Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Government PR puff pieces alive and well

It appears the New Zealand Government can still rely on the "mainstream media" to deliver unchallenged PR puff pieces... today's was promoting the supposed brilliance of state-owned Kiwibank (an Anderton idea, backed by Labour).

The bank announced its annual results today, and this evening's 3 News tv report faithfully repeated the PR spin from Kiwibank's (admittedly talented) CEO Sam Knowles, with very balanced lines like "Kiwibank opened its books today, and they made for impressive reading..." ?!

The bank now has almost 650,000 customers "on its books", with loans and advances rising to $5.6 billion (including $700 million from the acquisition of the AMP home loan portfolio).

And while Kiwibank has managed to sell the customer numbers as an impressive figure in its free PR coverage, in actual fact the bank has a very small share of the New Zealand banking market... around just 3%.

Journalists faithfully reported that the SOE made an annual profit of $36.8 million this financial year, an increase of 19% on last year's result.
What the tv news story neglected to mention was that a decent whack of that profit actually comes from non-core banking activities like bill payments, which previously came under parent NZ Post's accounts. (Kiwibank is always reluctant to release any breakdowns).

And the bank is a long way off "breaking even" for the New Zealand taxpayer, and Knowles admitted it's "still a year or two off" paying dividends to the Government.

Kiwibank cost around $80 million to start in 2002. Since then taxpayers have given the SOE another $200 million in funding, including $55 million in additional capital in the year to June '07, and a further $50 million to June this year.

* NZ Herald: NZ Post still shores up Kiwibank
* Stuff: Kiwibank makes $36.8m profit

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Saturday, 23 August 2008

Why you shouldn't play Footsie under the table...

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Friday, 22 August 2008

Oops... Helicopter crash turns out to be toy

I suspect someone will be getting a tap on the knuckles over in the TVNZ newsroom tomorrow...

Reports of a helicopter crashing near Wanganui tonight turned out to be considerably less substantial than first feared.

Late in their 7pm bulletin tonight, One News announced breaking news of reports of a helicopter going down.
Police later confirmed to the Dominion Post that a helicopter had indeed crashed - a small remote controlled toy chopper.

A full emergency callout was initiated when the model helicopter crash was mistaken for the real thing.

Inspector Ken Climo from the police central communications centre said a man had taken his model helicopter out for a flight and lost control of it...

The mistake was discovered when the model helicopter owner went looking for his machine and ran into police looking for a genuine helicopter wreckage.

"He drove around a few streets and left his name at a few houses, went around a corner and, hello, here are all these police cars.

"Being a typical Kiwi he thought 'I'll go and find out what's going on here', wandered up and they told him about this helicopter crash."

"He said 'I'm looking for a helicopter – but mine's a model'."

Mr Climo said unfortunately some media reported the incident as being a genuine emergency before police could establish what had actually happened.
* Stuff: Chopper crash a small story in the end

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Super Smackdown for Sue Bradford

It was second-time successful for the backers of a petition calling for a Referendum on Sue Bradford's Anti-Smacking laws.

An audit of signatures by the Clerk of the House found there were 310,000 valid signatures... 25,000 more than is needed to force a referendum. An additional 60,000 signatures were collected, after an earlier audit found too many were invalid (incorrect or incomplete details compared with the Electoral Roll, duplicates, or illegible).

Petition organiser Larry Baldock believes the vote should be held at the same time as this year's General Election (saving money as well as ensuring a large turnout), but the Labour-led Government doesn't want to remind voters in the polling booths of its support for the bill.

Labour claims "next year" would be the best time to hold the referendum, and to hold it as a postal ballot, costing taxpayers million dollars in extra costs.

PM Hillin Cluck incredulously claims it isn't possible to hold the referendum alongside the general election voting, "just in terms of sheer organisation". I struggle to believe this, given that an election date hasn't yet been set, and political parties are still sorting out their lists.

The anti-smacking bill was of course the idea of "Green" MP Sue Bradford, but Labour's fierce support for the unpopular bill was certainly noticed by voters. Opponents say the laws make criminals of parents who discipline their children, describing it as "a home invasion".

Bradford's bill was supposed to have been a conscience issue, but the Labour Party doesn't like the idea of MPs having consciences, and ordered all their members to vote for the bill.

The vote saw United Future MP Gordon Copeland quit the "family friendly" party, in protest at its support for Bradford's bill, along with Labour's wider "secret agenda" of social engineering.
National's Johnboy also caved in and ordered his MPs to support the Green MP's bill, as part of his me-too/Labour-lite philosophy.

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And you thought the iPhone was cool...

You know it's not just about the product... it's also about the cool packaging.

Apple do a good job with their iPhone and iPod range of products, but Samsung seriously has them beat with the boxed packaging of its new Samsung Omnia i900 touch-screen mobile phone!...


* Hat tip: Holy Moly

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Engineering Union gets Ironic with ACT Candidate

The NZ Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) has suspended one of its employees, after learning he was standing for the ACT Party in this year's general election.

Shawn Tan is ranked at #10 on the ACT Party list released this week, but has been suspended until further notice, officially because he didn't get approval from the union's executive before deciding to stand as an election candidate.

Tan works as an organiser in the EMPU's call centre. The EPMU is affiliated very closely with the Labour Party (although the Electoral Commission crumbled under pressure to allow them to somehow register as a "third party" for election year spending purposes?!)

EMPU President Andrew Little admitted that in the case of someone standing for ACT (which the NZ Herald describes as a "right-wing party"), the choice of party could be additional factor, given that ACT "held positions counter to the union's core beliefs".

The EPMU plans to meet with Shawn Tan next week, and there has been a request for mediation.
I do find it a interesting that it is the EPMU that has suspended Tan. Unions usually fight hard to stop employers from suspending/firing any employee for doing almost anything at all. Now that's what you call Ironic, Alanis!
(No Minister has a tougher description...)

The NZ Herald article
does make an important point...
The Human Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on political beliefs, except where the staff member is an adviser to parliamentary or local body politicians.
I guess the other question is why a Union worker and former Green Party speech writer is being placed at #10 on the list of the most liberal-right party currently represented in the NZ Parliament.

There has been some debate online amongst members and supporters about some of the "bolters" and notable omissions in ACT's party list. The board left former MP and diligent worker Kenneth Wang off the list altogether, apparently to improve his chances against National's list MP Pansy Wong in the Asian-heavy seat of Botany.

Party members say long-time Welfare campaigner Lindsay Mitchell is a glaring omission from the top 10 list of candidates. The high profile ACT veteran was apparently offered a pretty insulting list position of #14 (after having the #9 spot in 2005), behind a number of newbies including Tan.

ACT's top 8 are Party leader Rodney Hide (Epsom), MP Heather Roy (Wellington Central), Party founder Sir Roger Douglas (Hunua), EFA-campaigner John Boscawen, Lawyer Hilary Calvert (Dunedin North), IT specialist Peter Tashkoff, (Te Tai Tokerau), and Farmer John Ormond (Tukituki).
The #5 spot has officially been left empty for the moment... the party says it's still negotiating with a number of potential candidates. Some of those rumoured to be in the mix include former United Party MP Pauline Gardiner, and Christchurch-based broadcaster Jim Hopkins.

(My old mate Clint Heine has denied rumours he's going to get bumped up the final list, and insists he's pretty happy with his 39th list spot (and "UK-based candidate")... despite the fact that gives him as much chance of being elected this year as his old Otago University arch-nemesis Chris Ford, who is #22 on the high-flying Alliance Party list ;)

* NZ Herald: ACT candidate suspended from union job

* No Minister: Stalinist union hypocrites!

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Thursday, 14 August 2008

Spain gets in trouble for "wink" to China

I love a bit of controversy, and I say bloody good on the Spanish basketball teams for their "slanty-eye" photos, which seem to have caused "international outrage" if you believe the spin of the mainstream media.

Spain's top basketball teams posed for a photo as part of a pre-Olympic publicity advertisment for their sponsor, where all are shown using their fingures to make a "slant-eye gesture". The Spanish Women's Basketball team also posed for a similar photo, using their fingers to make their eyes look more Chinese.
But the teams deny the Olympics advertisement - set on a basketball court adorned with a Chinese dragon - was a racist attack.

The men's team say they're shocked by the negative reaction, and blame the media for "stirring the pot on a non-issue". Players say they felt the slant-eye gesture was an affectionate gesture towards the Chinese (dodgy commies the lot of 'em, I say ;)
Team sponsor Seur - a Spanish courier company - says it has no plans to withdraw the newspaper ads, which will appear only in Spain and are scheduled to run until the end of the Beijing Olympic Games.

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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

ACT Candidate explains centre-right MMP voting

An interesting web advertisement caught my eye this week as I was indulging in my regular Facebook fix, posing the question "Why National Party Supporters should give their Party Vote to ACT".

Clicking on the advt took me to an article written by Peter Tashkoff, the ACT Party Candidate in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate, through Google's 'Knol' website.

Tashkoff points out New Zealand appears to be in for a change of government, but asks "does that mean a government of change?"

He sees Key's driving of the National Party to the centre as "a good thing", which he believes can "ensure that "National-led governments can once more dominate the political scene, like they did from 1949 to 1984, where National was in power an incredible 83% of the time."

However, the ACT candidate hasn't totally lost his morals. Tashkoff notes that most National supporters probably believe in growth orientated policies and less government beureacracy and waste... and may be feeling uneasy with "how little differentiates National from Labour."

He suggests the ACT Party are the best coalition partner for National (given that major parties are unlikely to gain 50% of the vote in a General Election, despite what current political polls might suggest).

ACT (with the help of recent re-recruit Roger Douglas) have put out a pledge card what the party's described (with tongue firmly in cheek) as "the juiciest election bribe ever".

The party believes their policies would foster strong growth in New Zealand (as good or better than Australia), creating $500 extra per week for the average worker by 2020, as well as no health waiting lists, and an education scholarship for every child.

Tashkoff argues if National supporters want policies as well as power, then they need to give their party vote to ACT, to ensure those policies have a strong champion in Parliament.

As well as the policy and principles argument, he has also compiled a long list of "pragmatic" reasons for supporting ACT, because of the country's MMP voting system, including NZ's voting history under FPP (First Past the Post).

For those confused or overwhelmed by pure facts, figures, and graphs, Peter Tashkoff has compiled his arguments into a video presentation...

I'm still not sure that I'm entirely convinced that Key's hell-or-high-water "Labour-lite" approach is the best way to gain power, but much of the arguments in the clip are valid.

Tashkoff says other video presentations are on the way... including "Why Maori should vote ACT", and the intriguing "Why Labour Party supporters should vote ACT". I look forward to seeing those ones ;)

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Sunday, 10 August 2008

What's the word from Tauranga Winston?

So Winston... What's the word on the street in your former electorate of Tauranga? Do they want you back??

Oh how Winston Peters is going to regret that "simple sign" stunt ;-) I suspect it'll continue to get used against him by the media in the months leading up to NZ's General Election.

This evening came the disappointing news for Peters that even the voters in his former heartland of Tauranga have turned against him. National Party MP Bob Clarkson currently holds the seat with a 730 majority, but has decided to retire at the election.

A "snap" Colmar Brunton/One News survey (of 519 voters) put National's new Tauranga candidate Simon Bridges solidly ahead in the seat, with 48% support. Winston Peters polled a very poor second, with just 28%.

In the Party vote, Tauranga voters put National on top with 55%, Labour managed second place with 31%, and Peters' party NZ First were back in third place with just 6% support... which is still double their average support across the rest of the country.

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Saturday, 9 August 2008

Paris Hilton will have to wait to be US President

Aw, Wellington newspaper The Dominion Post has pointed out that Paris Hilton has to wait until 2016 before she can try running for President of the United States of America ;-(

Apparently the US Constitution discriminates on age, and says a person has to be at least 35 years old to become US President (Paris is just 27).

I can't condone anyone supporting either Barack "the Messiah" Obama, or Hillary "white witch" Clinton... but I do have to agree that the GOP's "wrinkly, white haired dude" John McCain is totally "like, Super old".

McCain would be 72 on Inauguration Day (one year old than Ron Paul, a Libertarian who actually stands up for more of the Republican Party's founding principles than his other GOP Presidential rivals).

For anyone that's managed to miss Paris Hilton's brilliant campaign viral video, you can check it out below...


* The Dominion Post: Editorial: We'll always have Paris

* Hat tip: Kiwiblog

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Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Amazon's Kindle becoming the iPod of eBooks

Amazon's Kindle device - the electronic book reader billed as the "iPod of e-books" - has proven to be a massive success for the online retailer.

Amazon.com boss Jeff Bezos has been pretty tight-lipped on just how many Kindles the company has sold, but a company source has apparently leaked facts and figures to the Techcrunch blog.

The secret source told the website that Amazon has sold an impressive 240,000 Kindles so far, bringing in around US$86-96 million. Strong sales of the portable reader have boosted the electronic book market, and encouraged Amazon to develop a new "Kindle 2.0" range of products.

Kindle users have spent a lot of money buying content to load onto their new eBook devices, including digital books, newspapers, and blogs. The device has received positive reviews for its revolutionary electronic-paper display, and wireless connectivity.

The strong popularity of the Kindle has apparently surprised even Amazon itself. The eBook reader initially launched last November at a cost of $399. Once inventory problems were sorted out, Amazon dropped the price slightly to $359 which encouraged a second wave of sales.

It's believed Amazon could be looking at launching a new student-oriented Kindle, aimed at the education textbook market where college textbooks can cost students over $500 a semester.

* TechCrunch: We Know How Many Kindles Amazon Has Sold: 240,000
* Arts Technica: Despite flaws, Kindle a $100m success for Amazon

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Yahoo boo boo with creepy Chinese Olympic mascots

Web giant Yahoo! says an "automated boo-boo" resulted a celebratory photo of Beijing's fluffy Olympic mascots being displayed below the headline "Tiananmen Square Massacre Remembered" on its website.

A picture of the five creepy Beijing mascots standing in Tiananmen Square waiting to welcome visitors to the Olympics was "automatically added" to a slideshow added by Yahoo, following memorial services on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The photo appeared under the headline on Yahoo's news site for over 24 hours before the company was alerted to the faux pax.

Yahoo's bad taste news page was apparently even accessible from Beijing which is an achievement in itself. The restrictive communist Government of China blocks a lot of international web content, through filters known by many as the 'Great Firewall of China'.
The Chinese authorities (who aren't big fans of "free speech" or basic human rights) have blocked access to some websites at the main press centre, used by accredited foreign journalists in Beijing.

The move by the Chinese state comes despite earlier promises by the International Olympic Committee of unrestricted media access during the games.

Some of those restrictions have since been lifted, following strong criticism by Olympic officials, journalists, and Western political leaders. However many "politically sensitive sites" remain inaccessible in the City of Smog.

Meanwhile the Chinese Government has forced foreign-owned hotels to install state-sanctioned software to spy on internet use by hotel guests during the Olympics. Hotels says China's Public Security Bureau has ordered them to install the internet monitoring equipment, or face "severe retaliation".


* NZ Herald: Tanks for the memories - Yahoo's big Tiananmen mistake
* NZ Herald: Hotels forced to install internet spyware

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Monday, 4 August 2008

National plans big debts under 'Think Big 2'

PM Cluck has been surprisingly astute lately, and was on the money again this morning when she compared John Key's infrastructure-on-credit plans to those of former National Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon, and his ambitious "Think Big" schemes.

Muldoon and Bill Birch led the "interventionist state economic strategy", running up massive external deficits to pay for large-scale Government industrial projects, which took years to pay back.


Speaking on TV this morning, Cluck described Key's plans as "incredible"...
"The big idea is just borrow the money. Run up the debt. All our students know how hard it is to pay a debt back, all our families know how hard it is to pay a mortgage back and here we are in the middle of international financial market turmoil and the National Party want to borrow the money."
Key dismissed the comparisons to Sir Robert, saying the National Party would oversee a modest increase in the country's debt-to-GDP target, to fund $5 billion worth of spending in "infrastructure".

The plans, and the other 9 pledges announced by National at the party's annual conference should remind voters that the party is little better at taking care of taxpayers' money than the Labour Party.

Apart from a sensible reigning in of expenditure under Ruth Richardson in the early 90s (and some good promises under Don Brash before the 2005 election), the National Party doesn't have a history as good economic caretakers.

Those fears aren't calmed any by the possibility of serious-centrist Bill English as the next Finance Minister.

Kiwiblog passes comment on the full transcript of Deputy Leader Bill English's "leaked chat" with a delegate at the National conference, where English reveals how his ideology differs from many of the party's supporters...
NATIONAL DUDE: What about getting rid of Kiwibank, I mean…

ENGLISH: Well, eventually, but not now. Well, its working. A lot of our supporters get a bit antsy about it, but its working. It’s like a lot of things…
English also reveals he wasn't a supporter of Brash's harder economic policy (which helped push National within a whisker of winning the 2005 election, up from just 21% support under English), and his ideology clearly falls in the "tax and spend" category...

ENGLISH: And all our work tells us they’re pretty keen to keeping the bit they’ve got. And we call them Labour-plus voters - and they’re sitting there thinking “that nice man Mr Key is pretty smart – he’ll get me a bit more...

And the reality is if we had been the government with the surpluses they had, we would have had something, like Working for Families, but not the same. We would have given them quite a bit of cash back.

And what happens is – you go in there to try and change it, frankly Don and co got a bit carried away, cos they didn’t understand it.

If you give people money then, it is very hard, there’s a set of inevitable problems. It’s like physics, right. If you push something up its gonna drop. If you give people cash, you have high marginal tax rates. OK, that’s it. You can’t get round that. Don thought he could but he couldn’t. So did John, actually – but you can’t.


Hello? Former Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash didn't understand basic economic mathematics?? I hardly think so! It also sounds like English has in some part shaped Key's thinking.

It is very simple to give people "cash" back, by taking much less of their own money off them in the first place! If there is still a desire to directly tax people to fund Government activities, a flat tax across the board results in a serious lack of "high marginal tax rates".

It is good to see National are planning another series of tax cuts in April 2009 and 2010, but from John Key's comments on television last night, it sounds like they won't be as generous as the "$50 a week" he had previously hinted at.
National pledges include the rather unambitious "Bring discipline to government spending" and "Have a lid on staff numbers in the core public service", rather than bold plans to slash wasteful spending as a means of cutting Government expenditure, and saving the money of hard working New Zealand taxpayers.

Liberty Scott sums up the thinking of a growing number of people... that basically the National Party doesn't offer anything new...
That, and its inherent lack of courage and conservatism... That gutlessness to not even roll back what Labour has done to National policy in 1999 is an abysmal success for mediocrity.
* Stuff: Debt to pay for infrastructure

* Not PC: Borrowing to fake credibility
* Liberty Scott: National looks to Muldoon and Pork
* Liberty Scott: National's fundamental problem

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