Monday, June 30, 2008

Bolger the sellout

As was widely expected the NZ Herald has reported Jim Bolger has become Chairman (I refuse to call someone who leads a meeting a piece of furniture) of Kiwirail. I shouldn't be surprised though, after all he was in the Muldoon Cabinet that orchestrated Think Big, he campaigned in 1987 against the reforms of Roger Douglas, campaigned in 1990 on getting rid of the National Super Surcharge and broke that promise, and opposed Winston Peters then made him Treasurer. He'd call it pragmatic, it's simply unprincipled. He doesn't need to become Chairman of the Clark government's latest acquisition, but Dr Cullen clearly loves it "Jim, we are lucky to have someone with your skills and your dedication to New Zealand on board with us,". Yep Bolger knows how to run a railway, after all he's been part of a government that ran it as a nationalised department, part of one that privatised it. Brilliant.

Dr Cullen also said "By bringing our rail system back into public ownership - following the buyback of the tracks four years ago - we will spare future generations from subsidising a private rail operator" Well we could just NOT subsidise them at all Michael, thought of that one?

Meanwhile Helen Clark has shown her intellectual might in saying "One locomotive can pull the equivalent freight of 65 trucks," Yet with all that, the 65 trucks can run without subsidy but the train can't, because Helen, the train needs a duplicate piece of infrastructure, and those wagons are nigh useless without being hooked up together with that locomotive, whereas 65 trucks can do 65 DIFFERENT trips, or the same trip - funny how there aren't that many freight consignments requiring lots of truckloads carrying the same goods at the same time to the same place.

Of course the Kiwirail board had to include the token unionist, Ross Wilson on its board. Look forward to Jim Bolger asking future governments for more of your money to prop up Kiwirail -

Maybe it should have a new slogan

"Your railway your money subsidising their freight and they're laughing"

Tunguska a century ago

I remember reading books when I was a child about the mysterious explosion, comet, meteor or whatever it was, that hit Siberia exactly 100 years ago today. Tunguska is now widely acknowledged by scientists to have been the site of meteoroid explosion or comet fragment.

The BBC has a good write up about it here.

"Some 80 million trees were flattened over an area of 2,000 square km (800 square miles) near the Tunguska River. The blast was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and generated a shock wave that knocked people to the ground 60km from the epicentre."

It took 13 years before any outsider is known to have actually visited the site, and another six years for a formal expedition to arrive (remember in 1927 the Soviet government had far more pressing things to do oppressing the masses and changing them into Lenin's new men).

As the article says, had it hit central London, the entire metropolitan area of Greater London would have been razed clear as far out roughly as the M25. It's a reminder that Earth is vulnerable to the flotsam and jetsam of the universe entering its atmosphere. Almost all of that burns up. Here is hoping that those watching the sky can warn us all sufficiently in advance and allow action to be taken - after all, a large object striking the oceans would be far more catastrophic than another one at Tunguska.

Of course there is also much interesting reading on the wiki post.

Mugabe the hero

Yes who is surprised he is attending the African Union summit, among his peers, a prick to piss on. According to the Times:

"He dined at a lavish luncheon given by his Egyptian hosts, hugged heads of state and other diplomats in the corridors and stayed at the Peninsula Hotel, one of the most luxurious in this Red Sea town. “Mr Mugabe is staying there as a courtesy by the Egyptian Government,” a hotel spokesman said."

Nice to see that aid being well spent Egypt - I bet the Bush Administration is highly amused!

At least Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga isn't accepting this charade. He wants Mugabe suspended "until he allows the African Union to facilitate free and fair elections". Italy has withdrawn its envoy from Harare, and calls for all EU countries to withdraw diplomats from Zimbabwe.

National's pork for sport

National has announced a policy - yes I know it's astounding really. Quite simply it wants to force you to subsidise one form of entertainment, one type of pastime, indeed one that is responsible for a remarkable number of ACC claims every year - it's sport.

Now I've nothing against sport, I mean what sort of person would do. It is the ultimate free choice, it is engaging in competition, it typically involves some combination of skill, physical agility, physical strength, endurance and tactical ability. People almost always do it because they enjoy it, the single biggest exception is when parents make kids do it, or schools do. In fact sport is so popular that once upon a time the All Blacks played for fun not money - yes really!

So something people enjoy, that attracts thousands upon thousands to volunteer their time to coach, tens of thousands to play and millions to watch and encourage, shouldn't need forcing people to pay for it, should it?

Well the Nats think so. Instead of giving you a bit more of a tax cut, they'd rather spend your money to prop up a sports club that has done alright without Nanny State, or to increase the price of sports equipment for schools (you see suppliers see Nanny State coming when they can make money from her).

So how does John Key justify this? Let's take some choice quotes from his speech:

"It's no great revelation that New Zealand school children could do with a bit more sport in their lives. Research shows that one in three of them are obese or overweight." Well John you could say they could do with a bit less KFC, or could simply walk to school or bike, they don't need sport per se. John gets worried easily though "(Parents) tell me their kids would rather sit in front of a computer than practice down at the nets. That's a real worry. It's something our country has to change." Well John we could always have a country full of software engineers who can pay to go to the gym from their 20s and 30s, or a country full of aspiring All Blacks - wait we have a lot of the latter already.

So basically he's worried about health - he could encourage more by cutting subsidies for public transport so kids walk and cycle more, but I doubt he'd say that of course.

So what will he do?

The key plank of his policy is to give schools more money for sport "We will ... give them sports funding to use as they see fit – be it buying equipment and uniforms, hiring sports co-ordinators, or paying for service contracts with local sports clubs. We will simply ask schools to ensure that any extra dollars we give result in more students actually taking part in organised sport." So in other words, schools will want to get bang for their buck - though you do have to wonder what organised sport is? How many kids actually play physical games of some kind that aren't really sports? If so, what's wrong with that, or do schools need to organise them! Don't you four kids be playing with a ball on your own, you must be organised! Organised!!

Hmm.

Then he wants to subsidise sports clubs to take on kids - after all it's better to do that than take less tax off the members isn't it?

But wait, John Key reckons he can spend existing money better, he goes on about how much money SPARC wastes now - which of course is a reason to stop taxpayer funding of it.

What's more disconcerting about National's proposal is that it has that tinge of Nanny State about it -the kind that authoritarian regimes like Nazi Germany, Maoist China and the like did with physical exercise. Nationalism, strength through joy and the like. Statements that sports means kids are "learning about teamwork and co-operation, about playing fair, and about winning and losing." really is quite nauseating. Teamwork and co-operation? Yes of course comrade, far better than individualism, hard effort, striving and competition. Though sport could be about all that too. Now there is a point of truth in saying "I think we can make a significant difference to troubled young people if we can get more of them playing sport." Well yes, but that's light years away from subsidising sport nationwide.

Yes I know it is light years away from that motivation, but really why the hell is it the state's business how people enjoy themselves? If the entire country gave up sport and started playing computer games or cooking well, reading and playing musical instruments why should it be the government's business?

You see sadly John Key has come to a similar conclusion as Labour, he just argues about the detail of government funding, but he says explicitly "it's clear that government has a significant funding role to ensure more Kiwi kids get hooked into sport"

No it's not John, just another reason to not vote National. Frankly I'd rather more kids got hooked on reading, and respecting the bodies and properties of others than wanted to whack a ball around.

Oh and National has more policy on subsidising entertainment, John Key said "I am not going to talk to you today about National's policy on high performance sport. Having medal winners as role models is a critical part of motivating young people to participate themselves." Frankly John, if you're going to tell the bulk of taxpayers that you want to force them to subsidise people who live their lives in professional sport and all of the glory and wealth that that brings, I doubt most taxpayers would want to listen, but if you want to adopt the Chinese, East German and Australian approaches of subsidising Olympic athletes, then why don't you do it with your own money?

As Lindsay Mitchell rightfully says:

"Look. Those children who want to be involved in sport already are. Those who do not can do without the brow-beating. This is just the worst confirmation of National being a bunch of socialists. The state owns you. You will be fit."

F'ing Tracksy

Yep I know I'm not the only one. The website I use to track who you all are, where you came from, where you went, what search engine words you used, what you looked at and who linked to me etc etc is playing up big time. Tracksy simply says I've logged out when I log on.

So I may have to go elsewhere, since I need a way to find out whether searches on urolagnia, getting upgrades, Jade Goody's tits (shudder) or the like remain popular or not. For those with blogs it is fascinating how people actually find it. Disturbing when you find a post on a rather nasty crime attracts hit from people looking for "crime porn", those that enjoy reading the graphic details of some nasty violent or sexual offence, providing courtesy of the media. Anyway, it may be time to choose another excellent little spy site to keep an eye on who you all are and what you are doing.

Kiwirail?

Yes you see according to the Dominion Post, that's the new name. Kiwis have bought it, kiwis will subsidise it.

Got to love "Insiders said the trains' new livery would include a "non-Labour reddish" colour as well as the yellow front and rear required for safety reasons."

Why does it NEED new livery? Can't we just wait until the current coat of paint needs replacing? We already have three sets of colours on the network, surely Kiwis can be spared the re-branding - or is there something political about the country suddenly having Kiwirail Red on trains all over the place? Just to remind you of who made you buy it back?

However, the name may not be wrong. Nowhere else in the world does a government name a national railway after an endangered flightless bird, that was ravaged by the modern world and which today, without enormous amounts of protection, would be eaten alive by predators. It is largely loved for sentimental rather than practical reasons, is almost never seen by the everyday public except in museums zoos unless they go out at night in certain places in the middle of the North Island (ok I know that's an exagerration).

Surely the funniest thing though is that when "Kiwirail" seeks to buy trains, most of the manufacturers will think it's some third world outfit that ships furry fruit about.

Oh well, wonder where the Toll people will be now, besides booking their winter holiday to the Northern Hemisphere thrilled they ripped off a small centre-leftwing government so royally, making a handsome capital gain AND keeping the profitable road freight business on favourable terms. Well done men, you wont find a Dr Cullen again that quickly elsewhere.

No Minister rightfully criticises the "pretence of man-on-the-street, good-cunt, ordinaryness", and yes what is wrong with New Zealand Railways or Railways of New Zealand. The acronym NZR was well known (and somewhat loved) for generations.

Nicky Hager author?

Nothing shows how unbelievably lazy too many New Zealand reporters are in the MSM than their treatment of Nicky Hager. The treatment being that he is somehow an impartial "author" who strikingly only seems to produce revelations of national interest in election year, as he now has done as reported by Stuff (in the same vein).

Hager has an axe to grind/barrow to push that is too obvious to anyone who is intellectually honest. He is a long standing leftwing activist. Trevor Loudon outed Hager a couple of years ago on his blog. He is no different from Ian Wishart, except Wishart holds a different part of the spectrum, a conservative one. I treat both the same way, some interesting revelations but in substance they are both muckraking to find something worth throwing at their political opponents. They are by no means quality investigative journalists or truth seekers.

Hager is a chardonnay socialist par excellence, a member of a wealthy family (though who knows if he spends any time sharing that wealth with the needy he apparently cares about). Reagan did once say that Jimmy Carter was so obsessed with poverty because he didn't have any when he was a kid, perhaps Hager is in the same vein.

Hager campaigned against US nuclear ships entering New Zealand waters, a campaign largely directed at undermining ANZUS of course wich had widespread leftwing support. His long term involvement with the so-called "peace movement" (or rather the West unilaterally disarm and the nice Soviets and Chinese are bound to follow...) and continued association with the far left surely bring his credentials into question.

The appropriate response by the National party should be clear - yes we have consultants assisting us with our campaign. However Mr Hager, given your strong interest in having a centre left government elected why should anyone believe you will ever give more than one side of the story?

Hager is a partisan hack - his affiliation is almost certainly that of the Greens given his behaviour. My question is when will the MSM actually describe him for what he is? He isn't just an "author", he is "author and leftwing political activist". He is no more objective and balanced on the National Party than Michael Moore is on the Republicans.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Deregulating education becomes Tory policy

Well at least a move towards the Swedish model, which the left in the UK, US and NZ all remain willfully blind about. The Spectator describes it in some detail. It was discussed, wholly positively, on the BBC today. In summary in Sweden:

- Anyone can set up a school, a charity, church, private trust or private company. It can operate for profit.

- The school must demonstrate it meets certain conditions for registration (committing to a bare curriculum), but can then teach whatever it wishes and however it wishes beyond the state defined minimum.

- Parents choose the school, and funding follows the student. Parents can change schools and funding follows.

In Sweden it is a roaring success, so successful that all political parties in Parliament support the policy, except the communists. It means that consumers (parents) have the power, the schools have to be attractive to parents and pupils, and that decisions on how teachers are paid and how schools operate are made at the school level (you can see how scared teachers' unions get when central bargaining gets undermined). Some government schools have folded as a result, some local authorities have sold schools - and the sky hasn't fallen in.

It would be a great step forward if this policy came to pass in the UK, it would be too much to ask for the New Zealand National Party to actually be so bold as to consider this. Wouldn't it?

Margaret Pope

Following the NZ Herald article by Margaret Pope, repudiating Dr Michael Bassett, I have a small tale to tell about her. Quite simply I actually knew her briefly at university at around the same time as her relationship with David Lange became public.

Margaret Pope was a mature student studying law at Victoria University. She was in the same contract law class as I and to give her fair credit, she was witty and quite clever. Certainly you could see how Lange's speeches could come from this articulate and well-read woman. I was 19 at the time admittedly and of course, several of us would have casual conversations about politics. She made it abundantly clear that she despised Roger Douglas, and was quite devoted to Lange. Of course none of us knew at the time that she was Lange's mistress, that would appear in the papers later that year (1989). Pope did not come across as some hard socialist, but she also was uncomfortable with the policy focus on economic liberalism, she was supportive of the anti-nuclear policy. My impression was that she was somewhere between the left of the likes of Helen Clark and Margaret Wilson, and the Mike Moore, David Caygill centre-right.

Of course what happened between Lange and Douglas was simply that Lange used a press conference to repudiate a Cabinet decision, an experience that was bound to critically undermine confidence by Ministers in Lange's leadership. Why Lange did so is never going to be known, for those of us on the liberal right, we will simply believe he lost courage to sell flat tax and many on Labour's left contributed to his doubt, Pope presumably was part of that. Those on the left are likely to believe it saved the Labour government from splitting apart. As always, speculation on history at this level is little more than mental onanism - I look forward to reading Bassett's book because he has often come across to me as being intellectually honest, despite some on the left who prefer insults to actually debating him. After all, there is ample evidence that Lange became beholden to the Labour left on the anti-nuclear policy, wrecking NZ's relationship with the US by forcing Lange to backtrack on a commitment to the US to allow a non-nuclear powered non-nuclear capable ship into NZ (the USS Buchanan), because the US still maintained its "neither confirm nor deny" policy - but then I guess it was ok for him to do that, and to overturn Cabinet decisions when it suits him, because it suited the left. Indeed, to this day neither flat tax or nuclear ship visits are on the agenda of either major party. I doubt whether this was due to machinations by Pope, but I also don't doubt that she was unhappy with the outcome.

No WE are not at fault Tapu Misa

Tapu Misa in the NZ Herald has claimed "We are all at fault for bad kids"

What rubbish. What a completely abrogation of parental irresponsibility. I'm not to blame at all, and neither are millions of others. Bad kids have themselves and their families to blame, not the amorphous cop out called "society".

You see she is claiming kids reflect the "values around them". Indeed they do, the values they see at home whether it be hard working courteous and loving parents, or lazy, abusive and hedonistic ones will speak volumes - but it isn't my fault. She paraphrases Plato rather ignorantly saying "Plato talked about the best of us being the wise and the virtuous, guided by the idea of the common good for the benefit of the whole community." You know, the philosophy that most dictatorship and autocracies have adopted? The idea of telling others what to do because it is in their interests.

She then goes into "we" mode. Who does she think she speaks for? "We" this "we" that. You don't speak for me Tapu Misa, so get rid of your "we" statements, when you mean "me". Or don't you even mean that, in which case, who the hell are you meaning? Why don't you like people having individual responsibility?

She says:

"we more enlightened beings place a higher value on individual success, as measured by the accumulation of wealth; we have nurtured greed, cynicism and the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake."

Do you? I think individual success is measured by the individual, as long as you don't seek to force others to make you live, you should live your life as you see fit. Why do you nurture greed and cynicism? By the way, there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of pleasure, as long as you don't infringe on the rights of others at the same time.

"We have been so intent on throwing off the shackles of religion that we have thrown out spirituality with the bath water, and with it the idea of morality, of the virtuous citizenry that a civilised society needs."

Have you? You said you went to church. Again, it's partly nonsense. There is a problem with ethical nihilism and a non-culture of hedonistic cannibalism. A culture fueled in part by welfarism, in part by cynical envy of the successful and a culture of blaming others for your own inate lack of self belief. That is more the point, but you're far far away from the solution. You see your article is about abrogating personal responsibility for one's own life and that of your children. I'm not at fault for other people's children. Maybe you need to go back to some rather simple points:

- When you have children you are responsible for them, that means materially, emotionally and spending time with them;
- The very basic values you should teach them are that they are in control of their life, but they should respect the right others have to control theirs. That means your property and body is your own, but so is everyone else's. It means you have to earn more, you have to be clever to do this, which means work;
- Success is up to you, live your life as you see fit, but respect the right of others to do the same. Do what makes you happy under these limits, and be proud, enjoy yourself, embrace and enjoy life;
- What other people think of you is not as important as what you think of yourself. Don't live for the sake of others, or how others will judge you, live for you, and let those you associate with be those who support who you are.

However, it's not as simple as saying "it's society's fault" is it?

Criminals clean up tagging

Remarkable really, I seem to recall this had long been an idea promoted - those convicted of relatively minor offences actually having sentences which do some good. According to the NZ Herald it's a success. Amazing.

The abortion debate drops a level

Now I am no friend of Ken Orr or the Right to Life movement, indeed it should be irrelevant what my views on abortion are - but the use of imagery that implies a threat to Ken Orr's life, as reported in the Press, is simply vile. The use of violence by a handful on the abortion debate in the USA is well known, and equally vile - it plays into the hands of the other side.

The debate is legitimate, those who wish to ban abortion advance the rights of a fertilised egg above that of a living person, those who wish abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy advance the idea that a foetus who could live outside a woman's body should be denied this, as its mother has that choice. Most of us think a line should be drawn between when the foetus has rights and the mother does - but the debate is important. Anyone who wishes to use force or threaten force in this debate (or indeed in any), has lost moral authority.

Barclays can go to hell too

You don't have to go far from home in the UK to find those who help prop up Mugabe's government and his Ministers, you see Barclays is banker for Mugabe's thugs and even buys Harare government bonds.

You see this is what it does:

"Barclays' Zimbabwean subsidiary lent the Mugabe regime $46.4 million (£23 million) last year through its purchase of government and municipal bonds and is one of the main contributors to a government-run loan scheme for farm improvements, the Agricultural Sector Productivity Enhancement Facility (Aspef). At least five ministers have received loans for farms seized from white Zimbabweans under the Aspef scheme, intended to boost agricultural production, which has collapsed since the seizures began

This statement defended its activities:

"[Barclays] services are critically relied upon by many of the 135,000 customers for their day-to-day operations to maintain access to banking and employment, with a benefit to the wider community. This continued presence brings the benefit of avoiding additional hardship [to that] already being experienced within the country."

I would love to know how in a country with inflation running at over 4,000,000% a year, Barclays can provide banking services worth anything to the average Zimbabwean? The local currency is worthless. It buys Zimbabwean government bonds, no doubt with foreign exchange. If it didn't participate in this market, the Zimbabwean government would have to go elsewhere, and funnily enough banks in friendly regimes like China are far from capable of undertaking the activities Barclays does.

So I'm going to find other insurance providers next week and cancel my policies. Barclays can royally get fucked. Like far too many companies today, it talks the talk about the value destroying bullshit called "corporate social responsibility", and plasters this nonsense on its website. It then has a description of the "operating environment" which ignores completely what is going on.

So go on Britain. Go take your money out of Barclays, tell them why, at this time of tight credit, it could do with a message that being bankers to those who encourage men to murder and abuse children is not ethical or moral. Barclays no doubt will claim that closing its operations will hurt locals, it may do so, but does this make up for continuing to help finance the murderous regime,to continue finance the loans to its thugs? When does it stop being moral to be bankers to dictators?

Mugabe was once a hero? Only in the heads of the willfully blind

James Kirchick in the LA Times wrote late last year about Mugabe's past, how it was whitewashed. You see the UK felt guilty for colonialism and the racist Ian Smith regime, so it tolerated the brutality of Mugabe. Kirchick wrote:

"over several years in the early 1980s, Mugabe executed what arguably might be the worst of his many atrocities, a campaign of terror against the minority Ndebele tribe in which he unleashed a North Korean-trained army unit that killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people.

Yet, even in the midst of these various crimes, Mugabe never lost his fan base in the West. In 1986, the University of Massachusetts Amherst bestowed on Mugabe an honorary doctorate of laws just as he was completing his genocide against the Ndebele. In April of this year, as the campus debated revoking the degree it ought never have given him, African American studies professor Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, who had been in favor of honoring Mugabe two decades ago, told the Boston Globe: "They gave it to the Robert Mugabe of the past, who was an inspiring and hopeful figure and a humane political leader at the time." Similarly, in 1984, the University of Edinburgh gave Mugabe an honorary doctorate (revoked in July of this year), and in 1994, Mugabe was inexplicably given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II."

Mugabe humane? Only if your red coloured glasses mean you can't see the blood he spilt from the early years on. Anthony Daniels in First Post points out it is time Africa was liberated from its so called liberators. He says that "Nelson Mandela's description of the Zimbabwean catastrophe wrought by Robert Mugabe as a failure of leadership is a failure either of intelligence or of honesty, or of both. There comes a point at which euphemism turns into untruth; and Mugabe's regime long ago passed the stage of mere human error that the term 'failure of leadership' implies."

Noting that South Africa has only been saved from the same fate by the collapse of the Soviet Union:

"If the ANC had come to power with the Soviet Union intact - which would have been impossible without a civil war - it would have made contemporary Zimbabwe seem like a garden party."

Mugabe has done only what many other post-colonial African leaders have done. A fifth of the Zimbabwean population has fled; but a third of the population of Guinea, under the leadership of another hero of African liberation, Sekou Toure, fled. It would be difficult to say who was the worst liberator: the competition is so stiff. Africa is the one continent in which, with a few honourable exceptions, there has been little advance or progress in the last forty to fifty years. What Africa desperately needs is liberation from the liberators. But who is to do it without renewing the catastrophe?

Indeed - the great truth about Africa is not that the West has let it down, which it only has done so in part - with trade policies that have hurt it - but that Africa's post colonial rulers have, in most cases, used decolonisation as a path to personal enrichment. From kleptocracies to nepotistic autocracies, Africa has been let down badly - and only Western colonial guilt (with lashings of Soviet, Chinese and other third world Marxist support) has let that be. Mugabe is simply showing the bankruptcy of African Marxist liberation politics. Nelson Mandela stepped to one side from this because F.W. de Klerk was prepared to negotiate South Africa's transition to becoming an open liberal democracy, and because the Western world would tolerate or expect nothing less, when Gorbachev had destroyed the Soviet's totalitarian empire that once philosophically armed the ANC. Mandela's hero status in moving South Africa from the tyranny of apartheid to its tenuous relative freedom is deserved, but that is all.

He has let Zimbabwe down, and most of his ANC comrades continue to do so. His unwillingness to confront Mbeki and the evil of Zanu-PF surely stands out like a sore thumb. Yes he is an old man, and he may well have had his last public appearance - but he could have called a spade a spade. After all, who more than anyone could have changed events through his own words and eloquence, and who is more untouchable against Mugabe and his thugs than Mandela?

What is it going to take to stop tolerating Mugabe?


I write this post with rage, rage against Mugabe, the Zanu-PF murderous savages, rage against Thabo Mbeki the cheering lying handmaiden of Mugabe, rage against many of the fellow African "leaders" who care more for the wealth, privilege, status and power of their corrupt regimes than Africans, rage against the liberal left who fawned over Robert Mugabe, ignoring how his great heroes treated civilians in Matabeleland in the early 1980s. You see Mugabe's evil is far from new, but the spineless guilt over British racist colonialism from past generations infected the intelligentsia and the body politic with a wilful blindness at the time. Sadly Margaret Thatcher inherited a process that had gone too far to resist without inciting further civil war, and so Mugabe was handed Zimbabwe on a plate - for him and his savage comrades to slice up and swallow piece by piece.

So why am I angry? Look at the photo of Blessing Mabhena - he is 11 months old. This photo of him is on the front page of the Sunday Times. This is part of the account of what happened:

"There was a tremendous hammering on the door of her home. Realising that President Robert Mugabe’s thugs were hunting for her, Agnes Mabhena, the wife of an opposition councillor, quickly hid under the bed. It was too late for her to grab Blessing, her 11-month-old baby, who was crying on top of it.

“She’s gone out. Let’s kill the baby,” she heard a member of the gang say. The next thing she saw from under the bed was Blessing’s tiny body hitting the concrete floor with a force that shattered his tiny legs."

When all was quiet, she slipped out of the house with the baby to seek help in Harare. The 12-mile walk to Harvest House, the headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), took most of the night. The building was awash with fleeing victims of the terror. But in the chaos there was nobody to get her to hospital. With a relative’s help, she eventually reached the Parirenyatwa hospital, where Blessing, so named because she and her husband thought he was a gift from God, was x-rayed.

These are the types of people Thabo Mbeki shakes the hands of, the people that the South African government tries to stop the UN Security Council from condemning, the people Nelson Mandela only says "are a tragic failure of leadership", the people that Barclays Bank provides offshore banking services for.

So what would it take to bring Mugabe down? It's quite simple. South Africa could turn off the fuel and electricity, it could impose sanctions on the Zanu-PF leadership and Mugabe's Cabinet and their relatives. It could lead a call that it will not recognise Mugabe's leadership and boycott attendance at the African Union summit if he goes. It could render him persona non grata and demand that a free and fair election be held, with peacekeeping forces sent in to ensure political rallies and voting is not subject to violence. It wouldn't take much.

Or it could do a Tanzania and simply invade, overthrow Zanu PF and hold elections itself, and hand power over. Zimbabwe's military would collapse if any serious effort was made to confront it. You see the ANC was far from opposed to foreign military involvement in the affairs of African countries when it was getting generous Soviet help. However, let's face it, if it is hard enough to get South Africa to condemn a murderous dictatorship, it wont confront it militarily.

The Sunday Times reports how in 2000 Mbeki openly said that Anglo-American imperialism was trying to overthrow Mugabe. That says a lot, a lot about what a Marxist thug Mbeki really is. He lied about "quiet diplomacy" which was really about him meeting his old mate Mugabe and then meeting the Tsvangarai to just say it will all be ok - it's like having your abuser's best friend mediate in your relationship. However, he isn't the only one. Namibia's foreign Minister reportedly said reports of violence in Zimbabwe during the elections are "unverified rumours".

However Botswanan President Ian Khama has reportedly reprimanded the Zimbabwean Ambassador (Botswana is one of the best governed countries in Africa), Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has criticised Mbeki's attempts at mediation and condemned the violence. Mugabe needs to be further isolated if there is to be any hope.

So as Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission claims Mugabe has an unassailable lead in the election, Deutsche Welle reports Bush calling for an arms embargo and travel ban on officials, whilst China's official Xinhua news agency reports the result as if it were normal, constitutional and legitimate, ending the report with the statement that there were hundreds of election monitors.

Nice one China, yep the Olympics are being held by a regime with great moral credentials.

So what's the bet that Mugabe will go to Sharm el Shaikh for the African Union summit, the same organisation that whitewashes what goes on in Zimbabwe. VOA has reported the G8 may not consider the regime legitimate.

Of course the best outcome would be to take Mugabe's own advice. He says only God can remove him from office, it is long overdue to try to at least accelerate the chance of a direct encounter - whoever can accomplish this will be one remarkable hero.

North Korea still in the Axis of Evil

Numerous reports this week said that North Korea is no longer in the "axis of evil" because of it being apparently compliant on destroying its nuclear programme - in fact the US Administration never said this at all. It was removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, notwithstanding that there is not the slightest evidence that it has stopped doing so.

Of course what to do about North Korea has never been easy. A state already isolated by its own choice is difficult to isolate further with sanctions, especially when China is its lifeline and has no interest in encouraging the regime to fall and the country to collapse completely. Military action was never an option, with North Korea's 1 million strong army, aged but ample cruise and ballistic missile defences, biological and chemical weapons arsenal all able to inflict mass death and destruction on South Korea, as well as Japan. North Korea is not Iraq, although the ability of North Korea to sustain a war for more than a few months is questionable, there is little doubt that within days it could slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in South Korea with impunity.

The great Clinton administration, admired and loved by the liberal left, did a deal with North Korea to subsidise a light water reactor and energy supplies if North Korea gave up uranium enrichment. North Korea lied (it's used to this, it does this daily to its entire population on virtually everything) and developed nuclear weapons anyway - almost laughing at the naivete of its enemies. New Zealand taxpayers were part of that dupe, paying NZ$500,000 for heavy fuel oil for North Korea- while it lied about its nuclear weapons programme. It was hardly a surprise, as there was never any incentive for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons development. Why should an evil totalitarian dictatorship surrender this enormous power potential to the rest of the world? After all, it brings attention and most importantly gives a bargaining chip second to none.

So Bush, far from saying it isn't a member of the Axis of Evil, did say according to CNN:

The United States has no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang," he said. "We remain deeply concerned about North Korea's human rights abuses, uranium enrichment activities, nuclear testing and proliferation, ballistic missile programs and the threat it continues to pose to South Korea and its neighbors.

Meanwhile according to the Sunday Times, China has ramped up its treatment of North Korean refugees to shooting them on sight. The Beijing regime is concerned that Koreans fleeing persecution may embarrass China during the Olympics so is stepping up efforts against them:

"The police are doing house-to-house checks for North Koreans in the villages and checking household registration papers much more thoroughly in the border towns... But the most effective new measure is a cash reward, which people believe can be £150 for informing on a North Korean in hiding"

They are sent back to North Korea if found, and placed in gulags to be beaten, used as slave labour or executed. This of course is far more brutal that Tibet, but you don't see many protests for North Koreans do you?

The Sunday Times also has an interesting article about the lack of clothing options available in North Korea's capital Pyongyang, derived from a Chinese report in the Chinese National Defence Journal. Central planners might admire North Korea's commitment to travel demand management, with forced spreading of working hours:

"Office starting hours are staggered between 7am and 9am to avoid the impression of a rush hour on the excellent public transport system. All employees must report half an hour before the official start of work to pledge allegiance to Kim Jong-il, the “dear leader”, and his late father, the “great leader”, Kim Il-sung. "

Sue Kedgley might admire the almost non-existence of private cars and...

"There is no advertising and the few taxis charge huge fares beyond the means of most North Koreans – twice as much as a taxi in Shanghai, for instance.... Only four colours of clothes are permitted: black, green, blue and white. The government distributes clothing fabric by rank, with an ordinary official receiving enough to tailor one new jacket a year. However, they may buy their own shoes."

The absence of capitalism, consumerism, the absence of waste - the lack of energy use. Think how gloriously environmentally friendly they are!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What about Obama's other spiritual mentors?

Much was made a few months ago about Barack Obama's connections with the preacher Jeremiah Wright - who had once said that 9/11 was the US reaping what it had sowed and that HIV may have been a conspiracy created by the US government. After first saying he disagreed with him, but that disowning him would be like disowning his grandmother, he then disowned him. Yet this isn't the whole story.

More recently, Obama had been criticised by the lunatic religious right for asking which parts of the bible should people look to for morality, specifically quoting Leviticus. Of course this is a legitimate question to ask, and plays well to secularists and atheists. It shows Obama as being thoughtful. However, Obama is not without spiritual mentors even though he has passed on Jeremiah Wright.

Another controversial figure is Father Michael Pfleger, a Catholic, who said Hilary Clinton had faked crying and felt entitled to be President because she was white - Obama condemned those remarks, but he and Father Pfleger have been friends for 20 years. Pfleger has long had radical associations.

However, Illinois State Senator James Meeks has been a more disconcerting mentor for Obama. A Baptist Minister, he has been a State Senator since 2003. According to the Chicago Sun Times:

"Another person Obama says he seeks out for spiritual counsel is state Sen. James Meeks, who is also the pastor of Chicago's Salem Baptist Church. The day after Obama won the primary in March, he stopped by Salem for Wednesday-night Bible study. "

He allegedly said that Brokeback Mountain was brought to us by Hollywood Jews, (and that wasn't a good thing). Two pieces of bigotry for the price of one. According to GayWired:

"A spring 2007 newsletter from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) named Meeks one of the "10 leading black religious voices in the anti-gay movement". The newsletter cites him as both “a key member of Chicago's ‘Gatekeepers’ network, an interracial group of evangelical ministers who strive to erase the division between church and state” and “a stalwart anti-gay activist… [who]… has used his House of Hope mega-church to launch petition drives for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a major state-level ‘family values’ pressure group that lauded him last year for leading African Americans in ‘clearly understanding the threat of gay marriage.'” "

Furthermore:

"According to a 2006 Chicago Sun Times article, his church sponsored a "Halloween fright night" which "consigned to the flames of hell two mincing young men wearing body glitter who were supposed to be homosexuals." "

Charming. If it were John McCain with such links, you can be sure that the liberal left wouldn't leave him alone - but it is Obama. It remains odd that a man whose public statements are so liberal seeks guidance from bigots. The real question is, who is the real Barack Obama? Is he stupid and naive? Is he liberal, but gains something from a collection of bigots? Does he share the bigotry? Or is his strongly leftwing past (something many of his policies represent) simply shared by his spiritual friends (all of whom are strongly leftwing on the role of the state)?

Perhaps US voters should ask.

Friday, June 27, 2008

UK Labour gets 3.07%!

Henley is a rather nice village to the west of London, not far from Windsor. It is Tory heartland country. The Henley by-election was to replace Boris Johnson as MP, and so was always going to be a Conservative shoo-in, but Labour did not come second in Henley, or even third behind the Liberal Democrats (who did come second). No, the Greens, which have no representation in the House of Commons beat Labour. On top of the that, the fascist British National Party beat Labour.

That isn't a great reflection on the Greens or the BNP, Henley isn't some environmentalist fascist stronghold, they got 3.8% and 3.54% of the vote respectively. Labour only got 3.07%. Yes not 30.7%, the decimal point is right at 3.07%. More fascists felt there was a point to vote than supporters of the government.

Now Labour was never going to win in Henley, realistically a good third place would have been the expectation. By elections are a chance to vent. However fifth is utterly devastating. The gap between second and third is enormous - 27.85% for the Lib Dems being second and 3.8% for the Greens in third. Imagine being a member of Labour in Henley - you might ask why bother (you should!).

It is a slap in the face of the overspending, big government arrogance of the Gordon Brown administration. A government that signs the Lisbon Treaty, though it promised a referendum on an EU constitution, a government that continues to ratchet up fuel tax for general revenue, whilst expecting people to save and conserve.

What it says is that the government inspires so few, interests so few and its cloying behemoth of regulation, taxes, subsidies and nanny statism is contemptuous to so many. Now I'm not pretending the Tories are a great advancement, but Gordon Brown must surely be worried. A hat trick of failures - the local elections, the Nantwich and Crewe by-election defeat and now Labour fifth beaten by fascist white nationalists, where it should be third only beaten by the two other main parties. Labour lost its deposit in this by-election, perhaps Labour after Blair is rudderless and devoid of inspiration and philosophy - if so fine, but let's remove it from power.

North Korea destroys cooling tower

Well so CNN reports.

However really it is part of a game. North Korea has nuclear weapons. It has every means to hide any facilities it wishes underground. Can you ever trust a regime that lies as a matter of course, or one that imprisons young children as political prisoners? Frankly unless North Korea's exports can be monitored, or it can be open to full free inspection, it's just another dictatorship doing as it wishes. It should remain on the axis of evil - for the price of peace with North Korea is the slave state that it remains for most of its people.

Mandela's limp response and his birthday

Yes Nelson Mandela lamented the "tragic failure of leadership". Oh please. How impressed should Zimbabwe be that Africa's great political hero wont call a spade a spade? How many people have to be murdered so that pussy footing about, dancing around the issue and trying not to offend evil has to end? Lindsay Perigo is far better at calling for what is needed - assassination.

So meanwhile TV is broadcasting his 90th birthday celebrations as a fundraising event, with a long list of celebrities.

Of course it would be nice if Mikhail Gorbachev got similar treatment, as he freed many more than Mandela did. It would be nice if those participating did something for Zimbabwe at the same time...

but singing about the past makes them feel good doesn't it?

Zimbabweans find their own way to defy

The sham election that Robert Mugabe hoped he could rig to show how popular he is, is turning out to be a fizzle. The Daily Telegraph reports that Zimbabweans are showing they can't be forced to turn out to vote or to vote properly:

"Despite threats from Mr Mugabe's thugs to beat those who refused to vote, many polling stations in the capital Harare had not seen a single ballot cast three hours after opening.
Others remained virtually empty and many of those who did vote simply spoiled their ballot papers
. "

Good for them.

There have been moments in history when despite the overwhelming brutal weight of totalitarianism, a tipping point is reached, and people are brave enough to say no. In Romania it happened when a pro-Ceaucescu rally turned on him as seen below...



May the brave citizens of Zimbabwe reach the same turning point - most dictators are full of fear of those they rule. I hope you can all give him cause for that fear, and that he and his lackeys can run as Ceaucescu did.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Union membership bonus

There has been much coverage of this outrageous waste of taxpayers' money (the left doesn't get that idea often enough), which I remember being introduced.

However, I also vaguely recall a conversation with someone in the state sector at the time who was told by his boss that those on individual employment contracts (who were valued) would also get the same bonus as those in the union. Presumably the relevant CEO decided to recognise that the relevant government agency didn't want to lose people who'd rather resign that be treated inferior to their colleagues who want to join the union, and found the budget to do this. I wonder if anyone in the state sector knows of this continuing today?

See some parts of the state sector are not heavily unionised, those involving employing people for their individual experience, talent and knowledge, rather than those who are carrying out more drone like tasks. After all, a collective employment contract doesn't really offer you much scope for individualisation does it? I couldn't conceive of going through some union official to negotiate my pay and conditions - it only makes sense if I was doing exactly the same thing as half a dozen other people. I astounds me that teachers and nurses think it gives them a good deal either!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mandela could give a birthday present to Zimbabwe

Nelson Mandela is about to celebrate his 90th birthday. However there must be a dark shadow cast across it. His own country is led by a man who provides support to Robert Mugabe, long denied HIV caused AIDS and has led an increasingly corrupt government that is slowly squeezing the Opposition out of politics in South Africa.

Mandela has a profile, status and standing that is unsurpassed of anyone in Africa. While he has used this before to criticise Mbeki on HIV, he has resisted commenting on Zimbabwe, for a man of his considerable bravery it is negligent for him to remain silent.

David Blair of the Daily Telegraph does not believe he can speak up nor should he. I disagree.

Yes he is retired, yes he has called on Mugabe to retire before. However the argument of Blair is that he does not wish to undermine Mbeki his successor - but you must ask why? Misguided loyalty to the ANC - loyalty which is costing lives. Maybe he believes Mbeki will ignore him, but can he? Can he ignore the national hero, Nelson Mandela? How could he dare turn on Mandela?

After all the choice is clear for Mandela:

- Keep quiet, don't use your tremendous influence, and watch Zimbabwe burn, bleed and starve while Thabo Mbeki shrugs; or
- Upset Mbeki, some of the ANC (and certainly Mugabe), and shame a change in stance by any of them that may help end the violence.

Yes Mandela isn't obliged to do anything, but a man who is far from poor, who travels extensively being lauded for being a hero, who does nothing while his neighbour's backyard burns, is either resting on his laurels, too tired to care or simply too old to know his mistakes.

McCain throwing money away

Yep McCain likes spending money too, according to CNN he is promising a US$300 million prize for whoever develops a revolutionary car battery.

You know it would be ok if it wasn't taxpayers' money?

At least he is opposing subsidising ethanol and tariffs on imported ethanol. That same report notes Obama wants "oversight of energy traders" to reduce speculation on oil. What planet is this control freak on? Typical socialist reaction - if the speculators are wrong, some will lose, spectacularly - but you wont compensate them for that, so why care when they get it right, for now? However, the Obamaniacs don't care, because whatever he says is right, and anyone who says different must be racist right?

Yes legalise smacking, but also stories about it

For the reasons I outlined when this was a major debate, I am very torn about this issue.

I don't like smacking. However, it is on a long list of other bad parenting behaviours that are not criminal. Poor nutrition, not giving your kids affection, ignoring them, inviting convicted criminals into your home in their presence, smoking at home with the windows closed, having all adults in a home intoxicated while you have small children. The list is long, and smacking is like that. It isn't good behaviour, but it is not bad enough to give someone a criminal record.

That is a legitimate libertarian position.

However, I don't think owning an erotic story about spanking is bad enough either, but that doesn't get the conservatives concerned about that being illegal. See they'd find it vile that I want to remove a lot of censorship about extreme consensual adult sexual material. It is strange, but some conservatives are arguing that it be legal to commit the very act on children that it is ILLEGAL to write a graphic erotic story about involving adults.

You see the law says:

"In determining, for the purposes of this Act, whether or not any publication is objectionable ... particular weight shall be given to the extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the publication...Describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with...Physical conduct in which sexual satisfaction is derived from inflicting or suffering cruelty or pain"

So, I suspect, some conservatives are saying it is ok to actually inflict pain upon children for correction, but writing or reading or downloading a story about adults enjoying inflicting or suffering pain, should remain a crime. Libertarianz argued during the review of censorship law a few years ago that New Zealand should follow the line of the United States, which allows written free speech that includes any erotic stories for consumption by adults. David Cunliffe simply responded like a prick saying "Oh why should we follow America?" sarcastically - because the Minister of Communications can't figure out that there are many such erotic story websites on the internet that are legal in the USA and easy to access in New Zealand (you don't need help finding them), so chasing up everyone who accesses those sites (and many stories on them wouldn't be illegal) is a nonsense.

Of course Parliament voted to INCREASE penalties for producing, distributing and possessing erotic stories about sado-masochism (you see child pornography comes under objectionable, but then so do a lot of things, so nobody was keen to narrow objectionable to just child pornography, as they should've).

So you see, I'll support the smacking ban being overturned - but I wont cheer it, because I don't want to encourage the behaviour. Indeed it is the same reason why I'll support ending censorship of any written matter that isn't defamation (which isn't censorship, just compensation for damage to reputation), it simply isn't the business of the state to criminalise.

Auckland doesn't need mini government

Alex Swney is wrong, with his solution to the problem "the current regime was fragmented, duplicated, obstructive and costly". You see it wouldn't be if politicians stuck to their statutory minimums.

The question of how much local government Auckland needs is a function of how much you believe Aucklanders need to be forced to pay for what they may or may not use, and how much you believe their private property rights (or extensions of them) can't be an effective delineration of rights.

Until you confront the issue of what local government should do, you can't answer the question of how to set it up. At the moment legislation says local government has a power of general competence, it can do whatever it sees fit short of passing bylaws beyond statutorily defined limits.

If the debate isn't going to confront that, then it is a complete waste of time engaging in this debate. What matters is what National thinks, and sadly there is little sign that it thinks local government should, at least, be confined to what can be generously called "public goods".

So John Key, what is it? Or should I ask Hone Carter? There is enormous potential to make a real difference to ratepayers.

$400 million more for the rails

Yes according to the NZ Herald, Ontrack, the state owned company responsible for the railway network, wants another $400 million to upgrade the rail network.

To which I say - fine - once the government owns the rest of the railway operations, let Ontrack borrow the money and repay it from track access charges from the people who will people from it - the rail freight customers.

Let's ignore this pleading from the Ontrack CEO, which is a try on to force YOU to pay for it:

"Compared with some other forms of infrastructure development, the planned investment in rail is modest and will enable rail to grow and take pressure off the roads - saving money, improving safety and benefiting the environment,"

It's modest! $100 for every man woman and child. So go on Cam Moore, start walking around your neighbourhood and ask for the money from every household, per person of course. See if THEY think $100 is modest. If you wont ask the customers, why not ask the people you REALLY want to force to pay for it?

and what is this "compared with other forms". You mean like airports which make a profit and pay dividends? You mean like telcos and power companies that do the same? You mean like the road network which generates enough revenue that it can reinvest in upgrading the network and throw 15% of its money at public transport (including YOUR network)?

How does it "save money", when your network costs more to maintain than the users are prepared to pay, but the road network generates more revenue than it costs to maintain? and safety and the environment? Well go on say how many lives it will save, and the environmental claims are dubious at best.

So good on you Ontrack, get the bucket out and go door to door to do fundraising, because the appropriate answer to the question "can taxpayers pay", should be rather obvious.

Great investment Dr Cullen, yep, economic genius.

Taxpayers don't want to pay more and get nothing either

The PSA, which backs the Labour Party and which consistently supports growth in government spending, growth in the number of bureaucrats and resists competition from the private sector with state provided services, has conducted a survey - which of course is not political, no, never - which according to Stuff says "60 per cent (of those surveyed) did not want tax cuts bigger than those in the May budget if that meant reduced public service spending or increased Government borrowing." So an implied reference to Labour policy, and National, ACT, Libertarianz, United Future and any other policy of higher tax cuts - but it's ok under the Electoral Finance Act isn't it? Of course - because it benefits Labour.

The problem with the survey is obvious in three ways.

First it implies that the government is optimally efficient, that there is no scope at all to cut spending significantly without cutting the "services" people love, which basically means health, education and law and order (how many really give a damn about welfare benefits, or the good part of the bureaucracy dedicated to giving advice or dishing out small subsidies here and there, unless you benefit from it). This of course is nonsense. The government does a fair bit that if cut wouldn't hurt the services people love, just look at the names of so many government agencies to see that we wouldn't miss the Families Commission, Te Mangai Paho, NZ On Air, the Human Rights Commission, Office of the Childrens' Commissioner. All small fry mainly, but they do add up. Beyond that, who can pretend the big government agencies of education and health are all well focused on delivering optimal outcomes for consumers. They don't have the incentives to do so.

The second problem is that the counterfactual isn't placed either. Do people support paying more in tax, over and above inflation, to see no discernible improvement in services? You see I pointed out a month or so ago that had Labour simply increased spending to reflect inflation, the government would be spending NZ$12 billion LESS this year than it currently is. However it has spent far more, and have you noticed it? Maybe you have, maybe your school has had a new building - but would that have happened anyway? What it is hard to say is that increasing spending by double the rate of inflation has generated improvements of the same order. You see you ARE paying more in tax in real terms than you were in 1999, has it been worth it? Would you spend more and get the same improvement in quality? No the PSA wont confront that.

Thirdly and more importantly, the PSA wont ask whether you'd rather have the option of getting some of your taxes back to buy your own health care and education for your family. You see the idea you could opt out of the monopolies it makes you fund is an anathema. I wonder why they are so scared of competition, so scared of consumers putting their money where they want it?

Maybe because the PSA is interested first and foremost in protecting the jobs and wages of its members - if it means taxpayers paying more, their members working less, and being less accountable, they will support it - and that is what's fundamentally wrong with statism. No accountability to individuals for failing to deliver what is promised and what they have been forced to pay for, just moans that "well if you paid more tax then....".

It's quite simply fraud.

EU's Common Agricultural Policy exposed

I was recently linked to by "CAP Health Check" a blog that seeks to present as much information as it can about the European Union's dastardly Common Agricultural Policy (you know the policy of food sovereignty and food security that Sue Kedgley effectively has been endorsing). It seeks greater accountability and transparency about expenditure on EU farm subsidies. As someone paying for these (as well as a national from a country suffering from them), I'm rather keen to see it.

A sister site is Farmsubsidy which has some fascinating data, including google mapping the address where farm subsidies are received (so far only Sweden is complete). Go here, focus on Stockholm to see how many farm owners seem to be based in the downtown Stockholm - clearly struggling village producers. A similar map of the UK would have to include Clarence House London, as the Prince of Wales receives taxpayer subsidies for his farms. Nice. It shows the pony clubs in Denmark that receive over 255m Euro in subsidies. Ireland is the biggest per capita net recipient of farm subsidies, Luxembourg the biggest net per capita loser. However per farm the biggest recipient is Denmark, the lowest Malta (average UK farm gets more than the average French farm, because the latter are small and inefficient).

The UK gets 4.3 billion yes billion Euro in agricultural subsidies, but contributes 5.6 billion to the EU to fund agricultural subsidies, so is a net loser. What this means is that the average British taxpayer is paying 22 euros a year to subsidise farms outside the UK. The average UK farm gets around 12,000 euros a year, not bad really. 49% of the UK subsidies go to the top 10% of farms. 295 recipients get an average of over £500,000 a year in subsidies!! The biggest bludger last year was J & T F McFarlane getting around £552 000 (appears to be a Scottish beef farm).

Nice piece of work collecting data, and listing all those who make a living partly out of the theft of taxes from the rest of us through Brussels.

Survey on political blogging

Other blogs have linked to it, so pardon me if you've seen it before.
University of Auckland MA (Pols) student Andrew Cushen is conducting an online survey about political blogging, with the survey here for those who wish to complete it. It is professional and I wish Andrew the best as the results could be very interesting. Particularly as it is election year it would be interesting to see the footprint of those reading political blogs.
So go on, help a student do something new and interesting.

Democracy in South Africa more vigorous under apartheid?

So says Helen Suzman according to the Daily Telegraph, for many years the lone voice against apartheid in South Africa's white-only Parliament. Mrs Suzman is now 86. Her claims against the South African government include:

- "Debate is almost non-existent and no one is apparently accountable to anybody apart from their political party bosses. It is bad news for democracy in this country. Even though we didn't have a free press under apartheid, the government of that day seemed to be very much more accountable in parliament"

-"The poor in this country have not benefited at all from the ANC. This government spends 'like a drunken sailor'. Instead of investing in projects to give people jobs, they spend millions buying weapons and private jets, and sending gifts to Haiti."

-On Zimbabwe "Mugabe has destroyed that country while South Africa has stood by and done nothing. The way Mugabe was feted at the inauguration last month was an embarrassing disgrace. But it served well to illustrate very clearly Mbeki's point of view....Don't think for a moment that Mbeki is not anti-white - he is, most definitely. His speeches all have anti-white themes and he continues to convince everyone that there are two types of South African - the poor black and the rich white"

- "For all my criticisms of the current system, it doesn't mean that I would like to return to the old one. I don't think we will ever go the way of Zimbabwe, but people are entitled to be concerned."

The Helen Suzman Foundation is one of the best sources of excellent comment on affairs in southern Africa, certainly it beats the mainstream international media which by and large continues to fawn at the feet of the ANC. This statement on its website tells much:

"The Helen Suzman Foundation supports and promotes liberal democratic policies and ideals in the South African political situation. Views such as these are very similar to those held by liberals in Europe and certain countries in the East, where liberals are non-racial in their views, support free enterprise and are generally sympathetic to individualism, although their views on, and support for, welfare policies vary both within countries and between countries.

As we understand it, in the United States of America, however, the way in which "liberals" are defined differs from the South African and European definition. Liberals in the United States include many people who hold "progressive" views in the sense that they are less sympathetic to free enterprise and individualism and more consistently supportive of public welfare. In Europe and South Africa such people are very likely to regard themselves as "social democrats" or socialists, which are less familiar categories in the United States.

American visitors to this website should bear these differences in mind when reading about The Helen Suzman Foundation and its mission."

Monday, June 23, 2008

$13846 per passenger

According to the NZ Herald that's what Auckland ratepayers (and taxpayers) have already paid for each person expected to use the new trial daily Helensville to Auckland commuter train service. It will be an extension of a single service and carry 65 passengers a day, in addition to those it will pick up on the Waitakere to Auckland section (which would have run anyway).

However, that without a single passenger having been moved, that was just to build the platforms to take the trains. It will be another $400,000 a year in operating costs for the service, around $26 per day per commuter. So you better hope the fare would be that, but you can be sure it wont be. ARC's leftwing Chairman Mike Lee said "he would be most surprised if the Helensville service did not follow the trend of every other recent improvement to the rail network, in becoming over-subscribed very quickly." Well, if you give people something they have only had to pay part of the costs for, that's quite possible. However if you can charge the passengers $35 a day for the privilege (which would cover opex and recover the capital costs), then it will make sense.

So what IS the cost of drugs?

The NZ Herald is reporting a study conducted called the Drug Harm Index. It reports it was "designed by economists to help police decide where drugs do the most harm and enable them to use resources more efficiently."

On the face of it the report claims a $1.3 billion "social" cost for drugs. That, of course raises some big issues:

- How many of those costs are costs of prohibition? If prohibition ended, how many would go up, how many would go down or disappear?
- How many of these costs could be born by those using if the incentives were in place to do so? These wouldn't be "social" costs, they would be internalised. Indeed how many of these costs ARE internal?
- What are the benefits? People spend money on drugs not for nothing, but because they gain value in it. The value is not dissimilar to the value from drinking, eating a dessert, sex or the like. You see people take drugs because they feel good isn't it missing part of the equation to ignore that?

Now I don't think that long term drug use is a particular clever thing to do. It can be highly destructive and damaging, much as consistently high levels of alcohol consumption can be too. However, it is important to consider drugs dispassionately. It's not me to judge what another adult ingests, as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. So let's look at least at some points reported:

- "373,310 people used cannabis, but only 17 per cent of these were frequent users". It may suggest that the bulk of users are getting about their life reasonably well. At least no worse than the regular drinker. However if we enforced the law strictly, that would be equal to the population of Christchurch being in prison. That's what winning the war on drugs would mean.

- "Nearly 23,000 people used crystal methamphetamine (36 per cent of them often)" compared with 81,890 using MDMA and 38,890 using cocaine. Suggests the "P epidemic" isn't quite that, although it is undoubtedly the most destructive of the drugs listed.

- Drug use is related to absences at work, which is hardly surprising. However, this IS a matter between the user and the employer, and if the employer has the legal right to dismiss someone for excessive absences then the issue can be addressed. However, you wouldn't arrest a drug user purely for not turning up at work enough would you?

- 16% of the prison population is occupied by "drug related crimes", although it is unclear whether this is drug crimes per se. $108.7 million per annum to keep them there. However, this isn't a cost of drug use - it is a cost of drug prohibition. Add the $374 million court, community sentence and home detention costs also to drug prohibition, not drug use.

- 2292 patients admitted to hospital for drug related reasons, costing $6.76 million p.a. Hardly noticeable in a health budget of $11 billion p.a. The Ministry of Health says that the annual cost of alcohol related hospitalisations is $74 million p.a. Of course, if drug users had to pay for hospital costs it wouldn't be a social cost anymore.

- 1920 drug related deaths (including associated with homicide and road accidents). That statistic itself sounds like a wide catchment. Does it include people murdered in the criminalised drug sector? Curiously ALAC's website claims in 2000 that 1040 deaths were attributable to alcohol, but 980 were PREVENTED by alcohol, although the deaths were more likely to be premature and the deaths avoided older (presumably the preventive effect of red wine on heart disease and the like). Back to drugs, how many drug related deaths could have been avoided had it been easy to present information on safer use of MDMA and other drugs, for example? How many drug related deaths could have been avoided had drugs not been "fortified" by a range of substances to make them "go a bit further" for dealers - a consequence of prohibition.

- "While stimulants contributed 41 per cent of the total costs, figures showed that in 2006, police and Customs seized 33,480kg of cannabis compared with only 155kg of stimulants." It demonstrates the law enforcement agencies concentrate on the high volume easy catches, not the low volumes harder drugs. What does that say about incentives to target "catching people" rather than harm?

So the story is mixed. Yes drugs undoubtedly cost in productivity, and cost more in less tangible ways socially as their misuse can be highly destructive to motivation, character and attitude to life. However, is that a reason to lock up 1578 people? Are their wider education, cultural and philosophical reasons why this happens?

Yes drugs send people to hospital, but at a fraction of the rate of alcohol. We also don't know whether drugs have any positive health effect - some cancer patients report cannabis soothing their pain. We also don't know what other positive effects they have on people, relieving stress for example. Yes there are sceptics, but I'd like to see someone dispassionately investigating this. The cost of drugs is only half of the equation, what value are there on the benefits? I don't have any idea whether this would be smaller or larger than the costs, but surely we should ask both before coming to a conclusion.

Finally, the cost of the criminal justice system is not a cost of drug use, it is the cost of drug prohibition. That is also worthy of a study. The cost of prohibition includes all of those imprisonment and court costs, and Police costs. It also includes the higher price users pay, and an element of the health costs by reducing quality. Finally, if a cost of drug use is reduced productivity, a cost of prohibition is the cost to individuals of being incarcerated and forever having a drug conviction in their records. The cost in time can be calculated, the cost in lost earnings over life, and reduced opportunities to travel. The benefits would be worth calculating too - what do we save from prohibition?

Now none of this is about developing an economists answer to a question of individual freedom, but it is useful in identifying the consequences of policies and getting some order of magnitude. It is telling in itself that the health costs of drug use are quite low.

Transmission Gully non-announcement?

The Dominion Post today is reporting the rather exagerrated comment that the Transmission Gully boondoggle cargo cult "has passed a crucial hurdle" without actually saying at all what that is.

It isn't resource consents, it doesn't have those.

It isn't funding, it doesn't have that (and the funding earmarked for this project reduces in value every year due to inflation).

It isn't owning the land, that hasn't happened either.

It could be the completion of the investigation phase, but I thought that had happened.

The "government green light" could only mean funding, Transit board approval to proceed to the design phase or some special porkbarrel approval to change the law to bypass the RMA. If it is the "next phase of planning", it is simply design. Don't get too excited.

I do note finally someone has noted that costs don't remain static and it now costs $1.025 billion - for one road (I said $1.04 billion a few month ago). That makes it more expensive than any other road project in the country that us well developed other than the Waterview extension in Auckland, tunnelled under the PM's electorate.

Meanwhile Peter Dunne remains obsessed about it (Wellington needs another outlet, besides the current highway, State Highway 2, the two railways, the airport, the sea, the Akatarawas).

The enthusiasts all want a regional Wellington petrol tax (because you see, the users wont pay the toll necessary to pay for it - which tells you how bad a project it is), and tolls and "some other source" of funding. So if Wellingtonians are worried about petrol prices now, it seems Labour and United Future would increase petrol taxes to help pay for one road, and find other money elsewhere to pay for it OH and have you pay a toll, and demote the current highway (lower speed limits) so you'd have to use Transmission Gully for through traffic.

Nothing like politicians trying to buy the votes of some people by taxing the hell out of everyone else. Remember the extra Wellington petrol tax would also increase GST so 5c/l becomes 5.625c/l, remember also that Wellington region includes Wairarapa - how many people there will use Transmission Gully? How about Upper Hutt residents? How about all those Wellingtonians who DON'T commute by car from Kapiti every day, or DON'T have properties there?

Yep, and will National say it's a bad idea?

UPDATE: Yes I was write, investigations are over and the price is over a billion. The government is saying it has saved $275 million, which is only if you take a saving over the Land Transport NZ index of costs (an inflation that the government is hardly immune from blame over). Of course the "saving" is a nonsense, because the money doesn't exist to pay for it, or hasn't been taken from taxpayers yet. A toll wont come remotely close to being enough to fund it, neither would a 5c/l petrol tax on all Wellington motorists.

The Q&As are a nonsense. The project now has a preferred route, but landowners need to be talked to, property needs purchasing, and detailed design will determine exactly what the costs are likely to be. It's not that significant. The big issue remains funding - and more importantly why should motorists, ratepayers and general taxpayers pay for a road most of them wont use, and which by and large simply delivers property value windfalls to Kapiti residents, as it effectively subsidises car commuting from Kapiti to Wellington - not exactly lowering CO2 emissions is it?

UPDATE: The NZ Herald gets it wrong too. Transmission Gully hasn't "got the go ahead", it has funding for design. Property purchases not complete, no resource consent granted, no funding to built it. Come on, how hard is it to do more than report what politicians say? You could actually do a little research!

Tsvangarai seeks refuge in Dutch Embassy

The Dutch Foreign Minister told CNN "Tsvangirai has indeed asked through the MDC, his party, if the Netherlands would be able to provide him with security in the coming days."

Of course if Tsvangirai were murdered it surely would bring Zimbabwe close to civil war. Another day of violence continues, and South Africa watches on deliberately being impotent and helpless, when Africans are murdered and abused the South African government lets it be.

A tiny tiny challenge for National

Promise to abolish the Families Commission, as Lindsay Mitchell says it is part of the problem.

I didn't exist nine years ago, it doesn't need to exist now. $9 million a year saved, to help slip back into the paypackets of families (and $0.4m in assets to flog off).

Nobody will miss it, except Peter Dunne and he'll be a single MP party (again) after the election, so he shouldn't hold that much weight.

unless you believe the nonsense in its own material. This includes having as a strategic objective "Significant progress has been made towards preventing family violence." fine. How does it contribute to that? It did research into elder abuse, completed a report on statistics of family violence (shouldn't Justice have that?) and started an advertising campaign about it (again shouldn't Justice do that?). It talks about "promoting a change in society’s attitudes and behaviours relating to family violence." Who is this "society"? I don't tolerate it, I know of few who do. Isn't this just crime prevention? According to its own measure it has met that strategic objective - I wonder how many homes suffering under violent abuse have noticed?

So come on John Key, or is that too scary? Is a vote for National that utterly pointless?

Scratching round for desperate wins

When Otaki MP Darren Hughes can put out a press release about how wonderful widening a roundabout is, you know that things are getting desperate. Apparently there isn't much else for him to be proud of as a government MP.

Yes traffic delays in Otaki are bad and the roundabout widening is helpful, but really this is $600,000 on a state highway. Darren's role? Well he probably met with Annette King and the Transit CEO to say "this matters to me".

You said he says he worked with the Community Board to secure $600,000 for the project. Which seems like he actually "fought for the project". This is a bit of a stretch, no doubt he cheered it on. However it is one thing to cheer on a big project (like a major bypass of Otaki), another to cheer on this very modest road project (yep don't get too excited).

You see Transit consulted with the Community Board on the project, but it is Transit's road (well the Crown's road managed by Transit). It's a state highway, so it is up to Transit's board to advance the proposal which it would compared to other priorities in the region. Yes Darren could have said do it this year instead of next year, but there is no indication that it was a low priority. In fact the development has been getting funded for the last 3 years.

However the actual decision to proceed was from Land Transport NZ - which decides on funding bids from Transit (admittedly for another week!), and cannot be directed by the Minister to fund (or not fund) any specific project. So although Darren isn't the Minister, the Land Transport NZ Board is understandably rather averse to being told what to do politically.

Nice try Darren, you were a cheerleader and that's about it. Aim modest and you'll win (yes he's cheerleading Transmission Gully too though sparing his words). So how are hospital waiting lists, crime and traffic congestion in your electorate then? Made some stunning wins then given the massive increase in taxes collected from there since Labour was elected? Thought not.

The man who helped defined censorship in the US, dies

George Carlin never meant to become the centre of a court case on freedom of speech in the USA, but he did with his famous "seven dirty words" which wikipedia summarises rather well (and yes the words are there). In fact the whole famous monologue is in a transcript here (at a law school website no less).

They form the basis of the seven words that are prohibited from US BROADCAST television (i.e. over the airwaves, not cable) and even today two of those words are not an issue during "adult" broadcast hours.

However, George was about being funny, and provocative. He sought to highlight the absurdity of offence being drawn purely about words, rather than context. I heard him often in the 1980s on Radio Active's (in Wellington) comedy show on Thursday evenings (back when regulated radio offered few choices), and he was sometimes shocking but more often just hilarious. Yes he was leftwing, he was no objectivist at all. However his challenge on free speech, he deserves some applause and besides, if all anyone with leftwing inclinations did was make jokes we would all be in a better world. He passed away yesterday of a heart attack.

If you are easily offended then don't read further, for below is a segment of his famous monologue - it's about the word that really isn't the most obscene in the English language, but isn't far short. Yes it is childish, yes it is unnecessary, but I really don't care.... you have been warned, don't read any further....


The big one, the word fuck that's the one that hangs them up the most. Cause in a lot of cases that's the very act that hangs them up the most. So, it's natural that the word would, uh, have the same effect. It's a great word, fuck, nice word, easy word, cute word, kind of. Easy word to say. One syllable, short u..... Fuck.... You know, it's easy. Starts with a nice soft sound fuh ends with a kuh. Right?....A little something for everyone. Fuck. Good word. Kind of a proud word, too. Who are you? I am FUCK. FUCK OF THE MOUNTAIN. Tune in again next week to FUCK OF THE MOUNTAIN. It's an interesting word too, cause it's got a double kind of a life -- personality -- dual, you know, whatever the right phrase is. It leads a double life, the word fuck. First of all, it means, sometimes, most of the time, fuck. What does it mean? It means to make love. Right? We're going to make love, yeh, we're going to fuck, yeh, we're going to fuck, yeh, we're going to make love. we're really going to fuck, yeah, we're going to make love. Right? And it also means the beginning of life, it's the act that begins life, so there's the word hanging around with words like love, and life, and yet on the other hand, it's also a word that we really use to hurt each other with, man. It's a heavy. It's one that you have toward the end of the argument. Right? You finally can't make out. Oh, fuck you man. I said, fuck you... Stupid fuck....Fuck you and everybody that looks like you..... man. It would be nice to change the movies that we already have and substitute the word fuck for the word kill, wherever we could, and some of those movie cliches would change a little bit. Madfuckers still on the loose. Stop me before I fuck again. Fuck the ump, fuck the ump, fuck the ump, fuck the ump, fuck the ump. Easy on the clutch Bill, you'll fuck that engine again.

and for those of you for whom this isn't enough, here is 2443 dirty words.