Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fun times

Once again, a chance for my not-so-secret pleasure known as schadenfreude, this time at the expense of my good friends at the Republican Party.

Whip it good

The “chairman” of the Republican National Committee is in hot water over the money the party spent on questionable items, as listed in their filing with the Federal Election Commission. Part of it was having spent $12,691 on limousines and $17,514 on private aircraft in the month of February alone (no similar spending on private aircraft could be found in the expense report relating to the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine, going back three months).

But what has Republicans all in awhirl is the revelation that just under $2000 of party money was spent at a bondage-themed adult club where topless women simulate lesbian sex (the RNC chair was not there). This in the “family values” party.

If the folks with the “bad judgment” (as the people doing such things are inevitably called) have to pay back the money, maybe they could do as we do in New Zealand: Have a whip-round.

Okie haters hate so much they don’t know who to hate

The Oklahoma state senate, in a huff of hatred and self-righteous homophobia, decided that they would decree that the recently enacted Matthew Shepard Act, combating hate crimes, would not apply in Oklahoma. Well, not the entire law, silly, just the part protecting GLBT people.

So the haters, led by the Republicans, of course, passed a law: Their law enforcement professionals would be barred—forbidden—from cooperating with federal law enforcement officials, and any evidence relating to anti-GLBT hate crimes would be destroyed after a short time.

One slight, tiny little problem: The haters cited the wrong section of the Act. So, instead of refusing to cooperate in the prosecution of anti-GLBT hate crimes, they decreed that Oklahoma will refuse to cooperate in investigation and prosecution of hate crimes motivated by race and religion. GLBT people remain protected.

You just can’t make this stuff up—but it makes for a really, really good laugh at their expense.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dipshit ex-general half apologises

Retired General John Sheehan has apologised to former Dutch army chief of staff, General Henk van den Breemen, for falsely claiming in testimony before the US Senate that van den Breemen had told him the reason the Dutch army couldn’t stop the massacre at Srebrenica was that they had openly gay soldiers. Sheehan now claims his memory was “inaccurate”.

Apologising to van den Breemen was obviously a correct thing to do, but he didn’t go anywhere near far enough: He should have apologised to the entire Dutch army for making up nonsense about them. He should especially apologise to gay Dutch soldiers for having so viciously defamed them. Anything less means his apology to van den Breemen is an empty, pro forma one said only because he’d become an embarrassment to the anti-gay crowd.

Actually, while he’s at it, he should also apologise to gay and lesbian Americans who are or want to be serving in the US military for trying to defame them, too. He made up stories about the Dutch army in order to show how bad openly gay people in the US military would be. Maybe he was so desperate to come up with something—anything—to use in defence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that he let his prejudice and apparent hatred get the better of him. Maybe he’s just a dipshit. But either way, a decent person wouldn’t stop making up for such a great wrong by choosing simply the easiest apology to make. It certainly isn't becoming of a military person to refuse to take full responsibility for his actions and their consequences.

It’s a very good thing he’s retired from the military.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A little celebration

Three years ago today—on March 28, 2007—I posted the first episode of my AmeriNZ Podcast. I’m still going strong, and just today posted AmeriNZ 208 – And The Winner Is, in which the winner of my anniversary competition was announced.

I don’t talk about the podcast here much anymore; I don’t even post a note that a new episode has been uploaded, though the widget at the right side of this blog plays the most recent episode or so. I really wanted the two to be separate, and I guess I did that.

Interestingly (to me), although far more people listen to a typical episode of the AmeriNZ Podcast than read a post on this blog, people who do read the blog are much more likely to leave a comment. I have no idea what, if anything, that means.

At any rate, I still enjoy doing both this blog and the podcast, and expect to keep doing both far into the future. I guess other people must enjoy something about them, too, and that makes me happy.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I need a little break

Late last year, two videos were all the rage on the Internet, and deservedly so. In November, the kids at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Washington filmed a lip-synch video of Outkast’s “He Ya”, filmed in one take. It was a challenge to their archrivals, Shorewood High School.

The following month, Shorewood High School responded (below) by doing a lip-synch video of the Hall and Oates 80s song, “You Make My Dreams Come True.” Not a very cool song, you say? Consider this: The Shorewood video was filmed backwards.

These videos always make me smile, every time I see them. After a few days of heavy, dark subjects, I need a break. These videos fit the bill nicely.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Examples abound

Earlier today I said “…responsible people in the Republican Party and among the teabaggers must denounce violence unequivocally.” That still hasn’t happened.

Yesterday, former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin posted on her Twitter account, "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: 'Don't Retreat, Instead - 'RELOAD!' Pls see my Facebook page." RELOAD? Whatever could she mean?

On her Facebook page, she wrote (well, someone wrote for her): “We’re going to reclaim the power of the people from those who disregarded the will of the people.” She goes on to say that her political fundraising campaign is going after 20 Democrats who voted yes on healthcare reform, US Representatives from Districts that Palin/McCain carried in the 2008 election. She then adds: “We’ll aim for these races and many others. This is just the first salvo…” Aim? Salvo?

The graphic they posted (above) used riflescope graphics to show who they’re targeting—literally, apparently. That doesn’t dampen down the violent rhetoric: It inflames it.

What about real Republican leaders, ones who haven’t quit their elective offices? Mostly absolute silence, but US House Minority Leader John Boehner had a fluffy interview on Fox “news”, the perfect opportunity to denounce violence unequivocally. Instead, he told Fox entertainer Megyn Kelly:

"…there are a lot of angry Americans and they are angry over this health care bill. They’re angry about the fact that the Democrats here in Washington aren’t listening to them. But I’ve got to tell you that violence and threats are unacceptable." [emphasis added]

Boehner’s soundbite is exactly the sort of thing Republicans have been playing: Pretending to denounce violence while simultaneously verbally attacking Democrats. It’s pure dog whistle politics: He’s pretending to denounce violence while actually inflaming it, he can claim to mainstream Americans that he denounced violence, while telling his base on the far right that Democrats deserve whatever they get. Then, if or when violence happens, he thinks he can claim he denounced violence.

Denouncing violence only with equivocation is no denunciation at all. Fanning the flames of violence, as the former half-term governor did, is absolutely irresponsible. If these people don’t step up to this challenge, then we’ll all know that there are no rational, responsible people left in the right wing.

And so it begins

Three days ago, in the final hours before the US House of Representatives passed the historic healthcare reform bill, I warned of the inevitable violence that would come from the far right teabaggers. It’s started.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate group activity in the US, reported in “Hatewatch” that on Monday (US time), a Virginia Tea Party leader posted the address of the older brother of US Representative Tom Perriello (D), who voted for the health care bill. The teabagger urged people to “drop by” and “express their thanks.” He also wrote, “I ain’t holding back no more.”

When he realised his mistake, he wrote, “Do you mean I posted his brother’s address on my Facebook? Oh well, collateral damage.” Someone cut the line that connected a propane tank on the brother’s screened-in porch (propane is known as LPG in New Zealand). The FBI is investigating.

Neo-nazi groups have long used the tactic of posting home addresses of “enemies” and suggesting that folks “drop by”. A few days before the teabagger’s post, a former leader of an Alabama militia (which is an armed and militant hate group) urged “all modern Sons of Liberty” to smash the windows of Democratic Party headquarters around the country. After the healthcare vote, Democratic Party offices in three states had bricks or stones thrown through their windows, and the offices of a Democratic US Representative in Arizona was also attacked (the offices of a Democrat in New York State were attacked, but apparently before the post).

A brick tossed at a New York party headquarters had a note attached: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” One in Kansas City had anti-Obama and anti-healthcare slogans.

So far, these have been crimes against property, though the Virginia incident could’ve killed someone. Clearly property isn’t all these radicals want to destroy. Said the Alabama nut: Democrats “certainly do not hear the soft ‘snik-snik’ of cleaning rods being used on millions of rifle barrels in this country by people who have decided their backs are to the wall.” He added in an interview: “If it takes a few bricks and broken windows for people to understand how close we are to widespread violence in this country then the bricks in the windows will have been worth it.”

There are some who dismiss these acts as “minor”, but just as petty crimes in a neighbourhood often leads to bigger crimes, these “minor” incidents can easily lead to serious violent crime as the extremists become emboldened. Others dismiss such crimes as the act of “lone wolves”. There’s no such thing in the Internet age: Extremists meet and feed off each other’s hate online in the same way they used to meet in secret in the old days. Then, such meetings were usually local or at best regional; through the Internet, they’re national. And one nut with guns or bombs can do a lot of damage, as we’ve seen in recent months alone.

It doesn’t help calm things when the Republican Party launches campaign fundraising with images of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi surrounded in flames (notice the subtle sexism, too?). It doesn’t help when they use fiery rhetoric, like the Republican Congressman who accused Democrats of using “totalitarian tactics” as a way of blaming Democrats for being victims of the racist and homophobic slurs from teabaggers over the weekend. And the 24/7 drumbeat of hate and aggression coming from Fox “news” adds to the incitement.

For this to end, responsible people in the Republican Party and among the teabaggers must denounce violence unequivocally. They can’t say, as several have, “this is bad, but it’s the Democrats’ own fault.” Violence is wrong, violent intimidation is wrong, and violent rhetoric is wrong. If there are any rational, responsible people left in the right wing, they must speak up now, before it’s too late, before, with blood on their hands, they pretend they don’t understand how their rhetoric led to violence. They must do something to stop it now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mining for defeat

The National/Act Government’s plans to mine sensitive conservation land is only the latest in a series of colossal blunders that make it look like it may be a one-term government. So far, National/Act have been all about rewarding the rich and the corporate elites (especially foreign-owned corporations), without giving anything to ordinary New Zealanders.

The government says that there are “billions of dollars” in minerals under sensitive conservation land, yet actually has no idea. They claimed that a mountain on Great Barrier Island had over $4 billion worth of chiefly gold and silver, but TVNZ’s “ONE News” checked out that claim and found that the best guess from a geologist was approximately $1 billion.

TVNZ also showed how little return New Zealand gets from that: The royalties paid to the New Zealand Government on minerals extracted are a mere 1%. The Government’s “yeah, but…” response was to claim there will be many jobs created—with no evidence that, in fact, there will be any.

Even announcing the plans has started to damage New Zealand’s tourism industry, the largest single earner of foreign money in New Zealand: It’s worth $22 billion a year and employs 185,000 people. No less than the Economist has blasted the proposal in an article criticising the country’s green credentials, indicating that media in our biggest foreign tourism markets pay attention to what happens here.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei used Question Time to force Prime Minister John Key, who is also Tourism Minister, to admit that his government hadn’t even bothered to enquire about the potential impact of the mining proposals on the tourism industry. Incredible. Key and his government are willing to risk a sustainable business worth $22 billion on the off chance they might get a few dollars in royalties from the foreign-owned mining companies.

This National/Act Government is now finding itself in the uncomfortable position of being fact-checked on every claim, no matter how small and silly. Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee claimed that the amount of land to be mined would be like “a postcard on Eden Park”. TVNZ checked that, too: They had a mathematician look at the claim, and he found that if New Zealand were reduced to the size of Eden Park, the amount of land to be mined would be 121 postcards.

National isn’t used to such intense public scrutiny of its plans. Labour Leader Phil Goff has promised that when Labour becomes Government, it will reverse these absurd plans. The way things are going, they may get the chance sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A tenth the intelligence

Now that the healthcare reform bill has finally passed the US Congress, we’ll see the rightwing ramping up its efforts to derail the Obama Presidency in new and crazier ways. Chief among them are folks in the latest rightwing fad, the “Tenthers,” folks who claim to believe that states have the right to negate any federal law they don’t like.

In the weeks (months, years…) ahead, we’ll hear constitutional experts—real or self-anointed—blather on about all this, so I—a person who is definitely not a constitutional expert—thought I may as well jump in now and make my views clear: I think they’re crazy.

The Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution says:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
The argument actually is over whether this Amendment really means “powers not expressly delegated”. The word “expressly” was in the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the new United States, but that word was deliberately omitted from the Constitution that replaced it. In United States v. Darby (1941), Justice Stone, writing the opinion of the Supreme Court, said:
"The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered. There is nothing in the history of its adoption to suggest that it was more than declaratory of the relationship between the national and state governments as it had been established by the Constitution before the amendment or that its purpose was other than to allay fears that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted, and that the states might not be able to exercise fully their reserved powers."
Generally speaking, the commerce power granted by the Constitution under Article I has been seen as a justification for the federal government exercising power over states. Since this argument is over the healthcare reform bill, it’s worth noting that health insurance companies are absolutely engaged in interstate commerce, and the federal government has a clearly established authority to regulate insurance.

Article I also states in Section 8 that “Congress shall have the power… to provide for the… general welfare of the United States.” Congress has already done this on numerous issues, this bill being only the latest example.

Further in Section 8 of Article I, the Constitution says that Congress has the power “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the forgoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States…” The “necessary and proper clause” has served as the basis for much of the expansion of federal authority over the 221 years that the Constitution has been in effect.

What all of this points to is the existence of “implied powers”, that is, powers not specifically enumerated in the Constitution but which are implied by it. Those powers are vast and touch the lives of every American citizen. The evidence clearly shows that this is what the authors of the Constitution intended—not a weak confederation, like the one they’d just replaced, but rather a strong federal union, one in which states would have sovereignty over purely state matters, and the federal government had authority over all national affairs and matters between and among the states.

In sum, then, the “Tenthers” don’t have a Constitutional leg to stand on. There’s nothing in the Constitution that gives them the power to “nullify” any federal law, let alone the healthcare reform bill, and the Supreme Court will almost certainly strike down any such attempt at “nullification”.

Personally, I think the “Tenthers” know that perfectly well. Many are probably pushing this as part of a quixotic “state’s rights” crusade. It should be pointed out to them that the Supreme Court has already ruled in Texas v White (1869) that States have no right to secede from the Union.

I think there are other motives, too. First among them, the racism of the far right: They despise President Obama precisely because he’s the first African American president. They have all sorts of conspiracy theories to try and cover their racism, but it’s there nonetheless. Also, many believe that the only legitimate government is rule by far-right Republicans, christianist Republicans in particular. Because they believe that they alone should rule the country, if democracy delivers a different government, they automatically see it as illegitimate.

The inherent racism among many (probably most) “Tenthers” has been well-documented elsewhere. The proof of their belief that they alone are legitimate rulers comes from a simple observation: When the Bush/Cheney regime was engaged in clearly illegal and unconstitutional behaviour, these people were silent—no talk of “nullification” back during the most serious presidential assault on the US Constitution.

So, either the “Tenthers” are crazy, or they think we’re stupid. But if I was to bet on who’s the least intelligent in this fight, it wouldn’t be ordinary Americans. The “Tenthers” ought to be called that because they have a tenth the intelligence of ordinary Americans. I’ve seen nothing so far to make me think otherwise.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Desperate and dangerous

As the fight over healthcare reform in the US entered the final days before a vote in the US House of Representatives, it was clear that the teabaggers were becoming increasingly desperate. In the halls of Congress, they again showed their true colours, calling Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a veteran of the civil rights struggle alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a “nigger”. They spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), who is also African American. They called Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) a “faggot”.

The right has declared that none of this ever happened or, if it did, “it was either a plant, an infiltrator, or a freak who attached himself to a group that wants no part of him,” as one teabagger put it. Bullshit. Racism, sexism and homophobia are at the very heart of the teabagger “movement”—and so is denial of reality. They now even claim they never coined the name “teabagger”, ignoring that they, in fact, did. After they created the name, of course, rational people were only too happy to help them claim it, pointing out its modern slang meaning along the way.

But shifting blame and lying about things is just what teabaggers do. It’s understandable, really, because they’re being whipped into their frothing frenzy by corporate elites through phony “grassroots” organisations (which is why rational people refer to the “tea party movement” as “astroturf activism”). When they’re led by a lie, why should they value truth and honesty?

Over the past few months, teabagger rhetoric has become increasingly aggressive. The racist and homophobic taunts are only one example. A teabagger in the US House Gallery stood up and shouted “kill the bill”, and Republicans on the House floor actually cheered. Proof, as if it was needed, that the Republican Party and teabaggers are allies, if not identical.

The problem isn’t mere obnoxiousness, crudeness and classlessness: In recent months their rhetoric has become increasingly violent, too. Now, thinly veiled death threats are common at their rallies and in their rantings.

All of which is why I say that no matter what happens with the House vote on healthcare reform later today, things with the teabaggers will get much worse before—or if—it gets better. If the bill passes, they’ll become violent in retaliation. If the bill loses, however, they’ll be emboldened and will use violence in order to intimidate and suppress opposition to them.

We’ve seen this happen before, of course, and history is a great teacher—and a warning. Personally, I believe that we’ve witnessed the teabaggers cross the line from a proto-fascist movement into a full-fledged fascist movement. They are dangerous and, as we’ve all seen in the past few weeks, increasingly desperate. Their aggressive desperation, combined with wilful ignorance and millions of dollars from corporate elites, is a recipe for disaster and a serious threat, one the republic may not be able to withstand.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

At a minimum

One issue that the right is adamant about is opposition to raising the minimum wage, and the more extreme demand that it be abolished altogether. It’s one of those economic issues about which reasonable people can have reasonable disagreements. In New Zealand, we may be about to have such a debate.

The issue came up in part because on April 1 the National-led government is adding a paltry 25 cents per hour to the current minimum wage, raising it to $12.75 per hour. But youths aged 16 or 17 classified as "new entrants" have a legal minimum of $10 an hour. Youths’ pay has to go up to at least the adult minimum after they’ve worked 200 hours, or three months, or when the worker turns 18, whichever comes sooner.

In response to all this, the Unite Union is circulating a petition to get a citizen’s initiated referendum onto the ballot to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. That would be the first step in a three year plan to raise the minimum wage from the current 50% of the average wage to 66%, what national superannuation for a couple is pegged to. So far, the union has collected more than 150,000 signatures and needs 300,000 signatures by May 7 in order to get the referendum onto the ballot.

While I support a rise in the minimum wage, I don’t know enough about the rest of the union’s proposal to have an opinion. I’m willing to listen to both sides.

However, businesses and conservative politicians oppose any rise in the minimum wage, using arguments that are often simply not true. For example, they argue that rises in the minimum wage cost jobs. Yet studies in New Zealand have not shown that to be true, at least not in good economic times. They also say it makes NZ business less competitive in a global economy. However:

“Statistics NZ data show that 130,000 of the 150,000 people earning between the current $12.50 an hour minimum and $13.10 an hour work in domestic sectors that are not exposed to international competition, such as retailing (49,000), hospitality (29,000) and aged care and community services (11,400). Only 20,000 work in the exposed sectors of manufacturing and agriculture.”

One thing that bothers me the most about the conservatives’ position is that they constantly go on and on and on about making New Zealanders’ incomes more like those of Australians. But the Australian minimum wage is A$14.31—NZ$18.51 and hour, a whopping 45% higher. So: Is the right saying that pay parity is only for the middle and upper classes? Do they think that the working poor should just accept their lot—or move to Australia?

Referendum aside, I hope to see both sides of the debate sticking to facts and not using the silly tactic of citing mere anecdotes to try and make their case. We’ll see.

Taking hatred global

I had an uncharitable first reaction when I heard that some retired general had said something colossally stupid to oppose repeal of the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He declared that in 1995 Bosnian Serbs were able to massacre 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica because the UN Peacekeepers in the area, the Dutch Army, had openly-gay soldiers.

I figured that general was some has-been who was letting his hatred of gay people get the better of him. But my first reaction was far more uncharitable: I thought it was a good thing he was retired because anyone that stupid would be constantly putting people’s lives in danger, if he was still in command.

It turned out that before his retirement in 1997, John J. "Jack" Sheehan had been Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and he’d also been Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command. All of which explains why the rightwing advocates of the US military’s anti-gay policy would’ve thought they’d hit the jackpot with him on their side. They were wrong.

The Dutch Government universally condemned Sheehan’s idiotic statements. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was livid: "The remarks were outrageous, wrong and beneath contempt," which sums it all up perfectly.

Dutch Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop called the remarks, "Scandalous and not worthy of a soldier,” and the ministry said "It is unbelievable that a man of this rank is stating this nonsense, for that's what it is." Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen called the claim "the bizarre private opinion of someone without an official function."

Sheehan claimed that the Dutch chief of staff had told him that having gay soldiers at Srebrenica had sapped morale and that contributed to the massacre. But General Henk van den Breemen, who was the Dutch chief of staff at the time, said Sheehan’s claim was "Total nonsense."

So, what was going on? Naturally, I have some theories.

First, it’s pretty obvious that Sheehan is a typical far right ideologue. He framed his smear against gay soldiers as the result of post-Cold War European efforts to "socialise" their armies—because the rightwing thinks socialism is pure evil. He also declared that it was “social engineering”, a phrase popular with the right as a way to dismiss anything progressives attempt to do.

Second, Sheehan’s a bigot as evidenced by his defaming gay Dutch soldiers. I believe he deliberately lied about Srebrenica because he thought that no one would check his claims and that no one would defend gay people. Like most conservatives, he had no idea that there are many countries in the world that value their GLBT citizens and will defend them (a subject in itself). So, like a lot of far right ideologues, Sheehan felt he could lie with impunity.

It’s probably a sign of the desperation of the right wing in America that they’re now not even making the slightest effort to hide their lies. But a cornered animal is a dangerous one. Sheehan’s a complete idiot, but that doesn’t mean that he and his friends can be ignored. By taking his hatred global, it was laid bare for the world to see, and that exposed his lies. As a result, the right wing in the US looks even more ridiculous, and I didn’t think that was even possible.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Protests against the National Party-led government are starting, and no matter how much they may try to spin it, they have to be worried. Any government that has this much opposition ought to be worried. Ask Labour.

Today, “around 400” protesters condemned the closure of a free health centre for Christchurch's youth. The National Party knows that the people they’ve targeted are unlikely to vote National anyway, but they’ll be worried all the same: If mainstream New Zealand sees what the party is doing to ordinary New Zealanders, National will be in trouble.

This isn’t the only issue on which National is picking fights with ordinary New Zealanders, of course: They want to mine sensitive conservation land, they want to stick it to ordinary New Zealanders by raising GST, and there’s the National Party-led Government making a “pig's arse,” as the New Zealand Herald put it, of the Auckland “super city”. There are plenty of things that ordinary New Zealanders will hold against National.

We know that in a second term National will start to sell-off everything they can. In fact, they’re already working to ready state-owned assets for sale. Given the mistake after mistake after mistake, one must wonder: Does National seriously expect to be re-elected?

Virginia is for bigots

Let’s just state this plainly: The Governor of Virginia is a far right Republican christianist extremist who thinks discriminating against gay people is just fine. Their Attorney General’s not just a far right Republican christianist extremist, but also a birther teabagger nutcase. Yes, Virginia is in the hands of the insane. Sane, rational people need not apply, until the Census changes things—or will Republicans allow democratic change?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I’m certainly not above a little schadenfreude over the tribulations of my far right christianist friends, so I’m afraid I’m smiling as I write this: A New Zealand anti-gay christianist party is folding. They’re not the first, but they’re one of the most high-profile, in some ways.

The “Family” Party has officially asked to be de-registered and its website is already gone. It was created to replace a defunct party called “Destiny New Zealand”, founded by far-right TV preacher Brian Tamaki (who’s recently been under intensive scrutiny from the New Zealand Herald). Destiny Church’s party ran in the 2005 elections and won 0.62% of the Party Vote (14,210 votes) and no Electorate Seats. It was not in Parliament.

Following that failure, the party rebranded itself as the “Family” Party and was led by the political director for Tamaki’s organisation. The Deputy Leader was a rabidly anti-gay former MP who, according to GayNZ.com, “notoriously and unsuccessfully fasted to call God to strike down the Civil Unions Bill.”

The new party contested the 2008 election with even worse results: 0.35% of the Party Vote (only 8,176 votes) and again, no Electorate Seats. This was the crushing end to Brian Tamaki’s declaration that he and his church would be “ruling New Zealand in five years”, though I believe it took more than five years to get to that point.

The “Family” Party was the last expressly christianist party registered in New Zealand, though a couple others have many christianist policies. None are currently in Parliament.

Last August, I wrote about how no christianist party has ever done well in New Zealand. Their most successful year ever was 1996, the first year under MMP, when they failed to win any seats in Parliament. Their percentages have been declining ever since.

This doesn’t mean that there are few christianist voters in New Zealand, just very few who are so extreme that they’ll only vote for a “pure” party. Instead, most conservative Christians—even far right ones—will vote for conservative mainstream parties, even though they don’t have a christianist agenda, because to do otherwise would not only throw their vote away, it could very well help elect a centre-left government. For them, it’s a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils; oddly, many of us mainstream voters know exactly how they feel.

Personally, I think some egos may have overruled common sense; conservative Christian voters show far more common sense than the would-be leaders of failed exclusively far right christianist parties. That they would ultimately fail and we’d be left with parties that either are, or are mostly, secular, was entirely predictable. This is, after all, New Zealand.

Public transport to hell

Some New Zealand Christians are apparently upset at the possibility of atheist ads on buses. NZ Bus, which originally approved the ads, later changed their minds and rejected them because of "significant reaction from both the travelling public and our people."

The ads (pictured above on a bus from the campaign in the UK), say “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” I’d always thought that the word “probably” was added under pressure, but it turns out I was wrong. While the word did keep the ads within the UK’s advertising standards by avoiding offence (ironically), the campaign’s creator, Ariane Sherine, noted that using the word “means the slogan is more accurate, as even though there’s no scientific evidence at all for God’s existence, it’s also impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist (or that anything doesn’t).” Fair enough.

Even Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s best-known atheist, doesn’t say that God doesn’t exist, but merely that he “almost certainly” doesn’t exist. Dawkins says that saying there’s no God would be a statement of faith: “Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist”.

But Dawkins has now stirred things up in New Zealand. He said about the ad rejection: “I am, to say the least, not impressed with people who take offence to it, you can hardly ask for a more innocuous ... message," Stuff reported. He added, somewhat unhelpfully, "I would have to say grow up, don't be so pathetic, stop whining." I admire Dawkins’ intellect, but I think that sometimes he makes things worse for atheists by being unnecessarily strident and confrontational. Still, he’s right: People do need to grow up a bit—especially the folks who run NZ Bus.

It’s easy for me to be so relaxed about it all: My parents both encouraged thinking for oneself. They had absolute faith that if one did so, one would be Christian. I think they probably would’ve supported the advertisers, knowing full well that no ad on any bus would convert anyone to atheism. Also, they believed that their God didn’t need protecting from dissent or those who don’t believe. All of which leaves me to wonder why some people are so easily offended, or why they’re so worried about the strength of others’ faith.

I doubt that many people complained to NZ Bus, but even if they did, I think NZ Bus was wrong to reject the ads. “Freedom of religion” means atheists have the same right to express their beliefs as do religionists. I hope that the atheists ultimately prevail and the ads are run. If they are, they could provoke a far more meaningful discussion than the ill-advised billboard from last December. I know that my parents would’ve approved of that dialogue. If their God really exists, I bet he’d “probably approve”, too.

Photo above © Jon Worth / British Humanist Association. Available from the UK site.

As they say, not do

Oldline print newsmedia in New Zealand have an odd fixation with blogs: When mentioned at all, it’s usually to dismiss them or to suggest that they alone are destroying newspapers, or worse. Most of the time, newspapers’ contempt for blogs is obvious.

Most of the time—unless a rightwing blog makes a dubious charge.

The latest example came yesterday when Stuff reported—virtually unchecked—on a blog post by a far-right blogger who alleged Labour List MP Charles Chauvel told the blogger’s child to “shut up” “three times” on a recent flight to Wellington. The two sides remember the incident quite differently, but Stuff seemed to buy the blogger’s version, placing the story in the “tabloid box” on its main page. The New Zealand Herald later picked up the story and echoed the tabloid-y Stuff angle.

Today the Herald updated its story, balancing it a bit and suggesting that Chauvel wasn’t the only passenger bothered by the children’s behaviour, and noting that the blogger’s wife never heard anything. The blogger claims that, while his children were being noisy, it was only “the odd squawk a few yells and disagreements but nothing that your average person on a short domestic flight could dismiss undercover of an insipid tea, a packet of crisps and a magazine.” (I think he meant to say, “couldn’t dismiss”—unless he was being more honest than he intended).

He also makes the absurd claim, “I have no reason to construct this. This is what happened.” No reason? Apart, apparently, from being an activist in the neocon Act Party? Despite being part of a blog that’s notorious for attacks on Labour? No reason apart from all that?

The blogger goes on: “This is how a Labour front bencher acted in public, when his party is on 30% in the polls, when the accusations of ‘out of touch’ are still ripe and the electorate is still trying to digest the ‘many but the few’ mantra.” He also suggests that Chauvel, who is gay, “despises” children, a typical right-wing smear against gay people. In fact, homophobic posts are common on that site, as are posts that are sexist, racist or classist (I know: I had a good look around).

If the children’s noise was really so inconsequential, why were other passengers annoyed, too? And if passengers are supposed to “dismiss undercover of an insipid tea, a packet of crisps and a magazine” such disturbances, why could he not do the same? Unless, of course, he saw it as an opportunity for a politically-motivated rant.

I have no problem with bloggers launching into such rants because I do them, too (though I try to base it on at least some semblance of fact). However, treating such a rant as a real news story was stupid and wrong.

Given their antipathy toward blogs, you’d think oldline newsmedia would’ve been more dismissive. Was there a darker motive? The left-leaning The Standard suggests that this beat-up isn’t the result of oldline newsmeda’s collusion with the right, but rather “a result of the growing tabloidisation of the media”, something they blame on the need for scandal to fill the void left by media conglomerates slashing the numbers of real journalists. However, they also suggest that it’s “no coincidence” that recent right-wing smears, reported as news by the oldline newsmedia, targeted gay MPs.

One thing is certain, though: The only news here was that the oldline newsmedia treated it as news when they tell us to ignore blogs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bloomin’ lovely

Last Spring, I wrote about and posted pictures of some yuccas on our section that were blooming. Yesterday, I noticed that a different species of yucca in our front garden was also in bloom (photo above). Actually, I didn’t notice that: Our neighbour pointed it out to me. These blooms are much bigger and prettier than the Spring ones.

So twice in less than six months, just before and just after summer, I see plants in our garden blooming for the first time. I decide to take that as omens of good things to come. I mean, why not?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Education in Tex-ass

As I hope I’ve made abundantly clear by now, I have absolutely no patience with religious fundamentalist activists (of any religion), and contempt for those who try to force their religion onto everyone else. In the US state of Texas, extremist christianists have managed to turn their state’s education system into mostly a politico-religious indoctrination system.

Texas buys all of its school textbooks on a statewide basis, which means that what they want ends up in textbooks throughout the country. The actions of the far right Republicans on the Texas State Board of Education mean that public school kids throughout the US will be subjected to a dumbed-down curriculum intended only to advance far right religious christianist ideology.

Specifically, on Friday the wingnuts managed to have Thomas Jefferson expunged from the social studies curriculum. The wingnuts tried to claim that Jefferson merely parroted other people’s ideas, but it was clear their real problem with Jefferson was that he was a Deist, not a Christian. We can tell this especially because he was replaced with that favourite of far-right christianists, John Calvin.

But that’s not all. According to the Huffington Post, “Teachers in Texas will be required to cover the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation's Founding Fathers, but not highlight the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state.” The Board’s also insisting that the US be described as a “constitutional republic” and not as “democratic”. My guess is that this is because a theocracy, which is what these wingnuts want the US to become, can be a constitutional republic, but not a democracy. Texas teachers will also be required to express dates in the Christian “BC” and “AD” rather than the non-religious “BCE” and “CE”.

They’re not just promoting a radical christianist agenda, but also a general far right one: In studying the Bill of Rights, there will have to be special emphasis on the Second Amendment. The curriculum will celebrate "American exceptionalism" and the US “free enterprise” system. Students will be taught that to work, the system can’t have excessive government intervention. Apparently, they’ll also be taught that the decline in value of the US dollar has resulted from abandoning the gold standard.
There was also evident—and expected—racism in the wingnuts’ moves. They tried to dismiss the African American civil rights movement as leading to "unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes." They also defeated the many attempts to add the names of, or references to, important Hispanics in history.

If this was just about Texas marching down the road to becoming the Iran of the United States, it would be one thing. The issue here, however, is that Texas influences education throughout the US. Apparently, this is one reason why some schools are beginning to look at self-publishing texts or using open-source texts, ones that aren’t dumbed-down to meet Texas’ religious and political agenda.

Unlike Texas, other states still value real education.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

More survey nonsense

I’ve frequently criticised the newsmedia for getting their reporting about statistics completely wrong, or simply drawing the wrong conclusions. An NZPA story carried by Stuff is yet another example.

The story was headlined: “Nearly half of Kiwis support Aus-NZ union” and was about results of a poll that will be released tomorrow on TVNZ’s “Q+A” programme. The story, however, doesn’t support the headline: It turns out the survey found that 41% of New Zealanders thought the idea was “worth debating”, and 58% did not.

First, and most importantly, thinking that union of the countries is “worth debating” is hardly the same thing as supporting that union actually happening. It’s also debatable whether 41% is really “almost half” of anything (I’d say it definitely is not); after all, almost 50% more people were against debating the idea than were for it.

Many ordinary people don’t understand statistics, which makes it worse when the newsmedia make conclusions that are completely unsupported by the data—or let political activists get away with doing the same. The newsmedia must try harder—a large percentage of people are counting on them.

Update 14 March: The full poll results have now been posted, and it shows the reality is very, very different than the original story suggested. The focus of that original story was that a large minority were okay with discussing not a NZ/Aus union, as the story suggested, but New Zealand becoming the seventh state of Australia, which is very different. But 71% opposed that idea, and a mere 24% favoured it—which is pretty decisive by anyone’s reckoning. Had the original story said that, there’d be no incentive to watch the report. Clearly they focused on the other statistic to generate interest in the broadcast, so they also didn’t mention that 71% said it was not time to discuss the idea (even if a minority felt it was an idea “worth debating” at some unspecified time).

So, it’s pretty evident now that the original story was intended only as a promo for the TV programme.

Dealing to online polls

Lots of websites run polls. I’ve done it, too. All of them are useless, but sometimes the mainstream newsmedia will report such poll results as if they’re real and have validity, and I’ve certainly criticised them for it.
Political advocacy groups, especially on the right, frequently report such polls as if they’re real. Far-right christianist site “OneNewsNow” held a poll last week asking: “Do you believe that individuals, through a relationship with Jesus Christ, can overcome unwanted same-sex attractions?” It was hinting at the “ex-gay” scam that far right christianists constantly promote (and make a lot of money from).

Überblogger Joe Jervis saw the poll and urged his readers and Twitter followers to freep the poll. We did. The results can be seen in the screen grab above. As Joe said on his blog:
"Over 90% of the readers of the American Family Association's news site OneNewsNow agree that it is impossible to pray the gay away. At least, that is how the Christianists would spin it, had the result gone the other way."
Very true.

The christofascist AFA quickly learned from their error in offering people an actual choice of views: Since then, all their polls offer choices merely reflecting shades of the same right-wing viewpoint (an example is at the bottom of this post). While this makes freeping their polls pointless, it also makes the polls themselves even more pointless.

And that was one of the benefits behind the whole exercise: It showed that organisation polling itself to see how much they agree with each other is just silly. Reporting such results as if it’s real is another matter—it’s plain wrong, no matter who does it or why.

And now television

Broadcasting minister Jonathan Coleman has asked Television New Zealand to look into making TVNZ6 and TVNZ 7, available on both free-to-air Freeview and pay TV Sky Television, into public broadcasting-style channels. Nothing wrong with that idea, apart from one small detail: The government won’t be giving any more money for public broadcasting.

TVNZ is supposed to channel profits to those channels—presumably while still returning dividends to the government. These days, that’s a big ask: Revenues are down at TVNZ, and they expect to make a loss for the year to June 30.

Things are so bad, in fact, that TVNZ has explored the possibility of cutting its flagship news programme, “ONE News” at 6pm to half an hour (well, maybe 17 minutes of news with the rest ads). They’ve also looked at having rival broadcaster MediaWorks move into part of their complex and even share some facilities.

So, Coleman wants TVNZ to make do with less, this after telling the same thing to Radio New Zealand. What’d he and the National-led Government up to?

The New Zealand Herald’s John Drinnan wrote, “…there are no signs of National emerging with a coherent broadcasting policy beyond waiting to see what happens.” That seems apt. When campaigning, John Key promised no sale of state-owned assets in a first term, but he didn’t say they wouldn’t move to make them ready for sale.

By reducing the costs of the state-owned broadcasters, National can make them more attractive for eventual sale. It’s also possible that they simply don’t have a clue what they’re doing about public broadcasting. Neither is an especially appealing situation. But, if they do screw up broadcasting, voters can always change the channel next year.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The new Auckland

It’s been months in the making, but the new Auckland came a step closer today: The Local Government Commission released revised maps and boundaries for the New Auckland. The northern boundary is the same, the southern has changed a bit, but most people—apart from those affected—won’t know that.

The Commission has also decided that some wards in the new city will have two councillors, while others will have one. I have no idea why. I would’ve thought it would’ve made sense for them all to be single-member wards, but maybe there was some limit in the number of wards they were allowed to have, or something equally illogical.

In any event, I checked out the maps at the official site, and I can’t say that I have any more feel for the new city, or my elected representation, than I did before. Maybe that’s something that comes with time.

But one doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of the area to realise what a challenge this new city will be. The new city is 100 kilometres or more, north to south: More than an hour of driving time (and pushing two hours during peak times). That doesn’t sound like a recipe for a unified, cohesive city.

Still, this is what we get. We’ll have to make the best of it, somehow.

The New Auckland begins in November of this year.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Breaking News – there was no news

Today the police released a review into how they conducted the investigation of how emails of ex-National Party leader Don Brash ended up in the hands of journalist and author Nicky Hager. In the original investigation, police found no evidence that the emails were stolen.

When the damaging emails came to light, exposing the extent to which Brash had done deals with extreme right wingers, implicated him in collusion to deliberately hide National’s true agenda, and suggested that he was aware of the extent of the party’s coordination of advertising with a far right christianist cult as well as business interests, Brash’s first response was to prevaricate. Then he went on the offensive, essentially accusing Hager of theft. Hager has always said the emails were leaked, not stolen.

Brash attacked the police, accusing them of running a politically-biased “cavalier” investigation. Brash has said of the police investigation that it looked to him like it “gave every appearance of being treated as a matter of no consequence."

That may have been Brash’s view, but apart from some minor points, the review didn’t agree with him. Still, it clearly was “a matter of no consequence." If I were to bet, it’d be that a National Party member leaked the emails as a matter of principle.

Brash led the party to the far right in what was essentially a hostile takeover of the neoconservative Act Party. Many of the behind-the-scenes leaders and founders of Act were behind Brash. A couple decades earlier, the same cabal took over the Labour Party to foist a neoconservative agenda on New Zealand; they couldn’t take over National back then. In 2005, they thought they finally had their chance to regain power. They were wrong.

Nicky Hager ultimately helped to derail Brash’s largely hidden campaign to jerk New Zealand to the far right. Like George W. Bush, Brash had many smart, powerful and unscrupulous people behind him, but unlike Bush, Brash knew every aspect of what they—and he—were up to. Fortunately, New Zealand voters began to find out the truth before the election. In the months and years since, we’ve learned almost the full extent of their plans—thanks in no small measure to those emails.

No amount of huffing and puffing by Brash or the man who toppled him, John Key, can change one essential fact: New Zealand dodged a bullet in 2005, and the National Party and its campaign were all responsible to varying degrees—all, that is, apart from what I bet was one or more people in the National Party with a conscience or perhaps simply a loyalty to the party, who refused to see National crushed under the weight of Act’s neoconservative agenda.

The police have now firmly established that those email were not stolen. As far as I’m concerned, whoever leaked them did the right thing, whatever their motivations really were.

When the ‘news’ isn’t

Anchor Management

In this “Daily Show” video, Jon Stewart again eviscerates Fox “News”, this time showing how the network’s claim that there’s a difference between their so-called “news” and their opinion shows is utter nonsense. Specifically, he shows how their current star teleprompter reader, Megyn Kelly, is absolutely not “fair and balanced.” In fact, the people that she and Fox “News” talk with during supposed “news” segments shown spout the same Republican talking points presented by their performers on opinion shows.

Sensible people know that Fox “News” is nothing but a rightwing propaganda machine—any real news that shows up on that network is utterly accidental. We expect the liberal-leaning MSNBC—which, pointedly, does not use the word “news” in the network name—to debunk the lies, distortions, disinformation and outright propaganda from Fox. We expect the same—and biting wit—from Jon Stewart. So the question is, why aren’t the mainstream media more aggressive in exposing Fox?

Sadly, Fox “News” pollutes New Zealand’s Sky TV pay service—which is part-owned by Rupert Murdoch. At least in NZ it runs without commercials, so Rupo isn’t making much money from it here. That’s something.

Apologies to Canadians, who cannot view this video.

Tip o’ the Hat to the Huffington Post.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Presidential Reunion

I heard about the video above on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”, and headed over to the Funny or Die site to watch it. Tonight, it was also mentioned on TVNZ’s late news.

The video is a commercial in which, as the site puts it, “Barack Obama gets a surprise visit in the night from ex-Presidents Bush Sr., Bush Jr., Clinton, Ford, Reagan and Carter to get a few pointers about the Consumer Financial Protection Agency and why it's so important.” But it’s also a gathering of former cast members of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” who played presidents (as far as I know, it’s the first time that’s been done). The missing cast member is Phil Hartman who was murdered by his wife. He did a great Clinton. I was nice to see some old favourites reprise their roles.

So, for me, this video is part nostalgic, part current, part serious and part funny. I also think it’s good to see Progressives using the tools at their disposal to counter the spin and lies coming from the right. Whether it works or not, well, we’ll see.

The video stars Will Ferrell (Bush 43), Chevy Chase (Ford), Ron Howard (voiceover), Jim Carrey (Reagan), Fred Armisen (Barack Obama), Darrell Hammond (Clinton), Dan Aykroyd (Carter), Maya Rudolph (Michelle Obama) and Dana Carvey (Bush 41). It was directed by Ron Howard.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Updates to fill the time

I’m incredibly busy with work, which is why I haven’t been posting. Until I have enough time for real posts, here are a few updates to some earlier posts:

No tsunami, yes media

The tsunami spawned by the horrific earthquake in Chile ended up devastating only that already ravaged country. It’s impossible to know for sure how bad a tsunami will be until it actually approaches, so countries throughout the Pacific Rim, including New Zealand, posted alerts.

But unlike the tsunami after the Samoan earthquake last September, this time the New Zealand media and Civil Defence did a pretty good job of making sure people were informed. TV One interrupted its normal programming with updates every half hour—and they don’t normally have news broadcasts on a Sunday morning.

Civil Defence also made an effort to be more informative, and faster, than last year. There’s still more work to do, and people have got to be kept off the beaches, but all things considered, this time the information was much easier to come by.

Still a bad ‘Morning’

Early last month I wrote about TVNZ’s “Good Morning” sacking their openly-gay co-host, Steve Grey. I said that the first scene of their first episode of the year “struck me as a particularly aggressively heterosexual way to introduce” the new co-host. Since then, they’ve repeatedly done what I can only describe as “flaunting” the heterosexuality of the co-hosts. It doesn’t help that I just don’t like the new co-host, but add it all up and I now turn the TV off when the programme comes on (I used to leave it on for background noise), and haven’t seen more than ten minutes this year. I don’t see that changing.

Making lemonade

Later in February, I talked about my surprise at seeing an artificial sweetener listed among the ingredients of a bottle of lemonade not labelled “diet”. At the time, I said I wasn’t singling out the pictured brand, “Pam’s” (the house brand for Foodstuffs stores Pak N Save, New World and Four Square) because “for all I know, they all do it.”

Since then, I’ve been to the grocery store and checked labels of other brands. The two leading brands—7up and Sprite—do not contain artificial sweetener. Neither did the medium-priced brands, but another brand that didn’t was “Signature Range”, the house brand for Progressive (Countdown, Foodtown and Woolworth’s). Only the cheap generic brand had artificial sweeteners, as did a few of the brands priced between it and “Signature Range”. That doesn’t mean they never will, but they didn’t when I checked (as I always will from now on).

I also re-read the label of the drink in that weird plastic can and found that it, too, contained artificial sweetener.

I’m guessing that the chemical sweeteners are cheaper than real sugar, which is why it’s found in the cheapest drinks. While I’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners in general, they’re legal and the companies have the right to use them. But I still say they have a moral obligation to point out that they’ve used chemical sweeteners in products where you don’t expect them, like drinks that aren’t labelled “diet”.