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Gordon Campbell on the fiasco in overseas aid funding

Gordon Campbell on the fiasco in overseas aid funding and the latest evidence that watching Fox News really does make you more stupid

foreign aid, world,
international, pacific

The personal vendetta being waged by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully against aid sector NGOs has now reached its inevitable, illogical conclusion – half of the applications for aid projects (60 out 104 submitted) have been rejected, chaos surrounds the criteria under which funding decisions are being made, and the notifications of success or failure under the current round are running three months late. McCully’s abysmal managerial ability has once more been publicly demonstrated – this time, in ways that damage New Zealand’s international reputation for reliability. Most of these projects remember, entail overseas partners in the Pacific.

The nub of the matter is McCully’s kneejerk rejection of the notion of the alleviation of poverty – which he appears to regard in 1950s terms as a “Reds under the beds” programme in disguise. By contrast Kevin Rudd, McCully’s counterpart in Australia who has kept up with modern aid theory and practice, sees poverty alleviation as a reasonable and desirable goal – and one fully in tune with the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals to which McCully’s own government nominally subscribes. Rudd’s recently announced review of the Australian aid programme still places the immediate reduction of poverty at the forefront of the purposes of aid:

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“The aim of Australia’s aid program is to reduce poverty through improved medical care, education, economic opportunities and governance,” Mr Rudd said.

“In doing so, the program also aims to enable communities to generate their own long-term sustainable economic development, and increase stability within our region.”

There’s no way around it. Murray McCully is a national embarrassment – and his ideological witch hunt in the foreign aid sector is not only harming the aid sector, but New Zealand’s reputation as a reliable development partner in the Pacific.


Fox News Bad For Your Brain

As Paul Simon once said, a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest – and especially when it comes to watching news bulletins. This time last year, The Onion ran a satirical piece about area man Kyle Mortensen. 47, who was willing to defend to the death a range of US constitutional principles that exist solely in his own head.

The story went like this :

His admiration for the loose assemblage of vague half-notions he calls the Constitution has only grown over time. He believes that each detail he has pulled from thin air—from prohibitions on sodomy and flag-burning, to mandatory crackdowns on immigrants, to the right of citizens not to have their hard-earned income confiscated in the form of taxes—has contributed to making it the best framework for governance "since the Ten Commandments."

"And let's not forget that when the Constitution was ratified it brought freedom to every single American," Mortensen said.

Mortensen's passion for safeguarding the elaborate fantasy world in which his conception of the Constitution resides is greatly respected by his likeminded friends and relatives, many of whom have been known to repeat his unfounded assertions verbatim when angered.

Par for the course. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have shown how far ahead of the curve US satirists tend to be, compared to the political reporting done by the mainstream media. Last week. a major US media survey provided strong evidence that not only were voters seriously misinformed on many of the main issues during last month’s mid-term elections… but on the poll evidence, viewers who watched Fox News were the most misinformed of the groups surveyed, once beliefs about the news were correlated with the sources that voters commonly relied upon. For example:

1.. The Congressional Budget Office concluded that the stimulus legislation has saved or created between two million and 5.2 million jobs – yet only 8% of respondents thought that the stimulus legislation had created or saved several millions of jobs. Over two thirds of people (68%) believed that economists had estimated that it had only created or saved a few jobs, and 20% even believed that it had resulted in job losses. Some 91% of Fox viewers believed the stimulus package had saved only a few jobs or had actually caused job losses.

2. The CBO concluded that the health reform law would reduce the budget deficit. Regardless, 53% of voters thought most economists had concluded that health reform would increase the deficit. 72 % of Fox viewers held that view

3. Though the US Commerce Department has announced that the US economy began to recover from recession in the third quarter of 2009 and has continued to grow since then, less than half of voters (44%) thought the economy to be recovering while 55% thought the economy is still getting worse. 72 percent of Fox viewers believe the economy is still getting worse.

Fox News may be the most unreliable source of factual information, but some of the erroneous views held by media consumers in general are also pretty startling. Again, to take a few random examples : 54% of voters sampled believed that there were no tax cuts in the stimulus legislation, a number only slightly lower than the 63 percent of Fox viewers who held that same erroneous belief. Need I mention that 63 percent of Fox viewers do not believe that Barack Obama was either not born in the U.S., or that the issue remains unclear?

In sum, watching Fox is bad for your brain:

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points).

The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it--though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.

This outcome is not limited to Fox News and the US media. We all consume the news selectively, and the media has become adept at giving us the news we want to hear. We know instinctively this is what happens but still… it's good to see the researchers providing the evidence. Area Man Kyle Mortensen had it about right :

Mortensen told reporters that he'll fight until the bitter end for what he roughly supposes the Constitution to be. He acknowledged, however, that it might already be too late to win the battle. "The freedoms our Founding Fathers spilled their blood for are vanishing before our eyes," Mortensen said. "In under a year, a fascist, socialist regime has turned a proud democracy into a totalitarian state that will soon control every facet of American life."

"Don't just take my word for it," Mortensen added. "Try reading a newspaper or watching the news sometime.”


Dick Cheney’s True Colours

Former US vice-president Dick Cheney always looked like he belonged on The Sopranos, and now the man’s thuggishness is official.

Cheney used to be CEO of Halliburton, and has just narrowly avoided jail in the wake of his guilty plea to charges that and other top Halliburton executives were engaged in handing out multimillion bribes to officials in Nigeria to secure major business deals for the company. Yet now, thanks to a plea bargain negotiation, he and Halliburton get to pay $250 million in fines instead.

By the look of it, they will still come out ahead financially from the arrangement, given that the bribes secured business worth six billion dollars :

Houston-based engineering firm KBR, a former Halliburton unit, pleaded guilty last year to US charges that it paid $180m in bribes between 1994 and 2004 to Nigerian officials to secure $6bn in contracts for the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas project in the delta. KBR and Halliburton reached a $579m settlement in America but Nigeria, France and Switzerland have conducted their own investigations into the case.

Last week, the EFCC charged Halliburton chief executive David Lesar, Cheney, and two other executives. It also filed charges against Halliburton as a company, which was headed by Cheney during the 1990s, and four associated businesses.

Naturally enough, many people have been disappointed at Cheney and his cronies being allowed to buy their way out of being prosecuted in this fashion:

Campaigners in the Niger delta expressed disappointment at the plea bargain. Celestine AkpoBari, programme officer at Social Action Nigeria, said: "I would have loved to see Dick Cheney in chains in our court and facing justice in our prisons. That would have been a very big point that would have lifted Nigeria out of its woes."


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