23 December 2014

North Korea's internet shutdown? So?

Whilst much of the media has parroted reports that the "DPRK's internet has been shut down", few actually specified the source for this, nor did they explain how meaningless this is without the explanation that 99.99% of the population has absolutely no internet access.

You see the DPRK's internet connection is restricted to a privileged subset of the ruling elite.   Virtually none of the DPRK's population outside Pyongyang and the Chinese border town of Sinuiju is even aware of the Internet.   A tiny proportion of the population has PCs, and the extent to which they are interconnected, it is through Kyangmyong - the local intranet which largely exists to distribute government material and approved content.  

So,  the consequences for almost everyone in the country are nil.  The consequences for a fraction of the ruling party and army elite are inconvenience.  

The authority for this is also not a DPRK source.  The Korean Central News Agency is a source for the news that the DPRK wants to present to the world, but domestically its content is quite different. Domestically, there is no awareness of the internet, although reports about Kyangmyong exist to demonstrate how technically adept the country is.  However, NKNews.Org has reported that there appears to have been a compromise of the country's external connections, although this isn't hard to do:

North Korea’s connection to the internet is relatively fragile, indicating that it would not take a particularly sophisticated attack to knock the DPRK offline.

“There’s nothing clearly evident which points to U.S. involvement … there has been talk amongst the [non-government-aligned] hacking classes of reprisals,” Frank Feinstein NK News chief technical officer said.

“This sort of thing could be pulled off by a collective or handful of individuals, rather than a state power very easily,” Feinstein added.

So a technically unsophisticated dictatorship with very few connections to the outside world,  for a system that serve the Kim family, and the top echelons of the party and military, was weakened.  

I've seen no reports noting that its brethren in the south, one of the world's most connected country's, could easily undertake such an attack.   

The real story is that the DPRK is under almost constant internet shutdown.  It is the world's least connected country, not due to poverty, but because of deliberate government policy.

Closing down its international connections, which it appears to have used to attack systems in other countries, and which are largely reserved to an elite that actively prevents the free speech and information it offers from reaching almost anyone else, is not a bad result.

The petulant man-child running the place, aping his sophisticated grand fraudster grandfather, is trying to flex his muscles to show to the military - the real source of power and threat to power - that he is up to the job.   Embarrassing a Japanese corporation in the USA over a film that pokes fun at him would have a been a top job for the Pyongyang hackers.  

In truth, he runs a country where he can't expose too many skilled young computer technicians to the technology that it can't easily access (due to sanctions) or the internet, or else they will find out a little too much about the lies told to them through school and the media - without rewarding them all very handsomely indeed, or keeping the under draconian control.

That's not a formula for building ICT capabilities to seriously take on south Korea or the USA, set aside companies that are weak in the computer security.   It should not be difficult to confine the child's ambitions.   China, on the other hand, is another story.

18 December 2014

Murderers, thugs and cowards

Taliban, Cuba's ruling thugs and Sony Pictures respectively.

On the Pakistani Taliban, it is telling what it takes for the Pakistani Army and Government to actually take this evil group seriously and seek to wipe it out.  For previously the policy was "let" the Taliban run the north-western provinces and for all major parties to support negotiating with "moderate elements" (i.e. the ones that only murder infidels, not Muslim children).  This is why Osama Bin Laden lived in comfort in Pakistan, as the Pakistani Army had essentially appeased the local Taliban. The fact that one of Pakistan's greatest financial and military supporters over the decades, the United States, had had thousands of its citizens murdered by this outfit, was irrelevant.   Furthermore, even the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai for daring to support the education of girls, didn't animate the misogynistic theocratically minded rent-seekers in the Pakistani government.  It has taken hundreds of children to be murdered en masse, for there to finally be some effort taken to wipe them out - as they should.

For the negotiate with the Taliban, as with ISIS, is like seeking to negotiate with the Nazis for a peace where they continue to rule over some people, or to agree with a mafia over the territory they can still bully people over, or to agree with a pedophile cabal that they can only rape children within a certain area.  It's morally bankrupt, because the only winner in a compromise between good and evil, is evil, particularly when you have the means to defeat it at little relative cost compared to letting it be.

So if there is anything positive that could ever come from hundreds of children and their teachers being murdered in cold blood, is that it turns enough Pakistanis against the Pakistani Taliban, and provides the testicular fortitude in the government and army to hunt down, and defeat every last one.   In that mission, Pakistan should have the full support of those that fear a Taliban takeover the most, including India, the United States, the UK and yes, Iran.  For, as a nuclear weapon state, Pakistan, as very flawed as it is by any measures of political and individual freedom, and more flawed as a corrupt state of pilfering mediocrities, it is nothing compared to what it would be like if ruled by the pedocidal Taliban. 

Thugs being appeased, is one way of looking at President Obama deciding to make friends with the dictatorship on his doorstep, Cuba. This is easy to be critical of, because Cuba is not introducing political or civil freedoms, and is not introducing any form of liberal democracy.  It is just freeing some political prisoners.  In exchange it gets diplomatic recognition, direct telecommunications and greater freedom of movement of Americans into Cuba.   Does it provide succour to a despicable regime?  Yes.  However,  there is little doubt to me that, on balance, this is good for freedom in Cuba.  Why?  Because the more Cubans get contact with their relatives and friends from the United States, and receive money and goods from them, the more they will understand how utterly stultifying their regime is.  The main negative of the policy will be that the key beneficiaries of any liberalisation of trade will be the thugs in charge and their families, who they will grant favours to.  

However, even if this is so, the regime's monopoly on power will not be strengthened by heightened corruption and the enrichment of an elite which gained and sustained power on the basis of everyone being equally impoverished (not that the party elite were denied privilege, but the Castro mafia is not known to be anywhere near as self-aggrandising and enriching as its ideological soul brothers in other dictatorships).   Greater contact with the outside world is a good thing, and while the trade embargo will not be removed without Congressional approval on the US side (which seems far from likely), the liberalisation that does occur, will enable Cubans to taste more of capitalism and freedom than they can at the moment.   If the trade embargo is lifted, then the regime will no longer have the excuse of the embargo for the relative poverty in the country, and more will be able to tell their stories of a derelict health system (despite how much it is lauded by leftwing activists), and how harassed they are by officials.

So, on balance, liberalising contact with Cuba is a good thing.  For it leaves restrictions on the country coming predominantly from the Cuban government side.  Yes, it looks like Obama is rewarding a dictatorship for doing little, but you must think beyond that.   Eastern Europe was undermined more by greater liberalisation of contact with the West, than by maintaining tight restrictions on it.   Cuba too will change, and on balance this is one step towards this.

Cowards.  The word to describe Sony Pictures Entertainment, and the cinema chains refusing to show The Interview.   It's astonishing, that a bunch of hackers, probably led from Pyongyang, but also likely to include some paid in China and elsewhere, can frighten a company that is part of a conglomerate with a turnover 50% greater than north Korea.

Yes.  Sony had turnover of around US$70 billion in 2014, whereas the DPRK's reported GDP (on a purchasing power parity basis) was US$40 billion in 2011.  What the hell should they be scared of?

Do they fear more cyber attacks? Well talk to banks, talk to the US IT giants that fear cyber attacks more.

Do they fear physical attacks?  Oh please.  "Team America - World Police" upset the Kim mafia when it came out, and the regime can't even control this. The DPRK has little record of engaging in international terrorism outside Asia, so it is difficult to envisage that it could convincingly pay anyone in the United States to perform such acts.  

More importantly, the film makes fun, pokes humour out of a regime that prohibits such humour. One of the first acts of any authoritarian regime is to ban parodies and comic depictions that "dishonour" its leading thugs, which of course dishonours them by doing so. 

So it is very important that this film be released and shown, and for people to go watch it and laugh. Laugh at the fat hedonistic boy king who got a fine Western education, has Western tastes, who loves NBA basketball and instead of sharing this wisdom and expanding the potential of the people he inherited from under the jackboots of his father and grandfather, he's put on a new pair himself.

His father at least didn't have the excuse of knowing as well as he does, about the outside world, for the short brat was scared of flying, so hardly travelled outside the country at all.  He proudly sacrificed hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to stay in power for fear the army would overthrow him.  

So the fat boy king is now emulating his grandfather, who is one of the great frauds of the 20th century.  He deserves to be laughed at, and Sony is doing a disservice to the people of Korea, and indeed the people of Japan threatened by north Korea, and to the USA, which stopped all of Korea being under the Kim family crime syndicate (and indeed helped transform Japan into a country that could allow Sony to be established and thrive).

So if Sony Pictures is too gutless to distribute this film - sell it - let someone with courage show it, and shame on those who refuse to do so, out of fear of a bunch of upstart north Korean kids trapped at the basement of a monument in Pyongyang (well that's where I saw banks of unexplained PCs well connected before the door was slammed shut on me). 

25 November 2014

Fighting against ISIS

In the past few days reports have come out about British citizens, some of whom are of Kurdish extraction, others not, travelling to Syria explicitly to fight ISIS.  They make it clear they are not being paid, in part for legal reasons, but their decision to take on ISIS directly, and bravely, has confused the Home Office.

The reason for the confusion is the moral equivalency that has been granted between ISIS and its Kurdish opponents, although David Cameron has confidence that the UK Border Agency can tell the difference.

I don't share his confidence, particularly when it comes to Kurds who wish to fight, who may be assumed to be aligned to the Marxist-Leninist PKK separatist group based in Turkey.  Given there has been absolutely no terrorist activity in the UK aligned to Kurds, they ought to simply be left alone.

In New Zealand of course, you can't go off as a mercenary to fight ISIS, because the Clark Government, encouraged by the Greens, and also supported by Jim Anderton and Peter Dunne. National and NZ First opposed the legislation and you can read here the banal background as to why it was supported, though it is telling that the only member of the Select Committee who is still an MP is Peter Dunne.

The Santa legend

This report I read from Manchester brought up for me what really was going on here. 

Parents are upset that a lie they tell children was contradicted by a teacher telling the truth.

So here is the perennial seasonal issue - is it ok to convince children Santa Claus is real?

I believed in the legend when I was a child, until some kid at school said I was an idiot for believing in it, and then it started to make sense. I felt foolish for a while, wondered why my parents would lie to me, and got over it. It isn't a big deal at all. After all, if you can't figure out by a certain age that a big fat man with a flying sleigh and reindeer delivering presents to 2 billion children over 24 hours isn't bizarre, then you're not going to be able to know how to use cutlery, dress yourself or be a functional adult.

So what should parents do?

The choice is a little complicated.

You either run with the lie and let the child find out, and complement the child for being smart (or console because someone told the child first and explain why you lied). OR
You can run with the lie and then tell the child later the truth. OR
You can say Santa Claus is a myth, but lots of kids believe it and don't spoil it for them.

I'm not a parent, so I'm quite open about the idea.

It's beautiful to see kids enjoying Christmas, the sights, sounds and the celebration of this time of year.

However, what does Santa Claus teach? "He" teaches that you can get presents from someone far far away, who knows if you've been naughty or nice, so you better be good or he will deny you presents.

Hmmm. Not quite socialism, as you "earned" the presents. However for what? Being good? Sounds a little like Kim Jong Il dishing out presents to the little people.

18 November 2014

ISIS has "progressive potential"

not only that it is a "valid and an authentic expression of their emancipatory, anti-imperialist aspirations.”

Did this come from another group of Islamist men seeking to cheer on their murderous comrades in their proud courageous rampage through villages of non-believers, as they behead men, women and children?

No, it came from the British left, an organisation called Left Unity which has the backing of George Galloway and Ken Livingstone, both well known as firebrands who have sympathised with authoritarians of many colours.  Guido Fawkes has this coverage of the event.

Yes - now just think about the contradictions.

When ISIS governs it would mean:

- Strict orthodox Islamist theocracy, where other faiths and atheism would not only be banned, but their practice would be punishable by death;
- All freedom of speech that was critical of the caliphate or Islam, or deemed to be blasphemous under ISIS's strict reading of the Koran, would be forbidden, and harshly punished;
- Women would be in no positions of authority, and be expected to be submissive breeding stock.  Intended to produce children, raise them and be completely submissive to their fathers, then husbands;
- Much if not most books, magazines, music, films, television, audio programmes, paintings, photographs and other media known in most cultures would be prohibited and destroyed;
- And of course, being gay/lesbian/bisexual etc would be totally forbidden, and any expression of such behaviour would be punishable by death.

By what stretch of the imagination of any, so-called, liberal leftwing campaigner, is this emancipatory, without the sort of Orwellian contortions that are used in Pyongyang to talk of its regime being free and democratic?

14 November 2014

Air NZ creates market opportunity

There has been rather little wailing and gnashing of teeth from some quarters about predominantly state-owned Air New Zealand making an entirely commercial decision to restructure its regional domestic operations.

There has been some focus on it dropping flights altogether to Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport, but it is also dropping some other services like from Wellington to Taupo (Rotorua isn't that far).  On the other hand it is significantly increasing capacity on other routes as it flies larger ATR72 aircraft into centres like Napier and New Plymouth, then enabling its 50 seat Q300s to fly into smaller airports like Wanganui, Blenheim, Timaru and Hokitika.  More seats mean cheaper fares.  For most of the regional locations this is good news.

The current services are losing money because people aren't prepared to pay the fares necessary to keep services going, at NZ$1 million a month, or NZ$26 per trip.  People aren't prepared to pay that much more, and there is a longer term issue is that the planes that Air New Zealand uses, Beechcraft 1900D (through its subsidiary Eagle Airways) need replacement.  Air New Zealand, to its credit, has been using them intensively, but there simply isn't a 19 seater turboprop airliner available that could replace them economically.

So airports that can handle the much bigger 50 seat Bombardier Q-300, get them, and the airline gets some more of the ATR72s to service larger centres.

What of the airports that are losing services?  It's a market opportunity.  One of the few acts of liberalisation of the Muldoon Government (which curiously, the then Labour Opposition opposed, with one Richard Prebble leading the debate opposing it), was to deregulate domestic air services, removing Air New Zealand's statutory monopoly on domestic services (although it took a lifting of the foreign ownership limit from 15% to 50% and later abolished altogether to see Ansett NZ challenge Air NZ on the main trunk route).   For decades it was thought "normal" for the state to guarantee air services by its own airline providing them, and woe betide any upstart with lower costs competing with the heavily unionised state carrier.  

Not any more.

Already Sunair and SoundAir have been talking about new services as a result, which is exactly how it should be.  Opportunities to shift a dozen or so people by air between small airports give rise to innovation and entrepreneurship.  With a relatively highly valued NZ$ it is also easier to bring in high capital goods like airliners.  We shall see what happens (and of course, it does beg the question as to why the state continues to own the rest of Air NZ).

Contrast that to how Auckland urban transport is treated by politicians and planners.  One of the main tasks in recent years has been to seek to snuff out entrepreneurship and innovation by bus operators running commercially viable services, preferring to dish out ratepayer and fuel/RUC taxpayer subsidies to routes the planners deem best (without even mentioning the billion dollar railway that loses money).

Odd then, if the free market is seen fit to deal with how regional towns and cities get air services (noting in quite a few countries, including Australia and the US, rent-seeking rural lobbies have gained subsidies for uneconomic air services to be operated by state approved monopolies), why not for how people get around cities?  Is it because it wouldn't deliver the planners' answer of passenger rail in lower density cities with dispersed commuter patterns, but rather a more dynamic network of buses and for roads to cost a bit more in the peak, but a lot less off peak?

13 November 2014

Forgotten Post from the Past: Gordon Brown, temper tantrum

The one thing that can't be said of current UK Labour Leader Ed Miliband, is that he loses his temper, he is positively serene compared to his predecessor, if not any more competent.  Gordon Brown is much closer to NZ erstwhile Labour loser David Cunliffe... it's worth recalling this story from four years ago....


Major allegations in the weekend that Gordon Brown is a bully deserve more careful consideration than the obvious kneejerk. There was never any allegation of violence, but reports in both the Observer and the Evening Standard allege Gordon Brown:
- is always look for someone to blame;
- is constantly on the verge of an explosion;
- does not get as much information as he could or should get because he erupts with bad news and blames the messenger;
- repeatedly throws mobile phones in anger;
- repeatedly threw computer keyboards (and staplers) onto the floor in anger.

Bullying? Well those who allege such a thing ought to stand up. However, the bigger story is his anger in dealing with staff, and difficulty in accepting blame. Not for one moment will Brown accept he overspent whilst he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, even though he almost always ran significant budget deficits - during the good years. Not for one moment will Brown accept some responsibility for an investment environment that encouraged property speculation and rewarded the banking industry for investing the vast quantities of fiat money that buoyed the economy, until it crashed. Nor will he accept that the vast spending increases on the NHS have delivered much other than increase salaries and tread water.

In short, he doesn't like taking advice which tells him he is wrong, and so because he does not receive bad news as quickly as he should, and because criticism and self-reflection have to be driven internally, and not from advice, he is more prone to making mistakes.

Now there is never a shortage of reasons to vote against incumbent politicians. Most are gutless against the claims and calls of the vested interests who want other people's money, want to restrict the private property rights of others and prevent competition. Lying, deliberate obfuscation and a belief they know best for others are all par for the course.

However, to be unable to listen to advice, to be only too willing to blame those around him, when he himself makes the decisions. To be so obviously incapable of making certain decisions, such as when to hold an election (after teasing for so long that it was imminent), to "what's my favourite biscuit", is the sign of no leader.

The man who boasted of abolishing "boom and bust" had a whole team behind him, many of them are with Ed Miliband (and includes him).  Why would anyone trust them at all to lead a TV quiz show team, let alone lead a government?

11 November 2014

Berlin Wall : Kristallnacht : Remembrance Day

25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall is also 76 years since Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass", when the Nazi pogrom against the Jews entered a new phase.

Both events buffer periods of German history that pretended they were the antithesis of each other, when in fact they were different aromas from the same poison.  The poisonous belief that human beings exist not for their own ends, but for some "greater good" that they may readily be sacrificed for.

30 October 2014

Tolling Auckland motorways

I know a bit about road pricing.

So I've been following the debates about tolling Auckland roads for many years, and so given the latest stories it's time for some very clear thinking about the proposals being floated by "independent advisors" to the Mayor of Auckland, because it's very easy to give a kneejerk reaction to the idea.

So here's the quick and dirty summary of what it is all about:

  • Len Brown wants to spend a lot of money on (mostly public) transport projects that will lose money.  He doesn't have the money to do it.  His usual way of raising money is from ratepayers, and ratepayers don't want to pay for it.  
  • The projects he proposes will never generate enough money from fares to pay for the cost of operating the trains and buses, let alone pay for the capital costs of building the infrastructure. They will lose money, because Len knows that if he confronted users with those costs, they wouldn't use the services.
  • Central government isn't keen to spend national taxpayers' money on these services for the same reason, and because the net economic benefits are at best heroically optimistic.   At worst it is a transfer from taxpayers to a tiny fraction of Auckland commuters (and a few property owners who will gain increased value).
So Len has some pet projects he can't convince the users to pay for, or Auckland ratepayers to pay for, so he wants to tax road users to pay for them.

Now local authorities are permitted to toll any new road capacity they build, under certain conditions and with central government approval.  The key element being that it is new capacity, and the money raised is used to pay for the road improvements.  That's not what Len wants to do, he isn't interested in the approach of Oslo, Stockholm or Sydney, in charging road users to pay for improved roads.  He wants to charge them for improved railways.

The problem is that road users already pay to use the roads.  The roads he wants to toll, aren't his. The motorways are state highways paid for by central government, and fully funded by taxes on the use of roads.  All fuel tax, all road user charges and motor vehicle registration/licensing fees go into the National Land Transport Fund, and fully fund state highways.  Those taxes are enough to keep the motorways maintained and to fund expansion and improvements around Auckland.  They also pay half the cost of the roads Auckland Council does control (the rest comes from rates).

So Len wants Auckland motorists to pay more to use roads that aren't his responsibility, so that he can build some grand projects that will lose Auckland ratepayers money (he'd like the motorists to pay for those losses too) and wont generate net economic wealth.

Arguments that the motorists will benefit are grossly exaggerated, since very few motorists will switch from driving to using these services and Auckland Council has long given up claiming it will clear the roads - it wont, it doesn't.

The funny thing is that charging motorists directly would make sense, to reduce congestion simply by applying market pricing.  At peak times scarce road capacity should cost more, because demand exceeds supply.   If priced efficiently, traffic congestion would largely be avoided, and enough money might be raised to build more capacity.   Conversely, during off peak times it would be much much cheaper, as there is ample unused capacity and it makes sense to encourage greater use at those times to generate revenue.

That could be achieved by replacing the current flat fuel tax and RUC system with a pricing system, that would reflect demand and supply.   If the motorways were run like a business, that could happen.

Cheaper motoring off peak, less congestion at the peaks, buses could flow more freely at peak times and could expand services to meet demand from those who find driving too expensive.  More mobility, less emissions and yes more public transport, though not the kind some planners embrace, but the kind driven by what users want.

However, it wouldn't include Len's train set, and so he wont embrace that sort of solution for Auckland.

The government should tell Len quite simply no - he can't toll the motorways that are not his, to pay for his pet projects.  He might consider instead running his own roads more like a business, and lobby government to do the same for its roads, even selling the Auckland Harbour Bridge as a test case.

but I bet he wont...

04 October 2014

NZ election 2014 post-mortem

Every election that comes about inevitably has some hacks saying it is “interesting”, “historic” etc, which of course they always are.  Elections always change governments in some way, even if not the ruling party. Psephologists (an area that I am often tempted to drop into) are keen to dissect some greater meaning from a vast range of individual decisions made at the ballot box or to not go to the ballot box, and political parties are even more keen to use that data to inform their future utterings of rhetoric, promises and contortions of fact.

The 2014 New Zealand General Election is, though, a bit more than all that.  For it needs to be seen in the context not only of 20 years of MMP politics, and an vigorous level of campaigning by opposition parties, that saw many pundits thinking the election would be close, either due to wishful thinking on their part, or because governments seeking a third term usually only scrape through (see 2005, 1996, 1981). 

In the height of economic recession, a majority of voters chose to change the electoral system, thanks to sustained campaigning by a coalition on the left, poorly focused counter-campaigning by those on the right (remember Janet Shirtcliffe?) and the feeling by a significant number of voters that they had had enough of radical reforms they neither understood nor felt were helping them.  Bear in mind in that same election in 1993, National won by one seat, with 33% of the vote.  First Past the Post meant that opposition votes were split between Labour, the Alliance and NZ First.

Today, opposition votes are also split between Labour, the Greens (which have succeeded the Alliance as the far-left faction in Parliament) and NZ First, but National has won an election in its own right, with the system many on the left thought would deliver them sustained so-called “progressive” majorities of Labour supported by a leftwing partner, and perhaps a centrist party maintaining a balance.  Not now.  Despite a campaign whereby the left DID campaign on a lot of policy, and dishing up a fair bit of dirt, a majority of New Zealand voters weren’t swayed.   National getting its best ever result since 1951 and Labour its worst since 1922 speaks volumes not of the split on the left (which has not grown, as the Greens are sustaining fairly consistent levels of support), but on a series of factors that should result in some introspection, particularly from the left...

03 October 2014

Forgotten Posts from 2009 : Conservative Party ignoring its core?

Simon Heffer has written in the Daily Telegraph "Why is it deemed politically acceptable for Labour to suck up to and bribe its core vote, but not for the Conservative Party to do the same to its own?"

He doesn't mean bribe, he means demonstrate that productive, aspiring, entrepreneurial people matter.

Except, of course, in the counting of heads, called elections, they don't. What matters is attracting the masses bribed by middle class welfare in the form of child benefits, the large bulk of middle income people who are beloved of the NHS, because they have been told that the only alternative is the bogeyman of the US health system, and that only the government can make sure their kids get a good education.

"Caring" in the form of "we'll spend other people's money" is the order of the day, and many are convinced that the state should spend their money how they want it - and it is Labour that is far more adept at convincing voters that it can do that.  That's because Labour is philosophically committed to a larger state.  The Conservatives are, far too often, philosophically terrified of arguing that people should keep more of their own money.

27 September 2014

Forgotten Posts from 2009 : Brown and Darling show what's wrong with democracy

Labour was been in power in the UK for 12 years. For most of that time, the UK economy has grown steadily, to the envy of some its poorer performing continental neighbours. During that time the public sector proportion of GDP has gone from 38.8% to 42%. Almost without exception every year there has been a budget deficit. As Chancellor of the Exchequer and subsequently Prime Minister, health spending has gone up by 66% as a percentage of GDP, doubling in real terms, yet the outcomes are barely an improvement. The economy of some parts of the UK, such as Scotland, is more dependent on the state sector than Hungary was in the latter days of communism.

So the last act, having ridden on a wave of asset price inflation, encouraging massive credit bubbles and then seeing them pop, has been to spend - spend - spend.  To ignore the collapse in tax revenue and the budget deficits since 2001, and to leave a legacy of overspending that the next government will have to face, and then be criticised for being "cruel" because inevitably it will cut spending on welfare, local government and other areas of social spending.

People vote time and time again for governments that spend money borrowed from future voters, and then when confronted with the true costs of those decisions, they will bite back.  What chance the next Conservative government will be a one term government because Labour's client welfare recipients and public servants will bite back.

19 September 2014

Scotland votes No

It might have been fear about money.

It might have been dislike for Alex Salmond.

but Scotland voted to remain in the UK.

and so nationalists and socialists in Scotland, and those wanting to kneecap the UK worldwide will weep.

I'm having sparking wine in the Air NZ Koru Club in Auckland Airport....

but it isn't over, since the three main Westminster parties promised substantially greater devolution to Scotland as a last minute bribe.  That means the West Lothian question - the issue that Scottish MPs elected to the House of Commons get to vote on matters that do not affect Scotland - is unresolved.

That is now front and centre.

2014 New Zealand voting guide for lovers of liberty

1. Is there a positive candidate to endorse?
2. Is there a likely winner worthy of tactically voting to eject because he or she is so odious??
3. Is there a tolerable "least worst" candidate?

So I list by electorate, the status of the electorate and who I am endorsing, then if you care, an explanation why.  Just search for the name unless you want to have a very long read...  and of course I am happy to see contrary views expressed.  I am updating this as I am on a series of flights in the next couple of days, and it is dependent on the gap between flights, wifi access and access to laptop power...

2014 New Zealand voting guide for lovers of liberty complete

1. Is there a positive candidate to endorse?
2. Is there a likely winner worthy of tactically voting to eject because he or she is so odious??
3. Is there a tolerable "least worst" candidate?

So I list by electorate, the status of the electorate and who I am endorsing, then if you care, an explanation why.  Just search for the name unless you want to have a very long read...  and of course I am happy to see contrary views expressed.  I am updating this as I am on a series of flights in the next couple of days, and it is dependent on the gap between flights, wifi access and access to laptop power...

18 September 2014

Why Scotland should vote No

Today is the day that most of the Scottish electorate get to decide whether they want Scotland to break away from the UK and be an independent country.  

Well independent notwithstanding the passionate desire by its First Minister to tie it to the Pound Sterling, meaning that its monetary policy and by default fiscal policy (as it will affect public borrowing) will be driven by the Bank of England.  

Now that isn't a bad thing in itself, for if Scotland were to be truly independent, you can imagine the Scottish Pound being worth much less than the already devalued Pound Sterling, primarily because virtually all of the advocates for independence are socialists, committed primarily not to the earning of wealth, but the taking of it and "redistributing it" to those they deem worthy.   Such a vision isn't one that inspires confidence in money created out of nothing.

Furthermore, "independent" Scotland aspires to be a member of the EU, as it will lose EU membership the day it breaks away from it, and seeks to be a member so it can "earn" its cut of subsidies etc, although curiously the "Yes" campaign seems to think Scotland could be like Norway - except, of course, Norway has its own relatively solid currency and is not a member of the EU, because it doesn't want to share its wealth with Bulgaria or Greece, or its fisheries with anyone else.

"Independent" Scotland of course is happy to share its fisheries with the subsidised fleets of the rest of the EU.

"Independent" Scotland will still have the Windsors as head of state.

All of that is just political posturing by a campaign led by a megalomaniacal habitual liar.

There are solid reasons to not vote for independence, but there are also arguments in favour of the union.

17 September 2014

Comparing parties' transport policies (in progress)

Given the blogosphere in NZ in terms of transport policy debate is dominated by one (well-meaning) blog that is almost entirely focused on one dimension of transport (how people move about in cities, specifically one city), and with one philosophical perspective (central planning, state funded, as opposed to market driven, user funded), I thought I'd do a quick review of parties' transport policies for this election.

My test for them all is:

1. Understanding of the transport sector:  Most politicians don't know who owns what, who is responsible for what and what exists and doesn't exist.  Those that do deserve some credit.

2. Support for competition, innovation and entrepreneurship:  New entry both of operators and vehicle types, and new modes of transport should generally be encouraged.  This includes those who wish to do what the government fails to do.

3. User pays:  Taxpayers generally shouldn't be subsidising users of transport services or infrastructure, but it does allow cross-subsidisation of marginal users of networks that are inefficient to charge for (e.g. footpaths).  Infrastructure costs should generally be recovered by users of those networks, not by other network users.

4. Economic rationalism:  Where the state does intervene, the net economic benefits should exceed costs, demonstrably.  This includes spending and reducing compliance costs for unnecessary regulations.

5. Wider impacts:  Make this safety, environmental and social impacts, and say I'm being soft.  What this basically means is, will the policy help or hinder reductions in accidents, noxious pollution, and improve people's ability to access what they want (bearing in mind the impacts on others who may have to bear the costs of the measures).

I'll give each a score out of 5, giving a total possible score of 25.  Bear in mind I am looking at land, air and sea transport.  Any party that says nothing about any mode is presumed to agree with the status quo, which is generous I believe.  I am guided only by the parties' expressed policies online, unless there is a statement by a leader or leading spokesperson that gives cause to vary this.

National: 5, 3, 3, 2, 3 = 16 out of 25.  It's about big roads, some of which aren't good value for money, some of which are.  There's a lot for public transport, not enough for the fundamentalists, and spending on Kiwirail is likely to be the best last chance it gets to show it is worth anything.

NZ First: 2, 2, 2, 1, 1 = 8 out of 25.  Suddenly an obsession about public transport, especially reviving long distance passenger trains. Remember the Northerner, the Southerner? They'd be back. Get rid of road user charges, replace them with fuel tax, then replace fuel tax with tolls like road user charges.  Usually silliness you'd expect from a cult that gets one member to write policy.

ACT: 3, 4, 4, 4, 3 = 18 out of 25.  It's all about roads, and having them run like businesses, with user pays for public transport and allowing the private sector to build competing roads as well.  It's light in terms of content, with nothing on other modes, but given air and sea largely look after themselves, that's not a bad thing.  It's a start, and it would mean some of the Nats' pet road projects would come under closer scrutiny.

Labour: 1, 2, 1, 1, 2 = 7 out of 25. "The current government has been obsessed with a handful of hugely expensive projects that it selected for political reasons" then Labour selects the ones it agrees with, for political reasons, including the big Auckland underground rail loop, building a new line to Marsden Point and reopening the Napier-Gisborne railway, so it can carry the 12 truckloads a week it once carried.   Lots of spending, lots of utter drivel, and it supports the so-called "congestion free network" promoted by leftwing/greenie/central planner ginger group "Generation Zero" (which will do next to nothing for congestion on the network people are prepared to pay for).  It's Green Party policy-lite and just as intellectually robust, with silliness on motorhomes and trucks not being allowed in fast lanes on motorways to give NZ First something to admire.

Democrats for Social Credit: 2, 1, 1, 1, 1 = 6 out of 25.  Central planning obsessives with weird statements like "Air New Zealand as an important means of transporting perishable goods to overseas markets".  The mental contortions required to give credibility to the funny money men adds to it (but then funny money is more common than we think).

Greens: 3,1,0,1,2 = 7 out of 25.  So much money wasted on road projects with poor economic returns, stop them and build railways with even worse ones.  Well that's not what they say, but it is the truth. The Green mantra is that walking, biking and riding rail based transport puts you into the promised land, but driving is a curse.  Those who drive are "auto-dependent" and are "forced" to use your car, and you're just aching to walk to a tram stop to wait to ride a tram with lots of other people to go to the place you want to go.  If only everyone could get about this way it would be smart. Except its not. It's a tired, old-fashioned obsession with building your way out of problems, except this is with railways and busways, not roads.  What's got to be most stupid is that unlike green parties in other countries, the Greens have ignored congestion charging as a way of reducing traffic congestion and pollution.  Politics over evidence.  

ALCP: no policy

Maori: no policy

Internet Mana: 2, 0, 0, 0, 1 = 3.  Well you didn't exactly expect much did you?  Rhetoric on nationalising parts of the transport sector that are already government owned, but the big deal is free public transport. Everywhere.  It's an old-fashioned tired old leftwing proposal that claims it would free up the roads, but what it would do is shift a lot of air by rail and bus.   It wont ease congestion, it will cost a fortune (uncosted), and don't expect any innovation or competition, but a large union dominated set of monopolies.

Conservative: no policy


United Future:

Focus NZ:


Independent Coalition:

More detail..

14 September 2014

Why Scotland should vote "No" on independence

Scotland matters to me.  My family came from there, hell I'm named after the place.  I have never lived there, but it is part of my heritage.  I feel warm towards it, I enjoy visiting Scotland and I grew up surrounded by Scottish accents, by elements of Scottish culture and language, and so I have an emotional attachment to the land from whence both my parents were born and raised.

From them and much of my family, I gained a keen belief in the ethic of working for a living, of reaping the rewards of that work, and in not seeking to cheat or live like a host off of the back of others who had achieved.  Call it Protestant work ethic, call it old fashioned self esteem and values, but the impression I got was a cultural background of deep respect for those who put in the effort to better themselves and their family, indeed the stories of my grandparents are of those who strived, against some family members who sneered.

So next Thursday when all Scottish residents 16+ (not people of Scottish descent elsewhere) get to vote on whether Scotland  becomes independent, has become interesting, not least because recent polling showed the strong lead for the "No" side has narrowed to being neck-and-neck.

For a libertarian who believes in a smaller state living in England, there are two compelling arguments for Scotland to say "Yes".  

Scottish voters overwhelming back statist politicians and political parties.  Take away the Scottish MPs from the House of Commons and the Conservatives would have clearly won the 2010 election.  

Scotland's economy is, despite the rhetoric from nationalists, dependent on English taxpayers to sustain a higher level of state spending than the rest of the UK, on average.  For whilst a geographic proportion of tax revenue from Scotland has meant that in some years Scotland contributes a higher proportion of UK tax revenue than it receives in spending from tax revenue, it is still not enough to balance the books.   Scotland overspends by over £12 billion per annum, so remove Scotland and the net impact is positive for UK public spending, but it doesn't mean the public finances in Scotland would be buoyant. 

I wrote in 2007 about the childishness behind calls for independence, and it still stands.

So while there is probably a bigger chance the rest of the UK would have a smaller state without Scotland, I'm asking Scotland to vote No - because that is in Scotland's interests.

I don't want to see my ancestral homeland become a new Venezuela, but moreover I don't want the UK to become smaller, weaker and less important in Europe and the world, and that is exactly what will happen.

An independent Scotland will be a minnow and far from "independent".  

It wont be independent because the intention is not to establish its own fiat currency (which would deservedly be treated with contempt), but to be in a currency union with the rump UK.  Yet all major UK political parties say they would not agree to this, and it is difficult to see how that could be in the interests of the rest of the UK, without imposing strict fiscal rules on Scotland that would limit or eliminate budget deficits for the new country and getting Bank of England approval for any sovereign borrowing by Scotland.  Getting your budget approved in London, and getting London approval for borrowing is not "independence".

If the UK government rejects a formal currency union, the Scottish National Party (SNP) says Scotland will use the Pound Sterling anyway.  That is true, but it would be limited to borrowing only the amounts it could raise at commercial rates.  That would be good for Scotland, but only if it meant shrinking the state, rather than raising taxes.   However, the socialist paradise being sold to Scottish folk can't happen.  For if taxes are raised significantly then the better off will simply leave, it isn't far to move to the UK.  Spending cuts would hit health, education, welfare and pensions, and would be a complete betrayal of what has been offered.

There is no golden egg of independence.

As a small state, Scotland wont be important or influential, or part of an influential state (which it is now).  It wants to join the EU, where its MEPs will be 2% of the European Parliament.  Yet the EU's law will bind much of Scotland's economic policies.  Scotland will have as much influence over those as Slovakia does.

The SNP says it can join the EU but not the Euro, but Euro membership is a condition of EU membership, and has been since the Euro was created.  The UK and Denmark have explicit treaty exclusions to this obligation, and only Sweden remains as the other EU Member State that has not joined the Euro and was an EU Member State at the time the Euro was created.

So Scotland joining the EU and not being required to be on the path to the Euro, would be unprecedented.  Consider also that Scotland will want exclusion from the Schengen agreement that eliminates border control between EU member states, because the rest of the UK excludes itself from it (and if Scotland did join Schengen, the UK would put up border control with Scotland).

The SNP says Scotland will join NATO, but it wants to eject the British nuclear deterrent from the Clyde naval base because it opposes nuclear weapons on Scottish soil.  It wants to be part of a nuclear weapons based military alliance, but its great contribution to that is to weaken it.  How is that credible for NATO members to support?  How can you oppose nuclear weapons, but support them protecting you, as long as you don't have to have any on your territory?

In short, Scottish independence is actually false.  What the "Yes" campaign seeks is independence, whilst using another country's currency and letting that other country veto your public borrowing and budgets.  It is independence, but joining a customs union that will write part of your laws.

However, it is more than that.  Scotland will be financially poorer, but also poorer in terms of influence in the world, and the UK itself will be poorer for that.   The UK has been a successful union, bringing together four nations (notwithstanding conflict and bigotry that plagued one of them), and growing a land of rule of law, relative freedom, prosperity and which had one of its proudest moments holding back the greatest fascist evil the world has ever seen.

I don't want Scotland to leave that, I don't want it to be poorer, I don't want it to drift off to become some northern hemispheric Venezuela, pursuing insane socialist policies on the back of declining oil revenues - because it will bankrupt itself.

Scots may be angry and upset at the recession.  Who isn't?  They may despise politicians for their gutlessness, for their failures, for their lies.  Who doesn't?  However, that is who is exactly keen for them to vote "Yes".

An independent Scotland makes politicians in Holyrood more powerful, makes Alex Salmond a bigger cheese than he is, it feeds their egos and they are willing to lie and deceive to get there.

Most of all, a vote for an independent Scotland is irreversible.

It isn't like a general election which gives a chance to boot out the bastards and reverse what has happened.

Independence is for life.

Virtually every country that has voted for independence in recent years did so largely with a massive mandate in favour, and few regrets or doubts expressed about the wisdom of independence.  These independence movements were almost always due to war or obvious history of ethnic rivalry or previous dictatorship (e.g. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia).

Scotland's independence campaign has none of this.

I'm going to write in the next day or so about this, it's an optimistic campaign, but it is trying to sell independence on complete fiction and fear, more than that optimism.  It deserves to be consigned to history.

12 September 2014

Forgotten Posts from 2009 : Christopher Hitches on Iran

Why wait to disarm Iran?

Iran is as much a pistachio-and-rug-exporting country as it was when the sadistic medievalists first seized power. So it wouldn't be surprising in the least if a regime that has no genuine respect for science and no internal self-critical feedback had screwed up its rogue acquisition of modern weaponry. A system in which nothing really works except the military and the police will, like North Korea, end up producing somewhat spastic missiles and low-yield nukes, as well.

If there's no saber in the scabbard, then at least don't make the vulgar mistake of rattling it.  Against this, we are at least entitled to consider the idea that a decaying regime that is bluffing and buying (or rather stealing) time on weapons of mass destruction is in a condition that makes this the best moment to do at least something to raise the cost of the lawlessness and to slow down and sabotage the preparations. Or might it be better to wait and to fight later on more equal terms? Just asking.

Maybe, just maybe, Iran has moved back from the brink.  It now appear to be with us in fighting the Islamic State, but let's not forget that the Iraqi Shi'a sectarian regime was backed by Iran.

Iran may have moved one step away from the brink, but it still sponsors Hamas, Hezbollah and so intervenes egregiously in Iraq, Syria and Palestine.  It still maintains a system that glorifies death and enslaves the population to Islamism.

Iran's case for having nuclear weapons for defensive purposes can only be if it considers itself at risk from neighbours, and Iraq under the Islamic State would be the most obvious risk.  If the West and Iran together work on nullifying that threat in Iraq, could there be a path for Iran to open up its nuclear facilities?  Or is Iran actually remaining on the path of having an option to take on Israel?

09 September 2014

Internet Mana's job creation figures don't add up

invest $1.03 billion each year to fund approximately 100,000 temporary jobs where the labour market is not able to create jobs.

Given the goal is zero unemployment, you'd expect the jobs to be fulltime, right? 

If you divide $1 billion among 100,000 you get $10,000 (gross) per job (let's say generously that it only costs $30 million a year to administer, although I'd argue it is closer to around treble that, given the need for offices, managers, etc).  

$10,000 a year means 260 work days a year if you deduct weekends, and include full pay on all statutory holidays.  So that's $38.46 per day.

Divide that by eight hours a day, you get $4.81 per hour, around a third of the current minimum wage.

So unless Internet Mana wants jobs that involve less than 3 hours work a day (which wouldn't surprise me given its heavily socialist leanings), it proposes funding 100,000 below minimum wage jobs.

If they were minimum wage jobs, the cost would go from $1.03 billion per annum to:

$14.25 per hour x 8 = $114 per day
$114 * 260 = $29,640 per annum
$29,640 * 100000 = $2.96 billion per annum

or let's say $3 billion +

but wait...

Internet Mana wants the minimum wage increased to the so-called "living wage" of $18.80 per hour.

This lifts the figure to an annual salary of $39,104, so a total cost of close to $4 billion if you include administration (and frankly with a "living wage" minimum wage, there would be a lot of unemployment to soak up with state "make work" schemes).

So leaving aside the Internet Party and Laila Harre's commitment to cannabis law reform, and Hone Harawira's opposition to it, the party's own policies on a single website, are contradictory.

I'm voting ACT

New Zealand citizens who live abroad are entitled to vote in the New Zealand general and local elections, provided they have visited the country once within three years.  Since I have been to New Zealand no less than five times since January 2013, it was hardly an issue for me, and I do have an interest in what happens in the land of my birth.   So I am going to vote.

It is just coincidence that Peter Cresswell has written a lot of what I was going to say about ACT, that it has finally become the party I long wished it would be.  

So I'm coming out now to say I am going to party vote ACT.  

Why?  Because it offers the best (indeed only) chance at influencing a future government towards focusing less on violating people's rights, and more on protecting them.  

Yes, there is room for improvement, indeed a lot.  After all, I haven't supported ACT since the 1996 election (and in 1999 I voted for Richard Prebble in Wellington Central if not the party).  Rodney Hide was utterly disappointing as Minister of Local Government, and John Banks is far away from m position on so many issues as to have almost rendered ACT extinct.

However, there are now some people leading ACT who are, by and large, facing the way towards more individual freedom, less government where it should be doing less (whilst undertaking its core role more effectively).  The original principles of the party are coming to the fore. 

The other choices are:
  • to vote for a cozy, comfortable, corporatist National Party, which has lazily slipped into how it traditionally was on policy, by scaring people about the "other lot";
  • to vote for the "other lot", a toxic swill of an increasingly deluded Labour Party led by a smug, self-satisfied bully, grouping with an increasingly confident socialist Green Party expertly shrouding their control-freak instincts with warm words about clean rivers and child poverty, and the corrupt coalition of communists, ultranationalists and Al Qaeda supporters called the Internet Mana Party;
  • to vote for one man bands (Dunne, Peters, Horan) largely focused on their own aggrandisement;
  • to vote for a well-meaning control freak who hasn't ruled out supporting the smug bully (Craig);
  • to vote to legalise cannabis, but otherwise support any of the others;
  • to vote for various other has-beens, or funny money lunatics.
My real choice was ACT, ALCP or National.  Of course I personally support ALCP's policy, but it is highly unlikely to progress, after many years of trying, and although you can argue such a vote is "clean" from a libertarian point of view (you are voting for less government, albeit in one sense), ALCP would grant confidence and supply to any government legalising cannabis.  Including one that would take away many other liberties.  

National ought to be the party of less government, and occasionally you hear the phrases about it wanting people to keep more of their own money.  It isn't the National of Rob Muldoon, but it also isn't the National of Ruth Richardson (and even that barely was).  National will offer three more years of tinkering, more spending and will do absolutely nothing to increase individual freedom or deal effectively to the RMA or the state education system's continued dominance of young minds.

A vote for National may be "safe", but it is a dead-end for freedom.  ACT's chances this time are dependent on David Seymour winning Epsom, but assuming he can (given that ACT managed it with John Banks before), a party vote for ACT can deliver a handful of MPs, and so give National a coalition or confidence/supply partner that will influence it in the right direction.  At a time when the Maori Party is shrinking, Peter Dunne at best will lead a one man band and Winston Peters looms as the back up choice, it makes sense to support ACT now.

Could the campaign have been improved?  Hell yes.  It could have embraced a more positive message for government that is about getting out of the way, that makes it easier for property owners, that lowers taxes by scrapping agencies that few people would ever support, that emphasises school choice with vouchers that will allow far more kids to go to independent schools, that takes on the welfare state and the corporate welfare state equally (a major criticism of the left).  

It could have been the party that attacks privilege granted by the state to anyone, whether it be race based boards, corporatist claims for subsidies, trade unions seeking higher pay for public servants with no performance, monopolies, and all of the rent-seekers wanting government to give them help at the expense of others.  

ACT can survive this election and get around 2% of the vote and build upon that for a result in 2017 that is closer to the 6-7% it got in previous elections.   It can stake a place being the only party that is consistently against more welfare for business and individuals, and less tax for both.

However, that's for the future, for now ACT's transformative changes deserve endorsement.  It really is a party that we can build more freedom on.

As far as electorate votes are concerned, I'll be writing my familiar voting guide for freedom shortly, but for now it's fair to say that two electorate votes matter more than any others right now:

- Epsom - David Seymour (for the reasons outlined above).

- Te Tai Tokerau - Kelvin Davis (Labour), to evict Hone Harawira and so keep Laila Harre and Annette Sykes out of Parliament.

So how does ACT measure up against what I said in 2008 it ought to do?

05 September 2014

Forgotten Post from 2009 : Better rules for flying

Given Flight Centre gave this advice, I thought I'd give my cut... some simple rules for people to be civilised when flying...

1. Do not congregate in doorwells or in the middle of airport areas, you're in the way.  Move off to the side.  There are other people about.

2. Take all metal off your person put it in your hand luggage, don't take liquids unless you have to. Few people are more reviled than the halfwits who don't know what security will pick up, that typically means anyone who doesn't fly often.  Here's an idea just don't carry very much.

3. Stand well away from the boarding area at the gate. You almost certainly wont be first to board. You almost certainly haven't paid for that privilege or earned it.  Let the people who subsidise the cheap seats get on first, and of course those needing assistance. You'll appreciate this when you're in the front.

4. Don't ever go forward into a cabin above your class. Only people in those cabins can go back for exercise. Again, you will appreciate this when you're in the front.  The same applies when flying business class and there is a first class cabin, you can't go there either.

5. If there isn't space in the overhead locker, put it under your seat. Take less next time, most people take too much.

6. Don't complain if you didn't pre-select your seat, it's called bad planning. The person who chose the aisle or window is unlikely to want to move.

7. If you don't like the room at your seat, then remember you could have paid more and not travelled like freight. The price of business class today is similar in real terms to economy class 25 years ago, and there are often options for premium economy or extra legroom.  Otherwise, appreciate that your discomfort leaves you money to spend on something else.

8. Don't take your shoes off unless you have a shoe bag, otherwise you'll stink out the person above where your shoes are.

9. Stay in your cabin till the people in the front have disembarked, see rule 4.

10.  Children are feared by other travellers unless they are at least school age, quiet and easily mesmerised by the individual TVs.  

02 September 2014

Commuter rail for Christchurch? Cheaper buying them each a Porsche

I'm being a little tongue in cheek here, but the proposal from the Labour Party to spend $100 million to give Christchurch a commuter rail service is so utterly ludicrous that it deserves ridicule.

Anytime a politician says he will "invest" your money, you know that you'd never see it again, and that's exactly what would happen to the $100 million David Cunliffe wants to waste on giving Christchurch a transport service that it neither needs nor is willing to pay for.  In the USA it would be called a boondoggle, a political driven project that has little basis on market demand or economic benefit.

The policy is described here, and then here and here, showing how much effort has gone into something that isn't even important.

I nearly wrote a lengthy post pulling it apart bit by bit, but it's much easier to list what's wrong in a few bullet points.

- Christchurch last had the remnant of a local rail service in 1976 when a once daily, yes once daily, service between Rangiora and Christchurch was scrapped because of lack of patronage.  The last regular service (as in all day service like in Wellington) was between Lyttelton and Christchurch, which ended when the road tunnel was opened in 1972 (the rail service only had an advantage over driving over the Port Hills).  Before that, other services were discontinued during the 1960s as bus services proved more cost effective and car ownership rose.  Christchurch's population grew by over 50% in the period between the end of these services and the earthquake, indicating it was hardly constrained by a lack of passenger rail services.

-  It wont unclog Christchurch's roads.  The Press report says Labour intends the system to accommodate 10% of commuters from the north to central Christchurch.  Phil Twyford says there are 5000 - yes 5000 commuters making this trip (10,000 trips), so it is $100 million for 500 commuters.  That comes to $200,000 per commuter, before any operating subsidies are considered.  In other words, the price of a Porsche 911 for each commuter.  Taking about 400 cars off of Christchurch's roads every morning isn't going to "unclog" them,  it hardly makes a difference, even if it did happen.

- However, what it might do is encourage more people to live further away from the surrounding suburbs closer to the city, because it subsidises living well outside Christchurch.  That's hardly conducive to reducing congestion, nor environmentally sustainable.  It would be far more preferable to focus on finishing renewing the local road network including marking out cycle lanes, than to incentivise living well out of the city.

- A commuter rail service to central Christchurch can't even go there, as the station is 4km from Cathedral Square, in Addington.

- The $100 million is to double track the line to Rangiora, and rebuild some railways stations, but not a new central station (which can't be anymore "central" than the old one on Moorhouse Avenue), nor new trains, although the ex. Auckland ones could be relocated, if a depot could be built, and sidings to put them on were rebuilt as well.

- The rail service would replace commercially viable and some subsidised bus services, but politicians don't find buses sexy.

- The service would lose money, a 1000 trip a day railway service is a joke.  Proper commuter trains in major cities carry that number on one train.  

- If there really is demand for more public transport from the northern suburbs, it could come from commercial bus services.  Clearways could be used for bus lanes and the hard shoulder of the existing and future extended Northern Motorway could be used for peak bus lanes too, if needed.  Trains only make sense if buses are incapable of handling the volumes of demand, and that clearly isn't the case.

- Christchurch was the first major city in NZ to scrap trams, because the grid pattern street network and low density of the city meant there were few major transport corridors to support high density public transport systems, like trams (and commuter rail).  It was also the first of the big four cities to scrap commuter rail altogether (even Dunedin had commuter rail services until 1982 to Mosgiel).   In short, the geography of Christchurch is as poorly suited to commuter rail as it is well suited to cycling.

So when David Cunliffe says "The long delayed recovery of Christchurch hinges on a modern commuter system for the city"  you have to wonder what he's been smoking.
Really David? Really?? Not entrepreneurs investing in businesses creating jobs, and so attracting people who want to live there?  

No, David Cunliffe wants a toy, something he can point to and say "I did that", with money taken from motorists (as he wants to divert money collected from motoring taxes from roads to this pet project).  He has no real interest in reviving Christchurch by letting business do business, but to spend up on shiny projects that polish his ego - at your expense.

UPDATE: and the Green Party idea of creating a new bureaucracy called Canterbury Transport is equally ludicrous, because there isn't a governance problem.  Christchurch City Council is responsible for all roads except the State Highways, in the city (and no central government would rightfully surrender national corridors to local politics). It isn't broken up into multiple districts or cities like Auckland was.  Environment Canterbury, like all regional councils, is responsible for contracting subsidised public transport across the region, and planning urban public transport services.  Again, there is no division here.  It's far from clear what such an entity would do that is different from this.

Unless,. of course, you hark back to the "good old days" of council owned bus companies having monopolies and getting endless ratepayer subsidies. A model that saw the near continuous decline in urban bus patronage across NZ for 30 years.  You see at the moment bus services in Christchurch are operated mostly by two companies, one owned by Christchurch City Council, another by a private firm.  They typically compete for contracts for subsidised services, helping keep costs down and providing a check on performance.  The Greens are awfully fond of state owned monopolies, because you can trust politicians and public servants to be incentivised to look after customers and taxpayers' money far better than the private sector competing for both, can't you?

29 August 2014

Forgotten Posts from the Past: Gordon Brown's campaign of lies was failing in 2009

The campaign in Norwich North for Labour set the scene for how the 2010 British election was campaigned by Gordon Brown - quite simply that the Conservatives will cut and burn at the British welfare state, but that Labour will protect the working classes from the evil greedy ones.

Forgetting of course that Gordon Brown has systematically engaged in fiscal child abuse for nearly his entire term of office, running deficits in the good times, as Labour spent up large on welfare, with people of all incomes eligible for child benefits, for example, pouring money into the NHS while getting nothing in return in terms of productivity or better outcomes. The Labour record is a disgraceful waste of money, hiding the true cost of its spending in ongoing deficits. Its stealth taxation has meant that it uses taxes on fuel and car ownership predominantly to pay for welfare and education, with only a quarter of those taxes going on roads and nearly the same again on railways.

The record is damnable. National debt is set to climb to 90% of GDP partly because Labour did not pay off debt during the good times, but also because it wont let any banks fail, even though deposits of up to £50,000 (which would cover most voters) have been guaranteed. Labour now will not cut spending, even though its own "pump priming" of the economy has been a fizzle, because it knows the spending cuts that are needed are fierce, but if it can hold them off until after the election - it wont be a Labour problem.

The Conservatives will face spending cuts on a scale likely to be worse than that faced by Thatcher in 1979. Labour will oppose them through and through, spreading the filthy lie that Labour wouldn't have done the same - when of course it would have faced it as well. That then sets the scene for another class based election, whereby Labour is the one helping out the poor and the needy (always needy of the government), but the Conservatives protect their rich friends from higher taxes (even though the Conservatives haven't even promised to cut taxes).

Matthew D'Acona in the Sunday Telegraph describes Gordon Brown as too cadaverous to be an asset for campaigning, which is quite right. Gordon Brown paints a picture of the UK succumbing to a global recession, but fails to note why the UK is more badly hit than many other countries.

He needed only look at himself.  The supreme arrogance of a man who thought that by milking a credit fueled economy with taxation largesse to buy off the Labour constituency of public sector workers and welfare recipients, that he had got rid of boom and bust.

Now it is the supreme arrogance of one of his right hand men, who now leads Labour, who blames it all on capitalism and on banks in the US.  

Libertarian Christians?

Now I'm not religious, I'm an atheist objectivist. However, it is worth noting that being a libertarian does not necessarily mean one is an atheist (and certainly not objectivist).  

I do believe that people can be both, quite simply the state can leave free people alone, some of them can be Christians and live lives according to Christianity, as long as they don't initiate force. Indeed, if people of all religions could simply grasp that, we would live in a far better world, albeit one that would still face debates about science and ethics, education and the like - but for these to be determined through persuasion not force.  

Well known libertarian oriented Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has a strong faith, and in NZ, the hard-working and outspoken Tim Wikiriwhi is a Christian libertarian, as is Richard Goode a libertarian standing for the ALCP.  Their blog has their own perspective, and it's safe to say that while we'll agree on much politically, when it comes to matters spiritual, we part company.  Evangelical Christian bloggers Matt and Madeleine Flanagan likewise, are libertarians.   There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans who would claim the same.

However, that is how a free society works.  People can proselytise their religion or atheism, they can live their lives according to religious teachings and rules, as long as they respect the right of others to do differently.  As long as the religious do not break fundamental individual rights of others (that includes ensuring children are not subjected to physical and sexual abuse or neglect), they can live their lives in peace.  

The key is for Christians to not want laws passed that break the crucial "non initiation of force" principle, which has tended to be a weakness of many Christian politicians keen to regulate what people do with their bodies.   That means not wanting the law to regulate consensual adult sexual behaviour or artistic depictions of it (I use artistic to include any media depictions at all).  The tricky area comes into what is one of the most fraught issues - abortion.  Libertarians differ on abortion, some believe that the foetus has no rights, some believe they do have rights.  This is a fertile area for debate, as it should be, but as long as it is debate based on objectively defined factors - i.e. where life begins, what sort of entities should have rights, what rights and why - then debate can be rational.  That's where I fear it gets difficult for some Christian libertarians.

Yet if only we could get to that debate.   There may be libertarians from other religious faiths, I'm keen to meet Muslim libertarians for fairly obvious reasons, but it would appear that Christianity has offered more scope than most religions to "live and let live" and grant adults the freedom to choose to believe and then to respect the right of non-believers to live their lives, as long as they do the same to others.

So whilst I'll happily argue against religion generally, and argue against some of the key tenets of Christianity, I do respect the fundamental right of Christians to hold and to disseminate their beliefs.   Moreover, Christian libertarians are allies in the wider push for individual freedom.   I'd like Jewish (as in religious not merely ethnic) libertarians and Muslim libertarians as well as Hindu and Buddhist ones. Yet, rather sadly, there doesn't appear to be too many of any of them.

28 August 2014

Forgotten posts from 2009 : Banning smoking in public places

The Standard reports, disapprovingly, that Western Bay of Plenty District Council is banning smoking in public places. One of the rare occasions I agree with the Standard.

However, it is clear it isn't actually a ban - you see I don't believe any council has the clear legal authority to do this. It can put up signs saying "no smoking", but by what power can it do this?

Bylaw making powers of local authorities are quite constrained. The Local Government Act 2002 grants many (though not all) bylaw making powers to councils. Section 145 grants apparently wide ranging general powers, but then Section 146 is more specific, and Section 147 is very specific, around alcohol. Given the similarities between how alcohol and tobacco are treated legally (both controlled drugs) it is likely Parliament did not intend to give councils power to ban smoking in outdoor locations, it may have granted them power to very specifically ban smoking in circumstances clearly applicable in Section 145, but NOT across beaches or across parks. You see bylaws against nuisance, public health and offensive behaviour are seen as about regulating berrant behaviours. This includes excessive noise, unhygienic activities or behaviour more akin to the Summary Offences Act, than smoking. Bear in mind smoking does not, per se, create a nuisance, public health problem (to others) or offence.

So, quite simply, I don't think any such bylaw is legitimate.

What IS legitimate is using property rights to ban smoking, which works in buildings of course, but on public land the question is whether the council should have the rights of any other property owner? A private park or beach should of course, ban what it sees fit, but not public space.

27 August 2014

Rotherham Council more concerned about causing offence than stopping rape

What was the first response of child protection officers and Police in Rotherham, UK, when facing evidence of organised gangs of Asian men raping, brutalising and otherwise abusing young girls of various background?

"Better be careful, we might be accused of being racist".

That's one of the damning findings of an inquiry published today which found that 1400 children were sexually exploited in the borough between 1997 and 2013, a third of whom were known by child protection officers.

It is a wanton failure by the state to do its job as

"Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers.
At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation), regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime"

but what is particularly galling is how the embrace of the doctrine of Identity Politics and fear of being found to be politically incorrect closed down enquiries.

By far the majority of perpetrators were described as 'Asian' by victims, yet throughout the entire
period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how
best they could jointly address the issue. Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem,
which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the
ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction
from their managers not to do so.

In other words, they couldn't cope with the perpetrators being from an ethnic group they had deemed to be "vulnerable", "disadvantaged" or "subject to racism", so they themselves were racist in dismissing or minimise the crimes that included:

There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.
By applying collectivist Identity Politics thought to crime, they ignored reality.  Individuals had together, with a toxic cultural attitude to young girls particularly of non-Asian backgrounds, raped and brutalised victims with impunity.  Effectively protected by those too scared to call them out on it or act decisively, because they didn't want to be accused of being "racist".

It's the consequence of embracing post-modernist structuralism.  The philosophy that there is no such thing as objective reality, only power structures that need to be broken down, and which public policy and politics should reflect. 

The result is that real victims were neglected and not protected, real violent sex offenders were treated with hand-wringing anxiety and appeasement, because what mattered most was that nobody should be offended (except of course the victims who were treated as inconvenient or at worst, culpable).

Rotherham Council has been run by the Labour Party since it was created in 1974.