Archive for July, 2008

After hours doctors’ charges

July 31, 2008

Regular commenter here MacDoctor has started his own blog, MacDoctor Moments: Pondering the Politics of Medicine. It aims to discuss issues to do with the politics of medicine for a general readership.

MacDoctor’s just posted on the recent Herald report on a survey of after hours doctors’ fees. Interesting stuff.


McCain goes for the low road

July 31, 2008

John McCain has given up on fighting a “respectful” campaign and — with more than three months to go before the election — started hitting as low as he can. The dog.

It seems like just a few weeks ago he said:

“I respect and admire Senator Obama, and if I have ever treated him in a disrespectful way I don’t know of it,” he said. “Americans want a respectful debate. They don’t want us to finger-point and question each other’s character and integrity.”

Actually, it was. But now McCain’s people have figured that Americans are  still uncertain about Obama’s character, and that undermining their perceptions of Obama before he can establish his own narratives might just win them the election. (Remember, Obama’s big lead in electoral votes is fragile to a relatively small shift in the popular vote.) So they’ve started, well, questioning his integrity and character.

The shift to dirty politics was quite clear at the end of June. As BarbinMD on Dailykos puts it:

“… McCain has questioned Barack Obama’s patriotism, his commitment to our troops serving overseas and has even stooped to thinly veiled charges of sedition, and McCain is willing to distort and lie to do so. It’s become clear that John McCain has made a conscious choice to throw his much vaunted honor under the bus.”

That bus would be the “Straight Talk Express”, of course.

Here’s an example. McCain takes a quote from a Castro speech critical of Obama to try to link Obama to Castro. This played in South Florida.

[Update: The latest McCain ad has been moved to a new post above.]

More good oil on Peters

July 31, 2008

Another breath of sanity on the current Peters saga, this time from the Herald’s John Armstrong.

Looking more sagacious by the day, Armstrong notes that Peters’ confrontations with reporters serve a purpose; they provide a visual reinforcement for his story of a vast media conspiracy against him. Clever.

We can expect this farce to continue until the pressure to provide answers about the donations abates, says Armstrong. Peters’ reluctance to provide answers is due to a need to maintain the pretense that NZ First doesn’t do that stuff and is morally superior; the story is dying, so why revive it; parties don’t like to expose these dealings anyway; and, well, it’s Peters with dealing with here, isn’t it. The upshot:

“The Great Survivor may yet turn what looked a week ago to be a dreadful mess which might have cost him his job as Foreign Minister into yet another back-from-the-dead recovery.”

[Update: Judging from today’s parliamentary question time, the whole thing’s starting to lose its fizz. Where were Key and Clark? What’s Peters got against meerkats? Should we get Nandor back?]

The scandals that aren’t

July 31, 2008

The DomPost raises questions this morning about “a $20,000 deposit to the party’s bank account that does not appear on its register of declared donations.”

You know, I’m no friend of Peters, but I’m inclined to sympathise with him on this one. Here are the details relayed breathlessly by the rag:

“The Dominion Post has obtained a deposit slip showing $19,998 was deposited in one or more cheques into the party’s coffers in December 1999.”

Readers of this blog will immediately spot that the amount is actually just under $20,000 as opposed to being $20,000, and understand the significance of this. I’d be prepared to bet good money that this is in fact two cheques for $9,999. You would be too, I’m sure.

When asked to comment on this Peters is reported to have responded:

“Contacted for comment yesterday, the party leader, Winston Peters, said: “Phil, I told you I’m not talking to a lying wanker like you. See you.” He then hung up.”

Not very diplomatic, but understandable. If anything, this sort of nonsense just provides Peters with evidence that he is being unfairly targeted.

Likewise the SST story about racing industry support for NZ First. Even that walking bag of bile Michael Bassett has to resort to phrases like “a lot of” and “It’s not too much to say that” to try and construct his fantasy that this “appears” to be “a major political scandal.” Gosh, appointments to the New Zealand Racing Board had the support of “big racing industry players”! So full of bitterness and hate that he has no shame.

[Update: The Standard says much the same thing about the DomPost’s story.]

The good oil on Peters

July 30, 2008

For the most part the response to the current Peters saga in the NZ blogosphere has been to froth and demand Peters’ immediate dismissal. But there have been some honourable exceptions…

Over on Scoop, Gordon Campbell assesses the winners and losers. The affair will likely hurt Peters in Tauranga, where he faces serious opposition, Campbell says. But it may see him over the 5% threshold. Campbell believes that it is not the racism and so on per se that appeals to Peters’ supporters; but that they are repulsed by the reaction from the elite.

Without the data to back this up — who’d want to run a focus group of Peters supporters, eh? — I’m inclined to the view that NZ First voters must be partial to conspiracy theories and populist demagoguery, and that Peters may very well refresh his support base with another round of perceived persecution.

Other winners include Rodney Hide, “who gets to play the indignant touch judge”, not having his hands tied like Key and Clark, and National, whose minimalist approach to policy and its release was starting to come to people’s notice. The main beneficiary, Campbell thinks, could be the EFA, the raison d’etre for which must now be unassailable.

Losers include the Herald and DomPost

“… who railed against the EFA, and – with a straight face – have now railed against the kind of arrangements practised by NZF (and in all likelihood, by other political parties who were laundering anonymous donations via trusts) that made the EFA, or legislation akin to it, essential. And oh, the public.”

Campbell points out that the essential issues involved are technical and arcane. “Lawyer stuff.” Cactus Kate provides a very useful outline of Peters’ escape route from questions on the Spencer trust. As she points out, he needn’t be a beneficiary of the trust — his lawyer could be and most probably is — and he therefore can’t be expected to answer any questions to do with the Trust or its affairs. This was his line in last Friday’s press conference, a transcript of which Audrey Young provides.

Finally Brian Rudman puts it all in perspective, with a very clever and disparaging account, followed by some thoughts on state funding of elections, something I’m hoping to post on soon.

[Update: Ralston reveals in his Listener column (not available on-line) receiving at TVNZ in 2005 anonymous letters from a “nutter” who signed himself “Eumenides” and promised a trove of information on secret donations to political parties. Similar letters went to other media outlets and are undoubtedly the ones that Peters referred to the Speaker at the time. Ralston admits TVNZ spent some time trying to track down the anonymous informant when s/he took imagined offence and broke the correspondence. This story is consistent with Peters’ claims that TVNZ engaged private detectives to find dirt on him. Nothing illegal about that, of course. And, if anything, it just feeds into Peters’ persecution narrative.]

A flip-flop too far for Far-Right Fran

July 30, 2008

Fran O’Sullivan froths at National’s flip-flops in Granny this morning, wailing, “… it’s tempting to wonder if John Key is auditioning to be Helen Clark in drag.” In doing so she adds her voice to the chorus of far-right dismay at National’s “Labour-lite” cross-dressing.

She points to the essential problem that “all Labour’s flagship economic policies” (embraced by National), bigger tax cuts than Labour, no privatisations and no big borrowing won’t fit falling government revenue in a declining economy. Many others have also pointed to this problem.

But, thanks to her close links with the big business donors to the National Party, she is able to provide some insights into how National might conjur this fiscal trick:

“It would appear obvious – to those within the business elite who are privy to National’s plans – that Key and his finance spokesman Bill English plan to re-engineer the Government’s balance sheet so that a number of directly funded infrastructure programmes are shifted off-balance sheet to be funded through public-private partnerships and/or infrastructure bonds.”

The problem is, as she quickly admits, that there are serious time lags. It would take years for the fiscal benefits to flow through (never mind the quality of service issues which she ignores, of course). This might be a long term solution, but what about the short-term?

So the question remains, what — or who — is going to give?

O’Sullivan finishes with a general whinge about the lack of policy on offer. She says:

“As of right now there are few National policies on display that demonstrate the party that looks odds-on to claim the Government benches this year is thinking deeply about the economic environment it will inherit.”

We can only concur.

“The bland leading the bland”

July 29, 2008

Colin James in today’s Herald rues the caution and blandness that is the Leader of the Opposition today. He asks us to “consider John Key, the trader who used to back himself and made a whizz-bang fortune at it. Where has he gone?”

James suspects that this is the product of marketing. I’d say that it is out and out manipulation of the electorate.

More importantly, James ruminates on the tensions between the Labour-lite policies that we have seen in many areas and the vague promises of economic step-change and closing the gap with Australia. On the latter, apart from universal fast broadband all we have is an indication that National “will promise bigger science… Oh, and tax cuts and lighter regulation. And ‘ambition’.”

(In passing, I await the bigger science policy with interest, as this vital driver of growth has been neglected by governments of all stripes.)

James also reveals that in the major policy areas:

“… in behind the bland one-pagers lies quite a lot of study, consultation with outsiders and internal shadow cabinet debate. A 34-page paper backed the workplace relations one-pager. Law and order policy was well footnoted.”

Even Farrar agrees that the one-pagers we are being feed don’t provide enough detail. He says that 1 per cent of the population wants the detail, but doesn’t say who these people are. I’d say that it’s more than that, and includes the opinion leaders who many of the others will rely upon to look at the detail and pass judgement.

I’m really pleased to hear that there’s more work behind these policies than appears on the surface. But why then do so many important points in the workplace relations, arts and other policies beg clarification? Why, for example, did we have National’s broadcasting spokesperson confirming on media7 that funding for Maori TV and Radio NZ would be maintained?

And if you’re going to release stuff on one side of A4, why not have a press conference so that these things can be clarified on the spot?

If you have pretentions to running the country, then at least act professionally when it comes to releasing policy. At the moment it looks very amateurish, as well as bland.

Update (hat-tip The Standard): Seems that National doesn’t have detailed policy analysis to back up the scraps of paper we’ve been served up. (Why don’t they just hand over the envelopes with their policies on the back?) Colin Espiner reveals:

“Unfortunately, it appears James didn’t get it quite right – at least according to John Key’s office, which has just told me that there is NO 34-page policy document on industrial relations. It is, in fact, a 14-page document that simply backgrounds previous changes in industrial law, according to Key’s office.

Even Espiner, who features in The Hollow Men as probably the most enthusiastic messenger for the right in 2005, finds this galling:

“I’m unsure whether this is supposed to make me feel better or not. Personally I would have been happier to know that National had done more work in this area, even if it wouldn’t release it.”

Peters returns: Much heat, little light

July 29, 2008

It was billed as the showdown in Parliament. In the event it was more of a snowjob.

Peters provided more of the same “answers” to the questions being asked about big donations from Owen Glenn and Sir Robert Jones. That is, he denied any wrong-doing and denounced the media. You know, “the truth is ignored”, etc, etc.

Clark continued with the line that Peters had assured her that no illegality had occurred and that she, like everyone else, was obliged to take this at face value. “From my point of view, I have been given no reason to believe that there is any illegality. I continue to watch closely developments on all matters around Ministers, but at this time I have no reason to doubt Mr Peters’ word.” (emphasis added).

To anyone who has known Helen Clark for any period of time, the high level of frustration she feels at the situation she finds herself in was very clear. She looked at her best — as always — attacking National, but otherwise was very grim-faced and thin-lipped, even for Clark.

Jeanette Fitzsimons and (on occasion) Rodney Hide acquitted themselves well. Key continued to look ineffectual and sounded confused at times. Not that this will bother him, as the strategy is to keep embarrassing Labour, and it’s the headlines that count, not how he looks in Parliament.

Peters revealed that a National backbencher didn’t declare in the Register of Pecuniary Interests of MPs 2,524,750 shares in a firm called something like  Cynotech. Not something that’s likely to bring National down, although it will probably bring a smile to David Cunliffe’s face.

Clark shifts tack on Peters

July 29, 2008

The Herald detects of subtle shift of tack in Clark’s position on Peters. It’s hard to disagree. She usually signals her displeasure in veiled terms ahead of acting. When she starts using terms like “serious matter” and “morality” she is positioning herself and readying the public for a decisive move. The Herald:

“Prime Minister Helen Clark distanced herself from Foreign Minister Winston Peters last night, implying he could be judged to be hypocritical if his New Zealand First Party accepted donations from secret trusts.

And she also offered the bare minimum in terms of expressing confidence in him.

“As long as ministers are in their position, I retain confidence in them,” she said at her post-Cabinet press conference. She dismissed any suggestion that the situation could lead to an early election.”

It looks as though Clark has accepted that the levels of hypocrisy and duplicity — we have at least two big donors who thought that they were donting to the Party only to find that they probably weren’t — are unsustainable.

No quick end to Peters saga in sight

July 28, 2008

Helen Clark has just said what I thought would have been bleeding obvious.

She does not think it’s “remotely likely” Winston Peters’ would resign as Foreign Minister, and even if he did the Government “would not be affected”.