Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Political Opinion Masquerading as News

Over the Easter break I made the mistake of listening to a news bulletin on Radio New Zealand. I always find listening to the news or current affairs on RNZ to be a mistake because what RNZ thinks is news, and what I think is news, are two very different things. The first three or four articles in the bulletin followed the same formula - the presentation of what is in fact a political viewpoint as a news story, interviews with sympathetic so-called experts without resort to any facts or objective assessment and, inevitably, a call for the government to spend more money to address the issue.

An example was an article on the number of homeless people on the streets of Auckland. The article presented this issue as if it was something new and pressing, but it contained no facts about whether the number of homeless people in Auckland is actually increasing, who these people typically are, and what might be the reasons for their homelessness and therefore the most appropriate solutions to the problem. Instead, the purpose of the report was revealed as a call for the government to build more state houses.

Auckland does, in fact, have a housing shortage but the reason people are sleeping rough on the streets may have little to do with the availability of housing or even much to do with the amount of financial or accommodation assistance that is available to them. Often, in my experience, such people choose to sleep rough for various reasons unrelated to pure financial issues and their numbers tend to peak in the summer months and go down in winter due to the obvious climatic factors.

Much of what passes for news in New Zealand, particularly from our state-owned media, is of this nature. It is not news at all but rather a thinly-disguised presentation of the station's editorial position, which is invariably left wing, under the guise of a news story. 

There is something unhealthy and inevitable about a state-funded media organisation calling for more government spending, but it becomes a particularly pernicious practice when it replaces that organisation’s proper function, which has become the case in regards to RNZ. It is a gross abuse of taxpayers funds.

I reiterate the call I have made previously that there is no point in the New Zealand taxpayer owning an organization like RNZ, particularly when it seems to regard its role as being the promotion of a particular political point of view. Radio New Zealand should be sold, preferably to Rupert Murdoch.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The desperation of the anti-Brexit league

It is fascinating watching the British political establishment try to rebottle the genie they have unleashed with the referendum on membership of the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron has tried to be too clever by half, promising in 2013 that a referendum would be held in an attempt to placate disaffected Conservative Party supporters who were flocking to the anti-EU UK Independence Party. The referendum was to be held by the end of 2017 but Cameron has brought it forward to June this year, presumably in response to the increasing support for a British exit ("Brexit"). Cameron tried to stem the flow of support for Brexit by renegotiating Britain's role and commitments in the EU but this appears to have been little more than an empty gesture and reaction has been mixed at best.

We are now seeing an increasing desperation from pro-EU politicians and media such as this article in The Guardian that suggests airfares and mobile phone charges will increase if Britain leaves the EU. What they don't take into account, of course, is the lower compliance costs that will come from leaving behind a myriad of EU regulations covering everything from the bendiness of bananas to the use of the word 'jam'.

Cameron has tried to force his Conservative Party colleagues to fall into line in opposing Brexit but an increasing number of them like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are defying him. The fight is essentially coming down to the political establishment and centre-left against the rebellious, libertarian, centre-right. That is hardly surprising as big, centralised government has always been a left-wing ideal, with global government the ultimate Marxist objective. The European Union, the United Nations, even global agreements such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, are seen as useful milestones on the journey to that goal.

In an age of instant, mass, global communication, it should be no longer necessary (if it ever was) to have big, centralised and homogeneous government. The age of empires is over. Our aspirations should be for small, local and heterogeneous societies. Everyone should have real choice about the type of community in which they choose to live. If you want to live in a collectivist society where everyone is responsible for everyone else, that should be your choice, but if I want to live in a society that values individual responsibility and independence, that should be my choice. I believe there are some non-negotiables in human affairs - the rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' pretty much covers the key ones - but the rest of it should be over to people in local communities to decide for themselves.

A majority vote for Brexit will be a small but welcome step against the tide of ever-bigger government.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Trump May (Very Likely) Become President 2

Well, what do you know? Trump has pretty much cleaned up on Super Tuesday. This was in spite of all the very considered commentary in the so-called liberal media about how he is such a racist! And sexist! And a fascist! There were particularly fine examples of American journalism from the New York Times and the Washington Post with their exposés about Trump's Ku Klux Klan affiliations and his very short fingers. The next thing they will be saying is that The Donald causes Zika virus.

I am sure that every time the New York Times runs another of their pathetic op-ed pieces against Donald Trump, the subject of their insults smiles to himself because he knows this is precisely why so many people support him. Many Americans have had enough of the cosy East Coast, left-liberal, media-savvy, political establishment telling them how to think. They have been labelled racist, sexist and fascist themselves so many times they have come to regard the terms as badges of honour. They feel their country has lost its way and while they don't know exactly why, they know the current cosy political establishment-media-crony business alliance are to blame, and they're out for blood. Offered the choice of another Bush or a younger, Hispanic version of Mitt Romney, and on the other side of the ledger the choice of a barefaced liar or a deluded, nonagenarian Socialist, Donald Trump starts to look pretty attractive. And so long as everyone is calling him names rather than debating the issues, Trump's will continue to waltz his way towards the Oval Office.

Flag referendum a diversion

New Zealand is in the middle of a referendum to replace its flag. Countries don't often change their flags and it is usually because the nation itself has gone through some profound change, like South Africa moving from apartheid to universal suffrage, which is why the proposal to change New Zealand's flag has engendered interest around the world.

I haven't taken much interest in the issue until now. I didn't vote in the first referendum to select one of five designs for a run-off against the current flag and it wasn't until I saw the final voting paper sitting on my desk that I decided I should complete the form and send it in. I voted to retain the current design, not because I particularly like it but because I like the alternative even less. It looks (as Steve Braunias in the New York Times accurately described it) like a beach towel or, in my view, like an emblem that our big dairy exporter, Fonterra, might put on one of their packets of cheese.

The proposed and the current flag designs
The problem is, the proposed design doesn't really look like a flag. Perhaps that is because flags are inherently conservative and the new design is a bit garish. More precisely, it looks amateurish, like something a graphic art student working as an intern in a design studio might come up with - the sort of design the senior partner would quietly drop into the waste paper basket on the way into the pitch to the client.

Prime Minister John Key has backed the change, expending a little from his enormous bank of political capital on the exercise. Polls indicate the change will be rejected and some commentators like Braunias have predicted that the referendum loss will knock Key's credibility. I don't think New Zealanders really care enough about the issue for it to make much of a dent in Key's popularity. The whole thing is a diversion from the worsening economic situation in New Zealand (with the Reserve Bank unexpectedly lowering interest rates last week in recognition of the relatively bleak outlook). But perhaps that was exactly what John Key intended.