Hard News by Russell Brown

Fresh air

I like the look of the New Zealand Institute, if only because we do need some fresh intellectual energy. Face it: if you don't know what Roger Kerr or the EPMU are going to say about anything by now you haven't been paying attention for the last 15 years - and the fact that an organisation as far out on the philosophical perimeter as Maxim gets so much air suggests that it's past time for a vehicle for some more mainstream thought. The intellectual firepower seems to be there too, although the fledgling weblog needs a scrub-up. Put a name to it - Skilling's perhaps - to give it some personality, and update it two or three times a week. That's how blogs work.

Rod Oram, who has frequently been perplexed at the focus on ideology rather than issues in our intellectual culture, led out the cheerleading for the institute on Sunday. But are they clearing the copyright on these news stories they're re-publishing in full?

The Ha'aretz column which claims that Helen Clark stepped in and refused to allow Mossad to arrange a cover-up of of the passport scandal with the SIS is here. It also says that Mossad ventured onto another agency's turf in running the operation in the first place. Clark offered no comment to the Herald.

The Herald's lead story yesterday on doctors being pressured to approve the long-term unemployed for the sickness benefit, where they won't be bothered with work-testing, is interesting, but it rather fails to state the obvious - that it's much harder now to stay on the dole than it was in the 1990s. Ask your friendly local bludger.

If Work and Income staff really are suggesting to the chronically workshy that they just go and get a doctor's note then that's a matter for concern - but the story presents no actual evidence that that is in fact the case. And the claim in the accompanying editorial that the story "casts a shadow over recent unemployment statistics" is bogus.

Do the math: the unemployment benefit roll was down 24,708 in the year to March, while the sickness and invalids benefit roll rose 7683. The department says only 7% of those who came off the unemployment benefit went to a sickness benefit - that's 1730. If we If we buy generously into the theory and say that as many as half of those people were scamming, that's about 860, or 3.4% of the overall reduction in unemployment.

Of course, that's a fairly imperfect calculation without knowing how many went onto the sickness benefit direct from employment, how many people transferred from the sickness benefit to the dole (Steve Maharey's claim that in recent years it has been as many as six times as have gone the other way suggests that most of the growth in the sickness benefit roll has actually come from people hitherto in work), the number of long-term unemployed who actually should have been on a sickness or invalid's benefit but haven't been troubled until relatively recently with the obligation to get work, how long people are actually staying on the sickness benefit, etc, but a sense of proportion would seem to be in order here.

A follow-up story this morning, in which National promises to "get tough" on welfare and Katherine Rich suggests that those with depression and stress-related illness should just "box on" also includes this paragraph:

A report by the Ministry of Social Development, investigating growth in sickness and invalid benefits over the past 10 years, found almost half the growth was a result of demographic changes and the rise in the age of eligibility for superannuation.

The "shadow" theory looks pretty dodgy to me …

Tainui couldn't just let some welcome financial news lie on the table for a while, it appears. The two co-chairmen of the iwi executive got rolled yesterday: Hadyn Solomon for double-dipping on Corrections Department contracts and Tuku Morgan for claiming, without authority, that the tribe was backing the Maori Party and not Labour.

As the US Democratic convention swings into action, the role of the Nader campaign is coming under scrutiny. This story is interesting:

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader's quixotic presidential campaign says it submitted about 5,400 signatures to get on the Michigan ballot, far short of the required number of 30,000. Luckily for him, approximately 43,000 signatures were filed by Michigan Republicans on his behalf, more than meeting the requirement.

The Republicans certainly get the picture: it might only take Nader picking up two or three per cent in a couple of key states and it's another four years of the Bush White House.

Salon's War Room has good coverage of early convention action, by David Talbot himself, and Kevin Drum comments on a comment on Bush's woeful record on the environment.

Slashdot has an unruly thread on the theme "What's the strangest place you've ever read Slashdot from?" Feel free to let me know the strangest place you've ever read Hard News from …