With New Zealand's finance companies dropping like flies, a big group of CEO'S and former company directors have gone to ground, probably hiding out in their lavish homes - when not driving around in their Porsches and BMWs.

Although they 'regret' the company's they mismanaged have gone belly-up not one of then will out of pocket - unlike the thousands of New Zealanders who have seen their money gone down the gurgler, thanks to the incompetence of these self-styled free market 'gurus'.

Will any of them be hauled into court? You bet they won't. In fact, they'll no doubt pop up again once they feel it is safe to do so. They'll get hired by another finance company - or perhaps they'll set up a new one. Maybe they'll become financial advisors.

Or they might stand for mayor of their hometown.

That's what Jim Smylie is doing.

Smylie was founder of Western Bay Finance that went into receivership early last year owing some $48 million to more than 10,000 investors.

The investors have been getting their own money back on the dripfeed - so far they have received 77 cents in the dollar.

Western Bay stopped making loans in June, and Smylie at the time blamed a lack of incoming funds from investors due to the' negative publicity' generated by the failures of Provincial and National Finance 2000. Later however, he admitted that his company had breached its ratio of net assets to net liabilities set out in its trust deed after the provision for bad and doubtful debts on its $50m loan book ballooned to $12.4m from $2.67m.

Smylie at the time owned two yachts and plane - as well as a lavish home believed to be worth more than $2 million.

But Smylie is now standing for Mayor of Tauranga and he optimistically hopes that the failure of his company will not 'ruin his chances'.

I understand Smylie no longer owns the yachts and planes - but he still has the lavish house.


New Zealand governments are tremendously keen to stay onside with the Chinese Stalinist regime. And so they turn a blind eye to the Chinese regime's appalling human rights record, its oppression of the Tibetan people and the Falun Gong - and anyone else it doesn't like.

Then, of course, there are the miserable wages paid to Chinese workers in order that retailers such as The Warehouse and The $2 Shop can sell cheap goods that may or may not poison you.

How bad is this Chinese regime? Well, its so oppressively and madly dictatorial that it recently banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnation without government permission!

Of course, this implies that the Stalinist regime, despite its hostility to Buddhism,actually believes in reincarnation. And how will they know a Buddhist monk has reincarnated?

And this is the regime the New Zealand Government wishes to sign a free trade agreement with...


Back in July last year Steve Maharey announced it would grant Kiwi FM access to new FM frequencies set aside for public broadcasting services.

Those frequencies had been set aside for a public youth radio network, long campaigned for by Kiwi music icon Neil Finn.

Finn attacked the deal as "hypocritical" on CanWest's side, and accused the Government of "cosying up" to commercial interests.

In a letter to The New Zealand Herald, the Crowded House supremo asked why Kiwi was being propped up "when it has proved to be a failed concept with the listening audience".

At the time Kiwi was attracting a tiny 0.7 percent of the Auckland radio market.

Finn noted that CanWest chief executive Brent Impey had gone on record numerous times opposing Government-funded radio.

"He was the arch enemy of a public youth radio network and yet he has now asked for, and received, Government assistance for Kiwi FM," Finn wrote.

"I guess it's only a good idea if he is getting it. This is hypocritical."

The Government was "too scared of or too reliant on commercial radio" to give young people "a real voice", and was now "sweetening its cosy relationship with the biggest commercial broadcaster".

"It has exposed itself as weak and self-serving."

Finn could of well have added that was a slate of presenters on other Mediaworks stations (most notably talkback station Radio Live) that were virulently right-wing and were constantly attacking anything that wasn't 'free market'.

In response Maharey commented "It's a one year trial to see if people like general manager Karyn Hay can make a go of it."

According to Maharey ,once the year was up, Kiwi FM would have to give up the frequencies -which would go back to being 'reserved' for youth radio - but it would be in a good position to tender for new non-commercial frequencies.

Well, the year is almost up and it'll be interesting to see what happens, especially since recently Canwest sold its 70 percent stake in Mediaworks to Australian privacy equity company Ironbridge Capital.

And all the signs are that Kiwi FM is still failing spectacularly in the ratings.

It's perhaps an indicator of things to come that Kiwi station manager Karyn Hay is now hosting a Sunday night show on Radio Live - another Mediaworks station failing in the ratings game.


Around three million battery hens produce almost 93 percent of New Zealand's eggs. They spend their short lives confined to a space no bigger than a piece of A4 paper. We take a look at battery hen farming and ask why the government continues to ignore public opinion that wants battery cages banned.

Next time your buying eggs at the supermarket spare a thought about the hens that produce them.

Unless your buying free range eggs, these eggs are produced by hens living in tiny, cramped cages. In New Zealand there are are more than three million laying hens of which approximately 92% live a miserable life confined to a space no larger than a phone book, some 400-500 square centimetres.

It wasn't always this way. In the first half of the twentieth century , the usual method of keeping laying hens was in small flocks under free range conditions. The hens would usually be locked up for safety in barn at night, but left to roam outside during the day. However there was a move towards indoor housing in the 1940s,followed by a change to battery farm housing.

The poultry industry internationally expanded rapidly during World War Two and the trend towards battery caging increased in the 1950s and 1960s.

As well, there was move toward increased mechanisation and controlled environment systems for battery systems. The result is what we have today - large windowless warehouses with a controlled environment such as artificial lighting.

The battery cages themselves are designed to house groups of hens, usually up to ten birds. The rows of cages are often arranged in tiers.

It's not exaggerating to say that life for a battery hen is hell.

Hens are social animals, naturally choosing to live in small flocks where a stable hierarchy can be maintained. They have a powerful natural urge to build a nest in which to lay eggs, and are driven to dust bathe, scratch, spread their wings, preen, forage for food and to perch.

Battery hens are prevented from doing all of these natural activities. The cages are cramped, barren and devoid of bedding or anything else of comfort or stimulation. There is no space to stretch or flap their wings, no surface soil for dist bathing or food foraging and no straw for nest building.

As a result, hens suffer both physically and psychologically.

Physically they suffer a wide range of problems. Researchers have cataloged a whole range of problems that battery farms suffer. These crippling leg weaknesses due to the lack of movement and severe feather loss due to constant rubbing against the cage walls and the other hens in the cage.

As well battery hens suffer increased fear and distress because of the brutal conditions they are forced to endure.

Most New Zealanders don't like battery farming. Indeed a 2002 Colmar Brunton survey revealed that 79 percent of the respondents said they were prepared to pay more for eggs if that meant hens were no longer housed in battery cages.

Unfortunately public opinion has been ignored by those who make the decision that impact on the lives of hens and other animals.

In 1999 the Animal Welfare Act was passed . Because it wasn't possible to cover the requirements of each animal, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries National Animal Welfare Advisory committee (NAWAC) has formulated separate welfare codes to bring animal care into line with the new act.

For the layered hen code NAWAC received over 100,000 submissions opposing the use of battery cages.

But NAWAC's response to such community concern has been totally inadequate. It has barely acknowledged its own responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act, which states that NAWAC must take public opinion into account when setting animal welfare standards.

In 2004 the then Minister of Agriculture, Jim Sutton, issued a revised welfare code

formulated by NAWAC. All this amounted was increasing the size of cages by a tiny amount by 2014 - no more than the size of two credit cards. This still means that each hen still has a living space of less than an A4 page.

NAWAC recommended delaying until 2009 any decision on the future of battery cages in order to allow time for 'further research'.

But since then NAWAC have made no effort to frame some meaningful research questions and in 2009 it is highly likely that NAWAC will again ignore the studies that show battery hens suffer.

Animal rights campaigners such as the SPCA and SAFE (Save Animals from exploitation) have severely criticized NAWAC for not banning battery cages.

In response to the new revised welfare code, the SPCA commented; 'Through it's lack of resolve, NAWAC has condemned more generations of battery hens to live out their short, unhappy lives in truly hellish conditions.'

But it's no surprise that NAWAC has ignored the calls to ban battery cages. After all the code was largely written by the Egg Producers Federation. It also spent some $700,000 lobbying politicians and NAWAC to ensure that battery hen farming would continue.

New Zealand is falling behind what is happening internationally. The European Union, for example, has commenced a process to phase out battery cages. In Sweden, battery hen cages were banned in 1999. However battery egg producers have refused to make plans to change to non-cage systems;only 15 percent of Sweden laying hens are in non-caged housing. Animal rights campaigners is lobbying the government to enforce the battery cage ban.

And there is reason why battery cages cannot be banned here. The research suggests that would be a short term cost for the egg industry to move to alternative welfare friendly- systems but that this would be negligible compared to the cost of the feed and the birds themselves.

What stands in the way of finally ending the suffering of millions of laying hens is the intransigence of the Egg Producers Federation and NAWAC that has largely acted as a rubber stamp for the demands of the egg producers.

It's time that NAWAC started listening to what the New Zealand public want - no more battery cages.


Where does National leader John Key live? Parnell? Remuera? Timbuktu? What about this dodgy business company he was associated with?

These have been the pressing questions that have been occupying the minds of Labour MPs this week.

Even in terms of parliamentary politics, it's been pathetic stuff. Key hasn't done anything wrong but the Labour Government's reasoning appears to be that if they throw enough mud, some is bound to stick.

Or maybe it'll end up sticking to them.

As commentator Chris Trotter has pointed out, this mud-flinging is a desperate attempt by Labour to kneecap Key's rising popularity. And, as Trotter also said, it looks like the behaviour of a Government that has run out of steam - a government running on empty.

But Trotter has only got it half right. It's not a case of a shiny-looking invigorated National Party speeding past a Labour Government running out of puff.

Labour may have no new ideas - but neither has National.

It's not just the Labour Government that is running on empty, its the entire political system.

The silly stuff about John Key is just more silly stuff to add to the ever-growing silly stuff pile. Remember National making a meal out of Helen Clark's lightening fast trip from Timaru to Christchurch? Then there was the sideshow of 'Helen and the Paintings'. Did she paint them? Or did she just sign them? I can't even remember the details of this 'issue' - but then again, I don't have any interest in the adventures of Paris Hilton either.

What we are witnessing is the dumbing down of political debate - to the point that we now have politics without meaningful substance.

Not so long ago, in global historical terms anyway, politics was about a debate between different political philosophies. The socialist left advanced the idea of revolutionary change and they clashed with the upholders of the capitalist status quo.

But what of today? Listening to Parliament is like listening in on a rowdy company boardroom meeting. In this case the company is New Zealand Inc. Rarely, do you hear any MP putting forward an alternative vision of society that is rooted in anything other than the free market ethos. It's all about 'good management' and 'fiscal responsibility and 'value for money' .

The so-called 'radical' Maori Party is ok with capitalism - its just peeved that not more brown-skinned people are running it. Meanwhile the Green Party, running free in the meadow of naivety, appears to want to create a kinder and gentler capitalism.

Labour long ago abandoned its traditional social democratic outlook for managerialism and technocracy -what ministers like Steve Maharey refer to as the 'Third Way'.

Meanwhile, John Key has eschewed some of National's more extreme right wing ideas (earning him the wrath of right wing commentators like Paul Henry) and moved the party into the centre, alongside Labour.

There is now no real difference between these two parties. Each party is locked into the free market orthodoxy and are now reduced to largely empty posturing on such issues as John Key's place of residence and Helen Clark's artistic abilities.

As public life has become emptied of its content, private and personal preoccupations have become projected into the personal sphere. Household arrangements. Personal business dealings. Strip clubs. Fast Cars. Paintings. It's all grist to the triviality mill that is New Zealand mainstream politics.

And the corporate media have been complicit in this dumbing down of public life.

When's the last time did you hear a journalist or commentator talking about big political ideas? When the last time did you read something by a local journalist or commentator suggesting that there might actually be alternatives to the free market?

No, its largely been an endless series of stories about the antics of our 'representatives', with the occasional break for a breathless analysis of yet another opinion poll.

Nor does it help that 'left wing commentators' like Chris Trotter, either intentionally or unintentionally, still imply there is a meaningful difference between Labour and National.

The only difference between Labour and National is that they're spelt differently.


What happens when a struggling radio station just can't get its ratings up?

That's been the question that has been occupying the minds of the those-who-make-the decisions at talkback station Radio Live.

In the eighteen months or so since its birth, Radio Live has fired presenters, re-arranged timeslots, consistently attacked talkback favourites such as beneficiaries and solo mothers - but nothing has worked. The station is still hovering around the 3-4 percent mark - somewhat of an embarrassment for a station whose stated goal, according to station manager Mitch Harris, is to out-rate the leader of the ratings pack, NewstalkZB - which consistently rates at around the 13 percent mark.

But there's another ratings sweep on the go and another set of dismal figures will be further bad news for Radio Live, a station that hired former breakfast host Martin Devlin on a reported three year million dollar contract - then got rid of him after a year of poor ratings .

So what's the new plan?

This time afternoon hosts John Tamihere and Willie Jackson have been hauled in to save the sinking ship that is Radio Live.

Hey, both hosts are standing for different mayoralties in the Auckland region. What a jolly wheeze!

The theory is of course, although Radio Live will deny it, is that the election campaign will attract more listeners to Radio Live.

And to aid the cause TV3 (also owned by the same people as Radio Live), has been wheeled in to aid the cause. Tamihere and Jackson appeared on the John Campbell show - pretending that their mayoral campaigns were entirely serious.

Believe it or not! We don't.


Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography
Francis Wheen (Allen&Unwin)

One of the astounding things about Marx's Das Kapital is that it ever got written at all.

Expelled from various European countries, Marx and his family ended up in London.

Marx obtained a ticket to the reading room at the British museum but from the moment they arrived in London, Karl and Jenny Marx were confronted with crisis after crisis.

They lived in poverty and squalor. They ended up in a two room apartment, with the entire family sleeping in the small backroom while the front room was used as a study, playroom and kitchen.

Living in such terrible conditions adversely affected the family's health: three of the children died of illness.

Karl Marx's great friend Friedrich Engels sent Marx money on a regular basis and Marx was paid for some journalism work, but it was not enough to keep the creditors banging on the door all hours of the day and night. As Marx grimly joked ' I don't suppose anyone has ever written about 'money' when so short of the stuff.'

In the midst of all this chaos, stress and tragedy Marx was reading and writing in the British Museum from nine in the morning and seven at night - although a Prussian spy reported back to his government that Marx also spent long periods of time doing nothing. But he would then hurl himself into his work, continuing to work in his study until four or five in the morning.

Marx originally conceived Das Kapital as being a six volume work but only one volume was completed and published before his death. As Francis Wheen notes, ' the years of toil and struggle had left him physically and mentally exhausted.'

It didn't help matters that Marx was not only constantly rewriting his work and adding new sections, he was also sidetracked into writing various polemics against his political opponents. Engels was constantly trying to nail his friend down to a final completion date - to no avail.

The first volume was published in 1867. Engels felt that the book needed a serious editing job. He told Marx that it was a mistake not to clarify the theoretical arguments by splitting hem into shorter sections with separate headings. Marx merely tinkered with the proofs much to Engels despair. 'How could you lead the outward structure of the book in its present form!' he asked forlornly. 'The fourth chapter is almost two hundred pages long and has only four sub-sections...'

Certainly Marx hasn't made it easy to understand his work, and crucial material such as the analysis of commodities even Marx admitted was 'difficult' but then went on to add that he assumed 'a reader who is willing to learn something new and therefore think for himself.'

Francis Wheen looks at the genesis if Das Kapital in the part one of this short book and then in the second part he prises out some of the main theoretical threads of Marx's opus.

However it is in part three, where he looks at the impact of Das Kapital on our world that Wheen can't hide his political bias.

While he shows that Marx's economic analysis of capitalism is more relevant today than it has ever been and that 'Marx may yet become the most influential thinker of the twentieth first century', at the same time he takes a swipe at the socialist project itself.

Marx gave us the tools to dissect capitalism but it was people who came after him, Lenin and Trotsky in particular, who turned attention to the organisational methods needed to overthrow capitalism.

Although Marx perhaps thought that the working class would spontaneously rise up to overthrow capitalism, it was Lenin and Trotsky who proposed the need for the revolutionary party.

While it can be debated whether the Leninist model is suited to the conditions of western capitalism, Wheen resorts to the anti-Marxist argument that the theories of Lenin simply led to the horrors of Stalinism. But Stalinism was in fact a complete break with classical Marxism. This was something that Trotsky recognised when he established the Fourth International in order keep the Marxist flame alight as the darkness of Stalinism fell over Russia and Eastern Europe.

Wheen agrees with the Marx's econmic analysis of capitalism, but rejects the notion of overthrowing it. In the Theses on Feuerbach, Marx summed up this attitude in one pithy sentence: 'The philosophers have only interpreted the word, in various ways; the point is to change it.'


TV3 have decided to have a crack at breakfast TV.

Presently eight people watch TV1's Breakfast but TV3 is confident it can attract at least three people to its show.

It might be overestimating Sunrise's appeal, especially - for reasons that are hard to fathom - one of the presenters will be the awful James Coleman.

Coleman has a long track record in journalism. Er, no he doesn't. Coleman has spent most of his time cavorting around on pop music radio.

This is patently evident on Radio Live where, unless he has access to a website or some hard copy, he flounders.

But apparently lack of knowledge is no barrier to fronting a news and current affairs show on TV3.

Nor will he be giving the prospective viewer a different political perspective. Like Paul Henry on TV1, Coleman is yet another right-winger. How right wing? Well, on Radio Live he blamed the unfortunate Ms Muliaga for having her power cut off. He even went on to speculate that she was possibly spending her money on 'smokes'.

Coleman's co-host is Carly Flynn. She used to be Carly Kirkwood but just because she got married, she ditched her own family name. Very emancipatory, we don't think.

She's done an ok job reading her lines on Nightline, although she's got an irritating habit of making 'bedroom eyes' at the camera and her hair seems to be a continual work in progress.

Her inspiration is obviously more Kelly Ripa than John Pilger.

Coleman and Flynn will be getting up for sunrise - its unlikely that many other people will be though.


It's that time when billboards appear on city streets, featuring the photo-shopped faces of local body politicians and Christchurch is no exception.

The right-wing National Business Review once dubbed Christchurch the 'People's Republic Of Christchurch', a reference to the Christchurch City Council's refusal to truck on down the free market, privatise-everything road.

The NBR is probably happier with the present council though, which has predominance of so-called 'independent' (i.e. right wing) councillors.

Among other things, this council has tried to sell the operational arm of the Lyttelton Port Company to off-shore interests and remove the Red Bus Company and City Care from the list of protected assets - in clear preparation to sell them off.

There was no mandate to do this - none of the councillors who supported selling these council assets told voters this prior to being elected

It was public pressure and protest that stopped these sales going ahead.

As well, the council has set up several 'shelf companies' which has allowed several trading and operational arms of the CCC to operate without accountability to the citizens of Christchurch.

The twelve councillors, who clearly, haven't got much time for the democratic process also voted for various committees of the council to meet behind closed doors. Such is the secrecy that it is even difficult to find out how individual councillors voted - the information is no longer readily available.

The council also voted for a rates increase of 7.35 percent- up 3.49 percent from last year. The latest projections have rates increasing 8.77 percent and 9 percent in the next two years. This would bring the increase between 2006-2010 to 33.34 percent. That's a staggering ten times the rate of inflation!

Why such rates increases? Well, it doesn't help when the councillors voted to spend some $100 million on new offices for themselves and council staff.

Not surprisingly, this present council is considerably unpopular with the good citizens of Christchurch and many of them, if not all of them, will not be re-elected.

Councillor Susan Wells is already looking beyond the election.

For some years, despite being paid some $60,000 per year, she has been moonlighting for both The Warehouse and Supervalue - she's being doing the in-house commercials for these two outfits.

There has been some local unhappiness about this as well - and rightly so. If you are being paid a lot of public money to do a job then the least you can do is devote yourself to that job.


Christian fundamentalist Bob McCoskrie doesn't like The Simpsons much.

In 2005 he went to the trouble of lodging a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Authority about a particular episode of the long-running and highly successful show.

Bob was offended that the words 'wanker' and 'ass' were used in the show, claiming that this a breach of good taste and decency. Bob was apparently speaking for us all when he said that the use of the words 'wanker' and 'ass' was offensive to New Zealanders.

Bob's complaint was, not unsurprisingly, not upheld. The BSA pointed out that the show was rated PGR and was broadcast in a PGR timeslot.

Bob McCoskrie - keeping the country safe from yellow-skinned cartoon characters. Doh!


There will be a three minute silence on Wednesday for Christian fundamentalist Bob McCoskrie.

Bob McCoskrie of Family First (which is basically Bob sitting in front of his computer) is suffering from massive hypocrisy.

While declaring that something must be done about the abuse of New Zealand children, McCoskrie was a vocal opponent of the anti-smacking bill.

McCoskrie has also mounted a campaign to have corporal punishment reintroduced into schools - he has claimed that the removal of corporal punishment in schools has been a root cause of the rise in violence against teachers. But Bob doesn't seem to have a problem with teachers inflicting violence on pupils, via the cane.

So on Wednesday please remember Bob McCoskrie - he's a hypocrite and should be avoided at all costs.


The National Party's resurrection of the infamous 'work for the dole' schemes, confirms again - if any confirmation was needed - that beneficiaries will, once again, be a convenient whipping boy for the National Party during the election campaign.

If National was serious about addressing the issue of unemployment, they might of raised questions about the failure of the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) to accurately measure the rate of unemployment. - as a means of measuring unemployment the HLFS method has been rejected by a growing number of OECD countries because it is inaccurate and unreliable.

If National was serious about tackling unemployment they might have liked to consider what the real unemployment rate is - economist Keith Rankin, for example, has pointed out that the real figure is something like 160,000, not the 80,000 or so the Government claims.

While the Government trumpeted the recent unemployment figure of 79,000, the same data also showed that 160,000 were jobless - that is, 'those without a job and wanting a job'.

If National had done these things they might have then got an explanation as to why one in three New Zealand children live in poverty and food banks are reporting an increasing demand.

But no, they have refloated the punitive 'work for the dole' schemes, schemes that reinforce the myth that the unemployed are responsible for being jobless and must be expected to 'give something back' for the pittances they receive as a benefit.

Making people work for the dole will not do anything to solve the unemployment problem.

Participating in a work for dole scheme for two days a week, which is what the National Party is proposing, directly reduces the amount of time people can spend looking for real work.

Nor does it help a person find work - an unemployed person is hardly to tell a prospective employer that they have been on work for dole scheme.

And work for dole schemes have the potential to actually destroy real paid jobs by the state providing the private sector with publicly funded free labour. Why employ someone to do a job when you can get someone on a work for dole scheme to do it for nothing?

As Sue Bradford, the Green Party spokesperson on unemployment has commented; 'Programmes like this undermine the wages and conditions of employed workers; and people on forced labour are not usually able to join a trade union. '

Of course, promoting a work for the dole scheme will appeal to the redneck vote - the people who ring talkback radio and blast beneficiaries, solo mothers, Maori, etc, etc.

Willie Jackson, former unionist and former Alliance MP, has been travelling rightwards at a steady rate of knots.

He's now doing talkback on the low rating Radio Live, with right-winger John Tamihere.

How right wing has Willie Jackson become? Well, not only has he embraced the reactionary nationalism of the Maori Party, but last week he was heard supporting National's proposed work for the dole scheme.

It seems that the richer Jackson has become, the more reactionary he has become.

'I'm not a socialist!' he cried on his talkback show recently. Too true.


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