bloc Party, from the Podsafe Music Network at music.podshow.com. The band’s page on Podsafe Music Network.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email me (won’t be read on the podcast) at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 27:17 (25.1 MB)

Links for this episode
Something for the Boys, music commentary about Bloc Party and other groups on GayNZ.com (a video of the song is there).

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Into the matrix?

When the Australian Labor Party was campaigning for the recent election they won, one of their pledges was to dramatically expand broadband internet in that country. Developments now suggest that their plan may be obsolete before it’s even completed.

Scientists at CERN in Switzerland, the home of the Internet, have developed a new network that is 10,000 times faster than typical connections we now call “broadband”. The institute calls the network “the grid” (which immediately made me think “The Matrix”), and it relies on a fibre optic network and faster routing equipment to move massive amounts of data.

This news comes out shortly after the generally moderate New Zealand Institute released a report arguing, essentially, that the broadband backbone in New Zealand should be taken over by a government-owned company, with an eye toward a public-private partnership to run fibre optic cables to 70% of New Zealanders within 10 years.

The Institute points out that private companies are unlikely to make the investment in the so-called “last mile” cabling, running fibre optic cable from the exchange to the home. At present, Telecom New Zealand’s lines unit has some plans to run fibre optic to the cabinet on the street, but apparently has no plans at present to extend that to homes. Electricity lines company Vector is planning a fibre optic network connecting exchanges. Both are steps, but the complete cabling of New Zealand is what’s needed and the New Zealand Institute is the first entity to propose a credible, achievable way forward.

Meanwhile, state-owned telecommunications infrastructure company, Kordia, has announced a joint venture with Australian company Pipe International to lay a new fibre optic undersea cable linking Australia and New Zealand. This cable will also connect New Zealand to the world by joining a cable linking Australia and Guam. This is important because at present New Zealand is dependent on the fibre optic Southern Cross Cable connecting NZ to the US. Apart from the vulnerability issues, the monopoly means that the owners can charge whatever they want (too much) and determine what connection speeds are possible (too slow).

Taken together, these developments, if they’re all realised, could mean that within a decade New Zealand could finally have the Internet infrastructure the country not only deserves, but needs, too. Businesses and individuals alike are sick and tired of waiting for action. Our future depends on moving this all forward.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Changing times

New Zealand went back onto Standard Time over the weekend. I don’t know anyone who actually likes seasonal time changes, but I know quite a few people who hate the changes. Me, I’m pretty indifferent either way.

Our Daylight Time was extended this year—it started a little earlier and ended later. There was a good thing about this: It made for a longer summer. Mind you, the dry, hotter weather helped that.

There is, however, what I think is a pretty big downside.

In previous years, when the clocks went back earlier, the days got shorter gradually. But by delaying the time change, we now have an abrupt change in the length of daylight. That I don’t like. Still, there’s some daylight when I get up now, and that’s good.

But I’m one of those people who wishes that the time was just the same all year around (even thought the time changes don’t bother me that much). I’m probably not alone in that wish.

Friday, April 04, 2008

AmeriNZ 82 – Jake Day

Episode 82 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 is (our puppy) Jake’s first birthday! It’s a day for celebration, and I’m feeling a bit silly, I guess. I kid around a lot, and I deliver one joke totally seriously. Can you spot it? I start out today talking about Australia and New Zealand and the way people form one country don’t like to be confused with people from the other. I even give an expat tip. After that, it’s on to some items from the news that I think are funny. Did you hear about the world’s oldest recording? After that, it’s comments from two episodes.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email me (won’t be read on the podcast) at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Links for this episode

Blue Savannah by Erasure iTunes USA Store or iTunes NZ Store. You can also buy Blue Savannah through Amazon.com.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Jake is one year old!

Our puppy Jake is one year old today. He’s had more cuddles, playtime and attention than is usual on a work day, which he’s clearly enjoyed, but obviously he has no idea what a birthday is, nor the importance humans place on them. That’s okay.

Today was also a normal day, in this case meaning bath day for Jake. The photo above shows Jake in the bath (I love the water drops showing up—since he’s having a bath, does this mean he’s in his birthday suit?). This weekend he’ll attend the sixth birthday party for his human cousin (by his cousin’s request). Jake truly is a member of the family.

Jake’s blood brother is also one year old today.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Too busy too

It’s been a very busy and hectic week, so much so that I haven’t had time to podcast yet this week, or to do a blog post today. Sorry about that, but as I’ve said before, sometimes life intervenes and, well, life is kinda more important than blogging and podcasting, don’t you think?

Oh, and by the way, this is my 600th post on my blog. Clearly I went all out for that.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Zimbabwe’s hell

When I heard that Zimbabwe was having another “election”, I wondered why they bothered. “No matter what the results are,” I said at the time, “Mugabe will never give up power.”

It’s looking like I’m being proven correct. Amid charges of voting fraud, the slowly arriving results have been showing the country’s dictator, Robert Mugabe, remaining in the lead. I’m certain that he will be announced as the “winner” of the election, no matter who really won. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

Zimbabwe, as has been pointed out many times, was once the breadbasket of Africa, and now it’s a basket case, thanks to Mugabe’s brutal rule. There can be no change until he’s gone. But no one in the West has been willing to do much to force him out, and other African leaders have given him a free pass to continue.

So Mugabe will never leave office willingly. He’s an increasingly elderly man, with fewer and fewer days ahead of him. Hopefully, he’ll die soon from old age. However, I’d expect that his death will more likely come from violence, either assassination or through revolt. Desperate people with no other option to turn to will likely take the most desperate path. Again, I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

And following that, the people of Zimbabwe will continue to suffer amid the chaos following the dictator’s demise. Will the West step in and help Zimbabwe rebuild what Mugabe has destroyed—including democracy—or will it leave the people to suffer even more? If the past is any indicator, they’ll continue to ignore Zimbabwe. I hope I’m wrong about that, too. But I doubt it.