Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Iranian heroes

I found this image on the Huffington Post attached to this story and I've been mesmerised by it for a couple of minutes now. It almost seems like one of the paintings from NotPC celebrating defiance. Fantastic stuff.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Infamous the world over

Apparently Coca Cola wants to trademark the phrase "World Famous in New Zealand", a phrase closely associated with Coca Cola's 'L&P' brand of soft drink.

Someone actually from the town the soft drink is named after has decided to stand up on behalf of all of us and fight this attempt to appropriate a kiwism, and he deserves a bit of recognition. After all, its not often someone takes a positive stand against a global mega brand for little personal gain. It is the kind of action we need to celebrate more.

So we here at this blog pledge that should we ever find ourselves in Paeroa in the company of Mr Tony Coombes, we'll shout him a beer.

Until then, we wish him the best in his courageous endeavour.

"Read My Lips : No New Taxes"

The above quote does, of course come from George HW Bush's 1988 address to the Republican National Convention; however this post isn't about National's peculiar brand of tax "reform". Rather, I thought I'd check up on John Key's committment to avoiding privatisations in his first term; another shallow rightist electoral promise.

Mister Key's words are not necessarily a prima facie prediction of privatisation by themselves, however they take on a worrying implication when read in context with recent remarks by Bill English. English recently declared in what can only have been an exceptional slip of the tongue that "one of the benefits of not having asset sales this term is that it's given us the time and the space to focus on all of the Government's assets and some of them are in good shape and some of them aren't in such good shape."

I may be guilty of a sin of interpretation, but I'm choosing to read that as a declaration of intent for the rest of this term - 'rationalising' state assets to make them more enticing for easy (part) privatisation from 2011 onward. This fits quite well with the pattern of events to date, ranging from recent moves on TVNZ to (more especially) Nick Smith's attempt to fully pre-fund ACC, and of course the succession of Taskforce reports urging exactly this.

In short, my attitude to the Key insistance upon a lack of privatisation plans can be summed up with another HW Bush quote from the same speach:"My opponent now says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Taskforce, Taskforce everywhere; but not a drop of sense

It was with considerable bemusement that I saw a "Capital Markets Development Taskforce" had issued its final report this morning, calling for (you guessed it) further privatisations.

This prompted three questions in my mind:

i) Why do we have such a profusion of task-forces (especially when they seem to generate suspiciously similar recommendations)?

ii) What has the cost to the taxpayer been to employ these ivory tower crystal ball-gazers for the last eighteen months?

iii) If we were serious about generating *good* ideas for developing our economy, might we not be better off asking *small* business owners, workers, students etc. (in other words, the very-real New Zealanders that'll be most effected by any taskforce's recommendations) what they reckon?

Call me cynical, but I believe that this succession of "reports" has two purposes. First, to provide a coterie of "expert" oppinion to draw upon as justification for the 2011 revelation of National's privatisation agenda. This is fairly obvious; the panels having obviously been set up to generate a pre-determined oppinion (one only needs to look at the chairman of the 2025 taskforce for compelling evidence).

However, it is their more insidious second aspect that causes me more concern. The idea here is to have numerous different voices saying broadly the same thing - that a particular neoliberal development path (featuring privatisations) is the *inevitable* way forward; and to construe any dissent to this as being promulgated solely by a *minority* of backward traditionalists. Suffice to say that this is a well-worn tactic in the circles of modern economics which we've already witnessed in action several times over the last quater century during both previous rounds of neo-liberalisation and the irrational exuberance that surrounded Globalisation (for a more elucidated discussion of this, check out John Ralston Saul's "The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World").

The easy provision of Government sinecures for Business Round Table associates is probably also a factor in this profusion of politicised pestilents.

Friday, December 11, 2009


To clarify, I believe the climate is changing, and I'm not denying that humans may have a role in that. In fact, I don't think it would be fair to say that the climate only appears to be static on the human scale; take any great length of time, such as a million years, in earth's history and the climate has always changed There are an enormous number of things we have done to change the world - city scapes and deforestation change the way the world absorbs heat from the sun, we alter the contents of the atmosphere which changes how the atmosphere retains heat and we pump out heat itself in the form of mechanical activity - that trying to deny we have any impact on the world's climate seems to me far-fetched. Despite this, I also think it stretches credibility to deny some other explanations for climate change such as changes in the energy coming from the sun, or natural cyclical variations such as changing ocean currents may have impacts as great or even greater than human impacts on the climate. I'd say my position is that of a rational sceptic.

What I've seen from the Copenhagen conference however leaves me less than impressed. The parade of third world officials and guests decrying the "Rich countries" for "creating the pollution in the first place" and demanding "they must pay". Between the BBC and al-Jazeera news I've heard the same thesis advanced half a dozen times: 'the West' got rich by polluting the world, at a time when other countries didn't. This pollution is bound to imminently destroy the lives of billions of people in the poorer countries, leaving the West with a moral legacy to support those people in developing first world lives without adding even more to greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

There are a number of problems I have with this. First, there is a moral difference between the industrial development of 18th Century Britain and modern China: no one in Britain can have been expected to know that developing a steam engine that runs on coal would lead to the industrial civilization it would and have such drastic impacts on the surface of the world. The Chinese and other developing nations that are polluting like crazy can not claim the same. This is the difference between someone accidentally hitting a child that runs out in front of them on the road and someone intentionally running over the same toddler. In the first instance, if the person in no way could have prevented the event but was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time by random chance, we do not hold them responsible for anything. In the second instance, we hold the person responsible for murder. To put it another way, we consider Marie Curie a great scientist for her work on radioactivity, and mourn that she could not have known how dangerous it was as it most likely lead to her death. We would consider that anyone who, knowing the dangers, replicated her work without taking precautions to shield themselves and others from the effects of radiation a maniac.

Secondly, to say "The West got rich by polluting while the rest of the world wasn't" is a flawed point to score. The obvious place to start is by asking why the rest of the world wasn't taking advantage of these wonderful new technologies: and the answer was that by and large only Europe could develop them. It had gone through the enlightenment and thrown off the tyrannical shackles of superstition, and developed a culture that not only tolerated but gloried in the intellectual development of man. It was unique in this regard, aside from the classical Athenians, and the rest of the world has been raised from the depths of poverty by it. The other side of the enlightenment is that it lead to British subjects in the American colonies deciding to challenge the authority of the British King and committing to living in a country based on freedom. It is this element of personal freedom which has made America and Europe the wealthy, pleasant countries they are today, more than a measurement of pollution output. After all, if pollution output had a direct correlation to material wealth, the Soviet Union would have been the richest country on earth. The key point to make however is that if Western polities can be said to have responsibility for their actions in creating pollution, so other polities can be said to have responsibility for their citizens poverty; for example Haiti is not poorer than almost any other country in the America's because it as an entity faced a lack of opportunity compared to other countries in the Caribbean and South America. It is poor because it has had a succession of brutal dictatorships that have robbed the citizens of that country of the opportunity to work and build up wealth for themselves. If the West must pay Haitians and other developing nations off for the simple fact of their poverty, then we have ceded the role that effort plays in life. All nations must have the same relative outcomes per capita; regardless of the responsibility their Governments have in the inputs which determine those outcomes.

Thirdly, if the effect of Copenhagen is to limit human activity and transfer wealth from producers and innovators to those who are not productive but wish to enjoy the living standards and lifestyles of westerners, there is the very real danger of limiting the whole world's ability to fight climate change and its effects on human life by means of innovating, developing and producing new technologies. After all, it is the same freedoms that produced the wealth and intellectual muscle that have produced the very science that allows us to identify not only climate change but all manner of environmental deficiencies our lifestyles and industries produce, and regulate those accordingly.

In sum, the aims of the Copenhagen summit and the values that underpin are flawed and deeply troubling. They rely upon a reading of history that places Western achievement at the centre of everything that is wrong and sees countries as blocks that should have equal outcomes regardless of their merit. This is in effect a new international mantra of communism. There is a very real risk that the outcome of the Copenhagen summit will be to limit human development, not only reducing the living standards of those in the west but reducing our collective ability to identify and respond to new challenges in the future. Worst of all, there is no reason to expect that if its measures are followed it will do enough to stop climate change or even that it can, as the planet may heat or cool due to factors completely beyond human intervention, such as changes in the amount of solar energy reaching earth.

So what should be the alternative? Western Governments should invest in potential new green energy resources, such as the recently featured experimental tidal harness in the Orkneys, as well as researching projects that may solve climate change, from carbon capturing towers to a giant soletta that can reduce/increase the amount of energy reaching the planet from the sun and every other plausible idea in between. Globally, the effects of climate change should be monitored and where humanitarian disasters arise, such as drastically altered weather patterns or rising sea levels making Islands uninhabitable, assistance should be offered - as nations should in any case, regardless of cause. By following this course, we can maintain our civilization with its freedoms intact, and also provide help to those who have become victims of natural forces outside of their control.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Can We Fix It?

Yes We Can!

No, that wasn't an Obamaism. Rather, I thought I'd open by quoting Winston Peters - a leader with a far better track-record in Public Healthcare.

This posting isn't just about healthcare however, although that will be touched on eventually.
Rather, I thought I'd start a small series outlining what we think is wrong with New Zealand at present (chiefly the economic and social snarlups brought on by our flirtation with Neoliberalism); and how we envisiage them fixed (Big-Thinking government economic programmes including import substitution, government job-creation as an alternative to the dole; and vitally needed education reform).

At first glance, it might look like I'm simply re-hashing the development policies of the so-called Asian Tiger/Dragon economies. This has been avoided for two reasons.

First, their strategy hinged upon a competitive advantage of cheap well-skilled labour - specifically the "cheap" bit. New Zealand trying to compete on this basis is impractical and ill-advised; not only because we'd be up against the sweatshop labour of the modern economic giants, but also because we should be fostering increased wages in order to boost our standard of living.

Second, I'm a great believer in having domestically developed solutions to our problems. It is a truism to say that foreign-built solutions are almost always tailor-made to fix problems in their own country of origin; problems which will most likely be quite distinct from those we face here, rendering such plans inappropriate for our domestic circumstances. Besides which, the Asian Tigers were effectively newly developing economies who had a good deal of the shelter of the Bretton-Woods system; New Zealand by contrast is an already well-developed country seeking to reverse its decline against a global economic backdrop wholly lacking in such stability (and with the added shackle of our immense distance from some of our main trading partners).

However, there are some definite similarities in intent and imposition; such as a need to nurture naescent domestic industries, ensure domestic capital retention (and thus re-investment), improve the post-secondary education system, and improve our export-lead growth.

I think we'll call it Taniwha Economics.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to Use Oil

Upon hearing Gerry Brownlee's enthusiastic estimate that crown reserves from prospective oil revenues would ammount to approximately ten billion dollars, the first thing I wondered was where that money would be going. Knowing this apparently act-led government, it would probably be used to finance tax cuts - to my mind, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. What we should be doing by contrast is taking a leaf from the Norwegians and establishing a robust sovereign wealth fund along the lines of their Statens Pensjon Fond Norge - namely, a fund directing that money into domestic investments.

The prime reason why such a fund would be desirable is due to the deletarious consequences of foreign investment in our companies. The surplus wealth generated winds up going overseas in the form of dividends, rather than staying in New Zealand or funding further expansion. If the Government were providing the investment instead, the money would obviously be far more likely to be retained and re-used here. This would be a long-term far more viable national investment strategy than the present enthusiasm for foreign direct investment as a quick capital injection. If National is serious about encouraging beneficial economic growth here as a result of a predicted oil boom, this would seem the logical way to go about it.

Unfortunately I haven't seen any such foresight from the prospective Sheiks in blue.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Running the Vote Bradford campaign, again.

I was watching Prime TV News last night when an article on MMP came up. It went through the usual things: the reporter erroneously suggested that the electoral system could be on its last legs when the 2011 referendum is the first of what would have to be two stages, that minor parties would disappear without MMP when STV could very well mean more minor party MPs, and then some 'MMP Advocate' just about made me throw my remote at the TV.

Sam Huggard is an ex-NZUSA Co-President. He is a supporter of trendy causes everywhere, which is perfectly fine, except when you are speaking on national TV and proclaim that MMP should be retained because it would help you with your other causes.

One of the reasons Labour lost the last election is that it was forced to run the Bradford campaign; that is, campaign on the repeal of Section 59. Voters saw Labour as being aligned with Bradford. Regardless of the moral merit of their campaign the fact is they got hammered.

However, I think the people who would change our electoral system to bias the result - from businessmen calling for the return of FPP to Sam Huggard saying it "Were it not for MMP, we wouldn't have had things like Paid Parental Leave, the Gold Card for Superannuitants and initiatives like the home insulation scheme".

We also wouldn't have had MPs like Sue Bradford.

The point is that not only is it grossly undemocratic to try and get people to choose an electoral system that is biased in your favour, by campaigning on minor party policies you will almost certainly drive people to vote for the alternative.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why New Zealand First is poised for a strong return to Parliament

National has a powerful 25-30 point lead depending on which poll you read, more than a year into their term.

But this actually makes me quite confident for New Zealand First. I don't think National is going to maintain their enormous advantage through an election campaign. Come election time in 2011, they will almost certainly have dropped below 50% and I believe will end up getting around 47-48% of the vote, barring some horrific event to weaken public confidence in them.

But the soft support for them is not going to necessarily transfer over to Labour. Labour has yet to convince the voters that ditched it that it is a party worth returning to power. Indeed, with Goff still as leader and running at 30% in the polls coming into election year, there is every chance that their support could collapse as far as 20% as voters do the math and see Labour won't win, just as happened to National in 2002.

The other minor parties are probably going to rise, but the picture is not as rosy as some might conclude. The Greens seem to have a ceiling of support at around 9-10%, and given that they usually poll better than they do at the election and are currently sitting on 4% while Labour is weaker than it has been since 1996, they should be genuinely alarmed about their chances in 2011. Peter Dunne is the new Jim Anderton and Jim Anderton is done. The Maori party will run a big campaign for the party vote in 2011 and will do better than in previous years, but I don't see them going over the 5% threshold. With four or five electorate MPs they will likely only get one or two list MPs. ACT's support could very well rise in the 2011 election, but they will only take that off National in a zero-sum game.

So I'm projecting that going into the 2011 election there will be between 15-20% of soft support that could end up going to a party that makes a strong case for being a voice in Parliament for the policies not being represented. New Zealand First with its strong brand in terms of Winston Peters and a good campaign could very well be returned to Parliament with a bigger, better team than ever.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Issue that should get every Kiwi steaming mad

Rodney Hide's privatisation agenda is well known, and to be fair he has never denied he wants to hock off New Zealand's family silver, or what is left of it anyway.

But if National in any way leans towards Hide's plans to privatise water services it will be their second term that goes gurgling down the drain.

Water is the single most important resource in life and there should be no commercial incentives surrounding its supply. Both from the point of view of the consumer, who wants to know that the water they are drinking and using around the house and business is clean and safe, and from the environmental standpoint as our water resources need to be carefully managed, taking into account their long term viability and the relationship kiwis have with rivers and lakes. Making the responsibility for managing this precious resouce yet one more step removed from the voters is a ridiculous idea.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Investing in New Zealand Broadband

In a stirling example of what is right with Scandinavia, the Government of Finland has decided to make broadband access a legal right. This is a laudable example of 21st century government infrastructure investment, and the successful Scandinavian approach to government economic investment.

Poor performance on the part of our privatised national telecommunications giant has resulted in our equivalent infrastructure being in a woeful state. Considering a supposed government emphasis on creating a "knowledge economy" (whatever that means), the vitality of the internet in general, and its ability to mitigate to a certain extent our inherent disadvantage in being located on the other side of the world; one would think rectification and improvement of our internet problems would be imperative.

Regrettably such strident measures have not yet eventuated here. While National has indeed agreed to fork out one and a half billion dollars creating such infrastructure here in New Zealand, there are two problems with its plan. First, their committment to using private sector companies' part-funding. Given the rather appalling record of private control of infrastructure that this country has (the obvious examples being railway tracks), it seems somewhat odd to entrust such a vital element of our national growth to anyone but the public.

Second, to my mind they aren't going far enough. The key difference between the NZ plan and the Finnish plan isn't the speed (100 megabits per second in both cases), but rather an entirely different kind of access. The Fins have decided to make such fast broadband access a national right available to all; whereas National's silence on the matter (excepting their excellent idea of ensuring availability to schools) convinces one to assume it will be the 'user pays' system of our historically tight market.

Having publically ensured (and subsidised) broadband access for everyone might seem to be at the rather cavalier end of "thinking big" policy, but it is this writer's belief that in order to secure both parity with living standards in Europe, and to take and hold an international competitive advantage, such a plan is necessary for New Zealand.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Praise for Simon Power

I'm a fan of our Mixed Member Proportional electoral system - New Zealanders put it in place because we were sick of single party Governments that would be elected on a mandate only to do act in complete opposition to it once elected. Proportional systems ensure that your vote counts at a national level regardless of your geographical location, and electorates ensure local issues and independent candidates can be included in the national election process.

So while I would rather that Parliament hold an inquiry into improving MMP rather than a referendum on whether to switch to another electoral system I'd like to praise Simon Power for creating a referendum process that is fair.

An irony

I've been watching online the BBC "Question Time" Episode which features Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party. Towards the end of the first part the African-American Deputy Director of the British Museum says about the infamously intolerant and born-out-of-racism party:
"You do have to ask yourself the question: What kind of a so-called political party is based on an idea of indigenous people? It just doesn't exist"

Clearly she believes it to be deeply disturbing and inherently racist that a party base itself on the idea of advancing the interests of one race over others. I don't think anyone being fair minded about the issue could disagree.

Perhaps members and advocates of the Maori party could help the modern BNP answer the question.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Great ACC Coverup (Or: Fattening for Slaughter)

As aggrieved motorcyclists are no doubt already aware, ACC levies are on the increase due to an alleged new budgeting shortfall. Now, leaving aside my own serious doubts as to the veracity of the figures indicating the last "crisis", and taking the available evidence as-is rather than with a handful of the salt no doubt about to be rubbed into the wounds of the Woodhouse Report; things still seems mightily odd.

The root of the present "shortfall" and corresponding levy increase appears to have been a decision to increase the forecasts for costs (even going so far as to add a "future cabinet and regulated rate increases" category), apparently in an attempt to increase ACC reserves beyond their already impressive projected 3.5 years. In other words, the Government is attempting to inject enough money for it to be more self-sufficient for at least another election cycle. Indeed, The Listener estimates that 8.3 years worth of reserves would render the scheme entirely pre-fundable.

To put it bluntly, the Government is inexorably pushing ACC toward financial independance, probably as part of yet another bid to inject privatisation into this element of the insurance market - either by re-allowing private competition, or by wholly or partially privatising the scheme. National's refusal to genuinely confirm ACC's future, and pointed ambiguity as to the prospects of privatisations in their second term certainly do nothing to disprove this.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Putting New Zealand First on the Net

Well, here we are. Curwen and I are the first to join this blog, but I think the long term vision is to build up a group of bloggers as we help to build a stronger youth wing for New Zealand First. It should be made clear however that we are not speaking in official capacity for NZF, we are merely enthusiastic supporters.

"Youth Wing? New Zealand First? Aren't they mutually exclusive?" I can hear some of the more sceptical amongst you ask yourselves. Despite the stereotype, we think there is every reason for kiwi youth to get energised by the issues New Zealand First brings up. Despite National's rhetoric in opposition about ending the brain drain, we have seen precious little action on this issue since they have got into Government. The most talented youth we have do not see this country as the dynamic, exciting land of opportunity it needs to become to keep its place as a first world nation. Both Labour and National are responsible for the twenty five years old neoliberal experiment that has eroded our public services, destroyed our manufacturing sector and sent us tumbling down the OECD ladder. So that is why I've decided to put my efforts going into the 2011 election with a party led by a man who has resolutely opposed these policies both as a opposition frontbencher against the Rogernomics of the Lange Government and as the man with the courage to leave National over its betrayal of the electorate in committing to Ruthanasia.

But more than that I'm committed to getting a party elected that will put New Zealand's economy back on track, that recognises the importance of keeping critical assets such as Kiwirail and Air New Zealand in New Zealand hands, that wants to create a New Zealand of full employment and has the courage to propose new and innovative ways to manage the economy, rather than carrying on with the failed Reserve Bank Act which up-ends our economy with every sign of growth.

That is why I'm with New Zealand First.