Hard News by Russell Brown

Oh dear ...

Remember the Act Party's holiday horror story about how much more tax money those freeloading Maori receive than they pay? In this week's issue of The Listener Brian Easton forgoes a trip to the beach to stay home and check the Act parliamentary research unit's figures. It would be really funny if my taxes weren't paying for it:

To be fair to the unit, this is the work of amateurs, not crooks. Perhaps the major mistake is that they have grossly underestimated the tax paid by Maori, using 2000/01 March year data as if it applied to the 2002/03 June year. They didn't bother to reconcile the data base they used (self-reported incomes) with more precise estimates of recorded income, and they omitted over one-third of the tax base.

Suppose that we were to apply exactly the same method to non-Maori. According to the Act method, the rest of the country pays about $23.4b while benefiting from $34.5b of government spending, again being in a major deficit. Who is covering the deficit (and contributing to the budget surplus)? The nonsense arises because the Act calculations ignore over $14b of taxation.

An apology would seem to be in order for this, but don't hold your breath.

You might have heard that you can't scan and print images of major currencies from Photoshop, or even photocopy banknotes in some machines. You might have thought it was an urban myth. Actually, it's true. I got to the bottom of it in my Listener column this week.

I've just filed another column on what went wrong with Howard Dean's "Napster campaign" in the Democratic primaries, but you'll have to wait to read that. I have begun to find the role of the Internet in current American political life quite compelling: here's an interesting roundup of tech stories from the campaign trail.

Newsweek's What Went Wrong story on how the claims about Iraqi WMDs could be so wholly wrong doesn't really answer its own question but is a good read anyway.

A reader who works for a competitor of BRC, the research firm that conducted the SST's startling poll on responses to Don Brash's Maori speech had some interesting comments. The sample size of 491 is, he says,

…fine for a survey of this type … [it] gives us a max margin of error of 4.4%, and this reduces, the more unanimous the response. So when 61% back Brash's policy, the margin of error is reduced still further. As a market researcher and competitor to that surveying company involved, BRC, I can tell you they are very well regarded and do very sound work.

You'd be interested to know that when sample sizes are selected for given projects, government surveys usually have a much higher-than-necessary sample size precisely because they get such flak. So a sample of 491 is statistically fine - but politically? Try a 1000.

On the other hand, the "push-poll" structure of the survey - a string of questions on a single party's policy and then a party preference question - "you're absolutely right, that line of questioning is poor."

The Brash speech, to give it its credit, continues to produce some nice, heartfelt writing in rebuttal. This from John Roughan in the Herald:

Embracing it does not mean becoming it. I'm not Maori and have no wish to be, any more than a Maori wants to be me. We are not one people. Embracing it means responding to its warmth and welcoming its growing power in national life.

Because - and this might strike Dr Brash at the dawn service - a heritage so deep and powerful cannot be denied its national expression. We are not one people and we cannot be one nation.

Oh, and here's Janet's titty. And here's some windbaggery from Michael Powell, head of the FCC, who wants to raise the maximum fine for broadcast indecency to $US7.5 million. This story relates a few of the absurd and prudish FCC decisions of recent years. I don't expect any of the local neocon drones to start whining about the "nanny state" in this case, however …