Hard News by Russell Brown


"Gosh," said Susan Wood, always keen to interpret a phone-in poll for the masses. "Perhaps Don Brash has got it right again." Or perhaps not. Certainly, 88% of the people who called in on Close Up's poll last night declared that he was "on the right track". But only 9534 were moved to actually spend a dollar. In the Holmes poll that provided a heads-up on the Brash speech this time last year, 31,000 people voted.

Either the public has turned off in droves since Himself walked out the door; people have realised that donating money to TVNZ is a mug's game; or, most likely, they just aren't that bothered.

In truth, there wasn't much to get excited about in Don Brash's 2005 speech from Orewa. It targeted beneficiary levels, but much of it was either already National Party policy, already government policy, or (like the Shipley government's dud work-for-the-dole experiment) had already been tried and found wanting. Properly draconian proposals - time-limited benefits for example - were missing in action.

The vision element lay in the declared target of cutting beneficiary numbers by a third, to 200,000, in 10 years. But there was an awful lot of thin air between what Brash announced and that lofty goal. Who will mind the children of the solo mums sent out to work? Is the government prepared to offer those women a better deal on childcare than women already in jobs? Is that fair? What might a comprehensive childcare offering then cost? How much will compulsory makework jobs for beneficiaries cost? What will they do? How much will tens of thousands of government-funded makework jobs distort the private employment sector?

In the end, I was more exercised about the confused mess of a Close Up programme than about the speech. Trailered with promos asking whether time was up for "bludgers", it opened with an armchair-ride interview for Brash. Then Susan Wood tried to take minister Steve Maharey to task, but failed as he calmly batted back every question, having apparently memorised every relevant number.

Wood was all over the gaff: identifying herself with the "Kiwi battlers" (yeah right, as they say), opening her interview with Maharey by appearing to suggest that everyone on a sickness benefit was a scammer, then coming over all sympathetic with the programme's specimen solo mum. Next breath, she was asking the solo mum whether she'd have stayed in her relationship if there was no DPB (is leaving a bad relationship the privilege of well-off women only?).

Maharey, of course, noted that DPB numbers have actually been falling for the first time ever. But everyone seemed to miss the point that the woman's former husband was paying child support, so at least a portion of the lavish $440 a week on which she was raising four children was coming out of his pocket, and not that of the taxpayer.

National's backers will complain about the media coverage - and, indeed, they were doing so before the speech had even been made. David Farrar was spitting tacks about a short-lived afternoon headline on a Newstalk ZB story on XtraMSN ('Brash to Bash Beneficiaries'). In the comments thread, some of his readers displayed a turn of phrase that didn't exactly fit with the caring-sharing image: solo mums and their children were "maggots" according to one, "leeches" said another, who couldn't help "feeling the urge to flick cigarette ash into the $1,000 prams pushed by parent kids in Manners Mall." Charming.

Anyway, Nick Grant of OnFilm was in touch with some helpful additional information on the Beloved Entertainer Whose Name May Not Be Spoken Within Earshot of the PC Police:

Further to your observations regarding Deborah Codswallop's recent claims that 'The Best of Billy T James' would cause "an outcry" if released today, it's worth noting that in December last year two series of 'The Billy T James Show' were released on DVD by Sony Pictures. Self styled anti-PC culture warriors - and the rest of us - can purchase them here or here or, well, pretty much bloody anywhere actually.

In addition, 'Billy T Live' was released in June 2003 by the same company, although it was known as Columbia TriStar at the time. (I'm pretty sure the subsequent name change was in order to reflect the ultimate ownership of the company? rather than due to a violent boycott by legions of the culturally sensitive in response to the release of 'Live' but, hey, I could be wrong.)

Finally, she's clearly unaware that each year James' mana as a treasured NZ entertainer is further burnished by the showcase of leading NZ comics that bears his name - The Billy T Awards.

The man - and his work - couldn't be more mainstream, which is more than one can say for Debs and her political mates, whose appeal appears to remain mired within (appropriately enough, given DC's obvious difficulty with facts) the margin of error.

Several other readers pointed out that brown-skinned non-PC humour also appears to be thriving on private TV, in the form of the hugely popular Bro' Town. Debs had best put a bit more effort into research next time, huh?

And Bryce Wakefield had some observations on the theories of Thomas P.M. Barnett noted yesterday:

Another problem with the whole "gap" and "core" idea is the whole cold war containment feel of it: this doesn't marry with geo-political reality. Surely Thailand and (from an American perspective) Israel, not to mention numerous Caribbean nations should philosophically be "core" countries. The U.S. would almost certainly come to their aid in the event of invasion by any "gap" nation. Why, I wonder, are they then lumped in with "gap" nations for the sake of geographical (and therefore representational) convenience?

This is pretty amazing: Alberto Gonzales, Bush's would-be attorney, turns out to have quite a history with his boss. In 1996, he tried to get Bush off jury duty in a drink-driving case - so that Bush would not have to declare his own 1976 DUI conviction, which only became public before the 2000 election.

Bush lied about his criminal record on his jury form. And Gonzales, according to the judge and lawyers involved in the case, has now lied to Congress about his own actions: claiming that he never tried to get Bush off jury duty, when everyone else involved recalls that he did. Wow. Looking forward to seeing how Power Line can spin that one.

Meanwhile, according to Human Rights Watch, the interim Iraqi government is clearly getting on its feet. It doesn't need outside help in torturing and abusing prisoners: it's doing that quite nicely itself. Also, Baghdad's water supply has dried up and Riverbend is even more pissed off than usual.

All too much? Here's news on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 2 then.

PS: Damian's latest post just missed this morning's mail-out. Nip off and read it, then …