Hard News by Russell Brown

Ugly As

Last night's Colmar Brunton poll was about as ugly as could be for Labour, which can only hope that it's as much of an outlier as Pete Hodgson says it is. It certainly makes the position of New Zealand First interesting: if Peters does, as suggested here today, declare a coalition preference for National, he may lose even more of his support, given that more than half of his voters want him to go with Labour.

The polls are certainly a little weird: two weeks ago the Herald Digipoll poll had Labour miles ahead in Auckland. Then last week's Fairfax poll apparently had a similar huge break for National in Auckland. The story covering the Fairfax poll had this extraordinary news from the Epsom battle, where an electorate vote win is Act's lifeline:

National has been under pressure from ACT to step aside for it in the blue-ribbon Epsom seat, and leader Rodney Hide announced yesterday that he would campaign for National in Tauranga to topple Mr Peters.

But an Epsom deal is unlikely, with relations between ACT and National at an all-time low, exacerbated yesterday by allegations about ACT's tactics in Epsom.

Among those allegations by sitting National MP Richard Worth were that ACT door-knocking teams were pretending to be National Party members, and that phone polls were asking how people would vote if Mr Worth died. Mr Hide rejected Mr Worth's claims that the door-knocking tactics were underhand, saying his supporters included genuine National members who wanted him to win. No one had been asked questions about Mr Worth dying, he said.

I'm not sure if the electorate is all that receptive to arguments about the viability of National's tax and spending promises, but someone who ought to know confirmed to me in Wellington last week that the paint wasn't dry on National's fiscal numbers when the tax cuts were announced. (What will they cut to save, for instance the implied $350 million on education?: "They don't know.") From a personal point of view this gives me the fear, because the resources likely to be for the chop (the so-called "bureaucrats") are the very support staff that our family - we have two special needs children - has been depending on.

It appears that National is counting on Treasury's revenue forecasts to continue to be exceeded when the money actually comes in. They would hope so. Anthony Trenwith pointed out something I hadn't thought about with respect to the cost of National's law and order policy:

While the parole policy will, as you've pointed out, prove pricey in the long term some of those made to serve their full term may well have done so anyway. What could really cost this country is the insane idea to take DNA samples from all convicted criminals. So for example, almost every kid caught breaching the liquor ban at Whangamata will be required to provide a sample. Even the cluster of MPs with convictions (predominantly drink-drives) won't be immune!

Currently, ESR handle about 500 samples per month (according to their website). Under National's policy this will skyrocket to 500 per week! Even then, this could be considered be a conservative estimate - 500 per *day* would not be unrealistic considering the volume of people processed by the courts per day. Consequently, a drastic increase in technician numbers will be required along with more space - both in the labs and in the system to store and process all of these samples. Then there's the question of how all of this is to be paid for (a post-dated cheque perhaps)...

In most cases there is little or no purpose to be served by taking a sample and there can be no better case to illustrate this than that of Donna Awatere-Huata. Sure keeping crime down is a real concern for all New Zealanders, but keeping the ideas to do this realistic must also be a concern.

It would be nice to see someone actually pin them down on this, because it seems extraordinary that they don't appear to have allowed for it.

(Oh, and sci-tech spokesman Paul Hutchison's submissions on behalf of National at the Scanz conference last week were unenlightening: a few criticisms of the government and … yet another promise to "review" things. David Slack has more on how "reviews" seem to comprise a good deal of National's policy platform.)

Some extraordinary video clips from American TV have been posted online in the past few days, but perhaps none more so than this one from Fox News's Hannity and Colmes show. While Sean Hannity tries to work things around to the sponsor's message ("let's get this in perspective") his own field reporters shout him down.

The other one is rapper Kanye West on a fund-raising Telethon: he abandons the autocue and just starts talking: ""I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family it says they are looting if you see a white family it says they are looking for food ... We already realize a lot of the people that could help are at war now fighting another way and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us ... George Bush doesn't care about black people." Mike Myers looks stunned.

You may have seen the Interdictor blog from on the ground in New Orleans. The author seems to think that the situation is stabilising. New Zealand writer Paula Morris is a contributor to this blog from the Mississippi area.

So much here is troubling - the inadequate response at local, state and federal level, the alarmingly thin membrane of social order, the desertion of their posts by so many policemen. In the New York Times, David Brooks sees a "bursting point" that will transform political culture as much as America's sense of national failure did in the 1970s.

The response from some of the more prominent pillars of the right-wing blogosphere has been appalling. For them, the victims are not in New Orleans, but Washington, and the most important thing is not saving them, but saving the reputation of the Bush administration. It's ironic to see them coming over all indignant about other people "exploiting" the tragedy to make a political point. It's not so long since the same ugly crowd was busting a gut to depict the Asian tsunami relief effort (which really looks pretty competent now) as an indictment of the United Nations. Scarily, some of them seem to regard the New Orleans victims as something other than real Americans.

Salon has an interesting analysis headed: The Culture War Over Katrina.

Editor & Publisher excerpts desperate pleas for help, texted in from around New Orleans to the blog of the New Orleans Times Picayune. The Superdome is nearly cleared but it appears that many others will die in their homes.

The Washington Post has a long but interesting story focusing on changes to the system for federal emergency response since 2001:

The roots of last week's failures will be examined for weeks and months to come, but early assessments point to a troubled Department of Homeland Security that is still in the midst of a bureaucratic transition, a "work in progress," as Mencer put it. Some current and former officials argued that as it worked to focus on counterterrorism, the department has diminished the government's ability to respond in a nuts-and-bolts way to disasters in general, and failed to focus enough on threats posed by hurricanes and other natural disasters in particular. From an independent Cabinet-level agency, FEMA has become an underfunded, isolated piece of the vast DHS, yet it is still charged with leading the government's response to disaster.

"It's such an irony I hate to say it, but we have less capability today than we did on September 11," said a veteran FEMA official involved in the hurricane response. "We are so much less than what we were in 2000," added another senior FEMA official. "We've lost a lot of what we were able to do then."

PS: If you're looking for my paper for the libraries research conference in Wellington, I'll tidy it up and post it tomorrow in Great New Zealand Argument. Although I fear that if the polls are correct it might all be moot. In 1999, the National Library was withering and selling books. Are we going back to that?