Hard News by Russell Brown

What a Cult!

So the anti-Green and Labour smear pamphlets turn out to be the handiwork of the Exclusive Brethren? Freaky. There's no evidence that National even knew about the Brethren campaign, but it will not exactly welcome the news that its campaign on behalf of the "mainstream" has been joined to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars by a rejectionist and abusive religious cult. After all, the dark public sentiment to which National has been appealing with the "mainstream" catchphrase has been turned on just such groups at various times in New Zealand's history.

Leaving aside its abusive practices and lack of transparency, the Exclusive Brethren has every right to say its piece in the debate, but the comparison with, say, newspaper ads placed by the PSA and the nurses' union is inaccurate. Those organisations have their names on their ads, they answer the phone when someone calls and they don't set security guards on the leaders of political parties who come to ask about wanton inaccuracies in their printed material.

If Helen Clark was as consistently unable to correctly state her own party's policies as Don Brash is, the RWDB tendency would be screaming about it. Assuming this isn't deliberate, it's absolutely ludicrous:

Up to several hundred thousand people would lose subsidies for GP visits and prescriptions under National - a week after leader Don Brash gave assurances they wouldn't.

Announcing the details of National's health policy yesterday, Dr Brash admitted that when he told the Herald his party would retain universal health subsidies in regions where they were already in place "that was a mistake".

On Monday, Dr Brash told TVNZ he did not know if National would reintroduce market rents for state housing tenants, despite it being confirmed in a housing policy released that day.


More policy oddities from National: Brian Rudman notes that its transport pitch for Auckland abandons the earlier support for the politically dicey Eastern motorway, and represents quite a flip-flop for Maurice Williamson, who this week said:

"It is not a state highway and you can't just decide to do things in a local roading area by foisting it on a local authority."

But a few weeks ago, Rudman observes, Mozzer was sininging quite a different song to Herald reporters:

He said: "I can't find anyone that can explain to me why that is not a state highway. You would never build these things if you had to rely on local authorities through which they run."

Warming to his theme, he said that if we were to listen to those who didn't want a motorway in their backyard, "Auckland will never build any more motorways ... and we are grossly short of them".

Taken in the context of National's pledges to streamline the Resource Management Act, scrapping legal aid for objectors and introducing mechanisms "to prevent vexatious and frivolous objections" - whatever that might mean - it's a nightmare scenario.

Again, WTF?

Rudman also points out that the claim in Don Brash's speech and elsewhere that "the congestion on Auckland's roads is worse than in Sydney or Melbourne" is simply not true.

New Yorker editor David Remnick has a good comment piece on the Katrina debacle:

Just as serious, the President’s priorities, his indifference to questions of infrastructure and the environment, magnified an already complicated disaster. In an era of tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush consistently slashed the Army Corps of Engineers’ funding requests to improve the levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain. This year, he asked for $3.9 million, $23 million less than the Corps requested. In the end, Bush reluctantly agreed to $5.7 million, delaying seven contracts, including one to enlarge the New Orleans levees. Former Republican congressman Michael Parker was forced out as the head of the Corps by Bush in 2002 when he dared to protest the lack of proper funding.

Similarly, the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which is supposed to improve drainage and pumping systems in the New Orleans area, recently asked for $62.5 million; the White House proposed $10.5 million. Former Louisiana Senator John Breaux, a pro-Bush Democrat, said, “All of us said, ‘Look, build it or you’re going to have all of Jefferson Parish under water.’ And they didn’t, and now all of Jefferson Parish is under water.”

I was a talking to a bloke I met on the terraces at the test match on Saturday evening - no, really I was - about Christopher Hitchens, and we agreed that Hitch had fallen so far into denial about Iraq that he was really a bit sad these days. As it happens, Juan Cole has penned a critique of his recent writing that pretty much tears Hitch a new rhetorical you-know-what.

And this build-your-own-National-billboard site is bloody excellent. There's a league table of the most popular efforts, and the current frontrunner is a cracker.