Hard News by Russell Brown


Some Politics

I gather this piece of work has been delivered to residents in Auckland City's Hobson ward. It's a letter alleging a conflict of interest on behalf of the sitting Action Hobson candidates Richard Simpson and Christine Caughey over their part in two council votes.

Simpson was a member of a council committee that voted on a $30,000 grant to the Digital Earth Summit on sustainability held in Auckland City last year. A Herald on Sunday story last year claimed he failed to formally declare his membership of the Digital Earth Society, which helped stage the summit.

Simpson should perhaps have formally declared an interest and excused himself, if only to avoid the appearance of a conflict, but his involvement in the event was well known, and he stood to make no personal gain from any grant to the non-profit event. Eventually - and this is a fact carefully left out of the letter - the committee declined the grant, which was subsequently awarded by the council's major events committee, in which councillors Simpson and Caughey have no part.

The other issue raised in the letter is that both councillors backed three years of $200,000 funding for the council to pursue a shareholding partnership with Beacon Pathway Ltd, a research consortium whose shareholders are currently listed as Fletcher Building, the Waitakere City Council, Building Research, New Zealand Steel, the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (which matches all shareholder funding dollar-for-dollar), and the very promising biomaterials company Scion.

The attack letter asserts that Beacon Pathway "will never deliver a dividend" to Auckland City. I'm pretty sure it's not meant to: the "dividend" lies in directing housing development towards more sustainable building practices, particularly through the use of new materials, and the pursuit of "warmer, healthier, more efficient homes". Given the housing horrorshows of the past decade in Auckland this seems quite a prudent aim. The letter implies that Simpson and Caughey sought to benefit associates involved with Beacon Pathway.

But here's the thing. The letter is authorised by William Cairns, the chair of Hobson Citizens and Ratepayers Now - the party tipped out of the ward by Action Hobson,

Now, you could hardly have missed this week the name of Dr Tony Bierre, who was described by a High Court judge as being "in a conflict of interest from the time he started sitting on the ADHB in December 2004," and participated in discussions on a new tender for diagnostic testing in the Auckland region, and who, said the judge "was making use of information that he had acquired in his capacity as an ADHB member that would not have otherwise been available to him."

Until he stood down in December - after the tender had been granted to Labtests, the company in which he had a substantial private financial interest - Dr Bierre was a Citizens and Ratepayers member of the district health board. His profiles appear to have recently disappeared from the various C&R websites.

So, really, unless you're deliberately trying to muddy the waters, this doesn't seem like the right week to be making conflict-of-interest allegations against other parties.

Staying with politics, here's the famous (or infamous) Hilary Clinton attack ad from YouTube:

The fascinating thing about this ad is that's a mash of a mash. It's a digitally altered version of Apple Computer's legendary 1984 commercial for the first Mac, which itself invoked the Orwell classic.

The ad, which concludes with an endorsement of Clinton rival Barack Obama, has racked up millions of views on YouTube, and had a sharp impact on the Democratic primary race, but it seems no one's quite sure what the impact is. Someone has already come up with a not-so-good version that bites back the other way:

The interesting thing is that this hit the mainstream headlines in the US two weeks after it was first reported, and only after the Drudge Report made it an issue for reasons of its own.

So you've got a viral video by an anonymous Democrat made into news by a longtime conservative hitman on the internet. And big media just follows whatever happens on the internet. Fascinating.

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