Hard News by Russell Brown


Damn, the coffee was good this morning. Some things, you want them done right, you do them yourself. It's nice to be home, and I didn't even mind being selected for a bag search at SFO and LAX, and being sent through the air-puffer machine at SFO (it blows jets of air at you to dislodge any remnant chemical dust from the explosives you packed) was actually kind of fun, although I did briefly wonder what I might have picked up from the grubby streets of San Francisco.

It's a good thing I stowed my Chumby in my checked baggage. Lord knows what the men with the latex gloves would have made of that. The younger boy and I are going to sit down and configure New Zealand's first and only Chumby this afternoon.

On Tuesday night, in my hotel room, I watched parts III and IV of Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts on HBO. It's superb: measured, intelligent and very moving (I cried a couple of times). Lee lets people express their sorrow, anger and frustration.

And these people have a lot to be sad, angry and frustrated about. They were have been failed at all levels of government (and most notably the federal level) and they have been scandalously abandoned by the insurance industry. One old man who paid insurance premiums on his house for 50 years was paid out about $700, and most of that was for the shed in the back yard. That there are $30 billion dollars in uninsured losses in New Orleans - and developer sharks looking to move in where people have no money to rebuild - should be a first-order national scandal in the US. Unfortunately there's not much sign of that. It's impossible not to feel that middle-class white folks wouldn't have been treated this way.

In the first half of the documentary, I gather that Lee allows a couple of people to air their claim that they heard explosions before the levees broke; the implication being that they were bombed with the intention of flooding the ninth ward. This doesn't mean, as some people think, that Lee himself gives that theory any weight, just that he lets people say what they want. The documentary's conclusion is actually that the levees were simply badly engineered and inadequate for their purpose. A comparison towards the end with the engineering that keeps most of the Netherlands from flooding is particularly instructive.

I'm busy obtaining the first two parts by the usual means for viewing tonight. Parts III and IV are there too.

So anyway, home to a more boutique-sized scandal. Memo to the Parliamentary Labour Party: cut to the chase, find some money and pay back the pledge-card funding. As I've noted before, the leaders' fund system is a shambles and National's tub-thumping on this is a bit rich given the way it spent our money outside the campaign period, and the money spent on its behalf by the Exclusive Brethren and others, which didn't count towards its spending limit, but it's over. Just do it.

I've thought for a while that Labour's inner-circle might not be too sorry to see Taito Philip Field investigated by the police. It's not like they liked the guy, even before the various allegations against him started streaming out. The problem has always been that this is a government with a one-seat majority, and one that could be seriously hampered if Field were to stay - or be re-elected - as an independent. Field is a social conservative who could very well vote with National on some issues (and yes, that would be ironic). If the government had a couple more votes in the bag, he'd have been toast before now.

And one more thing before I set about relaxing. The people at Eventfinder, who seem to have a pretty good business model, say they were bumped out of a deal with Tourism New Zealand by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, which has its own, taxpayer-funded online listings service, NZLive. Perhaps there's another side to the story, but this really doesn't seem appropriate. I'll follow this up now I'm back in town.