23 December 2005

The Year in Retrospect- Part 2

Passing the Banner Award – David Cameron
The political landscape in the UK changed in 2005, and it had nothing to do with the election. The election was a yawn, Labour lost some seats, the Tories gained a handful – but it was a foregone conclusion. Blair celebrated a third consecutive Labour win, and he earnt it by being resolute and leading the only party in the House of Commons that looked like it could govern. Now, several months later – the Conservative Party, which had been written off, was in the resurgence and it is due to one man – David Cameron.
Besides his youthful charisma, he started to show a new more liberal Conservative Party – that wasn’t afraid of women, people with non-white skin and gay people, and he was not afraid of questions about him taking drugs while at university. Like water off a duck’s back he didn’t let it distract him from his key message, which was – in effect – to take over where New Labour left off and what it couldn’t do. Much as Ruth Richardson took over where Roger Douglas left off, David Cameron will take over as Tony Blair bows out for Gordon Brown.
The British electorate are sick of the Labour government, sick of its spin and now that Blair is under attack from a host of rebel leftist MPs, they see old Labour rearing its ugly head again – Britain defeated old Labour in 1979 and had not wanted it back. Gordon Brown is New Labour, but one that looks back – and Blair recent capitulation of part of Britain’s EU rebate is just another nail in the coffin. On top of that Cameron promising to back Blair's excellent education reforms shows he is above some of the petty politicking that is often rife among Opposition parties.
So here is to David Cameron, a promising start, the polls have the Tories effectively neck and neck with Labour now – maybe there is hope for Britain yet. The banner of reforming Britain has moved from Blair to Cameron, now we just have to wait.

Misdirected attempt to save the world award – Bob Geldof
Bob Geldof and Bono wanted world governments to give loads of money to Africa and to wipe off debt that corrupt governments have taken out in the name of their citizens. The held Live 8 – it called for an end to poverty, it did little to further that goal.
What the developing countries need are three things:
- Open world markets: This means free trade, it means no bans, quotas or tariffs on their goods entering other countries. It also means no subsidies against their competition. This means that producers can sell their goods and services to willing buyers, and they will all be better off. It is very simple, most developing countries protect their own markets and the very worst of the developed countries do the same, particularly the EU and Japan. Bob Geldof didn’t call for free trade – had he done so he might have helped destroy the arguments of the so called “fair trade” advocates, protectionists in drag – and he would have needed to confront the European Union.
- Stable, uncorrupt, independent governments to enforce personal and property rights, and contracts: The basic infrastructure of rule of law, so that people can keep what they own, enforce contracts and not have to spend most of their energy protecting themselves from looters (private or government) is what lacks in so much of Africa. This wont come from state aid, but it needs encouragement. Wiping debt in exchange for good government may be one way forward, as it will pay off enormous dividends when countries have growing economies (and markets for our own goods). The wiping of debt which has been promised is to be linked to good governance, but not tightly enough – too many Africans live under kleptocracies.
- A culture that respects success and diversity, and values reason over superstition and faith: This means not wanting to loot from the successful man, and not wanting to suppress dissenting views, new ideas and differences in approach. It means allowing people to be free to grow, to learn and to take risks. It means respecting the use of the mind over the environment, and rejecting the totems of blind religious worship, fear and rumour. It means taking the enormous energy and willingness to learn and work hard that is apparent in most African schoolchildren – and having a society that values that and respects them.

Geldof doesn't really understand much of this - the left supported him, along with some very very wealthy stars (who are obsessed with something they have so little of - poverty!) - he raised some money and awareness, but besides assuaging his guilty conscience, did little else. Next time, he should read some books about economics.

Most ignored dictator of the year - Saparmurat Niyazov "Turkmenbashi"

President of Turkmenistan, building a Stalinist state, arresting journalists who sway at all from the sycophantic line towards his regime. No one is allowed to mention how short Turkmenbashi is (around 5 feet) and that he wears a toupee. All religious groups are closely monitored, there are internal passports to manage movement of people, women under 35 are allegedly not allowed exit visa unless they have given birth to at least 2 children. Exit visas are difficult to get regardless without one undertaking official state business. All public gatherings, including weddings, in the capital must be registered in advance. Non governmental organizations must be registered or its members face criminal prosecution. Read more about Turkmenistan's appalling human rights record here.

What is being done about it? Well, bugger all actually - he is surrounded by states that are slightly lesser bullies, he declares his country neutral so we all sit back and watch him putting up big statues of himself in the capital Ashgabat. As long as he gets some oil and gas revenue he'll probably be happy that he is not starving his people like Kim Jong Il is, and he probably wont cause any trouble for other countries - but he is a sign that dictatorship is NOT gone, and can rise again. Turkmenistan is probably the only former Soviet republic WORSE off since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Big Brother Britain

The Independent (UK) reports on plans to use automatic number plate recognition cameras for crime prevention across Britain’s roads. Big Brother is associated more and more with a TV reality show - when it needs to be associated with George Orwell's 1984. This is very much the road to hell being paved with good intentions. The Independent reports..

“Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.”

The Police have clearly seen that with the war on terror, they can increase their surveillance of citizens many times over- the UK already has the greatest numbers of CCTV cameras in public in the world. It is one thing to use cameras on roads to catch traffic offences, such as running red lights or avoiding road tolls, quite another to use it for state surveillance across the board.
“What the data centre should be able to tell you is where a vehicle was in the past and where it is now, whether it was or wasn't at a particular location, and the routes taken to and from those crime scenes.”
This will be sold on the basis that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear – which is how all totalitarian regimes operate too. In short, Britons have everything to fear. It is one thing to have a search warrant to get details from a suspect on their property, or in their car or from a place where you know they have been frequenting – if the roads were privately owned, and there were cameras identifying vehicles, you may even justify a warrant to get individual details about whether the vehicle of a murder suspect went past a particular point – especially if someone has gone missing under suspicious circumstances.
However, this goes far further. This is a database of where everyone has gone, being held for years – it can be abused by the Police, it can be used to snoop on where people are doing business, where they might be socializing, who they might be seeing and where they go on holidays. The state has no business knowing where anyone is, until that person is a suspect – this reverses that principle. Now the state will know where you are, but wont use it unless it suspects you.
The real test will be whether new Tory Leader David Cameron comes out against this proposal. I expect the Liberal Democrats to do so, but they have little influence alone. The Conservatives unfortunately have always wanted to be seen as tough on crime, but this is not about that – it is about the privacy of peaceful citizens. New Labour has never understood individual personal liberty – that is one of its biggest let downs – is this the state Britons want defended from Islamic fundamentalists? A police state as invasive as any of our enemies would want?
(Update - No Right Turn has also blogged on this, why don't the so called right wing bloggers post on this much? Is it the libertarians and the left?)

22 December 2005

Your taxes for Russia

Your taxes are going to help pay for Russia to destroy stockpiles of chemical weapons and decommission its last plutonium producing nuclear reactor. Yes it is only $1.3 million – but it is the principle. Anything wrong with the task itself? No - it is good that a semi-authoritarian state is getting its chemical weapons capability destroyed and will have reduced capacity to build more nuclear weapons. My question is - why do New Zealand taxpayers have to pay for it?

Does Russia not have enough money, with its enormous gas and oil companies worth billions, so it needs New Zealand taxpayers to help it develop a fossil fuel based power plant. Its GDP grew by over 7% in 2003 and will have grown around this much in the last year or so due to the high price of oil and gas. It has foreign exchange reserves of over US$73 billion, GDP per capita now at over US$10000 per annum. It really needs aid from NZ?

100% marginal income tax rate

New blogger Who Cares is coming up with some excellent stuff. Read his analysis and proposed solutions here related to the article on Gareth Morgan’s site about someone with an income of $32000 paying an effective marginal rate of income tax of 100% if they increase their salary to $35128, given Labour’s “Working for Families” package. This, of course, is what happens when you start welfare for the middle classes. It isn’t just assistance for the very poor, it becomes part of most families’ day to day income - but it penalises those who improve their lot at the margins. It is outrageous that the mainstream media haven’t cottoned onto this, even MORE outrageous that Peter Dunne, the leader of the so called family friendly United Future party is supporting this.

However I disagree with some of Who Cares’ solutions. The simplest way out is to cut income tax and abolish Working for Families, a good first step would be to eliminate the top two tax brackets of 39 and 33%, leaving the lower rate of 21% to be cut to 15% as a flat rate. Negative income tax is one option as a transition to replace welfare advocated even by some libertarians, and economist Milton Friedman, but should be no more than that. However, I wouldn’t increase GST, in fact I’d cut it back to 10% immediately before eliminating it altogether.

Regardless of the way forward, the fact remains is that Labour has increased the size of the welfare state by making middle income families dependent on handouts instead of tax cuts – so instead of getting your own money back, you get money back through a bureaucratic process. This is what Labour, the Greens, United Future and NZ First are giving you - more dependency!

National MP shows her Nanny State credentials

It didn’t take long for the new National caucus to start revealing its own Nanny Statists. Jacqui Dean, newly elected Otago MP has launched a petition for a review of the legal status of party pills.

Whaleoil saysWhilst I can see where she might be coming from, and can see how it might be a popular move, I’m not quite sure the answer lies in tighter restrictions.”

I agree with that although I don’t agree with Whaleoil’s conclusion “Good on Jacqui though for taking on a cause which is important to her and is a concern of constiuents. At the very least, a review of the party pills situation will not hurt anyone.”

I would NOT congratulate an MP asking for a lot of signatures for tightening up on something which is not her business. Why should she be telling adults what they can and cannot put into their bodies? Her concerns about misuse are understandable – and her energies may be better placed in promoting how to use such pills safely and responsibly. Driving it underground would put up the price and prohibit any messages about using BZP safely.

I also suspect this is the reflection of a rural electorate of people who regard BZP as something new and alien, whereas alcohol, which is far more dangerous and pervasive, is accepted as legal and available. I suspect blogger BZP will have something to say about this too

The year in retrospect - Part 1

A few bloggers have been retrospective for 2005, and since I am fleeing to France for Christmas, I thought I should list who I think deserve some mention as 2005’s greatest successes and failures politically:

New Zealand’s great political survivor Award: Helen Clark

After the disappointing budget, the reactionary approach to race relations and bungle after bungle, she is the first Labour Leader to win power in three consecutive elections. Only the first Labour government won three elections, but with Savage then Fraser as leaders. Regardless of the ins and outs of it, she pulled off a nailbiting finish against the National Party, shored up the leftwing vote and lost only a small percentage compared to 2002. She runs Cabinet and this government with an iron fist, and only Cullen comes close to her in terms of power and influence, (excluding H2). She is an intelligent, organised and hard working individual – and has a high level of political astuteness, and she knows what she wants and believes in. She will sell out her friends for power (Greens) and will sell her soul for it too (deal with Peters and Dunne), but knows that she is on top. I strongly dislike her politics, her view of the state and so much of what her government has done – but Helen Clark remains number 1.

The great comeback Award: National Party

Just look to see what a bit of backbone can do. National came back from the brink in this year’s election and we have an Opposition again. This is due to Don Brash. To rescue National from its worst ever result of 21% - a result of Bill English’s mealy mouthed inability to appear to stand for anything or to offend anyone was a monumental task while the economy continues to ride well with high international commodity prices, and the dynamism unleashed through the reforms of the 80s and 90s. However, Dr Brash did it. He got a higher proportion of the vote for National in 2005, than it got in any MMP election and more than it did in 1993 when it won by a slender margin. He did it by focusing mainly on two issues – race relations and tax. He campaigned, mostly, on eliminating race based laws and funding, which many New Zealanders could relate to – and on cutting tax, instead of increasing welfare for families. He proved that taking a principled stance won votes, and by far his biggest blunder was to prevaricate on any other matters of principle. Nuclear ships, the brethren campaigning issue – all of those weakened his image of credibility and honesty. The left were terrified of Brash, and still are. Only John Key matches Brash for a clear mind and principled approach – National has learnt it can turn its back on the vapid soporific nothingness of the Bolger and English leadership and win votes. National has captured rural and provincial New Zealand by storm - it has yet to make enough inroads in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch - this is where it needs to focus. If it keeps up the focus on principle and strategy and screwing down the government's failures - it should be able to take the Treasury benches after the next election.

Politically lost but personally won Award: Winston Peters

Having lost his personality cult like Maori constituency to the Maori Party, some of the greedy grey grizzlers to the National Party – Winston Peters played a rather half hearted trump card in choosing the party with the largest number of seats to provide confidence and supply, and now he is invisible. Winston saw his party slip from 10.4 to 5.7% of the vote, he lost his electorate, lost a legal challenge to the newly elected MP Bob Clarkson, and after campaigning against holding the baubles of office – now enjoys first class air travel around the world as Minister of Foreign Affairs outside Cabinet. He can’t speak up against the government he supports credibly – he doesn’t have influence on policies decided in Cabinet, because he isn’t in it. In short, having been stripped of his Tauranga electorate base, Winston, now 60 years of age, is setting himself up for retirement. So has he lost? Personally no. He is getting lots of trips, getting a Minister’s salary and can enjoy the quiet life having been a major force for change in NZ politics for over 13 years. Winston almost cost the National party the 1993 election, and he shook up Maori politics more than any other party before in 1996. He will have given support to keep Jim Bolger and Helen Clark –arch opponents – as Prime Ministers, and he helped the campaign for MMP. Winston can spend the next few years looking back on a remarkable political career as a maverick, and live comfortably for it, and convincingly kept his private life, by and large, outside the purview of the media.
Man happiest to step back from Cabinet Award: Paul Swain

With a sexy wife (Toni Reeves-Swain) just over half his age, Paul Swain is thrilled to step back from Cabinet and enjoy himself, with her. He can spend time with his new daughter, did I mention his sexy wife? Good for him. If only more Labour MPs would just live life to the fullest and stop trying to run everyone else’s.
Phew we made it, but that's it Award: jointly won by the Greens and ACT
With the peak oil campaign flop, no big issue was in front of the public and some Greens supporters were more concerned about keeping Labour elected than voting for their potential (always potential, never actual) coalition partner. The Greens slipped in with 5.3% of the vote, and then found themselves cast adrift by Helen Clark, as the numbers looked better going with NZ First and United Future. Once again, the Greens are on the sidelines, for their third term in Parliament - not in Cabinet. Having lost one of their more important MPs (Rod Donald) they look bereft, and many voters are tiring of their armageddon vision of the future, and "do what we say" view of environmental politics. It will be hard work for Jeanette Fitzsimons to turn around.
ACT was decimated by Don Brash bolstering the Nats and giving it a chance to win, not helped by opinion polls that made a vote for ACT seem like a wasted vote. ACT had always won votes because the National Party looked like it wouldn't win, or had lost its way in terms of being a principled party on the right - well the Nats found their way, took ACTs tax cut policy (watered down), its race relations policy and law and order policy - ACT had little left beyond "me too and more of it", but most voters were not convinced. Despite having a principled leader in Rodney Hide who believed more in the libertarian ideals of ACT than many of its backers and his fellow MPs, it floundered because a vote for ACT seemed pointless - it was National that was the real opposition for once. Rodney Hide focused on Epsom and took it, from a staid and virtually irrelevant Richard Worth - he saved ACT from what would have been oblivion, and now it is on life support with 2 MPs. It will be a challenge to see if he can differentiate ACT from National and win new votes for the centre-right - at the moment it doesn't look promising.
The God Works in Mysterious Ways Award: Destiny, United Future and Christian Heritage
Having hooked his wagon to the former Christian Democrats, Peter Dunne got a powerful network of soft Christian supporters peddling United Future as a party of the Christian right, ready to defend the family and commonsense morality. However, it was stuck between the urban liberals who liked a party of the centre, and the Christian supporters who opposed civil unions and the like. Furthermore, many Christian voters saw little point in voting for a party which kept Labour in power for three years, which was seen as the source of "anti family" legislation - they either slipped towards Destiny or supported National. They were more motivated to get Labour voted out, than to vote for a soft Christian party. A vote for United Future was seen as a vote for nothing in particular and its vote halved. Peter Dunne is now propping up Helen Clark for another three years expanding the welfare state - great for a family party. Once he retires, this party is gone too.
More delightfully after marches of black t-shirted largely Polynesian and Maori men in Auckland and Wellington, Destiny Church's Brian Tamaki's Destiny NZ party (sorry he isn't the leader - no) got a paltry 0.6% of the vote. This is around what the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party got in 2002 - fire and brimstone fundamentalist Christian Ayatollahs are not welcome in New Zealand.
Finally, following the disgrace of Graham Capill, Christian Heritage is a mere shadow of the party that nearly slipped into Parliament (with what was the Christian Democrats) with 0.12% of the vote. Soul searching time indeed.

More on blog roll

I've added a few more blogs to my disjointed sidebar in the last few days, all of them liberal/libertarian in one form of another - specifically:

Sir Humphreys
Socialist Free Haven
Who Cares
NZ Pundit
Lindsay Mitchell
Teenage Pundit and
Oswald Bastable.

Some are new, some not so new, but all have posted articles recently that I liked so it is just courtesy to list them :)

21 December 2005

End of the Carbon Tax

The government is canning the Carbon Tax - probably thanks to NZ First and United Future, making the Greens livid and making David Farrar cheer.
It follows a 400 page report from the Ministry of the Environment which concluded "the proposed charge was unfair, inefficient and unlikely to substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions".
Given how committed so many in that Ministry are to the ecological agenda, this is damning stuff. I have dealt with a few MfE officials in my time, and they are at the least, very ecology conscious, and at the other extreme would have been very comfortable with a Green Party Minister. The Greens should read this report and see what an organisation that believes in their objectives does when it objectively analyses a policy - this sort of turnaround is not a small one.
However, as much as the Greens wanted NZ to be part of the moral leadership of the world - the only reason other countries signed up to Kyoto was because they would be net recipients - because they are experiencing economic decline, flat population growth (e.g Russia) or significant improvements in the efficiencies of their industries (e.g. former Soviet bloc countries) which means they are cutting net carbon emissions.
Moral leadership was to cost NZ a 0.2% decrease in GDP by 2012. That, under current values, is around $234 million a year - $59 for every man, woman and child that you would not be able to spend every year. The Greens would say this is a small price to pay for moral leadership - is it?
More fundamentally, the Greens are wrong - the planet is not burning, the world is not coming to an end - it has been ending for centuries, there was an ice age imminent in the 1970s, now it is global warming. The scaremongering and hatred of the productive with phrases like "They are putting the corporate pursuit of short-term profits ahead of the planet’s and our grandchildren’s future" are irresponsible.
These profits keep people fed, clothed and sheltered - they employ people, they produce the goods that we use everyday, they allow people to communicate, move, socialise and enjoy their lives. They pay for the professionals, the medication, the facilities for our infrastructure from plumbing to healthcare to heating. Most people don't make profits to put in a money bin like Uncle Scrooge, they do so to produce and consume and spend on what they want - which is to spend on what others produce.
As PC said some weeks ago, the question is whether government interference or benign neglect are better approaches when dealing with global warming.
Unfortunately the final call from the Greens was concern about what services will get cut or taxes increased to pay for Dr Cullen's "loss of revenue" - how about less government spending on bureaucracies, subsidies and crazy rail projects?

Bolivia's new socialist President

Also reported by Clint Heine, It looks like Evo Morales, leader of the Movement Towards Socialism party and member of the indigenous Aymara people will win the Bolivian Presidential election. Now Bolivia is ranked as a partly free country by Freedon House, but this victory is being acclaimed by many worldwide as a victory for indigenous people and the left.

Can the people of Bolivia look forward to a brighter future? Well that is less clear. Many on the right will fear him, because of his declared anti-Americanism and support for Castro, but it is a little more complicated than that.

He wants to legalise growth of the coca leaf, if not cocaine – which will challenge the US War on Drugs. This is good. The coca leaf is used extensively in Bolivia for its narcotic and pain relieving qualities, and banning it clearly has failed. As a locally used crop (as well as the basis for cocaine), Morales campaigned in favour of it, but will face pressure if the US threatens to cut aid because of his policies. This is sad - the war on drugs is one of the greatest travesties of US government policy and should be ended because it has failed miserably, and it is immoral to persecute adult users of drugs. It is also immoral to persecute the people who grow the crop.

More ominously Morales has talked about nationalising private company investment in oil and gas, although he is more likely to renegotiate contracts with foreign energy companies. That will cost Bolivia dearly. Curiously he said his party will respect private property rights, although “vacant unproductive land” would be turned over to farmers with little or no land (what sort of farmer has no land?). Though none of the reports I have found has said much more about his policies.

Morales is an ally of Castro and Venezuelan bullyboy Hugo Chavez, neither are friends of individual freedom or tolerate political dissent – it would be a disaster if Bolivia slipped towards a one-party state like Venezuela is doing. However, it will also be sad for Bolivia if by renegotiating the contracts with foreign energy companies, he strips so much value from them that they leave – or stop investing. Hopefully he will renegotiate genuinely – not with the threat of force – and all parties can come away satisfied. Hopefully he will not succumb to the corruption often rampant in Latin America, and confiscates wealth for the aggrandisement of himself and his cronies.
Brazil's left wing President Lula de Silva campaigned on socialism, but has largely maintained the liberalising reforms of his predecessors, when his own economic illiteracy hit reality (although he has been tainted by corruption) - hopefully Morales will face the same. Time will tell if he avoids being the state bullies that Castro and Chavez are, or the corrupt leaders that his predecessors were.

20 December 2005

Auckland rail money gone - like that!

How do you wipe out the value of hundreds of millions of dollars in an instant? Easy - spend it on a railway in New Zealand.
The government is going to spend $540-$600 million of your money on upgrading Auckland’s commuter rail network (which it bought from Tranz Rail for $81 million in 2001), which means finishing the double tracking of the Western line, a branch line to Manukau city and some resignalling and other improvements. Divided by Auckland households, that is around $1800 a household - would you rather have that money in your pocket, spent on healthcare, your kid's local school or on some railway tracks (before the trains have even run on them)?
So an asset that had a book value of $81 million (I’m being generous in not considering market value) is going to have at least $540 million poured into it, and after that? It will still have a book value of $81 million. Fabulous investment isn’t it? Could the private sector take money by force and eliminate its value so quickly and get away with it?
Ah, there are profits to be made from that investment that aren't realised in capital. Um no. No profits, in fact you can't even cover your day to day operating costs.

Ah, the rail advocates say, you forget the social and environmental benefits of being able to run more passenger trains because of reduced car traffic and traffic congestion. No I haven’t. They are just too infinitesimal to measure. The passenger train operational costs are 80% subsidised and the majority of users were former bus patrons. Many of those buses were not subsidised – so there is no net gain at all there in terms of congestion, just increased cost (a few buses off the road will make virtually no difference). The shift from car to rail is also very low – and makes virtually no impact on congestion - work done by the ARC a few years ago indicated that road traffic speeds would be improved by less than 0.5km/h. This taxpayer funding is around 50% more than the cost of building the Mt Roskill and Manukau extensions of SH20 (both of which will make a noticeable difference to congestion) - and those are funded from petrol tax, so are paid for by road users.
Remember the $540 million for rail does NOT include money for running the trains, or upgrading stations or new trains.

So should Auckland ratepayers be thrilled? Well being saved from funding the rail track infrastructure upgrade is one thing – but the quid pro quo is that capital expenditure on stations and trains will be entirely funded by ARTA, which means ARC rates and Auckland Regional Holdings dividends and cash assets. Operating costs continue to be subsidised 60% by Land Transport NZ (your petrol tax) and 40% from ARC rates. That will cost ratepayers a packet, and you wont see congestion reduce. The marginal difference to congestion made by these projects is tiny – because rail is very expensive, and most trains don’t go near where most Aucklanders work. Buses do better, they carry around 30% of commuters into downtown Auckland, but they are not sexy – and some of them are not subsidised. It costs little to put in bus lanes, or other measures to speed up bus journeys.
Ah but the trains provide Aucklanders with an option to bypass congestion. Well, if you can walk or bike or bus quickly to a station and there is another station on your line that is close to where you want to go -yes, if the train stopping at every station is faster than driving continuously. However only 13% of Auckland employment is downtown where most of the trains terminate. Look at a map of Auckland and where most people live, it isn't near the railway stations.
Of course the Greens want to spend even more money, electrifying the network (when that has not been proven to be worth the additional cost) and building lines all over the place, with little care for where the money comes from to pay for it - you see it is ok to make unnecessary journeys, wasting electricity and other people's money, as long as you are on an electric train.

Iran bans Western Music

Yes, the nuclear weapon seeking, child soldier using, terrorist backing, Holocaust denying Islamic Republic of Iran is now banning western music according to the BBC.
Kenny G may no longer be background music on Iranian television - (lucky them).
None of this is on the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting news site, just lots of bland news about co-operation with other countries - much like most authoritarian regimes have for official news.
Note also PC's report on how limp wristed the West is about Iran - the big question is what to do with it? Should its nuclear facilities lie there untouched until it gets nukes and is as untouchable as North Korea? I guess the Greens would say yes... but for how long can you let snoozing bullies lie? It will be too late when Iran is found to have sold a nuclear warhead to terrorists who let it off in Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, Sydney or London. More on this later...

Unseen North Korea

The BBC carries a series of photos from an anonymous businessman who took some images rather freely in the country - they show a sad, hard working people, struggling to survive and large empty roads.

Smoking ban for England?

England may have total ban on smoking in public places, because a partial ban (for pubs that serve food). is considered “unenforceable” as reports the Telegraph. This will follow similar bans soon to come in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Unfortunately, none of the debate about this in England is about what it should be about – property rights.

The arguments are always vacuous claims about the “rights” of smokers to smoke wherever they want (which is nonsense) or the “rights” of workers to not be exposed to smoke.

The only right at stake here is the property right of the owner of the premises. Either you have the right to permit (or ban) any legal activity on your own property or not. That means the right to ban smoking in YOUR pub or to allow it, or make it compulsory. The same would apply to a dress code, a language code or allowing people to perform sexual acts or enforcing silence. It is NOT a place that anyone else has to right to enter except on your terms – and that includes employees. I watched an absurd item on the BBC news last night with a pub owner saying he wished smoking was banned in pubs, because he doesn't like it - as if anyone is stopping him from banning it! Clearly he prefers the income from smoking customers to having cleaner air inside his pub - but he should make that tradeoff, not the government.
and I am speaking as a non-smoker, who has asthma and much prefers pubs which have no smoking, so I have no vested interest from that perspective, but I have an interest as a property owner. I don't want anyone telling me what I can or cannot do on my property, as long as I am not initiating force against anyone else on my property - and unless I force someone to remain on my property while I or others smoke, then I am not infringing on anyone's rights.

Freedom House ratings

Hat tip to DPF for blogging about Freedom House’s annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties, and it is important to remember what that actually means. All the detailed results are here.

Political rights and civil liberties cover the right to vote for all adult citizens (with fair and transparent elections), protest and criticise the government, with political parties having access to the public freely and openly directly and through the media. None of this covers the state’s role in the economy regarding what you can do with your property, income or choices to set up business, or if you can publish a magazine about cannabis, engage in consensual adult homosexual acts or other freedoms – but, nevertheless, without political and civil liberties little else matters.

Most interesting are the ones that are now in the top ranking, along with New Zealand, Australia and most other “Western” countries that one generation ago would have been well down the list:

Cape Verde (yes go look it up)
Chile (Pinochet’s legacy is well and truly gone)
Czech Republic (ex. Soviet disaster)
Estonia (ditto)
Latvia (improved on last year)
Lithuania (also improved)
Portugal (look it up, just like Franco)
Slovenia (ex. Titoist disaster)
Spain (remember Franco?)
Taiwan (free China vs. the mainland)

A mixture of former socialist and military dictatorships now free is not insignificant, and there are more not far behind (Bulgaria, Greece, Grenada, Panama, South Africa, South Korea).

Optimism also with some of the more notable improvements:

Afghanistan (thank you USA)
Iraq (Andrew Falloon reports that improve freedoms in Iraq are a reason to celebrate)
Vietnam (higher rating than China for civil liberties due to easing religious expression)

Of some of the pinup countries of the left, Cuba remains in the bottom ranking, while Venezuela under leftist President Hugo Chavez has dropped because of voter intimidation and increased corruption.

And a further note of concern about those that have dropped, in most cases a handful of states from Africa and the Americas, but also sadly Nepal (which is facing full on civil war thanks to Maoist rebels), the Philippines (due to electoral fraud and intimidation of the opposition)) and Uzbekistan, one of the former Soviet republics to be stepping backwards.

Reason to be cheerful? Yes.
Reason to be vigilant? Yes - the war against terror is a legitimate fight against those who would destroy our freedoms and civil liberties, but civil liberties should not also be destroyed as part of that. This is something that politically only the Greens (of those in Parliament) actually seem to understand, and that is what Ahmed Zaoui is all about.

Air NZ engineering part saved by sensible union

There appears to be a deal for part of Air NZ’s engineering services in Auckland and Christchurch to remain, thanks to the EPMU and the Aviation and Marine Engineers' Association negotiating sensibly with the airline to provide service efficiently. Around $38 million worth of savings have been agreed.

However, it will still mean the end of jet engine maintenance as that can clearly be done at lower cost elsewhere. This is not surprising, Air NZ is not a big airline and the economies of scale of bigger operations elsewhere go against it.

This should be seen as a win-win, especially as many of the engine workers who will be made redundant could be snapped up by other employers.
It is also a feather in the cap to Andrew Little and the unions involved - better to negotiate and find a way forward that suits both parties than stand your ground and find you lose it all - Air NZ, after all, has to compete with other airlines. I doubt that many who are supportive of the workers always fly Air NZ to show solidarity.
Nevertheless, Sue Bradford is holding out claiming that engine maintenance is a strategic asset. Well it isn't for Air NZ, and how is it for NZ inc? The engines are not made here, the fuel is not local in origin, and planes are, funnily enough, rather portable. What strategic goal would there be? Would there be a war and our airliners can't hop across the Tasman to get their engines' fixed?
Sue needs to join the 20th century - companies do not need to own all factors of production to operate effectively and efficiently, and they probably shouldn't! Air NZ doesn't make planes or produce jet fuel, or airline seats or anything else - it is an operator, marketer and provider of services. You could argue it "strategically" needs to do everything from fuel to planes - it doesn't - and it shouldn't undertake an activity because it can - because that will cost more, and it will cost the airline - either by increasing fares (reducing market share) or reducing net dividends (and the capital able to reinvest in new planes or other areas of better return).
It's called running a business - which is what it is - and unfortunately, too many Green MPs have little to no understanding of basic economics. Air NZ has needed bailing out twice by the taxpayer in its history, in both cases following excessive interference in its business by the government - as long as the government owns it, it should be left well alone.

EU Budget agreement - Blair's disgrace

Britain conceded to French demands to cut its rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s, on a pledge by the worm (see below) to revisit agricultural subsidies in 2008-09.

Attempts by Britain to open up the vile Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and to cut administration spending were stymied by a coalition of the bludgers from the CAP (France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Ireland), the bludgers of administration (Belgium, Luxembourg) and the linking of budget cut proposals by them to the new central european members (Poland, Hungary, Czech republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia).

£198 billion per annum in agricultural subsidies - yes BILLION - is spent by the European Union every year.

France said no change till 2013 - because of an agreement 3 years ago to not change the CAP till after that date. Britain agreed to cut its rebate, the part applying to contributions that are spent in new member states, costing British taxpayers over £1 billion a year, and they get back absolutely nothing. Tony Blair has dropped the ball here - Chirac is thrilled, and it is embarrassing for Britain.

A proposal by Britain to cut spending by £2 billion per annum was laughed off, the new central european members saw that as less aid to them, and the old parasites wouldn't stand for it. The budget will grow to 1.045% of European GDP, less than the 1.24% asked by the bureaurats, but more than what Britain sought (1.03%).

The European Union is good for two reasons, but bad for many more. It is good because it has removed borders to free trade, in goods, services and movement of people between its member states. It is good because it has required liberalisation of domestic markets - so trade WITHIN member states is liberalised. However, it has also seen a growth in harmonised bureaucracy, and subsidies, and a fortress mentality to the rest of the world. For example, Moldova has as one of its fears Romania joining the EU, because it may shut out one of its most important trading partners for vegetable exports - Moldovan farmers have little hope against the cossetted billion euro subsidised farmers of the EU.
The EU needs pairing back, to the bone, to simply be a movement for maintained liberalisation among members -and to enforce a common rule of law among newer members in particular - thankfully the EU does not set tax or welfare policies in member states, yet. However there is little hope the EU will stop growing - even though most of the older EU members have!

WTO agreement tentative - no thanks to France

Jacque Chirac is a worm - and the WTO talks have essentially confirmed that.

A deal is imminent at the WTO talks in Hong Kong, but the South Korean farmers (who can afford to fly en masse to Hong Kong, but afraid to compete with rice produced in Thailand) shouldn't fear - Jacque Chirac has saved their bacon, and helped maintain distorted trade in agriculture, with a tiny concession for 2013. In doing that, farmers in Thailand, Bolivia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Indonesia, Australia and many other countries have little reason to be grateful.

The European Union looks likely to concede a 2013 threshold for abolishing agricultural export subsidies (but nothing on import quotas, tariffs or domestic subsidies), even though the US was pleading for 2010 and the Cairn’s Group (including New Zealand) were pushing for earlier removal of export subsidies and progress on other restrictions. Export subsidies for cotton will go in 2006, largely affecting the US and benefiting a number of developing countries.
Least developed countries will get quota and tariff free access to developed country markets for most of their exports, not that this will help agriculture much when the EU maintains export subsidies till 2013, and domestic subsidies continue to grossly distort trade.

Developing countries have also agreed to some liberalisation in the access they give to imported manufactured goods and services, particularly telecommunications, banking and transport.

So what does this mean?

Not a lot, it is glacial progress. It wasn’t without a lot of goodwill from developing countries and the US – and of course New Zealand was at the forefront of advocating free trade.

Frankly, it means the French, by and large, have screwed efficient agricultural producers - rich and poor. Why?
Because it was the EU which refused to make further substantive progress – NOT the US (although it is touchy about domestic cotton subsidies) and not developing countries.
At the EU, there are two blocs on agricultural trade - the reformist group (the UK, Scandinavia, Netherlands) and the ostriches (French, Italians, Spanish and Austrians). The French basically said no, and were not even happy with the 2013 deadline to get rid of export subsidies for agriculture. Lets note that export subsidies consist of 2% of the total value of all agricultural subsidies. France would veto any EU offer that went further.

The USA is often painted as the great world villain exploiting the poor and holding them back, but the US had pushed hard to abolish export subsidies no later than 2010 and to make progress on domestic subsidies. The US agreeing to accept abolishing cotton export subsidies next year is a worthwhile step forward, all export subsidies should go then at least.

The Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union is fundamentally immoral – it props up the wealthiest farms in Europe with subsidies, including those owned by the Queen and Prince Charles – it inflates the price of food to European consumers, and because it is a high proportion of EU spending, costs European citizens in tax. It shuts out efficient producers like New Zealand, Thailand, Pakistan, Bolivia and South Africa from the European market. The EU uses export subsidies of around US$3 billion per annum to prop up exports of sugar, dairy products and beef.

My earlier post outlines some of the absurdities of the CAP.

It is unrealistic to expect the European Union – basically a project that unnaturally marries free trade with socialist central planning – to abolish all agricultural protection overnight. However, it should. It uses four types of protectionism to screw up world trade in agricultural products:

- Export subsidies (undercutting efficient producers worldwide);
- Import quotas and bans (shutting out efficient producers from the European market);
- Import tariffs (taxing imports from efficient producers);.
- Domestic subsidies (propping up the wealthiest domestic producers).

These should go in quick succession – by 2010. With export subsidies, which currently cost US$3 billion per annum abolished first. This would match the offer by the Bush Administration to do the same, and challenge it to follow through on its own import restrictions and agricultural subsidies – for now, Chirac the worm has told the developing countries to go fuck themselves if they want to trade on a less tilted level playing field in OTHER countries, because the French want their “right” to use their taxes to undercut them, till 2013.

However, will you see Bono or Bob Geldof going to Paris to protest against this intransigence? Will you see any of the venom directed at Bush for being, well, Bush – directed at Chirac, the French government and the European Union? I doubt it…

17 December 2005

Swedish nightclubbing

I've not been to Sweden yet, but hat tip to PC who has a powerpoint presentation of some highlights.

Such as...

not a bad way to start the weekend.

Bunks on planes - as long as you're upfront

The next generation Boeing 747-8 will look a bit different on the inside as reported by this site in Seattle. There will be a skylight, and the option for airlines to install bunks which are located in the ceiling space currently filled with wires and ducts (which are being consolidated and moved to the sides) - this means premium passengers could sit in a regular seat for takeoff and landing, but have a bed for overnight flights - not just a seat that folds down. All the photos are here.
One of the more amusing concepts is the "DreamLav" a more spacious bathroom than the closets currently on board, by using design more cleverly.
However, don't get too excited, it hasn't flown yet and wont till 2009, and only freight versions have been ordered so far. The likelihood that economy class passengers will experience much different beyond the toilet is probably low, as it is first and business class passengers that make most long haul flights profitable (and where the greatest competition on service, comfort is).
Nevertheless, rumour has it that several airlines that serve NZ, including Air NZ, Qantas and Cathay Pacific are interested, given that the mega Airbus A380 is too big for most routes into NZ.

Business NZ go back to the 70s

A report commissioned by Business NZ and a host of other industry associations has been slammed by the Greens for damning the carbon tax.
The report states that carbon tax will result in energy input costs increasing between 11% and 35% for the seven companies surveyed. Which is no surprise, it IS a new tax after all.
Business NZ rightfully damns it as making New Zealand less competitive. The Greens, prophets of armageddon, see it as a "thinly disguised attack from big business on one of the few positive moves New Zealand has made toward protecting the planet for future generations". Of course the carbon tax will make not one iota of difference to any global warming, but will boost the coffers of the state - it is a transfer from the private sector to the government - and since the Greens don't like businesses much and like government, it makes sense for them. They are correct about one point though - the carbon tax will increase the incentive on businesses to reduce energy costs, that's economic fact. That is why the Greens support it, it will have a marginal effect on energy demand, because it is fiddling with the price of energy.
However, the Greens neglect to note that businesses have powerful incentives to be efficient now, through the profit motive (which they don't like). The commercial sector is far more ruthless than the state sector, and private individuals. That is why the carbon tax makes a marginal difference.
So why is Business NZ going back to the 70s? It is because it suggests:
“This study indicates that New Zealand should seek some way other than a carbon tax to meet their Kyoto commitments - perhaps by way of assistance to help companies invest in energy efficient technology - instead of purchasing carbon credits on the international market.”
It wants a subsidy - it goes from opposing a new tax (which is fine) to wanting to tax OTHERS more, to pay for energy efficient technology. However, this is happening anyway. Take aviation, where the average jet airliner has improved in fuel efficiency by 1-2% per year, due to improvements in engine technology and the weight of airframes. That is achieved not by government intervention, but by the demand of airlines for lower costs - technology and capitalism working for good.
Business NZ should stop calling for subsidies, it IS a slip back to the 1970s when business in NZ lobbied government for special treatment, protection, tax incentives, subsidies and the like, instead of wanting to be left alone - it is NOT a sign of good business to seek the government to help you out. Governments almost always only help at the cost of others - you should only call in the government when you or your property are under threat of force or fraud - you call them, don't let them call you.

Dominion Post right on Transmission Gully

The Dom Post is right about Wellington’s Western Corridor highway issue.

It says:

“The "solutions" proposed by opponents of the coastal upgrade do not withstand scrutiny.
Tolling the road to pay the difference between the two alternatives is impractical. Officials have calculated that only $115 million could be raised through tolling, and only if the speed limit on the existing coastal road was cut to 50km/h to make it less attractive.

Reprioritising other roading projects in the region is not an option. There are already more motorists inconvenienced by delays in Ngauranga Gorge, in and around the capital and between Wellington and the Hutt Valley than there are up the coast.

Building only the top half of Transmission Gully or a two-lane version of the road would not solve the congestion problems the road is intended to fix.

It appears from Sir Brian's questions that the Western Corridor committee is investigating the possibility of a compromise that could see some, but not all, elements of the current coastal proposal implemented. “

Quite right too. It is a very hard decision – parts of the coastal route would be very hard to consent, but Transmission Gully is a very expensive waste of money – another Think Big project, which has advocates from some who should know better, given the history of their political party. I've blogged so much on this already which you can read in the November and October archives.

David Farrar supports Transmission Gully, but it appears to be because it is more achievable that the coastal upgrade - although the coastal upgrade consists of 4 discreet projects, and the Nats have proposed a major streamlining of the RMA which would make the coastal route more achievable. I haven't seen where the extra $350 million for Transmission Gully is going to come from though, as this presumably must be from not building other projects (Wellington has already effectively been promised its full share of petrol tax money from Labour, with all the Crown contributions that are being made).

The compromise the Dom Post is implying, would be interesting though there are no details.

My bet is that it involves leaving Mana as is for now, given that the recent upgrade has eased congestion there, but will see a 2-lane bypass at Pukerua Bay (to relieve that community of through traffic) and a flyover at Paekakariki to fix that nasty intersection. Given that Land Transport NZ has already approved funding for a median barrier along the coastal section, it could be argued that 4-laning the coast would be premature. The projects north of Mackays and south of Paremata would be unchanged (Western Link Road, Petone-Grenada), and the rail upgrade would proceed as proposed (without the very expensive double tracking north of Pukerua Bay).

That’s what I’d advocate, don’t do Transmission Gully or 4-lane the coast, for now. Most of the route closures are due to head-on collisions, which the median barrier will prevent. Since tolls wont pay for Transmission Gully even taking into account revenue from petrol tax and road user charges from those who are likely to use it, why should non-users pay? I thought that was what National and ACT advocated.

All of which means that we are back to making incremental progress. The cold hard reality is that once the projects listed above are done, the problems north of Paremata are not that serious and don’t warrant throwing a billion dollars at a project with a negative return. The road will be safe, the congestion will be manageable, and eventually, there will be need to be more work done – but by then there may be congestion pricing in Wellington, which may mean there is no need at all for extra road capacity.

16 December 2005

Portrayal of Maori on media is fair, but...

Stuff reports According to a study commissioned by the Broadcasting Standards Authority undertaken by Te Kawa a Maui, the School of Maori Studies of Victoria University of Wellington:
"programmes examined were considered fair; while balance was not always achieved in individual stories, broadcasters generally attained balance over time; and the programmes were almost all accurate. Correct pronunciation of te reo continues to be seen as very important."
Now the BSA is hardly an instrument of capitalism and the VUW School of Maori Studies the same - so are the claims that mainstream media (TVNZ, TV3, National Radio and Maori broadcasting) are biased against Maori perspectives (whatever they are, since Maori are not a homogeneous political entity) going to evaporate?
Would a study about whether the media was equally unbiased between statist solutions or criticisms of government policy and non-statist say the same? I doubt it. Most TV and radio journalists are from the left, and believe the solution to problems comes from banning, compulsion and spending more of other people's money.

Brash and racism

There has been plenty about Frogblog's statement that Brash made racism acceptable in New Zealand and linking Orewa to Cronulla. David Farrar has responded with many comments in reply, but my key point is this, and it is the reason Brash got so much support - NOT anti-Maori racism, which exists but not at the levels the Maori Party and the Greens think (which should please them):
Why is it racist to want the state to have laws, and for its tax and spending policies to have no correlation whatsoever to race?
Why is it NOT racist, to give special funding, or special consultation rights to individuals purely because of what their ancestry is?
Why should anyone be judged on their ancestry, at all?
Why not judge individuals on their deeds, alone?
Racism is mindless collectivism, and it exists both with the fascist/neo-nazi "right" (as seen in the brainwashed blonde twins) and with the neo-Marxist collectivist "left", and with religious fundamentalists of ALL creeds (Islamic, Christian, Jewish etc.).
Most on the "left" are proudly anti-racist and get fired up when they think of apartheid, the old racist laws of the American south, Nazism and the corporal punishment of children speaking Maori at school.
What they don't realise is that most people on the liberal "right" have the same passionate loathing of racism.

15 December 2005

Remember the nazi teenage blondes?

David Farrar posted the pic of these cute young teen racists a while back.

Julian Pistorius has found a series of articles about them, apparently they form a racist folk band called Prussian Blue . Unfortunately there is another band called Prussian Blue, a British folk band which is NOT neo-nazi.

There is an anti-Prussian Blue blog, but unfortunately it is unlikely that these girls will get any serious exposure to thinking more carefully about the world until they leave home. Remember, most of what they get from the non-racist world is hatred and anger, which wont inspire them to think twice about racism.

The racist Prussian Blue allegedly plan a tour to Australia - um, great timing?

Internet regulation for national content?

This man wants the EU to regulate the Internet.
I don’t mean child porn or bomb recipes, I mean regulating it for “cultural content” you know the same sort of rules that Labour and the Greens long argued about for TV, to ensure minimum levels of national content? It seems that with the arrival of hundreds of TV channels, the European Commission finds it harder to justify special rules for broadcast TV -so now it wants rules for all audiovisual media to be consistent.
Under the aegis of harmonisation, and consistency across media, the EC, instead of simply calling for the abolition of such rules, wants to extend them - because, after all, bureaucrats produce nothing.

Martin Selmayr, a European Commission bureaurat said that rules on broadcast TV may apply to the Internet, "This might involve requirements in terms of the catalogue they offer," says the quote from Macworld. A further report says that it may cover material that may “incite racial hatred” or seriously impare the “physical, mental and moral development of minors”. An excuse for more censorship – after all, what is the moral development of minors? What is a minor in the EU, when the age for sexual consent varies between 13 and 17? European bureaurats aren't keen on free speech (although Europeans aren't keen on much censorship, as any visit to an Amsterdam sex shop will demonstrate!).

One thing is for sure, that in cultural terms, the Internet has it all – and the users choose what they want to see. You can read about objectivism, literature, rugby, felching or the rambling of Chairman Mao.
The only place for the law online is to cover actual crimes, such as when intellectual property is stolen, when computers are used to initial force through hacking, and when recordings of victims suffering crimes are produced and distributed (images of child pornography).

It is worth noting that the same bureaurat also advocated taking control of the internet from ICANN to a new UN type intergovernmental bureaucracy – a less efficient more political one. It isn't broke, so don't fix it - if the Internet had been left to bureaucrats it would never have grown and developed, they would have been far too concerned with trying to make sure it didn't do all sorts of things they want to control.

EU agricultural subsidies for the wealthy

The Times from London now has some figures showing the absurdities of agricultural protectionism in Europe. The EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is an abomination and French farmers receive more than British and German farmers combined from this obscenity.
Bono and Bob Geldof would have done better campaigning to abolish the CAP in order to assist the poor of the developing and developed world, than to bleat on about aid.

The Times reports:

131,000 French farmers receive €20,000 or more a year from the EU. 3,200 get more than €100,000 per annum, the biggest beneficiary was a rice farmer who got €866,290 in 2003. How can European taxpayers justify that?

French farmers received €7.38 billion in subsidies in 2003.

The average French farmer receives €16,693 per annum in subsidies – this is more than five times what the average person in the world receives in income.

Prince Albert of Monaco receives around €300,000 a year in subsidies for his farms. The Queen and Prince Charles also get subsidies for their farms.

Rémy Pointereau, a French senator, received €121,000 last year, and Luc Guyau, an ally of President Chirac, received €50,000 in subsidies.

Cees Veerman, the Dutch Agriculture Minister, received €168,000 for farms in France and €22,000 for farms in the Netherlands.
In Denmark, four Cabinet ministers received money from EU farming subsidies in 2004, as did the husband of Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU Farm Commissioner.
70,000 French farmers receive no subsidies from the CAP.
One word for all of them - parasites!
This exposes the utter bullshit of the arguments of poor French farmers that will get kicked off their farms unable to fend for themselves, since 70,000 fend for themselves now (admittedly in a protected market). It also exposes the level of political disinterest there is in some European quarters to end this outrageous waste of money.
3 steps for the EU:
1. Abolish agricultural subsidies;
2. Abolish restrictions on agricultural imports;
3. Abolish tariffs on agricultural imports.

Blair's days start to be numbered?

I’ve already stated before on this blog why I, on balance, like Tony Blair. This was only enhanced by the release of his education white paper, which essentially called for the administration and running of state schools to be transferred to self-governing trusts. These trusts would allow the schools to be responsible for their spending, the curriculum, their property and what staff are paid.

This would be a major step forward in shifting education away from bureaucratic state control and being autonomous – maybe even private (though even New Labour could never countenance such heresy). New Conservative Party leader David Cameron has stated that he will support all of these measures to give more autonomy to schools, and so he should.

However now the left of the British Labour Party has smelt blood. The teachers’ unions oppose these moves, because it will mean they wont be able to lobby for a collective approach to pay and the last thing they want is for schools to be accountable to parents and local communities. After all they are teachers, it isn’t their fault when children fail at school, or if parents think they are poor performers – for some reason teachers’ unions believe they must be immune to the performance pay and accountability measures others have in their professions. Around 100 Labour MPs are reportedly not happy about the proposals – which could put them in jeopardy, unless the Tories back them. However if that happens, then Blair will feel like a lame duck, needing the Opposition to pass his legislation. This plays into the hands of those who want him to resign and pass the banner over the Gordon Brown sooner rather than later.

The reform agenda of the Blair government appears to be waning. The Daily Telegraph (leftwing wits call it the Torygraph) claims Blair is a lameduck PM, which is going a bit far - but it looks like the Labour Party left is starting to come out from under the rocks as it sees a time to get Gordon Brown into number 10. At that point it would have four or so years of stalling reform, moving policy to the left, with the intention of getting a mandate for it at the next UK election which is unlikely to be before 2009 (there was one earlier this year after all!).

It may well be that as Blair loses his ability to implement reforms of education and welfare, that the Conservative Party, revitalised with a young and vibrant leader in David Cameron is in the ascendancy.

14 December 2005

Qantas orders 65 Boeing 787s

Qantas has announced it has ordered 65 Boeing 787s for itself and its el cheapo Jetstar subsidiary (which is going to fly low cost international services long haul) with options on another 50. These will replace the 767s which have long provided some of the services to and from New Zealand.
Besides fuel economy etc etc, the most notable thing about 787s is that there will be larger windows and higher humidity levels, so you wont be so dehydrated on long flights. The plane will be largely made of composites, so higher humidity levels will not corrode the fuselage. I'll be happy with larger windows and more humidity, it is not pleasant spending 12 hours in the air and waking up feeling dessicated by the artificial atmosphere.
Air NZ has already ordered 4 787s as the second customer for the plane to replace its 767s on medium distance flights to Pacific destinations, Australia and Asia.
Related to this, Qantas is not buying any aircraft to operate London-Sydney non-stop, partly because neither Airbus nor Boeing could make a plane guaranteed to fly that long non-stop fully-laden, and also because the demand was unlikely to be sufficient (it would have commanded a premium fare).

Greens on poverty

The Green’s have a press release out saying there is a “need to tackle the causes of child poverty”. Sue Bradford is upset that some poor children in South Auckland didn’t know when their birthday’s were – which is sad. At the most it indicates their families can’t afford presents. Then she lists other tragedies of poverty as having not traveled over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, or not traveled on the adjacent motorway.

Now at worst these are sad signs – it is a sad that a child doesn’t get birthday presents, though it isn’t really a big deal if they don’t get to travel on a road. This isn’t a big deal in terms of poverty, not compared to starvation, lack of shelter or clean drinking water.

However, you guessed it, Sue Bradford wants Nanny State to throw more money at these families (although the causes of child poverty aren’t noted).

Charity is a fine way of giving people in poverty a leg up, and a chance to move forward- but having the state use force to take money from others to give to these families is not. It is state violence justified because some children have “sad lives”. Whose fault is that? Well the primary responsibility for children lies with their family – it is up to them to have children when they can afford them and provide for them.

The main causes of child poverty come from people having children when they cannot afford them. Taking more money from those who can and giving it to those who can’t increases the incentive to continue the behaviour of breeding irresponsibly.
The Greens want to use welfare to "fix" this problem, a problem that is better fixed by people choosing to give, and by actively assisting those who are poor, such as the work Auckland City Mission does. You’ll do far more for the poor giving to organizations such as them, instead of paying more in taxes so bureaurats can dish out money.
In fact a good start would be to abolish taxes for people on the lowest incomes - Libertarianz support the Green Party policy for a tax free threshold to be implemented immediately. Of course Libertarianz would ask for a higher one - I think $10,000 tax free would be a good start, of course you wouldn't have state welfare either :)

Government murder toll

Hat tip to PC for his linking to the story about democide or death by government action.

The left like to focus on what companies do, and on the cost of war in terms of lives, but war is a drop of blood in the bucket compared to what government’s do. Democratic peace defines democide as:

“any murder by government, and includes genocide, politicide, massacres, mass murder, extrajudicial executions, assassinations, atrocities, and intentional famines”

He categorises democide into several groupings, and has detailed results on his website here.

262 million people murdered by governments – over 76 million in communist run China alone, 50 million from colonial governments (a good deal being Leopold’s Congo, probably the most brutal colonisation in history).

This is six times higher than those killed in combat. That is why peace between countries is important but not the MOST important pre-requisite for civilisation.

The WTO is good!

The WTO is the one intergovernmental organisation that I hold in high regard. It advocates consistent, non-discriminatory rules on trade, has a dispute settlement mechanism for it and is pro free-trade.

There are umpteen protestors now in Hong Kong claiming that the WTO is unfair. Mostly these are South Korean farmers who can afford to fly to Hong Kong protesting against the looming opening up of the South Korean rice market to cheaper foreign rice from the likes of Thailand (which is far poorer and a far more efficient rice producer). South Korea is a very small country with a high population, so in all likelihood there will be less rice producers in South Korea over the longer term, as the pressure for land shifts the country further from agriculture to manufacturing and services (which it is very good at).
The WTO puts pressure through its members for global liberalisation in trade of all goods and services. It puts the same pressure on the EU to abolish its export subsidies for agriculture as it does to India to abolish tariffs on car imports. All countries should liberalise – but what is happening is that the two largest blocs at the WTO are saying “you first”.

The US is willing to abandon agricultural export subsidies if the EU does so, and developing countries also abandon protectionist policies for agriculture.

The EU is willing to provide special access to products from least developed countries, thwarted the MFN principle which states that all WTO member states should be treated equally (though the EU itself is a great example of thwarting MFN!).

Both the EU and the US want liberalisation in manufactured goods and services in developing countries. Developing countries want an end to export subsidies and protectionism for agriculture and textiles in developed countries.

Most of them are right! However, no deal can be struck without agreement between member states - which is more fair than any United Nations organisation (the WTO is not part of the UN) which works on majority most of the time (and since the majority of countries are corrupt and often despotic, the result is clear).

New Zealand fortunately can step to one side given that it has almost totally liberalised trade (tariffs remain thanks to Jim Anderton’s deal with Labour when the Clark government was first formed), and can argue philosophically for free trade in agriculture, goods and services.

Even this French dairy farmer admits that New Zealand dairy farmers can produce milk at half the cost French ones can. If the Greens were in France, they would argue that New Zealand (foreign) milk cannot be allowed to undercut local producers- in short, the Greens would argue to render New Zealand a small country backwater unable to earn foreign exchange from agricultural products, and unable to afford the capital goods produced in other countries.

Interesting the steel worker in this BBC interview in Brazil understands things a lot better than his US counterpart – arguing that US car manufacturers would be more competitive if the cost of steel were lower for them (which means importing steel from more efficient producers), and that Brazilian steel mills are more up to date and competitive than US ones. Remember Bush agreed to reintroduce tariffs to protect the US steel industry.

Free trade is a no brainer. Professor Jagdish Bhagwati is a world renowned author on free trade. His website contains copies of many papers and articles he has written on trade and related issues. His latest book is In Defence of Globalization which I am currently reading.

If you think that the government should limit imports from other countries or tax them, then explain why you need to be forced to buy local, or penalised if you don’t. Also explain why the arbitrary national boundaries that exist are so precious to anti-free traders? Why not impose tariffs on products moved from the South to the North Island (that damned Mainland cheese!) and vice versa, why not impose tariffs on products coming from Northland or the Bay of Plenty into Auckland, or vice versa? Silly? Well imagine the USA did this, with 50 states – looks a bit like Europe then. Consider Africa, which is covered in protectionist states, most of which have GDP levels a fraction of New Zealand, with many times the population – see what a lack of free trade does for them.

If you are still not convinced, what if we extended the protectionist principle to its logical conclusion. You are now heavily taxed if you buy anything from outside your own home, but not on anything you grow or make yourself – see how wealthy you are now? Free trade is what happens everyday between you and your community, town and country – if it works within your country, where councils have differing levels of taxes and laws, it will work between countries.

13 December 2005

Australian - or rather proletarian racism

A combination of common racism and a latent desire for random thuggery has surfaced in Sydney, with the riots in Cronulla. The Sydney Morning Herald has umpteen articles linked about it here.

Those on the left want to paint this as something encouraged by the Howard government’s approach to refugees, those on the right want to downplay the racial component of it – both are wrong.

There is an undercurrent of violent potential among a certain calibre of young men in Australian (and dare I say New Zealand, British and American society as well) which in certain circumstances sees them willing to act in ways that they wouldn’t as individuals. They get courage they wouldn’t have on their own, and they seek to prove themselves to their “comrades” by being destructive towards other people and their property – it is a brutal, cold, mindless savagery. It is a savagery seen at times with football hooligans, street gangs and when some of them get drunk on a Saturday night. It comes from being, by and large, pathetic little nobodies who don’t feel like they control the world, the probably don’t own a house, haven’t travelled much and don’t have children. Their main interests are watching sport on telly, getting pissed with their mates and shagging whatever they can find. Being tough is important to them, using their brains and being articulate isn’t.

The left like to put this down to capitalism, unemployment, dispossession and the downtrodden working class being angry – which is bollocks. At a time of low unemployment and relatively high prosperity in Australia, these people still exist – they are not poverty stricken, but they don’t like people who are different from them. It is an ancient tribalism, which in nature makes sense – back in caveman days you feared the tribe that looked different from you, because they might be after your stock, land or women – so it made evolutionary sense to be racist. Civilisation tore that away, now these ordinary Australian men are jealous of young people from other ethnic origins who look wealthier, more successful and who also commit crimes, though no more than “real Australians” (Australians of British origin). It just takes one of them to criticise the bloke who looks a bit different, and his mates go along with it- followers sticking up for their mates, and it doesn’t really matter what you do, you stick up for each other. A few people of non-white Australian origin commit crimes, and it's time for "payback" - alluring to those small minded local men.

It’s a simplistic view of the world – and a fear that people who don’t look like you are taking over “your” public space. “your” beach “your” park and “your” women. The classifying of anyone of another race as "probably the criminals" or the same as someone who committed an awful crime - it is how all racists demonise a group. It is the same mentality that saw Anthony Walker attacked in the UK because he was black with a white girlfriend. No doubt the men who did this were offended because one of “their” girls was with one of “them”. Savage gutter collectivism.

However, those on the right who say it is “just thuggery” and racism isn’t important are wrong. The crime is no different no matter what races are involved, the same people are hurt, but it is the collective brainlessness of racism that is behind all this – and it is a brainlessness that does not only lie on one side. People of all ethnic origins can be racist – it just so happens that the racist undercurrent of part of Australian society has come out. However it also exists in Britain as shown by this lot. New Zealand has its share too.

There are plenty of racist people about – they largely wont admit it. You’ll hear “I’m not racist, I just don’t want there to be too many Asians here”. Remember Australians voted in 1968 about whether to allow Aborigines to become citizens – yes 1968! A majority of “true blue Australians” said yes, how generous of them.

The racism of the past is well known, but it takes a lot to remove the instinctual natural racism based on fear of those who are different from you, particularly with people driven by a close tribal instinct of mateship and being “local”. The only way to do this, is for people to leave, travel and find out what people elsewhere are really like, because if an Arab man is shagging your sister – it might be because she wanted him rather than your slopehead mates?
and may they be sodomised by the erect phallus of a bull

Boycott Telstra Clear - hypocritical supporters of fascism

Yes, I am calling a private company, that claims to compete with a large, formerly government owned company, hypocritical supporters of fascism. I also believe in free market economics.

TelstraClear is a company I hold in the lowest regard for several reasons but more on that later.
It has accused Telecom of lobbying the government to not introduce local loop unbundling. In short, Telecom, on behalf of its shareholders, was pleading with the government to not interfere with its property rights.
Remember, Telecom owns its network, the most ubiquitous local phone network in the country, not the government, not “the people”. The “people” (represented by the government) sold it – and the proceeds were used to pay off debt held by “the people” and pay for some current expenditure. Telstra Clear doesn’t own Telecom’s network either. Telecom’s owners on privatisation agreed to allow interconnection so that competitors could connect with Telecom customers, and this allowed competition in long distance, international and mobile calls quite early on. Local call competition emerged when what was then Clear Communications, Telstra and Saturn (which have all since merged into one) established their own local networks. Since then, the government has forced Telecom to resale its network to competitors for local access as well. During that time, of course, another operator provides what could be seen as local phone service- Vodafone, and nothing is stopping anyone else legally from building competing fixed or mobile phone networks. However - it's a lot easier to not bother isn't it Telstra Clear?

Now having the ability to do long distance, international and local calls using its own network, and reselling Telecom's, Telstra Clear wasn’t happy. It wanted full access to Telecom’s property – akin to Woolworths telling New World that it must be allowed to open a store inside New World’s premises, where it didn’t have premises of its own. How about if Air New Zealand was forced to wholesale part of the seats on its planes to Origin Pacific to promote “competition”?
Now one of the reasons I hate Telstra Clear and its predecessor Clear, is because they mistakenly milked New Zealand public sympathy for years, by claiming to be the telecommunications underdog, even though Clear did next to nothing to provide real competition. When Clear entered the NZ market, the prices for international and national calls did NOT change for retail customers. $5 capped national calls were introduced by Telecom in response to competition from smaller operators, Clear copied this. Clear was hardly ever the innovator - Saturn Communications (which was bought by Telstra and then absorbed into Telstra Clear) was. It was looking to expand its local network across Auckland and into Hamilton, Dunedin and Tauranga, before cost and the moans of local authorities who didn't overhead cabling to be installed put paid to that idea.

When prices dropped, it was either because Telecom led it, or responded to reductions in prices from companies like Worldxchange and Compass Communications, Clear copied this. It has almost never been a price leader, the price leaders have either been Telecom or smaller operators.

I know this because I advised the government on telecommunications policy at the time! At no stage did Clear make a dent in the market based on price.

My other beef with Telstra Clear is the drop in standards of service. I was a Saturn customer when it laid its own network in Wellington (note to Telstra Clear – your OWN network, spend your money, build your own network then compete) and it provided an excellent phone, internet and cable tv service at a very reasonable price. The takeover by Telstra and the subsequent merge with Clear saw standards drop. On one occasion the weather damaged my phone line, and the company came out and changed the wires around so my second line (for the internet) had switched numbers with the first line. So people phoning me would get my computer and vice versa, and it took three weeks for them to fix it, after umpteen calls and the impudent bitch at the other end arguing that I had never called. On top of that, I found their switch to Voice of IP saw call quality drop so that I couldn’t always hear conversations to friends overseas. In short, the service became shockingly bad – even when I was leaving NZ, the company claimed to have sent me a pack to post my cable TV box in, but never did, even though I rang 3 times over 2 weeks asking where it was- the company said it was “my fault” because I apparently hadn’t checked my mail box (I had!).

Telstra Clear is not a typical private company trying to provide services with its own resources and compete in the market – it is a leech forever whinging about how it can’t compete because it doesn’t have access to its competitor’s network.

It accused Telecom of threatening the government that if forced to open up its own network to competitors, its share price would drop and it would have a negative effect on the economy.
Now it has come out that Telstra Clear has threatened that if the government does NOT do this, it is in breach of the Agreement on Basic Telecommunications negotiated with other countries under the aegis of the WTO. So why is it ok for Telstra Clear to lobby the government but not Telecom?

Besides which, Telstra Clear’s argument is utter bollocks. Why? Well for one, I was involved in the negotiations of that agreement at the WTO – the text was very carefully agreed and it does NOT require local loop unbundling. It does not prohibit countries from doing it, but it only requires interconnection.

On top of that, Telstra Clear talked utter bullshit claiming that the Australia-US free trade agreement requires local loop unbundling. It doesn’t.

Telstra Clear should butt out, and start doing what it is meant to do – compete. The service compared to Telecom is shocking – and I nearly switched to Telecom twice, and Telecom was only too willing to help me. Telstra Clear should provide good service, at good prices and win people over through their products and services. It has access to Telecom’s network at a wholesale level and for interconnection, it also has its own local network in the Auckland CBD, and through suburban Wellington and Christchurch.

However, here is my biggest complaint - Telstra Clear wont open up its network. If you are a Telstra Clear local customer, you cannot use any of its competitors, like IHUG or Worldxchange for toll calls – because Telstra Clear wont let its smaller competitors use its network. I tried, as an IHUG net customers to use IHUG for phone service, but Telstra Clear doesn't let it happen - Telecom does.

Fascists? Yes. It wants the state to effectively control private property rights of its biggest competitor, so that Telecom holds its property, but Telstra Clear can do what it wishes with its property.

That is why I am calling for libertarians and believers in free enterprise to boycott Telstra Clear – tell the company you don’t want to do business with anyone who does not believe in private property rights for anyone else other than themselves.
and Labour got this one right in refusing to listen to Telstra Clear's moans.