29 February 2008

Thanks Big Sister, we really need you

Big Sister Cindy "Kim Jong" Kiro has spent your money urging you to spend time with the family.

However it isn't YOUR family or YOUR kids, she notably never says that. She does say "our children" in the context of "she's a parent so she's one of us".

It shouldn't fool you. Cindy Kiro wants to nationalise the raising of children, by having a Stalinist style monitoring of every child, and a plan for every child authorised by the state from cradle till whenever. This warm and otherwise benign press release is unnecessary, but paints a picture of the Childrens' Commissioner have a useful role - when she has none. She undoubtedly cares a lot for children and abhors child abuse - hardly controversial. However, she thinks we are ALL responsible for this. This justifies her call for Orwellian monitoring of children including:

Planned assessment at key life stages, including early childhood, primary and secondary school entry, and moving to tertiary education or employment and training opportunities, is a key component of the framework. The assessment will take into account the whole child; their physical, social, educational, emotional, and psychological development.

She is either ignorant of the evils of totalitarianism, or an advocate of it! Simply, how fucking dare she call for children of responsible, loving, non-abusive parents have their kids monitored by the state?

She dilutes the blame by being unable to confront the truth - the problem is abusive families, no others. There are thousands of children barely being parented at all. Their teachers know this, and no doubt also do neighbours, distant family members and the like. THAT is where the state effort should be, as part of the criminal justice system. It is about intervening when there IS abuse, not watching everyone else. Yes, it will mean intervening in a higher proportion of Maori households than others, because it is disproportionately a problem with families of Maori background.

So no Cindy Kiro. Parents will decide what they want to do childrens' day, some will be working to pay taxes to fund your well about average income and the big nanny state you warmly embrace - think how much more time the parents might spend with their kids if they didn't need to work so hard to pay taxes (for you and the state) as well as earn a living. The children living in New Zealand are not "ours", they are not a shared responsibility. They are the responsibility of their parents and guardians, and they should be accountable when they abuse or neglect their children. If you were to do ANY justice to your job you'd stop making blanket statement about everyone, and focus on CYPFS and support efforts to intervene when there is demonstrable abuse and neglect. You would also work to deny custody of children from those who are convicted of abusing kids, permanently. Instead of monitoring all families, how about breaking up the ones that are destructive and stopping those who are from being near kids.

To be fair, Dr. Kiro is not an apologist for child bashing unlike one blogger who wants says "the structural issues which leave people so broken that they torture a three year-old", in other words "capitalism makes people torture a toddler".

Greens Canadaphobic

Sue Kedgley is at it again, hysterically trying to ban something. This time the sale of private shares in Auckland airport to a (wait for it, it is horrifying and disgusting) FOREIGN company. Those wogs (well they are Canadian, but they are foreign, so they must be inferior) can't be allowed to have "our" airport (well actually it is owned by the shareholders, but Sue doesn't understand property rights), I mean after all, think what they could do. They might want it to run efficiently, at a profit, encouraging people to use it and that would NEVER do.

Sue's press release on this says "The Green Party sees no reason why a Canadian pension fund should be allowed to gain control of the gateway to New Zealand"

Well I see no reason why it shouldn't? Why is a Canadian pension fund less of a good owner than a New Zealand pension fund, or local government, or central government (remember Wellington airport when it was majority government owned?)? Sue doesn't say, just apparently as long as the Green Party doesn't see a reason to allow something, it should be banned.

Then she goes on a little to suggest that "New Zealand cannot afford the economic, environmental, biosecurity and security risks of letting control of our main aviation gateway pass into foreign hands"

What are these Sue? Economic risks. Hmmm that it will be efficiently run, will seek to encourage passengers and airlines to operate there. Are you concerned about monopoly pricing? Well apparently not since the Green Party opposes outright Whenuapai being developed as a second airport.

Environmental risks? What are the Canadians going to do Sue? Use the airport as a toxic waste dump? Encourage less fuel efficient planes to fly in? I mean those Canadians are such environmental vandals.

Biosecurity risks? Oh yes, apparently they will take over the MAF role too will they Sue? Or the Canadians will just let it rip on foreign plagues of insects and plants to ravish our countryside.

Security risks? Yes they'll let those Canadian terrorists in to hijack planes, or Canadian thieves to steal luggage.

Not a single rational reason to stop the sale, other than xenophobic hysteria.

Blame Canada, with their evil little eyes and their heads that flap with lies.

Bloody hell Sue, take some pills and get some therapy, it's not nice to discriminate against those from other countries.

The OTHER deniers

Holocaust deniers are well publicised and hassled for their vile beliefs, albeit that they SHOULD have the legal right to hold them and express them.

However there is another group of deniers, the Stalinist deniers. These are the small group of fanatics for totalitarianism that live in the free world, but deny the evidence of the thousands of Russians who suffered terrible ordeals under Stalinism and CONTINUE to deny the evidence of the North Koreans who escape. They claim Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a neo Nazi, they excuse labour camps, executions and political oppression. They treat Saddam Hussein as a hero

They are so radical that even Arthur Scargill, mate of the former USSR, expelled them from his own Marxist party.

It is called the Stalin Society, led by an Indian migrant to the UK called Harpal Brar. He chairs the Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist.

That party supports Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong Il.

What bloodthirsty warped scum. Are they deranged, stupid or just plain evil?

28 February 2008

Top ten reasons Castro should be hated

The Times has produced a handy list of the top 10 reasons Castro should not be a hero of the left. Let's see the lickspittle felchers of Cuba, George Galloway and Ken Livingstone defend these, or Matt Robson, or Willie Jackson.

  1. Sending homosexuals to forced labour camps.
  2. Executing people attempting to leave Cuba (as recently as 2003).
  3. Urging the USSR to launch a nuclear first strike against the USA.
  4. Holding 316 known political prisoners in 2006.
  5. Banning independent trade unions.
  6. Single candidates for all seats in the National Assembly.
  7. Computer and internet access is severely restricted.
  8. In 2003, 22 libraries raided with 14 librarians arrested with jail terms of up to 26 years, for having banned literature.
  9. Opposed even modest economic reforms, including the opening up by Gorbachev.
  10. Cuba's imperialist adventures in Africa, including supporting the Mengistu regime that was behind the 1980s Ethiopian famines that Bob Geldof relaunched his career off of.
So how about it? How about the New Zealand supporters of this dictator repenting for their support for this scumbag?

So how many more reasons do you need to vote out Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London?

Meanwhile, Daniel Finkelstein in the Times has an excellent article asking why the left worships dictators, including the Deputy Leader of the British Labour Party - Harriet Harman. Oh and no excuse that Thatcher supported Pinochet. Two wrongs do not make a right.

27 February 2008

Silliest British reaction to earthquake

No, it's not the people running into the street and then having to dodge masonry. No it's not the failure to give details about the depth of the epicentre as well as the richter scale reading (both are needed to explain severity).

It is the the GMTV host Ben Shephard.

This morning he asked a British Geologist if the earthquake is attributable to... wait for it ... climate change!!

Did you dream up such a brainless question or did your producer? How utterly banal. It's the sort of thing I'd expect from a NZ based television reporter (you know the sort that talk of North Koreans spontaneously taking a day off work to welcome foreign politicians).

Ben, you have a degree in Dance, Drama and Theatre Arts from Birmingham University, best to stick with that than, um, general knowledge.

Oh by the way, I went into Wellingtonian mode. It felt hellishly strong for a force 5 quake, but that reflects being in a solid building, next to a canal in Manchester!

It woke me up (in a hotel contained in a century or so old building), I shot instinctively into the doorway (lost count of earthquakes I've been woken up with in NZ), waited until it ended then went to sleep, all half dozed. Woke up thinking I must have had a helluva dream, because it didn't feel real.

Initiating force is wrong

Tomahawk Kid has an excellent article reminding us all of why it is wrong to initiate force to get what we want. He said
"There is no more moral system than the voluntary interaction between consenting adults when applied to ANY situation."
Quite and who would disagree with that? Well, every political party in Parliament for starters and most other blogs. You might see some saying yes, BUT... as they justify the exception that they want to see, something they can't convince others about so hey, let's use state power.

If we want a culture of non-violence, which so many on the left purport to support, it should start by an unequivocal condemnation of force initiation against people and their property. That requires acceptance that the state should shrink until it no longer initiates force. That wont happen overnight, or within three years, but it does mean the end to victimless crimes, respect for private property rights, the withering of taxation down to core state responsibilities and moving towards choosing to pay for what you use, rather than force.

Utopian visionore creative as human being as to how to resolve problems and conflicts - peacefully? Well in the sense that it is idealistic yes - but it is moral, and we can debate the hows and the priorities, but shouldn't it be where human beings head? A culture of civilisation, of non-violent voluntary interaction?

The greatest barrier to it all, unfortunately, is that all too many of you are happy to be forced to do what others say, and you are prey to those who are happier telling others what to do.

Bush administration goes forward - on roads anyway

Whilst many pundits decry the Bush Administration as a “disaster” as if it were self evident, it is clear to me that in the field of transport, it is light years ahead of past administrations of both colours.

The current Transportation Secretary Mary Peters (and her last significant predecessor, Norm Mineta) have both made the very clear and blunt points – the status quo doesn’t work. Environmentalists may be surprised that the Bush administration is strongly supportive of road pricing, instead of ongoing politically driven funding of roads and public transport.
Some of the best points she made at a recent meeting of Governors at the White House were:

“in the era of a government mandated monopoly in telecommunications and price controls you'd get a recording: "I'm sorry all circuits are busy. Please try again later." "Your call couldn’t go through the system for the same reason your car can’t get through rush hour – poor pricing," Peters said.”

That's the fundamental point. People put up with chronic traffic congestion roads, but wouldn't with other infrastructure - and it is due to lack of pricing and poor quality investment - those are both due to government's running roads in the same old Soviet era way. She also points out that throwing taxpayer money at the problem hasn't worked:
"The failings of federal tax and earmark programs she said are highlighted by the 300% increase in traffic congestion in the past 25 years while spending on roads and transit is doubling every ten years."

Think also about healthcare, how throwing money at that simply isn't working either. None of this should be a surprise.
"There is no greater symptom of failure than the fact that Americans simply don’t support putting more money into this broken system. Poll after poll shows strong opposition to traditional fuel taxes. The public ranks gas taxes as among the least fair taxes at the federal, state and local levels. And they are rightfully suspicious that higher taxes will (not) translate into more efficient transportation systems."

Quite right too. Fuel taxes are charges for buying fuel, not buying road use. While New Zealand has only just moved to spend all central government fuel taxes on transport (note this includes public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure), the temptation during hard times will always be to use it for general revenue.

"More and more people are seeing that direct charges offer a better deal for taxpayers than increasing dependence on dysfunctional sources like federal gasoline taxes. This simple but powerful technology unlocks enormous new opportunities for communities BOTH to attract new investment capital AND to manage congestion through variable prices."

So let the private sector in and the market mechanism of price in. Letting them both do it removes the political albatross that doing either wont work well. London's congestion charge is severely hamstrung by the political agenda of Ken Livingstone which gives a significant portion of London traffic a discount or exemption, but also earmarks the money for a lot of buses, many of which carry few people.

Hopefully her initiatives to set free private capital for investment in highways at the federal and state levels, set free the price mechanism for charging for highway use, ending "earmarked" pork barrel funding for roads and getting better results from what federal spending that remains will not be jeopardised by the games of Obama, McCain and Clinton. I am not optimistic, but these baby steps are all in the right direction, and are worth watching. It also shows there is a bit of free market thinking in the Bush administration after all.

26 February 2008

ARC plays with your money

The ARC, which became a greatly empowered and enriched entity under Labour, is looking to spend $10 million of Auckland ratepayers' money on Eden Park.
Stuff reports "Council chairman Michael Lee said the proposed contribution would come from its investments, not rates" which is still ratepayers' money, he simply wants to soften the blow by claiming rates wont go up as a result - well they will, as there will be less money than there would have been otherwise.
The alternative is that $10 million could simply be redistributed to all Auckland ratepayers as a grant. Given around 300,000 or so ratepayers, that extra $30 would be helpful for some, it might even help pay for a ticket to Eden Park - you know, so that people can choose to support it.

Roger Douglas and ACT?

Well if Sir Roger Douglas wants to return to politics and appear on the ACT list, good luck to him. However, it will raise the issue as to whether ACT IS the liberal party that Rodney Hide has been inching it towards. It could be an interesting challenge, after all ACT's original platform had a number of characteristics, that varied from the tempting to the confusing to the disturbing.
The tempting included:
  • Zero income tax. That's right, the only tax ACT was pushing back in the early days was GST, with income and company tax gone.
  • Privatisation of all government businesses and some activities such as ACC.
  • Opening up social services such as health and education to a wide range of choice and competition. People would not have to put up with compulsory die while your wait health care or paying twice for their kids education if they wanted to use independent schools.

The confusing was:

  • Absolutely no policy on anything that wasn't economic. For example, justice, law and order, defence, foreign policy, constitutional matters.

The disturbing was:

  • Replacing income tax with compulsory private superannuation, compulsory health insurance and education cover. In other words, instead of the state forcing you to pay it to provide services, the state forced you to pay the private sector (although it wasn't always clear if schools would be privatised or not) for the services. Yes it might have been more efficient and more competitive, but it was still compulsion - and absolutely no indication that this was a transitional step which, on balance, I could support.

So let ACT go forward and be rescued by Sir Roger Douglas, but I doubt very much if it will be the liberal party it has aspired to be. Having said that, for some National supporters he might just give them a reason to tick ACT. Given National is largely devoid of policy, ACT can fill part of the vacuum, if only it would fill the vacuum it always has within itself. It is the vacuum that meant ACT had no policy on civil unions, no policy on legalising prostitution and doesn't lead campaigns to get rid of crimes such as blasphemy and sedition.

That, of course, requires a commitment to individual freedom, and only the Libertarianz have that in New Zealand at the moment.

25 February 2008

Unfair trade : download the Adam Smith Institute report

It is here

Here are the highlights of the executive summary points, which are even more damning than I expected. 10% of the fairtrade premium goes to the producer, the rest is retail markup:

• Fair trade does not aid economic development. It operates to keep the poor in their place, sustaining uncompetitive farmers on their land and holding back diversification, mechanization, and moves up the value chain. This denies future generations the chance of a better life.
• Fair trade is targeted to help landowners, and not the agricultural labourers who suffer the severest poverty. Fairtrade rules actually make it more difficult for labourers to gain permanent, full-time employment.
• Four-fifths of the produce sold by Fairtrade-certified farmers ends up in non-Fairtrade goods. At the same time, it is possible that many goods sold as Fairtrade might not actually be Fairtrade at all.
Just 10% of the premium consumers pay for Fairtrade actually goes to the producer. Retailers pocket the rest.

So I challenge the Green Party, and promoters of so called "fair trade", to present the evidence. Show it is more than spreading guilt, feeling good and paying more.

Ask everywhere if your council or employer has hopped onto this bandwagon, why. Send them a copy of the report, and tell them to stop wasting money on this fraud, and instead lobby for free trade, or support a genuine NGO charity in a poorer country.

Fairtrade damned further

Following on from yesterday's reports on Fairtrade, a comment on the Daily Telegraph website makes for sobering reading - about the reality of Fairtrade:
"I was the acting Chief Exective of the largest independent coffee and tea trader in the world in the early 1990's and found all that you have mentioned and even worse to be true. I want to highlight some of your points toward the end of your article to make clear that the mega-growers also ship and sell their lower quality beans into the Fairtrade markets through brokers and receive the subsidized "charity price" from the "socially responsible" rather unquestioning public. This is exactly what was meant to be avoided, and it is done in huge volumes. This type of illegal activity is almost impossible to police at the level where it occurs, and where supervision has been pursued it has either failed or been simply too expensive to maintain (especially when the bribes at the storage and market delivery locations are factored in). So what happens is that the small farmers end up competing directly with the mega-producers for "shelf-and-mouth" space, which is a losing battle and exactly the opposite of what was intended to occur. Please, everyone, do not buy Fairtrade unless you (or somone you completely trust) can track your purchase back from the cup in front of you to the fields/farmers that the beans (or other produce) came from."
So there you have it, Fairtrade markets get exploited by the large producers that Fairtrade lovers so abhor, and it is difficult to thwart this.
One of the most damning criticisms I have of Fairtrade is that it diverts attention from the REAL "fair" trade issue - opening up of markets. Perhaps the most wealth generating and liberating move that could be made for people in developing countries would be for both developed and developing countries to open up their markets.
Developed countries need to end export subsidies that mean their producers undercut those from competitors, they also need to end prohibitions, quotas and tariffs on imports so that the most efficient producers have a fair shot at the wealthiest markets. Developing countries need to abolish legal monopolies on imports and infrastructure, open up internal markets to competition and remove prohibitions, quotas and tariffs on imports, especially those that can aid in improving productivity.
Fairtrade diverts attention from the fight to remove these barriers to productivity and wealth, by claiming that fiddling with prices can make people wealthier.
Of course those in poorer countries should not be maltreated, should not have their property stolen, should not be expected to work in extremely dangerous conditions, but the answers to this are complex, and lie significantly in having governments which apply a rule of law, which protect individual rights and property rights.
So what is "fair"? Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph today notes how the word "Fair" has been misused by the left and is now used as a synonym for equality of wealth, yet is highly destructive.
She said:
... even more dangerous is the peculiarly lethal principle of "fairness" that seems to prevail in the NHS (or at least at the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which determines what treatments the NHS may use): if everyone can't have it, no one should. On this basis, procedures and medications that could save or transform individual lives must be barred if they cannot be made available to every patient who might conceivably benefit from them.
Once again, "fair" must mean "the same": so the breast cancer patient who is a young mother may be denied the drug that could lengthen her life because it would not be feasible to provide it for all the breast cancer patients who are over 80, and if she offers to pay for the drug herself she may be barred from receiving any NHS treatment (because it is "unfair" for her to use her own money to buy what others cannot afford).
How have we come to accept such vindictive uses of the word "fair"?
Of course it was initially the fault of the Left and its special pleading lobbies, which - like some Fairtrade promoters - had a lot to gain. But the Right has been complicit: it has surrendered words like "fairness" and "opportunity" - and accepted caricatures of other words such as "selfish" and "greedy" - with scarcely a murmur of dissent."
Indeed. Expect John Key this year, and David Cameron two years from now to talk about fairness a lot - and both will be peddling the status quo.

Fairtrade fails and deceives: Part Two

Like I posted earlier, there are a whole host of reasons why Fairtrade creates perverse incentives and can hurt more than help. However, most of them come down to one major difference between Fairtrade and free trade - Fairtrade corrupts the price mechanism. Prices aren't just about "what it costs to buy something", they are signals about whether to increase or decrease production due to demand, whether to increase or decrease consumption, they inform about quality. They are the culmination of many factors, but ultimately are the culmination of free choices to produce/sell, and to buy. It is the ultimate democracy of the market, more than voting for a politician, it is voting for a product. Sadly too many do not recognise this.
Price sends the following key signals, Fairtrade grossly distorts these:
1. Prices for produce are partially a function of quality: The better the produce, the better the price, and vice versa. This rewards good farmers, innovative farmers and producers, and penalises those growing in areas less suitable or those less attentive (who should probably do something else).
2. Prices are a function of supply and demand: Very low prices for produce reflect over supply relative to demand, which is a signal that some producers should stop producing or shift to other commodities/enhance quality or the like. Paying some regardless of quality and demand, suppresses prices for all others and encourages more to produce, creating a cycle of increased poverty. This particularly hurts those unable to participate in Fairtrade, but even if all were involved in Fairtrade, it would create a glut of unsold produce. Buyers would pay high prices, but would be turning away produce - which wouldn't get paid for, which may end up harming the most productive. Think carefully how much harm this could cause.
3. Low prices encourage higher productivity: Producers of low priced products can decide to change what they produce or could become more efficient, so that their margins over cost are better at lower prices. This means taking steps to increase productivity, such as in Brazil where in the coffee sector mechanisation can mean five people can have the productivity of 500. The price is then shared between less people. What do the others do? Well they can produce goods and services that people will pay more for - perhaps Fairtrade activists could help them out to find what these could be rather than trap them in overproduced commodities?
4. Paying high prices for Fairtrade products damages sellers of other goods and services: While you’ve been assuaging your conscience buying Fairtrade bananas or coffee, you’ve spent money on those goods that you might have spent on other items. Not only have you lost out on not having those, so has the producer of those missed out on you not buying them. Given the amount of the Fairtrade premium milked by others along the way, you might also question whether the high price didn’t largely benefit your local supermarket as much as the farmer. You might have bought more fruit and vegetables, you might have bought more meat, you could have spent more on clothes, holidays, or paid off your mortgage. In other words, a whole chain of people could benefit from what you save paying market prices.
So how long will this Fairtrade charade persist? As long as you keep supporting it and not asking questions. Ask those supporting this why they encourage overproduction of poor quality produce in poor countries. Ask them why they encourage old fashioned means of production that keep people stuck in labour intensive jobs. Ask them how much of the Fairtrade premium goes to retailers and wholesalers, and don't take "not a lot" as an answer, ask for number. Ask why you should pay more to buy one product and then not buy another product, which also helps people making it?
Make THEM think too!

Ralph Nader to stand for US Presidency

Hmm well, those on the left will be a little worried he'll rob them of their entitlement at the Presidency, like they think he did in 2000 - but well, I'm not fussed. Frankly, he might help Obama as claims of Obama being on the left will be diluted by Nader standing, as if one can point at Nader and say "hey he doesn't think I'm socialist enough" (or "progressive" as statist thieving is called").
Funnily though, Ralph Nader said to NBC according to the Sunday Telegraph "if the Democrats could not win this year by a “landslide” despite his involvement, then “they should just close down". He's probably right.
I despise Nader, but he does have principle - he at least gives those who want more government, more taxes, more regulation, destruction of private property rights, surrendering US allies to their enemies and hatred of business, someone to vote for. Who do those who want less government, less tax, more freedom, wider application of private property rights and respect for wealth creation, along with standing with US allies against attack and oppression?

Fairtrade fails and deceives: Part One

"Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives"

That’s the legend sold with Fairtrade, on the Fairtrade Foundation website. It is about to be heavily promoted big time in the UK through Fairtrade Fortnight. However, Fairtrade isn't fair, or good, it is ignoring basic economics and is highly deceptive. It is hindering development far more than it helps.
It is often treated by the likes of the Green Party as an alternative to free trade, so it excuses protectionism (bans and tariffs on imports). You see they are ignorant of economics too.

What Fairtrade actually is about is an ideology of guilt-mongering to brand products on the basis of being “ethical” which are marked up for the “good” of all those involved, grossly distorting price signals and producing perverse results. In the Sunday Telegraph today, the Adam Smith Institute has announced the release of a damning report about “Fairtrade” called, aptly, “Unfair trade”. The Institute states “At best, Fairtrade is a marketing device that does the poor little good. At worst, it may inadvertently be harming some of the planet’s most vulnerable people”.
How so, you say? How can it be unfair to pay producers more for making what they do, in such poor countries? Well the report points to a number of major issues:
  • Fairtrade pays farmers to maintain uncompetitive farming methods rather than using modern techniques that can enhance production. Environmentalists might argue that those techniques are more environmentally sustainable, but the Fairtrade Foundation admits it has no programmes to encourage the use of technology in farming, of any kind. It even gives counterproductive advice, encouraging crop mixing, which hinders mechanisation.
  • A fraction of the Fairtrade premium charged to consumers reaches the producer, retailers pocket the rest as Fairtrade products are perceived as high yield and less price sensitive. In short, customers are more willing to pay for the “Fairtrade” label, oblivious as to whether the premium reaches the producer. The Fairtrade Foundation insists it ensures farmers are paid more than they would otherwise (no doubt retailers are too!), but do consumers accept the premium paid to everyone is fair?
  • Fairtrade only accredits farmers if they join together as co-operatives. Farmers working for Café Britt in Costa Rica are self-employed small business people who own the land they farm, but this is “unacceptable to ideologues at FLO international” Fairtrade’s certifiers. Café Britt has been refused Fairtrade status, even though its Costa Rican farmers have increased incomes by processing, roasting, packaging and branding locally as well. Fairtrade coffee, by contrast, is roasted and packaged in the EU.
  • The Fairtrade Foundation is seeking to dominate the trade, by seeking to monopolise the concept of “ethically branded” produce by persuading local authorities, companies, schools and the like to declare themselves “pro Fairtrade” at the expense of other brands claiming the same thing (like Café Britt). This has effectively limited the range of "pro producer" activities as the brand itself limits innovation to that approved by the brand. It also inflates the price by not having competing "fairtrade" brands.
  • Fairtrade supporters ignore the real causes of poverty amongst many growers by pursuing an ideological crusade against world market prices and multinational corporations. According to the Sunday Telegraph, coffee growers in Kenya interviewed by Alex Singleton of the Globalisation Institute told of being forced to used the monopoly milling and fertilizer companies, imposed by the state, and the high tariffs on imported tools that could assist production. Of course this could be addressed by free trade, but Fairtrade supporters are not interested in confronting poor country governments.
  • Fairtrade encourages poorer quality produce. As many farmers sell produce in both Fairtrade and open markets, farmers will often sell their best produce on the open market to secure the best price (as the open market is quality driven), and sell poorer quality produce on the Fairtrade market, as the price is guaranteed. The effect this has on quality for those selling entirely on the Fairtrade market is questionable at best.

Fairtrade is another example of good intentions paving a road to hell, as it is driven by an ideology distant from reality. It is driven by faith that the world would be a far better place if only those mean old markets paid people more for what they produce (low prices are unfair!!), with even more ideological baggage along with that. Part of it is environmental – the old adage that organic is better than mechanisation, and fertilisers are “bad”. Part of it is simply socialism – companies are bad, so farmers should all be in co-operatives. Beyond that is the basic rejection of the price mechanism.

Ah, you say, but if I want to pay more so that a farmer gets more, shouldn't I be allowed to? Of course you should. I'd let you set fire to your money if you wanted to (you're not allowed), but that doesn't mean you should necessarily feel better, or those that don't buy fairtrade are immoral - the truth may be quite the opposite.

So what does ignoring the price mechanism do?

22 February 2008

Report on the environment - how shallow is it?

So what about the "Environment New Zealand 2007" report? Is it a piece of robust well researched analysis that is balanced, or does it contain some of its own spin? Well it is lengthy, so as I said before I've read the transport section - since environmentalists have a particular dedication to that sector - to see what it says.
Most of the chapter on transport contains a lot of statistics, which themselves are quite interesting. Nothing too surprising there, as increases in wealth parallel increases in car ownership, the size of cars owned (which also reflects demographics of baby boomer families wanting larger vehicles) and kilometres driven. This all is a good thing, as it means more people have access to flexible transport options. It also shows that only 5% of trips to work are by public transport, with twice as many people working at home. Funny how the ones taking the most environmentally friendly option don't get subsidised for it (neither do the 6% who walk to work).
However, in with all the stats come some less evidence based claims:
1. “Public transport generally provides a lower-cost and more environmentally friendly transport choice than using a private car.”
How? If it is lower cost, then people will use it and pay a fare to recover the fixed and marginal costs of public transport. However, they don’t. In fact 95% don’t find it “lower cost” if you include value of time and comfort. Moreover, it is hardly lower cost when it requires subsidies of between 50% and 70% in many cases. When did you last get a subsidy to drive your car to work? Of course there are externalities, but this claim doesn't say that.
2. The environmentally friendly claim is made again “Public transport offers benefits to the environment in the form of less air pollution, lower fuel consumption, and less traffic congestion compared with private transport.”
Really? For starters it is a messy statement, triple counting one benefit. Lower fuel consumption isn't an environmental benefit, but the cause of less air pollution, and congestion is about delays, not pollution. So we are talking about air pollution only. Secondly, the government's own Surface Transport Costs and Charges study changes the view on this...
That states that an average bus in Auckland at the AM peak emits over 18x the emissions of the average car. Now according to that study, the average car typically has occupancy levels of around 1.4, with buses have average occupancy of around 18 people, which means that cars - on average- emit less pollution per passenger carried than buses on average in Auckland. Now trains ARE cleaner, but they have a bigger problem - train fares are only 30-50% of the cost of running the trains, and it is damned expensive replacing them and building their corridors (which don't get well used).
So the claim that public transport IS better for the environment is questionable. The truth is that it depends on it being well patronised, and funnily enough commercially run services tend to be more than subsidised ones, because subsidised ones don't HAVE to make money from fares alone.
In fact the Surface Transport Costs and Charges study does expose some of the favourite Green Party myths about transport in New Zealand:
1. On a per person basis the same pollution is created by 3 people travelling in a car on a long distance trip as is every person travelling on a bus or a train. So the average family holiday by car is more environmentally friendly than the average family holiday by bus or train.
2. The environmental costs of long haul freight, for the primarily rural movements analysed, are similar in magnitude between trucks and trains. On top of that "Current charges (mainly RUC) are in most cases greater than the level of marginal provider/external costs (principally accident externalities and marginal road wear)." So in short, trucks already more than cover the costs they impose in most cases.
3. ACC charges significantly over recover the costs of accidents attributable to cars (112%), trucks (587%) and buses (345%), but under recover costs from motor cycle users (18%). So it is nonsense to claim the costs of road accidents are not paid for by road users, except one group.
Yes there are problems, congestion is by far the biggest "unpaid "cost, but this is because of poor management of networks and bad investment decisions. Most environmental costs comprise air pollution (which is getting better) and are on local roads (due to slow speeds and exposure to people).
It simply isn't as bad as is made out

Greens spinning and hiding the truth

If you just listened to Russel Norman on the release of the Ministry for the Environment's report "Environment New Zealand 2007" you'd think things are bleak, you'd think cars are one of the main sources of blame and that the government is acting contrary to the report. Plus, of course, you'd think the now released "Chapter 13" is damning. Chapter 13 is just a summary, with a few broad recommendations.
Sadly, scaremongering is one of the key currencies of the Greens, so I thought I'd actually READ Chapter 13, and given that transport is a field of mine I'd read the chapter on transport and read the chapter on air pollution (since previous government studies indicated that the environment impacts of transport are predominantly air pollution). You too can read the reports here. I wanted to know if the reports really DO damn road transport.
So what HAS Russel claimed the reports have said? Well the claims are across a couple of press releases here and here. These are his key points on transport:
CLAIM: Russel says the report "makes some inconvenient recommendations for action such as national environmental regulation and more public transport", and on the Youtube video he says it repeatedly calls for more public transport and that building a big motorway in Auckland goes against the report.
FACT: The report DOES call for public transport to have a biggest share of trips, but does NOT call for no more road building. It doesn't at all mention reducing spending on roads.
CLAIM: Russel says "This report shows that people want more convenient sustainable transport options. This means fast, cheap and comfortable public transport as well as safer cycling and walking." "Shows" but doesn't say. In fact it says nothing about people wanting more public transport at all, nothing about stopping road building.
In fact if you read the MAIN report, you'll find plenty of inconvenient truths that Russel ignored:
  • Levels of PM10 particulates at roadside locations in Auckland appear to have fallen over the past 10 years" PM10 are particulates, the air pollution that causes the greatest damage to health.
  • "Benzene levels at monitored locations are at an acceptable level. Levels are higher near busy roads than in residential areas, but appear to be improving. This improvement is probably due to changes in vehicle fuel composition. Lead was eliminated from New Zealand petrol in 1996, so airborne lead levels are now very low.” So more good news.
  • The worst one appears to be “Levels of nitrogen dioxide are at an acceptable level around New Zealand, with the exception of some locations in Auckland affected by traffic emissions. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide in Auckland appear to be increasing". Hardly devastating.
  • Despite the war on cars of the Greens the report also points out that “Home heating is the main cause of air pollution in populated areas in the winter" Hmm don't see anything about people's home fires in the Green party statements, bit of an inconvenient truth that it ISN'T transport, but rather home heating in most parts of the country outside Auckland that creates most air pollution.
  • Vehicle ownership has increased, as have km driven (although down in the last year), and the vehicles people buy are getting bigger, yet this is largely a function of wealth. A good thing.
  • Fuel is cleaner now that it has ever been, with sulphur levels now 96% less than they were four years ago. Sulphur is the key source of particulates from transport emissions.
  • 10% of road vehicles create 40% of pollution, largely because they are badly tuned. Responding to this issue alone would make a worthwhile difference.

The real inconvenient truth is that air pollution is, by and large, getting better. Not that the Greens would admit it.

The report doesn't call for an end to road building, does not rank car traffic as the leading cause of air pollution and does not advocate the Green's pets of rail transport, or ANYTHING about shifting freight from trucks to rail or shipping.

In fact, it shows that while people own more cars, travel more km by car, most indicators of air pollution are improving, and besides much of the problem is caused by home heating. So what does that make the Greens other than masters of spin and scaremongering?

The transport chapter is here.

The air pollution chapter is here

A mate and his girlfriend are having sex

Do you:
a) Watch
b) Not Watch
so says an interactive DVD produced for AFL players to improve their attitudes to women according to the NZ Herald. Of course it left out:
c) Offer to join in to double team her
d) Ask her if she's bi and you can bring your girlfriend over for an orgy
Both being quite legitimate options if they all consent. Similarly with the question:
You are called by a mate's girlfriend into her bedroom because she thinks you are her boyfriend.
Do you:
a - Go and hop into bed and pretend to be him.
b - Walk away.
Well hold on. Why not go, be yourself and see what she says. After all, what the hell are you doing at her house (or his house where she lives) and he isn't around? She might be keen for a shag anyway.
Poor lads, you can see them watching all confused, with questions like:
You are with a girl who has had too much to drink. Do you:
a - Get her some water.
b - Call her a taxi.
c - Take her back to your place for sex.
Watch the heads scratch when they wonder if this is a "place them in the right order" question, and wonder where the "is she hot" question gets answered. However, you can understand why it needs to be done. They are largely men full of testosterone and not a lot else, and surrounded by a culture whereby easy women hang off them, and they are bound to go for what they can.
I'm sure this will change things significantly hmmmm. Although is it not just enough to ask for them to not force themselves on women, and not take advantage of women who are unable to consent? Rather than roleplaying situations which are, frankly, not offering the more likely and adventurous options. After all, it is awfully sexist to assume only men have filthy minds, plenty of women I expect would happily consent to be gangbanged by AFL players!

21 February 2008

Flashing for Hillary?

Hillary either hasn't a sense of humour, or didn't find the girl hot, or maybe she knows now this probably just happens to Obama?

Low Emission Zone London or Ken's tax on trucks

It’s election year in London, and Mayor Ken Livingstone is waging war on road transport – again.

Since 4 February he has made ALL of London (yes not just central) a “Low Emission Zone”. What this means is that any lorry over 12 tonnes that enters any part of Greater London under the authority of the Greater London Authority must have an engine rated as being euro 3 or above, otherwise it faces a £200 charge. This tends to mean that lorries registered since October 1991 will be exempt, but those older than that will face the fee. Failure to pay will result in a fine of £1500.

The scheme will cost £10 million to operate, and is costing £50 million to implement (figures quoted from BBC London) but its benefits are likely to be difficult to detect. The scheme will undoubtedly cost millions to businesses, as currently roadworthy lorries will need to be sold, or the fines and fees passed onto customers. Meanwhile, the lorries will likely be relocated to other parts of Britain, producing dirty emissions there! The scheme is to be extended to lorries down to 3.5 tonnes by July 2008, along with buses, coaches, minibuses, vans, motor caravans and ambulances. Cars are specifically not included, curiously.

Of course it is very unclear how Ken intends to deal with foreign lorries, which are difficult to enforce against. Enforcement against foreign lorries depends on the ability to use law enforcement in EU countries for this purpose, which is highly variable. Non-EU countries are typically more difficult.

The ambition is to clean up local air quality in London, which can be appalling, albeit for some reasons Ken is unlikely to concede:

1. The increase in buses in London as subsidies have dramatically increased. Before Ken became Mayor, buses in London did not require net subsidies, now they cost over £1 billion a year in subsidies. Many buses run with few passengers, and with bus fares having been cut significantly, this encourages people to ride buses rather than walk, cycle or ride the tube (which produces no local emissions). There is little evidence that the additional buses produce less emissions than any cars replaced.

2. The appalling lack of good arterial roads away from built up areas. London’s road network is half finished, and may be destined to be so for some time. For example, the M25 is the only proper orbital route. The A206 north circular is partial highway, partial local street, with many residents exposed to noxious emissions because of anti-road building policies. There is no decent south circular route. A handful of large tunnelled highways would reduce this exposure, reduce emissions and congestion.

So we will wait and see what, if any, positive results come from the Low Emission Zone. Meanwhile, this will increase the costs of doing business in London, and I doubt there will be any measurable impact

Taxing migrants?

The Daily Telegraph reports that the UK is considering a levy on new migrants – to pay for the substandard NHS and public education systems. This ignores the elephant in the room. The problem isn't migrants, it is how health and education is funded and how demand for the services is rationed. The model of centrally planned bureaucracy keeps failing, so why keep using it because it seems too damned hard to fix it?

Here’s an idea, it can be applied to the UK, or NZ or indeed many countries....

New migrants don’t pay income tax (or national insurance in the UK), for three years (well they can if they want, but they don't get anything more for it). After that they can choose to do so, and avail themselves of the state provided “services” or continue to opt out. Indirect taxes such as VAT/GST are adequate to cover law and order, defence and other state functions.

In exchange for not paying income tax, new migrants have no claim on the public health system or education system and would be charged on a marginal cost recovery basis with a contribution to fixed costs. New migrants could also not claim taxpayer funding housing or welfare benefits. The years they spend not paying income tax also wont count for old age pensions/national superannuation.

In short, they pay for what they consume and what their families consume. Yes some bits and pieces would need ironing out, you can’t not pay income tax and then pay only the years your kids need an education. You’d need to pay from when they are born. You can’t opt out of income tax and expect to still get access to the state social services at all, it’s like insurance, you opt out and stay opted out.
However, if the state supplied socialised health, education and welfare services appeal, then migrants can pay income tax.

Unfair? How? It stops existing citizens from subsidising new ones through taxes, means the tiresome argument about “paying for infrastructure” is up to the new migrants to pay for, and suddenly the type of migrants you get might actually be those willing to be self sufficient.

In the UK this couldn’t apply to people from EU countries of course, sadly, but it can apply more generally. Of course NZ could apply it across the board, and you’d find out how many people really think they get value for money out of their taxes. You’d also find it a lot easier to recruit overseas doctors and the like.

Socialists will huff and puff that this will benefit their great nemesis - the rich (snarling jaws dripping with envy). Rich migrants of course, bringing their wealth into the country, spending their money. Socialists don’t want to argue that their beloved taxpayer funded social services are always going to be inadequate because they have few mechanisms for accountability, cost control, rewarding good performance and behaviour and penalising bad.

Most socialists show little interest in having a transparent debate about how much of taxes should be about paying for what you use, and how much is about compulsorily paying for other people.

Now that is an honest debate I’d like to have.

20 February 2008

Wellingtonians: submissions on Ngauranga to Airport study

I blogged briefly about this some time ago, but since a couple of Wellington based blogs have made some comments, such as Eye of the Fish (which tends to be a little anti-road building) and Poneke, I thought I'd make some comments from a free market, economic rationalist perspective.
The Ngauranga to Airport study is a transport corridor study lead by Transit New Zealand including the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington City Council, and it is about planning how the corridor/s from the junctions of State Highways 1 and 2 through to Wellington airport should be developed over the next 10 to 15 years. Submissions close at 5pm NZDST on 22 February.
My view is somewhat radical. I believe the road corridor is grossly inadequate and needs upgrading, with a second Terrace Tunnel, second Mt Victoria Tunnel and four lanes completed to Kilbirnie. I also believe Wellington needs a proper bypass between Mt Victoria and the Terrace Tunnel - covered trench, and that all of this can be paid for by peak time tolls for traffic entering the CBD. These tolls would reduce congestion significantly, encourage use of public transport, walking and cycling, and so greatly improve the flow of trucks, buses, taxis and cars - because the streets would no longer be run on the socialist principle of queuing, but rather the free market principle of price. With a large underground bypass linking the airport to the western and northern suburbs, and Porirua and the Hutt Valley, around a third of the traffic in Te Aro would be gone, as would the traffic along the waterfront. Friends of the Green Party view of less traffic might contemplate that, and visit Oslo to see what good toll funded bypass roads can do to the ambience of a city.
Public transport itself doesn't need special treatment. Light rail is popular, not least because some Wellingtonians, well travelled as they are, have seen trams in Melbourne, continental Europe and the like and "think they are cool", forgetting the enormous cost of triplicating infrastructure in putting them back in. Light rail needs tracks and overhead wires, that can't be used by other modes, but also simply can't serve the variety of locations of buses. Most importantly, the variety of origins and destinations for people bypassing downtown Wellington are such that high density public transport can't meet their needs. The efficient and profitable Flyer bus between the airport and the Hutt is a reasonable compromise that doesn't need others to pay for it.
In the meantime before tolling is introduced, bus lanes (also for trucks and taxis mind you) can be used to better allocate road space, and bus companies should be allowed to innovate more.
The study should allow for a innovative approach to transport along this critical corridor. It is quite a good report so far, with some decent tradeoffs to be made.
Wellington is vibrant, but is cauterised by a half finished motorway - still - depositing heavy volumes of traffic through its back door and along the waterfront. It's time to finish it and fund that and run the capital's roads on market principles - and see the difference. Oslo has.
UPDATE: A friend notes "The Chamber of Commerce had cute young blonde things in high-vis gear standing at traffic lights around the Basin last night handing out pro-forma submissions to the WRC on the Ngauranga to Airport study that's going on at the moment" Indeed it did. The Chamber of Commerce in fact takes a sensible approach on this.

George Galloway blames Cuban human rights abuses on the US

George Galloway, Marxist mate of dictators has just engaged on a vituperative tyrade against Channel 4 News blaming it for bias and propaganda. He claims that Cuba's lack of democracy, and its abuses of human rights are because of the US embargo. That's right it's "just like when Hitler was going to invade Britain".
How evil! Galloway was virtually spitting, enjoying his freedom to criticise independent media, enjoying his right of free speech, saying that Cuba would have all these freedoms "if only the US didn't impose an embargo". Oh really George? So the Soviet Union would have to "if only the US disarmed"? So what is the excuse for China? What is the excuse for North Korea? Why do the majority of states in the world have some degree of political freedom and liberal democracy?
Galloway is a tired old communist, who likes to shake hands with those with blood on their hands. Hopefully at the next election this wannabe dictator will get the boot from the voters of his east London electorate, or maybe he should go live in Cuba and enjoy the wonders of socialism, especially since he happily denies Cubans the right to decide if they like it, since they can neither vote, protest or leave Cuba!
Galloway you arrogant prick, how dare you claim that the Cuban regime has the right to imprison its own citizens for protesting against it, or for wanting to leave - how fucking special you think you are!

How green is your bus?

I've posted before about the Green Party obsession with public transport being a "faith based initiative" that when you look a little closer, is not that rooted in reality.
Now according to the NZ Herald, Paul Minett of Trip Convergence Ltd, a company promoting carpooling, claims that three people travelling in a car can have a lower carbon footprint than if they travelled by bus, adding fuel to the call for the new expensive busway to be available to more vehicles. Now some of his claims involve double counting (e.g. the bus returning empty twice shouldn't be attributed to a single bus trip), but he is quite right that the claims about the low emissions of public transport over private motoring aren't as clear cut as the simple Jeanette Fitzsimons view of "bus good, car baaad".
The government's own Surface Transport Costs and Charges study indicated that, per person, the environmental costs of buses were double that of cars in the Auckland peak period (Table 3.4A of main report). Per vehicle a bus produces 18 times the environmental impact per kilometre than a car, which tells you how many people the bus has to carry on average to be even with a car. Think about how often you see buses running with less than that number. More importantly, traffic congestion increases the environmental impact of a bus or car in the peak period in Auckland by over 200%, so that is the real enemy costing time and fuel. Yes buses are getting cleaner and greener, but then so are cars.
So how about opening up the Northern Busway to other vehicles, with an appropriately high toll to keep it at a free flow? The other vehicles using it would save time and fuel, and there would be a few less on the parallel motorway. Oh and yes I know Transit's argument about not doing that until the Victoria Park widening project is completed - which in itself is a good reason to seriously consider tolls on the Harbour bridge and its immediate approaches to fund it.

Wellington International Airport's rock?

OK, so what the hell is THIS all about? It's creative yes but attractive? It's the design for the expansion of Wellington airport's international terminal wing (note the ambitiously hopeful thought that Singapore Airlines might decide to service Wellington, hmmm).
On the outside it looks out of place, bizarre even, on the inside it looks like you're sitting in a cave. Yes I know there is a desire to make an impact, and most airport terminals are "the same", but hold on a second. The main impact I get is "it's not like an airport, but I could get lost inside this".
At one point the worst thing about Wellington airport was the old Air NZ domestic terminal, which is now long gone with the new terminal which is reasonably functional and quite pleasant to use. There is a need to expand some capacity at the international wing, mainly because typically 3 or 4 flights arrive and depart within three slots of an early AM peak, mid afternoon and late evening. However, I don't know if this design is quite right. Nevertheless it will make the airport environment less clinical and if it provide enough space for three times the expected passengers it WILL be comfortable. You see the best airports are the ones that don't seem packed, but can take you, with room for your bags, and a friend to spread out, and let you know when you need to know, when to board. It's nice to have that without lounge access! I'm unsure if this design makes it easy to use, imagine running to a flight through this, you don't have a clear sight to a gate and where to go, and what to avoid. Interesting to see what views others have, especially Not PC.

Hope for Cuba?

"Eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections, and I mean free and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy,"
I would hope those of the liberal left might actually agree with Bush, for once. Just on that point, go on, show you DO actually believe in liberal democracy. After all according to Cuba's official mouthpiece "45 years have passed and the overwhelming majority of Cubans remain unyielding in their support of the Revolution and the undisputed and reinvigorated leadership of Fidel Castro” so why fear elections and free speech?
The so called "genocidal war" of the economic embargo might end then, although I would have thought the embargo, as an anti-globalisation measure, should be welcomed by socialists. Why would they want to trade with the great capitalist enemy?
Meanwhile, the truth of Cuban socialism is, like that of almost all dictatorships, opulence for the rulers. Castro's life of luxury is reported in the Daily Telegraph, as evidence from videotapes smuggled out by an ex.girlfriend of one of Castro's sons shows:
"The series, titled The Secret life of Fidel Castro, depicts his main residential compound, Punto Cero, or Point Zero, in western Havana. Monday's episode showed Mr Castro dressed casually before a banquet, inspecting the elaborate dinnerware on the dinner table, his grandchildren playing with relatives and Antonio zooming along the patio on an electric scooter. It pictures the spacious compound and carefully landscaped garden and reveals that many of the family are wearing designer clothes. The house is decorated with wooden chests and Cuban handicrafts. A large-screen television monitors foreign news channels."
Of course it is neither here nor there for Castro's sycophants that he has what he denies fellow Cubans - access to free media.
So who are his sycophants?
Top of my list is London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, great friend of Cuban authoritarian one party rule. Ken Livingstone loves Castro.
However add to that list George Galloway (mate of dictators far and wide), Naomi Campbell (brainless without beauty), Steven Spielberg (though he isn't keen on Castro's mates in Beijing), Oliver Stone (why doesn't he move there?) and Diego Maradona (he has a tattoo of the thug).
So what might Cubans hope for?
Access to the internet, since it has been illegal since 2004 for private citizens to access it.
Mobile phones or computers, since it is illegal to own those without government permission (which is not common).
Red Cross access to prisons, which Cuba denies.
The end to imprisonment for "likelihood of committing a crime".
The end to imprisonment of journalists for criticising the regime.
Freedom of movement (the right to leave Cuba).
Let's hope 2008 is the year all of the above is granted to Cubans.

19 February 2008

Fidel Castro resigns

Good for Cuba, perhaps. Like some other authoritarian criminal states (Syria, North Korea), the principle for power is nepotism - something that the sycophants of Cuba, like Ken Livingstone and Matt Robson, might reflect on.
I hoped he'd die before an orderly transition of power, but it is difficult to tell whether his brother will make radical reforms - opening up a system of oppression to free speech, and allow people to get on with their lives without the state crushing them. Raul has a few months to prove himself.
You might read how Cuba treats political dissidents to see how good to the people it is, and you might look twice at its official health statistics on child mortality and life expectancy - given that authoritarian regimes are not very reliable on telling the truth.
Let's hope Raul opens up the mental hospitals and prisons to the political prisoners, allows a free press and radio, and starts granting Cubans individual rights. He might start finding that if he holds free and fair elections, US sanctions would evaporate.
However, somehow, I don't think many of Cuba's supporters really want that.

So I own a bank, well..

My taxes get to pay for the losses and guarantee the operation of the bank, but I don't get a dividend if it makes a profit (there is no hope in hell that Labour would cut the top tax rate). Worse of all, if it keeps losing money, I keep having to pay for it, but I can't sell my "shares" in it.
I don't even use it.
Should Northern Rock been allowed to fail? Well, sad to say for all of those with accounts in the bank - yes. Your investment in Northern Rock is not a risk I should have to bear. I don't expect you to bear my risk in spreading my money among four different banks, people with shares don't expect everyone else to cover the loss of any capital value.
Yes the government guarantee of deposits was the start, the start of the state bearing the losses, the state being the bank of last resort. Now the nationalisation is more like being put in administration, which is pretty much what would have happened anyway - although it may have been a little more brutal for depositors.
It might not all be bad, according to the Daily Telegraph the UK government may yet make money out of it but...
"Now that the company is part of the public sector this profit, which will come from selling off its mortgage book, could help improve the public finances, reducing the need for future tax increases. However, in order for the bank to turn in a profit, it will have to be managed well. This means jobs will have to be cut, and the homes of those Rock customers who can't keep up their repayments will have to be repossessed. To the horror of Whitehall, it is now faced with the prospect of doing all this dirty work itself. Taxpayers must hope it has the stomach to do so."
Indeed, I can only hope that it does. A nationalised bank that acts commercially, hmmm. According to Shadow Chancellor George Osborne addressing the Chancellor of the Exchequer:
"You are introducing unprecedented, sweeping, draconian powers that will let you nationalise any other bank or deposit-taking institution in Britain by ministerial fiat. That is something not even Michael Foot dreamt of and it will create further uncertainly in financial markets and do further damage to Britain's reputation"
That in itself is disturbing, and perhaps the only thing saving the reputation is the impression that Gordon Brown himself is really behind this, and he is no Michael Foot. I can only hope the damned thing can be privatised and the relevant legislation repealed.

Islamism: The first enemy in the battle of values

As I said in a post in January, I am posting a series on what I see as being the great battles of values in modern civilisation. This post discusses what I see as being the nearest immediate threat to Western liberal democracy and individual freedoms. Islamism, also known as Islamo-fascism.
Islamism is the most pernicious example today of integrating religion, which is a personal choice, with the state and law. It is pernicious not only because it reflects a vision of religion, the state and individuals that was apparent in the dark ages, but because those advancing it are waging war. They are willing to kill to advance their bleak vision of the world.
Islamism places the worship of a faith at the centre of laws that govern behaviour between individuals, not reason. That in itself is a cause for concern, as it is for those of other faiths, Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism and Christianity all have plenty of followers ready to integrate church and state. However, whilst all that do so take a malignant view of individual freedom and reason, Islamism is a particular concern for several reasons:
1. Islamists have deliberately waged war against secularism and against Western civilisation. There is a long litany of attacks. It is deceptive to dismiss these as reflecting a desire to resolve the Palestianian question, or to keep US troops out of Islamic holy lands. Those who advocate Islamist terror have a far more malignant agenda, of a global caliphate. Islamists are a clear and immediate danger, that can be seen not only in the Middle East, but also in the USA, UK, France, Spain, Indonesia, Africa and elsewhere.
2. Islamists worship death and glorify sacrifice, and often actively target civilians regardless of race, belief, age or sex. Their philosophy is the complete antithesis of life, the pursuit of happiness, individual freedom and diversity. Some seek to ban music, glorify explicit violence and horror, and revel in those who die for their religion.
3. Islamists are profoundly sexist and racist. Their anti-semitism rivals that of the Nazis, and goes beyond concern for the Palestinian question. Their sexism is renowned, from seeking to ban education of girls, to treating women as subservient and almost evil seductive creatures that divert men from their duties of running the world. They insult both men and women in their sexist generalisations that treat sex and human relations as a joyless necessity that needs planning by old judgmental men, not a celebration of people with common values, shared experiences and affection/love for each other. Islamist states treat women as second class at best, and virtually slaves at worst.
4. Islamists are totalitarian in their attitudes. They are intolerant to the point of calling for murder of those they disagree with and who offend them. Their solutions to being insulted, or those disagreeing with them is to use threats of force or actual force. Their suppression of debate cripples those under their rule and cripples humanity. This is an attitude of brutal savages. By contrast, they do not think twice about adopting the most vile terminology to describe those who they are bigoted against.
Islamists are well funded, highly motivated, have states that actively back or shelter them, and have proven their willingness to kill for their political objectives.
One simply has to look at those states which exemplify Islamism to see how governments treat their citizens, or indeed how citizens are permitted by the state to treat each other. The Taliban banned girls over the age of eight from getting an education and would execute any (and their teachers) who sought it. It banned music, women playing sports, flying kites, stuffed animals, photographs of people or animals. Think how much of a joyless bully you have to be to ban all that.
Let me make it perfectly clear, there is a difference between being Muslim per se, and being an Islamist. Being a Muslim is a private personal choice (or should be), and practicing the religion in one’s private affairs, subject to the non-initiation of force principle, is not my concern. It is the application of Islam upon the state, advocacy of a singularity between the state and Islam, and the particularly violent means that Islamists use to advocate their view. The first battle is against violent Islamists, but Islamism itself is at the root of this. Only when Islam is considered a religion, and not a blueprint for the role of the state will there be the tolerance and acceptance that so many Muslims seek. Humanity has gone a long way to have secular tolerant liberal democracies where people can feel free to choose religion or no religion, without violence or threat of violence or discrimination by the state. Islamists seek to destroy this. For the sake of civilisation, peace, human rights and the future of humanity, Islamism must be fought until it is no longer a violent threat, and then must be debated vigorously until this philosophy of death, misery and irrationality resides in the past.

Kosovo independent: an all too easy solution?

The Serbian province of Kosovo has declared independence, a move that for Kosovo Albanians is "freedom", but for Kosovo Serbs is not welcomed. The US and the UK have declared they will recognise an independent Kosovo, but is the solution to what is essentially conflict based on national identity division? The EU is putting a lot into it, with 2000 troops being sent in, but more importantly Kosovo laws will be subservient to EU supervision. Yes, you read that right. Kosovo will essentially be an EU protectorate for the indefinite future. The EU chief representative will have veto powers over Kosovo government decisions and the right to fire officials obstructing relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
So this is quite something different from what has happened with all other declarations of independence, it is more a declaration that power has moved to Brussels, for now.
Kosovo’s independence is different from that of the former Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro, not least because it never was one. It follows many years of repression of the Kosovo Albanian majority, an oppression that was more severe after the erosion of communist rule, when the cancer of nationalism replaced Titoist Marxism as the blight on freedom and individual rights in Yugoslavia.
It is partially dismembering Serbia, partly to punish Serbia for its long racist fascist politics that succeeded Titoism, but more importantly to protect the Kosovo Albanians. Instead of being a minority in Serbia, they will be the majority in Kosovo.
This is not the place to go into the Serbian/Albanian conflict over Kosovo, lest to say that the Serb nationalist bullies like Slobodan Milosevic who pined for Serbia’s “golden age” of being defeated in Kosovo since 1389 (yes only nationalist Serbs understand). The vile bigotry of Milosevic’s nationalism saw the Albanian language banned and cooked up fears that Albanians were harassing Serbs, which clearly would justify Serbs harassing Albanians. The conflict over Kosovo was not as bloody as Bosnia-Hercegovina, but it did involve slaughter. Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo by and large despise each other in a mutual lack of trust. The Albanians remember the repression and fascism of Milosevic and the fascist Serbian authorities, the Serbs fear the Albanian majority’s own hatred towards them, and see Kosovo as being part of Serbia, which until today it has been.
So why is Kosovo a big deal? Shouldn’t it become independent because the majority want it?
Unlike the US and the EU I don’t believe the answer is yes.
The philosophy that says Kosovo Albanians should be independent could also be applied to Serbs in Bosnia, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russians in Abhazia, Basques in Spain etc. It is the notion that ethnic identity should determine statehood. The problem with this idea of course is that the psychological state of ethnic identity (which, by and large is all ethnicity it. It is in the mind), isn’t shared by those for whom boundaries are drawn around.
More importantly, this is exactly what has been the problem in what was Yugoslavia – the notion that people shouldn’t live together with different ethnic identities. The scourge is NOT Serbs, it is the scourge of nationalism. That is what the EU, US and the UN should be confronting. It is not confronted by bowing to Kosovo Albanian nationalism.
The butchers who rounded up Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, marched them out of town and shot them – the butchers who went from house to house in the Krajina and rounded up Serbs to remove them from “Croatian land”. All expounded the philosophy that people could not be treated as individuals, but be treated as part of a group. Either you were one of us or a member of the "other". It's what collectivists do, you hear the same philosophy from them all.
In Kosovo it has been the same, and now it will be Kosovan Serbs who will be the other, in a small rump state with desperate economic prospects.
Carving up Serbia sends a message that countries should exist according to the philosophy that Serb nationalists have been fighting for since the early 1990s, except this time the Serbs lost and the Albanians won. The Serbs wont forget, sadly.
You see Serbia offered full autonomy, and could have also had a peacekeeping presence so that Kosovo autonomy could have worked. Serbia could have had a chance to experience tolerance, individualism and freedom first hand, even if it involved a continued heavy peacekeeping presence in the province. However, now it has simply been punished, and the EU and the US will pay for Kosovo to be rebuilt as a rump state, and Serbs in Kosovo will live in fear.
Russia has said it will take action if Kosovo becomes independent. Hardly surprising, as it has many scores it can settle, in Georgia and Moldova for starters. Will the West intervene if Russia attacks Georgia to apply the same rule to its ethnic majority areas? Would it be a surprise if Putin decides he can flex his muscles on his borders without provoking a serious response?
No. Because the philosophy of nationalism has created rivers of blood for generations.
I note Helen Clark has stated a "neither confirm nor deny" approach to recognising Kosovo's independence, although Australia will recognise it. I suspect this is simply part of the MFAT philosophy that rejects "recognition" of states formally, but it is the wrong approach. Clark claims "It's never been the New Zealand Government's position to recognise in such circumstances." Um East Timor?
Either there is a principled stance against independence or in favour of it. My call is that, sadly, independence has to be formally recognised. Either New Zealand will treat Kosovo as part of Serbia or not, and to not recognise what will be fact (no rule from Serbia), is of little effect.

15 February 2008

Tariana Turia's tribalist bigotry

According to the NZ Herald Maori Party MP Tariana Turia thinks all Maori deserve an apology. What for Tariana? What did I ever do to you?
She, no doubt like many, thinks that Rudd's apology is actually about everyone individually apologising to all Aborigines, rather than what it SHOULD be, which is the Australian federal government apologising to specific victims of its own policies.
Sorry Tariana, there is no collective guilt by people against another people. All Maori are not victims. If Maori want to sue the state for any wrongdoing by it against them individually then they should feel free to do so. However, I think that many New Zealanders could claim the same. The ones let down by socialised medicine, statist education, the non-inheritable superannuation scheme, the miserly socialist ACC scheme, the limp wristed law and order system, the mixed performance Police force, NaZis on Air jackbooted bullying of the past, criminalisation of people committing victimless crimes etc etc. The government could apologise for not delivering what was promised with the money collected by force from the public, and for its coercion against people's lives.
That I'd like to see.
Your ancestry doesn't make you special. You should be judged by what you do and your character, and both are sadly lacking. It has nothing to do with your identified Maori ancestry - that is irrelevant. It is that you're a mystic worshipping socialist nationalist statist, and you and your party perpetuate division, racial judgment and victimhood.

Obama's economic backwardness

So Obama has got an economic policy. Well I'm not impressed, it is a leftwing programme. It will hurt New Zealand, and will hurt the economic growth of the USA. It is beholden to protectionism of industry and unions, and indicates that when Obama says the word change he really means to "turn the clock back". Obama is about going to the tired old solutions of the 1960s and 1970s of spending money on pet projects, instead of setting people free to innovate with their own money.
Here are some of his policies:
Fair trade: Yes a favourite of environmentalists, the Green Party and others. Fair trade is a euphemism for tariffs, quotas and bans of imports, because after all who decides what is "fair"? He wants to spread "good labor and environmental standards", which presumably means pricing businesses out of developing countries, but also doesn't mean spreading private property rights which COULD address environmental standards. Perhaps he means paying more for commodities than the market price, increasing their overproduction. All that is clear is that he doesn't believe that people should be able to exchange goods and services freely.
Subsidise inefficient industries: He wants to prop up the US automotive industry to make fuel efficient vehicles in the USA, he wants to "invest in America's highly-skilled manufacturing workforce and manufacturing centers", invest with money taken from businesses and individuals through taxes. How does he know best how to "invest" money taken from others? Back to the tired old policies of the 1970s.
Create jobs through destroying other ones: He goes on about creating jobs, mainly by using money taken from businesses and individuals through taxes that THEY could have created jobs through their own investment and consumption. It is sleight of hand and old fashioned childlike socialist economics. Policies like "create a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that will require 25 percent of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025" could cost the USA a fortune, diverting investment on cheaper energy into more expensive options, reducing the competitiveness of businesses either through utility fees or taxes. It is easy to point to jobs socialists create, but harder to point to the many they destroy by eating away at spending of others. He will "will invest in rural small businesses" I only wish he would do it with his own money, why take it from others?
Price more unskilled jobs out of the market: He does this by wanting to "raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs". Tiring indeed, and he wonders why unskilled manufacturing jobs move south.
On top of that he wants to regulate and subsidise housing lending, and heavily regulate credit cards and the like, because he thinks Americans are too stupid to look after themselves.

Do you want "real change" which is about going back to big government knows best?