Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rob Muldoon's back

The NZ Herald says NZ$1.5 billion of your money - an "investment" - which will "bring New Zealand into the 21st century" - "enable it to compete with countries such as Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong". (Ah yes the 20th century is alive in well in NZ, and which Korea are we competing with again?)

Yes, National is going to grow the state by setting up a "Crown investment company" called "Crown Fibre Investment Co" (not that it is picking technology winners of course!) to build a network, and the users will come. I said before the election that this was shades of Muldoon's Think Big.

Look at the promises behind it:
- John Key says "They will be able to watch TV comfortably and easily over their computer screens, ". OHH TV over the computer screen, now THAT will create jobs right? I mean it's not as if there isn't digital Freeview subsidised by the state, and Sky's own commercially provided satellite platform right? You need TV via broadband to.... let you watch foreign TV subsidised??
- and "they will be able to run businesses from home". Amazing. Don't believe anyone running a business from home at the moment, they LIE, you can't do it without fibre to your home!

This is despite Telecom, Vodafone and Telstra Clear, the only real network providers in the country saying that their own plans will be adequate to meet demand - no doubt noting that when the government starts setting up a rival network, it devalues their own. In other words, the government is effectively shutting out significant new PRIVATELY funded network investment.

Ask yourself how you'd feel now as Telstra Clear, having spent hundreds of millions of dollars ten or so years ago rolling out hybrid fibre-coax cable to the kerb in Wellington and Christchurch, for the state to be now using taxpayers' money to roll out a superior network? (Well frankly Telstra Clear, having called for state expropriation of Telecom's property rights SHOULD now feel some chagrine).

Ernie Newman of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (not producers mind you, and not taxpayers either) is happy as can be, having long demanded the state subsidise and regulate for the benefit of his members. He was long a chief advocate of confiscating Telecom's property rights.

So why is this happening? Does the government truly believe that subsidising a particular technology so that consumers (far more than producers) can download Youtube, music, listen to internet radio and play high definition interactive games is good for the economy, or even moral?

After all, Stuff says "Ultra-fast broadband will let people watch high-definition or three-dimensional TV online, while talking on the phone via broadband or making video phone calls. Downloading movies will become much faster."

Is that worth subsidising? Faster movie downloads??

Anyway, why wont the private sector provide if people want it (and crucially are willing to pay)?

Well when you add up:
- Government denying Telecom and Vodafone private property rights over their telecommunications networks by forcing both to sell capacity on their networks to competitors at a price set by government;
- Government likely to regard any collusion between telcos for a new fibre network to be "anti-competitive";
- The RMA allowing local authorities to prohibit new overhead wire telecommunications networks in their districts, even if there are already such networks at present.

Then you might figure out that this Muldoonist approach to telecommunications is the wrong approach, and that subsidising the entertainment of New Zealanders who want cheap fast broadband is quite simply wrong.

David Farrar is typically abandoning his usual rather liberal smaller state approach to affairs and swinging in behind Muldoonist central planning of internet infrastructure. He will enjoy fibre to the kerb, and thinks my parents and their elderly friends should be forced to pay for it.

It is Think Big for the 21st century, it is cheaper, and less ambitious, but is driven by the same cargo cult belief that it will be some sort of economic saviour.

At best, it might prove to be financially self sustaining at some point, and get enough use to not be a total disaster, but at worst it will prove to be far more expensive than predicted, will not be completed according to plan, supplant other technologies, and wont deliver cheap broadband because... quite simply, it can't make international internet backbone capacity cheaper.

UPDATE: Paul Walker at Antidismal quotes an interesting example of how private sector underinvestment occurs when it fears the risk of nationalisation.

Strange radio signals from space

While most were sceptical this morning of the reports from Mongolia of irregular radio signals from space, the confirmation of these reports from independent sources in Europe, Africa, the United States and Australia is exciting scientists at several universities.

Professor Ahmed Tanfik Rachdi of the University of Algiers was reported as reading the signal from the University's own listening station that signals on frequencies of 6576-6602 kHz and 9325-9345 kHz seemed to not follow any regular pattern, but that the wide bandwidth included an amplitude modulated sound that, if verified, would be the very first sound transmission received from space not attributable to a natural phenomenon. However he was not the first to note it. The signal detection was shared by several others, first noted in Mongolia.

"Doctor Choi Khan San of Ulaan Baatar University may well have been telling the truth when he noted the disruption to regular radio broadcasts for 67 minutes between 10.34 and 11.41GMT did not come from any typical radio bandwidth transmission" said Professor Rachdi.

Professor Bart Kennedy of the Berkeley Institute of Astronomical Science is unconvinced, and says it might be a reflection of a signal from outside the solar system that has taken some time to return to earth, although he says scientists should have a better idea after further research.

Is it just a bizarre reflection (and amplification) of past radio signals from earth from some other source, or is it intelligence from outer space?

Greenpeace spokesperson Elkin Colinsonya of Finland said that if there is evidence of life outside earth, we should "ignore it, as we shouldn't corrupt its ways". Colinsonya said research into signals from outer space simply encouraged the use of electricity for purposes inconsistent with the sustainability of the planet. "What if humans become friends with inhabitants from another planet? We'll want to use it and abuse it like our own".

Rob Muldoon's back AGAIN

Want a new home? Why don't you turn to the government, given the latest Stuff report?

The Building and Housing Department (yes I didn't know it existed either) held a contest using your money for a design for an affordable "starter home". The winning design would apparently cost a state defined NZ$168,000 to build (excluding land) half the "usual cost" (forget the market, the recent drop in prices confuses bureaucracies as it makes planning difficult).

"Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said the competition showed starter homes could offer superb design and be affordable."

The state is needed to provide such valuable information.

Will it be building any though? (to be fair, this was a Labour Government initiative).

Kiwis get a tax cut - what to do with it?

Be grateful for it, although the Standard doesn't get it - a tax cut means you getting more of YOUR money back. It was never the government's in the first place. It hasn't been taken from anyone, it just isn't being taken from YOU anymore.

The left will bleat on about those who effectively pay next to no tax anyway getting no cut, not that the left promised any cuts for them anyway. Instead the left will evade the point that a tax cut is leaving people to have more of their own money, it doesn't "plunder the state" anymore than not being robbed isn't plundering from thieves.

So here is a simple guide for those who oppose the tax cuts. You have only two moral options for the money.

1. Gift all of the tax cut money to the state. You would have preferred it had gone there in the first instance. Don't pretend you're so retarded you need to be forced to pay money to an institution you wish did more, do it by choice; or

2. Gift all of the tax cut money to charities that support the social activities you say you are passionately concerned about. This may be education, health, social care, poverty, international aid, whatever. Then you might see results, the money will be going somewhere YOU care about, and you wont regret the tax cut.

Because, you see, if you oppose tax cuts, you oppose that money of yours being spent on you and your loved ones. You'd be a hypocrite if you didn't donate the lot.

So go on, what are you going to do besides get angry and jealous that richer people earn more than you (pay more tax anyway) and get more of their own money back when any tax is cut?

Monday, March 30, 2009

John Key starts to figure out Nick Smith

John, sorry to say it but told you so.

How many more swings at the ball is Nick Smith going to be allowed before you realise what a liability he is?

Now on my other points:
1. Peter Dunne needs to be pushed to one side eventually, you'll be rewarded for abolishing the Families Commission.
2. I said ACT should deal with the RMA, give Environment to Roger Douglas.
3. The Maori Party is harmless so far.
4. ii - Education Minister is who? Anne Tolley. Well we'll see.
iii - Steven Joyce was the right choice for Transport, well done.
5. You are warming to this, which is good.
6. Oh the RMA review is a Nick Smith special, like I said, hand this to Roger Douglas.
7. I doubt you've done this, but I'll wait and see.
8. Go to Sweden and the Netherlands next time you're in Europe. Take Anne Tolley. Learn how education deregulation works, and make sure enough braindead TV journalists follow.
9. Is Tim Groser's ticket to Washington booked yet? Why not?
10. Read Reisman yet? You just might have.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Helen Clark too hard working for UNDP

Well, I'd abolish the UNDP of course. Like all UN organisations it is a bloated bureaucracy which employs many people for whom hard work is something they'll never be accused of experiencing. I've spent plenty of time dealing with UN organisations, some of the curiosities were the compulsory morning and afternoon tea breaks, half an hour each, and the two hour lunch break, with 5.30pm being the absolute latest working period. 9.30am-5.30pm minus three hours! Criticise Clark for many things, but she was a hard worker - she worked long hours ensuring that her largely mediocre ministers didn't screw up completely.

Tax free pay, accommodation and medical allowances, flying business class everywhere. It is a racket that many on the left are only too happy to suckle from. A racket that treats all countries as being equal, whether it be Sweden or Belarus.

The UNDP has been subject to allegations of financial impropriety in North Korea, a place where Medicins sans Frontieres chose to leave because it couldn't guarantee that its aid would get to the needy instead of the military and the party.

Clark will continue to live off the back of taxpayers, people forced to pay for her. However, she is likely to be heading this rather awful organisation which may get the better of her.

What SHOULD happen is the UNDP should be privatised, and be an agency run and led by people who want to help international development, by voluntary donation of their time and money - not lazy barely employable bureaucrats who are more interested in protecting their vested interests.

Yet another reason for Auckland not to be a supercity

Gary Taylor likes the idea.

He likes it because it can strengthen planning of where and how development can take place. He likes it because it can push his vision of "sustainable urban form" retaining urban growth limits. Given he says it is good for the environment, you can see where this is heading. Greater Auckland City will be a behemoth of a planning monster.

The debate, of course, should be what is the role of local government?

Until you answer that question, the form it would take is pointless to discuss.

Sunday Star Times asks idiot about transport

Well if you read this article by Esther Howard in New Zealand's leading leftwing rag - the Sunday Star Times, you wouldn't be that enlightened about Auckland transport. She talked to three leading international gurus and an Auckland expert, none of whom actually presented differing views from each other.

Paul Mees is a radical advocate of endless subsidies to public transport, and is rabidly against private transport. He does not present evidence for his claims, and is not widely acknowledged as being of great standing in urban transport circles in Australia and New Zealand. He wants an end to road building, and to pour money into public transport, putting high density Zurich on a par with Auckland. He gives no evidence whatsoever for his claim that this would reduce congestion.

Paul Bedford is another public transport enthusiast, wanting trams galore and also anti-roads. Again, someone who gives no evidence that spending a fortune on public transport will ease congestion.

Professor George Hazel is a bit more sensible. Another supporter of public transport, but more intelligently also promotes integrated ticketing and payment systems. He suggests people get credits for using public transport off peak.

Stuart Donovan from Auckland is even more sensible, as he promotes ending requirements for developers to provide parking (but then advocates taxes on parking). He supports replacing fuel taxes with tolls, at least this would ease congestion.

So you see, high standards of journalism again in New Zealand newspapers. No one who believes in efficient management of roads and free market transport was asked. The answer, you see, is to run all transport commercially - roads and public transport.

Nick Smith the Green Party's Cabinet Minister in drag

What a f'ing surprise! Nick Smith - the man John Key should have relegated to the back benches, and who I called on Nelson voters to reject in favour of Maryan Street, is calling for a new bizarre tax - this time on plastic bags according to the Dominion Post.

Hello??!! Nick, if you want to be in the Green Party, join it.

A 5c tax on every plastic bag is allegedly based on the "polluter pays" principle. Paying for what though? This is when the advocates shut up.

Smith says "We are a country of just four-million people, we use over a billion bags a year, and to me that's excessive". Oh sorry Dear Leader Nick, we are using them too much, like bad little children wanting to carry our shopping in multiple bags, then using them for rubbish disposal. We ARE naughty, go on tell us off.

The proposed tax would raise revenue to go back to supermarkets. Odd indeed. Especially since some shops already charge for bags, like Pak n Save in the North Island. So there IS choice. Nick doesn't like that though, as any good Green MP he believes in using force - force is good.

The supermarket sector prefers a voluntary approach, but is gutlessly supporting the proposal if the government mandates it (presuming glad the government wants to impose a tax to give money to supermarkets).

The same report says they comprise only 0.2% of waste but don't biodegrade. The appropriate response is "so what", largely because as long as people pay for landfill use (which many do not because councils subsidise them), then it is irrelevant. You see, that is the only issue.

So my solution is far more direct. Landfills should be privatised. All councils should be required to put landfills into profit-oriented Council Controlled Organisations, and to privatise them. That would mean everyone has to pay for rubbish collection and disposal, at market prices. Then, polluters would be paying, because as long as you pay for what you throw away, and it goes somewhere that does not leach onto neighbouring land, then who cares?

Unless, of course, you worship the ideology that throwing away anything is bad.

Support government programmes by choice

The Standard is bleeting on that you wont be forced to pay for so many state programmes it thinks are just dandy.

So my question is this - what is stopping those who agree with them paying for them by choice? Yes there is this incredible concept, astonishing in its equity and fairness, called choice.

If you want to support advertising that encourages kids to eat healthy, YOU pay for it. Why not? You go try to convince others to donate too. It's what charities and businesses do all the time.

If you want to subsidise the coastal shipping industry, then YOU pay for it. After all, if you think it's so good for others, why be a selfish prick and not try to keep it going?

If you want to subsidise the provision of water supplies to rural districts, then YOU pay for it. After all, just because banal councils couldn't run infrastructure efficiently, nor are ratepayers willing to pay for clean water, why should taxpayers do so?

Not the lazy "get the state to make everyone pay" violent collectivist nonsense that the left gleefully portrays as "caring" when it is nothing of the sort.

So go on - those on the left, spend your taxcuts on the things the government isn't spending money on that you want. If you spend them on anything else, you're a hypocrite. If you wont spend money on the government, why the hell should everyone else be forced to?

Why is Slovakia not financially bereft?

Simple.

Slovak's borrowed more prudently. Slovak banks lended more prudently.

Was it due to regulation?

No. Slovakia has a fairly deregulated economy, with flat income and company tax.

So says Slovak university students in Bratislava, who largely support the free market and are worried that the rural majority will want to go back to centrally planned socialism. This is from the BBC!

Its main challenge is the collapse in car exports, since it had a booming car assembly industry thanks to lower wages and hard working employees. So it is far from immune, and has seen economic growth plummet - but its financial sector is sound. No talk of bank bailouts at all.

The BBC on Ayn Rand

This time it was Newsnight on Friday night, the culture segment chose to review Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The episode is here, which probably cannot be watched outside the UK, but give it a go (get past the Vince Cable nonsense first and the Rand bit finishes at about 12 minutes). Why is it mentioned? Because sales have taken off.

Now I criticise the book in only two points. Firstly, it IS too long. It makes the same point repeatedly, which to me (given I already was an objectivist when I read it) was unnecessary. Secondly, it became increasingly predictable what would happen . As such I much prefer The Fountainhead, although Atlas Shrugged is a great tale, it was one which had an outcome I expected. Many better written books exist, but still it makes an important point.

What would happen if the inventors and producers DID go on strike?

It starts with Yaron Brook from the Ayn Rand Institute explaining the point of Atlas Shrugged and does so well. However, then Kirsty Wark is generally annoying, but to get Ayn Rand mentioned on the BBC is an achievement in itself. However, it was Rosie Boycott, who was once editor of the Express (barely a step beyond a tabloid rag) who missed the point of the book, and so described it as "full of Aryan heroes" which was disturbing.

The BBC showed it was completely incapable of getting a panel on its show of people with differing points of view - NOBODY who supported Rand was presented.

More disturbing is Boycott didn't bother to investigate Rand's own history as a refugee from totalitarianism, a Jew and a despiser of all forms of fascism. Boycott, who has edited the Independent and the Express (neither known for either being that independent or clever), is a Liberal Democrat, and, and it was "dehuman". "Nobody in the book is vulnerable and human. Every transaction is financial", which of course is total nonsense as well.

The swarmy Andrew Roberts, a historian, said "you simply can't abolish income tax and sack government employees" which is nonsense. The narrowness of this view is astonishing. He calls her a strange if not mad woman, who was chucked out of every political organisation she tried to join.

Sarfraz Manzoor (A Guardian writer) criticises it as lacking humanity and any doubt. all heroes are individuals, but in the real world most things are done as teams. He sees it is too easy to blame government intervention, when it should be the lack of intervention that is the issue.

So there you have it - the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation bringing on three people who largely agree with each other who think radical free market capitalism can't be defended, and that Rand was mad and dehumanising.

Looking forward to the debate the BBC has on whether people who disagree with it should be forced to pay for it - nope, wont be hearing that one soon.

Green emotional twaddle about public transport

Now I know the Greens worship public transport as a religion, associated with the railway obsession. It is based on the notion that it is better to force people to pay for others moving than to let people face the real costs of the transport choices they make. Forget the environment or the economy, because the truth of the environmental impacts of subsidising more public transport doesn't bear close scrutiny - after all, those buses and trains spent a lot of time sitting idle or running nearly empty in the counterpeak direction.

I'm more concerned about this nonsense from Frog Blog:

"I used to drive to work along a route that encompassed urban streets, motorway and rural roads.

It was a journey of fear.

Almost every day there was a dangerous road-rage type event. Other drivers tailgating so close you couldn’t even see their headlights, people coming straight from the motorway on ramp on to the fast lane, so I had to brake heavily to avoid a collision. Other drivers changing lanes without indicating."

Car commuting in New Zealand a journey of fear? Oh please! Try driving in Cairo or Beijing! One wonders if frog was such a bad driver that the tailgating was from people sick of the driver sitting in the fast lane and not moving over. Changing lanes without indicating? Yes, it's rude but that's it.

Then this "Life is all about making connections. It’s vital we increase our capability to make those connections." Well yes, but why the hell should I have to pay for your "connections"? If you live, work and play in different places, why don't YOU pay for how you get there? Isn't the most green option NOT using transport at all?

"It’s a strange world indeed when your plane ticket is cheaper than the taxi ride to the airport" No, it is what happens on a long taxi ride for a short flight on a competitive route. Planes are public transport after all. Presumably when you next fly First Class to London, you wont find the taxi ride price an issue.

Then the Greens get into how wonderful public transport is: "Smart people already know the economic and environmental benefits of public transport, but there’s also an emotional pay-off. Instead of driving to work seething with righteous anger at the stupidity of one’s fellow motorists, one can let someone else do the driving, relax with a book or newspaper and feel part of the community, rather than shut off from others."

Yes, that's right. Someone else driving (though virtually never from your origin to destination), relax with a book, if you're not standing and feel part of the community, sitting beside strangers, people who don't bathe, people sneezing. Riding public transport is "being part of the community" now. Virtually everyone on public transport would rather get a taxi ride, than undertake this experience. It's the same on planes. I'd rather be in a Singapore Airlines Suite cabin than sit in cattle class with "the community".

Most people treat public transport as a necessary evil, when driving isn't available, cheaper or faster. It is tolerated as the best choice given alternatives. However, if driving is cheaper and faster, most prefer its flexibility, door to door service and comfort, and get to know the community by their own means.

TVNZ's trivia

The whole Stephanie Mills moustache incident raises two simple points:

1. How the media, including Paul Henry, is willing to talk about a Houstache (well Cactus Kate coined it so why not use the term), but not the drivel being spouted from the mouth directly below it. THAT is what is truly disturbing

2. The anger surrounding what is a rather childish pointing out of what is true.

Paul Henry seemed very agitated about it. He doesn't go to Wellington enough, Wellington has many women with facial hair. Each to their own of course. It's like men with facial hair, it's absolutely vile to me (I presume most men with it couldn't give a damn about what i think anyway) and I am slightly less trusting of ANYONE with facial hair. It's rarer for women to have facial hair, so I assume (since I've spent most of my life shaving facial hair daily) it is a choice, and the person with it likes it that way.

Whether to comment on it or not is another point. However, in a free liberal society the choice to do so should not be restricted, neither should be the choice to respond.

The Hand Mirror is understandably upset, because a woman is being judged on her appearance, not what she said. Catherine Delahunty equally so spouting nonsense that "She must never think that her work, her achievements, her wisdom and her analysis will be enough to be respected. Not unless she looks like Barbie" forgetting Margaret Thatcher went through much much worse, was treated appallingly by the Conservative Party, and changed so much. Of course, she doesn't count, I've yet to see too many "Barbie like" successful women in politics or business.

So how about this, wouldn't it be nice if Paul Henry ripped into Stephanie Mills for talking sheer nonsense next time? Oh and it's funny how Alison Mau is being seen as a kind of hero for finding Henry's behaviour vile, when she is hardly a journalist of any calibre.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The enemy marches on London

For many protesting the upcoming G20 summit in London, it was a chance to vent frustration at the recession. They are blaming free market economics (where?), the stupid lending behaviour by banks (which they presumably wouldn't want to let fold), and the government for not regulating people borrowing and lending. Reports that it is an unprecedented coalition of various groups are absolute nonsense. It is the usual group of statists, adding a bunch of destroyers (anarchists) as well.

Let's take what some are saying:
Actionaid: "We urge the G20 to lift the veil of secrecy that makes it easy for companies to avoid tax. This would allow developing countries to claim the money that they are owed, so they can use it to build hospitals, dig wells and employ teachers" In other words more government and NO idea about the corruption and theft that developing country governments engage in.
Trade Union Congress: Wants a fairer and greener place. Fair means "take money from those who have it to give to those who don't". Given this organisation spent a good part of its history promoting the progressive Sovietisation of the UK economy, it hardly has credibility.
Save the Children: Wants to take more money from you for the poor. No idea how to create it of course.
Stop Climate Chaos Coalition: Wants to take more money from you to subsidise "green jobs" and "low carbon economies", presumably like Cuba and North Korea. Ignoring how much a recession kills off consumption of carbon based fuels.
Plan: Wants governments to listen to what young people have to say, which typically is "spend more money from the magic money bank", until they get jobs and start appreciating where governments take money from.
Salvation Army: Wants to take more money from you for the poor.
WWF: An organisation you thought was about wildlife, actually wants "equity", so wants more of your money taken.
CND: Wants disarmament, implicitly wants NATO expansion against Russian imperialist threats to stop (I thought it's funding from Moscow ended years ago). Vile sympathisers for authoritarianism.
Stop the War Coalition: Another vile far leftwing sympathiser group for Islamist terrorists.
It has long wanted to leave Iraq to Islamist terror groups, leave Afghanistan to the Taliban, let Israel be overrun by Hizbollah and Hamas and engage in unilateral nuclear disarmament.
British Muslim Initiative: See Stop the War Coalition.

None of this mob say what they want, other than to thieve more with the tax system, and withdraw militarily from the world.

More disconcerting are the anarchists who explicitly call to "Make Capitalism History". These angry little children want to storm banks and start a revolution.

Their "manifesto" is described on a website as follows:

-Can we oust the bankers from power?
-Can we get rid of the corrupt politicians in their pay?
-Can we guarantee everyone a job, a home, a future?
-Can we establish government by the people, for the people, of the people?
-Can we abolish all borders and be patriots for our planet?
-Can we all live sustainably and stop climate chaos? Can we make capitalism history?

The answer are (in theory):
Yes
Yes and replace them with your own.
Possibly yes, but it will be none of anyone's choosing.
No, you will establish a new dictatorship.
Yes (good luck with that one)
No, not without a fight.

You see bankers are being advised to dress down and avoid work next week, because the City of London Police and the London Metropolitan Police can't guarantee their safety - nice that.

The G20 will be a waste of time, largely because most politicians there are clueless as to why their own interventions precipated the crisis. However, far more dangerous are the insane destroyers out to destroy capitalism, without having any moral alternative (if any alternative). Hopefully most stay at home, don't do any violence and are largely treated with the contempt they deserve.

Sadly nobody will be protesting as to the grand theft that government have engaged in for years - because those protesting not only agree with government theft through taxes, but want more.

Earth hour's onanistic vileness

Oh yes, the sheeple in the relatively free rich world (and even the relatively unfree middle income world like China) will have a jolly ol' time switching off our lights for an hour. Makes you feel better a bit of enforced poverty doesn't it?

All cities in North Korea will be joining in, like they do every day for a while, at random hours in fact. Most people there would be amazed that there is the Hour of Power in counter protest. If only North Koreans could choose.

Tim Blair has an excellent commentary about how this silly little protest is going. He says the fact the Soccerroos are participating is proof soccer is gay.

However I'll leave my final comment to the Competitive Enterprise Institute

"we are pointing out what Earth Hour truly is about: it isn’t pro-earth, it is anti-man and anti-innovation. So, on March 28th, CEI plans to continue “voting” for humanity by enjoying the fruits of man’s mind. "

I'm doing so tonight as well.

UPDATE 1: The Ayn Rand Institute describes it as "The lights of our cities and monuments are a symbol of human achievement, of what mankind has accomplished in rising from the cave to the skyscraper. Earth Hour presents the disturbing spectacle of people celebrating those lights being extinguished. Its call for people to renounce energy and to rejoice at darkened skyscrapers makes its real meaning unmistakably clear: Earth Hour symbolizes the renunciation of industrial civilization."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One more reason why Auckland shouldn't be a supercity

The Stuff Poll

You want any of those people governing part of your money? Your land?

No - the incompetency of Auckland local government is NOT because it is fragmented, it is because it tries to do far too much, and far too many who get elected (and who manage it) have a competency deficit.

Hopefully Rodney Hide will dump the idea as comprehensively as the government that called for the Royal Commission was dumped at the last election.

Then scrap the ARC - yes it gets rid of the obvious body to lead a supercity.

After all, the ARC barely existed not very long ago, and almost all of what it does is destructive to Auckland's prosperity, or can be better carried out elsewhere.

That ought to be the report Rodney Hide seeks next from DIA. It would be a pilot for the rest of the country.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The way to hell says Czech PM

That's what he thinks of the Obama print money and fiscally abuse unborn children plan to stimulate the US economy says the BBC. See, the Czech Republics knows a bit about hell, as the allies left in the strangling embrace of Stalin and Chris Trotter's beloved Soviet Union for 40 years, rolling some tanks in halfway just to remind everyone of who was boss. The Czech's know a bit about the difference between freedom and statism, which given the Czech Republic's current (6 month) Presidency of the EU is good news for the EU (for now).

Czech (outgoing) PM Mirek Topolanek considers the size of the US budget deficit and the long list of protectionist "Buy America" provisions in the print money and fiscally abuse unborn children plan to be disastrous, as it follows just the same creeping path of protectionism that damaged the global economy in the mid-late 1930s.

He also says the EU is uninterested in pursuing any more of additional stimulus package to follow the US.

Now whilst this comes on the eve of another announcement, wouldn't you think the world would be better off, with Mr Topolanek's term as PM ending, appointing him instead of Helen Clark to run a bloated corrupt and lazy UN megabureaucracy?

Working hard in the Middle East

Yes, that's been me. 14-16 hour days (yes boo hoo all you strict 8 hour wage slaves, life's rough for you), interminable meetings which are 10% in English as the rest is Arabic, dealing with a public sector that works a 6 hour day, noticing a common thread among those I meet who are innovative and hard working, and those who are bureaucratic (those who are innovative and hard working have PCs on their desks, those who don't aren't - a rule that does not apply in the Western world). Reminding myself to always take toilet paper with me, as I am unsure why my bum should be wet with the basic bidet. Remembering that hotel food, even at a five star establishment, is at best average, at worst bizarrely awful (rolls with houmus and labnah, consistently overcooked fish). Not touching the tap water, but not knowing what water is used for the endless cups of tea offered. Remembering that Nescafe is code for diluted instant coffee with 3 or more teaspoons of sugar in it. Wondering why the same fruit and desserts sit exposed in the hotel room for the whole two weeks. Tolerating the rather common practice of smoking inside offices while meetings occur. Tolerating the very common practice of answering phone calls in the middle of meetings, and constant interruptions from virtually anyone - unless you are meeting the CEO or a Deputy.

However, appreciating that in Egypt (but not the UAE), the internet is wide open - unless, of course, you want to insult the President and ruling party. Also appreciating the relative secularism, which is seen in the diversity of TV, movie and internet content available (yet to encounter a blocked website - unlike the UAE where many are blocked). Perhaps the funniest point is how I found in a music store a boxed set of the racist 1970s UK comedy TV show "Mind Your Language"! You wont find that in the UK with much ease I suspect.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Britain loses its toy human

Jade Goody is a name that provokes much emotion. She died today, a young woman of 27 with cervical cancer. That is mildly notable, perhaps a useful warning to young women to be aware that cancer is not necessarily a disease of the old.

However, for me I’ve known far too many people already, younger and older than me, who have battled cancer. Those are people I give (and gave) a damn about, and so the narcotic the media is addicted to regarding Jade Goody’s illness tastes rather bitter to me. It is why I have refused to comment until today. Young death is sad, but nobody I know who suffered from culture was thrown millions by the media because a guilty tasteless public wanted to watch.

The Daily Telegraph calls herthe poster girl of the curious contemporary cult of talentless celebrity”. This was something I noted some time ago when I hoped her career would end after she was obnoxious to Shilpa Shetty. She seemed an anomaly, hopefully she has been a lesson.

The history of Jade Goody says much about the taste and standards of the British tabloid media, which of course reflects its keen consumers. Jade herself did well materially out of being a toy the media and public could abuse, embrace and abuse again, before embracing her (after briefly abusing her again) on news of her terminal illness.

It is a spectacle that should cause more than a few to reflect on how a young woman became a national sport.

Most of the media is being kind to her memory, but the Daily Telegraph’s obituary best describes how Jade Goody’s media career progressed and regressed. The interest in Jade Goody has been perverted. It glorified in her being dim, laughing at her like a retarded child who didn’t know better. It savoured being as unspeakably cruel as possible, both the right wing and left wing tabloids ripped into her. The Telegraph reporting:

The Sun called her a hippo, then a baboon, before launching its campaign to "vote out the pig". The Sunday Mirror rejected porcine comparisons on the ground that it was "insulting – to pigs"…"Here she is: fat-rolled, Michelin girl Jade in all her preposterous lack of glory," thundered the Daily Mirror

The Daily Mirror is purportedly centre left too. What culture glorifies in such sadistic language. Jade, after all, was hardly any worse than millions of the British lumpen proletariat, except she was making a lot of money out of simply being that way. She typified the desires of the barely educated hedonistic poor, who wanted to be rich and to get there by doing or being nothing other than their talentless selves. Yet they were jealous. What were the people who “travelled across England to the BB house, where they waved placards and greeted her emergence, spilling out of a pink dress several sizes too small, with chants of "burn the pig"” saying about themselves?

Damian Thompson in the Daily Telegraph concludes this for me well:

A streak of callousness goes with being young, and always has done; but the peculiar brutality shown by twentysomethings towards the cancer-stricken Jade, for no better reason than that they didn't like her, is a miserable and worrying sign of the times.”

Many think her cancer story will save lives, maybe it will help some in the short term. However, she will be forgotten as her memory was always timebound by the short term memory of the tasteless who enjoyed her foibles and revelled in hating her.

A better outcome would be for those who joined in the consumption of a rather clueless woman's life as entertainment to move on and treat culture as a celebration of life, achievement and beautiful things and experiences that inspire us to wonder and awe - rather than inspire a near schizophrenic fascination and vitriol for someone who was none of those things, but similarly hardly deserving of the parasitical sadism that earned her money (and the loathsome Max Clifford who did well out of her too).

A good start would be to stop buying the Daily Mirror and the Sun, for obvious reasons.

It's time to move on and up, but many in Britain need to reflect on this sad little episode and what it says about the psyche of all too many.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

State gangsterism

Matt McCarten is at it again in the NZ Herald, slagging off capitalism this time in the form of the tobacco industry. Now I don't have any interest in that industry. I personally loathe the smell of tobacco smoke, and would be happy if smoking faded away into history. I've known people I loved whose lives were undoubtedly shortened by smoking.

He sees the industry as a sign capitalism has failed, now nobody has bothered to tell Matt that the proportion of people smoking in the most anti-Western capitalist countries - that prohibit Western tobacco companies - According to Wikipedia 26.3% of men and 21.5% of women in the US smoke, 29.7% and 27.5% in New Zealand. Yet in Cuba 43.4% of men and 28.3% of women smoke, in Iran 29.6% of men smoke (but for obvious reasons only 5.5% of women), in North Korea (no report quoted) most men smoke (women don't), in Belarus (the last bastion of totalitarianism in the former USSR) 63.5% of men smoke and 21.1% of women smoke.

Capitalism? No - it is cultural.

However, you can see Matt's point of view explained in one sentence:

"I've never heard a convincing argument as to the benefit of smoking"

No? Well I have one - it gives a lot of people pleasure. However he misses the point - it doesn't matter whether or not YOU see a benefit - it is called freedom of choice. I don't know the benefit of bungie jumping, or the benefit of genital piercing, or the benefit of eating rotten cabbage or coprophagia (if you don't know don't look it up online), or belonging to a student union.

The point is Matt that just because YOU don't see a benefit in something that you find distasteful and risky, doesn't mean you should decide.

Now the tobacco industry is certainly far more having the moral high ground. It obfuscated and denied overwhelming scientific evidence that sustained use of its products causes respiratory diseases and exacerbates cardio-vascular disease. Of course it did - why wouldn't it? It continues to sell and push its products in developing countries, obfuscating these facts, with its defence that it is about market share. That, is partly the truth, but it also wants more customers.

So I have little time for these peddlers of truth evasion. It was right for the tobacco industry to be held to account for death caused by its products when it openly advertised them as being healthy or ignored proven health issues with the products. I am not talking about nonsense like "Corporate Social Responsibility" as the only appropriate response is laws on fraud and negligence to cover the failure of the tobacco industry to be honest about the nature of its products. Sadly most countries don't have a capitalism legal system to allow this discipline to be placed on them.

However he gets it wrong when he argues against free choice, because, in fact, it is about that. The health risks of smoking are widely known in modern Western society, you know about it as a child. People take up smoking aware of this, and people stop smoking as well. Yes the tax on tobacco is an appalling way to pay for the state health sector costs. A better way would be for those who smoke to be able to buy health care that takes into account their lifestyle risk factors, in fact as should everyone. You smoke, you eat fatty sugary foods, you sit around all day, you pay a fortune or don't qualify.

Matt wouldn't like people being accountable for their choices though - because he believes smokers don't choose - he believes individuals are vulnerable little lambs that his all embracing nanny state should protect and provide for.

So when he says "I like to think it has dawned on most people that unfettered capitalism is just a form of gangsterism and is past its use-by date." Where has he seen this? Where are private property rights fully protected? Where is free banking? Where is the state only providing defence and law and order? Oh yes, the crony capitalist mixed economies dominated by state control of the money supply, and a significant part of GDP, are "unfettered".

He says "You only have to look at what has happened in the United States to realise that even they now accept that doing business without morality is unsustainable."

Indeed, but what about the gangsterism that is government?

What business would survive based on charging its customers whether or not they used its services, and charging them prices based on how much money the customers earned in the past year?

What business would promise health care, but would remove offering services or procedures at various locations with no notice, even though you paid into the "scheme" all your life? That same scheme means you faced waiting lists when you needed procedures deemed "non urgent", even though you were in a lot of pain at the time. That's called state health care.

What business would promise you a retirement income, and after taking more of your income every year as you get old, give your inheritance absolutely nothing if you die the day before you're due to collect, and would vary what is paid out based on political fiat? That same system means that the average Maori man (who dies at age 65) never receives a cent of National Superannuation.

Yes I know what gangsterism is Matt.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Pope's reckless stupidity

Following on from the Pope's pre-Christmas statement that humanity needs "saving" from homosexuals because "a blurring of the distinction between male and female could lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race" (which apparently hasn't happened for countless other species where homosexual behaviour is observed). The "God given" variations in hormones and behaviour of human beings apparently should mean a whole segment of humanity should deny who they are because of a powerful celibate self sacrificing man.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Pope is now saying HIV "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

The absence of logic is astonishing.

You may as well say that using condoms makes the likelihood of pregnancy higher.

The simple mathematical truth is that near universal condom use would dramatically contain the spread of HIV. It would NOT eliminate it, but by dramatically cutting the rate of transmission it will reduce it. After all, this is in part what happened among homosexual men in the Western world. Partly promiscuity reduced, but predominantly condom use became the norm - the rate of transmission reduced significantly.

To say it aggravate the problem is an utter lie, a reckless misnomer that will result in people having unprotected sex because they'll say "condoms make it worse".

He, no doubt thinks, that it is better people abstain from sex, with the threat of HIV being the incentive to abstain. He also probably thinks that the existence of condoms makes it more likely people will have sex, and more likely HIV will be transmitted.

So let's look at the scenarios behind his statement. Assume there are 100,000 in a country who are sexually mature and unmarried, let's assume 15% of those have HIV, so 15,000 are already infected (about the rate in South Africa). Of them, one third are undiagnosed. The scenarios below are rough mathematically, as I haven't exponentially included the chain effect of passing on the virus, but you should get the idea:

Scenario 1: Pope's ideal: All abstain from sex, except after marriage. Assume over 5 years half marry. So 50,000 marry. Of them 15% of the people in those marriages have HIV, of whom one third don't know. It takes 14 acts of intercourse for ALL those married to someone with HIV to be statistically certain of infection. The odds are that married couples will achieve this in 2-3 weeks and may produce children, also infected.

Scenario 2: Pope's policy, promiscuous lifestyle: All have sex with 5 partners over this period, on average 20 times with each person (sex once a fortnight). Those knowingly with HIV restrict this to 2. Odds are that over half of the population have sex with an infected person, and that there is a near certain chance of infection. Around 40,000 get infected. This is given that the rate of HIV infection for unprotected sex is 7%.

Scenario 3: 100% condom use, promiscuous lifestyle: As scenario 2, but all encounters involve a condom. According to a report by the National Institutes of Health (USA) condoms reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 87% (to 0.9%). As a result, while over half the population STILL has sex with an infected person, the odds of infection have dropped from virtually 100% (20 encounters with 7% chance each time), to 18%. Around 15,300 get infected.

Scenario 4: 100% condom use, half marry rest abstain: As scenario 1, but all who are married use condoms. 50,000 married, 15% married to people infected, but it takes them to have sex 111 times in that period before they statistically are all infected, a period of perhaps 6 months, during which HIV testing would have been available to them both easily.

My point is simple. Condoms reduce the incidence of HIV transmission. It works for people who are promiscuous and those who are not. Unless, the Pope wants everyone with HIV to remain unmarried.

It is sheer reckless stupidity, which barely shields the suffering Augustine ascetism of the Vatican. The Pope is either ignorant or would rather more Africans caught HIV as "punishment" for not following the church's teachings than they use simple proven technology to prevent disease transmission.

My problem is, it isn't clear which one it is, or whether it is actually both.

(As an aside, what I'd really like to know is why the church remains obsessed with sex (I can make some psychological assumptions) provisions in the Old Testament, but not those related to shellfish, hair and the like. My first guess is that if we all treated shellfish eating as a hedonistic pleasure, and sex as mundane and uninteresting as breathing, it may be different - it's about sacrifice, denial and suffering).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Auckland rail business case fisked

So let's look at the truth behind ARTA's rail business case, what it does to cook up a positive case for pouring hundreds of millions of your money into a transport system that will always need subsidies. For starters I already said that evaluation "exiting rail" as an option was dismissed because it would cost a lot of money ($1 billion when rail is actually $1.4 billion) and would be inconsistent with the ARC and central government's strategies (strategies shouldn't be that specific anyway).

So how about the evaluation of the business case?

Discount rate

"the Rail Development Plan compares favourably as an investment if all the benefits are
considered more broadly and over a longer period reflecting the life of the assets and the ongoing generation of benefits"

Favourably? For starters, does this "investment" include the operating cost subsidies growing? However, more importantly, by taking a different discount rate for this project compared to others, you are no longer comparing like for like. ALL other projects need to be re-evaluated, which may STILL mean, it's a bad "investment" compared to building roads. More importantly, is it better than letting people spend their own money?

Value of time

"There is a strong case for using the same value of time for car users and PT users, particularly for rail users in peak times" Is there? Make it. Oh you don't. The reason PT users have a lower value of time is related to their average incomes, so earning capacity. You can play around with this of course, but it really only should apply to PT users who switched from cars. Oh you don't really talk about that do you?

Benefit-Cost ratio: Core Network upgrade

Here the business case shows it up for how lousy it is. We get ten benefit/cost ratios. Five based on NZTA evaluation procedures, five on ARTA's own evaluation procedure. Three under NZTA's procedures have costs higher than benefits. None of ARTA's do. ARTA's base upgrade one is a BCR of 1.5, not spectacular (and with no confidence range around it. Is this the top end or the mid range (it wont be bottom)). Then we have three of the scenarios are fictional "what if fuel went in price a lot", "increase value of time" and some new economic snakeoil called "Other economic benefits relate to CBD (agglomeration) benefits (increased productivity per employee) – residential intensification – wider effects of car use – environmental benefits of new rolling stock"

Now hold right here. Increased productivity per employee because of agglomeration in the CBD? That's a pretty bold assumption. It implies rental prices increase too, of course. It implies Auckland's CBD is more competitive (than where?). $0.5 billion over 40 years? Who believes this?

Residential intensification? Why is THAT a benefit? A benefit that people live together with less space?

Wider effects of car use? What about the BENEFITS of car use? No, that's right. You'll just count some unrecognised "costs".

Oh and environmental benefits of new rolling stock are already part of the evaluation, but let's count them again hey?

Other factors

Each train trip costs in subsidy today around $7. That is what each rail commuter should be paying extra, but doesn't. That is estimated to drop to $5 by 2016 after spending over a billion on upgrading the system - for 15 million trips a year. Yep you can figure that one out yourself.

"Abandoning the rail passenger system in Auckland would require construction of new busways running parallel to the existing rail lines" In many cases it wouldn't as you could rip up lines except the main trunk to the Port. That gives you busways from Britomart to West Auckland and south to Southdown, beyond that buses can operate on local streets or join motorways and use the hard shoulder as a lane.

Conclusion

ARTA/ARC have dressed up the rail business case to suit the answer they wanted, on grounds that the government's own funding agency would question. It will continue to cost taxpayers $5 per trip when electrified, it will generate very modest benefits, and most of those who benefit will be those who get their trip subsidised. It will make diddly squat difference to those using the road network, at best it might increase property values for those living nearby a station and work nearby one on the same line, or businesses who may have a catchment from those able to use the train.

At best, it needs independently appraised - not by anyone in Auckland local government - to determine if the appraisal itself is robust, the levels of confidence and optimism bias around costs and benefits, and whether a thorough appraisal of alternatives has been included.

Sadly, National has been taken for a ride, and you're being asked to pay.

Auckland rail electrification - a very bad idea

Well you KNEW I would have to comment further on this.

So first - what the government said:

Steven Joyce said "Rail is an important and growing way for Aucklanders to get to work each day". Important? Hardly. Growing? Yes, but at the expense of what? Less bus users (when you ignore the Northern Busway), less carshare riders.

He further said "The government has decided in principle that now that KiwiRail has been re-purchased by the government, it should be the owner of the new crown-funded passenger rail stock in Auckland and Wellington.

Mr Joyce says this will save costs over time and ensure the most efficient use of transport funds." I don't have a problem with the Crown owning something new, except of course that the moment the Crown holds onto it, the value of the rolling stock will drop significantly. The global market for secondhand electric multiple units on narrow gauge is not high. More importantly, the trains wont ever make a profit.

The Q&A on the press release asks

Why are you committing to Auckland rail?

The says:

"The government has decided in principle that now that KiwiRail has been re-purchased by the government, it should be the owner of the new crown-funded passenger rail stock in Auckland and Wellington. This will save costs over time and ensure the most efficient use of transport funds."

That ISN'T an answer why. It DOESN'T say why rail is good for Auckland. The answer is not "because ARC said so", because this is public policy and economic snakeoil.

I've talked about rail electrification before, so let me just summarise yet again why it is a very bad idea, starting with the claims of the enthusiasts - or indeed the heroic and shoddy assumptions in the "rail business plan":

1. It will make an imperceptible difference to traffic congestion, less than 1km/h faster trips on the motorways parallel to the track;

2. It conceivably can only provide an option for a maximum of 6% of all commuters in Auckland (less than half those commuting to the CBD), of whom perhaps a third will use it. Most Aucklanders don't live or work within a cooee of a railway station - so said Helen Clark once;

3. Outside peak times it will be grossly underutilised, around two thirds of the trains will be used for only 6 hours a day, the rest of the time lying idle. Same with track capacity;

4. It will render even more commercial (unsubsidised) bus services unprofitable. Already the proportion of bus services in Auckland that are unsubsidised has dropped significantly since money was poured into rail;

5. Most of the users are people who would otherwise have caught the bus or rideshare with a car commuter - in other words, the majority are not former car users. Maybe at best 1 in 4 would have driven a car. Why are you subsidising the other three? It is a sheer lie to claim the people who would use rail would otherwise have travelled by car.

6. It will make an imperceptible difference to pollution levels in Auckland or CO2 emissions, as the trains running around all day are going to be carrying the equivalent of busloads of people.
7. It will never make a return on capital and never make a operating profit. In other words it commits central and local government to subsidise trips for people travelling to downtown Auckland on a mode of their choice - the part of Auckland with some of the highest value employment. The low income workers in Manukau City wont be getting the train to work, but their rates and fuel taxes will subsidise suits travelling from Tamaki to Britomart.
8. It doesn't matter how many people ride it, unless the majority would have driven and it makes a measurable difference to congestion. However, neither of these claims are true. High growth is just subsidising people's choices of home and employment.
9. Nowhere in the New World (North America/Australia) has a new rail transport system made any measurable difference to road congestion levels. The cities have too low a density, too diverse travel patterns, and there are not corridors with anywhere near the consistent density of trips to make rail superior in economics to high quality bus routes.
10. The claimed capacity of heavy rail over a motorway is true, but Auckland rail will NEVER be carrying 25,000 people per hour. It is like buying a Boeing 747 to fly Wellington to Auckland.
11. The plan is predicated on no changes in commuting patterns over time, like peak spreading and telecommuting, both of which are encouraged by congestion and properly pricing peak road capacity. It subsidises old patterns of behaviour.
12. Auckland’s rail corridors are an irreplaceable asset. Yet it is a grossly underutilised one and will continue to be so. Trains every 5 minutes at peak times is quite a period without another vehicle using the corridor. Find any arterial road in Auckland and count the vehicles passing every 5 minutes.
13. 28% of Auckland's population will NOT live within 800m of a rail station by 2016. This is a highly "optimistic" forecast based on more people wanting to live in medium and high density housing adjacent to a station. Do you want to do that? Do you want to walk 800m four times a day (remember the other end) to get to a mode of transport?

My solution is not libertarian, but more economic rationalist. Let the current contract run its course, and then -while the government underprices peak demand for road space - use some existing road tax revenue to subsidise peak rail fares only to follow second best pricing principles. In other words, pay for the benefits road users get for those switching from car to rail. That wont be enough to justify electrification or new trains. As existing trains need replacement, cut services and remap the Auckland rail network for what it should be:
1. A freight line from the main trunk to Southdown and via Tamaki to the Port (the Overlander can use this if it is viable);
2. Dedicated tolled commercial vehicle corridors along the abandoned North Auckland line (the rail network north of Auckland is not worth saving). The stations can be adapted for buses (including Britomart for low emissions buses). Yes, you'll have to manage the Public Works Act and Treaty of Waitangi implications of changing rail land to another use - but that is about having a will to change legislation.

Then rail in Auckland can get on and do what it does best - long haul freight.

You see - I want to know why the government thinks Aucklanders want this. Because they are too lazy to vote for an ARC that wont pursue pet projects like this? I want someone to robustly critique the claim in the "rail business plan" that "The “Exit Rail” option was eliminated early in the process when it became clear that it would involve considerable additional expense estimated at greater than $1 billion and would increase traffic congestion. Also, the “Exit Rail” option is inconsistent with the Regional Land Transport Strategy and Government strategies and so was not pursued." Why considerable additional expense, when the rail electrification plan will cost a fortune anyway? What increase in traffic congestion? Who gives a damn if the strategies are wrong?

Electrification of rail in Auckland is fundamentally wrong, the business case is grossly optimistic on a cost and benefit basis, it neglects to properly evaluate a cheaper alternative because the ARC is ideologically wedded to this project (and the last government was as well). You can see this in the statement that "It has become clear that applying Land Transport NZ’s standard project evaluation methodology to a major Passenger Transport investment such as this is too restrictive in its nature and does not allow for the full benefits to be realised."

Code for - the project is a bad investment when compared to all the other ways that road taxes could be spent, so we had to come up with a methodology to give the answer we wanted.

Want to know more? Well let's have a look...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Farewell regional fuel tax?

So National may scrap the appalling regional fuel tax before it happens.

Good.

I opposed it before. The regional fuel tax was backed by United Future as well, so be interesting to see how Peter Dunne responds to this.

The arguments against regional fuel tax are very clear:
1. The geographic regions are largely based on water catchment areas, so have no basis in difference in cost or demand for transport projects. Ask why motorists in Pukekohe, Helensville or Warkworth should pay for electrifying Auckland's rail network which extends only to Waitakere and Papakura? In Wellington, why should motorists in Carterton pay for a rail upgrade in Kapiti, or in Canterbury motorists in Temuka paying for a road in Christchurch?
2. Regional fuel taxes severely disadvantage service stations inside the regional boundary because they are at a price disadvantage compared to those on the other side.
3. The fuel tax also taxes diesel, which means that half of all of that tax needs to be refunded as much diesel is used on farms, on private roads and in boats. One reason road user charges exist is because of this.
4. The tax was used to raise money for regional councils to use to pay for projects with no objective criteria of appraisal, like economic efficiency, to decide how best to pay for the project. It was a tax to pay for regionally decided pork.

All this makes most of the arguments of Idiot Savant complete nonsense:
- He claims it is a de facto environmental policy, but gets two out of three of the projects listed wrong. Upgrading the Johnsonville line and new trains for Wellington is being paid already from money dedicated from the last government's Wellington transport package (indirectly from nationally collected fuel tax).
- He says it is a de facto carbon tax, which of course it isn't as it only applies to regions wanting extra funding for transport projects, so Taranaki, Southland and Nelson are unlikely to ever pay it. In addition, with refunds for off road fuel use, it is a tax on road transport only.
- He claimed it would be fair, except that he ignores the boundary issues I mentioned above, ignores the new burden on farmers and other off road diesel users to apply for refunds, ignores that most of what the money would be spent on wont benefit those paying and ignores that there is no objective criteria being used to decide on how to spend the money.
- There is NO local accountability for a tax when a reasonable number of those paying are NOT local.

He is worried councils have committed to spending money that hasn't been collected yet, which of course is nonsense, just pure posturing. In short, he doesn't know what he is talking about.

However, the government has since announced it will be using your money to buy new electric trains for Auckland. Presumably the ARC will need to rate Auckland property owners to pay for the electrification of the infrastructure, because electric trains can't run on non-electrified track. Taxpayers in Nelson, Taupo and Kaitaia, none of which have a railway or ever will get one, might ask what they get from this.

That's money down the drain, and also a lost opportunity to make Auckland councils think about a user driven transport strategy instead of the failed "Smart Growth" rail fetish that has done nothing to relieve congestion in US cities.

David Farrar thinks it should mean that roads are funded down a specific cost benefit ratio, but he's wrong - that approach to allocating funding from the National Land Transport Programme has largely slipped by the wayside with Labour. National should move substantially back to such an approach, because it would be far more transparent than Ministers casually talking to Land Transport Agency board members about projects that are important to the government - without actually breaking the law about directing them.

I'd like to see some renewed evaluation of large projects that the Land Transport Agency hasn't yet approved, that ranks them by cost/benefit ratio. In other words, lets figure out if all existing fuel taxes are being spent well, and delay or drop projects that are poor value. Drop sea freight funding for example, and tighten up on public transport funding, much of which is very poor value. Drop gold plated projects and seriously review Transmission Gully when the design work is finished.

I am NOT convinced that the government spends its transport funds as well as it could - it would be timely to spend a good 6 months doing some decent appraisal of that.

So Steven Joyce, here is one thing to request. Ask the Land Transport Agency to produce a long list of cost benefit ratios for ALL major road projects. Ask for some independently auditing to be sure, and for confidence ratings for the BCRs. Ask for the optimism bias for the project costs, and if you get a blank look, tell your officials to look at what the UK government does.

Then consider whether you want more spending on transport, knowing that to get it you either have to raise taxes on motorists, use direct tolling or just let the private sector go for it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Off to the Middle East

So I am disappearing at the crack of dawn to the Arab world- so blogging may be a bit light for a while. It's work, but I'm hoping to keep this going, as long as Blogger isn't blocked by local proxy servers.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Standard delivers good news

Cuts to the Ministry of the Environment. Which from my experience has a handful of very clever people and a lot of died in the wool statists who get very excited about planning other people's lives, and not too excited about benefit/cost analysis and justifying what they propose with evidence.

To think it didn't even exist before 1985. Now think about how we could return to those days by leaving the environment to private property rights.

Stuff saves us from ugliness

Colin Ansell, President of the National Front (NZ) is in a thumbnail picture on the main page of Stuff (right). The full article avoids showing us this.

Appropriately so, because Ansell's ugliness is in his ideas as well as his face. After all, successful intelligent people aren't going to join groups made up primarily of poorly educated white trash (men) unless they have a racist psychosis.

It isn't a registered political party, it isn't even halfway to the minimum 500 members. Ansell claims he is no neo-Nazi, when he of course was, and is a convicted criminal for being involved in an arson attack on a synagogue (go figure why self proclaimed nationalists have problems with Jews, and deny being neo-Nazis).

Unlike the UK, which has seen the BNP get a councillor elected to the Greater London Assembly, NZ can be proud that it keeps this flotsam and jetsam at such a low political ebb. After all, you don't want to see Ansell's face twice!

Private prisons then?

Not PC and I share some discomfort about the private sector being involved in the delivery and operation of prison services - and Anti Dismal has written much about the issue too, interestingly noting the risks of privatising maximum security facilities. This point stands out in an article he quotes "Moreover, hiring less educated guards and undertraining them—which private prisons have a strong incentive to do—can encourage the unwarranted use of force by the guards. As a result, our arguments suggest that maximum security prisons should not be privatized so long as limiting the use of force against prisoners is an important public objective."

Let's be clear - contracting out of ancillary services at prisoners is no issue, and there may be a case for contracting out prison management. The key is the disconnect between incentives to HAVE more prisoners, and the public policy reason for prisons.

Ideally, prisons would be nearly empty because crime would be rare. Ideally, prisons would deliver people reformed and who would never be repeat offenders.

However, a private prison owner would WANT repeat offenders, and would WANT criminals to want to return. That creates incentives not only to not rehabilitate, but to make prison desirable. Hardly what any of us want.

The flipside is that paying prisons to be feared creat incentives for abuse, and for crimes in prisons to be ignored. As much as many of us have glee at rapists and murderers suffering violence in prison, if you want prison to be a place of corporal punishment you should be transparent about it - as in Malaysia. Don't pretend that a Darwinian approach to justice in prison is a civilised substitute.

So I am wary of privatising prisons, wary of profits from applying force to people, wary of the incentives and malincentives around it.

Indeed, as Not PC has already pointed out, why is National and ACT only pursuing THIS privatisation? Why don't the usual masses of the lumpenproletariat give a damn about prisons, when they go apoplectic about privatising TVNZ, NZ Post, Air NZ, Kiwirail or a power company?

Indeed, if any sector needs more of the private sector, it is education. Imagine if ACT's policy, same as the UK Conservative Party's policy, was implemented in some form - parents not paying twice for education.

Now that's a step towards privatisation that would excite me, privatising prisons worries me, especially when mixed with the attitudes shown here by some in government.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The vile surrender in Pakistan

What disappoints so much is how feminists have failed to rally in protest against the surrender of the Swat Valley in Pakistan to the Taliban. An action that will at the very least deny girls an education, and along with that the means to be independent, to move from the abject servitude to troglodyte men from the Dark Ages, and at worst threatens all people with the totalitarian theocracy of terror that Islamism offers as "morality".

I have written before of my disgust at the appeasement by the semi-failed state of Pakistan in fighting these barbarians, and the actions since the Taliban took over.

Now Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah have written in the New York Times about how the Taliban have now banned music, how people have been fleeing the area and how such appeasement emboldens the Taliban. "The Taliban also announced in the local mosque that every family in the village would have to contribute one young man to their ranks" conscription ISN'T peace.

Christopher Hitchens write in Slate that there is now a new trend of separating the moderate extremists from the extreme extremists "In the last few days, we have heard President Barack Obama musing about a distinction between good and bad Taliban, the British government insisting on a difference between Hezbollah the political party and Hezbollah the militia, and Fareed Zakaria saying that the best way of stopping the militants may be to allow them to run things in their own way".

Imagine talking about those good and bad Nazis, or Khmer Rouge.

Hitchens predicts disaster for the Swat valley "A state or region taken over by jihadists will not last long before declining into extreme poverty and backwardness and savagery. There are no exceptions to this rule. We do not need to demonstrate again what happens to countries where vicious fantasists try to govern illiterates with the help of only one book." Quite, but worst of all it will hurt far wider than the people of that valley.

"who will be blamed for the failure? There will not, let me assure you, be a self-criticism session mounted by the responsible mullahs. Instead, all ills will be blamed on the Crusader-Zionist conspiracy, and young men with deficiency diseases and learning disabilities will be taught how to export their frustrations to happier lands. Thus does the failed state become the rogue state. This is why we have a duty of solidarity with all the secular forces, women's groups, and other constituencies who don't want this to happen to their societies or to ours."

In other words, the war against terrorism is a war against the destruction of civil society by these forces of the Dark Ages giving themselves succuour and a land of people to enslave and bully. THIS is the battle that should unify secularists and those who support individual liberty and the rights of women as a part of that - yet they are mostly silent. Hitchens calls it shameful that this be left to happen "we shall long have cause to regret the shameful decision to deliver the good people of the Swat Valley bound and gagged into the hands of the Taliban, and—worst of all—without even a struggle."

One wonders when the scourge of Islamism will be serious enough for the Western left to unite in disgust, or for the so-called peace movement/feminist left to stand up and recognise that the greatest fight for peace and womens' rights today is against Islamists, who worship violence and the subjugate of women and girls.

Or perhaps it is easier to send faxes about pay equity?

Monday, March 09, 2009

ACC - monopoly without accountability?

What happens if you get poor service from ACC? Well if you are a claimant you can appeal to District Court, but if you pay levies, you have no recourse. In reality, you wont go to Court if you feel treated shoddily, or that your compensation is inadequate. Yes you can sue for exemplary damages, but that's rare.

That is the funny world of the state monopoly accident insurance system. You, as a private citizen, have no responsibility to insure yourself for hurting yourself or others. The state does it for you, after thieving your money. Employers pay through their own levies, which is a tax on your income. It reflects risks in different industries. However, for non-work injuries it is socialism in action - the levies reflect average risk.

I've blogged before about the deception of ACC, whether ACC affects the care taken by others to avoid injury or causing injury, and the benefits of opening it up to competition.

The left bases its support for ACC on a mix of ideology and a debatable report undertaken by accountancy firm PWC commissioned by ACC itself which said why ACC should remain a monopoly. I'll let you judge whether a consultant asked by a client with a vested interest in a particular outcome would dare challenge that or just present the case for that outcome.

I simply say that having a government statutory monopoly providing an insurance service cannot ensure equitable treatment of all those paying or claiming. Without competition, those paying cannot choose to pay for the best service and the most appropriate levels of insurance (and added value services), nor can there can be efficiencies in managing customers or much accountability for delivering the services customers want.

ACC is a pay as you go system, which is an unaffordable absurdity. It needs to face the pressures of competition, in the employer accounts as already reported, but also motor vehicle accounts and for coverage of non-employment based accidents.

The government should commission a serious review of the entire ACC system with a view as to how to restructure it to allow competition for ALL ACC accounts, which means maintaining the compulsory nature of personal accident insurance.

You see, unless the right to sue is returned, personal accident insurance has to remain compulsory, otherwise you can be injured by the negligence of another and have no recourse (or your insurer has no recourse). I believe there is a case to consider whether to permit the right to sue to return, but for now competition in ACC would go a long way towards holding that sector accountable - because for now you get a state owned monopoly, with a board appointed by a politician.

After all, who in their right mind would believe unionist Ross Wilson could run an orgy in a brothel, let alone the national injury insurance monopoly?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Say no to knighting Ted Kennedy!

The execution by the "Real IRA" of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland comes days after the British government announced that Senator Edward Kennedy is to get a knighthood, for of all things, services to Northern Ireland.

How ironic.

The "Real IRA" sprayed the two soldiers with bullets, including the two men delivering pizzas to them, one of whom was a Pole. They then approached the shoulders and shot them dead on the ground.

Charming.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the sectarian barbarians say Northern Ireland is still "occupied", even though most people in Northern Ireland are glad for peace, and even had the audacity to say that targeting the two pizza delivery men in their bombing was justified because they were "collaborating". What sort of peculiar insanity is it, except the kind of warped Orwellian doublespeak to say that a couple of young men simply making a living were in some way "collaborating" with the Army.

Furthermore, whilst Gordon Brown rightfully described the incident as "evil and cowardly attacks", Sinn Fein (you know, the other IRA's political wing)'s leader Gerry Adams didn't say it was evil.

No. It was "wrong and counterproductive" and "Those responsible have no support, no strategy to achieve a United Ireland." So as the Daily Telegraph's Philip Johnston says it is about tactics, not morality. How could it be, Adams happily believed in executions and violence for decades.

So what about Ted Kennedy? Well quite simply, the Senator for many years was one of the chief agents to raise funds and moral support for the IRA. Simon Heffer describes the honour as a snub to those murdered by the IRA.

We should never forget the support granted by NORAID to the murder and violence in Ulster. Kennedy's positive role in persuading the IRA to give up terrorism is little redemption for the decades he was funding it, and was only due to Al Qaeda's actions on 9/11 which make terrorism suddenly impossible for US citizens to support.

A growing movement is against giving this hypocritical amoral lowlife any honour, see here.

Andrew Roberts in the Daily Mail gives a damning overview of the life of this scoundrel, including his reckless actions in killing Mary Jo Kopechne and being expelled from Harvard for cheating at exams.

Ted Kennedy exemplifies the worst of politics in the United States - a fraud, a thieving conniving pork barrel peddling image merchant who has supported murder and violence. A nasty piece of work if ever there was one. The last Labour government granted Nicolae Ceausescu a knighthood, which was stripped from him a day before his execution. Kennedy is no Ceausescu, but it would be nice if Gordon Brown and this Labour government remembered what an enemy to the UK that Ted Kennedy has been.

Obamaphile kiwis can go suck on...

This.

Yes the Obama administration has ceased discussions on a Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand. Of course the Green Party will be delighted, but the other parties in Parliament (with the possible exception of the Maori Party) should be disappointed.

There was little NZ media coverage when Obama supported a US$40 billion boost in agricultural subsidies back in May 2008, opposed by John McCain.

So he is playing to form, a form that too much of the fawning media ignored, because of the significance of his race. Now you're seeing that he is hardly a friend of the NZ economy, as he does not come from a background interested in free trade.

The negotiations were about a multilateral open trade deal that would include Chile, Singapore, Brunei, and hopefully reports that it is a suspension mean it is a temporary cessation.

My advice to John Key after the election that Tim Groser ought to be heading to Washington as soon as he can after the Obama inauguration can only be re-emphased.

Clint Heine expresses his disgust too.

UPDATE: The Standard ignores the Labour party (as Phil Goff was hopeful it could still proceed) and isn't disappointed at all, showing continued economic illiteracy. Apparently the Standard thinks you should be taxed for wanting to buy something that isn't Noo Zilnd made. How damned ignorant does someone living in an export dependent country have to be to oppose free trade?

Obama's second rate gift to Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown's trip to visit Barack Obama was of no great significance, but what has got the UK media talking is the disparity between the thought and imagination put into Gordon Brown's gifts to Barack Obama and his family, and what Obama gave in return.

Gifts from Gordon Brown to Barack Obama:
- an ornamental desk pen holder made from the oak timbers of Victorian anti-slavery Naval vessel HMS Gannet;
- framed commission for HMS Resolute, a vessel that came to symbolise Anglo-US peace when it was saved from ice packs by Americans;
- first edition set of the seven-volume classic biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert.

Barack Obama's gift to Gordon Brown:

- A 25 DVD set of classic American films including ET, Psycho and Lawrence of Arabia (barely American at all of course). The Daily Mail has the whole list.

Gifts to Malia and Sasha Obama:

- a TopShop dress for each of the daughters and matching necklace;
- Six books by British childrens' authors as yet unpublished in the USA;

Gifts to Fraser and John Brown:

- Two models of the Presidential helicopter Marine One, apparently identical to ones available on Amazon.com at US$15 each.


As Iain Martin in the Daily Telegraph says "Oh, give me strength. We do have television and DVD stores on this side of the Atlantic. Even Gordon Brown will have seen those films too often already." Anyone could have compiled that gift given half an hour on Amazon.com or in a major music/DVD shop.

One suggestion is that the DVDs may even be for Region 1 NTSC format for the US, not playable on a standard DVD player in the UK, I wouldn't be surprised.

On the gift to the Browns' children, the Times suggests it was a last minute purchase "having an aide pop to the White House gift shop for a piece of merchandising does not imply a great deal of thought" and more telling that the one official photo showing Sarah Brown and Michelle Obama meeting is hardly flattering, and may indicate how frosty the exchange was.

Of course if Bush had done it, we'd (rightfully) never hear the end of it (such as when Bush gave Brown a jacket)

It's a minor gaffe, but one helluva insult to the United Kingdom and Gordon Brown. Maybe it's because the new US Administration has aides who are thoughtless and unimaginative, but for Obama to accept a series of thoughtful generous gifts from the UK taxpayer and to give something as common and meaningless as a DVD pack is in astonishingly bad taste.