Saturday, July 31, 2010

Weekend Diversion: Funny man

On weekends I often like to post things that aren’t serious. Fortunately, the Internet delivers.

The above video is of Alec Mapa (“America’s Gaysian Sweetheart”) when he appeared recently on the ABC (USA) programme “The View” (it used be shown in New Zealand on pay-TV service Sky TV’s Vibe channel, but it’s not on the current schedule). I came across the link to the video from someone on Twitter (I don’t remember who because I didn’t write it down at the time). At any rate, it’s just a bit of fun.

Republicans’ new wedge issue

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In the above video, Chris Hayes, guest hosting for Rachel Maddow on her show, lays out the ways in which Republican politicians are using Islam as a wedge issue in the current election campaign. In the aftermath of 9/11, ex-President George W. Bush made a huge point of stressing that Muslims were not the enemy. Apparently his political decedents have decided he was wrong.

This video is the entire clip, and aside from praising Bush, the guest also pushes back, suggesting that in 24 hours she could dig up equivalent anti-Islamic things said by Democrats (good luck with that). I include the entire clip for a simple reason: It’s far more in-depth, fair and balanced than anything one could ever see on Fox Noise.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Misty morning

Some mornings in winter are foggy—I’ve blogged about that before. But today was a little unusual in that the fog crept in later and burned off later. In fact, I was surprised when I opened the curtains this morning—I was surprised at the view. The photos above and below show some of what I saw.

This will apparently end soon: Spring is supposed to be warmer and earlier—or something (I couldn’t find a link on TVNZ’s site). At any rate, the arrival of Spring will mean the end of morning fog.

Whatever the weather ends up being, Spring is still a month away. Knowing that helps make winter somewhat endurable. And, it gives me a chance to post some more of my photos.

One and the same

Now that the Republican Party and the teabagegrs are the same—“Teapublicans”, I call them—what would that mean for America? This is your answer.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Corporate targets

There’s nothing like a corporation doing something “wrong” to get people all riled up. In the US, one of the surest ways to rouse the masses is to accuse a corporation of giving money in support of or against an issue one cares very strongly about. Anger escalates into outrage that must be defended for its own sake, probably through boycotts.

Is that fair? Well, yes, actually, it is. Living in a democracy means people are free to make economic decisions based on their values, regardless of whether anyone else thinks that decision is sensible.

Corporations are not, despite the legal fiction now enshrined by the US Supreme Court, people. They exist for one purpose only: To maximise return to shareholders. They do that by maximising profits and minimising costs. There’s nothing inherently evil in that, even if some corporations act evilly in the pursuit of those goals. However, they’re ultimately accountable only to their shareholders.

If a corporation spends its money in support of or in opposition to the ideology or values of consumers, why shouldn’t they take their business elsewhere? This question entered the blogosphere because it was revealed that US “big box” discount retailer Target used the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited corporate spending on campaigns to give $150,000 to an organisation supporting Tom Emmer, a rightwing Republican candidate for Governor of Minnesota (where Target is based). Emmer wants, among other things, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage—and civil unions, too.

Emmer, in turn, has given money to a rabidly anti-gay radio host and member of a Christian “punk rock” band who once spoke approvingly of Muslims executing gay people (among other viciously anti-gay things). Emmer said of the band, “These are nice people" which apparently makes their hate speech all okay. The band—which is actually a fundamentalist “Christian ministry”—has been at many Republican functions in the state, so the Minnesota Republican Party clearly approves of the band’s stridently anti-gay message, and so, obviously, does Tom Emmer (even after the call for executions had been made, Emmer stood by the band).

However, it appears that none of Target’s money went to the bigot, though support for a clearly anti-gay politician is bad enough. What the heck was Target thinking? It has a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s “Corporate Equality Index” (which, by the way, doesn’t even look at campaign contributions), it offers “domestic partner” benefits, sponsors Twin Cities Pride and the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, among other things. CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in a letter to staffers: “Target's support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company.”

What’s going on then? How can a pro-gay company support a clearly anti-gay politician who supports anti-gay hatred? “Target has a history of supporting organizations and candidates, on both sides of the aisle, who seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives, such as job creation and economic growth,” Steinhafel told staff. In other words, corporate interests trump “unwavering” support for the GLBT community as well as “inclusiveness”.

Evil company! Boycott them, right? Well, not so fast.

Remember their sole obligation? To be blunt, being gay–supportive doesn’t maximise return to shareholders, backing conservative politicians who’ll back corporate interests, corporations believe, will. There’s nothing unique about a business looking to advance a political agenda to help it accomplish its mission, but it IS unusual for a company to have pro-gay policies. Think of competitor Wal-Mart, for example, which is NOT committed to either “support of the GLBT community” nor is inclusiveness a core value of the company (they’re also stridently anti-union, but that’s another topic).

It may seem schizophrenic for a company to support GLBT workers on the one hand while using the other to give money to support politicians who aim to make life worse for those same GLBT employees. Keeping the workforce happy while making things friendlier for advancement of the corporation are actually consistent. In both cases, the goal is to maximise return to shareholders, and the needs of the workers are secondary. That’s the way it is in corporate business.

So, what’s a consumer to do? People who care about GLBT equality generally, or marriage equality specifically, may want to refrain from shopping at Target, at least until this campaign is over. That is absolutely their right, and I support anyone who chooses that stance, even if they walk away permanently.

However, for other people the fact that Target supports its GLBT workers (at least within the context of the workplace and some limited ways outside of it) may be more important than the money given to elect an anti-gay politician. Such people might continue to shop at Target, and I support that right, too (although, personally, I think they should make a donation to Emmer’s opponent).

The bottom line, so to speak, is that until the law changes, corporations have the right to spend as much money as they want in any election campaign—and consumers have the right to “vote with their wallets” and shop elsewhere because of that campaign funding—or not.

If I lived in Minnesota, I suspect that I’d refrain from shopping at Target until the election was over AND give money to Emmer’s opponent. If I lived elsewhere in the US, I’d probably just do the first.

Target is a pretty gay-friendly company, after all, but I couldn’t in good conscience give them my money so they could help elect a candidate who was against my interests and only for theirs. If enough people did the same, they’d have to decide if promotion of corporate interests over their “unwavering support” and “core value” of diversity is worth it.

So: What would you do?

Related: We talk about this topic, and the issues around it, on the lates 2Political Podcast (2PP034 – 28 July 2010), beginning roughly 24 minutes into the episode. It was recorded before I wrote this post.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Study trouble

There are times something gets in the world news, and I just know that I’ll end up being asked about it by friends and family overseas. Very often, those stories aren’t particularly flattering toward New Zealand, leading some people to get the wrong idea about this country, and I find myself defending New Zealand as much as explaining the story.

Another story that will inevitably fall into that sort of classification has come along: A researcher at the University of Otago, Associate Professor Elisabeth Wells, published a study in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour claiming that gay, lesbian or bisexual New Zealanders were abused as children.

I rolled my eyes when I read that and thought, “Here we go again!” I believe that the study is fundamentally flawed and invalid. There are two main problems with it: Methodology and bias.


The study is based on face-to-face interviews of 13,000 people aged 16 and over on mental health issues. Of them: 98% said they were heterosexual, 0.8 % identified as gay, 0.6 % said they were bisexual and 0.3 % were "something else".

Green Party Member of Parliament Kevin Hague (who is a former executive director of the NZ AIDS Foundation, which is the closest New Zealand has to a national GLBT organisation), pointed out the inherent flaw with the face-to-face interview technique where people may not disclose same-sex orientation or activity to a researcher. He said to GayNZ.com:
"Those who in that situation choose to disclose [their sexual orientation] to the interviewer are also those who are more likely to disclose other sensitive information about themselves, such as being abused as a child or witnessing domestic violence, those type of thing, that the researchers try and draw this concern around."

Dr Mark Henrickson, a senior lecturer in social work at Massey University's School of Social and Cultural Studies at their Albany campus, criticised the study for its “heteronormative bias”. GayNZ.com quoted him as saying,
"This can lead to the unfortunate and erroneous conclusion that sexual minorities are 'that way' because they are broken. The research and social discourse has moved beyond this over the last 10 years."
This is an important criticism: Essentially, the study assumes that if someone isn’t heterosexual, something’s “gone wrong” and must’ve “caused” it. This is what far right christianists have always said, and even Professor Wells seemed to understand that, and also the reaction of gay people. She told the Otago Daily Times:
"I suspect there might be some gay and lesbian people who will be indignant, but it is not my intention to anger them. You could say that if someone was sexually abused as a child, chooses to live as a homosexual and lives life well, then that is not a bad thing. But if they are living a homosexual life and regretting it, that is another matter." [emphasis added]
That’s the same sort of thing a “caring” and “loving” fundamentalist might say before sticking the boot in, or offering to “cure” us. Why would gay people be angry about that?

Speaking to the ODT, she also admitted the fundamental—and, I believe, fatal—flaw in her conclusions:
"We took a life-course approach, looking at where people had come from and where they have got to. But there was no opportunity to ask people why they [identified as homosexual or bisexual] and whether they thought that was linked to their childhood experiences."
So, Professor Wells apparently just assumed that whatever bad things happened in childhood is what made them gay—she assumed, with no apparent justification from the evidence.

Ninety-eight percent of the people said they were heterosexual: What made them straight? Oh, that’s right, Well’s “heteronormative bias” means she didn’t bother to even consider the question, much less look for an answer. Like so many researchers before her, she’s not interested in what causes heterosexuality because no one wants to “fix” that.

Wells claims that her study “provides information for policymakers on the prevalence of homosexual and bisexual identity. Researchers will in future use the information to better understand the relative risks of suicide and mental disorder amongst people from different sexual orientations.” That’s nonsense: for information to be useful to policymakers, it has to be valid and reliable, and this study is not.

Still, it’s already proved its usefulness: The head of New Zealand’s leading far-right christianist political group told the New Zealand Herald that “there should always be concerns around the possible outcomes of childhood abuse”. One of the leading far right christianist “news” sites in the US has also picked up the story, which means it will spread throughout the fundamentalist political groups in the US: Expect to see it quoted frequently in political attempts to deny us our human rights on the grounds we’re “mentally ill” people who have “chosen” to be gay because of some childhood trauma.

Personally, I don’t care if we’re born or made: Either way we ought to be treated like everyone else, and not as second-class (or worse) citizens. Deeply flawed research like that of Elisabeth Wells helps our opponents keep that from happening. You don’t need a university study to see that.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Spreading the words

I’ve had a flurry of passive activity in recent days: I’ve added a whole bunch of new followers/followees on Twitter, and they’re nearly all connected to fellow podcaster, Tim Corrimal.

Tim recently changed his personal podcast, re-branding it The Tim Corrimal Show and focusing primarily on politics. Through that, I’ve heard about a whole bunch of liberal/progressive folks with whom I’ve traded Twitter “follows” and in some cases (like Laffy from The Political Carnival, mentioned in my previous post), I’ve found new sites to read, too (thanks, Tim!).

I think this is important. Different perspectives can lead to new insights and new understanding, regardless of whether I agree with the specific post or not. This learning, stretching and growing is a good thing, something not practiced often enough by the folks at the far ends of the spectrum who prefer to surround themselves only with those who agree with them on everything.

So something like Tim’s revamped show is important because it brings together diverse people to share their views and perspectives, generally from a liberal perspective. These are people who listeners like me might never have encountered otherwise. I believe that encouraging people to talk about politics is always good.

We’re planning on having crossover episodes of 2Polticial Podcast and The Tim Corrimal Show, where one half will be one podcast, the second half the other (Tim and I did this with our personal podcasts in the past). I’m looking forward to it. And I’m also looking forward to interacting with the people I’m meeting through all this.

We of the centre-left have nowhere near the “media-mass” of the right, with it’s countless well-visited websites, 24-hour TV and talkradio and numerous print publications. Meeting and cross-promoting each other doesn’t begin to counter that or rebalance the debate, but it’s a start. “Spreading the words” is a good thing.

‘Most conservative’ court

Today Laffy at The Political Carnival posted a link to a New York Times piece, “Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades,” which looked at standard political science measurements to point out how the current US Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts is the most conservative since at least 1953. I could’ve told you that—in fact, I’ve talked about that conservatism again and again and again.

The NYT points out the real shift occurred when Bush/Cheney installed the far-right ideologue Samuel Alito onto the Court, replacing the centrist Sandra Day O’Connor, who had become more liberal over the course of her term. The conservative Anthony Kennedy suddenly became the “centrist” which is not a reflection of his ideology—he’s ranked as among the top ten most conservative justices since 1937; instead, the court has shifted so far to the right that he’s the new “centre”.

Which makes the ideological battles over nominees all the more absurd. As I said at the time Justice Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed, and it’s equally true now with Elena Kagan,

“The thing that bothered me the most, however, is the attacks from Republicans who bizarrely claimed that Sotomayor is a liberal when she's clearly—obviously—a moderate. Here’s why this bothered me: What the hell is wrong with having a liberal on the Court? Basically, the rightwing is saying that having rightwingers on the bench is good and proper, but there can be no liberals. Excuse me? How is that in any way democratic, let alone fair? The majority of the Court is more or less conservative (and four are hard-core rightwing), so why shouldn’t liberals get a Justice, too—especially when the retiring justice is from the more or less liberal group of Justices?”

And that gets at a larger problem, the reluctance of the Obama Administration to appoint a real liberal to the Court. As Laffy put it:

“Playing it down the middle is the president’s trademark, but when you have a conservative court, adding progressive justices would merely compensate, not swing the court to the left. ‘Safe, middle of the road’ judges will perpetuate the status quo, already further right now that Justice Stevens has retired… and the status quo is, and will remain, ‘the most conservative Supreme Court in living memory’.”

I completely agree. And if, as many expect, President Obama gets to appoint one more Associate Justice in his first term, then I hope he picks a real liberal to add some ideological balance to the Court. The Court will still be extremely conservative, and probably will remain so for a decade or more at least, but a passionate liberal can ensure that all sides are heard. And, perhaps more importantly, it would prevent the Court from being a right-wing rubber stamp for the Republicans if they regain Congress and the White House at some point.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Blogger sucks

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will: Nothing should be brought to market until it’s ready. That’s pretty damn obvious in the real world, but the folks at Google’s Blogger division don’t seem to know that most simple, elementary rule of business.

Google and Blogger fucked up—let’s be honest about that. In implementing the new supposedly wonderful “design” templates, they forgot one simple thing: Usability. The templates do NOT work as promised, which is bad enough, but make one simple error—like following Google’s typically incomplete instructions—and you’ll nuke your blog. Then what? Oops! Sorry!

I’ve now TWICE had to go to “Edit HTML” revert to classic template and then “upgrade” to get all my widgets back. This last time I had to manually drag those page elements back where they’re supposed to be—where they were in the first place, all because they have no simple—and bloody freakin’ obvious—“undo” function.

This simply isn’t good enough. Yes, I know damn well that I’m paying nothing for Blogger, so if it’s shit, tough. But there was nothing wrong with Blogger as it was; the upgrade is actually nothing but trouble—it’s crap, in fact.

Going back to my original template now would be a MAJOR headache because I’d have to rebuild it all from scratch. Yet I’m considering doing exactly that—Google and Blogger have so thoroughly wrecked everything.

My advice to Blogger folks is simple: Do NOT upgrade!! The new “design” templates do NOT work, they’re full of bugs and I have zero faith it’ll be fixed—hey, they went to market with a piece of shit product, after all, and they had to know it was shit that didn’t work.

I’ve never before criticised Blogger or Google. But do they ever deserve it this time!! And Blogger? Wordpress and Live Journal are also free. Just something to keep in mind.

Apple games

I don’t know if Apple Computer (through it’s authorised distributor, Renaissance) thought it was being clever or if they were just colossally inept, but the launch of the iPad in New Zealand was just plain stupid. Whichever it was, someone ought to be sacked over it.

They announced the iPad would go on sale today, but their partner, Vodafone New Zealand had no details on pricing for the 3G version. Vodafone finally announced pricing yesterday—just a day ahead of the start of authorised sales.

Apple/Renaissance refused to say where, precisely, their iPads would be sold. No store would confirm if they’d be selling the product (or not), not even Magnum Mac, which is the closest thing New Zealand has to an Apple Store (it’s owned by Renaissance).

If one rang around to the stores that typically might carry iPads, one got only cagey responses, even yesterday evening. “We don’t know,’ they’d say, as if we’d believe that was actually true mere hours ahead of official release. One store clerk, perhaps feeling a little exasperated after having to lie to so many customers, allowed, “Well, we don’t know. But if you were to guess, you might try X at 9am”.

What on earth was the point of this evasiveness ordered by Apple/Renaissance? Is it because there are too few iPads in New Zealand to meet demand? If so, that was a stupid way to get people to avoid going to likely sellers—they went anyway.

One retailer opened an hour earlier than normal (discovered slyly), and that’s how Nigel got an iPad. No thanks to Apple/Renaissance, whose demand for secrecy meant there was a need for persistent detective work and playing a hunch.

And, a good point for companies like Apple/Renaissance to remember: It is perfectly legal in New Zealand for companies to parallel import items (except for DVD movies and CDs—long story, DON’T get me started!!). This means that companies can bring in “unauthorised” products through unofficial channels, meaning they’re genuine, but the official manufacturer or distributor hasn’t released them for sale here. Typically, this means bringing in products from the US, Asia or Europe. These products often don’t have manufacturer’s warranties, but NZ’s Consumer Guarantees Act still applies, and that’s often far better than a manufacturer’s warranty, anyway.

So, iPads have actually been in New Zealand unofficially for awhile now, and today’s just the official release. I mention this because part of what drives the parallel import market in New Zealand is official distributors plays silly games, as Apple/Renaissance did.

Still, all’s well that ends well, I guess. No thanks to Apple/Renaissance, though.

Update 27/07/10: Apple is playing the exact same game with the NZ release of their iPhone 4—they're refusing to say who will be carrying them. Yawn! This game is already boring.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blogger led me astray

Yep, I broke my blog.

I was looking at the new "template designer" and following Google's (typically) worse than useless instructions. I misunderstood what they were telling me to do and nuked my old template and all its settings. There was no way to revert, so I tried to go back to the old template. That was a dismal failure—it was way back to the beginning with nothing but the basic basics.

So, I went back to the template designer. This temporary look is just a standard (new) template with my old elements restored (like the all-important "what time is it" widgets…). After spending an hour and a half trying to fix my blog, I decided to give up for tonight. Maybe I'll have some time over the weekend.

However, each post now has four ways to share—a new feature which is the whole reason I was looking at the template designer in the first place (they're not compatible with old templates). Share if you want to.

So, consider this to be a work in progress. I planned on upgrading, actually; I just hadn't planned on doing it this way.

The Sherrod incident

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

In the video above, Keith Olbermann returned from his holiday to deliver a Special Comment about the disgusting way Shirley Sherrod was treated. I agree completely with what he said.

In fact, I wrote a very long, pretty angry, post about it before it dawned on me: Keith already said what I was thinking and feeling.

So, yeah: What he said!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

TV copycats

New Zealand’s TV3 has been mocked in the gaming world for plagiarising a US-only ad for Sony’s PlayStation 3 (an ad that never played in New Zealand). Even if the ad had been parody—which it clearly is not—it wouldn’t necessarily be a defence against a charge of plagiarism or copyright infringement under New Zealand law (which has no “fair use” provision, among other differences with US law).

So, it seems to me, why should the gamers, who first revealed this, get all the fun embarrassing TV3? Here are the two ads:

Sony PlayStation 3 US Ad:

TV3 (New Zealand) promo Ad:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

NZ & Australia like the USA—once again

As nearly every American knows, worldwide approval—and even like—of the US crashed during the Bush-Cheney years. That duo was so desperately unpopular that people’s feelings about the US plummeted because of them.

Times change.

No matter how much the American right wing hates the fact, the US’ image in the world has improved pretty dramatically since the election of Barack Obama. For example, a Gallup poll released last week found that approval of US leadership has reached new heights in New Zealand and Australia, up 43% and 44% respectively. About two thirds of respondents in both countries now approve of US leadership, rising from around a quarter approving during the low point of the Bush-Cheney years.

This improved international relationship is important for so many reasons. It’s also good to see some concrete evidence of the good that President Obama’s election is doing to the US’ reputation overseas.

Stop Bill Brady

I don’t talk much about Illinois state elections because, as an expat, I can’t vote in them. However, Illinois is my homeland—I was born there, grew up there, attended primary school through university and began my working life in Illinois. I came out there. I first fell in—and out of—love there. My parents are buried there, and other family and friends still live there. My connection to that state is deep and unbreakable.

Illinois is a state ranging from rural to urban, with every demographic and all social strata represented. There have been times I’ve disagreed with my fellow Illinoisans, but on the whole I’ve found them to be kind, decent and fair-minded people.

Even though I no longer have a say through the ballot box, I obviously care very much about my home state—and also what happens there. This year, voters in my home state have the clearest, most stark choice for governor that I have ever seen: Republican Bill Brady must be stopped.

Brady is an extremist, out of step with mainstream Illinoisans. The video above (from the group StopBillBrady) outlines just a few of the ways in which Brady is anti-woman. All the issues highlighted make his record detestable, but even more so because they are so far outside the mainstream (even on abortion, where majorities support it in at least some circumstances, like rape and incest).

I also oppose him because he wants an amendment to the Illinois Constitution (and, one would assume, to the US Constitution) to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. Some Illinoisans would agree with him on that, but not on outlawing any and all recognition of same-sex relationships, which he probably also supports. I say that because he also voted against a simple law banning discrimination against gay and lesbian people in housing and employment. His antipathy toward gay and lesbian Illinoisans is both obvious and despicable.

Brady is an extremist in every way: He’s a “birther” (doesn’t believe President Obama was born in America). He believes that religious creationism should be taught in schools. He opposed laws requiring safe storage of firearms, he opposed licensing gun dealers and he opposed legislation to restrict guns near schools. He also opposed strengthening hate crime laws and opposed a bill that would prohibit any government unit from discriminating against a person based on his or her race, colour or national origin—that vote was in 2003, not some long ago time he wants to forget!

The only candidate who can beat Brady is Governor Pat Quinn. I understand that he’s not popular; he wouldn’t be my first choice, either. However, he has two overriding qualities that make him the only rational choice: He’s not Bill Brady, and he's the only candidate who can beat Brady.

Brady is an extremist even among extremists, and he is far too extreme for Illinois. I hope my home state rejects extremism by rejecting Brady. Bill Brady and extremism must be stopped.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More of the kids

Yesterday I promised that cute photos of Jake and Bella sleeping closer together would have to wait for another day. Well, today they obliged by sleeping next to each other on a 2-seater sofa. A photo of that is above.

Below, just because I can, are close-ups of Jake and Bella.

Mammas, don’t make your babies grow up to be weirdos

A 45-year-old paroled felon in California donned a bulletproof vest and shot at police because, his mother said, he was “angry at left-wing politicians”. Say, what?

"He hasn't been able to get a job because he's an ex-felon and nobody will hire him," she told the San Francisco Chronicle. Somehow this made him angry at "what's happening to our country," and "the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items."

So, let’s review: The man screwed up his life by deciding to commit a felony, he was convicted and sent to prison. He was paroled and, because of his crime he can’t find a job—and somehow that’s liberals’ fault. Okay, then.

But why did Mama have so many guns? "Eventually, I think we're going to be caught up in a revolution." But she did tell him "he didn't have to be on the front lines."

The punchline to this story: “She said she had no explanation for his actions.”

Let’s ‘refudiate’ Sarah

The former half-term governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, caused a stir, and much amusement, when she said that President Obama should “refudiate” the NAACP for calling out the racists among the teabaggers who attack him. Mind you, Sarah also pointed out that President Obama is “half white or half black”, just so her teabagger buddies wouldn’t forget it really is all about racism for them.

As Keith Olbermann so succinctly put it, that woman is an idiot.

Republicans lie on the stimulus—and use it

The Republican Party really has no shame. There are, at last count, 114 Congressional Republicans who opposed President Obama’s economic stimulus plan who nevertheless trip all over themselves to get some of the money for their constituents.

That’s political opportunism with a dash of hypocrisy, but for the real deal, look to the Republican leadership in the US House. Perpetually orange House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who will become Speaker if the Republicans seize control in the November elections, voted against the stimulus, yet as welcomed the jobs created in his home state.

Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) raises the hypocrisy level, going on Fox “News” and other Republican media channels to constantly call the stimulus a “failure” and perpetually ask, “where are the jobs?” Well, he ought to know: He’s hosted job fairs where employers were hiring specifically because of the stimulus and recovery programmes. He knows damn well where the jobs are, and his district is benefiting—as is the entire country.

It’s one thing when politicians spin a story or issue to their advantage. It’s quite another thing when they flat out lie about something for political gain. Republicans, it would seem, can do nothing else.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kitty Korner

Because it’s Sunday, and because I haven’t posted a photo of the kids in awhile, here’s a photo of them sleeping yesterday afternoon. Kind of the definition of “kitty korner”. They do sometimes sleep on diagonally opposite corners, but they also sometimes sleep much closer to each other. But those cute photos will have to wait for another day.

Good question

As a liberal, I’ll feel guilty at the drop of a hat. Just tell me what I’m supposed to feel guilty about and I’m there! Okay, that’s an old joke, but there’s an element of truth to it. If a conservative calls a liberal a bigot, the liberal will laugh at the suggestion, present all the credible evidence proving it’s not true—then intensely consider whether there could, in fact, be any truth in the charge.

The question is, are liberals, by virtue of their opposition to the right generally, or teabaggers in particular, bigoted toward them? This came up in one of my periodic Twitter jousts with a self-described “gay teabagger” (in the political sense). I rejected the notion then, and—after that intense consideration—I still do. I’ll tell you why.

To begin, it’s necessary to waddle around in semantics for a bit, because various words have different meanings. Prejudice, for example, is a generally unfavourable opinion about persons or groups (though one can have a prejudice for something or someone, too). There’s no doubt that the left and the right alike are prejudiced against each other—just look at the rhetoric in the comments sections of the websites they frequent, for example.

Bigotry, however, is a much, much stronger term that implies a dislike so intense that it may even be violent, which is why “hatred” is often a synonym. It always used to be reserved solely to refer to “intense dislike” of people from particular racial, religious or ethnic groups, or “intense dislike” of gay people.

Personally, I believe that it’s possible for the ends of the political spectrum to be bigoted toward one another, and it wouldn’t take much effort to find examples. However, it’s too strong a word, too serious a charge, to be bandied about lightly and casually.

My sin, apparently, was calling teabaggers “stupid”—except, I didn’t; I did, however, say that the teabagger “movement” was a bit “on the dim side” for not being aware of the slang meaning of the term. Personally, I think that’s a fair assessment—don’t conservatives know how to use Google?

Nevertheless, good liberal that I am, I checked my blog and found that when I used the word “stupid”, it’s very rarely to refer to a person, but when I do, it’s because they are stupid (context matters, and usually it’s talking about them acting stupidly). In fact, when I’ve used that word, more often than not it’s to accuse politicians—especially on the right—of treating ordinary people as if we’re stupid.

Of course, the specific word isn’t the issue, nor does it really matter that I’m talking about the “movement” and not individuals. My saying that the teabagger “movement” is a bit dim reveals my prejudices against it, but the fact that I have those prejudices doesn’t make me bigoted. Much as I strongly disagree with the teabaggers, libertarians (old or new) or the right generally, I don’t hate them and I don’t want to see them denied life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

Ultimately, that’s the real point in this exercise: My attitudes and, yes, prejudices are based on my perception of the teabaggers and the rest of the far right as a clear and present danger to my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If my rhetoric is sometimes overheated, that’s why—I make no excuses, I offer no apologies.

Having profound disagreements with one’s adversaries is not the same as hating them. Having unfavourable opinions about the teabagger “movement” or even individuals within it is not the same as being bigoted against them.

The fact that I’m discussing this at all shows the single greatest difference between the far right and liberals: They call us bigots and we self-reflect to ensure it’s not true, but if we call them bigots they wear it as a badge of honour, a point of pride. Draw your own conclusions as to who are more likely to be the real bigots.

NZ Herald bullet-shit

The New Zealand Herald has huge trouble understanding statistics. Maybe their parent company APN has fired too many journalists, or maybe the few who are left don’t have time to think about what they’re writing, or to fact-check. Whatever the situation, the paper has—again—published a nonsense story about cops carrying guns.

The paper reported what it admitted was an “unscientific poll of 1500 Auckland readers of the New Zealand Herald, the Herald on Sunday, New Zealand Woman's Weekly and the New Zealand Listener.” And what does “unscientific” mean, exactly? The short answer is that the poll means absolutely nothing.

Supposedly, the poll “found” that “almost three-quarters of people also support guns being routinely carried in police patrol cars”. Currently they’re carried in locked compartments in some patrol cars. In fact, police are looking at expanding the number of police cars that carry guns.

The Herald also claimed that a slim plurality of people “polled” support police carrying guns at all times (47.3% favour and 46.8% opposed that). It’s this statistic that makes the headline, “Support for police carrying guns” a little misleading. But, then, reporting these “statistics” at all is misleading.

The Herald conducted another poll late last year that found that a mere 29.2% favoured armed police, while 66.9% opposed that. The most recent “poll” was conducted after two police officers were shot, and a police dog killed, in a confrontation with a criminal. Such events—especially the killing of the dog—create visceral reactions in people, ones they might not have with time for calm and sober reflection.

Timing notwithstanding, one simply doesn’t see such a dramatic shift of opinion on such a hot-button issue in only half a year. And it’s that, more than anything else, that clearly demonstrates how useless these “poll” results are.

The Herald’s motivation seems to have been political—to try and force a greater arming of police. That’s the best explanation I have for why the paper has been pushing this so hard. Otherwise, they’re being irresponsible in flaming the situation. Actually, it’s both.

The Herald should report on the implications of all this, how even if the two officers had been armed, it probably wouldn’t have kept them from being shot; instead, they may have had a shoot-out with the criminals and shot other people. They may have killed the offender rather than making him face justice. Some would argue that would be a better result, and sometimes—emotionally—I couldn’t disagree. But civilised societies are about the rule of law, not wild shoot-outs in the streets. We don’t need an ever-escalating arms race in which criminals and police constantly vie to have the most powerful weapons to use against each other. In short, we don’t need to turn New Zealand into the US.

But the Herald doesn’t seem up to the task and instead presents bullshit “statistics” as if they’re real and meaningful. We deserve better from the country’s leading newspaper. Sadly, we’re unlikely to get it.

Update 19/7/10: There was another incident in which shots were fired, but this time the criminal was hit, allegedly after firing an air rifle at police. Like the other recent events, Tazers were used but had no effect. Unlike that other event, police armed according to the current policy fired weapons—and they weren't uniquely armed. The media still spins this as being evidence that all police should be armed at all times.

Meanwhile, the police union, which is pushing for the full arming of police, said it welcomes the standard inquires that follow a police shooting, but doesn't want "uninformed opinion" about it. Um, this is still a democracy, and people are entitled to have—and express—their opinions, whether informed or not—and whether the police union likes it or not.

Monday, July 12, 2010

‘I Am Vetoing This Bill’

A few days ago, I blogged about Hawaii’s Governor, Republican Linda Lingle, vetoing a bill that would’ve created civil unions in that state. I was not kind to her, though far kinder than I should have been. In this video, Sean Chapin goes a bit farther than I did. Some will feel he went too far, others not far enough.

But love it or hate it, the message at the end—“It’s time to stand up”—is inarguable. For too long the agenda of the right has been tolerated as if it was just another opinion, as if their determination to deny the humanity of their fellow citizens was somehow reasonable and worthy of respect.

So I applaud people who call out the right for their bigotry and hypocrisy. Maybe if more of us stand up about this, one day doing so will be unnecessary.

Sean has many other—and varied— videos on his YouTube Channel.

Auckland mayor race: Ridiculously absurd

For a position that’s arguably the best political job in New Zealand next to Prime Minister (and maybe even better), the race for Mayor of the newly-merged Auckland has been ridiculous and absurd.

The two leading contenders are Auckland City Mayor John Banks, a former National Party cabinet minister, and Manukau City Mayor Len Brown, associated with the Labour Party. The right-leaning New Zealand Herald has always favoured National Party candidates, and has been pretty transparent in its support for Banks and antipathy toward Brown.

However, one candidate didn’t need a newspaper to go after him: He turned out to be his own worst enemy. Simon Prast, who recently entered the race as an alternative to Banks and Brown, destroyed his candidacy this past weekend by admitting he’d used “P” (methamphetamine), was cavalier about it and called for the drug to be decriminalised. The drug is one of the greatest scourges facing New Zealand, so his suggesting it’s no worse than alcohol or tobacco will guarantee his campaign is over.

On Friday, the Herald ran an absurd story declaring that 17 out of 95 “business leaders” who the Herald said were “mostly Auckland chief executives” (“mostly”?), were not satisfied with either Banks or Brown and wanted one of their own the enter the race. Of course they do—business elites always want one of their own in charge to keep the serfs in line. That doesn’t mean that what they think matters.

As if on cue, “Rich Lister” Tenby Powell entered the race. I’m not quite sure why being very rich and having a “glamorous” wife qualifies one to be Mayor of the new Auckland, but it makes sense to him—and his sycophants at the Herald.

In the most embarrassingly gushing drivel I’ve seen in the Herald, the paper’s “gossip queen Rachel Glucina” oozed, “There's no denying Powell and Hunter would certainly add some much-needed sizzle to the race to be Supercity mayor.” And why? Because his wife is “glamorous” and he’s a “rich-lister”, apparently. She goes on to list approvingly his supposed qualifications before adding one last item, about a 37-year-old National Party member who may run for the new Auckland Council—only she doesn’t bother to tell readers what his affiliation is. Perhaps it’s not “glamorous” enough, or maybe right-leaning candidates are the only ones she thinks are “glamorous”.

So, we have two lacklustre campaign leaders who will spend big money on their campaigns, a drug-defending actor self-destructing, a far-right businessman with ties to religious extremists, and a “rich lister” with no obvious qualifications apart from being rich and having a “glamorous” wife. Wait, there’s one more: Andrew Williams, Mayor of North Shore City, who’s most famous for emailing and texting people in the middle of the night and peeing on a tree after a night out. There are apparently a couple more candidates, but I have no idea who they are.

This situation is both ridiculous and absurd: Auckland needs a strong leader for all the people of the new city, and not just a narrow segment. The new mayor should be someone who brings the diverse parts of the city together and helps form an identity and heart for it. The new mayor must have vision and the energy to make it happen. In sum, Auckland deserves far better than the choices we have so far. I’m not optimistic we’ll get them.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Deception on the campaign trail

Remember how an “Auckland businessman” spent money on a “March for Democracy” to try and force the Government to do what extremist christianists wanted, namely, to allow smacking of children? Well, he’s decided to run for mayor of the new Auckland. Just as with his stunt, he’s not being honest.

He says he commissioned a Christchurch firm to ask Aucklanders what they think about the new “super city” and the process that created and—big surprise—they’re not happy about it. In other breaking news, a day is 24-hours long. Apparently this was supposed to indicate he listens to people. Or something.

He claims to have no affiliation with any political party—singling out the main two parties—but that’s not the same thing as being non-partisan. Very few New Zealanders are members of any political party, but many only vote for one. So, this guy’s being more than a little disingenuous here. He could, of course, back up his claim by revealing what parties he’s voted for in past elections, but I doubt he’d be so forthcoming.

His “policies” are mainly bland, quite a few are banal, but many are deceptive because he implies that his promises aren’t already standard operating procedure at the existing local councils. However, amid all his claims of saving ratepayers money is this: “I’ll hold referendums [sic] on major issues with annual input from ratepayers into spending priorities.”

Does he have ANY idea how much referenda (the plural of referendum) cost? There go his supposed savings! Also, the whole point of representative democracy is that our representatives are supposed to act on our behalf without us having to decide every little thing. He’s talking about ducking responsibility, about refusing to do the hard work of being mayor, and not about “consultation”. For the record, there already is extensive consultation over spending priorities, so he’s not proposing anything even remotely new—apart form wasting ratepayer money on “referendums”, of course.

Nowhere does he say anything about a vision for the new city, about what he’d want do to improve the quality of life in the newly merged city. Does this mean that, like the far right Act Party, he thinks local government should do nothing but a few basic functions?

He mentions as one of his supposed qualifications for the office that he organised that “March for Democracy” stunt. But nowhere does he discuss his ties to extremist christianists, or what role they’d play if he was to be successful. The extremists have a political agenda, and control of government is part of it. Voters have a right to know about his ties to these extremists and how much of their agenda he supports.

Still, the good news is that his deceptions aren’t likely to work, and he’s likely to be one of the also-rans. The sad thing is that he’s not alone in being a terrible candidate—they all are so far. The dangerous thing is that in this fragmented field, a fringe candidate with ties to religious extremists could do better than expected, and his deceptiveness could help in that.

Auckland deserves better: It deserves a dynamic, visionary and inclusive leader, but so far it looks like it may not get that.

Thinkin’ about Lincoln

Republicans love to wrap themselves in Abraham Lincoln’s shadow. Since he was the first Republican president, and the last third-party candidate to become president, it’s understandable that Republicans and Teabaggers want to associate themselves with him. That, and they hope to gain reflected legitimacy.

Sadly for these “Teapublicans”, their candidate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, exposed her ignorance when attempting to compare herself to Lincoln’s history: “Well, you know, it's just like Abraham Lincoln. He lost quite a few but he won the big one…." In point of fact, Lincoln contested eight elections, losing only once.

However, the Teapublican propaganda machine has shifted into overdrive in an attempt to re-write history in an hysterical (but not historical) attempt to make Angle “correct”. They do that by adding in non-elections: They include Lincoln’s failure to win the 1854 Republican vice presidential nomination, even though only party hacks took part. Similarly, they claim he “lost” the 1842 election for US Representative, but it was, in fact, selection by his party that he lost, not the election. They also include Lincoln’s two attempts to become US Senator from Illinois, even though prior to the 17th Amendment, state legislatures selected senators, not the people. Lincoln never stood for election as US Senator. Ordinary voters never cast ballots in any of these races, so they can’t be called “elections”, unless selection of an “American Idol” is also called an election.

The far right is bleating, “but, but, he campaigned for the Senate in 1858 as if it was an election campaign, so that means it was one!” Yes, well, the far right talks as if they understand history, but that doesn’t make that true, either.

The far right is desperate to re-write history so their pathetic extremist candidate appears at least somewhat normal, with at least a smidgeon of intelligence. But their attempt is so blatantly obvious that it makes them appear all the more pathetic—and desperate.

Another thing going on here is that the Teabaggers want the 17th Amendment repealed—which would mean that Senators would be chosen by legislatures again—so it’s in their interest to pretend those selections were “just like” real elections. Taking away the right of the people to vote for their representation in the Senate would seem to be crazy for a “movement” that claims to support liberty and democracy. In truth, it’s part of the Teabaggers’ fascist agenda. Created by the corporate elites through their astroturf organisations, the Teabagger “movement” wants Senators selected by legislatures to make it pretty much impossible for ordinary people to create change or stop the agenda of the corporate elites by electing their own representation in the US Senate.

The right also used this as an excuse to try and smear Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, who exposed Angle’s ignorance. For some reason, they despise him more than anyone else—my guess would be their hatred is because he’s constantly exposing their lies, distortions, smears and run-of-the-mill ignorance. Still, the venom in their rhetoric is unbelievable—all the more so because they’re completely wrong about Lincoln.

Lincoln will continue to be revered for all the right reasons by ordinary people who understand history—and even by those who don't. But if this incident is any indication, the extremist Teapublicans will continue to be mocked for attempting to re-write history, and they will continue to deserve that.

The photo accompanying this post is available for download in high resolution from Wikipedia.

Constitutional comprehension

The other day, I read in the Washington Post that some teabaggers spent the Independence Day holiday teaching classes on the US Constitution. The first thought that popped into my head was that they really should start with reading comprehension instead.

As I’ve pointed out before, the teabaggers are dead wrong in their interpretation of the US Constitution, especially the tenth amendment. So, learning how to read something with understanding would be a better use of their time than continuing to teach nonsense.

Of course the reason for their silly opinions about the meaning of the Constitution isn’t really due to a lack of reading comprehension: They’re actually deliberately misleading people in order to advance their extremist agenda. If they can keep people ignorant about what the Constitution actually says, it becomes easier for the extremists to subvert it and democracy.

The sensible answer would be for ordinary Americans to teach the real Constitution—just as public schools once did. For democracy to survive in America, that job is vital—far too important to be left to people who push a fake interpretation in order to advance an extremist agenda.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

US Senate candidate backs marriage equality

In the video above, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is also the Democratic candidate for US Senator from Illinois, re-states and explains his support for full marriage equality. His Republican opponent opposes marriage equality, of course.

One might wonder why this matters for Congressional candidates, when marriage is supposed to be a state matter. Unfortunately, national Republicans continue to try to federalise it in order to use it as a wedge issue. DOMA (the vile “Defence of Marriage Act”) will eventually be repealed or declared unconstitutional. Regardless of how that happens, the right wingers—of both parties—will fight repeal, and then continue to fight any effort to end federal discrimination against legally married same-sex couples. So, it’s important to have a strong supporter of marriage equality in the US Senate.

Giannoulias has been consistent in his support throughout the campaign. While polls have shown a majority of Illinoisans favour some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples, Giannoulias’ position could very well cost him more votes than it gains him (the majority won’t care either way). Giannoulias also supports repeal of DOMA and DADT as well as passage of an inclusive ENDA.

Personally, I find it refreshing to see a US politician take a principled stand rather than equivocate for the sake of political expediency.

Hawaiian punch

As I predicted she would, Hawaii’s Republican Governor, Linda Lingle, has vetoed that state’s civil union law. I never had any doubt—she’s a Republican governor, after all, and opposition to legal recognition of same-sex relationships is one of that party’s non-negotiable litmus tests.

Lingle began her veto message saying, "I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same-gender marriage and find that House Bill 444 is essentially marriage by another name." So apparently she wasn’t the least bit serious when she pretended to listen to supporters of the law, and is lying now when she claimed she tried to do her “very best to reach a reasoned decision”. He veto was clearly based on her personal anti-gay bigotry.

Hawaii is plagued with a virulent religious right. The Roman Catholic Church, the Mormons and fundamentalist Protestants have long been in collusion to fight the civil and human rights of GLBT people in that state. In fact, Hawaii was a training ground for this cabal as they learned skills they’d ultimately use to take away marriage equality in California.

As hypocritical as it is for the divorced Lingle to pontificate on the validity of other people’s relationships, her call for a vote is despicable. "A vote by all the people of Hawaii is the best and fairest way to address (this) issue.”

The far right always pushes this nonsense and tries to convince ordinary people that it’s fair and reasonable. Putting aside the disgusting immorality of ever putting human rights to popular vote, how come it’s “best and fairest” for voters to have a say on same-sex relationships, but we never get to have a say on theirs? What if, say, we got to vote on forbidding divorce, or maybe denying legal recognition to new marriages of divorced people? Surely that’s “the best and fairest” thing to do if we’re going to allow voters to sit in judgement over people’s relationships. Why shouldn’t the validity of all relationships be voted on?

The reason, of course, is that the right hates gay people and they’re singling us out for special persecution. That their position is both logically and morally indefensible doesn’t matter to them, nor does their blatant hypocrisy or bigotry.

Lamda Legal and the ACLU have announced plans to sue Hawaii because its constitution forbids discrimination against gay people; they will argue that because the state constitution also now allows marriage to be restricted to man-lady marriage only (thanks to that religious cabal), the state has to provide an equivalent arrangement not called marriage, something Lingle has prevented. So, she’ll cost Hawaii taxpayers money.

Lingle also has an especially mean streak in her. She invited to her announcement the retired Justice Steven H. Levinson: He issued the 1993 ruling that the Hawaii state constitution’s equal protection provisions meant the state couldn’t forbid same-sex marriage. That, in turn, set off the entire national war over marriage (including the passage of the federal Defence of Marriage Act), and led to the amendment to the state constitution to allow the state to discriminate in marriage.

Lingle tried to paint her bigoted act as bringing “honor to the political process”, as if she had any idea what that word means. There’s now the predictable call to boycott Hawaii, but it seems to me that energy ought to be focused instead on the single goal of electing as Governor of Hawaii a sane, rational, non-bigoted person who will, unlike Lingle, reflect “the values of Hawaii."

Fortunately for Hawaii, Lingle is term-limited out of office this year. The Primary Election to determine who will vie to succeed her will be held September 18.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Celebrating the Fourth of July in Wellington

The US Embassy in Wellington posted this video to their YouTube Channel. I thought I’d share it because it’s the sort of thing most people never see, unless they attend an embassy event. The current US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, David Huebner, is by far the most open US Ambassador in the decade and a half I’ve been in New Zealand. He’s taken advantage of the social media available—YouTube, Flicr, Facebook, Twitter and more—to make the embassy and its diplomatic mission more open and accessible.

It’s a shame more expat Americans in New Zealand don’t know about all this, because there’s certainly far more information that’s far more available than in the time of any of the other US Ambassadors I’ve seen here. Openness is good.

The video begins and ends with the Topp Twins, a New Zealand comedy duo. They’re twin sisters, both lesbian, and that alone makes them kind of unique. They’re also fabulous.

Update 7/7/10: For some unknown reason, the embassy has removed the video I originally included and talked about in this post. Maybe the embassy isn't really all that open and accessible after all.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

5 useless political phrases

Most politics is expressed in slogans and talking points—nothing of any substance, in other words. Some propaganda slogans enter popular speech, even though they’re empty of any real, rational meaning, or despite meaning something other than what they seem. So here, in alphabetical order, are five meaningless political phrases favoured by the right:

1. Liberal media: This favourite phrase of the right is just plain silly. The big newsmedia in the US are all owned by major corporations, often transnational corporations, and they reflect corporate values. The real liberal newsmedia in the US is small, often non-profit or cooperative, and completely unknown to the majority of Americans. What the right really means by this phrase is anything that’s not Fox “News”, Rush, etc. Much of the mainstream newsmedia really is lame, not because it’s liberal, but because it's not. There’s no antidote to the Republican propaganda machine or the vacuousness of the rest.

2. Opportunity society (aka ownership society): No one in mainstream politics is against personal opportunity or private ownership. But this phrase doesn’t mean that: It means corporate opportunity and corporate ownership, not that of individuals or small business. It’s an attempt to re-frame policies that favour the corporate elites as something for ordinary people.

3. Patriotism: This has become especially troublesome in the past few years. While it once meant love of and pride in one’s own country, it now means strict and unthinking lock-step adherence to a far-right political agenda. It’s no wonder that runaway patriotism is so closely associated with authoritarian regimes, exactly the sort the far right wants to establish in the US. So, this “patriotism” they talk of isn’t patriotism at all, but the sort of false patriotism that Samuel Johnson probably had in mind when he said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

4. Political correctness (or “PC”): This means, essentially, adherence to a mildly leftist political orthodoxy in which one chooses language to avoid offending minorities. The right uses it as a phrase of utter dismissiveness, apparently unaware that as far back as the 1970s the New Left was using it in the exact same way. The phrase is now used to dismiss ideas that are merely liberal or progressive. In other words, the phrase now means “everything conservatives don’t like”.

5. Religious liberty: Everyone—agnostics, atheists and theists alike—believes that people must have the freedom to believe as they choose. Well, not everyone feels that way: Far-right christianist activists in the US frequently promise to “destroy” atheism and secularism. So when the rightwing talks about “religious liberty”, they mean only liberty for their religion, not anyone else’s beliefs. They want, in fact, the very opposite of religious liberty: They want to impose their religious beliefs one everyone else. You can identify these people by their visceral reaction to the assertion that freedom of religion means nothing without freedom from religion.

That’s five rightwing political phrases that are useless because they’re meaningless as written. In fact, they mean something completely different than what they seem so, in a sense, they're actually worse than useless.

Where stupidity lives

Politics is the art of the possible, as Otto von Bismarck famously said. This is certainly true of the business of politics, the way things get done in modern representative democracies. If it really is a democratic system, then it’s unlikely one party will gain complete control, so compromise and deal-making are not only necessary, nothing much can be accomplished without at least some accommodation of opponents.

Politicians, however, aren’t personally bound by this fundamental law of representative democracies and frequently stake out absolutist positions. This is a tactic to strengthen their position when negotiating with their adversaries.

However, over the past couple years that absolutist entrenchment has become party policy in the US, where the Republican Party has the well-earned nickname of “the party of no”. Their strategy is to oppose absolutely everything that President Obama or the Democrats propose, trying to muck up the system so badly that, they hope and literally pray, voters will re-install the Republicans in power.

This is a kind of US domestic Realpolitik in which the Republicans do whatever they think is necessary to gain power. I honestly have no idea what they stand for nowadays, but I know what they’re against: Everything.

If you look at the recent big political battles in the US—healthcare reform, wall street regulation and others—Democrats have always attempted to work with Republicans to try and forge “bipartisan” proposals, and in doing so have included Republican positions and deleted Democratic positions. None of that has mattered because the Republicans have never negotiated in good faith. Instead, their goal has been to delay the process, remove the real reforms ordinary Americans wanted, substitute positions favouring the corporate elites, then vote against it, anyway.

I think it’s despicable that Republicans are interested only in gaining power and promoting their hard-right ideology. I think it’s stupid, too, because ordinary Americans aren’t nearly as gullible as Republicans think they are. However, the Democrats are also stupid—for continuing to act as if the Republicans will ever act in good faith when they’ve shown they never will.

The question, really, is this: Are US voters stupid? Will the Republicans’ partisan games, their big business-funded fake grassroots groups, their alliances with modern fascists and religious extremists be enough to allow them to take power? I think, or hope, that no one could be that stupid.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Translating Bill English

I’m not a fan of Finance Minister Bill English. I’ve always thought that his rigid rightwing ideology was funny, but I’ve just realised that he was speaking an alternate language. It’s either that or he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

Speaking to “business leaders” in Auckland, Bill declared, "By any international measure, our housing market it still way overpriced.” Oh really? And we all live on some international ledger sheet, do we? I find it hilarious the way the rightwing—both the National Party and the even farther right Act Party—bleat on and on about market forces, about how the Holy Market, Hallowed Be Its Name, will find the “true value” of commodities, goods and services, but when it comes to the houses that ordinary Kiwis buy, for that one thing alone the market fails and people are just being stupid. And here I always thought it was Bill and his rightwing mates who are being stupid.

Houses, like everything else in the world, are worth what people are willing to pay—nothing else matters. Bill can pontificate all he wants, but it’s one of the clearest examples of market forces in action. They cost what they cost, and, quite frankly, “international standards” are irrelevant. We live in New Zealand, not in some international statistic.

But buying houses isn’t the only thing ordinary New Zealanders are doing “wrong”. Apparently, we’re all a bunch of bludgers: "The government gives free childcare, free compulsory education, no interest on tertiary ... and pay per week per child. Everything is free so why should people save?"

Bill is a putz: NONE of that is "free"—let me restate that: Not one thing that Bill listed is “free”: We taxpayers pay for every single one of those things. If Bill doesn’t know that, then he should resign immediately so we can get someone in there who understands how government finance works.

The reason that Bill talks like this is precisely because he wants to sell off all government assets. He also doesn’t have any interest in ordinary New Zealanders and instead caters to the interests only of the corporate elites. This is why that party’s tax cuts and policies are skewed to help the rich while making things worse for the poor and for hard working ordinary New Zealanders.

Take Kiwibank, for example. He wants to “privatise” it so “mum and dad investors” can be “owners” of Kiwibank. In pushing that nonsense he’s deliberately trying to prevent people from realising the truth, namely, that we citizens already own that bank!

And as for housing, where this post began, the reason people don’t invest in other areas is that there’s no incentive (not because we get something for “free”). National has steadfastly refused to use tax incentives to get desirable spending, and it also refuses to change the system to remove the incentive to buy investment property. So, Bill’s basically whining about a situation that his government has not done, and will not do, anything to fix.

I guess common sense is lost in translation.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Oh! Canada!

I posted this commercial last year on Canada Day, and it’s still one I like a lot. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be returning to regular blogging very soon. In the meantime, remember: “It’s zed, not zee.”