Mladic the thug: Few events were more shameful for Europe (and the United States and New Zealand as a member of the UN Security Council at the time), in my view, that the brutal neo-nazi style genocide inflicted in the Balkans in the 1990s. It is astonishing that if a civilian kidnaps children and then massacres them en masse, that there is more horror than when a "general" is given endorsement by politicians to do the same, that there is craven appeasement to it all. UN peacekeepers sat by and did nothing whilst Srebrenica - a town declared a "safe haven" (for whom!) by the UN Security Council, was "ethnically cleansed" by Mladic and his knuckle dragging fascists, all happily appeased by the Serbian Orthodox Church as well. The role call of dishonour and shame at the time is long and disgraceful. It took Slobodan Milosevic's attempt to do the same to Kosovo for serious action to be taken, by then thousands of men and boys had been slaughtered in a style reminiscent of the Nazi death squads that rounded up and annihilated Jews in Lithuania. The other victims, the women and girls (don't think too long about the cutoff age because there really wasn't one) who were raped, not only as conquests by the semi-literate Serb brutes, but also to breed little half-Serbs as part of a deliberate "race" driven policy. However, as blatant and disgusting as was the Serbian ethno-fascism, one shouldn't forget Croatia was led by men who were not much better. Visit the Krajina region of Croatia today, and try to find the Serbs who still live there, after Croatia's military terrorised the Serb population and chased them from their homes and farms, families with roots there for generations. It is a primary reason why Croatia should not be allowed to join the European Union - for it must fully face up to its past.
The arrest, trial and condemnation of Mladic should provide an opportunity to remind us all of this period in history and how easy it is to provoke poorly educated, semi-literate young men to perform atrocities with the endorsement of politicians and religious leaders. It should also remind Muslims that the Western interventions in this case were to save Muslims (albeit moderate or even nominal ones). It should also provoke at least some consideration from the self-styled "peace movement" about what should have been done, since the left was divided about humanitarian intervention in this case.
Brash ACT: Don Brash's takeover of ACT is a lifeline, and also notable among libertarian circles is Lindsay Perigo's employment related to ACT. I'm cautiously optimistic. The greatest weakness Don Brash faced in 2005 under National became those in National who sought to spin and populise messages in ways that backfired. His willingness to address state activities that granted differential treatment of Maori was not portrayed well with "Iwi, Kiwi" which implied something it should not have. However, Brash is both economically and socially liberal. He has the intelligence and the ability to take ACT down a path of being consistently in favour of less government and being tough on crime that involves victims. He is no libertarian, but if this is a chance to shake up the next National government and wean it off of the statist racists in the Maori Party, then it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. I'm going to be watching this space very closely. It is clear I have always been affiliated with Libertarianz and remain so, but Brash's leadership could cause me to think carefully about who to vote for this year.
Auckland rail boondoggle hog-tied: The Ministry of Transport and Treasury have reviewed the Auckland underground rail loop business case and found it wanting. It is hardly surprising. Auckland rail has been a faith-based initiative from the start, primarily because the enormous cost premium to move people by rail, compared to bus is not justified by the change in behaviour it provokes. Auckland rail advocates think because it is attracting lots of passengers (all of whom pay less in fares than the cost of operating the service, let alone the cost of capital) it is a good thing, but scrutiny about where those users are coming from indicates some pretty clear home truths.
First, around half of all trips into central Auckland in the morning peak are by public transport today. This mode share is high by the standards of any new world city, and most of them are travelling by bus. Trying to increase this in the absence of any form of congestion pricing is difficult, as the current strategy is to take money from all motorists to subsidise a minority of trip. The number of trips by public transport has increased by 50% in ten years. However, 40% of that increase has been by rail, 33% by the Northern Busway alone (bear in mind this is one route that has cost around a tenth of the cost of the rail network which has 2.5 lines) and the remainder by conventional bus and ferry services. Rail has been important, but for the money spent on it, has not delivered compared to the other modes.
The notable figure is the 15% decline in car trips, which are partly a function of increased fuel prices. This will have had an effect on reducing congestion, although not as much as the figure may suggest.
Given only 11% of employment in Auckland is in the CBD, this modeshift is minor in the scheme of transport in Auckland. However, the officials and politicians involved are totally CBD focused. In short, the impact of more trips to the CBD by bus and rail is very low on congestion.
Furthermore, the scope for significant increases in public transport usage is limited, most new world cities would be thrilled to have this sort of CBD mode share.
However, there is something else the rail enthusiasts ignore. There is already a NZ$2 billion taxpayer funded commitment to electrify Auckland's rail network with projections of a doubling in rail patronage. However, these forecasts are not realistic because, as the MoT/Treasury report states:
Much of the future patronage growth forecast for the rail network comes from areas where significant intensified residential land use in growth nodes has been assumed in the model. Future rail patronage growth, including from the electrified do minimum, is therefore likely to rely, in part, on the realization of these land use assumptions.
In other words, it will come only if Aucklanders choose to live in medium to high density housing near railway stations AND work in the CBD AND choose to commute by rail. A bold assumption, that is not exactly plausible. It is part of the planners' wet dream that Aucklanders are gagging to live in London, Paris or New York style apartment conditions near railway stations in the suburbs. Yes, apartment living has appeal for some, by only typically for living near the city so one can walk. Quite why people in Auckland would want to live in such housing in the suburbs is unclear.
In essence, a fortune is being spent upgrading Auckland's rail network based on patronage forecasts that are fanciful and difficult to believe. If they prove to be correct, then the network will be constrained without an underground loop (although the constraint will only be in the morning and evening peak - a few billion dollars for a few hours a day). If wrong, then not only will an inner city underground loop be a destruction of wealth, but so will the electrification.
What is most damning is this statement from the review:
Significant parts of the Business Case assessment were not compliant with the procedures outlined in the NZTA‘s EEM for calculating transport benefits.
In other words, Auckland Council gerrymandered its assessment to suit its own needs. That isn't even counting the gross exaggeration of wider economic benefits on a scale not seen on comparable projects in other countries.
The Green Party of course went along with this, at the same time as it damned the government for supporting road projects that - analysed correctly - had negative benefit/cost ratios.
In short, the underground rail loop in central Auckland is a boondoggle. A complete waste of money that ranks alongside the grandious highway projects the government is funding north of Puhoi and north of Wellington. Those who damn one should damn the other and vice versa. For the government to embrace negative BCR "roads of National significance" but not the railway, is partly hypocritical. Partly, because roads are funded from road users, railways are NEVER funded from rail users. However, for the Greens, the Auckland Council and the railevangelists to damn the roads, but bow down to the altar of the railway is at least as hypocritical. It is time for the railevangelists to be honest - their belief in rail is no more than that - a non-evidence based feeling that trains are good, better than buses and that whatever it takes to build railways is justifiable. One need only read the Auckland transport blog regularly to see the evangelical enthusiasm for spending other people's money on new rail lines all over the place. None of it is linked to demand forecasting, willingness to pay or economic evaluation - it is just a rail enthusiasts build-fest.
Oh and the same should apply to road building too.