Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Smartgrowth" is about trains

I've written extensively on this topic over the years - the crying waste of taxpayers' money being poured into little more than a dream, an ill-informed belief that Auckland's transport woes would be solved by an electric (now underground) railway.  It hooks into the same belief by planners that Auckland has to embrace the so-called "smartgrowth" or "new urbanism" philosophy, which is little more than a form of Soviet-style central planning and control upon the city - which has itself failed miserably in every New World city that has embraced it (and not delivered wonders for the old world ones either).

Not PC has been rightfully pointing out the fallacies behind this dogma, which at its essence is a belief that more people should fit into the same space, and that human aspirations for bigger homes, bigger gardens and more living space should be restricted ever increasingly, by stopping cities growing out, but encouraging them to grow up.  

I heard much propaganda around this when I was dealing with Ministry for the Environment and several planners in Auckland councils a few years ago.  They wanted in-fill development, they wanted high rise, they basically wanted less bedrooms and more people in residences.  Is that what you want?  It doesn't matter, because it is "good for the environment".  Why?  It almost entirely comes down to transport.

Planners in "new world cities" (cities outside Europe) have long bemoaned the predominance of the private car for most trips in cities and in particular most commuting trips.  Cars, you see, are bad because they clog up roads, emit nasty fumes and it is "unsustainable" to keep building new roads to meet demand (or new car parks).  (They ignore that cars today have the cleanest emissions than ever, but that is a diversion).   So do they ask questions as to why there is traffic congestion?  The simple fact that road use is priced the same regardless of demand, the fact that taxes collected from road users are frequently not allocated based on demand, but on politically driven imperatives?  No.  The planners are uninterested in economics, for they largely do not understand them.   They don't think that maybe peak time commuting would change if it cost more to drive then (and a lot less to drive at other times), they don't think that there could be innovative ways adopted by commercial road owners to get more capacity out of networks (e.g. intelligent systems for cars to operate in convoys in close formation).  No, they have a pet love affair with one thing only - mode shift - and it isn't to walking or cycling or even buses, it is trains.

You can see it in the Auckland Transport Blog, which has permeating throughout it this philosophy, a glorification of urban railways, a less interested concern in buses and a sneering hatred for the car and almost absent interest in roads at all or serious economics.   You see the blog administrator is a planner and he carries the philosophy he has been taught.

The main problem the railevangelists have is that one of the main reasons the car dominates is because with lots of people living in fully detached houses on sections, there aren't enough people within walking catchments to justify their pet dream - railways.   Railways need lots of people wanting to go to and from the same places at the same time.   New world cities don't have that, they have a lot of people heading in the same direction, but at both ends there are widely differing origins and destinations.   Urban rail projects in new world cities inevitably are not financially viable, because demand, especially off peak, isn't remotely enough to cover the costs of operating the services.

The planners want to change this.  They want you living on top of a railway station, or near it, or within walking distance at least.  With others.  So you might be in an apartment block, or in an adjoining block.  You see you need to live near lots of people doing that to make it "work" (not for you, the planners).   Want to build a new home outside urban limits? No.  That would be immoral, you might drive, you wont be supporting "your railway", and you never know where it might end, cities might sprawl forever!!

Of course it is nonsense.  The "smartgrowth" planners want you to have less living space, and consequently more noise, more shared spaces and to be near a railway so you drive less, then there will be less traffic, less pollution, less congestion and all will be better - except you wont be living where you want, because you can't afford the remaining low density homes (which are priced out of reach because supply is constrained), and traffic patterns wont have changed because you can't force businesses to locate where you want them.  They locate where it is best suited or they leave altogether or never start up.  Congestion wont have changed because the real issue is the price and supply of road space, which the planners have no interest in (other than a more recent interest in using road pricing to fund their rail fetish and penalise the bad cars). 

So yes, it is all about justifying the rail project.  It isn't about your needs at all.  If you want to see how effective it is in addressing transport needs you need look no further than Portland, the pin up city of the Smartgrowth evangelists, where public transport mode shares dropped.

So if it is about trains, wont they deliver wondrous dramatic improvements to travel around Auckland?

Well as I've said before:

- Only 12% of employment in Auckland is downtown.  The railway only exists on two main (plus one secondary and one small branch) corridors, more than half of those commuters wont be served.  On top of that the assumption is 28% of Aucklanders will live within 800m of a station by 2016, so maybe at best 4% of Auckland commuters will be served by the railway.  What about the other 96%?

- The average difference in travel time on roads will be less than 1km/h.  Whilst some rail users will transfer from cars, the effect will be hardly perceived by other road users. As a congestion busting strategy it will be an abject failure.  Largely because most people don't live near railway stations or work near them, which of course is why planners want to price you out of living away from them.

- Most of the trains will lie idle most of the time.  Over one billion in "assets" will be grossly under-utilised most of the day, and all weekends.  Only for two hours every rush hour will they all be used, mostly in one direction, for maybe three trips each, before being stabled to do nothing until a repeat performance in the evenings.

- Majority of rail users wont be motorists.  They will be existing rail users, existing bus users, people who rode with others in cars or people who wouldn't have travelled in the first place.  Maybe around a quarter would have driven, so it is a big subsidy to pay for people who would have used public transport anyway.

- Rail pushes out commercially viable buses.  Until the massive expenditure in rail, maybe half of bus  services in Auckland were unsubsidised and commercial.  Meeting the needs of those paying for them.  With heavily subsidised trains, these have been put out of business and the passengers ride trains without having to pay for more than a third of their operating costs.

- The money poured into the infrastructure can never be realised.  The Auckland rail network was valued by Treasury at a maximum of around NZ$20 million in 2001. It is having around NZ$1 billion poured into it.  Even if by some miracle it doubled in value, it is still a monumental destruction of wealth.  Even those who benefit directly from it are unwilling to pay fares to operate the trains, let alone contribute towards those mammoth fixed (and now sunk) costs.  

Right now, the railevangelists are demanding action on an underground rail loop because they believe Britomart will be congested after electrification, which hasn't even been completed yet.  They want planning for a North Shore railway when even the busway isn't remotely close to capacity.  

Electrification will happen, but it will prove to be a disappointment.  Yes rail patronage will go up, but so what?  Until rail passengers fully pay the operating costs of this dud, it will be a net economic drain on Auckland.  Parking, fuel and congestion charges shouldn't be used to prop it up.

However, roads do need to be treated differently.  The motorway network should be commercialised and sold, and the new owners allowed to charge whatever they like.  Then roads would not be so congested, money would be available to fix bottlenecks and maybe, just maybe, the rail network might prove some value.   Don't bet on the planners even considering this - for they are blinded by the lights of trains being good, not by achieving objectively determined results.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Vandals and thugs are children of the Labour philosophy

UK Uncut, a radical leftwing protest group, has been exposed for what it really is - a bunch of young angry violence prone thugs who, as usual, misuse the term "peaceful protest" for "vandalism, trespass and intimidation".

It is they that formed the backbone to the breakaway protests in London on Saturday, and the cover for the so-called anarchists who went on a vandalism and trespass spree across London's West End.  I say "so-called anarchists" because if they really were anarchists, they wouldn't have wanted the Police to step in had the owners of the premises they trashed used force to defend their properties.

UK Uncut are an odd bunch, you see they want more government (not exactly aligned with anarchists then) and want more tax, so the government can spend more money, presumably on them. UK Uncut is waging war on successful British businesses because it wants to strongarm them to pay more in tax - not that any of them are alleged to be breaking the law - but UK Uncut doesn't think these businesses should arrange their affairs to minimise tax.  The philosophy being that when businesses make profits, the state is entitled to take part of that.

I can't quite understand how anyone, particularly groups of students can get excited about getting businesses to pay more tax, like they worship the state as big mother, which has weaned them and gives them what they want.  It's so anti-aspirational as to be pathetically sad.

Tim Worstall of the Institute of Economic Affairs has fisked this lot with ease, showing the economic illiteracy of UK Uncut.   UK Uncut assumes bizarrely that British companies would remain if taxes were raised dramatically, it assumes that when companies pay more tax that somehow that means that "rich fatcats" lose - when many of the companies have shareholders which are pension funds and the like, with profits shared among thousands of shareholders.   Full details of the fisking here.

However, the mob who vandalised are more than just disenchanted idiots.  They vandalised the Ritz Hotel because they were "anti-rich", they occupied the exclusive department store Fortnum & Mason; Mason because it is upmarket (one wit said "Proper Tea is theft", as Fortnum & Mason has an excellent tea section).  Banks including ATMs were wrecked because they just oppose banks.  Didn't matter that the banks attacked in some cases were not bailed out.   In fact nothing mattered other than trashing the property of businesses they had an ill-conceived prejudice against.  Nice.

However desperate the TUC and Labour are to distance themselves from these thugs, there is a more fundamental underlying point.  Whilst neither entity provoked or encouraged the vandalism (and both are embarrassed by it), the simple truth is that they all share the same philosophy - a fundamental hatred of entrepreneurial success and a belief that the property of others is not sacrosanct.

Both Labour and the TUC perpetuate the myth that the recession is entirely the fault of "the banks" and that "the banks" must pay - they blame the budget deficit on the banks, when it is palpably not true.   Labour had been running large deficits for years, only the collapse in tax revenue has made it more rapidly unsustainable.   

Labour and the TUC want to tax banks more, vandalise them in a far more civilised way, without sticks and stones, and make Britain even less attractive for the financial sector.   They want more of your money, they want to give the money to those who haven't earned it, they want to spend it on monopoly state run health and education services, regardless of whether they meet your needs - because government is good, government always knows best.

They hold the same empty belief that capitalism doesn't really work, that the reason the world isn't the way they want it is because people trade, people make money, people produce goods and services and sell them to people who are willing to pay, employ people who are willing to work, and that life isn't fair!  They belief there aren't equal opportunities (there aren't, the Khmer Rouge tried to fix that), that everyone has a right to a job (a right provided by whom?) and that the "rich" make money off the back of the poor.

It is the same belief that other people owe you a living, an education or health care.  The idea that if other people have property or money, then you have a right to some of it.  It is moral cannibalism, the idea that the mere existence of someone gives them unchosen obligations to give the fruits of their labour, effort, exchanges and mind to others who demand them.   It is the Marxist myth - from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.  The cleverer you are the more of that is demanded from others, and what you get back is just 'what you need'.

The only way this can be imposed is by force, by violence.  The anarchist protestors are willing to do this directly, the politicians and unionists will use the state to do it (and already do).

The best response to this is an unashamed defence of capitalism.  A defence of the principle that people should be entitled to set up businesses, make money, hire who they wish and keep the proceeds, as long as they don't use force or fraud to do so.  It is more than just pointing out that waging war on capitalists means they will leave, with their money, Zimbabwe like, and the looters and vandals will have nothing left.

UK Uncut is ridiculously stupid - if it got its way, businesses would flee the UK and so would wealthy entrepreneurs rather than be taxed. 

Of course if you are weaned on a state education that teaches you how wonderful the things are government does, and to be envy and hate filled about those who have more than you, then you're going to concentrate on hating rather than creating.

That's what you saw on Saturday in London.

Give us more of your money

That was, effectively, the catchcry of the 150,000-250,000 people who protested in London on Saturday. They all opposed government spending less of other people’s money, largely because most of them are beneficiaries of it. The Trade Union Congress initially said 250,000 turned up, more independent accounts indicated the figure was between 150,000-250,000 before the TUC started claiming 750,000.

Labour leader Ed Miliband liked to claim the people opposing cuts are in the majority, a claim that seems more credible than him comparing the protestors to those who opposed apartheid in South Africa or fought for civil rights in the US in the 1960s. Yes Ed Mandela, Ed Luther King. How pathetic and vile it is for this pitiful privileged Primrose Hill living Oxford graduate son of a communist to compare himself to two of the notable historic figures of the 20th century, when he will be but a footnote in comparison.

However absurd and disgraceful that comparison, his claim that the protestors are in a majority is almost as fallacious. The leading leftwing paper in the UK - the Guardian – has a poll showing quite the opposite view. A Guardian/ICM poll showed 35% think the spending cuts go too far, 28% think they are about right, but another 29% think they don’t go far enough. Yet if you read the details behind the poll there is an even more interesting story (PDF).

For feminists who think women are hard hit, well 32% of women think cuts don’t go far enough, 25% think they are about right – so women want MORE cuts compared to men.

How about young people? Don’t they feel betrayed about past generations living it up large and now they have to pay? No. A staggering 43% think cuts have not gone far enough, 36% think they have gone too far and 17% think they are about right.

So isn’t this just a mob of taxpayer funded (or rather future taxpayer funded) beneficiaries demanding that taxes go up and borrowing increase to sustain their dependence on the money of others? Well yes.

Bearing in mind that the cuts themselves are rather pitiful when you look at the big picture. Allister Heath at City AM today points out that the Conservative Chancellor George Osborne is only cutting spending by 0.6% in 2011/2012, and peaking in 2013/2014 with a 1.3% cut in spending. In other words, he is undertaking the minimum necessary to avoid a cut in Britain’s credit rating and to maintain confidence. Of course spending is being most dramatically cut in a number of areas, notably tertiary education, local government provided services and defence, but not health nor foreign aid.

So these aren’t “savage cuts”, the size of the UK state as a proportion of GDP within five years will have dropped, from around 50% to just over 41%, largely because the private sector will have grown.

In addition, the socialists and planners always demand to know where the new jobs are coming from, no free market advocate can tell because free market economies are far too complex for anyone to have a handle on new innovations or entrepreneurial opportunities. Compared to the final quarter of 2009, public sector employment is down 123,000, but private sector employment is up 428,000. You see you can’t predict where or how these jobs appear, but they do.

Those marching are mindless that the road they want is the one to lead to where Greece and Portugal have now head – where government can’t borrow money anymore because those with money see it as too risky, and demand ever higher interest rates. The government then engages in the barely disguised theft of the elderly and those on low to middle incomes, of inflation. Inflating the currency so that debts are devalued, along with the cash savings of those with too little knowledge and too little money to protect themselves from inflation. It hurts them more than anyone.

No doubt many marching don’t even understand what a deficit is ( it is spending over income, NOT debt) and somehow think that government can borrow ad infinitem, or pillage more money from taxpayers who will sit back and take it.   The current government is being so meek it will only be breaking even by the next election, the massive public debt will have grown by then.  However, the TUC sees the people receiving this money as children as seen by this video - adults should get pocket money.   Given the TUC throughout much of its history has been more closely aligned to Moscow than anywhere else, it should be ignored as it has spent so long advocating an attitude of get paid more for doing less and hire more people doing less.  It is a dinosaur that serves no purpose other than to be a rallying point for those too stupid to know better (you can't be too bright to have your interests represented by people who couldn't create a business if they tried).

Fortunately a majority disagree, and either think the spending cuts are right or not courageous enough. I’m strongly in the latter category, although when it comes to policing the other story in London on Saturday shows a different story.  The more leftwing one gets the more violence is part of your bread and butter...

Monday, March 21, 2011

The West is always wrong

You have to hand it to the so-called "peace" movement and the left.  They are as adept in chicaning their way around principle and consistency in position in all but one way - the West is always wrong.

Throughout the Cold War, both the West and the Soviet bloc (and China as much as it acted independently) all acted uniformly under the principle of realpolitik.  Interests were at stake, and each side supported allies as a bullwark against the other.  For the USSR and China, this never presented domestic problems because domestic problems were always resolved with the barrel of a gun so to speak.  Neither had to deal with protest marches, civil disobedience, bad press or the like, for they were (China still is to an extent) totalitarian prison camps.  Both happily backed, armed, clapped, funded and facilitated mass murder, torture, starvation and grotesque inhumanities in their own and many other countries.  Both had plenty of supporters in Western academia and a few in politics who were either taken in by the propaganda or simply were so anti-Western they embraced the obvious alternative.

The West didn't have such luxuries, for it had (and has) freedom.  Defence and foreign policy would be challenged, not only at the ballot box and within the political sphere, but with protests, free press and open civil society, its action would alway be open to scrutiny.  Quite right too.  However, those who would point the finger at the West on foreign policy and defence could not do so in the Soviet bloc.  Moscow knew this of course and helped fund several branches of the peace movement, figuring it could weaken the West by helping promote popular opinion in the West to disarm and withdraw - knowing similar calls in the Soviet block could be eradicated forthwith.

So it was simple - the peace movement and the left would, by and large, focus on what the West did wrong, because it was easy to report, and in fact it was seen as easier to change.  It was always far easier to point out the hypocrisy of Western realpolitik.  Our "interests" were in having allies that fought the allies of the Soviet bloc, yet these were on more than a few occasions inconsistent with the values people in Western countries saw as being the hallmark of superiority of Western liberal capitalist democracies over Marxism-Leninism.   Suharto, Marcos, Pinochet, Rhee, Somoza, Mobutu and others were often as bloodthirsty with opponents and as uninterested in free speech as their opponents.  The left in the West jumped on these and damned Western support for them.  This was the right thing to do, but they also turned a blind eye to the Soviet alternatives.

However, this philosophy of damning Western intervention in other countries remained after the end of the Cold War, although few noticed that suddenly more than a few non-Marxist dictatorships fell in relatively quick succession.  The end of apartheid in South Africa was partly facilitated by the end of the civil wars in Angola and Mozambique as the West withdrew support in parallel to the Soviet Union withdrawing support for their sides.  Chile, Zaire, Taiwan and South Korea all saw significant reforms with mixed success.   Then came Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly one of the nastiest dictators of the post war era (and he has plenty of competition).  He became important to both the West and the USSR when Iran fell to Islamist clerics, and was itself sabre-rattling against the US, USSR and Israel, so Saddam gained support from both sides in the Cold War, to take on Iran.  Pure realpolitik against a threatening enemy.  Yet it achieved nothing, except the spilling of the blood of hundreds of thousands, and a convenient target for the left - the West had backed another bloodthirsty thug, and Iran had not been contained.

Then Saddam attacked Kuwait.  There was a near unanimous international consensus in favour of ejecting him from Kuwait, yet the leftwing "peace movement" with the likes of the odious hypocritical Janus-like George Galloway condemning how the West attacked Iraq, after cossetting it for so long.  

You see with the peace movement, you can't correct your previous bad behaviour.  So whilst Saddam was expelled from Kuwait, subjected to two no-fly zones and extensive economic sanctions, in fact that was all wrong.  Because he had had Western backing before, he shouldn't be attacked now - the West is to blame for him.

Then after that, Saddam's continued breaching of UN Security Council resolutions and failure to allow the IAEA full inspection of all facilities it requested access to meant nothing.  Saddam should be left alone, even though he murdered Iraqis on a daily basis.  In fact, economic sanctions on Iraq, which hurt Iraqis not Saddam, should be lifted - not because it was Saddam's fault, but the West's fault for "killing Iraqi children" as Saddam used his population as propaganda.  

Remember the left warmly embraced economic sanctions against the South African racist regime, but for Iraq Saddam was now to be appeased.  Iraq was to be "left alone", for this wasn't a dictatorship that should face sanctions or military action.

Then, 9/11 happened.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had barely caused a murmur in the "peace movement", but Western backing for the mujahideen did.  The Taliban winning power in Afghanistan also barely caused a murmur, except for its radical misogyny and destruction of some historic statues.  However, the attack against the Taliban regime, which had sheltered and supported Al Qaeda, was wrong.  It was wrong for the US to strike against those who harboured and supported those who attacked and killed thousands of people on its soil.   It was wrong to overthrow those who treated girls as chattels denying them education, banning music and executed anyone who didn't support their stone age theocracy.  

G.W. Bush attacked Iraq, in part because of Saddam's continued defiance of UN Security Council Resolutions, in part because of a belief that regime change and installation of a Western friendly democracy in Iraq would be positive for the region.  It was appallingly undertaken, but it gave backbone to the peace movement which saw it as death and destruction.  Saddam's overthrow was bemoaned by few, but the performance and behaviour of a few troops became a reason to damn the lot.  Furthermore, the rise of an Islamist insurgency, which at one point was peddling death on a daily basis through bombing, saw the peace movement attribute those deaths to the West.  After all, if Saddam hadn't been overthrown, Iraq would be peaceful (blank out Saddam's tendency to turn on his population randomly).   Little credit was given to overthrowing a tyrant the left had opposed in any case.   Less credit was given to fighting the Islamist insurgency with some even backing them.  

The Western leftwing "peace movement" support for Islamist terrorists in Iraq said so much about the belief in peace and human rights that they claimed - it was profoundly empty. What mattered was to oppose whoever the West supported, to oppose whatever the West did.

So Saddam was opposed when the West supported him.  Saddam was supported when the West opposed him.   The peace movement as hypocritical as the West it finger pointed at.   Note that never did the USSR or Russia get damned for their roles in any of it.

The recent revolutions in the Arab world have also had similar responses.  Tunisia and Egypt were both led by Western-friendly dictators, so the West was blamed for both of them.   Blamed for intervening to prop them up.  Except this time, the West did nothing of the sort.  It sat back and let things happen.

That was wrong though.   You see it should have "done more" to ensure the dictators it supported before were overthrown.  Um...

So along comes Gaddafi.  Avowedly anti-Western, a murdering tyrant if ever there was one.  Ronald Reagan bombed one of his palaces in the 80s after Gaddafi had a bomb go off in a West Berlin nightclub, but that wasn't acceptable to the left.   Gaddafi blew up an airliner, which certainly saw more opposition to him (George Galloway to be fair damned Gaddafi consistently after this).  However, beyond that his exploits were largely ignored by the left.   Then, after the overthrow of Saddam, Gaddafi put his hands up, said he was no longer pursuing WMDs, and sought friendly relations - which he got.

Now of course his own people, emboldened by events in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, have had enough.  Barack Obama has decided the US is now taking a largely isolationist stance, so it took France and the UK to lead efforts to introduce a no fly zone and undertake airstrikes against Libyan military targets that were threatening civilian.  Even the rather odious Arab League supported the No Fly Zone.  

So a popular revolution in Libya is being supported in the air, by Western forces.  No ground troops and no sense of occupation.  It is all about protecting civilians.  While the West was not taking action, it was criticised.  Now it is taking action.

It isn't good enough though.   The left is damning it because Libya has oil and gas, so a side effect of getting rid of Gaddafi will be to have a regime (hopefully) which is a democracy that will sell oil and gas.  That of course is a good thing, unless you are part of the left/peace-movement/environmentalist faction that thinks consumption of oil and gas kills babies, destroys trees and impoverishes continents.  Apparently the West shouldn't intervene when it suits its interests.

Beyond that, the intervention is damned by conspiracy theorist Robert Fisk because there can be no guarantee the replacement of Gaddafi will be squeaky clean.   Well yes.  If you don't want an invasion and occupation, that's the risk.  The intervention so far is just to protect Libyans from air and naval strikes, and major ground force attacks.   If it was more, the West would be wrong again.   Fisk also recalls a civilian victim of the US attack in 1986, but interestingly it is noted that the woman's mother supports Gaddafi being overthrown - not quite as simple as it first seemed.

George Galloway, who has long damned Gaddafi appeared on Sky News damning the attacks, not because of the effect on Libyans, but because the West hadn't also intervened in Bahrain, Yemen or Saudi Arabia.

Well no.  There is no obligation to intervene, at all.  However, the opportunity exists and it is in Western interests, so the decision is made to intervene.  That is quite morally justified.

It would be morally justified to intervene in Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia as well, although in Bahrain there is the issue of the US Navy Fifth Fleet being based there.  A major decision would need to be made on relocating it if it was decided to turn on Bahrain's murderous monarchy.   Yemen's insurgents include a substantial outpost of Al Qaeda.  Intervention there would be wholly justified, but the unintended consequences could be far worse.   Saudi Arabia is another story.  It would be a formidable foe, the economic impacts alone of Saudi turning off oil supplies would be catastrophic, and would directly harm millions in the West, it would not go down without a fight, and as the home of Mecca, a Western attack would undoubtedly instigate substantial Muslim support against it.

In short, intervention in Libya is low cost, relatively high gain and positive.  The other cases don't stack up.

However, that doesn't matter.  The West is always wrong.

It was wrong to damn Gaddafi for so long, despite his record for murder and terrorism. 
It was wrong to respond positively when Gaddafi stopped engaging in terrorism and pursuing WMDs - he is a tyrant.
It was wrong to sit by and do nothing while Libyans fought Gaddafi (because of the relatively positive relations the West had with Gaddafi since 2002).
It is now wrong to intervene to protect Libyans fighting Gaddafi - because it should intervene elsewhere.

No doubt if the West actually did intervene in Bahrain and Saudi, it would be bad because the claim would be it is about oil.  If it intervened in Yemen, the claim would be that it is the "war on terror", which the left rejects.

Which is why the so-called "peace movement" can and should be ignored.  It has only one principle, opposition to the West.  It isn't seriously interested in peace, or human rights, or democracy, or anything it claims.  

Watch them now defend Gaddafi - once more - and pretend it is about opposing war.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fear, Fascism and isolationism

Those are the three themes that I am getting from the stories that should be most shaking up New Zealanders.

Fear

The greatest publicity has been for the trifecta of emergencies in Japan.  The earthquake, which was largely survived in its own right, thanks to technology, vigilance by property owners and compliance with strict laws.   The tsunami, which demonstrated how powerless people are with little warning, once again.  Now the nuclear emergency, which is a mix of genuine concern and fear, and ridiculou hyperbole.  New Zealand is only affected by the harm to Japan's economy, not the spread of isotopes.  However, environmentalists will dine out on this for some time to demand lower electricity consumption and "investment" in expensive forms of electricity generation.   There will be scope for post-mortems of the nuclear emergency, but for now two other matters should be of higher priority.

Fascism

First is closer to home.  It IS fascism, a term overused perhaps by some libertarians, but it is plain and simple in Christchurch.  Private property has been appropriated, not to protect the public, but because central and local government are applying the thumping hammer of blunt authority to clear away the damage as quickly as possible.

Not PC puts it beautifully in describing how a pin-up for vapid womens' magazines gets more access to central Christchurch properties than the people who, without which, the damned businesses (damned indeed) wouldn't be there in the first place.

Like a panzer division of wreckers, the state has authorised demolition squads to go in and destroy what is NOT theirs.

Eric Crampton's list of outrages should send shivers down the spines of property owners throughout New Zealand.  This could happen to you.  THIS is what central and local government think of you - it isn't the warm friendly collectively helpful image that the morally bankrupt left claim - it is the "we know best, get out of our way" approach that says a great "fuck you" to the people who create the wealth, who pay the wages of public "servants".

Meanwhile what do you get from politicians? A blind eye.  You should all be furious, because they are scum for not standing up for Christchurch property owners.

The government of course is complicit.  There is now no shred of belief that the National Party believes in property rights or business, its true colours have been shown here, and it is disgusting.

Not one fucking press release demanding that property owners have the right to access their properties, that properties should not be destroyed without the consent or even  notice given to the owners.  Nothing.  If you still vote National after this, then I DO hope you face the same situation one day - because frankly you're complicit in endorsing these useless inert nobodies in just accepting what their bureaurats tell them.

Instead, John Key thanks the pin-up and his consort for their "support" in getting a taxpayer supported piece of disaster tourism (2 sites in one country).   Not that it is their fault that they get the privileged access to Christchurch, it is the government's.

Of course along with National is the Maori Party (which only believes in property rights for part of the population), Peter Dunne (who as Minister in charge of legalised theft is uninterested) and ACT.  What's ACT said?  Fuck all of course.  Rodney Hide is setting up a new bureaucracy to enable councils to borrow through central government instead.  Given ACT has effectively endorsed the Labour/Alliance/Green vision of local government powers, who should be surprised?

The left, naturally, regards property rights as something that applies to them when someone wants to mug them in the street and that's about it.  The state can (and should) run roughshod over such rights in the "public good" as it sees it from that point of view.  The Greens, Labour and Jim Il Sung are contemptuous about business, employers and property rights, and ever trusting of government agencies.

However, what about you?  Are you going to tolerate a fascist style demolition of buildings without even advising the owners?  Are you going to tolerate zero accountability for those looking after the "protected area" of central Christchurch? Are you going to tolerate it being ok for the pinup from the UK and his consort to gain access to Christchurch that the people who fucking build and make Christchurch alive don't have?

Of course you are - you're New Zealanders - you'll vote for John Key again because you're not discontented enough and because Phil Goff is about as inspiring as a pair of socks.  You'll trust local government again because you're fearful of actually having power in your own hands, but most of all you'll do nothing because you're not personally affected.

Isolationism

There couldn't be a clearer message to dictatorships in the past few weeks from the United States, it is "We don't intervene anymore".
Despite the vapid generalisations from some quarters.  The dictatorships in the Middle East all vary by degrees and kinds.  The Tunisian one was easy, he rolled over quickly.  Egypt took more time, but ultimately the fact the US bankrolls the regime was significant, and Mubarak eventually rolled over as well.  Gaddafi is different, not just in degree, but nature.  He is despicably evil, a murdering megalomaniacal thug.  At worst he is unhinged and merciless.   His record of intervening in other countries is extensive, although he withdrew from this primarily because he observed the US invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein - an act that would be far simpler to do in Libya.

Protestors and rebels in Libya have been encouraged, verbally, by Western powers and others, demanding that the Gaddafi autocracy go.  However, in terms of action, little has been done since Westerners were evacuated.  The Obama regime has been silent, and so Gaddafi has been acting with impunity to take back the country he has run as his own fiefdom.   The cartoon like view Gaddafi gives of himself may amuse some, but it comes with blood and death.

So a no-fly zone over Libya is obvious, it would cost little and help to ensure Gaddafi did not act with impunity.  The UK and France have been pushing for it (the latter ironic given France's history of warmth towards dictatorships), but Germany has resisted  - as if Germany really is able to exercise moral authority given its past performance in resisting action in the Balkans.  The UK and France have led efforts at the UN Security Council for a resolution.  Not the US.  Of course Russia and China are likely to oppose, or at best abstain. However, neither have any credibility when it comes to dealing with dictatorships, for obvious reasons.   So for that, I believe airstrikes and a no fly zone should be applied anyway, because the value in containing and disposing of the Gaddafi regime is worth it.   His regime lost legitimacy when it participated in Lockerbie and sponsoring terrorism in Europe and elsewhere.  There should be no legal or moral barrier to intervention from the air (ground intervention would be unwise though).

However, as much as I want Gaddafi removed, there is a more disturbing concern.  Obama's withdrawal of the US from the world says that other dictatorships can act with impunity, despite his words.  Syria has had protests that have been put down - another regime that has regularly disregarded international law by invading a neighbouring country - Lebanon.  Yet what is the Obama administration saying to the likes of Iran and North Korea by being so shy of doing anything?  It is saying that there are no consequences for all sorts of actions against their own people, but also that the US is relatively uninterested. 

You see the world the left wanted, with the US pulling out of other countries, and leaving civil conflicts to themselves, is happening more and more.  The result is that dictatorships feel less threatened, more emboldened and more powerful than they were under previous Administrations.

Obama has declared his hand on foreign policy.  It is progressive isolationism.  Withdrawal from Iraq will be followed by Afghanistan, and then where?

and if rebels in Benghazi are crushed by the efforts of the Gaddafi army and air force, all on TV, what will that say about the US interest in freedom in other countries?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Evil in action

Whilst the world focuses on Libya, another dictatorship is mistreating families for propaganda purposes in a way that is undeniably despicable and outright evil.   It is yet another story of south Korea vs north Korea.

In early February, a DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) fishing boat drifted across the military demarcation line that unofficially marks the line of control between the ROK (Republic of Korea) and the DPRK.  The boat was intercepted by the ROK navy and the 31 people questioned.  The ROK determined quickly that the boat was genuinely lost and was not part of any covert military mission, so they were all given the option as to whether they wished to return to the DPRK or not.  27 chose to return, 4 chose to defect to the ROK. 

The ROK decided that on 4 March, the 27 people who wished to return would be handed over to the UN command at the Korean De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom, to be handed over to the DPRK authorities.   The DPRK refused to accept them, demanding that all 31 people be returned.

So it began.

The ROK view was fairly simple.  The ship innocently drifted into southern waters in bad weather, and those aboard would be given a choice about where they wanted to go.  Freedom.  As simple as that.   

Of course, the DPRK doesn't make it quite that simple.   For the people who choose to stay in the south, their families face intense difficulties.  They will be labelled as being related to politically unsafe individuals, which will mean they too are unsafe.  They can face being forcibly relocated, losing their employment and homes, and being interrogated about their defecting relatives.  They are put under constant suspicion, for the fear is that they too will defect.   Some face imprisonment as a result, and a north Korean gulag is sheer hell.

Even those who return face difficulties.

According to Daily NK:
One defector who used to work as an NSA agent explained, “The NSA will accuse them of responsibility for the defection of the other four, demanding to know why they didn’t persuade them otherwise,” adding, “There must be at least one Party cell secretary among the 31. Those people will definitely be targets for criticism.”.  Such interrogations generally take around a month. After that, the repatriated individuals have to sign a written oath not to disclose what they have heard and seen in South Korea, and will then be allowed to return to their homes, in this case in Hwanghae Province.

Defectors unanimously agree that the fishermen will thereafter be closely monitored by agents of the NSA, People’s Safety Agency, and chairmen of their local people’s unit on the basis that the authorities think they could cause ideological unrest after being exposed to South Korean society.


Damned either way of course.

The DPRK view naturally is different.  The idea the regime could ever countenance that people could defect from a perfect society is ludicrous.  So it says

"It is sheer nonsense for the south Korean authorities to talk about "defection" and the like by four of them.

The unreasonable attitude of the south Korean authorities is touching off bitter anger among the people in the DPRK. The families and relatives of the inhabitants now under custody there are eagerly waiting for them to come back as early as possible.
"

On top of that, the DPRK Red Cross, which has always been completely in collusion with the regime (not disowned by the ICRC), has even been threatening according to the Korean Central News Agency:

The detained citizens have made clear their stand to go back to the DPRK from the outset and demanded their early repatriation. Nevertheless, the south side claims that it will not send some of them, talking about "defection" and "respect for freedom of will." Such attempt can never be allowed as it is a very unreasonable and rude act contrary to humanitarianism and international usage. 


Worse still, the south side has resorted to a sinister "defection operation", taking those citizens to different places all the while. This fact is arousing anger of everyone.


Their repatriation is an important matter related to the north-south relations rather than a humanitarian issue, the message said, warning:


If the south side does not comply with this just demand of the DPRK, it will be held wholly accountable for the consequences arising therefrom. 
Next time the Red Cross asks you for money (and given that almost everywhere it does remarkably good work), ask the representative about whether any of it is going to the north Korean Red Cross and explain why it shouldn't.

So a stalemate has emerged.  The DPRK has demanded that there be a face to face meeting between the families of all of the people, and the men themselves, at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Committee meeting rooms at Panmunjom.   The idea being to get the four people who wish to defect to be weakened by seeing their distressed family members, as well as to produce propaganda to paint the ROK in a bad light.

So the DPRK has instead released a video showing the family members reading out prepared statements, and clearly terrified.  Their statements go along lines as follows "She grew up in a good system where she had no real worries and could enjoy learning" and

"My husband is not that kind of person; I trust in this because he is someone who got a scholarship from Han Deok Su Industrial University, studied, has the honor of being a Party member and became a cadre, always working faithfully for the fatherland, people, Party and Suryeong" (Suryeong means "Great Leader").

This brutal prison state cannot conceive of how people may choose, even knowing the consequences for their loved ones, to leave it and live somewhere where their lives ARE their own.  A place where your home, employment, relationships, travel, reading and activities are not decided, monitored and controlled by the state.  So it cynically uses the families of those who wish to defect, to emotionally plead with the defector to return to the prison state - the defectors knowing too well that if they don't return, it will mean being hassled, possibly imprisoned and certainly materially deprived because of "guilt by association".

That's the difference between freedom and sacrificing your life for the "greater good". 

The ROK government gave all of the people on the fishing boat the choice to stay in south Korea or return to north Korea, patently without coercion.  It has forced no defections, as is seen by most willing to return to the DPRK - simply because family ties are too important, and for fear of what would happen to them.   Those who choose to stay in the south have done so because presumably they believe their lives will be better as a result, and it would be hard to imagine why that would not be true.

The DPRK government wants its slave subjects all back, it will harm the families of those who do not return, and if they all return it will hail that it was because of the indomitable strength and indefatigable will of the leaders, party, army and state that the "south Korean puppets" submitted to the will of the people who wanted to return to their beloved socialist motherland, after witnessing the degradation and depravity of life in the "US-occupied south".  

So for now, the DPRK is refusing to receive those who want to return home, because it is using the families of those who don't, as political footballs.  If it cared one jot for the people concerned, it would allow the families of those who want to stay in south Korea to follow them, and then allow those who wish to return to do so, in full knowledge that they also could bring their families south.

However, in a socialist totalitarian prison state, it isn't about the people - it is about the system.  The people are cogs in the wheel of a system ostensibly about people, but which is as distant from human compassion as you could possibly be.