Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 wishes for world affairs - 2011

As below, here are some of my biggest wishes, for international affairs and countries other than the UK and NZ.   As before, from lowest to highest priority (and the list could easily have been twice as long).

10.  A new WTO trade round is rescued from oblivion: The Obama Administration has been absolutely disgraceful on trade, and so the dark economically illiterate forces of ill-guided economic nationalism have raised their ugly heads.  It would be enormously beneficial if the US, EU, Japan and the key developing countries got their heads out of their arses and talked multilateral liberalisation of trade in agriculture and services.  If this is done it could lift global GDP by 1-2%, could dramatically improve the lot of people in food producing countries, service providing countries and consumers worldwide.   It's an indictment on the Obama Administration and the EU that neither have the competence nor courage to lead this.

9. Robert Mugabe is dragged from a car, beaten up and left to die with his wife and lackeys in central Harare, and Zimbabwe gets a truly open accountable government:  This repulsive murderous crook continues to be lauded around Africa (explaining the standards of morality on much of that continent) and by the UN.  A bullet would do, but it would be a delightful message to his Stalinist gangsters and fellow dictators elsewhere as to what can happen to thieving violent bullies.   Let's hope 2011 finishes without Robert Mugabe.

8. Kim Jong Il dies and his son succeeds him, averts a military coup and starts reform seeking guidance and friendship from South Korea:  North Korea is in a sad state due to 60 years of misrule and totalitarianism.  There are plenty there who want reform who know it is needed and fearful of what will come.  There are various paths for it to go down, the best one is to follow its neighbour to the south, of strong rule establishing open civil society, ever opening markets and progressively confronting the lies its people have been bathed in for decades.   Only through reform and economic growth can the strong role of the military be sidestepped.  Only with firm deterrence, but with a friendly hand to assist change with someone who seeks it can this happen peacefully.  Japan wont be trusted, China can't be trusted and South Korea has done an impressive job that Pyongyang need not look elsewhere.

7. The Communist Party of China separates party and state, putting the Party under the rule of law for the first time, and loosens freedom of speech some more:  The biggest hindrances to the growth of China being seen benignly is the iron fist it uses to maintain domestic control, and its unwillingness to have modern independent judiciary and separation of politics from governance.  It is too much to expect China to become a fully liberal state, but a key step forward would be separating party and state, so that the party and its officials can be prosecuted for breaking the law.  Accompanying this should be legal guarantees of free speech to discuss government policy and the behaviour of all politicians and officials.   Only when Chinese people and institutions can hold government accountable, and the Chinese government and CPC stop acting like a moody teenager whenever criticised, will China have become a modern country.

6. The West-bashing climate change agenda comes to a complete halt,  as people in Western countries choose politicians that are unwilling to sacrifice their economies and freedoms to let China, Russia, Gulf States and India emit all the CO2 they wish, and they stop believing the armageddon rhetoric of the anti-capitalist green movement:  It's about time that average people in richer countries stopped tolerating taxes and regulations on their behaviour for the sake of letting the likes of Kuwait and other countries with fast growing economies to do as they wish.  The middle and low income of rich countries should not be penalised to allow the rich in poorer countries to do as they wish, particularly because there is no evidence to support the kind of pillaging interventionism demanded by the developing countries (who want more money to pay for the luxuries of their political elite).  Energy efficiency and cleaner energy are all very well, if people are prepared to pay for them, and governments get out of the way of developing them, but no more should be done.

5.  The Obama Administration has its spending plans frozen, as the new US Congress slashes spending and starts focusing Americans on achieving a balanced budget in less than 4 years:  Unless the US stops growing government and stops debasing its currency through continued borrowing, it will continue to slide relative to other economies.  The US can recover, but it will need a wholly different approach to the spend and borrow policies of recent history.  Here is hoping Americans can maintain the courage.

4. Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and Belgium face sovereign debt defaults, effectively destroying the Euro: All of countries have sustained decades of socialist style big government economic policies, running almost perpetual deficits and borrowing, and all have sought to use the Euro as a hard currency to sustain their economic irrationalism.  The tension in the EU is either it governs national fiscal policies or the Euro is unsustainable.  Let the Euro collapse, and the short term pain will result in a longer term re-evaluation of the EU, fiscal and monetary policy and demonstrate that the Western European quasi-socialist approach has been irrational, unsustainable and immoral.

3. An end to Islamist insurgency and terror: As much as so many haters of Western values and individual freedom cheer them on, I wish very simply, that Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and all other Islamist insurgents fail to carry out any further attacks, whether they be in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.  The reason should be obvious, it may be idealistic, but this scourge continues to cost in lives, injuries and cash an incalculable amount every day.  Appeasement of Islamism is no virtue.

2. Fiat money is subject to serious review by governments across the world:  Fiat money has proven to be what it has always been, a way for governments to manufacture nothing from nothing, generating either inflation of consumer goods or commodities and property.  Time to reconsider the entire basis for monetary policy and to examine the role fiat currencies had in the financial crisis.  It is the single biggest elephant in the global economic "room".

1. The Iranian people overthrow the country's brutal theocracy:  Having already destroyed any semblance of democracy effectively by military coup, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now pursuing nuclear weapons with the forked tongue of a cruel mindless liar.  The people of Tehran know better and rattled this evil regime briefly a year or so ago.   It would be right for them and especially right for the Middle East and the world if this murderous brutal regime was overthrown.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 wishes for New Zealand politics - 2011

Following from the UK list, here are my top ten wishes for NZ politics in 2011. I'm not being starry eyed and overly optimistic, because I'm getting to the age when I want things to change. the blame and little of the credit.

My top ten from lowest to highest priority:

10. Winston Peters and NZ First remain irrelevant and a historical anomaly:  Hopefully this is simply a matter of the personality cult members dying off over time.  There shall be no third coming for Winston Peters, as much as National has left a constituency to one side again, the cheap talkback caller Muldoonist racism and anti-capitalist hysteria of Winston should be consigned to history.

9. Peter Dunne loses Ohariu:  Long struggling to be relevant, Peter Dunne has been the great political prostitute in recent years having tried to woo ethnic minority immigrants, Christian conservatives, Labour, then National.   His legacy is the creation of a useless bureaucracy called the Families Commission.  He pushed his pork-barrel project, the Transmission Gully motorway, regardless of the cost and economics, and has never been consistently anything other than opportunistic.   He exaggerates his influence for the people of Ohariu.  It is about time they figured it out.

8. The electoral referendum is a negative for MMP:  Having used disenchantment about economic austerity to harness enough people to vote for MMP in 1993, the left regarded this as one of its greatest victories.  It would simply piss them off a great deal if MMP was voted out in the 2011 referendum.  I am non-chalant about what replaces it, I simply want to expose the myth that such enormous constitutional changes should be made on the basis of a simple majority of votes cast.

7. Labour attacks the Maori Party for what it is, and argues the election based on reform of delivery of state services:  Not exactly realistic, but it would be fun if Labour started arguing against the Maori seats and took on the Maori Party directly.  It would also be fun if it had policies promoting private competitive delivery of health and education, as nearly happened in the late 1980s.  This would attract new voters who would see National as status-quo oriented, and Labour as no longer stuck with its old fashioned view of state monopoly provision of services.  Labour, after all, has almost always been the party of change in New Zealand politics.

Sadly, Phil Goff, who is more than capable of making those arguments, is hamstrung by a vile neo-Marxist, trade union, structuralist identity politics, control obsessed party filled with people who were only too keen to stick their sycophantic tongues up Helen Clark's "state is sovereign" view of government.  As a result, I'll be content if Labour drops to less than 30% of the vote, happy if less than 25%.

6. The media puts the Greens under intense critical scrutiny, and fail to get 5% of the party vote:  The Greens get an easy ride compared to most other minor parties, with their anti-capitalist and anti-science hysteria rarely facing real scrutiny.   Press releases about 1999 being the last Christmas for safe potatoes, the hysteria about cellphone towers, nuclear energy, climate change, the anti-trade agenda, the constant desire to regulate, tax and hector people, and the barely concealed racism behind policies on foreign investment and Maori all deserve to be exposed for what they are - the policies of a radical socialist nationalist party that is sceptical about science, quasi-religious about its beliefs and more pro-violent than it would ever care to admit.

5. ACT makes its last gasp worth it by rolling Hide as leader and campaigning on principle:  I personally had a lot of hope for Rodney Hide, but he has failed miserably to demonstrate that he could help pull the Nat led government towards less government in the areas ACT had some major influence over.  His acceptance not only of Labour's local government policy for Auckland, but unwillingness to push for statutory limits on the powers of the Auckland Council shows a distinct lack of courage or commitment to what so many ACT voters were hoping for.   ACT could have been National's conscience.  It now looks like facing electoral oblivion for failure to deliver anything beyond the votes in Parliament to keep National in power.   To have any solid following it will need to change, fast and fundamentally - that means Rodney Hide's political career is over.

4. Assuming National gets re-elected, it grows a pair:  It sells at least one of the power generating SOEs, opens up the rest of ACC to competition, implements a voucher system for compulsory education, abolishes a long list of government agencies, eliminates the budget deficit and cuts the welfare state.   Unfortunately, National's last pair was once Governor of the Reserve Bank.  Expect Muldoonist plodding on, with little innovation, less courage and more government.  Helengrad became Keynesia.

3. Maori vote in record numbers in general seats, not Maori seats:  To do that they would have to reject the racist nationalism that education and media have inculcated in young Maori for the past thirty years, and wish to be treated as individuals with the same rights as other New Zealand citizens.  It would be nice if Maori gave up their patronising racist seats, but I wont be holding my breath.  However, they may turn their back on the equally patronising racist Maori Party.

2. Libertarianz make a good go at the election, getting its best result in 16 years thanks to a competent leader, a simple message about less government, ACT voters being disenchanted and the Nats facing a fairly safe victory.  It would be delightful if the Libertarianz brand was sold on simply being the party that will consistently support less government, without being distracted by detailed policies or past difficulties.  Even better if ACT and National supporters of less government united around the only political brand in the country that demonstrably supports less government spending and lower taxes.  After all, a vote for National is not a vote for less government, a vote for ACT is a vote to continue the current government.

1. The NZ media gets journalists who can ask politicians as to whether governments should do less, spend less and tax less:  Most journalists are reporters, and many simply ask politicians whether they are supporting the right policy or whether more or something different "should be done".  Virtually none ask "why should people be forced to pay for this", or "why should people be forced to do this or not do that".  The real fundamental political debate is whether the state should do more, or do less, but most journalists are more interested in shallow frippery and parroting the constant claims of lobbyists who almost always want government to solve their problems.  When I read how a journalists has asked lobbyists why don't they spend their own money on whatever it is, then it will be a great improvement.  Meanwhile, nothing holds back politics in New Zealand more than the lack of journalists willing to ask intelligent questions from both ends of the political spectrum - more and less government.

It's one thing to be generous...

but another to use coercion to foist a guilt trip on people to be so.


The idea? Require all cash withdrawals from ATMs and all EFT-POS transactions to offer people an option of "donating" some money to charity.   Of course that would be managed collectively so that "charity" isn't specified.   Some companies already do this as part of their business, but the government is talking about making it mandatory.

What nerve.

The effect is to imply  "you're buying something, you can't do that and not also give money for something else".  It imposes a duty on people to spend a second or two to say no to giving their own money to some charity they haven't had time to even judge the merits of, as if it doesn't matter, it's a charity, charities are good.  This is nonsense of course.   People may object to charities run by specific religions, or they may object to causes that are seen to be more political than philanthropic, or quite simply people want their own money to be used for their own purposes.

Objectivists regard benevolence as being human, natural and a part of life.  People do give of their time, money and possessions to others because they find value in doing so.  At the most basic level it happens most frequently with family and friends, but many give of themselves to strangers and causes, and do so because it gives them joy to support whatever cause it is that they like.  It is not a sacrifice to give time or money for the value of providing support for something you agree with, and to help those you wish to help.

However, the Conservative Party (and dare I say quite a few small "c" conservatives) believe charity is not just about that, but an obligation.  It is as if your very existence and the fact you have or earn money means you are morally obliged to give some to others.  That you owe other people something and that you are somehow immoral if you don't give.   This guilt for your existence and guilt for success is at the bottom of this approach, and even setting aside the burden of tax in the UK (which is over 50% for me if VAT is included), nobody should feel guilty for not giving their money away.  It is, after all, their money.

So to hell with enforced charitable giving.   One point usefully noted by the BBC on TV was that people in the UK are more generous charitable givers than the French and Germans (both known to have more generous welfare states), but less than the US (which has lower taxes and less welfare).  The lesson to the Conservatives or anyone wanting people to be more benevolent, is that when the state takes more, people are less inclined to give.  Even more important, the last thing taxpayers want is to be hectored by those who live off their money, to be charitable.

Although it wouldn't go wrong for politicians to tell anyone who wants the government to spend more on pet ideas that they should spend their own money on it first and then engage in some fundraising, instead of wanting the state to force others to pay.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Farewell Dennis Dutton

I didn't always agree with Dennis Dutton (such as his strong belief in compulsorily funded state radio), but beyond that he was a strong advocate for reason and science.

He passed away today (28 December) of cancer (thank you Homepaddock for the news).  He debunked many paranormal fraudsters, had an open mind about climate change and supported science and evidence over mysticism and the new age snake oil merchants.  He will be sadly missed.

His websites here, here and here.  No doubt more will be written about him elsewhere in a few more days.

Top 10 wishes for UK politics - 2011

For the sake of the new year, I thought it was time to have some wishlists.  The first is for my adopted home, and the birthplace of my parents.  So what of the UK in 2011?  2010 was dominated by recession, the ongoing hatred of politicians for their noses being in the public trough, election of the first coalition government in the UK for generations, protests by posh and middle class students as they were told to be weaned off the state tit and the ongoing climate of supposed austerity as the newly elected government decides the state should grow more slowly than Gordon Brown had promised.

So what for 2011? Well with five year Parliamentary terms the typical assumption is that governments have long periods to implement policies and see results, but with the coalition it is harder as the Liberal Democrats face the usual problem of being the minor party in any coalition - taking all the blame and little of the credit.

My top ten from lowest to highest priority:

10.  The Green Party of England and Wales remains irrelevant nationally and does poorly in local elections.  This little mob of pro-violence Marxists may start to get the level of scrutiny it deserves as the UK, beset with recession, stops tolerating those who believe in more spending, more taxes and less freedom.

9.  Alternative Vote system is selected in the 2011 Electoral System referendum and electoral boundaries are adjusted to have similar populations.  Why?  I've always supported the idea that local MPs should be supported by at least a majority of those who vote, so that MPs are representative of their constituents.  I'm not fussed as to what parties benefit from this, as it is likely to be better for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, what matters is that it means people can make a first choice that they believe in.   Secondary to this is that electoral boundaries are redrawn to have roughly even populations in each constituency.  The status quo is a gerrymander that benefits Labour, because it creates small "community based" constituencies that happen to favour Labour dominated areas.   It is time for the UK's political system to become at least based on majority voting in equivalent constituencies.

8. Scotland rejects the SNP in the 2011 elections.  The Scottish National Party is a party of posing socialists who once sold the merits of following the models of Iceland and Ireland, and now pretend the ills of Scotland can be blamed on Westminster.  As much as I'd like Scotland to be cast adrift and for those who believe in Scottish nationalism to be able to test their socialist credentials in real life (as if Scotland isn't already a testament to that abject failure), I'd much rather for Scots to get the picture and boot out these pretenders from the Scottish Parliament.  Let the SNP lose, comprehensively, preferably into third place or worse.  I don't care who beats the SNP, but the fatuous emptiness of the "Scotland is better off independent" deserves to be beaten into submission, and the posing economic fraud of Alex Salmond to be consigned to history.

7. The devolved administrations have funding and their roles restructured so that they do not get more money per head than England, and have their own taxation powers to make up the difference.  The economies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are so dominated by state spending that they have bigger public sector economies than Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany before the fall of their one party states.   It is time the voters in those administrations stopped being subsidised by English voters, and for the taxes collected locally to be all they have to spend.   They would still be subsidised in effect for defence and foreign affairs, but for any new spending, the taxes would rise.  Meanwhile, if Scotland wants to grant free university education, which the EU requires must be offered to other Member States, it should also be forced to offer it to students across the UK as well.  Time for those parts of the UK that think government is always the solution to pay the price.

6. The Labour Party is seen as having been part of the problem, and Ed Miliband as "Wallace" from Wallace and Gromit.  Labour for many years pretended government overspending, and forever extending credit was about abolishing boom and bust.  It pretended that anytime there was a problem, the state could be the solution.  Everytime a serious horrible crime was committed, it passed a new law clamping down on freedoms and the innocent.  It has perpetuated the cruel and specious lie that the NHS is some sacred model of healthcare that is the envy of the world, when it is anything but.  It has continued to support a culture of putting much of the country in dependency on government.  It deserves to be blamed for being the philosophical source of the ongoing economic and social erosion of Britain.  Ed Miliband only looks like going back to the 1980s, having been so soundly endorsed by Neil Kinnock (who couldn't even beat John Major).  Labour doesn't have solutions and deserves to be reminded of how much it contributed to today's problems.

5. UKIP goes beyond EU bashing to being a party of consistently less government . It might be too much to ask for, but UKIP is right about the EU and needs to be seen as being more of a party of less government as well as opposing the EU.  It has many members who believe in less regulation, less tax and less government spending, and the only philosophically consistent reason to oppose EU membership that isn't autarkic is laissez-faire capitalism.  I don't expect UKIP to be libertarian, but I do want it to fill the gap the Conservative Party has left behind, of welcoming a smaller state.

4. The coalition government stands firm on spending cuts, and goes further.  It hasn't been easy for politicians to say no to lobby groups, and in the last few weeks it has already kowtowed to a handful of authors who want taxpayers to keep paying for free books for families.   The coalition should cut spending further, abandon the ridiculous HS2 high speed rail boondoggle, and make it clear that it has a goal of starting to cut Britain's public debt by the time of the next election.  Less spending shouldn't be sold as pain, but as a long term investment in shifting from compulsion to the voluntary sector, as well as being to start reversing decades of borrowing.

3. The coalition remains intact, but the Liberal Democrats split into two for the next election.  The Liberal Party has a mostly honourable past as a party of less government and individual freedom.  This has been diluted and corrupted by the Social Democrat breakaway from the then far-left Marxist Labour Party.  Labour may remain leftwing, but it isn't the Soviet-appeasing mob of the early 1980s.  The Liberal Democrats should divide into the Liberals, with the rest either returning to Labour or having a go at being Social Democrats again.   The coalition can remain intact, but it is time this chameleon party had a divorce.

2. The obsession with the UK sacrificing its economy for climate change (whilst far bigger economies continually grow emissions with little concern) ceases in government.  The UK has been riding this bandwagon for years, with massive subsidies for renewable energy, unprofitable railways and quasi-religious obsession for recycling and prohibiting airport expansion.  Meanwhile, Russia, China, India, the Middle East and even half of Europe do next to nothing, whilst their economies grow.  The UK shouldn't be sacrificing itself for some moral highground based on at least questionable science and nonsense economics.   Let people pursue energy efficiency and less pollution on their own merits, as much of the British public isn't convinced that it should pay the price whilst those from other countries can do as they please.

1. The British media to regularly invite advocates of less government to participate in debates.  The British media is diverse, but rarely are those who advocate less government spending, less regulation and lower taxes asked to debate on public issues (or comment in newspapers).  It is a lot to expect the predominantly statist UK public to be libertarians, but the media should at the very least start exposing people to views that reject the "government should do this" perspective.  The trade unions, business lobbies and the major political parties all tend to support government doing more.   It would be fresh if someone asked all of them why people need to be forced to do good.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Helen Clark the hypocrite

As one of the world's very high income untaxed international civil servant parasites, Helen Clark thinks she has some moral authority to comment about New Zealand politics.

So she is back to her tired old tribal politics of saying the Wikileaks cables showed the US "disrespected" New Zealand's so-called "independent" foreign policy according to the NZ Herald.  Of course it paints a whole series of assumptions, such as the idea that a foreign policy that was sold as maintaining an alliance with the US (just without anything nuclear) is more independent than choosing to welcome all of the ships and weapons of your allies.   However, the key point Clark is upset about is that US diplomats, privately, were less than impressed by the policy - which Clark was a cheerleader of as she and other leftists in the Labour caucus in the mid 1980s, pushed David Lange to accepting.

Clark herself has long been anti-American, having picked coffee for the "peace-loving" Sandinistas (not that the other side was worth supporting) and having frequently held the US government in contempt publicly (and who knows how often in private).   If her private communications were to be leaked much no doubt would be discovered, although it is no secret that she was no friend of US foreign policy.

Moreover, was it not disrespectful how Clark encouraged the Lange government to act towards the US? How the US was prepared to send a non-nuclear powered ship, that no rational individual could believe would ever carry nuclear weapons (USS Buchanan), but Clark like a clamouring harpie along with her coterie of baying Marxists demanded Lange refuse access to it because of the "neither confirm nor deny" policy that applied to all ships.   In other words, Clark was instrumental in telling the US, in the midst of the Cold War (which Clark no doubt thought NZ should be "neutral" in), to go to hell.

On top of that, as a former Prime Minister she isn't keeping her mouth shut, as is the conventional protocol, when there is an existing, elected Prime Minister that replaced her.

Who is the disrespectful one?  

Let's not forget, Helen Clark is one of the lords of poverty, she sups from the cornucopiae of loot from rich countries under the pretence that she is somehow necessary to the advancement of people in the poorer countries.  Helen Clark having never had any poverty as a child, and on US$0.5 million tax free, plus accommodation allowance and first class air travel, she will remain more remote from poverty than she ever has been.  Meanwhile, she has spent tax money on criticising UNDP's critics, and runs an organisation that has been criticised for not keeping proper accounts and in the midst of the recent attacks by North Korea on South Korea, sought to increase its budget.   You see UNDP has been paying its North Korean government approved staff in the country in foreign currency directly, not that Clark cares as she lives off the pig's back.   Experience has shown me how utterly lazy, unproductive and vastly overpaid the UN bureaucracy is, how little work people there do compared to the private sector (or even public sector elsewhere) and how generous pay and conditions are.

Helen Clark doesn't have moral authority to talk about "respect" from the US, when she gave the US precious little respect politically in much of her career, and in private as Prime Minister.  Today she lives like a grand Lady of Poverty, enjoying a privileged lifestyle whilst having responsibility for billions of dollars of other people's money (a good part from the US) ostensibly to provide relief from poverty.   She is one of the biggest parasites on the face of the earth, having spent her whole life living off of the back of others and doing little more than telling others what to do.   She wont answer questions about the openness and accountability of UNDP in her own job to Radio NZ.

You don't learn much about respect from paying attention to Helen Clark

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas/Saturnalia no time to feel guilty

Most of my views about this time of year have been ably written by Peter Cresswell here, here, here and here, and for me it is a day to smile, to spend with people whose company I like (particularly for those of us with family far away or without family) and to enjoy life.  That means food, drink, music, conversation and all kinds of fun.   In the Northern Hemisphere it is particularly enjoyable given the snow, the cold and how well hot food, mulled wine and all of the other traditional foods go together with this season - as it is, essentially, a celebration of the winter solstice, shared with Christians who use it to celebrate the birth of the man for whom their religion is central.

It is a time for joy to be shared with children in particular and despite the groans and moans of naysayers, a time to give and receive gifts (and for many to enjoy the pleasures of shopping and earning a living from those who do).

Some will remind us all that there are billions for whom this is another day of work or struggle, under conditions of conflict, crime and poverty.  I was reminded when in a shop the nauseating song of Do They Know It's Christmas (2004 version) was blaring over the speakers.  Yet it is not a time to feel guilty for your existence, for your relative prosperity.  It is not your fault that many are worse off than you, just as it is not the fault of those better off that you don't have their wealth.   Nor it is your obligation to make life better for others.   The comments today from the Archbishop of Canterbury that effectively criticise the British government's cuts in public spending are just peddling guilt trips as he is critical the "rich" are not bearing their "fair share" of public spending cuts.  This utter nonsense ignores that those on higher incomes pay by far the greatest share of tax and don't take their "fair share" of public spending either.   Christmas should not be a time to be hectored by the socialist leader of a church entirely based on the proclamation of a hereditary monarch about "privilege".

Still beyond that, those who choose, celebrate how they can.  For many it is just another day, some are celebrating a birth, others including probably the family of Joanna Yeates will forever associate it with the loss of a loved one.   

For you, I wish you a Merry Christmas, superlative Saturnalia, Happy Hannukah, or simply a day of joy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The story I can't really tell

As a self-styled polemicist, opportunities to genuinely promote freedom have largely been dominated by what I write and what I say.  What I do for a living generally doesn't offer much chance for that, as it is dominated by development of business strategies, public policy and analytics.  Various charities and organisations promote individual freedom as well, but nothing quite comes close as being able to act in a way that is contrary to those who suppress freedom - particularly freedom of speech.

So it is in that light that I visited four dictatorships this year, all countries where the state has direct control over the entire mass media, where rule of law is at the mercy of the leadership and ruling parties and where criticism of the political leadership can prove fatal.   Talking about political change in such countries is not something undertaken lightly.   As such I hope you bear with me in that I wont identify the country I visited where the following rather minor events happened.  The primary reason I wont identify the country online is to protect those in that country who I talked to and who committed political crimes with me.  For not only is that important, but it is more important that people like them, who have some privileges already understand the outside world.

The people I met were initially cautious and careful about what to ask and what to say, but after building trust over a few days they were willing to talk - in circumstances when no one else would overhear.   Questions were asked about other countries, about whether people know what it is like there and what life is like in other countries.  Questions asked about history and events that have been suppressed (and rewritten), as foreign books on subjects (and local translations) are rare.   Questions asked about whether I thought change would come and what might happen and what should happen.   The people I met had consumed news from the BBC and CNN, although only sporadically, as access was severely restricted.

Perhaps the most astonishing question was to explain World War 2, from a Western perspective, and to explain to a university educated man what the Holocaust was, and what Germany is really like. 

I brought in literature that I knew would not be allowed to be distributed there, and I left one book which was a Western book in English containing a description of the country in question.  I understood that it would be prized far more than the price tag.

However I also allowed one to listen to foreign broadcasts in the national language - a criminal offence punishable by execution.   This was done carefully, as I brought a multiband (shortwave) radio into the country quite openly, although such radios are not freely available in shops there.   Foreign news broadcasts were devoured as I listened with my new friend when the opportunities arose.   Every day I was asked about what was in the news from overseas, whether there was news about the country concerned, and I made a point of remembering what I heard from the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle.  Information was devoured, whatever I had to tell.

The current leadership was rarely mentioned, and none I talked to expressed enthusiasm or interest in their deeds.  They were simply acknowledged as "being there".  The overwhelming understanding was that the government was, by and large, not to be trusted.  Yet I could have talked for days and days about the outside world.   It was abundantly clear that none of them could easily get to leave.   What was also very clear was that these are intelligent and articulate people, who are looking for opportunities to reach out to the rest of the world, and to learn the truth, and who are anticipating change.  When and how that change occurs is unclear, but what is currently clear is that there is a political tinderbox which may ignite given half a chance - but one that is suppressed by a brutal secret police and climate of distrust.   Since then events have happened that might give hope for change in the near future.

When I left, I was told by one of them that eventually when he could leave, he would find me in London.   It was quite heart-breaking to realise how easy it is to visit and leave such places, when it is not the case for those who live there.  

What to do?  Despite what some political dissidents say, it IS important to visit such regimes.  It is important to bring books, bring a radio, learn a language and talk, let people know that you are interested, that you are not engaging in some macabre act of voyeurism, but that the outside world not only cares, but is friendly.  

So this time of year I want to give pause for those who do not live in a place where they can rant, blog, talk freely or simply insult the political leadership.  One cannot underestimate the importance of having such basic freedoms, and that those who are willing to compromise it are not deserving of it.  The darkness, stinking, cruel climate of fear that such dictatorship imposes on people is real.   Too many are unaware of what it is like, because their age or geography has meant they have not lived with such control, or lived in a world when more than half of it was under it (and promoted it).   

and the price of maintaining freedom is eternal vigilance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Green MP uses abuse rather than debate

What happens when you challenge the co-leader of the Green Party in one of his blog posts?

He resorts to name calling.

Take this thread, where Russel Norman gets hysterical about cellphone towers, with scaremongering about them being near children's bedrooms etc.

The bogey is non-ionising radiation, and of course the Greens have decided the target on this one are cellphone towers which are commissioned by another bogey - evil privately owned telecommunications corporations (oh if only it was the Post Office, we'd still be testing to see if cellphones are safe or we'd have our own bespoke system with no roaming to rip people off when overseas).   Russel even claims the group of bureaucrats and industry representatives involved in setting standards for such things was:

another committee dominated by industry and government departments with one health professional. A group dominated by those trying to reduce costs for telcos.

So a conspiracy of those who don't believe the pseudo-science. Playing the ball not the people again.   If these people don't take it seriously then it must be vested interest, rather than being wrong.

Now let's be clear.  I do think there can be issues with continuous high concentrations of non-ionising radiation from sources like cellphones or laptops.   There is some evidence around very high volumes of cellphone use and effects on tissues that frankly tell me just to be cautious.  However it is about handsets NOT transmitter towers.

Why?  Well humanity has been testing non-ionising radio transmitters since the 1920s, and at transmission power many many many times that of any cellphone tower.  West Auckland has been bathed in high powered TV transmissions from Waiatarua since the 1960s, as has Khandallah and Johnsonville in Wellington from Kaukau.

So I wrote:

Suggest you shut down the AM transmitters for National Radio, the AM Network and Newstalk ZB in Titahi Bay since they have been transmitting non-ionising radiation blanketing Porirua City at levels of over 100x the strength of cellphone transmitters since the 1940s. Mt Victoria has had radio transmitters on it for some years as well, and then Khandallah and Johnsonville have had nearly 50 years of Kaukau blanketing them. 

I have a friend who was part of a detailed study into levels of non-ionising radiation in Australia. A group of unscientific cellphone site phobics demanded readings be made in one town, and it was found the local TV transmitter on the hill exposed residents to much more continuous exposure at higher volumes than those who would live within a radius of the cellsite. She told them the TV transmitter and local FM radio stations would need to be closed first before removing cellsites – naturally there was an outrage and people couldn’t stand losing TV and radio.

However, don’t let science and the fact that human beings have been bombarding each other with high levels of non-ionising radiation for a couple of generations get in the way of renewing scaremongering over something that hasn’t been remotely demonstrated to be dangerous to human health. Don’t confuse it with the issue of cellphone handset exposure to brains, which does have some merit as an issue (as people haven’t been doing that).

I’m amazed you haven’t jumped on cordless phones at the home, wifi base stations at home, electric blankets (sleeping on an electrical element), the people sitting in front of cathode ray tubes for the last couple of generations (LCD, Plasma and LEDs are ending this). How many of the people who you’ve scaremongered about cellphone towers happily have any number of these devices and let their kids use them and don’t think twice about it? 

Or is this really about beating up privately owned telcos instead of a balanced rational debate about science? Otherwise you would have long campaigned for National Radio’s 500kW transmitter at Titahi Bay to be shut down years ago.
 
However, that doesn't matter to Russel.  He doesn't want to tell people to turn off the radio stations or TV.  It's a war against corporations as you can see by his response to me here:
I’m interested that a blogger called Liberty Scott seems to have so little concern with freedom. The state ties people’s hands over the control of cellphone towers so they can’t resist telcos and you applaud – rather typical Act Party position – freedom for corporations and no rights for individuals. CaptivityScott might think that the people are illinformed to be concerned about a cellphone mast outside their kids bedroom, but genuinely freedom loving people would defend their right to tell the state and corporations to move away, as the courts have done in france.

Kadin, bj and Kerry, there are of course many other sources of non-ionising radiation already present. The question is should we be concerned at adding to the increasing background level. We are doing it with wifi quite extensively at the moment. And there are studies raising issues around it. I say keep an open mind.

So he lazily associates me with ACT, and then starts engaging in childish name calling, then claims to want "the state to move away", which of course is the antithesis of his politics.   He then admits there are other sources, but that it is about adding to the background level.   This is scientific hogwash.  The issue, if there is one, is not lots of radio signals on different frequencies, but intense application of one continuous transmission over a long period. 

Sue Kedgley then lifts it to her usual heights of calm reasoning by claiming conspiracy.  Even Radio NZ must  be in on it:

The whole saga is a classic example of vested interests manipulating the policy process in Parliament. The media are also complicit. When the Green party tried to alert people to the so-called National Environmental Standard, and its effects, the media completely ignored it. Only the Wellingtonian reported on it. Could this have anything to do with the massive advertising by our telecommunications companies?

Didn't occur to her that most people don't believe the scaremongering and that being ignored can simply mean people have rolled their eyes and decided they have better things to worry about.
 
Without me responding, Russel plays the man not the ball again:
 It seems that you and DungeonScott are very proactive talking about freedom except when the rubber hits the road you are all in favour of restricting people’s rights and increasing corporate rights. the freedom you are after is the antithesis of human freedom, it is corporate freedom.
Well done Russel, you refuse to consider the issue on its merits.  You have hitched yourself to a bandwagon embraced by all sorts of snake-oil merchants because it suits your big company bashing agenda.  You can't actually answer the counter-claims about non-ionising radiation partly because you know nothing about it, but also you don't appear to have the humility to admit you (and Sue Kedgley, chief scaremongerer) are wrong.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

North Korea's winter of starvation, discontent and being ignored

While the usual suspects hop on the trendy bandwagons of embarrassing the USA, there remains a story of horror, death and misery they largely ignore


Oh and by the way, she's dead now.  

If this has upset and angered you then go tell Professor Tim Beal, who takes the North's side on the recent attack on Yeonpyeong Island, and claims that his own observations of how well things look in Pyongyang (which is true) are representative of the whole country.  He is closely associated with North Korea's useful idiot in New Zealand, the Reverend Don Borrie who has visited the country frequently and given glowing paeans about Kim Il Sung.   This NZ-DPRK Society campaigns in favour of the US withdrawing from South Korea, against New Zealand supporting the liberal democratic capitalist South Korea in the event of a military conflict and for the full legitimisation of this slave state at an international level.  

Who knows if these men are simply useful idiots, incapable of understanding the fundamental evil and vileness of a regime that complete and utterly destroys individual thought, initiative and goals, whilst sucking up enormous resources into a combination of empty lie-infested personality cults and a futile partly racist ultra-militarism towards the south, USA and Japan.  Maybe they are themselves sucked into the propaganda and the thin veneer of niceness that pervades and surrounds what North Korea presents to outsiders.

By the way this is one reason I no longer give any financial support to Amnesty International.   Its website almost ignores North Korea.  It campaigns against many things quite rightly, but virtually ignores North Korea.  A search of its website shows it campaigns in FAVOUR of more UN agency based aid going to North Korea despite extensive evidence of such aid being co-opted by the state for the army and party.  It's only press release about North Korea this year was about the health system collapsing and the need for the regime to get help to save it.  Why would it nearly ignore a country that is second bottom in press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders and ranked in the bottom country by Freedom House?  How hard is it to get around your heads that this country imprisons small children for the political "crimes" of their parents?  

What sort of human rights organisation campaigns for aid that assists a totalitarian dictatorship the likes of which is almost unparalleled in human history for its Orwellian enslavement of an entire people?  Would Amnesty have said, in response to the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, that the UN should provide aid to the regime's "health system"?  Would Amnesty have said, in response to the Holocaust, that there should be aid to help ease the plight of the Jews?

So ask yourself this?  Why is this starving, murdering slave state continuing to be treated with kid gloves by the left-oriented supporters of human rights (the same ones who damn Burma to hell and damn China far more now than they ever did when Mao was in power)?  I don't believe any of them embrace the Juche Idea or the North Korean regime (although some do like the UK based Stop the War Coalition), but their continued unwillingness to actively campaign against it speaks volumes .  Is it because virtually no foreign companies (the true evil in their heads) have a commercial presence there?  Is it because damning North Korea would appear to put one on the side of the relatively free, open and capitalist South Korea and the US?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Bad parenting, not lack of money is harming poor kids

"Chinese children from poor families as a group do better than all other non-poor children (except non-poor Chinese children). Growing up in an ethnically Chinese family in England is enough to overcome all of the disadvantages of being poor. This surely has much to do with parental aspirations and attitudes. It would be a betrayal of all our children if we were to say that what this group already achieves cannot be achieved by all British children."

This is a report written by British Labour MP Frank Field, who was commissioned by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition to investigate child poverty.   It has produced a muted response in leftwing circles as he has effectively destroyed the myth that intergenerational poverty can be fixed by increasing benefits.  The report in full is here (PDF).

One of the standards of the left is that one of the biggest issues in modern society is child poverty.  That doesn't mean children who are malnourished (in fact many of them are overweight), it doesn't mean they are homeless, or lack access to health care or schooling.  No, it is about relative poverty, so it means households where children don't get to go on holiday, where they have few choices of clothes, they might not have a Playstation/Wii/XBox, they might not have broadband internet access, there might not be a family car.   In fact, poverty today would have been middle class comfort a couple of generations ago, and positively wealthy for most people on the planet.  

Frank Field agreed to help the government, much to the chagrin of his Labour colleagues, he agreed, largely because he was more interested in getting results than in snarking on the opposition benches.  He has a particular interest in child poverty, but his report also indicates his own increased disaffection with the "more welfare fixes poverty" school of "thought":

Since 1969 I have witnessed a growing indifference from some parents to meeting the most basic needs of children, and particularly younger children, those who are least able to fend for themselves. I have also observed how the home life of a minority but, worryingly, a growing minority of children, fails to express an unconditional commitment to the successful nurturing of children.

The issue about child poverty is not about kids not getting enough stuff, it is about whether being raised in families with low incomes damages their "life chances" and whether the opportunities for children to develop, excel and pursue lives that realise their potential are significantly harmed by poverty.    

The standard leftwing answer is that it is all about money.  Groups such as the self-styled "Child Poverty Action Group" campaign for higher benefits, essentially claiming the solution is simply to give the parents of such children more of other people's money.   In particular they support such money being without conditions, but simply about "fairness" (as if it is unfair to make more money than others).   In other words if only poorer families got more money then their kids would perform as well as families from middle income households.

Field's report disputes this saying that the real indicator of a child's life chances is not money it is quality of parenting.   That factor above all others is critical.  His report makes for stark reading and has thrown the proverbial cat among the pigeons for statements like this:

(This report) questions the almost universal assumption over the last hundred years that increases in income alone will automatically lead to social progress. Over the post-war period we have experienced a considerable increase in the real incomes and yet we still find that too many children now start school who are unable to make the most of their school lives. It is from this group that tomorrow’s unemployed and low paid will be overwhelmingly drawn.


Why should this be so? The Foundation Years argues that the exclusive concern of the adult world about how financial poverty affects children’s life chances has prevented a more comprehensive understanding of why life’s race is already determined for most poor children before they even begin their first day at school.

In other words, despite massive improvements in real standards of living, there is still an underclass of children who grossly under perform at school and then end up being those who end up being the poorest adults (and the cycle repeats). 

Minette Martin in the Sunday Times (subscription only) noted that parental lack of attention and ignorance is a core issue.   Apparently children from poor homes in the UK hear 616 words spoken an hour on average, compared to 2,153 words an hour in more wealthier homes.  She points out that by age 3 this is 30 MILLION less words that the poorer children are hearing, and learning and remembering.   A gap in language and understanding that is almost impossible to get back.   

Field also notes the role that planners and state intervention in housing has had:

Post-war housing policy has also enjoyed more than a walk-on role. Mega developments, sweeping up communities, shaking them around, and scattering them onto new estates, often on the periphery of the towns where they had long established roots, also played a major part in the break-up of the extended, matriarchal family hierarchy and in so doing destroyed the support that this informal network provided for couples as they began the process of starting a family.

He doesn't note that this was driven by the Labour Party, and Conservatives happily went along with the clearance of the poor into estates that were away from their voters.   Field notes how little is done to make fathers pay for their children:


communities have insisted from time immemorial that men who beget children should be made to support those children and the children’s mother, usually by marriage. In a fit of what at best can be charitably described as absent mindedness, or of not wishing to cause a fuss, a whole number of governments forgot that one of its primary duties in safeguarding the wellbeing of children is to enforce the father’s financial responsibility.

Absolutely key is parents being interested in their child's education.  Field's research indicated this is
independent of the parents' own education.  The report noted an effect of the early home learning environment on age five outcomes over and above parental background factors such as socio-economic status, maternal education and family income.







Yes in other words parents who give a damn, who read to their kids, who are involved in their education and help them make far more of a difference than money.   Single parents families are also an issue as:

Fathers’ interest and involvement in their children’s learning is statistically associated with better educational outcomes (higher attainment as well as more positive attitudes and better behaviour) even when controlling for a wide variety of other influencing factors. A number of studies both from the United States and the UK have shown that father involvement has an independent effect from mother involvement and effects have been demonstrated both for younger children and for later educational outcomes.
 
However, this doesn't fit the Marxist monologue that it is all about wealth and if only the rich had more of their money taken and given to the poor unearned, it would all be better. 

Education doesn't get off the hook either:

Most studies also find that schools, and in particular teachers, have an impact on the gap in attainment between the richest and the poorest...Teaching quality was a significant predictor of progress in both reading and mathematics over Key Stage 2. Analysis of the attainment of older children showed that being taught by a high quality (top 25%) rather than low quality (bottom 25%) teacher added 0.425 of a GCSE grade per subject

In other words the fatuous self-serving nonsense peddled by teachers' unions that they can't be paid or judged on performance is just that.   Good teachers make a difference, which means setting their pay by some central government fiat is as nonsensical as setting the pay of chefs by the same means, but far more damaging.

No person who genuinely gives a damn about fixing child poverty would simply reject these findings out of hand and continue with the mindless belief that the welfare state can fix the problems of intergenerational poverty.  It is about parents, it is about education, it is not about money.
 
Frank Field's recommendations are heavy on intervention.  He wants monitoring of children in what he calls the "Foundation Years" (the first five years of life) and a concentration on support of parents and training of parents for those years.   He recommends freezing child benefit (which gives parents money for having children at all income levels, but which the government will be capping at parents who earn no more than £44,000 p.a. (well above the average income in the UK) and redirecting money towards services for children in the first five years of life.   I think far more needs to be done to change the incentives around breeding when one can't afford to do so,  and that education needs to be freed from the shackles of state control and direction.   

Yet what is more important is to finally ditch once and for all the Marxist based myth that the reason children from low income backgrounds do badly is about money (and the solution is to pillage money from other people), when it is about parenting.   If groups like CPAG really gave a damn about child poverty they would cease their obsession with increasing taxes and benefits, and engage in hands on assistance for parents who need help, and encourage people who are in poverty to concentrate on improving their own lives, not on breeding.