30 November 2012

What you need to know about Leveson

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

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

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

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

What's a newspaper?  Who knows.

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

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

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

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

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

29 November 2012

Minimum alcohol pricing is empirically and philosophically wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

How dare they?

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

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

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

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

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

The executive summary states it as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 November 2012

UKIP membership makes you unfit to raise children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But so bloody what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The right response by government should be clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 November 2012

Gaza could have chosen peace but no

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

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

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

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

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

No.  That was too hard.

19 November 2012

The pathology of being young and wanting to be a politician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 November 2012

Reform of the BBC must involve abolition of the licence fee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 November 2012

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

It's gone like this...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is needed is an independent inquiry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how credible is the BBC in policing itself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is what should happen next. 

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

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

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

10 November 2012

Greens support lunatic fringe on food irradiation so why believe them on climate change?

The Green Party says it believes in science and evidence, and to present itself as the face of reason.

Yet the latest press release from Green MP Steffan Browning demonstrates how quickly the Green Party is beholden to the lunatic fringe of the radical environmental movement.

He says:

"Irradiation is not safe. It is the treating a food with ionizing radiation to kill bugs."

This assertion is backed up with nothing whatsoever.  It is the sort of simpleton view seen in this leaflet which claims without citation that "Numerous scientific studies have exposed the harmful effects of food irradiation".

No, they haven't.

The Health department of Queensland produces a leaflet that is more sober, as does the IAEA.

Browning makes not one claim about why irradiation is not safe. Nothing.

So let's speculate on what he thinks, or rather, fears.

- Irradiating food means it is radioactive:  Hilarious.  It is like saying that if you are exposed to light, you start to glow. 

- Irradiating food "changes its structure" so that it "degrades vitamins and nutrition":  Well yes, it can if it is used for preservation.  Much like drying does, and cooking does.  Cooking changes the molecular structure of food, and the chemistry of food and can destroy vitamins.  The obvious examples would be to boil vegetables to death or cooking food till it is blackened and charred.  However, do the Greens want to stop people having that food or cooking their food incorrectly?

It's bullshit to say irradiated food is not safe.  It's scaremongering, hysterical, anti-scientific and irresponsible for the Green Party to embrace such a stance.

Indeed, let me quote the summary of a World Health Organisation report on the topic (High-dose irradiation: wholesomeness of food irradiated with doses above 10 KGy, a joint FAO/IAEA/WHO study group. Geneva, Switzerland, 15-20 September 1997), given the Greens regularly cite UN organisations to hit governments over the head:

On the basis of the extensive scientific evidence reviewed, the report concludes that food irradiated to any dose appropriate to achieve the intended technological objective is both safe to consume and nutritionally adequate. The experts further conclude that no upper dose limit need be imposed, and that irradiated foods are deemed wholesome throughout the technologically useful dose range from below 10 kGy to envisioned doses above 10 kGy.


Given how willingly the Greens are to make unsubstantiated claims that are essentially the baggage of scaremongering hysterical anti-technology, anti-scientific luddites, why the hell should anyone listen to them when they talk about climate change?

Why should the Greens be any more credible when preaching about science on that topic than they are on food irradiation?

Oh, and we've been here before.  Remember Russel Norman's rant two years ago about mobile phone towers that, when challenged (because Russel doesn't seem to mind TV and radio masts for broadcasting) descends into ad-hominem attacks against me?  

Yes - that's the Greens on science.  On the one hand, claim science is right behind you on climate change and that people who challenge that are unscientific, unreasonable and lunatic fringe.

On the other hand, make non-evidence based scaremongering claims based on little more than the ranting fears of fringe groups that don't even have an elementary understanding of science.

In other words - the Greens are not serious about science.

08 November 2012

10 suggestions for the Republicans

The Republicans will now have a fourway - debate that is between four factions:

True religious conservatives - The cross carrying wing of the Tea Party, who will all claim that they needed to be closer to God, be louder on abortion,  Christian values, shrinking the government (except when it is about enforcing the latter) and that Romney was too moderate.  They are in denial that their views on personal freedom are a significant, but shrinking minority.   They are the backbone of activism in many states, but have scared away others elsewhere.

Moderates (RINO some may say) - Who will all claim the Tea Party wrecked the election, and that a moderate, who doesn't want tax cuts for the wealthy, who doesn't want to privatise bankrupt social programmes, who doesn't talk either social or economic conservativism, would have won.  Of course, one wonders what, if anything, would have been on offer that was profoundly different.

Libertarians - The small government wing of the Tea Party, who will all claim that the religious right wrecked the election, and that there needed to be courage about cutting spending, slashing regulation and that Ron Paul could have won over many Democrat supporters.  I doubt it.

Pragmatists - Who will point at Romney flip-flopping, who will point at gaffes by some Republicans, who will point at the fear the Obama camp coughed up about Medicare and social security, and that a campaign of mutual scaremongering and flinging of dirt is unlikely to be as productive as a positive optimistic one with a simple plan.  They will choose whoever can win and do whatever it takes, apparently.

However, I have some views.   Things the Republicans need to think about.  For four years are ahead for them to still control the House (for at least two years), and have a strong voice in the Senate, and for Obama's stuttering recovery to plod slowly forward, until... eventually... the QE fueled bubble inflates and bursts again.

It is that the political map in the US is made up of people who want more involvement of government in the economy, and people who want less - you've kind of positioned yourself as the latter.   However, it is also made up of people who want more involvement of government in people's private lives, and those who want less.  You are a party with people who represent both.  The Democrats are a party that appears to be the latter (but offers nothing on topics from the environment, to drugs, to victimless crimes, to state surveillance).

There is a gap in the political market for a party that accepts social liberalism (true liberalism, as in less government, not interventionist social engineering) as well as an economic free market.

Like the Democrats in 1972, you might face one election with a breakaway socially conservative, anti-immigrant, anti-free trade Pat Buchanan type 3rd party candidate which costs you an election - but like the Democrats in 1972, you will have embraced a new constituency of urban, educated, middle class people who are suspicious of government, but don't pay much attention to religious conservatives preaching to them.  Ronald Reagan was somewhat closer to that than you'll care to remember.  That's a reason why he won virtually every state in the union, and your rejection of this is why you never win the Pacific and half of the Atlantic coast.

Here are some suggestions.

- Medievalism: The likes of Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin just need to be purged.  Todd Akin's comments that women can "shut down" fertility in the event of "legitimate" rape and Richard Mourdock's statement that implied that children of rape are part of God's will caused enormous harm.  Such views are immoral, medieval and scientifically bankrupt, and fundamentally corrosive.  It's not enough to repudiate and condemn them when they get expressed.  No mainstream political party should tolerate even selecting people  with such attitudes.   Get a Presidential or Vice Presidential female candidate that is competent and not a theocrat, and this will make the most profound difference.

- Religion: Most Americans are Christians, and a fair proportion regard church as important.  However, they don't want you preaching to them about it.  Make it clear that you explicitly believe in separation of church and state.  Make it clear that one of the reasons America was formed was by people fleeing religious sectarianism in Europe, and that America is a country where people may have whatever faith they wish, including none.  The ranks of the 20% or so who would welcome a Christian theocracy are decreasing.  You may gain your values from your religion, you may regard it and your church to be important parts of your community.   However, religion is a private matter and to have ever growing numbers of people turn off of your party because they think it excludes them on this point is suicide.  

- Immigration:  The USA was built by immigrants.  Embrace them.  You scared away conservative, hard-working Hispanic and Asian voters. This constituency is only growing. Make your policy open, with the three simple provisos that anyone is welcome as long as they swear allegiance to the Constitution and the values of the Republic, they are not convicted of offences against people or their property and will be prohibited from claiming taxpayer funded welfare, healthcare, social security or education.   In fact, offer all new immigrants that deal.   Come, be free, live your life, leave peaceful people alone, and get the first $30,000 of your income free from Federal Income Tax (and tax deductions as well).  Give all illegal migrants an amnesty period, where if they spend five years without committing a felony and without claiming social security, Medicaid or Medicare, they gain residency.  Get a candidate who is the son or daughter of immigrants.

- Corporatism:  The big stick Obama hit you with was links with big business, giving business tax breaks, Romney paying a low rate of tax and giving a picture of corruption and advantaging big business at the cost of small business at individuals.  Of course, he's just as guilty, so you need to change the terms of the debate.  Advance scrapping all subsidies to business, including agriculture.  Advance a simple low tax plan, with a high income tax free threshold, include scrapping as many rebates as you can as you lower rates.  Make it clear that no businesses should ever be bailed out by the Federal Government ever again.  Reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to remove the government guarantee for them.   In other words, offer the American people a grand deal that is about eliminating taxpayer funded pork.  Make it the same in regulation, so that statutory monopolies are abolished, both private and public (e.g. USPS).  Abolish eminent domain for the private sector (you wont do the public sector, but you can heavily constrain it for the public sector).   The Democrats are propped up by enormous networks of interests with subsidies, specific tax breaks and regulations, so do a clean sweep.  Make it clear you want Americans rich and poor, businesses big and small to have a level regulatory and tax playing field.  Indeed, right now this should be your number one argument with the President on avoiding the fiscal cliff.

- Tax, deficit and debt:  This point resonates and has been partially successful, but your rhetoric and policies were easily criticised. Until the US is in budgetary surplus, it will be difficult for you to do much in taxes beyond oppose increases and advocate reforms that simplify them and mean in exchange for vast rebates and deductions, lower rates overall.. Your response to Romney's low tax rate should have been to advocate it for all tax.  Why should capital gains tax be lower?  On the deficit your blind spot is defence.  The big hole here is that US defence procurement remains extraordinarily wasteful, and there is considerable scope for efficiency and consolidation.   The US can still retain global dominance in nuclear deterrence, it can retain military superiority in its presence in Asia and the Middle East (for good reasons of trade and energy security), but without the heavy presence in Iraq and Afghanistan there is scope to contain spending in real terms.  Do that, end corporate welfare and you can start arguing for a long term privatised option to social security and Medicare, with specific tax opt outs for those who select it.  Meanwhile, you must continue with no new taxes on the fiscal cliff, but push hard for abolishing corporate welfare, raising entitlement thresholds for social security and Medicare, and be vocal against anyone seeking to grow public spending of any kind.  

- Abortion:  I could say just shut up, but you wont.  What you can do is simply say you will end Federal funding for it, because people who believe it is murder should not be forced to pay for it.   You can say it is up to the states how they deal with the issue, given Supreme Court precedence, and you respect the rule of law and precedent.  Yes, there is a big rump of Republicans for whom this is the top issue, but the only way this will go further is if you can convince people that you are right.  The majority of people have a view that is neither abortion on demand, nor life begins at conception.   If you're serious about reducing the incidence of abortion, then change the terms of the debate.  The current strategy is a dead end, and it loses you the White House.

- Personal freedom:  You're happy talking about the right to bear arms, you're happy talking about lower taxes and small government, but you clam up when it comes to what people do with their private lives.  How about questioning the war on drugs?  How about saying you'll leave the legal status of marijuana to the states? That will put a bomb under the Democrats.  It will also suddenly wake up Californians, again.  Do the same about the status of marriage.  You gain nothing by advancing a Constitutional amendment about marriage, leave it to the states.  A growing proportion of Americans do not care if people are gay, and a growing proportion are turned off of political candidates who do care. If you want to preach that it's wrong, go ahead, do so.  However, don't do so implying the government should pass laws against it.

- Economic nationalism:  You target this because whenever the Democrats are in power, they fail to meet the expectations of xenophobic unions who preach the "foreigners stole our jobs" or "our jobs are being exported" line.  Let it go.  Make it clear the biggest threat to the US economy is being in hock to foreign creditors.  Simple as that.  I'd like to think you could push for global trade liberalisation, but you'll fear handing Obama the plate of economic nationalism.

- Education freedom:  More than a few states are doing this, you can push this further.  One of the great success stories for those advancing freedom is the advent of vouchers and other systems to allow taxpayer funding of compulsory education to follow students to those who set up independent schools.  Make this a priority, sell how this helps the poor, sell how it allows parents to choose the education for their children.  The teaching unions and Democrats in hock to them hate this. However, for you it is a chance for long term cultural change, and to simply advance parents over vested interests.

and last, probably least to you, but it's worth it...

- Ayn Rand:  You've discovered her, now read some more, specifically Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal  and Philosophy: Who Needs it.  I know you know she advocated minimalist government, but she was also an atheist.  An atheist who believed genuine human benevolence and kindness was superior to a welfare state.  Embrace that, as it actually core to how most Americans are and realise that those without your beliefs can be good people too.  She rejected the corporatism all too many of you support.  Most of all she embraced the view that the number one value for all people is the pursuit of happiness in their own life.  It's an antidote to the nihilistic muddle-headed whim worshipping that is prevalent in popular culture.  It is an antidote to the entitlement culture Obama has continue to nurture, but which has roots from FDR.  Oh and no, you didn't advance anything that was more than a hint of the shadow of her views in the election.  I don't expect you to be an objectivist party or even libertarian, but the values of self-esteem, of personal achievement, of benevolence over dependence and violent demands and of letting peaceful people get on with their lives can be sold. The clearer you understand that, the clearer it is the other side only has the offer of making some people pay for others, of telling people they aren't responsible for their own circumstances and claiming they can make it all better.

05 November 2012

Romney is a positive choice over Obama

The US Presidential election campaign has been lacklustre and uninspiring, but then again I don't know what else to expect.   I called the 2008 campaign braindead, because a man who wins on the basis of single word slogans like "change", whose own history was decidedly leftwing, didn't deserve the reins of power just because he represented a step-change in race relations in the USA.

Vacuous image obsessed Americans hopped on the Obama rhetoric in 2008 of "hope" and "change", which much of the mainstream media lapped up without questioning what that really meant.  Obama was a celebrity, promising slogans and it is hardly surprising that reality shakes up the airhead image that was created around him.  He is now just a politician, as I predicted after he was inaugurated.  He was the man who gave Gordon Brown a DVD set as a gift, after Brown had given him an impressive set of gifts with historical significance attached.

On foreign policy, I said in 2008 that:

Obama's foreign policy is essentially to talk to everyone, and focus on Afghanistan rather than Iraq. He'll be liked internationally and he'll be tested, by the enemies of the USA, and that will be the supreme test - to see if he hesitates or can be decisive to take military action when required. 

His highest profile achievement was the pursuit and execution of Osama Bin Laden.  Notable yes, but it is ludicrous to suggest there has been any sort of real victory in Afghanistan or against Islamism under Obama.  On foreign policy, it is worth checking what has been achieved in the main arenas of interest for the US:

- Arab "spring":  Obama's Administration has been unremarkable.  It was slow to endorse the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.  However, this was the man who went to Cairo to seek understanding and talk of shared values, and did nothing about Libya until the UK and France were willing to help in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.  On Syria, it seems Russia can actively intervene, but Obama dare not even try to impose a no-fly zone over the country.  Meanwhile, Obama stood by whilst the Bahrain regime turned its guns on those seeking freedom in that country.  Obama's leftwing supporters would excoriate a Republican President keeping silent over that, but apparently it's still ok for US allies to kill and incarcerate those seeking freedom.  Iraq increasingly is becoming a client state of Iran, but let's not talk about that.

- Israeli-Palestinian conflict:  Nothing to see here.  Israelis have voted for a hardline regime that is unwilling to compromise, Hamas has treated the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a reason to do the same (although there are major differences between them).  

- Iran:  Iran's economy is in turmoil because of tougher sanctions, which is good. Yet it is difficult to see how things would have been different under John McCain.  Iran seems more likely to give up nuclear capability out of economic desperation than anything else.

- China: Obama has played a bit of a tough line on trade with China and to his credit, the US has stood with its allies Japan and the Philippines against Chinese aggressive rhetoric and actions on disputed islands.  It is hard to see what else could be done, beyond bolstering America's domestic strength.

- Russia: Obama's one capitulation here has been to withdraw promises to install anti-missile defence systems in eastern Europe.  Ignoring Russia's aggression in Syria remain a weakness. 

- Trade and international economic policy: Obama has been uninterested in free trade and the WTO's attempt at revitalising the Doha round failed, in part, because Obama is suspicious of free trade.  The later appearance of a handful of trade agreements notwithstanding, this has been the biggest foreign policy failure of Obama.  A grand deal on liberalising world trade could have done more to boost the global economy.  

On domestic policy I said in 2008:

Obama's domestic policy is also nothing new. Tax cuts for many, tax hikes for "the rich", he wants to grow the Federal Government with umpteen new spending promises and to radically reform health care. He offers the status quo on social security and education. He has a consistent record of supporting "pork barrel" subsidies and programmes.

Change you can believe in? Hardly.

Of these his big achievement is "Obamacare",  a policy rooted in some sound principles, and one Romney can't oppose honestly given he implemented something similar as Governor of Massachusetts. However, it means he now fines people for not buying health insurance.  Obama has failed miserably to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of which threaten to bankrupt the US.

On economic policy, Obama has raised overspending to US$3 trillion per annum.  He has been master at "stimulus" spending, using borrowed money to engage in pork barrel funding of companies and public works projects.  One of his latest is high speed rail, which will cost billions, fail to deliver on economic and environmental grounds, but is just part of his totemic belief that government can do great things with other people's money.

He has maintained the blind faith in printing money, he has done little to deal to one of the core causes of the financial crisis - government guarantees of mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and he believes the way to fiscal prudence is in raising taxes, and trimming spending around the edges.

Mitt Romney is hardly a hero for freedom.  He wants to significantly increase military spending, although it is unclear why.  His promises to balance the budget without raising taxes are welcome, but it is unclear if he really has courage to cut spending enough, especially when he talks about restoring funding for Medicare that he claims Obama cut.  Romney is mister flip-flop.  It is easy to find hypocrisy and contradictions in what he has said.

Romney's religious beliefs should make any rational person pause.  Mormonism is a weird cult that doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.  Yet he hasn't pushed faith in this election at all.   Obama supporters and Obama himself claim he would ban abortion and deny women contraceptive choice, but there is no evidence for this.  Beyond Obama's willingness to continue taxpayer funding for contraception and stem cell research (which a libertarian opposes on principle as being not a legitimate function of government), there is little between them substantively (abortion law is not going to change, no matter what).

So what is left between them?  It's the economy.

There are two broad visions on offer here, and it can be seen in how both men see the timebomb that has been building up for decades.  Public debt, the budget deficit and the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Obama has made it worse and blames Bush for it, he's right about the latter, but he's done little to deal with it.

Obama's view is that taxes need to go up, and there needs to be some spending restraint, with $1 increase in taxes for every $2.50 cut in spending. In other words, he wants revenue to rise to match government spending.  He does, fundamentally, belief that more government is good for the USA.  He has consistently increased spending on subsidies in agriculture and energy.  His statement that "you didn't build that" when talking about how businesses rely on roads that they didn't build, is a core belief that business needs government to do more that protect private property rights and individual freedom, but that government should provide services.

Romney's view is that taxes should be reduced, but that he will achieve this by simplifying and cutting tax deductions (which are complex) to fund it.  He will offer an option of private social security accounts for those below a certain age, and will raise the social security age and reduce the rate of inflation adjustment.  At least he acknowledges there is a problem.   He essentially wants to move to a voucher system for education, which holds out some hope to break the dominance of state provided schools captured by teachers' unions.  However, the big difference with Obama is Romney doesn't believe taxes should rise to meet government spending.

So if there is one thing to vote on, for lovers of freedom, it is that Romney will prefer to shrink the Federal Government over raising taxes.

With Paul Ryan, a cautious enthusiast of Ayn Rand, helping out, and with the Republicans likely to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives (if not get one in the Senate), there is a chance for the direction of US economic policy to change.  Add on top of that Romney's willingness to establish a national commission to look at restoring the link between the dollar and gold, and there is not just a reason to vote against Obama, but vote for Romney.

Indeed, having gone through his policies, I find little that is contrary to smaller government and more freedom.   Romney is a better candidate than either of the Bushes, John McCain or Bob Dole.

So on that front, it is clear to me that faced with the choice, American believers in less government should vote for Mitt Romney.  Barack Obama should not have four more years to of overspending and debasing the dollar with mediocre results.  He should not continue to hook more Americans on corporate welfare and totemic energy and transportation projects funded by borrowed money.  He should not continue to pander to the envy ridden hatred of success that demands more taxes and he should not be allowed to tip the Supreme Court into the hand of moral relativists.   

Under Obama the economic freedom ranking of the USA has dropped from 15th to 18th, on size of government it is ranked 73rd!  On regulation it is ranked 31st in the world (24th in 2009).  On freedom to trade it is ranked 57th in the world.  

Romney might reverse some of that, and the future prosperity and strength of the USA depends on the country ending its fiscal incontinence, ending its monetary debasement and allowing the capitalist free-enterprise system that built the world's greatest economy to grow once more, within the boundaries of the rule of law, property rights and individual rights.  For it is that which will defend the USA in the long run, against the corrupt authoritarian corporatist "capitalism" of China.

$16 trillion public debt and counting will not.

04 November 2012

Shonky journalism on Stuff about airline seating

Shonky journalism.  That's what the Fairfax news article on Stuff claiming Air NZ wedges passengers into seats really is.  Not that is it that important.  It is a fairly trivial travel issue.  However, given the willingness of some journalists to slam bloggers for not being professional, it provides just a taste of how shallow and deceiving poor quality journalism can be.

The article reports on a survey that was undertaken by Business Traveller, which owns a website about airline seat plans called Seatplans, which like Seatguru and Seatexpert are not always reliable.

That's not journalism, that's reporting.  Journalism would involve doing some research, going through such sites and maybe the websites of the airlines themselves, or even ask them, and making it relevant to those reading it. 

The claim is that Air NZ's seat width is 28th, but Emirates is best.  It came 15th in legroom apparently, yet the range of legroom given is 12cm.  

Yet all of these claims are nonsensical unless you talk about specific aircraft on specific routes.

Air NZ has aircraft ranging from small turboprop Beech 1900 to Boeing 747s.  The idea that you can average out between them is flawed.

So what really is the picture?

First of all, the routes where this matters are long haul.  Yes you might complain about sitting for an hour on a domestic flight, but most people care only about price on short haul routes, but there is nothing in it between Air NZ and Jetstar on domestic flights - unless you have Air NZ Gold or Gold Elite status or Koru Club membership, so you can access the Space + seats on 737s an A320.  They offer an additional 2"- 5" of legroom.  A320s have slightly more seat width than 737s, but that wasn't noticed.

So what about long haul?  The long haul airlines flying to NZ are Air NZ, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Korean, China Airlines, China Southern, LAN, Malaysian and Thai.  Given the connections available, Qantas, BA, Etihad and Virgin Atlantic are worth looking at.

Now the lazy thing to do is to treat all aircraft by all airlines as relevant.  They are not.  So I have simply reviewed those that operate the long haul flights to NZ (or connect in Australia or the main flights connected to by those airlines).

Bear in mind this is all economy class.  If this really matters to you that much, pay more and go in premium economy or business class.

Seat pitch is the measure used for legroom, which just means the distance between the same point on two rows.  Bear in mind this is not the same in the whole cabin of individual planes, with there being ranges of 2-3 inches on some.  You can check this on websites like Flyertalk where there is a lot of detail about individual seat rows.

So let me fact check the claims in the article, particularly since I took a little time to provide you with a full list of seat pitch and widths for all long haul airliners serving NZ or on major connecting services.

1. "Air New Zealand economy seats were among the most cramped in the skies, the airline tied for 28th place out of 32 airlines with Qatar Airways, which has an economy seat width of between 41.9cm and 45.7cm"

No.  None of Air NZ long haul aircraft have seat widths of 16.5" (41.9cm), but the 17.9" (45.7cm) seat width is also more than any it has (by a tiny amount).  The relevant figures would be 43.4cm-45.2cm.  Air NZ's seat width on the 747s and 777-200s compares well with others being 4th equal.  The 777-300s are tighter at 6th, with Etihad, Emirates (777) Malaysian and Qantas (A330 only) being slightly tighter.  So in fact, Air NZ is rather average.

2. "Budget carrier Ryanair had the most cramped economy seats, offering just 40.6cm of width. Emirates' seats were the most spacious at 45.7cm to 52.1cm."

Yes on Ryanair, but you wont be flying it unless you're in Europe.  Emirates on the other hand draws with the others listed above for having the narrowest seats on the 777 flights to NZ.  Hardly the most spacious is it? Given Emirates squeezes an extra seat in its 777s (Air NZ now does on the 777-300s only) it is not surprising.  The A380s have an additional inch of seat width, but don't reach the 19" of the Singapore Airlines 777-300ERs.  So Emirates is not the widest, as far as flights to NZ as concerned.

3.  "Air New Zealand fared better in the economy legroom category, giving between 76.2cm and 88.9cm of space, putting it in 15th place"

Um not really. Yet neither of those figures represent seat pitch on long haul Air NZ aircraft, which are between those.  The 76.2cm applies to domestic aircraft and the A320s (30") excluding the Space + cabin, the 88.9cm IS Space +.  So given Space + doesn't exist on long haul aircraft, and the seat pitch on long haul aircraft is two inches more than the bottom figure, it really isn't useful.  In fact, Air NZ ranks second best with its 747s only, and other aircraft are comparable (but only some seats on the 777-200s rank with the worst).  

Draw your own conclusions, because it is complex, with different aircraft, airlines buy different seats for them, for different routes.  There is up to a four inch legroom difference between best and worst, and two inches in seat width, but you actually need to check the route you want to fly and what airlines operate there.  Frankly, unless you are flying to Europe from NZ, your choices will be limited to one or two airlines at best.  So choose carefully if this matters and you can't afford to uplift to the next class up.

Most importantly, do you own research, don't believe what a newspaper says.

Air NZ                             Seat Pitch     Seat Width

Boeing 777-300ER          32-33"         17.1"  (3-4-3 configuration) AKL-LAX-LHR
Boeing 747-400               32-34"         17.8"  (3-4-3)  AKL-SFO
Boeing 777-200ER          31-32"         17.8"  (3-3-3)  AKL-HKG-LHR, SFO, YVR, PER
Boeing 767-300               32"               17.5"  (2-3-2)  AKL-HNL, NRT, KIX, PPT

British Airways (from Sydney to Singapore and London)

Boeing 747-400              31"               17.5" (3-4-3)
Boeing 777-300ER         31"               17.5" (3-4-3)

Cathay Pacific (to Hong Kong and beyond)

Airbus A340                   32"               17.8" (2-4-2)

China Airlines (to Taiwan and beyond)

Airbus A330-300           32"                18" (2-4-2) 

China Southern (to Guangzhou and beyond)

Airbus A330-200          35"                 17.2" (2-4-2)

Emirates (to Australia and Dubai)

Boeing 777-300ER         34"               17" (3-4-3) AKL, CHC
Airbus A380                   32"               18" (3-4-3) AKL

Etihad (from Sydney to Abu Dhabi and beyond, codeshares Air NZ)

Airbus A340-600           31-33"          17" (2-4-2)

Korean (to Seoul and beyond)

Boeing 777-200ER         33-34"          18"  (3-3-3)
Boeing 747-400              33-34"          17.2" (3-4-3)

LAN (to Santiago)

Airbus A340                  32"               18" (2-4-2)

Malaysia (to Kuala Lumpur and beyond)

Boeing 777-200             34"               17" (2-5-2)

Qantas (from Sydney, Melbourne to Europe/Asia/North America)

Airbus A380                  31"               18.1" (3-4-3)
Boeing 747-400             31"               17.5" (3-4-3)
Airbus A330                  31"               17" (2-4-2)

Singapore Airlines (to Singapore and beyond)

Boeing 777-300ER         32"                19"  (3-3-3) AKL (and many routes from SIN to Europe)
Boeing 777-200ER         34"                17.5" (3-3-3) AKL, CHC
Airbus A380                   32"                19" (3-4-3) (many flights from SIN to Europe)

Thai (to Bangkok and beyond)

Boeing 777-200ER       34"                 17" (3-3-3)

Virgin Atlantic (from Sydney to Hong Kong and London, and from San Francisco to London, from Shanghai to London all connecting with Air NZ)

Airbus A340-600         32"                 17.5" (2-4-2)