Thursday, December 20, 2012

Basin Reserve flyover opponents are grandstanding

The noise from Labour and the Greens on the Basin Reserve flyover is utterly remarkable.   

For Labour it is grandstanding hypocrisy because when it was in government, Labour endorsed a transport funding packages for Wellington that explicitly included provision for grade separation of roads at the Basin Reserve.

For the Greens it is disappointing, as it is a continuation of the hyperbolic hysteria that Sue Kedgley use to peddle, which I thought may have been moderated under the more thoughtful Julie Anne Genter.  

For both they may want to claim the project is akin to some major urban motorway project of the sort that once activated large groups of "rent-a-mob" leftwing protestors in the UK, but really it is no big deal at all.   Furthermore, the absurd claim that Wellington City Council is being bullied because NZTA questions the value of duplicating Mt Victoria Tunnel and associated road improvements towards the airport without the flyover, is astonishingly hypocritical.  For I doubt that the Greens endorse any of those projects (and if you believe road capacity improvements are the spawn of the devil, then doubling highway capacity between the city and eastern suburbs ought to be opposed as Sue Kedgley thought at the time).

Labour once happily supported funding major highway works at the Basin Reserve

During the Clark Government, Labour released a transport funding package for Wellington, which included money for the new Matangi electric multiple units, replacement signalling, electrical and track infrastructure, replacement trolley buses and to support a range of major road improvements.  The calculations for this funding including provision for capacity improvements at the Basin Reserve, with the implication clearly made at the time that this is about grade separation. 

Indeed, it was seen in the Wellington Regional Council's endorsement of "Basin Reserve capacity improvements" as the 4th highest priority in 2005.

It was the next logical stage after the one-way road and on-ramp that comprised the much maligned "Inner City Bypass" (which simply enabled the one-way system across Te Aro to be shifted a block and a bit south).   So Grant Robertson and other Labour politicians jumping on this bandwagon are being hypocrites.  Annette King in particular is being disingenuous, because she supports a second Mt Victoria Tunnel, which without the Basin Reserve bridge would simply mean longer queues at the Basin Reserve, as two bottlenecks would be cleared.   She didn't utter a peep when Transit/NZTA was investigating this very project when Labour was in power.

Greens are being utter hysterics over a two-lane one-way bridge

Sue Kedgley consistently claimed the Wellington Inner City Bypass would be a "multi-lane motorway extension through the heart of Te Aro".   It wasn't.  I wonder how many people who went on "path of destruction" tours still think Te Aro's historical heart has been "destroyed".

The "path of destruction" of the Wellington inner city bypass looks a lot like the other two lane roads
The two-lane 50km/h city street called a "multi-lane motorway" by the Greens

Now the claim is that this project will "destroy the character" of the Basin Reserve, an entirely subjective value judgment, but itself is rather extreme.  It will affect it, some may think negatively, but destroy?  Really?

The next claim is "it will affect Wellington's green belt and access to eastern suburb sports facilities and will cost tax- and rate-payers $97 million to move traffic congestion 300 metres"

Really?  The green belt?  Utter nonsense:

The green belt is off to the left of the Basin bridge, affected?
How will it affect access to eastern suburb sports facilities? Other than improve them for those leaving the eastern suburbs.  How will it cost ratepayers, given it is fully funded from NZTA as a state highway project?  How will it "destroy the Basin as a sporting and cultural venue"?   

Just pure hysteria.

Julie Anne Genter is a bit better on this.  She says it is a waste of money because the road has "declining traffic volumes", although this isn't apparent in the severe congestion and of course the Greens typically say new roads generate new traffic, so she can't have it both ways.

She says "The vast majority of people coming into Wellington take public transport, cycle or walk", yet this project isn't about people coming into Wellington, but bypassing Wellington primarily between the airport and the Hutt, Porirua and wider region.  In fact the travel survey by NZTA (excel file) of travel across the country indicates that 68-69% of trips in the region are by car, with 5-7% by public transport. Greater Wellington Regional Council even says only 17% of commuter trips are by public transport, with it being 21% in Wellington city (excluding the Hutt and Porirua).  Cars are important in Wellington.

Then there is the utter nonsense of this:  "A massive concrete motorway flyover is an invitation for future urban decay and crime. It is the exact opposite of smart transport planning".  Once again, she has Kedgley disease in calling it a motorway, but there are several motorway flyovers in Wellington, let's look for this urban decay and crime:

Bowen Street motorway overbridge - car park, housing and offices
Thorndon Quay motorway overbridge, commercial and retail premises

Dowse Drive/Hutt Road overbridge, commercial and retail premises
Yep, lots of urban decay and crime in those scenes.

In fact the only argument she has is economic.  It doesn't have a good benefit/cost ratio, with various studies indicating it ranges from below 1 to above 1.  The argument can be made that there are better projects.  Yet the Green Party's pet project - the underground rail loop in Auckland - doesn't have one either, in fact they argue that the conventional benefit/cost appraisal of the project doesn't take into account all of the criteria important to them.   So it's a bit rich to claim a road doesn't stake up on one set of criteria, but that same criteria is inappropriate for a rail project.

What is clear is the Greens will oppose road improvements on any sort of cooked up criteria.  A flyover may be ugly to some, and it may not be the best use of money spent on roads in Wellington, but it is far from the worst, and unlike the proposals for more rail, it wont need subsidies its entire existence. 
Save the Basin campaign is equally hysterical

The actual opposition campaign against the project is at best misguided and naive, at worst beholden to the same hyperbole that besets the Greens.

  • It will blight the streetscape and surrounding neighbourhoods
Well, few things blight the streetscape as much as large volumes of traffic circulating around this enormous roundabout.  As you can see above, bridges need not blight streetscapes.  The claim it will "blight" surrounding neighbourhoods is hysterical.  After all, the presence of a busy road tunnel since 1931 has had a bigger impact.  Thorndon has had a motorway blasted through it since the 1970s and is hardly "blighted", neither is Kelburn "blighted" having it running at its base.  
  • It will overshadow the Basin Reserve and place its future as an iconic international cricket ground at risk
Oddly, this was never really raised as an issue for the 40 years that there have been serious plans to push a major highway along this alignment.  There is no authoritative statement that this is true, just a rant by a reader to a website.   
  • It’s unnecessary. Road traffic volumes in New Zealand are declining and so is trucking:
So what? The route is congested and the current problems are severe.  At peak times, queues from the Basin back up all the way through the Mt Victoria Tunnel, they back up around the Basin from Buckle Street, and create delays for buses. 
  • Now that a tunnel is being built under Memorial Park, it makes no sense to emerge from a tunnel and go up onto a flyover
Yes, and nobody is expecting that to happen because the flyover is a one way road towards the tunnel.  This basic mistake indicates how very shallow this opposition is.
  • There are good, well-researched alternatives to a flyover. One, Option X, looks even better financially now that a tunnel will built under Memorial Park. Another non-flyover alternative has recently emerged.
Except that these alternatives actually don't deliver benefits and Option X creates new problems.  The professional assessment (i.e. highway engineers not architects) indicates that Option X has safety issues, would cost more, would have lesser benefits and has significant gaps (e.g. it is depicted as offering no road access to two of the schools at the Basin Reserve).   

This claim from its website is just nonsense:

This vote follows other cities throughout the world which have rejected flyovers – Boston, New York, Melbourne, Toronto, Seoul, Boston, Milwaukee, Vancouver, Trenton, Portland, Chattanooga.
Oh really? The Big Dig in Boston?  Melbourne's Citylink, EastLink and soon to be built East-West link? Toronto's 407ETR? Boston twice (paying attention then)?  Well Auckland has had a host of flyovers built in the past decade, Napier has had two built, Hamilton has just seen one built, Christchurch has just seen one built.  Indeed, the Hutt Valley recently had one open (Dowse Drive Interchange)

Funnily enough, the claim that the bridge will generate more traffic is now not made, presumably the great fear is that it will work and make a positive difference to traffic, like every other grade separation highway project in Wellington in recent years (underpass of Vivian Street, Dowse Drive Interchange, Newlands Interchange, Mungavin Interchange). 

A simple claim is made that anytime there is new road capacity provided, it quickly fills up because there are simply thousands of people who would have driven before, but for whom the existing congestion puts them off.  The improved road is said to "induce" demand, and so make things worse, because the additional trips (which are presumed to have little real value) simply take the road back to a congested position in the first place.  This is known as the Pigou–Knight–Downs paradox, but it is so grotesquely misquoted out of context by politicians (particularly Green ones) that it is worth remembering what the authors actually meant.

The situation they talked of was when the road improvement directly reduced congestion for a trip where there was a parallel public transport service offering similar travel times to driving.  A perfect example in Wellington would be trips between the Hutt Valley and Wellington city, so that adding another lane to the motorway between Ngauranga and Aotea Quay would directly improve travel times between driving and taking the train.   It's a bit more difficult when very few of the trips on the route being improved are undertaken by public transport (or could reasonably be undertaken by public transport), even moreso if the route improvement directly reduces delays on public transport.

The Basin Reserve flyover primarily benefits traffic travelling between the airport/eastern suburbs and the wider region to the north and the western suburbs.  Whilst there are a few bus services that offer alternatives to some, all focus on passenger starting/finishing trips in the CBD, so are slow for trips that are bypassing it.  In other words, the time savings wont result in any mode shift which is the source of the "induced demand" claimed by that theory.  Beyond that, it is difficult to envisage that anyone will relocate businesses or homes just because a flyover will knock a minute or so off of traffic queues, certainly not in volumes that will mean it gets filled up with traffic.

Furthermore, the secondary benefit of the flyover is to take east-west traffic flow away from the north-south traffic flow at the Basin, which includes some major bus routes.  Those bus routes are held up by substantial delays which will be relieved by the flyover, a point almost entirely ignored by the naysayers.

Local authority opposition is misguided and should be ignored

For many years both the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington City Council have supported major road improvements on this corridor.  Regional Councillor Paul Bruce, a Green Party member and activist against motorised transport (the guy bikes most places) has been central to seeking a review of this, and at Wellington City the Mayor has been.  This is the first time this opposition has been realised at the Councils, and shows just how difficult it is to plan major infrastructure when politics swings against it, particularly when there was strong support before.
Yet it largely shouldn't be up to them. The project requires no ratepayer money, it isn't on local roads (although it interfaces with them), and it fits clearly into the various strategies that are relevant.  It demonstrably improves access across the city, and will deliver huge benefits to public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians (in part because a damned silly cycling/pedestrian bridge has been included in the design).  

Opposition to it is hysterical, illogical and based on hyperbole or simple nonsense.  

It is a two lane one-way westbound bridge to connect one tunnel to another.   A second Mt Victoria Tunnel can't possibly replicate the benefits of this, and in fact will make the current situation worse.   Labour opposes it because it is being pushed under a National Government and Labour wants Green votes in Wellington.  The Greens oppose it because it's a road project and it panders to hyperbole about road projects. The Save the Basin lobbyists suggest alternatives that are inferior and unsustainable.   The two Councils are pandering to Green activists within their ranks, who offer no rational alternative (exhorbitantly expensive light rail lines that wont do a thing to reduce congestion are just chimeras).   If any of those opposed were truly concerned about generating more traffic they would stop improvements to the motorway between Ngauranga and Aotea Quay and demand Transmission Gully be stopped, but the latter is politically popular, so they are largely keeping their heads down on that one.

The Basin bridge will improve the environment for all road users, reduce delays and emissions, and is a necessary pre-requisite to building a second Mt. Victoria Tunnel.  It should proceed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Connecticut children are relatively lucky compared to the gulag kids

Whilst the US and other mainstream Western media continue to interview children going to school in Connecticut following the shooting, milking the sadness and showing concern for how they cope with the stress of the appalling crime (which is fair enough), I thought it was time to get some perspective.

At the moment in North Korea there are over 150,000 people in gulags. This includes children.  It is impossible to know how many are children, but it is likely to be in the low thousands.

They are slaves.  They get little food.  The temperature averages at -10 Celsius, the gulags are unheated.  They are awoken at dawn and expected to work every day, doing menial tasks.  Those too young to work get beaten, neglected, sexually abused and tortured for sadistic pleasure.  They are told every day how useless they are, as sons and daughters of counter-revolutionary traitors, lackeys of Americans and Japanese.  

"Id just turned twelve, and I remember wishing I would die soon”  (Kang Chol-Hwan "Aquariums of Pyongyang")

So note that whilst the world paid attention to the DPRK's rocket and its now failing satellite, and the propaganda around the first anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death (and placement in a mausoleum), it doesn't ever pay enough attention to the children in the gulags there.


Forced to live in prisons high in the mountain valleys, from babies.  They receive rations that are starvation level, those who survive do so by eating bugs, mice and other things they can forage or hunt for.  Many are physically abused, some sexually abused, when old enough they are forced to work from dawn to late in the evening, every day.  It is one step removed from Nazi concentration camps, in that it isn’t gassing used to eliminate them, simply hard work, cold and malnutrition.

So this Christmas, whilst you may naturally spare a thought for the parents of the children who were killed in the shooting, and the kids left behind, you'd do worse than to be distressed and angry at the ones in North Korea.  Angrier still at the willing idiots in the West who defend it, and angry at the Western politicians who have been too scared to bring this issue up at every appropriate opportunity.

As cute and amusing as North Korea is, it really isn't.  It's unspeakably vile, and at this time of year that vileness will seen many many children die of malnutrition, hypothermia and torture, because of a state, a philosophy and a system that devalues life and dehumanises in a way that is difficult to exaggerate.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Future of this blog? Updated

So, should I continue this blog?

I've not lived in New Zealand for over seven years, and I am unlikely to return in the near future.  I follow NZ politics less and less, in part because it shows little sign of any intelligent debate in the mainstream media, and it becomes ever more obsessed with personality and image over substance.

I am following what is happening in the UK, and Europe more generally, as well as international affairs.

I have a number of options:

1.  Continue, whimsically, writing about NZ, the UK or whatever, according to what I want to vent about, but being a bit more thoughtful and occasional about what I write.

2.  Give up writing about NZ, and concentrate on the UK, with NZ really only being of importance if it is a major change of long term consequence.

3.  Split the blog into two, with a new one that focuses on the UK (or NZ).

I have a preference for now, which I'd rather not reveal, so I'd appreciate some feedback.  I blog partly to vent, partly to try to influence.

UPDATE:  I have also had the suggestion via email that I shift transport specific posts elsewhere, which I will do regardless.  That is a different project, and is about taking a rational approach to transport policy that is evidence based, and is not based on the subjective sociological velvet glove planning approach to the sector.   The Auckland Transport Blog exists for those who think cars and trucks are bad, railways are good, and that one sector of the economy works best when a small number of people seek to subvert the preferences of the majority.   I don't want to focus on NZ on that, because it is far wider than the current fetish of some for big railways and others for big motorways.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Worried about child poverty? Well use your own money then

If ever there was a reason to close down the Office of the Children's Commissioner, it should be this report on child poverty (pdf).  It is the classic socialist/statist treatise on taking more money from some people to spend money on others.  Philosophically it takes the view that the people primarily responsible for children are not those who created them or have taken responsibility (typically by default) to care for them, but the state.  It's hardly surprising given that the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty consists almost entirely of those who embrace a philosophical position of statism.

Let's take some of its key points:

Child Poverty is costly:  The counterfactual that children who are well fed, housed, taught and loved tend to thrive is true, but to claim that you can monetise "costs" that are born by society presumes that they are to be born by everyone.  Yes having children you cannot afford to feed, house or clothe restricts their likely opportunities and ability to thrive, but that isn't the fault of everyone else - it is the fault of the father and mother for breeding without thinking of the consequences.  The report claims that it "should not be tolerated".  Who by?  Is everyone who raises children in adequate conditions or does not raise children have to be obliged to bear the costs of those who do not take reasonable steps to prevent raising a child in poverty?  The claim is that child poverty affects the "nation's long-term prosperity", but all that really means is a presumption that government will tax everyone else's prosperity to pay for those who go on welfare because they have few saleable skills, those who commit crimes because they want the property of others or are angry at others, or who breed without concern for the consequences.  Maintaining that presumption denies the fundamental cultural shift needed to promote responsibility for the consequences of ones own actions.  That isn't promoted by the welfare state or the idea that all children are the responsibility of all adult.  They are not.

Child poverty can be reduced:  Yes, demonstrably, it has been happening for centuries.  It has been achieved through economic growth, and the growing amount of time that parents can dedicate to raising children.  That is not encouraged by a growing state demanding ever more taxes, restricting the supply of land for housing and so increasing the cost of living and the amount of work people must undertake to achieve their desired standard of living.  The main motivator for reducing child poverty has been parents who have strived hard to give their children a life better than their own.  Mine did that, countless others did, and they didn't do it because the state told them to do so, or handed them a cheque.  They did so because they were responsible and human.

Specific recommendations:  The overwhelming thrust of these measures is to treat children as a national asset that needs a national solution.  It wants universal benefits for children up to a certain aid, making all children rich or poor a source of income taken from taxpayers.  It wants taxpayer funded universal healthcare for children up to age 17.  It wants the state to build more houses.  It wants legislation to bind a Minister to targets that are primarily about what families, mothers, fathers and children do on the ground.  It is absurd and ridiculous to use law - an instrument which typically defines rights, mandates actions or prohibits them, to be necessary to hold a politician to what is a politically set policy goal.   It undermines democracy and clogs up the legal system with a law that is not fit for purpose.

It seeks to make every additional child worth the same amount of additional welfare from the state, promoting breeding for cash, a phenomenon that has hardly been a great success.   Why is it good for children for their parents to get more money from the state because they breed more?   It wants welfare benefits to grow according to GDP, in effect meaning welfare always looks like a reasonable option regardless of actual poverty levels.  

It wants the state to lend money at favourable terms to people in poverty seeking to get back into work, presumably because it doesn't think the public would support such a charity.

It wants a massive state intervention in housing to regulate rental housing, build more homes, but also subsidise low income people's mortgages.  The words "sub-prime" should come to mind, but then when middle income people struggle to save for deposits in Auckland and Wellington facing higher taxes to subsidise poor people in Timaru and Kaitaia buying houses, there might be some concern over equity.

Special money for Maori households to buy homes, because they are ethnically predisposed to not earn as much money as everyone else.   Nothing quite so readily breeds resentment as a pair of low income families and one getting special help because of who their ancestors were.  That's the nationalistic race based policy thinking, based on neo-Marxist structuralist theory (which means all Maori are disadvantaged and powerless, so the state must take from non-Maori to benefit Maori and "even the outcomes"), which simply does not reflect reality or responsibility.  

The reason more Maori are in poverty is overwhelmingly because they disproportionately make the wrong decisions in life, devaluing education, valuing whim, devaluing entrepreneurship and individual innovation, valuing "being one of the group" and valuing "not thinking you're better than the rest of us".  Giving them more money wont fix that.  Of course, this is a report that wants you to pay for "the development of Mäori-centric data that acknowledge and capture Mäori concepts of poverty and wealth".  Don't go there.

Having problems because you stupidly borrowed too much money?  Never fear, the state would bail you out if this recommendation was implemented:


We recommend that the government investigate and implement a public-private--partnership micro-financing model with the banking sector and community groups, with the aim of providing modest low-interest and zero-interest loans, as a mechanism to help low-income families access affordable credit and effectively manage debt.


How about promoting saving as a way of getting enough money to buy consumer goods and services, rather than tax everyone so that the least able can borrow more?

It wants a "child nutrition strategy" without saying what that really means, I think Sue Kedgley would love it, but those who want to promote personal responsibility will not.

It wants support for children with parents in prison to be increased, which isn't entirely silly, but doesn't for a moment suggest that the criminal justice system be reviewed to eliminate victimless crimes, such as drug laws, to reduce the rate of incarceration of parents who are relatively low risk offenders, nor does it blame parents when they have committed real crimes.

Conclusion

There are some worthy recommendations in this report, but it should be up to those who embrace it to raise the money themselves, voluntarily, and implement the measures, for only then will they have the incentives to get it right, to avoid people claiming inappropriately and have the moral authority to provide support given by those who want to support those less fortunate, rather than forcing people to do so.

However, the report's number one failing is its blatant disregard for the breakdown of family structures as being one of the key sources of poverty and abuse among children.  That has been sustained by the growth of the welfare state, and a cultural norm of responsibility for children not being primarily with parents but "society".   It is seen in the use of language that nationalises children, that treats all children in the country as being the responsibility of everyone else, but actually means that net taxpayers bear the cost and burden of raising the children of net beneficiaries.  It means that there are taxpayers who are earning money not only to raise their own children, but another parallel family.

The answer to child poverty is twofold.  One is economic growth, with more wealth, employment, opportunities for starting up business, to save money without it being devalued through inflation and to provide the legal and monetary environment to allow people to succeed.  The second is individual.  If you don't want children in poverty, don't have them when you are poor - contraception is cheap, and not difficult to obtain.  If you don't want other people's children to be in poverty, cough up, help out, give some of your own money, spend time with charities, use your imagination with other like minded people.  Do something directly.

One thing that wont help is this report, or the functionally inert Child Poverty Action Group - which has as its sole purpose, actually doing nothing substantive for child poverty, simply producing reports which demand the government take more money from taxpayers to pay the parents of children in poverty, because they are poor.

The philosophy behind this report has failed, it has been tried in one way or another for the last 40 years, to go this far would bankrupt the economy and chase enterpreneurial or aspirational people from New Zealand to elsewhere, further reducing the ability of the economy to catch up with the rest of the developed world.

However, the Greens will love it, because it buys into their "your child is everyone's child" nationalisation of children philosophy, and their admiration for a huge welfare state.  Now go to southern Europe to see what a roaring success that approach is proving to be.

Oh and New Zealand has had this sort of hand wringing, fiscally extravagant approach to social policy presented before.  The Royal Commission on Social Policy reported in 1988 wanting benefits and taxpayers' money for just about any group or individual identified as not having a "fair go".  The Lange Government to its credit ignored Rosslyn Noonan's post-modernist structuralist treatise on recreating a grand social welfare state, and it was called the most expensive door stop in history.

This report is shorter, and cheaper in real terms, but should have the same fate.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Trouble with Aid

That's the name of the documentary on BBC Four I am watching right now, and it is damning of how aid during humanitarian crises can be more harmful than good.

It cites the following examples:

Biafran secessionist war and famine:  Aid effectively got diverted into the secessionist movement, which saw that images of starving women and children attracted more aid, prolonging the civil war for two more years (which resulted in defeat for the secessionists);

- Cambodian civil war/ post Khmer Rouge famine:  Hoards of people were seen starving and dying at the border with Thailand, it was thought it was due to mass famine in Cambodia.  Investigations by a couple of officials on the ground in Cambodia saw no evidence of famine (this was in the year after the Khmer Rouge regime had fallen), but this was suppressed by Oxfam and others who feared that such a picture would hamper efforts to raise money.  As the UN was not operating aid programmes (because of Western vetoes against official support for a country under a regime that was said to be an occupation force from Vietnam), NGO aid agencies saw this as a chance to establish themselves, on the basis of a lie.

- Ethiopian famines of the 80s/Live Aid:  The natural disaster was exaggerated, and the efforts of Geldof, Band Aid and Live Aid saw vast amounts of aid being taken by the Marxist-Leninist Ethiopian regime to support its war against Eritrean secessionists.  The regime purposefully denied aid to regions to ensure the images of famine would reach the West.  Live Aid was going on as the Ethiopian government was forcibly kicking thousands off of their land out of their homes to politically "cleanse" areas to support its Maoist campaign for a new communist society.  That provoked famine by destroying the agricultural sector.  In effect Live Aid and Band Aid prolonged the Ethiopian government's ruinous, murderous policies because of political naivete and blindness.  Medicins sans Frontieres abandoned Ethiopia early on because it did not want its aid supporting the government.   Oxfam and others thought that "working with" the government that caused the problem in the first place.

- Somalia:  Aid was confiscated by warlord factions who used it to support their own fighters and to sell on the black market.  Somalia's situation was exaggerated, famine was dying down as agriculture recovered.  The famine was over by the time the relief campaign peaked.  Military intervention failed miserably, was badly targeted, and after a short period of stopping warlords from confiscating aid, the Western military had to flee, after it killed demonstrators in Mogadishu, before leaving Somalia to civil war and next to no humanitarian presence.   

- Rwanda: The Rwandan genocide ended because the Hutu "tribe" were defeated by the Tutsi, Hutu fled in  large numbers.  Cholera epidemic appeared in Goma (DRC).  Aid came to Goma in substantial numbers, but Rwanda got little.  The Goma refugees included thousands of those Hutu militia who had embarked on the genocide, and they started using the aid to help rebuild and regroup.   Hutu militia effectively ran a mafia ring in the refugee camps, taking percentages of food aid, stockpiling it, training military, bullying and recruiting soldiers, even renting vehicles and equipment to aid providers.   The newly resurgent Hutu militia were effectively rebuilt by aid.  MSF, again to its credit, left, refusing to support the militia.  The Hutu militia would attack Rwanda periodically, until the Rwandan army had had enough, and invaded and destroyed them.  It was sick of the genocidal militia that had slaughtered hundreds of thousands being supported across the border and continuing attacks.  Aid had effectively supported one side in the Rwandan civil war.

- Kosovo:  NATO built refugee camps on the Kosovo/Macedonian border, a key part of the exercise being to demonstrate military capability in being humanitarian.  Aid was looking more like middle class consumer goods to people who were not starving, beyond providing tents and sanitation.  Aid agencies worked with NATO on the ground, and were now perceived by Serbia as being partisan.

- Afghanistan:  Afghan government demanded all aid agencies sign onto its policy of supporting the regime.   The Taliban treated them as targets, so all aid agencies ended up being behind militarily guarded bunkers.  NGOs started being seen as sources of cash and resources for the government.  It became impossible to work outside areas controlled by the government, but also made it impossible to operate without being a target for the Taliban.

One statement was that 95% of women and children in that situation survive without intervention, so it is simply arrogant and deceptive to claim that aid is the difference between life and death.

In short, aid can cause more harm than good.  It would be nice if the British government, which perversely has become obsessed with following the UN target of foreign aid (funded by taxpayers) of 0.7% of GDP, would think again.




Sunday, December 02, 2012

Leveson's demand for legislation would breach European law

After the Leveson report,  Ed Miliband and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, were only too quick to agree with the entire report including the recommendation of press self-regulation, which included legal sanctions for newspapers that did not wish to participate.

The subtlety of the position of the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party, to support all of the recommendations, except enshrining industry self governance in legislation (which would have meant licensing newspapers), was lost in the tirade of victim worshipping, venom about Rupert Murdoch and utterly false hyperboles about the "power" of that one newspaper proprietor.

Hugh Grant for one continues to make an utter fool of himself with his ranting Marxist hysteria that media barons run the country, of course he says this on the state owned taxpayer funded BBC that owns and operates more TV and radio stations than any other broadcaster.

While those like myself who think that the state should not licence those who wish to print newspapers or magazine get smeared by the likes of him, and the unfortunate victims of illegal behaviour by some journalists, the Director of human rights organisation "Liberty", Shami Chakrabarti, has been reported in the Mail on Sunday as saying that that one dimension of Leveson would be contrary to UK law, which is the British implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Bear in mind Liberty is not libertarian, but rather a liberal leftwing "civil" liberties group, highly regarded by leftwing intellectuals and politicians, and the European Convention on Human Rights is warmly embraced by the Liberal Democrats (and excoriated by conservatives).

Some of her points have been:

- The so-called "Hacked Off" group of celebrities doesn't really know what it is talking about "There has been a great deal of ill-informed debate, with people bandying about terms such as “statutory underpinning” with little grasp of what this would mean".  Indeed, the sheer contradiction between saying that a system created by politicians, overseen by a body appointed by politicians is "truly" independent, eludes them, because they are actors, authors and singers.  Not lawyers, not policy wonks, not philosophers.

- A compulsory legal press regulatory framework "would mean the press was being coerced in being held to higher standards than anyone else, and this would be unlawful.’ On Miliband, she commented on the fact that when he made his promise to back the report on the day it was published, he could not possibly have read or weighed up the contents of its 2,000 pages.  ‘He should have been more careful about what he said,’ Ms Chakrabarti said.  ‘To declare his full support so early, when he cannot have read it, was hasty. He should have reflected on it. This is a policy that must not be rushed.’

Now it is right to want another source, given the Mail on Sunday tends to be a conservative newspaper and regularly expresses hatred of European laws generally, so the Liberty website explains further:

- "The Leveson Report recommends a robust independent self-regulation of the press of a kind that has not been provided or suggested by the industry up to now....It must set and promote ethical standards, handle complaints and crucially offer a swift and cheap alternative to court action for members of the public whose rights (e.g. privacy and reputation) have been violated. No statute is needed to create such a body and editors and proprietors should take the Leveson characteristics and seek to build one without delay"

- "Leveson does not recommend compulsory statutory regulation of the press and Liberty believes that he is right not to do so. However, he moots the very difficult question of what would happen if all or significant portions of the press failed to rise to the challenge of his Report and create and support a sufficiently robust and independent body. He reflects on (without recommending) the possibility that parliament and the public might feel the need to impose some level of compulsory statutory regulation on outlets that refused to play their part. It is this alternative that Liberty cannot support and which would in our view, breach Article 10 of the ECHR and Human Rights Act. As this last-ditch alternative is not even a recommendation of the Report, it is misleading to suggest that Liberty or its director is in any way dropping a "bombshell" on the Lord Justice's Report, not least as this position was clearly footnoted in it."

Behaviour that is illegal has been disgraceful, but when the law hasn't been followed or enforced then the answer is not to create another law.   Just because someone hates a particular newspaper proprietor does not mean it is right that the newspapers, which say things they don't like, should be subject to state control or regulation.  

Defending free speech means defending the right of those you despise, whose views you find reprehensible, to express themselves.  It means books, photos, songs, movies, newspapers and tweets you find offensive are not to be banned just because you find them offensive.

Unfortunately, all too much of the rhetoric around Leveson has been from those who say free speech is important, but...

There is no but...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What you need to know about Leveson

  1. Phone hacking is already illegal in the UK.
  2. Attempting to corrupt a public official is illegal.
  3. Stalking was made a crime in the UK a week ago.
  4. Breaking and entering private property in the UK is already illegal.
  5. The UK has one of the world's toughest defamation laws, which are already blamed for suppressing people speaking up about allegations of sexual abuse by public figures.
  6. In short, the vile events presented in evidence were, in most instances, already illegal.
So consider, for a moment, why new laws and a new regulator is needed to enforce that which the Police have been lax to enforce now.
  1. News International is not dominant in the newspaper market in the UK.  It owns the second most popular out of the five serious national Monday-Saturday papers, and the most popular of the five tabloid/populist papers.  Only 34% of national newspapers read in the UK are News Corp papers.  Around 8 million national newspapers are sold every day in the UK.
  2. News International is not dominant in the television market in the UK.    It owns one free to air TV channel (Sky News) compared with the state which owns ten through the BBC and five through Channel 4 (excluding another five "+1" timeshifted channels). It owns the largest pay TV provider (BSkyB in 17% of UK/Irish households), with two major competitors (Virgin Media, BT Vision). The BBC is funded predominantly through a TV licence payable by threat of criminal prosecution.  BSkyB is funded voluntarily through subscription.  BSkyB is forced by the state to onsell its premium sports content to its competitors.  About 9 million people watch the BBC's two nightly TV bulletins every day.  Another 2.2 million watch the BBC News channel daily, while 1.5 million watch Sky News.
  3. News Corporation has no radio stations in the UK.  By contrast, the state owns 11 national radio stations and 48 regional/local radio stations through the BBC.
  4. Any form of legislation to regulate the press will require the licensing of newspapers, which was last abolished in 1644.   By definition, a regulator will be led by people appointed by politicians, by definition it will be a creature of politics.
Look at those asking for a regulator.  What's their motive?  Ask why a publisher should require permission from the state to publish?  Ask if you think the Labour Party would be so keen on regulating the press if the Times and the Sun hadn't decided to stop supporting it after the 2005 election and Gordon ("I've abolished boom and bust") Brown became Prime Minister?  Ask why the BBC, which has been at the forefront of supporting press regulation, isn't regulated by OfCom and itself failed to report on its own former stars committing criminal sexual acts, yet press regulation enthusiasts regard it to be a bastion of ethics?

Can you imagine the resistance by the pro-press regulation left against anyone daring to suggest that the behemoth of a state broadcaster (the world's largest state broadcaster) be independently investigated and broken up because of the dominance of its influence?

Leveson has recommended legislation, to "protect press freedom", although he doesn't identify what threatens it.  Typically the number one to press freedom, is legislation.

He wants OfCom - the regulator of broadcasting (except the BBC, because it wouldn't do to have the BBC regulated by the organisation regulating the private sector), to supervise the newspaper regulator.

What's a newspaper?  Who knows.

This is from a man who has said that newspapers are "uniquely powerful" compared to the internet and social media, which probably reflects he is 63 years old, than any real insights into the media.

The Leveson Report is a doorstop.  Nothing more.  It claims that regulation is needed to protect a free press - freedom is slavery, peace is war, and all that.  It is so absurd that no one should take that seriously.  Hugh Grant will, but then who really wants to turn to him for public policy (he ranted on a state owned TV channel a few days ago about how all policy was written by big corporations who control us through their ownership of the media).

The Labour Party will embrace press regulation now because it suits its interests and its newly embraced "class-warfare" attitude against privately owned media that don't give it the fawning subservience to which it feels entitled.  There is next to no evidence of the Labour Party having the slightest respect for individual freedom anymore.

The "Liberal" Democrats will once again demonstrate that the word "Liberal" in the party name is closer to the American misuse of the word to mean "socialist".  The reaction will be the next pile of dirt poured on the coffin of the once proud Liberal Party.

What matters is what the Conservative Party says and does, which will determine whether "small government conservatism", already dying under minimum priced alcohol, caps on interest rates for payday loans and new laws on internet surveillance, is comatose.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Minimum alcohol pricing is empirically and philosophically wrong

If you want to see the "conservative" in the Conservative Party and see how little "liberal" there is in the Liberal Democrats then you only need consider that the UK Government is about to announce plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in England and Wales (the Nationalist Socialist People's republic of Scotland has already announced similar plans, but half of the population there is probably so sloshed it hasn't noticed yet).


- 45p per unit of alcohol will be the minimum price set;
- BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) offers with alcohol will be banned.

Of course the plan is motivated (isn't it always) by a desire to do good.  It is to save alcoholics from themselves, to save binge drinkers from themselves, to put a price barrier upon behaviour that politicians and bureaucrats have deemed to be bad for people (and of course, drinking to excess your entire life can kill you).  It is also being sold, absurdly, as an antidote to anti-social behaviour in evenings, because it is believed that people wont be drunk and obnoxious in any serious number any more.

Few policies can show such a direct distinct gap between the general public and what they perceive as a ruling elite of politicians and health do-gooders who believe they know what is good for others.

Of course, it punishes everyone who drinks alcohol, particularly the poor.  Of course retailers agree, because it will obvious reduce sales, even though minimum pricing raising their revenue per product, they obviously know that this isn't market pricing, so wont be revenue maximising.   Those on the left and health do-gooders  of course have no time for the retailers, as they profit from high levels of consumption, but unlike them the retailers are actually making two sets of people happy - themselves and their employees, and the people buying the products, who health do-gooders want to treat like children.

It is easy to picture the average pensioner who likes a wee dram in the evenings, now having to pay more, because highly paid health do-gooders want her treated no differently than a lager lout.

How dare they?

The two public policy problems identified are:
- Criminal behaviour whilst drunk; and
- Diseases due to excessive alcohol consumption.

In both cases it is grossly unfair to target all those who drink alcohol.  Only a small minority of people who drink alcohol get drunk and assault, vandalise or threaten others.   That is where the state has a role.  At the places and times where such behaviour becomes an issue, the Police should be present as a deterrent and to take away those creating danger to others and their property.   More could be done if the public areas where this happens were privatised, and placed under the control of adjoining property owners - who could then choose to ban drinking outside, they could choose to hire their own security staff who could order people to leave if they are causing trouble.   Bear in mind that shopping malls don't tend to have this behaviour, because of that reason.   

On the health concerns, there is already taxation on alcohol that is meant to reflect this, but the bigger issue is that the vast bulk of people in the UK (and in most Western countries) have decided that the costs of health care are to be socialised, and so everyone pays in proportion to the taxes collected from them.  If you accept this then part of accepting it is that some people will not look after their own health, others will do so, and it will seem very unfair that some impose enormous costs upon taxpayers and others do not.   Yet if you want to fix this, the only fair way to do so is to have people pay either directly or to an insurer that assesses risk.  Fiddling with alcohol pricing becomes the thin end of a wedge that already includes tobacco, and should also target foods high in saturated fat, salty foods, foods high in sugar, adventure sports and contact sports (for injuries), sunbeds, holidays in the sun, sedentary jobs, driving or riding buses short distances, etc. 

The potential scope for health do-gooders to tax and regulate everyone's lives to protect a few is substantial, and it is philosophically ground in the view that some adults not only know best what is good for other adults (which objectively may be true in some circumstances), but that they have the right to force them to do what we want or force others to penalise or reward them, whether by regulation, taxation or subsidy.

Furthermore, the Adam Smith Institute has released a study that demonstrates that the empirical evidence for the value of minimum alcohol pricing is flawed.  It argues that "the estimates of how minimum pricing will affect health outcomes have overwhelmingly come from a single computer model—the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model." the study "argues that the model is based on unreasonable assumptions which render its figures meaningless."

The executive summary states it as follows:

"Amongst the problems with the Sheffield model is its false assumption that heavy drinkers are more likely to reduce their consumption of alcohol as a result of a price rise. Its calculations are based on controversial beliefs about the relationship between per capita alcohol consumption and rates of alcohol related harm. Its assumptions about the relationship between price and consumption have frequently been refuted by real world evidence."


The Sheffield model provides figures without estimates of error and ignores statistical error in the alcohol-harm relationship. Data is drawn from different populations and applied to England and Scotland as if patterns of consumption and harm are the same in all countries. When data is not available, the model resorts to what is essentially numerology. Insufficient data is provided for the model to be recreated and tested by third parties.

The model ignores the likely effects of minimum pricing on the illicit alcohol trade, it disregards the health benefits of moderate drinking and fails to take account of the secondary poverty created by regressive price rises. The decline in alcohol consumption seen in Britain in recent years has not led to the outcomes predicted by the model.

We conclude that predictions based on the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model are entirely speculative and do not deserve the exalted status they have been afforded in the policy debate.


Minimum alcohol pricing may have a modest effect on alcohol consumption, but it will have that effect disproportionately on the poor, and disproportionately on people who do no harm to others.   As such it is a grotesquely regressive measure that should be opposed not just by libertarians, but those on the left who purport to care for the poor.

It will have a negligible effect on alcohol abuse, and a negligible effect on health, but will look as if "something has been done", which is the pressure that the predominantly statist media puts on politicians.

It should not be implemented.  If the concern of government is about behaviour, then it should undertake its core function and police the streets, and change welfare from being a handout of cash to being another form of payment that can't be used for alcohol, at least directly.   If its concern is about health, it should challenge the state religion of the NHS.  

Of course what it really cares about are small groups of feral welfare dependent chavs being drunk and obnoxious to middle class restaurant and theatre goers on Friday and Saturday nights.   That's a matter for the Police, but also to note that the welfare state is funding many of those people to drink.   The left wont tackle that, because it will see the idea that welfare recipients drink away their benefits as being a generalisation and unfair on those who don't - which is correct - yet the fact remains that taxpayers do pay for the alcohol consumed by those on welfare.

Meanwhile, it should emphasise that alcohol consumption is a matter for adults to decide for themselves, and get off their backs.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

UKIP membership makes you unfit to raise children?

Think of where in the world belonging to a political party is enough reason for a government official to take children off of you.  That place is Rotherham in the UK.

The story goes like this:
- A couple, who have fostered over a dozen children successfully over seven years with no controversy, get to foster three others from a troubled family;
- The report appears yesterday that after a tip off to the Council that the couple are members of UKIP (UK Independence Party), that the Council decided it was better for the children to remove them.  The report in the Daily Telegraph, which broke the story, said that the parents were told that UKIP is a "racist party"

The civil servant responsible is one Joyce Thacker, the six figure sum earning Head of Childrens' Services from Rotherham Council, who has had a disastrous day with several shocking interviews, including this one on the BBC, where she claims she was protecting the children from "strong views".  She backed off from claiming they got legal advice to do this, but implied that the children's "cultural needs" wont be met by parents with such political views.

The couple were told by the person removing the children that UKIP is "racist".  They have since claimed that not only did they let the children speak their own language, but they encouraged them to teach the couple the language (the children range from a baby to a girl of adolescent age).

In other words, the Council decided it was in the best interest of the children's "cultural needs" to not be fostered by people who belong to a political party.

So what is UKIP's policy on multiculturalism?  The website says this:

End the active promotion of the doctrine of multiculturalism by local and national government and all publicly funded bodies



UKIP believes in civic nationalism, which is open and inclusive to anyone who wishes to identify with Britain, regardless of ethnic or religious background. We reject the “blood and soil” ethnic nationalism of extremist parties. UKIP opposes multiculturalism and political correctness, and promotes uniculturalism - aiming to create a single British culture embracing all races and religions. UKIP will: 


· Recognise the numerous threats to British identity and culture · Restore British values, scrap quotas and political correctness and return to meritocratic principles

Essentially it is a view of integration, that those who migrate to Britain can bring whatever culture they wish, but should be loyal to Britain.

But so bloody what?

Does it mean that people who are members of UKIP will treat children of a non-British ethnic background differently?  What is more important?  That children needing fostering are part of a loving family or are in care, but "culturally safe"?

The response from politicians has been predictable with UKIP leader Nigel Farage understandably "appalled", Education Secretary Michael Gove saying this is "indefensible" and Labour Leader Ed Miliband wanting a review - of course he's concerned because there is a by-election in Rotherham next Thursday.  Rotherham is a safe Labour seat, with the by-election triggered by the resignation of MP Denis McShane because of the scandal of him falsifying receipts to claim expenses fraudulently (just another piggy in the trough).

It isn't a coincidence that the local authority (Rotherham) is strongly Labour holding 50 of the 63 seats on Council.  Why?  Because this scandal is a direct result of the embrace of the philosophy of cultural relativism, the post-modernist worshipping of neo-Marxist identity politics which has been propagated through the far from liberal (so-called progressive) mainstream left for decades.

It takes the view that whilst avowedly anti-racist and ultra-sensitive to being accused of racism, that people who do not belong to the dominant culture/ethnicity (i.e. white British) are automatically at a disadvantage, and that society must accommodate all other identities equally, and that there should be a positive discouragement of claims of achievement or pride of the dominant culture.  In other words, pure cultural relativism.

There is a lot that can be said about that view, but in essence it doesn't treat people as individuals, but as ethnicities.  That makes identifying those who are victims and who are with power easy.  White British = powerful,  Black = victim, Pakistani Muslim = victim, indeed even white European non-British are victims.

However, it is more than that.  In this case it is a Maoist view of those who don't share this mindset.  Consider for a moment the political and philosophical structure of the people who work for Rotherham Council and especially social workers.  Do you really think that it is a place where people who think that Britain should leave the EU, that immigration should be constrained will be working or welcome?  

You see that is behind Joyce Thacker's belief that it is actually ok to discriminate against people because they belong to the "wrong" political party with the "wrong" beliefs.  It is a world whereby she grudgingly accepts that not everyone votes Labour, but treats with utter disdain those who express views she and her ilk find wrong.

In other words, she and the management of Childrens' Services at Rotherham neither believe in liberal democracy nor believe that people can hold views on immigration that differ from them.  It is not far removed from the attitude of Chairman Mao's Red Guards who defined political correctness.  Being a member of UKIP is not Politically Correct.

They cannot even tell that what they have done is akin to actions of a totalitarian state, to remove children because the parents have implied political views deemed to be contrary to their interests.  

Who cares if UKIP wants an end to open immigration from the EU?  Who cares if UKIP believes in celebrating British culture in Britain?  It doesn't want to deny children from other ancestries their cultures or language or would even remotely advocate foster parents telling children from say Poland, that they can't speak their language or they are unwelcome.  At best such a view would be a parody of reality.  At worst it reflects the kind of gutter politics and malignant attitude to those with other political views that is exactly parallel to the Maoist absolutist view of political correctness.

It has been exacerbated by an official from Rotherham Council saying that the couple concerned can foster other children, as they are otherwise good foster parents, but only white British children.

Why, by any objective measure, it is better tonight for these children to be in care with the state in preference to a couple who would foster them, just because the parents hold the wrong political affiliation?  Why are the children at less risk being in care with the state than they would be with successful and well loved foster parents?

Only in the twisted subjectivist world of neo-Marxist identity politics based cultural relativists, who think it is more important that children have people of similar ancestry look after them, or with the right political views,  or to be looked after the state, than to be loved and appreciated as individuals.  

The right response by government should be clear.

Joyce Thacker should go, her views and philosophy are contrary to the interests of children she purports to care about, and her and her team "who thought carefully about the issues" are more closely aligned to the former Stasi, than people who should have any power over others.

Rotherham Council should be put under administration and be declared unfit for purpose.

This very council has already been found wanting by being aware of, and with the Police not acting against gangs of Pakistani and other ethnic minority men enslaving and sexually exploiting underage girls - because it didn't want to "cause offence".  A failing even admitted by Labour.   It refused to act on criminality because it didn't want to be seen to be targeting offenders who happen to not be of backgrounds they, no doubt see, as being "powerless" and "victims" in the identity politics the men who raped young girls.

Well offence has been caused.  This Council has harmed children, it has harmed adults and has been negligent in fulfilling its responsibilities towards those in its care.   It is infected by its own racism, so that it sees racism everywhere and lazily treats those who don't fit its narrow view of the world as being racist.

It should go, and the people of Rotherham should wake up and vote UKIP next Thursday, to give Labour a shock (for it has been the party that, despite Ed Miliband's protestations today, has been the conduit for such views), and to declare that it IS ok to hold views contrary to the establishment.

It isn't just UKIP supporters who should be appalled, but everyone who believes that government should not judge individuals on the basis of their political party affiliations, but on their actions and deeds.

Meanwhile, there isn't a profanity I know of that is sufficiently critical of Joyce Thacker that I can think of, but I hope her next job involves clearing tables at a UKIP conference.

oh and David Cameron can carry his small share of the blame, having called UKIP a party of closet racists... so really, how much better is he?

Guido Fawkes says it is the "progressive agenda" of Common Purpose (a leftwing charity) that Joyce Thacker is expressing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gaza could have chosen peace but no

You'll see lots of reports of the destruction in Gaza from the BBC and CNN and other "well-balanced" Western news networks, you might wonder about what's been going on in the other direction...

Just 115 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel - that's Israel proper, the part that Palestinians usually cite as not being occupied, in one day.

The difference is that Gaza's weapons are poorer technology and less well targeted than Israel's.

You see Palestinians in Gaza, not in the West Bank (where they are governed by Fatah, which officially recognises the state of Israel and has explicitly renounced terrorism), have chosen to wage war against Israel - which withdraw from Gaza, including dismantling all Jewish settlements.

They could have set up a free trade zone, offering to make it the Dubai on the Mediterranean, seeking its port to be a gateway to a trading hub, because they have the potential.  It could have become a sliver of land of prosperity and peace, and been an example to prove to Israel that Palestinians can shed the image of being worshippers of death, accelerating the day that Israel does grant them statehood over the Gaza and a negotiated portion of the West Bank.

No.  That was too hard.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The pathology of being young and wanting to be a politician

Having seen the oh so earnest and enthusiastic tweets from those attending the Young Labour conference in New Zealand, some thoughts came to mind.

Why would anyone ever aspire to being a leftwing politician in a modern liberal democratic state?

What sort of psychological profile inspires someone young to want to lead others?

I remember years ago Bob Jones noted how he had been asked to speak at some event for "young leaders" of the future, of what it takes to be a good leader.  His response was that this was the last thing that young people should be encouraged to do and that, at the time, the country's main problem were due to a certain chap who was only too keen to "lead others" (Rob Muldoon).  

I have some sympathy for this.  The key focus for anyone young should be to pursue their own ambitions and aspirations to achieve, not to aspire to push others about (have no bones about it, that's exactly what joining a statist political party is all about) or to aspire to take more money from those who have achieved and to spend it, as if you're somehow entitled to spend other people's money.

I understand the interest in politics and wanting to "change the world" around them.    However, it is one thing to invent, to establish a business, to raise money or work for a charity, it is another to aspire to pass new laws, to take more money from people and spend it because you know better than they how best to do so.

That is precisely what all the delegates at a Young Labour conference are saying.   

It is a pernicious belief that not only do you have confidence in yourself to live your own life, but that you know best how to run those of others.  It's a patronising belief that those less fortunate than you will only be better off if you give them more money that you've taken from others, that you organise the world by telling business, with threat of force, how they should contract with others, how they should price and sell products they make or purchase.  

It is swallowing an entire belief system that is negative about the ability of people to make their own decisions, it is suspicious of entrepreneurs, it is the belief that other people's property is everyone's and that a small group of selected adults can know best how to mould society and individuals.

It is, despite their professed belief they are supporting the disenfranchised and disadvantaged, a belief in elitism, not in the sense of being best, but in believing in the right to rule others.

At a time in life when the primary concerns should be what education to pursue, to advance a career that one gets passionate in, and to explore the world, meet people, find those who complement who you are and your passions, the idea that a key goal has to be to align with people whose main goal is to tell others what to do, is pernicious and pathological.

If you want to lead, lead yourself.  Take a risk, create something, make a business out of nothing and use your confidence to convince people to spend their money on what you sell, or on the charity you advance.

Only when you've done that, faced up to dozens upon dozens of naysayers, had to deal with the laws and the bureaucracies that enforce them, had to give up part of what you've worked hard for in tax, will you then have some perspective on those who think they know best how to run the lives of others.

While you're at it, ask yourself how many 16 and 17 year olds have done any of that, and whether you still think that counting their heads, rather than what's in them, is really going to make things any better for anyone - except the politicians who think they can sell their own brand of snakeoil most readily to that group.

Meanwhile, go into your political party seminar and advance a counter-argument to the usual predictable monologues you hear there, and see how liberal, open-minded and intellectual they really are...

oh and Young Nats?  Don't think you're that much different, given the historical record of how your leaders turn out when they get the handles of power - for they are barely distinguishable from those on the other side.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Reform of the BBC must involve abolition of the licence fee

The capabilities and impartiality of the BBC have come under serious scrutiny in the past few days.  So the question has been asked as to whether the current model of the BBC, within a coherent broadcasting policy, is valid for today.

I say no, and the fundamental reason why is that the TV licence fee is morally indefensible.

For any appliance or electrical good one buys for use at home, it isn't the state's business once you get it home.  You've coughed up a 20% surcharge in VAT and that's it.  Except for televisions.

Ownership of a TV means you are coerced to pay £145.50 for the BBC.  Want to just watch DVDs, play console games or watch channels other than the BBC provided by Sky or commercial free to air networks?  Tough. You must pay for the BBC.

It's no idle threat.  Every year over 140,000 people get criminal convictions for not paying.  If you failed to pay your Sky bill, you wouldn't face that.  The difference between the Rupert Murdoch "evil empire" so many leftwing detractors claim is BSkyB, and the BBC is palpable.  Never have Mr. Murdoch's businesses demanded you pay them for their products unsolicited, with the threat of criminal prosecution if you fail to do so.  

So the starting point has to be abolition of the TV licence fee.  Besides the lack of equity in that those who listen to BBC radio but do not own a TV don't pay for it (a tax avoidance supporters of the licence fee don't raise), it is simply unjust today to prosecute people for not paying for a public broadcaster when there is technology to allow people to opt out of paying and be denied the content supplied.

Allister Heath has suggested the licence fee become voluntary, and he is right.  It would not be technically complex to offer a subscription service, using PCM or other technology built into Freeview TVs and set top boxes to authorise access to BBC channels (except perhaps BBC Parliament) if people choose to pay.

Of course the BBC could also offer an opportunity for people and companies to donate towards the BBC running costs, like PBS stations in the US, but it could also offer packages of stations for people willing to pay for part of it.   Radio remains an issue, as this is more complex, but in the interim it could be taxpayer funded.  Bear in mind the BBC has a turnover of over £1 billion in its commercial activities, which generates a profit of nearly £150 million.  If required to, it might actually be even more clever in exploiting this.

Those who do not want the BBC could still watch all of the other Freeview channels for nothing.   However, the BBC would then need to offer a unique proposition to subscribers.  

One thing that also should be done is that its dominance, particularly in radio, should be culled.  It should not be the dominant local radio broadcaster, and so all of its local stations should be sold, even if they retain access to the BBC News resources on a commercial basis, the BBC should not be so pervasive.  Furthermore, there needs to be a review of the scale of its national radio operations.  Why maintain an urban hip-hop station, a talkback network, a mixed format adult contemporary station or a south Asian station, all of which have commercial competitors?  

The question should be asked - what role should the state have in providing content to the public in an age when digital technology no longer means broadcasting is limited by scarcity of radio spectrum?

Regardless of the answer, the BBC should be regulated by OfCom not a Trust that has proven wholly inadequate in representing the interests of viewers.

From that should be a question about Channel 4.  It is fully state owned and itself owns and operates a suite of TV channels, albeit fully commercially funded.  Should that remain state owned or be privatised?

Beyond that, questions should finally be asked about why the state regulates commercial TV at all?  Channel 5 and ITV1 both retain significant regulation by OfCom which seems increasingly anachronistic when there are dozens of Freeview commercial channels without such regulation.  

So here is my manifesto for reforming broadcasting in the UK, it is rather moderate in my view:

- Announce end of the TV licence, offer temporary taxpayer funding to the BBC equal to the licence fee minus administrative costs and an austerity factor of 10% until 2016;
- Wipe all convictions for non-payment of the licence fee from people's criminal records;
- Declare the BBC will be fully funded from a subscription service topped up by BBC Worldwide revenue and donations from 2016;
- Abolish the BBC Trust, putting OfCom in charge of regulating the BBC;
- Institute an independent review of the role of public broadcasting in the UK to report by 2015 on its continued scope and scale including options for the BBC and Channel 4;
- As of 2016, remove Channel 5 and ITV1 from all channel specific content regulation, treating them as if all other free to air commercial broadcasters.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

BBC has failed to meet the moral standards it demands from others

It's gone like this...

Late TV star Jimmy Savile was a recidivist sex offender.  This was broken by ITV, following a report that the BBC chose not to broadcast a report about the very topic late last year, preferring instead to broadcast a tribute to the man.

The BBC denied it suppressed the report for any specific reasons associated with the content of the report.  The BBC also denied it had received complaints about Savile and that it had nothing on file.

Subsequently tens, then hundreds of people came forward with their stories of Savile.  One woman, who was molested on air under her dress by Savile, said she complained and was told "that's just how he is".  It is now clear that during the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC essentially had a culture of suppressing complaints of sexual abuse against high profile stars.

There are now at least two investigations into behaviour of BBC staff over this affair.  Of course, the question has been raised as to how the BBC can investigate itself.  After all, a core principle of the Leveson Inquiry is whether newspapers (which, it is important to emphasise, are not state owned, not state funded and not creatures of statute) can hold themselves accountable.   The BBC apparently can, so it thinks.

All of this did blow open the obvious questions.  Why didn't the press take on Savile when he was alive?  Why didn't the BBC?  What are the implications of the Leveson Inquiry, which may propose regulating the press in order to avoid overly aggressive behaviour in pursuing people for stories, on journalism in the UK?

Since then, the scandal widened. Labour MP Tom Watson, the MP who has been the key protagonist in taking on NewsCorp in the Leveson Inquiry and who firmly believes in regulating the press, has been alleging that there is a pedophile conspiracy involving senior Conservative politicians and officials from the Thatcher era.

The BBC didn't dare question Watson as to his motivations.


However, it did listen to one man, who told the BBC that a senior Conservative politician had sexually abused him.  The BBC reported this, without saying who it was, but the description and the internet saw Lord McAlpine identified within 48 hours of the broadcast.  The man who made the claim then withdrew it late last week because once he saw a photo of Lord McAlpine he confirmed that he had not been the abuser.  Apparently the BBC had not inquired of Lord McAlpine before issuing its report, and had not probed the man who made the claim, even though it has subsequently been revealed that the same man had made a false accusation against a policeman some years ago and has a history that should have given cause for the BBC to not proceed.


Of course some have implied that the BBC chose to jump at the chance to take the story away from its own inadequacies and cover ups, to blaming a senior Conservative ex.politician, especially after a Labour MP had talked about it.

The allegations against Lord McAlpine mean he is likely to sue for defamation, it has shown the BBC as not meeting the standards it thinks it embodies, by reporting the most damaging allegations that can be made against any man today (be clear, to be labelled a child rapist is worse than murder today) based  on the testimony of one man, without giving the accused the right of reply or even, off camera, talking to him.

Yet this is the BBC that claimed it did not broadcast a programme recorded about such allegations against a dead former BBC celebrity, because the evidence wasn't good enough.  

BBC Director General - George Entwistle - who only took on the job in September - has resigned over it all, not least because his performance when interviewed by BBC Radio 4 presenter - John Humphrys - was farcical.

Of course it isn't just the BBC that stuffs up.  On ITV, Philip Schofield handed David Cameron a list of  alleged pedophiles live on TV.  However, he's been excoriated and ITV now subject to an OfCom investigation.

Yet the BBC is not subject to scrutiny by OfCom - the regulator of the broadcasting industry.  It is subject to regulation by the BBC Trust - a body which is mean to provide oversight, but has no real sanctions against the BBC when it misbehaves.   It is hard to see how the BBC Trust can possibly address the fundamental failings of the BBC to confront Jimmy Savile, let alone be honest about what happened.

What is needed is an independent inquiry.

However, what it raises is more fundamental than the poor judgment of BBC management, which is getting to be rather too frequent.

It is the basis for the BBC's special status, as the only broadcaster completely protected from the recession, the only broadcaster legally entitled to force the public to pay for it, whether or not they consume its services.

The BBC is quite possibly the most powerful institution in the UK.  It is difficult to overestimate the pervasiveness of the BBC in British life, its profound influence on politics and culture, and its status within broadcasting and media more generally.

It holds this position because of legislation and its primarily funded through compulsion.  Indeed 140,000 people each year get criminal prosecutions for not paying the TV licence, an archaic, arbitrary poll tax for owning a TV.  A system that in itself particularly penalises the poor, those home during working hours and those who do not live behind gated homes or tower blocks.

It broadcasts 9 TV channels in the UK and 10 national radio stations with 40 local ones.  It is the dominant broadcaster and asserts impartiality and balance as central to its ethos.  It also claims scrupulous political impartiality and separation from politics.  Yet it is a creation of politics.

Those of us on the liberal right (and those on the conservative right) regularly claim this impartiality does not stand up to close scrutiny.  There are some on the left who claim the same.

The honest truth is that it is contradictory to the core for a state owned broadcaster, funded through a specific tax on TV owners to not have an institutional bias that at its core is about defending itself, and the philosophy that justifies the maintenance and growth of that broadcaster.  When did the BBC last have a programme where it invited BBC critics to put forward the view that it should be reformed, broken up or disbanded?

So how credible is the BBC in policing itself?

There needs to be a fundamental look at what the BBC exists for.  At one time it was the sole broadcaster, in part because of the scarcity of radio spectrum, but also because the state wanted to control what people heard, and later, saw.  

None of these arguments make sense today.  The classic argument for public broadcasting by supporters of it is that it can produce programming that would not be broadcast by TV and radio stations beholden to commercial imperatives.   Yet the BBC does much much more.  It produces a vast range of mass market programming that would be seen on any commercial network.  From EastEnders to Strictly Come  Dancing to live sports coverage, to Radio 1, the BBC broadcasts programming aimed for everyone.

Its competitors have to win either advertisers (audiences it can sell) or subscribers.  It need not.  It faces no financial sanction for failing to deliver what people want, indeed it would argue that unpopular programmes are proper public service broadcasting, and popular ones prove the BBC is delivering for everyone.

Yet, its role in being the leading provider of news and current affairs is never questioned.   Its regular leftwing bias in how it carries out that activity is palpable (I complained about one presenter who said stock traders don't produce anything, with a dismissive head shake, as if they didn't do anything value, and that complaint was dismissed.  I have yet to see the BBC say that about newsreaders), and is seen in how the Guardian now actively defends it.  The line it takes, and was taken on TV by Chris Patten today is that "Murdoch will cheer on the BBC being harmed", as if the News Corp empire is evil and the views expressed in the Times can be dismissed as malignant.   Yes, the impartial BBC thinks this.

A libertarian is always going to think that the idea the government should own a broadcaster and threaten criminal prosecution against any members of the public who refuse to pay for it, whether they watch it or not, is fundamentally wrong.

However, the UK hasn't even had the debate and discussion about the role of the BBC in media policy in recent years.  The Labour Party sees itself as guardian of the BBC as a national institution, not least because the existence of the BBC fits in with its philosophy that treats the state as being activist whenever politicians think it should be.  The Conservative Party has been too scared to take on the BBC, not least because it would mean the BBC had every chance to take on those wishing to reduce its role.

Those on the left who think newspaper proprietors can't police themselves should ask themselves how well the BBC can.  The difference is that people who can read are not forced to pay for newspapers, but people who own TVs are forced to pay for the BBC.

Former Labour man Dan Hodges thinks the problem is the BBC convinces itself it is the world's best, when it is not, and so surrounds itself with a culture of superiority and immunity from criticism.

What else could justify the latest report that the BBC - which has made a point of taking on celebrities and politicians who avoid tax - is now handing its outgoing Director General a golden handshake of £450,000 - more than the Prime Minister's salary - after only 45 days in the job.

Where is the moral authority in that?
Where is the moral authority in denying that it had had complaints about Jimmy Savile when he was alive?
Where is the moral authority for the BBC to ever claim it is above politics, when it is a creature of it?

In an age when more and more media is consumed online, and by mobile devices.  In an age when networks can carry over 1,000 parallel TV channels by cable and satellite, and anyone can set up Youtube channel, podcast and blog, what role can the BBC have?

Should it continue to be all pervasive, dominating local radio and competing like a commercial broadcaster but without the disciplines of one?  Should it just broadcast content that is not commercially viable?  Should it continue to be funded through a poll tax with criminal sanctions for non-payment, or should it tout for donations, should it be funded from general taxation, or should it be subscription funded (given all TV in the UK is now digital, making it feasible to do so)?

That is what should happen next. 

If not, it is time that people deliberately failed to pay the TV licence fee.

It is a complete travesty that every year hundreds of thousands of people get a criminal record because they wont pay for a TV broadcaster.

It is about time that that debate was had, on all media, and the BBC finally felt it had to carry the debate too.