Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009: the year to devalue awards

After Barack Obama being granted the Nobel Peace Prize for absolutely nothing, the New Zealand Government has now granted Helen Clark the Order of New Zealand.

However, given the list of those who already hold it includes:

- Ken Douglas, who spent a good part of his career cozying up to the brutal murderous dictatorship of the Soviet Union, before softening up;
- Jonathan Hunt, a man whose Parliamentary career includes NZ$29,000 of taxi expenses, a man whose greatest achievement was being part of the reforms of the 1980s, like well just over half of the Labour caucus then (who aren't there); and
- Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, whose greatest achievement was winning a Ballroom and Latin American Dancing contest, otherwise she has been thought of by more than one as one of the laziest Cabinet Ministers in recent history;

then you already know it's barely worth using such an award to help hold a door open.

The Key government in granting this to its political enemy speaks volumes of how nothing much has really changed. Clark's record at the UNDP is at best disappointing, at worst appalling. As Prime Minister she was notable for being a control freak, notable for increasing taxes, dramatically increasing the size of the state, widening the role of the state and using personal attacks instead of arguing politics on philosophy, economics and merit. She presided over increasing the range of people dependent on the state on income, she demanded the bureaucracy not give free and frank advice when she didn't like hearing it, but most of all she made no great particularly historic contribution. Jim Bolger at least led a government which for three years, did implement some significant reforms (not all being steps forward, the RMA being the worst).

So that's 2009 ending, with a major international award being rendered meaningless, and New Zealand's highest domestic honour proving that mediocrity remains the standard of achievement lauded by New Zealand politicians. Most of all showing that after one year, the majority might have voted out Helen Clark in 2008, but enough of you voted in her philosophical and spiritual kin at the same time, with a blue tinge. Which is, of course, what National has really always been, except for a three year period when Ruth Richardson gave the Nats a bit of testicular fortitude.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Terrorism exposes absurdities of the security bureaucrats

The attempt to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit has exposed the ongoing risk there has been, for some years, of Islamist thugs seeking to murder civilians en masse for political/religious purposes. It has exposed enormous flaws in the screening process for airline passengers, that someone on a "watch" list gets no particular attention, not too surprising in Nigeria, but appalling in Amsterdam. More disconcertingly it has given the aviation security goons an excuse to persecute all airline passengers flying to the US with such absurdities as:

- Prohibiting people from moving in the cabin in the last hour of flight, when the 9/11 terrorists made their move in the beginning of the flight (next the security goons will be demanding passengers be strapped in seats with "bed pans" to urinate in);
- Banning the use of laptops and portable audio equipment on flights, effectively making business flights largely unproductive and boosting book sales at airports;
- Requiring some airline in flight entertainment systems to be shut down early, contrasting to Air NZ's successful and popular "gate to gate" continuous running of the systems.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate says:

The fault here is not just with our endlessly incompetent security services, who give the benefit of the doubt to people who should have been arrested long ago or at least had their visas and travel rights revoked. It is also with a public opinion that sheepishly bleats to be made to "feel safe." The demand to satisfy that sad illusion can be met with relative ease if you pay enough people to stand around and stare significantly at the citizens' toothpaste.

We have already had to put up with the absurdity of being unable to take bottled drinks through airline security, but we can buy the same ones "airside" which means being price gouged at many airports (thankfully not Heathrow which has enough competing shops to make this no problem). Replacement of stainless steel cutlery with plastic was one of the most stupid, as anyone who got a glass of champagne could well figure out how a weapon could be created.

New Zealand of course coped for decades without any domestic security screening, until 9/11, and security goons were "shocked" at the knives and various objects people used to take on flights from Auckland to Christchurch. The unspoken truth is that the people who did this had no intention of using them against their fellow citizens anymore than they do on trains, buses, in shopping centres or walking the streets. It's a blessing that the Government ignored some calls for security screening for domestic flights using aircraft of less than 90 seats.

The case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wont see anyone fired from their jobs in Nigeria, Schiphol Airport or elsewhere in the security sector. There isn't accountability for failures, just as there isn't for the stupidity of the measures imposed on everyone else.

It should have been obvious to connect the likes of Abdulmutallab to needing additional screening, he was, after all, already on a list. However, that incompetence is now shrouded by adding hours of delays to travellers, hours of inconvenience and discomfort because some control freak has decided to make people "feel safe".

What the security goons and the politicians wont point out is that the risks of attacks remains constant, and ever present. In London, there is little difference today compared with 2004 in terms of the ease of being able to launch an attack on the underground or on a bus. The sheer numbers of people are so great, and the same applies to all metro rail systems. Fast intercity trains are also sitting targets, but then so are crowded downtown areas. The IRA didn't waste energy on transport networks, but waged much fear and death by using bombs on cars and vans, or in public areas.

So the message is, you can't be wholly safe anywhere. Islamist thugs will seek to attack as they see fit, when and wherever they wish. Some on the left wish to minimise this, and it should not be exagerrated, but it is real, it will exist for many years to come. Even lasting success in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel will only reduce, not eliminate the risk.

It is reasonable to take steps with aviation to stop people taking on board weapons, to screen for explosives and to use intelligence to stop those who there is good reason for suspicion, but someone needs to be responsible for the abject failings in this case and there should NOT be ridiculous kneejerk reactions just to be seen to be "doing something".

It's about time politicians and the public said no to being literally bent over and buggered by the incompetent and the inane. Aviation security is a serious business, it should be driven by real rational assessment of risk and the detailed use of intelligence to screen out passengers. Sadly what we seem to have is the sledgehammer trying to crack a seed, we deserve better from these ever burgeoning monopolies.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas, Hanukkah or simply Seasons' Greetings

Yes my blogging has been very erratic as of late, not because there is nothing to write about, but because much of the month I've been spending long hours in front of a laptop and when I haven't been, I've preferred to enjoy the season. After all, with daylight starting at around 8am and ending from around 3.30pm, with ample snow, and Europe so close, I've taken the time to enjoy time with me and my other half, as well as deal with

I will write a summary to 2009 as I see it before the New Year.

I'm about to have turkey, veges, pudding, champagne and chocolate, although it is NOT a white Christmas in East Anglia today (although ice and snow remains in a few corners), but it IS rather special to have Christmas in this part of the world rather than New Zealand.

Even more special to have spent a few days in Vienna, where hot spicy drinks, strudel, torte and umpteen sausages (and all seriously good), and the colder weather, and symbolism of this time of year is much stronger. Glad also to have not chosen the "weekend in Paris going Eurostar" option given what a debacle that has proven to be.

All I miss is my family in New Zealand, but that wasn't to be this year.

I hope all of you have a good time with your loved ones, enjoy the food, drink and simple benevolence and joy of the season. For those experiencing a little sadness at this time, I hope it gives cause to remember good and happy times.

Merry Christmas and Seasons' Greetings, and may you simply enjoy life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Australia's draconian approach to the internet

Politicians in Australia are seemingly obsessed with the "internet is evil" vision of censorship. John Howard forced taxpayers to pay for all families to have filtering software at home, but for the Rudd regime it isn't good enough.

The model for Australia? China, Singapore or the UAE. Yes none exactly known for free speech and openness. The great firewall of Australia is purportedly designed to block child pornography, which of course means anyone opposing it must be suspect.

Now child pornography doesn't sit around on websites for very long, because its very nature being illegal means that websites are set up and shut down regularly. Indeed, most prosecutions for it are by people swapping personal collections via instant messaging and peer to peer networks. Not exactly a means by which a website firewall can interfere with. In fact the one point that most of those concerned about illicit material ignores is that the internet also makes it easier to track down those who produce it and distribute it.

Now there are reports that the trial firewall is blocking legal material. The majority blocked is NOT child pornography. So it is the typical sledgehammer to crack a nut.

The simple rule that should apply to the internet and all content is that the law should be involved when the material distributed is a recording of an actual crime - that means children, that means real rape and real violence. It means the recording is an accessory to the crime, not the desire to engage in wide scale social planning.

Of course the authorities and certainly politicians have no response to the fact that increasing numbers of cases are now appearing of teenagers facing legal action because they are taking photos of themselves, which happen to be illegal. The image remains of a big bad world of adults, and a world of innocence of those under 18. The truth is there is a lot going on in between all that which parents don't know about, which politicians don't want to utter and youth culture. Sexuality is changing, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and people's heads are in the sand.

Transmission Gully subsidy to Wellington

$3 each for a $20 a user road.

Yep, that's what the Transmission Gully boondoggle will cost. Each user will pay no more than $3, you could argue probably another 65c in fuel tax/RUC for driving 22km along the road.

So that's $3.60 per user.

How much of Transmission Gully will the toll recover? $200 million out of $1.2 billion. The extra 65c will only recover proportionately another 22% more (generously rounding up) so that means $244 million of Transmission Gully will be paid for by users.

The rest? Comes from motorists using other roads, across the country and indirectly, taxpayers who wont be charged interest on the capital put into this expensive road.

So go on, thank the government for pouring over $950 million in subsidies to road users for Transmission Gully. Then again, given the $500 million being poured in subsidies to rail commuters in Auckland, it just shows you how much interest there is in economic efficiency and user pays by this Labour government.

Yes I know the report says $2, but really we're just arguing about how bad it is aren't we?

How many of those who damned Labour for wasting money are now hopping on their new cargo cult?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Think Big hits Wellington

It seems Rob Muldoon and Bill Birch are back with big road building plans for Wellington's State Highway 1.

The list is enormous, and it is justified based on agglomeration benefits. The same benefits the UK government has long used to justify a whole range of highly borderline rail projects. Quite how agglomeration benefits the economy when it is about a city primarily set up for the state sector is beyond me.

After all it is $2.4 billion we are talking about, around $7000 per Wellingtonian. My back of the envelope estimate is that the net benefits from these projects will be less than $2 billion. So National is going to destroy wealth on a scale akin to the purchase of Kiwirail.

The project are listed in three phases.

Phase 1

Aotea Quay-Ngauranga extra lane: In other words, a subsidy to peak car commuters. After all this section of motorway flows freely the rest of the time. Price it properly and you wouldn't build it. Any chance this lane will be tolled? No. What will be the result on the local Wellington streets that don't quite have the capacity to cope now? Blank out.

Four laning SH1 Peka Peka to Otaki: Four laning of the current highway will make a big difference to safety. Not probably the highest priority though, as the Ngaruawahia Bypass on SH1 north of Hamilton ought to be more important. Still not a bad project, just wonder whether it is worth doing now.

Kapiti bypass: Essentially a four lane expressway between the current highway and the coast bypassing Paraparaumu and Waikanae. The Kapiti Coast District Council, now dominated by environmental radicals, is against it. However, it is desperately needed. Undoubtedly the best project in the package, will greatly relieve congestion in the whole District. The only reason this hasn't happened before is because previous governments left the problem to the council!

Basin Reserve flyover: A stunted portion of the Inner City Bypass Wellington should have done. Basically gets rid of the conflict between airport/eastern to region traffic and southern to city traffic. Opposition is driven partly by lies around it "destroying" the Basin Reserve, when there have long been plans to build this, as part of a proper motorway to connect at the Terrace Tunnel. On it's own, it's not really worth it, it should be part of a proper bypass of Wellington, but there is little real vision to take through traffic out of the city, to reduce the width of the waterfront route and enable Wellington to properly connect to its harbour. So what's more important?

Phase 2

Transmission Gully: Half the total cost of this package of roads is in this one road, bypassing Porirua, Mana, Plimmerton, Pukerua Bay, Paekakariki on a road just as long as the current one, with hills as steep as Ngauranga Gorge. Why? It's called politics over economics

Phase 3

Mt Victoria Tunnel duplication with 4 laning to Wellington Road: Finally, Wellington's long standing bottleneck between the airport and the city will be removed. Again though, the traffic will be dumped on an el cheapo one way system that the Greens opposed that opened only a few years ago. Again, this project is probably not worth it until a proper bypass of the city is built.

Otaki bypass and four lanes to Levin: An Otaki Bypass is no doubt good for Otaki, to some extent, and four laning is good for safety, but again this should hardly be a major priority.

Terrace Tunnel duplication: Perhaps Wellington's last bottleneck after everything else? So will all of Wellington's traffic problems be fixed? No. Ask yourself whether two or three lanes of traffic dumped from a motorway onto Vivian Street to make its way to the Basin Reserve is really going to work. Yes, it is probably worth building - with a bypass.

Given all this being funded, I can hardly imagine a big road project NOT being approved. The engineers suggest it, the Nats will fund it. A crying damning waste of money. Whilst Labour pissed money down a hole on railways (which the Nats are only slowing rather than stopping), National now pisses money down the hole of roads.

Yes there are parts of the road network that could be improved, but with a system where everyone pays the same regardless of location or time, you will get congestion. With a system that means that those who pay have no relationship with those who build the roads or run the roads, consumers will not always be happy, and the producers will waste because they don't get signals from consumers about what they are prepared to pay for.

Roads are just an economic good, like any other piece of infrastructure. You let politicians and bureaucrats make decisions about how to spend the money taken from you for using them, and now, the money taken from you for NOT using them.

The Greens will be furious, and notwithstanding their irrational hatred of motorised road transport (and hypocrisy over railways), there will be a point. Roads shouldn't be subsidised by non road users.

However, no believer in free markets, private enterprise or capitalism should applaud what is an enormous transfer of money from taxpayers across the country to road users in the capital. It is at best the grand visions of central planners gone mad, with the irrational "Roads of National Significance" moniker used to justify gold plating State Highway 1. At worst it is cynical vote buying, securing the support of the unprincipled political minnow of Peter Dunne, ensuring Labour can't promise any more, and giving National MPs some big projects to open, Stalinist style, to applause - whilst those who paid for it don't notice just a few dollars each week less in their pockets.

UPDATE: David Farrar shows his own economic illiteracy by wanting Transmission Gully to have been built two DECADES ago, when the business case would have been far far worse, with far less traffic.

Government thieving from you to build a boondoggle

So Steven Joyce has just made a political decision to piss your taxes down a hole to subsidise the building of the Transmission Gully motorway.

He's bought a series of arguments that are sheer bullshit. Why? Because I saw the evidence a few years ago when they were rejected then.

Firstly, there is the nonsense that somehow Wellington needs a motorway with a huge viaduct to "connect" it to Kapiti and Horowhenua in the event of a major earthquake. Quite what Wellingtonians will gain from this is unclear when:
- There is only one bridge over the Waikanae River;
- There is only one bridge over the Otaki River;
- There is only one route along a faultline from the Hutt to Wellington city;
- Transmission Gully itself is on a faultline.

$1.5 billion is an expensive insurance policy.

Secondly, there is the nonsense that the coastal route would cost "as much". This could only possibly be true if you engage in ridiculous green-plating and gold plating of the coastal route. Why?

Transmission Gully duplicates about a third of the coastal route as it connects near Kenepuru not Paremata.

There has long been a designation for a bypass at Pukerua Bay, it would be little effort to buy back the few properties along the route.

The coastal route could be built along what is essentially a rather mundane coastal embankment that is already reclaimed. Paekakariki can be protected from the highway by some grade separation.

Paremata/Mana does not need a bypass, as the current route is quite adequate, and ultimately a bypass can be built at grade.

Transmission Gully has a cost/benefit ratio which means the gains in travel time savings, fuel savings and pollution are half the total cost of the road. It is a massive transfer to the property owners along Mana, Plimmerton, Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, and many on the Kapiti Coast.

Oh and it can't be funded by road user taxes or tolls, so your income tax, GST and company tax will be subsidising a road, primarily for people to commute to primarily government jobs in Wellington.

Before Labour supporters have a moan, they ought to note they started it. They folded against the pressure of the one man party, Peter Dunne, and the Porirua City Council, to have taxpayers pay for one of the biggest boondoggles in New Zealand's recent history. Labour has spent $90 million on consultants to allow Transmission Gully to be built, now National is going to spend 13 times that to build it.

Oh and Labour destroyed the political independence of the former Transfund to separate decisions on building highways from funding highways (something National opposed at the time).

So the more things change, the more they stay the same.

You thought there was a budget deficit, you thought there wasn't enough money to give you a tax cut. No, there's enough for Peter Dunne.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gordon Brown steals for climate change

Part of the whole Copenhagen charade is that the European Union has promised £6.5 billion of other people's money to give to developing countries because of their own ineptness in industrialising over the past few decades.

What's particularly galling is that Gordon Brown increased the UK contribution of £1.2 billion of as yet unborn childrens' taxes to £1.5 billion to be thieved from the unwilling. More than any other European country. Even though Germany and France have greater GDPs, this wasteful, thieving, now increasingly socialist Labour government is out committing more borrowing to steal from kids to pay for the corrupt, protectionist and ungrateful developing world.

Gordon Brown acts as if he has money to spend, but he has none. He borrows it to leave to future governments to take from taxpayers, and he can hold his head up high, having nearly bankrupted the UK. It's repulsive.

Developing countries are spreading lies such as how they will be "destroyed" by climate change, so they have the begging bowl out, when so many of them are led by governments of kleptocracy and excess. They ignore that the biggest per capita emitters are the likes of Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait. They essentially want Western companies and holders of intellectual property to hand over technology to the likes of China, India and others who are not creators of technology, who will then copy it and out compete the West.

It is an argument of envy, envy of the developed, envy of those that have been locations of technology, of education, of capitalism. It has become an argument for, what is quite simply, socialism.

From each according to his ability (i.e. to the extent the West can pay) to each according to his needs (i.e. the extent to which the developing world asks). It isn't really about the environment so much, because if it was, then maybe the arguments would be different?

Blood for oil? Hardly

Some of the leftwing anti-American opponents of the war to overthrow the Saddam Hussein dictatorship said it was "blood for oil". The fact the Hussein regime had ignored UN Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction (and had used them previously), didn't matter. The fact that the opportunity existed to overthrow a brutal aggressive autocracy didn't matter. It was seen as neo-imperialism, and simply sacrificing lives for US oil companies to pillage natural resources.

Reuters reports this week show this to be the absolute nonsense it always has been. US firms have gained few contracts in recently signed deals to service Iraqi oil fields, with firms from many other countries gaining much of the action.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate describes the result as such:

"Three features of the outcome were worthy of note. The auction was to award service contracts rather than the production-sharing agreements that the major corporations prefer. The price was set at between $1.15 and $1.90 per barrel, as opposed to the $4 that the bidders originally proposed. And American corporations were generally not the winners in an auction where consortia identified with Malaysia, Russia, and even Angola did best."

Thus, the vulgar and hysterical part of the "war for oil" interpretation has been discredited: Iraq retains its autonomy, the share awarded to outsiders in development is far from exorbitant, and there is no real correlation between U.S. interests and the outcome.

There was always an argument that spilling blood of one's military largely for the sake of negating a threat to others should be done carefully. The case for attacking Iraq was made on various grounds. The link to Al Qaeda was spurious, although the willingness of the Hussein regime to support terrorism was clear. The suspicion on weapons of mass destruction had a real basis, given the regime's clear willingness to use chemical weapons in the past, and its previous pursuit of nuclear technology, but it proved to be a mirage that even the regime may not have understood.

So what did the war on the Hussein regime achieve? Liberty.

The war removed a malignant regime, that did yes get some Western (and much Soviet) support in the 1980s because it offered a counterweight to Islamist Iran, but most in the so-called peace movement wont let that go, even though it was three Presidents ago. The deaths in the war would easily have been rivalled by the murders undertaken by the Hussein criminal gang.

However, the mostly Islamist insurgency has murdered thousands. Some in the so-called peace movement regarded them to be "freedom fighters", ignoring that whenever the insurgency controlled parts of Iraq, it applied the same approach to freedom as Mamoud Ahmadinejad or Osama Bin Laden.

Now Iraq is far more stable, the surge, opposed by the current US President, has worked enough that the UK has withdrawn, and Iraq is becoming a fairly liberal democratic open state between Islamist Iran, tired authoritarian Syria and the ruthless autocratic Saudi Arabia. It does have almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia, and looks to be taking advantage of it with a government that undoubtedly will be more transparent, liberal and democratic than any other Arab states.

There are still those who believe this shouldn't have happened, that the Saddam Hussein regime stay in place (to say you opposed the war but also oppose the Hussein regime means you either support the outcome of the war or you're lying about it). Certainly the war was conducted appallingly after the Hussein regime was toppled, with enormous incompetence, but the outcome is looking positive, at last.

We'll never know what would have happened had the war not happened, Hussein would undoubtedly have sabre rattled some more, would have killed and tortured a few thousand more Iraqis, and continued to pillage Iraq for the gain of his vile family. Would he have backed more terrorism in Israel? Probably. Would he have sought alliances with Russia? With China? Would he have found a comfortable arrangement with Iran?

I'm grateful we can't ever find out.
What we can know is that

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The state owns your shop at Easter

That's what opposing Easter trading is saying. Quite simply, it isn't your shop during Easter, and unproductive petty fascist goons will go around, at your expense, to catch you committing the dastardly deed of opening for business, paying employees and selling to willing customers.

It is disgusting, but telling of what MPs believe small businesses deserve the freedom to choose, and which ones think that this religious based public holiday is special enough that people should be prosecuted for trying to make a living.

So shame on Labour and the Greens for showing themselves up for being the petty fascist little anti-capitalists that they are.

Kudos to ACT and surprisingly Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton for actually wanting to let businesses choose. Surprised given Dunne and Anderton's previous Christian and unionist tendencies.

Kudos to Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell for supporting freedom, brickbats for Rahui Katene and the absent Hone Harawira.

However, brickbats to John Key for not making this National Party policy. For had it been so, this ridiculous victimless crime would be about to be consigned to history. Particular brickbats to busybodies Shane Ardern, Bill English, Phil Heatley, Sam Lotu-Liga, Tim Macindoe, Eric Roy, Katrina Shanks and Jonathan Young. How dare any of you claim to be "pro-business".

If you don't think a shop should be open on ANY particular day then you can do three things:
1. Don't shop there. Ever.
2. Use freedom of speech to ask others to boycott the shop.
3. Buy the shop.

Instead you choose to use force. For shame.

More tax more state more thieving from children

Alastair Darling released the Brown government’s last ever Pre Budget Statement (let’s be honest it wont be a stunning victory for Labour at the next election) and what does it bring? The Times tells all and the ledger goes like this.

In terms of restraining state spending there is:
- A senior civil service pay cut worth a paltry £100m
- Treasury approval needed for government appointments earning more than £150k;
- 1% cap for public sector pay settlements other than the Armed Forces;
- State contributions to public sector pensions to be capped by 2012;
- Bingo Duty (yes really) cut from 22% to 20% in 2010;
- Deferral of corporation tax increase for smaller companies;
- Electric cars exempt from company car tax (!) for five years.

Pathetic really. Political pablum, leaving the hard decisions to the Tories.

How about new or higher taxes?
- VAT to return to 17.5% on 1 January (buy before then);
- Threshold for top tax rate not to rise for one year after 2012;
- National insurance increased by 0.5% of income in 2011;
- Inheritance tax allowance frozen for one year (not increased);
- 50% one off tax on banking sector bonuses over £25k;
- 10% Corporation tax on patent income in the UK;
- 50p a month tax on phone lines to subsidise rural broadband.

Again, more tax, taking more from the economy because Labour is limp wristed on cutting spending, when it should be ruthless. These bastards can’t keep their hands out of people’s pockets. What’s truly disgusting is how they are going to spend MORE, so basically stealing from people’s children in debt to buy some votes as follows:
- 2.5% increase in state pensions in 2010 (go on old folk embrace Labour stealing from your grandchildren and great grandchildren);
- Guarantee scheme for bank loans to small businesses to be extended;
- £200m more money for a “Strategic Investment Fund” stealing from productive businesses to bribe new ones;
- 6 month extension of welfare to help the unemployed with mortgage payments, effectively propping up housing prices and rewarding those who don’t buy mortgage repayment insurance;
- 10,000 undergraduates from poor (Labour) backgrounds to be subsidised into jobs;
- Guaranteed training or education for all 16 and 17yos, and all under 24 who are out of work for more than 6 months are guaranteed work or training;
- Child benefit increase of 1.5% in 2010. This isn’t means tested so children of the wealthy mean a £20 benefit a week for the eldest and £13.20 for each other child. Welfare for every family;
- Four carbon capture and storage demonstrations to be paid for;
- £200m more to subsidise home energy efficiency (rather than letting energy companies raise prices);
- 125,000 homes subsidised to get more efficient heating boilers;
- Extend free school meals to half a million primary school children of poor parents;
- Rail electrification between Manchester, Liverpool and Preston (can't have fare payers paying);
- Minimal increases in education, health and police spending;
- £2.5 billion for Afghanistan;
- £5m to help ex. Service personnel set up own businesses.

Other than the last two items, this is just more bribes using stolen loot. Not surprising, but certainly disgusting. Profligacy and waste in health and education remain rewarded, picking winners through subsidies is the order of the day, and next to nothing done to confront net debt reaching 78% of GDP by 2014/2015.

A chance that Darling had to acknowledge he wont be doing this a year from now, and he could make the hard decisions to cut spending, was wasted. Why? Because the Labour Party just wants to keep their people in Parliament by bribing voters with their children's money.

So voters will face an election which will probably see the Tories win, hopefully see the Tories engage in serious cuts in spending to take Britain away from risking debt default, and saddling generations with debt.

Then Labour will say how mean and cruel and heartless they are for cutting spending on “vital services”. Yes ladies and gentlemen, if this isn’t an example of the lead up to an advance auction of goods, stolen from children, I don’t know what is.

For shame. How soon can the UK be rid of this tired vile socialist oriented big government regime?

Oh and for now, just don't remind me of what the other lot are like. Can they seriously make it any worse?

What more reason do you need?

Dr Jan Pryor has a non-job. She is Chief Commissioner to the sop to Peter Dunne Families Commission. Her organisation benefits the families of those working for it, and causes a tiny amount of harm to those who have to pay for it.

Not only that, but she has an inferior brain and believes that people of a certain class, race and sex are also inferior. Given she said she couldn't explain the Whanau Ora concept in one of her parasitical waste of money organisation's documents according to the NZ Herald:

"I am putting a caveat around it for the simple fact that I am a middle class, white woman. And so I don't feel that I should be giving definitive answers"

Are middle class white women incapable of explaining things? Is reason and analysis related to race? Oops hang on, the Nazis are on the phone, they want their race theories back.

I do like National list MP Hekia Parata's response though, as the Herald reported: "Ms Parata said she must be limited quite a lot in a whole range of areas. Dr Pryor said it was important to be aware of her own background."

You "don't feel" Dr Pryor? Well start thinking instead, it's a good idea. Why does background count? Are you inferior, can you not learn?

Clearly you are.

What more reason does the government need to shut this bloody useless office down and push Dr Pryor out into looking for a real job, instead of bleeding others of their money?

Yes Peter Dunne will huff and puff, but why should that be the slightest bit of interest to anyone? Go on Peter, convince Ohariu voters that they should support you to "bring back the Families Commission".

Tory disgrace over Heathrow

BA CEO Willie Walsh has come out a blazing against the Conservative Party's opposition to a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

"I want to know, if the Conservatives don't want to build a third runway, how are they going to position the UK economy to compete on a global scale in the future?..."We will look back years from now and say, what a disgrace. We expect governments to have policies that are coherent. I don't see this as coherent."

Dead right Willie. The policy is a mindless kowtowing to the anti-growth luddites of the environmental movement, as well as residents of West London who want their property values enhanced by the removal of Heathrow.

Curiously, Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic's CEO agrees of course. Since it hinders both BA and Virgin Atlantic from growing. Although we shouldn't forget how eager Sir Richard Branson is at pushing environmentalism. This is what happens when you realise those you try to appease are uninterested in you.

Conservative spokesperson Theresa Villiers has said "We are absolutely convinced that the environmental costs of runway three, in terms of air pollution, noise and carbon emissions, significantly outweigh the alleged economic benefits"

Because you're idiots. Who gives a damn whether or not you think there are economic benefits. You are politicians, interfering with the private sector, trying to make money by providing services and therefore providing employment.

You don't create money, you seek to spend other peoples.

Get the hell out of the way of a foreign owned private company investing in new infrastructure in the UK that the taxpayer need do nothing about.

Throw off this pandering to both NIMBYism to win electorates in west London, and neo-Marxist environmentalism. Otherwise some of us will find enough reason to throw our votes away on an alternative.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What Copenhagen wont discuss

One of the leading climate change sceptics, Christopher Booker writes in the Daily Telegraph about what wont be said at Copenhagen:
- The phenomenal cost of taking the sort of measures proposed to reduce CO2 emissions. In the UK it is estimated at £18 billion a year or £725 per household. Of course what will the benefits be of this? Nobody will say;
- The targets (UK promises an 80% cut in 40 years) would mean nearly shutting down most energy and transport systems in the UK, no politicians have any idea how to achieve this;
- How will the differences between crippling developed countries and letting developing countries do what they like be bridged? Quite simply crippling the rich world wont be enough if you believe the rhetoric, China, India and Brazil all have to act too, but none of them are the slightest bit interested;
- The science is still questionable, as "in the run-up to Copenhagen we have been subjected to an unremitting bombardment of scare stories: how the ice caps and glaciers are melting much faster than predicted, how sea levels will rise much higher than anyone imagined, how we face ever more hurricanes, droughts, floods and heatwaves. Yet every time one of these scares is subjected to proper objective scientific examination it can be found either that these disasters are not happening as claimed or that they have been exaggerated far in advance of anything the evidence can justify. "

He concludes "Far from Copenhagen being the end of the debate, the real debate is only just beginning."

As it should be.

Third Heathrow Runway "ok" on CO2

Why should that matter you might ask of me? After all, it is a privately owned airport, not seeking a pound of taxpayers' funds to expand, the business case is overwhelming and it is purchasing land for the purpose of the runway. So let it be. Especially since competing airports in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt are all expanding or have recently significantly expanded runway capacity (but don't let that get in the way of reason).

However, the Brown government has a quasi-religious view on climate change, believing, brothers and sisters that the UK must lead the world in crippling economic growth and self sacrifice cutting emissions, even though the UK doing so wont make a jot of difference. So it decided to investigate whether a third runway at Heathrow, and the extra flights it could accommodate (besides reducing the very wasteful queuing at present) would have a negative environmental impact.

The Times reports a UK government committee has said that 60% MORE people can fly by 2050 and still meet the government's CO2 emission targets. In other words, rather than the luddite like "stop flying" nonsense trotted out by the environmental movement, someone has actually looked at the figures and determined how much expansion is "ok". Now it's not all good, it is based on taxpayers' being forced to pay for a high speed railway network to take some people from air to rail on domestic trips, and draconian taxes on flying, as well as assumptions of ongoing improvements in fuel efficiency. Because, you see, without any such kleptomania, apparently demand would double by 2050.

So even if you don't take a fully pro-capitalist view on this, it can still be argued that aviation expansion is not incompatible with ongoing reductions in emissions, in part because technology and commercial pressures will encourage this.

Of course the usual religious zealots have come out bemoaning this. Friends of the Earth enemies of humans wants an end to airport expansion (in the UK). Expect more of the typical rabid "planes bad, trains good" nonsense from environmentalists. Then of course you'll understand why more and more people are more and more sceptical about the true motives behind such activists. It's a form of ascetic nationalist environmental extremism, which happily will let the UK economy be stagnate, whilst letting China, India and even France, Germany and the Netherlands expand.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Copenhagen climate change hypocrites

Oh woe is us, death be upon the world, we must meet to figure out what to do - let us fly on private planes, be limousine escorted from the airport to town (despite there being a frequent fast train service) and dine like royalty.

Is it any wonder that half of all Britons do not believe in anthropogenic climate change?

The Sunday Telegraph reports:

On a normal day, Majken Friss Jorgensen, managing director of Copenhagen's biggest limousine company, says her firm has twelve vehicles on the road. During the "summit to save the world", which opens here tomorrow, she will have 200.

Ms Jorgensen reckons that between her and her rivals the total number of limos in Copenhagen next week has already broken the 1,200 barrier. The French alone rang up on Thursday and ordered another 42. "We haven't got enough limos in the country to fulfil the demand," she says. "We're having to drive them in hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden."

And the total number of electric cars or hybrids among that number? "Five," says Ms Jorgensen.

Yet the sanctimonious finger pointers at this summit will demand YOU drive less, demand YOU pay more for a car that can accommodate your family.

Never mind you should fly less too, of course, stop going on overseas holidays, or planes should carry more people less often, pack them in tight unless you are going to the summit:

The airport says it is expecting up to 140 extra private jets during the peak period alone, so far over its capacity that the planes will have to fly off to regional airports – or to Sweden – to park, returning to Copenhagen to pick up their VIP passengers.

and if you want people to get angry at then:

As well 15,000 delegates and officials, 5,000 journalists and 98 world leaders, the Danish capital will be blessed by the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Helena Christensen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Charles.

Of course the delegates may have a new reason to go, if they feel a bit sex starved and think Danish women (or men) might be worth a try:

Outraged by a council postcard urging delegates to "be sustainable, don't buy sex," the local sex workers' union – they have unions here – has announced that all its 1,400 members will give free intercourse to anyone with a climate conference delegate's pass.


So the conference need not just be an exercise in mutual onanism at the expense of global taxpayers and (if you believe what they claim to believe) the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the man who ran Britain into the ground financially, with near constant financial deficits during the good times and who claims fiscal child abuse is "investment", thinks if you don't believe in climate change you're a "flat earther". Nice to see open debate is allowed by Gordon "Stalin" Brown, but then who cares what he thinks, economic genius as he is.

UPDATE: Why refer to Gordon Brown as Stalinist? Well no less than his former permanent secretary to the Treasury referred to his management style as such.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Catholic Church split on homosexuality?

From the Daily Telegraph:

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan says "Transsexuals and homosexuals will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven and it is not me who says this, but Saint Paul".

Fairly clear. Though one wonders why he doesn't mention the elephant in the Catholic room, maybe it goes without saying, although funny how others have had to say it.

However, he's being too tough apparently because:

Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman quoted from the official Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, which says homosexual acts are a “disorder” but acknowledges that many people have “innate homosexual tendencies” and should be treated with respect and not be subject to discrimination. The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts are sinful but homosexuality in itself is not.

Respect being fair enough. Of course given the number of clergymen who no doubt have "innate homosexual tendencies", it is hardly surprising.

The elephant in the room is this.

As Austen Ivereigh in the Guardian said "The real scandal is that the church ignored its own law, derived from explicit and unambiguous biblical teaching, a law valid for the church in all political and legal contexts around the world. The principle in canon law is clear and unambiguous: whatever the inadequacies of the civil law, minors must always be protected by the church's law, and their abusers brought swiftly to justice."

Fortunately the Irish Government is refusing to tolerate any cover up and is accepting the state's substantial share of responsibility:

Whatever the failings of the past, the Government is determined that there will be no hiding place for those who break the law - whatever their status. The people who committed these abominable crimes should pay for them. A number have already been brought to justice, proceedings are pending against some others and a number of investigations are ongoing. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Dermot Ahern TD made available a copy of the report to the Garda Commissioner and the Director of Public Prosecutions as soon as he received it in July. The Commissioner has assured the Minister that pursuing the perpetrators, whenever the abuse occurred, is an absolute priority for the Force.

Ireland for too long operated almost as semi clerocracy, with the church unaccountable to the state, and working in partnership, sometimes for good and clearly sometimes for evil. It is a clear reminder that only with clear separation of church and state, can institutions of religion start to effectively be held responsible when they conspire to commit crime or to conceal those within it who do.

Useless university research: men and porn

"All men watch porn" says the headline referring to a University of Montreal study.

Apparently the "study" investigated 20 something men, who appeared to all be university students, presumably in Montreal. Wow, cutting edge stuff, such diversity of men!

Furthermore:

Single men watched pornography for an average of 40 minutes, three times a week, while those in relationships watched it 1.7 times a week for around 20 minutes.

1.7 times? "Sorry dear it wasn't a "full" time, it was only 0.7 of a "watch"". Don't let your imagination go too far in figuring out what an "incomplete" watch might represent.

The study found that men watched pornography that matched their own image of sexuality, and quickly discarded material they found offensive or distasteful.

Surely not?!!?? Who'd have thought?

So was it "bad" for them?

“Not one subject had a pathological sexuality,” he said. “In fact, all of their sexual practices were quite conventional.

“Pornography hasn't changed their perception of women or their relationship, which they all want to be as harmonious and fulfilling as possible,” he added."

Or perhaps they told you this, the sample was woefully small, none would admit to liking bestiality, dp, bdsm, urophilia and other kinks, or all the before mentioned is conventional in Montreal.

Maybe a better measure is to consider how highly ranked certain particularly kinky sites are on Alexa, how many are reporting addiction to pornography, how many relationships deteriorate as a result.

Indeed, the study that appears not to have been undertaken is what it is doing to teenagers, as increasing numbers take what are illegal photos of themselves and share them with each other, and it then ends up getting widely distributed. It is change that is profound, likely to disturb many parents, and may well change views on what censorship should be. After all, what do you do when the vast majority of what is defined as child pornography producers, are the subjects of the images themselves?

Daniel Hannan on Climate Change

The Conservative Party's best MEP, the somewhat libertarian Daniel Hannan expresses his view on climate change in the Daily Telegraph, and it is probably closest to my own:

I think the world is warming (I especially dislike the phase “climate change denial”: no one, as far as I’m aware, is positing climate stasis). And it may well be that human activity is playing some part in the process, although probably not to the degree claimed by some climate change professionals.

I also tend to agree with Nigel Lawson that adaptation would be more effective and cheaper than a programme of greenhouse gas reductions which, even according to its proponents, would slow global warming by only around 0.2 degrees.

So in other words, yes it might be warming, yes it might have some human contribution, but does it justify the draconian interventions being proposed? No. Is it the end of the world as some predict? No.

He characterises the core of the debate as follows:

Just as those who already believed in more regulation, more government, supra-nationalism and higher taxes honestly think that carbon emissions are overheating the planet, so libertarians and small government types honestly think that the whole thing is a crock. Each faction, convinced of its own sincerity, distrusts the motives of the other.

Which of course I do, it is seen most clearly in how the left hijacks this issue to wage war on international trade (because it likes protectionism and localism), the private car (because it is a symbol of individualism) and aviation, whilst being lukewarm on nuclear energy, eliminating trade barriers that could increase efficiency and reduce waste and cutting government barriers to low carbon industries. The holes appear when the Green Party ignores that increasing public transport is more likely to reduce people walking and cycling than switch people from driving, or when it seeks to ban foreign ships carrying domestic cargo between coastal ports as part of an international trip, because it supports the maritime unions and their Marxist closed shop agenda.

In other words, the policies promoted by the likes of the Green Party on climate change are in some cases fundamentally flawed, but in most cases are parallel with an agenda of more state control, more taxation, more regulation and less individual responsibility and freedom. The Green Party wouldn't promote people on welfare not breeding, even though that would reduce CO2 emissions.

Funny that.

What has happened is that a possible issue has been hijacked by one part of the political spectrum which has run off with grand solutions that come from the past, solutions that include enormous transfers of wealth to vested interests and in letting much of the world do nothing other than gain relatively from the kneecapping of developed economies.

It's about time that a new approach was taken to those who do this.

It's time for anyone promoting "climate change" policies to be honest about the costs of doing so, and what benefits will accrue. Real substantive benefits, and who will gain them. The true answer in most cases is "costs lots, gains nothing".

It's time for those arguing for any money to be spent on "climate change" to argue why it isn't better spent elsewhere.

It's time for those who seek to implement policies to address climate change to first, and foremost, advance policies that are consistent with less government, more freedom and more individual responsibility.

In other words, if we assume there is climate change and that there may be good reason to be cautious regarding it, what can governments do to get out of the way of individuals making better choices to reduce CO2 emissions, and let's not stop those wanting to voluntarily take their own steps to promote reducing emissions from doing so.

Finally, it may seem petty, but it is time to fisk the scum who continue to call those who question the climate change orthodoxy as deniers. They know they are seeking parallels with the Holocaust denial lowlives. Such language demeans and denigrates those who went through the Holocaust, by aligning the deliberate cruelty and sadism of that piece of history to theories of environmental changes that have largely occurred inadvertently. It also seeks to close any debate regarding the scale and extent of climate change, and the possible solutions.

Anyone using such language is beneath contempt.

So on climate change, first do no harm, and beware that all too many who want to do something, have a monomaniacal interest in reducing emissions at all costs, except, of course, the obvious option - which would be to do away with themselves.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

John Key aiming low

You know something's wrong with government policy when you can read this:

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Prime Minister John Key speaking from Trinidad yesterday when he said that New Zealand had adopted and implemented a radical set of policies in the 1980s with rapid and far reaching change. Key said Australia had not followed the same path but had made changes incrementally and had done much better as a result. John Key is right.

Of course this comes from John Minto. The Marxist journalist agrees with John Key, of course Key is dead wrong.

There are many reasons why Australia didn't take such a radical course, primarily because Australia wasn't in such a dire fiscal and economic state as New Zealand. On top of that Australia has long ridden on the back of a broader base of commodity exporting (digging minerals out of the ground) that has subsidised a rather profligate multi layer government.

However, what is also ignored is that, until recently, Australia hadn't turned the clock back. The Hawke/Keating governments stayed the course, and the Howard government went further, although in the latter years it was fond of dishing out pork, it did not turn back the clock. The New Zealand parallel would be if David Lange hadn't had a cup of tea, and the Bolger/Richardson government had lasted until a year ago. Australia has had 24 years of steady albeit slow economic liberalisation. New Zealand had 4 fast years, another 2 slower years, another 3 fast years, then 6 glacial years, and since then 9 years of largely going backwards.

Minto of course is an economic imbecile. New Zealand's GDP per capita had fallen behind Australia years before the 1984 election, indeed it fell from being one of the highest in the world to being down with the likes of Spain by the 1980s, lower than any other Western country, unless you counted Portugal and Greece, then the poor members of the EEC.

However, for Key to express the same imbecility is absurd.

I don't expect the government to adopt all of the policies, I do expect it to be interested in some, and in encouraging further debate and discussion. At the very least I expect this term of government to be about some level of reform and turning the opposite direction of the years of Helengrad, and gearing up voters to go much further in three years time.

It isn't about that, it is about National being a Conservative party, the very same party that sat on its hands and did sweet f'all for decades whilst the New Zealand economy slowly stagnated. The same party that allowed Muldoon to inflict nine years of control freak economics, waste and bullying upon the country, whilst they meekly let the likes of Derek Quigley get crucified for standing up against this destructiveness.

Say one thing about the Labour Party, when it gets into power it has the courage of its convictions to act, to do what it believes in, and to make changes quickly and radically. It did so after 1999, after 1984, after 1974, after 1957 and after 1935. National? It's only by sheer luck and dire circumstances that Ruth Richardson was able to drive the agenda so far so fast after 1990, after Bolger lied his way to power having been warned of how unaffordable some of the promises were.

National Party = party of professional "born to rule" conservative politicians
Labour Party = party of professional "chosen to rule" socialist politicians

For now

It is worth simply linking to this and that.

It's inevitably sad and death is damned annoying. It is not "part of life", it's the end of it.

Anna's blog showed how she has lived facing death with more certainty about its imminence than others. She sadly appears to now have rapidly slipped closer to the inevitable, so now may her family and friends simply surround her with the love, affection and joy they hold for her life.

It is only because of the joy we have from the life of one that we fear and feel such sadness for the loss.

It's a lesson to be reminded of day after day.

Enjoy life, it's the only one you have, you don't know when it will come to an end. It does have a purpose, the purpose is for you to pursue your values, your passions, your joy and to do so alone or with others as you and they may choose.

It is, after all, what Anna has been doing, even with the rude interruption.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Berlin Wall Series: German Democratic Republic

The Berlin Wall itself was a response to one simple point. The abject failure of socialism to satisfy the citizens of the German Democratic Republic to want to stay. For with many east Germans able to receive west German television, and all able to receive western radio broadcasts, the contrast was clear. Coca-cola, the Beatles and capitalism were far more attractive than the dreary sameness of the GDR. Most importantly, if you had any degree of self motivation, ambition and desire to succeed, beyond shooting and spying on your fellow citizens, you had to leave.

In 1945, with the Red Army having taken around a third of conquered Germany. The remaining territories, which would be known as west Germany were occupied by American, British and (don’t laugh) French troops, until the Federal Republic of Germany was established in 1949.

Stalin’s plan was clear.
- In association with the Allies, a quarter of territory was taken for neighbouring states, including separating Austria once more.
- A third of east Germany’s industrial equipment and facilities were removed for use in the Soviet Union.
- The Red Army became firmly based in east Germany as the front line between east and west;
- East Germany would become the location of a new German society on Marxist-Leninist lines, rejecting the Nazi past.

Elections were held in the Red Army occupied east in 1946 for some form of local administration, and while past political parties (pre-Nazi) were legalised, Stalin forced the merger between the largest social democratic party and the communists, into the Socialist Unity Party. It won the election, given extensive Soviet propaganda, much based on fact, about the horrors of the Nazi era.

However, for women and girls in east Germany there wasn’t relief with the defeat of the Nazis. The Red Army unofficially tolerated widescale rape and sexual abuse of German women and girls in the years after the war. Conservative estimates put the number of female victims of the Soviet occupation at the hundreds of thousands. These stories have only been allowed to be told and confronted in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As the Soviet occupation continued, Stalin was concerned about Berlin. Berlin had been divided between American, British, French and Soviet zones, but surrounded by Soviet occupied east Germany. Three single access corridors were guaranteed by road and rail between the west German occupied zones and the Berlin equivalents. However, Stalin had decided this shouldn’t continue, and he wanted the west out of Berlin. He started having trains stopped and inspected on the corridor trips, and then demanded that land access be closed. This was due to frustration at the money being poured into west Germany under the Marshall Plan and the establishment of the Deutsche Mark, both of which he opposed. He closed land access and electricity supply to west Berlin on the pretext of there being no formal agreement between the allies on such corridors of access, the allied response was what is now known as the Berlin airlift. The subsequent months are well known, as planes flew every four minutes on average into Tempelhof airport, supplying food, fuel and other supplies to west Berliners. At the time, Berlin was still a devastated poor city, and malnutrition was not unknown at all in post war Germany. Stalin responded by offering “free food” to west Berliners to move east, few did. Ultimately, the airlift succeeded, Stalin blinked and land access was restored. 70 pilots are aircrew had died in crashes during the airlift, indicating the risk involved in aviation at the time.

A protest at the Brandenburg gate at Stalin’s attempts to form a single municipal government for Berlin (bear in mind no wall at the time), saw the start of the serious division of the city. Half a million rejected attempts at communist domination of the Berlin council. The response was for the Soviet sector to establish a communist local authority, whilst the western sectors remained under military control.

When the Federal Republic of Germany was declared, it incensed Stalin further. An independent liberal democratic German capitalist state, that would become a NATO ally and be at the front line of the Cold War was not how he envisaged Germany. So the German Democratic Republic was hastily created in the east, using east Berlin as its capital, although it was meant to nominally be Soviet territory.

“Don’t mention the war”, as east Germans were all told they are new socialist citizens. The official line for most was that they were members of the anti-fascist resistance. The Socialist Unity Party would lead a so-called “national front”, but in effect had a monopoly on political power.

The usual communist policies were introduced, with all property nationalised and almost all businesses state owned and controlled, except crafts. Walter Ulbricht was the Stalinist leader of the GDR, and he created the Stasi, the secret police that would be many times more pervasive than the Gestapo. 2.5% of the population worked as Stasi informers. Whilst the Nazis were militarily aggressive outside Germany, and genocidal maniacs, the communists were totalitarian towards their own on a grand scale.

In the early 1950s, large scale industrialisation was the focus, but a growing problem was the exodus west. By 1953, an average of 37,000 were migrating from east to west, as skilled and talented east Germans rejected the totalitarian society being inflicted upon them, so by the mid 1950s, the extensive land border between the two German states was sealed. This culminated in the Berlin Wall in 1961, as east Berliners were swelling west Berlin with talent, and getting passports as a result. By the time the wall was completed, east Germany had lost a quarter of its population since the war.

The ability to leave wasn’t the only response by east Germans. Increases in minimum production quotas saw workers strike in 1953 in what became known as the 1953 Uprising. Tens of thousands turned out to protest in east Berlin, before the police and army turned on them, arresting hundreds and killing up to 100. This was the first major uprising in the eastern bloc.

The subsequent years saw Stalinism rolled back slowly in the 1960s, Ulbricht followed Czechoslovakia in allowing more autonomy for industrial units, hiring management based on skills and ability, more than politics. Technical competence would be rewarded. The results were improved levels of production, but although Ulbricht supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, forces within the Socialist Unity Party were moving to overthrow him.

Erich Honecker conspired with Brezhnev to overthrow him on the pretext that he was moving away from Marxism-Leninism to a more pragmatic economic policy, although at the same time Ulbricht participated in discussions on normalising relations with western countries including the Federal Republic of Germany.

Honecker pushed Ulbricht to the sidelines in 1971, and refocused propaganda on Marxism Leninism. Meanwhile, the movements of Ulbricht on improving relations with the west continued, so by 1973 the Berlin and Basic Agreements saw significant changes in the relationship. Postal and telecommunication links were reopened, and greater freedom of movement for westerners to the east (though not vice versa). This allowed families divided by the Cold War to have some contact.

East Germany had a reputation for the highest standard of living in the communist bloc, which was true. Industrial production had become more oriented towards (poor quality) consumer goods, partly because there was so much awareness of the west through broadcasting. It was virtually impossible to enforce bans on listening or viewing foreign broadcasts, although the Stasi would certainly use evidence of such activities as a reason to harass.

One way the GDR pushed national pride was sports, with the tragic use of steroids and hothouse training conditions for GDR Olympic athletes. Arts and culture were focused on socialist realism, but from the 1970s on east German cinema also went beyond the stultifying Stalinist themes and had an unusual genre of American Western type films, which would have the native Americans as heroes against the imperialist USA. There was strong support for classical music, but also underground rock and pop music bands would appear, occasionally harassed by the authorities, influenced by Western broadcasts.

Ultimately, this pervasiveness of Western broadcasts meant that it became increasingly unsustainable for the GDR regime to resist change whilst perestroika was being carried out in the USSR. Notwithstanding that, Honecker insisted in carrying out 40th anniversary celebrations for the German Democratic Republic, months before he was removed and the Socialist Unity Party surrendered its monopoly on power.

Honecker had been inspired by Tiananmen Square and had ordered a “shoot to kill” policy to respond to protests which culminated in Leipzig. Fortunately, the military refused, and so the murderous tyranny he ran, ran out.

The fall of the wall has already been discussed, but the subsequent events demonstrated how weak and insubstantial the whole German Democratic Republic was. The Peaceful Revolution resulted in the first and only free elections in east Germany in March 1990, which ended months of protests calling for the reformed communists to leave power. The former communists got 16% of the vote, against 48% for a centre right coalition and 22% for the centreleft opposition. The result was for the GDR to be dissolved and for east Germany to be incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany.

A third of Germany had been shifted from a genocidal totalitarian nightmare to a more Orwellian totalitarian nightmare. No doubt the GDR was less murderous than Nazi Germany, but it did execute opponents, it executed those seeking to leave. It ran a prison state, it ruined the lives of many through psychological torment, and it wasted the lives of millions in stagnation and mediocrity. Most of all it showed the utter destruction of humanity in being a contrast between two systems. The difference in living standards made it clear, and the inability to censor broadcasts from the west meant east Germans knew only too well they had the raw deal, and all the state wanted to do is make sure they shut up and trusted the Party. East Germans were all “in it together”, but individually they were nothing, just a part of a machine. Aspiration and success would only be rewarded if it fitted in with the goals of the party, and east Germans had to go underground to have some sense of freedom.

East Germany was also the frontline of ambitions to destroy the west. The Red Army was there to be the footsoldiers for any future advance, and east Berlin sponsored terrorism in the west, with the Red Army Faction including the infamous Baader-Meinhof gang. Murderous thugs to the letter as they were.

Nothing in Europe exemplified more the economic, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of “really existing socialism” than east vs. west Germany. As JFK once said “at least we don’t have to build a wall to keep our people in”.

As a footnote, Erich Honecker fled to Moscow after the end of the Berlin Wall, to escape charges of conspiracy to murder - because he decided on the shoot to kill policy for escapees. He took refuge in the Chilean embassy, but extradited by the Russian government of Boris Yeltsin where he faced trial. However he was too ill for trial in 1993, so it was discontinued and he had his final year in Chile, dying of liver cancer.

His wife remains in Chile, she had been a Minister under the communist regime and she still argues life was better then.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Berlin Wall Series: Bulgaria

By contrast to Czechoslovakia, it would be fair to say Bulgaria is for many a “far off country of which we know little”. Today it is a member of NATO and the EU, which would have been almost impossible to conceive 20 years ago.

However, Bulgaria’s importance is underestimated, being one of those countries on the “frontline” of the Iron Curtain bordering Greece and therefore NATO. Bulgaria isn’t known for having had any high profile attempts at resistance and liberalisation, like Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It isn’t the centre of Europe like Germany, and it did not have quite the megalomaniac like Romania.

Bulgaria’s status in World War 2 owes a lot to Tsar Boris III. He took the Bulgarian throne in 1918 after his father abdicated due to Bulgaria being on the losing side of World War 1. Bulgaria had faced reparations and loss of territory as a result. During the period of his reign Bulgaria swung between coups and plots from communists and militarists, culminating in a military coup in 1934 by the Zveno group. It established an authoritarian state abolishing political parties and trade unions, and attempting a corporatist economy. In other words state direction of private enterprise. The coup reduced Tsar Boris’s role to one of a figurehead, which he did not tolerate so he staged a monarchist counter coup in 1935. He appointed allies to be Prime Ministers, and in 1939 Bulgaria was neutral in the war, but within a year Boris III had allied himself with the Axis powers. Anti-Semitic laws were introduced barring Jews from intermarriage, government employment and from certain geographical areas. However, even the pro-German regime successfully resisted attempts to deport Bulgarian Jews en-masse.

The Bulgarian shift in favour of the Axis was in part due to the Axis offering to return land to Bulgaria that had been ceded to Romania and Yugoslavia. German troops used Bulgaria as a transit point, but Bulgaria notably never declared war on the USSR even after the German invasion. However in 1943, Boris died suddenly, and as his eldest son was only a child, governance effectively swung to a pro-German regency council.

The effect of the alliance with the Germans was to bolster support for a resistance movement, which the communists and the agrarian movement led. By 1944 both a lack of popular support and losses by the Axis, saw Ivan Bagrianov, a pro-Western politician, appointed by the Regency Council to seek peace with the Allies. However, neighbouring Romania, which had been with the Axis powers as well, turned towards the USSR, as the Red Army marched on. In early 1944 a new government was set up under the Fatherland Front, comprising communists, the authoritarian Zveno movement and anti-Nazi supporters, but this did not stem the Red Army from invading. The Fatherland Front government told the army to not resist and it allied itself with the USSR against Germany. Bulgaria fought with the Red Army to recapture what is now known as Yugoslav Macedonia and Serbia all the way to Hungary.

Following the end of the war, with Soviet backing, the communists in the government arrested many politicians and officials charging them of war crimes. The government was purged of past supporters of alliance with Germany, and an ally of Stalin, Georgi Dimitrov was appointed Prime Minister. A plebiscite was held to abolish the monarchy, which apparently got a 95% vote for such an abolition, and rigged elections were held in 1946. The agrarians and other anti-Nazi parties boycotted the elections in disgust. The young Tsar Simeon II was forced to flee, and a pro-communist government was installed before the People’s Republic of Bulgaria was established on Stalinist lines.

The early leaders, Dimitrov and Kolarov had died by 1950 and so leadership was effectively taken by Vulko Chervenkov who sought to rapidly industrialise the country. He attacked the Orthodox Church, put dissidents in labour camps, and imposed strict rule upon the country. He established a personality cult, and introduced free compulsory education and a public healthcare system. However, he had little support within the party so that once Stalin died, he was replaced as General Secretary and subsequently Prime Minister. He was replaced by the man who would dominate communist Bulgaria to the very end, Todor Zhivkov (that's his official website).

Zhivkov was previously a member of the resistance against the alliance with Germany, and subsequently a member of the Stalinist faction in the party, responsible for the forcible collectivisation of farms in a region he was in charge of. Over the subsequent years from 1954 to 1971 he consolidated rule around himself. He rejected Stalinism, allowing a nationalist view of Bulgaria, although he ceded claims to Slavic Macedonia to Yugoslavia. He bent with the wind, having been pro-Khrushchev, before becoming more hard line again under Brezhnev. He even strengthened relations with China in the late 1950s starting a brief and abortive “Great Leap Forward”. The Sino-Soviet split saw Zhivkov align himself with the USSR more, and he fended off a Stalinist coup.

However, this sort of leadership would mean Bulgarians would pay a price of uncertainty. As Czechoslovakia started a new economic policy, so would Bulgaria, under the Prague Spring saw central planning reasserted, and all those involved in running companies on a market basis would be arrested and purged. He closed down labour camps in the early 1960s, but changed the focus to having a Police state to arrest, frighten and monitor the public. However, unlike his neighbour Ceausescu he resisted having a personality cult, but he did establish a complex system of privileges of luxury goods and service for the elite and supporters to enjoy.

In the 1970s Zhivkov remained closely aligned with the USSR, and gained much material support as being at a frontline of the Cold War. Bulgaria made much foreign exchange by gaining cheap Soviet crude oil to refine and export at global market prices. Apparently Zhivkov even asked the USSR if Bulgaria could be a republic of the USSR, but Brezhnev rejected the request.

Zhivkov’s regime did not tolerate dissent, although in the field of the arts, as long as no political messages were given, his daughter Lyudmila promoted openness. Her sudden death at age 38 affected Zhivkov, and he took it out on ethnic Turks, banning the Turkish language and forcing all Bulgarian Turks to adopt Bulgarian names. His reputation dropped, and by the time Gorbachev had taken over Moscow, Zhivkov was elderly and more resistant to change. He had poured money into defence, increasing the size of the armed forces to be a loyal servant of Moscow.

Little had happened by 1989, but news of change in other eastern European states came through to Bulgarians via Radio Free Europe, BBC World Service and Voice of America, so Bulgarians became brave enough to hold protests in Sofia, ostensibly on environmental issues. The Communist Party sensing the need for change, overthrew Zhivkov on November 10 1989. He was replaced by Petar Mladenov who only distinguished himself by delaying the surrender of the communist monopoly on power by a few months. In June 1990 free elections were held, which were won by the reformed communists who had rejected authoritarian rule and had purged Zhivkov. Zhivkov was arrested and convicted of embezzling public funds, and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. He was put under house arrest, but was acquitted in his old age two years before his death in 1998.

Meanwhile Bulgaria slowly reformed its economy, as the Socialist Party (former communists) did not take dramatic steps to confront what needed to change, beyond political freedoms. In 1992 the government changed to the anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces which engaged in mass privatisation by giving shares in government enterprises to citizens, which had mixed results, primarily as so many government enterprises were grossly underproductive, inefficient and so closed down. High unemployment in the 1990s saw governments change at every election, but eventually some stability ensued. Political freedoms were high, so Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007. Most interestingly, the child Tsar, Simeon II, who was expelled by the communists in 1946, was elected in 2001, with his party winning many seats. The Tsar returned, Bulgaria became a new magnet for European property investors, and the poor forgotten land was never to turn east again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Berlin Wall Series: Czechoslovakia

A far off country of which we know little”.

The words of Neville Chamberlain to describe Czechoslovakia, when he disgraced the UK, and Édouard Daladier disgraced France disgraced by signing over the country to Hitler. Hitler carved it up, with half becoming “liebensraum” for Germany, and the rest a docile client state. This sacrifice of the people of Czechoslovakia (notwithstanding the pro-Nazi minority) was a disgrace, for a momentary period of peace, for all except those who lived in that country. Ultimately 345,000 people in Czechoslovakia perished in World War 2. It was taken from German control between 1944 and 1945 by the Red Army, which then deported over 2 million Germans, regardless of political affiliation, to occupied Germany.

Pre-war leader Edvard Benes had signed agreements with Stalin to restore the pre-Nazi government once Czechoslovakia had been recovered, and shortly after the end of the war, a national unity government was set up. One of its main actions was to expropriate property from alleged Nazi collaborators and redistribute it. Mob justice saw the innocent and those who resisted the Nazis tarred with the same brush.

However, Stalin did not let Czechoslovakia operate as a semi liberal democratic state for nothing at this point. There was much popular sympathy for the communists after the war. Why? Well, Britain and France were far from popular to put it mildly, having both shown willingness to sacrifice the country. This betrayal, combined with support for how Germans were being expelled and maltreated saw the communists win a plurality of the vote in the Czech region, but not the Slovak region. The resulting national unity government, with perhaps shades of Zimbabwe today, saw the communists taking control of half of the bureaucracy and exercising control over society through such control. Non-sympathisers progressively lost their jobs over time, with control of the economic and police portfolios meaning that discrimination against opponents of communism grew.

Nevertheless, it was clear from the beginning that communism in Czechoslovakia had a slightly more moderate flavour than many of its neighbours. When communist Prime Minister Klement Gottwald announced he was going to meet with the Americans about the Marshall Plan, Stalin responded swiftly. Gottwald wanted some neutrality between east and west, but was threatened with intervention. The communists were told to secure power firmly, so the security forces started clamping down on opposition parties and organisations claiming a coup was imminent. This suppression of freedom of speech and association caused the non-communists in the government to resign, seeking to precipitate an election. As the President was a non-communist, it was hoped he would dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections. However President Benes did not, presumably under threat from Moscow.

The communists governed, with all other parties having withdrawn from government, and so they wrote a new constitution to grant a monopoly on power. President Benes refused to sign it, so resigned, causing a wave of Stalinist power to grip the country. Show trials were held of those who had been in past governments, as well as persecution of nationalists, Jews and those with “international” backgrounds. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned, and dozens executed. All businesses with more than 50 employees were nationalised, with remaining businesses granted “temporary concessions”. The economy was to be industrialised on a grand scale.

Meanwhile, Prague was to be host to the Stalin Monument (good story in this link about it), which took six years to complete and was the largest ever representation of Stalin. The sculptor killed himself before the unveiling. In 1956 student protests were repressed, and it was not until the early 1960s that the de-Stalinisation of Moscow started to be reflected in Prague. In 1962, the Stalin Monument was blown up by the regime, increasingly embarrassed by its presence, particularly while Prague itself had crumbling infrastructure. It having taken nearly 10 years for reformers to push the line of Khrushchev against the remaining Stalinists, progressively pushing them out of power.

In 1965 a New Economic Model was launched, with central planning reduced. Price mechanisms were to be reintroduced to guide production and consumption, with management allowed to make decisions on individual operations. President Novotny had somewhat resisted the changes, but was ultimately deposed by reformer Alexander Dubcek, as the party moved to continue its shift to more liberal government.

Dubcek moved to remove Stalinists from power, and censorship was lifted. A federal state would be created with freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed. He emphasised communist leadership and continued alliance with the USSR, but new political groups emerged.

The Prague Spring, and the Red Army troops who suppressed this blast of freedom in Czechoslovakia are a part of history. The bravery of those who stood up, as the Soviet Union, again, retook its empire, is well known. They greyness that came after, set the stage for 20 years of oppression. The other members of the Warsaw Pact connived to demand that the Communist Party ban non-communist organisations and reimpose censorship. Dubcek rejected it and the troops came. The public resisted, but Dubcek was arrested and taken to Moscow.

Czechs and Slovaks both knew only too well that their country was not their’s but Moscow’s. The communist party was purged of reformers, and around a third of its membership were removed. Censorship was reimposed, protestors and other organisers in support of the Prague Spring would be arrested swiftly. This included a playwright who had broadcast on dissident radio, called Vaclav Havel. He would be imprisoned several times over the following years.

Czechoslovakia returned to form, a loyal member of the Warsaw Pact. Freedom of speech and association were gone, but an underground movement remained. Gustav Husak was the joyless drone who brought back the grey oppression. Art, culture, even science were subordinated to the party, the economy returned to more centralised control, so was stagnating once more by the 1980s. Husak connected Czechoslovakia intimately with Moscow aligning itself explicitly on all foreign policy and economic policy. So much so, Husak didn’t know what he was getting himself in for when he committed the country to Perestroika, following Moscow’s lead, in 1987.

In December 1987, Husak resigned due to ill health, replaced with another drone, Milos Jakes. Czechoslovak perestroika involved some decentralisation of decision making, but little more. Yet in the same month, half a million Catholics signed a petition demanding religious freedom. In March 1988, what became known as the Candle Demonstration was held in Bratislava, nominally backing the petition. Of the 2000 protesting, about 100 were arrested. Demonstrations continued in late 1988 and early 1989, with people emboldened by openness in the USSR, and the regime felt unable to respond with great force.

The culmination of this was a demonstration in Bratislava by students calling for liberal democracy on November 16 1989, with a similar protest in Prague. Riot police broke up that protest, sparking further protests in response. Citizens had already heard what had happened in Poland and Hungary on the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. By November 20 half a million people were protesting in Prague, with a general strike held on the 27th. The next day the Communist Party announced it would relinquish its monopoly on power, and free elections would be held. The Velvet Revolution had occurred.

By the end of 1989, the government had resigned, the iron curtain torn up between Czechoslovakia and Austria and West Germany, (hastening the end of the East German regime), and Prague Spring reformer Alexander Dubcek was appointed Speaker, and Vaclav Havel President of Czechoslovakia. Free elections were held in June 1990.

The model for a peaceful revolution was there, in Prague, and like others, Czechoslovakia has not looked back. It split in 1993 into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, peacefully, eventually both pursuing liberal market economic reforms (Slovakia briefly had an isolationist nationalist government), with both joining NATO and the EU. Never again will the UK or France betray the Czechs and Slovaks.

Both states have achieved some relative economic success. Of those individuals involved, Dubcek sadly died in a car crash under suspicious circumstances (as he was to give evidence in a trial), and Havel was President until 2003, having completed two terms. and today is still a vibrant advocate for freedom. In Prague today the Museum of Communism tells the story of life during that era, the tragedies and the ridiculousness of so much. More recently, the Czech Supreme Court has been requested by the State Senate to dissolve the communist party for being unconstitutional, as it does not disown using violence to gain power.

Prague today is a beautiful historic city, and the people of both the Czech and Slovak republics are well and truly not looking back with nostalgia at their past of autocratic oppression and stark denial of humanity. Don't treat it as a far off country today. Both Prague and Bratislava are beautiful cities well worth a visit.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Berlin Wall Season: Poland

Poland is perhaps the most unlucky of those countries in eastern Europe in the 20th century. It was, after all, the country Britain went to war for. It was Hitler's next step after having being appeased over Czechoslovakia. Poland had the bad luck of not only facing the onslaught, occupation and murder of the Nazis, but got little better from Stalin and lived under the jackboot of Moscow for another 50 years.

Of course the Nazis didn't takeover Poland on their own. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact saw the Red Army invade from the east in "defence" of Germany, after Germany staged a Polish "invasion". An action so improbable it is a wonder Hitler bothered.

Under the Nazis the Poles suffered dreadfully, with widespread plans to kill or deport most, with a small minority to remain as slaves. The words Warsaw Ghetto tell a tale of their own about the abysmal fate of Jews in Poland. Of 3 million Jews in Poland, 50,000 remained by 1945. The story of how the Soviets treated Poland during the war is less well known, but similarly brutal, with religion suppressed, mass executions and imprisonment, and a Stalinist totalitarian form of military rule imposed. The Katyn Massacre by the Soviet NKVD killed around 22,000 Poles.

Ultimately Germany broke with the pact with Moscow and invaded the USSR, and as losses mounted up Poland ended up being under total Red Army control at the end of the war. Stalin keenly instituted a communist government, annexing some eastern lands for the USSR, but in return taking some from Germany to give to a newly "independent" Poland.

Stalin promised free elections in Poland, but as support for the communists was low, vote rigging saw a carefully staged takeover of government, so that by 1949 there was legally a communist monopoly on power. Forced collectivisation and nationalisation progressed, although agriculture remained dominated by peasant farms. Art was forced to be Socialist Realist, education became Marxist-Leninist dominated, and a "communist" Catholic Church was sought to be created in order to undermine the strong Catholicism of the population, while oppressing the true church.

After the death of Stalin, tensions emerged between the pro-Stalinist and the more reformist wings of the party. It came to a head in 1956 with the Poznan strike , which followed the death of Stalinist PM Bolesław Bierut. 80 were killed at Poznan. The reformist wing of the party took hold, and it was agreed to raise wages, and reduce the degree of Stalinist control. As a result reformist Władysław Gomułka became party First Secretary, who condemned and expelled a Soviet Marshal, who ordered that troops open fire on the Poznan strikers, from the government. Gomulka made it clear Polish troops would resist if Soviet troops sought to overthrow the government.

Khrushchev saw this as the rumblings of revolution, but Gomulka took much effort to say Poland was not withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact, and it was not abandoning communism. Khruschev relented, but it was the news of this backdown by Soviet troops that inspired the events of the Hungarian uprising later that year. Gomulka's thaw saw an easing of repression against the church and less state control of the arts, culture and education. However, with the removal of Khrushchev, Soviet pressure grew and Gomulka relented in the 1960s. Persecution of the church, intellectuals and suspected opponents grew. This included an anti-semitic purge removing tens of thousands of Jews from their jobs, coinciding with the Six Day War. Polish troops also assisted in the suppression of the Prague Spring revolution. It culminated in protests in 1970 against massive price rises which were brutally suppressed, with 40 dead and many more injured.

Gomulka was removed, and replaced with Edward Gierek who sought and gained loans and aid from the West to subsidise a programme of supplying more consumer goods to the population. However, this proved unsustainable with massive price rises in 1976 seeing riots and protests. Opposition groups emerged which the regime did not seriously repress, aided significantly by Pope John Paul II being selected, providing a rallying point for many Poles in the church. This proved to be one of the significant steps toward unravelling the regime. Although the Carter Administration propped it up with a US$500 million loan in 1979, which undoubtedly helped sustain it. Although at the time it was clearly seen as the most moderate of the communist governments, given the growth of opposition organisations.

The Gdansk shipyards and Lech Walesa became the next trigger point for reform, with Walesa signing the now much forgotten Gdansk Agreement, which legalised Solidarity as an independent trade union, formally allowed freedom of speech to criticise government policy. By 1981 a quarter of the population had joined Solidarity, three times the number who were members of the Polish United Workers Party. However, the government was stuck. Prices had to rise because of the poor state of the economy and the inability to afford consumer goods otherwise, but this would have provoked widespread revolution.

So instead Poland got martial law under General Jaruzelski. Riot Police brutally suppressed protests, Solidarity was banned, and a tight control on speech, the media and association was implemented. The clock had gone back 25 years. The main justification for martial law was fear of Soviet invasion, which would indicate what would happen some years later when Gorbachev made it clear that Soviet allies would govern their own affairs. The economy stagnated, as Pole faced ration cards and declining living standards, until 1988 when martial law having been lifted some time before, the party opened talks with representatives of Solidarity.

Solidarity was legalised in April 1989, as talks progressed to significantly liberalise Polish political life, culminating in elections in June 1989 when a minority of Parliamentary seats were open to other parties. However that election demonstrated how unpopular the communists were, as Solidarity won all seats it contested and the communists failed to gain many votes in those it had reserved. The pressure built up for far reaching reform so that a Solidarity led government was sworn into office in September 1989, implementing radical reforms with the first fully free elections in 1990, with the end of the People's Republic of Poland.

Finally, after 60 years, Poland would be free. In 1999 Poland would join NATO and in 2004 the European Union. It had secured itself out of the Soviet/Russian sphere and would not look back. It being clear for so long that Poles had little appetite for communism and dictatorship, and that it only took the eyes of Moscow to turn away for Poles to be themselves.