Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ross Munro - hero of the week

It is sad that clothing firm Line 7 is going into receivership.

What was more sad was the wearisome offer by John Key that he was "prepared to look at offering assistance if an approach was made", although he preferred a commercial solution. In other words, your money might be used to bail out any business that curried sufficient favour with the government. It's what you expected with Helen Clark, and Barack Obama has shown he is quite willing to prop up failed companies, but John Key? Why is he listening to the philosophy of Jim Anderton, or is it just to grab the middle New Zealand pablum approach that "guv'mint" should always be there to help.

However, Line 7 Chief Executive Ross Munro has shown himself to be a businessman, entrepreneur and indeed a man of principle above any MP (not that hard really) by refusing government help.

On Radio NZ I heard him say "it is not the role of the Government or the taxpayer to prop up the company after its own mistakes. Mr Munro says the company, which was founded in 1963, has made its own bed and needs to lie in it."

Kudos to him, of course he does already get some support indirectly, through tariffs on imported clothing, low though they are, but still it is a welcoming statement that he is saying a flat no to your money.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party is saying not enough is being done (borrowing from your children's taxes and spending more of your money) to fight the recession. It might have been more productive had Labour not frittered money away on flights of fancy like Kiwirail, which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars. $690 million for a business that is worth $388 million (which is actually worth far less because it needs subsidies every year worth nearly $100 million to just operate) - that's how the Labour Party creates wealth, by subsidising foreign owners of businesses it wants to play with.

So today go out and buy something from Line 7 - you'll know you're supporting a brand and company that doesn't put its unwanted hands in your wallet.

Random observations while in NZ

In my time back in NZ, I have noticed a few things:
- Hysteria over Swine Flu the moment I arrived at the airport, forms to fill out so my location could be identified (yawn);
- Continued banality of so many drivers, tailgating me while I drive at 85 km/h on a windy road in pouring rain behind a truck I can't pass wont get you there faster, but it will be a bloody mess if I have to stop quickly (but I forgot physics isn't cool in Aotearoa);
- TVNZ must be the worst state owned broadcaster in the semi-free world. News that is more banal, brainless and celebrity oriented than any US TV news, with factual errors dotted throughout items. It shouldn't be privatised, it should be shut down, the frequencies sold and the equipment, broadcasting rights and other assets flogged off. It is second only to the education system in promoting the dumbing down of the broad mass of the population;
- Watch the teaching unions be scared shitless about the publication of the results of pupil performance at primary schools. Scared of providing information because parents are too stupid to know what to do with it, but the largely closed shop friends of the Labour Party know best what is good for your kids. School league tables wont make a big difference, and no they don't tell you what schools are best - but they do give an indication of the levels that schools aim for with students. Teachers' unions are scared of nothing more than performance pay and teachers being held accountable for the results of their pupils, and will do everything they can to obfuscate this issue;
- Local government is scared of Rodney Hide, this is a good thing;
- The recession has yet to seriously hit NZ. Sorry there are not shoots of a recovery, tourism is in for a long cold period of stagnation. Aussies may come to ski, but nobody from the northern hemisphere will be coming soon;
- Labour MPs don't know what to do. I briefly saw Chris Hipkins, MP for Rimutaka, rip into ACT MP Heather Roy for introducing a bill on motor vehicle dealers because it wasn't a bill about creating jobs. Even though Labour was supporting the bill, this junior retarded MP believes governments create jobs;
- Many Wellingtonians fear redundancies, but some of the smart people in the state sector are leaving, so the generically average will remain. It's like voluntary redundancy programmes, which generally incentivise good people to leave (because they always find other opportunities), but the deadwood remain;
- Nowhere is anything busy;
- Thanks to the Labour government, the telecommunications sector is now addicted to regulation. Now there is talk about the state regulating what existing mobile phone operators sell their own network capacity to resellers - apparently because it is unreasonable to expect new entrants to build their own networks, even though in the last 22 years Telecom has built 4 mobile networks and Vodafone 2;
- New Zealand also remains one of the few countries where Sunday papers are worse than weekday papers;
- Why does the NZ Herald National News section have a sub section called Child Abuse? Is it an indictment on the Commissioner for Children position that this is the case, and why are child abusers continuing to live off the back of taxpayers?
- I could buy Lurpak butter and Laughing Cow cheese in a NZ supermarket and the NZ dairy industry doesn't collapse, so why can't NZ dairy products enter European supermarkets at market prices (yes it is a rhetorical question);
- Does Air NZ charge full fares for young children in premium economy class and if not, why not?
- More women are wearing skirts in Wellington (in mid winter) than before, it this just pure coincidence with the disappearance of Helen Clark?
- For the last 5 years the highest priority road project in Wellington has been the Kapiti Western Link Road, a project led by Kapiti Coast District Council. The money exists to build it, and has for some time, but isn't the constant scope changing and the iterations between council, property developers, community organisations and central government symptomatic of the general incompetence of so many in local government to get anything useful done?
- The speed limits in downtown Wellington are now a ridiculous 30 km/h, was this because too many dopey people were being killed, or is it part of a creeping agenda against road transport?
- Why is Phoenix Cola no longer sweetened by honey?
- Why is it damned hard to get pressed fruit juice, not juice made from concentrate, except orange?
- How is it I can phone a GP in NZ and get an appointment the next day, with a small fee, having not lived here for years, but in the UK it is a big deal?
- Why isn't Richard Prebble hosting a news discussion programme on TV, it could be called I've Been Arguing?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Maoist was being spied on - wow

So Sue Bradford has been getting spied on for decades.
From the rather banal, badly researched article by Martin Kay in the Dominion Post, you might think that it was all about high school students campaigning for more rights who were getting spied on.
Well Sue Bradford was a bit more than that, visiting China in the early 1970s as a card carrying member of the Communist Party, while Chairman Mao was still in power, during the Cultural Revolution, would and should have caused some alarm at the time.
Trevor Loudon told more a few years ago, here, here and here.
Catherine Delahunty on the other had is simply crazy, but would hook her anti capitalism, anti reason train onto anything she could find - so now of course she's a Green MP

Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's a recession, so have a junket

I don't begrudge MPs travel, after all some of them have constituencies, so it is reasonable to travel from constituencies to Wellington.

However for a bunch of backbenchers to have you pay for them to go on a junket to London, in mid winter (NZ) to mid summer (UK) flying business class is outrageous. It isn't the amount of money, which is piffling. It is the audacity that MPs, some of whom bemoan the tragic life of the poor, and how everyone should be made to pay more, go off in luxury, paid for by you, to "study "aspects of parliamentary practice and procedure"".

No, read the fucking book of procedures and talk to senior MPs you lazy parasitical junket junkies.

The NZ Herald reports that "They would also receive briefings on Britain's constitutional relationship with New Zealand and on issues of interest to them individually such as climate change and health"

Climate change? A Green MP is flying halfway around the planet to receive briefings on climate change? Nice that. The same party that pontificates on people sinfully driving and rich people not paying enough tax, happily pillages taxpayers to send its people business class to London in the northern summer to "receive briefings" and "study".

What's the word for it again? Hypo.....

This trip should have been cancelled, the MPs should be made to pay for it themselves (then decide if it isn't better to read books and receive briefings via the internet or phone), but most of all their constituents should be asked if they think this is a worthwhile use of their money in a recession.

Meanwhile, this single trip should help ensure all the MPs will instantly get Air NZ Silver Airpoints status straightaway, although those already clocking up quite a lot of domestic flights will get Gold this time. Gold Elite next right chaps? Ensures you keep away from the lumpen-proletariat who voted you in.

Which of course I understand, but I'm Gold Elite not thanks to the taxpayer.

UPDATE: Iain Lees-Galloway, MP for Palmerston North (Labour) is even twittering the heartache of flying business class on Air NZ

Friday, June 19, 2009

Local government cargo cult - Hawke's Bay Airport

This from Napier City Council and Hastings District Council, with central government collaboration - they hope.

Hawke's Bay Airport is a joint venture between central government and these two councils, with central government holding 50% of the airport, and the two councils owning the rest. (Napier 26%, Hastings 24%) However, it would be fair to say central government is not driven by wild ideas of expanding the airport for regional development.

So the plan to spend NZ$9 million extending the runway, for airlines that don't fly there yet, and planes nobody wants to fly there, is just local government wasting ratepayers' money for the sake of pride and regional kudos. Air New Zealand generates most of the traffic, and is perfectly happy flying ATR72 and Q300 turboprops, as was Origin Pacific when it existed providing competition on the routes. It does not wish to fly jets. Neither Jetstar nor Pacific Blue have declared serious interest in flying there, and the idea of international flights is ludicrous.

However, when you work in local government you can spend ratepayers' money on a cargo cult. In the midst of the most serious recession in the airline sector in modern history, Napier and Hastings councils think it is time to expand. It isn't a commercially sensible decision, the airport is seeking to borrow money to pay for a runway extension that nobody is prepared to pay to use.

It is a cargo cult, "build it and they will come". It didn't work for Invercargill airport, which wasted money on international facilities. There isn't enough traffic to Hawke's Bay Airport to sustain a competitor on the routes Air NZ flies (which is does show with rather high yields), so why the hell will bigger planes fly there?

The airport should be privatised, the government should flog off its ownership so that a private owner can put in some directors with some business acumen, and the councils should be required to sell off their shares. Ratepayers can then get a windfall they can use to invest on what THEY want, and Hawke's Bay Airport can then be operated on a commercially sound basis, it might start by trying to attract more airlines, rather than worship the rather childish idea that jet airliners can be the only way the airport can grow.

Britney's faux pas

"What's up London"

except it was Manchester.

Given a review of her London concert was that it it was hard to tell how much lip synching she was doing, it wouldn't be surprising to believe that she is really isn't that conscious nowadays.

If you don't retain the simple information about where you are, what sort of state are you in?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Greens should pay for fruit in schools

It's such a simple basic concept, that socialists generally can't get to grips with.

If you want something to happen, do it yourself, with your own time or your own money, by your own choice - don't moan and whinge to get someone to make everyone else do it for you.

So it's hardly a surprise that the Greens, led by chief cheerleader for compulsion Sue Kedgley are demanding that you be made to pay for fruit to be provided to kids in schools for free.

Do you see Sue Kedgley wandering down to a low decile school donating some fruit herself? No. Do you see the Green party organising a collection or a charity to do it? No. That would mean doing more than a press release. Far better to demand that nanny state pinch a bit more tax from everyone else, to make them pay for it, push the money through bureaucracies (IRD, Treasury, Ministry of Education) and have the warm embracing state feed people's kids for them. Simpler than taking responsibility yourself isn't it Sue?

So if the "Fruit in Schools" programme is to cease getting taxvictim funding, then maybe Kedgley could start coughing up her own money to help out, perhaps some of the tax cut she opposed. Indeed why don't all Green MPs do that, and Green party members too?

Or, to use Kedgley's rhetoric, does the fact that she does nothing besides shout for the "government" to act, prove that she doesn't care at all about the nutritional needs of children in low decile schools? Does it not prove that the Greens only believe things can get done if everyone is forced to pay for them, and that Green MPs would rather bark on about taxpayers paying for something that none of them will voluntarily pay for themselves?

Another day of defiance in Iran : and nothing from the "peace" movement

It's not going away, protests in Tehran and other cities continue.

The Times reports:

1238 GMT The rally begins in central Tehran. Witnesses say Imam Khomeini Square is packed with tens of thousands of black-clad people carrying candles, and banners that read "Where are our brothers?", "Why did you kill our brothers?", "We have not had people killed to compromise and accept a doctored ballot box", "We wrote love, they read dictator", "My martyred brother, I will get back your vote", and "Silent, keep calm".

1359 GMT Defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi joins the rally in Tehran, says AFP. Dressed in a black suit with a black shirt, he gets out of a car in front of the telecoms building in Imam Khomeini Square, and addresses the crowd through a loudhailer.

1430 GMT Kosoofvid has started to post video footage on YouTube , multiple videos under the same title: Tehran Rally against Election Results. They show a lot of people handing out banners, giving V for victory signs, moving slowly and peacefully. It isn't clear if the footage is from today or yesterday.

Meanwhile the Islamist Theocracy is spreading its own black propaganda, claiming that protests are fomented by foreigners (a common claim by most dictatorships, who always think the people love them, and only dirty evil foreigners could possibly want rid of them), and now claims of an Israeli bomb plot thwarted by the Intelligence Ministry. All designed to make those not protesting think, or rally them against the protestors.

Have you also noticed how the Green Party, so ready to damn China, has put out no press releases on Iran? Have you seen Greenpeace do it? Have you seen any protests organised by the so-called "peace" movement outside the Iranian Embassy in Wellington?

No - of course not. Maybe it's time someone in the media asked why they are so uninterested?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why get local government out of transport?

Well the NZ Herald gives a great example:

"Chris Darby, North Shore City's representative on the Regional Transport Committee, acknowledged that a 34 per cent Government increase in highway construction funding over the next three years may give the country a short-term economic development boost."

You might ask what a Regional Transport Committee is needed for, before the last government it was nearly impotent.

Mr Darby condemned the (new government funding) policy statement, which Auckland Regional Council officers have estimated will require 76 per cent of land transport funds to be spent on roads, as "an absolute time warp to the 1950s."

A time warp - even though easily 40% of funds are always spent on maintenance as it is, is it that unreasonably to spend three quarters on road maintenance and upgrades? The rest of the world is building roads, but Mr Darby is a local government planner, and he wants to throw other people's money at modes he thinks Aucklanders ought to be using, rather than letting Aucklanders choose, after paying real prices for using roads and public transport.

ARTA itself admits that 86% of commutes in Auckland are undertaken by car, but only 7% by public transport (most of which is NOT rail) and 5% by walking and cycling. So it is hardly unreasonable for central government to expect 76% of Auckland transport funding to go to roads, roads move over 90% of Auckland commuters, railways move less than 2% and the rest go by ferry or footpath.

"He said it failed to provide against dwindling oil supplies and risked leaving future Aucklanders with redundant roading infrastructure and inadequate public transport to make do with less fuel.

"It will be a long-time liability - what we are seeing here really lacks imagination and I am convinced it lacks examination," he said."

Apparently Aucklanders will move by some other means, and Mr Darby is another commodity speculator who doesn't actually risk his own money on the assertion that oil prices will go sky high. If they don't use roads, will they fly? Railways couldn't physically move more than maybe 9% of Auckland commuters even if almost all those who live near them used them! So who lacks imagination?

What sort of imbecile is Mr Darby if he thinks there will be LESS fuel, not DIFFERENT fuel? Why will roads, the most flexible transport infrastructure there is, be redundant? HE is the person without examination of his assertion, they are the sort of rants of Green politicians, not anything from a transport professional.

So why should he have any say at all? He doesn't represent users, he doesn't represent producers, he represents planners.

What's wrong will letting those who maintain and build roads spend the money raised from taxing those using them. If there is less road use (as there is), there is less money and less road building. If there is more road use, then there is more money, and at peak times roads might cost a lot more (and a lot less at off peak times).

Similarly if there is more public transport use, there is more money to spend on services - oh yes, don't forget that Auckland local government has spent the last few years subsidising rail services and undermining commercial (unsubsidised) bus services, so more fare revenue doesn't mean more services, as it doesn't generate enough money for more.

So isn't it time that local government had its hands taken off one of the most essential sets of infrastructure in the country?

What Obama could say

President Obama thinks saying anything will backfire, than Iranians would rather the USA just keep quiet and see what happens.

He's wrong. While I understand the initial hesitancy, the fear that a country where thousands can be rallied for anti-USA rallies, it shows a surprising reluctance to openly embrace and project the principle that the USA should be able to expound globally.

Freedom.

So he's just an idea as a speech for Obama:

The United States and Iran have many differences, but today I want to talk not of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but the people of Iran who want what we in the United States take for granted.

Freedom.

Clearly many Iranians are concerned about the conditions of the recent general election, concerns that I and many others share across the world. Free, fair and open elections are one way that people can hold governments to account and select governments, but in and of themselves they are not enough. A majority must never be allowed to vote for tyranny over a minority. You see, whatever the outcome of the election, the flame burning in the hearts and minds of many Iranians is freedom, and it is one they are risking their lives for.

Freedom to live your life as you see fit, to not be harassed by the state for your beliefs, what you wear, what books you want to read or for criticising the state. Freedom to be a human being, to think, express your thoughts, to own your life and live it, while respecting the same in others.

It is this simple basic and fundamental idea that drove millions of people across eastern Europe twenty years ago to unshackle themselves from governments that treated their people as subjects to plan, push around and run over in the pursuit of their own narrow vision. In far too many countries, government still do treat citizens as their property and a means to their own ends, rather than ends in themselves.

Iranians, like East Germans, Poles, Romanians, Indonesians, South Africans, Ukrainians, Cubans, Iraqis, Georgians and millions of others worldwide, share the desire for this basic fundamental right – to be free people. Free to be Muslims, Christians, atheists, entrepreneurs, teachers, journalists, scientists, parents or whatsoever they wish, as long as it does not harm anyone else.

It is this vision that I believe is shared by most people across the world, a common bond of humanity, for people to be themselves, not what some politician or preacher wants them to be.

So today, I say to those people in Iran who are bravely standing up, where the state is suppressing freedom of assembly or freedom of speech, that the United States supports you, and all peoples of the world that wish to break the shackles of authoritarianism from their wrists, minds, hearts and dreams.

Not because we want to control you, or make you one of us, but because we know what freedom means – our ancestors fought for freedom in this great country over 200 years ago. We know how precious it is, understand the sacrifices of those who fought for it before, as we value it as much as you do. It should be beyond debates over religion or politics.

For freedom is not simply an American value, it is a human one. The Iranian authorities clearly have the power to do great violence to those protesting for freedom, I urge them not to do so, for history tells us that the more that freedom is suppressed, the more the desire for it builds, and the harder it is for those who fall.

So while the Iranian government seeks to crudely shut down speech, debate, protest and thoughts, the means for communicating freely will remain open, with the internet, with satellite television and shortwave radio broadcasts all providing access to uncensored and open news and debate. The Iranian people will find their own way to freedom, and no violence should be done to them as they do so. History is littered with tyrants who wanted things their way – enough is enough. Let the Iranian people be.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Communications policy for central planners

If you want to see an incoherent, centrally planned vision of communications policy, tasting strongly of socialism, pilfering everyone to benefit the few, then look at the UK's latest communications white paper - the Digital Britain report.

It proposes a new tax on fixed telephone lines to subsidise broadband to rural areas. Why should anyone have broadband subsidised to them? Who knows? Books aren't subsidised, but accessing videos, music and porn seems far more important to the British Labour Party. Why subsidise rural areas? You may well ask, given people in rural areas face far cheaper land and housing costs, little traffic congestion and no parking fees, so shouldn't they all pay to subsidise housing and parking in cities? It's ridiculous of course. If you enjoy open spaces, cheap land and the quietness of the countryside, it is no wonder there aren't a range of communications networks connecting you. However, taxpayers are to ensure 2 Mb/sec access to all households - broadband socialism, and it's disgusting.

Secondly, part of the TV licence fee is to be given to commercial stations to fund childrens' programming and subsidise regional commercial news programmes. Again, nonsense. For starters, commercial TV should succeed or fail on its merits. If regional commercial news programmes cannot remain viable, they should close. Bear in mind that the BBC provides regional TV news fully funded from the licence fee already, which if ended might save regional commercial television. A better solution would be to announce the TV licence fee will be abolished, and the BBC will need to find new sources of funds, such as subscriptions, donations and sponsorship. Labour wont dare ask the question - why should people be forced to pay for ANY broadcasters?

Thirdly, FM and AM radio broadcasts, which are accessible to virtually all households, are to be switched off by 2015 in favour of the inferior digital DAB standard, which has quite low takeup. In other words, the government is willing to make almost all radios in the country utterly useless, and refuses to grant property rights in broadcast radio spectrum. Most people are quite happy with FM broadcasting, and most broadcasters get all they need from FM and AM. If broadcasters are willing to buy property rights in FM and AM frequences on the open market, then let them.

In short, stop trying to fucking plan an industry which exists to serve what people want. The internet took off without government interference, and continues to thrive. Indeed the development of broadband infrastructure is damaged by the continued local loop unbundling of BT's network, which is stifling the development of competing networks beyond the incumbent (and barely viable) Virgin Media cable TV operation.

Set commercial broadcasting completely free, let it own broadcast frequencies and stop telling it what to do. Privatise Channel 4, and start to break up the BBC into pieces.

Sadly though, Britain is so damned socialist, it thinks nobody should ever pay for what they use, but everyone else should pay for what they don't!

The voice of Ahmadinejad

Is the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) which explains all here, claiming protestors are "anti-revolutionary groups". You can always tell a censored lying official news agency, because it never broadcasts different sides to a story about what the state does, and defames anyone who dares challenge its legal monopoly on doing violence to others.

Another common claim is those from other countries criticising a government are "interfering in our internal affairs", which is of course code for "if we shoot, beat up and arrest our own citizens, just fuck off and be glad we can't reach you and treat you the same way - because our monopoly on power is worth murdering for". China uses the "non interference in internal affairs" argument frequently - it's like your next door neighbours saying "mind your own business" when you witness their kids bruised and bleeding after hearing them screaming saying "stop".

Meanwhile, the ignorant anti-semite Ahmadinejad has gone to Russia to be welcomed by some fellow authoritarians, who also share a lack of respect for the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and the holding of free, fair and transparent elections. North Korea has also chimed in supporting him - nice club of blood thirsty thugs this, with the Kim Yong Nam (head of the rubber stamp Parliament) having "wished him success in his responsible work to frustrate pressure and interference of outsiders and build independent and prosperous Iran. He expressed belief that the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries that were forged in the joint struggle for independence against imperialism would favorably grow stronger in all fields."

Yep, about that - who has nuclear weapons? Who has a non-transparent nuclear programme?

Iran simmers

The Times is giving rolling updates, which appear to include continued protests, a counter protest organised by Ahmadinejad, and rumours of a crackdown. Clearly many Tehran residents are not letting this lie, and are not meeting expectations of protests dying down. In circumstances like this either energy dissipates, as nothing changes or there is some key change with backdowns or the seizing of key locales of power (broadcast media, military/police or political headquarters). The regime clearly has decided a partial recount would cut the numbers of protestors, but are those protesting simply wanting freedom?

Could it be that rigging the election ends up being a better result for freedom than letting Mousavi win (as some mild liberalisation and end to sabre rattling would have released much pressure)?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is Iran blinking?

The BBC is reporting that hundreds of thousands of people are at a rally in Tehran protesting the outcome of the Presidential election, an outcome that is best described as unsafe, but an outcome even if it were legitimate - does not justify the oppressive theocracy that bastardises democracy to service the will of a small group of mullahs, and sustains a brutal and malevolent state.

Shots have been fired, and although all commentators believe that it is highly unlikely that anything will come of the protests, in terms of revolution, it appears that Iranians are giving it their best go. Iran is indeed divided between the traditional, sexist and highly Islamist rural countryside, and the cosmopolitan Tehran, but if Tehran goes so does Iran.

It is notable how many Tehran women are pushing for change, given the sexist rules that apply to what women should wear compared to men.

The poorly educated anti-semitic, economically illiterate buffoon Ahmedinejad continues to make a fool of himself claiming all is well, but in fact this is the best chance Iranians have to unshackle themselves from the grip of this brutal theocracy. Had opposition candidate Mousavi won then it would have been four years of a little less strident Islamism, but Islamism nevertheless. Women, religious minorities and homosexuals wouldn't be getting a better deal, but at best the screws may have eased off.

Time (not a typically reliable source of news to be fair) has given five reasons to question the result, basically:
- Lack of independent supervision of the election (the Interior Ministry supervises it);
- Some polling stations ran out of ballots, and opposition observers were not always given access to polling booths;
- Initial results came only an hour after the polls closed, which is ridiculous in a country with manual counting of paper ballots;
- Results were strangely consistent across regions, previously support for candidates varied across regions significantly. Mousavi didn't even win his own hometown, despite apparent high popularity. Ahmadinejad won in cities, despite previous polling suggesting otherwise;
- The result was a massive increase in the majority for Ahmadinejad, despite the poor state of the economy and past elections which saw far more support for reformist candidates.

So power to those in Iran seeking freedom - as they so proudly announced. Few actions could improve the prospects for peace and freedom in the Middle East and South Asia more than an end to spending 30 years in the dark ages, of a regime that oppresses its own, spreads a doctrine of violence and death of those who don't wish to succumb to surrendering themselves to permanent submission to the decrees of elderly mullahs.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports on how the internet has brought down barriers between Iranian youth and the rest of the world that the Iranian government is ill equipped to handle. Iran has started trying to block BBC World Service radio broadcasts in Persian. May we cross our fingers in hope that the more the regime tries to turn on the people, the more they turn back and resist.

After all, that will do more for peace than the so-called peace movement ever could.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Are Mt Albert voters that boring?

I would have been pleasantly surprised and astonished had Julian Pistorius won, but the Mt. Albert result was disappointing. However, I guess an electorate that ticked Helen Clark consistently for 28 years was unlikely to be a place of free spirits or individuals who were gagging to have more control of their own lives. So voting Labour is clearly like breathing to most of them.

Most by-elections are interesting, and produce results well out of kilter with a general election. This one didn't. The last proper one was Taranaki-King Country, when ACT came a close second. In Selwyn, the Alliance came a close second. In Mt Albert, the voters could have voted Green to say no to motorways - but didn't. They could have voted National, but admittedly there was no good reason for that. They could have voted Libertarianz, but clearly the idea of being responsible for yourself frightened too many of them.

So all in all a bit of a yawn. The majority of Mt. Albert voters preferred Clark's vote bribe for the motorway, than stopping it at all (Greens) in favour of a railway, or private property rights (Libertarianz). They didn't want a voice in the current government (National or ACT) either.

So can anything be concluded? Are most voters just inert, and repeat what they always do? Labour is a comfort blanket and they can't bring themselves to go more radically for the state, or less?

Do the majority in Mt Albert fear not having the warm embrace of the state housing, teaching and funding them? Has Helen Clark convinced them of how generous the state is giving them so much, and how incompetent they would be choosing schools, health care and housing, and how horrible people are if she isn't there to regulate them?

Why do people vote Labour?

In fact why did many vote National? Melissa Lee was hardly a star, but do many vote National because it isn't Labour? Or do all of them support the government?
Same with ACT, presumably those voters supported the government and John Boscawen personally.

So Mt Albert has got what it asked for before - except David Shearer is more talented and interesting than Helen Clark.

So are the 35 who voted Libertarianz the only people in Mt Albert who believe in protecting their property rights?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vote Pistorius to make Clark squirm

Well Mt Albert voters it should be simple.

You either like handing more of your life over to politicians or not.

The polls are saying the majority of you trust the Labour Party to spend your money and tell you what to do when they want you to, I think it is time for you to political catamites in the words of Jim Bolger in relation to the pollsters.

For those who believe in less government, the choice of Julian Pistorius, your Libertarianz candidate, could not be more stark.

Melissa Lee has demonstrated that the National Party is supremely competent in choosing someone who doesn't have the nouse to prepare and research what she is to talk about. She really doesn't have a chance of winning, and what if she did - she is already an MP - she can already "work for the people of Mt Albert". All you would be doing is filling in a bit more of her time. She would be a wasted vote, although many of you are tempted to vote for her just because the polls say she is one most likely to topple David Shearer. However, is she really any better that you'd positively endorse her?

John Boscawen wont win, so any vote for him is a vote to send a message. What a message to send though. The message being that for you less government means allowing bylaws to ban gang patches, and to support a mega-city. If you think National needs a message, then what does ACT need? Boscawen is already there, a vote for him will achieve nothing in terms of sending a message.

Want less government? Well it isn't with them.

Of course many will be looking to tick David Shearer - damned if I know why. He is the successor to Helen Clark, but obviously you wont be getting the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, as she has been for the last 16 years. Beyond writings on mercenaries, he is simply another Labour party member who thinks that your life would be better if you just trusted the government more to deliver services that it wants a monopoly on. Inspiring? Well maybe if you want a lazy life on a low income as a beneficiary, but beyond that? No. Oh and if you think voting Labour somehow protects the private property rights of those in the way of a motorway, it demonstrates stupidity on a grand scale. Labour wasn't going to protect anyone's private property rights, it was going to burrow under them using a billion dollars worth of other people's money.

However, if you think politics is about using taxpayers' money to bribe voters, then I guess you fit well into the Labour mould - but don't complain when the Nats do it too!

Russel Norman? Well he is against the motorway, but then again he is against you driving at all. He think you are forced to drive, don't like using your car at all, and he wants to pillage money from you to give alternatives he thinks are cool - like trains (you see he doesn't want you paying for something you use). Seriously - don't encourage him, unless you really do feel a bit of a retard who needs nanny to look after you.

So why vote Julian Pistorius?

There are negative reasons against voting for others.

1. Don't over inflate the influence of your vote - it is one of tens of thousands, it is counted like the others, it is not counting what's in your head, just the number of heads with that view. This is a chance to choose positively what you want - not to surrender to the best of the worst.
2. It wont change the government to vote Labour, Green or ACT, it wont rock the boat at all.
3. Whoever is elected wont stop the motorway going through or the Public Works Act being used, but only one candidate will say the issue isn't about whether or not to build the motorway (as it remains a fundamentally good idea to everyone except the Greens who think road transport is a sin), but the respect or otherwise of property rights- Julian Pistorius.
4. Three candidates are already MPs - you gain nothing by adding the ticket Mt Albert to them.

However, most of all, a vote for Julian Pistorius will positively send a message in favour of private property rights, in favour of tax cuts, in favour of much much less local government and for less government generally. It will be an assertion of your individual rights and for those in the way of a motorway, your property rights. It would really piss off the narrow minded infotainment merchants at TVNZ who think politics should be about personalities and image, rather than policies and principles, but most of all it would shock the bejesus out of Labour, National, ACT and the Greens.

You see, suddenly it isn't about populism, it isn't about vote bribing and it isn't about worshipping gaia - it is about the smallest minority in the world, those who achieve everything, who create and who invent - the human individual.

Vote Pistorius in Mt Albert tomorrow - do it for you, but also do it knowing - as it said at the beginning of this campaign - that nothing will be more worthwhile that imagining the look on Helen Clark's face and the words from her mouth if she learnt that Libertarianz won "her seat", or even came second.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Why did the BNP do well?

Well for starters it didn't do as well as has been made out. It gained less votes than the last election, partly because turnout was down. So it inspired less people to vote for it. However, some are wondering if it represents a real underlying racism in the UK among some, or if it is just an ignorant protest vote, or if the BNP actually does say what some working class young white men want to hear. The truth is a mix of all of the above.

The explicitly racist part is only a small part of the picture, otherwise it would campaign like the erstwhile National Front, which still comes out from time to time spouting openly racist policies. They never got the National Front far in the past, so the BNP has been more clever. An ignorant protest vote? Perhaps, but then protest votes can go a lot of places - the key is the BNP is made up of people who are like its voters - poorly educated, white working class, who believe the world ignores them.

It is a constituency the Labour Party believes it is entitled to. BNP voters almost all wouldn't vote Conservative - it can't relate to a party seen as upper class, involving businesspeople, the university educated, speaking received pronunciation who send their children to private schools, drive nice cars, live in the South East and use the word chav as an insult. The Liberal Democrats are invisible to them, as are the Greens, besides neither party appeals to young men whose primary pastimes involve drinking, football, cars and women.

However in that respect, Labour isn't much different either. The party formerly consisting of men who did hard manual labour, who were in unions, who barely knew what a university was and who waxed lyrically in parochial accents has changed into one that looks more and more like a group of university graduates, who never had a "real job", who espouse what is known as "political correctness" to censure the young working class male from making inappropriate jokes or comments, and who positively gush whenever minorities get elected. Minorities being those Labour embrace, women, people of Afro-Caribbean or Indian sub-continent descent or who are of non Judeo-Christian religions.

Is it any wonder the average barely educated young male thinks the Labour party ignores him? Quite simply because it does. So the BNP rhetoric about immigrants taking "their jobs" makes sense to them, because few bother arguing the merits of immigration, and most young working class men don't think of the reverse - them emigrating, for where would men who have rudimentary literacy in only English go in Europe to work?

Furthermore, the BNP has socialist policies on virtually all other issues. Opposing privatisation, supporting renationalising the railways, supporting tight regulations of business, opposing free trade and investment across borders, opposing EU membership, embracing the NHS and public services and wanting to crackdown on tax loopholes. None of this would have looked out of place in Michael Foot's Labour Party, but in Gordon Brown's it is half-hearted and almost embarrasing to have candidates who espouse many of these views.

On top of that, the BNP takes a hardline on one of the issues that working class young men face more than most - crime. It supports the death penalty and harsh penalties for child molestors, with hard labour for other criminals. It supports taking a draconian approach to drug traffickers (with a tinge of "well it isn't our people bringing this stuff into the country"). Few working class folk would disagree with these sentiments.

By contrast, what does Labour offer? A welcoming welfare state for all, which is noticeably enjoyed by migrants in increasing numbers. Strategies and job titles for state employees to advance ethnic minority access to taxpayer funded housing, health and education all sound like "foreigners are using our facilities and taxes to benefit from our system". Given education stats show the poorest performing demographic being poor working class white boys, is it any wonder that their families feel neglected. The scale of immigration to some communities particular in the North, and East Midlands has seen the ghettoisation of ethnic minority communities, which has frightened those of other groups. While the BNP likes to make a hyperbole of it, there is some truth to comments that a few youth of non-European minorities feel free to intimidate others knowing full well that accusations of racism are rarely believed in that direction.

Now I'm not providing enormous sympathy for the uneducated young white male underclass, whose own ignorance and lack of aspiration is largely to blame for their poverty. Their resentment is partially their own lack of self esteem projected onto blaming others for their status in life.

However, as Philip Johnston states in the Daily Telegraph "for years now they have been considered an embarrassment, a low-achieving, boorish, poorly educated affront to the sensibilities of the "progressive" elite that preached the virtues of multi-culturalism, promoted mass immigration and makes up much of the political establishment, including the modern Labour Party." In other words Labour would rather talk about the poor than talk to them, especially if they are young white men. Such men who are not worldly, whose primary interest is their own lot and who don't know why they should give a damn about people of different ethnic groups, who Labour openly courts. This has only been exacerbated by the rise of Islamist terrorism and the apparent flagrant way that some Islamists can promote violence in the UK, whilst being able to benefit from the generous welfare state.

"Rightly or wrongly, this group of voters believes that the people who suffer most discrimination in modern Britain are "white people". This is the response of 77 per cent of BNP supporters; but it is also the view of 40 per cent of voters overall. They don't like the way that Muslim extremists appear to sound off with impunity while anyone defending their country's heritage and traditions is denounced by the progressives as a fringe loony. Hence the BNP's heavy reliance on wartime imagery to appeal to this nostalgic sense of a lost past."

So in essence, you take a bunch of disenchanted young white men, who witness an ever straining socialist health, education and housing system, enjoyed extensively by immigrants, a barely shrouded embarrassment among Labour activists for the culture and concerns of the underclass, an ongoing cultural cringe in the UK about what it means to be British and what the values of British society are about, whilst Islamists happily preach their own vision of the future damning what most people think British society IS about. Poorly educated white men who think the world owes them a living, a socialist housing, health, education and welfare system that is open for anyone in the EU and any new migrant to enjoy, a fear of expressing a British socio-political cultural identity whilst no such fear from those from outside Britain, including those who wish to destroy some of the bedrocks of the British system. Add a lot of socialist economics and social policies, and you have the BNP - it is a lot of old Labour, with some carefully shrouded proud nationalism.

The only difference with old Labour is that the BNP is socialism for one skin colour only. Traditionally, that end of British politics has been filled by barely competent inadequates, it has only been with Nick Griffin corralling his barely literate troops of racists (after all, who participates in the BNP if it isn't to let off some racist steam) to talk of racism working the other way, to talk of immigration straining public services and talk anti-capitalism, that has given it some credibility. Griffin is careful to oppose racism publicly, and to treat insults as water off a duck's back - knowing that the best way to respond to mainstream media baiting is to look tired at it.

As long as he leads, the BNP can maintain this veneer of credibility among a small minority of voters, but as long as Labour continues to treat what are its core supporters with barely shrouded contempt, it wont get them back. Indeed it created the dependency culture that its former supporters want to deny those of others races, it create the myth that for the working classes to progress, they needed Nanny State to advance, it also created the drive for "equality of outcomes" that have bizarrely resulted in bureaucracies and councils focusing on groups other than poor white males.

In short, the BNP did well because it exploits a culture of statism and dependency that the left have long promoted - blaming the failures of the system on immigration. The problem is not that, the problem is the system itself - and Labour will never ever tackle that.

What to wear on your feet in summer

Giles Coren from the Times has written lucidly on what is wrong with much that people wear in summer - basically stop showing your feet off!

Men's feet of course are vile: "Men's feet, in particular, make me squirm and gag: the mottled colouring, the sparse hair, the little toe that has been crushed into the one next to it over the years so that it has turned and bent and cuddles up against it now, sadly, as if trying to spoon an unwilling lover, the yellowed, cracked toenails, and the fully blackened one on the right biggy from toe-punting a goalpost 14 years ago. How can bringing these out in public be considered acceptable?"

Women's feet fair only slightly better: "all women's open shoes are revolting. Those strappy mules where the sole rolls out of the end of a wide, asymmetric toe-hole so that the shoe looks like it is vomiting toes. Toes that are all pointing to an imaginary origin just in front of the middle toe because of being crammed into closed, pointy shoes all winter. And heels all red and covered in Elastoplasts because in early summer the bare skin is not yet used to the rub of the strap.

Worst of all are these quasi-bondage shoes of which, among others, Louis Vuitton does one called a "Spicy", which involve a vertiginous heel sloping down to a 2in platform and the foot tied in with all sorts of ribbons and chains. I think it's meant to be a nod to fetish, but the effect is to make the wearer (who is paying maybe a grand a pair) look as desperate and slaggy as a pole dancer, while at the same time reminding us of the horrors of ancient Chinese foot-binding."

Quite. Only foot fetishists disagree and of course the men who design the shoes who "are not into women, and cannot bear to think too much about any part of them more intimate than their feet."

Hereth end the lesson. btw Giles Coren is one of those on a list of "reasons to live in the UK". He writes restaurant reviews like no other.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Is the UK facing another 1922?

It is far too early to say, and the issue had been raised in 1983 following that general election. Is the Labour Party facing being sent to the political wilderness to come third place at the next general election?

In 1922, the Liberal Party was in disarray, having previously been the party of Opposition in the UK, and as it had split into two, it lost enough votes to Labour that it rose from only 57 seats to 142, becoming the official Opposition. It was a blow to the Liberal Party that it never recovered from, but which it nearly broke through in 1983. With the help of a breakaway faction from Labour, the Liberal/SDP Alliance gained 25.4% of the vote, narrowly beaten by Labour on 27.6%, although the Tories won handsomely on 42.3%.

This time the local and European elections show Labour doing far worse, coming third in both. With the Liberal Democrats ahead in the local elections, and UKIP in the European elections (and Lib Dems close in fourth), it looks like many core Labour voters are going elsewhere, although it is clear that local and European elections are different from a general election - and a general election could be nearly a year away.

However, there is a sense that maybe things have changed. The Labour spin is that it has lost support purely because of the Parliamentary expenses row, but it goes beyond that. It has been polling poorly for many months, and Gordon Brown has looked indecisive on such a regular basis, expenses being the most recent example - but it started with him teasing for a general election and then deciding not to have one.

The Conservatives have done well rebranding themselves as a party of middle England - which is what was needed to recapture the South and centre, and even make inroads in the North, Wales and Scotland. The Liberal Democrats have moved to the left, and have captured some of the traditional Labour vote, by promoting more government, and opposing some of the intrusions on freedom that Labour have promoted, whilst embracing a statist vision with more tax. Labour now presents nothing.

The Conservatives have inherited the gentle reformist agenda of Blair, with a somewhat different philosophical direction, seen in supporting education vouchers and being more sceptical about the EU and bureaucracy. The Liberal Democrats are partly old Labour, so what is Labour now? The tired spent force, which has lost the will to reform the economy, which ran deficits during the good years and has poured money into state services to see little real gain - except for unionised labour. Many of its traditional supporters are sceptical about Europe, partly due to the net loss that the UK endures from funding it, but also a more malignant xenophobia against continental European labour.

You see Labour's supporters have been an odd coalition. Up till recently, it included middle class aspirational families, and some small to medium sized businesspeople. It included most of those dependent on the state - welfare beneficiaries and bureaurats. Pensioners, who have long been bribed by Labour with other people's money, and of course the working class envy pack - the ones who despise businesspeople, and happily voted Labour in 1983 to shift Britain towards a Warsaw Pact style way of running the economy. Labour has also courted ethnic minorities, spreading bile that the Tories are racist - although the war in Iraq and war on terrorism has cost the Islamic vote somewhat.

Who is left? The middle classes have gone Tory or Lib Dem. The working classes are bitter at so many Labour MPs ripping off expenses, and don't like the EU (and foreigners). So it is bureaurats and welfare beneficiaries - the ones Labour pillages taxpayers to pay for. It isn't enough.

So without a change in leader, Labour seriously faces a groundbreaking defeat in the next UK general election. Could it put Labour third? Well it would be a huge hurdle to cross. It would require the Conservatives to win a decisive majority, a swing of around 15%, but also for the Liberal Democrats to do well- without losing to the Conservatives much. That also requires a relative gain of over 12%, which would be an enormous effort, but not inconceivable.

My money is that this wouldn't happen. Nick Clegg isn't enough of a figure to attract that amount of a swing, but if it makes itself the place where a protest vote can be safely made, it may make enough gains that put Labour in Opposition for many years as it needs to fight on two fronts.

Whatever happens, it is becoming increasingly clear that the only British Labour leader to win an election in the last 35 years will have been Tony Blair (or 50 years if you consider the 1974 win to be half hearted given Labour didn't get a clear majority).

What does that say about how British politics has changed over a generation?

Does Rodney have a secret agenda?

I can only hope.

I was thrilled to read a Green press release that there is apparently a Cabinet Paper to reduce the powers of local government "This Cabinet paper wants to implement ACT Party policy by narrowing the powers of local government and making it easier to sell Auckland's $23 billion in public assets. The paper proposes to do this without public consultation" says an exasperated Russel Norman.

Russel is upset that Rodney Hide wants to remove special requirements to consult when contracting out council services or privatising, special requirements that don't apply when councils want to grow their activities - which of course, Russel wholeheartedly welcomes, as the Greens pretty much just love government growing.

Although Sue Kedgley hysterically waxes on that "This paper reveals Act's secret agenda to castrate local democracy. He is trying to reduce local government's powers to the point where they are unable to deliver social and environmental services, which are surely their core business." she has often been the mistress of hyperbole. I can only dream she is right.

For the Greens to believe local government's core business is delivering social and environmental services, when most people would say it is roads, footpaths, rubbish collection and perhaps libraries and handling complaints of nuisance, is nonsensical.

It exposes the Green's agenda for local government which is for "democracy" to mean whenever someone wants local government to interfere in something, it should. For Kedgley to claim cutting local government down drastically is "extremely dangerous" shows she isn't taking her pills. However, Sue thinks burgers, cellphones, foreign TV programmes, cars and most things imported are bad.

It begs the question though - if Rodney DOES have a secret agenda for the new Auckland mega city to have drastically curtailed powers, wouldn't it be helpful if he told us? How many ratepayers would welcome with open arms councils no longer able to set up businesses, subsidise businesses, set up hospitals, schools or radio stations?

His press release is a teaser for more "Cabinet has authorised a review of the Local Government Act 2002 to improve the transparency, accountability and fiscal management of local government. I want the Act reviewed to ensure ratepayers and citizens have better tools for controlling council costs, rates and activities. I will be looking at ways of ensuring local government operates within a defined budget and focuses on core activities"

Here's a start Rodney - get local authorities to send you a list of all of the activities they do, and then sit down for a day and cross off those that are unnecessary and absurd - then whatever is left should be what is statutorily defined as what local authorities can do.

Anything else councils do will have to be undertaken by companies that councillors themselves, and willing citizens (or anyone) have shares in by voluntary contribution. You see that would be truly democratic - on the one hand, small tightly constrained councils, and on the other hand the power (which has always existed) for those who want more to be done, to do it themselves and pursuade others to pay for it.

Somehow, I don't think the Greens (or Labour for that matter), really believe in democracy that is about voting with your own money, rather than voting to pilfer someone else's.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

UK Labour gutted at local elections

In the UK, there are local elections virtually every year, although they are for different parts and levels of local government. This year it was for counties and unitary authorities in England, which are equivalent to regional councils in the NZ context. Most counties were up for grabs, and in most it was for all seats. London was not included.

Given the scandal over Parliamentary expenses, and the slow response of Gordon Brown, it was always going to hurt Labour - but few could have known the scale of the defeat.

34 councils were up for grabs. Labour lost control of all of the three councils it held, including Staffordshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, all counties of the north - Labour's former heartland. The Conservatives picked up control of ten councils, including some previously run by the Liberal Democrats.

In terms of councillors, the results were even more devastating for Labour. Labour lost 291 councillors, out of a previous 469, losing more than half of its seats. The Conservatives picked up 244 seats, now holding 1531. The Liberal Democrats lost a couple by comparison. The Greens did well, particularly in Norfolk picking up five seats from Labour. The racist BNP picked up three seats, less than many expected. However, more surprisingly the anti-EU UK Independence Party picked up 7 council seats.

So Labour has been absolutely gutted, it came third in share of party vote, behind Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Admittedly, one needs to be careful about that on a national scale - because it is ONLY England, and without London and some other parts of the country it is a distortion.

What was Gordon Brown's response? To reshuffle his Cabinet, but he wanted to replace Alastair Darling, but got rolled. He appointed Sir Alan Sugar - yes the TV star property developer - to be an advisor on small business. Sir Peter Mandelson, a peer, is now effectively deputy Prime Minister. So Brown now is putting people in positions of responsibility who are unelected, he is "taking action" on Parliamentary expenses - though of course, he wouldn't have done so had the Daily Telegraph not outed the issue in the first place. He says he will move on constitutional reform - whatever that means - and to reform public services to put patients and parents first in the health and education systems.

In other words, he is trying to be the man for ideas - but he is running a government on life support. Ministers have resigned, and most recently an MP, he had taken Labour to a stunning third place defeat in the local elections. Brown now has his last chance, but it is not over yet.

Tonight the European election results come through, if, as some predict, Labour could come fourth - then surely Brown cannot last. If Labour gets beaten by UKIP - which doesn't even sit in the House of Commons, then you must wonder what future it has.

The scale of Labour's likely defeat could be as groundbreaking as the change in the early 20th century that saw Labour beat the Liberal party as a major party in the UK.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hong Kong shows China of the future?

150,000 people in Hong Kong holding a vigil in memory of the suppression of protestors at Tiananmen Square in June 1989 should give pause for thought.

Hong Kong IS a Special Administrative Region, but it is still an integral part of the People's Republic of China. The Government of the People's Republic of China has said it will guarantee Hong Kong's "system" until 2047 at least, but if it felt threatened it would undoubtedly step in. It clearly believes the prosperity of Hong Kong is too important to threaten, and threatening free speech and political freedom in Hong Kong would threaten Hong Kong's prosperity.

In other words, China IS changing, it is evolving. Taiwan too was once an authoritarian state, as was South Korea - both now free thriving liberal democracies. It may simply be a matter of prosperity, but it does show that opening up economies is a path to more individual freedom.

It is a message that leftwing so called human rights activists might bear in mind.

Obama to Muslims: We share common principles

There was some criticism of President Obama choosing Egypt rather than Indonesia for his speech to the Muslim world. Indonesia has a thriving (and recently formed) open fairly liberal democracy with a free press – notwithstanding decades of US support for the Suharto autocracy. It is a far more welcoming example of a country with a high Muslim population than Egypt. Egypt by contrast is a dictatorship, admittedly with much more personal freedom than many countries in the Middle East, it is still dominated by one man, who does not tolerate much questioning of his rule.

So going to Egypt to talk to the Muslim world was perhaps a mistake. However, it is the largest Arab state, the third biggest recipient of US aid, and the first Arab state to make peace with Israel – albeit that relations remain frosty.

So what did he say? His speech in full is here, but overall I found it disappointing, with some flashes of inspiration.

There is some which is positive, reaffirming the alliance with Israel, damning those who would deny the Holocaust, criticising Israel’s continued construction of settlements on the West Bank. He talked openly about the rights Muslims have in the USA, and how their rights to freedom of worship are protected. This was a positive message, one not made often enough in the censored world of much media in the autocracies than control most of the Muslim world.

He made it clear that the USA will “relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.” A critical point, but there are sadly more than enough of all faiths who believe in killing innocent men, women and children, and faiths who believe no one is innocent – Islamists who happily seek to murder any in the name of jihad or those Christians who think everyone is a sinner.

He clearly tried to reach out to moderate Islam by claiming “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.” Yet surely without Islam, Al Qaeda would not exist, Hamas would not exist, in fact terrorism would be confined to far more localised actions and not united by a religion that can be used to justify waging war on non-believers. Afghanistan would be far safer if it was full of objectivists, for example! If the US is to promote peace it can do no better than to promote respect for individual rights, and to let Islam wither.

However, while Obama sought a new beginning, talking of ending a “cycle of suspicion and discord”, some of the language he uses is a cause for concern.

He wants to “fight negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear”, which begs some obvious questions:
1. What is a negative stereotype, compared to a negative fact – i.e. when Islamic regimes employ violence against their own citizens for matters that should be free will, such as apostasy, criticising Islam, homosexuality? Who decides what is a stereotype and what isn't?
2. How does this fit in with the fundamental right of free speech in the 1st amendment of the US Constitution? Can nobody poke fun at Islam anymore? What of negative stereotypes of atheists or those of other religions?

Obama suggested that there needed to be mutual respect. Indeed there does, between individuals, and by governments of individuals. However, will Muslim states even allow people to promote other religions, eliminate apostasy as a crime and allow the promotion of atheism?

The mutual respect he calls for is based on “the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings”. Whoa hold on a minute. “America” as a political/philosophical concept is embodied in one document – the Constitution of the United States. “Islam” is embodied in the Koran, how DO they overlap?

What of those common principles? Well you can say the USA was founded to achieve justice, but the philosophical basis underpinning justice is what is important - justice in the concept of fundamental freedoms, not submission to a deity. Something that Obama carefully sidestepped away from.

The United States is based on the premise that government does not exist for God, or the rulers, but as an instrument of the people. That government exists to protect their rights, and explicitly guarantees rights of free speech, assembly, association, religion, bear arms, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, a right to jury trial etc. etc. The fundamental underpinnings of government that protects individual rights, and has a superstructure of separation of powers, liberal democracy and government to serve the people.

Islam, the very word, has its roots in the Arabic word Aslama, meaning to “submit”. Islam demands individual submission, the USA demands the state be submissive to the rights of the individual. How different could you be?

Yes, it is possible to distil elements of Islam that would be seen compatible with individual rights, it is easy to acknowledge that in the USA Muslims are free to live their personal lives compatible with Islam, as long as they respect others to do the same. However, beyond that Islam and secular individualism ARE in competition, it is quite naive to suggest that a secular government protecting individual rights (the idea of the USA) can be compatible with an Islamic government demanding submission to Islamic law.

Obama may have been better to suggest that the values expounded by the USA are universal, apply to all individuals, and that they allow Muslims to practice their religion, and promote it, as long as they respect others to do the same. Indeed, relatively secular Egypt is in some respects a partial example. One can be Christian or atheist in Egypt relatively easily, although the law still has some elements of Sharia, and by no means is one free to criticise the government openly.

On Iran he simply wanted it to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also talked about the abolition of nuclear weapons. Without context to that, it is a meaningless concept – and for me that context is one where all countries relate to each other more like western countries do, where the idea of military action of any kind between each other is inconceivable.

He appeared supported democracy in a more optimistic way than I would have expected “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” The freedom to live as you choose is the closest he has got to yet on individual rights, which is more than democracy – something that should be welcomed.

As is his belief that “we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.” Although what respect means is obviously a bit unclear, and sadly his further statements don’t help “No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.” Respecting the rights of minorities is NOT respecting the rights of individuals, and a spirit of compromise when it comes to individual rights is hardly tolerable. Besides, every dictatorship in recent history has talked of the interests of the people. Russia would meet this standard, and even China may claim power through consent and happily claim the rest to be true.

His words on faiths bringing people together are relatively benign, and he encouraged women having rights, which in Egypt they do have more than most states in the Middle East.

Overall, his message was clearly intended to be one of goodwill, but it falls far short of promoting the idea that Islam should only exist within a framework of individual rights. He is badly mistaken to claim overlaps between the USA and Islam, but more disturbingly to want to fight negative stereotypes about Islam – he is effectively endorsing laws to harass Danish cartoon makers, for example. His view of democracy gave enormous room to move to allow for continued repression of individual rights, as he talked only of rights for minorities – which of course can be defined by governments themselves. So the verdict? Not hopeless, but maybe 4 out of 10. Clear messages on Israel, against Holocaust denial, against terrorism and alluding to freedom are welcome, along with clarity on what rights Muslims have in the USA, but he did not have the courage to explain what the USA is about – nor did he expound democracy as being besides the point if fundamental individual rights are not respected.

Is it that Obama does not understand what the US is about, or does he simply lack the courage to explain it?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

20 years since the PLA turned on the people

20 years ago there was much optimism in many parts of the world. Mikhail Gorbachev had ushered in a new age of freedom and openness in what was then the Soviet Union, and had made it clear to the former Soviet satellites in eastern Europe that what happened to the politics of those countries was up to them - no longer would the USSR intervene as it had done explicitly in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 (and less explicitly on many other occasions). Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia were already moving rapidly forward, as it appeared the Cold War was fading away. This was watched by tyrants in all "really existing socialist" states that remained, as the regimes in Romania, Bulgaria, East Germany and Albania all clung on in Europe, whilst in Asia, Pyongyang, Hanoi, Beijing and Vientiane remained defiant.

Mikhail Gorbachev sought to end frosty relations with China by visiting Beijing in May 1989, the coverage of which was significant, as Gorbachev brought with him a message of openness to government, and an end to the totalitarian tentacles of single party rule involving itself in most aspects of life. It was a message noted by students in Beijing, which brought about protests in Tiananmen Square calling for similar reforms to bring freedom of speech and an end to the unfettered rule of the Communist Party of China.

The events of 2-4 June 1989 in Beijing are well known. I have blogged before about it, one noting a report from the then Radio Beijing English Language Service which you wont hear on the modern day China Radio International. I don't intend to repeat it.

It is worth noting that China is freer now than it was 20 years ago, not least because the advent of cellular phones and the internet has made it more difficult to control information flows to the public. However, the Chinese government has also loosened up, criticism of officials and debate about how policies are implemented appears. While questioning the rule of the Communist Party can still land you in prison or worse, the appearance of protests and the reporting of protests about situations and issues at the local level shows progress. There is little doubt that as Chinese gain property rights and prosperity they are more demanding of government. This is something unheard of when Sue Bradford went to Maoist China in the early 1970s.

Yet it isn't enough - China has two vibrant examples of free, open Chinese societies on its doorstep. Hong Kong is within its grasp, and flourishes with the rule of law and a quasi-democratic system of government in a free society. Taiwan has a vibrant liberal democracy and free society. The Communist Party of China, which essentially is running a corrupt state capitalist system (rather like an organised crime syndicate, as it is not accountable) fearful about what would happen if it "let a hundred flowers bloom". However, it is, in effect, slowly letting the screws loosen - even if questioning its rule remains taboo.

Reports after the Tiananmen Square massacre range in deaths from the low hundreds to the thousands. The most memorable image being the one man standing in front of the row of tanks. It is true for evil to be done it simply requires good men to do nothing, but in this case it was the People's Liberation Army that turned on the people. Chinese people still get arrested, imprisoned, tortured and executed for challenging the government, and the behemoth of the Chinese government and Communist Party of China can still bulldoze over people, leaving no trace of where they have been, with no accountability.

The BBC has an audio archive to remember the events.

It is time to take a moment to wish for more freedom in China, and gently remember those who strived for that which so many of us take for granted.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Left rallying against Gordon Brown's leadership

The Guardian is the serious paper of the left in the UK. It almost religiously supports voting Labour each election. For the Guardian to publish as editorial as it did today, on Gordon Brown, indicates the time for change has not just come from the broad centre of the population, but from supporters of the Labour Party.

On the upcoming EU and local elections: Labour faces its worst defeat in its history on Thursday, but the prime minister does not recognise his direct responsibility for the mayhem.

The verdict is damning: The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it. The cabinet must see it too, although they are not yet bold enough to say so. The prime minister demands loyalty, but that has become too much to ask of a party, and a country, that has was never given the chance to vote for him.

The Guardian appears to support major electoral reform, but sees Brown as unable to progress it: Labour needs to enter the next election having reformed parliament. But Mr Brown will never do it. The prime minister was absent from the start of the debate and cautious now he has joined it. His instinct is usually to hesitate, and to establish reviews and commissions. Meanwhile, the chance of a generation is being missed.


Of course, it also notes that those of us who don't ever want Labour to regain power are thrilled Brown clings on:

This paper believes Britain has often been at its best when Labour has been at its strongest. People who disagree with that will welcome its implosion, knowing that it will make a Conservative landslide inevitable. That is why they are not clamouring for Mr Brown to go.

Quite, notable also that Guardian columnists the socialist Polly Toynbee calls for voting Liberal Democrat, and Jonathan Freedland promoting the Greens.

Regular service about to resume

Let's just say a combination of a ton of work, medical concerns and unrelated stresses have just meant I couldn't be arsed writing much in the past week.

I will be after I've had a day off for a regular anniversary and got my head out of the backlog of menial tasks I must do to pay for bread crusts, shelter and train fares!