Friday, March 30, 2007

National quislings

So National wont repeal or even offer to amend the law if Sue Bradford's smack ban proceeds...
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I'd like the Nats to promise to amend the law, somewhat along the lines of the Chester Borrow's amendment, or to make it clear that it is legal to use force in a manner to restrain a child, defend someone or something from a child's actions and only to the extent necessary under the circumstances - and that under no circumstances should objects be used to hit children. I don't know what the solution is.... but it nust include legalising the use of force short of corporal punishment.
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Whether it be tax cuts, RMA or indeed anything Labour does - National just wont repeal anything. In which case what's the point of this spineless philosophically vapid opposition?
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John Key said "National would also have to consider whether or not it could deliver on such a promise, because of issues such as whether it was a conscience vote, and potential coalition partners".
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Why the fuck have any policies at all then, if you're going to not have ANY position to start off with to negotiate with potential coalition partners, or are you going to suck up to the Greens you political whore? What sort of nonsense is it to be a major party, but not have a policy until you know what minor party policies are?
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Well Libertarianz wants the Crimes Act amended to remove all victimless crimes - so if Libz got into Parliament there's a policy - it's even consistent with National Party principles - if you blow away the cobwebs.

Sometimes a reason to smile

In an age full of those who want to wrap kids in cotton wool, and would probably ban them from driving on private property, Laura Simpson from Longreach, Queensland shows what CAN be done - she essentially helped keep a Greyhound bus in Australia from careering to disaster, after the driver passed out - and all because she was quick thinking, competent, courageous and had been driving around her parents' farm since she was "around 10 or 11".
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So take that safety nazis - sometimes people are more competent than you think, and this girl saved the lives of dozens of little kids who were on the bus. If she had been brought up by the anally retentive fun police sitting at their desks in Wellington or Canberra, trying to protect her from life - it might have been a tragedy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Smacking advocates are wrong but...

The proposed law to criminalise corporal punishment of children concerns me, I've already written about why. Fundamentally I believe there are many bad behaviours parents undertake that I wish would end - smacking is one, but even more important I want parents (in relation to children under 16) to:
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- Not ignore their kids, teach them to read, listen to them, spend time with them. It is the most important thing you can do, and parents who don't give their kids attention may supply the material necessities, but nothing more;
- Regulate who has contact with them, don't leave them with kids for babysitting, don't hold drunken parties in the same house as them, and for single mothers especially, be very very careful who you bring home if you form new relationships. The chances for abuse or negligence in these cases are considerable;
- Not be intoxicated around your kids, if you need to ask why then you're too stupid to even debat on this;
- Not verbally abuse or humiliate their children, don't tell them you never wanted them, that nobody loves them, that they are useless, stupid, ugly or anything else. All your doing is reflecting that this is what you really think of yourself, and in which case it's true, you don't deserve to be a parent;
- Feed your children adequately. Ensure they get breakfast, a packed lunch and a decent dinner. Most of the time these don't come from fast food outlets or the snack section of supermarkets. It isn't about money, it's about time and attention;
- Play with your children, go on holiday together, spend quality time with enjoying who they are. If you don't, they'll find others to do this with - often other kids who are also ignored, and then you complain when they get into trouble;
- Not teach children one religious or political belief system. Leave them be until they ask questions, and let them read and learn about all those out there. Let them use their minds, don't close them;
- Not use the TV as a babysitter, again if you don't know why you're too stupid to be a parent;
- Not give children everything they want, even though you might think "society" owes you the very same;
- Not teach children that people of different sexes, races, gay/lesbian/bi/straight or other backgrounds are inferior/superior by virtue of these features. Bigoted children are also being denied their minds;
- Not feed them guilt about their bodies, they own them and they should have ever growing control of them as they develop understanding about choosing how to use it, and their bodies are not objects of sin.
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That and many other poor parenting practices are the core of the characteristics of most crime, underachievement, and possibly much suicide and self-destructive behaviour. Could you legislate against it? Not without creating an authoritarian, bureaucratic arrangement that would send shivers down the spines of anyone who values personal liberty.
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and that is why I oppose the anti-smacking law. Force is sometimes necessary to restrain children or rescue them from their own foolishness, and indeed in self defence in extreme cases, and I fear the law change will jeopardise this. The agenda to nationalise parenting is my concern. I don't believe most supporters of the Bill agree with that bigger agenda (you know the Cindy Kiro one), I believe they genuinely are opposed to smacking, the way I am.
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I hate smacking. That's why, by and large, I am very uncomfortable with those who protest the anti-smacking law because they think smacking is good and positive.
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It's not, and I viscerally despise those who protest with slogans that imply that smacking IS a good thing. Religious fundamentalists are violent people, they glorify corporal punishment and support capital punishment. They devalue life, and glorify the judgment of their ghosts after death and existence after death. They advocate the use of an authoritarian state to impose their religious will on us all, in plenty of cases where peaceful people are hurting no one.
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It is like another issue - the banning of bigoted speech.
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Christian fundamentalists want the right to denigrate homosexuals, lie about AIDS and generally be completely vile about them in their literature. I believe they have this right because it is a right of free speech. However, I absolutely despise these sentiments, and despise those who advocate them.
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Leftwing gay activists support such a ban on such speech. I oppose that ban, but completely agree with their sentiments.
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So let me make it perfectly clear. I will defend the right of parents to exercise very limited physical force over their children, because it is necessary in some cases and because banning it is worse than not. However, I believe any individual who roundly advocates smacking is either:
1. Lazy and/or old fashioned (and hasn't bothered to think about it); or
2. Evil.
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If you think it is a good thing to hit your children from time to time then I don't like you, and I think you're at best a failure, uncreative and having a bad day, at worst abusive and incompetent as a parent. What sort of person LIKES hitting a child?
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A sadist that's who.
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This is the sort of image that disturbs me (Hattip Kiwiblog)

EU birthday

Reasons to celebrate the birthday of the European Union
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1. Peace among all of its members (no small achievement).
2. Free trade in goods and (largely) free movement of labour among all of its members (again no small achievement).
3. A mechanism to expose and confront corruption when it affects other member states – particularly helpful in the Mediterranean and ex.socialist bloc states, with much needing to be done (still relatively new)
4. The most recent sets of new members are very sceptical of big statist visions for Europe, having lost two generations of their population to the stagnation of the last great vision – imposed by Stalin and his sycophantic lackies. In other words, the weakening of the dominance of France and Germany (very welcome!).
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Reasons to mourn the birthday of the European Union

1. The world’s most highly subsidised and protectionist agricultural and food market, with little sign that it will do anything more than stand still (the biggest travesty in international trade, particularly for NZ).
2. Bureaucratic directives en masse that add compliance costs to EU business (and a reason for higher unemployment on average).
3. Neo-mercantilist style industry support and protectionism that costs Europeans a fortune – witness endless projects that are expensive and uneconomic (e.g. Euronews, Galileo).
4. Desire by the backwards looking protectionists to have a European superstate that denies diversity on many areas of public policy (because the less competitive countries don’t want to admit the failure of their policies – e.g. France, Germany and Italy vs. Poland, UK and the Netherlands) which have nothing to do with trade. This desire is in spite of the democratic desire of citizens of several European states to have nothing to do with the proposed EU constitution.
5. Enormous numbers of well paid jobs for European bureaurats in Brussels who contribute next to nothing.
6. A European Parliament elected by a minority of European voters and barely accountable for its actions because it is remote and unknown – and it knows it.
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I agree with No Right Turn that it brought freedom of travel and trade (within Europe, while raising barriers to trade from outside), but it did NOT bring democracy or human rights to Europe. Besides the UK (lets not mention the countries too gutless to be anything but neutral in one of the decisive wars between good and evil in world history), democracy and human rights were brought by the United States, and indeed the UK in defeating Nazi Germany. Remember democracy and human rights did not exist in some states (Greece, Spain and Portugal) until well into the 1970s, and that came from within, with more pressure from the UK and USA, than from the then far smaller EEC. Furthermore, it was NATO that defended Western European democracy and human rights against forty four years of threatened Soviet imperialist aggression.
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It is far from politically correct to admit it, and I doubt the European Union will mention it, but European democracy and human rights have everything to do with the UK/USA winning World War 2 (the Soviet Union winning enslaved the other half of Europe), and NATO (and France) deterring Soviet aggression. In the east, that deterrent and the Helsinki Agreement planted seeds that saw the downfall of (almost all) Soviet backed tyranny.
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Finally, it is woefully incorrect to say that the European Union ended war in Europe. I think there are hundreds of thousands in the Balkans who would disagree. The European Union and its predecessors were about peace among themselves, but Europe is far from a peaceful continent – and frankly the European Union disgraced itself over the Balkan situation. However, that is a story for another day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Inner City Bypass Part One

In this series I will trace the history of this project, although for now I wont be doing it in chronological order. The first part actually considers the project from 1999 when Labour got elected, through till 2003 - when the decision was about to be made on whether or not to fund it. The second part will trace that decision, how the Greens were demanding Labour halt funding of the project and how the Greens failed miserably in their objective of drafting legislation that would stop it - fundamentally objective analysis showed the inner city bypass to be consistent with the government's transport strategy and the legislation as passed. The third part will be what COULD have been - the long history starting with the De Leuw Cather report in the early 1960s which included a transport strategy for Wellington including very grand motorway and railway plans, and how politics saw much of that ignored.
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PART ONE - ACCOMMODATING THE GREENS BY CHANGING THE SYSTEM
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One of the more significant reforms in transport funding in the late 1980s, and built upon in the 1990s was to remove politics from decisions around what road projects would get funding approval from central government. There was a good reason for this. For many years (and you can see it writ large in the USA and Australia for example), MPs in government would pull strings to get roads built in their electorates to help attract votes. It is no coincidence that Taranaki got some of its greatest road improvements when New Plymouth was a marginal National seat in the Muldoon government. The Minister of Works once chaired the National Roads Board. The result, of course, was that areas without such political patronage would be neglected, and money would be wasted on poorer projects in other areas. In short it meant that the best value was not gained for the motorists taxes.
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As well as dedicated a portion of fuel taxes, and all road user charges to the National Roads Fund (unlike road taxes in Australia and the UK), in two steps the decisions for funding particular projects would be up to a statutorily independent board, which Ministers could not legally direct to fund (or not fund) particular projects. This board still exists, and Ministers can still not direct it on particular projects – the organisation today is Land Transport New Zealand (which succeeded Transfund New Zealand). However when you’re a political party obsessed with stopping one project, that doesn’t matter – and in 1999 the Greens had the Inner City Bypass in their sights, with their front organisation – Campaign for a Better City (led by Green party Parliamentary advisor Roland Sapsford, more about him later) having just lost its Environment Court case against Transit.
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In 1999 Labour needed both the Alliance and Greens to govern, so with a confidence and supply agreement in place the Greens demanded something be done about “major urban motorway projects” which to the Greens meant four projects they wanted stopped:

- Auckland’s Eastern Motorway;
- Auckland’s Mt Roskill extension to SH20;
- Auckland’s Waiouru peninsula link road;
- Wellington Inner City Bypass.
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Now the Eastern Motorway (backed subsequently by John Banks) died because it had been goldplated, so became a hugely expensive project with benefits that didn’t justify the expense. Tolls wouldn’t come close to paying for it (although a scaled down scheme may have worked). The Mt. Roskill extension (which will take SH20 from Hillsborough Rd to Richardson Rd) after some delays (more on that later) finally got funding approved in 2003 and is now under construction. The Waiouru peninsula link road is also under construction, having been supported loudly by Manukau City Council and indeed Judith Tizard, MP for Auckland Central.
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However the Wellington Inner City Bypass was in a different league. While Keith Locke meekly opposed the Auckland projects, the Wellington one was personal. Sue Kedgley almost maniacally went on about it being a big motorway which would see the destruction of much of central Wellington, not far short of a complete lie. A 400 metre 2-lane street along an old designated motorway corridor, with all the land owned by central/local government (bought as it became available), is hardly the behemoth. However, Roland Sapsford as one of the Green’s chief negotiators and advisors took this personally. As far as he was concerned the bypass wasn’t just a road he didn’t like, it was something that viscerally cut at the heart of his being. Sapsford takes a radical view of urban transport. He was heard at public meetings saying that people simply should drive far far less and then there would be no congestion and plenty of room on the roads for vehicles with a “legitimate” reason to be there – buses, delivery trucks, disabled drivers and that’s just about it. He doesn’t believe people should own a car with more than a 1.3 litre engine, otherwise they are “evil”.
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The Greens demanded the newly elected Labour government do all it could to stop the project. As (newly elected as Wellington Central) MP Marian Hobbs was also against the project, and other Labour Wellington MPs were quiet on it, the process began.
At this point the project was ready for design funding (which follows investigation and precedes construction).
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The Transit New Zealand Act 1989, which then governed the land transport funding system explicitly stated that the Minister of Transport could not direct the Transfund New Zealand board on the funding of specific projects. This meant that even if he had wanted to, the first Labour transport Minister after 1999 – Mark Gosche – could not tell Transfund to delay or accelerate the Inner City Bypass. The Greens wanted him to direct Transfund in specific ways that would have effectively have done the same, but this would have likely broken the law as well. So, unless the Greens could change the law – Ministerial direction would not work.
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However, one thing was offered up – after all, despite legislative independence, Crown entities do respond to political pressure, however indirectly it is expressed, so as an act of goodwill Transfund got Transit’s project evaluation of the bypass independently peer reviewed, hardly a radical step (in fact this sort of review was not unknown). However, unlike other reviews, which were purely inhouse, Campaign for a Better City was allowed to comment, and did extensively. The independent peer review raised a few minor issues, but did not question the fundamental analysis, the Greens were unhappy – but then Transfund was following what was then the law.
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The inner city bypass got the tick, and was granted design funding. While that proceeded, there were some other funding issues. The was partly because the then benefit/cost ratio was between 3 and 4, whereas the funding cutoff was hovering between those levels. The Greens hoped it would come below the cutoff of 4 (which was how things were looking in 2004), but this would soon not be an issue.
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You see, the Labour government backed by the Greens were embarking on radical reform of the land transport funding framework. The Land Transport Management Bill was at first at attempt by Labour to have more political control over funding allocations, as well as allow tolling and private investment in roads (under rather tight conditions), but with the confidence and supply agreement with the Greens, Labour had to closely involve the Greens in every aspect of policy surrounding the legislation. In effect, officials had to negotiate with the Greens, with very close involvement from the Prime Minister’s office, as a Bill that was acceptable to Labour and the Greens was presented to Parliament. The Greens supported all measures to loosen up transport funding, and were concerned that as few barriers as possible would exist to funding public transport. By contrast, the Greens wanted new barriers against road funding – carefully calculated to kill off the Wellington inner city bypass. The chief negotiator on this was Roland Sapsford – and Sapsford is savvy.
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Without going into the detail, the Bill was crafted in order to prevent the bypass from being funded. The Greens wanted on the one hand the removal of anything that would restrict the ability of public transport projects to be funded, and on the other hand wanted the ability of “local communities” to block road projects. The negotiations and the Bill went over the 2002 election, after which United Future played a crucial role – Peter Dunne wanted Transmission Gully, but was so poorly advised that he thought that simply allowing tolling and private investment in roads would allow his piglet project to proceed. Of course, he didn’t realise it is such a dog that neither the private sector, nor tolls could ever pay for it without massive subsidies.
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Anyway, after the election the tensions increased, as Labour accommodated the desire by United Future to be as open as possible about private investment in roads and tolling, while there was still a post election agreement with the Greens to work closely on transport issues.
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Jeanette Fitzsimons echoed the rhetoric of Sapsford when the Bill finally passed its third reading saying:
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“It means freeing up the roads for those who really need them – short haul goods traffic, emergency vehicles, car pools and individual cars where circumstances make that necessary. The ‘more motorways’ crowd are really the ‘more congestion’ crowd – only those cities with a balanced approach have come anywhere near tackling congestion.”
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“Those who really need them”, doesn’t mean you. It’s actually quite a fascist approach, the idea that it might not be necessary for you to use the car and you shouldn’t if it isn’t – but the government will decide.
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This was in November 2003, and the Greens thought they had won. The Land Transport Management Act after all was intended, with the New Zealand Transport Strategy, to put a stop to building major urban roads – or so they thought. Certainly this was not the objective of Labour, which was more concerned about mitigating negative effects, allowing more flexibility to fund the types of projects they wanted, rather than have funding dictated by economic efficiency (which it largely had been before). However I have moved too fast.... and for the Greens, the Bill had moved too slow.
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You see by mid 2003 the inner city bypass detailed design work was coming to a close, and the Greens had used all other available legal tactics to delay the project. One was to oppose the application to the Historic Places Trust for the shifting of archaeologically significant (in Wellington!) objects in the way of the bypass. Campaign for a Better City tried to appeal the case, but the Environment Court rejected it on the grounds that it had insufficient interest in it. So having lost the Environment Court case against the resource consent, having lost the review of the project appraisal, having lost the Historic Places Trust appeal, and with the Land Transport Management Bill still in the House and finally with Wellington City Council extending the resource consent as an administrative act (after all Transit couldn’t use the resource consent because of all of these appeals), there was one final act. The Greens wanted the Inner City Bypass stalled until the Land Transport Management Bill was law. (Meanwhile don’t forget that when the Environment Court had found against Campaign for a Better City it also demanded that it pay half of the court costs faced by Transit – Campaign for a Better City dissolved because it couldn’t afford to pay – even though it was, in effect, backed by the Greens who are very capable of fundraising when they want to – clearly not so interested when their supporters are found to have wasted taxpayers’ money and time).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Five good and five bad for Labour?

Others are doing this, so given my recent underblogging I thought I'd give my thoughts:
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GOOD
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1. Civil Unions. It wasn't Labour policy, but it gave legal recognition to adult relationships that should be treated exactly the same as marriage. Should've legalised gay marriage full stop, and it was made more complicated than it need be, but fundamentally this was a GOOD step.
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2. Legalising prostitution. For most in it, it isn't a profession of choice, and for most people it is unthinkable to sell yourself. However, finally those working in this industry have some legal protection. Yes, this was made more complicated than it need be, but ultimately it must be up to adults to decide what they do with their bodies - and that includes selling for sex.
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3. NOT surrendering on genetic engineering. For all the lies and scaremongering, Labour did not surrender completely to the anti-GE movement's hysteria. There was some courage needed on this in 2002, as TV3's leftwing pinup boy John "I vote Alliance" Campbell tried to make something of nothing.
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4. Remaining pro-free trade. Again, despite the economic nonsense propagated by the Alliance (in the early stages of the government) and the Greens, Labour has continued to promote free trade (although it froze tariffs for far too long, and these are now going to go on a slow track of reductions). On this light it allowed Fonterra to be set up, abolishing the Dairy Board's export monopoly (at least for non-quota markets).
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5. Clark, Cullen and Simpson run the show. Most Labour MPs are not the sharpest knives in the kitchen, most Labour Cabinet Ministers are not either. Clark and Cullen both are, Heather Simpson even moreso. Of the rest maybe only Hodgson and Goff have got some intellectual grounding worth commenting about, and Clark knows it. Labour has run a very tight ship, fools are swiftly disciplined internally, and there is no question of Cabinet Ministers running off on their own hobbyhorses. This external cohesion, despite considerable personal differences between many MPs is what people expect. It also shows how irreplaceable Clark is - without her hard work, discipline and sharp mind - the government would have fallen apart years ago. Cullen is also irreplaceable, with only Mallard coming close to taking on the Finance role, and only because he is a hard worker. When Clark and Cullen retire the rest will miss them, and Hodgson and Goff can't do all the work.
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BAD
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1. Frittering away enormous surpluses on bureaucracy and pork barrel schemes. Beyond any doubt, the greatest lost opportunity is Labour's willingness to literally piss taxpayers' money down the holes of policy advisors (which have grown in huge numbers, if not in quality), administrators and lots of small schemes to spend money to deliver pork to their different constituencies. Government departments have grown and grown, and delivered little in return except reams of reports and studies and strategies. Oh how Labour love having strategies. Strategies on the disabled, on the elderly, on "youf", on the environment, on local government, on transport, on energy, on the internet and the list goes on and on. However, more disconcerting is the money poured into healthcare, for little gain in productivity or quality of service. Money poured into "Working for Families" creating middle class welfare, instead of giving people back their own money. More recently in transport has been the massive increases in road costs, because of the enormous increases in spending fueling inflation in the construction sector and the ambitions of engineers always willing to choose the more expensive options. Labour has wasted billions of dollars, and the sad thing is Dr Cullen knows it.
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2. Nanny tells you what to do. Along with these strategies and bureaucracy is an insipid chardonnay socialist view that the world would be a better place if only people were "educated" to do the right thing. Whether it be to stop smoking, exercise, eat better, drive safely, take a bike instead of drive, watch less TV, be multicultural etc etc, it is a patronising attitude that most adults can't look after themselves, but that bureaucrats in Wellington know what is best for them. What is most disturbing is that it always shys away from blaming people for being stupid or expecting them to carry the responsibility of being a lazy crystal meth addict, but to parent you, give you money and tell you to be better next time. The government treats most people like children, so it is no surprise that so many act accordingly.
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3. Buying the election. It is very simple. Money voted by Parliament to pay for the administrative activities of the government was used to pay for one of Labour's main electoral advertising tools. It was illegal. Labour with its current mix of sycophants, voted to legalise what was illegal. The election was very close in 2005, and Labour lied and deceived the public about this until the last moment. No contrition, just sheer power hungry politics of the kind many of its members would have shouted "foul" at had National done it. Many of the same people who thought George Bush stole the 2000 election, happily cheered when their lot acted to do just that. It simply shows how blind to morality those closest to politics can be.
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4. Local Government Act 2002. Giving local authorities the power of general competence - a blank cheque to do whatever they liked with ratepayers' money, own and run businesses, engage in any new activities - and ratepayers wonder why rates continue to rise above the rate of inflation and above the rate of property value increases. Giving local petty fascists nearly free rein, with barely any accountability (and denying some ratepayers the vote).
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5. Meddle buy meddle. From renationalising and remonopolising ACC, to renationalising the railway network, to renationalising Air New Zealand (and refusing willing investors from saving it), to set up commissioners for electricity and telecommunications, to setting up emergency electricity generation, to unbundling Telecom's local line property rights, to increasing political direction in land transport funding, to banning certain used car imports.... an unwillingness to just let things be and let people pay for what they want, and make business decisions. This meddlesome approach means gameplaying is rife in those sectors the government in interested in. Telecommunications is an obvious one.
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So yes mine match some of Not PC's but I have tried to be a bit different. All I'd add is that one good thing was that Labour gave the Nats the chance to rebuild after a couple of years of appalling coalitions.

Bypass my ass?

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the final portion of Wellington’s Inner City Bypass is open. The moaning of the Greens is not surprising, and indeed many Wellingtonians have been frustrated too. Well, half finished roads rarely show much promise, and now that Vivian Street is finally operating eastbound (it hardly goes south!) things should flow smoothly. However, it will take easily a couple of weeks before traffic light phasing it sorted out.
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I grudgingly supported the bypass, largely because almost all those arguing against it were doing so from a position of abject ignorance, and some of its key opponents would outright lie about what it is. Sue Kedgley far too often called it a “motorway extension”, which is an enormous stretch of the truth – at best the motorway has been extended one block south, but even then not to motorway standards or speeds. In addition, the now defunct leftwing free paper “City Voice” once reported that Sue Kedgley voted in FAVOUR of the inner city bypass option when she was on the Wellington City Council – someone ought to research that some more too.
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For me the Wellington Inner City Bypass is a stopgap – it is simply a more efficient one-way system between Taranaki Street and the motorway than the old dogleg route of Vivian/Ghuznee Street. That’s it!! It is no big deal. If you want to see serious inner city roading, check out the Grafton Gully motorway extensions in Auckland – that was a serious inner city motorway - but the Greens weren’t at all excited about that. The bypass is grossly inadequate, it will reduce congestion, but only provides a more efficient through route and removes one set of traffic lights from the trip between the Basin Reserve and the Terrace Tunnel.
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The Wellington Inner City Bypass is in fact an abject lesson in two significant political and public policy issues in New Zealand.
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One, is the strategy of the Greens around issues that a small number of members get passionate about. It is the abandonment of reason and analysis, in favour of emotion and a quasi-religious obsession with single issues, with the tendency to deceive and exaggerate about what is going on. It is about diverting attention from the real agenda, which is a vehement moral opposition to private motoring, and about scaremongering its members and supporters into thinking that what is happening is different from reality. The fact that Labour Government appointed boards of (then) Transfund and Transit New Zealand supported the project, along with a former Labour Mayor (Fran Wilde) and a Labour led Regional Land Transport Committee should tell you volumes.
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The second is the fundamental failure of a politically driven process to deliver the roading infrastructure necessary for Wellington. It can be seen only too readily in how central and local government agencies, and politicians have treated the bypass vs. Transmission Gully. Transmission Gully is an extremely expensive long term solution to road access to/from the north of Wellington – it is an inefficient project (in fails to have benefits that meet its costs under benefit/cost analysis) and is a classic example of a boondoggle – a pork barrel politically motivated project with insufficient merit to justify itself. Peter Dunne is the piggy with his snout in the trough on this one, for some unfathomable reason. By contrast, Wellington had a proposal for a serious 4-lane bypass, built in a cut and cover tunnel, between the motorway and the Basin Reserve. It had a benefit/cost ratio over 2, and would, in todays dollars, cost probably about half that of Transmission Gully. It would have removed most through traffic from Te Aro and relieved Wellington’s waterfront route sufficiently that it could’ve been reduced from 6 to 4 lanes without worsening congestion. It was abandoned because of a council with insufficient vision, and because no central government Wellington politician could see what a difference such a highway would make. Labour never had the vision for it, and few National politicians did either - in fact one National Transport Minister - Rob Storey (who was a rural MP)- did more for the Greens in stopping road construction in Wellington than any other transport Minister in recent history.
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I’ve already told the Transmission Gully story (in five parts starting here) – the last chapter being that $9 million of taxpayers’ money (note NOT road users, this is coming from the Crown account – and no, this is after ALL petrol tax is spent) is now being spent on detailed investigation of Transmission Gully. This is the pork that Peter Dunne demanded to keep Labour in power – not much really, although around ten times that will be needed if it goes to detailed design. $90 million to design Transmission Gully – seriously!
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So today I am starting the story on the Wellington Inner City Bypass, it is a tale of high ambitions and persistence, which pitted on the one hand roading engineers and visionaries, and on the other hand local opponents to any new road construction, and more latterly the anti-road movement of the Greens.
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By the way if you want to see what the bypass COULD have been like (and the later design was to put it all in a cut and cover tunnel), go here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The railway religion

You, through your taxes, are paying to reopen the Onehunga railway branch line so that a new passenger rail service can be started from Onehunga to Britomart. Yes there is a railway there, but the passenger service ended in 1973 (a decision by Ron Bailey, Minister of Railways in the Kirk government – hardly a government of neo-liberal economists!). Freight services dried up some years ago with the termination of contracts for serving the wharf at Onehunga. The line simply has no economic use, unless some major freight customer wants to use the wharves at Onehunga.
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One commenter on the NZ Herald website looks at it critically (Tony - most of the rest commenting are muppets)
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$10 million is needed to bring the line up to scratch – that’s your taxes. As much as $5 million more is needed to build a station, that will probably come directly or indirectly from Auckland regional ratepayers. There will need to be more trains to provide the half hourly service (yes half hourly!! The tracks will sit empty every 15 minutes – imagine a new road like that!) . So another $9 million for 3 2-car diesel units for a half hourly service, double that if you want quarter hourly, double it again if you want a service that reflects the minimum efficient capacity of a passenger train (three busloads). However I’ll be conservative and argue $9 million, not $36 million for a frequent high capacity service.
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So $24 million before we’ve carried a single passenger. There will be fare revenue, but it will recover about 40% of the operating costs (based on recent cost recovery ratios from fares) – that doesn’t include renewals.
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So how many people will this be for? 300 more rail passengers in the two hour peak by 2011. Of that 300, only 57% will actually be at the two stations on the line, the rest will be people at the stations on the main line (catching it because of a higher frequency service, which could be achieved without spending $15 million on the line itself). So that’s 129 passengers on the branch itself. Of those let’s conservatively assume half are a transfer from the local bus service, (which I believe is a commercial – i.e. not subsidised, service). So we are down to 60 people a day. 60 people to shift mode for $24 million. $400,000 per person to shift mode!! Add in the remaining 85 on the main line (remember 171 would use the trains for the line at stations on the main line, and half of those were bus passengers), who can share the cost of the rolling stock and the subsidy, and we are down to $374,000.
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And that’s before you’ve paid 60% of the cost of running the damned train from your fuel taxes and rates.
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But this is a good deal according to the Greens - because trains are good, always, without fail, even services that couldn't stack up in the days the railways were run as an employment scheme with a monopoly on medium to long haul freight.
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Of course the next step they all say is a rail service to the airport hmmmm, with a bridge no doubt. Remember the city-airport rail service in Sydney isn’t economically viable, and Melbourne looked at it and couldn’t justify it, developing an express bus service instead (which was introduced after the Citylink tollway was built, greatly reducing travel times to/from the airport). Ask yourself how many people going to Auckland airport actually start their trips anywhere convenient to the rail line between Britomart and Onehunga - why would you get the train from the North Shore (you're going to transfer downtown really?), Waitakere and Manukau or even most of the isthmus. Would Helen Clark get it from Mt Roskill? Hardly.
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Nevertheless, this is a religion – the rail religion – devoid of economics and reason. 129 people on 4 train services in the 2 hour peak is around 33 people a train - that's called a bus load - and a train that short is NOT environmentally better than a bus, because trains are heavier and consume more fuel - that's why a general rule of thumb is you need 3 bus loads to make a train start to be worthwhile.
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Now if you talked about the corridor being used to take trucks (and buses) between Onehunga and the Southern motorway, you might have a better case.
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No - you're gonna to be made to pay $374,000 up front to shift one person from car to train, and subsidise 60% of that person's trips, whereas before you didn't. You could always buy them small apartments next to work instead.

Does IQ match income?

"The government thinks our IQ is based on our income" so said a young mother from one of London's less well off east/south east suburbs on BBC Breakfast TV this morning when asked about government interest in teaching parents how to feed their kids.
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"I know about how to eat healthy and all of the parents I know too, just because we're not well off doesn't mean we're stupid. The government thinks we all eat ready meals, when I find it a lot cheaper to buy fresh food and make my own meals for the family, and they are healthier too." She said the main problem was the food supplied at schools, and the snack vending machines there, which are unhealthy. Her two kids (one had the name Zeppelin - she admitted she had been a hippy) seemed happy and healthy.
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That's what she said -with a very strong east end accent (too strong for EastEnders) and I think the BBC Breakfast hosts were slightly taken aback.
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You see this is a problem, do-gooding bureaucrats and MPs think the problem is that people ARE stupid and don't know how to eat and don't know smoking is bad for them, and if like concerned parents they get told enough - they might learn.
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In most cases people continue to smoke or eat badly because they choose to do so, not because they don't know fruit and veges and freshly made food is better than fast food and snacks. Honestly, the only people who don't know better are mentally retarded.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Where is the Conservative Party?

I cautiously welcomed David Cameron as leader of the British Conservative Party. I thought he might bring some energy, ditch the old-fashioned fuddy duddy school prefect type “tell you what you do” nonsense that IS conservative, and provide an electable alternative to New Labour. Britain is one helluva nanny state, you seriously cannot believe how much the media and politicians regard government as the solution to almost anything. There are regulators for just about every sector, deregulation means reregulation, and the state is there to hand hold them all so people don’t do anything that might harm themselves – while taxing ever more and more.
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Cameron might have sold a Conservative Party that wanted to reduce nanny state, and start to wind back the nauseating bureaucracy that is UK central and local government. Well maybe, there is a little bit of that, but the latest policy takes the cake on outflanking New Labour on the left. It is a tax on aviation. The purpose is to cut the number of flights and tax more polluting aircraft (which is ridiculous since most airlines optimise fuel efficiency with their fleets for obvious reasons, traded off against capital availability).
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The Tories want to tax domestic flights, and to tax international flights on the basis of everyone being permitted one shorthaul (European) international flight a year (return), beyond that you pay. Consider first the bureaucracy of a ration book system for flying, but mostly consider why this is to happen – to combat climate change.
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Reason has gone out the door on climate change policy in the UK, the two main parties believe in unilateralism with absolutely no evidence of any benefits from their climate change policies. Taxing aviation will do nothing besides give David Cameron a new source of income, though he says he will cut other taxes in exchange – which is shuffling money around. Especially as it is another tinkering of tax in the form of "a new transferable tax allowance for couples with young children". Typical politician, wont cut basic taxes - just hand out little lollies - like Dr Cullen.
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Taxing aviation will do absolutely nothing to change temperature around the world, it wont change behaviour (airfares are too high relative to the taxes talked about for it to matter or be factored into travel decisions) and at worst will see a shift in airport hubbing away to other countries in Europe. Heathrow is the best airport hub in the world, and this may reduce its competitiveness.
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However, besides all that, it is absolutely galling to see the Tories propose a ration card type tax on aviation as if to say “you’ve flown once, now go off and sit in your flat and think of England – you’re not allowed to fly more unless you can pay – and we all can, rah rah rah”.
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UKIP is a hopelessly incompetent alternative protest vote, and I want rid of New Labour, primarily because of ID cards, but also because I don’t believe Gordon Brown can bring anything essentially new and exciting to free up Britain – quite the contrary. However, vote Tory and pay aviation taxes makes me go cold. Where has the party of Thatcher gone?

Britain's independent nuclear deterrent

As I write this the House of Commons has voted for the replacement of the UK’s Trident nuclear submarines, carried only because the Conservative Party almost entirely is voting with the Labour government – as nearly 100 Labour MPs have voted against it. 409 in favour, against 161.
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The arguments put in favour of Trident are that it is inappropriate for the UK to abandon its nuclear deterrent when nuclear proliferation (Iran, North Korea) continues, potentially posing a serious threat to its security. Another consideration is that while Russia is no longer an enemy, it is not exactly a very good friend – the risk that Russia could once again have ambitions eastward cannot be foreseen 25 years in advance. Indeed, anyone who 25 years ago would have forecast a quasi-genocidal war in Sarajevo would have been looked at askance. In addition, having a nuclear deterrent puts Britain with France and the US, as the three leading Western defence powers. While the UK could certainly expect the US nuclear umbrella to be used for its defence, abandoning its nuclear deterrence would send a negative message to the US, and greatly harm bilateral relations.
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Those against Trident believe it is a waste of money (£15 billion) that could be spent on social services (note they NEVER argue for tax cuts, funny that), but are primarily driven by two motives. First is a utopian vision for nuclear disarmament, with the naïve belief that if the UK disarms, it will encourage non-proliferation elsewhere. Those opposed to Trident are part of the so-called “peace movement” and claim to want a nuclear free world.
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Let’s look at nuclear disarmament, which has happened on a grand scale since the end of the Cold War, with the US, UK, France and Russia all substantially reducing their nuclear arsenals since the late 1980s. This happened not because any one party unilaterally disarmed, but because the USSR – a regime far too many in the “peace movement” either supported or whose sins it ignored – was defeated economically, politically and philosophically. Had the nuclear disarmament called by the very same type of people in the 1980s occurred, the Soviet Union would not have been brought to its knees – something that far too many in the so called “peace movement” didn’t like (ignoring the Soviet launched imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Korea and the Middle East).
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Further nuclear disarmament or the termination of nuclear programmes has occurred either because a threat was removed (South Africa) or a threat was real (Libya). North Korea pursued a nuclear weapon because it lost the Soviet nuclear umbrella and needed a tool of blackmail so its bankrupt system – and it seems to have worked. India and Pakistan had the capability for many years before “turning the last bolt”, but the sub continent’s nuclear deterrent has worked. Iran on the other hand is pursuing nuclear weapons as it embarks on its own ambition to obliterate Israel. Israel’s nuclear deterrence is just that – it has also largely worked to defend it since the Yom Kippur War. None of the almost all fascist Arab states dare touch it – and Israelis wont dare remove their greatest tool. Meanwhile, on its own, and subject to few protests from the so-called peace movement, China builds up its nuclear arsenal. However, that’s apparently ok (don't see Chinese flags burnt or major protests outside Chinese embassies).
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There is an argument that since the end of the Cold War, Europe is at peace and no longer needs nuclear weapons. This is incredibly naïve – while many ex. communist states are now EU members (indeed almost all European ones are now), Russia is not. Russia remains a state to watch. Britain’s nuclear deterrent keeps Russia from doing anything silly.
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A nuclear weapon free world will only come will all those holding nuclear weapons at present are truly open liberal democracies, with no sectarianism and no states vowing to wipe them off the earth, with no terrorists seeking to fight jihad, and no rogue states engaging in blackmail. That means an end to Islamism, an end to Marxism-Leninism, an end to kleptocratic fascism. In other words, a truly free world of secular peaceful states.
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Unfortunately the so-called peace movement grants moral equivalency between the UK, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China. The UK has never seriously threatened its nuclear weapons in anger, Russia (as the Soviet Union) not long ago sought to eliminate freedom and liberal democracy in the West.

Now is not the time to be naïve and pander to the one eyed hypocrisy of the so-called peace movement, which seeks as a priority disarmament of open free liberal societies, but has little interest in disarming closed, authoritarian states. Stupid or another agenda? You decide.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What did they fight for?

So you risk your life for your country, for freedom and your local RSA has a few pokie machines that you like to put some money in from time to time for a bit of fun as you sit with a beer with some mates of yours. You’ve looked into the eyes of danger, maybe even directly into the eyes of those who would strip away what freedoms we have for the sake of racial superiority, the great people’s revolution or the emperor. You know how to handle your own money, shit, you handled a gun or even a plane or a boat. You can look after yourself, you helped look after the whole country and its allies. However few bother to give a damn.
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People like the snivelling little upstart who is the gambling inspector. Maybe he was some young whippersnapper, dressed smartly in his Hallenstein’s suit, with his nasally whiny voice pointing out how your RSA doesn’t have a gambling licence and had failed to pay the problem gamblers levy (you can’t remember the last time anyone there had an addiction, except for Jimmy but hey it was only when he had had a few, and was remembering his best mate who he had to leave for dead). Looking into the eyes of that little bastard, what does he know? He wouldn’t even get his shoes dirty, and I’m sure he’d cower if you threatened to punch him.
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Maybe he was in his 50s, one of those who is just a bit too young to have been in Vietnam, with his grey shoes, his polyester suit, large tufts of hair either side that he wets and pulls over his bald spot, sneering and officious with no respect. He thinks you’re just a bunch of gun loving old bigots, and don’t understand your responsibility to society – what a bloody arsehole – never worked a productive day in his life.
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Both of them are the sorts I thought I’d fought to avoid, like the joyless telltale at school who ran to teacher because someone was smoking behind the bikesheds. Sticklers for rules, couldn’t turn a blind eye to those who did more for the country in one week than they will in a lifetime. No respect. No fucking respect.
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Like Director of Gambling Compliance, Mike Hill – Director of fun regulation more like. How about the prosecuting lawyer, Mark Woolford, wonder what sort of kick he gets out of prosecuting an RSA and removing a source of fun for its members. He doesn’t believe that they have private property rights though and that people who gamble take the risk themselves on the RSA’s property. It doesn’t matter as he gets paid far more than the members even did. I wont blame Judge Lindsay Moore, though he didn’t need to have the machines forfeited – they do own them after all, not the state, though give him his due for discharging the manager without conviction. He was just doing his job.
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That Green MP Sue Bradford is into all this though, remember her, the one who went to Maoist China, the same government whose soldiers would bury our guys standing up in holes in the ground to be prisoners in Korea. What does she know,