26 February 2010

US turns back on UK over Falklands

The Falkland Islands have a mixed history of differing claims to sovereignty. The French first established a colony there in 1764, the British established one on another part of the islands in 1765. France and Spain were in Alliance, so France handed over its colony to Spain in 1767. This effectively put it under the same colonial administration as Argentina.

Spain attacked the British colony bringing the two countries on the brink of war, which was settled by Spain capitulating and letting the British settlement be re-established. However, Britain abandoned the Falklands in 1776 leaving it all to Spain (although also leaving a plaque asserting British sovereignty). Spain similarly abandoned the islands in 1811, also leaving a plaque. From this point on for some years, the Falklands ended up being under no effective control, but being a harbour for various fishing, whaling and other vessels.

Argentina gained independence in 1816, and in 1820 had sailed to the islands and asserted sovereignty over them. Between then and 1833, merchant Luis Vernet sought permission to settle there from both the Argentines and the British. He received assurances, and the Argentines appointed him Governor in 1829, to British (and US) protest. However, by 1833 Britain had re-established itself on the islands and ordered the Argentines to leave, which they did. A British colony was established and has remained relatively undisturbed, notwithstanding the more recent Falklands War.

Argentina claims it was first, as it inherited the French then Spanish settlements, and was forcibly ejected from the Falklands. The UK claims that it has a parallel claim, that the Spanish abandoned the Falklands (like the British did), and there was no indigenous or Spanish/Argentine colony established before the British colony. Moreover most of the current population opposes Argentine sovereignty.

In essence, for all of the debate the population of the Falklands do not want to be governed from Buenos Aires. Arising from this are claims to exploit the Exclusive Economic Zone around the Falklands for energy exploration. The beleagured Argentine government is seeking to distract attention from its own economic mismanagement by confronting the UK over this.

The Obama Administration's response? Neutrality.

According to the Times ""The Obama Administration “is trying to split the difference as much as it can because it knows that coming round to the British position would again create a lot of ill will in the region"

The leftwing Argentine government, beleagured by high inflation, is challenging British attempts to take advantage of the UK EEZ as it surrounds the Falklands.

Argentina's claim will no doubt have the backing of the cabal of socialists that now run many Latin American countries, none of whom give a damn that most Falkland Islanders want to remain British.

The bigger point is that the "special relationship" is over. The Obama Administration is reverting to the form REJECTED by Ronald Reagan, the realpolitik preferred by the State Department.

Who will know if John McCain would have done the same, would George Bush have just thumbed his nose at Britain given its close support in Afghanistan and Iraq?

One thing IS sure, from the DVD set gifted to Gordon Brown to this, there can be no question that the Obama Administration doesn't think the UK deserves consideration beyond that of just another friendly country - like Argentina, France or South Africa.

French sexualise smoking some more

The Independent reports on the scandal in France of anti-smoking ads.

It was designed to make smoking look bad.

What it does is make it look like a sexual act of submission. It implies that smoking is like giving fellatio, which isn't exactly an uncommon act among teenagers.

In other words, it has linked it to a taboo that is likely to make it even MORE appealing.

The images (ones including men are here) could spark mimicking, so that a girl smoking might be seen as teasing sexually - imagery that I'd have thought would be exactly the opposite of what was the goal.

25 February 2010

Stuff stuffs up

This article has the wrong title and the first two paragraphs are wrong.

The proposed Transmission Gully motorway does not pass through the Kapiti Coast, it ends there.

The petition from Alliance for Sustainable Kapiti is not about Transmission Gully, it is about the Paraparaumu-Waikanae bypass.

AAP and Stuff need to print a retraction. However, they are no more stupid than Sue Kedgley, who makes the same mistake in a speech in Kapiti.

$60 a year for Radio NZ listeners to pay

Brian Rudman unsurprisingly loves Radio NZ, an outlet for the statist world view that he shares, that argues about what government should do, rather than what it shouldn't do.

He claims imposing a funding freeze is "bullying", but can't for the life of him figure out that making everyone pay for a station most don't listen to ISN'T bullying. "I like Radio NZ, I am happy to pay for it, but only if I make you pay for it too" is rather distasteful.

He throws up some strawmen, like the Ministry of Culture and Heritage commissioned study by KPMG that said Radio NZ was underfunded. Hardly surprising, since the report was part of the Ministry's wider strategy to get more state funding for its remit. Consultants can be adept at giving clients reports that tell them what they want.

The UNITEC study for the Ministry (PDF) was another strawman. Setting aside the minor mistakes throughout (like calling South Korea - "Democratic Republic"), the figures quoted on per capita spending on public broadcasting are seriously flawed. The report itself admits the figures for each country used are from different years. All of the figures are converted from local currencies into US$, with no transparency about the exchange rates. Moreover, the per capita spending is not on a Purchasing Power Parity basis. In shorthand that means the report thinks £10 buys the same in London as it does in Wellington, which is nonsense. The figures make New Zealand look cheap and nasty when that isn't the truth. The report is also full of ridiculous statements like:

there is much evidence of market failure insofar as a purely commercial model of broadcasting tends to overlook the needs of commercially unattractive segments of the audience (such as ethnic minorities),

although the US is full of minority language radio stations all commercially run.

It also has a distinctly anti-commercial broadcasting bias:

"That is certainly not to say that commercial broadcasters can never produce high quality content, but where they do so on a consistent basis there are usually factors other than market forces and commercial revenue at work.”

The word "quality" is in the eye of the beholder of course, but this sort of statement is absurd. It is like saying that without state funded books, newspapers, websites, art or music, there wouldn't be any "quality".

However, it is when Brian talks about the small cost of Radio NZ that he actually makes a point that Radio NZ supporters are closing their ears to.

He says "Of all our state-funded cultural institutions, Radio New Zealand is probably the most vital of all. It's the town hall of a community of 4.35 million people, widely dispersed from North Cape to Stewart Island.

No Brian, it is 650,000 people, given only 15% of radio listeners tune in to RNZ stations.

Then he says "It costs under $9 per person a year to run. For that small outlay we provide ourselves the only venue to hear extended and serious discussions on politics, the arts, medicine, lifestyle - you name it. We also provide for ourselves a newsroom with valuable competition for the two or three big metropolitan papers."

Well if you leave out those who don't listen, then you mean $60 per person a year. Not a lot of money is it?

So go on Brian, cough up, ask Radio NZ supporters to cough up. Stop wanting non-listening taxpayers to fund what YOU like, indeed if it is so valuable you should be jumping at the chance.

Does it just speak volumes about the hypocrisy of those who say how "valuable" it is, how much "we" should appreciate it, that THEY wont spend a dollar of their own cash to help out?

THAT Ladies and Gentleman is the difference between those who are statists and those who are libertarians. Those that think something is good, and want everyone else to pay for it, and those who think if you like something, YOU should pay for it.

I like reading the Economist and the Spectator, will you pay for my subscriptions? If not, why the hell is it any different?

UPDATE: Facebook now has a group OPPOSED to further state funding of Radio NZ.

NZ home insulation foolishness tells a lot about attitudes

Following on from the Australian catastrophe in subsidising home owners who can't be bothered paying for their own energy bill savings, there is now the consequences of the New Zealand scheme. However, what it says about the general public speaks volumes about the trust they have in the state, trust that anyone who has spent time working with the bureaucracy knows is misplaced.

The New Zealand Herald reports that many insulation installers are upset that:

"the government subsidies are allowing competitors to hike their prices and still undercut them using taxpayers' money.

They say customers are avoiding them because they see government approval to offer subsidies of up to $1300 for insulation and $500 for energy-efficient heating as a "badge of quality".

Of 249 companies wanting to join the $347 million scheme for the next four years, 60 were chosen based on factors including geographical coverage, financial stability and their ability to carry out self-audits.

So in other words, 60 firms are suckling off the state tit, whereas the rest are out in the cold, helping to PAY for their competition to undercut them.

It speaks volumes that the EECA subsidy is seen to be a guarantee of quality, the same stupid mistake Australians made thinking government approved installers were somehow a higher standard. Seriously, do people think bureaucrats exist that check the quality and standards of insulation installers? Do people think that if a state approved installer does work for them that they have a greater degree of sanction if it turns out to be poor quality?

The notion of this is ridiculous. I've known literally hundreds of bureaucrats, most of whom know the limits of their competence. There simply are NOT people out there able to check this sort of thing. Yet people believe the state is somehow benevolent and offers some sort of reassurance.

Now I oppose the fundamentals of the scheme. Yes it might save energy bills, but that is a private good. Those with insulation shouldn't pay for those without to save money. Yes it might improve health of some, but when are people meant to take responsibility for the cold and damp in their homes?

The political reaction to this is predictable. Energy Minister Gerry Brownlie effectively endorsed the idea that the scheme ensures a "tight control" on quality of work, although it isn't clear quite how that quality is being ensured. This contradicts EECA claims that just because some aren't part of the subsidy scheme does not mean their work is poor quality. So is Brownlee just knifing those who don't get taxpayers money to run their business?

Labour spokesman Chris Hipkins thinks the subsidy should be offered to everyone, doing a Peter Garrett.

You see a better response is this:

- Stop the subsidy scheme;
- Tell homeowners that if they want to make energy savings, they should buy their own insulation and use recommendations, word of mouth and other means to explore the market to find good installers and suppliers;
- Tell homeowners who already have insulation that it is unfair to tax those who already have insulated their homes to subsidise those who haven't;
- Used the savings to cut the budget deficit, working towards tax cuts WITHOUT countervailing new taxes. Hiking GST wont help people pay for insulation.

After all, if people paid less taxes they would have more money to spend on discretionary expenditure, and if would rather pay higher heating bills than insulation, why should nanny state save them?

UPDATE: Not PC also has a recommendation of a GOOD installer. A recommendation I'd trust over any government "endorsement" that apparently isn't one.

24 February 2010

How can he sleep when the roofs are burning

Who couldn't see this coming?

Peter Garrett, former singer for band Midnight Oil, former member of the far-left Nuclear Disarmament Party, now committed Christian, family man and Australian Labor Party MP for Kingsford Smith, New South Wales and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts in Australia, has presided over one of the most monumental disasters in recent Australian Federal Government history.

The blame, of course, is not just his. There is a line of bureaurats who should be rendered unemployable as well, but the story is one of how much government can screw up with other people's money.

It started with a package that may sound familiar. A plan to use taxpayers' money to subsidise the insulation of homes of those who couldn't be arsed paying for it themselves. Garrett proudly launched the plan in June 2009 with this press release saying "From today, householders can start shopping around and working out which registered installer and type of insulation is right for them"

In essence, the taxpayer would be forced to pay the value of insulating a home up to A$1,600, and a whole series of government approved installers were appointed to undertake the scheme.

In addition:

"As well as the ceiling insulation offer for homeowners, there is also insulation assistance of up to $1,000 available for renters and landlords. It is expected around 2.9 million households Australia-wide will benefit from these insulation offers.

The Energy Efficient Homes Package also provides a rebate of $1,600 to help eligible home-owners, landlords or tenants replace their electric storage hot water systems with solar or heat pump hot water systems."

The motivation was to "create jobs" (by taking money out of the hands of some and handing it to the insulation industry) and to contribute to Australia's climate change objectives.

The cost was estimated at A$4 billion, so we are talking A$200 per Australian!

The result?

The Australian reports around a million homes have been insulated, of which 160,000 have apparently "shoddy ceiling batts", 80,000 homes have "potentially dangerous insulation", 1,000 roofs have been "electrified", 93 houses have caught fire and 4 deaths have resulted.

Despite extensive questioning, the Australian Federal Government doesn't know which homes are at risk, how it is going to undertake a risk assessment or how it will fix it.

The scheme has been terminated as of last Friday.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports Aussie PM Kevin Rudd has taken ultimate responsibility, indicating Garrett wont be a sacrificial lamb. Interesting given it is election year in Australia.

Why should all this happen?

Well the incentives were all wrong.

For starters, those who take other people's money don't take the same care with it as those whose it was the first place. Those who set up this scheme knew none of them would ever have any financial responsibility for the failure.

Secondly, those who installed the insulation and the hot water systems also knew it was a case of install, then claim. They knew their work wouldn't be inspected, the customer wasn't THAT careful since it was being installed for free and if there was a need to take a short-cut, they would still be paid.

Thirdly, the home owners whose homes are affected, having no financial relationship with the installer, had little leverage after the fact.

The bottom line is that if home owners get a financial advantage from insulation and improving heating/air conditioning systems, they can make the judgment themselves about spending money on it. Why all taxpayers, including those who already spent their money on such improvements, and those who don't own homes, should subsidise those who don't, is astonishing.

It is the sort of collective groupspeak that claims "we will save" a fortune if everyone does it that blinds public policy to what is simply a matter of private benefit. I save nothing if my neighbour saves money on heating or air conditioning, it is of no benefit to me. If I asked my neighbour to help me pay for insulation because it would save my power bills, and might even save costs of health care, the neighbour would rightfully tell me to leave, politely.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the result is that the insulation industry is in crisis. This, of course, serves them right for trusting government and wanting to benefit off the back of taxpayers rather than customers.

"Several companies have been running their factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months, creating a huge glut of batts that are now largely unwanted in the wake of the rebate scheme being axed"

Tough, when you deal with politicians then sometimes you pay the price. Taxpayers had no choice to pay for you being a party to this filthy little arrangement, now you pay. You no longer have nanny state to pay your bills, and you've screwed things up so badly that domestic private consumers don't want to touch it. How sad, but now an opportunity for NZ installers to source some cheap stock?

"Fletcher Insulation makes about 40 per cent of Australia's insulation, and managing director David Isaacs said he expected 8000 jobs to be lost from the industry."

Nice own goal there for both the industry and the government. Nice job creator Labor. Sad for those losing their jobs, but how many of them thought the Labor Party would look after them?

How many will still, like sheeple, tick Labor this year?

23 February 2010

Herald misses point on Radio NZ

The NZ Herald editorial makes this statement:

"The quality of Radio NZ's service will be compromised for a minor monetary gain at a time when the broadcaster says audiences are at an all-time high"

Nonsense. If you are worried about the quality of Radio NZ's service (a subjective measure, but I'll leave it to you), then you CAN do something about it.

Donate money to Radio NZ.

Not used to paying for things you like? You should be. It's what you do if you subscribe to Sky TV, or buy books and magazines, go to the movies etc. Why is this any different?

Stop wanting to bludge off of other taxpayers for your own personal choice. If audiences are at an all time high then great. You too can set up a campaign to support Radio NZ.

Seems a bit hard? Well you might learn something. Businesses don't (typically) get handouts to start up, neither do charities.

Or would you rather spend your money on dessert, a bottle of wine, a holiday, some CDs you like? Because when it comes down to it, you only care enough about Radio NZ to lobby the state to make others pay for it.

22 February 2010

The triumph of mediocrity over aspiration

Although I did not vote for National, or any of the parties keeping the National led government in power, I did have some optimism that there would be a positive change. I knew it would barely be a fraction of what I wanted, and that it would be overlaid with the sort of folksy platitudes that patronise the vast majority of the population, most of whom are too uninterested to seriously challenge it.

However, there were, at least, two reasons to smile after the 2008 election. Firstly, Helen Clark and her government of control freaks was ousted. Nine years of government that believed it almost always had a role, to spend other people's money on things, to regulate, to set up strategies and inquiries, was finally at an end. Secondly, John Key is, at least, a self-made man. He at least in part represents the dream of many, so at least there would be some belief that the incoming administration would be in support of business, and would be sceptical about government providing solutions. Enough rhetoric had been thrown about by some in the National Party that there could be some hope of less spending, less government and less taxes, albeit at a fairly glacial pace.

This has proven to be, by and large, a delusion. Even the low expectations of optimism I had, are being frittered away.

The recent proposals to engage in the Roger Douglas style tax reform of the 1980s, again, by hiking GST and dropping some income tax, smack of the triumph of mediocrity over aspiration. National apparently believes that all of the bureaucracies that current exist have merit. It believes that the current levels of welfare dependency and the structures of both individual and corporate welfare set up by Labour, should largely remain intact. Indeed, the belief in the role of the state is such that National is embarking on road building plans that under the evaluation criteria it once stood by, are not worth it.

The arguments in favour of consumption taxes over income taxes may be quite solid, but the impact of this sort of reshuffling will be minor. It wont make a smidgen of difference to get New Zealand to be more productive, dynamic and innovative. It still smacks of the low value commodity based economy terrified its exchange rate would actually be worth enough to import high value goods from the rest of the world.

Why? Because National has demonstrated, once again, that it is not a party of serious change, a party that will shrink the role of the state and grant tax cuts as a result. It is a party to reshuffle the deck, a party too terrified to contemplate the sort of education policies even the British Conservative Party is gleefully waltzing into an election with. It is terrified of saying the word privatisation, as much as it did when it should have been confronting the economic retards of Winston Peters and Jim Anderton, though who really thinks that the state owning three competing power generation and retail companies is a serious long term strategy for the energy sector?

It is true to form, and sadly ACT is not making anything of this when it could and should. It could, positively, be arguing for things to go further, and National could give it free rein to make the sort of arguments it knows Labour never could - whilst remaining aloof from them (the implication being obvious - Labour would never advocate less government).

What will punish National the most is the simple fact that the increase in GST will fall most hard on those on lowest incomes. If you wanted to hand some rhetoric and a rallying cry for the left on a plate, increasing GST does it. For it not only hurts those who spend most of their earnings, but it also encourages the growth in a black market, a growth in trading via TradeMe to help avoid GST (and other taxes). The most recent TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll should, if Key was doing a Helen Clark, give room to pause. National was never elected to INCREASE ANY taxes, and the sleight of hand that it demonstrates is not fooling many.

Of course, given this is partly the brainchild of Bill English - the man who delivered National its most crushing defeat in 2002, because he couldn't confront Helen Clark's forceful (and believable) commitment to her principles, despite that government having legislated over private contracts with ACC and forcing Air NZ into a crisis because of its own dithering and nationalism.

However, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe New Zealanders just like governments that look like they are "doing something".

19 February 2010

Pathetic reparations? Blame ACC

According to the NZ Herald, four cyclists were badly injured, one critically, because Jennifer Lea Speakman didn’t look as she pulled out onto the road with her car.

She has lost her driving licence for six months and has been ordered to pay a paltry NZ$1000 reparations to each of the victims.

A friend of the victims calls the reparations “pathetic”. So they are, but then so they should be if one accepts the so-called “social contract” of ACC.

Speakman’s car insurance is paying out the property damage costs in replacing the bikes, which of course is fine. However, ACC creates a completely new dimension. This is one that many New Zealanders, exposed to TV legal dramas from overseas, are probably not fully aware of.

The right to sue for damages as a result of the negligence of another is gone, except in the context of exemplary damages.

In theory, as Speakman paid ACC levies both associated with her motor vehicle licence and in fuel tax, she has paid into socialised insurance scheme, much loved by the left, designed to provide compensation to the victims.

Its fundamental basis is no fault based compensation. ACC is meant to cover the needs of the victims. She should basically have walked away with simply losing her driving licence and paying court costs, if you really believe ACC is fair and reasonable. The advantages of ACC are clear, in that it offers compensation fairly quickly and without the hassle of court, but the disadvantages are also clear. It offers no deterrent to bad behaviour, no incentives to good behaviour, and the compensation is never particularly great.

If you don’t think ACC is fair and reasonable (and let’s be honest here, no other country has ACC), then you’d return the right to sue. That would mean Speakman would face significant claims for loss of income, emotional trauma, pain and suffering because of her negligence. A fair deterrent to making a foolish mistake. More likely, Speakman would have insurance to cover such an eventuality and the victims themselves would be paid out by the insurance firm – which would fight on Speakman’s behalf to not pay out, but ultimately would be likely to pay substantially more than a measly NZ$1000 per victim, on top of what ACC coughs up.

The difference is the delay.

An alternative would be for ACC to be subject to competition and for motor vehicle ACC to be a matter of personal accounts. The insurers of the victims would pay out, and Speakman would see a significant rise in her levies to reflect the risk she poses.

However, with ACC she will pay the same as any driver who has had no accidents at all. So why is any reasonable debate about this system treated as blasphemy? Isn’t it time that this nearly 40 year old experiment was subject to a fundamental review?

Love Radio NZ? Well cough up...

The Government is putting pressure on Radio NZ so that taxpayers wont be forced to pay for it so much. There is plenty of potential to do this. The ridiculous introduction of FM simulcasting should end for starters, setting free those frequencies for those willing to pay for it.

The NZ Herald reports that Labour Deputy Leader Annette King says " it would be like living in a Third World country if National Radio had to shut down between midnight and 6am"

Really Annette? I didn't know the UK was a third world country. The UK equivalent of National Radio is BBC Radio 4, which between 1am and 6am closes down and simply carries the BBC World Service. Better yet given the time difference, National Radio could simulcast Radio 4, or the World Radio Network.

However, this is all fiddling beyond the real point.

It's all very well for Helen Clark, who is barely a taxpayer in New Zealand (and not at all one in New York excluding local sales taxes), to defend Radio NZ. However, for the likes of Clark, King and the irascible Sue Kedgley to make a difference there is only one moral option.

Use your own money and donate to Radio NZ.

Why should anyone else be forced to pay for the broadcaster? Radio is not a "public good", and given that 85% of radio listening is not done with Radio NZ, then is this not simply one of the most explicit forms of elitism that is propagated by the left?

The view would be that Radio NZ is "good for you", which begs the question that if this is true, then 4 out of 5 members of the public disagree, or are stupid. Which justifies making them pay for the remaining 1.

Now I'm not going to pass judgment on Radio NZ myself, since I did use to listen to it regularly in NZ. I might even be willing to pay for it, if it rid itself of its inherently statist bias (how many panels does it have on shows that include nobody who believes in LESS government?).

However, the answer to all those who may bleat about Radio NZ is this. National isn't planning on removing the state tit from your favourite radio station, but if you think it is underfunded then dig into your own pockets and start making regular contributions.

If you wont do that, then why is it moral to make everyone pay for something a small fraction actually use or appreciate? Or is it just because it happens to correspond with your world view that government should exist to spread information and entertainment?

Elderly prefer tickle cock

Beware. Those easily offended or not wishing children to have certain words explained to them may choose to go elsewhere.

In a classic story of the precious council that couldn't, Wakefield District Council in Yorkshire has succumbed to pressure to reinstate the name of a bridge back to one that offended some, but which had a long history. The story is from the Daily Telegraph.

Tickle Cock Bridge is a small railway underpass for pedestrians, and has had that name apparently since the 19th century. The Council, in its dour "mustn't offend anyone" manner decided that the name was far too embarrassing, so changed it to Tittle Cott. The motivation being a forthcoming television series featuring the town of Castleford where it is located.

Castleford Area Voice for the Elderly was duly offended by the precious change of name. After all, Britain is full of places with names like Little Snoring, Happy Bottom, Piddle Valley, Shitterton, Wet Rain, Twatt, Titty Hill, Slackbottom and many more (although Wikipedia informs Austria has a town called Fucking - which, like many of these names, is NOT a reflection of latter day English).

The Telegraph reports:

"Feelings over the re-naming ran so high that a public meeting was organised and a large majority came out in favour of reverting to the original name.

Brian Lewis, a local author, said: “I feel we should never alter names and Tickle Cock has a very clear message behind it.

“I was horrified at another example of the nanny state telling us something we don’t want to do.”

Quite. Good for them. At the very least it shows that a good number of people can come out with a sense of humour and tell do-gooders to do good with their own lives.

The Telegraph doesn't let us down either by having a list of the rudest place names in the UK, most of which carry quite innocuous original meanings, but which gives ample opportunity for "Carry On" type double entendres.

Who can ignore Cocknmouth Close, Cockshoot Close, Felch Square and Cumming Court?

I've noted on the Piccadilly line young American tourists having boarded at Heathrow having a giggle that the automatic announcing system declares at every stop "This is a Piccadilly Line train for Cockfosters". Now who would dare want to change that?

13 February 2010

NZ Herald late and lazy on Air NZ's squeeze

The NZ Herald has finally woken up to what has been mentioned by me on January 26 and by others for weeks now - that Air NZ's new economy class cabin will be a tighter squeeze for everyone NOT in a Skycouch.

What appalls me particularly is that the reporter, Grant Bradley, has done NO research whatsoever to check the claims by Air NZ's spokesman, Ed Sims, that "10-seat rows were becoming the industry norm in the new 777s. "Emirates has been operating 10 abreast for many years, as have Air France and KLM."

How hard was it for Grant Bradley to go to website seatguru.com and check that claim?

He could have looked at all of the airlines serving NZ with 777s and found out that Emirates is the only one with a 10 abreast configuration. The others (the links show the seat maps), Korean, Malaysian, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways all have a 9 abreast configuration. How hard was that to check?

How about other operators of the 777? Well we know Emirates and Air France/KLM (which is one airline with two brands) both have 10 abreast seating. Any others?

Aeromexico - 9 abreast
Air Canada - 9 abreast
Air China - 9 abreast
Air India - 9 abreast
Alitalia - 9 abreast
ANA - 9 abreast
American Airlines - 9 abreast
Asiana - 9 abreast
Austrian - 10 abreast
British Airways - 9 abreast
Cathay Pacific - 9 abreast
Continental Airlines - 9 abreast
Delta - 9 abreast
El Al - 9 abreast
Etihad - 9 abreast although reportedly moving to 10
Eva Airways - 9 abreast
Gulf Air - 9 abreast
JAL - 9 abreast
Jet Airways - 9 abreast
Kenya Airways - 9 abreast
Qatar Airways - 9 abreast
Turkish - 9 abreast
United - 9 abreast
V Australia -9 abreast

So Emirates, Air France/KLM and Austrian Airlines, and perhaps Etihad - that's it. How is something becoming the industry norm when out of 30 airlines, 3 are doing it (and a 4th reportedly is)?

Don't ask Grant Bradley at the NZ Herald - he just reports what Air NZ tells him.

The mainstream media wonder why some people think bloggers do a better job than they do?

It isn't hard at times.

11 February 2010

So would ACT bring down the government?

With the Nats now backing away from previous statements that a rise in GST is "not on the agenda" and is "not our policy", it appears the two parties the Nats need to govern need to make clear what their policies are.

According to Stuff:

National ally the Maori Party is nervous, however. MP Rahui Katene said the party was retaining the option of walking away from its confidence and supply agreement with National over a GST rise.

Good for the Maori Party. It knows only too well that a rise in GST will hit everyone, not just those who might get an income tax cut. Being seen to support an increase in the price of everything to offset tax cuts that may be seen to be for those on higher incomes could cost the Maori Party dearly.

However what about ACT?

Jane Clifton reports Rodney Hide saying:

"The new fiscal programme had only been made possible because of ACT, he said, and he would therefore like to thank all ACT's supporters, his fellow MPs and the members of other caucuses with whom ACT had worked so tirelessly to bring about much-needed reform."

Roger Douglas has rightly said "The spending cuts must come first. Once we have cut spending, then we can cut taxes. If we want to make the tax system more efficient, we need constitutional restraints against excessive levels of Government expenditure. It is only when we have stopped the Government from exploiting the taxpayer that we can aim for efficiency"

So it's view is clear then...?!?!

ACT either makes it clear it votes against this, and tells the Nats a flat no, or the government is brought down.

Or ACT votes for it, and risks splitting asunder.

The test is simple - is ACT a party that people voted for so that government could cut one tax but increase another?

Did China test Obama?

The recent typical furore about US sales of weapons to Taiwan should have been par for the course, but this time it provoked a particularly angry threat of outrage from Beijing.


Well for starters China sees itself as bigger, more powerful and more important on the international stage than it has ever been. Having eclipsed Japan as the world's second biggest economy, it now is flexing its power more openly. In part this is due to domestic nationalism, as can be seen by the large numbers of Chinese online willing to defend their authoritarian government, not out of love for the government per se, but out of nationalism. China is, after all, a country of considerable national chauvinism.

However, China also knows the nature of US-Chinese relations since the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 in the US made it national policy to supply arms to Taiwan. So why now?

My view is that it is a test of the Obama Administration. The dove like instincts of the Administration are simply being tested to see if there is a change from the Bush Administration.

China's wildest dream would have been for Obama to halt the supply of arms to Taiwan or delay it. Either would have been a disaster for Taiwan, and caused a panic on the stockmarkets and among the population there.

What was done is that a package negotiated by the Bush Administration has been allowed to proceed with one major change - no submarines. Taiwan had been promised submarines by the Bush Administration, and instead will receive Black Hawk helicopters, not exactly a substitute.

Taiwan has long sought new generation F-16s, to supplement those sold under the previous Bush Administration, but these were denied also.

So the Obama Administration has not followed business as usual, rather a watering down of business as usual. It passed the "test" as China showed its outrage by cutting military ties with the US, and threatening commercial sanctions on US companies supplying Taiwan. Most of those firms will not be concerned since they do not supply China in any case, but Boeing's role in the Chinese airline sector is substantial. That is where China could inflict some pain, although Airbus would be well aware of this and price accordingly to reap the rewards of any symbolic smarting inflicted upon Boeing.

China will hope that it can scare the Obama Administration into withdrawing more from providing Taiwan military assistance, for that is what it can hope for. China has no serious plans to invade Taiwan, for it knows such maneouvres would cost it dearly in foreign investment, trade access and international relations with more than a few neighbours. However, it keeps the threat of force to "reunite the motherland" there to keep Taiwan "in its place", and it is useful for nationalist rabble-rousing in the event of the need for a distraction.

Nevertheless, Taiwan (or more legally correct the "Republic of China" government temporarily exiled in Taiwan) deserves US support to defend itself. It is today a vibrant and open liberal democracy, with the rule of law, free speech and individual freedoms widely respected. It has changed a lot since the days of Chiang Kai Shek's authoritarian rule. Beijing will continue to treat its renegade province as such as long as the Communist Party holds a monopoly on power, for now it is up to the US to continue to provide sufficient support for Taiwan's free democratic government to deter attack from the mainland.

Greece's socialism catching up

The sovereign debt crisis with Greece has a long history. It isn't just about the Greeks lying about their budget deficit.

The symptoms of Greece's current fiscal crisis tell a story of such inept economic management and performance that few should be surprised. Only those with their heads up the short term goals of financial markets (and so untrained and uninterested in the wider context), the proponents of the Euro, and what appears to be most of the Greek political class (and bureaucracy) didn't notice the progressive bankruptcy of what was the cradle of European civilisation.

The roots of the political culture behind this go back to World War 2 and the Greek Civil War. After the Nazis were pushed out of Greece in 1944, the Greek government in exile faced the communist "Democratic Army of Greece" supported by the Soviet Union through communist Bulgaria, Albania and Yugoslavia.

The subsequent five years of fighting (which played no small part in encouraging Greek emigration to the likes of Australia, New Zealand and the USA) divided Greek society enormously. The communists lost in part because of the split between Tito and Stalin that saw the Greek communists side with Stalin, which spelt an end to Yugoslavia's ample support.

However the cost of the civil war was immense in slowing reconstruction after the previous Nazi occupation. Between the civil war and EEC membership in 1981, Greece was politically divided. The military coup in 1967 was due to some fears of a far-left wing takeover by some forces, that junta was one reason Turkey gave for invading and occupying northern Cyprus in 1975, even though the junta was overthrown some months before.

Greece's governments have been dependent on aid since the end of the civil war. The influence of leftwing politics has been strong, with the communist party coming 4th in 1974 and 1977 and 3rd in 1981 with between 9 and 11% of the vote during this time, with more moderate socialists winning power in 1981. Since then the socialists have won a majority of Greek elections, and the communists have come third in all but one of the elections in that time. In other words, Greece is used to being governed with the principles of big government and socialism. The current Prime Minister, George Papandreaou might consider how his father, Andreas, when he was Prime Minister, ran enormous budget deficits in the 1980s when he was PM. Greece has been living beyond its means for a very long time.

When it joined the then European Economic Community in 1981, it was one of the poorest new members. Its membership ushered in a period of 20 years when it, along with Spain and Portugal, got the bulk of the subsidies for infrastructure and development that the EU now lavishes upon the likes of Romania and Bulgaria. Greece was one of the biggest recipients of Western European aid. This helped to bolster Greece's addiction to debt and budget deficits.

With membership of the Euro this gave Greece a high value currency with low European Central Bank interests rates that it could borrow with. It took advantage of the ability to issue sovereign debt in Euros to continue spending up large.

Now the chickens have come home so to speak.

The current government is starting to face fiscal reality by announcing spending cuts, and of course, on cue in a country beset with socialist attitudes, the public sector is going on strike. It doesn't think it is to blame, yet it might look at how its wages and operations have been getting funded for decades - it's been a lot of borrowed money.

However, Greece's problems are not just about spending too much money. It is about the deliberate lying about its accounts, and the lack of transparency of many areas of public spending. For example, Greece has long claimed its expenditure on defence to be a "state secret". The truth is that to placate the army, and evade a risk of a coup, Greek government have taken a blank cheque approach to defence. The current level of spending might have been justified in the Cold War, when Greece was very much on the front line with Bulgaria on its doorstep (Yugoslavia and Albania were not Soviet aligned from 1948 and 1960 respectively).

The airforce has 33,000 personnel and 477 aircraft, the navy 30,000 personnel and 84 warships, whilst the army has 100,000 personnel. This is similar in number to Israel, although Greece has a smaller population. The Netherlands, another NATO member, with higher population, has only 68,000 active members of the military. 5% of GDP is spent on defence it is estimated.

Furthermore, according to Spiegel Greece rigged its accounts to hide its budget deficit, with help from Goldman Sachs, by excluding some military spending and hospital spending. Similarly, Goldman Sachs participated in off balance sheet lending, by using fictional exchange rates to engage in sovereign debt swaps. These are the actions you'd expect of a tinpot sub-Saharan dictatorship, not an EU member state in the Eurozone. Right?

This sort of behaviour should be punished, the politicians who have been a party to it held up for all to see, but also the snivelling useless public sector managers who have ignored basic practices like double-entry accounting, and have participated in enormous fraud, should be shown up for what they are - the shysters that have borrowed and wasted money on behalf of Greek taxpayers.

However, some of the EU wont want that, because they want to protect the consequences of their own failures.

When the EEC accepted Greece, Spain and Portugal it was about looking forward to countries that had only recently turned their backs on military dictatorship, with the European project to pour mountains of European taxpayers' cash into lifting their incomes to levels commensurate with others in Western Europe. The same happened with the former Warsaw Pact countries, most recently with the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania, both countries still besotted with corruption, organised crime and distinct paucities of transparency in their government accounts. European taxpayers are plundered to subsidise enormous EU funded infrastructure projects and of course the massively inefficient and environmentally disastrous Common Agricultural Policy.

The single currency across a range of economies with wildly varying levels of wealth and development has been a disaster for the poorer economies, who face a highly valued Euro which makes their relatively lower value commodity exports (and tourism sectors) relatively expensive, whilst now also making their mountains of debt unaffordable. Greece's sovereign debt is barely above junk status. Bear in mind that France and Germany have both run budget deficits beyond the Euro rules, but then they set the rules don't they?

So there are strong expectations of some credit being offered to Greece to avoid a default, it will no doubt be at the expectations of massive reductions in the budget deficit (Greece is claiming to cut the deficit from 12.7% in 2009 to 2.8% in 2012, but none of its plans show any sign of meeting this), which will mean accepting strikes, possibly riots and enormous political cost - the cost Greece should and would have faced in the 1980s and 1990s had it not been propped up by EU aid.

Of course what SHOULD happen is that Greece should default - its foolish creditors, who took a risk on a series of lies should suffer for their foolish decision to take up Greek debt. The Greek government, unable to borrow, will then face confronting the socialism and incompetence that has bankrupted itself. The Euro would rightfully suffer, as it should bear the devaluation of one of its participants failing to meet its obligations.

Allister Heath in City AM puts it plainly:

"Regardless of which plan is agreed upon, a rescue would fill the City with joy in the short-term – but would cause huge damage over time. There should be no bailout: it is high time that countries and investors learn to live with their mistakes."

Unfortunately, when you have the ability to plunder the pockets of future generations through taxation, there isn't much incentive to do that.

That, you see, is when the phrase "taxation is theft" so clearly comes into its own.

Unless the role of the state is constrained so that it cannot ever be used to bail out foolish investments or the governments of liberal democracies that vote themselves bankrupt, the easy option - which politicians never truly even start to face the cost of (what is being voted out when you put people in debt for years?) - will be used and the only loser is the taxpayer.

10 February 2010

John Key is being a National PM

The message is rather simple.

If you largely supported what Helen Clark and Labour did in government from 1999-2008, but just want a "cup of tea" for three years, and a few tweaks in the other direction, then National is your party. That's what this government is doing - little different.

If you largely opposed what Helen Clark and Labour did in government from 1999-2008, and want a net reduction in taxation, reduction in the size of the state, then National is NOT your party (and frankly neither are any of the others in Parliament). Only Libertarianz has done that and would do that.

If you want to grow the size of the state, so that it takes more money to spend on "public sector employment" you can choose Labour, "Maori" you can choose Maori Party and "all you can think of" you can choose the Greens.

In fact if you want the state to grow in the areas of telecommunications and roads, you can choose National.

National is a conservative party. It almost never reverses what Labour does.

The Labour Party has set the political, economic and social agenda of New Zealand since 1935.

The National Party, with the exception of trade union membership, has adopted that agenda and sat tight with very few exceptions.

So why would anyone voting National expect any significant change?

09 February 2010

Since when does 100% = 50%?

When you read it in the Dominion Post, reporting on proposed bus fare increases in Wellington:

"One option would mean the $1 city-section fare would be replaced by an increased one-zone cash fare of $2.

That would effectively mean inner-city bus passengers were facing a 50 per cent increase in bus fares"

Hmmm, good job paid journalists are out there making sure they double check stories and are so thorough, unlike those rogue bloggers right?

So Kerry Williamson let's learn maths:

$2 = $1 + $1

$1 = 100% of $1

Therefore an increase from $1 to $2 is?

Oh and while you're figuring that one out, how about a real question, such as what is the current proportion of cost recovery from bus fares in Wellington? What is the average subsidy per trip and per km? How many services are commercial (unsubsidised)?

For example, on average 51.5% of public transport costs are recovered from fares, is it planned to increase that, as that is the lowest level for Wellington in a four year period surveyed by NZTA?

In other words, how about some information that doesn't just involve reporting what the Greater Wellington Regional Council says?

05 February 2010

The bureaucrats for whom freedom is unknown

I have said before that I despise smoking, I don’t like the smell and I hate walking behind smokers and don’t like walking through them outside buildings. So you might think I’d welcome what the Auckland Regional Public Health Service is calling for as reported in the NZ Herald.

ARPHS (why not say ARS) calls for what is effectively a ban on smoking anywhere but in one’s own home, which looks to me quite simply as the sort of nanny state authoritarian bullying that I thought was voted out in the last election. However, it would be a fair bet that those who “work” for that organisation are unlikely to have much philosophical truck with personal freedom.

The thought process appears alarmingly simple:

People smoke - it is bad for them - it's already illegal to allow smoking at places of employment, retail outlets and on public transport, so let's make it illegal everywhere else, except the home (that would be seen as too far).

Banning something that is bad for people is good. The very idea that perhaps it is morally wrong to do this appears to have not crossed their minds, after all it's for the "greater good" (as is the justification for all limitations on personal freedom). Fascists? Well, they wouldn't think so, they just think they are acting for the interests of others. However, they are treating the public as children. It's only one step removed from treating tobacco like an illegal drug.

So what should the response be to this?

Should it be to ask whether a study has been made as to the health benefits to non-smokers of the measures proposed? If not, why not? Why not come clean about what “public good” there allegedly is, or is there really none at all? I suspect the health benefits to non-smokers are virtually undetectable, after all the emissions from motor vehicles are in greater volumes and significantly more toxic (smokers don't die from a lung full of tobacco smoke, but you wont last long intentionally inhaling petrol exhaust).

Should it be to ask to what extent these measures are likely to reduce smoking? If not, why not? How about noting how effective these measures are at reducing illegal drug use?

Why are you not simply being honest about wanting to criminalise smoking other than in the private home? Or does that just show you up for what you are, as petty fascists wanting to change behaviour by force rather than persuasion?

Or, how about simply asking why the hell they think it is their business what adults do with their bodies on their own property or in public spaces?

Clearly the public health bureaucrats have no clue what private property means, and what private property rights mean, for long ago they surrendered the idea that you can decide whether or not to allow otherwise legal acts on your property.

However, they also seek to control public space. To have people prosecuted for smoking as a way of reducing the propensity to smoke. The idea that there are adults who voluntarily choose to smoke because they like it would bewilder them all.

How can people LIKE harming themselves? Well the joyless do-gooders who think they know best for everyone else can't grasp that not everything everyone does is “good” for them. Some people drink to excess, some people eat to excess and don’t exercise. Some people have unsafe sex. Some people take illegal drugs. Some people participate in dangerous sports.

The proportion of smokers who do not know it is bad for their health will be very low, so it isn't about that. Tobacco smoking has addictive qualities, but plenty give up smoking and the state has used other people's money for some years subsidising methods to do this. So the conclusion is that people smoke because they enjoy it.

People have freedom to choose to smoke or not smoke. Those who do should have that right on their own property or with the permission of property owners. Those who do not like it should prohibit it on their own property and not enter places where it occurs. Public (as in local and central government owned) locations should be places where people can peacefully go about their activities without initiating force against others, that includes smoking.

The only appropriate response to this proposal is incredulity.

It demonstrates the profound need for all policy proposals to government to be subject to a test of whether it enhances or detracts from individual liberty, and whether it represents the initiation of force or defending citizens from initiations of force or fraud. Such a simple test would see such proposals dumped in the inbox of the Labour, Green and Maori Parties who think that individuals are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

While we're at it, abolishing the Auckland Regional Public Health Service would make a modest contribution to reducing the budget deficit.

03 February 2010

Slavery, deceit, racism and the waiting game

Christopher Hitchen's latest article in Slate is on North Korea. - a "nation of racist dwarfs" he says, with good reason.

North Korea is the most odious regime on earth by an incredibly long margin. Iran, Zimbabwe and Turkmenistan are shining lights of freedom, prosperity, rule of law and moderation by comparison. Yet, for some reason, it gets precious little attention from the likes of Amnesty International, the left inclined protest movement (all too keen to care about Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan) or indeed the international community.

Hitchens notes how much propaganda from North Korea carries racist depictions of Japanese and Americans, akin to the imagery the Nazis produced in the 1930s about Jews (this new book apparently describes the racist dimension of North Korea). North Korea also bemoans the impurity of South Korea, which allows Koreans to breed with foreigners - North Korea forces local women who are pregnant by Chinese to have abortions. Of course nationalism is always an easy refuge for the totalitarian. It was seen vehemently in the Khmer Rouge, it is still seen in China, and was long seen in the Soviet Union. The fraternity of socialism didn't wash when African Marxists visited Maoist China, or indeed North Korea, both countries where black people are both rare and seen as being inferior. The kleptocracies in Africa today accepting Chinese money for minerals don't pause to think about how they see themselves.

North Korea is a slave state, a prison society where the average height is six inches shorter than in South Korea. It is dependent upon shutting the entire population away from comparing their lives with the outside world, except for a clique around the family that runs the place. They enrich themselves enormously by selling minerals, weapons and whatever else the enslaved masses can extract for them at high cost and little benefit. It is a society where the concepts of truth, honesty and openness have been so wholly bastardised that the psychological damage is incalculable.

By what means does one live knowing that when things go wrong, there is no one to complain to, that when injustice is done, it is better to agree with it and support it, than to challenge it. That no one must be fully trusted, and everyone is expected to spy on everyone else. You included are expected to engage in this monument of telling on your fellow citizens for "crimes" that may not have happened, because to fail to do so implicates you, and you may well be the receipt of such accusations.

How do generation after generation live in a constant state of near war, constantly told attack is imminent, as is victory against forces depicted as demons (Japanese, American and South Korean). That the constant sacrifice is due to this perpetual state of war, that never actually happens, except in news reports of fabricated skirmishes and atrocities.

Where does human creativity, innovation and intelligence go when you are raised and taught to treat two men (one dead) as virtual gods, for whom you are to be grateful for everything, and who know everything and are infallible. Whilst all art, culture, literature and indeed industry are dedicated to glorifying them, and in following their guidance. When all learn that everything you create is to be shared and used by all others, and you are to get next to no credit, but meanwhile all around you struggle to eat, stay warm in winter and live in conditions unchanged for decades.

Finally, where is humanity when it is clear that those who challenge, question or are unconventional, simply disappear. Where there is unrestricted power by the state and all its forces to arrest, torture, imprison, kill and intervene in all aspects of daily life. Where whole families including babies are sent to prison camps for alleged political or economic crimes of one, and where you are constantly told you are the luckiest people on earth, and the rest of the world is in chaos, crime ridden and starving. Where compassion and mercy are only ever granted by the two official gods, and going against the unlimited list of rules, laws and taboos deems one an enemy of the state, the party, society and by necessity, neighbours and family. It is long known, for example, that no disabled people are ever seen in the capital Pyongyang. Given the record of similar regimes in treating the disabled, and given this is a state that imprisons small children in gulags, there is nothing it is not willing to engage in.

So to expect change from this regime is absurd, until Kim Jong Il dies and there is a coup to defeat his successor. North Korea will not give up its store of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, it will not disarm and it will not allow transparent inspection of its nuclear facilities to enable a peace treaty with the USA, until the regime collapses or is dismantled from within.

Military action is futile and excessively dangerous, although it could never win a war against the technology, firepower and capability of South Korea, the US (and Japan if attacked), it could inflict damage on a scale that could take the lives of millions in South Korea and Japan.

It did not attack South Korea during the latter years of the Cold War, because it was so closely aligned to Moscow. Today it does not attack because it fears massive retaliation, of a kind that I would hope President Obama would be unafraid to inflict if North Korea tried.

That fear must be maintained, for a regime that has tolerated the deaths of millions of its citizens, and is willing to treat the remainder like insects. However, in the meantime it deserves to be humiliated and challenged for its treatment of its own citizens as guinea pigs and slaves in ways that would have been familiar to the Nazis and indeed the pre-1945 militarist Japanese.

This should be the number one human rights priority of all those who claim to give a damn about individual dignity, freedom and humanity. Finally, it would be nice if North Korea's useful idiots abroad were humiliated for what they are - supporters of one of the most blood thirsty cruel and dishonest regimes on the planet today. They should be ostracised like Nazi sympathisers, because in truth, they are worse - for the Nazis were defeated in 1945.